Pros and Kons

Bin Laden's Mysterious Seven

May 04, 2011

On Sunday, the Situation Room heard the news: “Visual on Geronimo.” That night, President Barack Obama informed the nation what savvy Twitter users already knew, that Osama bin Laden was dead. The media games promptly began: in-depth looks into the actual operation, interviews with officials involved, and, of course, discussions about what backlash might follow. Those who read or watch the news will probably feel inundated already by such material trying to make sense of the surprising event and its potential impact. Humor me, however, as I consider a simple question of arithmetic about the raid.

Twenty-two – five – ten = seven.

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Spreading the Love

March 25, 2011

Tomorrow, the musicians Salman Ahmad and Shahram Azhar will perform in Leverett House to benefit the victims of one of nature’s major tragedies. Through that benefit concert, “Umeed-e-Sahar,” the Harvard community can use song to raise money for the countless victims of the earthquake and tsunami that rocked Japan on March 11. The concert joins nationwide efforts that include the donation of songs by Justin Bieber, U2, Rihanna, and others. What sets tomorrow’s concert apart, however, is the fact that it mainly supports the victims of another disaster: the earlier flooding of Pakistan. This dual focus, because it considers not only the latest crisis but also one whose damages are still strongly felt, demonstrates a broader awareness too often lost in public support after headline-grabbing disasters.

In recent days Japan’s disaster recovery has received much comparison to previous efforts after disaster. This has prompted speculation about why Japan’s disaster has not created the same rush of support in the same way as Haiti, the Indian Ocean tsunami, or Hurricane Katrina. Yet agencies have been active in soliciting donations; such evaluations by total dollars do not do justice to what has been a strong outpouring of support. At Harvard, this week has seen concerted efforts of fundraising and events that conclude tomorrow with the Harvard-Radcliffe Asian American Association Benefit Concert. Our community, and many others across the country and globe, has demonstrated admirable unity and compassion in identifying with the Japanese people and seeking to help them.

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WikiLeaking Credibility

November 29, 2010

If you’ve figured out the true intentions of WikiLeaks and its founder Julian Assange, please let me know. In the meantime, I’m starting to feel troubled, even defensive, about the group’s mass releases of U.S. government confidential documents.

Yesterday, WikiLeaks announced it was under cyber attack. The Distributed Denial-of-Service has been popular in recent months; most notably, government websites in the United States and South Korea came under this type of attack in the summer of 2009. U.S. cyber experts learned from that DDoS assault, and they may have put it to their own use yesterday (debating the ethics of such an attack is a worthwhile endeavor for another time). It would certainly not be surprising, as the nation seems uniquely under pressure from Assange and his team.

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Terror In Air Travel

November 01, 2010

If you are anything like me, you can’t fly without an instant of doubt about the danger of being in an aircraft. For the last few years, that danger has mostly been the fear of terrorism, since the Lockerbie bombing in 1988 or September 11th. Each time I fly, I remind myself how many flights reach their destination safely every day and shake off the thought along with the other usual fears.

The “air freight bomb plot” of last week shows that such fears—although highly unfortunate—may still be justified, as on-plane hijackers have been the biggest perceived threat recently . National Public Radio touched off a controversy by firing Juan Williams for saying that he felt nervous when he sees people who are noticeably Muslim on a flight. Williams is certainly not the only American to feel that way. But it turns out that Al-Qaeda and other organizations may be moving to a different tactic, packaging explosives and shipping them on flights. Logistics giants such as FedEx and UPS have become masters of sending packages quickly around the world, but that connectivity might have created new difficulties for counter-terrorism.

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Hands in the Jar

October 18, 2010

I believe in freedom of speech and the power of documentary film. If any film festival delayed or suppressed one of its entries due to political reasons, I would condemn such an action. So when a film festival gives in to pressure to “spare the feelings” of the president of Iran, I feel obliged to point out a couple reasons why such thoughtfulness is absurdly misplaced.

The Beirut International Film Festival canceled, or at least delayed, the screening of a docudrama—“Green Days”—that provides a close-up look at the protests and government brutality that accompanied Iran’s 2009 presidential election. In other words, the same election that proved a dubious confirmation of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s power. Hana Makhmalbaf’s “Green Days” already aired at well-known film festivals in Toronto, Copenhagen, and Venice, where the film won “The Bravery Prize.” The reason the film has won this prize and others stems from its willingness to stand up to the Iranian government, even including amateur film of the public demonstrations during the elections.

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