Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Pakistan Uncovers Lashkar-e-Taiba Involvement in Mumbai Bombings

Pakistani officials disclosed that they discovered, through their own investigations, connections between Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and the Mumbai attackers. This confirms what has been suspected for over a month since the November attacks.

While the revelation may not prove significant to those who had been following the crisis closely, what it may mean is that Pakistan and India may agree on the basis of the cause of the attacks, and thus may begin to thaw in terms of working towards a common resolution of the investigation and a mutual diffusion of hostilities.

Much remains to be seen regarding how far and deep the investigation will go into the LeT organization and, possibly, the Pakistani military and intelligence branches which allegedly supported their operations.

Monday, December 29, 2008

"India: Let Kashmir Go" (Bennett Ramberg in Christian Science Monitor)

“The Disuted Territory” Shown in green is Kashmiri region under Pakistani control. The dark-brown region represents Indian-controlled Jammu and Kashmir while the Aksai Chin is under Chinese occupation. Source: Wikipedia citation of the CIA World Factbook

Bennett Ramberg, in an opinion piece for the Christian Science Monitor, suggests for India to let Kashmir go: “options include independence, division along communal lines, comanagement by both India and Pakistan, [or] a UN trusteeship.”

It is generally easy for an outside observer to discuss giving away someone else’s percieved property, rights and claims. How easy it can be for us to tell someone else, “All you need to do is give up what you’ve been struggling over for generations.” The more difficult thing to do is for each party to consider what is best for the other parties involved, as well as consider their own interests. New equilibrium outcomes can only be likely when opinions are open to new considerations. Otherwise, mentalities and opinions will likely go back to pre-existing expectations and de facto schemas.

Kashmir: A Reverse Land for Peace Deal?

“Let it go.” This simple-sounding axiom, couched by the citation by Ramberg of the amicable division of Czechoslovakia, and the mostly peaceful dissolution of the Soviet Union, is not so easily cut-and-dried. The Czech Republic and Slovakia were both swept into a ready-and-waiting strong neighborly brotherhood of the EU and NATO. There were extremely wealthy vested interests in seeing this be a friendly, happy, and amicable divorce. The same was certainly not true for nearby Yugoslavia, which, once the pins were pulled out of its national structures, turned into a decade-long tragedy.

Having India let Jammu and Kashmir go would be far more akin to the Arab-Israeli “Land for Peace” consideration. Which, like the Kashmir question, has historical roots in conflicts that broke out in the post-World War II division of lands between Muslims and non-Muslims.

Yet as Ramberg himself points out, Indian wargaming strategies show a reverse “land for peace” deal is more likely. Under the Indian “Cold Start” strategy, India would seize Pakistani border territory in a rapid strike. Then, it would put pressure on Pakistan to meet its demands for the withdrawal from Pakistani territories.

In other words, the same sorts of territorial disputes that followed the Arab-Israeli 1967 war might await the region in a future Indian-Pakistani conflict. It would be an inverse of the 1999 Kargil War, where Pakistani units infiltrated and held onto territory in Indian-controlled Kashmir. Yet that conflict pushed the prospects of nuclear war to the brink. Pakistan’s government is still extremely unstable. Such conventional warfare might result in utterly horrific casualties if violence spiralled out of proportion.

Does It Matter Who Runs Kashmir?

Yes. Apparently.

Both the Indian government and Pakistani government are infamous for corruption, negligence, self-serving deals, fratricidal political infighting, veiled (and not-so-veiled) use of violence, and, of course, crass nepotism. Pakistan is ranked as low as #134 out of 180 nations in the world in terms of corruption; India at #85, though mis-management in Jammu and Kashmir is specifically noted as extreme. It is the most-corruptly administered area of the Indian nation.

Index of perception of corruption. Source: Wikipedia, based on data from Transparency International

Mind you that the governments of India and Pakistan are seen, regionally, to be some of the less-corrupt governments in south Asia. Add to that the numerous wars fought between the two nations since 1947, and you can see the reasons for distrust.

Thus, to a great degree, much of the lack of trust boils over into not wanting the other side’s corrupt politicians getting their greedy hands on the territory. Instead, both nations feel comfortable that their own corrupt political machines can rule over Jammu and Kashmir, while the other nation’s bureaucracy is exoriated and derided.

Index of Corruption in Indian states in 2005;
Note Jammu & Kashmir in the north is the most corrupt.
Source: Wikipedia

Pluralism: It Begs the Question

At its heart, there lurks the fundamental issue of pluralism: whether there can be peaceful co-existance of different religions and ethnicities in these territories. It would matter less which nation administered these territories if the rights of various populations were respected, and services guaranteed on a basis of civil equality.

So long as there is distrust, and indeed, a fair basis for the common people of the region to believe there is good reason to not trust politicians of either government, there will be the resultant undermining from below, oppression from above, forces exploding out from the middle, or a society collapsing in upon itself. There can be no stability regardless of which national government seeks to establish suzerainty over the territory. Furthermore, a region left in “free fall” will find neighbors pumping in money, leadership, and elements of control to seize power.

It should be noted that a strong external government cannot necessarily enforce a strong local result. For instance, since the United States intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq, their national institutions have floundered horrifically. Afghanistan ranks #176, and Iraq at #178 on the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index for 2008, out of 180 nations ranked. They are in the company of such basketcase nationstates as Somalia, Haiti and Sudan.

Pulling out a strong national government does not necessarily equate to peace and stability in terms of residual institutions. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, a few former republics have fared well, yet Tajikistan (tied for #151 place), Azerbaijan (#158), Kyrgyzstan (#166), Turkmenistan (#167), and Uzbekistan (#168) have fallen precipitously and become very corrupt states.

It is no guarantee a simple pullback of India from the area would guarantee peace and stability. Much the same way that a pullout of Lebanon by Syria and Israel did not guarantee, immediately, a functional state. While Lebanon is waveringly rising from the impoverished state it was reduced to by decades of civil war, much violence and tension remains. Further, there was never a consideration of Lebanon being a province of Syria or Israel.

Instead, Kashmir might be more likened to the Palestinian territories, which were once claimed by Israel. Yet this is not precisely a model of a stable, friendly independent state along the withdrawing power’s borders. Such models bode poorly for India’s northern border were Kashmir made independent.

What Do Indians Want?

According to a Times of India article, dated 23 August 2008, 59% of Indians believe “India should hold on to Kashmir despite the economic cost of doing so.” 11% were undecided. 30% said the cost of doing so was already too high.

The most telling statistic was that 68% of Indians believed Kashmir should not be allowed to secede from India even if it wanted to. To them, alienating Jammu and Kashmir would be akin to the United States allowing one of our own fifty states to withdraw from the nation.

This survey showed that about 30% believe the cost of holding on to Kashmir is already too high. A minority opinion of about that proportion might theoretically support Kashmir’s independence from India. According to the Times of India: “At one level, it indicates that what was simply not thinkable until now - whether Kashmir could secede from the Indian Union or not - has possibly become a matter of debate, even if it is within a small section of our urban society.”

However, the same study also showed that only 19% felt such a move would make the country more secure. 31% felt it would make no difference to Indian security—threats, such as terrorism, would remain regardless of whether Kashmir went its own way or not. “As for fear, a clear half said India would become a less safe place if Kashmir were allowed to secede. In other words, the terror threat to the country would only increase if the northern border were to come closer to the country's heartland.”

Instead, the predominant opinion, held by more than 75% of those surveyed, felt Kashmir could still be integrated into the mainstream of Indian governmental organization and social structure.

Amongst these surveyed Indians, 41% felt that Kashmir had been neglected by government. 30% felt Kashmir had been treated fairly, and an almost equal number, 29%, felt it had been pampered.

Pakistani Concerns

Pakistani opinions are very fractious now, far more than India. The nation is facing a low-grade internal civil war, or at least, autonomous state withdrawal from central administration. It is possible India might need to intercede along the Pakistani border for better security if military or paramilitary organizations went rogue and decided to spill violence over the border into India.

Pakistani military involvement, though denied, has been detected in schemes using now out-of-control paramilitaries from the Kargil War to the recent Mumbai bombings. It calls into question how much respect there is for civil government, versus the state of “vae victus” — Might Makes Right.

India’s internal impetus to public opinion is increasingly calling to cross the Pakistani border to seek vengeance for what happened in Mumbai in November, and in other attacks over recent years. So far, India has shown some restraint in light of repeated attempts of provocation by Pakistan going back to the strategically-planned Kargil War of 1999. Though the Kargil War was a devastating set-back for Pakistan, the persistance of provocation is not lost on India.

Cloudy with a Chance of Peace

Both Indian and Pakistani zealots are pushing for war with each other. Both Indian and Pakistani moderates and doves are attempting to broker peace. Right now, much hangs in the balance. The militants on both sides know this, and they are, in a way, allies in encouraging violence. India continues to back independence-minded rebels in Baluchistan, while Pakistan continues to sow seeds of dissent over Kashmir. How far might both sides push each other?

A Reuters article today outlines some of the possible effects such a conflict might cause. Pakistan has been considering counters to the Cold Start scenario for years. The recent movement of tens of thousands of troops to the Indian border is likely a preventative measure to ensure territorial sovereignty in light of such a policy.

Yet all these actions and responses seem practically polite compared to the nuclear exchange scenario written about by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), which authored a study in 2002 about The Consequences of Nuclear Conflict between India and Pakistan. Numbers killed by nuclear exchange ranged between 3 million (using Hiroshima-sized bombs) to 30 million.

Such conflict would not likely be limited to nuclear exchange. Such a catastrophe might lead to full-scale conventional war as well. It could also lead to internal civil war or insurrection inside both Pakistan and India. Hence why both nations are hesitant, even as radical elements of both nations call for responses. Both nations are already facing increasing internal chaos, such as that which Pakistan faced during the aftermath of the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.

The burden of solutions now rests squarely in the shoulders of moderates in both nations. If they are able to navigate a path to peace, between Pakistan and India on a broader scale, only then can the Kashmir question be raised for conclusive resolution. Otherwise, it will remain a pawn on the board of geopolitics, never truly free because the two states that determine its fate will claim it, or portions or whole swaths of it, when their sovereignty or security are threatened.

Sunday, December 28, 2008's Gaza Campaign: A Time for Peace

Avaaz is currently initiating a campaign to bring about an end to the Gaza crisis. Avaaz is no stranger to this particular situation, having been involved in helping ameliorate the Israel-Palestinian conflict for some time now.

I happen to be in New York City this week, so I wrote to them this evening to see if there would be anything I could do to help prepare a report, an executive briefing, a presentation or any other analysis regarding the crisis. It is, of course, simply an offer to help. They may have their own staff busy at work, and another chef in the kitchen could simply be distracting. Yet the offer stands if they could use me this week while I’m here, or over the longer-term in 2009 and beyond.

For now, I appeal to each reader to help support the Avaaz campaign for “A Time for Peace.”

Relentless News

A number of articles struck me today, just glancing at headlines:

Bomb kills 30 at Pakistan polling station
Suicide blast kills 6, wounds 36 Afghans
Suicide bomber kills 8 in Sri Lanka (17 others were injured)

Each of these attacks is as horrendous as the Southern California “Christmas Santa” rampage. Relentless carnage. Yet all pale in comparison to the strikes on Gaza:

Israeli airstrikes widen scope against Gaza

Over 280 have been killed there, and hundreds more have been wounded. Which is on par, or exceeds, the casualty figures of the November Mumbai attacks. In apparent response and protest, there was a suicide bomber in Iraq who detonated himself in the middle of a crowd. So in response to killing Muslims, an outraged Muslim killed himself and harmed more Muslims. That is an utterly tragic irony.

Such horrific carnage and abject misery of the past sixty years will continue unabated unless peace is allowed to settle on the region. I would join in the call of the United Nations Security Council for Israeli and Gaza leaders to end mutual hostilities. I also call on other world powers to intercede and help broker a lasting accord. Finally, I call on the parents of the region to teach their children the only way to break this cycle of violence is to do well to their neighbors, and avoid acts of malice and cruelty towards each other. Provocation and death will only lead to more provocation and death. If there is injustice, find impartial third parties to broker a just solution.

In a wider call, it behooves us as a civilization to consider deeply the nature of driving people to such extremes that suicide-homicide becomes the de rigeur means to achieve the notoriety of social unhappiness. How can we have governments consider the redress of grievances of minorities without requiring the bi-directional slaughter of majority and minority populations? What sort of century are we setting up for ourselves when malcontented people repeatedly try to pull the society down with them? This sort of destructiveness leads towards the erosion of trust in basic civil society.

It is time that we, as a species, address our addiction to violence, towards ourselves and our neighbors.

Friday, December 26, 2008

A Christmas Suicide-Homicide

LOS ANGELES - A distraught man dressed as Santa Claus opened fire at a Christmas Eve party and then set the house ablaze, killing at least eight people, police said.

Several hours later, the shooter killed himself.
Another terrible suicide-homicide here in the United States. Eight people lay dead. Then the killer turns the gun on himself. Socrates, though he committed suicide, would have considered harming others, and such destruction, akrasia. Yet humans all-too-often feel driven, or actively desire to go, to such extreme acts.

As families around the nation celebrated Christmas Eve in love and joy, Bruce Pardo shot an 8-year-old girl in the face as she opened a door. He shot a 16-year old girl in the back as she fled. After killing eight friends and relatives, both with a gun as well as by setting the home on fire, he fled the scene and later turned the gun on himself to commit suicide.

In the background, as I research this story, I am listening to a man doing his best to organize people around the world. He seeks to provide books and libraries to very poor African villages. It is an unrelated story to this Christmas tragedy, yet it is a counter-point to the wide difference in the logic, the humanity, and the morality between examples of humans.

What strikes me is the inversion, indeed, the perversion, of values. How a man in a Santa Claus outfit, the symbol of generosity and goodwill, turned into a monster. How the “civilized” western world is reduced to be as brutal and barbaric as ever. It strikes me how much there is in America that we could take solace and joy in. How so many of us take for granted things like education, reading books, electrical power, and the Internet. Yet, tragically, how miserable we can make ourselves, and each other.

Bruce Pardo could have helped the homeless and needy for Christmas. He could have relaxed and chalked up 2008 as a particularly bad year of his life. He could have called up his ex-wife and simply apologized for anything that went sour between them. He could have called a suicide prevention hotline, or turned himself over for psychiatric care or counseling. He did none of these things. And what he did do was monstrous.

The Greeks would have called this akrasia: acting against our better judgment. It is almost too small a term for his deeds.

James F. Welles, Ph.D. would simply and bluntly call this “stupidity.” Defined in his book Understanding Stupidity as “a normal, dysfunctional psychic phenomenon which is caused when a schema formed by linguistic biases and social norms acts via the neurotic paradox to establish a positive feedback system which carries behavior to maladaptive excesses.

Suicide-homicide surely is a gross example of maladaptive excess. Rather than adaptive behavior, it is destruction of all: taking those otherwise fit to survive, and judging them as unfit to live. The guilty and the innocent. Indiscriminate destruction, followed by self-destruction.

Behaviorally, there is no significant difference between this man or one of the Mumbai attackers. It doesn’t matter, per se, if one is motivated by the perceived social injustice of Hindus and Westerners committed against Muslims, and if another man is motivated to wreak vengeance following a contentious divorce.

Once we condone, or at least simply shrug, at the cause of one act of suicide-homicide, we become inured to other causes and reasons for violence. “Who cares? What can I do about it? All of this is beyond me.”

Is this “beyond us?” In a way, it is. The psychology of these people was so far to the side of anti-social psychopathy that they could not likely be dissuaded from their actions. Yet the conditions which engendered these feelings and allowed for these people to commit their deeds could have been affected by others. There are certainly people who produced guns, and explosives and incendiaries which ended up in the hands of the Mumbai attackers and in the hands of Bruce Pardo. They did not just magically appear out of thin air.

I freely concede these heinous acts are the direct responsibility of those who commit them. Yet it is the responsibility for all of us to deal with the aftermath. And it is the responsibility of society to look to protect each other and to watch out proactively, to minimize such monstrous deadly calamity.

We can all help influence others, throughout our lives, to seek to achieve our ends through healthier, more productive, and less-catastrophic means.

With the increasing stresses of the economy, and the fractious nature of national and international politics, there will likely be more violence. Borne out of frustration, anger and grief. It behooves us to try to ameliorate and sooth social crises. To watch for the warning signs of those who truly do seek to conduct violence against others.

I watched a show on television yesterday. About a man who was divorced and repeatedly told his co-workers about how he planned to murder his ex-wife. They all heard him talk over and over about it. Then one day, his wife disappeared, never to be seen again. She was presumed murdered. In all that time he had bragged and plotted on how specifically he would commit the murder, after all those expressed desires, no one had contacted the police. It baffled me. No one believed him. That he’d actually do it.

We have to face the reality of violence in our world. It may be chaotic, but it is not random. It is often predictable in personal relationships, and at the higher level in gross demographic terms: incidents per hundred thousand. While each actor has non-rational, non-predictive choices they make each day, we can consider what helps calm people, and makes for more sane, socially healthy individuals. And what is less-likely to produce wholesome individuals.

My heart goes out to those who, in this holiday season, were or are still being brutalized by physical and emotional violence. Those for whom there is little joy in Christmas. Little solace or hope. I pray they find peace again.

To those who are considering committing violence, I pray you change your hearts and avoid causing grief. For every rational or irrational reason drummed up in someone’s head for why they “have to” commit violence, there is another, stronger, more wholesome and more ethical reason as to why they could avoid committing harm.

The final term I ponder over this morning is that of malice. The phrase from the Wikipedia definition that resonates strongly with me is “an abandoned or malignant heart.” Merriam-Webster defines malice as “desire to cause pain, injury, or distress to another,” or “intent to commit an unlawful act or cause harm without legal justification or excuse.”

While this is so, what it leaves out is the cause of such desire or intent. As I said above, the specific motive almost doesn’t matter. I seek to go beyond the instances of what keyed off each of these suicide-homicides, and consider the more general theory of what drives a person to commit such. What is in the “stupidity” of the maladaptive schema that provides “suicide-homicide” as a supposedly-rational solution to a socio-political or interpersonal problem.

I’ve been up for hours thinking about this issue tonight. Not that I can single-handedly “solve” this sort of problem in a blog. But I keep thinking about this sort of psychological trauma. The kids getting shot on Christmas Eve. A party ending in mass-murder and a house in flames. I am relating it to Mumbai, and 9/11. To Columbine. And Jonestown. All over Iraq, and Afghanistan, and Palestine. The thousands of other suicide-homicide attacks around the nation and the world in recent decades.

I keep wondering what sort of social or psychological motivation can be applied to make people who would consider committing this sort of crime less-likely to do so in the future.

Christ would say we must love one another. Turn the other cheek. Seek not to judge, lest we be judged. Forgive.

Others would derisively mock people who would do this sort of malicious act as losers. Idiots. They’d heap excoriation and exasperation on them. Dismiss their motives as insane and asinine. And, most likely, deride Jesus of Nazareth as a liberal loser soft on crime.

How do we encourage people to be on their best behavior? What do we do when we have hints and indications they will purposefully act with malice and forethought to do as much harm as possible? When do we consider a person devoid of ethics, or beyond the bounds of sanity or morality? What do we do when a person is unrepentant and unstoppable by social persuasion alone?

Still others, I know, just don’t care, and have already switched the channel to a favorite holiday movie.

What is your reaction to this situation, and what do you believe can, or should, be done about such domestic violence, as well as international violence, and the issue of suicide-homicide?

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas Truce

Peace on Earth
Goodwill Towards Men (And Women)

Here is a story of how peace almost spontaneously broke out in World War I. Which might have caused the end of three years of gruesome war. Yet leaders forced war upon the common people.

There’s a lesson here for the modern world.


Saturday, December 13, 2008

Mumbai Survey Project

Harshawardhan (“Harshi”) Lanjewar will be leaving for India today for his year-end holidays. Yet while he is there, he has committed to conducting a survey in Mumbai and elsewhere in his travels regarding the November 2008 Mumbai attacks. The survey will help us better understand the personal experiences of those that witnessed and survived the attacks, as well as the general mood of both residents and travelers.

As well as a written survey, Harshi will be taking with him the Flip video camera which was awarded to me as Second Prize in the 2008 Mountain View Reads film contest for Three Cups of Tea. The 10-minute video produced for the contest is posted on YouTube: Three Cups of Tea for Global Understanding.

When he returns in January 2009, we will compile his survey results and video work with other emerging information regarding the conflicts and crises faced by India and Pakistan. Both what the present problems are, and what solutions are emerging, or waiting in the wings of possibility for the new year.

Best wishes to Harshi and his family, and to all travelers and stay-at-home over this year-end holiday season.


-Peter Corless.
650-906-3134 (mobile)

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)

Today, 10 December, is the 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Today, around the world, people are reviewing, renewing their commitment to, and celebrating this landmark document.
“Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world…”
When it was drafted and authored in 1948, it was a visionary proposition: to guarantee the rights expected in the most modern, cosmopolitan nations in the world for all human beings on the planet, regardless of their race, religion, gender, political or sexual preference, age, infirmity, or handicap.

They were, and are, universal rights. Not limited to any nation. Or any government. Such rights are not the special and proprietary purview any specific faction, party, or political movement. They would apply anywhere from Antarctica to the North Pole. From the bottom of the Mariana Trench to the top of Mount Everest. Anywhere subterranean, suborbital, or even beyond our planet’s gravitational pull. They would apply just as equally on the moon or Mars, or outside of our Solar System, if we ever went there as a species.

They were authored in 1948, in the aftermath and shadow of World War II, when the world managed, through six tumultuous years, to slaughter 72 million human beings out of the 2.3 billion people living on the planet at the time. About 3 out of 100 people on the planet were dead. Untold numbers were left in shock and states of injury. Out of this, the United Nations was born, in the hopes that humanity would never plunge themselves into such globally genocidal bloodshed again.

The world at the time was quite sincere, hopeful yet fearful. These were the years when the atomic bomb was still brand new. Though its advanced physics were not well understood by most of the populace, it was clearly to laypersons around the world to have, in theory, the power to exterminate all life on the planet. Two such bombs had slain over 100,000 people and had left about another 100,000 wounded. Though it would take 50,000 such bombs to destroy the global population, the size and scale of atomic bombs was going to grow alarmingly. The original bombs for Hiroshima and Nagasaki had, respectively, a yield of 15 and 21 kilotons. Weapons developed by the United States and the Soviet Union during the height of the Cold War would theoretically yield a destructive force between 25-100 megatons. If a weapon of 12.5 megatons were to be exploded in New York City, scientists estimate it would kill 260,000 people within 24 hours of blast, radiation exposure, and fallout.

At the time, in 1948, the United States was the only nation on earth to possess such weapons. The year afterwards, in 1949, the USSR would declare to the world their successful creation of such a weapon. By 2008, nine nations are known or are suspected to have nuclear weapons, including India, Pakistan, North Korea and Israel, who have not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Other states around the world are known to be working on such weapons, or suspected to be able to assemble such a weapon given a well-funded secret operation or war mobilization.

Yet the specter that continues to raise its head in the post-9/11 world is the possibility of non-state actors — terrorists, separatists, or agents provacateur — using such weapons to alter the global economic and political landscape of the 21st Century. The Aum Shinrikyo cult in 1995 used chemical weapons to injure over 1,000 people and kill 12 in the Tokyo subways.

Yet conventional weapons are deadly enough. Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW) regimes seek to curb the proliferation of the typical killers of the post-Second World War era: assault rifles, machine guns, grenades, mortars and rocket launchers, and all manner of portable anti-personnel, anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles explosive weapons.

In the years since the Second World War, approximately 55 million people have died in Cold War, Post-Colonial Era wars of independence, civil wars, rebellions and insurrections, and violent terrorist attacks. Though there were some who died of heavy weapons (tanks and artillery) or by disease and deprivation, the vast majority have died because of small arms and light weapons.

Practically every single death is the result of a violation of humanitarian law and/or criminal law. Even if we invoke the “laws of war,” and the rights of states to conduct war against each other, tens of millions have died in a form of killing which has coined its own term: democide. According to R. J. Rummel, the political scientist who coined the term, 262 million people died in the 20th century due to governments forcibly exterminating populaces. This is far beyond the casualties of war. Deprivation and starvation, pogroms and clandestine murders are included.

The stakes for the 21st Century are enormous. If we can commit to guaranteeing the human rights of every human, from every people on the planet, hundreds of millions or even a billion or more humans can be saved from death. If we partially or even just “mostly” succeed, it is likely we are going to effectively concede to the deaths of tens or hundreds of millions of people.

Beyond the right to exist on Earth, the other Universal Rights guarantee a person’s individual rights towards a great range of activities: expression, spiritual belief, the fruits of one’s creativity, due process before the law, and so on. For what good would such a life be if it were merely a hell on earth?

Thus in the same year that George Orwell was writing the pivotal novel 1984 to parody the out-of-control bureaucracy of the United Kingdom, and to bring to mind the nature of the rightful limits of intrusive government, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was authored to express the human, individual nature of the basis of society.

1948 was a key year in many ways. Post-colonial wars of independence were changing the world from Asia to Latin America. The Treaty of Brussels was signed, as a precursor to NATO. The Marshall Plan was signed into effect to help reconstruct Europe. The Arab States and Israel went to war for the first time that year, with the conflict beginning on New Year’s Day with the siege of the Old Quarter of Jerusalem by Arab Muslim militants. The first casualty of the United Nations was suffered in trying to establish peace in the region. The split of India and Pakistan was still violently being fought over, and Mahatma Ghandi was assassinated. Both the Republic of Korea (South Korea) and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) were formally declared, which would lead to a desperate war on the peninsula. Venezuela overthrew its president by the armed means of a military junta.

In the United States, Harry S. Truman, concerned with the propogation to democratic principles and values, sent the key documents of the United States around the country on the first Freedom Train between 1947-1948. He also signed Executive Order 9981, ending the racial segregation of the U.S. armed forces.

It was in this global condition that Eleanor Roosevelt and her colleagues (John Peters Humphrey, Rene Cassin, P.C. Chang, Charles Malix, and others) proposed and had adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). It is a remarkable, clear, and bold document which guaranteed many of the rights which many people in democratic states take as de facto ways the world should work. A thorough reading of it is always illuminating. How far we have come as a species. How how far we fall short. How much we have more to achieve on a global basis, even in our “advanced” nation states and civilizations.

So this evening, as I sit here in Books, Inc., in the city of Mountain View, California, I am raising a cup of iced tea to celebrate my freedoms: social, political, economic, spiritual, cultural, civil, humanitarian, and so on. There is an entire body of law, ratified by most nations on the planet, to uphold my rights to be.

That’s a powerful concept! And a compelling goal. To uphold those rights. To ensure we do not deprive them of others, even as we demand them for ourselves.

There are also implicit responsibilities when rights are asserted. Responsibilities to each other to respect and honor each other. To “first do no harm.” To then see what we need to improve most urgently and critically. I also have a cautionary mind, to consider what needs to happen here in our own neighborhood and around our own country, long before we lecture or demand of the rest of the world. Lest we come across as hypocrites. In a way, it will be inevitable. For it is often true about humans that we can more easily talk to others about what they have to improve before we face what is wrong with ourselves. Sometimes we will fail to see our own faults. Sometimes we will ignore what we know to be wrong, putting it off for a future day’s project.

For me, I’m committed to paying attention. Whether it is addressing the problem of homelessness in Mountain View and the Bay Area, education and healthcare around the world from here to the schools of Ikat in central Asia, or the Mama Maria Clinic in Kenya, or whether it is documenting the world on Wikipedia.

From these historic movements, and through these historic organizations in these historic times, we’ll see what happens in 2009 and beyond.

Onwards to adventure!

-Peter Corless.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Monday, December 1, 2008

False Flag Claims for Responsibility for the Mumbai Attacks

Today, I had a difficult time documenting the false flag

As of 1 December 2008, "false flag Mumbai attack" matched 82,600 results on a Google search, and 18 videos on YouTube.

I also made what I consider a large and loathsome caveat for the article:

Caution: Citation of false flag claims in this article does not constitute admission of a factual basis for these claims, but to show the range of different claims being made. Nor does a citation conversely mean the false flag claim is false, since there may be an actual misdirection of various actors and supporters of the attacks to distract authorities from their identity and motives.

Because of similarities to factual news, journalism and communications methods, actual false flag operations, as well as external parties incorrectly claiming a false flag, are often difficult to distinguish. Many motives or reasons are possible: truthful though partial identification of a false flag operation, utterly fictitious and spurious propaganda, various levels of factual or fictional conspiracy theory, deliberate disinformation, or unwitting misinformation based on partial fact.

I felt this was important to put into the page because people already tried to edit out my citations. I am not claiming these “false flag” allegations to be true or false. But it is vital we see how quickly people who have access to the Internet may try to take the facts as presented and make them conform to their desired beliefs of the world.

It is patently dangerous to try to conform facts to beliefs if one makes false assertions. This is how wars begin and mob rule leads to vigilantism.

This is not to discount that there may have actually been a false flag operation as part of the terrorist strategy. Yet even if there was, not all of these directly conflicting claims can be correct.

Caveat emptor!

-Peter Corless.
650-906-3134 (mobile)

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Responsibility for the November 2008 Mumbai attack

Today I spent a great amount of the day pulling together information about the responsibility for the Mumbai attacks. Was it committed by local disaffected Muslims? Was it caused by foreign nationals from Pakistan? Who was behind these murders?

The truth is, even after sifting through public news sources for two days, we are not sure. There is much work to be done yet by investigatory agencies. At least the public story remains unclear.

Even if we are told that all the attackers are Pakistani, there are discrepancies. The sources that say there were 10 terrorists, including the one captured. However, allegedly, the captured man himself claimed there were 16 fediyeen that went ashore. If so, what happened to the other six? Are there still gunmen at large in Mumbai, who have blended into the crowd, fell among the dead or escaped with the wounded, or perhaps fled the city entirely?

Was there a woman accomplice in a burqa at the hospital? Who was she? Are there other attackers still at large? Or is it just that some bodies have yet to be recovered?

Initial impressions and evidence shows that one or more of the attackers, and possibly all of them, were from Pakistan. Yet repeated statements support the foreign nationals had or received significant local knowledge or assistance. Who aided them, specifically? And how much assistance was provided?

These are just some of the mysteries surrounding the case yet to be clarified or resolved.

After spending nearly two full days poring over news sources, digesting conflicting reports, and reading dozens of sources, from biased polemics, to feigned apologetics, one can only come to one conclusion: we must do more investigation and sifting through evidence. It would be imprudent to come to any hasty generalizations or premature conclusions.

There is a great deal of heat beginning to bake on the topic. Frustrations are starting to rise for answers. People are hungry to find scapegoats, or to erect stereotypical straw dogs, and some are frankly seeking immediate vengeance or to seize opportunity to capitalize on this sitation.

Yet there is increasing amounts of sober, rational and mounting evidence pointing towards certain organizations and even individual actors.

The following video from CBS News is a good, rational, and clear analysis of the situation:

Our prayers and best wishes go out to those victims and families of the attacks, and to those who are seeking to re-establish and maintain peace and justice.

[Last Edited: 30 November 2008, 7:50 PM Pacific Time]

Nigerian Violence

“Troops patrol after clashes kill hundreds in Nigeria.”

I read the headlines and was nearly ready to give up due to “attention fatigue.” That state where you finally hear of one disaster too many in a day. The sort of mind-numbing situation where you just can’t care any more. You are tired. You want to sleep. Yet rather than go to bed, I felt compelled to read more about the situation.

While the Mumbai bombing is grabbing all the international attention and headlines, in Nigeria, a similar scale of violence continues. At least 218 people have been killed in clashes so far between Christian Beroms, Muslim Hausas and animist factions in the city of Jos. 7,000 people have fled ahead of the fighting. Over 500 more were detained by police in connection with the violence.

If that sort of carnage was not enough, Nigeria is also facing a toxic teething drug problem. Twenty five Nigerian children died of renal failure as a result of taking a medicine which was supposed to help them with teething problems. The death toll could go much higher.

It is disconcerting at best to think of the statistical deaths of hundreds as merely figures in a text book or the subject of ill-informed discussion boards, or widely-sweeping and meanderingly-authored blogs (present case included). By objectifying casualties, we are minimizing the cost in human terms. For now, we shall beg the indulgence of the interested and concerned citizens of the world.

In Nigeria, with a population of 146 million (and growing), and a growth rate of 2.025%, that equates to roughly 2.96 million people more each year. The losses of 218 dead pales in comparison to the regular growth rate of 8,114 new Nigerians each day. Likewise, the loss of “only” a few dozen children is not a mathematically large proportion. There is a danger to ignore the minority because the majority is doing alright or quite fine. Or to ignore a less-photogenic problem of economic shock and/or gross population loss just because it is not taking place in a modern media capital.

The questions we must face now are:

  • How can we best hold an interfaith/inter-tribal dialogue for the future?
  • Can we somehow make the statistical measurements equate to healing real bodies and caring for each real soul?
  • How can we put aside religious, economic, and political differences to achieve a better possible peace?
  • How can we ensure mass media biases avoid leading to extremism?
  • Where can I learn more?
What are your thoughts on these questions? Please share your ideas. Farewell and best wishes for safety and security to all our readers.

-Peter Corless.
650-906-3134 (mobile)

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Best Wishes to Karl John

Earlier this month, on 16 November 2008, Karl D. John, founder of the Global Understanding Movement, suffered a heart attack. He was brought to the hospital and released a week later. At first, I had no knowledge of what happened. We had last been corresponding about, of all things, Johnny Cash. When I finally had a message from him on 24 November, I discovered why he had not gotten back to me sooner.

His survival was very much a miracle. Aside from having a heart attack, everything that could go right seemingly happened in a series of precisely positive fortune for Karl. The ambulance cleared the distance to the hospital in about half the normal time. A French cardiologist, who specialized in coro-angioplasty, just happened to be visiting in the city at the French Hospital.

Thus, Karl is alive, home again and recuperating as best as can be expected. From all of us here in the U.S. and elsewhere around the world who are supporting the movement towards Global Understanding, we send our best prayers and wishes for a healthy, safe, and whole recovery to Karl and his family tonight.

Johnny Cash is well-known for singing the song about “God's Gonna Cut You Down.” While that may be true in the end of each of our lives, for now, I'll share an earlier, more upbeat song from Mr. Cash. Karl, here’s more upbeat song from earlier in Johny’s career back in the 1950s, “Get Rhythm.” Hopefully it’ll help ease and lighten your heart, and put a good rhythmic beat back into it too.


Peter Corless
Global Understanding Institute
650-906-3134 (mobile)

The Mumbai Attacks

Today, we pass our condolences to those who have lost loved ones to the tragic conflict in Mumbai, and the wider concerns of religious-political violence in southern Asia.

Busy Wikipedian

The best way that I have found for me to understand current events is for me to dig in to Wikipedia article review and authoring.

Today, I took the time to update two articles:

Deccan Mujahideen
Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT)

This required reading well over a dozen articles on the topic to get the overall context, general background and specific details. I also took time to view video over the Internet regarding the conflict. I thought a good few were key to understanding the issue.

Call for Peaceful Investigation

The Global Understanding Institute calls for a peaceful, sober, just, non-inflammatory response to the attacks. To allow police and intelligence organizations to investigate these crimes, to identify, capture and prosecute those who supported the perpetrators.

The Global Understanding movement began in February 2006 when Karl John raised the question about the desire or need for deadly violence to protect one’s religious identity in the wake of the September 2005 Danish Mohammed cartoons. For decades, if not centuries, to this very day, religious-political suicide-homicide has continued to flare up and boil over around the globe. Yet in the post-millennial era, Islamic terrorism gets the bulk of attention. In this case, for good reason.

For all the focus on prevention and foreign affairs, for all the joint task forces, the politicians, military and intelligence officers, and billions invested, such acts continue. The scale and scope of Islamist non-state actors committing atrocities grows, polymorphs and continues nearly unabated. This statement does not condemn the heroic works of millions around the world seeking to keep society peaceful and safe, yet it is to call into question the millions who support such acts of violence. Specifically to call them to give up such means of violent force to find more peaceful and just methods to achieve their ends.

Comparative Means to Achieve Social Justice

Social justice, if that is what the Islamist militants truly wish, can be achieved through different means.

Compare the acts of a dozen or two militants in Mumbai, and the carnage they inflicted, to the simultaneous world event: “Operation Hiroshima,” the peaceful seizure of Suvarnabhumi International Airport in Bangkok, Thailand by the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD). The PAD offered stranded tourists food and water. There is a sense of conviviality and community. Their symbol is not the AK-47. It is a noisy plastic hand clapper.

Whether the airport seizure will end peacefully or in tragedy similar to the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre is yet to be seen. Yet they seem to be far closer to achieving the justice they desire through these means than if they had attacked their political enemies.

It is true PAD and pro-government groups have clashed in the past, with brandished batons and swords. There were injuries and even a death in September. Yet so far since, the peace has been mostly upheld. Such violence did not achieve what the PAD desired, so the airport seizure was seen as a more direct action to bring domestic and international attention to their cause — without explicitly needing to hurt anyone. However, the police were driven off. The protestors even let the air out of the police vehicle tires. It would be remarkable if they could, through practically collegiate pranks, achieve through mostly peaceful means what no amount of suicide bombers and terrorism elsewhere has been able to affect: the direct change of government for social justice.

It is important for us to distinguish popular social protest and mainly peaceful means of conflict resolution versus outright racist and sectarian violence by small radical groups. It is vital for us to continually and sincerely offer possibilities for social transformation short of suicide-homicide, lest those who are prone to such methods feel as if they are the best and only choices to achieve their ends.

However, if the ends of the organization are themselves radically violent and non-egalitarian — if the ends of an organization are, in effect, forced conversion or genocide — then we must stand up for defense of pluralistic societies, the protection of the peace, and the rights of minorities.

To do so, we will need a great deal of understanding, wisdom, and knowledge to deal with these complex, historic crises and conflicts. Which ironically is what the attackers in Mumbai were striking at: Chabad.

Chabad - Understanding, Wisdom and Knowledge

“They hate the prospect of peace among these nations and the possibility of progress.”
– Prof. Mel Konner,
It the terrorists achieve anything they did not wish to intend, perhaps it might be drawing more attention to the Jewish movement which they targeted.

Of course, such attention is not at the top of most headlines. It is not until one gets further down in the CNN site, far below the footage of gunshots and explosions, and report after report of the popular hotel, that one finds out more about the Chabad Jewish Center in Mumbai.

If one is further curious, one can learn more about the 250-year old Chabad-Lubavitch movement at, and the article of Prof. Mel Konner: Mumbai Terror Targets Jews Too, But Will Fail.

According to the movement’s own site, the name “Chabad” is an acronym from three Hebrew words:

• Chachmah - Wisdom
• Binah - Comprehension
• Da'at - Knowledge

The philosophical movement seeks to teach “understanding and recognition of the Creator, the role and purpose of Creation, and the importance and unique mission of each Creature. This philosophy guides a person to refine and govern his or her every act and feeling through wisdom, comprehension and knowledge.”

One would hope any Islamic Imam, any Christian priest or pastor, any Hindu guru, indeed, any ethical spiritual teacher or philosopher would likewise approve of such aims. If one would leave out the Creator from the statement, even an atheist could say this paradigm is worthy of serious study and deep reflection.

While the specific interpretation of these tenets will be done within Chabad according to Jewish traditions, and there can be significant differences between religions, is it truly the intent of Islam to destroy any such religious activity? Does the Creator truly wish his Creations to destroy each other debating and warring over the nature of the divine and the proper conduct of right living?

One would likely doubt the slaughter of random civilians and children to be the Creator’s intent. Though sadly, this is the intent of fierce and terrifying maladaptive humans acting in the name of their Creator.

Perhaps, again, this incident may have the unexpected outcome of more people turning to interafaith dialog, and more tolerence bred through the peaceful, reasonable and reflective contemplation of the purpose of Creation and the role of us mortal human Creatures. Such a proposition is one which the Global Understanding Movement supports.

What of Mumbai?

In regards to etymology, it is also crucial to understand the name Mumbai has deep meaning. The city itself is named after the Marathi mother goddess (Mumbadevi). Thus, attacking this city is mythopoetically the attack of zealots of the patriarchal Islamic Allah striking at directly at the holy home of the Hindu matriarch.

If the situation were inverted — roughly equivalent to an attack on Mecca or Medina by members of another religion — one could imagine the outrage and global reaction to such a deed. Yet Islamic ire is indeed part of the reason for these attacks. The nearest equivalent in India is the seething outrage ever since the razing of the Babri Mosque in 1992. 150,000 Hindus nationalists stormed the mosque and tore it down.

The Liberhan Commission, the investigatory body to look into the causes for the incident, delivered no conclusive report to the Indian government to date. Sixteen years. That would be equivalent to the 9/11 Commission not delivering its report to the U.S. Congress or the world from 2001 through 2017.

Thus, there are already Pakistani sources pointing out the hypocrisy of the Indian position. For it is clear that India has serious issues to deal with on religious and civil rights, given the Saffronization of much of India. Clearly there are rights abuses of various internal sects, including other religions and minorities by Indian government civil and military officials as well as religious and civic leaders.

Beyond this there are the corruptions, the failures, the inefficiency and disgrace of the judicial commissions system in India.

Yet does violence necessitate violence to raise awareness of injustices and iniquities? Is this how Islamic leaders wish to have their faith perceived? Engendering fear and loathing around the world?

Somehow, the Hindu worshippers of the mother goddess of India and the patriarchal followers of Allah must come to some mutual peace, or all of their followers will be at severe risk of mutual extermination. Both India and Pakistan have nuclear weapons.

While the foot soldiers on the ground hot-headedly slaughter civilians and egg the populaces towards retributive justice, their leaders must keep cool heads before casualties are not just measured in hundreds, but thousands if not millions or tens of millions. A new Indian-Pakistani crisis could be devastating, and lead to a wider Asian regional war.

For now, we must look to Mumbai to see how the people of the city, and the wider nation of India, process their losses and strategize for future security. If they respond nationalistically and harshly, we could see a great deal more bloodshed. If they respond rationally and coolly, we may still see some profound and severe ramifications for international relations. Yet the odds of containing and minimizing the violence may be increased, re-establishing the rule of law and respect for civil society.

The Global Understanding Institute calls for peaceful, lawful reactions and to meanwhile seek a true and lasting justice during this time of great international tragedy.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

After Candlelight Vigil

Tonight we were three. Franklin Pham, Michael Walsh, and myself. Plus Michael’s two dogs.

We held a candlelight vigil. Said prayers. Took pictures. Fell quiet. Spoke to a homeless man who was a veteran back in 1983, and an old wandering woman. Two passing workers on their way home also took flyers.

As the moment’s ticked by, I felt a strange pressure building up inside me. When I said the Lord’s Prayer, my voice halted after, “Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” For some reason, I couldn’t go on. I was very calm, yet very caught up in a sense of pressure. My back felt all tight, as if I was carrying a great weight. I began to grow emotional. It wasn’t precisely sadness. It was some immense lacking. I suppose, if it was a fictional movie, I would have felt a “disturbance in the Force.” Yet it was a real night in Mountain View. Two candles burned at the bottom of a flagpole. Our flyer was laid out beside it, reflected barely in the low light.

We retired to Michael’s to eat a late-night meal. In the quiet conversation, Franklin just told me of a friend’s father who died in Bosnia. He died in service as a UN Peacekeeper when his vehicle went off the road into a ravine.

Michael and Franklin are discussing matters quietly in French. If I close my eyes, it could sound like a discussion between two soldiers in the pre-dawn of the trenches. Tonight, though, we are inside and warm. We have eaten well. After reading the sections of “All Quiet on the Western Front,” it is apparent to me we are not as deprived and hungry as the troops of that war. Yet the soft French, mostly alien and inscrutable to me, is transformative. Every now and then I can make out a few words. “Machine de guerre.” Thus 1918 and 2008 sound suddenly one and the same.

It is 4:45 AM. My colleagues shall get a few hours’ sleep and then set up for the morning at Rengstorff Park. For me? There is more to do before the dawn.

Good night to all.


Heading towards the Vigil Soon

I am about to go to the vigil at the corner of Castro Street & El Camino Real. Franklin Pham and I are going to do the Armistice Day candlelight vigil.

I called the Mountain View Police, and confirmed with them there is no need for a public permit, just so long as we stay out of the roadway.

Besides the two of us, I am praying we may also attract some other passersby. Who else might be at the street corner of El Camino Real and Castro Street from 2 to 4 AM on a Tuesday morning?

Yet even if it is us two, that is enough.

Tonight I mentioned the event to the assembled Carnegie Mellon University Alumni gathering in Palo Alto. Ironically I left the give-away posters for the event at home. Yet I did make the announcement. I spoke to a few people afterwards about it, yet the conversation drifted to the Institute and to educational issues and apart from Armistice Day itself.

Well, it is 10 to 2 AM. Time to get going to Castro Street. I'll be back later this morning. Then a bit of preparation before the morning.

Sleep well, Mountain View, California, America and our world! Hopefully we’ll encounter a few of you over the next day, and more of you in the future. Here’s to peace in our time.

-Pete Corless.

Monday, November 10, 2008

90th Anniversary of Armistice, 1918 - 2008

Beginning in 2008, the Global Understanding Movement shall sponsor activites related to the commemoration of Armistice Day.

If you are in the San Francisco Bay Area, you are welcome to come to Mountain View to participate.

90th Anniversary: 1918 - 2008

Tomorrow is the 90th anniversary of the Armistice of Compiègne, which ended the First World War. Ninety years ago, at 5 AM Paris time (GMT) on 11 November 1918, which is 9 PM Pacific time on 10 November in the west coast of the United States, the Armistice agreement between the Allied and Central Powes was signed on a railway car in the Compiègne Forest.

The Armistice came into effect six hours later, at 11:00 AM GMT. “The Eleventh of the Eleventh of the Eleventh” — the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. This was the moment of Armistice. The moment from which the title springs: “All Quiet on the Western Front.”

In four years and four months of global warfare, over 20 million had died, both military and civilians. Another 20 million more had been wounded.

It had already toppled the Russian Empire. The end of the war would see the destruction of two more: the Ottoman Empire and the Austrio-Hungarian Empire.

Because of its brutality, and the Industrial Era killing machines invented during its conduct, they called it the “War to End All Wars.”

Aircraft. Airships. Battleships. Submarines. Tanks. Machine guns. Chemical weapons in clouds of poison gas. Heavy artillery. Minefields. Barbed wire. Never before had there been anything like it. People prayed that nothing like it would ever again be seen.

Its conduct had shaken the industrialized nations of the war so greatly they founded the League of Nations to attmpt to stave off such brutal warfare ever again.

The Soldier Killed at Mons

In this BBC article, and this video by Michael Palin, you can learn about Private George Ellison, the last British soldier to die before the Armistice of the Great War. Private Ellison was of Leeds, and served in the 5th Royal Irish Lancers.

Yet you may also read the comments of others who describe those who fought and died after the war’s official end, as word took time to reach the fronts in Africa and the Middle East.

The War that Never Ended

World War I had not ended. It just erupted into wars of Communism and Fascism rising to take the place of collapsing aristocracies. The industrialized democracies also exacerbated the world’s wounded condition by shamelessly waging war to expand and consolidate their control over the global economy.

Thus, tragically, within two decades, the most industrialzed nations on Earth poised once more for a Second World War, even more devastating than the first. That second conflict, fought between 1939-1945 claimed 72 million lives and tens of millions more wounded. Approximately 3% of the world‘s entire population died.

Once more, global warfare continued in the post-World War II era. Colonial, imperial warfare stretching back to the 17th Century gave way to wars of independence, civil wars, and the Cold War. Modern warfare was cruelly waged with automatic rifles—AK-47s and AR-15s—tanks, artillery, aircrafts, missiles, and massive weapons systems of brutal efficiency. All canopied under the cloud of satellites, while discounting threats of WMDs sufficiently powerful to snuff out entire cities in a blink of an eye.

Only a few wars in the modern era match the intensity of World War I or II. None have matched the scale or scope so far. We have thankfully been spared for the past 63 years any further use of nuclear weapons in warfare. Yet the makings for global war are there, just as much as ever. Human greed. Contention over resources and economies. Populations who still hold passionately to ancient feuds and prejudices.

The United Nations has been harshly tested to keep even regional peace, never mind achieving global armistice. Some wars have even let to blaze out of control as the most powerful nations on earth were powerless, or saw fit to do nothing, to contain them.

Over the decades following the end of World War II in 1945, to the fall of the Berlin Wall, another 50 million would die in wars spanning and involving every continent on earth aside from Antarctica.

Present State of the World

Wars presently rage across the planet. Since the new millenium alone, the United States has been actively involved in at least three: Afghanistan, Iraq and the civil war in Somalia. One might also note the U.S. has been involved in the drug wars in Mexico and Columbia, and elsewhere across Latin America. While these are not formal state-on-state classic wars, the bodies are still just as dead. The losses to a family are just as dear.

Thus the “War to End All Wars” is a soberly ironic dream unfulfilled. Ninety years after the Great War’s conclusion, humanity seems bent towards promulgating conflict at a devastating rate.

Modern conditions of crisis in the economy, as well as significant, fundamental disagreements of policy and future progress for society, are the breeding grounds of popular discontent. This may often give rise to voices and policies of intolerance. Further, retrenchment of economies and the reinforcement of old alliances or enmities may make past fluid relationships cool, or heat up. We can go from mild and moderate ways to extreme temperatures of relationships far faster.

Thus, it becomes crucial to reflect on the Armistice, to consider how we shall create, foster, and maintain peace in our time, even as there are pressures to become more militant and reactionary towards the world.

Armistice Day Matters

We wish to commemorate this, the 90th Anniversary of the Armistice of the Great War, with a mind towards the next decade. It is the position of the Global Understanding Movement that Armistice Day is a vital day to commemorate not just the dead of World War I, yet to remind all the objective of just war is to establish a better, more tolerable, and long-lasting peace.

The rest of the world still recognizes the day as Armistice Day. The red poppy is the symbol of the day. To mourn for those who were lost. To remember the blood that was shed on the fields of Europe, and all those lost around the rest of the world, including those who fell out of the skies like Icarus, or sunk to the bottom of the Atlantic or Mediterranean, buried by the sea.

Yet Armistice is not soley the purview of those who serve in uniform. Civilian populations can also appreciate a peace. For civilians made possible modern warfare. They were those who worked, sacrified, lived and often suffered the same fates as to be starved, deprived, arrested, diseased, wounded or had some proportion killed just the same as those who saw military service. They appreciate greatly the normal resumption of life after war. The return of normalcy to small villages and big cities alike.

This is why Armistice is so important. For if we leave the commemoration solely “Veteran’s Day,” we know statistically only 10% of Americans served in the military. Yet if we broaden the commemoration to Armistice, we recognize the greatest goal for which they served: to re-establish a lasting peace. We also ensure that those who contribute to, and who benefit from that peace—the civilian populations—are also duly recognized and involved in the proceedings and rememberances.

It is only in the United States where “Veteran’s Day” is thusly called. Around much of the rest of the world, 11 November is recognized as “Rememberance Day.”

When it was first called for by Edward George Honey, this was his plea:
“Five little minutes only. Five silent minutes of national remembrance. A very sacred intercession. Communion with the Glorious Dead who won us peace, and from the communion new strength, hope and faith in the morrow. Church services, too, if you will, but in the street, the home, the theatre, anywhere, indeed, where Englishmen and their women chance to be, surely in this five minutes of bitter-sweet silence there will be service enough.” — Edward George Honey
Plans for the Day

The Global Understanding Movement will mark four different stations of the day.
  • 3:00 AM (2-4 AM Pacific): 90th Anniversary of the Moment of Armistice; 11:00 AM GMT @ Flag Pole, corner of Castro Street & El Camino Real, Mountain View

  • 11:00 AM (10 AM - 1 PM): Commemorative Celebration of Armistice @ Rengstorff Park, Rengstorff Avenue

  • 3:00 - 7:00 PM: Armistice Day Round Table @ Books, Inc. 301 Castro Street, Mt. View, CA

  • 8:00 PM - Midnight: Party for Peace @ Café Baklava Mediterranean Grill, 341 Castro Street, Mt. View CA
Please see the front-and-back of our flyer above for specific program details.

What Will You Do?

By the Centennial of Armistice, which will be 11 November 2018, what concrete, achieveable ends to warfare can be accomplished? What solutions can be reached? What better peace may be found for the betterment of the populaces devastated by the promulgation of violence?

Wherever you are in the world, whatever you are doing, please tell us how you are recognizing this historic day: 11/11.


Peter Corless
Founder, Global Understanding Institute

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Where is Mountain View?

Can I just say: I love questions like this!

Hey, Peter! It's been a long time. All is good here ... where is Mountain View?

View Larger Map

Latitude: N 37º 23' 34"
Longitude: W 122º 2' 31"
Elevation: 105 ft above sea level

Mountain View, California is in the Santa Clara Valley, on the southwest side of the San Francisco Bay Area.

It is between San Jose and San Francisco, nestled between Palo Alto ("Tall Tree") to the north, Sunnyvale to the south, and Los Altos ("The Heights") to the northwest. To the east is the San Francisco Bay itself. The Santa Cruz mountain chain, formed by the San Andreas fault line can be seen to the distant west.

Politically, it is in Santa Clara County, in the 14th Congressional District.

As a locale settled prior to the advent of English-speakers, there are a great number of old Spanish-Mexican roots in the area. In Spanish, Mountain View is "Monte Vista," and thus we have Monte Vista High School, Monte Vista in business and street names, etc. The city was formed from the split of the old Californio rancho of Don Mariano Castro. The south part became Sunnyvale. The north part grew into Mountain View.

The commercial main street in Mountain View is still called Castro Street after the Californio ranchero.

The old royal road, El Camino Real, the King's Highway, runs through the city along or near its northwest border with Los Altos. El Camino Real runs all the way from San Francisco Solano de Sonoma in Sonoma County, through San Francisco, Mountain View, San Jose, further on to San Diego (San Diego de Alcala) in southern California, and then all the way to Loreto in Baja California, Mexico.

Meanwhile, in the modern world, Mountain View is a railhead: the end of the line for the Valley Transit Authority (VTA) Light Rail. That rail system takes Silicon Valley commuters down to offices for Lockheed Martin in Sunnyvale, Cisco Systems in north San Jose, past San Jose International Airport (SJC), and the many businesses in downtown San Jose, such as Adobe Systems. CalTrain commuter services, which runs from San Francisco to San Jose, also passes through Mountain View.

Via road transit, we have three major thoroughfares which cross the city: US Highway 101, California Route 85, and California Route 237. 101 parallels the old El Camino Real and runs the length of the west coast of the United States. 237 cuts across the south shore of the San Francisco Bay, and connects US Route 101 in Mountain View in the west to US Interstate 880 in Milpitas at the south end of the East Bay. California 85 cuts north-south across Silicon Valley, connecting Mountain View with its southern cousins Cupertino and San Jose. It curves on in a gentle loop, reconnecting with 101 far further south.

This is all probably far more than you wished to know, yet I love my city. My town. My home.

Where are you living these days?


Feel free to tell me about your own home town in the comments below!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Sober Reflection on the Election of Barack Obama

Elsewhere, whether on my own blog at,, or my own, I can reflect with partisan enjoyment the election of Barack Obama to the office of President of the United States.

Yet here, today, for the Global Understanding Institute, I wish to take a moment to step back and reflect on the sober challenges he faces as the 44th President of the United States, in light of the partisan nature of U.S. and global politics.

Rather than focus on the challenges he faces in office in terms of policy and ideology, for now let us look at the personal and real safety issues he shall be confronted with.

The Spectre of Assassination

In his acceptance speech, Barack Obama raised the memory of another senator from Illinois who ran for the Presidency, Abraham Lincoln. Many see Mr. Obama’s successful bid for the Presidency as a fulfilment of the dream elucidated and spoken forth on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial 28 August 1963 by the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

A few commentators note Barack Obama, born on 4 August 1961, is of the same generation as the children of John F. Kennedy. His campaign reminds them of the young, charismatic President who put forward the declaration to put Americans on the moon, and challenged the nation that it is not what our country can do for them, but what they could do for their country.

Civil rights leaders, such as Reverend Jesse Jackson, predict a new President Obama will change the political landscape of the United States both domestically and abroad. For them, he is the fulfillment of the possibilities presented by Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X.
“Obama's victory will be a huge step in the direction we have wanted America to take for decades.”
Jesse Jackson, New York Post, 14 October 2008
Yet the one thing he does not have in common with these men—yet—is their fate. For they were all assassinated. Presidents Lincoln and Kennedy while in office. King and Malcolm X while leading the civil rights movements of their generation.

These fears are not unfounded. Nor have they sprung up overnight. Back on 14 October 2007, the New York Times interviewed Clara Vereen, of South Carolina, of her views of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.
“I fear that they just would kill him, that he wouldn’t even have a chance.”
— Clara Vereen, quoted in the New York Times, 14 October 2007
The prospects for a black president have been contemplated by all parties for a long while. However, now, it is no longer theoretical. It is happening. How will the various factions and actors in America and around the world act? Will there be bluster, or actual bloodshed?

The right-wing have been saying this is a “MSM meme” since January 2008, when Warner Todd Huston, of declared this: “These faux assassination fears are built on equating Obama with Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr.”

Yet is it merely liberal “mainstream media” (MSM) gone wild, or is there an actual threat?

“Actual threat” is the correct answer.

An 6 November 2008 article from The Daily Telegraph, reprinted in The Herald Sun of Australia (remember, they are already one day ahead) notes there have already been two assassination plots foiled against Barack Obama. With his election, there shall be more pressure from racist groups to kill the sitting President of the United States of America.

Not from international terrorists. From our own neighbors. 100% American, domestic racists.
Already, there is speculation that Senator Obama might not live to see out his term - just hours after his victory, the term "Obama assassination" appeared on the top 100 Google search terms.
The Daily Telegraph, quoted in The Herald Sun of Australia
There are some who dismiss the threats of the Colorado ring of four arrested in August 2008. These four sought to assassinate Barack Obama at the DNC convention in Denver as more “aspirational, perhaps, than operational.” Yet such threats cannot be utterly discounted either. Gartrell, Adolph, Johnson, and Gromack were aligned with a common purpose. They had high-powered rifles. The DNC convention, held in the battleground state of Colorado, meant Barack Obama visited frequently and was sure-to-show. Perhaps their arrest actually produced the opposite reaction than they intended, because Obama ended up winning the state.

In another unrelated plot, two other men, Daniel Cowart of Bells, Tennessee, and Paul Schlesselman, of West Helena, Arksansas, were indicted just today by a Federal grand jury for planning to assassinate Barack Obama and over 100 black students.

They were arrested in late October in Crockett County, Mississippi, driving around in a car covered with racial slurs and swastikas. The Neo-Nazis, characterized as “skinheads” who “chickened out at the sight of dogs” by the Chicago Sun-Times, were planning to break into a gun shop, begin shooting black students, and go on a cross-country killing spree that would end at the innauguration ceremonies of Barack Obama.
“You know, you couldn’t make it that close (to Obama) by any means.”
“Yeah, but we would die trying.”
— Secret Service confronting Daniel Cowart & Paul Schlesselman
All told there have been about 500 threats against Senator Obama’s life, of which a dozen threats have been seriously investigated.

Now is the time for the United States to reflect on racial relations in the 21st Century. Even Klu Klux Klan leaders speak openly about Obama being a target for assassination, predicting it likely it may come from someone in the south. Yet there is no need to cross the Mason-Dixon line. In Illinois, and adjacent Indiana—Obama’s own home territory—hate groups such as the Klan are growing in influence and size. Ethnic pride and ethnic prejudice are often spoken of in the same breath, and the distinguishment between healthy and deadly behavior separated by a very thin margin.

Even at a “friendly” event, such as the Grant Park victory speech, 13,500 police were put on active duty to ensure the rally of 240,000 people came off peaceably.

Odds for Barack

So what are the odds that Barack Obama shall face assassination attempts? What is he likelihood they will succeed? What are the chances a black man in America will be murdered? What are the chances that a sitting President of the U.S. will be killed in office?

• Nationwide in 2007, odds of being murdered in the U.S. are 16,929 murders out of a population of approx. 301 million. Odds: 1:17,816.

• In Chicago, the murder rate for 2008 is 427 murders through October 27th. That is one murder per 5,536 residents. Odds: 1:5,536

• Nationwide in 2007, there were 6,223 murders of black males out of a black male population of approximately 18.3 million. Odds: 1:2,950

• Out of 43 prior holders of the office of President of the United States, 4 have been assassinated: Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley and Kennedy. 2 others may have been assassinated, depending on hypothesis and circumstantial evidence: Taylor, Harding. Including Barack Obama as 44th President would make his odds 1:11. or, 6:44 if one counts those who died under unusual circumstance, making the odds 13.6%. Odds: 1:11 to 1:7.

• Every single one of the seven Presidents since Nixon has had an attempt made on their life: Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, G.H.W. Bush, Clinton, G.W. Bush. All, so far, have survived. Odds: 100% survival.

This shall be the greatest challenge the Secret Service will ever have to face. And it shall put to the test the concept of Homeland Security. As Pogo said, sagely, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

Thursday, October 30, 2008

From Benecia to Sutterville

This is a somewhat atypical article from me. Pardon the lack of citation and links. I have much to do today. Yet I wrote this after doing a bit of research over the years, and in a burst of Wikibraining. Amazing what changed in the world in such a short amount of time, based on the lives of so few people in the geographic region. -Pete.
Gregg Valley said:
> benicia is a cool little place. quaint, lots of history... did you know it is a former state capitol? building still stands... 1854 i think.
That's news to me. Checking out Wikipedia... here it is! From Feb 3, 1853 til Feb 24, 1854.

What I did know was, following the 1848 Mexican-American War, when California was made a state, the U.S. government was keen to move their power away from Monterey, where the Spanish and Mexican governments had held sway.

Let's perfect my fuzzy memory of California history.

Monterey as Capitol
• 1776 - 1822 - Spanish capitol of Alta California
• 1822 - 1846 - Mexican capitol of Alta California
• 1846 - 1849 - Capitol of the quasi-independent California Republic during Mexican-American War; HQ of US military governorship; til US State Constitutional Convention

In 1849, they voted to move to San Jose, then kept moving upstate further from the traditional capitol.

• 1849 - 1850 - San Jose; California as state ratified
• 1850 - 1853 - Vallejo
• 1853 - 1854 - Benecia
• 1854 - Today - Sacramento

You've got to wonder why move? Who owned the Sacramento land? Because they really got sway over the placement of the state capitol. Part of this was purposeful racism and nationalism, to back away rapidly and purposefully from the historic presence of the Spanish-Mexicans Californios. Basically, the desire to have a "white" capitol.

So who was it?

John Sutter. Yes, the same French-speaking Swiss immigrant that the Gold Rush mill is named after. He's the one that got his way.

In 1841, he created a settlement called New Helvetia (New Switzerland). Though he tacitly became a Mexican citizen the year before to get the land grant, as soon as it was established, he threatened to put the land under the protection of the French.

His dream came true when the U.S. government took an interest in his fortified settlement in 1847, during the progress of the war. And then, he hit paydirt, literally, when men working for him at his sawmill at Coloma struck gold in 1848. Within one year, the "miner forty-niners" were racing from all over to be near Sacramento, Sutter's Fort, and Sutter's Mill. All of which he founded.

Got to credit the man for trying to land grab. A Squatter's Rights group eventually had most of his claims quashed. The US government began to rule out of his favor, and refused to do much to respond to his lawsuits or ownership claims. He eventually had to move back east to Pennsylvania.

Thus, the Benecia capitol was a make-shift home, as Sutter consolidated power. It was the height of his influence over the world, and his lasting legacy. Though it disappointed his father immensely. He had wanted the city to be called Sutterville. Instead, the son named his town after the Sacramento River which flowed beside it.

9/11 to 11/11 - From Tragedy to Truce

The Global Understanding movement wishes to bring people together to commemorate the 90th Anniversary of Armistice Day: 11/11, 2008.

For November, 11, 1918 was the Armistice of the Western Front of World War I. The Treaty of Versailles specified the Great War's end at 11:00 AM Greenwich time.

Around the world, this day is still recalled as Armistice Day: "a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be thereafter celebrated and known as 'Armistice Day'." In the United States, it was renamed Veterans Day in 1954 to include veterans of World War II and the Korean Conflict.

By changing to Veterans Day, we alter the intent from commemorating the final cessation of hostilities, and the cause for world peace, to a personal homage soley to those who saw uniformed service. We indeed must honor and remember veterans. Yet we must focus on the causes they fought for, and what they hoped to achieve: a better and lasting peace.

How may millions also served their nations without benefit of weapon, training, or formal recognition? For every unknown soldier, how many unknown civilians were wounded or buried in rubble?

How can we measure what true bravery is? The soldier in a tank, or the mother whose only arms are her own, which she uses to hold her dear children to her chest as mechanized death rains all around?

By focusing on the original intent—Armistice—the commemoration of the truce that followed the fighting, we honor all who survived and all who died, during most terrible conflict. The concept of Armistice is universal. It may stand for the cessation of any war, at any time, anywhere in the world.

Therefore, the Global Understanding movement calls for the return to original intent of 11/11, as Armistice Day, to focus on global peace. We may broaden the charter of the commemoration of the First World War to honor all those affected by the ravages of war in their lifetime up to the present day.