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.”