This is the Place – Reflections on the attack at Manchester

I have been avoiding reading about the Manchester attack. I know when I’m too close to the edge to look over, and that’s the way I’ve been feeling since I heard about the tragic event. Today, I looked.

As the saying has it, there are eight million stories in the naked city. Manchester, this time, is that city.

One of those stories belongs to eight-year-old Saffie Rose Roussos, the youngest of the victims. She was caught in the blast after having become momentarily separated from her mother and sister, both of whom suffered shrapnel injuries.

Another one of the stories is that of Sorrell Leczkowski, 14 years old, who was with her mother and grandmother. She died. Mother and grandmother are still in hospital, recovering from their wounds.

Not all of the names have yet been released. But for each name, there are countless stories. None of them explain. They merely convey. Those who will survive this incident will recover, more or less, from their physical wounds. There is no recovery from the emotional wounds.

“A return to a normal state of health, mind, or strength.”
“The action or process of regaining possession or control of something stolen or lost.”

A parent who loses a child to illness, or accident, no matter the age of the child, is a changed parent. There is no returning, though there can be a moving on.

But a parent who loses a child, particularly a young child, to an act of atrocity, and worse – their child was there by their own permission or in fact in their very care – not only cannot return, but can never really regain possession or control. That which was stolen, remains stolen. The fault these parents will naturally assume, whether warranted or not – and here, clearly not – will never let them taste sweetness again without tasting bitterness. All the would-have-been-joyful moments to come will forever be tethered to darkness by the fact of the missing essential element: the child.

There is no justification for what happened. There is no explanation that can complete the puzzle of life for the people who were affected. And we have all been affected. The best we can perhaps hope for is to remember. Remember the path we were on. Remember why we were on it. Remember where we thought we were going. Remember who we were with.

For me, this memory is helped along by “This is the Place,” a poem by Tony Walsh, which he so forcefully read in the aftermath of such loss. I leave you with this thought, in the hope that it helps you to come to a better place, as it did me.

Tony Walsh reciting “This is the Place”Tony Walsh reciting 'This is the Place'

The sad truth about drone warfare

Predator droneI’d like to comment on one aspect of an article that appeared recently in The Independent. To do that, I’ll start with a telling quote regarding the use of drones: “They’re the worst form of warfare in the history of the world, except for all the others.

The article in question is a guest editorial in The Independent, by Malik Jalal, titled, “I’m on the Kill List. This is what it feels like to be hunted by drones.

I am not a militarist, as a general rule. And I’m not particularly fond of things flying overhead that can drop bombs or fire missiles at those on the ground. Hell, I don’t even like traffic copters hovering overhead.

Regarding drones, though… their opponents often adamantly decry drone warfare for the fact that for every viable target, 9 or 10 more people invariably end up being killed as well. But they’re not so adept at stating what the military alternative is. I’m not talking about what the political alternative might have been. We’re past that. I’m saying, if the decision is made that some kind of brute force method must be applied to a particular situation, what’s it gonna be?
Agreed, taking out 10 people for every viable target really sucks. But consider traditional warfare. How many people did the U.S. (and most of the Western World) want to “take out” in WWII? One: Adolf Hitler.

That’s not completely fair, because there were probably 10 top targets who needed to be eliminated in order to arrest Germany’s actions. Himmler, Eichmann, Goebbels, etc.

The overall losses of human life in WWII – the costliest ever – were around 75 million. Estimates vary. Military deaths alone were estimated at about 25 million. Non-military, civilian deaths due to direct military action and “crimes against humanity” were approximately 30 million.

Focusing on the latter number, not even taking into account the staggering number of people who lost their lives due to famine and disease during the war – just the 30 million innocents killed as a direct result of the war – means that the cost was 3 million “bystanders” for each one of those “top 10” targeted leaders of the Nazi regime.

The simple and unpleasant truth is, the ratio of collateral deaths and injuries per strike in drone warfare is several orders of magnitude less than in traditional warfare. Until there is a way to either make warfare disappear, or to make the available strategies even more precise than they already are, we’re going to continue to see drones used to launch campaigns against hostile targets.

Any unnecessary loss of life is tragic. But drones kill far fewer people than other methods currently known and used.

Zakaria misses the point on the mosque at Ground Zero

Editor’s note, April 2017: I’ve thought many times about deleting this post, which I fundamentally no longer agree with. But I’ve decided to let it stand, as a point-in-time reflection on how things appeared at the time.

Since that time, the Muslim world has certainly distanced itself from bin Laden and his followers, and from other Islamic hate groups, terrorist organizations, etc. In addition, I’ve done more reading on Islam, and have come to appreciate on my own, that even without said repudiation, it is clear that Islam suffers at the hands of its less-enlightened splinter groups and particularly vocal individuals, who use the banner of Islam to proclaim negative and hateful ideas as Islamic “truths,” in the same way that Christianity, for example, is brought down by the Westboro Baptist Churches of the Christian world.

I believe that any religion is troublesome when it attempts to serve as a basis for a government. In the modern age, it appears to be generally Islam where we see this. But those aspects of the U.S. government that seem to be driven by Christian fundamentalism are perhaps just as troublesome.

In short, we have to take what we read and hear with a grain of salt. We have to be a little more circumspect with regard to what constitutes “proof” of a hypothesis. And we have to be a little more forgiving when it comes to alternative viewpoints. In saying “we,” of course, I vigorously include myself.


I recently posted a comment on Huffington Post, in response to comments by a Mr. “Research.” He (I assume it’s a “he”) had asserted, “There is no doubt that Muslims should be able to purchase land and build a masque and community center “in the shadow of 9/11″, over 20 Muslims were victims of the 9/111 attacks…”

Yes, I agree that Muslims should be allowed to build a “masque” (sic) anywhere they want. I believe that the radical followers of Islam have proven themselves very capable of building and wearing “masques” of all types.

Building a mosque, however, is another matter entirely. If mosques as we have come to know them particularly in the time since 2001 were in fact houses of worship, it would not be an issue. But for them to be houses of discord, of distortion, of false education, of hatred, of violence, of fatwah – that is another issue entirely.

Since the Islamic world has not come out in universal and unequivocal repudiation of Osama bin Laden and his followers, it necessarily follows that they do not WISH to distance themseves from him. Therefore they are comfortable with him speaking for the world of Islam.

To the extent that that is true, we, the United States, are at war with Islam. We must not permit Islam to erect its “victory flag” on our hallowed ground at Ground Zero. We must fight our natural tendency toward laziness, and get off our butts and stake our claim. That land is ours. It will not be given away; if it is to go to anyone else, they will have to come here and take it. This time, let’s hope we are ready for them.

No major modern religion is without its tawdry history; mine (Christianity, and specifically the Anglican/Episcopal Church) included. But in ours, most of our worst “errors” are matters of conscience, convenience, duplicity. They are not matters of murder, terrorism and destruction. If not different in kind (though I think they are), they are certainly different in degree. So the things we have done in the name of our God, pale in response to the things they have done in the name of theirs.

The behavior of the entire Islamic world in the shadow of what was done in New York since September 11, 2001, has been reprehensible. You can’t eat your cake and still have it. If you’re not going to say that bin Laden was wrong, and be willing to die for that belief, you can’t have a fucking mosque at Ground Zero. It’s as simple as that.

Keystone Cops score big success in New York City terror bomber nab!

There were so many near-misses in the handling of this whole attempted car-bombing event, it should be shocking. But somehow it just seems par for the course. And yet Eric Holder says he was “never in any fear that that we were in danger of losing him [the suspect, Mr. Shahzad],” and Janet Napolitano thought it was a “great team effort,” and “truly exemplary.” Wow. Just because the Keystone cops manage to actually catch the bad guy, and avoid shooting each other in the foot, well, I guess that counts for something.

But look. The Vehicle Identification Number was removed from the tag in the passenger compartment? Just call Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers (ok, really Tom and Ray Magliozzi, of “Car Talk” fame). They’ll tell you that there’s always another location with the VIN, and would even tell you where it was on the Pathfinder.

An FBI team had Mr. Shahzad under surveillance, and he got away? For how long? Where were they when he got away? Why didn’t they see him go? This is the FBI, not some hack. C’mon guys.

Emirates did not check the no-fly list? Even though they were directed to do so because an important addition was made that day? Why not?

Airlines are not required to report cash purchases? Why not? Who pays for airline tickets in cash?

The Transportation Security Administration is currently checking passenger manifests against the no-fly list… for domestic flights only. Duhhh. Do most terrorists fly from JFK to Topeka? Why not have the TSA checking international flights NOW, instead of by the year-end? Forget about the domestic flights!

There are just layers and layers of absurdity in this plot, and yes, we all learn from our mistakes, but let’s acknowledge them as mistakes instead of praising ourselves for somehow, against all odds, managing to stop this guy.