Saturday, November 14, 2015

Paris Is in the Crosshairs, But the Target Is Western Civilization

I suppose I hoped that the attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo nearly a year ago would have made it too clear to be misunderstood or ignored. Yet the eyes of the world are drawn once again to Paris, the scene of yesterday's horrific series of coordinated terrorist attacks — because those who should have learned from that earlier experience did not.

A virtual anarchist's cookbook of tactics was on display as the terrorists struck at any place people tend to gather on an evening in Paris, one of the largest cities in the world. For centuries, Paris has been known the world over for its culture, its arts, its music, and people have been drawn there to experience it. Technology did not bring culture to Paris. Instead, Paris' culture brought technology there — and, lately, not for good.

On Friday terrorists used bombs and guns at cafes, at a stadium where a soccer match was in progress, at a theater where a concert was taking place. Even though most of the perpetrators appear to be dead now, those attacks are sure to have at least a temporary chilling effect on Paris' cultural scene — not unlike the dramatic drop in air traffic in the United States after the Sept. 11, 2001 hijackings.

Appropriately, it is the deadliest attack on French soil since World War II — and I say "appropriately" because this is a war. Too many people have been unwilling to acknowledge that — and, I am sure, many are still reluctant to do so, perhaps because they feel it is a war against Islam, which it is not.

But Muslim extremists are waging a war on Western civilization. The target today is Paris — but the real target, the objective, is the overthrow of Western civilization, and that will mean that the war, inevitably, will be waged on our soil. We did not seek this war any more than we sought a war with Japan in the 1940s, but Pearl Harbor dragged us into the conflict.

Wars are regrettable, but sometimes they are necessary to preserve a way of life.

But, at long last, we must acknowledge the fact that this war is not a conventional war. Just because there hasn't been a major attack like the one more than 14 years ago — with a high body count and lots of mayhem — doesn't mean the war is over. The terrorists are patient — and they're smart the way that criminals are always smart. They apply logic to their objectives. It was why in 2001 they selected those jets that had enough fuel for a coast–to–coast trip — they wanted plenty of jet fuel to cause maximum damage when the planes crashed into buildings — and why they chose weekdays instead of weekends to carry out their plots. They knew there would be fewer people on board to resist.

The attacks in Paris were well coordinated and indicate extensive planning. Why did they pick yesterday to carry them out? Was it in response to the United States' drone attack that killed Jihadi John? Or was it planned ahead of time, and the timing was a happy coincidence for the terrorists?

I'm pretty sure it wasn't because yesterday was Friday the 13th, but I guess you never know ...

I sympathize with the reluctance of many to see the United States engaged in a war. The Iraq/Afghanistan experience left a bad taste in many people's mouths, and it is an experience no one wishes to repeat. (Afghanistan, of course, was targeted because the terrorist attack was planned there. Iraq was different. It was a war of choice and could have been avoided. But that is a discussion for another time.)

In case you haven't noticed yet, life affords no one the luxury of controlling events. The United States has always desired peace, but outside influences sometimes force us to go to war (OK, one time it was due to inside influences). Those wars in Iraq and Afghanistan began as responses to the 9–11 attacks — well, Iraq got piggybacked in because of the alleged presence of weapons of mass destruction — and they were very popular at first. They became much less popular as they dragged on.

True, the perps in these terrorist attacks are always Muslims, but this is a war with the extremists, not mainstream Islam. Those who call this what it is are not calling for an FDR–like roundup and segregation of all who fit a general description. Those who call this what it is are being realists. Does that sound like profiling to you? Well, if it does, you must remember that profiling, when correctly applied, serves a useful purpose — if, for example, there has been a series of break–ins somewhere, and witnesses report that the apparent perps were in a certain age group and appeared to be in a particular racial group, authorities won't squander valuable time interrogating people who do not fit the description — but it can be abused. There is no doubt about that. There must be adequate, diligent oversight to prevent abuse.

The idea behind profiling is a good one — to provide useful information that can enable authorities to resolve criminal cases faster. The implementation needs to be fine–tuned.

In France today, there is no massive manhunt as there was in January. My understanding is that all the attackers are now dead. But if any were alive, it would be good for authorities to have a physical description of them and/or their colleagues.

As I write this, the death toll has fluctuated. CNN reported 128 casualties last night, and ABC News reports 127 casualties this morning. I don't know the actual number — maybe no one does — but many, many more are injured, some critically, and the death toll is sure to rise in the coming days.

The latest figure is 129 — from The Telegraph. As I say, though, that number will surely rise.

French President François Hollande — who was attending that soccer match — calls it what it is. He said it was an "act of war."

It seems to be a little late to be reaching that conclusion — but better late than never, I suppose.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Changing Times

My stepsister and I were talking about our vehicles the other night, and we discovered that we both drive standard transmissions. That, of course, is a vanishing breed.

I'm not sure when my stepsister bought her vehicle, but I bought mine about a year ago. It was used — a couple of years old — and it was a five–speed standard transmission. I saw it advertised on the internet and went to investigate on a Saturday.

The salesman was a friendly fellow — they always are, aren't they? — and he was glad someone was interested in the vehicle, but he hesitantly got around to mentioning (apologetically) that it was a standard transmission. Was I aware of that? he asked.

"Oh, yes," I replied. "That is what I want," and he seemed relieved to hear that. I explained that I have been driving standard transmissions nearly all of my driving life. I probably wouldn't know what to do with my left foot if I didn't drive a standard.

I guess the first car I drove regularly was an automatic. My mother and grandmother taught me how to drive. We went out in the country — there was a lot of it around where I grew up — and I practiced basic maneuvers. My parents had two cars, one an automatic and the other a standard. Mom felt I should learn to drive both.

She told me that there might come a time when an emergency would come up and the only vehicle that could be used was a standard. In such a situation, it would be good if I knew how to drive a standard. The other people around me might not know how.

That made sense to me — except that later, as I reflected on Mom's reasoning, I thought that, if I had not been the one who drove the standard to wherever this situation occurred, the owner of that standard must be there, too. Wouldn't that person be able to drive the vehicle? It seemed Mom had overlooked that detail. Perhaps not, though. Perhaps the owner broke a leg or was rendered unconscious. Then, by process of elimination, it might be up to me to save us all — or, at least, get us the hell out of Dodge.

So I could accept Mom's reasoning on that. Maybe she did touch all the bases in her reasoning based on what she knew to be true at the time — but she and I both failed to anticipate a time (in my lifetime) when standard transmissions would virtually cease to exist. That seems to be where we are headed. Standards, as I observed earlier, are dwindling. Someday in the future — perhaps the near future — a vehicle with standard transmission may be a special order kind of thing — if it still exists at all.

This vehicle I am driving now may well turn out to be the last of its kind for me. In the future, I may not have a choice about what kind of transmission to have in my vehicle. It might be regarded as a luxury option — luxury in the sense of additional cost.

That will mean yet another adjustment in my life, but that really doesn't bother me too much, I suppose. I've been through that kind of thing before.

What really bothers me is future generations, who are being deprived of more of the simple pleasures of life and not really getting something better — or even just equal — in return.

I saw a meme on Facebook the other day that pointed out that modern cell phone users will never know the satisfaction of slamming a telephone receiver to end a frustrating call. I'm sure it never sounded as dramatic on the other end, but it sure did feel good, didn't it? Pressing a button to end a call just never has been the same.

And future drivers operating an automatic transmission will never feel as liberated as shifting into fifth gear on an open highway and watching the countryside race by can make you feel.

Of course, these days, there is talk of driverless cars. I'm not sure how I feel about that. It is said that driverless cars will permit their owners to relax, perhaps read the morning paper, while being taken to work by someone who shares the same family tree with Manti Te'o's girlfriend.

I don't think I could relax or read with a ghost behind the wheel.