Thursday, May 05, 2011

At one point, 83 percent of Detroit’s population was black.

Nearly Half Of Detroiters Can't Read


Detroit was once the symbol of American wealth and industrial capacity. It is now everybody's emblem of decline. 
The data about Detroit grow more depressing by the month.  This report may be the most depressing thing you'll read all year. 
In a nutshell, it says that roughly half of all the people who live in Detroit are illiterate. They can't read the back of a cereal box.  They can't read a weather report.  They can't read at all. 
As Andrew Coulson notes in his blog at Cato: "Virtually the entire illiterate  population has completed elementary school, the level at which reading is theoretically taught. That’s seven years of schooling (k-6), at a cost of roughly $100,000, for… nothing."
By way of epitaph, last month every teacher in the Detroit public school system was laid off. 

THE REAL REASON FOR GWB LOW PRPFILE? Next election! Watch after November 2012 GWB will be all over the place!

Bush Wanted to Keep Low Profile

CS - George & Laura Bush 
Former first lady Laura Bush said George W. Bush decided not to go to ground zero with President Obama Thursday because he believes only acting presidents should participate in such official ceremonies.
 “That’s for President Obama to do at this point,” she told the Associated Press.
 Laura Bush also said that she and her husband were at out at dinner Sunday night when they heard Obama was trying to reach him.
 The former president returned home to take the call informing him that Osama bin Laden had been killed.

Bin Laden Wife Didn’t Leave Compound

HP Main - Did Pakistan Know
 Getty Images
Amal Ahmed Abdul-Fattah, the wife of Osama bin Laden who was injured in the raid that killed him, reportedly told Pakistani interrogators that she hadn’t left the compound where he was shot for five years.

She and eight of bin Laden’s children lived in the Abbottabad compound, she said.
Meanwhile, U.S. officials said they hadn’t done an autopsy on bin Laden’s body before burying him at sea. Although the chief of al Qaeda was said to require dialysis for kidney disorders, no dialysis machines were found at the house.
Read it at CNN

SARAH PALIN: "Isn't She Pretty, Isn't She Nice?"

Sarah Palin
There's really nothing to say about this Washington Post story about Sarah Palin attending parties last Saturday in DC, except:
a) it makes me want to throw up
b) Sarah’s comeback from Tucson is on track, exactly as she wants it to be, with mainstream media rolling over and begging her to scratch their jelly bellies once again.

Visitors to this blog, and even people who will buy The Rogue in September, constitute only a tiny minority of the American voting public. A much larger minority–encouraged by mainstream media such as Vanity Fair and the Washington Post–still find Sarah fascinating, even dazzling.

We might wish she was yesterday’s breakfast, but as long as mainstream editors, publishers and reporters beg for the chance to pose for a photo with her, she remains likely to be a main course at the 2012 election banquet. She might even wind up looking for a White House chef.

There is no morality in mainstream media. There is only venal self-interest. There are (with a certain few exceptions) only weary whores who would trade what’s left of their souls for the chance to pose for a snapshot with a celebrity.

This is your Washington “press corps,” ladies and gentlemen. Better described as the Washington “press corpse.”
Its theme song is “Celebrity Über Alles.”
This post originally appeared at The Rogue Blog.

The Trig Palin Hoax Theory All Hinges On One Telling Photo

At the outset of writing about the controversy surrounding Trig Palin’s birth, I said clearly that I could go either way on what to believe about this story.
On the one hand, I do see why some consider this to be possibly the greatest and most malevolent hoax in the history of American politics.
Yet, I remain intrigued by the odd, conflicting, indeed seemingly contrived anecdotes about what is now widely called The Wild Ride, Mrs. Palin’s allegedly reckless and lengthy return to Alaska while leaking amniotic fluid and suffering contractions unbeknownst to anyone around her in order to avoid delivering in Texas someone who might one day pick fish. 
Those who believe in the hoax theory argue that pictures tell nearly the entire story. That all one has to do is look at a few photos to determine that Mrs. Palin was not pregnant.
Me? I’m a skeptic. Or maybe I’m just stupid. Although with two degrees from Columbia University, for both of which I had to write a thesis (neither of which informs my thoughts or opinions today, even though I received A’s on them, Mrs. Palin), some might call me a notch above stupid.
Things need to be spelled out for me. I know there is someone out there who can explain away every single, niggling detail about this very strange birth story. But she doesn’t appear to want to do that.

So, I thought I’d start with the photos. And little did I know that Professor Brad Scharlott, whose paper on the Spiral Of Silence has got more people talking about this birth story than ever before, is actually a Photoshop expert.
Prof. Scharlott teaches both digital publishing and photojournalism at Northern Kentucky University.  And he said he’d be glad to talk me through a few of the more famous pictures.
BS: Thank you for that introduction, Laura, but let me qualify what you said. I have been teaching digital publishing since the late 1980s, and I’ve taught photojournalism for nearly a decade. So I’ve had to learn a lot about Photoshop and related programs in order to teach them to my students. I’m pretty good at “photoshopping” pictures, as that word is generally used – for example, I can put people’s heads on animals’ bodies, for laughs – but calling me an expert might be an overstatement. Still, I know enough to effectively teach digital photography and photo editing to college students.
Today I’d like to focus on a picture of Palin that appeared in the Anchorage Daily News on March 14, 2008. That was nine days after Palin announced that she was seven month pregnant, and four and half weeks before she allegedly gave birth to Trig on April 18. Here it is, as it appeared in the newspaper:
Sarah Palin
While Palin looks fairly trim in this photo, it’s hard to tell just how flat her stomach is, because the darkness of her outfit obscures details.
Here’s where an experienced digital photographer can help. It’s well-known among the pros that dark areas in a photograph can be lightened to show details that otherwise will not be apparent. Any photo-editing program can be used to adjust the brightness level of a photo like this; that includes the photo-editing programs that are bundled for free with most new computers. People reading this who want to experiment can copy the above picture to their own computer, open the picture in iPhoto (if you are using a Mac, as I am), then click on the “Edit” icon, bring up the “Adjust” panel, and finally pull the “Shadows” slider to the right. (If you don’t see the “Adjust” panel, drag a corner of the photo to make it bigger.) And while you are at it, you might also bump up the brightness and contrast sliders a bit, also.
What will your adjusted photo look like? Probably like this: 
Sarah Palin
Sarah’s flat stomach is now quite apparent. Notice that neither I, nor you, dear reader (if you followed along) moved a single pixel (a “pixel” is a dot in a digital picture). And I did not use Photoshop, so no one can accuse me, in any sense, of “photoshopping” the picture.
Let me address that term, by the way. When “photoshop” is used as a verb, generally it means to deceive by adding or subtracting or altering certain elements in a picture. But using Photoshop (or any other photo editing program) to simply lighten a photo is not deceptive. So be wary of what people really mean why they use the word “photoshopped.” 
LN: Okay, Brad, I’m going to play devil’s advocate for a moment. Mrs. Palin looks to be leaning back in this photo, possibly because she’s chuckling about something funny the Lt. Governor said, or because of a text on her ubiquitous phone. But seriously, one could argue she is tilted back because of the weight and force of a baby belly. Couldn’t that explain her posture? 
BS: I’m glad you asked that, Laura. The photographer who took this picture apparently used a zoom lens at a long setting, thus producing a photo distortion known as pin-cushioning. Look at woman to the right in the photo; you can see that her body is bowing slightly to the left with her head skewing a bit to the right corner. In the case of Palin, the bowing makes her appear to be leaning backwards.
To get a truer sense of what Palin would have looked like if you had viewed her in that scene with your own eyes, I am going to use the “Correct Camera Distortion” feature in Photoshop Elements (the cheaper, home version of Photoshop), and basically add a bit of “barreling” to counter the effect of the pincushion distortion: 
Sarah Palin
The result gives a truer sense of how those three people would have looked if viewed with your own eyes that day. And while Palin seems to be standing straighter, the alteration did not affect the flatness of her stomach, which I think tells the story.
So what do you think, Laura? Do you believe Palin can be seven months pregnant in this photo? 
LN:  What a great question! I know I need to buckle down and not dither, and I know that this is about health care and job creation, there, also too. But I need to ask a man and I will get back to you (as someone might say).
Seriously, Brad, can’t someone say that any change in a digital picture makes it less authentic, less true?
BS: Well, digital pictures are sometimes not admissible in court (for example, if the original is unavailable) because they are so easily manipulated. So you need to feel confident that the source of a digital picture is trustworthy. This particular picture comes from a major newspaper, so there is no reason to believe it was deceptively altered before it was posted online or published in the paper.
But the answer to your question is an emphatic “no,” altering a digital picture, say, by lightening it, does not make it less “authentic” (whatever that might mean). That’s because all digital photographs have already been processed in various ways before you see them. A cheap point-and-shoot camera makes numerous decisions for the user, such as light level and sharpness. A pro photographer using the “RAW” files captured by her camera must make those decisions herself before generating the pictures. (Back in the old days of film, any print of a picture had to likewise be processed through multiple steps, all of which introduced alterations from the “original,” which was generally a negative.)
Lightening a picture that already has been generated does not affect its “truthfulness” – it just presents a different aspect of the visual truth. The second picture above shows more detail than the first picture, and that is truthful, because in fact a person viewing the scene would have seen those details, since the human eye is much more sensitive than a digital camera. And the third picture is just as truthful as the first (or even more so) because it removes distortion caused by optics – in particular, by a zoom lens; it’s showing the scene as it would have looked to the human eye.
So the question for readers is this: Can you imagine any way Palin in this photo might be seven months pregnant?
LN: For my part, I covered up her head with a piece of paper and tried to look at the photo that way. And I must admit I see no pregnant stomach there. What do Mrs. Palin’s supporters say about this photo? How do they explain it? Because as I’ve said all along on this blog, I am wide open to having a conversation about this.
BS: Palin supporters generally try to ignore or belittle photographic evidence. Julia O’Malley, on April 14, in an Anchorage Daily News article with the headline “Make. It. Stop.” wrote this about my research paper titled “Palin, the Press, and the Fake Pregnancy Rumor”: “I read Scharlott's piece. It contains lots of innuendo and some widely-circulated Photoshopped pictures. What is missing from his investigation: facts.”
Notice her use of “Photoshopped” – the implication is the photos are deceptive. But in the case of the above photo, what deception can she possibly be referring to? The picture comes from her own newspaper! If she wants, she can probably go straight to the photographer who took the picture and get a copy from his or her hard drive, just as it was downloaded from the photographer’s camera.
She wrote that my investigation lacks “facts.” (The paper has over 40 footnotes, so it’s brimming with verified, factual information.) But a photograph is also a “fact.” Can she look at the above picture and honestly say she thinks Palin might be seven months pregnant in it? In her article she wrote that Palin’s baby bump was obvious. What baby bump?
LN:  Allow me to interrupt here and say that “obvious” is the last word I would use about this photo. I don’t know what the truth is, but there is no “obvious” pregnancy here.

BS:  Exactly! In that same vein, I would like to invite Justin Elliot of Salon, who on April 22 wrote an article with the presumptuous headline “Trig Trutherism: The Definitive Debunker,” to exam the photographic evidence presented here. And after he examines it, I’d like to know if he still feels 100 percent sure Sarah Palin was in fact pregnant with Trig. If his answer is yes, then I’d like him to explain what he makes of this photograph.
I have a doctorate in mass communications from a top school in that field, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, which means I’m a trained researcher. My research has been published in numerous peer-reviewed academic journals. I teach a senior-level college class on research methods. I’m an empiricist. I believe truth can be discovered and verified. And this picture that we have just examined objectively exists, and its truth value can be assessed. Here’s my bottom line from my examination of the photo: I am at least 95 percent confident that Sarah Palin is not seven months pregnant in that photo.
However, I am not 100 confident. I have no medical training. I do not work with pregnant women as a matter of course in my job. There are many people who can offer a much more authoritative reading of that photo than I can, including you, Laura, who have written so eloquently about your own high-risk pregnancy and the months your child lived in a NICU.  So I am making a request, or rather several requests, of your readers:
1. Would those of you with medical training, especially if it involves working with pregnant women, let me know if you believe Sarah Palin might be seven months pregnant in the above photo? Please let me know your credentials and if I may quote you by name in a follow-up article. If you possess relevant photographic evidence, please send it.
2. Would those of you who have been pregnant at least five times let me know if you, in the seventh month of your fifth pregnancy, looked approximately as slender as Palin does in the above photo. If you could verify your stage of pregnancy (for example, with the date of the photo plus the date that you gave birth), that would be great. Let me know if I may quote you by name and print your picture in a follow-up article. Likewise, if a close relative of yours (your wife, sister, etc.) looked that slender in the seventh month of her fifth pregnancy, let me know and send a picture.
3. If you are a professional photographer who has worked with pregnant women, please share any relevant observations or photographs you might have.
Feel free to post your comments below and I will certainly read them here, and respond, on Laura’s blog. Or if you wish for more privacy concerning your name, etc., you might want to post anonymously below or email Laura on her Contact page. But send your comments plus personal information and/or pictures to me at
Thanks in advance for your help.  And Laura, it’s always fun talking with you about this story, journalist-to-journalist.
LN:  Thank you, Brad. And I know that we are going to analyze two more critical photos here on my blog. And I can’t wait to see what you’ve got! 

Donald Trump bows out of Indy 500 pace car role

By Timothy A. Clary, AFP/Getty Images
Donald Trump has decided not to drive the pace car for the Indianapolis 500, but isn't attributing his withdrawal to the recent controversy over his planned role in the race's 100th anniversary celebration.

A press release from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway says Trump begged off because he may be announcing his intention to run for president soon, and that he thought that would make it inappropriate for him to drive the pace car.
"I very much appreciate the honor, but time and business constraints make my appearance there, especially with the necessary practice sessions, impossible to fulfill," Trump is quoted as saying in the press release. "I look forward to watching the race from New York."
COMPLETE STORY: Indianapolis Star
No replacement has been named. Jeff Belskus, Indianapolis Motor Speedway president and CEO, said he understood the decision and that, "From my first conversation, I was impressed by his deep understanding of the event and history, and I thank him for being a true fan."
A Facebook site had begun a campaign to oust Trump from the pace car duty, in part because of the belief that the 100th anniversary race should have a previous winner in that role.

Top Secret Stealth Helicopter Program Revealed in Osama Bin Laden Raid: Experts

Before an elite team of U.S. Navy SEALs executed a daring raid that took down Osama bin Laden, the commandos were able to silently sneak up on their elusive target thanks to what aviation analysts said were top secret, never-before-seen stealth-modified helicopters.
In the course of the operation that cost the al Qaeda leader his life, one of the two Blackhawk helicopters that carried the SEALs into bin Laden's Pakistani compound grazed one of the compound's wall and was forced to make a hard landing. With the chopper inoperable, at the end of the mission the SEALs destroyed it with explosives.
But photos of what survived the explosion -- the tail section of the craft with curious modifications -- has sent military analysts buzzing about a stealth helicopter program that was only rumored to exist. From a modified tail boom to a noise reducing covering on the rear rotors and a special high-tech material similar to that used in stealth fighters, former Department of Defense official and vice president of the Lexington Institute Dan Goure said the bird is like nothing he's ever seen before.
European PressPhoto Agency
Photographs taken after a Navy SEAL team... View Full Size
Osama Bin Laden Dead: SEALs' Stealth Helicopter Watch Video
Osama Bin Laden: Fact or Fiction? Watch Video
Navy SEAL Who Shot Osama Bin Laden Watch Video
"This is a first," he said. "You wouldn't know that it was coming right at you. And that's what's important, because these are coming in fast and low, and if they aren't sounding like they're coming right at you, you might not even react until it's too late... That was clearly part of the success."
In addition to the noise-reducing modifications, a former special operations aviator told The Army Times the general shape of what was left of the craft -- the harsh angles and flat surfaces more common to stealth jets -- was further evidence it was a modified variant of the Blackhawk.
A senior Pentagon official told ABC News the Defense Department would "absolutely not" comment on anything relating to the destroyed bird.

Neighbors of bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan, told ABC News they didn't hear the helicopters the night of the Sunday raid until they were directly overhead. The rotor covering, along with a special rotor design, suppressed the choppers noise while inbound, Bill Sweetman, editor and chief of Defense Technology International, said.
"Helicopters make a very distinctive percussive rotor sound which is caused by their rotor blades and if you can blend that down, of course that makes a noise that is much less likely to be heard and much more likely to blend into any background noise that there is," Sweetman said.

Parts of Helicopter Taken From Crash Site

The U.S. has attempted to use stealth helicopters before. In the mid-90s, the Army developed several prototypes of the Comanche helicopter, a reconnaissance helicopter that was at the time a revolutionary step in stealth technology. But in 2004 the Department of Defense scrapped the program and promised to used technology developed for the Comanche on other crafts.
Since, the government has been working to silence the Army's Blackhawk helicopters but an official program for the stealth choppers was never publicized. The wreckage, Sweetman said, is the first the public has ever seen of an operational stealth-modified helicopter.
Goure said he believes the stealthy Blackhawks have been in use for years without the public's knowledge.
European PressPhoto Agency
Photographs taken after a Navy SEAL team... View Full Size
PHOTO: The wreckage of one helicopter that clipped a rotor on a compound wall, was abandoned and destroyed.
European PressPhoto Agency
Photographs taken after a Navy SEAL team raided Osama bin Laden?s compound in Pakistan show the wreckage of one helicopter that clipped a rotor on a compound wall, was abandoned and destroyed.
Osama Bin Laden Dead: SEALs' Stealth Helicopter Watch Video
Osama Bin Laden: Fact or Fiction? Watch Video
Navy SEAL Who Shot Osama Bin Laden Watch Video
"We probably have been running hundreds of missions with these helicopters over the last half dozen years, and the fact is, they've all been successful -- or at least the helicopters have all come back," he said.
But now that one went down and photographs emerged of large sections being taken from the crash site under a tarp, former White House counterterrorism advisor and ABC News consultant Richard Clarke said U.S. officials may have reason to worry about where those parts end up.
"There are probably people in the Pentagon tonight who are very concerned that pieces of the helicopter may be, even now, on their way to China, because we know that China is trying to make stealth aircraft," he said. The Chinese military is known to have a close relationship with the Pakistani military.

Navy's Stealth Helicopters Exposed

MG - Osama Compound - Copter
In case you were too focused on the blood to notice, aviation experts said Wednesday that the helicopters shown in photographs of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden have never before been seen.

 They have top-secret stealth modifiers that allowed the Navy SEALs to silently sneak up on the suburban compound where bin Laden had been living. In addition to the noise-reducing modifications, the helicopters had a different look than other military helicopters—sharper angles and flat surfaces more common to stealth jets.
A senior Pentagon official said the Defense Department would “absolutely not” comment on the helicopters shown in the photos. The military has been working to improve the Black Hawk helicopter since at least 2004, but evidence of the program has never been found in public.

Why Bin Laden Lost

Al Qaeda's leader died because he was outgunned. He lost because he was wrong

The United States has no purpose. That is perhaps its greatest achievement. America's founding document, its Declaration of Independence, allows that a state exists only to secure life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
That's it. There's a curious lack of ambition in those words. The United States was not founded for the greater glory of anything, or as the necessary outcome of history, but for the freedom to collect figurines, to join a clogging troupe, to take a road trip. Yet these words, which carry no ideology whatsoever, are the ones that keep winning. This is the lesson of the past 10 years, and one Osama bin Laden, a man animated by a grandiose vision of restoring a 7th century Muslim empire, never grasped. The most successful organizing principle the world has ever known is a simple guarantee that we can buy and do things that have no point greater than the satisfaction of our own happiness.
The world did not feel so simple as we brushed the ash off our clothes and filed across the East River into a new century. In 2001, bin Laden appeared to be a force, a rider at the head of a storm of death. We feared him as a leader, read opinion polls from the Middle East, and marveled at the size of his following. But did those numbers reflect approval of his ideas, or of his performance?
On Twitter on May 2 a Bahraini named Mubarak Mattar, in a translation from the Arabic by Global Voices, wrote, "With all our differences with al Qaeda, we are proud of the death of a Muslim man who was able to shake the world at a time all the Arab armies united couldn't do that. … You are the only one who said 'No' in an era where the Arabs said 'Yes.' "
In a spectacular, bloody way, Osama bin Laden said, simply, "no." This is not the philosophy of a new prophet in a clash of civilizations; it's the word of a nihilist. We feared the compelling power of his ideology, but what actually resonated was his raised fist. That's why it gives him too much to call him a monster. Remember him as a thug and murderer, but also as a self-obsessed diva with a gift for timing and spectacle. Bin Laden was a trust-funder who took up performance art.
Again, this is easier to understand when we are not numb with rage. You don't have to be an Arabist to see that "no" is not an idea that can outlive its youth. It's not a governing principle, nor is it an economic strategy that could deal with jobless rates that have averaged about 12 percent in the oil-free states of the Maghreb and the Mashreq. It's a pose.
It's through this lens that bin Laden and his al Qaeda followers make the most sense. Four of the men who formed the core of the Sept. 11 plot sat and watched videos of bin Laden speeches together before they ever met the man. All four became radicalized in Hamburg; contact with the West created them, as it had created many Muslim radicals—Sayyid Qutb, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed—who came before. Hamburg is a cruel city for the lost. It feels no shame for its sex kinos. It offers the worst combination of liberties, those of an international port and a six-university town. And it was not until Hamburg, among the students and the East European prostitutes, that four young men from Egypt, Yemen, Lebanon, and the United Arab Emirates grew out their beards and became unfamiliar to their families back home.
Was bin Laden a religious figure to these men watching videos in the apartment they shared near the harbor? Or was he a rock star, in an idiom they could accept? The young want fame, glory, and meaning, and few professions offer these in greater abundance than rock god or terrorist. In October 2001 a folk myth flourished in New York that suicide bombers had planned attacks in malls around the city. What we didn't understand then is that a mall strike isn't worth dying for. Ultimately, terrorists aren't into tactics, or politics, or the poor and oppressed. They're into glory. And for those watching on TV, the single-minded pursuit of glory can grow tedious.
Whether we're safe now or not, there's no question that bin Laden changed us. The prospect of another attack, this time with nuclear or biological weapons, has profoundly altered U.S. foreign policy and the very nature of American democracy. We didn't know why they hated us—or even who they were—but we were sure they did hate us. That pervasive, inchoate fear opened us to decisions we wouldn't have imagined before. A war of choice. Torture.
And like any self-respecting artist who works in manure, Osama bin Laden knew how to push our buttons. John Kerry, 2004's tepid Democratic challenger, believed that a video message from bin Laden—well-timed for the closing cycle of the election—sank his campaign. Bin Laden created two wars, stretched the Treasury's financial resources well before the 2008-09 financial crisis, and launched a brand-new Cabinet-level department.
But what did he ever do for the Middle East? Since 2003 the Pew Research Center has been tracking public opinion in eight Muslim countries. In the U.S., coverage of the yearly releases of this data has tended to focus on America's image in the world, and the answer has not been encouraging. The U.S. favorability rating either hovered or dropped. (And lest we think President George W. Bush was the problem, the Obama bounce happened only in Indonesia.)
In 2005 the Center for Strategic Studies in Amman published a study of public opinion in the Mashreq—Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, and the Palestinian territories. In broad strokes, the data agreed with Pew's; those countries held negative views of the West in general, and of the U.S. in particular. But the U.S. emerged as a desirable destination for work-related training, immigration, and working abroad, and the study dismissed the idea that Arabs interpreted tension with the West as a clash of culture or religion. The study concluded, in so many words, that they don't hate us. (It did point out that they hate what we do.)
So maybe the question—why do they hate us?—was the wrong one. Since Pew began its surveys, every country polled has thought less of bin Laden, almost every year. In 2006, the year after al Qaeda visited hotels in Amman, killing nearly 60, including about 30 wedding guests, bin Laden's support dropped in Jordan from 60 percent to just below 25 percent. By 2011 he had sunk from 46 percent to below 20 percent in Pakistan; in the Palestinian territories, from 72 percent to 34 percent. By the time he died, the emptiness of bin Laden's idea had revealed itself. The U.S. wasn't winning the fight to sway public opinion in the Middle East, but Osama was definitely losing it. He changed the world, once, then all he had to offer was more Kalashnikov videotapes. As they got to spend some time with him, Muslims discovered they didn't like him very much. They were looking for something else, something that didn't show up in the polling data.
It showed up this spring. "All those people on the street," says an activist who asked that we withhold her name and location for fear of government reprisal, "they don't want democracy, they want to live, to live with dignity. They want something tangible, not an idea." Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian who set himself on fire after repeated run-ins with local authorities, wanted to support his family with a fruit stand.
Bouazizi's dream lacked the grandeur of a caliphate. He asked no one to die but himself. "In Egypt," says the activist, "the tangible dream is to walk on the street without being harassed by a policeman. In Bahrain, it's to live your life without being discriminated against. In Tunisia, the dream was to work." She dismisses even the news of bin Laden's death. "It doesn't mean anything," she says, "because he's been dead and gone and disappeared for years."
History swings on hinges of brass, not gold. In 1989, miners in the Soviet Union went on strike. They weren't asking for better pay or safer mines or, God forbid, democracy. They wanted soap, a basic consumer good, one their government could no longer consistently provide. "All will be well," offered the East German government to its citizens. Yes, countered a joke popular in the country in the 1980s, but nothing gets better.
We humans follow base and pedestrian needs. We need narratives for our lives, and we look to the speechmakers, the prisoners of conscience, to write them for us. These narratives render our desires into abstract phrases. Freedom. Self-determination. Democracy. All of which are means to an end. For us humans, the end is almost always just a house and some quiet to raise our daughters. Some friends, and a measure of something fermented. Someone to love. Enough soap to rinse off the coal dust. A fruit stand.
A 2010 International Monetary Fund report on economies in the Middle East and North Africa separated out the region's oil importers: Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Syria, and Tunisia. These countries all have total unemployment and youth unemployment far above global averages. To change any of this, writes the IMF, together they will need to create some 18.5 million full-time jobs by 2020. The report blames bloated public sectors, restrictive regulation, and education that fails to match training to jobs; it reads as if it had been written to validate Mohamed Bouazizi's despair. Bin Laden had no answer for it. That doomed him long before the Navy SEALs arrived at his compound.
What I'd like to be able to say to myself, 10 years younger, is that Osama bin Laden will lose because nobody actually wants to live in a cave. Even bin Laden didn't want to live in a cave. As Bloomberg News reported, in Abbottabad he sent runners out for equal amounts of Coke and Pepsi, for Nestlé milk and the good-quality shampoos. The societies that make these things do not turn up their noses at the consumer and his whims, the needs that lack any justification larger than the personal.
There's been much discussion, since the evening his death was announced, of the appropriate way to celebrate the end of Osama bin Laden. You might consider embracing what defeated him. Do something private and ridiculous, something that answers to no creed.
Pursue happiness.
Greeley is a staff writer for Bloomberg Businessweek.