Wednesday, August 24, 2016

BREAKING: American University in Kabul Under Attack - Students and Teachers Trapped

From the Daily Mail:
American University in Kabul under attack: Gunmen storm campus packed with students as explosions are heard and victims tweet from inside 'I'm wounded and girls cry, please help us'
  • 'Complex' raid launched on campus of American University in the capital of Afghanistan, Kabul
  • Ambulances seen ferrying away the wounded from the assault on the school which is in a western suburb
  • University president, Dr. Mark English confirmed an attack has occurred - security forces have responded
  • The university was founded ten-years ago and currently has 1,100 students enrolled
  • College is styled on the American liberal arts model - 40-percent of students are women
The American University of Afghanistan in the capital Kabul is under attack by militants according to witnesses, with gunfire and explosions heard coming from inside the campus. 
A huge plume of smoke was seen rising above the campus on Wednesday night, where several American professors are inside university buildings, along with hundreds of Afghan students. 
Police spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said security forces have rushed to respond to the attack, while ambulances are ferrying the injured away. Many inside managed to escape the onslaught of gunfire through emergency exits. 
Teachers and students still inside the university are sheltering in place while security forces engage in a furious gun battle with militants inside, with many taking to Twitter to plead for help. 
According to one student, several of his classmate have been killed and wounded, while a number of professors and renowned Associated Press photographer, Massoud Hossaini remain trapped while fighting continues.

 'My class was over and I was planning to leave, then suddenly I heard gunshots,' said Ahmad Mukhtar, a student at the university. 
'I tried to find shelter, but a blast took place and I ran towards a wall and managed to escape by climbing the wall and injured my leg,' he told the LA Times. 
'Several students have been killed and injured; many students and professors are stuck,' said another student according to the LA Times. 
'Some managed to escape, but we are still here. Please help us.' 
Witnesses say that multiple attackers have descended on the university campus and detonated an explosion at the gate to gain entry to the heavily fortified facility. 
The Pullitzer-winning Associated Press photographer Massoud Hossaini is inside the university complex and tweeted that he is trapped along with other students. 
Hauntingly, he added that 'this maybe my last tweets'. 
The president of the university Dr. Mark English confirmed that the campus was under attack, saying 'We are trying to assess the situation.' 
'Several gunmen attacked the American University in Kabul and there are reports of gunfire and explosions,' another official said. 'They are inside the compound and there are foreign professors along with hundreds of students.' 
Ahmad Shaheer, a student at the university, told Reuters by telephone that he was trapped inside the university. 
'We are stuck inside our classroom and there are bursts of gunfire,' he said. 
Another student told NBC News that he had only just finished his class and was walking with friends when gunfire erupted and a 'massive explosion; threw them to the ground. 
'We got up, and in the midst of dust ... kept running to the back of the building and climbed the walls and jumped down on the street,' said the student. 
'I am in a taxi and on my way to hospital.' 
According to Afghan journalist Bilal Sawary, the Kabul's CDR rapid reaction force told him that they are dealing with a 'complex' attack and that special forces are 'en-route'. 
'We have been notified of a complex attack on the American University on Darul-Aman Road,' the commander of Kabul police's quick reaction force told NBC News, adding, 'We still don't know the exact nature of the attack.' 
Two professors, an American and an Australian were abducted from the university - where 40 percent of students are women - on August 8th, when five gunmen dressed in Afghan military uniforms kidnapped them at gunpoint from their SUV.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

BREAKING: French Tourist Yells "Allahu Akbar," Goes on Stabbing Rampage in Australia - 1 Dead, 1 Critically Injured

It happened at 11:35 in the evening, local time, at Shelley's Backpackers, a hostel on the North-East coast of Australia.

This isn't Western Europe. You'd think you'd be safe from this sort of thing there.

The suspect has been described as a "Frenchman," which presumably means he had a French passport.

The victims were British.

A woman is dead and a man is fighting for his life.

The suspect was caught on camera screaming "Allahu Akbar!"

From the Daily Mail:
Terror at Queensland hostel: Knife-wielding French tourist screaming 'Allahu Akbar!' kills female British backpacker, 21, and leaves man critically injured in rampage 

  • Woman is dead and a man is fighting for his life after they were stabbed 
  • The British nationals were allegedly attacked by a French national, 29 
  • Police were called to Shelley's Backpackers about 11.15pm on Tuesday
  • French man shouted 'Allahu Akbar' during the frenzied stabbing attack

A French man screaming ‘Allahu Akbar’ went on a stabbing rampage at a backpackers hostel in north Queensland, killing a 21-year-old British woman and leaving a British man, 31, fighting for his life in hospital. 
A third man, an Australian, received non-life threatening wounds and was released from hospital soon after the attack on Tuesday night, police said. 
The attacker, 29, also stabbed a dog to death during the frenzy that was witnessed by a roomful of more than 30 people at Shelley's Backpackers. 
Queensland state Deputy Police Commissioner Steve Golleschewski told a news conference on Wednesday that the attacker screamed the Islamic praise for God during the his frenzy. 
'It is alleged that the suspect used the phrase "Allahu Akbar" during the attack and when arrested by police,' Deputy Commissioner Gollschewski said. 
'Whilst this information will be factored into the information we are not ruling out any motivations at this early stage, whether they be political or criminal.' 
The French man, who has been in the country a temporary visa since March, was also caught on police body camera shouting 'Allahu Akbar' as he was being taken into custody. 
The alleged attack was being assessed for mental health issues and drug use. 
He was taken to Townsville Hospital and is being questioned by police after more than 30 people witnessed the knife attack. No charges have been laid yet. 
Australian Federal Police, who have a responsibility for investigating terror attacks, are also involved in the homicide investigation. 
'At this stage, there is no indications to indicate other than that the fact he was acting alone,' AFP Commander Sharon Cowden said. 
'Albeit it is a shocking incident and the community should remain vigilant. 
'He was in lawfully in Australia and at this stage he was not known to authorities.' 
Police say the man did not appear to have any ties to Islamic State. 
Both the Deputy Commissioner and the Commander expressed their condolences to the families affected by the attack. 
A third person, a 46-year-old local man, was taken to hospital with a stab wound to the leg but has since been released. 
Superintendent Ray Rohweder said police were confronted by a 'terrible scene' when they arrived at the hostel. 
'But both officers ... acted tremendously and ensured the safety of other persons at the venue,' he said. 
Supt Rohweder said the officers asked the alleged attacker, who had sustained injuries to his arms, to lay on the ground before taking him into custody. 
Investigators have the knife believed to have been used in the attack. 
Officers have been in contact with British consular staff. 
The French national is expected to be charged over the attack.

Scottish Police Announce Hijab Uniform

"It's the Scotch-hijab secret police. They've come for your Islamophobe niece."  

Police Scotland just 'unveiled' a new hijab uniform.

I feel safer already.

Actually, I think the picture looks like something out of a Monty Python skit - "No one expects the Scotch-hijab police!"

The intention is supposedly to encourage more Muslim women to join the force. But Muslims (and anyone else) have long been permitted to wear head coverings including a hijab. Yet, as the article claims, there are currently only 6 Muslim women on the force (out of 17,242 officers) and none of those women wear a hijab.

Obviously, prospective Muslima officers are intimidated by the high level of Islamophobia that still exists.

For example, knives and suicide vests are still prohibited while on duty.

BBC Scotland reports:
Police Scotland has announced women from Muslim communities may now wear the hijab as part of their uniform. 
It is part of an attempt to encourage Muslim women to consider pursing a career in the force. 
Officers and police staff have always had the option to wear religious headwear but the announcement ratifies the use of the hijab. 
Chief Constable Phil Gormley said the police force should be representative of the communities it serves. 
The move comes 10 years after the Metropolitan Police in London approved a uniform hijab. 
Mr Gormley said: "I hope that this addition to our uniform options will contribute to making our staff mix more diverse and adds to the life skills, experiences and personal qualities that our officers and staff bring to policing the communities of Scotland." 
The announcement was welcomed by the Scottish Police Muslim Association's chairman Fahad Bashir. 
He said: "This is a positive step in the right direction, and I am delighted that Police Scotland is taking productive steps in order to ensure that our organisation is seen to be inclusive and represents the diverse communities that we serve across Scotland. 
"No doubt this will encourage more women from Muslim and minority ethnic backgrounds to join Police Scotland." 
There are currently six female Muslim officers working for Police Scotland - but none of them wear the hijab either on duty or outwith the force. The most recent figure for the overall strength of the force - released at the end of June - was 17,242. 
Official figures showed that there were 127 applications from black, Asian and ethnic minority candidates in 2015-16. That was just 2.6% of the total number applying to work for the force. 
In order to reflect the 4% figure across Scottish society, the force said it would need to recruit an additional 650 ethnic minority candidates.

Monday, August 22, 2016

In Rio, the American Marathoners Ran Faster, Virtually Everyone Else Ran Slower - Why?

Paula of Brazil (15th) was not having a good time  

At the recent Olympic marathon, the two American-born athletes ran PRs, beating their previous best times by about a minute each. Galen Rupp, finished 3rd in 2:10:05 (previous PR: 2:11:13) and Jared Ward finished 6th in 2:11:30 (previous PR: 2:12:56).

Every other top ten finisher ran slower, sometimes dramatically slower than their PRs. Elide Kipchoge of Kenya finished 1st in 2:08:44 (5:39 slower than his PR of 2:03:05). Feyisa Lilesa finished 2nd in 2:09:54 (5:02 slower than his PR of 2:04:52).

The next ten finishers included 5 sub-2:10 marathoners. None of them did that in Rio.

Two Kenyans and one Ethiopian failed to finish in Rio. They had previous scorching PRs of 2:06:13, 2:03:51 and 2:04:24.

Before the race, on paper at least, it looked as if the Americans had no chance. But virtually all of the top runners had disappointing performances in terms of time.

Except for the two leading Americans.

What explains this?

I really have no idea. But let's look at three possibilities:
  1. The humid conditions were brutal. Only the Americans were ready for this. Undoubtedly, the Americans trained very well (more kudos to Rupp's coach, Alberto Salazar). But all the top runners are relatively wealthy professionals with top coaches who, among other things, anticipate the possibility of varying race conditions. Most of these runners train on multiple continents. This explanation does not seem satisfactory to me.
  2. The pace over the first-half was slow. Thus, PRs were not in the cards for most runners (the reason Rupp and Ward ran PRs was because their PRs were relatively slow coming in). Indeed, I think each of the top 10 finishers ran a negative split (their first half was slower than their second half). But of course, this doesn't explain why the initial pace was so slow. Rupp claimed that his strategy was largely just to hang on to the favorite, Kipchoge for as long as he could. That sounds like a pretty good strategy to me, if you're Rupp. But why did Kipchoge and the other East Africans set such a slow pace at the beginning? It strikes me that if you are 7 or 8 minutes faster than, say Rupp, you want to take advantage of that over the full length of the race. The last thing you want is to have a 10,000 meter champion still with you with 10,000 meters to go. I'm not claiming Kipchoge and the other speedsters did the wrong thing. Obviously, they're smarter than I am when it comes to pacing. But I simply do not understand their strategy.
  3. The Americans were simply hungrier than the others. The Olympics are now the one international race where there is no monetary reward. All the other top runners (outside of the Americans) have successful careers where they make hundreds of thousands of dollars by finishing well at other races. So, perhaps from the point of view of one of these professionals, if things are not going perfectly at the beginning of the non-paying Olympic race, why kill yourself by going fast and thereby perhaps messing up your performance at the next paying marathon? Indeed, this might explain why the three super-fast East Africans dropped out. (My point is not to be critical, only to understand.) But again, this doesn't really explain why the fast guys didn't make more of an effort to set a faster pace at the beginning, or why more of them didn't try to hang on for a Silver or Bronze. Even the pace in the second half of the race was slower than many of them had run before. 
Again, my intention is not to be critical of anyone, least of all the superb East Africans.

But I do think it's a puzzle.

Does anyone else have any better explanations?

Machete Rampage in Brussels by 'Asian' Woman Wearing a Djellaba

Responders tend to a victim (or is it the suspect?)

Here is what we know so far:

Earlier today (afternoon in Belgium) a woman randomly stabbed three people. The location has been variously reported as occurring 'in a mall,'  'in a McDonald's,' 'at a bus stop' or 'on a bus' on the outskirts of Brussels.

Most reports claim she was wielding a machete. Some have called it a knife.

Two of the victims are in serious condition.

The woman was shot in the arm by police after refusing to drop her weapon.

Belgian media have reported that the woman was wearing a Djellaba - a loose fitting full-smock, popular in North Africa.

The police have not officially released the suspect's name (partial or full) or a description, but Belgian media reports that a police source claimed the woman was 'Asian.'

Almost immediately, it was reported that police do not believe the attacks were terrorist related or politically motivated, and that the woman had a 'history of mental illness.'

Read the Daily Mail article here.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Sign of the Cross - American Galen Rupp Takes Bronze in the Marathon

Oregonian Galen Rupp, 30

A few minutes ago, Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya won the 2016 Olympic Men's Marathon in 2:08:44. Feyisa Lilesa of Ethiopia came in second in 2:09:54 and Galen Rupp of the United States was third in 2:10:05.

It was the first American medal in the Marathon since Meb Keflezighi's Silver at Athens in 2004. Rupp was the first American-born medalist since Joan Benoit in 1984 and Frank Shorter in 1976.

Rupp's coach at Nike's Oregon Project is Alberto Salazar. 

Unusually, the lead pack included 25-30 runners for the first half of the race. Then, mile by mile it dwindled as the better runners picked up the pace. Rupp was in the lead pack of 3 runners at 21 miles. Finally Kipchoge, the favorite, took off, followed by Lilesa and then Rupp. At the end of the race, it looked like Rupp might close on Lilesa for the Silver. Unfortunately, he ran out of track. 

In another amazing performance, American Jared Ward took 6th place.

Kipchoge and Rupp each made the sign of the cross at the finish line.

The third-member of the American team was Meb Keflezighi, now 41. He had problems at around the ten-mile mark and fell back, ending up in a still respectable 33rd place.

Incredibly, Keflezighi tripped and fell flat on his stomach only a few feet before the finish line. He raised himself on his forearms and for a moment it looked like he would crawl across the finish line. Instead, to the delight of the crowd, he did a pushup.

In his first post-race interview, the boyish Rupp said he was motivated by the movie, "Happy Gilmore."

Saturday, August 20, 2016

When Women Were Barred from the Marathon - "If that were my daughter, I would spank her"

"Get the hell out of my race!"

I remember the "You've come a long way, baby" Virginia Slims cigarette ads from when I was a kid. At the time (1969) women may have come a long way, baby, but that "long way" was short of 26.2 miles. Or at least, women were officially prohibited from running that full marathon distance.

In those days there weren't very many marathons. Boston had been going since 1897 (one year after the first modern Olympics) and perhaps outside of the Olympics it still was the marathon. New York didn't get started until 1970. Within a few years there would be hundreds of marathons in the United States.

Women weren't initially allowed to participate in Boston (or New York in its first year). And the women's marathon wasn't added to the Olympics until 1984.

If the term "sexism" has any meaning, this policy was sexist. But the prohibition was also due to the awe and fear that people held the marathon in those days. Normal humans didn't run them. They were for highly-trained athletes. Even so, people died. You, know, like that first Greek guy. A woman running? What if she permanently injured herself? It could affect her child-bearing ability.

Kids (those under 18) also were generally prohibited. I ran two marathons at the age of 14 - Ocean State in Rhode Island in 1978 and Boston (unofficially) in 1979. As I recall, I had to get a special note from my doctor, who even so was against it (though he signed the note). It might affect my bone growth. What if I had died?

But, especially in hindsight, the prohibition on women was stupid. And it was often enforced in a nasty way. In 1966, Roberta Gibb Bingay ran Boston in 3:21:40. The organizer of Boston, Will Clooney, refused to recognize her time: "She merely covered the same route as the official race while it was in progress." Well, okay, she didn't run it officially. But whose fault was that?

In 1967, Kathrine Switzer entered the race officially but without disclosing her sex. This provided the opportunity for an iconic photo (see above). Organizers Clooney and Jock Semple became aware of her participation and physically tried to remove her from the race: "Get the hell out of my race and give me those numbers!" Switzer's boyfriend protected her by giving Semple a punch/body block. Within days, the American Athletic Union had terminated Switzer's membership on the grounds, among other things, that she had run farther than the allowable distance for women and had run without a chaperone (it's unclear why Switzer's boyfriend didn't count).

Yes, in some ways, the United States used to be like Saudi Arabia.

Clooney's reaction to her finish was a classic of something:
Women can't run in the Marathon because the rules forbid it. Unless we have rules, society will be in chaos. I don't make the rules, but I try to carry them out. We have no space in the Marathon for any unauthorized person, even a man. If that girl were my daughter, I would spank her.
In 1972, women were finally allowed to run the Boston Marathon. In fairness, we should note that this was at the urging of Jock Semple.

However, women still weren't allowed to start with the men. Their start was mandated to be ten minutes earlier.

When the gun went off, all the women sat down.

For guess how long.

Twelve years later, the first women's Olympic marathon was run in Los Angeles. Mainer Joan Benoit won it in an American record time of 2:24:52.

The women's world record is now 2:15:25, set by Paula Radcliffe of Great Britain in 2003.

It would have been the men's world record in 1956.

That may or may not seem cool to you. I think it is.

In a great many obvious things, we're less wise than before. But in a few ways, we've come a long way, baby.

Just be careful of those cigarettes. They seriously mess with your wind.