Sunday, April 24, 2016

Cosplay Convention

It takes a lot of self-confidence to dress in public as your favorite fictional character. This weekend, costume enthusiasts gathered to share tips, tricks and ideas on how best to create these outfits at the Figments and Filaments Costuming Convention in Independence, Missouri.

The conference was held at the Hilton Garden Inn on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. I was able to attend on Sunday and take a few pictures of some great costumes.

Eva Birch, who works as a paramedic in Neosho, MO, dressed as the supervillain Poison Ivy from the Batman series. Eva has created cosplay costumes for around three years and says the hobby requires hard work, commitment and persistence. Her Facebook fan page is named The White Dragon Armory and Cosplay.



Jordie Smith dressed as the personification of a synthetic computer voice named Kaito. The voice and character were created by the Yamaha Corporation for the Vocaloid singing synthesizer. 



Jordie appeared at the convention representing the Hammerspace Community Worshop based in Kansas City. At the workshop, members can create arts, crafts, electronics and many other interesting things. You can learn more about Hammerspace Community Workshop on their website.

Mandea Bermudez wore a costume she plans to wear to the Kansas City Renaissance Festival later this year. She is part of the cosplay group Lady Dax and Squires, which has a Facebook fan page.



Michelle Lana, left, wore a steam punk costume. Amanda O’Leary wore a steam punk Red Riding Hood costume. They both work at Amanda Lynn Chainmaille in Overland Park, Kansas. The company’s website has more photos of their merchandise in action.



Hillz and Rae, the Super Sirens, have both cosplayed for many years. On Sunday, they dressed as Daphne and Velma from Scooby Doo. They have photos of some of their many other outfits on their website.



I also purchased several items from the venders at the conference. I was finally able to buy special effects contact lenses, which I thought were cool the first time I saw them used in cosplays on the website DeviantArt. I have never used contacts before, so I will make sure I consult with an optometrist before I use the product. The lenses are from U.S. Toy Magic and Costume Shop in Leawood, KS.

I bought a Raven neckless because she is my favorite character from the children’s cartoon Teen Titans. I also purchased a steam punk neckless, green tie-die shirt, Lemon Peppermint Bliss Tea and two coasters in the shape of rubix cubes.




Tuesday, February 2, 2016

New Job

Semisonic was right, every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end

Last week, I was offered and accepted a job. I will begin working as a reporter for The Richmond News in Richmond, Missouri later this month.

Around 5,700 people live in Richmond, which is about 40 minutes east of Kansas City.

I will cover the Richmond and Orrick school districts, the Orrick Board of Alderman (city council), and the Missouri 8th Judicial Circuit Court.

In two weeks, I will move to Richmond. I am in the process of saying goodbye to family and friends before the move.

Wish me luck. 


Monday, February 1, 2016

National Security Stories sets new record

Last month, National Security Stories had more readers than ever before.


The blog had 766 pageviews in January. No previous month had more than 600, let alone 700.



After I was laid off from The Daily Union, I had plenty of time to write articles for National Security Stories. Over the past two months, I covered a variety of topics, including gender, Guantanamo and Grandview Plaza. (Yes, they all start with “g.” No, I didn’t plan it that way.) I promoted the blog regularly on Facebook as well.


I have written a total of 214 posts during the history of my blog.

Below is a graph showing the number of stories published each month since I created the blog in September 2010, during my second month in college. 


The large spike represents the 27 Guantanamo profiles, and introduction to the series, that were published in February 2014. I wrote some of them in December and January. However, I wanted to practice reading the primary source documents and writing those types of stories, before I published the first batch.

I have definitely gotten better at writing Guantanamo prisoner profiles over time.

Below is a graph showing the relationship between articles written and views the blog has received. 


Clearly, there is a relationship between the two.

History

Originally this blog was called “Truth Matters” and had the subtitle, “Accuracy, Politics, and the Media.” Many of my early articles factchecked and analyzed politicians and the press.

In late 2011, I shifted my focus to covering the stories of political prisoners in the US and around the world. However, I still covered the political process, including the 2012 U.S. presidential election, as well as the news-media.

In August 2013, I began covering the US military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and the stories of the prisoners detained there.

And late last year, I wrote a series of articles about the experiences of people with less common gender identities and sexual orientations.

Most viewed articles

The table below shows the posts that have received the most views over the history of National Security Stories. 

Most viewed articles
Title
Views
274
245
205
184
179
170
161
126
113
103

The most viewed story critiqued a video called “The Story of Stuff,” which was shown in one of my college classes. I described the backstory to that post on the first anniversary of this blog.

The next post was an attempt to solve a puzzle provided by the creators of H+, a complex and non-linear Science Fiction drama on YouTube. The show explored the imagined consequences of a world where an implant allows people to access the internet with their mind.

The article on the Broadcasting Board of Governors discussed the news organizations funded by the US government that broadcast to foreign audiences.

Three posts tell the stories of Guantanamo prisoners. Al Sawah is an Egyptian who became a valuable informant for the US military. He was released earlier this year. Hassan Bin Attash was a child soldier captured in Pakistan. Abdul Abu Rahman was a low-level Al Qaeda operative.

It seems odd that these specific articles are so widely read. I think some of my other Guantanamo stories were more interesting or better written. Among the prisoners I have profiled so far, Obaidullah, Bostan Karim, Ravil Mingazov and Omar Abdulayev are most likely to have been at the wrong place at the wrong time.

The high value detainees, who held top positions in global terrorist networks, such as Khaled Shaikh Mohammed and Abu Zubaydah, have fascinating stories. Detainees whose cases raise novel legal questions, such as Al Nashiri and Al Bahlul, are interesting as well.

Referring Websites

Readers have found my blog from a variety of sources.

Traffic Sources
Referring Sites
Pageviews
633
263
160
159
155

Google and Facebook are the most common ways people have discovered my posts. 

Others have found them through links I placed in the comment sections of various websites including the Huffington Post, Public Policy Poling and Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting.

Search Terms

Below are the most common search terms people have used to find my articles on google. 

Keywords
Entry
Pageviews
americans imprisoned abroad
18
james hitselberger
14
snl political skits 2012
10
story of stuff lies
6
the story of stuff lies
5
ahmad mohammed security
4
does media reflect truth
4
the united states i
4

Several relate to specific articles including Americans Imprisoned Abroad, James Hitselberger, who was charged with disclosing of classified information, The Greatest SNL Political Skits from the Past Four Years, and Lies, Omissions and Sensationalism: The Story of Stuff.

Other search terms, such as, “ahmad mohammed security,” “does media reflect truth” and “the united states i" are a bit more ambiguous.

A Worldwide Audience

Blogger also tracks views by country. 



Pageviews by Country
Country
Pageviews
United States
9837
Germany
2031
Russia
587
Latvia
359
France
342
United Kingdom
286
Ukraine
253
China
187
Romania
170
Canada
120

National Security Stories has received a total of 15,867 views during the 5 years and 4 months it has existed. That means 62 percent of its views are from Americans. The rest are from readers in other countries around the world.

Thank you for taking the time to read my articles. I appreciate it very much.

While many people read my articles, few leave comments. If you find any of my articles interesting or informative, let me know. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the issues covered here. 

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Haji Wali Mohammed

Nationality: Afghan
ISN: 560
Age: 49



In Afghanistan, there’s a fable about those who have been falsely accused.

A king had 20 prisoners who were chained together. Guards were walking the prisoners to their execution. One prisoner bribed a guard and was set free. Another guard asked, “Where is prisoner number 20?” The guard who had taken the bribe grabbed a random person and said, “Here is number 20.”

Haji Wali Mohammed said he is like the innocent person who was chosen to take the place of the 20th prisoner.

The US military believes Mohammed served as a high-ranking financial manager for Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Mohammed, however, said he only handled a single investment for a bank associated with the Taliban, which ended very badly.

The Allegations

According to the Pakistani Intelligence Bureau, Mohammed was a wealth money changer who worked with Hezb-e-Islami, a militant group that fought against the US and its allies in Afghanistan. Pakistani intelligence also reported Mohammed was very close to Mohammad Omar, the supreme leader of the Taliban, and to Mohammad Rabbani, a senior Taliban official.

An unspecified foreign government service claimed Mohammed was an associate of Osama Bin Laden who did business with the Taliban.

Jordanian intelligence reported Mohammed was Al Qaeda’s primary financial manager. They also said Mohammed financed the bombings of two US Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, which killed and wounded over 200 people. They also reported Mohammed financed an Al Qaeda cell in Jordan, which planned to conduct terrorist operations in the country on New Year’s Eve in 1999.

Qari Hasan Ulla Peerzai (AF-562), an Afghan previously imprisoned at Guantanamo, said Mohammed was a financial manager for Osama Bin Laden.

According to sensitive reporting, Mohammed facilitated the financing of the purchase of shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles for Al Qaeda. The terrorist group reportedly bought the weapons for fighters in Chechnya.

It is unclear what, exactly “sensitive reporting” means in Bush-era national security documents. It could refer to intelligence derived from the torture of high value detainees. I first made this guess when I profiled Sufyian Barhoumi, an alleged Al Qaeda explosives expert imprisoned at Guantanamo. 

However, the phrase could mean something else entirely. 

According to an informant, Mohammed was involved in three large money transfers that were suspicious because of their large size and possible connection to individuals involved in terrorist activity. The transfers ranged from $45,000 to $70,000.

Mohammed’s Defense

The story provided by Mohammed himself, however, is far different.

As a child, he said he fled with his family to Pakistan in 1978 or 1979, following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. His family started a business that sold clothing, jewelry and exchanged money between currencies. Eventually, Mohammed made a lot of money in the currency exchange business.

In 1991, Mohammed completed the Hajj, a religious requirement in Islam, by traveling the Mecca. That is why he was given the nickname “Haji” Wali Mohammed.

In 1996, he obtained a loan for $1.5 million from Abdul Rahman Zahid, the director of the Bank of Afghanistan. Mohammed planned to use the money to purchase gold in Dubai to sell at a profit in Afghanistan. The bank was to receive 75 percent of the profit and Mohammed would receive the rest.

However, things didn’t go as planned.

Due to fluxuations in exchange rates, Mohammed lost $500,000 during the endeavor.

Mohammed’s cousin, who managed a business with him, was arrested by the Taliban to ensure he would return to the country. Upon Mohammed’s return, he was arrested and told he had to pay back the entire loss by himself. Mohammed agreed and both he and his cousin were released.

The Taliban, who were in control of Afghanistan at the time, said the arrangement was an example of embezzlement because the government hadn’t approved the deal. As a result, Zahid was fired from his job as director of the bank.

Abdul Salam Zaeef, a former Guantanamo prisoner, supported Mohammed’s claim that he lost a substantial amount of money he borrowed from the central bank. Zaeef said he was a member of the Economic Council of Afghanistan and Minister of Transportation at the time.

After his release, Mohammed created several businesses that failed. By the time of his capture, he said he owed $1.1 million to about 40 people.

Mohammed said he first heard about Al Qaeda after it was reported on TV that the organization had attacked the Pentagon on September 11, 2001.

He transported gold and jewelry from Dubai for customers in Pakistan. In January 2002, he was arrested by soldiers working for the Inter-Services Intelligence Agency, a powerful branch of the Pakistan’s military.

Mohammed was told to pay a bribe or be sent, “to an unknown place that you will never know.” He said another ISI agent told him to sell his house and give them half the money, “to save yourself from the bad ending.” He said he refused to pay the bribe.

Pakistani forces turned Mohammed over to US custody in February 2002, claiming he was a suspected drug smuggler. He was sent to Guantanamo in April 2002.

Conclusion

The cover stories of many prisoners at Guantanamo are laughably implausible. Mohammed’s, on the other hand, is incredibly detailed, specific and believable.

He told a consistent story to both his 2004 Combatant Status Review Tribunal and his 2005 Administrative Review Board. These were both committees created by the Bush Administration to determine whether prisoners at Guantanamo should continue to be detained.

However, the allegations against Mohammed from other sources, which said he was a key money manager for Al Qaeda and the Taliban, are also consistent.

The Transcript of his 2006 Administrative Review Board is classified because the US government said its disclosure would, “constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.”

In January 2010, Mohammed was recommended for continued detention by Obama’s Interagency Guantanamo Task Force. While Mohammed is eligible for a Periodic Review Board to reconsider his status, he has not yet received one. 

Monday, January 18, 2016

Grandview Plaza plans to build Splash Park

During the hot days of summer, children in Grandview Plaza may be cooling off and enjoying themselves in a brand new splash park.

Last month, the city council moved closer to creating the splash park by submitting a grant application to the Bramlage Family Foundation.

Shelley Carver is a grant administrator for the Flint Hills Regional Council. She’s helping Grandview Plaza find public and private funding to help pay for the new park.

Carver told the council the Bramlage Family Foundation is interested in helping create the project. However, the foundation wants to know Grandview Plaza is willing to adequately fund the park’s construction.

“They want to see there aren’t the only funder in the room — that the city has a significant stake in the project,” she said.

Carver asked the council to approve an application to submit to the private charity showing the city plans to spend $252,000 for the park. The remaining $200,000 of the $452,000 project would come from grants provided by the Bramlage Family Foundation and others.

Council member Marvin Edison worried about the potential consequences of the council spending that much money to build the park.

“I don’t feel comfortable right now with all the problems we have with infrastructure, too many foregoing problems that could cost us hundreds of thousands of dollars,” he said. “We should be putting money away in case of emergencies.”


Other council members didn’t share Edison’s concerns. The grant application was approved 4 to 1. 

Grandview Plaza approves raises for city employees

Every employee cares deeply about their paycheck — and public employees are no exception. Last month, the city council of Grandview Plaza decided to give their employees a three percent raise.  

In November, City Clerk Janet Young, Police Chief Shawn Peirano and City Superintendent Jerome Thomas requested they receive a 5 percent raise and other city workers receive a three percent raise.

Council member Marvin Edison agreed with the recommendation.

“I want to give the supervisors the 5 percent raise they requested because they didn’t have one in three years,” he said.

Fellow council member Jack Rider disagreed and said the supervisors had received a raise last year through a cost-of-living increase.

Council member Honey Grant added the supervisors already have a larger salary than other city employees.


Several council members stated their support for a 3 percent across-the-board pay increase, which was approved by a unanimous vote. 

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Intersex babies and contentious surgeries

A mother and father sit and talk in a hospital room the day after the birth of their child. A doctor enters the room and shares an unexpected and unwelcome bit of news.

Upon closer examination, a nurse discovered their infant has both male and female reproductive anatomy.

The doctor tells the parents they need to decide if they are going to leave their baby’s genitals alone or if they are going to authorize the removal of either the male or female anatomy.

The controversy surrounding whether these kinds of surgeries should be performed has been fiercely debated for decades.


Background

Babies whose bodies don’t match our understanding of what it means to be physically male or female are known as intersex. In earlier times, some of them were referred to as hermaphrodites, but that term is considered by some to be insensitive.

There are many different reasons a person could be classified as intersex.

Intersex individuals may have both male and female reproductive tissue, mismatching internal and external genital anatomy, unusual hormone levels or an additional sex chromosome.

These conditions are known in the medical community as “disorders of sex development.”

However, University of Oregon professor and intersex expert Elizabeth Reis advocates changing the phrase to “divergence of sex development” to avoid the negative feeling associated with the term “disorder.”

While not all doctors agree which conditions should fall under that category, it’s estimated that about 1 in 2,000 people, or 0.05% of the population as a whole, are intersex.

Several intersex people were featured in this video created by Buzzfeed.




The debate begins

In the 1950s, a team of medical specialists at John Hopkins University pioneered genital reconstruction surgeries for Intersex babies. The team was under the leadership of psychologist John Money, who believed that a child’s gender identity, whether they feel like a boy or a girl, is determined at an early age by how the child is treated by his or her caregivers.

By choosing a gender for the child and modifying their genitals to match, Money and his followers believed the child would be spared the confusion and potential mental illness created by their medical condition.

Genital reconstruction quickly became the norm for intersex babies across the United States. It remains a widespread practice to this day.

One pediatrician talked to the Atlantic magazine about the practice. He said four of his patients who did not receive the surgery were mocked and ridiculed in school locker rooms after other children saw their genitals. He said some of their families had to move to other cities to due to the bullying that followed.

In the 1960s, Money applied his approach to a baby boy whose penis was mutilated in a circumcision accident. I discussed his unfortunate story in an earlier article. Money’s conclusion that the boy would be happiest if raised as a girl proved to be inaccurate. The boy, David Reimer, later told his father that he was uncomfortable being a girl. After his father told him what happened, he went back to living as male.

Money’s beliefs concerning gender identity proved equally detrimental to intersex children. Physicians and parents have chosen genders for intersex babies, and removed conflicting anatomy, that ended up being different than the gender their child ended up choosing for themselves.

These intersex individuals dislike that a part of their body, which they wish they still had, was taken from them without their consent.

An Alternate Approach

In 1993, several Intersex activists created the Intersex Society of North America to “build a world free of shame, secrecy and unwanted sexual surgeries.”

In addition to gender identity concerns, the group also said the surgeries carry risks to, “life, fertility, continence and sensation.”

Instead, they said surgeries shouldn’t be performed on intersex babies, unless there’s a medical reason, such as a urinary infection, to do so.  

If Intersex individuals later decide for themselves to have genital surgeries for non-medical reasons, ISNA believes they should be allowed to do so.

ISNA, does however, believe that parents, in consultation with doctors, should choose a gender for their child. Nonetheless, the organization stresses that this gender assignment is preliminary and that the child may wish to choose a different gender later on.

The group said Intersex children have higher rates of gender transition than the population as a whole and that parents should be aware of this possibility.

Some intersex infants grow up to identify as male, some as female. Others end up identifying as genderqueer. I explained what it means to be genderqueer and shared the experiences of several genderqueer people in an earlier article.

While ISNA closed its doors in 2008, it helped create a new organization, Accord Alliance, which continues to help support Intersex individuals and their families.

The legal battle

The controversy over genital reconstruction for Intersex infants is rooted deeply in gender, medicine and psychology.

And soon, hospitals may be taking into account the possible legal consequences of performing the surgeries as well.

The adoptive parents of an Intersex child have launched state and federal lawsuits against hospitals, doctors and officials at the South Carolina Department of Social Services. They contend the professionals they are suing authorized genital reconstruction surgery to be performed on the child they adopted.

The surgery made the child’s genitals appear female, even though he ended up identifying as a boy.

The Atlantic has a wonderful article on the lawsuit full of comments from parents, Intersex people, and doctors about the disputed practice. I couldn’t more highly recommend their reporting.

Conclusion

The scenario described at the beginning of this article is one faced by parents and medical professionals today. And it’s far from new. 

The debate over genital reconstruction surgery has taken place for decades. Variations on sex development have presumably existed as long as humans have been around. 

The fight for how parents, doctors and society should interact with Intersex people in the future continues to spark discussions on gender, identity and psychology today.