Episode 113: Chaos in Algeria, Contradictions in Gun Control and More

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** Sam Harris on Gun Control ** Terror in the Desert ** Canadian Cleric Calls for Reform in Pakistan ** Are Petitions the Junk Food of Democracy? ** George Saunders Reviewed **

hostage_algeria_publish.jpgThe Algerian military responded with force to a hostage taking in eastern Algeria on Thursday. Islamic militants held scores of hostages at the natural gas facility while Western governments whose citizens worked at the plant waited for news.

Without consulting other nations, Algeria commenced a fierce battle that seems to have been aimed at killing the jihadis.

Dramatic reports from workers who'd escaped tell of a 40 hour ordeal with many casualties.

As of Friday, the stand-off continued.

Algeria's decisive use of force comes as no surprise to those familiar with its military operations. Jon Marks is an Algerian analyst and Chairman and founder of Cross-border Information. He tells us what the attack on the Amenas plant says to foreign nationals working in North Africa.

gun show_publsih.jpgGun Doubts

President Obama struck a blow for gun control this week unveiling executive orders and urging Congress to ban assault weapons and magazines. But gun advocates say those initiatives won't make anyone safer.

Sam Harris is a neuroscientist, best known as an out-spoken atheist and author of the bestsellers The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation. He's a gun-owner and he stepped into the debate recently with this blog post.

Sam makes the case for why good people want to own guns.

tenth of december_publish.jpgShould I Read It?

Short story writer George Saunders released his first book 17 years ago, and his short stories- like this one- have appeared regularly in Harper's and The New Yorker.

He's established. But Saunders still seems like a cult writer, maybe because there's a gothic, marginal quality to the people he writes about.

His latest collection Tenth of December is getting rave reviews like this one in The New York Times, which compares him to Nathanael West and Kurt Vonnegut.

His stories might not be for everyone, so we asked editor Becky Toyne the question we always ask Becky Toyne: Should I read it?  

alderaan_222_publish.jpgWorld's Nerdiest Petition

The White House has an online petition website called "We the People" and if you start a petition that passes a benchmark number of signatures (just upped to 100,000) they promise you'll get an official response.

Not from the President, but from someone with authority who speaks for the administration and whose job it is generally to say "no".

Case in point: A petition that asked the U.S. government to build a death star, the laser-shooting sphere of malevolence that destroyed the planet Alderaan- a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.

Petitions seem like they could be valuable tools in opening a dialogue with government. But are they really just the junk food of democracy? We have a debate.

islamabad_publish.jpgCharismatic Canadian Cleric Shakes Up Pakistan

Thousands of protestors converged in Islamabad this week. They were looking ahead to the coming elections in Pakistan and they wanted reforms: greater accountability, less corruption, a better democracy.

On Thursday they peaceably disbanded - 25,000 of them - when the government agreed to some mild conditions leading up to the vote.

The leader of the group is a 61-year-old Canadian Pakistani cleric named Tahir ul-Qadri. While his anti-corruption message has been well received by Pakistanis, there are many questions about his funding and his ties to the military.

An editor and columnist for the Pakistani newspaper The Express Tribune tells us why he's skeptical of Tahir-ul Qadri.

That's our show for another week. Don't forget to enter our Riffed from the Headlines this week. It's not as morbid as it sounds. And if you're off on a winter break take along some podcasts. No paywall here.

We'll be back with more Day 6 next week.

Brent Bambury, @cbcday6


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