Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / LA Times: Yuck to Yucca Mountain
on: March 19, 2009, 11:20:39 AM
Although it is the LA Times, this makes sense to me.
Yucca Mountain on hold
The Obama administration is prudent to put the brakes on the nuclear waste repository in Nevada.
March 19, 2009
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has been called many things during his 22-year Senate career, but the name that sticks when the issue of nuclear power comes up is "NIMBY." That's because Reid has fought tirelessly to block construction of a national nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain in his home state. There's a funny thing about his critics, though: Not one of them has ever suggested shipping the country's hazardous radioactive waste to his or her own state or district instead of Nevada.
The usual bleating about Reid's obstructionism and Nevadans' paranoia arose after the release of President Obama's proposed budget, which trims funding for the Yucca Mountain project to the minimum needed to keep the regulatory process involved in its construction alive -- a strong signal that there will be no further work done on the repository during Obama's term in office. Energy Secretary Steven Chu said the administration is working on an alternative program that involves multiple interim and long-term waste storage facilities around the country.
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When it comes to highly radioactive nuclear waste, pretty much everybody is a NIMBY. Setting aside the factthat scientists have yet to develop the technology to safely store this waste for the thousands of years it takes to decay, there's the fact that it has to be transported to the disposal site -- mostly by train -- creating the opportunity for spills. Even if the nuclear dump isn't in your backyard, the train tracks might be, and the closer you live to the center of it all, the greater the danger. Little wonder that Nevadans aren't excited by the prospect of a glow-in-the-dark desert.
The depressing thing about Yucca Mountain is that for all its flaws, including the discovery that water flows through the mountain faster than previously thought and thus could contaminate nearby areas, it probably still represents the safest place in the country for a nuclear repository. Not only is seismic activity in the rangeminimal, but the mountain is in a remote and desolate region at the edge of a site used in the 1950s for atomic testing. If we can't dump the waste in a nuclear test zone, where can we? That, in a nutshell, is the problem with nuclear power.
Pro-nuclear activists, whose ranks are growing as the nation looks for non-carbon-emitting sources of energy, needn't fret too much about Obama's proposal, which tables but doesn't end the debate about Yucca Mountain. Yet the move probably would delay some pending applications for construction of nuclear plants, and may even stop some. That's all for the good. Nuclear power is much too risky and expensive to be seen as a reasonable solution to climate change.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / LA Times: Reckless antibiotics
on: March 19, 2009, 11:15:47 AM
Even though this is the LA Times, this is close to my thinking on this.
A healthy resistance to antibiotics
The overuse of the medications in humans and animals is believed to be responsible for the rise of dangerous superbugs. Now the time may be right for some limits in agribusiness.
March 19, 2009
Ayear and a half ago, researchers found that a deadly form of staph infection was prevalent on Canadian pig farms. This year, the superbug was found in both swine and workers at U.S. farms.
The rise of bacteria such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, which kills more people in this country each year than AIDS, is believed to be a consequence of the overuse of antibiotics in humans and animals. Low doses of the medications have become ubiquitous in the livestock industry, mixed into feed to enhance growth and prevent the diseases that sweep through crowded pens.
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A panel of experts found "clear evidence of adverse human health consequences due to resistant organisms resulting from nonhuman usage of antimicrobials," the World Health Organization reported in 2004. "These consequences include infections that would not have otherwise occurred, increased frequency of treatment failures (in some cases death) and increased severity of infections."
The European Union has already banned non-therapeutic use of antibiotics in farm animals, but each year lobbying by agribusiness in this country dooms legislation that would do the same. On Tuesday, Rep. Louise M. Slaughter (D-N.Y.) introduced a bill that would restrict the use of antibiotics that are important to human health in farming operations. The medications could be used to treat illness, but not as a growth promoter or as a substitute for cleaner living conditions. The bill might have a better chance of passing now, with a stronger Democratic majority in Congress.
The timing is right in other ways as well. In January, the Department of Agriculture -- responsible for promoting the meat industry as well as consumer health -- reported that, except during the nursery stage for young pigs, the costs of using preventive or growth-promoting antibiotics slightly outweighed the economic benefits for farms. That's not counting the added costs to consumers in prescription prices for more exotic antibiotics or the $4 billion a year this country spends to combat resistant infections. Some farms are successfully using better sanitation and tracking of illnesses among their herds instead of preventive antibiotics.
It would be a mistake to delay restrictions on antibiotic use until the situation has a chance to reach dire proportions; there is no guarantee that specialized antibiotics could be developed in time to thwart a new wave of drug-resistant bacteria. Humans don't need antibiotics to treat common colds, which are caused by viruses rather than bacteria, and animals don't need them to grow.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: The Power of Word
on: March 19, 2009, 10:49:01 AM
What Lies Inside
By Tzvi Freeman
Within each thing we behold, the moshiach dwells, like the embryo waiting to break out of its egg. In the rhythm of a dandelion shivering in the breeze, in the eyes of the children we raise, in the goals we make in life, in the machines we use and the art we create, in the air we breathe and the blood rushing through our veins.
When the world was made, the sages say, the moshiach was the wind hovering over all that would be.
Today, those who know to listen can hear his voice beckoning, "Do no let go of me after all these ages! For the fruit of your labor and the labor of your holy mothers and fathers is about to ripen."
The listening alone is enough to crack the shell of the egg.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / NYT: BO's latest trial balloon. Aides surprised war is expensive.
on: March 19, 2009, 07:57:13 AM
THOM SHANKER and ERIC SCHMITT
Published: March 18, 2009
WASHINGTON — President Obama and his advisers have decided to significantly expand Afghanistan’s security forces in the hope that a much larger professional army and national police force could fill a void left by the central government and do more to promote stability in the country, according to senior administration and Pentagon officials.
The Afghan Army and other security forces would be greatly expanded under a plan developed by President Obama and his advisers in the hope of stabilizing the nation.
A plan awaiting final approval by the president would set a goal of about 400,000 troops and national police officers, more than twice the forces’ current size, and more than three times the size that American officials believed would be adequate for Afghanistan in 2002, when the Taliban and Al Qaeda appeared to have been routed.
The officials said Mr. Obama was expected to approve a version of the plan in coming days as part of a broader Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy. But even members of Mr. Obama’s national security team appeared taken aback by the cost projections of the program, which range from $10 billion to $20 billion over the next six or seven years.
By comparison, the annual budget for the entire Afghan government, which is largely provided by the United States and other international donors, is about $1.1 billion, which means the annual price of the program would be about twice the cost of operating the government of President Hamid Karzai.
Those figures include only the cost of training and establishing the forces, and officials are still trying to determine what the cost would be to sustain the security forces over the long term.
Administration officials also express concerns that an expanded Afghan Army could rival the corruption-plagued presidency of Mr. Karzai. The American commanders who have recommended the increase argued that any risk of creating a more powerful Afghan Army was outweighed by the greater risks posed by insurgent violence that could threaten the central government if left unchecked.
At present, the army fields more than 90,000 troops, and the Afghan National Police numbers about 80,000 officers. The relatively small size of the security forces has frustrated Afghan officials and American commanders who wanted to turn security over to legitimate Afghan security forces, and not local warlords, at a faster pace.
After resisting the idea for several years, the Bush administration last summer approved an increase that authorized the army to grow to 134,000 over the next three years, in a program that would cost about $12 billion.
The resistance had been a holdover from the early months after the rout of Taliban and Qaeda fighters in 2001, when it appeared that there was little domestic or external threat that required a larger security force.
The new proposal would authorize a doubling of the army, after the increase approved last summer, to about 260,000 soldiers. In addition, it would increase the number of police officers, commandos and border guards to bring the total size of the security forces to about 400,000. The officials who described the proposal spoke on condition of anonymity because they had not been authorized to discuss it publicly in advance of final approval by Mr. Obama.
Some European countries have proposed the creation of an Afghan National Army Trust Fund, which would seek donations from oil kingdoms along the Persian Gulf and other countries to pay for Afghanistan’s security forces.
Senator Carl Levin, Democrat of Michigan, the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, which would have to approve new American spending, endorsed the goal of expanding Afghan security forces, and urged commanders to place Afghans on the front lines to block the border with Pakistan to insurgents and terrorists.
“The cost is relatively small compared to the cost of not doing it — of having Afghanistan either disintegrate, or fall into the hands of the Taliban, or look as though we are dominating it,” Mr. Levin said in an interview late on Tuesday.
Administration officials and military experts cited recent public opinion polls in Afghanistan showing that the Afghan Army had eclipsed the respect given the central government, which has had difficulty exerting legitimacy or control much beyond the capital.
“In the estimation of almost all outside observers, the Ministry of Defense and the Afghan National Army are two of the most highly functional and capable institutions in the country,” said Lt. Gen. David W. Barno, who is retired and commanded American and coalition forces in Afghanistan from 2003 to 2005.
General Barno, currently the director of Near East and South Asian security studies at National Defense University, dismissed concerns that the army or the Ministry of Defense would challenge the authority of elected officials in Kabul.
“They are respectful of civil governance,” he said. “If the government of Afghanistan is going to effectively extend security and the rule of law, it has to have more army boots on the ground and police shoes on the ground.”
Stephen Biddle, a senior fellow for defense policy at the Council on Foreign Relations, said the Obama administration now appeared “willing to accept risks and accept downsides it might not otherwise” have considered had the security situation not deteriorated.
Military analysts cite other models in the Islamic world, like Pakistan, Egypt and Turkey, where the United States supports democratically elected civilian governments but raises no objection to the heavy influence wielded by military forces that remain at least as powerful as those governments.
Martin Strmecki, a member of the Defense Policy Board and a former top Pentagon adviser on Afghanistan, told a Senate committee last month that the Afghan Army should increase to 250,000 soldiers and the national police force should add more than 100,000 officers. Mr. Strmecki said that only when Afghan security forces reached those numbers would they achieve “the level necessary for success in counterinsurgency.”
Military officers also see an added benefit to expanding Afghanistan’s security forces, if its growing rosters can offer jobs to unemployed young men who now take up arms for the insurgency for money, and not ideology.
“We can try and outbid the Taliban for ‘day workers’ who are laying I.E.D.’s and do not care about politics,” Mr. Biddle said, referring to improvised explosive devices. “But if we don’t control that area, the Taliban can come in and cut off the hands of anybody who is taking money from us.”
C.I.A. Chief in Overseas Trip
The director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Leon E. Panetta, is traveling to India and Pakistan this week to discuss the investigation into the Mumbai terrorist attacks, improved information-sharing to combat violent extremists and other intelligence issues, an American official said Wednesday.
Making his first overseas trip as C.I.A. director, Mr. Panetta was in India on Wednesday and was expected to travel to Pakistan and possibly another country in the following days, the official said.
David E. Sanger contributed reporting.
Correction: March 19, 2009
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / NY Slimes slimes Israel
on: March 19, 2009, 07:52:50 AM
Well, the NY Slimes is at it as usual, particularly virulent form this time. Poor Israel.
JERUSALEM — Israel, whose founding idea was branded as racism by the United Nations General Assembly in 1975 and which faced an Arab boycott for decades, is no stranger to isolation. But in the weeks since its Gaza war, and as it prepares to inaugurate a hawkish right-wing government, it is facing its worst diplomatic crisis in two decades.
Examples abound. Its sports teams have met hostility and violent protests in Sweden, Spain and Turkey. Mauritania has closed Israel’s embassy.
Relations with Turkey, an important Muslim ally, have suffered severely. A group of top international judges and human rights investigators recently called for an inquiry into Israel’s actions in Gaza. “Israel Apartheid Week” drew participants in 54 cities around the world this month, twice the number of last year, according to its organizers. And even in the American Jewish community, albeit in its liberal wing, there is a chill.
The issue has not gone unnoticed here, but it has generated two distinct and somewhat contradictory reactions. On one hand, there is real concern. Global opinion surveys are being closely examined and the Foreign Ministry has been granted an extra $2 million to improve Israel’s image through cultural and information diplomacy.
“We will send well-known novelists and writers overseas, theater companies, exhibits,” said Arye Mekel, the ministry’s deputy director general for cultural affairs. “This way you show Israel’s prettier face, so we are not thought of purely in the context of war.”
But there is also a growing sense that outsiders do not understand Israel’s predicament, so criticism is dismissed.
“People here feel that no matter what you do you are going to be blamed for all the problems in the Middle East,” said Eytan Gilboa, a professor of politics and international communication at Bar Ilan University. “Even suicide bombings by Palestinians are seen as our fault for not establishing a Palestinian state.”
Of course, for Israel’s critics, including those who firmly support the existence of a Jewish state, the problem is not one of image but of policy. They point to four decades of occupation, the settling of half a million Israeli Jews on land captured in 1967, the economic strangling of Gaza for the past few years and the society’s growing indifference toward the creation of a Palestinian state as reasons Israel has lost favor abroad, and they say that no amount of image buffing will change that.
Israel’s use of enormous force in the Gaza war in January crystallized much of this criticism.
The issue of a Palestinian state is central to Israel’s reputation abroad, because so many governments and international organizations favor its establishment in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. And while the departing government of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert negotiated for such a state, the incoming one of Benjamin Netanyahu says that item is not on its immediate agenda.
Javier Solana, foreign policy chief for the European Union, said in Brussels on Monday that the group would reconsider its relationship with Israel if it did not remain committed to establishing a Palestinian state.
Moreover, Mr. Netanyahu is expected to appoint Avigdor Lieberman, leader of the ultranationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party, as his foreign minister. This alone has Israelis and their allies in Europe and the United States worried because of Mr. Lieberman’s views of Israeli Arabs that some have called racist.
Mr. Lieberman had campaigned on the need for a loyalty oath in Israel so that those who did not support a Jewish democratic state would lose their citizenship. One-fifth of Israeli citizens are Arabs, and many do not support defining the state as Jewish.
Mr. Lieberman also has few fans in Egypt, which has acted as an intermediary for Israel in several matters. Some months ago Mr. Lieberman complained that President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt had not agreed to come to Israel. “If he doesn’t want to, he can go to hell,” he added.
“Imagine that Hossein Mousavi wins the Iranian presidency this spring and he names Mohammad Khatami as his foreign minister,” said Meir Javedanfar, an Iran analyst in Israel, referring to two Iranian leaders widely viewed as in the pragmatist camp. “With Lieberman as foreign minister here, Israel will have a much harder time demonstrating to the world that Iran is the destabilizing factor in the region.”
Of course, all of this is being seen in the context of a new, Democratic administration in the United States that has announced a desire to press for a two-state solution. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has already criticized Israeli plans to demolish Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem, and her department has criticized Israel’s banning of certain goods from Gaza.
This represents a distinct shift in tone from the Bush era. An internal Israeli Foreign Ministry report during the Gaza war noted that compared with others in the United States, “liberals and Democrats show far less enthusiasm for Israel and its leadership.”
The gap between Israelis and many liberal American Jews could be seen Tuesday in a blog by Bradley Burston, who writes on the Web site of the left-leaning newspaper Haaretz. He said that while visiting Los Angeles he faced many questions that amounted to “What is wrong with these people, your friends, the Israelis?”
He quoted an article by Anne Roiphe, an American Jewish liberal, which said that witnessing the popularity of Mr. Lieberman in Israel made her feel “as if my spouse had cheated on me with Mussolini.”
She added: “We here in America are waiting as of this writing for a government to emerge in Jerusalem, and most of us keep on hoping that its shape will not preclude the peace process, will not doom a two-state solution, will not destroy the hope that our new president brings to the table.”
Mr. Burston pointed to the thousands of rockets fired from Gaza into Sderot and other Israeli cities and towns and titled his piece “The Racist Israeli Fascist in Me.”
Some Israeli officials say they believe that what the country needs is to “rebrand” itself. They say Israel spends far too much time defending actions against its enemies. By doing so, they say, the narrative is always about conflict.
“When we show Sderot, others also see Gaza,” said Ido Aharoni, manager of a rebranding team at the Foreign Ministry. “Everything is twinned when seen through the conflict. The country needs to position itself as an attractive personality, to make outsiders see it in all its reality. Instead, we are focusing on crisis management. And that is never going to get us where we need to go over the long term.”
Mr. Gilboa, the political scientist, said branding was not enough.
“We need to do much more to educate the world about our situation,” he said. Regarding the extra $2 million budgeted for this, he said: “We need 50 million. We need 100 million.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stop Loss
on: March 19, 2009, 01:15:02 AM
By YOCHI J. DREAZEN
WASHINGTON -- The Army plans to phase out its deeply unpopular stop-loss program, which forces soldiers to remain in the military after their enlistments end.
The first Army units will deploy overseas without stop-loss soldiers in August. Barring a national-security emergency, the Army hopes to effectively eliminate the practice in 2011.
Pentagon officials said the move was meant to reduce the strains on soldiers and their families, and to help lower the alarmingly high rates of military suicide and divorce.
The move could also help defuse the anger in military circles over the Obama administration's aborted plan to make veterans' private health insurers reimburse the government for the cost of treating combat-related injuries. Amid a political furor, the White House dropped the proposal Wednesday.
About 13,000 soldiers are being kept in the Army against their will because of the stop-loss program. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he hopes to cut that number in half by June 2010 and bring it down to the "scores, not thousands," by March 2011.
"I felt, particularly in these numbers, that it was breaking faith," Mr. Gates told reporters. "When somebody's end date of service comes, to hold them against their will...is just not the right thing to do."
Wednesday's announcement caps a multiyear controversy over the stop-loss program, created by Congress as part of the Army's transition to an all-volunteer force after the Vietnam War.
The policy affects soldiers whose units are set to deploy within three months of the end of their service commitment to the Army. Commanders say the policy helps maintain unit cohesion at a time of war and ensures that the Army doesn't face shortages of soldiers with specific skills.
The widespread use of the policy during the Iraq War became a heated political issue. In 2004, Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry likened it to a "backdoor draft."
In the 2008 movie "Stop-Loss," an Iraq veteran makes plans to flee to Mexico or Canada after he receives notice that he is being kept in the military and sent back to Iraq.
Under the Army's plan, the Army Reserve will begin mobilizing units without stop-loss soldiers in August, and the National Guard will do the same in September. The active-duty Army will follow suit in January 2010.
Mr. Gates said the Army would also give all soldiers who are affected by stop-loss a $500-a-month bonus, with the payments made retroactive to soldiers serving involuntarily as of Oct. 1, 2008.
Write to Yochi J. Dreazen at firstname.lastname@example.org
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Pakistan integrates Taliban in security forces
on: March 18, 2009, 12:13:29 PM
second post of the day
My friend writes "Actually, this report is inaccurate, the Taliban are already part of the security forces, this is the first official admission to formalize the arrangement...."http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2009/03/pakistan_proposes_in.php
Pakistan proposes integration of Taliban into security forces
By Bill RoggioMarch 14, 2009 10:58 PM
A senior official in Pakistan's Northwest Frontier Province wants the Taliban to integrate into the security forces in the region where the governemnt ceded to the Taliban's demands to implement sharia, or Islamic Law, and end military operations. The official also described the Swat Taliban leader as "good human being."
Syed Muhammad Javed, the Malakand Division Commissioner, has proposed the Taliban provide recruits for the police and the paramilitary Levies force. The Malakand Division is made up of the districts of Malakand, Swat, Shangla, Buner, Dir, and Chitral.
"I have proposed the Taliban be adjusted in police or Levies force and have suggested this at several forums," Javed told Daily Times. He claimed the police force's "confidence is shaken" due to a Taliban campaign of assassination and intimidation.
The police have been hit so hard that the force has been rendered ineffective. The governemnt claimed 70 policemen, an estimated five percent of the force, have been killed since the fighting in Swat broke out in July 2007. More than 800 policemen, more than half of the force, have deserted their posts or taken extended leaves to avoid the Taliban attacks. Another 142 troops from the paramilitary Frontier Corps have been reported killed since August 2008.
During the fighting between the Swat Taliban and government forces, the Swat Taliban targeted police officers, tribal leaders, and politicians. Family members of government officials and tribal leaders were killed, and their homes were torched.
The military ceased operations in Swat in February 2009 after it failed to dislodge the Taliban. Sufi Mohammed, the father-in-law of Swat Taliban commander Mullah Fazlullah, brokered a peace agreement between the government and the Taliban. Under the agreement, the government has committed to implement sharia, end the military campaign, and release Taliban prisoners, while the Taliban agreed to end attacks. But the Taliban have violated the agreement several times when it kidnapped the district coordinating officer and his bodyguards, murdered two soldiers, and captured a Frontier Corps officer and several of his men.
Javed and the military have refused to respond to the Taliban infractions. Javeed even went out of his way to praise Mullah Fazlullah. He described Fazlullah as a "good human being," Daily Times reported.
Javed's proposal to integrate the Taliban into the security forces comes as the US Congress is debating a $20 billion aid package to Pakistan. Senators John Kerry and Richard Lugar have proposed giving Pakistan a one-time $5 billion grant plus a 10 year aid package worth $15 billion. Some of this money is slated to improve the security forces in Paksitan's Northwest Frontier Province and the Taliban-controlled tribal agencies.
But Pakistan's history of appropriately spending US aid money is appalling. More than $3.8 billion of an estimated $5 billion of military aid given to Pakistan up until December 2007 is unaccounted for, and it has been reported that millions of dollars in US aid has gone to pay reparations to the Taliban in Swat.
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Reality Toys
on: March 18, 2009, 11:47:45 AM
One of the things we say in DBMA is "The Search for the Totality of Ritual and Reality".
In the Reality category we have, for example, our "Die Less Often" DVD series (currently two releases, should be 4 releases by year's end). And we will gradually begin offering practical reality items in our catalog too. Typically these items will not be weapons-- there will be practical things such as emergency medical kits (you survived the knife attack, but you are bleedling badly. Now what?), mini-flashlights, cool "just in case" things to carry in your car or to set up for your wife to have in her car, walking sticks, and things of that sort. Now, no doubt some of you may be thinking that some of these items can be improvised weapons too. No doubt some of you would like that we sell weapons too! But then Pay Pal would be unhappy and be unwilling to do business with us. That said
we will be kicking things off with some key fobs. Huh? Key fob? Wuzzat?
As defined on Wikipedia, "a key fob is a generally decorative and at times useful item many people often carry with their keys, on a ring or a chain, for ease of tactile identification, to provide a better grip, or to make a personal statement. Key fobs are often called "key rings" or "key chains" in colloquial usage. The word fob may be linked to the low German dialect for the word Fuppe, meaning "pocket", however, the real origin of the word is unknown."
Made for the esthetics and hands of dainty women and the men they rule, the simple fact of the matter is that most fobs simply are too dainty and delicate to meet the demands of folks like ourselves. "Ease of tactile identification" for us means something big and sturdy and these sturdy hard plastic fobs are exactly that.
When you are rooting around in your gym bag looking for your eyes amongst your training gear, you want something big and obvious.
When you are looking for your keys around the house, you want something big and obvious.
When you are wearing gym shorts or sweats, which when they have pockets at all have pockets which are rather untrustworthy for something as important as your keys, you want a practical solution and these fobs give you just that! Just tuck the fob down your shorts or sweats and let the keys dangle outside-- its just that easy.
As seen in the fotos in our catalog (any day now- when Cindy gets them up), we offer five basic models: two different lengths of tapered, one cylindrical, and one cylindrical with a loop so you can choose the one that suits you for your every day carry. The fifth model is a softer and relatively pliable version for those of you who prefer that.
In a related vein, we also offer a sturdy manly sized stylus-- no more fussing around with dainty little styluses made for soft unathletic
hands. It the size and appearance of a normal pen (pocket clip included of course) and is made of the same hard, easily gripped material as the key fobs.
The Adventure continues!
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Prager: Brilliance is overrated
on: March 18, 2009, 10:50:52 AM
Brilliance is Overrated
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
I have met very few parents or grandparents who have not characterized at least one of their offspring as “extremely bright” or even “brilliant” – usually beginning at the age of 2. The emphasis on the importance of the intellect is greater than ever.
That is why people were persuande into having their babies listen to Mozart after it was reported that listening to Mozart -- even in utero -- would make babies smarter. As an occasional orchestra conductor, I am delighted when anyone of any age is exposed to classical music. But love of music was not an issue here -- the Mozart-for-babies craze was about love of brains, not love of music. Likewise, those who can afford to do so vie with one another to have their children admitted to prestigious preschools and elementary schools.
This preoccupation with brains and intellectual attainment extends into adulthood. Most Americans upon hearing that someone has attended Harvard University assumes that this person is not only smarter than most other people but is actually a more impressive person. That is why, for example, people assume that a Nobel laureate in physics has something particularly intelligent to say about social policy. In fact, there is no reason at all to assume that a Nobel physicist has more insight into health care issues or capital punishment than a high school physics teacher, let alone more insight than a moral theologian. But people, especially the highly educated, do think so. That’s why one frequently sees ads advocating some political position signed by Nobel laureates.
Intellectuals, e.g., those with graduate degrees, have among the worst, if not the worst, records on the great moral issues of the past century. Intellectuals such as the widely adulated French intellectual Jean Paul Sartre were far more likely than hardhats to admire butchers of humanity like Stalin and Mao. But this has had no impact on most people’s adulation of the intellect and intellectuals.
So, too, the current economic decline was brought about in large measure by people in the financial sector widely regarded as “brilliant.” Of course, it turns out that many of them were either dummies, amoral, incompetent, or all three.
The adulation of the intellect is one reason President George W. Bush was so reviled by the intellectual class. He didn’t speak like an intellectual (even though he graduated from Yale) and for that reason was widely dismissed as a dummy (though he is, in fact, very bright). On the other hand, Barack Obama speaks like the college professor he was and thereby seduces the adulators of the intellect the moment he opens his mouth. Yet, it is he, not George W. Bush, who nearly always travels with teleprompters to deliver even the briefest remarks. And compared to George W. Bush on many important issues, his talks are superficial -- as reading, as opposed to hearing, them easily reveals.
Take, for example, one of the most complex and compelling moral issues of our time -- embryonic stem cell research. This is an excellent area for comparison since both presidents delivered major addresses on the exact same subject.
Charles Krauthammer of the Washington Post has compared the two speeches. He has particular credibility on this score because he is a scientist (he has a medical degree from Harvard Medical School), a moralist, and has special interest in stem cell’s possibilities because he is a paraplegic from a diving accident. And, as he points out, “I am not religious. I do not believe that personhood is conferred upon conception.”
“Bush's nationally televised stem cell speech was the most morally serious address on medical ethics ever given by an American president. It was so scrupulous in presenting the best case for both his view and the contrary view that until the last few minutes, the listener had no idea where Bush would come out.”
“Obama's address was morally unserious in the extreme. It was populated, as his didactic discourses always are, with a forest of straw men.”
“Unlike Bush, who painstakingly explained the balance of ethical and scientific goods he was trying to achieve, Obama did not even pretend to make the case why some practices are morally permissible and others not.”
In a similar manner, I devoted two columns to analyzing Barack Obama’s widely hailed speech in Berlin when he was a candidate for president. I found it to be both vacuous and, to use Krauthammer’s words, “morally unserious in the extreme.”
But Obama sounds intelligent. As indeed he is.
The reason we have too few solutions to the problems that confront people -- in their personal lives as well as in the political realm -- is almost entirely due to a lack of common sense, psychological impediments to clear thinking, a perverse value system, to a lack of self-control, or all four. It is almost never due to a lack of brainpower. On the contrary, the smartest and the best educated frequently make things worse.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Afghan reporter finds reminders of home in London
on: March 18, 2009, 10:47:53 AM
Jihad Chic Comes to London
In the city's Muslim neighborhoods, an Afghan reporter finds a few too many uncomfortable reminders of home.
From the magazine issue dated Mar 23, 2009
I still don't know who wanted me dead. I was sitting in my car one day last november, not far from my house in the northwest Pakistani city of Peshawar, when a group of strangers walked up. One of them pointed a pistol through my window. I remember he wore a turban and shalwar kameez—the tunic and baggy pants common in the area—and he had a long beard, dyed red with henna. He shot me in the chest, hand and arm, and then fled with his friends. Miraculously, none of the bullets hit any arteries or vital organs, and as soon as a doctor patched me up and I was strong enough to travel, I booked a flight to London. I planned to lie low for a while, to rest and seek further medical help for a bullet that was lodged in my arm. But more than that, I just wanted to be somewhere calm and safe, far from AK-toting gunmen, suicide bombers and the daily, random violence of Pakistan's borderlands.
London was a revelation—cold, clean and orderly—but my sense of relief didn't last long. In one of the city's many South Asian neighborhoods, I saw a tall young Afghan who reminded me of my would-be assassin, striding down the street like a bad dream. He too wore a shalwar kameez, and a big turban of white silk was wrapped loosely around his head. His beard was long, and his hair was shoulder length. Anyone dressed like that in Islamabad would be immediately picked up for questioning by the police. I had flown halfway across the world to get away from killers who resembled this young Londoner. I stared after him until he was gone from view.
But as days passed I spotted him again and again. He stood out even in a neighborhood full of Asians dressed in traditional garb—shalwar kameez, saris, abayas. Locals had a nickname for him: Talib Jan. It's a friendly Afghan slang term for a Taliban member, something like GI Joe for Americans. The area's crowded, rundown row houses had become home to hundreds of Afghans who first arrived in England as fugitives from the Taliban's intolerance and brutality. Nevertheless, most of Jan's neighbors spoke of him tolerantly or even approvingly.
In fact, during my three-month stay in England I met a surprising number of Muslims who shared Jan's fascination with the Taliban. The older generation, urbane and relatively well educated, had little love for the extremists. But among some younger men, frustrated and marginalized in British society, I discovered a fury that was depressingly familiar. I met many immigrants who were blatant, vocal and unquestioning in their support for what they imagined to be "jihad." Few seemed troubled by the brutality that characterized Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar's reign, or by his banning of music or girls' education. Indeed, many looked back on Omar's rule as a kind of Islamic utopia, and they eagerly snapped up the Islamist leaflets handed out after Friday prayers at various mosques around town.
I first introduced myself to Jan at one of those mosques. I complimented his taste in clothes: that's how people dress back home in Afghanistan, I said. (I was born in northern Afghanistan; my family fled to Pakistan in 1979 to escape the Soviet invasion.) His fierce appearance to the contrary, Jan turned out to be friendly and outgoing. He listened with interest to my story, but mostly he talked about himself, his Islamist views, his fierce support for the Taliban and his contempt for the Brits and Americans fighting them.
His vehemence surprised me. Twenty-three years old, Jan had been born in eastern Afghanistan and attended a madrassa in Pakistan. The Taliban still ruled Afghanistan when his parents paid a people smuggler to sneak Jan to England at 14. There he applied for and was granted political asylum, claiming that the Taliban had persecuted him and his family. Now he's a legal resident, yet openly cheers for his supposed oppressors to defeat troops from his adopted homeland in Afghanistan. The irony seems lost on him.
Jan is a terror to his neighbors. He prowls the streets as a one-man, self-appointed morality patrol. He castigates young Muslim couples he sees holding hands in public, and he badgers acquaintances for shaping their beards into what he disapprovingly calls a "French cut" that frames the mouth. His diatribes can be frightening. Several young men told me they were afraid Jan had friends who could create problems for them or their relatives in Afghanistan or Pakistan. Some feared they might be disowned if Jan got word to their families about their "immoral" living in London.
At a neighborhood restaurant one day I noticed that my waiter looked miserable. Khalil is a clean-shaven, broad-shouldered young Afghan who wears a gold ring in one earlobe. I asked why he was so unhappy, and he told me his story as he cleaned the table and took my order. He said he had been dumped a few days earlier by his girlfriend, a beautiful young Englishwoman. They were out walking when Talib Jan marched up and began denouncing Khalil, threatening to let his family back in Afghanistan know that their son was having a forbidden affair. The girl was frightened by Jan, but more than that, she was furious at Khalil for lying to her: he had told her he was Turkish. She told him they were through.
Now Khalil worries that same routine will be repeated with every girl he meets in London. He's convinced that Jan knows how to find his family in Afghanistan and can make big trouble for him there. "I wanted to marry that girl, but now I have no hope," he told me. "My family lives in the insecure countryside. If I go back and the Taliban know I have an English girlfriend, they will behead me." I asked if he thought Jan was an actual Taliban member. "No," Khalil answered. "He is not with the militias, but he is a big headache for every Afghan who knows him."
As far as I could tell, Jan is an armchair jihadist. I saw no sign that he had direct ties to the Taliban, or that anyone was paying him to proselytize. On the contrary, he works hard to support himself with business deals like buying and selling used cars. I often found him in a little store that sells mobile phones and watches at a London shopping plaza. A crowd of young, bearded men hangs out there: more armchair jihadists. The shop's 35-year-old owner, a Pakistani from Peshawar, loves to show them the latest Taliban videos on his mobile phone, featuring beheadings of alleged anti-Taliban "spies" and ambushes of U.S. forces. When asked if he worried that British authorities might discover his collection of videos, he told me: "If our Taliban brothers can stand up to B-52 bombing and modern U.S. war technology, it would be cowardly of me to be afraid to watch and share their heroic actions."
Brave words, I thought, but still the shopkeeper disturbed me. He was relatively well educated and a former banker, but made no secret of his Islamist leanings. Giving change, he avoids touching a woman's hand. He also tells a chilling tale—maybe true, maybe not—of his days as a radical religious student in Peshawar in the mid-1990s. He claims that he and a group of friends murdered several prostitutes there in what he called a "moral cleansing drive." He warned me against speaking against the Taliban even in London: people's loved ones at home could get hurt, he said darkly.
Jan, too, is always glad to pull out his Bluetooth-enabled mobile phone and share streaming videos of Taliban training camps and Coalition convoys hitting IEDs. He even has Taliban ring tones—fire-and-brimstone sermons and Qur'anic recitals from jihadist mullahs. If you want copies, he'll transfer them to your phone or point you to the right Web site. "I'm winning converts to a holy cause every day," he says. As for the cops, Jan says he's careful to break no laws and claims he's never had problems with the police. They seem to regard him as a deeply religious man, he says, or at least as a harmless eccentric.
In fact, Jan embodies a powerful need among many young Muslims in Britain to preserve a sense of identity in a strange land. One 50-year-old engineer told me he worries constantly about his four children, especially his two sons, ages 19 and 20. He says they seem addicted to Internet porn, but what scares him even more is the amount of time they spend on jihadist Web sites. He worries as well about extremist operatives who hang out at local mosques trying to recruit young people to the Taliban cause.
Extremism's appeal is especially strong for immigrants fed up with hard times and bigotry. In economically depressed Birmingham I met an unemployed man from Kandahar. He said he had just lost his job and feared he wouldn't be able to feed his family. "If I get hit by a car or bus one day crossing the street, who will look after my family?" he asked. "It would be better for me to go and fight and die with the Taliban. Then at least I could see paradise." One 35-year-old British Muslim told me he's infuriated by widespread discrimination. An office worker, he says he hasn't had a promotion in 10 years. The reason, he believes, is that he's an ardent Muslim who wears a long beard and never joins his coworkers at the local pub. "This kind of behavior is what makes Muslims extremist," he said. Jan himself says most Britons look on him with "love and kindness," but others occasionally stare at him with "hate" and won't sit next to him on the train. Their hearts, he says, "are black and full of enmity toward Muslims."
Most of these young men, even Jan, would probably never give up their lives in Britain to join the jihad in Afghanistan. But something of that far-off fight, some tinge of blood and chaos and hatred, has certainly seeped into London's streets. Alokozai, 27, arrived in London a year ago after an arduous trip via the Afghans' underground railway. He used to be an interpreter/fixer for British troops in Kandahar. The pay was excellent by Afghan standards—some $1,600 a month—but then the death threats began. His family's life would be worthless unless he left his job, the anonymous letters warned. He quit as he was told; in Britain he applied for political asylum, thinking he had finally escaped the Taliban's wrath.
Then the phone woke him one night at 3 a.m. "Death angels will soon clutch at your throat," an Afghan voice warned. "Remember, we have Islamic brothers in the U.K. Your family should not rest easy in Kandahar either." He says he could only listen to the voice, too scared to say anything.
Alokozai worries all the time now. Too many Afghans in London sympathize with the Taliban, he says. He thinks many recent asylum seekers, especially from southern Afghanistan, have ties to the Taliban and remain under the sway of extremist ideas. "They will create trouble for Britain in the near future," he predicts. But equally disturbing to him are the thoroughly assimilated Muslims who also treat him like a traitor to his religion. When they find out he worked for British forces in Afghanistan, they ask him, "How many houses did you bomb?" and "How many innocents did you kill?" "These people are as narrow-minded and have as much hate in their eyes as the Taliban do in Afghanistan," he says. "I cannot understand how these Afghans and Pakistanis can wear Western clothes, dance and drink, and then condemn me and see the Taliban as their heroes."
Neither can I. As I was riding the train one day, Owais, a 27-year-old Pakistani from Kashmir, began praising the Taliban and talking seriously of going to live in Afghanistan after Mullah Omar returned to power. "My fervent wish is that next winter we may be able to breathe freely in the restored Islamic state of Afghanistan," he declared in Urdu. Here you can breathe freely too, I told him. "No, only in a true Islamic state can we be free," replied his friend Ishaq. A 25-year-old Afghan immigrant, Ishaq wore a long, white tunic over his blue jeans. "The West is destroying the spirit, soul and values of Islam. Muslims should avoid contact with and coming to the West." As I go home to my family, I too wonder and worry about such men. There is too much of Peshawar in them, and in London.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Without End
on: March 18, 2009, 09:50:02 AM
By Tzvi Freeman
Ask the wise men of many cultures, and they will tell you that all is temporal, all will pass, there is nothing in this world to cling to, only to transcend.
Ask a sage of the Torah and he will tell you it is not true. The vanities of time, the failures of life, they all pass as clouds on a windy day, but truth lives forever.
This is the meaning of the thirteenth of the thirteen principles of our faith, the belief that those who lived true lives will live again, in a real and corporeal way. It is a rejection of temporalism, a confirmation that there are things in the world that really matter, that have endless meaning and absolute purpose.
Whenever a G-dly act is performed, all involved are elevated beyond time. Save a life--you are Noah saving the entire world. Feed weary travelers--they are the angels coming to visit Abraham and Sarah. And Abraham and Sarah are hosting them with you.
In fact, all those who had truth in their lives are here with us today. It is only that we are so much a part of this river of time, we cannot lift our heads to see above it.
Only when the falseness of the world will be ripped away and all is elevated to a place of truth, then we shall all see each other, together once again.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / CFLs
on: March 18, 2009, 07:58:44 AM
Lights Out for Thomas Edison
December 10, 2008
Read Article as PDF | Get Adobe Reader
by H. Sterling Burnett and Amanda Berg
The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 will soon ban the most
common light bulbs in the United States. New efficiency standards will
require manufacturers to produce incandescent bulbs that use less energy per
unit of light produced, starting with 100-watt incandescent bulbs in 2012,
down to 40-watt bulbs in 2014.
Under the new standards:
100-watt light bulbs are banned entirely.
70-watt light bulbs will have to be 36 percent to 136 percent more
50-watt bulbs must be 50 percent to 112 percent more efficient.
40-watt bulbs will have to improve 50 percent to 110 percent.
Incandescent bulbs cannot meet these new standards absent a significant
technological breakthrough. Thus, the common light bulb will soon be
Illuminating Efficiency. The alternative for most household uses will be
compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) designed to fit standard incandescent bulb
bases. CFLs currently make up only 5 percent of the light bulb market.
They have been touted for years as the smart choice for consumers interested
in reducing their energy bills, due to their extended lifespan and low
energy use vis-à-vis the equivalent light output from an incandescent. For
example, a 60-watt incandescent bulb produces 850 lumens - the same light
output as a 13-watt to 18-watt CFL. Unfortunately, except under a fairly
narrow range of circumstances, CFLs are less efficient than advertised.
Manufacturers claim the average life span of a CFL bulb is 10,000 hours.
However, in many applications the life and energy savings of a CFL are
CFLs must be left on for at least 15 minutes or used for several hours per
day to achieve their full energy saving benefits, according to the
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Applications in which lighting is used only briefly (such as closets,
bathrooms, motion detectors and so forth) will cause CFL bulbs to burn out
as quickly as regular incandescent bulbs.
CFLs often become dimmer over time - a study of U.S. Department of Energy
"Energy Star" products found that after 40 percent of their rated service
life, one-fourth of tested CFLs no longer produced the full amount of light.
At about $3 per bulb, CFLs are expensive, whereas incandescent bulbs cost
only 20 cents per bulb, on average. And there are other drawbacks. For
When initially switched on, CFLs may provide as little as 50 percent to 80
percent of their rated light output and can take up to three minutes to
reach full brightness.
CFLs often don't fit existing light fixtures, such as small-base lamps and
candlelabras, so these will have to be replaced.
Standard CFLs will not operate at low temperatures, making them unsuitable
for outdoor lighting.
CFLs can emit an annoying buzz.
CFLs emit infrared light that can interfere with remote-controlled devices,
such as televisions, video games and stereo equipment.
CFLs are simply unsuited for many common uses. The new law therefore
excludes whole classes of light bulbs from the standards, including
appliance light bulbs (ovens and refrigerators), flashing and colored
lights, traffic signals, shatter-resistant bulbs, three-way adjustable bulbs
and so forth.
Hidden Dangers of CFLs. CFLs contain potentially toxic mercury. Thus,
there are health and environmental concerns regarding their proper disposal.
Shattered CFLs in municipal landfills have the potential to leach mercury
into the soil. Over time this mercury could seep into the groundwater or
nearby streams. For this reason, a number of states and localities have
outlawed disposing CFLs with normal trash - instead, consumers must take
their used CFLs to authorized hazardous waste disposal sites.
The EPA recommends recycling CFLs. However, curbside recycling is not
available everywhere and often doesn't include CFLs. Recycling facilities
that accept CFLs are not common within major metropolitan areas, much less
in rural areas where on-site incineration or trenches are often used - both
of which release mercury into the atmosphere.
Perhaps even more important is the danger of broken CFLs in the home. The
EPA has provided detailed guidelines to avoid unsafe indoor mercury levels
[see the sidebar].
Cleaning up mercury from a shattered CFL can be costly. For example, when a
CFL broke in her daughter's bedroom, Brandy Bridges of Prospect, Maine,
called on the state's Department of Environmental Protection to make sure
she cleaned up the broken glass and mercury powder safely. A specialist
found unsafe levels of mercury in the air and recommended an environmental
cleanup firm, who estimated the clean up cost of at $2,000. Beause her
mother was unable to pay the exorbitant cleaning bill, the girl's room
remained sealed off in plastic for more than a month.
Conclusion. Consumers consider many factors in addition to energy
efficiency when they purchase light bulbs. The ban on incandescent bulbs
will be costly and potentially dangerous. The public has not yet embraced
CFLs, and the government should not impose on consumers its preferences
regarding the types of lights used in the home. As the deficiencies of CFLs
become more apparent with widespread use, perhaps Congress will let
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / The Unorganized Militia
on: March 18, 2009, 06:58:44 AM
U.S. and Texas Law on Independent Militias
Our duty as citizens
Most American citizens are aware that the U.S. Constitution guarantees
certain rights and limits the powers of government. However, it also imposes
certain duties, not only on organs of government, but on each citizen. One
of these duties is to function as members of the Militia, and the state has
the duty to organize and train citizens to so serve.
The U.S. Constitution provides for this in Article I, Section 8:
Congress shall have power ...
To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union,
suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;
To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for
governing such Part of them as may be employed in the service of the United
States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the
Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the
discipline prescribed by Congress;
The Framers contemplated that the citizens who compose the Militia would
provide their own weapons, which is reflected in the Second Amendment:
A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State,
the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
It is important to understand that the prevailing practice at the time the
Constitution was adopted was for people in each locality to organize as
independent local militias and to train themselves. The only change the
Framers sought to make was to make this organization and training more
systematic, along the model of Switzerland. They never imagined that future
governments might try to restrict the local organization and training of
independent militias by contending that people had the right to assemble and
the right to keep and bear arms, but not to combine the two rights. To them
that would have seemed absurd.
U.S. legislation on the Militia
In 1792 President Washington tried to get Congress to fully implement the
constitutional requirement for organizing and training the Militia, but
Congress, wanting to avoid the expense imposed on the states, only agreed to
pass a law that required every able-bodied [free] male to keep a "musket or
firelock". This was the Militia Act of 1792. By failing to require
organization and training, it laid the basis for the decline of the Militia
In 1903, the Militia Act of 1792 was superseded by the Dick Act, which
established the National Guard system, and made a distinction between the
"organized" and "unorganized" Militia, reflecting the attitude that the
Powers that Be didn't want most of the people to get organized as
independent militias, despite the support for universal military training
from most U.S. Presidents up to the administration of Harry Truman.
The Dick Act is encoded in 10 USC:
United Stated Code (USC)
TITLE 10--ARMED FORCES
Section 311. Militia: composition and classes (a) The militia of the United
States consists of all able-bodied males at least 17 years of age and,
except as provided in section 313 of title 32, under 45 years of age who
are, or who have made a declaration of intention to become, citizens of the
United States and of female citizens of the United States who are
commissioned officers of the National Guard. (b) The classes of the militia
are-- (1) the organized militia, which consists of the National Guard and
the Naval Militia; and (2) the unorganized militia, which consists of the
members of the militia who are not members of the National Guard or the
Naval Militia.Section 312. Militia duty: exemptions (a) The following
persons are exempt from militia duty: (1) The Vice President. (2) The
judicial and executive officers of the United States, the several States and
Territories, Puerto Rico, and the Canal Zone. (3) Members of the armed
forces, except members who are not on active duty. (4) Customhouse clerks.
(5) Persons employed by the United States in the transmission of mail. (6)
Workers employed in armories, arsenals, and naval shipyards of the United
States. (7) Pilots on navigable waters. (
Mariners in the sea service of a
citizen of, or a merchant in, the United States.(b) A person who claims
exemption because of religious belief is exempt from militia duty in a
combatant capacity, if the conscientious holding of that belief is
established under such regulations as the President may prescribe. However,
such a person is not exempt from militia duty that the President determines
to be noncombatant.TITLE 32--NATIONAL GUARD
Section 313. Appointments and enlistments: age limitations (a) To be
eligible for original enlistment in the National Guard, a person must be at
least 17 years of age and under 45, or under 64 years of age and a former
member of the Regular Army, Regular Navy, Regular Air Force, or Regular
Marine Corps. To be eligible for reenlistment, a person must be under 64
years of age. (b) To be eligible for appointment as an officer of the
National Guard, a person must-- (1) be a citizen of the United States; and
(2) be at least 18 years of age and under 64.It should be understood that
these definitions apply only to the Militia that is subject to call-up by
the federal government, and states may require other people to perform
militia duty, with different age ranges and exemptions.
Texas law on the Militia
The Texas Constitution once had a strong provision regarding militias:
Article 16. Section 46.
The Legislature shall provide by law for organizing and disciplining
the militia of the State, in such manner as they shall deem expedient, not
incompatible with the Constitution and Laws of the United States.
This section was deleted. The effect of this is that such authority
reverts back to local communities.
Present statutes are encoded in Texas Government Code Chapter 431:
Subchapter A. General Provisions
In this chapter:
(1) "Reserve militia" means the persons liable to serve, but not
serving, in the state military forces.
(2) "State militia" means the state military forces and the reserve
(3) "State military forces" means the Texas National Guard, the
Texas State Guard, and any other active militia or military force organized
under state law.
(4) "Texas National Guard" means the Texas Army National Guard and
the Texas Air National Guard.
431.010. Organization Prohibited
(a) Except as provided by Subsection (b), a body of persons other
than the regularly organized state military forces or the troops of the
United States may not associate as a military company or organization or
parade in public with firearms in a municipality of the state.
(b) With the consent of the governor, students in an educational
institution at which military science is a prescribed part of the course of
instruction and soldiers honorably discharged from the service of the United
States may drill and parade with firearms in public.
(c) This section does not prevent a parade by the active militia of
another state as provided by law.
Subchapter D. Texas State Guard
431.051. Supplemental Militia
To provide militia strength for use by the state as a supplement to
the Texas National Guard, the Texas State Guard exists as part of the state
militia under the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution and a
defense force under 32 U.S.C. Section 109.
Subchapter F. Service and Duties
431.081. Persons Subject to Military Duty; Persons Not Eligible to
(a) A person is subject to military duty if the person is: (1)
able-bodied; (2) a citizen or a person of foreign birth who has declared an
intent to become a citizen; (3) a resident of the state; (4) at least 18 and
not more than 60 years of age; and (5) not exempt under Subsection (b) or
(c) or United States law.(b) A person is exempt from military duty, except
in case of war, insurrection, invasion, or imminent danger of war,
insurrection, or invasion if the person is: (1) the lieutenant governor; (2)
a member or officer of the legislature; (3) a judge or clerk of a court of
record; (4) a head of a state agency; (5) a sheriff, district attorney,
county attorney, county tax assessor-collector, or county commissioner; (6)
a mayor, council member, alderman, or assessor and collector of a
municipality; (7) an officer or employee of the Texas Department of
Corrections, a state hospital or special school, a public or private
hospital, or a nursing home; (
a member of a regularly organized and paid
fire or police department in a municipality, except that a person is not
relieved of military duty by joining such a department; (9) a minister of
the gospel exclusively engaged in that calling; or (10) a person who
conscientiously scruples against bearing arms.(c) A mentally disabled
person, vagabond, confirmed alcoholic, narcotics addict, or a person
convicted of an infamous crime is exempt from military duty regardless of
Now, what about that Section 431.010 prohibiting military companies or
organizations or parades within municipalities? It clearly expresses
hostility to independent local militias within municipalities, but it has no
penalties, and does not apply to rural areas. It's main intent seems to be
to discourage local officials from calling up the militia.
The only statutes which local officials might invoke against a militia
muster within a municipality would be those against exhibiting a firearm in
a way that "alarms" the public. However, centuries of common law makes it
clear that merely carrying firearms is not to be considered "alarming". The
arms must actually be brandished toward someone in a threatening manner.
This would not prevent arrests on this ground, of course, but successful
prosecution is unlikely if the courts follow the law and the Constitution.
Some of these points are more fully discussed in 29 Tex. Jur.,
Sections 4 and 5, and in 12 Tex. Jur. 3d., Sections 12-28.
The only significant case law involving this statute is a federal
case, Vietnamese Fishermen's Ass'n v. Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (D.C.
1982) 543 F.Supp. 198, in which the plaintiff invoked the state statute in a
federal suit for injunction against the defendant. The injunction was
granted, and the judge took advantage of the case to write an opinion on the
interpretation of the state statute. However, that opinion has no stare
decisis effect, because this was not an appeal, nor was the judgement
appealed. The injunction was properly granted under common law against
intimidation, but a federal judge had no real business interpreting state
law. However, it is indicative of how that judge might decide the
constitutional issues in other cases. The case does, however, underscore the
importance of distinguishing between private associations and public
militias, and of making sure that any constitutional militias that may be
organized take care not to take on the attributes of a private group. Too
many people, including authorities, have examples in mind like the KKK, and
we must always make sure to distance ourselves from such partisan
organizations, and, indeed, indicate that the suppression of such groups is
one of the things that a real militia might be called up to do.
There is another statute that arguably involves the Militia, the Texas
Disaster Act of 1975, which has among its purposes, "providing an emergency
management system embodying all aspects of predisaster preparedness and
postdisaster response. See 12 Tex. Jur. 3d. Sections 51-53. If fully
implemented, the organization of local militia units seems to be required
under this Act.
Present U.S. and Texas law clearly fail to implement the requirements
for organizing and training the Militia established by the Framers. However,
we must also recognize that this failure goes all the way back to 1792, and
that such organizing and training are, therefore, left to the people
themselves, in the form of independent local militias, which they have a
constitutional duty to maintain in a high state of preparedness, even if
they get little support from the authorities, and indeed, especially if they
get opposition from the authorities.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / NYT: US weighs strikes into Baluchistan
on: March 18, 2009, 06:52:37 AM
U.S. Weighs Taliban Strike Into Pakistan
LinkedinDiggFacebookMixxMy SpaceYahoo! BuzzPermalinkBy DAVID E. SANGER and ERIC SCHMITT
Published: March 17, 2009
WASHINGTON — President Obama and his national security advisers are considering expanding the American covert war in Pakistan far beyond the unruly tribal areas to strike at a different center of Taliban power in Baluchistan, where top Taliban leaders are orchestrating attacks into southern Afghanistan.
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The New York Times
The Taliban have found a haven in and around Quetta.
According to senior administration officials, two of the high-level reports on Pakistan and Afghanistan that have been forwarded to the White House in recent weeks have called for broadening the target area to include a major insurgent sanctuary in and around the city of Quetta.
Mullah Muhammad Omar, who led the Taliban government that was ousted in the American-led invasion in 2001, has operated with near impunity out of the region for years, along with many of his deputies.
The extensive missile strikes being carried out by Central Intelligence Agency-operated drones have until now been limited to the tribal areas, and have never been extended into Baluchistan, a sprawling province that is under the authority of the central government, and which abuts the parts of southern Afghanistan where recent fighting has been the fiercest. Fear remains within the American government that extending the raids would worsen tensions. Pakistan complains that the strikes violate its sovereignty.
But some American officials say the missile strikes in the tribal areas have forced some leaders of the Taliban and Al Qaeda to flee south toward Quetta, making them more vulnerable. In separate reports, groups led by both Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of American forces in the region, and Lt. Gen. Douglas E. Lute, a top White House official on Afghanistan, have recommended expanding American operations outside the tribal areas if Pakistan cannot root out the strengthening insurgency.
Many of Mr. Obama’s advisers are also urging him to sustain orders issued last summer by President George W. Bush to continue Predator drone attacks against a wider range of targets in the tribal areas. They also are recommending preserving the option to conduct cross-border ground actions, using C.I.A. and Special Operations commandos, as was done in September. Mr. Bush’s orders also named as targets a wide variety of insurgents seeking to topple Pakistan’s government. Mr. Obama has said little in public about how broadly he wants to pursue those groups.
A spokesman for the National Security Council, Mike Hammer, declined to provide details, saying, “We’re still working hard to finalize the review on Afghanistan and Pakistan that the president requested.”
No other officials would talk on the record about the issue, citing the administration’s continuing internal deliberations and the politically volatile nature of strikes into Pakistani territory.
“It is fair to say that there is wide agreement to sustain and continue these covert programs,” said one senior administration official. “One of the foundations on which the recommendations to the president will be based is that we’ve got to sustain the disruption of the safe havens.”
Mr. Obama’s top national security advisers, known as the Principals Committee, met Tuesday to begin debating all aspects of Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy. Senior administration officials say Mr. Obama has made no decisions, but is expected to do so in coming days after hearing the advice of that group.
Any expansion of the war is bound to upset those in Mr. Obama’s party who worry that he is sinking further into a lengthy conflict in Afghanistan, even while reducing forces in Iraq. It is possible that the decisions about covert actions will never be publicly announced.
Several administration and military officials stressed that they continued to prod the Pakistani military to take the lead in a more aggressive campaign to root out Taliban and Qaeda fighters who are attacking American forces in Afghanistan and increasingly destabilizing nuclear-armed Pakistan.
But with Pakistan consumed by political turmoil, fear of financial collapse and a spreading insurgency, American officials say they have few illusions that the United States will be able to rely on Pakistan’s own forces. However, each strike by Predators or ground forces reverberates in Pakistan, and Mr. Obama will be weighing that cost.
Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on “The Charlie Rose Show” on PBS last week that the White House strategy review addresses the “safe haven in Pakistan — making sure that Afghanistan doesn’t provide a capability in the long run or an environment in which Al Qaeda could return or the Taliban could return.” But another senior official cautioned that “with the targets now spreading, an expanding U.S. role inside Pakistan may be more than anyone there can stomach.”
As part of the same set of decisions, according to senior civilian and military officials familiar with the internal White House debate, Mr. Obama will have to choose from among a range of options for future American commitments to Afghanistan.
His core decision may be whether to scale back American ambitions there to simply assure it does not become a sanctuary for terrorists. “We are taking this back to a fundamental question,” a senior diplomat involved in the discussions said. “Can you ever get a central government in Afghanistan to a point where it can exercise control over the country? That was the problem Bush never really confronted.”
A second option, officials say, is to significantly boost the American commitment to train Afghan troops, with Americans taking on the Taliban with increasing help from the Afghan military. President Bush pursued versions of that strategy, but the training always took longer and proved less successful than plans called for.
A third option would involve devoting full American and NATO resources to a large-scale counterinsurgency effort. But Mr. Obama would be bound to face considerable opposition within NATO, whose leaders he will meet with early next month in Strasbourg, France. At the very time the United States is seeking to expand its presence in Afghanistan, many of the allies are scheduled to leave.
As for American strikes on militant havens inside Pakistan, administration officials say the Predator and Reaper attacks in the tribal areas have been effective at killing 9 of Al Qaeda’s top 20 leaders, and the aerial campaign was recently expanded to focus on the Pakistani Taliban leader, Baitullah Mehsud, as well as his fighters and training camps. American intelligence officials say that many top Taliban commanders remain in hiding in and around Quetta, but some Afghan officials say that other senior Taliban leaders have fled to the Pakistani port city of Karachi.
Missile strikes or American commando raids in the city of Quetta or the teeming Afghan settlements and refugee camps around the city and near the Afghan border would carry high risks of civilian casualties, American officials acknowledge.
Thom Shanker contributed reporting from Washington, and Carlotta Gall from Islamabad, Pakistan.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / J. Adams; Jefferson
on: March 18, 2009, 06:34:40 AM
"Without wishing to damp the ardor of curiosity or influence the freedom of inquiry, I will hazard a prediction that, after the most industrious and impartial researchers, the longest liver of you all will find no principles, institutions or systems of education more fit in general to be transmitted to your posterity than those you have received from your ancestors."
--John Adams, letter to the young men of the Philadelphia, 7 May 1798
"To take from one, because it is thought his own industry and that of his fathers has acquired too much, in order to spare to others, who, or whose fathers, have not exercised equal industry and skill, is to violate arbitrarily the first principle of association, the guarantee to everyone the free exercise of his industry and the fruits acquired by it." --Thomas Jefferson
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Ron Silver
on: March 18, 2009, 12:26:47 AM
Ron Silver died on Sunday of cancer, at age 62, having starred in movies, theater and politics. As an actor, he won a Tony Award in 1988 for his performance in David Mamet's "Speed-the-Plow," and more recently he was better known for his role as a hard-bitten political consultant on "The West Wing" on television.
But Silver's most notable legacy was his real-life political activism. A self-described life-long liberal, Silver rallied to the defense of his country and his hometown, New York City, after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Three years later, he spoke at the Republican National Convention in New York, reminding his audience that "This is a war we did not seek. This is a war waged against us. This is a war to which we had to respond." He had held similarly hawkish views during the Cold War, and he rebutted those who see America as little different than its enemies: "History shows that we are not imperialists."
By his own account, he suffered professionally for those convictions, but he sought no sympathy for whatever price he may have paid in Hollywood for his stand on the war on terror or his vocal criticism of the United Nations, about which he made a documentary in 2005. In "Broken Promises," Silver held the U.N. to account for its failure to live up to its stated ideals, even as his acting colleagues derided President Bush for using military force against tyrants. His brother, Mitchell Silver, told the New York Times that Silver's politics "were not shared by anyone he knew." His politics, in other words, were born of conviction, not convenience, which is one way to describe an honest patriot.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WaPo: New tests in south
on: March 17, 2009, 04:43:27 PM
March 15, 2009
Troops Face New Tests In Afghanistan
Battalion's Experience Outlines Issues in South
By Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Washington Post Staff Writer
MAYWAND, Afghanistan -- Lt. Col. Daniel Hurlbut rolled into this dusty Taliban stronghold in September with a battalion of U.S. Army infantrymen and a detailed, year-long plan to combat the Taliban.
The first quarter was to be devoted to reconnaissance. The next three months would involve military operations to root out insurgents. By now, his unit should have been focusing on reconstruction and building up the local government.
But the battalion's efforts to pry information about the Taliban from the local population -- by conducting foot patrols, doling out money for mosques to buy new prayer rugs and offering agricultural assistance to subsistence farmers -- have been met with indifference, if not downright hostility.
"Nobody wants to tell us anything," Hurlbut said, sighing.
His initial plan, he has since concluded, was wildly optimistic.
"We're still in the first quarter," he said. "Our expectation for results is now a lot longer than we thought it would be."
U.S. commanders regard Hurlbut's battalion as a harbinger of the 17,000 additional Army and Marine troops that President Obama has ordered to southern Afghanistan this spring to augment NATO forces, which have been stretched thin by the Taliban's growing strength. As those troops flow into a series of new garrisons, they will confront a set of challenges that is very different from what the U.S. military has faced in Afghanistan thus far.
The southern part of the country is now regarded by U.S. and NATO commanders as the central front in the Afghan war. It encompasses the nation's second-largest city, Kandahar, and six provinces where the Taliban has built a significant degree of popular support, in part through intimidation but also by delivering Afghans a degree of security against criminals that the local police and international forces have been unable to provide.
While the Obama administration forges a new strategy in Washington to salvage an Afghan nation-building operation that is entering its eighth year, the perilous state of affairs in the south has already prompted commanders here to develop a new approach to fighting the insurgency. It may provide a preview of ways in which the overall international military effort in Afghanistan could be transformed over the coming months.
"If we're going to win, we have to fight this war differently," said U.S. Brig. Gen. John Nicholson, a deputy commander of NATO forces in southern Afghanistan. "For too long, we've had an economy of force. We've had a stovepiped approach to combat and to development, too. All that has to change."
The new strategy here involves a major -- but controversial -- push to better coordinate the efforts of NATO troops deployed in the south, a new focus for counternarcotics operations and the allocation of more troops to train Afghan security forces. It also seeks to apply a fundamental tenet of the U.S. Army's new counterinsurgency doctrine: Deploy the troops to create zones of security around population centers instead of mounting in-and-out raids against the insurgents.
Unlike in eastern Afghanistan, where the U.S. military had been concentrating its troops since 2002, American units in the south will be forced to work far more closely with other NATO forces. The new U.S. troops will find themselves in a swath of the country that is the epicenter of opium poppy cultivation and where far fewer resources have been devoted to reconstruction and development. And they will be forced to deal with a deep-rooted, indigenous insurgency -- the Taliban got its start in the south -- that has mounted increasingly potent attacks on civilians and security forces.
What the new strategy does not seek to do, however, is to borrow a page from the U.S. playbook in Iraq by creating tribal militias to fend off the Taliban. Commanders here said that approach could create even more warlords and new intratribal feuds. And the commanders see little benefit from negotiations with the Taliban right now, despite Obama's support for such an overture.
Military officials regard the Taliban, composed largely of ethnic Pashtuns, as both too strong and too fragmented in the south to pursue an effective deal, although they remain open to the possibility in the east, where some tribal leaders who have supported the insurgency could be persuaded to switch sides.
Senior officials at the NATO regional headquarters in Kandahar see the insurgency in the south as made up of a core of die-hard Taliban operatives and a much larger group of young freelance fighters who are motivated more by money than religious zealotry. NATO troops, as well as U.S. Special Forces teams in the region, have been seeking to target the operatives, hoping to stem the flow of funds and munitions to the low-level fighters. The officials also believe that new economic development projects funded by international donors could help to lure some of the fighters to lay down their weapons.
But U.S. and NATO officials in the region are not certain how the Taliban will respond to the new American forces moving into the south. Some may hide or simply move to parts of the country with fewer international forces. Or they may choose to fight with roadside bombs and the occasional ambush. The result could be a significant increase in Taliban attacks -- and U.S. casualties -- this summer.
"With the new troops arriving, it will bring more people into contact with more Americans," said Philip Hatton, an adviser to Nicholson on stabilization issues. "What will the result of that be? We don't know."
Ending the Fractured Approach
When NATO forces were deployed to the south in 2006, the Canadians were assigned the province of Kandahar, the British got Helmand, and the Dutch were sent to Uruzgan. The three nations developed their own battle plans and agendas for development. They established provincial reconstruction teams that report to their capitals, not the NATO regional command at the Kandahar airport.
People at the regional command now joke that the three provinces should be renamed Canadahar, Helmandshire and Uruzdam.
"It's a totally dysfunctional way of fighting a war," said a U.S. officer in the south. "You've got each of these guys doing their own thing in their provinces with very little coordination."
The fractured approach is a result of demands imposed by NATO members as a condition of sending troops to Afghanistan. Each nation wanted its own chunk of the action so it could show off what it had accomplished. That model has been less problematic in the far north and west, where there has been less violence, and in the east, where the U.S. military has established its own command.
"The big question for NATO now isn't whether members are going to send more troops or what caveats will be placed on those troops, but whether the nations who have decided to stand up and fight will actually fight together," a senior U.S. military official said.
The task of trying to get everyone to collaborate has fallen to Nicholson, who is pushing the British, Canadians and Dutch to embrace a more integrated approach to war-fighting and development. "We need a coherent regional plan for victory," he said, "not a bunch of national plans for victory."
Instead of demanding that Britain, Canada and the Netherlands scuttle their individual plans, he is trying to compensate for the differences among the individual approaches by forming a regionwide development agenda. It calls for spending $700 million on road, electricity and water projects, several of which cross province borders. He plans to take the wish list to international donors in the next few months.
Although some British and Canadian officials grouse in private about what they view as Nicholson's efforts to wrest control over reconstruction planning, they also recognize that with the addition of 17,000 troops, the United States will have the largest military presence in the south and a corresponding ability to influence policy.
'Progress Here Has Been Slow'
When Hurlbut's battalion arrived in Maywand last fall, its first order of business was to encircle a swath of dusty plain with razor wire and erect an outpost. It began as a makeshift effort, with tents and wooden latrines and meals in a bag, but Forward Operating Base Ramrod has since assumed the trappings of modern military life: a gymnasium, an Internet room and a chow hall run by the defense contractor KBR.
Although this district 45 miles west of Kandahar had long been regarded by the NATO-led military command in Afghanistan as a key infiltration route for insurgents, there were too few international forces to maintain a permanent presence here. The Canadian army, which has been responsible for the area since early 2006, came every few months to clear out Taliban fighters, but the insurgents would invariably crop back up as soon as the troops left.
Hurlbut's soldiers are trying a different tack and employing a counterinsurgency technique that has been used in the Iraq war. They are staying in Maywand. Some bed down near the municipal building and the police headquarters. Another contingent patrols the highway. Still others walk through villages every day, trying to convince impoverished farmers that they should cast their lot not with the Taliban but with NATO forces and Afghanistan's fledgling national government.
The soldiers had hoped their presence in the district would be welcomed by residents, who keep telling the troops that what they want more than anything is security -- and they will side with whomever can provide it. But it hasn't worked yet.
"The local people are completely sitting on the fence, and they're content to stay on the fence," said Hurlbut, who commands the 2nd Battalion of the 2nd Infantry Regiment. "They don't really want to give us information."
After almost three years of seeing Canadian troops roll in and roll out, one officer said, "they don't yet believe us when we say we're here to stay."
Even the local officials are wary. The district governor, Hurlbut said, started becoming friendly with him only last month.
The Taliban, however, has taken the 2-2 Infantry's presence in the district seriously. Insurgents mined the roads with scores of improvised explosives devices, more than 150 of which have hit the battalion's patrols and convoys.
In some parts of Afghanistan, police regularly patrol roads and interdict people planting bombs. But in Maywand, the police spend more time in the district capital. Although they have been through a new U.S.-led training program and have been assigned a team of civilian and military mentors, the police officers generally cannot be bothered to walk the beat. And they have little interest in solving crimes. When a man came to police headquarters recently to complain that his motorcycle had been stolen, the police refused to act without a bribe.
"Fine," he said, according to soldiers who witnessed the encounter. "I'm going to the Taliban. At least they'll take me seriously."
Even efforts to hand out money here have not been without peril. Last month, Hurlbut said he sought to win over a local mullah by outfitting his mosque with new prayer rugs and a loudspeaker system. But after three weeks, the Taliban stole all of it.
"The progress here has been slow," Hurlbut said. "We shouldn't kid ourselves into thinking that everything will change when we get 17,000 additional troops in the south. They're going to be moving into places like this, where there haven't been any foreign forces for a long time. And they're going to discover that it's going to take a while to accomplish our goals."
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: MMA Thread
on: March 17, 2009, 03:05:16 PM
Thanks for taking the time for a quality report.
I remember fondly training with Lyoto at RAW Gym a few years back. Very nice guy, class act. His fighting exemplifies DB Kali Tudo Trigg 101 and Trigg 102.
Look forward to meeting you at our Gatherings. 90% of Life is showing up
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Rearmament strategy
on: March 17, 2009, 12:26:20 PM
March 18, 2009
Russia Is Planning a ‘Large-Scale Rearming’
By CLIFFORD J. LEVY
President Dmitri A. Medvedev said on Tuesday that Russia would begin a “large-scale rearming” in 2011 in response to what he described as threats to the country’s security.
In a speech before generals in Moscow, Mr. Medvedev cited encroachment by NATO as a primary reason for bolstering the armed and nuclear forces.
Mr. Medvedev did not offer specifics on how much the budget would grow for the military, whose capabilities deteriorated significantly after the fall of Soviet Union.
Russia has increased military spending sharply in recent years, but with the financial crisis and the drop in the price of oil, the country’s finances are under pressure, suggesting that it would be hard to lift these expenditures further.
Even so, Mr. Medvedev’s timing was notable. He is expected to hold his first meeting with President Obama in early April in London on the sidelines of the summit of the Group of 20 industrialized and developing countries.
In recent weeks, he has said he is looking forward to the meeting, and both he and Russia’s paramount leader, Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin, have been expressing some optimism about improving relations with the United States under the new administration.
Mr. Medvedev’s comments on Tuesday, though, indicated that Kremlin did not want the United States and its NATO allies to presume that Russia was coming to the table from a position of weakness.
“An analysis of the military-political situation in the world shows that there are a range of regions where there remain serious potential for conflicts,” Mr. Medvedev said. “Threats remain that can bring about local crises and international terrorism. NATO is not halting its efforts to widen its military infrastructure near the borders of our country. All of this demands a quality modernization of our armed forces.”
Mr. Medvedev emphasized that Russia would not be deterred in this plan by the financial crisis.
His announcement comes as the Kremlin has already begun an effort to overhaul the operations of the armed forces, which are still run largely according to Soviet-style dictates.
While Russia’s far larger military easily triumphed over Georgia’s in the conflict in August, the fighting exposed what many experts described as flaws in training, weapons and equipment.http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/18/wo...dvedev.html?hp
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Remembering jokes
on: March 17, 2009, 11:52:17 AM
In One Ear and Out the Other
Published: March 16, 2009
By all accounts, my grandfather Nathan had the comic ambitions of a Jack Benny but the comic gifts of a John Kerry. Undeterred, he always kept a few blank index cards in his pocket, so that if he happened to hear a good joke, he’d have someplace to write it down.
How I wish I knew where Nathan stashed that deck.
Like many people, I can never remember a joke. I hear or read something hilarious, I laugh loudly enough to embarrass everybody else in the library, and then I instantly forget everything about it — everything except the fact, always popular around the dinner table, that “I heard a great joke today, but now I can’t remember what it was.”
For researchers who study memory, the ease with which people forget jokes is one of those quirks, those little skids on the neuronal banana peel, that end up revealing a surprising amount about the underlying architecture of memory.
And there are plenty of other similarly illuminating examples of memory’s whimsy and bad taste — like why you may forget your spouse’s birthday but will go to your deathbed remembering every word of the “Gilligan’s Island” theme song. And why you must chop a string of data like a phone number into manageable and predictable chunks to remember it and will fall to pieces if you are in Britain and hear a number read out as “double-four, double-three.” And why your efforts to fill in a sudden memory lapse by asking your companions, “Hey, what was the name of that actor who starred in the movie we saw on Friday?” may well fail, because (what useless friends!) now they’ve all forgotten, too.
Welcome to the human brain, your three-pound throne of wisdom with the whoopee cushion on the seat.
In understanding human memory and its tics, Scott A. Small, a neurologist and memory researcher at Columbia, suggests the familiar analogy with computer memory.
We have our version of a buffer, he said, a short-term working memory of limited scope and fast turnover rate. We have our equivalent of a save button: the hippocampus, deep in the forebrain is essential for translating short-term memories into a more permanent form.
Our frontal lobes perform the find function, retrieving saved files to embellish as needed. And though scientists used to believe that short- and long-term memories were stored in different parts of the brain, they have discovered that what really distinguishes the lasting from the transient is how strongly the memory is engraved in the brain, and the thickness and complexity of the connections linking large populations of brain cells. The deeper the memory, the more readily and robustly an ensemble of like-minded neurons will fire.
This process, of memory formation by neuronal entrainment, helps explain why some of life’s offerings weasel in easily and then refuse to be spiked. Music, for example. “The brain has a strong propensity to organize information and perception in patterns, and music plays into that inclination,” said Michael Thaut, a professor of music and neuroscience at Colorado State University. “From an acoustical perspective, music is an overstructured language, which the brain invented and which the brain loves to hear.”
A simple melody with a simple rhythm and repetition can be a tremendous mnemonic device. “It would be a virtually impossible task for young children to memorize a sequence of 26 separate letters if you just gave it to them as a string of information,” Dr. Thaut said. But when the alphabet is set to the tune of the ABC song with its four melodic phrases, preschoolers can learn it with ease.
And what are the most insidious jingles or sitcom themes but cunning variations on twinkle twinkle ABC?
Really great jokes, on the other hand, punch the lights out of do re mi. They work not by conforming to pattern recognition routines but by subverting them. “Jokes work because they deal with the unexpected, starting in one direction and then veering off into another,” said Robert Provine, a professor of psychology at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and the author of “Laughter: A Scientific Investigation.” “What makes a joke successful are the same properties that can make it difficult to remember.”
This may also explain why the jokes we tend to remember are often the most clichéd ones. A mother-in-law joke? Yes, I have the slot ready and labeled.
Memory researchers suggest additional reasons that great jokes may elude common capture. Daniel L. Schacter, a professor of psychology at Harvard and the author of “The Seven Sins of Memory,” says there is a big difference between verbatim recall of all the details of an event and gist recall of its general meaning.
“We humans are pretty good at gist recall but have difficulty with being exact,” he said. Though anecdotes can be told in broad outline, jokes live or die by nuance, precision and timing. And while emotional arousal normally enhances memory, it ends up further eroding your attention to that one killer frill. “Emotionally arousing material calls your attention to a central object,” Dr. Schacter said, “but it can make it difficult to remember peripheral details.”
As frustrating as it can be to forget something new, it’s worse to forget what you already know. Scientists refer to this as the tip-of-the-tongue phenomenon, when you know something but can’t spit it out, and the harder you try the more noncompliant the archives.
It’s such a virulent disorder that when you ask friends for help, you can set off so-called infectious amnesia. Behind the tying up of tongues are the too-delicate nerves of our brain’s frontal lobes and their sensitivity to anxiety and the hormones of fight or flight. The frontal lobes that rifle through stored memories and perform other higher cognitive tasks tend to shut down when the lower brain senses danger and demands that energy be shunted its way.
For that reason anxiety can be a test taker’s worst foe, and the anxiety of a pop quiz from a friend can make your frontal lobes freeze and your mind go blank. That is also why you’ll recall the frustratingly forgotten fact later that night, in the tranquillity of bed.
Memories can be strengthened with time and practice, practice, practice, but if there’s one part of the system that resists improvement, it’s our buffers, the size of our working memory on which a few items can be temporarily cached. Much research suggests that we can hold in short-term memory only five to nine data chunks at a time.
The limits of working memory again encourage our pattern-mad brains, and so we strive to bunch phone numbers into digestible portions and could manage even 10-digit strings when they had area codes with predictable phrases like a middle zero or one. But with the rise of atonal phone numbers with random strings of 10 digits, memory researchers say the limits of working memory have been crossed. Got any index cards?
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Strat: Reinstatement of Pak's judiciary
on: March 17, 2009, 11:11:45 AM
Well, that was cheery, , , , here's some more sunshine:
Geopolitical Diary: The Reinstatement of Pakistan's Judiciary
March 16, 2009
Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, in a speech to the nation early Monday local time, announced that his government would reinstate ousted Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry after Gilani met with army chief Gen. Ashfaq Kayani and President Asif Ali Zardari. Chaudhry will resume his duties as the country’s top judge on March 21. The last-minute development came as massive processions, headed by opposition leader Nawaz Sharif and the legal community, were en route to Islamabad. There, a sit-in had been planned for March 16 to demand the restoration of the judiciary and the provincial government in the country’s largest province, Punjab.
Chaudhry’s reinstatement by no means signals the end of the political and legal crisis that began when then-President Pervez Musharraf sacked Chaudhry a little more than two years ago, as many detailed issues have yet to be resolved. But this concession highlights a much more significant development in terms of the civil-military balance in Pakistan, which has been ruled by its army for 31 of its nearly 62 years in existence. That the powerful military establishment has played a key role in pushing the government toward a compromise of sorts — without tampering with the existing setup — underscores the relative rise of civilian forces and decline in the army’s ability to impose order single-handedly.
This major shift is clear to the United States, as senior U.S. officials — including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, special envoy Richard Holbrooke and U.S. Ambassador Anne Peterson — have participated in discussions with the government and the opposition in efforts to defuse the situation. In fact, U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen on Friday told PBS that Kayani was unlikely to opt for a military coup to resolve the crisis because “he is committed to a civilian government.”
Normally, such a shift would be seen as a move toward stability — but not in Pakistan, which is in the midst of a complex civil war. On one hand is the struggle between secular and Islamist forces, manifesting as a growing jihadist insurgency; on the other is a vibrant civil society movement demanding the establishment of the “rule of law” and an end to authoritarian rule. Pakistan’s security establishment is unable to deal with both at the same time and in fact needs public support to be able to deal with the jihadist challenge.
But Islamabad’s latest move to placate public sentiment will further complicate efforts by the Pakistani army and the United States to deal with the jihadist problem in southwest Asia. This is because those assuming the vanguard of the “rule of law” movement are largely right-wing political forces — either conservative nationalist powers such as Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League or Islamists such as Jamaat-i-Islami. These forces are either openly opposed to using force against jihadists operating in Pakistan or have an ambiguous stance on the jihadist threat, and they definitely lack a coherent policy on how to deal with the security threat from the Taliban and their al Qaeda allies.
Even the largely secular civil society movement, including the legal community, has viewed the conflict with the jihadists through nationalist lenses — as a U.S. war in which Pakistan was forced to participate. The disproportionate emphasis on the restoration of Pakistan’s ousted judges at a time when jihadists are slowly chipping away at the writ of the state underscores the low level of importance a significant cross-section of Pakistan’s political players have assigned to the jihadist threat. As a result, the political stakeholders in Pakistan who are responsible for dealing with the existential threat posed by the jihadists are preoccupied with other battles.
This will further undermine U.S. efforts to secure reliable partners in Islamabad in its efforts to craft a strategy for dealing with the jihadist threat in the region.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: The Power of Word
on: March 17, 2009, 11:02:49 AM
In Your Hands
By Tzvi Freeman
Meditate on a single pool left by the tide and all the life it holds. On a single leaf and all the genius within it. On all the forests of the world, all its seas, and all the life of the skies. Then meditate that all this He has entrusted in our hands. And each person must say to him or herself: "All this He has placed in my hands alone."
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / CiC BO plans to charge those wounded for cost of injuries via 3d party ins.
on: March 17, 2009, 08:40:53 AM
second post on the subject
The American Legion Strongly Opposed to President's Plan to Charge Wounded Heroes for Treatment
This lame idea has me so angry I can hardly see straight. If nothing else this more than anything reveals the contempt this administration has for the men and women in uniform and their families. Mac
Contact: Craig Roberts of The American Legion, +1-202-263-2982 Office, +1-202-406-0887 Cell
WASHINGTON, March 16 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The leader of the nation's largest veterans organization says he is "deeply disappointed and concerned" after a meeting with President Obama today to discuss a proposal to force private insurance companies to pay for the treatment of military veterans who have suffered service-connected disabilities and injuries. The Obama administration recently revealed a plan to require private insurance carriers to reimburse the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in such cases.
"It became apparent during our discussion today that the President intends to move forward with this unreasonable plan," said Commander David K. Rehbein of The American Legion. "He says he is looking to generate $540-million by this method, but refused to hear arguments about the moral and government-avowed obligations that would be compromised by it." The Commander, clearly angered as he emerged from the session said, "This reimbursement plan would be inconsistent with the mandate ' to care for him who shall have borne the battle' given that the United States government sent members of the armed forces into harm's way, and not private insurance companies. I say again that The American Legion does not and will not support any plan that seeks to bill a veteran for treatment of a service connected disability at the very agency that was created to treat the unique need of America's veterans!"
Commander Rehbein was among a group of senior officials from veterans service organizations joining the President, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki and Steven Kosiak, the overseer of defense spending at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The group's early afternoon conversation at The White House was precipitated by a letter of protest presented to the President earlier this month. The letter, co-signed by Commander Rehbein and the heads of ten colleague organizations, read, in part, " There is simply no logical explanation for billing a veteran's personal insurance for care that the VA has a responsibility to provide. While we understand the fiscal difficulties this country faces right now, placing the burden of those fiscal problems on the men and women who have already sacrificed a great deal for this country is unconscionable."
Commander Rehbein reiterated points made last week in testimony to both House and Senate Veterans' Affairs Committees. It was stated then that The American Legion believes that the reimbursement plan would be inconsistent with the mandate that VA treat service-connected injuries and disabilities given that the United States government sends members of the armed forces into harm's way, and not private insurance companies. The proposed requirement for these companies to reimburse the VA would not only be unfair, says the Legion, but would have an adverse impact on service-connected disabled veterans and their families. The Legion argues that, depending on the severity of the medical conditions involved, maximum insurance coverage limits could be reached through treatment of the veteran's condition alone. That would leave the rest of the family without health care benefits. The Legion also points out that many health insurance companies require deductibles to be paid before any benefits are covered. Additionally, the Legion is concerned that private insurance premiums would be elevated to cover service-connected disabled veterans and their families, especially if the veterans are self-employed or employed in small businesses unable to negotiate more favorable across-the-board insurance policy pricing. The American Legion also believes that some employers, especially small businesses, would be reluctant to hire veterans with service-connected disabilities due to the negative impact their employment might have on obtaining and financing company health care benefits.
"I got the distinct impression that the only hope of this plan not being enacted," said Commander Rehbein, "is for an alternative plan to be developed that would generate the desired $540-million in revenue. The American Legion has long advocated for Medicare reimbursement to VA for the treatment of veterans. This, we believe, would more easily meet the President's financial goal. We will present that idea in an anticipated conference call with White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel in the near future.
"I only hope the administration will really listen to us then. This matter has far more serious ramifications than the President is imagining," concluded the Commander.
SOURCE The American Legion
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Webster: American history
on: March 17, 2009, 08:11:21 AM
"Every child in America should be acquainted with his own country. He should read books that furnish him with ideas that will be useful to him in life and practice. As soon as he opens his lips, he should rehearse the history of his own country."
--Noah Webster, On the Education of Youth in America, 1788
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / CiC BO plans to charge those wounded for cost of injuries via 3d party ins.
on: March 16, 2009, 09:14:20 PM
American Legion commander “angered” after meeting Obama
posted at 7:00 pm on March 16, 2009 by Ed Morrissey
Apparently, the Obama administration hasn’t backed away from its plans to start offloading costs for wounded veterans to third-party insurance, which will make acquiring such insurance nearly impossible. The commander of the American Legion emerged from a meeting with President Obama “angered” at Obama’s insistence on generating revenue from those who sacrificed for American security:
The leader of the nation’s largest veterans organization says he is “deeply disappointed and concerned” after a meeting with President Obama today to discuss a proposal to force private insurance companies to pay for the treatment of military veterans who have suffered service-connected disabilities and injuries. The Obama administration recently revealed a plan to require private insurance carriers to reimburse the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in such cases.
“It became apparent during our discussion today that the President intends to move forward with this unreasonable plan,” said Commander David K. Rehbein of The American Legion. “He says he is looking to generate $540-million by this method, but refused to hear arguments about the moral and government-avowed obligations that would be compromised by it.”
The Commander, clearly angered as he emerged from the session said, “This reimbursement plan would be inconsistent with the mandate ‘ to care for him who shall have borne the battle’ given that the United States government sent members of the armed forces into harm’s way, and not private insurance companies. I say again that The American Legion does not and will not support any plan that seeks to bill a veteran for treatment of a service connected disability at the very agency that was created to treat the unique need of America’s veterans!”
Commander Rehbein was among a group of senior officials from veterans service organizations joining the President, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki and Steven Kosiak, the overseer of defense spending at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The group’s early afternoon conversation at The White House was precipitated by a letter of protest presented to the President earlier this month. The letter, co-signed by Commander Rehbein and the heads of ten colleague organizations, read, in part, ” There is simply no logical explanation for billing a veteran’s personal insurance for care that the VA has a responsibility to provide. While we understand the fiscal difficulties this country faces right now, placing the burden of those fiscal problems on the men and women who have already sacrificed a great deal for this country is unconscionable.”
The Obama administration explains that it wants private insurers who sell coverage to vets to pay their fair share, but there are two things wrong with that argument. First, the United States has a moral obligation to provide treatment for those wounded in the service of their country. That’s a commitment we make to the people who enlist in military, and should not get outsourced.
Second, vets with service-related injuries and illnesses can only get third-party insurance because insurers know the US will cover all service-related medical treatment through the VA. If the government reneges on that commitment, it will put insurers on the hook for veterans already enrolled — but it will make it a lot harder for the next set of veterans to get insured. It will also raise costs to the rest of the insured by those companies, when the burden should fall on all Americans equally.
If the country needs more revenue streams, it should find some other way to find them than the backs of our wounded veterans. They’ve sacrificed enough. Shame on the Obama administration for attempting to weasel out of our commitment.
Update: This Ain’t Hell wonders when General Eric Shinseki will resign in protest.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Mexico-US matters
on: March 16, 2009, 11:26:53 AM
U.S., Mexico: Forming a Border Response
STRATFOR Today » March 15, 2009 | 1452 GMT
U.S President Barack Obama, along with other prominent U.S. officials, is discussing the possibility of sending U.S. National Guard troops to the border with Mexico. The National Guard already has experience along the border, specifically during an anti-illegal immigration operation from 2006 to 2008. But so far, talk surrounding this latest possible deployment indicates that it would focus on providing security to border areas where spillover violence from Mexico is occurring. While it is not clear exactly what would trigger a National Guard deployment, defining the threat along the border and formulating possible responses is the first step toward creating a national policy on the topic.
Several statements have been released during the first six weeks of the Obama administration that demonstrate its concern about the situation in Mexico and its intent to formulate a policy to address the Mexican border issue. President Barack Obama said March 11 that he was “going to examine whether and if National Guard deployments would make sense” and what circumstances would trigger their deployment. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said March 12 that her department intends to “make some significant movements to the southwest border.” Defense Secretary Robert Gates also has commented on the possibility of more cooperation between Mexico and the United States.
Over the past year, the U.S. government has become increasingly interested in the security situation in Mexico. Spillover of violence into the United States is already occurring, as evidenced by Mexican drug-trafficking enforcers invading a home in Phoenix and killing a delinquent drug dealer on June 22, 2008, and by constant cross-border provocations against U.S. Border Patrol agents, from rock-throwing to gunshots targeting Border Patrol agents.
It is clear that Mexican drug cartels have a degree of influence over crime in the United States, since so much criminal activity in the United States is drug-related. With Mexican drug cartels serving as the primary source of drugs for the U.S. market, it is inevitable that the organized criminal groups in Mexico establish some level of control and supervision over their U.S. criminal allies.
These connections, however, remain at the level of a law enforcement challenge. Presently, the problem is one faced by local and state authorities and, according to Napolitano, will continue to be the first line of attack for the Obama administration. At this point it is not yet clear what would trigger the use of the contingency plans being formulated by the Obama administration. Essentially, it is clear that the influence of the Mexican drug cartels is spreading throughout the United States, and particularly in the border states, it is not clear at what point the federal government becomes involved in coordinating a comprehensive response.
There are several possible scenarios that would trigger a response from the United States. One possible scenario would be a dramatic increase in the use of violence by cartel-linked gangs in the United States, like the Mexican Mafia or Barrio Azteca, mirroring their counterparts in Mexico. Other scenarios could include more violent and specific targeting of law enforcement officers on the U.S. side of the border, obvious incidents of Mexican drug traffickers crossing the border to carry out assaults in the United States, massive migration from Mexico in the case of state collapse or a similar, major security-related catastrophe.
If the situation required, the National Guard has the ability to provide support to law enforcement agencies so that they can better perform their jobs. Napolitano has said that federal support would consist of border-enforcement teams, more intelligence analysts and increased vehicle searches. This is similar to how Mexico’s military is currently assisting police, and how the Italian military was deployed to Sicily in 1992 to secure areas in order to allow police to carry out their work against La Cosa Nostra. The National Guard also has heavier firepower than police forces, which could be used suppress the kind of running gunbattles that frequently occur in Mexico but do not take place in the United States.
National Guard assets like helicopters, armored personnel carriers and aerial surveillance platforms would also contribute to law enforcement efforts along the border. But what the National Guard does not do is operate as a law enforcement agency. It cannot make arrests, and it cannot conduct investigations. The National Guard is simply a tool best used for stabilizing situations that have gotten out of control, or for enhancing government manpower and logistical capacity.
The National Guard has been sent to the border before. From June 2006 to July 2008, Operation Jump Start involved the deployment of 6,000 guardsmen to assist the Border Patrol in stemming illegal immigration traffic. Since then, governors of border states have been utilizing their state National Guard assets to assist in counternarcotics efforts. However, these efforts are relatively small, with less than 1,000 national guardsmen deployed across all four southern border states, and focus on assisting counternarcotics operations. A federally orchestrated response could draw on the deep reserves of National Guard members across the country for the purpose of national security.
Most importantly, drafting a federal plan (or at least talking about drafting a plan) to address violence spilling over into the United States will help build a national strategy on how to handle Mexico, including defining the breaking point that would force the United States to act more aggressively. Plans for securing the border are just one part of the administration’s policy toward Mexico, which Obama has said his administration will define within the next few months.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / NYT: Shocking development-- Europe hedges
on: March 16, 2009, 10:50:17 AM
European countries that have offered to help the Obama administration close the detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, have begun raising questions about the security risks and requirements if they accept prisoners described by the Bush administration as “the worst of the worst,” according to diplomats and other officials.
Guantánamo Bay Naval Base (Cuba)The concerns, and a deep suspicion of whether the American intelligence community will share full information on the prisoners, are likely to complicate the resettlement effort, which is critical to President Obama’s fulfilling his pledge to close Guantánamo within a year of his taking office.
The offers, from Spain, Portugal, Italy, France, Belgium, Switzerland and other countries, have been widely seen as efforts to win favor with the new administration by helping to close the camp, which was a contentious issue during the Bush years.
Still, with a first round of talks on the Guantánamo issues scheduled for Monday in Washington between Obama administration officials and a high-level delegation from the European Union, several European leaders have recently emphasized that they can make no firm commitments until they are given complete details on the prisoners.
“We’d have to study concrete cases,” María Teresa Fernández de la Vega Sanz, Spain’s deputy prime minister, said in an interview last week.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton recently told reporters she was “quite encouraged at the positive, receptive responses we’ve been getting” to requests for help in accepting Guantánamo detainees.
But some European officials said the Obama administration had yet to detail what would be involved in resettling detainees and whether the United States would also open its doors to Guantánamo prisoners, which the Bush administration declined to do.
It is not clear exactly what conditions the Obama administration may wish to impose, what the detainees’ immigration status would be or whether any detainees released to Europe would be eligible for complete freedom. “We understand, you have a big problem,” said one European official who said he would speak only if not identified. “And we appreciate what President Obama has said about closing Guantánamo. But that doesn’t automatically mean putting all the remaining inmates on a plane and sending them to Europe.”
Obama administration officials say some 60 of the remaining 241 detainees, those who cannot be sent to their home countries for humanitarian or other reasons, could be resettled in Europe.
A senior State Department official conceded that there were some concerns in Europe about accepting Guantánamo detainees. But the official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not designated to speak publicly on the issue, argued: “It is really just a small effort to help us deal with a legacy of the past. This is something we inherited, too.”
A senior French official said that France was “ready to help,” but that “Guantánamo is an American responsibility.”
“It’s not an absolute condition, but it would be easier if the U.S. administration is willing to take some detainees,” said the French official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, as did several officials in other countries, to avoid antagonizing the Obama administration.
American officials conceded that talks with Europe were likely to be complex, but said they were working with intelligence agencies to provide as much information about detainees as possible. The senior State Department official said that the White House was considering whether any detainees might be admitted into the United States, in part because of the European focus on that issue.
The detainees most often mentioned for resettlement in the United States are 17 Uighurs, members of a Chinese Muslim minority, who American officials say cannot be returned to China for fear of mistreatment. The men have argued that they were allies of the United States who were wrongly rounded up in Afghanistan and Pakistan in 2001. After court battles, the Bush administration conceded that the men were not enemies of the United States.
Both American and European Union officials described the talks scheduled for Monday as a critical first step for any possible resettlement of Guantánamo detainees, saying that common European ground rules would ease the way toward decisions by individual countries.
Jacques Barrot, a European Union vice president who is to lead the European delegation, said there was an opportunity “to turn together a dark page” in the history of the fight against terrorism. But officials said the delegation was arriving with far more questions than answers.
Among the host of questions, European officials said, was whether the former prisoners would need to be monitored, whether they would have full travel rights in Europe and whether detainees might entangle their countries’ courts in years of legal battles by suing former American officials for their imprisonment and treatment.
Obama administration officials are working on a two-pronged plan to close the prison. They are analyzing how many detainees might be tried, most likely in the United States, and working toward transferring scores of the others.
The Bush administration often failed when it asked other countries to accept detainees, partly because those requests were usually accompanied by public comments defending the imprisonments by describing the detainees as dangerous terrorists.
The new administration is sending a different message. “We are less vested in trying to prove that these people are rightly held,” the senior State Department official said.
Given that stance by the Obama administration, some European officials say Washington’s focus on sending the detainees to Europe raises many questions.
Germany’s interior minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, has suggested publicly that if Guantánamo detainees pose no security risk, there is no reason the United States should not take them.
Pekka Lintu, Finland’s ambassador in Washington, said, “We should know what is being asked of us.”
William Glaberson reported from New York, and Steven Erlanger from Paris. Reporting was contributed by Victoria Burnett from Madrid, Judy Dempsey from Berlin, Margot Williams from New York and Mark Landler from Washington.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Franklin; Madison; Webster; Reagan
on: March 16, 2009, 10:43:45 AM
"History affords us many instances of the ruin of states, by the prosecution of measures ill suited to the temper and genius of their people. The ordaining of laws in favor of one part of the nation, to the prejudice and oppression of another, is certainly the most erroneous and mistaken policy. An equal dispensation of protection, rights, privileges, and advantages, is what every part is entitled to, and ought to enjoy... These measures never fail to create great and violent jealousies and animosities between the people favored and the people oppressed; whence a total separation of affections, interests, political obligations, and all manner of connections, by which the whole state is weakened."
--Benjamin Franklin, Emblematical Representations
"A good government implies two things; first, fidelity to the object of the government; secondly, a knowledge of the means, by which those objects can be best attained." --James Madison
"I apprehend no danger to our country from a foreign foe ... Our destruction, should it come at all, will be from another quarter. -- From the inattention of the people to the concerns of their government, from their carelessness and negligence, I must confess that I do apprehend some danger. I fear that they may place too implicit a confidence in their public servants, and fail properly to scrutinize their conduct; that in this way they may be made the dupes of designing men, and become the instruments of their own undoing. Make them intelligent, and they will be vigilant; give them the means of detecting the wrong, and they will apply the remedy." --U.S. Senator Daniel Webster (1782-1852)
"When I took the oath of office, I pledged loyalty to only one special interest group -- 'We the People.' Those people -- neighbors and friends, shopkeepers and laborers, farmers and craftsmen -- do not have infinite patience. As a matter of fact, some 80 years ago, Teddy Roosevelt wrote these instructive words in his first message to the Congress: 'The American people are slow to wrath, but when their wrath is once kindled, it burns like a consuming flame.' Well, perhaps that kind of wrath will be deserved if our answer to these serious problems is to repeat the mistakes of the past." --Ronald Reagan
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / I love you too , , ,
on: March 16, 2009, 10:25:29 AM
A man breaks into a house to look for money and guns. Inside, he finds a young couple in bed.
He orders the guy out of bed and ties him to a chair.
While tying the homeowner's wife to the bed, the convict gets on top of her, kisses her neck, then gets up and goes into the bathroom. While he's in there, the husband whispers over to his wife:
'Listen, this guy is an escaped convict. Look at his clothes! He's probably spent a lot of time in jail and hasn't seen a woman in years. I saw how he kissed your neck. If he wants sex, don't resist, don't complain...do whatever he tells you. Satisfy him no matter how much he nauseates you. This guy is obviously very dangerous. If he gets angry, he'll kill us both. Be strong, honey. I love you!'
His wife responds: 'He wasn't kissing my neck. He was whispering in my ear. He told me that he's gay, thinks you're cute, and asked if we had any Vaseline.
I told him it was in the bathroom. Be strong honey. I love you too.'
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Can we defeat the Taliban?
on: March 16, 2009, 12:32:51 AM
Can We Defeat the Taliban?http://www.aina.org/news/20090312085918.htm
- David Kilcullen, National Review (Accidental Guerrilla book excerpt)
-David Kilcullen, senior counterinsurgency adviser to Gen. David Petraeus in Iraq, explains in this exclusive book excerpt from The Accidental Guerilla: Fighting Small Wars in the Midst of a Big One.
On the basis of my field experience in 2005--08 in Iraq, Southeast Asia, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, I assess the current generation of Taliban fighters, within the broader Taliban confederation (which loosely combines old Taliban cadres with Pashtun nationalists, tribal fighters, and religious extremists), as the most tactically competent enemy we currently face in any theater. This judgment draws on four factors: organizational structure, motivation, combat skills, and equipment.
Taliban organizational structure varies between districts, but most show some variation of the generic pattern of a local clandestine network structure, a main force of full-time guerrillas who travel from valley to valley, and a part-time network of villagers who cooperate with the main force when it is in their area. In districts close to the Pakistan border, young men graduating from Pakistani madrassas also swarm across the frontier to join the main force when it engages in major combat -- as happened during the September 2006 fighting in Kandahar Province, and again in the 2007 and 2008 fighting seasons.
These multifaceted motivations provide Taliban fighters with a strong but elastic discipline. Although opportunities may arise for us to "divide and conquer" elements of the enemy, in practice local ties tend to far outweigh government influence. Thus we need to induce local tribal and community leaders who have the respect and tribal loyalty of part-time elements to wean them away from loyalty to the main-force Taliban. Appealing to the self-interest of local clandestine cell leaders may also help isolate them from the influence of senior Taliban leaders who are currently safe in Pakistan.
Clearly, the weakest motivational links within the Taliban confederation are those that are based on the "accidental guerrilla" syndrome and that draw local part-time fighters to fight alongside the main force when it is in their area. Local security measures such as neighborhood-watch groups and auxiliary police units, creation of alternative organizations and life pathways (including jobs and social networks) for young men, protection from Taliban intimidation, and alternative economic activities are potential approaches to detaching these individuals from main-force influence. The main force itself is highly cohesive in most districts and relatively invulnerable to direct penetration or infiltration. But the habit of recruiting part-time local fighters to join the main force, including forced recruitment, might expose the main force to indirect infiltration.
In terms of combat skills, reporting from units in the field, as well as my participant observations, suggest extremely high competence in some areas but some equally significant lapses in others. Key areas of skill include ambushing, use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs), sniping, field defenses, and reconnaissance. Weaknesses include a tendency to operate in a set routine, lack of communications security, poor indirect-fire skills, dispersed tactical movement, and sloppiness in the security of cross-border infiltration.
Insurgent groups have mounted ambushes incorporating up to several hundred fighters using coordinated mortar, rocket, and sniper fire to engage coalition troops in the killing area. Tactics include the use of L-shaped or T-shaped layouts to catch troops in crossfire. They have shown good fire discipline, marksmanship, and tactical control during these activities. Though in many cases they have suffered significant casualties, they have shown an aggressive spirit and a marked willingness to accept severe losses in order to press home an attack.
Careful mine placement, good camouflage, employment of unexploded or modified ordnance, use of decoy and secondary devices, baited attacks (to draw first responders or military and police columns into a trap), and use of covering observation, sniper posts, and ambushes are all features of insurgent IED technique, which has shown substantial improvement (especially in the south) over the past several years, including an extremely significant rise in the prevalence of Iraq-style suicide attacks using car bombs, bomb vests, or limpet mines. Although IED attacks are still less intensive than in Iraq before the surge, in most cases this is probably explained by lower population density and scarcity of military-grade ordnance rather than lack of skill. In any case, since the success of the surge in reducing violence in Iraq in 2007--08, Afghanistan has overtaken Iraq as the main source of coalition casualties from IEDs.
Proficient use of snipers, operating in pairs and coordinating their activities by radio (both among pairs and with maneuver forces) are a key feature of improved insurgent tactical proficiency since 2005. Camouflage, stalking, use of high-powered optics, and coordinated engagement are all signs of increasing professionalism by enemy snipers, who have graduated from the category of "marksmen" to become true sniper pairs in the professional military sense. This bespeaks at least some training by professionally qualified military snipers, or by foreign fighters (such as Chechens) with previous operational sniping experience. It also shows an emphasis on training and preparation that was absent from some of the ad hoc Taliban efforts of previous years.
The field defenses of Pashmul and Panjwai during Operation Medusa in 2006, in an area of fertile farmland, small fields, orchards, and hedgerows that the Soviets called the "green belt" and where they took many casualties, showed intensive preparation and skill. Equally professional field defenses have been encountered in several subsequent operations. Good use of terrain, pre-registration of killing areas and firing points (a technique by which mortar and heavy-weapons crews walk the ground before a battle and adjust their aim points for maximum effectiveness), and the use of bunkers, crawl trenches, tunnels, caches, and obstacle plans highlight this tactical proficiency. During the 2006 fighting, because a large number of fighters were inexperienced Pakistani madrassa graduates, dozens were killed every day by Coalition airpower on the approaches to the battle. But once dug into their defensive zones, these fighters proved extremely difficult to extract.
Finally, in terms of strengths, the insurgents have shown great skill in scouting and intelligence collection, using local villagers and clandestine cadres for close-target reconnaissance and conducting stand-off observation from dominating hills, and by means of night and day movement in mountainous and vegetated areas (particularly in the eastern hills and the "green belt" in the Helmand and Arghandab river valleys). Some insurgents have also been very effective in using local informants and illegal vehicle checkpoints to gain and exploit information about the population.
Insurgent tactical weaknesses include the tendency to follow set routines. Because some senior leaders have been operating in the same areas for many years, and because the terrain limits maneuver options (most valleys have only one route in and out, for example), some insurgent groups have begun to set patterns and operate in a routine and repetitive fashion. This creates exploitable vulnerabilities. For instance, local guerrillas typically wait for a Coalition convoy to enter a valley and then seek to ambush it on its way out at a series of "traditional" attack points. This tendency, also noted by observers of mujahidin operating against the Soviets in the 1980s, appears to be widespread and could be exploited by working with local partners ahead of an operation to identify the traditional ambush sites in a given valley and then sending a force into the valley, waiting until enemy fighters move into ambush sites, and engaging these positions with air and indirect fire. Similarly, despite some proficiency in the use of rockets and rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) in a semi-indirect fire mode, insurgent skills in mortar work seem less developed than in other areas. In some districts (particularly those along the Pakistan border) their proficiency is better, but in general this is one area where they still have room to improve. Because mortar work is a fairly technical skill, future improvements in this area might signal a higher level of assistance from sponsors located in Pakistan.
There have been several recent instances of insurgents' massing in large numbers (up to 250 fighters) in the open, often at night, only to be engaged by indirect fire or airpower and suffer significant losses. Again, during the September 2006 fighting around Pashmul, the insurgents lost hundreds of fighters who were moving openly in pickup trucks toward the scene of the fighting, while in autumn 2008 there were several coordinated large-scale attacks on British bases and population centers in Helmand Province. Such engagements typically kill young, inexperienced guerrillas rather than older cadres who tend to hang back in the fighting, directing the fanatical young fighters while not exposing themselves to risk.
A final key weakness is in cross-border movement, where infiltrators have typically taken little trouble to disguise their movement or activity, in some cases infiltrating in broad daylight under the noses of Pakistan army checkpoints, or even with direct assistance from Pakistani Frontier Corps troops. If we could convince the Pakistani government to actually take action against infiltrators, we could exploit this lack of skill in cross-border movement so as to ambush infiltration parties or deny specific routes, channeling the enemy into locations where we could engage them using airpower and indirect fire without significant risk to the local civilian population.
Finally, insurgent equipment has improved substantially. By 2005 and 2006, small arms and RPGs being carried by the Taliban were generally of much better quality than Afghan National Army (ANA) or Afghan National Police (ANP) weapons, though government weapons have improved in quality since that time. Other insurgent weapons capabilities (especially rockets and IEDs) continue to improve in sophistication. Handheld radios, satellite phones, and cell phones have become common. Some infiltrators wear camouflage uniforms, and some even have rudimentary badges of rank. Vehicles are of better standard than most ANP or government vehicles, and the supplying of food, water, and ammunition is very effective. But the Taliban still tends to travel more lightly, with far less reliance on the road network or logistic resupply, than the ANA/ANP or the Coalition, giving the enemy greater tactical mobility in rural parts of the country, especially where a measure of popular support exists for their agenda.
By David Kilcullen
National Review Online
This message has been edited. Last edited by: xmikex, March 13, 2009 04:23 PM
DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Re: Mexico
on: March 16, 2009, 12:09:52 AM
Ah ya veo. Mas o menos come yo ya habia imaginado. Interesante la pregunta, y la verdad es que no tengo base para opinar. ?Aun mas teoria de conspiracia en Mexico entre miles de otras mas? No se'. ?Otra perfidia gringa? No se'.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Free Speech vs. Islamic Fascism (formerly Buy DANISH!!!)
on: March 15, 2009, 10:07:31 PM
Minister beaten after clashing with Muslims on his TV show
By Jonathan Petre
Last updated at 4:39 PM on 15th March 2009
A Christian minister who has had heated arguments with Muslims on his TV Gospel show has been brutally attacked by three men who ripped off his cross and warned: ‘If you go back to the studio, we’ll break your legs.’
The Reverend Noble Samuel was driving to the studio when a car pulled over in front of him. A man got out and came over to ask him directions in Urdu.
Mr Samuel, based at Heston United Reformed Church, West London, said: ‘He put his hand into my window, which was half open, and grabbed my hair and opened the door.
Frightened: TV minister Noble Samuel
He started slapping my face and punching my neck. He was trying to smash my head on the steering wheel.
Then he grabbed my cross and pulled it off and it fell on the floor. He was swearing. The other two men came from the car and took my laptop and Bible.’
The Metropolitan Police are treating it as a ‘faith hate’ assault and are hunting three Asian men.
In spite of the attack, Mr Samuel went ahead with his hour-long live Asian Gospel Show on the Venus satellite channel from studios in Wembley, North London. During the show the Muslim station owner Tahir Ali came on air to condemn the attack.
Pakistan-born Mr Samuel, 48, who was educated by Christian missionaries and moved to Britain 15 years ago, said that over the past few weeks he has received phone-in calls from people identifying themselves as Muslims who challenged his views. ‘They were having an argument with me,’ he said. ‘They were very aggressive in saying they did not agree with me. I said those are your views and these are my views.’
He said that he, his wife Louisa, 48, and his son Naveed, 19, now fear for their safety, and police have given them panic alarms. ‘I am frightened and depressed,’ he said. ‘My show is not confrontational.’http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/arti...s-TV-show.html