Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Environmental issues
on: December 28, 2006, 11:09:05 AM
Rooftop oases find growing enthusiasm
Plants take root on a college building in Pasadena and elsewhere as cities see economic and environmental benefits of going 'green.'
By Mira Tweti, Special to The Times
December 28, 2006
As you lie in the tall Pacific dune grass, amid grasshoppers and butterflies, it's all blue sky and San Gabriel mountains as far as the eye can see. The sounds of the city are a distant murmur.
Here, in an industrial section of Pasadena, it is hard to imagine a more unlikely oasis: nearly 14,000 square feet of transplanted meadow four stories above ground — on a roof.
Atop the Art Center College of Design's downtown campus, this roof is covered in 6 inches of soil bearing native grasses and shrubs. More than a garden, it is an ecologically designed green space that cools the building in summer by absorbing heat — much like an urban park does — and insulates it from cold in winter.
The Art Center's roof is one of hundreds that have been planted in the Los Angeles area and in major cities around the country. Among the first were a handful of "green"-roofed buildings erected in the 1930s at New York's Rockefeller Center.
Living roofs have a long history. The Vikings grew sod on their homes for insulation. The hanging gardens of Babylon were planted rooftops. Europeans have cultivated green roofs for decades. After World War II, Germany made them mandatory in all major cities to prevent rainwater from washing into aging sewer systems.
In modern cities, the roofs are a way to recreate the Earth's natural footprint that has been displaced by buildings. The roofs replicate the outdoors in a variety of ways, from manicured lawns to unruly meadows.
Experts say such roofs retain storm water, decrease the cost of greenhouse gas reduction and lessen the need for interior building insulation. They also help to bring fauna back to inner city areas by attracting insects and birds, just as a backyard would.
Carmel Valley architect Paul Kephart, a pioneer of green roof design, maintains that even roofs as small as 11 square feet can remove 5 pounds of toxic particulate matter from the air every three months, filter and purify rainfall and control runoff. Through evapotranspiration the water is released back into the atmosphere, cooling it. Or it drains slowly into storm sewers.
Experts believe the roofs can reduce the lethal effects of heat waves, such as the one that led to the deaths of 465 people in Chicago in 1995.
Since then, 2.7 million square feet of green roofs have been built in Chicago or are in the pipeline. The first building to get one under the city's green roof program was City Hall. Because the city shares the building with Cook County offices, it could green only its half of the 38,000-square-foot roof. It contains 20,000 plants in 158 varieties.
On a day when ground temperatures reached 95 degrees, the reading on the City Hall side of the roof was 91 degrees. On the county's half, which was covered with black tar, the temperature was 169 degrees. "The city is saving $40,000 a year in air conditioning costs from this 'green' roof alone," said Constance Buscemi, of the Chicago department of planning and development.
In April, the city of Pasadena made green roofs mandatory on all new city buildings of 5,000 square feet or larger, on commercial buildings and residential tenant improvement construction of 25,000 square feet or more, and on all mixed-use or residential buildings of four stories or more.
Alice Sterling, Pasadena's green building coordinator, said there are 800,000 square feet of new building construction on the books in Pasadena that, if completed, will all have green roofs.
Los Angeles Deputy City Engineer Deborah J. Weintraub has submitted a report to the City Council's planning and land use management committee outlining a possible green roof pilot project for one of several city buildings, including two low-rise wings of City Hall.
Construction of a new constituent services building on Central Avenue at 43rd Street near the famed Hotel Dunbar will break ground Jan. 7. The living roof of the $13-million, 7,000-square-foot, city-owned building, which is scheduled to be completed by mid-2008, was a requirement of 9th District Councilwoman Jan Perry. "I thought, why can't we have the amenities of the Santa Monica mountains in South-Central?" Perry said.
The planted roof will hold more than 100 people for special events. "It will help people think a different way about that area. I want it to be a catalyst and template for development that may follow," Perry said.
Green roofs start with a waterproof roof cover called a membrane. Then comes a root barrier, a drainage layer, and finally the growing medium and plants. Many plants native to California are drought-tolerant and need little maintenance
Depending on how the roof is designed, architects say the additional weight, which can equal that of a load of snow, is not unsafe even for older buildings. Greenery can be rooted on roofs that slope up to 60 degrees.
Nancy Goslee Powers, the Santa Monica landscaper who designed the roof at the Pasadena Art Center building, is working on similar projects in Beverly Hills and Century City, where a living roof is being installed on a public parking structure to keep it cool. It will be three-quarters the size of a football field.
Living roofs aren't risk free. One of Powers' earlier projects — at a store on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills — sprang a leak and flooded the store, ruining thousands of dollars in merchandise. That was more than a decade ago. Now, experts say, the roofs are stronger and more waterproof than standard roofs, and some manufacturers offer 20-year guarantees.
Powers acknowledged that there is resistance to the roofs on the part of colleagues and customers in the Los Angeles area.
"You have to keep plugging living roofs," she said. "A crew cut on top of a building may not appeal to every architect. And we have a culture of fear when it comes to new ideas.
"So, it's not always an easy sell to clients. We have to remind people we can't survive without plants."
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Kwanzaa?
on: December 28, 2006, 11:06:14 AM
I used to like Ann Coulter, but have come to regard her as a very loose canon whose aim is often suspect. Is this piece on target?
Kwanzaa: Holiday from the FBI
By Ann Coulter
FrontPageMagazine.com | December 28, 2006
President Bush's Kwanzaa message this year skipped the patently absurd claim of years past that: "African-Americans and people around the world reflect on African heritage during Kwanzaa." Instead, he simply said: "I send greetings to those observing Kwanzaa."
More African-Americans spent this season reflecting on the birth of Christ than some phony non-Christian holiday invented a few decades ago by an FBI stooge. Kwanzaa is a holiday for white liberals, not blacks.
It is a fact that Kwanzaa was invented in 1966 by a black radical FBI pawn, Ron Karenga, aka Dr. Maulana Karenga. Karenga was a founder of United Slaves, a violent nationalist rival to the Black Panthers and a dupe of the FBI.
In what was probably a foolish gamble, during the madness of the '60s the FBI encouraged the most extreme black nationalist organizations in order to discredit and split the left. The more preposterous the organization, the better. Karenga's United Slaves was perfect. In the annals of the American '60s, Karenga was the Father Gapon, stooge of the czarist police.
Despite modern perceptions that blend all the black activists of the '60s, the Black Panthers did not hate whites. They did not seek armed revolution. Those were the precepts of Karenga's United Slaves. United Slaves were proto-fascists, walking around in dashikis, gunning down Black Panthers and adopting invented "African" names. (That was a big help to the black community: How many boys named "Jamal" currently sit on death row?)
Whether Karenga was a willing dupe, or just a dupe, remains unclear. Curiously, in a 1995 interview with Ethnic NewsWatch, Karenga matter-of-factly explained that the forces out to get O.J. Simpson for the "framed" murder of two whites included "the FBI, the CIA, the State Department, Interpol, the Chicago Police Department" and so on. Karenga should know about FBI infiltration. (He further noted that the evidence against O.J. "was not strong enough to prohibit or eliminate unreasonable doubt" – an interesting standard of proof.)
In the category of the-gentleman-doth-protest-too-much, back in the '70s, Karenga was quick to criticize rumors that black radicals were government-supported. When Nigerian newspapers claimed that some American black radicals were CIA operatives, Karenga publicly denounced the idea, saying, "Africans must stop generalizing about the loyalties and motives of Afro-Americans, including the widespread suspicion of black Americans being CIA agents."
Now we know that the FBI fueled the bloody rivalry between the Panthers and United Slaves. In one barbarous outburst, Karenga's United Slaves shot to death Black Panthers Al "Bunchy" Carter and Deputy Minister John Huggins on the UCLA campus. Karenga himself served time, a useful stepping-stone for his current position as a black studies professor at California State University at Long Beach.
Kwanzaa itself is a lunatic blend of schmaltzy '60s rhetoric, black racism and Marxism. Indeed, the seven "principles" of Kwanzaa praise collectivism in every possible arena of life – economics, work, personality, even litter removal. ("Kuumba: Everyone should strive to improve the community and make it more beautiful.") It takes a village to raise a police snitch.
When Karenga was asked to distinguish Kawaida, the philosophy underlying Kwanzaa, from "classical Marxism," he essentially explained that under Kawaida, we also hate whites. While taking the "best of early Chinese and Cuban socialism" – which one assumes would exclude the forced abortions, imprisonment for homosexuals and forced labor – Kawaida practitioners believe one's racial identity "determines life conditions, life chances and self-understanding." There's an inclusive philosophy for you.
(Sing to "Jingle Bells") Kwanzaa bells, dashikis sell
Whitey has to pay;
Burning, shooting, oh what fun
On this made-up holiday!
Coincidentally, the seven principles of Kwanzaa are the very same seven principles of the Symbionese Liberation Army, another charming invention of the Least-Great Generation. In 1974, Patricia Hearst, kidnap victim-cum-SLA revolutionary, posed next to the banner of her alleged captors, a seven-headed cobra. Each snake head stood for one of the SLA's revolutionary principles: Umoja, Kujichagulia, Ujima, Ujamaa, Nia, Kuumba and Imani – the same seven "principles" of Kwanzaa.
With his Kwanzaa greetings, President Bush is saluting the intellectual sibling of the Symbionese Liberation Army, killer of housewives and police. He is saluting the founder of United Slaves, who were such lunatics that they shot Panthers for not being sufficiently insane – all with the FBI as their covert ally.
It's as if David Duke invented a holiday called "Anglika," and the president of the United States issued a presidential proclamation honoring the synthetic holiday. People might well take notice if that happened.
Kwanzaa was the result of a '60s psychosis grafted onto the black community. Liberals have become so mesmerized by multicultural nonsense that they have forgotten the real history of Kwanzaa and Karenga's United Slaves – the violence, the Marxism, the insanity. Most absurdly, for leftists anyway, is that they have forgotten the FBI's tacit encouragement of this murderous black nationalist cult founded by the father of Kwanzaa.
Now the "holiday" concocted by an FBI dupe is honored in a presidential proclamation and public schools across the nation. The only principle Kwanzaa promotes is liberals' unbounded capacity to respect any faith but Christianity. A movement that started approximately 2,000 years before Kwanzaa leaps well beyond collectivism and litter removal to proclaim that we are all equal before God. "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28). It was practitioners of that faith who were at the forefront of the abolitionist and civil rights movements. But that's all been washed down the memory hole, along with the true origins of Kwanzaa.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Iran
on: December 28, 2006, 10:00:16 AM
Second post of the morning on Iran:
By Kenneth R. Timmerman
FrontPageMagazine.com | December 27, 2006
The nuclear crisis boiling away under the surface for the past three years with Iran has finally erupted. Over the next three to six months, expect things to get much worse, with a very real possibility of a war that could spread far beyond the confines of the Persian Gulf. How we got here was entirely predictable – and avoidable. So is the path to a violent future.
We got to this point because the White House essentially caved in to intense pressure from the CIA and the foreign policy establishment, and refused to do the one thing that could have headed off this crisis: that is, to support the rights of the Iranian people and their struggle for freedom against this clerical tyranny. And now, it is almost – almost – too late.
The immediate trigger for the crisis occurred on Saturday, just two days before Christmas, when the UN Security Council finally quit dithering and passed a binding resolution to impose sanctions on Iran because of its illegal nuclear program.
While far from perfect (remember: this is the UN), UNSC Resolution 1737 bans nuclear and missile-related trade with Iran, and includes a short list of Iranian government entities and individuals whose assets could be subject to seizure and who could be banned from international travel.
(The United States had wanted both to be mandatory measures in this resolution, but gave in to a Russian demand to again give Iran more leash).
The UN Security Council passed a similar, binding resolution on July 31 giving Iran one month to suspend its nuclear programs in a verifiable manner, or else…It’s taken all this time since that the earlier deadline expired for China and Russia to exhaust their formidable bag of diplomatic tricks. Now even they have come to acknowledge the obvious, that Iran is using the IAEA as a foil for acquiring all the technologies it needs to make the bomb.
Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad responded typically to the news from TurtleBay in New York. “This resolution will not harm Iran and those who backed it will soon regret their superficial act,” he said on Christmas Eve.
“Iranians are neither worried nor uncomfortable with the resolution...we will celebrate our atomic achievements in February,” he added.
In earlier statements, he has claimed Iran would have a big nuclear “surprise” to unveil to the world by the end of the Persian year, which ends on March 20. So unless he is just blowing smoke (and I will explain shortly why I don’t believe that he is), then we will be facing very bleak choices in very short order.
Remember, just a few weeks ago, Ahmadinejad announced to the world that Iran had completed its uranium enrichment experiments and was now preparing to install 3,000 production centrifuges at its now-declared enrichment plant in Natanz, in central Iran.
His announcement fell exactly within the timeline that Israeli nuclear experts have derived from Iran’s public declarations to the IAEA, and the on-site inspections by IAEA experts in Iran.
As I wrote after interviews in Israel this past June, the Israelis projected that Iran would complete work on two 164-centrifuge experimental enrichment cascades within six months, and that installation of the 3,000 centrifuge pilot plant would take another nine months. From then, it would take Iran twelve months more to make its first bomb’s-worth of nuclear fuel.
So far, Iran is right on schedule. This will give it nuclear weapons capability by September 2008 – just in time for the U.S. presidential elections. (And remember: this timeline is not speculative. It is based on information, not intelligence.)
Once the UN Security Council resolution was passed, Ahmadinejad’s top nuclear advisor, Ali Larijani, said the regime now planned to accelerate the installation of the production centrifuges.
“From Sunday morning [December 24] , we will begin activities at Natanz – the site of 3,000-centrifuge machines – and we will drive it with full speed. It will be our immediate response to the resolution,” Iran’s Kayhan paper quoted him as saying.
How is this possible? Well, for one thing, it is likely that Iran has been producing centrifuges in factories and workshops it has not declared to the IAEA. Worse, it may be operating a clandestine enrichment facility buried deep underground already, as many in Israel and U.S. intelligence have long believed.
The Israelis told me this summer this was their “worst-worst case” scenario. But a senior Israeli intelligence official I saw recently said the likelihood of that “worst-worst case” now appeared to be far greater than he or others had previously believed. “There can be no doubt they have a clandestine program,” he said.
And because it’s clandestine, we don’t know the size or shape of it, and therefore can’t make estimates of Iran’s nuclear timeline based on speculation and fear. But now the Israelis, the Americans and the British are beginning to understand – finally – that what they don’t know about Iran could be fatal.
After all, they are facing a president in Iran who has said that the Holocaust never really occurred under Hitler, but that he intended to carry it out himself, by accomplishing Ayatollah Khomeini’s goal of “wiping Israel off the map.”
On December 21 – just two days before the UN Security Council resolution – British Prime Minister Tony Blair gave the bleakest assessment of his entire tenure at 10 Downing Street of the threat posed to the West by the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Speaking in Dubai, he gave an unusually blunt speech that warned of a monumental struggle between Islamic moderates and Islamic extremists, and that labeled Iran as “the main obstacle” to hopes for peace.
For the first time, a key world leader actually uttered parts of the laundry list of Iranian regime misdeeds that people like myself and Michael Ledeen and Iranian dissidents such as Rouzbeh Farahanipour and Reza Pahlavi have been warning about for years.
Blair said there were "elements of the government of Iran, openly supporting terrorism in Iraq to stop a fledgling democratic process; trying to turn out a democratic government in Lebanon; floutting the international community's desire for peace in Palestine - at the same time as denying the Holocaust and trying to acquire nuclear weapons capability.”
Blair expressed surprise that despite these overt deeds, “a large part of world opinion is frankly almost indifferent. It would be bizarre if it weren't deadly serious.”
"We must recognize the strategic challenge the government of Iran poses," Blair added. "Not its people, possibly not all its ruling elements, but those presently in charge of its policy."
While all of this is developing, the United States and Britain have begun a quiet buildup of their naval forces in the Persian Gulf, with the goal of keeping the Strait of Hormuz open to international shipping.
The spark point of open military confrontation could occur in many different ways.
The Iranians, for example, might choose to get directly involved should the U.S. military aid the Iraqi government in a crackdown on the Iranian-backed Mahdi Army and the Badr brigade, two Shiite militias fueling the sectarian violence in Iraq. (A clear sign that Iran is contemplating just such a move was revealed on Christmas day, when the U.S. Acknowledged it was holding four Iranians captured during a raid on the Headquarters of Abdulaziz al-Hakim in Baghdad just three weeks after he met with President Bush in the Oval Office).
Should Iran send troops, or escalate its current level of military involvement in Iraq, the U.S. might choose to take the war into Iran, say by attacking Revolutionary Guards bases near the Iraqi border that were involved in aiding the Iraqi Shi'ite militias.
Should the United States bomb a Rev. Guards base here or there, the Iranians might choose to respond by launching “swarming” attacks against U.S. warships in the Persian gulf, or by attacking a foreign-flagged oil tanker carrying Iraqi or Kuwaiti oil, or by increasing rocket and missile supplies to Hezbollah in Lebanon to spark another diversionary war against Israel.
There are scores of ways this could happen. But where it gets us is to a direct military confrontation with Iran – an Iran which could be a nuclear power, and certainly will be a suspected nuclear power, in a matter of months, if not weeks.
And there is no easy way of walking this back. Even the insane Baker-Hamilton proposal of a direct dialogue with Iran will not get them to abandon their nuclear program, which this regime in Tehran has clearly identified as a strategic asset it is willing to make great sacrifices to develop and protect.
So fasten your seat belts. We are in for a rough ride.
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Die Less Often: Interface of Gun, Knife and Emtpy Hand
on: December 28, 2006, 09:53:02 AM
A bully boy of Fort Griffin sat down in a poker game with Holliday. His name was Ed Bailey and he had grown accustomed to having his way with no one questioning his actions. Doc's reputation seemed to make no impression on him whatever. In an obvious attempt to irritate Doc, Bailey kept picking up the discards and looking through them. This was strictly against the rules of Western poker, and anyone who broke this rule forfeited the pot. Holliday warned Bailey twice, but the erstwhile bad man ignored his protests. The very next hand Bailey picked up the discards again. Without saying a word Doc reached out and raked in the pot without showing his hand, Bailey brought a six-shooter from under the table, while a large knife materialized in Doc's hand. Before the local bully could pull the trigger, Doc, with one slash, completely disemboweled him. Spilling blood everywhere, Bailey sprawled across the table.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Iran
on: December 28, 2006, 08:56:25 AM
Persian . . . or Iranian?
By ROYA HAKAKIAN
December 28, 2006; Page A14
Holiday parties always seem to bring out the semi-inebriated men who find their way to my corner. There is, as expected, an opening line, which hardly ever leads to a conversation. But if it ever does, and if that conversation shows signs of vitality, even a dim glimmering of erudition, a rhetorical question is sure to follow. They lean into me and murmur: "Did you say you were Persian or Parisian?" They count on the tie, the long-stemmed wine glass, or the exalted titles on their name tags to make flirtation pass as ethnographical inquiry.
The "compliment" is clearly a profound insult: When an Iranian proves to be sophisticated, she no longer qualifies as Iranian. She is exchanged into a creature whose cultural currency is tangible for the Westerner. If unfamiliarity with Iran is less shallow than "My college classmate's father was the personal pilot for the Shah" (Royal Pilot number 1,654 and counting), or "Our local Eyeraynian serves great tandoori," then the real biases begin to emerge. The unveiled and urbane Iranian jars the Western mind. For the Anglophone, Iran's history begins in 1979, and the model for an authentic Iranian male is bearded, preferably turbaned and robed; and the female is submissive and veiled. Fist-throwing, frenzied behavior is a plus. The rest are simply the have-beens: exiles who are at best irrelevant, if not thoroughly out of touch. Non-Shiites need not apply.
But the Westerner is not entirely to blame. The country's presidential machinery is dedicated to convincing the world of just that. The main task of every ideology is to create identity, which is what Tehran's taskmaster-in-chief is attempting. With the symbolic Palestinian scarf around his neck in the land where public support for the Palestinian cause has been consistently diminishing, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's existential mission is to recast the ethos of being Iranian. In truth, he is peddling a pan-Islamism, by regional extension a pan-Arabism, for which neither Iranians nor Arabs have an appetite. As uranium is enriched, the Iranian identity is plundered. Mr. Ahmadinejad's numerous spectacles, most recently the Holocaust conference, are meant to bring a sense of transcultural and transethnic unity through a common political purpose. On the domestic scene, this is an old act -- a familiar blunder to annihilate Iranian nationalism, or to force it to become subordinate to the Muslim, with Arab undertones.
The effort began by Ayatollah Khomeini. He made no secret of his contempt for the non-Muslim dimensions of Iranian life. He injected Persian with so many Arabic words that it confounded the ordinary listener, something for which he compensated by repetitiveness. He did all but officially ban Nowrooz, the traditional Iranian new year with its roots in the pre-Islamic era, and refrained from delivering a traditional Nowrooz message in March 1979 (weeks after the victory of the revolution). But as popular as he was in those early days, the public's backlash against his stance on Nowrooz was so powerful that he, who rarely relented, eventually caved in. Since then, and especially as a result of the arduous Iran-Iraq war, patriotism has been on the rise. Pre-Islamic holidays are being celebrated with unprecedented fanfare. The Persian lexicon has turned into a bastion of nationalism. Numerous Persian synonyms have been invented to replace the most commonly used foreign words, primarily Arabic ones. To everyone's wonder, the new words have caught on.
Yet even the ayatollah was borrowing a page from history. The battle to define the Iranian identity, Muslim versus Persian, is an old one. Since the Arab conquest of the 7th century, Iranians have struggled to maintain their heritage through language and tradition. Though the nation fully embraced Islam, the religion of the conquerors, they made it uniquely their own by Persianizing it, which, to a great extent, marks the historical beginnings of Shiism. A leading Iranian philosopher argues that failure and loss have branded the Iranian psyche. The loss here refers to the loss of the Sassanian Persian army against the Arab Muslim army in the year 636 at Qadesiyyah -- a battle which Saddam Hussein often invoked as he unleashed his army into the Iranian territory.
The tension is also a tension between simplicity and complexity. The ruling elite wants to summarize Iran in a formula -- that of another outpost of Islamic fundamentalism, whereas Iranians have always been elusive. The best definition that a typical Iranian would most likely offer of herself is as a poem, which can only compound the enigma. But the poem serves, as poems often do, as an invitation to being recognized as complex, a notion that the Westerner allows and can easily grasp about his European counterparts. The Westerner knows not to reduce its own politics to a few eccentric leaders -- the U.S. to Jerry Falwell, the Netherlands to the late Pim Fortuyn, or France to Jean-Marie Le Pen. To reduce Iran to Mr. Ahmadinejad would be just as grave an aberration. In tangible terms, it means to scratch the nuclear surface to let the light of the other Iran shine through. It means to report the Holocaust conference along with the student demonstrations against Mr. Ahmadinejad within the same week, or the new grass-roots initiative by women to ban stoning, or the astonishing statistics released by Tehran's Office of Cultural Affairs showing a dramatic drop in the number of Iranians who pray daily.
Today, the Westerner can no longer afford to be a bystander to this historical tension. Be it policy makers or ordinary citizens, the decision on Iran will be, on some level, a vote in this ancient referendum. To choose one side or the other is a declaration of the Westerner's position on a pressing political issue; but it is also his proof of recovery from the colonial mindset. To have transcended colonial thinking is not to embrace the displays of fanaticism as manifestations of authenticity. It is to recognize all global citizens as equals, and as such as deserving of the indisputable rights enjoyed in the West.
Whatever happens to Iraq and the dream of creating a democracy in the Middle East, Iran is already going through pains of transition. Iranians are turning to the notion of civil society and moderation, not simply as political necessities, but also as ways to define themselves as distinct, and thus to pay contemporary tribute to a past that has, despite the centuries, remained a formative force in their present.
Ms. Hakakian, author of "Journey from the Land of No: A Girlhood Caught in Revolutionary Iran" (Crown, 2004), is writing a book about the assassination of Iranian Kurdish leaders.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Iraq
on: December 28, 2006, 08:39:16 AM
Geopolitical Diary: The al-Sadr Threat to the U.S. Plan for Iraq
Although much of Wednesday's news from Iraq concerned a letter reportedly written by former President Saddam Hussein, the most important event centered on U.S. efforts against radical Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr.
The letter -- allegedly written by Hussein on Nov. 5, the day an Iraqi court sentenced him to death for crimes against humanity -- urges Iraqis to unite to fight foreign forces in the country. Following its release, a Baath Party Web site posted a statement saying American interests worldwide would be attacked if the Iraqi government executes Hussein, and that his death would make cooperation between the surviving Baathists and the U.S.-backed government in Baghdad impossible.
But, for all the drama sparked by Hussein's letter and the threats, the former president and his followers pose no real danger. The violence in Iraq will continue no matter what happens to Hussein. Given his lack of influence in the country since his ouster, and the fact that most armed groups in Iraq would string him up themselves if they could, his execution might inspire emotional outbursts and some isolated attacks but it is unlikely to be the catalyst for major violence. This is largely because Hussein loyalists are responsible for a very small part of the bloodshed; they do not have the presence or the means to significantly increase attacks, and they will probably be more concerned with staying one step ahead of the various Shiite militias and rival Sunni groups than with retaliating against coalition forces for the execution of the former president.
What is important, however, is the death of Sahib al-Ameri, al-Sadr's representative in the holy Shiite city of An Najaf and the secretary-general of the Martyrs Foundation, a pro-Sadr political organization. According to coalition forces, al-Ameri was killed Wednesday when he ran to the roof of his house as it was being raided by coalition and Iraqi troops and pointed an assault rifle at an Iraqi soldier. The raid in An Najaf was one of many in recent months targeting known associates of al-Sadr.
These raids are part of an effort to put pressure on al-Sadr, who could be a serious obstacle to any U.S. exit strategy. The Shiite leader's Mehdi Army and its associated militias are not as constrained by politics as the other major Shiite militant group, the Badr Brigades; they are less organized and their members are less integrated into the Iraqi security forces and Cabinet, which makes them more difficult to control. From its bases in Sadr City and other strongholds, the Mehdi Army constitutes a significant armed presence in many areas of Baghdad. The militias -- and their associated death squads -- present a considerable obstacle to security in the capital.
The U.S.-led coalition has been working hard to constrain al-Sadr's power in recent months, most notably by going after his allies and lieutenants and disrupting his operations in Baghdad and other cities. U.S. and Iraqi forces have conducted several raids in Sadr City since November, arresting members of the Mehdi Army believed to be linked to Shiite death squads. During one four-day period, the neighborhood was raided three times. More recently, British forces deliberately demolished the headquarters of the Iraqi police's Serious Crimes Unit in Basra after the unit, which was heavily infiltrated by the Mehdi Army, was linked to death squads and arms- and oil-smuggling rackets.
The pressure on al-Sadr makes things difficult for Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, whose coalition is nominally supported by the Shiite leader. Despite al-Maliki's protests, the United States has continued to target al-Sadr's forces -- an indication of just how important it is to Washington that al-Sadr be weakened or neutralized. Because any prospective U.S. reinforcements will not arrive in the region until January, and not in significant numbers until months later, now is al-Sadr's time to act. His best hope is to convince al-Maliki that any campaign against the Mehdi Army would be too costly for the Iraqi state to endure.
While Hussein might be urging Iraqis to carry on bravely without him, and his party is threatening terrible repercussions if he is executed, it appears that al-Sadr is the greater threat to the U.S. plan for Iraq.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Wolves, Dogs and other canines
on: December 28, 2006, 07:30:12 AM
By JENNIFER FEEHAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER
FINDLAY- A Jackson Township man who shot and killed a Findlay police dog after it came onto his property insists he didn't know the dog worked for police, but a Hancock County grand jury apparently saw things differently.
Steven E. Vanderhoff, 41, was indicted this week for assaulting a police dog and cruelty to animals. The assault charge, a third-degree felony, alleges that while Flip was not assisting police at the time he was killed Nov. 18, the shooter had actual knowledge that Flip was a police dog.
"He didn't. His girlfriend can tell you that he didn't know who the dog was," said Jeff Whitman, attorney for Mr. Vanderhoff.
Mr. Whitman said Mr. Vanderhoff, his girlfriend, and their young son live in the country, about a quarter-mile from Findlay Police Officer Bryon Deeter, Flip's handler who kept the dog at his home. He said Mr. Vanderhoff rarely drove in the direction of the Deeters' house and had never seen the dog before the day he came home with his son and saw Flip come up to the car. Mr. Vanderhoff told Hancock County sheriff's deputies the dog would not get away and kept sticking its nose in the door when he would try to open it. He said he eventually was able to get inside the house, where he retrieved a gun, came back outside, and fired once at Flip when the dog failed to obey commands to get away. "Anyone has the right to protect themselves on their own property," Mr. Whitman said. While investigators said Mr. Vanderhoff never described Flip as "aggressive," his attorney insisted he used similar words. "He used words like threatening, attacking, menacing," Mr. Whitman said. "… The dog was charging him. When he fired the shot, reports show [the dog] was shot in the front chest. It was not like he was shot in the hip or shot running away from him. The dog was only 15 feet from him." Mr. Whitman said Mr. Vanderhoff feared for his son's safety. The youngster was still in his car seat and "he didn't think he could get his son and get into the garage without the dog coming at him." No charges have been filed against Officer Deeter for failing to confine the dog, and Findlay Police Chief Bill Spraw said yesterday that Officer Deeter had not been disciplined for violating any departmental policy. "I think there's other factors involved in this… I don't know that Bryon was completely culpable," the chief said. The officer's son had let Flip out of the house, then failed to let him back in before the family left to go to a relative's house. Mr. Whitman said he understands the police department's loss but said his client has suffered as well "My personal opinion is there's been too much made out of this thing," he said. "I don't think the officer should be charged. It was an unfortunate series of events. I don't know why anyone needs to be punished any more than they have been over this." Mr. Vanderhoff, who is to be arraigned Wednesday in Hancock County Common Pleas Court, faces up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine if convicted of the assault charge. Cruelty to animals, a second-degree misdemeanor, carries a maximum sentence of 90 days. City law director Dave Hackenberg said shortly after Flip was killed, he sent a bill to Mr. Whitman for more than $11,000 that the city paid for the dog. He said that under Ohio law, a person who shoots and kills a dog is responsible to pay for it. "It's the statute," Mr. Hackenberg said. "I'm not saying, 'You shot our dog. You owe us.' The statute says if you shoot a dog you have to pay the value, pure and simple. We paid $11,000-plus for that dog trained. If we wanted to be real stinky about it, he's worth more than that now." After Flip was killed, Findlay native and Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger announced that he would buy a new police dog for his hometown. Chief Spraw said Officer Deeter has been working with a loaner dog named Spike, also a Belgian Malinois, and Spike seems to be working out. http://toledoblade.com/apps/pbcs.dll...WS17/612220406
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Health Thread (nutrition, medical, longevity, etc)
on: December 28, 2006, 07:11:50 AM
A Red Flag for Jet Lag
In Study, Simulated Flights Result in Deaths of Older Mice
By Del Quentin Wilber
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 26, 2006; D01
It's the caged-mouse syndrome of air travel -- you feel crammed into your
seat on a long-distance flight with little to munch on except a bag of
But you better hope you beat jet lag better than a mouse.
A study at the University of Virginia released during the height of
Thanksgiving and Christmas travel seasons showed that a majority of elderly
mice died while being subjected to the equivalent of a Washington-to-Paris
flight once a week for eight weeks. More intense forms of jet lag sped up
the death rate in the elderly rodents, the study found.
For decades, flyers have stoically battled the modern-age problem of jet
lag, viewing its accompanying grogginess, burning eyes, headaches, insomnia
and fatigue as more of a nuisance than a potential health issue.
The study has focused new attention on the problem and raised questions
about whether severe jet lag can be harmful to health. It also has drawn
attention to work by other researchers looking into ways to help vacationing
families and business travelers avoid jet lag. The study is one of the first
hard scientific looks into the health effects of jet lag, experts said.
The condition has become such a common scourge of the jet age that an entire
industry has emerged on the Internet, offering such solutions as acupressure
kits, homeopathic pills and light-enhancing visors. Many travelers have
invented their own treatments: slurping down gallons of coffee, dunking
heads in ice-cold water, taking naps, jogging and popping sleeping pills and
homeopathic remedies. But researchers say few of those remedies are backed
In the study, younger mice seemed to rebound more quickly and were not
immediately harmed by the jet lag. Simulated jet lag conditions were created
by advancing and delaying the rodent's exposure to light.
Researchers aren't sure what conclusions to draw from the results.
Gene Block, the report's co-author, said older mice might be more
susceptible to sudden light changes than younger mice. Or, he said, jet lag
might be a health problem that builds up in younger subjects, causing future
To further explore the issue, his researchers have launched another set of
tests to determine whether jet lag causes long-term health consequences in
younger and middle-age rodents, Block said minutes before boarding a 14-hour
flight to Japan from Washington.
"I feel like a subject in the experiment," said the 58-year-old, who
recently returned from a conference in Italy. "Like many people, I am
finding it more difficult to cope with jet lag as I get older. . . . I would
like to know whether it's a phenomenon of old age or whether it is something
I really have to worry about."
Block's study also hinted at what flyers have been saying for years: It is
more difficult to adjust to time zone changes when flying east. The
researchers found that 53 percent of elderly mice died when they were
subjected to a simulated weekly flight from Washington to Paris over the
eight-week study. The death rate dropped to 32 percent of elderly mice on a
simulated Paris-to-Washington route, according to the study, which was
published last month in the journal Current Biology. Seventeen percent of
the mice in a control group died in the eight-week study.
Research has identified links between night-shift work and chronic health
problems. And doctors and aviation experts have worked hard to help pilots
and flight attendants mitigate the effects of jet lag to ensure they can
function properly in the air.
Jet lag is caused when people fly across time zones. Many factors, including
daylight, sleep cycles, hormones and other natural rhythms, play a role in
how humans' complicated internal clocks handle it.
Researchers say the only way to truly avoid jet lag is for travelers to
gradually prepare before leaving on their trips.
Charmane I. Eastman, a professor and director of the Biological Rhythms
Research Lab at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, believes that
flyers can more easily cope with jet lag by adjusting their sleep schedules
If headed east from the Washington area, for example, travelers should go to
bed an hour earlier each night and wake up an hour earlier each morning for
several days before leaving town.
When travelers wake up, they should get sunlight or use a "light box" to
help trigger changes in their biological clocks. Travelers should also
consider taking small amounts of melatonin, a hormone, five hours before
going to sleep to help them adjust to their future time zone, Eastman said.
The only other way to avoid jet lag on overseas trips: "Take a boat," she
There are also ways to mitigate jet lag once you land. If heading to Europe
from Washington, most people should wear dark sunglasses after landing until
about 11 a.m. Exposure to too much light too early can delay adjustment to
new time zones, Eastman said.
After 11 a.m., travelers should try to get as much sunlight as possible to
help kick-start the body's clock, she said.
Several veteran travelers said they would have a difficult time switching
schedules under Eastman's plan and said booking a cruise was an inefficient
They have found their own ways to cope.
Steve Solomon, 30, a consultant who lives in Gaithersburg, sets his watch to
his destination's time zone before he takes off "to get your mind into the
right mind-set." He also avoids alcohol and drinks a lot of water.
"I view it as more of a hassle than anything else," he said. "You have to
run with the punches."
Carol Lane, a 42-year-old free-lance advertising and marketing writer, says
she relies on homeopathic pills she buys at a health food store.
Even with the pills, though, she said she hadn't been able to adjust to jet
lag as well as she did a few years ago.
"When you are in a particularly bad bout, you are just so walloped," she
said. "I'm an old mouse, I guess."
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Our Troops in Action
on: December 28, 2006, 07:03:02 AM
This article on the death of President Ford caught my attention:
How Lieutenant Ford Saved His Ship
By ROBERT DRURY and TOM CLAVIN
Published: December 28, 2006
East Hampton, N.Y.
FOR Americans under a certain age, Gerald Ford is best remembered for his contribution to Bartlett’s — “Our long national nightmare is over” — or, more likely, for the comedian Chevy Chase’s stumbling, bumbling impersonations of him on “Saturday Night Live.” But there’s a different label we can attach to this former president, one that has been overlooked for 62 years: war hero.
In 1944, Lt. j.g. Jerry Ford — a lawyer from Grand Rapids, Mich., blond and broad-shouldered, with the lantern jaw of a young Johnny Weissmuller — was a 31-year-old gunnery officer on the aircraft carrier Monterey. The Monterey was a member of Adm. William Halsey’s Third Fleet, and in mid-December, Lieutenant Ford was sailing off the Philippines as Admiral Halsey’s ships provided air cover for the second phase of Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s “I shall return” Philippine invasions.
The Monterey had earned more than half a dozen battle stars for actions in World War II; during the battle of Leyte Gulf, Lieutenant Ford, in charge of a 40-millimeter antiaircraft gun crew on the fantail deck, had watched as a torpedo narrowly missed the Monterey and tore out the hull of the nearby Australian cruiser Canberra. Two months later, in the early morning hours of Dec. 18, the Japanese were the least of the Monterey’s worries, as it found itself trapped in a vicious Pacific cyclone later designated Typhoon Cobra.
Lieutenant Ford had served as the Monterey’s officer of the deck on the ship’s midnight-to-4-a.m. watch, and had witnessed the lashing rains and 60-knot winds whip the ocean into waves that resembled liquid mountain ranges. The waves reeled in from starboard, gigantic sets of dark water that appeared to defy gravity, cresting at 40 to 70 feet. In his 18 months at sea, Lieutenant Ford had never seen waves so big. As breakers crashed over the carrier’s wheelhouse, he could just barely make out the distress whistles sounding about him — the deep beeps of the battleships, the shrill whoops of the destroyers.
After his watch Lieutenant Ford had strapped himself into his bunk below decks, and it seemed that his head had barely hit the pillow when the Monterey’s skipper, Capt. Stuart H. Ingersoll, sounded general quarters, calling all hands to their stations. Lieutenant Ford bolted upright in his dark sea cabin. He thought he smelled smoke amidships. Racing through a rolling companionway dimly lighted by red battle lights, he reached the outside skipper’s ladder leading to the pilothouse and began to climb. At that precise moment a 70-foot wave broke over the Monterey. The carrier pitched 25 degrees to port, and Lieutenant Ford was knocked flat on his back. He began skimming the flight deck as if he were on a toboggan.
Just as he was about to be hurled overboard, Lieutenant Ford managed to slow his slide, twist like an acrobat, and fling himself onto the catwalk. He got to his knees, made his way below deck, and started back up again.
By the time he reached the Monterey’s pilothouse, the fighter planes in its hangar deck had begun slamming into one another as well as the bulkheads — “like pinballs,” Mr. Ford recalled 60 years later — and the collisions had ignited their gas tanks. The hangar deck of the Monterey had become a cauldron of aircraft fuel, and because of a quirk in its construction, the flames from the burning aircraft were sucked into the air intakes of the lower decks. As fires broke out below, Lieutenant Ford remembered the smoke he smelled when he’d bolted from his bunk.
Admiral Halsey had ordered Captain Ingersoll to abandon ship, and the Monterey was ablaze from stem to stern as Lieutenant Ford stood near the helm, awaiting his orders. “We can fix this,” Captain Ingersoll said, and with a nod from his skipper, Lieutenant Ford donned a gas mask and led a fire brigade below.
Aircraft-gas tanks exploded as hose handlers slid across the burning decks. Into this furnace Lieutenant Ford led his men, his first order of business to carry out the dead and injured. Hours later he and his team emerged burned and exhausted, but they had put out the fire.
Three destroyers were eventually capsized by Typhoon Cobra, a dozen more ships were seriously damaged, more than 150 planes were destroyed, and 793 men lost their lives. It was the Navy’s worst “defeat” of World War II. But the Monterey and nearly all of its men survived to take part in the battle of Okinawa, and the future president ended his Navy stint in 1946 with the rank of lieutenant commander.
Like his fellow World War II veterans, Mr. Ford returned home and resumed his life, rarely speaking publicly of his heroism. But in contrast to the public’s image of him as a clumsy nonentity, Mr. Ford was a man whose grace under pressure saved his ship and hundreds of men on it.
Robert Drury and Tom Clavin are the authors of the forthcoming “Halsey’s Typhoon: The True Story of a Fighting Admiral, an Epic Storm and an Untold Rescue.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Iraq
on: December 27, 2006, 03:54:43 PM
Second post of the day.
STRIP FOR ACTION
By RALPH PETERS
December 27, 2006 -- WITH a troop surge nearly inevitable in the new year, we still lack a strategy to win in Iraq. Radical surgery on our approach is the patient's only hope - but the policy doctors in D.C. just want to up the medication.
Washington may be the unofficial capital of the world, but it's a town that thinks small. The real-and-present danger is that a desperate administration and a nervous new Congress won't imagine genuine alternatives to losing slowly or leaving.
Is Iraq hopeless? No. But the path to a positive outcome doesn't follow the traditional wisdom about what's "doable." We must think clearly and boldly, without regard to vested interests.
One thing's clear: If we can't enforce security, nothing else matters. So the wisest course of action seems obvious - except to the Washington establishment: Return to a wartime footing.
Focus exclusively on security. Concentrate on doing one thing well. Freeze all reconstruction and aid projects. Halt every program and close every office that doesn't contribute directly to pacifying Iraq.
Empty the Green Zone. Pack off the contractors. Reduce the military's overhead to those elements essential to support combat operations. Make it clear to "our" Iraqis that it's sink-or-swim time. Remove our advisers from any Iraqi unit that can operate marginally without them (and let the Iraqis do security their way without interference).
Above all, establish unity of command: Stop pretending there's a fully functional government in Baghdad, recall our ambassador until the fighting's over and make this a purely military effort until Iraq has been pacified.
Shedding extraneous programs would allow us to withdraw some military elements, increase the impact of combat units already in Iraq and use any additional forces more efficiently.
By attempting to do far too much, we diffused our capabilities. Program after program faltered. We need to return to the principle of concentration of effort.
We tried to refashion a country and rebuild its infrastructure before we made it secure. The result has been the waste of American lives, four years and billions of taxpayer dollars.
Defying the power of inertia - a tremendous force in Washington - we need to grasp that throwing good money after bad undercuts our last, slight hope of a win.
We need an exclusive focus on the defeat of the foreign terrorists, uncooperative Sunni Arabs and Muqtada al-Sadr's Shia thugs. Our enemies control Iraq with fear. We need to make them fear us more than the population fears them.
And we must stop reciting insupportable platitudes about every element of government playing a role and the supreme power of negotiations. That's just nonsense. Contrary to pundit blustering, the overwhelming majority of insurgencies over the past 3,000 years have been defeated - by uncompromising military responses.
Contributions from government departments other than the Pentagon may be desirable in theory, but they've been AWOL in fact. You can't build an effective team if the players don't show up.
The worst failure has been that of the State Department. State couldn't get enough volunteers even for its 90-day stints in Iraq - every major program that it insisted on running failed.
Worse, military officers complain that our diplomats in Baghdad undercut their efforts. Even if State were competent, you can't have parallel chains of command in wartime. Our blundering diplos only fall prey to sharper-minded Iraqis.
As for negotiations offering the only way forward, where in the Middle East have negotiations ever produced enduring peace? All the media drooling over an expected American retreat has left all of Iraq's opposing factions calculating how they can win after we're gone.
You can't hold successful negotiations with irreconcilable, unbroken factions who have no incentive to compromise. And even when you cajole promises from one group or another in the Middle East, no party feels bound to honor its commitments.
You can only drive negotiations from a position of uncontested strength - which we threw away.
Our enemies don't believe we have the guts to pacify Iraq. They may be right.
It would be obscene to deploy more troops and further strain our military unless we're serious about winning. And all half-measures will fail.
The paradox is that beleaguered Iraqis would welcome a harsh security crackdown - our toughest obstacle would be a global media alliance already patting itself on the back for our defeat.
Of course, if we make security our sole focus, the Daddy Warbucks profiteers will howl to the congressmen they've bought; our self-adoring diplomats will spew more of their poisonous jealousy into the Potomac - and those military commanders who've lost focus will argue that bribing Iraqis with reconstruction efforts is essential to pacification.
But bought allies never stay bought. Diplomats don't disarm terrorists and militias or defuse roadside bombs. And the administration's cult-like belief in the power of outsourcing to bring peace created the mess we now face.
Iraq may never be the inclusive and just democracy we sought. Our age reflects the rise of popular power, but demotic passions do not inevitably lead to democracy. In times of widespread systemic breakdown such as these, demagogues and dictators can embody the popular will as readily as presidents or prime ministers. "People power" is here to stay, but we're far from knowing all it will produce.
But we may be certain of this: Democracy can't exist without security. All of our other ambitions for Iraq are hopeless if men and women can't walk the streets without fear. Whether or not we still can win, merely tweaking our policy promises failure.
It's time to strip for action - and fight to win.
Ralph Peters' latest book is "Never Quit The Fight."
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Environmental issues
on: December 27, 2006, 11:45:16 AM
Been meaning to post this one for several days now , , ,
12/12/06 NY Times
by NATALIE ANGIER
Published: December 12, 2006
This was no euphemistic brushoff, no reptilian version of "Sorry, I'll be
busy that night washing my hair." Paddling around in a tropically appointed
pool at the National Aquarium in Baltimore, the husky female Gibba turtle
from South America made all too palpable her disdain for the petite male
Gibba that pursued her. He crawled onto the parqueted hump of her bark-brown
shell. She shrugged and wriggled until he slipped off. He looped around to
show her his best courtship maneuvers, bobbing his head, quivering his neck.
She kicked him aside like a clot of algae and kept swimming.
"I feel sorry for the little guy," said Jack Cover, a turtle specialist and
the general curator of the aquarium. "He's making no progress, she's got
zero interest in him, yet he just keeps coming back for more."
And why not? The male Gibba may be clueless, he may at the moment have the
sex appeal of a floating toupee, but he is a turtle, and, as a major new
book and a wealth of recent discoveries make abundantly clear, turtles are
built for hard times. Through famine, flood, heat wave, ice age, a predator's
inspections, a paramour's rejections, turtles take adversity in stride,
usually by striding as little as possible. "The tale of the tortoise and the
hare is the turtle's life story," said Mr. Cover, who calls himself a
card-carrying member of the "turtle nerds" club. "Slow and steady wins the
With its miserly metabolism and tranquil temperament, its capacity to forgo
food and drink for months at a time, its redwood burl of a body shield, so
well engineered it can withstand the impact of a stampeding wildebeest, the
turtle is one of the longest-lived creatures Earth has known. Individual
turtles can survive for centuries, bearing silent witness to epic swaths of
human swagger. Last March, a giant tortoise named Adwaita said to be as old
as 250 years died in a Calcutta zoo, having been taken to India by British
sailors, records suggest, during the reign of King George II. In June,
newspapers around the world noted the passing of Harriet, a Galapagos
tortoise that died in the Australia Zoo at age 176 - 171 years after Charles
Darwin is said, perhaps apocryphally, to have plucked her from her
Behind such biblical longevity is the turtle's stubborn refusal to senesce -
to grow old. Don't be fooled by the wrinkles, the halting gait and the
rheumy gaze. Researchers lately have been astonished to discover that in
contrast to nearly every other animal studied, a turtle's organs do not
gradually break down or become less efficient over time.
Dr. Christopher J. Raxworthy, the associate curator of herpetology at the
American Museum of Natural History, says the liver, lungs and kidneys of a
centenarian turtle are virtually indistinguishable from those of its teenage
counterpart, a Ponce de Leonic quality that has inspired investigators to
begin examining the turtle genome for novel longevity genes.
"Turtles don't really die of old age," Dr. Raxworthy said. In fact, if
turtles didn't get eaten, crushed by an automobile or fall prey to a
disease, he said, they might just live indefinitely.
Turtles have the power to almost stop the ticking of their personal clock.
"Their heart isn't necessarily stimulated by nerves, and it doesn't need to
beat constantly," said Dr. George Zug, curator of herpetology at the
Smithsonian Institution. "They can turn it on and off essentially at will."
Turtles resist growing old, and they resist growing up. Dr. Zug and his
co-workers recently determined that among some populations of sea turtles,
females do not reach sexual maturity until they are in their 40s or 50s,
which Dr. Zug proposes could be "a record in the animal kingdom."
Turtles are also ancient as a family. The noble chelonian lineage that
includes all living turtles and tortoises extends back 230 million years or
more, possibly predating other reptiles like snakes and crocodiles, as well
as birds, mammals, even the dinosaurs.
The turtle's core morphology has changed little over time, and today's 250
or so living species all display an unmistakable resemblance to the earliest
turtle fossils. Yet the clan has evolved a dazzling array of variations on
its blockbuster theme, allowing it to colonize every continent save
Antarctica and nearly every type of biome nested therein: deserts;
rainforests; oceans; rivers; bogs; mountains; New Brunswick, Canada; New
"Turtles can persist in habitats where little else can survive," said Dr. J.
Whitfield Gibbons, a professor of ecology at the University of Georgia in
The iconic turtle likewise has colonized the human heart. People may despise
cats or fear dogs, but practically everybody has a soft spot for turtles.
"Turtles are by far the most popular reptile," said Peter C. H. Pritchard,
director of the Chelonian Research Institute in Oviedo, Fla. "Unlike snakes,
which may threaten you and which move like a flash, turtles are benign and
slow, and you can't dislike or distrust the clumsy."
(Page 2 of 3)
Yet such warm and fuzzy feelings have proved cold comfort for turtles, and
herpetologists fear that in humans the stalwart survivors from the Mesozoic
era may at last have met their mortician. Turtle habitats are fast
disappearing, or are being fragmented and transected by roads on which
millions of turtles are crushed each year. "There's no defense against that
predator known as the automobile," Dr. Gibbons said.
Researchers estimate that at least half of all turtle species are in serious
trouble, and that some of them, like the Galapagos tortoise, the North
American bog turtle, the Pacific leatherback sea turtle and more than a
dozen species in China and Southeast Asia, may effectively go extinct in the
next decade if extreme measures are not taken. "People love turtles, people
find them endearing, but people take turtles for granted," Mr. Cover said.
"They have no idea how important turtles are to the ecosystems in which
they, and we, live."
Researchers are also impressed by the turtle's many sensory talents. Box
turtles and other forest-dwelling species can spot a lake or pond a mile in
the distance, possibly by detecting polarized light glinting off the surface
of the water. Female sea turtles migrate across entire oceans every breeding
season, unerringly making their way from far-flung feeding grounds right
back to the beach where they were born, and where they are instinctively
driven to lay their own eggs.
Instinctive does not mean inflexible, however. Should a weary wayfarer
arrive at her natal beach in the dead of night and find it has eroded away,
Dr. Pritchard said, she can adapt, swimming down the coast until she locates
a suitably sandy nesting site.
Turtles, it seems, are all ears, all the time. Dr. Ray Ashton, who runs the
Finca de la Tortuga biological preserve in Archer, Fla., has highly
preliminary evidence that some turtle species may communicate subsonically,
just as elephants do, transmitting and detecting ultralow frequency sound
waves as vibrations in the ground.
In their new book, "Turtles of the World" (Johns Hopkins Press), Franck
Bonin, Bernard Devaux and Alain Dupré seek to loft turtles into the
limelight by showcasing the group's diversity - its beauties, its goofies,
There is the Indian star tortoise, its shell a vivid basket weave of dark
and light veins that dance like spattered sunlight as the tortoise crosses
the forest floor; and the Matamata turtle of the Amazon basin, with a
flattened, ragged head and neck that look like dead leaves and a bumpy shell
that mimics an old log - just try to spot that Matamata at the bottom of a
stream, awaiting passing prey; and the massive alligator snapping turtle of
the south-central United States, which lures fish right into its open jaw
with a red bleb of flesh on the floor of its mouth that jiggles like a
Some turtles have serpentine necks twice the length of their shells; others
sport sweet little snorkeling snouts that look like double-barreled cocktail
straws; still others have beaks so fiercely hooked their bearers could
easily serve, in the authors' words, as "adornment of the upper reaches of
Among the most common questions leveled at turtle researchers is, What is
the difference between a turtle and a tortoise? It depends on where you
live, researchers reply. In the United States, any reptile with a shell is
referred to as a turtle, and the term tortoise is reserved for those turtle
species that have elephantine feet and live entirely on land, like the
desert tortoise of the American Southwest. In Australia, by contrast, the
word tortoise often applies to aquatic side-necked species - bizarre beasts
with necks that cannot be drawn into the shell for protection but instead
must be tucked on the side, under the shell's eavelike overhang.
Whatever their group identity badge, turtles vary considerably in size, from
the tiny speckled padloper tortoise of South Africa, which in adulthood is
no bigger than a computer mouse, to the great leatherback sea turtle, which
can measure seven feet long and weigh 2,000 pounds.
(Page 3 of 3)
Menu plans vary as well. Many turtles are omnivores, happily consuming
fruits, leaves, insects, mollusks, fish, frogs, ice cream. Dr. Gibbons told
of a friend whose his pet box turtle would respond to the sound of a spoon
being tapped on a glass ice cream bowl by emerging from behind the couch,
walking over to its owner, rearing up on its hind legs and waiting to be
spoon-fed its just dessert. "Had I not seen this a few times myself," he
said, "I would not have believed it."
A few turtles have highly specialized palates. Green sea turtles prize the
tender tips of sea grass, and will clip away and discard tough, older grass
to stimulate the sprouting of fresh buds beneath. Leatherback sea turtles
dine only on jellyfish, or what they think are jellyfish. "Plastic bags look
like jellyfish," said Dr. Joseph Mitchell, an ecologist and turtle
specialist in Richmond, Va., "and quite a few leatherbacks have stomachs
impacted with plastic bags."
Some turtles, conversely, seek out the world's detritus. Scavenger turtles
that live in the Ganges River devour human corpses, making it possible for
devout Hindus to deposit their loved ones' remains in the waters they deem
An Iconic Feature
Whether they wrest it from sea grass, shellfish or Häagen-Dazs, all turtles
need a substantial amount of calcium in their diet, to sustain the structure
that marks them as turtles and that remains among the most extraordinary
architectural achievements in vertebrate evolution: the shell. A number of
invertebrates have shells, of course, and so, too, do a few vertebrates,
most notably the armadillo. But whereas the armadillo's shell is built of
bony segments slapped down over its muscle tissue and is distinct from the
mammal's underlying skeletal frame, in the turtle the skeleton has become
During embryonic development, the bones of the turtle's rib cage grow
straight out, rather than curving toward one another as they do in other
vertebrates. Those ribs, spinal vertebrae and other skeletal bones are then
fused to form the upper shell, called the carapace, the lower shell, or
plastron, and the bony bridges that join upstairs with down. In many turtle
species, the bony shell is in turn plated over with tough fingernail-like
structures called scutes.
As a result of the osteotic overhaul, not only can a turtle not crawl out of
its shell, it has trouble crawling, period. "Its legs stick out at bizarre
angles, and the only reason it can walk at all is through sheer strength,"
Dr. Pritchard said. "The turtle has enormously strong muscles and extremely
thick leg bones." A clumsy gait proved a small price to pay, however, for
the acquisition of body armor that protects adult turtles against a panoply
of jaws and claws.
Geneticists have proposed that the turtle shell may have appeared quite
suddenly in the distant past, rather than emerging slowly through modest,
mincing modifications of pre-existing structures. They suggest that the
dramatic innovation could have arisen from just a few key mutations in
master genes like the so-called homeobox genes, which help specify an animal's
basic body plan. If the shell did burst on the reptilian stage more or less
fully formed, they said, that would explain the lack of "intermediary"
fossils or prototurtles in the paleontological record.
The shell very likely helps explain the turtle's elongated storyline. It
takes time to consolidate a large, thick shell, but upon reaching adult
stature, the turtle is close to invulnerable. At that point, it can
compensate for its Darwinically unproductive youth with a very prolonged and
zealously fecund adulthood. A female turtle will continue laying eggs until
she dies, and a male turtle will just as mulishly pursue her.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Environmental issues
on: December 27, 2006, 11:36:05 AM
Yes, I know there is a thread of the same name on the Political forum, but I'm beginning to think it belongs here. So for the moment we will have a thread on each of the forums and see where people tend to post.
I begin with a post of another Nature Conservancy project. (I am a basic level member of NC btw). I like NC because of its market, win-win orientation.
Farmers and Conservationists Form a Rare Alliance
Kevin P. Casey for The New York Times
Shorebirds on flooded land in Skagit County, Wash., a sight that could become more common as a result of a “Farming for Wildlife” program.
By JESSICA KOWAL
Published: December 27, 2006
MOUNT VERNON, Wash. — The standoff here between farmers and environmentalists was familiar in the modern West.
Lisa Bellefond of the Nature Conservancy and David Hedlin, a farmer, on farmland set to become wetlands.
With salmon and wildlife dwindling in the Skagit River Delta, some environmentalists had argued since the 1980s that local farms should be turned back into wetlands. Farmers here feared that preachy outsiders would strip them of their land and heritage.
This year, though, the standoff ended — at least for three longtime farmers in this fertile valley, who began collaborating with their former enemies to preserve wildlife and their livelihoods.
The Nature Conservancy, which usually buys land to shield it from development, is renting land from the three farmers on behalf of migrating Western sandpipers, black-bellied plovers, dunlins, marbled godwits and other shorebirds.
From private and public funds, including a grant from the federal Environmental Protection Agency, the farmers, David Hedlin, Gail Thulen and Alan Mesman, will together receive up to $350,000 for three years of labor, expenses and the use of 210 acres, said Kevin Morse, the Skagit Delta project manager for the conservancy.
Each man has committed about 70 acres to this project, which is called Farming for Wildlife. A third of that land will be flooded with a few inches of fresh water in the spring, fall and winter. This will create shallow ponds to entice thousands of birds, some of them on their way to and from the Arctic, to stop and snack on tiny invertebrates and worms as they travel along the Pacific flyway.
More than a dozen shorebird species have declined primarily because of the loss of local wetlands, said Gary Slater, research director at the Ecostudies Institute here and a consultant for the Nature Conservancy.
The farmers see the Nature Conservancy’s willingness to pay them as an acknowledgment that they should not be expected to sacrifice their land or their living for wildlife. This approach effectively turns shorebirds into another crop to manage, instead of grounds for a lawsuit.
“The stewardship ethic in this valley is incredibly strong, but it doesn’t trump the bank,” said Mr. Hedlin, 56, who, with his wife, Serena Campbell, grows farmer’s market produce, vegetable seeds, pumpkins, winter wheat and pickling cucumbers on their 400-acre farm.
Mr. Hedlin’s 70-acre Farming for Wildlife parcel has been under water since a heavy November rain breached a dike and flooded the field, in a preview of what environmentalists hope will happen. Edged with wild roses and blackberry bushes, this accidental lake quickly attracted wintering waterfowl like trumpeter swans, coots, and mallard, teal and wigeon ducks.
An hour north of Seattle and an hour south of Vancouver, British Columbia, this region’s glorious tulip farms attract hundreds of thousands of tourists each April. Skagit farmers also produce about 80 crops of commercial significance, including seeds used to grow beets, spinach and cabbage around the world, many of the red potatoes eaten in the United States, and vegetables and dairy products sent to farmer’s markets and restaurants in the Pacific Northwest.
Thousands of years of flooding on the Skagit River deposited a rich layer of topsoil in the “magic Skagit,” as Mr. Hedlin calls the valley. European immigrants flocked here starting in the 1860s and built Victorian houses for their families on the board-flat green fields.
They also constructed an elaborate network of earthen dikes to capture land from the saltwater delta and prevent the rivers from flooding their farms. On this managed agricultural landscape, tens of thousand of acres of farmland were once tidal wetlands, Mr. Hedlin said.
Since the mid-1990s, residents have tried to slow development as strip malls and housing subdivisions marched northward from Seattle. Skagit County residents pay extra taxes to buy development rights from farmers, and a charitable group, Skagitonians to Preserve Farmland, warns that “Pavement is forever.”
Many conservationists have also decided that farms are better than pavement, and say they are willing to balance preservation with profitable land use.
Mr. Morse lives here and even volunteered to spend two days last spring selling Mr. Hedlin’s produce at a farmer’s market.
“We don’t know anything about farming,” Mr. Morse told the farmers recently over coffee and sandwiches at the Rexville Grocery. “You guys are the stewards of the land. You tell me what to do.”
For this experiment, each farmer’s 70-acre parcel has been planted with a mixture of clover and grass to enrich the soil. While a third of the land will be periodically flooded for birds, a third will be fenced as pasture for dairy cows, and the rest will be mowed and otherwise left alone.
Farms here are gradually shifting toward organic production because consumers willingly pay much more for organic food. As another incentive to join Farming for Wildlife, the 210 acres will be available for organic use after three years.
Mr. Mesman will start producing organic milk with his 225 Holstein cows next spring. Mr. Thulen sees a big market for organic potatoes.
“In my time, I can see our little valley was farmed very hard,” said Mr. Thulen, whose 2,000-acre farm was begun by his grandfather in 1867. “That pendulum has swung to get the ground healthy again.”
In an ideal world, the Nature Conservancy would love to persuade farmers to add wetlands to their regular crop rotation. To that end, the group’s scientists will analyze soil samples to assess whether shallow flooding might improve soil fertility as much as cow manure and mowed grass do.
In a similar project on the Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge in Northern California, farmers reported better potato yields and fewer nematodes, a harmful worm, on land that had been purposefully flooded. But scientists say this may not apply in the Skagit Valley, where the soil has a higher clay content.
Whether or not they end up with more productive land, the three farmers seem pleased to try something new without financial risk.
“If 100 years from now,” Mr. Hedlin said, “there are healthy viable family farms in this valley and waterfowl and wildlife and salmon in the river, then everyone wins.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Iraq
on: December 26, 2006, 11:32:43 PM
THE BOOM OUTSIDE BAGHDAD
New York Post
By AMIR TAHERI
December 26, 2006 -- UMQASR, IRAQ
WHILE the American political elite is using Iraq as an excuse for fighting
internal political wars, a different reality is taking shape in parts of
this war-torn nation. Wherever some measure of security is assured - that is
to say in more than 80 percent of Iraq - towns and villages long left to die
a slow death are creeping back to life.
Nowhere is this slow but steady return to life more startling than in Um
Qasr, in the southeast extremity of Iraq on the Persian Gulf. Four years
ago, this was a jumble of rusting quays, abandoned houses and gutted
buildings. By the spring of 2003, its population had dwindled to a few
dozen, along with hundreds of stray dogs. There was even talk of abandoning
Today, however, Um Qasr is back in business as a port with commercial and
military functions. Hundreds of families that had left after the first Gulf
War in 1991 have returned - joining many more who have come from all over
The boom in Um Qasr is part of a broader picture that also includes Basra
(the sprawling metropolis of southern Iraq), the Shi'ite "holy" cities of
Najaf and Karbala, Mandali on the Iranian border and much of Baghdad.
When the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank reported two years
ago that the Iraqi economy was heading for a boom, skeptics dismissed it as
misplaced optimism. Now, however, even some of those who opposed the
toppling of Saddam Hussein admit that many Iraqis share that optimism.
Newsweek has just hailed the emergence of a booming market economy in Iraq
as "the mother of all surprises," noting that "Iraqis are more optimistic
about the future than most Americans are." The reason, of course, is that
Iraqis know what is going on in their country while Americans are fed a diet
of exclusively negative reporting from Iraq.
The growing dynamism of the Iraqi economy is reflected in the steady
increase in the value of the national currency, the dinar, against the three
currencies in direct competition with it in the Iraqi marketplace: the
Iranian rial, the Kuwaiti dinar and the U.S. dollar, since January 2006.
No doubt, part of the dinar's strength reflects the rise in Iraq's income
from oil exports to almost $40 billion in 2006, an all-time record. But oil
alone does not explain all, since both Iran and Kuwait are bigger exporters
The fact that civil-servant salaries have increased by almost 30 percent,
with a further 30 percent due to come into effect early next year, also has
helped boost demand.
But a good part of the boom is due to an unexpected flow of foreign capital.
This has been facilitated by the prospect of a liberal law on direct foreign
investments, which exists only in such free-trade parts of the region as
Dubai and Bahrain. None of Iraq's six neighbors offers such guarantee for
the free flow of capital to and from the country.
Since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003, the number of private companies in
Iraq has increased from a mere 8,000 to more than 35,000 this year. Each
week an average of 60 new companies spring up in Iraq's booming areas. A
good part of the investment in southern Iraq, including in Um Qasr, comes
from Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates.
"Whatever happens, Iraq is Iraq," says a Kuwaiti businessman, building
hotels in the south. "Iraq will always remain the country with the world's
largest oil reserves and the Middle East's biggest resources of water."
One hears similar comments from local and foreign businessmen investing in
real estate in Najaf and Karbala. Over 200 million Shiite Muslims regard the
cities as holy. Najaf and Karbala have always been dream destinations for
pilgrims. Under Saddam Hussein, however, few foreign pilgrims were allowed.
With the despot gone, pilgrims are pouring in - and with them the fresh
That good business is possible in Iraq is reflected in the performance of
new companies, most of which did not exist three years ago. One privately
owned mobile phone company is expected to report revenues of more than $500
million this year, a sevenfold increase in three years. Another private firm
marketing soft drinks has seen profits double since the end of 2003. The
number of luxury cars imported has risen from a few hundred in 2002 to more
than 20,000 this year.
But what about continued terrorist attacks? Most foreign investors coming to
make money in Iraq shrug their shoulders. "Doing business in any Arab
country is always risky," says a Turkish investor who has set up a trucking
company and a taxi service. "In some Arab countries, you risk
nationalization or straight confiscation by the ruler. In other Arab
countries, you must give a cut to one of the emirs. Here, you face possible
terrorist attacks. But such attacks are transitory."
The relatively low cost of labor is another attraction to investors. Wages
in Iraq, where unemployment is over 30 percent, are less than a quarter of
the going rates in Kuwait. Nevertheless, the Iraqi boom appears to be
attracting some Iranian laborers from areas close to the border - people who
come in for a few days to make some money before returning home.
Although Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government has slowed down the
pace of privatization, the foundations of the command economy created by
Saddam continue to crumble.
The transition from a rentier economy - in which virtually the whole of the
population depended on government handouts - to a free-market capitalist one
entails much hardship for some segments of society. Many pensioners and some
civil servants find it hard to make ends meet as prices rise across the
board. The end of government subsidies on virtually everything - from bread
and sugar to gasoline and water - is also causing hardship.
But, judging by the talk in teahouses and the debate in Iraq's new and
pluralist media, most people welcome the switch to capitalism and regard it
as an exciting adventure.
As trucks are loaded with a variety of imports destined for Baghdad, I ask
the drivers what they think would happen if the multi-national force, led by
the United States, left Iraq soon. Most shrug their shoulders.
"Why leave?" one driver asks. "Do I abandon the goods that have come from
such a long way before they reach their destination?"
This amounts to a plea to "stay the course." The man in Um Qasr does not
know that in the United States the phrase "staying the course" drives so
many up the wall.
Amir Taheri is a member of Benador Associates.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Health Thread (nutrition, medical, longevity, etc)
on: December 26, 2006, 04:51:42 PM
Hormones and Cancer: Assessing the Risks
By GINA KOLATA
Published: December 26, 2006
When researchers reported recently that a precipitous drop in breast cancer
rates might be explained by a corresponding decrease in the use of hormones
for menopause, women reacted with shock, anger and, in some cases, profound
relief that they had never taken the drugs.
Research Leader Dr. V. Craig Jordan studies the effects of estrogen-blocking
drugs on breast cancer.
Complete Coverage: Hormones
But many also had questions. How certain were scientists that the hormones
were responsible? How could stopping hormones have such an immediate and
pronounced effect? And how much did scientists really know about the biology
of breast cancer and hormones?
The data seemed clear enough. In 2003, after climbing for almost seven
decades, the breast cancer rate fell for the first time in the United
States, and it fell sharply. Over all, the incidence of newly diagnosed
breast cancer dropped 7 percent, and it dropped 15 percent among women with
cancers whose growth is fueled by estrogen.
There also was no question that at the same time, women had begun to abandon
hormones as a treatment for menopause. In July 2002, a large study, the
Women's Health Initiative, concluded that a popular hormone therapy for
menopause, Prempro, made by Wyeth, slightly increased the risk of breast
cancer. Within the next six months, prescriptions for Prempro dropped by
A connection between hormone use and breast cancer rates did not surprise
scientists like Dr. V. Craig Jordan, vice president and scientific director
for the medical science division at Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia.
Dr. Jordan is a leader in studying the effects of estrogen-blocking drugs on
breast cancer. Among his many awards is this year's American Cancer Society
Award from the American Society for Clinical Oncology for his work on
estrogen and the prevention and treatment of breast cancer.
Dr. Jordan's wife, Dr. Monica Morrow, a breast cancer surgeon, is chairwoman
of the surgical oncology department at Fox Chase. Their offices, he says,
are across the hall from each other, "so we are together 24 hours a day."
Q. Prempro, the combination drug that many women took for menopause
symptoms, contains both estrogen and progestins. And the findings from the
Women's Health Initiative study suggested that estrogen alone has only a
tiny effect, if any, on breast cancer risk. So which is the bad actor,
progestins or estrogen? Or is it both hormones combined?
A. We've known for 30 years that estrogen can directly cause the growth of
breast cells and of endometrial cells. Estrogen is fuel for the fire. But
progesterone seems to do different things in different places in a woman's
body. In the uterus, it stops the growth of the endometrium and makes it
ready for implanting a fertilized egg. In breast cancer, estrogen causes a
doubling of cancer cells every 36 hours. Soon, the growing tumor ball needs
to increase its blood supply because cells in the middle are not getting
enough food and oxygen. Progesterone seems to cause other cells, stromal
cells, to gather around the ball of cancer cells and play a supporting role.
Stromal cells are the woman's own cells that researchers now think may be
specifically selected to build an architecture and send out signals for more
blood supply, more fuel.
Q. That seems to be an unusual arrangement. Why would progesterone act on
stromal cells in the breast?
A. When a woman is pregnant, her breasts are much larger and her estrogen
and progesterone levels are huge. Progesterone is sending out signals that
provide a skeleton to build the breasts.
Q. Was it a surprise to learn that estrogen and progestins can cause breast
A. We've known there is a cause and effect with hormones and breast cancer
since 1896. If a woman is premenopausal and she has breast cancer and you
take out her ovaries, the tumors decrease in size. Not all the tumors - if
you took 100 women who were premenopausal and took their ovaries out, 35
percent would have a response. And you could get a dramatic response. A
tumor that was the size of a walnut could shrink in six months to the size
of a pinhead. It turned out that the tumors that responded contained
estrogen receptors. This became cause and effect - the estrogen receptor was
the mechanism that estrogen used to stimulate tumors to grow. If there was
no estrogen receptor, taking away estrogen didn't do anything at all.
Q. Did taking away estrogen ever make a breast cancer go away completely?
A. This is the basic difficulty. We were dealing with advanced breast
cancer, and what we saw was that we could get complete remissions in 4 or 5
percent of the women. In the majority of women, the remission would last for
one to two years. Taking away estrogen slowed things down, it reversed the
process, but it did not cure.
Q. Do you agree with the latest analysis indicating that breast cancer is
declining because so many women stopped taking Prempro and other menopausal
A. Throughout the 1990s, physicians were recommending that menopausal women
take hormone replacement therapy. What happens is that you increased the
rate of breast cancer in the whole country. And it shifted the epidemiology.
We have seen an increase in the percentage of estrogen-receptor-positive
tumors in the 1990s and in the beginning of the 2000s, so that now 70
percent of tumors are estrogen-receptor positive.
This was, if you like, consistent. Everything was ticking in. The Women's
Health Initiative and the Million Women Study in Britain really said: "Here's
a controlled series of studies comparing taking nothing with taking hormone
replacement therapy. How many cancers were there at the end of the day?"
Page 2 of 2)
The Women's Health Initiative found a 23 percent increase in breast cancer;
the Million Women Study found a 100 percent increase. Those studies were
highly publicized and women stopped taking hormones. Now the breast cancer
rates are going down. Now tumors you would have detected are not being
detected. There is no proof the tumors will ever go away, but you can't
detect them. And it is possible that many subclinical cancer cells may never
grow inside a woman's breast if she has no estrogen around to fuel that
Skip to next paragraph
Complete Coverage: Hormones
Q. If a woman has a tumor that is undetectable because she did not take
menopausal hormones, will it eventually grow anyway and turn into a cancer
that can be seen on a mammogram?
A. We don't know. What we have learned from the tamoxifen clinical trial is
that tamoxifen, which blocks estrogen, did a fantastic job. The cancer rate
in the group taking tamoxifen dropped by 50 percent. Tamoxifen prevented the
development of breast cancers that were early stage, and it also stopped
cells from progressing to breast cancer.
Q. Some people suggest that the real problem was that the hormones women
were taking were artificial or were given in artificial ways. Prempro, for
example, gets its estrogen from pregnant mares. Some say other hormone
preparations, for example, so-called bioidentical hormones, would be safe.
Do you agree?
A. We've been talking about women's ovaries producing estrogen and
progesterone. When a woman enters menopause, hormone levels drop
dramatically. The longer you bathe a woman's breasts in these hormones, the
more likely she will have cancer. If you start menstruating early, if you
have two extra years of estrogen in your body, bathing your breasts in that
fuel is a risk factor for breast cancer. If you start menopause late, if
your periods go on for an extra four or five years, that is a risk. The
longer you have menstrual cycles, the higher your probability of breast
cancer. And that is with natural hormones, the ones in your body.
Q. What about birth control pills? Do they increase the risk of breast
A. We have had testing of birth control pills in huge groups of women since
the 1950s, and there really is no evidence of a significant rise in breast
cancer risk. What we do know is that oral contraceptives reproduce the
messages in the brain to stop a woman from ovulating. You are bathing a
woman's body with artificial hormones, but normally she would be bathing her
own body with estrogen and progesterone. You don't have women getting
endometrial cancer, and oral contraceptives reduce the risk of getting
ovarian cancer by 50 percent. It is one of the few things we know of that
reduces the risk of ovarian cancer.
Q. What about chemicals in the environment, like DDT or chemicals in
plastics, that can mimic estrogen. Could they be causing breast cancer?
A. There are a group of compounds like DDT that are byproducts of industry
and are in our environment. They can affect cells in the laboratory and can
affect the reproduction of animals, but in really huge doses. There is an
effect, but does it cause an increase in cancer? I personally don't believe
that is the case. I don't think there is enough around to do that. A pinch
of estrogen in the environment is very small compared to the gallons in a
Q. What should women do now? Should they ever take menopausal hormones?
A. The value of hormone therapy for women with extremely severe menopausal
symptoms is well established, and women, in consultation with their doctors,
should consider using it for only a few months to alleviate severe symptoms.
The main concern is using the drugs for many years to prevent osteoporosis.
They can reduce the risk of hip fractures, but there are now many different
alternatives for women to maintain bone density, such as bisphosphonates or
raloxifene. Hormone replacement therapy should only be considered after all
other options have failed.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Evolutionary biology/psychology
on: December 26, 2006, 04:50:26 PM
Devious Butterflies, Full-Throated Frogs and Other Liars
The green frog has been known to deceive eavesdroppers with its croak.
By CARL ZIMMER
Published: December 26, 2006
If you happen across a pond full of croaking green frogs, listen carefully. Some of them may be lying.
Dishonesty has been documented in crustaceans and primates alike.
A croak is how male green frogs tell other frogs how big they are. The bigger the male, the deeper the croak. The sound of a big male is enough to scare off other males from challenging him for his territory.
While most croaks are honest, some are not. Some small males lower their voices to make themselves sound bigger. Their big-bodied croaks intimidate frogs that would beat them in a fair fight.
Green frogs are only one deceptive species among many. Dishonesty has been documented in creatures ranging from birds to crustaceans to primates, including, of course, Homo sapiens. “When you think of human communication, it’s rife with deception,” said Stephen Nowicki, a biologist at Duke University and the co-author of the 2005 book “The Evolution of Animal Communication.” “You just need to read a Shakespeare play or two to see that.”
As Dr. Nowicki chronicled in his book, biologists have long puzzled over deception. Dishonesty should undermine trust between animals. Why, for example, do green frogs keep believing that a big croak means a big male? New research is offering some answers: Natural selection can favor a mix of truth and lies, particularly when an animal has a big audience. From one listener to the next, honesty may not be the best policy.
“I think it could explain a lot of mysteries in the evolution of communication in animals, including humans,” said Stephen P. Ellner, a mathematical biologist at Cornell University.
Tales of animal deception reach back at least as far as Aesop’s fables. In the late 19th century, the naturalist George Romanes made a semi-scientific study of deceptive animals. In his 1883 book, “Mental Evolution in Animals,” Romanes wrote about how one of his correspondents had sent him “several examples of the display of hypocrisy of a King Charles spaniel.”
By the mid-1900s, scientists had documented deception in cases where one species fooled another. Some nonpoisonous butterflies, for example, evolved the same wing patterns that poisonous species used to warn off birds. Within a species, however, honesty usually prevailed. Animals gave each other alarm calls to warn of predators; males signaled their prowess in fighting; babies let their parents know they were hungry. Honesty benefited both the sender and the receiver.
“The point of signaling was to get information across,” Dr. Nowicki said. “Deception was almost not an issue.”
There was just one hole in this happy arrangement: it presented a great opportunity for liars. Shrikes, for example, regularly use alarm calls to warn one another of predators. But sometimes the birds will use false alarm calls to scare other shrikes away from food.
Imagine that a shrike fools other shrikes with a false alarm. It eats more, and therefore may hatch more babies. Meanwhile, the gullible, less-nourished shrikes hatch fewer babies. If false alarms become common, natural selection should favor shrikes that are not fooled by them.
When scientists created mathematical models of this theory, they found that dishonesty could undermine many vital kinds of communication. The challenge, then, was to find out how honesty countered the advantage of deception. “The liars ought to be able to take advantage of the system, so that you’d have selection on the listeners to ignore the signals,” said Jonathan Rowell, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Tennessee.
Amotz Zahavi, a biologist at Tel Aviv University, proposed a way for honesty to prevail. His idea was that honesty won out only because lying carried a relatively large cost. His theory eventually led to elaborate mathematical models and experiments that confirmed it.
Roosters attract hens, for example, with their large red combs. Hens benefit from choosing mates in good condition, because their chicks will tend to be in good condition as well. The bigger and brighter a comb, the better condition the rooster is in.
Theoretically, a weak rooster could fool hens by growing a deceptively large comb. But it costs a weak rooster more than it does a strong one to build a big comb. This tradeoff leads to honest signals from weak and strong roosters alike.
“The mystery of why there is honesty was suddenly solved,” Dr. Ellner said. “All the big problems fell away.”
But if they had explained why deception did not win out, why did it continue to thrive? “We couldn’t explain all the dishonesty,” Dr. Ellner said.
Dr. H. Kern Reeve, an evolutionary biologist at Cornell, said that “deception is popping up with a surprising frequency.”
Even crustaceans can lie. Male stomatopods dig burrows, to which they try to attract females. Some males choose to try to evict other stomatopods from their burrows and take them over. These conflicts are dangerous because stomatopods can deliver crushing blows with their claw-like appendages. But the stomatopods rarely come to blows. Instead, males raise themselves up and extend their appendages, like a boxer raising his gloves. The sight of big appendages causes smaller stomatopods to back down.
Page 2 of 2)
Yet even the biggest, meanest stomatopod has his moments of weakness. Like all crustaceans, they must molt. A freshly-molted stomatopod has a soft, tender exoskeleton. Even in this vulnerable state, however, males will still raise up their claws in a bold crustacean bluff.
Dr. Rowell recently created a more complicated model of animal signals that may explain why deception is so common. Previous models examined only a single animal sending a signal to a single receiver. But real signals are rarely so private. “They’re not happening in a one-on-one situation,” Dr. Rowell said. “They’re really happening in public.”
A signaler may have different relationships with different listeners. In some cases, honest signals are best. But eavesdroppers may be able to use honest signals for their own advantage.
To capture this extra layer of complexity, Dr. Rowell built a mathematical model with two receivers instead of one. The signaling animal could choose to be honest or dishonest. The receivers could respond to the signal as an honest one or a dishonest one.
Working with Dr. Ellner and Dr. Reeve, Dr. Rowell discovered that honesty and deception could reach a stable coexistence in the model. The signalers could sometimes be dishonest, and yet the receivers continued to believe the signals despite the deception.
Dr. Rowell and his colleagues published the details of their model in the December issue of The American Naturalist.
“It’s really important,” Dr. Nowicki said of the study. “They’re coming up with new angles that could explain how you could have more deception and keep it stable.”
Dr. Rowell argues that real-world cases of deception, like bluffing, support the model. When a male green frog or stomatopod bluffs, other males have to decide whether to heed the signal or to ignore it and attack. Attacking is risky, because it is possible that the signaler is not bluffing.
“The challenger isn’t willing to take that gamble,” Dr. Rowell said.
The model also showed how deception could be used against eavesdroppers. Green frogs — along with many other frogs and toads — attract females with a distinctive mating call. Dr. Ellner’s rough translation of their call: “I’m looking for female frogs, and if you come on my lily pad, I’ll show you a good time.”
In most cases, male frogs follow up on their mating calls by courting the females they attract. But sometimes they attack instead. This deceptive reaction may be a way for the males to cope with other males that eavesdrop on them. Such eavesdroppers, instead of holding onto their own territory, sneak around and try to intercept females attracted to the mating calls of other males.
If males are always honest in their mating calls, they may lose out to sneaky males. But if they attack, they can ambush the sneaky males and drive them away. Natural selection thus favors deception, despite the fact that the frogs sometimes attack potential mates. The females, meanwhile, are better off trusting the mating calls than ignoring them.
Dr. Reeve cautioned that the model was only the first step in understanding how networks of listeners can drive the evolution of deception. “Right now it needs to be tested in detail, experimentally,” he said.
Different species may be prone to different levels of deception. Solitary animals may evolve to be more honest than animals that spend long lives in big societies. If that is true, then humans may be exquisitely primed to deceive.
“We’re in a network of individuals watching us,” Dr. Reeve said. “If you provide a signal to one individual, it’s being eavesdropped on by lots of other people.”
Dr. Rowell is exploring cases of human deception with his model. In one case, he examines how terrorist organizations communicate to their sleeper cells.
“Your two listeners are the government and terrorist sleeper cells,” Dr. Rowell explained. “The sleeper cells don’t have a direct communication with whoever your terrorist signaler is.
“They might give something out over the Web, and the government picks it up. You find that you can very easily get a level of dishonesty from the terrorist signaler to get the government to waste resources on phantom attacks. You can see this evolution going on between sleeper cells and the government.”
DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Re: Cuba
on: December 26, 2006, 10:39:49 AM
Pues, con la ausencia de contribuciones en espanol, sigo con lo que tengo en ingles:
Che, Cuba and Christmas
Target becomes a target of the Guevara myth.
BY MARY ANASTASIA O'GRADY
Monday, December 25, 2006 12:01 a.m. EST
Until last Thursday Christmas shoppers at Target department stores could purchase a 24-CD carrying case decorated with the image of Che Guevara. When I heard about it, I wondered why the retailer would want to promote the memory of a mass murderer. What's next, I asked, when I spoke with a representative of the company on Wednesday, Pol Pot pajamas?
Late Wednesday evening Target sent me this statement: "It is never our intent to offend any of our guests through the merchandise we carry. We have made the decision to remove this item from our shelves and we sincerely apologize for any discomfort this situation may have caused our guests."
That it took only a day for Target to make that admirable decision suggests that at least someone at the company knows who Guevara was and what Cuba is today thanks in part to him. The misstep, though, probably occurred because others at the company allowed Target to become a target itself of the Che myth.
Guevara is not just a dead white guy from a well-to-do family who terrorized a racially mixed nation and executed hundreds of innocents in the late 1950s and 1960s. He is also a symbol of the totalitarian regime that persists in Cuba, which still practices his ideology of intolerance, hatred and repression. It is not the torture and killing alone that make the tragedy. That only describes the methodology. Guevara's wider goal--to forcibly strip a population of its soul and spirit--is what is truly frightening and deplorable. Christians, who celebrate the birth of their Savior today, have particularly suffered under Guevara's dream of revolution, which has lasted since 1959.
The fear under which Cubans have lived for 48 years was fathered by the merciless Che Guevara. The unhappy Argentine Marxist met Fidel Castro in Mexico in 1955 and later became a rebel commander. "The Black Book of Communism," published in 1999 by Harvard University Press, notes that early in his career Guevara earned a "reputation for ruthlessness; a child in his guerrilla unit who had stolen a little food was immediately shot without trial." In his will, the book says, "this graduate of the school of terror praised the 'extremely useful hatred that turns men into effective, violent, merciless and cold killing machines.' "
Peruvian-born Alvaro Vargas Llosa penned his own book this year titled "The Che Guevara Myth." Mr. Vargas Llosa documents a twisted life, such as when Che shot a comrade and made the following entry in his diary: "I ended the problem with a .32 caliber pistol, in the right side of his brain. . . . His belongings were now mine." After that, Mr. Vargas Llosa says, Guevara shot "a peasant who expressed the desire to leave whenever the rebels moved on." Guevara also liked to simulate executions, as a form of torture. "At every stage of his adult life, his megalomania manifested itself in the predatory urge to take over other people's lives and property, and to abolish their free will."
Guevara was an architect of Cuba's forced labor camps, which by 1965 were transformed into concentration camps for dissidents, Catholics, Jehovah's Witnesses, Cubans of other religious sects, homosexuals and later people with AIDS,.
All independent thought that refused to worship the communist state was an affront to Guevara. Christians were an especially difficult lot. From the earliest days after Castro took power, Che sent hundreds of men to face firing squads at the Havana prison known as La Cabaña. His victims could be heard at dawn loudly crying "Long live Christ the King, down with communism," just before the rifle shots rang out.
Thousands of Cubans have perished in daring attempts to get off the island because they preferred the risks of flight to a life in which Christianity has been forbidden, children are the property of the state, thought is policed, and spying on your neighbor is one of the few ways to earn a living. During the Mariel boatlift in 1980, witnesses told of families arriving at the pier together only to be separated by Cuban guards who enjoyed watching their misery. Weeping mothers faced the point of a gun while their distraught sons and daughters were forced to board ships. This Christmas thousands of Cuban-Americans will remember their loved ones who didn't make it out or died trying.
Defenders of Guevara can't even claim that his cruelty brought about equality. Today state policy makes it a crime for the raggedly dressed, malnourished and mostly black Cuban people to visit the beaches, museums and amply stocked stores of their own country, while well-fed tourists in fashionable cruise-wear go where they like. This amounts to de facto apartheid.
Amazingly, hope is still alive in Cuba. One reason is because although Guevara was able to kill a lot of Christians, neither he nor his successors succeeded in wiping out Christianity. The struggling Christian community, which takes seriously the religious teaching to reject fear in the face of evil, is playing a key role in the island's dissident movement.
An icon of the Christian resistance is Oscar Elias Biscet, a black physician who is serving a 25-year sentence for his peaceful activism against the regime. He has been arrested more than 26 times since he began to express his dissent; he has been beaten, tortured and locked in tiny windowless cells for days on end. Hundreds of other prisoners of conscience are in jail, under atrocious conditions; many are also devout Christians.
The Christian faith has survived Che and Fidel and decades of brainwashing. It is battered but has not been defeated. Raul Castro fears it--which is why he takes Bibles away from his unbreakable prisoners. The moral of the story seems to be that even the all-powerful regime cannot stop Christmas from coming to Cuba.
Ms. O'Grady edits the Americas column, which appears in The Wall Street Journal Fridays.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Iraq
on: December 26, 2006, 10:35:21 AM
Give Sadr the Treatment
How to beat Iraq's Shiite extremists.
BY OMAR FADHIL
Tuesday, December 26, 2006 12:01 a.m. EST
BAGHDAD--Understanding the question is half of the answer: That's what we used to say back in school. Then when we became dentists and doctors, we changed that to "diagnosis is half the treatment," and it looks that's where we're standing right now.
Everyone now seems to agree that any plan to fix the situation in Iraq has to have a military component along with a political one. The latter, as I understood, is supposed to bring together or facilitate a set of compromises and mutual concessions among the political powers in Iraq in order to achieve an acceptable level of stability and allow for sustained progress.
But why has it been that difficult to advance this political path despite all the time and effort spent in this direction?
There's a problem we should address and do something about if we want a political solution to see the light, and that is that some of the key political players in Iraq who are interested in finding a solution cannot move in that direction because they have their hands tied by former deals or affiliations with current or former extremist allies of the same sect as theirs, and those extremists have taken the entire political process in Iraq hostage.
What I'm trying to say here is that the military component we need at this particular stage should be different from the routine military operations that U.S. and Iraqi military had been conducting so far.
The new military component should be designed to create a friendly climate where politicians can strike deals and reach compromise without coercion from radical extremists.
And so if more boots are to be added on the ground then the mission will have to include freeing politicians and parties such as Nouri al-Maliki and Tariq al-Hashimi (of the Dawa and the Islamic party respectively) from the ropes that bind them to Muqtada al-Sadr and harmful elements in the Sunni political scene.
Right now is a good time, perhaps the best time we have, to launch this effort since there's already a large front forming from the parties that are willing to talk against the extremists' camp.
If the way forward requires maintaining the basic course of the political process and empowering (and cleaning) the current government and its head then the only way to do this is to relieve Mr. Maliki, his party and the rest of the Shia alliance from the dominance and influence of Sadr, and there are two ways to accomplish this: either persuade Mr. Maliki and his team and promise them great support and protection from Sadr's reach, or deal a lethal blow to Sadr and his militia in order to render him unable to inflict harm on Mr. Maliki and other members of the United Iraqi Alliance.
Now really, it shouldn't be that difficult to figure out that the first way isn't working out right, what's needed now is to take the decision to try the second way and deal with the biggest threat to stability in Iraq in the way we should.
If claims that the militia is fragmented and not entirely under Sadr's control are true (and it's actually hard to believe that one man can control a militia of dozens of thousands spread over 11 provinces) then this must be an advantage for us, because if that's the case there would be little reason to believe those renegade units would fight for Sadr. Many have reached financial independence from the center leadership, and let's not forget that money and fear are the main weapons militia leaders use to expand their power and maintain control over the militia members and the population.
The members were recruited by either fear or persuasion, and these bonds that still keep some units highly loyal will fall apart once the head is taken. Ideological fighters constitute a minority in my opinion and those, along with presumed Iranian and Hezbollah fighters who are assisting Sadr will represent the bulk of the remaining actual force that U.S. and Iraqi troops would have to fight and eliminate. Those are highly organized, but they are not invincible.
Together we succeeded in reducing the threat posed by al Qaeda when it was identified as the biggest threat to Iraq's stability and security. Now together we can do the same with Sadr and other thugs. We understand the question, and we have a diagnosis that seems sound; it's time to proceed with the treatment.
Mr. Fadhil, along with his brother Mohammed, runs Iraq the Model, a blog based in Baghdad.
IRAQ: An Iraqi appeals court confirmed the death sentence for former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, Iraqi National Security Adviser Mouwafak al-Rubaie said. According to Iraqi law, Hussein must be executed within 30 days.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Horn of Africa (Somali, Ehtiopia and)
on: December 26, 2006, 10:20:38 AM
Geopolitical Diary: Open Warfare in Somalia
The tensions in Somalia between the forces of the Supreme Islamic Courts Council (SICC) and the interim government and its Ethiopian backers broke into open warfare as Ethiopian forces launched airstrikes against SICC positions in several locations on Sunday and Monday and began moving ground forces. The attacks came a month after Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi called Somalia's Islamists a clear and present danger during an address to parliament. In the intervening weeks, both sides have maneuvered for better position before the end of the rainy season.
The outbreak of fighting was far from unexpected. As we noted in October, both sides began preparing for a showdown after it became clear there was no room for a negotiated settlement between the SICC and the interim government -- not as long as Ethiopia determined the SICC was a threat to its own security. By November, the battle lines were being drawn as the SICC made a final push to claim territory while significant Ethiopian reinforcements were delayed by the flooding due to the annual Deyr rains.
With the rains over and the ground drying up, the inevitable Ethiopian strike has now come. In the initial push, it appears the SICC front lines are starting to falter as Ethiopia brings better-trained and better-equipped military forces to bear. SICC forces reportedly have abandoned the central city of Beledweyne (initially taken by SICC forces in June) after fierce ground fighting with Ethiopian forces; Somalian transitional government forces, backed by Ethiopian equipment and fighters, have pushed back SICC forces in Idaale, Jawil and Bandiiradley.
But the initial push is not necessarily a reflection of the conflict to come. The SICC has not gained territory as much by fighting as by making arrangements with local warlords and village leaders, and by capitalizing on popular dissatisfaction with other warlords and the general lack of security and stability. The SICC forces are not structured for conventional military-to-military warfare; they lack heavy equipment, organization and training. However, they are structured for insurgency and guerrilla warfare -- and if Ethiopia is unwilling or unable to make the commitment of forces and time to ensure the security and stability in Somalia, the interim government certainly is in no position to make the same guarantees.
What is shaping up is a battle in which the Ethiopians push the buffer back farther from their border, and carry out long-range strikes on Mogadishu in an effort to stem the flow of foreign weapons and fighters to the SICC as well as return the country's areas of control to their pre-June position. On the SICC side, there is now an open call for foreign fighters, both from Ethiopian rival Eritrea and from foreign jihadist fighters, something the SICC has flirted with, but will now seek without concern for international considerations. Earlier moves by the SICC to reshape itself as a political force with minimal religious goals are no longer valid, and the SICC is openly seeking foreign Islamist assistance.
This has the potential to create a shift in the dynamic of the international Islamist militancy. While Iraq has been the focal point of international recruiting and volunteering for Islamists seeking a place to fight for their cause, Somalia is shaping up as a new center for international fighters. This could begin to reduce the flow of fighters into Iraq and Afghanistan. But it also creates a location where Western forces are extremely unlikely to intervene, unlike the steady presence of U.S., NATO and allied forces in Afghanistan and Iraq.
With the interim government unable to fully control Somalia even with the assistance of Ethiopian forces, Somalia becomes a prime area for al Qaeda and other Islamist forces to train, rest and recruit -- something that neither Afghanistan nor Iraq currently provide beyond the realm of tactical battlefield training. This makes the conflict in Somalia extremely important for Washington, but history and current priorities make active involvement highly unlikely. Thus, Washington will offer increasing levels of support to the Ethiopian forces and attempt to revive the warlords in Somalia.
There is one more immediate concern for the United States. The conflict in Somalia is serving as a proxy war for Ethiopia and Eritrea. As it continues, direct fighting between Addis Ababa and Asmara could break out. And this raises security concerns for U.S. operations in the Horn of Africa, which are based out of Djibouti, squeezed between Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia.
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: MMA
on: December 25, 2006, 01:50:40 PM
"Warrior Nation" MMA series on MSNBC premieres January 9th
Press Release: Dec 20, 2006
MSNBC's "Warrior Nation," takes viewers inside the world of MMA, mixed
martial arts, beginning January 9th at 10 p.m. ET. MMA, one of the
fastest-growing sports in the nation, combines various fighting styles
including wrestling, boxing, Tai Kwon Do, Karate and submission
grappling. It's a "no-holds-barred" combat sport that has become a
successful enterprise throughout the world and has been called "the
next NASCAR." Each episode opens the door to the lives of fighters and
the struggles that they endure in this popular sport. Veteran fighters,
such as Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz, fans favorites, including Urijah
Faber, as well as up-and-coming fighters, are portrayed. The four-part
series airs each week on consecutive Tuesdays, beginning January 9th at
10 p.m. ET. "Warrior Nation" is the first of two documentary series
produced by 29 Stories LLC for MSNBC.
"'Warrior Nation' is not just about fighting," says Long-Form
Programming Vice President Michael Rubin, "it's about a quickly growing
American phenomenon; the millions of fans and tens of thousands of
young athletes who gravitate to this new sport, hoping to springboard
from obscurity to celebrity, using the most basic of tools--their
bodies and fists."
Episode One, which airs January 9th at 10 and 11 p.m. ET, follows
Urijah Faber and Enoch Wilson. 27-year-old Faber is the number one MMA
fighter in his weight class in the nation and one of the best in the
world. A college graduate, he fights and trains full-time, has 14
career wins and over $100,000 in prize money. Wilson, a 26-year-old
high school drop-out and single dad with 8 career wins, works at a
plastics factory to support his training and his 14-month-old daughter.
The Following Tuesday evening, January 16th, in episode two we meet
Erin Toughill. At 29-years-old, she is one of the top women fighters in
the world. Toughill's husband, Clark Bevans, a 32-year-old gym owner,
also participates in MMA fighting. Together, they hope to become the
first couple in the world to fight on the same night - and win.
Episode Three, airing January 23rd, unites two rivals for their second
head-to-head fight. Gina Carrano and Elaina Maxwell meet at Strikeforce
in San Jose, California. Carrano, the underdog, plans on repeating her
previous win over Maxwell, but Maxwell, who has been training under
Cung Le, the World Kickboxing Champion, expects to even the score.
Nonetheless, both women won't take this fight lying down.
Airing January 30th, episode four dives deep into the organization of
the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). The episode features two
up-and-coming fighters, Steve Byrnes and Logan Clark, who have recently
earned their first shot at fighting, as well as two celebrity veterans
of the UFC, Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz. UFC President Dana White also
explains his struggles and plans to Make MMA legal in all 50 states.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Middle East War
on: December 24, 2006, 11:05:28 AM
By SIMON HENDERSON
December 16, 2006
Prince Turki al-Faisal, the Saudi ambassador to the U.S., has resigned. The prince reportedly flew out of Washington after informing Condoleezza Rice, and his own staff, that he was leaving, just 15 months after arriving. The Saudi Embassy told the Associated Press that he was "going home to spend more time with his family." Such an excuse may satisfy the immediate requirements of news-agency reporting, but is almost certainly incomplete, and worryingly so. Prince Turki's resignation provides yet another reminder that one of America's most important relationships is laced with surprise and mystery.
At the end of August 2001, the prince resigned as chief of the General Intelligence Directorate, the Saudi CIA, supposedly for apparently similar personal reasons. At the time the CIA and State Department were clueless as to what it meant. The eventual wisdom was that Prince Turki's directorate had become, in the later words of Pulitzer-winner Steve Coll, "a financial black hole." But Prince Turki had also held Saudi Arabia's "Afghan file," making him the principal interlocutor with the Taliban and Osama bin Laden. And 10 days later, the 9/11 attacks on the U.S. took place. Bureaucratic Washington, then, will now be intensely interested in finding out exactly why Prince Turki has suddenly decided to leave this time.
Elements of what might be the relevant context are already out in the public domain. Two weeks ago, Nawaf Obaid, a young Saudi who has worked as adviser for Prince Turki both in Washington and in his previous assignment as ambassador in London, authored an op-ed in the Washington Post. While claiming his status as adviser but also saying the opinions were his own, Mr. Obaid wrote that the kingdom was considering "massive . . . intervention [in Iraq] to stop Iranian-backed Shiite militias from butchering Iraqi Sunnis." Options included "funding, arms and logistical support," which to some sounded awfully like the support the Saudis, under Prince Turki, clandestinely gave pre-9/11 to jihadist fighters in Afghanistan, Chechnya and Bosnia.
The article prompted a formal announcement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency calling Mr. Obaid's reportage "absolutely not true." It went on: "It also does not represent in any way the kingdom's policy and stand to support security, unity and stability of Iraq with all its sects and doctrines." Two days later, Prince Turki told Wolf Blitzer on CNN: "We [have] terminated our consultancy work with [Mr. Obaid]."
Less than a week before Mr. Obaid's article, Dick Cheney had made an extraordinary Thanksgiving weekend flight to Riyadh for a two-hour meeting with King Abdullah and Crown Prince Sultan. The spin was that Washington wanted more Saudi help in ensuring stability in Iraq -- although it would seem that ambassadors or foreign ministers are more suited for delivering messages than are vice presidents.
These pieces still don't quite fit, but they provide reason to believe that there's more to the story. Now, the spin on Prince Turki's return home is that he is about to replace his elder brother, Saud, who is afflicted by a bad back and Parkinson's disease, as foreign minister. Possible, but probably too simplistic. Prince Turki is bright and able, though some who know him say he never fully recovered from a bad case of carbon-monoxide poisoning he suffered when staying in a camper van on a desert trip in the mid-1980s.
There has been an almost mystical quality to much of the reporting about Prince Turki since he arrived in Washington. Much is made of his education at Princeton and Georgetown. Prince Turki's version, in a speech at Princeton on Dec. 7, was more candid: "[This was] where I briefly spent some of my misspent youth." Indeed, returning to the kingdom in some disgrace, he reportedly spent a year avoiding his father, the then-king, Faisal, before being sent to Georgetown. The Saudi ambassador at the time, instructed to make sure Prince Turki behaved, had little alternative but to take him in as a house guest.
Official U.S. analysis of the Saudi kingdom seems torn between viewing it as a kind of Camelot, with its (Islamic) chivalry, or as Disneyland -- military personnel sometimes refer to it as "the magic kingdom." In reality, the Saudi royal family needs to burnish its Islamic credentials to maintain legitimacy and quiet domestic discontent. Post-9/11, past compromises with Islamic radicals have come back to haunt the royalty, in addition to serving as an irritant in relations with the U.S.
An additional dimension derives from the 2003 invasion of Iraq: A huge Shia-dominated neighbor has emerged on its northern border. Saudis see Shias as threatening their security and leadership of Islam, and perceive them to be Iranian surrogates. In response, Saudi Arabia has been reaching out to Sunni states like Egypt and Jordan. Dramatically, even contacts with Israel have not been ruled out. One report suggests that it was not Saudi national security advisor Prince Bandar who had a clandestine autumn meeting in Amman with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, but Prince Turki. The logic: As intelligence chief, he had established a back-channel relationship with the Mossad.
Despite the continuing high oil prices, for once U.S. difficulties with Saudi Arabia do not appear to be dominated by immediate energy concerns. The main challenge appears to be to steer Riyadh between a near holy confrontation with Shia Iran and an equally destabilizing alliance with radical Sunnis. As an experienced and well-liked envoy, Prince Turki will be hard to replace.
One early danger is that the kingdom is close to acquiring nuclear weapons rather than continuing to rely on the longstanding security guarantees and understanding of successive administrations in Washington. Last month a Saudi official privately warned the kingdom would not tolerate a nuclear-armed Iran. Pakistan (for bombs) and perhaps North Korea (for rockets) are potential allies. There are already credible reports of facilities in the desert that the Saudis claim are oil-related, although there are no pipelines in sight. Also, North Korean personnel have been spotted at military facilities.
Iraq, Iran, nuclear weapons, oil. Washington desperately needs a new, reliable Saudi interlocutor.
Mr. Henderson is the Baker Fellow and director of the Gulf and Energy Policy Program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Islam the religion
on: December 24, 2006, 12:27:06 AM
Happy Hajj! You’re Not Invited!
By Patrick Poole
FrontPageMagazine.com | December 22, 2006
As Jews began their Hanukkah celebrations this week, commemorating the recovery of the Holy Land and the Temple from foreign invaders by Judas Maccabeus, and more than a billion Christians prepare for one of the holiest days of the church year, where the doors of Christian churches will be thrown open to anyone willing to hear the good news of Christ’s coming to earth as a human to redeem humanity, millions of Muslims are preparing for their own spiritual journey next week in the annual trek to Mecca to perform the Hajj.
But quite unlike the Jewish and Christian religious celebrations of Hanukkah and Christmas, if you are a non-Muslim, don’t plan on investigating the mysteries of Islam by joining your Muslim friends on their trip to Saudi Arabia for the Hajj – you’re not invited.
Perhaps no better contrast between Judaism, Christianity and Islam exists than the treatment of non-believers on the respective holy days of each religion. I recall fondly the many times that I have participated in the Passover seder at the invitation of Jewish friends and have each time been awed at the profound meaning attached to every element of the seder which is designed to illustrate the fascinating historical narrative of the Jewish people over the millennia that is the foundation of both the Christian and Islamic faiths.
I also remember the occasion several years ago when a Chinese friend of mine who was finishing his PhD at Ohio State joined my family and me for our Christmas Eve celebrations. After joining us for worship, he told us with tears in his eyes how that was the first time that he had ever heard the gospel message that Jesus Christ had come into the world to save sinners – a message that had been branded as counter-revolutionary and been outlawed in his own country. Needless to say, we were delighted when he joined us again the following year for Christmas Eve, where he was anxious to tell anyone at church who would listen how he had embraced the free offer of the gospel and become a Christian the previous year. Having returned home to China, my friend is now a leader in the underground Church there.
But if I wanted to join my Muslim friends next week on the Hajj, I would have to bear in mind that my reception would not be as friendly. I would be forbidden to bring my Bible or any Christian literature with me on my trip to Saudi Arabia, and be required to remove anything identifiably Christian from my person (crosses, etc.). There are no Christian churches allowed in the “Land of the Two Mosques”, so there would be no opportunity for me to join with fellow Christians there in our weekly celebration of the Lord’s Day, and I would constantly be under watch by the Wahhabi Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice police to ensure that I didn’t share my Christian faith with anyone else.
Even having arrived in Saudi Arabia and complying with the absolute ban of any expression of my faith, as I approached the holy city of Mecca, I would be denied entry. Despite all of the supposed Quranic endorsements of the “People of the Book” (i.e. Jews and Christians), as a kafir, my presence is not welcome at the Hajj. We should remember that the cardinal offense that prompted Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda lackeys to declare war on the “Crusaders and Zionists” in 1996 was the presence of American troops in the Arabian Peninsula, though nowhere near the sacred cities of Mecca or Medina.
For Muslims in the West, they have as much freedom as any other to practice their faith openly and freely without any fear of being molested. The number of mosques popping up all over America is a testament to that freedom.
Such is not the case for Jews and Christians in Islamic lands, however, where people of those faiths are subject to countless acts of intimidation and violence on a daily basis. Even in their synagogues and sanctuaries, believers are not immune from attack. In fact, many are prevented from approaching their own holy sites. In the Holy Land, Muslims occupy the Temple Mount – the historic location of the ancient Jewish Temple – and Jewish worshippers are subject to regular assaults by stone-throwing Muslim crowds at the nearby Wailing Wall and other sacred sites. And it was the mere presence of a Jew – Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon – near the Temple Mount in September 2000 that sparked the second intifada that has claimed the lives of hundreds of Jews, Christians and Muslims in recent years. Jews have also been forbidden from visiting the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron – Judaism’s second-most holy site – since it was converted to a mosque in 1266.
And earlier this month Turkish authorities feared that Pope Benedict might take the opportunity while touring the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul – one of the greatest churches in the world that was seized by Muslims after 1,000 years of constant use by Christians – that he might actually try to pray there.
It isn’t just the Hagia Sophia that has suffered the inglorious fate of being converted from its original use as a Christian church to be taken over by invading Islamic forces and made into a mosque. In her book, The Decline of Eastern Christianity under Islam. From Jihad to Dhimmitude, Bat Ye’or chronicles how innumerable Christian and Jewish holy sites, such as the Church of St. John in Damascus that was demolished by the Islamic Caliph Abd al-Malik in 705 and had the Umayyad Mosque built over it, were taken over for the exclusive use for Islamic worship during the constant waves of Islamic conquest. It is worth noting that even the Kabaa, the central location of worship in Mecca, was seized by Mohammad from non-Muslims.
Getting back to my original point – one of the constant complaints of Muslim apologists is that Westerners just don’t understand Islam. Fair enough; but is that entirely the fault of non-Muslims who are shut out of Islam’s most important rituals? And might it be the case that those of us, Christians and Jews alike, who are angered at the treatment of our brethren in Islamic lands do so not because of our alleged “Islamophobia”, but rather on the basis of real grievances?
As former President Jimmy Carter travels the country promoting his book identifying Israel as an apartheid state because they refuse to capitulate to Palestinian terrorism, perhaps he might take some time and try to join his Wahhabi patrons during the Hajj this year and see what religious apartheid is really all about. While believers and non-believers alike will enjoy the Hanukkah and Christmas holidays, the invitation for Jews and Christians to join their Muslim friends and neighbors for the Hajj this year didn’t get lost in the holiday mail. It was never sent.
DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Re: Mexico
on: December 23, 2006, 04:20:28 PM
Mexico: The Vital Role of 'Gatekeepers' in the Smuggling Business
In mid-2005, former Mexican President Vicente Fox sent some 1,500 soldiers and federal police to the U.S.-Mexican border city of Nuevo Laredo in an effort to bring escalating drug-related violence under control. The effort failed, and by May 2006 the homicide rate had more than doubled compared with the same five-month period a year earlier. One possible reason for the violence in Nuevo Laredo is the continuing war between two rival cartels over whose "gatekeeper" will control the transhipment of drugs and other contraband through the city on their way north into the United States.
Until now, little has been revealed about the all-important role of gatekeepers in the flow of narcotics from Mexico into the United States, and the flow of money back into the hands of Mexico's drug lords. Sources familiar with this aspect of the drug trade, however, say the gatekeeper is one of the highest and most powerful people in a cartel's hierarchy, perhaps second only to the kingpin.
In drug-trade lingo, the "gatekeeper" controls the "plaza," the transhipment point off of one of the main highways on the Mexican side of the border where drugs and other contraband are channeled. In Spanish, the word "plaza" means a town square, though it also can mean a military stronghold or position. In this case, it means a cartel stronghold. A gatekeeper oversees the plaza, making sure each operation runs smoothly and that the plaza bosses are collecting "taxes" on any contraband that passes through. The going rate on a kilo of cocaine is approximately $500, while the tax on $1 million in cash heading south is about $10,000.
Gatekeepers also ensure that fees are collected on the movement of stolen cargo and illegal immigrants -- including any militants who might be seeking to enter the United States through Mexico. Regardless of a person's country of origin, money buys access into the United States through these plazas, though the fees charged for smuggling Middle Eastern and South Asian males into the United States is more than for Mexicans or Central Americans. The gatekeepers' primary concern is ensuring that appropriate fees are collected and sent to cartel coffers -- and they operate in whatever manner best suits a given circumstance: intimidation, extortion or violence. Of course, one of their main jobs is to ensure that corrupt Mexican police and military personnel are paid off so plaza operations can proceed undisturbed.
The main plazas in Mexico along the Texas border are in Matamoros, south of Brownsville; Reynosa, across the border from McAllen; Nuevo Laredo, across from Laredo; and Juarez, south of El Paso. These locations provide easy access to the U.S. interstate highway system, which the cartels use to deliver their drugs to the markets they control in major U.S. cities. Plazas also are operated in Piedras Negras opposite Eagle Pass and in Ojinaga opposite Presidio.
The plaza between Matamoros and Brownsville is controlled by Ezequiel Cardenas Guillen, or "Tony Tormenta," the brother of Gulf cartel leader Osiel Cardenas Guillen, who reportedly is running his cartel from a Mexican prison. Other gatekeepers operating in the area are Juan Gabriel Montes-Senano and Alfonso Lam-Lui.
Control of the Reynosa-McAllen plaza, which belongs to the Gulf cartel, reportedly is in flux. There are two prominent commanders from Los Zetas in the area: Gregorio "El Goyo" Sauceda-Gamboa and Jaime "El Humme" Gonzalez Duran. Some reports suggest that El Goyo recently was removed from his position as gatekeeper on the orders of Gulf chief Guillen, possibly because he was losing effectiveness due to alcoholism, drug addiction and cancer complications. El Humme, believed to be second-in-command of Los Zetas, might have been brought in to take over.
Edgar Valdez Villareal "La Barbie" and Miguel Trevino Morales operate in the contested plaza of Nuevo Laredo. La Barbie is a highly placed leader in the Sinaloa federation of cartels and chief of its enforcement arm, Los Pelones -- the Sinaloa equivalent of Los Zetas. He previously operated out of Acapulco, where he reportedly oversaw the capture, videotaped torture and execution of a team of Zeta operatives. Another gatekeeper in this area is Miguel Trevino Morales, who is believed to be affiliated with the rival Gulf cartel. The war between the two cartels over this important plaza is one of the reasons for the skyrocketing violence in the city.
Martin Romo-Lopez controls the plaza in Piedras Negras, while Sergio Abranda, Crispin Borinda-Cardenas and Benjamin Cuchtas-Valisrano operate in the plaza in Ojinaga.
The area around Juarez is firmly under Sinaloa federation control, and more cartel members appear to be moving into the area. The plaza in Juarez reportedly is controlled by the Escajeda family, through cousins Oscar Alonso Candelaria Escajeda and Jose Rodolfo Escajeda. Other alleged smugglers operating in the Juarez area are Jose Luis Portillo, Gonzalo Garcia and Pedro Sanchez. These men and the Escajeda cousins reportedly were associated with the Juarez cartel, which has been heavily damaged by the inter-cartel wars and the arrests of leaders. Many of the cartel members have since aligned themselves with the Sinaloa federation.
Because some provisions of the U.S. Patriot Act have made wiring money out of the United States more complicated than before -- forcing the cartels to physically transfer money between operatives along the border -- the gatekeepers also must ensure that these operations run smoothly. To facilitate this, the gatekeepers also operate the cartels' money-laundering operations, using small businesses along the border. U.S. law enforcement sources say there has been a fivefold increase in bulk currency seizures along the border in 2006 alone.
Although there are multiple smuggling routes through Mexico for drugs and other contraband, the plazas are the cartels' critical chokepoints. Therefore, efforts to shut down the flow of drugs or illegal immigrants cannot be effective until the gatekeepers are dealt with effectively. The gatekeepers' ability to heavily influence Mexican law enforcement and government officials through cash payouts and intimidation, however, suggests this will be no easy feat.
Even if Mexican law enforcement officers were to begin focusing their efforts on the gatekeepers, any success would be short-lived unless a sweeping, nationwide effort were made. When Fox sent the Mexican army into Nuevo Laredo in 2005, the impact on the cartels was minimal. A large, overwhelming law enforcement effort on both sides of the entire border would be required to shut down the plazas and bring down the gatekeepers, something Mexico is ill-equipped to do.
The Mexican government's recent efforts against the cartels in Michoacan state could prove to be effective against local organizations in the short term, but as long as the plazas are controlled by powerful gatekeepers, and the other routes through Mexico to the U.S. border are not impeded, the narcotics and drug money will continue to flow north and south.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Afghanistan-Pakistan
on: December 23, 2006, 02:19:28 PM
U.S.: TOP BIN LADEN ASSOCIATE KILLED: MULLAH AKHTAR MOHAMMAD OSAMI: U.S. FORCES SAY THEY HAVE SEVERAL SOURCES SAYING HE WAS KILLED. A top Taliban military commander described as a close associate of Osama bin Laden and Taliban leader Mullah Omar was killed in an airstrike this week close to the border with Pakistan, the U.S. military said Saturday.Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Osmani was killed Tuesday by a U.S. airstrike while traveling by vehicle in a deserted area in the southern province of Helmand, the U.S. military said. "We have various sources saying he was in fact killed in the attack," coalition spokesman Col. Tom Collins told CNN in an exclusive interview Saturday.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Economics
on: December 23, 2006, 04:06:43 AM
Even though I like the general logic of the piece, I do find myself wondering if the analysis is blurred a bit when it does not distinguish foreign capital inflows to buy US bonds (i.e. finance govt. debt) and foreign capital investment.
As the existence of a nearby thread dedicated to the very subject indicates, I also wonder about WTF is going on with the dollar.
On a purchasing power parity basis, the dollar is seriously UNDERvalued in Europe. For an American to travel in Europe now is very expensive. What is that about? Why is the dollar threatening to break even further to to new lows viz the Euro? Is there NO relation between the balance of trade/capital inflows and the exchange rate of the dollar?
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Iran
on: December 22, 2006, 09:04:00 AM
Geopolitical Diary: Iran's Sudden Opportunity In Turkmenistan
Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov unexpectedly died of a heart attack on Thursday. The death of the autocratic and eccentric Niyazov -- also known by his grandiose self-bestowed name "Turkmenbashi" or "father of all Turkmen" -- provides Iran with a unique opportunity to secure its northern border and gain a stronger foothold in energy-rich Turkmenistan. But it also creates a new source of tension between Moscow and Tehran that could ultimately impact Iran's agenda for Iraq.
The fall of the Soviet Union and the birth of Turkmenistan in 1991 forced Iran to pay closer attention to its northern border. Iran, lodged between Iraq and Afghanistan, was still recovering from the war it fought against Iraq in the 1980s and the guerrilla war it helped fund against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. Turkmenistan and Iran share a 621-mile border, but are split by an ethnic, historical and ideological divide that leaves the two countries with little in common, unlike the Persian linkages Iran has with nearby Tajikistan.
Iran pursued a cooperative relationship with Turkmenistan, based primarily around energy assets. Though Iran is home to the world's second-largest natural gas reserves, it had not yet developed into a major natural gas exporter, primarily due to constraints involving financing, lack of indigenous technology and political isolation. Building a strong energy relationship with Turkmenistan -- the world's fifth-largest supplier of natural gas -- would allow Tehran to use Turkmen gas to supply its domestic market in the north of the country, a cheaper option than having to transport natural gas from its closest domestic source in Iran's south. A Turkmen supply of natural gas in the north of Iran allows for a greater amount of Iranian gas to be shipped off to other export destinations for a greater profit.
To meet this objective, Iran and Turkmenistan ended up building a pipeline from Korpedzhe in Turkmenistan to Kurt-Kui in northern Iran in 1997. But this was only a small step toward Iran's grander vision to become a major energy player in Central Asia. The $190 million pipeline is about 124 miles long and has a limited capacity of 10 billion cubic meters (bcm) per year, though to date it has only supplied about half the intended amount due to the complications involved in dealing with the Turkmenbashi.
Iran's real goal was the development of a 1,420mm-diameter pipeline that would begin in Turkmenistan and run 870 miles along a route through northern Iran to Turkey, into the European market. The pipeline was projected to supply 28 bcm per year and would cost between $1.6 billion and $2.5 billion. It was a grand plan that caught the eye of Royal Dutch/Shell, Snamprogetti and Gaz de France; but in the end, the lack of international financing (due to U.S. sanctions imposed on Iran in 1996) and general wariness by U.S. investors to deal closely with the Turkmenbashi killed the project, leaving Russian state-owned energy major Gazprom to tighten its grip on Turkmenistan's energy assets.
The death of the Turkmenbashi revives the tug-of-war between Russia and Iran over Turkmenistan. The Turkmenbashi provided the Iranians with a buffer zone that kept the Russians at a safe distance. With Turkmenistan now up for grabs, the Russians will be swooping in to make the country a wholly owned subsidiary of Moscow, posing a threat to Iranian interests in Central Asia.
Iran has been following a careful-yet-aggressive strategy to broaden its influence in the region, primarily through its gains in Iraq and its development into a nuclear power. Iran's bid for the regional power-broker position inevitably involves expanding its influence in Central Asia through political and economic ties. This was heretofore done via a variety of energy and infrastructure projects, including hydroelectric investments and the building of the Anzab tunnel in Tajikistan. Iran's interest in Turkmenistan remains centered around energy relations, which Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has vowed to strengthen.
Iran does not want to see a further consolidation of Russian influence across its northern border that could end up unraveling the relationship Tehran built with the Turkmenbashi. Rolling Iranian military forces across the border into Turkmenistan to fill the power-vacuum might prove a tempting option for Iran to secure its energy interests and firmly insert itself in the Central Asian arena. Yet the Iranian military lacks the bandwidth for such an operation, and probably cannot afford to take the risk of increasing the vulnerability of its western border while the Iraq situation remains far from settled. Moreover, Iran has not been able to make any substantial inroads among the Turkmen political elite that it could use to manipulate the power struggle in its favor.
In the end, Iran knows that Russia is best positioned to influence the course of events in Turkmenistan. This unsettling reality will put a strain on Tehran's relationship with Moscow, on which Iran has relied heavily to run interference in the U.N. Security Council. The development of Turkmenistan into a point of contention between Russia and Iran weakens one of Tehran's key levers in countering the United States. Iran's main focus has been on reinforcing U.S. weakness in Iraq to consolidate its own hold over Baghdad. With the death of the Turkmenbashi, the inevitable strengthening of Russia in Turkmenistan creates a new distraction that Iran will need to deal with in its struggle for cash and resources in Central Asia. Soon enough, Russia will acquire the ability to redirect Turkmenistan's natural gas supplies to the north and cut off Iran's strongest energy link to Central Asia.
This new challenge gives the Iranians a lot to contemplate in planning out next steps for Turkmenistan. This is an issue of priorities for Tehran. The Turkmenbashi's death presents an enormous opportunity for Iran to expand its presence in Central Asia; but provoking a conflict in Turkmenistan runs the risk of jeopardizing Iran's plans for Iraq. The last thing Iran wants is to be placed in a position where it simultaneously has to fend off Russia and the United States on two fronts. Grabbing hold of a post-Turkmenbashi Turkmenistan makes for an alluring expedition for Iran to reaffirm its position as the regional kingmaker, but we suspect the Iranians will end up resisting the temptation. www.stratfor.com
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Islam in America and the rest of the western hemisphere
on: December 21, 2006, 08:54:49 PM
"We're Americans with dreams and aspirations."
BY MICHAEL JUDGE
Thursday, December 21, 2006 12:01 a.m. EST
CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa--Not far from the banks of the Cedar River and the
concrete silos of the Quaker Oats plant, in a working class neighborhood
adorned with Christmas lights and American flags, sits the oldest mosque in
North America. Founded in 1934, and admitted to the National Register of
Historic Places in 1996, it's not what you think of when you think of a
mosque. There is no lofty minaret, no balcony for the muezzin to call the
faithful to prayer.
There is, however, a place of worship that most resembles a one-room
schoolhouse--a single-story, white clapboard box with plain black shutters.
If it weren't for the crescent-topped green vinyl dome and the canopy above
the entrance bearing the words "The Mother Mosque of America: Islamic
Cultural & Heritage Center," one might easily mistake it for a modest, if
not meager, Pentecostal church, which indeed it was for a brief stint in its
history before being abandoned altogether.
A young boy on a bicycle cuts through the well-kept grounds of the mosque
without giving it a second thought; he drops the bike and runs into a house
across the street with Christmas decorations in the window. Just then, Imam
Taha Tawil, a jovial man in his late 40s wearing khakis and a polo shirt,
comes out to greet me: "Mr. Michael! You made it! Welcome! Welcome!" he
says. "I hope my directions weren't too hard to decipher!"
I don't tell him I've been driving around the neighborhood for a good 30
minutes, half-lost, half-exploring--a few blocks away I came across the
Jesus Church, a limestone building with a boarded-up bell tower that flies a
banner saying simply, "Jesus Will Save You."
As Imam Tawil and I approach the mosque I can just make out the words higher
up on the green dome: "There is only Allah (God alone) to be worshiped, and
Muhammad is his messenger." I wonder which came first, the Jesus Church's
banner or the Mother Mosque's dome?
But I'm not here to talk about any miniature clash of civilizations, etc. On
the contrary, I'm here, at the invitation of Imam Tawil, to talk about
something remarkable: the rebirth of the oldest mosque in North America and
the Muslim-American community that made it happen.
"We've been here for four and now five generations," says Imam Tawil,
pointing to a panoramic black-and-white photo of dozens of early settlers;
the picture dates to 1936 and shows an imam and priest, both of Middle
Eastern descent, proudly shaking hands in the center. "We're as old as the
oak trees in Iowa," he continues. "We're part of the fabric of this great
state. We're Americans with dreams and aspirations."
Many of the earliest Muslim settlers came to Cedar Rapids in the late 19th
century from what is now Lebanon to work the farmland and raise crops of
their own. As the community grew, it needed a permanent place to worship.
Despite the hard times of the Great Depression, the local Muslim community
pooled its resources and the "Mother Mosque" was dedicated on June 16, 1934.
Sixteen young men from the Muslim community here served their country in
World War II; two of those men never made it home. Since then,
Muslim-Americans from eastern Iowa have served their country in nearly every
major military conflict. "At least 20 members of the community are currently
enlisted in the military," says Imam Tawil. "Several are fighting in
Afghanistan and Iraq right now."
Cedar Rapids is now home to Muslims from some 30 countries, including Sudan,
Afghanistan, Somalia, Bosnia and Iraq. After the 1991 Gulf War, dozens of
Iraqi families--mainly Shiites who rose up against Saddam--found refuge
here. Today, of the 700 Muslim families who call eastern Iowa home, more
than 50 are from Iraq.
"Nearly all of these refugees are striving to become U.S. citizens," says
Imam Tawil, who emigrated from Jerusalem in 1983 and became a U.S. citizen
in 1990. A Palestinian by birth, he says, "I have never had citizenship
anywhere else but America. Every time I vote I feel so proud because I
didn't have this right in my home country."
Around the same time that he became a U.S. citizen, Imam Tawil set out to
renovate and restore the Mother Mosque. The building, which had gone vacant
after housing a Pentecostal church and a teen center, was purchased in 1990;
renovations began in 1991 and a grand opening was held in February 1992. The
mosque serves mainly as a cultural and historical center since a modern
Islamic Center was completed in 1971.
"Our main goal is to educate the public about Islam," says Imam Tawil. Part
of this education process was the founding, in the early 1990s, of the Linn
County Inter-Religious Council. "We started the council to promote
understanding and respect for all faiths," says Cedric Lofdahl, who retired
as the pastor of Holy Redeemer Lutheran Church in 1998. "Taha was very much
involved. I'll never forget it. He said, 'It may be too late for our
generation but we need to be talking together and understanding each other
for the sake of our children.'"
That dialogue, says Pastor Lofdahl, helped the residents of Cedar Rapids
deal with their grief and better understand the nature of the terrorist
attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. "Because we had spent a lot of time together
trying to educate the community regarding various faiths, and because we had
become acquainted with people from the mosque, our immediate reaction was
concern for those people." Imam Tawil agrees. "Our outreach to the
community--because we shared in the community's happiness and sadness--these
things helped us after Sept. 11."
Both men say they remember flowers and cards and letters of support being
dropped off in front of the Mother Mosque in the days after 9/11. "We are
blessed with a community here that understands our endeavors and knows our
struggles," says Imam Tawil, as he prepares to leave his little office in a
little mosque that has witnessed great things.
Mr. Judge, a freelance journalist, is an adjunct professor at the University
of Iowa School of Journalism and Mass Communication.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Islam in Islamic Countries:
on: December 21, 2006, 08:53:06 PM
'Hungry For Asian Islam'
By JOSEPH BRAUDE
December 21, 2006
AMMAN, Jordan -- As the Bush administration continues to puzzle over Middle East reform, a clear example of success might just be a Malaysian greasy spoon in the desert kingdom of Jordan.
The waiters at the Al-Rufaqa dinette in downtown Amman serve more than green tea and samosas. They're missionaries on behalf of a Malaysian cleric, Sheikh Ashaari Muhammad, whose preach-and-fry restaurant and gift shop has franchises as far west as Syria, Egypt and soon, Iraq. It isn't so much the content of Sheikh Ashaari's controversial take on Islam -- purveyed in books and pamphlets displayed beside the dining hall -- that bodes well for Arab Muslim societies; it's the fact a growing number of patrons appear curious enough to take it in.
"Asian Islam is pluralistic, tolerant and antiextremist," says Jordanian cleric Mustafa Abu Rumman. Mr. Rumman preaches at a government-controlled mosque across the street from a Kentucky Fried Chicken in the West Amman suburb of Swayfiya. "Arabs are tired of militant ideologies and hungry for an alternative. If the largest Islamic movements of Malaysia and Indonesia started sharing their teachings with Arabs the way Sheikh Ashaari does, they would find many followers and friends here."
In my travels through the region over the past three months, I've heard this view echoed by civic and spiritual leaders -- from quietists to militants -- spanning Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States and the Mediterranean. Even a turbaned champion of the Iraqi insurgency, former Saddam Hussein confidante Sheikh Abd al-Latif al-Humayyim, told me in November that he has his eye on the Muslim East. "After the Americans depart," he said confidently, "Iraqis will look to models in Malaysia, Indonesia and India to try and resolve our problems. These exemplars are crucial to the future of Iraq."
What kind of effect will Asia's Islamic influence have on Arab lands? That depends on the institutions and networks put in place to bridge the disparate cultures. Until now, it's been Saudi and Iranian coffers pouring money and manpower into madrassas, fostering a hard-line Islamist bent. But the beginnings of a more moderate trend are forming -- and a nudge from the U.S. may prove vital to the effort.
America has done relatively little so far to promote progressive Islam in Asia -- and even less to help advance the liberal Islamic tendencies manifest in Indonesia, for example, beyond that country's borders. But a pending bill in Congress manifests a heightened appraisal of the importance of Asian Islamic culture to the region. Among other stipulations, the bill allocates modest funds to support "moderation and tolerance" within Indonesian Muslim communities. What's more, it calls for the exportation of Indonesian ideals region-wide: "The Committee recognizes the significant achievements of the Indonesian people in consolidating and strengthening their democratic processes and institutions, and believes this experience should be widely shared with other Islamic countries."
Such initiatives are crucial, judging from moderate Muslim leaders in Indonesia who lament their own government's disinclination to pursue a like-minded policy. "There's a reason Indonesian Islamic pluralism and tolerance don't get similarly exported," says Jakarta-based Islamic University rector Azyumardi Azra, one of Southeast Asia's most prominent Muslim liberals. "Our government doesn't finance such programs because Indonesia is not an Islamic state." Nor have homegrown grass-roots efforts filled the government's void -- perhaps due in part to the formidable language and cultural barriers separating much of Asia from the Arab world.
Nonetheless, Mr. Azra felt the need to impart his country's ideals to Arab Muslim intellectuals. Back in April, he traveled to Alexandria, Egypt and addressed the Cairo Center for Human Rights Studies on how Indonesian Muslims effectively reconcile Islam and democracy. A month later, he flew to Amman and urged a Jordanian policy conference to learn more about Jakarta's example of peaceable political Islam. His ideas had potential to win broad audiences in both countries; both Egypt and Jordan are still reeling from al Qaeda suicide bombings, which claimed scores of local civilian lives and provoked a popular backlash. But it's unclear whether Mr. Azra's hit-and-run lectures to policy circles trickled down to the clerical elite, let alone the Arab street.
Contrast Mr. Azra's brief visits with the long-term relations forged by Sheikh Ashaari, the Malaysian cleric and restaurateur. The jury is out on whether Sheikh Ashaari's brand of Islam represents the best of what Asia has to offer. His movement was banned by Kuala Lumpur in 1994 on allegations of "deviationist teachings." (He allegedly claimed to have held personal dialogues with the spirit of the prophet Muhammad, for example.) Still, mainstream Asian religious leaders could learn something from his outreach strategies.
Beginning in the 1980s, Sheikh Ashaari sent small delegations of young Malaysian followers into the Middle East to study Arabic, befriend the local population and build long-term spiritual bonds. The missions were largely self-sustaining, with the Sheikh's young emissaries staffing the restaurant chain and other businesses alongside their studies. Some of the brightest students returned to Malaysia and translated the Sheikh's writings into Arabic for dissemination.
Sheikh Ashaari's grass-roots Arab outreach has proven that, against tough odds, Asian Muslims can reach deep into Arab societies and win followers and friends. In the struggle to counter Saudi- and Iranian-backed extremist teachings, the Sheikh's model could be appropriated and customized, on a grand scale, by the largest Muslim movements in Asia: Spreading liberal Islam in the Middle East is a vital step toward countering the roots of Islamist militancy in the Far East and beyond.
Any concerted push for a westward flow of Muslim ideals from Asia will find natural allies not only in Asia but also in the U.S. and across the Arab world. Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi, who advocates the quietist teachings of "Islam Hadhari," now serves as chairman of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, an umbrella group of 57 mostly Muslim nations. He could use his position to press for exchange programs that bring large numbers of Asian clerics to Arab Muslim seminaries -- and students from Arab countries to Islamic institutions in Asia. Such an approach would be consistent with the keen interest Mr. Abdullah expressed in a speech last year to export these principles to "Pakistan, India, the Middle East, Jeddah, Dubai, England, New Zealand and many other places I have spoken on Islam Hadhari."
Former Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid, a leader of his country's 30 million-strong spiritual movement, the Nahdatul Ulama, influences a vast network of progressive Islamic boarding schools, pesantren, in Java and beyond. This formidable base of education could have a profound mark on countries to its west -- if it's sufficiently focused on building the language, media and networking competencies necessary to reach out to Arab Muslims at the grass roots.
But the chances of success without widespread institutional support are slim. As an eccentric Malaysian sheikh has shown, Arab societies are as hungry for Asian Islam as they are for Asian fried dishes. For the sake of tolerance and pluralism, perhaps it's time more spiritual leaders from the East joined him in the Asian hospitality business.
Mr. Braude is a columnist for The New Republic and author of "The New Iraq" (Basic Books, 2003).
DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Re: Mexico
on: December 21, 2006, 04:25:16 PM
Gracias por ese articulo Omar.
Aqui en los EU, la gente que se toman cuenta (cuento?) de Mexico se preocupan por la creciente militarizacion de la guerra con los Narcos. Mucha gente aqui tienen la impresion que la situacion en Mexico va por abajo: Muchas matanzas de policia: en Nuevo Laredo se mataron el jefe (?o fue dos jefes en seguida? no acuerdo , , ,) a cuatros en Baja de les quitaron la cabeza dejandolas en sitio publico como amenanza a quien les piense desafiar, atentos al jefe de la policia en Acupulco que mato a sus guardasespaldas, etc. Se habla del ejercito Mexicano facilitando que cruzen la frontera, apuntando armas militares a nuestro Border Patrol, y se habla de "Los Zetas" supuestamente ex-militares quienes son asesinos para los narcos, con armas militares.
?Que opinas de lo siguiente?
MEXICO: Mexican military representative Manuel Garcia Ruiz said that the Zetas, a violent organization of people with military or police training who hire their services out to cartels, are finished. He added that the majority of the remaining members have been captured or killed by the Mexican military in its efforts to drive the drug cartels from the state of Michoacan. The son of drug leader Alfonso Barajas Figueroa, who is already in federal custody, was captured. www.stratfor.com
A mi me parece muy contradictoria a las otras cosas que estoy viendo. ?Crees que Los Zetas estan termidos? ?Si no, no corre el Presidente Calderon el riesgo que parezca ridiculo cuando Los Zetas atacan de nuevo?
Las preguntas son para Omar o otra persona quien quiere contestar.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Geo Political matters
on: December 21, 2006, 03:47:14 PM
ISRAEL: Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, Saudi National Security Council Secretary-General Prince Bandar bin Sultan and Egyptian political adviser Osama el-Baz met secretly for five hours in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, in October, Palestinian news agency Maan reported, citing a specialist in Israeli affairs. Leaders at the meeting, which reportedly occurred during Eid al-Adha, discussed cooperation to confront the Iran-Syria axis and their militant group proxies, such as Hamas and Hezbollah.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: 'America Alone'
on: December 21, 2006, 10:31:57 AM
All Tomorrow's Euro-Muslims
BY JOSEF JOFFE
Mark Steyn, the Canadian columnist who lives in "blue" New Hampshire, is a true "red-stater" whose genius ranges somewhere between Mark Twain and Ambrose Bierce. He has got punch, wit, and smarts, and if he were teaching in a North American humanities department, they would send him off to "sensitivity training" for life, without parole.
In "America Alone" (Regnery, 224 pages, $27.95) Mr. Steyn aims his rhetorical sandblaster at three targets: Europe, Islam, and the welfare state. Why this trio? Europe is dying for lack of babies, Islam produces a surfeit thereof, and the fault lies, au fond, with the postmodern welfare state that relieves the individual of ever more responsibility while shouldering him with boundless guilt about past sins, such as racism and colonialism plus an equally boundless "respect" for "The Other." Hence, he predicts: "Go to any children's store in Amsterdam or Marseilles ... Look at the women in headscarves or full abaya. That is the future."
The facts are obvious. European women are having 1.4 children (1.1 in Spain) Muslim immigrants 3.5 — and six in places like Gaza. Play the compound interest game, and somewhere down the line, Europe will turn into "Eurabia." Or as Mr. Steyn puts it in his inimitable prose: "By the next century, German will be spoken only at Hitler, Himmler, Goebbels and Goering's Monday night poker game in Hell. And long before the Maldive Islands are submerged by ‘rising sea levels' every Spaniard and Italian will be six feet under. But sure, go ahead and worry about ‘climate change.'"
Mr. Steyn has a point. In the West, only three nations are at or above the replenishment rate of 2.1: America, Israel, and Iceland. Skip that demographic speck in the Atlantic; it is too small and remote to make for generalizations. But why America and Israel? These two outriggers of the West have a "project" — an intact national identity, a warrior culture, and foes all around them. They simply cannot afford to die out, and they have a sense of themselves — call it a mission — that bellows: "We will never slink offstage!" Mind you, it was the Brits who invented "the white man's burden," and the French who proclaimed a "mission civilisatrice" for themselves. But that's over and done with after two murderous world wars, innumerable defeats, and spirit-breaking upheavals. No wonder that they have chosen security über alles — a cradle-to-grave welfare state that stifles self-reliance and obligation to the future. Why should I have children? They deplete my time-budget as well as my wallet. Let the state take care of me tomorrow.
If the Europeans have thrown in the generative towel, Mr. Steyn plows ahead, the Muslims have not. They are lean, mean, and super-fertile, and they are thrust forward by a mighty sense of moral superiority as they look down on the decadent, libertine, and slothful West. Again, Mr. Steyn has a point. There is a lassitude about Europe that stands in stark, possibly tragic contrast to its glorious past — when its adventurers roamed the four corners of the globe as conquerors, when it produced everything, from the Renaissance to the fax machine, that makes up Western civilization.
This book is a relentlessly funny and felicitous polemic, but as in any polemic, its sparkling insights don't quite add up to a watertight brief. Sentences are honed to the sharpest, wittiest point, but, in the end, they leave you breathless and with a sense of du trop. You begin to scratch your head once your look past the sheer delight of reading.
Eurabia? There are only 20 million self-righteous and embittered Muslims in Europe — and 430 million soi-disant Euro-weenies. It will take a while before the former overwhelm the latter — a couple of hundred years at least. Meanwhile, these secular and Christian folks are not amoebae or lemmings, driven to their demise by forces they neither understand nor control. If September 11, 2001, was no wake-up call, July 7, 2005, in Britain was, and so were the murder of Theo van Gogh in Amsterdam and a spate of foiled terror attacks since then.
Those Euros are beginning to see multiculturalism as an unforeseen passport to "parallel universes" in their inner and outer cities; they are taking a hard look at their mosques, and what is taught in them; and they are tightening up on immigration. The new buzzword is "integration," which is a more correct moniker for "assimilation."
Nor is America as exceptional as Mr. Steyn would have us believe. Berkeley is more like Berlin than Boise when it comes to the siren call of multiculturalism and "Otherism." There is altogether too much guilt and too little pride in the West. But what a magnificent civilization it remains. It may run out of babies, but will it also run out of spunk?
Perhaps even Mr. Steyn doesn't think so. His diatribe is a "device," as the journalist's lingo has it — a call to arms and to conviction. Eventually, appeasement must and will falter. Meanwhile, read this book and savor the fireworks. Grim as it is, it will make you laugh and then force you to think. Pedagogy could not be more pleasurable.
Mr. Joffe, publisher-editor of Die Zeit in Hamburg, taught American foreign policy at Stanford this fall, where he is also Abramowitz Fellow at the Hoover Institution. He just published "Überpower: America's Imperial Temptation."
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / One War at a Time
on: December 21, 2006, 09:10:48 AM
Col. Ralph Peters has called for taking out Sadr right away. Here is a different approach offered by an ex-CIA officer in today's NY Times
In Iraq, Let’s Fight One War at a Time
By REUEL MARC GERECHT
Published: December 21, 2006
ONCE again American officials are growing dissatisfied with an Iraqi government. In Baghdad and in Washington, officials privately and the press publicly suggest that the Bush administration would prefer that Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki fell, and that Adil Abdul Mahdi, a French-educated economist who is a vice president, would replace him. Mr. Maliki is politically too dependent, the reasoning goes, on the young Shiite militia leader Moktada al-Sadr, a scion of a prestigious clerical family and the boss of a pivotal bloc of votes in Iraq’s Parliament.
Mr. Mahdi may look like a good bet for Washington. He is a far more amiable gentleman than Mr. Maliki, and doesn’t appear to be emotionally distressed when he is in the company of Americans. His group, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, was created in exile in Iran; its militia, the Badr Organization, has never had a serious clash with the United States military and is less prominent in the sectarian strife than Mr. Sadr’s followers, the Mahdi Army. In addition, the Supreme Council’s top man, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, has long dealt directly and pleasantly with American officials.
Since President Bush is now immersed in a top-to-bottom Iraq review, in which a substantial surge of American soldiers into Baghdad seems ever more likely and the Army is again seriously considering directly confronting Mr. Sadr, the appeal of Mr. Mahdi and the Supreme Council may grow in Washington and Baghdad.
If so, the administration should nip in the bud such inclinations. Changing the Shiite parts of the Iraqi government and quickly taking on Mr. Sadr would do nothing to end the Sunni insurgency and the holy war of foreign jihadists against the new Iraq.
Indeed, such a tack would not likely diminish the appeal or the power of the Mahdi Army, which is largely made up of poor, radicalized young men whose families were brutalized by Saddam Hussein and have been savaged by Sunni Arab fighters since the fall of 2003.
Nor would changing prime ministers and confronting Mr. Sadr’s militia advance the cause of reconciliation among the Sunni and Shiite Arabs and Kurds, allow the Iraqi government to operate more effectively, or let American troops leave Mesopotamia one day sooner.
In fact, attacking Mr. Sadr now and elevating the Supreme Council is likely to accomplish the exact opposite of what we want. And it shouldn’t be that hard to see why: the sine qua non for peace in Iraq, and for a democratic future for the country, has always been unity among the Shiites. Any violent struggle between the Mahdi Army and Supreme Council could provoke anarchy throughout the entire Arab Shiite zone, including Iraq’s holy cities and the oil-rich south. As bad as things seem now, such Shiite strife could impoverish all of Arab Iraq, dropping the non-Kurdish regions to an Afghan-like subsistence level.
In such a situation, we would likely see the hyper-radicalization of the Shiites, who have already become more militant owing to the tenacity and barbarism of the Sunni insurgency. In addition, whatever fraternal and nationalist bonds remain among moderate Sunni and Shiite Arabs would probably disappear in a Shiite-versus-Shiite bloodbath.
We would do well not to underestimate how these age-old familial and national ties and sympathies still diminish the sectarian strife. A genocidal Shiite-versus-Sunni conflict in Iraq — a real possibility — would be much more likely after an intra-Shiite war that destroys the traditional social and religious hierarchy that has remained vastly stronger among the Shiites than among Sunni Arabs since the American invasion.
Yes, the forces of the Supreme Council might be able to beat Mr. Sadr’s militia, the Mahdi Army. Trained by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps, the Badr Organization is a serious army that might handle Mr. Sadr’s more numerous and passionate supporters. The mullahs in Tehran, who have aided both Mr. Sadr and Mr. Hakim, would probably throw their support to the latter’s Supreme Council in the event of all-out war. Such a confrontation, beyond wrecking Iraq politically, would probably allow the worst elements in the Supreme Council — those who envision a religious dictatorship along the lines of Iran — to become more powerful within the party.
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And an American assault on Sadr City, the impoverished Baghdad stronghold of the Mahdi Army, would be militarily and politically counterproductive if undertaken before the United States launches a serious new counterinsurgency against the Sunnis.
Even with a substantial surge of soldiers along the lines recommended by Jack Keane, a retired four-star general, and the military historian Frederick Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute — approximately 35,000 more combat troops — the United States still wouldn’t have enough forces to fight a two-front war against the Sunnis and the Shiites, as it briefly did in 2004.
In Iraq, the United States is much weaker than in 2004. So is Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the moderate bulwark of the Shiite establishment — so the tentative support he gave yesterday for a plan to isolate Mr. Sadr should be taken with a grain of salt. Because of the nonstop insurgency, Shiite politics are fragile. We absolutely cannot afford to have an American effort to pacify Baghdad be seen as a “pro-Sunni” military assault on the capital’s densely populated Shiite ghetto.
If the administration first focuses militarily on the Sunni insurgency, as called for in the Keane-Kagan plan — and the press indicates Mr. Bush is taking the two men very seriously — the United States and the Iraqi government would be better able to diminish sectarian violence. With more troops, we can clear and hold Sunni areas in Baghdad and thereby prevent Shiite militias from streaming out of Sadr City to attack defenseless Sunnis.
Shiite militias are clever predators. They fear American power — the confrontation in Najaf in 2004, during which thousands from the Mahdi Army perished, taught them about the destructive capacity of the American military. If the Americans leave sufficient forces in cleared Sunni areas, they will stay away. But if we pass the holding part of counterinsurgency campaigns to ill-equipped units of the Iraqi Army and to the Iraqi police, who often aid Shiite militias, they will pounce.
Only after Baghdad’s Sunni neighborhoods are fully secured can the Americans turn their attention to the Shiite quarters, ensuring that American and reliable Iraqi forces control the streets and municipal facilities necessary to sustain city life. We may eventually have to confront militarily the Mahdi forces inside Sadr City, but we want to do this only as the last step in counterinsurgency operations in the capital.
Mr. Sadr and his radicalized followers — temperamentally, they are as much children of Saddam Hussein as are the savage Sunnis who glorify the murder of Americans and Shiite civilians — are unlikely to become peaceful players in Iraqi politics. But Mr. Sadr’s reputation can be reduced and his charisma countered if ordinary Shiites have more moderate alternatives, backed by American power, who can protect them from insurgency-loving Sunnis and death-squad Shiites.
It’s unclear how Prime Minister Maliki will react to any American effort to diminish Mr. Sadr. His party, Islamic Dawa, is a bundle of mostly militant contradictions. In the end, President Bush may have to ignore the prime minister if the latter sides with Mr. Sadr.
And some Shiites, and perhaps most Sunnis, may threaten to walk out of Iraq’s government and forsake reconciliation talks if the Americans get serious about pacifying Baghdad and the insurgency elsewhere. Let them. If the city’s and country’s Shiites, who represent about 65 percent of Iraq’s population, see that the Americans are committed to countering the insurgency, any protest from Mr. Maliki or call to arms by Mr. Sadr will have increasingly less power.
No, it won’t be easy — but with American and Iraqi troops all over Baghdad and daily life returning to some normality, the situation will certainly be more manageable than what we confront now. The politics of peaceful Shiite consensus, which is what Grand Ayatollah Sistani has tried to advance since 2003, could again rapidly gain ground.
No progress can be made in Iraq, however, if the Sunni Arabs, who have regrettably embraced the insurgency and holy war in large numbers, are allowed politically to check counterinsurgency operations.
The key for America is the same as it has been for years: to clear and hold the Sunni areas of Baghdad and the so-called Sunni triangle to the north. There will probably be no political solution among the Iraqi factions to save American troops from the bulk of this task. The sooner we start in Baghdad, the better the odds are that the radicalization of the Iraqi Shiites can be halted. As long as this community doesn’t explode into total militia war, Iraq is not lost, and neither is Mr. Bush’s presidency.
Reuel Marc Gerecht, a former Central Intelligence Agency officer, is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: VERY NEGATIVE CLUBBELLS EXPERIENCE!!!
on: December 21, 2006, 09:02:05 AM
Outstanding to see you posting here!
Question: I've been hearing about the Indian Clubs from you and others and I am intrigued-- and I wonder if this training would simply replicate things that I am already doing. Is there an instructional DVD which you (or anyone else) would recommend?
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Energy issues, energy technology
on: December 21, 2006, 08:50:57 AM
QUZHOU, China — Foreign businesses have embraced an obscure United Nations-backed program as a favored approach to limiting global warming. But the early efforts have revealed some hidden problems.
Emissions from a factory in Qu- zhou match those of a million cars.
Under the program, businesses in wealthier nations of Europe and in Japan help pay to reduce pollution in poorer ones as a way of staying within government limits for emitting climate-changing gases like carbon dioxide, as part of the Kyoto Protocol.
Among their targets is a large rusting chemical factory here in southeastern China. Its emissions of just one waste gas contribute as much to global warming each year as the emissions from a million American cars, each driven 12,000 miles.
Cleaning up this factory will require an incinerator that costs $5 million — far less than the cost of cleaning up so many cars, or other sources of pollution in Europe and Japan.
Yet the foreign companies will pay roughly $500 million for the incinerator — 100 times what it cost. The high price is set in a European-based market in carbon dioxide emissions. Because the waste gas has a far more powerful effect on global warming than carbon dioxide emissions, the foreign businesses must pay a premium far beyond the cost of the actual cleanup.
The huge profits from that will be divided by the chemical factory’s owners, a Chinese government energy fund, and the consultants and bankers who put together the deal from a mansion in the wealthy Mayfair district of London.
Arrangements like this still make sense to the foreign companies financing them because they are a lot less expensive, despite the large profit for others, than cleaning up their own operations.
Such efforts are being watched in the United States as an alternative more politically attractive than imposing taxes on fossil fuels like coal and oil that emit global-warming gases when burned.
But critics of the fast-growing program, through which European and Japanese companies are paying roughly $3 billion for credits this year, complain that it mostly enriches a few bankers, consultants and factory owners.
With so much money flowing to a few particularly lucrative cleanup deals, the danger is that they will distract attention from the broader effort to curb global warming gases, and that the lure of quick profit will encourage short-term fixes at the expense of fundamental, long-run solutions, including developing renewable energy sources like solar power.
As word of deals like this has spread, everyone involved in the nascent business is searching for other such potential jackpots in developing countries.
As for more modest deals, like small wind farms, “if you don’t have a humongous margin, it’s not worth it,” said Pedro Moura Costa, chief operating officer of EcoSecurities, an emissions-trading company in Oxford, England.
The financing of the chemical factory’s incinerator here and other deals like it are now drawing unfavorable attention. Canada’s environment minister, Rona Ambrose, announced in October that her government would withdraw from the trading program.
“There is a lot of evidence now about the lack of accountability around these kinds of projects,” she said.
Another concern is that the program can have unintended results. The waste gas to be incinerated here is emitted during the production of a refrigerant that will soon be banned in the United States and other industrial nations because it depletes the ozone layer that protects the earth from ultraviolet rays.
Handsome payments to clean up the waste gas have helped chemical companies to expand existing factories that make the old refrigerant and even build new factories, said Michael Wara, a carbon-trading lawyer at Holland & Knight in San Francisco.
Moreover, air-conditioners using this Freon-like refrigerant are much less efficient users of electricity than newer models. The expansion of large middle classes in India and China has led to soaring sales of cheap, inefficient air-conditioners, along with the building of coal-fired plants to power them, further contributing to global warming and the depletion of the ozone layer.
The program is at the forefront of efforts to address the most intractable problem in climate change: how to limit soaring emissions from the largest developing countries. Sometime in 2009, China’s total emissions of carbon dioxide, the most important global warming gas, are expected to surpass those from the United States, according to the International Energy Agency.
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While the challenge of addressing global warming is daunting, so are the consequences of inaction. Scientists warn that rising concentrations of carbon dioxide and other global warming gases could result in more severe storms, wide crop failures, the spread of tropical diseases and rising sea levels endangering some coastal cities.
Programs like the one the United Nations supports are increasingly common in Europe. In general, they allow companies to buy rights on the market to exceed their limits on global warming gases from other companies prepared to reduce emissions elsewhere at a lower cost. Many economists consider emissions-trading systems, which are driving participants to the cheapest cleanups with the biggest impact, as the most efficient way to address pollution.
But a study commissioned by the world organization has found that the profits are enormous in destroying trifluoromethane, or HFC-23, a very potent greenhouse gas that is produced at the factory here and several dozen other plants in developing countries. The study calculated that industrial nations could pay $800 million a year to buy credits, even though the cost of building and operating incinerators will be only $31 million a year.
The situation has set in motion a diplomatic struggle pitting China, the biggest beneficiary from payments, against advanced industrial nations, particularly in Europe. At a global climate conference in Nairobi, Kenya, in November, European delegates suggested that in the case of Freon factories now under construction in developing countries, any payments for the incineration of the waste gas should go only into an international fund to help factories retool for the production of more modern refrigerants that do not deplete the ozone layer.
But the Chinese government blocked the initiative, insisting that money for Chinese factories go into the government’s own clean energy fund. Negotiators ended up setting up a group to study the issue.
Even as hundreds of millions of dollars from the program are devoted to the refrigerant industry, countries in sub-Saharan Africa, which were originally envisioned as big beneficiaries of emissions trading, are receiving almost nothing. Just four nations — China, India, Brazil and South Korea — are collecting four-fifths of the payments under the program, with China alone collecting almost half.
Two-thirds of the payments are going to projects to eliminate HFC-23.
Those payments also illustrate conflicting goals under Kyoto and the Montreal Protocol, a 1987 agreement that requires the phasing out of ozone-depleting substances. The problem is that the trading program backed by the United Nations, known as the Clean Development Mechanism, is helping support an industry that another international organization is trying to phase out.
And while ozone depletion is a separate problem from global warming, some gases, like HFC-23, make both worse. The separate secretariats under the protocols have little legal authority to resolve this quandary.
“It’s tricky in that we don’t have a mechanism other than the Security Council, and who cares there about HFC’s?” said Janos Pasztor, the acting coordinator of the organization that oversees the program.
In the end, officials say, there should be more projects aimed at providing renewable energy and sustainable economic development for the world’s poorest people.
“If people only do HFC-23 projects, then they miss the whole idea,” Mr. Pasztor said.
Richard Rosenzweig, chief operating officer of Natsource, a company in Washington arranging emissions deals between poor and rich countries, said it was not fair to look only at incineration costs and compare them with the size of payments from industrial nations. The administrative costs of the program are high, he said, and at least disposal of the waste gas is taking place.
If the world tried to reduce emissions through an outright ban or regulation alone, as many environmentalists recommend, it might not happen at all, he said. The United Nations-favored program may have flaws, he added, but “it’s a pilot phase — this is a 100-year problem.”
Environmental groups say that governments in developing countries should either require factories to incinerate the waste gas as a cost of doing business, or receive aid from wealthier countries to cover the relatively modest cost of incinerators.
“Couldn’t we pay for the cost, or even twice the cost, of abatement and spend the rest of the money in better ways?” Mr. Wara asked.
DuPont produces HFC-23 as part of its output of Teflon, but has routinely burned the colorless, odorless waste gas without compensation for many years, even though it is not required by law to do so, a DuPont spokeswoman said.
The secretariat of the Clean Development Mechanism estimates that a ton of HFC-23 in the atmosphere has the same effect as 11,700 tons of carbon dioxide. James Cameron, the vice chairman of Climate Change Capital, which organized the chemical factory deal here, said there were considerable costs and risks in setting up plans that required elaborate certification by consultants, acceptance by developing-country governments and approval by a United Nations secretariat.
For small projects involving less than $250,000 worth of credits, fees for deal makers, consultants and lawyers can far exceed the cost of installing equipment to clean up emissions.
Even the Chinese government, the main seller of carbon credits and a defender of the program, is expressing some misgivings.
“We do not encourage more HFC projects,” a statement by Lu Xuedu, deputy director of the Office of Global Environment Affairs at the Ministry of Science and Technology, said. “We would prefer to have more energy efficiency and renewable-energy projects that could help alleviate poverty in the countryside.”
But for now, the projects involving industrial gases like HFC-23 are where most of the action is.
“You can do those quickly,” Mr. Rosenzweig of Natsource said, “and it’s worth the investment.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Military Science
on: December 21, 2006, 12:58:35 AM
GETTING COUNTERINSURGENCY RIGHT
By RALPH PETERS
December 20, 2006 -- IF a prize were awarded for the most-improved government publication of the decade, we could choose the winner now: "Army Field Manual 3-24, Counterinsurgency" (MCWP 3-33.5 for the Marine Corps). Rising above abysmal earlier drafts, the Army and Marines have come through with doctrine that will truly help our troops.
Doctrine matters. It doesn't provide leaders with a detailed blueprint, but offers a common foundation on which to build strategies and refine tactics. Start with a weak foundation, and the wartime house can easily collapse.
This new field manual is a solid base. Earlier drafts were dominated by theorists locked into 20th-century thinking - approaches that failed us so dismally in Iraq. But the final document offers a far greater sense of an insurgency's reality.
It doesn't have all the answers. No doctrine does. But it provides our battlefield leaders with a genuinely useful tool to help them understand insurgencies.
Yes, there's still a little too much "peace, love and understanding" silliness, but it's counterbalanced with blunt honesty that acknowledges that not all of our enemies can be persuaded to adore us. While non-lethal techniques and non-military means certainly have roles to play, the manual now states clearly that there are some foes - primarily religious or ethnic fanatics - who need to be killed.
This is a huge step forward for the Army, whose senior leadership has suffered from a Clinton-era hangover in the political-correctness department (many of the manual's tough-minded changes were made to satisfy the Marines - the Corps never lost its grip on warfare's fundamentals).
This embrace of unpleasant realities is a step that the rest of our government needs to take. Our politicians need to read "Counterinsurgency."
Earlier drafts cautiously ignored faith-fueled insurgencies and even the phenomenon of the suicide bomber; now both topics get intelligent treatment. The academic theorists continue to fight a rear-guard action (there's still too much emphasis on Maoist models), but the acceptance that there's more to many insurgencies than political ideology was a great leap forward (if not a cultural revolution).
The absolutes of the draft versions are tempered in the final product, leaving room for the complexity of conflict. There's a genuine acceptance that counterinsurgency warfare has no silver bullets - such conflicts are just plain tough and attempts to simplify them lead to failure.
We owe a debt of thanks to the officers (most of them Iraq or Afghanistan veterans) involved in the revision of this manual - which involved a lot of long hours, exasperation and soul-searching.
Coming up fast from behind (as one hopes we'll be able to do in Iraq), the doctrine writers shook off much of the spell of the last century's bogus theorizing and began to come to grips with the real enemies we face today and will continue to face in various guises for decades to come.
I wrote "began" because, while this document reflects valuable progress in our thinking about the dominant form of conflict in our time, it's nonetheless an interim manual for a military in transition between the failed "wisdom" of the past and the tactics and techniques demanded by a new century. As "Counterinsurgency" is revised based on our experience of conflict, the next set of drafters will need to face critical issues neither the Army nor the Marines have gotten to yet.
In the spirit of constructive criticism, here are a few of the gaps remaining:
While the sometimes-you-just-have-to-fight realists are in the ascendant at last, the military's academic side still has too much influence. You see it plainly in the illustrative vignettes chosen to accompany the text: They emphasize soft power (doesn't work - sorry) over the need to kill implacable murderers to provide security for the innocent.
The bias in the case-study selection still favors the hand-holding efforts that helped create the current mess in Iraq (military academics, like all academics, won't give up on their theses just because mere facts contradict them). The drafters cite the anomalous example of Malaya (while downplaying that campaign's violence), but ignore the same-decade example of the Mau-Mau revolt, in which the British won a complete victory - thanks to concentration camps, hanging courts and aggressive military operations.
The vignettes concentrate on ideological insurgencies (the easy stuff), neglecting 3,000 years of ferocious religious and ethnic revolts.
On the first page of the introduction, we get the solemn statement that "The tactics used to successfully defeat [insurgencies] are likewise similar in most cases." That's true, but not in the way the drafters intended. They were referring to the hearts-and-minds efforts that defused a minuscule number of insurgencies over the past six decades - while the "similar tactics" that historically worked with remarkable consistency were uncompromising military responses.
A huge gap remaining in the doctrine is that, except for a few careful mentions, it ignores the role of the media. Generals have told me frankly that it was just too loaded an issue - any suggestion that the media are complicit in shaping outcomes excites punitive media outrage.
To be fair, the generals are right. Had the manual described the media's irresponsible, partisan and too-often-destructive roles, it would have ignited a firestorm. Yet, in an age when media lies and partisan spin can overturn the verdict of the battlefield, embolden our enemies and decide the outcome of an entire war, pretending the media aren't active participants in a conflict cripples any efforts that we make.
The media are now combatants - even if we're not allowed to shoot back. Our enemies are explicit in describing the importance of winning through the media. Without factoring in media effects, any counterinsurgency plan will go forward at a limp.
Finally, the new manual fails to ask a question that no one in our military or government has yet had the common sense to ask about insurgencies: What if they just don't want what we want? That, indeed, has become the crucial question in Iraq.
Despite these criticisms, our latest cut at shaping a counterinsurgency doctrine looks like a noteworthy success. It's overwhelmingly honest, honorable and useful.
Now we need to put that doctrine to use.
Ralph Peters' latest book is "Never Quit The Fight."
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: 'America Alone'
on: December 20, 2006, 05:24:20 PM
This datum from Stratfor.com today supporting Steyn's thesis:
JAPAN: Japan's population will suffer a 25 percent decline, dropping from 127.8 million in 2005 to 95.2 million in 2050, the Health Ministry reported. This is more than the previously forecast 21 percent decline. The decrease is a result of delayed marriages and falling birth rates. The latest report says the number of senior citizens will double to 40 percent of the population and the population under 14 years of age will fall from 13.8 percent to 8.6 percent.