Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / POTH: Ramadan fast by NFL player
on: September 06, 2010, 01:05:19 PM
second post of the day:
In the Heat of Camp, the Hunger of Faith
By PAT BORZI
Published: September 5, 2010
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — For Minnesota Vikings defensive back Husain Abdullah, the most important clock inside the Metrodome was not the one keeping time for his team’s recent preseason game with the Seattle Seahawks. Another, showing the time of day, held greater significance for him and for the Vikings’ training staff.
Husain Abdullah in action against the San Francisco 49ers last month. In 2008, as a rookie, he fasted without telling anyone.
Abdullah, a third-year safety, is a Muslim who keeps the traditional fast during the holy month of Ramadan; he cannot eat or drink from sunup to sundown. So while his teammates slugged down water and sports drinks on the sideline during the first quarter, Abdullah had to abstain until sunset, at 7:57 p.m. Abdullah went by the clock because the game was indoors.
“So I told them, as soon as it’s 8 o’clock, remind me so I can pour some down,” Abdullah said. “We did a kickoff, had a long drive on defense, and then they scored a field goal. On the sideline they said: ‘It’s 8 o’clock. Start pounding.’ ”
The physical demands of an N.F.L. training camp, which entail two practices on some days, can tax even the best-hydrated and well-fed players. Yet Abdullah, 25, and his brother Hamza, a 27-year-old defensive back for the Arizona Cardinals, are committed to fasting throughout Ramadan, which ends at sundown Thursday — the night the Vikings open the season in New Orleans.
An N.F.L. spokesman was not aware of any other Muslim players who were fasting.
The fast is not required if a person is ill or it poses an undue hardship, according to Hamza Abdullah, who skipped several days in 2008 because of an injured hip and made them up later. Denver offensive tackle Ryan Harris, a converted Muslim and Hamza Abdullah’s former teammate, is not fasting, according to a Broncos spokesman.
“It’s hard to be a professional athlete, and it’s hard to fast,” Hamza Abdullah said in a telephone interview from the Cardinals’ complex in the Phoenix area.
But it means so much to Husain Abdullah that he has fasted every year since he was 7, even during football season while at Washington State and with Minnesota. That reflects the influence of his parents, who raised 12 children in the Muslim faith in Southern California. All are fasting, Hamza Abdullah said.
“A lot of people may look at things differently, but I feel it is required for us to fast,” Husain Abdullah said, basing his conviction on his reading of the Koran. “And we’ve been fasting my whole life, pretty much. I try to protect my fasting because it really means a lot to me.”
To do so, Abdullah needed help from the Vikings because Ramadan coincided with training camp. Abdullah fasted as a rookie in 2008, when Ramadan began and ended in September, but he never told anyone in the organization.
“I’m a quiet person,” said Abdullah, who led the Vikings in special teams tackles as an undrafted free agent.
Last year, Ramadan started Aug. 22, the day after the Vikings’ second preseason game. Abdullah told only Derek Mason, the assistant defensive backs coach, about his fasting. Coach Brad Childress learned about it in early September, when he wondered why Abdullah lacked energy and could not keep up his weight. The 6-foot Abdullah usually plays at 200 to 202 pounds, he said, but dropped to 194 during Ramadan.
So last April, the team’s nutrition consultant, Carrie Peterson, devised a Ramadan meal plan for Abdullah, based on a 3,800-calorie diet.
Every day, Abdullah wakes briefly at 2 a.m. to consume a protein and carbohydrate shake.
“I hate to make the guy get up at 2 a.m., but that’s about 400 calories he’s getting,” Peterson said. “That’s about a pound a week he’d lose if he didn’t get up to have that shake.”
He rises again at 5 with his wife, Zhavon, to pray and eat a predawn meal, known as suhoor. Dietary choices include scrambled eggs with vegetables, a nonpork breakfast meat (pork is forbidden in a Muslim diet), oatmeal with fruit and various liquids. Abdullah tops it off with another shake. Then nothing until the evening meal at sundown.
“My weight has always fluctuated, but of course during Ramadan, it fluctuates a little more,” he said after a recent practice. “When I come out here and work out, I probably lose two or three pounds during a practice. During Ramadan, it’s probably around four or so.
“Even if I tap out, drain myself, the next morning, after I’ve eaten at night and eaten in the morning, I’m right back to my normal weight. I weighed in today at 200.
“This year, I’m doing a whole lot better maintaining with the plan I put in place.”
The Vikings’ defensive backs coach, Joe Woods, said he never coached a fasting Muslim before Abdullah, a versatile athlete who fills in at both safety positions and at nickel back.
“It’s hard to imagine somebody being able to do that, out here practicing, 50 reps a day, and not have any water,” Woods said. “But he’s done it. He has a very good plan.”
Both Abdullahs say their teammates have been supportive and inquisitive. Muslims traditionally break the daily fast by eating a date, and Hamza Abdullah said a bag of dates he brought to a night practice this summer drew puzzled looks.
“Some of my teammates were looking at the bag, like, what is that weird-looking fruit?” he said. “It was pretty funny.”
To those who know Husain Abdullah, his commitment to fasting is nothing to joke about. “It’s really a testament to how important his religion is in his life,” Peterson said. “It’s amazing. He’s kind of an inspiration to me in a lot of ways.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / POTH: Muslims fear losing ground
on: September 06, 2010, 12:57:19 PM
For nine years after the attacks of Sept. 11, many American Muslims made concerted efforts to build relationships with non-Muslims, to make it clear they abhor terrorism, to educate people about Islam and to participate in interfaith service projects. They took satisfaction in the observations by many scholars that Muslims in America were more successful and assimilated than Muslims in Europe.
Eboo Patel, the director of an interfaith youth group, said some politicians were whipping up fear and hatred of Muslims.
Now, many of those same Muslims say that all of those years of work are being rapidly undone by the fierce opposition to a Muslim cultural center near ground zero that has unleashed a torrent of anti-Muslim sentiments and a spate of vandalism. The knifing of a Muslim cab driver in New York City has also alarmed many American Muslims.
“We worry: Will we ever be really completely accepted in American society?” said Dr. Ferhan Asghar, an orthopedic spine surgeon in Cincinnati and the father of two young girls. “In no other country could we have such freedoms — that’s why so many Muslims choose to make this country their own. But we do wonder whether it will get to the point where people don’t want Muslims here anymore.”
Eboo Patel, a founder and director of Interfaith Youth Core, a Chicago-based community service program that tries to reduce religious conflict, said, “I am more scared than I’ve ever been — more scared than I was after Sept. 11.”
That was a refrain echoed by many American Muslims in interviews last week. They said they were scared not as much for their safety as to learn that the suspicion, ignorance and even hatred of Muslims is so widespread. This is not the trajectory toward integration and acceptance that Muslims thought they were on.
Some American Muslims said they were especially on edge as the anniversary of 9/11 approaches. The pastor of a small church in Florida has promised to burn a pile of Korans that day. Muslim leaders are telling their followers that the stunt has been widely condemned by Christian and other religious groups and should be ignored. But they said some young American Muslims were questioning how they could simply sit by and watch the promised desecration.
They liken their situation to that of other scapegoats in American history: Irish Roman Catholics before the nativist riots in the 1800s, the Japanese before they were put in internment camps during World War II.
Muslims sit in their living rooms, aghast as pundits assert over and over that Islam is not a religion at all but a political cult, that Muslims cannot be good Americans and that mosques are fronts for extremist jihadis. To address what it calls a “growing tide of fear and intolerance,” the Islamic Society of North America plans to convene a summit of Christian, Muslim and Jewish leaders in Washington on Tuesday.
Young American Muslims who are trying to figure out their place and their goals in life are particularly troubled, said Imam Abdullah T. Antepli, the Muslim chaplain at Duke University.
“People are discussing what is the alternative if we don’t belong here,” he said. “There are jokes: When are we moving to Canada, when are we moving to Sydney? Nobody will go anywhere, but there is hopelessness, there is helplessness, there is real grief.”
Mr. Antepli just returned from a trip last month with a rabbi and other American Muslim leaders to Poland and Germany, where they studied the Holocaust and the events that led up to it (the group issued a denunciation of Holocaust denial on its return).
“Some of what people are saying in this mosque controversy is very similar to what German media was saying about Jews in the 1920s and 1930s,” he said. “It’s really scary.”
American Muslims were anticipating a particularly joyful Ramadan this year. For the first time in decades, the monthlong holiday fell mostly during summer vacation, allowing children to stay up late each night for the celebratory iftar dinner, breaking the fast, with family and friends.
But the season turned sour.
The great mosque debate seems to have unleashed a flurry of vandalism and harassment directed at mosques: construction equipment set afire at a mosque site in Murfreesboro, Tenn; a plastic pig with graffiti thrown into a mosque in Madera, Calif.; teenagers shooting outside a mosque in upstate New York during Ramadan prayers. It is too soon to tell whether hate crimes against Muslims are rising or are on pace with previous years, experts said. But it is possible that other episodes are going unreported right now.
“Victims are reluctant to go public with these kinds of hate incidents because they fear further harassment or attack,” said Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations. “They’re hoping all this will just blow over.”
Some Muslims said their situation felt more precarious now — under a president who is perceived as not only friendly to Muslims but is wrongly believed by many Americans to be Muslim himself — than it was under President George W. Bush.
Mr. Patel explained, “After Sept. 11, we had a Republican president who had the confidence and trust of red America, who went to a mosque and said, ‘Islam means peace,’ and who said ‘Muslims are our neighbors and friends,’ and who distinguished between terrorism and Islam.”
Now, unlike Mr. Bush then, the politicians with sway in red state America are the ones whipping up fear and hatred of Muslims, Mr. Patel said.
“There is simply the desire to paint an entire religion as the enemy,” he said. Referring to Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the founder of the proposed Muslim center near ground zero, “What they did to Imam Feisal was highly strategic. The signal was, we can Swift Boat your most moderate leaders.”
Several American Muslims said in interviews that they were stunned that what provoked the anti-Muslim backlash was not even another terrorist attack but a plan by an imam known for his work with leaders of other faiths to build a Muslim community center.
This year, Sept. 11 coincides with the celebration of Eid, the finale to Ramadan, which usually lasts three days (most Muslims will begin observing Eid this year on Sept. 10). But Muslim leaders, in this climate, said they wanted to avoid appearing to be celebrating on the anniversary of 9/11. Several major Muslim organizations have urged mosques to use the day to participate in commemoration events and community service.
Ingrid Mattson, the president of the Islamic Society of North America, said many American Muslims were still hoping to salvage the spirit of Ramadan.
“In Ramadan, you’re really not supposed to be focused on yourself,” she said. “It’s about looking out for the suffering of other people. Somehow it feels bad to be so worried about our own situation and our own security, when it should be about empathy towards others.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / POTH: When all else fails
on: September 06, 2010, 12:30:36 PM
September 5, 2010
Housing Woes Bring New Cry: Let Market Fall
By DAVID STREITFELD
The unexpectedly deep plunge in home sales this summer is likely to force the Obama administration to choose between future homeowners and current ones, a predicament officials had been eager to avoid.
Over the last 18 months, the administration has rolled out just about every program it could think of to prop up the ailing housing market, using tax credits, mortgage modification programs, low interest rates, government-backed loans and other assistance intended to keep values up and delinquent borrowers out of foreclosure. The goal was to stabilize the market until a resurgent economy created new households that demanded places to live.
As the economy again sputters and potential buyers flee — July housing sales sank 26 percent from July 2009 — there is a growing sense of exhaustion with government intervention. Some economists and analysts are now urging a dose of shock therapy that would greatly shift the benefits to future homeowners: Let the housing market crash. When prices are lower, these experts argue, buyers will pour in, creating the elusive stability the government has spent billions upon billions trying to achieve.
“Housing needs to go back to reasonable levels,” said Anthony B. Sanders, a professor of real estate finance at George Mason University. “If we keep trying to stimulate the market, that’s the definition of insanity.”
The further the market descends, however, the more miserable one group — important both politically and economically — will be: the tens of millions of homeowners who have already seen their home values drop an average of 30 percent.
The poorer these owners feel, the less likely they will indulge in the sort of consumer spending the economy needs to recover. If they see an identical house down the street going for half what they owe, the temptation to default might be irresistible. That could make the market’s current malaise seem minor.
Caught in the middle is an administration that gambled on a recovery that is not happening.
“The administration made a bet that a rising economy would solve the housing problem and now they are out of chips,” said Howard Glaser, a former Clinton administration housing official with close ties to policy makers in the administration. “They are deeply worried and don’t really know what to do.”
That was clear last week, when the secretary of housing and urban development, Shaun Donovan, appeared to side with current homeowners, telling CNN the administration would “go everywhere we can” to make sure the slumping market recovers. Mr. Donovan even opened the door to another housing tax credit like the one that expired last spring, which paid first-time buyers as much as $8,000 and buyers who were moving up $6,500. The cost to taxpayers was in the neighborhood of $30 billion, much of which went to people who would have bought anyway. Administration press officers quickly backpedaled from Mr. Donovan’s comment, saying a revived credit was either highly unlikely or flat-out impossible. Mr. Donovan declined to be interviewed for this article. In a statement, a White House spokeswoman responded to questions about possible new stimulus measures by pointing to those already in the works.
“In the weeks ahead, we will focus on successfully getting off the ground programs we have recently announced,” the spokeswoman, Amy Brundage, said.
Among those initiatives are $3 billion to keep the unemployed from losing their homes and a refinancing program that will try to cut the mortgage balances of owners who owe more than their property is worth. A previous program with similar goals had limited success. If last year’s tax credit was supposed to be a bridge over a rough patch, it ended with a glimpse of the abyss. The average home now takes more than a year to sell. Add in the homes that are foreclosed but not yet for sale and the total is greater still. Builders are in even worse shape. Sales of new homes are lower than in the depths of the recession of the early 1980s, when mortgage rates were double what they are now, unemployment was pervasive and the gloom was at least as thick.
The deteriorating circumstances have given a new voice to the “do nothing” chorus, whose members think the era of trying to buy stability while hoping the market will catch fire — called “extend and pretend” or “delay and pray” — has run its course.
“We have had enough artificial support and need to let the free market do its thing,” said the housing analyst Ivy Zelman.
Michael L. Moskowitz, president of Equity Now, a direct mortgage lender that operates in New York and seven other states, also advocates letting the market fall. “Prices are still artificially high,” he said. “The government is discriminating against the renters who are able to buy at $200,000 but can’t at $250,000.”
A small decline in home prices might not make too much of a difference to a slack economy. But an unchecked drop of 10 percent or more might prove entirely discouraging to the millions of owners just hanging on, especially those who bought in the last few years under the impression that a turnaround had already begun.
The government is on the hook for many of these mortgages, another reason policy makers have been aggressively seeking stability. What helped support the market last year could now cause it to crumble. Since 2006, the Federal Housing Administration has insured millions of low down payment loans. During the first two years, officials concede, the credit quality of the borrowers was too low.
With little at stake and a queasy economy, buyers bailed: nearly 12 percent were delinquent after a year. Last fall, F.H.A. cash reserves fell below the Congressionally mandated minimum, and the agency had to shore up its finances. Government-backed loans in 2009 went to buyers with higher credit scores. Yet the percentage of first-year defaults was still 5 percent, according to data from the research firm CoreLogic.
“These are at-risk buyers,” said Sam Khater, a CoreLogic economist. “They have very little equity, and that’s the largest predictor of default.”
This is the risk policy makers face. “If home prices begin to fall again with any serious velocity, borrowers may stay away in such numbers that the market never recovers,” said Mr. Glaser, a consultant whose clients include the National Association of Realtors. Those sorts of worries have a few people from the world of finance suggesting that the administration should do much more, not less.
William H. Gross, managing director at Pimco, a giant manager of bond funds, has proposed the government refinance at lower rates millions of mortgages it owns or insures. Such a bold action, Mr. Gross said in a recent speech, would “provide a crucial stimulus of $50 to $60 billion in consumption,” as well as increase housing prices.
The idea has gained little traction. Instead, there is a sense that, even with much more modest notions, government intervention is not the answer. The National Association of Realtors, the driving force behind the credit last year, is not calling for a new round of stimulus. Some members of the National Association of Home Builders say a new credit of $25,000 would raise demand but their chances of getting this through Congress are nonexistent.
“Our members are saying that if we can’t get a very large tax credit — one that really brings people off the bench — why use our political capital at all?” said David Crowe, the chief economist for the home builders.
That might give the Obama administration permission to take the risk of doing nothing.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: ACTION items
on: September 06, 2010, 08:19:57 AM
ACTION ALERT: It's Time for Truth!
Take action today to protect medical cannabis patients from federal prosecution!
Recently, U.S. Representatives Sam Farr (D-CA) and Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) sent a letter to Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) requesting that the Committee on the Judiciary hold a hearing to consider adopting the "Truth in Trials Act" (H.R. 3939).
This important legislation would provide an affirmative defense for authorized medical cannabis users and caregivers who are facing federal prosecution in medical cannabis states. The growing divide between federal and state marijuana laws requires the leadership of Congress. "Truth" is a common-sense, reasonable solution.
Tell Chairman Conyers that it's time for hearings on the "Truth in Trials Act!" Call his office in D.C. at 202-225-5126 send him a fax at 202-225-0072; www.facebook.com/CongressmanConyers
or write to him at:
Rep. John Conyers, Jr.
2426 Rayburn H.O.B.
Washington, DC 20515
Please send one or both letters at the links. Please do this at least once a week. HR 3939 is to amend title 18, United States Code, to provide an affirmative defense for the medical use of marijuana in Federal court in accordance with the laws of the various States, and for other purpose.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Zakaria: What America has lost
on: September 06, 2010, 08:12:10 AM
Some points worth keeping in mind here:
by Fareed Zakaria
September 04, 2010
What America Has Lost
It’s clear we overreacted to 9/11
Nine years after 9/11, can anyone doubt that Al Qaeda is simply not that deadly a threat? Since that gruesome day in 2001, once governments everywhere began serious countermeasures, Osama bin Laden’s terror network has been unable to launch a single major attack on high-value targets in the United States and Europe. While it has inspired a few much smaller attacks by local jihadis, it has been unable to execute a single one itself. Today, Al Qaeda’s best hope is to find a troubled young man who has been radicalized over the Internet, and teach him to stuff his underwear with explosives.
I do not minimize Al Qaeda’s intentions, which are barbaric. I question its capabilities. In every recent conflict, the United States has been right about the evil intentions of its adversaries but massively exaggerated their strength. In the 1980s, we thought the Soviet Union was expanding its power and influence when it was on the verge of economic and political bankruptcy. In the 1990s, we were certain that Saddam Hussein had a nuclear arsenal. In fact, his factories could barely make soap.
The error this time is more damaging. September 11 was a shock to the American psyche and the American system. As a result, we overreacted. In a crucially important Washington Post reporting project, “Top Secret America,” Dana Priest and William Arkin spent two years gathering information on how 9/11 has really changed America.
Here are some of the highlights. Since September 11, 2001, the U.S. government has created or reconfigured at least 263 organizations to tackle some aspect of the war on terror. The amount of money spent on intelligence has risen by 250 percent, to $75 billion (and that’s the public number, which is a gross underestimate). That’s more than the rest of the world spends put together. Thirty-three new building complexes have been built for intelligence bureaucracies alone, occupying 17 million square feet—the equivalent of 22 U.S. Capitols or three Pentagons. Five miles southeast of the White House, the largest government site in 50 years is being built—at a cost of $3.4 billion—to house the largest bureaucracy after the Pentagon and the Department of Veterans Affairs: the Department of Homeland Security, which has a workforce of 230,000 people.
This new system produces 50,000 reports a year—136 a day!—which of course means few ever get read. Those senior officials who have read them describe most as banal; one tells me, “Many could be produced in an hour using Google.” Fifty-one separate bureaucracies operating in 15 states track the flow of money to and from terrorist organizations, with little information-sharing.
Some 30,000 people are now employed exclusively to listen in on phone conversations and other communications in the United States. And yet no one in Army intelligence noticed that Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan had been making a series of strange threats at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, where he trained. The father of the Nigerian “Christmas bomber” reported his son’s radicalism to the U.S. Embassy. But that message never made its way to the right people in this vast security apparatus. The plot was foiled only by the bomber’s own incompetence and some alert passengers.
Such mistakes might be excusable. But the rise of this national-security state has entailed a vast expansion in the government’s powers that now touches every aspect of American life, even when seemingly unrelated to terrorism. The most chilling aspect of Dave Eggers’s heartbreaking book, Zeitoun, is that the federal government’s fastest and most efficient response to Hurricane Katrina was the creation of a Guantánamo-like prison facility (in days!) in which 1,200 American citizens were summarily detained and denied any of their constitutional rights for months, a suspension of habeas corpus that reads like something out of a Kafka novel.
In the past, the U.S. government has built up for wars, assumed emergency authority, and sometimes abused that power, yet always demobilized after the war. But this is a war without end. When do we declare victory? When do the emergency powers cease?
Conservatives are worried about the growing power of the state. Surely this usurpation is more worrisome than a few federal stimulus programs. When James Madison pondered this issue, he came to a simple conclusion: “Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germs of every other … In war, too, the discretionary power of the executive is extended... and all the means of seducing the minds, are added to those of subduing the force, of the people.
“No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual war,” Madison concluded.
DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Re: Mexico
on: September 05, 2010, 08:36:20 PM
Gracias por tus palabras Hector.
"A veces parece que nuestro gobierno aprueba la emigración."
En mi opinion es asi', hasta que Presidente Calderon tuvo el _________ para dar un discurso en nuestro Congreso criticando a la gente y el estado de Arizona por haber tenido la voluntad de insistir en respeto por sus leyes (!y nuestro @$%*! de un Presidente y los Democratas lo aplaudieron por haberlo dicho!) y entidades federales del gobierno mexicano publican lirbritos sobre como cruzar la frontera.
Hace muchos anos desde que yo estudiaba los numeros al fondo, pero en los anos 70s (!hijole 30 anos!
) 700,000 nuevas personas entraban al mercado de mano de obra en Mexico cada ano, pero aun cuando la economia crecia en 7% al ano (un numero poco visto hoy en dia si no me equivoco) solo aumentaba trabajos en la mitad de eso, osea cada ano habian 350,000 miles nuevas personas, jovenes principlamente, sin trabajo. Sin la valvula de escape de ir a los EEUU no hubiera existado eso se lleva a la conclusion que graves problemas sociales en Mexico se hubiera occurido mucho antes.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor: Afg and the War Legend
on: September 05, 2010, 12:20:55 PM
Afghanistan and the War Legend
September 3, 2010
As many of you know, Robert Merry joined STRATFOR as publisher in January. While primarily focused on our business (bless him) he is also a noted reporter (years with The Wall Street Journal as Washington correspondent and head of Congressional Quarterly). Bob knows Washington well, while STRATFOR has always been an outsider there. Since Bob brings a new perspective to STRATFOR, we’d be foolish not to take advantage of it. This analysis marks the first of what will be regular contributions to STRATFOR’s work. His commentary will be titled “Washington Looks at the World” and will focus on the international system through the eyes of official Washington and its unofficial outriders. In this first analysis, Bob focuses on the thinking that went into President Barack Obama’s Aug. 31 speech on the end of U.S. combat operations in Iraq. As with all of STRATFOR’s pieces, it treats political leaders as rational actors and avoids ideology and advocacy. Both are in ample supply in this country, and there is no need to add to it. Bob is not trying to persuade, praise or condemn. Nor is he simply providing facts. He is trying to understand and explain what is happening. I hope you find this of value. I learned something from it. By all means let us know what you think, especially if you like it. Criticisms will also be read but will not be enjoyed nearly as much.
— George Friedman, STRATFOR CEO
By Robert W. Merry
U.S. President Barack Obama’s Aug. 31 Oval Office speech on the end of U.S. combat operations in Iraq had many purposes: to claim a measure of credit for largely fulfilling one of his major campaign promises; to thank those who have served and sacrificed in the cause; to spread the balm of unity over any lingering domestic wounds; to assure Americans that it has all been worth it and that no dishonor was attached to this foreign adventure, which was opposed by many in Obama’s own party and by him from the beginning.
Of all those purposes, and any others that might have been conceived, the need to express assurance of the war’s validity — and honor in its outcome — is by far the most important. Any national leader must protect and nurture the legend of any war over which he presides, even those — actually, particularly those — he has brought to a close. The people need to feel that the sacrifice in blood and treasure was worth it, that the mission’s rationale still makes sense, that the nation’s standing and prestige remain intact.
In terms of America, nothing illustrates this more starkly than the Vietnam experience. This was a war that emerged quite naturally out of a foreign policy outlook, “containment,” that had shaped American behavior in the world for nearly two decades and would continue to shape it for another two decades. Hence, one could argue that the Vietnam War was a noble effort entirely consistent with a policy that eventually proved brilliantly successful. But the national pain of defeat in that war spawned an entirely different legend — that it was a huge mistake and a tragic loss of life for no defensible purpose. The impact of that legend upon the national consciousness could be seen for decades — in war-powers battles between the president and Congress, in a halting defense posture often attributed to what was called the “Vietnam Syndrome,” in the lingering civic hostility engendered when the subject emerged among fellow citizens, in the flow of tears shed daily at Washington’s Vietnam Memorial.
So the presidential responsibility for the legend of war is no trivial matter when young Americans begin returning home in body bags. A wise president will keep it well established in his mind in selling a war, in prosecuting it and eventually in explaining it at its conclusion.
This important presidential function posed two particular challenges for Obama during his Oval Office speech: First, his past opposition to the war in Iraq created a danger that he might appear insincere or artificial in his expressions, and second, it isn’t entirely clear that the legend can hold up, that the stated rationale for the war really withstands serious scrutiny. Yes, America did depose Saddam Hussein and his regime. But the broader aims of the war — to establish a stable, pro-Western regime in the country and thus maintain a geopolitical counterweight to the regional ambitions of Iran — remain unfulfilled. The president handled the first challenge with aplomb, hailing the war’s outcome (so far) while avoiding the political schisms that it bred and delivering expressions of appreciation and respect for his erstwhile adversaries on the issue. Whether he succeeds in the second challenge likely will depend upon events in Iraq, where 50,000 American troops remain to support Iraqi security forces and help maintain stability.
But Obama’s effort to preserve the war’s legend, which was ribboned throughout his speech, raises the specter of an even greater challenge of preserving the legend of a different war — the war in Afghanistan, which Obama says will begin to wind down for America in July of next year. It remains a very open question whether events will unfold in that nettlesome conflict in such a way as to allow for a reassuring legend when the troops come home. That open question is particularly stark given the fundamental reality that America is not going to bring about a victory in Afghanistan in any conventional sense. The Taliban insurgency that the United States is trying to subdue with its counterinsurgency effort is not going to go away and, indeed, the Taliban will likely have to be part of any accommodation that can precede America’s withdrawal.
Thus, the Obama administration has become increasingly focused on what some involved in war planning call “the endgame.” By that, they mean essentially a strategy for extricating the country from Afghanistan while preserving a reasonable level of stability in that troubled land; minimizing damage to American interests; and maintaining a credible legend of the war that is reassuring to the American people. That’s a tall order, and it isn’t clear whether the nearly 150,000 U.S. and allied troops in Afghanistan, under U.S. Army Gen. David Petraeus, can affect the magnitude of the challenge one way or another.
Very quietly, top officials of the Obama administration have initiated a number of reviews inspecting every aspect of this endgame challenge. Some involve influential outside experts with extensive governmental experience in past administrations, and they are working with officials at the highest levels of the government, including the Pentagon. One review group has sent members to Russia for extensive conversations with officials who were involved in the Soviet Union’s ill-fated invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s. Others have traveled to Pakistan and other lands, including the United Kingdom, Germany and France, to master the diplomatic implications of any Afghan exit strategy.
It’s too early to determine just what impact these review groups will have on administration thinking, which appears to remain in a state of development. But it can be said that at least some of these outside experts are pressing hard for an endgame approach that moves beyond some earlier thinking about the war and its rationale. For example:
The need to involve Afghanistan’s neighbors in any accommodation that would allow for at least a reasonably graceful American exit. In addition to next-door Pakistan, these likely would include Russia, India and perhaps even Iran. All have a stake in Afghan stability, and all have their own particular interests there. Hence, the diplomatic game will be extremely difficult. But it is worth noting that during the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, Russia served as a facilitator of U.S. cooperation with the northern ethnic tribes, and Russians even provided personnel and vehicles to America’s Northern Alliance allies. Iran also helped facilitate the invasion by suggesting security for American pilots faced with ditching over Iranian territory.
The necessity of working with local power centers and finding a way of developing a productive discussion with the different ethnic groups that need to be part of the Afghan endgame. How to do that reportedly was one question posed to Russian officials who were involved in the Soviet Union’s Afghan experience and who had to deal with insurgent leaders on the way out.
A probable requirement that the United States relinquish any hope that a strong central government in Kabul will form and bring about stability in the country. Afghanistan has never had a strong central government, and the various ethnic and religious groups, local warlords, tribes and khans aren’t going to submit to any broad national authority. Their mountainous homeland for centuries has afforded them plenty of protection from any invading force, and that isn’t going to change.
A probable need to explore a national system with a traditionally weak central government and strong provincial actors with considerable sway over their particular territories.
Underlying all this is a strong view that the U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force cannot impose an endgame. The Taliban are not going to submit to U.S. blandishments for negotiation as a result of any fear of what will happen to them if they don’t. That’s because they are winning and possess the arms, wiles, knowledge of terrain and people and insurgency skills to keep on winning, irrespective of what Petraeus does to thwart them. Besides, the tribes of Afghanistan have demonstrated through the centuries that they have the patience to outlast any invader.
If the Taliban won’t negotiate out of fear of what the U.S. military can do to them, the question becomes whether they will negotiate out of a sense of opportunity — as a means of bringing about the U.S. exit that American government officials increasingly seem to want as well. There are indications the Taliban might be interested in participating in such a negotiated American exit, perhaps in exchange for some kind of international recognition. At this point, however, there is no firm evidence that such an approach could prove fruitful, and hence this question remains one of the great imponderables hovering over America’s presence in Afghanistan.
But, if that does prove possible, the question of America’s war legend will loom very large indeed. Those involved in the review groups reportedly are well aware that the nature of the U.S. departure will inform the legend, and they are intent on crafting an outcome that will honor America’s Afghanistan war dead and U.S. war veterans. In other words, in this view, there must remain a narrative that explains why America was there, what was accomplished, and why the departure was undertaken when it was. It must resonate throughout the nation and must be credible.
This poses another fundamental question: Is there an inherent inconsistency between the outlook emerging from these governmental review groups and the recent pronouncements of Petraeus? Many of the review-group participants seem to be working toward what might be called a “graceful exit” from Afghanistan. Yet Petraeus told The New York Times on Aug. 15 that he does not see his mission in such small terms as a “graceful exit.” Rather, he said his marching orders were to do “all that is humanly possible to help us achieve our objectives.” By “our objectives,” he seemed to mean establishing, through military force, a sufficient degree of stability in the country to allow a negotiated exit on American terms, with his Iraq record serving as the model. Even if that is possible, it certainly will take considerable time. The general made clear in the Times interview and in others that he fully intended to press Obama hard to delay any serious troop withdrawal from Afghanistan until well beyond the July 2011 time frame put forth by the president.
Thus, the nature and pace of withdrawal becomes another big question hovering over the president’s war strategy. Many high-ranking administration officials, including the president, have said the pace of withdrawal will depend upon “conditions on the ground” when July 2011 arrives. Obama repeated that conditional expression in his Iraq speech the other night. But that leaves a lot of room for maneuver — and a lot of room for debate within the administration. The reason for delaying a full withdrawal would be to try to apply further military pressure to force the Taliban to become less resistant. That goal seems to be what’s animating Petraeus. But others, including some involved in the review groups, don’t see much prospect of that actually happening. Thus, they see no reason for much of a withdrawal delay beyond the president’s July deadline — particularly given the need to preserve the country’s war legend. The danger, as some see it, is that an effort to force an outcome through military action, given the unlikely prospect of that, could increase the chances of a traditional military defeat, much like the one suffered by the Soviets in the 1980s and by the British in two brutal military debacles during the 19th century.
Many of the experts involved in the Afghanistan review effort see a link between the departure of U.S. combat troops from Iraq, as described by Obama in his Oval Office speech, and the imperative to fashion an Afghanistan exit that offers a war legend at least as comforting to the American people. Certainly, the importance of the war legend was manifest in Obama’s Iraq speech. First, he repeatedly praised the valor and commitment of America’s men and women in uniform. Even in turning to the need to fix the country’s economic difficulties, he invoked these U.S. military personnel again by saying “we must tackle those challenges at home with as much energy, and grit, and sense of common purpose as our men and women in uniform who have served abroad.” He expressed a resolve to honor their commitment by serving “our veterans as well as they have served us” through the Department of Veterans Affairs, emphasizing medical care and the G.I. Bill. And he drew an evocative word picture of America’s final combat brigade in Iraq — the Army’s 4th Stryker Brigade — journeying toward Kuwait on their way home in the predawn darkness. Many Americans will recall some of these young men, extending themselves from the backs of convoy trucks and yelling into television cameras and lights, “We won! We’re going home! We won the war!”
But, as Obama noted in his speech, this is “an age without surrender ceremonies.” It’s also an age without victory parades. As he said, “we must earn victory through the success of our partners and the strength of our own nation.” That’s a bit vague, though, and that’s why Obama’s speech laid out the elements of the Iraq success in terms that seemed pretty much identical to what George W. Bush would have said. We succeeded in toppling Saddam Hussein. We nurtured an Iraqi effort to craft a democratic structure. After considerable bloodshed, we managed to foster a reasonable amount of civic stability in the country so the Iraqi people can continue their halting pursuit of their own destiny. Thus, said the president, “This completes a transition to Iraqi responsibility for their own security.” He added, “Through this remarkable chapter in the history of the United States and Iraq, we have met our responsibility. Now, it’s time to turn the page.”
That’s probably enough of a legend to fortify the good feelings of those young men yelling of victory from the backs of Stryker Brigade vehicles on the way out of Iraq. But getting to even that degree of a war legend in Afghanistan will be far more difficult. And, as the endgame looms in that distant land, the administration will have to grapple not only with how to prosecute the war and foster a safe exit but also with how to preserve a suitable legend for that war once the shooting stops.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / POTH moves "Beyond the Facts"
on: September 05, 2010, 08:10:44 AM
In an Age of Voices, Moving Beyond the Facts
By ARTHUR S. BRISBANE
Published: September 4, 2010
WHAT some call opinion, others call interpretive journalism — a label as opaque as the practice. Call it what you will, nothing has generated more reader indignation in the past few weeks than when it has appeared on a news page.
Phone: (212) 556-7652
Address: Public Editor
The New York Times
620 Eighth Avenue
New York, NY 10018
The morphing of news has stuck in some readers’ craw for a long time, and all three of The Times’s previous public editors dealt with the issue. But I believe the phenomenon is accelerating and has the potential to redefine the newspaper.
It’s not that editors have decided to abandon the traditional virtues of objective journalism. But the Times news pages increasingly are home to “voices,” not merely reportage, as editors commission work bearing the author’s distinctive point of view. And it is happening during the clamor of the Internet age, when such voices are the only ones that seem to rise above the din.
“How could anyone possibly think this piece belonged in a news section?” asked one reader, Donald Johnson, about a “Political Times” column by Matt Bai.
Another reader, Vicky Bollenbacher of Boulder, Colo., had the same concern about a news-page column in Business Day. “You should move such pieces clearly to your opinion section, or exercise a great deal more editorial muscle to clean pieces like his up from being advocacy pieces,” she said.
And David Hooper, a San Francisco reader responding to a column in the A section by Jonathan Weber, said, “In my opinion, your article was, in fact, an Op-Ed piece.”
Unhappy readers, all — reacting to a change that is unsettling to readers and journalists alike, according to Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism. “These norms are shifting almost invisibly beneath the seat of journalists,” Mr. Rosenstiel said. “It is even harder for audiences ... to recognize the cues and the hand gestures that indicate whether a story is one kind of story or another.”
The trend has been decades in the making, but Mr. Rosenstiel believes the online medium is an accelerant in the process: “I think we are seeing the beginning ... of a new hybrid style of writing which is a blend of opinion and news.”
When I asked Matt Bai about his Aug. 12 “Political Times” column on Representative Paul Ryan — the one Mr. Johnson criticized — he said: “I guess my column is part of a broader effort to take some chances in the paper and explore different formats for a new era. I think that represents a great and exciting trend for the paper; none of us can afford to think in old rubrics for new generations of readers.”
Bai’s editor, Richard Stevenson, the deputy Washington bureau chief, elaborated on how The Times is navigating the new norms. “We are still exploring how much of a voice you can have ... what kinds of conclusions you can draw when it comes to politics,” he said.
A news-page column like “Political Times” carries the “freedom to reach a reported conclusion,” he said. Not to “throw opinion around,” but to “express in a restrained and fact-bound way a conclusion about something.”
Mr. Stevenson’s careful language draws a line between a Times news-page column and the kind of material one looks for on the Op-Ed page. I acknowledge the distinction in theory but think it is a very fine line, one that is easy to miss and easy to transgress. And one that readers often can’t see.
To Dan Gillmor, director of the Knight Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship at Arizona State University, the whole effort to demonstrate impartiality is wrong-headed to begin with. American newspapers, once home to unfettered political agendas, have labored in the modern period to cull point-of-view out of reporting with the result that “newspaper writing turned into some of the dullest prose on the planet,” in his view. He sees no conflict between “having a worldview and doing great journalism,” and points to British papers like The Guardian and The Daily Telegraph as examples.
The Times is having none of that. Instead, it chooses to play in the mosh pit under the old rules, refining them as needed. The challenge is compounded because The Times, to its credit, has taken the “innovation” bit into its mouth and run with it. New features, functions and capabilities come on stream all the time, requiring close monitoring.
The Jonathan Weber column that drew criticism, for example, appears on recently added “regional pages” that run in San Francisco. The pages are produced by The Bay Citizen, an independent nonprofit news organization, of which Mr. Weber is the lead editor.
Mr. Hooper and a second reader, Michael Rowe, were concerned about Mr. Weber’s strong point of view in an Aug. 15 column, and about the unusual provenance of the pages themselves. As Mr. Rowe put it, the pages “appear to have been outsourced with little ongoing explanation.”
It’s easy to see why these readers reacted as they did. The Weber column, which concerned union opposition to pension reform in San Francisco, stood at the very precipice of political opinion writing — analyzing union opposition while noting “vituperative” union attacks and “scorched-earth” tactics.
Times editors said they carefully edited the piece and that Weber simply analyzed the political conflict without weighing in personally on pension reform. Still, it strikes me as risky to bring on an outside entity — even one like The Bay Citizen that the Times has fully vetted — and empower it with a mandate to produce such work.
Mr. Weber’s view: “I think The Times is engaging in a number of experiments and trying to do new kinds of things. They are approaching that process with a lot of rigor. ... It is nowhere near the case that they turned these pages over to us and allowed us to do our thing.”
Indeed, it is evident that The Times sees the rise of interpretive material as desirable and manageable. To help readers with this, it offers the online “Readers’ Guide.”
“In its news pages,” the guide says, “The Times presents both straightforward news coverage and other journalistic forms that provide additional perspective on events.”
The “Man in the News” form, it says, is “not primarily analytical but highlights aspects of the subject’s background and career that shed light ... ”
While the “Reporter’s Notebook” is busy “supplementing coverage.” And the “Memo” is a “reflective article.”
The “Journal,” by contrast, is a “sharply drawn feature ... closely observed and stylishly written.” (Where do I look for the grossly observed and unfashionably written stuff?)
The “News Analysis” form “draws heavily on the expertise of the writer.”
And the “News-Page Column,” the form that Mr. Bai and Mr. Weber deploy, calls for a “distinctive point of view.”
These narrow distinctions reflect the struggle to remain impartial while publishing more and more interpretive material. How to resolve this tension?
One path is to do a much better job of labeling the work — and please don’t bother with the fine distinctions. Call it commentary or call it opinion, but call it something that people can understand.
That, or abandon the sacred cloak of impartiality.
I vote for the former but concede that the latter may offer better traction in the opinion-gorged landscape of the future.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / A POTH writer tries to understand
on: September 05, 2010, 08:04:22 AM
Dr. King’s Newest Marcher
By TAYLOR BRANCH
Published: September 4, 2010
LIKE the historic original in 1963, Glenn Beck’s commemorative march on Washington has produced a clash of perception. Marchers celebrated rather than besieged the capital, and sweet piety floated above tribal antagonisms. Responses of disbelief have mingled once again with giddy, puzzled surprise. This time, by embracing the legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., stridently conservative speakers revived hard questions about symbolic fusion in politics. Did their words invite a rare shift in the landscape? Or did they merely paint a mirage?
A week ago Saturday, from the Lincoln Memorial steps, Mr. Beck himself described undergoing a stark conversion as he organized the rally. “When I put this together, in my head,” he told the crowd, “I felt it was supposed to be political.” His promotional announcement had put him “into a cold sweat” of doubt, however, until personal crisis made him grab an assistant by the lapels, Mr. Beck declared, “and I pulled him in close, and I screamed in his ear, ‘I don’t know how, but we’re wrong!’” He said an inner voice had told him to drop his slashing polemics, then politics entirely, for an unspecified new theme grounded in spiritual values. “I don’t understand it,” he said he had told his flabbergasted staff, “but this is where we’re going.”
A skilled dramatist, given to surging displays of emotion, Mr. Beck announced that paralysis had gripped him until last spring, when “we were still kind of lost, and we didn’t know what we were going to do when we got here.” He offered his audience no further clues to a mysterious transformation, but my cringing search of his program archives turned up — amid diatribes on Dr. King as a dangerous socialist, and on President Obama as an alien Muslim — a novel encounter with Dr. King’s niece, Alveda. Her first invitation to appear on Mr. Beck’s show suited his political mold, because she is a defiant crusader against abortion rights and gay marriage.
In their interview, Mr. Beck focused instead on a souvenir from the civil rights movement that Alveda King brought with her. The 10-point “pledge of nonviolence,” a copy of the form signed by demonstrators preparing to face persecution and jail, seemed to strike him with the force of revelation. “These people were serious about nonviolence,” Mr. Beck told his cable audience.
He posted the commandments on his Web site, then analyzed them over several broadcasts on the Fox network last April: “No. 3 is ‘walk and talk in the manner of love.’ This one’s going to be hard.” Sacrifice personal wishes, he recited, that all may be free. Observe with friend and foe the ordinary rules of courtesy. Remember the nonviolent movement seeks justice and reconciliation, not victory.
Mr. Beck extolled disciplined sacrifice by marginal, misunderstood people, noting that most newspapers had branded Dr. King a troublemaker stirring up violence. He added his own saucy twist to the final pledge: As you prepare to march, meditate on the life and teachings of Jesus. “If it’s Buddha, it’s Buddha. If it’s Moses, it’s Moses. But meditate,” Mr. Beck exhorted his viewers. “Jesus, he’s my guy. Your guy might be different.”
Glenn Beck did not adopt nonviolence explicitly for the “Restoring Honor” rally in Washington. That would have been too wrenching a leap for his followers and opponents alike. After all, nonviolent doctrines have been submerged, ignored or forgotten across decades of ethnic assertion and perpetual warfare, even by many heirs of the nonviolent movement themselves.
Mr. Beck obtained a simpler, tamer version from Alveda King last spring, when she recalled her childhood counsel from “Uncle Martin” that nonviolence boiled down to St. Paul’s three abiding guides in the Bible: faith, hope and charity. Mr. Beck told viewers back then that he walked dazed from the studio, gripped by a new theme. “I love this woman!” he announced on April 21. His crisis was ending. “I see the landing strip after last night,” he declared. He would apply organizing techniques from the civil rights movement. On the 47th anniversary of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, he would bestow citizenship medals for faith, hope and charity.
Only Mr. Beck knows the alternative. Perhaps he would have mocked the 1963 march on its sacrosanct turf, remaining the daredevil ideologue who has posed in a Nazi-like uniform to spice his torment of liberals. The actual rally befuddled and bored many viewers, especially sophisticated ones. A huge crowd swayed to a three-hour tent revival of prayer and patriotism. “God is the answer!” cried Mr. Beck. Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man” echoed above the vast National Mall for tributes to the bravery of American soldiers.
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Mr. Beck’s history was sloppy at times. He said Moses led the Hebrew people out of slavery “5,000 years ago,” centuries too early, and somehow he had the Pilgrims landing “with malice toward none,” anticipating Lincoln. He said Alveda King’s father, like her uncle, was “killed for standing for what is right,” when in fact A. D. King drowned at home after a long bout with alcohol and depression. His interpretation of the 1963 march diminished the prior mass movement to portray Dr. King as the lone spark in dark national despair. “Every great achievement in human history,” intoned the rally’s announcer, “has started with one person, one crazy idea.”
Still, Mr. Beck’s rally extended respect to the civil rights movement. The giant screen played well-chosen quotations over historic images. The platform mustered far more diversity than the crowd. The program featured a refrain from “Lift Every Voice and Sing” along with remarks by Ms. King, who acknowledged “the great evil divide of racism.” A narrator saluted the fight for racial freedom and an “even harder” fight for equality. “The dream is not completed,” he went on. “It’s an ongoing struggle, one that all Americans should always be willing to undertake.”
Most important, all the speakers placed Dr. King’s cause squarely among the peaks of American history. They sounded a litany from the founders to Frederick Douglass, from slavery to space flight. “Would you have crossed the mountains?” Mr. Beck asked. “I think I would have been stuck at the first river.” He read the Gettysburg Address, and observed that Dr. King had stood beneath the statue of Abraham Lincoln for good reason. “The words are alive,” he told the crowd. “Our most famous speeches are American scripture.”
He explained why the “sacred honor” conclusion to the Declaration of Independence is his cherished favorite despite the religious skepticism of its author, Thomas Jefferson. “Blindfolded fear does not lead to an awakening,” said Mr. Beck, paraphrasing Jefferson. “Questioning with boldness does.” For a nation in crisis, and indeed for a looming “global storm,” he prescribed the nonviolent regimen that had inspired him. “We must get the poison of hatred out of us,” he said. “Go to your churches, your synagogues, your mosques, anyone that is not preaching hate and division, anyone that is not teaching to kill another man.”
Mr. Beck claimed that his urgent call for restoration “has nothing to do with politics” — and pundits, true enough, discerned almost none of the usual partisan propaganda. The rally was considered right-wing mostly by presumption. Mr. Beck wandered into deeper waters elsewhere. He said Dr. King and other patriots whom we honor on the Mall had risked everything for the American experiment in self-government. “It’s not just a country, it’s an idea,” he asserted, and citizens today must renew that affirmation or admit that “the experiment cannot work, that man must be ruled by someone.”
This appeal is thoroughly and inherently political. “I have been looking for the next George Washington,” Mr. Beck said. “I can’t find him.”
When it came to politics at the rally, Mr. Beck always stopped short, perhaps because his new framework points directly away from anti-government orthodoxy. Washington and the founders established freedom by upholding experimental government against those who would tear it down. Lincoln saved the Union from deconstructionist zealots. Dr. King’s dream speech, from patriotic and spiritual ground, appealed unreservedly for the nation to “rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed” by passing a civil rights bill to end segregation.
FEAR is a hazard of great endeavors to bridge political differences. In 1963, racial apprehension before Dr. King’s rally drove the federal government to furlough its workers for the day. The Pentagon deployed 20,000 paratroopers. Hospitals stockpiled plasma. Washington banned sales of alcohol, and Major League Baseball canceled not one but two days of Senators baseball, just to be safe. When the march of benign inspiration embarrassed these measures, opponents still insisted that the civil rights bill would enslave white people.
In the years since, the search for common ground has not gotten any easier. Americans are at an impasse over the capacity of national government, torn between hope and resentment, tyranny and liberation, fettered by checks without balance.
Glenn Beck calls himself a damaged product of family tragedy, failed education and past addiction — mercurial and unsure, like many of his hard-pressed audience. He may never follow through from his “new starting point” into constructive politics. Even so, he made peace for one day with the liberal half of the American heritage. That is a good thing. Our political health, in the spirit of Dr. King’s march, requires thoughtful and bold initiatives from all quarters.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Health Thread (nutrition, medical, longevity, etc)
on: September 05, 2010, 07:28:36 AM
"he spent months seeking attention for persistent throat and ear pain only to be told nothing was wrong until August."
I can understand CZJ's emotions.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Science
on: September 05, 2010, 07:26:09 AM
A catch all thread for matters not covered by existing threads:
THE scientific rebel J. Craig Venter created headlines — and drew comparisons to Dr. Frankenstein — when he announced in May that his team had created what, with a bit of stretching, could be called the first synthetic living creature.
Two months later, only a smattering of reporters and local dignitaries bothered to show up at a news conference to hear Dr. Venter talk about a new greenhouse that his company, Synthetic Genomics, had built outside its headquarters here to conduct research.
The contrast in the fanfare reflects the enormous gap between Dr. Venter’s stunning scientific achievements and his business aspirations.
Dr. Venter, now 63, made his name as a gene hunter. He was co-founder of a company, Celera Genomics, that nearly left the federally funded Human Genome Project in the dust in the race to determine the complete sequence of DNA in human chromosomes. He garnered admiration for some path-breaking ideas but also the enmity of some scientific rivals who viewed him as a publicity seeker who was polluting a scientific endeavor with commercialism.
Now Dr. Venter is turning from reading the genetic code to an even more audacious goal: writing it. At Synthetic Genomics, he wants to create living creatures — bacteria, algae or even plants — that are designed from the DNA up to carry out industrial tasks and displace the fuels and chemicals that are now made from fossil fuels.
“Designing and building synthetic cells will be the basis of a new industrial revolution,” Dr. Venter says. “The goal is to replace the entire petrochemical industry.”
His star power has attracted $110 million in investment so far, in addition to hundreds of millions of dollars in research financing, making Synthetic Genomics among the wealthiest companies in the new field known as synthetic biology. “If you think of an iconic, Steve Jobs character in the life sciences field, he comes to mind,” says Steve Jurvetson of the venture capital firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson, which invested in Synthetic Genomics.
But the path is long, with no guarantee of success. And as with DNA sequencing, Dr. Venter is stirring some unease in the synthetic biology field. Some competitors say designing entire cells is too far-fetched and that less flashy companies are ahead of Synthetic Genomics.
“I don’t know how many decades his funders have given him,” says Jay Keasling, co-founder of Amyris Inc., which is trying to produce biofuels and a malaria drug by modifying existing organisms, not by creating entirely new ones.
Moreover, Dr. Venter’s track record as a businessman is mixed. While Celera succeeded in sequencing the human genome, it failed to make a business of selling the genomic data, and Dr. Venter was fired by the president of Celera’s parent company, with whom he had had many disagreements.
What really drives him, Dr. Venter and those close to him say, is the desire for scientific accomplishments, publications and recognition, and for the Nobel Prize that still eludes him. Business is just a means to a scientific end.
“Craig is just a hopeless businessman,” Alan G. Walton, a venture capitalist and a friend of Dr. Venter, says only half-jokingly.
Yet Dr. Venter has a history of defying skeptics, and many people are betting that he will succeed this time as well. Dr. Walton, in fact, invested personally in Synthetic Genomics, and his venture firm, Oxford Bioscience Partners, recently wanted to sink a hefty sum into the company but was turned down when Dr. Venter found other investors offering better terms.
Exxon Mobil is giving Synthetic Genomics $300 million in research financing to design algae that could be used to produce gasoline and diesel fuel. (The new greenhouse will be used for that research.)
BP has invested in the company itself, turning to Synthetic Genomics to study microbes that might help turn coal deposits into cleaner-burning natural gas. Another investor, the Malaysian conglomerate Genting, wants to improve oil output from its palm tree plantations, working toward what its chief executive calls a “gasoline tree.”
And in a deal expected to be announced this week, the pharmaceutical giant Novartis will work with Dr. Venter to synthesize influenza virus strains as a potentially faster way to make flu vaccines.
Synthetic Genomics is also exploring the use of algae to produce food oils and, possibly, other edible products.
Dr. Venter muses, “What if we can make algae taste like beef?”
SCIENTISTS have long been able to insert foreign genes into organisms. Human insulin is manufactured for diabetics by bacteria containing the human insulin gene. Bacterial genes are put into corn plants to give them resistance to herbicides and insects.
But until now, genetic engineering has been mainly a process of cutting and pasting a gene from one organism to another. Only one or a few genes are spliced into a cell, and considerable trial and error is required before a gene functions properly in its new host.
Synthetic biology aims to allow more extensive changes, and in a more efficient and predictable way. That would make engineering a cell more like designing a bridge or a computer chip, enabling biologists to put prefabricated components together in different combinations.
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In the approach toward which Dr. Venter is driving, engineers would specify the entire genetic code of a cell — essentially the software that runs the cell — on computers, making design changes as if on a word processor. They would then press the “print” button, so to speak, and the DNA would be manufactured from its chemical components. The synthetic DNA would then be transplanted into an existing cell, where it would “boot up” and take control of the cell’s operations.
This is essentially what Dr. Venter’s team announced in May. It synthesized the million-letter genome of a simple bacterium, the longest synthetic piece of DNA produced so far, and transplanted it into a slightly different type of bacterium, which then began to replicate. A critic called the synthetic creature Synthia, a name that has started to stick.
Reaction was swift. “We heard from the pope and the president the same day,” Dr. Venter said.
President Obama immediately asked his bioethics commission to examine the potential benefits and risks of synthetic biology. The main concerns are bio-terror and bio-error — the deliberate or inadvertent creation of organisms that are toxic or ecologically harmful. The president’s action seemed to confirm concerns in the field that Dr. Venter’s bold claims would stir public fear and lead to burdensome regulation. “The only regulation we need is of my colleague’s mouth,” says Dr. Keasling of Amyris.
The Vatican, somewhat surprisingly, cautiously praised the work as a potential way of treating diseases, saying it did not regard the synthesis of DNA as the creation of life.
Dr. Venter concedes that he was not creating life from scratch, because an existing cell was used to house the synthetic DNA. But he argues that it was still accurate to call this a synthetic cell. Because the synthetic DNA took control of producing the cell’s components, replicated cells would gradually lose characteristics of the original host cell. Dr. Venter says that he has long supported and paid for research into the ethics and regulation of the field and that there should be restrictions on letting synthetic cells loose in the environment.
Regardless of the work’s ethical implications, some experts say it will have limited industrial use. Synthia’s creation took 15 years and cost $40 million. The synthetic bacterium is not robust enough for industrial production of chemicals. Most important, the synthetic genome was nearly a replica of the genome from an existing bacterium. The truth is, scientists do not yet know enough to design a genome from scratch.
Even if they could, it would be overkill, says George Church, a Harvard genetics researcher who has helped start two companies that are modifying organisms to produce fuel. He says that only a few genetic changes are needed.
“One of the things that is missing,” he says of Dr. Venter’s work, “is a clear articulation of why you would want to change the whole genome.”
Dr. Venter says his company will use more limited genetic engineering for its first algae-based biofuels. But he says the ability to synthesize DNA is improving rapidly. And while the first synthetic genome had “plagiarized nature,” he says scientists will eventually learn how to design genomes.
Exxon is also hopeful the technique will be useful.
“It can be applied to Synthia or it can be applied to biofuels,” says Emil Jacobs, a top research executive at Exxon, who says that it will nonetheless take years and billions of dollars before algae will be producing meaningful amounts of fuel.
AN indifferent student in his youth, Dr. Venter spent his time surfing and skirt-chasing, according to his 2007 autobiography, “A Life Decoded.” But harrowing experiences as a medic in the Vietnam War instilled in him a sense of purpose. After returning from Vietnam, he progressed rapidly from community college to a doctorate in physiology and pharmacology from the University of California, San Diego. Eventually, he joined the National Institutes of Health, where he developed a way to find genes without waiting for the genome to be sequenced. In 1992, venture capitalists set up a new company, Human Genome Sciences, to commercialize the technology. But Dr. Venter, reluctant to give up academic freedom, did not join the business, instead starting a nonprofit research institute that supplied data to the company. The arrangement fell apart after a few years.
Then came his up-and-down experience with Celera. It was later revealed that the genome it had sequenced was mainly Dr. Venter’s own.
He came away from the experience wealthy. He estimates that his net worth is in the tens of millions of dollars, even after giving more than $100 million in Human Genome Sciences and Celera stock to endow his research organization, which is now called the J. Craig Venter Institute.
He has a 5,000-square-foot house overlooking the Pacific, a 95-foot yacht, a Tesla electric car, fancy motorcycles and other toys to satisfy a lust for adventure that is as outsize as his lust for science.
Dr. Venter said he started Synthetic Genomics in 2005 mainly to fund the research on the synthetic cell.
“I think it’s comical that I keep being referred to as a businessman,” he said. “What I’ve been successful in is finding alternate ways to fund research.”
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Hamilton Smith, his longtime research partner and a Nobel laureate, co-founded Synthetic Genomics with Mr. Venter. Also involved were two friends who are now directors of the company: David Kiernan, a Washington lawyer whom Dr. Venter met through sailing, and Juan Enriquez, who was an international affairs researcher at Harvard until meeting Dr. Venter at a New Year’s gathering 15 years ago.
“I saw this guy sitting off in a corner by himself,” Mr. Enriquez says. “I went and talked to him and disappeared on my wife for the rest of the evening.”
Mr. Enriquez changed the focus of his research to life sciences and started a venture capital firm that participated in the first $30 million round of investment in Synthetic Genomics. Half of that $30 million came from Alfonso Romo Garza, a Mexican industrialist.
Two other rounds followed. As part of the most recent round, Life Technologies, a leading manufacturer of laboratory equipment and chemicals, invested $15 million for a 2.9 percent stake, giving Synthetic Genomics an imputed valuation of over $500 million.
Dr. Venter says he now owns about 15 percent of the company. The Malaysian conglomerate and its chief executive, K. T. Lim, together own nearly 20 percent, making them the largest holders, Dr. Venter says.
Synthetic Genomics has about 130 employees. But much of its research, including the development of the synthetic cell, is done at the J. Craig Venter Institute. Synthetic Genomics pays for about 25 of the institute’s roughly 300 researchers, and has rights to their results. The rest of the institute’s funding comes mainly from federal grants and its endowment. Dr. Venter, who turns 64 in October, has not worked directly with test tubes or gene sequencers for decades. He only charts the course and steers.
“He knows exactly what we’re doing every day,” says Dr. Smith, who still does work in the lab. “Craig tends to come in when things get stalled and points us in the right direction.”
Mr. Romo, who is on the board of Synthetic Genomics, says the number of deals the company has negotiated “is proof that he is a good manager.”
Still, there have been efforts to install a No. 2 person to handle day-to-day business. That has not proved easy. Joel McComb, a General Electric veteran, served as chief operating officer for only a few months this year. Aristides Patrinos, a former Department of Energy official who is president of Synthetic Genomics, works mostly on government affairs.
FOR now, Dr. Venter is where he wants to be. With most of the company’s money coming from corporate partners rather than from impatient venture capitalists, he says he is under less pressure to deliver in the short term. And he says he is in greater control of his own destiny than in previous business ventures.
“Science is the business right now,” he said. “If the science works, the business works, and vice versa.”
DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Re: Mexico
on: September 05, 2010, 06:37:52 AM
Yo tambien me preocupo mucho por el pano'rama por Mexico.
Aqui' siempre ha habido un gran respeto por el deseo de trabajar honestamente de la gente de Mexico, aun cuando vengan aqui illegalmente. Eso respeto sigue en pie, pero los numeros crecieron a un nivel asombrante, a ahora con lo que podemose llamar un estado casi de guerra, la gente quieren que nuestro gobierno controla y defiende la frontera para que las guerras narcos y su corrupcion de las instuciones de la sociedad civil no lleguen aqui. Tengo entendido que los intereses potentes, hablando a traves del canal nacional de Mexico traten de pintar lo que esta' pasando en nuestro politica, por ejemplo en Arizona, como odio a los Mexicanos, pero no es asi.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / VDH: New Old World Order
on: September 04, 2010, 01:07:49 PM
NATIONAL REVIEW ONLINE www.nationalreview.com
Victor Davis Hanson
September 2, 2010 12:00 A.M.
The New Old World Order
A global shift to past politics also signals a return to past solutions like free markets and strong borders.
The post–Cold War New World Order is rapidly breaking apart. Nations are returning to the ancient passions, rivalries, and differences of past centuries.
Take Europe. The decades-old vision of a united pan-continental Europe without borders is dissolving. The cradle-to-grave welfare dream proved too expensive for Europe’s shrinking and aging population.
Cultural, linguistic, and economic divides between Germany and Greece, or Holland and Bulgaria, remain too wide to be bridged by fumbling bureaucrats in Brussels. NATO has devolved into a euphemism for American expeditionary forces.
Nationalism is returning, based on stronger common ties of language, history, religion, and culture. We are even seeing the return of a two-century-old European “problem”: a powerful Germany that logically seeks greater political influence commensurate with its undeniable economic superiority.
The tired Israeli-Palestinian fight over the future of the West Bank is no longer the nexus of Middle East tensions. The Muslim Arab world is now more terrified by the re-emergence of a bloc of old familiar non-Arabic, Islamic fundamentalist rivals.
With nuclear weapons, theocratic Iran wants to offer strategic protection to radical allies such as Syria, Hezbollah, and Hamas, and at the same time restore Persian glory. While diverse, this rogue bunch shares contempt for the squabbling Sunni Arab world of rich but defenseless Gulf petro-sheikdoms and geriatric state authoritarians.
Turkey is flipping back to its pre-20th-century past. Its departure from NATO is not a question of if, but when. The European Union used to not want Turkey; now Turkey does not want the shaky EU.
Turkish revisionism now glorifies the old Ottoman sultanate. Turkey wants to recharge that reactionary model as the unifier and protector of Islam — not the modern, vastly reduced secular state of Kemal Ataturk. Weak neighbors Armenia, Cyprus, Greece, and Kurdistan have historical reasons to tremble.
Japan’s economy is still stalled. Its affluent population is shrinking and aging. Elsewhere in the region, the Japanese see an expanding China and a lunatic nuclear North Korea. Yet Japan is not sure whether the inward-looking United States is still credible in its old promise of protection against any and all enemies.
One of two rather bleak Asian futures seems likely. Either an ascendant China will dictate the foreign policies of Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan, or lots of new freelancing nuclear powers will appear to deter China since it cannot count on an insolvent U.S. for protection.
Oil-rich Russia — deprived of its Communist-era empire — seems to find lost imperial prestige and influence by being for everything that the U.S. is against. That translates into selling nuclear expertise and material to Iran, providing weapons to provocative states such as Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela, and bullying neighbors over energy supplies.
Closer to home, Mexico has become a strange sort of friend. It devolves daily into a more corrupt and violent place than Iraq or Pakistan. The fossilized leadership in Mexico City shows no interest in reforming, either by opening its economy or liberalizing its political institutions.
Instead, Mexico’s very survival for now rests on cynically exporting annually a million of its impoverished and unhappy citizens to America. More interested in money than in its own people, the Mexican government counts on the more than $20 billion in remittances that return to the country each year.
But American citizens are tired of picking up the tab to subsidize nearly 15 million poor illegal aliens. The growing hostility between the two countries is reminiscent of 19th-century tensions across the Rio Grande.
How is America reacting to these back-to-the-future changes?
Politically divided, committed to two wars, in a deep recession, insolvent, and still stunned by the financial meltdown of 2008, our government seems paralyzed. As European socialism implodes, for some reason a new statist U.S. government wants to copy failure by taking over ever more of the economy and borrowing trillions more to provide additional entitlements.
As panicky old allies look for American protection, we talk of slashing our defense budget. In apologetic fashion, we spend more time appeasing confident enemies than buttressing worried friends.
Instead of finishing our border fence and closing the southern border, we are suing a state that is trying to enforce immigration laws that the federal government will not apply. And as sectarianism spreads abroad, we at home still pursue the failed salad bowl and caricature the once-successful American melting pot.
But just as old problems return, so do equally old solutions. Once-stodgy ideas like a free-market economy, strong defense, secure borders, and national unity are suddenly appearing fresh and wise.
— Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and the author, most recently, of The Father of Us All: War and History, Ancient and Modern. © 2010 Tribune Media Services, Inc.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / POTB (Pravda on the Beach- Left Angeles Times) No Green Cards needed
on: September 04, 2010, 12:44:10 PM
Arizona colleges accused of immigrant discrimination
Before this year, Phoenix-area community colleges asked legal immigrants to show a green card before hiring them. The Justice Department calls the policy 'document abuse' and seeks damages.
David G. Savage, Tribune Washington Bureau
September 4, 2010
Employers who hire illegal immigrants can be fined, but the Obama administration warned this week that they also can be fined for asking legal immigrants to show their green cards before hiring them.
The Justice Department's civil rights division sued the Maricopa County Community Colleges in Arizona, seeking damages from schools for having "intentionally committed document abuse discrimination."
Prior to this year, the local colleges in the Phoenix area asked job applicants who were not U.S. citizens to show a driver's license, a Social Security card and their permanent resident card, commonly called a green card.
The Justice Department said a valid driver's license and a Social Security card are usually sufficient to show that a person is authorized to work. Requesting a green card amounts to "immigration-related employment discrimination," said Thomas E. Perez, the assistant attorney general for civil rights.
Federal law forbids treating "authorized workers differently during the hiring process based on their citizenship status," Perez said. He said the department's Office of Special Counsel would bring legal actions against employers who impose "unnecessary and discriminatory hurdles to employment for work-authorized noncitizens."
Amid the fierce controversy over immigration, the Obama administration has launched three lawsuits this summer to protect the rights of Latinos and legal immigrants — all three targeting Arizona.
In July, the administration successfully blocked Arizona's law that authorized state and local police to check the immigration status of persons who were arrested. On Thursday, it sued Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio seeking documents that could show he has illegally targeted Latinos in the course of his immigration sweeps.
The suit against the Maricopa community colleges, announced Monday, and could affect employers across the nation.
"Employers are getting very mixed messages from the government," said Jessica Vaughan, a policy analyst with the Center for Immigration Studies.
On one hand, employers have been told they need to do more to verify that their workers are legal and authorized to work in the United States. Federal immigration law says hiring "an unauthorized alien" can result in fines of up to $3,000 per worker. However, another provision of the same law bars employers from requesting "more or different documents" than are needed to prove a noncitizen's legal status.
In the Maricopa college case, the Justice Department said it wanted "full remedial relief" for 247 noncitizens who applied for jobs with the community college district between August 2008 and January of this year, plus a civil penalty of $1,100 for each of them.
"We are extremely disappointed by the Justice Department's action. We had no intent to discriminate against any foreign national, and we feel we have been singled out for the maximum penalty under the law," said Charles Reinebold, a spokesman for the community colleges. "There was no actual harm here. This was a paperwork error, and we revised it after it was brought to our attention."
Vaughan said she was "very surprised the administration would resort to a lawsuit. In the past, the emphasis has been on mediation to resolve these issues."
But others applauded the administration's move to enforce the anti-discrimination parts of the immigration law.
Gening Liao, a lawyer for the National Immigration Law Center in Los Angeles, said the law itself is clear.
"If you bring in a driver's license and a Social Security card, those documents are sufficient. Employers are prohibited from asking for extra documents or different documents," she said. "This is blatant discrimination, and we get calls about it all the time. We hope to see more lawsuits like this."email@example.com
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: VIDEO CLIPS OF INTEREST
on: September 04, 2010, 12:37:12 PM
The impression I got was that he probably had been loudly commenting on the game (perhaps with vulgarities?) whereas tennis crowd etiquette tends to be rather quiet. The fact that not one but two phone cameras were focused on the exchange indicates that things had been building for a while , , ,
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Politics of Health Care
on: September 04, 2010, 11:04:38 AM
I offer the following concept for consideration:
It seems to me that much of the conversation/debate makes health care an all or nothing proposition. Why not have a certain base level that everyone gets whether they are covered or not (e.g. you are hit by a car and need emergency treatment) and other stuff (long, expensive treatment) that you don't, unless you provide for it yourself.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / POTH: Syria reverses course
on: September 04, 2010, 10:17:24 AM
DAMASCUS, Syria — This country, which had sought to show solidarity with Islamist groups and allow religious figures a greater role in public life, has recently reversed course, moving forcefully to curb the influence of Muslim conservatives in its mosques, public universities and charities.
Enlarge This Image
Bryan Denton for The New York Times
Young Syrians gathered in Damascus. A crackdown on Islamists is an effort to reassert Syria’s secularism, officials say.
The government has asked imams for recordings of their Friday sermons and started to strictly monitor religious schools. Members of an influential Muslim women’s group have now been told to scale back activities like preaching or teaching Islamic law. And this summer, more than 1,000 teachers who wear the niqab, or the face veil, were transferred to administrative duties.
The crackdown, which began in 2008 but has gathered steam this summer, is an effort by President Bashar al-Assad to reassert Syria’s traditional secularism in the face of rising threats from radical groups in the region, Syrian officials say.
The policy amounts to a sharp reversal for Syria, which for years tolerated the rise of the conservatives. And it sets the government on the seemingly contradictory path of moving against political Islamists at home, while supporting movements like Hamas and Hezbollah abroad.
Syrian officials are adamant that the shifts stem from alarming domestic trends, and do not affect support for those groups, allies in their struggle against Israel. At the same time, they have spoken proudly about their secularizing campaign, though they have been reluctant to reveal its details. Some Syrian analysts view that as an overture to the United States and European nations, which have been courting Syria as part of a strategy to isolate Iran and curb the influence of Hamas and Hezbollah.
Human rights advocates say the policy exacerbates pressing concerns: the arbitrary imprisonment of Islamists, as well as the continued failure to allow them any political space.
Pressure on Islamic conservatives in Syria began in earnest after a powerful car bomb exploded in the Syrian capital in September 2008, killing 17 people. The government blamed the radical group Fatah al-Islam.
“The bombing was the trigger, but the pressure had been building,” said Peter Harling, a senior analyst with the International Crisis Group. “After a period of accommodation with the Islamic groups, the regime entered this far more proactive and repressive mode. It realizes the challenge that the Islamization of Syrian society poses.”
The government’s campaign drew wider notice this summer, when a decision to bar students wearing the niqab from registering for university classes was compared to a similar ban in France. That move seemed to underscore a reduced tolerance for strict observance by Muslims in public life. Syrian officials have put it differently, saying the niqab is “alien” to Syrian society.
The campaign carries risks for a secular government that has fought repeated, violent battles with Islamists in the past, most notably in 1982, when Mr. Assad’s father, Hafez al-Assad, razed the city of Hama while confronting the Muslim Brotherhood, killing tens of thousands of people. For the moment there has been no visible domestic backlash, but one cleric, who said he was dismissed without being given a reason two years ago, suggested that could change.
“The Islamists now have a strong argument that the regime is antagonizing the Muslims,” he said.
The government courted religious conservatives as Western powers moved to isolate Syria amid accusations that it was behind the assassination of a former Lebanese prime minister, Rafik Hariri, in 2005. The government appointed a sheik instead of a member of the ruling Baathist party to head the Ministry of Religious Affairs, and allowed, for the first time, religious activities in the stadium at Damascus University.
As the country emerged from that isolation, it focused on domestic challenges, including the fear that sectarian tensions in the region could spread — a recurring fear in Syria, a country with a Sunni majority ruled by Alawites, a religious minority.
The government also focused on conservatives. “What they had nourished and empowered, they felt the need to break,” said Hassan Abbas, a Syrian researcher.
The details of the campaign have remained murky, though Syrian officials have not been afraid to publicize its aims, including in foreign media outlets. In an interview with the American talk show host Charlie Rose in May, Mr. Assad was asked to name his biggest challenge.
“How we can keep our society as secular as it is today,” he said. “The challenge is the extremism in this region.”
Mr. Assad has in the past singled out northern Lebanon as a source of that extremism.
“We didn’t forget Nahr al-Bared,” said Mohammed al-Habash, a Syrian lawmaker, referring to battles in that region three years ago between Lebanese forces and Fatah al-Islam. “We have to take this seriously.”
Beginning in 2008, the government embarked on its new course when it fired administrators at several Islamic charities, according to the former cleric, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he feared reprisal by the government.
The clampdown has intensified in recent months. Last spring, the Qubaisiate, an underground women’s prayer group that was growing in prominence, was barred from meeting at mosques, according to members. Earlier this summer, top officials in Damascus Governorate were fired for their religious leanings, according to Syrian analysts.
Other moves underscore the delicacy of Mr. Assad’s campaign — or perhaps send mixed signals. A planned conference on secularism earlier this year, initially approved by the government, was abruptly canceled for no reason, according to Mr. Abbas.
“Secularism is their version of being secular,” Mr. Abbas said.
Another episode can be seen as a concession to Islamists, or a sign of just how comfortable the conservatives have become. A proposed rewrite of Syria’s personal status law, which governs civil matters, leaked last year, retained provisions that made it legal for men to marry girls as young as 13 years old. Under pressure, including from women’s groups, lawmakers abandoned the draft law.
“There are limits to what they can do,” Mr. Harling, the analyst, said of the Syrian government. “They will try things out and pedal back if things go too far. It says a lot about how difficult it is — even for a regime that is deeply secular itself and whose survival is tied to the secular nature of Syrian society.”
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Wit
on: September 03, 2010, 10:16:53 PM
A member of Parliament to British Prime Minister Disraeli: "Sir, you will either die on
the gallows or of some unspeakable disease."
"That depends, Sir," said Disraeli, "whether I embrace your policies or your mistress."
"He had delusions of adequacy." - Walter Kerr
"He has all the virtues I dislike and none of the vices I admire." - Winston Churchill
"I have never killed a man, but I have read many obituaries with great pleasure." -
"He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary." - William Faulkner (about Ernest Hemingway).
"Thank you for sending me a copy of your book; I'll waste no time reading it." -
"I didn't attend the funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of it." -
"I am enclosing two tickets to the first night of my new play; bring a friend...
if you have one." - George Bernard Shaw to Winston Churchill
"Cannot possibly attend first night, will attend second... if there is one." - Winston Churchill, in response.
"I feel so miserable without you; it's almost like having you here." - Stephen Bishop
"I've just learned about his illness. Let's hope it's nothing trivial." - Irvin S. Cobb
"In order to avoid being called a flirt, she always yielded easily." - Charles, Count Talleyrand
"Some cause happiness wherever they go; others, whenever they go." - Oscar Wilde
"I've had a perfectly wonderful evening. But this wasn't it." - Groucho Marx
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Patriot Post part 2
on: September 03, 2010, 04:42:58 PM
Immigration Front: ICE Enforcement
Washington's elites are once again having it their way. On Aug. 20, Immigrant and Customs Enforcement Assistant Secretary John Morton wrote a memo to the agency's head of removal operations, telling him that being in the U.S. illegally is no longer grounds for deportation. Only illegals who pose a security threat or have violent records need now be deported. The memo represents Barack Obama's announcement of open borders to a waiting world. How much damage can one president create in a single term? Jimmy Carter was a piker compared to this guy.
The agency now has also begun an "outreach" program to illegals closest to eligibility for permanent status. It's coaching illegals on how to obtain the proper credentials to vote. ICE even sent a form letter to one illegal who had admitted to voting in a previous election, a felony. But ICE's priority is to get him his U.S. citizenship, not to enforce the law.
ICE workers themselves are so angry about Obama's dereliction of his duty that their union issued a membership consensus of "no confidence" in the agency's leaders, something a federal union has never done before. But the drug cartels, whose aim is to turn Mexico into a narco-state on our southern border, are thrilled with the new policy and have already stepped up the terrorizing of residents in Northern Mexico.
The recent massacre of 72 would-be illegals in Tamaulipas, Mexico, is the tip of an iceberg. Not only do the cartels smuggle and murder people, but they also enslave many for various reasons: some are forced into sex slavery and some into the ranks of the gangs' foot soldiers. This part of the president's "fundamental transformation" of America is getting ugly.
In other news, the Justice Department has followed through on their threat to sue Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio for supposed "civil rights" violations in his efforts to round up illegal aliens. It's now the third federal suit against Arizona -- all because the state is picking up federal slack.
Business & Economy
10th Amendment Uprising Against ObamaCare
More than 20 states are suing the federal government over this year's Democrat-engineered hostile takeover of the nation's health care system. They argue (correctly) that Uncle Sam has no constitutional authority to mandate that individuals purchase health insurance. Continuing its pattern of constitutional reinventions, however, the Obama administration claims that the Commerce Clause gives Congress the authority. (It must be right next to the "federal government can do most anything" clause.) We would point to Article I, Section 8 and the 10th Amendment for evidence to the contrary.
The legal challenges notwithstanding, seven of the states involved in the lawsuit (Arizona, Idaho, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, Nebraska and Nevada) are accepting subsidies provided under ObamaCare to help employers cover early retirees. Jane Jankowski, press secretary for Indiana Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels, explained, "Gov. Daniels does not agree with [ObamaCare], but Indiana will seek funds that help Hoosiers when there are no complicated strings or costs attached."
Meanwhile, the Florida Supreme Court, by a 5-2 vote, nixed a ballot initiative attempting to amend the state's constitution to say that Floridians have the right not to buy mandatory health care coverage. Citing "misleading and ambiguous language" in the ballot summary, the judges said their "only recourse is to strike the proposed constitutional amendment from the ballot." In 2004, however, the court resolved a ballot question by having state officials replace the summary with the full amendment text. Strange how recourse options have changed since then.
This Week's 'Braying Jenny' Award
"Unfortunately, there still is a great deal of confusion about what is in [the health care law] and what isn't. ... So, we have a lot of re-education to do." --Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius
Great idea. Maybe they can even set up some camps to help with the "re-education" effort, à la Chairman Mao's Little Red Playbook.
Income Redistribution: Record Number Receiving Federal Aid
A new survey shows the number of Americans on the government dole has reached a record high, with one in six now receiving some form of government aid. According to a USA Today survey, more than 50 million Americans are on Medicaid (up 17 percent since December 2007), more than 40 million receive food stamps (a 50 percent jump), nearly 10 million receive unemployment benefits (almost four times the 2007 number), and more than 4.4 million are on other welfare programs (up 18 percent). As numbers have risen, so have costs. Welfare, food stamps and unemployment benefits now carry respective price tags of $22 billion, $70 billion and $160 billion, with Medicaid claiming some $273 billion in federal tax dollars, spiking 36 percent in just two years.
LaDonna Pavetti of the left-wing Center on Budget and Policy Priorities argues the government "should be there to support people when the economy can't." But the Cato Institute's Michael Tanner points out that government programs are "much harder to unwind in the long term."
Speaking of government programs, Social Security snagged the spotlight last week, thanks to former Republican senator and current co-chair of Barack Obama's deficit committee Alan Simpson, who described the entitlement program as "a milk cow with 310 million tits." An unpleasant way to speak the truth.
Finally, wrapping up the "Recovery Summer" touted by the White House, the Labor Department announced that employers cut 54,000 jobs in August (mostly temporary census workers) and unemployment rose to 9.6 percent. But not to worry. As Joe Biden says, "No doubt we're moving in the right direction."
Judicial Benchmarks: Judge Rules Against Gov't on Drilling Ban
"A federal judge on Wednesday rejected the U.S. government's request to dismiss an industry lawsuit challenging its deepwater oil and gas drilling moratorium, dealing another blow to the Obama administration," Reuters reports. After the administration issued its first drilling ban in June, Hornbeck Offshore Services, Inc., and other drilling companies sued. According to Reuters, "As a result of Louisiana-based Hornbeck's lawsuit, U.S. District Court Judge Martin Feldman in New Orleans blocked implementation of the drilling ban on June 22."
What did the administration do? Why, draw up another ban, of course. However, noting that the second moratorium made "no substantial changes" to the first one, Feldman denied the administration's efforts to dismiss the Hornbeck suit.
Meanwhile, an oil platform off the Louisiana coast caught fire Thursday, just 245 miles from BP's Deepwater Horizon. Thirteen people were aboard but no one was injured seriously, and the fire is reportedly out. It appears that little or no oil was spilled, but this will no doubt increase the resolve of those who oppose drilling and want even more regulation. After all, when regulations don't work, the answer is always more of them.
Regulatory Commissars: Report Cars
Fearing consumers aren't making the politically correct choices, the Obama administration has proposed grading new passenger vehicles with letter grades from A to D based on fuel efficiency and tailpipe emissions. Currently, the EPA rates a vehicle's city and highway mileage, along with estimating the annual fuel cost. Under the EPA's and Transportation Department's proposal, the only cars that can receive Big Brother's Official Seal of Approval with an A-plus, A or A-minus are electrics and plug-in hybrids. No word on whether all Chrysler or GM products are automatically granted an A while they're still owned by the federal government.
As can be expected, grade inflation is awarded in inverse proportion to how powerful the vehicle is, so small, weak-sister econoboxes dominate the top grades while larger family vehicles are at the other end of the spectrum. Not coincidentally, this inversion generally mirrors the sales numbers of the vehicles, with the biggest sellers typically being the would-be lower graded but larger and more powerful vehicles.
Due to the administration's unrivaled talent for creating unintended consequences, the proposed environmental rules may actually encourage more environmental pollution. Notably excluded are several important factors for evaluating a vehicle's efficiency, such as longevity and upstream energy usage, both of which are important in comprehensively evaluating Obama's A+ graded electric vehicles. When the government conveniently excludes non-tailpipe emissions, all the power plant emissions generated in charging the electric cars isn't counted even though such power plant emissions may exceed the tailpipe emissions of a gas vehicle. We wonder if a grade can be assigned when liars figure and figures are made to lie.
Culture & Policy
Second Amendment: EPA Doesn't Ban Lead Ammo
In early August, the Center for Biological Diversity and four other radical environmentalist groups filed a petition with the EPA to ban lead ammunition and fishing tackle. Claiming that lead ammunition and fishing tackle "have a devastating effect" on wildlife, they asked the EPA to enact the ban under the authority of the federal Toxic Substances Control Act. Recognizing this petition for what it really was, a back-door attempt to restrict gun rights, the hunting, outdoor recreation and shooting community quickly mobilized.
There was one major problem with the radicals' petition: Ammunition is exempt from regulation under the Toxic Substances Control Act. Undeterred, the radicals claimed that the EPA had the authority to regulate ammunition anyway. In an act unusual for the overreaching and power-hungry agency, the EPA denied the petition last Friday, admitting that it doesn't have jurisdiction to regulate ammunition under the Act. The agency is still considering the petition as it pertains to fishing tackle.
No one seriously expects this to be the end of the matter. The well funded and notoriously litigious Center for Biological Diversity and its radical cronies will almost certainly file a federal lawsuit. No doubt they will ask the courts to do to lead ammunition what they did to carbon dioxide: require the EPA to regulate something it should leave alone. Common sense has -- for a change -- prevailed at the EPA. We can only hope it also prevails in the courts.
Around the Nation: Treading on the Gadsden Flag
An Arizona homeowner is under pressure from his homeowners' association to remove the "debris" from his roof. The "debris" in question is a Gadsden flag flown from his house since earlier this year. Commonly known as the "Don't Tread on Me" flag, the yellow banner with a coiled rattlesnake originated in the Revolutionary War when it was flown above ships. It since has been adopted as a symbol of the Tea Party movement.
The homeowner, who was himself a member of the Avalon Village Community Association until July, says, "It's a patriotic gesture. It's a historic military flag. It represents the Founding Fathers. It shows this nation was born out of an idea." Shortly after resigning due to a dispute with the board's president, he received the first notice about the flag. Now, even the ACLU has come to his defense, saying that homeowners' associations don't have the right to "hijack" their members' First Amendment rights. Avalon Village, for their part, says they are following a state statute that allows residents to fly the U.S. flag, the state flag, the official flags of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard, and various Indian nation flags. A similar threat was rescinded in Colorado, and some retired Marines are fighting to have the flag flown over the state Capitol in Connecticut.
Everyone is okay at the Discovery Communications building in Silver Spring, Maryland. For nearly four hours on Wednesday afternoon, James J. Lee held three people hostage at gunpoint inside the building. He had what appeared to be explosives strapped to his body.
Lee was no right-wing lunatic with a gun, but a radical lefty environmentalist who had protested Discovery before. His rambling demands included changing programming to add more shows warning against "giving birth to more filthy human children since those new additions continue pollution and are pollution" and stopping shows that are "advertising weapons of mass-destruction." Lee also wanted Discovery Channel to "find solutions for unemployment and housing." He continued, "Saving the environment and the remaning [sic] species diversity of the planet is now your mindset. Nothing is more important than saving them. The Lions, Tigers, Giraffes, Elephants, Froggies, Turtles, Apes, Raccoons, Beetles, Ants, Sharks, Bears, and, of course, the Squirrels. The humans? The planet does not need humans." He experienced an "awakening" after watching Al Gore's environmental propaganda film, ''An Inconvenient Truth." Does that now qualify it as "hate speech"?
After negotiations failed to placate Lee, police shot and killed him, granting him his wish for fewer people on the planet. We just hope the cops didn't use lead bullets. That might be bad for the environment.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Politics
on: September 03, 2010, 04:42:15 PM
Digest · September 3, 2010
"A universal peace, it is to be feared, is in the catalogue of events, which will never exist but in the imaginations of visionary philosophers, or in the breasts of benevolent enthusiasts." --James Madison
Government & Politics
Warfront With Jihadistan: Obama's Speech
Tuesday evening, the Whiner-in-Chief gave yet another prime time speech, this time about ending the war in Iraq. Or was it about the war in Afghanistan? Or the "Bush" economy and joblessness? Whatever the point, Obama declared that combat operations in Iraq are "over" and that it was time to "turn the page" on the war.
Obama did give a strong tribute to U.S. troops, saying that they had "completed every mission they were given. They defeated a regime that had terrorized its people." Indeed they did, no thanks to Obama. Of course, if removing a terrorist regime is a good thing, then why did Obama oppose doing so? Perhaps Obama could ask the Kuwaitis about how the old Iraqi regime had terrorized people outside of Iraq, as well.
Ignoring the surge that turned the war around, Obama said of his predecessor, "[N]o one could doubt President Bush's support for our troops, or his love of country and commitment to our security." Too bad that can't be said of Obama himself. He continued, "As I have said, there were patriots who supported this war, and patriots who opposed it." While he's right that there are patriots who honestly opposed the war from the outset, Obama skipped over how the political talking points of congressional Leftists who opposed the war -- after initially supporting it -- undermined our mission and emboldened our enemies.
We suppose it's no wonder that he ignored the surge. After all, in 2007, he pontificated, "I am not persuaded that 20,000 additional troops in Iraq is going to solve the sectarian violence there. In fact, I think it will do the reverse." Later that year, he said of the surge, "The president has simply tried to gain another six months to continue on the same course that he's been on for several years now. It is a course that will not succeed."
Now that it has succeeded, Obama naturally wouldn't be eager to remind everyone of his position then. The same can be said for his refusal to even mention Saddam Hussein in his speech. One can only wonder, therefore, whether Obama believes the world is a better place -- and the U.S. more secure -- without the brutal tyrant.
Moving on to Afghanistan, Obama seemed to hedge a bit on his July 2011 withdrawal timeline, saying, "The pace of our troop reductions will be determined by conditions on the ground." He also spoke of his own Afghan troop surge, saying, "I have ordered the deployment of additional troops who ... are fighting to break the Taliban's momentum. As with the surge in Iraq, these forces will be in place for a limited time." Limited time being the goal, of course.
"Turning the page," then, Obama dispensed with national security in his speech about national security and moved into campaign mode on his economic agenda, though he tied it together with crocodile tears about the cost of the wars. Quite rich coming from someone whose one-year "stimulus" plan cost more than seven years of war in Iraq. If he wants us to "turn the page" to his economic policy, we'll have a chance to give a scathing review of that whole book on Nov. 2.
Quote of the Week
"While the speech may have helped him with Democratic voters, it is likely to undermine confidence in American leadership not only in Iraq and the broader Middle East, but in many other areas of the world. President Obama's proclamation of his 'central responsibility' for economic matters, shoe-horned into a major speech about Iraq -- one of the world's most important international security issues -- will only encourage foreign doubts about his Administration's commitment to finishing the job in Afghanistan, winning the struggle against Islamist extremism, and protecting U.S. allies around the world." --James Phillips of the Heritage Foundation
'Restoring Honor' Rally Draws Crowds, Critics
Author and Fox News Channel personality Glenn Beck held a "Restoring Honor" rally last weekend that filled most of the National Mall between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument. Hundreds of thousands attended from around the country, eager to share the message of restoring hope and honor to America. Beck shared the stage with former Alaska Gov. and 2008 vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin, but both speakers downplayed the political aspects of the gathering. Beck's words certainly did have more of a religious tone, encouraging attendees to pray with their families, and to "recognize your place to the Creator. Realize that He is our King. He is the one who guides and directs our life and protects us."
National media outlets and liberals couldn't stomach the fact that Beck held his rally on the anniversary of Martin Luther King's historic "I have a dream" speech during the 1963 March on Washington. The media, of course, tried to make it into a race issue, searching for black people in the audience only to ask them what they were doing there. The "Rev." Al Sharpton accused Beck of co-opting King's legacy, and he held a rather pathetic little counter-gathering of his own.
The message and tone of the two gatherings were quite different. Many of the attendees of Beck's peaceful and respectful "Restoring Honor" rally were motivated to seek a change in direction in America -- one that is less reliant on government. There were many Tea Party supporters in the crowd, as well as average citizens tired of the high taxation and government intrusion in their lives.
Sharpton's "Reclaim the Dream" rally was, on the surface, an opportunity to celebrate King, but underneath was Sharpton's eternal quest to find rampant racism among American whites. Thus, one rally was about the greatness of America, while the other was a gripe-fest about how terrible she allegedly is.
Barack Obama, true to his nature, downplayed the significance of the Beck gathering. First he claimed to have ignored it, but then he told NBC's Brian Williams, "It's not surprising that someone like a Mr. Beck is able to stir up a certain portion" of the American people. This is reminiscent of his various derisive comments about "angry mobs" who are "waving their little tea bags" while they "bitterly cling" to guns and religion. It's no wonder that Obama's poll numbers are tanking when he holds the majority of the American people in such contempt.
This Week's 'Alpha Jackass' Award
"It's a free country. I wish it weren't, but it's a free country, and you got to, you got to respect that freedom." --Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, a Democrat, objecting to the Glenn Beck rally and typifying the Left's attitude toward free speech -- it's great only if they agree with it
News From the Swamp: Obama Calls for More Spending
Barack Obama once again focused blame for the ailing economy on Republicans this week, claiming that the GOP was stonewalling a "jobs" bill for political reasons. The legislation in question is a bill that would set up a $30 billion Treasury Department fund to make loans to small business owners through small, healthy community banks. Legislation has already cleared the House, but Senate Republicans are opposed because the bill does not address the expiration of the Bush tax cuts or the undue paperwork and tax burden that the new health care law will place on small businesses.
Obama claimed, "This bill is fully paid for. It will not add to the deficit, and there is no reason to block it besides pure partisan politics." We've heard that one before, most notably when the president said that ObamaCare would not add one dime to the deficit. In a sense, he was correct. It will actually add hundreds of billions of dimes to the deficit.
Republicans have privately admitted that they don't have the votes to stop this latest liberal boondoggle when Congress goes back to work on Sept. 13. But its passage will provide yet more proof that Obama's so-called fixes for the economy have only sunk America deeper in debt, and just in time for the midterm elections.
From the Left: Demo Rep. Johnson in Ethics Trouble
Another member of the Congressional Black Caucus is in ethical hot water this week. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, a nine-term Democrat from Dallas, violated a number of rules in the distribution of college scholarships set aside by the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation. The Foundation is a nonprofit funded by corporate and private donations, providing approximately $700,000 every year for the 42 members of the Caucus to distribute in the form of scholarships.
It's hard to run afoul of the Foundation's disbursement rules, which are liberal to say the least. Lawmakers have wide latitude in how they disburse the funds. For instance, they can give a lot of small scholarships to many students or even one large scholarship to a single student. There are no stipulations about the selection process either -- lawmakers can do it by committee or individually. Among the few requirements are that the student live or go to school in the district represented by the Caucus member awarding the money, maintain a 2.5 grade-point average and not be related to a Caucus member.
Even with all that room to maneuver, Johnson still managed to blow it. Of the 43 scholarships she awarded between 2005 and 2009, 23 are in violation of Foundation rules. These awards totaling $25,000 went to her grandsons, great-nephews and the children of aide Rod Givens. Not only did she violate the anti-nepotism clause, but also in some cases the recipients don't live or go to school in her district. Johnson predictably played dumb, claiming that she "recognized the names when I saw them," but that she was unaware that she was violating the rules. This might have been a believable excuse were it not for the fact that Johnson actually chaired the Caucus in 2002 and served on the Foundation board from 2002-2005. As with other scandals involving CBC members Charles Rangel and Maxine Waters, we're left to determine whether Johnson was incompetent then or lying now.
It's Miller Time
Incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) conceded her primary race against challenger Joe Miller Tuesday after failing to gain enough ground during the absentee ballot count. Despite having 20 times the campaign cash as her opponent, she is the third sitting senator this year to be fired before the general election. Sen. Bob Bennett (R-UT) was ousted in a state convention and Sen. Arlen Specter (D-R-D-PA) lost his Democrat primary. Murkowski trailed Miller by 1,668 votes before absentee counting began, and after 15,000 had been counted she remained behind by 1,630 votes. Miller, a West Point and Yale Law graduate who earned a Bronze Star in the first Gulf War, will face Democrat Scott McAdams in November.
There has been much speculation regarding Murkowski's next step, including that she might take the Libertarian Party nomination to keep a slot on November's ballot. It would be generous to call her a moderate, however, and we doubt she or the Libertarian Party would find that a good fit. Miller, meanwhile, won by running a conservative -- and unusual -- campaign for Alaska. The 49th state is heavily addicted to federal cash, and Murkowski and the late Ted Stevens were experts at bringing home the bacon. Miller ran against such government excess, advocating that we restore the Constitution to its rightful place. In a year that has seen growing protests of government overreach, it's encouraging that this approach resonated that far north.
A Decision Made in Cole Blood
The White House proved again that to them terrorist acts are simply domestic criminal acts committed by "foreigners" as the Obama administration just announced a halt to the prosecution of the suspected al-Qa'ida mastermind behind the attack on the USS Cole, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri. The Cole was attacked on Oct. 12, 2000, by suicide bombers who detonated more than 1,000 pounds of explosives in a small vessel that pulled alongside the ship while it was on a refueling stop in Yemen. The blast killed 17 U.S. sailors and injured 39 others.
Why the sudden change of prosecutorial heart? A military official speaking on condition of anonymity to The Washington Post explained that "the administration does not want a high-profile terrorist tried in a military tribunal before major figures held at Guantanamo Bay start having civilian trials." Let that sink in for a moment: The Chosen One, through his legal lackey, Attorney General Eric Holder, has decided not to try the terrorists who attacked the Cole on the basis that doing so would introduce even more uncertainty into the execution phase of a poorly contemplated decision. Never mind the evidence linking al-Nashiri to the bombing.
Never mind, too, the palpable link between the Cole bombing and 9/11. Notably, one of the 9/11 hijackers -- Khalid al-Mihdhar -- also helped plan the Cole bombing. Additionally, imam Anwar al-Awlaki, who was linked both to the Fort Hood shootings and the Christmas Day "Undie Bomber," is also tied to the Cole attack. No, apparently the key take-away from the administration's actions is that an attack on an American warship -- one that resulted in the deaths of 17 American Patriots -- doesn't count nearly as much as ensuring that the civil-trial-for-war-criminals agenda remains on track.
Of course, it's also very understandable why the ironically named (of late) Justice Department would want to shed cases right now, especially in light of its legal offensive against Arizona holding the federal government to task in enforcing U.S. law. But we digress. For its part, Team Chosen has apparently borrowed a line from "Monty Python and the Holy Grail": "Please! This is supposed to be a happy occasion! Let's not bicker and argue about who killed who."
As for us, our hearts are with the families of the victims of the attack on the USS Cole. We are truly heartbroken for these families that have now witnessed a full decade of justice denied, and our blood boils at the thought that this injustice will continue.
Middle East Peace Talks, Take 87
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hosted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas this week for the latest round of peace talks, the first in nearly two years. The good news is that they had such a good time that they agreed to do it again sometime. Another round of talks will convene on Sept. 14 and 15. To quote the great diplomat Forrest Gump, "That's all we have to say about that."
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Kali Tudo Working Examples
on: September 03, 2010, 10:58:45 AM
Good eye. Indeed if one were to take a picture there are apparent similarities, the concept of the Dracula IMHO is distinct.
Frazier was doing what is sometimes known as "the Philly (as in Philadelphia) Shell" (there's another earlier name for it that slips my mind at the moment- anyone?). Ken Norton used it, George Foreman used it. If I remember correctly GF learned it from the legendary Archie Moore. Although there are important differences though from the Dracula, the Dracula does have a natural moment of interface with the Philly Shell, which is why I had a student with good google fu send me some old boxing footage of the Philly Shell which I been researching for use in Kali Tudo
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Brushfires of Freedom
on: September 02, 2010, 12:02:42 PM
Alexander's Essay – September 2, 2010
The Brushfires of Freedom
"It does not take a majority to prevail ... but rather an irate, tireless minority, keen on setting brushfires of freedom in the minds of men." --Samuel Adams
The Resurrection of First PrinciplesA few decades ago, my great aunt, a lady whom I admired, passed away. I was listed as a relative, though not a material beneficiary, of her small estate. An official notice went out to all of our living relatives announcing the date of her estate settlement, but it listed my name as the deceased instead of her name.
In the days that followed, I received many faux messages of condolence from my siblings and cousins, whom I assured, in a manner befitting Samuel Clemens, "The report of my death was an exaggeration."
Likewise, a few decades ago, the economy was given last rites and the Republican Party with it, and Democrats elected Jimmy Carter to solve the nation's problems at home and abroad. However, reports of the Republican demise were also greatly exaggerated.
Though Republicans appeared down for the count, constitutional conservatives, The Patriot heart and soul of our nation, never wavered in their devotion to Essential Liberty and Rule of Law established by our Constitution.
From our ranks arose a formidable spokesman for conservative principles, Ronald Reagan.
Fortunately, after four years of Carter and his congressional Democrats, Reagan's clear articulation of the principles of economic and individual liberty brought the Republican Party back from the brink of extinction. His 1980 election and his leadership as president provided a timeless template for the restoration of our nation's economic and moral prosperity.
In his 1981 inaugural address, President Reagan reassured the nation: "The economic ills we suffer ... will not go away in days, weeks, or months, but they will go away. They will go away because we, as Americans, have the capacity now, as we have had in the past, to do whatever needs to be done to preserve this last and greatest bastion of freedom. In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem. ... Our government has no power except that granted it by the people. It is time to check and reverse the growth of government, which shows signs of having grown beyond the consent of the governed. It is my intention to curb the size and influence of the federal establishment and to demand recognition of the distinction between the powers granted to the federal government and those reserved to the states or to the people. All of us need to be reminded that the federal government did not create the states; the states created the federal government."
Ronald Reagan implemented massive tax reductions, deregulation and anti-inflation monetary policies, which reduced inflation to 3.2 percent by 1983 and unleashed a historic period of economic growth. Of course, behind all the right-minded policy was the most important element of the recovery: Ronald Reagan himself. He was a man of character and substance, and he restored American prestige and confidence. His re-election in 1984 was a landslide of historic proportions: He carried 49 states and collected 525 electoral votes, while his overmatched Democrat opponent, Walter Mondale, could carry only his home state of Minnesota and, of course, the District of Columbia.
Reagan's genius was in his ability to communicate the timeless message of American Liberty with simplicity and purpose. Unfortunately, by the end of his eight years, establishment Republicans of the old-money dynastic variety had retaken control of the party and squandered the Reagan legacy in just a single term under George H.W. Bush.
With the election of the young, charismatic Democrat Bill Clinton in 1992, conservatives once again had to rebuild the foundation of Liberty. It didn't take long. By Clinton's first midterm election, they had successfully, for the first time in four decades, seated a Republican majority in the House of Representatives. That majority managed, under the leadership of Newt Gingrich, to fulfill almost all the conservative commitments outlined in its Contract with America. In doing so, they also pushed Clinton to the center, forcing him to balance budgets and reform welfare. Unfortunately, though, the Republican establishment ran elder statesman Bob Dole against Clinton in 1996, and like Bush(41) before him, Dole could not match wits with Clinton.
In the run-up to the 2000 election, conservatives had made progress toward restoring the Reagan legacy. Despite this, establishment Republicans still held sway within the Party, and by the end of Clinton's reign, they had allocated more attention to his extra-marital debauchery than the agenda advanced by conservatives. In doing so, they lost their focus and almost lost the 2000 presidential election to Clinton's lapdog, Albert Arnold Gore. Fortunately for our nation, Gore could never muster Clinton's alpha-dog hubris and gravitas.
George W. Bush campaigned on some Reaganesque themes, but he entered office wounded by "dangling chads" in Florida. Bush's resolve, however, was solidly forged on the morning of 11 September 2001. The devastating attack on our country that day killed some 3,000 Americans and sent our economy into a tailspin. Still, in the months that followed, President Bush exhibited a purpose and resolve unlike anything he had exhibited prior to that day. His great popularity lasted for the first two years of his presidency, during which he enjoyed the unwavering support of conservative Patriots across the nation.
Fruit doesn't fall far from the tree, though, and by the end of his first term, Bush(43) and like-minded establishment Republicans in the House and Senate had abandoned the conservative base to the extent that many of their domestic policies were indistinguishable from Democrat policies. Consequently, they were hamstrung by the midterm elections of Bush's second term, and as the economy collapsed around them in 2008, Republicans ran a senior member of their establishment club, John McCain, against a young, charismatic unknown, Barack Hussein Obama.
The McCain v. Obama contest had all the excitement of the Dole v. Clinton match, even though Obama is a featherweight when compared to Clinton, with one exception -- Obama's resolve to implement socialist ideology. Given the added campaign benefit of a collapsing economy under an opposing party president, and the good sense to, in the words of his chief of staff, "Never allow a crisis to go to waste," Obama managed to dupe a majority of American voters.
Thus ends this painfully short history of the ups and downs of the Republican Party over the last three decades. Yet despite the significant reversals due to the malfeasance of establishment Republicans, conservatives have always held fast to the legacy of Liberty bequeathed to us by our Founders, understanding as did Samuel Adams, "It does not take a majority to prevail ... but rather an irate, tireless minority, keen on setting brushfires of freedom in the minds of men."
Now, as it was by midterm of Jimmy Carter's presidency, an angry electorate is awakening from its malaise, shaking off its feel-good stupor, and sensing that "hope and change" is a metaphor for rope and chains.
And now, as then, conservatives have been hard at work again, laying the foundation to repair all of the damage done by the establishment wing of the Republican Party. This time around, however, conservative Patriots are establishing an identity apart from being the "Republican base." There are still Reagan Republicans in Congress -- about 120 of them between the House and Senate. But the new conservative movement is now positioned to challenge establishment Republicans, who fake right in campaigns and then run left after election day, forsaking both their commitments to voters and their "sacred oath" to support and defend our Constitution.
Restoring HonorThe "Tea Party" movement has grown from its humble roots a couple of years ago to now include millions of Patriot conservatives across the nation, who, first and foremost, reject the notion of a "living constitution" and instead are firmly committed to the First Principles upon which our nation was founded.
In 1980, the conservative movement had Ronald Reagan to rally around, but in the absence of such a stalwart leader, the movement is rallying around the enduring principles of Liberty that Reagan advocated.
The Tea Party's influence was abundantly clear across the nation this past week, from Glenn Beck's "Restoring Honor" rally in Washington, to Tea Party candidate Joe Miller's defeat of establishment Republican incumbent Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski.
Our objectives are aptly summed up in The Patriot Declaration and the less specific but more ambitious Contract from America endorsed by a strong consortium of conservative groups organized by former House Majority Leader and now FreedomWorks Chairman Dick Armey.
Predictably but regrettably, many establishment Republicans still don't get it.
In a recent opinion piece for The Washington Post, Michael Gerson, erstwhile speechwriter for George W. Bush, condescends, "Tea party populism is ... clearly incompatible with some conservative and Republican beliefs."
I am not suggesting that Gerson is wrong, but that some Republican beliefs are not consistent with those that are the foundation of our Republic.
Gerson seems most upset about the fact that the majority of conservative Patriots now identified with the Tea Party movement are unafraid to list rebellion among their political options.
Gerson notes, "Far from reflecting the spirit of the Founders, the implied resort to political violence is an affectation -- more foolish than frightening. But it is toxic for the GOP to be associated with the armed and juvenile."
I'm not sure what "spirit of the Founders" Gerson consulted in séance, but the one who wrote our Declaration of Independence also wrote with steadfast determination, "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants."
What's more, the scribe who later penned our Constitution also noted, "[T]he advantage of being armed, which the Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation ... forms a barrier against the enterprises of ambition, more insurmountable than any which a simple government of any form can admit of."
Like Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, respectively, their Patriot descendants understand that the Second Amendment was and remains, in the words of Justice Joseph Story, "the palladium of liberties of a republic."
I suppose the preceding is an unsettling notion for Beltway bow-tie establishment Republicans, just as it should be for every Leftist disciple of Obama and the Socialist Bourgeoisie nationwide. Get over it.
The Tea Party movement, if it can maintain its identity as a set of principles rather than become an institution, may well succeed in reversing much of the insult done against our Constitution during the last century. However, this will take more than one election cycle, and it will take leadership as bold as that of Ronald Reagan.
In the meantime, for those establishment Republicans who have yet to repent of their ways and join our ranks, those who are as yet unwilling to stand in the gap between Liberty and Obama's objective to "fundamentally transform the United States of America," I offer these words from Sam Adams: "If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquility of servitude than the animating contest of freedom, go from us in peace. May your chains sit lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen!"
Semper Vigilo, Fortis, Paratus et Fidelis!
Publisher, The Patriot Post
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: What if?
on: September 02, 2010, 06:42:57 AM
From the vantage point of history, Barack Obama's prime-time speech
announcing the Iraq war's end is less important than the speech he gave
eight years ago as a state senator in Illinois. This was the October 2002
"dumb war" speech to an anti-Iraq war rally in Chicago's Federal Plaza. Back
then, Mr. Obama had a more complex view of the stakes in Iraq than he does
Today, the Iraq war has been reduced to not much more than a long, bloody
and honorable gunfight between U.S. troops and various homicidal jihadists
and insurgents inside Iraq, a war sustained by George Bush, Dick Cheney and
some neocon advisers mainly to "impose" democracy on the Iraqis.
I think it is a profound mistake to confine the war's significance to the
borders of Iraq. Mr. Obama himself raised the central question about Iraq in
that 2002 speech: Did Saddam Hussein pose a danger beyond his borders, or
"Let me be clear," State Senator Obama told the Federal Plaza crowd, "I
suffer no illusions about Saddam Hussein. . . . He has repeatedly thwarted
U.N. inspection teams, developed chemical and biological weapons and coveted
nuclear capacity. . . . But I also know that Saddam poses no imminent and
direct threat to the United States. . . [H]e can be contained."
This is a widely held view. The Economist's editors this week said Mr. Obama
was largely right that Iraq was a dumb war. What the war did, they say, was
"rid the Middle East of a bloodstained dictator."
It did a lot more than that.
Let us assume that Mr. Obama's "smarter" view had prevailed, that we had
left Saddam in power in Iraq. What would the world look like today?
Mr. Obama and others believe that Saddam and his nuclear ambitions could
have been contained. I think exactly the opposite was likely.
At the time of Mr. Obama's 2002 antiwar speech, three other significant,
non-Iraqi events were occurring: Iran and North Korea were commencing toward
a nuclear break-out, and A.Q. Khan was on the move.
In March 2002, Mr. Khan, the notorious Pakistani nuclear materials dealer,
moved his production facilities from Pakistan to Malaysia. In August, an
Iranian exile group revealed the existence of a centrifuge factory in
Natanz, Iran. A month later, U.S. intelligence concluded that North
Korea had almost completed a "production-scale" centrifuge facility.
It was also believed in 2002 that al Qaeda was shopping for nuclear
materials. In The Wall Street Journal this week, Jay Solomon described how
two North Korean operatives through this period developed a network to
acquire nuclear technologies. In short, the nuclear bad boys club was on the
move in 2002. Can anyone seriously believe that amidst all this Saddam
Hussein would have contented himself with administering his torture
chambers? This is fanciful.
Saddam was centrifugal. He moved outward, into war with Iran in 1980 and
into Kuwait 10 years later. Saddam was a player, and from 2002 onward the
biggest game in his orbit was acquiring nuclear capability.
The definitive account of Saddam's WMD ambitions is the Duelfer Report,
issued by the Iraq Survey Group in 2005. Yes, the Duelfer Report concluded
that Saddam didn't have active WMD. But at numerous points in the 1,000-page
document, it asserted (with quotes from Iraqi politicians and scientists)
that Saddam's goal was to free himself of U.N. sanctions and restart his
efforts to acquire nuclear weapons and other WMD.
The report: "Saddam wanted to recreate Iraq's WMD capability. . . . Saddam
aspired to develop a nuclear capability." The Survey Group described Iraqi
plans to develop three long-range ballistic missiles.
Saddam was obsessed with Iran. Imagine the effect on the jolly Iraqi's
thinking come 2005 and the rise to stardom of Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad,
publicly mocking the West's efforts to shut his nuclear program and
threatening enemies with annihilation. That year Ahmadinejad broke the U.N.
seals at the Isfahan uranium enrichment plant. In North Korea, Kim Jong Il
was flouting the civilized world, conducting nuclear-weapon tests and
test-firing missiles into the Sea of Japan. In such a world, Saddam would
have aspired to play in the same league as Iran and NoKo. Would we have
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Iran and Saddam Hussein in Iraq simultaneously would
have incentivized Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Sudan to enter the nuclear
marketplace. Pakistan and India would be increasing their nuke-tinged
tensions, not trying as now to ease them.
We ought to be a lot prouder of our troops coming home from Iraq than we are
showing this week. They deserve a monument. That war wasn't just about
helping Iraq. It was about us. The march across the nuclear threshold by
lunatic regimes is a clear and present danger. The sacrifice made by the
United States in Iraq took one of these nuclear-obsessed madmen off the
table and gave the world more margin to deal with the threat that remains,
if the world's leadership is up to it. A big if.
MARC: The author forgets to mention that Libya coughed up its nuclear program.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / NYT: Illegals and Dialysis
on: September 01, 2010, 08:38:42 AM
David Walter Banks for The New York Times
Displaced patients to be covered by a new agreement met at an Atlanta-area church.
By KEVIN SACK and CATRIN EINHORN
Published: August 31, 2010
ATLANTA — Thirty-eight end-stage renal patients, most of them illegal immigrants, would receive the dialysis they need to stay alive at no cost under a rough agreement brokered Tuesday among local dialysis providers and Atlanta’s safety-net hospital, Grady Memorial.
The deal will be too late for Fidelia Perez Garcia, left, who left for Mexico and died.
The deal, if completed, would end a yearlong impasse that has come to symbolize the health care plight of the country’s uninsured immigrants and the taxpayer-supported hospitals that end up caring for them. The problem remains unaddressed by the new health care law, which maintains the federal ban on government health insurance for illegal immigrants.
Grady, which receives direct appropriations from Fulton and DeKalb Counties, ultimately agreed on Tuesday to help pay for continuing dialysis for most of the immigrants. Others would be distributed among local dialysis providers as charity cases.
Last fall, Grady’s new management closed its money-losing outpatient dialysis clinic in a move intended to demonstrate fiscal toughness to the city’s philanthropic community. The closing displaced about 60 uninsured illegal immigrants who depended on free thrice-weekly treatments at the clinic to survive.
Illegal immigrants, and legal immigrants newly in the country, are not eligible for Medicare, the federal program that covers most dialysis costs for American citizens with end-stage renal disease.
Grady volunteered to transport the patients to other states or their home countries and pay for three months of treatment. Thirteen accepted the offer. But in response to a patient lawsuit and news media scrutiny, the hospital eventually contracted with a commercial dialysis provider to treat the others in Atlanta for one transitional year.
That contract, with Fresenius Medical Services, expired on Tuesday.
Vital details of the agreement remain to be negotiated, including precisely how the patients will be distributed, how much Grady will pay and whether the arrangement will extend for patients’ lifetimes. But all parties said after meeting Tuesday morning that they were optimistic that they would reach an understanding and that patients would see no lapse in treatment.
“That would make me feel real happy because continuing with my dialysis, I need it to live,” said Ignacio Godinez Lopez, 24, who crossed into the United States illegally as a teenager and has been treated at Grady’s expense for four years. “I’m young, and without dialysis it would be taking my life.”
The patients in Atlanta have gambled that American generosity, even at a time of hostility toward illegal immigrants, would prove a surer bet than uncertain care in their home countries. Several said that the fates of those who returned home had reinforced their fears about leaving Atlanta.
Five of the 13 patients who left for Mexico with assistance from Grady or the Mexican government have died, according to Matt Gove, a Grady senior vice president. Most died while still receiving dialysis, although not always as regularly as recommended.
One patient, Fidelia Perez Garcia, 32, apparently succumbed in April to complications from renal failure after running out of Grady-sponsored treatments in Mexico. Patients with end-stage renal disease can die in as little as two weeks without dialysis, which filters toxins from their blood.
Ms. Perez’s mother, Graciela Garcia Padilla, said by telephone that her family was able to raise money for three additional dialysis sessions, at a cost of about $100 each. Ms. Perez then went 12 days without dialysis and persuaded a hospital to treat her only when she was close to death, Ms. Garcia said.
“They sent her to me just to die,” Ms. Garcia said. “Here, they let people die.”
At the same time, regular treatment in Atlanta has not guaranteed survival. Four of the 45 patients who were receiving dialysis at Fresenius clinics have also died, Mr. Gove said.
Nationally, about one in five dialysis patients die within a year of starting treatment, and about two in three die within five years, according to government figures.
The hospital, which has recently begun a financial turnaround after years of multimillion-dollar losses, has spent more than $2 million on repatriation and dialysis since closing its clinic, Mr. Gove said. As the expiration of Grady’s contract with Fresenius loomed, each sought to shift responsibility to the other. Larry L. Johnson, a DeKalb County commissioner who prodded and mediated the negotiations, said there was movement only when Grady agreed to contribute financially to the patients’ care.
Under the broad outlines of the agreement provided by Mr. Johnson and other participants, Fresenius, DaVita Inc. and Emory University’s health system would each treat a small number of patients — most likely three to five — as charity cases. Fresenius would care for the rest with financial assistance from Grady.
Fresenius and DaVita are the country’s largest commercial dialysis providers, with combined net income of more than $1.3 billion last year.
The agreement would not address the broader concern of how to care for illegal immigrants in the region who have developed renal disease since the Grady clinic’s closing, or those who will do so in the future. At the moment, their only option may be to wait until they are in distress and then visit hospital emergency rooms, which are required by law to provide dialysis to patients who are deemed in serious jeopardy.
Kevin Sack reported from Atlanta, and Catrin Einhorn from New York.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / The Demographics driving nations's wealth
on: September 01, 2010, 08:25:01 AM
Though the article seems glib to me on the issues of US immigration, illegal and legal, this article reminds us of some sound points.
The Demographics Driving Nations' Wealth
By DAVID WESSEL
Demography is not destiny. In 1300, China was bigger than Europe and had the world's most sophisticated technology. But China blew it. By 1850, its population was 65% larger than Europe's, but—thanks to the Industrial Revolution—Europeans were far richer.
Yet demography does matter. "We never pay enough attention to demography because it's so long term," says Dominique Strauss-Kahn, head of the International Monetary Fund. So turn for a moment from angst about the disappointing pace of the economic recovery and daunting government budget deficits, and look over the horizon.
China's working-age population will keep growing for 15 years or so, then turn down, the result of its one-child policy and the tendency of birth rates to fall as incomes rise. In 2050, the U.N. projects, China will have 100 million fewer workers than it does today. India's population, in contrast, will grow by 300 million working-age persons over the next 40 years.
The U.S. is in between, benefiting from a higher birth rate and younger populations than Europe and Japan and more immigration. It is projected to add 35 million working-age persons by 2050.
History, as interpreted by modern economists pondering the mysteries of growth, teaches that more people lead to more ideas. And unlike land or oil, ideas can be used by more than one person simultaneously. Before countries began sharing ideas, the biggest had the most rapid technological progress. Now, trade, travel and the Internet speed new ideas around the globe ever-more rapidly. So the benefits are dispersed. Belgium is rich not because it is big or has invented a lot, but because it has the wherewithal to employ technology invented by others, notes Michael Kremer of Harvard University. Zaire is bigger, but lacks the wherewithal.
"In the coming decades, because of the Internet, because of many other changes that have shrunk the world, it's almost impossible for an individual country to keep proprietary technology for itself," says Mr. Strauss-Kahn. For a time, relatively small countries like Britain and France were global heavyweights because of their technological prowess. That day is over, he predicts. "Power equals numbers," he reasons, and that leads him to anticipate the rising influence of China and India.
.Rising populations—and growing numbers of meat-eating, oil-burning consumers—create tension between environmental costs and idea-generating benefits. Some worry about the costs; others see the benefits.
"China's population is roughly equal to that of the U.S., Europe and Japan combined," optimistic Stanford University economists Chad Jones and Paul Romer observed recently in an academic journal. "Over the next several decades, the continued economic development of China might plausibly double the number of researchers throughout the world pushing forward the technological frontier. What effect will this have on incomes in countries that share ideas with China in the long run?" Somewhere between a lot and really a lot, they say. In fact, they say that even if the U.S. had to bear all the costs of mitigating the added carbon emitted by a rapidly developing China, ideas generated by the Chinese would boost U.S. per capita income enough to more than compensate.
Despite the Internet, multinational companies and global financial markets, we are not—yet—one big world economy. Divergences in demographics have national consequences.
Today, one in five Japanese and Europeans is over age 65. In 2050, it will be one in three. Rapid productivity growth—the amount of stuff produced per hour of work—could make it easier for working-age populations to support the old folks, but productivity trends aren't promising. The Japanese and Europeans almost surely will have to work longer, take fewer vacations and probably pay more taxes. Aging also threatens the Japanese government's ability to keep borrowing so heavily. IMF economist Kiichi Tokuoka estimates that at least half of Japanese government borrowing is now financed, directly or indirectly, by Japanese households; unlike the U.S., Japan doesn't borrow heavily from abroad. Japanese savers will be selling bonds in retirement—and there aren't enough younger workers to save enough to pick up the slack.
For China, the challenge is to build social structures and retirement schemes to sustain a growing cadre of old folks that, unlike previous generations, won't be able to rely so much on its children for support. Today, 1.4% of Chinese are over age 80; in 2050, 7.2% will be, the U.N. projects.
India has more time to adjust since its working population is likely to keep growing. Its challenge is to harness the growing number of workers in their 30s and 40s and to nurture industry and services. If India dismantles archaic labor laws, brings more women into the work force and invests in training and education, demographics could add four percentage points a year to economic growth, Goldman Sachs economists estimate. But that's a big "if."
And the U.S.? For all today's gloom, it may be in the sweet spot. A growing population, an openness to ambitious immigrants and trade (if not disrupted by xenophobic politics) and strong productivity growth (if sustained) could lift living standards and bring faster growth, which would reduce big government budget deficits far easier for the U.S. than for slower growing Europe and Japan.
About David Wessel.David Wessel, The Wall Street Journal's economics editor, writes Capital, a weekly look at the economy and the forces shaping living standards around the world. David has been with The Wall Street Journal since 1984, first in the Boston bureau and then the Washington bureau, where he was chief economics correspondent and later deputy bureau chief. During 1999 and 2000, he was the newspaper's Berlin bureau chief. He also has worked for the Boston Globe and at the Hartford (Conn.) Courant and Middletown (Conn.) Press. He has shared two Pulitzer prizes, one for a Boston Globe series on race in the workplace in Boston and the other for Wall Street Journal stories on the corporate scandals of 2002. David is a graduate of Haverford College and was a Knight Bagehot Fellow in Business & Economics Journalism at Columbia University. His book on the Federal Reserve's response to the financial crisis, "In Fed We Trust," www.infedwetrust.com
, will be published by Crown on Aug. 4. Follow David Wessel on twitter at http://www.twitter.com/davidmwessel
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: A symposium
on: September 01, 2010, 08:08:35 AM
Editor's Note: The controversy over a proposed mosque in lower Manhattan has spurred a wider debate about the nature of Islam. We asked six leading thinkers to answer the question: What is moderate Islam?
The Ball Is in Our Court
By Anwar Ibrahim
Skeptics and cynics alike have said that the quest for the moderate Muslim in the 21st century is akin to the search for the Holy Grail. It's not hard to understand why. Terrorist attacks, suicide bombings and the jihadist call for Muslims "to rise up against the oppression of the West" are widespread.
The radical fringe carrying out such actions has sought to dominate the discourse between Islam and the West. In order to do so, they've set out to foment anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism. They've also advocated indiscriminate violence as a political strategy. To cap their victory, this abysmal lot uses the cataclysm of 9/11 as a lesson for the so-called enemies of Islam.
These dastardly acts have not only been tragedies of untold proportions for those who have suffered or perished. They have also delivered a calamitous blow to followers of the Muslim faith.
These are the Muslims who go about their lives like ordinary people—earning their livings, raising their families, celebrating reunions and praying for security and peace. These are the Muslims who have never carried a pocketknife, let alone explosives intended to destroy buildings. These Muslims are there for us to see, if only we can lift the veil cast on them by the shadowy figures in bomb-laden jackets hell-bent on destruction.
These are mainstream Muslims—no different from the moderate Christians, Jews and those of other faiths—whose identities have been drowned by events beyond their control. The upshot is a composite picture of Muslims as inherently intolerant, antidemocratic, inward-looking and simply unable to coexist with other communities in the modern world. Some say there is only one solution: Discard your beliefs and your tradition, and embrace pluralism and modernity.
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The Ottoman-era Sultan Ahmed or Blue Mosque in Istanbul.
.This prescription is deeply flawed. The vast majority of Muslims already see themselves as part of a civilization that is heir to a noble tradition of science, philosophy and spirituality that places paramount importance on the sanctity of human life. Holding fast to the principles of democracy, freedom and human rights, these hundreds of millions of Muslims fervently reject fanaticism in all its varied guises.
Yet Muslims must do more than just talk about their great intellectual and cultural heritage. We must be at the forefront of those who reject violence and terrorism. And our activism must not end there. The tyrants and oppressive regimes that have been the real impediment to peace and progress in the Muslim world must hear our unanimous condemnation. The ball is in our court.
Mr. Ibrahim is Malaysia's opposition leader.
A History of Tolerance
By Bernard Lewis
A form of moderation has been a central part of Islam from the very beginning. True, Muslims are nowhere commanded to love their neighbors, as in the Old Testament, still less their enemies, as in the New Testament. But they are commanded to accept diversity, and this commandment was usually obeyed. The Prophet Muhammad's statement that "difference within my community is part of God's mercy" expressed one of Islam's central ideas, and it is enshrined both in law and usage from the earliest times.
This principle created a level of tolerance among Muslims and coexistence between Muslims and others that was unknown in Christendom until after the triumph of secularism. Diversity was legitimate and accepted. Different juristic schools coexisted, often with significant divergences.
Sectarian differences arose, and sometimes led to conflicts, but these were minor compared with the ferocious wars and persecutions of Christendom. Some events that were commonplace in medieval Europe— like the massacre and expulsion of Jews—were almost unknown in the Muslim world. That is, until modern times.
Occasionally more radical, more violent versions of Islam arose, but their impact was mostly limited. They did not become really important until the modern period when, thanks to a combination of circumstances, such versions of Islamic teachings obtained a massive following among both governments and peoples.
From the start, Muslims have always had a strong sense of their identity and history. Thanks to modern communication, they have become painfully aware of their present state. Some speak of defeat, some of failure. It is the latter who offer the best hope for change.
For the moment, there does not seem to be much prospect of a moderate Islam in the Muslim world. This is partly because in the prevailing atmosphere the expression of moderate ideas can be dangerous—even life-threatening. Radical groups like al Qaeda and the Taliban, the likes of which in earlier times were at most minor and marginal, have acquired a powerful and even a dominant position.
But for Muslims who seek it, the roots are there, both in the theory and practice of their faith and in their early sacred history.
Mr. Lewis, professor emeritus at Princeton, is the author of "From Babel to Dragomans: Interpreting the Middle East" (Oxford University Press, 2004).
Don't Call Me Moderate, Call Me Normal
By Ed Husain
I am a moderate Muslim, yet I don't like being termed a "moderate"—it somehow implies that I am less of a Muslim.
We use the designation "moderate Islam" to differentiate it from "radical Islam." But in so doing, we insinuate that while Islam in moderation is tolerable, real Islam—often perceived as radical Islam—is intolerable. This simplistic, flawed thinking hands our extremist enemies a propaganda victory: They are genuine Muslims. In this rubric, the majority, non-radical Muslim populace has somehow compromised Islam to become moderate.
What is moderate Christianity? Or moderate Judaism? Is Pastor Terry Jones's commitment to burning the Quran authentic Christianity, by virtue of the fanaticism of his action? Or, is Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the spiritual head of the Shas Party in Israel, more Jewish because he calls on Jews to rain missiles on the Arabs and "annihilate them"?
The pastor and the rabbi can, no doubt, find abstruse scriptural justifications for their angry actions. And so it is with Islam's fringe: Our radicals find religious excuses for their political anger. But Muslim fanatics cannot be allowed to define Islam.
The Prophet Muhammad warned us against ghuluw, or extremism, in religion. The Quran reinforces the need for qist, or balance. For me, Islam at its essence is the middle way in all matters. This is normative Islam, adhered to by a billion normal Muslims across the globe.
Normative Islam is inherently pluralist. It is supported by 1,000 years of Muslim history in which religious freedom was cherished. The claim, made today by the governments of Iran and Saudi Arabia, that they represent God's will expressed through their version of oppressive Shariah law is a modern innovation.
The classical thinking within Islam was to let a thousand flowers bloom. Ours is not a centralized tradition, and Islam's rich diversity is a legacy of our pluralist past.
Normative Islam, from its early history to the present, is defined by its commitment to protecting religion, life, progeny, wealth and the human mind. In the religious language of Muslim scholars, this is known as maqasid, or aims. This is the heart of Islam.
I am fully Muslim and fully Western. Don't call me moderate—call me a normal Muslim.
Mr. Husain is author of "The Islamist" (Penguin, 2007) and co-founder of the Quilliam Foundation, a counterextremist think tank.
Putting Up With Infidels Like Me
By Reuel Marc Gerecht
Moderate Islam is the faith practiced by the parents of my Pakistani British roommate at the University of Edinburgh—and, no doubt, by the great majority of Muslim immigrants to Europe and the United States.
Khalid's mother and father were devout Muslims. His dad prayed five times a day and his mom, who hadn't yet learned decent English after almost 20 years in the industrial towns of West Yorkshire, gladly gave me the impression that the only book she'd ever read was the Quran.
I was always welcome in their home. Khalid's mother regularly stuffed me with curry, peppering me with questions about how a non-Muslim who'd crossed the Atlantic to study Islam could resist the pull of the one true faith.
Determined to keep their children Muslim in a sea of aggressive, alcohol-laden, sex-soaked disbelief, they happily practiced and preached peaceful coexistence—even with an infidel who was obviously leading their son down an unrighteous path.
That is the essence of moderation in any faith: the willingness to exist peacefully, if not exuberantly, alongside nonbelievers who hold repellant views on many sacred subjects.
It is a dispensation that comes fairly easily to ordinary Muslims who have left their homelands to live among nonbelievers in Western democracies. It is harder for Muslims surrounded by their own kind, unaccustomed by politics and culture to giving up too much ground.
Tolerance among traditional Muslims is defined as Christian Europe first defined the idea: A superior creed agrees not to harass an inferior creed, so long as the practitioners of the latter don't become too uppity. Tolerance emphatically does not mean equality of belief, as it now does in the West.
Even in Turkey, where authoritarian secularism has changed the Muslim identity more profoundly than anywhere else in the Old World, a totally secularized Muslim would never call a non-Muslim citizen of the state a Turk. There is a certain pride of place that cannot be shared with a nonbeliever. Wounded pride also does the Devil's work on ecumenicalism. Adjusting to modernity, with its intellectually open borders and inevitable moral chaos, is brutally hard for monotheisms, especially for those accustomed to rule. But it happens.
When I told Khalid's father that his children—especially his daughters—would not worship the faith as he and his wife had done, he told me: "They are living a better life than we have lived. That is enough."
Mr. Gerecht, a former CIA operative, is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
Don't Gloss Over The Violent Texts
By Tawfik Hamid
In regards to Islam, the words "moderate'" and "radical" are relative terms. Without defining them it is virtually impossible to defeat the latter or support the former.
Radical Islam is not limited to the act of terrorism; it also includes the embrace of teachings within the religion that promote hatred and ultimately breed terrorism. Those who limit the definition of radical Islam to terrorism are ignoring—and indirectly approving of—the Shariah teachings that permit killing apostates, violence against women and gays, and anti-Semitism.
Moderate Islam should be defined as a form of Islam that rejects these violent and discriminatory edicts. Furthermore, it must provide a strong theological refutation for the mainstream Islamic teaching that the Muslim umma (nation) must declare wars against non-Muslim nations, spreading the religion and giving non-Muslims the following options: convert, pay a humiliating tax, or be killed. This violent concept fuels jihadists, who take the teaching literally and accept responsibility for applying it to the modern world.
Moderate Islam must not be passive. It needs to actively reinterpret the violent parts of the religious text rather than simply cherry-picking the peaceful ones. Ignoring, rather than confronting or contextualizing, the violent texts leaves young Muslims vulnerable to such teachings at a later stage in their lives.
Finally, moderate Islam must powerfully reject the barbaric practices of jihadists. Ideally, this would mean Muslims demonstrating en masse all over the world against the violence carried out in the name of their religion.
Moderate Islam must be honest enough to admit that Islam has been used in a violent manner at several stages in history to seek domination over others. Insisting that all acts in Islamic history and all current Shariah teachings are peaceful is a form of deception that makes things worse by failing to acknowledge the existence of the problem.
Mr. Hamid, a former member of the Islamic radical group Jamma Islamiya, is an Islamic reformer and a senior fellow at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies.
Mystics, Modernists and Literalists
By Akbar Ahmed
In the intense discussion about Muslims today, non-Muslims often say to me: "You are a moderate, but are there others like you?"
Clearly, the use of the term moderate here is meant as a compliment. But the application of the term creates more problems than it solves. The term is heavy with value judgment, smacking of "good guy" versus "bad guy" categories. And it implies that while a minority of Muslims are moderate, the rest are not.
Having studied the practices of Muslims around the world today, I've come up with three broad categories: mystic, modernist and literalist. Of course, I must add the caveat that these are analytic models and aren't watertight.
Muslims in the mystic category reflect universal humanism, believing in "peace with all." The 13th-century Sufi poet Rumi exemplifies this category. In his verses, he glorifies worshipping the same God in the synagogue, the church and the mosque.
The second category is the modernist Muslim who believes in trying to balance tradition and modernity. The modernist is proud of Islam and yet able to live comfortably in, and contribute to, Western society.
Most Muslim leaders who led nationalist movements in the first half of the 20th century were modernists—from Sultan Mohammed V, the first king of independent Morocco, to M.A. Jinnah, who founded Pakistan in 1947. But as modernists failed over time, becoming increasingly incompetent and corrupt, the literalists stepped into the breach.
The literalists believe that Muslim behavior must approximate that of the Prophet in seventh-century Arabia. Their belief that Islam is under attack forces many of them to adopt a defensive posture. And while not all literalists advocate violence, many do. Movements like the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, and the Taliban belong to this category.
In the Muslim world the divisions between the three categories I have delineated are real. The outcome of their struggle will define Islam's fate.
The West can help by understanding Muslim society in a more nuanced and sophisticated way in order to interact with it wisely and for mutual benefit. The first step is to categorize Muslims accurately.
Mr. Ahmed, the former Pakistani ambassador to Britain, is the chair of Islamic studies at American University and author of "Journey into America: The Challenge of Islam" (Brookings, 2010).
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Dear Patients
on: August 31, 2010, 07:18:52 PM
By HAL SCHERZ
Facing a nationwide backlash, Democratic congressional candidates have a new message for voters: We know you don't like ObamaCare, so we'll fix it.
This was the line offered by Democrat Mark Critz, who won a special election in Pennsylvania's 12th congressional district after expressing opposition to the law and promising to mend it—but not to repeal it. As a doctor I know something about unexpected recoveries, and this latest attempt to rescue ObamaCare from repeal needs to be taken seriously.
For Democrats who voted for ObamaCare, this tactic is an escape route, a chance to distance themselves from the president with a vague promise to fix health-care reform in the next Congress.
To counter this election-year ruse, my colleagues and I at Docs4PatientCare are enlisting thousands of doctors in an unorthodox and unprecedented action. Our patients have always expected a certain standard of care from their doctors, which includes providing them with pertinent information that may affect their quality of life. Because the issue this election is so stark—literally life and death for millions of Americans in the years ahead—we are this week posting a "Dear Patient" letter in our waiting rooms.
Andy Griffith pitches President Barack Obama's health care law to seniors.
.The letter states in unambiguous language what the new law means:
"Dear Patient: Section 1311 of the new health care legislation gives the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services and her appointees the power to establish care guidelines that your doctor must abide by or face penalties and fines. In making doctors answerable in the federal bureaucracy this bill effectively makes them government employees and means that you and your doctor are no longer in charge of your health care decisions. This new law politicizes medicine and in my opinion destroys the sanctity of the doctor-patient relationship that makes the American health care system the best in the world."
Our doctor's letter points out that, in addition to "badly exacerbating the current doctor shortage," ObamaCare will bring "major cost increases, rising insurance premiums, higher taxes, a decline in new medical techniques, a fall-off in the development of miracle drugs as well as rationing by government panels and by bureaucrats like passionate rationing advocate Donald Berwick that will force delays of months or sometimes years for hospitalization or surgery."
We cite the brute facts of ObamaCare's passage:
"Despite countless protests by doctors and overwhelming public opposition—up to 60% of Americans opposed this bill—the current party in control of Congress pushed this bill through with legal bribes and Chicago style threats and is determined now to resist any 'repeal and replace' efforts. This doctor's office is non-partisan—always has been, always will be. But the fact is that every Republican voted against this bad bill while the Democratic Party leadership and the White House completely dismissed the will of the people in ruthlessly pushing through this legislation."
Then we address the Democrats' evasive campaign maneuver:
"In the face of voter anger some Democratic candidates are now trying to make a cosmetic retreat, calling for minor modifications or pretending they are opposed to government-run medicine. Once the election is over, however, they will vote with their party bosses against repealing this bill."
The letter's final lines are the most important:
"Please remember when you vote this November that unless the Democratic Party receives a strong negative message about this power grab our health care system will never be fixed and the doctor patient relationship will be ruined forever."
This message is going out to an electorate that is already frustrated over what they see happening to health care. Missouri voters rejected ObamaCare overwhelmingly in August, voting by a margin of 71%-29% to reject the federal requirement that all individuals purchase health insurance. Democratic pollster Douglas Schoen has assessed that ObamaCare is "a disaster" for Democrats. And around the country many little-noticed primaries have reflected voter rage—including the Republican primary victory of surgeon, political newcomer, and advocate of repeal Daniel Benishek in Michigan's first district.
Meanwhile, the Obama administration's damage-control efforts have fallen flat. The latest round of pro-ObamaCare television spots targeting the elderly and starring veteran actor Andy Griffith have not only failed to move the polling numbers. They have caused five U.S. Senators to ask for an investigation of the ads as a violation of federal laws barring the use of tax dollars ($750,000) for campaign purposes.
America's doctors have millions of personal interactions each week with patients. We have political power. And we intend to use it by working to defeat those who have disrupted and gravely endangered the best health-care system in the world.
Dr. Scherz, a pediatric urological surgeon at Georgia Urology and Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, serves on the faculty of Emory University Medical School and is president and cofounder of Docs4PatientCare.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / History or Memory
on: August 31, 2010, 01:18:30 PM
History or Memory?
By Mendel Kalmenson
It has been said that there is no word for history in the Hebrew language.
(The modern-Hebrew equivalent, "historia," is a word-lift from the English "history," which was pinched from the Greek "historia." What goes around comes around…)
The absence of a word as central to any nation as "history" is striking. It's probably because there's no such thing as history in Judaism.
Zikaron (memory), however, a distant cousin of history, features prominently in biblical language and thought.
It goes far beyond semantics, cutting straight to the core of Judaism's perception of the past.
You see, "history" is his-story, not mine. The first two letters of "memory," however, spell me.
Memory is a part of me, and history, apart from meWithout me there is no memory. Memory is a part of me, and history, apart from me.
Put differently: History is made up of objective facts and memory of subjective experience.
As you might have guessed, Judaism is less interested in dry facts than in breathing experiences.
It is for this reason that much of Jewish tradition and ritual draws on reenactment. We don't just commemorate, we remember. We don't just recount someone else's story, we relive our own.
A few examples:
Much of the Seder curriculum aims to stimulate feelings of slavery and bitterness (e.g., the salt water, bitter herbs, poor man's bread a.k.a. matzah, and so on) as well as royalty and liberty (four cups of wine, leaning on cushions, and the like).
In fact, in certain Jewish communities, the seventh night of Passover (the night the sea split for the Jews) finds many walking through pails of water to recreate that event.
On Shavuot we stay up the entire night in anticipation of the giving of the Torah on the morrow, and children are brought to synagogue to hear the Ten Commandments from G‑d.
He's not just the G‑d we heard about, but the G‑d we heard fromIn fact, Judaism teaches that, in soul, we were all present at Sinai;1 each one of us personally encountered G‑d. Consequently, G‑d is not just the G‑d of our ancestors; He is our G‑d. He's not just the G‑d we heard about, but the G‑d we heard from.
The divine revelation at Sinai thus distinguishes itself from any other revelation described in other religious traditions. Central to other religions is the belief that G‑d never shows Himself to the masses, to a community of commoners. He speaks only to the prophet, who alone is worthy of divine communion. It's for the flock to trust implicitly in their shepherd's account of revelation. Not so in Judaism, which maintains that, indeed, the greatest divine revelation of all time was made accessible to maidservant and Moses alike.
Moreover, even as He spoke to a nation of millions, G‑d addressed each one of them personally. As our sages teach, in His opening words at Sinai, "I am G‑d, your G‑d," G‑d chose to use the singular form of "your" (elokecha) – the "thy" of vintage English – over the plural form of "your" (elokeichem).
This was one of the greatest gifts that G‑d bequeathed our people, to include all of us in the Sinaic display, for it turned our nation's most seminal event into a living memory, as opposed to a lifeless lesson in history.
Moving along to the Ninth of Av, the day the Holy Temple was destroyed thousands of years ago and a national day of mourning – its customs include eating eggs dipped in ash (just prior to the fast), sitting on low stools, wearing slippers, fasting, and lamenting like it happened only yesterday.
The sukkah transports us to that distant and formative road-tripCome Sukkot, and we move into huts for a week to recall the booths we lived in throughout our desert trek. Like a figurative time machine, the sukkah transports us to that distant and formative road-trip.
And the list goes on.
The point is, remembering is big in our tradition.
The following discussion seeks to highlight just how big.
"Today I am one hundred and twenty years old," begins Moses' last homily. "I am no longer able to lead you…"
The end is near, or here.
"Be strong and courageous… Do not be afraid… for G‑d is going with you…"2
These moving snippets, and the time in which they were spoken, help set the scene and mood of the last public address given by a selfless leader to his (less than selfless) congregation.
And these are the words with which he leaves them:
At the end of seven years…during the festival on the holiday of Sukkot, when all Israel comes to appear before G‑d, in the place that He will choose, the king should read the Torah before all of Israel. Assemble the people, the men, the women, and the minors, and the convert in your cities, in order that they will hear and in order that they will learn and they shall fear G‑d…3
Moses' final remarks to his people outlined the mitzvah of Hakhel, the commandment obliging all Jews to septennially gather in the Holy Temple to hear selections of the Torah being read by the Jewish king.
Then, following Moses' talk with the people, G‑d has a final talk4 with him:
You are soon to lie with your fathers. This nation will rise up and desire to follow the gods of the people of the land into which they are coming. They will forsake Me and violate the covenant which I made with them…
Now, write for yourselves this song…
Which song, we wonder; and how might a song stop Jews from assimilating?
It is a positive command for every Jewish man to write a Torah scroll for himself, as the verse states, "Now write for yourselves this song," meaning to say, "write for yourselves a Torah which contains this song…"5
This mitzvah, for every individual to write his own Torah scroll, is the 613th and final mitzvah to be recorded in the Torah.6 It is the subject of the last conversation between G‑d and Moses that pertained to the people. It must somehow contain a recipe for Jewish survival, an antidote for assimilation.
But what might that be?
If Judaism were taught as a living experience, it would experience long lifeThe single concern on Moses' mind that day, and later echoed by G‑d in their conversation, was the future of this fragile nation – a future that would become less rosy with time, offering terrible persecution as well as progressive religious challenges.
The solution suggested by both G‑d and Moses was the same:
If Judaism were taught as a living experience, it would experience long life; if it were taught as a dead subject, however, it would, G‑d forbid, be subject to death.
Both the mitzvah of Hakhel and writing a Torah scroll were established to turn the former prospect into reality.
Hakhel was the reenactment of Sinai. Here's how Maimonides describes it:
They would prepare their hearts and alert their ears to listen with dread and awe and with trembling joy, like the day [the Torah] was given at Sinai …as though the Torah was being commanded to him now, and he was hearing it from the mouth of the Almighty...7
Might this explain why of all Biblical commands, Hakhel stands alone in obligating (parents to bring their) children,8 including those too young to walk and too underdeveloped to understand, feel, or appreciate what was going on around them?
But the Hakhel experience was not just about the mind, it was about the soul; it triggered the subconscious, not just the conscious. As such, children, who possess as much soul as adults, were present. Somewhere inside their psyche they re-experienced Sinai.
This also explains why even the greatest sages were present when the king read the Torah, even though they were fluent in what would be read. For this was not a lecture or a refresher course, it was a trip.
Hakhel was the communal reenactment of Sinai; it made things real againFor a similar reason it wasn't the scholar most proficient in Torah who read from it, but the king, "for the king is an agent to make the words of G‑d heard."9
A class is best taught by an expert teacher. The awe of Sinai is best reenacted through the presence and word of a mighty king.
In sum, Hakhel was the communal reenactment of Sinai; it made things real again.
But while that worked in Jerusalem, in the Holy Temple, once in seven years, how would the other six years, outside Jerusalem, and the day when our nation would be bereft of a Temple, be charged with living Judaism?
For this reason G‑d gave us the mitzvah of writing a Torah scroll, to be written and stored inside one's home wherever and whenever they may live, and whose purpose it is to recreate the personal Divine encounter we each experienced at Sinai.
Maimonides could not have put it better when he said that when "a person writes a Torah with his own hand, it is as if he received it from Mount Sinai…"
Thus, Moses' punch line could not have been more appropriate and helpful at that historic moment. Both the mitzvot he conveyed and the ideas they represented were his last and best words of advice to a people facing great odds.
Do more than study Torah and perform mitzvot. Live them, ingest and digest them, experience them—and they will live on.10
What's in It for Me?
We're losing numbers, and fast.
Currently, 72% of (non-observant) American Jews intermarry.11
Most of those unfortunately never received a Jewish education. That's problem number one.
Some of them did, however, which is problem number two.
If we want to get through to the youth of today, we must shift our educational focus from Jewish knowledge to Jewish experience – Judaism as a lifestyle not (just) a topic for discussion or a paper.
How often have I heard someone who recently experienced Shabbat, a Jewish holiday, or passionate study saying, "I love it, it talks to me, I can't live without it!"
Perhaps that's because for the first time in their lives they engaged in living Judaism, not laboratory Judaism.
Or perhaps it was the first time that they felt that Judaism wasn't someone else's story, but was their own.
1. See Pirkei d'Rabbi Elazar ch. 41; Midrash Rabbah, Exodus 28:6.
2. Deuteronomy 31:2, 6.
3. Ibid. 31:10-12. According to the biblical commentator Abarbenel, verse 31:30 describes an address given by Moses to the representatives of Israel, but the people weren't present.
4. Ibid. 31:16, 19. Their conversations later on (e.g., 32:48 and further) were logistical and contained some final remarks, but didn't pertain to his leadership of the people.
5. Laws of a Torah Scroll 7:1.
6. For more on this mitzvah, and the reason why it isn't commonly practiced nowadays, see Writing a Personal Torah Scroll.
7. Laws of Festival Offerings 3:6.
8. See Talmud, Kiddushin 34b: "Children are obligated in the mitzvah of Hakhel."
9. Laws of Festival Offerings 3:6.
10. Based on the Rebbe's teachings, recorded in Likutei Sichot vol. 34.
See also http://www.simpletoremember.com/vitals/world-jewish-population.htm
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Feet, shoes, and mats
on: August 31, 2010, 11:28:20 AM
It is through Boo Dog's relation with Gokor that we get to use Gokor's gym.
Boo Dog writes:
The shoe wearing things goes like this...
1) Only wrestling shoes or bare feet on the mat. This is due to the skin diseases that grapplers contract due to bacteria, viruses, and germs brought onto the mat from regular floor surfaces. These mats are highly used, so a lot of care is taken in keeping them clean.
2) If you are wearing wrestling shoes, don't wear them off the mat. Many people wear wrestling shoes on the way to the gym, walking around the parking lot, walking around the gym, into the bathroom, and in the waiting areas. You wouldn't believe the surprise then when we tell them they can't use those shoes on the mat. Without thinking, they have essentially turned them into street shoes. So after a fight, take them off when leaving the mat area.
3) For the same reason, if you are fighting in bare feet, when you leave the mat put some flip flops, sandels, or even your street shoes on so the bottom of your feet don't become as bad as street shoes. Then when reentering the mat area, take off those shoes. This also means don't walk around in bare feet before you enter the mat to fight as well.
4) There is a cage and boxing ring that guys can use for warmups. This same rule applies for these areas. You can use street shoes around them but before entering them, treat them as you would the mat area.
All of this is for your, and the other people using this gym's protection. It has nothing to do with formality or ritual let me assure you. This is a hard core MMA gym. This procedure is about not having anyone loose precious workout time before a fight due to a skin disease. Outdoors, this wouldn't matter. Nature has a way of taking care of this kind of thing on its own. But inside a heavily used, closed environment like this one, the germs just sit there and fester on the mats until you rub your face on it in the middle of a grappling session or fight. They clean them every day, but there is no way to undue the damage wearing contaminated shoes on the mat has done.
Hope this helps clear up the shoe policy for this gathering. The venue is amazing. We just need to leave it in the condition that we found it so we can continue to have the gatherings there.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Rethinking options on Iran
on: August 31, 2010, 10:33:18 AM
Rethinking American Options on Iran
August 31, 2010
By George Friedman
Public discussion of potential attacks on Iran’s nuclear development sites is surging again. This has happened before. On several occasions, leaks about potential airstrikes have created an atmosphere of impending war. These leaks normally coincided with diplomatic initiatives and were designed to intimidate the Iranians and facilitate a settlement favorable to the United States and Israel. These initiatives have failed in the past. It is therefore reasonable to associate the current avalanche of reports with the imposition of sanctions and view it as an attempt to increase the pressure on Iran and either force a policy shift or take advantage of divisions within the regime.
My first instinct is to dismiss the war talk as simply another round of psychological warfare against Iran, this time originating with Israel. Most of the reports indicate that Israel is on the verge of attacking Iran. From a psychological-warfare standpoint, this sets up the good-cop/bad-cop routine. The Israelis play the mad dog barely restrained by the more sober Americans, who urge the Iranians through intermediaries to make concessions and head off a war. As I said, we have been here before several times, and this hasn’t worked.
The worst sin of intelligence is complacency, the belief that simply because something has happened (or has not happened) several times before it is not going to happen this time. But each episode must be considered carefully in its own light and preconceptions from previous episodes must be banished. Indeed, the previous episodes might well have been intended to lull the Iranians into complacency themselves. Paradoxically, the very existence of another round of war talk could be intended to convince the Iranians that war is distant while covert war preparations take place. An attack may be in the offing, but the public displays neither confirm nor deny that possibility.
The Evolving Iranian Assessment
STRATFOR has gone through three phases in its evaluation of the possibility of war. The first, which was in place until July 2009, held that while Iran was working toward a nuclear weapon, its progress could not be judged by its accumulation of enriched uranium. While that would give you an underground explosion, the creation of a weapon required sophisticated technologies for ruggedizing and miniaturizing the device, along with a very reliable delivery system. In our view, Iran might be nearing a testable device but it was far from a deliverable weapon. Therefore, we dismissed war talk and argued that there was no meaningful pressure for an attack on Iran.
We modified this view somewhat in July 2009, after the Iranian elections and the demonstrations. While we dismissed the significance of the demonstrations, we noted close collaboration developing between Russia and Iran. That meant there could be no effective sanctions against Iran, so stalling for time in order for sanctions to work had no value. Therefore, the possibility of a strike increased.
But then Russian support stalled as well, and we turned back to our analysis, adding to it an evaluation of potential Iranian responses to any air attack. We noted three potential counters: activating Shiite militant groups (most notably Hezbollah), creating chaos in Iraq and blocking the Strait of Hormuz, through which 45 percent of global oil exports travel. Of the three Iranian counters, the last was the real “nuclear option.” Interfering with the supply of oil from the Persian Gulf would raise oil prices stunningly and would certainly abort the tepid global economic recovery. Iran would have the option of plunging the world into a global recession or worse.
There has been debate over whether Iran would choose to do the latter or whether the U.S. Navy could rapidly clear mines. It is hard to imagine how an Iranian government could survive air attacks without countering them in some way. It is also a painful lesson of history that the confidence of any military force cannot be a guide to its performance. At the very least, there is a possibility that the Iranians could block the Strait of Hormuz, and that means the possibility of devastating global economic consequences. That is a massive risk for the United States to take, against an unknown probability of successful Iranian action. In our mind, it was not a risk that the United States could take, especially when added to the other Iranian counters. Therefore, we did not think the United States would strike.
Certainly, we did not believe that the Israelis would strike Iran alone. First, the Israelis are much less likely to succeed than the Americans would be, given the size of their force and their distance from Iran (not to mention the fact that they would have to traverse either Turkish, Iraqi or Saudi airspace). More important, Israel lacks the ability to mitigate any consequences. Any Israeli attack would have to be coordinated with the United States so that the United States could alert and deploy its counter-mine, anti-submarine and missile-suppression assets. For Israel to act without giving the United States time to mitigate the Hormuz option would put Israel in the position of triggering a global economic crisis. The political consequences of that would not be manageable by Israel. Therefore, we found an Israeli strike against Iran without U.S. involvement difficult to imagine.
The Current Evaluation
Our current view is that the accumulation of enough enriched uranium to build a weapon does not mean that the Iranians are anywhere close to having a weapon. Moreover, the risks inherent in an airstrike on its nuclear facilities outstrip the benefits (and even that assumes that the entire nuclear industry is destroyed in one fell swoop — an unsure outcome at best). It also assumes the absence of other necessary technologies. Assumptions of U.S. prowess against mines might be faulty, and so, too, could my assumption about weapon development. The calculus becomes murky, and one would expect all governments involved to be waffling.
There is, of course, a massive additional issue. Apart from the direct actions that Iran might make, there is the fact that the destruction of its nuclear capability would not solve the underlying strategic challenge that Iran poses. It has the largest military force in the Persian Gulf, absent the United States. The United States is in the process of withdrawing from Iraq, which would further diminish the ability of the United States to contain Iran. Therefore, a surgical strike on Iran’s nuclear capability combined with the continuing withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq would create a profound strategic crisis in the Persian Gulf.
The country most concerned about Iran is not Israel, but Saudi Arabia. The Saudis recall the result of the last strategic imbalance in the region, when Iraq, following its armistice with Iran, proceeded to invade Kuwait, opening the possibility that its next intention was to seize the northeastern oil fields of Saudi Arabia. In that case, the United States intervened. Given that the United States is now withdrawing from Iraq, intervention following withdrawal would be politically difficult unless the threat to the United States was clear. More important, the Iranians might not give the Saudis the present Saddam Hussein gave them by seizing Kuwait and then halting. They might continue. They certainly have the military capacity to try.
In a real sense, the Iranians would not have to execute such a military operation in order to gain the benefits. The simple imbalance of forces would compel the Saudis and others in the Persian Gulf to seek a political accommodation with the Iranians. Strategic domination of the Persian Gulf does not necessarily require military occupation — as the Americans have abundantly demonstrated over the past 40 years. It merely requires the ability to carry out those operations.
The Saudis, therefore, have been far quieter — and far more urgent — than the Israelis in asking the United States to do something about the Iranians. The Saudis certainly do not want the United States to leave Iraq. They want the Americans there as a blocking force protecting Saudi Arabia but not positioned on Saudi soil. They obviously are not happy about Iran’s nuclear efforts, but the Saudis see the conventional and nuclear threat as a single entity. The collapse of the Iran-Iraq balance of power has left the Arabian Peninsula in a precarious position.
King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia did an interesting thing a few weeks ago. He visited Lebanon personally and in the company of the president of Syria. The Syrian and Saudi regimes are not normally friendly, given different ideologies, Syria’s close relationship with Iran and their divergent interests in Lebanon. But there they were together, meeting with the Lebanese government and giving not very subtle warnings to Hezbollah. Saudi influence and money and the threat of Iran jeopardizing the Saudi regime by excessive adventurism seems to have created an anti-Hezbollah dynamic in Lebanon. Hezbollah is suddenly finding many of its supposed allies cooperating with some of its certain enemies. The threat of a Hezbollah response to an airstrike on Iran seems to be mitigated somewhat.
Eliminating Iranian Leverage In Hormuz
I said that there were three counters. One was Hezbollah, which is the least potent of the three from the American perspective. The other two are Iraq and Hormuz. If the Iraqis were able to form a government that boxed in pro-Iranian factions in a manner similar to how Hezbollah is being tentatively contained, then the second Iranian counter would be weakened. That would “just” leave the major issue — Hormuz.
The problem with Hormuz is that the United States cannot tolerate any risk there. The only way to control that risk is to destroy Iranian naval capability before airstrikes on nuclear targets take place. Since many of the Iranian mine layers would be small boats, this would mean an extensive air campaign and special operations forces raids against Iranian ports designed to destroy anything that could lay mines, along with any and all potential mine-storage facilities, anti-ship missile emplacements, submarines and aircraft. Put simply, any piece of infrastructure within a few miles of any port would need to be eliminated. The risk to Hormuz cannot be eliminated after the attack on nuclear sites. It must be eliminated before an attack on the nuclear sites. And the damage must be overwhelming.
There are two benefits to this strategy. First, the nuclear facilities aren’t going anywhere. It is the facilities that are producing the enriched uranium and other parts of the weapon that must be destroyed more than any uranium that has already been enriched. And the vast bulk of those facilities will remain where they are even if there is an attack on Iran’s maritime capabilities. Key personnel would undoubtedly escape, but considering that within minutes of the first American strike anywhere in Iran a mass evacuation of key scientists would be under way anyway, there is little appreciable difference between a first strike against nuclear sites and a first strike against maritime targets. (U.S. air assets are good, but even the United States cannot strike 100-plus targets simultaneously.)
Second, the counter-nuclear strategy wouldn’t deal with the more fundamental problem of Iran’s conventional military power. This opening gambit would necessarily attack Iran’s command-and-control, air-defense and offensive air capabilities as well as maritime capabilities. This would sequence with an attack on the nuclear capabilities and could be extended into a prolonged air campaign targeting Iran’s ground forces.
The United States is very good at gaining command of the air and attacking conventional military capabilities (see Yugoslavia in 1999). Its strategic air capability is massive and, unlike most of the U.S. military, underutilized. The United States also has substantial air forces deployed around Iran, along with special operations forces teams trained in penetration, evasion and targeting, and satellite surveillance. Far from the less-than-rewarding task of counterinsurgency in Afghanistan, going after Iran would be the kind of war the United States excels at fighting. No conventional land invasion, no boots-on-the-ground occupation, just a very thorough bombing campaign. If regime change happens as a consequence, great, but that is not the primary goal. Defanging the Iranian state is.
It is also the only type of operation that could destroy the nuclear capabilities (and then some) while preventing an Iranian response. It would devastate Iran’s conventional military forces, eliminating the near-term threat to the Arabian Peninsula. Such an attack, properly executed, would be the worst-case scenario for Iran and, in my view, the only way an extended air campaign against nuclear facilities could be safely executed.
Just as Iran’s domination of the Persian Gulf rests on its ability to conduct military operations, not on its actually conducting the operations, the reverse is also true. It is the capacity and apparent will to conduct broadened military operations against Iran that can shape Iranian calculations and decision-making. So long as the only threat is to Iran’s nuclear facilities, its conventional forces remain intact and its counter options remain viable, Iran will not shift its strategy. Once its counter options are shut down and its conventional forces are put at risk, Iran must draw up another calculus.
In this scenario, Israel is a marginal player. The United States is the only significant actor, and it might not strike Iran simply over the nuclear issue. That’s not a major U.S. problem. But the continuing withdrawal from Iraq and Iran’s conventional forces are very much an American problem. Destroying Iran’s nuclear capability is merely an added benefit.
Given the Saudi intervention in Lebanese politics, this scenario now requires a radical change in Iraq, one in which a government would be quickly formed and Iranian influence quickly curtailed. Interestingly, we have heard recent comments by administration officials asserting that Iranian influence has, in fact, been dramatically reduced. At present, such a reduction is not obvious to us, but the first step of shifting perceptions tends to be propaganda. If such a reduction became real, then the two lesser Iranian counter moves would be blocked and the U.S. offensive option would become more viable.
Internal Tension in Tehran
At this point, we would expect to see the Iranians recalculating their position, with some of the clerical leadership using the shifting sands of Lebanon against Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Indeed, there have been many indications of internal stress, not between the mythical democratic masses and the elite, but within the elite itself. This past weekend the Iranian speaker of the house attacked Ahmadinejad’s handling of special emissaries. For what purpose we don’t yet know, but the internal tension is growing.
The Iranians are not concerned about the sanctions. The destruction of their nuclear capacity would, from their point of view, be a pity. But the destruction of large amounts of their conventional forces would threaten not only their goals in the wider Islamic world but also their stability at home. That would be unacceptable and would require a shift in their general strategy.
From the Iranian point of view — and from ours — Washington’s intentions are opaque. But when we consider the Obama administration’s stated need to withdraw from Iraq, Saudi pressure on the United States not to withdraw while Iran remains a threat, Saudi moves against Hezbollah to split Syria from Iran and Israeli pressure on the United States to deal with nuclear weapons, the pieces for a new American strategy are emerging from the mist. Certainly the Iranians appear to be nervous. And the threat of a new strategy might just be enough to move the Iranians off dead center. If they don’t, logic would dictate the consideration of a broader treatment of the military problem posed by Iran.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Silver Stars
on: August 30, 2010, 08:10:06 PM
Fort Bragg, North Carolina (CNN) -- It's been clear for months that the fighting in Afghanistan is more intense than it's been since the war there started nearly nine years ago. Yet, from the midst of those increasingly violent firefights come some amazing stories of heroism.
On Monday, seven soldiers will receive public recognition for their actions during a Silver Star ceremony at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
The medals -- the third-highest award for valor in the Army -- are being awarded for five separate battles over a span of more than two years.
Sgt. 1st Class Antonio Gonzalez and Sgt. 1st Class Mark Roland were part of Special Forces Operational Detachment Alpha (SFODA) 732.
On June 11, 2007, their unit was sent to help a group of Afghan soldiers who had been pinned down by an enemy attack. When the unit arrived, they and their fellow soldiers were immediately enveloped in the same ambush by a much larger enemy force.
Even though the enemy was firing from just 10 feet, Roland immediately climbed out of the relative safety of his armored vehicle and started attacking enemy fighters in a nearby wadi, or dry streambed.
He and his fellow soldiers killed two of the enemy and cleared the rest of the wadi of enemy attackers, all while under fire from snipers. Their actions meant the enemy was no longer a threat to his unit's rear flank.
About the same time, Gonzalez saw that four Afghan soldiers were pinned down by enemy fire. He jumped out of his vehicle and ran nearly 40 yards through enemy fire.
"Without regard for his life," the Army account read, "over the course of three trips through enemy fire, he rescued all four soldiers and brought them back to the safety of his armored vehicle." He did it all while under fire from enemy sniper and machine gun fire.
After clearing the wadi and getting back in his vehicle, Roland saw eight Afghan soldiers who were pinned down by enemy machine gun fire. He got out of his vehicle, ran through enemy fire and moved four of the Afghan soldiers back to his vehicle and directed the other four to another armored vehicle.
All told, the actions of Roland and Gonzalez -- both of whom had already received the Bronze Star for past battle -- and their fellow soldiers defeated the ambush and led to the death of 60 enemy fighters including two Taliban commanders, according to the Army.
Staff Sgts. Mario Pinilla and Daniel Gould also had Bronze Star medals to their name, and Gould had also received the Silver Star for past heroics. They were both serving with Special Operational Detachment Alpha 7134 near Kandahar Airfield in southern Afghanistan.
The two were checking reports of Taliban movements near the village of Faramuz when they were ambushed near a river. Pinilla saw one of his fellow soldiers pinned down by enemy fire and already shot twice. Pinilla grabbed a large machine gun, ran through enemy fire, shooting back the entire time, then dived to the ground to block the enemy fire from his wounded colleague, according to the Army
During a 10-minute firefight, he was shot twice. Eventually, more soldiers showed up to help Pinilla and the other wounded man. The Army account says even though he was wounded, Pinilla didn't stop fighting.
"While his fellow detachment members fought to get to him back to safety, Sergeant Pinilla drew his 9mm Beretta and continued engaging the enemy's ambush line, despite being critically injured," the account reads.
Gould also put his life on the line to save a fellow soldier.
When the Taliban ambushed the unit, he got into an intense half-hour gun battle with the enemy. His helmet was shot off his head, and he was hit once in his body armor.
During the fight, he saw one of his teammates, who was much closer to the enemy, get shot and critically wounded. According to the Army, he used a large machine gun to neutralize the enemy that was the greatest threat to the wounded man, giving a medic a chance to go help the soldier. Then, knowing then man need to be evacuated, Gould joined the medic first in dragging the wounded soldier through nearly 50 yards of enemy fire, and then carrying the wounded man the last 40 yards on his shoulders until they all reached safety.
An enemy unit ambushed Master Sgt. Julio Bocanegra's convoy on August 26, 2008. During the attack in Paktika province, Bocanegra noticed that a group of four Afghan national policemen were pinned down by the enemy, their pickup truck blocking the route for the rest of the unit. According to the Army, Bocanegra jumped out of his vehicle and ran through a hail of fire to reach the Afghan police, all but one of whom was wounded. The Army account spells out how he helped get them to safety.
"Sergeant Bocanegra then disregarded the enemy fire and picked up one of the wounded and placed him into the vehicle which [was] continuing to receive effective fire. Continuing to ignore the danger to his life, Sergeant Bocanegra then picked up a second policeman with multiple gunshot wounds to both legs and placed him into the vehicle," the account said.
Bocanegra, with the help of the one policeman who had not been shot, got the third wounded officer into the Afghan police pickup truck and moved them all to safety. All three Afghan police officers and three soldiers who had been wounded in the fight survived their injuries.
Sgt. 1st Class Jonathan Clouse, an Army veteran, was working with a Marine special operations unit and was walking along a boulder-strewn path when one of his teammates was badly wounded. He immediately provided medical attention to that man. Then, according to the Army, another teammate was wounded.
"SFC Clouse ran through the kill zone to render further medical attention under head machine gun fire that struck the back of his body armor," according to the Army summary of the battle. The second man's life couldn't be saved.
The summary says Clouse continued providing advanced combat first aid amid intense enemy fire.
"Reacting to the calls for assistance from other wounded, SFC Clouse again ran through the kill zone to provide medical assistance," according to the report.
One enemy sniper bullet destroyed Clouse's weapon, but he kept on. All told, Clouse provided medical assistance to four American wounded and one Afghan soldier who'd been wounded in the attack and helped moved them to safety.
Sgt. 1st Class David Nunez was in a convoy of U.S. Special Forces and Afghan national army soldiers traveling through the village of Shewan in Ferah province on May 29, 2008.
As many as 60 insurgents attacked the convoy, disabling Nunez's vehicle with a rocket-propelled grenade. The vehicle started burning, and Nunez was worried that other soldiers were still in the vehicle, according to the Army.
"Without regard for his own life, [Nunez] began to discard ammunition and explosives from the rear of the vehicle in order to ensure others were not injured. During this entire period of time, SFC Nunez was engulfed in flames. Ignoring his wounds and the intense concentration of enemy fire, he continued to assist the convoy pinned in the kill zone until he eventually succumbed to his injuries," the battle account reads.
Nunez's obituary noted that he had already received a Bronze Star, an Army commendation medal and numerous other decorations.
After Monday's ceremony at Fort Bragg, his record will be upgraded to include the Silver Star for "his bravery in keeping with the finest traditions of military heroism and reflect distinct credit upon himself, this command and the United States Army."