Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Patriot Post
on: January 28, 2009, 11:08:34 AM
Vol. 09 No. 04
28 January 2009
"Beware the greedy hand of government, thrusting itself into every corner and crevice of industry." --Thomas Paine
"The stimulus package being discussed is politically smart but economically stupid. It's that bedeviling, omnipresent Santa Claus and Tooth Fairy problem again. ... A far more important measure that Congress can take toward a healthy economy is to ensure that the 2003 tax cuts don't expire in 2010 as scheduled. If not, there are 15 separate taxes scheduled to rise in 2010, costing Americans $200 billion a year in increased taxes. In the face of a recession, we don't need that." --economist Walter E. Williams
"Bashing Rush Limbaugh last week, Obama urged GOP lawmakers to ignore the voices of obstructionism and sign on to his behemoth stimulus package: 'We shouldn't let partisan politics derail what are very important things that need to get done.' ... History has shown us that 'Get Things Done' is mindless liberal code for passing ineffective legislation and expanding government for government's sake." --columnist Michelle Malkin
"More government spending by Hoover and Roosevelt did not pull the United States economy out of the Great Depression in the 1930s. More government spending did not solve Japan's 'lost decade' in the 1990s. As such, it is a triumph of hope over experience to believe that more government spending will help the U.S. today." --two hundred economists in an open letter disseminated by the Cato Institute
"We all know how we got into this economic mess. We spent too much, borrowed with abandon, and acted like the bills would never come due. So what's the prescription for getting out? Spending more, borrowing more, and acting like the bills will never come due." --columnist Steve Chapman
"For those of you not shouting hosannas, it might have occurred to you that we are suffering from a rampant sickness in American life that casts government as the author of your dreams and an Illinois politician as the linchpin of your hopes." --Denver Post columnist David Harsanyi
"Employment gives health, sobriety and morals. Constant employment and well-paid labor produce general prosperity, content and cheerfulness." --American statesman Daniel Webster (1782-1852)
"Too bad all the people who know how to run the country are busy driving taxis and cutting hair." --comedian George Burns (1898-1996)
"Ah, the dirty little secret is out. That $700 billion TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program) bill was in part simply a variation on congressional pork -- except this time the recipients were banks with friends in high places. One of those powerful friends was Rep. Barney Frank (D-[MA]), chairman of the House Financial Services Committee. And one of the recipients of a $12 million infusion of federal cash was the troubled OneUnited Bank in Boston -- a bank that had already been accused of 'unsafe and unsound banking practices.' Its CEO, Kevin Cohee had also been criticized by regulators for 'excessive' pay that included a Porsche. Frank admits he included language in the TARP legislation specifically designed to bail out OneUnited. He also acknowledges contacting officials at the Treasury Department about the bank's bailout application. 'I believe it would have been a very big mistake to put the only black bank (in Massachusetts) out of business,' Frank said. Besides, he insists, 'It was a case of the federal government causing the problem.' Causing the bad loans OneUnited made? Or would that go back to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which Frank so staunchly defended earlier on? Frank has never failed to amaze us with his ability to defend the indefensible and to staunchly uphold the double standard. It's his special talent." --Boston Herald
Not that there's anything wrong with that!: "n a meeting [last week] with senior White House staffers, President Obama showed a lot of love. That's right. The president is a man hugger. We counted nine man-to-man hugs. ... We think the president could be setting a new trend here." --CBS's Julie Chen
Just doesn't get it: "y far the lion's share of the [federal budget] surpluses went into the tax cuts. It was the most profoundly un-conservative act of the Bush presidency. Rather than pay down the debt or save in the good times for the inevitable bad times, Bush squandered it all, so that all of us, particularly the high-income earners, could indulge in a bit more consumption." --Newsweek editor Fareed Zakaria, who must have missed the fact that federal revenue increased faster than inflation because of the tax cuts
Right analysis, wrong goal: "As he has done so often, Obama pronounced debates about the size of government as irrelevant. What matters is 'whether it works.' Quietly but purposefully, he was overturning the Reagan revolution." --Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne
Partisan divide: "Does President Barack Obama finally have the cajones, that some Democrats haven't had in the past, in saying to other Republicans 'you don't have to listen to Rush Limbaugh'?" --MSNBC's Norah O'Donnell
Wrong label: "Now, the [Kristen] Gillibrand pick [for U.S. Senate from New York] is not without controversy itself. She is a conservative Democrat, favoring gun rights. And the pick has upset some more liberal Democrats." --ABC's "Good Morning America" reporter John Berman **Gillibrand has an American Conservative Union rating of 8, and a NARAL endorsement. That's conservative?
And proud of it: "I'm a liberal, I was born a liberal, I'll be one 'til I die, what else should a reporter be when you see so much and when we have such great privilege and access to the truth?" --White House reporter Helen Thomas
On the inauguration crowd: "From above, even the seagulls must have been awed by the blanket of humanity." --ABC's Bill Weir **Yeah, awed by the amount of garbage dropped by the Obamaniacs and the huge feast they were about to make of it.
Looks as if the Honeymoon's Over: "Rotten Canned Fish Linked to the Democrats" --Bangkok Post
And You Thought College Was Expensive: "Full-Day Kindergarten Will Cost Millions" --Muskegon (MI) Chronicle
News of the Tautological: "A New Day Dawns for America, World" --St. Petersburg Times
Everything Seemingly Is Spinning Out of Control: "Former French President Chirac Hospitalised After Mauling by His Clinically Depressed Poodle" --Daily Mail (London)
We Blame Global Warming: "As Challenges Mount, Ardor for Obama Cools Abroad" --Associated Press
Except for the Northern Hemisphere, Where It's Winter: "Study: Antarctica Joins Rest of Globe in Warming" --Associated Press
Bottom Stories of the Day: "Surveyed Scientists Agree Global Warming Is Real" --CNN.com
(Thanks to The Wall Street Journal's James Taranto)
Translation: more government: "We begin this year and this administration in the midst of an unprecedented crisis that calls for unprecedented action. ...f we do not act boldly and swiftly, a bad situation could become dramatically worse." --President Barack Obama
It's all about retaining power: "If we don't get this done we [the Democrats] could lose seats and I could lose re-election. But we can't let people like Rush Limbaugh stall this. That's how things don't get done in this town." --Barack Obama, more concerned with re-election that America
Stumbling out of the gate: "What I told [Middle East 'envoy' George Mitchell] is start by listening, because all too often the United States starts by dictating. ... My job to the Muslim world is to communicate that the Americans are not your enemy." --Barack Obama in his first official presidential TV interview -- with Saudi-owned, Dubai-based Al Arabiya news channel Al Arabiya
The earth is renewed: "There is a great exhalation of breath going on in the world as people express their appreciation for the new direction that's being set and the team that is put together by the president. We have a lot of damage to repair. It not any kind of repudiation or indictment of the past eight years so much as an excitement and an acceptance of how we are going to be doing business." --the new secretary of state, Hillary Clinton
Says the kettle to the pot: "For too long, international family planning assistance has been used as a political wedge issue, the subject of a back and forth debate that has served only to divide us. I have no desire to continue this stale and fruitless debate." --Barack Obama on reversing the ban on federal funding for international "family planning" (read: abortion)
Non Compos Mentis: "[C]ontraception will reduce costs to the states and to the federal government." --House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) saying that fewer births would save the government money
Socialism 101: "Well, whatever you want to call itâ€¦. If we are going to put money into the banks, we certainly want equity for the American people. In other words, if we are strengthening [the banks], then the American people should get some of the upside of that strengthening. Some people call that nationalization. I'm not talking about total ownership.... Now how big that investment becomes is -- would we have ever thought we would see the day when we'd be using that terminology? Nationalization of the banks." --Nancy Pelosi when asked if it's a good idea to "have nationalization or partial nationalization of the banks"
Bursting with pride: "If there was no Martin Luther King Jr. and no Roland Burris, there would be no Barack Obama in the White House today." --Sen. Roland Burris, who was appointed to take Obama's Senate seat
Social engineering: "I am concerned, as I'm sure many of you are, that these jobs not simply go to high-skill people who are already professionals or to white male construction workers. I have nothing against white male construction workers. I'm just saying that there are a lot of other people who have needs as well..." --former Labor Secretary Robert Reich
From the peacenik files: "I have believed for some time that military power is no solution to terrorism. ... So let me suggest a truly audacious hope for [the Obama] administration: How about a five-year time-out on war -- unless, of course, there is a genuine threat to the nation?" --former presidential candidate George McGovern advising Obama on appeasement
Mindless hope: "I know just coming back from Egypt and Abu Dhabi and other places in Europe that the world is so happy that we've changed direction. They're so hopeful. They are as hopeful as we are, and they are really impressed with the American people that they have taken on this guy and that uh, he's going to be -- they hope, managing things in a different way." --actress Susan Sarandon
Thugs for Obama: "He is a man with good intentions; he has immediately eliminated Guantanamo prison, and that should be applauded. I am very happy and the world is happy that this young president has arrived ... [We] welcome the new government and we are filled with hope." --Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez on Obama
Looking for a one-way plane ticket to Gaza: "Yes, I do. I think [Hamas can be trusted]. Because of their own self-interest. Not because they're benevolent or kind or that sort of thing. But yes, I do. I think they can. And they've never betrayed any commitment that they've made to me or publicly, as a matter of fact." --chief Village Idiot Jimmy Carter
"More than 144 hours into Barack Obama's presidency, the economy is still in recession, the country is still at war, and in many parts of the country it's still cold outside. Citizens are growing impatient: Wasn't President Obama supposed to bring change?" --Wall Street Journal columnist James Taranto
"During his upcoming administration, Obama has promised to out-do FDR by putting an additional 2.5 million people on the federal payroll. He has also threatened -- I mean, promised -- to create some sort of civilian paramilitary group that sounds suspiciously like Hitler's brown shirts, but I could very well be mistaken. For all I know, Obama may dress them in blue." --columnist Burt Prelustsky
"This week the Left arrived in Washington, excited about the wonderful things it will do to us -- I mean, for us. They always do it for us." --ABC "20/20" co-anchor John Stossel
"Let's start a new group: PETT: People for the Ethical Treatment of Taxpayers." --political analyst Rich Galen
"If Nancy Pelosi wants fewer births, I have the way to do this, and it won't require any contraception. You simply put pictures of Nancy Pelosi in every cheap motel room in America. That will keep birth rates down, because that picture will keep a lot of things down." --radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh
President Obama said when it comes to passing the stimulus package we can't afford distractions and delays. You know who took offense to this in Congress? The head of the Senate Distractions and Delays Committee.
President Obama has signed an executive order closing Guantanamo Bay. Well, the big problem, how do you get these inmates back to their home countries? They're all on the "do not fly" list.
Well, I mean, what'll they do with them? I mean, look, most politicians don't want them in their state or their district. Other countries don't want them. Although, today, New York City's Yellow Cab Company said, "Hey, we'll take them."
Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich's impeachment trial got under way [Monday]. But he was not there. He didn't go. He went on "The View" instead, which is a pretty smart move, because it will help his case when he pleads insanity.
Former French President Jacques Chirac was rushed to the hospital after being mauled by his clinically depressed poodle. See that's how you know that the French are not fighters, okay -- when their leader is attacked by a maniacal poodle.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Surprise, surprise
on: January 27, 2009, 10:22:17 PM
AP article pulled from JEMS.com
Hamas tried to hijack ambulances during Gaza war
2009 Jan 26
GAZA STRIP, Palestine -- PALESTINIAN civilians living in Gaza during the three-week war with Israel have spoken of the challenge of being caught between Hamas and Israeli soldiers as the radical Islamic movement that controls the Gaza strip attempted to hijack ambulances.
Mohammed Shriteh, 30, is an ambulance driver registered with and trained by the Palestinian Red Crescent Society.
His first day of work in the al-Quds neighbourhood was January 1, the sixth day of the war. "Mostly the war was not as fast or as chaotic as I expected," Mr Shriteh told the Herald. "We would co-ordinate with the Israelis before we pick up patients, because they have all our names, and our IDs, so they would not shoot at us."
Mr Shriteh said the more immediate threat was from Hamas, who would lure the ambulances into the heart of a battle to transport fighters to safety.
"After the first week, at night time, there was a call for a house in Jabaliya. I got to the house and there was lots of shooting and explosions all around," he said.
Because of the urgency of the call, Mr Shriteh said there was no time to arrange his movements with the IDF.
"I knew the Israelis were watching me because I could see the red laser beam in the ambulance and on me, on my body," he said.
Getting out of the ambulance and entering the house, he saw there were three Hamas fighters taking cover inside. One half of the building had already been destroyed.
"They were very scared, and very nervous … They dropped their weapons and ordered me to get them out, to put them in the ambulance and take them away. I refused, because if the IDF sees me doing this I am finished, I cannot pick up any more wounded people.
"And then one of the fighters picked up a gun and held it to my head, to force me. I still refused, and then they allowed me to leave."
Mr Shriteh says Hamas made several attempts to hijack the al-Quds Hospital's fleet of ambulances during the war.
"You hear when they are coming. People ring to tell you. So we had to get in all the ambulances and make the illusion of an emergency and only come back when they had gone."
Eyad al-Bayary, 32, lost his job as a senior nurse at the Shifa Hospital, the largest in Gaza City, about six months ago because he is closely identified with Fatah, the rival political movement of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Twice last year Mr Bayary was arrested by Hamas, and once he was jailed for six days for flying the Fatah flag above his house in Jabaliya. He now works part-time as an English teacher at al-Azhar University.
"After the first day of the war, I go to the hospital to work, to help, but I was told to go away. They tell me 'you are not needed here' and they push me away," Mr Bayary said.
Since the ceasefire was declared on January 17, Hamas has begun to systematically take revenge on anyone believed to have collaborated with Israel before the war.
Israel makes no secret of the fact that it has a network of informants inside Gaza who regularly provide information on where Hamas leaders live, where weapons are being stored and other details that formed an important part of Israel's battle plan.
According to rumour, a number of alleged collaborators have already been executed. Taher al-Nono, the Hamas government's spokesman in Gaza, told the Herald that 175 people had been arrested so far on suspicion of collaborating.
"They will be dealt with by the court and the judge and we will respect the judge's decision," Mr Nono said.
And if the sentence is death?
"We will respect the decision."
But the breakdown between Hamas and Fatah over the last 18 months did not prevent some co-operation between the two sides during the war.
The commander of one al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade unit - the brigades are a coalition of secular militia groups which operate under the loose umbrella of Fatah - said the real enemy remains Israel.
The unit commander, who used the name Abu Ibrahim, invited the Herald into his home.
On the wall of his lounge room hung the portraits of George Habash, who founded the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a communist paramilitary organisation, and Abu Ali Mustafa, the man who succeeded Habash as leader of the PFLP and who was killed by Israeli forces in 2001.
"Of course we fought together with Hamas because we all have the same aim: to liberate our homeland," he said.
With his two-year old daughter on his knee, Mr Ibrahim, 30, said he would never accept peace or negotiation, even if it might lead to the creation of a Palestinian state.
"I believe in the existence of Israel because it exists on my land - but the war with Israel will only end when I liberate all of my land. This last war with Israel was not the first war, and it will not be the last."
Rebuilding the Strip
GAZA CITY: Hamas will begin a big reconstruction effort in the Gaza Strip today as the territory's 1.5 million people start to recover from the devastating three-week war with Israel that claimed more than 1300 lives and destroyed thousands of buildings, factories and farms.
Life was beginning to return to a relative state of normality yesterday, with schools, universities and businesses back open.
But with most government buildings destroyed during the war, and piles of concrete rubble on street corners, Gazans face a huge effort to return the Strip to the impoverished state that existed before the war began.
Thousands of Gazans who lost their homes are still living in temporary accommodation provided in United Nations Relief and Works Agency schools, and electricity is being rationed, with homes receiving power for just a few hours a day.
A Hamas spokesman in Gaza, Ayman Taha, said his organisation would observe a truce with Israel for 18 months on the condition all the crossing points with Israel were opened.
With Hamas's popularity apparently plummeting in as a result of the war, the movement's leadership is using financial handouts to boost morale.
Hamas leaders from Gaza and Damascus, Syria, travelled to Cairo yesterday to meet Egyptian intelligence leaders and leaders of the Palestine Liberation Organisation for talks aimed at resolving Hamas's dispute with the Fatah movement of the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
In Israel the appointment of George Mitchell as special envoy of the US President, Barack Obama, to the Middle East has met with caution and suspicion.
Israeli Foreign Ministry officials were scrambling to put together a brief for Mr Mitchell, who is due to visit Jerusalem and the West Bank city of Ramallah this week, as well as Egypt and Jordan.
Israeli officials believe Mr Mitchell's first step will be to recommend the "road map for peace" plan announced by the former president George Bush in 2002 be extended.
Israelis have also begun to turn their attention to the general elections on February 10. With polls indicating the right-wing Likud party leader Benjamin Netanyahu is on track to return to the Prime Minister's office he occupied in 1996, the centrist Kadima Party leader, Tzipi Livni, warned yesterday that if the far-right won government it would lead to an inevitable rift with the US. Get EMS news & articles delivered to your inbox!
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Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Surprising news
on: January 27, 2009, 10:19:09 PM
By Peter Millard and Matthew Cowley
Of DOW JONES NEWSWIRES
NEW YORK (Dow Jones)--Petroleos Mexicanos's $2 billion bond sale on Tuesday was oversubscribed threefold, underscoring strong investor interest in Mexico's state oil company despite disappointing operating results last year.
Pemex originally planned to place $1 billion or more in 10-year paper on Tuesday. A syndicate banker familiar with the bond sale said around $6 billion in orders came in, allowing Latin America's largest oil producer to increase the size of the deal.
Pemex, which saw oil production drop 9% last year, said it will use the money for investments and to pay off debt coming due this year.
Pemex needs the money - oil production has plummeted 26% since peaking in 2004. The company plans to boost investments by 8% this year, to $19.4 billion, in an effort to develop new oil fields that will compensate for the giant Cantarell field, where output is falling at an alarming rate of 30% a year.
On Tuesday the company said in a filing that net losses in 2008 will surpass 2007 losses due to the sharp drop in oil prices and the depreciation of the local peso currency against the U.S. dollar.
Pemex has a heavy tax load and often has to sell imported fuel at a discount, eroding profits from oil exports.
Despite the ugly operating results, an energy reform approved last fall helped drive demand for the Tuesday bond sale, said the syndicate banker. The reform makes it easier for Pemex to issue debt and streamlines bureaucracy at the state-run oil monopoly.
The simple structure of the bond - it was issued by Pemex instead of its Project Funding Master Trust affiliate - also made it attractive to investors.
The bond carried a coupon of 8% and was sold at 98.313% of face value to yield 8.25%, equivalent to a spread of 570.70 basis points over U.S. Treasury notes of a similar maturity, according to a term sheet provided by a fund manager.
The strong demand for the issue is good news for both Pemex and the federal government, said UBS economist Gabriel Casillas, noting that Pemex and Mexican sovereign debt prices often move in synch.
"Perhaps after these good results, the federal government will try to issue some debt," said Mexico City-based Casillas.
On Dec. 18, Mexico's government sold $2 billion in 10-year global bonds with a 5.98% yield, raising enough money for about 32% of Mexico's 2009 foreign debt servicing needs.
Gianna Bern of Brookshire Advisory and Research, an energy, economics and consulting firm near Chicago, said Pemex probably hoped to sell at a lower yield, but noted that the company needs to raise cash when it can to help pay for its aggressive investment budget.
With much of the developed world selling debt to finance fiscal stimulus packages, emerging market issuers like Pemex risk getting crowded out of the market.
"A $2 billion issuance is a fiscal imperative given the size of their 2009 capital plan," said Bern. "Under the current market conditions, they need to take advantage of any opening."
The syndicated banker said the pricing came in at the tighter end of guidance, which was 8 1/4 to 8 3/8.
Moving forward Pemex will be competing with companies like Brazilian oil giant Petroleo Brasileiro (PBR), or Petrobras, for scarce liquidity in global markets.
On Tuesday Petrobras Chief Financial Officer Almir Barbassa said the company could sell more than $1.5 billion in bonds in the first quarter of this year to help pay off a $5 billion bridge loan. Petrobras will need to raise $8 billion to $9 billion in the capital markets over the next two years.
Pemex is expected to refinance around $5 billion of debt that comes due this year, and the company has said it will increase its total debt to the tune of $3 billion in 2009, reversing a two-year stretch of reducing its debt load.
As of the end of September, Pemex's total bonds and bank loans fell 3.1% on the year to $48.2 billion.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Afghanistan-Pakistan
on: January 27, 2009, 07:41:25 PM
What does "holding them responsible" mean? Punishing them if someone in their tribe does something? How do you think that will play?
What do you suggest we do about the drug trade? Annoy all the people for whom it is the most profitable option by far and let the Taliban et al benefit too? Or?
By YOCHI J. DREAZEN
KABUL, Afghanistan -- A contingent of Army Rangers was moving toward a target in late October when it came under fire from machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades. Fearful the team would be wiped out, U.S. officers called in air strikes. When the dust settled, 22 Afghans lay dead and six American soldiers were wounded.
Just who these dead Afghans were is still unclear. Afghan and some U.S. officials say they were hired by an Afghan road-construction firm to protect nearby workers. The security company confirms their employment. But other U.S. military officials say the Afghans were militants who targeted American troops.
Armed private security companies are proliferating in Afghanistan -- hired in many cases to protect Afghan companies doing work for the U.S. And for the American forces who regularly encounter these armed men, it is perilously hard to discern their identities and their loyalties. Some of these guards may be linked to the militant leaders or drug traffickers who regularly battle U.S. troops.
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The aftermath of a firefight in November in which U.S. forces killed more than a dozen Afghan men said to be guards for a road-building project.
U.S. commanders and Afghan officials say there have been at least three significant firefights between American forces and Afghan guards in recent months, and a host of other violent incidents.
In Iraq, private security companies hired by the U.S. government, such as Blackwater Worldwide, also have been involved in violent incidents that have stirred controversy. But the situation in Afghanistan, in some ways, is more confusing and dangerous. Private security forces there don't work for the U.S. government, but for Afghan and foreign companies. And they employ native Afghans, not Westerners.
Last year was the bloodiest year yet for U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan, as well as for Afghan personnel and civilians. In recent months, militants from the Taliban and other extremist groups have launched a campaign to kill Afghans who work on U.S.-funded road and construction projects across the country. Those attacks have led many Afghan contractors to hire security firms or individual guards. Kidnapping rings that target wealthy Afghans inside major cities like Kabul also have contributed to the security industry's rapid growth.
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U.S. soldiers search an Afghan security guard whose firm escorts truck convoys, after they found illegal weapons in his vehicle last year.
President Barack Obama has characterized Afghanistan as a higher priority than Iraq. U.S. commanders are finalizing plans to deploy 30,000 additional troops to the nation by the summer, which would double the size of the American military presence.
American commanders acknowledge that security in much of the country remains poor, and that many construction projects would come to a halt without private security personnel. Most of the guards are legitimately trying to protect their employers, U.S. officials say.
"We authorize these guys to carry weapons in areas that need more security," says Capt. Mark Davis, an American commander in eastern Afghanistan. "But the risk is that you're allowing more people to walk around with guns who aren't part of the government and don't answer to it."
U.S. and Afghan officials believe some guards take orders from the Taliban or drug gangs. The officials also worry that the legitimate guards lack proper training or oversight, raising the chances of an accidental and potentially deadly run-in with U.S. or Afghan forces.
"Private security companies are a new experience for Afghanistan, and they pose a huge threat to our country," said Lt. Gen. Abdul Manan Farahie, an Afghan Interior Ministry official charged with overseeing the companies, in a recent interview in his office in Kabul. "They recruit former fighters who answer to the Taliban, and they recruit criminals."
Late last year, Afghan President Hamid Karzai signed regulations requiring security companies to register with the government. Gen. Farahie said he had already registered 39, far more than he had expected. One of the biggest firms, which has an array of lucrative government contracts, is owned by a cousin of Mr. Karzai, according to the government office that licenses the firms.
Gen. Farahie estimates the companies employ at least 20,000 Afghans, while thousands of other Afghans work freelance security jobs. He said many of the guards have more powerful weapons than the national police and army, including rocket-propelled grenades and heavy machine guns. By comparison, in Iraq, there were roughly 40,000 private security personnel at the peak.
By law, the guards are supposed to carry nothing more powerful than AK-47 assault weapons, but the government is ill equipped to take away the heavier weaponry. "For security reasons, we can't collect all of their weapons," said Gen. Farahie. "We're not strong enough."
Private security is one of the few growth industries in Afghanistan, and it doesn't require workers to be literate or formally educated. Guards say they receive about $75 to $150 a month, a decent wage in a country with an unemployment rate of more than 50%. Security teams are usually hired locally. That means that any guards killed by U.S. forces tend to have many friends and relatives in the surrounding areas, which can exacerbate already high tensions.
In early November, a team of Navy Seals tracking a senior commander from an extremist group led by warlord and Taliban ally Jalaluddin Haqqani found itself in a firefight with a group of 15 armed men. The men were guarding a trio of sport-utility vehicles carrying the commander and his associates, according to U.S. officials.
During the battle, near Khost, one of the trucks exploded. The force of the blast led U.S. officials to conclude it was carrying explosives. All 15 of the fighters, including the main target, were killed.
Businessman Mohammad Arif said recently that the dead men were guards hired by his company, Rahim Road Building Construction Co., to protect a road crew, and that they weren't guarding an extremist commander. When the guards first saw the approaching U.S. helicopters, he said, they felt a sense of relief.
"We were happy at first that these helicopters came for our security," Mr. Arif said. The guards didn't shoot, he said, and the explosion was caused by U.S. weaponry. In the aftermath, he said, he briefly had trouble finding men willing to work as guards.
"At first, most people didn't want to work with security companies because it is too risky," he said. "But eventually they came back."
U.S. officials say surveillance footage from unmanned aerial drones supports their version of events.
In late December, an Afghan road-construction company that had hired local men to protect its workers said two guards were killed by a U.S. artillery shell in Seray, in eastern Afghanistan. The U.S. military says it's investigating the incident, which it believes might have been caused by an errant U.S. shell.
The deadliest known skirmish came in October. It began when a contingent of Army Rangers was moving toward a target near the town of Qarabagh, in the eastern province of Ghazni.
U.S. officials familiar with the incident say the troops came under machine-gun and rocket-propelled-grenade fire from four separate locations. Pinned down, the Rangers returned fire and called in air strikes.
A senior U.S. commander who monitored the firefight while it was happening says it was one of the only times in his career when he "worried about losing all or most of the force."
Shortly after sunrise, reinforcements from the 101st Airborne Division pushed into the area to assist the Rangers and help evacuate the wounded Americans. Those forces also came under fire, and a second firefight erupted. When the shooting stopped, 22 Afghans were dead, and six Americans, most of them Rangers, were wounded, according to U.S. and Afghan officials.
Maj. Pat Seiber, a spokesman for the 101st Airborne troops who took part in the second firefight, says U.S. soldiers found identification badges on some of the dead Afghans.
"From what we can tell, the badges were from a legitimate security company," he says. "What we don't know is whether or not the people with the badges were legitimate employees of the company."
Three officers from the military's Special Operations Command, which oversees elite units such as the Rangers, Delta Force and the Seals, disputed the notion that the dead Afghans were legitimate security personnel.
"Why they were awake at 0200 local, and firing accurately (on a moonless night) at a patrol, and their compound looked like an armed fortress -- all unanswered questions," a senior commander with U.S. Special Operations Command said via email. "The circumstances ... did not point to any actions in good faith."
Officials from the Afghan government and the company that hired the guards, Marouf Sharif Construction, blame the U.S. for the deaths of the Afghans. Abdul Latif Adil, an executive with Marouf Sharif, said the firm hired 40 guards to protect workers paving an 11-mile stretch of highway.
The governor of Ghazni and the provincial police chief both said in interviews that they knew about the guards and had given them permission to possess AK-47s while on duty. The two officials and the construction-company executive said that the American troops fired first, and that the Afghans were doing their jobs when they shot back.
"Our guards didn't fire on the U.S. forces in the beginning," Mr. Adil said. "We didn't start anything. It was all a horrible mistake."
The identities of the dead men are in dispute even within the U.S. military. Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Schloesser, the top U.S. commander in eastern Afghanistan, said they appeared to be legitimate guards.
"The fog of war certainly played a major role," he said in an interview. "The security companies use the same weapons and ammo as the insurgents, so it makes it extraordinarily hard to tell the difference."
In the aftermath of the incident, U.S. forces helped transport the bodies of the slain guards back to their families for burial, Gen. Schloesser said.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Eradicating the Little Satan part 2
on: January 27, 2009, 07:19:12 PM
Thus, a recent article in the daily Javan entitled "Post-Zionism and the Identity Crisis in Israel" pitted "extremist Jews," i.e., nationalists and settlers, against "religious Jews," i.e., ultra-Orthodox non-nationalists. Another piece described the supposedly large numbers of Russian immigrants who have not managed to integrate into the life of the country and have either left for good or else ended up joining the Jews for Jesus movement or various satanic and neo-Nazi cults. Still another report, devoted to the intricacies of recent Israeli political maneuvering, included a photograph of President Shimon Peres and former Defense Minister Amir Peretz conversing in an office. "Note that Peres is wearing a suit and tie," wrote the author, "whereas Peretz is not even wearing a jacket and has his shirt open. This is the traditional method of showing disrespect in Israel, whose politicians all hate one another with a vicious hatred."
And so forth. This, too, represents a volte-face of sorts: In the past, the prevailing tendency of the official Iranian press was to dismiss any distinctions among Jews as mere smokescreens, a mask behind which they plotted their diabolical conspiracies. But today's view is also not entirely new. None other than Ayatollah Khomeini portrayed the Jewish state as weak and divided. "If the Muslims were only unified," he declared, "and each one of them took a bucket of water and poured it out onto Israel, this straw state that is already eating itself alive would be washed away in no time."
In that light, it is not altogether surprising that the rise to power of Ahmadinejad, who paints himself as the renewer of Khomeini's revolutionary zeal, should have been accompanied by a resurgence of the belief that Israel is but a flimsy façade whose end is near. "The Zionist entity," proclaimed the president recently, "has reached a dead end and is in a process of precipitous decline. . . . All of the conditions are ripe for its removal" by means of an "explosion of Muslim rage." Elaborating on the same motif in the summer of 2006, Ayatollah Ahmad-e-Jannati, general secretary of the Guardian Council, whipped up the audience of his Friday sermon with the assertion—first uttered by Egypt's chief propagandist, Ahmad Said, on the brink of the Six Day War—that all the Muslims need do is spit, and Israel will drown.
The shifting Iranian line on the condition of the Jewish state—from Potemkin village, to potent nemesis, and now back again—is a salient illustration of a phenomenon noted by the historian Efraim Karsh. In Islamic tradition, Mr. Karsh writes, "the traits associated with Jews make a paradoxical mixture: they are seen as both domineering and wretched, both haughty and low." Such, he adds, is "the age-old Muslim stereotype—as it is, mutatis mutandis, the Christian." The differences encompassed in that "mutatis mutandis" are, however, pertinent to our discussion.
It has long (and correctly) been argued that major elements of modern Muslim anti-Semitism were imports into Islamic lands from Christian Europe. This holds especially true for the perception of the Jews as a powerful international cabal and a force to be not only hated but downright feared—an idea that held sway for centuries in the Christian West, and that in some locales continues to hold sway today. By contrast, this particular feature of the anti-Semitic creed, though introduced into Muslim collective consciousness relatively recently, is already waning in the Islamic world. Many factors may account for this, but to my mind one is paramount.
There is an uncanny correlation between Christian and Islamic holy scripture concerning the role played by Jews during the formative period of each religion. In the New Testament, the premier political-military enemies of Jesus were the pagan Romans. On the other hand, his increasingly meddlesome ideological-religious enemies were Jews: the scribes and Pharisees who would not cease peppering him with questions deliberately intended to trip him up and undermine his message. Similarly in Islamic historiography: Muhammad's political-military adversaries were the members of his disowned pagan Quraysh tribe back in Mecca, who launched three successive campaigns against the nascent faith-community in Medina. But the real trouble came from his pestering ideological-religious antagonists, the (genuine or imaginary) Jewish tribes of Medina itself who with their incessant legal and theological badgering made the prophet's spiritual life extremely difficult.
When it comes to the nature of Jewish subversive activity, the traditions of the two religions are thus almost eerily alike. But no less significant is a difference between them. In the Gospels, the Jews "win": They succeed in having Jesus crucified and most of his immediate followers executed or banished. In the Quran and hadith, by contrast, Muhammad wins, vanquishing his Jewish foes, executing some, and banishing the remainder from Medina and eventually, under his immediate successors, from Arabia altogether.
This formative Islamic experience was largely responsible for the disdain and scorn expressed toward Jews over most of Muslim history, as opposed to the fear and hatred characteristic of Christian attitudes. The same derisive contempt may be reflected in the surge of confidence felt by today's fundamentalists in their zealous resolve to eliminate the state of Israel from the map.
And that brings us to the larger, nontactical dimension of the fundamentalists' divergent attitudes toward the "Great Satan" and the "Little Satan"—a dimension deeply rooted in both Islamic ideology and centuries of Muslim historical experience.
Early on, after their first round of lightning victories along the Mediterranean littoral, Muslims came to realize that they would have to be satisfied with conquering only part of the Western world; the other part they would have to share with Christians. Islamic leaders and even Islamic clerics accepted and even enshrined the medieval status quo, according to which hegemony would be divided between Islam in the East and Christendom in the West. To be sure, cross-boundary encroachments were a constant menace and had to be repulsed—Saladin forced out the Crusaders, and the Ottomans were rolled back from Vienna—but on the whole an equilibrium was reached in which each side might even be said to have harbored a grudging respect for the other.
This political-military compromise benefited from an important theological underpinning, epitomized in a celebrated verse from the Quran whose contents simultaneously suggest why, in the idealized Islamic conception of balance and mutual tolerance, there is no room today for the state of Israel:
You [i.e., Muhammad and the Muslims] will certainly find the most violent of people in enmity against the believers to be the Jews and the idolaters; and you will find those who are nearest in friendship to the believers to be those who say: "We are Christians."
Thus, in addition to the fact that the Christian world was a massive fact of life that could not be ignored and would not go away, Christians occupied a special religious category and were mostly set apart from the age-old antipathetic strictures aimed at Jews. The name of Jesus appears a mere 25 times in the Quran; the name of Moses appears 131 times. Nevertheless, from the "first hijra" of Muhammad's followers to Abyssinia in 615 down to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's open letter to President Bush in March 2006, Muslims have forever invoked the common Christian and Islamic veneration of Jesus in order to promote good relations between members of the two faiths. Throughout all this time, Moses' ubiquity in the Quran has rarely if ever been exploited by Muslim exponents in order to foster coexistence with Jews.
Already in 1734, the English Orientalist George Sale wrote that Muhammad "used" the Jews "much worse than he did the Christians, and frequently exclaims against them in his Koran; his followers to this day observe the same difference between them and the Christians, treating the former as the most abject and contemptible people on earth." This traditional attitude was amplified a hundredfold after the rise of Zionism, finding expression in the adamant rejectionism that characterized the Arab position on Israel.
The distinction between the classical Islamic attitude toward Christians on the one hand, and toward Jews on the other hand, plays a greater role today than ever before in the formulation of "Islamic" foreign policy toward non-Muslims. The reasons for this include the fact that never before has there existed an actual Muslim theocracy capable of formulating such an "Islamic" foreign policy, together with the fact that never before has there existed a genuine Jewish polity toward which that Islamic policy could be formulated or implemented. The result is of major significance for the Iran-Israel standoff, as well as for any statesman or analyst who purports to understand it or hopes to influence its direction.
Among theorists of international conflict resolution, the belief is widely held that the removal of one party's "enclaves" or "outposts" from territory claimed by a rival party can not only help create mutually satisfactory borders but can inaugurate the kind of equilibrium that will eventually allow foes to become friends. In Europe, the great example is the post-World War II territorial adjustments that, however painful, put an end at last to the centuries-old enmity of France and Germany. In the Middle East, on a purely local scale, the same logic underlay Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's policy of evacuating Israel's Gaza settlements and handing over the territory to the Palestinians, as it did Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's projected "consolidation" of the Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria.
The specter that now haunts the state of Israel is that the West may some day adopt this logic, deeply problematic as it has proved to be locally, and apply it internationally vis-à-vis Iran and the "Little Satan" as a means of resolving the larger conflict between fundamentalist Islam and the "Great Satan." For no agenda is being pushed more energetically by today's Islamists worldwide than that, for the sake of Muslim-Christian rapprochement, and on pain of terrible consequences otherwise, America and Europe agree to offer up the Western imperialist enclave or outpost known as Israel on the altar of "accommodation."
This, indeed, was the implicit central theme of Ahmadinejad's 2006 letter to President Bush, as it is the menacing import of the Iranian president's most recent remarks on the subject:
Today, it has been proven that the Zionists are not opposed only to Islam and the Muslims. They are opposed to humanity as a whole. They want to dominate the entire world. They would even sacrifice the Western regimes for their own sake. I have said in Tehran, and I say it again here—I say to the leaders of some Western countries: stop supporting these corrupt people. Behold, the rage of the Muslim peoples is accumulating. The rage of the Muslim peoples may soon reach the point of explosion. If that day comes, they must know that the waves of this explosion will not be restricted to the boundaries of our region. They will definitely reach the corrupt forces that support this fake regime.
The Iranians and their allies throughout the Muslim world are bent on making the abandonment of Israel the price of "peace in our time." In a scenario that should ring frighteningly familiar, a charismatic leader of an ideological, totalitarian state is building upon an endemic anti-Semitism inculcated by centuries of religious indoctrination to create an atmosphere in which the massacre of large numbers of Jews and the destruction of their independent polity will be considered a tolerable if not indeed a legitimate eventuality.
That is ominous enough. Even more ominous is the apparent willingness of any number of leaders of the Western world, under the banner of a hoped-for "reconciliation" with a major Middle Eastern power and a world religion, to tilt dangerously toward appeasement, ignoring the requirements of rational decision-making and putting at risk the West's own abiding interests and deepest values.
As for Israel, if it takes today's challenges seriously and prepares to meet them with the requisite strength and creativity, this may yet turn out to be its finest hour. If not, we may be witnessing the prelude to its last.
Mr. Maghen is senior lecturer in Islamic history and Persian language and chair of the department of Middle East Studies at Bar-Ilan University in Israel. He is also a research fellow at Bar-Ilan's Begin-Sadat (BESA) Center for Strategic Studies, in whose series of policy papers a longer version of this essay appeared under the title, "From Omnipotence to Impotence: A Shift in the Iranian Portrayal of the 'Zionist Regime..' " This article appears in the January issue of Commentary.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Eradicating Little Satan
on: January 27, 2009, 07:18:19 PM
By ZE'EV MAGHEN
The accession of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to the presidency of the Islamic Republic of Iran has been accompanied by a sharp transformation in the Iranian attitude to, and depiction of, the state of Israel. This change includes not only an amplification of the traditional hostility toward the Jewish polity, but also—most ominously—a new conception of that polity as weak and unstable, an easy target for a united Muslim (or united Shiite) offensive.
The prevailing opinion among Middle East experts and Iran watchers, however, is that the revised rhetoric is just that—rhetoric—and that it harbors no significant ramifications for policy making on the part of Israel or any other states in the region or the world. Vociferous Iranian declarations about the need to erase Israel from the map are seen as nothing more than a means toward achieving certain pragmatic goals, such as eventual détente with the West.
This view is wrong. Iranian-Islamist threats to Israel's existence are sincere, and they signal the determined pursuit of tenaciously held ends.
In January 2006, the Iranian daily Jomhuriya Eslami carried the text of a speech delivered by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Tehran's main mosque. Attempting to defuse the diplomatic tension occasioned by the call for Israel's destruction issued by the then-newly elected President Ahmadinejad at the previous month's "World Without Zionism" conference, Khamenei concluded his uncharacteristically moderate sermon with the following ringing remarks:
We Iranians intend no harm to any nation, nor will we be the first to attack any nation. We do not deny the right of any polity in any place on God's earth to exist and prosper. We are a peace-loving country whose only wish is to live, and to let live, in peace.
Without missing a beat, or evincing a discernible hint of irony, the reporter who covered the event continued:
The congregation of worshippers, some 7,000 in number, expressed their unanimous support for the Supreme Leader's words by repeatedly chanting, marg bar Omrika, marg bar Esra'il "Death to America! Death to Israel!"
This is not as strange as it sounds. Chanting "Death to America! Death to Israel!" has been the way Iranians applaud for over a quarter-century. When the soccer team from Isfahan scores a goal against the soccer team from Shiraz, its fans cheer wildly: "Death to America! Death to Israel!" At the end of an exquisitely performed sitar solo, the genteel audience in a concert hall in Tabriz shows its appreciation by loudly heaping imprecations upon "International Arrogance" (the USA) and "its Bastard Offspring" (the Jewish state). Even during the hajj, the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, Iranian participants have replaced their traditionally pious ejaculations of "I am at your service, O Lord, there is none like unto you!" with responsive Persian cursing sessions aimed at the Hebrew- and English-speaking enemies of everything that is holy. Like the daily "Two Minutes Hate" in George Orwell's "1984," this venom-spewing is the mantra upon which an entire generation of Iranians has been raised.
What does this persistent indoctrination, imbibed with mother's milk and drummed by rote into the consciousnesses of the Iranian citizenry, mean for the foreign policy of the Islamic Republic? In the eyes of many Western and non-Western experts, the answer is: Nothing. First of all, these experts urge, we must distinguish between image and reality, between ideology and strategy, between the fiery rhetoric of preachers or street mobs and the sober goals of an essentially pragmatic regime. Indeed, they insist, even the chest-beaters of mosque and madrassa are only repeating slogans that have long since lost all significance in their minds: They are just going through the motions.
"Sadly," writes the Asia Times columnist Kaveh Afrasiabi, too many Israelis ignore "the gap between mass-generated, largely symbolic rhetoric and [Iran's] actual policy." Nor, we are urged to believe, is such "mass-generated rhetoric" truly massive in scope. "The Iranians we should be listening to," explains Middle East specialist Mark LeVine, "are not the 100,000 or so marchers in support of Ahmadinejad's [anti-Israel] remarks, but the tens of millions who had something better to do that day." According to Paul Reynolds, a BBC world-affairs correspondent, President Ahmadinejad's vitriol is in any case intended primarily for domestic consumption, as a means of distracting the Iranian populace from the economic failures of the Islamic revolution, and no one should mistake it for a guide to foreign policy.
Ultimately, most analysts agree, Ahmadinejad's menacing proclamations are meant to serve as a bargaining chip: something to be given away in exchange for normalized relations with the West. After all, they stress, there is no rational reason for any eruption of hostilities between Iran and Israel. The two countries do not even share a common border, and their national and economic interests are not in conflict. To the contrary, both have traditionally conceived their "frontline" adversaries to be Arab states, and history has time and again thrown them into each other's arms, both before and even after the Islamic revolution of 1979. "Iran and Israel have no differences or occasions for getting into active hostilities, let alone a nuclear exchange," reassures Shahram Chubin, the director of the Geneva Center for Security Policy. To quote Afrasiabi again, "It is difficult to find any expert on Iran's foreign affairs today who actually shares the view [that there exists a basis for] strategic conflict between Iran and Israel."
Is the daily drill of Israel-damning in Iran only a tired exercise, a formalistic ceremony no longer accompanied by genuine passion or serious intent? Are the experts correct on this score? In a word: Yes. Oblivious to the content of their own words, thousands of mosque- and madrassa-goers calling for the demise of Israel are not, for the most part, expressing a bona fide, heartfelt hatred for the Jewish citizens or even the Jewish government of the state of Israel. About this the experts are quite right: it is ritual, and the Iranians do not really "mean it."
But therein lies the rub. In the end, it can often be far more dangerous not to mean what one is saying than to mean it—a point that may be illuminated by a brief detour into mass psychology. Fierce anger and hatred are highly intense, all-consuming emotions that subside quickly if the psyche is not to combust and collapse. Such emotions, moreover, are not only extremely intense but exceedingly unstable. People who truly hate are often just as capable of experiencing other intense emotions, including pity or empathy or remorse.
For this reason, among others, genuine anger and hatred, of the kind that is really "meant" and strongly felt, are inefficient tools for creating or sustaining an atmosphere conducive to long-term persecution or mass murder. That is why the truly horrific atrocities in human history—the enslavements, the inquisitions, the terrorisms, the genocides—have been perpetrated not in hot blood but in cold: not as a result of urgent and immanent feeling but in the name of a transcendent ideology and as a result of painstaking indoctrination.
The vast majority of Germans in World War II did not personally and passionately hate the Jews: They had never even met the men, women, children and infants whom they would eventually butcher en masse. It was, for the most part, a methodically drilled-in ideology that powered the genocide machine, a machine that killed six million Jews despite the fact that the Germans did not hate them.
Similarly with the events of Sept. 11, 2001. Did Mohamed Atta, the ringleader of the terrorists who brought down the Twin Towers, genuinely and fervently hate every single individual working there on that fateful day, let alone all of the passengers on the plane he commandeered? How could he? He had never met them, and they had never personally done anything to him. What is more, Atta had spent many years in the United States preparing for his mission, during which time he rubbed elbows with all types of Americans. Is it plausible that he managed to maintain a constant boiling rage all day every day toward every one of these acquaintances and their fellow countrymen? How could such a creature survive, or master the self-control to carry out his assigned role?
What is true for Nazi storm troopers and al-Qaeda operatives is true for today's fundamentalist Shiites. It is not their genuine, vehement hatred that we have to fear; it is their endless, drone-like training. Their militant hostility to Israel is no more a function of immediate, genuine, blood-boiling rage than it is the result of some heinous act or other performed by the Jewish state, however frequently such purported crimes are exploited as triggers of "popular" protest. The hostility is, unfortunately, something far more durable and deeply implanted.
That Israel is the devil, the root of all evil, a criminal cancer that must be excised from the Muslim body politic—these propositions are not ephemeral feelings for most Iranian Muslims, but rather eternal truths that gradually, through endless, tantra-like repetition, have cloyed in the conscious mind while simultaneously installing themselves beneath the level of immediate emotion and awareness, in the place where basic instincts, automatic assumptions, and ontological verities reside. There they have taken root, to remain dormant until circumstances require their activation. When the time is right—and the rulers of Iran have made no secret of their conviction that the time is drawing ever nearer—decades of propaganda will serve the same function for them that centuries of Christian anti-Semitism in Europe performed for the Nazis.
The analysts and pundits are thus indeed correct in asserting that the Iranians do not really "mean it." They fail to realize, however, that this is the very reason why they may well "do it." By casting an entire people as a parasitic infestation, by demonizing, delegitimizing, and dehumanizing them at home, in school, in the mosque and in the media, the quarter-century-old routine of Israel-hatred, added to 1,400 years of traditional Islamic anti-Semitism, has prepared in the minds of Iranians and their neighboring coreligionists the moral ground for the eradication of the state of Israel.
What, then, of the second argument advanced by Iran specialists, to the effect that Iranian verbal belligerence toward Israel is really a means toward an entirely different end, something to be bartered in exchange for full relations with Washington and sundry other international benefits? Here, too, the analysts have it half-right. At least some elements within today's Iranian leadership are indeed interested in a rapprochement with the West and especially with America. But Tehran in no way intends to lessen its enmity toward Israel in exchange. To the contrary, the Islamic Republic is offering to diminish its enmity toward the West in exchange for the latter's abandonment of Israel.
In this connection, we must grasp a crucial distinction between Iranian attitudes to the "Great Satan" of the United States and to the "Little Satan" of Israel. Iranians may chant "Death to America" and "Death to Israel" with equal fervor, but from a tactical standpoint they well understand that the Great Satan is . . . great. The leaders of the Islamic Republic, even the fiercest ideologues among them, are under no illusion that the United States is about to be conquered by and for Islam in the near future.
Israel, however, is another matter. More and more Iranian Islamists today—together with their zealous coreligionists in other Muslim countries—believe that the erasure of the Jewish state from the map is a dream that can be realized in the here and now, whether in one fell swoop or through a relentless process of attrition and erosion. And one strong indication of this, beginning in 2005 and continuing and intensifying up to the present, is a major turnaround in government statements and published material about Israel and the Jews in the official Persian press.
Up until recently, the prevalent tendency of such coverage had involved the traditional exaggeration of the power and influence of the "Jewish lobby" and the long arm and entrenched tentacles of the government of Israel and the World Zionist Organization. This entailed everything from in-depth "analyses" of how the Jewish cabal that owns Hollywood has utilized the enormous potential of "the world's seventh art" to bolster Zionism and blacken the face of Islam, to "documentary evidence" that Zionist money and pressure are responsible for the anti-Iranian and anti-Shiite bent of the al-Jazeera television network, to in-depth "scholarly" exposés of the manner in which historically the Jews carved Protestantism out of Catholicism in order to reimpose on Christianity the ethos of the Hebrew Bible with its doctrine of the chosen people.
But these and hundreds of other portraits of Israel and world Jewry as the "hidden hand" undermining Islam at every turn have dwindled considerably of late, giving way instead to their opposite. The emphasis now is on every detectable crack, fault, and weakness in the Jewish national edifice, and on Israel as a polity teetering on the brink of collapse.
The new approach is epitomized by Ahmadinejad himself, with his repeated descriptions of Israel as a "rotten tree" and a "house of straw," as well as his pledge to his constituents and to the rest of the Muslim world that "this shameful stain on the face of the land of Islam will soon be cleansed." But the trend is far more widespread than the expostulations of one man. In the Iranian media, for instance, Israel's evacuation of its Gaza settlements in the summer of 2005 has become a major symbol of the decrepitude of the Jewish state. "The Zionist regime retreats in the face of the slightest resistance," the newspaper Hamshahri gloated in the wake of the disengagement process. "The willingness of the Zionists to leave behind their synagogues in Gaza demonstrates conclusively that they have no God, and therefore, of course, no religious connection to the Holy Land; they will now be easily ejected from all of occupied Palestine."
Soon after the Gaza pullout, the headline on a lengthy interview with Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Iranian-backed Hizballah, proclaimed: "We, Too, Drove Out the Israeli Cowards." The reference was to Israel's prior withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000—a retreat that in the eyes of Ayatollah Khamenei had similarly "proved the justness of the Islamic struggle" and demonstrated that if Muslims put their trust in God, "victory will be certain." As for Israel's July 2006 incursion into Lebanon in response to the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers, Iranians were initially shocked by the force of it. But by the end of hostilities in mid-August the Iranian press—like that of many other Middle Eastern countries—was pouncing on the lack of a clear Israeli victory as a sign that the Jewish state was even feebler than many had presumed.
The perceived military defeats of "the Jerusalem-occupying regime" are regularly coupled with still another alleged indication of Israeli weakness—namely, the security fence protecting Israel's civilian population from Arab terrorism. Ayatollah Khamenei recently described this barrier as "a symbol of the impotence of the Zionists and of their inability to rein in the intifada." So successful have suicide operations been in sowing "terror and panic" among Israelis, Khamenei declared, that, like their trembling forebears in Europe, they were now retreating behind a ghetto wall. "The Islamic nation," he added, "is fully capable of deciding the fate of Palestine here and now."
But it is not the actual wall but the metaphorical walls dividing the different sectors and camps within Israeli society that have received the fullest and most scornful coverage. The Iranian press delights in every instance—real, imagined or exaggerated—of internecine Jewish conflict: between Ashkenazim and Sephardim, religious Israelis and secular Israelis, new immigrants and old immigrants, right-wingers and left-wingers, Zionists, non-Zionists, anti-Zionists and post-Zionists.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: No blot on US honor
on: January 27, 2009, 06:58:19 PM
President Obama's decision to close the detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay within a year is being hailed as a necessary step in restoring the good name and moral hygiene of America. Fundamentally, it tests the proposition that self-esteem can be a form of self-defense.
Nobody ever actually liked Guantanamo. It was a strange growth on the body of American law, made necessary by extraordinary circumstances that existing institutions were ill-prepared to handle. Even Donald Rumsfeld had reservations: In his excellent memoir, "War and Decision," former Defense Undersecretary Douglas Feith writes that his boss recoiled at turning his department into "the world's jailer."
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But the best case against Guantanamo was always inherently odd. It came down to the view that its benefits as a holding pen for the world's most dangerous men could not outweigh the inevitable PR disaster of removing such men to an exotic locale, a step removed from ordinary conventions of law, prone to lurid speculation about Papillon-like goings on, corroborated by the testimony of inmates trained to cry "torture" whenever incarcerated.
In other words, the smart case against Gitmo is that the stupid case against it was bound to prevail, with first-order consequences for America's image and self-image, and second-order ones for our ability to inspire, lead and be followed.
Is this true? Paradoxically, the case for Guantanamo is only becoming obvious as the clock ticks toward closure. Consider, for instance, the recent career of Said Ali al-Shihri.
Read the Department of Defense's summary of evidence against Said Ali al-Shihri.According to an unclassified June 2007 document from Guantanamo's Office for the Administrative Review of the Detention of Enemy Combatants, Mr. Shihri "was identified as an al Qaeda facilitator in Mashad, Iran, for youth traveling to Afghanistan"; "wanted two individuals to assassinate a writer based on a fatwa by Sheikh Hamud bin Uqla" (a favorite of Osama bin Laden); and "trained in urban warfare at the Libyan Camp north of Kabul, Afghanistan."
Charming résumé. But what's remarkable here is that the dark lords of Gitmo justice nonetheless found sufficient exculpatory evidence to release Mr. Shihri from detention. "The detainee stated that he was just a Muslim not a terrorist"; that he "denied any involvement or knowledge of assistance provided to jihadists traveling to Pakistan or Afghanistan"; and that, upon his release, "he would attempt to work at his family's furniture store, if it is still in business" in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
Maybe the store had gone out of business. Last week, Mr. Shihri, who had undergone a "rehabilitation course" courtesy of the Saudi government, resurfaced as al Qaeda's deputy chief in Yemen, alongside an accomplice named Mohamed Atiq Awayd al-Harbi, a colleague of Mr. Shihri's from Guantanamo who was released the same day.
Mr. Shihri's role with al Qaeda hasn't been merely ceremonial. According to reports, he was involved in a September attempt to bomb the U.S. Embassy in the Yemeni capital of Sana'a. No Americans were killed, but 16 others died in the attack. It's a pity we don't know their names.
Yesterday, Reuters reported that the embassy had again "received a threat of a possible attack." Some such attack is probably bound to succeed in killing Americans one day, perhaps in a big way, and possibly with the fingerprints of one of the 60-odd Gitmo graduates the U.S. believes have "returned to the fight." What lessons shall we draw in that event?
In Today's Opinion Journal
REVIEW & OUTLOOK
Obama and IraqWorld Bank OmertaSpeaker Nancy Malthus
Main Street: Obama Should Acknowledge His Roots
– William McGurn
Animal Spirits Depend on Trust
– Robert J. ShillerCorporate Tax Cuts Should Be Part of the Stimulus
– Stephen J. EntinLet's Have Flexible Armed Forces
– Mackubin Thomas OwensEconomic Policy Will Have to Be Very Agile
– Marina v.N. WhitmanNo doubt some will conclude that the Gitmo ordeal is what turned a random collection of Peshawar holiday-makers and itinerant Saudi carpet salesmen, who made their way to the Afghan frontier on the eve of 9/11, into raging jihadists. Similar arguments were heard a generation ago in favor of deinstitutionalization, on the theory that psychiatric institutions manufacture insanity.
There will also be those who argue that the death of innocents is the price free societies pay for freedom. They will argue, too, that the price is actually a bargain, since the moral stature gained by shutting down places like Guantanamo earns us the kind of moral and political credit we need to broaden America's appeal in the Muslim world.
In his inaugural address, Mr. Obama noted that "our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint." All this is obviously true.
Then again, our security also depends on doing what we can to keep the likes of Mr. Shihri -- far from the most dangerous of Gitmo's prisoners -- away from his would-be victims. To do so is neither a violation of conscience nor a blot on our national honor; it should not be a violation of the law. And a president sworn to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution should know this.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / UK police scan web for knives
on: January 27, 2009, 04:32:50 PM
Police tackle internet knife gangs
By Dan Whitworth
Newsbeat technology reporter, Glasgow
Hundreds of weapons have been taken off the streets of Glasgow six months after police started using the web to crack down on gang violence.
Young trainee officers at Strathclyde Police search social networking sites for pictures of people posing with weapons, mainly knives.
Constable Holly McGee and Cadet Fraser Reed, both 18, carry out the work.
"We're looking for anyone who is brandishing offensive weapons or blades," Holly told Newsbeat.
"We take the date, the time, detail of what's in the photograph, [then] a copy of the photograph is printed out and thereafter it's all sent to the gangs task force unit."
That's when more experienced officers in the Violence Reduction Unit at Strathclyde Police get involved.
'The law's been broken'
The man in charge of this, Superintendent Bob Hamilton, says there are two ways of dealing with people once they've been tracked down. If they were posing in a public place, like on the street or a park, the law has been broken and they'll be arrested. Even when pictures are taken in private, though, which isn't technically breaking the law, he says the weapons are so dangerous his officers pay a visit to the people involved.
"We have large kitchen knives, axes, samurai swords, baseball bats, a huge number and different type of weapons" said Superintendent Bob Hamilton "We show the parents their pictures," he explained, "recover the weapons and make sure they know that behaviour is unacceptable. We have large kitchen knives, axes, samurai swords, baseball bats, a huge number and different type of weapons - in simple terms weapons that can kill."
Superintendent Hamilton says Operation Access has been a complete success.
"We've questioned more than 400 people, most of them teenagers, as part of it and it's worked so well it will carry on indefinitely," he said.
Other forces from across the UK have also been in touch about the possibility of setting up similar operations. Social networking sites Facebook and Bebo both say they're committed to improving safety for their members as well as helping cut crime.
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Shrewd detective work!!!
on: January 27, 2009, 11:47:29 AM
Teen Impersonator Completes Shift with Real Officer Before Being Discovered
7,206 Views 272 Comments Share Flag as inappropriate Chicago Tribune via YellowBrix
January 26, 2009
CHICAGO – Chicago police arrested a 14-year-old boy for allegedly impersonating one of their own Saturday.
The boy, who has been charged as a juvenile for impersonating an officer, walked into the Grand Crossing District station, 7040 S. Cottage Grove Ave., dressed in a Chicago police uniform, police spokeswoman Monique Bond said. The boy, who reported for duty about 1:30 p.m., partnered with another police officer for about five hours.
The boy identified himself as an officer from another district but was detailed for the day to Grand Crossing and also was savvy enough to sign out a police radio and a ticket book, according to a source. The source also said the boy went on traffic stops with the officer he went on the street with.
Bond said the boy “did not write tickets” and said there was “no information to indicate that he [was] ever behind the wheel.”
At an afternoon news conference, police said the boy had no interaction with the public.
After his tour was over, a ranking officer became suspicious of the boy. Police said the officer discovered the teen was not a real police officer when he couldn’t produce any credentials. The boy was wearing police-issued pants, shirt, vest, sweater and skull cap, police said. He was missing his police star, but that was not discovered until after he returned from traffic patrol. Police said the 14-year-old’s partner on the traffic assignment did not recognize the boy was underage. The source said the boy had an empty holster and a newspaper in place of a ballistic vest in his vest carrier. Police described the boy as a former “police explorer,” which means he was part of a community program run through the Police Department’s Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy (CAPS) that allows youths to interact with Chicago police officers. He was part of the explorer program in 2008 in the Englewood District.
“The boy was not armed, and the matter is under investigation with Internal Affairs,” Bond said.
Bond also said that how the boy acquired the police uniform was under investigation. Police officers need to present identification while acquiring their uniforms, police said.
The boy “has identified an egregious breach in security,” Deputy Supt. of Patrol Dan Dugan said.
The boy, whom authorities did not identify since he’s a juvenile, is scheduled to appear in Juvenile Court at 10 a.m. Monday.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Progress ahead?
on: January 27, 2009, 11:36:12 AM
Geopolitical Diary: More Progress Ahead for U.S.-Iranian Talks
January 27, 2009 | 0256 GMT
Susan Rice, the new U.S. envoy to the United Nations, on Monday echoed President Barack Obama’s campaign pledge to pursue a new approach in dealing with Iran, saying his administration intends to engage in direct diplomacy with Tehran.
Though relations between the countries have been pockmarked with “Death to America” slogans, trampled U.S. flags, militant proxy battles and nuclear plant centrifuges spinning in defiance, the U.S. occupation of Iraq gave Tehran and Washington many reasons to start talking again. Iran had a golden opportunity to consolidate Shiite influence in the heart of the Arab world, and the United States needed to deal with the Iranians to keep Iraq from tearing itself apart in a full-scale civil war.
Despite the long-standing tensions, the back-channel talks that had been taking place even before the United States invaded Iraq progressed, in the final phase of the Bush presidency, to the point that dialogue was able to break out into the public sphere, allowing the world to warm to the idea of the Great Satan talking to a member of the Axis of Evil. Now, after a year-long campaign filled with Iranian pledges to talk to the United States’ main adversaries, the sporadic and indirect negotiations are about to evolve into direct diplomatic talks. It’s been a rollercoaster relationship, but it is slowly and surely moving toward a more cooperative stance.
Signs of progress can already be seen: There are serious discussions about the U.S. State Department setting up a diplomatic office in Tehran, and hard-line Iranian ayatollahs are practically welcoming the Obama administration with open arms. We do not expect either Iran or the United States to rush the process, however. The Obama administration is still putting together a diplomatic team to develop an Iran strategy, and the Iranians have to get through presidential elections in June. That said, neither side is wasting time in laying the groundwork for a more constructive relationship.
The U.S. military drawdown in Iraq will be a significant confidence-building factor in these talks. With the world’s most powerful military force flanking them in both Iraq and Afghanistan, the Iranians have had more than a few sleepless nights over the past several years. The drawdown in Iraq has been made possible both by the success of the U.S. surge in stabilizing Iraq (which was also quietly facilitated to some extent by the Iranians) and a strategic need for the United States to refocus on Afghanistan, where a victory over al Qaeda and the Taliban is anything but assured.
The Iranians still will be faced with a residual U.S. military presence in Iraq over the longer term and a U.S.-Iraqi strategic partnership designed to counter Iranian influence, but they at least can be assured that within the next year, the United States will no longer be in an immediate offensive posture on their western frontier. In fact, the Pentagon is making contingency plans for the United States to complete the bulk of its withdrawal from Iraq by the end of 2010 — a year ahead of the deadline stipulated by the U.S.-Iraqi Status of Forces Agreement — pending Obama’s approval.
In addition to building confidence for U.S.-Iranian dialogue, moves toward an accelerated U.S. withdrawal also could open new doors for cooperation in Afghanistan. There is no love lost between Tehran and al Qaeda or the Taliban, but Iran has been heavily involved in arming the jihadist insurgency in Afghanistan – hoping to keep the United States too preoccupied to think about regime change in Tehran. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) also has plenty of intelligence that the United States would appreciate concerning the movements of al Qaeda operatives who travel in and out of Iran under the IRGC’s watch. U.S. Central Command chief Gen. David Petraeus indicated recently that Afghanistan is an issue of mutual interest for Washington and Tehran. And with the U.S. military focus shifting from Iraq to Afghanistan, there is strong potential for a meeting of the minds between these two on how to contain the Taliban and eradicate al Qaeda.
Another test of U.S.-Iranian cooperation will concern the Mujahideen e-Khalq (MeK) — a cult-like Marxist-based group whose primary aim is to overthrow Iran’s clerical regime. Approximately 3,000 MeK members have been holed up in Camp Ashraf, in Iraq’s Diyala province, under the watch of the U.S. military throughout out the war. Tehran has worried that the United States and other Western powers could use the group as a tool to undermine the stability of the Iranian regime. Now that the United States is drawing down forces in Iraq, the Iranians want assurances from Washington that the MeK will not be able to reorganize. Mainly out of concern for human rights, the United States cannot simply extradite the MeK members to Iran or release them to authorities in Iraq, where they likely would be tortured and executed. For this reason, many of them are likely to find political asylum in the European Union, which voted Monday to remove the group from its list of terrorist organizations. The MeK threat might be a useful card for the United States and Europe to hold onto in their negotiations with Iran, but moving forward, Iran likely would demand some guarantees from the Obama administration that the group will be completely neutralized, in return for any potential cooperation on al Qaeda and the Taliban.
Of course, a number of significant challenges remain on the path toward rapprochement. In addition to the deep-set distrust that the United States and Iran have harbored for three decades, the nuclear issue — despite widely varying estimates on its threat value — remains a key sticking point in any diplomatic arrangement. This is especially true as the United States has to balance Iran against its relationship with Israel and the surrounding Arab states, which who all want to see Iran boxed in from all sides. While a full and imminent rapprochement might be wishful thinking, it is hard to deny these days that Iran and the United States are at least moving toward some sort of mutual understanding.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Cognitive Dissonance of His Glibness
on: January 27, 2009, 11:28:41 AM
I agree 100% concerning the remaining "satanic verses" within Islam. Until these dark strands in Islam are rejected by Muslims, there is a fundamental problem. One of the many thoughts I have on "all this" is that success/victory will come when the struggle is defined as Civilization vs. Barbarism instead of Civilization vs Islam. Having kicked the butt of "AQ Prime", it strikes me that PART of a coherent strategy is to allow/encourage the Muslim world to define itself in a new way, so taken by themself we might finesse our way into saying that the President's words are not THAT bad. Unfortunately the larger context is that President O seems determined to throw away success in Iraq and enable Iran to go nuke while meandering pointlessly in Afg-Pak, so I fear the net result will be a return to pre-Bush weak horse status-- which will be seen -- correctly?-- as an utter surrender of American will.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / What life asks of us
on: January 27, 2009, 10:59:43 AM
What Life Asks of Us
By DAVID BROOKS
Published: January 26, 2009
A few years ago, a faculty committee at Harvard produced a report on the purpose of education. “The aim of a liberal education” the report declared, “is to unsettle presumptions, to defamiliarize the familiar, to reveal what is going on beneath and behind appearances, to disorient young people and to help them to find ways to reorient themselves.”
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The report implied an entire way of living. Individuals should learn to think for themselves. They should be skeptical of pre-existing arrangements. They should break free from the way they were raised, examine life from the outside and discover their own values.
This approach is deeply consistent with the individualism of modern culture, with its emphasis on personal inquiry, personal self-discovery and personal happiness. But there is another, older way of living, and it was discussed in a neglected book that came out last summer called “On Thinking Institutionally” by the political scientist Hugh Heclo.
In this way of living, to borrow an old phrase, we are not defined by what we ask of life. We are defined by what life asks of us. As we go through life, we travel through institutions — first family and school, then the institutions of a profession or a craft.
Each of these institutions comes with certain rules and obligations that tell us how to do what we’re supposed to do. Journalism imposes habits that help reporters keep a mental distance from those they cover. Scientists have obligations to the community of researchers. In the process of absorbing the rules of the institutions we inhabit, we become who we are.
New generations don’t invent institutional practices. These practices are passed down and evolve. So the institutionalist has a deep reverence for those who came before and built up the rules that he has temporarily taken delivery of. “In taking delivery,” Heclo writes, “institutionalists see themselves as debtors who owe something, not creditors to whom something is owed.”
The rules of a profession or an institution are not like traffic regulations. They are deeply woven into the identity of the people who practice them. A teacher’s relationship to the craft of teaching, an athlete’s relationship to her sport, a farmer’s relation to her land is not an individual choice that can be easily reversed when psychic losses exceed psychic profits. Her social function defines who she is. The connection is more like a covenant. There will be many long periods when you put more into your institutions than you get out.
In 2005, Ryne Sandberg was inducted into the baseball Hall of Fame. Heclo cites his speech as an example of how people talk when they are defined by their devotion to an institution:
“I was in awe every time I walked onto the field. That’s respect. I was taught you never, ever disrespect your opponents or your teammates or your organization or your manager and never, ever your uniform. You make a great play, act like you’ve done it before; get a big hit, look for the third base coach and get ready to run the bases.”
Sandberg motioned to those inducted before him, “These guys sitting up here did not pave the way for the rest of us so that players could swing for the fences every time up and forget how to move a runner over to third. It’s disrespectful to them, to you and to the game of baseball that we all played growing up.
“Respect. A lot of people say this honor validates my career, but I didn’t work hard for validation. I didn’t play the game right because I saw a reward at the end of the tunnel. I played it right because that’s what you’re supposed to do, play it right and with respect ... . If this validates anything, it’s that guys who taught me the game ... did what they were supposed to do, and I did what I was supposed to do.”
I thought it worth devoting a column to institutional thinking because I try to keep a list of the people in public life I admire most. Invariably, the people who make that list have subjugated themselves to their profession, social function or institution.
Second, institutional thinking is eroding. Faith in all institutions, including charities, has declined precipitously over the past generation, not only in the U.S. but around the world. Lack of institutional awareness has bred cynicism and undermined habits of behavior. Bankers, for example, used to have a code that made them a bit stodgy and which held them up for ridicule in movies like “Mary Poppins.” But the banker’s code has eroded, and the result was not liberation but self-destruction.
Institutions do all the things that are supposed to be bad. They impede personal exploration. They enforce conformity.
But they often save us from our weaknesses and give meaning to life.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Jefferson: limits on judicial power
on: January 27, 2009, 10:46:24 AM
"[T]he opinion which gives to the judges the right to decide what laws are constitutional and what not, not only for themselves, in their, own sphere of action, but for the Legislature and Executive also in their spheres, would make the Judiciary a despotic branch."
--Thomas Jefferson, letter to Abigail Adams, 11 September 1804
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Do Palestinians really want 2 state solution?
on: January 27, 2009, 12:00:47 AM
Good one. I will look into that site:
By JOSEF JOFFE | From today's Wall Street Journal Europe
What if there is no solution? With the war in Gaza slipping into an uneasy truce, peacemakers will now descend on the Middle East. That includes George Mitchell, President Obama's special envoy to the region.
But is peace possible? The real message of Gaza may be a bloody and cruel testimony to intractability. How shall we count the ways? Annapolis, Wye, Taba, Camp David, Oslo . . . all the way back to 1947 when the Arabs refused the original two-state solution. Looking at this tale of doom, the proverbial visitor from Mars would ask in all innocence: "Could it be that the Palestinians actually don't want two states?"
No, not if we listen to what Palestinian leaders say and write, especially in Arabic and with no CNN team around. It's one state from the "river to the sea," and the blood-curdling oratory is not just anti-Israel, it is eliminationist anti-Semitic echoing Hitler and Himmler. This is not hyperbole. Just read the daily compilation in English on www.memri.org
and recoil in horror. But let's be statesmanlike about this ("you know, the flowery language of the Arabs") and look at the strategic games both sides play. Double-statehood is not the first prize in this game, alas.
In 2005, Israel withdrew from Gaza. Our man from Mars would have thought: Now is the time for the Palestinians to really build a state, as they couldn't previously when Yasser Arafat was in charge and the Israeli army in place. Instead, the Palestinians elected Hamas, which thrust the three no's at Israel: no recognition, no negotiation, no acceptance (of the Oslo Accords).
The "conversation" was not about statehood but about will. It was Kassam time, with Hamas firing the missiles and Israel tightening the blockade. This is known, in the media vernacular, as a "spiral of violence." But if the missiles were the answer to the blockade, why did Hamas target the border passages and the power plant next door that supplied Gaza with electricity?
So much irrationality makes perfect sense if we posit a different strategic game. Hamas's object is provoking Israel to prove that it doesn't care about the consequences. Indeed, it wants bad things to happen to its own people. This will mobilize the "Arab street" and the world's media against Israel while demonstrating its absolute imperviousness to pain and threats of more. "Bring it on," is great for Hamas's credibility, pride and honor, but for the purpose of statehood, it would behave very differently. It would wheel and deal, cajole and dissimulate. It would play quid pro quo, not Kassams against F-16s.
Naturally, Israel couldn't allow Hamas to dictate the rules, and so it began to ready a massive counterstrike by last summer. Hamas miscalculated in 2008 as Hezbollah did in 2006. Each thought it could humiliate and cow Mr. Big without triggering retaliation. Recall Hezbollah chief Nasrallah, who admitted that he never would have authorized forays into Israel if he had foreseen the reaction. Hamas was unluckier still, for Israel was a lot more successful in Gaza than in southern Lebanon in 2006.
For Israel, the object was "never again." Never again would it allow deterrence to lapse, or its reputation for swift and efficient military force to suffer. With the country's credibility restored, you might ask: Isn't this precisely the moment for another Annapolis or Taba, where Arafat extracted even better terms than at Camp David in 2000? Alas, the Abba Ebban cliché about the Palestinians never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity is true.
The reason is that double-statehood is not their No. 1 priority. They want it all, and if they can't get it, they would rather nurse their honor, pride and sense of righteous victimhood than engage in the sordid business of compromise. At any rate, the simple two-state solution is now off the table. Most Israelis (minus the settlers and their supporters) have come around to two states. But never again will Israel vacate territory (as in Gaza) without making sure that it won't turn into a strategic springboard against the heartland. Never again will Israel relinquish control over a border like the Philadelphi Corridor that served as entry point for Iranian missiles into Gaza. It will insist on a strategic presence in the Jordan Valley.
Nor can Israel yield military control over the West Bank. What a twist of fate. Today, it is the Israeli Defense Force that guarantees the survival of Fatah and President Mahmoud Abbas against Hamas, Jihad and their Iranian sponsors. Here is the bitter irony. Fatah might want to make peace, but doesn't have the power to deliver; Hamas has the power, but it doesn't want peace, dreaming about a "final solution" that wipes Israel off this part of the map.
This is why the Obama administration is looking at yet another disappointment. The upside is that today Palestine is less than ever the "core" of the Middle East conflict. The real issue is Iran and its reach for regional hegemony. The conventional wisdom has it that peace for Palestine would weaken Tehran's mischief potential, robbing it of a rallying point for the Arab masses. Actually, it is the other way round. Iran will use its power, through its proxies, to demolish whatever deal might be hashed out by Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
For Iran's game is not a two-state solution, let alone peace. Rather, its object is to intimidate America's Arab supporters and to eliminate Israel as America's strongest regional ally. So for the Obama administration, Israel/Palestine has become an intractable sideshow on a vastly enlarged stage that extends from Haifa to Herat.
American (and European) good offices should be designed to manage rather than to solve a conflict that still defies solution. The object of intercession ought to be a stable truce. Preventing another eruption means closing off all conduits for offensive weaponry. The U.S. and the European Union can offer Hamas a benign tit for tat: Stop the terror and gain wondrous economic benefits like copious investments and easier movement of goods and people -- provided the money doesn't again disappear in the pockets of the Palestinian leadership, as it did in Arafat's days.
It took Israel 40 years to push Fatah from terrorism to teeth-gnashing acceptance. The Levant will be a lot happier place if Hamas turns out to be a faster learner.
Mr. Joffe is publisher-editor of Die Zeit, and a fellow at the Institute for International Studies and the Hoover Institution, both at Stanford University.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Snatching defeat from jaws of victory
on: January 26, 2009, 11:46:35 PM
In a week of symbolic breaks with the ancien regime, President Obama called in U.S. war commanders last Wednesday to signal his desire to get out of Iraq. Then, meeting over, he issued a vague statement about planning "a responsible military drawdown" that omitted mention of his campaign promise to pull out within 16 months.
APFor Iraq's sake, long may such obfuscation reign. The country faces big tests in the coming year, starting with provincial elections on Saturday. Robust American engagement guided Iraq out of its bloodiest days in 2006. The military commanders who implemented the successful surge now counsel against hasty withdrawal, lest those gains be lost. This is a potential win-win for Mr. Obama. If Iraq emerges from 2009 as a stronger democracy, the White House could then reduce troop levels with little risk of relapse. The President, who prospered in the Democratic primaries thanks to his antiwar stance, will reap the strategic benefit. Let historians appreciate the irony.
The 146,000 U.S. troops still in Iraq today are needed less to end violence than as glue for a still fragile polity. The GIs are the honest brokers in an Iraq recovering from vicious sectarian fighting, and they are crucial to building a steadily improving Iraqi Army. To withdraw in 16 months, the U.S. would have to start immediately to rotate out a brigade roughly each month, taking its eye off those crucial missions.
Why take that risk now, of all times? After Saturday's local elections, the majority Shiites will willingly share power with Sunnis, who boycotted the last poll in 2005. Sunnis have chosen to come back into the fold through the ballot box, along the way helping to give birth to vibrant retail politics. Some 14,000 candidates from 400 parties battle for 440 seats on 14 (of 18) provincial councils. There will also be a referendum on the U.S.-Iraq Status of Forces Agreement this summer, and parliamentary elections by the end of the year.
American GIs can make sure these elections come off smoothly and are accepted broadly as legitimate. The current campaign has seen an uptick in suicide attacks and bombings, showing that diehard Sunni insurgents and Iran-backed militias still want to sabotage democracy in Mesopotamia. Iran lost its fight to stop the U.S. forces deal last year and is sure to try again. A Shiite democracy on its border is an existential rebuke to the mullahs. Military commanders are bracing for Iran to stir up trouble in the months ahead, particularly in the south. By helping Iraq resist this powerplay, Mr. Obama will only strengthen his hand for his promised diplomacy with Tehran.
General Ray Odierno, the commander in Iraq, says the U.S. will be able to pull out two, possibly three, of 14 brigades in 2009, assuming all goes well. Last year's forces agreement obliges cuts. By summer, American combat forces are supposed to be out of the cities, and out of the country by the end of 2011, well in time for the next U.S. Presidential election.
The new Administration may still be tempted to pull out in bigger numbers sooner -- both to appease its antiwar left and spend less on defense. Another argument is that the U.S. can't beef up in Afghanistan without quick reductions in Iraq. As a matter of arithmetic, that's broadly correct. But before a larger force can do much good in Afghanistan the U.S. needs a plan for deploying it.
Here's the lose-lose scenario: Allow Iraq to deteriorate by withdrawing too soon and push into Afghanistan without a better strategy. Mr. Obama has inherited a victory in Iraq that he can't afford to squander.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Bifurcating the War
on: January 26, 2009, 08:17:09 PM
At last a serious effort at answering my question!!! No surprise that it comes from Stratfor.
Strategic Divergence: The War Against the Taliban and the War Against Al Qaeda
January 26, 2009
By George Friedman
Related Special Topic Page
The Devolution of Al Qaeda
Washington’s attention is now zeroing in on Afghanistan. There is talk of doubling U.S. forces there, and preparations are being made for another supply line into Afghanistan — this one running through the former Soviet Union — as an alternative or a supplement to the current Pakistani route. To free up more resources for Afghanistan, the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq probably will be accelerated. And there is discussion about whether the Karzai government serves the purposes of the war in Afghanistan. In short, U.S. President Barack Obama’s campaign promise to focus on Afghanistan seems to be taking shape.
We have discussed many aspects of the Afghan war in the past; it is now time to focus on the central issue. What are the strategic goals of the United States in Afghanistan? What resources will be devoted to this mission? What are the intentions and capabilities of the Taliban and others fighting the United States and its NATO allies? Most important, what is the relationship between the war against the Taliban and the war against al Qaeda? If the United States encounters difficulties in the war against the Taliban, will it still be able to contain not only al Qaeda but other terrorist groups? Does the United States need to succeed against the Taliban to be successful against transnational Islamist terrorists? And assuming that U.S. forces are built up in Afghanistan and that the supply problem through Pakistan is solved, are the defeat of Taliban and the disruption of al Qaeda likely?
Al Qaeda and U.S. Goals Post-9/11
The overarching goal of the United States since Sept. 11, 2001, has been to prevent further attacks by al Qaeda in the United States. Washington has used two means toward this end. One was defensive, aimed at increasing the difficulty of al Qaeda operatives to penetrate and operate within the United States. The second was to attack and destroy al Qaeda prime, the group around Osama bin Laden that organized and executed 9/11 and other attacks in Europe. It is this group — not other groups that call themselves al Qaeda but only are able to operate in the countries where they were formed — that was the target of the United States, because this was the group that had demonstrated the ability to launch intercontinental strikes.
Al Qaeda prime had its main headquarters in Afghanistan. It was not an Afghan group, but one drawn from multiple Islamic countries. It was in alliance with an Afghan group, the Taliban. The Taliban had won a civil war in Afghanistan, creating a coalition of support among tribes that had given the group control, direct or indirect, over most of the country. It is important to remember that al Qaeda was separate from the Taliban; the former was a multinational force, while the Taliban were an internal Afghan political power.
The United States has two strategic goals in Afghanistan. The first is to destroy the remnants of al Qaeda prime — the central command of al Qaeda — in Afghanistan. The second is to use Afghanistan as a base for destroying al Qaeda in Pakistan and to prevent the return of al Qaeda to Afghanistan.
To achieve these goals, Washington has sought to make Afghanistan inhospitable to al Qaeda. The United States forced the Taliban from Afghanistan’s main cities and into the countryside, and established a new, anti-Taliban government in Kabul under President Hamid Karzai. Washington intended to deny al Qaeda bases in Afghanistan by unseating the Taliban government, creating a new pro-American government and then using Afghanistan as a base against al Qaeda in Pakistan.
The United States succeeded in forcing the Taliban from power in the sense that in giving up the cities, the Taliban lost formal control of the country. To be more precise, early in the U.S. attack in 2001, the Taliban realized that the massed defense of Afghan cities was impossible in the face of American air power. The ability of U.S. B-52s to devastate any concentration of forces meant that the Taliban could not defend the cities, but had to withdraw, disperse and reform its units for combat on more favorable terms.
At this point, we must separate the fates of al Qaeda and the Taliban. During the Taliban retreat, al Qaeda had to retreat as well. Since the United States lacked sufficient force to destroy al Qaeda at Tora Bora, al Qaeda was able to retreat into northwestern Pakistan. There, it enjoys the advantages of terrain, superior tactical intelligence and support networks.
Even so, in nearly eight years of war, U.S. intelligence and special operations forces have maintained pressure on al Qaeda in Pakistan. The United States has imposed attrition on al Qaeda, disrupting its command, control and communications and isolating it. In the process, the United States used one of al Qaeda’s operational principles against it. To avoid penetration by hostile intelligence services, al Qaeda has not recruited new cadres for its primary unit. This makes it very difficult to develop intelligence on al Qaeda, but it also makes it impossible for al Qaeda to replace its losses. Thus, in a long war of attrition, every loss imposed on al Qaeda has been irreplaceable, and over time, al Qaeda prime declined dramatically in effectiveness — meaning it has been years since it has carried out an effective operation.
The situation was very different with the Taliban. The Taliban, it is essential to recall, won the Afghan civil war that followed the Soviet withdrawal despite Russian and Iranian support for its opponents. That means the Taliban have a great deal of support and a strong infrastructure, and, above all, they are resilient. After the group withdrew from Afghanistan’s cities and lost formal power post-9/11, it still retained a great deal of informal influence — if not control — over large regions of Afghanistan and in areas across the border in Pakistan. Over the years since the U.S. invasion, the Taliban have regrouped, rearmed and increased their operations in Afghanistan. And the conflict with the Taliban has now become a conventional guerrilla war.
The Taliban and the Guerrilla Warfare Challenge
The Taliban have forged relationships among many Afghan (and Pakistani) tribes. These tribes have been alienated by Karzai and the Americans, and far more important, they do not perceive the Americans and Karzai as potential winners in the Afghan conflict. They recall the Russian and British defeats. The tribes have long memories, and they know that foreigners don’t stay very long. Betting on the United States and Karzai — when the United States has sent only 30,000 troops to Afghanistan, and is struggling with the idea of sending another 30,000 troops — does not strike them as prudent. The United States is behaving like a power not planning to win; and, in any event, they would not be much impressed if the Americans were planning to win.
The tribes therefore do not want to get on the wrong side of the Taliban. That means they aid and shelter Taliban forces, and provide them intelligence on enemy movement and intentions. With its base camps and supply lines running from Pakistan, the Taliban are thus in a position to recruit, train and arm an increasingly large force.
The Taliban have the classic advantage of guerrillas operating in known terrain with a network of supporters: superior intelligence. They know where the Americans are, what the Americans are doing and when the Americans are going to strike. The Taliban declines combat on unfavorable terms and strikes when the Americans are weakest. The Americans, on the other hand, have the classic problem of counterinsurgency: They enjoy superior force and firepower, and can defeat anyone they can locate and pin down, but they lack intelligence. As much as technical intelligence from unmanned aerial vehicles and satellites is useful, human intelligence is the only effective long-term solution to defeating an insurgency. In this, the Taliban have the advantage: They have been there longer, they are in more places and they are not going anywhere.
There is no conceivable force the United States can deploy to pacify Afghanistan. A possible alternative is moving into Pakistan to cut the supply lines and destroy the Taliban’s base camps. The problem is that if the Americans lack the troops to successfully operate in Afghanistan, it is even less likely they have the troops to operate in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. The United States could use the Korean War example, taking responsibility for cutting the Taliban off from supplies and reinforcements from Pakistan, but that assumes that the Afghan government has an effective force motivated to engage and defeat the Taliban. The Afghan government doesn’t.
The obvious American solution — or at least the best available solution — is to retreat to strategic Afghan points and cities and protect the Karzai regime. The problem here is that in Afghanistan, holding the cities doesn’t give the key to the country; rather, holding the countryside gives the key to the cities. Moreover, a purely defensive posture opens the United States up to the Dien Bien Phu/Khe Sanh counterstrategy, in which guerrillas shift to positional warfare, isolate a base and try to overrun in it.
A purely defensive posture could create a stalemate, but nothing more. That stalemate could create the foundations for political negotiations, but if there is no threat to the enemy, the enemy has little reason to negotiate. Therefore, there must be strikes against Taliban concentrations. The problem is that the Taliban know that concentration is suicide, and so they work to deny the Americans valuable targets. The United States can exhaust itself attacking minor targets based on poor intelligence. It won’t get anywhere.
U.S. Strategy in Light of al Qaeda’s Diminution
From the beginning, the Karzai government has failed to take control of the countryside. Therefore, al Qaeda has had the option to redeploy into Afghanistan if it chose. It didn’t because it is risk-averse. That may seem like a strange thing to say about a group that flies planes into buildings, but what it means is that the group’s members are relatively few, so al Qaeda cannot risk operational failures. It thus keeps its powder dry and stays in hiding.
This then frames the U.S. strategic question. The United States has no intrinsic interest in the nature of the Afghan government. The United States is interested in making certain the Taliban do not provide sanctuary to al Qaeda prime. But it is not clear that al Qaeda prime is operational anymore. Some members remain, putting out videos now and then and trying to appear fearsome, but it would seem that U.S. operations have crippled al Qaeda.
So if the primary reason for fighting the Taliban is to keep al Qaeda prime from having a base of operations in Afghanistan, that reason might be moot now as al Qaeda appears to be wrecked. This is not to say that another Islamist terrorist group could not arise and develop the sophisticated methods and training of al Qaeda prime. But such a group could deploy many places, and in any case, obtaining the needed skills in moving money, holding covert meetings and the like is much harder than it looks — and with many intelligence services, including those in the Islamic world, on the lookout for this, recruitment would be hard.
It is therefore no longer clear that resisting the Taliban is essential for blocking al Qaeda: al Qaeda may simply no longer be there. (At this point, the burden of proof is on those who think al Qaeda remains operational.)
Two things emerge from this. First, the search for al Qaeda and other Islamist groups is an intelligence matter best left to the covert capabilities of U.S. intelligence and Special Operations Command. Defeating al Qaeda does not require tens of thousands of troops — it requires excellent intelligence and a special operations capability. That is true whether al Qaeda is in Pakistan or Afghanistan. Intelligence, covert forces and airstrikes are what is needed in this fight, and of the three, intelligence is the key.
Second, the current strategy in Afghanistan cannot secure Afghanistan, nor does it materially contribute to shutting down al Qaeda. Trying to hold some cities and strategic points with the number of troops currently under consideration is not an effective strategy to this end; the United States is already ceding large areas of Afghanistan to the Taliban that could serve as sanctuary for al Qaeda. Protecting the Karzai government and key cities is therefore not significantly contributing to the al Qaeda-suppression strategy.
In sum, the United States does not control enough of Afghanistan to deny al Qaeda sanctuary, can’t control the border with Pakistan and lacks effective intelligence and troops for defeating the Taliban.
Logic argues, therefore, for the creation of a political process for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan coupled with a recommitment to intelligence operations against al Qaeda. Ultimately, the United States must protect itself from radical Islamists, but cannot create a united, pro-American Afghanistan. That would not happen even if the United States sent 500,000 troops there, which it doesn’t have anyway.
A Tale of Two Surges
The U.S. strategy now appears to involve trying a surge, or sending in more troops and negotiating with the Taliban, mirroring the strategy used in Iraq. But the problem with that strategy is that the Taliban don’t seem inclined to make concessions to the United States. The Taliban don’t think the United States can win, and they know the United States won’t stay. The Petraeus strategy is to inflict enough pain on the Taliban to cause them to rethink their position, which worked in Iraq. But it did not work in Vietnam. So long as the Taliban have resources flowing and can survive American attacks, they will calculate that they can outlast the Americans. This has been Afghan strategy for centuries, and it worked against the British and Russians.
If it works against the Americans, too, splitting the al Qaeda strategy from the Taliban strategy will be the inevitable outcome for the United States. In that case, the CIA will become the critical war fighter in the theater, while conventional forces will be withdrawn. It follows that Obama will need to think carefully about his approach to intelligence.
This is not an argument that al Qaeda is no longer a threat, although the threat appears diminished. Nor is it an argument that dealing with terrorism in Afghanistan and Pakistan is not a priority. Instead, it is an argument that the defeat of the Taliban under rationally anticipated circumstances is unlikely and that a negotiated settlement in Afghanistan will be much more difficult and unlikely than the settlement was in Iraq — but that even so, a robust effort against Islamist terror groups must continue regardless of the outcome of the war with the Taliban.
Therefore, we expect that the United States will separate the two conflicts in response to these realities. This will mean that containing terrorists will not be dependent on defeating or holding out against the Taliban, holding Afghanistan’s cities, or preserving the Karzai regime. We expect the United States to surge troops into Afghanistan, but in due course, the counterterrorist portion will diverge from the counter-Taliban portion. The counterterrorist portion will be maintained as an intense covert operation, while the overt operation will wind down over time. The Taliban ruling Afghanistan is not a threat to the United States, so long as intense counterterrorist operations continue there.
The cost of failure in Afghanistan is simply too high and the connection to counterterrorist activities too tenuous for the two strategies to be linked. And since the counterterror war is already distinct from conventional operations in much of Afghanistan and Pakistan, our forecast is not really that radical.
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Woman uses taser to help officer
on: January 26, 2009, 01:36:52 PM
Atlanta Woman Uses Taser Gun to Help Officer in Distress
Posted: Monday, January 26, 2009
Updated: January 26th, 2009 11:40 AM GMT-05:00
Story by wsbtv.com
LITHONIA, Ga. --
Tanisha Cross never thought the Taser stun gun she received for Christmas would come in handy so soon. Cross said she was headed to Wal-Mart in Lithonia with her mother when she noticed a DeKalb County police officer in distress.
"I just told my mom pull over, let's try to help," said Cross.
The 20-year-old mother, who received the taser as a gift from her husband, said she kept it in a diaper bag. Cross said while others gathered to watch, she sprung into action.
"I went straight for my kids diaper bag and I got it and asked it if he [officer] wanted me to do it and he said, 'Yea,'" said Cross.
Cross said the officer had a hard time defending himself because the attacker had taken the officer's radio and managed to rub pepper spray in the officer's face and eyes. Jolting the attacker, Cross' timing couldn't have been better. Cross said she tasered the suspect in his arms and legs. Cross said she stunned the attacker to where the officer regained his composure and fought back until a security guard came to their aid. "He's brave," she said. "He did his best to keep him from his gun. He handled the situation very well. I was just glad I could help him," said Cross. Cross doesn't consider herself a hero. "I'm just a bystander trying to help do the right thing," said Cross.
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Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Humor/WTF
on: January 26, 2009, 12:26:03 PM
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Self Defense with Pistols
on: January 26, 2009, 12:11:15 PM
We kick this thread off with a newsletter from Gabe Suarez:
MAGAZINE CAPACITY FOR SELF-DEFENSE
Last time we discussed calibers due to some new discussions at warriortalk. It seems some people are still thinking like it was 1911 in terms of terminal ballistics. I think the truth of the matter is that all self defense handgun calibers (excluding the pocket pistol category) are basically the same when it comes to dropping an adversary. That being the case, should we carry a pistol that only holds seven marginal shots, or one that holds as many as twice that number?
I wrote this one a while back and it seems the discussion and emailed questions I got come back to this issue.
I suppose this will be yet another highly controversial issue, but what the heck. Controversy makes for interesting discussion, no? The issue is to look at whether high magazine capacity gives you a tactical advantage, or if we are better served by carrying an equally sized weapon with a smaller capacity of bigger bullets. Before I answer my own question, let me put forth some facts as seen both in force on force training and on the street.
Point One - Pistol bullets, regardless of caliber are all, what one colleague calls, "iffy". None can be guaranteed to drop an adversary in his tracks reliably. The notion of a one shot stop is an urban myth dreamed up by those with a vested interest in such things. I have seen 45s work and fail, and I have seen 9mm both work and fail. For the record, the only one shot drop (excluding head shots) I have ever seen with a pistol was fired by a good friend as we entered a crack house during a SWAT raid. He shot the bad guy squarely in the heart with 9mm +P+ out of a SIG P-226. He only fired once because the bad guy fell before my friend could reset his trigger for the next shot!
If we look at the most prevalent calibers we see that there is very little difference between them. A 9mm (also .38/.357) is only one little millimeter smaller than the 10mm (aka .40 S&W), and that is only one little millimeter less than the vaunted 11mm (aka .45 ACP). And before we get into the high speed light bullet versus the heavy slow bullet argument, lets remember that you can only drive a pistol bullet so fast without drastically affecting its integrity. Moreover, since penetration is affected by weight, sacrificing weight for speed will not yield good results. Finally, you can only make a bullet so light or so heavy. There are limits to what you can shoot out of a pistol.
I have seen every one of these calibers fail at one time or another. There are those who disdain the 9mm as unsuitable for anything larger than squirrels. With modern ammunition, this is simply not true. There is also a myth and a cult grown up around the .45 ACP in this country. Sadly, it is not the deadly hammer of god its proponents suggest. This is not new. Read Fairbairn's Shoot To Live. He writes of two separate times when the .45 failed to work any better than anything else. Although one millimeter may give you a slight edge in a less than optimum body hit, under most circumstances, there will be very little difference between the effectiveness of the various calibers when modern anti-personnel ammo is used. Trauma injury doctors and reputable terminal ballistics experts tend to agree with this statement.
Point Two - Private Citizen CCW Operators do not go looking for trouble. If they are called to fight it is either because they have inadvertently crossed paths with bad guys while they are doing bad guy stuff (walking in on a robbery in progress as an example), or because they have been specifically targeted and stalked (such as a carjack, or home invasion event). They will have to use extreme violence to fight off the surprise attackers. When we translate the conversion of fright and startle into a firearm application we wee that definition is high volume of fire. You will shoot a lot, and until the threat is no longer there.
While these events share slightly different dynamics, the common thread often seen is that of multiple adversaries. The lone criminal or terrorist is an urban myth. If your fight only involves one, consider yourself lucky. More often than not you will be outnumbered.
Another point is the time frames in which these events take place. Think three seconds. After this, either you will be dead, or your adversaries will be dead. Urban gunfights do not go for hours. Unexpected, short duration, high intensity, extreme violence, multiple adversaries. That is the back drop.
Point Three - Our staff has collectively been in a large number of gunfights ranging from police, citizen, and military events. We draw on those experiences to set up mock gunfights in dynamic, unscripted force on force training drills. Although the surprise factor is missing (you generally don t know you will be in a gunfight until it is upon you), the dynamics of its evolution do not change much. Here are some other observations from watching hundreds of those drills.
1). Defenders will fire their weapons until the threat disappears. That means that until the role player falls down (simulating effective hits delivered), or runs away (removing the target), the good guy will keep firing. The concept of school solutions, controlled pairs, or otherwise artificially limiting the number of shots (as one does in a firing string on the range) does not hold up even in guys who've been extensively trained to do it.
2). When a training gun stops firing (due to running out of pellets), the shooter is still in the fight and still trying to shoot his enemy as well as trying to not be hit by him. We see them continue to try to work the trigger for one or two times before there is a realization that there has been a stoppage (malfunction or empty gun). This is followed by a visual examination of the gun, and only then is remedial action taken.
This can take upwards f a second and a half before anything is even attempted to fix the gun, and then the additional time needed to reload. Thus the idea that one can read the gun s feel and immediately realize a need to speed load simply does not hold up. Running out of ammo is usually a fight ender if there has been a failure to stop, or there are multiple adversaries at hand.
3). Participants in these reactive mock gunfights are debriefed immediately to get a clear picture of what happened before any rationalization takes place. Besides a shoot them to the ground firing process, most shooters do not remember seeing the crystal clear sight pictures they learned on the shooting range.
We see a great deal of point shooting, and gun index shooting. I have yet to see anyone strike a classic shooting posture and press off a carefully sighted pair in these room distance drills.
The point to remember is that in a fight such as what are likely for the private citizen, one can easily develop Bullet Deficit Disorder , and that this can have deleterious effects on the outcome of that fight.
The idea that a pair or trio of quality rounds carefully delivered onto a high scoring target zone will stop the action fails both the terminal ballistics test as well as the applications test.
A truth of gunfighting - Having more ammo immediately on board lessens the likelihood of ever needing to reload. Not needing to reload translates into more time delivering lead and less time manipulating the weapon. More trigger time increases likelihood of hitting, which increases survivability.
So the question is this. Given that there is a limit to the size pistol one can carry, do I want that pistol to hold more rounds? My answer is a strong YES!
Consider the similarly sized Glock 36 in .45 ACP, and the Glock 23 in .40 S&W. The latter holds nearly twice the ammo of the former in an almost identical package. The Glock 19 is an even more drastic comparison with 15 shots available. Of course there are also high capacity 45 pistols for those so inclined and for those who can wield them. I would argue that if your choice is a 45, a gun holding 13 would be better than a gun holding 6. And if your hand is too small for the 13 shooter, rather than decrease capacity, I d decrease caliber.
I have a colleague is South America who has been in High Risk Police Service for close to three decades. He has been in over three dozen verified gunfight . His weapon was originally a Browning Hi-Power and later a Glock 17.
I was very interested in hearing more so I asked him about the load he used. He said he had always used military ball full metal jacket. Astounded I asked him why he chose that. That is all we can get here. Hollow points are illegal .
I shook my head and told him that there was a belief in the USA that 9mm was an anemic caliber, especially in the load he d chosen. He shrugged and said that his adversaries must not have gotten the word. He said he fired a burst at the chest and if they didn't fall fast enough, he fired a burst at the face. He never needed to reload and had enough on board so if he missed a shot or two he could catch up in the fight. And before we hear the careful shooter versus the spraying prayer, this man is one of the best shots I have seen and competes on an international level. Even so, he knows the chaos in a gunfight can play havoc with even the most gifted marksman. Perhaps we need to take a lesson from him.
I still carry a Glock 17 with 17 rounds of Corbon DPX ammo in 9mm.
One Source Tactical
Suarez International USA
Christian Warrior Ministries
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor: NATO- Central Asia
on: January 26, 2009, 12:06:03 PM
The Russia-NATO Council will meet on Monday for its first gathering since the Russo-Georgian war in August 2008. The official agenda calls for discussions between the NATO ambassadors and Russian Ambassador to NATO Dmitri Rogozin on the fallout from the war. However, this topic is ancient history in the minds of most of the alliance members and Russia.
There is a much bigger and more important topic on the table: NATO needs supplementary routes to get supplies to troops to Afghanistan and is looking to create routes that transit Central Asia — an area where Russia is czar.
We have been closely following the actions of the United States, the Central Asian states and Russia over this issue. The recent moves began with a meeting in early December between two heavyweights, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Henry Kissinger, an unofficial White House adviser. This meeting did not seem to go well: In the days following, Russia announced a number of defense deals with countries unfriendly to Washington, like Iran. But a shift occurred soon afterward, when the United States began to pursue negotiations with the Central Asian states — with a tour by U.S. Central Command chief Gen. David Petraeus — without Russia’s blessing. Russia began countering the United States’ moves this past week and will continue to do so, with a series of meetings in the same states over the next two weeks.
Negotiations have never moved so quickly on matters concerning Central Asia. This part of the world tends to move at a much slower pace, dragging out meetings and decisions — especially on security deals — for years. Security negotiations between the United States and Russia have rarely moved this fast either since the two powers divided up allies after World War II. But the moves are aggressive now, because Washington needs to lock down a new supply route leading from Central Asia to Afghanistan now rather than later.
Petraeus faces a deadline for submitting his team’s strategy on Afghanistan to U.S. President Barack Obama and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. This document is mainly a strategy piece laying out the core objectives for the year — everything from denying Pakistan leverage to undermining the Taliban’s support in key districts. The logistics and tactical details of alternate supply routes do not necessarily have to be included in this document, but having an alternate supply route plays into every other detail.
The other reason for accelerating negotiations for an alternative route is that the U.S. military’s plan to increase troops in Afghanistan is now in motion. The United States and NATO feel that they rely too heavily on routes through Pakistan, along which roughly 75 percent of supplies to Afghanistan travel. The immense logistical demands of the operations already under way — let alone the increased operations Washington has planned — are well beyond the capacity of aerial resupply alone.
By the time the spring thaw arrives, U.S. and NATO and Taliban offensives will be in full swing. The Pentagon will be surging troops into Afghanistan as fast as possible. That surge will require even more vehicles, more ammunition, more fuel, more food and supplies, spare parts and the like — some of which will need to begin arriving ahead of the troops that will be using them.
Simply to keep reliance on Pakistani routes from increasing, some alternative arrangement is necessary. Based on Petraeus’ recent trip and other maneuvers, a Central Asian route is the clear priority. And time is of the essence. But an arrangement with Russia almost certainly will be needed to secure acquiescence from states in that region.
The Americans and Russians are spending more time countering each other than finding a deal. They have not yet met with each other since the Central Asians were brought into the negotiations. They will meet at the Russia-NATO Council on Monday, but Moscow is not looking for talks that are not between those at the top. This means Russia wants to meet with either Obama or new Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Rumors have been flying of upcoming meetings, but every time the United States offers to meet, the Russians swerve as if the negotiations were a game.
This is because the Russians know that the Americans are in a hurry. The Russians feel they are in a position of strength and that they can keep drawing the matter out until the United States comes to the table with an enticing deal. This would involve much larger issues than Afghanistan: It means movement between Washington and Moscow over the future of all former Soviet turf. Until then, the Russians are going to savor having the upper hand while the United States scrambles.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / From a friend in Iraq
on: January 26, 2009, 11:59:04 AM
I remember reading somewhere that Muslims may not like their photos taken.
Most Iraqis are Muslims.
But I have yet to meet one who did not want their photo taken when the option was offered. They jump on it. The only thing is you MUST give a copy to each and every person in the photo. If for no other reason than they will torment you to death over it. And since e-mail is not big over here as far as the grunts doing all the work go (remember computers and Internet access costs), that means you have to print them out a copy.
So far I have been real good about that. And it has earned some good mileage.
Sometimes I think about seriously learning Arabic because all the Iraqis I have met so far seem to have a good sense of humor. It's just that we can't laugh more about sh!* because we cannot communicate. If we were going to be in Iraq longer I would do it. But it's hard to generate the energy to make such a commitment.
Oh, and almost all I have met seem to like Americans. And if there were anyy issues they revolved more around they would prefer things to be different in an ideal world. Remember, in straight up combat we have absolutely kicked their asses twice. As a man it's a hard and bitter pill to swallow. Any man, anywhere on this planet would feel the same.
So I just front myself off as being no better than them. Equals. I am not the infidel who is here to tell you how to stop dragging your knuckles on the ground and walk upright. "Tell me what YOU think" about this and that (all translated of course). Positive reinforcement. "Dude your gun is cleaner than most guys I have worked with" (easy to say when it's true).
Iraq, contrary to Afghanistan, was a society with a long history of civilization before we got here. They have had very strong legal institutions for a very long time. Maybe not how we would do things, especially under the evil Saddam Hussein, but they had and still have their ways. And these ways work for them.
One of the projects I see being floated around is an automated court administration system. Frankly I have not personally seen a huge amount of interest in converting to that process. They have their paper way, much like the Colombians did, of doing things. And it works for them. They walk into courthouses with huge court documents that look like the construction paper we used as kids. Light blue. Yellow. Orange. No rhyme or reason as far as I can tell between the colors, but it all works for them.
One final observation. And this is just my opinion. I more and more come to the conclusion that most Muslims could care less about the issues that drive the Jihadists. But the Jihadists are the ones to use violence in support of their view. The average person, for good reason, is punked out by that reality. The Iraqis who have gotten sick and tired of that crap have proven that they will kick al-Qaeda's ass themselves. And they have. At great consequence to themselves. But they ultimately prevailed in many places in Iraq. I don't take the Michael Yon view that all is hunky dory and that there are not serious issues here.
I was against the invasion of Iraq back in 2003. And I have been a harsh critic of our involvement here on many occasions. But seeing things close up now makes me start to believe that some of the Bush administrations vision on how to deal with the greatest current threat to Western civilization (in afct to the entire non-Muslim world), the direct confrontation of the Jihadists, may have some very long term prospects.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Patriot
on: January 26, 2009, 11:58:07 AM
FOR THE RECORD
"The other incontrovertible truth about this massive wealth transfer [plan to rescue the economy] is that Washington cannot stop the inevitable lard-up. The original concept of spending on 'roads and bridges' has morphed into spending on anything and everything that moves or can be moved. ... Public radio and public television -- already funded with your money to the tune of some $400 million in direct federal handouts and tax deductions for contributions made by individual viewers, not to mention untold state grants and subsidies -- are demanding a hugetastic chunk of the stimulus pie. That's right: Government-supported NPR and PBS want even more of a bailout than they've lived off of for the last 40 years. According to , which covers public TV and radio, the two entities along with the Corporation for Public Broadcasting have petitioned Obama for $550 million in funding to help create more workers suckling on the public teat. Watching TV is apparently critical to rescuing the American economy. Already stuffed into the Democrats' package is a $650 million bailout -- call it the Boob Tube boondoggle -- to pay for $650 million worth of digital TV upgrade coupons in the wake of the official, government-mandated transition to digital television next month. Not to be left out, the National Endowment for the Arts is on the Santa stimulus list for an additional $50 million cash injection. Oh, and there's another $50 million earmarked 'to make up for a lack of philanthropic support for the arts.' ... Wake up, taxpayers: This nearly $1 trillion plan is nothing but future-mortgaging ornaments and tinsel boxed in self-delusion. It is time, as President Obama lectured us, to put away childish things -- starting with this epic fail." --columnist Michelle Malkin
"A wise prince will seek means by which his subjects will always and in every possible condition of things have need of his government, and then they will always be faithful to him." --Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527)
"We who live in free market societies believe that growth, prosperity and ultimately human fulfillment, are created from the bottom up, not the government down. Only when the human spirit is allowed to invent and create, only when individuals are given a personal stake in deciding economic policies and benefitting from their success -- only then can societies remain economically alive, dynamic, progressive, and free." --Ronald Reagan
"Obama's faith in himself -- and by extension, faith in the government he leads -- is unshakeable. In his inaugural address, Obama dismissed the question of 'whether our government is too big or too small.' Instead, he suggested, we should focus on 'whether it works.' Yet there is apparently no situation in which Obama believes the government, led by Barack Obama, doesn't work. The free market requires 'a watchful eye'; 'a nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous.' The government must build us 'new roads and bridges,' 'restore science to its rightful place,' 'transform our schools and colleges and universities.' The government must bring about global equality via international redistribution: 'poor nations ... we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds.' In Obama's mind, the government he runs solves all problems and rights all wrongs. What will happen when government fails?" --columnist Ben Shapiro
"[M]ore than any predecessor except the first, the 44th president enters office with the scope of its powers barely circumscribed by law, and even less by public opinion. Obama's unprecedented power derives from the astonishing events of the last four months that have made indistinct the line between public and private sectors. Neither the public as currently alarmed, nor Congress as currently constituted, nor the Constitution as currently construed is an impediment to hitherto unimagined executive discretion in allocating vast portions of the nation's wealth. He acquires power just as the retreat of the state has been abruptly reversed." --columnist George Will
OPINION IN BRIEF
"I was talking to Peter Robinson, who helped write the immortal 'Tear Down This Wall, Mr. Gorbachev' speech delivered in Berlin by my dad, Ronald Reagan. He told me he went back to the archives for 1981 and pulled out a couple of my dad's quotes from the 1981 inaugural address and compared them with a couple of quotes from Barack Obama's inaugural address. He noted that while my dad said it was 'morning in America,' with Obama it almost went back in tone to Jimmy Carter's infamous 'malaise' speech, which pictured an America down in the dumps. For Obama it was more like 'mourning' in America. You can hear echoes of that malaise speech in Obama's inaugural address when he said, 'These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics. Less measurable but no less profound is a sapping of confidence across our land -- a nagging fear that America's decline is inevitable, and that the next generation must lower its sights.' There were, however, striking similarities between Ronald Reagan's speeches and those of both Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, Robinson said, because the Democrats have long been big students of my dad's speeches, going back time and again to the archives to read the words of the Great Communicator and learn from his techniques in communicating. If you listen to Barack Obama you hear his programs and policies described the way Ronald Reagan would have described them had they been his agenda. The difference between the two men was that my dad believed everything he said all the way to the core of his being, while Barack Obama and his fellow Democrats use speeches to mask what they really believe." --radio talk show host Michael Reagan
RE: THE LEFT
"It will not be easy for President B. Hussein Obama. More than half the country voted for him, and yet our newspapers are brimming with snippy remarks at every little aspect of his inauguration. Here's a small sampling of the churlishness in just The New York Times: -- The American public is bemused by the tasteless show-biz extravaganza surrounding Barack Obama's inauguration today. -- There is something to be said for some showiness in an inauguration. But one felt discomfited all the same. -- This is an inauguration, not a coronation. -- Is there a parallel between Mrs. Obama's jewel-toned outfit and somebody else's glass slippers? Why limousines and not shank's mare? -- It is still unclear whether we are supposed to shout 'Whoopee!' or 'Shame!' about the new elegance the Obamas are bringing to Washington. Boy, talk about raining on somebody's parade! These were not, of course, comments about the inauguration of the angel Obama; they are (slightly edited) comments about the inauguration of another historic president, Ronald Reagan, in January 1981. Obama's inaugural address tracked much of Reagan's first inaugural address -- minus the substance.... Obama was also not as fulsome in his praise of his predecessor as Reagan was. To appreciate how remarkable this is, recall that Reagan's predecessor was Jimmy Carter. Under Carter, more than 50 Americans were held hostage by a two-bit terrorist Iranian regime for 444 days -- released the day of Reagan's inauguration. Under Bush, there has not been another terrorist attack since Sept. 11, 2001. But I gather that if Obama had uttered anything more than the briefest allusion to Bush, that would have provoked yet more booing from the Hope-and-Change crowd, which moments earlier had showered Bush with boos when he walked onto the stage. That must be the new tone we've been hearing so much about. So maybe liberals can stop acting as if the entire nation could at last come together in a 'unity of purpose' if only conservatives would stop fomenting 'conflict and discord' -- as Obama suggested in his inaugural address. We're not the ones who booed a departing president. ... Liberals always have to play the victim, acting as if they merely want to bring the nation together in hope and unity in the face of petulant, stick-in-the-mud conservatives. Meanwhile, they are the ones booing, heckling and publicly fantasizing about the assassination of those who disagree with them on policy matters. Hope and unity, apparently, can only be achieved if conservatives would just go away -- and perhaps have the decency to kill themselves. Republicans are not the ones who need to be told that 'the time has come to set aside childish things' -- as Obama said of his own assumption of the presidency. Remember? We're the ones who managed to gaze upon Carter at the conclusion of his abomination of a presidency without booing." --columnist Ann Coulter
"Those who doubted that a black man could be elected to the highest office in the land no longer have a leg to stand on. That can be a force for good, when young blacks can no longer be told that there is no point in their trying to get ahead in this society because 'the man' is going to stop them. In another sense, the Obama presidency may not be nearly as big a change in the country as some might think. Colin Powell could probably have been elected eight years ago. But you don't know it can happen until it happens. No doubt the race-hustling industry will continue, and no doubt their chief victims will be blacks, especially young blacks, who buy the paralyzing picture of victimhood and the counterproductive resentments which sap energies that could be better used to improve their own lives. Now that we have the first black President of the United States, maybe we can move ahead to the time when we can forget about 'the first' whatever to do what. There is too much serious work to do to spend more time on that." --Hoover Institution economist Thomas Sowell
"President Obama can be forgiven for celebrating the hypocrisy of Abraham Lincoln because the victors of wars write their history and glorify the winners. The recognition that slavery is a despicable institution does not require hero worship of a president who made the largest contribution to the unraveling of our Constitution. After all when it is settled by brute force that states cannot secede, as they thought they had the right to in 1787, then the federal government can ride roughshod over states and their people's right -- in a word make meaningless the Ninth and Tenth Amendments." --George Mason University economics professor Walter E. Williams
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"My family had the privilege and blessing of being on the Mall when President Reagan's horse-drawn caisson and coffin, slowly came up Constitution Avenue to lie in state at the Capitol. What a thrilling spectacle! The large numbers of people lining Constitution Avenue were incredibly courteous and friendly. The remarkable thing about this huge crowd was how tidy it was. Every trash receptacle was overflowing, however, there was no litter. All the overflow trash was neatly stacked around the full bins. On the other hand, the litter on the mall after Obama's coronation does not surprise me. The two crowds are very different dimensions of America. One crowd was very sensitive to its personal duty of stewardship, and the other was a crowd of socialists who believe in letting someone else clean up after it. This is classic and predictable." --Sacramento, California
"Is it just me being cynical or is there nothing to the White House 'pay freeze?' These guys just started and shouldn't be expecting a raise quite yet. My guess is that the pay freeze will be rescinded six or eight months hence we won't hear a word about it." --Springfield, Virginia
"I do not think you can include Colin Powell any longer in the list of black conservatives as you did in the 09-03 Brief." --Jackson, Mississippi
Editor's Reply: We agree, but were just checking to see that readers were paying attention! We have cleansed the Colin from our list to prevent any future references.
Editor's Note: A correction for the 09-03 Digest: Kirsten Gillibrand is a U.S. Representative, not a New York state representative as we said Friday.
THE LAST WORD
"From the New York Times: 'The local food movement has been all about buying seasonal food from nearby farmers. Now, thanks to the Web, it is expanding to include far-away farmers too. A new start-up, Foodzie, is an online farmers market where small, artisan food producers and growers can sell their products. Foodies in Florida, say, can order raw, handcrafted pepperjack cheese from Traver, Calif., or organic, fair-trade coffee truffles from Boulder, Colo.' What a great idea! And why not take it one step further? Farmers could band together and form large organizations -- call them 'corporations' -- to grow and distribute mass quantities of food. Retail operations could be set up in every town; they would be sort of super farmers markets, or 'supermarkets' for short. Soon everyone everywhere would be able to buy local food from all over the world!" --The Wall Street Journal's James Taranto
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Madison; Reagan
on: January 26, 2009, 11:49:27 AM
"I cannot undertake to lay my finger on that article of the Constitution which granted a right to Congress of expending, on the objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents." --James Madison
"We who live in free market societies believe that growth, prosperity and ultimately human fulfillment, are created from the bottom up, not the government down. Only when the human spirit is allowed to invent and create, only when individuals are given a personal stake in deciding economic policies and benefitting from their success -- only then can societies remain economically alive, dynamic, progressive, and free." --Ronald Reagan
DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / WSJ
on: January 26, 2009, 07:56:32 AM
Por Joel Kurtzman
México actualmente está en medio de una salvaje guerra del narcotráfico. Policías están siendo sobornados y, especialmente cerca de la frontera con Estados Unidos, asesinados a tiros. Los secuestros y la extorsión son habituales. Y, lo más alarmante de todo, un nuevo estudio del Pentágono concluye que México está en riesgo de convertirse en un estado fallido. Planificadores del Departamento de Defensa de EE.UU. comparan la situación a la de Pakistán, donde es posible un colapso total del gobierno civil.
Uno de los epicentros de la violencia es Tijuana, donde el año pasado murieron 600 personas a causa de violencia relacionada al narcotráfico. A muchos les dispararon con rifles de asalto en las calles y los dejaron morir allí. A algunos los mataron en discotecas frente a testigos demasiado atemorizados para hablar.
Puede ser sólo cuestión de tiempo antes de que la guerra de las drogas se extienda al otro lado de la frontera e ingrese a EE.UU. Para enfrentar esa amenaza, Michael Chertoff, el saliente secretario de Seguridad Nacional, hace poco anunció que EE.UU. tiene un plan de "aumentar" las fuerzas del orden civiles y posiblemente militares en la frontera en caso de que sea necesario.
El problema es que en la más reciente erupción de violencia en México, es difícil distinguir a los buenos de los malos. El zar antidroga de México, Noé Ramírez Mandujano, fue acusado hace poco de aceptar US$450.000 de capos narco a quienes se suponía que estaba persiguiendo. Esta fue la segunda vez en los últimos años que uno de los jefes antidrogas fue arrestado por aceptar presuntas coimas de líderes narco. Existen muchas sospechas de que jefes policiales, alcaldes y militares también reciben sobornos.
En el pasado, la forma en que México se ocupaba de la corrupción era con los ojos completamente cerrados. Todos sabían que una gran cantidad de funcionarios del gobierno estaban aceptando sobornos, pero nadie hizo nada al respecto. Se establecieron comisionados de transparencia, pero sin capacidad de acción.
Y los narcotraficantes de México usaban el laxo orden público que conseguían con sus coimas para convertirse en grupos altamente organizados. Una vez organizados, han podido llenar el vacío de poder en el mundo criminal que dejó la exitosa ofensiva del presidente colombiano, Álvaro Uribe, contra los carteles de la droga de su país.
El resultado es que los narcotraficantes se están volviendo ricos, mientras que México paga un alto precio en vidas humanas perdidas y en actividad económica que, de lo contrario, podrían traer una pizca de prosperidad al país.
En 2008, México se ubicó en el puesto número 31 entre 60 países en el índice de opacidad del Instituto Milken/Kurtzman Group. El costo de tener instituciones de pobre funcionamiento ha sido enorme para los mexicanos comunes. Mi colega Glenn Yago y yo calculamos que si México redujera la corrupción y elevara sus estándares legales, económicos, contables y de regulación a los niveles de los de EE.UU. (EE.UU. se encuentra en el puesto número 13 y Finlandia está primero), el PIB per cápita nominal aumentaría en aproximadamente US$18.000 a cerca de US$28.000 al año. También recibiría mucha más inversión extranjera directa que crearía puestos de trabajo.
Y esto impacta a EE.UU. Gracias al retrasado crecimiento económico, millones de mexicanos han cruzado ilegalmente a EE.UU. para buscar trabajo. A menos que la violencia pueda ser detenida, EE.UU. puede anticipar que el flujo a través de la frontera continuará.
Hay que darle crédito al presidente de México, Felipe Calderón, por desplegar 45.000 miembros del ejército y 5.000 policías federales para enfrentar a los narcotraficantes. Esto sugiere que está tomando seriamente la violencia y la amenaza al gobierno civil.
Sin embargo, el camino por adelante será arduo. México no sólo debe luchar contra sus capos narco, sino que tiene que hacerlo mientras pone su casa institucional en orden. Eso significa despedir empleados estatales que son corruptos o que no estén dispuestos a hacer el trabajo necesario para eliminar la corrupción. Probablemente también requerirá meter a cientos, o incluso miles, de oficiales de policía en la cárcel.
Por más de un siglo, México y EE.UU. han tenido relaciones amistosas y cierto grado de integración económica. Pero si la epidemia de violencia continúa en México, esa relación podría terminar si EE.UU. se ve forzada a aumentar su personal en la frontera.
Joel Kurtzman, un miembro senior del Instituto Milken, es coautor de Global Edge: Using the Opacity Index to Manage the Risk of Cross-Border Business (algo así como "Ventaja Global: usando el índice de opacidad para gestionar el riesgo de los negocios internacionales") (Harvard Business School Press, 2007).
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Drug gangs have Mex on the ropes
on: January 26, 2009, 07:55:52 AM
A murder in the Mexican state of Chihuahua last week horrified even hardened crime stoppers. Police Commander Martin Castro's head was severed and left in an ice cooler in front of the police station in the town of Praxedis with a calling card from the Sinoloa drug cartel.
According to Mexico's attorney general, 6,616 people died in drug-trafficking violence in Mexico last year. A high percentage of those killed were themselves criminals, but many law enforcement agents battling organized crime were also murdered. The carnage continues. For the first 22 days of this year the body count is 354.
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President Felipe Calderón began an assault on organized crime shortly after he took office in December 2006. It soon became apparent that the cartels would stop at nothing to preserve their operations, and that a state commitment to confrontation meant that violence would escalate.
As bad as the violence is, it could get worse, and it is becoming clear that the U.S. faces contagion. In recent months, several important American voices have raised concerns about the risks north of the border. This means there is hope that the U.S. may begin to recognize the connection between American demand for prohibited substances and the rising instability in Mexico.
The brutality of the traffickers is imponderable for most Americans. Commander Castro was not the first Mexican to be beheaded. It is an increasingly popular terror tactic. Last month, eight soldiers and a state police chief were found decapitated in the state of Guerrero.
There is also plenty of old-fashioned mob violence. As Agence France Presse reported on Jan. 19 from Chihuahua, 16 others -- besides Commander Castro -- died in suspected drug-related violence across the state the same night. Six bodies were found, with bullet wounds and evidence of torture, in the state capital. Five of the dead were police officers. On the same day, Reuters reported that Mexican vigilante groups appear to be striking back at the cartels.
Tally all this up and what you get is Mexico on the edge of chaos, and a mess that could easily bleed across the border. The U.S. Joint Forces Command in Norfolk, Va., warned recently that an unstable Mexico "could represent a homeland security problem of immense proportions to the United States." In a report titled "Joint Operating Environment 2008," the Command singles out Mexico and Pakistan as potentially failing states. Both "bear consideration for a rapid and sudden collapse . . . . The Mexican possibility may seem less likely, but the government, its politicians, police, and judicial infrastructure are all under sustained assault and pressure by criminal gangs and drug cartels."
The National Drug Threat Assessment for 2009 says that Mexican drug-trafficking organizations now "control most of the U.S. drug market," with distribution capabilities in 230 U.S. cities. The cartels also "maintain cross border communication centers" that use "voice over Internet Protocol, satellite technology (broadband satellite instant messaging), encrypted messaging, cell phone technology, two-way radios, scanner devices, and text messaging, to communicate with members" and even "high-frequency radios with encryption and rolling codes to communicate during cross-border operations."
A report by retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey, the former drug czar, makes similar observations. "The malignancy of drug criminality," he writes, "stretches throughout the U.S. in more than 295 cities." Gen. McCaffrey visited Mexico in December.
Here is how he sees the fight: "The outgunned Mexican law enforcement authorities face armed criminal attacks from platoon-sized units employing night vision goggles, electronic intercept collection, encrypted communications, fairly sophisticated information operations, sea-going submersibles, helicopters and modern transport aviation, automatic weapons, RPG's, Anti-Tank 66 mm rockets, mines and booby traps, heavy machine guns, 50 cal sniper rifles, massive use of military hand grenades, and the most modern models of 40mm grenade machine guns."
How is it that these gangsters are so powerful? Easy. As Gen. McCaffrey notes, Mexico produces an estimated eight metric tons of heroin a year and 10,000 metric tons of marijuana. He also points out that "90% of all U.S. cocaine transits Mexico" and Mexico is "the dominant source of methamphetamine production for the U.S." The drug cartels earn more than $25 billion a year and "repatriate more than $10 billion a year in bulk cash into Mexico from the U.S."
To put it another way, if Mexico is at risk of becoming a failed state, look no further than the large price premium the cartels get for peddling prohibited substances to Americans.
Write to O'Grady@wsj.com
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / WSJ: Philip Howard: How Modern Law makes us powerless
on: January 26, 2009, 07:50:09 AM
Calling for a "new era of responsibility" in his inaugural address, President Barack Obama reminded us that there are no limits to "what free men and women can achieve." Indeed. America achieved greatness as the can-do society. This is, after all, the country of Thomas Paine and barn raisings, of Grange halls and Google. Other countries shared, at least in part, our political freedoms, but America had something different -- a belief in the power of each individual. President Obama's clarion call of self-determination -- "Yes We Can" -- hearkens back to the core of our culture.
David KleinBut there's a threshold problem for our new president. Americans don't feel free to reach inside themselves and make a difference. The growth of litigation and regulation has injected a paralyzing uncertainty into everyday choices. All around us are warnings and legal risks. The modern credo is not "Yes We Can" but "No You Can't." Our sense of powerlessness is pervasive. Those who deal with the public are the most discouraged. Most doctors say they wouldn't advise their children to go into medicine. Government service is seen as a bureaucratic morass, not a noble calling. Make a difference? You can't even show basic human kindness for fear of legal action. Teachers across America are instructed never to put an arm around a crying child.
The idea of freedom as personal power got pushed aside in recent decades by a new idea of freedom -- where the focus is on the rights of whoever might disagree. Daily life in America has been transformed. Ordinary choices -- by teachers, doctors, officials, managers, even volunteers -- are paralyzed by legal self-consciousness. Did you check the rules? Who will be responsible if there's an accident? A pediatrician in North Carolina noted that "I don't deal with patients the same way any more. You wouldn't want to say something off the cuff that might be used against you."
Here we stand, facing the worst economy since the Great Depression, and Americans no longer feel free to do anything about it. We have lost the idea, at every level of social life, that people can grab hold of a problem and fix it. Defensiveness has swept across the country like a cold wave. We have become a culture of rule followers, trained to frame every solution in terms of existing law or possible legal risk. The person of responsibility is replaced by the person of caution. When in doubt, don't.
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All this law, we're told, is just the price of making sure society is in working order. But society is not working. Disorder disrupts learning all day long in many public schools -- the result in part, studies by NYU Professor Richard Arum found, of the rise of student rights. Health care is like a nervous breakdown in slow motion. Costs are out of control, yet the incentive for doctors is to order whatever tests the insurance will pay for. Taking risks is no longer the badge of courage, but reason enough to get sued. There's an epidemic of child obesity, but kids aren't allowed to take the normal risks of childhood. Broward County, Fla., has even banned running at recess.
The flaw, and the cure, lie in our conception of freedom. We think of freedom as political freedom. We're certainly free to live and work where we want, and to pull the lever in the ballot box. But freedom should also include the power of personal conviction and the authority to use your common sense. Analyzing the American character, Alexis de Tocqueville, considered "freedom less necessary in great things than in little ones. . . . Subjection in minor affairs does not drive men to resistance, but it crosses them at every turn, till they are led to sacrifice their own will. Thus their spirit is gradually broken and their character enervated."
This is not an ideological point. Freedom in daily choices is essential for practical reasons -- necessary for government officials and judges as well as for teachers, doctors and entrepreneurs. The new legal order doesn't honor the individuality of human accomplishment. People accomplish things by focusing on the goal, and letting their instincts, mainly subconscious, try to get them there. "Amazingly few people," management guru Peter Drucker observed, "know how they get things done." Most things happen, the philosopher Michael Polanyi wrote, through "the usual process of trial and error by which we feel our way to success." Thomas Edison put it this way: "Nothing that's any good works by itself. You got to make the damn thing work."
Modern law pulls the rug out from under all those human powers and substitutes instead a debilitating self-consciousness. Teachers lose their authority, Prof. Arum found, because the overhang of law causes "hesitation, doubt and weakening of conviction." Skyrocketing health-care costs are impossible to contain as long as doctors go through the day thinking about how they will defend themselves if a sick person sues.
The overlay of law on daily choices destroys the human instinct needed to get things done. Bureaucracy can't teach. Rules don't make things happen. Accomplishment is personal. Anyone who has felt the pride of a job well done knows this.
How do we restore Americans' freedom in daily choices? Freedom is notoriously malleable towards self-interest. "We all declare for liberty," Abraham Lincoln observed, "but in using the same word we do not all mean the same thing."
Freedom, however, is not just a shoving match. Freedom has a formal structure. It has two components:
1) Law sets boundaries that proscribe what we must do or can't do -- you must not steal, you must pay taxes.
2) Those same legal boundaries protect an open field of free choice in all other matters.
The forgotten idea is the second component -- that law must affirmatively define an area free from legal interference. Law must provide "frontiers, not artificially drawn," as philosopher Isaiah Berlin put it, "within which men should be inviolable."
This idea has been lost to our age. When advancing the cause of freedom, law today is all proscription and no protection. There are no boundaries, just a moving mudbank comprised of accumulating bureaucracy and whatever claims people unilaterally choose to assert. People wade through law all day long. Any disagreement in the workplace, any accident, any incidental touching of a child, any sick person who gets sicker, any bad grade in school -- you name it. Law has poured into daily life.
In Today's Opinion Journal
REVIEW & OUTLOOK
The Stimulus Time MachineStates of Distress
Information Age: Bad News Is Better Than No News
– L. Gordon CrovitzThe Americas: Drug Gangs Have Mexico on the Ropes
– Mary Anastasia O'Grady
Geithner Is Exactly Wrong on China Trade
– Bret SwansonWatch Out for Stimulus 'Leaks'
– George MelloanCongress Needs to Help the Economy Fast
– John Kerry and Kent ConradThe solution is not just to start paring back all the law -- that would take 10 lifetimes, like trying to prune the jungle. We need to abandon the idea that freedom is a legal maze, where each daily choice is like picking the right answer on a multiple-choice test. We need to set a new goal for law -- to define an open area of free choice. This requires judges and legislatures to affirmatively assert social norms of what's reasonable and what's not. "The first requirement of a sound body of law," Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. wrote, "is that it should correspond with the actual feelings and demands of the community."
The profile of authority structures needed to defend daily freedoms is not hard to imagine. Judges would aspire to keep lawsuits reasonable, understanding that what people sue for ends up defining the boundaries of free interaction. Schools would be run by the instincts and values of the humans in charge -- not by bureaucratic micromanagement -- and be held accountable for how they do. Government officials would have flexibility to meet public goals, also with accountability. Public choices would aspire to balance for the common good, not, generally, to appease someone's rights.
Reviving the can-do spirit that made America great requires a legal overhaul of historic dimension. We must scrape away decades of accumulated legal sediment and replace it with coherent legal goals and authority mechanisms, designed to affirmatively protect individual freedom in daily choices. "A little rebellion now and then is a good thing," Thomas Jefferson wrote to James Madison, "and as necessary in the political world as storms are in the physical . . . ." The goal is not to change our public goals. The goal is make it possible for free citizens to achieve them.
Mr. Howard, a lawyer, is chair of Common Good (www.commongood.org
), and author of the new book "Life Without Lawyers," published this month by W.W. Norton & Co.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / NYT: Skateboarding
on: January 26, 2009, 07:39:49 AM
KABUL, Afghanistan — It looked like an ordinary neighborhood playground: six children tumbling off their skateboards to the tune of laughter. But only hours before, just 20 yards away, the body of a suicide car bomber was sprawled beside a glistening pool of blood.
Oliver Percovich’s current skateboard park is a decrepit concrete fountain. His Skateistan school will be eight miles away.
Afghan youth have learned to recover almost instantly from such routine violence. One person determined to inject some normalcy into their lives is Oliver Percovich. A 34-year-old from Melbourne, Australia, he plans to open this country’s first skateboarding school, Skateistan, this spring. He sees sport as a way to woo students into after-school activities like English and computer classes, which are otherwise reserved for the elite.
“Teenagers are trying to dissociate from old mentalities, and I’m their servant,” Percovich said. “If they weren’t interested, I would’ve left a long time ago.”
Now, when he pulls his motorcycle into a residential courtyard here, a dozen youngsters pounce before it comes to a stop, yanking six chipped skateboards with fading paint off the back. The children, most participating in a sport for the first time in their war-hardened lives, do not want to waste any time.
Their skateboard park is a decrepit Soviet-style concrete fountain with deep fissures. The tangle of novice skaters resembles bumper cars more than X Games.
But Percovich has raised the money needed to build an 8,600-square-foot bubble to house the nonprofit Skateistan complex, and the Kabul Parks Authority has tentatively donated land. He is still waiting for official permission to begin the project. And since a spate of kidnappings and the car bombing in late November, he has reduced his daily sessions at the fountain to once or twice a week.
Among those who look forward to his visits is Maro, an elfin 9-year-old girl who was terrified of skateboarding at first.
“It gives me courage, and once I start skating, I completely forget about my fears,” she said.
All the children spoke through an interpreter.
Maro’s glittery Mickey Mouse shirt indicated middle-class status. She stood out from the street children in muddied clothes who shared the skate space. Because the sport is so new and unusual here, Percovich said, it may help mend the nation’s deep social and ethnic divisions.
But for Hadisa, a 10-year-old girl from a conservative family, skateboarding has not been accepted. She said two older brothers beat her with wires for skating with poorer children in September. Several friends said they had seen blood flowing from her leg.
“I’m not upset with my brothers for beating me,” Hadisa whispered on a recent day when she did not skate because her oldest brother was nearby. “They have the right.”
But some girls cannot skate enough because their window for participation is short. When Afghan girls reach puberty, they must be veiled and can no longer associate with men outside the family. Percovich said his indoor skate park could be part of the solution, with boys and girls in separate classes.
“If my family doesn’t let me skate when I grow up, and they tell me I need to be at home, then I have to respect my family,” Maro said. “And I won’t be able to skate.”
Maro’s grandfather, Abdul Hai Muram, a retired political commentator, stroked her ponytail as he considered her future. He said he wanted her to be able to play outside when she turned 15 but worried about society’s reaction.
“Families are still careful and thoughtful about letting their daughters out,” Muram, 65, said. “We’re entitled to be very strict and afraid because negative consequences from the Taliban time are still out there, and men do whatever they want to women.”
He added, “It may take 10 years for things to be normal for women.”
Perhaps no one is more excited for the skateboard park than Mirwais, a 16-year-old boy who can do an ollie, an aerial trick that is the foundation for more advanced moves. Mirwais, who dropped out of school after second grade, first noticed the skate sessions from an adjacent parking lot, where he washed cars for $4 a day to support his family of eight. Percovich said Mirwais was often high from sniffing glue.
Now Mirwais looks more tidy and earns $8 a day working for the Skateistan project, repairing boards, running errands and assisting at the informal skate sessions.
“I want to improve as much as I can, and continue to support my family with skating,” he said. “It’s my future.”
Still, many middle- and upper-class youngsters complain that Mirwais ridicules them using foul language, evidence of the challenge with mixing social classes and ethnic groups here.
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But Percovich is determined to overcome the obstacles. He arrived here rather impulsively in early 2007 because his girlfriend at the time had taken a job in Kabul. He gave up his bakery business, stuffed some clothes — and his skateboards — into a bag and left Australia.
“It gives me courage, and once I start skating, I completely forget about my fears,” one girl said.
Unable to find work, Percovich did what he has done since he was 6. He rode his skateboard, undaunted by the military convoys, pushcarts, donkeys, a suffocating film of dust and occasional car bombings.
“Whenever I turned up, kids gathered around and asked, ‘What is that?’ ” he said, referring to his skateboard. “They’d ask to have a go, and I realized quite fast it’s an excellent way to interact with youth.”
Afghanistan has the highest proportion of school-age children in the world, 1 in 5, according to the United Nations. For a vast majority of these seven million youngsters, sports are virtually nonexistent.
Most public schools, stretched to provide basic materials like desks, do not have playgrounds. Boys play pickup soccer or volleyball games on dusty fields. But sports are an afterthought for most girls, who are discouraged from public gatherings.
About 20 embassies and nongovernmental organizations rejected Percovich’s financing proposal for a skateboarding school. After breaking up with his girlfriend, he said, he was down to $1,500 and had maxed out his credit card to pay the rent.
“I was banging my head against the wall, saying, ‘What am I doing with no money?’ ” Percovich said. “But in the afternoon, I was laughing and skating with kids running toward me saying, ‘Oli, Oli, Oli.’ ”
Even his successes have been somewhat frustrating. Last March, an Australian retailer donated 30 skate sets — including boards, shoes and body pads — but Percovich could not afford the $5,000 for shipping. The equipment remains in Melbourne.
Percovich’s break came last October, when the Canadian, Norwegian and German governments pledged a combined $120,000. The Kabul Parks Authority chose a site in a poor area of the city, about eight miles from the fountain.
Andreas Schüetzenberger, whose German company, IOU Ramps, has built 300 skate ramps in places like Israel and Mongolia, plans to install the platforms at no cost once Skateistan is built.
Percovich also recruited Titus Dittman, who delivered one ton of secondhand skate equipment this month. In 1982, Dittman transformed a parking lot in Germany into one of the world’s most well-known cult skate scenes, Monster Mastership, which has since become the World Skateboarding Championships.
The goals for Skateistan are a bit more grounded.
“Afghan kids are the same as kids all over the world,” Percovich said. “They just haven’t been given the same opportunities. They need a positive environment to do positive things for Afghanistan and for themselves.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Afghanistan-Pakistan
on: January 26, 2009, 07:34:31 AM
So, what are we to do?
NY Times, so caveat lector
MEHTARLAM, Afghanistan — The American military declared the nighttime raid this month a success, saying it killed 32 people, all Taliban insurgents — the fruit of an emphasis on intelligence-driven use of Special Operations forces.
But the two young men who lay wincing in a hospital ward here told a different story a few days later, one backed up by the pro-American provincial governor and a central government delegation.
They agreed that 13 civilians had been killed and 9 wounded when American commandos broke down doors and unleashed dogs without warning on Jan. 7 in the hunt for a known insurgent in Masamut, in Laghman Province in eastern Afghanistan. The residents were so enraged that they threatened to march on the American military base here.
The conflicting accounts underscore a dangerous rift that has grown between Afghans and the United States forces trying to roll back widening Taliban control of the countryside.
With every case of civilian casualties or mistaken killings, the anger that Afghans feel toward the government and foreign forces deepens and makes residents less likely to help American forces, Afghan officials warn. Meanwhile, American forces are reluctant to share information about future military raids with local officials, fearing that it will be passed on to the Taliban.
Added to all that is a complication for American forces here: many villagers are armed, in the absence of an effective local police force.
Into that increasingly complex environment, the Obama administration is preparing to send as many as 30,000 more troops this year. As the plan moves forward, Afghan officials and some Western coalition partners are voicing concern that the additional troops will only increase the levels of violence and civilian casualties, after a year in which as many as 4,000 Afghan civilians were killed.
The outrage over civilian deaths swelled again over the weekend. Hundreds of angry villagers demonstrated here in Mehtarlam, the capital of Laghman Province, on Sunday after an American raid on a village in the province on Friday night. The raid killed at least 16 villagers, including 2 women and 3 children, according to a statement from President Hamid Karzai.
The president condemned the raid, saying it had not been coordinated with Afghan officials, and called for such raids to stop. The United States military said that 15 armed militants, including a woman, had been killed.
In a sign of how serious the episode was, an American military spokesman, Col. Greg Julian, said the military would send an investigation team to the area, The Associated Press reported.
Raids like the ones in Laghman Province by United States Special Operations forces, on Jan. 7 and on Friday, have been a special focus of complaint for several years.
Provincial governors say the tactics used, and the lack of coordination with Afghan and other American and NATO forces, alienate villagers and cause unneeded casualties among civilians. The raids are undoing much of the good work done by other American and international troops and reconstruction teams, they say.
The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission warned that the lack of accountability of those conducting such raids, and the lack of redress for civilian victims, was stoking resentment. “The degree of backlash and community outrage that they provoke suggests they may often not be an advisable tactic within the Afghan context,” the commission concluded in a report in December.
Mr. Karzai said in an address at the opening of Parliament on Tuesday that he had once more sent written requests to United States forces and to NATO to end civilian casualties.
Afghans would never complain about casualties among their security forces, but they would never accept the suffering of civilians, he said, to a great shout of support from the chamber. The speaker of the Senate, Sebaghatullah Mojadeddi, followed with a warning that if more care was not taken, the nation could rise up against the foreign troop presence here.
A number of different American units, Special Forces and others, have been conducting counterterrorism operations around the country for the past seven years, operating out of the Bagram and Kandahar airfields, and several small Special Forces bases. They do not operate under NATO command and usually do not coordinate their operations with Afghan forces, since they argue that the element of surprise is critical.
Military spokesmen often release results of raids but do not identify the forces involved. Philip Alston, a United Nations special rapporteur, or investigator, complained last year that despite high-level meetings with the military, he had been unable to identify some of the groups conducting the raids or to establish the chain of command under which they operated.
Afghan officials and others suspect some of the raids may also be carried out by the C.I.A.
The raid in Masamut on the night of Jan. 7 was typical of many conducted in Afghanistan. United States Special Operations forces entered the village under cover of darkness looking for a known Taliban insurgent, Gul Pacha, who was killed in the raid, along with a visitor to his home, another Taliban member, Bahadur Khan.
According to several villagers, the nighttime raid stirred alarm and confusion as people were roused from their sleep.
One of the first to be shot and killed was a man called Qasem, a member of the Afghan Border Police who was at home on leave. His brother, Wazarat Khan, said Qasem was killed as soon as he looked out his front door.
“We did not think they were Americans; we thought they were thieves,” he said. “They killed my brother right in the doorway.”
One of the men in the hospital, Abdul Manan, 25, who had a bullet wound in the shoulder, said he woke up when he heard a female neighbor calling for help and heard three shots.
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He said he came out of his house and saw soldiers wearing headlamps. “I thought they were smoking cigarettes,” he said. “They said something in English that I did not understand, and then they shot me.”
Another man, Darwaish Muhammad, 18, hospitalized with shrapnel wounds, said he was awakened by the mother of a neighbor, Shahpur Khan, calling for help. He had been shot.
Mr. Muhammad said he and two others rushed to help carry the woman’s son on a rope bed down a slope outside the village to get help. They were 10 minutes from the village when a helicopter fired a rocket at them, killing the wounded man and two of the bearers. He and the mother were badly wounded, he said.
A United States military spokesman, Col. Jerry O’Hara, confirmed that United States air support forces had fired on a group of five carrying a wounded person outside the village. He said all five had been killed and all were militants. That some of the villagers survived may explain some of the discrepancy of the death toll.
Colonel O’Hara added that care had been taken not to use air power inside the village, to avoid civilian casualties. He dismissed the villagers’ accounts that they had mistaken the soldiers for thieves. “I am not buying that,” he said. “These people were acting as sentries.”
In a statement, Colonel O’Hara said, “Coalition forces exercised great restraint and prevented any civilian casualties at the same time the enemy placed the whole village in harm’s way by operating the way they do.”
In an interview, he also expressed frustration that four years after his earlier tour in Afghanistan, people still were not coming forward with information against Taliban members. “Until there is active involvement amongst Afghan civilians to turn in or give a tip on people with explosives, you are not going to get on the road to peace,” he said.
Yet, after seven years of war, Afghans say that villagers are less and less inclined to side with a foreign army that still conducts house searches and bombardments.
The villagers of Masamut readily acknowledged that Mr. Pacha had been a member of the Taliban. They had even nicknamed him “Al Qaeda.” But they criticized the United States forces for killing his elderly father and two sons along with him, and for the shooting of the other villagers.
“The government should have informed us not to come outside while they surrounded the house of Gul Pacha,” said Mawla Dad, 35, whose brother, nephew and cousin, an off-duty policeman, were all killed.
The governor of Laghman Province, Lutfullah Mashal, acknowledged that some of the villagers were armed. But he explained that because there was no police force to speak of in rural areas, villages kept security through a kind of neighborhood watch. “Whoever came out with a weapon, he was shot because the American forces have night-vision devices,” the governor said.
Villagers of Masamut, and local officials who visited the village afterward, protested the tactics used in the raid to United States military officials. The governor also complained that the raid had been conducted without coordination with Afghan forces or even with other American forces based in the province.
The raid undermined the government, Mr. Mashal said, and the tactics violated Afghan customs and whipped up a religious hatred, which was very damaging for both the government and the international forces.
“The people are angry with us,” he said. “Unless the international community, and especially military forces, coordinate with us, we are not going to win this war, because to win the war is to win the hearts and minds of the people, and then you can beat the enemy.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / J. Adams on judges
on: January 26, 2009, 07:27:46 AM
"[J]udges, therefore, should be always men of learning and experience in the laws, of exemplary morals, great patience, calmness, coolness, and attention. Their minds should not be distracted with jarring interests; they should not be dependent upon any man, or body of men."
--John Adams, Thoughts on Government, 1776
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Lincoln:
on: January 25, 2009, 06:39:59 PM
As he swore in on Lincoln's bible (if I heard this correctly) I wonder what BO made of this:
I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races, [applause]-that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. http://www.classic-literature.co.uk/...am-lincoln-04/
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / NYT: Radio spreads Taliban's terror
on: January 25, 2009, 09:13:08 AM
PESHAWAR, Pakistan — Every night around 8 o’clock, the terrified residents of Swat, a lush and picturesque valley a hundred miles from three of Pakistan’s most important cities, crowd around their radios. They know that failure to listen and learn might lead to a lashing — or a beheading.
Using a portable radio transmitter, a local Taliban leader, Shah Doran, on most nights outlines newly proscribed “un-Islamic” activities in Swat, like selling DVDs, watching cable television, singing and dancing, criticizing the Taliban, shaving beards and allowing girls to attend school. He also reveals names of people the Taliban have recently killed for violating their decrees — and those they plan to kill.
“They control everything through the radio,” said one Swat resident, who declined to give his name for fear the Taliban might kill him. “Everyone waits for the broadcast.”
International attention remains fixed on the Taliban’s hold on Pakistan’s semiautonomous tribal areas, from where they launch attacks on American forces in Afghanistan. But for Pakistan, the loss of the Swat Valley could prove just as devastating.
Unlike the fringe tribal areas, Swat, a Delaware-size chunk of territory with 1.3 million residents and a rich cultural history, is part of Pakistan proper, within reach of Peshawar, Rawalpindi and Islamabad, the capital.
After more than a year of fighting, virtually all of it is now under Taliban control, marking the militants’ farthest advance eastward into Pakistan’s so-called settled areas, residents and government officials from the region say.
With the increasing consolidation of their power, the Taliban have taken a sizable bite out of the nation. And they are enforcing a strict interpretation of Islam with cruelty, bringing public beheadings, assassinations, social and cultural repression and persecution of women to what was once an independent, relatively secular region, dotted with ski resorts and fruit orchards and known for its dancing girls.
Last year, 70 police officers were beheaded, shot or otherwise slain in Swat, and 150 wounded, said Malik Naveed Khan, the police inspector general for the North-West Frontier Province.
The police have become so afraid that many officers have put advertisements in newspapers renouncing their jobs so the Taliban will not kill them.
One who stayed on the job was Farooq Khan, a midlevel officer in Mingora, the valley’s largest city, where decapitated bodies of policemen and other victims routinely surface. Last month, he was shopping there when two men on a motorcycle sprayed him with gunfire, killing him in broad daylight.
“He always said, ‘I have to stay here and defend our home,’ ” recalled his brother, Wajid Ali Khan, a Swat native and the province’s minister for environment, as he passed around a cellphone with Farooq’s picture.
In the view of analysts, the growing nightmare in Swat is a capsule of the country’s problems: an ineffectual and unresponsive civilian government, coupled with military and security forces that, in the view of furious residents, have willingly allowed the militants to spread terror deep into Pakistan.
The crisis has become a critical test for the government of the civilian president, Asif Ali Zardari, and for a security apparatus whose loyalties, many Pakistanis say, remain in question.
Seeking to deflect blame, Mr. Zardari’s government recently criticized “earlier halfhearted attempts at rooting out extremists from the area” and vowed to fight militants “who are ruthlessly murdering and maiming our citizens.”
But as pressure grows, he has also said in recent days that the government would be willing to talk with militants who accept its authority. Such negotiations would carry serious risks: security officials say a brief peace deal in Swat last spring was a spectacular failure that allowed militants to tighten their hold and take revenge on people who had supported the military.
Without more forceful and concerted action by the government, some warn, the Taliban threat in Pakistan is bound to spread.
“The crux of the problem is the government appears divided about what to do,” said Mahmood Shah, a retired Pakistani Army brigadier who until 2006 was in charge of security in the western tribal areas. “This disconnect among the political leadership has emboldened the militants.”
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From 2,000 to 4,000 Taliban fighters now roam the Swat Valley, according to interviews with a half-dozen senior Pakistani government, military and political officials involved in the fight. By contrast, the Pakistani military has four brigades with 12,000 to 15,000 men in Swat, officials say.
The Taliban are thought to be responsible for the killing of a popular Swat Valley dancing girl, Shabana, whose body, above, was found Jan. 2 in Mingora. The Taliban have made gains in the strategic region, in part by meting out harsh punishments.
But the soldiers largely stay inside their camps, unwilling to patrol or exert any large presence that might provoke — or discourage — the militants, Swat residents and political leaders say. The military also has not raided a small village that locals say is widely known as the Taliban’s headquarters in Swat.
Nor have troops destroyed mobile radio transmitters mounted on motorcycles or pickup trucks that Shah Doran and the leader of the Taliban in Swat, Maulana Fazlullah, have expertly used to terrify residents.
Being named in one of the nightly broadcasts often leaves just two options: fleeing Swat, or turning up headless and dumped in a village square.
When the army does act, its near-total lack of preparedness to fight a counterinsurgency reveals itself. Its usual tactic is to lob artillery shells into a general area, and the results have seemed to hurt civilians more than the militants, residents say.
In some parts of Pakistan, civilian militias have risen to fight the Taliban. But in Swat, the Taliban’s gains amid a large army presence has convinced many that the military must be conspiring with the Taliban.
“It’s very mysterious how they get so much weapons and support,” while nearby districts are comparatively calm, said Muzaffar ul-Mulk Khan, a member of Parliament from Swat, who said his home near Mingora was recently destroyed by the Taliban.
“We are bewildered by the military. They patrol only in Mingora. In the rest of Swat they sit in their bases. And the militants can kill at will anywhere in Mingora,” he said.
“Nothing is being done by the government," Mr. Khan added.
Accusations that the military lacks the will to fight in Swat are “very unfair and unjustified,” said Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, the chief military spokesman, who said 180 army soldiers and officers had been killed in Swat in the past 14 months.
“They do reach out, and they do patrol,” he said.
Military officials also say they are trying to step up activity in Swat. This weekend, soldiers were deployed to protect a handful of educational buildings in Mingora, amid a wave of school bombings.
General Abbas said the military did not have the means to block Taliban radio transmissions across such a wide area, but he disputed the view that Mingora had fallen to the militants.
“Just because they come out at night and throw down four or five bodies in the square does not mean that militants control anything,” he said.
Few officials would dispute that one of the Pakistani military’s biggest mistakes in Swat was its failure to protect Pir Samiullah, a local leader whose 500 followers fought the Taliban in the village of Mandal Dag. After the Taliban killed him in a firefight last month, the militants demanded that his followers reveal his gravesite — and then started beheading people until they got the information, one Mandal Dag villager said.
“They dug him up and hung his body in the square,” the villager said, and then they took the body to a secret location. The desecration was intended to show what would happen to anyone who defied the Taliban’s rule, but it also made painfully clear to Swat residents that the Pakistani government could not be trusted to defend those who rose up against the militants.
“He should have been given more protection,” said one Pakistani security official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the subject. “He should have been made a symbol of resistance.”
Gruesome displays like the defilement of Pir Samiullah’s remains are an effective tactic for the Taliban, who have shown cruel efficiency in following through on their threats.
Recently, Shah Doran broadcast word that the Taliban intended to kill a police officer who he said had killed three people.
“We have sent people, and tomorrow you will have good news,” he said on his nightly broadcast, according to a resident of Matta, a Taliban stronghold. The next day the decapitated body of the policeman was found in a nearby village.
Even in Mingora, a town grown hardened to violence, residents were shocked early this month to find the bullet-ridden body of one of the city’s most famous dancing girls splayed on the main square.
Known as Shabana, the woman was visited at night by a group of men who claimed to want to hire her for a party. They shot her to death and dragged her body more than a quarter-mile to the central square, leaving it as a warning for anyone who would flout Taliban decrees.
The leader of the militants in Swat, Maulana Fazlullah, gained prominence from making radio broadcasts and running an Islamic school, becoming popular among otherwise isolated homemakers and inspiring them to sell their jewelry to finance his operation. He also drew support from his marriage to the daughter of Sufi Mohammed, a powerful religious leader in Swat until 2001 who later disowned his son-in-law.
Even though Swat does not border Afghanistan or any of Pakistan’s seven lawless federal tribal areas, Maulana Fazlullah eventually allied with Taliban militants who dominate regions along the Afghan frontier.
His fighters now roam the valley with sniper rifles, Kalashnikovs, rocket-propelled grenade launchers, mortar tubes and, according to some officials, night-vision goggles and flak vests.
His latest tactic is a ban on girls’ attending school in Swat, which will be tested in February when private schools are scheduled to reopen after winter recess. The Taliban have already destroyed 169 girls’ schools in Swat, government officials say, and they expect most private schools to stay closed rather than risk retaliation.
“The local population is totally fed up, and if they had the chance they would lynch each and every Talib,” said Mr. Naveed Khan, the police official. “But the Taliban are so cruel and violent, no one will oppose them. If this is not stopped, it will spill into other areas of Pakistan.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Church reinstates 4, including Holocaust denier
on: January 25, 2009, 09:00:53 AM
Pope Reinstates Four Excommunicated Bishops
Published: January 24, 2009
VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI, reaching out to the far-right of the Roman Catholic Church, revoked the excommunications of four schismatic bishops on Saturday, including one whose comments denying the Holocaust have provoked outrage.
The decision provided fresh fuel for critics who charge that Benedict’s four-year-old papacy has increasingly moved in line with traditionalists who are hostile to the sweeping reforms of the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s that sought to create a more modern and open church.
A theologian who has grappled with the church’s diminished status in a secular world, Benedict has sought to foster a more ardent, if smaller, church over one with looser faith.
But while the revocation may heal one internal rift, it may also open a broader wound, alienating the church’s more liberal adherents and jeoparding 50 years of Vatican efforts to ease tensions with Jewish groups.
Among the men reinstated Saturday was Richard Williamson, a British-born cleric who in an interview last week said he did not believe that six million Jews died in the Nazi gas chambers. He has also given interviews saying that the United States government staged the Sept. 11 attacks as a pretext to invade Afghanistan.
The four reinstated men are members of the Society of St. Pius X, which was founded by a French archbishop, Marcel Lefebvre, in 1970 as a protest against the modernizing reforms of the Second Vatican Council, also called Vatican II. Archbishop Lefebvre made the men bishops in unsanctioned consecrations in Switzerland in 1988, prompting the immediate excommunication of all five by Pope John Paul II.
Later that year, Benedict, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, sought to regularize the church’s relationship with the society. And as pope, he has made reinstating the Lefebvrists an important personal cause.
Indeed, even though the Society has given no public signs that it would reverse its rejection of Vatican II, one Vatican official, speaking on condition of anonymity on Saturday because talks were continuing, said that the Vatican was willing to discuss making the group a personal prelature. Pope John Paul II did the same with another conservative group, Opus Dei.
In a public statement Saturday, the Vatican said that the pope would reconsider whether to formally affirm the four men as full bishops, but it referred to the men by that title. It said talks would seek to resolve the “open questions” in the church’s relationship with the society.
In recent years, Benedict has made other concessions to the followers of Archbishop Lefebvre, who died in 1991. The overtures including allowing the broader recitation of the Latin Mass, which was made optional in the 1960s and includes a Good Friday prayer calling for the conversion of Jews.
Chester Gillis, who holds the Amaturo chair in Catholic studies at Georgetown University, said that both Benedict and John Paul II before him had tried for years to bring these traditionalists back into the church, partly out of concern that their movement might grow and create an entrenched parallel church.
“I don’t think the Vatican doesn’t care about Jewish-Christian relations, but at least it appears that internal church matters trump external relations,” he said. “They’re thinking, let’s heal our own house, whatever the consequences are externally.”
The recent comments by Bishop Williamson, who led a seminary in Ridgefield, Conn., in the 1980s and later moved to a seminary in Argentina, inevitably overshadowed the debate about traditional and liberal strains in the Roman Catholic Church.
In a November interview broadcast on Swedish television last week and widely available on the Internet, the bishop said that he believed that “the historical evidence” was strongly against the conclusion that millions of Jews had been “deliberately gassed in gas chambers as a deliberate policy of Adolf Hitler.”
The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said Saturday that Bishop Williamson’s comments had nothing to do with the pope’s decision to welcome the schismatic bishops back into the fold. He added, “These are declarations that we don’t share in any way.”
Father Lombardi called the revocation of the excommunications a fundamental step toward the unity of the church, after two decades of rift. “We have to consider it very positive news,” he said. He said that Benedict had “greatly suffered” at the group’s excommunication and had long been “a protagonist in relations with Lefebvre.”
Jewish groups criticized the decision to reinstate the men on Saturday, and the decision is sure to complicate talks between the Vatican and Israeli officials about a proposed papal trip to the Holy Land this year.
In a statement, the Anti-Defamation League said that lifting Bishop Williamson’s excommunication “undermines the strong relationship between Catholics and Jews that flourished under Pope John Paul II and which Pope Benedict XVI said he would continue when he came into his papacy.”
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Abraham Foxman, the A.D.L.’s national director, added that the decree “sends a terrible message to Catholics around the world that there is room in the church for those who would undermine the church’s teachings and who would foster disdain and contempt for other religions, particularly Judaism. Given the centuries-long history of anti-Semitism in the church, this is a most troubling setback.”
In a statement released Friday, Rabbi David Rosen, the director of the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations, said, “We urgently call on the Vatican to reiterate its unqualified repudiation and condemnation of all and any Holocaust denial.”
In revoking the excommunications, the Vatican said it was responding to a letter sent in December by the director of the Society of Pius X, in which the bishops said they were “firmly determined to remain Catholic and to put all our efforts to the service of the church.”
The letter appeared to stop short of saying that the society would embrace, or even accept, the reforms of Vatican II.
“This is certainly a major concession to the traditionalists, part of a long effort by Rome to heal the only formal schism after Vatican II,” said John L. Allen Jr., a columnist for the National Catholic Reporter. “Politically, this certainly emboldens the conservative reading of the council and emphasizes what Benedict XVI has repeatedly called the ‘continuity’ of Vatican II with earlier periods of church history.”
In a letter sent to followers on Saturday, Bishop Bernard Fellay, the director of the Society of St. Pius X and one of the four reinstated, said: “Thanks to this gesture, Catholics attached to tradition throughout the world will no longer be unjustly stigmatized and condemned for having kept the faith of their fathers.”
He added that the society welcomed an opportunity to talk with the Vatican “to explain the fundamental doctrinal reasons which it believes to be at the origin of the present difficulties of the church.”
George Weigel, a biographer of John Paul II, said he was troubled by Bishop Fellay’s implication in his letter that the schismatic group represented the tradition, while “the rest of us are, somehow, the true schismatics.”
He added: “It is not easy to see how the unity of the Church will be enhanced unless the Lefebvrists accept Vatican II’s teaching on the nature of the Church, on religious freedom, and on the evil of anti-Semitism, explicitly and without qualification; otherwise, you get cafeteria Catholicism on the far right, as we already have on the left.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / What women want, part 3
on: January 25, 2009, 08:54:38 AM
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“Female desire,” Meana said, speaking broadly and not only about her dyspareunic patients, “is not governed by the relational factors that, we like to think, rule women’s sexuality as opposed to men’s.” She finished a small qualitative study last year consisting of long interviews with 20 women in marriages that were sexually troubled. Although bad relationships often kill desire, she argued, good ones don’t guarantee it. She quoted from one participant’s representative response: “We kiss. We hug. I tell him, ‘I don’t know what it is.’ We have a great relationship. It’s just that one area” — the area of her bed, the place desolated by her loss of lust.
The generally accepted therapeutic notion that, for women, incubating intimacy leads to better sex is, Meana told me, often misguided. “Really,” she said, “women’s desire is not relational, it’s narcissistic” — it is dominated by the yearnings of “self-love,” by the wish to be the object of erotic admiration and sexual need. Still on the subject of narcissism, she talked about research indicating that, in comparison with men, women’s erotic fantasies center less on giving pleasure and more on getting it. “When it comes to desire,” she added, “women may be far less relational than men.”
Like Chivers, Meana thinks of female sexuality as divided into two systems. But Meana conceives of those systems in a different way than her colleague. On the one hand, as Meana constructs things, there is the drive of sheer lust, and on the other the impetus of value. For evolutionary and cultural reasons, she said, women might set a high value on the closeness and longevity of relationships: “But it’s wrong to think that because relationships are what women choose they’re the primary source of women’s desire.”
Meana spoke about two elements that contribute to her thinking: first, a great deal of data showing that, as measured by the frequency of fantasy, masturbation and sexual activity, women have a lower sex drive than men, and second, research suggesting that within long-term relationships, women are more likely than men to lose interest in sex. Meana posits that it takes a greater jolt, a more significant stimulus, to switch on a woman’s libido than a man’s. “If I don’t love cake as much as you,” she told me, “my cake better be kick-butt to get me excited to eat it.” And within a committed relationship, the crucial stimulus of being desired decreases considerably, not only because the woman’s partner loses a degree of interest but also, more important, because the woman feels that her partner is trapped, that a choice — the choosing of her — is no longer being carried out.
A symbolic scene ran through Meana’s talk of female lust: a woman pinned against an alley wall, being ravished. Here, in Meana’s vision, was an emblem of female heat. The ravisher is so overcome by a craving focused on this particular woman that he cannot contain himself; he transgresses societal codes in order to seize her, and she, feeling herself to be the unique object of his desire, is electrified by her own reactive charge and surrenders. Meana apologized for the regressive, anti-feminist sound of the scene.
Yet while Meana minimized the role of relationships in stoking desire, she didn’t dispense with the sexual relevance, for women, of being cared for and protected. “What women want is a real dilemma,” she said. Earlier, she showed me, as a joke, a photograph of two control panels, one representing the workings of male desire, the second, female, the first with only a simple on-off switch, the second with countless knobs. “Women want to be thrown up against a wall but not truly endangered. Women want a caveman and caring. If I had to pick an actor who embodies all the qualities, all the contradictions, it would be Denzel Washington. He communicates that kind of power and that he is a good man.”
After our discussion of the alley encounter, we talked about erotic — as opposed to aversive — fantasies of rape. According to an analysis of relevant studies published last year in The Journal of Sex Research, an analysis that defines rape as involving “the use of physical force, threat of force, or incapacitation through, for example, sleep or intoxication, to coerce a woman into sexual activity against her will,” between one-third and more than one-half of women have entertained such fantasies, often during intercourse, with at least 1 in 10 women fantasizing about sexual assault at least once per month in a pleasurable way.
The appeal is, above all, paradoxical, Meana pointed out: rape means having no control, while fantasy is a domain manipulated by the self. She stressed the vast difference between the pleasures of the imagined and the terrors of the real. “I hate the term ‘rape fantasies,’ ” she went on. “They’re really fantasies of submission.” She spoke about the thrill of being wanted so much that the aggressor is willing to overpower, to take. “But ‘aggression,’ ‘dominance,’ I have to find better words. ‘Submission’ isn’t even a good word” — it didn’t reflect the woman’s imagining of an ultimately willing surrender.
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Chivers, too, struggled over language about this subject. The topic arose because I had been drawn into her ceaseless puzzling, as could easily happen when we spent time together. I had been thinking about three ideas from our many talks: the power, for women, in being desired; the keen excitement stoked by descriptions of sex with strangers; and her positing of distinct systems of arousal and desire. This last concept seemed to confound a simpler truth, that women associate lubrication with being turned on. The idea of dual systems appeared, possibly, to be the product of an unscientific impulse, a wish to make comforting sense of the unsettling evidence of women’s arousal during rape and during depictions of sexual assault in the lab.
As soon as I asked about rape fantasies, Chivers took my pen and wrote “semantics” in the margin of my notes before she said, “The word ‘rape’ comes with gargantuan amounts of baggage.” She continued: “I walk a fine line, politically and personally, talking frankly about this subject. I would never, never want to deliver the message to anyone that they have the right to take away a woman’s autonomy over her body. I hammer home with my students, ‘Arousal is not consent.’ ”
We spoke, then, about the way sexual fantasies strip away the prospect of repercussions, of physical or psychological harm, and allow for unencumbered excitement, about the way they offer, in this sense, a pure glimpse into desire, without meaning — especially in the case of sexual assault — that the actual experiences are wanted.
“It’s the wish to be beyond will, beyond thought,” Chivers said about rape fantasies. “To be all in the midbrain.”
One morning in the fall, Chivers hunched over her laptop in her sparsely decorated office. She was sifting through data from her study of genital and subjective responses to audiotaped sex scenes. She peered at a jagged red line that ran across the computer’s screen, a line that traced one subject’s vaginal blood flow, second by second. Before Chivers could use a computer program to analyze her data, she needed to “clean” it, as the process is called — she had to eliminate errant readings, moments when a subject’s shifting in her chair caused a slight pelvic contraction that might have jarred the plethysmograph, which could generate a spike in the readings and distort the overall results. Meticulously, she scanned the line, with all its tight zigs and zags, searching for spots where the inordinate height of a peak and the pattern that surrounded it told her that arousal wasn’t at work, that this particular instant was irrelevant to her experiment. She highlighted and deleted one aberrant moment, then continued peering. She would search in this way for about two hours in preparing the data of a single subject. “I’m going blind,” she said, as she stared at another suspicious crest.
It was painstaking work — and difficult to watch, not only because it might be destroying Chivers’s eyesight but also because it seemed so dwarfed by the vastness and intricacy of the terrain she hoped to understand. Chivers was constantly conjuring studies she wanted to carry out, but with numberless aberrant spikes to detect and cleanse, how many could she possibly complete in one lifetime? How many could be done by all the sexologists in the world who focus on female desire, whether they were wiring women with plethysmographs or mapping the activity of their brains in fM.R.I. scanners or fitting them with goggles or giving them questionnaires or following their erotic lives for years? What more could sexologists ever provide than intriguing hints and fragmented insights and contradictory conclusions? Could any conclusion encompass the erotic drives of even one woman? Didn’t the sexual power of intimacy, so stressed by Diamond, commingle with Meana’s forces of narcissism? Didn’t a longing for erotic tenderness coexist with a yearning for alley ravishing? Weren’t these but two examples of the myriad conflicting elements that create women’s lust? Had Freud’s question gone unanswered for nearly a century not because science had taken so long to address it but because it is unanswerable?
Chivers, perhaps precisely because her investigations are incisive and her thinking so relentless, sometimes seemed on the verge of contradicting her own provisional conclusions. Talking about how her research might help women, she said that it could “shift the way women perceive their capacity to get turned on,” that as her lab results make their way into public consciousness, the noncategorical physiological responses of her subjects might get women to realize that they can be turned on by a wide array of stimuli, that the state of desire is much more easily reached than some women might think. She spoke about helping women bring their subjective sense of lust into agreement with their genital arousal as an approach to aiding those who complain that desire eludes them. But didn’t such thinking, I asked, conflict with her theory of the physiological and the subjective as separate systems? She allowed that it might. The giant forest seemed, so often, too complex for comprehension.
And sometimes Chivers talked as if the actual forest wasn’t visible at all, as if its complexities were an indication less of inherent intricacy than of societal efforts to regulate female eros, of cultural constraints that have left women’s lust dampened, distorted, inaccessible to understanding. “So many cultures have quite strict codes governing female sexuality,” she said. “If that sexuality is relatively passive, then why so many rules to control it? Why is it so frightening?” There was the implication, in her words, that she might never illuminate her subject because she could not even see it, that the data she and her colleagues collect might be deceptive, might represent only the creations of culture, and that her interpretations might be leading away from underlying truth. There was the intimation that, at its core, women’s sexuality might not be passive at all. There was the chance that the long history of fear might have buried the nature of women’s lust too deeply to unearth, to view.
It was possible to imagine, then, that a scientist blinded by staring at red lines on her computer screen, or blinded by peering at any accumulation of data — a scientist contemplating, in darkness, the paradoxes of female desire — would see just as well.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Gender issues thread
on: January 25, 2009, 08:53:57 AM
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Ultimately, though, Chivers spoke — always with a scientist’s caution, a scientist’s uncertainty and acknowledgment of conjecture — about female sexuality as divided between two truly separate, if inscrutably overlapping, systems, the physiological and the subjective. Lust, in this formulation, resides in the subjective, the cognitive; physiological arousal reveals little about desire. Otherwise, she said, half joking, “I would have to believe that women want to have sex with bonobos.”
Besides the bonobos, a body of evidence involving rape has influenced her construction of separate systems. She has confronted clinical research reporting not only genital arousal but also the occasional occurrence of orgasm during sexual assault. And she has recalled her own experience as a therapist with victims who recounted these physical responses. She is familiar, as well, with the preliminary results of a laboratory study showing surges of vaginal blood flow as subjects listen to descriptions of rape scenes. So, in an attempt to understand arousal in the context of unwanted sex, Chivers, like a handful of other sexologists, has arrived at an evolutionary hypothesis that stresses the difference between reflexive sexual readiness and desire. Genital lubrication, she writes in her upcoming paper in Archives of Sexual Behavior, is necessary “to reduce discomfort, and the possibility of injury, during vaginal penetration. . . . Ancestral women who did not show an automatic vaginal response to sexual cues may have been more likely to experience injuries during unwanted vaginal penetration that resulted in illness, infertility or even death, and thus would be less likely to have passed on this trait to their offspring.”
Evolution’s legacy, according to this theory, is that women are prone to lubricate, if only protectively, to hints of sex in their surroundings. Thinking of her own data, Chivers speculated that bonobo coupling, or perhaps simply the sight of a male ape’s erection, stimulated this reaction because apes bear a resemblance to humans — she joked about including, for comparison, a movie of mating chickens in a future study. And she wondered if the theory explained why heterosexual women responded genitally more to the exercising woman than to the ambling man. Possibly, she said, the exposure and tilt of the woman’s vulva during her calisthenics was processed as a sexual signal while the man’s unerect penis registered in the opposite way.
When she peers into the giant forest, Chivers told me, she considers the possibility that along with what she called a “rudderless” system of reflexive physiological arousal, women’s system of desire, the cognitive domain of lust, is more receptive than aggressive. “One of the things I think about,” she said, “is the dyad formed by men and women. Certainly women are very sexual and have the capacity to be even more sexual than men, but one possibility is that instead of it being a go-out-there-and-get-it kind of sexuality, it’s more of a reactive process. If you have this dyad, and one part is pumped full of testosterone, is more interested in risk taking, is probably more aggressive, you’ve got a very strong motivational force. It wouldn’t make sense to have another similar force. You need something complementary. And I’ve often thought that there is something really powerful for women’s sexuality about being desired. That receptivity element. At some point I’d love to do a study that would look at that.”
The study Chivers is working on now tries to re-examine the results of her earlier research, to investigate, with audiotaped stories rather than filmed scenes, the apparent rudderlessness of female arousal. But it will offer too a glimpse into the role of relationships in female eros. Some of the scripts she wrote involve sex with a longtime lover, some with a friend, some with a stranger: “You meet the real estate agent outside the building. . . .” From early glances at her data, Chivers said, she guesses she will find that women are most turned on, subjectively if not objectively, by scenarios of sex with strangers.
Chivers is perpetually devising experiments to perform in the future, and one would test how tightly linked the system of arousal is to the mechanisms of desire. She would like to follow the sexual behavior of women in the days after they are exposed to stimuli in her lab. If stimuli that cause physiological response — but that do not elicit a positive rating on the keypad — lead to increased erotic fantasies, masturbation or sexual activity with a partner, then she could deduce a tight link. Though women may not want, in reality, what such stimuli present, Chivers could begin to infer that what is judged unappealing does, nevertheless, turn women on.
Lisa Diamond, a newly prominent sexologist of Chivers’s generation, looks at women’s erotic drives in a different way. An associate professor of psychology and gender studies at the University of Utah, with short, dark hair that seems to explode anarchically around her head, Diamond has done much of her research outside any lab, has focused a good deal of her attention outside the heterosexual dyad and has drawn conclusions that seem at odds with Chivers’s data about sex with strangers.
“In 1997, the actress Anne Heche began a widely publicized romantic relationship with the openly lesbian comedian Ellen DeGeneres after having had no prior same-sex attractions or relationships. The relationship with DeGeneres ended after two years, and Heche went on to marry a man.” So begins Diamond’s book, “Sexual Fluidity: Understanding Women’s Love and Desire,” published by Harvard University Press last winter. She continues: “Julie Cypher left a heterosexual marriage for the musician Melissa Etheridge in 1988. After 12 years together, the pair separated and Cypher — like Heche — has returned to heterosexual relationships.” She catalogs the shifting sexual directions of several other somewhat notable women, then asks, “What’s going on?” Among her answers, based partly on her own research and on her analysis of animal mating and women’s sexuality, is that female desire may be dictated — even more than popular perception would have it — by intimacy, by emotional connection.
Diamond is a tireless researcher. The study that led to her book has been going on for more than 10 years. During that time, she has followed the erotic attractions of nearly 100 young women who, at the start of her work, identified themselves as either lesbian or bisexual or refused a label. From her analysis of the many shifts they made between sexual identities and from their detailed descriptions of their erotic lives, Diamond argues that for her participants, and quite possibly for women on the whole, desire is malleable, that it cannot be captured by asking women to categorize their attractions at any single point, that to do so is to apply a male paradigm of more fixed sexual orientation. Among the women in her group who called themselves lesbian, to take one bit of the evidence she assembles to back her ideas, just one-third reported attraction solely to women as her research unfolded. And with the other two-thirds, the explanation for their periodic attraction to men was not a cultural pressure to conform but rather a genuine desire.
“Fluidity is not a fluke,” Diamond declared, when I called her, after we first met before a guest lecture she gave at Chivers’s university, to ask whether it really made sense to extrapolate from the experiences of her subjects to women in general. Slightly more than half of her participants began her study in the bisexual or unlabeled categories — wasn’t it to be expected that she would find a great deal of sexual flux? She acknowledged this. But she emphasized that the pattern for her group over the years, both in the changing categories they chose and in the stories they told, was toward an increased sense of malleability. If female eros found its true expression over the course of her long research, then flexibility is embedded in the nature of female desire.
Diamond doesn’t claim that women are without innate sexual orientations. But she sees significance in the fact that many of her subjects agreed with the statement “I’m the kind of person who becomes physically attracted to the person rather than their gender.” For her participants, for the well-known women she lists at the start of her book and for women on average, she stresses that desire often emerges so compellingly from emotional closeness that innate orientations can be overridden. This may not always affect women’s behavior — the overriding may not frequently impel heterosexual women into lesbian relationships — but it can redirect erotic attraction. One reason for this phenomenon, she suggests, may be found in oxytocin, a neurotransmitter unique to mammalian brains. The chemical’s release has been shown, in humans, to facilitate feelings of trust and well-being, and in female prairie voles, a monogamous species of rodent, to connect the act of sex to the formation of faithful attachments. Judging by experiments in animals, and by the transmitter’s importance in human childbirth and breast feeding, the oxytocin system, which relies on estrogen, is much more extensive in the female brain. For Diamond, all of this helps to explain why, in women, the link between intimacy and desire is especially potent.
Intimacy isn’t much of an aphrodisiac in the thinking of Marta Meana, a professor of psychology at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas. Meana, who serves with Chivers on the board of Archives of Sexual Behavior, entered the field of sexology in the late 1990s and began by working clinically and carrying out research on dyspareunia — women’s genital pain during intercourse. She is now formulating an explanatory model of female desire that will appear later this year in Annual Review of Sex Research. Before discussing her overarching ideas, though, we went together to a Cirque du Soleil show called “Zumanity,” a performance of very soft-core pornography that Meana mentioned to me before my visit.
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On the stage of the casino’s theater, a pair of dark-haired, bare-breasted women in G-strings dove backward into a giant glass bowl and swam underwater, arching their spines as they slid up the walls. Soon a lithe blonde took over the stage wearing a pleated and extremely short schoolgirl’s skirt. She spun numerous Hula-Hoops around her minimal waist and was hoisted by a cable high above the audience, where she spread her legs wider than seemed humanly possible. The crowd consisted of men and women about equally, yet women far outnumbered men onstage, and when at last the show’s platinum-wigged M.C. cried out, “Where’s the beef?” the six-packed, long-haired man who climbed up through a trapdoor and started to strip was surrounded by 8 or 10 already almost-bare women.
A compact 51-year-old woman in a shirtdress, Meana explained the gender imbalance onstage in a way that complemented Chivers’s thinking. “The female body,” she said, “looks the same whether aroused or not. The male, without an erection, is announcing a lack of arousal. The female body always holds the promise, the suggestion of sex” — a suggestion that sends a charge through both men and women. And there was another way, Meana argued, by which the Cirque du Soleil’s offering of more female than male acrobats helped to rivet both genders in the crowd. She, even more than Chivers, emphasized the role of being desired — and of narcissism — in women’s desiring.
The critical part played by being desired, Julia Heiman observed, is an emerging theme in the current study of female sexuality. Three or four decades ago, with the sense of sexual independence brought by the birth-control pill and the women’s liberation movement, she said, the predominant cultural and sexological assumption was that female lust was fueled from within, that it didn’t depend on another’s initiation. One reason for the shift in perspective, she speculated, is a depth of insight gathered, in recent times, through a booming of qualitative research in sexology, an embrace of analyses built on personal, detailed interviews or on clinical experience, an approach that has gained attention as a way to counter the field’s infatuation with statistical surveys and laboratory measurements.
Meana made clear, during our conversations in a casino bar and on the U.N.L.V. campus, that she was speaking in general terms, that, when it comes to desire, “the variability within genders may be greater than the differences between genders,” that lust is infinitely complex and idiosyncratic.
She pronounced, as well, “I consider myself a feminist.” Then she added, “But political correctness isn’t sexy at all.” For women, “being desired is the orgasm,” Meana said somewhat metaphorically — it is, in her vision, at once the thing craved and the spark of craving. About the dynamic at “Zumanity” between the audience and the acrobats, Meana said the women in the crowd gazed at the women onstage, excitedly imagining that their bodies were as desperately wanted as those of the performers.
Meana’s ideas have arisen from both laboratory and qualitative research. With her graduate student Amy Lykins, she published, in Archives of Sexual Behavior last year, a study of visual attention in heterosexual men and women. Wearing goggles that track eye movement, her subjects looked at pictures of heterosexual foreplay. The men stared far more at the females, their faces and bodies, than at the males. The women gazed equally at the two genders, their eyes drawn to the faces of the men and to the bodies of the women — to the facial expressions, perhaps, of men in states of wanting, and to the sexual allure embodied in the female figures.
Meana has learned too from her attempts as a clinician to help patients with dyspareunia. Though she explained that the condition, which can make intercourse excruciating, is not in itself a disorder of low desire, she said that her patients reported reduced genital pain as their desire increased. The problem was how to augment desire, and despite prevailing wisdom, the answer, she told me, had “little to do with building better relationships,” with fostering communication between patients and their partners. She rolled her eyes at such niceties. She recalled a patient whose lover was thoroughly empathetic and asked frequently during lovemaking, “ ‘Is this O.K.?’ Which was very unarousing to her. It was loving, but there was no oomph” — no urgency emanating from the man, no sign that his craving of the patient was beyond control.