Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Middle East War
on: February 12, 2007, 11:46:46 PM
ISRAEL'S WORST NIGHTMARE. CONTRA IRAN BY YOSSI KLEIN HALEVI & MICHAEL B. OREN
Published in: The New Republic January 30, 2007
The first reports from military intelligence about an Iranian nuclear program reached the desk of Yitzhak Rabin shortly after he became prime minister in May 1992. Rabin's conclusion was unequivocal: Only a nuclear Iran, he told aides, could pose an existential threat to which Israel would have no credible response. But, when he tried to warn the Clinton administration, he met with incredulity. The CIA's assessment--which wouldn't change until 1998--was that Iran's nuclear program was civilian, not military. Israeli security officials felt that the CIA's judgment was influenced by internal U.S. politics and privately referred to the agency as the "cpia"--"P" for "politicized."
The indifference in Washington helped persuade Rabin that Israel needed to begin preparing for an eventual preemptive strike, so he ordered the purchase of long-range bombers capable of reaching Iran. And he made a fateful political decision: He reversed his ambivalence toward negotiating with the PLO and endorsed unofficial talks being conducted between Israeli left-wingers and PLO officials. Rabin's justification for this about-face was that Israel needed to neutralize what he defined as its "inner circle of threat"--the enemies along its borders--in order to focus on the coming confrontation with Iran, the far more dangerous "outer circle of threat." Rabin's strategy, then, was the exact opposite of the approach recently recommended by the Iraq Study Group: Where James Baker and Lee Hamilton want to engage Iran--even at the cost of downplaying its nuclear ambitions--in order to solve crises in the Arab world, Rabin wanted to make peace with the Arab world in order to prevent, at all costs, a nuclear Iran.
Now, more than a decade later, the worst-case scenario envisioned by Rabin is rapidly approaching. According to Israeli intelligence, Iran will be able to produce a nuclear bomb as soon as 2009. In Washington, fear is growing that either Israel or the Bush administration plans to order strikes against Iran. In Israel, however, there is fear of a different kind. Israelis worry not that the West will act rashly, but that it will fail to act at all. And, while strategists here differ over the relative efficacy of sanctions or a military strike, nearly everyone agrees on this point: Israel cannot live with a nuclear Iran.
For over two decades, since the era of former Prime Minister Menachem Begin, the Holocaust was rarely invoked, except on the extremes, in Israeli politics. In recent months, though, the Iranian threat has returned the Final Solution to the heart of Israeli discourse. Senior army commanders, who likely once regarded Holocaust analogies with the Middle East conflict as an affront to Zionist empowerment, now routinely speak of a "second Holocaust." Op-eds, written by left-wing as well as right-wing commentators, compare these times to the 1930s. Israelis recall how the international community reacted with indifference as a massively armed nation declared war against the Jewish people--and they sense a similar pattern today. Even though the United States and Europe have finally awakened to the Iranian nuclear threat, Iran's calls for the destruction of Israel tend to be dismissed as mere rhetoric by the Western news media. Yet, here in Israel, those pronouncements have reinforced Rabin's urgency in placing the Iran situation at the top of the strategic agenda.
One of the men most responsible for doing precisely that is Labor Party parliamentarian and current Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh, whom Rabin entrusted with his government's "Iran file." Like most in the defense establishment, Sneh doesn't believe Iran would immediately launch a nuclear attack against Israel. But, he adds, it won't have to actually use the bomb to cripple Israel. "They would be able to destroy the Zionist dream without pressing the button," he says.
In clipped tones that reveal his long military background, he outlines three repercussions of an Iranian bomb. To begin with, he notes, the era of peace negotiations will come to an end: "No Arab partner will be able to make concessions with a nuclear Iran standing over them." What's more, Israel will find its military options severely limited. An emboldened Iran could provide Hezbollah and Hamas with longer-range and deadlier rockets than their current stock of Katyushas and Qassams; yet, threatened with a nuclear response, Israel would have little defense against intensifying rocket fire on its northern and southern periphery, whose residents would have to be evacuated to the center. Israel already experienced a foretaste of mass uprooting in the Lebanon war last summer, when hundreds of thousands of Galilee residents were turned into temporary refugees. Finally, says Sneh, foreign investors will flee the country, and many Israelis will, too. In one recent poll, 27 percent of Israelis said they would consider leaving if Iran went nuclear. "Who will leave? Those with opportunities abroad--the elite," Sneh notes. The promise of Zionism to create a Jewish refuge will have failed, and, instead, Jews will see the diaspora as a more trustworthy option for both personal and collective survival. During the Lebanon war, Israeli television's preeminent satirical comedy, "O What a Wonderful Land," interviewed an Israeli claiming that "this" is the safest place for Jews--as the camera pulled back to reveal that "this" was London.
Even without the bomb, Iran's threat to Israel is growing. Working through Shia Hezbollah, Alawite Damascus, and Sunni Hamas, Tehran has extended its influence into Lebanon, Syria, and the Palestinian territories. As a result of Hezbollah's perceived victory in the Lebanon war and Hamas's ability to continue firing rockets at Israeli towns despite repeated army incursions into Gaza, Iran has proved it can attack Israel with near-impunity. Iranian newspapers are replete with stories gloating over the supposed erosion of Israel's will to fight and the imminent collapse of its "postmodern" army, as one recent article put it. Iran's self-confidence has been bolstered by Israel's failure to extract a price from Tehran for instigating the Lebanon war and for funding terrorist operations as far back as the early '90s, when Iran masterminded the bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires and, two years later, that city's Jewish community headquarters. Nor has Israel--to say nothing of the U.N. peacekeeping forces--managed to prevent Hezbollah from rearming. And, if Iran manages to overcome U.S. threats and U.N. sanctions and achieve nuclear capability, it will be seen throughout the Muslim world as unstoppable.
A nuclear Iran will have devastating consequences for Sunni Arab states, too. Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, and, most recently, Jordan have declared their interest in acquiring nuclear power; Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has stated explicitly that Egypt may feel the need to protect itself against Iran's nuclear threat. Other Sunni nations could follow--including Libya, whose enmity toward the Saudis may draw it back into the nuclear race if Riyadh tries to acquire a bomb. A nuclear free-for-all, then, is likely to seize the Middle East. In this crisis-ridden region, any flashpoint will become a potential nuclear flashpoint.
The reverberations of a nuclear Iran will reach far beyond the Middle East. Tehran could dictate the price of oil and even control much of its supply through the Straits of Hermuz. And Iran will be able to conduct terrorist operations through its proxies with greater immunity. Even without the nuclear threat, Iran succeeded in intimidating the Saudis into releasing Iranian suspects in the 1997 Khobar Towers bombing. Moreover, if Tehran goes nuclear, the pretense of an international community capable of enforcing world order would quickly unravel: After all, if a regime that has perpetrated terrorist attacks from Argentina to the Persian Gulf can flout sanctions and acquire nuclear weapons, how can the United Nations credibly stop anyone else from doing the same?
And these terrifying scenarios exclude the most terrifying scenario of all: Iran uses its bomb. In a poll, 66 percent of Israelis said they believed Iran would drop a nuclear weapon on the Jewish state. Though defense experts are divided over the likelihood of an Iranian nuclear attack, every strategist we spoke with for this article considered the scenario plausible. "No one knows if Iran would use the bomb or not," says Sneh. "But I can't take the chance."
The threat of a theologically motivated nuclear assault against Israel tends to be downplayed in the West; not so here. The former head of Israel's National Security Council, Giora Eiland, has warned that an apocalyptically driven Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would be willing to sacrifice half his country's population to obliterate the Jewish state. Military men suddenly sound like theologians when explaining the Iranian threat. Ahmadinejad, they argue, represents a new "activist" strain of Shiism, which holds that the faithful can hasten the return of the Hidden Imam, the Shia messiah, by destroying evil. Hebrew University Iranian scholar Eldad Pardo goes further, arguing that the ideology founded by Ayatollah Khomeini represents nothing less than a "new religion," combining Shia, Sunni, and Marxist beliefs and resembling Western messianic cults that have advocated mass suicide. And so Ahmadinejad's pronouncements about the imminent return of the Hidden Imam and the imminent destruction of Israel aren't regarded as merely calculated for domestic consumption; they are seen as glimpses into an apocalyptic game plan. Ahmadinejad has reportedly told his Cabinet that the Hidden Imam will reappear in 2009--precisely the date when Israel estimates Iran will go nuclear. In a recent meeting with outgoing U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, the Iranian president predicted that, while the United States and Great Britain won the last world war, Iran will win the next one. And, two weeks ago, an Iranian government website declared that the Hidden Imam would defeat his archenemy in a final battle in Jerusalem. Notes one former top-ranking Israeli defense official: "We may not yet have located a clear theological line connecting the dots, but there are a great many dots." At least one ayatollah, though, has made that theology explicit: In 2005, Hussein Nuri Hamdani declared that "the Jews should be fought against and forced to surrender to prepare the way for the coming of the Hidden Imam."
Defense experts readily acknowledge that Ahmadinejad is hardly all-powerful and must yield to the Council of Guardians. In recent elections, almost all the clerics allied with Ahmadinejad lost; and, in an unprecedented move, 150 Iranian parliamentarians signed a letter blaming the president for growing inflation and unemployment. But none of this reassures Israelis. That's because Ahmadinejad is hardly alone in conjuring doomsday scenarios. In February 2006, clerics in Qom issued a fatwa permitting nuclear war. And former Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, speaking at a 2001 "Jerusalem Day" rally, declared: "If, one day, the Islamic world is also equipped with weapons like those that Israel possesses now, then the imperialists' strategy will reach a standstill, because the use of even one nuclear bomb inside Israel will destroy everything. However, it will only harm the Islamic world. It is not irrational to contemplate such an eventuality."
Given these nightmarish scenarios, one would expect to find a mood of near-despair within the Israeli defense establishment. Yet senior officials believe that events are actually working in Israel's favor and that, one way or another, Iran's nuclear program can still be stopped. Partly, that is because Israel's assessments of Iran's intention to acquire nuclear weapons have finally been accepted not only by Washington but even by the Europeans. After years of isolation on the Iranian issue, Israelis are basking in a rare moment of international credibility.
As a result, some in the defense establishment are convinced that the military option can still be forestalled, even at this late date, by aggressive economic sanctions, forcing the Iranian regime to choose between its nuclear program and domestic stability. To be sure, even the most optimistic Israelis believe that the recent U.N. decision to impose minimal sanctions on Iran will prove ineffective. Indeed, those sanctions--intended to prevent nuclear materials and know-how from reaching Iran and to stop its nuclear program from becoming self-sufficient--are uniformly dismissed as coming at least two years too late, since Iran is rapidly approaching nuclear self-sufficiency and, some here believe, may have already reached that point.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Afghanistan-Pakistan
on: February 12, 2007, 11:29:12 PM
Pakistan, U.S.: Gates, Musharraf and Political Ammunition
U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates briefly met with Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf on Feb. 12 in Pakistan, where Gates praised the Pakistani leader for his strong efforts in containing jihadist activity in the region. With a counterterrorism operation in Pakistan's northwestern Pashtun areas in the works, Musharraf needs political ammunition from the United States in order to win support from his allies in the ruling Pakistan Muslim League. Part of containing the political fallout from these operations also will include giving the Pakistani military more authority to carry out attacks against Taliban and al Qaeda militants on Pakistani soil.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates held a one-hour meeting with Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf on Feb. 12 at the Pakistani president's home in Rawalpindi, where the two discussed how the Pakistani and U.S. militaries would work together to combat the Taliban's renewed spring offensive in neighboring Afghanistan. After traveling to Munich, Germany, for an international security conference, Gates added 30 hours of travel time to his original itinerary for the meeting with the Pakistani president.
Gates was particularly generous in his praise for Musharraf, saying, "Pakistan is clearly a very strong ally of the United States" and "is playing a very constructive role" in containing the Taliban and al Qaeda insurgency in the region. Pakistan, he added, is "incurring a significant cost in lives and, I might add, in treasure, in fighting this battle on the border."
Gates' comments were most welcome by Musharraf as he has spent the last month fending off strong criticism from the United States that Islamabad is providing refuge for Taliban and al Qaeda leaders along Pakistan's frontier. The apparent shift in U.S. attitude toward Pakistan can be attributed to an anticipated uptick in counterterrorism operations and Pakistan's willingness to engage in a more comprehensive military strategy in its northwestern areas along the border with Afghanistan. Thus far, Pakistan has agreed to limited operations on a case-by-case basis. Musharraf probably has sorted out his domestic political situation, managing to balance it with U.S. demands and allowing Pakistan to make a more concerted effort against jihadists.
The Taliban and its allies in al Qaeda are prepping for a renewed spring offensive. As soon as the ice melts in the mountain passes between Afghanistan and Pakistan, Taliban and al Qaeda fighters will be able to ramp up their campaign against NATO forces in the region with increased suicide attacks. The United States and its NATO allies are in the process of diminishing Taliban and al Qaeda capabilities as much as possible prior to the spring offensive, which inevitably will involve counterterrorism operations against militant strongholds on Pakistani soil. U.S. forces already have increased their presence along the Afghan side of the border in preparation for this counteroffensive.
For Musharraf to completely sign on to these operations, he must receive assurances from the United States that Washington has no plans to compromise his political career or that seriously would risk destabilizing the country, particularly since Pakistan is in the middle of a heated election season. Musharraf and his allies want assurances that there will not be a decline in U.S.-Pakistani relations once U.S. counterterrorism goals are accomplished. Such a guarantee is critical for Musharraf's ability to mitigate the domestic risk of cooperating with the United States. Gates assured Musharraf and his political allies that the United States has a long-term investment in Pakistan, saying, "After the Soviets left, the United States made a mistake. We neglected Afghanistan, and extremism took control of that country. The United States paid a price for that on Sept. 11, 2001. We won't make that mistake again. We are here for the long haul."
Musharraf's principal allies in the ruling Pakistan Muslim League (PML) fear that U.S. operations on Pakistani soil will prove costly for them in the coming elections, and Musharraf shares these concerns. A recent incident, in which U.S. soldiers fired artillery rounds from Afghanistan into Pakistan at Taliban targets, allegedly in self-defense, has exacerbated these political sensitivities. With parliamentary elections approaching in early 2008, the PML worries it will be the main party to suffer from another major U.S. operation in the country, such as the October 2006 madrassa strike in the northwestern tribal belt that resulted in a high number of civilian casualties. Whereas Musharraf has the means to split his political opponents and ensure his own victory, PML party members face a more difficult challenge in holding onto their supporters, and cannot risk the political fallout of supporting these U.S. operations.
The PML probably has received a guarantee from Musharraf that the United States will allow Pakistan to take more control over these operations and demonstrate that it has not become a U.S. lackey in fighting jihadists at the expense of Pakistan's sovereignty. As a result, the coming airstrikes and operations in Pakistan's tribal areas primarily will be conducted by Pakistani forces. The ongoing suicide attack campaign in Pakistan also has provided Musharraf with the political justification to crack down on jihadist targets in the South Asian country. Though Musharraf and his allies are sure to face considerable constraints in the coming months in containing the domestic backlash from these counterinsurgency operations, Gates' assurances have provided Musharraf with a bit more room for maneuver in the political arena.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Iraq
on: February 12, 2007, 09:16:44 AM
The Cost of Defeat in Iraq and the Cost of Victory in Iraq - 18 Points
Testimony to Senate Foreign Relations Committee
Gingrich Communications January 23 2007
Click on the documents to the left to view the other materials provided for the Congressional Record.
Chairman Biden, Ranking Member Lugar, and members of the committee:
Thank you for allowing me to testify.
This is an extraordinarily important series of hearings on a topic of enormous national importance.
The United States finds itself in a global struggle with the forces of Islamic fascism and their dictatorial allies.
From a fanatic American near Chicago who attempted to buy hand grenades to launch a personal Jihad in a Christmas mall, to 18 Canadians arrested for terrorist plots, to the Scotland Yard disruption of a plot in Britain to destroy ten civilian airliners in one day that if successful would have shattered worldwide confidence in commercial aviation and potentially thrown the world into a deep economic contraction.
We are confronted again and again with a worldwide effort to undermine and defeat the system of law and order which has created more prosperity and more freedom for more people than any previous system.
The threats seem to come in four different forms:
First, from individuals who are often self recruited and randomly inspired through the internet, television and charismatic social and religious friendships.
Second, from organized non state systems of terror of which Al Qaeda, Hezbollah and Hamas are the most famous. Additional groups have sprung up and provide continuity, training, and support for terrorism.
Third, from dictatorships in the Middle East most notably Iran and Syria who have been consistently singled out by the State Department (including in 2006) as the largest funders of state supported terrorism in the world. These dictatorships are investing in more advanced conventional weapons and in chemical and nuclear weapons.
Fourth, from a strange assortment of anti-American dictatorships including North Korea, Venezuela and Cuba.
This coalition of the enemies of freedom has growing power around the world. Its leaders are increasingly bold in their explicit hostility to the United States.
To take just two recent examples: Ahmadinejad of Iran has said “[t]o those who doubt, to those who ask is it possible, or those who do not believe, I say accomplishment of a world without America and Israel is both possible and feasible.” He has also said that Israel should be “wiped off the map.” Chavez of Venezuela, just last week in a joint appearance with the Iranian leader in Latin America, announced a multi billion dollar fund to help countries willing to fight to end “American imperialism.”
Both of these statements were on television and are not subject to misinterpretation.
Similarly there are many web pages and other public statements in which various terrorists have described in great detail their commitment to killing millions of Americans. I described these publicly delivered threats in a speech on the fifth anniversary of 9/11 which I gave at the American Enterprise Institute. The text of this speech is attached as an appendix to this testimony.
These threats might be ignored if it were not for the consistent efforts to acquire nuclear and biological weapons by these enemies of freedom
I first wrote about the extraordinary increase in the threat to our civilization from nuclear weapons in the hands of terrorists in Window of Opportunity in 1984. Attached to this testimony is a copy of the relevant pages from this book.
It is not accurate to suggest today that people were not aware of terrorism or were not warning about the threat to America’s very survival prior to 9/11.
Many sophisticated observers and professional military and intelligence officers have been issuing these warnings for two decades.
What has been amazing to watch has been the absolute inability of our system of government to analyze the problem and react effectively.
It is this collapse of capacity for effectiveness which is at the heart of our current dilemma.
The United States is now in a decaying mess in Afghanistan and an obviously unacceptable mess in Iraq.
While this language may seem harsh to defenders of the current policy, it is sadly an accurate statement of where we are.
Efforts to think through and solve the problems of Afghanistan and Iraq have to be undertaken in a context of looking at a wider range of challenges to American leadership around the world and potentially to our very survival as a country. These larger challenges are described in my attached presentation entitled “The Real World and The Real War”.
With these caveats I want to focus on the challenge of Iraq.
Two Very Hard Paths Forward in Iraq
America is faced with two very hard paths forward in Iraq.
We can accept defeat and try to rebuild our position in the region while accommodating the painful possibility that these enemies of freedom in Iraq -- evil men, vicious murderers, and sadistic inflictors of atrocities will have defeated both the millions of Iraqis who voted for legal self government and the American people and their government.
Alternatively we can insist on defeating the enemies of America and the enemies of the Iraqi people and can develop the strategies and the implementation mechanisms necessary to force victory despite the incompetence of the Iraqi government, the unreliability of Iraqi leaders, and the interference of Syria and Iran on behalf of our enemies.
Both these paths are hard. Both involve great risk. Both have unknowable difficulties and will produce surprise events.
Both will be complicated.
Yet either is preferable to continuing to accept an ineffective American implementation system while relying on the hope that the Iraqi system can be made to work in the next six months.
The Inherent Confusion in the Current Strategy
There are three fundamental weaknesses in the current strategy.
First, the strategy relies on the Iraqis somehow magically improving their performance in a very short time period. Yet the argument for staying in Iraq is that it is a vital AMERICAN interest. If we are seeking victory in Iraq because it is vital to America then we need a strategy which will win even if our Iraqi allies are inadequate. We did not rely on the Free French to defeat Nazi Germany. We did not rely on the South Koreans to stop North Korea and China during the Korean War. When it mattered to American vital interests we accepted all the help we could get but we made sure we had enough strength to win on our own if need be.
President Bush has asserted that Iraq is a vital American interest. In January 2007 alone he has said the following things:
But if we do not succeed in Iraq, we will leave behind a Middle East which will endanger America in the future.
[F]ailure in one part of the world could lead to disaster here at home. It's important for our citizens to understand that as tempting as it might be, to understand the consequences of leaving before the job is done, radical Islamic extremists would grow in strength. They would be emboldened. It would make it easier to recruit for their cause. They would be in a position to do that which they have said they want to do, which is to topple moderate governments, to spread their radical vision across an important region of the world.
If we were to leave before the job is done, if we were to fail in Iraq, Iran would be emboldened in its pursuit of nuclear weapons. Our enemies would have safe havens from which to launch attacks. People would look back at this moment in history and say, what happened to them in America? How come they couldn't see the threats to a future generation?
The consequences of failure are clear: Radical Islamic extremists would grow in strength and gain new recruits. They would be in a better position to topple moderate governments, create chaos in the region, and use oil revenues to fund their ambitions. Iran would be emboldened in its pursuit of nuclear weapons. Our enemies would have a safe haven from which to plan and launch attacks on the American people. On September the 11th, 2001, we saw what a refuge for extremists on the other side of the world could bring to the streets of our own cities. For the safety of our people, America must succeed in Iraq.
Iraq is a central component of defeating the extremists who want to establish safe haven in the Middle East, extremists who would use their safe haven from which to attack the United States, extremists and radicals who have stated that they want to topple moderate governments in order to be able to achieve assets necessary to effect their dream of spreading their totalitarian ideology as far and wide as possible.
This is really the calling of our time, that is, to defeat these extremists and radicals, and Iraq is a component part, an important part of laying the foundation for peace.
The inherent contradiction in the administration strategy is simple. If Iraq matters as much as the President says it does (and here I agree with the President on the supreme importance of victory) then the United States must not design and rely on a strategy which relies on the Iraqis to win.
On the other hand if the war is so unimportant that the fate of Iraq can be allowed to rest with the efforts of a new, weak, untested and inexperienced government then why are we risking American lives.
Both propositions cannot be true.
I accept the President’s analysis of the importance of winning in Iraq and therefore I am compelled to propose that his recently announced strategy is inadequate.
The second weakness is that the current strategy debate once again focuses too much on the military and too little on everything that has not been working. The one instrument that has been reasonably competent is the combat element of American military power. That is a very narrow definition and should not be expanded to include the non combat elements of the Department of Defense which also have a lot of difficulties in performing adequately.
The great failures in the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns have been in non-combat power. Intelligence, diplomacy, economic aid, information operations, support from the civilian elements of national power. These have been the great centers of failure in America’s recent conflicts. They are a major reason we have done so badly in Iraq.
The gap between the President’s recent proposals and the required rethinking and transforming of our non-combat instruments of power is simply breathtaking.
No military leader I have talked with believes military force is adequate to win in Iraq. Every one of them insists that the civilian instruments of power are more important than the combat elements. They all assert that they can hold the line for a while with force but that holding the line will ultimately fail if we are not using that time to achieve progress in non-military areas.
This failure of the non-combat bureaucracies cannot be solved in Iraq. The heart of the problem is in Washington and that brings us to the third weakness in the current strategy.
The third weakness in the current strategy is its inability to impose war time decision making and accountability in Washington.
The interagency process is hopelessly broken.
This is not a new phenomenon. I first wrote about it in 1984 in Window of Opportunity when I asserted:
[W]e must decide what sort of executive-branch planning and implementation system are desirable.
At a minimum, we will need closer relationships between the intelligence agencies, the diplomatic agencies, the economic agencies, the military agencies, the news media and the political structure. There has to be a synergism in which our assessment of what is happening relates to our policies as they are developed and implemented. Both analyses and implementation must be related to the new media and political system because all basic policies must have public support if they are to succeed.
Finally, once the professionals have mastered their professions and have begun to work in systems that are effective and coordinated, those professionals must teach both the news media and the elected politicians. No free society can for long accept the level of ignorance about war, history, and the nature of power which has become the norm for our news media and our elected politicians. An ignorant society is on its way to becoming an extinct society.
In 1991 my concern for replacing the broken interagency system with an integrated system of effective coordination was heightened when General Max Thurmond who had planned and led the liberation of Panama told me unequivocally that the interagency process was broken.
In 1995 that process was reinforced when General Hartzog described the failures of the interagency in trying to deal with Haiti.
As early as 2002 it was clear that the interagency had broken down in Afghanistan and I gave a very strong speech in May 2003 at the American Enterprise Institute criticizing the process.
By the summer of 2003 it was clear the interagency was failing in Iraq and by September and October 2003 we were getting consistent reports from the field of the gap between the capability of the combat forces and the failure of the civilian systems.
No senior officer in the Defense Department doubts that the current interagency cannot work at the speed of modern war. They will not engage in a fight with the National Security Council or the State Department or the various civilian agencies which fail to do their job. But in private they will assert over and over again that the interagency system is hopelessly broken.
It was very disappointing to have the President focus so much on 21, 500 more military personnel and so little on the reforms needed in all the other elements of the executive branch.
The proposals for winning in Iraq outlined below follow from this analysis.
Key Steps to Victory in Iraq
1. Place General Petraeus in charge of the Iraq campaign and establish that the Ambassador is operating in support of the military commander.
2. Since General Petraeus will now have responsibility for victory in Iraq all elements of achieving victory are within his purview and he should report daily to the White House on anything significant which is not working or is needed
3. Create a deputy chief of staff to the President and appoint a retired four star general or admiral to manage Iraq implementation for the Commander in Chief on a daily basis.
4. Establish that the second briefing (after the daily intelligence brief) the President will get every day is from his deputy chief of staff for Iraq implementation.
5. Establish a War Cabinet which will meet once a week to review metrics of implementation and resolve failures and enforce decisions. The President should chair the War Cabinet personally and his deputy chief of staff for Iraq implementation should prepare the agenda for the weekly review and meeting.
6. Establish three plans: one for achieving victory with the help of the Iraqi government, one for achieving victory with the passive acquiescence of the Iraqi government, one for achieving victory even if the current Iraqi government is unhappy. The third plan may involve very significant shifts in troops and resources away from Baghdad and a process of allowing the Iraqi central government to fend for itself if it refuses to cooperate.
7. Communicate clearly to Syria and Iran that the United States is determined to win in Iraq and that any further interference (such as the recent reports of sophisticated Iranian explosives being sent to Iraq to target Americans) will lead to direct and aggressive countermeasures.
8. Pour as many intelligence assets into the fight as needed to develop an overwhelming advantage in intelligence preparation of the battlefield.
9. Develop a commander’s capacity to spend money on local activities sufficient to enable every local American commander to have substantial leverage in dealing with local communities.
10. Establish a jobs corps or civil conservation corps of sufficient scale to bring unemployment for males under 30 below 10% (see the attached op-ed by Mayor Giuliani and myself on this topic).
11. Expand dramatically the integration of American purchasing power in buying from Iraqi firms pioneered by Assistant Secretary Paul Brinkley to maximize the rate of recovery of the Iraqi economy.
12. Expand the American Army and Marine Corps as much as needed to sustain the fights in Iraq and Afghanistan while also being prepared for other contingencies and maintaining a sustainable rhythm for the families and the force.
13. Demand a war budget for recapitalization of the military to continue modernization while defeating our enemies. The current national security budget is lower as a percentage of the economy than at any time from Pearl Harbor through the end of the Cold War. It is less than half the level Truman sustained before the Korean War.
14. The State Department is too small, too undercapitalized and too untrained for the demands of the 21st century. There should be a 50% increase in the State Department budget and a profound rethinking of the culture and systems of the State Department so it can be an operationally effective system.
15. The Agency for International Development is hopelessly unsuited to the new requirements of economic assistance and development and should be rethought from the ground up. The Marshall Plan and Point Four were as important as NATO in containing the Soviet Empire. We do not have that capability today.
16. The President should issue executive orders where possible to reform the implementation system so it works with the speed and effectiveness required by the 21st century.
17. Where legislation is needed the President should collaborate with Congress in honestly reviewing the systems that are failing and developing new metrics, new structures and new strategies.
18. Under our Constitution it is impossible to have this scale of rethinking and reform without deep support from the legislative branch. Without Republican Senator Arthur Vandenburg, Democratic President Harry Truman could never have developed the containment policies that saved freedom and ultimately defeated the Soviet Empire. The President should ask the bipartisan leaders of Congress to cooperate in establishing a joint Legislative-Executive working group on winning the war and should openly brief the legislative branch on the problems which are weakening the American system abroad. Only by educating and informing the Congress can we achieve the level of mutual understanding and mutual commitment that this long hard task will require.
Thank you for this opportunity to share these proposals.
DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Re: Venezuela Pol?tica
on: February 12, 2007, 07:27:39 AM
Un amigo Venezolano me escribe:
I'm back from the market. There was plenty of meat on the shelves! I
did not find the cut I wanted (falda, brisket?) so I bought chicken
It seems the cattle decided they didn't like Colombia and they walked
right back to Venezuela. Being in a gracious mood, they decided to
save the ranchers some trouble and they walked straight to the
slaughter houses instead of to their haciendas. FedEx was standing by
and the meat was flown overnight express to the butcher shops
To get the process rolling most likely the distribution chain gave a
few well placed government officials and military commanders a proper
The day after the shortage was announced the powers that be came to
some kind of accord and the meat appeared automagically in the shops.
Since this is not a newsworthy event, it does not get many headlines,
just back to business as usual. This is nothing new in Venezuela.
Under Chavez it might be more strident. A government official uses
his discretionary power to disrupt some supply chain. The papers
raise up the hue and cry. Business pays of the bribe and it's back to
business as usual. So, what else is new?
Here is the real deal: rich people have the funds to stock up a
larder for a month or three. Some people actually have industrial
sized freezers at home. When you go shopping you stock up on whatever
happens to be available. When a shortage develops, you use the stuff
in the larder. In a normal country this would be considered an
expensive luxury but not in Venezuela. With inflation running at 34%
since 1984 the faster you can get rid of cash, the better off you
are. The larder helps fight inflation!
Of course, this is considered hoarding by the government and only the
nasty oligarchy does it. The poor people in the barrios don't hoard.
Of course not, they are living day to day and can't afford to do
anything that is economically useful, they have to bear the slings
and arrows of outrageous government policies.
So, what else is new?
He aqui un articulo:
Middle classes escape from Chavez socialism
By Jose Orozco in Caracas, Sunday Telegraph
Last Updated: 1:31am GMT 11/02/2007
Middle-class Venezuelans are queuing to leave the country amid fears that
its president, Hugo Chavez, is laying the ground for a dictatorship.
Opponents of his "20th century socialism" are so desperate to escape that
they have resorted to learning new languages and tracking down long lost
European relatives in the hope of securing a visa.
At the US Embassy, visa enquiries have almost doubled in recent weeks, from
400 to about 800 a day. "There are normal spikes toward Christmas or another
major holiday, but this increase doesn't fall into that category," said
embassy spokesman Brian Penn.
The British embassy has seen a similar rise in numbers. "It has been
increasing for some time, but what's different now is the tone of
desperation," said a British spokesman.
A website for would-be emigrants - mequieroir.com (I want to leave.com) -
reports that since Mr Chavez's December 3 election victory, and his
announcement last month that he would nationalise the telecommunications and
electricity industries, the number of daily visits it receives has soared
from 20,000 to 60,000.
"You're getting more families, who are worried about their children's
futures," said Esther Bermudez, who runs the site.
At the Italian Culture Institute, registration for Italian language classes
is up 20 per cent year on year. Hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans have
Spanish, Italian or Portuguese relatives who emigrated there after the
Second World War.
Ernestina Hidalgo, 40, whose husband is a Spanish citizen, said that she was
hoping that their two teenage children would also be granted Spanish
citizenship. She said an "enabling law", passed by the National Assembly 10
days ago, granting Mr Chavez 18 months of rule by decree, was the final
"Chavez doesn't accept political dissidence," said Mrs Hidalgo. "Why do they
need an enabling law if they already have an absolute majority in the
The enabling law gives Mr Chavez free rein over 11 strategic policy areas,
including defence and energy. In January, Mr Chavez said that he intended to
nationalise the telecommunications and electricity industries, as well as
take a larger share of oil operations in the Orinoco River belt, which
produces 600 billion barrels per day.
He has also said he will not renew the broadcasting license of RCTV, an
opposition TV channel.
Outside the Spanish consulate last week, Dayana Ramirez, 20, whose paternal
grandmother is Spanish, queued with her boyfriend Jose Antonio Barreiro, 24,
as he waited to pick up his passport. She wants to acquire Spanish
citizenship and the couple hopes to emigrate to Galicia in northwestern
"Older people leave because they are concerned about the future of their
families," said Mr Barreiro, a graphic designer, "and younger people like us
leave because there is no future."
As the world's fifth largest oil exporter, Venezuela has benefited from
record oil prices, boosting the scope for Mr Chavez's social spending. Among
his poor supporters, he is seen as a politician who acts on his rhetoric.
The National Assembly ceded its legislative function to Mr Chavez in a
special session in the Plaza Bolivar in Caracas. In a show of the political
participation that Chavez champions, government supporters gathered and
raised their hands along with legislators when the law was voted on.
"Approved unanimously, including the vote of the people," declared Assembly
president, Cilia Flores.
But critics argue that Chavez is only interested in keeping power, not in
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Iran
on: February 12, 2007, 07:22:22 AM
1248 GMT -- EUROPEAN UNION, IRAN -- EU foreign ministers approved Feb. 12 the implementation of U.N. sanctions against Iran for its refusal to halt uranium enrichment. In accordance with the agreement, all 27 EU member states will ban the sales of materials and technology that could be used in Iran's nuclear and missile program. In addition, the European Union will freeze the assets of 10 Iranian companies and individuals. The U.N. Security Council agreed in December to impose the sanctions and gave Iran two months to return to the negotiating table.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Russia
on: February 12, 2007, 07:19:36 AM
Geopolitical Diary: A Russian Charm Offensive
Russian President Vladimir Putin delivered what some have been calling the boldest condemnation of the United States -- by a Russian leader -- since the Cold War. Speaking over the weekend at the 43rd Munich Conference on Security Policy, Putin said the United States had "overstepped its national borders in every way" and that Washington was engaging in "an almost uncontained hyper use of force in international relations." Among other remarks, he also said that Washington's frequent, unilateral use of force encourages smaller states to develop nuclear weapons, and that U.S. plans to deploy a missile defense system in Central Europe could trigger a new arms race.
Though there is nothing intrinsically new in Putin's criticisms, the bluntness and the venue in which they were delivered clearly signal the end of the relative quiescence that has characterized Moscow's relations with the United States since the Gorbachev era. With his speech, Putin was asserting Russia's claim to "great power" status and challenging what he called the "unipolar" world of American power.
The challenge, it appears, did not go unnoticed: U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, speaking on Sunday at the same conference, remarked that one Cold War "was quite enough."
Significantly, while Putin was challenging the United States in Munich, Moscow also was mounting a charm offensive with some of Washington's most important allies elsewhere.
For instance, speaking at an informal gathering of NATO defense ministers in Seville, Spain, on Feb. 9, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said Moscow would be happy to provide assistance to help ensure the success of NATO's mission in Afghanistan. Ivanov noted that Russia allows German and French troops and equipment to cross its territory en route to Afghanistan, and would allow Spain the same access. He also offered Russian assistance with reconstruction and intelligence work, but understandably stopped short of contributing troops to the combat effort.
Ivanov's remarks were well-timed. NATO forces currently are experiencing some of the most severe fighting in Afghanistan since 2001, and bracing for what promises to be a violent spring and summer. His words may have resonated with some countries, as the alliance considers deploying still more troops to Afghanistan.
Gates, who was making his first official trip to Europe as the U.S. defense secretary, was left trying to water down Putin's remarks in Munich. Though diplomatically couched, his "Cold War" remark was a reminder to listeners that it was Moscow that was to blame for the last arms race. Gates also acknowledged, however, that some U.S. policies had been misguided and said Washington should do a better job of explaining its foreign policy decisions. He also made a veiled reference to his predecessor, Donald Rumsfeld -- who had alienated some European countries by categorizing them as the "old Europe" and "new Europe" -- in saying that, "All of these characterizations belong to the past."
As Gates was doing damage control on Sunday, however, Putin was already picking up the next leg of the Russian charm offensive -- kicking off a tour of the Middle East that, again, will bring him into direct contact with several traditional allies of the United States.
On Sunday, Putin flew to Saudi Arabia -- becoming the first-ever Russian head of state to visit the kingdom -- and was received at the Riyadh airport by King Abdullah. During the visit, Putin -- who brought dozens of Russian businessmen along on the trip -- will discuss increased political and economic cooperation as well as military assistance to the Saudis. The issues of Iraq, Iran's nuclear program, the Lebanese political crisis and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict were also high on the agenda.
Other stops on the regional tour will include visits with Jordanian King Abdullah II and Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Amman, as well as a trip to Qatar. Though Russia long has had strong ties to Middle Eastern states like Syria, Iraq and Yemen, Putin's current tour is notable in that he will be visiting countries that historically have been well within Washington's sphere of influence -- rather than Moscow's. Such a move, particularly following the remarks in Europe, can be viewed as a direct Russian challenge to the United States in yet another region that Washington considers vital.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Media Issues
on: February 11, 2007, 07:04:37 PM
AP alters CAIR quote in story about Ayaan Hirsi Aliposted at 7:36 pm on February 10, 2007 by Allahpundit
Send to a Friend | printer-friendly From one of our very best tipsters, RLW, comes a great little catch of which I’m not quite sure what to make. Quote #1:
The first quote comes from an AP article written by William C. Mann and entitled “Critic of Islam finds new home in U.S.” that moved on the wire at 2:05 a.m. The second is from an AP article by the same author with the same title that moved at 10:14 a.m. I compared the text of the first story to the text of the second side by side in MS Word and the two are completely identical except for the CAIR quote.
It’s possible that Mann collected both quotes from Hooper contemporaneously and changed from the first to the second unbidden, simply because he liked the second one better. Except … Hooper’s making the same point in each. He’s just being more politic about it in the second instance by dropping the word “hate.” You can imagine him saying during their interview, “You know what? I went too far. Let me rephrase that last comment” and then giving Mann the second quote — but if that’s what happened, why did the first quote appear in the story that moved at 2:05?
What we’re looking at here, I suspect (but obviously can’t prove), is Hooper having made the first comment during their interview, then gotten buyer’s remorse when he saw how shrill it looked in print. So he called up the AP hours after the fact and asked them to replace it with a more “nuanced” version — and the AP agreed to do so.
Which brings us to our exit questions. First, am I missing some other obvious explanation? And second, if not, is giving sources a do-over on quotes after a story’s been published standard practice in the industry? I’m asking in earnest. I honestly don’t know the answer.
Update: The AP’s Statement of News Values and Principles says, “For corrections on live, online stories, we overwrite the previous version. We send separate corrective stories online as warranted.” This isn’t a correction, though. Unless Mann mistranscribed it — which is exceedingly hard to believe — he’s simply replacing a harder quote with a softer one. Why?
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: MMA
on: February 11, 2007, 06:38:16 PM
I was very curious to see this fight. It turned out to be interesting/weird on several levels. With only one viewing, here is what I saw:
FS dominated striking range, but RG was able to close precisely and takedown confidently with good technical BJJ technique three times. Perhaps I reveal my ignorance, but RG's side control seemed very high to me, which seemed to faciliate FS's knees from bottom. Were FS's many knees from bottom effective? Couldn't tell, but RG seemed able to ignore them and use the space for working for mount-- perhaps the reason for what seemed to me to be a high side control?
I did not sense that FS felt concerned that RG had side control. His punches to the back of the head, until they were stopped as a violation of the rules, seemed to annoy RG. The arm position also seemed a violation of BJJ basic rules 101. It looked like RG had FS's arm in a position to think about a far arm bar or a V-lock/Americano or a Kimura, but he was not going for it , , , yet? OTOH, I have seen FS in a backroom roll with some of Rigan Machado students and Rigan himself several years ago as was very impressed with his movement and the tremendous mental fluidity of structure transitions, so may RG felt that although he had "good" position that maybe he was not able to claim the position''s theoretical advantage?
When they came, what caught my attention about the DQing knees was the very fact that they came. The very fact that they occurred from under one of the better side controls to found in this world is actually quite remarkable. Since the rules said back of the head/neck was off limits, then those were the rules and, given the prior warning for stikes to the back of the head, then Referee Herb Dean's call seems appropriate.
Still, especially in the context of the "Shamrock Family vs. the Gracie Family" marketing angle played by the promoters, it was interesting to note that it was Cesar Gracie, who recently lost very badly to FS in an oddly matched fight, speaking for Renzo after the fight and to hear that Renzo's brother Ralph was there too. There was a fight many years ago (10? 12?) when either Renzo or Ralph stepped on a submitted opponent's head after a fight and the other one spit on a defeated opponent. In both cases they immediately acknowledged that in the American context these things were simply not right, apologized and vowed it would never happen again-- which it didn't (Tangent: Tito Ortiz did the step-on-the-defeated-opponent's-head thing in his first UFC fight. BJ McCarthy slammed him up against the fence and put him in his place). At any rate, 10-12 years ago who would have thought that Cesar would be speaking on Renzo's behalf for the enforcement of rules-- or else it would be just some sort of "barfight"?
As to assessing RG's post-knees behavior, I could be wrong (not for the first or last time) but somehow something there did not ring true for me , , ,
The Adventure continues,
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Environmental issues
on: February 11, 2007, 10:33:08 AM
Though I am all for a clean environment, I too find the warming case less than ironclad. What about this assertion that the warming is due to variations in the Sun and that this explains why Mars, which has no air, is also warming?
Anyway, changing gears, here's this from today's NY Times. Note what happens when people own the trees!
In Niger, trees and crops turn back the desert
GUIDAN BAKOYE, Niger — In this dust-choked region, long seen as an increasingly barren wasteland decaying into desert, millions of trees are flourishing, thanks in part to poor farmers whose simple methods cost little or nothing at all.
In Tahoua, where women have regenerated once-barren fields by digging manure pits, women mill their grain by pounding it with wooden pestles.
Better conservation and improved rainfall have led to at least 7.4 million newly tree-covered acres in Niger, researchers have found, achieved largely without relying on the large-scale planting of trees or other expensive methods often advocated by African politicians and aid groups for halting desertification, the process by which soil loses its fertility.
Recent studies of vegetation patterns, based on detailed satellite images and on-the-ground inventories of trees, have found that Niger, a place of persistent hunger and deprivation, has recently added millions of new trees and is now far greener than it was 30 years ago.
These gains, moreover, have come at a time when the population of Niger has exploded, confounding the conventional wisdom that population growth leads to the loss of trees and accelerates land degradation, scientists studying Niger say.
The vegetation is densest, researchers have found, in some of the most densely populated regions of the country.
“The general picture of the Sahel is much less bleak than we tend to assume,” said Chris P. Reij, a soil conservationist who has been working in the region for more than 30 years and helped lead a study published last summer on Niger’s vegetation patterns. “Niger was for us an enormous surprise.”
About 20 years ago, farmers like Ibrahim Danjimo realized something terrible was happening to their fields.
“We look around, all the trees were far from the village,” said Mr. Danjimo, a farmer in his 40s who has been working the rocky, sandy soil of this tiny village since he was a child. “Suddenly, the trees were all gone.”
Fierce winds were carrying off the topsoil of their once-productive land. Sand dunes threatened to swallow huts. Wells ran dry. Across the Sahel, a semiarid belt that spans Africa just below the Sahara and is home to some of the poorest people on earth, a cataclysm was unfolding.
Severe drought in the 1970s and ’80s, coupled with a population explosion and destructive farming and livestock practices, was denuding vast swaths of land. The desert seemed determined to swallow everything. So Mr. Danjimo and other farmers in Guidan Bakoye took a small but radical step. No longer would they clear the saplings from their fields before planting, as they had for generations. Instead they would protect and nurture them, carefully plowing around them when sowing millet, sorghum, peanuts and beans.
Today, the success in growing new trees suggests that the harm to much of the Sahel may not have been permanent, but a temporary loss of fertility. The evidence, scientists say, demonstrates how relatively small changes in human behavior can transform the regional ecology, restoring its biodiversity and productivity.
In Niger’s case, farmers began protecting trees just as rainfall levels began to rise again after the droughts in the 1970s and ’80s.
Another change was the way trees were regarded by law. From colonial times, all trees in Niger had been regarded as the property of the state, which gave farmers little incentive to protect them. Trees were chopped for firewood or construction without regard to the environmental costs. Government foresters were supposed to make sure the trees were properly managed, but there were not enough of them to police a country nearly twice the size of Texas.
But over time, farmers began to regard the trees in their fields as their property, and in recent years the government has recognized the benefits of that outlook by allowing individuals to own trees. Farmers make money from the trees by selling branches, pods, fruit and bark. Because those sales are more lucrative over time than simply chopping down the tree for firewood, the farmers preserve them.
The greening began in the mid-1980s, Dr. Reij said, “and every time we went back to Niger, the scale increased.”
“The density is so spectacular,” he said.
Mahamane Larwanou, a forestry expert at the University of Niamey in Niger’s capital, said the regrowth of trees had transformed rural life in Niger.
(2 of 3)
“The benefits are so many it is really astonishing,” Dr. Larwanou said. “The farmers can sell the branches for money. They can feed the pods as fodder to their animals. They can sell or eat the leaves. They can sell and eat the fruits. Trees are so valuable to farmers, so they protect them.”
They also have extraordinary ecological benefits. Their roots fix the soil in place, preventing it from being carried off with the fierce Sahelian winds and preserving arable land. The roots also help hold water in the ground, rather than letting it run off across rocky, barren fields into gullies where it floods villages and destroys crops.
One tree in particular, the Faidherbia albida, known locally as the gao tree, is particularly essential. It is a nitrogen-fixing tree, which helps fertilize the soil.
Its leaves fall off during the rainy season, which means it does not compete with crops for water, sun or nutrients during the growing period. The leaves themselves become organic fertilizer when they fall.
“This tree is perfectly adapted for farming in the Sahel,” said Dr. Larwanou. “Yet it had all but disappeared from the region.”
That is because for generations local farmers had simply cleared their fields of all vegetation, including trees, before sowing neat rows of sorghum, millet, peanuts and beans. When a field became less productive, the farmer would move on to another.
Wresting subsistence for 13 million people from Niger’s fragile ecology is something akin to a puzzle. Less than 12 percent of its land can be cultivated, and much of that is densely populated. Yet 90 percent of Niger’s people live off agriculture, cultivating a semiarid strip along the southern edge of the country.
Farmers here practice mostly rain-fed agriculture with few tools and no machinery, making survival precarious even in so-called normal times. But when the rains and harvest fall short, hunger returns with a particular vengeance, as it did in 2005 during the nation’s worst food crisis in a generation.
Making matters worse, Niger’s population has doubled in the last 20 years. Each woman bears about seven children, giving the country one of the highest growth rates in the world.
The regrowth of trees increases the income of rural farmers, cushioning the boom and bust cycle of farming and herding.
Ibrahim Idy, a farmer in Dahirou, a village in the Zinder region, has 20 baobab trees in his fields. Selling the leaves and fruit brings him about $300 a year in additional income. He has used that money to buy a motorized pump to draw water from his well to irrigate his cabbage and lettuce fields. His neighbors, who have fewer baobabs, use their children to draw water and dig and direct the mud channels that send water coursing to the beds. While their children work the fields, Mr. Idy’s children attend school.
In some regions, swaths of land that had fallen out of use are being reclaimed, using labor-intensive but inexpensive techniques.
In the village of Koloma Baba, in the Tahoua region just south of the desert’s edge, a group of widows have reclaimed fields once thought forever barren. The women dig small pits in plots of land as hard as asphalt. They place a shovelful of manure in the pits, then wait for rain. The pits help the water and manure stay in the soil and regenerate its fertility, said Dr. Larwanou. Over time, with careful tending, the land can regain its ability to produce crops. In this manner, more than 600,000 acres of land have been reclaimed, according to researchers.
Still, Koloma Baba also demonstrates the limits of this fragile ecosystem, where disaster is always one missed rainfall away. Most able-bodied young men migrate to Nigeria and beyond in search of work, supporting their families with remittances. The women struggle to eke a modest crop from their fields.
“I produce enough to eat, but nothing more,” said Hadijatou Moussa, a widow in Koloma Baba.
The women have managed to grow trees on their fields as well, but have not seen much profit from them. People come and chop their branches without permission, and a village committee that is supposed to enforce the rights of farmers to their trees does not take action against poachers.
Page 3 of 3)
Such problems raise the question of whether the success of some of Niger’s farmers can be replicated on a larger scale, across the Sahel. While Niger’s experience of greening on a vast scale is unique, scientists say, smaller tracts of land have been revived in other countries.
A Green Revolution
“It really requires the effort of the whole community,” said Dr. Larwanou. “If farmers don’t take action themselves and the community doesn’t support it, farmer-managed regeneration cannot work.”
Moussa Bara, the chief of Dansaga, a village in the Ague region of Niger, where the regeneration has been a huge success, said the village has benefited enormously from the regrowth of trees. He said not a single child died of malnutrition in the hunger crisis that gripped Niger in 2005, largely because of extra income from selling firewood. Still, he said, the village has too many mouths to feed.
“We are many and the land is small,” he explained, bouncing on his lap a little boy named Ibrahim, the youngest of his 17 children by his three wives.
Climate change is another looming threat. Kerry H. Cook, a professor of atmospheric science at Cornell University, said that improved rains in the Sahel are most likely a result of natural climate variability from decade to decade, and that while the trend is positive, the rains have not entirely recovered to what they were in the 1950s.
The Sahel, like other parts of Africa, has experienced big swings in rainfall in recent years. Severe droughts in eastern and southern Africa have led to serious hunger crises in the past five years, and a drop in precipitation in Niger in 2005 contributed to the food crisis here that year.
Dr. Cook’s long-term projections, based on a variety of climate models, point to longer and more frequent dry periods in the Sahel, caused by rising temperatures in the Gulf of Guinea.
“This is the place in the world that just stands out for having vulnerability for drought,” she said.
Still, more trees mean that Niger’s people are in a better position to withstand whatever changes the climate might bring. “This is something the farmers control, and something they do for themselves,” said Dr. Larwanou. “It demonstrates that with a little effort and foresight, you can reduce poverty in the Sahel. It is not impossible or hopeless, and does not have to cost a lot of money. It can be done.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Michael Yon (support our troops)
on: February 10, 2007, 11:42:28 PM
I was present today in Baghdad for the Transfer of Authority. Godspeed to the Coalition and to the people of Iraq. General David Petraeus is now running the war in Iraq. Anyone who knows much about the General might agree that David Petraeus seems to have been born and raised to win this particular war.
Frankly, the odds seem nearly impossible. Iraq is broiling and it's getting worse. Yet, there are glimmers of hope, and I see those glimmers with my own eyes here in Iraq. But make no mistake: America has asked David Petraeus to walk into a burning barn and perform brain surgery on a dying patient. If it can be done, David Petraeus is our man.
Meanwhile, I'll continue to run combat missions with our troops, and to talk with as many Iraqis as possible, and keep the news flowing back. Due to the great number of missions I am running, there may be fewer dispatches in the coming days, but I am planing to do more radio interviews and you can link to these from the home page of my website.
A new dispatch, Roughnecks, is available now. It contains some combat video shot from above. The previous dispatch, Hands of God, has an audio clip that was heavily downloaded for many days, making it slow to access for some visitors. For those who haven't had the chance to listen to it yet, there is a link built into the dispatch name above.
No one can predict the outcome of events here, especially those who have never set foot on Iraqi soil. But, given how vital the outcome is to our national interest, it is imperative that someone be reporting from the ground. Because this site operates soley on reader donations and photograph sales,
I appreciate the support that insures at least this one man's independent perspective.
P O Box 416
Westport Pt MA 02791
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Help our troops/our cause:
on: February 10, 2007, 12:23:18 PM
Greetings From Rancho Mirage
Ben Stein | February 05, 2007
Dear Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, National Guard, Reservists, in Iraq, in the Middle East theater, in Afghanistan, in the area near Afghanistan, in any base anywhere in the world, and your families:
Let me tell you about why you guys own about 90 percent of the backbone in the whole world right now and should be happy with yourselves and proud of whom you are.
It was a dazzlingly hot day here in Rancho Mirage today. I did small errands like going to the bank to pay my mortgage, finding a new bed at a price I can afford, practicing driving with my new 5 wood, paying bills for about two hours. I spoke for a long time to a woman who is going through a nasty child custody fight. I got e-mails from a woman who was fired today from her job for not paying attention. I read about multi-billion-dollar mergers in Europe, Asia, and the Mideast. I noticed how overweight I am, for the millionth time. In other words, I did a lot of nothing.
Like every other American who is not in the armed forces family, I basically just rearranged the deck chairs on the Titanic in my trivial, self-important, meaningless way.
Above all, I talked to a friend of more than forty-three years who told me he thought his life had no meaning because all he did was count his money. And, friends in the armed forces, this is the story of all of America today. We are doing nothing but treading water while you guys carry on the life or death struggle against worldwide militant Islamic terrorism. Our lives are about nothing: paying bills, going to humdrum jobs, waiting until we can go to sleep and then do it all again. Our most vivid issues are trivia compared with what you do every day, every minute, every second.
Oprah Winfrey talks a lot about "meaning" in life. For her, "meaning" is dieting and then having her photo on the cover of her magazine every single month (surely a new world record for egomania). This is not "meaning."
- Meaning is doing for others.
- Meaning is risking your life for hers.
- Meaning is putting your bodies and families' peace of mind on the line to defeat some of the most evil, sick killers the world has ever known.
- Meaning is leaving the comfort of home to fight to make sure that there still will be a home for your family and for your nation and for free men and women everywhere.
Look, Soldiers and Marines and Sailors and Airmen and Coast Guardsmen, there are six billion people in this world. The whole fate of this world turns on what you people, 1.4 million, more or less, do every day. The fate of mankind depends on what about 2/100 of one percent of the people in this world do every day and you are those people. And joining you is every policeman, fireman, and Emergency Medical Technician in the country, also holding back the tide of chaos.
Do you know how important you are? Do you know how indispensable you are? Do you know how humbly grateful any of us who has a head on his shoulders is to you? Do you know that if you never do another thing in your lives, you will always still be heroes? That we could live without Hollywood or Wall Street or the NFL, but we cannot live for a week without you?
We are on our knees to you and we bless and pray for you every moment. And Oprah Winfrey, if she were a size two, would not have one millionth of your importance, and all of the Wall Street billionaires will never mean what the least of you do, and if Barry Bonds hits hundreds of home runs it would not mean as much as you going on one patrol or driving one truck to the Baghdad airport.
You are everything to us, as we go through our little days, and you are in the prayers of the nation and of every decent man and woman on the planet. That's who you are and what you mean. I hope you know that.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The 2008 Presidential Race
on: February 10, 2007, 09:49:20 AM
Sounds like our politics are rather similar
The GOP Field
So who's the tax-cutting, reform candidate?
Saturday, February 10, 2007 12:01 a.m. EST
Now is the season of Republican discontent, extending even to the party's Presidential candidates. For the first time in decades, no dominant candidate has emerged and GOP voters seem to be in a Missouri state of mind: Show us what you really believe. We know exactly how they feel.
John McCain has been considered the front-runner, having lost a rough nomination fight in 2000 to President Bush. In the normal GOP habit of Presidential primogeniture, he'd be the likeliest nominee. The Arizona Senator has an inspiring personal story and a strong record on national security. His fortitude on Iraq has been all the more impressive since the war has become unpopular and threatens the media adulation he has long enjoyed. Tenacity is a Presidential asset, especially in dangerous times.
But among many Republicans, Mr. McCain is also paying a price for his years as a policy "maverick." Social conservatives hate his signature achievement of campaign-finance reform, which limits public ability to influence politicians. He also grandstanded on rules for interrogating terrorists.
Our own doubts relate to his economic instincts. He's a bulwark against spending earmarks, no question. But Mr. McCain turned against the Reagan tax-cut agenda in 2000, and he voted against the Bush tax cuts of 2003. Now that those tax cuts have proven to be a spectacular success, the Senator says he wants them made permanent. But his justification is the political one that he has "never voted for a tax increase," not that he now understands his opposition was wrong on the merits. With 2008 likely to be a tax watershed, the GOP needs a candidate who can articulate a pro-growth agenda. Maybe his estimable economic advisers, former Senator Phil Gramm and former FTC Chairman Tim Muris, can steer him right.
Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts Governor, has had some success exploiting conservative unease with Mr. McCain. He has shown he can win votes in a blue state, and he was successful both as a capitalist and as manager of the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics.
However, he too is something of an empty policy slate. The former business consultant made a big deal of the health-care "reform" he steered through the Massachusetts legislature last year, and we suppose he deserves credit for trying. But he oversold the results--to the applause of the national health-care lobby--and imposed an insurance mandate without reforming the state insurance market.
As it unfolds, this law is turning out to be far from a free-market success. And so now Mr. Romney is distancing himself from it--never mind that he upbraided his critics last year for not understanding its virtues. The episode suggests a thin political skin and perhaps a too malleable policy core.
Filling out the current top tier of candidates is the anomaly of former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. We say anomaly because a Northeasterner who favors gun control and abortion rights isn't supposed to have a Ralph Nader's chance in the GOP primaries. Yet today Mr. Giuliani leads in the national polls and is all but tied with Mr. McCain in New Hampshire.
Some of this is no doubt due to name recognition after his 9/11 heroics. On the other hand, maybe cultural conservatives aren't the single-issue voters of media lore. Mr. Giuliani can point to the revival of the previously ungovernable New York, and his temerity and experience in a crisis are qualities that voters look for in a Commander-in-Chief.
The competition will attack his social liberalism, and our guess is that Mr. Giuliani could help himself if he came out solidly for appointing judges like Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. Today's cultural disputes all end up in the courts, and what most conservatives want above all is to know that their views will get a democratic hearing rather than be pre-empted by judicial fiat.
As always, there are a pack of other potential candidates, one or two of whom could make a splash along the way. Newt Gingrich is famous as the former House Speaker and ubiquitous on Fox News. He is also a font of ideas, some of them sensible. But he will have to persuade Republicans that he can win given the baggage of his Beltway days and low favorability ratings.
There's always room for a strong anti-abortion voice in any GOP race, and Kansas Senator Sam Brownback is bidding for that slot. Though little known nationally, he's done impressive, and often bipartisan, work on everything from malaria to immigration. So we are astounded by his recent remarks from Baghdad distancing himself, a la Hillary Clinton, from the war he voted for. Millions of Republicans are frustrated with the war, but if he sustains this antiwar theme someone will note that he co-sponsored the 1998 Iraq Liberation Act.
All in all, this looks like the most wide-open Republican race in years. That may be a good thing if it forces the candidates to battle over ideas and revive the GOP reform agenda that got lost in the fog of the 109th Congress.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Middle East War
on: February 10, 2007, 09:24:32 AM
Deadliest Bomb in Iraq Is Made by Iran, U.S. Says
Michael R. GORDON
Published: February 10, 2007
WASHINGTON, Feb. 9 — The most lethal weapon directed against American troops in Iraq is an explosive-packed cylinder that United States intelligence asserts is being supplied by Iran.
A Deadly Weapon The assertion of an Iranian role in supplying the device to Shiite militias reflects broad agreement among American intelligence agencies, although officials acknowledge that the picture is not entirely complete.
In interviews, civilian and military officials from a broad range of government agencies provided specific details to support what until now has been a more generally worded claim, in a new National Intelligence Estimate, that Iran is providing “lethal support” to Shiite militants in Iraq.
The focus of American concern is known as an “explosively formed penetrator,” a particularly deadly type of roadside bomb being used by Shiite groups in attacks on American troops in Iraq. Attacks using the device have doubled in the past year, and have prompted increasing concern among military officers. In the last three months of 2006, attacks using the weapons accounted for a significant portion of Americans killed and wounded in Iraq, though less than a quarter of the total, military officials say.
Because the weapon can be fired from roadsides and is favored by Shiite militias, it has become a serious threat in Baghdad. Only a small fraction of the roadside bombs used in Iraq are explosively formed penetrators. But the device produces more casualties per attack than other types of roadside bombs.
Any assertion of an Iranian contribution to attacks on Americans in Iraq is both politically and diplomatically volatile. The officials said they were willing to discuss the issue to respond to what they described as an increasingly worrisome threat to American forces in Iraq, and were not trying to lay the basis for an American attack on Iran.
The assessment was described in interviews over the past several weeks with American officials, including some whose agencies have previously been skeptical about the significance of Iran’s role in Iraq. Administration officials said they recognized that intelligence failures related to prewar American claims about Iraq’s weapons arsenal could make critics skeptical about the American claims.
The link that American intelligence has drawn to Iran is based on a number of factors, including an analysis of captured devices, examination of debris after attacks, and intelligence on training of Shiite militants in Iran and in Iraq by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and by Hezbollah militants believed to be working at the behest of Tehran.
The Bush administration is expected to make public this weekend some of what intelligence agencies regard as an increasing body of evidence pointing to an Iranian link, including information gleaned from Iranians and Iraqis captured in recent American raids on an Iranian office in Erbil and another site in Baghdad.
The information includes interrogation reports from the raids indicating that money and weapons components are being brought into Iraq from across the Iranian border in vehicles that travel at night. One of the detainees has identified an Iranian operative as having supplied two of the bombs. The border crossing at Mehran is identified as a major crossing point for the smuggling of money and weapons for Shiite militants, according to the intelligence.
According to American intelligence, Iran has excelled in developing this type of bomb, and has provided similar technology to Hezbollah militants in southern Lebanon. The manufacture of the key metal components required sophisticated machinery, raw material and expertise that American intelligence agencies do not believe can be found in Iraq. In addition, some components of the bombs have been found with Iranian factory markings from 2006.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates appeared to allude to this intelligence on Friday when he told reporters in Seville, Spain, that serial numbers and other markings on weapon fragments found in Iraq point to Iran as a source.
Some American intelligence experts believe that Hezbollah has provided some of the logistical support and training to Shiite militias in Iraq, but they assert that such steps would not be taken without Iran’s blessing.
“All source reporting since 2004 indicates that Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Corps-Quds Force is providing professionally-built EFPs and components to Iraqi Shia militants,” notes a still-classified American intelligence report that was prepared in 2006.
“Based on forensic analysis of materials recovered in Iraq,” the report continues, “Iran is assessed as the producer of these items.”
Page 2 of 3)
The United States, using the Swiss Embassy in Tehran as an intermediary, has privately warned the Iranian government to stop providing the military technology to Iraqi militants, a senior administration official said. The British government has issued similar warnings to Iran, according to Western officials. Officials said that the Iranians had not responded.
A Deadly Weapon An American intelligence assessment described to The New York Times said that “as part of its strategy in Iraq, Iran is implementing a deliberate, calibrated policy — approved by Supreme Leader Khamenei and carried out by the Quds Force — to provide explosives support and training to select Iraqi Shia militant groups to conduct attacks against coalition targets.” The reference was to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Iranian leader, and to an elite branch of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Command that is assigned the task of carrying out paramilitary operations abroad.
“The likely aim is to make a military presence in Iraq more costly for the U.S.,” the assessment said.
Other officials believe Iran is using the attacks to send a warning to the United States that it can inflict casualties on American troops if the United States takes a more forceful posture toward it.
Iran has publicly denied the allegations that it is providing military support to Shiite militants in Iraq. Javad Zarif, Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations, wrote in an Op-Ed article published on Thursday in The Times that the Bush administration was “trying to make Iran its scapegoat and fabricating evidence of Iranian activities in Iraq.”
The explosively formed penetrator, detonated on the roadside as American vehicles pass by, is capable of blasting a metal projectile through the side of an armored Humvee with devastating consequences.
American military officers say that attacks using the weapon reached a high point in December, when it accounted for a significant portion of Americans killed and wounded in Iraq. For reasons that remain unclear, attacks using the device declined substantially in January, but the weapons remain one of the principal threats to American troops in and around Baghdad, where five additional brigades of American combat troops are to be deployed under the Bush administration’s new plan.
“It is the most effective I.E.D out there,” said Lt. Col. James Danna, who led the Second Battalion, Sixth Infantry Regiment in Baghdad last year, referring to improvised explosive devices, as the roadside bombs are known by the American military. “To me it is a political weapon. There are not a lot of them out there, but every time we crack down on the Shia militias that weapon comes out. They want to keep us on our bases, keep us out of their neighborhoods and prevent us from doing our main mission, which is protecting vulnerable portions of the population.”
Adm. William Fallon, President Bush’s choice to head the Central Command, alluded to the weapon’s ability to punch through the side of armored Humvees in his testimony to Congress last month.
“Equipment that was, we thought, pretty effective in protecting our troops just a matter of months ago is now being challenged by some of the techniques and devices over there,” Admiral Fallon said. “So I’m learning as we go in that this is a fast-moving ballgame.”
Mr. Gates told reporters last week that he had heard there had been cases in which the weapon “can take out an Abrams tank.”
The increasing use of the weapon is the latest twist in a lethal game of measure and countermeasure that has been carried out throughout the nearly four-year-old Iraq war. Using munitions from Iraq’s vast and poorly guarded arsenal, insurgents developed an array of bombs to strike the more heavily armed and technologically superior American military.
In response, the United States military deployed armored Humvees, which in turn spawned the development of even more potent roadside bombs. American officials say that the first suspected use of the penetrator occurred in late 2003 and that attacks have risen steadily since then.
To make the weapon, a metal cylinder is filled with powerful explosives. A metal concave disk manufactured on a special press is fixed to the firing end.
Several of the cylinders are often grouped together in an array. The weapon is generally triggered when American vehicles drive by an infrared sensor, which operates on the same principle as a garage door opener. The sensor is impervious to the electronic jamming the American military uses to try to block other remote-control attacks.
When an American vehicle crosses the beam, the explosives in the cylinders are detonated, hurling their metal lids at targets at a tremendous speed. The metal changes shape in flight, forming into a slug that penetrate many types of armor.
(Page 3 of 3)
In planning their attacks, Shiite militias have taken advantage of the tactics employed by American forces in Baghdad. To reduce the threat from suicide car bombs and minimize the risk of inadvertently killing Iraqi civilians, American patrols and convoys have been instructed to keep their distance from civilian traffic. But that has made it easier for the Shiite militias to attack American vehicles. When they see American vehicles approaching, they activate the infrared sensors.
A Deadly Weapon According to American intelligence agencies, the Iranians are also believed to have provided Shiite militants with rocket-propelled grenades, shoulder-fired antiaircraft missiles, mortars, 122-millimeter rockets and TNT.
Among the intelligence that the United States is expected to make public this weekend is information indicating that some of these weapons said to have been made in Iran were carried into Iraq in recent years. Examples include a shoulder-fired antiaircraft missile that was fired at a plane flying near the Baghdad airport in 2004 but which failed to launch properly; an Iranian rocket-propelled grenade made in 2006; and an Iranian 81-millimeter mortar made in 2006.
Assessments by American intelligence agencies say there is no indication that there is any kind of black-market trade in the Iranian-linked roadside bombs, and that shipments of the components are being directed to Shiite militants who have close links to Iran. The American military has developed classified techniques to try to counter the sophisticated weapon.
Marine officials say that weapons have not been found in the Sunni-dominated Anbar Province, adding to the view that the device is an Iranian-supplied and Shiite-employed weapon.
To try to cut off the supply, the American military has sought to focus on the cells of Iranian Revolutionary Guard operatives it asserts are in Iraq. American intelligence agencies are concerned that the Iranians may respond by increasing the supply of the weapons.
“We are working day and night to disassemble these networks that do everything from bring the explosives to the point of construction, to how they’re put together, to who delivers them, to the mechanisms that are used to have them go off,” Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said last week. “It is instructive that at least twice in the last month, that in going after the networks, we have picked up Iranians.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Muslims, Nazis, and far right hate groups echo anti-semitisim
on: February 10, 2007, 09:03:23 AM
Nobel prizewinner, author attacked at S.F. hotel
Matthai Chakko Kuruvila, Chronicle Staff Writer
Friday, February 9, 2007
Elie Wiesel, the renowned Holocaust author and Nobel Peace Prize winner, was attacked and dragged out of a San Francisco hotel elevator last week, possibly by a Holocaust denier who claims to have stalked Wiesel for weeks, police said Friday.
Wiesel, 78, was at the Argent Hotel on Feb. 1 for an interfaith conference when he was confronted around 6:30 p.m. in an elevator by a man insisting that he wanted to interview the author, said police spokesman Sgt. Neville Gittens.
Wiesel said he would do the interview in the lobby of the Third Street hotel, but the man insisted on going to Wiesel's room. The man then stopped the elevator at the sixth floor, dragged Wiesel out and tried to force him into a room on that floor.
"That's when (Wiesel) started yelling," Gittens said. The man fled, and Wiesel went down to the lobby and called police.
Wiesel was not injured. He decided to leave the conference on "Facing Violence: Justice, Religion and Conflict Resolution," and police escorted him to the airport.
On Tuesday, a man identifying himself Eric Hunt and claiming to be the attacker posted an account of the incident on a virulently anti-Semitic and anti-Israel Web site. The account matches the description of the attack that police later released.
"After ensuring no women would be traumatized by what I had to do (I had been trailing Wiesel for weeks), I stopped the elevator at the sixth floor," Hunt wrote. "I said I wanted to interview him. He protested, grabbed at his chest as if he was having a heart attack. He then screamed HELP! HELP! at the top of his lungs.
"I told him, 'Why, you don't want people to know the truth?' " Hunt wrote. "After pulling him about fifteen feet out of the elevator ... I decided that it was time for me to go."
Gittens said that police were aware of the Web site and that they had a suspect in mind, but would not confirm that they were looking for the person who posted the account online.
"We're not commenting on statements made on the Web site," Gittens said.
The site has articles on a number of topics, some of which repeat centuries-old slurs against Jews. It is registered to Andrew Winkler of Sydney, who also writes on the site. Phone calls and an e-mail to Winkler were not returned Friday.
Wiesel did not return calls made to his offices in New York and at Boston University, where he is a professor in the religion and philosophy departments.
Wiesel, a native of Romania, was sent by the Nazis in 1944 to Auschwitz, where his mother and three sisters were killed. His father died on a forced march to Buchenwald, another concentration camp, three months before the camp was liberated in 1945.
Wiesel has written more than 40 books based on his Holocaust experiences. In 1978, President Jimmy Carter named him to lead the effort to build the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. In 1986, Wiesel won the Nobel Peace Prize.
Hunt said in his posting that he had intended to corner Wiesel and force him to admit that the Holocaust never happened.
"I had planned to bring Wiesel to my hotel room, where he would truthfully answer my questions regarding the fact that his non-fiction Holocaust memoir, 'Night,' is almost entirely fictitious," Hunt wrote on the site.
E-mail Matthai Chakko Kuruvila at firstname.lastname@example.org
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Law Enforcement issues
on: February 10, 2007, 08:24:22 AM
The Force Science News is provided by The Force Science Research Center, a
non-profit institution based at Minnesota State University, Mankato.
Subscriptions are free and sent via e-mail. To register for your free,
direct-delivery subscription, please visit www.forcesciencenews.com
click on the registration button. For reprint clearance, please e-mail:email@example.com
IN THIS ISSUE:
I. DRUNK, DRUGGED, VIOLENCE-PRONE SUSPECTS MOST LIKELY TO BE SHOT BY POLICE
II. UNDERSTANDING & INVESTIGATING OFFICER-INVOLVED SHOOTINGS: 2 DAYS TOO
VALUABLE TO MISS!
I. DRUNK, DRUGGED, VIOLENCE-PRONE SUSPECTS MOST LIKELY TO BE SHOT BY POLICE
An important new study examines officer-involved shootings from a different
perspective, focusing not on what police bring to these encounters but on
certain behavioral characteristics of the people they most often use deadly
The research, based on the shooting experiences of one large sheriff's
department in California, shows that subjects who are under the influence
of drugs or alcohol and/or have a history of violence are far more likely
to be on the receiving end of police gunfire.
Specifically, among subjects the sheriff's personnel responded to with
deadly force, those under the influence of drugs were 3 times more likely
to be shot or shot at by officers than those who weren't; intoxicated
suspects 3.4 times more likely than those who were sober; and people with
previous arrests for violent crimes 3.7 times more likely than those
without that history.
"This is the first major study of its kind," says Dr. Bill Lewinski,
executive director of the Force Science Research Center at Minnesota State
University-Mankato. "It supplies really important data that will help us
more clearly understand the dynamics of force interactions. The more we
know about the factors involved in these confrontations, the better we can
help officers face the challenges that arise out of them."
"Most research on police use of force fails to look at the suspect's
actions or behavior," writes Lt. James McElvain of the Riverside County
(CA) Sheriff's Dept., who conducted the study.
Typically, studies on police shootings explore their frequency, the impact
of policy, the officers' decision-making, and the race or ethnicity of the
cops and suspects involved. Also typically they refer to the subjects who
get shot in these encounters as the "victims."
One prominent academic researcher has gone so far as to conclude that in
cases where the legitimacy of force is challenged, "it appears that in
every instance harm could have been averted by exercising some other
options." In other words, better policies and officer decisions could
prevent police shootings.
This approach, McElvain notes, "overlooks the fact that the citizen also is
making decisions that lead up to the point at which the officer fires his
or her weapon."
Lewinski agrees that past deadly force research too often has reflected "a
biased view and doesn't give us a clear picture of the encounter. In
reality, it is very clear from most investigations, grand jury proceedings,
review board hearings, trials and so on that most officer-involved
shootings in the U.S. are fully justified and result from the officer
shooting in self defense because he or she is victimized by an actual or
threatened assault by the subject."
McElvain's study, titled "Shots Fired: An Examination of Police Shootings
and Citizen Behaviors," was successfully submitted last December as his
dissertation for a PhD in sociology from the University of
McElvain, 42, now a patrol lieutenant with 21 years' experience in law
enforcement, has not personally been involved in using deadly force against
a human subject, but he has investigated police shootings in a previous
assignment with internal affairs. During the course work toward his degree,
he took a class on alcohol, drugs, and violence and, reflecting on his
investigative experiences, began to wonder what role these factors might
play in officer confrontations.
"I grabbed 5 years' of data from records at the Sheriff's Dept. and did a
quick calculation of percentages," he told Force Science News recently. He
found that about 70% of the civilians in officer shootings were under some
kind of chemical influence."
With the approval and encouragement of Sheriff Bob Doyle, he ended up
examining 15 years' of data--all instances of officers on the department
delivering gunfire at human beings from 1990-2004, including toxicological
reports and criminal histories. In all, he analyzed 186 shootings,
involving 314 officers and 190 civilians. (The agency currently has some
1,200 sworn personnel on the street and polices a socio-economically
diverse population of more than 500,000.)
Each element of McElvain's study--drugs, alcohol, and violent
background--showed a significantly higher correlation with being shot or
shot at by the police when measured independently against subjects of
shootings who did not have those characteristics. "In combination," he
found, "citizens with prior violent criminal arrest records and who are
under the influence of an intoxicant provide the strongest association with
These correlations proved to be far more significant than race or gender on
either side of the shooting relationship, McElvain reports.
His findings do not surprise him, McElvain says. Obviously both alcohol and
drugs can "disinhibit a person from coherent thinking," and if not spur
aggressive behavior at least contribute to noncompliance that "an officer
can interpret as a threat to his/her immediate safety or that of another."
Sober or drug-free, the subject might "have realized the grave
circumstances he/she was creating, and in turn, cooperated with the
officer, which would have prevented the shooting.
"Arguably, a person who engages in criminal conduct as a matter of routine
and is comfortable with using violence as a means to further his/her
activities is also less likely to be intimidated by the police when
McElvain's research is complemented by an FBI study recently published by
the federal Bureau of Justice Assistance under the title "Violent
Encounters." This study, by Dr. Anthony Pinizzotto, Edward Davis, and
Charles Miller III, analyzed 40 attacks by 43 offenders on 50 officers.
About 35% of those offenders reported using alcohol within 2 hours before
committing their assaults; in fact, they had consumed an average of 10
drinks each in that time period. More than 75% said they routinely used
illicit drugs, on average twice a week; nearly half had used drugs within 2
hours before assaulting an officer. Of 13 gang members included in that
study, only 1 indicated no alcohol or drug use prior to the incident being
evaluated, and this was a regular drug and alcohol user who didn't abuse
substances as usual that day because he wanted to be "sharp" while robbing
A significant portion of the offenders in the FBI study had a history of
committing violent crimes, including prior assaults on LEOs.
"Both these studies," says Lewinski, "show that officers in deadly force
situations are commonly dealing with individuals who are very difficult to
deal with. The challenge is to try to come up with things that can help
officers 'read' these situations more quickly and then influence subjects
who we know can be only minimally influenced at best to reduce their
"More research will be necessary before effective training methods can be
established, but these studies are major steps in broadening our
understanding of the dynamics of dangerous encounters. They also can help
the civilian community understand how complex and difficult force
confrontations can be."
McElvain sees the possibility of some immediate practical applications of
his findings. For example, "If we can identify citizens who are under the
influence and have a history of violence, we may be able to approach them
differently," he told Force Science News. "It may be helpful in those
instances to get a second officer on the scene, armed with less-lethal
Dispatchers can play a vital role in conveying important information by
probing complainants about the sobriety status of suspects and by running
record checks on criminal history and prior contacts when an offender's
name is known, he says.
Advanced training programs may also be able to help officers better pick up
cues to an offender's mental state. "But when you talk about training,
you're talking about money," he says. In agencies where armed encounters
are rare, administrators may not feel this problem represents a training
Lewinski points out, however, "If we can't figure out better ways for
officers to deal with drunk, drugged, and violence-prone subjects, it not
only is going to be dangerous for those citizens but also for officers who
are victimized by the subjects' impulsiveness and altered state."
Meanwhile, McElvain has plans to mine his research database for more fresh
findings. Among other things, he is currently exploring how officers'
education, age, military experience, gender, race, and prior shooting
involvement may correlate to uses of deadly force, and he wants to map out
how police shootings relate to neighborhood types. "I think there are 5 or
6 different studies to come off of this data," he predicts.
[Our thanks to Tom Aveni, a member of FSRC's Technical Advisory Board, for
alerting us to Lt. McElvain's research project.]
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Iraq
on: February 09, 2007, 02:53:48 PM
Second post of the day:
This news from Iraq, via the Jawa Report, should be top story. But since Anna Nicole Smith died, it won't get the coverage it deserves:
Coalition forces in Iraq have delivered a series of stunning blows to al Qaeda in Iraq in the last 48 hours.
A key aide to Abu Ayyub al-Masri, the man who replaced Abu Musab al Zarqawi as the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, has been captured south of Baghdad. As A.J. Strata notes, the trail to the al Qaeda leader is fresh: the captured aide admitted to meeting with al Masri yesterday.
Since Taji is north of Baghdad, these two al Qaeda IED cell leaders captured by the U.S. in West Taji are not the same as those above. That's four al Qaeda leaders captured.
But four is such a lonely number. A facilitator of foreign fighters was captured by the Iarqi Army on the Syrian border. And foreign fighters tend to mean al Qaeda.
Not to be outdone by the IA, the U.S. struck two houses where foreign fighters had gathered---13 jihadis dead. An "individual" associated with foreign fighter facilitation was in the targeted area.
But wait, that's not all. Coalition Forces conducted an air strike Wednesday targeting an al-Qaida in Iraq-related vehicle-borne improvised explosives devices network near Arab Jabour. Intelligence reports indicated that this network is responsible for a large and devastating number of VBIED attacks in the Baghdad area. They are also responsible for IED and sniper attacks conducted against the Iraqi people and Iraqi and Coalition Forces. Building destroyed, everyone inside presumably dead.
And another terrorist was captured in Taji. In addition to leading a bombing cell, he is also believed to be involved in taking Iraqis hostage and murdering them. Which would mean that he is either al Qaeda or one of the related organizations under the umbrella of the "Islamic State of Iraq".
So, we have 6 al Qaeda leaders captured, and possibly dozens more killed. All in the last 48 hours.
CENTCOM has details:
Coalition Forces conducted an air strike Wednesday targeting an al-Qaida in Iraq-related vehicle-borne improvised explosives devices network near Arab Jabour. Intelligence reports indicated that this network is responsible for a large and devastating number of VBIED attacks in the Baghdad area. They are also responsible for IED and sniper attacks conducted against the Iraqi people and Iraqi and Coalition Forces. As Coalition Forces approached the targeted building they came under intense enemy fire. Ground forces assessed seven suspected terrorists were in the targeted building. Coalition Forces determined the targets too hostile for ground troops and called for air support. Two precision guided munitions were dropped destroying the targeted building and an associated structure. Coalition Forces continue to tear apart the al-Qaida leadership inside Iraq. This operation significantly reduces this VBIED terrorist network's ability to operate, and increases the safety of all Iraqi citizens, Iraqi forces, and Iraq's Multi-National partners.
Coalition Forces killed an estimated 13 terrorists during an air strike Thursday morning targeting a senior foreign fighter facilitator northeast of Amiriya.
Intelligence reports indicated an individual associated with foreign fighter facilitation was in the targeted area. During the operation, Coalition Forces detained five suspected terrorists and found a cache including armor piercing ammunition. Information gained from the target area led Coalition Forces to two suspected foreign fighter safe houses where suspected terrorists were assembled. Coalition Forces observed the structures to confirm intelligence reports and engaged with precision guided munitions and rotary wing close air support, killing an estimated 13 terrorists.
Coalition Forces continue to dismantle the foreign fighter networks. This operation significantly reduces foreign fighter facilitators’ ability to operate inside Iraq.
And from MNF-I:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE--
SUSPECTED SENIOR IED CELL LEADER DETAINED, TERRORIST SAFEHOUSE DESTROYED IN WEST TAJI
BAGHDAD, Iraq – Coalition Forces detained two suspected terrorists believed to have ties to an al-Qaida improvised explosive device cell during a raid Wednesday morning in West Taji.
Intelligence reports indicated one of the detainees has significant ties to a local IED cell and had connections to recent anti-Coalition Forces activities.
Ground forces entered the targeted building and detained the two suspected terrorists without incident. Upon searching the house, ground forces found evidence of explosives material hidden inside the building and buried around the exterior. They also found several weapons and materials commonly used to make IEDs.
In order to prevent the residence from being used for future sanctuary to terrorists, ground forces destroyed the building with strategically-placed charges. Before placing the charges, Ground forces escorted two women and nine children outside the house and to a neighbor’s home in order to ensure their safety.
ImageCoalition Forces are making progress dismantling the al-Qaida terrorist network inside Iraq. The capture of these detainees and the destruction of another terrorist sanctuary reduces the ability of the terrorist network to operate, and increases the safety of all Iraqi citizens, Iraqi forces and Iraq’s Multi-National partners
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Environmental issues
on: February 09, 2007, 02:42:29 PM
Global Warming Smear
February 9, 2007; Page A10
Mark Twain once complained that a lie can make it half way around the world before the truth gets its boots on. That's been the case of late in the climate change debate, as political and media activists attempt to stigmatize anyone who doesn't pay homage to their "scientific consensus."
Last week the London Guardian published a story headlined, "Scientists Offer Cash to Dispute Climate Study." The story alleges that the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), a conservative-leaning think tank in Washington, collected contributions from ExxonMobil and then offered climate scholars $10,000 so they could lobby against global warming legislation.
Another newspaper, the British Independent, picked up on the story and claimed: "It has come to light that one of the world's largest oil companies, ExxonMobil, is attempting to bribe scientists to pick holes in the IPCC's assessment." (The IPCC is the United Nations climate-change panel.)
It would be easy to dismiss all this as propaganda from British tabloids, except that a few days ago the "news" crossed the Atlantic where more respectable media outlets, including the Washington Post, are reporting the story in what has become all too typical pack fashion. A CNNMoney.com report offered that, "A think tank partly funded by ExxonMobil sent letters to scientists offering them up to $10,000 to critique findings in a major global warming study released Friday which found that global warming was real and likely caused by burning fossil fuels."
Here are the facts as we've been able to collect them. AEI doesn't lobby, didn't offer money to scientists to question global warming, and the money it did pay for climate research didn't come from Exxon.
What AEI did was send a letter to several leading climate scientists asking them to participate in a symposium that would present a "range of policy prescriptions that should be considered for climate change of uncertain dimension." Some of the scholars asked to participate, including Steve Schroeder of Texas A& M, are climatologists who believe that global warming is a major problem.
AEI President Chris DeMuth says, "What the Guardian essentially characterizes as a bribe is the conventional practice of AEI -- and Brookings, Harvard and the University of Manchester -- to pay individuals" for commissioned work. He says that Exxon has contributed less than 1% of AEI's budget over the last decade.
As for Exxon, Lauren Kerr, director of its Washington office, says that "none of us here had ever heard of this AEI climate change project until we read about it in the London newspapers." By the way, commissioning such research is also standard practice at NASA and other government agencies and at liberal groups such as the Pew Charitable Trusts, which have among them spent billions of dollars attempting to link fossil fuels to global warming.
We don't know where the Brits first got this "news," but the leading suspects are the reliable sources at Greenpeace. They have been peddling these allegations for months, and the London newspaper sleuths seem to have swallowed them like pints on a Fleet Street lunch hour.
So, apparently, have several members of the U.S. Senate. Yesterday Senators Bernard Sanders, Patrick Leahy, Dianne Feinstein and John Kerry sent a letter to Mr. DeMuth complaining that "should these reports be accurate," then "it would highlight the extent to which moneyed interests distort honest scientific and public policy discussions. . . . Does your donors' self-interest trump an honest discussion over the well-being of the planet?"
Every member of AEI's board of directors was graciously copied on the missive. We're told the Senators never bothered to contact AEI about the veracity of the reports, and by repeating the distortions, these four Democratic senators, wittingly or not, gave credence to falsehood.
For its part, Exxon appears unwilling to take this smear campaign lying down. Bribery can be a crime, and falsely accusing someone of a crime may well be defamation. A company spokesman says Exxon has written a letter to the Independent demanding a retraction.
One can only conclude from this episode that the environmental left and their political and media supporters now believe it is legitimate to quash debate on climate change and its consequences. This is known as orthodoxy, and, until now, science accepted the legitimacy of challenging it.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Lebanon
on: February 09, 2007, 02:27:59 PM
LEBANON: A truck transporting weapons to Hezbollah from the Bekaa Valley was intercepted in Beirut, Lebanon, and government forces seized the weapons. Though Hezbollah has demanded that the truck and weapons be released, Lebanese Defense Minister Elias Murr has refused to turn the weapons back over to Hezbollah. According to unconfirmed reports, rocket launchers and rockets were among the weapons found concealed in the truck.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Israel, and its neighbors
on: February 09, 2007, 11:17:17 AM
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PNA: Hamas will never recognize Israel and will not abide by treaties Fatah has previously negotiated with Israel, senior Hamas leader Nizar Rayan said. Hamas welcomed the agreement with Fatah to create a Palestinian unity government, but said Israeli recognition, as urged by President Mahmoud Abbas, is impossible.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Iraq
on: February 09, 2007, 11:07:15 AM
IRAQ: Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr's Mehdi Army will not be provoked into a confrontation with U.S. troops, despite the detention of several high-ranking loyalists during the latest security crackdowns in Baghdad, Reuters reported, citing Nasser al-Rubaie, the head of the al-Sadrite parliamentary bloc.
Published: February 9, 2007
BAGHDAD, Feb. 8 — Just past the main checkpoint into Sadr City, children kick soccer balls at goals with new green nets, on fields where mounds of trash covered the ground last summer. A few blocks away, city workers plant palm trees by the road, while men gather at a cafe nearby to chatter and laugh.
Sadr City, once infamous as a fetid slum and symbol of Shiite subjugation, is recovering, with the help of $41 million in reconstruction funds from the Shiite-led government, all of it spent since May, according to Iraqi officials, and millions more in American assistance.
But as Shiite areas like Sadr City begin to thrive as self-enclosed fiefs, middle-class Sunni enclaves are withering into abandoned ghettos, starved of government services.
Many residents credit a Shiite militia, the Mahdi Army, and its powerful political leader, the radical cleric Moktada al-Sadr, for keeping the area safe enough to allow rebuilding. Yet the Mahdi Army has also killed American troops and has been linked to death squads preying on Sunnis, making the district a potential target as American troops pour into Baghdad to enforce the new security plan.
The neighborhood, which is Baghdad’s largest Shiite area and was named in honor of Mr. Sadr’s father, is a web of contradictions, at once a test of whether its progress can be sustained, a flash point for sectarian tensions and the heart of the government’s political and military base.
“Sadr City is different because it has been left without services for 35 years,” said Hassan al-Shimmari, a Shiite member of Parliament with the Fadila Party. “And with the presence of the Mahdi Army, and its agenda against the Americans — that is what makes it disturbing.”
Over three days of interviews in homes, businesses and political offices, residents described their community as tight-knit, often abused and increasingly isolated.
Abdul Karim Kassem, the prime minister in the late 1950s and early 1960s, built the neighborhood as a public housing project for the poor. The rectangle of roughly 125,000 homes northeast of central Baghdad covered an area about half the size of Manhattan, with streets in a grid and simple brick homes of about 1,550 square feet.
These days, after decades of neglect under Saddam Hussein (though the area was once called Saddam City), many of the houses have been divided into apartments and many more are crumbling.
Sadr City officials, including Rahim al-Daraji, the elected mayor, claim that more than two million people live there, almost all Shiites but with a smattering still of Sunnis and Kurds.
If that number is correct, the district has a higher population density than Calcutta or Hong Kong, which demographers say is unlikely, given the low-rise architecture.
Undeniably, Sadr City has grown in recent months as families moved in from what Iraqis call hot zones, typically Sunni areas where violence has brought daily routines to a standstill. Schools are packed with children, rents have increased and the economy has come alive.
More surprising than the pyramids of fruit at the bustling market, near a park with new red fences, are the signs of leisure, like the new children’s bicycles with tassels on the handlebars and the silvery computer shops.
“Our neighborhood is much better than other areas,” said Hussail Allawi, 41, in a crowd of men smoking flavored tobacco, a pastime now rare in much of the city. “The people are cooperative. There are many volunteers, including the Mahdi Army, and we are doing our best.”
City officials said 16 sewer mains had been cleaned to eliminate the putrid waste that once collected in large puddles, while 22 roads are to be repaved.
Louis J. Fintor, a spokesman for the United States Embassy, said American agencies were also working on more than 35 projects, mostly in health and education. He did not identify their locations or say how much money had been spent. “Getting credit,” he said, “is not the motivating force.”
Abu Firas al-Amtari, a spokesman for the Sadr political party in Sadr City, said the American and Iraqi governments spent reconstruction money haphazardly. But he acknowledged that the neighborhood was gaining momentum.
“The situation inside is very good,” he said in an interview. “We are always afraid of what comes from other neighborhoods.”
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Bombings here have become less common than in other parts of Baghdad, though a coordinated series of explosions last fall killed 144 people. Residents and Sadr party officials said they felt more secure because the Mahdi Army kept watch. As members of the community, militiamen have an advantage.
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Max Becherer/Polaris, for The New York Times
Hussail Allawi, in cap, a laborer relaxing at a cafe in Sadr City, says of the Shiite district, “Our neighborhood is much better than other areas.”
The Reach of War
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A Neighborhood in Transition
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Max Becherer/Polaris, for The New York Times
Using horsepower to deliver propane power. Under the protection of the Shiite-led government and the Mahdi Army, and with aid projects by American agencies, the area has become relatively calm and safe.
“The Mahdi are more loyal because they feel they are protecting their own families,” said Ahmed Hashem, 30.
Sadr officials have seized on a simpler refrain: The Mahdi Army makes peace, not war.
Mr. Amtari described the militants as humanitarians, community volunteers and part of “a moral army” that checked vehicles and enforced the law. Naeem al-Kabbi, a deputy mayor affiliated with the Sadr party, said the battles between American troops and the militia in Najaf and Sadr City in 2004 amounted to a misunderstanding — though American troops said they had come under attack while doing little more than running patrols.
Seemingly determined to clean the tarnished Mahdi image, Sadr officials said the militia’s members would disarm temporarily during the Baghdad security plan, even if Sunnis or Americans attacked. “Whatever the provocation, with the surge against us or anything else, we will not kidnap anyone or take revenge by ourselves,” said Mr. Daraji, the mayor, who has been negotiating with American and Iraqi officials over the role of the militia. “We will leave everything to the government.”
Sunni officials said Sadr officials had calculated that if they stayed quiet for the security plan, American troops would eventually withdraw, giving Shiites even more freedom to exercise power.
Salim Abdullah, a senior Sunni member of Parliament, added that the security plan’s impact would be blunted in Sadr City because Shiite militias had infiltrated the Iraqi security forces, and could tip off Mahdi militants before raids began.
An open question is whether all the Mahdi fighters will obey orders not to fight. Some residents, who declined to give their names, described the Mahdi Army as a loose collection of often rival and rogue groups, and said arrests — on, say, an especially volatile anti-American street — could set off firefights with the arrestees’ families and neighbors, even if senior Mahdi commanders remained uninvolved.
But like the streets themselves, the community’s relationship with the militia seemed to be changing. The Sadr organization, whose members once whipped people on the streets for selling alcohol, now works out of a centrally located office that has expanded from a squat one-story building into a small campus with fresh white paint and a covered courtyard. It has the feel of an American post office.
Residents said the building reflected the move from insurgent group to established player. After winning control of six ministries and 30 seats in Parliament, residents said, the Sadrists have become a more traditionally political, less religious force, with leaders primarily interested in safety and power.
There is still a saying in Sadr City that if you anger the Mahdi, “They’ll throw you in the trunk,” a reference to their notorious gangsterism. And the American military has clearly taken a harder line. Citing evidence that militia members killed Americans and innocent civilians, American troops have arrested or killed several Mahdi commanders in recent weeks as part of their efforts to pacify the capital.
In the latest move, on Thursday, American forces raided the Health Ministry and detained a deputy minister whom they accused of ferrying weapons and militants across Sadr City in ambulances to thwart American raids.
Some residents and officials acknowledge that their sprawling neighborhood includes men who contribute to Baghdad’s cycle of violence. One resident said few people had protested the recent increase in American raids because it was clear that some members of the Mahdi Army cared less for the neighborhood than they did for killing and cash.
But in interviews, even critics of the Mahdi Army said that security and economics mattered most, and that as long as the militia kept the neighborhood safe enough to function, it could count on tacit support.
Mr. Allawi, the man smoking at the cafe, said “the people are satisfied” with the spoils of Sadr control.
Muhammad Issa Sachit, 38, a mechanic for the city government who has lived and worked in Sadr City for more than 20 years, said families received a stable fuel supply at competitive prices from the Mahdi Army, more than what most Baghdad communities could depend on.
He also said that when a Sunni neighbor died in a bombing a few months ago, the Mahdi Army rushed in to help the family. “They paid for everything — the funeral, the burial, the food,” he said.
The man’s wife and children left soon afterward. The house was still empty last week.
Mr. Sachit denied that the family’s move had anything to do with a fear of Shiites. Sitting on a green rug in his simple home, he seemed to feel that his neighbor’s death was mainly a story of Mahdi Army generosity.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Homeland Security
on: February 09, 2007, 11:02:40 AM
WASHINGTON, Feb. 8 — New York City is about to become a laboratory to test ways of strengthening the nation’s defenses against a terror attack by a nuclear device or a radioactive “dirty bomb.”
Starting this spring, the Bush administration will assess new detection machines at a Staten Island port terminal that are designed to screen cargo and automatically distinguish between naturally occurring radiation and critical bomb-building ingredients.
And later this year, the federal government plans to begin setting up an elaborate network of radiation alarms at some bridges, tunnels, roadways and waterways into New York, creating a 50-mile circle around the city.
The effort, which could be expanded to other cities if proven successful, is a major shift of focus for the Department of Homeland Security. As it finishes installing the first generation of radiation scanners at the nation’s ports and land border crossings, the department is trying to find ways to stop a plot that would use a weapon built within the United States.
“How do you create deterrence against terrorism?” said Vayl S. Oxford, director of the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office, the Homeland Security agency coordinating the work. “You complicate the ability for the terrorist to do what they want.”
But even as the new campaign begins, some members of Congress and antiterrorism experts are raising concerns that the initiative, like previous Homeland Security programs, could prove extraordinarily costly and provide few security gains.
“This is just total baloney,” said Tara O’Toole, a former assistant secretary at the Department of Energy during the Clinton administration, where she oversaw nuclear weapons safety efforts. “They are forgetting that no matter what type of engineering solution they try in good faith to come up with, this is a thinking enemy and they will look for a way around it.”
While Homeland Security officials repeatedly declined to estimate the costs of a nationwide detection system, agency documents show they might spend more than a billion dollars on the cargo-screening equipment alone.
Local officials in New York are sparring with Homeland Security over a plan to immediately transfer to local and state authorities the burden of maintaining and operating the network of detection machines when it is completed within several years.
“We are concerned they will put money forward for a piece of hardware and then move to another project,” said Raymond W. Kelly, New York City’s police commissioner. He added that while the city supports the plan, he is not convinced that the proposed detection network makes sense. “Whether or not it works, whether or not it causes too many false alarms, which causes a whole other set of problems, all of these things are still to be determined,” he said.
Mr. Oxford said he is aware of the concerns about costs, which is still the subject of negotiations, and the performance of the new detection machines. But with a threat like a nuclear attack, the country cannot afford to wait until all the details are worked out, he said.
“Our philosophy is not to wait for perfection, because perfection never comes,” he said.
The Domestic Nuclear Detection Office, among the newest agencies at Homeland Security, was established in April 2005, in response to criticism that efforts to combat nuclear terrorism were too disorganized.
The office focuses on blocking two types of plots: a nuclear weapon or a dirty bomb. A nuclear attack by terrorists is considered unlikely, because of the difficulty of obtaining the required radioactive materials, such as highly enriched uranium.
The detonation of a dirty bomb is considered much more feasible. It only requires dynamite or another conventional explosive to detonate a widely available radioactive source — like the cesium or cobalt in certain medical devices. The blast might cause injuries or deaths, but the radioactive residue would cover a two- to three-block area and not pose an immediate health threat. Possible panic and economic disruption could be among the most serious consequences, experts say.
The Securing the Cities detection network, as the New York experiment is called, is intended to stop a nuclear or radiological threat as far away from a city as possible. “Detecting it in the core of Manhattan is too late,” Mr. Oxford said.
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The network would most likely include truck inspection stations along highways approaching New York, which would be equipped with radiation detection devices, agency budget documents say. Devices might also be installed at highway tollbooths and at spots where rail, boat and subway traffic could be monitored.
The detection equipment, some of which would be mobile, would be electronically connected and monitored so if a suspicious vehicle passed one spot without being stopped, it might be intercepted after passing another detector.
Some New York agencies already have a limited supply of radiation detection equipment, but the new system would be much more extensive and go much further outside the city.
Mr. Kelly said that the city would, at least initially, use any new detection equipment to screen vehicles heading into Lower Manhattan. The project would complement a city program to install cameras, license plate readers and devices that can block vehicle traffic, creating a “ring of steel” around the financial district.
The actual design of the Homeland Security system and the protocols for how responses to alarms will be handled, are still being negotiated by federal officials and authorities in New York City, New Jersey, Connecticut and New York state.
Benn H. Tannenbaum, a physicist and nuclear terrorism expert at the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington, said the system would never create anything close to an impenetrable barrier, particularly for a nuclear bomb, since the required ingredients have low levels of radioactivity and can easily be shielded. But the project still might be worthwhile, he said. “If nothing else, it makes the terrorist think twice before they do something like this,” he said.
Ms. O’Toole, the former Department of Energy official, pointed to Homeland Security’s BioWatch program, set up in about 30 cities in 2003 to monitor the air for a possible biological attack.
The equipment was installed quickly, but there was no detailed plan in place for how to respond to positive alarms, which meant three weeks of confusion among Houston authorities in October 2003, after tularemia, a naturally occurring pathogen, was discovered. “There is this disconnect between these grand schemes for technology and reality,” Ms. O’Toole said.
Laura S. H. Holgate, vice president at the Nuclear Threat Initiative, a Washington-based research group, said the government should put far more energy into a global effort to prevent nuclear materials from getting into the hands of terrorists.
The testing planned on Staten Island at the New York Container Terminal is intended to police concerns about false alarms.
Three sets of new types of detection machines have been installed there. For the first time, such machines sound an alarm when something radioactive passes through, and simultaneously identify the radioactive isotope. That allows officials to distinguish between innocuous items that can emit low levels of radiation, such as granite or kitty litter, and real threats.
Officials at the Government Accountability Office and some members of Congress are concerned that Homeland Security is moving too quickly to buy the new machines. Initial tests have shown them to be not much more effective than existing machines that are a fraction of the cost.
“We know this system is going to be expensive,” said Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, an independent from Connecticut and chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee. “We need to be sure it will perform as promised.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Wolves, Dogs and other canines
on: February 09, 2007, 10:47:16 AM
NY Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/02/09/world/europe/09dogfight.html?th&emc=th
MOSCOW, Feb. 8 — The two opponents padded and paced on a snowcovered basketball court, waiting for their fight to begin.
Viktor Korotayev for The New York Times
A dogfighting tourney was held at a sanitarium in the Tula region.
They were adult Central Asian wolf dogs in the middleweight class. (Crafty: In the picture, both dogs look like Akitas) Both were undefeated in a combined 42 appearances in Russia’s fighting-dog rings. Each weighed more than 100 pounds.
The referee gave the sign. Their trainers released them. The dogs growled, lunged and met, locking jaws on each other’s faces. They began pulling and twisting, each trying to force the other to the snow.
About 150 people lined the fences to watch. The most intense matchup of the fourth stage of the all-Russian dogfighting championship, held in a forest region well south of Moscow, had begun.
Dogfighting is prohibited in much of the West, and animal rights advocates have long wished to have it banned in Russia and the rest of the former Soviet world, labeling it a cruel and a bloody diversion for gamblers and thugs. They have succeeded in Moscow, where the fights are forbidden by mayoral decree.
But throughout Central Asia and the Caucasus, and extending to the outskirts of Russia’s capital, a form of the sport has thrived, cementing local legitimacy and gaining new followers since the Soviet Union’s collapse 15 years ago. It has also returned to Afghanistan, where it was forbidden during the Taliban’s rule.
The sport involves massive, thick-headed breeds, including Central Asian shepherd dogs and Caucasian ovcharka, bred by livestock herders across the continent to defend sheep and cattle in the mountains and on the steppe. Collectively the dogs are called volkodavs, the wolf-killers.
The All-Russian Association of Russian Volkodavs, which sponsors a national fighting championship and participates in fights in other nations, claims to have more than 1,000 breeders among its members and another 1,000 owners who enter dogs in fights.
It holds tournaments almost openly, and has enough fans to support a glossy magazine, a Web site and an annual championship tournament.
Its members brush aside criticism as ill-informed and superficial, saying the sport has roots in traditional contests in which shepherds tested their work dogs and celebrated their stamina and wolf-fighting skills. The also insist that their tournaments, unlike secretive fights with pit bulls and other fighting breeds, never involve contests to the death, and that the dogs are rarely injured seriously.
“Only people who have not seen it, and do not understand it, dislike this,” said Stanislav Mikhailov, the association’s president, as owners gathered recently for the latest tourney, held in a sanitarium in the Tula region, in the forest south of Moscow.
This event was at once open and partly closed. The fans streamed in. But one Western and three Russian journalists were admitted on condition that the sanitarium’s location not be disclosed, out of fear of vandalism or protests by opponents of the fights. In the Caucasus and in Asia, dog owners said, such precautions are not necessary.
In the ring the fight continued. The dogs tugged each other in tight circles by their snouts and then broke free, snarled and attacked again. Sometimes they rose up, pressing for leverage with forepaws while driving forward on hind legs and seeking a purchase for their bared teeth.
Their handlers crouched beside them, shouting encouragement.
One dog, a reddish-tan shepherd’s dog called Sarbai, took an early advantage. He weighed about 135 pounds, at least 30 pounds more than his foe. “Good boy, Sarbai!” his handler shouted. “Bite him well! Work!”
Sarbai wagged the stump of his clipped tail.
His opponent, Jack, had a slightly crooked left rear leg, which his owner said had been broken when he was hit by a car five years ago. He could not match Sarbai’s strength. But he was quick. He refused to submit. As he yielded ground, he clamped onto Sarbai several times, sometimes biting the larger dog’s neck, sometimes lunging for his legs.
While most of the day’s more than 10 matches drew little blood, this one was different. Jack and Sarbai tore each other’s mouths with the first bites. Blood flowed, staining the dogs’ faces and flanks.
They fought for about 15 minutes as a light snow fell. Eventually the pace slowed until the dogs, exhausted, at last stood almost motionless, tongues out. The referee signaled for rest. The first round was a draw.
The legality of such spectacles is unclear. Russia’s criminal code includes a statute forbidding cruelty to animals, but to date, animal rights advocates and dog breeders agree, it has not been used against volkodav fights.
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The statute’s language is vague, and Elena Maruyeva, director of the Vita Center for Animal Rights Protection, a private organization in Moscow, said the government did not interpret it broadly. “In practice it is very, very hard to prosecute a person under this law,” she said.
Sarbai, with his trainer, Aleksandr Fedyakin, is a 135-pound shepherd’s dog that took part in the recent tournament in a forest area south of Moscow.
Between rounds of the fight between Sarbai and Jack, another dog, Khattab, above, extended his undefeated record.
The dog owners say that because the fights are not forbidden, they are allowed. They note that government officials know about the tourneys, and the association publicizes the results. Fans also sell plainly labeled videos of the fights.
“We are a semi-open organization,” said Yuri Yevgrashin, the chief referee for the day’s events.
Whatever its official status, the sport appears to be under no significant threat. Ms. Maruyeva and an official at another of the principal animal protection organizations in Moscow said that so far, they had not pushed for bans on wolf dog fighting. Instead, they hope for other measures, like restrictions on the breeding of attack dogs, registration of wolf dog breeders and enacting standards for their care.
On the court, the second round began. The dogs locked jaws and began tumbling against snow banks. Jack still would not quit. The momentum seemed to turn. Could the smaller dog win?
“I am with you, Jack!” a red-faced man screamed, holding a plastic up of vodka. But the second round ended like the first — with two exhausted dogs.
Under the association’s rules, dogs are sorted into two classes for age and weight. They are juniors until age two and a half, when they are classified as adults. Middleweights must weigh less than 62 kilos, about 136 pounds. Any dog larger is a heavyweight.
The largest, weighing roughly 200 pounds, are not highly regarded. “They are too slow,” Mr. Yevgrashin said.
Each fight lasts until one dog shows fear or pain — by dropping its tail, squeaking, whimpering, refusing to fight or snapping its jaws defensively, all grounds for instant disqualification. There is no scoring. There are only winners and losers or, in fights that continue for three rounds without an animal yielding, draws.
Sometimes the outcome is clear within a minute. Other times, fights last more than 45 minutes. A veterinarian is always on hand, Mr. Mikhailov and Mr. Yevgrashin said.
Between Sarbai and Jack’s rounds, other dogs fought. One was called Koba, the nickname used by Stalin. He won.
Another was named Khattab, after a Jordanian-born terrorist who fought in Afghanistan, Tajikistan and Chechnya before Russia’s intelligence service killed him with a poison-soaked letter in 2002. He won, too, in the junior middleweight class, extending his undefeated record to eight wins.
Many dogfights in Russia are said to be tainted, with steroid-swelled dogs, or animals smeared with wolf fat to confuse or intimidate their foes, or dogs’ mouths injected with Novocain to make them fight without hesitation. But Edgar Grigorian, Khattab’s owner, said that at this level the matches were clean.
“We are adamantly against cheating,” he said. “I can always tell a dirty dog in a fight, and a good judge will always see it.”
Mr. Grigorian and several other breeders and association members said that there was no prize money, but that successful fighters were used to sire puppies, which could sell for more than $500 each.
In two days at the sanitarium, no admission fee was charged and no gambling was visible, although the breeders said there might be some private side bets.
The previous night, owners and fans had gathered in the sanitarium to celebrate their sport. Behind a hotel room door, a huge dog guarded a metal bowl of meat. When Mr. Yevgrashin opened the door, the dog stared at a stranger and growled.
Mr. Yevgrashin closed the door. Shamil Dotdayev, who sells videotapes of fights and copies of his book, “Caucasian Volkodavs,” reflected on the tournament ahead.
The fights, he said, help preserve breeds with ancient roots in Central Asian and Caucasus life and with a continuing utility in food production. The dogs that succeed, he said, are an essential part of this hard, canine lot — the pack leaders.
Animal rights groups disagree. They say the breeding system rewards the attributes needed for fighting, which are narrower than those for guarding a livestock herd or leading a pack.
Mr. Dotdayev admitted that his interests were broader. He poured shots of vodka and said that dogfighting had an almost irresistible draw, and that studying fighting dogs can become a shepherd’s or mountain man’s obsession.
“The dogs teach us,” he said. “You cannot look at a dog and tell who it is. The dog is on the inside, not on the outside. It is in his spirit.”
“It is the same with people,” he added, and lifted his glass.
On the basketball court, Jack and Sarbai were led back for a third round.
Sarbai quickly pulled Jack to the snow. Each time Jack escaped he was pinned anew, until he was spent and began to snap his jaws, signaling defeat. His tournament was over. Sarbai advanced to the next round.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Intel Matters
on: February 09, 2007, 08:44:14 AM
From today's NY Slimes:
y DAVID S. CLOUD and MARK MAZZETTI
Published: February 9, 2007
WASHINGTON, Feb. 8 — A Pentagon investigation into the handling of prewar intelligence has criticized civilian Pentagon officials for conducting their own intelligence analysis to find links between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda, but said the officials did not violate any laws or mislead Congress, according to Congressional officials who have read the report.
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The Reach of War
Go to Complete Coverage » The long-awaited report by the Pentagon’s acting inspector general, Thomas F. Gimble, was sent to Congress on Thursday. It is the first major review to rebuke senior officials working for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld for the way intelligence was used before the invasion of Iraq early in 2003.
Working under Douglas J. Feith, who at the time was under secretary of defense for policy, the group “developed, produced and then disseminated alternative intelligence assessments on the Iraq and Al Qaeda relationship, which included some conclusions that were inconsistent with the consensus of the Intelligence Community, to senior decision-makers,” the report concluded. Excerpts were quoted by Senator Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat who has long been critical of Mr. Feith and other Pentagon officials.
The report, and the dueling over its conclusions, shows that bitter divisions over the handling of prewar intelligence remain even after many of the substantive questions have been laid to rest and the principal actors have left the government.
In a rebuttal to an earlier draft of Mr. Gimble’s report, Eric S. Edelman, the under secretary of defense, said the group’s activities were authorized by Mr. Rumsfeld and his deputy, Paul D. Wolfowitz. They did not produce formal intelligence assessments, and they were properly shared, the rebuttal said.
In a statement issued Thursday, Mr. Feith, who left the Pentagon in 2005, made similar points. Mr. Rumsfeld did not respond to telephone messages seeking comment.
According to Congressional officials, Mr. Feith’s statement and the policy office’s rebuttal, the report concluded that none of the Pentagon’s activities were illegal and that they did not violate Defense Department directives.
But the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia, said in a statement that because the inspector general considered the work of Mr. Feith’s group to be “intelligence activities,” the committee would investigate whether the Pentagon violated the National Security Act of 1947 by failing to notify Congress about the group’s work.
Senator Levin, who is chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, called the report a “very strong condemnation” of the Pentagon’s activities.
“I think they sought this kind of intelligence. They made it clear they wanted any kind of possible connections, no matter how skimpy, and they got it,” he said.
Mr. Feith and other officials in his Pentagon office have been accused by critics of the administration of distorting intelligence data to justify the invasion of Iraq. When Democrats were in the minority in Congress, Mr. Levin conducted an inquiry and issued a report excoriating Mr. Feith and others at the Pentagon for their conduct.
The conclusions the Pentagon team reached in the year or so before the invasion of Iraq have been generally known for some time and were largely discredited by the Sept. 11 commission, which found “no evidence” that contacts between the Iraqi government and Al Qaeda “ever developed into a collaborative operational relationship.”
According to Mr. Levin, the inspector general’s report did not make any specific recommendations, and he said that interagency coordination “will significantly reduce the opportunity for the inappropriate conduct of intelligence activities outside of intelligence channels.”
The Senate Intelligence Committee, meanwhile, is completing work on its own investigation into the use of intelligence by policy makers in the months before the Iraq war. Under Republican leadership, it had delayed an examination of Mr. Feith’s activities pending the outcome of the inspector general’s report.
The Pentagon’s rebuttal vehemently rejected the report’s contention that there was “inappropriate” use of intelligence by Pentagon civilians and said the effort to identify links between Saddam Hussein’s government and Al Qaeda was done at the direction of Mr. Wolfowitz, who was deputy defense secretary at the time.
Describing the work as a “fresh, critical look” at intelligence agency conclusions about Al Qaeda and Iraq, the Pentagon rebuttal said, “It is somewhat difficult to understand how activities that admittedly were lawful and authorized (in this case by either the secretary of defense or the deputy secretary of defense) could nevertheless be characterized as ‘inappropriate.’ ”
The Feith operation dates to shortly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, when the Pentagon established a small team of civilians to sift through existing intelligence with the aim of finding possible links between terror networks and governments. Bush administration officials contended that intelligence agencies were ignoring reports of collaboration between Iraq and Al Qaeda.
By the summer of 2002, the group, whose membership evolved over time, was aimed at identifying links between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein’s government in Iraq.
The inspector general’s report criticizes a July 25, 2002, memo, written by an intelligence analyst detailed to Mr. Feith’s office, titled, “Iraq and al-Qaida: Making the Case.”
The memo said that, while “some analysts have argued” that Osama bin Laden would not cooperate with secular Arab entities like Iraq, “reporting indicates otherwise.”
The inspector general concluded that the memo constituted an “alternative intelligence assessment” from that given by the Central Intelligence Agency and other intelligence agencies and that it led to a briefing on links between Al Qaeda and Iraq that was given to senior Bush administration officials in August 2002, according to excerpts of the draft inspector general report quoted by Mr. Edelman.
It is not clear whether the inspector general revised his report after receiving the rebuttal.
The draft inspector general report said Mr. Feith’s office should have followed intelligence agency guidelines for registering differing views, “in those rare instances where consensus could not be reached.”
In his statement Thursday, Mr. Feith said he was pleased that the inspector general had cleared him of violating laws or Defense Department policies, but he called it “wrong” and “bizarre” for the report to criticize civilian officials for scrutinizing intelligence agency conclusions and passing along their findings to senior officials.
Mr. Feith also said that the inspector general’s findings reflected “confusion about the way policy and intelligence officials relate to one another in the real world.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Mexico-US matters
on: February 09, 2007, 08:38:14 AM
By RANDAL C. ARCHIBOLD
Published: February 9, 2007
LOS ANGELES, Feb. 8 — Three illegal immigrants were shot to death, three were wounded and others were missing Thursday near Tucson after gunmen accosted them as they traveled north from the Mexican border, the authorities said.
The shootings came a day after gunmen in ski masks and carrying assault-style rifles robbed 18 people who had illegally crossed the border 70 miles to the south, near Sasabe. On Jan. 28 a man driving illegal immigrants from the border several miles from the scene of Thursday’s killings was ambushed and shot to death as the immigrants fled.
The federal and local authorities were investigating whether the spate of shootings was related.
Illegal immigrants crossing the Mexican border often encounter bandits, armed civilian patrols and rival smugglers bent on robbing or stopping them.
The violence has been particularly acute in Arizona, which in recent years has become the busiest crossing area for illegal immigrants.
The latest shooting appeared to be the work of bandits, law enforcement officials said, though they said they had not ruled anything out.
Investigators were still piecing together what had happened, but they said they believed that the gunmen had opened fire on the travelers, apparently all from Guatemala, about 7 a.m. along a known smuggling route in a remote area near a mine 20 miles northwest of Tucson.
Their pickup truck crashed, and two of the immigrants, a young man and a teen-age girl, were found inside, dead from gunshot wounds, said Alonzo Peña, the agent in charge of Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Arizona.
The gunmen forced the other immigrants into another vehicle and left, dropping off the wounded, including one person found dead later, along their way, Mr. Peña said. The others who were left were a woman with a gunshot wound in the neck, a 15-year-old girl and a man shot in the fingers.
The man with the hand wound hiked to a nearby mine, and workers there helped him call the police.
Mr. Peña said the authorities were trying to determine how many had been in the group of immigrants and how many were still missing. He said it appeared the smuggler driving the illegal immigrants and a guide had either escaped or were among the group taken captive.
The Associated Press, quoting officials of the Pima County Sheriff’s Department, said six or seven immigrants had left with the gunmen.
“There have been similar cases where undocumented migrants have been taken to a location and relatives in Mexico contacted and extortion took place,” Rick Kastigar, the criminal investigations chief for the sheriff’s department, told The A.P.
Mr. Peña said the increase in border security in the past year, including scores of additional Border Patrol agents assisted by National Guard troops, had prompted more immigrants to employ smugglers commanding ever higher prices.
The going rate is about $3,000, or higher for trips from Central America, for a guide to lead immigrants by foot across the Mexican border or in a vehicle, usually through treacherous terrain.
Some smuggling rings, rather than risk capture at the border, have chosen to rob rivals, leading to violence.
“Smugglers look at them as a commodity, a product, and in some cases they would rather rip off a load and try to extort money instead of taking the risk to smuggle,” Mr. Peña said.
The Border Patrol’s Tucson sector has reported that arrests of illegal aliens dropped 11 percent last year and is down 9 percent since October compared with the previous year. Officials at the agency have attributed the decline to additional manpower and newly installed fencing, cameras and sensors deterring crossers, though advocates for immigrants suggest that traffic may have shifted elsewhere.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Evolutionary biology/psychology
on: February 09, 2007, 08:31:11 AM
Today's NY Times:
Our ancestors have arrived at the American Museum of Natural History. They are very old, and we are only beginning to recognize them and ourselves in them. They remind us of our origins long ago and how we have emerged as modern humans in the fullness of time.
The museum’s new permanent exhibition on human origins, which opens tomorrow, merges notable achievements in paleontology and genetics, sciences that have made their own robust evolutionary strides in recent years. Each introduces evidence supporting the other in establishing a genealogy extending back to protohuman species that arose in Africa from earlier primates some six to seven million years ago.
These two scientific threads run through the exhibition like the strands of the DNA double helix.
Ellen V. Futter, the museum’s president, said the “mutually reinforcing evidence” was organized in the exhibition to address three fundamental questions: Where did we come from? Who are we? And what lies ahead for us?
Turn right at the entrance of the new installation, the Anne and Bernard Spitzer Hall of Human Origins, and you see paleontology’s side of the story. More than 200 casts of prehuman and human fossils and artifacts illustrate stages in physical and behavioral evolution. Four life-size tableaus depict scenes in the lives of human predecessors, the realism stamped by the presence of pesky flies on their shoulders.
Some of the most striking displays are reconstructions from fossil and other evidence of what these ancestors probably looked like. Museum scientists and technicians have recreated the faces and bodies of the famous Lucy skeleton and Neanderthals — even the controversial Hobbits, the tiny specimens of what may be a previously unknown extinct species found recently in Indonesia.
The reconstruction of Turkana Boy is especially evocative. Based on one of the most complete ancestral skeletons ever excavated, the fleshed-out Homo ergaster, a species that lived in Africa 1.9 to 1.4 million years ago, is almost six feet tall, with a body form remarkably like that of modern humans.
“The fossils on which the reconstructions are based are witnesses to a dynamic history,” said Ian Tattersall, a paleoanthropologist at the museum and co-curator of the exhibition. “Now we have a much larger story to tell, with the addition of what we are learning from molecular biology.”
Bear left in the hall, and there is the sign “DNA Tells Us About Human Origins.” Below are three tubes containing particles of DNA in a milky white solution. The samples are not particularly impressive, until you think that this is the stuff of encoded information shaping an entire organism and the material that has transformed the study of genetics, or genomics, and revealed the place of humans in the rest of life.
One of the vials holds human DNA, and another a chimpanzee’s. The analysis of their genetic material has confirmed what comparative anatomy predicted, showing that human DNA is 98.8 percent identical to that of chimps and bonobos, our closest living relatives. And our DNA is, on average, 96 percent identical to our most distant primate kin, some of which are mounted on the wall.
The third vial contains a DNA sample from a 40,000-year-old Neanderthal, the extinct close cousin of Homo sapiens. The discovery of a Neanderthal skull in 1856 led to the recognition that different kinds of humans once lived on Earth. This rare DNA specimen, on display in this country for the first time, was donated by the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig, Germany, the first laboratory to succeed in extracting the genetic material from Neanderthal bones.
Standing nearby are the skeletons of a chimpanzee, a Neanderthal and a modern human, and stations with interactive electronic displays are ready, at the touch of a screen, to explain the differences and similarities between the bones, brains and DNA of the three species.
Other computer animations offer insights into how scientists decode the hereditary information, how it is transmitted through generations, and how mutations of mitochondrial DNA, the traits inherited through the mother’s lineage, reveal relationships through time and migrations. A video of a “tree of life” changes before your eyes, like a kaleidoscope, showing the branching interrelationships among 479 species.
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Rob DeSalle, the exhibition’s other curator and a molecular biologist at the museum, said genomics is leading to the discovery of “the history between other species and humans and the relationships of humans to each other.”
The genetics side of the exhibition is not as visually compelling as the fossils and reconstructed life in other sections. Plan to invest more time with the interactive displays and videos, which convey the truly new contributions to understanding the science of human evolution and the complexity and connectivity of life.
The Hall of Human Origins occupies the galleries of its predecessor, the Hall of Human Biology and Evolution, which had its opening 12 years ago, before many of the advances in genomics and a number of major fossil discoveries. That exhibition closed in September 2005 to make way for its more up-to-date replacement, supported by a gift from the Spitzers, the parents of Gov. Eliot Spitzer of New York.
Some of the cast of fossil characters may be familiar to regular museum visitors, but they have been revitalized in new settings. For example, the Australopithecus couple that left tracks walking 3.5 million years ago across a plain at Laetoli, Tanzania, appear here. The surprise is that they are so small, no more than three feet tall. Yet the discovery of their footprints was the first clear evidence that prehumans were walking upright well before they made tools.
In the habitat displays, two Homo ergasters butcher a carcass and fight off a vulture and a jackal trying to steal the meat, and a Homo erectus, Peking Man, crouches and is about to be pounced on by a hyena. The curators said these were reminders that early human ancestors were prey rather than predator for much of their history.
Toward the back of the gallery, the cultural aspects of evolution are illustrated. An exact reproduction of the painted animals from the cave art at Lascaux in France stretches across the wall. Other displays include a replica of a 75,000-year-old piece of ochre decorated with geometric patterns, a recent discovery in South Africa and one of the earliest examples of symbolic thinking and creativity in modern humans. In this context the exhibition reviews the elements that make humans different from other life: tool use, language, music and writing, as well as art and other forms of creative expression.
Off in a side room, the Spitzer Hall has an educational laboratory with microscopes and laptops ready for visitors, guided by instructors, to try their hands at examining fossils and learning how to decode DNA. The lab is designed with young people and student groups in mind, but anyone is free to experience something of what it is like to delve into the human past. Elsewhere a multimedia bulletin board offers news of the latest developments in research into the human past.
One issue cannot be entirely sidestepped in any public presentation of human evolution: that many people in this country doubt and vocally oppose the very concept. In a corner of the hall, several scientists are shown in video interviews professing the compatibility of their evolution research with their religious beliefs.
Standing nearby at the end of a tour of the exhibition, Michael J. Novacek, a paleontologist and the museum’s senior vice president, said that a previous show on Darwin had been a reassuring test case. The exhibition was popular, he said, and provoked “very little negative response.”
Dr. Novacek said the new hall was “an emphatic statement about the theory of evolution and its power to tell us our origins and history.”
“We emphasize that a scientific theory is an argument that is very carefully tested against scientific evidence,” he continued, “and this one has withstood much scrutiny.”
The modern human capacity for symbolic and creative expression has brought forth different narratives to explain where we came from, drawn from myth, religion and pre-Darwin science. The exhibition’s parallel lines of fossil and molecular evidence have the cumulative effect of solidifying the foundation for the more recent scientific narrative of human evolution.
There are still many gaps in knowledge, and unsolved mysteries. But seeing ourselves in the train of preceding species, we also recognize the degree of our separation from other animals, even our earliest ancestors. Only modern Homo sapiens in our time could present with such newfound authority the epic narrated through the museum’s Hall of Human Origins.
The Anne and Bernard Spitzer Hall of Human Origins will open tomorrow at the American Museum of Natural History, Central Park West and 79th Street. Museum hours: daily, 10 a.m. to 5:45 p.m. (to 8:45 p.m. on Fridays). Suggested museum admission: $14; $10.50 for students and 60+; $8 for children 2 to 12; free for members. (212) 769-5100 or (212) 769-5200; amnh.org.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Russia mediates US-Iran?
on: February 09, 2007, 08:07:56 AM
Geopolitical Diary: Russia as the U.S.-Iranian Mediator?
Former Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati met with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday, reportedly to deliver a message from President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Velayati, a former chief diplomat, has not embarked on a diplomatic mission in years; bilateral meetings of such a nature are usually handled by Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki or national security chief Ali Larijani.
Velayati has a close relationship with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei that goes back to 1981, when Khamenei was president and Velayati became foreign minister. Though Khamenei initially appointed him as prime minister, Velayati failed to secure parliamentary approval. But for the past several years, Velayati has been Khamenei's adviser on international affairs.
Velayati's sudden return to the diplomatic arena, especially when U.S.-Iranian dealings over Iraq are reaching an impasse, is a sign that Khamenei has decided to directly take over foreign policy matters. It also means the executive branch has been asked to confine itself to the more mundane matters of governance.
This is why it is Velayati who has been dispatched on a special mission involving Russia. Moscow has been able to mediate between the United States and Iran -- a role the Kremlin thinks will help it to advance its own interests. The Russians have offered to help the United States get out of Iraq if Washington cuts back in its support of anti-Moscow elements in Ukraine. Such mediating also gives Russia an enormous amount of international clout.
Aware that the Iraq issue cannot be solved without Iranian help, and knowing that directly dealing with Tehran is not something that will sit well domestically for the Bush administration, Washington has likely taken Russia up on the offer. That said, there is another critical issue that weighs heavily in the U.S. decision to accept Russia as a go-between -- Moscow has recently sold the TOR-M1 anti-aircraft missile system to Iran.
Tehran and the Kremlin are also negotiating the sale of the Russian S300 missile. This is something the United States does not want to see realized because these missiles would make it difficult for U.S. warplanes to conduct airstrikes against Iran, should Washington ever take the military option in dealing with Iran.
The Iranians have been preparing for negotiations with the United States for quite some time, but since they are having difficulty in getting Washington to cooperate, Tehran is only too happy to see Russia help out; but the Iranians have not only been working with Russia.
Earlier this week during a visit to Iran, Abdel-Aziz al-Hakim, the head of Iraq's ruling Shiite coalition, said U.S.-Iranian dialogue on Iraq is critical. It should be noted that al-Hakim is not just the most pro-Iranian of all Iraqi Shiite leaders, he also is Washington's closest Iraqi Shiite partner.
The Iranians also have been working with their rivals. In January Tehran began significant negotiations with the Saudis and even reportedly sought Riyadh's assistance in getting the Bush administration to the negotiating table. Saudi national security chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan visited Tehran a few days after Larijani traveled to Riyadh.
Larijani, who also reports directly to Khamenei, will attend the Munich Conference on Security Policy on Feb. 9-11 in Germany. World leaders including Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates will also be in attendance. Larijani said Thursday that he will be holding talks with several Western officials. Since Gates dealt with the Iranians during the Iran-Contra affair in the 1980s and also was involved in the Iraq Study Group that recommended that Washington approach Iran diplomatically on Iraq, a Gates-Larijani discussion on the sidelines of the conference is not out of the question, though it likely would be through middlemen.
Regardless of what happens in Munich, it appears as though a serious and complex diplomatic game involving the United States and Iran is under way.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Legal issues
on: February 08, 2007, 07:39:44 PM
ENSIGN, MURKOWSKI INTRODUCE BILL TO SPLIT NINTH CIRCUIT
Court’s Enormous Size, Inability to Handle Caseload Top Concerns
February 8, 2007
Washington, D.C. – Senators John Ensign (NV) and Lisa Murkowski (AK) introduced legislation today to split the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, the largest court in the country, because it is overburdened by an unmanageable caseload. Under this bill, Nevada, along with Alaska, Arizona, Idaho, Oregon, Montana and Washington, would be part of a new Twelfth Circuit.
“Because of its enormous and growing size, the Ninth Circuit does not have sufficient time to properly handle its caseload,” said Ensign. “For too long, people’s lives have been on hold because the Ninth Circuit is strained beyond its capacity. Justice delayed is justice denied.”
“The Ninth Circuit has become a circuit where justice is not swift and not always served,” said Senator Murkowski. “The legislation we are introducing today is intended to bring about the sensible reorganization of the Ninth Circuit. No one court can effectively exercise its power in an area that extends from the Arctic Circle to the tropics. The creation of a new Twelfth Circuit will go far in improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the current court and will establish a circuit which is more geographically manageable.”
“The sheer size of the Ninth Circuit makes its caseload simply unmanageable,” said Senator Ted Stevens, an original co-sponsor of the legislation. “This inevitably results in delays processing cases, and it also prevents the Court from dealing with unique problems in Alaska, Hawaii, and other small states. This legislation will remedy the Ninth Circuit’s limitations by creating two smaller, more efficient Courts. Separate courts will serve the people of each region better and help maintain consistency in caselaw.”
It takes the Ninth Circuit on average almost one year longer to handle a case when compared to other circuit courts around the country. Located in San Francisco, the court encompasses 20 percent of the population of the United States. Three of the states in its jurisdiction – Nevada, Arizona and Idaho – are among the top five fastest-growing states in the nation.
In addition to the size constraints, Ensign also raised concern over the San Francisco court’s ideological leaning, citing specifically the ruling that the Pledge of Allegiance is unconstitutional because it contains the phrase “under God.”
“Despite the need for an independent judiciary outside of the political arena, many of the court’s rulings reflect a set of values that are at odds with a majority of the people in Nevada. I’m hopeful that this bill will move forward so that Nevada residents are served by a court with a viewpoint closer to their own,” Ensign added.
DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Re: Mexico
on: February 08, 2007, 06:37:40 PM
Global Market Brief: In Mexico, Calderon's Do-or-Die Task
February 08, 2007 20 21 GMT
Mexican President Felipe Calderon on Feb. 5 announced plans to revise and modernize the Mexican Constitution. Speaking at a ceremony commemorating the anniversary of Mexico's current constitution, Calderon established that, in order to make the Mexican system more flexible and efficient, he is seeking to renovate the charter outright instead of following the usual practice of making piecemeal reforms.
Though Calderon has not offered additional details as to how he intends to launch constitutional reform, the opposition Democratic Revolutionary Party -- the party of his chief election rival Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador -- currently supports the president's plans for a full redraft. That is, with one exception: that the changes do not include the privatization of the electricity sector or state-run oil giant Petroleos Mexicanos (Pemex).
Although he entered office with a weak to nonexistent mandate, Calderon has done nearly everything right to solidify his position.
Calderon's first success occurred even before he took office -- a result of him (wisely) doing nothing. Between Calderon's election and inauguration, Lopez Obrador staged a constant series of strikes and protests that snarled political life throughout the country and economic life in Mexico City. Lopez Obrador's actions also had the twin side effects of alienating him from his own party and giving the Institutional Revolutionary Party and Calderon's National Action Party (PAN) something in common: annoyance with Lopez Obrador. All three major parties are now at the very least on speaking terms with one another, something that seemed impossible six months ago.
Among Calderon's first acts as president was moving decisively against anarchists in Oaxaca, restoring order to a city that had been embroiled in chaos for months. He also deployed regular army troops to a number of cities that either are under the de facto control of drug lords or are experiencing open battles among those drug lords for control. Neither problem has been resolved -- and will not be resolved under the current plan -- but there is a widely accepted perception at least that the problem is being addressed in a respectable way. The political capital Calderon has racked up for his efforts have strengthened his hand among his core supporters as well as Mexico's political center.
He also has departed from his ideological preferences to reach out to Mexico's left. For the past two months Mexico has suffered from a shortage of corn, partially as a result of the United States' newfound fascination with ethanol. As Americans become obsessed with establishing non-Middle East energy options, huge amounts of corn are being sucked into a growing ethanol industry. That growth has sucked Mexican corn across the border, resulting in higher food prices in Mexico -- particularly for corn tortillas, a defining staple of the Mexican diet. After first pledging his loyalty to market principles, Calderon correctly read the political winds and forced state stores to lower prices at the retail level while leaning on private bakeries to lower the wholesale price.
The net result of all this has been a surge in Calderon's popularity. As of Feb. 6 he stood at 58 percent approval across the political spectrum, making the president perhaps the most powerful leader Mexico has had in generations.
He will need that power for his chosen task.
Mexico, like many other developing economies, has found itself heavily dependent on a single commodity for its economic well-being: oil. Mexico's economic strength and social stability correlate closely with oil prices. Globalization and membership in the North American Free Trade Agreement have certainly helped Mexico's economy diversify away from such dependence, but oil monies remain the central factor in determining government spending -- currently making up about 40 percent of government income.
Yet Mexico's energy industry is failing. Roughly three-quarters of its oil output comes from a single field, Cantarell, which is now past maturity. Consequently, Mexico's oil output peaked at 3.8 million barrels per day in 2005, and is expected to decline incrementally for the foreseeable future. Specifically, the government now expects Cantarell to suffer a 14.5 percent reduction in output in 2007 alone. Mexico's reserves are similarly shrinking as the state has not invested sufficiently in fresh exploration efforts -- particularly in the technologically challenging and capital-intensive offshore.
Mexico faces two huge obstacles if it is to reverse this decline. First, the national government has to break its addiction to oil money. As long as Congress siphons off the bulk of state energy monopoly Pemex's revenues for its own use, Pemex will never be able to afford to invest in technology, exploration and fresh production.
Second, there needs to be a realization across Mexico that Pemex -- even with access to more money -- faces a challenge it cannot overcome alone. Pemex has been the government's cash cow for decades, and as such has never been able to catch up with the world's energy supermajors in terms of technical skill. Rectifying that problem is not a multi-year process, but a multi-decade one. And since Mexico does not have decades to fix the problem, Pemex itself has become the leading voice for diversifying the country's energy sector to allow for the participation of foreign firms (in a highly controlled way, of course).
That, to say the least, is a thorny issue. Just as social security reform is the third rail in U.S. politics, liberalizing the energy sector is Mexico's. Mexicans see their oil as a birthright, and have traditionally refused to even entertain the notion that any foreigner -- and particularly the Americans who import 85 percent of Mexico's exports -- should hold any interest in the energy complex. Because of this attitude, and the enormous powers within Pemex itself, Mexico has maintained full control of its energy -- but at the cost of both eroding oil output and creating a ball and chain on the Mexican economy. The constitutional prohibition against foreign and private involvement in energy covers not just oil, but natural gas and electricity as well. Mexico not only suffers from regular power crunches, but also is in the truly bizarre position of importing natural gas from the United States, despite its own generous reserves.
To alter this calculus, Calderon is arguing for a constitutional change, a monumental feat by any measure. Shifting constitutional language requires the approval of two-thirds of both houses of the national Congress, as well as majority support from more than half of Mexico's state assemblies. Calderon's PAN (hardly of one mind on the issue) boasts only 206 of the lower house's 500 seats and 52 seats of the upper house's 128.
Calderon's early political victories and personal ideology make him uniquely positioned to attempt to push through such an unpopular, yet desperately needed, provision -- despite the fact that he opened his presidency on such a weak note. Yet Calderon's self-set task is certainly of the make-or-break variety.
If Calderon can pull this off -- and it is a huge "if" -- he not only will regenerate Mexico's energy fortunes, but also will establish himself as one of the most powerful Mexican leaders in history. After all, if the president can bend the entire political spectrum to his will on an issue that enflames such core nationalist passions, there will be very little that he cannot do.
However, if he fails -- and this is a far smaller "if" -- he will have lost the political equivalent of a game of chicken with an oil tanker. And even should Calderon survive such a collision, he will have spent all of his hard-won political capital on a horrifyingly public defeat -- from which his administration will never recover.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Life and Death: Part Two
on: February 08, 2007, 01:44:43 PM
I've been reading Proust's Jean Santeuil, his run-up for In Search of Lost Time, which I'd like to have time to read for a third and last time. I wonder if I shall be in the game long enough to reread Don Quixote and Herodotus and Montaigne--reread them all deeply and well, as they deserve to be read but, as always with masterworks, one suspects one failed to do the first and even second time around.
Seventy ought to concentrate the mind, as Samuel Johnson said about an appointment with the gallows on the morrow, but it doesn't--at least, it hasn't concentrated my mind. My thoughts still wander about, a good part of the time forgetting my age, lost in low-grade fantasies, walking the streets daydreaming pointlessly. (Tolstoy, in Boyhood, writes: "I am convinced that should I ever live to a ripe old age and my story keeps pace with my age, I shall daydream just as boyishly and impractically as an old man of 70 as I do now.") Despite my full awareness that time is running out, I quite cheerfully waste whole days as if I shall always have an unending supply on hand. I used to say that the minutes, hours, days, weeks, months seemed to pass at the same rate as ever, and it was only the decades that flew by. But now the days and weeks seem to flash by, too. Where once I would have been greatly disconcerted to learn that the publication of some story or essay of mine has been put off for a month or two, I no longer am: the month or two will now come around in what used to seem like a week or two.
I hope this does not suggest that, as I grow older, I am attaining anything like serenity. Although my ambition has lessened, my passions have diminished, my interests narrowed, my patience is no greater and my perspective has not noticeably widened. Only my general intellectual assurance has increased. Pascal says that under an aristocracy "it is a great advantage to have a man as far on his way at 18 or 20 years as another could be at 50; these are 30 years gained without trouble." To become the intellectual equivalent of an aristocrat in a democracy requires writing 20 or so books--and I have just completed my 19th.
Still, time, as the old newsreels had it, marches on, and the question at 70 is how, with the shot clock running, best to spend it. I am fortunate in that I am under no great financial constraints, and am able to work at what pleases me. I don't have to write to live--only to feel alive. Will my writing outlive me? I am reasonably certain that it won't, but--forgive me, Herr Schopenhauer--I keep alive the illusion that a small band of odd but immensely attractive people not yet born will find something of interest in my scribbles. The illusion, quite harmless I hope, gives me--I won't say the courage, for none is needed--but the energy to persist.
The fear of turning 70 for a writer is that he will fall too far out of step with the society that he is supposed, in essays and stories, to be chronicling. I recently wrote a book on friendship, but was I disqualified, as one or two younger reviewers politely suggested, from knowing how friendship really works among the young today? I continue to read contemporary fiction, but not with the same eagerness with which I once read the fiction written by my elders and people of my own generation. In his sixties, Edmund Wilson, describing himself as "a back-number," announced his loss of interest in much of the writing of the day. A time comes when one loses not merely interest but even curiosity about the next new thing. How intensely, at 70, must I scrutinize the work of Jack Black, Sarah Silverman, Dave Eggers, and Sacha Baron Cohen?
I have never attempted to calculate the collective age of my readers. When I am out flogging a new book, or giving a talk, the audience who come to hear me are generally quite as old as I, and some a bit older. Perhaps the young do not spend much time attending such non-events. Perhaps they feel I haven't much to say to them. I do receive a fair amount of email from younger readers--in their 20s and 30s--but many of these readers have literary aspirations of their own, and write to me seeking advice.
But the feeling of being more and more out of it begins to sink in. The news of the new movie stars, comedians, hotshot bloggers, usually comes to me a little late. My pretensions as a writer of nonfiction have been toward cultural criticism. Older men and women--Henry Kissinger, Zbigniew Brzezinski, James Baker--can stay in the foreign policy game almost unto death. But how long can a writer commenting on the culture be expected really to know the culture? In fact, there can even be something a little unseemly about writers beyond a certain age claiming to share the pleasures of the young. I recall Pauline Kael, who was 18 years older than I, once comparing a movie to "your favorite rock concert," and I thought, oh, poor baby, how embarrassing to see you whoring after youth. I much like the Internet, adore email, and probably use Google seven or eight times a day. But must I also check in on YouTube, have a posting on MySpace, and spend a portion of my day text-messaging? At 70, the temptation is to relax, breathe through the mouth, and become comfortably rear-guard.
By 70, too, one is likely to have lived through a fair amount of cultural change, so that traces of disorientation tend to set in. Chateaubriand (1768-1848), whose dates show that he lived through the ancien régime , the French Revolution, Napoleon, the Restoration, the Second Republic, and died just before the Revolution of 1848, wrote: "Nowadays one who lingers on in this world has witnessed not only the death of men, but also the death of ideas: principles, customs, tastes, pleasures, pains, feelings--nothing resembles what he used to know. He is of a different race from the human species in whose midst he is ending his days." In my youth one could go into a drugstore and confidently ask for a package of Luckies and nervously whisper one's request for condoms. Now things are precisely reversed.
I have, of course, lived through nothing so cataclysmic as Chateaubriand. But I was born on the far side of the rock 'n' roll curtain: some of that music (the less druggy Beatles songs) seems to me charming, but none of it for me is charged with real meaning. More important, I was born in a time when there still existed a national culture, so that the entire country grew up singing the same songs, watching the same movies, and, later, television shows. The crafty marketers had not yet divided the country and its culture into Kid Culture, Black Culture, and scores of other Ethnic Cultures. Something like the Ed Sullivan Show, which might have a comedian, an animal act, a tenor from the Met, a young popular singer, a foreign dance troupe, a magician--something, in short, for all the family--is no longer possible today.
I also grew up at a time when the goal was to be adult as soon as possible, while today--the late 1960s is the watershed moment here--the goal has become to stay as young as possible for as long as possible. The consequences of this for the culture are enormous. That people live longer only means that they feel they can remain kids longer: uncommitted to marriage, serious work, life itself. Adolescence has been stretched out, at least, into one's 30s, perhaps one's early 40s. At 70, I register with mild but genuine amazement that the movie director Christopher Guest's father played keyboard for the Righteous Brothers or that the essayist Adam Gopnik's parents, then graduate students, took him in their arms to the opening of the Guggenheim Museum. How can anyone possibly have parents playing keyboards or going to graduate school! Impossible!
I, of course, hope for an artistically prosperous old age, though the models here are less than numerous. Most composers were finished by their 60s. Not many novelists have turned out powerful books past 70. Matisse, who is a hero of culture, painted up to the end through great illness, though his greatest work was done long before. There are the models of Rembrandt and Yeats. Rembrandt, in his richly complex self-portraits, recorded his own aging with great success, and Yeats--"That is no country for old men"--made aging, if not Byzantium, his country: "An aged man is but a paltry thing, / A tattered coat upon a stick, unless / Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing / For every tatter in its mortal dress."
Rembrandt died at 63, Yeats at 73. I see that I had better get a move on.
Joseph Epstein is author most recently of Alexis de Tocqueville: Democracy's Guide.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Life and Death
on: February 08, 2007, 01:43:45 PM
The WEEKLY STANDARD
Kid Turns 70… And nobody cares
by Joseph Epstein
Seventy. Odd thing to happen to a five-year-old boy who, only the other day, sang "Any Bonds Today," whose mother's friends said he would be a heartbreaker for sure (he wasn't), who was popular but otherwise undistinguished in high school, who went on to the University of Chicago but long ago forgot the dates of the rule of the Thirty Tyrants in Athens and the eight reasons for the Renaissance, who has married twice and written several books, who somewhere along the way became the grandfather of three, life is but a dream, sha-boom sha-boom, 70, me, go on, whaddya, kiddin' me?
A funny age to turn, 70, and despite misgivings I have gone ahead and done it, yet with more complex thoughts than any previous birthday has brought. Birthdays have never been particularly grand events for me; my own neither please nor alarm me. I note them chiefly with gratitude for having got through another year. I have never been in any way part of the cult of youth, delighted to be taken for younger than I am, or proud that I can do lots of physical things that men my age are no longer supposed to be able to do: 26 chin-ups with gila monsters biting both my ankles. I have always thought I looked--and, as mothers used to instruct, always tried to act--my age. But now, with 70 having arrived, I notice that for the first time I am beginning to fudge, to hedge, to fib slightly, about my age. In conversation, in public appearances, I described myself as "in my late 60s," hoping, I suppose, to be taken for 67. To admit to 70 is to put oneself into a different category: to seem uncomfortably close to, not to put too fine a point on it, Old Age.
At 70 middle age is definitely--and definitively--done. A wonderful per iod, middle age, so nondescript and im precise, extending perhaps from one's late 30s to one's late 60s, it allows a person to think him- or herself simultaneously still youthful, though no longer a kid. Forty-eight, 57, 61, those middle-aged numbers suggest miles to go before one sleeps, miles filled with potential accomplishments, happy turnabouts in one's destiny, midlife crises (if one's tastes run to such extravaganzas), surprises of all kinds.
Many ski lifts at Vail and Aspen, I have been told, no longer allow senior-citizen discounts at 60, now that so many people continue skiing well into their 60s. With increased longevity, it's now thought a touch disappointing if a person dies before 85. Sixty, the style sections of the newspapers inform us, is the new 40. Perhaps. But 70--70, to ring a change on the punchline of the joke about the difference between a virgin and a German Jew--70 remains 70. One can look young for 70, one can be fit for 70, but in the end there one is, 70.
W.H. Auden, who pegged out at 66, said that while praying we ought quickly to get over the begging part and get on to the gratitude part. "Let all your thinks," he wrote, "be thanks." One can either look upon life as a gift or as a burden, and I myself happen to be a gift man. I didn't ask to be born, true enough; but really, how disappointing not to have been. I had the additional good luck of arriving in 1937, in what was soon to become the most interesting country in the world and to have lived through a time of largely unrelieved prosperity in which my particular generation danced between the raindrops of wars: a child during World War II, too young for Korea, too old for Vietnam, but old enough for the draft, which sent me for 22 months (useful as they now in retrospect seem) off to Missouri, Texas, and Arkansas. My thinks really are chiefly thanks.
As for my decay, what the French call my décomposition géneralé, it proceeds roughly on schedule, yet for the moment at a less than alarming rate. I have had a heart bypass operation. Five or so years ago, I was found to have auto-immune hepatitis, which caused me no pain, and which side-effectless drugs have long since put in remission. I am paunchless, have a respectable if not abundant amount of hair atop my head (most of it now gray, some of it turning white), retain most of my teeth (with the aid of expensive dentistry). I have so far steered clear of heart attack, dodged the altogether too various menacing cancers whirling about, and missed the wretched roll of the dice known as aneurysms. (Pause while I touch wood.) My memory for unimportant things has begun to fade, with results that thus far have been no more than mildly inconvenient. (I set aside 10 minutes or so a day to find my glasses and fountain pen.)
I have not yet acquired one of those funny walks--variants of the prostate shuffle, as I think of them--common to men in their late 60s and 70s. I am, though, due for cataract surgery. I'm beginning to find it difficult to hear women with high-pitched voices, especially in restaurants and other noisy places. And I take a sufficient number of pills--anti-this and supplement-that--to have made it necessary to acquire one of those plastic by-the-day-of-the-week pill sorters.
Suddenly, I find myself worrying in a way I never used to do about things out of the routine in my life: having to traverse major freeways and tollways to get to a speaking or social engagement. I take fewer chances, both as a driver and once intrepid jaywalker. I find myself sometimes stumbling over small bumps in the sidewalk, and in recent years have taken a couple of falls, where once I would do an entrechat and a simple pirouette--a Nureyev of the pavement--and move along smartly. I walk more slowly up and down stairs, gripping the railing going downstairs. I have, in sum, become more cautious, begun to feel, physically, more fragile, a bit vulnerable.
Sleep has become erratic. Someone not long ago asked me if I watched Charlie Rose, to which I replied that I am usually getting up for the first time when Charlie Rose goes on the air. I fall off to sleep readily enough, but two or three hours later I usually wake, often to invent impressively labyrinthine anxieties for myself to dwell upon for an hour or two before falling back into aesthetically unsatisfying dreams until six or so in the morning. Very little distinction in this, I have discovered by talking to contemporaries, especially men, who all seem to sleep poorly. But this little Iliad of woes is pretty much par for the course, if such a cliché metaphor may be permitted from a nongolfer. That I have arrived at 70 without ever having golfed is one of the facts of my biography to date of which I am most proud.
"Bodily decrepitude," says Yeats, "is wisdom." I seem to have accrued more of the former than the latter. Of wisdom generally, I haven't all that much to declare. I find myself more impressed by the mysteries of life and more certain that most of the interesting questions it poses have no persuasive answers, or at least none likely to arrive before I depart the planet. I haven't even settled the question of whether I believe in God. I try to act as if God exists--that is, the prospects of guilt and shame and the moral endorphins that good conduct brings still motivate me to act as decently as I'm able. I suffer, then, some of the fear of religion without any of the enjoyment of the hope it brings. I don't, meanwhile, have a clue about why there is suffering in the world, whether there is an afterlife, or how to explain acts of truly grand altruism or unprofitable evil. You live and you learn, the proverb has it; but in my case, You live and you yearn seems closer to it.
But then, I must report that at 70 even my yearnings are well down. I have no interest in acquiring power of any kind and fame beyond such as I now pathetically possess holds little interest for me. My writing has won no big prizes, nor do I expect it ever to do so. ("Tell them," the normally gentle and genteel 90-year-old William Maxwell said to Alec Wilkinson and another friend on the day before his death, "their f--ing honors mean nothing to me.") I am ready to settle for being known as a good writer by thoughtful people.
I would like to have enough money so that I don't have to worry, or even think, about money, but it begins to look as if I shan't achieve this, either. Rousseau spoke of feeling himself "delivered from the anxiety of hope, certain of gradually losing the anxiety of desire . . . " I've not yet lost all my desire, and suspect that to do so probably is a sign of resigning from life. Although I'm not keen on the idea of oblivion, which seems the most likely of the prospects that await, I like to think that I have become a bit less fearful of death. One of the most efficient ways to decrease this fear, I've found, is to welcome death, at least a little, and this growing older can cause one to do--or at least it has me, sometimes.
Seventy poses the problem of how to live out one's days. To reach 70 and not recognize that one is no longer living (as if one ever were) on an unlimited temporal budget is beyond allowable stupidity. The first unanswerable question at 70 is how many days, roughly, are left in what one does best to think of as one's reprieve. Unless one is under the sentence of a terminal cancer or another wasting disease, no one can know, of course; but I like the notion of the French philosopher Alain that, no matter what age one is, one should look forward to living for another decade, but no more. My mother lived to 82 and my father to 91, so I'm playing, I suppose, with decent genetic cards. Yet I do not count on them. A year or so ago, my dentist told me that I would have to spend a few thousand dollars to replace some dental work, and I told him that I would get back to him on this once I had the results of a forthcoming physical. If I had been found to have cancer, I thought, at least I could let the dentistry, even the flossing, go. Turning 70 one has such thoughts.
At 70 one encounters the standard physical diminutions. I am less than certain how old I actually look, but in a checkout line, I can now say to a young woman, "You have beautiful eyes," without her thinking I'm hitting on her. If my dashing youthful looks are gone, my intellectual and cultural stamina are also beginning to deplete. I have lost most of my interest in travel, and feel, as did Philip Larkin, that I should very much like to visit China, but only on the condition that I could return home that night.
Another diminution I begin to notice is in the realm of tact. I have less of it. I feel readier than ever before to express my perturbation, impatience, boredom. Why, with less time remaining, hold back? "I wonder," I find myself wanting to say to a fairly large number of people, "if you haven't greatly overestimated your charm?" Perhaps, though, I do better to hold off on this until I reach 80, as I hope to be able to do; it will give me something to live for.
A younger friend in California writes to me that, in a restaurant in Bel Air, Robin Williams, Emma Thompson, and Pete Townsend (of The Who, he is courteous enough to explain) walked by his table. I write back to tell him that I would have been much more impressed if Fred Astaire, Ingrid Bergman, and Igor Stravinsky had done so. My longing to meet Robin Williams, Emma Thompson, and Pete Townsend is roughly the same, I should guess, as their longing to meet me.
I don't much mind being mildly out of it, just as I don't finally mind growing older. George Santayana, perhaps the most detached man the world has known outside of certain Trappist monasteries, claimed to prefer old age to all others. "I heartily agree that old age is, or may be as in my case, far happier than youth," he wrote to his contemporary William Lyon Phelps. "I was never more entertained or less troubled than I am now." Something to this, if one isn't filled with regret for the years that have gone before, and I am not, having had a very lucky run thus far in my life. At 70 it is natural to begin to view the world from the sidelines, a glass of wine in hand, watching younger people do the dances of ambition, competition, lust, and the rest of it.
Schopenhauer holds that the chief element in old age is disillusionment. According to this dourest of all philosophers, at 70 we have, if we are at all sentient, realized "that there is very little behind most of the things desired and most of the pleasures hoped for; and we have gradually gained an insight into the great poverty and hollowness of our whole existence. Only when we are seventy do we thoroughly understand the first verse of Ecclesiastes." And yet, even for those of us who like to think ourselves close to illusionless, happiness keeps breaking through, fresh illusions arrive to replace defunct ones, and the game goes on.
If the game is to be decently played, at 70 one must harken back as little as possible to the (inevitably golden) days of one's youth, no matter how truly golden they may seem. The temptation to do so, and with some regularity, sets in sometime in one's 60s. As a first symptom, one discovers the word "nowadays" turning up in lots of one's sentences, always with the assumption that nowadays are vastly inferior to thenadays, when one was young and the world green and beautiful. Ah, thenadays--so close to "them were the days"--when there was no crime, divorce was unheard of, people knew how to spell, everyone had good handwriting, propriety and decorum ruled, and so on and on into the long boring night of nostalgia.
Start talking about thenadays and one soon finds one's intellectual motor has shifted into full crank, with everything about nowadays dreary, third-rate, and decline-and-fallish. A big mistake. The reason old people think that the world is going to hell, Santayana says, is they believe that, without them in it, which will soon enough be the case, how good really can it be?
Seventy brings prominently to the fore the question of Big D, and I don't mean Dallas. From 70 on, one's death can no longer be viewed as a surprise; a disappointment, yes, but not a surprise. Three score and ten, after all, is the number of years of life set out in the Bible; anything beyond that is, or ought to be, considered gravy, which is likely to be high in cholesterol, so be careful. Henry James, on his deathbed, in a delirium, said of death, "So here it is at last, the distinguished thing." Wonder why? Few things are less distinguished than death, that most democratic of events and oldest of jokes that comes to each of us afresh.
At 70 one more clearly than ever before hears footsteps, as they say wide-receivers in the NFL do who are about to be smashed by oncoming pass-defenders while awaiting the arrival of a pass thrown to them in the middle of the field. The footsteps first show up in the obituary pages, which I consult with greater interest than any other section of the newspaper. Not too many days pass when someone I know, or someone whom someone else I know knows, does not show up there. Late last year the anthropologist Clifford Geertz and the novelist William Styron conked out; neither was a close friend, though as fellow members of an editorial board I spent a fair amount of time with them. Then the tennis player Ham Richardson appeared on the obit page. I was a ballboy for an exhibition he and Billy Talbert put on with two members of the Mexican Davis Cup team at the Saddle & Cycle Club in the 1950s in Chicago. I was surprised to learn that Richardson was only three years older than I. I am fairly frequently surprised to discover that the newly deceased are only a little older than I.
Along with footsteps, I also hear clocks. Unlike baseball, life is a game played with a clock. At 70, a relentlessly insistent ticking is going off in the background. I have decided to read, and often reread, books I've missed or those I've loved and want to reread one more time. I recently reread War and Peace, my second reading of this greatest of all novels, and I ended it in sadness, not only because I didn't wish to part from Pierre, Natasha, Nicolai, and the others left alive at the novel's end, but because I know it is unlikely I shall return for another rereading.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Russia
on: February 08, 2007, 01:25:17 PM
Geopolitical Diary: Russia's Vulnerable Strategic Position
Russian Deputy Prime Minster and Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov addressed the Duma on Wednesday. During his speech, he called the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty between the United States and the Soviet Union -- which banned short-, medium- and intermediate-range ballistic and ground-launched cruise missiles -- a mistake. Ivanov first raised the midrange missile issue in August 2006 when he visited Alaska with then-U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. During the trip, Ivanov reminded Rumsfeld that a Russian withdrawal from the INF would not be unprecedented since the United States withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002.
Another such treaty, the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (known as START 1) is set to expire in 2009. The Russians have been calling for a replacement for some time. Realizing that they are not going to get one -- given the shift from the Cold War dynamic and the atrophy of Russian forces, the United States has no interest in a new treaty limiting its nuclear forces -- Moscow has attempted to paint Washington as the bad guy.
START 1 placed specific limitations on the size and type of nuclear forces the two nations were allowed to possess. These limitations have helped Russia hold onto the hope of obtaining numerical parity with the United States for years. Its nuclear forces have nevertheless crumbled and are only now beginning to recover: The fielding of Russia's newest intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), the SS-27 Topol-M, is proceeding, but at an excruciatingly slow pace. The development of the new sub-launched Bulava also is extremely behind schedule, and Russia no longer is able to maintain a constantly patrolling sea-based deterrent. In the midst of this deterioration, START 1 has helped Moscow keep its dreams of parity alive. Therefore, from the Russian perspective, a new START agreement that further reduces the number of deployable weapons would be ideal.
But from the U.S. perspective, the reduction in Russia's deployable weapons was effectively carried out by the Soviet Union's demise. Despite Moscow's sincerest efforts, Washington has watched it repeatedly fail to rebuild its strategic forces into something that could compete with the U.S. strategic deterrent. The United States is no longer threatened by Russia in the way it once was. As such, it does not feel at all compelled to enter into a new treaty that would limit its future strategic options. And it is greatly looking forward to 2009, when the United States will be able to grow or shrink its nuclear arsenal as it sees fit -- with no treaty constraints.
Furthermore, if Russia were ever again to realistically attempt parity, the U.S. could expand its forces faster and essentially out-spend the Russians, just as it did to the Soviet Union. Or, if it ever appeared that Russia was getting too close to its goal, the U.S. could propose a new treaty while it still had the upper hand.
Russia has had to come to terms with the fact that it cannot achieve parity with the United States. Its one real strategic option is to threaten nuclear war with its neighbors and enemies. Re-embracing midrange weapons, while it would not achieve parity, would drastically expand Russia's strategic options.
Midrange missiles have always made more sense for Russia than for the United States. Russia is literally surrounded by them -- in Iran, Pakistan, India, China and North Korea. With Russia's massive, indefensible land border, they are useful. Whereas, with no one but Canada and Central America in range, the United States slowly has abandoned such systems.
But given START 1's looming expiration date, Ivanov's statements make sense. A new generation of intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBM) is well within the grasp of Russian engineers and industry. While the Russians have a long and storied history of trouble with -- and often complete failure of -- solid-fueled submarine-launched ballistic missiles, they mastered solid-propellant land-based systems some time ago. The SS-18 was the last great liquid-fueled ICBM. The SS-24, -25 and -27 have all used solid fuel. It would not be a stretch for Russia to re-develop and re-deploy road-mobile IRBMs. (Of course, the country really only needs to crank out new copies of older proven systems that are perfectly useable but prohibited under the INF.) They also are much cheaper and could serve as a new tool with which to directly threaten Europe.
The Russian grand strategy has always been to divide and conquer. With this new ability to threaten the Europeans in a much more tangible way, Moscow could re-assert a certain degree of influence over its crumbling periphery and potentially drive a wedge between the United States and the Europeans. This is an especially relevant consideration as Russia watches the talks about a potential U.S. ballistic missile defense base in the Czech Republic and Poland progress at an uncomfortable rate.
A limited U.S. missile shield is not a real threat to Russia. A Russian barrage of intercontinental missiles would travel over the North Pole and would completely overwhelm the current defenses. But this is not to say it makes Russia particularly comfortable.
A Europe-based U.S. ballistic missile defense base might ultimately be the last straw for Russia and the INF. Ivanov believes it is a capability Russia should never have agreed to go without, and now he seems set on correcting this "mistake."
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Free Speech vs. Islamic Fascism (formerly Buy DANISH!!!)
on: February 08, 2007, 12:56:02 PM
Muslim leaders condemn CW Post video
BY OLIVIA WINSLOW, HERBERT LOWE AND JENNIFER KELLEHER
Newsday Staff Writers
February 7, 2007, 10:12 PM EST
A video by five students at the C.W. Post Campus of Long Island University depicting ski-masked "hostage-takers" speaking in cartoonish Middle Eastern accents has drawn condemnations from local Muslim leaders.
The university dismissed the students from their jobs as residence hall assistants in Brookville Hall, saying they had engaged in activity that violated their employment contract and that reflected "insensitivity."
In the video, which mocks those aired by real-life terrorists, five figures speak in exaggerated accents as they threaten their captive, a rubber duck dubbed "Pete," according to an account in the student newspaper that knowledgeable campus sources agreed was accurate. The subtext is understood to many on campus: The duck is the mascot for Brookville Hall.
While friends of those who created the film amphasized it was made in jest, Muslim leaders did not see the humor. They acknowledged students' right to freedom of speech, but said that right carries responsibility.
"I think it's not a prank," said Ghazi Khankan of Long Beach, a member of the board of the American Muslim Alliance, which he described as a regional and national group that advocates for Muslim participation in the political process. "Campuses are for enlightenment and for teaching us to get along, to respect each other, to know how to live together."
News of the video quickly went national. The Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil liberties and advocacy group based in Washington, D.C., sent out Newsday's Web article about the incident in an e-mail blast. Said Ibrahim Hooper, council president: "It's something that needs to be addressed."
Habeeb Ahmed, president of the Islamic Center of Long Island in Westbury, who said he was a C.W. Post alumnus, agreed. "People are testing the waters again and again, and the Muslim community is always at the receiving end."
Back on campus, provost Joseph Shenker, said the five students involved would continue to receive free housing and the meal plan -- but in exchange for working 10 hours per week in community service.
Student employees must "function as role models and as teachers for the other students," Shenker said yesterday. "We expect them to be instructing our students on being sensitive regarding all groups.
"I think the tape was an insult to the victims and families involved in hostage situations," he added.
The college, which has about 8,500 undergraduate and graduate students, could not provide a breakdown of Muslim students on campus.
The video, which was posted on YouTube and Google -- then taken down -- came with a statement indicating that it was done "all purely as a joke of course."
Meanwhile, the five students, all seniors -- Robert Bennett, Bert Estrada, Dustin Frye, Jordan Marmara and Billy McDermott -- are to face a formal campus hearing, either later this week or sometime next week, Shenker said. He declined to speculate on what disciplinary action could result.
The students have hired civil rights attorney Frederick K. Brewington of Hempstead, who said he felt the college's actions were unfair.
The affair apparently also cost Brookville Hall's residence hall director, Kristin Kielczewski, her job. She did not respond to a message seeking comment.
McDermott, 21, of Ocean City, Md., said yesterday that Brewington had advised him and the other fired student resident assistants not to comment beyond saying, "We're getting our ducks in a row."
Danny Schrafel, the Pioneer student newspaper editor-in-chief, said the administration's actions have split the campus into two camps: People who believe the resident assistants were fired unjustly and those offended by the video.
Matthew Bartlett, 19, a freshman from Clifton N.J., who lives in Brookville Hall, called McDermott "a great guy.
"I'm pretty appalled by what they [the administrators] did because I don't think it's fair. It's our right as students to express ourselves. We're in college."
Frank Schlegel, 21, of Westhampton Beach, a senior in marketing, said he has had all five of the students as an R.A. during his nearly four years in Brookville Hall.
"I thought it was hysterical," said Schlegel, who said he had seen the video. "There's no way it can be seen as these guys are being racist. It was strictly made for entertainment. They're not troublemakers of any sort."
Michael Colon, of Westchester, 19, a freshman biology major, said he started a petition supporting the R.A.s on Monday. So far, he said, he has 80 signatures. http://www.newsday.com/news/local/longisland/ny-lipost0208,0,3675967.story
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Military Science
on: February 08, 2007, 11:05:32 AM
The Snake Eater
Give our troops the tools our cops have.
BY DANIEL HENNINGER
Thursday, February 8, 2007 12:01 a.m. EST
Subject: A case study of how the U.S. got bogged down in Iraq.
Problem: If a cop in Anytown, USA, pulls over a suspect, he checks the person's ID remotely from the squad car. He's linked to databases filled with Who's Who in the world of crime, killing and mayhem. In Iraq, there is nothing like that. When our troops and the Iraqi army enter a town, village or street, what they know about the local bad guys is pretty much in their heads, at best.
Solution: Give our troops what our cops have. The Pentagon knows this. For reasons you can imagine, it hasn't happened.
This is a story of can-do in a no-can-do world, a story of how a Marine officer in Iraq, a small network-design company in California, a nonprofit troop-support group, a blogger and other undeterrable folk designed a handheld insurgent-identification device, built it, shipped it and deployed it in Anbar province. They did this in 30 days, from Dec. 15 to Jan. 15. Compared to standard operating procedure for Iraq, this is a nanosecond.
Before fastening our seatbelts, let's check the status quo. As a high Defense Department official told the Journal's editorial page, "We're trying to fight a major war with peacetime procurement rules." The department knows this is awful. Indeed, a program exists, the Automated Biometric Identification System: retina scans, facial matching and the like. The reality: This war is in year four, and the troops don't have it. Beyond Baghdad, the U.S. role has become less about killing insurgents than arresting the worst and isolating them from the population. Obviously it would help to have an electronic database of who the bad guys are, their friends, where they live, tribal affiliation--in short the insurgency's networks.
The Marine and Army officers who patrol Iraq's dangerous places know they need an identification system similar to cops back home. The troops now write down suspects' names and addresses. Some, like Marine Maj. Owen West in Anbar, have created their own spreadsheets and PowerPoint programs, or use digital cameras to input the details of suspected insurgents. But no Iraq-wide software architecture exists.
Operating around the town of Khalidiya, north of Baghdad, Maj. West has been the leader of a team of nine U.S. soldiers advising an Iraqi brigade. This has been his second tour of duty in Iraq. When not fighting the Iraq war, he's an energy trader for Goldman Sachs in New York City.
It had become clear to him last fall that the Iraqi soldiers were becoming the area's cops. And that they needed modern police surveillance tools. To help the Iraqi army in Khalidiya do its job right, Maj. West needed that technology yesterday: He was scheduled to rotate back stateside in February--this month.
Since arriving in Iraq last year, Maj. West had worked with Spirit of America (SoA), the civilian troop-support group founded by Jim Hake. In early December, SoA's project director, Michele Redmond, asked Maj. West if there was any out-of-the-ordinary project they could help him with. And Maj. West said, Why yes, there is. He described to them the basic concept for a mobile, handheld fingerprinting device which Iraqi soldiers would use to assemble an insurgent database. Mr. Hake said his organization would contribute $30,000 to build a prototype and get it to Khalidiya. In New York, Goldman Sachs contributed $14,000 to the project.
Two problems. They needed to find someone who could assemble the device, and the unit had to be in Khalidiya by Jan. 15 to give Maj. West time to field-test it before he left in February.
To build the device, they approached a small California company, Computer Deductions Inc., which makes electronic systems for law-enforcement agencies. Over the Dec. 15 weekend, CDI went to work building a machine for Iraq.
Tom Calabro, a CDI vice president, assembled a team of six technicians. Its basic platform would be a handheld fingerprint workstation called the MV 100, made by Cross Match Technologies, a maker of biometric identity applications. The data collected by the MV 100 would be stored via Bluetooth in a hardened laptop made by GETAC, a California manufacturer. From Knowledge Computing Corp. of Arizona they used the COPLINK program, which creates a linked "map" of events. The laptop would sit in the troops' Humvee and the data sent from there to a laptop at outpost headquarters.
Meanwhile, SoA began to think about how they'd get the package to Maj. West by Jan. 15. They likely would have less than seven days transit time after CDI finished. SoA normally used FedEx to ship time-sensitive equipment into Iraq. But given the unusual nature of the shipment, they were concerned about customs and clearance: This wasn't a case of soccer balls. Jim Hake thought of an alternative: Find someone who would hand-carry it, like a diplomatic courier, on a flight to Kuwait and from there to Taqaddum air base in central Iraq. This meant finding someone who could get into Iraq quickly.
The someone was Bill Roggio. Mr. Roggio is a former army signalman and infantryman who now embeds with the troops and writes about it on his blog, the Fourth Rail, or for the SoA Web site. He was at home in New Jersey, about to celebrate his birthday with his family. He agreed to fly the MV 100 to Iraq as soon as it was ready, in conjunction with an embed trip. With SoA's Michele Redmond, he started working out the logistics for getting to Iraq ASAP.
On Jan. 8, CDI's Tom Calabro emailed the group, including Maj. West in Iraq: "Things are progressing at a furious pace. I may be able to ship by end of day tomorrow. Worst case is Thursday or Friday."
Four days later, a glitch. Mr. Calabro said a vendor mistakenly shipped via the U.S. postal service and a crucial part arrived late, on Jan. 12. "My guys are going to work through the night to finish testing," he said. They shipped the kit via UPS to Bill Roggio for Monday arrival; later that day, he boarded a Lufthansa flight from Newark to Kuwait City. After an overnight hotel stay, he took a C130 military transport to Taqaddum, 45 miles north of Baghdad. Maj. West's Marines drove him to their outpost 15 minutes away.
And so, a month from inception, Bill Roggio handed the electronic identification kit to Maj. West.
On the night of Jan. 20, Maj. West, his Marine squad and the "jundi" (Iraq army soldiers) took the MV 100 and laptop on patrol. Their term of endearment for the insurgents is "snakes." So of course the MV 100 became the Snake Eater. The next day Maj. West emailed the U.S. team digital photos of Iraqi soldiers fingerprinting suspects with the Snake Eater. "It's one night old and the town is abuzz," he said. "I think we have a chance to tip this city over now." A rumor quickly spread that the Iraqi army was implanting GPS chips in insurgents' thumbs.
Over the past 10 days, Maj. West has had chance encounters with two Marine superiors--Maj. Gen. Richard Zilmer, who commands the 30,000 joint forces in Anbar, and Brig. Gen. Robert Neller, deputy commanding general of operations in Iraq. He showed them the mobile ID database device.
I asked Gen. Neller by email on Tuesday what the status of these technologies is now. He replied that they're receiving advanced biometric equipment, "like the device being employed by Maj. West." He said "in the near future" they will begin to network such devices to share databases more broadly: "Bottom line: The requirement for networking our biometric capability is a priority of this organization."
As he departs, Maj. West reflected on winning at street level: "We're fixated on the enemy, but the enemy is fixated on the people. They know which families are apostates, which houses are safe for the night, which boys are vulnerable to corruption or kidnapping. The enemy's population collection effort far outstrips ours. The Snake Eater will change that, and fast." You have to believe he's got this right. It will only happen, though, if someone above his pay grade blows away the killing habits of peacetime procurement.
Mr. Henninger is deputy editor of The Wall Street Journal's editorial page. His column appears Thursdays in the Journal and on OpinionJournal.com.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The 2008 Presidential Race
on: February 08, 2007, 10:53:30 AM
Second post of the morning:
Edwards vs. Clinton: Indecision 2008.
BY JAMES TARANTO
Thursday, February 8, 2007 12:01 a.m. EST
When NBC's Tim Russert asked John Edwards on Sunday if he, as president, would accept a nuclear-armed Iran, the silver-tongued lawyer got tongue-tied: "I--there's no answer to that question at this moment. I think that it's a--it's a--it's a very bad thing for Iran to get a nuclear weapon. I think we have--we have many steps in front of us that have not been used. We ought to negotiate directly with the Iranians, which has not, not been done. The things that I just talked about, I think, are the right approach in dealing with Iran. And then we'll, we'll see what the result is. . . . I think--I think the--we don't know, and you have to make a judgment as you go along, and that's what I would do as president."
Less than two weeks earlier, Mr. Edwards had spoken by satellite to Israel's annual Herzliya Conference. "Let me be clear: Under no circumstances can Iran be allowed to have nuclear weapons. . . . To ensure that Iran never gets nuclear weapons, we need to keep all options on the table. Let me reiterate--all options must remain on the table."
Why did Mr. Edwards's views morph so quickly from hawkish to weaselly? Probably because confrontation with Iran is very unpopular among the Democratic antiwar base. Last week Ezra Klein of The American Prospect, a left-liberal magazine, confronted Mr. Edwards about the Herzliya speech, and the candidate waffled. Although allowing that "it would be foolish for any American president to ever take any option off the table," he offered this criticism of President Bush: "When he uses this kind of language 'options are on the table,' he does it in a very threatening kind of way." Does Mr. Edwards mean to be docile?
Mr. Klein asked if America can live with a nuclear Iran. "I'm not ready to cross that bridge yet," Mr. Edwards answered. There's a world of difference between the unequivocal "under no circumstances" and the coy "I'm not ready." And that "yet" suggests it is only a matter of time before he does cross the bridge.
Mr. Edwards is not the only Democratic presidential candidate without a comprehensible position on Iran. Last week Hillary Clinton spoke to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, and Heather Robinson of PoliticalMavens.com reported that Mrs. Clinton said: "There are many, including our president, who reject any engagement with Iran and Syria. I believe that is a good-faith position to take, but I'm not sure it's the smart strategy that'll take us to the goal we share. What do I mean by engagement or some kind of process? I'm not sure anything positive would come out of it . . . but there are a number of factors that argue for doing what I'm suggesting." Whatever that may be.
Mr. Edwards and Mrs. Clinton have something else in common: Both voted for the Iraq war in 2002, and both turned against it only after it became unpopular. On Iraq, they followed public opinion; on Iran, they are waiting to be led.
Pandering to public sentiment may be fine for a senator, but the president needs to be able to make decisions in the national interest--which sometimes means shaping public opinion, sometimes defying it. Mr. Bush has done both, whether or not his decisions were wise ones.
Perhaps voters next year, chastened by Mr. Bush's dangerous boldness, will opt for someone more risk-averse. But if a crisis arises and the president proves unable to lead, they may find themselves longing for Mr. Bush's steadfastness. An excess of caution is itself a form of recklessness.
Mr. Taranto is the editor of OpinionJournal.com.
Hillary on Iraq
From stalwart hawk to get out fast.
Thursday, February 8, 2007 12:01 a.m. EST
One pleasant surprise of Hillary Rodham Clinton's tenure as New York Senator has been her tough-minded approach on national security. She responded to 9/11 by supporting President Bush's strategy of taking on not just terrorists but the states that harbor them. She also voted for the war in Iraq and has refused to follow much of her party in alleging that Mr. Bush "lied" about weapons of mass destruction.
But as Mrs. Clinton bids to win the Democratic Presidential nomination, she is taking a marked turn to the left. Pressured by other candidates and by her party's left wing, she is walking back her hawkish statements and is now all but part of the antiwar camp. The polls show her to be the favorite to be the next Commander in Chief, so what she really believes, and how firmly she'll stick to it, deserves to be debated. Here's a summary of the arc of Mrs. Clinton's public thinking on Iraq:
• October 10, 2002. Mrs. Clinton addresses the Senate on the use-of-force resolution. "The facts that have brought us to this fateful vote are not in doubt," she declares, citing Saddam's record of using chemical weapons, the invasion of Kuwait, and his history of deceiving U.N. weapons inspectors. "As a result, President Clinton, with the British and others, ordered an intensive four-day air assault, Operation Desert Fox, on known and suspected weapons of mass destruction sites and other military targets," she continues, adding that Saddam "has also given aid, comfort, and sanctuary to terrorists, including al Qaeda members."
While she expresses her preference for working through the U.N. if possible, she adds, "I believe the authority to use force to enforce that mandate is inherent in the original 1991 U.N. resolution, as President Clinton recognized when he launched Operation Desert Fox in 1998."
• December 15, 2003. It is clear by now that no large stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction will be found in Iraq. But Mrs. Clinton tells the Council on Foreign Relations that "Yesterday was a good day. I was thrilled that Saddam Hussein had finally been captured. . . . We owe a great debt of gratitude to our troops, to the President, to our intelligence services, to all who had a hand in apprehending Saddam. Now he will be brought to justice."
She adds, "I was one who supported giving President Bush the authority, if necessary, to use force against Saddam Hussein. I believe that that was the right vote." As for Iraq's prospects, she declares herself "a little optimistic and a little pessimistic . . . We have no option but to stay involved and committed."
• April 20, 2004. Mrs. Clinton tells Larry King: "I don't regret giving the President the authority because at the time it was in the context of weapons of mass destruction, grave threats to the United States, and clearly, Saddam Hussein had been a real problem for the international community for more than a decade." Asked whether she thinks she was "fooled," she replies: "The consensus was the same, from the Clinton Administration to the Bush Administration. It was the same intelligence belief that our allies and friends around the world shared about the weapons of mass destruction."
• October 2005. Antiwar fervor on the left is picking up, and activist Cindy Sheehan compares her to Rush Limbaugh after Mrs. Clinton tells the Village Voice: "My bottom line is that I don't want their sons to die in vain. . . . I don't believe it's smart to set a date for withdrawal . . . I don't think it's the right time to withdraw."
• November 2005. Mrs. Clinton posts a letter to constituents that marks her first dovish turn. "If Congress had been asked [to authorize the war], based on what we know now, we never would have agreed," she writes. But invoking retired General Eric Shinseki's estimate of more American troops necessary to pacify Iraq, she demands not withdrawal but a new plan: "It is time for the President to stop serving up platitudes and present us with a plan for finishing this war with success and honor--not a rigid timetable that terrorists can exploit, but a public plan for winning and concluding the war."
• August 3, 2006. Mrs. Clinton calls for Donald Rumsfeld to resign as Defense Secretary, asking for "new leadership that would give us a fighting chance to turn the situation around before it's too late."
• December 18, 2006. Her march left gains speed. On NBC's "Today" show, Mrs. Clinton renounces her war vote unequivocally for the first time: "I certainly wouldn't have voted that way."
• January 13, 2007. From Baghdad, Mrs. Clinton responds to Mr. Bush's plan to send more troops to Iraq to secure Baghdad: "I don't know that the American people or the Congress at this point believe this mission can work. And in the absence of a commitment that is backed up by actions from the Iraqi government, why should we believe it?"
• January 17, 2007. Mrs. Clinton calls for capping the number of U.S. troops in Iraq, saying she will introduce legislation to do so. And while she says she won't block money for the troops, she suggests withholding funds for the Iraqi government. It is precisely such a funds cut-off to the South Vietnamese government in 1975 that led to the final U.S. flight from Saigon.
• January 27, 2007. On the campaign trail in Iowa, Mrs. Clinton demands that President Bush "extricate our country from this before he leaves office." And she promises that, if elected, she will end the war quickly.
All politicians change their minds about something at some point, but what's troubling about Mrs. Clinton's record on Iraq is that it tends to follow, rather than lead, public opinion. When the war was first debated, and she couldn't easily walk away from her husband's record against Saddam, she was a solid, even eloquent, hawk. Then for a time she laid low and avoided the antiwar excesses of John Kerry and others.
But now that the war has proven to be difficult, and her fellow Democrats are outflanking her on the antiwar left, she is steadily, even rapidly, moving in their direction. So in the space of merely 14 months and as the Presidential campaign begins in earnest, Mrs. Clinton has gone from advocating a new plan to "win" the Iraq war, with "honor," to vocally opposing President Bush's new strategy to try to do precisely that. And, oh, yes, she now wants the "surge" to be in Afghanistan instead of Iraq.
The question we'd ask is whether this is the kind of stalwart drift that Mrs. Clinton would bring to the Oval Office?
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Iraq
on: February 08, 2007, 08:28:01 AM
The Iranian Ambassador to the UN offers his take on things:
How Not to Inflame Iraq
By JAVAD ZARIF
Published: February 8, 2007
BEFORE the United States invaded Iraq on false pretexts nearly four years ago, the overwhelming view of analysts and diplomats was that war would plunge the region and the world into greater turmoil and instability. Echoing the views of my colleagues from the region and beyond, I told the Security Council on Feb. 18, 2003, that while the ramifications of the war could go beyond anyone’s calculations, “one outcome is almost certain: extremism stands to benefit enormously from an uncalculated adventure in Iraq.”
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This assessment came not from any sympathy for the former Iraqi dictator or his regime. Certainly Iran — which had suffered the carnage of an eight-year war with Iraq in the 1980s, and on which Saddam Hussein unleashed chemical weapons — had no affinity for him. Rather, it was based on a sober recognition of the realities of the region and the inescapable dynamics of occupation.
Now the United States administration is — unfortunately — reaping the expected bitter fruits of its ill-conceived adventurism, taking the region and the world with it to the brink of further hostility. But rather than face these unpleasant facts, the United States administration is trying to sell an escalated version of the same failed policy. It does this by trying to make Iran its scapegoat and fabricating evidence of Iranian activities in Iraq.
The United States administration also appears to be trying to forge a regional coalition to counter Iranian influence. But even if it succeeds in doing so, such a coalition will prove practically futile, dangerous to the region as a whole and internally destabilizing for Iraq. By promoting such a policy, the United States is fanning the flames of sectarianism just when they most need to be quelled.
Coalitions of convenience like the one the United States government now contemplates were a hallmark of American policy in the region in the 1980s and 1990s, and their effect then was to contribute to the creation of monsters like Saddam Hussein, Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Short memories may be responsible for this ill-advised return to old habits.
But who can forget that Saddam Hussein used the very same scare tactic, invoking the “Iranian threat” to extort money, loyalty and military hardware from the region and the world, only to turn them later against his suppliers? Who cannot remember that to contain the supposed “Shiite Crescent” after the 1979 Iranian revolution, the extremism of the fundamentalist Salafi movement was nourished by the West — only to transform later into Al Qaeda and the Taliban? Why should the same policy in the same region produce any different result now?
There are already indications that extremists are exploiting the most emotional sectarian and ethnic divides in the region in an effort to sell possible collaboration with old and new occupiers of Arab lands to a restive, frustrated and resentful populace. Such a shortsighted campaign of hatred will compound regional problems, and it will have global implications, from the subcontinent to Europe and the United States, long after the current crisis in Iraq ends.
We need to remember that sectarian division and hatred in Iraq and the wider region was most recently instigated by none other than the leader of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The shameful legacy of Mr. Zarqawi and his collaborators should have been buried with him. To that end, all of us in the region need to set aside shortsighted schemes and engage with the government of Iraq in a common effort to contain sectarian violence.
The Persian Gulf region is in dire need of a truly inclusive arrangement for security and cooperation. Only through such regional cooperation, with the necessary international support, can we contain the current crisis and prevent future ones. I wrote in these pages almost four years ago that the removal of Saddam Hussein provided a unique opportunity to finally realize the long sought objective of regional confidence-building and cooperation, as well as to reverse the dangerous trend of confrontation, exclusion and rivalry.
We have lost many valuable opportunities to effect this arrangement, with hundreds of thousands of innocent lives shattered in the interim. The forthcoming meeting of Iraq’s neighbors, to be held in Baghdad next month, will be a good place to begin this difficult but necessary journey toward regional security.
The American administration can also contribute to ending the current nightmare — and preventing future ones — by recognizing that occupation and the threat or use of force are not merely impermissible under international law, but indeed imprudent in purely political calculations of national interest. As authoritative studies have repeatedly shown, no initiators of war in recent history have achieved the intended results; in fact, in almost all cases, those resorting to force have ultimately undermined their own security and stature.
When 140,000 American troops could not bring stability to Iraq, and in fact achieved exactly the opposite, an additional 20,000 soldiers with a dangerous new mandate can only be expected to worsen tension and increase the possibility of unintended escalation. Only a reversal of the logic of force and occupation can dry up the hotbeds of insurgency.
Similarly, forging imaginary new threats, as the United States administration is now doing with Iran, may provide some temporary domestic cover for the failure of the administration’s Iraq policy, but it can hardly resolve problems that — as widely suggested — require prudence, dialogue and a genuine search for solutions.
We all need to learn from past mistakes and not stubbornly insist on repeating them against all advice — including the advice George Bush gave as a presidential candidate in 2000: “If we’re an arrogant nation, they’ll resent us; if we’re a humble nation, but strong, they’ll welcome us.”
Javad Zarif is the Iranian ambassador to the United Nations.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Romney & Mormonism
on: February 08, 2007, 08:04:27 AM
In my sense of "how the world works" one of the very most important things is marginal tax rates. Sen. McCain I perceive as not being good on this issue, and Guliani as having better instincts. I saw a bit of Romney on the tube last night wherein he was speaking about taxes and I was pretty impressed-- the man identified himself as a supply-sider. IMHO supply side's "win-win" attitude is also politically sound for Republicans as a counter to Dems promises of tax "Peter to give to Paul & Mary."
Here's this from this morning's NY Slimes on Romney:
Mormon Candidate Braces for Religion as Issue
By ADAM NAGOURNEY and LAURIE GOODSTEIN
Published: February 8, 2007
WASHINGTON, Feb. 7 — As he begins campaigning for the Republican presidential nomination, Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, is facing a threshold issue: Will his religion — he is a Mormon — be a big obstacle to winning the White House?
Polls show a substantial number of Americans will not vote for a Mormon for president. The religion is viewed with suspicion by Christian conservatives, a vital part of the Republicans’ primary base.
Mr. Romney’s advisers acknowledged that popular misconceptions about Mormonism — as well as questions about whether Mormons are beholden to their church’s leaders on public policy — could give his opponents ammunition in the wide-open fight among Republicans to become the consensus candidate of social conservatives.
Mr. Romney, in an extended interview on the subject as he drove through South Carolina last week, expressed confidence that he could quell concerns about his faith, pointing to his own experience winning in Massachusetts. He said he shared with many Americans the bafflement over obsolete Mormon practices like polygamy — he described it as “bizarre” — and disputed the argument that his faith would require him to be loyal to his church before his country.
“People have interest early on in your religion and any similar element of your background,” he said. “But as soon as they begin to watch you on TV and see the debates and hear you talking about issues, they are overwhelmingly concerned with your vision of the future and the leadership skills that you can bring to bear.”
Still, Mr. Romney is taking no chances. He has set up a meeting this month in Florida with 100 ministers and religious broadcasters. That gathering follows what was by all accounts a successful meeting at his home last fall with evangelical leaders, including the Rev. Jerry Falwell; the Rev. Franklin Graham, who is a son of the Rev. Billy Graham; and Paula White, a popular preacher.
Mr. Romney said he was giving strong consideration to a public address about his faith and political views, modeled after the one John F. Kennedy gave in 1960 in the face of a wave of concern about his being a Roman Catholic.
Mr. Romney’s aides said he had closely studied Kennedy’s speech in trying to measure how to navigate the task of becoming the nation’s first Mormon president, and he has consulted other Mormon elected leaders, including Senator Orrin G. Hatch, Republican of Utah, about how to proceed.
Mr. Romney appears to be making some headway. Several prominent evangelical leaders said that, after meeting him, they had grown sufficiently comfortable with the notion of Mr. Romney as president to overcome any concerns they might have about his religion.
On a pragmatic level, some said that Mr. Romney — despite questions among conservatives about his shifting views on abortion and gay rights — struck them as the Republican candidate best able to win and carry their social conservative agenda to the White House.
“There’s this growing acceptance of this idea that Mitt Romney may well be and is our best candidate,” said Jay Sekulow, the chief counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice, a conservative legal advocacy group, and a prominent host on Christian radio.
Mark DeMoss, an evangelical public relations consultant who represents many conservative Christian groups, said it was “more important to me that a candidate shares my values than my faith,” adding, “And if I look at it this way, Mr. Romney would be my top choice.”
Mormons consider themselves to be Christians, but some beliefs central to Mormons are regarded by other churches as heretical. For example, Mormons have three books of Scripture other than the Bible, including the Book of Mormon, which Mormons believe was translated from golden plates discovered in 1827 by Joseph Smith Jr., the church’s founder and first prophet.
Mormons believe that Smith rescued Christianity from apostasy and restored the church to what was envisioned in the New Testament — but these doctrines are beyond the pale for most Christian churches.
Beyond that, there are perceptions among some people regarding the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as the church is formally known, that account for at least some of the public unease: that Mormons still practice polygamy (the church renounced polygamy in 1890), that it is more of a cult than a religion and that its members take political direction from the church’s leaders.
Several Republicans said such perceptions could be a problem for Mr. Romney, especially in the South, which has had a disproportionate influence in selecting Republican presidential nominees.
Gloria A. Haskins, a state representative from South Carolina who is supporting Senator John McCain for the Republican nomination, said discussions with her constituents in Greenville, an evangelical stronghold, convinced her that a Mormon like Mr. Romney could not win a Republican primary in her state. South Carolina has one of the earliest, and most critical, primaries next year.
“From what I hear in my district, it is very doubtful,” Ms. Haskins said. “This is South Carolina. We’re very mainstream, evangelical, Christian, conservative. It will come up. In this of all states, it will come up.”
Page 2 of 2)
But Katon Dawson, the state Republican chairman, said he thought Mr. Romney had made significant progress in dealing with those concerns. “I have heard him on his personal faith and on his character and conviction and the love for his country,” Mr. Dawson said. “I have all confidence that he will be able to answer those questions, whether they be in negative ads against him or in forums or in debates.”
Mr. Romney’s candidacy has stirred discussion about faith and the White House unlike any since Kennedy, including a remarkable debate that unfolded recently in The New Republic. Damon Linker, a critic of the influence of Christian conservatism on politics, described Mormonism as a “theologically unstable, and thus politically perilous, religion.”
The article brought a stinging rebuttal in the same publication from Richard Lyman Bushman, a Mormon who is a history professor at Columbia University, and who said Mr. Linker’s arguments had “no grounding in reality.”
Mr. Romney is not the first Mormon to seek a presidential nomination, but by every indication he has the best chance yet of being in the general election next year. His father, George Romney, was a candidate in 1968, but his campaign collapsed before he ever had to deal seriously with questions about religion.
Senator Hatch said his own candidacy in 2000, which was something of a long shot, was to “knock down prejudice against my faith.”
“There’s a lot of prejudice out there,” Mr. Hatch said. “We’ve come a long way, but there are still many people around the country who consider the Mormon faith a cult.”
But if Mr. Romney has made progress with evangelicals, he appears to face a larger challenge in dispelling apprehensions among the public at large. A national poll by The Los Angeles Times and Bloomberg News last June found 37 percent said they would not vote for a Mormon for president.
Mr. Romney offered assurances that seemed to reflect what Kennedy told the nation in discussing his Catholicism some 50 years ago. Mr. Romney said the requirements of his faith would never overcome his political obligations. He pointed out that in Massachusetts, he had signed laws allowing stores to sell alcohol on Sundays, even though he was prohibited by his faith from drinking, and to expand the state lottery, though Mormons are forbidden to gamble. He also noted that Mormons are not exclusively Republicans, pointing to Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic majority leader.
“There’s no church-directed view,” Mr. Romney said. “How can you have Harry Reid on one side and Orrin Hatch on the other without recognizing that the church doesn’t direct political views? I very clearly subscribe to Abraham Lincoln’s view of America’s political religion. And that is when you take the oath of office, your responsibility is to the nation, and that is first and foremost.”
He said he was not concerned about the resistance in the polls. “If you did a poll and said: ‘Could a divorced actor be elected as president? Would you vote for a divorced actor as president?’ my guess is 70 percent would say no. But then they saw Ronald Reagan. They heard him. They heard his vision. They heard his experience. They said: ‘I like Ronald Reagan. I’m voting for him.’ ”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Epidemics: Bird Flu, TB, etc
on: February 07, 2007, 08:57:02 PM
From Bird to Person
By PETER D. ZIMMERMAN
February 7, 2007; Page A15
LONDON -- The "deadly" H5N1 avian flu is back on the front pages of newspapers and TV news shows. The British environment minister has pledged quick action to "eradicate" the disease from the U.K., and over 150,000 turkeys on one farm have been culled. "This is," someone said on the BBC's "Breakfast" show Monday, "a disease of birds, not humans." And so it is.
The H5N1 virus has still not made the critical interspecies leap which would make it easy for an infected person to give the disease to another person. That may happen, or it may not; and nobody can predict the outcome or its timing with any degree of confidence. Meanwhile, as of the World Health Organization's compilation on Feb. 3, there had been a total of 271 laboratory-confirmed cases of the virus in humans, and of that number a staggering 165, or 61%, died, making it one of the most lethal pathogens in history, even if not one of the most infectious.
Still, just 18 months ago many experts were predicting a global pandemic in a matter of months, perhaps one that would kill millions. There is historical precedent: The 1918-1919 "Spanish Flu" swept around the world in a matter of weeks, and before the disease burned out, more than 50 million people had died. Today H5N1 is reminiscent only of the Asian "Swine flu," which threatened the U.S. in 1976 but never turned into a serious threat to human life (although the media hype surrounding it helped undermine Gerald Ford's presidency). In 2004, worried people rapidly bought up much of the world's supply of Tamiflu and Relenza, the only two drugs that seemed to have a chance of beating H5N1. Now most of us have forgotten the names of these drugs.
Influenza viruses have eight genes and these mutate rapidly. Two sites on the viral genome, called H and N, are well catalogued, and each of those genes can come in many forms. Those are the markers that trigger the human immune system. If your body has seen a whiff of a particular virus, it will produce large numbers of antibodies if you later become infected with a strain having the same markers. If you have never been exposed to a particular strain, there are no antibodies in your bloodstream, and your body will fight an uphill battle for survival. The more virulent the virus, the less chance you have.
So far as is known, no H5N1 virus has ever circulated on the planet. That means nobody has any natural immunity. Our good fortune last flu season was that the bird flu virus had not yet learned the trick of passing easily from human to human. The few confirmed victims were almost all people who'd worked very closely with infected fowl in extremely unsanitary conditions. One can suppose that they were massively exposed, allowing this "disease of birds, not humans" to develop in their bodies.
Almost all influenza viruses originate in migrating water fowl in South-East Asia, and by and large the birds don't get sick. However, those birds can pass their viruses to domesticated birds. In the great viral mixing pot of China, where people live in close contact with both their birds and their pigs, influenza viruses can readily pass from one species to another, and sometimes to an animal or person already infected with another flu bug.
In this environment, mutations are guaranteed to occur, and from time to time a new pathogen with the ability to pass between people develops. If it carries the same marker combination as one or another previous flu virus, much of the world's population will have a basic immunity. If it does not have familiar markers, much of humanity is at risk once that virus learns to jump from person to person. Each year a panel of experts tries to guess which strains of flu will pose the highest risk in the coming influenza season, and orders up vaccines to give the vulnerable some protection. H5N1 has not been selected, because it still hasn't become contagious in our species. But it could make the jump at any time.
The last year has brought the world a major advantage, should H5N1 become a "disease of humans." The pharmaceutical industry has learned the difficult trick of making and producing a vaccine against a hitherto unknown disease. GlaxoSmithKline recently claimed that it had succeeded in developing a "second generation" bird flu vaccine that could be given in advance, even before knowing the detailed gene structure that would allow this bird flu to infect people. The vaccine could be given before the bug even learns that deadly trick. Other companies have also developed vaccines which appear to produce broad-spectrum antibodies against many strains of the virus, and many governments have ordered large stocks from various producers.
It is probably worth stockpiling many millions of doses before H5N1 escapes into the human population. Because none of us has any useful immunity, the virus could migrate around the world with the speed of commercial air travel, not the steamships that powered the Spanish Flu. If H5N1 escapes, and if it becomes as virulent as the Spanish Flu (which killed 1% of those who developed the disease), the pessimistic predictions of millions of people dead within months could come true. Only if vaccine bottles were already on the shelf, ready for instant use, could the virus be contained.
However, deadly as it could be, and as harmless as it has so far been, the H5N1 avian flu will not be the last new influenza virus to develop. The process that produced H5N1 is at work every year, and the more intense the agribusiness of raising chickens in China becomes, the more rapidly new viruses can spread and mutate. Even if we may have dodged the H5N1 bullet, another pandemic like the Spanish Flu is inevitable and could break out into the human population so quickly that vaccines cannot be produced in time.
New types of influenza virus must be detected and combated while they are still diseases of birds, not humans. Detection of new viruses will happen where they originate. A global pathogen surveillance system -- as Sen. Joseph Biden suggested almost five years ago -- is necessary because the global first line of defense against influenza is not the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but the public health agencies of China, Vietnam and other nations in that region. Those agencies need multilateral support and encouragement, and the United States must take the lead. And countries where flu viruses originate need the courage to recognize that reporting a new disease does not reveal weakness, but rather demonstrates the strength of their health systems.
Mr. Zimmerman is professor of science and security at King's College London. He was chief scientist of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee staff and science adviser for arms control at the U.S. State Department.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Health Care Economics
on: February 07, 2007, 08:53:42 PM
By HOLMAN W. JENKINS, JR.
• The Biggest Secret in Health Care
• Future of Driving
• Decoding Climate Politics
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Holman W. Jenkins Jr. is a member of the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal and writes editorials and the weekly Business World column.
Mr. Jenkins joined the Journal in May 1992 as a writer for the editorial page in New York. In February 1994, he moved to Hong Kong as editor of The Asian Wall Street Journal's editorial page. He returned to the domestic Journal in December 1995 as a member of the paper's editorial board and was based in San Francisco. In April 1997, he returned to the Journal's New York office. Mr. Jenkins won a 1997 Gerald Loeb Award for distinguished business and financial coverage.
Born in Philadelphia, Mr. Jenkins received a bachelor's degree from Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, N.Y. He received a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., and studied at the University of Michigan on a journalism fellowship.
Mr. Jenkins invites comments to firstname.lastname@example.org
The Biggest Secret in Health Care
February 7, 2007; Page A14
President Bush might seem a candidate for OCD treatment, what with his insistence that the fix for health care is tax reform. He was at it again in his latest budget proposal, which calls for reforming the unlimited tax break for job-related health insurance.
Where does he get such ideas?
The answer: From every recent president that went before him, including Presidents Reagan, Bush and Clinton. And from all the wonks in wonkdom, who've long understood that the tax code was the problem and who've occasionally even shared this understanding with the public, most recently during the heady days before the Clinton health plan was submitted to a congressional dumpster.
A newspaper we know and love, in 1993, reported as a nearly uncontested fact: "The tax breaks on this enormous transfer of wealth have created a health-care market characterized by inefficiency, ignorance and excess."
The head of Blue Cross & Blue Shield declared: "The most powerful incentive is the tax code. We've been through five decades of teaching the individual that health care is a free good."
Paul Ellwood, godfather of the Clinton plan, said: "Changing the tax status of health benefits is the glue that holds managed competition together."
Bill Clinton himself said: "There has to be some sort of personal responsibility in this health-care system we set up."
Let the current President Bush give voice to the same analysis, however, and it must be some kind of supply-side hokum.
To rehearse: The tax code is the original hectoring mommy behind our health-care neuroses. It gives the biggest subsidy to those who need it least. It pays the affluent to buy more medical care than they would if they were spending their own money. It prompts them to launder our health spending through an insurance bureaucracy, creating endless paperwork. It prices millions of less-favored taxpayers out of the market for health insurance. It fosters a misconception that health care is free even as workers are perplexed over the failure of their wages to rise.
Clark Havighurst, a Duke University sage, points to one of the many destructive consequences: "With insured consumer-voters generally believing that someone other than themselves is paying for their health care, they see no reason not to approve regulatory and other public policies that raise the cost of that care and foreclose opportunities to economize."
He was thinking of the congressional rage to prevent managed care from saving us money, after Congress and everyone else first championed managed care as a way to save us money.
Others point to a destructive consequence for the practice of medicine itself. Patients, because their only skin in the game is their skin, end up listening to doctors and hospitals who are massively incentivized to expose them to more procedures, more tests and more drugs than patients, quite apart from any consideration of costs, would choose for themselves.
Guess what? The patients are right. Much of this superfluous care is bad for their health. (Such is the finding of a long-running Dartmouth Medical School study of national treatment patterns.)
Much better, in our view, would be simply to do away with the tax break and let businesses and consumers adjust. The insurance industry wouldn't stand around and watch its livelihood vanish. And tax rates could be adjusted to make sure the overall tax burden remains unchanged. You'd be shocked at how quickly the system would right itself.
Alas, there is panic on K Street when anyone suggests doing away with the tax break directly. The health industry goes ape. (Think doctors, hospitals, drug makers, insurers, etc. don't enjoy having a $200 billion-a-year tax subsidy to encourage consumption of their products? Think big business doesn't like having a tax subsidy for a good chunk of its employment costs? Think they don't lobby?)
So Mr. Bush makes peace with the tax code's bias toward health spending in order to do battle with the particular vice of our overreliance on third-party payment. He does so by equalizing the tax treatment of health dollars whether they flow directly from a consumer pocket (the vehicle here is health savings accounts) or through a third-party laundromat.
He would do so by equalizing the treatment of health insurance whether you buy it yourself or your employer buys it for you (his latest plan).
No, hosannas will not be sung to him by left or right. However, keep something in mind as the 2008 debate heats up. The oft-mouthed goal of expanding health insurance to the poor would be far easier to achieve if we stopped subsidizing overconsumption by the non-poor.
There's a lesson in presidential leadership here. Mr. Clinton lost interest in health care after a few months when he discovered health care wouldn't result in a monument to his presidency. In a very pre-postmodern approach, Mr. Bush identified the same basic problem and has worked steadily away at it, showing that a president can accomplish something as long as he's willing not to receive any credit.
The one great and glaring fault in his record is the creation of an unsustainable drug benefit to add to the unsustainable burden of future Medicare spending. Then again, what is unsustainable is unsustainable.
The pattern for that reform is already present between the lines -- towards greater reliance on saving than taxing, towards greater reliance on individual responsibility than on the illusory free-lunchism of government transfers. For the problem of Medicare is the problem health care writ small: The illusion that somebody else is available to pay our bills for us.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / The Sinai War of 1956
on: February 07, 2007, 08:09:25 PM
The Second War of Independence
The Sinai campaign of 1956 established that Israel was here to stay.
BY MICHAEL B. OREN
Wednesday, February 7, 2007 12:01 a.m. EST
Fifty years ago, at dawn on Oct. 29, 1956, Israeli paratroopers under the command of Col. Ariel Sharon dropped into the Mitla Pass deep in the Sinai Peninsula, 25 miles from the Suez Canal. The action was the first phase in a plan secretly forged by representatives of France, Britain and Israel, triggered by Egypt's nationalization of the canal three months before. According to the scheme, the paratroopers' landing would provide a pretext for the French and British governments to order both Egypt and Israel to remove all of their forces from the canal area. The Europeans anticipated that Cairo would reject that ultimatum, thus allowing them to occupy the strategic waterway. Israel dutifully executed its part of the scheme, smashing the Egyptian army in four days and conquering all of the Sinai Peninsula and Gaza Strip. The Anglo-French armada, however, was late in arriving, and soon withdrew under intense international pressure. The Suez War--known in Israel as the Sinai Campaign, or Operation Kadesh--was over within a week, but the battle over its interpretation was merely beginning.
Numerous books and articles have been written about the Suez Crisis, the first post-World War II crisis to pit nationalism against imperialism, and the West against the communist bloc. Historians have long agreed that the invasion was an unrelieved catastrophe for Britain and France, precipitating their expulsion from the Middle East and their decline as great powers. By contrast, the first three decades after the crisis saw debate over Israel's fortunes in the war, with some scholars asserting that Israel had benefited from the destruction of the Egyptian army, the opening of the Straits of Tiran, and the strategic alliance with France. Starting in the 1980s, however, a movement of self-styled New Historians, dedicated to debunking the alleged "myths" of Israeli history, depicted the Sinai Campaign as no less disastrous for the Jewish state. "Israel . . . paid a heavy political price for ganging up with the colonial powers against the emergent forces of Arab nationalism," wrote Avi Shlaim of Oxford University. "Its actions could henceforth be used as proof . . . that it was a bridgehead of Western imperialism in the . . . Arab world."
Twenty years later, Shlaim's analysis of the 1956 war has become universally accepted in academia, and not only among revisionists. In a New York Times article marking the 50th anniversary of Suez, Boston University's David Fromkin, author of the widely acclaimed study of the origins of the modern Middle East, "A Peace to End All Peace" (1989), similarly portrayed Israel's victory as Pyrrhic. "Israel compromised itself through its partnership with European imperialism," Fromkin alleged, echoing Shlaim. "The more Israel won on the battlefield, the further it got from achieving the peace that it sought."
Those who have challenged the magnitude of Israel's victory in 1956, however, fail to take into account the incompleteness of Israel's triumph in its 1948 War of Independence. Customarily, states that win on the battlefield dictate the terms of the peace. But while Israeli forces had repulsed the invading Arab armies and compelled them to sue for truce, Israeli negotiators failed to transform that military accomplishment into a diplomatic device for ending the conflict. The armistice agreements that Israel signed with its four neighboring Arab states between February and July 1949 did not, for example, extend recognition or legitimacy to the Jewish state; nor did they endow that state with permanent borders.
Further complicating this anomalous situation, the agreements created various demilitarized zones of uncertain sovereignty along Israel's frontiers--at the foot of the Golan Heights, for instance, and in Nitzana, along the Sinai-Negev border. Most deleterious of all for Israel, the armistice did not provide for peace. On the contrary, the agreements allowed the Arabs to insist that a state of war continued to exist between them and the "Zionist entity." This state of war, the Arabs argued, enabled them to fire at Israeli settlements in the demilitarized zones, to conduct an economic boycott of the Jewish state, and to blockade Israeli ships and Israel-bound cargoes through the Suez Canal and the Straits of Tiran. Arab states engaged in a relentless anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic propaganda campaign, designed to prepare their publics for a "second round" with Israel, this time to annihilate it. Propaganda did not suffice for some Arab countries, however, like Syria and Egypt, which sponsored cross-border terrorist (Fedayeen) attacks like that which killed eleven Israelis at Maaleh Akrabim in March 1954.
For the Arab states, the Palestine War, as they called it, had never really ended. Yet they were not alone in regarding Israel as an impermanent and unwanted presence: The Great Powers--the United States, Britain, France, and the Soviet Union--routinely treated Israel as a passing phenomenon and ignored its fundamental interests. Indeed, for the Powers, Israel was little more than what United States Secretary of State John Foster Dulles called "a millstone around our necks."
The period of 1948 to 1956 was one of profound upheaval in Great Power diplomacy in the Middle East. The United States was on the one hand striving to oust the old colonial powers, Britain and France, from the region, while on the other working with its European allies to prevent Soviet penetration. In response to the American threat, Britain and France sought to strengthen their alliances with local states--Britain with Jordan, Egypt and Iraq, and France with Syria and Lebanon--by guaranteeing their security and selling them modern arms. Israel, which was in no Power's interest, was completely left out of these arrangements. Worse, Israel's clashes with Egypt in 1949 and Jordan in 1956 nearly resulted in direct conflict between the IDF and British forces.
Viewed antagonistically by both Britain and France, Israel was hardly valued as an asset by the United States. The Republican administration of Dwight D. Eisenhower owed nothing to the Jewish vote, and was closely aligned with State Department Arabists and American oil companies active in the Middle East. Apart from parade items such as helmets and batons, the United States adamantly refused to sell arms to Israel, even laboring to prevent Israel from purchasing weaponry from its allies. Such transactions, the administration reasoned, would push the Arabs into the Soviet sphere and endanger vital oil supplies.
For their part, the Soviets had also thrown their support behind the Arabs. Though they had provided crucial diplomatic and military backing to the Jewish state in 1948, the Soviets, having secured their objective of ousting the British from Palestine, proceeded to change sides. By 1951, they were unremitting in their hostility to Israel, and after Stalin's death in 1953, the Kremlin adopted a policy of nurturing "bourgeois nationalist" regimes opposed to the West, such as those of Egypt and Syria.
America and Britain reacted to the Soviet threat by trying to organize Middle Eastern states into a regional defense organization similar to NATO. The alliance, known first as the Middle East Defense Organization (MEDO) and later as the Baghdad Pact, was to include Iraq, Jordan and hopefully Egypt. Israel, though it repeatedly petitioned for admission to the group, was continually rejected.
Moreover, while actively fortifying the Arabs, the Powers also implicitly upheld their own interpretation of the armistice. They refused, for example, to pressure the Arab states to end their economic boycott and blockade of Israel or to stem armed infiltration. Rather, they condemned Israel's attempt to establish settlements in the demilitarized zones, to send ships through the canal and the straits, and to retaliate against Fedayeen strongholds. They also opposed Israel's construction of a national water carrier that would transfer Galilee water to the Negev, thus facilitating the desert's settlement. The Negev, the Americans and the British determined in 1949, would eventually be detached from Israel and transferred to Arab sovereignty as part of a land-for-peace deal. Indeed, an Anglo-American plan, inaugurated in 1954 and codenamed "Alpha," called for the transfer of large swaths of the Negev to Egypt as a means of incentivizing it to join MEDO; the Egyptians, in turn, would grant nonbelligerency--not peace--to Israel. Though Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion rejected Alpha, American and British leaders were prepared to exert immense pressure on him to implement the plan should Cairo accept it.
Indeed, the Egyptians had long demanded the Negev as a land bridge between them and the Arab world. In secret meetings with Israeli diplomats after the armistice, Egyptian representatives repeatedly demanded that Israel forfeit all of the Negev--62% of its territory--as the price of ending the conflict. But the Egyptians were also express in stating that peace with the Jewish state was inconceivable for the foreseeable future. That position remained unchanged after the Egyptian Revolution of July 1952 and the ascendance of Col. Gamal Abd el-Nasser to power. Though Nasser continued the secret contacts with Israel, at one point even exchanging letters with Israeli Foreign Minister Moshe Sharett, at no time did he waver from the demand for all of the Negev, or change his rejection of immediate and full peace. In fact, starting in December 1954, Nasser embarked on a campaign to extend his primacy over the entire Arab world--an effort that required escalated hostility toward Israel and intensified opposition to the West. He proceeded to tighten the blockade and boycott of Israel, to order the Egyptian army to occupy parts of Nitzana, and to set up Fedayeen units to operate out of Gaza. He also declared war against the Baghdad Pact, rejecting Alpha and signing, in September 1955, the largest-ever Middle Eastern arms deal with the Soviet bloc.
This, then, was the regional and international situation that Israel confronted in the period before the Sinai Campaign. Surrounded by Arab states that were conducting acts of war against it--indeed, were arming themselves to obliterate it--Israel had no allies, no diplomatic support and no reliable supplier of weapons. Moreover, saddled with tens of thousands of new immigrants, many of them indigent, and a near-bankrupt economy in the wake of a devastating war that had killed 1% of its population, Israel was scarcely capable of maintaining its existence, much less of defending itself against Nasser, a regionally beloved and lavishly armed leader committed to its destruction. "O Israel! Weep . . . and await your end at any time now," declared the Egyptian-run Voice of the Arabs radio in 1955. "The Arabs of Egypt have found their way to Tel Aviv."
Israel's plight indeed seemed hopeless when, suddenly, in July 1956, Nasser announced the nationalization of the Suez Canal. The event prodded the French, who had begun to view Israel as a possible ally against Nasser and his support for Algerian rebels, to open secret discussions on a joint operation in Egypt and undertake to arm the IDF. The French, in turn, urged the British to cease threatening the Israelis and join in the clandestine talks. The result was the Sevres agreement, named after the Paris suburb in which it was surreptitiously signed. According to the document, Israel agreed to commence hostilities against Egypt. One month later, Sharon and his paratroopers descended into the Mitla Pass and the Sinai Campaign began.
The fighting was brutal, but the Israeli forces succeeded in crushing Nasser's troops with their newly supplied Soviet arms, conquering all of the Sinai and Gaza, and reaching the Suez Canal. Though a combination of Soviet military and American economic threats eventually persuaded Ben-Gurion to evacuate these territories, in return he received American pledges for Israel's future defense, along with the deployment of U.N. peacekeepers along the border with Egypt and in Sharm al-Sheikh, overlooking the Straits of Tiran. Finally freed of the danger of Egyptian attack and strengthened through commerce with Asia by way of the straits, Israel enjoyed a period of unprecedented peace and prosperity. It took advantage of those years to absorb waves of new immigrants and to galvanize its civil society. Many Israelis who lived through that time remember the decade after 1956 as the most halcyon in their lives, and in their country's history. And though Nasser unilaterally evicted the U.N. force in May 1967 and again blockaded the straits, the security guarantees Israel had obtained from the United States in 1956, and the international commitments it received regarding the inviolability of its borders and shipping rights, proved essential to generating support for Israel in the Six Day War.
Equally important, at least, was the permanence that Israel achieved as a result of the Sinai Campaign. In the aftermath of the war, the Powers ceased to regard Israel as a temporary entity whose territory could be bargained off to the Arabs. There would be no more Alphas, no more attempts to deprive Israel of the Negev or of any other part of its sovereign land. Nor did the United States endeavor to block Israel's acquisition of modern arms, which continued to flow from France. Indeed, with French assistance, Israel built the nuclear reactor that endowed it with capabilities unequaled except by those of the world's greatest powers.
Finally, though Israel did, by virtue of its collusion with Britain and France, confirm the Arab charge that the Jewish state was little more than a beachhead for imperialism, in truth that charge exists far more in the minds of contemporary Western historians than in Arab thinking of the late 1950s. An examination of Arab broadcasts and newspapers from the period reveals no substantial change in Arab hostility toward Israel--it was absolute before the war, and no less total after it. Similarly, the war could not have lessened chances for the success of a peace process that simply did not exist and, according to Nasser, would not for many, many years.
Contrary, then, to the conventional wisdom in academic circles today, Israel emerged from the Sinai Campaign economically, diplomatically, and militarily strengthened. It had forged vital alliances and earned the respect, if not yet the affection, of the Great Powers, while also enhancing its citizens' security. The situation that existed after 1948, in which Israel was denied legitimacy, permanence, and such fundamental rights as safe borders and freedom of shipping, had ended. The 1956 war allowed Israel to realize, finally, the unfulfilled aspirations of 1948, and in this represents the culmination of Israel's fight for independence.
Mr. Oren is a senior Fellow at the Shalem Center, a contributing editor of Azure and author of "Power, Faith, and Fantasy: America in the Middle East, 1776 to the Present" (Norton, 2007).
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Islam in America and the rest of the western hemisphere
on: February 07, 2007, 08:02:13 PM
In Defense of '24'
An Arab-American defends the real-life Bauers.
BY EMILIO KARIM DABUL
Wednesday, February 7, 2007 12:01 a.m. EST
I am an Arab-American as well as a fan of "24." The two things are not mutually exclusive, despite what the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) and other such groups have to say about this season's opening episodes possibly increasing anti-Muslim and anti-Arab prejudice in American society.
Most of the terrorists represented in "24" through the years have been Arab Muslims. Why? Well, probably because most terrorists today are, in fact, Arab Muslims. As a descendant of Syrian Muslims, I am very well aware that the majority of Muslims world-wide are peaceful, hard working, and law abiding. That still does not change the fact that the greatest terrorist threat to the U.S. today comes not from the ETA, the IRA, etc., but from one group: Islamic terrorists.
And this is what makes "24" a compelling drama every week. Instead of pretending Islamic terrorists don't exist, the show presents frighteningly real worst-case scenarios perpetrated by Osama bin Laden's followers. So CAIR thinks it's over the top for the terrorists in "24" to blow up Los Angeles with a nuke? Please, if bin Laden and his crew had nukes, most of us would be way too dead to argue over such points.
There is a dangerous trend in the U.S. today that involves skirting the truth at the risk of offending any individual or group. When Bill Cosby talks to African-Americans about self-respect and responsibility, and says publicly what many have been saying privately for years, he's branded a "reactionary," "misinformed," "judgmental," and so on. When "24" confronts America's worst fears about al Qaeda--whose goal remains to kill as many Americans as possible whenever possible--the show is said to be guilty of fueling anti-Muslim and anti-Arab prejudice.
Well, here's the hard, cold truth: When Islamic terrorists stop being a threat to America's survival, viewers will lose interest in "24," because it will have lost its relevancy. Until such time, I will continue to watch "24"--because, believe it or not, the idea that there are Jack Bauers out there in real life risking their lives to save ours does mean something to me.
And as for "24" causing a possible backlash against Muslims and Arab-Americans, where's the evidence of that? The show is now in its sixth season and there hasn't been one recorded incident of any viewer ever slurring or attacking any Muslim or Arab-American because of something that happened on the show. More to the point, in the latest episode President Palmer stated, "The American Muslim community is the greatest line of defense against these terrorists." He advocates strengthening ties with Islamic leaders across the U.S., and is opposed to measures that would in any way infringe upon the constitutional rights of Arab Americans.
That said, I would certainly welcome more characters in movies, TV programs and novels who reflect the overall Arab-American experience. Truth is, most of us don't have bomb-making skills or a desire to become human missiles. And there are Muslim and Arab-American CTU heroes out there, as well as doctors, superdads, women scientists, etc. But just as it took Saul Bellow to give literary voice to the Jewish-American experience, we need our own storytellers to weave the pastiche of tales that make up Arab-American life.
In the meantime, the next time a journalist decides to report on Arab-American concerns about shows like "24," maybe he could actually talk to someone other than CAIR and the Muslim Public Affairs Council, and seek out Arab-Americans with a different point of view. We actually do exist.
And maybe that same reporter could take a closer look at CAIR. Ask CAIR about the Holy Land Foundation and its support of Hamas. Ask it about the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and the CAIR board member who was named as an unindicted co-conspirator in that case--yet still sits on CAIR's board. Look a little closer, and maybe you'll find that CAIR has good reason to get nervous about shows like "24."
Because terrorists and their supporters continue to hide among us in plain sight, we need Jack Bauer, now more than ever.
Mr. Dabul is a free-lance writer and the author of "Deadline," a novel about modern terrorism.