Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Pizzeria owner tragically shoots armed robber
on: April 24, 2007, 06:28:16 AM
Moving GM's post and SgtMac's response to this thread-- Marc
This is why the "Chronic" and the SF bay area are such a joke.....
Re: SF Chronic: Oakland Pizzeria Owner “Tragically” Shoots Armed Robber
« Reply #1 on: April 21, 2007, 08:44:08 PM »
Quote from: G M on April 21, 2007, 05:06:36 PMhttp://hotair.com/archives/2007/04/21/sf-chronic-oakland-pizzeria-owner-tragically-shoots-armed-robber/
This is why the "Chronic" and the SF bay area are such a joke.....
What I found truly offensive was this piece of garbage
“There is definitely a balance,” said Officer Roland Holmgren, department spokesman. “This thing had potential — who knows where the suspects were going to take the situation? But by no stretch of the imagination are we agreeing with or justifying what the owner did.”
Holmgren said, “We’re not saying that we want citizens to go out there and arm themselves and take the law into their own hands. We want citizens to be good witnesses, to be good report-takers and to identify suspects.”
The shooting has left two families traumatized, Holmgren said. “There are no winners in this whole case,” he said.
As a police officer myself, I found this little bureaucratic weasel offensive as an example of my profession in the extreme. 'There are no winners in this whole case"....except the storeowner, society and the gene pool. Where is SF recruiting their officers from? Straight out of the BERKLEY?!
“We want citizens to be good (little sheeple) witnesses, to be good report-takers and to identify suspects (and be victims, if necessary....but for god sake don't fight back!).”
I'll let the late good Colonel Jeff Cooper speak my reply.
"We continue to be exasperated by the view, apparently gaining momentum in certain circles, that armed robbery is okay as long as nobody gets hurt! The proper solution to armed robbery is a dead robber, on the scene.”-Jeff Cooper
"The police cannot protect the citizen at this stage of our development, and they cannot even protect themselves in many cases. It is up to the private citizen to protect himself and his family, and this is not only acceptable, but mandatory.”-Jeff Cooper
Where I come from, our police department would have given the store owner a medal.
Aspiring raper? pffffft
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / The Power Curve
on: April 24, 2007, 12:36:24 AM
From yesterday's WSJ:
Shattering the Bell Curve
The power law rules.
BY DAVID A. SHAYWITZ
Tuesday, April 24, 2007 12:01 a.m. EDT
Life isn't fair. Many of the most coveted spoils--wealth, fame, links on the Web--are concentrated among the few. If such a distribution doesn't sound like the familiar bell-shaped curve, you're right.
Along the hilly slopes of the bell curve, most values--the data points that track whatever is being measured--are clustered around the middle. The average value is also the most common value. The points along the far extremes of the curve contribute very little statistically. If 100 random people gather in a room and the world's tallest man walks in, the average height doesn't change much. But if Bill Gates walks in, the average net worth rises dramatically. Height follows the bell curve in its distribution. Wealth does not: It follows an asymmetric, L-shaped pattern known as a "power law," where most values are below average and a few far above. In the realm of the power law, rare and extreme events dominate the action.
For Nassim Taleb, irrepressible quant-jock and the author of "Fooled by Randomness" (2001), the contrast between the two distributions is not an amusing statistical exercise but something more profound: It highlights the fundamental difference between life as we imagine it and life as it really is. In "The Black Swan"--a kind of cri de coeur--Mr. Taleb struggles to free us from our misguided allegiance to the bell-curve mindset and awaken us to the dominance of the power law.
The attractiveness of the bell curve resides in its democratic distribution and its mathematical accessibility. Collect enough data and the pattern reveals itself, allowing both robust predictions of future data points (such as the height of the next five people to enter the room) and accurate estimations of the size and frequency of extreme values (anticipating the occasional giant or dwarf.
The power-law distribution, by contrast, would seem to have little to recommend it. Not only does it disproportionately reward the few, but it also turns out to be notoriously difficult to derive with precision. The most important events may occur so rarely that existing data points can never truly assure us that the future won't look very different from the present. We can be fairly certain that we will never meet anyone 14-feet tall, but it is entirely possible that, over time, we will hear of a man twice as rich as Bill Gates or witness a market crash twice as devastating as that of October 1987.
The problem, insists Mr. Taleb, is that most of the time we are in the land of the power law and don't know it. Our strategies for managing risk, for instance--including Modern Portfolio Theory and the Black-Scholes formula for pricing options--are likely to fail at the worst possible time, Mr. Taleb argues, because they are generally (and mistakenly) based on bell-curve assumptions. He gleefully cites the example of Long Term Capital Management (LTCM), an early hedge fund that blew up after its Nobel laureate founders "allowed themselves to take a monstrous amount of risk" because "their models ruled out the possibility of large deviations."
Mr. Taleb is fascinated by the rare but pivotal events that characterize life in the power-law world. He calls them Black Swans, after the philosopher Karl Popper's observation that only a single black swan is required to falsify the theory that "all swans are white" even when there are thousands of white swans in evidence. Provocatively, Mr. Taleb defines Black Swans as events (such as the rise of the Internet or the fall of LTCM) that are not only rare and consequential but also predictable only in retrospect. We never see them coming, but we have no trouble concocting post hoc explanations for why they should have been obvious. Surely, Mr. Taleb taunts, we won't get fooled again. But of course we will.
Writing in a style that owes as much to Stephen Colbert as it does to Michel de Montaigne, Mr. Taleb divides the world into those who "get it" and everyone else, a world partitioned into heroes (Popper, Hayek, Yogi Berra), those on notice (Harold Bloom, necktie wearers, personal-finance advisers) and entities that are dead to him (the bell curve, newspapers, the Nobel Prize in Economics).
A humanist at heart, Mr. Taleb ponders not only the effect of Black Swans but also the reason we have so much trouble acknowledging their existence. And this is where he hits his stride. We eagerly romp with him through the follies of confirmation bias (our tendency to reaffirm our beliefs rather than contradict them), narrative fallacy (our weakness for compelling stories), silent evidence (our failure to account for what we don't see), ludic fallacy (our willingness to oversimplify and take games or models too seriously), and epistemic arrogance (our habit of overestimating our knowledge and underestimating our ignorance).
For anyone who has been compelled to give a long-term vision or read a marketing forecast for the next decade, Mr. Taleb's chapter excoriating "The Scandal of Prediction" will ring painfully true. "What is surprising is not the magnitude of our forecast errors," observes Mr. Taleb, "but our absence of awareness of it." We tend to fail--miserably--at predicting the future, but such failure is little noted nor long remembered. It seems to be of remarkably little professional consequence.
I suspect that part of the explanation for this inconsistency may be found in a study of stock analysts that Mr. Taleb cites. Their predictions, while badly inaccurate, were not random but rather highly correlated with each other. The lesson, evidently, is that it's better to be wrong than alone.
If we accept Mr. Taleb's premise about power-law ascendancy, we are left with a troubling question: How do you function in a world where accurate prediction is rarely possible, where history isn't a reliable guide to the future and where the most important events cannot be anticipated?
Mr. Taleb presents a range of answers--be prepared for various outcomes, he says, and don't rush for buses--but it's clear that he remains slightly vexed by the world he describes so vividly. Then again, beatific serenity may not be the goal here. As Mr. Taleb warns, certitude is likely to be found only in a fool's (bell-curve) paradise, where we choose the comfort of the "precisely wrong" over the challenge of the "broadly correct." Beneath Mr. Taleb's blustery rhetoric lives a surprisingly humble soul who has chosen to follow a demanding and somewhat lonely path.
I wonder how many of us will have the courage to join him. Very few, I predict--unless, of course, something unexpected happens.
Dr. Shaywitz is a physician-scientist in New Jersey. You can buy "The Black Swan" from the OpinionJournal bookstore.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Afghanistan-Pakistan
on: April 24, 2007, 12:25:06 AM
AFGHANISTAN: Approximately 200 Taliban fighters have been surrounded by Afghan and NATO forces in a village in the Chora district of Afghanistan's Uruzgan province, the Afghan Interior Ministry said. Several Taliban leaders, including Mullah Dadullah, are believed to be in the group, though the Taliban have denied Dadullah is in Uruzgan province. U.S. forces also reported that rebel leader Gul Haqparast was killed in an April 20 air attack in Afghanistan's Laghman province.
Pakistan: Political Pressure on the President
Pakistani opposition forces prepared for a large demonstration outside the Supreme Court in Islamabad on April 21 to protest the suspension of Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry. Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf and his aides have made plans to instigate clashes between the opposition and government supporters to justify a police crackdown in the Pakistani capital and send a strong message to the Red Mosque mullahs who are pursuing an aggressive Talibanization campaign. Though Musharraf still faces intense political pressure, he and his advisers seem to have more tricks up their sleeves to help the general finagle his way out of this political fracas.
The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party plans to lead a massive rally outside the Supreme Court in Islamabad on April 24 to express the opposition's solidarity with Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, whose suspension by the government sparked a national outcry that threatens Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf's hold on power. Musharraf might have thought the agitation caused by Chaudhry's suspension would fizzle out and give him room to ensure his and his party's victory in upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections; but the opposition, despite ongoing government raids and arrests targeting opposition leaders, has sustained a relatively solid campaign to oust Musharraf.
The chief justice issue is the driver behind a host of problems Musharraf is facing, including ongoing tensions between Kabul and Islamabad over Pakistan's involvement in sustaining the Afghan Taliban insurgency, a growing Talibanization campaign in Pakistan (especially the one led by a group of rogue mullahs from the Red Mosque in Islamabad), fresh sectarian clashes in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and the ongoing struggle to crack down on jihadist and Talibanizing forces in order to manage Islamabad's relations with Washington. Musharraf has had one too many sleepless nights riding this derailing train but knows that if he can manage to hold off the opposition on a couple of these fronts, he can handle the other issues and ensure he remains Pakistan's president.
In line with this plan, Musharraf is temporarily escaping the heat from the Chaudhry protests by going on a tour to Poland, Spain, Bosnia and Turkey to enhance Pakistan's trade ties. By leaving the country during a political imbroglio, Musharraf is indicating that he has things under control and his government is still in the driver's seat. The trip also will give Musharraf a chance to tackle one of his difficulties: Afghanistan. During the president's April 29-30 visit to Ankara, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan will mediate a face-to-face meeting between Musharraf and Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
Musharraf realizes the need to sustain Pakistan's relevance in Washington's eyes and has thus tacitly allowed Islamist militants to use Pakistan as a launchpad for attacks in neighboring Afghanistan, much to the ire of the Afghan government. Islamabad previously brushed off Karzai's allegations that Pakistan was fueling the Taliban insurgency as mere lies; however, Musharraf is likely to exhibit a marked change of attitude during the Turkey visit. Already fearing the growing Talibanization in his own country, Musharraf will assure Karzai that Pakistan will do more to rein in the Taliban along the border. Nothing concrete is likely to come out of these talks, but Musharraf could take incremental steps toward smoothing over Pakistan's relations with the Afghan government by the time he leaves Ankara.
While traveling, Musharraf has left his security and intelligence agencies in charge of managing the opposition protests. To counter the opposition's April 24 demonstrations, the Pakistani government has organized a 2,000-strong pro-government procession from Punjab to Islamabad, led by supporters of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League. Two notable figures that helped plan this march were Punjabi Law Minister Muhammad Basharat Raja and Salman Shah, financial adviser to Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz.
Islamabad is eager to show that there are sizeable numbers of pro-Musharraf lawyers willing to contend with the anti-government protesters. The purpose of the pro-government lawyers' march is to create the perception that the lawyers protesting the government are not the sole representatives of the legal community -- rather, they are a section of the legal community manipulated by the PML-N and Jamaat-e-Islami, the more radical of the two top parties in the Mutahiddah Majlis-i-Amal (MMA) Islamist alliance. The pro-government march planners also have arranged for several delinquents, party strongmen and government agents to take part and set off a confrontation between the chief justice supporters and the pro-government demonstrators. The anticipated clashes are intended to justify a government crackdown against the opposition protesters and demonstrate how the government is going on the offensive. Musharraf hopes to kill two birds with one stone by using this police crackdown to send a message to the Red Mosque mullahs, who have taken advantage of the Chaudhry debacle to advance their own aggressive Talibanization campaign.
Meanwhile, rumors abound that Musharraf has finally cut a deal with his primary political opponent, Benazir Bhutto of the Pakistan People's Party-Parliamentarians (PPP-P). The two are ready to cut a deal, but there is no assurance that either side will uphold its part of the bargain without backstabbing the other. In essence, Musharraf is being advised that Bhutto will betray him while Bhutto thinks Musharraf does not want to give up power to the extent the PPP-P would like. Bhutto is working on a power-sharing agreement with Musharraf that would allow her to return to Pakistan from exile in Dubai and build up the PPP-P's presence in the government. To finalize a deal, however, Musharraf has to stand down as the country's army chief to allow for the return of a civilian government. Musharraf has indicated during closed-door meetings that he will give up the army uniform in October. Nothing is set in stone yet, but it looks as though Musharraf will not be able to escape from this political storm without giving up his military title once the electoral transition is over.
The talk of Musharraf-Bhutto deal-making has also given the Pakistani government enough fodder to keep the Pakistani opposition front divided. The country's main Islamist group, the MMA, voiced its concerns April 22 about Bhutto's intentions when party leader Maulana Fazlur Rehman said in a Daily Times report that if the PPP-P was planning a deal with the government, it should do so in the open and not through hidden channels. Bhutto's PPP-P has long been wary of joining hands with the MMA because of ideological differences. This has prevented Bhutto from entering into any "grand alliance" with both the MMA and the PML-N (the smaller of the country's two main opposition parties led by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, whom Musharraf ousted from office in the 1999 coup). Knowing that Musharraf would not bend to the demands of a broad opposition coalition, Bhutto sees it in her interest to wage an independent campaign that would allow her to shore up her political position while keeping Musharraf in the picture to manage the army generals.
More important -- and contrary to public statements -- Bhutto sees Musharraf, who shares with the PPP-P a common secular ideology, as a medium through which her party could stage a political comeback. Should Musharraf lose his power, all bets are off. This is why, unlike Sharif, Bhutto does not favor using the Chaudhry crisis to oust Musharraf. She wants to use the crisis to pressure Musharraf into negotiating with her.
For any real deal to come from the Bhutto-Musharraf talks, the Pakistani president needs to devise some way to ensure he remains president without making the PPP-P look like it has sold out. One plan that has been circulating involves Musharraf getting re-elected by a comfortable majority in the current parliament before the parliament is dissolved ahead of general elections, thereby ensuring that he would not have to go up against a possibly unfriendly parliament when the time comes to vote on who takes the presidency in September or October. Such a move would be easily labeled unconstitutional, however, and would be a big risk for Musharraf considering the political pressure he already faces over the chief justice suspension. Another plan is to finish the current government's term as planned, dissolve the parliament and bring in an interim government to conduct the elections. Without the parliament in session to form an electoral college for the presidential election (the federal parliament and the four provincial legislatures constitute the electoral college that elects the president, per the constitution), the constitution dictates that the sitting president remains in charge. Musharraf can then step down as army chief, and give Bhutto and a large chunk of the opposition a legitimate reason to vote for him after the new parliament is voted in.
A number of different plans are in the works, and Musharraf is unlikely to have decided just yet on how he plans to contain the opposition forces. One thing for certain is that the general has not run out of options, and officials in Washington are just as eager to see how Musharraf manages to work his way out of this political fracas to ensure U.S. interests in combating al Qaeda and Taliban militants do not get tangled up in Musharraf's mess.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Environmental issues
on: April 23, 2007, 09:23:58 PM
From a emailing from Newt Gingrich:
I had a debate a couple weeks ago with Sen. John Kerry -- followed by a speech last week -- about something called "green conservatism." Some of my old friends have approached me to ask why I'm spending so much time talking about the environment -- and with a former Democratic nominee for President no less.
The answer is simple: For the last 36 years, I have watched the pro-regulation, pro-litigation, pro-taxation liberals label themselves as the only Americans who care about the environment.
The leftwing machine would have you believe that to care about clean air and water, biodiversity, and the future of the Earth you have to both buy in to their catastrophic scenarios and sign on to their command-and-control bureaucratic liberal agenda, including dramatic increases in government power and draconian policies that will devastate our economy, as the only solution to environmental challenges.
The time has come to define a fundamentally different approach to a healthy environment and a healthy economy. The time has come for the development of Green Conservatism as an alternative to big bureaucracy and big litigation liberal environmentalism.
Conserving Our Environment, Not Expanding Our Government
Before I talk about what I mean by Green Conservatism, I want to say a few words about how I got to this belief and why I think it's so important for the future of our movement.
I first became interested in conservation when I was a kid in Pennsylvania. Notice that I use the word "conservation." It reflects my fundamental disagreement with today's liberal environmentalists. I believe we should be good stewards of the natural world. We should "conserve" it for our benefit and our children's and grandchildren's benefit, not use it as an excuse for massively expanding regulation, litigation and bureaucracy.
In any case, as a child I originally wanted to be either a zoo director or a vertebrate paleontologist because I was fascinated by the natural world -- and still am. In 1971, I participated in the second Earth Day and became the coordinator of an interdisciplinary Environmental Studies program at West Georgia College. In my commitment to the environment, I was echoing the conviction of two well known Republican leaders. The first was President Theodore Roosevelt, who said that "the nation behaves well if it treats the natural resources as assets, which it must turn over to the next generation increased, and not impaired, in value." The other was then Gov. Ronald Reagan, who upon the occasion of the first Earth Day said that "[there is an] absolute necessity of waging all-out war against the debauching of the environment."
Liberal Environmentalism: Radical, Hysterical and Inaccurate
I care about conserving our environment. But for too many years, liberals have defined what it means to care about the environment -- and too often at a level that is so radical, so hysterical and so inaccurate that the first reaction of conservatives is to oppose them. Without articulate conservative leadership on conservation, the result has too often been that conservatives are labeled anti-environment. For too long, we have not led with our solutions for the environment, while liberals propose and dominate the debate with ill-conceived regulations, a focus on litigation instead of science, and a focus on taxes instead of markets and incentives. Conservatives have allowed liberals to monopolize and hold the high ground on a subject of great concern to all Americans. With your help, I want to change that.
We have every reason to call out all outlandish, fear-mongering exaggerations -- but that doesn't mean we should stop there when it comes to the issue of the environment.
For example, former Vice President Al Gore suggests that global warming is so bad that we could have a 20-foot rise in the oceans in the near future. No responsible scientist anywhere believes that to be true. But if the debate becomes, "Al Gore cares about the earth, and we're against Al Gore," we end up in a defensive position where the average American could end up perceiving conservatives as always being negative about the environment.
Green Conservatism: Pro-Freedom, Pro-Market, Pro-Environment
I'd like to offer you a different view: You can be totally committed to conservative principles -- to individual liberty, a market economy, entrepreneurship and lower taxes -- and still be a Green Conservative. You can believe that with the sound use of science and technology and the right incentives to encourage entrepreneurs, conservatism can provide a better solution for the health of our planet than can liberalism.
So what is Green Conservatism? Here are its basic values:
Green Conservatism favors clean air and clean water.
Green Conservatism understands biodiversity as a positive good.
Green Conservatism favors minimizing carbon loading in the atmosphere as a positive public value.
Green Conservatism is pro-science, pro-technology and pro-innovation.
Green Conservatism believes that green prosperity and green development are integral to the successful future of the human race.
Green Conservatism believes that economic growth and environmental health are compatible in both the developed and developing world.
Green Conservatism believes that we can realize more positive environmental outcomes faster by shifting tax code incentives and shifting market behavior than is possible from litigation and regulation.
Key to Green Conservatism: Energy Independence From Dangerous Dictatorships
A key part of Green Conservatism is to make sure that we don't have only an "environment policy," but we have a comprehensive "energy and environment" policy.
For green prosperity and green development, we have to have a strategy that makes the transition from the unimproved fossil fuels that dramatically improved the quality of life over the pre-industrial period. We need a new generation of clean energy that will: enable us, in national security terms, to be liberated from dependence on dangerous dictatorships; enable us, in economic terms, to be effective in worldwide competition; and enable us, in environmental terms, to provide for a much cleaner and healthier future.
Reliable, affordable energy is indispensable to economic growth around the planet, and economic growth is essential to a healthier environment. In so many ways, both here and abroad, we truly achieve "green through growth."
Sounds Good, but How Do We Get There?
You may have heard me say before that one of the reasons I am optimistic about the future of America is that we can expect four to seven times as much new scientific knowledge and innovation in the next 25 years as we have had in the past 100. As a result, America is truly ideally suited to meet the challenges of conserving our environment. Americans excel at precisely those capabilities that will be required: entrepreneurially led technological innovation and utilization of the power of the free market to provide better environmental outcomes with economic growth advantages, not disadvantages.
There are two key ways we can encourage this entrepreneurialism and innovation:
Allow Prizes to Compete With Process in Our Government-led Scientific Research Investments. We should significantly invest in prizes as a competitive alternative to the current peer-reviewed process of scientific research. We should, for example, offer prizes for the development of high gas mileage cars and other carbon-reduction challenges. We must maximize the rate at which we develop and diffuse new technologies both here and abroad, and prizes have historically unleashed dramatic creativity and innovation. Read here for a partial listing of examples of previous and current prizes.
Offer Carbon Reduction Tax Credits. Green conservatism values reducing the carbon loading of the atmosphere. The least economically disruptive and least government empowering models will be the most effective in achieving this value. We should therefore create a program of carbon-reduction tax credits. One such tax credit idea is to incentivize the creation of new energy production technologies that reduce carbon loading.
Our Entrepreneurs and Markets vs. Their Lawyers, Bureaucrats and Regulations
Our generation faces the extraordinary challenge of bringing to bear science and technology, entrepreneurship, and the principles of effective markets in order to enable people to have a good life both economically and environmentally.
So in the future, I'm going to be talking a lot about Green Conservatism. After all, conservatives can stand toe to toe with any liberal anywhere in America when it comes to wanting to build a better future for ourselves and our families. Four hundred years of American experience has demonstrated that a commitment to science, entrepreneurship and free markets can create better solutions for a better future than lawyers and bureaucrats and their never-ending schemes of regulation and taxation.
So stayed tuned. Green Conservatism is an idea whose time has come.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Fossilized Rainforest in Coal Mine
on: April 23, 2007, 08:56:02 PM
Scientists Find Fossilized Rainforest in Coal Mine
Monday, April 23, 2007
Scientists exploring a mine have uncovered a natural Sistine chapel showing not religious paintings, but incredibly well-preserved images of sprawling tree trunks and fallen leaves that once breathed life into an ancient rainforest.
Replete with a diverse mix of extinct plants, the 300-million-year-old fossilized forest is revealing clues about the ecology of Earth’s first rainforests.
The discovery and details of the forest are published in the May issue of the journal Geology.
“We’re looking at one instance in time over a large area. It’s literally a snapshot in time of a multiple square mile area,” said study team member Scott Elrick of the Illinois State Geological Survey (ISGS).
Over millions of years as sediments and plant material pile up, layer upon layer, the resulting bands become time indicators with the newest, youngest layer on the top and the oldest layer at the bottom.
Typically geologists peel away a vertical slice of rocky material to look at material, including fossils, over a period of time. A coal mine offers a unique view of the past. Instead of a time sequence, illuminated in the layer upon layer of sediments, the roof of an underground mine reveals a large area within one of those sediment layers, or time periods.
Miners in Illinois are used to seeing a few plant fossils strewn along a mine’s ceiling, but as they burrowed farther into this one, the sheer density and area covered by such fossils struck them as phenomenal, Elrick said.
That’s when they called paleobotanist Howard Falcon-Lang from the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom and William DiMichele, a curator of fossil plants at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.
"It was an amazing experience. We drove down the mine in an armored vehicle, until we were a hundred meters below the surface,” Falcon-Lang said.
“The fossil forest was rooted on top of the coal seam, so where the coal had been mined away the fossilized forest was visible in the ceiling of the mine."
Here’s what the miners and other scientists saw underground: Relatively narrow passageways wind through the “cave,” marked off with stout 100-foot-wide pillars to ensure the roof doesn’t collapse.
“It’s like in some bizarre Roman temple with tons of Corinthian pillars that are 100 feet across and only 6 feet tall,” Elrick told LiveScience. “As you’re walking down these passageways you see these pillars of coal on either side of you and above you — imagine an artist’s canvas painted a flat grey and that is sort of what the grey shale above the coal looks like."
The largest ever found, the fossil forest covers an area of about 40 square miles, or nearly the size of San Francisco. This ancient assemblage of flora is thought to be one of the first rainforests on Earth, emerging during the Upper Carboniferous, or Pennsylvanian, time period that extended from about 310 million to 290 million years ago.
A reconstruction of the ancient forest showed that like today’s rainforests, it had a layered structure with a mix of plants now extinct: Abundant club mosses stood more than 130 feet high, towering over a sub-canopy of tree ferns and an assortment of shrubs and tree-sized horsetails that looked like giant asparagus.
The scientists think a major earthquake about 300 million years ago caused the region to drop below sea level where it was buried in mud. They estimate that within a period of months the forest was buried, preserving it “forever.”
“Some of these tree stumps have been covered, geologically speaking, in a flash,” Elrick said.
Because the spatial layout of the forest has been maintained, the scientists can learn about entire plant communities, not just individual plants.
"This spectacular discovery allows us to track how the species make-up of the forest changed across the landscape, and how that species make-up is affected by subtle differences in the local environment," Falcon-Lang said.
DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Re: Mexico
on: April 23, 2007, 04:44:19 PM
Mexico's Security Woes: A Brazen Attack and High-Speed Chase
Mexican authorities have asked for U.S. help in locating the surviving gunmen who killed a top anti-crime official in Durango state and then broke through three police roadblocks as they led law enforcement officers on a dramatic high-speed chase that spanned two northern states. The audacity of the gunmen involved in this latest attack -- one of many during the month of April -- suggests the drug cartels and other criminals are undeterred by President Felipe Calderon's anti-crime efforts.
The chase began April 21 after Sergio Munoz, commander of the Durango state anti-organized crime unit, was abducted by about a dozen heavily armed men riding in two pickup trucks as he left his home in the city of Durango. Units from Mexico's military and the attorney general's office pursued the suspects, who fled north toward neighboring Chihuahua state. A first shootout, which occurred at a roadblock about 50 miles north of Durango in the small town of Donato Guerra, left two police officers dead and one wounded. A second gunbattle occurred at a roadblock farther north, near the town of Rodeo, leaving one officer wounded.
The suspects finally ran into tough opposition in the town of Inde, some 250 miles north of the site of the kidnapping. At that roadblock, law enforcement agents killed three gunmen, forcing the others to separate -- but not before they dumped Munoz's body on the side of the road. From there, some of the suspects reportedly escaped on foot, while others continued north in a black Suburban sport utility vehicle to the town of Las Nieves, where two small airplanes were waiting to take them to an old airfield in Parral, just across the border in Chihuahua state.
Despite tracking the suspects by helicopter, authorities on the ground were unable to locate them after losing radio contact with the airborne units. Believing Munoz's kidnappers to be headed toward the U.S. border, Mexican officials have asked the United States for help locating them.
April has been another violent month in Mexico. Munoz was at least the second state police official to be killed this month, after Guerrero state Police Chief Ernesto Gutierrez Moreno was shot to death by four men wielding assault rifles while eating dinner in a Chilpancingo restaurant with his wife and son. Moreover, the deaths of at least 30 people in several Mexican states during the month have been attributed to the drug cartels or other organized crime syndicates. Assassinations, grenade attacks, shootouts -- with police and one another -- and attacks against journalists are becoming the norm -- despite President Felipe Calderon's campaign against the cartels. So far in 2007, at least 720 people have been killed in organized crime-related violence across the country. At this rate, the death toll associated with such violence will top the 2006 toll of more than 2,000.
One of the reasons for the high casualty count, especially within the law enforcement community, is that officers are being targeted regardless of which side of the law they stand on. For example, Munoz, who headed Durango's Unit Against Organized Crime under the National Civil Police, could have been on the payroll of one of the cartels and been taken out by a rival cartel. On the other hand, he might have been an honest police officer who refused to cooperate with the cartels -- and paid the price.
Either way, the brazen assault on a top law enforcement official illustrates that Munoz's abductors had little fear of Mexican law enforcement -- or of the consequences should they be caught. Calderon's anti-crime campaign, it appears, has a long way to go before it shows much progress.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / AQ plans Hiroshima
on: April 23, 2007, 11:11:20 AM
Al-Qaeda plans 'Hiroshima'
April 23, 2007 12:00
Article from: </IMG>
AL-QAEDA leaders in Iraq are planning the first "large-scale" terrorist attacks on Britain and other western targets with the help of supporters in Iran, according to a leaked intelligence report.
Spy chiefs warn that one operative had said he was planning an attack on "a par with Hiroshima and Nagasaki" in an attempt to "shake the Roman throne", a reference to the West, according to The Times newspaper in the UK.
Another plot could be timed to coincide with Tony Blair stepping down as prime minister, an event described by Al-Qaeda planners as a "change in the head of the company".
The report, produced earlier this month and seen by The Sunday Times, appears to provide evidence that Al-Qaeda is active in Iran and has ambitions far beyond the improvised attacks it has been waging against British and American soldiers in Iraq.
There is no evidence of a formal relationship between Al-Qaeda, a Sunni group, and the Shi’ite regime of President Mah-moud Ahmadinejad, but experts suggest that Iran’s leaders may be turning a blind eye to the terrorist organisation’s activities," reports The Times.
The intelligence report also makes it clear that senior Al-Qaeda figures in the region have been in recent contact with operatives in Britain.
It follows revelations last year that up to 150 Britons had travelled to Iraq to fight as part of Al-Qaeda’s "foreign legion". A number are thought to have returned to the UK, after receiving terrorist training, to form sleeper cells.
The report was compiled by the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre (JTAC) - based at MI5’s London headquarters - and provides a quarterly review of the international terror threat to Britain. It draws a distinction between Osama Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda’s core leadership, who are thought to be hiding on the Afghan-Pakistan border, and affiliated organisations elsewhere.
The document states: "While networks linked to AQ (Al-Qaeda) Core pose the greatest threat to the UK, the intelligence during this quarter has highlighted the potential threat from other areas, particularly AQI (Al-Qaeda in Iraq)."
The report continues: "Recent reporting has described AQI’s Kurdish network in Iran planning what we believe may be a large-scale attack against a western target.
"A member of this network is reportedly involved in an operation which he believes requires AQ Core authorisation. He claims the operation will be on 'a par with Hiroshima and Naga-saki' and will 'shake the Roman throne'. We assess that this operation is most likely to be a large-scale, mass casualty attack against the West."
The report says there is "no indication" this attack would specifically target Britain, "although we are aware that AQI . . . networks are active in the UK".
Analysts believe the reference to Hiroshima and Naga-saki, where more than 200,000 people died in nuclear attacks on Japan at the end of the second world war, is unlikely to be a literal boast.
"It could be just a reference to a huge explosion," said a counter-terrorist source. "They (Al-Qaeda) have got to do something soon that is radical otherwise they start losing credibility."
Despite aspiring to a nuclear capability, Al-Qaeda is not thought to have acquired weapons grade material. However, several plots involving "dirty bombs" - conventional explosive devices surrounded by radioactive material - have been foiled.
Last year Al-Qaeda’s leader in Iraq called on nuclear scientists to apply their knowledge of biological and radiological weapons to "the field of jihad".
Details of a separate plot to attack Britain, "ideally" before Blair steps down this summer, were contained in a letter written by Abdul al-Hadi al-Iraqi, an Iraqi Kurd and senior Al-Qaeda commander.
According to the JTAC document, Hadi "stressed the need to take care to ensure that the attack was successful and on a large scale". The plan was to be relayed to an Iran-based Al-Qaeda facilitator.
The Home Office declined to comment
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Govt control of media-- radio
on: April 23, 2007, 10:27:35 AM
April 22, 2007
50% Good News Is the Bad News in Russian Radio
By ANDREW E. KRAMER
MOSCOW, April 21 — At their first meeting with journalists since taking over Russia’s largest independent radio news network, the managers had startling news of their own: from now on, they said, at least 50 percent of the reports about Russia must be “positive.”
In addition, opposition leaders could not be mentioned on the air and the United States was to be portrayed as an enemy, journalists employed by the network, Russian News Service, say they were told by the new managers, who are allies of the Kremlin.
How would they know what constituted positive news?
“When we talk of death, violence or poverty, for example, this is not positive,” said one editor at the station who did not want to be identified for fear of retribution. “If the stock market is up, that is positive. The weather can also be positive.”
In a darkening media landscape, radio news had been a rare bright spot. Now, the implementation of the “50 percent positive” rule at the Russian News Service leaves an increasingly small number of news outlets that are not managed by the Kremlin, directly or through the state national gas company, Gazprom, a major owner of media assets.
The three national television networks are already state controlled, though small-circulation newspapers generally remain independent.
This month alone, a bank loyal to President Vladimir V. Putin tightened its control of an independent television station, Parliament passed a measure banning “extremism” in politics and prosecutors have gone after individuals who post critical comments on Web chat rooms.
Parliament is also considering extending state control to Internet sites that report news, reflecting the growing importance of Web news as the country becomes more affluent and growing numbers of middle-class Russians acquire computers.
On Tuesday, the police raided the Educated Media Foundation, a nongovernmental group sponsored by United States and European donors that helps foster an independent news media. The police carried away documents and computers that were used as servers for the Web sites of similar groups. That brought down a Web site run by the Glasnost Defense Foundation, a media rights group, which published bulletins on violations of press freedoms.
“Russia is dropping off the list of countries that respect press freedoms,” said Boris Timoshenko, a spokesman for the foundation. “We have propaganda, not information.”
With this new campaign, seemingly aimed at tying up the loose ends before a parliamentary election in the fall that is being carefully stage-managed by the Kremlin, censorship rules in Russia have reached their most restrictive since the breakup of the Soviet Union, media watchdog groups say.
“This is not the U.S.S.R., when every print or broadcasting outlet was preliminarily censored,” Masha Lipman, a researcher at the Carnegie Moscow Center, said in a telephone interview.
Instead, the tactic has been to impose state ownership on media companies and replace editors with those who are supporters of Mr. Putin — or offer a generally more upbeat report on developments in Russia these days.
The new censorship rules are often passed in vaguely worded measures and decrees that are ostensibly intended to protect the public.
Late last year, for example, the prosecutor general and the interior minister appeared before Parliament to ask deputies to draft legislation banning the distribution on the Web of “extremist” content — a catch phrase, critics say, for information about opponents of Mr. Putin.
On Friday, the Federal Security Service, a successor agency to the K.G.B., questioned Garry Kasparov, the former chess champion and opposition politician, for four hours regarding an interview he had given on the Echo of Moscow radio station. Prosecutors have accused Mr. Kasparov of expressing extremist views.
Parliament on Wednesday passed a law allowing for prison sentences of as long as three years for “vandalism” motivated by politics or ideology. Once again, vandalism is interpreted broadly, human rights groups say, including acts of civil disobedience. In a test case, Moscow prosecutors are pursuing a criminal case against a political advocate accused of posting critical remarks about a member of Parliament on a Web site, the newspaper Kommersant reported Friday.
State television news, meanwhile, typically offers only bland fare of official meetings. Last weekend, the state channels mostly ignored the violent dispersal of opposition protests in Moscow and St. Petersburg.
Rossiya TV, for example, led its newscast last Saturday with Mr. Putin attending a martial arts competition, with the Belgian actor Jean-Claude Van Damme as his guest. On the streets of the capital that day, 54 people were beaten badly enough by the police that they sought medical care, Human Rights Watch said.
Rossiya and Channel One are owned by the state, while NTV was taken from a Kremlin critic in 2001 and now belongs to Gazprom. Last week, a St. Petersburg bank with ties to Mr. Putin increased its ownership stake in REN-TV, a channel that sometimes broadcasts critical reports, raising questions about that outlet’s continued independence.
The Russian News Service is owned by businesses loyal to the Kremlin, including Lukoil, though its exact ownership structure is not public. The owners had not meddled in editorial matters before, said Mikhail G. Baklanov, the former news editor, in a telephone interview.
The service provides news updates for a network of music-formatted radio stations, called Russian Radio, with seven million listeners, according to TNS Gallup, a ratings company.
Two weeks ago, the shareholders asked for the resignation of Mr. Baklanov. They appointed two new managers, Aleksandr Y. Shkolnik, director of children’s programming on state-owned Channel One, and Svevolod V. Neroznak, an announcer on Channel One. Both retained their positions at state television.
Mr. Shkolnik articulated the rule that 50 percent of the news must be positive, regardless of what cataclysm might befall Russia on any given day, according to the editor who was present at the April 10 meeting.
When in doubt about the positive or negative quality of a development, the editor said, “we should ask the new leadership.”
“We are having trouble with the positive part, believe me,” the editor said.
Mr. Shkolnik did not respond to a request for an interview. In an interview with Kommersant, he denied an on-air ban of opposition figures. He said Mr. Kasparov might be interviewed, but only if he agreed to refrain from extremist statements.
The editor at the news service said that the change had been explained as an effort to attract a larger, younger audience, but that many editorial employees had interpreted it as a tightening of political control ahead of the elections.
The station’s news report on Thursday noted the 75th anniversary of the opening of the Moscow metro. It closed with an upbeat item on how Russian trains are introducing a six-person sleeping compartment, instead of the usual four.
Already, listeners are grumbling about the “positive news” policy.
“I want fresh morning broadcasts and not to fall asleep,” one listener, who signed a posting on the station’s Web site as Sergei from Vladivostok, complained. “Maybe you’ve tortured RNS’s audience enough? There are just a few of us left. Down with the boring nonintellectual broadcasts!”
The change leaves Echo of Moscow, an irreverent and edgy news station that often provides a forum for opposition voices, as the only independent radio news outlet in Russia with a national reach.
And what does Aleksei Venediktov, the editor in chief of Echo of Moscow, think of the latest news from Russia?
“For Echo of Moscow, this is positive news,” Mr. Venediktov said. “We are a monopoly now. From the point of view of the country, it is negative news.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / The Way We Age Now- part three
on: April 23, 2007, 08:27:46 AM
"I get blue occasionally," he said. "I think I have recurring episodes of depression. They are not enough to disable me, but they are . . ." He paused to find the right word. "They are uncomfortable."
What buoys him, despite his limitations, is having a purpose. It's the same purpose, he says, that sustained him in medicine: to be of service, in some way, to those around him. He had been in Orchard Cove for only a few months before he was helping to steer a committee to improve the health-care services there. He tried to form a journal-reading club for retired physicians. He even guided a young geriatrician through her first independent-research study—a survey of the residents' attitudes toward Do Not Resuscitate orders.
More important is the responsibility that he feels for his children and grandchildren—and, most of all, for Bella. Her blindness and recent memory troubles have made her deeply dependent. Without him, I suspect, she would probably be in a nursing home. He helps her dress. He administers her medicines. He makes her breakfast and lunch. He takes her on walks and to doctors' appointments. "She is my purpose now," he said. Bella doesn't always like his way of doing things. "We argue constantly—we're at each other about a lot of things," Felix said. "But we're also very forgiving."
He does not feel this responsibility to be a burden. With the narrowing of his own life, his ability to look after Bella has become his main source of self-worth. "I am exclusively her caregiver," he said. "I am glad to be." And this role has heightened his sense that he must be attentive to the changes in his own capabilities; he is no good to her if he isn't honest with himself about what he can and can't do.
One evening, Felix invited me to dinner. The formal dining hall was restaurant-like, with reserved seating, table service, and jackets required. I was wearing my white hospital coat and had to borrow a navy blazer from the maître d'. Felix, in a brown suit and a stone-colored oxford shirt, gave his arm to Bella, who wore a blue-flowered knee-length dress that he'd picked out for her, and guided her to the table. She was amiable and chatty and had youthful-seeming eyes. But, once she'd been seated, she couldn't find the plate in front of her, let alone the menu. Felix ordered for her: wild-rice soup, an omelette, mashed potatoes, and mashed cauliflower. "No salt," he instructed the waiter; she had high blood pressure. He ordered salmon and mashed potatoes for himself. I had the soup and a London broil.
When the food arrived, Felix told Bella where she could find the different items on her plate by the hands of a clock. He put a fork in her hand. Then he turned to his own meal.
Both made a point of chewing slowly. She was the first to choke. It was the omelette. Her eyes watered. She began to cough. Felix guided her water glass to her mouth. She took a drink and managed to get the omelette down.
"As you get older, the lordosis of your spine tips your head forward," he said to me. "So when you look straight ahead it's like looking up at the ceiling for anyone else. Try to swallow while looking up: you'll choke once in a while. The problem is common in the elderly. Listen." I realized that I could hear someone in the dining room choking on his food every minute or so. Felix turned to Bella. "You have to eat looking down, sweetie," he said.
A couple of bites later, though, he himself was choking. It was the salmon. He began coughing. He turned red. Finally, he was able to cough up the bite. It took a minute for him to catch his breath. "Didn't follow my own advice," he said.
Felix Silverstone is, without question, up against the debilities of his years. Once, it would have been remarkable simply to have lived to see eighty-seven. Now what's remarkable is that he has the control over his life that he does. When he started in geriatric practice, it was almost inconceivable that an eighty-seven-year-old with his history of health problems could live independently, care for his disabled wife, and continue to contribute to research. Even today, most people his age cannot live as he does.
Partly, he has been lucky. His memory, for example, has not deteriorated significantly. But he has also managed his old age well. His goal has been modest: to have as decent a life as medical knowledge and the limits of his body will allow. So he saved and did not retire early, and therefore is not in financial straits. He kept his social contacts, and avoided isolation. He monitored his bones and teeth and weight. And he has made sure to find a doctor who had the geriatric skills to help him hold on to an independent life.
I asked Chad Boult, the geriatrics professor now at Johns Hopkins, what can be done to insure that there are enough geriatricians for our country's surging elderly population. "Nothing," he said. "It's too late." Creating geriatricians takes years, and we already have far too few. This year, just three hundred doctors will complete geriatrics training, not nearly enough to replace the geriatricians going into retirement, let alone meet the needs of the next decade.
Yet Boult believes that we still have time for another strategy: he would direct geriatricians toward training all primary-care doctors in caring for the very old, instead of providing the care themselves. Even this is a tall order—ninety-seven per cent of medical students take no course in geriatrics, and the strategy requires that the nation pay geriatricians to teach rather than to provide patient care. But, if the will is there, Boult estimates that it would be possible to establish courses in every medical school and internal-medicine training program within a decade. "We've got to do something," he said. "Life for older people can be better than it is today."
Boult and his colleagues have yet another strategy, just in case—a strategy that they have called Guided Care, and that doesn't depend on doctors at all. They're recruiting local nurses for a highly compressed, three-week course in how to recognize specific problems in the elderly, such as depression, malnutrition, isolation, and danger of falling; how to formulate a plan to remedy those problems; and how to work with patients, families, and doctors to follow through on the plan. In a test of the strategy, the researchers are putting the nurses to work in primary-care practices around Baltimore and Washington, D.C., and studying the results. It is a meagre solution for a huge problem, but it is cheap, which insurers demand, and, if it provides even a fraction of the benefit geriatricians have, it could nudge medical care in the right direction.
"I can still drive, you know," Felix Silverstone said to me. "I'm a very good driver."
After our dinner together, he had to go on an errand to refill Bella's prescriptions in Stoughton, a few miles away, and I asked if I could go along. He had a gold 1998 Toyota Camry with automatic transmission and thirty-nine thousand miles on the odometer. It was pristine, inside and out. He backed out of a narrow parking space and zipped out of the garage. His hands did not shake. Taking the streets of Canton at dusk on a new-moon night, he brought the car to an even stop at the red lights, signalled when he was supposed to, took turns without a hitch.
I was, I admit, braced for disaster. The risk of a fatal car crash with a driver who's eighty-five or older is more than three times higher than it is with a driver between sixteen and twenty. The very old are the highest-risk drivers on the road. This past fall, in Los Angeles, George Weller was convicted of manslaughter after he confused the accelerator with the brake pedal and plowed his Buick into a crowd of shoppers at the Santa Monica Farmers' Market. Ten people were killed, and more than sixty were injured. He was eighty-six.
But Felix showed no difficulties. At one point during our drive, poorly marked road construction at an intersection channelled our line of cars almost directly into oncoming traffic. Felix corrected course swiftly, pulling over into the proper lane. There is no saying how much longer he will be able to count on his driving ability. The day may well come when he will have to give up his keys.
At the moment, though, he wasn't concerned; he was glad simply to be on the road. The evening traffic was thin as he turned onto Route 138. He brought the Camry to a tick over the forty-five-mile-per-hour speed limit. He had his window rolled down and his elbow on the sash. The air was clear and cool, and we listened to the sound of the wheels on the pavement.
"The night is lovely, isn't it?" he said. ♦
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / The Way We Age Now- part twp
on: April 23, 2007, 08:26:24 AM
"Yes," he said. After she'd left, he told me, "You must always examine the feet." He described a bow-tied gentleman who seemed dapper and fit, until his feet revealed the truth: he couldn't bend down to reach them, and they turned out not to have been cleaned in weeks, suggesting neglect and real danger.
Gavrilles had difficulty taking her shoes off, and, after watching her struggle a bit, Bludau leaned in to help. When he got her socks off, he took her feet in his hands, one at a time. He inspected them inch by inch—the soles, the toes, the web spaces. Then he helped her get her socks and shoes back on and gave her and her daughter his assessment.
She was doing impressively well, he said. She was mentally sharp and physically strong. The danger for her was losing what she had. The single most serious threat she faced was not the lung nodule or the back pain. It was falling. Each year, about three hundred and fifty thousand Americans fall and break a hip. Of those, forty per cent end up in a nursing home, and twenty per cent are never able to walk again. The three primary risk factors for falling are poor balance, taking more than four prescription medications, and muscle weakness. Elderly people without these risk factors have a twelve-per-cent chance of falling in a year. Those with all three risk factors have almost a hundred-per-cent chance. Jean Gavrilles had at least two. Her balance was poor. Though she didn't need a walker, he had noticed her splay-footed gait as she came in. Her feet were swollen. The toenails were unclipped. There were sores between the toes. And the balls of her feet had thick, rounded calluses.
She was also on five medications. Each was undoubtedly useful, but, together, the usual side effects would include dizziness. In addition, one of the blood-pressure medications was a diuretic, and she seemed to drink few liquids, risking dehydration and a worsening of the dizziness. Her tongue was bone dry when Bludau examined it.
She did not have significant muscle weakness, and that was good. When she got out of her chair, he said, he noted that she had not used her arms to push herself up. She simply stood up—a sign of well-preserved muscle strength. From the details of the day she described, however, she did not seem to be eating nearly enough calories to maintain that strength. Bludau asked her whether her weight had changed recently. She admitted that she had lost about seven pounds in the previous six months.
The job of any doctor, Bludau later told me, is to support quality of life, by which he meant two things: as much freedom from the ravages of disease as possible, and the retention of enough function for active engagement in the world. Most doctors treat disease, and figure that the rest will take care of itself. And if it doesn't—if a patient is becoming infirm and heading toward a nursing home—well, that isn't really a medical problem, is it?
To a geriatrician, though, it is a medical problem. People can't stop the aging of their bodies and minds, but there are ways to make it more manageable, and to avert at least some of the worst effects.So Bludau referred Gavrilles to a podiatrist, whom he wanted her to visit once every four weeks, for better care of her feet. He didn't see medications that he could eliminate, but he switched her diuretic to a blood-pressure medicine that wouldn't cause dehydration. He recommended that she eat a snack during the day, get all the low-calorie and low-cholesterol food out of the house, and see whether family or friends could join her for more meals. "Eating alone is not very stimulating," he said. And he asked her to see him again in three months, so that he could make sure the plan was working.
Nine months later, I checked in with Gavrilles and her daughter. She turned eighty-six this past November. She is eating better, and has even gained a pound or two. She still lives comfortably and independently in her own home. And she has not had a single fall.
In the story of Jean Gavrilles and her geriatrician, there's a lesson about frailty. Decline remains our fate; death will come. But, until that last backup system inside each of us fails, decline can occur in two ways. One is early and precipitately, with an old age of enfeeblement and dependence, sustained primarily by nursing homes and hospitals. The other way is more gradual, preserving, for as long as possible, your ability to control your own life.
Good medical care can influence which direction a person's old age will take. Most of us in medicine, however, don't know how to think about decline. We're good at addressing specific, individual problems: colon cancer, high blood pressure, arthritic knees. Give us a disease, and we can do something about it. But give us an elderly woman with colon cancer, high blood pressure, arthritic knees, and various other ailments besides—an elderly woman at risk of losing the life she enjoys—and we are not sure what to do.
Several years ago, researchers in St. Paul, Minnesota, identified five hundred and sixty-eight men and women over the age of seventy who were living independently but were at high risk of becoming disabled because of chronic health problems, recent illness, or cognitive changes. With their permission, the researchers randomly assigned half of them to see a team of geriatric specialists. The others were asked to see their usual physician, who was notified of their high-risk status. Within eighteen months, ten per cent of the patients in both groups had died. But the patients who had seen a geriatrics team were a third less likely to become disabled and half as likely to develop depression. They were forty per cent less likely to require home health services.
Little of what the geriatricians had done was high-tech medicine: they didn't do lung biopsies or back surgery or PET scans. Instead, they simplified medications. They saw that arthritis was controlled. They made sure toenails were trimmed and meals were square. They looked for worrisome signs of isolation and had a social worker check that the patient's home was safe.
How do we reward this kind of work? Chad Boult, who was the lead investigator of the St. Paul study and a geriatrician at the University of Minnesota, can tell you. A few months after he published his study, demonstrating how much better people's lives were with specialized geriatric care, the university closed the division of geriatrics.
"The university said that it simply could not sustain the financial losses," Boult said from Baltimore, where he is now a professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. On average, in Boult's study, the geriatric services cost the hospital $1,350 more per person than the savings they produced, and Medicare, the insurer for the elderly, does not cover that cost. It's a strange double standard. No one insists that a twenty-five-thousand-dollar pacemaker or a coronary-artery stent save money for insurers. It just has to maybe do people some good. Meanwhile, the twenty-plus members of the proven geriatrics team at the University of Minnesota had to find new jobs. Scores of medical centers across the country have shrunk or closed their geriatrics units. Several of Boult's colleagues no longer advertise their geriatric training for fear that they'll get too many elderly patients. "Economically, it has become too difficult," Boult said.
But the finances are only a symptom of a deeper reality: people have not insisted on a change in priorities. We all like new medical gizmos and demand that policymakers make sure they are paid for. They feed our hope that the troubles of the body can be fixed for good. But geriatricians? Who clamors for geriatricians? What geriatricians do—bolster our resilience in old age, our capacity to weather what comes—is both difficult and unappealingly limited. It requires attention to the body and its alterations. It requires vigilance over nutrition, medications, and living situations. And it requires each of us to contemplate the course of our decline, in order to make the small changes that can reshape it. When the prevailing fantasy is that we can be ageless, the geriatrician's uncomfortable demand is that we accept we are not.
For Felix Silverstone, understanding human aging has been the work of a lifetime. He was a national leader in geriatrics for five decades. But he is now himself eighty-seven years old. He can feel his own mind and body wearing down, and much of what he spent his career studying is no longer abstract to him.
Felix has been fortunate. He didn't have to stop working, even after he suffered a heart attack in his sixties which cost him half his heart function; nor was he stopped by a near-cardiac arrest at the age of seventy-nine. "One evening, sitting at home, I suddenly became aware of palpitations," he told me. "I was just reading, and a few minutes later I became short of breath. A little bit after that, I began to feel heavy in the chest. I took my pulse, and it was over two hundred." He is the sort of person who, in the midst of chest pain, would take the opportunity to examine his own pulse. "My wife and I had a little discussion about whether or not to call an ambulance. We decided to call."
When Felix got to the hospital, the doctors had to shock him to bring his heart back. He'd had ventricular fibrillation, and an automatic defibrillator had to be installed in his chest. Within a few weeks, though, he felt well again, and his doctor cleared him to return to work full time. He stayed in medical practice after the attack, multiple hernia repairs, gallbladder surgery, arthritis that ended his avid piano playing, compression fractures of his aging spine that stole three full inches of his once five-foot-seven-inch height, and hearing loss. "I switched to an electronic stethoscope," he said. "They're a nuisance, but they're very good."
Finally, at eighty-two, he had to retire. The problem wasn't his health; it was that of his wife, Bella. They'd been married for more than sixty years. Felix had met Bella when he was an intern and she was a dietitian at Kings County Hospital, in Brooklyn. They brought up two sons in Flatbush. When the boys left home, Bella got her teaching certification and began working with children who had learning disabilities. In her seventies, however, retinal disease diminished her vision, and she had to stop working. A decade later, she became almost completely blind. Felix no longer felt safe leaving her at home alone, and in 2001 he gave up his practice. They moved to Orchard Cove, a retirement community in Canton, Massachusetts, outside Boston, where they could be closer to their sons.
"I didn't think I would survive the change," Felix said. He'd observed in his patients how difficult the transitions of age could be. Examining his last patient, packing up his home, he felt that he was about to die. "I was taking apart my life as well as the house," he recalled. "It was terrible."
We were sitting in a library off Orchard Cove's main lobby. There was light streaming through a picture window, tasteful art on the walls, white-upholstered Federal-style armchairs. It was like a nice hotel, only with no one under seventy-five walking around. Felix and Bella have a two-bedroom apartment with forest views and plenty of space. In the living room, he has his grand piano and, at his desk, piles of medical journals that he still subscribes to—"for my soul," he said. Theirs is an independent-living unit. It comes with housekeeping, linen changes, and dinner each evening. When they need to, they can upgrade to assisted living, which provides three prepared meals and up to an hour with a personal-care assistant each day.
This was not the average retirement community, but even in an average one rent runs thirty-two thousand dollars a year. Entry fees are typically sixty thousand to a hundred and twenty thousand dollars on top of that. Meanwhile, the median income of people eighty and older is only about fifteen thousand dollars. More than half of the elderly who live in long-term-care facilities go through their entire savings and have to go on Medicaid—welfare—in order to afford it. And, ultimately, the average American spends a year or more of his old age disabled and living in a nursing home (at twice the cost), which is a destination Felix desperately hopes to avoid.
He tries to note the changes he's experiencing objectively, like a good geriatrician. He notices that his skin has dried out. His sense of smell has diminished. His night vision has become poor. He tires easily. He has begun to lose teeth. He takes measures where he can. He uses lotion to avoid skin cracks; he protects himself from the heat; he gets on an exercise bike three times a week; he sees a dentist twice a year.
He's most concerned about the changes in his brain. "I can't think as clearly as I used to," he said. "I used to be able to read the Times in half an hour. Now it takes me an hour and a half." Even then, he's not sure that he has understood as much as he did before, and his memory gives him trouble. "If I go back and look at what I've read, I recognize that I went through it, but sometimes I don't really remember it," he said. "It's a matter of short-term registration. It's hard to get the signal in and have it stay put."
He makes use of methods that he once taught his patients. "I try to deliberately focus on what I'm doing, rather than do it automatically," he told me. "I haven't lost the automaticity of action, but I can't rely on it the way I used to. For example, I can't think about something else and get dressed and be sure I've gotten all the way dressed." He recognizes that the strategy doesn't always work. He sometimes told me the same story twice in a conversation. The lines of thought in his mind would fall into well-worn grooves and, however hard he tried to put them onto a new path, sometimes they resisted. Felix's knowledge as a geriatrician has forced him to recognize his own decline, but that hasn't made it easier to accept.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / The Way We Age Now
on: April 23, 2007, 08:25:01 AM
A nice find from David Gordon:
April 30, 2007
Annals of Medicine
The Way We Age Now
Medicine has increased the ranks of the elderly. Can it make old age any easier?
by Atul Gawande
The hardest substance in the human body is the white enamel of the teeth. With age, it wears away nonetheless, allowing the softer, darker layers underneath to show through. Meanwhile, the blood supply to the pulp and the roots of the teeth atrophies, and the flow of saliva diminishes; the gums tend to become inflamed and pull away from the teeth, exposing the base, making them unstable and elongating their appearance, especially the lower ones. Experts say they can gauge a person's age to within five years from the examination of a single tooth—if the person has any teeth left to examine.
Scrupulous dental care can help avert tooth loss, but growing old gets in the way. Arthritis, tremors, and small strokes, for example, make it difficult to brush and floss, and, because nerves become less sensitive with age, people may not realize that they have cavity and gum problems until it's too late. In the course of a normal lifetime, the muscles of the jaw lose about forty per cent of their mass and the bones of the mandible lose about twenty per cent, becoming porous and weak. The ability to chew declines, and people shift to softer foods, which are generally higher in fermentable carbohydrates and more likely to cause cavities. By the age of sixty, Americans have lost, on average, a third of their teeth. After eighty-five, almost forty per cent have no teeth at all.
Even as our bones and teeth soften, the rest of our body hardens. Blood vessels, joints, the muscle and valves of the heart, and even the lungs pick up substantial deposits of calcium and turn stiff. Under a microscope, the vessels and soft tissues display the same form of calcium that you find in bone. When you reach inside an elderly patient during surgery, the aorta and other major vessels often feel crunchy under your fingers. A recent study has found that loss of bone density may be an even better predictor of death from atherosclerotic disease than cholesterol levels. As we age, it's as if the calcium flows out of our skeletons and into our tissues.
To maintain the same volume of blood flow through narrowed and stiffened blood vessels, the heart has to generate increased pressure. As a result, more than half of us develop hypertension by the age of sixty-five. The heart becomes thicker-walled from having to pump against the pressure, and less able to respond to the demands of exertion. The peak output of the heart decreases steadily from the age of thirty. People become gradually less able to run as far or as fast as they used to, or to climb a flight of stairs without becoming short of breath.
Why we age is the subject of vigorous debate. The classical view is that aging happens because of random wear and tear. A newer view holds that aging is more orderly and genetically driven. Proponents of this view point out that animals of similar species and exposure to wear and tear have markedly different life spans. The Canada goose has a longevity of 23.5 years; the emperor goose only 6.3 years. Perhaps animals are like plants, with lives that are, to a large extent, internally governed. Certain species of bamboo, for instance, form a dense stand that grows and flourishes for a hundred years, flowers all at once, and then dies.
The idea that living things shut down and not just wear down has received substantial support in the past decade. Researchers working with the now famous worm C. elegans (two of the last five Nobel Prizes in medicine went to scientists doing work on the little nematode) were able to produce worms that live more than twice as long and age more slowly by altering a single gene. Scientists have since come up with single-gene alterations that increase the life spans of Drosophila fruit flies, mice, and yeast.
These findings notwithstanding, scientists do not believe that our life spans are actually programmed into us. After all, for most of our hundred-thousand-year existence—all but the past couple of hundred years—the average life span of human beings has been thirty years or less. (Research suggests that subjects of the Roman Empire had an average life expectancy of twenty-eight years.) Today, the average life span in developed countries is almost eighty years. If human life spans depend on our genetics, then medicine has got the upper hand. We are, in a way, freaks living well beyond our appointed time. So when we study aging what we are trying to understand is not so much a natural process as an unnatural one. Inheritance has surprisingly little influence on longevity. James Vaupel, of the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, in Rostock, Germany, notes that only six per cent of how long you'll live, compared with the average, is explained by your parents' longevity; by contrast, up to ninety per cent of how tall you are, compared with the average, is explained by your parents' height. Even genetically identical twins vary widely in life span: the typical gap is more than fifteen years.
If our genes explain less than we imagined, the wear-and-tear model may explain more than we knew. Leonid Gavrilov, a researcher at the University of Chicago, argues that human beings fail the way all complex systems fail: randomly and gradually. As engineers have long recognized, many simple devices do not age. They function reliably until a critical component fails, and the whole thing dies instantly. A windup toy works smoothly until a gear rusts or a spring breaks, and then it doesn't work at all. But complex systems—power plants, say—have to survive and function despite having thousands of critical components. Engineers therefore design these machines with multiple layers of redundancy: with backup systems, and backup systems for the backup systems. The backups may not be as efficient as the first-line components, but they allow the machine to keep going even as damage accumulates. Gavrilov argues that, within the parameters established by our genes, that's exactly how human beings appear to work. We have an extra kidney, an extra lung, an extra gonad, extra teeth. The DNA in our cells is frequently damaged under routine conditions, but our cells have a number of DNA repair systems. If a key gene is permanently damaged, there are usually extra copies of the gene nearby. And, if the entire cell dies, other cells can fill in.
Nonetheless, as the defects in a complex system increase, the time comes when just one more defect is enough to impair the whole, resulting in the condition known as frailty. It happens to power plants, cars, and large organizations. And it happens to us: eventually, one too many joints are damaged, one too many arteries calcify. There are no more backups. We wear down until we can't wear down anymore.
It happens in a bewildering array of ways. Hair grows gray, for instance, simply because we run out of the pigment cells that give hair its color. The natural life cycle of the scalp's pigment cells is just a few years. We rely on stem cells under the surface to migrate in and replace them. Gradually, however, the stem-cell reservoir is used up. By the age of fifty, as a result, half of the average person's hairs have gone gray.
Inside skin cells, the mechanisms that clear out waste products slowly break down and the muck coalesces into a clot of gooey yellow-brown pigment known as lipofuscin. These are the age spots we see in skin. When lipofuscin accumulates in sweat glands, the sweat glands cannot function, which helps explain why we become so susceptible to heat stroke and heat exhaustion in old age.
The eyes go for different reasons. The lens is made of crystallin proteins that are tremendously durable, but they change chemically in ways that diminish their elasticity over time—hence the farsightedness that most people develop beginning in their fourth decade. The process also gradually yellows the lens. Even without cataracts (the whitish clouding of the lens caused by excessive ultraviolet exposure, high cholesterol, diabetes, cigarette smoking, and other unhelpful conditions), the amount of light reaching the retina of a healthy sixty-year-old is one-third that of a twenty-year-old.
I spoke to Felix Silverstone, who for twenty-four years was the senior geriatrician at the Parker Jewish Institute, in New York, and has published more than a hundred studies on aging. There is, he said, "no single, common cellular mechanism to the aging process." Our bodies accumulate lipofuscin and oxygen free-radical damage and random DNA mutations and numerous other microcellular problems. The process is gradual and unrelenting. "We just fall apart," he said.
This is not an appealing prospect, and people naturally prefer to avoid the subject of their decrepitude. There have been dozens of best-selling books on aging, but they tend to have titles like "Younger Next Year," "The Fountain of Age," "Ageless," "The Sexy Years." Still, there are costs to averting our eyes from the realities. For one thing, we put off changes that we need to make as a society. For another, we deprive ourselves of opportunities to change the individual experience of aging for the better.
For nearly all of human existence, people died young. Life expectancy improved as we overcame early death—in particular, deaths from childbirth, infection, and traumatic injury. By the nineteen-seventies, just four out of every hundred people born in industrialized countries died before the age of thirty. It was an extraordinary achievement, but one that seemed to leave little room for further gain; even eliminating deaths before thirty would not raise over-all life expectancy significantly. Efforts shifted, therefore, to reducing deaths during middle and old age, and, in the decades since, the average life span has continued upward. Improvements in the treatment and prevention of heart disease, respiratory illness, stroke, cancer, and the like mean that the average sixty-five-year-old can expect to live another nineteen years—almost four years longer than was the case in 1970. (By contrast, from the nineteenth century to 1970, sixty-five-year-olds gained just three years of life expectancy.)
The result has been called the "rectangularization" of survival. Throughout most of human history, a society's population formed a sort of pyramid: young children represented the largest portion—the base—and each successively older cohort represented a smaller and smaller group. In 1950, children under the age of five were eleven per cent of the U.S. population, adults aged forty-five to forty-nine were six per cent, and those over eighty were one per cent. Today, we have as many fifty-year-olds as five-year-olds. In thirty years, there will be as many people over eighty as there are under five.
Americans haven't come to grips with the new demography. We cling to the notion of retirement at sixty-five—a reasonable notion when those over sixty-five were a tiny percentage of the population, but completely untenable as they approach twenty per cent. People are putting aside less in savings for old age now than they have in any decade since the Great Depression. More than half of the very old now live without a spouse, and we have fewer children than ever before—yet we give virtually no thought to how we will live out our later years alone.
Equally worrying, and far less recognized, medicine has been slow to confront the very changes that it has been responsible for—or to apply the knowledge we already have about how to make old age better. Despite a rapidly growing elderly population, the number of certified geriatricians fell by a third between 1998 and 2004. Applications to training programs in adult primary-care medicine are plummeting, while fields like plastic surgery and radiology receive applications in record numbers. Partly, this has to do with money—incomes in geriatrics and adult primary care are among the lowest in medicine. And partly, whether we admit it or not, most doctors don't like taking care of the elderly.
"Mainstream doctors are turned off by geriatrics, and that's because they do not have the faculties to cope with the Old Crock," Felix Silverstone, the geriatrician, explained to me. "The Old Crock is deaf. The Old Crock has poor vision. The Old Crock's memory might be somewhat impaired. With the Old Crock, you have to slow down, because he asks you to repeat what you are saying or asking. And the Old Crock doesn't just have a chief complaint—the Old Crock has fifteen chief complaints. How in the world are you going to cope with all of them? You're overwhelmed. Besides, he's had a number of these things for fifty years or so. You're not going to cure something he's had for fifty years. He has high blood pressure. He has diabetes. He has arthritis. There's nothing glamorous about taking care of any of those things."
There is, however, a skill to it, a developed body of professional expertise. And until I visited my hospital's geriatrics clinic and saw the work that geriatricians do, I did not fully grasp the nature of that expertise, or how important it could be for all of us.
The geriatrics clinic—or, as my hospital calls it, the Center for Older Adult Health—is only one floor below my surgery clinic. I pass by it almost every day, and I can't remember ever giving it a moment's thought. One morning, however, I wandered downstairs and, with the permission of the patients, sat in on a few visits with Juergen Bludau, the chief geriatrician.
"What brings you here today?" the doctor asked Jean Gavrilles, his first patient of the morning. She was eighty-five years old, with short, frizzy white hair, oval glasses, a lavender knit shirt, and a sweet, ready smile. Small but sturdy in appearance, she had come in walking steadily, her purse and coat clutched under one arm, her daughter trailing behind her, no support required beyond her mauve orthopedic shoes. She said that her internist had recommended that she come.
About anything in particular? the doctor asked.
The answer, it seemed, was yes and no. The first thing she mentioned was a lower-back pain that she'd had for months, which shot down her leg and sometimes made it difficult to get out of bed or up from a chair. She also had bad arthritis, and she showed us her fingers, which were swollen at the knuckles and bent out to the sides with what's called a swan-neck deformity. She'd had both knees replaced a decade earlier. She had high blood pressure "from stress," she said, and handed him her list of medications. She had glaucoma and needed to have eye exams every four months. She never used to have "bathroom problems," but lately, she admitted, she'd started wearing a pad. She'd also had surgery for colon cancer and, by the way, now had a lung nodule that the radiology report said could be a metastasis—a biopsy was recommended.
Bludau asked her to tell him about her life. She said that she lived alone, except for her Yorkshire terrier, in a single-family house in the West Roxbury section of Boston. Her husband died of lung cancer twenty-three years ago. She did not drive. She had a son living in the area who did her shopping once a week and checked on her each day—"just to see if I'm still alive," she joked. Another son and two daughters lived farther away, but they helped as well. Otherwise, she took care of herself quite capably. She did her own cooking and cleaning. She managed her medicines and her bills. "I have a system," she said. She had a high-school education, and during the war she'd worked as a riveter at the Charlestown Navy Yard. She also worked for a time at the Jordan Marsh department store in downtown Boston. But that was a long time ago. She stuck to home now, with her yard and her terrier and her family when they visited.
The doctor asked her about her day in great detail. She usually woke around five or six o'clock, she said—she didn't seem to need much sleep anymore. She would get out of bed as the back pain allowed, take a shower, and get dressed. Downstairs, she'd take her medicines, feed the dog, and eat breakfast. Bludau asked what she had for breakfast. Cereal and a banana. She hated bananas, she said, but she'd heard they were good for her potassium, so she was afraid to stop. After breakfast, she'd take her dog for a little walk in the yard. She did chores—laundry, cleaning, and the like. In the late morning, she took a break to watch "The Price Is Right." At lunchtime, she had a sandwich and orange juice. If the weather was nice, she'd sit out in the yard afterward. She'd loved working in her garden, but she couldn't do that anymore. The afternoons were slow. She might do some more chores. She might nap or talk on the phone. Eventually, she would make dinner—a salad and maybe a baked potato or a scrambled egg. At night, she watched the Red Sox or the Patriots or college basketball—she loved sports. She usually went to bed at about midnight.
Bludau asked her to sit on the examining table. As she struggled to climb up, her balance teetering on the step, the doctor held her arm. He checked her blood pressure, which was normal. He examined her eyes and ears and had her open her mouth. He listened to her heart and lungs briskly, through his stethoscope. He began to slow down only when he looked at her hands. The nails were neatly trimmed.
"Who cuts your nails?" he asked.
"I do," Gavrilles replied.
I tried to think what could be accomplished in this visit. She was in good condition for her age, but she faced everything from advancing arthritis and incontinence to what might be metastatic colon cancer. It seemed to me that, with just a forty-minute visit, Bludau needed to triage by zeroing in on either the most potentially life-threatening problem (the possible metastasis) or the problem that bothered her the most (the back pain). But this was evidently not what he thought. He asked almost nothing about either issue. Instead, he spent much of the exam looking at her feet.
"Is that really necessary?" she asked, when he instructed her to take off her shoes and socks.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Virginia Tech Shooting...
on: April 22, 2007, 08:21:54 PM
From the VirginiaTech web page on how to deal with workplace violence:http://www.ehss.vt.edu/Programs/OSD/...ceviolence.htm
What to Do When Violence Occurs
Never attempt to disarm or accept a weapon from the person in question. Weapon retrieval should only be done by a police officer.
Let's be realistic about reality
April 22, 2007
BY MARK STEYN Sun-Times Columnist
Within hours of the Virginia Tech massacre, the New York Times had identified the problem: ''What is needed, urgently, is stronger controls over the lethal weapons that cause such wasteful carnage and such unbearable loss.''
According to the Canadian blogger Kate MacMillan, a caller to her local radio station went further and said she was teaching her children to ''fear guns.''
Overseas, meanwhile, the German network NTV was first to identify the perpetrator: To accompany their report on the shootings, they flashed up a picture of Charlton Heston touting his rifle at an NRA confab.
And at Yale, the dean of student affairs, Betty Trachtenberg, reacted to the Virginia Tech murders by taking decisive action: She banned all stage weapons from plays performed on campus. After protests from the drama department, she modified her decisive action to "permit the use of obviously fake weapons" such as plastic swords.
But it's not just the danger of overly realistic plastic swords in college plays that we face today. In yet another of his not-ready-for-prime-time speeches, Barack Obama started out deploring the violence of Virginia Tech as yet another example of the pervasive violence of our society: the violence of Iraq, the violence of Darfur, the violence of . . . er, hang on, give him a minute. Ah, yes, outsourcing: ''the violence of men and women who . . . suddenly have the rug pulled out from under them because their job has moved to another country." And let's not forget the violence of radio hosts: ''There's also another kind of violence, though, that we're going to have to think about. It's not necessarily physical violence, but violence that we perpetrate on each other in other ways. Last week the big news, obviously, had to do with Imus and the verbal violence that was directed at young women who were role models for all of us, role models for my daughters.''
I've had some mail in recent days from people who claimed I'd insulted the dead of Virginia Tech. Obviously, I regret I didn't show the exquisite taste and sensitivity of Sen. Obama and compare getting shot in the head to an Imus one-liner. Does he mean it? I doubt whether even he knows. When something savage and unexpected happens, it's easiest to retreat to our tropes and bugbears or, in the senator's case, a speech on the previous week's "big news." Perhaps I'm guilty of the same. But then Yale University, one of the most prestigious institutes of learning on the planet, announces that it's no longer safe to expose twentysomething men and women to ''Henry V'' unless you cry God for Harry, England and St. George while brandishing a bright pink and purple plastic sword from the local kindergarten. Except, of course, that the local kindergarten long since banned plastic swords under its own "zero tolerance" policy.
I think we have a problem in our culture not with "realistic weapons" but with being realistic about reality. After all, we already "fear guns," at least in the hands of NRA members. Otherwise, why would we ban them from so many areas of life? Virginia Tech, remember, was a "gun-free zone," formally and proudly designated as such by the college administration. Yet the killer kept his guns and ammo on the campus. It was a "gun-free zone" except for those belonging to the guy who wanted to kill everybody. Had the Second Amendment not been in effect repealed by VT, someone might have been able to do as two students did five years ago at the Appalachian Law School: When a would-be mass murderer showed up, they rushed for their vehicles, grabbed their guns and pinned him down until the cops arrived.
But you can't do that at Virginia Tech. Instead, the administration has created a "Gun-Free School Zone." Or, to be more accurate, they've created a sign that says "Gun-Free School Zone." And, like a loopy medieval sultan, they thought that simply declaring it to be so would make it so. The "gun-free zone" turned out to be a fraud -- not just because there were at least two guns on the campus last Monday, but in the more important sense that the college was promoting to its students a profoundly deluded view of the world.
I live in northern New England, which has a very low crime rate, in part because it has a high rate of gun ownership. We do have the occasional murder, however. A few years back, a couple of alienated loser teens from a small Vermont town decided they were going to kill somebody, steal his ATM cards, and go to Australia. So they went to a remote house in the woods a couple of towns away, knocked on the door, and said their car had broken down. The guy thought their story smelled funny so he picked up his Glock and told 'em to get lost. So they concocted a better story, and pretended to be students doing an environmental survey. Unfortunately, the next old coot in the woods was sick of environmentalists and chased 'em away. Eventually they figured they could spend months knocking on doors in rural Vermont and New Hampshire and seeing nothing for their pains but cranky guys in plaid leveling both barrels through the screen door. So even these idiots worked it out: Where's the nearest place around here where you're most likely to encounter gullible defenseless types who have foresworn all means of resistance? Answer: Dartmouth College. So they drove over the Connecticut River, rang the doorbell, and brutally murdered a couple of well-meaning liberal professors. Two depraved misfits of crushing stupidity (to judge from their diaries) had nevertheless identified precisely the easiest murder victims in the twin-state area. To promote vulnerability as a moral virtue is not merely foolish. Like the new Yale props department policy, it signals to everyone that you're not in the real world.
The "gun-free zone" fraud isn't just about banning firearms or even a symptom of academia's distaste for an entire sensibility of which the Second Amendment is part and parcel but part of a deeper reluctance of critical segments of our culture to engage with reality. Michelle Malkin wrote a column a few days ago connecting the prohibition against physical self-defense with "the erosion of intellectual self-defense," and the retreat of college campuses into a smothering security blanket of speech codes and "safe spaces" that's the very opposite of the principles of honest enquiry and vigorous debate on which university life was founded. And so we "fear guns," and "verbal violence," and excessively realistic swashbuckling in the varsity production of ''The Three Musketeers.'' What kind of functioning society can emerge from such a cocoon?
©Mark Steyn, 2007
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / The Purpose of a Dog
on: April 22, 2007, 12:51:07 PM
The Purpose of a Dog - (From a 4 yr. old)
Being a veterinarian, I had been called to examine a ten-year old Irish
Wolfhound named Belker. The dog's owners, Ron, his wife, Lisa, and their
little boy, Shane, were all very attached to Belker and they were hoping
for a miracle.
I examined Belker and found he was dying of cancer. I told the family we
couldn't do anything for Belker, and offered to perform the euthanasia
procedure for the old dog in their home.
As we made arrangements, Ron and Lisa told me they thought it would be good
for the four-year old Shane to observe the procedure. They felt as though
Shane might learn something from the experience.
The next day, I felt the familiar catch in my throat as Belker's family
surrounded him. Shane seemed so calm, petting the old dog for the last
time, that I wond ered if he understood what was going on. Within a few
minutes, Belker slipped peacefully away. The little boy seemed to accept
Belker's transition without any difficulty or confusion We sat together for
a while after Belker's death, wondering aloud about the sad fact that
animal lives are shorter than human lives.
Shane, who had been listening quietly, piped up, "I know why."
Startled, we all turned to him. What came out of his mouth next stunned
me. I'd never heard a more comforting explanation.
He said, "People are born so that they can learn how to live a good life -
- like loving everybody all the time and being nice, right?" The
four-year-old continued, "Well, dogs already know how to do that, so they
don't have to stay as long."
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Fifth Column Iman Flyers
on: April 22, 2007, 09:43:32 AM
Fifth Column Imam Flyers
By Joe Kaufman and Gary Gross
FrontPageMagazine.com | April 20, 2007
“f they don’t trust the security, this is their problem, not our problem.
- Omar Shahin, teleconference about imam lawsuit
On November 20, 2006, when six imams were removed from a plane headed for Phoenix, Arizona, little was known about them. All that could be determined was that they were Muslim and that they were acting in a way that was deemed suspicious – the two things at an airport that sound the loudest alarms in our post-9/11 world. Who they were and why they were in Minnesota were things yet to be determined. However, knowing what we know today, given the venue that they were coming from, given at least some of their extremist pasts, given whom they ally themselves with, and given the fiasco that took place at the airport and its carefully produced aftermath with a known terror front, it’s safe to say that it was probably a mistake to allow them to board the plane to begin with.
Omar Shahin and NAIF
The North American Imams Federation (NAIF) held its 2006 annual conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Attending the three-day event were one newly elected Congressman – Keith Ellison – and a surplus of Islamist radicals masquerading as holy men. They included Siraj Wahhaj, an individual whose name is found on the U.S. Attorney’s list of “unindicted co-conspirators” of the 1993 World Trade Center attack, and Mazen Mokhtar, an Al-Qaeda web designer that has used the internet to proclaim his support for Hamas and suicide bombings. In fact, all three of the aforementioned are pictured on the same page of the NAIF conference program, side-by-side one another.
The President of NAIF (and one of the removed imams) is Omar Shahin. Before NAIF’s founding in 2004, Shahin was the imam and President of the Islamic Center of Tucson (ICT), a mosque that represented one of Al-Qaeda’s main hubs in America, prior to the ‘93 attack. One of Shahin’s predecessors at the mosque was Wael Hamza Julaidan, a former colleague of Osama bin Laden and bin Laden’s mentor, Abdullah Azzam. Shahin, himself, has admitted to once supporting bin Laden.
Throughout his time with and after leaving ICT, Shahin was involved in terror financing organizations. He was the Arizona Coordinator for the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (HLF), a Hamas charity whose funds were frozen by the U.S. government soon after 9/11. Under his leadership, thousands of dollars were raised for HLF through ICT. As well, Shahin was a representative for KindHearts, another Hamas charity that was shut down by the U.S. (February 2006). In both cases, Shahin walked free.
As ICT’s imam, Shahin has used his pulpit to target Jews and Christians, even with death. During his October 4, 2002 sermon, he stated, “Allah almighty has described his servants with a precise description in order for us to follow in their footsteps. Allah Almighty started by saying ‘the slaves of (Allah) Most Gracious’ as an indication to their real loyalty… What an honor for any one to be called by Allah ‘the slaves of (Allah) Most Gracious.’ Allah has dignified those alone among all humanity. Because of them, Allah will also dignify the whole Islamic Nation. Prophet Mohammed peace be upon him said: ‘you will keep on fighting with the Jews until the fight reaches the east of Jordan river then the stones and trees will say: oh Muslim, oh (servant) slaves of Allah, there is a Jew behind me; come and kill him…’”
During his December 20, 2002 sermon, he stated, “We should invite them [Christians] to investigate the religion of Islam especially nowadays we should give them the right information about Islam. And now let us open our hearts to what our great prophet said: Allah's Messenger (pbuh) said: You would tread the same path that was trodden by those before you span by span and cubit by cubit (inch by inch and step by step) so much so that if they had entered into the hole of the lizard, you would follow them in this also. We said: Allah's Messenger, do you mean the Jews and the Christians (by your words)? He said: Who else (than those two religious groups)?”
Another of the flying imams is Marwan Sadeddin, the Coordinator of the Imams Council of Arizona. Soon after the incident, Sadeddin discussed the matter of being ejected from the plane, on KFYI-Phoenix. When the host of the show confronted him about Omar Shahin’s involvement with Hamas-related charities, he responded by defending Hamas. He stated, “Hamas has nothing to do with [the] United States. Talk about Al-Qaeda only, because this is [sic] where they hit America. Hamas never said, ‘We are against America.’ They extend their hand many times to America, but America consider
it – the foreign policy of America consider Hamas – as a terrorist. That’s their business.” Just as recently as December of 2006, Hamas has threatened attacks on the U.S.
NAIF has a Board of Trustees comprised of seven individuals, including Shahin. One of them is Siraj Wahhaj (mentioned earlier). Another is Mohamad Mwafak Algalaieni, the imam of the Grand Blanc Islamic Center, located in Grand Blanc, Michigan. In December of 2001, Algalaieni showed up in support of terror charity head Rabih Haddad, at Haddad’s INS hearing. Haddad was deported, after having been arrested for his leadership role in the Global Relief Foundation (GRF), an organization that was shut down by the U.S. government for raising millions of dollars for Al-Qaeda and Hamas.
A third trustee is Johari Abdul-Malik, the imam of Dar Al-Hijrah, located in Falls Church, Virginia. On his radio show, in September of 2004, discussing the impact of 9/11 on the Muslim community, Abdul-Malik took the opportunity to laud one of his congregants, Ismael Selim Elbarasse, who had just been arrested for videotaping structural parts of Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay Bridge. Elbarasse, who has been described as a “high-ranking Hamas operative,” held a joint bank account with Hamas leader Mousa Abu Marzook for the purpose of financing the terror group. Another congregant, Ahmed Omar Abu Ali, in March of 2006, was sentenced to 30 years in prison for providing material support to Al-Qaeda, whilst plotting to assassinate President Bush. About the charges against Abu Ali, Abdul-Malik stated, “Our whole community is under siege.”
In addition to a Board of Trustees, NAIF has an Executive Committee. One of the committeemen is Ashrafuzzaman Khan, the former Secretary General (President, Amir) of the Islamic Circle of North America (see below). Prior to coming to the States, Khan was located in Bangladesh – then Eastern Pakistan. To this day, he stands accused of being a death squad leader for Al-Badr, the Muslim Brotherhood of Pakistan’s (Jamaat-e-Islami’s) former paramilitary wing, during the 1971 massacre that led to Bangladesh’s independence, personally responsible for the murders of numerous individuals.
On the NAIF website, one finds many pictures from past events. Two of the pictures contain Ibrahim Dremali, the imam of the Islamic Center of Des Moines (Iowa). Shortly before 9/11, Dremali was the contact for a group that was telling its followers to provide material support to a website that was raising funds and recruiting fighters for the Taliban and Al-Qaeda related groups. At an October 2000 rally, amidst burning Israeli flags and shouts of “Zionist blood will wet the sand,” Dremali told a crowd “not to be sad for those who were martyred and to not be afraid to die for what they believe in.”
Three of the pictures contain Wagdy Ghoneim, who, in January of 1999, was denied entrance into Canada for being a member of Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood and who, in January of 2005, was deported from the United States. In a November 2006 essay, Ghoneim stated, “We must all equip ourselves, and be prepared for jihad at any moment… and to constantly renew the intention [for jihad]… We must all strive in praying that Allah - the Exalted and Majestic - have revenge on the damned Jews and to weaken them, them and their allies, helpers, and those who aid them…”
One more pic contains Zulfiqar Ali Shah, the Imam of the Islamic Center of Milwaukee. Prior to it being shut down, Shah was the South Asian Director of KindHearts. In June of 2001, he is quoted as saying, “If we are unable to stop the Jews now, their next stop is Yathrib (The Prophet's city of Medina), where the Jews used to live until their expulsion by Prophet Muhammad (SAW). That's the pinnacle of their motives.”
According to its website, “NAIF seeks establishing relationships with Islamic organizations (IOs) that are licensed to operate in North America.” The site states that this relationship is “collaborative, complementary, and cooperative.” These “partner organizations” include:
The Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA), an umbrella organization for South Asian-oriented mosques and Islamic centers that was established, in 1971, to emulate the Muslim Brotherhood of Pakistan, Jamaat-e-Islami
The Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), an umbrella organization for Arab-oriented mosques and Islamic centers that was co-founded, in 1981, by convicted Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) leader Sami Al-Arian
Life for Relief and Development (LIFE), a Michigan-based “charity” that was raided, in September of 2006, by federal agents from the Joint Terrorism Task Force and has been linked to Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a defense mechanism for terrorists that was created, in June of 1994, by leaders of the now-defunct American propaganda wing of Hamas, the Islamic Association for Palestine (IAP)
CAIR and the Choreography
The last organization mentioned, CAIR, and another group, the Muslim American Society (MAS), have played large roles in the saga of the six flying imams. MAS, which led a “pray-in” for the imams at Reagan Washington National Airport on November 27, was created as a Muslim Brotherhood activist organization in June of 1993.
According to an officer in the police report concerning the November 20 affair, both he and a U.S. Federal Air Marshal “agreed the seating configuration, the request for seatbelt extensions, the prior praying and utterances about Allah and the U.S. in the gate area and the seating configuration chosen among the traveling group was suspicious.” [A U.S. Airways official added that three of the six only had one-way tickets and no checked luggage.] The officer then states that an FBI Agent “requested we detain the six passengers until he could arrive and interview the six individuals on their suspicious behavior.” The report later goes on to say that the imams were escorted off the plane and detained for further investigation. The removal took place sometime after 5:30 p.m.
After the removal, the magnified role of CAIR took form. According to a spokesperson for the airport:
The imams contacted CAIR that evening.
The imams spent the night at a CAIR members’ home.
The next morning CAIR put out a press release.
Following the pr, CAIR accompanied the imams to the airport and appeared with them on camera.
In Shahin’s own words: “Since minute one of this incident, I then contacted Ibrahim Hooper and brother Nihad Awad, and we arranged everything…. [W]e already coordinate with them everything, and we update each other every once [in] a while, every two hours, three hours. And everything is being coordinated with CAIR and with MAS. Even today, I asked MAS-Arizona chapter, please, whatever you want to do, just let brother Nihad Awad and Ibrahim Hooper know about it before you [do]. That’s what we are doing, and we are going to do that in the future. Inshallah.”
In addition, within days, Congressman Keith Ellison asked for a meeting with executives from U.S. Airways and the Minneapolis/St. Paul Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC), and Congressman John Conyers drafted a House resolution giving Muslims special civil-rights protections.
Now, the imams have filed a legal complaint against US Airways and MAC, and they are looking to sue individual passengers from the flight, those who alerted authorities, as well. The lawyer for the imams is Omar Mohammedi, the President of CAIR-New York, who is currently representing the Al-Qaeda-linked World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY), in a 9/11 lawsuit for the murders of 3000 people, in which CAIR is also named a defendant.
While there is no mention of it in the NAIF program, CAIR is said to have participated at the NAIF conference. As well, pictures of CAIR’s National Executive Director, Nihad Awad, speaking at previous NAIF events are found on the NAIF website.
All of the above leads towards the question: Has all of this been pre-planned – some grand scheme to make those in society hesitant about reporting activity which they deem to be suspect in nature?
Considering the fact that all of those concerned, in some way, shape or form, have been involved in extremist pursuits, the answer may very well be yes. Of course, if that is the case, that makes those that spoke out and those that took action unwilling partners to an unsuspected crime. Regardless of the answer, though, the fact that these imams are radicals, in itself, suggests that they should not have been permitted on the plane and, instead, should have been placed on a “no-fly” list. It is measures, such as this, that need to be taken, in order to ensure that our nation is protected from those that wish to destroy us from within… and above.
Joe Kaufman is the chairman of Americans Against Hate and the founder of CAIR Watch. Gary Gross is the director of the Let Freedom Ring blog.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Virginia Tech Shooting...
on: April 21, 2007, 11:49:30 AM
I suppose the following, sent to me by a usually reliable friend, belongs on the Well Armed People thread, but given the flow of the conversation here and that it addresses questions raised by Rog, I post it here.-- Marc
Some points of interest about crime, guns and violence in different countries. Not included is that in the late 90's in Florida, thieves and criminals were targeting people with rental cars. This was done because most rentals were people on vacation and were from other states. The reason for targeting these people was simple: They were not Florida citizens ( which has a concealed and carry gun law) and not likely to carry guns with them.
Australia: Readers of the USA Today newspaper discovered in 2002 that, "Since Australia's 1996 laws banning most guns and making it a crime to use a gun defensively, armed robberies rose by 51%, unarmed robberies by 37%, assaults by 24% and kidnappings by 43%. While murders fell by 3%, manslaughter rose by 16%."2
* Canada: After enacting stringent gun control laws in 1991 and 1995, Canada has not made its citizens any safer. "The contrast between the criminal violence rates in the United States and in Canada is dramatic," says Canadian criminologist Gary Mauser in 2003. "Over the past decade, the rate of violent crime in Canada has increased while in the United States the violent crime rate has plummeted." 3
* England: According to the BBC News, handgun crime in the United Kingdom rose by 40% in the two years after it passed its draconian gun ban in 1997.4
* Japan: One newspaper headline says it all: Police say "Crime rising in Japan, while arrests at record low."5
* In 1998, a study conducted jointly by statisticians from the U.S. Department of Justice and the University of Cambridge in England found that most crime is now worse in England than in the United States.
* "You are more likely to be mugged in England than in the United States," stated the Reuters news agency in summarizing the study. "The rate of robbery is now 1.4 times higher in England and Wales than in the United States, and the British burglary rate is nearly double America's."6 The murder rate in the United States is reportedly higher than in England, but according to the DOJ study, "the difference between the [murder rates in the] two countries has narrowed over the past 16 years."7
* The United Nations confirmed these results in 2000 when it reported that the crime rate in England is higher than the crime rates of 16 other industrialized nations, including the United States.8
(Sorry the following chart does not format well- Marc)
* The figures listed in the table are the rates per 100,000 people.
** Suicide figures for Japan also include many homicides.
Source for table: U.S. figures for 1996 are taken from the Statistical Abstract of the U.S. and FBI Uniform Crime Reports. The rest of the table is taken from the UN 1996 Demographic Yearbook (1998), cited at http://www.haciendapub.com/stolinsky.html
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / XMSR & SIRI
on: April 21, 2007, 10:28:08 AM
I have followed XMSR and SIRI for several years now, but have not invested in either of them since XMSR was as 32, so I post this WSJ editorial more out of sentiment than anything.
What's the Frequency, NAB?
April 21, 2007
Ever since satellite-radio companies XM and Sirius announced plans to merge back in February, the National Association of Broadcasters, which represents commercial AM and FM radio stations, has been urging federal regulators to quash the deal on antitrust grounds.
The NAB's argument is a remarkably weak one, and the government would be remiss if it became a party to the group's transparent agenda, which is to stop satellite radio from luring away any more of its listeners than it already has. Which isn't much, otherwise the two satellite-radio companies wouldn't be merging.
In the name of preventing some phantom "monopoly" from forming, the NAB is effectively asking regulators at Justice and the Federal Communications Commission to help it keep the competition in check and thus deprive consumers of figuring out whether this is a viable alternative radio service.
Don't take our word for it, by the way. Last October, just months before XM and Sirius unveiled their plans to combine, NAB President David Rehr spoke openly about the make-up of the current marketplace for audio news and entertainment. "We still must address new competitors," he said in a speech to the National Press Club in Washington. "On the radio side, we have satellite radio, Internet radio, iPods, other MP3 players, cell phones, and many, many other things. How will we compete?" Not much we can add to that.
Apparently that argument was fine so long as XM and Sirius were lost in space, losing money. Today, Mr. Rehr is saying that regulators should consider satellite radio a unique and separate market when assessing the competitive impact of the merger. In testimony before Congress, Mr. Rehr said XM and Sirius are seeking to form a monopoly that "would undermine audio content competition, not enhance it." The NAB has also commissioned several analyses of the merger that employ sophisticated Herfindahl-Hirschman Index measures and the like to determine that XM/Sirius would dominate the market for satellite radio.
It's true that a XM/Sirius merger would leave us with one satellite-radio provider. But opposing the deal on those grounds is wide of the mark. Sometimes the best response to what a person is saying today is what that person has said in the past. And despite Mr. Rehr's efforts of late to take it all back, the reality is that he had it right the first time.
Monopolies are harmful when they are the sole seller of a product or service with no close substitutes. And as Mr. Rehr acknowledged, substitutes -- competitors -- abound in the marketplace. XM and Sirius, whose subscribers currently represent less than 4% of total radio listeners, aren't merely competing for each other's customers; blocking the merger on that assumption makes little sense. The real objective of XM and Sirius is to lure listeners from free radio, the Internet, MP3 players, music channels on cable television, cell phones and who-knows-what-other options coming down the pike.
XM and Sirius, which have a combined 14 million subscribers, continue to lose money. More than 220 million people tune into free radio each week. No one knows whether the public will ever really take to the pay model, but it's not the role of the government to help the NAB smother a fledgling competitor in the crib. This appears to be a merger of desperation more than anything, and blocking it could well result in no satellite-radio providers and thus fewer listening options for consumers. Consumers, not the government, should decide whether one satellite-radio provider is one too many.
This isn't the first time the NAB has tried to forestall competition from XM and Sirius. The group opposed granting them radio licenses and urged the FCC and Congress to ban satellite providers from offering local weather and traffic reports. This is more of the same.
Telecom policy should not be about picking winners and losers but about encouraging investment and innovation. For that to happen, what's most important is competition among technological platforms: cable, telephone, wireless and satellite (for now). Policy makers and regulators would do better to focus less on static models of market share within one platform and more on making sure rival platforms continue to exist. Consumers will happily take care of the rest.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: The Batak of the Philippines
on: April 21, 2007, 10:16:10 AM
While Elicio and I did our interview on the porch of the main house, the elders sat inside talking. Across the way, a group of women huddled around a fire, with a number of children clinging to their bodies. All of them, the men, women, and children looked extremely unhealthy. And they looked unbelievably poor.
I didn't believe a word that Elicio was telling me, but his presence, his attitude, the presence of the church, and the artificiality of the whole situation signaled that this was the end of the Batak. Or even more accurately, the end of the Batak had come and gone. I was looking at the last few hold outs. And what was it exactly they were holding out for? Were they trying to preserve their culture? Their culture was already gone. The language was all that remained. Do you doom yourself and your children to lives of abject poverty, ridden with disease and living with hunger on a daily basis just to preserve a language?
Catching a moment alone with Lorenzo, I asked him what the worst problem was that tribe was facing. "The worst problem is that we get sick and there is no doctor. And sometimes we don't have food." He smiled and added, "But that is why foreigners are fat you have a lot of food, so your bodies are good."
Three Filipino teenagers entered the village with sports bags full of digital watches. "We trade watches to the Batak for chickens," explained one of the boys.
Why did the Batak need watches? They had no concept of time? Time was measured by seasons, each associated with a particular activity. For example, Tagpulot (honey season) is the time when they gather honey.
Besides not understanding hours and minutes, it isn't like their social calendars were full and they needed expert chronography.
I asked Elisio why the Batak needed watches. His answer was a bit strange. "Because they think the city people are rich."
I assume he meant that wearing a watch made them more like city people and thus made them appear rich.
I ducked around the house, to see what the Filipino boys were up to. Somehow I suspected they would be laundering money, dealing arms, trafficking narcotics, anything but selling watches. But there they were, with huge handfuls of watches, showing off their wares to a crowd of wide-eyed Batak. Behind the house, I found an old bolt-action rifle under a shed which had been converted into a muzzle loader
"We fill it with five packs of matches and BOOM!" explained one of the Filipino boys.
Dr. Fernandez told me the tribal people also had a new invention called a pig bomb. They cut the heads off of several packs of matches and wrapped them in tape with broken glass. The lethal bundle was then inserted into a piece of fruit and left in the jungle. When an animal bites it, his head explodes.
The village had recently enacted a program of collecting a nominal entrance fee from guests, which we gladly paid. We had also brought several kilos of rice, coffee, and sugar as gifts. Additionally, we had to pay Elicio 300 pesos for the interview. I also paid one old man for sitting for a portrait. As we were leaving Elicio informed me that we were expected to pay 100 pesos per photo we shot in the village. There were four of us with digital cameras, snapping away. I am all in favor of tribes earning money, but this was outrageous. I made a donation of several hundred pesos to the community coffers, and signaled that this was the end of the interview. As we drove back to town, I wondered if the Batak would get any of that money or if Elicio was raiding the cash register.
My second contact with the Batak was more positive. The Tag Balay volunteers set up a make-shift medical aid station, for Dr. La Guardia, another station for gifts, and a third for food. After Lorenzo and I said our hellos, the next person I talked to was Burt, a Tagbanua. He wore a blousy shirt, like a pirate, and loose trousers, with a huge bolo knife on his belt. Burt was noticeably taller than the Batak. In addition to being literate in Tagalog, he spoke excellent English.
"I was born in a tribal village like this one." He told me, with a kind of nostalgia. The tone of his voice, and the fact that he was hanging around the Batak village, suggested that he missed some aspects of the wild,
natural days of his youth. "I had no shirt and no pants until I went to the Catholic school. They taught me to read and write and to wear clothes."
Now Burt is a farmer, with his own house, in the Tagbanua village, near the highway. "The Batak still live in the jungle, but the Tagbanua moved to town because we want to live like everyone else."
Lorenzo and some other old men were doing their war dance, waving their wooden bolos, dancing around the drumming women. As a martial artist, it was interesting to me that the postures and positions of the war dance, done with two large bolos, one in each hand, looked like the Filipino stick-fighting martial art of Arnis (also called Kali or Escrima). What was interesting, however, was that the dance was only ceremonial, and the men would never practice striking with the bolo. In fact, the martial art, if they had ever known it, had been lost long ago, and only this vestige remained.
"Mayor Hagedorn is a good man, he does everything for the people. I am glad Tag Balay comes here to help them," said Burt. "Last time I came here they were all passed out on the floor, sick with malaria."
The farmer's life was obviously healthier than living in the jungle. Burt looked to be half as old as Lorenzo, but in actuality, they were probably about the same age. He told me he had 14 children by five wives. "They are all grown now. Some live in Manila, and some in Canada. We live exactly like city people now."
Marifi's team of volunteers were handing out toys to the Batak children and cookies to everyone. Very interesting was that as soon as they saw the toys, the children knew these were for them. But, coming from a society that had absolutely nothing, the kids had no clue how to play with toys. Action Rangers, cars, baby dolls, yo-yos and balls had no place in the jungle. The children were walking around holding them and looking at them. In most of the lean-tos the entire family was gathered around staring at the new toys,
in their decorative packages. There were also rattles and shaking and grasping toys for the infants. But no one knew which ones were for babies and they would just as likely be played with by a middle-aged head of a family. Or more accurately, they would be held and stared at by a middle-aged head of a family.
The bright colors were such a stark contrast to the green and brown of the forest. One boy had a ball but didn't know to play catch. He just carried it around from family to family, showing it off. One of the Tag Balay college kids took the ball and threw it to the boy. But the boy had no concept of catching. The ball just hit him, bounced off his chest and fell on the ground. A little girl had a baby doll, which she tried to play with, in spite of it still being in the plastic bag. It made crinkling noises when she hugged it. The same was true of the toy cars which were never removed from their packages.
One of the Tag Balay guys told me. "I brought some toys to a village two years ago. When we came back, a year later, the toys were still new. They were still in the original packages and the family just displayed them, like a decoration in their lean-to."
I took the Power Ranger from one boy and made it fly, making "Woosh! Woosh!" noises. The whole family laughed hysterically and then the boy tried to imitate me. Soon the whole troupe of children were trying it. I decided they thought flying, with "woosh" noises was the only game that could be played with a Power Ranger. Maybe two years later, they would still be doing the "woosh." Maybe they would call it the Antonio Game. Perhaps it would become a cult, and I could be the leader of a movement….My imagination tends to run away from me when I am in the jungle for more than ten minutes.
Marifi told me a lesson she learned from the Batak. "In a nomadic society, possessions are a burden."
On some level, wasn't this true for all of us? The things you own end up owning you. You become a slave to your car or house, working to make payments. A monk once taught me that possessions were a chain that prevented your soul from reaching the next level.
A lesson I learned from the Batak children was that it didn't occur to them to make Power Rangers fight. Dr. Fernandez words rang true. "Violence is just not a part of their ethos."
While the Tag Balay guys tried to teach the children to play yo-yo, most of the Batak adults lined up to be examined by Dr. LaGuardia.
"The most common problems in communal living situations like these are infectious diseases like TB, and then disease specific to living in the jungle like malaria." explained Dr. LaGuardia. "Internal and external parasites are also to be expected. They all have skin diseases, but we didn't receive a donation of skin medicines." The doctor confided in me, only half jokingly. "I am afraid to leave the Batak with ointments and pills because they may forget my instructions and start eating the ointment."
All the children had a runny nose and most adults had a cough. "They are vitamin deficient from their poor diet," diagnosed Dr. LaGuardia. He estimated the average weight of the Batak men to be about 40 kgs which was less than all but the smallest Filipina women in our party. It was less than half of my own body weight.
Lorenzo was running a fever and complained of difficulty breathing. Most patients turned out to have lung infections. Dr. LaGuardia said, "It could be from the environment. It could be from the smoky fire. Many of these diseases would disappear if they would learn to wash with soap and water."
Not to be insulting, but most of the tribal people smelled as if they didn't bath often, if at all. When it didn't rain, the river was completely dry, so obtaining water just for drinking must already
have been a hardship. Bathing would have been out of the question. And of course a lack of water brings up the questions of where were they getting their drinking water? And, was it clean?
Dr. LaGuardia was dispensing a lot of multi vitamins and antibiotics. "They all seem to have lung infections. We don't have a field test kit for TB, but we can treat it with antibiotics."
The Batak must also chew a lot of beetle nut because they had terrible teeth, black, red, and missing.
In the end, the doctor estimated that 80 percent of the patients were severely anemic. Dr. LaGuardia peeled back the lower eye-lid of one man and showed me. "The tissue here should be red." Instead, the man's tissue was completely white. "This is a sign of anemia." The man, Willis, was a muscular guy, who looked like the healthiest person in the village. But in actuality, he was one of the sickest.
When asked about his diet Willis said, "I wish I could eat more meat, but I can't afford it."
"We can treat the anemia with courses of multivitamins," said Dr. LaGuardia, explaining to the Batak patients how many pills they should take and for how many days. "But how can we be sure they will take them once we leave?"
"In prescribing medicines for tribal people you have to be careful about dosages. First, they are very small in stature. And second, they have never taken any medicine in their life. Luckily, with multivitamins we don't have to worry about vitamin toxicity. It would be different, however, if we were giving them A or E by itself because it accumulates in the body."
Trying to discover the source of the anemia, we quizzed the Batak about their diet. The story from all of them was the same. Kudot was the staple of the diet. The only meat they got was from small animals. Squirrels were often trapped in holes in hollow tree trunks and killed with a stick.
Francis, 21 years old, a Tagbanua working for the Tag Balay foundation told me he had lived his whole life in a Filipino style village. He even went to university for several years but had to stop because of financial constraints. Now, he was helping the tribes and doing translation. Francis had a gentle, kind spirit and seemed so at home in the village talking to everyone.
"I feel very happy to come here," said Francis, "I have more in common with these people than I do with city people."
Dr. LaGuardia suggested that someone should teach the Batak to domesticate chickens. "Chickens are easy to keep and feed. And that would eliminate the problem with anemia."
But Marifi said "No, they are nomadic. They can't domesticate animals and continue to live as nomads."
Dr. Fernandez explained further about the migratory habits of the tribe. "The Batak can replant forest foods closer to the village but they do very little actual agriculture. Nomadic is perhaps not the right word. They do move if they deplete the resources in a particular part of the forest. In recent years moving has been a means of dealing with encroachment from lowlanders. The Tagbanua are more sophisticated. They have had contact with Muslims since the early 1900's. They traded with Muslim seaborne traders who exploited them. They also had contact with Muslim pirates who committed raids." The Tagbanua were able to embrace the outsiders, or at least, deal with them in a constructive fashion. "Tagbanua women marry Muslim men. There have been attempts made to convert them to Islam, but it hasn't taken hold, although you do find some Muslim goods in their homes."
"The Batak, on the other hand, engage in conflict resolution by fission, moving away from trouble. This behavior is very common among hunter gatherers."
As for the acquisition of Muslim goods or houses among the Batak, Dr. Fernandez reiterated, "Material wealth is a burden to hunter gatherers."
As a rule, the Batak, unlike other ethnic minorities, don't make any attempt to go to the city and find jobs.
"They know they are always welcome at Tag Balay," explained Marifi, "And they sometimes walk all the way into the city when they have a problem. We keep beds for them in the back of the office, so they can sleep if they need to, but we don't encourage them to move into town."
Other than a few of the children, the youngest man wearing traditional garments was in his late thirties. The rest of the men were wearing jeans. Even in the most traditional of Batak villages, the culture was dying.
A little Batak boy named Jonus had just traded his loin cloth for basketball shorts and was trying to master his new yo-yo. He looked so much like a city kid, Marifi asked him, "Do you want to go to school?"
"No," he answered, without even a moment's hesitation. "Why not?" asked Marifi. "My family is too poor. We can't pay for school." "What if someone paid for you?" "No, I am too old for school, now."
Jonus looked like he was nine, but actually he was 13.
My experiences with the tribes in Thailand and Burma told me that tribal kids like being tribal kids. They like playing in the wilderness and hunting and gathering. They have no chores, or duties, or schedules apart from what is necessary to live. Also the apprenticeship for a hunter gatherer is much shorter than for a city dweller. Where it takes us 25 years to complete an education, and be able to support ourselves, and live as adults, tribal kids can learn all they need to know, and get married by their mid teens.
Time to go
When it was time for us to go, Lorenzo stood before the entire assembly and in a very dignified manner, befitting a polished statesman, made a lengthy speech of thanks to Marifi, Tag Balay, and Mayor Hagedorn.
The Batak women banged the drum as we made our way back to our vehicles.
Both Marifi and Dr. Fernandez agreed that the Batak were on their last leg. As proof, they both cited the book, The Road to Extinction, by James Eder. Mr. Eder outlines several causes why the tribal people, all over the world, are dying out: Deterioration of resources, loss of land or forced relocation, diet, diminished fertility, infant mortality, and mal nutrition. The lack of preferred spouses forces them to marry undesirable husbands and promote undesirable genes. Finally, the long term stress of foraging and worrying about food destroys the health of the hunter gatherers. Additional stress comes from worrying about being eaten by animals and stress caused by the threat of encroachment by outsiders.
As the tribe disappeared in the rearview mirror, I realized that soon they would disappear forever. Did that mean little Jonus would die, never having attended school? Lorenzo would surely be one of the first to go. Then who would be the leader of the tiny enclave that would be left? Would people like Elicio come and exploit them further? Posted by Bulatlat
Antonio Graceffo is an adventure author living in Asia. He writes about ethnic minorities, martial arts, and languages. He is the author of four books available on amazon.com Contact him Antonio@speakingadventure.com
see his website www.speakingadventure.com
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / The Philippines: culture, history, people, tourism
on: April 21, 2007, 10:14:58 AM
The Vanishing Batak Tribe
The end of the Batak had come and gone. Their culture was already gone. The language was all that remained. Do you doom yourself and your children to lives of abject poverty, ridden with disease and living with hunger on a daily basis just to preserve a language?
By Antonio Graceffo
Posted by Bulatlat
Lorenzo Batak stands about five feet tall, and wears the traditional loin cloth, made from bark. At fifty-four years of age he is one of the most respected tribal elders. His face is lined. His curly black hair has gone completely gray, and his teeth are disappearing, making him look much older than he really is. Of late, he has been plagued by a constant cough and shortness of breath. Lung infections are rampant among the tribal people, living in their jungle community. The homes are lean-tos composed of leaves and bamboo, centered around a fire pit. The makeshift dwellings are suitable for the Batak, a nomadic people, accustomed to abandoning their village, and relocating. In the past, their relocations were conducted in a rhythm with the natural ecosystem. They would move, so as not to deplete the forest resources, which have sustained their people for centuries. Lately, most of their relocations have been a reaction to forced incursions by lowlanders.
The Batak tribe of Palawan in danger
of disappearing. It is losing its identity,
with only its language remaining.
Today, the entire community has turned out to greet the outreach mission from Tag Balay, an NGO, lead by Marifi Nitor-Pablico of Tag Balay Foundation. Lorenzo recognizes me from a previous visit to another Batak village and he smiles broadly, slapping me on the chest. The tribe is much more excited to see Marifi and her team of volunteers who are bringing food and medicine. Perhaps the most important member of the team is Dr. Richard LaGuardia, an American Filipino doctor, living in Puerto Princesa, who donated his time and medical assistance. The young students from Palawan State University follow behind, carrying crates of donated medicines.
Batak women, wearing sarongs, bare-breasted squat in a line, at the long tribal drums, made from hollowed out tree trunks. They pound out a joyful rhythm with heavy club-like drum sticks.
The Batak, believed to be the oldest inhabitants of the Philippines, are one of three principal tribes, located in Puerto Princesa City, on Palawan Island. In the far south of the island is the Palawan tribe, who still live as cave dwellers, hunting in the forest with blowguns. Inside the limits of Puerto Princesa City are the Batak and Tagbanua. The Tagbanua are by far the largest of the Palawan tribes. Population estimates range from 15-25,000 persons. The Tagbanua are largely integrated, living in communities, raising rice crops, and sending their children to church and school, much as their Filipino neighbors. (Note: all tribes in the Philippines are more or less indigenous and are entitled to Philippine citizenship. The term Filipino here refers to the modern, non-tribal, majority of Filipinos.) The Batak still live largely as they have for centuries, as semi-nomadic hunter gatherers. They are by far the smallest tribe, both in stature and in numbers. The average Batak man barely stands five feet tall. The tribal population is estimated at 360 members.
The Batak are a negrito people, with kinky (curly) hair and dark skin. Their mother-tongue is called Binatak and is related to other regional languages of Malayic origin. While the Palawan and the Tagbanua tribes developed a unique alphabet, the Batak have never had a writing system. Anthropologists believe the Batak to be related to the Aeta people, found in other parts of the Philippines. The Batak also bare a resemblance to the Semang and Sakai tribes of the Malay Peninsula. As the Batak do not have a written history, much of the explanation of their origin is based on guess work. Dr. Carlos Fernandez, a retired professor of anthropology in Puerto Princesa and a leading authority on the Palawan tribes, explained that a commonly held theory is that Borneo was once connected to Palawan by a land bridge. The Batak and other tribes are believed to have migrated from Sabah, Malaysian Borneo, centuries ago. The theory goes on to suggest that the ultimate origin of these tribes may be from Madagascar.
In her book on the tribe, Bakas (an ethnographic documentation of the Batak indigenous people in Sitio Kayasan, Barangay Tagabenit, Puerto Princesa City, Palawan, Philippines) Marifi Nitor-Pablico recounts the legend which the Batak use to explain their own origin.
Long ago while a mother was sleeping, her four sons came in the house. The eldest son lifted her skirt and laughed at his mother's nakedness. The second son also laughed but not as much. The third son did not laugh at all.
The fourth son covered his mother with cloth. The father stepped in the room, and told the children this had been a test, and they had each won an award. To the oldest son he gave a stick used to beat bark for making cloth. To the second son, he gave a piece of torn cloth. To the third son he gave a piece of new cloth. And to the youngest he gave a piece of iron. From the oldest son came the Batak people. From the second, the Tagbanua. From the third, the Moro (rich Muslim traders). And from the fourth came the Spaniards.
Binatak, the dialect of the Batak, is classified as an Austronesian Malayo-Polynesian Meso-Philippine Palawano language. Due to contact with outsiders the Batak language has become the recipient of many loan words from Tagbanua, Tagalog/Filipino, Spanish, and English. Although illiteracy is extremely high, nearly 100 percent of Batak speak Filipino, the lingua-franca of the Philippines. The distance to the primary school is identified as primary reason why illiteracy can't be combated among the Batak.
"Violence is not part of their code of ethos" explained Dr. Fernandez, "They deal with conflict by running away. They avoided contact with foreigners. Historically, their only means of defense was moving deeper into the forest."
Aside from the fact that it was historically easy for lowlanders to steal Batak land, simply by driving them into the jungle, Marifi explained that as the Batak push deeper and deeper into inaccessible jungle, they moved further and further away from schools and medical aid stations. Even if they lived closer to a school, however, Batak families are extremely poor and would be unable to pay tuition fees.
Unlike tribal people in other countries, Batak enjoy full rights of citizenship, including land ownership. Under the Ancestral Domain Sustainable Development and Protection Plan (ADSDPP) the Batak are gaining land rights. But they are still extremely shy about dealing with outsiders and run from confrontation. As a result, sending them medical supplies, teaching them agriculture, or giving them land rights are nearly ineffective in helping to preserve this vanishing race of people.
Lack of access to doctors adds to their staggering rate of infant mortality. Several Batak women confirmed that the average number of babies born per family was eight, but normally only two would live.
The Batak are hunter gatherers, so their diet consisted largely of forest products and meat. In the last thirty years, the forest cover of the Philippines has decreased from 70 percent to 3 percent. Only three percent of the Philippine Islands are covered in old growth forest. Thanks to the efforts of the environmentally-minded Mayor Edward Hagedorn, Puerto Princesa City, with 49 percent old growth forest coverage, is referred to as "the cleanest and greenest" city in the Philippines, and possibly in the world. Even with
the protectionist measures, the environment of the Batak is shrinking. Today, there is very little large game left on Palawan Island. The largest animal they could hope to kill in the forest is a wild pig, and they are now becoming rare.
The Batak have made some changes to their diet, adapting the eating of rice to supplement the diminishing forest products. They buy additional foods from lowlanders when they have money. This has forced them into a market economy which they have very little understanding of. Batak are often cheated by the middlemen, whether they be Muslim, Chinese, or Filipino. They sell their products to local buyers at a fraction of their fair market value, because they have no direct access to the end-user markets in the city.
My first contact with the Batak was at Kalakwasa Village, a one hour walk from the paved road. When I met Lorenzo, an elder, I just assumed he would be the headman, and my point of contact. Instead, however, I was introduced to a much younger man, Eliseo, age 42, who claimed he was headman. Elisio claimed the village had been in its present location for 32 years. Nomads don't normally stay in one place for 32 years. I had trouble believing this and many others of his answers. "Before, we moved a lot. But now, we have settled here because no one came to help us when we lived deep in the forest." The Batak were living in houses, with woven walls, raised up non stilts. Elisio explained that these were not traditional Batak houses. "Before, our houses were made of natural materials. Now, we use wooden prefab materials provided by government." The new, permanent houses meant the tribe could no longer move.
Noticing that one of the buildings had a cross on the roof, I asked if it was a church. "Yes, we converted to Christianity (not Catholicism) ten years ago."
That single statement of fact explained the Disney like look of the village. Typical Filipino houses on stilts with woven walls were not typical for nomads. The fact that a young man was the leader also made no sense. But then Elisio explained.
"I worked with the missionaries. They taught me to speak Tagalog and to read. So, now I am the leader."
It would later turn out that not only was Elicio not the headman, but he was not even a Batak. He was a Tagbanua who had set himself up in business as guide and interpreter for foreign visitors to the tribe.
Dr. Fernandez explained that historically, the main outside influence on the Batak were the Muslim merchants who the Batak traded with when they were living in coastal regions. For the most part, however, the Batak were and are xenophobic, which is why the Spanish language and Catholicism never
caught on. Traditionally, the Batak followed an animist religion. They believed in spirits that lived in the forest, trees, rivers, and animals. Their value system was based on this belief system.
Recently, however, foreign missionaries, generally from Protestant sects, had been successfully converting villages. Once a village converts, every aspect of tribal identity disappears. In asking further questions about tribal customs and beliefs, Elisio either didn't know, didn't want to say, or just outright lied, so that he could provide us with the standard Christian answers which would have been no different than if we had remained in town and interviewed any Filipino working in a bank in Puerto Princesa.
Example: "What is the average marriage age of the tribe?” "Eighteen," answered Elisio.
This answer is a clear fabrication. Rural Filipinos don't even wait till eighteen to marry. For tribal people, the answer should be closer to twelve. Dr. Fernandez would later confirm that the onset of puberty is the signal that the child is ready for marriage.
"How many children do most families have?" "Two"
This was a near lie. The correct answer, as I would learn from Marifi and Dr. Fernandez later, was that the average family had eight children, but on average only two would live.
"How many wives do the tribal people have?" "Only one," answered Elisio, dutifully lying.
The Batak traditionally allowed polygamy, but it didn't come up very often because the man had to be wealthy enough to support the additional wives and children. After Christian conversion, this practice became taboo.
Tribal people, nearly everywhere, live in harmony with nature. Their existence is one of delicate balance. If any element is taken from the equation, if any changes are made to the eco system, they could go extinct.
If researched and studied deeply, every aspect of their cultural belief system is normally found to have practical and positive applications. Said another way, all that they do, they do in order that the tribe may continue to exist.
In choosing a mate, women will choose the man who is the best provider. If asked, she knows that this increases the chances of survival of her children. But modern researchers will also see a kind of social Darwinism in this practice. The best provider will probably be the biggest, the strongest, the healthiest or the cleverest man. By marrying and fathering children, these desirable genes are perpetuated. And the tribe as a whole becomes stronger. If the feeblest men married the feeblest women, they would produce feeble children who would not survive. Polygamy could really only be practiced by men who were super providers. There is an implication that they were carrying genes for unusually desirable traits, and so, polygamy gave them the opportunity to produce as many offspring as possible.
Another important function of polygamy is that the tribal people know that siblings shouldn't marry. Most tribes also discourage first cousins from marrying, but if there are no other spouses available even first cousins will marry. Polygamy would increase the marriage pool, so that men who were already married wouldn't be off the list of potential husbands.
Once the tribe converted to Christianity, they stopped practicing polygamy. The marriage pool decreased in size and women were often forced to marry "undesirable" men.
"Do cousins marry?" "Never," said Elicio, "We go to the other village to find a wife if none is available here."
This was again a near lie. Cousins did marry, because of the ever shrinking gene pool. If 30 families live in a village, and each have only two children, it doesn't take long for everyone to be related. As for finding
a wife in another village, Marifi explained that this often meant marrying a Tagbanua. Because of so many intermarriages, the Batak are being slowly bred out of existence.
Dr. Fernandez said that as a result of poor diet and disease, Batak men have become very small. "In Asia," He said. "Women can marry up or they can marry at the same level, but they cannot marry down. Batak men are becoming undesirable candidates for marriage, so many of the Batak women are marrying Tagbanua."
The Tagbanua just looked healthier and stronger than Batak men. They were also richer. A large percentage of them farmed rice and lived in or near the city. Some even had regular jobs.
Marifi confirmed, "It is getting harder and harder for Batak men to marry."
"What do you do with your dead?" I asked Elicio. "We bury them in a coffin."
Superstitions and rituals
Once again, the Christian answer was given. In reality, tribal people usually have a number of superstitions and rituals associated with death. Some tribes actually relocate the entire village if one person dies.
According to Dr. Fernandez, the Batak would burn the house where the dead person had lived, and no one would live in that house again. This superstition had the practical function of preventing the spread of
communicable diseases. Now that they lived in pre-fab houses bought in the city, I wondered how quick they would be to burn them. And would not burning the home of the deceased result in more deaths?
The part of his story that was believable was that the pastor hadn't been to the village in ages. This was so common and frustrating among tribal people. Missionaries convert them, destroy the culture, and then leave.
Elisio told me that the church also served as a school for the Batak children. The teacher only came on Mondays and Tuesdays and taught first and second grade. As a result, although the church/school had been there for ten years, nearly everyone was still illiterate.
In most tribes babies are delivered at home, by midwives, as is the custom of the Batak. In many tribes it is customary to cut the umbilical cord with bamboo, a practice which leads to infection and threatens the life of the mother and infant. When I asked Elicio about this, he answered.
"The midwife uses scissors and she boils them for thirty minutes to sterilize them first."
This was one more answer that had been programmed into him by the missionaries. And of course, it turned out to be untrue. In questioning Batak women in another village, I found out that they use bamboo to cut the umbilical cord.
According to Elicio there were 33 families, 140 people living in the village. Dr. Fernandez explained that the political organization of the Batak was very loose, much simpler than the organization of say the Native
Americans. Native Americans had chiefs and councils. They had political units and sub units. But with the Batak there isn't even a chief, just a village headman, who is consulted and whose opinion weighs more than that of the others, but he is not the boss. This type of structure can only work for about 90 people. Native Americans, on the other hand, were able to organize thousands and even tens of thousands of members in their nations. For the Batak, when the limit, of about 90, is reached, they would split off and
form a new village.
According to this information, Elicio's village was way past being due for a split. Once again, this was putting unusual pressure on the forest resources to sustain this unnaturally large group of people.
Elicio was wearing basketball shorts and a T-shirt. Only the very old men seemed to be wearing a loin cloth. Many of the adolescents and even up to their thirties were wearing jeans. I asked if the missionaries had introduced the wearing of clothes. But Elicio answered, "No, we want to look like city people." Whether this was the case of not, the tribal culture was clearly dying out.
"Do you still hunt in the jungle with bows and arrows?" I asked. Elicio assured me that they did.
Always interested in primitive weaponry I asked to see them.
Elicio turned to Lorenzo and, ostensibly, asked in Batak language, for the bows.
"Our bows are already at the museum." answered Lorenzo.
A diet of tuber
Elicio said the tribe ate a diet of fruits, vegetables, and meat they hunted. The lack of bows suggested they weren't doing any hunting. And fruits and vegetables don't grow so readily in the wild. Even if they did,
they would be depleted by the tribe's lack of mobility. I would later find out that the Batak ate a diet which consisted almost exclusively of a tuber called kudot. It looks like a white root, which is so tough that it should be inedible. But the Batak would pound it and boil it for hours, till it had a consistency of mashed-potatoes mixed with saw dust. The resultant glue was absolutely tasteless, which was probably a good thing. If there was any nutritional value at all in kudot, it was most likely a source of carbohydrates but nothing else.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Stratfor: Russia's Great Power Strategy
on: April 21, 2007, 09:29:23 AM
Pentagon Invites Kremlin to Link Missile Systems
by THOM SHANKER
Published: April 21, 2007
WASHINGTON, April 20 — The Bush administration is offering Russia a new package of incentives to drop its strong opposition to American missile defense sites in Poland and the Czech Republic, including an invitation to begin linking some American and Russian antimissile systems, according to senior administration and military officials.
The package includes American offers to cooperate on developing defense technology and to share intelligence about common threats, as well as to permit Russian officials to inspect the future missile bases.
American officials said the initiatives were proposed at least in part at the urging of European allies, and reflected an acknowledgment at the highest levels of the Bush administration that it had not been agile in dealing with Russia — and with some NATO allies — on its plan to place defensive missiles and radar in Poland and the Czech Republic.
The initiatives include offers that are “deeper, more specific and concrete” than any previous proposal for cooperation from the Bush administration to the Kremlin, according to one senior official involved in planning talks with the Russians.
In military terms, the American initiative to the Russians on missile defense will include an invitation “toward fundamental integration of our systems,” said a senior military officer involved in the discussions. This concept of linking some American and Russian military systems for common missile defense would be at a level that exists in no other area of United States-Russia military relations.
The offers of cooperation will be laid out for Russian officials in the coming weeks in a series of high-level meetings being scheduled by senior American officials, in particular Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. If those talks go well, they will continue over the summer and fall between President Bush and President Vladimir V. Putin.
Despite a series of bilateral sessions and meetings under NATO sponsorship to explain the American missile defense plan, Mr. Putin and his inner circle have expressed deep resentment about it, voicing their anger in caustic public comments that have greatly worried some close American allies in Europe.
The German government, in particular, has urged the administration to pull together the exact sort of initiative on missile defense cooperation and transparency that will be presented to Russia. The administration has also heard complaints from other allies, including France, that it must do better at managing the relationship with Russia if the United States wants allied support for the missile defense effort, American officials said.
“In the past, the Russians have not taken our offers of cooperation seriously, whether because they view them as insufficient or because they are obstinate on missile defense,” said another senior administration official involved in planning the initiatives.
“So Gates and then Rice will put their weight behind this new offer,” the official added. “We will not give Russia a veto over our program, but this goes well beyond ‘passive’ cooperation to new and active ways we can work together against common threats.”
Another senior administration official, explaining the accelerated effort to reach out to Russia on the issue, conceded: “We were a little late to the game. We should have been out there making these arguments, making the case more forcefully before people began framing the debate for us — and in false terms.”
The offer would include an invitation to open a joint effort at “research and technical development” of future missile defenses that could protect the territories of the United States and Russia, and their allies, the senior military officer said.
Beyond that, with the permission of the Polish and Czech governments, any eventual American missile defense bases on their territories would be open to Russian inspection, akin to the guarantees that Washington and Moscow negotiated to inspect each other’s missile silos to assure compliance with past arms control treaties, officials said.
“We are committed to the maximum level of transparency, not only with our citizens but with our neighbors,” said Karel Schwarzenberg, the Czech foreign minister, who was in Washington this week for talks with American officials on missile defense.
Details about the new package of invitations for Russia to cooperate on missile defense were described by civilian administration officials and military officers who said they believed that the initiative was a major step forward in calming Russian objections to the American plans.
In its proposals on missile defense, the Bush administration is asking Poland to base 10 antimissile interceptors on its territory and the Czech Republic to be host to a tracking radar. Both systems are designed to defend European territory from missile attack by Iran, but have threatened to rupture ties with Moscow and have upset some NATO allies.
Nevertheless, the Bush administration and the military are showing unusual unanimity about proceeding with missile defense, in sharp contrast to bitter internal disagreements over issues like Iraq strategy and rules for detaining and interrogating terrorism suspects.
The groundwork for upcoming talks with Russia by Mr. Gates and Ms. Rice has been laid over recent weeks by quiet but intensive travels to Moscow and NATO capitals by a group of civilian and military officials. They include the under secretary of defense for policy, Eric Edelman; two assistant secretaries of state, Daniel Fried and John Rood; Lt. Gen. Henry A. Obering III, director of the Missile Defense Agency, and his deputy, Brig. Gen. Patrick O’Reilly; and the American ambassador to NATO, Victoria Nuland.
American officials hold no illusions that the new incentives will guarantee Russia’s assent to the missile defense bases in Poland and the Czech Republic, as the Kremlin’s opposition to missile bases is wrapped up in domestic politics as well as its view of national security policy in Washington and its NATO allies.
To date, Russian officials have scoffed at any suggestion that Moscow’s objections to American missile defense bases in former Soviet states would be eased by offers of cooperation.
“As for possible cooperation in strategic antimissile defense, honestly speaking, I see no reasons for that,” said Sergei B. Ivanov, a first deputy prime minister who previously served as Russia’s minister of defense, in remarks quoted by the Interfax news agency.
American officials have sought to counter Russian rebukes by pointing out that the limited missile defense system envisioned for Europe — 10 interceptors whose warheads are designed to collide with approaching missiles, and do not even carry an explosive — is numerically no threat to Moscow’s vast strategic rocket force.
The proposed system, Americans say, is a prudent deterrent against a potential Iranian attack on American allies in Europe and on American forces based there.
American officials concede that part of the Russian motivation to block American missile defense is a fear that the United States, over time, might develop a bold, new “breakout” technology that could some day neuter the Russian strategic arsenal.
The concept of sharing antimissile technology with the Russians is hardly new. In fact, even when President Ronald Reagan proposed his grand plan for a leakproof missile shield under the so-called Star Wars program, he pledged that the new technology could be shared with the Kremlin in order to assure Russia that it had nothing to fear from American defenses.
The missile defense proposals for central Europe also have become a proxy issue for Russian officials who still rankle at American and NATO expansion east after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Yet even among some officials in Poland and the Czech Republic, support for the two missile defense bases has more to do with binding the United States closer to their capitals against a future Russian threat than about deterring a future Iranian missile threat.
American officials have not announced the timetable for the coming talks. But in Moscow, Igor Ivanov, the secretary of Russia’s Security Council, said that Mr. Gates was due there for Kremlin meetings on Monday and that Ms. Rice would visit in May.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Peggy Noonan in the WSJ
on: April 21, 2007, 01:05:23 AM
Virginia Tech and the heartlessness of our media and therapy culture.
Friday, April 20, 2007 12:01 a.m. EDT
I saw an old friend on the Acela on the way to Washington, and he told me of the glum, grim faces at the station he'd left, all the commuters with newspapers in their hands and under their arms. This was the day after Virginia Tech. We talked about what was different this time, in this tragedy. I told him I felt people were stricken because they weren't stricken. When Columbine happened, it was weird and terrible, and now there have been some incidents since, and now it's not weird anymore. And that is what's so terrible. It's the difference between "That doesn't happen!" and "That happens."
Actually I thought of Thoreau. He said he didn't have to read newspapers because if you're familiar with a principle you don't have to be familiar with its numerous applications. If you know lightning hits trees, you don't have to know every time a tree is struck by lightning.
In terms of school shootings, we are now familiar with the principle.
Dennis Miller the other night said something compassionate and sensible on TV. Invited to criticize some famous person's stupid response to a past tragedy, he said he sort of applied a 48 hour grace period after a tragedy and didn't hold anyone to the things they'd said. People get rattled and say things that are extreme.
But more than 48 hours have passed. So: some impressions.
There seems to me a sort of broad national diminution of common sense in our country that we don't notice in the day-to-day but that become obvious after a story like this. Common sense says a person like Cho Seung-hui, who was obviously dangerous and unstable, should have been separated from the college population. Common sense says someone should have stepped in like an adult, like a person in authority, and taken him away. It is only common sense that if a person like Cho leaves a self-aggrandizing, self-celebrating, self-pitying video diary of himself to be played by the mass media, the mass media should not play it and not publicize it, not make it famous. Common sense says that won't help.
And all those big cops, scores of them, hundreds, with the latest, heaviest, most sophisticated gear, all the weapons and helmets and safety vests and belts. It looked like the brute force of the state coming up against uncontrollable human will.
But it also looked muscle bound. And the schools themselves more and more look muscle bound, weighed down with laws and legal assumptions and strange prohibitions.
The school officials I saw, especially the head of the campus psychological services, seemed to me endearing losers. But endearing is too strong. I mean "not obviously and vividly offensive." The school officials who gave all the highly competent, almost smooth and practiced news conferences seemed to me like white, bearded people who were educated in softness. Cho was "troubled"; he clearly had "issues"; it would have been good if someone had "reached out"; it's too bad America doesn't have better "support services." They don't use direct, clear words, because if they're blunt, they're implicated.
The literally white-bearded academic who was head of the campus counseling center was on Paula Zahn Wednesday night suggesting the utter incompetence of officials to stop a man who had stalked two women, set a fire in his room, written morbid and violent plays and poems, been expelled from one class, and been declared by a judge to be "mentally ill" was due to the lack of a government "safety net." In a news conference, he decried inadequate "funding for mental health services in the United States." Way to take responsibility. Way to show the kids how to dodge.
The anxiety of our politicians that there may be an issue that goes unexploited was almost--almost--comic. They mean to seem sensitive, and yet wind up only stroking their supporters. I believe Rep. Jim Moran was first out of the gate with the charge that what Cho did was President Bush's fault. I believe Sen. Barack Obama was second, equating the literal killing of humans with verbal coarseness. Wednesday there was Sen. Barbara Boxer equating the violence of the shootings with the "global warming challenge" and "today's Supreme Court decision" upholding a ban on partial-birth abortion.
One watches all of this and wonders: Where are the grown-ups?
I wondered about the emptiness of the phrases used by the media and by political figures, and how pro forma and lifeless and cold they are. The formalized language of loss hasn't kept up with the number of tragedies. "A nation mourns." "Our prayers are with you." The latter is both self-complimenting and of dubious believability. Did you really pray? Or is it just a phrase?
And this as opposed to the honest things normal people say: "Oh no." "I am so sorry." "I'm sad." "It's horrible."
With all the therapy in our great therapized nation, with all our devotion to emotions and feelings, one senses we are becoming a colder culture, and a colder country. We purport to be compassionate--we must respect Mr. Cho's privacy rights and personal autonomy--but of course it is cold not to have protected others from him. It is cold not to have protected him from himself.
The last testament Cho sent to NBC seemed more clear evidence of mental illness--posing with his pistols, big tough gangsta gonna take you out. What is it evidence of when NBC News, a great pillar of the mainstream media, runs the videos and pictures on the nightly news? Brian Williams introduced the Cho collection as "what can only be described as a multi-media manifesto." But it can be described in other ways. "The self-serving meanderings of a crazy, self-indulgent narcissist" is one. But if you called it that, you couldn't lead with it. You couldn't rationalize the decision.
Such pictures are inspiring to the unstable. The minute you saw them, you probably thought what I did: We'll be seeing more of that.
The most common-sensical thing I heard said came Thursday morning, in a hospital interview with a student who'd been shot and was recovering. Garrett Evans said of the man who'd shot him, "An evil spirit was going through that boy, I could feel it." It was one of the few things I heard the past few days that sounded completely true. Whatever else Cho was, he was also a walking infestation of evil. Too bad nobody stopped him. Too bad nobody moved.
Ms. Noonan is a contributing editor of The Wall Street Journal and author of "John Paul the Great: Remembering a Spiritual Father" (Penguin, 2005), which you can order from the OpinionJournal bookstore. Her column appears Fridays on OpinionJournal.com.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: We the Well-armed People
on: April 21, 2007, 01:00:22 AM
The "Israelification of America". I like the sound of that.
Here's this from the WSJ:
Guns, Politics and the Law
The Second Amendment may finally get its day in court.
Saturday, April 21, 2007 12:01 a.m. EDT
That the Virginia Tech massacre did not occasion a widespread round of political hand-wringing over gun control is, as one newspaper put it, a silent testimony to how far the gun-control debate has shifted in the past decade and a half.
Yes, the usual suspects have attempted to use the murder spree on campus as evidence of the danger of guns in America. But as unlikely a combination of leaders from Harry Reid to George Bush has been as one in warning we should avoid a "rush to judgment" in the wake of the killings.
That's progress of a sort, even if the Democrats' abandonment of the issue flows more from political calculation than principle. Political calculation, after all, is based on something beyond mere politics. The Democratic Party may have decided that gun control became a political liability in the 1994 and 2000 elections, but that doesn't go far toward explaining why that is so.
First, as we noted earlier this week, what happened in Blacksburg was evidence more than anything of the fact that there are sick and evil people in the world willing to do harm to others for no earthly reason. Pushing much beyond that point is political opportunism.
But over the past decade and a half, evidence of another sort has been accumulating. Violent-crime rates peaked in 1991, according to the Justice Department, and have fallen steeply since. Over the same period, gun-control laws in many states have been relaxed. Correlation does not equal causation, but it does make it difficult to argue that greater legal access to guns drives up levels of violent crime.
Whether concealed-carry laws and the like have held down crime rates remains a hotly debated subject. Certainly, more aggressive and effective policing, especially in big cities, has been a major force in driving down crime. One irony of this is that law-enforcement types have long been a major pro-gun-control force, even though it would seem that how their job is defined and performed has much more to do with crime levels than whether guns are available legally.
When violent-crime rates were rising, as they did steadily from the mid-1960s through the 1980s, it was easy to get political traction with calls to "do something" about gun control. This was true whether legally available guns had anything to do with those crime rates. But with crime rates falling even as legal gun access expanded, the argument has lost much of its plausibility, and so its force.
Which isn't to say no one makes the argument any more. The nearly uniform reaction in Europe to the Virginia Tech shootings has been to pin it on America's gun culture. Related to this is the charge that America is prevented from taking sensible steps to prevent gun violence by the invidious influence of groups such as the National Rifle Association. Quite apart from the fact that this implies American politicians and voters alike are dupes of the "gun lobby," it ignores the evidence, noted above, that violent crime and legal gun access either have nothing to do with one another or are, if anything, inversely correlated.
As this political debate evolves, it appears that the Supreme Court may finally get a case in which to weigh in on the Constitutional question of the right to bear arms. Last month, Judge Laurence Silberman on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of plaintiffs who claimed that their Second Amendment rights were violated by Washington's strict gun-control laws. The Supreme Court has not heard a Second Amendment case in decades, but federal appeals courts have generally taken a very restricted view of citizens' rights under the Second Amendment. The D.C. Circuit's 2-1 decision sets up a direct conflict with other circuits, and could wind up at the Supreme Court.
This could be a defining moment for gun control, as Judge Silberman's ruling unequivocally declares that "the right to keep and bear arms" under the Second Amendment belongs to individuals and not, as some have argued, only to National Guardsmen or members of government-organized "militias." "The phrase 'the right of the people,'" Judge Silberman wrote, ". . . leads us to conclude that the right in question is individual." He added: "The wording . . . also indicates that the right to keep and bear arms was not created by government, but rather preserved by it." In all, the decision is as clear a statement of the right to keep and bear arms as one could want. The mayor of D.C. has requested a rehearing of the case by the full D.C. Circuit. If that is denied, or if the full court sides with Judge Silberman, the next stop would be the Supremes.
A Supreme Court decision on what the Second Amendment means could transform the gun-control debate in this country. For now, the relatively muted political response to the Virginia Tech killings may be taken as a sign that, on this issue at least, our politics have become a little less reactive and a little more rational.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Afghanistan-Pakistan
on: April 21, 2007, 12:52:10 AM
No URL for this, but from a usually reliable source.
Jihadist video shows boy beheading man
By ABDUL SATTAR, Associated Press Writer
Fri Apr 20, 2:24 PM ET
The boy with the knife looks barely 12. In a high-pitched voice, he denounces the bound, blindfolded man before him as an American spy. Then he hacks off the captive's head to cries of "God is great!" and hoists it in triumph by the hair.
A video circulating in Pakistan records the grisly death of Ghulam Nabi, a Pakistani militant accused of betraying a top Taliban official who was killed in a December airstrike in Afghanistan.
An Associated Press reporter confirmed Nabi's identity by visiting his family in Kili Faqiran, their remote village in southwestern Pakistan.
The video, which was obtained by AP Television News in the border city of Peshawar on Tuesday, appears authentic and is unprecedented in jihadist propaganda because of the youth of the executioner.
Captions mention Mullah Dadullah, the Taliban's current top commander in southern Afghanistan, although he does not appear in the video. The soundtrack features songs praising Taliban supreme leader Mullah Omar and "Sheikh Osama" — an apparent reference to Osama bin Laden, who is suspected of hiding along the Afghan-Pakistan border.
The footage shows Nabi making what is described as a confession, being blindfolded with a checkered scarf.
"He is an American spy. Those who do this kind of thing will get this kind of fate," says his baby-faced executioner, who is not identified.
A continuous 2 1/2-minute shot then shows the victim lying on his side on a patch of rubble-strewn ground. A man holds Nabi by his beard while the boy, wearing a camouflage military jacket and oversized white sneakers, cuts into the throat. Other men and boys call out "Allahu akbar!" — "God is great!" — as blood spurts from the wound.
The film, overlain with jihadi songs, then shows the boy hacking and slashing at the man's neck until the head is severed.
A Pashto-language voiceover in the video identifies Nabi and his home village of Kili Faqiran in Baluchistan province, which lies about two hours' drive from the Afghan border.
A reporter went to the village, and Nabi's distraught and angry father, Ghulam Sakhi, confirmed his son's identity from a still picture that AP made from the footage. He said neighbors had told him the video is available at the village bazaar, but he had no wish to see it.
Sakhi said his son had been a loyal Taliban member who fought in Afghanistan and sheltered the hard-line Afghan group's leaders in the family's mud-walled compound.
He blames the Taliban and wants to avenge his son's death.
"The Taliban are not mujahedeen. They are not fighting for the cause of Islam," the 70-year-old said. "If I got my hands on them I would kill them and even tear their flesh with my own teeth."
Qari Yousaf Ahmadi, who claims to speak for the Taliban, told AP he had no information about Nabi or the video. None of the group's commanders he contacted could confirm the execution, he said.
The method of Nabi's death was not unusual for Pakistan's lawless tribal regions. Suspected informers are regularly found beheaded and dumped along the side of the road in the lawless, mountainous regions along the Afghan-Pakistani border where al-Qaida and Taliban militants find sanctuary.
But such al-Qaida-style killings are rarely featured in the Taliban's increasingly frequent propaganda videos. The use of a child to conduct the beheading stands out even among those filmed by militants in Iraq.
"This is outright barbarism," Iqbal Haider, secretary-general of the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, said after viewing the video. "Whosoever has committed this, whether they are Taliban or anybody else or any Afghan or al-Qaida or anybody, they are enemy No. 1 of the Muslims."
The video accuses Nabi of responsibility for a U.S. airstrike that killed Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Osmani, who was regarded as one of the top three associates of Omar, the Taliban supreme leader. He was hit while traveling by car in Afghanistan's Helmand province Dec. 19.
Osmani was the highest-ranking Taliban leader to die since the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan that ousted the hard-line regime in late 2001 for refusing to hand over bin Laden following the Sept. 11 terror attack on the United States.
The U.S. military said at the time that Osmani's death was a serious blow to militant operations, and NATO commanders said this week that a feared spring offensive had yet to materialize.
Sakhi, a retired mosque preacher with a long gray beard, spoke unashamedly of his son's Taliban affiliation and wept twice during an interview in his simple home at the foot of a mountain valley in Baluchistan province.
He said Nabi fought against the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance that helped U.S. forces to victory in Afghanistan.
After returning to Pakistan, Nabi ran a religious school in the Baluchistan capital of Quetta and had regularly sheltered both Osmani and Dadullah at the family compound, the father said.
He said Nabi also bought weapons for Taliban fighters and organized medical treatment for those injured during fighting in Afghanistan.
Some days after Osmani's death, Nabi went to Peshawar and then to Wana, a tribal town considered a militant stronghold, to collect money from Taliban officials to buy guns and food for militants in Afghanistan, Sakhi said.
He said his son called at the end of January to reveal that a tribal council had sentenced him to death on charges of tipping off U.S. forces about Osmani's movements, despite his denials.
His son passed the phone to Dadullah, but the militant leader ignored his pleas for clemency, Sakhi said.
"I talked to him and said you visited us and my son was a close friend so why are you going to hang him? He just said, 'How are you?', and switched off the phone," Sakhi said.
"They are the enemies of Islam," he said of the Taliban. "They are behaving like savages."
Sam Zarifi, Asia research director for Human Rights Watch, said the use of a child to commit such an act constituted a war crime and was a "new low" in the conflict in Afghanistan.
He noted the Taliban had teenage combatants but they were not recruited on a large scale because of the availability of adult fighters. He said he had seen children in the background of some jihadist videos but none in which they were directly involved in violence.
"I don't know why they would do this," Zarifi said. "The Taliban have to some extent tried to play to the public in Afghanistan and have not engaged in the complete sowing of mayhem that we have seen in Iraq. But this kind of act is really egregious. It's off the charts."
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / India
on: April 21, 2007, 12:30:32 AM
India: The Islamization of the Northeast
India's insurgent-ridden northeastern region has long given foreign powers a gamut of exploitable secessionist movements to use to prevent India from emerging as a major global player. Though India has grown accustomed to the ongoing volatility in its northeastern corridor, growing Islamization in the region -- spurred by Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency and instability in neighboring Bangladesh -- will give New Delhi a good reason to pay closer attention to its porous northeastern border.
Northeastern India is a region wracked by secessionist violence, where wide networks of drug smuggling, extortion and arms trafficking run rampant. India has traditionally dealt with the myriad secessionist movements through force, fearing that any concessions made to one group would only exacerbate the others' secessionist tendencies and further undermine the country's territorial integrity.
The balkanization of the region and the constant drain on Indian resources required to deal with these rebel movements was all part of the United Kingdom's blueprint for the Indian subcontinent to prevent its former colony from developing a strong national identity and emerging as a major Asiatic power. Up until the partition in 1947, the British played a major role in encouraging tribal, ethnic, religious and linguistic identities, and in isolating various tribal groups from the mainland and the plains areas in Assam for the British East India Co. to secure its commercial enterprise.
Pakistan did not hesitate to jump in where the British left off in the post-partition period, and has since used its Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency to fund, train and arm these rebel groups in order to keep India's hands tied. The largest and most powerful of the northeast secessionist movements is the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA). Once a student movement with populist aims to redistribute the state's oil wealth, ULFA has gradually changed into what appears to be a moneymaking machine with a strong willingness to do the ISI's bidding. ULFA runs an impressive extortion racket in the northeast, where Assam's tea plantation owners and corporate leaders are regularly targeted.
The group maintains that its armed campaign will not let up until the Indian government engages it in unconditional peace talks. Yet, when New Delhi makes such an offer, ULFA usually responds with a bombing, as was the case in the April 9 bomb attack near Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's motorcade in the Assamese capital of Guwahati. ULFA's leadership understands that New Delhi is not about to reward the armed movement with political concessions, and does not wish to disturb the financial networks it has running throughout the region. Moreover, to preserve their militant proxy, the group's handlers in both Pakistan's and Bangladesh's intelligence services have told ULFA not to hold peace talks with the Indian government.
Pakistan's ISI, in cooperation with Bangladesh's Directorate General of Forces Intelligence (DGFI), appears to be investing a considerable amount of resources in solidifying India's militant corridor. There are growing indications that these two agencies are working clandestinely in Bangladesh to bring all the northeast-based insurgent outfits and jihadist elements under one umbrella. The ISI has facilitated cooperation between ULFA and other northeastern militant outfits with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in Sri Lanka, Islamist militant groups in Kashmir, Islamist groups in Bangladesh and a growing number of al Qaeda-linked jihadist groups operating in the region.
Religion, ethnicity and ideology lose relevance within this militant network, as each group has a common interest in furthering their militant and financial capabilities by working together. For example, Tigers cadres organize training camps in the northeast and use their maritime contacts to assist ULFA in transporting arms and narcotics up to Cambodia in ULFA-owned shrimp trawlers that operate out of Bangladesh's Chittagong port. The Tigers have also been known to train Maoist rebels in Nepal and India at camps in the jungles of India's eastern state of Bihar.
ULFA's growing links with Bangladeshi Islamists and jihadist elements in the area are increasingly coming to light. The April 9 attack timed with Singh's visit to Assam marked the group's first-ever suicide bombing, a tactic that was pioneered by the Tigers (a non-Islamist, majority Hindu group) and has been frequently employed by Islamist militants. Prior to the attack, ULFA chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa warned that New Delhi's offer for unconditional peace talks was not acceptable, and that that ULFA cadres "have reached such a stage they would strap bombs on their chest and attack." ULFA's adoption of suicide bombing looks to be the result of the group's increased Islamization caused by collusion with Islamist outfits in the region. The bomber in the April 9 suicide attack was Ainul Ali, a Muslim. Indian security sources revealed that ULFA did not have many Muslim cadres in its fold in the past, but the increasing flow of Bangladeshi refugees across the border has given the group more -- and more capable -- members willing to sacrifice their lives for the group's cause with nudging from the ISI.
Collaboration between ULFA and the Islamist militants will expand further, as political conditions in Bangladesh appear to be indirectly contributing to the empowerment of Islamists there. Using the Pakistani military regime as an example, Bangladeshi army chief Lt. Gen. Moeen U. Ahmed is reasserting the army's role in Bangladeshi politics -- which have long suffered from a bitter political feud between the family dynasties represented by the Awami League, led by Sheikh Hasina, and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, led by Begum Khaleda Zia. With both party leaders driven into exile, a political vacuum has started to take root in the country, and Bangladesh's Islamist parties are anxiously waiting to fill it.
India will be taking note of these political developments in Dhaka, though there is not much New Delhi can or wants to do to intervene. As a result, New Delhi is facing a bleak situation in which the ISI's maneuvers and Bangladesh's political troubles are sure to further constrain India's ability to dig itself out of the militant trap Pakistan has set.
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Cops need naps
on: April 21, 2007, 12:26:14 AM
Force Science News #70
April 20, 2007
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.
In this issue
I. SNOOZE YOU LOSE? ACTUALLY, THE OPPOSITE MAY BE TRUE
II. FATIGUE LINKED TO FAULTY JUDGMENT, FEDERAL AGENCY SAYS
[NOTE: We'd like to hear your reaction to the observations and proposals
made by Trainer Tom Aveni in the report below. Please E-MAIL US at:firstname.lastname@example.org
. We'll print a representative sampling of responses in a
future edition of Force Science News.]
I. SNOOZE YOU LOSE? ACTUALLY, THE OPPOSITE MAY BE TRUE
Does your agency encourage you to nap on duty?
Probably not. But your department might get better performance and you might
be safer if regulated snoozing was permitted, according to well-known
trainer and consultant Tom Aveni, head of the Police Policy Studies Council
and a Technical Advisory Board member of the Force Science Research Center
at Minnesota State University-Mankato.
Recent research reports offer some impressive support for Aveni's
unconventional position by documenting the health and judgment benefits of
limited workplace dozing.
"Most of the egregious errors committed in law enforcement occur when
officers are fatigued or dealing with low-light conditions," Aveni pointed
out in a presentation on "Surviving the Night Shift" at a conference of the
International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Assn. (ILEETA). And the
rotating, irregular, or extended shifts common in policing contribute
significantly to officer fatigue, he declared.
"Those working rotating shifts, for example, average 5.5 hours of sleep when
working night hours," Aveni said. Because of second jobs, family
obligations, or disrupted sleep patterns, some officers, at least on
occasion, come to work with as little as 3 hours' sleep, "resulting in the
same level of impaired performance as ingesting the legal limit of alcohol.
"Sleep deficits may be partly recouped on days off," but until a full and
satisfying compensation occurs an officer's "mood and performance are
Given the slim, real-world probability of consistently getting sufficient
sleep, naps during duty hours could help officers fight dangerous fatigue,
Aveni argues, along with brief exercise breaks, proper caffeine intake, low
glycemic (sugary) food consumption, and exposure whenever possible to
brightly lighted areas.
"Napping is usually seen as being derelict of duty, but progressive agencies
really should encourage it. It's a healthy means of fighting fatigue, and a
short nap--20 to 30 minutes--can work wonders in increasing alertness and
Recent research studies tend to agree.
For instance, a 6-person research team at Stanford University, headed by Dr.
Rebecca Smith-Coggins, studied the effects of napping on 49 resident
physicians and nurses working nights (1930-0730) in a university trauma
center ER. Some were allowed to take up to a 40-min. nap at 0300, while a
control group stayed awake for the entire 12-hr. shift.
Napping was done in a dark, quiet room away from ER activities, with a bed
and linens provided. Ninety percent of the nap subjects, whose mean age was
30, were able to fall asleep quickly (within 11 minutes) and slept for an
average of nearly 25 minutes.
Before and after the shift and also after the nap period, both groups were
tested for vigilance, memory, mood, and task performance. After shift, all
subjects participated in a 40-min. driving simulation test to measure
"behavioral signs of sleepiness and driving accuracy."
At the end of shift, the nap subjects showed quicker reaction times and
fewer lapses in vigilance, according to the study. They reported "more
vigor, less fatigue, and less sleepiness" than those who had worked without
napping. Moreover, the nappers were able to more quickly complete a simple
job-performance task (the simulated insertion of a catheter IV) and
exhibited "less dangerous driving," although both groups showed signs of
driving impairment after working overnight.
The only negative outcome evident in the nappers was a temporary worsening
of memory "immediately after the nap." This was attributed to sleep inertia,
"the feeling of grogginess...that can persist for up to 30 minutes after
Generally, "nap intervention provided beneficial effects," the researchers
noted, and planned naps in the workplace might well "promote a high level of
alertness, attention to detail, and decision-making proficiency."
[A full report of this study appears in the Nov. 2006 issue of the Annals of
Emergency Medicine, under the title "Improving Alertness and Performance in
Emergency Dept. Physicians and Nurses: the Use of Planned Naps." A summary
appears at: http://www.aemj.org/cgi/content/abstract/9/5/466
Aveni speculates that some officers' moral judgment may also be improved by
fatigue relief in the form of napping. Certainly the findings of another
recent study suggest that morally framed decision-making can be negatively
impacted by extended fatigue, which tends to affect activity in the region
of the brain that plays a major role in moral reasoning.
In this study, Dr. William Killgore and colleagues at the Walter Reed Army
Institute of Research tested 26 healthy, active-duty military personnel
after 2 sleepless nights to see whether the lack of shut-eye would hinder
their ability to make decisions in the face of emotionally charged, moral
dilemmas. "The findings could have implications for people who are both
routinely sleep-deprived and often need to make quick decisions in a
crisis," the researchers said. That would include soldiers in combat and
cops on the street.
The participants were first tested after an adequate sleep period and again
after an unusually long stint (53.5 hours) of continuous wakefulness. They
were given a wide variety of decision-making scenarios, including some that
were highly emotionally charged, highly personal, and burdened with moral
For example, one scenario stated: "You are negotiating with a powerful and
determined terrorist who is about to set off a bomb in a crowded area."
Thousands of people would be killed by the detonation. Your one advantage is
that you have his teen-age son in your custody. [The] only one thing you can
do to stop him from detonating his bomb [is to] break one of his son's arms"
in front of a camera "and then threaten to break the other one if he does
not give himself up." The participants were asked: "Is it appropriate for
you to break the terrorist's son's arm?"
[All other scenarios used are described at:http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/293/5537/2105/DC1
The researchers were not concerned with evaluating "right" or "wrong"
answers-only with analyzing the decision-making process. Among other things
they found that:
--the test participants took significantly longer to decide how to react to
the highly personal, morally charged situations when they were
sleep-deprived compared to when they were well rested. This suggests that
fatigue "has a particularly debilitating effect on judgment and
decision-making processes that depend heavily upon the integration of
emotion with cognition," the researchers concluded.
--sleep loss also led generally "to an increase in the permissiveness or
tolerance for judging difficult courses of action as appropriate," the study
found. Only participants with above-average "emotional intelligence," the
ability to empathize and interact socially with other people, showed
resistance to being influenced by sleeplessness in this regard.
Such findings "may have implications for those in occupations" frequently
associated with sleep loss "and in which real-world moral dilemmas may be
encountered.... When sleep deprived, such personnel may experience greater
difficulty reaching morally based decisions under emotionally evocative
circumstances and may be prone to choosing courses of action that differ
from those that they would have chosen in a fully rested state," the study
"The implications for police work, where life-and-death decisions must often
be made in crisis mode, is obvious," Aveni recently told Force Science News.
[A full report of this study can be found in the journal Sleep, vol. 30, #3,
2007, under the title: "The Effects of 53 Hours of Sleep Deprivation on
Moral Judgment." For an abstract, go to: http://www.journalsleep.org/ViewAbstract.aspx?citationid=3172
A third recent study concerned an important health benefit of napping.
A team of Greek and American researchers, headed by Dr. Androniki Naska of
the University of Athens Medical School, confirmed that people who take at
least 3 naps a week lasting 30 minutes or longer cut their risk of dying
from a heart attack by 37 percent.
The study followed more than 23,600 originally healthy men and women for
more than 6 years. Even those who napped only occasionally had a 12 per cent
lower coronary mortality rate than those who never napped. Men who were
working seemed especially to benefit.
Napping, the researchers said, appeared to reduce stress, and "there is
considerable evidence that both acute and chronic stress are related to
[A full report of this study appeared in Archives of Internal Medicine on
Feb. 12, 2007, under the title "Siesta in Healthy Adults and Coronary
Mortality in the General Population." A summary can be found at: http://archinte.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/abstract/167/3/296
"Police agencies need to start looking at napping as a restorative,
preventive measure, as something that can prevent serious errors," Aveni
"Other measures for fighting fatigue tend to be transitory. Rolling your
squad car window for a blast of cold, fresh air may perk you up for 2 to 3
minutes. Taking an exercise break where you do jumping jacks may buy you a
half hour's benefit. But with a nap of at least 20 minutes, you'll see a
pronounced improvement in performance, in vigilance, in eye-hand
coordination that can last up to 4 hours.
"Officers forced to work rotating shifts are thrust into an unnatural work
environment. In many cases, your body never adjusts to the changes in
schedule. Agencies need to consider effective countermeasures for safety's
Most agencies would understandably want to control where any officially
sanctioned napping takes place, Aveni acknowledges. Inside a patrol car is
not recommended, not only because of public perception but also because of
discomfort, distractions, and safety.
A sound-insulated area with recliners or cots inside a police facility is
more desirable, with naps scheduled in advance or permitted on request. Time
should be allowed, he says, to counteract sleep inertia upon awakening with
mild exercise before heading back on patrol.
Napping could become a collective bargaining issue in the future, Aveni
believes. But today, he admits, he knows of no department with an official
The precedent is there, however, in industries like trucking, railroading,
and aviation. A New York company called MetroNaps has started marketing
customized napping "pods"--7-ft.-long, hooded recliners with headphones,
temperature controls, and lights that dim--to corporations willing to be on
the cutting edge of a new trend.
Reflecting on other hazardous occupations where "preventive napping" has
become part of the culture, Aveni notes: "If we held law enforcement to
civilian standards, this would be a very different profession."
[REMEMBER: We welcome your reactions to Aveni's remarks at: email@example.com
II. FATIGUE LINKED TO FAULTY JUDGMENT, FEDERAL AGENCY SAYS
An association between fatigue and faulty judgment in life-or-death
situations is dramatically drawn in a recent review by the National
Transportation Safety Board of airline accidents and near misses.
"Even though the Board's report concerns air traffic controllers, law
enforcement officers, too, risk disastrous consequences from the effect of
sleep deprivation on brain function," Dr. Bill Lewinski, executive director
of the Force Science Research Center told Force Science News. "As with the
controllers, slower reaction times, missed cues, and foggy judgment brought
on by fatigue in cops can result in lost lives. The difference is that with
police officers the lives lost may include their own."
Lewinski cites a study some years ago of officer fatalities in auto
accidents. Researchers found that the highest-risk time for officers was
when driving home after a critical incident that significantly extended
their work day. "The combination of coming off an adrenalin dump and
entering a sleep-deprivation state produced fatigue that impaired their
attention and judgment with deadly consequences," Lewinski explains.
He also points out that most major disasters in the last 3 decades, from the
nuclear meltdown at Three-Mile Island to the explosion of the Challenger
shuttle, "were caused by individuals operating with significant sleep
deprivation, often on the first night of a new shift."
In a letter this month urging reform in scheduling and training, the NTSB
linked sleep deprivation in air traffic controllers to the worst U.S.
airline crash in 5 years and to at least 4 near-fatal incidents.
The fatal crash claimed 49 lives last August when a commuter jet tried to
use a closed runway in Lexington, KY. The controller on duty had reported to
work for the midnight shift after sleeping for only 2 hours.
The close calls included a controller working after only 4 hours' sleep who
ordered a passenger jet to take off directly into the path of another plane
in Chicago and a controller who cleared a cargo jet for takeoff on a closed
runway in Denver who had gotten 60 to 90 minutes of sleep before working an
"The human brain is most alert and functions best when well-rested,"
Lewinski says. "You may think you can will yourself to overcome fatigue or
compensate for it with caffeine intake, for example. But that's true only
within fairly rigid limitations. Beyond those limits, physiology will win
out, to your decided disadvantage."
[For more details, see "Fatigue threatens air safety, NTSB says," by Alan
Levin in USA TODAY, 4/11/07 at: http://www.usatoday.com/news/washington/2007-04-10-fatigue-air-safety_N.htm
(c) 2007: Force Science Research Center, www.forcescience.org
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Here she is, Miss America
on: April 21, 2007, 12:21:32 AM
Some comments on a separate point follow.
82-Year-Old Ex-Beauty Queen Stops Intruder by Shooting Out Tires
Friday , April 20, 2007
WAYNESBURG, Ky. —
Miss America 1944 has a talent that likely has never appeared on a beauty pageant stage: She fired a handgun to shoot out a vehicle's tires and stop an intruder.
Venus Ramey, 82, confronted a man on her farm in south-central Kentucky last week after she saw her dog run into a storage building where thieves had previously made off with old farm equipment.
Ramey said the man told her he would leave. "I said, 'Oh, no you won't,' and I shot their tires so they couldn't leave," Ramey said.
She had to balance on her walker as she pulled out a snub-nosed .38-caliber handgun.
"I didn't even think twice. I just went and did it," she said. "If they'd even dared come close to me, they'd be 6 feet under by now."
Ramey then flagged down a passing motorist, who called 911.
Curtis Parrish of Ohio was charged with misdemeanor trespassing, Deputy Dan Gilliam said. The man's hometown wasn't immediately available. Three other people were questioned but were not arrested.
After winning the pageant with her singing, dancing and comedic talents, Ramey sold war bonds and her picture was adorned on a B-17 that made missions over Germany in World War II, according to the Miss America Web site.
Ramey lived in Cincinnati for several years and was instrumental in helping rejuvenate Over-the-Rhine historic buildings. She returned to Kentucky in 1990 to live on her farm.
"I'm trying to live a quiet, peaceful life and stay out of trouble, and all it is, is one thing after another," she said.
Also, in all the hoopla in the wake of VT, one point that I have not seen made and which makes sense to me is the point that our homeland is in danger from Islamo-fascism. Unilateral disarmament is always a bad idea, but particularly so in such a moment.
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: The Snaggletooth Variations:
on: April 20, 2007, 10:17:55 PM
I very much enjoyed meeting the two of you in person and working with you-- and the ride to Pittsburgh. There's not many people with whom an extended conversation about the shift from demand side economics during Nixon-Ford-Carter to supply side economics under Regan-Bush takes place
As for that clip, our editor Night Owl, who is Filipino, found it. It is from a movie about Lapu Lapu. I'm watching my personal copy of the DVD right now and when I get to where we give credit for it I will post it here.
All the best to a new and less Caucausion you in your Snaggletooth Variations training
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Military Science
on: April 20, 2007, 04:26:00 PM
U.S./SAUDI ARABIA: The United States plans to sell Joint Direct Attack Munition smart bombs to Saudi Arabia, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said while he was in Israel. Israel had expressed its opposition to the sale, citing concerns that the systems could fall into militant hands and undermine Israel's defense strategy.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Immigration issues
on: April 20, 2007, 01:39:41 PM
From: Roy Beck, President, NumbersUSA
Date: Friday 20APR07 1:30 p.m. EDT
Phone this aft to decry near-agreement on Senate amnesty
FRIENDS, MEDIA SAY THE END IS NEAR ...
PROVE THEM WRONG.
Please call offices of Republican Senators this afternoon.
The story below from CongressDailyAM suggests that Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) may be moving slightly toward Republican Senate negotiators who, according to this story, are ready to sign off on an amnesty for 12 million illegal aliens.
If this is true, it means that a lot of Republican Senators are getting ready to back an amnesty even though they and their staffers have been telling you they will NEVER vote for an amnesty.
Your phone calls should not assume that any one of these GOP Senators has decided to sign-off on the Kennedy "compromise" amnesty. But you should express every bit of concern that the story below raises.
It also would be very helpful if you would call the Senators' local offices.
You can get all the phone numbers for your own two Senators at: http://numbersusa.com/myMembers
You can get phone numbers for other states' Senators at (pick a state, then click on the Senator -- scroll to the bottom of the Profile page for all the phone numbers): http://profiles.numbersusa.com/
Until yesterday, it had been looking like the differences were going to be too great for Kennedy and the "middle-ground" Republicans like Sen. Kyl (R-AZ), Sen. Cornyn (R-TX), Sen. Isakson (R-GA), as well as for Senate GOP leaders like Sen. McConnell (R-KY) and Sen. Lott (R-MS). But now, the danger appears to have risen considerably.
I have been meeting all last night and today with congressional staffers and leaders of other immigration-reduction organizations.
The overall consensus is that a disastrous compromise is very, very near. That would mean an amnesty passing the Senate in May and a lot of momentum for the House to pass it in July.
I cannot over-emphasize how important it is for you to give immediate feedback to all GOP Senators to this news.
And remember to state that an amnesty is anything that allows illegal aliens to keep what they broke the law to obtain: (1) residence in the U.S. and (2) jobs in the U.S. Don't let them get by with vague language about opposing a "blanket amnesty" or a "citizenship amnesty" or an "automatic amnesty."
Either these Senators are willing to let illegal aliens live and work in the U.S. legally and indefinitely, or they are willing to stand against amnesty.
And remember that agreeing to a "trigger" just means that illegal aliens will get immediate legal rights to live and work in U.S. but won't get to start the process for a permanent green card and citizenship until the trigger of enforcement is met. Anybody who agrees to a "trigger" is agreeing to an amnesty.
When you call, talk specifically about this article, which nearly all of our Senate contacts are telling us seems to be accurate.
You will see that our Rosemary is quoted as saying that we have all but given up on the Senate. That is true in terms of anything good coming out. But she was taken a bit out of context. We still have high hopes of voters putting enough pressure on their Senators to block the amnesty from coming out of the Senate.
Senate Group Close To Immigration Deal
By FAWN JOHNSON
A core group of senators that has been meeting almost daily for the last several weeks is close to announcing the outlines of a comprehensive immigration bill that could be the basis for Senate debate in late May.
"I think we've made a ton of progress, and I think next week, we might even be able to talk about it more publicly," said Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla., who is part of the group. "The problems are small and manageable."
"There isn't overall agreement," said Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J. "The discussions, I think, are being taken in good faith. ...It's a constructive dialogue."
Two components likely to be part of the agreement are a "trigger" mechanism that would delay implementation of a guestworker program until enforcement mechanisms are in place and a new "Z visa" program for undocumented workers in the United States, according to Martinez.
The negotiators have agreed to use the Z visa to give undocumented workers benefits not available for future guestworkers. "Once you have a Z visa, you can do something for the population here. Give them, not a certain or immediate path to citizenship, but a potential path to citizenship. And then the guestworkers you can deal with just as guestworkers," Martinez said.
The trigger provision might be enough to win support from Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., who voted against the Senate immigration bill last year. Isakson wants sophisticated surveillance at the border, bolstered border patrol and biometric ID cards for all foreign entrants into the country.
"If you have a meaningful security outline to trigger the reform, then that makes the reform work," Isakson said. "I've been very encouraged by the progress we've been making."
Homeland Security Secretary Chertoff and Commerce Secretary Gutierrez have been key players in the talks, which also include Sens. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., Ken Salazar, D-Colo., Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., John Cornyn, R-Texas, Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and John McCain, R-Ariz.
Last year, when Isakson first floated his trigger idea on the floor, he said it would take two years to satisfy his enforcement criteria. Today, he said, that process would take only 18 months because the Homeland Security Department has beefed up enforcement.
Lawmakers in the negotiations say the administration's stepped-up involvement and its willingness to debate details have gone a long way in mollifying members with differing points of view. "Kennedy and McCain and myself and others have moved. And I think Kyl and Cornyn have also moved," Martinez said.
Menendez concurred. "We've all moved," he said.
If the members of the group can hold together, Republicans who last year did not support the Senate bill could sign on, including Kyl, Cornyn, Isakson, and Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga. That would fit with the administration's goal of attracting a substantial number of Senate Republicans to a comprehensive bill to give cover to House Republicans.
"The Senate is so far removed from reality," said NumbersUSA Government Relations Director Rosemary Jenks, whose group opposes any type of legal status for illegal immigrants. Jenks said she and other opponents have all but given up on the Senate, but they hope to stop a bill in the House that creates legalization opportunities for illegal workers.
House Judiciary Immigration Subcommittee Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., who has been handed the task of shepherding an immigration bill through the House this year, is beginning the process with a series of hearings -- up to two a week -- on every aspect of the issue. "We'll know a lot more at the end," she said.
In the House, the plan is to pass an immigration bill in July. It could be the last bill members vote on before departing for the August recess.
In the Senate, lawmakers are considering moving an immigration proposal directly to the floor, bypassing the Judiciary Committee, which is mired in other issues. "And then it goes to the House, and then who knows," said Martinez.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Nuclear War?
on: April 20, 2007, 01:13:32 PM
IRAN: Iranian chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani will meet with EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana on April 25 to discuss Iran's nuclear program, the ISNA news service reported. The U.N. Security Council imposed sanctions on Iran in March over Tehran's refusal to discontinue its uranium enrichment program.
RUSSIA: Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov said Russia will not send uranium enrichment centrifuges to countries that do not possess adequate expertise, including Iran, Pakistan and India. Ivanov noted Russia's commitment to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and confirmed that China is not included on the list. Russia plans to sign agreements with China during 2007 to build the fourth phase of a uranium enrichment plant.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Yale does something to end the violence
on: April 20, 2007, 12:41:09 PM
Weapons to go offstage
Trachtenberg cites Virginia Tech attack
Staff Reporter and Copy Editor
Jeffrey White/Photography Editor
Sarah Holdren ‘08, speaking Thursday before the opening of ‘Red Noses,’ protested new restrictions on using weapons in campus plays.In Other News
In the wake of Monday’s massacre at Virginia Tech in which a student killed 32 people, Dean of Student Affairs Betty Trachtenberg has limited the use of stage weapons in theatrical productions.
Students involved in this weekend’s production of “Red Noses” said they first learned of the new rules on Thursday morning, the same day the show was slated to open. They were subsequently forced to alter many of the scenes by swapping more realistic-looking stage swords for wooden ones, a change that many students said was neither a necessary nor a useful response to the tragedy at Virginia Tech.
According to students involved in the production, Trachtenberg has banned the use of some stage weapons in all of the University’s theatrical productions. While shows will be permitted to use obviously fake plastic weapons, students said, those that hoped to stage more realistic scenes of stage violence have had to make changes to their props.
Trachtenberg could not be reached for comment Thursday night.
“Red Noses” director Sarah Holdren ’08 said she first heard about the changes in a phone call from a friend as she arrived at the Off-Broadway Theater on Thursday morning. At the theater, technical director Jim Brewczynski told her about the new regulations. The pair then met with Trachtenberg, who initially wanted no stage weapons to be used in the show, Holdren said, though she later agreed to permit the use of obviously fake weapons.
In a speech made before last night’s opening show of “Red Noses,” Holdren said that Trachtenberg’s decision to force the production to use wooden swords instead of metal swords will do little to stem violence in the world.
“Calling for an end to violence onstage does not solve the world’s suffering: It merely sweeps it under the rug, turning theater — in the words of this very play — into ‘creamy bon-bons’ instead of ‘solid fare’ for a thinking, feeling audience,” she said. “Here at Yale, sensitivity and political correctness have become censorship in this time of vital need for serious artistic expression.”
Holdren said she is primarily worried about the University’s decision to place limitations on art, rather than the specific inconvenience to her production.
“I completely understand that the University needs to respond to the tragedy, but I think it is wrong to conflate sensitivity and censorship,” she said in an interview. “It is wrong to assume that any theater that deals with tragic matter is sort of on the side of those things or out to get people; they’re not — they’re out to help people through things like this. I want my show and all shows to be uplifting to people. That’s why I’m upset about this — it’s not because my props were taken — it’s about imposing petty restrictions on art as the right way to solve the problems in the world.”
Brandon Berger ’10, who plays a swordsman in the show, said the switch to an obviously fake wooden sword has changed the nature of his part from an “evil, errant knight to a petulant child.”
“They’re trying to make an appropriate gesture, but they did it in an inappropriate way — they’ve neutered the play,” he said. “The violence is important to what it actually means. What these types of actions do is very central — it is not gratuitous.”
Susie Kemple ’08, an actress in the show, said Trachtenberg’s way of dealing with the Virginia Tech massacre was not beneficial to the students’ own mourning process.
“It is problematic because all of us were incredibly shocked by the events at Virginia Tech,” Kemple said. “We turn to extracurriculars in our grief [and] the Yale administration makes the healing more difficult. None of the shows are about massive gun violence — this show is about showing and explaining the human experience.”
Berger also said he finds the ruling inconsistent because forms of stage violence that do not involve weapons — such as hangings — are still permitted.
“Red Noses” will end its run Saturday night.http://www.yaledailynews.com/articles/view/20843
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Sunni Tribes in Anbar form anti-insurgent party
on: April 20, 2007, 11:03:23 AM
Today's LA Times:
THE CONFLICT IN IRAQ: A COUNCIL OF SHEIKS
Iraqi tribal chiefs forming an anti-insurgent party
The Sunni sheiks aim to set up a council and enter elections. They also seek to enhance U.S. troops' image.
By Chris Kraul, Times Staff Writer
April 20, 2007
RAMADI, IRAQ — A group of Sunni tribal leaders in beleaguered Al Anbar province said Thursday that it intended to form a national party to oppose insurgents such as Al Qaeda in Iraq and reengage with Iraq's political process.
The announcement came after 200 sheiks said to represent 50 tribes met here and agreed to form a provincial sheiks council and hold the first convention in May of their new party, called Iraq Awakening. Sheiks from three other provinces will attend, organizers said.
The driving force behind the new party, Sheik Abdul-Sattar abu Risha, said in an interview that the tribal leaders would be pushing a slate of candidates in Al Anbar provincial elections later this year, as well as in the next round of national parliamentary balloting, scheduled for 2009.
One purpose of the party, Sattar said, is to promote a better image of American-led forces "to the Iraqis here." He added that the tribes also would participate in a U.S.-backed effort to reestablish a court system in Ramadi, the provincial capital.
The sheik is a leader of the Abu Risha tribe that is part of the larger Dulaimi tribal confederation in Al Anbar. His grab for power has been resented by some. His base of support remains around Ramadi, although he has been trying to reach out to other branches of the Dulaimi tribe around the province. Still, his history remains the subject of speculation, and others are wary of him, even though they may seek nominal affiliation with his movement as tribal leaders move to battle Al Qaeda in Iraq and its affiliates.
U.S. military leaders here said they were cheered by the announcement because cooperation from sheiks in Al Anbar in recent months had contributed to a rise in Iraqi police and army recruitment and a sharp reduction in insurgent attacks on U.S. troops and their Iraqi allies.
After remaining neutral or in favor of the insurgency that followed the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, many Al Anbar sheiks eventually grew disenchanted due to the brutality of foreign-led militants. Sattar said he began organizing sheiks in September after his father and three brothers were killed by insurgents.
"The terrorists destroyed the network of people and how they communicate, and the new sheiks council is here to bring it back and fight the insurgents until they are out of the country," Sattar said.
Improved security in Al Anbar, for which the U.S. military gives strong credit to the evolving views of the region's sheiks, has been something of a bright spot in Iraq in recent months.
The sheiks, who have long served as cultural leaders here, felt marginalized by the political system imposed after the 2003 invasion. Some U.S. occupation officials viewed the sheiks and their hold over extended families as undemocratic.
Al Anbar Gov. Mamoun Sami Rasheed said Thursday that the sheiks marginalized themselves by refusing to participate in Iraq's 2005 elections and, in some cases, supporting the Al Qaeda in Iraq organization.
The sheiks in turn have mocked some of the provincial representatives for being absentee politicians with no local track record.
But some sheiks in Ramadi and other parts of Al Anbar have established closer links with U.S. armed forces since last year, when they began speaking out against the insurgency and Al Qaeda in Iraq.
With the sheiks' encouragement, Al Anbar tribes have contributed thousands of recruits to Iraq's security forces in recent months, enabling U.S.-led troops to hold and pacify parts of the restive province.
The number of insurgent attacks in Ramadi and its outlying areas has fallen to a fraction of what it was a year ago, said U.S. Army Col. John Charlton, commander of the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, who is overall military commander in the Ramadi area.
Sattar said the sheiks council would offer "full accountability for anyone in his tribe. Also they will know of any strangers — man, woman or child — who try to mix in their neighborhoods."
Analysts who lauded the sheiks' announcement as well as U.S. efforts to work with them cautioned that the political situation remained fluid.
"It's only now that the United States appears convinced of the need to build up local support against Al Qaeda," said Joost Hiltermann, a consultant with the International Crisis Group in Amman, the capital of Jordan. "What these people want is a restoration of Sunni power, or a preservation of certain privileges, or more simply, protection of their community from the Shiite majority and Iran."
Vali Nasr, a Middle East expert at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif., said the "most important result may not be in the battlefield but in producing new Sunni voices that Shiites and Kurds can negotiate with."
Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution in Washington said that improving U.S. relations with Sunni sheiks made "eminent sense" but that officials needed to be thinking about the "next step."
"We need better contacts among Sunnis for the purposes of negotiating an end to the civil war," he said, "and this could create an opportunity to create partners in the larger project while also serving an immediate need."
Times staff writer Ned Parker in Los Angeles contributed to this report.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Iran
on: April 20, 2007, 11:00:32 AM
A HISTORY LESSON STILL UNLEARNED
by Amir Taheri
April 18, 2007
With war drums beating louder, senior military commanders in Tehran miss few opportunities to warn the government against plunging the country into an unequal fight with the United States and its allies.
One such warning came last month from the Commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard (IRCG) General Rahim Safavi.
In an unusually frank assessment of the situation, he told an audience of guardsmen that the country lacked the necessary means to defend its extensive land and sea borders. He insisted that everything be done to avoid an "unhappy episode".
In Tehran's military circles, the phrase "unhappy episode" is a codeword for the only direct military clash that has so far taken place between the Islamic Republic and the United States.
The clash came on April 18, 1988, exactly 19 years ago today.
At the time, the Islamic Republic censored all news of the event so that most Iranians do not even know that it happened at all. For their part, the Americans also "managed" the flow of information about the clash to prevent its strategic importance from becoming apparent at the time.
Nevertheless, the clash between the navy of the Islamic Republic and a US naval task force led by the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise, was subsequently classed as one of the five naval battles of historic importance that established American sup-remacy at sea.
The background to the clash was rather complicated.
At the time, the Islamic Republic was at war against Iraq under Saddam Hussain, rejecting United Nations pleas for a ceasefire.
Towards the end of 1987, the Islamic Republic started firing on Kuwaiti oil tankers passing through the Gulf on the grounds that Arab oil money fuelled Saddam's war machine. Weeks of efforts by the UN, the Arab League, the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC), and the nonaligned bloc to persuade Tehran to stop attacking Kuwaiti tankers produced no results.
It was then that President Ronald Reagan decided to put the Kuwaiti tankers under the US flag and escort them through the waterway.
The Islamic Republic retaliated by mining some of the shipping lanes in the waterway. On April 14, 1988, the USS Samuel B. Roberts struck a mine and was seriously damaged. It was towed to Dubai where it arrived two days later.
The following day experts established that the mine had been made in Iran and placed by the IRCG.
Within hours, President Ronald Reagan ordered the US task force to retaliate. The IRCG responded by firing missiles at US vessels without inflicting any harm.
The US task force seized the opportunity to unleash its superior firepower to virtually break the Iranian navy.
The Americans lost two men, the crew of a helicopter that came down in an accident far from the battle.
The IRCG lost 87 men and over 300 wounded. Later, the Islamic Republic filed a suit against the US at the International Court at The Hague claiming losses amounting to several billion dollars. (The court rejected Tehran's suit in November 2003.)
The battle's effect in Tehran was immediate.
Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, then the leader of the Islamic Republic, was initially inclined to retaliate by ordering Hezbollah to carry out suicide attacks against American and other Western interests.
However, he was persuaded by Hashemi Rafsanjani, then the ayatollah's closest aide, to take a deep breath and maintain a low profile. There was to be no retaliation. The remaining vessels of the Iranian navy were ordered to clear their movements with the US task force in advance to avoid any misunderstanding.
The battle, nicknamed by the US "Operation Praying Mantis", was followed in July by a tragic accident when the USS Vincennes shot down an Iran Air jetliner by mistake, killing all 290 passengers and crew.
Khomeini interpreted the accident as a deliberate escalation by the US and feared that his regime was in danger. Rafsanjani and other advisers used that fear to persuade the ayatollah to end the war with Iraq, something he had adamantly refused for eight years.
A broken Khomeini appeared on TV to announce that he was "drinking the chalice of poison" by accepting a UN-ordered ceasefire. He was no longer going to Karbala on his way to Jerusalem.
In his memoirs, Rafsanjani makes it clear that without the disastrous naval battle and the downing of the Iran Air jet, Khomeini would not have agreed to end a war that had already claimed a million Iranian and Iraqi lives.
The reason was that Khomeini was leader of a regime that lacked adequate mechanisms for self-restraint. He was the driver of a vehicle with no clutch or reverse-gear, let alone a brake, and thus was doomed to speed ahead until it hit something hard.
Interestingly, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad used a similar image recently when he committed the regime to a no-compromise position on the nuclear issue. "This train has no reverse-gear and no brakes," he said.
Khomeini could have ended the war with Iraq years earlier, obtaining decent terms for Iran. He did not because the extremist nature of his regime made it impossible to even contemplate the fact that realism, prudence and compromise are key elements of good leadership.
Khomeini could not have ended the war. He needed Reagan to do it for him. If the Islamic Republic is a train without a reverse-gear and brakes, it does not need a conductor. It could race ahead until it hits something hard on its way.
Amir Taheri is an Iranian writer based in Europe
DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Posada
on: April 20, 2007, 08:55:32 AM
El New York Times de hoy:
A 79-year-old anti-Castro Cuban exile and former C.I.A. operative linked to the bombing of a Cuban airliner was released on bail yesterday and immediately returned to Miami to await trial on immigration fraud charges.
A billboard in Havana bears a likeness of Luis Posada Carriles and reads, “Cuba declares him guilty” in the bombing of a Cuban jetliner in 1976.
The man, Luis Posada Carriles, was released from the Otero County Prison in Chaparral, N.M., after posting a $350,000 bond on the immigration charges.
His release infuriated the authorities in Cuba and Venezuela, who have been trying to extradite him to stand trial over the 1976 airliner bombing, which killed 73 people, including several teenage members of Cuba’s national fencing team.
The United States Justice Department had tried unsuccessfully to prevent his release, arguing that his escape from a Venezuelan prison in 1985 increased the risk that he might flee before the scheduled start of his trial on immigration charges on May 11.
The court rejected the Justice Department’s argument, but it increased security measures by ordering Mr. Posada to be fitted with an ankle bracelet to track his whereabouts. He was ordered to remain under house detention with his wife in Miami until the immigration trial begins.
Mr. Posada, a gray-haired former intelligence operative and United States Army officer, has been detained since May 2005, when he entered the United States illegally.
President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela said Thursday in Caracas, “We demand that they extradite that terrorist and murderer to Venezuela, instead of protecting him.”
Dagoberto Rodríguez Barrera, the chief of the Cuban Interests Section, Cuba’s diplomatic representation in Washington, told Agence France-Presse yesterday, “Cuba forcefully condemns this decision and holds the government of the United States totally responsible for the fact that Posada Carriles is free in Miami.”
Prensa Latina, the Cuban news agency, reported last night that 50,000 people had gathered at a demonstration in Bayamo, a city in southeastern Cuba, to protest the release of Mr. Posada and to demand that he be tried for the jetliner bombing.
The Cuban government has also accused Mr. Posada, an avowed opponent of the island’s Communist rule, of plotting to assassinate the Cuban leader, Fidel Castro, in Panama in 2000, and of planning a series of explosions in tourist hotels in Havana in 1997.
Mr. Posada was jailed in Panama in connection with the attempt on Mr. Castro’s life but was later pardoned by Panamanian officials. He admitted, then later denied, that he had directed the wave of hotel bombings in 1997.
He has also repeatedly denied responsibility for the bombing of the plane, known as Cubana Airlines Flight 455. The jet blew apart and crashed off the coast of Barbados on Oct. 6, 1976.
Investigators in Venezuela, where Mr. Posada had been chief of operations in the secret intelligence police, traced at least one of the bombs to the plane’s luggage compartment. The investigators found that two Venezuelans had checked bags through to Havana but got off the plane at a scheduled stop in Barbados.
The men had worked for Mr. Posada, who was arrested in Venezuela and charged with the bombing. He escaped from prison in 1985 dressed as a priest after associates bribed a guard.
Cuban officials have accused the United States of hypocrisy in battling terrorists by not prosecuting Mr. Posada or deporting him to stand trial on terrorism charges in another country. They routinely refer to Mr. Posada as “the bin Laden of the Americas.”
Mr. Posada’s shadowy past as a Central Intelligence Agency operative put the United States in a politically delicate position. In his early years, he had received military training in the United States and worked for the C.I.A. to bring down the Castro government. He participated in the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961. Later he was involved in supplying arms to rebels in Nicaragua.
The United States has acknowledged his long record of violent acts. In court papers filed in his immigration fraud case, the Justice Department described him as “an unrepentant criminal and admitted mastermind of terrorist plots.”
Mr. Posada was detained in 2005 after he entered the United States on false pretenses. According to an indictment unsealed this year, he lied when he told border officials he had paid a smuggler to drive him from Mexico to Texas. He actually entered the country on a small boat. He also lied about using an alias.
An immigration judge has blocked Mr. Posada’s extradition to Cuba or Venezuela, ruling that he could be subject to torture in those countries. Efforts to deport him to another country have failed because so far no other country has been willing to take him.
His arrival in Miami yesterday afternoon set off mixed reactions among the area’s many Cuban exiles, who see him as both a patriot and an embarrassment.
“We have been fighting this war on terror, and here we are releasing a man who has a history of terrorist acts and is a fugitive of justice in other countries,” said Elena Freyre, executive director of the Cuban-American Defense League, a moderate exile group in Miami. “It’s absolutely appalling.”
But Miguel Saavedra, president of Vigilia Mambisa, a small, hard-line anti-Castro exile group, said he felt vindicated by Mr. Posada’s release on bail.
“The only ones accusing him are the governments of Cuba and Venezuela,” Mr. Saavedra said. “They can only accuse him because they haven’t been able to prove anything. If he is sent to Cuba or Venezuela, it would be the equivalent of executing him.”
Terry Aguayo contributed reporting from Miami.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: We the Well-armed People
on: April 20, 2007, 08:37:27 AM
In the aftermath of VT, here's an interesting development:
Dingell, NRA Working on Bill to Strengthen Background Checks
By Jonathan Weisman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 20, 2007; A10
With the Virginia Tech shootings resurrecting calls for tighter gun controls, the National Rifle Association has begun negotiations with senior Democrats over legislation to bolster the national background-check system and potentially block gun purchases by the mentally ill.
Rep. John D. Dingell (Mich.), a gun-rights Democrat who once served on the NRA's board of directors, is leading talks with the powerful gun lobby in hopes of producing a deal by early next week, Democratic aides and lawmakers said.
Under the bill, states would be given money to help them supply the federal government with information on mental-illness adjudications and other run-ins with the law that are supposed to disqualify individuals from firearms purchases. For the first time, states would face penalties for not keeping the National Instant Criminal Background Check System current.
The legislation, drafted several years ago by Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.), has twice passed the House, only to die in the Senate. But Cho Seung Hui's rampage Monday has given it new life.
Since 1968, individuals deemed mentally ill by the legal system are not supposed to be able to buy guns. A court's ordering Cho into treatment in late 2005 should have been reported to the federal background check system, congressional aides said. Instead, his background check came up clean, and he legally bought the two handguns used to kill 32 students and teachers before he committed suicide.
"The states are not putting records into the system," McCarthy said yesterday.
The measure could be the first gun control law to pass Congress since enactment of the now-lapsed assault weapons ban 13 years ago. But, McCarthy said, the deaths at Virginia Tech are not enough to propel the bill to passage. That is why the NRA is being brought into the process.
Multiple gun control measures were introduced after the Columbine High School shootings eight years ago, but the NRA helped thwart them all, then helped defeat Vice President Al Gore's 2000 bid for the White House. With that in mind, Democratic leaders are anxious to bring the NRA aboard as they try to respond to this week's shootings.
The gun lobby stayed relatively neutral during past efforts to pass the measure, but this time Dingell is pushing for an endorsement, or even for the NRA to make it a "key vote" for its supporters.
McCarthy, whose husband was killed during a gunman's rampage on the Long Island Rail Road, admits her crusades for far more stringent gun control measures have made her toxic in gun circles.
So Dingell is handling negotiations with the NRA, said an aide participating in those talks. Dingell is also in talks with Sens. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) and Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner (Wis.), the senior Republican on the House Judiciary Committee.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has asked Dingell to broker a deal by Tuesday. But the aide said Dingell and NRA negotiators are skeptical they can reach an accord that quickly.
"We'd rather get a good bill than a quick bill," he said.
But pitfalls remain. The NRA must balance its desire to respond to the worst mass shooting by a lone gunman in the nation's history with its competition with the more strident Gun Owners of America, which opposes any restrictions on gun purchases.
An NRA lobbyist said last night that the group would not comment on the effort.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Middle East War
on: April 19, 2007, 11:17:41 PM
The Gulf States and Containing the Shiite Revival
Iran's prospects in Iraq and the spread of Shiite Islam in the region have put the Sunni states of the Persian Gulf on edge. Though the Gulf powers cannot rely on their own military strength to counter Iran's expansion, they do have several tools at their disposal to help keep the Iranians at bay -- the most important of which is cold, hard cash.
Former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's fall and the subsequent rise of Iraq's Shiite majority represented the collapse of a strategic Sunni buffer state for the Sunni Arab world. This opening also provided Iran a golden opportunity to spread its influence into the heart of the Arab world by consolidating control over the Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad. Though the United States has served as the main blocker to Iranian ambitions in Iraq, it has become increasingly clear that Washington is in no position to enforce a political resolution in Baghdad through military force.
With the Iraq war having passed the four-year mark, the Sunni states of the Persian Gulf are growing more and more alarmed at the thought of a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, which would leave Iran to pick up the pieces. These states cannot be assured that Iranian power in Iraq will not eventually seep through their own borders -- especially considering that the Shia in Saudi Arabia inhabit the oil-rich Eastern Province, which borders Iraq and Persian Gulf states like Kuwait and Bahrain that have sizable Shiite populations of their own. The Arab Gulf states have a variety of tools at their disposal to fend off the Iranians, though each has its limits and risks.
The Gulf States' Levers -- and Weaknesses
Militarily speaking, the Arab Gulf states rely completely on the United States for their defense. U.S. allies in the Gulf are receiving some of the best U.S. military hardware available, and U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates just got the OK from Israel to provide Saudi Arabia with advanced military technology to bolster the Saudi defense posture in the Gulf. (Details of the actual technology are still sketchy.) But for all their technological sophistication, Saudi forces lack the skills, war experience, mentality, training, manpower and leadership of a true military power. That said, the Saudis do have the means to contain Iran's militant proxies.
The Arab Gulf states have a critical need to maintain a robust Sunni presence in Iraq to counter the country's Shiite majority, which has gained control of the Iraqi government for the first time. While the Shiite political powers in Iraq are strengthened by well-trained Shiite militia groups trained and supplied by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the Sunni insurgency in Iraq receives substantial funding and support from Iraq's Arab neighbors. This strategy helps prevent the Shiite militants from running over the Sunni population in Iraq -- at the cost of playing with fire. Saudi Arabia has a jihadist threat of its own to deal with, and sooner or later well-trained veterans from Iraq will be returning to the kingdom to fight.
The Saudis also hold the energy lever in their hands. By substantially expanding Saudi oil production from its current 8.6 million barrels per day (bpd), the Saudis could seriously strain the Iranian energy industry, which already sorely lacks the technology, experience and government backing needed to fund major refinery projects, and therefore heavily depends on high oil prices. As a result, the world's fourth-largest oil producer actually imports 40 percent of its gasoline, and parcels out heavy gasoline subsidies to Iranian citizens for fear of sparking domestic unrest, further draining Iran's economy. But for Saudi Arabia to make a big enough dent in the energy markets to hurt Iran, Saudi oil production would have to get up to 15 million bpd. This would take until at least 2015, relegating this to a long-term option for the Saudis.
Finally, the Gulf Arabs possess the risk-free option of putting their petrodollars to good use in containing the Iranian advance. Iraqi and Saudi officials announced April 18 that the Saudi government has agreed to forgive 80 percent of the more than $15 billion that Iraq owes the kingdom. Riyadh is not under any illusions that its war-torn neighbor would be able to repay the debt any time soon, if at all, but this goodwill gesture toward the Shiite-dominated government will help the Saudis buy some much-needed influence in Baghdad. The Saudi government is well-aware that the Iraqi Shiite bloc does not see eye to eye on a number of issues with its patrons in Tehran, and hopes to exploit this rift by weaning the Shiite Arabs in Iraq away from Iran.
Cash for Influence
The idea of using cash to pull Iran's Shiite allies closer to the Arab fold has taken hold throughout the Arab Gulf region. The Alawite-Baathist regime in Syria -- a close ally of Iran -- stands to benefit a great deal from this strategy as literally hundreds of millions of Gulf dollars are now flowing into Syria in the form of foreign investment. For example, Kharafi Group, a Kuwaiti conglomerate, now operates a taxi company, has opened four Costa Coffee outlets and has helped finance the opening of a new Sheraton hotel in Damascus. Syria's economy has long stagnated under the al Assad regime's Soviet-style economic policies, and its population is hungry for foreign goods.
Saudi Arabia has long used cash to buy influence in Lebanon as well, where Iran has made extensive inroads in the Shiite community. The Saudi royal family groomed slain Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri and helped finance his ambitious development projects in Beirut, which have now passed on to his son, Saad al-Hariri, who prefers to live his life as a business tycoon rather than a political leader. Though the al-Hariri family owes a great deal to Riyadh for the latter's success in developing Beirut into a cosmopolitan hub in the Middle East following Lebanon's devastating civil war, Iran's Shiite proxies in Lebanon have put up a stiff resistance to Saudi influence. By financing development projects in Lebanon's impoverished, Shiite-concentrated south, the Iranians have gained a strong foothold in the country to empower Hezbollah politically and militarily.
The Ethnic Card
In each of these projects, the Gulf Arab governments are realistic in terms of how much of a political return they expect to receive. Pumping cash into Iranian strongholds throughout the region will not sever local Shia's ties with the Iranians; Shiite identity is a structural factor the Iranians can always exploit. Instead, the Saudis and the other Sunni states hope to use the Arab ethnic factor to their advantage to counter Iranian influence.
But playing the ethnic card also comes with a price. To keep the Arab Shia in their camp, the Iranians have pulled ahead of the Saudis in this game by calling for pan-Islamist unity, in which Muslims are urged to rise above nationalistic and sectarian divisions. This pan-Islamist campaign threatens Saudi Arabia's role as the leader of the Islamic world, particularly in situations in which it seeks to play up the Arab ethnic factor to drive a wedge between Iran and the Arab Shia.
Arab powers in the region face a reality in which Iran is recasting the region's balance of power in favor of the Shia through its extended reach in Iraq and its nuclear ambitions. Though the Arab Gulf states face substantial limitations in their ability to suppress their historical Persian rival, the realization has sunk in that the United States will not be able to run the Iraq show on its own -- meaning the Gulf Arab governments are going to have to put their petrodollars to the test.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The 2008 Presidential Race
on: April 19, 2007, 06:47:29 PM
THE THREE-DIMENSIONAL PRESIDENTIAL PRIMARIES
By DICK MORRIS
Published on TheHill.com on April 18, 2007.
All the polling and analysis of the 2008 presidential primaries neatly bifurcate their consideration into partisan categories. In the Democratic primary, Clinton, Obama and Edwards face off, while in the Republican contest, the polls take measure of Giuliani, McCain, Romney and, depending on their assumptions, Gingrich and Fred Thompson. But this analysis fundamentally ignores one of the most important elements in the looming contest of 2008: the likelihood that independents and even Republicans may enter the Democratic primary to support or oppose Hillary Clinton. So polarizing is her candidacy that the migration into the Democratic primary could be enormous, even so large as to overshadow the core Democratic partisans who always vote in their party’s contests.
In all, 24 states — including big ones like California, Texas, Ohio, Michigan, and Illinois — with a combined 56 percent of America’s population permit independents to vote in the Democratic primary; 19 states, with 39 percent of the population, let anyone vote in either primary, even if they are registered in the opposite party. More importantly, among the early states, Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina have completely open primaries and permit voters to choose whichever primary they wish. California law is particularly odd (as is often the case with that state). Independents can vote only in the Democratic primary — not in the Republican contest. This provision virtually assures a massive influx of unaffiliated voters into the Clinton-Obama battle.
Crossovers were an important factor the last time both parties had simultaneous nominating processes. In 2000, Bush and Gore wrapped up most of the votes of the loyalists of their respective parties while challengers McCain and Bradley split the independent vote. Had either McCain or Bradley not run, it is possible that the remaining candidate would have gotten so many independent votes that he might have been nominated.
But in 2008, all the gravitational pull will be into the Democratic primary. If Giuliani is well ahead by primary season, the GOP contest could turn out to be anti-climactic. But even if the Republican primary will be fought closely, none of the candidates has the same potential to attract or repel voters as Hillary Clinton.
So which will it be? Will Hillary attract or repel independent voters? The Gallup organization recently released a composite of its polling on Hillary among independents over the past three years. It found that while Democrats hold a favorable opinion of the former first lady by 83 percent to 13, independents break in her favor by only 51 percent to 43. Republicans, needless to say, dislike her: Among GOPers the favorable rating is only 20 percent to 76.
Given these data, two factors would indicate that the crossover voting laws may spell trouble for Hillary:
If she only leads Obama by 5 to 10 points among Democrats when she has an 83-13 favorability rating, she will likely do much worse among independents.
The passion and the depth of animus against Hillary, particularly among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, may be so intense as to motivate them to participate in the Democratic primary in great numbers.
Most current polling fails to capture the likelihood of crossover voting. News media surveys generally ask Democrats what they think about the Democratic field and Republicans what they think about the GOP contenders. Since half the states do not permit independents, much less members of the opposite party, to enter the primaries, few national samples ask independents what they are likely to do. Those that do tend not to divide their samples along the lines of each state’s law; fewer still ask Republicans if they will vote in the Democratic primary. So crossover voting is a blind spot in most current polling.
All strategists and pollsters need to amend their thinking to view the primaries as the three-dimensional processes they really are.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / McCain
on: April 19, 2007, 02:46:00 PM
-- John Fund
The Comeback Kid?
It's hardly news that John McCain's second run for the White House hasn't gone all that swimmingly. Sen. McCain never expected the adulation of the conservative base, whose mistrust has only increased since 2000. What Mr. McCain did expect was the support of moderate Republicans and independents.
Today's he's encountering almost the opposite. Mr. McCain's steadfast support of the Iraq war has irritated moderates who were otherwise fond of his maverick ways, and it has also given the media a reason to turn against its darling of the 2000 race. On the other hand, conservatives may be starting to readjust their traditional love-hate relationship with the Arizona Senator precisely because they see Mr. McCain's support of the war as both right and honorable.
Mr. McCain's staunch and very public support for the war has clearly given him a boost in the Republican field -- as shown by five polls taken since his appearance on "60 Minutes" a week and a half ago, all of which have him back above 20%.
There are other good signs for Mr. McCain. In a recent CNN poll, he received 24%, just three points behind Rudy Giuliani, who was at 27%. Less encouragingly, when Fred Thompson is taken out of the mix, Mr. Giuliani jumps to 31%, while Mr. McCain remains at 25%. Because former Sen. Thompson is likely to get into the race, what these numbers suggest is that Mr. Giuliani's support is much more fickle than Mr. McCain's. Also, despite Mr. McCain's poor first quarter fundraising totals, he was second only to Sen. Barack Obama in grassroots fundraising (i.e., donors who gave $200 or less). Mr. McCain's support might not yet be broad enough to capture the nomination but it is deep.
Of course, his fortunes are tied to Iraq in a way the other candidates' aren't. The perceived wisdom is that if Iraq falls, so does Mr. McCain. Quite possible, but it's also possible that conservatives would see Mr. McCain's determination to achieve victory in Iraq as the sort of quality they want in their next president.
-- Blake Dvorak, RealClearPolitics.com
Quote of the Day
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Virginia Tech Shooting...
on: April 19, 2007, 02:22:58 PM
Thank you for helping the conversation move forward with a good summary of your source Rog-- a good example for all of us btw!-- however it appears I have failed to make my point clear.
I was not looking for a US vs. the UK/Australia comparison. Rather I was looking for intra UK/Australia before/after analysis.
Turning to the larger conversation, personally at the moment I find myself thinking more in terms of the inevitable flotsam of the anonymous interaction of modern life , , , Looking at the is guy in evo-psych terms my snap impression is of a guy in a culture somewhat alien to him who simply was always getting shut down by all the kitty flashing around him and it drove him angry bonkers. If guns didn't exist he probably be doing arson or bombs.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / The hit job on Paul's girl--
on: April 19, 2007, 01:10:58 AM
First, please remember to accompany URLs that you may post with a description of their contents and why you are posting them.
Second, turning to the merits, here's this from the WSJ:
The Wolfowitz Files
The anatomy of a World Bank smear.
Monday, April 16, 2007 12:01 a.m. EDT
The World Bank released its files in the case of President Paul Wolfowitz's ethics on Friday, and what a revealing download it is. On the evidence in these 109 pages, it is clearer than ever that this flap is a political hit based on highly selective leaks to a willfully gullible press corps.
Mr. Wolfowitz asked the World Bank board to release the documents, after it became possible the 24 executive directors would adjourn early Friday morning without taking any action in the case. This would have allowed Mr. Wolfowitz's anonymous bank enemies to further spin their narrative that he had taken it upon himself to work out a sweetheart deal for his girlfriend and hide it from everyone.
The documents tell a very different story--one that makes us wonder if some bank officials weren't trying to ambush Mr. Wolfowitz from the start. Bear with us as we report the details, because this is a case study in the lack of accountability at these international satrapies.
The paper trail shows that Mr. Wolfowitz had asked to recuse himself from matters related to his girlfriend, a longtime World Bank employee, before he signed his own employment contract. The bank's general counsel at the time, Roberto Danino, wrote in a May 27, 2005 letter to Mr. Wolfowitz's lawyers:
"First, I would like to acknowledge that Mr. Wolfowitz has disclosed to the Board, through you, that he has a pre-existing relationship with a Bank staff member, and that he proposes to resolve the conflict of interest in relation to Staff Rule 3.01, Paragraph 4.02 by recusing himself from all personnel matters and professional contact related to the staff member." (Our emphasis here and elsewhere.)
That would have settled the matter at any rational institution, given that his girlfriend, Shaha Riza, worked four reporting layers below the president in the bank hierarchy. But the bank board--composed of representatives from donor nations--decided to set up an ethics committee to investigate. And it was the ethics committee that concluded that Ms. Riza's job entailed a "de facto conflict of interest" that could only be resolved by her leaving the bank.
Ms. Riza was on a promotion list at the time, and so the bank's ethicists also proposed that she be compensated for this blow to her career. In a July 22, 2005, ethics committee discussion memo, Mr. Danino noted that "there would be two avenues here for promotion--an 'in situ' promotion to Grade GH for the staff member" and promotion through competitive selection to another position." Or, as an alternative, "The Bank can also decide, as part of settlement of claims, to offer an ad hoc salary increase."
Five days later, on July 27, ethics committee chairman Ad Melkert formally advised Mr. Wolfowitz in a memo that "the potential disruption of the staff member's career prospect will be recognized by an in situ promotion on the basis of her qualifying record . . ." In the same memo, Mr. Melkert recommends "that the President, with the General Counsel, communicates this advice" to the vice president for human resources "so as to implement" it immediately.
And in an August 8 letter, Mr. Melkert advised that the president get this done pronto: "The EC [ethics committee] cannot interact directly with staff member situations, hence Xavier [Coll, the human resources vice president] should act upon your instruction." Only then did Mr. Wolfowitz instruct Mr. Coll on the details of Ms. Riza's new job and pay raise.
Needless to say, none of this context has appeared in the media smears suggesting that Mr. Wolfowitz pulled a fast one to pad the pay of Ms. Riza. Yet the record clearly shows he acted only after he had tried to recuse himself but then wasn't allowed to do so by the ethics committee. And he acted only after that same committee advised him to compensate Ms. Riza for the damage to her career from a "conflict of interest" that was no fault of her own.
Based on this paper trail, Mr. Wolfowitz's only real mistake was in assuming that everyone else was acting in good faith. Yet when some of these details leaked to the media, nearly everyone else at the bank dodged responsibility and let Mr. Wolfowitz twist in the wind. Mr. Melkert, a Dutch politician now at the U.N., seems to have played an especially cowardly role.
In an October 24, 2005 letter to Mr. Wolfowitz, he averred that "because the outcome is consistent with the Committee's findings and advice above, the Committee concurs with your view that this matter can be treated as closed." A month later, on November 25, Mr. Melkert even sent Mr. Wolfowitz a personal, hand-written note saying, "I would like to thank you for the very open and constructive spirit of our discussions, knowing in particular the sensitivity to Shaha, who I hope will be happy in her new assignment."
And when anonymous World Bank staffers began to circulate emails making nasty allegations about Ms. Shaha's job transfer and pay in early 2006, Mr. Melkert dismissed them in a letter to Mr. Wolfowitz on February 28, 2006, because they "did not contain new information warranting any further review by the Committee." Yet amid the recent media smears, Mr. Melkert has minimized his own crucial role.
All of this is so unfair that Mr. Wolfowitz could be forgiven for concluding that bank officials insisted he play a role in raising Ms. Riza's pay precisely so they could use it against him later. Even if that isn't true, it's clear that his enemies--especially Europeans who want the bank presidency to go to one of their own--are now using this to force him out of the bank. They especially dislike his anticorruption campaign, as do his opponents in the staff union and such elites of the global poverty industry as Nancy Birdsall of the Center for Global Development. They prefer the status quo that holds them accountable only for how much money they lend, not how much they actually help the poor.
Equally cynical has been the press corps, which slurred Mr. Wolfowitz with selective reporting and now says, in straight-faced solemnity, that the president must leave the bank because his "credibility" has been damaged. Paul Wolfowitz, meet the Duke lacrosse team.
The only way this fiasco could get any worse would be for Mr. Wolfowitz to resign in the teeth of so much dishonesty and cravenness. We're glad the Bush Administration isn't falling for this Euro-bureaucracy-media putsch. Mr. Wolfowitz has apologized for any mistakes he's made, though we're not sure why. He's the one who deserves an apology.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Homeland Security
on: April 18, 2007, 06:10:11 PM
CAIR’s Grievance Theater, the Flying Imams and 9/11
By Patrick Poole
FrontPageMagazine.com | April 18, 2007
It’s a tale of two Novembers with the horror of September 11th sandwiched in between.
In November 2006, six imams on a US Airways Minneapolis to Phoenix flight begin engaging in bizarre behaviors eerily similar to those used by the 9/11 hijackers to takeover the planes used on that terrible day: shouting slogans in Arabic; leaving assigned seats to position themselves much like the 9/11 attackers; requesting seat belt extenders that they positioned on the floor, rather than used to secure themselves. Responding to the reasonable concerns of passengers and the flight crew, the imams were removed from the plane by authorities.
Seven years earlier in November 1999, two Saudi students on an America West flight from Phoenix to Columbus were detained after landing because they had made repeated attempts to enter the cockpit area of the plane during the flight.
In both cases, CAIR rose up to defend the offenders in question and engaged in their now standard grievance theater protest politics. In the most recent case, CAIR has tried to capitalize on the publicity surrounding the incident by backing the "Flying Imams" and supporting their lawsuit against the airlines and passengers for responding to their bizarre behavior. The lawsuit is being handled by a Muslim attorney associated with CAIR.
When it comes to the November 1999 incident, any mention of CAIR’s involvement or defense of the Saudi students has been scrubbed from the organization’s website. It’s no wonder, as the 9/11 Commission Report (page 521, footnote 60) explains that the FBI now considers the incident as a “dry run” for the 9/11 hijackings. And the two men involved? As the 9/11 Commission Report explains, Hamdan al-Shalawi was in Afghanistan in November 2000 training at an Al-Qaeda camp to launch “Khobar Tower”-type attacks against the US in Saudi Arabia, and Mohammad Al-Qadhaieen was arrested in June 2003 as a material witness in the 9/11 attacks. Both men were friends of Al-Qaeda recruiter, Zakaria Mustapha Soubra, who drove them to the airport that day in Qadhaieen’s car. Another friend of Shalawi is Ghassan al-Sharbi, another Al-Qaeda operative that would later be captured in Pakistan with high-level Al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida.
There is a connection between these two incidents, as the leader of the six “Flying Imams” this past November is none other than Omar Shahin, the former imam of the Islamic Center of Tucson, where the two Saudi students from the November 1999 incident attended. Counterterrorism expert Rita Katz told the Washington Post in September 2002 that the mosque served as “basically the first cell of Al-Qaeda in the United States; that is where it all started”. (Len Sherman’s Arizona Monthly November 2004 article, “Al Qaeda among Us”, provides greater detail about the connections between the Saudi pair involved in the November 1999 event and the Al-Qaeda cell that operated in Tucson and Phoenix.)
Their current silence and website purge notwithstanding, immediately after the November 1999 “dry run”, CAIR was not shy about publicly speaking on the incident. “It seems like they single out some individuals because of their name, the way they look or their national origin,” huffed current CAIR National Vice Chairman Ahmad Al-Akhras (who was then president of the CAIR Ohio chapter) in an interview with the Egyptian daily, Al-Ahram. That same article quoted Nihad Awad, Executive Director and Co-Founder of CAIR, who explained, “the hysteria around [the crash of] EgyptAir [Flight 990] has created a negative atmosphere that leads to such incidents.”
CAIR not only gave indirect support to the 9/11 “dry run” hijackers by launching an aggressive media defense and circulating their woeful tale of innocents victimized by the bigotry of non-Muslims, but as Katherine Kersten of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reminds us, in 2000 CAIR fronted a lawsuit for Shalawi and Qadhaieen against America West by hiring attorneys and calling for a boycott of the airline as a result of the incident. Again, two identical events eight years apart with CAIR playing the exact same role.
CAIR was unsuccessful in the lawsuit stemming from the November 1999 9/11 “dry run”, as the judge quickly dismissed the case, but they did succeed in creating an atmosphere of intimidation that was certainly aimed at stopping airline passengers from speaking up about suspicious behavior. Did CAIR’s campaign of intimidation silence any of the passengers aboard United Airlines Flight 175, American Airlines Flight 11, American Airlines Flight 77, or United Airlines Flight 93 who might have witnessed suspicious behavior of the 9/11 hijackers that day? Since all the passengers of those flights were silenced forever, we will never know.
But the horrific consequences of their previous defense of the 9/11 “dry run” has not prevented CAIR from using the exact same tactics and rhetoric in the current “Flying Imams” case. As Janet Levy recently explained in an article here at FrontPage (“The Minneapolis Six Sabotage Airline Security”), the CAIR-backed lawsuit by the six imams is being used as a propaganda device to advance CAIR’s legislative agenda for the passage of a bill through Congress that would prevent authorities from acting on suspicious behavior, much like what was seen in the November 1999 and November 2006 incidents, as well as 9/11.
As their current protest politics in the “Flying Imams” case demonstrates, CAIR shows no remorse for their complicity in providing cover for the 9/11 “dry run” operatives, though the purge of their website of any mention of their participation was clearly an attempt to try to wipe the public record clean of their involvement. But in light of their past actions and with their pursuit of the current lawsuit, it seems fair to ask: will thousands more Americans need to be murdered before CAIR brings the curtain down on their grievance theater road show? Tragically, we might have the opportunity to find out.
Patrick Poole is an author and public policy researcher. He also maintains a blog, "Existential Space," where he writes on a number of cultural, political and religious issues.