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28401  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Fire Jackson and Sharpton on: April 26, 2007, 04:16:28 PM

Updated:2007-04-13 16:07:16
Time for Jackson, Sharpton to Step Down
Pair See Potential for Profit, Attention in Imus Incident
Sports Commentary

I’m calling for Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, the president and vice president of Black America, to step down.

Their leadership is stale. Their ideas are outdated. And they don’t give a damn about us.

We need to take a cue from White America and re-elect our leadership every four years. White folks realize that power corrupts. That’s why they placed term limits on the presidency. They know if you leave a man in power too long he quits looking out for the interest of his constituency and starts looking out for his own best interest.

We’ve turned Jesse and Al into Supreme Court justices. They get to speak for us for a lifetime.


If judged by the results they’ve produced the last 20 years, you’d have to regard their administration as a total failure. Seriously, compared to Martin and Malcolm and the freedoms and progress their leadership produced, Jesse and Al are an embarrassment.

Their job the last two decades was to show black people how to take advantage of the opportunities Martin and Malcolm won.

Have we at the level we should have? No.

Rather than inspire us to seize hard-earned opportunities, Jesse and Al have specialized in blackmailing white folks for profit and attention. They were at it again last week, helping to turn radio shock jock Don Imus’ stupidity into a world-wide crisis that reached its crescendo Tuesday afternoon when Rutgers women’s basketball coach C. Vivian Stringer led a massive pity party/recruiting rally.

Hey, what Imus said, calling the Rutgers players "nappy-headed hos," was ignorant, insensitive and offensive. But so are many of the words that come out of the mouths of radio shock jocks/comedians.

Imus’ words did no real damage. Let me tell you what damaged us this week: the sports cover of Tuesday’s USA Today. This country’s newspaper of record published a story about the NFL and crime and ran a picture of 41 NFL players who were arrested in 2006. By my count, 39 of those players were black.

You want to talk about a damaging, powerful image, an image that went out across the globe?

We’re holding news conferences about Imus when the behavior of NFL players is painting us as lawless and immoral. Come on. We can do better than that. Jesse and Al are smarter than that.

Had Imus’ predictably poor attempt at humor not been turned into an international incident by the deluge of media coverage, 97 percent of America would’ve never known what Imus said. His platform isn’t that large and it has zero penetration into the sports world.

Imus certainly doesn’t resonate in the world frequented by college women. The insistence by these young women that they have been emotionally scarred by an old white man with no currency in their world is laughably dishonest.

The Rutgers players are nothing more than pawns in a game being played by Jackson, Sharpton and Stringer.

Jesse and Al are flexing their muscle and setting up their next sting. Bringing down Imus, despite his sincere attempts at apologizing, would serve notice to their next potential victim that it is far better to pay up than stand up to Jesse and Al James.

Stringer just wanted her 15 minutes to make the case that she’s every bit as important as Pat Summitt and Geno Auriemma. By the time Stringer’s rambling, rapping and rhyming 30-minute speech was over, you’d forgotten that Tennessee won the national championship and just assumed a racist plot had been hatched to deny the Scarlet Knights credit for winning it all.

Maybe that’s the real crime. Imus’ ignorance has taken attention away from Candace Parker’s and Summitt’s incredible accomplishment. Or maybe it was Sharpton’s, Stringer’s and Jackson’s grandstanding that moved the spotlight from Tennessee to New Jersey?

None of this over-the-top grandstanding does Black America any good.

We can’t win the war over verbal disrespect and racism when we have so obviously and blatantly surrendered the moral high ground on the issue. Jesse and Al might win the battle with Imus and get him fired or severely neutered. But the war? We don’t stand a chance in the war. Not when everybody knows “nappy-headed ho’s” is a compliment compared to what we allow black rap artists to say about black women on a daily basis.

We look foolish and cruel for kicking a man who went on Sharpton’s radio show and apologized. Imus didn’t pull a Michael Richards and schedule an interview on Letterman. Imus went to the Black vice president’s house, acknowledged his mistake and asked for forgiveness.

Let it go and let God.

We have more important issues to deal with than Imus. If we are unwilling to clean up the filth and disrespect we heap on each other, nothing will change with our condition. You can fire every Don Imus in the country, and our incarceration rate, fatherless-child rate, illiteracy rate and murder rate will still continue to skyrocket.

A man who doesn’t respect himself wastes his breath demanding that others respect him.

We don’t respect ourselves right now. If we did, we wouldn’t call each other the N-word. If we did, we wouldn’t let people with prison values define who we are in music and videos. If we did, we wouldn’t call black women bitches and hos and abandon them when they have our babies.

If we had the proper level of self-respect, we wouldn’t act like it’s only a crime when a white man disrespects us. We hold Imus to a higher standard than we hold ourselves. That’s a (freaking) shame.

We need leadership that is interested in fixing the culture we’ve adopted. We need leadership that makes all of us take tremendous pride in educating ourselves. We need leadership that can reach professional athletes and entertainers and get them to understand that they’re ambassadors and play an important role in defining who we are and what values our culture will embrace.

It’s time for Jesse and Al to step down. They’ve had 25 years to lead us. Other than their accountants, I’d be hard pressed to find someone who has benefited from their administration.

28402  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Afghanistan-Pakistan on: April 26, 2007, 11:04:25 AM
PAKISTAN: Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf said in an interview with Spanish newspaper El Pais published today that Afghan and NATO forces are losing the war against Taliban militants. Musharraf also said claims that Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence is aiding Taliban fighters are false and were invented by Afghan and NATO officials attempting to "hide their shame because they are losing."
28403  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Mil-blogs: Michael Yon and others (support our troops) on: April 26, 2007, 10:45:19 AM

NBC anchor Brian Williams -- whose reports from Iraq earlier this year were spot-on -- has kindly introduced my latest dispatch about American soldiers at war on his blog on the MSNBC news website.  Please click here for Part I of "Desires of the Human Heart."

I will publish the second part soon.

I am still with our British friends in Basra.  These excellent soldiers have been fighting harder than I realized. Just some hours ago, I was present when British soldiers honored three of their fallen. We were briefly attacked during the memorial ceremony, when the coffins were carefully carried onto the airplane, but the Brits did not miss a step in bestowing honors on their brethren.  Please click here to read British Forces at War.

At least three more installments are coming about the Brits, possibly four, depending on communications.  I'm able to get more work done with the Brits due to the hefty support they offer. It’s made a tremendous difference and is another reason I will regret leaving the Brits later this week, although I have requested a return later this year.

The sad news about leaving the Brits is lightened by some very good news. I've asked our Marines fighting in Anbar province for permission to accompany them and I'll be embedding with our Marines in roughly one week.

On a final note, this site is funded by readers and your support is essential. The recent action in Basra and surrounding areas has left me with destroyed photo gear—including a lens I had just managed to replace--and a dying laptop. I appreciate the support more than I can ever adequately express.

Basra, Iraq
28404  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Iran's current conciliatory mood swing on: April 26, 2007, 10:32:58 AM
Geopolitical Diary: Iran's Current Conciliatory Mood Swing

Iranian Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Larijani arrived in Ankara, Turkey, on Wednesday to resume talks with EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana over Tehran's nuclear program. Negotiations came to an abrupt halt in December 2006 when the United Nations imposed long-awaited sanctions on the Islamic Republic. A few days before Larijani's meeting with Solana, the European Union approved a second phase of U.N. sanctions, which includes a ban on Iranian arms exports and an asset freeze targeting 28 individuals, one-third of whom are members of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Despite the new sanctions, Iran has continued to play nice and has issued a series of conciliatory statements expressing its desire to create a rational atmosphere for negotiations. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini said April 22 that the United States is showing signs of "softening" its stance toward Iran, and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said he is ready to hold talks with U.S. President George W. Bush. Even Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has dialed back the pressure, telling Israel Radio on April 23 that there is still time for the international community to peacefully prevent Iran from going nuclear.

The Iranian nuclear playbook revolves around consolidating that country's power in Iraq. During the ebb and flow of negotiations between Washington and Tehran, the Iranians have developed a number of bargaining chips -- including their nuclear program -- to strengthen their hand against the United States in discussions about a post-Saddam Hussein power structure in Baghdad. Throughout this process, Iran has undergone a number of calculated mood swings in order to shape the discussions in its favor. We now are witnessing one such swing. Iran is taking a conciliatory approach ahead of a key meeting May 3-4 at the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, at which Iran and the United States are expected to participate in a multilateral discussion about how to bring security to Iraq.

Thus far, Iran is playing hard to get, making it appear as though Washington -- not Tehran -- is begging for talks on Iraq. Iran played the same game ahead of earlier meetings attended by both U.S. and Iranian representatives, including a March meeting in Baghdad and the February security conference in Munich, Germany. Iran's apparent hesitation this time around has been attributed to the "venue and agenda" of the meeting. Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari traveled to Tehran on Wednesday with a mission sent by Washington to convince the Iranians to participate in the Sharm el-Sheikh meeting, which was originally set to take place in Ankara, but was moved to Egypt, likely due to the protestations of Iraq's Kurdish bloc. (Iran and Turkey are both outside the Arab fold and are on the same page in terms of ensuring that Iraqi Kurds do not carve out a separate region for themselves while Baghdad burns -- making Ankara an ideal meeting place in Iran's eyes.)

One thing Tehran does not want is for the Arab powers and the United States to turn the Egypt conference into a Tehran-bashing event, in which all the blame for Iraq's security problems would fall on its eastern neighbor. Iran wants to go into the talks on relatively equal footing with the United States, and will attempt to extract concessions from Washington ahead of the meeting, including the release of the five Iranian officials who were seized by U.S. forces in January from an Iranian diplomatic office in the northern Iraqi city of Arbil. This explains Iran's recent public statements that it has received positive signs regarding the five Iranians being held in Iraq. By bringing the private negotiations into the public sphere, Iran is trying to hold the United States to any behind-the-scenes assurances it might have given about freeing the diplomats.

Iran has not yet announced whether its representatives will attend the Sharm el-Sheikh meeting. While the Iranians likely will make the trip, do not expect them to take any big leaps during the negotiations. Iran is still watching to see how the U.S. congressional debate over Iraq war funding shapes up, and can clearly see the Bush administration battling popular opinion by refusing to set a date for withdrawing from Iraq. If Iran could be assured that the upcoming U.S. presidential race would produce a leader who would attempt to get U.S. forces out of Iraq quickly, the clerical regime could risk dragging out the negotiations. But this is by no means guaranteed, and Bush is doing all he can to convince Iran that U.S. troops are in the Gulf for the long haul -- and that it is in Iran's best interest to deal now before the tide turns against it. Moreover, the Iranians are not at all confident about the state of Iraq's Shiite bloc, which is rife with fissures.

With all of these uncertainties, Iran likely will continue to stall, and to manipulate the nuclear negotiations as much as possible until it can better manage the Iraqi Shia.
28405  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Health Care Economics on: April 26, 2007, 10:30:54 AM
HillaryCare Installment Plan
The Schip strategy for government-run health care.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007 12:01 a.m. EDT

Any doubt that "universal" health care has returned as a dominant political issue vanished with last month's forum for Democratic Presidential candidates in Nevada. "We need a movement," Hillary Clinton declared. "We need people to make this the No. 1 voting issue in the '08 election."

She and her friends in Congress are already working on it, notably by proposing to greatly expand the State Children's Health Insurance Program. "Schip" was enacted in 1997 as Bill Clinton's health-care consolation prize after the implosion of HillaryCare. It expires in September without reauthorization, and Democrats are using the opening to turn it into another giant middle-class health-care entitlement. Call it HillaryCare on the installment plan.

Schip was conceived--or at least sold--as a way to insure children from low-income families that aren't poor enough to qualify for Medicaid. Included as part of the Balanced Budget Act of 1997, Schip began as a federal block grant of about $40 billion over 10 years. States receive an annual fixed federal contribution. Then they match the funds and design their own programs, by expanding Medicaid, creating a separate Schip program or some combination. States determine eligibility and benefits; some have premiums or co-pays, usually at negligible rates.
The Bush Administration wants to add $4.8 billion to the Schip budget, bringing it to $30 billion over the next five years. Democrats want to see that and raise by $50 billion to $60 billion. They pronounce Schip "underfunded"--and sure enough, 2007 funding already falls short of covering enrollees in 18 states by about $900 million.

But this "crisis" arose because some states have grossly exceeded Schip's mandate. They are using the program to expand government-subsidized coverage well beyond poor kids--to children from wealthier families and even to adults. And they're doing so even as some 8.3 million poor children continue to go uninsured.

The Schip legislation defines potential recipients as children in families making twice the federal poverty line, or $41,300 a year for a family of four. But states are encouraged to apply for waivers to allow for more flexibility. Now 15 states have eligibility thresholds above 200% of poverty, and nine of those are at or over 300%. In New Jersey, the figure is 350%. New York recently passed a budget raising eligibility to the highest in the nation at 400%--or $82,600 for a family of four. That's an income close to what Democrats usually define as "rich" when they're trying to raise taxes.

Some states are using Schip to create universal child health programs, regardless of need. Governor Rod Blagojevich recently expanded the Illinois Schip program to insure all children, with premiums and co-pays based on parental income. Pennsylvania's "Cover All Kids" and Tennessee's "Cover Kids" programs do the same.

As of February 2007, the Government Accountability Office found that 14 states were using Schip to cover adults: pregnant women, parents of Medicaid or Schip kids--and even childless adults. Arizona, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin cover more adults than children. In 2005 Minnesota spent 92% of its grant insuring adults, and Arizona spent two-thirds the same way.

And no wonder: The Schip funding structure provides incentives for running over budget. In three-year periods, all unspent Schip allocations across the 50 states are tallied up and redistributed. A state that exceeds its allotment gets more money from a state that didn't. In the 14 states that went over budget in 2005, 55% of Schip recipients were adults.

We're all for federalism, and if states want to raise taxes to pay for government-run health care, they have every right. The problem is when they exploit federal policy loopholes to do so and thus stick taxpayers in more responsible states with a larger tab. In 2005, 28 states received an extra grant, either through redistribution or the feds picking up the check for overruns. Thus the federal government pays about 70% of total Schip outlays, despite the premise of "matching" state grants.
A bill introduced by Senator Clinton and Representative John Dingell would make all of this worse. It would index government Schip outlays to national health spending and growth in states' child population. Without "quantifiable" progress--i.e., expanded rolls--funding drops. The legislation would also create incentives for states to expand Schip to the New York level of 400% of poverty. If this keeps up, a family will soon be eligible for Schip and subject to the Alternative Minimum Tax.

In other words, what began as a hard-cap grant to cover the working poor is evolving into an open-ended entitlement to cover whatever promises states make. And all under the political cover of helping "children." Instead of debating government-run health care on its merits, Democrats are building it step by step on the sly. Or as Mrs. Clinton put it in Nevada, "Make no mistake. This will be a series of steps."

There's a lesson here for Republicans, who agreed to create Schip in a trade for Mr. Clinton's signature on their "balanced budget." Balanced budgets vanish in the blink of an election, while entitlements like Schip live on and expand as an ever-larger claim on taxpayers. Mark this down as another case in which Bill Clinton outfoxed Newt Gingrich. The least Republicans can do now is work to return Schip to its original, more modest purposes.

28406  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Gun Confiscation after Katrina on: April 26, 2007, 08:56:24 AM
Gun Confiscation after Katrina
28407  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / New Prostate Cancer Test on: April 26, 2007, 08:30:00 AM
New Prostate Cancer Test May Detect More Tumors

By David Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 26, 2007; A03

An experimental blood test for prostate cancer may help eliminate tens of thousands of unnecessary biopsies at the same time that it detects many tumors that are now missed by the test commonly used, its developers said yesterday.

PSA, the current test, measures a protein normally produced by the prostate, while the experimental one, called EPCA-2, detects a chemical made principally in cancerous tissue.

Prostate cancer, the most common malignancy in men, is one of the more perplexing areas of medicine. Physicians are unsure how to find it and when to treat it.

Today, about 80 percent of prostate biopsies find no tumor -- a percentage that is rising as physicians become more aggressive in searching for the disease.

"We hope this will minimize the number of unnecessary biopsies," said Robert H. Getzenberg, a molecular biologist at Johns Hopkins Hospital who developed the new test, which is still under study and not yet commercially available. A description of it appears today in the journal Urology.

"It's an exciting new marker," said Martin G. Sanda, a urologist at Harvard Medical School. "There certainly is a need for a better test than PSA. Everyone accepts that." His view was echoed by Gerald L. Andriole Jr., chief of urologic surgery at Washington University School of Medicine, who said that "if the data hold up, this marker will be a substantial improvement over PSA."

The PSA test casts a net that is too big and too full of holes. Finding a replacement that catches fewer healthy men, but more of those who do have cancer, would help settle at least one of the clinical conundrums concerning prostate cancer.

The new test is being developed by researchers at Johns Hopkins Hospital and Onconome Inc., a Seattle-based biomedical company. It could become commercially available in 2008.

Prostate cancer is diagnosed in about 230,000 American men each year, and about 30,000 die of it. The death rate is 2.5 times higher among blacks than among whites.

At the moment, men are screened for the disease in two ways -- by a rectal exam and by the PSA (prostate-specific antigen) test. If a lump is detected or if the PSA is above 2.5 (nanograms per milliliter of plasma), most physicians will suggest a biopsy.

EPCA-2 is a protein that is part of the "nuclear matrix," the scaffolding inside a cell's nucleus that helps it copy its genes. The Hopkins researchers measured it in different groups of men whose cancer status was known.

They tried the new test on 30 men with PSA readings above 2.5 and in whom biopsies found no cancer. All had normal EPCA-2 readings (below 30 ng per ml.). This suggested that the test may eliminate many of the "false-positive" PSA results -- readings that are abnormal but apparently do not denote cancer.

On the other hand, the EPCA-2 test appears able to detect cancer even when the tumor is small. It identified 36 out of 40 men who had cancer confined to the prostate gland, and 39 out of 40 men in whom the tumor had spread. It also identified many men -- 14 out of 18 -- who had cancer but whose PSAs were normal.

This last group is especially worrisome to physicians. A study published three years ago found that about 12 percent of men with normal PSA readings have cancer.

The new test is not perfect, though. Getzenberg and his colleagues tried it on 35 men with severe "benign prostatic hypertrophy" -- enlargement of the prostate that sometimes makes the PSA go up but is not cancer. In eight of them, the EPCA-2 was high, suggesting that the EPCA-2 test would flag some men who turn out not to have cancer -- although probably not as many as the PSA test does.

The new test will not help solve the other major clinical uncertainty in prostate cancer. It is unclear who will clearly benefit from aggressive treatment and who are likely to be able to live a normal life if the tumors are simply followed and removed only if they begin to cause symptoms.
28408  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: WW3 on: April 25, 2007, 12:33:17 PM
Harry's War
Democrats are taking ownership of a defeat in Iraq.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007 12:01 a.m. EDT

We're going to pick up Senate seats as a result of this war. Senator Schumer has shown me numbers that are compelling and astounding.
--Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, April 12.

Gen. David Petraeus is in Washington this week, where on Monday he briefed President Bush on the progress of the new military strategy in Iraq. Today he will give similar briefings on Capitol Hill, but maybe he should save his breath. As fellow four-star Harry Reid recently informed America, the war Gen. Petraeus is fighting and trying to win is already "lost."

Mr. Reid has since tried to "clarify" that remark, and in a speech Monday he laid out his own strategy for Iraq. But perhaps we ought to be grateful for his earlier candor in laying out the strategic judgment--and nakedly political rationale--that underlies the latest Congressional bid to force a withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq starting this fall. By doing so, he and the Democrats are taking ownership of whatever ugly outcome follows a U.S. defeat in Iraq.

This isn't to say that the Administration hasn't made its share of major blunders in this war. But at least Mr. Bush and his commanders are now trying to make up for these mistakes with a strategy to put Prime Minister Maliki's government on a stronger footing, secure Baghdad and the Sunni provinces against al Qaeda and allow for an eventual, honorable, U.S. withdrawal. That's more than can be said for Mr. Reid and the Democratic left, who are making the job for our troops more difficult by undermining U.S. morale and Iraqi confidence in American support.
In his speech Monday, Mr. Reid claimed that "nothing has changed" since the surge began taking effect in February. It's true that the car bombings and U.S. casualties continue, and may increase. But such an enemy counterattack was to be expected, aimed as it is directly at the Democrats in Washington. The real test of the surge is whether it can secure enough of the population to win their cooperation and gradually create fewer safe havens for the terrorists.

So far, the surge is meeting that test, even before the additional troops Mr. Bush ordered have been fully deployed. Between February and March sectarian violence declined by 26%, according to Gen. William Caldwell. Security in Baghdad has improved sufficiently to allow the government to shorten its nightly curfew. Radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has been politically marginalized, which explains his apparent departure from Iraq and the resignation of his minions from Mr. Maliki's parliamentary coalition--a sign that moderate Shiites are gaining strength at his expense.

More significantly, most Sunni tribal sheikhs are now turning against al Qaeda and cooperating with coalition and Iraqi forces. What has turned these sheikhs isn't some grand "political solution," which Mr. Reid claims is essential for Iraq's salvation. They've turned because they have tired of being fodder for al Qaeda's strategy of fomenting a civil war with a goal of creating a Taliban regime in Baghdad, or at least in Anbar province. The sheikhs realize that they will probably lose such a civil war now that the Shiites are as well-armed as the insurgents and prepared to be just as ruthless. Their best chance for survival now lies with a democratic government in Baghdad. The political solution becomes easier the stronger Mr. Maliki and Iraqi government forces are, and strengthening both is a major goal of the surge.

By contrast, Mr. Reid's strategy of withdrawal will only serve to enlarge the security vacuum in which Shiite militias and Sunni insurgents have thrived. That's also true of what an American withdrawal will mean for the broader Middle East. Mr. Reid says that by withdrawing from Iraq we will be better able to take on al Qaeda and a nuclear Iran. But the reality (to use Mr. Reid's new favorite word) is that we are fighting al Qaeda in Iraq, and if we lose there we will only make it harder to prevail in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Countries do not usually win wars by losing their biggest battles.

As for Iran, Mr. Reid's strategy of defeat would guarantee that the radical mullahs of Tehran have more influence in Baghdad than the moderate Shiites of Najaf. It would also make the mullahs even more confident that they can build a bomb with impunity and no fear of any Western response.
The stakes in Iraq are about the future of the entire Middle East--and of our inevitable involvement in it. In calling for withdrawal, Mr. Reid and his allies, just as with Vietnam, may think they are merely following polls that show the public is unhappy with the war. Yet Americans will come to dislike a humiliation and its aftermath even more, especially as they realize that a withdrawal from Iraq now will only make it harder to stabilize the region and defeat Islamist radicals. And they will like it even less should we be required to re-enter the country someday under far worse circumstances.

This is the outcome toward which the "lost" Democrats and Harry Reid are heading, and for which they will be responsible if it occurs. The alternative is to fight for a stable Iraqi government that can control the country and keep it together in a federal, democratic system. As long as such an outcome is within reach, it is our responsibility to achieve it.

28409  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Condtioning for the stick on: April 25, 2007, 11:27:59 AM
Woof All:

We are in conversation with Torqueblades (Mike) about how to get the price down so that we can carry these here in our catalog. 

28410  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Military Science on: April 25, 2007, 10:49:34 AM
Ballistic Missile Submarines: The Only Way to Go

Russia and China are both in the process of fielding a new class of ballistic missile submarines. These submarines, longtime prudent investments for states with nuclear weapons, are becoming an essential -- and ultimately, the only -- option for a survivable nuclear deterrent.


For the better part of a decade, four nations have maintained a regularly patrolling strategic deterrent at sea: the United States, France, the United Kingdom and Israel (whose use of nuclear warheads mounted on cruise missiles aboard its three Dolphin-class submarines is an open secret). However, that decade also has seen China and Russia complete nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) programs. This is particularly important because diving beneath the ocean's surface is quickly becoming the only way to hide.


At its peak, the Soviet navy operated more than 60 SSBNs. The fleet is now one-quarter that size, and most of the boats are in poor condition. In 2002, the Russian navy did not conduct a single strategic deterrence patrol. The current fleet of aging SSBNs can barely hold the line. Not only is Russia investing in the future of its SSBN program, but it also is essentially starting from scratch.

The Yuri Dolgoruky, the lead boat of Russia's newest Borei-class SSBN, has a troubled past. Laid down in 1996, the Yuri Dolgoruky was neglected and construction was held up because of economic troubles after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The parallel development of the SS-NX-28 submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) failed, and the design had to be adjusted during construction to accommodate a different missile, the SS-NX-30 Bulava.

Although the Bulava has had several successful launches, three failures in the fourth quarter of 2006 demonstrated the missile was far from ready. Nevertheless, the Yuri Dolgoruky was launched April 15. (It will spend at least a year being fitted out.) Deputy Defense Minister Gen. Alexei Moskovsky has promised seven more by 2017.

Of course, Moskovsky's statements are nothing if not ambitious. A series of successful Bulava tests will be necessary. But the ultimate success of the Borei class is essential for Russia's ability to maintain its nuclear deterrent. It is perhaps the top defense priority, along with the continued fielding of the land-based Topol-M intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). And it is something Russia can afford.

In recent years, Russia has politically and economically consolidated and has been fiscally conservative enough to keep a balanced budget. Russian President Vladimir Putin's policies, and a hefty windfall from high energy prices, have turned Russia's $160 billion debt in 2000 into $400 billion in currency reserves and surplus funds. In March, the Kremlin shed its fiscal conservatism with a new budget for 2007-2010 that dramatically increases spending in many sectors, including defense. The budget and economic conditions are reminiscent of the Soviet budgets of the 1970s, during which Moscow launched its last dramatic increase in defense spending.


For the Chinese People's Liberation Army-Navy (PLAN), nuclear-powered submarines have been a challenge. At times, the PLAN was an understudy of a less-than-perfect master: the Russian navy. Though the PLAN has made incremental improvements, its nuclear submarines reportedly have yet to attain modern standards of performance.

The PLAN's older Xia-class SSBN, though able to launch missiles, never made an official deterrence patrol. However, the new Jin-class SSBN (Type 094) reportedly is undergoing sea trials. It spent some five years under construction and sources indicate it was launched in mid-2004. It reportedly is not up to modern SSBN standards, and there are rumors of nuclear propulsion problems. However, the shift to sea trials suggests it will ultimately deploy. The JL-2 SLBM with which it is to be fitted appears to have had several successful trial launches. If the Jin class is deployable, the bulk of the continental United States -- now only vulnerable to a small arsenal of China's longest-range land-based missiles -- would be within reach of the JL-2 SLBM.

Though dozens of funding priorities compete for the money, China's military spending has continued to rise. China has a small nuclear deterrent, so it must ensure that the deterrent it has is mobile and survivable; thus, while Beijing's pocketbook is not bottomless, the SSBN program should continue receiving the funding it needs.


Both the Russian Borei and the Chinese Jin are still at least a year from operational capability, and their sister boats -- still under construction -- will need to be completed in the next few years in order to build to a constantly patrolling rotation. But in five to 10 years, Russia and China both intend to have such a rotation in place.

While the significance of a new SSBN is greater for China, which has yet to field a functioning sea-based deterrent, the decay of Russia's SSBN fleet is such that the Borei marks a new beginning there.

India could be working toward a missile submarine as well, but that development is 10-20 years away. Countries like Pakistan could one day follow the Israeli example -- diesel submarines armed with cruise missiles. Diesel boats lack the endurance of their nuclear-powered brethren, but can run even quieter for short periods. The cruise missiles have a shorter range than SLBMs, but are technically easier to launch and require no major modifications to a standard hull, since they can be launched horizontally like torpedoes.

While none of these developments fundamentally alters the strategic balance of a unipolar world, advances in Russia and China's SSBN programs mark the first time in a decade that nations other than traditional U.S. allies are building sea-based deterrents.

The Increasing Importance of the Sea-based Deterrent

Early in the Cold War, ICBMs were almost prohibitively large and expensive. The submarine was a way to move shorter-range missiles closer to one's adversary. But as missile accuracy improved (the dramatically increasing potential yield of strategic warheads did not hurt, either), the prospect of a successful "first strike" began to alter the role of the SSBN. It became a valuable "first strike" platform because it could move close to an adversary's coast, giving the enemy less time to react to a missile launch.

But its greatest value as the most survivable leg of a nuclear triad is its capacity for a "second," or retaliatory, strike. Much harder to keep track of than platforms in fixed positions, an SSBN lurking at sea is the ultimate wild card. Land-mobile missile systems (as opposed to fixed, silo-based missiles) are another way of accomplishing this, but technological advances will make them increasingly vulnerable.

A joint U.S. program between the defense and intelligence communities is working to test space-based radar. Destined to succeed in one form or another, space-based radar will one day be able to track objects across the face of the Earth -- objects such as land-mobile launch vehicles -- and keep close enough tabs on them that their locations can be effectively targeted by strategic warheads.

In a unipolar world -- in which the United States will have the best intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities and weapons of increasing speed and accuracy -- the nuclear weapon is the only true guarantor of national independence. Even a minimal deterrent allows nations to focus on and confront regional disputes, as well as protect their interests abroad. An SSBN fleet is, of course, not absolutely necessary -- whether mounted on a land-based missile or a submarine, a nuclear weapon is a substantial bargaining chip -- but it is becoming increasingly difficult to hide anything from the United States. The U.S. military has a technological edge beneath the waves as well, but even a modestly well-built submarine traveling below 5 knots is hard to track, and it certainly has a better chance than a fixed concrete silo. Consequently, the sea-based leg of a nation's nuclear triad is evolving from a prudent choice for survivability to the most essential element of a meaningful nuclear deterrent.
28411  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Iraq on: April 25, 2007, 10:46:09 AM
1108 GMT -- IRAQ -- The body of Mohammad al-Issawi, a top al Qaeda leader in Iraq, has been identified by Multinational Forces (MNF) officials, the MNF said in an April 25 statement. Al-Issawi, who was known to have supplied weapons to insurgents and support an Iraqi car bombing network, was killed in a raid against insurgents April 20.
28412  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Israel, and its neighbors on: April 25, 2007, 10:44:58 AM
Geopolitical Diary: Hamas' Political Struggle

The armed wing of Palestinian Hamas movement, Izz al-Deen al-Qassam Brigades, on Tuesday claimed responsibility for launching 40 rockets and 70 mortar shells on parts of Israel bordering the Gaza Strip. The move brings to an end the five-month truce with the Jewish state. Israel Defense Forces (IDF) has reportedly opted for a "limited military response" to the rocket attacks, which occurred after a daylong IDF offensive this past weekend that killed nine Palestinians, including five militants. The rocket fire, according to IDF officials, was a diversionary tactic to provide cover for a militant infiltration to nab IDF soldiers to up the stakes in the pending prisoner swap between the Israelis and Palestinians.

The cease-fire between the Hamas-led government and Israel is not exactly foolproof. Hamas is notorious for using various militant front organizations to periodically carry out attacks and remind Israel of its militant campaign's strength. But since Hamas swept parliamentary elections more than a year ago, the Hamas leadership has had to balance between proving itself as a legitimate political entity worthy of foreign aid and interaction, and as the leading Palestinian militant organization whose skilled use of explosive devices makes it capable of pressuring Israel into making concessions.

After five months of Hamas silence, however, the group made a point to take direct responsibility for the rocket attack that marked Israel's 59th Independence Day. This shift in stance comes more than two months after Hamas and Fatah leaders signed an agreement in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, to reshuffle the government in an attempt to halt endless street clashes between the rival groups and ease the economic blockade on the Palestinian territories. Though Hamas and Fatah made some progress in creating a national unity government, security issues persist, the economic embargo is still largely intact and the government itself has yet to function. It is no surprise that Hamas' organizational strength has slowly begun to wither away, with increasingly more of the party's members growing disillusioned with a political agenda that has left them paralyzed and doubting whether a political future is really what is good for the Hamas movement.

This difference of opinion is becoming increasingly visible in the top rung of the Hamas command, where the group's external leadership led by exiled politburo chief Khaled Meshaal and internal leadership led by Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh are battling for dominance over the movement. While exiled in Damascus, Syria, Meshaal and his colleagues do not wish to see Haniyeh compromise on Hamas' principles by making the appropriate concessions that would give the movement a moderate make-over and end up further sidelining the group's exiled leaders. Meshaal exerts a great degree of control over Hamas' militant wing, and he uses that control to prevent Hamas from making any significant political headway, as illustrated with Tuesdays's rocket barrage and subsequent claim of responsibility by the group's armed wing. Haniyeh, on the other hand, understands the need for Hamas to empower itself politically and avoid a major confrontation with Israel that would signal the (physical and political) end of Hamas' Gaza leadership.

These internal divisions are only exacerbated by the impasse on the pending prisoner exchange between the Israeli and Palestinian governments and an intense rivalry between Hamas and Fatah over control of the security forces. Five weeks into his job, Palestinian Interior Minister Hani al-Qawasmi tried to resign. Al-Qawasmi was chosen as an independent candidate to help quell the controversy over having a Hamas-ruled government in control of a security apparatus dominated by Fatah loyalists. However, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas attempted to appease his Fatah followers by appointing Muhammad Dahlan, a senior Fatah figure and former interior minister, as national security adviser to restructure the security forces and thus undermine al-Qawasmi's authority. Dahlan's experience in cracking down on Hamas militants in the 1990s has made him a mortal enemy in the eyes of Hamas leaders, providing yet another point of contention between the two factions.

As we anticipated, the lawlessness in the territories has provided jihadist elements with fertile ground to take root in the Palestinian theater. The growing jihadist presence in the area has come to light with recent attacks against Western targets, including the American International School in Gaza, Western-style boutiques, music and cosmetics stores, as well as the recent kidnapping and killing of British Broadcasting Corp. journalist Alan Johnston, whose death was claimed by a previously unknown jihadist-oriented group called the Brigades of Tawhid and Jihad. Though Israel benefits from keeping the Palestinians in disarray, the attrition of Hamas' organizational control and the worsening security conditions in the Gaza Strip are creating the conditions for Israel to face a future in which it will be battling the jihadist menace along its own border.
28413  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Islam in Islamic Countries: on: April 25, 2007, 08:28:16 AM

Published: April 25, 2007
NY Times
ISTANBUL, April 24 — Turkey’s ruling party on Tuesday chose a presidential candidate with an Islamic background, a move that will extend the reach of the party — and the emerging class of devout Muslims it represents — into the heart of Turkey’s secular establishment for the first time.

The selection has focused the worries of secular Turks who fear that sexual equality, as well as drinking alcohol and wearing miniskirts, could eventually be in danger.
Abdullah Gul, 56, the foreign minister, whose wife wears a Muslim head scarf and who is Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s closest political ally, is expected to be confirmed as president by Parliament in several rounds of voting that begin Friday. That will boost Turkey’s new political class — modernizers from a religious background.

“These are the new forces, the new social powers,” said Ali Bulac, a columnist for a conservative newspaper, Zaman, in Istanbul. “They are very devout. They don’t drink. They don’t gamble. They don’t take holidays. They are loaded with a huge energy. This energy has been blocked by the state.”

Turkey is a Muslim country, but its state, founded in 1923 by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, is strictly secular, and the presidency is its most important office. The current president is Ahmet Necdet Sezer, a secularist with a judicial background whose term is expiring.

Mr. Gul, an affable English speaker who has long been his party’s public face abroad, nodded to secular concerns in a news conference in Ankara after his nomination, saying, “Our differences are our richness.” His candidacy was a concession: the choice most distasteful to the secular establishment was Mr. Erdogan himself, who deftly bowed out.

Still, if Mr. Gul is confirmed, his party would occupy the posts of president, prime minister and parliamentary speaker, a lineup that the opposition party leader, Deniz Baykal, called “unfavorable.” His party later announced that it would boycott the vote.

In the Middle East, where mixing religion with government has been seen as poisonous for modernity, Turkey’s very light blend stands out as unusual, even unique.

“This party has done more for the modernization of Turkey than all the secular parties in the previous years,” said Joost Lagendijk, a member of the European Parliament who heads a committee on Turkish issues. “They were willing to open up the system, to challenge the elite.”

The party that Mr. Gul helped found, known by its Turkish initials, AK, sprang from the Islamic political movements of the 1990s. But the AK became significantly more moderate after taking power on a national scale in 2002. Since then, it has applied pragmatic policies that helped create an economic boom and opened up the state in ways that the rigid secular elite, which relied heavily on state control, had never imagined, in part to qualify for membership in the European Union.

Although the party is publicly adamant about keeping religion separate from policy, bristling at shorthand descriptions of it as pro-Islamic, it draws much of its support from Turkey’s religiously conservative heartland. Once on the periphery, these traditional Turks are now emerging as a powerful middle class that has driven Turkey’s boom. The economy has nearly doubled in the four years that the AK has been in power, largely because it has stuck to an economic program prescribed by the International Monetary Fund.

Mr. Gul’s candidacy goes to the heart of the secular-religious debate, because the presidency is such a revered symbol with real powers — he is commander in chief and has a veto. Turkish military leaders in the past have remarked that they would refuse to visit the presidential palace if a woman in a head scarf were living in it.

“How can she now become the host of a palace that represents the very same principles?” said Necmi Yuzbasioglu, a professor of constitutional law at Istanbul University.

Mehmet A. Kislali, a columnist with the newspaper Radikal, who has contacts with the military, said: “The military should not be underestimated. Thousands of officers are watching the developments.”

But the party’s only real application of Islam has been its grass-roots approach. In practices that would be familiar to Shiite Muslims in Lebanon or to Palestinians in Gaza, women’s groups go door to door offering aid, community centers offer women’s literacy classes and sports centers give free physical therapy to handicapped children.

The question of religion aside, economic progress under the AK has been extraordinary, with a steady rise in entrepreneurship. In Istanbul, fuel-efficient taxis zip down tulip-lined streets. New parks have sprung up. The air is less polluted.

Mustafa Karaduman, a textile designer and fashion house owner, is among the new entrepreneurs. He is from Anatolia, a capital of middle-class production, and the homeland of Mr. Gul. His fashion house has turned into an empire, supplying Islamic clothing for women in Europe and the Middle East. He is 50, has seven children, and is an outspoken opponent of the miniskirt.

“My mission,” he says, “is to cover all women around the world.”


In Turkey, a Sign of a Rising Islamic Middle Class

(Page 2 of 2)

The country’s wealth has drawn more observant Turks into public life. Some religious schools now teach English, unheard of a decade ago, improving the chances of students from religious backgrounds on university entrance exams.

At the Kartal Anadolu Imam Hatip High School in a conservative middle-class neighborhood, 16-year-old girls in head scarves and sweatshirts played basketball last week in brightly patterned Converse sneakers. (Skulls were a popular choice.) Last year, 94 students were admitted to universities, up from almost none a decade ago, said Hadir Kalkan, the school’s principal, pointing to students’ career choices in marketing, broadcasting, psychology and finance. Just 14 chose to continue religious training.

The city pool and gym in the lower-middle-class neighborhood of Okmeydani is a testament to the ascendancy of the pious middle class. Few observant women attended in 1996, when the pool opened, an attendant said. Now they fill treadmills and lap lanes.

“I always wanted to but there were no places to go,” said Dondu Koc, a 46-year-old in yellow sweat pants as she pedaled an exercise bike in a room full of women on Wednesday. Before Mr. Erdogan’s stewardship as mayor of the city, there was only one public pool. Now there are three, and five are under construction.

The complex is separated by sex, an arrangement Ms. Koc likes because it lets her and other covered women pedal, jog and swim without their head scarves. But the division irritates secular Turks.

“There shouldn’t be a split like this,” said Tamis Demirel, 47, a homemaker whose hair was still wet from her swim. “We sit next to each other; we should swim next to each other, too.”

The remark seemed to answer the question of Elif Demir, a 19-year-old office clerk at a youth rally for Mr. Erdogan on Sunday. “We have no problem with women wearing miniskirts,” she said, “but why are they so bothered with our head scarves?”

That frustration took the form of a public scolding at a meeting on the far edge of Istanbul on Friday night, where a man who supports Mr. Erdogan’s party complained about what he said was weak party support for religious schools.

“What about Koran courses?” he asked a party representative. “We are looking for generations that have morality.”

The apartment where the meeting took place bore the traces of upper-middle-class life: a running machine, a washing machine and a dryer. Brightly colored scarves covered the hair of the hostesses.

The representative, Kenan Danisman, paused as the evening prayer began. He then offered some pragmatic advice. “If you transfer this prayer into practical support, in three to five years, the problems that hurt peoples’ consciences will be resolved.”

It is precisely the open question of religion’s role in society that makes secular Turks so uncomfortable. Mr. Erdogan may be explicit in his opposition to Islam’s entering policy, but what about the rank and file who are filling jobs in public administration — what is their view of sexual equality? Secular Turks worry that their conservative worldview will lead to a reinterpretation of the rules and lower tolerance for a secular lifestyle.

“People like me are not calculating the economy or what sort of policies they are making,” said Basak Caglayan, 35, a financial consultant who will be married next month. “The life we expect, we want, for our children, is changing. I worry about that.”
28414  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: We the Well-armed People on: April 25, 2007, 08:05:47 AM
The Patriot Post
Founders' Quote Daily

"[W]hereas, to preserve liberty, it is essential that the whole
body of the people always possess arms, and be taught alike,
especially when young, how to use them; nor does it follow from
this, that all promiscuously must go into actual service on
every occasion. The mind that aims at a select militia, must be
influenced by a truly anti-republican principle; and when we see
many men disposed to practice upon it, whenever they can prevail,
no wonder true republicans are for carefully guarding against it."

-- Federal Farmer (Antifederalist Letter, No.18, 25 January 1778)

Reference: The Complete Anti-Federalist, Storing,
ed., vol. 2 (342) The Founders Constitution
28415  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Iraq on: April 24, 2007, 12:40:32 PM
"Against [the] historical backdrop, two facts stand out about our collection of enemies in Iraq, with a particular focus on the ex-Ba'athists and the terrorists who produced the bulk of the violence over the conflict's first three years. First, they are a small group relative to the population within which they are found. And second, even by the standards of our nation's past enemies, they are a despicable lot... National pride should not of course keep us in a war we have indeed lost. But we should give the surge a chance, and consider a number of 'Plan Bs' if it fails, before giving up this important fight to this heinous foe in this crucial part of the world" -- Michael O'Hanlon, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, writing in the Washington Times.
28416  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The 2008 Presidential Race on: April 24, 2007, 12:38:25 PM
Love That Loophole

Mitt Romney has an ace up his sleeve when it comes to his presidential campaign. Not only did the former Massachusetts governor raise more money than any other GOP candidate in the first quarter, but he has the potential to outspend his opponents regardless of how much money he raises.

Mr. Romney has a personal fortune that exceeds $500 million, and while he has only chipped in about $2 million of his personal funds so far, he has the option to donate far more. Even more importantly, his opponents would not be eligible for the provision in the McCain-Feingold law of 2002 that allows congressional candidates to accept contributions in excess of usual limits when facing a wealthy self-funding opponent. The so-called "Millionaires' Amendment" was inadvertently excluded from applying to presidential campaigns. "If Romney pours millions of his own dollars into the race, Republican primary opponents would have little recourse but to raise further funds in $2,300 increments, a time-consuming process," reports The Hill, a Capitol Hill newspaper.

In Congressional campaigns, the Millionaire's Amendment has sometimes made a big difference. In 2004, a then-obscure Illinois state senator used the provision to accept contributions as large as $12,000 in his uphill race for the Democratic Senate nomination against wealthy businessman Blair Hull. Without that financial leg up, Barack Obama might still be voting on driver's license fee bills as a state legislator in Springfield.

Mr. Romney insists he plans to raise money from his proven network of contributors and their friends. But he has the option of pouring in additional resources in advance of the "Super Tuesday" collection of 24 state primaries on Feb. 5, when close to 40% of all delegates will be at stake.

-- John Fund  Political Journal of the WSJ
28417  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Time; Rings of thought, Lines of thought on: April 24, 2007, 11:40:04 AM
Texts That Run Rings Around Everyday Linear Logic

NY Times
Published: March 26, 2007

The feeling is familiar. You are listening to a piece of music, and nothing links one moment with the next. Sounds seem to emerge without purpose from some unmapped realm, neither connecting to what came before nor anticipating anything after. The same thing can happen while reading. Passages accumulate like tedious entries in an exercise book. Chaos, disorder, clumsiness, disarray: these must be the marks of poor construction or, perhaps, of deliberate provocation.

In a strange way, though, the very same sensations might also be marks of our own perceptual failures. Perhaps the order behind the sounds is simply not being heard; perhaps the logic of the argument is not being understood. Paying attention to anything alien can be like listening to a foreign language. There may be logic latent in the sounds, but it is not evident to untrained ears.

This is one reason we so persist in trying to find order, even when it is not first apparent. It is almost a faith in science, psychology, religion and art: an unshakable conviction that some pattern will be found. And often it is. Now, a brief book by the British anthropologist Mary Douglas, “Thinking in Circles: An Essay on Ring Composition” (Yale University Press), provides another glimpse, cursory but suggestive, of this quest for pattern.

Over the course of her career Ms. Douglas has become a master at discerning order in unexpected forms and surprising places. In an unassuming way, without pretense or revolutionary claims, she reveals the logic behind the varied customs of a society. One of the arguments made in her classic book “Purity and Danger” was that herein lies the very work of a culture: to shape a rigorous order that can hold threatening outside forces at bay. Societies divide the world into the clean and the unclean, the permitted and the forbidden, the pure and the polluted, imposing their categories on the continuities of nature, creating order while disclosing it.

This order is also preserved and passed on through literary and religious texts, which must themselves communicate a culture’s way of understanding the world. Why, though, Ms. Douglas asks, are so many of these texts so disorganized, so clumsily written — at least according to generations of readers? The biblical Book of Numbers, she points out, has been dismissed as an unstructured miscellany; one important scholar, Julius Wellhausen, looked at it, she writes, as if it were a “kind of attic used for storing biblical materials that did not fit,” almost a “junk room for the rest of the Pentateuch.”

Over the centuries many Chinese novels have also been attacked for lack of structure, repetition and episodic incoherence. So have Persian and Zoroastrian poetry. Even the Iliad has come in for its share of criticism. Ms. Douglas adds, “The terms disarray and chaotic, together with disordered, clumsy, and other pejoratives” crop up very often in descriptions of the texts that interest her. She herself reacts like an anthropologist surveying a society’s strange customs. “Whenever I read criticism of dire editorial confusion,” she writes, “my pulse quickens; I scent a hidden structure.”

In many cases she finds one. “Writings that used to baffle and dismay unprepared readers, when read correctly, turn out to be marvelously controlled and complex compositions,” she writes. Many epic works of non-Western cultures, she explains, have a distinctive shape: they are constructed in the form of rings.

Here is how the ring works. First there is an introductory section, a prologue that presents the theme and context. The story then proceeds toward its crucial center: the turning point and climax. Once there, the beginning is invoked again and the tale reverses direction. The second half of the story rigorously echoes the first, using verbal markers — like repetition or changes in style — but proceeding as a mirror image, as if the writer is walking backward through the plot. The ending is a return to the beginning. The ring structure also resembles an unrolling thread that is then pulled back onto its spool.

This pattern, Ms. Douglas and other writers have suggested, appears again and again in world literature. She argues, for example, that the biblical story of Abraham’s near sacrifice of Isaac is laid out in ring form. It begins with God’s call to Abraham; the turning point comes when the angel calls to Abraham before he strikes Isaac, their interchange echoing the words at the beginning. Then, step by step, the story reverses itself, repeating at each step language used earlier.

In her brilliant analysis of the biblical book Numbers (fully explored in another of her volumes, “In the Wilderness”), Ms. Douglas has found that the entire text is constructed in a circling and mirroring form, in which bands of narrative alternate with layers of legal writ. A work that might seem a structural hodgepodge takes on, in her analysis, a rigorous logic; the parallels established by the ring form assume important meanings that are crucial for understanding the biblical book’s preoccupation with the priesthood and authority.

Ms. Douglas explores the ring structure in more recent literature as well (including Laurence Sterne’s “Tristram Shandy”), but for the most part, she writes, the pattern has become lost to Western perception. Narratives rigorously written in ring form have come to seem chaotic and clumsy. This is not, she insists, because they are esoteric codes but because today we look elsewhere for order, distrusting the ring form’s rigorous demands. The ring can seem to overturn linear logic and expectation; we prefer open-ended explorations and mistake order for chaos.

I’m not sure that that is the full explanation. And this book is too limited a survey to do the theme justice; it suggests more than it proves. But there is a compelling reason for why the ring pattern that Ms. Douglas outlines works so well: It maps out the ways in which human beings make sense of things.

At first one event follows another. We may not be entirely sure where it is going. Is there a point at all? Then, with declarative emphasis comes the turning, where, with a shock, we hear a first echo. We connect these different moments; a pattern begins to take shape. Then, step by step, other similarities are heard — they too take on meaning — moving backward from the most recent to the earliest in time, until we return to where we began. This kind of narrative needs to be heard again, for it is only in the retelling that the full nature of its order is revealed.

The ring form thus seems to presume repetition and re-interpretation to be understood; it almost takes on the aspect of ritual. It also seems to presume a community that will share in accumulated understanding. Is this perhaps what makes the ring form so alien to contemporary life? Right now, disorder seems much more realistic.

Connections, a critic’s perspective on arts and ideas, appears every other Monday.

A friend responds:

I recall a dim memory of a book I read some years ago called the Gift of the Jews which argued that until the emergence of a more linear, future oriented thinking pattern, thoughts and societies and world views were circular, “rings,” based on the repetitive pattern of the days and seasons.  


After all, the entirety of life in those days was focused on the daily and seasonal cycles that always closed on themselves, so why would one have any other world view?  Your ancestors and your successors could expect precisely the same life.  It was always so, and would always be so.


Then the human capacity for thinking forward, beyond the circular view of everyday life, began to take hold and people thought forward longer term, developed plans, built buildings, then cities, and the current linear thinking model evolved and became dominant as we separated from the natural cycle of the earth.  Storage of surpluses and complexities of trade necessitated a change of viewpoint.


This thesis seems consistent with your points, Ed. Today everyday logic is linear.  Four thousand years ago everyday logic was circular, like the passage of time.  Round and round.


Maybe that is why the older texts are constructed as indicated in your column.


28418  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Jewish Resistance to the Nazis on: April 24, 2007, 11:36:06 AM

Exhibition Review

Resisting the Nazis Despite the Odds


Published: April 16, 2007

The discipline and determination are half-brilliant, half-mad: in 1940, in Warsaw, the Polish-Jewish historian Emanuel Ringelblum decided that the entire experience of Jewry under Nazi rule should be thoroughly documented. The internment of Jews within the Warsaw ghetto, he wrote (with chilly irony), “provided even greater opportunity for development of the archive.”

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Shulamith Posner-Mansbach/ United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

The show at the Museaum of Jewish Heritage includes this 1932 photo taken in Kiel, Germany. More Photos »


Slide Show

Resisting the Nazis

A competition was established to select writers, teachers and intellectuals; they would study topics like community life, education, crime, youth, art and religion, while helping to smuggle information into the ghetto. Comprehensiveness and objectivity were meant to eclipse surrounding horrors, documenting them for the future. The secret project was called, in heavily sardonic code, Oyneg Shabbes, using the Yiddish words for a celebration welcoming the Sabbath.

“To our great regret, however, only part of the plan was carried out,” Mr. Ringelblum writes, explaining with hyperbolic understatement: “We lacked the necessary tranquillity for a plan of such scope and volume.” Writers were executed; some were exiled for slave labor; and, in 1942, hundreds of thousands of ghetto residents were deported to death camps. Before the ghetto was consumed in the final conflagrations of an armed rebellion, Mr. Ringelblum’s archive was buried in tin boxes and milk cans that were only partly rediscovered after the war.

This epic is briefly alluded to in the important exhibition “Daring to Resist: Jewish Defiance in the Holocaust,” opening today at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in association with the Ghetto Fighters’ House in Israel. Mr. Ringelblum is mentioned here, and facsimiles of the buried documents (now housed in Warsaw) are shown, but they are primarily demonstrating that in extreme times resistance to tyranny takes many forms. One is the enterprise of Oyneg Shabbes: documentation.

Others forms of resistance are reflected in objects that in ordinary times have no distinctiveness: a ritual slaughterer’s knife used at great risk to butcher kosher chickens in Denmark so they could be smuggled into Germany in the 1930s; a blue-and-white wrestling sash from 1934 awarded to Jewish contestants no longer permitted to compete with their fellow Germans; a girl’s 1938 report card from a school founded by Jews in Berlin after Jewish children were banned from public schools.

And reflecting later years are artifacts from even darker times, including false documents used by Jewish women who were couriers secretly bearing information from beyond the walls of ghettos and camps. Also on view are a violin, a stage set, school notebooks: all relics of a resilient Jewish life nurtured at the brink of extinction. (“When the children will come out of the cage,” one survivor recalls being told, “they should be able to fly.”)

There is even a pillowcase given to a Lithuanian woman by Rivka Gotz, who defied the Nazi ban on Jewish childbirth and smuggled her newborn son, Ben, out of the Shavli ghetto in a suitcase, placing him under the woman’s secret care. The pillowcase now comes from Ben Gotz’s collection.

Such is the evidence of resistance of one kind or another: creating institutions in the face of oppression; following religious observances that were the object of Nazi repugnance; continuing cultural life with defiant pride; risking life to bring new life into being. It is not until late in the exhibition that visitors see the first guns used by Jewish partisans or can read the first accounts of their sabotage as they darted from forests like gnats in the face of the German war machine.

The exhibition’s curator, Yitzchak Mais, former director of the Yad Vashem museum in Jerusalem and a curator of the planned Illinois Holocaust Museum in Skokie, explains in a valuable companion volume to the show (which also includes many difficult-to-find firsthand accounts) that his intention was to address the kinds of accusatory questions that the writer Primo Levi said he often heard as a survivor: “Why did you not escape? Why did you not rebel?”

Mr. Mais’s answer is that Jews did, again and again There were more than 90 Jewish fighting organizations in European ghettos and three rebellions at the hellish centers of the Nazi death-kingdom: at Sobibor, Treblinka and Auschwitz-Birkenau. But also, Mr. Mais suggests, “visitors to our exhibition will be challenged to re-evaluate their understanding of what constitutes resistance.”

This is the show’s greatest strength, and also its greatest weakness. It is a strength because to demonstrate how all of this involved resistance, the exhibition must convey just how extraordinary the circumstances were: the gradually tightening grip that held European Jews; the impressions that couldn’t fully foreshadow what was to come; the human impulse toward hope being slowly stifled. “How does one respond,” an introductory film asks, “when the future is unknown?”

“Who can you turn to?” asks the label text. “Who will speak for you when your government turns enemy and neighbors turn away?” “Is it better to lie low or stand tall?” And another question: “To stay or to go?”

When the scale of the Nazi ambition starts to become clear, it is beyond comprehension. The show includes numerous fragments of interviews with survivors (which unfortunately are too brief and miscellaneous) that capture those impressions. One woman recalls the postcards arriving from relatives whom the Nazis had just relocated “East”; they are full of carefully phrased optimism and artificially cheery description. But after the Nazi-supervised pap, one card ominously adds: “Very soon we are going to visit Uncle Mavet.” Mavet, in Hebrew, means death.

But the exhibition’s polemical focus is also a weakness, for it ends up turning resistance into a catchall concept that applies to any refusal to submit completely. There is an element of truth here, but also a needless desire to encompass every act of pride and survival within the idea of resistance. The result is almost too reassuring: Jews, the label text tells us, “recognized that their most precious resource was hope,” and, “They acted imaginatively to shield their communities from despair and promote the will to resist.”

It is as if the exhibition were shying away from too much complication. Almost unmentioned, for example, are the moral quandaries faced by Jewish leaders who even at best had to weigh the communal benefits of cooperation with the communal costs of resistance. In one of the show’s short videos, a survivor recalls being called before community leaders when they learn of her plan to escape. They cite the massacres that would follow. She is asked, “Who gave you the right to buy your freedom at the price of others?”

That dilemma is unexplored. That would mean examining the idea of resistance more intensively; making more distinctions, not fewer. Why, for example, did it take so much time for Jewish resistance to erupt into outright refusal and rebellion? In the show’s companion book, the historian David Engel suggests that at first Jews saw the Nazi phenomenon as a recurrence of earlier traumas, as part of the cycle of Jewish historical experience. Jews, after all, had received full German citizenship only in 1871, so if they were deprived of benefits in 1933, it was more a regression than a cataclysm.

The sense of repetitive cycles was reinforced by the literal medievalism of German oppression: the ghettos, the yellow stars, the governing Jewish councils. These historical echoes, Mr. Engel suggests, made Jews less likely to see clearly what was happening and made resistance less likely.

Those who did see, like the partisan Abba Kovner, took very different actions. In 1941, at 23, he said that the German goal was the “absolute, total annihilation” of the Jews. This put the entire situation in a new context. Unfortunately in this show one doesn’t fully grasp how drastically interpretation shaped response; the partisans were a turning point as much as a continuation. Here, though, their acts almost become a supplement to broadly defined resistance, and the fighters lack individuality.

In a 2001 PBS documentary, “Resistance: Untold Stories of Jewish Partisans,” Kenneth M. Mandel and Daniel B. Polin tell the story through interviews with 11 partisans who become recognizable individuals recounting an astonishing past. Some of those same figures appear in this exhibition’s videos, but they are stripped of context and speaking in snippets. We don’t learn enough about them to fully understand their achievement.

This makes the exhibition less powerful than it might have been. But at a time when Nazism has become a denatured metaphor for any political system deemed unpleasantly powerful, and when the concept of resistance has been perverted into meaninglessness by terrorist groups boasting exterminationist goals, this show begins to re-establish the sense of scale that once made Nazism so horrific and resistance so difficult.

28419  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Heart Attack article part two on: April 24, 2007, 08:51:32 AM

"The single biggest delay is from the onset of symptoms and calling 911,"
said Dr. Bernard Gersh, a cardiologist at the Mayo Clinic. "The average time
is 111 minutes, and it hasn't changed in 10 years."

'Time Is Muscle'

At least half of all patients never call an ambulance. Instead, in the
throes of a heart attack, they drive themselves to the emergency room or are
driven there by a friend or family member. Or they take a taxi. Or they

Patients often say they were embarrassed by the thought of an ambulance
arriving at their door.

"Calling 911 seems like such a project," Mr. Orr said. "I reserve it for car
accidents and exploding appliances. I feel like if I can walk and talk and
breathe I should just get here."

It is an understandable response, but one that can be fatal, cardiologists

"If you come to the hospital unannounced or if you drive yourself there,
you're burning time," Dr. Antman said. "And time is muscle," he added,
meaning that heart muscle is dying as the minutes tick away.

There may be false alarms, Dr. Sopko said.

"But it is better to be checked out and find out it's not a problem than to
have a problem and not have the therapy," he said.

Calling an ambulance promptly is only part of the issue, heart researchers
say. There also is the question of how, or even whether, the patient gets
either of two types of treatment to open the blocked arteries, known as
reperfusion therapy.

One is to open arteries with a clot-dissolving drug like tPA, for tissue
plasminogen activator.

"These have been breakthrough therapies," said Dr. Joseph P. Ornato, a
cardiologist and emergency medicine specialist who is medical director for
the City of Richmond, Va. "But the hooker is that even the best of the clot
buster drugs typically only open up 60 to 70 percent of blocked arteries -
nowhere close to 100 percent."

The drugs also make patients vulnerable to bleeding, Dr. Ornato said.

One in 200 patients bleeds into the brain, having a stroke from the
treatment meant to save the heart.

The other way is with angioplasty, the procedure Mr. Orr got. Cardiologists
say it is the preferred method under ideal circumstances.

Stents have recently been questioned for those who are just having symptoms
like shortness of breath. In those cases, drugs often work as well as
stents. But during a heart attack or in the early hours afterward, stents
are the best way to open arteries and prevent damage. That, though, requires
a cardiac catheterization laboratory, practiced doctors and staff on call 24
hours a day. The result is that few get this treatment.

"We now are seeing really phenomenal results in experienced hands," Dr.
Ornato said. "We can open 95 to 96 percent of arteries, and bleeding in the
brain is virtually unheard of. It's a safer route if it is done by very
experienced people and if it is done promptly. Those are big ifs."

The ifs were not a problem for Mr. Orr. His decision to go to Brigham and
Women's Hospital proved exactly right. But he did not know that when he
chose the hospital - he chose it because his doctor was affiliated with

A Need for More Angioplasty

Currently, 30 percent of patients who are candidates for reperfusion do not
receive it, and of those who do, only 18 percent are treated with
angioplasty, said Dr. Alice Jacobs, director of the cardiac catheterization
laboratory at Boston University School of Medicine and a past president of
the American Heart Association. Of the nation's 5,000 acute care hospitals,
Dr. Jacobs said, only 1,200 provide angioplasty.

Most hospitals, she said, cannot offer angioplasty because they do not have
enough patients for a team of doctors to maintain their skills. An obvious
solution would be to make heart attack care more like trauma care - sending
patients to the nearest hospital that can provide angioplasty as quickly as
possible. But that is not always easy, Dr. Jacobs said, because hospitals do
not want to lose cardiac patients.

A major reason, she said, is financial. Hospitals are reimbursed by Medicare
according an index that measures the acuity of medical conditions they

"If your cardiac patients are transferred, your acuity index goes down,
which lowers overall Medicare reimbursement for other problems like
pneumonia and renal disease," Dr. Jacobs said.

It is also difficult for patients who live in rural areas, where community
hospitals are too small to offer angioplasty and larger hospitals that do
offer it are hours away. Minnesota is experimenting with a program using
helicopters to transport patients quickly. But for most rural patients
elsewhere, angioplasty is almost an impossibility.

Dr. Antman suggests that heart disease patients ask their doctor if there is
a hospital nearby that does angioplasty around the clock. If so, they might
want to discuss with their doctor whether to ask that an ambulance take them
there if they are having a heart attack.

It is the sort of advice that makes cardiologists nervous - they do not want
to encourage patients to dictate treatment. But, Dr. Antman said, if it is
feasible to get to an angioplasty-providing hospital within an hour, "in
most cases that would be preferable."

Getting the Proper Therapy

Opening an artery is only the start of treatment. The next part is at least
as problematic: Patients have to get the right drugs, in the right doses,
and have to take them for the rest of their lives.

"Care is getting a lot better," Dr. Peterson said. "But the only caveat is
that they are only really looking at, Did you get therapy? No one is looking
too closely at, Did you do it right?"

For example, he said, a recent study found that heart attack patients were
getting blood-thinning prescription drugs to prevent clots, as they should,
but up to 40 percent were getting the wrong dose, usually one too high.

And even if every prescription were exactly right, as many as half of all
patients do just what Mr. Orr did after his first heart attack. They stop
taking many or all of their drugs.

Sometimes it is a matter of communication.

"The information did not get to the primary doctor and the primary doctor
did not know to renew the prescription," Dr. Peterson said. "When we talk to
patients, they say: 'No one communicated to me the importance of being on
the medications long term. I thought I would only need them for three
months, I thought it would be like an antibiotic. I thought they put in a
stent so why do I need a drug?' "

But there may be more to it than ignorance. There also is the image those
pills convey of a sick person.

Mr. Orr said he did not like to think of himself as someone who had to take
a fistful of pills every day. Even the recommended daily aspirin seemed
superfluous, he thought.

"I think I sort of pooh-poohed the notion that one tablet of aspirin each
day would do anything," Mr. Orr said.

What it does is make blood less likely to clot. In Mr. Orr's case, Dr.
Antman said, it is likely that when Mr. Orr was exercising on the
cross-trainer, an area of plaque ruptured. Then a clot began to form in the
area, eventually blocking the artery.

The problem was not exercise, which is good for people with heart disease,
but Mr. Orr's decision not to take his medications, Dr. Antman said. If he
had been taking aspirin that clot would have had more difficulty forming and

Dr. Antman has a message for patients: With a disease as serious as heart
disease, those who take responsibility are often the ones who survive.

Having a heart attack, even if it turns out well, as his did, is a
life-altering experience, Mr. Orr said.

His first heart attack, Mr. Orr said, "came out of the blue." When he was
discharged from the hospital, he was terrified that it would happen again
when he was alone and unable to call for help. "I had a really hard time
with it," he said. "I only stayed in my own house for one night and then I
moved to a friend's house for two weeks."

Now Mr. Orr plans to be serious about taking his medication and getting back
to his diet and exercise program. He will call an ambulance if he ever has
symptoms again. Still, he hates to think of himself as a patient. "I'm a
little freaked out that I will have to take medication for the foreseeable
eternity," Mr. Orr said.

But the day after he got home from the hospital, he thought about what had

"The gravity of the situation just sort of clicked," Mr. Orr said. "I
started to cry."
28420  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Heart Attack article on: April 24, 2007, 08:49:39 AM
A MD friend recommends this article: "An unusually thoughtful and competent recent medical NYT article"


April 8, 2007

Keith Orr thought he would surprise his doctor when he came for a checkup.

His doctor had told him to have a weight-loss operation to reduce the amount
of food his stomach could hold, worried because Mr. Orr, at 6 feet 2 inches,
weighed 278 pounds. He also had a blood sugar level so high he was on the
verge of diabetes and a strong family history of early death from heart
attacks. And Mr. Orr, who is 44, had already had a heart attack in 1998 when
he was 35.

But Mr. Orr had a secret plan. He had been quietly dieting and exercising
for four months and lost 45 pounds. He envisioned himself proudly telling
his doctor what he had done, sure his tests would show a huge drop in his
blood sugar and cholesterol levels. He planned to confess that he had also
stopped taking all of his prescription drugs for heart disease.

After all, he reasoned, with his improved diet and exercise, he no longer
needed the drugs. And, anyway, he had never taken his medications regularly,
so stopping altogether would not make much difference, he decided.

But the surprise was not what Mr. Orr had anticipated. On Feb. 6, one week
before the appointment with his doctor, Mr. Orr was working out at a gym
near his home in Boston when he felt a tightness in his chest. It was the
start of a massive heart attack, with the sort of blockage in an artery that
doctors call the widow-maker.

He survived, miraculously, with little or no damage to his heart. But his
story illustrates the reasons that heart disease still kills more Americans
than any other disease, as it has for nearly a century.

Medical research has revealed enough about the causes and prevention of
heart attacks that they could be nearly eliminated. Yet nearly 16 million
Americans are living with coronary heart disease, and nearly half a million
die from it each year.

It's not that prevention doesn't work, and it's not that once someone has a
heart attack there is little to be done. In fact, said Dr. Elizabeth Nabel,
director of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute at the National
Institutes of Health, age-adjusted death rates for heart disease dropped
precipitously in the past few decades, and prevention and better treatment
are major reasons why.

But the concern, Dr. Nabel and others say, is that much more could be done.
In many ways, scientists' hard-won and increasingly detailed understanding
of what causes heart disease and what to do for it often goes unknown or

Studies reveal, for example, that people have only about an hour to get
their arteries open during a heart attack if they are to avoid permanent
heart damage. Yet, recent surveys find, fewer than 10 percent get to a
hospital that fast, sometimes because they are reluctant to acknowledge what
is happening. And most who reach the hospital quickly do not receive the
optimal treatment - many American hospitals are not fully equipped to
provide it but are reluctant to give up heart patients because they are so

And new studies reveal that even though drugs can protect people who already
had a heart attack from having another, many patients get the wrong doses
and most, Mr. Orr included, stop taking the drugs in a matter of months.
They should take the drugs for the rest of their lives.

"We've done pretty well," Dr. Nabel said. "But we could be doing much
better. I've heard some people refer to it as the rule of halves. Half the
people who need to be treated are treated and half who are treated are
adequately treated."

The result, heart researchers say, is a huge disconnect between what is
possible and what is actually happening.

Crucial Miscalculations

Keith Orr's story has themes that resonate with every cardiologist. He did
many things right, but also made some crucial miscalculations that were so
common that nearly every patient makes them, cardiologists say. But not
everyone comes out as well.

Mr. Orr anticipated a pleasant day on Feb. 6, starting with a workout at his
gym, then lunch with a friend before he went to work at Smith & Wollensky, a
steakhouse where he is a manager.

He arrived at the gym around noon and lifted weights, concentrating on the
pectoral muscles of his chest. Then he moved on to an elliptical
cross-trainer for cardiovascular exercise.

After half an hour on the elliptical, Mr. Orr felt a tightness in his chest.
"I attributed it to the weight training," he said, but stopped exercising,
showered, dressed and walked to his car.

"I felt really bad, out of sorts," he said. The pressure in his chest would
ease off and then intensify, and now he was sweating profusely and was
nauseated. When he arrived at the restaurant, he told his friend Darrin
Friedman that he would have to beg off from lunch. "I feel like hell," he
told Mr. Friedman.

He went home and lay on his bed.

"I knew at that point that it was not a pulled muscle," Mr. Orr said. "It's
a completely different feeling of pressure and discomfort. You feel as
though something is genuinely wrong."

It was 3:15. And the pain was no longer intermittent. It was constant.

Mr. Orr called Mr. Friedman and asked him to drive him to an emergency room.
A few minutes later, the two set off for Brigham and Women's Hospital, about
a 10-minute drive.

"Keith was hunched over and he didn't put his seat belt on," Mr. Friedman
said. "I kept asking him, 'Is it getting better or getting worse or staying
the same?' For the first 10 minutes he said, 'It's about the same.' Then,
when we were a block or so away, he said: 'I'm not doing well. I think it's
getting worse.' "

When they arrived at the hospital's emergency department, Mr. Friedman
explained that his friend was having chest pains. Immediately, Mr. Orr was
wheeled off for an electrocardiogram, showing his heart's electrical
signals. It was ominous, including one pattern called the tombstone T wave
because patients who had it died in the days before there were aggressive
treatments to open arteries.

The next thing Mr. Orr knew, he was being rushed to the cardiac
catheterization laboratory for a procedure to open his artery.

"They said: 'We're going now. We're going now,' " Mr. Orr recalled. "That
really scared me. Someone kept yelling: 'Do you have his labs? Do you have
his labs?' Someone else said, 'We'll transfer them later.' "

The electrocardiogram was at 3:45 p.m., roughly 30 minutes after his
symptoms changed from intermittent to constant and 5 minutes after he got to
the hospital.

At 3:52 p.m., Dr. Ashvin Pande, a cardiology fellow, was chatting in the
hallway when he was called to the catheterization lab.

"Big M.I. coming in," a nurse told Dr. Pande, using the abbreviation for
myocardial infarction, or heart attack. At the time, the room was occupied -
a patient was lying on the table for an elective procedure. He was quickly
wheeled out and Mr. Orr was wheeled in. It was 3:56 p.m.

Within minutes, Dr. James M. Kirshenbaum, director of acute interventional
cardiology, assisted by Dr. Pande, threaded a thin tube, like a long and
narrow straw, from an artery in Mr. Orr's groin to his heart. They injected
a dye to make Mr. Orr's arteries visible to an X-ray and they saw the
problem - a huge clot in his heart's left anterior descending artery,
blocking blood flow to most of his heart.

The quickest option was to open that artery with a balloon and keep it open
with a stent, a tiny mesh cage, if possible.

It worked - the balloon shattered the clot and pushed the debris against the
artery wall and the stent held the artery open. Then a different problem
arose. When the large clot was pushed aside, the debris was shoved against
the opening of a small artery that branched from the larger one, much as a
snowplow clearing a street can block a driveway.

"We made a calculated decision that it would be worth sacrificing the branch
to secure the main vessel," Dr. Pande said. But, fortunately, they were able
to insert another balloon through the stent and into the small artery,
opening it too.

At 4:43, the procedure was over and Mr. Orr was wheeled to the coronary
intensive care unit. He had been awake but sedated and experienced what he
said was the amazing feeling of having his artery opened. "As soon as the
balloon goes in, all the pain disappears," he said. "You know immediately."

The cardiologists who saved his life walked out of the room, grinning and

"This adrenaline rush is why people like me go into cardiology," Dr. Pande

The First Call: An Ambulance

Mr. Orr was incredibly lucky, said Dr. Elliott Antman, director of the
coronary care unit at Brigham and Women's Hospital. He ended up with little
or no damage to his heart, even though he teetered between lifesaving
decisions and critical miscalculations in his moments of crisis.

The first lifesaving decision was to go to a hospital soon after his chest
pain began. But the miscalculation was to call his friend for a ride. He
should have called an ambulance.

Had his friend gotten caught in traffic, Mr. Orr might have been dead or
sustained serious injury to his heart. He might have had to go to a
rehabilitation center and learn special tactics for conserving energy, like
sliding a coffeepot along a counter instead of lifting it.

What few patients realize, Dr. Antman said, is that a serious heart attack
is as much of an emergency as being shot.

"We deal with it as if it is a gunshot wound to the heart," Dr. Antman said.

Cardiologists call it the golden hour, that window of time when they have a
chance to save most of the heart muscle when an artery is blocked.

But that urgency, cardiologists say, has been one of the most difficult
messages to get across, in part because people often deny or fail to
appreciate the symptoms of a heart attack. The popular image of a heart
attack is all wrong.

It's the Hollywood heart attack, said Dr. Eric Peterson, a cardiologist and
heart disease researcher at Duke University.

"That's the man clutching his chest, grimacing in pain and going down," Dr.
Peterson said. "That's what people imagine a heart attack is like. What they
don't imagine is that it's not so much pain as pressure, a feeling of
heaviness, shortness of breath."

Most patients describe something like Mr. Orr's symptoms - discomfort in the
chest that may, or may not, radiate into the arms or neck, the back, the
jaw, or the stomach. Many also have nausea or shortness of breath. Or they
break out in a cold sweat, or have a feeling of anxiety or impending doom,
or have blue lips or hands or feet, or feel a sudden exhaustion.

But symptoms often are less distinctive in elderly patients, especially
women. Their only sign may be a sudden feeling of exhaustion just walking
across a room. Some say they broke out in a sweat. Afterward, they may
recall a feeling of pressure in their chest or pain radiating from their
chest but at the time, they say, they paid little attention.

Patients with diabetes might have no obvious symptoms at all other than
sudden, extreme fatigue. It's not clear why diabetics often have these
so-called silent heart attacks - one hypothesis attributes it to damage
diabetes can cause to nerves that carry pain signals.

"I say to patients, 'Be alert to the possibility that you may be short of
breath,' " Dr. Antman said. "Every day you walk down your driveway to go to
your mailbox. If you discover one day that you can only walk halfway there,
you are so fatigued that you can't walk another foot, I want to hear about
that. You might be having a heart attack."

Other times, said Dr. George Sopko, a cardiologist at the National Heart,
Lung and Blood Institute, symptoms like pressure in the chest come and go.
That is because a blood clot blocking an artery is breaking up a bit,
reforming, breaking and reforming. It was what happened to Mr. Orr when he
was at the gym and meeting his friend afterward.

"It's a pre-heart attack," Dr. Sopko said. A blood vessel is on its way to
being completely blocked. "You need to call 911."

But most people - often hoping it is not a heart attack, wondering if their
symptoms will fade, not wanting to be alarmist - hesitate far too long
before calling for help.
28421  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Homeland Security on: April 24, 2007, 08:28:05 AM
Bomb Threats: Evacuations Not Always the Best Course of Action
The April 16 massacre at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va., has generated a spate of bomb threats against schools and universities across the United States. In many cases, school authorities react to such threats by ordering the evacuation of students and faculty from buildings on campus. Evacuations, however, could expose students to a real danger lurking outside -- and should be used only as a last resort.

The University of Minnesota evacuated eight buildings on its Minneapolis campus April 18 after a student reported having found a typed bomb threat in a chemistry building's bathroom. All classes and meetings in those buildings were canceled and bomb-sniffing dogs were brought to search for explosives. A six-hour search of the campus, however, turned up nothing and the buildings were reopened the next day. Similar evacuations have taken place at numerous schools and universities in the four days since the Virginia shooting spree.

Ordering an evacuation tends to be the first response to any bomb threat, whether one occurs at schools and universities or public buildings and private businesses. The vast majority of these threats, however, turn out to be hoaxes, usually called in by pranksters or mentally disturbed individuals.

Although an evacuation can provide emotional reassurance that something is being done about the threat, it is not the best action to take when a nonspecific bomb threat is received. In cases in which the threat does not identify a specific classroom or building, sending people out into the open air can put them in more danger than keeping them in place. In a nonspecific threat, the bomb could be anywhere, including outside of buildings. Moreover, there is always the risk that a gunman called in the threat in order to shoot down a crowd of people gathered outside. In Jonesboro, Ark., in 1998, two students aged 13 and 11 set off the fire alarm at Westside Middle School and shot at people as they evacuated, killing four students and a teacher.

Of the bomb threats called into universities and high schools since the Virginia Tech massacre, none was connected to an actual bombing attempt. History has shown that people who intend to kill with explosives are unlikely to give any kind of warning. Furthermore, most cases of school violence involve guns rather than bombs. Although the two students who carried out the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., included pipe bombs in their arsenal, all of their victims were killed with guns.

The safest way to respond to a bomb threat against a campus or compound is to notify people over a public address system, providing only information that might assist in a search. Although the normal response would be to evacuate a classroom, dormitory or office that had been threatened, it is important to remember two things: Most bomb threats are hoaxes and the real danger might lie outside of the threatened area. Ideally, then, people in the threatened area should first search their immediate area, starting under tables and desks, then move to desktops and finally to shelves and cabinets. The people best suited to search for anything unusual in a room are those who use it daily and are familiar with potential hiding places -- and thus would be able to spot anything that was not there the day before.

Only if a suspicious object is found should an evacuation be ordered. Once such an order is given, students or workers should gather at a prearranged rally point or secondary location. There, a head count can be made and authorities notified of the status. Meanwhile, a cordon should be established around the affected building to keep people away from it.

Threats of bombing and other violence against schools and universities will likely continue as long as the Virginia Tech massacre remains fresh in the public consciousness -- and as long as schools provide students with time off every time one occurs. While evacuations can calm jittery nerves, they are not always the best course of action.
28422  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The modern Liberal mindset explained! on: April 24, 2007, 06:49:54 AM
It took me a while to get around to this.  Frankly I anticipated a bit of a screed, but actually found the talk to be thoughtful.
28423  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Christianity on: April 24, 2007, 06:48:11 AM

What do you make of this thread?
28424  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The party of Hate on: April 24, 2007, 06:33:10 AM
I gather that Barack is not seen by some blacks as being "black enough" or some such thing.  Anyway, why is it that race-baiting has worked so well for so long? 

(BTW FWIW IMHO this era may be coming to an end)
28425  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.....


Posts: 26

     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 PM

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
28426  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.

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.

28427  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.
28428  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.

  Your friend,
 Newt Gingrich
28429  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Islamist attacks across the west on: April 23, 2007, 09:16:07 PM
GM posted
on the "Islam the religion" thread, but I am moving it here.
28430  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

Jeanna Bryner

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).

Forest find

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."

Forest snapshot

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.

Flash freeze

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.

28431  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.
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28432  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
28433  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / A 50 something white rapper on: April 23, 2007, 11:00:25 AM

28434  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
NY Times

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.”

28435  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. ♦
28436  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.
28437  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.
28438  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Virginia Tech Shooting... on: April 22, 2007, 08:21:54 PM
Barf tongue angry

From the VirginiaTech web page on how to deal with workplace violence:

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
28439  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."
28440  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 | 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.
28441  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)

High Gun
Ownership Countries
 Low Gun
Ownership Countries
Switzerland 21.4
 Denmark 22.3
U.S. 11.6
 France 20.8
Israel  6.5
 Japan** 16.7

* 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


28442  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.
28443  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.

Pig bomb

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."

Vitamin deficient

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."

Migratory habits

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 Contact him see his website

28444  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.

Batak language

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.

First contact

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.
28445  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: The Snaggletooth Variations: on: April 21, 2007, 09:33:15 AM
Good news indeed.  Keep me posted.
28446  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
Published: April 21, 2007
NY Times

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.
28447  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Peggy Noonan in the WSJ on: April 21, 2007, 01:05:23 AM
Cold Standard
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

28448  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.
28449  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."

28450  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.
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