Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Sounds like a bad idea to me
on: January 04, 2007, 08:37:22 PM
Geopolitical Diary: Merkel's TAFTA Agenda
German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrives in Washington on Thursday for talks with U.S. President George W. Bush. Up for discussion is everything from energy security cooperation to relations with Russia. All are important, all will be given their due, but one item on the agenda holds out the possibility of being truly revolutionary: trade.
In a Financial Times article published Jan. 2, Merkel waxed philosophic about her intent to convince the American president of the benefits of coordinating policy on things such as joint financial market regulations, stock exchange delisting rules, intellectual property rights, and mutual recognition of technical standards. We can almost see Bush's eyes glazing over.
But such talks are not just about the technical i-dotting and t-crossing that makes for an economic relationship. Merkel is much more ambitious than that. She wants to see the United States and European Union merge into a single trans-Atlantic common market that would include roughly 800 million people and a combined gross domestic product of half the world's economic output.
The obstacles to such a trade grouping are hardly minor. First, Merkel has to convince the Bush administration that her method -- deeply integrating the technical aspects of economic regulation -- is the way to go, rather than Washington's preferred method of simply brokering free trade agreements. After all, such relatively invasive techniques are similar to (if not flatly modeled on) the European Union's own internal regulatory structures rather than Washington's traditional sovereignty-protecting approaches.
But adopting such an approach may well prove critical to overcoming European opposition to the idea of a trans-Atlantic free trade agreement (TAFTA). Many European leaders fear that allowing unrestricted competition with the United States without inducing the Americans to merge at least some of their regulatory processes with Europe would give the Americans the ability to drive Europe out of legions of markets. TAFTA has, after all, been attempted before -- and while the idea was warmly received in the United States, it was ultimately derailed and defeated in Europe. And by "Europe," we mean "France."
Two things are different this time. First, pushing the regulatory approach should at least give Merkel the ability to ensure her fellow Europeans do not reject the idea out of hand. Second, France is changing. By the time of the EU-U.S. summit in May and the EU heads of government summit in June, France will have its first leader in a generation who does not subscribe to the reflexively anti-American geopolitics of Charles de Gaulle.
Which means that the greatest obstacle remaining for Merkel's TAFTA plan could well prove to be ... Merkel. Successful EU presidencies -- they are only six-month terms -- are generally characterized by agendas limited to one or two extremely focused items. Launching TAFTA talks (and remember that all 27 EU states have to agree unanimously for this to happen) is a hugely ambitious task, and it is only one of many that Merkel has set for herself. Also on her agenda is navigating a potential crisis in Serbia, figuring out what to do about Bosnia, helping relaunch Middle East peace talks, restarting negotiations with Russia on a partnership deal, solving that Africa hunger problem, and, oh yes, figuring out a way to salvage the twice-defeated European constitution -- all while Merkel's own coalition government is not exactly on the best of terms with itself. Such a towering list is a large order even for a German chancellor.
Still, a key theme of Stratfor's 2006 annual forecast was that Germany's return to being a "normal" country will reshape international geopolitical dynamics. If the good chancellor can achieve even a fraction of her agenda, we will have written an understatement.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Islam in America and the rest of the western hemisphere
on: January 04, 2007, 08:05:21 PM
And it was Locke, as well as Jefferson: http://www.juancole.com/2005/05/is-b...tics-john.html
From Jefferson's Autobiography:
"[When] the [Virginia] bill for establishing religious freedom... was
finally passed,... a singular proposition proved that its protection
of opinion was meant to be universal. Where the preamble
declares that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy
author of our religion, an amendment was proposed, by inserting
the word "Jesus Christ," so that it should read "a departure from
the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion." The
insertion was rejected by a great majority, in proof that they
meant to comprehend within the mantle of its protection the Jew
and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo and
infidel of every denomination." --Thomas Jefferson:
Autobiography, 1821. ME 1:67
From 1777 Draft of a Bill for 'Religious Freedom':
"that our civil rights have no dependance on our religious opinions, any more than our opinions in physics or geometry; that therefore the proscribing any citizen as unworthy the public confidence by laying upon him an incapacity of being called to offices of trust and emolument, unless he profess or renounce this or that religious opinion, is depriving him injuriously of those privileges and advantages to which, in common with his fellow citizens, he has a natural right . . ."
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Military Science
on: January 04, 2007, 07:46:34 PM
Since the start of the Iraq war, tens of thousands of heavily-armed military contractors have been roaming the country -- without any law, or any court to control them. That may be about to change, Brookings Institution Senior Fellow P.W. Singer notes in a Defense Tech exclusive. Five words, slipped into a Pentagon budget bill, could make all the difference. With them, "contractors 'get out of jail free' cards may have been torn to shreds," he writes. They're now subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the same set of laws that governs soldiers. But here's the catch: embedded reporters are now under those regulations, too.
Over the last few years, tales of private military contractors run amuck in Iraq -- from the CACI interrogators at Abu Ghraib to the Aegis company's Elvis-themed internet "trophy video" —- have continually popped up in the headlines. Unfortunately, when it came to actually doing something about these episodes of Outsourcing Gone Wild, Hollywood took more action than Washington. The TV series Law and Order punished fictional contractor crimes, while our courts ignored the actual ones. Leonardo Dicaprio acted in a movie featuring the private military industry, while our government enacted no actual policy on it. But those carefree days of military contractors romping across the hills and dales of the Iraqi countryside, without legal status or accountability, may be over. The Congress has struck back.
Amidst all the add-ins, pork spending, and excitement of the budget process, it has now come out that a tiny clause was slipped into the Pentagon's fiscal year 2007 budget legislation. The one sentence section (number 552 of a total 3510 sections) states that "Paragraph (10) of section 802(a) of title 10, United States Code (article 2(a) of the Uniform Code of Military Justice), is amended by striking `war' and inserting `declared war or a contingency operation'." The measure passed without much notice or any debate. And then, as they might sing on School House Rock, that bill became a law (P.L.109-364).
The addition of five little words to a massive US legal code that fills entire shelves at law libraries wouldn't normally matter for much. But with this change, contractors' 'get out of jail free' card may have been torn to shreds. Previously, contractors would only fall under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, better known as the court martial system, if Congress declared war. This is something that has not happened in over 65 years and out of sorts with the most likely operations in the 21st century. The result is that whenever our military officers came across episodes of suspected contractor crimes in missions like Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq, or Afghanistan, they had no tools to resolve them. As long as Congress had not formally declared war, civilians -- even those working for the US armed forces, carrying out military missions in a conflict zone -- fell outside their jurisdiction. The military's relationship with the contractor was, well, merely contractual. At most, the local officer in charge could request to the employing firm that the individual be demoted or fired. If he thought a felony occurred, the officer might be able to report them on to civilian authorities.
Getting tattled on to the boss is certainly fine for some incidents. But, clearly, it's not how one deals with suspected crimes. And it's nowhere near the proper response to the amazing, awful stories that have made the headlines (the most recent being the contractors who sprung a former Iraqi government minister, imprisoned on corruption charges, from a Green Zone jail).
And for every story that has been deemed newsworthy, there are dozens that never see the spotlight. One US army officer recently told me of an incident he witnessed, where a contractor shot a young Iraqi who got too close to his vehicle while in line at the Green Zone entrance. The boy was waiting there to apply for a job. Not merely a tragedy, but one more nail in the coffin for any US effort at winning hearts and minds.
But when such incidents happen, officers like him have had no recourse other than to file reports that are supposed to be sent on either to the local government or the US Department of Justice, neither of which had traditionally done much. The local government is often failed or too weak to act - the very reason we are still in Iraq. And our Department of Justice has treated contractor crimes in a more Shakespearean than Hollywood way, as in Much Ado About Nothing. Last month, DOJ reported to Congress that it has sat on over 20 investigations of suspected contractor crimes without action in the last year.
The problem is not merely one of a lack of political will on the part of the Administration to deal with such crimes. Contractors have also fallen through a gap in the law. The roles and numbers of military contractors are far greater than in the past, but the legal system hasn't caught up. Even in situations when US civilian law could potentially have been applied to contractor crimes (through the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act), it wasn't. Underlying the previous laws like MEJA was the assumption that civilian prosecutors back in the US would be able to make determinations of what is proper and improper behavior in conflicts, go gather evidence, carry out depositions in the middle of warzones, and then be willing and able to prosecute them to juries back home. The reality is that no US Attorney likes to waste limited budgets on such messy, complex cases 9,000 miles outside their district, even if they were fortunate enough to have the evidence at hand. The only time MEJA has been successfully applied was against the wife of a soldier, who stabbed him during a domestic dispute at a US base in Turkey. Not one contractor of the entire military industry in Iraq has been charged with any crime over the last 3 and a half years, let alone prosecuted or punished. Given the raw numbers of contractors, let alone the incidents we know about, it boggles the mind.
The situation perhaps hit its low-point this fall, when the Under Secretary of the Army testified to Congress that the Army had never authorized Halliburton or any of its subcontractors (essentially the entire industry) to carry weapons or guard convoys. He even denied the US had firms handling these jobs. Never mind the thousands of newspaper, magazine, and TV news stories about the industry. Never mind Google's 1,350,000 web mentions. Never mind the official report from U.S. Central Command that there were over 100,000 contractors in Iraq carrying out these and other military roles. In a sense, the Bush Administration was using a cop-out that all but the worst Hollywood script writers avoid. Just like the end of the TV series Dallas, Congress was somehow supposed to accept that the private military industry in Iraq and all that had happened with it was somehow 'just a dream.'
But Congress didn't bite, it now seems. With the addition of just five words in the law, contractors now can fall under the purview of the military justice system. This means that if contractors violate the rules of engagement in a warzone or commit crimes during a contingency operation like Iraq, they can now be court-martialed (as in, Corporate Warriors, meet A Few Good Men). On face value, this appears to be a step forward for realistic accountability. Military contractor conduct can now be checked by the military investigation and court system, which unlike civilian courts, is actually ready and able both to understand the peculiarities of life and work in a warzone and kick into action when things go wrong.
The amazing thing is that the change in the legal code is so succinct and easy to miss (one sentence in a 439-page bill, sandwiched between a discussion on timely notice of deployments and a section ordering that the next of kin of medal of honor winners get flags) that it has so far gone completely unnoticed in the few weeks since it became the law of the land. Not only has the media not yet reported on it. Neither have military officers or even the lobbyists paid by the military industry to stay on top of these things.
So what happens next? In all likelihood, many firms, who have so far thrived in the unregulated marketplace, will now lobby hard to try to strike down the change. We will perhaps even soon enjoy the sight of CEOs of military firms, preening about their loss of rights and how the new definition of warzone will keep them from rescuing kittens caught in trees.
But, ironically, the contractual nature of the military industry serves as an effective mechanism to prevent loss of rights. The legal change only applies to the section in the existing law dealing with those civilians "serving with or accompanying an armed force in the field," i.e. only those contractors on operations in conflict zones like Iraq or Afghanistan. It would apply not to the broader public in the US, not to local civilians, and not even to military contractors working in places where civilian law is stood up. Indeed, it even wouldn't apply to our foes, upholding recent rulings on the scope of military law and the detainees at Gitmo.
In many ways, the new law is the 21st century business version of the rights contract: If a private individual wants to travel to a warzone and do military jobs for profit, on behalf of the US government, then that individual agrees to fall under the same codes of law and consequence that American soldiers, in the same zones, doing the same sorts of jobs, have to live and work by. If a contractor doesn't agree to these regulations, that's fine, don't contract. Unlike soldiers, they are still civilians with no obligation to serve. The new regulation also seems to pass the fairness test. That is, a lance corporal or a specialist earns less than $20,000 a year for service in Iraq, while a contractor can earn upwards of $100,000-200,000 a year (tax free) for doing the same job and can quit whenever they want. It doesn't seem that unreasonable then to expect the contractor to abide by the same laws as their military counterpart while in the combat theatre.
Given that the vast majority of private military employees are upstanding men and women -- and mostly former soldiers, to boot -- living under the new system will not mean much change at all. All it does is now give military investigators a way finally to stop the bad apples from filling the headlines and getting away free.
The change in the law is long overdue. But in being so brief, it needs clarity on exactly how it will be realized. For example, how will it be applied to ongoing contracts and operations? Given that the firm executives and their lobbyists back in DC have completely dropped the ball, someone ought to tell the contractors in Iraq that they can now be court martialed.
Likewise, the scope of the new law could made more clear; it could be either too limited or too wide, depending on the interpretation. While it is apparent that any military contractor working directly or indirectly for the US military falls under the change, it is unclear whether those doing similar jobs for other US government agencies in the same warzone would fall under it as well (recalling that the contractors at Abu Ghraib were technically employed by the US Department of Interior, sublet out to DOD).
On the opposite side, what about civilians who have agreed to be embedded, but not contracted? The Iraq war is the first that journalists could formally embed in units, so there is not much experience with its legal side in contingency operations. The lack of any legal precedent, combined with the new law, could mean that an overly aggressive
interpretation might now also include journalists who have embedded.
Given that journalists are not armed, not contracted (so not paid directly or indirectly from public monies) and most important, not there to serve the mission objectives, this would probably be too extensive an interpretation. It would also likely mean less embeds. But given the current lack of satisfaction with the embed program in the media, any effect here may be a tempest in a tea pot. As of Fall 2006, there were only nine embedded reporters in all of Iraq. Of the nine, four were from military media (three from Stars and Stripes, one from Armed Forces Network), two not even with US units (one Polish radio reporter with Polish troops, one Italian reporter with Italian troops), and one was an American writing a book. Moreover, we should remember that embeds already make a rights tradeoff when they agree to the military's reporting rules. That is, they have already given up some of their 1st Amendment protections (something at the heart of their professional ethic) in exchange for access, so agreeing to potentially fall under UCMJ when deployed may not be a deal breaker.
The ultimate point is that the change gives the military and the civilians courts a new tool to use in better managing and overseeing contractors, but leaves it to the Pentagon and DOJ to decide when and where to use it. Given their recent track record on legal issues in the context of Iraq and the war on terror, many won't be that reassured.
Congress is to be applauded for finally taking action to reign in the industry and aid military officers in their duties, but the job is not done. While there may be an inclination to let such questions of scope and implementation be figured out through test cases in the courts, our elected public representatives should request DoD to answer the questions above in a report to Congress. Moreover, while the change may help close one accountability loophole, in no way should it be read as a panacea for the rest of the private military industry's ills. The new Congress still has much to deal with when it comes to the still unregulated industry, including getting enough eyes and ears to actually oversee and manage our contracts effectively, create reporting structures, and forcing the Pentagon to develop better fiscal controls and market sanctions, to actually save money than spend it out.
A change of a few words in a legislative bill certainly isn't the stuff of a blockbuster movie. So don't expect to see Angelina Jolie starring in "Paragraph (10) of Section 802(a)" in a theatre near you anytime soon. But the legal changes in it are a sign that Congress is finally catching up to Hollywood on the private military industry. And that is the stuff of good governance.
-- P.W. Singer is Senior Fellow and Director of the 21st Century Defense Initiative at The Brookings Institution. He is the author of Corporate Warriors: The Rise of the Privatized Military Industry (Cornell University Press) and the upcoming book Wired for War (Houghton Mifflin).
January 3, 2007 05:37 PM
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Humor
on: January 03, 2007, 09:52:39 AM
Remember it takes a college degree to fly a Commercial airplane but
only a High school diploma to fix one. Reassurance for those of us who fly
Routinely in our jobs.
After every flight, Quantas pilots fill out a form, called a "gripe
Which tells mechanics about problems with the aircraft. The mechanics
Correct the problems, document their repairs on the form, and then
Review the gripe sheets before the next flight. Never let it be said
Ground crews lack a sense of humor.
Here are some maintenance complaints submitted by Qantas' pilots
With a P) and the solutions recorded (marked with an S) by maintenance
Engineers. By the way, Quantas is the only major airline that has
Ever, had an accident.
P: Left inside main tire almost needs replacement.
S: Almost replaced left inside main tire.
P: Test flight OK, except auto-land very rough.
S: Auto-land not installed on this aircraft.
P: Something loose in cockpit.
S: Something tightened in cockpit.
P: Dead bugs on windshield.
S: Live bugs on back-order.
P: Autopilot in altitude-hold mode produces a 200 feet per minute
S: Cannot reproduce problem on ground.
P: Evidence of leak on right main landing gear.
S: Evidence removed.
P: DME volume unbelievably loud.
S: DME volume set to more believable level.
P: Friction locks cause throttle levers to stick.
S: That's what friction locks are for.
P: IFF inoperative in OFF mode.
S: IFF always inoperative in OFF mode.
P: Suspected crack in windshield.
S: Suspect you're right.
P: Number 3 engine missing.
S: Engine found on right wing after brief search.
P: Aircraft handles funny. (I love this one!)
S: Aircraft warned to straighten up, fly right, and be serious.
P: Target radar hums.
S: Reprogrammed target radar with lyrics.
P: Mouse in cockpit.
S: Cat installed.
And the best one for last..................
P: Noise coming from under instrument panel. Sounds like a midget
On something with a hammer.
S: Took hammer away from midget
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Part Two
on: January 01, 2007, 09:44:51 AM
The sheer religiosity–and signs of devotion are said to be growing–of some Danish Muslims is itself a source of worry in Denmark. The Danes generally take a relaxed approach to their leading religion, Lutheranism. A mere 3 percent of Danes attend church at least weekly, the lowest such rate in a recent survey of 21 countries. Secularism is celebrated, and religion, in a typical Danish view, is a strictly personal affair that should be kept out of the public eye as much as possible. Some Danes are offended by demonstrative manifestations of Islam, including the veil. Concerns also arise from the growing number of Muslim parents who are opting to send their children to private, religiously oriented schools. The government's culture minister has publicly commented on the inferior status of a "medieval Muslim culture." Says Tim Jensen, a religious historian at the University of Southern Denmark, "There is a sense of threat by an antimodern, medieval force [Islam]." Pressures from immigration, globalization, and the European Union all "make Danes feel more insecure. We are constantly being asked what you are, constantly being confronted with people who behave differently."
Against this backdrop of clashing cultures came the Muhammad cartoons on Sept. 30, 2005, in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten. The impetus for publication, says the paper's cultural editor, Flemming Rose, was to stir a debate about self-censorship after he learned that illustrators refused to work on a children's book about Muhammad for fear of offending Muslims. Muslims regard any depiction of Muhammad as sacrilegious. Danish Muslims protested the publication, albeit peacefully, contending that the cartoons mocked their prophet. One cartoon showed a turban in the shape of a lit bomb.
Their complaints met with a stiff response from the paper, which saw the issue as a fundamental test of freedom of speech. The paper eventually expressed regret for any offense caused-but not for publishing the caricatures. Rose, who has received death threats and was working from Washington until recently, says that demands for observing such taboos amount to "asking for my submission." He adds, "You should not allow special treatment of religion."
"Smearing." Islamic activists also pressured the Danish government to rein in the paper. There, as well, they got nowhere. Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen said he could do nothing that might erode freedom of speech. He also rejected a request to meet with Muslim-country ambassadors who complained about a "smearing campaign" against Islam and Muslims by Danish politicians and media.
Lacking clout in Denmark, some of the local imams decided to export the controversy. Two missions were dispatched to the Middle East to publicize the cartoons and the Danish government's uncompromising response. Some Arab ambassadors in Copenhagen also played up the controversy. Within weeks, violence flared on the streets of the Middle East, Pakistan, Nigeria, and Indonesia–some of it orchestrated by national governments and Islamists, according to both Danish and U.S. officials. "The Danes didn't know what hit them," says a senior U.S. official. The Bush administration at first reacted cautiously, hoping not to do anything that might align itself with religiously offensive drawings and further harm its own standing in the Islamic world. Then the shaken Danes complained to their American allies that they were not getting enough public support. They got it.
Though Denmark itself saw no violence, the images of deadly mobs burning Danish flags deepened the sense of threat from Islamists, wherever they may be. But the crisis did not lead to any rethinking of the government's strategy for integrating Muslims. "We have to agree on some fundamental values," says Rikke Hvilshoj, the integration minister. "Denmark is not just a piece of geography where we live side by side." In power since 2001, the current government has tightened the immigration rules that affect many Muslims, slicing arrivals in the categories of family reunification and asylum from more than 17,000 that year to fewer than 5,000 in 2005. A foreign spouse must now be at least 24 before legally coming to live in Denmark; benefits for newcomers were reduced, and collateral was required for their support. At the same time, overall immigration, especially from within Europe, is rising.
The government's moves, at the least, have sought to give Danes a breather from rapid immigration. After years of policy neglect, Hvilshoj says, "the number [was] too high. ... we needed to get control of immigration." The government is stepping up efforts to reduce immigrant unemployment and emphasizing success stories, sending "role models" into Muslim communities.
The governing coalition has a persuasive reason not to soften its stand on immigration: It needs the tacit backing of the right-wing Danish People's Party to stay in power. With 13 percent of the seats in parliament, it appears to wield more influence than any other such party in Europe. Critics accuse it of outright xenophobia, a charge it rejects. But Danes know where the group stands in the culture wars. Its party chairwoman has called Islamic leaders here the "Trojan horse in Denmark," and another lawmaker's website referred to Muslims as "cancer tumors." The party aims to keep Denmark the way it is. "We don't want to change our ways. They [immigrants] have to adapt their ways," says Soren Espersen, a prominent People's Party lawmaker. Espersen likens political Islamists to communists and Nazis and says they aim to limit Denmark's democracy. "There are people now who want to tell us what we can laugh at," he says. "I don't want to respect Islam. Why should I respect the prophet Muhammad?"
There is political combat within Denmark's Muslim communities as well. Ahmed Abu Laban, an imam who leads Copenhagen's Muslim Faith Society, tells U.S. News that he helped organize the foreign missions publicizing the Muhammad cartoons in order to counter "an anti-Islamic campaign." Says Laban, "We have been demonized for six, seven, eight years–then the cartoons." Laban adds, "The Danes don't like religion, and they don't like Islam. ... I see nothing bad in this country except the spirit itself." Many Danes now loathe Laban as a virtual traitor for having promoted the controversy overseas.
Bodyguards. Laban dismisses a recent political initiative by moderates to form the group Democratic Muslims, calling it a "fake approach." The leader of the new group, a secular Muslim lawmaker named Naser Khader, needs 24-hour-a-day bodyguards. His effort is popular with Danes, but hard-line Muslims like Laban call Khader a "shield" for the Danes and vilify him. The group makes it "very difficult to say, 'You Muslims,'" says Khader. "We are democratic without any reservations. ... We are Danes first and Muslims second." Naser says that the Islamists consider secular Muslims like himself as their principal enemy. "They are seen as more dangerous than Christians and Jews," he says. Still, only 14 percent of Danish Muslims back his group, according to a recent poll.
Meanwhile, Danes are edgy about growing Muslim radicalism–a development that is not quantified but is almost universally suspected. The primary threat to Denmark may be external: Its sturdy support for the Bush administration, including troop commitments to Iraq and Afghanistan, along with the cartoon case has raised its profile in the Muslim world–in a most unwelcome way. A poll of Egyptians rated Denmark as the second-most-hostile country after Israel. Officials have tallied some 200 threats against Denmark, including one from al Qaeda during the cartoon crisis.
Yet there are worries about what is happening inside Denmark as well. Two terrorism cases are headed for trial. One involves arrests in October 2005 of alleged militants in a Copenhagen suburb said to be connected to a Sarajevo-based plot against European forces in Bosnia or elsewhere. The other case emerged from police raids into an immigrant neighborhood near the city of Odense last September. Investigators uncovered supplies of ammonium nitrate, metal shavings, and the explosive TATP. Five of the nine arrested are still jailed for allegedly planning attacks that authorities say would have been "the most severe ever in Denmark."
Security agents enjoy wide latitude for spying on suspected extremists, and they employ that most Danish of practices: the "preventive visit." According to Hans Jorgen Bonnichsen, the former head of operations at the Danish Security Intelligence Service, the "knock on the door" sometimes leads to tense conversations, but more often they are "friendly." "It's a way to tell him, 'Be careful. We know what you're doing now,'" Bonnichsen says. The visits can serve to neutralize a suspect because his cohorts then cannot know whether he has turned informer. The Intelligence Service has more than doubled its size since 9/11, adding Arabic speakers and analysts.
Still, Danes talk as though it is only a matter of time before they are hit, and the alienation Muslims feel from unemployment, discrimination, and being portrayed as radicals may be feeding the danger. The government's philosophy is "always pushing these immigrants away," argues Fatih Alev, a moderate imam. "The government says it wants integration, but what it does is anti-integration." Adds Jensen, the religious historian, "They are constantly put under suspicion of being fifth-column people." He asks, "Are we contributing to the production of terrorists?" For the happy but wary Danes, it is a question as essential as it is grating.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Islam in Europe
on: January 01, 2007, 09:43:59 AM
Hide Post http://www.usnews.com/usnews/news/articles/061231/8denmark.htm
Culture Clash in Denmark
The close-knit Danes find their liberal ideals tested by a growing, alienated Muslim population
By Thomas Omestad
Posted Sunday, December 31, 2006
COPENHAGEN–This, a recent study concluded, is the happiest country on Earth. With Denmark's cradle-to-grave social welfare, highly regarded healthcare and education, prosperity, and small-country ethnic cohesion, the land that gave us Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tales also excels at producing a good life in reality.
And yet, over the past year or so, the contented Danes have been forced to face both their greatest international crisis since World War II and the rise here of separate Muslim communities where many are unable or unwilling to enter the Danish mainstream. The international uproar over publication of 12 prophet Muhammad cartoons in a Danish newspaper triggered violence that left at least 139 people dead, Danish diplomatic outposts torched in Lebanon and Syria, and Danish goods boycotted. Suddenly, Denmark felt dangerously exposed–a country of just 5.4 million people facing the wrath of an Islamic world exceeding a billion people.
The violence outside Denmark ultimately quieted down, though the country's security-threat level remains elevated. At home, the bitter disputes over the cartoons have highlighted an unhealed–and potentially hazardous–rift between the dominant Danes and the Muslim immigrants living in what are being called "parallel societies." Ask Danes and Muslim immigrants alike, and many will say there is something a bit rotten in the Kingdom of Denmark.
The legacy of the cartoon uproar is not all bad. Private efforts at building bridges between Muslims and non-Muslim Danes have accelerated. Secular Danish Muslims condemned the violence overseas and appealed for dialogue. That, say Danes, has encouraged a greater appreciation of the differences–political and otherwise-among Muslims here.
"Time bomb." Still, the cartoon crisis itself did not prompt any basic rethinking of how to integrate Muslims more deeply into Danish society. And the country is now preoccupied with things Muslim. Attention is riveted on any controversy linked to its Muslim residents–so-called honor killings of female relatives, street crime, terrorism probes, unemployment, forced marriages, use of veils, and so on. Denmark is pondering the specter of ever more young Muslims–unemployed and undereducated–finding their identities not as coolly secularized Danes but as fervent or even radical Muslims. "We are sitting on a time bomb," warns Eva Smith, a law professor and racism expert at the University of Copenhagen.
The ferment in Denmark is especially striking because of its progressive traditions, but it also reflects the broader tremors rattling western Europe, where tangled issues of national identity, culture, religion, and security arising from Muslim immigration have bolted to the fore. Old, ethnically grounded societies are being roiled by the presence of Muslim newcomers–or at least by the reaction to them. "There's kind of an unspoken assumption that they're not really Dutch, not really Danes, and so forth," reasons one senior U.S. official who follows the phenomenon. "Europeans are uncomfortable with Islam, and they see it as an alien body in their midst. ... Europe's got a huge problem, and they're just getting their minds around it now."
The cartoon controversy, along with frustration over the slow pace of Muslim integration, is leading some Danes to question their prized image as an open and tolerant nation. This, after all, is a people who under Nazi occupation spirited nearly all of their 7,000-some Jews to safety in Sweden. In the 1960s and 1970s, Denmark sought to offer one of Europe's most liberal immigration policies. Many came as guest workers and were later joined by family members and asylum seekers. Even so, Denmark remained remarkably mono-ethnic; only about 4 percent of the population is Muslim. Coming mostly from Arab states, Iran, and Pakistan, the immigrants have clustered in a few neighborhoods in Copenhagen and other cities.
Yet as the preoccupation with Muslims has deepened in recent years, Denmark has swung in the opposite direction, erecting perhaps Europe's most restrictive set of rules. A rightist, anti-immigration party sits not in government but at its side; the ruling coalition relies on its votes to govern. The mood toward immigrants has, with exceptions, soured. The share of Danes who view Islam as incompatible with democracy has shot up. And Muslims are often portrayed as troublemakers who sup at the table of Danish generosity–all the while rejecting what makes Denmark special. "They create ghettos. ... There are a lot of criminals," says Henrik Pedersen, a Dane who runs a Copenhagen trucking business. "Muslim people should be in a Muslim country."
More sophisticated immigration skeptics worry that "Danish values" are under threat by politicized Muslims who resist assimilation. These values include democracy, far-reaching personal freedoms, equality between the sexes, and the trust born of unusually strong social bonds. One government minister frankly called the Danes a "tribe" in describing their group identity. "The whole quality of Danish life stands or falls with this community of values," adds Ralf Pittelkow, a newspaper columnist and coauthor of a bestselling book on the Islamist challenge. "Danes need to feel reassured that the main features of Danish society remain unchanged. ... We are at a crunch point."
Some Danes argue that evading the impact of immigration is impossible. "Some people want to keep Denmark as a kind of museum," says Helle Stenum, the chairwoman of MixEurope, a pro-integration group. "We are a rich, safe society that is scared." Adds Copenhagen schoolteacher Maia Lisa Petersen as she rushes to a subway station, "These other cultures, other values force us to wake up. ... We can't hide anymore in this nice, perfect little Scandinavian world."
Nor can the Muslim immigrants easily hide in enclaves that insulate them from the culture that surrounds them. They say that the political and media atmosphere has turned against them–particularly since the cartoon crisis. "It totally changed my view of Danish society," says Mustafa Kucukyild, 26, who came from Turkey as a 1-year-old boy. "The spotlight is on Muslims. I'm much more cautious about what I say." As the kebab and pizza restaurant where he works fills up with blond-haired college students, he is talking about his estrangement from the Danes. Kucukyild is asked if, having spent nearly all his life here, he feels Danish. "Definitely, no," he replies. "No matter how much you want to be, you always have this black hair," he says, grabbing at a lock of his own. "I will always be a foreigner."
The alienation is pervasive, and it goes well beyond the discomfort some Muslims feel toward Denmark's permissive atmosphere. "Danish people are very hard people, very cold," claims Hassan, a middle-aged, Iraqi-born businessman in the Copenhagen district of Norrebro, where Danes often mix with immigrants. Hassan says that his children are adapting better than he is, though his 15-year-old daughter has faced problems in class–a teacher has chided her about her head scarf. Other immigrants report occasional hassles of other sorts: snide comments or being bumped on buses, being barred from nightclubs or followed by department store security officers–or the "what are you doing here?" stares in coffee shops. (Some Danes counter that Muslims are being overly sensitive, playing up an image of victimhood.)
A young doctor of Palestinian descent–fluent in Danish as well as Arabic and English and a fan of the country's famed pastries–describes tensions that have ensued from being overtly Muslim. A radiologist colleague turned to Suher Othman one day and announced, "I don't like scarves." One patient refused to be treated by her; another resisted until a fellow patient intervened. Othman, 27, says immigrants are routinely seen as "a burden." Still, she adds, "this is the only society I've ever known. They have to face that we're going to stay here."
Stay indeed, but many without jobs. In a country with an aging workforce, negligible unemployment overall–and even labor shortages–joblessness among non-European immigrants is shockingly high: Barely half work. Employers say that discrimination is not to blame but rather language barriers, scant job experience, and lack of motivation to work. Jobless benefits rival the wages of entry-level positions. Companies even cite immigrants' inability to understand the ironic Danish sense of humor.
The depth of alienation between ethnic Danes and the Muslim newcomers is, in one respect, surprising. Denmark has long been one of Europe's bastions of tolerance and openness. Part of the Danish mentality is an outsize will to do good in the world. The country ranks fifth in the share of income donated to overseas development aid. Especially in the past, newcomers to Denmark received generous benefits, including three years of free instruction in Danish–a perk that continues. It is an impressive record that might encourage some Danes to feel that nothing more is required of them–perhaps even create some blind spots. "We are so sure we are good," says Smith of the University of Copenhagen.
Close-knit. The closeness of the Danes, though, leads Muslims to conclude that the Danish club is a hard one to join. Othman has the education and language skills to fit in. Yet, she says, "it is very difficult to break into this culture." Other Muslims contend that too many Danes lack respect for them and their cultures. "They have a picture of the Muslim immigrant as a parasite," says Mahmoud Alsaadi, who runs a sweets shop in Norrebro and has worked as a carpenter. Alsaadi, 37, is a Palestinian from Lebanon who arrived here in 1990. "We appreciate a lot about Denmark, but we feel that they could also learn from us"–particularly about close-knit families, he says. "I don't want to impose my ways on them, and I don't want them to impose their ways on me."
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Book Reviews
on: January 01, 2007, 09:29:02 AM
August 6, 2006
The Plot Against America
Review by DEXTER FILKINS
When Mohamed Atta and his four Saudi confederates commandeered a Boeing 767 and steered it into the north tower of the World Trade Center, they began a story that still consumes us nearly five years on, and one that seems, on bad days, to promise war without end.
But the events of Sept. 11, 2001, were in many ways less the start of a tale than the end of one, or at least the climax of one, begun many years before in many different precincts: in the middle-class suburbs of Cairo, in the mosques of Hamburg, in Jidda, in Islamabad, in the quiet university town of Greeley, Colo.
In its simplest terms, this is the story of how a small group of men, with a frightening mix of delusion and calculation, rose from a tormented civilization to mount a catastrophic assault on the world’s mightiest power, and how another group of men and women, convinced that such an attack was on the way, tried desperately to stop it.
What a story it is. And what a riveting tale Lawrence Wright fashions in this marvelous book. “The Looming Tower” is not just a detailed, heart-stopping account of the events leading up to 9/11, written with style and verve, and carried along by villains and heroes that only a crime novelist could dream up. It’s an education, too — though you’d never know it — a thoughtful examination of the world that produced the men who brought us 9/11, and of their progeny who bedevil us today. The portrait of John O’Neill, the driven, demon-ridden F.B.I. agent who worked so frantically to stop Osama bin Laden, only to perish in the attack on the World Trade Center, is worth the price of the book alone. “The Looming Tower” is a thriller. And it’s a tragedy, too.
In the nearly five years since the attacks, we’ve heard oceans of commentary on the whys and how-comes and what-it-means and what’s nexts. Wright, a staff writer for The New Yorker — where portions of this book have appeared — has put his boots on the ground in the hard places, conducted the interviews and done the sleuthing. Others talked, he listened. And so he has unearthed an astonishing amount of detail about Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Mullah Muhammad Omar and all the rest of them. They come alive.
Who knew, for instance, that bin Laden, far from being a warrior-stoic fighting against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, was actually a pathetic stick-in-the-mud who would fall ill before battle? That the combat-hardened Afghans, so tired of bin Laden’s behavior, declared him and his Arab associates “useless”? Or that he was a permissive father and indulgent husband? Or that he is only six feet tall?
More important, who knew — I sure didn’t — that bin Laden had left behind such a long trail of words? Wright has found them in books, on film, in audio recordings, in people’s notebooks and memories. This has allowed him to draw an in-depth portrait of bin Laden, and to chart his evolution from a self-conscious step-child growing up in Jidda, Saudi Arabia, to the visionary cave-dwelling madman who mimics the Holy Prophet in his most humdrum daily habits.
Wright takes the title of his book from the fourth sura of the Koran, which bin Laden repeated three times in a speech videotaped just as the hijackers were preparing to fly. The video was found later, on a computer in Hamburg.
“Wherever you are, death will find you, Even in the looming tower.”
There is poetry, too. Here is a particularly chilling bit, found on another videotape, which bin Laden had read aloud at the wedding of his 17-year-old son, Mohammed. The celebration took place not long after a pair of Qaeda suicide bombers, riding in a tiny boat filled with explosives, nearly sank the billion-dollar guided missile destroyer Cole. At least with regard to his abilities as an author, bin Laden was unusually modest: he let someone else write the words. “I am not, as most of our brothers know, a warrior of the word,” he said.
A destroyer, even the brave might fear,
She inspires horror in the harbor and the open sea,
She goes into the waves flanked by arrogance, haughtiness and fake might,
To her doom she progresses slowly, clothed in a huge illusion,
Awaiting her is a dinghy, bobbing in the waves.
“The Looming Tower” is full of such surprising detail. Al Qaeda’s leaders had all but shelved the 9/11 plot when they realized they lacked foot soldiers who could pass convincingly as westernized Muslims in the United States. At just the right moment Atta appeared in Afghanistan, along with Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Ziad al-Jarrah and Marwan al-Shehhi, all Western-educated transplants, offering themselves up for slaughter. The game was on.
Just as dramatic as the portraits of bin Laden and Zawahiri is Wright’s account of the roots of Islamic militancy — the intellectual, spiritual and material world from which the plotters came. Wright draws a fascinating picture of Sayyid Qutb, the font of modern Islamic fundamentalism, a frail, middle-aged writer who found himself, as a visitor to the United States and a student at Colorado State College of Education in Greeley in the 1940’s, overwhelmed by the unbridled splendor and godlessness of modern America. And by the sex: like so many others who followed him, Qutb seemed simultaneously drawn to and repelled by American women, so free and unselfconscious in their sexuality. The result is a kind of delirium:
“A girl looks at you, appearing as if she were an enchanting nymph or an escaped mermaid,” Qutb wrote, “but as she approaches, you sense only the screaming instinct inside her, and you can smell her burning body, not the scent of perfume, but flesh, only flesh. Tasty flesh, truly, but flesh nonetheless.”
It wasn’t much later that Qutb began writing elaborate rationalizations for killing non-Muslims and waging war against the West. Years later, Atta expressed a similar mix of obsession and disgust for women. Indeed, anyone who has spent time in the Middle East will recognize such tortured emotions.
WRIGHT shows, correctly, that at the root of Islamic militancy — its anger, its antimodernity, its justifications for murder — lies a feeling of intense humiliation. Islam plays a role in this, with its straitjacketed and all-encompassing worldview. But whether the militant hails from a middle-class family or an impoverished one, is intensely religious or a “theological amateur,” as Wright calls bin Laden and his cohort, he springs almost invariably from an ossified society with an autocratic government that is unable to provide any reason to believe in the future. Islam offers dignity, even in — especially in — death. Living in the West, Atta and the others felt these things more acutely, not less. As Wright notes:
“Their motivations varied, but they had in common a belief that Islam — pure and primitive, unmitigated by modernity and uncompromised by politics — would cure the wounds that socialism or Arab nationalism had failed to heal. They were angry but powerless in their own countries. They did not see themselves as terrorists but as revolutionaries who, like all such men throughout history, had been pushed into action by the simple human need for justice. Some had experienced brutal repression; some were simply drawn to bloody chaos. From the beginning of Al Qaeda, there were reformers and there were nihilists. The dynamic between them was irreconcilable and self-destructive, but events were moving so quickly that it was almost impossible to tell the philosophers from the sociopaths. They were glued together by the charismatic personality of Osama bin Laden, which contained both strands, idealism and nihilism, in a potent mix.”
In John O’Neill, bin Laden almost met his match. The supervisor of the F.B.I.’s New York office and of the team assigned to track Al Qaeda in the United States, O’Neill felt, as strongly as anyone in the government, that Al Qaeda was coming to America. He was a relentless investigator, a volcanic personality and sometimes his own worst enemy. In the end he broke himself on a government bureaucracy that could not — and would not — move as quickly as he did. O’Neill and others like him were in a race with Al Qaeda, and although we know how the race ended, it’s astonishing — and heartbreaking — to learn how close it was.
Some of the F.B.I.’s field agents, as we now know, had premonitions of what was coming. When the supervisor of the Minneapolis field office was admonished, in August 2001, for expressing fears that an Islamic radical attending flight school might be planning a suicide attack, he shot back defiantly that he was “trying to keep someone from taking a plane and crashing into the World Trade Center.” Amazing.
The most gut-wrenching scenes are the ones that show F.B.I. agents trying, as 9/11 approached, to pry information from their rivals inside the United States government. The C.I.A., Wright says, knew that high-level Qaeda operatives had held a meeting in Malaysia in January 2000, and, later, that two of them had entered the United States. Both men turned out to be part of the team that hijacked the planes on Sept. 11. The C.I.A. failed to inform agencies like the F.B.I. — which might have been able to locate the men and break up the plot — until late in the summer of 2001.
The fateful struggle between the C.I.A. and F.B.I. in the months leading up to the attacks has been outlined before, but never in such detail. At meetings, C.I.A. analysts dangled photos of two of the eventual hijackers in front of F.B.I. agents, but wouldn’t tell them who they were. The F.B.I. agents could sense that the C.I.A. possessed crucial pieces of evidence about Islamic radicals they were investigating, but couldn’t tell what they were. The tension came to a head at a meeting in New York on June 11, exactly three months before the catastrophe, which ended with F.B.I. and C.I.A. agents shouting at each other across the room.
In one of the most remarkable scenes in the book, Ali Soufan, an F.B.I. agent assigned to Al Qaeda, was taken aside on Sept. 12 and finally shown the names and photos of the men the C.I.A. had known for more than a year and a half were in America. The planes had already struck. Soufan ran to the bathroom and retched.
Great stuff. I just wish Wright had given us something, even a chapter, on the hijackings themselves; as it is, he takes us right up to the moment, and then straight to the burning towers. Perhaps he felt that ground was too well-trodden. My other complaint is more substantive. Through the enormous amount of legwork he has done, tracking down people who worked with bin Laden and Zawahiri over the years, Wright has drawn up verbatim reconstructions of entire conversations, some of which took place more than a decade ago. Many of these conversations are riveting. Still, in some cases, it’s hard to believe that memories are that good.
“The Looming Tower” ends near the Pakistani border, where Zawahiri, or someone who looked like him, rode through a village on horseback and then disappeared into the mountains. It’s not a definitive ending; there is no closure. And that’s the point. For as amazing as the story of Al Qaeda and the road to 9/11 is, it’s not over yet.
Dexter Filkins is a Baghdad correspondent for The Times.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Part Three
on: December 31, 2006, 02:42:22 PM
The plan went on to anticipate that Sheikh Khalifa "may not be there" at the time that the Al-Fuqra members expected, and therefore recommended that "[a]s we wait, everyone who comes must be eliminated until he shows up." Khalifa was stabbed to death on January 31, 1990. As of yet, no arrests have been made, although two Al-Fuqra members in Colorado who were arrested on fraud charges are also suspected of having been a part of the plot to murder Khalifa.
Members of the sect allegedly funded their activities by illegally collecting and cashing 276 checks totalling $355,000 from a Colorado state insurance fund that paid workers' compensation claims. Dummy corporations with names such as "McClean Carpenters" and "Professional Security International" were used in order to receive the checks from the insurance fund, and the checks were sent to post office boxes.
Four members of the sect were arrested in Colorado and Pennsylvania on charges of racketeering and forgery in October of 1992. Edward Ivan McGhee, James L. Upshur, James D. Williams, all of Colorado, were arrested after law enforcement authorities raided their homes and the Al-Fuqra compound. Williams was separately charged with conspiracy to commit murder for his involvement in the 1984 bombing of a Hare Krishna temple in Denver and Imam Khalifa's murder in Arizona. Vicente Rafael Pierre was sentenced to four years of probation in July of 1993 for his part in defrauding the the Colorado workers' state compensation fund, and was permitted to return to his home in Pennsylvania. In reviewing Pierre's role as part of the sect, the sentencing judge described Pierre's role in defrauding the fund as minor, and further pointed out that Pierre had not taken part in the actual terrorist attacks.
Part of the funds collected by the sect were believed to have been used for the purchase of an isolated 101-acre farm compound near Buena Vista, Colorado where the sect members' families resided. To date, less than $20,000 of the stolen funds have been accounted for,which has led law enforcement authorities to believe that they may have been sent to Pakistan. Documents from the Colorado Springs storage locker that were discovered in 1989 indicate that this may well be the case, since members of the sect are described as being required to regularly donate a percentage of their income to Al-Fuqra's headquarters in Lahore, Pakistan. New documents discovered at the group's compound near Buena Vista, Colorado in October of 1992 formed the basis for the filing of new charges against Colorado Al-Fuqra members James Williams and Edward Flinton in February of 1993. The two men, who were previously charged with violations of organized crime laws were additionally charged with conspiracy to murder Imam Rashid Khalifa. The documents showed that Williams and Flinton had been involved in the planning of the murder, but those who actually carried it out have yet to be found.
Ties to the Afghani Mujahideen'
Throughout the last decade, Sheikh Jilani promoted the cause of the Afghani mujahideen' ('Those who fight the Jihad, or holy war) to American members of the Al-Fuqra sect. Corresponding to similar efforts throughout the Muslim world during the 1980's, some American members of the group travelled to the Sudan for military training in order to join the Afghanis in what was advanced as a "holy war" against the Soviets.
Most recently, Clement Rodney Hampton-El, an African-American allegedly connected to the averted attempt to bomb four major New York City locations, has been described as "having worked closely" with the Al-Fuqra sect. Hampton-El, who is also known as Abd al Rashid Abdallah, or "Dr. Rashid," is also alleged to have been a part of the World Trade Center bombing by assisting in the testing of explosives.
During the Afghan war, Hampton-El was recruited as a member of Gulbuddin Hikmatyar's Hizb al-Islami (also Hizb-I-Islami) - "Islamic Party" - to fight in Afghanistan. Hikmatyar is known as one of the most vehement opponents of secular regimes - including that of the United States - and it was his group which received the lion's share of aid from the United States via Pakistan in the 1980's. According to press accounts, the Afghan war's foreign volunteers kept to themselves by establishing camps separate from those of the Afghan troops. The volunteers acquired the reputation of being "zealous troops" who did not avoid "fierce combat," and were also known to have the policy of not taking any prisoners. Anthony Hyman, an expert on Afghanistan, described the mujahideen as having "gained the reputation as some of the most brutal fighters in the war, and they deserved it. They kept themselves apart from the Afghans and were disliked for it. They regarded themselves as superior."
After he was wounded as a combatant in the Afghan war in November of 1988, Hampton-El returned to the United States in order to recuperate. Robert Dannin, an anthropologist who visited him at Long Island College Hospital, described Hampton-El as having expressed the desire to go back to Afghanistan so that he could have "another chance at martyrdom and Paradise
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Part Two
on: December 31, 2006, 02:40:48 PM
"Soldiers of Allah"
Reflecting the doctrines of the organization, members of Al-Fuqra cells refer to themselves as "Soldiers of Allah." In previous years they called themselves "Muhammad Commandos." The organization is structured into cells, each of which is assigned a geographic location in which to operate. Al-Fuqra is believed to have at least five cells, since the Colorado cell's members were allegedly designated as "Muhammad Commandos Sector 5."
In order to preserve the organization's overall structure, contact between members of a cell is never made directly. This ensures that members of the cell will not know the true identity or a physical description of another member. Cell members further obscure their identities by contacting other cell members via pay telephones at pre-determined times. The use of these methods has led law enforcement officials to describe Al-Fuqra as operating according to the principles of "classically structured terrorist cells."
Documents belonging to the sect in Colorado revealed that the organization was doing surveillance on even more ambitious possible targets, for the purpose of designing an attack to culminate in a major disaster. Among them were the route lines and control stations for the Colorado state petroleum, gas, electric and hydroelectric systems. In addition to this, a member of the group was requested to provide information on National Guard armories, U.S. military installations, police stations, communications control sites, and airports.
Centers of Al-Fuqra activity are spread across the United States. Certain criminal activities in Brooklyn (NY), Baltimore (MD), Philadelphia (PA), Tucson (AZ), Portland (OR) and Denver, Colorado Springs, and Buena Vista (CO) are being investigated for possible links to the sect by law enforcement authorities. Of particular interest are the Al-Fuqra compounds located in remote areas of the United States. In October of 1992 the Colorado State Police raided the 101-acre Al-Fuqra compound near Buena Vista and discovered a cache of weapons including Soviet manufactured AK-47 assault rifles, as well as American- made M-16 and M-14 rifles.
The headquarters of the organization is believed to be in Hancock, New York, along with what is regarded as the most important of the sect's compounds which is located near Deposit, New York in the Catskill Mountains. Two other compounds are located in South Carolina and the California desert. Press reports indicate that Sheikh Jilani took part in the purchase of Al-Fuqra's Colorado and New York compounds.
Turning Point: The Jihad Council for North America
The earliest attacks by members of Al-Fuqra have been traced to 1979; however, the group's well-orchestrated attacks on its perceived enemies commenced in 1983, the same year that the group initiated its Jihad [Holy War] Council for North America in Toronto. Al-Fuqra was estimated at that time to consist of three cells.
In contrast to the activities of other terrorist organizations, Al-Fuqra has never claimed responsibility for the acts of violence linked to its members. The existence of the group came to light in 1983, when police arrested Stephen Paster, an Al-Fuqra member who was later convicted for the bombing of a Portland, Oregon hotel owned by the Bagwan Shree Rajneesh, an Indian guru.
Materiel found at Paster's home included components for the construction of pipe bombs and what was described by investigators as an "urban warfare handbook." Paster subsequently jumped bail and was re-arrested on June 26, 1985. A search of his home at that time revealed a cache of several handguns, a semi-automatic pistol that looked like a submachine gun, written documents describing the construction of electronic bombing mechanisms, and a number of passports under a variety of aliases. Arms found in his car included a "zip gun" with a bore "large enough to hold a shotgun shell" together with a device for using it as part of a booby trap.
The growing sophistication of the methods and weapons used by Paster mirrors the development of Al-Fuqra from a loosely-knit organization whose adherents carried out bombing attacks on religious institutions to a North American network of organized cells whose members advanced to commit acts of fraud and target individuals for murder.
"Everyone Who Comes Must Be Eliminated. . ."
Evidence of the existence of a larger network of the organization only became apparent in 1989, after the Colorado Springs storage locker with its hoard of Al-Fuqra documents and weapons was discovered.
One of the documents found by the Colorado Springs police consisted of a detailed three-page plan to murder Sheikh Rashid Khalifa of the Islamic Center in Tucson, Arizona. Together with the plan were surveillance photographs of the mosque. On the assumption that there might be police patrols or other people at the mosque, the plan recommended that the "dispatching [of) the subject
" should be done "in the quietest method possible: knife, garrotte . . . "
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Homeland Security
on: December 31, 2006, 01:13:18 PM
A group with a compound in upstate NY.
United States: The Jamaat al-Fuqra Threat
Jun 03, 2005 1738 GMT
Consider, if you will, a group whose members live "free from the decadence
of a godless society" in guarded and insular communities in the rural United
States. Additionally, consider that some members of this group have been
convicted on a variety of weapons, fraud and terrorism charges. Those who
assume we are once again addressing right-wing extremists such as the Aryan
Nations would be wrong.
Although we do believe that right-wing extremists pose a threat to the
security of the United States, the group we describe does not give its
compounds names like Elohim City, the infamous compound of white
supremacists in Adair County, Okla. Instead they call them Islamburg (N.Y.),
Ahmadabad (Va.) and Holy Islamville (S.C.).
The group is Jamaat al-Fuqra -- Arabic for "community of the impoverished"
-- founded in the 1980s by Sheikh Mubarak Ali Gilani, a religious figure
from Pakistan who incorporated the group as a tax-exempt organization under
the name Muslims of the Americas. Its educational arm, the Quranic Open
University, takes American Muslims to Pakistan for training, expecting them
to return and instruct others.
Residents of Muslims of the Americas communities keep a low profile, display
a benign image and most of all deny the existence of Jamaat al-Fuqra. They
claim to be peaceful people who simply are attempting to escape the
decadence of American society. Actions by some of the residents, however,
belie that claim.
Many of the original al-Fuqra members were converts to Islam, and most were
African Americans. However, one of its first members -- and its first
bombmaker -- was Stephen Paul Paster, who converted from Judaism to Islam.
Paster was convicted for his role in the 1983 bombing of a Portland, Ore.,
hotel owned by the Hindu Bhagwan Rajneesh cult from India. He also was tried
and acquitted on charges stemming from two other West Coast bombings. Upon
his release from prison, Paster moved to Lahore, Pakistan, to join Gilani
and other instructors at the Quranic Open University, where he allegedly
helps to teach what Gilani calls "advanced training courses in Islamic
The U.S. government claims that al-Fuqra members were involved in 13
bombings and arsons during the 1980s and 1990s and were responsible for at
least 17 homicides. Many of these attacks targeted Indian groups such as the
Hare Krishnas, or heterodox Muslim groups such as the Ahmadiyya sect. In
1991, five al-Fuqra members were arrested at a border crossing in Niagara
Falls, N.Y., after authorities found their plans to attack an Indian cinema
and a Hindu temple in Toronto, Canada. Three of the five later were
convicted on charges stemming from the plot.
According to sources, many al-Fuqra members have fought in Afghanistan,
Kashmir, Lebanon, Bosnia and Chechnya. Several members also have been
affiliated with the al-Kifah Refugee Center -- popularly known as the
Brooklyn Jihad Office. Group member Clement Hampton-el, for example,
provided weapons training to several people associated with the Brooklyn
Jihad Office. One of those men, El Sayyid Nosair later would use that
training to assassinate the Rabbi Meir Kahane in Manhattan. Hampton-el was
convicted along with several other men, including Nosair's cousin, Ibrahim
Elgabrowny and Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, also known as The Blind Sheikh, in
the 1993 New York Bomb Plot Case, and sentenced to serve 35 years.
More recently, police investigators working on the D.C. sniper case tied
convicted killer John Allen Muhammed to al-Fuqra. Rumors also surfaced that
"Shoe Bomber" Richard Reid was connected to the group. Wall Street Journal
reporter Daniel Pearl, in fact, was investigating the Reid/al-Fuqra
connection and was in the process of attempting to interview Gilani when he
was abducted and killed.
In addition to Hampton-el, several other members of al-Fuqra are in federal
and state prisons on a variety of weapons charges and convictions stemming
from worker's compensation, credit card, welfare and driver's license fraud.
The group allegedly uses its imprisoned members to recruit other prisoners.
Furthermore, it was revealed during Hampton-el's trial that one of the
organization's tasks was to recruit American veterans to fight in
Al-Fuqra members own several security companies, which provide a source of
income and security for the group and its compounds, but also offer a
plausible explanation for the presence of firing ranges on the properties --
a cover for the paramilitary training that allegedly is conducted at the
Perhaps most disconcerting is that al-Fuqra's cadre of battle tested
jihadist warriors -- men who refer to themselves as "Soldiers of Allah" and
"Mohammed's Commandos" -- are mostly Americans who legally can obtain U.S.
passports and operate in the United States without raising suspicion.
As the United States advances its war on terrorism abroad and takes measures
to tighten immigration procedures in order to protect U.S. citizens from
foreign militants, it is important that authorities not overlook America's
Holy Warriors of Terrorism
For over ten years, a secretive Black Muslim sect in the United States and Canada has sought to carry out a self-declared policy of "jihad," or holy war, by taking violent action against its perceived enemies, generally other minorities or other Muslims with whom they disagree. The sect, known as Al-Fuqra, has been linked by law enforcement officials to terrorist violence in Colorado, Arizona, Pennsylvania, the Pacific-northwest and Canada.
Most recently, attention has been focused on the group in connection with a plot to bomb public sites in New York, including the United Nations, FBI offices at 26 Federal Plaza, and the Holland and Lincoln Tunnels. One of the fourteen men facing trial for this alleged conspiracy, which also included the World Trade Center bombing, is reportedly a member of Al-Fuqra, who is charged with training gang members and supplying them with weapons and explosives.
The bomb plot, described in a federal indictment as a plan "to levy a war of urban terrorism against the United States," also included the targeting of Jewish leaders and individuals.
Threats of terrorist violence by shadowy groups of fanatical religious extremists pose a serious challenge to public order and safety - as exemplified by the World Trade Center bombing which killed six people and injured hundreds more. This report is an effort to meet the need for increased public awareness about one such group in the hope that exposure can help prevent further violence of this nature.
Al-Fuqra is the name of a violent Muslim extremist sect which has come under law enforcement scrutiny in the February 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center in New York. Headed by Sheikh Mubarak Ali Jilani Hashemi (also Hasmi) in Pakistan, the majority of its members are of African-American descent. The sect is an offshoot of orthodox African-American Muslims and has no connection to the Nation of Islam led by Louis Farrakhan.
The name of the organization is taken from the Arabic term "al- fuqara," meaning "the impoverished." The sect was formed in Brooklyn in 1980, after Sheikh Jilani visited the United States for the first time. During his stay, Jilani, who is known as a mystic and as a charismatic speaker, acquired followers by preaching at a local African-American mosque described as what was then the "most influential black American mosque" in the area. He has visited the United States several times since then. Adherents of Al- Fuqra have also been active in Canada.
Over the past thirteen years, followers of the sect have visited Pakistan to receive religious indoctrination from Sheikh Jilani. Additionally, Al-Fuqra members have sent funds to Jilani regularly at his base in Lahore, Pakistan. Press reports indicate that members of the sect in the United States number between 1,000 and 3,000.
The Two Faces of Al-Fuqra
Members of the Muslim community have described the Al-Fuqra sect as an organization which espouses the Islamic concept of self-help, undertaking civic works such as fighting drug dealers, cleaning and patrolling the streets and apartment project corridors and courtyards. Other adherents of the group who lived in a remote compound at Trout Creek Pass near Buena Vista, Colorado described themselves as shepherds fleeing the difficulties of urban life who owned guns in order to protect themselves from the evils of society.
Yet the contents of a Colorado Springs storage locker owned by members of the sect which was confiscated by police in 1989 revealed a hoard of explosives, military manuals, bomb-making instructions and detailed plans of the sect's intended targets. The materiel found at the site included 30 pounds of explosives, three large pipe bombs, and ten handguns and silencers. Among the explosives were three pipe bombs "fused and ready to blow," homecooked plastic explosives, and other bomb-making components, such as electric wiring, fuses, mercury switches and timing devices.
Also seized at the storage locker were target-practice silhouettes bearing such markings as "FBI Anti-Terrorist Team" and "Zionist Pig."
Documents discovered at the site indicated that sect members planned to murder a Muslim religious leader in Tucson, Arizona and were making efforts towards carrying out attacks on Colorado- based military installations and acts of sabotage on the Colorado state power, communications and air transportation infrastructures.
The plans of the group were painstakingly recorded by sect members in the documents found in Colorado Springs. According to a description of the records in the search warrant affidavit, members of the group are "specifically instructed, by means of a written doctrine, not to dispose of records, but to maintain - in a safe place - all documentation which could expose their true purpose and plans."
Husain Abdallah, described as one of the early organizers of Al- Fuqra in the U.S., responded to recent press reports concerning the violent nature of the sect by declaring, "We do not commit acts of terrorism in this country. just because other members of a faith commit crimes does not mean that we are criminals ... The government is trying to create a blueprint to destroy us, to pull another Waco and destroy us."
Terrorism Against Religious Targets
Al-Fuqra has focused on Hindu houses of worship and places of business for its acts of violence in North America. In Pakistan, Al- Fuqra has been charged with fomenting violence over the border in the Kashmir province of India by aiding Muslim separatists there. Over the same period of time, press reports indicate that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms has linked members of the sect to sixteen criminal and terrorist activities in both the United States and Canada, including the firebombings of Hindu temples in Denver, Philadelphia and Seattle in 1984 and the murder of Muslim religious leaders in Canton, Michigan in 1983 and Tucson, Arizona in 1990. Also among the group's potential targets was the Jewish Community Center of Denver.
Al-Fuqra continues to be under investigation in Arizona for the 1990 murder of Imam Rashid Khalifa, the leader of a Tucson mosque. In Canada, the sect has been linked by investigators to the 1991 bombings of property owned by Hindus in Toronto.
DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Re: Preparando su familia
on: December 31, 2006, 09:43:23 AM
Guau a todos:
Tipicamente en los art marciales pensamos en proteger nuestras familias de la violencia, pero recientemente he pensado en que poco he hecho para proteger mi familia para cuando no estoy con ellos en la camioneta ("familiy van"). Aqui en Los Angeles hay varias posibilidades que pueden resultar en mi familia estando encerrado por muchas horas en el van y otras emergencias. Si hay desastre de terremoto, fuego (brushfires on the hills a veces resultan en carreteras cerradas), grandes accidentes, ataques teroriistas (tenemos un chorro de metas aqui en los Angeles) lo que sea es muy posibile que mi familia estara' donde yo no los puede alcanzar.
Debido a algo que yo lei', decidi' preparar un "bin" (una grande caja de plastica con un "lid") para tener a mano cosas utiles.
(disculpe que haya tanto ingles en lo que sigue. Agradezco caulquier educacion que Uds me brindan traduziendo esas palabras a buen espanol.)
First Aid Kit: band aids en varios tamanos, crema antibiotico, guantes de cirujia, polvos personales, tweezers)
dust masks-- los que tengo ahora son muy basicos, pero busco mejores
incendidor de fuego (lighter)
Desarmador variable, llave variable
Chaquetas plasticas contra lluvia (plastic ponchos)-- en colores brillantes para ser muy visible en la noche
6 Luzes quimicoes--un pequeno tubo de quimicos que cuando se mezclen rindan luz
Flashlight poderosa con pilas extra
Flashlight sin pilas con una pequena hand crank generator
guantes de trabajo.
Space blankets--colchones de alto technologica que son muy, muy delgados pero se calientan super bien. Cuestan poco y duran poco, pero para emergencia son tremendos
6 "energy bars"
cambia de ropa interior para los ninos
Tambien he preparado un bin asi para mi camioneta (pick up truck).
La Aventure continua,
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Islam in America and the rest of the western hemisphere
on: December 30, 2006, 10:57:40 AM
Sen. Boxer Recalls Award to Muslim Activist
Sen. Barbara Boxer recalled an award she recently gave to an Islamic activist because of his ties to a major American Muslim organization—that critics say has ties to terrorist activities.
By Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball
Updated: 3:08 p.m. MT Dec 29, 2006
Dec. 29, 2006 - In a highly unusual move, Sen. Barbara Boxer of California has rescinded an award to an Islamic activist in her home state because of the man’s connections to a major American Muslim organization that recently has been courted by leading political figures and even the FBI.
Boxer’s office confirmed to NEWSWEEK that she has withdrawn a “certificate of accomplishment” to Sacramento activist Basim Elkarra after learning that he serves as an official with the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). After directing her staff to look into CAIR, Boxer “expressed concern” about some past statements and actions by the group, as well as assertions by some law enforcement officials that it “gives aid to international terrorist groups,” according to Natalie Ravitz, the senator’s press spokeswoman.
CAIR, which has 32 offices around the country and bills itself as the leading Muslim-American civil- rights group, has never been charged with any crimes, nor have any of its top leaders. But a handful of individuals who have had ties to CAIR in the past have been convicted or deported for financial dealings with Hamas—another reason cited by Boxer for her action. The senator directed her staff to withdraw the certificate—which she routinely gives to community leaders in California—and asked that a statement she had previously made endorsing CAIR be stricken from the group’s Web site, Ravitz said in an e-mail.
Ironically, just last month, Boxer had sent CAIR a letter in connection with its 10th anniversary fundraising dinner endorsing the group as a “constant support system for the American Muslim community” and praising it for its work on civil liberties. "As an advocate for justice and greater understanding, CAIR embodies what we should all strive to achieve," Boxer wrote in the Nov. 18 letter.
Boxer tells NEWSWEEK she never saw the letter to CAIR signed in her name or was even aware of the award to Elkarra before it was sent out. "I feel terrible about this," she says. "We just made a mistake. I was not in the loop. That was an automatic signature [on the letter]." But Boxer stands by her decision to withdraw the award and to distance herself from CAIR, saying she was influenced by previous critical statements about CAIR made by her Democratic colleagues Sens. Richard Durbin of Illinois and Charles Schumer of New York. "To praise an organization because they haven't been indicted is like somebody saying, 'I'm not a crook,'” Boxer says. “I'm going to take a lot of hits for this. But I'm just doing what I think is right."
The move outraged CAIR officials who charged that the liberal Democratic senator was responding to the writings of Joe Kaufman, a blogger who has expressed sympathy for slain Jewish extremist Meir Kahane in the past , and whose columns regularly appear on the Web site of conservative activist David Horowitz. CAIR has formally asked for a meeting with Boxer and demanded that she withdraw the action—which one top CAIR official said smacks of “Islamophobia.”
“This is an attempt to marginalize the largest and most mainstream Muslim organization in the country,” says Hussam Ayloush, executive director of CAIR’s office in southern California. “This is absolutely unacceptable.”
Nihad Awad, CAIR’s top Washington official, vigorously denied the charges that CAIR has any links to terror groups and said the allegations are based on a “deliberate smear campaign” by individuals who cannot brook any criticism of the Israeli government. “We feel that the same crowd who is pushing these smears against CAIR is the same crowd as the neocons that pushed us into the Iraq war,” he says. “They are trying to smear the Muslim community and they are trying to silence its voice. This takes us back to the McCarthy era.”
The incident illustrates the political tensions that have repeatedly arisen in recent years when members of Congress and other political leaders deal with a number of leading Muslim-American groups—some of which have been accused of sometimes murky links to terrorist groups. The CAIR case is especially striking, however, because of its timing.
Just last month, CAIR threw fundraising dinners in the Washington and southern California areas that attracted several leading political and law enforcement figures—along with generating a slew of testimonial statements like that submitted by Boxer's office. At a banquet in Arlington, Va., the featured speakers included Joseph Persichini, the assistant director of the FBI in charge of the Washington, D.C., field office, as well as members of Congress and Keith Ellison, the just-elected Democratic representative from Minnesota who next week will become the first Muslim in Congress. The speakers at the dinner in southern California included J. Stephen Tidwell, the assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles field office.
Ayloush and other CAIR officials have asked how Boxer’s concerns about possible terror links can possibly be true when two senior FBI officials are openly attending its fundraisers and seeking the group’s help in reaching out to the Muslim-American community. Awad, the group’s executive director in Washington, said that CAIR also has conducted “sensitivity training” courses for FBI and Homeland Security agents as well as local police officers around the country. “We train law enforcement officers on how to deal with the Muslim community,” he says.
But terror researcher Steve Emerson—a frequent critic of CAIR—says there has been a fierce internal debate within the law- enforcement community over the FBI’s outreach to CAIR, and adds that some agents he has heard from are furious about the presence of bureau officials at the group’s dinners. “There’s a major clash between field agents and headquarters over this,” Emerson says.
One senior law-enforcement official, who asked not to be identified talking about a sensitive matter, agrees that there is a “split in FBI culture” over the bureau’s relationships with CAIR and says that some agents "hold their nose" when it comes to dealing with the group. But he said other top law-enforcement officials believe it is essential for the FBI to establish better relations with the Muslim community—if for no other reason than to encourage cooperation and the flow of information on terrorism investigations. "In some cities, CAIR is the only [Muslim] group or the dominant group," the official says.
When asked about the attendance of the two top FBI officials at the recent CAIR dinners, John Miller, the bureau’s chief spokesman, responds: “They were invited. It was an opportunity to engage in positive community outreach to the Arab-American and American-Muslim community.” Miller acknowledges that FBI officials “don’t agree with CAIR on every issue. We have serious disagreements with them on a number of issues. But the important thing is we try to maintain open dialogue with all these groups.”
The dispute over Boxer’s award began earlier this month when Kaufman, who runs a one-man group in Florida called “Americans Against Hate,” posted an article about the Boxer-CAIR connection on the Web site of Front Page Magazine, a publication sponsored by David Horowitz. Kaufman noted that Boxer’s office had put out a press release mentioning it was giving a certificate of achievement to Elkarra, 27, who serves as executive director of CAIR’s Sacramento office. The certificate was being given “in recognition of his efforts to protect civil liberties and to build bridges among diverse communities in California.”
Kaufman said in an interview that one of his goals is “to shut CAIR down.” In his article in Front Page, he charges that the group is “connected to Islamic extremism” and notes that two men previously associated with the group have been convicted of terror-related charges and two others have been deported. He also contends that Elkarra himself was a “radical” who had accused Israel of being an “apartheid” and “racist state” and that he had “defended” a northern California man who had trained for jihad in a Pakistani terrorist camp.
Boxer was unaware of the certificate to Elkarra that had been given in her name by staff members in her California office and only learned of it “when she came across a story on Horowitz’s blog,” according to the e-mail from Ravitz, the senator’s spokeswoman. After review by her staff, Boxer was particularly concerned by claims that CAIR had refused to condemn Hamas and Hizbullah and recognize those groups as terrorist organizations,” Ravitz said.
In response, CAIR e-mailed to NEWSWEEK a number of past statements in which it condemned suicide bombings and terror attacks. On Oct. 4, 2003, for example, CAIR issued a statement condemning a suicide bombing at a restaurant in Haifa, Israel, that killed 19 people, including three children. “CAIR condemns this vicious attack in the strongest possible terms,” the statement read. “The bombing is particularly loathsome, coming as it did on the eve of the Jewish community’s holiest day.” The Israeli Foreign Ministry accused the group Islamic Jihad of being behind the attack.
But CAIR Executive Director Awad refuses to say whether he would also condemn Hamas—which has taken credit for similar attacks in Israel—as a group or even whether he considers it a terrorist organization like the U.S. State Department does. “We condemn these groups when they committed acts of terrorism,” he says. “But I’m not going to play the game of the pro-Israel lobby just so they can put words in our mouth. Our position is very clear.
"The entire issue is going back to Israel," Awad adds. "If you love Israel, you're OK. If you question Israel, you're not. If that is the litmus test, no American Muslim and no freedom-loving person is going to pass that test."
Awad also dismisses claims that CAIR members or officials have been convicted of terror-related charges, saying all the cases cited by Kaufman involve individuals who had only loose ties to the group in the past. One of the cases cited by Kaufman was Ghassan Elashi, a marketing executive in a Texas computer company and a founding director of CAIR's Texas chapter, who was convicted last year of financial dealings with Mousa Abu Marzook, a self-admitted leader of Hamas who now lives in Damascus. Another case involved Rabi Haddad, a former CAIR fund-raiser in Michigan, who was deported after being accused by Justice Department officials of providing funds to Hamas. “They were former members,” says Awad. “This is guilt by association.”
Caught in the middle was Elkarra, who recently received a fax from Boxer’s office informing him that the certificate he had gotten just a few weeks earlier was being rescinded. He says the news was especially disappointing because he recently spoke at a local synagogue as part of a CAIR-funded project to build relations with the Jewish community. He also rejects the idea that he is an extremist, noting that—contrary to Kaufman’s allegations—he never defended a Lodi, Calif., man accused by the FBI of training for jihad in Pakistan. He simply raised questions about the handling of the case by the Justice Department similar to those raised by groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union, as well as a number of news organizations. “It is disappointing that [Sen. Boxer] has succumbed to these extremists,” Elkarra says.
Kaufman, for his part, couldn’t be more pleased. “We are proud of Sen. Boxer,” he says. “By taking back this award, the senator has shown that she is conscious of the extreme problems that Basim Elkarra and his group, CAIR, pose to the public.”
Horowitz, whose Web site first got Boxer’s attention, says, “I’m pleased that Boxer listened to us. The fact that Democrats are finally waking up is good.”
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: MMA
on: December 29, 2006, 07:42:39 PM
After the last season of Ulitmate Fighter I have come to like TO. Psychologically and emotionally he seems to be in a good place for this fight, and this is always very important. That said, I don't see where he has a stronger link in his chain than CL. Liddell has a very large bubble-- he hits hard and long range while moving. This forces the iniitiation of a closing from further away. He is very hard to take down and he is very hard to keep down-- he has an excellent skill set for returning to his feet.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Health Thread (nutrition, medical, longevity, etc)
on: December 29, 2006, 03:21:56 PM
THE VACCINE TO PREVENT EVERY STRAIN OF FLU: British scientists are on the verge of producing a revolutionary flu vaccine that works against all major types of the disease. Described as the 'holy grail' of flu vaccines, it would protect against all strains of influenza A - the virus behind both bird flu and the nastiest outbreaks of winter flu. Just a couple of injections could give long-lasting immunity - unlike the current vaccine which has to be given every year. The brainchild of scientists at Cambridge biotech firm Acambis, working with Belgian researchers, the vaccine will be tested on humans for the first time in the next few months.
Levine Breaking News
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Afghanistan-Pakistan
on: December 29, 2006, 10:00:19 AM
PAKISTAN -- Pakistan will begin laying mines and fencing its borders with Afghanistan in order to stop militants from crossing into Afghanistan, Pakistani Interior Minister Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao said Dec. 29. The move has been protested by both Afghanistan and the United Nations. Pakistan has so far deployed 80,000 troops and established more than 800 checkpoints in an attempt to stop the cross-border movement of terrorists.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Environmental issues
on: December 28, 2006, 11:09:05 AM
Rooftop oases find growing enthusiasm
Plants take root on a college building in Pasadena and elsewhere as cities see economic and environmental benefits of going 'green.'
By Mira Tweti, Special to The Times
December 28, 2006
As you lie in the tall Pacific dune grass, amid grasshoppers and butterflies, it's all blue sky and San Gabriel mountains as far as the eye can see. The sounds of the city are a distant murmur.
Here, in an industrial section of Pasadena, it is hard to imagine a more unlikely oasis: nearly 14,000 square feet of transplanted meadow four stories above ground — on a roof.
Atop the Art Center College of Design's downtown campus, this roof is covered in 6 inches of soil bearing native grasses and shrubs. More than a garden, it is an ecologically designed green space that cools the building in summer by absorbing heat — much like an urban park does — and insulates it from cold in winter.
The Art Center's roof is one of hundreds that have been planted in the Los Angeles area and in major cities around the country. Among the first were a handful of "green"-roofed buildings erected in the 1930s at New York's Rockefeller Center.
Living roofs have a long history. The Vikings grew sod on their homes for insulation. The hanging gardens of Babylon were planted rooftops. Europeans have cultivated green roofs for decades. After World War II, Germany made them mandatory in all major cities to prevent rainwater from washing into aging sewer systems.
In modern cities, the roofs are a way to recreate the Earth's natural footprint that has been displaced by buildings. The roofs replicate the outdoors in a variety of ways, from manicured lawns to unruly meadows.
Experts say such roofs retain storm water, decrease the cost of greenhouse gas reduction and lessen the need for interior building insulation. They also help to bring fauna back to inner city areas by attracting insects and birds, just as a backyard would.
Carmel Valley architect Paul Kephart, a pioneer of green roof design, maintains that even roofs as small as 11 square feet can remove 5 pounds of toxic particulate matter from the air every three months, filter and purify rainfall and control runoff. Through evapotranspiration the water is released back into the atmosphere, cooling it. Or it drains slowly into storm sewers.
Experts believe the roofs can reduce the lethal effects of heat waves, such as the one that led to the deaths of 465 people in Chicago in 1995.
Since then, 2.7 million square feet of green roofs have been built in Chicago or are in the pipeline. The first building to get one under the city's green roof program was City Hall. Because the city shares the building with Cook County offices, it could green only its half of the 38,000-square-foot roof. It contains 20,000 plants in 158 varieties.
On a day when ground temperatures reached 95 degrees, the reading on the City Hall side of the roof was 91 degrees. On the county's half, which was covered with black tar, the temperature was 169 degrees. "The city is saving $40,000 a year in air conditioning costs from this 'green' roof alone," said Constance Buscemi, of the Chicago department of planning and development.
In April, the city of Pasadena made green roofs mandatory on all new city buildings of 5,000 square feet or larger, on commercial buildings and residential tenant improvement construction of 25,000 square feet or more, and on all mixed-use or residential buildings of four stories or more.
Alice Sterling, Pasadena's green building coordinator, said there are 800,000 square feet of new building construction on the books in Pasadena that, if completed, will all have green roofs.
Los Angeles Deputy City Engineer Deborah J. Weintraub has submitted a report to the City Council's planning and land use management committee outlining a possible green roof pilot project for one of several city buildings, including two low-rise wings of City Hall.
Construction of a new constituent services building on Central Avenue at 43rd Street near the famed Hotel Dunbar will break ground Jan. 7. The living roof of the $13-million, 7,000-square-foot, city-owned building, which is scheduled to be completed by mid-2008, was a requirement of 9th District Councilwoman Jan Perry. "I thought, why can't we have the amenities of the Santa Monica mountains in South-Central?" Perry said.
The planted roof will hold more than 100 people for special events. "It will help people think a different way about that area. I want it to be a catalyst and template for development that may follow," Perry said.
Green roofs start with a waterproof roof cover called a membrane. Then comes a root barrier, a drainage layer, and finally the growing medium and plants. Many plants native to California are drought-tolerant and need little maintenance
Depending on how the roof is designed, architects say the additional weight, which can equal that of a load of snow, is not unsafe even for older buildings. Greenery can be rooted on roofs that slope up to 60 degrees.
Nancy Goslee Powers, the Santa Monica landscaper who designed the roof at the Pasadena Art Center building, is working on similar projects in Beverly Hills and Century City, where a living roof is being installed on a public parking structure to keep it cool. It will be three-quarters the size of a football field.
Living roofs aren't risk free. One of Powers' earlier projects — at a store on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills — sprang a leak and flooded the store, ruining thousands of dollars in merchandise. That was more than a decade ago. Now, experts say, the roofs are stronger and more waterproof than standard roofs, and some manufacturers offer 20-year guarantees.
Powers acknowledged that there is resistance to the roofs on the part of colleagues and customers in the Los Angeles area.
"You have to keep plugging living roofs," she said. "A crew cut on top of a building may not appeal to every architect. And we have a culture of fear when it comes to new ideas.
"So, it's not always an easy sell to clients. We have to remind people we can't survive without plants."
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Kwanzaa?
on: December 28, 2006, 11:06:14 AM
I used to like Ann Coulter, but have come to regard her as a very loose canon whose aim is often suspect. Is this piece on target?
Kwanzaa: Holiday from the FBI
By Ann Coulter
FrontPageMagazine.com | December 28, 2006
President Bush's Kwanzaa message this year skipped the patently absurd claim of years past that: "African-Americans and people around the world reflect on African heritage during Kwanzaa." Instead, he simply said: "I send greetings to those observing Kwanzaa."
More African-Americans spent this season reflecting on the birth of Christ than some phony non-Christian holiday invented a few decades ago by an FBI stooge. Kwanzaa is a holiday for white liberals, not blacks.
It is a fact that Kwanzaa was invented in 1966 by a black radical FBI pawn, Ron Karenga, aka Dr. Maulana Karenga. Karenga was a founder of United Slaves, a violent nationalist rival to the Black Panthers and a dupe of the FBI.
In what was probably a foolish gamble, during the madness of the '60s the FBI encouraged the most extreme black nationalist organizations in order to discredit and split the left. The more preposterous the organization, the better. Karenga's United Slaves was perfect. In the annals of the American '60s, Karenga was the Father Gapon, stooge of the czarist police.
Despite modern perceptions that blend all the black activists of the '60s, the Black Panthers did not hate whites. They did not seek armed revolution. Those were the precepts of Karenga's United Slaves. United Slaves were proto-fascists, walking around in dashikis, gunning down Black Panthers and adopting invented "African" names. (That was a big help to the black community: How many boys named "Jamal" currently sit on death row?)
Whether Karenga was a willing dupe, or just a dupe, remains unclear. Curiously, in a 1995 interview with Ethnic NewsWatch, Karenga matter-of-factly explained that the forces out to get O.J. Simpson for the "framed" murder of two whites included "the FBI, the CIA, the State Department, Interpol, the Chicago Police Department" and so on. Karenga should know about FBI infiltration. (He further noted that the evidence against O.J. "was not strong enough to prohibit or eliminate unreasonable doubt" – an interesting standard of proof.)
In the category of the-gentleman-doth-protest-too-much, back in the '70s, Karenga was quick to criticize rumors that black radicals were government-supported. When Nigerian newspapers claimed that some American black radicals were CIA operatives, Karenga publicly denounced the idea, saying, "Africans must stop generalizing about the loyalties and motives of Afro-Americans, including the widespread suspicion of black Americans being CIA agents."
Now we know that the FBI fueled the bloody rivalry between the Panthers and United Slaves. In one barbarous outburst, Karenga's United Slaves shot to death Black Panthers Al "Bunchy" Carter and Deputy Minister John Huggins on the UCLA campus. Karenga himself served time, a useful stepping-stone for his current position as a black studies professor at California State University at Long Beach.
Kwanzaa itself is a lunatic blend of schmaltzy '60s rhetoric, black racism and Marxism. Indeed, the seven "principles" of Kwanzaa praise collectivism in every possible arena of life – economics, work, personality, even litter removal. ("Kuumba: Everyone should strive to improve the community and make it more beautiful.") It takes a village to raise a police snitch.
When Karenga was asked to distinguish Kawaida, the philosophy underlying Kwanzaa, from "classical Marxism," he essentially explained that under Kawaida, we also hate whites. While taking the "best of early Chinese and Cuban socialism" – which one assumes would exclude the forced abortions, imprisonment for homosexuals and forced labor – Kawaida practitioners believe one's racial identity "determines life conditions, life chances and self-understanding." There's an inclusive philosophy for you.
(Sing to "Jingle Bells") Kwanzaa bells, dashikis sell
Whitey has to pay;
Burning, shooting, oh what fun
On this made-up holiday!
Coincidentally, the seven principles of Kwanzaa are the very same seven principles of the Symbionese Liberation Army, another charming invention of the Least-Great Generation. In 1974, Patricia Hearst, kidnap victim-cum-SLA revolutionary, posed next to the banner of her alleged captors, a seven-headed cobra. Each snake head stood for one of the SLA's revolutionary principles: Umoja, Kujichagulia, Ujima, Ujamaa, Nia, Kuumba and Imani – the same seven "principles" of Kwanzaa.
With his Kwanzaa greetings, President Bush is saluting the intellectual sibling of the Symbionese Liberation Army, killer of housewives and police. He is saluting the founder of United Slaves, who were such lunatics that they shot Panthers for not being sufficiently insane – all with the FBI as their covert ally.
It's as if David Duke invented a holiday called "Anglika," and the president of the United States issued a presidential proclamation honoring the synthetic holiday. People might well take notice if that happened.
Kwanzaa was the result of a '60s psychosis grafted onto the black community. Liberals have become so mesmerized by multicultural nonsense that they have forgotten the real history of Kwanzaa and Karenga's United Slaves – the violence, the Marxism, the insanity. Most absurdly, for leftists anyway, is that they have forgotten the FBI's tacit encouragement of this murderous black nationalist cult founded by the father of Kwanzaa.
Now the "holiday" concocted by an FBI dupe is honored in a presidential proclamation and public schools across the nation. The only principle Kwanzaa promotes is liberals' unbounded capacity to respect any faith but Christianity. A movement that started approximately 2,000 years before Kwanzaa leaps well beyond collectivism and litter removal to proclaim that we are all equal before God. "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28). It was practitioners of that faith who were at the forefront of the abolitionist and civil rights movements. But that's all been washed down the memory hole, along with the true origins of Kwanzaa.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Iran
on: December 28, 2006, 10:00:16 AM
Second post of the morning on Iran:
By Kenneth R. Timmerman
FrontPageMagazine.com | December 27, 2006
The nuclear crisis boiling away under the surface for the past three years with Iran has finally erupted. Over the next three to six months, expect things to get much worse, with a very real possibility of a war that could spread far beyond the confines of the Persian Gulf. How we got here was entirely predictable – and avoidable. So is the path to a violent future.
We got to this point because the White House essentially caved in to intense pressure from the CIA and the foreign policy establishment, and refused to do the one thing that could have headed off this crisis: that is, to support the rights of the Iranian people and their struggle for freedom against this clerical tyranny. And now, it is almost – almost – too late.
The immediate trigger for the crisis occurred on Saturday, just two days before Christmas, when the UN Security Council finally quit dithering and passed a binding resolution to impose sanctions on Iran because of its illegal nuclear program.
While far from perfect (remember: this is the UN), UNSC Resolution 1737 bans nuclear and missile-related trade with Iran, and includes a short list of Iranian government entities and individuals whose assets could be subject to seizure and who could be banned from international travel.
(The United States had wanted both to be mandatory measures in this resolution, but gave in to a Russian demand to again give Iran more leash).
The UN Security Council passed a similar, binding resolution on July 31 giving Iran one month to suspend its nuclear programs in a verifiable manner, or else…It’s taken all this time since that the earlier deadline expired for China and Russia to exhaust their formidable bag of diplomatic tricks. Now even they have come to acknowledge the obvious, that Iran is using the IAEA as a foil for acquiring all the technologies it needs to make the bomb.
Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad responded typically to the news from TurtleBay in New York. “This resolution will not harm Iran and those who backed it will soon regret their superficial act,” he said on Christmas Eve.
“Iranians are neither worried nor uncomfortable with the resolution...we will celebrate our atomic achievements in February,” he added.
In earlier statements, he has claimed Iran would have a big nuclear “surprise” to unveil to the world by the end of the Persian year, which ends on March 20. So unless he is just blowing smoke (and I will explain shortly why I don’t believe that he is), then we will be facing very bleak choices in very short order.
Remember, just a few weeks ago, Ahmadinejad announced to the world that Iran had completed its uranium enrichment experiments and was now preparing to install 3,000 production centrifuges at its now-declared enrichment plant in Natanz, in central Iran.
His announcement fell exactly within the timeline that Israeli nuclear experts have derived from Iran’s public declarations to the IAEA, and the on-site inspections by IAEA experts in Iran.
As I wrote after interviews in Israel this past June, the Israelis projected that Iran would complete work on two 164-centrifuge experimental enrichment cascades within six months, and that installation of the 3,000 centrifuge pilot plant would take another nine months. From then, it would take Iran twelve months more to make its first bomb’s-worth of nuclear fuel.
So far, Iran is right on schedule. This will give it nuclear weapons capability by September 2008 – just in time for the U.S. presidential elections. (And remember: this timeline is not speculative. It is based on information, not intelligence.)
Once the UN Security Council resolution was passed, Ahmadinejad’s top nuclear advisor, Ali Larijani, said the regime now planned to accelerate the installation of the production centrifuges.
“From Sunday morning [December 24] , we will begin activities at Natanz – the site of 3,000-centrifuge machines – and we will drive it with full speed. It will be our immediate response to the resolution,” Iran’s Kayhan paper quoted him as saying.
How is this possible? Well, for one thing, it is likely that Iran has been producing centrifuges in factories and workshops it has not declared to the IAEA. Worse, it may be operating a clandestine enrichment facility buried deep underground already, as many in Israel and U.S. intelligence have long believed.
The Israelis told me this summer this was their “worst-worst case” scenario. But a senior Israeli intelligence official I saw recently said the likelihood of that “worst-worst case” now appeared to be far greater than he or others had previously believed. “There can be no doubt they have a clandestine program,” he said.
And because it’s clandestine, we don’t know the size or shape of it, and therefore can’t make estimates of Iran’s nuclear timeline based on speculation and fear. But now the Israelis, the Americans and the British are beginning to understand – finally – that what they don’t know about Iran could be fatal.
After all, they are facing a president in Iran who has said that the Holocaust never really occurred under Hitler, but that he intended to carry it out himself, by accomplishing Ayatollah Khomeini’s goal of “wiping Israel off the map.”
On December 21 – just two days before the UN Security Council resolution – British Prime Minister Tony Blair gave the bleakest assessment of his entire tenure at 10 Downing Street of the threat posed to the West by the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Speaking in Dubai, he gave an unusually blunt speech that warned of a monumental struggle between Islamic moderates and Islamic extremists, and that labeled Iran as “the main obstacle” to hopes for peace.
For the first time, a key world leader actually uttered parts of the laundry list of Iranian regime misdeeds that people like myself and Michael Ledeen and Iranian dissidents such as Rouzbeh Farahanipour and Reza Pahlavi have been warning about for years.
Blair said there were "elements of the government of Iran, openly supporting terrorism in Iraq to stop a fledgling democratic process; trying to turn out a democratic government in Lebanon; floutting the international community's desire for peace in Palestine - at the same time as denying the Holocaust and trying to acquire nuclear weapons capability.”
Blair expressed surprise that despite these overt deeds, “a large part of world opinion is frankly almost indifferent. It would be bizarre if it weren't deadly serious.”
"We must recognize the strategic challenge the government of Iran poses," Blair added. "Not its people, possibly not all its ruling elements, but those presently in charge of its policy."
While all of this is developing, the United States and Britain have begun a quiet buildup of their naval forces in the Persian Gulf, with the goal of keeping the Strait of Hormuz open to international shipping.
The spark point of open military confrontation could occur in many different ways.
The Iranians, for example, might choose to get directly involved should the U.S. military aid the Iraqi government in a crackdown on the Iranian-backed Mahdi Army and the Badr brigade, two Shiite militias fueling the sectarian violence in Iraq. (A clear sign that Iran is contemplating just such a move was revealed on Christmas day, when the U.S. Acknowledged it was holding four Iranians captured during a raid on the Headquarters of Abdulaziz al-Hakim in Baghdad just three weeks after he met with President Bush in the Oval Office).
Should Iran send troops, or escalate its current level of military involvement in Iraq, the U.S. might choose to take the war into Iran, say by attacking Revolutionary Guards bases near the Iraqi border that were involved in aiding the Iraqi Shi'ite militias.
Should the United States bomb a Rev. Guards base here or there, the Iranians might choose to respond by launching “swarming” attacks against U.S. warships in the Persian gulf, or by attacking a foreign-flagged oil tanker carrying Iraqi or Kuwaiti oil, or by increasing rocket and missile supplies to Hezbollah in Lebanon to spark another diversionary war against Israel.
There are scores of ways this could happen. But where it gets us is to a direct military confrontation with Iran – an Iran which could be a nuclear power, and certainly will be a suspected nuclear power, in a matter of months, if not weeks.
And there is no easy way of walking this back. Even the insane Baker-Hamilton proposal of a direct dialogue with Iran will not get them to abandon their nuclear program, which this regime in Tehran has clearly identified as a strategic asset it is willing to make great sacrifices to develop and protect.
So fasten your seat belts. We are in for a rough ride.
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Die Less Often: Interface of Gun, Knife and Emtpy Hand
on: December 28, 2006, 09:53:02 AM
A bully boy of Fort Griffin sat down in a poker game with Holliday. His name was Ed Bailey and he had grown accustomed to having his way with no one questioning his actions. Doc's reputation seemed to make no impression on him whatever. In an obvious attempt to irritate Doc, Bailey kept picking up the discards and looking through them. This was strictly against the rules of Western poker, and anyone who broke this rule forfeited the pot. Holliday warned Bailey twice, but the erstwhile bad man ignored his protests. The very next hand Bailey picked up the discards again. Without saying a word Doc reached out and raked in the pot without showing his hand, Bailey brought a six-shooter from under the table, while a large knife materialized in Doc's hand. Before the local bully could pull the trigger, Doc, with one slash, completely disemboweled him. Spilling blood everywhere, Bailey sprawled across the table.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Iran
on: December 28, 2006, 08:56:25 AM
Persian . . . or Iranian?
By ROYA HAKAKIAN
December 28, 2006; Page A14
Holiday parties always seem to bring out the semi-inebriated men who find their way to my corner. There is, as expected, an opening line, which hardly ever leads to a conversation. But if it ever does, and if that conversation shows signs of vitality, even a dim glimmering of erudition, a rhetorical question is sure to follow. They lean into me and murmur: "Did you say you were Persian or Parisian?" They count on the tie, the long-stemmed wine glass, or the exalted titles on their name tags to make flirtation pass as ethnographical inquiry.
The "compliment" is clearly a profound insult: When an Iranian proves to be sophisticated, she no longer qualifies as Iranian. She is exchanged into a creature whose cultural currency is tangible for the Westerner. If unfamiliarity with Iran is less shallow than "My college classmate's father was the personal pilot for the Shah" (Royal Pilot number 1,654 and counting), or "Our local Eyeraynian serves great tandoori," then the real biases begin to emerge. The unveiled and urbane Iranian jars the Western mind. For the Anglophone, Iran's history begins in 1979, and the model for an authentic Iranian male is bearded, preferably turbaned and robed; and the female is submissive and veiled. Fist-throwing, frenzied behavior is a plus. The rest are simply the have-beens: exiles who are at best irrelevant, if not thoroughly out of touch. Non-Shiites need not apply.
But the Westerner is not entirely to blame. The country's presidential machinery is dedicated to convincing the world of just that. The main task of every ideology is to create identity, which is what Tehran's taskmaster-in-chief is attempting. With the symbolic Palestinian scarf around his neck in the land where public support for the Palestinian cause has been consistently diminishing, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's existential mission is to recast the ethos of being Iranian. In truth, he is peddling a pan-Islamism, by regional extension a pan-Arabism, for which neither Iranians nor Arabs have an appetite. As uranium is enriched, the Iranian identity is plundered. Mr. Ahmadinejad's numerous spectacles, most recently the Holocaust conference, are meant to bring a sense of transcultural and transethnic unity through a common political purpose. On the domestic scene, this is an old act -- a familiar blunder to annihilate Iranian nationalism, or to force it to become subordinate to the Muslim, with Arab undertones.
The effort began by Ayatollah Khomeini. He made no secret of his contempt for the non-Muslim dimensions of Iranian life. He injected Persian with so many Arabic words that it confounded the ordinary listener, something for which he compensated by repetitiveness. He did all but officially ban Nowrooz, the traditional Iranian new year with its roots in the pre-Islamic era, and refrained from delivering a traditional Nowrooz message in March 1979 (weeks after the victory of the revolution). But as popular as he was in those early days, the public's backlash against his stance on Nowrooz was so powerful that he, who rarely relented, eventually caved in. Since then, and especially as a result of the arduous Iran-Iraq war, patriotism has been on the rise. Pre-Islamic holidays are being celebrated with unprecedented fanfare. The Persian lexicon has turned into a bastion of nationalism. Numerous Persian synonyms have been invented to replace the most commonly used foreign words, primarily Arabic ones. To everyone's wonder, the new words have caught on.
Yet even the ayatollah was borrowing a page from history. The battle to define the Iranian identity, Muslim versus Persian, is an old one. Since the Arab conquest of the 7th century, Iranians have struggled to maintain their heritage through language and tradition. Though the nation fully embraced Islam, the religion of the conquerors, they made it uniquely their own by Persianizing it, which, to a great extent, marks the historical beginnings of Shiism. A leading Iranian philosopher argues that failure and loss have branded the Iranian psyche. The loss here refers to the loss of the Sassanian Persian army against the Arab Muslim army in the year 636 at Qadesiyyah -- a battle which Saddam Hussein often invoked as he unleashed his army into the Iranian territory.
The tension is also a tension between simplicity and complexity. The ruling elite wants to summarize Iran in a formula -- that of another outpost of Islamic fundamentalism, whereas Iranians have always been elusive. The best definition that a typical Iranian would most likely offer of herself is as a poem, which can only compound the enigma. But the poem serves, as poems often do, as an invitation to being recognized as complex, a notion that the Westerner allows and can easily grasp about his European counterparts. The Westerner knows not to reduce its own politics to a few eccentric leaders -- the U.S. to Jerry Falwell, the Netherlands to the late Pim Fortuyn, or France to Jean-Marie Le Pen. To reduce Iran to Mr. Ahmadinejad would be just as grave an aberration. In tangible terms, it means to scratch the nuclear surface to let the light of the other Iran shine through. It means to report the Holocaust conference along with the student demonstrations against Mr. Ahmadinejad within the same week, or the new grass-roots initiative by women to ban stoning, or the astonishing statistics released by Tehran's Office of Cultural Affairs showing a dramatic drop in the number of Iranians who pray daily.
Today, the Westerner can no longer afford to be a bystander to this historical tension. Be it policy makers or ordinary citizens, the decision on Iran will be, on some level, a vote in this ancient referendum. To choose one side or the other is a declaration of the Westerner's position on a pressing political issue; but it is also his proof of recovery from the colonial mindset. To have transcended colonial thinking is not to embrace the displays of fanaticism as manifestations of authenticity. It is to recognize all global citizens as equals, and as such as deserving of the indisputable rights enjoyed in the West.
Whatever happens to Iraq and the dream of creating a democracy in the Middle East, Iran is already going through pains of transition. Iranians are turning to the notion of civil society and moderation, not simply as political necessities, but also as ways to define themselves as distinct, and thus to pay contemporary tribute to a past that has, despite the centuries, remained a formative force in their present.
Ms. Hakakian, author of "Journey from the Land of No: A Girlhood Caught in Revolutionary Iran" (Crown, 2004), is writing a book about the assassination of Iranian Kurdish leaders.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Iraq
on: December 28, 2006, 08:39:16 AM
Geopolitical Diary: The al-Sadr Threat to the U.S. Plan for Iraq
Although much of Wednesday's news from Iraq concerned a letter reportedly written by former President Saddam Hussein, the most important event centered on U.S. efforts against radical Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr.
The letter -- allegedly written by Hussein on Nov. 5, the day an Iraqi court sentenced him to death for crimes against humanity -- urges Iraqis to unite to fight foreign forces in the country. Following its release, a Baath Party Web site posted a statement saying American interests worldwide would be attacked if the Iraqi government executes Hussein, and that his death would make cooperation between the surviving Baathists and the U.S.-backed government in Baghdad impossible.
But, for all the drama sparked by Hussein's letter and the threats, the former president and his followers pose no real danger. The violence in Iraq will continue no matter what happens to Hussein. Given his lack of influence in the country since his ouster, and the fact that most armed groups in Iraq would string him up themselves if they could, his execution might inspire emotional outbursts and some isolated attacks but it is unlikely to be the catalyst for major violence. This is largely because Hussein loyalists are responsible for a very small part of the bloodshed; they do not have the presence or the means to significantly increase attacks, and they will probably be more concerned with staying one step ahead of the various Shiite militias and rival Sunni groups than with retaliating against coalition forces for the execution of the former president.
What is important, however, is the death of Sahib al-Ameri, al-Sadr's representative in the holy Shiite city of An Najaf and the secretary-general of the Martyrs Foundation, a pro-Sadr political organization. According to coalition forces, al-Ameri was killed Wednesday when he ran to the roof of his house as it was being raided by coalition and Iraqi troops and pointed an assault rifle at an Iraqi soldier. The raid in An Najaf was one of many in recent months targeting known associates of al-Sadr.
These raids are part of an effort to put pressure on al-Sadr, who could be a serious obstacle to any U.S. exit strategy. The Shiite leader's Mehdi Army and its associated militias are not as constrained by politics as the other major Shiite militant group, the Badr Brigades; they are less organized and their members are less integrated into the Iraqi security forces and Cabinet, which makes them more difficult to control. From its bases in Sadr City and other strongholds, the Mehdi Army constitutes a significant armed presence in many areas of Baghdad. The militias -- and their associated death squads -- present a considerable obstacle to security in the capital.
The U.S.-led coalition has been working hard to constrain al-Sadr's power in recent months, most notably by going after his allies and lieutenants and disrupting his operations in Baghdad and other cities. U.S. and Iraqi forces have conducted several raids in Sadr City since November, arresting members of the Mehdi Army believed to be linked to Shiite death squads. During one four-day period, the neighborhood was raided three times. More recently, British forces deliberately demolished the headquarters of the Iraqi police's Serious Crimes Unit in Basra after the unit, which was heavily infiltrated by the Mehdi Army, was linked to death squads and arms- and oil-smuggling rackets.
The pressure on al-Sadr makes things difficult for Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, whose coalition is nominally supported by the Shiite leader. Despite al-Maliki's protests, the United States has continued to target al-Sadr's forces -- an indication of just how important it is to Washington that al-Sadr be weakened or neutralized. Because any prospective U.S. reinforcements will not arrive in the region until January, and not in significant numbers until months later, now is al-Sadr's time to act. His best hope is to convince al-Maliki that any campaign against the Mehdi Army would be too costly for the Iraqi state to endure.
While Hussein might be urging Iraqis to carry on bravely without him, and his party is threatening terrible repercussions if he is executed, it appears that al-Sadr is the greater threat to the U.S. plan for Iraq.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Wolves, Dogs and other canines
on: December 28, 2006, 07:30:12 AM
By JENNIFER FEEHAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER
FINDLAY- A Jackson Township man who shot and killed a Findlay police dog after it came onto his property insists he didn't know the dog worked for police, but a Hancock County grand jury apparently saw things differently.
Steven E. Vanderhoff, 41, was indicted this week for assaulting a police dog and cruelty to animals. The assault charge, a third-degree felony, alleges that while Flip was not assisting police at the time he was killed Nov. 18, the shooter had actual knowledge that Flip was a police dog.
"He didn't. His girlfriend can tell you that he didn't know who the dog was," said Jeff Whitman, attorney for Mr. Vanderhoff.
Mr. Whitman said Mr. Vanderhoff, his girlfriend, and their young son live in the country, about a quarter-mile from Findlay Police Officer Bryon Deeter, Flip's handler who kept the dog at his home. He said Mr. Vanderhoff rarely drove in the direction of the Deeters' house and had never seen the dog before the day he came home with his son and saw Flip come up to the car. Mr. Vanderhoff told Hancock County sheriff's deputies the dog would not get away and kept sticking its nose in the door when he would try to open it. He said he eventually was able to get inside the house, where he retrieved a gun, came back outside, and fired once at Flip when the dog failed to obey commands to get away. "Anyone has the right to protect themselves on their own property," Mr. Whitman said. While investigators said Mr. Vanderhoff never described Flip as "aggressive," his attorney insisted he used similar words. "He used words like threatening, attacking, menacing," Mr. Whitman said. "… The dog was charging him. When he fired the shot, reports show [the dog] was shot in the front chest. It was not like he was shot in the hip or shot running away from him. The dog was only 15 feet from him." Mr. Whitman said Mr. Vanderhoff feared for his son's safety. The youngster was still in his car seat and "he didn't think he could get his son and get into the garage without the dog coming at him." No charges have been filed against Officer Deeter for failing to confine the dog, and Findlay Police Chief Bill Spraw said yesterday that Officer Deeter had not been disciplined for violating any departmental policy. "I think there's other factors involved in this… I don't know that Bryon was completely culpable," the chief said. The officer's son had let Flip out of the house, then failed to let him back in before the family left to go to a relative's house. Mr. Whitman said he understands the police department's loss but said his client has suffered as well "My personal opinion is there's been too much made out of this thing," he said. "I don't think the officer should be charged. It was an unfortunate series of events. I don't know why anyone needs to be punished any more than they have been over this." Mr. Vanderhoff, who is to be arraigned Wednesday in Hancock County Common Pleas Court, faces up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine if convicted of the assault charge. Cruelty to animals, a second-degree misdemeanor, carries a maximum sentence of 90 days. City law director Dave Hackenberg said shortly after Flip was killed, he sent a bill to Mr. Whitman for more than $11,000 that the city paid for the dog. He said that under Ohio law, a person who shoots and kills a dog is responsible to pay for it. "It's the statute," Mr. Hackenberg said. "I'm not saying, 'You shot our dog. You owe us.' The statute says if you shoot a dog you have to pay the value, pure and simple. We paid $11,000-plus for that dog trained. If we wanted to be real stinky about it, he's worth more than that now." After Flip was killed, Findlay native and Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger announced that he would buy a new police dog for his hometown. Chief Spraw said Officer Deeter has been working with a loaner dog named Spike, also a Belgian Malinois, and Spike seems to be working out. http://toledoblade.com/apps/pbcs.dll...WS17/612220406
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Health Thread (nutrition, medical, longevity, etc)
on: December 28, 2006, 07:11:50 AM
A Red Flag for Jet Lag
In Study, Simulated Flights Result in Deaths of Older Mice
By Del Quentin Wilber
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 26, 2006; D01
It's the caged-mouse syndrome of air travel -- you feel crammed into your
seat on a long-distance flight with little to munch on except a bag of
But you better hope you beat jet lag better than a mouse.
A study at the University of Virginia released during the height of
Thanksgiving and Christmas travel seasons showed that a majority of elderly
mice died while being subjected to the equivalent of a Washington-to-Paris
flight once a week for eight weeks. More intense forms of jet lag sped up
the death rate in the elderly rodents, the study found.
For decades, flyers have stoically battled the modern-age problem of jet
lag, viewing its accompanying grogginess, burning eyes, headaches, insomnia
and fatigue as more of a nuisance than a potential health issue.
The study has focused new attention on the problem and raised questions
about whether severe jet lag can be harmful to health. It also has drawn
attention to work by other researchers looking into ways to help vacationing
families and business travelers avoid jet lag. The study is one of the first
hard scientific looks into the health effects of jet lag, experts said.
The condition has become such a common scourge of the jet age that an entire
industry has emerged on the Internet, offering such solutions as acupressure
kits, homeopathic pills and light-enhancing visors. Many travelers have
invented their own treatments: slurping down gallons of coffee, dunking
heads in ice-cold water, taking naps, jogging and popping sleeping pills and
homeopathic remedies. But researchers say few of those remedies are backed
In the study, younger mice seemed to rebound more quickly and were not
immediately harmed by the jet lag. Simulated jet lag conditions were created
by advancing and delaying the rodent's exposure to light.
Researchers aren't sure what conclusions to draw from the results.
Gene Block, the report's co-author, said older mice might be more
susceptible to sudden light changes than younger mice. Or, he said, jet lag
might be a health problem that builds up in younger subjects, causing future
To further explore the issue, his researchers have launched another set of
tests to determine whether jet lag causes long-term health consequences in
younger and middle-age rodents, Block said minutes before boarding a 14-hour
flight to Japan from Washington.
"I feel like a subject in the experiment," said the 58-year-old, who
recently returned from a conference in Italy. "Like many people, I am
finding it more difficult to cope with jet lag as I get older. . . . I would
like to know whether it's a phenomenon of old age or whether it is something
I really have to worry about."
Block's study also hinted at what flyers have been saying for years: It is
more difficult to adjust to time zone changes when flying east. The
researchers found that 53 percent of elderly mice died when they were
subjected to a simulated weekly flight from Washington to Paris over the
eight-week study. The death rate dropped to 32 percent of elderly mice on a
simulated Paris-to-Washington route, according to the study, which was
published last month in the journal Current Biology. Seventeen percent of
the mice in a control group died in the eight-week study.
Research has identified links between night-shift work and chronic health
problems. And doctors and aviation experts have worked hard to help pilots
and flight attendants mitigate the effects of jet lag to ensure they can
function properly in the air.
Jet lag is caused when people fly across time zones. Many factors, including
daylight, sleep cycles, hormones and other natural rhythms, play a role in
how humans' complicated internal clocks handle it.
Researchers say the only way to truly avoid jet lag is for travelers to
gradually prepare before leaving on their trips.
Charmane I. Eastman, a professor and director of the Biological Rhythms
Research Lab at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, believes that
flyers can more easily cope with jet lag by adjusting their sleep schedules
If headed east from the Washington area, for example, travelers should go to
bed an hour earlier each night and wake up an hour earlier each morning for
several days before leaving town.
When travelers wake up, they should get sunlight or use a "light box" to
help trigger changes in their biological clocks. Travelers should also
consider taking small amounts of melatonin, a hormone, five hours before
going to sleep to help them adjust to their future time zone, Eastman said.
The only other way to avoid jet lag on overseas trips: "Take a boat," she
There are also ways to mitigate jet lag once you land. If heading to Europe
from Washington, most people should wear dark sunglasses after landing until
about 11 a.m. Exposure to too much light too early can delay adjustment to
new time zones, Eastman said.
After 11 a.m., travelers should try to get as much sunlight as possible to
help kick-start the body's clock, she said.
Several veteran travelers said they would have a difficult time switching
schedules under Eastman's plan and said booking a cruise was an inefficient
They have found their own ways to cope.
Steve Solomon, 30, a consultant who lives in Gaithersburg, sets his watch to
his destination's time zone before he takes off "to get your mind into the
right mind-set." He also avoids alcohol and drinks a lot of water.
"I view it as more of a hassle than anything else," he said. "You have to
run with the punches."
Carol Lane, a 42-year-old free-lance advertising and marketing writer, says
she relies on homeopathic pills she buys at a health food store.
Even with the pills, though, she said she hadn't been able to adjust to jet
lag as well as she did a few years ago.
"When you are in a particularly bad bout, you are just so walloped," she
said. "I'm an old mouse, I guess."
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Our Troops in Action
on: December 28, 2006, 07:03:02 AM
This article on the death of President Ford caught my attention:
How Lieutenant Ford Saved His Ship
By ROBERT DRURY and TOM CLAVIN
Published: December 28, 2006
East Hampton, N.Y.
FOR Americans under a certain age, Gerald Ford is best remembered for his contribution to Bartlett’s — “Our long national nightmare is over” — or, more likely, for the comedian Chevy Chase’s stumbling, bumbling impersonations of him on “Saturday Night Live.” But there’s a different label we can attach to this former president, one that has been overlooked for 62 years: war hero.
In 1944, Lt. j.g. Jerry Ford — a lawyer from Grand Rapids, Mich., blond and broad-shouldered, with the lantern jaw of a young Johnny Weissmuller — was a 31-year-old gunnery officer on the aircraft carrier Monterey. The Monterey was a member of Adm. William Halsey’s Third Fleet, and in mid-December, Lieutenant Ford was sailing off the Philippines as Admiral Halsey’s ships provided air cover for the second phase of Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s “I shall return” Philippine invasions.
The Monterey had earned more than half a dozen battle stars for actions in World War II; during the battle of Leyte Gulf, Lieutenant Ford, in charge of a 40-millimeter antiaircraft gun crew on the fantail deck, had watched as a torpedo narrowly missed the Monterey and tore out the hull of the nearby Australian cruiser Canberra. Two months later, in the early morning hours of Dec. 18, the Japanese were the least of the Monterey’s worries, as it found itself trapped in a vicious Pacific cyclone later designated Typhoon Cobra.
Lieutenant Ford had served as the Monterey’s officer of the deck on the ship’s midnight-to-4-a.m. watch, and had witnessed the lashing rains and 60-knot winds whip the ocean into waves that resembled liquid mountain ranges. The waves reeled in from starboard, gigantic sets of dark water that appeared to defy gravity, cresting at 40 to 70 feet. In his 18 months at sea, Lieutenant Ford had never seen waves so big. As breakers crashed over the carrier’s wheelhouse, he could just barely make out the distress whistles sounding about him — the deep beeps of the battleships, the shrill whoops of the destroyers.
After his watch Lieutenant Ford had strapped himself into his bunk below decks, and it seemed that his head had barely hit the pillow when the Monterey’s skipper, Capt. Stuart H. Ingersoll, sounded general quarters, calling all hands to their stations. Lieutenant Ford bolted upright in his dark sea cabin. He thought he smelled smoke amidships. Racing through a rolling companionway dimly lighted by red battle lights, he reached the outside skipper’s ladder leading to the pilothouse and began to climb. At that precise moment a 70-foot wave broke over the Monterey. The carrier pitched 25 degrees to port, and Lieutenant Ford was knocked flat on his back. He began skimming the flight deck as if he were on a toboggan.
Just as he was about to be hurled overboard, Lieutenant Ford managed to slow his slide, twist like an acrobat, and fling himself onto the catwalk. He got to his knees, made his way below deck, and started back up again.
By the time he reached the Monterey’s pilothouse, the fighter planes in its hangar deck had begun slamming into one another as well as the bulkheads — “like pinballs,” Mr. Ford recalled 60 years later — and the collisions had ignited their gas tanks. The hangar deck of the Monterey had become a cauldron of aircraft fuel, and because of a quirk in its construction, the flames from the burning aircraft were sucked into the air intakes of the lower decks. As fires broke out below, Lieutenant Ford remembered the smoke he smelled when he’d bolted from his bunk.
Admiral Halsey had ordered Captain Ingersoll to abandon ship, and the Monterey was ablaze from stem to stern as Lieutenant Ford stood near the helm, awaiting his orders. “We can fix this,” Captain Ingersoll said, and with a nod from his skipper, Lieutenant Ford donned a gas mask and led a fire brigade below.
Aircraft-gas tanks exploded as hose handlers slid across the burning decks. Into this furnace Lieutenant Ford led his men, his first order of business to carry out the dead and injured. Hours later he and his team emerged burned and exhausted, but they had put out the fire.
Three destroyers were eventually capsized by Typhoon Cobra, a dozen more ships were seriously damaged, more than 150 planes were destroyed, and 793 men lost their lives. It was the Navy’s worst “defeat” of World War II. But the Monterey and nearly all of its men survived to take part in the battle of Okinawa, and the future president ended his Navy stint in 1946 with the rank of lieutenant commander.
Like his fellow World War II veterans, Mr. Ford returned home and resumed his life, rarely speaking publicly of his heroism. But in contrast to the public’s image of him as a clumsy nonentity, Mr. Ford was a man whose grace under pressure saved his ship and hundreds of men on it.
Robert Drury and Tom Clavin are the authors of the forthcoming “Halsey’s Typhoon: The True Story of a Fighting Admiral, an Epic Storm and an Untold Rescue.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Iraq
on: December 27, 2006, 03:54:43 PM
Second post of the day.
STRIP FOR ACTION
By RALPH PETERS
December 27, 2006 -- WITH a troop surge nearly inevitable in the new year, we still lack a strategy to win in Iraq. Radical surgery on our approach is the patient's only hope - but the policy doctors in D.C. just want to up the medication.
Washington may be the unofficial capital of the world, but it's a town that thinks small. The real-and-present danger is that a desperate administration and a nervous new Congress won't imagine genuine alternatives to losing slowly or leaving.
Is Iraq hopeless? No. But the path to a positive outcome doesn't follow the traditional wisdom about what's "doable." We must think clearly and boldly, without regard to vested interests.
One thing's clear: If we can't enforce security, nothing else matters. So the wisest course of action seems obvious - except to the Washington establishment: Return to a wartime footing.
Focus exclusively on security. Concentrate on doing one thing well. Freeze all reconstruction and aid projects. Halt every program and close every office that doesn't contribute directly to pacifying Iraq.
Empty the Green Zone. Pack off the contractors. Reduce the military's overhead to those elements essential to support combat operations. Make it clear to "our" Iraqis that it's sink-or-swim time. Remove our advisers from any Iraqi unit that can operate marginally without them (and let the Iraqis do security their way without interference).
Above all, establish unity of command: Stop pretending there's a fully functional government in Baghdad, recall our ambassador until the fighting's over and make this a purely military effort until Iraq has been pacified.
Shedding extraneous programs would allow us to withdraw some military elements, increase the impact of combat units already in Iraq and use any additional forces more efficiently.
By attempting to do far too much, we diffused our capabilities. Program after program faltered. We need to return to the principle of concentration of effort.
We tried to refashion a country and rebuild its infrastructure before we made it secure. The result has been the waste of American lives, four years and billions of taxpayer dollars.
Defying the power of inertia - a tremendous force in Washington - we need to grasp that throwing good money after bad undercuts our last, slight hope of a win.
We need an exclusive focus on the defeat of the foreign terrorists, uncooperative Sunni Arabs and Muqtada al-Sadr's Shia thugs. Our enemies control Iraq with fear. We need to make them fear us more than the population fears them.
And we must stop reciting insupportable platitudes about every element of government playing a role and the supreme power of negotiations. That's just nonsense. Contrary to pundit blustering, the overwhelming majority of insurgencies over the past 3,000 years have been defeated - by uncompromising military responses.
Contributions from government departments other than the Pentagon may be desirable in theory, but they've been AWOL in fact. You can't build an effective team if the players don't show up.
The worst failure has been that of the State Department. State couldn't get enough volunteers even for its 90-day stints in Iraq - every major program that it insisted on running failed.
Worse, military officers complain that our diplomats in Baghdad undercut their efforts. Even if State were competent, you can't have parallel chains of command in wartime. Our blundering diplos only fall prey to sharper-minded Iraqis.
As for negotiations offering the only way forward, where in the Middle East have negotiations ever produced enduring peace? All the media drooling over an expected American retreat has left all of Iraq's opposing factions calculating how they can win after we're gone.
You can't hold successful negotiations with irreconcilable, unbroken factions who have no incentive to compromise. And even when you cajole promises from one group or another in the Middle East, no party feels bound to honor its commitments.
You can only drive negotiations from a position of uncontested strength - which we threw away.
Our enemies don't believe we have the guts to pacify Iraq. They may be right.
It would be obscene to deploy more troops and further strain our military unless we're serious about winning. And all half-measures will fail.
The paradox is that beleaguered Iraqis would welcome a harsh security crackdown - our toughest obstacle would be a global media alliance already patting itself on the back for our defeat.
Of course, if we make security our sole focus, the Daddy Warbucks profiteers will howl to the congressmen they've bought; our self-adoring diplomats will spew more of their poisonous jealousy into the Potomac - and those military commanders who've lost focus will argue that bribing Iraqis with reconstruction efforts is essential to pacification.
But bought allies never stay bought. Diplomats don't disarm terrorists and militias or defuse roadside bombs. And the administration's cult-like belief in the power of outsourcing to bring peace created the mess we now face.
Iraq may never be the inclusive and just democracy we sought. Our age reflects the rise of popular power, but demotic passions do not inevitably lead to democracy. In times of widespread systemic breakdown such as these, demagogues and dictators can embody the popular will as readily as presidents or prime ministers. "People power" is here to stay, but we're far from knowing all it will produce.
But we may be certain of this: Democracy can't exist without security. All of our other ambitions for Iraq are hopeless if men and women can't walk the streets without fear. Whether or not we still can win, merely tweaking our policy promises failure.
It's time to strip for action - and fight to win.
Ralph Peters' latest book is "Never Quit The Fight."
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Environmental issues
on: December 27, 2006, 11:45:16 AM
Been meaning to post this one for several days now , , ,
12/12/06 NY Times
by NATALIE ANGIER
Published: December 12, 2006
This was no euphemistic brushoff, no reptilian version of "Sorry, I'll be
busy that night washing my hair." Paddling around in a tropically appointed
pool at the National Aquarium in Baltimore, the husky female Gibba turtle
from South America made all too palpable her disdain for the petite male
Gibba that pursued her. He crawled onto the parqueted hump of her bark-brown
shell. She shrugged and wriggled until he slipped off. He looped around to
show her his best courtship maneuvers, bobbing his head, quivering his neck.
She kicked him aside like a clot of algae and kept swimming.
"I feel sorry for the little guy," said Jack Cover, a turtle specialist and
the general curator of the aquarium. "He's making no progress, she's got
zero interest in him, yet he just keeps coming back for more."
And why not? The male Gibba may be clueless, he may at the moment have the
sex appeal of a floating toupee, but he is a turtle, and, as a major new
book and a wealth of recent discoveries make abundantly clear, turtles are
built for hard times. Through famine, flood, heat wave, ice age, a predator's
inspections, a paramour's rejections, turtles take adversity in stride,
usually by striding as little as possible. "The tale of the tortoise and the
hare is the turtle's life story," said Mr. Cover, who calls himself a
card-carrying member of the "turtle nerds" club. "Slow and steady wins the
With its miserly metabolism and tranquil temperament, its capacity to forgo
food and drink for months at a time, its redwood burl of a body shield, so
well engineered it can withstand the impact of a stampeding wildebeest, the
turtle is one of the longest-lived creatures Earth has known. Individual
turtles can survive for centuries, bearing silent witness to epic swaths of
human swagger. Last March, a giant tortoise named Adwaita said to be as old
as 250 years died in a Calcutta zoo, having been taken to India by British
sailors, records suggest, during the reign of King George II. In June,
newspapers around the world noted the passing of Harriet, a Galapagos
tortoise that died in the Australia Zoo at age 176 - 171 years after Charles
Darwin is said, perhaps apocryphally, to have plucked her from her
Behind such biblical longevity is the turtle's stubborn refusal to senesce -
to grow old. Don't be fooled by the wrinkles, the halting gait and the
rheumy gaze. Researchers lately have been astonished to discover that in
contrast to nearly every other animal studied, a turtle's organs do not
gradually break down or become less efficient over time.
Dr. Christopher J. Raxworthy, the associate curator of herpetology at the
American Museum of Natural History, says the liver, lungs and kidneys of a
centenarian turtle are virtually indistinguishable from those of its teenage
counterpart, a Ponce de Leonic quality that has inspired investigators to
begin examining the turtle genome for novel longevity genes.
"Turtles don't really die of old age," Dr. Raxworthy said. In fact, if
turtles didn't get eaten, crushed by an automobile or fall prey to a
disease, he said, they might just live indefinitely.
Turtles have the power to almost stop the ticking of their personal clock.
"Their heart isn't necessarily stimulated by nerves, and it doesn't need to
beat constantly," said Dr. George Zug, curator of herpetology at the
Smithsonian Institution. "They can turn it on and off essentially at will."
Turtles resist growing old, and they resist growing up. Dr. Zug and his
co-workers recently determined that among some populations of sea turtles,
females do not reach sexual maturity until they are in their 40s or 50s,
which Dr. Zug proposes could be "a record in the animal kingdom."
Turtles are also ancient as a family. The noble chelonian lineage that
includes all living turtles and tortoises extends back 230 million years or
more, possibly predating other reptiles like snakes and crocodiles, as well
as birds, mammals, even the dinosaurs.
The turtle's core morphology has changed little over time, and today's 250
or so living species all display an unmistakable resemblance to the earliest
turtle fossils. Yet the clan has evolved a dazzling array of variations on
its blockbuster theme, allowing it to colonize every continent save
Antarctica and nearly every type of biome nested therein: deserts;
rainforests; oceans; rivers; bogs; mountains; New Brunswick, Canada; New
"Turtles can persist in habitats where little else can survive," said Dr. J.
Whitfield Gibbons, a professor of ecology at the University of Georgia in
The iconic turtle likewise has colonized the human heart. People may despise
cats or fear dogs, but practically everybody has a soft spot for turtles.
"Turtles are by far the most popular reptile," said Peter C. H. Pritchard,
director of the Chelonian Research Institute in Oviedo, Fla. "Unlike snakes,
which may threaten you and which move like a flash, turtles are benign and
slow, and you can't dislike or distrust the clumsy."
(Page 2 of 3)
Yet such warm and fuzzy feelings have proved cold comfort for turtles, and
herpetologists fear that in humans the stalwart survivors from the Mesozoic
era may at last have met their mortician. Turtle habitats are fast
disappearing, or are being fragmented and transected by roads on which
millions of turtles are crushed each year. "There's no defense against that
predator known as the automobile," Dr. Gibbons said.
Researchers estimate that at least half of all turtle species are in serious
trouble, and that some of them, like the Galapagos tortoise, the North
American bog turtle, the Pacific leatherback sea turtle and more than a
dozen species in China and Southeast Asia, may effectively go extinct in the
next decade if extreme measures are not taken. "People love turtles, people
find them endearing, but people take turtles for granted," Mr. Cover said.
"They have no idea how important turtles are to the ecosystems in which
they, and we, live."
Researchers are also impressed by the turtle's many sensory talents. Box
turtles and other forest-dwelling species can spot a lake or pond a mile in
the distance, possibly by detecting polarized light glinting off the surface
of the water. Female sea turtles migrate across entire oceans every breeding
season, unerringly making their way from far-flung feeding grounds right
back to the beach where they were born, and where they are instinctively
driven to lay their own eggs.
Instinctive does not mean inflexible, however. Should a weary wayfarer
arrive at her natal beach in the dead of night and find it has eroded away,
Dr. Pritchard said, she can adapt, swimming down the coast until she locates
a suitably sandy nesting site.
Turtles, it seems, are all ears, all the time. Dr. Ray Ashton, who runs the
Finca de la Tortuga biological preserve in Archer, Fla., has highly
preliminary evidence that some turtle species may communicate subsonically,
just as elephants do, transmitting and detecting ultralow frequency sound
waves as vibrations in the ground.
In their new book, "Turtles of the World" (Johns Hopkins Press), Franck
Bonin, Bernard Devaux and Alain Dupré seek to loft turtles into the
limelight by showcasing the group's diversity - its beauties, its goofies,
There is the Indian star tortoise, its shell a vivid basket weave of dark
and light veins that dance like spattered sunlight as the tortoise crosses
the forest floor; and the Matamata turtle of the Amazon basin, with a
flattened, ragged head and neck that look like dead leaves and a bumpy shell
that mimics an old log - just try to spot that Matamata at the bottom of a
stream, awaiting passing prey; and the massive alligator snapping turtle of
the south-central United States, which lures fish right into its open jaw
with a red bleb of flesh on the floor of its mouth that jiggles like a
Some turtles have serpentine necks twice the length of their shells; others
sport sweet little snorkeling snouts that look like double-barreled cocktail
straws; still others have beaks so fiercely hooked their bearers could
easily serve, in the authors' words, as "adornment of the upper reaches of
Among the most common questions leveled at turtle researchers is, What is
the difference between a turtle and a tortoise? It depends on where you
live, researchers reply. In the United States, any reptile with a shell is
referred to as a turtle, and the term tortoise is reserved for those turtle
species that have elephantine feet and live entirely on land, like the
desert tortoise of the American Southwest. In Australia, by contrast, the
word tortoise often applies to aquatic side-necked species - bizarre beasts
with necks that cannot be drawn into the shell for protection but instead
must be tucked on the side, under the shell's eavelike overhang.
Whatever their group identity badge, turtles vary considerably in size, from
the tiny speckled padloper tortoise of South Africa, which in adulthood is
no bigger than a computer mouse, to the great leatherback sea turtle, which
can measure seven feet long and weigh 2,000 pounds.
(Page 3 of 3)
Menu plans vary as well. Many turtles are omnivores, happily consuming
fruits, leaves, insects, mollusks, fish, frogs, ice cream. Dr. Gibbons told
of a friend whose his pet box turtle would respond to the sound of a spoon
being tapped on a glass ice cream bowl by emerging from behind the couch,
walking over to its owner, rearing up on its hind legs and waiting to be
spoon-fed its just dessert. "Had I not seen this a few times myself," he
said, "I would not have believed it."
A few turtles have highly specialized palates. Green sea turtles prize the
tender tips of sea grass, and will clip away and discard tough, older grass
to stimulate the sprouting of fresh buds beneath. Leatherback sea turtles
dine only on jellyfish, or what they think are jellyfish. "Plastic bags look
like jellyfish," said Dr. Joseph Mitchell, an ecologist and turtle
specialist in Richmond, Va., "and quite a few leatherbacks have stomachs
impacted with plastic bags."
Some turtles, conversely, seek out the world's detritus. Scavenger turtles
that live in the Ganges River devour human corpses, making it possible for
devout Hindus to deposit their loved ones' remains in the waters they deem
An Iconic Feature
Whether they wrest it from sea grass, shellfish or Häagen-Dazs, all turtles
need a substantial amount of calcium in their diet, to sustain the structure
that marks them as turtles and that remains among the most extraordinary
architectural achievements in vertebrate evolution: the shell. A number of
invertebrates have shells, of course, and so, too, do a few vertebrates,
most notably the armadillo. But whereas the armadillo's shell is built of
bony segments slapped down over its muscle tissue and is distinct from the
mammal's underlying skeletal frame, in the turtle the skeleton has become
During embryonic development, the bones of the turtle's rib cage grow
straight out, rather than curving toward one another as they do in other
vertebrates. Those ribs, spinal vertebrae and other skeletal bones are then
fused to form the upper shell, called the carapace, the lower shell, or
plastron, and the bony bridges that join upstairs with down. In many turtle
species, the bony shell is in turn plated over with tough fingernail-like
structures called scutes.
As a result of the osteotic overhaul, not only can a turtle not crawl out of
its shell, it has trouble crawling, period. "Its legs stick out at bizarre
angles, and the only reason it can walk at all is through sheer strength,"
Dr. Pritchard said. "The turtle has enormously strong muscles and extremely
thick leg bones." A clumsy gait proved a small price to pay, however, for
the acquisition of body armor that protects adult turtles against a panoply
of jaws and claws.
Geneticists have proposed that the turtle shell may have appeared quite
suddenly in the distant past, rather than emerging slowly through modest,
mincing modifications of pre-existing structures. They suggest that the
dramatic innovation could have arisen from just a few key mutations in
master genes like the so-called homeobox genes, which help specify an animal's
basic body plan. If the shell did burst on the reptilian stage more or less
fully formed, they said, that would explain the lack of "intermediary"
fossils or prototurtles in the paleontological record.
The shell very likely helps explain the turtle's elongated storyline. It
takes time to consolidate a large, thick shell, but upon reaching adult
stature, the turtle is close to invulnerable. At that point, it can
compensate for its Darwinically unproductive youth with a very prolonged and
zealously fecund adulthood. A female turtle will continue laying eggs until
she dies, and a male turtle will just as mulishly pursue her.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Environmental issues
on: December 27, 2006, 11:36:05 AM
Yes, I know there is a thread of the same name on the Political forum, but I'm beginning to think it belongs here. So for the moment we will have a thread on each of the forums and see where people tend to post.
I begin with a post of another Nature Conservancy project. (I am a basic level member of NC btw). I like NC because of its market, win-win orientation.
Farmers and Conservationists Form a Rare Alliance
Kevin P. Casey for The New York Times
Shorebirds on flooded land in Skagit County, Wash., a sight that could become more common as a result of a “Farming for Wildlife” program.
By JESSICA KOWAL
Published: December 27, 2006
MOUNT VERNON, Wash. — The standoff here between farmers and environmentalists was familiar in the modern West.
Lisa Bellefond of the Nature Conservancy and David Hedlin, a farmer, on farmland set to become wetlands.
With salmon and wildlife dwindling in the Skagit River Delta, some environmentalists had argued since the 1980s that local farms should be turned back into wetlands. Farmers here feared that preachy outsiders would strip them of their land and heritage.
This year, though, the standoff ended — at least for three longtime farmers in this fertile valley, who began collaborating with their former enemies to preserve wildlife and their livelihoods.
The Nature Conservancy, which usually buys land to shield it from development, is renting land from the three farmers on behalf of migrating Western sandpipers, black-bellied plovers, dunlins, marbled godwits and other shorebirds.
From private and public funds, including a grant from the federal Environmental Protection Agency, the farmers, David Hedlin, Gail Thulen and Alan Mesman, will together receive up to $350,000 for three years of labor, expenses and the use of 210 acres, said Kevin Morse, the Skagit Delta project manager for the conservancy.
Each man has committed about 70 acres to this project, which is called Farming for Wildlife. A third of that land will be flooded with a few inches of fresh water in the spring, fall and winter. This will create shallow ponds to entice thousands of birds, some of them on their way to and from the Arctic, to stop and snack on tiny invertebrates and worms as they travel along the Pacific flyway.
More than a dozen shorebird species have declined primarily because of the loss of local wetlands, said Gary Slater, research director at the Ecostudies Institute here and a consultant for the Nature Conservancy.
The farmers see the Nature Conservancy’s willingness to pay them as an acknowledgment that they should not be expected to sacrifice their land or their living for wildlife. This approach effectively turns shorebirds into another crop to manage, instead of grounds for a lawsuit.
“The stewardship ethic in this valley is incredibly strong, but it doesn’t trump the bank,” said Mr. Hedlin, 56, who, with his wife, Serena Campbell, grows farmer’s market produce, vegetable seeds, pumpkins, winter wheat and pickling cucumbers on their 400-acre farm.
Mr. Hedlin’s 70-acre Farming for Wildlife parcel has been under water since a heavy November rain breached a dike and flooded the field, in a preview of what environmentalists hope will happen. Edged with wild roses and blackberry bushes, this accidental lake quickly attracted wintering waterfowl like trumpeter swans, coots, and mallard, teal and wigeon ducks.
An hour north of Seattle and an hour south of Vancouver, British Columbia, this region’s glorious tulip farms attract hundreds of thousands of tourists each April. Skagit farmers also produce about 80 crops of commercial significance, including seeds used to grow beets, spinach and cabbage around the world, many of the red potatoes eaten in the United States, and vegetables and dairy products sent to farmer’s markets and restaurants in the Pacific Northwest.
Thousands of years of flooding on the Skagit River deposited a rich layer of topsoil in the “magic Skagit,” as Mr. Hedlin calls the valley. European immigrants flocked here starting in the 1860s and built Victorian houses for their families on the board-flat green fields.
They also constructed an elaborate network of earthen dikes to capture land from the saltwater delta and prevent the rivers from flooding their farms. On this managed agricultural landscape, tens of thousand of acres of farmland were once tidal wetlands, Mr. Hedlin said.
Since the mid-1990s, residents have tried to slow development as strip malls and housing subdivisions marched northward from Seattle. Skagit County residents pay extra taxes to buy development rights from farmers, and a charitable group, Skagitonians to Preserve Farmland, warns that “Pavement is forever.”
Many conservationists have also decided that farms are better than pavement, and say they are willing to balance preservation with profitable land use.
Mr. Morse lives here and even volunteered to spend two days last spring selling Mr. Hedlin’s produce at a farmer’s market.
“We don’t know anything about farming,” Mr. Morse told the farmers recently over coffee and sandwiches at the Rexville Grocery. “You guys are the stewards of the land. You tell me what to do.”
For this experiment, each farmer’s 70-acre parcel has been planted with a mixture of clover and grass to enrich the soil. While a third of the land will be periodically flooded for birds, a third will be fenced as pasture for dairy cows, and the rest will be mowed and otherwise left alone.
Farms here are gradually shifting toward organic production because consumers willingly pay much more for organic food. As another incentive to join Farming for Wildlife, the 210 acres will be available for organic use after three years.
Mr. Mesman will start producing organic milk with his 225 Holstein cows next spring. Mr. Thulen sees a big market for organic potatoes.
“In my time, I can see our little valley was farmed very hard,” said Mr. Thulen, whose 2,000-acre farm was begun by his grandfather in 1867. “That pendulum has swung to get the ground healthy again.”
In an ideal world, the Nature Conservancy would love to persuade farmers to add wetlands to their regular crop rotation. To that end, the group’s scientists will analyze soil samples to assess whether shallow flooding might improve soil fertility as much as cow manure and mowed grass do.
In a similar project on the Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge in Northern California, farmers reported better potato yields and fewer nematodes, a harmful worm, on land that had been purposefully flooded. But scientists say this may not apply in the Skagit Valley, where the soil has a higher clay content.
Whether or not they end up with more productive land, the three farmers seem pleased to try something new without financial risk.
“If 100 years from now,” Mr. Hedlin said, “there are healthy viable family farms in this valley and waterfowl and wildlife and salmon in the river, then everyone wins.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Iraq
on: December 26, 2006, 11:32:43 PM
THE BOOM OUTSIDE BAGHDAD
New York Post
By AMIR TAHERI
December 26, 2006 -- UMQASR, IRAQ
WHILE the American political elite is using Iraq as an excuse for fighting
internal political wars, a different reality is taking shape in parts of
this war-torn nation. Wherever some measure of security is assured - that is
to say in more than 80 percent of Iraq - towns and villages long left to die
a slow death are creeping back to life.
Nowhere is this slow but steady return to life more startling than in Um
Qasr, in the southeast extremity of Iraq on the Persian Gulf. Four years
ago, this was a jumble of rusting quays, abandoned houses and gutted
buildings. By the spring of 2003, its population had dwindled to a few
dozen, along with hundreds of stray dogs. There was even talk of abandoning
Today, however, Um Qasr is back in business as a port with commercial and
military functions. Hundreds of families that had left after the first Gulf
War in 1991 have returned - joining many more who have come from all over
The boom in Um Qasr is part of a broader picture that also includes Basra
(the sprawling metropolis of southern Iraq), the Shi'ite "holy" cities of
Najaf and Karbala, Mandali on the Iranian border and much of Baghdad.
When the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank reported two years
ago that the Iraqi economy was heading for a boom, skeptics dismissed it as
misplaced optimism. Now, however, even some of those who opposed the
toppling of Saddam Hussein admit that many Iraqis share that optimism.
Newsweek has just hailed the emergence of a booming market economy in Iraq
as "the mother of all surprises," noting that "Iraqis are more optimistic
about the future than most Americans are." The reason, of course, is that
Iraqis know what is going on in their country while Americans are fed a diet
of exclusively negative reporting from Iraq.
The growing dynamism of the Iraqi economy is reflected in the steady
increase in the value of the national currency, the dinar, against the three
currencies in direct competition with it in the Iraqi marketplace: the
Iranian rial, the Kuwaiti dinar and the U.S. dollar, since January 2006.
No doubt, part of the dinar's strength reflects the rise in Iraq's income
from oil exports to almost $40 billion in 2006, an all-time record. But oil
alone does not explain all, since both Iran and Kuwait are bigger exporters
The fact that civil-servant salaries have increased by almost 30 percent,
with a further 30 percent due to come into effect early next year, also has
helped boost demand.
But a good part of the boom is due to an unexpected flow of foreign capital.
This has been facilitated by the prospect of a liberal law on direct foreign
investments, which exists only in such free-trade parts of the region as
Dubai and Bahrain. None of Iraq's six neighbors offers such guarantee for
the free flow of capital to and from the country.
Since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003, the number of private companies in
Iraq has increased from a mere 8,000 to more than 35,000 this year. Each
week an average of 60 new companies spring up in Iraq's booming areas. A
good part of the investment in southern Iraq, including in Um Qasr, comes
from Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates.
"Whatever happens, Iraq is Iraq," says a Kuwaiti businessman, building
hotels in the south. "Iraq will always remain the country with the world's
largest oil reserves and the Middle East's biggest resources of water."
One hears similar comments from local and foreign businessmen investing in
real estate in Najaf and Karbala. Over 200 million Shiite Muslims regard the
cities as holy. Najaf and Karbala have always been dream destinations for
pilgrims. Under Saddam Hussein, however, few foreign pilgrims were allowed.
With the despot gone, pilgrims are pouring in - and with them the fresh
That good business is possible in Iraq is reflected in the performance of
new companies, most of which did not exist three years ago. One privately
owned mobile phone company is expected to report revenues of more than $500
million this year, a sevenfold increase in three years. Another private firm
marketing soft drinks has seen profits double since the end of 2003. The
number of luxury cars imported has risen from a few hundred in 2002 to more
than 20,000 this year.
But what about continued terrorist attacks? Most foreign investors coming to
make money in Iraq shrug their shoulders. "Doing business in any Arab
country is always risky," says a Turkish investor who has set up a trucking
company and a taxi service. "In some Arab countries, you risk
nationalization or straight confiscation by the ruler. In other Arab
countries, you must give a cut to one of the emirs. Here, you face possible
terrorist attacks. But such attacks are transitory."
The relatively low cost of labor is another attraction to investors. Wages
in Iraq, where unemployment is over 30 percent, are less than a quarter of
the going rates in Kuwait. Nevertheless, the Iraqi boom appears to be
attracting some Iranian laborers from areas close to the border - people who
come in for a few days to make some money before returning home.
Although Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government has slowed down the
pace of privatization, the foundations of the command economy created by
Saddam continue to crumble.
The transition from a rentier economy - in which virtually the whole of the
population depended on government handouts - to a free-market capitalist one
entails much hardship for some segments of society. Many pensioners and some
civil servants find it hard to make ends meet as prices rise across the
board. The end of government subsidies on virtually everything - from bread
and sugar to gasoline and water - is also causing hardship.
But, judging by the talk in teahouses and the debate in Iraq's new and
pluralist media, most people welcome the switch to capitalism and regard it
as an exciting adventure.
As trucks are loaded with a variety of imports destined for Baghdad, I ask
the drivers what they think would happen if the multi-national force, led by
the United States, left Iraq soon. Most shrug their shoulders.
"Why leave?" one driver asks. "Do I abandon the goods that have come from
such a long way before they reach their destination?"
This amounts to a plea to "stay the course." The man in Um Qasr does not
know that in the United States the phrase "staying the course" drives so
many up the wall.
Amir Taheri is a member of Benador Associates.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Health Thread (nutrition, medical, longevity, etc)
on: December 26, 2006, 04:51:42 PM
Hormones and Cancer: Assessing the Risks
By GINA KOLATA
Published: December 26, 2006
When researchers reported recently that a precipitous drop in breast cancer
rates might be explained by a corresponding decrease in the use of hormones
for menopause, women reacted with shock, anger and, in some cases, profound
relief that they had never taken the drugs.
Research Leader Dr. V. Craig Jordan studies the effects of estrogen-blocking
drugs on breast cancer.
Complete Coverage: Hormones
But many also had questions. How certain were scientists that the hormones
were responsible? How could stopping hormones have such an immediate and
pronounced effect? And how much did scientists really know about the biology
of breast cancer and hormones?
The data seemed clear enough. In 2003, after climbing for almost seven
decades, the breast cancer rate fell for the first time in the United
States, and it fell sharply. Over all, the incidence of newly diagnosed
breast cancer dropped 7 percent, and it dropped 15 percent among women with
cancers whose growth is fueled by estrogen.
There also was no question that at the same time, women had begun to abandon
hormones as a treatment for menopause. In July 2002, a large study, the
Women's Health Initiative, concluded that a popular hormone therapy for
menopause, Prempro, made by Wyeth, slightly increased the risk of breast
cancer. Within the next six months, prescriptions for Prempro dropped by
A connection between hormone use and breast cancer rates did not surprise
scientists like Dr. V. Craig Jordan, vice president and scientific director
for the medical science division at Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia.
Dr. Jordan is a leader in studying the effects of estrogen-blocking drugs on
breast cancer. Among his many awards is this year's American Cancer Society
Award from the American Society for Clinical Oncology for his work on
estrogen and the prevention and treatment of breast cancer.
Dr. Jordan's wife, Dr. Monica Morrow, a breast cancer surgeon, is chairwoman
of the surgical oncology department at Fox Chase. Their offices, he says,
are across the hall from each other, "so we are together 24 hours a day."
Q. Prempro, the combination drug that many women took for menopause
symptoms, contains both estrogen and progestins. And the findings from the
Women's Health Initiative study suggested that estrogen alone has only a
tiny effect, if any, on breast cancer risk. So which is the bad actor,
progestins or estrogen? Or is it both hormones combined?
A. We've known for 30 years that estrogen can directly cause the growth of
breast cells and of endometrial cells. Estrogen is fuel for the fire. But
progesterone seems to do different things in different places in a woman's
body. In the uterus, it stops the growth of the endometrium and makes it
ready for implanting a fertilized egg. In breast cancer, estrogen causes a
doubling of cancer cells every 36 hours. Soon, the growing tumor ball needs
to increase its blood supply because cells in the middle are not getting
enough food and oxygen. Progesterone seems to cause other cells, stromal
cells, to gather around the ball of cancer cells and play a supporting role.
Stromal cells are the woman's own cells that researchers now think may be
specifically selected to build an architecture and send out signals for more
blood supply, more fuel.
Q. That seems to be an unusual arrangement. Why would progesterone act on
stromal cells in the breast?
A. When a woman is pregnant, her breasts are much larger and her estrogen
and progesterone levels are huge. Progesterone is sending out signals that
provide a skeleton to build the breasts.
Q. Was it a surprise to learn that estrogen and progestins can cause breast
A. We've known there is a cause and effect with hormones and breast cancer
since 1896. If a woman is premenopausal and she has breast cancer and you
take out her ovaries, the tumors decrease in size. Not all the tumors - if
you took 100 women who were premenopausal and took their ovaries out, 35
percent would have a response. And you could get a dramatic response. A
tumor that was the size of a walnut could shrink in six months to the size
of a pinhead. It turned out that the tumors that responded contained
estrogen receptors. This became cause and effect - the estrogen receptor was
the mechanism that estrogen used to stimulate tumors to grow. If there was
no estrogen receptor, taking away estrogen didn't do anything at all.
Q. Did taking away estrogen ever make a breast cancer go away completely?
A. This is the basic difficulty. We were dealing with advanced breast
cancer, and what we saw was that we could get complete remissions in 4 or 5
percent of the women. In the majority of women, the remission would last for
one to two years. Taking away estrogen slowed things down, it reversed the
process, but it did not cure.
Q. Do you agree with the latest analysis indicating that breast cancer is
declining because so many women stopped taking Prempro and other menopausal
A. Throughout the 1990s, physicians were recommending that menopausal women
take hormone replacement therapy. What happens is that you increased the
rate of breast cancer in the whole country. And it shifted the epidemiology.
We have seen an increase in the percentage of estrogen-receptor-positive
tumors in the 1990s and in the beginning of the 2000s, so that now 70
percent of tumors are estrogen-receptor positive.
This was, if you like, consistent. Everything was ticking in. The Women's
Health Initiative and the Million Women Study in Britain really said: "Here's
a controlled series of studies comparing taking nothing with taking hormone
replacement therapy. How many cancers were there at the end of the day?"
Page 2 of 2)
The Women's Health Initiative found a 23 percent increase in breast cancer;
the Million Women Study found a 100 percent increase. Those studies were
highly publicized and women stopped taking hormones. Now the breast cancer
rates are going down. Now tumors you would have detected are not being
detected. There is no proof the tumors will ever go away, but you can't
detect them. And it is possible that many subclinical cancer cells may never
grow inside a woman's breast if she has no estrogen around to fuel that
Skip to next paragraph
Complete Coverage: Hormones
Q. If a woman has a tumor that is undetectable because she did not take
menopausal hormones, will it eventually grow anyway and turn into a cancer
that can be seen on a mammogram?
A. We don't know. What we have learned from the tamoxifen clinical trial is
that tamoxifen, which blocks estrogen, did a fantastic job. The cancer rate
in the group taking tamoxifen dropped by 50 percent. Tamoxifen prevented the
development of breast cancers that were early stage, and it also stopped
cells from progressing to breast cancer.
Q. Some people suggest that the real problem was that the hormones women
were taking were artificial or were given in artificial ways. Prempro, for
example, gets its estrogen from pregnant mares. Some say other hormone
preparations, for example, so-called bioidentical hormones, would be safe.
Do you agree?
A. We've been talking about women's ovaries producing estrogen and
progesterone. When a woman enters menopause, hormone levels drop
dramatically. The longer you bathe a woman's breasts in these hormones, the
more likely she will have cancer. If you start menstruating early, if you
have two extra years of estrogen in your body, bathing your breasts in that
fuel is a risk factor for breast cancer. If you start menopause late, if
your periods go on for an extra four or five years, that is a risk. The
longer you have menstrual cycles, the higher your probability of breast
cancer. And that is with natural hormones, the ones in your body.
Q. What about birth control pills? Do they increase the risk of breast
A. We have had testing of birth control pills in huge groups of women since
the 1950s, and there really is no evidence of a significant rise in breast
cancer risk. What we do know is that oral contraceptives reproduce the
messages in the brain to stop a woman from ovulating. You are bathing a
woman's body with artificial hormones, but normally she would be bathing her
own body with estrogen and progesterone. You don't have women getting
endometrial cancer, and oral contraceptives reduce the risk of getting
ovarian cancer by 50 percent. It is one of the few things we know of that
reduces the risk of ovarian cancer.
Q. What about chemicals in the environment, like DDT or chemicals in
plastics, that can mimic estrogen. Could they be causing breast cancer?
A. There are a group of compounds like DDT that are byproducts of industry
and are in our environment. They can affect cells in the laboratory and can
affect the reproduction of animals, but in really huge doses. There is an
effect, but does it cause an increase in cancer? I personally don't believe
that is the case. I don't think there is enough around to do that. A pinch
of estrogen in the environment is very small compared to the gallons in a
Q. What should women do now? Should they ever take menopausal hormones?
A. The value of hormone therapy for women with extremely severe menopausal
symptoms is well established, and women, in consultation with their doctors,
should consider using it for only a few months to alleviate severe symptoms.
The main concern is using the drugs for many years to prevent osteoporosis.
They can reduce the risk of hip fractures, but there are now many different
alternatives for women to maintain bone density, such as bisphosphonates or
raloxifene. Hormone replacement therapy should only be considered after all
other options have failed.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Evolutionary biology/psychology
on: December 26, 2006, 04:50:26 PM
Devious Butterflies, Full-Throated Frogs and Other Liars
The green frog has been known to deceive eavesdroppers with its croak.
By CARL ZIMMER
Published: December 26, 2006
If you happen across a pond full of croaking green frogs, listen carefully. Some of them may be lying.
Dishonesty has been documented in crustaceans and primates alike.
A croak is how male green frogs tell other frogs how big they are. The bigger the male, the deeper the croak. The sound of a big male is enough to scare off other males from challenging him for his territory.
While most croaks are honest, some are not. Some small males lower their voices to make themselves sound bigger. Their big-bodied croaks intimidate frogs that would beat them in a fair fight.
Green frogs are only one deceptive species among many. Dishonesty has been documented in creatures ranging from birds to crustaceans to primates, including, of course, Homo sapiens. “When you think of human communication, it’s rife with deception,” said Stephen Nowicki, a biologist at Duke University and the co-author of the 2005 book “The Evolution of Animal Communication.” “You just need to read a Shakespeare play or two to see that.”
As Dr. Nowicki chronicled in his book, biologists have long puzzled over deception. Dishonesty should undermine trust between animals. Why, for example, do green frogs keep believing that a big croak means a big male? New research is offering some answers: Natural selection can favor a mix of truth and lies, particularly when an animal has a big audience. From one listener to the next, honesty may not be the best policy.
“I think it could explain a lot of mysteries in the evolution of communication in animals, including humans,” said Stephen P. Ellner, a mathematical biologist at Cornell University.
Tales of animal deception reach back at least as far as Aesop’s fables. In the late 19th century, the naturalist George Romanes made a semi-scientific study of deceptive animals. In his 1883 book, “Mental Evolution in Animals,” Romanes wrote about how one of his correspondents had sent him “several examples of the display of hypocrisy of a King Charles spaniel.”
By the mid-1900s, scientists had documented deception in cases where one species fooled another. Some nonpoisonous butterflies, for example, evolved the same wing patterns that poisonous species used to warn off birds. Within a species, however, honesty usually prevailed. Animals gave each other alarm calls to warn of predators; males signaled their prowess in fighting; babies let their parents know they were hungry. Honesty benefited both the sender and the receiver.
“The point of signaling was to get information across,” Dr. Nowicki said. “Deception was almost not an issue.”
There was just one hole in this happy arrangement: it presented a great opportunity for liars. Shrikes, for example, regularly use alarm calls to warn one another of predators. But sometimes the birds will use false alarm calls to scare other shrikes away from food.
Imagine that a shrike fools other shrikes with a false alarm. It eats more, and therefore may hatch more babies. Meanwhile, the gullible, less-nourished shrikes hatch fewer babies. If false alarms become common, natural selection should favor shrikes that are not fooled by them.
When scientists created mathematical models of this theory, they found that dishonesty could undermine many vital kinds of communication. The challenge, then, was to find out how honesty countered the advantage of deception. “The liars ought to be able to take advantage of the system, so that you’d have selection on the listeners to ignore the signals,” said Jonathan Rowell, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Tennessee.
Amotz Zahavi, a biologist at Tel Aviv University, proposed a way for honesty to prevail. His idea was that honesty won out only because lying carried a relatively large cost. His theory eventually led to elaborate mathematical models and experiments that confirmed it.
Roosters attract hens, for example, with their large red combs. Hens benefit from choosing mates in good condition, because their chicks will tend to be in good condition as well. The bigger and brighter a comb, the better condition the rooster is in.
Theoretically, a weak rooster could fool hens by growing a deceptively large comb. But it costs a weak rooster more than it does a strong one to build a big comb. This tradeoff leads to honest signals from weak and strong roosters alike.
“The mystery of why there is honesty was suddenly solved,” Dr. Ellner said. “All the big problems fell away.”
But if they had explained why deception did not win out, why did it continue to thrive? “We couldn’t explain all the dishonesty,” Dr. Ellner said.
Dr. H. Kern Reeve, an evolutionary biologist at Cornell, said that “deception is popping up with a surprising frequency.”
Even crustaceans can lie. Male stomatopods dig burrows, to which they try to attract females. Some males choose to try to evict other stomatopods from their burrows and take them over. These conflicts are dangerous because stomatopods can deliver crushing blows with their claw-like appendages. But the stomatopods rarely come to blows. Instead, males raise themselves up and extend their appendages, like a boxer raising his gloves. The sight of big appendages causes smaller stomatopods to back down.
Page 2 of 2)
Yet even the biggest, meanest stomatopod has his moments of weakness. Like all crustaceans, they must molt. A freshly-molted stomatopod has a soft, tender exoskeleton. Even in this vulnerable state, however, males will still raise up their claws in a bold crustacean bluff.
Dr. Rowell recently created a more complicated model of animal signals that may explain why deception is so common. Previous models examined only a single animal sending a signal to a single receiver. But real signals are rarely so private. “They’re not happening in a one-on-one situation,” Dr. Rowell said. “They’re really happening in public.”
A signaler may have different relationships with different listeners. In some cases, honest signals are best. But eavesdroppers may be able to use honest signals for their own advantage.
To capture this extra layer of complexity, Dr. Rowell built a mathematical model with two receivers instead of one. The signaling animal could choose to be honest or dishonest. The receivers could respond to the signal as an honest one or a dishonest one.
Working with Dr. Ellner and Dr. Reeve, Dr. Rowell discovered that honesty and deception could reach a stable coexistence in the model. The signalers could sometimes be dishonest, and yet the receivers continued to believe the signals despite the deception.
Dr. Rowell and his colleagues published the details of their model in the December issue of The American Naturalist.
“It’s really important,” Dr. Nowicki said of the study. “They’re coming up with new angles that could explain how you could have more deception and keep it stable.”
Dr. Rowell argues that real-world cases of deception, like bluffing, support the model. When a male green frog or stomatopod bluffs, other males have to decide whether to heed the signal or to ignore it and attack. Attacking is risky, because it is possible that the signaler is not bluffing.
“The challenger isn’t willing to take that gamble,” Dr. Rowell said.
The model also showed how deception could be used against eavesdroppers. Green frogs — along with many other frogs and toads — attract females with a distinctive mating call. Dr. Ellner’s rough translation of their call: “I’m looking for female frogs, and if you come on my lily pad, I’ll show you a good time.”
In most cases, male frogs follow up on their mating calls by courting the females they attract. But sometimes they attack instead. This deceptive reaction may be a way for the males to cope with other males that eavesdrop on them. Such eavesdroppers, instead of holding onto their own territory, sneak around and try to intercept females attracted to the mating calls of other males.
If males are always honest in their mating calls, they may lose out to sneaky males. But if they attack, they can ambush the sneaky males and drive them away. Natural selection thus favors deception, despite the fact that the frogs sometimes attack potential mates. The females, meanwhile, are better off trusting the mating calls than ignoring them.
Dr. Reeve cautioned that the model was only the first step in understanding how networks of listeners can drive the evolution of deception. “Right now it needs to be tested in detail, experimentally,” he said.
Different species may be prone to different levels of deception. Solitary animals may evolve to be more honest than animals that spend long lives in big societies. If that is true, then humans may be exquisitely primed to deceive.
“We’re in a network of individuals watching us,” Dr. Reeve said. “If you provide a signal to one individual, it’s being eavesdropped on by lots of other people.”
Dr. Rowell is exploring cases of human deception with his model. In one case, he examines how terrorist organizations communicate to their sleeper cells.
“Your two listeners are the government and terrorist sleeper cells,” Dr. Rowell explained. “The sleeper cells don’t have a direct communication with whoever your terrorist signaler is.
“They might give something out over the Web, and the government picks it up. You find that you can very easily get a level of dishonesty from the terrorist signaler to get the government to waste resources on phantom attacks. You can see this evolution going on between sleeper cells and the government.”
DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Re: Cuba
on: December 26, 2006, 10:39:49 AM
Pues, con la ausencia de contribuciones en espanol, sigo con lo que tengo en ingles:
Che, Cuba and Christmas
Target becomes a target of the Guevara myth.
BY MARY ANASTASIA O'GRADY
Monday, December 25, 2006 12:01 a.m. EST
Until last Thursday Christmas shoppers at Target department stores could purchase a 24-CD carrying case decorated with the image of Che Guevara. When I heard about it, I wondered why the retailer would want to promote the memory of a mass murderer. What's next, I asked, when I spoke with a representative of the company on Wednesday, Pol Pot pajamas?
Late Wednesday evening Target sent me this statement: "It is never our intent to offend any of our guests through the merchandise we carry. We have made the decision to remove this item from our shelves and we sincerely apologize for any discomfort this situation may have caused our guests."
That it took only a day for Target to make that admirable decision suggests that at least someone at the company knows who Guevara was and what Cuba is today thanks in part to him. The misstep, though, probably occurred because others at the company allowed Target to become a target itself of the Che myth.
Guevara is not just a dead white guy from a well-to-do family who terrorized a racially mixed nation and executed hundreds of innocents in the late 1950s and 1960s. He is also a symbol of the totalitarian regime that persists in Cuba, which still practices his ideology of intolerance, hatred and repression. It is not the torture and killing alone that make the tragedy. That only describes the methodology. Guevara's wider goal--to forcibly strip a population of its soul and spirit--is what is truly frightening and deplorable. Christians, who celebrate the birth of their Savior today, have particularly suffered under Guevara's dream of revolution, which has lasted since 1959.
The fear under which Cubans have lived for 48 years was fathered by the merciless Che Guevara. The unhappy Argentine Marxist met Fidel Castro in Mexico in 1955 and later became a rebel commander. "The Black Book of Communism," published in 1999 by Harvard University Press, notes that early in his career Guevara earned a "reputation for ruthlessness; a child in his guerrilla unit who had stolen a little food was immediately shot without trial." In his will, the book says, "this graduate of the school of terror praised the 'extremely useful hatred that turns men into effective, violent, merciless and cold killing machines.' "
Peruvian-born Alvaro Vargas Llosa penned his own book this year titled "The Che Guevara Myth." Mr. Vargas Llosa documents a twisted life, such as when Che shot a comrade and made the following entry in his diary: "I ended the problem with a .32 caliber pistol, in the right side of his brain. . . . His belongings were now mine." After that, Mr. Vargas Llosa says, Guevara shot "a peasant who expressed the desire to leave whenever the rebels moved on." Guevara also liked to simulate executions, as a form of torture. "At every stage of his adult life, his megalomania manifested itself in the predatory urge to take over other people's lives and property, and to abolish their free will."
Guevara was an architect of Cuba's forced labor camps, which by 1965 were transformed into concentration camps for dissidents, Catholics, Jehovah's Witnesses, Cubans of other religious sects, homosexuals and later people with AIDS,.
All independent thought that refused to worship the communist state was an affront to Guevara. Christians were an especially difficult lot. From the earliest days after Castro took power, Che sent hundreds of men to face firing squads at the Havana prison known as La Cabaña. His victims could be heard at dawn loudly crying "Long live Christ the King, down with communism," just before the rifle shots rang out.
Thousands of Cubans have perished in daring attempts to get off the island because they preferred the risks of flight to a life in which Christianity has been forbidden, children are the property of the state, thought is policed, and spying on your neighbor is one of the few ways to earn a living. During the Mariel boatlift in 1980, witnesses told of families arriving at the pier together only to be separated by Cuban guards who enjoyed watching their misery. Weeping mothers faced the point of a gun while their distraught sons and daughters were forced to board ships. This Christmas thousands of Cuban-Americans will remember their loved ones who didn't make it out or died trying.
Defenders of Guevara can't even claim that his cruelty brought about equality. Today state policy makes it a crime for the raggedly dressed, malnourished and mostly black Cuban people to visit the beaches, museums and amply stocked stores of their own country, while well-fed tourists in fashionable cruise-wear go where they like. This amounts to de facto apartheid.
Amazingly, hope is still alive in Cuba. One reason is because although Guevara was able to kill a lot of Christians, neither he nor his successors succeeded in wiping out Christianity. The struggling Christian community, which takes seriously the religious teaching to reject fear in the face of evil, is playing a key role in the island's dissident movement.
An icon of the Christian resistance is Oscar Elias Biscet, a black physician who is serving a 25-year sentence for his peaceful activism against the regime. He has been arrested more than 26 times since he began to express his dissent; he has been beaten, tortured and locked in tiny windowless cells for days on end. Hundreds of other prisoners of conscience are in jail, under atrocious conditions; many are also devout Christians.
The Christian faith has survived Che and Fidel and decades of brainwashing. It is battered but has not been defeated. Raul Castro fears it--which is why he takes Bibles away from his unbreakable prisoners. The moral of the story seems to be that even the all-powerful regime cannot stop Christmas from coming to Cuba.
Ms. O'Grady edits the Americas column, which appears in The Wall Street Journal Fridays.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Iraq
on: December 26, 2006, 10:35:21 AM
Give Sadr the Treatment
How to beat Iraq's Shiite extremists.
BY OMAR FADHIL
Tuesday, December 26, 2006 12:01 a.m. EST
BAGHDAD--Understanding the question is half of the answer: That's what we used to say back in school. Then when we became dentists and doctors, we changed that to "diagnosis is half the treatment," and it looks that's where we're standing right now.
Everyone now seems to agree that any plan to fix the situation in Iraq has to have a military component along with a political one. The latter, as I understood, is supposed to bring together or facilitate a set of compromises and mutual concessions among the political powers in Iraq in order to achieve an acceptable level of stability and allow for sustained progress.
But why has it been that difficult to advance this political path despite all the time and effort spent in this direction?
There's a problem we should address and do something about if we want a political solution to see the light, and that is that some of the key political players in Iraq who are interested in finding a solution cannot move in that direction because they have their hands tied by former deals or affiliations with current or former extremist allies of the same sect as theirs, and those extremists have taken the entire political process in Iraq hostage.
What I'm trying to say here is that the military component we need at this particular stage should be different from the routine military operations that U.S. and Iraqi military had been conducting so far.
The new military component should be designed to create a friendly climate where politicians can strike deals and reach compromise without coercion from radical extremists.
And so if more boots are to be added on the ground then the mission will have to include freeing politicians and parties such as Nouri al-Maliki and Tariq al-Hashimi (of the Dawa and the Islamic party respectively) from the ropes that bind them to Muqtada al-Sadr and harmful elements in the Sunni political scene.
Right now is a good time, perhaps the best time we have, to launch this effort since there's already a large front forming from the parties that are willing to talk against the extremists' camp.
If the way forward requires maintaining the basic course of the political process and empowering (and cleaning) the current government and its head then the only way to do this is to relieve Mr. Maliki, his party and the rest of the Shia alliance from the dominance and influence of Sadr, and there are two ways to accomplish this: either persuade Mr. Maliki and his team and promise them great support and protection from Sadr's reach, or deal a lethal blow to Sadr and his militia in order to render him unable to inflict harm on Mr. Maliki and other members of the United Iraqi Alliance.
Now really, it shouldn't be that difficult to figure out that the first way isn't working out right, what's needed now is to take the decision to try the second way and deal with the biggest threat to stability in Iraq in the way we should.
If claims that the militia is fragmented and not entirely under Sadr's control are true (and it's actually hard to believe that one man can control a militia of dozens of thousands spread over 11 provinces) then this must be an advantage for us, because if that's the case there would be little reason to believe those renegade units would fight for Sadr. Many have reached financial independence from the center leadership, and let's not forget that money and fear are the main weapons militia leaders use to expand their power and maintain control over the militia members and the population.
The members were recruited by either fear or persuasion, and these bonds that still keep some units highly loyal will fall apart once the head is taken. Ideological fighters constitute a minority in my opinion and those, along with presumed Iranian and Hezbollah fighters who are assisting Sadr will represent the bulk of the remaining actual force that U.S. and Iraqi troops would have to fight and eliminate. Those are highly organized, but they are not invincible.
Together we succeeded in reducing the threat posed by al Qaeda when it was identified as the biggest threat to Iraq's stability and security. Now together we can do the same with Sadr and other thugs. We understand the question, and we have a diagnosis that seems sound; it's time to proceed with the treatment.
Mr. Fadhil, along with his brother Mohammed, runs Iraq the Model, a blog based in Baghdad.
IRAQ: An Iraqi appeals court confirmed the death sentence for former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, Iraqi National Security Adviser Mouwafak al-Rubaie said. According to Iraqi law, Hussein must be executed within 30 days.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Horn of Africa (Somali, Ehtiopia and)
on: December 26, 2006, 10:20:38 AM
Geopolitical Diary: Open Warfare in Somalia
The tensions in Somalia between the forces of the Supreme Islamic Courts Council (SICC) and the interim government and its Ethiopian backers broke into open warfare as Ethiopian forces launched airstrikes against SICC positions in several locations on Sunday and Monday and began moving ground forces. The attacks came a month after Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi called Somalia's Islamists a clear and present danger during an address to parliament. In the intervening weeks, both sides have maneuvered for better position before the end of the rainy season.
The outbreak of fighting was far from unexpected. As we noted in October, both sides began preparing for a showdown after it became clear there was no room for a negotiated settlement between the SICC and the interim government -- not as long as Ethiopia determined the SICC was a threat to its own security. By November, the battle lines were being drawn as the SICC made a final push to claim territory while significant Ethiopian reinforcements were delayed by the flooding due to the annual Deyr rains.
With the rains over and the ground drying up, the inevitable Ethiopian strike has now come. In the initial push, it appears the SICC front lines are starting to falter as Ethiopia brings better-trained and better-equipped military forces to bear. SICC forces reportedly have abandoned the central city of Beledweyne (initially taken by SICC forces in June) after fierce ground fighting with Ethiopian forces; Somalian transitional government forces, backed by Ethiopian equipment and fighters, have pushed back SICC forces in Idaale, Jawil and Bandiiradley.
But the initial push is not necessarily a reflection of the conflict to come. The SICC has not gained territory as much by fighting as by making arrangements with local warlords and village leaders, and by capitalizing on popular dissatisfaction with other warlords and the general lack of security and stability. The SICC forces are not structured for conventional military-to-military warfare; they lack heavy equipment, organization and training. However, they are structured for insurgency and guerrilla warfare -- and if Ethiopia is unwilling or unable to make the commitment of forces and time to ensure the security and stability in Somalia, the interim government certainly is in no position to make the same guarantees.
What is shaping up is a battle in which the Ethiopians push the buffer back farther from their border, and carry out long-range strikes on Mogadishu in an effort to stem the flow of foreign weapons and fighters to the SICC as well as return the country's areas of control to their pre-June position. On the SICC side, there is now an open call for foreign fighters, both from Ethiopian rival Eritrea and from foreign jihadist fighters, something the SICC has flirted with, but will now seek without concern for international considerations. Earlier moves by the SICC to reshape itself as a political force with minimal religious goals are no longer valid, and the SICC is openly seeking foreign Islamist assistance.
This has the potential to create a shift in the dynamic of the international Islamist militancy. While Iraq has been the focal point of international recruiting and volunteering for Islamists seeking a place to fight for their cause, Somalia is shaping up as a new center for international fighters. This could begin to reduce the flow of fighters into Iraq and Afghanistan. But it also creates a location where Western forces are extremely unlikely to intervene, unlike the steady presence of U.S., NATO and allied forces in Afghanistan and Iraq.
With the interim government unable to fully control Somalia even with the assistance of Ethiopian forces, Somalia becomes a prime area for al Qaeda and other Islamist forces to train, rest and recruit -- something that neither Afghanistan nor Iraq currently provide beyond the realm of tactical battlefield training. This makes the conflict in Somalia extremely important for Washington, but history and current priorities make active involvement highly unlikely. Thus, Washington will offer increasing levels of support to the Ethiopian forces and attempt to revive the warlords in Somalia.
There is one more immediate concern for the United States. The conflict in Somalia is serving as a proxy war for Ethiopia and Eritrea. As it continues, direct fighting between Addis Ababa and Asmara could break out. And this raises security concerns for U.S. operations in the Horn of Africa, which are based out of Djibouti, squeezed between Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia.
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: MMA
on: December 25, 2006, 01:50:40 PM
"Warrior Nation" MMA series on MSNBC premieres January 9th
Press Release: Dec 20, 2006
MSNBC's "Warrior Nation," takes viewers inside the world of MMA, mixed
martial arts, beginning January 9th at 10 p.m. ET. MMA, one of the
fastest-growing sports in the nation, combines various fighting styles
including wrestling, boxing, Tai Kwon Do, Karate and submission
grappling. It's a "no-holds-barred" combat sport that has become a
successful enterprise throughout the world and has been called "the
next NASCAR." Each episode opens the door to the lives of fighters and
the struggles that they endure in this popular sport. Veteran fighters,
such as Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz, fans favorites, including Urijah
Faber, as well as up-and-coming fighters, are portrayed. The four-part
series airs each week on consecutive Tuesdays, beginning January 9th at
10 p.m. ET. "Warrior Nation" is the first of two documentary series
produced by 29 Stories LLC for MSNBC.
"'Warrior Nation' is not just about fighting," says Long-Form
Programming Vice President Michael Rubin, "it's about a quickly growing
American phenomenon; the millions of fans and tens of thousands of
young athletes who gravitate to this new sport, hoping to springboard
from obscurity to celebrity, using the most basic of tools--their
bodies and fists."
Episode One, which airs January 9th at 10 and 11 p.m. ET, follows
Urijah Faber and Enoch Wilson. 27-year-old Faber is the number one MMA
fighter in his weight class in the nation and one of the best in the
world. A college graduate, he fights and trains full-time, has 14
career wins and over $100,000 in prize money. Wilson, a 26-year-old
high school drop-out and single dad with 8 career wins, works at a
plastics factory to support his training and his 14-month-old daughter.
The Following Tuesday evening, January 16th, in episode two we meet
Erin Toughill. At 29-years-old, she is one of the top women fighters in
the world. Toughill's husband, Clark Bevans, a 32-year-old gym owner,
also participates in MMA fighting. Together, they hope to become the
first couple in the world to fight on the same night - and win.
Episode Three, airing January 23rd, unites two rivals for their second
head-to-head fight. Gina Carrano and Elaina Maxwell meet at Strikeforce
in San Jose, California. Carrano, the underdog, plans on repeating her
previous win over Maxwell, but Maxwell, who has been training under
Cung Le, the World Kickboxing Champion, expects to even the score.
Nonetheless, both women won't take this fight lying down.
Airing January 30th, episode four dives deep into the organization of
the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). The episode features two
up-and-coming fighters, Steve Byrnes and Logan Clark, who have recently
earned their first shot at fighting, as well as two celebrity veterans
of the UFC, Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz. UFC President Dana White also
explains his struggles and plans to Make MMA legal in all 50 states.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Middle East War
on: December 24, 2006, 11:05:28 AM
By SIMON HENDERSON
December 16, 2006
Prince Turki al-Faisal, the Saudi ambassador to the U.S., has resigned. The prince reportedly flew out of Washington after informing Condoleezza Rice, and his own staff, that he was leaving, just 15 months after arriving. The Saudi Embassy told the Associated Press that he was "going home to spend more time with his family." Such an excuse may satisfy the immediate requirements of news-agency reporting, but is almost certainly incomplete, and worryingly so. Prince Turki's resignation provides yet another reminder that one of America's most important relationships is laced with surprise and mystery.
At the end of August 2001, the prince resigned as chief of the General Intelligence Directorate, the Saudi CIA, supposedly for apparently similar personal reasons. At the time the CIA and State Department were clueless as to what it meant. The eventual wisdom was that Prince Turki's directorate had become, in the later words of Pulitzer-winner Steve Coll, "a financial black hole." But Prince Turki had also held Saudi Arabia's "Afghan file," making him the principal interlocutor with the Taliban and Osama bin Laden. And 10 days later, the 9/11 attacks on the U.S. took place. Bureaucratic Washington, then, will now be intensely interested in finding out exactly why Prince Turki has suddenly decided to leave this time.
Elements of what might be the relevant context are already out in the public domain. Two weeks ago, Nawaf Obaid, a young Saudi who has worked as adviser for Prince Turki both in Washington and in his previous assignment as ambassador in London, authored an op-ed in the Washington Post. While claiming his status as adviser but also saying the opinions were his own, Mr. Obaid wrote that the kingdom was considering "massive . . . intervention [in Iraq] to stop Iranian-backed Shiite militias from butchering Iraqi Sunnis." Options included "funding, arms and logistical support," which to some sounded awfully like the support the Saudis, under Prince Turki, clandestinely gave pre-9/11 to jihadist fighters in Afghanistan, Chechnya and Bosnia.
The article prompted a formal announcement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency calling Mr. Obaid's reportage "absolutely not true." It went on: "It also does not represent in any way the kingdom's policy and stand to support security, unity and stability of Iraq with all its sects and doctrines." Two days later, Prince Turki told Wolf Blitzer on CNN: "We [have] terminated our consultancy work with [Mr. Obaid]."
Less than a week before Mr. Obaid's article, Dick Cheney had made an extraordinary Thanksgiving weekend flight to Riyadh for a two-hour meeting with King Abdullah and Crown Prince Sultan. The spin was that Washington wanted more Saudi help in ensuring stability in Iraq -- although it would seem that ambassadors or foreign ministers are more suited for delivering messages than are vice presidents.
These pieces still don't quite fit, but they provide reason to believe that there's more to the story. Now, the spin on Prince Turki's return home is that he is about to replace his elder brother, Saud, who is afflicted by a bad back and Parkinson's disease, as foreign minister. Possible, but probably too simplistic. Prince Turki is bright and able, though some who know him say he never fully recovered from a bad case of carbon-monoxide poisoning he suffered when staying in a camper van on a desert trip in the mid-1980s.
There has been an almost mystical quality to much of the reporting about Prince Turki since he arrived in Washington. Much is made of his education at Princeton and Georgetown. Prince Turki's version, in a speech at Princeton on Dec. 7, was more candid: "[This was] where I briefly spent some of my misspent youth." Indeed, returning to the kingdom in some disgrace, he reportedly spent a year avoiding his father, the then-king, Faisal, before being sent to Georgetown. The Saudi ambassador at the time, instructed to make sure Prince Turki behaved, had little alternative but to take him in as a house guest.
Official U.S. analysis of the Saudi kingdom seems torn between viewing it as a kind of Camelot, with its (Islamic) chivalry, or as Disneyland -- military personnel sometimes refer to it as "the magic kingdom." In reality, the Saudi royal family needs to burnish its Islamic credentials to maintain legitimacy and quiet domestic discontent. Post-9/11, past compromises with Islamic radicals have come back to haunt the royalty, in addition to serving as an irritant in relations with the U.S.
An additional dimension derives from the 2003 invasion of Iraq: A huge Shia-dominated neighbor has emerged on its northern border. Saudis see Shias as threatening their security and leadership of Islam, and perceive them to be Iranian surrogates. In response, Saudi Arabia has been reaching out to Sunni states like Egypt and Jordan. Dramatically, even contacts with Israel have not been ruled out. One report suggests that it was not Saudi national security advisor Prince Bandar who had a clandestine autumn meeting in Amman with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, but Prince Turki. The logic: As intelligence chief, he had established a back-channel relationship with the Mossad.
Despite the continuing high oil prices, for once U.S. difficulties with Saudi Arabia do not appear to be dominated by immediate energy concerns. The main challenge appears to be to steer Riyadh between a near holy confrontation with Shia Iran and an equally destabilizing alliance with radical Sunnis. As an experienced and well-liked envoy, Prince Turki will be hard to replace.
One early danger is that the kingdom is close to acquiring nuclear weapons rather than continuing to rely on the longstanding security guarantees and understanding of successive administrations in Washington. Last month a Saudi official privately warned the kingdom would not tolerate a nuclear-armed Iran. Pakistan (for bombs) and perhaps North Korea (for rockets) are potential allies. There are already credible reports of facilities in the desert that the Saudis claim are oil-related, although there are no pipelines in sight. Also, North Korean personnel have been spotted at military facilities.
Iraq, Iran, nuclear weapons, oil. Washington desperately needs a new, reliable Saudi interlocutor.
Mr. Henderson is the Baker Fellow and director of the Gulf and Energy Policy Program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Islam the religion
on: December 24, 2006, 12:27:06 AM
Happy Hajj! You’re Not Invited!
By Patrick Poole
FrontPageMagazine.com | December 22, 2006
As Jews began their Hanukkah celebrations this week, commemorating the recovery of the Holy Land and the Temple from foreign invaders by Judas Maccabeus, and more than a billion Christians prepare for one of the holiest days of the church year, where the doors of Christian churches will be thrown open to anyone willing to hear the good news of Christ’s coming to earth as a human to redeem humanity, millions of Muslims are preparing for their own spiritual journey next week in the annual trek to Mecca to perform the Hajj.
But quite unlike the Jewish and Christian religious celebrations of Hanukkah and Christmas, if you are a non-Muslim, don’t plan on investigating the mysteries of Islam by joining your Muslim friends on their trip to Saudi Arabia for the Hajj – you’re not invited.
Perhaps no better contrast between Judaism, Christianity and Islam exists than the treatment of non-believers on the respective holy days of each religion. I recall fondly the many times that I have participated in the Passover seder at the invitation of Jewish friends and have each time been awed at the profound meaning attached to every element of the seder which is designed to illustrate the fascinating historical narrative of the Jewish people over the millennia that is the foundation of both the Christian and Islamic faiths.
I also remember the occasion several years ago when a Chinese friend of mine who was finishing his PhD at Ohio State joined my family and me for our Christmas Eve celebrations. After joining us for worship, he told us with tears in his eyes how that was the first time that he had ever heard the gospel message that Jesus Christ had come into the world to save sinners – a message that had been branded as counter-revolutionary and been outlawed in his own country. Needless to say, we were delighted when he joined us again the following year for Christmas Eve, where he was anxious to tell anyone at church who would listen how he had embraced the free offer of the gospel and become a Christian the previous year. Having returned home to China, my friend is now a leader in the underground Church there.
But if I wanted to join my Muslim friends next week on the Hajj, I would have to bear in mind that my reception would not be as friendly. I would be forbidden to bring my Bible or any Christian literature with me on my trip to Saudi Arabia, and be required to remove anything identifiably Christian from my person (crosses, etc.). There are no Christian churches allowed in the “Land of the Two Mosques”, so there would be no opportunity for me to join with fellow Christians there in our weekly celebration of the Lord’s Day, and I would constantly be under watch by the Wahhabi Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice police to ensure that I didn’t share my Christian faith with anyone else.
Even having arrived in Saudi Arabia and complying with the absolute ban of any expression of my faith, as I approached the holy city of Mecca, I would be denied entry. Despite all of the supposed Quranic endorsements of the “People of the Book” (i.e. Jews and Christians), as a kafir, my presence is not welcome at the Hajj. We should remember that the cardinal offense that prompted Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda lackeys to declare war on the “Crusaders and Zionists” in 1996 was the presence of American troops in the Arabian Peninsula, though nowhere near the sacred cities of Mecca or Medina.
For Muslims in the West, they have as much freedom as any other to practice their faith openly and freely without any fear of being molested. The number of mosques popping up all over America is a testament to that freedom.
Such is not the case for Jews and Christians in Islamic lands, however, where people of those faiths are subject to countless acts of intimidation and violence on a daily basis. Even in their synagogues and sanctuaries, believers are not immune from attack. In fact, many are prevented from approaching their own holy sites. In the Holy Land, Muslims occupy the Temple Mount – the historic location of the ancient Jewish Temple – and Jewish worshippers are subject to regular assaults by stone-throwing Muslim crowds at the nearby Wailing Wall and other sacred sites. And it was the mere presence of a Jew – Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon – near the Temple Mount in September 2000 that sparked the second intifada that has claimed the lives of hundreds of Jews, Christians and Muslims in recent years. Jews have also been forbidden from visiting the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron – Judaism’s second-most holy site – since it was converted to a mosque in 1266.
And earlier this month Turkish authorities feared that Pope Benedict might take the opportunity while touring the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul – one of the greatest churches in the world that was seized by Muslims after 1,000 years of constant use by Christians – that he might actually try to pray there.
It isn’t just the Hagia Sophia that has suffered the inglorious fate of being converted from its original use as a Christian church to be taken over by invading Islamic forces and made into a mosque. In her book, The Decline of Eastern Christianity under Islam. From Jihad to Dhimmitude, Bat Ye’or chronicles how innumerable Christian and Jewish holy sites, such as the Church of St. John in Damascus that was demolished by the Islamic Caliph Abd al-Malik in 705 and had the Umayyad Mosque built over it, were taken over for the exclusive use for Islamic worship during the constant waves of Islamic conquest. It is worth noting that even the Kabaa, the central location of worship in Mecca, was seized by Mohammad from non-Muslims.
Getting back to my original point – one of the constant complaints of Muslim apologists is that Westerners just don’t understand Islam. Fair enough; but is that entirely the fault of non-Muslims who are shut out of Islam’s most important rituals? And might it be the case that those of us, Christians and Jews alike, who are angered at the treatment of our brethren in Islamic lands do so not because of our alleged “Islamophobia”, but rather on the basis of real grievances?
As former President Jimmy Carter travels the country promoting his book identifying Israel as an apartheid state because they refuse to capitulate to Palestinian terrorism, perhaps he might take some time and try to join his Wahhabi patrons during the Hajj this year and see what religious apartheid is really all about. While believers and non-believers alike will enjoy the Hanukkah and Christmas holidays, the invitation for Jews and Christians to join their Muslim friends and neighbors for the Hajj this year didn’t get lost in the holiday mail. It was never sent.
DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Re: Mexico
on: December 23, 2006, 04:20:28 PM
Mexico: The Vital Role of 'Gatekeepers' in the Smuggling Business
In mid-2005, former Mexican President Vicente Fox sent some 1,500 soldiers and federal police to the U.S.-Mexican border city of Nuevo Laredo in an effort to bring escalating drug-related violence under control. The effort failed, and by May 2006 the homicide rate had more than doubled compared with the same five-month period a year earlier. One possible reason for the violence in Nuevo Laredo is the continuing war between two rival cartels over whose "gatekeeper" will control the transhipment of drugs and other contraband through the city on their way north into the United States.
Until now, little has been revealed about the all-important role of gatekeepers in the flow of narcotics from Mexico into the United States, and the flow of money back into the hands of Mexico's drug lords. Sources familiar with this aspect of the drug trade, however, say the gatekeeper is one of the highest and most powerful people in a cartel's hierarchy, perhaps second only to the kingpin.
In drug-trade lingo, the "gatekeeper" controls the "plaza," the transhipment point off of one of the main highways on the Mexican side of the border where drugs and other contraband are channeled. In Spanish, the word "plaza" means a town square, though it also can mean a military stronghold or position. In this case, it means a cartel stronghold. A gatekeeper oversees the plaza, making sure each operation runs smoothly and that the plaza bosses are collecting "taxes" on any contraband that passes through. The going rate on a kilo of cocaine is approximately $500, while the tax on $1 million in cash heading south is about $10,000.
Gatekeepers also ensure that fees are collected on the movement of stolen cargo and illegal immigrants -- including any militants who might be seeking to enter the United States through Mexico. Regardless of a person's country of origin, money buys access into the United States through these plazas, though the fees charged for smuggling Middle Eastern and South Asian males into the United States is more than for Mexicans or Central Americans. The gatekeepers' primary concern is ensuring that appropriate fees are collected and sent to cartel coffers -- and they operate in whatever manner best suits a given circumstance: intimidation, extortion or violence. Of course, one of their main jobs is to ensure that corrupt Mexican police and military personnel are paid off so plaza operations can proceed undisturbed.
The main plazas in Mexico along the Texas border are in Matamoros, south of Brownsville; Reynosa, across the border from McAllen; Nuevo Laredo, across from Laredo; and Juarez, south of El Paso. These locations provide easy access to the U.S. interstate highway system, which the cartels use to deliver their drugs to the markets they control in major U.S. cities. Plazas also are operated in Piedras Negras opposite Eagle Pass and in Ojinaga opposite Presidio.
The plaza between Matamoros and Brownsville is controlled by Ezequiel Cardenas Guillen, or "Tony Tormenta," the brother of Gulf cartel leader Osiel Cardenas Guillen, who reportedly is running his cartel from a Mexican prison. Other gatekeepers operating in the area are Juan Gabriel Montes-Senano and Alfonso Lam-Lui.
Control of the Reynosa-McAllen plaza, which belongs to the Gulf cartel, reportedly is in flux. There are two prominent commanders from Los Zetas in the area: Gregorio "El Goyo" Sauceda-Gamboa and Jaime "El Humme" Gonzalez Duran. Some reports suggest that El Goyo recently was removed from his position as gatekeeper on the orders of Gulf chief Guillen, possibly because he was losing effectiveness due to alcoholism, drug addiction and cancer complications. El Humme, believed to be second-in-command of Los Zetas, might have been brought in to take over.
Edgar Valdez Villareal "La Barbie" and Miguel Trevino Morales operate in the contested plaza of Nuevo Laredo. La Barbie is a highly placed leader in the Sinaloa federation of cartels and chief of its enforcement arm, Los Pelones -- the Sinaloa equivalent of Los Zetas. He previously operated out of Acapulco, where he reportedly oversaw the capture, videotaped torture and execution of a team of Zeta operatives. Another gatekeeper in this area is Miguel Trevino Morales, who is believed to be affiliated with the rival Gulf cartel. The war between the two cartels over this important plaza is one of the reasons for the skyrocketing violence in the city.
Martin Romo-Lopez controls the plaza in Piedras Negras, while Sergio Abranda, Crispin Borinda-Cardenas and Benjamin Cuchtas-Valisrano operate in the plaza in Ojinaga.
The area around Juarez is firmly under Sinaloa federation control, and more cartel members appear to be moving into the area. The plaza in Juarez reportedly is controlled by the Escajeda family, through cousins Oscar Alonso Candelaria Escajeda and Jose Rodolfo Escajeda. Other alleged smugglers operating in the Juarez area are Jose Luis Portillo, Gonzalo Garcia and Pedro Sanchez. These men and the Escajeda cousins reportedly were associated with the Juarez cartel, which has been heavily damaged by the inter-cartel wars and the arrests of leaders. Many of the cartel members have since aligned themselves with the Sinaloa federation.
Because some provisions of the U.S. Patriot Act have made wiring money out of the United States more complicated than before -- forcing the cartels to physically transfer money between operatives along the border -- the gatekeepers also must ensure that these operations run smoothly. To facilitate this, the gatekeepers also operate the cartels' money-laundering operations, using small businesses along the border. U.S. law enforcement sources say there has been a fivefold increase in bulk currency seizures along the border in 2006 alone.
Although there are multiple smuggling routes through Mexico for drugs and other contraband, the plazas are the cartels' critical chokepoints. Therefore, efforts to shut down the flow of drugs or illegal immigrants cannot be effective until the gatekeepers are dealt with effectively. The gatekeepers' ability to heavily influence Mexican law enforcement and government officials through cash payouts and intimidation, however, suggests this will be no easy feat.
Even if Mexican law enforcement officers were to begin focusing their efforts on the gatekeepers, any success would be short-lived unless a sweeping, nationwide effort were made. When Fox sent the Mexican army into Nuevo Laredo in 2005, the impact on the cartels was minimal. A large, overwhelming law enforcement effort on both sides of the entire border would be required to shut down the plazas and bring down the gatekeepers, something Mexico is ill-equipped to do.
The Mexican government's recent efforts against the cartels in Michoacan state could prove to be effective against local organizations in the short term, but as long as the plazas are controlled by powerful gatekeepers, and the other routes through Mexico to the U.S. border are not impeded, the narcotics and drug money will continue to flow north and south.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Afghanistan-Pakistan
on: December 23, 2006, 02:19:28 PM
U.S.: TOP BIN LADEN ASSOCIATE KILLED: MULLAH AKHTAR MOHAMMAD OSAMI: U.S. FORCES SAY THEY HAVE SEVERAL SOURCES SAYING HE WAS KILLED. A top Taliban military commander described as a close associate of Osama bin Laden and Taliban leader Mullah Omar was killed in an airstrike this week close to the border with Pakistan, the U.S. military said Saturday.Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Osmani was killed Tuesday by a U.S. airstrike while traveling by vehicle in a deserted area in the southern province of Helmand, the U.S. military said. "We have various sources saying he was in fact killed in the attack," coalition spokesman Col. Tom Collins told CNN in an exclusive interview Saturday.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Economics
on: December 23, 2006, 04:06:43 AM
Even though I like the general logic of the piece, I do find myself wondering if the analysis is blurred a bit when it does not distinguish foreign capital inflows to buy US bonds (i.e. finance govt. debt) and foreign capital investment.
As the existence of a nearby thread dedicated to the very subject indicates, I also wonder about WTF is going on with the dollar.
On a purchasing power parity basis, the dollar is seriously UNDERvalued in Europe. For an American to travel in Europe now is very expensive. What is that about? Why is the dollar threatening to break even further to to new lows viz the Euro? Is there NO relation between the balance of trade/capital inflows and the exchange rate of the dollar?