Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Help our troops/our cause:
on: March 09, 2007, 08:39:40 AM
Today's NY Times
GTON, March 8 — Staff Sgt. Gregory L. Wilson, from the Texas National Guard, waited nearly two years for his veterans’ disability check after he was injured in Iraq. If he had been an active-duty soldier, he would have gotten more help in cutting through the red tape.
Allen Curry of Chicago has fallen behind on his mortgage while waiting nearly two years for his disability check. If he had filed his claim in a state deploying fewer troops than Illinois, Mr. Curry, who was injured by a bomb blast when he was a staff sergeant in the Army Reserve in Iraq, would most likely have been paid sooner and gotten more in benefits.
Veterans face serious inequities in compensation for disabilities depending on where they live and whether they were on active duty or were members of the National Guard or the Reserve, an analysis by The New York Times has found.
Those factors determine whether some soldiers wait nearly twice as long to get benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs as others, and collect less money, according to agency figures.
“The V.A. is supposed to provide uniform and fair treatment to all,” said Steve Robinson, the director of veteran affairs for Veterans for America. “Instead, the places and services giving the most are getting the least.”
The agency said it was trying to ease the backlog and address disparities by hiring more claims workers, authorizing more overtime and adding claims development centers.
The problems partly stem from the agency’s inability to prepare for predictable surges in demand from certain states or certain categories of service members, say advocates and former department officials. Numerous government reports have highlighted the agency’s backlog of disability claims and called for improvements in shifting resources.
“It’s Actuary Science 101,” said Paul Sullivan, who until last March monitored data on returning veterans for the V.A. “When 5,000 new troops get deployed from California, you can logically expect a percent of them will show up at the V.A. in California in a year with predictable types of problems.”
“It makes no sense to wait until the troop is already back home to start preparing for them,” Mr. Sullivan said. “But that’s what the V.A. does.”
Veterans’ advocates say the types of bureaucratic obstacles recently disclosed at Walter Reed Army Medical Center are eclipsed by those at the Veterans Affairs division that is supposed to pay soldiers for service-related ills. The influx of veterans from the Iraq war has nearly overwhelmed an agency already struggling to meet the health care, disability payment and pension needs of more than three million veterans.
Stephen Meskin, who retired last year as the V.A.’s chief actuary, said he had repeatedly urged agency managers to track data so they could better meet the needs of former soldiers. “Where are the new vets showing up?” Mr. Meskin said he kept asking. “They just shrugged.”
Agency officials say they have begun an aggressive oversight effort to determine if all disability claims are being properly processed and contracted for a study that will examine state-by-state differences in average disability compensation payments.
“V.A.’s focus is to assure consistent application of the regulations governing V.A. disability determinations in all states,” the department said in a written statement.
Many new veterans say they are often left waiting for months or years, wondering if they will be taken care of.
Unable to work because of post-traumatic stress disorder and back injuries from a bomb blast in Iraq in 2004, Specialist James Webb of the Army ran out of savings while waiting 11 months for his claim. In the fall of 2005, Mr. Webb said, he began living on the streets in Decatur, Ga., a state that has the 10th-largest backlog of claims in the country.
“I should have just gone home to be with family instead of trying to do it on my own,” said Mr. Webb, who received a Bronze Star for his service in Iraq. “But with the post-traumatic stress disorder, I just didn’t want any relationships.”
After waiting 11 months, he began receiving his $869 monthly disability check and he moved into a house in Newnan, Ga. About three weeks ago, Mr. Webb moved back home to live with his parents in Kingsport, Tenn.
The backlogs are worst in some states sending the most troops, and discrepancies exist in pay levels.
Illinois, which has deployed the sixth-highest number of soldiers of any state, has the second-largest backlog. The average disability payment for Illinois veterans — $7,803 a year — is among the lowest in the nation, according to 2005 V.A. data.
In Pennsylvania, which has sent the fourth-highest number of troops, the claims office in Pittsburgh is tied for second for longest backlogs, where 4 out of 10 claims have been pending for more than six months. Veterans from this state on average receive relatively low payments, $8,268 per year, according to 2005 V.A. data. Comparable 2006 data were not available.
The agency’s inspector general in 2005 examined geographic variations in how much veterans are paid for disabilities, finding that demographic factors, like the average age of each state’s veteran population, played roles. But the report also pointed to the subjective way that claims processors in each state determined level of disability.
Staffing levels at the veterans agency vary widely and have not kept pace with the increased demand. The current inventory of disability claims rose to 378,296 by the end of the 2006 fiscal year. The claims from returning war veterans plus those from previous periods increased by 39 percent from 2000 to 2006. During the same period, the staff for handling claims has remained relatively flat, a problem the department highlighted in its 2008 proposed budget. The department expects to receive about 800,000 new claims in 2007 and 2008 each.
“It’s clear to everyone here that the system over all is struggling and some veterans are waiting far too long for decisions,” Senator Larry E. Craig, Republican of Idaho, said Wednesday at a hearing before the Senate veterans affairs committee.
The growing strains on the veterans agency have affected some soldiers more than others.
While the Reserve and National Guard have sent a disproportionate number of soldiers to the war, the average annual disability payment for those troops is $3,603, based on 2006 V.A. data for unmarried veterans with no dependents. Active-duty soldiers on average receive $4,962.
Though the V.A. acknowledged that there were discrepancies, officials also said they believed that a significant factor might be length of service. Active-duty soldiers generally serve longer, and therefore more suffer from chronic diseases or disabilities that develop over time. Many who served in the Guard think they are losing the battle against the bureaucracy.
“We take a harder toll,” said Mr. Wilson, the Texan, referring to the fate of reservists and Guard troops compared with active duty soldiers.
He said that last month he received his disability check for his back injuries but only after a 21-month wait and the intervention of a congressman and a colonel.
When active-duty soldiers near discharge, they have access to far more programs offering assistance with benefits than do reserve and National Guard soldiers, according to veterans’ advocates.
“The active-duty guys, they get those resources,” Mr. Wilson said. “We don’t.”
He said that while active-duty soldiers often received medical disability evaluations in about 30 days, many reservists he knew waited two years or more to get an initial appointment. Active-duty personnel also routinely received legal advice about appeals and other issues from military lawyers, while reservists had to request those hearings, he said.
For years, the V.A.’s inspector general, the Government Accountability Office, members of Congress and veterans’ advocates have pointed out the need to improve how the V.A. tracks data on soldiers as they are deployed and when they are injured. That would help prepare for their future needs and ease delays in processing health and benefit claims.
In 2004, a system was designed to track soldiers better, prepare for surges in demand and avoid backlogs. But the system was shelved by program officials under Secretary Jim Nicholson for financial and logistical reasons, V.A. officials said Thursday at a hearing before the House Veterans Affairs Committee.
The V.A., which has said it has an alternate tracking system nearly operational, depends on paper files and lacks the ability to download Department of Defense records into its computers.
President Bush has appointed a commission to investigate problems at military and veterans hospitals.
For Mr. Curry, the reservist from Chicago who has fallen behind on his mortgage payments, his previous life as a $60,000-a-year postal worker is a fading memory. “It’s just disheartening,” he said. “You feel like giving up sometimes.”
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Richard G. Jones contributed reporting from Trenton, Bob Driehaus from Cincinnati, and Sean D. Hamill from Pittsburgh.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Iraq
on: March 09, 2007, 08:28:41 AM
1212 GMT -- IRAQ -- U.S. forces in Iraq captured 16 suspected al Qaeda militants who allegedly were responsible for numerous suicide bombings, kidnappings and beheadings, the U.S. military said March 9. Six insurgents, including an al Qaeda leader known as "the Butcher" because of his involvement in beheadings, were captured and one was killed in an early morning raid in the northern city of Mosul. Two more were captured in Al Fallujah and eight were apprehended near Karmah.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Afghanistan-Pakistan
on: March 08, 2007, 03:03:10 PM
AFGHANISTAN: Fugitive Afghan militant leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar said his forces have stopped cooperating with the Taliban, and suggested that he is open to talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Hekmatyar told The Associated Press in a video response to questions that his group contacted Taliban leaders in 2003 and agreed to wage a joint holy war against U.S. troops. He did not say when the split occurred, but that "certain elements among the Taliban rejected the idea of a joint struggle against the aggressor." Hekmatyar said his forces are now mounting only restricted operations, partly because of a lack of resources.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Nuclear War?
on: March 08, 2007, 03:01:28 PM
That seems to be a rather broad brush that would get quite a few people who really had nothing to do with it, not to mention contaminating a goodly portion of the planet on which we live for quite a long time and generally greatly irritating the neighbors downwind of the mushroom cloud.
Any chance of your narrowing it down a tad?
Or is the problem precisely that we wouldn't know who did it or where they could be found? Which then reduces us to "Kill 'em all and let God sort it out"? Is this what our strategy should be? How do you think this would play with the American people? Anyone who then saw an American abroad?
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: WW3
on: March 08, 2007, 02:49:34 PM
By RALPH PETERS
March 8, 2007 -- IMAGINE the reaction if Western agents slaughtered a hundred Sunni pilgrims on their way to Mecca. The outrage would spark incendiary rhetoric, riots and revenge killings from Peshawar to Paris.
But when Sunni suicide bombers murdered 118 Shia pilgrims (and wounded almost 200 more) on Tuesday, Sunnis around the globe looked away: Shias only count as Muslims when America can be blamed for their suffering.
Many of those Shia victims of religious totalitarianism were traveling on foot to Karbala to honor Mohammed's grandson Hussein - who was butchered by the founders of Sunni Islam, to whom power was worth more than the Prophet's family.
The hatred goes deep.
The Sunni Arab campaign against Shias isn't just a struggle for political advantage: It reflects an impulse to genocide. And it makes a grim joke of claims of Muslim unity.
The Tuesday atrocities, followed by smaller-scale attacks on more pilgrims yesterday, were meant to be as outrageous as possible. They not only underscored the hatred Sunni extremists feel toward all Shias, but had the immediate goal of provoking Muqtada al-Sadr's Shia militia to retaliate.
The Sunni insurgents and their foreign-terrorist allies are worried. The recent effort by American and Iraqi forces to pacify Baghdad has shown early signs of success. Wary of tangling with our troops again, Sadr's Mahdi Army has been laying low, while the Sunni extremists have taken heavy losses.
The Sunnis want the Shias back in the fight.
Why? Because they want to disrupt the Baghdad security plan. Because they want to deepen the reawakened hatred between Iraq's religious communities. And because they yearn for a regional conflict that would "put Shias back in their place."
So they slaughtered more than a hundred pilgrims - men, women and children; young and old - in Allah's name.
Where was the outcry?
Human-rights groups were too busy applauding European requests for the extradition of CIA operatives (the real enemies of Western civilization, of course). Since this butchery wasn't the fault of Americans or Brits, the Europeans themselves took no interest.
American leftists, who raved that Abu Ghraib was another Auschwitz, didn't offer a single word of pity for the Muslim victims of Muslims.
All to be expected.
But shouldn't Muslims have denounced the attacks on the pilgrims? Shouldn't such an atrocity have sparked Arab anger that transcended Islam's internal divide? After all, those murdered Shias were fellow Arabs, not Persians.
Where were the public statements of sympathy by government ministers and mullahs? Where was the noble Arab media? Where are the outraged demonstrations?
Not only is Islamic unity a sham, the Middle East's hypocrisy stinks like a shallow grave. Sunnis regard Shias as Untermenschen. No Sunni government wants to see Shias receive a fair deal - in Iraq or anywhere else.
In the short term, the question is whether Shias will take the bait and retaliate against Sunni Arab civilians in Iraq. The Baghdad government is doing its best to calm the furious Shia community. We'll just have to wait and see what happens.
But the greater, long-term danger is one this column has highlighted before: The administration's rush back into the arms of the Saudis and other America-hating Sunni Arab governments is a colossal strategic mistake.
The moral issues are bad enough: To the Saudi royal family, dead Shias aren't tragedies - they're trophies. One almost expects those bloated, bigoted princes to organize Shia-hunting safaris the way they slaughter endangered species when vacationing in impoverished African countries (been there, seen that).
The strategic catastrophe that would result from a return to our wretched mistakes of the 20th century would cost us dearly. When picking allies in the Middle East, we've been on the wrong side of history for over a half-century. And now the Saudis are waging a propaganda campaign to convince American opinion-makers that they're our best pals in the whole, wide world.
It works. An honorable elder statesman I respect recently got suckered during a junket to Saudi Arabia. He left Riyadh convinced he'd been sitting down with our indispensible allies.
Well, the view I've seen with my own eyes - in dozens of Muslim and mixed-faith countries - is of Saudi money spent lavishly to divide struggling societies, to block social and educational progress for Muslims and to preach deadly hatred toward the West.
Until 9/11, the Saudis got away with their extremist filth in this country, too. And Saudi-funded mosques here still seek to prevent Muslims from integrating into American society.
The Saudis, not the Iranians, are the worst anti-American hate-mongers in the world today. When our dignitaries visit Prince Bandar and his buddies, they get the (literal) royal treatment. But in the slums of Mombasa or Cairo, in Lahore, Delhi and Istanbul, the Saudis do everything in their power to make Muslims hate us.
After the suicide attacks on those pilgrims, did any member of the Saudi royal family visit the kingdom's own oppressed Shias to express sympathy and Muslim solidarity?
Our relationship with the Saudis reminds me of the scene in the film "The Shining" when Jack Nicholson's character imagines he's embracing a beautiful woman only to open his eyes and find himself smooching a decomposing corpse. It's time for Washington's Saudi-lovers to open their eyes.
By the way: The two suicide bombers who killed those pilgrims were Saudis.
Ralph Peters' latest book is "Never Quit the Fight."
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Is there something they are not telling us?
on: March 08, 2007, 01:41:08 PM
LAX passenger hides objects in his body; bomb squad called
By Andrew Blankstein
Los Angeles Times
Authorities called in the bomb squad early Tuesday and diverted a flight to Las Vegas after Los Angeles International Airport security screeners found hidden wires and other objects in a body cavity of a Philadelphia-bound passenger.
Fadhel Al-Maliki, a 35-year-old Iraqi national living in Atlantic City, N.J., had been flagged by security officials at LAX and was undergoing a secondary "selectee screening" when he set off a metal detector.
Al-Maliki, a former security guard, told screeners that he knew what had triggered the alarm and proceeded to remove items from his rectum, including a rock, chewing gum and thin wire filament.
Fetters, federal security director at LAX, said at news conference that Transportation Security Administration officers had become alarmed because Al-Maliki was acting strange but initially refused to identify the items he had hidden.
Concern that the objects might be components for an explosive device led airport authorities to call in the Los Angeles Police Department and FBI bomb technicians as well as a hazardous material team.
A preliminary investigation appeared to rule out a theory that Al-Maliki may have been looking for weaknesses in security or was rehearsing for a terrorist act, federal and local law enforcement authorities said.
During questioning, Al-Maliki said the objects in his rectum were used to alleviate stress, federal law enforcement sources said.
The rock, authorities said he told them, was from another planet.
As Al-Maliki was being detained, his two bags were loaded on to US Airways Flight 1422, which took off for Philadelphia with 143 passengers and six crew members on board, said Liz Landau, a spokeswoman for the airline.
Federal officials said the bags had been checked for explosives, chemicals and other hazardous materials using the most modern and extensive screening devices available. Even so, they diverted the aircraft to McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas "out of an abundance of caution."
There, passengers were taken off the plane, which was parked away from the terminal. Passengers had to leave their carry-on bags aboard, and the plane and their luggage were searched, Landau said.
Federal officials also said a search of Al-Maliki's luggage turned up nothing "hazardous or illegal." "Based on our investigation, there was no threat to Los Angeles International Airport or the airports in Las Vegas or Philadelphia," said Ethel McGuire, the FBI assistant special agent in charge of the Joint Terrorism Task Force.
Airport police briefly blocked access to roads leading to LAX and diverted vehicle traffic. But no other flights were disrupted at the airport, and Terminal 1, the building used by Southwest Airlines and US Airways, remained open.
After several hours of questioning, the FBI determined that Al-Maliki had not committed a crime, but he was turned over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
At Tuesday afternoon's news conference, authorities said that Al-Maliki had been in the United States legally since 1994 but that federal officials were reviewing his immigration status because he may have outdated information on his green card.
Law enforcement sources said Al-Maliki previously served time in jail for criminal trespassing in Atlantic City.
In addition, he was arrested on suspicion of possession of a destructive device, but the sources said charges were dropped; details of the incident were unavailable.
A law enforcement source close to the investigation said Al-Maliki spent only a day in Los Angeles, arriving Monday afternoon after taking a flight from Philadelphia.
Copyright 2007 Los Angeles Times
All Rights Reserved
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The 2008 Presidential Race
on: March 08, 2007, 01:30:07 PM
"Consider a contrast between the two front-runners for their respective party's nomination. A strong argument can be made that the shortcomings and vulnerabilities of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., are well known to virtually all; on Wall Street, they would say her numbers have already been discounted for her negatives... For Giuliani, the story is quite different. A cursory glance at not just Giuliani's stands on social and cultural issues, but also his complicated marital and personal life and the circumstances around his ability to avoid being drafted during the Vietnam War reveal ominous warning signals... And that is before discussing his support for gun control measures while he was mayor of New York City or mentioning that the first of his three marriages was to his second cousin and that one wife found out from a televised news conference that he was leaving her. The list could go on and on. Can he still win the GOP nomination? My guess remains no" -- political handicapper Charlie Cook, writing at NationalJournal.com.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Part Three
on: March 08, 2007, 01:05:43 PM
“I knew I couldn’t be a novelist,” said Wilson, who crackled with intensity during a telephone interview, “so I chose something as far as possible from literature — I chose science.” He is disarmingly honest about what motivated him: “I was very ambitious, and I wanted to make a mark.” He chose to study human evolution, he said, in part because he had some of his father’s literary leanings and the field required a novelist’s attention to human motivations, struggles and alliances — as well as a novelist’s flair for narrative.
Wilson eventually chose to study religion not because religion mattered to him personally — he was raised in a secular Protestant household and says he has long been an atheist — but because it was a lens through which to look at and revivify a branch of evolution that had fallen into disrepute. When Wilson was a graduate student at Michigan State University in the 1970s, Darwinians were critical of group selection, the idea that human groups can function as single organisms the way beehives or anthills do. So he decided to become the man who rescued this discredited idea. “I thought, Wow, defending group selection — now, that would be big,” he recalled. It wasn’t until the 1990s, he said, that he realized that “religion offered an opportunity to show that group selection was right after all.”
Dawkins once called Wilson’s defense of group selection “sheer, wanton, head-in-bag perversity.” Atran, too, has been dismissive of this approach, calling it “mind blind” for essentially ignoring the role of the brain’s mental machinery. The adaptationists “cannot in principle distinguish Marxism from monotheism, ideology from religious belief,” Atran wrote. “They cannot explain why people can be more steadfast in their commitment to admittedly counterfactual and counterintuitive beliefs — that Mary is both a mother and a virgin, and God is sentient but bodiless — than to the most politically, economically or scientifically persuasive account of the way things are or should be.”
Still, for all its controversial elements, the narrative Wilson devised about group selection and the evolution of religion is clear, perhaps a legacy of his novelist father. Begin, he says, with an imaginary flock of birds. Some birds serve as sentries, scanning the horizon for predators and calling out warnings. Having a sentry is good for the group but bad for the sentry, which is doubly harmed: by keeping watch, the sentry has less time to gather food, and by issuing a warning call, it is more likely to be spotted by the predator. So in the Darwinian struggle, the birds most likely to pass on their genes are the nonsentries. How, then, could the sentry gene survive for more than a generation or two?
To explain how a self-sacrificing gene can persist, Wilson looks to the level of the group. If there are 10 sentries in one group and none in the other, 3 or 4 of the sentries might be sacrificed. But the flock with sentries will probably outlast the flock that has no early-warning system, so the other 6 or 7 sentries will survive to pass on the genes. In other words, if the whole-group advantage outweighs the cost to any individual bird of being a sentry, then the sentry gene will prevail.
There are costs to any individual of being religious: the time and resources spent on rituals, the psychic energy devoted to following certain injunctions, the pain of some initiation rites. But in terms of intergroup struggle, according to Wilson, the costs can be outweighed by the benefits of being in a cohesive group that out-competes the others.
There is another element here too, unique to humans because it depends on language. A person’s behavior is observed not only by those in his immediate surroundings but also by anyone who can hear about it. There might be clear costs to taking on a role analogous to the sentry bird — a person who stands up to authority, for instance, risks losing his job, going to jail or getting beaten by the police — but in humans, these local costs might be outweighed by long-distance benefits. If a particular selfless trait enhances a person’s reputation, spread through the written and spoken word, it might give him an advantage in many of life’s challenges, like finding a mate. One way that reputation is enhanced is by being ostentatiously religious.
“The study of evolution is largely the study of trade-offs,” Wilson wrote in “Darwin’s Cathedral.” It might seem disadvantageous, in terms of foraging for sustenance and safety, for someone to favor religious over rationalistic explanations that would point to where the food and danger are. But in some circumstances, he wrote, “a symbolic belief system that departs from factual reality fares better.” For the individual, it might be more adaptive to have “highly sophisticated mental modules for acquiring factual knowledge and for building symbolic belief systems” than to have only one or the other, according to Wilson. For the group, it might be that a mixture of hardheaded realists and symbolically minded visionaries is most adaptive and that “what seems to be an adversarial relationship” between theists and atheists within a community is really a division of cognitive labor that “keeps social groups as a whole on an even keel.”
Even if Wilson is right that religion enhances group fitness, the question remains: Where does God come in? Why is a religious group any different from groups for which a fitness argument is never even offered — a group of fraternity brothers, say, or Yankees fans?
Richard Sosis, an anthropologist with positions at the University of Connecticut and Hebrew University of Jerusalem, has suggested a partial answer. Like many adaptationists, Sosis focuses on the way religion might be adaptive at the individual level. But even adaptations that help an individual survive can sometimes play themselves out through the group. Consider religious rituals.
“Religious and secular rituals can both promote cooperation,” Sosis wrote in American Scientist in 2004. But religious rituals “generate greater belief and commitment” because they depend on belief rather than on proof. The rituals are “beyond the possibility of examination,” he wrote, and a commitment to them is therefore emotional rather than logical — a commitment that is, in Sosis’s view, deeper and more long-lasting.
Rituals are a way of signaling a sincere commitment to the religion’s core beliefs, thereby earning loyalty from others in the group. “By donning several layers of clothing and standing out in the midday sun,” Sosis wrote, “ultraorthodox Jewish men are signaling to others: ‘Hey! Look, I’m a haredi’ — or extremely pious — ‘Jew. If you are also a member of this group, you can trust me because why else would I be dressed like this?’ ” These “signaling” rituals can grant the individual a sense of belonging and grant the group some freedom from constant and costly monitoring to ensure that their members are loyal and committed. The rituals are harsh enough to weed out the infidels, and both the group and the individual believers benefit.
In 2003, Sosis and Bradley Ruffle of Ben Gurion University in Israel sought an explanation for why Israel’s religious communes did better on average than secular communes in the wake of the economic crash of most of the country’s kibbutzim. They based their study on a standard economic game that measures cooperation. Individuals from religious communes played the game more cooperatively, while those from secular communes tended to be more selfish. It was the men who attended synagogue daily, not the religious women or the less observant men, who showed the biggest differences. To Sosis, this suggested that what mattered most was the frequent public display of devotion. These rituals, he wrote, led to greater cooperation in the religious communes, which helped them maintain their communal structure during economic hard times.
In 1997, Stephen Jay Gould wrote an essay in Natural History that called for a truce between religion and science. “The net of science covers the empirical universe,” he wrote. “The net of religion extends over questions of moral meaning and value.” Gould was emphatic about keeping the domains separate, urging “respectful discourse” and “mutual humility.” He called the demarcation “nonoverlapping magisteria” from the Latin magister, meaning “canon.”
Richard Dawkins had a history of spirited arguments with Gould, with whom he disagreed about almost everything related to the timing and focus of evolution. But he reserved some of his most venomous words for nonoverlapping magisteria. “Gould carried the art of bending over backward to positively supine lengths,” he wrote in “The God Delusion.” “Why shouldn’t we comment on God, as scientists? . . . A universe with a creative superintendent would be a very different kind of universe from one without. Why is that not a scientific matter?”
The separation, other critics said, left untapped the potential richness of letting one worldview inform the other. “Even if Gould was right that there were two domains, what religion does and what science does,” says Daniel Dennett (who, despite his neo-atheist label, is not as bluntly antireligious as Dawkins and Harris are), “that doesn’t mean science can’t study what religion does. It just means science can’t do what religion does.”
The idea that religion can be studied as a natural phenomenon might seem to require an atheistic philosophy as a starting point. Not necessarily. Even some neo-atheists aren’t entirely opposed to religion. Sam Harris practices Buddhist-inspired meditation. Daniel Dennett holds an annual Christmas sing-along, complete with hymns and carols that are not only harmonically lush but explicitly pious.
And one prominent member of the byproduct camp, Justin Barrett, is an observant Christian who believes in “an all-knowing, all-powerful, perfectly good God who brought the universe into being,” as he wrote in an e-mail message. “I believe that the purpose for people is to love God and love each other.”
At first blush, Barrett’s faith might seem confusing. How does his view of God as a byproduct of our mental architecture coexist with his Christianity? Why doesn’t the byproduct theory turn him into a skeptic?
“Christian theology teaches that people were crafted by God to be in a loving relationship with him and other people,” Barrett wrote in his e-mail message. “Why wouldn’t God, then, design us in such a way as to find belief in divinity quite natural?” Having a scientific explanation for mental phenomena does not mean we should stop believing in them, he wrote. “Suppose science produces a convincing account for why I think my wife loves me — should I then stop believing that she does?”
What can be made of atheists, then? If the evolutionary view of religion is true, they have to work hard at being atheists, to resist slipping into intrinsic habits of mind that make it easier to believe than not to believe. Atran says he faces an emotional and intellectual struggle to live without God in a nonatheist world, and he suspects that is where his little superstitions come from, his passing thought about crossing his fingers during turbulence or knocking on wood just in case. It is like an atavistic theism erupting when his guard is down. The comforts and consolations of belief are alluring even to him, he says, and probably will become more so as he gets closer to the end of his life. He fights it because he is a scientist and holds the values of rationalism higher than the values of spiritualism.
This internal push and pull between the spiritual and the rational reflects what used to be called the “God of the gaps” view of religion. The presumption was that as science was able to answer more questions about the natural world, God would be invoked to answer fewer, and religion would eventually recede. Research about the evolution of religion suggests otherwise. No matter how much science can explain, it seems, the real gap that God fills is an emptiness that our big-brained mental architecture interprets as a yearning for the supernatural. The drive to satisfy that yearning, according to both adaptationists and byproduct theorists, might be an inevitable and eternal part of what Atran calls the tragedy of human cognition.
Robin Marantz Henig, a contributing writer, has written recently for the magazine about the neurobiology of lying and about obesity.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Science vs. God Part Two
on: March 08, 2007, 01:04:39 PM
Folkpsychology, as Atran and his colleagues see it, is essential to getting along in the contemporary world, just as it has been since prehistoric times. It allows us to anticipate the actions of others and to lead others to believe what we want them to believe; it is at the heart of everything from marriage to office politics to poker. People without this trait, like those with severe autism, are impaired, unable to imagine themselves in other people’s heads.
The process begins with positing the existence of minds, our own and others’, that we cannot see or feel. This leaves us open, almost instinctively, to belief in the separation of the body (the visible) and the mind (the invisible). If you can posit minds in other people that you cannot verify empirically, suggests Paul Bloom, a psychologist and the author of “Descartes’ Baby,” published in 2004, it is a short step to positing minds that do not have to be anchored to a body. And from there, he said, it is another short step to positing an immaterial soul and a transcendent God.
The traditional psychological view has been that until about age 4, children think that minds are permeable and that everyone knows whatever the child himself knows. To a young child, everyone is infallible. All other people, especially Mother and Father, are thought to have the same sort of insight as an all-knowing God.
But at a certain point in development, this changes. (Some new research suggests this might occur as early as 15 months.) The “false-belief test” is a classic experiment that highlights the boundary. Children watch a puppet show with a simple plot: John comes onstage holding a marble, puts it in Box A and walks off. Mary comes onstage, opens Box A, takes out the marble, puts it in Box B and walks off. John comes back onstage. The children are asked, Where will John look for the marble?
Very young children, or autistic children of any age, say John will look in Box B, since they know that’s where the marble is. But older children give a more sophisticated answer. They know that John never saw Mary move the marble and that as far as he is concerned it is still where he put it, in Box A. Older children have developed a theory of mind; they understand that other people sometimes have false beliefs. Even though they know that the marble is in Box B, they respond that John will look for it in Box A.
The adaptive advantage of folkpsychology is obvious. According to Atran, our ancestors needed it to survive their harsh environment, since folkpsychology allowed them to “rapidly and economically” distinguish good guys from bad guys. But how did folkpsychology — an understanding of ordinary people’s ordinary minds — allow for a belief in supernatural, omniscient minds? And if the byproduct theorists are right and these beliefs were of little use in finding food or leaving more offspring, why did they persist?
Atran ascribes the persistence to evolutionary misdirection, which, he says, happens all the time: “Evolution always produces something that works for what it works for, and then there’s no control for however else it’s used.” On a sunny weekday morning, over breakfast at a French cafe on upper Broadway, he tried to think of an analogy and grinned when he came up with an old standby: women’s breasts. Because they are associated with female hormones, he explained, full breasts indicate a woman is fertile, and the evolution of the male brain’s preference for them was a clever mating strategy. But breasts are now used for purposes unrelated to reproduction, to sell anything from deodorant to beer. “A Martian anthropologist might look at this and say, ‘Oh, yes, so these breasts must have somehow evolved to sell hygienic stuff or food to human beings,’ ” Atran said. But the Martian would, of course, be wrong. Equally wrong would be to make the same mistake about religion, thinking it must have evolved to make people behave a certain way or feel a certain allegiance.
That is what most fascinated Atran. “Why is God in there?” he wondered.
The idea of an infallible God is comfortable and familiar, something children readily accept. You can see this in the experiment Justin Barrett conducted recently — a version of the traditional false-belief test but with a religious twist. Barrett showed young children a box with a picture of crackers on the outside. What do you think is inside this box? he asked, and the children said, “Crackers.” Next he opened it and showed them that the box was filled with rocks. Then he asked two follow-up questions: What would your mother say is inside this box? And what would God say?
As earlier theory-of-mind experiments already showed, 3- and 4-year-olds tended to think Mother was infallible, and since the children knew the right answer, they assumed she would know it, too. They usually responded that Mother would say the box contained rocks. But 5- and 6-year-olds had learned that Mother, like any other person, could hold a false belief in her mind, and they tended to respond that she would be fooled by the packaging and would say, “Crackers.”
And what would God say? No matter what their age, the children, who were all Protestants, told Barrett that God would answer, “Rocks.” This was true even for the older children, who, as Barrett understood it, had developed folkpsychology and had used it when predicting a wrong response for Mother. They had learned that, in certain situations, people could be fooled — but they had also learned that there is no fooling God.
The bottom line, according to byproduct theorists, is that children are born with a tendency to believe in omniscience, invisible minds, immaterial souls — and then they grow up in cultures that fill their minds, hard-wired for belief, with specifics. It is a little like language acquisition, Paul Bloom says, with the essential difference that language is a biological adaptation and religion, in his view, is not. We are born with an innate facility for language but the specific language we learn depends on the environment in which we are raised. In much the same way, he says, we are born with an innate tendency for belief, but the specifics of what we grow up believing — whether there is one God or many, whether the soul goes to heaven or occupies another animal after death — are culturally shaped.
Whatever the specifics, certain beliefs can be found in all religions. Those that prevail, according to the byproduct theorists, are those that fit most comfortably with our mental architecture. Psychologists have shown, for instance, that people attend to, and remember, things that are unfamiliar and strange, but not so strange as to be impossible to assimilate. Ideas about God or other supernatural agents tend to fit these criteria. They are what Pascal Boyer, an anthropologist and psychologist, called “minimally counterintuitive”: weird enough to get your attention and lodge in your memory but not so weird that you reject them altogether. A tree that talks is minimally counterintuitive, and you might believe it as a supernatural agent. A tree that talks and flies and time-travels is maximally counterintuitive, and you are more likely to reject it.
Atran, along with Ara Norenzayan of the University of British Columbia, studied the idea of minimally counterintuitive agents earlier this decade. They presented college students with lists of fantastical creatures and asked them to choose the ones that seemed most “religious.” The convincingly religious agents, the students said, were not the most outlandish — not the turtle that chatters and climbs or the squealing, flowering marble — but those that were just outlandish enough: giggling seaweed, a sobbing oak, a talking horse. Giggling seaweed meets the requirement of being minimally counterintuitive, Atran wrote. So does a God who has a human personality except that he knows everything or a God who has a mind but has no body.
It is not enough for an agent to be minimally counterintuitive for it to earn a spot in people’s belief systems. An emotional component is often needed, too, if belief is to take hold. “If your emotions are involved, then that’s the time when you’re most likely to believe whatever the religion tells you to believe,” Atran says. Religions stir up emotions through their rituals — swaying, singing, bowing in unison during group prayer, sometimes working people up to a state of physical arousal that can border on frenzy. And religions gain strength during the natural heightening of emotions that occurs in times of personal crisis, when the faithful often turn to shamans or priests. The most intense personal crisis, for which religion can offer powerfully comforting answers, is when someone comes face to face with mortality.
In John Updike’s celebrated early short story “Pigeon Feathers,” 14-year-old David spends a lot of time thinking about death. He suspects that adults are lying when they say his spirit will live on after he dies. He keeps catching them in inconsistencies when he asks where exactly his soul will spend eternity. “Don’t you see,” he cries to his mother, “if when we die there’s nothing, all your sun and fields and what not are all, ah, horror? It’s just an ocean of horror.”
The story ends with David’s tiny revelation and his boundless relief. The boy gets a gun for his 15th birthday, which he uses to shoot down some pigeons that have been nesting in his grandmother’s barn. Before he buries them, he studies the dead birds’ feathers. He is amazed by their swirls of color, “designs executed, it seemed, in a controlled rapture.” And suddenly the fears that have plagued him are lifted, and with a “slipping sensation along his nerves that seemed to give the air hands, he was robed in this certainty: that the God who had lavished such craft upon these worthless birds would not destroy His whole Creation by refusing to let David live forever.”
Fear of death is an undercurrent of belief. The spirits of dead ancestors, ghosts, immortal deities, heaven and hell, the everlasting soul: the notion of spiritual existence after death is at the heart of almost every religion. According to some adaptationists, this is part of religion’s role, to help humans deal with the grim certainty of death. Believing in God and the afterlife, they say, is how we make sense of the brevity of our time on earth, how we give meaning to this brutish and short existence. Religion can offer solace to the bereaved and comfort to the frightened.
But the spandrelists counter that saying these beliefs are consolation does not mean they offered an adaptive advantage to our ancestors. “The human mind does not produce adequate comforting delusions against all situations of stress or fear,” wrote Pascal Boyer, a leading byproduct theorist, in “Religion Explained,” which came out a year before Atran’s book. “Indeed, any organism that was prone to such delusions would not survive long.”
Whether or not it is adaptive, belief in the afterlife gains power in two ways: from the intensity with which people wish it to be true and from the confirmation it seems to get from the real world. This brings us back to folkpsychology. We try to make sense of other people partly by imagining what it is like to be them, an adaptive trait that allowed our ancestors to outwit potential enemies. But when we think about being dead, we run into a cognitive wall. How can we possibly think about not thinking? “Try to fill your consciousness with the representation of no-consciousness, and you will see the impossibility of it,” the Spanish philosopher Miguel de Unamuno wrote in “Tragic Sense of Life.” “The effort to comprehend it causes the most tormenting dizziness. We cannot conceive of ourselves as not existing.”
Much easier, then, to imagine that the thinking somehow continues. This is what young children seem to do, as a study at the Florida Atlantic University demonstrated a few years ago. Jesse Bering and David Bjorklund, the psychologists who conducted the study, used finger puppets to act out the story of a mouse, hungry and lost, who is spotted by an alligator. “Well, it looks like Brown Mouse got eaten by Mr. Alligator,” the narrator says at the end. “Brown Mouse is not alive anymore.”
Afterward, Bering and Bjorklund asked their subjects, ages 4 to 12, what it meant for Brown Mouse to be “not alive anymore.” Is he still hungry? Is he still sleepy? Does he still want to go home? Most said the mouse no longer needed to eat or drink. But a large proportion, especially the younger ones, said that he still had thoughts, still loved his mother and still liked cheese. The children understood what it meant for the mouse’s body to cease to function, but many believed that something about the mouse was still alive.
“Our psychological architecture makes us think in particular ways,” says Bering, now at Queens University in Belfast, Northern Ireland. “In this study, it seems, the reason afterlife beliefs are so prevalent is that underlying them is our inability to simulate our nonexistence.”
It might be just as impossible to simulate the nonexistence of loved ones. A large part of any relationship takes place in our minds, Bering said, so it’s natural for it to continue much as before after the other person’s death. It is easy to forget that your sister is dead when you reach for the phone to call her, since your relationship was based so much on memory and imagined conversations even when she was alive. In addition, our agent-detection device sometimes confirms the sensation that the dead are still with us. The wind brushes our cheek, a spectral shape somehow looks familiar and our agent detection goes into overdrive. Dreams, too, have a way of confirming belief in the afterlife, with dead relatives appearing in dreams as if from beyond the grave, seeming very much alive.
Belief is our fallback position, according to Bering; it is our reflexive style of thought. “We have a basic psychological capacity that allows anyone to reason about unexpected natural events, to see deeper meaning where there is none,” he says. “It’s natural; it’s how our minds work.”
Intriguing as the spandrel logic might be, there is another way to think about the evolution of religion: that religion evolved because it offered survival advantages to our distant ancestors. This is where the action is in the science of God debate, with a coterie of adaptationists arguing on behalf of the primary benefits, in terms of survival advantages, of religious belief.
The trick in thinking about adaptation is that even if a trait offers no survival advantage today, it might have had one long ago. This is how Darwinians explain how certain physical characteristics persist even if they do not currently seem adaptive — by asking whether they might have helped our distant ancestors form social groups, feed themselves, find suitable mates or keep from getting killed. A facility for storing calories as fat, for instance, which is a detriment in today’s food-rich society, probably helped our ancestors survive cyclical famines.
So trying to explain the adaptiveness of religion means looking for how it might have helped early humans survive and reproduce. As some adaptationists see it, this could have worked on two levels, individual and group. Religion made people feel better, less tormented by thoughts about death, more focused on the future, more willing to take care of themselves. As William James put it, religion filled people with “a new zest which adds itself like a gift to life . . . an assurance of safety and a temper of peace and, in relation to others, a preponderance of loving affections.”
Such sentiments, some adaptationists say, made the faithful better at finding and storing food, for instance, and helped them attract better mates because of their reputations for morality, obedience and sober living. The advantage might have worked at the group level too, with religious groups outlasting others because they were more cohesive, more likely to contain individuals willing to make sacrifices for the group and more adept at sharing resources and preparing for warfare.
One of the most vocal adaptationists is David Sloan Wilson, an occasional thorn in the side of both Scott Atran and Richard Dawkins. Wilson, an evolutionary biologist at the State University of New York at Binghamton, focuses much of his argument at the group level. “Organisms are a product of natural selection,” he wrote in “Darwin’s Cathedral: Evolution, Religion, and the Nature of Society,” which came out in 2002, the same year as Atran’s book, and staked out the adaptationist view. “Through countless generations of variation and selection, [organisms] acquire properties that enable them to survive and reproduce in their environments. My purpose is to see if human groups in general, and religious groups in particular, qualify as organismic in this sense.”
Wilson’s father was Sloan Wilson, author of “The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit,” an emblem of mid-’50s suburban anomie that was turned into a film starring Gregory Peck. Sloan Wilson became a celebrity, with young women asking for his autograph, especially after his next novel, “A Summer Place,” became another blockbuster movie. The son grew up wanting to do something to make his famous father proud.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Science vs. God
on: March 08, 2007, 01:00:44 PM
A major piece here, well worth the time to read it. Comments?
March 4, 2007
By ROBIN MARANTZ HENIG
God has always been a puzzle for Scott Atran. When he was 10 years old, he scrawled a plaintive message on the wall of his bedroom in Baltimore. “God exists,” he wrote in black and orange paint, “or if he doesn’t, we’re in trouble.” Atran has been struggling with questions about religion ever since — why he himself no longer believes in God and why so many other people, everywhere in the world, apparently do.
Call it God; call it superstition; call it, as Atran does, “belief in hope beyond reason” — whatever you call it, there seems an inherent human drive to believe in something transcendent, unfathomable and otherworldly, something beyond the reach or understanding of science. “Why do we cross our fingers during turbulence, even the most atheistic among us?” asked Atran when we spoke at his Upper West Side pied-à-terre in January. Atran, who is 55, is an anthropologist at the National Center for Scientific Research in Paris, with joint appointments at the University of Michigan and the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. His research interests include cognitive science and evolutionary biology, and sometimes he presents students with a wooden box that he pretends is an African relic. “If you have negative sentiments toward religion,” he tells them, “the box will destroy whatever you put inside it.” Many of his students say they doubt the existence of God, but in this demonstration they act as if they believe in something. Put your pencil into the magic box, he tells them, and the nonbelievers do so blithely. Put in your driver’s license, he says, and most do, but only after significant hesitation. And when he tells them to put in their hands, few will.
If they don’t believe in God, what exactly are they afraid of?
Atran first conducted the magic-box demonstration in the 1980s, when he was at Cambridge University studying the nature of religious belief. He had received a doctorate in anthropology from Columbia University and, in the course of his fieldwork, saw evidence of religion everywhere he looked — at archaeological digs in Israel, among the Mayans in Guatemala, in artifact drawers at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. Atran is Darwinian in his approach, which means he tries to explain behavior by how it might once have solved problems of survival and reproduction for our early ancestors. But it was not clear to him what evolutionary problems might have been solved by religious belief. Religion seemed to use up physical and mental resources without an obvious benefit for survival. Why, he wondered, was religion so pervasive, when it was something that seemed so costly from an evolutionary point of view?
The magic-box demonstration helped set Atran on a career studying why humans might have evolved to be religious, something few people were doing back in the ’80s. Today, the effort has gained momentum, as scientists search for an evolutionary explanation for why belief in God exists — not whether God exists, which is a matter for philosophers and theologians, but why the belief does.
This is different from the scientific assault on religion that has been garnering attention recently, in the form of best-selling books from scientific atheists who see religion as a scourge. In “The God Delusion,” published last year and still on best-seller lists, the Oxford evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins concludes that religion is nothing more than a useless, and sometimes dangerous, evolutionary accident. “Religious behavior may be a misfiring, an unfortunate byproduct of an underlying psychological propensity which in other circumstances is, or once was, useful,” Dawkins wrote. He is joined by two other best-selling authors — Sam Harris, who wrote “The End of Faith,” and Daniel Dennett, a philosopher at Tufts University who wrote “Breaking the Spell.” The three men differ in their personal styles and whether they are engaged in a battle against religiosity, but their names are often mentioned together. They have been portrayed as an unholy trinity of neo-atheists, promoting their secular world view with a fervor that seems almost evangelical.
Lost in the hullabaloo over the neo-atheists is a quieter and potentially more illuminating debate. It is taking place not between science and religion but within science itself, specifically among the scientists studying the evolution of religion. These scholars tend to agree on one point: that religious belief is an outgrowth of brain architecture that evolved during early human history. What they disagree about is why a tendency to believe evolved, whether it was because belief itself was adaptive or because it was just an evolutionary byproduct, a mere consequence of some other adaptation in the evolution of the human brain.
Which is the better biological explanation for a belief in God — evolutionary adaptation or neurological accident? Is there something about the cognitive functioning of humans that makes us receptive to belief in a supernatural deity? And if scientists are able to explain God, what then? Is explaining religion the same thing as explaining it away? Are the nonbelievers right, and is religion at its core an empty undertaking, a misdirection, a vestigial artifact of a primitive mind? Or are the believers right, and does the fact that we have the mental capacities for discerning God suggest that it was God who put them there?
In short, are we hard-wired to believe in God? And if we are, how and why did that happen?
“All of our raptures and our drynesses, our longings and pantings, our questions and beliefs . . . are equally organically founded,” William James wrote in “The Varieties of Religious Experience.” James, who taught philosophy and experimental psychology at Harvard for more than 30 years, based his book on a 1901 lecture series in which he took some early tentative steps at breaching the science-religion divide.
In the century that followed, a polite convention generally separated science and religion, at least in much of the Western world. Science, as the old trope had it, was assigned the territory that describes how the heavens go; religion, how to go to heaven.
Anthropologists like Atran and psychologists as far back as James had been looking at the roots of religion, but the mutual hands-off policy really began to shift in the 1990s. Religion made incursions into the traditional domain of science with attempts to bring intelligent design into the biology classroom and to choke off human embryonic stem-cell research on religious grounds. Scientists responded with counterincursions. Experts from the hard sciences, like evolutionary biology and cognitive neuroscience, joined anthropologists and psychologists in the study of religion, making God an object of scientific inquiry.
The debate over why belief evolved is between byproduct theorists and adaptationists. You might think that the byproduct theorists would tend to be nonbelievers, looking for a way to explain religion as a fluke, while the adaptationists would be more likely to be believers who can intuit the emotional, spiritual and community advantages that accompany faith. Or you might think they would all be atheists, because what believer would want to subject his own devotion to rationalism’s cold, hard scrutiny? But a scientist’s personal religious view does not always predict which side he will take. And this is just one sign of how complex and surprising this debate has become.
Angels, demons, spirits, wizards, gods and witches have peppered folk religions since mankind first started telling stories. Charles Darwin noted this in “The Descent of Man.” “A belief in all-pervading spiritual agencies,” he wrote, “seems to be universal.” According to anthropologists, religions that share certain supernatural features — belief in a noncorporeal God or gods, belief in the afterlife, belief in the ability of prayer or ritual to change the course of human events — are found in virtually every culture on earth.
This is certainly true in the United States. About 6 in 10 Americans, according to a 2005 Harris Poll, believe in the devil and hell, and about 7 in 10 believe in angels, heaven and the existence of miracles and of life after death. A 2006 survey at Baylor University found that 92 percent of respondents believe in a personal God — that is, a God with a distinct set of character traits ranging from “distant” to “benevolent.”
When a trait is universal, evolutionary biologists look for a genetic explanation and wonder how that gene or genes might enhance survival or reproductive success. In many ways, it’s an exercise in post-hoc hypothesizing: what would have been the advantage, when the human species first evolved, for an individual who happened to have a mutation that led to, say, a smaller jaw, a bigger forehead, a better thumb? How about certain behavioral traits, like a tendency for risk-taking or for kindness?
Atran saw such questions as a puzzle when applied to religion. So many aspects of religious belief involve misattribution and misunderstanding of the real world. Wouldn’t this be a liability in the survival-of-the-fittest competition? To Atran, religious belief requires taking “what is materially false to be true” and “what is materially true to be false.” One example of this is the belief that even after someone dies and the body demonstrably disintegrates, that person will still exist, will still be able to laugh and cry, to feel pain and joy. This confusion “does not appear to be a reasonable evolutionary strategy,” Atran wrote in “In Gods We Trust: The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion” in 2002. “Imagine another animal that took injury for health or big for small or fast for slow or dead for alive. It’s unlikely that such a species could survive.” He began to look for a sideways explanation: if religious belief was not adaptive, perhaps it was associated with something else that was.
Atran intended to study mathematics when he entered Columbia as a precocious 17-year-old. But he was distracted by the radical politics of the late ’60s. One day in his freshman year, he found himself at an antiwar rally listening to Margaret Mead, then perhaps the most famous anthropologist in America. Atran, dressed in a flamboyant Uncle Sam suit, stood up and called her a sellout for saying the protesters should be writing to their congressmen instead of staging demonstrations. “Young man,” the unflappable
Mead said, “why don’t you come see me in my office?”
Atran, equally unflappable, did go to see her — and ended up working for Mead, spending much of his time exploring the cabinets of curiosities in her tower office at the American Museum of Natural History. Soon he switched his major to anthropology.
Many of the museum specimens were religious, Atran says. So were the artifacts he dug up on archaeological excursions in Israel in the early ’70s. Wherever he turned, he encountered the passion of religious belief. Why, he wondered, did people work so hard against their preference for logical explanations to maintain two views of the world, the real and the unreal, the intuitive and the counterintuitive?
Maybe cognitive effort was precisely the point. Maybe it took less mental work than Atran realized to hold belief in God in one’s mind. Maybe, in fact, belief was the default position for the human mind, something that took no cognitive effort at all.
While still an undergraduate, Atran decided to explore these questions by organizing a conference on universal aspects of culture and inviting all his intellectual heroes: the linguist Noam Chomsky, the psychologist Jean Piaget, the anthropologists Claude Levi-Strauss and Gregory Bateson (who was also Margaret Mead’s ex-husband), the Nobel Prize-winning biologists Jacques Monod and Francois Jacob. It was 1974, and the only site he could find for the conference was at a location just outside Paris. Atran was a scraggly 22-year-old with a guitar who had learned his French from comic books. To his astonishment, everyone he invited agreed to come.
Atran is a sociable man with sharp hazel eyes, who sparks provocative conversations the way other men pick bar fights. As he traveled in the ’70s and ’80s, he accumulated friends who were thinking about the issues he was: how culture is transmitted among human groups and what evolutionary function it might serve. “I started looking at history, and I wondered why no society ever survived more than three generations without a religious foundation as its raison d’être,” he says. Soon he turned to an emerging subset of evolutionary theory — the evolution of human cognition.
Some cognitive scientists think of brain functioning in terms of modules, a series of interconnected machines, each one responsible for a particular mental trick. They do not tend to talk about a God module per se; they usually consider belief in God a consequence of other mental modules.
Religion, in this view, is “a family of cognitive phenomena that involves the extraordinary use of everyday cognitive processes,” Atran wrote in “In Gods We Trust.” “Religions do not exist apart from the individual minds that constitute them and the environments that constrain them, any more than biological species and varieties exist independently of the individual organisms that compose them and the environments that conform them.”
At around the time “In Gods We Trust” appeared five years ago, a handful of other scientists — Pascal Boyer, now at Washington University; Justin Barrett, now at Oxford; Paul Bloom at Yale — were addressing these same questions. In synchrony they were moving toward the byproduct theory.
Darwinians who study physical evolution distinguish between traits that are themselves adaptive, like having blood cells that can transport oxygen, and traits that are byproducts of adaptations, like the redness of blood. There is no survival advantage to blood’s being red instead of turquoise; it is just a byproduct of the trait that is adaptive, having blood that contains hemoglobin.
Something similar explains aspects of brain evolution, too, say the byproduct theorists. Which brings us to the idea of the spandrel.
Stephen Jay Gould, the famed evolutionary biologist at Harvard who died in 2002, and his colleague Richard Lewontin proposed “spandrel” to describe a trait that has no adaptive value of its own. They borrowed the term from architecture, where it originally referred to the V-shaped structure formed between two rounded arches. The structure is not there for any purpose; it is there because that is what happens when arches align.
In architecture, a spandrel can be neutral or it can be made functional. Building a staircase, for instance, creates a space underneath that is innocuous, just a blank sort of triangle. But if you put a closet there, the under-stairs space takes on a function, unrelated to the staircase’s but useful nonetheless. Either way, functional or nonfunctional, the space under the stairs is a spandrel, an unintended byproduct.
“Natural selection made the human brain big,” Gould wrote, “but most of our mental properties and potentials may be spandrels — that is, nonadaptive side consequences of building a device with such structural complexity.”
The possibility that God could be a spandrel offered Atran a new way of understanding the evolution of religion. But a spandrel of what, exactly?
Hardships of early human life favored the evolution of certain cognitive tools, among them the ability to infer the presence of organisms that might do harm, to come up with causal narratives for natural events and to recognize that other people have minds of their own with their own beliefs, desires and intentions. Psychologists call these tools, respectively, agent detection, causal reasoning and theory of mind.
Agent detection evolved because assuming the presence of an agent — which is jargon for any creature with volitional, independent behavior — is more adaptive than assuming its absence. If you are a caveman on the savannah, you are better off presuming that the motion you detect out of the corner of your eye is an agent and something to run from, even if you are wrong. If it turns out to have been just the rustling of leaves, you are still alive; if what you took to be leaves rustling was really a hyena about to pounce, you are dead.
A classic experiment from the 1940s by the psychologists Fritz Heider and Marianne Simmel suggested that imputing agency is so automatic that people may do it even for geometric shapes. For the experiment, subjects watched a film of triangles and circles moving around. When asked what they had been watching, the subjects used words like “chase” and “capture.” They did not just see the random movement of shapes on a screen; they saw pursuit, planning, escape.
So if there is motion just out of our line of sight, we presume it is caused by an agent, an animal or person with the ability to move independently. This usually operates in one direction only; lots of people mistake a rock for a bear, but almost no one mistakes a bear for a rock.
What does this mean for belief in the supernatural? It means our brains are primed for it, ready to presume the presence of agents even when such presence confounds logic. “The most central concepts in religions are related to agents,” Justin Barrett, a psychologist, wrote in his 2004 summary of the byproduct theory, “Why Would Anyone Believe in God?” Religious agents are often supernatural, he wrote, “people with superpowers, statues that can answer requests or disembodied minds that can act on us and the world.”
A second mental module that primes us for religion is causal reasoning. The human brain has evolved the capacity to impose a narrative, complete with chronology and cause-and-effect logic, on whatever it encounters, no matter how apparently random. “We automatically, and often unconsciously, look for an explanation of why things happen to us,” Barrett wrote, “and ‘stuff just happens’ is no explanation. Gods, by virtue of their strange physical properties and their mysterious superpowers, make fine candidates for causes of many of these unusual events.” The ancient Greeks believed thunder was the sound of Zeus’s thunderbolt. Similarly, a contemporary woman whose cancer treatment works despite 10-to-1 odds might look for a story to explain her survival. It fits better with her causal-reasoning tool for her recovery to be a miracle, or a reward for prayer, than for it to be just a lucky roll of the dice.
A third cognitive trick is a kind of social intuition known as theory of mind. It’s an odd phrase for something so automatic, since the word “theory” suggests formality and self-consciousness. Other terms have been used for the same concept, like intentional stance and social cognition. One good alternative is the term Atran uses: folkpsychology.
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Euro MAI Interview with Guro Lonely Dog
on: March 08, 2007, 12:58:59 PM
'LONELY DOG' by Matt Tucker
In the medieval Swiss capital of Bern is one of the stickfighting worlds best kept secrets. Instructor Matt Tucker travelled to Bern to to spend a week training with the Dog Brothers Martial Arts Chief Instructor for Europe, Guru Benjamin 'Lonely Dog' Rittiner.
Forward by Guru Marc 'Crafty Dog' Denny
When Benjamin first came to train with me (1997 or '98) with some students of his I was very impressed with how much he had absorbed on his own. We hit it off well, and he continued to come to train with me in LA and would assist me on seminars that I would give in Spain, England, and Italy. This, combined with his outstanding work ethic and natural talent enabled him to grow very well in DBMA even though he lived in Switzerland and I in California.
Although we the Dog Brothers are known for an intense kind of fighting, we are about something much more than all that-- something which is revealed through the fighting perhaps, but something that is not about the fighting. As Benjamin fought at the Gatherings, everyone was very impressed not only his skill as a fighter, but also for the man he showed himself to be. He made Dog Brother in the minimum number of Gatherings required (5).
As he continued to host me in Switzerland our friendship grew (likewise my friendship with his wonderful wife Cornelia) as did his skill and knowledge in DBMA--he became the only other person I have promoted to Guro in DBMA. Because of the age disparity (about 20 years) I have almost paternal feelings for him which has allowed me to transcend the secretive nature I had about certain things when I was still fighting and teach him as if he were a son. Tomorrow is promised to no one, and if something were to happen to me he would be the one to step into my role in DBMA.
As I continued coming to Europe, I felt the desire that many people had to become part of the Dog Brothers and I realized the difficulty of repeatedly flying to California for people in Europe. I discussed this with Benji and shared with him what I thought were the ingredients and building blocks necessary for a Dog Brothers Gathering. For several years we worked together to prepare the way. In the spring of 2006 we held an "Invitational Gathering" to make sure that we had the nucleus of people necessary to establish the respect necessary for the "Dog Brothers code" and were ready to take the next step. We were ready.
This past October first we held the first DB Gathering ever outside of Los Angeles. The plan was for all three founders of the Dog Brothers (now the governing body of the Dog Brothers known as "The Council of Elders"-- because we are old)-- Top Dog (Eric) , Salty Dog (Arlan) and me-- to witness the Gathering, but Salty had business matters that intervened and so it was only Top Dog and me. I proposed to Eric and Arlan that Benji become a member of The Council of Elders and they enthusiastically agreed.
Eric and I were very, very impressed with the fighting skill at the Euro Gathering. Even more important though was the strong Dog Brother feeling shown by all the fighters there, regardless of which system they came from. Indeed, we consider this Gathering to be one of the best Dog Brothers Gatherings ever-- a very special day!
The Dog Brothers Gathering is now an established event and people fighting at the Gathering are eligible to be considered part of the Dog Brothers tribe-- regardless of which system in which they train. To become a full Dog Brother, one must make it to the main Gathering in Los Angeles.
And so ladies and gentlemen, I present to you Guro Benjamin "Lonely Dog" Rittiner: highly regarded Dog Brother, member of the DB Council of Elders, Guro in DBMA and head of our organization in Europe, and my very good friend.
The Adventure continues,
Marc "Crafty Dog" Denny
Guiding Force of the Dog Brothers
Founder/Head Instructor Dog Brothers Martial Arts
Matt Tucker: How did you first get involved with Martial Arts/Fighting?
Benjamin Rittiner: My first contact with the martial arts was at school when I was around 7 or 8 years old. We had a project to make a short movie and some of the older children had the idea to make a short Kung Fu movie. Sadly I was one of the younger children tied to the tree awaiting the heroes (The older children), to come rescue us. This was when I first saw my first Ninja Shuriken/Throwing Star. When I was around ten years old I got my first Nunchaku and played around a bit with it until I started my formal training 1984 with Karate after which moved onto other other Japanese Martial Arts, such as Judo, Ju Jutsu, and the Bujinkan. Later on I trained also in Boxing, Thai-Boxing and Sanda wher I experienced competing and fighting in competition.
MT: How did you first come across Dog Brothers Martial Arts?
BR: Whilst I was attending a Tai Kai Seminar in Luxembourg my teacher had a friend who trained in the Inosanto Blend so we went to his gym to train for a couple of hours on some basics, Sumbrada and Heaven Six etc. This type of training realy interested me and I wanted to continue training in the Filipino Martial Arts but I couldn’t find a teacher around here in Switzerland at that time. I started to collect as many instructional videos on FMA so I could continue to learn. 1994 I came across the Dog Brothers Real Contact Fighting Series and it suddenly hit me 'Thats cool, I want to do this' and I realised that this was the direction I wanted to go, so I started to train with some friends for about 4 years with these videos.
MT: So it was 4 years before you had any formal training under Marc Denny?
BR: Yes I just trained from the DVD's, I would watch them again and again, hundreds of times, perfecting each specific move until the tapes eventualy broke!. But, after a few years I knew that if I wanted to go any further I would have to go to the USA. So I wrote a letter to the Dog Brothers address in Hermosa Beach California. Mark Denny replied to my letter and invited me over. Some months later I made my first visit to Hermosa beach.
MT: How did the training differ from what you had been doing on your own?
BR: It was pretty interesting, Marc just asked me to do some Carenza (shadow boxing). He commented that I moved quite well and he asked me who my teacher was, to which my reply was 'My teacher is VCR!'. During the 5 day PTP we covered a lot of material and mostly he was surprised at how fast I could adapt to the material. It was not until the 5th day when Marc showed me some techniques really gave me a hard time and I think he was he was quite glad to find something I could not do straight away...Over all he was impressed that someone could learn so much from just videos.
This first training with Guro Crafty changed my understanding of Stickfighting greatly. As far as the fighting went I had already developed a pretty solid structure in what we call “regular lead”. This is with the stick in right hand and the same leg forward and used to shuffle forward and back. He teached me to use both leads, means that I could fight with the right foot forward but also with the left foot as a lead. This and the knowledge of using the triangle footwork and to have over all a sense of angleing footwork help me a lot in making my fighting game more alive…. This was a very important lesson for me.
The deepest lesson I got over the years through the training with Guro Crafty was the capability to analize my opponents. To understand that I will face different structures and the better I can analize them the more solutions I have against these different structures the better it is. It’s truly like Sugar Ray Leonard once said "You don't beat the man, you beat his style."
Guro Crafty is a great teacher and he was a very feared fighter, but what I admire the most when I think about him is his great capability to analize structures and through that of course the fighters. This is truly the reason why he is the “Crafty Dog”….
I always was a talented and skilled fighter. But he maked me also a smart fighter. I never forgot the sentence I heard one day from Grand Tuhon Leo Gaje: “easy to be hard, hard to be smart”…
MT: Was it hard to find training partners to help you keep progressing when you came back home?
BR: It was harder to keep them because in the beginning we would train just 3 or 4 techniques and we sparred a lot. In those days because I knew a bit more and was inexperienced I believe I may have pushed things a little too hard and this is why people stopped training
MT: Do you believe it is important to spar, even if it is controlled sparring from day one?
BR: Its different from student to student. If a student has no experience then he should perhaps wait longer than for example someone who takes up boxing. In boxing you can start with easy sparring from day one. Stickfight sparring could be more dangerous or it you make it too safe with too much protection or padding then you can learn a lot of mistakes. In general I think most students should wait about 6 months before they start sparring but sometimes you may get a beginner who is a natural fighter who does not care about bruises so he can jump in to sparring a bit earlier. I truly believe it’s better to build up a student without getting him too many bruises in the beginning. The difficulty is not to break the students spirit as too much pain too early will cause the student to quit. It always easy to teach fighters to fight and much harder to get regular people to do a Gathering. The latter is the most interesting goal for me personally as a teacher.
MT: Your nick name 'Lonely Dog' is I presume because you had no one to train with when you came back to Bern?
BR: No, actually it was to do with the sense of tribe in California amongst the DB group. It was such a great warm feeling to be part of this tribe at the Gatherings that when I flew back and saw this huge distance between California and Switzerland I did feel somewhat on my own.
MT: Can you explain the sense of tribe within the Dog Brothers?
BR: To fight like we do is very intense and dangerous. To make it happen we need something that controls the energy. If it were just a competition to see who is best it would be extremely dangerous and therefore you would need a lot of rules, however the idea is not to limit the person through the rules but if you have no rules, heavy sticks and less protection then you need something else that controls the violence.So the idea that we are one tribe, we are all friends and we all want to learn & grow together intalls the 'safety' in our fighting and its very very special. In normal competition you dont get people fighting and then afterwards discussing the fight at the side of the mat. In my amatuer boxing days I was very nervous when I competed yet there were rules, head gear and protection. I was more concerned about winning, I did not know my opponent and did not know what kind of person he was. At the 'Gatherings' I have never felt this kind of pressure. If I have to tap then its simply a good lesson
MT: How dangerous is Real Contact Stick Fighting?.
BR: It depends how smart the fighter is! (Laughs). Actually it is quite dangerous. We have sticks and we hit each other, but there are 2 things that reduce the risk. One is the code, to not break your opponent spiritually or physically. We want to show him his weaknesses but if he is stunned we wont take the final blow that may seriously injure them.
The second is how you fight. I want to have clever fights, many fights are tough fights and attract types of people who are attracted to the danger, those who want to test their balls, which is a fair reasons to take part and many people walk away from a Gathering a different and more confident person.
For me its more about controlling & dominating a fight through my strategy and the more I apply this the less chance of injury, but a fight is a fight and in real contact there is always a risk. If you take the risk away then it would not be the same experience and through this risk you make bigger steps in the progression as a martial artist.
MT: How long before a fight do you start to concentrate your training on it?
BR: It changed over the years.At least 8 weeks of preperation both the cardio and technique. I tend to keep my cardio at a basic level. It is more important to have your head right and to be ready for the Gathering mentally. There were fights that I had where I had just recovered from flu and had 5 days to prepare to fight. You cannot build any cardio in such a short amount of time but you can do a lot of mental preparation in 5 days. So over the years I now try and keep my Cardio at a base level, I am always working power so the mental game is more important to me. Many people spar very hard up to a week before a fight which can be dangerous as you can walk into a fight already injured, personally I stop hard sparring at least 6 weeks prior to a fight as it takes about 6 weeks for a broken finger to mend.
MT: How does the use of rhythm training (training to music) improve a students performance with regards to fighting in a Gathering?
BR: Again this varies from fighter to fighter and some people just have no rhythm! Someone does not need to have rhythm to be a good fighter. if someone has no rhythm I dont force them to train with rhythm but if they have a bit of feel for it then it can help a great deal. I have developed something called the 'Boogie Woogie' as a specific shadow boxing drill and since I have done this I have discovered how to break rhythm, maintain rhythm and control the pace of a fight. I believe its a major point in fighting to dominate the rhythm you want to fight and how to change that rhythm to disrupt your opponent and force him to create an opening.
MT: You have assisted on DBMA's instructional DVD's with Marc Denny and were recently asked to shoot a your own DBMA instructional DVD. What are 'Cycle Drills' and how did you come up with the idea?
BR: 'Cycle Drills' is a very basic drill where you just defend and counter. The reason I came up with this idea was to have some thing more defence / counter orientated.The biggest problem many people have is that they train in medio (medium) range and when they tap in for a fight they find themselves outside of largo (long) range in what we call 'Snake' range and they find serious problems closing the gap to use their medio techniques. To help them to close the gap from largo to medio range Guro Crafty developed many training drills, like the Snaggle Tooth progression and the Attacking Blocks drill. However in Cycle Drills I wanted to face more the idea of what to do if the opponent is pushing the fight. How to use our techniques we have in counter fighting structure. Cycle Drills is a generator that can be used by both beginners and more advanced students and allows the fighter to develop the ability to counter strike safely with stick, complimentary hand or even power kicks. It also helps with closing to 'Corto' (Close) range to clinch and onto take downs and grappling
MT: Can anyone have the opportunity to advance in Dogbrothers Martial Arts and can one refrain from Real Contact Stick Fighting and still train the DBMA system?
BR: Absolutely, Indeed, MOST people who train in DBMA are what we call "Practitioners" interested in our mission statement of "Walk as a Warrior for all your days."
I think to fight RCSF is not for everybody but to have the knowledge gained from these experiences brought to the Dojo is for everyone so the practioners can benefit from the fighters
MT: I have often heard comment from other martial artists who criticise the Dog Brothers for being nothing more than brawlers with sticks. Could you give us your thoughts on this and explain the difference between Full Contact Full Armour matches and Real Contact Stick Fighting (Low Armour)
BR: Actually, I don't have a lot of view about the Full Armour tournaments but I have seen a few videos and I have seen how they train. To be honest these are brawls, I don't see any strategy. I see skill, a lot of cardio some nice looking techniques but not the strategy you need when fighting with real sticks. If you used the Full Armour approach in Real Contact Stick Fighting you will make your way to the hospital sooner than you think. There has to be a lot of strategy and skill involved to survive. To the naked eye of someone just training in FMA then the fighting looks different to how they expect it to look. So many people say that they can't see the skill but its the same in MMA and you need a fighters eye to see this skill, to see the strategy, skill and timing because its all happening so fast in a RCSF. One of the nice things about the DBMA DVDs is the "if you see it taught, you see if fought". The teaching material is illustrated with actual fights and slow-motion is used to slow the fight down to where people can actually see what is going on.
MT: How do you want to see DBMA in Europe grow from here on?
BR: I am really happy to see whats happened over the last two years and if it carries on like this then I am very much looking forward to it. The training groups at the moment are pretty small and I am really excited to see them grow and develop. I am glad that the sense of tribe is allowing the different groups to work together. Last year Top Dog and Crafty Dog came to open our first European Dog Brothers Gathering here in Bern and I was very surprised to see how much interest we had with 42 fighters. It was a long day with a lot of fights. I am also seeing a unique fighting style appearing for the European Dog Brothers much like in Boxing with European boxing being different from American and American is different from Mexican boxing etc.I am already seeing a direction that will make us different (laughs)!
Also Dog Brothers Martial Arts has a lot to offer the practitioners (those that don't wish to fight) with a full self-defence system and healing arts for both men and women and I would like to see this grow along side those who wish to fight at the 'Gatherings' . Within the system we organize this under the headings of "Ritual" and "Reality" which are combined to yield a "Totality". The Real Contact Stickfighting falls within "Ritual", street application matters are within "Reality". (There is also a Law Enforcement/Military component to the system) Some DBMA people are more interested in one, some are more interested in the other, some seek to blend the two and some people start with one, but wind up focusing on the other. This applies to our instructors as well! To have the adrenal state experience of Real Contact Stickfighting I think is very useful in helping people to understand what they are capable of and what skills need to be capable of in real time for the street. In summary I would say that we like to let people explore and grow as they will.
MT: Finally , Can you tell us a bit about your first ever London Seminar later this year?
BR: Yes I am very happy to be teaching a 2 day seminar on 9th & 10th June 2007 in Plumstead, London. The plan is to give the participants an overview about DBMA. This time I want to focus on Single Stick. I’m going to cover different areas with the single stick. There will be our blend of Kali and Krabi Krabong (Los Triques), Clinchwork with the Stick but also some Self-defence material.
I will also be visiting our Glasgow Group in August.
MT: Thank you for a fantastic weeks training and I look forward to our next adventure.
BR: Woof woof
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Nuclear War, WMD issues
on: March 08, 2007, 12:14:38 PM
This article raises some very important and very scary questions. Comments?
The Words None Dare Say: Nuclear War
By George Lakoff www.informationclearinghouse.info/article17220.htm
"The elimination of Natanz would be a major setback for Iran's nuclear ambitions, but the conventional weapons in the American arsenal could not insure the destruction of facilities under seventy-five feet of earth and rock, especially if they are reinforced with concrete. "-Seymour Hersh, The New Yorker, April 17, 2006
"The second concern is that if an underground laboratory is deeply buried, that can also confound conventional weapons. But the depth of the Natanz facility - reports place the ceiling roughly 30 feet underground - is not prohibitive. The American GBU-28 weapon - the so-called bunker buster - can pierce about 23 feet of concrete and 100 feet of soil. Unless the cover over the Natanz lab is almost entirely rock, bunker busters should be able to reach it. That said, some chance remains that a single strike would fail. " - Michael Levi, New York Times, April 18, 2006
03/01/07 "ich" -- - A familiar means of denying a reality is to refuse to use the words that describe that reality. A common form of propaganda is to keep reality from being described.
In such circumstances, silence and euphemism are forms of complicity both in propaganda and in the denial of reality. And the media, as well as the major presidential candidates, are now complicit.
The stories in the major media suggest that an attack against Iran is a real possibility and that the Natanz nuclear development site is the number one target. As the above quotes from two of our best sources note, military experts say that conventional "bunker-busters" such as the GBU-28 might be able to destroy the Natanz facility, especially with repeated bombings. On the other hand, they also say such iterated use of conventional weapons might not work, e.g., if the rock and earth above the facility becomes liquefied. On that supposition, a "low yield" "tactical" nuclear weapon, say, the B61-11, might be needed.
If the Bush administration, for example, were to insist on a sure "success," then the "attack" would constitute nuclear war. The words in boldface are nuclear war, that's right, nuclear war - a first strike nuclear war.
We don't know what exactly is being planned - conventional GBU-28s or nuclear B61-11s. And that is the point. Discussion needs to be open. Nuclear war is not a minor matter.
As early as August 13, 2005, Bush, in Jerusalem, was asked what would happen if diplomacy failed to persuade Iran to halt its nuclear program. Bush replied, "All options are on the table." On April 18, the day after the appearance of Seymour Hersh's New Yorker report on the administration's preparations for a nuclear war against Iran, President Bush held a news conference. He was asked,
"Sir, when you talk about Iran, and you talk about how you have diplomatic efforts, you also say all options are on the table. Does that include the possibility of a nuclear strike? Is that something that your administration will plan for?"
"All options are on the table."
The President never actually said the forbidden words "nuclear war," but he appeared to tacitly acknowledge the preparations - without further discussion.
Vice-President Dick Cheney, speaking in Australia last week, backed up the President .
"We worked with the European community and the United Nations to put together a set of policies to persuade the Iranians to give up their aspirations and resolve the matter peacefully, and that is still our preference. But I've also made the point, and the president has made the point, that all options are on the table."
Republican Presidential Candidate John McCain, on FOX News, August 14, 2005, said the same .
"For us to say that the Iranians can do whatever they want to do and we won't under any circumstances exercise a military option would be for them to have a license to do whatever they want to do ... So I think the president's comment that we won't take anything off the table was entirely appropriate."
But it's not just Republicans. Democratic Presidential candidate John Edwards, in a speech in Herzliyah, Israel, echoed Bush.
"To ensure that Iran never gets nuclear weapons, we need to keep ALL options on the table. Let me reiterate - ALL options must remain on the table."
Although, Edwards has said, when asked about this statement, that he prefers peaceful solutions and direct negotiations with Iran, he has nonetheless repeated the "all options on the table" position - making clear that he would consider starting a preventive nuclear war, but without using the fateful words.
Hillary Clinton, at an AIPAC dinner in New York, said,
"We cannot, we should not, we must not, permit Iran to build or acquire nuclear weapons, and in dealing with this threat, as I have said for a very long time, no option can be taken off the table."
Translation: Nuclear weapons can be used to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons.
Barack Obama, asked on 60 Minutes about using military force to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, began a discussion of his preference for diplomacy by responding, "I think we should keep all options on the table."
Bush, Cheney, McCain, Edwards, Clinton, and Obama all say indirectly that they seriously consider starting a preventive nuclear war, but will not engage in a public discussion of what that would mean. That contributes to a general denial, and the press is going along with it by a corresponding refusal to use the words.
If the consequences of nuclear war are not discussed openly, the war may happen without an appreciation of the consequences and without the public having a chance to stop it. Our job is to open that discussion.
Of course, there is a rationale for the euphemism: To scare our adversaries by making them think that we are crazy enough to do what we hint at, while not raising a public outcry. That is what happened in the lead up to the Iraq War, and the disaster of that war tells us why we must have such a discussion about Iran. Presidential candidates go along, not wanting to be thought of as interfering in on-going indirect diplomacy. That may be the conventional wisdom for candidates, but an informed, concerned public must say what candidates are advised not to say.
The euphemisms used include "tactical," "small," "mini-," and "low yield" nuclear weapons. "Tactical" contrasts with "strategic"; it refers to tactics, relatively low-level choices made in carrying out an overall strategy, but which don't affect the grand strategy. But the use of any nuclear weapons would be anything but "tactical." It would be a major world event - in Vladimir Putin's words, "lowering the threshold for the use of nuclear weapons," making the use of more powerful nuclear weapons more likely and setting off a new arms race. The use of the word "tactical" operates to lessen their importance, to distract from the fact that their very use would constitute a nuclear war.
What is "low yield"? Perhaps the "smallest" tactical nuclear weapon we have is the B61-11, which has a dial-a-yield feature: it can yield "only" 0.3 kilotons, but can be set to yield up to 170 kilotons. The power of the Hiroshima bomb was 15 kilotons. That is, a "small" bomb can yield more than 10 times the explosive power of the Hiroshima bomb. The B61-11 dropped from 40,000 feet would dig a hole 20 feet deep and then explode, send shock waves downward, leave a huge crater, and spread radiation widely. The idea that it would explode underground and be harmless to those above ground is false - and, anyway, an underground release of radiation would threaten ground water and aquifers for a long time and over a wide distance.
To use words such as "low yield" or "small" or "mini-" nuclear weapon is like speaking of being a little bit pregnant. Nuclear war is nuclear war! It crosses the moral line.
Any discussion of roadside canister bombs made in Iran justifying an attack on Iran should be put in perspective: Little canister bombs (EFPs - explosively formed projectiles) that shoot a small hot metal ball at a humvee or tank versus nuclear war.
Incidentally, the administration may be focusing on the canister bombs because it seeks to claim that the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002 permits the use of military force against Iran based on its interference in Iraq. In that case, no further authorization by Congress would be needed for an attack on Iran.
The journalistic point is clear. Journalists and political leaders should not talk about an "attack." They should use the words that describe what is really at stake: nuclear war - in boldface.
Then there is the scale of the proposed attack. Military reports leaking out suggest a huge (mostly or entirely non-nuclear) airstrike on as many as 10,000 targets - a "shock and awe" attack that would destroy Iran's infrastructure the way the U.S. bombing destroyed Iraq's infrastructure. The targets would not just be "military targets." As Dan Plesch reports in the New Statesman, February 19, 2007, such an attack would wipe out Iran's military, business, and political infrastructure. Not just nuclear installations, missile launching sites, tanks, and ammunition dumps, but also airports, rail lines, highways, bridges, ports, communications centers, power grids, industrial centers, hospitals, public buildings, and even the homes of political leaders. That is what was attacked in Iraq: the "critical infrastructure." It is not just military in the traditional sense. It leaves a nation in rubble, and leads to death, maiming, disease, joblessness, impoverishment, starvation, mass refugees, lawlessness, rape, and incalculable pain and suffering. That is what the options appear to be "on the table." Is nation destruction what the American people have in mind when they acquiesce without discussion to an "attack"? Is nuclear war what the American people have in mind? An informed public must ask and the media must ask. The words must be used.
Even if the attack were limited to nuclear installations, starting a nuclear war with Iran would have terrible consequences - and not just for Iranians. First, it would strengthen the hand of the Islamic fundamentalists - exactly the opposite of the effect U.S. planners would want. It would be viewed as yet another major attack on Islam. Fundamentalist Islam is a revenge culture. If you want to recruit fundamentalist Islamists all over the world to become violent jihadists, this is the best way to do it. America would become a world pariah. Any idea of the U.S. as a peaceful nation would be destroyed. Moreover, you don't work against the spread of nuclear weapons by using those weapons. That will just make countries all over the world want nuclear weaponry all the more. Trying to stop nuclear proliferation through nuclear war is self-defeating.
As Einstein said, "You cannot simultaneously prevent and prepare for war."
Why would the Bush administration do it? Here is what conservative strategist William Kristol wrote last summer during Israel's war with Hezbollah.
"For while Syria and Iran are enemies of Israel, they are also enemies of the United States. We have done a poor job of standing up to them and weakening them. They are now testing us more boldly than one would have thought possible a few years ago. Weakness is provocative. We have been too weak, and have allowed ourselves to be perceived as weak.
The right response is renewed strength -- in supporting the governments of Iraq and Afghanistan, in standing with Israel, and in pursuing regime change in Syria and Iran. For that matter, we might consider countering this act of Iranian aggression with a military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities. Why wait? Does anyone think a nuclear Iran can be contained? That the current regime will negotiate in good faith? It would be easier to act sooner rather than later. Yes, there would be repercussions -- and they would be healthy ones, showing a strong America that has rejected further appeasement."
-Willam Kristol, Weekly Standard 7/24/06
"Renewed strength" is just the Bush strategy in Iraq. At a time when the Iraqi people want us to leave, when our national elections show that most Americans want our troops out, when 60% of Iraqis think it all right to kill Americans, Bush wants to escalate. Why? Because he is weak in America. Because he needs to show more "strength." Because if he knocks out the Iranian nuclear facilities, he can claim at least one "victory." Starting a nuclear war with Iran would really put us in a worldwide war with fundamentalist Islam. It would make real the terrorist threat he has been claiming since 9/11. It would create more fear - real fear - in America. And he believes, with much reason, that fear tends to make Americans vote for saber-rattling conservatives.
Kristol's neoconservative view that "weakness is provocative" is echoed in Iran, but by the other side. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was quoted in The New York Times of February 24, 2007 as having "vowed anew to continue enriching uranium, saying, 'If we show weakness in front of the enemies, they will increase their expectations.'" If both sides refuse to back off for fear of showing weakness, then prospects for conflict are real, despite the repeated analyses, like that of The Economist that the use of nuclear weapons against Iran would be politically and morally impossible. As one unnamed administration official has said (The New York Times, February 24, 2007), "No one has defined where the red line is that we cannot let the Iranians step over."
What we are seeing now is the conservative message machine preparing the country to accept the ideas of a nuclear war and nation destruction against Iran. The technique used is the "slippery slope." It is done by degrees. Like the proverbial frog in the pot of water - if the heat is turned up slowly the frog gets used to the heat and eventually boils to death - the American public is getting gradually acclimated to the idea of war with Iran.
* First, describe Iran as evil - part of the axis of evil. An inherently evil person will inevitably do evil things and can't be negotiated with. An entire evil nation is a threat to other nations.
* Second, describe Iran's leader as a "Hitler" who is inherently "evil" and cannot be reasoned with. Refuse to negotiate with him.
* Then repeat the lie that Iran is on the verge of having nuclear weapons - weapons of mass destruction. IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei says they are at best many years away.
* Call nuclear development "an existential threat" - a threat to our very existence.
* Then suggest a single "surgical" "attack" on Natanz and make it seem acceptable.
* Then find a reason to call the attack "self-defense" - or better protection for our troops from the EFPs, or single-shot canister bombs.
* Claim, without proof and without anyone even taking responsibility for the claim, that the Iranian government at its highest level is supplying deadly weapons to Shiite militias attacking our troops, while not mentioning the fact that Saudi Arabia is helping Sunni insurgents attacking our troops.
* Give "protecting our troops" as a reason for attacking Iran without getting new authorization from Congress. Claim that the old authorization for attacking Iraq implied doing "whatever is necessary to protect our troops" from Iranian intervention in Iraq.
* Argue that de-escalation in Iraq would "bleed" our troops, "weaken" America, and lead to defeat. This sets up escalation as a winning policy, if not in Iraq then in Iran.
* Get the press to go along with each step.
* Never mention the words "preventive nuclear war" or "national destruction." When asked, say, "All options are on the table." Keep the issue of nuclear war and its consequences from being seriously discussed by the national media.
* Intimidate Democratic presidential candidates into agreeing, without using the words, that nuclear war should be "on the table." This makes nuclear war and nation destruction bipartisan and even more acceptable.
Progressives managed to blunt the "surge" idea by telling the truth about "escalation." Nuclear war against Iran and nation destruction constitute the ultimate escalation.
The time has come to stop the attempt to make a nuclear war against Iran palatable to the American public. We do not believe that most Americans want to start a nuclear war or to impose nation destruction on the people of Iran. They might, though, be willing to support a tit-for-tat "surgical" "attack" on Natanz in retaliation for small canister bombs and to end Iran's early nuclear capacity.
It is time for America's journalists and political leaders to put two and two together, and ask the fateful question: Is the Bush administration seriously preparing for nuclear war and nation destruction? If the conventional GBU-28s will do the job, then why not take nuclear war off the table in the name of controlling the spread of nuclear weapons? If GBU-28s won't do the job, then it is all the more important to have that discussion.
This should not be a distraction from Iraq. The general issue is escalation as a policy, both in Iraq and in Iran. They are linked issues, not separate issues. We have learned from Iraq what lack of public scrutiny does.
George Lakoff is a Senior Fellow at the Rockridge Institute. Lakoff is Professor of Linguistics at the University of California, Berkeley.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Iran
on: March 08, 2007, 11:46:39 AM
IRAN: The board of the International Atomic Energy Agency voted to suspend 22 technical aid programs to Iran as part of the expansion of international sanctions on Tehran over its refusal to halt its uranium enrichment program. The widely expected decision, which stiffens the penalties placed on Iran by the U.N. Security Council on Dec. 23, 2006, was made by consensus.
DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Re: Mexico
on: March 08, 2007, 11:39:39 AM
Mexico: A Rise in Killings in Sonora State
March 07, 2007 18 57 GMT
Three police officers were killed March 6 in Mexico's Sonora state, the latest in a spate of drug-related slayings in this relatively quiet state. The rise in criminal activity is believed to be related to a campaign of intimidation by Mexico's drug cartels, but it could also indicate that rival cartels are moving into territory controlled by the Sinaloa federation.
The body of a municipal police officer was found March 6 in a rural area near Hermosillo, the capital of Mexico's Sonora state. The officer, who had his hands and feet bound, had apparently been executed. A note left with the body says "the problem is not with the government" and lists the names of five other police officers. This could suggest that the officer had been an informant for the cartels and was killed by fellow officers. Later that day, a municipal police officer was shot and killed while patrolling Obregon Avenue in Cananea, near the U.S. border. The night before, an agent from the Sonora State Judicial Police was executed in the parking lot of Hermosillo's state attorney general's office.
Since the beginning of the year, crime has been on the rise in Sonora state. By late February, it was estimated that 15 executions had taken place in the state in 2007 and five had occurred during the last week, including the two in Hermosillo. This is well above the state's usual homicide rate. Almost all of the victims so far have been law enforcement officials.
The killings are believed to be a reaction to Mexican President Felipe Calderon's crackdown on drug cartel operations throughout Mexico. Sonora Gov. Jose Eduardo Robinson Bours Castelo, referring to the current situation as a "period of executions," has said the killings are part of the cartels' attempts to intimidate police and dissuade them from cooperating with Mexican federal authorities in the anti-cartel campaign.
Another explanation for the increase in violence in Sonora could be the movement into the state of members of various cartels escaping areas where Calderon's crackdowns are taking place. Organized crime in Sonora is controlled by a federation of drug cartels led by the Sinaloa cartel, which originated in Sinaloa state, which borders Sonora to the south. Sonora is important to the federation as a corridor for transporting drugs from Central and South America into the United States. While federal security efforts disrupt organized crime in other states -- such as Baja California, Tamaulipas, Michoacan -- areas with less federal presence, such as Sonora, could prove to be attractive cartel sanctuaries.
Despite the increase in violence in Sonora state, the threat to U.S. citizens visiting there remains minor. The main risk remains Sonora's notoriously hazardous roadways rather than the unlikely possibility of being caught in the crossfire between cartel and law enforcement personnel.
DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Re: Peru
on: March 08, 2007, 11:37:42 AM
Guau a todos:
Tengo el orgullo de anunciar que Rainer y "Sniper" ahora encabeza un DBMA Training Group.
Tan pronto que me manden los datos que quieren que yo ponga en nuestro sitio para que la gente sepan como ponerse en contacto con ellos, lo hare'
La Aventura continua!
DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Re: Politica-Economia en Latino America
on: March 08, 2007, 11:35:01 AM
U.S., Latin America: The President Tours a Divided Region
U.S. President George W. Bush is beginning a weeklong tour of Latin America, a region of countries that have chosen either political populism or political moderation.
U.S. President George W. Bush is about to begin a week of travel to Latin America. He has chosen to visit five countries that are on good terms with the United States in a region divided between countries that have chosen political populism and those that have chosen political moderation.
Though Latin America often is seen as being divided between left and right -- with the charismatic Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez leading the left -- the region can more accurately be divided between populist and moderate governments.
While all countries in the region claim to want greater regional integration and help for the poor, the populists (Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia and, to some extent, Argentina) aim to provide for the general population by appropriating their natural resource wealth, while the moderates (Brazil, Uruguay, Peru, Chile and, to some extent, Mexico) aim to thrive via commerce. Of these two groups, only Venezuela and Brazil aspire to shape the region as a whole.
Chavez is the populist movement's leading figure, though he neither created nor fully controls it. The rebirth of populism, which ideologically is tied to the region's socialist roots, was inevitable following widespread disillusionment with the neoliberal economic adjustments the International Monetary Fund (IMF) imposed during the 1990s in order to create macroeconomic stability. Although the measures managed to bring serious inflationary pressures under control, they did not resolve the region's notorious inequalities, and considerable resentment grew.
This led each country to one of two conclusions. The first was that the policies pursued by the IMF, the so-called "Washington Consensus," benefited multinational corporations, Washington and wealthy Latin American elites who served the first two -- meaning an entirely new approach was needed. This conclusion was most popular in places with a great deal of oil and mining wealth from which the public did not directly benefit -- Latin America's populist countries.
The second conclusion maintained that a painful adjustment period was necessary, and could be brought about by expanded education and other social programs. Meanwhile, this view held, the rule of law could be strengthened to allow commerce to continue to expand, and the lower classes would be offered the means to improve their lot. This conclusion was most popular in places where the business class was successfully expanding, moderate countries that today essentially are continuing policies put in place during the 1990s.
Although the populist/moderate divide is not as stark as some have made it out to be, it is not negligible either. The mixture of populism and socialism has potential implications for the political structures of the nations that have embraced populism as they pursue constitutional reforms that will include redistricting and the creation of local citizen councils with expanded powers. In the name of promoting community rights, these nations will further undermine the operational stability of companies operating there.
Chavez has taken the first conclusion to its extreme, making it clear that U.S. influence and private companies are not welcome in Venezuela and justifying the consolidation of authoritarian powers by the popular backing won through oil-funded social programs. While Bolivian President Evo Morales and Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa have taken similar steps, they are not interested in completely imitating or obeying Chavez, nor do they really share his regional ambitions. Instead, they are interested in their respective visions for the welfare of their own countries, though they agree with some of Chavez's measures and appreciate his aid.
Chavez has thrown a great deal of money around Latin America (though some of these financial promises could go unfulfilled as Venezuela runs a budget deficit), while the United States has been distracted in Iraq and elsewhere and the IMF has basically finished up its lending in the region and gone home.
Meanwhile, Venezuela and Brazil have competing visions for the region. Venezuela's is more aggressive, while Brazil's is more passive. However, the countries differ in more than just approach -- the cores of their visions are incompatible. As long as Brazil enjoys secure access to Bolivian natural gas, it need not be too concerned about Chavez's antics in the region. However, Brazil also would like to see the region conduct trade negotiations with other powers as a bloc rather than individually, increasing its collective bargaining power and giving Brazil a natural leadership role. Venezuela's entry into Mercosur destroyed the regional organization's ability to serve as such a trade bloc. Brazil now finds itself stuck, unwilling to kick Venezuela out, withdraw itself or bypass Mercosur and negotiate unilaterally.
To Brazil's south, Uruguay and Argentina are engaged in an ongoing border conflict over pulp mills, and neither Buenos Aires nor Montevideo appears eager to resolve the dispute.
To Brazil's northwest, Colombia is surrounded by Ecuador and Venezuela -- both of which are populists. Border tensions in the area have been increasing, while there are rumors of infiltrations by Bolivarian propagandists from Venezuela into Colombia in an effort to woo towns away from Colombian President Alvaro Uribe Velez. As far as hotspots go, Colombia's border area is the one to watch, especially since Colombia is the flashpoint between U.S. influence in the region and its opponents.
Bush's itinerary includes stops in Mexico, Guatemala, Colombia, Brazil and Uruguay. Mexico finds itself in the interesting position of being economically dependent on its oil exports but attempting to go the moderate route. There, Bush will affirm his positive relationship with President Felipe Calderon and try to smooth over border/immigrant policy tensions. Meanwhile, Guatemala is stuck in the geopolitically irrelevant region that is Central America; the main reason for Bush's Central American stop is to acknowledge Guatemala's participation in the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq. In Colombia, Bush will show his support for the president, who has been beleaguered by a scandal tying members of his government to right-wing paramilitaries.
But, ultimately, it is Brazil and its junior neighbor, Uruguay, that potentially have the power to jointly transform or dismantle Mercosur, eventually reopening dialogue with Washington on a Free Trade Area for the Americas -- although that is a long way off. During his stops there, Bush will promote an ethanol partnership with Brazil and encourage Uruguay to continue to work toward a free trade agreement with the U.S.
For now, most countries in Latin America have settled either on populism or moderation. On this trip, Bush is focusing on the moderates and expanding their U.S. aid -- likely signaling that Washington intends to reward countries that avoid populism. However, the moderates have not chosen their course in order to please the United States, and it will take a much more concerted effort than one trip for Washington to have much of an impact on the region's dynamic.
ECUADOR: Ecuadorian police surrounded the country's Congress building to prevent 57 opposition congressmen from entering. The Supreme Court issued a ruling March 7 that removed the congressmen from office after they voted to replace Supreme Electoral Tribunal President Jorge Acosta for backing President Rafael Correa's plan to hold a referendum on rewriting the constitution.
ARGENTINA: Bolivian President Evo Morales will attend a public event March 9 organized by the Argentine organization Mothers of Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires, in which Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez will speak, local media reported. Morales also will meet with Argentine President Nestor Kirchner to sign bilateral energy agreements, but will not attend a meeting in which Chavez is set to critique U.S. President George W. Bush's trip to Latin America.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Professor Pino - enough is enough - I've had it.
on: March 08, 2007, 11:19:05 AM
Thank you for that summary, which accords with my memories from law school days.
"On the other hand, I do admit that I broadened the argument myself by attacking unlimited free speech."
"Perhaps I took on too difficult a task but my overall hunch on this stands (in my mind). Also (and frankly), I am not a legal genius."
Something which had occurred to us as well
"So who should dictate who gets censored - perhaps the nine the Supreme Court Justices."
To be precise, they say what the Constitution says about the legality of a given law under the C. The Executive branch then decides whom to prosecute.
"And are you actually telling me the cacaphony of views in this country has *not* resulted in inaction on numerous issues? How can anything get accomplished with so much hot air out there? This country is more or less evenly divided."
Now your argument becomes that we need censorship in order that there be action even when the country is evenly divided???
Maybe it is time for a deep breath and a fresh start?
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Afghanistan-Pakistan
on: March 08, 2007, 11:11:22 AM
The first is from 2/27 and the second is from today:
The Relationship between the Taliban and Pakistan's Domestic Stability
By Kamran Bokhari
While returning from East Asia on Feb. 26, U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney made a surprise stopover in Islamabad, where he met with Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf. The same day, British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett also met with Musharraf, urging him to control the Taliban traffic along the Afghan-Pakistani border. Meanwhile, reports surfaced that U.S. President George W. Bush has sent a strong message to Musharraf, warning him that the Democratic-controlled Congress could cut aid to Pakistan unless Islamabad aggressively cracks down on jihadist activity in the country.
Beckett's was the latest in a long series of calls from senior U.S. officials and those representing Washington's NATO allies for the Musharraf government to do more in the fight against jihadists. Given that the war in Iraq has gone badly for the United States, the Bush administration is under great pressure domestically to show progress in Afghanistan (and by extension Pakistan). Similarly, their military involvement in Afghanistan is a major domestic issue for many European states.
Though political concerns at home are contributing to the U.S./Western pressure on Islamabad to get tougher on the jihadist problem, Pakistan's inability to oblige its Western allies is also a function of its own domestic political concerns. There also is a certain level of unwillingness on Islamabad's part because its interest in maintaining relations with Washington goes beyond having status as an ally in the war on terrorism. The United States and the Europeans understand the concerns of the Pakistanis and do not want to rock the Musharrafian boat, especially when the country is headed into presidential and parliamentary elections beginning as early as September.
That said, the West is not willing to continue with business as usual, which has led to the strengthening of the jihadist forces in Afghanistan and allowed al Qaeda to continue its global operations -- albeit at a reduced pace. From viewpoint of the United States and its NATO allies, the Pakistanis could be doing a lot more without triggering political instability on the home front.
The Pakistanis, on the other hand, say they are fed up with being asked to do more, arguing that using force alone is undermining their own domestic security -- which could indeed start churning up a tide of political instability. Musharraf is caught between the external pressure to assume a more robust attitude with regards to counterterrorism, and dealing with terrorism from within.
On both counts, Islamabad has a point. Following the U.S. airstrike on a madrassa in the northern part of the tribal belt in late October 2006, jihadists have unleashed an unprecedented wave of suicide attacks across the country against government and Western targets. Other than a few bombings against Western targets and assassination attempts against Musharraf, jihadists had not attacked inside Pakistan. In fact, until this recent wave of suicide attacks, jihadists in Pakistan were using the country as a launchpad for attacks against third parties.
This nascent jihadist insurgency does not have widespread support within the country and, given the militants' limited capabilities, is a problem Pakistani security forces can handle. The real obstacles to Musharraf's ability to wage a successful crackdown have to do with domestic political stability in light of the coming elections.
At present, Musharraf's domestic position is secure, in that no political force (party or even a coalition of parties) exists that can remove him from office through mass unrest. The fact that the political structure that emerged from the 2002 elections is managing to reach the end of its term clearly underscores his ability to maintain power. This, to a great degree, is the result of Musharraf being a military ruler.
Despite the military-dominated political order, however, the current civil-military government is not completely exempt from public accountability, especially if it expects to garner votes. On the contrary, the civilian setup that Musharraf is relying on to sustain his hold on power and to keep his political opponents at bay is a complex system crafted with great difficulty. Musharraf has kept this system afloat by forging alliances and creating and sustaining divisions among the opposition parties.
Both the president and the parliamentary component of his regime will have to pass the test of elections. Musharraf has told Stratfor he wants to remain president for another five years to reach the goals he has outlined for himself. For this he needs to have the current ruling coalition led by the Pakistan Muslim League (PML), at a bare minimum, retain its majority in the parliament and its current standing in the provincial legislatures. Accomplishing this task could guarantee his re-election as president.
But Musharraf is uncertain whether the next round of parliamentary elections -- set for January 2008 -- will produce the desired results, which is why he has moved to hold the presidential election in September. This way he can be certain of his own re-election as president in the event that his allies are not able to retain their majority in the federal and provincial legislatures.
Musharraf's opponents, however, are up in arms over his bid to seek a second term from the same electoral college. So the question is, can the opposition pull together the much-discussed grand alliance to force Musharraf's hand? Here is where terrorism and counterterrorism play a pivotal role in shaping events. Attacks in the country, along with the government's counterterrorism efforts, can create a dynamic that his opponents can exploit to generate public unrest. Certain forces already are taking advantage of the suicide attacks as an opportunity to target rival political forces in the hope of stirring political unrest ahead of the elections.
The purpose of the jihadist suicide bombing campaign is to create enough political problems for the Musharraf government to force Islamabad's attention away from counterterrorism operations. The situation in Afghanistan and the threat from the wider jihadist movement, however, has Musharraf under pressure to stay focused on counterterrorism. Thus, he needs to be able to figure out a way to satisfy international demands with regards to counterterrorism and keep his opponents from undercutting stability.
While Musharraf is reluctant to take on the risks associated with going after the Afghan Taliban, he is also deeply worried about the Talibanization of certain parts of his own country. In particular, the jihadists' influence is growing in the Pashtun-dominated areas in the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and northwestern Balochistan.
Musharraf also wants to be able to roll back the power of the six-party Islamist political coalition, Mutahiddah Majlis-i-Amal (MMA). The MMA not only controls the NWFP government and is part of the coalition government with the pro-Musharraf PML in Balochistan, but also is the largest opposition bloc in the national parliament. The Islamists, who historically were divided and never gained more than a handful of seats in any previous election, contested the 2002 elections on a single platform and exploited the anti-American sentiment among the Pashtuns and others in the country in the wake of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001.
Another key reason behind the MMA's extraordinary showing at the polls was the fact that the mainstream opposition parties -- the Pakistani People's Party-Parliamentarians (PPP-P) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) -- were marginalized because of certain electoral and constitutional engineering aimed at preventing the two groups from making significant gains in the elections. Furthermore, the Musharraf government engineered a significant number of post-election defections of parliament members from the PPP-P. The PPP-P emerged as the largest opposition party in parliament in the last elections. The defections, however, decreased the number of seats it controlled -- and the MMA, which was in third place, emerged as the largest opposition bloc.
Since the last elections, Musharraf has seen how the military's historical relationship with Islamist and jihadist forces has cost the country -- and not just in terms of external pressure. It also has allowed these forces to emerge as a threat on the domestic front. Though the jihadists have staged a few suicide bombings in response to counterterrorism operations by Pakistani and U.S. forces, the MMA can exploit this issue in the elections, potentially consolidating its hold in the Pashtun areas and even enhancing it.
This would explain why Musharraf sees the coming parliamentary elections as a decisive battle between the forces of extremism and moderation. Though Musharraf might have clearly identified the battle line, he faces problems in gathering the forces of moderation to defeat the radicals.
The quandary has to do with the fact that two critical moderate political forces -- the PPP-P and the PML-N -- are not ready to do business with him. These two parties, which together form the secular opposition bloc called the Alliance for Restoration of Democracy (ARD), are not willing to accept a president in military uniform.
That he is the president as well as the military chief is not only the source of Musharraf's power; it is also the biggest sore point with regard to his future as leader of the country. Musharraf realizes that at some point he needs to step down as chief of the army staff. But from his point of view, how does he do so without incurring a loss of sovereignty? One way to do this, perhaps, is to change the political system from a parliamentary to a presidential one.
Considering that the constitution says the country should have a parliamentary form of government, he needs to be able to balance the powers of the parliament with those of the presidency. This can be done by amending the constitution in keeping with a negotiated power-sharing mechanism. This way Musharraf could retain control over power by serving as a balance between the military establishment and the civilians. But for this to materialize, he and his allies must get over the hurdle of the twin elections. In this respect, there are two possible outcomes.
1. Musharraf is able to get re-elected in September without any backlash from the public, meaning he is able to keep not just the ARD and MMA apart, but also to sustain internal divisions within the two alliances. Additionally, his civilian allies at a bare minimum retain more or less the same number of seats in the incumbent legislatures. Given the divided state of the Pakistani electorate, achieving this objective is not impossible.
2. Should an outcry occur over vote-rigging -- one big enough for the opposition to exploit -- then Musharraf would be in trouble, both and home and abroad. The Bush administration, for instance, would not want to come out in support of him in the wake of mass cries of fraud. In such a situation, things could spiral out of hand and he could be forced to step down. In the event of major public protests, even his generals could be forced to call on him to step down or strike a compromise with the opposition.
Musharraf would want to avoid at all costs the latter outcome, which means his government cannot afford to allow the opposition to exploit the issue of electoral fraud. This is why it is even more important that he not engage in actions that will make it even more difficult for him and his allies to get re-elected.
This complex domestic political situation raises the question of whether the United States and its allies can delay their demand for Islamabad to take more action until after the electoral storm for Musharraf has passed. In many ways it is a timing issue because NATO is looking at the coming spring offensive from the Taliban and needs Pakistani cooperation to act. Musharraf and Washington, therefore, likely will work out a formula whereby the jihadists can be dealt with without creating problems for Musharraf in the elections. This is because, from Washington's point of view, long-term success in the war against the jihadists depends on political continuity in Islamabad.
Geopolitical Diary: The Second Search for Moderate Taliban
In an interview that appeared on Wednesday in German magazine Der Spiegel, Afghan President Hamid Karzai expressed willingness to negotiate with the Taliban and their Pashtun militant Islamist allies in order to quell the raging jihadist insurgency in his country. Karzai said, "I will embrace [Taliban chief] Mullah [Mohammad] Omar and [Hezb-i-Islami leader and former Prime Minister] Gulbuddin Hekmatyar for peace in Afghanistan, for stability in Afghanistan. But it is the Afghan people who should decide on the atrocities committed against the Afghan people."
This statement raises a couple of questions: Why is Karzai extending an olive branch to the Taliban-led jihadists at a time when their resurgence would allow the Taliban to negotiate from a position of strength? Doesn't the Afghan leader know Mullah Omar is not interested in negotiating with Kabul, given that his alliance with al Qaeda is incompatible with Karzai's ties to the United States? Moreover, Karzai is not in a position to engage in such negotiations unless he has clearance from his NATO supporters.
The Western military alliance has been quietly exploring alternative ways of undercutting the Taliban. It also has been advised to simultaneously push ahead with the military campaign to weaken the Pashtun jihadist movement by focusing on taking out the Mullah Omar-based leadership and exploring negotiations with more pragmatic elements within the Taliban leadership. This would partially explain Karzai's statement.
The president's offer to engage Mullah Omar and Hekmatyar in negotiations can only be understood within the context of the Taliban landscape, which consists of at least three different factions:
1. Those engaged in ground combat inside Afghanistan's Pashtun majority areas in southern and eastern Afghanistan.
2. Those connected to Pakistan.
3. Those with ties to al Qaeda.
Karzai is aware of this configuration and knows Mullah Omar will reject negotiations. Therefore, by offering to make peace with Mullah Omar and even to include the Taliban in his government, Karzai is attempting to drive a wedge between these various factions. Kabul has no interest in cutting deals with those Taliban who are close to al Qaeda. Instead, he is trying to extract the "moderate Taliban" by creating a schism within the Pashtun jihadists. By demonstrating he is ready to give the Taliban a piece of political pie, Karzai hopes to spur a significant number of the movement's members to move away from Mullah Omar and his cabal.
The Afghan government also hopes to sideline Pakistan's Taliban proxies in order to prevent Islamabad from regaining influence in Kabul. This is not the first time Kabul has attempted such a move. During 2003-2004, then-U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad (a Pashtun) tried to seek out the moderates among the Taliban. Those efforts led a handful of senior Taliban members to part ways with Mullah Omar. But it failed to put a dent in the fighting because the bulk of the Taliban fighters did not heed the call.
This second search for moderate Taliban will meet a similar fate unless Karzai is willing to embrace those Taliban with connections to Pakistan. This is the only way he will be able to isolate the religious nationalists from the transnationalists and potentially isolate Mullah Omar. Therefore, it appears Karzai must work out a deal with Islamabad before he can negotiate with the Taliban.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Islam in America and the rest of the western hemisphere
on: March 08, 2007, 09:49:51 AM
The Headline should read "Muslims screw us again, just as their book commands".
Ex-Navy sailor charged under espionage law
Man arrested in Arizona, accused of giving details about ships to al-Qaida
A former Navy enlisted man was arrested and charged with violating terrorism and espionage laws by passing along sensitive information about the vulnerability of Navy ships to al-Qaida associates, sources told NBC News on Wednesday.
Officials already knew naval information had been relayed but just recently named a suspect.
Paul R. Hall, now known as Hassan Abujihaad, 31, was arrested Wednesday in Phoenix, Ariz., said the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity. He is accused of sending classified information about the movements of a Navy battle group deployed to the Persian Gulf in the spring of 2001. The document discussed potential vulnerabilities to attack. It was sent to the operators of a London Web site, Assam Publications, who have since been arrested on terrorism charges. Their arrests in 2004 first exposed the contacts.
Federal agents said Abujihaad described the October 2000 attack on the USS Cole in Aden harbor in Yemen as a "martyrdom operation" and said that such tactics were working and taking their toll on the Navy.
He was discharged from the Navy in January 2002, before his contact with the Web site was discovered.
Abujihaad is charged in the same case as Babar Ahmad, a British computer specialist accused of running Web sites to raise money for terrorism. Ahmad is schedule be extradited to the U.S. to face trial.
Investigators discovered computer files containing classified information about the positions of U.S. Navy ships and discussing their susceptibility to attack during Ahmad's investigation.
Abujihaad exchanged e-mails with Ahmad while on active duty on the USS Benfold, a guided-missile destroyer, in 2000 and 2001, according to an affidavit released Wednesday. He allegedly purchased videos promoting violent jihad.
The documents retrieved from Ahmad show drawings of Navy battle groups and discuss upcoming missions. They also say the battle group could be attacked using small weapons such as rocket-propelled grenades. The ships were never attacked.http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/17507790/
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Boxing Thread
on: March 07, 2007, 11:46:37 PM
Man, 91, challenges Jack LaLanne, 92 Wed Mar 7, 5:53 PM ET
LEWISTON, Maine - All of that Florida sun must be getting to Maine snowbird Roland Fortin. The 91-year-old has laid down a challenge to box fitness guru Jack LaLanne, who's 92. Fortin, former "cut man" for retired boxing champ Joey Gamache, said the idea for the four-round bout was hatched at the Tropical Gym in Pompano Beach, where Fortin works out during the winter in Florida.
The South Florida Sun-Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale ran the challenge in a half-page ad that gym owner Troy Eckonen took out for Super Bowl Sunday. The purpose, he said, was to let seniors know it's not too late to get in great shape like Fortin.
"Florida is like the waiting room to the casket," Ecknonen said.
So far, the publicity stunt is working for the Tropical Gym, where membership is up. But LaLanne hasn't taken Fortin up on the challenge to enter the ring.
LaLanne's spokeswoman learned of the boxing challenge when she was contacted Tuesday by a reporter from the Sun Journal newspaper in Lewiston.
"That's not quite his cup of tea," Liz Cardenas said Wednesday from California. Besides, she said, LaLanne is too busy traveling for public appearances, and he no longer performs athletic feats for which he was known earlier in his career.
Despite the rebuff, Eckonen has not abandoned the idea. He said he plans to deliver the ad to fight promoter Don King to see if he's interested.
"It'd be a gentleman's fight, obviously," Eckonen said.
Fortin, a widower who has wintered in Florida since retiring from the funeral business decades ago, doesn't think either man would get hurt in a brief square-off. "He'd knock me down, I'd knock him down," he said.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Professor Pino - enough is enough - I've had it.
on: March 07, 2007, 06:32:40 PM
Thanks for those URLs SBM.
I have a heavy reading load at the moment, but resonating from my days in law school oh so long ago is this distinction found in the first of your URLs:
"advocacy (as versus) , , , incitement to imminent lawless action".
Since you have presumably read them, including the lengthy second one, would you be so kind as to give a quick summary?
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: We the Well-armed People
on: March 07, 2007, 05:54:21 PM
March 5, 2007
A death averted
Passer-by uses gun to halt attack
By Nicklaus Loveladynicklaus.email@example.com
As customers watched in horror Sunday afternoon, a man stabbed a woman and attempted to set her on fire in the parking lot of a Jackson store, witnesses said.
The attack was stopped by a passer-by, who held the man at gunpoint until police arrived, witnesses said.
The suspect, Henry Watson, 42, was arrested and is expected to face aggravated assault charges, Jackson Police Department Cmdr. Lee Vance said. Watson's wife, Gracie Watson, 42, was transported to the University of Mississippi Medical center, where she was listed in good condition.
"It wasn't five minutes from when she had left my line when I heard a scream outside," said Theresa Stuckey, a cashier at the Family Dollar at 516 Nakoma Drive in Jackson. "I looked out, and (the attacker) was on top of her stabbing her, and stabbing her and stabbing her.
"She was screaming, 'Help, he's trying to kill me!' She was rolling on the ground, trying to get out of the way, but he kept stabbing her. He stabbed her about 20 times in the neck, back and arms."
As the attack continued, people were yelling at the man to stop and honking their horns, Stuckey said. She said she called 911.
"He was just standing over her hacking away," said Dolly Baker, who had just left the Save-A-Lot store next door when she saw the attack.
Baker said she watched the man pour gasoline on the victim then try to strike a match.
"He was literally trying to kill that lady in broad daylight," she said.
Baker said a passer-by stopped the attack.
"He told the man, 'Stop, or I'm going to shoot. And if you run, I'm going to kill you,' " Baker said.
The man held Watson at bay until police arrived at the scene.
"Right now, all we know is that (Watson) attacked his wife. For what reason, we don't know," Jackson Police Department Sgt. Eric Smith said.
Police said they are looking for the passer-by who stopped the attack and would like to talk to him but don't know who he is or where he went. [NOTE: They have found the rescuer, but didn't release his name. He might have had a "history" with the police, but despite this, he acted.]
The incident occurred about 3:50 p.m.
Smith said he did not know exactly how many times Gracie Watson was stabbed but said it was more than 10 times.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Native Americans and tribal living around the world
on: March 07, 2007, 05:51:14 PM
March 7, 2007
By RANDAL C. ARCHIBOLD
TOHONO O'ODHAM NATION, Ariz. - A fresh footprint in the dirt, fibers in the
mesquite. Harold Thompson reads the signs like a map.
They point to drug smugglers, 10 or 11, crossing from Mexico. The deep
impressions and spacing are a giveaway to the heavy loads on their backs.
With no insect tracks or paw prints of nocturnal creatures marking the
steps, Mr. Thompson determines the smugglers probably crossed a few hours
"These guys are not far ahead; we'll get them," said Mr. Thompson, 50, a
strapping Navajo who follows the trail like a bloodhound.
At a time when all manner of high technology is arriving to help beef up
security at the Mexican border - infrared cameras, sensors, unmanned
drones - there is a growing appreciation among the federal authorities for
the American Indian art of tracking, honed over generations by ancestors
Mr. Thompson belongs to the Shadow Wolves, a federal law enforcement unit of
Indian officers that has operated since the early 1970s on this vast Indian
nation straddling the Mexican border.
Tracking skills are in such demand that the Departments of State and Defense
have arranged for the Shadow Wolves to train border guards in other
countries, including some central to the fight against terrorism. Several
officers are going to train border police in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan,
which border Afghanistan, and in several other countries.
In the renewed push to secure the border with Mexico, the curbing of
narcotics trafficking often gets less public attention than the capturing of
But the 15-member Shadow Wolves unit, part of Immigration and Customs
Enforcement, is recruiting members to reach the congressionally authorized
complement of 21. And the immigration agency is considering forming a sister
unit to patrol part of the Canadian border at the Blackfeet reservation in
Montana, where concern about drug trafficking is growing.
"Detecting is one thing, and apprehending is something entirely different,"
said Rodney Irby, a special agent in Tucson for the immigration agency who
helps supervise the Shadow Wolves. "I applaud the technology; it will only
make the border more secure. But there are still going to be groups of
people who penetrate the most modern technology, and we need a cadre of
agents and officers to apprehend them."
The Shadow Wolves have seized nearly 30,000 pounds of illegal drugs since
October, putting them on pace to meet or exceed previous annual seizure
amounts. They routinely seize some 100,000 pounds of illegal drugs a year,
Mr. Irby said.
They home in on drug smugglers, who use less-traveled cattle tracks, old
wagon-wheel trails and barely formed footpaths to ferry their loads to roads
and highways about 40 miles from the border.
The Tohono land, which is the size of Connecticut and the third-largest
reservation in area in the country, has long vexed law enforcement. Scores
of people die crossing here every year in the searing, dry heat of summer or
the frigid cold of winter. And its 76-mile-long border with Mexico, marked
in most places with a three- or four-strand barbed-wire fence that is easy
to breach, is a major transshipment point for marijuana, Mexico's largest
Adding to the challenge is that drug smugglers have enlisted tribal members
or forced them into cooperation, sometimes stashing their loads in the
ramshackle houses dotting the landscape or paying the young to act as
guides. Several tribal members live on the Mexican side, and those on the
American side have long freely crossed the border, which they usually do
through a few informal entry points that drug traffickers, too, have picked
How much the Shadow Wolves disrupt the criminal organizations is debated.
Officials said they believed the group's work at least complicated drug
smuggling operations - the Shadow Wolves have received death threats over
the years - but they said they could not estimate the amount of drugs making
Marvin Eleando, a Tohono who retired from the unit in 2004, said he believed
the Shadow Wolves got just a small fraction of the drugs moving through the
Tohono lands. Mr. Eleando estimated it would take about 100 Shadow Wolves to
truly foil the smugglers, who employ spotters on mountaintops who watch for
officers and then shift routes accordingly.
Still, he said, the unit must keep up the effort because the drugs, and the
gun violence often associated with trafficking, imperil tribal members.
"The kids get mixed up in this and then don't want to work anymore," Mr.
Lately, according to the Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs
Enforcement, drug seizures in Arizona, and especially around the reservation
and the Tucson area, have surged, and the size of the loads found has
Officials said it was too soon to tell whether the uptick signaled a
long-term pattern. But they believed it could be partly explained by the
additional staffing on the border. Law enforcement officials said that there
also appeared to be a bumper crop of marijuana in Mexico and that smugglers
seemed to be trying to ship tons of it ahead of government crackdowns there.
"We never know how much is being pushed in our direction," said David V.
Aguilar, the chief of the Border Patrol, though he added that it seemed the
amount was "higher at this point."
Alonzo Peña, the agent in charge of Immigration and Customs Enforcement in
Arizona, said investigators had many theories but little concrete
information to explain the increase in trafficking.
"Is this marijuana that has been sitting in warehouses, and they are trying
to get rid of it now that there is a strong hand in Mexico?" Mr. Peña said.
"We just don't know other than that we are seeing more loads and bigger
loads in many areas."
The Shadow Wolves, established with a handful of officers in 1972 as part of
what was then the United States Customs Service, were the first federal law
enforcement officers allowed on Tohono land.
The federal government agreed to the Tohono O'odham Nation's demand that the
officers have American Indian ancestry, a requirement still in place.
Members are at least one-quarter Indian, and the current group represents
seven tribes, including the Tohono.
While other law enforcement agencies, including the Border Patrol, use
tracking, the Shadow Wolves believe that their experience and their Indian
ancestry give them an edge, particularly here.
"I speak the language, so when we are dealing with elderly members in
particular I can make them more comfortable," said Gary Ortega, a Tohono who
has been in the Shadow Wolves for nine years. "They are willing to tell us
things they know or see that they may not tell another federal agent or
There is also, of course, the thrill of the hunt.
On a recent day, Mr. Thompson picked up the track around 3 a.m. and, with
Mr. Ortega, stayed on it for nearly 12 hours through thorny thickets and
wide-open desert. As the terrain grew craggy, Mr. Thompson kept a brisk
pace, with Mr. Ortega and other officers leapfrogging ahead to help find the
"Every chase is just a little different," Mr. Ortega said, barely pausing as
he followed the prints in the sand.
It grew easier as the sun rose and the smugglers kept bumping into thorny
bushes and stopping to rest, leaving their food wrappers behind and coat
fibers in the cat-claw brush. By midafternoon, Mr. Ortega and Mr. Thompson
were tiring, too. But the scent of the men's burlap sacks perked up Mr.
Ortega, and he quickened his pace, finally catching sight of the smugglers
and prompting them to bolt from their resting spot.
Left behind were 10 bales of marijuana, 630 pounds in total, a fairly
typical bust, with a street value of more than $315,000.
With the weight off their backs, the smugglers showed new speed dashing to
hiding places and easily outmatched their pursuers. Other Shadow Wolves
drove out to pick up the load, finding their colleagues resting on the bales
and grinning in satisfaction.
"When we get the dope or the guys," Mr. Thompson said, "that's when it
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Intel Matters
on: March 07, 2007, 02:33:24 PM
Geopolitical Diary: Iranian Secrets on the Loose?
Ali Reza Askari, a former aide to the Iranian defense minister and a retired general with long service in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), has been missing since Feb. 7. He reportedly was last seen in Istanbul. After his disappearance, Arab newspapers quickly fingered Mossad and the CIA for his assassination or kidnapping. Iranian officials made similar claims. On Tuesday, the independent Saudi-owned newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat offered a different explanation: Askari had defected, turning himself over to U.S. agents in Turkey.
After visiting Damascus on official business, Askari reportedly flew to Istanbul on a personal trip. Menashe Amir, an Israeli analyst of Iranian affairs, has said that Askari's family left Iran ahead of him and met up with him in Istanbul. That his disappearance appears to have happened while he was traveling abroad with his family seems a remarkable coincidence. And Istanbul is a particularly convenient location for the U.S. intelligence community: Turkey's intelligence agencies are on good terms with their American counterparts, and U.S. military flights are quite common.
While Asharq Al-Awsat has occasionally been used by Riyadh for disinformation purposes -- and both the Saudis and the Israelis (and essentially everyone else discussing his disappearance) have cause to manipulate perceptions of Iran -- the fact remains that a covert war is raging, and has been. Mossad has likely taken out Ardeshir Hassanpour, a prominent Iranian nuclear scientist. In Iraq, the United States has raided an Iranian consulate and arrested Iranian citizens, including Mohsen Shirazi, a commander of the elite IRGC Quds Brigade.
One thing is clear: Askari is missing and Tehran is at least pretending to be worried. An Iranian delegation arrived in Istanbul last week to investigate, and has reportedly contacted Interpol. Some of the details of Askari's military career have been closely guarded by the Iranian government, but indications are that he has been heavily involved in strategic affairs as well as military purchases and production. Israeli sources claim that he was the commander of the IRGC in Lebanon in the late 1980s, where he served as a liaison with Hezbollah. He could even be privy to information on Tehran's nuclear program.
Iran appears to be operating on the assumption that Askari might have been compromised. While the true scope and pertinence of his knowledge is known only to Tehran (or was, prior to Feb. 7), the damage he could do to Iran is almost certainly significant. Reports that dozens of IRGC members working in cultural centers and embassies in the Arab world and Europe have been called back to Tehran, for fear that their identities will be disclosed, lend credence to the utility of the information Askari might offer. Some sources have characterized his possible defection as a "deathblow."
While a kidnapped Askari would be of deep concern, an Askari who defected willingly would be a nightmare for Tehran. And this situation could be even more dire than just Askari walking in out of the cold and asking for asylum. The U.S. intelligence community could already have been working him for months -- or years.
Brushing aside the loss of someone like Askari simply might not be possible for Tehran. A defense establishment that has gone out of its way to appear threatening and capable could be exposed as a fake. Or even if it truly is dangerous and capable, its best laid battle plans and contingencies might now be in the hands of the Pentagon. From Iranian lines of communication to Hezbollah, to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's evacuation plans in the event of a U.S. attack, the possible revelations are numerous and highly sensitive.
Of course, Askari could be a double agent and Iran's "concern" could be feigned. His high position would certainly suggest a strong loyalty to the clerical regime. But making a double agent out of someone with such a vast array of devastating information seems to place too much directly into the hands of the United States -- an awful gamble for Tehran.
Whatever the case, the stakes in the covert war have almost certainly been raised.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The 2008 Presidential Race
on: March 07, 2007, 02:26:53 PM
In ’05 Investing, Obama Took Same Path as Donors
By MIKE McINTIRE and CHRISTOPHER DREW
Published: March 7, 2007
Less than two months after ascending to the United States Senate, Barack Obama bought more than $50,000 worth of stock in two speculative companies whose major investors included some of his biggest political donors.
One of the companies was a biotech concern that was starting to develop a drug to treat avian flu. In March 2005, two weeks after buying about $5,000 of its shares, Mr. Obama took the lead in a legislative push for more federal spending to battle the disease.
The most recent financial disclosure form for Mr. Obama, an Illinois Democrat, also shows that he bought more than $50,000 in stock in a satellite communications business whose principal backers include four friends and donors who had raised more than $150,000 for his political committees.
A spokesman for Mr. Obama, who is seeking his party’s presidential nomination in 2008, said yesterday that the senator did not know that he had invested in either company until fall 2005, when he learned of it and decided to sell the stocks. He sold them at a net loss of $13,000.
The spokesman, Bill Burton, said Mr. Obama’s broker bought the stocks without consulting the senator, under the terms of a blind trust that was being set up for the senator at that time but was not finalized until several months after the investments were made.
“He went about this process to avoid an actual or apparent conflict of interest, and he had no knowledge of the stocks he owned,” Mr. Burton said. “And when he realized that he didn’t have the level of blindness that he expected, he moved to terminate the trust.”
Mr. Obama has made ethics a signature issue, and his quest for the presidency has benefited from the perception that he is unlike politicians who blend public and private interests. There is no evidence that any of his actions ended up benefiting either company during the roughly eight months that he owned the stocks.
Even so, the stock purchases raise questions about how he could unwittingly come to invest in two relatively obscure companies, whose backers happen to include generous contributors to his political committees. Among those donors was Jared Abbruzzese, a New York businessman now at the center of an F.B.I. inquiry into public corruption in Albany, who had also contributed to Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, a group that sought to undermine John Kerry’s Democratic presidential campaign in 2004.
Mr. Obama, who declined to be interviewed about the stock deals, has already had to contend with a controversy that arose out of his reliance on a major campaign contributor in Chicago to help him in a personal financial transaction. In that earlier case, he acknowledged last year that it had been a mistake to involve the contributor, a developer who has since been indicted in an unrelated political scandal, in deals related to the Obamas’ purchase of a home.
Senate ethics rules do not prohibit lawmakers from owning stocks — even in companies that do business with the federal government or could benefit from legislation they advance — and indeed other members of Congress have investments in government contractors. The rules say only that lawmakers should not take legislative actions whose primary purpose is to benefit themselves.
Mr. Obama’s sale of his shares in the two companies ended what appears to have been a brief foray into highly speculative investing that stood out amid an otherwise conservative portfolio of mutual funds and cash accounts, a review of his Senate disclosure statements shows. He earned $2,000 on the biotech company, AVI BioPharma, and lost $15,000 on the satellite communications concern, Skyterra, according to Mr. Burton of the Obama campaign.
Mr. Burton said the trust was different from qualified blind trusts that other senators commonly used, because it was intended to allow him greater flexibility to address any accusations of conflicts that might arise from its assets. He said Mr. Obama had decided to sell the stocks after receiving a communication that made him concerned about how the trust was set up.
The investments came at a time when Mr. Obama was enjoying sudden financial success, following his victory at the polls in November 2004. He had signed a $1.9 million book deal, and his ethics disclosure reports show that he received $1.2 million of book money in 2005.
His wife, Michelle, a hospital vice president in Chicago, received a promotion that March, nearly tripling her salary to $317,000, and they bought a $1.6 million house in June. The house sat on a large property that was subdivided to make it more affordable, and one of Mr. Obama’s political donors bought the adjacent lot.
The disclosure forms show that the Obamas also placed several hundred thousand dollars in a new private-client account at JPMorgan Chase, a bond fund and a checking account at a Chicago bank.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Islam in Islamic Countries:
on: March 07, 2007, 02:22:27 PM
FOXNEWS.COM HOME > WORLD > THE MIDEAST
Saudi Kidnap, Rape Victim Faces Lashing for 'Crime' of Being Alone With Man Not Related to Her
Tuesday, March 06, 2007
E-MAIL STORY PRINTER FRIENDLY VERSION
A 19-year-old Saudi woman who was kidnapped, beaten and gang raped by seven men who then took photos of their victim and threatened to kill her, was sentenced under the country's Islamic-based law to 90 lashes for the "crime" of being alone with a man not related to her.
The woman is appealing to Saudi King Abdullah to intervene in the controversial case.
"I ask the king to consider me as one of his own daughters and have mercy on me and set me free from the 90 lashes," the woman said in an emotional interview published Monday in the Saudi Gazette.
"I was shocked at the verdict. I couldn't believe my ears. Ninety lashes! Ninety lashes!" the woman, identified only as "G," told the English-language newspaper.
Five months after the harsh judgment, her sentence has yet to be carried out, "G" said she waits in fear every day for the phone call telling her to submit to authorities to carry out her punishment.
Lashes are usually spread over several days. About 50 lashes are given at a time.
The woman's ordeal began a year ago when she was blackmailed into meeting a man who threatened to tell her family they were having a relationship outside wedlock, which is illegal in the desert kingdom, according to a report in The Scotsman newspaper.
She met the man at a shopping mall and, after driving off together, the blackmailer's car was stopped by two other cars bearing men wielding knives and meat cleavers.
During the next three hours, the woman was raped 14 times by her seven captors.
One of the men took pictures of her naked with his mobile phone and threatened to blackmail her with them.
Back at home in a town near the eastern city of Qatif, the young woman did not tell her family of her ordeal. Nor did she inform the authorities, fearing the rapist would circulate the pictures of her naked. She also attempted suicide.
Five of the rapists were arrested and given jail terms ranging from 10 months to five years. The prosecutor had asked for the death penalty for the men.
The Saudi justice ministry, however, said rape could not be proved because there were no witnesses and the men had recanted confessions they made during interrogation.
The judges, basing their decision on Islamic law, also decided to sentence the woman and her original blackmailer to lashes for being alone together in his car.
The Saudi Gazette and The Scotsman contributed to this report.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Military Science
on: March 07, 2007, 01:58:23 PM
The New Logic for Ballistic Missile Defense
By Peter Zeihan
The commander of Russia's strategic bomber force, Lt. Gen. Igor Khvorov, said March 5 that his forces could easily disrupt or destroy any missile defense infrastructure in Poland and the Czech Republic -- where the United States is preparing to set up parts of a ballistic missile defense (BMD) system. Khvorov was hardly the first Russian official to make such a threat: On Feb. 19, statements by Strategic Rocket Forces commander Col. Gen. Nikolai Solovtsov left little doubt that Moscow would target U.S. BMD sites with its nuclear arsenal if Washington pushes ahead with its plans.
Exactly why missile defense -- a technology that has received little publicity since the Cold War -- should be a source of increasingly obvious tension between the United States and Russia is an interesting question. An equally interesting question: Why are the Russians threatening once again to target NATO countries -- a tactic Moscow abandoned 15 years ago?
The answer is rooted not only in the history of BMD, but in the myriad ways the European theater has changed -- from both the U.S. and European points of view -- since the end of the Cold War.
BMD and the Cold War
When Ronald Reagan introduced the Star Wars system in the 1980s, his logic was much more political than military. It was apparent that, even with extremely aggressive funding, the United States was decades away from being able to establish a missile shield capable of deflecting a significant Soviet nuclear strike. Rhetoric aside, the argument for a BMD system was not really about establishing an impregnable bubble around the United States, but rather about shifting the strategic balance away from mutually assured destruction and into a venue that catered to the Americans' economic advantage.
In the minds of Politburo members, the United States not only was moving into a realm in which the Americans already enjoyed substantial technological and economic advantages, but in which the costs of development also threatened to overturn Soviet military doctrine. As of the early 1980s, the United States was spending only 6 percent of its gross domestic product on defense, whereas the Soviets are thought to have been expending more than one-quarter of theirs. The Soviets recognized that they could not win a space race involving defensive weaponry. Reagan's insistence on keeping the BMD issue on the table, therefore, gave him enormous bargaining power against the Soviets and contributed heavily to the subsequent arms-control and disarmament treaties that ultimately heralded the Cold War's end.
European leaders, however, viewed BMD issues in much the same light as the Soviets did. Though few Europeans were comfortable with the idea of the Americans and Soviets being locked into a Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) structure that would consume their homelands if anything should go awry, it was impossible to ignore the fact that MAD had brought about 50 years of relatively stable Great Power relations. Reagan's BMD was viewed as an extremely aggressive effort to overturn that system and disrupt the stability that went with it. European states were terrified of BMD at both the political and strategic levels.
But the arguments and alignments in favor of BMD have changed drastically in the post-Cold War era.
The New American Logic
As the Russian missile arsenal has declined in quantity and quality, U.S. desires for a BMD protective net have only strengthened. Though most American strategic planners in the 1980s were well aware that the system being envisioned was merely drawing-board material, strategic and technological realities today are starkly different. U.S. strategic thought now is fixating on two ideas.
First and most obvious is that, though it would not be foolproof by any stretch, it is possible that within a few years, an American-installed BMD network in certain parts of the world could protect against secondary threats such as Iran and North Korea. Given that the human and financial costs involved in rebuilding a major U.S. city (should one be hit by a nuclear weapon) are well above even the most aggressive price estimates for a global BMD network, the original vision of BMD as an effective defensive weapon now could be within reach.
The second idea dovetails with long-standing U.S. strategic doctrine -- a philosophy that long predates the Cold War. That doctrine has always aimed to push threats away from the continental United States -- initially by securing U.S. sovereignty over the North American land mass, achieving strategic depth and controlling sea approaches. Ultimately, the doctrine calls for the United States to project power into Eurasia itself, establishing as much stand-off distance as possible. In the early 20th century, naval power allowed the United States to do this just fine. But in the early 21st century, with the proliferation of intercontinental ballistic missile technology, naval power is only one leg of such a strategy.
Having forward-based BMD facilities not only is becoming important for Washington, but is moving to the core of U.S. defense logic.
From Washington's perspective, establishing a BMD system is not about taking advantage of Russia's relative military weakness, but instead about adapting to a new strategic reality. The foes and threats facing the United States have changed. No one is pretending that Russia's decline as a global power has not opened the door to a U.S. BMD system in the first place, or that the system could not be expanded and upgraded in the future as a potential counter to Russia's nuclear arsenal. Rather, it means simply that in the current strategic picture, the Russians really are not at the heart of U.S. defense planning -- and certainly not so far as BMD is concerned.
(click to enlarge)
The technological considerations are not unimportant here. With current technology, any system would be twitchy at best -- so for best results, the United States is seeking a layered network. The first layer of defense -- which most likely would include airborne lasers at some point -- would be sited as close to the launching states as possible, allowing the system to target any missile launches during the boost phase. The second layer would involve missile interceptors or AEGIS systems to strike during the midcourse of the missile's flight, followed by terminal phase engagement with anti-missile systems, such as the PAC-3 (the newest incarnation of the Patriot).
The polar projection of an ICBM is also key to understanding Washington's logic. Any missile launched from Iran and bound for the continental United States would have to fly over Central Europe -- which is why the United States has pending agreements to set up an interceptor base in Poland and a radar station in the Czech Republic. Similarly, any North Korean missile would have to fly over Alaska, the other major BMD interceptor locale. A nuclear strike out of Russia, however, would travel over the North Pole. BMD installations in Europe and Alaska would cover only the peripheries of that attack corridor -- and with vastly insufficient numbers of interceptors.
In short, the U.S. rationale for BMD has evolved. In the 1980s, it was about breaking out of the MAD impasse and wringing concessions out of the Soviets. Today, BMD has the potential to be something that was never seriously considered in the 1980s: a viable defensive weapon. Put another way, BMD once was wielded as a political tool to avoid a future war; now, it is coming to be viewed as a defensive weapon to be used in a future conflict.
The New European Logic
The Czech Republic and Poland are not the only European states to have changed their thinking about BMD either. A number of countries not only are responding warmly to U.S. overtures regarding facilities, but in some cases actually are initiating the siting requests.
For central European states, the benefits of such deals are obvious. Most of the political elites in these states fear a future conflict with the Russians, and anything they can do to solidify a military arrangement with Washington is, to their thinking, a benefit in and of itself. But even in Western Europe, further removed from the Russian periphery, opposition to the United States' BMD programs seems to have relaxed considerably. The United Kingdom has specifically requested inclusion in the system (though Washington so far has declined), and the German government has called for the United States to address the issue of BMD in the context of NATO.
There are several reasons for this change.
First and foremost, BMD technology -- while still unproven -- has advanced considerably since the Reagan era, and thus is now far more likely to work. When BMD was only a political tool and could offer no real protection, the Europeans were understandably squeamish about participating in the system. But if the system is actually functional, the calculus shifts.
Second, a weak BMD system designed to guard against Iran theoretically could evolve into a stronger system that helps to protect Europeans against Russia in the future. Of course, the system is not designed to target Russia at the present time, but if Russia's military capabilities should decay further over time, the technological argument -- that the system might actually work -- weighs heavily in the European mind. And at a time when Moscow is growing more aggressive in economic and political terms, laying the groundwork for a military hedge makes sense.
Third, it is becoming increasingly difficult for Europeans to define their security interests as separate from Washington's. Moscow's new energy strategy is a tool for exerting influence over Europe, making European states more willing to view Russia through American goggles. Moreover, Iran regularly bites its thumb at the United Nations and its nuclear watchdog, inducing the Europeans (little by little) to morph from being apologists for Tehran to quiet, if still primarily unofficial, enforcers of sanctions. BMD fits into the U.S. strategic doctrine, and that logic, by association, is now taking hold in Europe.
Fourth, there is a desire to rope the United States into a multilateral defense stratagem. Many Western Europeans begrudge U.S. efforts to dominate the NATO alliance and regularly try to persuade Washington to more seriously consider European points of view. But the United States' ability to make bilateral defense deals cuts the Europeans out completely. For countries like Germany, which considers itself a key driver of European policy, the only way to counter unilateral American moves is to make it worth Washington's while to discuss issues like BMD within the framework of NATO -- which means taking BMD well beyond committee meetings and talk shops. It means actually deploying assets. To do otherwise would only encourage Washington to impose a security policy upon Europe without consulting the Europeans.
Finally, there is the "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em" logic: Bilateral U.S. security agreements with Central European states are forging BMD into reality. If is going to happen anyway, the logic goes, you might as well jump on the bandwagon and reap some of the benefits.
The Russians, of course, are not blind to the emergence of a potential threat near their borders -- even recognizing the limitations of the BMD system as currently envisioned.
The United States certainly does not want to trigger a war with Moscow, but that does not mean that Washington is oozing with warm feelings toward all things Russian. Throughout American history, only three countries have seriously threatened the United States: Britain, which ultimately was forced into the role of ally; Mexico, which was occupied and half its territory annexed; and Russia/Soviet Union -- the only foe still remaining. Traditionally, the United States does not defeat its enemies so much as crush them until either they switch sides or are incapable of posing more than a negligible threat.
Though the days of Russian-American military parity are long past, the United States is not yet finished with Moscow from a strategic perspective. Washington wants to pressure Russia until its will, as well as its ability, to pose a viable threat completely disintegrates. Therefore, while it is true that Russia is not an explicit target of the BMD system being established in the Czech Republic and Poland, it would be ridiculous to believe that BMD facilities in Europe would not trigger evolutions in Russian policy. Washington realizes that. In fact, the Americans are betting on it.
Establishing a BMD system on Russia's doorstep would indeed pose a potential long-term threat for Moscow -- but more importantly, it creates a political irritant that will generate a steady stream of bellicose Russian rhetoric. And that serves American purposes. The more aggressive Russia sounds, the more willing Europeans will be to see strategic U.S. policy in general -- and BMD policy specifically -- from Washington's point of view.
Which brings us back to the recent statements by the men who manage Russia's warheads. Their direct threats against European targets must have thrilled American strategic planners. With but a few words, the Russian generals not only supplied a fresh rationale for the BMD system, but also tilted the debate in Europe over the entire system toward the Americans' logic.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Homeland Security
on: March 07, 2007, 01:54:18 PM
Wired Iraqi man triggers scare at L.A. airport
Tue Mar 6, 2007 6:36 PM ET
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - An Iraqi national wearing wires and concealing a magnet inside his rectum triggered a security scare at Los Angeles International Airport on Tuesday but officials said he posed no apparent threat.
The man, identified by law enforcement officials as Fadhel al-Maliki, 35, set off an alarm during passenger screening at the airport early on Tuesday morning.
A police bomb squad was called to examine what was deemed a suspicious item found during a body cavity search of the man. Local media reports said a magnet was found in his rectum.
"He was secreting these items in a body cavity and that was a great concern because there were also some electric wires associated with that body cavity," Larry Fetters, security director for the Transportation Security Administration at the airport, told reporters.
Maliki, 35, who lives in Atlantic City, New Jersey, was preparing to board a US Airways flight from Los Angeles to Philadelphia.
The flight left without Maliki but with his luggage aboard. It made an unscheduled landing in Las Vegas, where the plane was thoroughly searched but nothing was found, officials said.
Passengers were not evacuated and no flights were disrupted by the incident at Terminal One at Los Angeles airport.
"There never was a threat," Fetter said.
He said police and the FBI were called in from "an abundance of caution" because Maliki was "so bizarre in his behavior."
Maliki, who had a U.S. green card, was being questioned by immigration officials about his immigration status.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: We the Unorganized Militia
on: March 07, 2007, 12:49:39 PM
BARRETT 'BEAR' DODDS & WALLY DODDS
Shopowner warns others
Determined to help: When Dodds saw the gunman, he ordered people to hide, then prepared to take on the shooter
By Brooke Adams
The Salt Lake Tribune
Article Last Updated: 02/18/2007 03:56:02 AM MST
Barrett "Bear" Dodds doesn't have much tolerance for mean people.
So when Bear realized a gunman was loose in Trolley Square, his testosterone kicked in.
Bear is the owner of the Brass Key Antique store, located on the south side of the mall's upper level. His acts helped keep dozens out of harm's way, likely distracted the shooter and aided the off-duty officer who was first on the scene.
On Monday night, Bear left his store in the hands of his grandpa Wally Dodds while he went across the floor to Haroon's clothing store. He hoped to pick up a Valentine's Day present for his girlfriend.
As he stood at the counter, he heard a pop, pop.
"That was gunshots," he said to the clerk.
Bear, 29, ran out of Haroon's and looked into the atrium below.
He saw a young man - Sulejman Talovic - standing outside the Cabin Fever gift store, shooting through its window.
In the same instant, he saw his grandfather, lured out of the Brass Key by the odd sounds, approach the south railing. Wally Dodds was moving into the direct sight of the shooter.
In the booming voice he used as a bouncer at various Salt Lake City clubs, Bear issued an order: "Grandpa, get back in and lock the door."
Wally moved back and began shepherding 15 or so people who had amassed in the hallway into the Brass Key. The shoppers took cover among the antiques, some crying, most fearfully quiet.
Bear's shouted command drew the attention of Talovic, who turned and looked up at him. By now, the commotion had drawn other shopkeepers along the east hallway to their doors.
Across the way, Bear saw about 20 people running in his direction. He put his hand up and yelled that the gunman was below. "They got the point," he said.
Bear then moved along the east hallway stores - Vitamin World, John Robert Powers, Ypsilon - telling storeowners to lock their doors. The sounds of Talovic's rampage continued.
"It was shot after shot after shot the whole time," Bear said.
He grabbed a tall, black metal stool from the Liken movie kiosk at the end of the east hallway and began making his way back to the atrium. As he reached The Spectacle, the last store on the left, Bear had a clear view of Cabin Fever.
"I could see the bodies," he said, among them what appeared to be an older man. "That's when you realize this has gone too far. It's for real."
His thoughts flashed on his grandpa, and "I lost my temper."
Bear began weaving in and out of sight of Talovic. His mind raced through the options.
"I could see him reaching in his pocket, reloading and reloading," said Bear, who had no idea how long it might take for police to intervene.
Bear said he tried to count shots so he could tell when Talovic would need to reload, but the teen never emptied his shotgun. He watched with disbelief as Talovic put the weapon to his shoulder and took aim, shooting victims once, twice or more.
Bear figured he could throw the stool, but knew it was not heavy enough to do anything but distract the teen. He calculated the odds of landing on him if he jumped.
From a window in the Brass Key, Wally Dodds could see Bear.
"I thought, 'Oh no.' I knew he wasn't going to run, wasn't going to hide, he wasn't going anywhere," Wally said. "He was going after the guy with a stool."
Talovic began backing up toward the Pottery Barn Kids store and Bear moved over to Haroon's to keep him in view. He spotted Ogden police officer Ken Hammond at the atrium's south end, moving toward Talovic.
"The officer said something like, 'I've only got six bullets, I can't have a long shoot-out,' " Bear said, "which scared me to death because I knew that guy had a whole lot of bullets."
Bear shouted that he could no longer see Talovic and that he had to be in Pottery Barn Kids store directly below him. About then, Hammond held his badge up and identified himself to arriving Salt Lake City police.
Bear said he put the stool down, realizing it might be mistaken for a weapon by new cops on the scene. He crouched down and moved closer to Haroon's as an officer shouted, "Police, drop your weapon."
There was a shotgun blast and then a volley of shots. Police officers swarmed the mall, telling people to "go, go, go."
"I am so grateful that Ogden police officer came because I might have lost him," Wally said. "It's not in [Bear's] nature to back down. He knew there was a good chance he would get shot but he couldn't stop."
When the mall reopened on Wednesday, a steady stream of shopowners, mall patrons and customers made their way to the Brass Key to give Bear a hug.
A woman and her young son came by Thursday to give Bear flowers and a card, which read in part: "You are a hero without a gun."
So did Randy Kennard, a long-time family friend and owner of Kennard Antiques, who wanted to shake his hand.
"That's Bear," he said.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Afghanistan-Pakistan
on: March 07, 2007, 12:37:03 PM
PAKISTAN: Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf said he is willing to hold talks with the nationalist rebels in Balochistan in order to stop the violence in the region, the Press Trust of India reported. Musharraf made the comments during a public meeting in the district of Sibbi, where he also said the Pakistani government is ready to "give [the rebels] everything." Musharraf made it clear, however, that no amount of force would separate Balochistan from Pakistan.
AFGHANISTAN: Afghan troops captured senior Taliban leader Mullah Mahmood on March 6 as he attempted to flee the Panjwaii area, NATO said. Mahmood is believed to be an expert bombmaker who organized suicide attacks.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Iran
on: March 07, 2007, 12:35:42 PM
IRAN: Iran has equipped its oil fields in the southern Persian Gulf with air defense systems, the Tehran-based Baztab news agency reported. The action has prompted the militaries of Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates to go on full alert. According to Baztab, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has said energy flow in the region will be obstructed if the West launches an offensive again Iran.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Professor Pino - enough is enough - I've had it.
on: March 07, 2007, 12:13:19 PM
Various points seriatim:
1) Concerning the ACLU: Yes they occasionally do act as Rog points out-- indeed I was raised in a home where that was the attitude towards the organization and I actually was a member for one year in the mid 80s. As I received the literature that a member receives though I saw that the organization is very much of the left and, more importantly, quite lacking in intellectual and moral integrity. I'm asking that we not confuse this thread with a discussion of the ACLU though, just briefly stating for the record my conclusions about the ACLU.
2) Concerning SB Mig's hypothetical, I see where is trying to go with it but find it to be qualitatively different in to advocating jihad in the current context is to advocate additional violent attacks by a world-wdie fascist movement on the American homeland with an eye to using violence by enemies both foreign and domestic to establish Sharia. As the famous Supreme Court dicta goes, The Constitution is not a suicide pact! Furhtermore, in my opinion Sharia is fundamentally inconsistent with core American Consitutional values such as Freedom of Choice, Freedom of Speech and Separation of Church & State.
3) I share SB Mig's concerns about the dangers of limiting Speech and again encourage CCP to look into American Constitutional Free Speech doctrine that requires some sort of imminence in conjunction with advocacy of illegal acts for the Speech to become illegal.
4) I agree with SB Mig's belief that our Free Speech is an important strand in what makes this country great and strong-- and agree with Rog that as stated CCP's position reachese conclusions which are unacceptable to me.
PS: Thank you SB Mig for your kind words about this Forum and its mission.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Environmental issues
on: March 05, 2007, 09:38:09 PM
Speaking for myself, I moved to LA after a particulary harsh winter in DC in 1982
Anyway, here's this from Mark Steyn on Al Gore's carbon credits:
How Gore's massive energy consumption saves the world
By Mark Steyn
Stop me if you've heard this before, but the other day the Rev. Al Gore
declared that "climate change" was "the most important moral, ethical,
spiritual and political issue humankind has ever faced.'' Ever. I believe
that was the same day it was revealed that George W. Bush's ranch in Texas
is more environmentally friendly than the Gore mansion in Tennessee.
According to the Nashville Electric Service, the Eco-Messiah's house uses 20
times more electricity than the average American home. The average household
consumes 10,656 kilowatt-hours. In 2006, the Gores wolfed down nearly
Two hundred twenty-one thousand kilowatt-hours? What's he doing in there?
Clamping Tipper to the electrodes and zapping her across the rec room every
night? No, no, don't worry. Al's massive energy consumption is due entirely
to his concern about the way we're depleting the Earth's resources. When I
say "we," I don't mean Al, of course. I mean you -yes, you, Earl Schlub, in
the basement apartment at 29 Elm St. You're irresponsibly depleting the
Earth's resources by using that electric washer when you could be down by
the river with the native women beating your loin cloth dry on the rock
while singing traditional village work chants all morning long. But up at
the Gore mansion -the Nashville Electric Service's own personal gold mine,
the shining Cathedral of St. Al, Tennessee's very own Palace of Versal -the
Reverend Al is being far more environmentally responsible. As his
spokesperson attempted to argue, his high energy usage derives from his
brave calls for low energy usage. He's burning up all that electricity by
sending out faxes every couple of minutes urging you to use less
Also he buys -and if you're a practicing Ecopalyptic please prostrate
yourself before the Recycling Bin and make the sign of the HDPE -Al buys
"carbon offsets," or "carbon credits." Or, as his spokesperson Kalee Kreider
put it (and, incidentally, speaking through a spokesperson is another way Al
dramatically reduces his own emissions), the Gores "also do the carbon
They do the Carbon Emissions Offset? What is that -a '60s dance craze? No,
it's way hotter. I mean, cooler. All the movie stars are doing it. In fact,
this year's Oscar goodie-bag that all the nominees get included a year's
worth of carbon offsets. Totally free. So even the stars' offsets are
offset. No wonder that, when they're off the set, they all do the offset.
Look at Leonardo DiCaprio: He's loaded with 'em, and the chicks think he's
totally eco-cool. Tall and tan and young and lovely, the boy with carbon
offsets goes walking and when he passes each one he passes goes
How do "carbon offsets" work? Well, let's say you're a former vice president
and you want to reduce your "carbon footprint," but the gorgeous go-go Gore
gals are using the hair dryer every night. So you go to a carbon-credits
firm and pay some money and they'll find a way of getting somebody on the
other side of the planet to reduce his emissions and the net result will be
"carbon neutral." It's like in Henry VIII's day. He'd be planning a big ox
roast and piling on the calories but he'd give a groat to a starving peasant
to carry on starving for another day and the result would be
So in the Reverend Al's case it doesn't matter that he's lit up like Times
Square on V-E Day. Because he's paid for his extravagant emissions. He has a
carbon-offset trader in an environmentally friendly carbon-credits office
suite who buys "carbon offsets" for Al from, say, a terrorist mastermind in
a cave in the Pakistani tribal lands who's dramatically reduced his energy
usage mainly because every time he powers up his cell phone or laptop a
light goes on in Washington and an unmanned drone starts heading his way.
So, aside from a basic cable subscription to cheer himself up watching U.S.
senators talking about "exit strategies" on CNN 24/7, the terrorist
mastermind doesn't deplete a lot of resources. Which means Tipper can watch
Al give a speech on a widescreen plasma TV, where Al looks almost as wide as
in life, and she doesn't have to feel guilty because it all comes out . . .
And, in fact, in the Reverend Al's case it's even better than that. Al buys
his carbon offsets from Generation Investment Management LLP, which is "an
independent, private, owner-managed partnership established in 2004 and with
offices in London and Washington, D.C.," that, for a fee, will invest your
money in "high-quality companies at attractive prices that will deliver
superior long-term investment returns." Generation is a tax-exempt U.S.
501(c)3. And who's the chairman and founding partner? Al Gore.
So Al can buy his carbon offsets from himself. Better yet, he can buy them
with the money he gets from his long-time relationship with Occidental
Petroleum. See how easy it is to be carbon-neutral? All you have do is own a
gazillion stocks in Big Oil, start an eco-stockbroking firm to make
eco-friendly investments, use a small portion of your oil company's profits
to buy some tax-deductible carbon offsets from your own investment firm, and
you too can save the planet while making money and leaving a carbon
footprint roughly the size of Godzilla's at the start of the movie when
they're all standing around in the little toe wondering what the strange
depression in the landscape is.
A couple of days before the Oscars, the Reverend Al gave a sell-out
performance at the University of Toronto. "From my perspective, it is a form
of religion," said Bruce Crofts of the East Toronto Climate Action Group,
who compared the former vice president to Jesus Christ, both men being (as
the Globe And Mail put it) "great leaders who stepped forward when called
upon by circumstance." Unlike Christ, the Eco-Messiah cannot yet walk on
water, but then, neither can the polar bears. However, only Al can survey
the melting ice caps and turn water into whine. One lady unable to land a
ticket frantically begged the university for an audience with His Goriness.
As the National Post reported, "Her daughter hadn't been able to sleep since
seeing ''An Inconvenient Truth.'' She claimed that seeing Mr. Gore in person
might make her daughter feel better." Well, it worked for Leonardo DiCaprio.
Are eco-celebrities buying ridiculousness-emissions credits from exhausted
run-of-the-mill celebrities like Paris, Britney and Anna Nicole? Ah, well.
The Eco-Messiah sternly talks up the old Nazi comparisons: What we're facing
is an "ecological Holocaust, and "the evidence of an ecological
Kristallnacht is as clear as the sound of glass shattering in Berlin." That
221,000 kilowatt-hours might suggest that, if this is the ecological
Holocaust, Gore's pad is Auschwitz. But, as his spokesperson would no doubt
argue, when you're faced with ecological Holocausts and ecological
Kristallnachts, sometimes the only way to bring it to an end is with an
ecological Hiroshima. The Gore electric bill is the eco-atom bomb: You have
to light up the world in order to save it.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The 2008 Presidential Race
on: March 05, 2007, 09:32:21 PM
WINNING THE FUTURE by Newt Gingrich
A 21st Century Contract with America
MARCH 5, 2007 | Vol. 2, No. 10
Printer Friendly Version:http://paracom.paramountcommunication.com/ct/ct.php?t=1222557&c=1126859509&m=m&type=3&h=09C3EE5FF472BC5BD286AABF611DA550
NINE NINETIES IN NINE
You'll never guess who asked for my autograph last week? The
answer in a bit, but first I want to report on the event that I
hope will help change the political discourse in America for the
Lincoln's Inspiration at Cooper Union
Regular readers of Winning the Future will know that last
Wednesday evening, New York's former Democratic Governor Mario
Cuomo and I appeared together at historic Cooper Union in New
York City, the site where Abraham Lincoln delivered the speech
that arguably made him President. Cooper Union is situated on
the edge of Manhattan's East Village. Those familiar with New
York City know that being a conservative in the East Village is
about as lonely as one can be. Hundreds waited in line outside
the Great Hall for hours to get in. By 6:30 p.m, the 900 seats
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We came to Cooper Union for one reason -- to demonstrate that it
was possible for leaders from opposing political parties to have
a thoughtful and civilized conversation about the future of
America. We wrote about it in the New York Sun. You can read it
here. [ http://www.nysun.com/article/49402
] And that it could be
done without the long list of rules political consultants insist
upon. In fact, there were no rules. We each spoke for 30
minutes. Then, Tim Russert from NBC News posed challenging
questions to each of us which produced a substantive
Speaking as a conservative, I am happy to report that it is
possible to go into the heart of a liberal stronghold with
conservative solutions and be well received. But, there are also
tremendous benefits in doing so. Here's why.
We have all become used to candidates appearing at events where
the audience is made up of ideologically sympathetic supporters.
Most candidates for president know all too well how to get cheers
of approval from their bases with well delivered poll-tested
partisan talking points. However, it would be a different
situation entirely if candidates had to consistently appear in
front of people who are not inclined to be in agreement with
them. Add to that, someone from the other party who will
challenge their positions, then add to that someone from the
media who knows how to cut through the rhetoric. Now, that is a
much more substantial challenge and one likely to produce a much
better quality of meaningful dialogue about how to meet the many
challenges facing the country.
Such a level of meaningful exchange is critical to our
democratic process. First and most importantly, it requires
candidates to know what they stand for. A candidate must know
more than talking points; he or she must know the substance of
the material. They must be able to draw on historical parallels
to support their arguments. They must know the audience and
understand something about their worldview in order to relate to
them. Candidates must be clear. They must provide real solutions
to our challenges. But even all of that is not nearly enough.
They must persuade.
Persuasion is what counts in a free society. If you cannot
persuade, you cannot succeed in solving America's challenges
because in the end, the American people must support your
solutions or nothing can get done. It's time for a new model.
Governor Cuomo and I set out to demonstrate that two political
leaders with dramatically different political perspectives can
have a constructive, intelligent, free-wheeling dialogue about
America without degenerating into petty partisan political point
scoring where no one is persuaded.
We wanted to contrast our lively exchange with the rule-driven,
consultant-strangled "debates" we've seen in the past few
campaign cycles, in which campaign consultants maximize
candidate choreography while minimizing the possibility of an
informative, challenging debate.
Governor Cuomo and I believe that the Cooper Union model is good
for America. I believe it will produce a much richer dialogue,
more informed and better candidates, will encourage solutions
and substance, and perhaps most significantly, will reengage
millions of Americans to become active participants in America's
future but who are today turned off by the trivial shallowness of
the current political process.
The "Nine Nineties in Nine" Pledge
If you believe, as I do, that there is an opportunity for a
better political dialogue now and in 2008, then I need your
help. I issued a challenge at Cooper Union to those who are
running for president asking them to take a pledge which can be
summarized as follows.
"If I receive my party's nomination for President of the United
States, I pledge to participate in nine, ninety-minute dialogues
in the nine weeks before the general election with my opponent.
In the Lincoln-Douglas style, I will agree to debate my opponent
with only a time-keeper, and to insist upon no rules. I
understand it will be just me and my solutions and my opponent
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Tim Russert from Meet the Press stated in the Great Hall at
Cooper Union that he would ask every presidential candidate if
they would agree to nine ninety-minute debates in nine weeks. I
am asking you to do the same. When a candidate asks for your
support, ask them if they will take the Nine Nineties in Nine
Americans deserve the chance to see the candidates in an
unfiltered dialogue. They deserve to be persuaded with solutions
that stem from core beliefs. Most of all, they deserve a
presidential election process worthy of choosing the man or
woman who will occupy the Oval Office and assume the mantle of
leader of the free world.
One Candidate Takes the Nine Nineties in Nine Challenge -- Who
Will be Next?
So who asked for my autograph? Let's see if you guessed right.
Before the Cooper Union event I was walking in mid-town
Manhattan near 44th and 6th Ave. on my way to pre-tape an
interview with Dr. Jim Dobson for Focus on the Family. Someone
from behind tapped me on my shoulder and asked me for my
autograph. Reaching for my pen, I turned around and who was
standing there with his famous Big Apple smile but the former
Mayor himself, Rudy Giuliani. In the middle of the sidewalk we
spoke for 10 minutes and them something wonderful happened.
After I told him about the pledge challenge we were about to
issue at Cooper Union that night, without missing a beat, he
readily agreed to the challenge.http://paracom.paramountcommunication.com/ct/ct.php?t=1222562&c=1126859509&m=m&type=3&h=09C3EE5FF472BC5BD286AABF611DA550
So who will be the next to take the Nine Nineties in Nine
Pledge? You can help every candidate to accept by writing their
offices, calling talk radio or asking them personally. If enough
voters insist upon substance and civility in the next eighteen
months, then candidates will have no choice but to tell their
consultants "No" and tell Americans "YES", there is a better
I believe we succeeded in providing one model to improve the
2008 campaign. I think those in attendance on Wednesday night
would agree. But I'll leave it up to you to decide. You can
watch the entire event on the web at www.americansolutions.com
Let me know what you think.
P.S. -- I spoke to a record crowd at the 34th annual CPAC
conference on Saturday. In the speech, I hit a number of points
including asking the candidates to take the Pledge.
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Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Mil-blogs: Michael Yon and others (support our troops)
on: March 05, 2007, 09:15:48 PM
Just got this from Michael Yon but there is no URL included, some I'm guessing he has posted something new on his website (see post starting this thread for details)
Greetings from Iraq:
It's been weeks since I have been able to publish anything substantial. This is
partially due to running nearly constant missions with our troops; I've driven well
over a thousand miles on Iraqi roads since the last dispatch. The remainder is due
to incessant internet problems. Simply put, I am choking on information that will
never be published simply due to lack on reliable internet connections. Sad but
That said, I have been able to write a very short dispatch with photos. Please
US Mail Address:
P O Box 416
Westport Pt MA 02791
To manage your preferences or unsubscribe, please click here.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Help our troops/our cause:
on: March 05, 2007, 09:02:24 PM
I think this piece would have been stronger if Krugman had not sought to tie in the Katrina disaster-- which in my opinion should place most of the blame on the local and state level (Bush's incompetence consisting more in stumbling into being the fall guy for them
)-- and his general dislike for the Bush Administration, but from what I have seen so far there is considerable merit in the accusations of shameful budgeting priorities on the part of the Bush Administration.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Professor Pino - enough is enough - I've had it.
on: March 05, 2007, 08:55:54 PM
Those are lucid points Rog, but I confess some lack of clarity as to what the subject of this thread is
I think CCP intends to raise the issue of the boundary between free speech and sedition/murder, but I could be wrong. From reading the URL he posts, the particular case he uses as Exhibit A seems to me one full of potential for lawyerly evasions.
Anyway, I have asked him to consider the questions raised in response by SB Mig and me (and now by you) and then get back to us.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: WW3
on: March 05, 2007, 08:44:18 PM
I have been posting about this on the DBMA Ass'n forum now, often in interaction with you, since 2001 and extensively on this forum in its previous incarnation as well as its present one. If you haven't gotten a sense of my thinking by now, I must acknowledge that my communication skills do not have what it takes for you and move on.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Evolutionary biology/psychology
on: March 05, 2007, 10:17:45 AM
UCLA Study on Friendship among Women
By Gale Berkowitz
A landmark UCLA study suggests friendships between women are special. See the following article: Taylor, S. E., Klein, L.C., Lewis, B. P., Gruenewald, T. L., Gurung, R.A.R., & Updegraff, J. A. (2000). "Female Responses to Stress: Tend and Befriend, Not Fight or Flight", Psychological Review, 107(3), 41-429.
They [friendships between women] shape who we are and who we are yet to be. They soothe our tumultuous inner world, fill the emotional gaps in our marriage, and help us remember who we really are. By the way, they may do even more.
Scientists now suspect that hanging out with our friends can actually counteract the kind of stomach-quivering stress most of us experience on a daily basis. A landmark UCLA study suggests that women respond to stress with a cascade of brain chemicals that cause us to make and maintain friendships with other women.
It's a stunning find that has turned five decades of stress research - most of it on men - upside down. "Until this study was published, scientists generally believed that when people experience stress, they trigger a hormonal cascade that revs the body to either stand and fight or flee as fast as possible," explains Laura Cousino Klein, Ph.D., now an Assistant Professor of Bio-behavioural Health at Penn State University and one of the study's authors. "It's an ancient survival mechanism left over from the time we were chased across the planet by sabre-toothed tigers.
Now the researchers suspect that women have a larger behavioural repertoire than just "fight or flight." "In fact," says Dr. Klein, "it seems that when the hormone oxytocin is released as part of the stress responses in a woman, it buffers the "fight or flight" response and encourages her to tend children and gather with other women instead. When she actually engages in this tending or befriending, studies suggest our bodies release more oxytocin, which further counters stress and produces a calming effect. This calming response does not occur in men,” says Dr. Klein, "because testosterone - which men produce in high levels when they're under stress, seems to reduce the effects of oxytocin. Estrogen,” she adds, "seems to enhance it."
The discovery that women respond to stress differently than men was made in a classic "aha!" moment shared by two women scientists who were talking one day in a lab at UCLA. "There was this joke that when the women who worked in the lab were stressed, they came in, cleaned the lab, had coffee, and bonded,” says Dr. Klein. "When the men were stressed, they holed up somewhere on their own. I commented one day to fellow researcher Shelley Taylor that nearly 90% of the stress research is on males. I showed her the data from my lab, and the two of us knew instantly that we were onto something."
The women cleared their schedules and started meeting with one scientist after another from various research specialties. Very quickly, Drs. Klein and Taylor discovered that by not including women in stress research, scientists had made a huge mistake: The fact that women respond to stress differently than men has significant implications for our health.
It may take some time for new studies to reveal all the ways that oxytocin encourages us to care for children and hang out with other women, but the "tend and befriend" notion developed by Drs. Klein and Taylor may explain why women consistently outlive men. Study after study has found that social ties reduce our risk of disease by lowering blood pressure, heart rate, and cholesterol. "There's no doubt," says Dr. Klein, "that friends are helping us live." In one study, for example, researchers found that people who had no friends increased their risk of death over a 6-month period. In another study, those who had the most friends over a 9-year period cut their risk of death by more than 60%. Friends are also helping us live better. The famed Nurses' Health Study from Harvard Medical School found that the more friends women had, the less likely they were to develop physical impairments as they aged, and the more likely they were to be leading a joyful life.
In fact, the results were so significant, the re searchers concluded, that not having close friends or confidantes was as detrimental to your health as smoking or carrying extra weight! Moreover, that is not all! When the researchers looked at how well the women functioned after the death of their spouse, they found that even in the face of this biggest stressor of all, those women who had a close friend confidante were more likely to survive the experience without any new physical impairments or permanent loss of vitality. Those without friends were not always so fortunate.
Yet if friends counter the stress that seems to swallow up so much of our life these days, if they keep us healthy and even add years to our life, why is it so hard to find time to be with them? That is a question that also troubles researcher Ruthellen Josselson, Ph.D., co-author of "Best Friends: The Pleasures and Perils of Girls' and Women's Friendships (Three Rivers Press, 1998).
"Every time we get overly busy with work and family, the first thing we do is let go of friendships with other women," explains Dr. Josselson." We push them right to the back burner. That is really a mistake because women are such a source of strength to each other. We nurture one another. In addition, we need to have unpressured space in which we can do the special kind of talk that women do when they are with other women. It's a very healing experience."
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Humor/WTF
on: March 05, 2007, 01:11:15 AM
Rules of the Air
(from Australian Aviation Magazine)
Every takeoff is optional. Every landing is mandatory.
If you push the stick forward, the houses get bigger. If you pull the stick back,
they get smaller. That is, unless you keep pulling the stick all the way back, then
they get bigger again.
Flying isn't dangerous. Crashing is what's dangerous.
It's always better to be down here wishing you were up there than up there wishing
you were down here.
The ONLY time you have too much fuel is when you're on fire.
The propeller is just a big fan in front of the plane used to keep the pilot cool.
When it stops, you can actually watch the pilot start sweating.
When in doubt, hold on to your altitude. No one has ever collided with the sky.
A 'good' landing is one from which you can walk away. A 'great' landing is one after
which they can use the plane again.
Learn from the mistakes of others. You won't live long enough to make all of them
You know you've landed with the wheels up if it takes full power to taxi to the ramp.
The probability of survival is inversely proportional to the angle of arrival. Large
angle of arrival, small probability of survival and vice versa.
Never let an aircraft take you somewhere your brain didn't get to five minutes
Stay out of clouds. The silver lining everyone keeps talking about might be another
airplane going in the opposite direction. Reliable sources also report that
mountains have been known to hide out in clouds.
Always try to keep the number of landings you make equal to the number of take offs
There are three simple rules for making a smooth landing. Unfortunately no one knows
what they are.
You start with a bag full of luck and an empty bag of experience. The trick is to
fill the bag of experience before you empty the bag of luck.
Helicopters can't fly; they're just so ugly the earth repels them.
If all you can see out of the window is ground that's going round and round and all
you can hear is commotion coming from the passenger compartment, things are not at
all as they should be.
In the ongoing battle between objects made of aluminum going hundreds of miles per
hour and the ground going zero miles per hour, the ground has yet to lose.
Good judgment comes from experience. Unfortunately, the experience usually comes
from bad judgment.
It's always a good idea to keep the pointy end going forward as much as possible.
Keep looking around. There's always something you've missed.
Remember, gravity is not just a good idea. It's the law. And it's not subject to
The three most useless things to a pilot are the altitude above you, the runway
behind you, and a tenth of a second ago.