Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / USS Stennis' deployment
on: January 31, 2007, 08:33:04 PM
U.S. Navy: What the USS John C. Stennis' Deployment Does Not Mean
January 31, 2007 23 28 GMT
The Nimitz-class nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis departed San Diego on Jan. 20 after joining up with its carrier air wing in preparation for its deployment in the Persian Gulf. The timing of the deployment has led to speculation that the United States is putting the carrier and its strike group in the Gulf with the USS Eisenhower, which is currently deployed to the region, in order to increase pressure on Iran. However, this deployment is business as usual for the U.S. Navy as it moves the strike group in to support various military operations in the Middle East.
The aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis left San Diego on Jan. 20 for its scheduled cruise in the Persian Gulf in support of the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet operations in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Horn of Africa. This deployment has received attention from the media, which say the deployment is meant to increase pressure on Iran. However, the Nimitz-class, nuclear-powered Stennis' main purpose will be to replace the USS Eisenhower when it concludes its cruise in April 2007. The Stennis' deployment is nothing unusual.
The process culminating in the Stennis' deployment to the Middle East began when the carrier arrived in its home port of Bremerton, Wash., on Jan. 8, 2005. Soon after that, she went into dry-docked planned incremental availability (DPIA), an 11-month overhaul and recertification process at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. Usually after completing a cruise, a U.S. aircraft carrier will return to its homeport and restart the maintenance and operations cycles. In the Stennis' case, however, it went into DPIA before restarting the operations cycle.
(click to enlarge)
After the DPIA was complete in December 2005, the Stennis underwent three months of routine sea trials in the East Pacific, followed by an inspection survey in April to certify the carrier's suitability for operations. Since the inspection's completion in May, the Stennis has been on a typical operations cycle for the U.S. Navy's nuclear-powered aircraft carriers.
The length of any operation or cruise is limited not by the ship, but by the crew's endurance. The high tempo of operations on a carrier takes a toll on the crew; cruises end when the crew has been deployed for six months with continuous 24-hour operations. When the cruise ends, the ship is checked over and any necessary repairs and refitting will be done. This gives the crew the chance to go on leave before returning to the ship at port and working routine maintenance, attending training schools or being reassigned. During this period, follow-on exercises and sustainment training will keep the carrier employable for an 18-month period until it is actually deployed. This is what the USS Ronald Reagan is doing from its home base of San Diego.
The carrier will then take part in several two- to three-week exercises that allow the crew to practice mission areas and integrate skill sets, essentially maintaining their qualifications. Before being deployed again, the carrier typically goes through a composite training unit exercise (COMPTUEX) followed by a joint task force exercise (JTFEX). The JTFEX serves primarily as a method of validation and can be cut short or eliminated if the carrier is rushed into deployment. The Stennis completed its COMPTUEX in mid-October 2006 and its JTFEX in the following month. During these exercises, the carrier's air wing is assigned and its personnel participate in training and certification for carrier operation in preparation for deployment.
Normally, a carrier is deployed for six months and then in home port for 18 months, during which it participates in any number of short operations. The one notable exception to this standard occurred when U.S. President Jimmy Carter kept the USS Nimitz on deployment for 11 months straight, going from one hot spot to another.
For decades, a U.S. carrier has generally been on station in the Persian Gulf or the 5th Fleet area of operations. In 2003 the Navy adopted the Fleet Response Plan (FRP), which favors having multiple carriers in a general state of readiness instead of maintaining a single carrier in the Gulf. Though six-month deployments to the Middle East are still common -- and require a great deal of planning and preparation -- the FRP has changed the carrier fleet's overall readiness posture. The FRP was designed to make the Navy more responsive to Washington's maritime needs. And with the massive strike capability a carrier air wing brings to bear, a carrier deployment is often more of a political weapon than a military one.
The FRP calls for six carriers out of the total fleet of 12 to be "surge capable" -- able to be under way in 30 days or fewer, with a follow-on surge of two more carriers within 90 days -- at any time. Thus, instead of using the deployment date to schedule training, proficiency training begins as soon as a carrier emerges from its maintenance cycles. Less than six months after coming out of dry dock -- and as soon as three months in an emergency -- a carrier should be employable, or surge ready.
However, in the case of the 5th Fleet's current operations, developments in Somalia and the Eisenhower's shift in that direction are reminders of the military purpose of the current carrier rotations through the Gulf -- continued support of operations in Iraq, including regular close air support sorties, and potential support for African Union peacekeeping operations in Somalia.
The Stennis will likely arrive in the Persian Gulf region in mid- to late February. This will give it about a two-month overlap with the Eisenhower which, since its arrival in the region in late October, has been moving between the Gulf, the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean.
The Stennis' deployment to the Persian Gulf has been scheduled for months, so its movement there is not in response to anything Iran has recently done. The timing just happens to coincide with the recent U.S. decision to increase its force in Iraq and with statements from U.S. diplomats about increasing pressure on Tehran.
If the United States does decide to surge its naval capacity in the region and intensify its military pressure on Iran, the Eisenhower could remain in the Gulf past April. Meanwhile, the USS Harry S. Truman, which recently finished a round of flight deck certifications in the Atlantic in preparation for its 2007 deployment, could deploy as early as April. This could put the Truman in the Persian Gulf with the Stennis and the Eisenhower, should it stay over, placing three U.S. carrier strike groups in the region.
Even if the Eisenhower returns and the Truman moves into the region, the United States would demonstrate its ability to maintain two carriers in one place for an extended period of time. However, if this potential surge goes beyond three carrier strike groups, the USS Nimitz and the USS Roosevelt -- like the Reagan -- are at stages in their operational cycles at which they could be deployed on relatively short notice if needed.
The United States could have six carriers deployed to the Persian Gulf relatively quickly if it wanted to. If that were to occur, Tehran would certainly have reason to be concerned. In times of heightened geopolitical tension, the normal rotation of one carrier to replace another can set observers off. This is certainly not the first time; only a few months ago, similar speculation followed the Eisenhower across the Atlantic as it sailed to replace the USS Enterprise. However, the Stennis' movement into the Persian Gulf is not abnormal.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Islam in Islamic Countries:
on: January 31, 2007, 07:31:22 PM
The Nightmare of Being a Saudi Woman
Abeer Mishkhas, email@example.com
HERE WE go again and this time, it is official. A woman in Saudi Arabia has no right to choose her husband; she is forced to marry whomever her family chooses and, what is most shocking of all, a Saudi woman can be divorced from her husband against her will if that is the wish of her family. Add to this all the “normal” limitations in her life which if we start listing them, we’ll fall into a vicious cycle of repetition. But repetition or not, a serious crime is taking place in front of us and just because we have gotten used to hearing about it does not make it any less serious.
All our anger and frustration aside, the latest news concerning the much-written about Fatima is very unsettling. She is the woman who was happily married to a husband whom her father approved of; after his death, however, her half-brothers decided she should divorce Mansour since, in their eyes, he was not her social equal. And they set about going to the court and divorcing the couple even though Fatima and Mansour were happily married with two children. The court has ruled in favor of the half-brothers so the couple is now “legally” divorced. There is nothing in Islam or its laws that allows such a thing to happen but nonetheless, the court has issued its verdict.
Now Fatima is facing being forced into her brothers’ custody who are threatning to revive the accusation of “khulwa”, or being alone with Mansour, for which they were originally arrested. She now has to face being given over to her brothers, being charged for being alone with her husband (as the court ruled that they are divorced), and having to live with the feeling that her life has been taken away from her unjustifiably and by force.
Fatima no doubt feels that her life has been taken completely, unjustly and unjustifiably away from her. To take things a step further, we are facing a situation which could become the nightmare of every woman in Saudi Arabia. A woman is not secure in her marriage; she is at the mercy of her brother, or half-brother or any male relative who can tear her life apart and get a court to support the action. The question is clear: Where and when will this madness stop? One of my colleagues pointed out something that is definitely not encouraging — the verdict in this particular case was handed down very swiftly and very clearly. There are thousands of other cases involving husbands and wives in which a verdict is sorely needed but which has been delayed by maneuverings and machinations. Many women in Saudi Arabia are waiting for a verdict that will free them from an abusive husband, father or male relative; far too many of them have been refused justice since their sufferings have been deemed to be unimportant. The men continue their abuse and the women suffer. Other women have had their children taken away from them as there are no laws granting them visitation rights, let alone the right to take care of their children. Other women are beaten up and forced to go back to their abusers and still the courts do not intervene in the name of justice. In none of these cases has it been recognized that women have rights and that they are being threatened on a daily basis.
To look at the whole story, Fatima’s case also proves that men can also be caught in the same web. Her husband is as much a victim as she is, and maybe his case will widen the issue and make it more of a human rights case than one involving only a mere woman.
Fatima’s verdict was announced on the day I learned about a case that made me explode with questions and exclamations. Here are the details: A young Saudi woman living in the UK went to a hospital with injuries and it turned out that she had been beaten by her husband. The woman doctor at the hospital was very sympathetic and supportive and listened carefully to the details of the assault; she did not hide her anger or disgust at the man who did this. She then alerted the social services and also reported the matter to the police. The police began investigating and used the woman’s own statement. No one told her, “We can’t believe you because you don’t have proof” which had happened to her previously in the Kingdom. The police sent a team to arrest the husband and the woman was absolutely incredulous. “I can’t believe that they are listening to me, believing what I said and actually acting,” she exclaimed.
Her amazement increased with each passing day with calls from social services and the police, checking to see that she was living comfortably and that her children were all right and offering any help that she needed. All of this support occurred at the same time she began to get threats from her husband’s family in Saudi Arabia. You see, she had dared to complain. His family has threatened to take her children away from her as soon as she returns to Saudi Arabia. And guess what? They can do exactly that if they feel like it. Not because they have a right to but because as a woman, she cannot demand her rights in the Kingdom. If she returns, she faces a long humiliating process — probably coupled with social ostracism and disgrace — and the final result is by no means guaranteed.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / blackfive.net
on: January 31, 2007, 07:24:44 PM
I've got permission to go hot with this. This is typical of what I've been hearing.
It's a manifesto of sorts from a Staff Sergeant in the fight in Afghanistan. He had an experience recently while on mid-tour leave to see his wife and baby boy that was the last straw:
Things that I am tired of in this war:
I am tired of Democrats saying they are patriotic and then insulting my commander in chief and the way he goes about his job.
I am tired of Democrats who tell me they support me, the soldier on the ground, and then tell me the best plan to win this war is with a “phased redeployment” (liberal-speak for retreat) out of the combat zone to someplace like Okinawa.
I am tired of the Democrats whining for months on T.V., in the New York Times, and in the House and Senate that we need more troops to win the war in Iraq, and then when my Commander in Chief plans to do just that, they say that is the wrong plan, it won’t work, and we need a “new direction.”
I am tired of every Battalion Sergeant Major and Command Sergeant Major I see over here being more concerned about whether or not I am wearing my uniform in the “spot on,” most garrison-like manner; instead of asking me whether or not I am getting the equipment I need to win the fight, the support I need from my chain of command, or if the chow tastes good.
I am tired of junior and senior officers continually doubting the technical expertise of junior enlisted soldiers who are trained far better to do the jobs they are trained for than these officers believe.
I am tired of senior officers and commanders who fight this war with more of an eye on the media than on the enemy, who desperately needs killing.
I am tired of the decisions of Sergeants and Privates made in the heat of battle being scrutinized by lawyers who were not there and will never really know the state of mind of the young soldiers who were there and what is asked of them in order to survive.
I am tired of CNN claiming that they are showing “news,” with videotape sent to them by terrorists, of my comrades being shot at by snipers, but refusing to show what happens when we build a school, pave a road, hand out food and water to children, or open a water treatment plant.
I am tired of following the enemy with drones that have cameras, and then dropping bombs that sometimes kill civilians; because we could do a better job of killing the right people by sending a man with a high powered rifle instead.
I am tired of the thousands of people in the rear who claim that they are working hard to support me when I see them with their mochas and their PX Bags walking down the street, in the middle of the day, nowhere near their workspaces.
I am tired of Code Pink, Daily Kos, Al-Jazzera, CNN, Reuters, the Associated Press, ABC, NBC, CBS, the ACLU, and CAIR thinking that they somehow get to have a vote in how we blast, shoot and kill these animals who would seek to subdue us and destroy us.
I am tired of people like Meredith Vieria from NBC asking oxygen thieves like Senator Chuck Hagel questions like “Senator, at this point, do you think we are fighting and dying for nothing?” Meredith might not get it, but soldiers do know the difference between fighting and dying for something and fighting and dying for nothing.
I am tired of hearing multiple stories from both combat theaters about snipers begging to do their jobs while commanders worry about how the media might portray the possible casualties and what might happen to their career.
I am tired of hearing that the Battalion Tactical Operations Center got a new plasma screen monitor for daily briefings, but rifle scope rings for sniper rifles, extra magazines, and necessary field gear were disapproved by the unit supply system.
I am tired of out of touch general officers, senators, congressmen and defense officials who think that giving me some more heavy body armor to wear is helping me stay alive. Speed is life in combat and wearing 55 to 90 pounds of gear for 12 to 20 hours a day puts me at a great tactical disadvantage to the idiot, mindless terrorist who is wearing no armor at all and carrying an AK-47 and a pistol.
I am tired of soldiers who are stationed in places like Kuwait and who are well away from any actual combat getting Hostile Fire/Imminent Danger Pay and the Combat Zone Tax Exclusion when they live on a base that has a McDonald’s, a Pizza Hut, a Subway, a Baskin Robbins, an internet café, 2 coffee shops and street lights.
I am tired of senior officers and commanders who take it out and "measure" every time they want to have a piece of the action with their helicopters or their artillery; instead of putting their egos aside and using their equipment to support the grunt on the ground.
I am tired of senior officers and commanders who are too afraid for their careers to tell the truth about what they need to win this war to their bosses so that the soldiers can get on with kicking the ass of these animals.
I am tired of Rules of Engagement being made by JAG lawyers and not Combat Commanders. We are not playing Hopscotch over here. There is no 2nd place trophy either. I think that if the enemy knew some rough treatment and some deprivation was at hand for them, instead of prayer rugs, special diets and free Korans; this might help get their terrorist minds “right.”
I am tired of seeing Active Duty Army and Marine units being extended past their original redeployment dates, when there are National Guard Units that have yet to deploy to a combat zone in the last 40 years.
I am tired of hearing soldiers who are stationed in safe places talk about how hard their life is.
I am tired of seeing Infantry Soldiers conducting what amounts to “SWAT” raids and performing the US Army’s version of “CSI Iraq” and doing things like filling out forms for evidence when they could be better used to hunt and kill the enemy.
I am tired of senior officers and commanders who look first in their planning for how many casualties we might take, instead of how many enemy casualties we might inflict.
I am tired of begging to be turned loose so that this war can be over.
Those of us who fight this war want to win it and go home to their families. Prolonging it with attempts to do things like collect “evidence” or present whiz bang briefings on a new plasma screen TV is wasteful and ultimately, dulls the edge of our Infantry soldiers who are trained to kill people and break things, not necessarily in that order.
We are not in Iraq and Afghanistan to build nations. We are there to kill our enemies. We make the work of the State Department easier by the results we achieve.
It is only possible to defeat an enemy who kills indiscriminately by utterly destroying him. He cannot be made to yield or surrender. He will fight to the death by the hundreds to kill only one or two of us.
And so far, all of our “games” have been “away games,” and I don’t know about the ignorant, treasonous Democrats and the completely insane radical leftists and their thoughts on the matter, but I would like to keep our road game schedule.
So let’s get it done. Until the fight is won and there is no more fight left.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Mexico-US matters
on: January 31, 2007, 04:05:25 PM
U.S. Border Patrol: Illegal Immigrant Border Arrests Drop
Updated: January 3rd, 2007 09:46 AM EDT
There has been a big drop in arrests along the border in the last few months, NBC 7/39 reported Wednesday. The U.S. Border Patrol said arrests of illegal immigrants dropped by more than a third since National Guard troops have been helping. From July through November, 150,000 fewer people were arrested, a 4 percent decline from the same period last year. A migration expert said the biggest reason for the decrease immigrants' fear of being confronted by U.S. soldiers while trying to cross.
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Adrenal Training
on: January 31, 2007, 04:02:01 PM
BTW, the author of this piece wrote a nice review of our DLO DVD
Tactical Survival Contributor
If someone could give you a gift that would improve your chances of survival in a violent confrontation, would you take it? If the tradeoff was that, in order to make use of this gift, you would have to understand it and use it properly, would you take the time to do so?
The gift that you've already been given and have in your possession is the fight or flight reflex, more accurately called the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) reaction.
You see, already hardwired into man is a survival system that prepares us to overcome life-threatening situations. The tradeoff is that you need to understand the mental, physical and psychological changes that take place when the SNS is activated.
Take for instance, the experiences of Major Bob Johnson, related to authors Mike Durant and Steve Hartov in the new book The Night Stalkers, as he piloted a Blackhawk helicopter during the invasion of Grenada:
He had never imagined anything like this. Not here, not today. And the phenomenon that overtook his body and his mind wasn't something he could ever have prepared for. It was total sensory overload, and combined with a flood of adrenaline surging through his blood, his fine motor skills went all to hell...this was no schoolboy hero fantasy. This was the O.K. Corral, times ten.
Man's survival mechanisms have evolved over time to increase our chance of winning a life and death struggle. Without these amazing structures and changes, we would have never made it out of the Stone Age, but rather would have become fossilized saber tooth tiger dung.
Without getting into a scientific explanation of what goes on in the brain to initiate an SNS response, let's just say that various "triggers" can make this happen. In terms of threats against you, the closer, more spontaneous, more unexpected and faster developing the threat, the more chance you may kick into an SNS response. The result is that you may not be able to think the same, move the same, hear as well, or see as wide a visual field, and more. As your body prepares itself for battle, stress hormones will be released into your system to fuel your body.
Training and the SNS
How can we incorporate an understanding of the SNS into our training so that it improves our survival? First of all, we must try to understand how stress affects us, what changes may take place in the body. We can anticipate that those changes will take place on the street when we attempt to use those skills.
Next as recommended by noted survival authority Bruce Siddle, we must understand that our ability to complete fine and complex motor skills is affected by stress. We should therefore train in skills that we will be able to complete and that will be enhanced to some degree by stress. The bulk of our survival strategy should be based around gross motor skills or those skills that incorporate large muscle masses and will be strengthened by SNS.
We should then work at honing those skills through training. Repetition is the mother of all skills and develops competence. Competence breeds confidence, and the more confident in your skills you are, the less you will be affected by stress.
Finally we should engage in dynamic training scenarios. Can training cause an SNS response? PPCT Management Systems Inc. engaged in a study utilizing a Prism shooting trailer. After participants had gone through their scenarios, blood was drawn and tested for the presence of stress chemicals. According to preliminary findings,
Readings from the heart rate monitors indicated fluctuations in all study participants. Participants began with an average baseline heart rate of 82.46 BPM and then attained an average peak rate of 133.94 BPM, with some peaking as high as 175BPM. The average heart rate increase was 65% during the event and then decreased an average of 67.65% afterward. Preliminary blood test results also indicate corresponding changes in the stress hormones cortisol, epinephrine, and norepinephrine, again confirming that survival stress was induced and with consistent reliability. The increase in cortisol levels averaged 18.15% across the board, with peak levels increasing as much as 206.41%. Epinephrine levels climbed an average of 131.83% and norepinephrine an average of 66.26%.
--(Bruce Siddle, Kevin Siddle; PPCT; 2006)
What does all this mean? That dynamic training causes the same type of changes in the body as actual combat (though to a lesser degree), and by engaging in this type of training after you've laid a foundation of proper skill, you will enhance your survival.
On the Street
Listen to researchers from the FBI as noted in the excellent new book, Violent Encounters (U.S. Dept. of Justice; 2006).
It is extremely difficult to control one's biological, psychological, and emotional reactions to life and death circumstances. But it is even more difficult to do so without adequate, realistic, and prior training--along with proper mental and physical preparation. Training often determines which persons survive and which ones suffer injury or death. Training that is realistic, repetitive, understandable, and believable potentially reduces the nonadaptive effects of evolution. In preparing for a highly-charged emotional event, effective and realistic training can reduce its intensity (levels of arousal), allowing higher cognitive functioning to prevail.
Take the gift you've been given, understand its strengths and limitations. Train diligently and realistically in skills that work on the street and engage in dynamic scenario based training to "pressure test" those skills and introduce yourself to the SNS response. This mix combined with a stout warrior's heart and spirit will enable you to win. And in the end after an incident, when you're brushing the dust off your uniform, you can say, "That was just like training!"
Advanced Tactical Concepts
Sharpening the Warrior's Edge, by Bruce Siddle (at Amazon.com)
On Combat, by LTC Dave Grossman (U.S. Army, Retired) (at Amazon.com)
The Night Stalkers, by Michael J. Durant and Steven Hartov (at Amazon.com)
Kevin Davis is a full-time officer assigned to the training bureau where he specializes in use of force, firearms and tactical training. With over 23 years in law enforcement, his previous experience includes patrol, corrections, narcotics and he is a former team leader and lead instructor for his agency's SWAT team, with over 500 callouts in tactical operations.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Iraq
on: January 31, 2007, 10:37:01 AM
Second post of the day:
Geopolitical Diary: Deciphering the An Najaf Battle
An Iraqi Shiite messianic group the government has labeled a cult, and which Baghdad says fought with U.S. and Iraqi troops over the weekend near An Najaf, has issued a statement saying it was not engaged in the battle that resulted in the deaths of 250 militants and the cult's leader. Cult spokesman Abdul Imam Jaabar said the cult is peaceful, denying that it has ties to the "Soldiers of Heaven," which the Iraqi government said plotted to kill senior Shiite clerics. Jabbar said cult leader Imam Ahmed al-Hassan al-Yamani is a civil engineer who founded the group in 1999 after proclaiming he had met the messiah-like figure Mahdi, who declared him his grandson; Jabbar says al-Hassan quickly gained a following in southern Iraq of around 5,000 people.
This denial has triggered great speculation about the government's version of what actually happened. An Iraqi Defense Ministry spokesman said at least 263 Shiite fighters were killed, 502 arrested and another 210 people injured. Iraqi government officials say security forces launched the operation against the cult, which consists of fanatical Shiite and al Qaeda-linked Sunni militants, to prevent it from executing a plot to assassinate senior Shiite clerics. According to an understanding among Shiite Muslims, killing clerics is supposed to hasten the coming of Mahdi. When Iraqi forces were overwhelmed with the cult's firepower they had to call in U.S. ground support.
Not only is this perhaps the most bizarre incident in almost four years of incessant violence that has ravaged the country, the government's version of what allegedly transpired raises more questions than provides answers.
How could a cult evolve into such a major threat without getting noticed?
If this was an obscure cult, why were government forces unable to deal with it on their own?
From where did the group acquire such a large cache of weaponry?
Given the deep sectarian differences, how can extremist Shia and jihadists both be part of the group?
Why would a Shiite religious group risk alienation by engaging in the murder of the clerical hierarchy, especially during the holy month of Muharram?
These and other such questions indicate the government is withholding a lot of information. However, Stratfor has received some information that provides insight into the circumstances leading up to the battle.
We are told the al-Hawatim tribe wanted to organize its own Karbala procession during Ashurah but that a rival group with considerable influence prevented it from doing so. A number of tribesmen were killed at a checkpoint operated by this influential group, including a senior tribal sheikh. The tribe then launched a retaliatory attack that led to the battle. The fact that a large number of those arrested are women and children lends some credence to the report that the fighting was related to Ashurah ceremonies.
Given the emotionally charged atmosphere during the Muharram ceremonies commemorating the martyrdom of the grandson of the Prophet Mohammed and several other members of his family, why did this battle fail to disrupt the gatherings in An Najaf? Moreover, how was the violence contained?
Such a major battle could only be contained if it did not in fact occur in An Najaf. This raises doubts about the claims of a plot to kill senior clerics, which would require that the group be based inside the city. Additionally, a large force is not usually sent to carry out assassinations.
The report about a dispute over holding a procession suggests the group in question was engaged in a local power struggle. The Shiite establishment made up of the country's largest Shiite group, the Supreme Council of Islamic Revolution in Iraq, and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's Dawa Party, faces opposition from several groups at the provincial and district level in the Shiite south -- such as from the al-Sadrite Bloc, al-Fadhila and other smaller factions.
Regardless of its identity, the group in question likely wanted to use the occasion of Muharram to gain control over certain areas in the south. The government got wind of its plans and decided to pre-empt it. This would also explain the implausible official version, which was designed to justify the killing of fellow Shia during the holy month.
Reality notwithstanding, what is clear is that this incident proves what we have been saying about the Shiite community -- it is the most internally divided of the country's three major ethno-sectarian communities. The intra-Shiite divisions go far beyond the usual suspects -- a situation that bodes ill for the surge strategy of the Bush administration.
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Tasers
on: January 31, 2007, 10:32:01 AM
Officers Serving Warrant Use Taser Gun On Man http://www.thekansascitychannel.com/...01/detail.html
POSTED: 8:01 pm CST January 17, 2007
UPDATED: 8:09 pm CST January 17, 2007
KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- Two Wyandotte County officers used a stun gun on a psychiatric patient holding a sword, and the incident was caught on tape, KMBC's Peggy Breit reported Wednesday.
Sheriff's deputies went to the man's apartment to take him to a state mental hospital, but when they arrived, he had barricaded himself inside a bathroom.
The incident was caught on tape by a camera mounted within the Taser gun; it records both audio and video. "There are a lot of unknown factors when you go to places, and therefore we need to utilize technology available, such as the Taser equipped with the camera," Wyandotte County Jail Administrator Randall Henderson said.
The video showed the man holding a kind of dagger, and the officers repeatedly told him to drop the weapon. The man didn't drop it, and the officers used the stun gun. The man didn't fall to the ground until he'd been shocked three times.
Once the man was calm, the officers transported him to the hospital without further incident.
"Here's a prime example if the Taser's utilized appropriately, that we can accomplish the task at hand and everyone will fell like the job was well done," Henderson said.
Heres another link to Taser International if the other link doesn't work.http://www.taser.com/realtaserstories/index.html
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The 2008 Presidential Race
on: January 31, 2007, 09:31:51 AM
Biden Unbound: Lays Into
Clinton, Obama, Edwards
Loquacious Senator, Democratic Candidate on Hillary: 'Four of 10 Is the Max
You Can Get?' Edwards 'Doesn't Know What He's Talking About'
NEW YORK OBSERVER
By: Jason Horowitz
Senator Joseph Biden doesn't think highly of the Iraq policies of some of
the other Democrats who are running for President.
To hear him tell it, Hillary Clinton's position is calibrated, confusing and
"a very bad idea." John Edwards doesn't know what he's talking about and is
pushing a recipe for Armageddon in the Middle East. Barack Obama is offering
charming but insubstantial fluff. And all of them are playing politics.
"Let me put it this way," Mr. Biden said. "You didn't hear any one of them
get in this debate at all until they announced for President."
Mr. Biden, who ran an ill-fated campaign for President in 1988, is a man who
believes his time has finally come, announcing this week that he was filing
papers to make his 2008 Presidential bid official. Although he admits to a
tendency to "bloviate," he thinks that an aggressive advocate with rough
edges might be just what the party needs right now. "Democrats nominated the
perfect blow-dried candidates in 2000 and 2004," he said, "and they couldn't
Though Mr. Biden, 64, has never achieved his national ambitions, he has in
recent years emerged as one of the party's go-to experts on foreign policy.
In the past week, he has spearheaded the Democratic pushback against the
President's plan to increase troop levels in Iraq, opposing the move with a
non-binding resolution that his party has rallied around.
On a recent weekday afternoon, he was discussing his rivals over a bowl of
tomato soup in the corner of a diner in Delaware, about a 15-minute drive
from his Senate office. He wore a red cardigan and blue shirt, periodically
raising his raspy voice over the sound of loudspeakers summoning customers
to pick up their sandwiches. He had showed up carrying a Mead notebook
filled with handwritten talking points, but once he'd gotten started, he
closed the book and pushed it aside.
The subject he prefers to talk about these days-particularly when
contrasting himself with his prospective Presidential rivals-is Iraq.
Addressing Mrs. Clinton's latest proposal to cap American troops and to
threaten Iraqi leaders with cuts in funding, Mr. Biden lowered his voice and
leaned in close over the table.
"From the part of Hillary's proposal, the part that really baffles me is,
'We're going to teach the Iraqis a lesson.' We're not going to equip them?
O.K. Cap our troops and withdraw support from the Iraqis? That's a real good
The result of Mrs. Clinton's position on Iraq, Mr. Biden says, would be
"nothing but disaster."
Most early polls show Mrs. Clinton as the party's clear front-runner. Mr.
Biden, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is firmly in
the thick of a pack of third-tier candidates. Still, he thinks that at such
a precarious point in the nation's history, voters are seeking someone with
his level of experience to take the helm.
"Are they going to turn to Hillary Clinton?" Biden asked, lowering his voice
to a hush to explain why Mrs. Clinton won't win the election.
"Everyone in the world knows her," he said. "Her husband has used every
single legitimate tool in his behalf to lock people in, shut people down.
Legitimate. And she can't break out of 30 percent for a choice for
Democrats? Where do you want to be? Do you want to be in a place where 100
percent of the Democrats know you? They've looked at you for the last three
years. And four out of 10 is the max you can get?"
Mr. Biden is equally skeptical-albeit in a slightly more backhanded
way-about Mr. Obama. "I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American
who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy," he said. "I
mean, that's a storybook, man."
But-and the "but" was clearly inevitable-he doubts whether American voters
are going to elect "a one-term, a guy who has served for four years in the
Senate," and added: "I don't recall hearing a word from Barack about a plan
or a tactic."
(After the interview with Mr. Biden and shortly before press time, Mr. Obama
proposed legislation that would require all American combat brigades to be
withdrawn from Iraq by the end of March 2008.)
Mr. Biden seemed to reserve a special scorn for Mr. Edwards, who suffered
from a perceived lack of depth in foreign policy in the Presidential
election of 2004.
"I don't think John Edwards knows what the heck he is talking about," Mr.
Biden said, when asked about Mr. Edwards' advocacy of the immediate
withdrawal of about 40,000 American troops from Iraq.
"John Edwards wants you and all the Democrats to think, 'I want us out of
there,' but when you come back and you say, 'O.K., John'"-here, the word
"John" became an accusatory, mocking refrain-"'what about the chaos that
will ensue? Do we have any interest, John, left in the region?' Well, John
will have to answer yes or no. If he says yes, what are they? What are those
interests, John? How do you protect those interests, John, if you are
completely withdrawn? Are you withdrawn from the region, John? Are you
withdrawn from Iraq, John? In what period? So all this stuff is like so much
Fluffernutter out there. So for me, what I think you have to do is have a
strategic notion. And they may have it-they are just smart enough not to
The targets of Mr. Biden's criticism, whether out of shock, indifference or
a calculation that it would be unwise in this case to meet fire with fire,
declined to respond in kind.
Obama campaign spokesman Bill Burton wrote in an e-mail: "Senator Obama
opposed the Iraq War from Day 1 and has articulated clear principles in how
to address the tragic mistakes President Bush has made there." And as for
rest-including Mr. Biden's use of the words "articulate" and "nice-looking"
to describe the Senator from Illinois-the spokesman said, "Senator Biden's
words speak for themselves." The press offices for Mrs. Clinton and Mr.
Edwards declined to say anything at all.
By contrast with what Mr. Biden describes alternately as his opponents'
caution and their detachment from reality, the Senator from Delaware has for
months been pushing a comprehensive plan to split Iraq into autonomous
Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish ethnic regions that is controversial, to say the
Under the plan, local policing and laws will be the responsibility of
regional authorities. Most of the American troops would be withdrawn, with
small numbers remaining to help with anti-terrorism operations. The ensuing
chaos from ethnic migrations within Iraq would be contained with the help of
political pressure created by a conference of Iraq's neighbors.
But the idea of an American endorsement of Iraqi federation along those
lines has drawn criticism from just about every ideological corner of the
foreign-policy establishment. Retired Gen. Wesley Clark, another potential
2008 candidate who played a major role in negotiating the peace talks that
ended the war in Bosnia, said in a recent interview that the Biden plan
would have people in mixed cities like Baghdad "fleeing for their lives."
Richard Perle, one of the chief architects of the war in Iraq, who resigned
from his advisory position at the Pentagon in 2003 after a
conflict-of-interest scandal, called the idea "harebrained." And perhaps
most notably, the original author of the partition plan, former Council on
Foreign Relations president Leslie Gelb, has suggested that spiraling chaos
on the ground in Iraq may have already rendered it unworkable.
Mr. Biden counters their criticism by insisting that Iraq has already
fractured along ethnic lines, and that the only pragmatic approach at this
point is to police the process in a way that could prevent a wider civil war
and, eventually, lead to a sort of stability.
"You have to give them breathing room," he said.
The Iraq he envisions has three ethnically homogenous enclaves, with a
central government responsible for securing the country's international
borders and distributing oil revenues.
He'd put the Shiite majority in the south, limiting their geographic control
but keeping them from being drawn into a wider Sunni-Shiite conflict.
He'd move the Sunni majority into the oil-poor Anbar province in the West,
but they would be guaranteed a cut of oil revenues worth billions of
dollars. Mr. Biden's hope is that the oil money and relative calm would
drain the loyal Baathist insurgency of support while simultaneously making
the province less amenable to Al Qaeda provocateurs.
"The argument that you make with Sunni tribal leaders is, 'You are not going
to get back to the point where you run the show,'" said Mr. Biden. They will
have to be made to understand that "you get a much bigger piece of the pie
by giving up a little of the pie."
He'd keep the Kurds up in the north, where they already enjoy a measure of
de facto autonomy, but would seek guarantees that they would not take it
upon themselves to purge Sunni residents from the mixed city of Kirkuk, or
to lay exclusive claim to the enormous oil resources in that region, or to
secede from Iraq by forming an independent Kurdistan.
Mr. Biden said he has made the argument to Kurdish leaders over the course
of his seven trips to Iraq as follows: "You will be eaten alive by the Turks
and the Iranians, they will attack you, there will be an all-out war."
The clear implication is that the United States, not for the first time,
would be unable to protect them. "I don't see how we could," he said.
Mr. Biden disagrees with foreign leaders like Britain's Tony Blair and
Pakistan's Pervez Musharraf, who say that the key to fixing Iraq's problems
is solving the dispute between Israel and Palestinians.
"They are wrong, because I think it is a veiled way to do what the Europeans
and the Arabists have always wanted to do, which is back Israel into a
corner," he said. "They still blame Israel."
Mr. Biden says that support for his Iraq plan is growing. The influential
New York Senator Chuck Schumer has declared at various times that he
supports the plan-albeit in an uncharacteristically quiet manner-as has
Michael O'Hanlon, a prominent Iraq policy expert at the Brookings
But their support, for Mr. Biden, is almost an afterthought. If one thing is
clear about him, it is that he doesn't mind being alone.
"They may be politically right, and I may be politically wrong," he said.
"But I believe I am substantively right, and their substantive approaches
are not very deep and will not get us where I want to go."http://www.observer.com/printpage.asp?iid=14092&ic=News+Story+1
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Environmental issues
on: January 31, 2007, 09:28:06 AM
EARTH IN THE BALANCE
Don't Believe the Hype
Al Gore is wrong. There's no "consensus" on global warming.
BY RICHARD S. LINDZEN
Sunday, July 2, 2006 12:01 a.m.
According to Al Gore's new film "An Inconvenient Truth," we're in for "a
planetary emergency": melting ice sheets, huge increases in sea levels, more
and stronger hurricanes, and invasions of tropical disease, among other
cataclysms--unless we change the way we live now.
Bill Clinton has become the latest evangelist for Mr. Gore's gospel,
proclaiming that current weather events show that he and Mr. Gore were right
about global warming, and we are all suffering the consequences of President
Bush's obtuseness on the matter. And why not? Mr. Gore assures us that "the
debate in the scientific community is over."
That statement, which Mr. Gore made in an interview with George
Stephanopoulos on ABC, ought to have been followed by an asterisk. What
exactly is this debate that Mr. Gore is referring to? Is there really a
scientific community that is debating all these issues and then somehow
agreeing in unison? Far from such a thing being over, it has never been
clear to me what this "debate" actually is in the first place.
The media rarely help, of course. When Newsweek featured global warming in a
1988 issue, it was claimed that all scientists agreed. Periodically
thereafter it was revealed that although there had been lingering doubts
beforehand, now all scientists did indeed agree. Even Mr. Gore qualified his
statement on ABC only a few minutes after he made it, clarifying things in
an important way. When Mr. Stephanopoulos confronted Mr. Gore with the fact
that the best estimates of rising sea levels are far less dire than he
suggests in his movie, Mr. Gore defended his claims by noting that
scientists "don't have any models that give them a high level of confidence"
one way or the other and went on to claim--in his defense--that scientists
"don't know. . . . They just don't know."
So, presumably, those scientists do not belong to the "consensus." Yet their
research is forced, whether the evidence supports it or not, into Mr. Gore's
preferred global-warming template--namely, shrill alarmism. To believe it
requires that one ignore the truly inconvenient facts. To take the issue of
rising sea levels, these include: that the Arctic was as warm or warmer in
1940; that icebergs have been known since time immemorial; that the evidence
so far suggests that the Greenland ice sheet is actually growing on average.
A likely result of all this is increased pressure pushing ice off the
coastal perimeter of that country, which is depicted so ominously in Mr.
Gore's movie. In the absence of factual context, these images are perhaps
dire or alarming.
They are less so otherwise. Alpine glaciers have been retreating since the
early 19th century, and were advancing for several centuries before that.
Since about 1970, many of the glaciers have stopped retreating and some are
now advancing again. And, frankly, we don't know why.
The other elements of the global-warming scare scenario are predicated on
similar oversights. Malaria, claimed as a byproduct of warming, was once
common in Michigan and Siberia and remains common in Siberia--mosquitoes
don't require tropical warmth. Hurricanes, too, vary on multidecadal time
scales; sea-surface temperature is likely to be an important factor. This
temperature, itself, varies on multidecadal time scales. However, questions
concerning the origin of the relevant sea-surface temperatures and the
nature of trends in hurricane intensity are being hotly argued within the
Even among those arguing, there is general agreement that we can't attribute
any particular hurricane to global warming. To be sure, there is one
exception, Greg Holland of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in
Boulder, Colo., who argues that it must be global warming because he can't
think of anything else. While arguments like these, based on lassitude, are
becoming rather common in climate assessments, such claims, given the
primitive state of weather and climate science, are hardly compelling.
A general characteristic of Mr. Gore's approach is to assiduously ignore the
fact that the earth and its climate are dynamic; they are always changing
even without any external forcing. To treat all change as something to fear
is bad enough; to do so in order to exploit that fear is much worse.
Regardless, these items are clearly not issues over which debate is
ended--at least not in terms of the actual science.
A clearer claim as to what debate has ended is provided by the environmental
journalist Gregg Easterbrook. He concludes that the scientific community now
agrees that significant warming is occurring, and that there is clear
evidence of human influences on the climate system. This is still a most
peculiar claim. At some level, it has never been widely contested. Most of
the climate community has agreed since 1988 that global mean temperatures
have increased on the order of one degree Fahrenheit over the past century,
having risen significantly from about 1919 to 1940, decreased between 1940
and the early '70s, increased again until the '90s, and remaining
essentially flat since 1998.
There is also little disagreement that levels of carbon dioxide in the
atmosphere have risen from about 280 parts per million by volume in the 19th
century to about 387 ppmv today. Finally, there has been no question
whatever that carbon dioxide is an infrared absorber (i.e., a greenhouse
gas--albeit a minor one), and its increase should theoretically contribute
to warming. Indeed, if all else were kept equal, the increase in carbon
dioxide should have led to somewhat more warming than has been observed,
assuming that the small observed increase was in fact due to increasing
carbon dioxide rather than a natural fluctuation in the climate system.
Although no cause for alarm rests on this issue, there has been an intense
effort to claim that the theoretically expected contribution from additional
carbon dioxide has actually been detected.
Given that we do not understand the natural internal variability of climate
change, this task is currently impossible. Nevertheless there has been a
persistent effort to suggest otherwise, and with surprising impact. Thus,
although the conflicted state of the affair was accurately presented in the
1996 text of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the infamous
"summary for policy makers" reported ambiguously that "The balance of
evidence suggests a discernible human influence on global climate." This
sufficed as the smoking gun for Kyoto.
The next IPCC report again described the problems surrounding what has
become known as the attribution issue: that is, to explain what mechanisms
are responsible for observed changes in climate. Some deployed the lassitude
argument--e.g., we can't think of an alternative--to support human
attribution. But the "summary for policy makers" claimed in a manner largely
unrelated to the actual text of the report that "In the light of new
evidence and taking into account the remaining uncertainties, most of the
observed warming over the last 50 years is likely to have been due to the
increase in greenhouse gas concentrations."
In a similar vein, the National Academy of Sciences issued a brief (15-page)
report responding to questions from the White House. It again enumerated the
difficulties with attribution, but again the report was preceded by a front
end that ambiguously claimed that "The changes observed over the last
several decades are likely mostly due to human activities, but we cannot
rule out that some significant part of these changes is also a reflection of
natural variability." This was sufficient for CNN's Michelle Mitchell to
presciently declare that the report represented a "unanimous decision that
global warming is real, is getting worse and is due to man. There is no
wiggle room." Well, no.
More recently, a study in the journal Science by the social scientist Nancy
Oreskes claimed that a search of the ISI Web of Knowledge Database for the
years 1993 to 2003 under the key words "global climate change" produced 928
articles, all of whose abstracts supported what she referred to as the
consensus view. A British social scientist, Benny Peiser, checked her
procedure and found that only 913 of the 928 articles had abstracts at all,
and that only 13 of the remaining 913 explicitly endorsed the so-called
consensus view. Several actually opposed it.
Even more recently, the Climate Change Science Program, the Bush
administration's coordinating agency for global-warming research, declared
it had found "clear evidence of human influences on the climate system."
This, for Mr. Easterbrook, meant: "Case closed." What exactly was this
evidence? The models imply that greenhouse warming should impact atmospheric
temperatures more than surface temperatures, and yet satellite data showed
no warming in the atmosphere since 1979. The report showed that selective
corrections to the atmospheric data could lead to some warming, thus
reducing the conflict between observations and models descriptions of what
greenhouse warming should look like. That, to me, means the case is still
very much open.
So what, then, is one to make of this alleged debate? I would suggest at
least three points.
First, nonscientists generally do not want to bother with understanding the
science. Claims of consensus relieve policy types, environmental advocates
and politicians of any need to do so. Such claims also serve to intimidate
the public and even scientists--especially those outside the area of climate
Secondly, given that the question of human attribution largely
cannot be resolved, its use in promoting visions of disaster constitutes
nothing so much as a bait-and-switch scam. That is an inauspicious beginning
to what Mr. Gore claims is not a political issue but a "moral" crusade.
Lastly, there is a clear attempt to establish truth not by scientific
methods but by perpetual repetition. An earlier attempt at this was
accompanied by tragedy. Perhaps Marx was right. This time around we may have
farce--if we're lucky.
Mr. Lindzen is the Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Atmospheric Science at MIT.http://www.opinionjournal.com/extra/?id=110008597
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Iraq
on: January 30, 2007, 11:54:04 PM
If this is right then , , ,
The American Iraq
By FOUAD AJAMI
January 30, 2007; Page A17
So this government in Baghdad, fighting for its life, has not mastered
even the grim science of the gallows, and has no knowledge of the "drop
charts" used for hangings around the world. The Tikritis had been much
better at this sort of thing. They had all the time in the world to perfect
the skills and techniques of terror; they had done it against the background
of relative indifference by outside powers. And they had the indulgence of
the neighboring Arabs who gave their warrant to all that played out in Iraq
under the Tikriti despotism.
Pity those men now hunkered down in Baghdad as they walk a fine, thin
line between the yearning for justice and retribution in their land, and the
scrutiny of the outside world. In the annals of Arab history, the Shia have
been strangers to power, rebels and dissidents and men on the run hunted
down by official power. Now the ground has shifted in Baghdad, and an Arab
world steeped in tyranny reproaches a Shia-led government sitting atop a
volcano. America's "regional diplomacy" -- the name for our earnest but
futile entreaties to the Arab rulers -- will not reconcile the Arab regimes
to the rise of the Shia outcasts.
In the fullness of time, the Arab order of power will have to come to
a grudging acceptance of the order sure to take hold in Baghdad. This is a
region that respects the prerogatives of power. It had once resisted the
coming to power of the Alawites in Syria and then learned to accommodate
that "heretical" minority sect and its conquest of Damascus; the Shia path
in Iraq will follow that trajectory, and its justice is infinitely greater
for it is the ascendancy of a demographic majority, through the weight of
numbers and the ballot box. Of all Arab lands, Iraq is the most checkered, a
frontier country at the crossroads of Arabia, Turkey and Persia. The Sunni
Arabs in Iraq and beyond have never accepted the diversity of that land. The
"Arabism" of the place was synonymous with their own primacy. Now a
binational state in all but name (Arab and Kurdish) has come into being in
Iraq, and the Shia underclass have stepped forth and staked a claim
commensurate with the weight of their numbers. The Sunni Arabs have recoiled
from this change in their fortunes. They have all but "Persianized" the Shia
of Iraq, branded them as a fifth column of the state next door. Contemporary
Islamism has sharpened this feud, for to the Sunni Islamists the Shia are
heretics at odds with the forbidding strictures of the Islamists' fanatical
variant of the faith.
Baghdad, a city founded by the Abbasid Caliph al-Mansour in 762, was
sacked by the Mongols in 1258: The invaders put it to the sword, and dumped
its books and libraries in the Tigris. In the (Sunni) legend, a Shia
minister by the name of Ibn Alqami had opened the gates of the city to the
invaders. History never relents here. In a commentary that followed the
execution of Saddam, a Palestinian commentator in the West Bank city of
Jenin wrote in a pan-Arab daily in London that a descendant of Ibn Alqami
(read Nouri al-Maliki) had put to death a descendant of al-Mansour.
These kinds of atavisms cannot be conciliated. The truth of Iraq will
assert itself on the ground, but the age of Sunni monopoly on power has
passed. One of Iraq's most respected scholar-diplomats, Hassan al-Alawi, has
put the matter in stark terms. It is proper, he said, to speak of an
"American Iraq" as one does of a Sumerian, a Babylonian, an Abbasid, an
Ottoman, and then a British Iraq. Where Iraq in the age of the Pax
Britannica rested on an "Anglo-Sunni" regime, this new Iraq, in the time of
the Americans, is by the logic of things an American-Shia regime. The
militant preachers railing against the fall of Baghdad to an alliance of the
"American crusaders" and the "Shia heretics" are the bearers of a dark, but
intensely felt conviction. We should not be apologetic, in Arab lands
seething with bigotry and rage, about our expedition into Iraq. We shouldn't
fall for Arab rulers who tell us that they would have had the ability to
call off the furies had we had in place a "process" for resolving the claims
of the Palestinians, and had we been able to "deliver" Israel. Those furies
have a life of their own: In truth, they are aided and abetted by these same
rulers in the hope of tranquilizing their own domains and buying off the
embittered in their midst.
The Sunni Arab regimes, it has to be noted, are not of one mind on
Iraq. Curiously, the Arab state most likely to make peace with the new
reality of Iraq is Saudi Arabia; those most hostile are the Jordanians, the
Egyptians and the Palestinians. The Saudi monarch, King Abdullah, has read
the wind with accuracy; he has a Shia minority in his domain, in the
oil-bearing lands of the Eastern Province, and he seems eager to cap the
Wahhabi volcano in the Najdi heartland of his kingdom. There is pragmatism
in that realm, and the place lives by its own coin. In contrast, Jordan and
Egypt present the odd spectacle of countries heavily invested in an
anti-Shia drive but with no Shia citizenry in their midst. The two regimes
derive a good measure of their revenues from "strategic rent" -- the aid of
foreign powers, the subsidies of Pax Americana to be exact. The threat of
Shiism is a good, and lucrative, scarecrow for the rulers in Cairo and
Amman. The promise of standing sentry in defense of the Sunni order is what
these two regimes have to offer both America and the oil states.
The Palestinians, weaker in the scale of power and with troubles of
their own, are in the end of little consequence to the strategic alignment
in the region. But to the extent that their "street" and their pundits
matter, they can be counted upon to view the rise of this new Iraq with
reserve and outright hostility. For six decades, the Palestinians have had a
virtual monopoly on pan-Arab sentiments, and the Arabic-speaking world
indulged them. Iraq -- its wounds, and the promise of its power and
resources -- has been a direct challenge to the Palestinians and to their
conception of their place in the Arab scheme of things. A seam is stitched
in Palestinian society between its Muslim majority and its minority
Christian communities. Palestinians have little by way of exposure to the
Shia. To the bitter end, the Palestinian street remained enamored of Saddam
Hussein. Iraq's Shia majority has returned the favor, and has come to view
the Palestinians and their cause with considerable suspicion.
For our part, the Pax Americana has not been at peace with the Shia
genie it had called forth. We did not know the Shia to begin with; we saw
them through the prism of our experience with Iran. Moqtada al-Sadr in
Baghdad and Hassan Nasrallah in Beirut: This was the face of the new Shiism
and we were spooked by it. And we were susceptible as well to the
representations made to us by Arab rulers about the dangers of radical
This was odd: We had been in the midst of a searing battle with al
Qaeda and the Taliban, zealous Sunni movements, but we were still giving
credence to the Arab warnings about the threat of Shiism. Nor were the Shia
who would finally claim power in Iraq possessed of an appreciable
understanding of American ways. Nouri al-Maliki speaks not a word of
English; with years of exile in Syria behind him, he was at considerable
disadvantage in dealing with the American presence in his country. He and
the political class around him lacked the traffic with American diplomacy
that had seasoned their counterparts in Cairo, Amman and the Arabian
Peninsula. Without that intimacy, they had been given to premonitions that
America could yet strike a bargain, at their expense, with the Sunni order
We held aloft the banner of democracy, but in recent months our faith
in democracy's possibilities in Iraq has appeared to erode, and this
unnerves the Shia political class. President Bush's setback in the
congressional elections gave the Iraqis legitimate cause for concern: Prime
Minister Maliki himself wondered aloud whether this was the beginning of a
general American retreat in Iraq. And there was that brief moment when it
seemed as though the "realists" of the James Baker variety were in the midst
of a restoration. The Shia (and the Kurds) needed no deep literacy in
strategic matters to read the mind of Mr. Baker. His brand of realism was
anathema to people who tell their history in metaphors of justice and
betrayal. He was a known entity in Iraq; he had been the steward of American
foreign policy when America walked away, in 1991, from the Kurdish and Shia
rebellions it had called for. The political class in Baghdad couldn't have
known that the Baker-Hamilton recommendations would die on the vine, and
that President Bush would pay these recommendations scant attention. The
American position was not transparent, and there were in the air rumors of
retrenchment, and thus legitimate Iraqi fears that the American presence in
Baghdad could be bartered away in some accommodation with the powers in
These fears were to be allayed, but not put to rest, by the military
"surge" that President Bush announced in recent days. More than a military
endeavor, the surge can be seen as a declaration by the president that
deliverance would be sought in Baghdad, and not in deals with the rogues
(Syria and Iran) or with the Sunni Arab states. Prime Minister Maliki and
the coalition that sustains his government could not know for certain if
this was the proverbial "extra mile" before casting them adrift, or the sure
promise that this president would stay with them for the remainder of his
time in office.
But there can be no denying that with the surge the landscape has
altered in Baghdad, and that Mr. Bush is invested in the Maliki government
as never before. Mr. Maliki's predecessor -- a man who belongs to the same
political party and hails from the same traditional Shia political class --
was forced out of office by an American veto and Mr. Maliki could be
forgiven his suspicion that the Americans might try this again. It was known
that he had never taken to the American envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, and that he
fully understood that American officials would rather have other Shia
contenders in his post -- our old standby Ayad Allawi, the current vice
president Adel Abdul Mahdi, both more worldly men at ease with American
ways. So if this is America's extra mile in Baghdad, it has to be traversed
with a political leader whose abilities and intentions have been repeatedly
called into question by American officials.
This marriage of convenience may be the best that can be hoped for.
Mr. Maliki will not do America's bidding, and we should be grateful for his
displays of independence. He straddles the fence between the things we want
him to do -- disarming the militias, walking away from Moqtada al-Sadr --
and the requirements of political survival. We have been waiting for the
Iraqis to assume responsibility for their own affairs and we should not be
disconcerted when they take us at our word. The messages put out by American
officials now and then, that Mr. Maliki is living on borrowed time, and the
administered leaks of warnings he has been given by President Bush, serve
only to undermine whatever goals we seek in Baghdad.
With Saddam's execution, this prime minister has made himself a power
in the vast Shia mainstream. Having removed Ibrahim Jaafari from office last
year, the American regency is doomed to live with Mr. Maliki, for a policy
that attempts to unseat him is sure to strip Iraqis of any sense that they
are sovereign in their own country. He cannot be granted a blank check, but
no small measure of America's success in Iraq now depends on him. If he is
to fall, the deed must be an affair of the Iraqis, and of the broad Shia
coalition to be exact. He may now to able to strike at renegade elements of
the Mahdi Army, for that movement that once answered to Moqtada al-Sadr and
carried his banners has splintered into gangs led by bandit warlords. In our
concern with Moqtada al-Sadr and the Mahdi Army, we ought to understand the
reluctance of Mr. Maliki's ruling coalition to take on the Shia militias.
The terror inflicted on the Shia -- an unrelenting affair of the last three
years -- makes it extremely difficult for a Shia-led government to disarm
men who pose as defenders of a community still under brutal siege.
Boldness and despair may have come together to carry forward this new
drive in Baghdad. Fear of failure often concentrates the mind, and President
Bush's policy could yet find its target right as the skeptics have written
off this whole project in Baghdad. Iraq has had its way of meting out
disappointments at every turn, but the tide of events appears to be working
in the president's favor.
There is a "balance of terror" today between the Sunni and Shia
protagonists. More and more Sunni Arabs know that their old dominion is
lost, and that they had better take the offer on the table -- a share of the
oil revenues, the promise that the constitution could be amended and
reviewed, access to political power and spoils in return for reining in the
violence and banishing the Arab jihadists. The Shia, too, may have to come
to a time of reckoning. Their old tormentor was sent to the gallows, and a
kinsman of theirs did the deed with the seal of the state. From the poor
Shia slums of Baghdad, young avengers answered the Sunni campaign of terror
with brutal terror of their own. The old notion -- once dear to the Sunnis,
and to the Shia a nagging source of fear and shame -- that the Sunnis of
Iraq were a martial race while the Shia were marked for lamentations and
political quiescence has been broken for good.
The country has been fought over, and a verdict can already be
discerned -- rough balance between its erstwhile Sunni rulers and its Shia
inheritors, and a special, autonomous life for the Kurds. Against all dire
expectations, the all-important question of the distribution of oil wealth
appears close to a resolution. The design for sharing the bounty is a
"federal" one that strikes a balance between central government and regional
claimants. The nightmare of the Sunni Arabs that they would be left stranded
in regions of sand and gravel has been averted.
This is the country midwifed by American power. We were never meant to
stay there long. Iraq will never approximate the expectations we projected
onto it in more innocent times. But we should be able to grant it the gift
of acceptance, and yet another dose of patience as it works its way out of
its current torments. It is said that much of the war's nobility has drained
out of it, and that we now fight not to lose, and to keep intact our larger
position in the oil lands of the Arabian Peninsula and the Persian Gulf.
This may not be the stuff of glory, but it has power and legitimacy all its
Mr. Ajami is a 2006 recipient of the Bradley Prize, teaches at Johns
Hopkins and is author of "The Foreigner's Gift: The Americans, the Arabs,
and the Iraqis in Iraq" (Free Press, 2006).
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Iran
on: January 30, 2007, 04:25:50 PM
Well, at this moment it's OK with me that I'm not the President. These are murky and dangerous waters indeed!
With the freedom of contemplation available only to those whose thoughts are of no consequence, I wonder sometimes about a notion I read that the real problem was that Iran had the money to proceed because of oil and that therefore we should take the militarily simple step of destroying their oil refineries.
China, a major/the main buyer from Iran, would not be happy and that needs careful thought. Something to offset perhaps?
Anyway, picture the pressures within Iran in the absence of oil money-- and how the absence of money might bring the nuke program to a halt.
Just a thought , , ,
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Statins & cholesterol- a mistake?/inflammation theory
on: January 30, 2007, 11:41:56 AM
A doctor friend writes:
I recently ran across the link below to a page with a 45 minute video (bottom of that page) as described below. This video helped me understand why the CRP Test for Inflammation is important…though one that, at this time, most doctors don’t offer. Inflammation may be a bigger culprit in heart and vascular concerns than cholesterol.
It’s pretty technical (and a bit dry), but the point is well made.
Hope this helps, David Gilbertsen http://www.francefoundation.com/faculty_videos/faculty_video_Libby.html
Narrated by Peter Libby, MD, a widely published expert on inflammation in vascular disease, these slides provide an overview of the clinical importance of markers of inflammation — notably, C-reactive protein (CRP). Dr. Libby explains how high-sensitivity CRP (hs-CRP) can be used to identify apparently healthy patients who nevertheless are at increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Drawing on the landmark Women’s Health Study, he shows how hs-CRP adds to the predictive value of traditional risk factors, and how simple hs-CRP assays can be used to target lipid-lowering therapy more appropriately. He also provides an overview of a large study now in progress, JUPITER, that is expected to more clearly delineate the value of statin therapy in patients with average LDL-cholesterol levels but slightly elevated levels of hs-CRP.
Dr. Libby is the Mallinckrodt Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and chief of cardiovascular medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston, where his research focuses on vascular biology, particularly inflammation and atherogenesis. After receiving his MD from the University of California, San Diego, in 1973 he completed a residency in internal medicine and a fellowship in cardiovascular diseases at the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital.
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: The Dog Brothers Tribe
on: January 30, 2007, 11:06:47 AM
Greg Brown now has his Dog Name: Greg "C-Cyborg Dog" Brown. The name was given to him this past weekend at the "Die Less Often II: Bringing a gun to a knife fight" seminar with Gabe Suarez and yours truly for his actions as the BG knifer in various drills.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Iran
on: January 30, 2007, 10:53:18 AM
Europe Resists U.S. Push to Curb Iran Ties
Published: January 30, 2007
WASHINGTON, Jan. 29 — European governments are resisting Bush administration demands that they curtail support for exports to Iran and that they block transactions and freeze assets of some Iranian companies, officials on both sides say. The resistance threatens to open a new rift between Europe and the United States over Iran.
Administration officials say a new American drive to reduce exports to Iran and cut off its financial transactions is intended to further isolate Iran commercially amid the first signs that global pressure has hurt Iran’s oil production and its economy. There are also reports of rising political dissent in Iran.
In December, Iran’s refusal to give up its nuclear program led the United Nations Security Council to impose economic sanctions. Iran’s rebuff is based on its contention that its nuclear program is civilian in nature, while the United States and other countries believe Iran plans to make weapons.
At issue now is how the resolution is to be carried out, with Europeans resisting American appeals for quick action, citing technical and political problems related to the heavy European economic ties to Iran and its oil industry.
“We are telling the Europeans that they need to go way beyond what they’ve done to maximize pressure on Iran,” said a senior administration official. “The European response on the economic side has been pretty weak.” The American demands and European responses were provided by 10 different officials, including both supporters and critics of the American approach.
One irony of the latest pressure, European and American officials say, is that on their own, many European banks have begun to cut back their transactions with Iran, partly because of a Treasury Department ban on using dollars in deals involving two leading Iranian banks.
American pressure on European governments, as opposed to banks, has been less successful, administration and European officials say.
The main targets are Italy, Germany, France, Spain, Austria, the Netherlands, Sweden and Britain, all with extensive business dealings with Iran, particularly in energy. Administration officials say, however, that Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, the current head of the European Union, has been responsive.
Europe has more commercial and economic ties with Iran than does the United States, which severed relations with Iran after the revolution and seizure of hostages in 1979.
The administration says that European governments provided $18 billion in government loan guarantees for Iran in 2005. The numbers have gone down in the last year, but not by much, American and European officials say.
American officials say that European governments may have facilitated illicit business and that European governments must do more to stop such transactions. Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. has said the United States has shared with Europeans the names of at least 30 front companies involved in terrorism or weapons programs.
“They’ve told us they don’t have the tools,” said a senior American official. “Our answer is: get them.”
“We want to squeeze the Iranians,” said a European official. “But there are varying degrees of political will in Europe about turning the thumbscrews. It’s not straightforward for the European Union to do what the United States wants.”
Another European official said: “We are going to be very cautious about what the Treasury Department wants us to do. We can see that banks are slowing their business with Iran. But because there are huge European business interests involved, we have to be very careful.”
European officials argue that beyond the political and business interests in Europe are legal problems, because European governments lack the tools used by the Treasury Department under various American statutes to freeze assets or block transactions based on secret intelligence information.
A week ago, on Jan. 22, European foreign ministers met in Brussels and adopted a measure that might lead to laws similar to the economic sanctions, laws and presidential directives used in the United States, various officials say. But it is not clear how far those laws will reach once they are adopted.
The American effort to press Iran economically is of a piece with its other forms of pressure on Iran, including the arrest of Iranian operatives in Iraq and sending American naval vessels to the Persian Gulf.
American officials refuse to rule out military action. On Monday, President Bush said in an interview with National Public Radio that the United States would “respond firmly” if Iran engages in violence in Iraq, but that he did not mean “that we’re going to invade Iran.”
Several European officials said in interviews that they believe that the United States and Saudi Arabia have an unwritten deal to keep oil production up, and prices down, to further squeeze Iran, which is dependent on oil for its economic solvency. No official has confirmed that such a deal exists.
(Page 2 of 2)
The Bush administration has called on Europe to do more economically as part of a two-year-old trans-Atlantic agreement in which the United States agreed to support European efforts to negotiate a resolution of the crisis over Iran’s nuclear program.
Typically, American officials say, European companies that do business with Iran get loans from European banks and then get European government guarantees for the loans on the ground that such transactions are risky in nature.
According to a document used in the discussions between Europe and the United States, which cites the International Union of Credit and Investment Insurers, the largest providers of such credits in Europe in 2005 were Italy, at $6.2 billion; Germany, at $5.4 billion; France, at $1.4 billion; and Spain and Austria, at $1 billion each.
In addition to buying oil from Iran, European countries export machinery, industrial equipment and commodities, which they say have no military application. Europeans also say that courts have overturned past efforts to stop business dealings based on secret information.
At least five Iranian banks have branches in Europe that have engaged in transactions with European banks, American and European officials say.
The five include Bank Saderat, cited last year by the United States as being involved in financing terrorism by Hezbollah and others, and Bank Sepah, cited this month as involved in ballistic missile programs.
A directory of the American Bankers Association lists Bank Sepah as having $10 billion in assets and equity of $1 billion in 2004. It has branches in Frankfurt, Paris, London and Rome. The United States Embassy in Rome has called it the preferred bank of Iran’s ballistic missile program, with a record of transactions involving Italian and other banks.
Bank Saderat had assets of $18 billion and equity of $1 billion in 2004, according to the American Bankers directory. Three other Iranian banks — Bank Mellat, Bank Melli and Bank Tejarat — have not been cited as involved in any illicit activities, but many European officials say they expect the Treasury Department to move against them eventually.
European officials say that the European Commission will meet in mid-February and approve a measure paving the way for freezing assets and blocking bank transactions for the 10 Iranian companies and 12 individuals cited in an appendix of Security Council Resolution 1737, adopted in December.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Big Picture WW3: Who, when, where, why
on: January 30, 2007, 09:44:24 AM
Muslims 'about to take over Europe'
Islam could soon be the dominant force in a Europe which, in the name of political correctness, has abdicated the battle for cultural and religious control, Prof. Bernard Lewis, the world-renowned Middle Eastern and Islamic scholar, said on Sunday.
The Muslims "seem to be about to take over Europe," Lewis said at a special briefing with the editorial staff of The Jerusalem Post. Asked what this meant for the continent's Jews, he responded, "The outlook for the Jewish communities of Europe is dim." Soon, he warned, the only pertinent question regarding Europe's future would be, "Will it be an Islamized Europe or Europeanized Islam?" The growing sway of Islam in Europe was of particular concern given the rising support within the Islamic world for extremist and terrorist movements, said Lewis.
Lewis, whose numerous books include the recent What Went Wrong?: The Clash Between Islam and Modernity in the Middle East, and The Crisis of Islam: Holy War and Unholy Terror, would set no timetable for this drastic shift in Europe, instead focusing on the process, which he said would be assisted by "immigration and democracy." Instead of fighting the threat, he elaborated, Europeans had given up.
"Europeans are losing their own loyalties and their own self-confidence," he said. "They have no respect for their own culture." Europeans had "surrendered" on every issue with regard to Islam in a mood of "self-abasement," "political correctness" and "multi-culturalism," said Lewis, who was born in London to middle-class Jewish parents but has long lived in the United States.
The threat of extremist Islam goes far beyond Europe, Lewis stressed, turning to the potential impact of Iran going nuclear under its current regime.
The Cold War philosophy of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD), which prevented the former Soviet Union and the United States from using the nuclear weapons they had targeted at each other, would not apply to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's Iran, said Lewis.
"For him, Mutual Assured Destruction is not a deterrent, it is an inducement," said Lewis of Ahmadinejad. "We know already that they [Iran's ruling ayatollahs] do not give a damn about killing their own people in great numbers. We have seen it again and again. If they kill large numbers of their own people, they are doing them a favor. They are giving them a quick, free pass to heaven. I find all that very alarming," said Lewis.
Lewis acknowledged that Ahmadinejad had made the notion of Iran having the right to acquire a nuclear capability an issue of national pride, and that this should be borne in mind in trying to thwart Teheran's nuclear drive. "One should try to make it clear at all stages that the objection is not Iran having [a nuclear weapon] but to the regime that governs Iran having it," said Lewis.
This idea already had support among those Iranians who, on the one hand, believed that their country has a right to possess such a capability but, on the other, feared it being acquired by a government that they do not support.
Israel and the West should work to strengthen moderate forces within the Iranian population, he urged, via an aggressive propaganda campaign including the use of television and radio programs. "All the evidence is that the regime is extremely unpopular with their own people," he said. "I am told that the Israeli daily [radio] program in Persian is widely listened to all over Iran with rapt attention." Israel and the West should also be looking to reach out to moderate forces within the Arab world, which are equally alarmed by the spread of extremism in their midst, said Lewis. "The Arab governments understand that Israel is not their biggest problem," said Lewis.
Here too, he said, Israeli media had a positive effect in the region, particularly in Jordan, where Israeli programs were broadcast and were widely watched. Jordanians "get the message of how a free society works. As one fellow put it, it is amazing to watch these great and famous people banging the table and screaming at each other. Even more striking is the fact that Arabs can denounce the Israeli government on Israeli television. That has an impact." Lewis also highlighted the Washington-based Syrian Reform Party, whose leader Farid Ghadry openly admires Israel.
Regarding the summer's war against Hizbullah, Lewis warned that a second such conflict could break out in the near future. He quoted a Christian Lebanese friend saying soon after the fighting ended that "Israel has lost the war, but Hizbullah has not won" because many people in Lebanon were blaming Hizbullah for bringing conflict to their country. Now, though, he added, it was his sense that Hizbullah had "gained some ground since then."
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Mexico-US matters
on: January 29, 2007, 02:05:03 PM
National Guard Commander in Arizona to Testify About Border Confrontation
Monday, January 29, 2007
E-MAIL STORY RESPOND TO EDITOR PRINTER FRIENDLY VERSION
PHOENIX — "Stop Stonewalling."
That's the warning from Arizona lawmakers hoping to find out what really happened earlier this month when four Tennessee National Guardsmen reportedly retreated when confronted by armed illegal immigrants along the border south of Tucson.
So far, Guard and U.S. Border Patrol officials have refused to disclose exactly what happened Jan. 3 when gunmen assaulted a Guard lookout post near Sasabe, Ariz. They declined requests from FOX News for copies of incident reports and transcripts of interviews with the men involved.
"Unfortunately, we do not have a report to provide," said Michael Friel, the Border Patrol's chief spokesman in Washington.
Watch FOX News Channel today for live reports on this story by William LaJeunesse
On Monday, Maj. Gen. David Rataczak will appear before the Arizona House Homeland Security Committee to testify about the encounter.
(Story continues below)
Tennessee Guardsmen to be Commended for Arizona Border Response Gunmen Attack National Guard Border Patrol Site in Arizona Drug Runners Sneaking More Contraband Across U.S. Border Video
Run-in at the Border "What are they here for if they are going to retreat from people with automatic weapons?" asked Committee Chairman Warde Nichols, who said the incident may send the message that the National Guard will retreat if faced with armed individuals. "It is not in the best interest of Arizona or U.S. border security," he added.
Rep. Steve Gallardo, a Democrat on the committee, said he believed immigration hard-liners would use Rataczak's appearance to push their agenda.
"They are going to try and embarrass him. They are going to fail," Gallardo said.
The incident happened at night, about a quarter mile north of the U.S. border with Mexico. A spokesman for the Arizona National Guard said an undetermined number of armed men approached an E.I.T., or Entry Identification Team, from Tennessee. Dozens of these mobile lookout posts are set up along the border, several are near Sasabe, a popular drug corridor. An E.I.T. is typically manned by four Guard soldiers equipped with radios, night vision and other surveillance gear.
Under existing rules of force signed by the Department of Defense and border state governors, soldiers are not supposed to stop, arrest, or shoot armed illegal immigrants. They are instructed only to look, listen and report their location to the Border Patrol.
"We don't apprehend," said Maj. Paul Aguirre, a spokesman for the Arizona National Guard. "We don't detain. We don't transport."
For that reason, critics say, it is inaccurate to say the National Guard is protecting the border.
While Guard spokesman Paul Aguirre called the encounter a "non-incident," U.S. Border Patrol sources in Tucson familiar with the investigation say something entirely different. They describe a tense, armed confrontation, with both sides lifting their assault rifles to shoulder height.
The sources say 12 men assaulted the Guard position, dressed in black tactical vests and khaki military style fatigues. The unit split into two groups as it approached, with eight men in front and two men flanking the Guardsmen on each side. One of the gunmen came within 35 feet of the observation site, according to investigators' summaries. Surrounded, outmanned and outgunned, the four Guardsmen made a "tactical retreat" to their Humvee and called the Border Patrol, the sources said.
The Border Patrol tracked the armed men back to the border but could not locate them. No shots were fired.
Guard spokesman Aguirre objected to characterizations of the withdrawal as a retreat, saying the soldiers did not run from their post and were not overrun.
The troops monitored the situation, never lost contact with the gunmen and moved to another site to avoid an engagement, Aguirre said.
Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano, National Guard officials and some state lawmakers defended the decision to call in the Border Patrol. The governor's office has said the rules allow Guard members to use force when they believe they face an imminent threat and all other means are exhausted.
"I don't think that it's up to the committee to negotiate the rules of engagement," Napolitano said. "Those rules of engagement were negotiated with the National Guard at the federal level."
Border agents interviewed over the weekend believe the group was military trained, and were likely ex-Mexican special forces working for the drug cartels or a rival cartel 'rip-off' squad that steals drug shipments once they've crossed the border.
Initial reports suggested the Guardsmen were unarmed. However, Border Patrol spokesman Gustavo Soto said the teams "had rifles and ammunition from Day One."
That is true for the E.I.T. teams, but local agents say most Guardsmen involved with Operation Jump Start — those resurfacing roads and building fences — are not armed because officials "don't want an incident."
"The stories we've gotten from the National Guard, quite frankly, have changed," said lawmaker Nichols. "What happened that day? Is this isolated incident? Does it happen often armed men come across border in Kevlar vests moving in tactical formation and come within 30 feet of a National Guard post? We need to know."
The four Tennessee Guardsmen involved in the "tactical retreat," or redeployment, will be honored in Tucson Monday in a closed ceremony. An Arizona Guard spokeswoman refused to identify the medal or ribbon or commendation being given out, and said the press was not invited.
The troops were among the 6,400 National Guard members sent to the four southern border states to support immigration agents, and leave the agents with more time to catch illegal immigrants.
The support duties include monitoring border points, assisting with cargo inspection and operating surveillance cameras.
FOX News' William LaJeunesse and The Associated Press contributed to this report.http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,248124,00.html
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Political Rants
on: January 29, 2007, 12:33:43 PM
Second rant of the day:
22% of Fox Poll hope surge fails (UPDATED)
Do you personally want the Iraq plan President Bush announced last week to succeed?
16-17 Jan 07
22% (34% of self-identified Democrats) don't want the plan to succeed? 11% of self-identified Republicans? 15% "don't know" if they want it to succeed? What can these idiots be thinking? Are they "Patriotic Terrorists"?
From the Huffington Post
New Trend On The Rise: The Patriotic Terrorist (168 comments )
READ MORE: United States, Iraq
Whenever I visit this lovely blog, I usually run into someone - a "leftist," if you will - who finds pleasure in things that make our country or the President look bad. I suppose I could say these angry types are no better than cheerleaders for terrorism. After all, both entities - the left and terrorists - seem to share the same desire: to put the US, humiliatingly, in its place.
But I would be wrong to say such things. Very wrong. Of course, "dissent is patriotic," and the left is only critical of America because it simply loves our country much more than I do.
That's why calling them terrorists would be intolerant and pretty shameful.
But what about "patriotic terrorists?"
That's kinda neat.
What is a patriotic terrorist?
It is an American who claims to love his or her country while enjoying the enemy's success against said country. It is a person who gets deeply offended if you question their patriotism, while also appearing to share the same ideals of the more spirited folk who like to blow up innocent people.
Patriotic terrorists love America with so much intensity that it appears to the untrained eye that they hate it. But it's actually the most powerful form of "tough love" known to man, woman and Rosie O'Donnell. Patriotic terrorists love America so much that they realize it needs an intervention - and real terror is the only way to enable that intervention. In fact, to keep a mammoth, arrogant superpower like America in check, terrorism is the only thing we've got. Noam Chomsky knew this from the start, making him a patriotic terrorist of the highest order.
This is why he gets the chicks.
Hey, I bet you've probably wondered why Al Qaeda hasn't struck in the US since 9/11. They don't have to. It has its own offshoot franchise here at work already. Patriotic Terrorists.
Think about how much both groups have in common!
-Both patriotic terrorists and Al Qaeda want the US to abandon Iraq, for that reveals Bush and America to be monstrous, laughable failures. It does not matter to either group that the withdrawal from Iraq will make post-Vietnam look like an afternoon at Ikea shopping for a Hoggbo innerspring mattress.
-For patriotic terrorists and real terrorists, car bombs going off is music to their ears. It proves that you can't offer democracy to troubled countries, as long as you've got terrorists standing in your way. And that's great news for everyone who believes in checks and balances between the haves and the have nots! (Note: "haves" means the US. "Have nots" means those who hate the US)
-Patriotic terrorists and the more committed terrorists both believe that infractions at Guantanamo Bay are far worse than anything a genocidal dictator could muster, and such horrors possess far more PR potential in denigrating the US than anything involving Ed Begley Jr.
-Both patriotic terrorists and Al Qaeda terrorists believe the US desires to control the Middle East, empower evil Israel and expand it's power base at the expense of innocent Arab lives. But both groups also realize that the US is too stupid to achieve these goals - and that makes being a patriotic terrorist loads of fun!
Are you a patriotic terrorist?
If you are intensely critical of the US, while tolerating homicidal enemies who condemn everything you previously claimed you are for - human rights, voting rights, gay rights, women's rights, porn - then you're a patriotic terrorist.
If you talk about tolerance constantly - and hilariously tolerate genocide and suicide bombers because those actions undermine your more intimate opposition, the American right - then you're a patriotic terrorist.
The only difference between a patriotic terrorist and a real one? Real terrorists are simply patriotic terrorists who've taken the extra step - choosing to actually die for their beliefs - rather than simply talking about them at Spago. If Tim Robbins, Sean Penn, Michael Moore, and their ilk had real cojones, they'd all be wearing cute black vests - but stuffed with more than dog-eared copies of Deterring Democracy.
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Tasers
on: January 29, 2007, 12:04:15 PM
Recently there was a brouhaha all over the news about some Iranian or Arab student at UCLA who got tasered several (three times IIRC) times after refusing to present ID as requred at the school library after 2300. The idea that he got tasered three times for some people was incontrovertible proof of police brutality.
As part of my continuing education, I got tasered by Southnark two Sundays ago at the Warrior Talk Symposiium III. With that sly Mississippi accent of his he tried luring me into it at dinner on Saturday night. Fearing barfing a large meal I deferred until Sunday. I had notions of standing which promptyly vaporized when the darts hit me in the chest and I melted to a fetal curl on the floor. When the five seconds where over I was immediately functioning again. I rose to my feet without any problem and simulated fighting movements.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Political Rants
on: January 29, 2007, 10:44:01 AM
Old U.S.S.R. made Old Europe look new
By Mark Steyn
John O'Sullivan's new book The President, The Pope And The Prime Minister has a marvelous account of the funeral of Yuri Andropov. In case you've forgotten, he was one of those late-period Soviet leaders who looked like he'd been plucked in haste from the local embalmer's and propped up against the balcony for the May Day parade. When he was eventually pronounced (officially) dead in 1984, Margaret Thatcher was prevailed upon by an aide to stop at a shoe store en route to the airport and get some fleece-lined boots for the chilly February burial. She grumbled about the cost all the way to Moscow. There she met Andropov's successor, Konstantin Chernenko, whom the Politburo had anointed as the next cadaver-in-chief. And, after shaking hands with him, she stopped complaining about the cost of her Kremlin boots. "They were a prudent long-term investment," she told her aide.
More like short-term. Vice President George H. W. Bush was nearer to the mark when he said goodbye to the U.S. Embassy staff after the Andropov funeral: "Next year, same time, same place." Close enough. Chernenko died 13 months later.
The decrepitude of the Politburo waxworks and their Eastern European clients embodied the ideological health of communism: Andropov and Chernenko were the sclerosis of the regime made wan flesh. With democracies, decrepitude is harder to spot. Our leaders are younger, and even in the U.S. Senate — the nearest the Western world has to a Brezhnevite politburo — new blood occasionally shows up: Barack Obama is hot, hip, happening, even if none of his political ideas are. But old whines in new bottles sell better than old whines in old bottles, as John Kerry evidently concluded. Last week, the senator took to the floor and reduced himself to tears as he announced that he'd regretfully decided not to run for president again. John Edwards shoveled him into the landfill oistory with some oleaginous boilerplate about Kerry's readiness to "respond to any call to serve his country." Was anybody calling? And why would they? What does Senator Kerry weep for other than his own thwarted ambition? What did he stand for? What was his vision other than a belief in his own indispensability?
Alas, the air of Andropovian exhaustion is not confined to Massachusetts. In the State of the Union, the president (as presidents are wont to do on Tuesday nights in January) spoke about energy, but he didn't seem to have any. Five years ago, when he was genuinely engaged by the subject, he wanted to drill in ANWR and go nuclear: He was energetic about energy. When both those excellent ideas went nowhere, President Bush retreated to some familiar bromides about vague targets and new regulations and increased efficiencies: His list was listless.
This seems to suit the Democrats. The only energy displayed by Nancy Pelosi was the spectacular leap to her feet within a nano-second of the president mentioning Darfur. Up went Madam Speaker and the entire Democratic caucus like enthusiastic loons on a gameshow. Darfur! We're all in favor of Darfur. People are being murdered! Hundreds of thousands! We oughtta do something! Like, er, jump up and down when it's mentioned in a speech. And, er, call for the international community to mobilize. Maybe one of those leathery old '60s rockers could organize an all-star concert or something. If Darfur were indeed a game show, the Sudanese would quickly discover it's one of those ones where you come on down to discover you've missed out on all the big prizes but you're not going away empty-handed: No, sir, here's your very own SAVE DARFUR! T-shirt autographed by Nancy Pelosi and George Clooney.
Darfur is an apt symbol of early 21st century liberalism: What matters is that you urge action rather than take any. On Iraq, meanwhile, the president declared: "Let us find our resolve, and turn events toward victory." And the Dems sat on their hands.
The American left has long deplored Bush's rhetorical reliance on such vulgar conceits as "good" and "evil." But it seems even "victory" is a problematic concept, and right now the momentum is all for defeat of one kind or another. America is talking itself into willing a defeat that has not (yet) occurred on the ground, and would be fatally damaging to this nation's credibility if it did. Last year Arthur M. Sulzberger Jr., publisher of the New York Times, gave a commencement address of almost parodic boomer narcissism, hailing his own generation for their anti-war idealism. Advocating defeat first time round, John Kerry estimated America might have to relocate a few thousand local allies. As it happens, millions died in Vietnam and Cambodia. And the least the self-absorbed poseurs like Sulzberger could do is occasionally remember that the world is about more than their moral vanity.
The open defeatists on the Democrat side and the nuanced defeatists among "moderate" Republicans seem to think that big countries can choose to lose small wars. After all, say the "realists," Iraq isn't any more important to Americans than Vietnam was. But a realpolitik cynic knows the tactical price of everything and the strategic value of nothing. This is something on an entirely different scale from the 1930s: Seventy years ago, Britain and Europe could not rouse themselves to focus on a looming war; today, we can't rouse ourselves even to focus on a war that's happening right now. Read 100 percent of the Democratic presidential candidates' platforms and a sizeable chunk of the Republicans': We're full of pseudo-energy for phantom crises and ersatz enemies, like "global warming.''
The other day I was reading an account of the latest genius idea from Britain. The carbon emission-trading system imposed by Kyoto is absurd and entirely ineffectual, but in London David Cameron now wants to apply it to hamburgers. Over there, a Big Mac costs three bucks or so. But, if children eat too many, the consequent problems of juvenile obesity will be a further strain on the National Health Service. So Cameron wants to impose some sort of Kyotoesque calorie-trading system on fast-food purveyors whereby McDonald's would have some trans fat cap imposed on it to ensure they pick up the tab for what that $3 Big Mac really costs society.
And David Cameron is the leader of the alleged Conservative Party.
He's also living in a country whose major cities have been hollowed out by Islamist cells. Nevertheless, as England decays into Somalia with chip shops, taxing the chip shops is the Conservatives' priority.
The civilized world faces profound challenges that threaten the global order. But most advanced democracies now run two-party systems in which both parties sell themselves to the electorate on the basis of unaffordable entitlements whose costs can be kicked down the road, even though the road is a short cul-de-sac and the kicked cans are already piled sky-high. That's the real energy crisis.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Eat Food part four
on: January 28, 2007, 08:49:28 AM
Page 10 of 12)
And that might well be a problem for people eating a Western diet. As we’ve shifted from leaves to seeds, the ratio of omega-6s to omega-3s in our bodies has shifted, too. At the same time, modern food-production practices have further diminished the omega-3s in our diet. Omega-3s, being less stable than omega-6s, spoil more readily, so we have selected for plants that produce fewer of them; further, when we partly hydrogenate oils to render them more stable, omega-3s are eliminated. Industrial meat, raised on seeds rather than leaves, has fewer omega-3s and more omega-6s than preindustrial meat used to have. And official dietary advice since the 1970s has promoted the consumption of polyunsaturated vegetable oils, most of which are high in omega-6s (corn and soy, especially). Thus, without realizing what we were doing, we significantly altered the ratio of these two essential fats in our diets and bodies, with the result that the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 in the typical American today stands at more than 10 to 1; before the widespread introduction of seed oils at the turn of the last century, it was closer to 1 to 1.
The role of these lipids is not completely understood, but many researchers say that these historically low levels of omega-3 (or, conversely, high levels of omega-6) bear responsibility for many of the chronic diseases associated with the Western diet, especially heart disease and diabetes. (Some researchers implicate omega-3 deficiency in rising rates of depression and learning disabilities as well.) To remedy this deficiency, nutritionism classically argues for taking omega-3 supplements or fortifying food products, but because of the complex, competitive relationship between omega-3 and omega-6, adding more omega-3s to the diet may not do much good unless you also reduce your intake of omega-6.
From Food Culture to Food Science. The last important change wrought by the Western diet is not, strictly speaking, ecological. But the industrialization of our food that we call the Western diet is systematically destroying traditional food cultures. Before the modern food era — and before nutritionism — people relied for guidance about what to eat on their national or ethnic or regional cultures. We think of culture as a set of beliefs and practices to help mediate our relationship to other people, but of course culture (at least before the rise of science) has also played a critical role in helping mediate people’s relationship to nature. Eating being a big part of that relationship, cultures have had a great deal to say about what and how and why and when and how much we should eat. Of course when it comes to food, culture is really just a fancy word for Mom, the figure who typically passes on the food ways of the group — food ways that, although they were never “designed” to optimize health (we have many reasons to eat the way we do), would not have endured if they did not keep eaters alive and well.
The sheer novelty and glamour of the Western diet, with its 17,000 new food products introduced every year, and the marketing muscle used to sell these products, has overwhelmed the force of tradition and left us where we now find ourselves: relying on science and journalism and marketing to help us decide questions about what to eat. Nutritionism, which arose to help us better deal with the problems of the Western diet, has largely been co-opted by it, used by the industry to sell more food and to undermine the authority of traditional ways of eating. You would not have read this far into this article if your food culture were intact and healthy; you would simply eat the way your parents and grandparents and great-grandparents taught you to eat. The question is, Are we better off with these new authorities than we were with the traditional authorities they supplanted? The answer by now should be clear.
It might be argued that, at this point in history, we should simply accept that fast food is our food culture. Over time, people will get used to eating this way and our health will improve. But for natural selection to help populations adapt to the Western diet, we’d have to be prepared to let those whom it sickens die. That’s not what we’re doing. Rather, we’re turning to the health-care industry to help us “adapt.” Medicine is learning how to keep alive the people whom the Western diet is making sick. It’s gotten good at extending the lives of people with heart disease, and now it’s working on obesity and diabetes. Capitalism is itself marvelously adaptive, able to turn the problems it creates into lucrative business opportunities: diet pills, heart-bypass operations, insulin pumps, bariatric surgery. But while fast food may be good business for the health-care industry, surely the cost to society — estimated at more than $200 billion a year in diet-related health-care costs — is unsustainable.
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To medicalize the diet problem is of course perfectly consistent with nutritionism. So what might a more ecological or cultural approach to the problem recommend? How might we plot our escape from nutritionism and, in turn, from the deleterious effects of the modern diet? In theory nothing could be simpler — stop thinking and eating that way — but this is somewhat harder to do in practice, given the food environment we now inhabit and the loss of sharp cultural tools to guide us through it. Still, I do think escape is possible, to which end I can now revisit — and elaborate on, but just a little — the simple principles of healthy eating I proposed at the beginning of this essay, several thousand words ago. So try these few (flagrantly unscientific) rules of thumb, collected in the course of my nutritional odyssey, and see if they don’t at least point us in the right direction.
1. Eat food. Though in our current state of confusion, this is much easier said than done. So try this: Don’t eat anything your great-great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food. (Sorry, but at this point Moms are as confused as the rest of us, which is why we have to go back a couple of generations, to a time before the advent of modern food products.) There are a great many foodlike items in the supermarket your ancestors wouldn’t recognize as food (Go-Gurt? Breakfast-cereal bars? Nondairy creamer?); stay away from these.
2. Avoid even those food products that come bearing health claims. They’re apt to be heavily processed, and the claims are often dubious at best. Don’t forget that margarine, one of the first industrial foods to claim that it was more healthful than the traditional food it replaced, turned out to give people heart attacks. When Kellogg’s can boast about its Healthy Heart Strawberry Vanilla cereal bars, health claims have become hopelessly compromised. (The American Heart Association charges food makers for their endorsement.) Don’t take the silence of the yams as a sign that they have nothing valuable to say about health.
3. Especially avoid food products containing ingredients that are a) unfamiliar, b) unpronounceable c) more than five in number — or that contain high-fructose corn syrup.None of these characteristics are necessarily harmful in and of themselves, but all of them are reliable markers for foods that have been highly processed.
4. Get out of the supermarket whenever possible. You won’t find any high-fructose corn syrup at the farmer’s market; you also won’t find food harvested long ago and far away. What you will find are fresh whole foods picked at the peak of nutritional quality. Precisely the kind of food your great-great-grandmother would have recognized as food.
5. Pay more, eat less. The American food system has for a century devoted its energies and policies to increasing quantity and reducing price, not to improving quality. There’s no escaping the fact that better food — measured by taste or nutritional quality (which often correspond) — costs more, because it has been grown or raised less intensively and with more care. Not everyone can afford to eat well in America, which is shameful, but most of us can: Americans spend, on average, less than 10 percent of their income on food, down from 24 percent in 1947, and less than the citizens of any other nation. And those of us who can afford to eat well should. Paying more for food well grown in good soils — whether certified organic or not — will contribute not only to your health (by reducing exposure to pesticides) but also to the health of others who might not themselves be able to afford that sort of food: the people who grow it and the people who live downstream, and downwind, of the farms where it is grown.
“Eat less” is the most unwelcome advice of all, but in fact the scientific case for eating a lot less than we currently do is compelling. “Calorie restriction” has repeatedly been shown to slow aging in animals, and many researchers (including Walter Willett, the Harvard epidemiologist) believe it offers the single strongest link between diet and cancer prevention. Food abundance is a problem, but culture has helped here, too, by promoting the idea of moderation. Once one of the longest-lived people on earth, the Okinawans practiced a principle they called “Hara Hachi Bu”: eat until you are 80 percent full. To make the “eat less” message a bit more palatable, consider that quality may have a bearing on quantity: I don’t know about you, but the better the quality of the food I eat, the less of it I need to feel satisfied. All tomatoes are not created equal.
6. Eat mostly plants, especially leaves. Scientists may disagree on what’s so good about plants — the antioxidants? Fiber? Omega-3s? — but they do agree that they’re probably really good for you and certainly can’t hurt. Also, by eating a plant-based diet, you’ll be consuming far fewer calories, since plant foods (except seeds) are typically less “energy dense” than the other things you might eat. Vegetarians are healthier than carnivores, but near vegetarians (“flexitarians”) are as healthy as vegetarians. Thomas Jefferson was on to something when he advised treating meat more as a flavoring than a food.
Eat more like the French. Or the Japanese. Or the Italians. Or the Greeks. Confounding factors aside, people who eat according to the rules of a traditional food culture are generally healthier than we are. Any traditional diet will do: if it weren’t a healthy diet, the people who follow it wouldn’t still be around. True, food cultures are embedded in societies and economies and ecologies, and some of them travel better than others: Inuit not so well as Italian. In borrowing from a food culture, pay attention to how a culture eats, as well as to what it eats. In the case of the French paradox, it may not be the dietary nutrients that keep the French healthy (lots of saturated fat and alcohol?!) so much as the dietary habits: small portions, no seconds or snacking, communal meals — and the serious pleasure taken in eating. (Worrying about diet can’t possibly be good for you.) Let culture be your guide, not science.
8. Cook. And if you can, plant a garden. To take part in the intricate and endlessly interesting processes of providing for our sustenance is the surest way to escape the culture of fast food and the values implicit in it: that food should be cheap and easy; that food is fuel and not communion. The culture of the kitchen, as embodied in those enduring traditions we call cuisines, contains more wisdom about diet and health than you are apt to find in any nutrition journal or journalism. Plus, the food you grow yourself contributes to your health long before you sit down to eat it. So you might want to think about putting down this article now and picking up a spatula or hoe.
9. Eat like an omnivore. Try to add new species, not just new foods, to your diet. The greater the diversity of species you eat, the more likely you are to cover all your nutritional bases. That of course is an argument from nutritionism, but there is a better one, one that takes a broader view of “health.” Biodiversity in the diet means less monoculture in the fields. What does that have to do with your health? Everything. The vast monocultures that now feed us require tremendous amounts of chemical fertilizers and pesticides to keep from collapsing. Diversifying those fields will mean fewer chemicals, healthier soils, healthier plants and animals and, in turn, healthier people. It’s all connected, which is another way of saying that your health isn’t bordered by your body and that what’s good for the soil is probably good for you, too.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Eat Food part three
on: January 28, 2007, 08:48:34 AM
In the end, the biggest, most ambitious and widely reported studies of diet and health leave more or less undisturbed the main features of the Western diet: lots of meat and processed foods, lots of added fat and sugar, lots of everything — except fruits, vegetables and whole grains. In keeping with the nutritionism paradigm and the limits of reductionist science, the researchers fiddle with single nutrients as best they can, but the populations they recruit and study are typical American eaters doing what typical American eaters do: trying to eat a little less of this nutrient, a little more of that, depending on the latest thinking. (One problem with the control groups in these studies is that they too are exposed to nutritional fads in the culture, so over time their eating habits come to more closely resemble the habits of the intervention group.) It should not surprise us that the findings of such research would be so equivocal and confusing.
But what about the elephant in the room — the Western diet? It might be useful, in the midst of our deepening confusion about nutrition, to review what we do know about diet and health. What we know is that people who eat the way we do in America today suffer much higher rates of cancer, heart disease, diabetes and obesity than people eating more traditional diets. (Four of the 10 leading killers in America are linked to diet.) Further, we know that simply by moving to America, people from nations with low rates of these “diseases of affluence” will quickly acquire them. Nutritionism by and large takes the Western diet as a given, seeking to moderate its most deleterious effects by isolating the bad nutrients in it — things like fat, sugar, salt — and encouraging the public and the food industry to limit them. But after several decades of nutrient-based health advice, rates of cancer and heart disease in the U.S. have declined only slightly (mortality from heart disease is down since the ’50s, but this is mainly because of improved treatment), and rates of obesity and diabetes have soared.
No one likes to admit that his or her best efforts at understanding and solving a problem have actually made the problem worse, but that’s exactly what has happened in the case of nutritionism. Scientists operating with the best of intentions, using the best tools at their disposal, have taught us to look at food in a way that has diminished our pleasure in eating it while doing little or nothing to improve our health. Perhaps what we need now is a broader, less reductive view of what food is, one that is at once more ecological and cultural. What would happen, for example, if we were to start thinking about food as less of a thing and more of a relationship?
In nature, that is of course precisely what eating has always been: relationships among species in what we call food chains, or webs, that reach all the way down to the soil. Species co-evolve with the other species they eat, and very often a relationship of interdependence develops: I’ll feed you if you spread around my genes. A gradual process of mutual adaptation transforms something like an apple or a squash into a nutritious and tasty food for a hungry animal. Over time and through trial and error, the plant becomes tastier (and often more conspicuous) in order to gratify the animal’s needs and desires, while the animal gradually acquires whatever digestive tools (enzymes, etc.) are needed to make optimal use of the plant. Similarly, cow’s milk did not start out as a nutritious food for humans; in fact, it made them sick until humans who lived around cows evolved the ability to digest lactose as adults. This development proved much to the advantage of both the milk drinkers and the cows.
“Health” is, among other things, the byproduct of being involved in these sorts of relationships in a food chain — involved in a great many of them, in the case of an omnivorous creature like us. Further, when the health of one link of the food chain is disturbed, it can affect all the creatures in it. When the soil is sick or in some way deficient, so will be the grasses that grow in that soil and the cattle that eat the grasses and the people who drink the milk. Or, as the English agronomist Sir Albert Howard put it in 1945 in “The Soil and Health” (a founding text of organic agriculture), we would do well to regard “the whole problem of health in soil, plant, animal and man as one great subject.” Our personal health is inextricably bound up with the health of the entire food web.
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In many cases, long familiarity between foods and their eaters leads to elaborate systems of communications up and down the food chain, so that a creature’s senses come to recognize foods as suitable by taste and smell and color, and our bodies learn what to do with these foods after they pass the test of the senses, producing in anticipation the chemicals necessary to break them down. Health depends on knowing how to read these biological signals: this smells spoiled; this looks ripe; that’s one good-looking cow. This is easier to do when a creature has long experience of a food, and much harder when a food has been designed expressly to deceive its senses — with artificial flavors, say, or synthetic sweeteners.
Note that these ecological relationships are between eaters and whole foods, not nutrients. Even though the foods in question eventually get broken down in our bodies into simple nutrients, as corn is reduced to simple sugars, the qualities of the whole food are not unimportant — they govern such things as the speed at which the sugars will be released and absorbed, which we’re coming to see as critical to insulin metabolism. Put another way, our bodies have a longstanding and sustainable relationship to corn that we do not have to high-fructose corn syrup. Such a relationship with corn syrup might develop someday (as people evolve superhuman insulin systems to cope with regular floods of fructose and glucose), but for now the relationship leads to ill health because our bodies don’t know how to handle these biological novelties. In much the same way, human bodies that can cope with chewing coca leaves — a longstanding relationship between native people and the coca plant in South America — cannot cope with cocaine or crack, even though the same “active ingredients” are present in all three. Reductionism as a way of understanding food or drugs may be harmless, even necessary, but reductionism in practice can lead to problems.
Looking at eating through this ecological lens opens a whole new perspective on exactly what the Western diet is: a radical and rapid change not just in our foodstuffs over the course of the 20th century but also in our food relationships, all the way from the soil to the meal. The ideology of nutritionism is itself part of that change. To get a firmer grip on the nature of those changes is to begin to know how we might make our relationships to food healthier. These changes have been numerous and far-reaching, but consider as a start these four large-scale ones:
From Whole Foods to Refined. The case of corn points up one of the key features of the modern diet: a shift toward increasingly refined foods, especially carbohydrates. Call it applied reductionism. Humans have been refining grains since at least the Industrial Revolution, favoring white flour (and white rice) even at the price of lost nutrients. Refining grains extends their shelf life (precisely because it renders them less nutritious to pests) and makes them easier to digest, by removing the fiber that ordinarily slows the release of their sugars. Much industrial food production involves an extension and intensification of this practice, as food processors find ways to deliver glucose — the brain’s preferred fuel — ever more swiftly and efficiently. Sometimes this is precisely the point, as when corn is refined into corn syrup; other times it is an unfortunate byproduct of food processing, as when freezing food destroys the fiber that would slow sugar absorption.
So fast food is fast in this other sense too: it is to a considerable extent predigested, in effect, and therefore more readily absorbed by the body. But while the widespread acceleration of the Western diet offers us the instant gratification of sugar, in many people (and especially those newly exposed to it) the “speediness” of this food overwhelms the insulin response and leads to Type II diabetes. As one nutrition expert put it to me, we’re in the middle of “a national experiment in mainlining glucose.” To encounter such a diet for the first time, as when people accustomed to a more traditional diet come to America, or when fast food comes to their countries, delivers a shock to the system. Public-health experts call it “the nutrition transition,” and it can be deadly.
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From Complexity to Simplicity. If there is one word that covers nearly all the changes industrialization has made to the food chain, it would be simplification. Chemical fertilizers simplify the chemistry of the soil, which in turn appears to simplify the chemistry of the food grown in that soil. Since the widespread adoption of synthetic nitrogen fertilizers in the 1950s, the nutritional quality of produce in America has, according to U.S.D.A. figures, declined significantly. Some researchers blame the quality of the soil for the decline; others cite the tendency of modern plant breeding to select for industrial qualities like yield rather than nutritional quality. Whichever it is, the trend toward simplification of our food continues on up the chain. Processing foods depletes them of many nutrients, a few of which are then added back in through “fortification”: folic acid in refined flour, vitamins and minerals in breakfast cereal. But food scientists can add back only the nutrients food scientists recognize as important. What are they overlooking?
Simplification has occurred at the level of species diversity, too. The astounding variety of foods on offer in the modern supermarket obscures the fact that the actual number of species in the modern diet is shrinking. For reasons of economics, the food industry prefers to tease its myriad processed offerings from a tiny group of plant species, corn and soybeans chief among them. Today, a mere four crops account for two-thirds of the calories humans eat. When you consider that humankind has historically consumed some 80,000 edible species, and that 3,000 of these have been in widespread use, this represents a radical simplification of the food web. Why should this matter? Because humans are omnivores, requiring somewhere between 50 and 100 different chemical compounds and elements to be healthy. It’s hard to believe that we can get everything we need from a diet consisting largely of processed corn, soybeans, wheat and rice.
From Leaves to Seeds. It’s no coincidence that most of the plants we have come to rely on are grains; these crops are exceptionally efficient at transforming sunlight into macronutrients — carbs, fats and proteins. These macronutrients in turn can be profitably transformed into animal protein (by feeding them to animals) and processed foods of every description. Also, the fact that grains are durable seeds that can be stored for long periods means they can function as commodities as well as food, making these plants particularly well suited to the needs of industrial capitalism.
The needs of the human eater are another matter. An oversupply of macronutrients, as we now have, itself represents a serious threat to our health, as evidenced by soaring rates of obesity and diabetes. But the undersupply of micronutrients may constitute a threat just as serious. Put in the simplest terms, we’re eating a lot more seeds and a lot fewer leaves, a tectonic dietary shift the full implications of which we are just beginning to glimpse. If I may borrow the nutritionist’s reductionist vocabulary for a moment, there are a host of critical micronutrients that are harder to get from a diet of refined seeds than from a diet of leaves. There are the antioxidants and all the other newly discovered phytochemicals (remember that sprig of thyme?); there is the fiber, and then there are the healthy omega-3 fats found in leafy green plants, which may turn out to be most important benefit of all.
Most people associate omega-3 fatty acids with fish, but fish get them from green plants (specifically algae), which is where they all originate. Plant leaves produce these essential fatty acids (“essential” because our bodies can’t produce them on their own) as part of photosynthesis. Seeds contain more of another essential fatty acid: omega-6. Without delving too deeply into the biochemistry, the two fats perform very different functions, in the plant as well as the plant eater. Omega-3s appear to play an important role in neurological development and processing, the permeability of cell walls, the metabolism of glucose and the calming of inflammation. Omega-6s are involved in fat storage (which is what they do for the plant), the rigidity of cell walls, clotting and the inflammation response. (Think of omega-3s as fleet and flexible, omega-6s as sturdy and slow.) Since the two lipids compete with each other for the attention of important enzymes, the ratio between omega-3s and omega-6s may matter more than the absolute quantity of either fat. Thus too much omega-6 may be just as much a problem as too little omega-3.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Eat Food part two
on: January 28, 2007, 08:46:29 AM
If nutritional scientists know this, why do they do it anyway? Because a nutrient bias is built into the way science is done: scientists need individual variables they can isolate. Yet even the simplest food is a hopelessly complex thing to study, a virtual wilderness of chemical compounds, many of which exist in complex and dynamic relation to one another, and all of which together are in the process of changing from one state to another. So if you’re a nutritional scientist, you do the only thing you can do, given the tools at your disposal: break the thing down into its component parts and study those one by one, even if that means ignoring complex interactions and contexts, as well as the fact that the whole may be more than, or just different from, the sum of its parts. This is what we mean by reductionist science.
Scientific reductionism is an undeniably powerful tool, but it can mislead us too, especially when applied to something as complex as, on the one side, a food, and on the other, a human eater. It encourages us to take a mechanistic view of that transaction: put in this nutrient; get out that physiological result. Yet people differ in important ways. Some populations can metabolize sugars better than others; depending on your evolutionary heritage, you may or may not be able to digest the lactose in milk. The specific ecology of your intestines helps determine how efficiently you digest what you eat, so that the same input of 100 calories may yield more or less energy depending on the proportion of Firmicutes and Bacteroidetes living in your gut. There is nothing very machinelike about the human eater, and so to think of food as simply fuel is wrong.
Also, people don’t eat nutrients, they eat foods, and foods can behave very differently than the nutrients they contain. Researchers have long believed, based on epidemiological comparisons of different populations, that a diet high in fruits and vegetables confers some protection against cancer. So naturally they ask, What nutrients in those plant foods are responsible for that effect? One hypothesis is that the antioxidants in fresh produce — compounds like beta carotene, lycopene, vitamin E, etc. — are the X factor. It makes good sense: these molecules (which plants produce to protect themselves from the highly reactive oxygen atoms produced in photosynthesis) vanquish the free radicals in our bodies, which can damage DNA and initiate cancers. At least that’s how it seems to work in the test tube. Yet as soon as you remove these useful molecules from the context of the whole foods they’re found in, as we’ve done in creating antioxidant supplements, they don’t work at all. Indeed, in the case of beta carotene ingested as a supplement, scientists have discovered that it actually increases the risk of certain cancers. Big oops.
What’s going on here? We don’t know. It could be the vagaries of human digestion. Maybe the fiber (or some other component) in a carrot protects the antioxidant molecules from destruction by stomach acids early in the digestive process. Or it could be that we isolated the wrong antioxidant. Beta is just one of a whole slew of carotenes found in common vegetables; maybe we focused on the wrong one. Or maybe beta carotene works as an antioxidant only in concert with some other plant chemical or process; under other circumstances, it may behave as a pro-oxidant.
Indeed, to look at the chemical composition of any common food plant is to realize just how much complexity lurks within it. Here’s a list of just the antioxidants that have been identified in garden-variety thyme:
4-Terpineol, alanine, anethole, apigenin, ascorbic acid, beta carotene, caffeic acid, camphene, carvacrol, chlorogenic acid, chrysoeriol, eriodictyol, eugenol, ferulic acid, gallic acid, gamma-terpinene isochlorogenic acid, isoeugenol, isothymonin, kaempferol, labiatic acid, lauric acid, linalyl acetate, luteolin, methionine, myrcene, myristic acid, naringenin, oleanolic acid, p-coumoric acid, p-hydroxy-benzoic acid, palmitic acid, rosmarinic acid, selenium, tannin, thymol, tryptophan, ursolic acid, vanillic acid.
This is what you’re ingesting when you eat food flavored with thyme. Some of these chemicals are broken down by your digestion, but others are going on to do undetermined things to your body: turning some gene’s expression on or off, perhaps, or heading off a free radical before it disturbs a strand of DNA deep in some cell. It would be great to know how this all works, but in the meantime we can enjoy thyme in the knowledge that it probably doesn’t do any harm (since people have been eating it forever) and that it may actually do some good (since people have been eating it forever) and that even if it does nothing, we like the way it tastes.
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It’s also important to remind ourselves that what reductive science can manage to perceive well enough to isolate and study is subject to change, and that we have a tendency to assume that what we can see is all there is to see. When William Prout isolated the big three macronutrients, scientists figured they now understood food and what the body needs from it; when the vitamins were isolated a few decades later, scientists thought, O.K., now we really understand food and what the body needs to be healthy; today it’s the polyphenols and carotenoids that seem all-important. But who knows what the hell else is going on deep in the soul of a carrot?
The good news is that, to the carrot eater, it doesn’t matter. That’s the great thing about eating food as compared with nutrients: you don’t need to fathom a carrot’s complexity to reap its benefits.
The case of the antioxidants points up the dangers in taking a nutrient out of the context of food; as Nestle suggests, scientists make a second, related error when they study the food out of the context of the diet. We don’t eat just one thing, and when we are eating any one thing, we’re not eating another. We also eat foods in combinations and in orders that can affect how they’re absorbed. Drink coffee with your steak, and your body won’t be able to fully absorb the iron in the meat. The trace of limestone in the corn tortilla unlocks essential amino acids in the corn that would otherwise remain unavailable. Some of those compounds in that sprig of thyme may well affect my digestion of the dish I add it to, helping to break down one compound or possibly stimulate production of an enzyme to detoxify another. We have barely begun to understand the relationships among foods in a cuisine.
But we do understand some of the simplest relationships, like the zero-sum relationship: that if you eat a lot of meat you’re probably not eating a lot of vegetables. This simple fact may explain why populations that eat diets high in meat have higher rates of coronary heart disease and cancer than those that don’t. Yet nutritionism encourages us to look elsewhere for the explanation: deep within the meat itself, to the culpable nutrient, which scientists have long assumed to be the saturated fat. So they are baffled when large-population studies, like the Women’s Health Initiative, fail to find that reducing fat intake significantly reduces the incidence of heart disease or cancer.
Of course thanks to the low-fat fad (inspired by the very same reductionist fat hypothesis), it is entirely possible to reduce your intake of saturated fat without significantly reducing your consumption of animal protein: just drink the low-fat milk and order the skinless chicken breast or the turkey bacon. So maybe the culprit nutrient in meat and dairy is the animal protein itself, as some researchers now hypothesize. (The Cornell nutritionist T. Colin Campbell argues as much in his recent book, “The China Study.”) Or, as the Harvard epidemiologist Walter C. Willett suggests, it could be the steroid hormones typically present in the milk and meat; these hormones (which occur naturally in meat and milk but are often augmented in industrial production) are known to promote certain cancers.
But people worried about their health needn’t wait for scientists to settle this question before deciding that it might be wise to eat more plants and less meat. This is of course precisely what the McGovern committee was trying to tell us.
Nestle also cautions against taking the diet out of the context of the lifestyle. The Mediterranean diet is widely believed to be one of the most healthful ways to eat, yet much of what we know about it is based on studies of people living on the island of Crete in the 1950s, who in many respects lived lives very different from our own. Yes, they ate lots of olive oil and little meat. But they also did more physical labor. They fasted regularly. They ate a lot of wild greens — weeds. And, perhaps most important, they consumed far fewer total calories than we do. Similarly, much of what we know about the health benefits of a vegetarian diet is based on studies of Seventh Day Adventists, who muddy the nutritional picture by drinking absolutely no alcohol and never smoking. These extraneous but unavoidable factors are called, aptly, “confounders.” One last example: People who take supplements are healthier than the population at large, but their health probably has nothing whatsoever to do with the supplements they take — which recent studies have suggested are worthless. Supplement-takers are better-educated, more-affluent people who, almost by definition, take a greater-than-normal interest in personal health — confounding factors that probably account for their superior health.
But if confounding factors of lifestyle bedevil comparative studies of different populations, the supposedly more rigorous “prospective” studies of large American populations suffer from their own arguably even more disabling flaws. In these studies — of which the Women’s Health Initiative is the best known — a large population is divided into two groups. The intervention group changes its diet in some prescribed manner, while the control group does not. The two groups are then tracked over many years to learn whether the intervention affects relative rates of chronic disease.
When it comes to studying nutrition, this sort of extensive, long-term clinical trial is supposed to be the gold standard. It certainly sounds sound. In the case of the Women’s Health Initiative, sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, the eating habits and health outcomes of nearly 49,000 women (ages 50 to 79 at the beginning of the study) were tracked for eight years. One group of the women were told to reduce their consumption of fat to 20 percent of total calories. The results were announced early last year, producing front-page headlines of which the one in this newspaper was typical: “Low-Fat Diet Does Not Cut Health Risks, Study Finds.” And the cloud of nutritional confusion over the country darkened.
But even a cursory analysis of the study’s methods makes you wonder why anyone would take such a finding seriously, let alone order a Quarter Pounder With Cheese to celebrate it, as many newspaper readers no doubt promptly went out and did. Even the beginner student of nutritionism will immediately spot several flaws: the focus was on “fat,” rather than on any particular food, like meat or dairy. So women could comply simply by switching to lower-fat animal products. Also, no distinctions were made between types of fat: women getting their allowable portion of fat from olive oil or fish were lumped together with woman getting their fat from low-fat cheese or chicken breasts or margarine. Why? Because when the study was designed 16 years ago, the whole notion of “good fats” was not yet on the scientific scope. Scientists study what scientists can see.
But perhaps the biggest flaw in this study, and other studies like it, is that we have no idea what these women were really eating because, like most people when asked about their diet, they lied about it. How do we know this? Deduction. Consider: When the study began, the average participant weighed in at 170 pounds and claimed to be eating 1,800 calories a day. It would take an unusual metabolism to maintain that weight on so little food. And it would take an even freakier metabolism to drop only one or two pounds after getting down to a diet of 1,400 to 1,500 calories a day — as the women on the “low-fat” regimen claimed to have done. Sorry, ladies, but I just don’t buy it.
In fact, nobody buys it. Even the scientists who conduct this sort of research conduct it in the knowledge that people lie about their food intake all the time. They even have scientific figures for the magnitude of the lie. Dietary trials like the Women’s Health Initiative rely on “food-frequency questionnaires,” and studies suggest that people on average eat between a fifth and a third more than they claim to on the questionnaires. How do the researchers know that? By comparing what people report on questionnaires with interviews about their dietary intake over the previous 24 hours, thought to be somewhat more reliable. In fact, the magnitude of the lie could be much greater, judging by the huge disparity between the total number of food calories produced every day for each American (3,900 calories) and the average number of those calories Americans own up to chomping: 2,000. (Waste accounts for some of the disparity, but nowhere near all of it.) All we really know about how much people actually eat is that the real number lies somewhere between those two figures.
To try to fill out the food-frequency questionnaire used by the Women’s Health Initiative, as I recently did, is to realize just how shaky the data on which such trials rely really are. The survey, which took about 45 minutes to complete, started off with some relatively easy questions: “Did you eat chicken or turkey during the last three months?” Having answered yes, I was then asked, “When you ate chicken or turkey, how often did you eat the skin?” But the survey soon became harder, as when it asked me to think back over the past three months to recall whether when I ate okra, squash or yams, they were fried, and if so, were they fried in stick margarine, tub margarine, butter, “shortening” (in which category they inexplicably lump together hydrogenated vegetable oil and lard), olive or canola oil or nonstick spray? I honestly didn’t remember, and in the case of any okra eaten in a restaurant, even a hypnotist could not get out of me what sort of fat it was fried in. In the meat section, the portion sizes specified haven’t been seen in America since the Hoover administration. If a four-ounce portion of steak is considered “medium,” was I really going to admit that the steak I enjoyed on an unrecallable number of occasions during the past three months was probably the equivalent of two or three (or, in the case of a steakhouse steak, no less than four) of these portions? I think not. In fact, most of the “medium serving sizes” to which I was asked to compare my own consumption made me feel piggish enough to want to shave a few ounces here, a few there. (I mean, I wasn’t under oath or anything, was I?)
This is the sort of data on which the largest questions of diet and health are being decided in America today.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Diet
on: January 28, 2007, 08:44:48 AM
With this thread, no longer is diet a subset of the Health thread-- diet gets its own thread.
I begin with a long article from today's NY Times Magazine which I think makes a profound point quite similar to the one I have been making for many years now in a more humorous manner-- the secret to diet is to eat so that you defecate well. Like I tell my children, "Eat real food! Have you seen it grow out of the ground, from a bush or a tree? Have you seen a hunter hunt it? A fisherman fish it? If not, its not real food!"
Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.
That, more or less, is the short answer to the supposedly incredibly complicated and confusing question of what we humans should eat in order to be maximally healthy. I hate to give away the game right here at the beginning of a long essay, and I confess that I’m tempted to complicate matters in the interest of keeping things going for a few thousand more words. I’ll try to resist but will go ahead and add a couple more details to flesh out the advice. Like: A little meat won’t kill you, though it’s better approached as a side dish than as a main. And you’re much better off eating whole fresh foods than processed food products. That’s what I mean by the recommendation to eat “food.” Once, food was all you could eat, but today there are lots of other edible foodlike substances in the supermarket. These novel products of food science often come in packages festooned with health claims, which brings me to a related rule of thumb: if you’re concerned about your health, you should probably avoid food products that make health claims. Why? Because a health claim on a food product is a good indication that it’s not really food, and food is what you want to eat.
Uh-oh. Things are suddenly sounding a little more complicated, aren’t they? Sorry. But that’s how it goes as soon as you try to get to the bottom of the whole vexing question of food and health. Before long, a dense cloud bank of confusion moves in. Sooner or later, everything solid you thought you knew about the links between diet and health gets blown away in the gust of the latest study.
Last winter came the news that a low-fat diet, long believed to protect against breast cancer, may do no such thing — this from the monumental, federally financed Women’s Health Initiative, which has also found no link between a low-fat diet and rates of coronary disease. The year before we learned that dietary fiber might not, as we had been confidently told, help prevent colon cancer. Just last fall two prestigious studies on omega-3 fats published at the same time presented us with strikingly different conclusions. While the Institute of Medicine stated that “it is uncertain how much these omega-3s contribute to improving health” (and they might do the opposite if you get them from mercury-contaminated fish), a Harvard study declared that simply by eating a couple of servings of fish each week (or by downing enough fish oil), you could cut your risk of dying from a heart attack by more than a third — a stunningly hopeful piece of news. It’s no wonder that omega-3 fatty acids are poised to become the oat bran of 2007, as food scientists micro-encapsulate fish oil and algae oil and blast them into such formerly all-terrestrial foods as bread and tortillas, milk and yogurt and cheese, all of which will soon, you can be sure, sprout fishy new health claims. (Remember the rule?)
By now you’re probably registering the cognitive dissonance of the supermarket shopper or science-section reader, as well as some nostalgia for the simplicity and solidity of the first few sentences of this essay. Which I’m still prepared to defend against the shifting winds of nutritional science and food-industry marketing. But before I do that, it might be useful to figure out how we arrived at our present state of nutritional confusion and anxiety.
The story of how the most basic questions about what to eat ever got so complicated reveals a great deal about the institutional imperatives of the food industry, nutritional science and — ahem — journalism, three parties that stand to gain much from widespread confusion surrounding what is, after all, the most elemental question an omnivore confronts. Humans deciding what to eat without expert help — something they have been doing with notable success since coming down out of the trees — is seriously unprofitable if you’re a food company, distinctly risky if you’re a nutritionist and just plain boring if you’re a newspaper editor or journalist. (Or, for that matter, an eater. Who wants to hear, yet again, “Eat more fruits and vegetables”?) And so, like a large gray fog, a great Conspiracy of Confusion has gathered around the simplest questions of nutrition — much to the advantage of everybody involved. Except perhaps the ostensible beneficiary of all this nutritional expertise and advice: us, and our health and happiness as eaters.
FROM FOODS TO NUTRIENTS
It was in the 1980s that food began disappearing from the American supermarket, gradually to be replaced by “nutrients,” which are not the same thing. Where once the familiar names of recognizable comestibles — things like eggs or breakfast cereal or cookies — claimed pride of place on the brightly colored packages crowding the aisles, now new terms like “fiber” and “cholesterol” and “saturated fat” rose to large-type prominence. More important than mere foods, the presence or absence of these invisible substances was now generally believed to confer health benefits on their eaters. Foods by comparison were coarse, old-fashioned and decidedly unscientific things — who could say what was in them, really? But nutrients — those chemical compounds and minerals in foods that nutritionists have deemed important to health — gleamed with the promise of scientific certainty; eat more of the right ones, fewer of the wrong, and you would live longer and avoid chronic diseases.
Published: January 28, 2007
(Page 2 of 12)
Nutrients themselves had been around, as a concept, since the early 19th century, when the English doctor and chemist William Prout identified what came to be called the “macronutrients”: protein, fat and carbohydrates. It was thought that that was pretty much all there was going on in food, until doctors noticed that an adequate supply of the big three did not necessarily keep people nourished. At the end of the 19th century, British doctors were puzzled by the fact that Chinese laborers in the Malay states were dying of a disease called beriberi, which didn’t seem to afflict Tamils or native Malays. The mystery was solved when someone pointed out that the Chinese ate “polished,” or white, rice, while the others ate rice that hadn’t been mechanically milled. A few years later, Casimir Funk, a Polish chemist, discovered the “essential nutrient” in rice husks that protected against beriberi and called it a “vitamine,” the first micronutrient. Vitamins brought a kind of glamour to the science of nutrition, and though certain sectors of the population began to eat by its expert lights, it really wasn’t until late in the 20th century that nutrients managed to push food aside in the popular imagination of what it means to eat.
No single event marked the shift from eating food to eating nutrients, though in retrospect a little-noticed political dust-up in Washington in 1977 seems to have helped propel American food culture down this dimly lighted path. Responding to an alarming increase in chronic diseases linked to diet — including heart disease, cancer and diabetes — a Senate Select Committee on Nutrition, headed by George McGovern, held hearings on the problem and prepared what by all rights should have been an uncontroversial document called “Dietary Goals for the United States.” The committee learned that while rates of coronary heart disease had soared in America since World War II, other cultures that consumed traditional diets based largely on plants had strikingly low rates of chronic disease. Epidemiologists also had observed that in America during the war years, when meat and dairy products were strictly rationed, the rate of heart disease temporarily plummeted.
Naïvely putting two and two together, the committee drafted a straightforward set of dietary guidelines calling on Americans to cut down on red meat and dairy products. Within weeks a firestorm, emanating from the red-meat and dairy industries, engulfed the committee, and Senator McGovern (who had a great many cattle ranchers among his South Dakota constituents) was forced to beat a retreat. The committee’s recommendations were hastily rewritten. Plain talk about food — the committee had advised Americans to actually “reduce consumption of meat” — was replaced by artful compromise: “Choose meats, poultry and fish that will reduce saturated-fat intake.”
A subtle change in emphasis, you might say, but a world of difference just the same. First, the stark message to “eat less” of a particular food has been deep-sixed; don’t look for it ever again in any official U.S. dietary pronouncement. Second, notice how distinctions between entities as different as fish and beef and chicken have collapsed; those three venerable foods, each representing an entirely different taxonomic class, are now lumped together as delivery systems for a single nutrient. Notice too how the new language exonerates the foods themselves; now the culprit is an obscure, invisible, tasteless — and politically unconnected — substance that may or may not lurk in them called “saturated fat.”
The linguistic capitulation did nothing to rescue McGovern from his blunder; the very next election, in 1980, the beef lobby helped rusticate the three-term senator, sending an unmistakable warning to anyone who would challenge the American diet, and in particular the big chunk of animal protein sitting in the middle of its plate. Henceforth, government dietary guidelines would shun plain talk about whole foods, each of which has its trade association on Capitol Hill, and would instead arrive clothed in scientific euphemism and speaking of nutrients, entities that few Americans really understood but that lack powerful lobbies in Washington. This was precisely the tack taken by the National Academy of Sciences when it issued its landmark report on diet and cancer in 1982. Organized nutrient by nutrient in a way guaranteed to offend no food group, it codified the official new dietary language. Industry and media followed suit, and terms like polyunsaturated, cholesterol, monounsaturated, carbohydrate, fiber, polyphenols, amino acids and carotenes soon colonized much of the cultural space previously occupied by the tangible substance formerly known as food. The Age of Nutritionism had arrived.
THE RISE OF NUTRITIONISM
The first thing to understand about nutritionism — I first encountered the term in the work of an Australian sociologist of science named Gyorgy Scrinis — is that it is not quite the same as nutrition. As the “ism” suggests, it is not a scientific subject but an ideology. Ideologies are ways of organizing large swaths of life and experience under a set of shared but unexamined assumptions. This quality makes an ideology particularly hard to see, at least while it’s exerting its hold on your culture. A reigning ideology is a little like the weather, all pervasive and virtually inescapable. Still, we can try.
In the case of nutritionism, the widely shared but unexamined assumption is that the key to understanding food is indeed the nutrient. From this basic premise flow several others. Since nutrients, as compared with foods, are invisible and therefore slightly mysterious, it falls to the scientists (and to the journalists through whom the scientists speak) to explain the hidden reality of foods to us. To enter a world in which you dine on unseen nutrients, you need lots of expert help.
But expert help to do what, exactly? This brings us to another unexamined assumption: that the whole point of eating is to maintain and promote bodily health. Hippocrates’s famous injunction to “let food be thy medicine” is ritually invoked to support this notion. I’ll leave the premise alone for now, except to point out that it is not shared by all cultures and that the experience of these other cultures suggests that, paradoxically, viewing food as being about things other than bodily health — like pleasure, say, or socializing — makes people no less healthy; indeed, there’s some reason to believe that it may make them more healthy. This is what we usually have in mind when we speak of the “French paradox” — the fact that a population that eats all sorts of unhealthful nutrients is in many ways healthier than we Americans are. So there is at least a question as to whether nutritionism is actually any good for you.
Page 3 of 12)
Another potentially serious weakness of nutritionist ideology is that it has trouble discerning qualitative distinctions between foods. So fish, beef and chicken through the nutritionists’ lens become mere delivery systems for varying quantities of fats and proteins and whatever other nutrients are on their scope. Similarly, any qualitative distinctions between processed foods and whole foods disappear when your focus is on quantifying the nutrients they contain (or, more precisely, the known nutrients).
This is a great boon for manufacturers of processed food, and it helps explain why they have been so happy to get with the nutritionism program. In the years following McGovern’s capitulation and the 1982 National Academy report, the food industry set about re-engineering thousands of popular food products to contain more of the nutrients that science and government had deemed the good ones and less of the bad, and by the late ’80s a golden era of food science was upon us. The Year of Eating Oat Bran — also known as 1988 — served as a kind of coming-out party for the food scientists, who succeeded in getting the material into nearly every processed food sold in America. Oat bran’s moment on the dietary stage didn’t last long, but the pattern had been established, and every few years since then a new oat bran has taken its turn under the marketing lights. (Here comes omega-3!)
By comparison, the typical real food has more trouble competing under the rules of nutritionism, if only because something like a banana or an avocado can’t easily change its nutritional stripes (though rest assured the genetic engineers are hard at work on the problem). So far, at least, you can’t put oat bran in a banana. So depending on the reigning nutritional orthodoxy, the avocado might be either a high-fat food to be avoided (Old Think) or a food high in monounsaturated fat to be embraced (New Think). The fate of each whole food rises and falls with every change in the nutritional weather, while the processed foods are simply reformulated. That’s why when the Atkins mania hit the food industry, bread and pasta were given a quick redesign (dialing back the carbs; boosting the protein), while the poor unreconstructed potatoes and carrots were left out in the cold.
Of course it’s also a lot easier to slap a health claim on a box of sugary cereal than on a potato or carrot, with the perverse result that the most healthful foods in the supermarket sit there quietly in the produce section, silent as stroke victims, while a few aisles over, the Cocoa Puffs and Lucky Charms are screaming about their newfound whole-grain goodness.
EAT RIGHT, GET FATTER
So nutritionism is good for business. But is it good for us? You might think that a national fixation on nutrients would lead to measurable improvements in the public health. But for that to happen, the underlying nutritional science, as well as the policy recommendations (and the journalism) based on that science, would have to be sound. This has seldom been the case.
Consider what happened immediately after the 1977 “Dietary Goals” — McGovern’s masterpiece of politico-nutritionist compromise. In the wake of the panel’s recommendation that we cut down on saturated fat, a recommendation seconded by the 1982 National Academy report on cancer, Americans did indeed change their diets, endeavoring for a quarter-century to do what they had been told. Well, kind of. The industrial food supply was promptly reformulated to reflect the official advice, giving us low-fat pork, low-fat Snackwell’s and all the low-fat pasta and high-fructose (yet low-fat!) corn syrup we could consume. Which turned out to be quite a lot. Oddly, America got really fat on its new low-fat diet — indeed, many date the current obesity and diabetes epidemic to the late 1970s, when Americans began binging on carbohydrates, ostensibly as a way to avoid the evils of fat.
This story has been told before, notably in these pages (“What if It’s All Been a Big Fat Lie?” by Gary Taubes, July 7, 2002), but it’s a little more complicated than the official version suggests. In that version, which inspired the most recent Atkins craze, we were told that America got fat when, responding to bad scientific advice, it shifted its diet from fats to carbs, suggesting that a re-evaluation of the two nutrients is in order: fat doesn’t make you fat; carbs do. (Why this should have come as news is a mystery: as long as people have been raising animals for food, they have fattened them on carbs.)
But there are a couple of problems with this revisionist picture. First, while it is true that Americans post-1977 did begin binging on carbs, and that fat as a percentage of total calories in the American diet declined, we never did in fact cut down on our consumption of fat. Meat consumption actually climbed. We just heaped a bunch more carbs onto our plates, obscuring perhaps, but not replacing, the expanding chunk of animal protein squatting in the center.
How did that happen? I would submit that the ideology of nutritionism deserves as much of the blame as the carbohydrates themselves do — that and human nature. By framing dietary advice in terms of good and bad nutrients, and by burying the recommendation that we should eat less of any particular food, it was easy for the take-home message of the 1977 and 1982 dietary guidelines to be simplified as follows: Eat more low-fat foods. And that is what we did. We’re always happy to receive a dispensation to eat more of something (with the possible exception of oat bran), and one of the things nutritionism reliably gives us is some such dispensation: low-fat cookies then, low-carb beer now. It’s hard to imagine the low-fat craze taking off as it did if McGovern’s original food-based recommendations had stood: eat fewer meat and dairy products. For how do you get from that stark counsel to the idea that another case of Snackwell’s is just what the doctor ordered?
But if nutritionism leads to a kind of false consciousness in the mind of the eater, the ideology can just as easily mislead the scientist. Most nutritional science involves studying one nutrient at a time, an approach that even nutritionists who do it will tell you is deeply flawed. “The problem with nutrient-by-nutrient nutrition science,” points out Marion Nestle, the New York University nutritionist, “is that it takes the nutrient out of the context of food, the food out of the context of diet and the diet out of the context of lifestyle.”
DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Re: Mexico
on: January 28, 2007, 07:57:13 AM
TAPACHULA, Mexico — Four Salvadoran men in jeans and T-shirts trudged along the railroad tracks under a hot sun, their steps carrying them steadily toward a fuzzy but seductive dream.
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Adriana Zehbrauskas for The New York Times
Donar Antonio Ramírez Espinas lost both his legs during his attempt to cross into the United States. “You make the decision to look for a better life,” he said, “without knowing that you could end up like this.” More Photos »
They had been in Mexico for only a few hours and already federal police officers had forced them to strip and had taken almost all their cash, they said. They had some 1,500 miles to go to reach the United States border, with no food or water and $9 each.
They intended to walk along the Chiapas coast for the first 250 miles through a dozen towns where migrants are regularly robbed or raped. Then they planned to clamber aboard a freight train with hundreds of other immigrants for the trip north, a dangerous journey that has left hundreds before them maimed after they fell under the wheels.
“It’s dangerous, yes, one risks one’s life,” said one of the men, Noé Hernández. “One risks it if you have a family member in the States to help you. It’s not just for fun we go through Mexico.”
A month ago, Mexico’s new president, Felipe Calderón, announced measures to slow the flow of illegal immigrants across Mexico’s southern border and reduce crime in this lush but impoverished region. He stepped up the presence of soldiers and federal police here, told of plans for a guest worker program and promised joint state and federal operations to catch illegal immigrants.
But much remains to be done to stop or deter the migrants, and for now the measures have had little effect. Social workers and volunteers who aid the migrants say they keep coming.
Every three days, 300 to 500 Central Americans swarm the freight train in Arriaga, strapping themselves with ropes or belts to the tops of cars or riding between the wagons, they say.
The migrants still wade across the Suchiate River between Guatemala and Mexico with little hindrance. Corruption is rampant. Soldiers and police officers on the Mexican side extort money from the migrants but seldom turn them around, aid workers and migrants said.
“It’s an open border,” said Francisco Aceves Verdugo, a supervisor in the government agency, Grupos Beta, that gives food, water and medicine to illegal migrants. “We are confronting a monster so big in the form of corruption that we aren’t doing anything.”
The federal authorities do catch and deport illegal immigrants from Central America on their trek north — about 170,000 last year, according to Leticia Rodríguez, a spokeswoman for the National Migration Institute.
On the evening of Jan. 19, as part of Mr. Calderón’s new get-tough policy, about 400 federal police officers stopped the freight train just after it left Arriaga and arrested more than 100 immigrants who had climbed aboard.
Still, aid workers say a majority gets through. The biggest deterrent, migrants say, is not federal authorities but armed thugs who waylay them along the railroad tracks or on paths through the countryside used to avoid the immigration posts along the main highway.
This month, Misael Mejía, 27, from Comayagua, Honduras, was awaiting the train in Arriaga with nine other young men from his town. They had walked for 11 days after wading across the Suchiate to get to the railhead in Arriaga.
None of them had a dime after being ambushed a week before by three men in ski masks in daylight near Huehuetán. Two of the men carried machetes, the third a machine gun.
“They told us to lay down and take off our clothes,” Mr. Mejía said. “I lost my watch, about 500 Honduran lempiras, and 40 Mexican pesos,” about $31.
Mr. Mejía said he would press on. He has a brother in Arizona who has promised to pick him up if he can run the gantlet through the United States border patrol. He left a $200-a-month job as a driver behind, along with his wife. His brother makes $700 a week as a carpenter.
“I felt hopeless in Honduras,” he said. “Because I could never afford a house, not even a car. There is nothing I could have.”
Down the street from the tracks, at the Hearth of Mercy shelter, where illegal immigrants can get a free hot meal and medicine, Juan Antonio Cruz, 16, hunched over a bowl of rice and told how he had left El Salvador after members of the Mara Salvatrucha street gang had threatened to kill him. “They wanted me to join them,” he said.
It was his second attempt to reach Arizona, he said. The first time he had endured eight freezing nights and sweltering days aboard the train by strapping his belt to bar atop a tanker car. The border patrol caught him as he crossed into Nogales, Ariz., and sent him back home to Usulután, where the gang members threatened him again.
“When I think about the train, I feel fear and panic, for the thieves who attack you, and also for falling off,” he said softly.
For some, that is how the dream ends, with a fall under the train’s heavy, whirring wheels.
At the Shelter of Jesus the Good Pastor in Tapachula, Donar Antonio Ramírez Espinas rubbed the bandaged stumps of his legs, sheared off above the knee, as he recalled the night of March 26, 2004, when he dozed off while riding between cars, lost his grip and fell onto the tracks.
Map “I fell face down, and at first I didn’t think anything had happened,” he said. “When I turned over, I saw, I realized, that my feet didn’t really exist.”
Back in Honduras, he had been working menial jobs in a parking lot and at a medical warehouse, making about $120 a month. Then he and a few buddies decided to try their luck in the States.
“You make the decision to look for a better life, not to continue with the life your father led, and for this you risk your life, without knowing that you could end up like this,” he said. “An amputee.”
After the accident, he spent two years at the shelter in Tapachula, wrestling with depression and thoughts of suicide. When those black days finally passed, he returned home for five months, only to find his parents, his former wife and even his three children had trouble accepting his disability. “My 9-year-old said, ‘Papa, why did you come back like this?’ ” he remembered. “I didn’t dare answer him.”
Mr. Ramírez has returned to the shelter here, where he hopes to learn a trade — fashioning prosthetic legs and arms for other victims of the train. Others at the shelter told similar stories. Some doubted they would be able to make a living in their home countries, where even getting a wheelchair is hard.
But some of those with lesser injuries insisted their accident was just a temporary setback. Minor Estuardo Cortez, 33, from Guatemala, lost his left foot under a train wheel while climbing aboard in Oaxaca State. At the shelter, he has healed and learned to walk with a prosthetic foot. He intends to continue his journey. If he reaches Houston, he says, he has relatives who can get him a construction job.
“If something happens to me, I don’t scare easy,” he said. “I’ll do it again to see who wins, the train or me. Only thing is I can’t run, so I’ll have to wait until it’s stopped to get on.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Epidemics: Bird Flu, TB, etc
on: January 28, 2007, 07:52:34 AM
Today's NY Times:
Virulent TB in South Africa May Imperil Millions
By MICHAEL WINES
Published: January 28, 2007
JOHANNESBURG, Jan. 27 — More than a year after a virulent strain of tuberculosis killed 52 of 53 infected patients in a rural South African hospital, experts here and abroad say the disease has most likely spread to neighboring countries, and some say urgent action is essential to halt its advance.
Several expressed concern at what they called South Africa’s sluggish response to a health emergency that, left unchecked, could prove hugely expensive to contain and could threaten millions across sub-Saharan Africa.
The director of the government’s tuberculosis programs called those concerns unfounded and said officials were doing everything reasonable to combat the outbreak.
The form of TB, known as XDR for extensively drug-resistant, cannot be effectively treated with most first- and second-line tuberculosis drugs, and some doctors consider it incurable.
Since it was first detected last year in KwaZulu-Natal Province, bordering the Indian Ocean, additional cases have been found at 39 hospitals in South Africa’s other eight provinces. In interviews on Friday, several epidemiologists and TB experts said the disease had probably moved into Lesotho, Swaziland and Mozambique — countries that share borders and migrant work forces with South Africa — and perhaps to Zimbabwe, which sends hundreds of thousands of destitute refugees to and from South Africa each year.
But no one can say with certainty, because none of those countries have the laboratories and clinical experts necessary to diagnose and track the disease. Ominously, none have the money and skills that would be needed to contain it should it begin to spread.
Even in South Africa, where nearly 330 cases have been officially documented, evidence of the disease’s spread is mostly anecdotal, and epidemiological work needed to trace its progress is only now beginning.
“We don’t understand the extent of it, and whether it’s more widespread than anyone thinks,” Mario C. Raviglione, the director of the Stop TB Department of the World Health Organization in Geneva, said in a telephone interview. “And if we don’t know what has caused it, then we don’t know how to stop it.”
Cases of XDR TB exist elsewhere, in countries like Russia and China where inadequate treatment programs have allowed drug-resistant strains of the disease to emerge. The South African outbreak is considered far more alarming than those elsewhere, however, because it is not only far larger, but has surfaced at the center of the world’s H.I.V. pandemic.
Although one third of the world’s people, by W.H.O. estimates, are infected with dormant tuberculosis germs, the disease thrives when immune systems are weakened by H.I.V. At least two in three South African TB sufferers are H.I.V. positive. Should XDR TB gain a foothold in the H.I.V.-positive population, it could wreak havoc not only among the five million South Africans who carry the virus, but the tens of millions more throughout sub-Saharan Africa.
People without H.I.V. have a far smaller chance of contracting tuberculosis, even if they are infected with the bacillus that causes TB. But because tuberculosis is spread through the air, anyone in close contact with an active TB sufferer is at some risk of falling ill.
Most if not all of the 52 people who died in the initial outbreak of XDR TB, at the Church of Scotland Hospital in a KwaZulu-Natal hamlet called Tugela Ferry in 2005 and early 2006, had AIDS. Most died within weeks of being tested for drug-resistant tuberculosis, a mortality rate scientists called unprecedented.
Since then, South African health officials say, they have confirmed a total of 328 cases of XDR TB, all but 43 in KwaZulu-Natal. Slightly more than half the patients have died.
Those numbers are deceptive, however. The Tugela Ferry outbreak was reported in part because the hospital there was part of a Yale University research project involving H.I.V.-positive patients with tuberculosis. Because South Africa’s treatment and reporting programs for tuberculosis are notoriously poor — barely half of TB patients are cured — virtually all experts contend the true rate of infection is greater.
“We’re really concerned that there may be similar outbreaks to the one in Tugela Ferry that are currently going undetected because the patients die very quickly,” said Dr. Karin Weyer, who directs tuberculosis programs for South Africa’s Medical Research Council, a semiofficial research arm of the government.
Some other researchers and experts say they share Dr. Weyer’s concern. They say South African health officials have lagged badly in assembling the epidemiological studies, treatment programs and skilled clinicians needed to combat the outbreak, and say the government has responded slowly to international offers of help.
Virulent TB in South Africa May Imperil Millions
Published: January 28, 2007
(Page 2 of 2)
Dr. Weyer said the council “shares the concern that not enough is being done, quickly enough, to get on top of the problem.” In particular, she said, officials have yet to carry out epidemiological studies or address a “shocking” lack of infection controls in hospitals that could allow TB and other infections to spread freely among H.I.V.-positive patients
“It’s an emergency, and we’re not reacting as if it were an emergency,” said Dr. Nesri Padayatchi, an epidemiologist and expert on drug-resistant TB for Caprisa, a Durban-based consortium of South African and American AIDS researchers. “I think we have the financial resources to address the issue, and we’ve been told the Department of Health has allocated these resources.”
Although the government was first told of the outbreak 20 months ago, in May 2005, “to date, on the ground in clinics and hospitals, we are not seeing the effect,” she said.
In KwaZulu-Natal’s major city, Durban, the sole hospital capable of treating XDR TB patients has a waiting list of 70 such cases, she said.
Dr. Weyer said the waiting list indicates that “capacity is becoming a problem” in KwaZulu-Natal, the outbreak’s center. “I’m quite sure we may find a similar situation in other provinces,” she added.
A spokesman at the hospital said it could not easily determine how many patients were awaiting treatment.
But the manager of South Africa’s national tuberculosis program, Dr. Lindiwe Mvusi, said such complaints were misplaced. The Durban hospital in question, she said, is under renovation, and officials are “looking for accommodations in other hospitals” while construction proceeds.
Hospitals in other provinces have enough beds now for XDR TB patients, and some are expanding isolation wards to handle any spread of the disease, she said.
She said other responses to the outbreak were under way, including a rough assessment of TB cases in hospitals nationwide. A more comprehensive national survey of TB cases may be conducted late this year, she added, and health officials in KwaZulu-Natal have begun surveillance programs to detect new cases of drug-resistant TB in the province.
Dr. Mvusi also rejected the notion that the tuberculosis had moved beyond South Africa’s borders. But in interviews, a number of TB experts and epidemiologists raised that concern, including Mr. Raviglione at the world health organization, Dr. Padayatchi, Dr. Weyer and Dr. Gerald Friedland, director of the AIDS program at the Yale University School of Medicine.
Dr. Raviglione of W.H.O. said that South African health officials were cooperating on responses to the outbreak, and that an official of his organization would arrive in Pretoria within days to discuss placing a team of global TB experts in the country.
“W.H.O. is ready to come to South Africa and to help in any place, for anything, whether surveillance, or detection, or infection control,” he said. However, those arrangements have not been completed.
Dr. Mvusi, the government’s TB program head, said global health experts were welcome, but “in an advisory role, because we want the capacity locally.”
DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Re: Palo Canario
on: January 27, 2007, 06:58:56 AM
Lo siguente estuvo "posted" (?Como se dice esto en espanol?) en el "Eskrima Digest":
Lucha del Garrote - Canarian staff fighting
It is perhaps difficult to imagine the Canary Islands as something
else than hotels, restaurants and endless, at times overcrowded
beaches. If you stop to have a peak you will find that these islands
are surprisingly rich on culture, especially with regard to living
traditions. Not only do they have their very own particular styles of
sailing and mountaineering but it is difficult to find a European
country with such a variety of living martial arts. In addition to
"Lucha del Garrote", the most combat oriented system, you can find
various styles of "Juego del Palo, also a stickfighting system but
more game oriented and with a smaller stick. "Tolete", a system for
self-defense using a short heavy stick also originates from these
islands, and of course, the very popular grappling art "Lucha
Canario", which resembles a mix of Japanese Sumo and Greek-Roman
"Lucha del Garrote", combat with staff, was practiced by the
guanches, indigenous Canary Island population, a long time before the
arrival of the Spanish (13th-14th century). Hence, it can be
questioned whether this is a European style, or if it is perhaps has a
closer relation to the African continent - where we can still find
alive stick-fighting traditions. We know that the style is
pre-Hispanic, but exactly how old it is and from where it originates
we don't know. However, since the Canary Islands now have been part of
Spain for about 700 years, we will be referring to Garrote as a
Most of us do not associate martial art with Europe; it is more
commonly known to originate from the East, but with a little research
we soon find an early Europe with a huge variety of combat systems.
The way in which the Vikings fought with ax, sword and shield can be
seen as the foundation for what was to become very sophisticated and
structured systems of combat, more popularly referred to as European
martial art. Many of these systems are now experiencing somewhat of a
renaissance, especially is this so with regard to styles from the
medieval period which are being practiced by thousands of Europeans,
Americans and Canadians. We are talking about re-enactment, swordplay
that is reconstructed from old scripts and fencing manuals.
In the system of Fiore Dei Liberi, a well known fencing master from
the medieval period, the focus is on hand to hand combat as well as
the sword, dagger and staff. The structure of this system seems to
have much in common with many of the Southeast Asian styles that we
can see today. It is very likely that the European conquistadors in
Southeast Asia had a great impact on the local combat systems. If we
take a look at the popular Filipino style of "Espada y Daga", sword
and dagger, it is not only a Spanish name that has been adopted; the
dominating techniques are very similar to that of fencing from early
European renaissance. In much the same manner the Spanish weapons may
have influenced the way in which the Garrote has developed. The long
sword that was used in this period was not a stranger to
confrontations with the staff, a weapon that was well established in
the European weapons arsenal. It is therefore possible that special
techniques were developed by the islanders to defend themselves
against the Spanish and their weapons. A very frontal fighting
position, a sophisticated system for thrusting with the staff and a
strong focus on using the staff as a shield could witness of a
strategy well suited to confront the medieval long sword.
With exception from the chord, which pretty much dominates the arena
for modern sports fencing, most European weapon based systems have not
survived as active systems. Sword and shield was replaced by the long
sword which in turn was replaced by chord and sable only soon to be
replaced by the rifle with bayonet and other firearms, a development
driven by warfare where the ultimate goal has been to develop more
efficient weapons for the battlefield.
So, what is "Lucha del Garrote", where does it come from and how is it
that this particular style has managed to avoid the cutting edge of
time. Considering what we have learned and with reference to the
history of European martial arts, it is obvious that if a particular
weapon is to survive in a society where warfare is the main driver of
development it must serve an additional purpose to that of killing.
The knife, one of our first and perhaps the oldest surviving weapon,
is also considered to be one of our most useful tools through times.
Garrote (long staff), has also survived much because of its function
as a Shepard's tool.
Garrote, was originally used by the native Canarian shepard's as an
aid to moving around in difficult terrain, something that is not hard
to find on these Atlantic islands. With a very limited access to fresh
water conflicts to determine ownership to its source were usual.
Hence, the Garrote became useful as a mean to resolve such conflict
and soon became the Shepard's chosen weapon for self-defense and
In the 13-14th century, when the Spaniards came to colonize the Canary
Islands, the Garrote was the natives' first line of defense. But the
guanche, a native islander, did not enjoy the structure of organized
warfare as did the Spaniards, and they eventually had to give in to
the superiority of the Spanish and their vast resources with regard to
such conflict. However, the Spanish had a long and difficult fight
ahead, given the nature of the terrain it was not difficult for native
warriors to hide out in the mountains and maintain their pressure on
the Spanish. Given such circumstances the practice of Garrote as a
fighting art was soon to be prohibited by the Spanish conquerors. As a
result "Lucha del Garrote" was practiced by the Shepard's in secrecy
until it was no longer regarded as a threat.
The size of the weapon can vary from chest-height to a weapon that
reaches 10-20 cm over the head of the practitioner. The weight is
approximately 1½ kg and the Garrote is preferably made from the male
olive tree. You might think that the weapons size and weight makes it
difficult to handle in an efficient manner, but you will be surprised
by the speed by which the techniques are executed. The long reach of
the garrote makes it very efficient as a long range weapon, however
the style's repertoire of low kicks, sweeps, elbows and throws also
makes it very efficient for close range combat. It is interesting to
see how much this system resembles oriental styles of combat,
especially Southeast Asian arts.
In contrast to other styles, where the Staff mostly serves as a
complement to the core system, "Lucha del Garrote" is a complete
system with only one weapon, one focus and one philosophy. All
principals and techniques originate from the actual fight. Over the
years ineffective techniques have been removed. Even today, combat is
the most important part of the training. A beginner is thoroughly
drilled in basic technique and must demonstrate acquired skills in
combat before he is permitted to proceed to the next level. There is
no form of protective equipment, strikes that are not blocked are
marked. There are no serious injuries but a bump in the head, as a
result of marking, and sore fingers appear frequently. Pain is
something you learn to live with, it has always been an integral part
of the art. Practitioners are very specific about passing on a pure
system that is not influenced by other styles. The Garrote is regarded
as a cultural heritage which is to be passed on to future generations
in its original state.
Today "Lucha del Garrote" has lost its original purpose, the weapon is
not used to defend the right and honor of the individual but it is
practiced to keep alive a cultural heritage and to honor the
traditions of the islanders.
There are not that many practitioners left. The Shepard's era is now
nearly past and the few existing masters that have committed to
keeping the art alive are very specific as to whom they teach. It is
emphasized that it is not to be an art that builds the ego of the
practitioner, the goal is not to win over others but to master and
control the challenges of a growing ego. To feel the movement of the
body, to relax and being able to clear your mind of thought. Let the
body work without the obstacles of fear, anxiety and ambition to win.
With this focus the instinct is not blocked by the thought, this is
how the practitioner of Garrote prepares an automatic response
pattern, at pattern that is programmed through practice.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Epidemics: Bird Flu, TB, etc
on: January 26, 2007, 02:19:20 PM
INDONESIA: Two pigs in Bali, Indonesia, have become infected with the bird flu virus, Chinese medical expert Zhong Nanshan said. The virus' detection in pigs raises concerns that the virus could be transmitted to people.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Help our troops/our cause:
on: January 25, 2007, 03:33:31 PM
This man's work (see e.g. http://www.michaelyon-online.com/wp/desolate-roads-part-one.htm
) needs to continue! Normally we don't discuss such things but I will say we have just sent the best donation we can.
The Adventure continues!
Marc "Crafty Dog" Denny
After spending most of 2005 in Iraq, five months of which were in Mosul, I am back to report on the progress and obstacles. There remain only a handful of US soldiers in Mosul, and they continue to fight every day. The Iraqi Security Forces here are vastly improved from 2005. Mosul is a key and critical city in this war. The terrorists want it badly. Practically the only thing standing between Mosul and the terrorists are the Iraqis who are tired of the violence, and the small group of American soldiers who are vastly outnumbered.
I am again with an American infantry unit, this time it is the 2/7 Cavalry, based in Texas. During the first week of my embed, the battalion lost 6 soldiers killed in action, and 1 interpreter. Others were severely wounded. They also were fighting back and inflicting worse damage on the enemy. "Desolate Roads Part 1 of 2," the dispatch now posted on the site, chronicles singular moments from the past two weeks in Mosul.
My request to extend the embed with the 2/7 Cavalry has been approved and I am looking forward to being able to observe and report on the dynamic situation on the ground here. Already, two of my camera lenses, my ballistic goggles and other expensive gear have been damaged beyond repair. The support of readers will determine how much longer I will be able to continue this work.
P O Box 416
Westport Pt MA 02791
PS: Our apologies for two server melt-downs that crashed the site after recent dispatches were published. We switched to a dedicated server and new company.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The 2008 Presidential Race
on: January 25, 2007, 03:18:08 PM
Ann Coulter has her badly off days, but this is not one of them. I could have put it in the Rants thread, but I think it fits better here:
It's nice to have a president who is not so sleazy that not a single Supreme Court justice shows up for his State of the Union address (Bill Clinton, January 1999, when eight justices stayed away to protest Clinton's disregard for the law and David Souter skipped the speech to watch "Sex and the City").
Speaking of which, the horny hick's wife finally ended the breathless anticipation by announcing that she is running for president. I studied tapes of Hillary feigning surprise at hearing about Monica to help me look surprised upon learning that she's running.
As long as we have revived the practice of celebrating multicultural milestones (briefly suspended when Condoleeza Rice became the first black female to be secretary of state), let us pause to note that Mrs. Clinton, if elected, would be the first woman to become president after her husband had sex with an intern in the Oval Office.
According to the famed "polls" -- or, as I call them, "surveys of uninformed people who think it's possible to get the answer wrong" -- Hillary is the current front-runner for the Democrats. Other than the massive case of narcolepsy her name inspires, this would cause me not the slightest distress -- except for the fact that the Republicans' current front-runners are John McCain and Rudy Giuliani.
Fortunately, polls at this stage are nothing but name recognition contests, so please stop asking me to comment on them. "Arsenic" and "proctologist" have sky-high name recognition going for them, too.
In January, two years before the 2000 presidential election, the leading Republican candidate in New Hampshire was ... Liddy Dole (WMUR-TV/CNN poll, Jan. 12, 1999). In the end, Liddy Dole's most successful run turned out to be a mad dash from her husband Bob after he accidentally popped two Viagras.
At this stage before the 1992 presidential election, the three leading Democratic candidates were, in order: Mario Cuomo, Jesse Jackson and Lloyd Bentsen (Public Opinion Online, Feb. 21, 1991).
Only three months before the 1988 election, William Schneider cheerfully reported in The National Journal that Michael Dukakis beat George Herbert Walker Bush in 22 of 25 polls taken since April of that year. Bush did considerably better in the poll taken on Election Day.
The average poll respondent reads the above information and immediately responds that the administrations of presidents Cuomo, Dole and Dukakis were going in "the wrong direction."
Still and all, Mrs. Clinton is probably the real front-runner based on: (1) the multiple millions of dollars she has raised, and (2) the fact that her leading Democratic opponent is named "Barack Hussein Obama." Or, as he's known at CNN, "Osama." Or, as he's known on the Clinton campaign, "The Soft Bigotry of Low Expectations."
Mrs. Clinton's acolytes are floating the idea of Hillary as another Margaret Thatcher to get past the question, "Can a woman be elected president?" This is based on the many, many things Hillary Clinton and Margaret Thatcher have in common, such as the lack of a Y chromosome and ... hmmm, you know, I think that's it.
Girl-power feminists who got where they are by marrying men with money or power -- Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, John Kerry -- love to complain about how hard it is for a woman to be taken seriously.
It has nothing to do with their being women. It has to do with their cheap paths to power. Kevin Federline isn't taken seriously either.
It is as easy to imagine Americans voting for someone like Margaret Thatcher or Condoleezza Rice for president as it is difficult to imagine them voting for someone like Hillary. (Or Kevin Federline.) Hillary isn't piggybacking on Thatcher because she's a woman, she's piggybacking on Thatcher because Thatcher made it on her own, which Hillary did not.
But the most urgent question surrounding Hillary's candidacy is: How will the Democrats out-macho us if Hillary is their presidential nominee? Unlike their last presidential nominee, she doesn't even have any fake Purple Hearts.
Sen. Jim Webb, who managed to give the rebuttal to President Bush's State of the Union address Tuesday night without challenging the president to a fistfight (well done, Jim!), won his election last November by portraying himself as one of the new gun-totin' Democrats.
He once opposed women in the military by calling the idea "a horny woman's dream." But -- as some of us warned you -- it appears that Webb has already been fitted for his tutu by Rahm Emanuel.
Webb began his rebuttal by complaining that we don't have national health care and aren't spending enough on "education" (teachers unions). In other words, he talked about national issues that only are national issues because of this country's rash experiment with women's suffrage. I guess we should all be relieved that at least Webb's response did not involve putting a young boy's penis into a man's mouth, as characters in his novels are wont to do. He then palavered on about the vast military experience of his entire family in order to better denounce the war in Iraq. As long as Democrats keep insisting that only warriors can discuss war, how about telling the chick to butt out?
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Statins and cholesterol: a big mistake?
on: January 25, 2007, 11:59:04 AM
Second post of the morning:
As part of an email group of which I am a member, I asked the doctors who are members of the group to comment on the inflammation theory. Here is a sidebar response which I received.
I am currently out of town and unable to respond
to the entire group. I just received the
following email this morning that partially
addresses your question. My understanding is
that inflammation is a normal bi-product of body
metabolism. It is naturally held in check by
proper diet and exercise. Simple sugar is
perhaps the single worst nutrient we ingest that
affects the body's ability to hold inflammation
in check. The excess inflammation can lead to,
among other things, etching of the lining in the
arteries of the heart and other organs. The
defects caused by the etching allows cholesterol
plaques to form that build up over time leading
to blockage. Blood tests for inflammation
levels are homocysteine and c-reactive protein.
In general, we are what we eat, but few of us
eat correctly. A diet of balanced, whole,
unprocessed foods is the way to go. Everything
I have read says not to be afraid of eggs. In
fact there was one story of a person who was
incarcerated in some third world county and fed
basically a diet of eggs for several months.
When checked after his release he had a very low
cholesterol level. Usually, people do not make
cholesterol from the cholesterol they eat in
foods. Cholesterol is made by our liver from
saturated fat. Cholesterol is necessary for a
normal life including the manufacture of sex
"Dear Dr. Mirkin: You've said that inflammation can lead to a heart
attack; aren't I causing inflammation when I exercise so hard that
my muscles hurt?
Anything that damages tissue can cause inflammation,
such as smoking, high cholesterol or hypertension. When a
germ gets into your body, your immunity produces
proteins called antibodies, white blood cells and cytokines that
kill germs. However, as soon as the germ is gone, your
immunity is supposed to shut down. If it doesn't shut down,
these same factors attack and destroy your body tissues;
this is called inflammation. Inflammation increases risk for
heart attacks, strokes, certain cancers, and diabetes and even
worsens diseases such as psoriasis, rheumatoid
arthritis, and asthma.
Many scientists have expressed concern that hard
exercise damages muscles, so it may turn on
inflammation and harm you. However, a study from Verona, Italy
shows that hard exercise does not cause inflammation (Journal of
the Canadian Medical Association, October 25, 2005). It
measured C reactive protein, a blood test that indicates
inflammation, and showed that there was no difference in levels in sedentary
people, those who cycle for fitness, competitive professional
bicycle racers and international-class cross country skiers. So
muscle damage from hard exercise does not increase inflammation.
More on inflammation at http://www.drmirkin.com/heart/1812.html
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Some thoughts on my recent experience with stick versus knife....
on: January 25, 2007, 11:49:05 AM
CWS et al:
Tail wags for the kind words.
Some people integrate the live hand well naturally but most of us need some specific work to expand us from focusing on the weapon exclusively. My ability to use the live hand I attribute to the training I've done in Pekiti Tirsia (see e.g. Top Dog's teaching in #4 of the RCSFg series) and Lameco (see e.g. PG Sulite's Single Stick videos and our DVD "Combining Stick and Footwork).
Ajarn Salty in our DVD "Krabi Krabong" says that one of the things that attracted him to KK was that it used all the body's tools (hands, elbows, knees, shins, feet) all the time during a weapon fight. Salty certainly had a great natural ability in this regard. His highly skilled use of the live hand can be seen all the way back in 1988 at the "Rumble in Ramblas" when the Dog Brothers came into being.
For the stick to do its best in this challenging test, not only do the footwork and striking motions have to be well integrated, but for maximum results, IMHO there needs to be a particular conceptual understanding of the strategy to be employed and the ability to do it under pressure.
The Adventure continues,
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Statins and cholesterol: a big mistake?
on: January 25, 2007, 11:38:35 AM
Trans Fat Leads To Weight Gain Even On Same Total Calories, Animal Study Shows
Main Category: Obesity / Weight Loss / Fitness News
Article Date: 15 Jun 2006 - 8:00 PST
| email this article | printer friendly | view or write opinions |
The "apple" body shape that increases the risk of diabetes and heart disease may be accelerated by eating trans fat such as partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, according to new animal research at Wake Forest University School of Medicine.
"Diets rich in trans fat cause a redistribution of fat tissue into the abdomen and lead to a higher body weight even when the total dietary calories are controlled," said Lawrence L. Rudel, Ph.D., professor of pathology and biochemistry and head of the Lipid Sciences Research Program.
"What it says is that trans fat is worse than anticipated," Rudel said. "I was surprised."
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), consumption of saturated fat, trans fat, and dietary cholesterol raises low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or "bad" cholesterol, levels, which increases the risk of coronary artery disease.
Kylie Kavanagh, D.V.M., presented the findings at the 66th annual Scientific Sessions of the American Diabetes Association in Washington, D.C. She said that over six years, male monkeys fed a western-style diet that contains trans fat had a 7.2 percent increase in body weight, compared to a 1.8 percent increase in monkeys that ate monounsaturated fats, such as olive oil.
All that extra weight went to the abdomen, and some other body fat was redistributed to the abdomen. Computed tomography (CT) scans showed that the monkeys on the diet containing trans fats had dramatically more abdominal fat than the monkeys on the monounsaturated fat. "We measured the volume of fat using CT," Kavanagh said. "They deposited 30 percent more fat in their abdomen."
The monkeys all were given the same amount of daily calories, with 35 percent of the calories coming from fat. The amount of calories they got should only have been enough to maintain their weight, not increase it, Rudel said. "We believed they couldn't get obese because we did not give them enough calories to get fat."
One group of monkeys got 8 percent of their calories from trans fat while the other group received those calories as monounsaturated fat. The researchers said that this amount of trans fat is comparable to people who eat a lot of fried food.
"We conclude that in equivalent diets, trans fatty acid consumption increases weight gain," said Kavanagh.
Over the entire course of the study, there was a small but significant difference in weight between the two groups. "In the world of diabetes, everybody knows that just 5 percent weight loss makes enormous difference," Kavanagh said. "This little difference was biologically quite significant."
Rudel said, "The study was specifically funded to look at the role of trans fatty acids in atherosclerosis."
He said that at the time he got a grant from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, there was not much evidence in the literature and no animal models that documented the hazards of trans fats, though there are data showing it was a risk factor for atherosclerosis.
Kavanagh said the six-year length of the study was equivalent to 20 years in people.
According to the FDA, trans fat is found in vegetable shortenings, some margarines, crackers, cookies, snack foods, and other foods made with or fried in partially hydrogenated oils. Unlike other fats, the majority of trans fat is formed when food manufacturers turn liquid oils into solid fats like shortening and hard margarine by adding hydrogen.
Since Jan. 1, the FDA has required the amount of trans fat to be listed in the nutrition facts panel on all foods. But the restaurant industry is exempt.
Other researchers on the American Diabetes Society report include Janice D. Wagner, Ph.D., D.V.M., John Jeffrey Carr, M.D., Kate Jones, B.S., Janet Sawyer, M.S., and Kathryn Kelly., B.S., all from Wake Forest University School of Medicine.
Media Contacts: Robert Conn, firstname.lastname@example.org
, Shannon Koontz, email@example.com
, or Karen Richardson, firstname.lastname@example.org
, at (336) 716-4587.
Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center is an academic health system comprised of North Carolina Baptist Hospital and Wake Forest University Health Sciences, which operates the university's School of Medicine. U.S. News & World Report ranks Wake Forest University School of Medicine 18th in family medicine, 20th in geriatrics, 25th in primary care and 41st in research among the nation's medical schools. It ranks 32nd in research funding by the National Institutes of Health. Almost 150 members of the medical school faculty are listed in Best Doctors in America.
Contact: Karen Richardson
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Gay & Straight
on: January 25, 2007, 12:27:12 AM
New York Times
January 25, 2007
Of Gay Sheep, Science and Peril of Bad Publicity
By JOHN SCHWARTZ
Charles Roselli set out to discover what makes some sheep gay. Then the news media and the blogosphere got hold of the story.
Dr. Roselli, a researcher at the Oregon Health and Science University, has searched for the past five years for physiological factors that might explain why about 8 percent of rams seek sex exclusively with other rams instead of ewes. The goal, he says, is to understand the fundamental mechanisms of sexual orientation in sheep. Other researchers might some day build on his findings to seek ways to determine which rams are likeliest to breed, he said.
But since last fall, when People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals started a campaign against the research, it has drawn a torrent of outrage from animal rights activists, gay advocates and ordinary citizens around the world — all of it based, Dr. Roselli and colleagues say, on a bizarre misinterpretation of what the work is about.
The story of the gay sheep became a textbook example of the distortion and vituperation that can result when science meets the global news cycle.
The news media storm reached its zenith last month, when The Sunday Times in London published an article under the headline “Science Told: Hands Off Gay Sheep.” It asserted, incorrectly, that Dr. Roselli had worked successfully to “cure” homosexual rams with hormone treatments, and added that “critics fear” that the research “could pave the way for breeding out homosexuality in humans.”
Martina Navratilova, the tennis star who is both openly gay and a PETA ally, wrote in an open letter that the research “can only be surmised as an attempt to develop a prenatal treatment” for sexual conditions.
The controversy spilled into the blog world, with attacks on Dr. Roselli, his university and Oregon State University, which is also involved in the research. PETA began an e-mail campaign that the universities say resulted in 20,000 protests, some with language like “you are a worthless animal killer and you should be shot,” “I hope you burn in hell” and “please, die.”
The news coverage, which has been heaviest in England and Australia, focused on smirk and titillation — and, of course, puns. Headlines included “Ewe Turn for Gay Rams on Hormones” and “He’s Just Not That Into Ewe.”
In recent weeks, the tide has begun to turn, with Dr. Roselli and Jim Newman, an Oregon Health and Science publicist, saying they have been working to correct the record in print and online. The university has sent responses to senders of each PETA-generated e-mail message.
Dr. Roselli, whose research is supported by the National Institutes of Health and is published in leading scientific journals, insists that he is as repulsed as his critics by the thought of sexual eugenics in humans. He said human sexuality was a complex phenomenon that could not be reduced to interactions of brain structure and hormones.
On blogs where attacks have appeared, the researchers point out that many of the accusations, like The Sunday Times’s assertion that the scientists implant devices in the brains of the sheep, are simply false.
The researchers acknowledge that the sheep are killed in the course of the research so their brain structure can be analyzed, but they say they follow animal welfare guidelines to prevent suffering.
The authors of the Sunday Times article, Chris Gourlay and Isabel Oakeshott, referred questions to a managing editor, who they said was traveling and could not be reached.
Dr. Roselli and Mr. Newman persuaded some prominent bloggers, including Andrew Sullivan, who writes an online column for Time, to correct postings that had uncritically quoted The Sunday Times’s article. They also found an ally in the blog world: a scientist who writes under the pseudonym emptypockets and has taken up Dr. Roselli’s cause. The blogger, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he said a public stand could hurt his career, said he had been cheered by the number of bloggers who dropped their opposition when presented with the facts.
Ms. Navratilova, who also received a response from the university, said she remained unconvinced.
“The more we play God or try to improve on Mother Nature, the more damage we are doing with all kinds of experiments that either have already turned or will turn into nightmares,” she wrote in an e-mail reply to a reporter’s query. “How in the world could straight or gay sheep help humanity?”
In an interview, Shalin Gala, a PETA representative working on the sheep campaign, said controlling or altering sexual orientation was a “natural implication” of the work of Dr. Roselli and his colleagues.
Mr. Gala, who asked that he be identified as openly gay, cited the news release for a 2004 paper in the journal Endocrinology that showed differences in brain structure between homosexual and heterosexual sheep.
The release quoted Dr. Roselli as saying that the research “also has broader implications for understanding the development and control of sexual motivation and mate selection across mammalian species, including humans.”
Mr. Newman, who wrote the release, said the word “control” was used in the scientific sense of understanding the body’s internal controls, not in the sense of trying to control sexual orientation.
“It’s discouraging that PETA can pick one word, try to add weight to it or shift its meaning to suggest that you are doing something that you clearly are not,” he said.
Dr. Roselli said that merely mentioning possible human implications of basic research was wildly different from intending to carry the work over to humans.
Mentioning human implications, he said, is “in the nature of the way we write our grants” and talk to reporters. Scientists who do basic research find themselves in a bind, he said, adding, “We have been forced to draw connections in a way that we can justify our research.”
As for whether the deaths of the sheep are justified, he said, “why would you pick on a guy who’s killing maybe 18 sheep a year, when there’s maybe four million killed for food and clothing in this country?”
Paul Root Wolpe, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania and a senior fellow at the university’s Center for Bioethics, said that although he supported Dr. Roselli’s research, “I’m not sure I would let him off the hook quite as easily as he wants to be let off the hook.”
By discussing the human implications of the research, even in a somewhat careful way, Dr. Roselli “opened the door” to the reaction, Dr. Wolpe said, and “he has to take responsibility for the public response.”
If the mechanisms underlying sexual orientation can be discovered and manipulated, Dr. Wolpe continued, then the argument that sexual orientation is based in biology and is immutable “evaporates.”
The prospect of parents’ eventually being able to choose not to have children who would become gay is a real concern for the future, Dr. Wolpe said. But he added, “This concern is best addressed by trying to change public perceptions of homosexuality rather than stop basic science on sexuality.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Statins and cholesterol: a big mistake?
on: January 24, 2007, 11:58:24 PM
Cholesterol, Statins, and Heart Attack
By Doug Hornig
Ischemic heart disease (IHD) is a condition whereby the heart muscle receives insufficient oxygen for continued healthy function, due to arterial blockages that prevent oxygenated cells from getting to their destination. The result is what is commonly called a heart attack.
As researchers examined those who died of IHD-related causes, what they often found were arterial cholesterol buildups that had become so large they blocked blood flow in the vessel. Cholesterol became public enemy #1 and reducing the amount in the blood became accepted as the way to avoid IHD.
Now, that is gospel. So much so that pharmaceutical research has been almost entirely devoted to developing drugs that block the body’s production of cholesterol, the most common of which are a class called statins. Statins such as Lipitor®, Zocor®, Crestor®, Vytorin®, the now discredited Baycol®, and others all work in basically the same way. They’re mevalonate inhibitors. Simply put, they attack the weak link in the cholesterol synthesis chain, by inhibiting the enzyme that activates cholesterol production inside the cell.
And they work. They both lower serum cholesterol and are proven to be effective in preventing heart attacks. Thus, statins have become the most prescribed (and profitable) drugs in the country, with tens of millions of Americans regularly taking them. Case closed.
Or is it? As the anti-cholesterol era progressed, a few open-minded researchers began to question whether cholesterol buildup on arterial walls might be a symptom, rather than a root cause. To put it another way, is excess cholesterol a bad thing per se, or is the actual bad thing some underlying condition that causes the cholesterol to stick?
Before answering that question, a brief side trip into physiology is necessary. Many people have the mistaken impression that cholesterol is some evil, alien substance that we’d do much better without. Not so. It is present in every cell of our bodies. Its functions are numerous, and still not fully understood. Suffice it to say that without it, we wouldn’t be alive.
Cholesterol is produced naturally by the body, as well as being absorbed from food. Generally lumped under the term are triglycerides, low-density lipoproteins (LDL—the “bad” cholesterol), and high-density lipoproteins (HDL—the “good” cholesterol).
Despite the labels, all do important things. The problem arises, according to conventional wisdom, when LDL levels become too high, and the elimination function performed by HDL breaks down. The excess LDL is not passed back through the liver, it clogs blood vessels, and it begins to coagulate and clump within them. But why should it? Furthermore, why is it that the majority of heart attack victims have normal cholesterol levels?
Those are key questions. Increasingly, the focus is shifting away from the cholesterol itself and onto chronic inflammation of the arterial walls.
Inflammation is a killer. It can weaken blood vessels until they rupture, causing a heart attack (or stroke), regardless of cholesterol levels. It can also result in the weakened sites latching onto passing cholesterol molecules in the body’s attempt to repair the damage, thereby initiating the process that ends with a cholesterol blockage.
Thirty years ago, at Harvard Medical School, research pioneer Dr. Kilmer McCully was looking for a better marker for heart attack risk by linking high levels of the inflammation-causing amino acid homocysteine to the disease. McCully’s views were out of the mainstream at that time, and it would take until the late ’90s for the profession to catch up, as homocysteine finally came under broad scrutiny.
Inflammation theory got another big boost in 2003, when a massive longitudinal study at Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital was published in the New England Journal of Medicine. It showed that the presence of a compound called C-reactive protein (CRP), a substance manufactured by the liver in response to the presence of inflammation in the body, was the best predictor of heart attack and stroke risk.
In this context, we can return to a consideration of statins. Suppose that their efficacy in reducing the risk of heart attack is due not to the fact that they inhibit cholesterol production, but to their powerful anti-inflammatory properties. That’s precisely the conclusion reached by Dr. Duane Graveline, a flight surgeon and original NASA scientist/astronaut, who has been studying the subject for years.
Well, what does it matter? one might reasonably ask. If the drugs decrease the risk of heart attack, what’s not to like?
As with all drugs, the answer is that there are trade-offs involved. No one knows the extent of them yet. The inhibition of mevalonate, for example, involves more than just cholesterol suppression, since it’s a precursor of other substances with important biological functions.
What is known is a list of side effects associated with statins. According to Swedish researcher Dr. Ulle Ravnskov, these include fatigue, muscle soreness/weakness, peripheral neuropathy of the legs, short temper, aggressive behavior, and (rare) muscle problems leading to kidney failure. Pregnant women should avoid statins because of the likelihood of birth defects in their newborns.
Perhaps most disturbing is the possibility that statins may interfere with cognition. While reports linking the drugs to such disorders as transient global amnesia and other Alzheimer’s-like symptoms are anecdotal at the moment, there is real cause for concern.
In a landmark 2001 study by Dr. Frank Pfrieger et al, of France’s Centre de Neurochimie, the group discovered a link between brain cholesterol metabolism and nerve cell development, learning and memory. Cholesterol proved to be the heretofore elusive factor responsible for the development of synapses, the contact sites between adjacent neurons in the brain. We can’t think properly without cholesterol.
Now, here’s the rub. Cholesterol circulating in the bloodstream is unavailable to the brain; both LDL and HDL are too large to pass the blood/brain barrier. Cholesterol needed by the brain must be manufactured on-site.
Statins, however, do pass the barrier and enter the brain, where, it is reasonable to assume, they exercise their proven ability to inhibit cholesterol production. A scary possibility.
Dr. Graveline suggests that dosage levels be reconsidered. The relatively high dosages of statins required to lower cholesterol may not be necessary if the drugs’ protective qualities are actually due to their anti-inflammatory action. A smaller, and far less risky, dose may work just fine.
And who knows, future generations may marvel that we spent so much time and money developing ever more sophisticated cholesterol inhibitors when all we really needed was the simplest, least expensive anti-inflammatory of them all, aspirin.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Statins & cholesterol- a mistake?/inflammation theory
on: January 24, 2007, 11:57:53 PM
Have we been conned about cholesterol?
by MALCOLM KENDRICK
Conventional medical wisdom about cholesterol and the role of statins is now being challenged by a small, but growing number of health professionals. Among them is Dr Malcolm Kendrick. A GP for 25 years, he has also worked with the European Society of Cardiology, and writes for leading medical magazines:
When it comes to heart disease, we have been sold a pup. A rather large pup.
Actually, it's more of a full-grown blue whale. We've all been conned.
If you've got a raised risk of heart disease, the standard medical advice is to take a cholesterol-lowering statin drug to cut your chances of having a heart attack because, as we all know, cholesterol is a killer.
Indeed, many of you already believe that you should take statins for the rest of your natural lifespan.
Nearly everybody is in agreement about the need to lower your cholesterol level. The NHS spends nearly £1 billion a year on prescriptions for statins and possibly the same amount administering the cholesterol tests, surgery visits and the rest.
But is it all worth it? According to an article being published in the medical journal The Lancet this week, the answer is probably no.
A leading researcher at Harvard Medical School has found that women don't benefit from taking statins at all, nor do men over 69 who haven't already had a heart attack.
There is a very faint benefit if you are a younger man who also hasn't had a heart attack - out of 50 men who take the drug for five years, one will benefit.
Nor is this the first study to suggest that fighting cholesterol with statins is bunk. Indeed, there are hundreds of doctors and researchers who agree that the cholesterol hypothesis itself is nonsense.
What their work shows, and what your doctor should be saying, is the following:
• A high diet, saturated or otherwise, does not affect blood cholesterol levels.
• High cholesterol levels don't cause heart disease.
• Statins do not protect against heart disease by lowering cholesterol - when they do work, they do so in another way.
• The protection provided by statins is so small as to be not worth bothering about for most people (and all women). The reality is that the benefits have been hyped beyond belief.
• Statins have many more unpleasant side effects than has been admitted, while experts in this area should be treated with healthy scepticism because they are almost universally paid large sums by statin manufacturers to sing loudly from their hymn sheet.
So how can I say saturated fat doesn't matter when everyone knows it is a killer? Could all those millions who have been putting skinless chicken and one per cent fat yoghurts into their trolleys really have been wasting their time?
The experts are so busy urging you to consume less fat and more statins that you are never warned about the contradictions and lack of evidence behind the cholesterol con.
In fact, what many major studies show is that as far as protecting your heart goes, cutting back on saturated fats makes no difference and, in fact, is more likely to do harm.
So how did fat and cholesterol get such a bad name? It all began about 100 years ago, when a researcher found feeding rabbits (vegetarians) a high cholesterol carnivore diet blocked their arteries with plaque.
But it took off in the Fifties with the Seven Countries study by Ancel Keys, which showed that the higher the saturated fat intake in a country, the higher the cholesterol levels and the higher the rate of heart disease.
The countries he chose included Italy, Greece, the USA and the Netherlands. But why these particular ones?
Recently I did my own 14 countries study using figures from the World Health Organisation, and found the opposite.
Countries with the highest saturated fat consumption ? Austria, France, Finland and Belgium ? had the lowest rate of deaths from heart disease, while those with the lowest consumption ? Georgia, Ukraine and Croatia ? had the highest mortality rate from heart disease.
Added to this, the biggest ever trial on dietary modification put 50 million people on a low saturated fat diet for 14 years.
Sausages, eggs, cheese, bacon and milk were restricted. Fruit and fish, however, were freely available. I?m talking about rationing in Britain during and after World War Two. In that time, deaths from heart disease more than doubled.
Even more damning is what happened in 1988. The Surgeon General's office in the US decided to gather all evidence linking saturated fat to heart disease, silencing any nay-sayers for ever.
Eleven years later, however, the project was killed. The letter announcing this stated that the office "did not anticipate fully the magnitude of the additional expertise and staff resources that would be needed".
After eleven years, they needed additional expertise and staff resources? What had they been doing? If they'd found a scrap of evidence, you would never have heard the last of it.
Major trials since have been no more successful. One involved nearly 30,000 middle-aged men and women in Sweden, followed for six years.
The conclusion? "Saturated fat showed no relationship with cardiovascular disease in men. Among the women, cardiovascular mortality showed a downward trend with increasing saturated fat intake." (In other words, the more saturated fat, the less chance of dying from heart disease).
Even stronger evidence of the benefits of increased fat and cholesterol in the diet comes from Japan. Between 1958 and 1999, the Japanese doubled their protein intake, ate 400 per cent more fat and their cholesterol levels went up by 20 per cent.
Did they drop like flies? No. Their stroke rate, which had been the highest in the world, was seven times lower, while deaths from heart attacks, already low, fell by 50 per cent.
It's a bit of a paradox, isn?t it? That's one of the features of the dietary hypothesis - it involves a lot of paradoxes.
The most famous is the French Paradox. They eat more saturated fat than we do in Britain; they smoke more, take less exercise, have the same cholesterol/LDL levels, they also have the same average blood pressure and the same rate of obesity.
And you know what? They have one quarter the rate of heart disease we do.
The official explanation is that the French are protected from heart disease by drinking red wine, eating lightly cooked vegetables and eating garlic.
But there is no evidence that any of these three factors are actually protective. None. By evidence, I mean a randomised, controlled clinical study.
Every time a population is found that doesn't fit the saturated fat/cholestrol hypothesis - the Masai living on blood and milk with no heart disease, the Inuit living on blubber with low heart disease - something is always found to explain it.
One research paper published more than 20 years ago found 246 factors that could protect against heart disease or promote it. By now there must be more than a thousand.
The closer you look the more you find that the cholestrol hypothesis is an amazing beast. It is in a process of constant adaptation in order to encompass all contradictory data without keeling over and expiring.
But you don't need to look at foreign countries to find paradoxes - the biggest one is right here at home. Women are about 300 per cent less likely to suffer heart disease than men, even though on average they have higher cholesterol levels.
For years there was an ad hoc hypothesis to explain this apparent contradiction - women were protected by female sex hormones.
In fact, there has never been a study showing that these hormones protect against heart disease in humans.
But by the Nineties, millions of women were being prescribed HRT to stave off heart disease.
Then came the HERS trial to test the notion. It found HRT increased the risk of heart disease.
So what to do? Put them on statins; bring their cholesterol level down ? below 5.0 mmol is the official advice.
But, as The Lancet article emphasises, women do not benefit from statins. The phrase "Statins do not save lives in women" should be hung in every doctor's surgery.
But it's not just hugely wasteful handing out statins to women and men who are never going to benefit; it also exposes them to the risk of totally unnecessary side effects.
These include muscle weakness (myopathy) and mental and neurological problems such as severe irritability and memory loss.
How common are they? Very rare, say experts, but one trial found that 90 per cent of those on statins complained of side effects, half of them serious.
Only last week, a study reported a link between low LDL cholesterol and developing Parkinson's disease.
Statins are designed to lower LDL. In the face of anticholesterol propaganda, it is easy to forget cholesterol is vital for our bodies to function.
Why do you think an egg yolk is full of cholesterol? Because it takes a lot of cholesterol to build a healthy chicken.
It also takes a hell of a lot to build and maintain a healthy human being.
In fact, cholesterol is so vital that almost all cells can manufacture cholesterol; one of the key functions of the liver is to synthesise cholesterol.
It's vital for the proper functioning of the brain and it's the building bock for most sex hormones.
So it should not be such a surprise to learn that lowering cholesterol can increase death rates.
Woman with a cholesterol level of five or even six have a lower risk of dying than those with a level below four.
The Lancet reported that statins didn't benefit anyone over 69, not even men; in fact, there's good evidence that they may hasten your death.
The Framingham study in the US found that people whose cholesterol levels fell were at a 14 per cent increased risk of death from heart disease for every 1mg/dl.
Set up in 1948, the study screened the whole population of Framingham near Boston for factors that might be involved in heart disease and then followed them to see what happened to them.
It is still going today, making it the longest running and most often quoted study in heart-disease research.
A massive long-term study that looked specifically at cholesterol levels and mortality in older people in Honolulu, published in The Lancet, found that having low cholesterol concentration for a long time increases the risk of death.
This may be because cholesterol is needed to fight off infections or there may be other reasons ? but many other studies have found exactly the same thing.
Low cholesterol levels greatly increase your risk of dying younger. So the cholesterol hypothesis looks something like this:
There is no evidence that saturated fat is bad - and there are lots of 'paradoxes' where countries with a high cholesterol intake don't have a higher death rate from heart disease.
But there is an even more fundamental problem. The theory claims fat and cholesterol do things in the body that just don't make sense.
To begin with, saturated fat and cholesterol are talked of as if they are strongly connected. A low-fat diet lowers cholesterol; a high-fat diet raises it.
What is never explained is how this works. This isn't surprising because saturated fat doesn't raise cholesterol. There is no biochemical connection between the two substances, which may explain all those negative findings.
It's true that foods containing cholesterol also tend to contain saturated fats because both usually come from animals.
It's also true that neither dissolve in water, so in order to travel along the bloodstream they have to be transported in a type of molecule known as a lipoprotein - such as LDLs (low-density lipoproteins) and HDLs (high-density lipoproteins).
But being travelling companions is as close as fats and cholesterol get. Once in the body, most fat from our diet is transported to the fat cells in a lipoprotein called a chylomicron.
Meanwhile, cholesterol is produced in the liver by way of an incredibly complicated 13-step process; the one that statins interfere with.
No biochemist has been able to explain to me why eating saturated fat should have any impact on this cholesterol production line in the liver.
On the other hand, the liver does make fat - lots of it. All the excess carbohydrate that we eat is turned first into glucose and then into fat in the liver.
And what sort of fat does the liver make? Saturated fat; obviously the body doesn't regard it as harmful at all.
Recently, attention has been shifting from the dangers of saturated fat and LDL "bad" cholesterol to the benefits of HDL "good" cholesterol, and new drugs that are going to boost it.
But the idea that more HDLs are going to fight off heart disease is built on equally shaky foundations.
These lipoproteins seem to be cholesterol "scavengers", sucking up the cholesterol that is released when a cell dies and then passing it on to other lipoproteins, which return it to the liver.
Interestingly, the "bad" LDL lipoproteins are involved in the relay. The idea seems to be that HDLs can also get the cholesterol out of the plaques that are blocking arteries.
However, there is a huge difference between absorbing free-floating cholesterol and sucking it out of an atherosclerotic plaque which is covered by an impermeable cap.
• Extracted from The Great Cholesterol Con by Malcolm Kendrick, published by John Blake on January 29 at £9.99.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: China
on: January 24, 2007, 08:03:02 PM
GEOPOLITICAL INTELLIGENCE REPORT
Space and Sea-Lane Control in Chinese Strategy
By George Friedman
Aviation Week & Space Technology magazine, citing U.S. intelligence sources, has reported that China has successfully tested an anti-satellite (ASAT) system. According to the report, which U.S. officials later confirmed, a satellite was launched, intercepted and destroyed a Feng Yun 1C weather satellite, also belonging to China, on Jan. 11. The weather satellite was launched into polar orbit in 1999. The precise means of destruction is not clear, but it appears to have been a kinetic strike (meaning physical intercept, not laser) that broke the satellite into many pieces. The U.S. government wants to reveal as much information as possible about this event in order to show its concern -- and to show the Chinese how closely the Americans are monitoring their actions.
The Jan. 17 magazine report was not the first U.S. intelligence leak about Chinese ASAT capabilities. In August 2006, the usual sources reported China had directed lasers against U.S. satellites. It has become clear that China is in the process of acquiring the technology needed to destroy or blind satellites in at least low-Earth orbit, which is where intelligence-gathering satellites tend to operate.
Two things about this are noteworthy. The first is that China is moving toward a space warfare capability. The second is that it is not the Chinese who are announcing these moves (they maintained official silence until Jan. 23, when they confirmed the ASAT test), but Washington that is aggressively publicizing Chinese actions. These leaks are not accidental: The Bush administration wants it known that China is doing these things, and the Chinese are quite content with that. China is not hiding its efforts, and U.S. officials are using them to create a sense of urgency within the United States about Chinese military capabilities (something that, in budgetary debates in Washington, ultimately benefits the U.S. Air Force).
China has multiple space projects under way, but the one it is currently showcasing -- and on which the United States is focusing -- involves space-denial capabilities. That makes sense, given China's geopolitical position. It does not face a significant land threat: With natural barriers like the Himalayas or the Siberian wastes on its borders, foreign aggression into Chinese territory is unlikely. However, China's ability to project force is equally limited by these barriers. The Chinese have interests in Central Asia, where they might find power projection an enticing consideration, but this inevitably would bring them into conflict with the Russians. China and Russia have an interest in containing the only superpower, the United States, and fighting among themselves would play directly into American hands. Therefore, China will project its power subtly in Central Asia; it will not project overt military force there. Its army is better utilized in guaranteeing China's internal cohesiveness and security than in engaging in warfare.
Geopolitics and Naval Power
Its major geopolitical problem is, instead, maritime power. China -- which published a defense white paper shortly before the ASAT test -- has become a great trading nation, with the bulk of its trade moving by sea. And not only does it export an enormous quantity of goods, but it also increasingly imports raw materials. The sea-lanes on which it depends are all controlled by the U.S. Navy, right up to China's brown water. Additionally, Beijing retains an interest in Taiwan, which it claims as a part of China. But whatever threats China makes against Taiwan ring hollow: The Chinese navy is incapable of forcing its way across the Taiwan Strait, incapable of landing a multidivisional force on Taiwan and, even if it were capable of that, it could not sustain that force over time. That is because the U.S. Navy -- using airpower, missiles, submarines and surface vessels -- could readily cut the lines of supply and communication between China and Taiwan.
The threat to China is the U.S. Navy. If the United States wanted to break China, its means of doing so would be naval interdiction. This would not have to be a close-in interdiction. The Chinese import oil from around the world and ship their goods around the world. U.S. forces could choose to stand off, far out of the range of Chinese missiles -- or reconnaissance platforms that would locate U.S. ships -- and interdict the flow of supplies there, at a chokepoint such as the Strait of Malacca. This strategy would have far-reaching implications, of course: the Malacca Strait is essential not only to China, but also to the United States and the rest of the world. But the point is that the U.S. Navy could interdict China's movement of goods far more readily than China could interdict American movement of goods.
For China, freedom of the seas has become a fundamental national interest. Right now, China's access to the sea-lanes depends on U.S. acquiescence. The United States has shown no interest whatsoever in cutting off that access -- quite the contrary. But China, like any great power, does not want its national security held hostage to the goodwill of another power -- particularly not one it regards as unpredictable and as having interests quite different from its own. To put it simply, the United States currently dominates the world's oceans. This is a source of enormous power, and the United States will not give up that domination voluntarily. China, for its part, cannot live with that state of affairs indefinitely. China may not be able to control the sea itself, but it cannot live forever with U.S. control. Therefore, it requires a sea-lane-denial strategy.
Quite naturally, China has placed increased emphasis on naval development. But the construction of a traditional navy -- consisting of aircraft carriers, nuclear attack submarines and blue-water surface systems, which are capable of operating over great distances -- is not only enormously expensive, but also will take decades to construct. It is not just a matter of shipbuilding. It is also a matter of training and maturing a generation of naval officers, developing viable naval tactics and doctrine, and leapfrogging generations of technology -- all while trying to surpass a United States that already has done all of these things. Pursuing a conventional naval strategy will not provide a strategic solution for China within a reasonable timeframe. The United States behaves in unexpected ways, from the Chinese point of view, and the Chinese will need a solution within five years -- or certainly within a decade.
They cannot launch a competitive, traditional navy in that period of time. However, the U.S. Navy has a general dependency on -- and, therefore, a vulnerability related to -- space-based systems. Within the U.S. military, this is not unique to the Navy, but given that the Navy operates at vast distances and has sea-lane-control missions -- as well as the mission of launching aircraft and missiles against land-based targets -- it has a particular dependency on space. The service relies on space-based systems for intelligence-gathering, communications, navigation and tactical reconnaissance. This is true not only for naval platforms, but also for everything from cruise missile guidance to general situational awareness.
Take out the space-based systems and the efficiency of the Navy plummets dramatically. Imagine an American carrier strike group moving into interdiction position in the Taiwan Strait without satellite reconnaissance, targeting information for anti-ship missiles, satellite communications for coordination and so on. Certainly, ship-board systems could substitute, but not without creating substantial vulnerabilities -- particularly if Chinese engineers could develop effective jamming systems against them.
If the Chinese were able to combine kinetic ASAT systems for low-Earth orbit, high-energy systems for communications and other systems in geostationary orbit and tools for effectively denying the electromagnetic spectrum to the United States, they would have moved a long way toward challenging U.S. dominance of space and limiting the Navy's ability to deny sea-lanes to Chinese ships. From the Chinese point of view, the denial of space to the United States would undermine American denial of the seas to China.
Conjecture and Core Interests
There has been some discussion -- fueled by Chinese leaks -- that the real purpose of the Chinese ASAT launch was to prompt the Americans to think about an anti-ASAT treaty. This is not a persuasive argument because such a treaty would freeze in place the current status quo, and that status quo is not in the Chinese national interest.
For one thing, a treaty banning ASAT systems would leave the Chinese without an effective means of limiting American naval power. It would mean China would have to spend a fortune on a traditional navy and wait at least a generation to have it in place. It would mean ceding the oceans to the United States for a very long time, if not permanently. Second, the United States and Russia already have ASAT systems, and the Chinese undoubtedly assume the Americans have moved aggressively, if secretly, to improve those systems. Treaty or no, the United States and Russia already have the technology for taking out Chinese satellites. China is not going to assume either will actually dismantle systems -- or forget how to build them fast -- merely because of a treaty. The only losers in the event of an anti-ASAT treaty would be the countries that do not have them, particularly China.
The idea that what China really wants is an anti-ASAT treaty is certainly one the Chinese should cultivate. This would buy them time while Americans argue over Chinese intentions, it would make the Chinese look benign and, with some luck, it could undermine U.S. political will in the area of the military utilization of space. Cultivating perceptions that an anti-ASAT treaty is the goal is the perfect diplomatic counterpart to Chinese technological development. But the notion itself does not stand up to scrutiny.
The issue for the United States is not so much denying space to China as ensuring the survivability of its own systems. The United States likely has the ability to neutralize the space-based systems of other countries. The strategic issue, however, is whether it has sufficient robustness and redundancy to survive an attack in space. In other words, do U.S. systems have the ability to maneuver to evade attacks, to shield themselves against lasers, to continue their missions while under attack? Moreover, since satellites will be damaged and lost, does the United States have sufficient reserve satellites to replace those destroyed and launchers to put them in place quickly?
For Washington, the idea of an ASAT treaty is not the issue; the United States would love anything that blocks space capabilities for other nations. Rather, it is about building its own space strategy around the recognition that China and others are working toward denying space to the United States.
All of this is, of course, fiendishly expensive, but it is still a lot cheaper than building new naval fleets. The real problem, however, is not just money, but current military dogma. The U.S. military is now enthralled by the doctrine of asymmetric warfare, in which nonstate actors are more important than states. Forever faithful to the assumption that all wars in the future will look like the one currently being fought, the strategic urgency and intellectual bandwidth needed to prepare for space warfare does not currently exist within the U.S. military. Indeed, an independent U.S. Space Command no longer exists -- having been merged into Strategic Command, which itself is seen as an anachronism.
For the United States, one of the greatest prices of the Iraq war is not simply the ongoing conflict, but also the fact that it makes it impossible for the U.S. military to allocate resources for emerging threats. That always happens in war, but it is particularly troubling in this case because of the intractable nature of the Iraq conflict and the palpable challenge being posed by China in space. This is not a challenge that many -- certainly not those at the highest levels of military leadership -- have time to think about while concerned about the future of a few city blocks in Baghdad; but U.S. leaders might, in 10 years, look back on 2007 and wonder what their predecessors were thinking about.
© Copyright 2006 Strategic Forecasting Inc. All rights reserved.
A friend comments:
Interesting piece; thanks for sharing.
I think the geo-political analysis of China and the US is very well done, although I disagree with the author’s conclusion: That the Iraq war has made it impossible for the US to address this crucial issue. I believe that the Pentagon is all over this (in spite of Iraq). One interesting book in this regard is: http://www.amazon.com/Showdown-China-Wants-United-States/dp/1596980052
. Another good one is http://www.amazon.com/War-Footing-Steps-America-Prevail/dp/1591143012
. Both these guys are very plugged-in to the Pentagon, and both talk extensively about this threat. Clearly (not just with China) our ability to protect our satellites is a crucial defense issue. That is, I think it to be NOT falling through Iraq's cracks.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Social Security makes children worthless?
on: January 24, 2007, 07:58:34 PM
Making Kids Worthless: Social Security's Contribution to the Fertility Crisis
By Oskari Juurikkala
Posted on 1/24/2007
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"Kinder haben die Leute immer — People will always have children," assured Konrad Adenauer, the German Chancellor, in 1957. He was convinced that the future of the brave new pay-as-you-go social security system would not be undermined by demographic changes.
Adenauer was as wrong as ever. Social security schemes around the developed world are facing a major crisis due to greater longevity, declining retirement ages and — lo and behold — below-replacement fertility rates.
What the good statesman did not realize is how the new system would affect the incentives of individuals to work, to save, and to have children. Labor force participation rates among older workers have declined dramatically since the 1960s throughout the Western world. The rules of social security benefits in most countries mean that working just does not pay off. In this way, pay-as-you-go social security schemes contribute to their own bankruptcy. 
But the disincentives to work are not the only problem with government social security schemes. Demographic change too is a result of those systems, because compulsory social security penalizes parenthood and childbearing. Unfortunately, low fertility rates do not merely hasten the insolvency of public pay-as-you-go schemes, but lack of offspring also implies the decline of centuries-old nations.
The decline of fertility in the 20th century is a dismal reality. Fertility rates were higher than 5 in both Europe and the United States just a hundred years ago, but by year 2000, they had plummeted to as low as around 1.5 in Europe and 2.0 in the United States. Many European nations experience fertility rates far below replacement levels: Spain, Italy and Greece dip as low as 1.3. Germany — where according to Adenauer people were always going to have children — reaches an equally bleak figure of 1.4. According to some estimates Italy will reduce its population by half in the next 50 years.
Families, Children, and Old-Age Security
What then has social security got to do with fertility rates? Actually, a lot.
In the absence of public social security systems, families function as a type of private, informal pay-as-you-go insurance mechanism, in which parents look after their children, and children care for their parents in sickness and old age in return. This is the common pattern still found in all traditional societies — just as it was in the West a hundred years ago.
Of course, some individuals cannot have children of their own, or their children may fall ill and die. The natural solution to these risks is to pool them in the informal social insurance market. This is why the norm in traditional societies is not the nuclear family but the extended family.
In addition to man's innate affection for offspring, the main reason why people used to have large families was that it was economically sound. Sociologists and demographers call it "the old age security motive for fertility."  In traditional societies, family values and mutual altruism are deeply held values, which are nurtured by both upbringing and material needs.
Enter public social security. Instead of caring for their own parents and close relatives, those of working age are compelled by force of law and gun to pay for the retirement of everyone else. To put it plainly, social security replaces children and the family as the main support in old age by literally socializing the traditional duties of the family. Why have children when the state will take care of you in your old age?
The effect of social security on fertility is seen clearly in empirical data. The figure below shows cross-sectional data from over 100 countries in 1997.  In this data, all countries with large pension systems have fertility rates below the replacement level. No country with pension payments above 4 per cent of GDP has a fertility rate above 3.
Historical data is even more revealing. The following figure depicts time-series data from eight European countries from 1960 to the present. The growth of social security payments (X-axis) is associated with the decline of fertility (Y-axis) almost one-to-one. 
Every kind of socialism creates perverse incentives, and socialism directed to the family perverts the family. Because everyone has to pay for the retirement of everyone else, it does not pay to have children. Of course, people will still continue to have some children, simply because they want to have children as ends in themselves. However, as far as economic incentives are concerned, it has become economically more "rational" to free ride on the children of others. No surprise that masses of people embrace present-oriented lifestyles and refuse to commit themselves to real marriage with children.
Those who defend governmental social security argue that a formal, nation-wide system is surely more efficient in providing for needs in old age. In reality, the opposite is true. The extended family is an effective mechanism for solving informational and monitoring problems, which is why one finds practically no free riding and moral hazard in traditional settings. Under public social security, everyone seeks to benefit at the expense of everyone else — hence the declining labor force participation rates.
Democratic decision-making processes make things even worse, because voters can free ride at the expense of future generations — arguably the main reason why social security ever was popular. In contrast to government social security programs, elderly people in extended families do not retire early, and cannot claim false disability benefits. Even when they have a minor disability, they continue to contribute in other ways such as cooking, looking after younger children, etc.
Looking for Alternatives
Many people nowadays find it hard to see why anyone would have children for the sake of old-age security. Surely, they think, people have children just because they like it. Still, they often hear people say they would like to have more children, but they cannot afford it. Moreover, people in less developed countries seem to afford large families, even though their real incomes barely reach subsistence levels.
What can account for these seemingly conflicting observations? The fact that in the absence of social security, the extended family is an informal social insurance mechanism that renders childbearing economically beneficial. But in countries with large social security systems, people no longer have an old-age security motive for fertility, precisely because social security has made fertility economically unwise.
Of course, social security is not the only reason for declining fertility rates. For one thing, the welfare state undermines the family in many other ways too, such as compulsory public education that seeks to replace family loyalty with allegiance to the state. Moreover, the old-age security motive for fertility should become weaker when other ways of providing for old age become available. Well-defined property rights, legal certainty and freedom of contract are some of the key institutions that foster the development of savings institutions and financial markets, which in turn offer suitable savings and insurance vehicles.
However, the emergence of alternative savings media as such cannot undermine the family in the way compulsory social security does. The reason is that people do not have children just for the sake of old-age security; they have children because they like it, and in the absence of the welfare state, having children is also economically sound. It continues to be so with the advent of formal savings institutions.
Looking at some concrete examples reveals the striking ability of social security to explain differences in fertility rates. The most obvious case is the one between developed and less developed countries: all developed countries have total fertility rates far below 3, whereas African and Middle-Eastern countries, where social security systems are practically non-existent, reach rates between 4 and 7. In contrast, past communist countries, where the family was humiliated and disgraced to the utmost, go to the very bottom: some have fertility rates as low as 1.17 (Ukraine), 1.20 (Lithuania) and 1.21 (Czech Republic).
One can also look at differences among the developed Western countries. Among these countries, there are practically no differences in infant mortality rates, female labor force participation rates, and other standard explanations of the fertility decline. Yet total fertility rates differ widely — and exactly in the way predicted by the size of social security systems. The United States has a fertility rate of 2.09, whereas the European Union has an average of 1.47.
Also within Europe, where social security benefits are dangerously generous, there are differences among countries. Some of the most generous schemes are found in Germany, France, and the Mediterranean countries — as are the lowest fertility rates in the region. On the surface, it is surprising to find this in countries that used to be family-oriented and fervently Catholic. However, economic incentives shape behavior, and behavior shapes culture.
Beware Fake Solutions
Old-age security is actually not a problem in a free society. The only problem is government activity that undermines natural communities and perverts economic incentives. Indeed, the very term "social security" is a misnomer: it is anti-social, and it does not provide real security. Social security benefits are nothing but political promises that can be changed — and will be changed — unilaterally by governments that find it convenient to do so. 
The presence of the state in retirement security creates calculational confusion, resource misallocation and mismanagement, and harmful free riding. The real cost of the current mess will be borne by future taxpayers, who are paying for the pensions of the present retirees but can expect to receive little in return.
The solution is not to create quasi-market solutions like individual retirement accounts managed by specialist companies, as was done in the Chilean model. That would not be good enough.  One problem with compulsory savings schemes is that they misallocate scarce resources to uses that are not optimal for many people. They also tend to be heavily regulated by the government and hence utterly inefficient. The chief motivation for compulsory savings schemes is that they promise great wealth to those who get to sit on the cash piles.
Retirement accounts are also inconsistent with freedom, because the very concept of "retirement" is a creation of the state. Before the establishment of government social security, no one would have thought about a period of idle leisure while waiting to die. In a free society, elderly people would continue to engage themselves in various professional and non-professional activities throughout their lives.
Given current economic affluence, many people would of course leave their normal job when they grow older. But what is needed is to de-institutionalize retirement and let people decide for themselves. Let individuals and families make rational and responsible decisions that enable them to provide for their old-age needs. Maybe some will work like mad when young, and retreat into the country in their forties to live off fiction writing. Many others will choose to be housewives, looking after their children and receiving care and affection in return when they grow old.
Given the efficiency benefits of scrapping social security taxation, there would also be many more voluntary charities and mutual help societies to assist those who, through bad luck or some fault of their own, have no one else to look after them. These organizations would do a better job than any government agency will ever do, because they would be managed with entrepreneurial talent and run by people who really care.
The best solution is also the simplest: get the state out of the way.
Oskari Juurikkala is a Research Fellow at the Institute of Economic Affairs in London. He was an O.P. Alford Fellow at the Mises Institute in 2002. Send him mail. Comment on the blog.
This article was written as part of a larger project on pension and social security reform, entitled Empowerment through Savings and funded by the Templeton Foundation.
 The proportion of working males aged between 60–64 has come down from over 80% in the 1960s to around 50% in many countries. In France, Belgium, and Holland, less than 20% of the 60–64 year-olds were still working in the mid-1990s. See Jonathan Gruber and David A. Wise (eds.), Social Security and Retirement Around the World, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999.
 See Wikipedia's list of countries and territories by fertility rate .
 J.B. Nugent, "The old age security motive for fertility," Population and Development Review, 1985, Vol. 11, pp. 75–98.
 Total fertility rates (Y-axis) and social security taxes as percentage of GDP (X-axis) in 104 countries in 1997. Source: Michele Boldrin, Mariacristina De Nardi and Larry E. Jones, "Fertility and Social Security," NBER Working Paper No. 11146, 2005.
 Total fertility rates (Y-axis) and pension payments as percentage of GDP (X-axis) in eight European countries from 1960 to the present. Source: Ibid.
 See Wikipedia's list of countries and territories by fertility rate .
 See Philip Booth, "The Transition from Social Insecurity," Economic Affairs, 1998, Vol. 18, No. 1, pp. 2–12.
 See Dale Steinreich, "Social Security Reform: True and False," The Free Market, October 1996, Vol. 14, No. 10.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Iran
on: January 24, 2007, 07:49:06 PM
Iran: Israel, US will soon die
Ahmadinejad: Be assured that the US and Israel will soon end lives
Israel and the United States will soon be destroyed, Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Tuesday during a meeting with Syria's foreign minister, the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) website said in a report.
"Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad… assured that the United States and the Zionist regime of Israel will soon come to the end of their lives," the Iranian president was quoted as saying.
"Sparking discord among Muslims, especially between the Shiites and Sunnis, is a plot hatched by the Zionists and the US for dominating regional nations and looting their resources," Ahmadinejad added, according to the report.
The Iranian president also directly tied events in Lebanon to a wider plan aimed at Israel's destruction. He called on "regional countries" to "support the Islamic resistance of the Lebanese people and strive to enhance solidarity and unity among the different Palestinian groups in a bid to pave the ground for the undermining of the Zionist regime whose demise is, of course, imminent."
Ahmadinejad has threatened the State of Israel with annihilation several times in recent months, and has recently added the US and Britain to the list of countries he says will be destroyed.
Syria's Foreign Minister, Wailed Mualem, accused the US of attempting to carry out a "massacre of Muslims" and of sowing "discord among Islamic faiths in the region."
Mualem called on "regional states to pave the ground for the establishment of peace and tranquillity… while preventing further genocide of the Muslims," the IRIB website said.
(Romney is running for the Republican nomination for President and Gingrich, as head of the House of Representatives, was third in line for the President in the mid 1990s-- although these people are right of center, they are not considered extremists by most people--Marc)
The Israeli people are facing the threat of a nuclear Holocaust, former US Speaker of the House of Representatives Newt Gingrich warned the Herzliya Conference held by the Institute for Policy and Strategy at IDC Herzliya on Tuesday afternoon. Meanwhile, he said, the United States could lose a few million people or a number of cities to a terrorist attack with weapons of mass destruction.
Gingrich, who addressed the conference via satellite from the United States, said he thought Israel's existence was under threat again for the first time in 40 years.
"Israel is in the greatest danger it has been in since 1967. Prior to '67, many wondered if Israel would survive. After '67, Israel seemed military dominant, despite the '73 war. I would say we are (now) back to question of survival," Gingrich said.
He added that the United States could "lose two or three cities to nuclear weapons, or more than a million to biological weapons."
Gingrich added that in such a scenario, "freedom as we know it will disappear, and we will become a much grimmer, much more militarized, dictatorial society."
"Three nuclear weapons are a second Holocaust," Gingrich declared, adding: "People are greatly underestimating how dangerous the world is becoming. I'll repeat it, three nuclear weapons are a second Holocaust. Our enemies are quite explicit in their desire to destroy us. They say it publicly? We are sleepwalking through this process as though it's only a problem of communication," Gingrich said.
The former House speaker expressed concern that the Israeli and American political establishments were not fully equipped to take stock of the current threat level.
"Our enemies are fully as determined as Nazi Germany, and more determined that the Soviets. Our enemies will kill us the first chance they get. There is no rational ability to deny that fact. It's very clear that the problems are larger and more immediate than the political systems in Israel or the US are currently capable of dealing with," said Gingrich.
'Time to come to grips with threat'
"We don't have right language, goals, structure, or operating speed, to defeat our enemies. My hope is that being this candid and direct, I could open a dialogue that will force people to come to grips with how serious this is, how real it is, how much we are threatened. If that fails, at least we will be intellectually prepared for the correct results once we have lost one or more cities," Gingrich added.
He also said "citizens who do not wake up every morning and think about the possible catastrophic civilian casualties are deluding themselves."
"If we knew that tomorrow morning we would lose Haifa, Tel Aviv, and Jerusalem, what we would to stop it? If we knew we would tomorrow lose Boston, San Francisco, or Atlanta, what would we do? Today, those threats are probably one, two, five years away? Although you can't be certain when our enemies will break out," he warned.
Earlier, Mitt Romney, former governor of Massachusetts, said that Islamic jihadism was "the nightmare of this century."
"The war in Lebanon demonstrated that Israel is facing a jihadist threat that runs through Tehran, to Damascus, to Gaza. Hizbullah are not fighting for the coming into being of a Palestinian state, but for the going out of being of the Israeli state," he said.
Romney emphasized that Iran could not be compared to the former Soviet threat, because the Islamic Republic was following a suicidal path. "For all of the Soviets' deep flaws, they were never suicidal. Soviet commitment to national survival was never in question. That assumption cannot be made to an irrational regime (Iran) that celebrates martyrdom," he said.
The former governor called for the utilization of the widespread opposition held by the Iranian people to their own regime, in order to facilitate regime change, while also adding that "the military option remains on the table."
"Iran must be stopped. Iran can be stopped," Romney declared, receiving applause.