Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / NY Times: Rudy's in trouble (Ya think?)
on: January 17, 2008, 07:29:35 AM
For months, the Republican establishment in New York and New Jersey marched nearly in lock step behind Rudolph W. Giuliani, the former hometown mayor they were confident would become their party’s nominee for president.
But as Mr. Giuliani has plummeted from first to fourth — or worse — in some national polls, as he finished near the bottom of the pack in the nation’s earliest primaries, and as his lead evaporated even in Florida, the state on which he has gambled the most time and money, those Republican leaders are verging toward a grim new consensus:
If Mr. Giuliani loses in the Florida primary on Jan. 29, they say, he may even have trouble defeating the rivals who are encroaching on his own backyard.
“It’s pretty certain that he has to win Florida,” said Guy V. Molinari, the former Staten Island borough president, who is co-chairman of Mr. Giuliani’s campaign in New York.
Those supporters say they are confident that if Mr. Giuliani carries Florida or runs a very close second, he will remain the odds-on favorite to claim virtually all of the delegates from the New York, New Jersey and Connecticut primaries on Feb. 5, when Republicans in 22 states vote.
But if Mr. Giuliani is relegated to a distant second or worse in Florida, even some of his supporters acknowledge that New York’s primary one week later would most likely be up for grabs, with Senator John McCain of Arizona and former Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts being Mr. Giuliani’s strongest rivals. Like Mr. Giuliani, both are fielding full delegate slates in all 29 of the state’s Congressional districts.
“If he carries Florida, he carries New York,” said Fred Siegel, a Cooper Union historian who has served as an adviser to the former mayor and written a largely admiring biography of him. But winning Florida would require “a miraculous comeback,” he said, adding: “I wouldn’t bet on it.”
With 101 delegates from New York, 52 from New Jersey and 30 from Connecticut, the region accounts for about 15 percent of the magic number needed for the Republican nomination. All three are winner-take-all contests.
Mr. Giuliani’s precipitous decline in national and state polls in recent weeks has prompted many of his leading supporters in the metropolitan area to raise questions about his strategy of largely ignoring early races in Iowa, New Hampshire and Michigan to focus on Florida. He received little news coverage during those primaries, then finished poorly in each.
“I think that a lot of what’s happening in general is the early campaigning in Iowa, New Hampshire and Michigan playing an active role, and the fact that Rudy chose not to compete,” said Guy F. Talarico, a Giuliani supporter who is the former chairman of the Republican Party in Bergen County, N.J. “People are focusing on that and saying, ‘When are we going to get in the game?’ ”
Still, once the campaign circles back to the metropolitan area, “I think he’s going to win New Jersey,” Mr. Talarico said.
A senior Republican strategist, who is allied with Mr. Giuliani and is working with Republican legislative candidates in New York, said Mr. Giuliani’s decision to circumvent the early primaries was a “big gamble” that for the moment looked in danger of failing.
“Who knows if it will work,” said the strategist, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he had not been authorized by the campaign to speak publicly. “But the danger is what you are seeing now. We’re obviously concerned.”
In Florida, a Quinnipiac University poll of likely Republican voters found last month that Mr. Giuliani was leading the pack with 28 percent, followed by former Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas with 21 percent and Mr. Romney with 20 percent. But a follow-up survey last week found the race statistically tied among four candidates: Mr. Giuliani, Mr. McCain, Mr. Huckabee and Mr. Romney.
Mr. Giuliani’s poll numbers have declined in Florida even though he has invested heavily there. The former mayor spent almost $600,000 on television advertising in Florida between Dec. 8 and Jan. 6, second only to Mr. Romney, who spent $676,851, according to Campaign Media Analysis Group, a political advertising research firm.
Almost all of Mr. Giuliani’s spending came in the final 10 days of that period, when Mr. Romney stopped buying ads.
The race has also narrowed in New Jersey, according to a poll released this week by Monmouth University/Gannett. The poll showed Mr. McCain leading by 29 percent to Mr. Giuliani’s 25 percent, a difference that is within the poll’s margin of sampling error. In September, the same poll found Mr. Giuliani 32 percentage points ahead of his nearest rival, Mr. McCain.
On Wednesday, Mr. McCain vowed to compete hard in New York. “I’m going there a lot for money,” he said. “I ought to go there for votes.”
Page 2 of 2)
Nationally, a New York Times/CBS News poll released on Sunday found that Mr. Giuliani, who led the Republican field with 29 percent nationally in October and was tied with Mr. Huckabee at about 22 percent last month, had plummeted to 10 percent, behind Mr. McCain and Mr. Huckabee.
In New York, with its three million enrolled Republicans, polls indicate Mr. Giuliani’s edge was eroding even before the victories by Mr. Huckabee, Mr. McCain and Mr. Romney in Iowa, New Hampshire and Michigan, respectively. In October, Mr. Giuliani led his nearest opponent by a commanding 33-point margin. By last month, he was still ahead, but his lead had shrunk to 22 percentage points.
New public polls are expected to show the race has tightened even more, polling experts said.
“I have a feeling that the sag in Florida and the sag in New Jersey will probably be matched by a sag in New York,” said Maurice Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac Poll, which plans to release a new New York poll next week.
It is unclear what impact Mr. Giuliani’s weak poll numbers and poor primary finishes have had on his fund-raising, as new quarterly campaign spending reports will not be filed until the end of the month. But his campaign reported last week that some workers had given up their paychecks for the month to help save dwindling funds. The campaign reported having $7 million in cash on hand at the time.
There are also concerns among Giuliani supporters that if he does not gain momentum before Feb. 5, he will have to spend precious funds just to win New York, where advertising is particularly expensive.
Anthony V. Carbonetti, Mr. Giuliani’s senior political adviser, said on Wednesday: “Rudy has a long history of fighting for New York, and with his track record and the campaign team we’ve put together here, we’re going to win on Feb. 5.”
Mr. Giuliani has some clear advantages in the region. In addition to having more organizational support from Republican elected officials, he is counting on the fact that in New York and Connecticut, Italian-Americans constitute about one-fifth of the voters in Republican primaries.
But while his popularity soared after the World Trade Center attack, Mr. Giuliani is still reviled by some New Yorkers, including well-organized firefighters who blame him for communications failures on 9/11 and Republicans who have never forgiven him for endorsing a Democrat, Mario M. Cuomo, for governor against George E. Pataki in 1994. Mr. Pataki won.
Mr. Pataki said through a spokesman, David M. Catalfamo, on Wednesday that he was “continuing to evaluate all the candidates and will make an endorsement sometime in the future.”
But several people who worked in his administration, including his former counsel, Michael C. Finnegan, have made their allegiances clear: They are running as McCain delegates.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Jefferson: Natural Aristocracy
on: January 17, 2008, 07:22:40 AM
"The natural aristocracy I consider as the most precious gift
of nature for the instruction, the trusts, and government of
society. And indeed it would have been inconsistent in creation
to have formed man for the social state, and not to have provided
virtue and wisdom enough to manage the concerns of the society.
May we not even say that that form of government is the best
which provides the most - for a pure selection of these natural
aristoi into the offices of government?"
-- Thomas Jefferson (letter to John Adams, 28 October 1813)
Reference: Jefferson Writings, Lemay, ed., 1306.
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / 4 Day DBMA Camp in Germany with Guro Lonely
on: January 17, 2008, 07:04:52 AM
*Dog Brothers Martial Arts*
*4 Day Training Camp !!*
*15. May -- 18. May*
*Turner und Jugendheim Loreley
St. Goarshausen - Germanywww.loreley-herberge.de
Thursday 15. May: 12.00 lunch, Organized training from 14.00 until 17.00
+ 1h free Training
Friday 16. May: Organized training from 09.00 until 12.00 and 14.00
until 17.00 + 1h free Training
Saturday 17. May: Organized training from 09.00 until 12.00 and 14.00
until 17.00 + 1h free Training
Sunday 18. May: Organized training from 09.00 until 12.00 with the
chance for sparring afterward
200 Euro (price includes food and lodging!)
Please register before the 10th of May (sooner is better as space is
0049 (0)170 - email@example.com
We are looking forward to this training camp. Four days of intense
training and sitting around the campfire at night. The Loreley is the
perfect training location. Huge meadows and a big gym if it rains. Three
meals a day provided. Sleeping will be in log cabins (Bring your
sleeping bag with you!).
Each class will have a special topic (single stick, double stick, staff,
stick-grappling etc.). As last year the camp will conclude with a few
rounds of light sparring. This is a perfect way to get prepared for the
European "Dog Brothers Gathering of the Pack" at the end of September.
Space is limited so get registered as soon as possible. The camp is
primarily for DBMA members but friends of the pack are welcome (with
prior approval from Lonely dog).
See you there.....
Guro Benjamin "Lonely Dog" Rittiner und Dog Christian Eckert
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Epidemics: Bird Flu, TB, etc
on: January 17, 2008, 06:58:01 AM
Here is one interpretation of the meaning underlying the preceding article. Comments?
(CNSNews.com) - A drug-resistant strain of a deadly staph infection found in some U.S. hospitals is now spreading among homosexual men, researchers said. A conservative group has characterized the problem as the result of "unnatural behaviors."
Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, killed about 19,000 Americans in 2005 -- most of them in hospitals, according a report published in October in the Journal of the American Medical Association. But now the infection is popping up outside hospitals in San Francisco, Boston, New York and Los Angeles, according to Reuters.
"The medical community has known for years that homosexual conduct, especially among males, creates a breeding ground for often deadly disease. In recent years we have seen a profound resurgence in cases of HIV/AIDS, syphilis, rectal gonorrhea and many other STDs among those who call themselves 'gay,' said Matt Barber, policy director for cultural issues with Concerned Women for America (CWA).
Active homosexual men in San Francisco are considered 13 times more likely to be infected with MRSA than heterosexuals, researchers reported in the Annals of Internal Medicine.
"Once this reaches the general population, it will be truly unstoppable," Reuters quoted Binh Diep, a researcher at the University of California, San Francisco who led the study, as saying. "That's why we're trying to spread the message of prevention," he added.
"The human body is quite callous in how it handles mistreatment and the perversion of its natural functions," said Barber. "When two men mimic the act of heterosexual intercourse with one another, they create an environment, a biological counterfeit, wherein disease can thrive. Unnatural behaviors beget natural consequences."
He blamed television shows like "Will and Grace," which "glorify the homosexual lifestyle," and homosexual indoctrination in schools for the "laissez-faire attitude toward sexual deviancy."
"'Stay out of our bedrooms!' we're often commanded by militant 'gay' activists," Barber said. "Well, now the dangerous and possibly deadly consequence of what occurs in those bedrooms is spilling over into the general population. It's not only frightening, it's infuriating."
Barber called for parents to speak out against "politically correct cultural elites" who "endanger our children and larger communities through propagandist promotion of this demonstrably deadly lifestyle."
"Why does it take a potentially deadly staph epidemic for people to acknowledge reality? Will that even do it? Enough is enough!" Barber added. http://www.cnsnews.com/ViewCulture.a...20080115c.html
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The 2008 Presidential Race
on: January 16, 2008, 09:55:51 PM
From the Muslim Observerhttp://muslimmedianetwork.com/mmn/?p=1692
Unique Opportunity For Michigan Muslims
The American Muslim community can make a big impact on the political scene by voting in large numbers in the Michigan Primary on Tuesday, January 15. Every media headline makes us believe that the fight for the top position is between McCain and Romney on the Republican side. The democrats have no such match going on due the de-franchising of the Michigan democrats by the National Democratic Party, after the state decided to move its primary ahead. Edwards and Obama surrendered to the party bosses and dropped their names from the ballot and agreed not to campaign, except Clinton - she exhibited the courage to challenge the party leadership and has her name on the ballot.
The Muslim community in Michigan has a unique opportunity to beat the pundits by voting as a block for Ron Paul as the Republican candidate. The primary process in Michigan allows to pick either of the two ballots, Democrat or Republican, for the vote. This meets one of the goals of AMPEC, “Promote ideas and the people that are consistent with Muslim community thought. At the same time the Muslim community shall identify those elements that are highly undesirable for peace, stability and humanity, both inside and outside US, and ensure their failure right at the onset.” The Muslim community must very honestly understand that the system of governance in this country follows in the same general direction, irrespective of who is in leadership. With Democrats, the paths may be less treacherous than if the Republicans are in power, but are leading in the same direction! Unless the system gets an overhaul, there will be very little change in the way whole system operates in this country.
The Muslim community’s failure to recognize the importance of primary elections and their vital role in the overall elections process will mean that this year, as usual, a small minority of voters will make decisions for everyone else and the outcome most likely will not be pleasant for the American Muslims. Let’s beat the odds, let’s vote.
Ron Paul meets the Muslim community’s major concern about “War in Iraq” - an issue that every media outlet has ignored in the primary political campaign in Michigan. To the Muslim community, it is the source of major problems in America - security, jobs, education, healthcare, etc.; and the world peace. The Republican candidate who voted “NO” against War in Iraq, is against the Patriot Act and is in favor of bringing the troops back home - deserves our full support in the Michigan Primary; THAT CANDIDATE IS RON PAUL.
Vote Smart on January 15, 2008
Beat the political machine in Michigan - Vote REPUBLICAN and for RON PAUL
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Demographics
on: January 16, 2008, 03:30:28 PM
Mark Steyn's "America Alone" (which has its own lively thread here on this forum) powerfully brings demographic analysis to the table. This thread seeks to keep the ball rolling on the matter of demographics.
This piece is from today's LA Slimes. Note the rather contemptible thought process behind the reasons the experts give for the increase.
U.S. experiences baby boomlet in 2006
Almost 4.3 million births are reported, the most in 45 years. Hispanics accounted for nearly 25% of the increase.
From the Associated Press
January 16, 2008
ATLANTA -- Bucking the trend in many other wealthy industrialized nations, the United States seems to be experiencing a baby boomlet, reporting the largest number of children born in 45 years.
The nearly 4.3 million births in 2006 were mostly due to a bigger population, especially a growing number of Latinos. That group accounted for nearly one-quarter of all U.S. births. But non-Latino white women and other racial and ethnic groups were having more babies too.
An Associated Press review of births dating to 1909 found the total in the U.S. was the highest since 1961, near the end of the baby boom. An examination of global data also shows that the United States has a higher fertility rate than every country in continental Europe, as well as Australia, Canada and Japan. Fertility levels in those countries have been lower than the U.S. rate for several years, although some are on the rise, most notably in France.
Experts believe there is a mix of reasons: a decline in contraceptive use, a drop in access to abortion, poor education and poverty. (A decline in contraceptives might be because people WANT to have babies! A drop in access to abortion?!? What kind of values see birth rates that maintain population as a failure to sufficiently abort?!?!? What kind of values see having children as a sign of poor education?!?!?!?)
There are cultural reasons as well. Latinos as a group have fertility rates -- the number of children a woman is expected to have in her lifetime -- that are about 40% higher than the U.S. overall. And experts say Americans, especially those in middle America, view children more favorably than people in many other Westernized countries.
"Americans like children. We are the only people who respond to prosperity by saying, 'Let's have another kid,' " said Nan Marie Astone, associate professor of population, family and reproductive health at Johns Hopkins University.
Demographers say it is too soon to know if the sudden increase in births is the start of a trend.
"We have to wait and see. For now, I would call it a noticeable blip," said Brady E. Hamilton, a statistician with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Demographers often use the word boomlet for a small and brief baby boom.
To many economists and policymakers, the increase in births is good news. The U.S. fertility rate reached 2.1. That's the "magic number" required for a population to replace itself. Countries with much lower rates -- such as Japan and Italy, both with a rate of 1.3 -- face future labor shortages and eroding tax bases as they fail to reproduce enough to take care of their aging elders. (And this is exactly why Europe has accepted so many Turks and Arabs-- see the "America Alone" thread.)
But the higher fertility rate isn't all good. Last month, the CDC reported that America's teen birthrate rose for the first time in 15 years.
The same report also showed births becoming more common in nearly every age and racial or ethnic group. Birthrates increased for women in their 20s, 30s and early 40s, not just teens. They rose for whites, blacks, Latinos, American Indians and Alaska Natives.
The rate for Asian women stayed about the same.
Total births jumped 3% in 2006, the largest single-year increase since 1989, according to preliminary data compiled by the CDC. Clearly, U.S. birthrates are not what they were in the 1950s and early 1960s, when they were nearly twice as high and large families were much more common. The recent birth numbers are more a result of many women having a couple of kids each, rather than a smaller number of mothers, each bearing several children, Astone said.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The 2008 Presidential Race
on: January 16, 2008, 02:12:35 PM
“Mitt Romney finally won the ‘gold’ yesterday, as he so effusively puts it, and the result is a Republican Presidential battle that is more muddled than ever. The most important story out of Michigan is that Republicans are still looking for a standard bearer. Mr. Romney has the immediate bragging rights with his victory, salvaging his campaign in the process. He was able to win in his native state, and to do so convincingly among Republican voters of all stripes. He helped himself by stressing the economy in a state that has lagged behind U.S. growth for years, even if he did go over the top with his pandering to the auto industry. Mr. Romney can’t stop jobs from leaving the state, no matter how often he claims he can... The result is a blow to John McCain, who was coming off a victory in New Hampshire and had won in Michigan in 2000... Mike Huckabee’s distant third means that he hasn’t yet been able to capitalize on his surprising Iowa victory. His political religiosity didn’t play well outside of evangelical precincts in either New England or the Midwest, and his attacks on President Bush’s foreign policy and corporations have pushed away parts of the GOP coalition... Another winner yesterday was Fred Thompson, who is competitive in South Carolina and is running as the conservative who can unite the GOP’s fractious wings. The former Tennessee Senator has laid out an impressive policy map, but he’s suffered in early contests because his heart and energy didn’t seem to be in the race. That has changed in recent weeks, especially with his pungent, quick-witted debate performances. If he can do better than Messrs. Romney and Huckabee among conservatives, he could surprise in the Palmetto State and give himself a genuine chance at the nomination. The abiding lesson from the last two weeks is that GOP voters are still sifting the field, searching for their next leader.” —The Wall Street Journal
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Dangerous new MRSA
on: January 16, 2008, 08:36:54 AM
S.F. General researchers follow strain of drug-resistant bacteria
Sabin Russell, Chronicle Medical Writer
Tuesday, January 15, 2008
San Francisco General Hospital researchers have been chasing the rogue strain of drug-resistant staph called USA300 since they first isolated it from a patient specimen seven years ago.
With every turn, the aggressive and persistent bug keeps getting worse.
Now, a new variant of that strain, resistant to six major kinds of antibiotics, is spreading among gay men in San Francisco, Boston, New York and Los Angeles.
City doctors first spotted the original USA300 during tests for patients treated at a walk-in clinic for skin infections in 2001. Since then, they have watched it morph from laboratory curiosity into the dominant form of staph infection in much of the United States.
"It stormed into town and just took over, displacing everything else," said Dr. Chip Chambers, infectious disease chief for the renowned hospital.
At first, USA300 hit the down-and-out: injection-drug users, jail inmates, homeless men and women. Today it is also infecting suburban moms, executives, doctors, athletes and children. It has turned up in tattoo parlors and newborn nurseries. People with HIV infection seem especially prone to it, but it also strikes patients, gay and straight, who have no previous health problems.
Staph infections are usually treatable but can be lethal. USA300 is as dangerous as they come - it can attack organs throughout the body, forcing doctors to amputate fingers, toes and limbs. Its most disturbing trait, however, is just how easily it gets around.
"USA300 has a tremendous ability to spread," said Francoise Perdreau-Remington, director of the molecular epidemiology lab at San Francisco General, where the strain was first identified. "It has been described in at least 44 states and is now spreading in European countries."
USA300 is one of a dozen distinct varieties of MRSA, or methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, now circulating. The first MRSA strain, resistant to the penicillin substitute methicillin, was discovered in 1961. It continues to evolve. More than 200 families of the strain have come and gone since. USA300 is shaping up as the worst of the lot.
The various MRSA families have been gaining strength as a public health menace for years.
MRSA infections used to be confined to hospitalized patients. But in the late 1990s, people began contracting them in community settings - in gyms, jails, schools and even at home. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calculated last fall that drug-resistant staph was killing 19,000 Americans a year - more than are dying of AIDS.
Tracking down new disease threats is Perdreau-Remington's specialty. The French-born microbiologist was recruited to San Francisco General in 1995 to create the lab because of her expertise in disease detective work at the University of Cologne in Germany. A key to her microbe hunting is the ability to compare new strains to old ones. Her lab at the San Francisco hospital stores a frozen cache of 16,000 germs taken from patients in the hospital and health clinics.
In 2000, San Francisco General had set up a special walk-in clinic catering to drug users and street people to handle the growing volume of skin and soft-tissue infections that were driving up costs in its emergency room.
Perdreau-Remington began running tests to find out what was causing so many infections. Her lab analyzed bacterial specimens to produce genetic fingerprints that look like strips of bar code. It was during that screening program, using samples from the clinic, that she found the genetic fingerprint of what would be called USA300.
The unique signature showed up on March 1, 2001. At first, it represented just one of 15 specimens on a standard computer readout, known as a "gel." When the same new fingerprint showed up in three of 15 specimens three months later, Perdreau-Remington remembers thinking: "Uh-oh, we have a problem."
She labeled the new strain the "S-clone."
By February 2002, six of 15 samples displayed the S-clone's signature. Among patients at the clinic, the new bug shortly thereafter outnumbered all others by a 2-to-1 ratio.
Perdreau-Remington soon learned that the bug had been lurking elsewhere. She began collaborating with her counterparts in Los Angeles County, where inmates of the largest jail system in the United States had been complaining of "spider bites." Samples of the skin sores yielded the same S-clone fingerprints.
Throughout the United States, other researchers were independently finding the same bug.
Fred Tenover, director of laboratory science at the CDC, remembers running a test that pooled drug-resistant staph samples from 12 states, including ones from prisons in Georgia, Texas and California and from a football team in Pennsylvania. "The patterns were indistinguishable," he said. "I looked at the gel and said, 'This can't be.' So we went back and retested them. It was amazing."
The fingerprints were identical to those of Perdreau-Remington's S-clone.
Tenover, who was developing for the CDC a uniform system for describing a dozen distinctive types of drug-resistant staph, named the emerging bug USA300.
Perdreau-Remington's early isolation of USA300 has made her lab at San Francisco General a world leader for the study of it. Once it became clear that a new strain of drug-resistant staph was loose, she set out to discover where it came from. She went back to her freezers and screened hundreds of samples of staph taken since 1996.
Her survey unearthed the earliest known sample of USA300. Its fingerprints were spotted in a frozen specimen taken from a man who visited the newly opened walk-in clinic at San Francisco General on Sept. 25, 2000.
Ominously, the strain that first appeared outside the hospital began to infect vulnerable patients inside as well. By 2002, USA300 accounted for 14 percent of staph infections acquired at San Francisco General, and the numbers keep rising.
"Now, more than 80 percent of MRSA infections in this hospital are caused by USA300," Perdreau-Remington said.
Under a powerful microscope, USA300 resembles a cluster of faintly yellow BBs - indistinguishable from other strains of drug-resistant staph. Like a fancier brand of automobile, however, this one is packed with options that make it potentially more deadly and easier to spread.
Toxic proteins carried by USA300 have been implicated in infections that destroy fingers and toes or cause the rare but frighteningly fast skin- and muscle-tissue destruction attributed popularly to "flesh-eating bacteria" - a condition known as necrotizing fasciitis.
Until recently, flesh-eating infections were thought to be caused by other bugs, such as Streptococcus. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2005 changed all that. Doctors at UCLA-Harbor Medical Center reviewed 14 cases of the frightening skin disease. All 14 had drug-resistant staph cultured from their wounds. Five samples were tested at Perdreau-Remington's San Francisco lab for strain type. They all turned up USA300.
When drug-resistant staph invades the lungs, it can cause a pneumonia that destroys lung tissue and kills a patient within hours. Last winter, the CDC implicated USA300 in outbreaks of severe pneumonia such as the one that killed six of 10 flu patients in Louisiana and Georgia last winter. Four of the dead were children.
Concern over USA300 is so great that Perdreau-Remington won funding to map the complete genome of the germ, identifying the entire coded sequence of genetic instructions that tell this particular strain of staph bacteria how to make copies of itself.
She chose a sample taken in 2003 from a wrist abscess on a 36-year-old patient who was also being treated for AIDS at San Francisco General. She picked that specimen because it seemed unusually resistant to treatment. It was labeled USA300 FPR3757 - using Perdreau-Remington's initials.
The gene map, published in the British medical journal the Lancet in February 2006, has yielded clues to why this strain spreads so quickly. The bug appears to have swapped genes from Staphylococcus epidermidis, a usually harmless staph species that is commonly found on human skin. Researchers theorize that, by stealing a trick from the milder staph bug, the malevolent USA300 may colonize on human skin more easily than other varieties of MRSA.
Further along the gene map are sections that produce resistance to the antibiotics tetracycline, erythromycin, clindamycin, Cipro and mupirocin, a topical ointment often used to kill MRSA colonies living in people's noses.
Perdreau-Remington did not know it at the time, but the sample she took - FPR3757 - was among the very first isolates found of the highly drug-resistant USA300 variant now spreading readily through San Francisco's gay community. The new bug virtually has her name on it.
USA300 - even the new variant - is treatable with some antibiotics. Perhaps the most important of these is vancomycin, an antibiotic reserved for the most serious staph infections. But FPR3757 is just a short step away from acquiring resistance to that drug as well.
Dangerous intestinal bacteria have already evolved resistance to vancomycin. Known as vancomycin-resistant enterococcus, or VRE, the bugs carry a "cassette" of genes containing all the instructions needed for bacteria to sidestep the antibiotic.
Perdreau-Remington's team has spotted on the USA300 genome a region that is primed to accept this vancomycin-resistance cassette. It could snap into place like a Lego block.
Drug-resistant bacterial strains have been labeled "superbugs," but most infectious disease specialists recognize that these bacteria are not doing anything remarkable. They are performing as they have for millions of years, using their enormous capacity to mutate and multiply to outmaneuver whatever biological or environmental threats they face.
Because both VRE and USA300 are circulating in hospital environments, some patients are probably battling both bugs at the same time. Given the propensity of staph germs to swap genes, these patients provide fertile ground for the evolution of an even more dangerous bug.
If USA300 were to acquire vancomycin resistance from VRE, the result would be a virulent new form of staph, which would spread readily outside the medical setting and be nearly impossible to treat.
Perdreau-Remington believes there's an urgent need for new drugs to combat such a monster.
"This is the horror scenario," she said. "We have very little time left."
E-mail Sabin Russell at firstname.lastname@example.org
This article appeared on page A - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Fisher Aimes: Champions of Liberty
on: January 16, 2008, 08:31:02 AM
"I am commonly opposed to those who modestly assume the rank
of champions of liberty, and make a very patriotic noise about
the people. It is the stale artifice which has duped the world a
thousand times, and yet, though detected, it is still successful.
I love liberty as well as anybody. I am proud of it, as the true
title of our people to distinction above others; but...I would
guard it by making the laws strong enough to protect it."
-- Fisher Ames (letter to George Richard Minot, 23 June 1789)
Reference: Works of Fisher Ames, W. B. Allen, ed., vol. 1 (678)
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / The Strait of Hormuz incident
on: January 16, 2008, 08:26:16 AM
The Strait of Hormuz Incident and U.S. Strategy
By George Friedman
Iranian speedboats reportedly menaced U.S. warships in the Strait of Hormuz on Jan. 6. Since then, the United States has gone to great lengths to emphasize the threat posed by Iran to U.S. forces in the strait — and, by extension, to the transit of oil from the Persian Gulf region. The revelation of an Iranian threat in the Strait of Hormuz was very helpful to the United States, coming as it did just before U.S. President George W. Bush's trip to the region. Washington will use the incident to push for an anti-Iranian coalition among the Gulf Arabs, as well as to push Iran into publicly working with the United States on the Iraq problem.
According to U.S. reports and a released video, a substantial number of Iranian speedboats approached a three-ship U.S. naval convoy moving through the strait near Iranian territory Jan. 6. (Word of the incident first began emerging Jan. 7.) In addition, the United States reported receiving a threatening message from the boats.
Following the incident, the United States began to back away from the claim that the Iranians had issued threats, saying that the source of the transmission might have been hecklers who coincidentally transmitted threats as the Iranian boats maneuvered among the U.S. ships. Shore-based harassing transmissions are not uncommon in the region, or in other parts of the world for that matter, especially when internationally recognized bridge-to-bridge frequencies are used. And it is difficult if not impossible to distinguish the source of a transmission during a short, intense incident such as this. The combination of Iranian craft in close proximity to U.S. warships and the transmission, regardless of the source, undoubtedly increased the sense of danger.
Two things are interesting. First, the probability of a disciplined Iranian attack — and, by U.S. Navy accounts, the Iranian action was disciplined — being preceded by a warning is low. The Iranians were not about to give away the element of surprise, which would have been essential for an effective attack. While the commander on the scene does not have the luxury we have of dismissing the transmission out of hand — in fact, the commander must assume the worst — its existence decreases the likelihood of an attack. Attacking ships need every second they can get to execute their mission; had the Iranians been serious, they would have wanted to appear as nonthreatening as possible for as long as possible.
Second, the U.S. ships did not open fire. We do not know the classified rules of engagement issued to U.S. ship captains operating in the Strait of Hormuz, but the core guidance of those rules is that a captain must protect his ship and crew from attack at all times. Particularly given the example of the USS Cole, which was attacked by a speedboat in a Yemeni harbor, it is difficult for us to imagine a circumstance under which a ship captain in the U.S. Navy would not open fire if the Iranian boats already represented a significant threat.
Spokesmen for the 5th Fleet said Jan. 13 that the U.S. ships were going through the process of determining the threat and preparing to fire when the Iranians disengaged and disappeared. That would indicate that speed, distance and bearing were not yet at a point that required a response, and that therefore the threat level had not yet risen to the redline. Absent the transition to a threat, it is not clear that this incident would have risen above multiple encounters between U.S. warships and Iranian boats in the tight waters of Hormuz.
The New York Times carried a story Jan. 12, clearly leaked to it by the Pentagon, giving some context for U.S. concerns. According to the story, the United States had carried out war games attempting to assess the consequences of a swarming attack by large numbers of speedboats carrying explosives and suicide crews. The results of the war games were devastating. In a game carried out in 2002, the U.S. Navy lost 16 major warships, including an aircraft carrier, cruisers and amphibious ships — all in attacks lasting 5-10 minutes. Fleet defenses were overwhelmed by large numbers of small, agile speedboats, some armed with rockets and other weapons, but we assume most operated as manned torpedoes.
The decision to reveal the results of the war game clearly were intended to lend credibility to the Bush administration's public alarm at the swarming tactics. It raises the issue of why the U.S. warships didn't open fire, given that the war game must have resulted in some very aggressive rules of engagement against Iranian speedboats in the Strait of Hormuz. But more important, it reveals something about the administration's thinking in the context of Bush's trip to the region and the controversial National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran's nuclear program.
A huge controversy has emerged over the NIE, with many arguing that it was foisted on the administration against its will. Our readers know that this was not our view, and it is still not our view. Bush's statements on the NIE were consistent. First, he did not take issue with it. Second, he continues to regard Iran as a threat. In traveling to the Middle East, one of his purposes is to create a stronger anti-Iranian coalition among the Arab states on the Arabian Peninsula. The nuclear threat was not a sufficient glue to create this coalition. For a host of reasons ranging from U.S. intelligence failures in Iraq to the time frame of an Iranian nuclear threat, a nuclear program was simply not seen as a credible basis for fearing Iran's actions in the region. The states of the Arabian Peninsula were much more afraid of U.S. attacks against Iran than they were of Iranian nuke s in five or 10 years.
The Strait of Hormuz is another matter. Approximately 40 percent of the region's oil wealth flows through the strait. During the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, the tanker war, in which oil tankers moving through the Persian Gulf came under attack from aircraft, provided a sideshow. This not only threatened the flow of oil but also drove shipping insurance rates through the roof. The United States convoyed tankers, but the tanker war remains a frightening memory in the region.
The tanker war was trivial compared with the threat the United States rolled out last week. The Strait of Hormuz is the chokepoint through which Persian Gulf oil flows. Close the strait and it doesn't flow. With oil near $100 a barrel, closing the Strait of Hormuz would raise the price — an understatement of the highest order. We have no idea what the price of oil would be if the strait were closed. Worse, the countries shipping through the strait would not get any of that money. At $100 a barrel, closing the Strait of Hormuz would take an economic triumph and turn it into a disaster for the very countries the United States wants to weld into an effective anti-Iranian coalition.
The revelation of a naval threat from Iran in the Strait of Hormuz just before the president got on board Air Force One for his trip to the region was fortuitous, to say the least. The Iranians insisted that there was nothing unusual about the incident, and Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini said that "Some political factions in the U.S. are pursuing adventurism to help Bush to spread Iran-phobia in the region. U.S. officials should apologize to Iran, regional countries and the American people." This probably won't happen, but he undoubtedly will be grateful that the Iranians said there was nothing out of the ordinary about the incident. If this incident was routine, and if the U.S. war games have any predictive ability, it means that the Iranians are staging routine incidents, any one of which could lead to a military confrontation in the strait. Bush undoubtedly will be distributing the Iranian statement at each of his stops.
Leaving aside the politics for a moment, the Iranian naval threat is a far more realistic, immediate and devastating threat to regional interests than the nuclear threat ever was. Building an atomic weapon was probably beyond Iran's capabilities, while just building a device — an unwieldy and delicate system that would explode under controlled circumstances — was years away. In contrast, the naval threat in the Strait of Hormuz is within Iran's reach right now. Success is far from a slam dunk considering the clear preponderance of power in favor of U.S. naval forces, but it is not a fantasy strategy by any means.
And its consequences are immediate and affect the Islamic states in ways that a nuclear strike against Israel doesn't. Getting the Saudis to stand against Iran over an attack against Israel is a reach, regardless of the threat. Getting the Saudis worked up over cash flow while oil prices are near all-time highs does not need a great deal of persuading. Whatever happened in the strait Jan. 6, Bush has arrived in the region with a theme of widespread regional interest: keeping the Strait of Hormuz open in the face of a real threat. We are not certain that a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier could be sunk using small swarming ships. But we are certain that the strait could be closed or made too dangerous for tankers for at least a short period. And we know that, as in land warfare, finding the bases that are launching ships as small as speedboats would be tough. This threat had substance.
By dropping the Iranian nuclear threat and shifting to the threat to the strait, Bush moves the Iran issue from being one involving the United States and Israel to being one that excludes Israel but involves every oil producer in the region. None of them wants this to happen, and all of them must take the threat seriously. If it can establish the threat, the United States goes from being an advocate against Iran to being the guarantor of very real Arab interests. And if the price Arabs must pay for the United States to keep the strait open is helping shut down the jihadist threat in Iraq, that is a small price indeed.
This puts Iran in a tough position. Prior to the issuance of the NIE, the Iranians had shifted some of their policies on Iraq. The decline in violence in Iraq is partly because of the surge, but it also is because Iran has cut back on some of the things it used to do, particularly supporting Shiite militias with weapons and money and urging them to attack Sunnis. It also is clear that the limits it had imposed on some of the Iraqi Shiite politicians in the latter's dealings with their Sunni counterparts have shifted. The new law allowing Baath Party members to return to public life could not possibly have been passed without Iranian acquiescence.
Clearly, Iran has changed its actions in Iraq as the United States has changed its stance on Iranian nuclear weapons. But Iran shied away from reaching an open accommodation with the United States over Iraq following the NIE. Factional splits in Iran are opening up as elections approach, and while the Iranians have shifted their behavior, they have not shifted their public position. The United States sees a shift of Iran's public position as crucial in order to convince Iraqi factions, particularly all of the Shiite parties, to move toward a political conclusion. Reining in militias is great, but Washington wants and needs the final step. The NIE shift, which took the nuclear issue off the table, was not enough to do it. By raising the level of tension over a real threat — and one that has undebatable regional consequences — the United States is hoping to shape the internal political discussion in Iran toward an open participation in reshaping Iraq.
Iran doesn't want to take this step for three good reasons. First, it wants to keep its options open. It does not trust the United States not to use a public accord over Iraq as a platform to increase U.S. influence in Iraq and increase the threat to Iran. Second, Tehran has a domestic political problem. In the same way that Bush saw an avalanche of protest from his supporters over the NIE, the Iranians will see resistance to open collaboration. Finally, the Iranians are not sure they need a public agreement. From their point of view, they have delivered on Iraq, the United States has delivered on the NIE and things are moving in a satisfactory direction. Why go public? The American desire to show the Iraqi Shia that Iran has publicly abandoned the quest for a Shiite Iraq doesn't do Iran a bit of good.
The Iranians have used the construction of what we might call a guerrilla navy as a lever with the United States and as a means to divide the United States from the Arabs. The Iranians' argument to the Arabs has been, "If the United States pushes us too far, we will close the strait. Therefore, keep the Americans from pushing us too far." The Americans have responded by saying that the Iranians now have the ability to close the Strait of Hormuz, potentially regardless of what the U.S. Navy does. Therefore, unless the Arabs want to be at the mercy of Iran, they must join the United States in an anti-Iranian coalition that brings Iran under control. In its wooing of the Arabs, Washington will emphasize just how out of control the Iranians are, pointing out that Tehran is admitting that the kind of harassment seen Jan. 6 is routine. One day — and the day will be chosen by Iran — this will all get really out of hand.
The Iranians have a great deal to gain from having the ability to close the strait, but very little from actually closing it. The United States is putting Iran in a position such that the Gulf Arabs will be asking Tehran for assurances that Iran will not take any action. The Iranians will give assurances, setting the stage for a regional demand that the Iranians disperse their speedboats, which are purely offensive weapons of little defensive purpose.
The United States, having simplified the situation for the Iranians with the NIE and not gotten the response it wanted, now is complicating the situation again with a completely new framework — a much more effective framework than the previous one it used.
In the end, this isn't about the Strait of Hormuz. Iran isn't going to take on the U.S. Navy, and the Navy isn't quite as vulnerable as it claims — and therefore, the United States obviously is not nearly as trigger-happy as it would like to project. Washington has played a strong card. The issue now is whether it can get Iran into a public resolution over Iraq.
The Iranians appear on board with the private solution. They don't seem eager for a public one. The anti-Iranian coalition might strengthen, but as clever as this U.S. maneuver is, it will not bring the Iranians public. For that, more concessions in Iraq are necessary. More to the point, for a public accommodation, the "Great Satan" and the charter member of the "Axis of Evil" need to make political adjustments in their public portrayal of one another — hard to do in two countries facing election years.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Nuclear War?
on: January 15, 2008, 11:45:51 AM
Toward a Nuclear-Free World
By GEORGE P. SHULTZ, WILLIAM J. PERRY, HENRY A. KISSINGER and SAM NUNN
January 15, 2008; Page A13
The accelerating spread of nuclear weapons, nuclear know-how and nuclear material has brought us to a nuclear tipping point. We face a very real possibility that the deadliest weapons ever invented could fall into dangerous hands.
The steps we are taking now to address these threats are not adequate to the danger. With nuclear weapons more widely available, deterrence is decreasingly effective and increasingly hazardous.
One year ago, in an essay in this paper, we called for a global effort to reduce reliance on nuclear weapons, to prevent their spread into potentially dangerous hands, and ultimately to end them as a threat to the world. The interest, momentum and growing political space that has been created to address these issues over the past year has been extraordinary, with strong positive responses from people all over the world.
Mikhail Gorbachev wrote in January 2007 that, as someone who signed the first treaties on real reductions in nuclear weapons, he thought it his duty to support our call for urgent action: "It is becoming clearer that nuclear weapons are no longer a means of achieving security; in fact, with every passing year they make our security more precarious."
In June, the United Kingdom's foreign secretary, Margaret Beckett, signaled her government's support, stating: "What we need is both a vision -- a scenario for a world free of nuclear weapons -- and action -- progressive steps to reduce warhead numbers and to limit the role of nuclear weapons in security policy. These two strands are separate but they are mutually reinforcing. Both are necessary, but at the moment too weak."
We have also been encouraged by additional indications of general support for this project from other former U.S. officials with extensive experience as secretaries of state and defense and national security advisors. These include: Madeleine Albright, Richard V. Allen, James A. Baker III, Samuel R. Berger, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Frank Carlucci, Warren Christopher, William Cohen, Lawrence Eagleburger, Melvin Laird, Anthony Lake, Robert McFarlane, Robert McNamara and Colin Powell.
Inspired by this reaction, in October 2007, we convened veterans of the past six administrations, along with a number of other experts on nuclear issues, for a conference at Stanford University's Hoover Institution. There was general agreement about the importance of the vision of a world free of nuclear weapons as a guide to our thinking about nuclear policies, and about the importance of a series of steps that will pull us back from the nuclear precipice.
The U.S. and Russia, which possess close to 95% of the world's nuclear warheads, have a special responsibility, obligation and experience to demonstrate leadership, but other nations must join.
Some steps are already in progress, such as the ongoing reductions in the number of nuclear warheads deployed on long-range, or strategic, bombers and missiles. Other near-term steps that the U.S. and Russia could take, beginning in 2008, can in and of themselves dramatically reduce nuclear dangers. They include:
• Extend key provisions of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty of 1991. Much has been learned about the vital task of verification from the application of these provisions. The treaty is scheduled to expire on Dec. 5, 2009. The key provisions of this treaty, including their essential monitoring and verification requirements, should be extended, and the further reductions agreed upon in the 2002 Moscow Treaty on Strategic Offensive Reductions should be completed as soon as possible.
• Take steps to increase the warning and decision times for the launch of all nuclear-armed ballistic missiles, thereby reducing risks of accidental or unauthorized attacks. Reliance on launch procedures that deny command authorities sufficient time to make careful and prudent decisions is unnecessary and dangerous in today's environment. Furthermore, developments in cyber-warfare pose new threats that could have disastrous consequences if the command-and-control systems of any nuclear-weapons state were compromised by mischievous or hostile hackers. Further steps could be implemented in time, as trust grows in the U.S.-Russian relationship, by introducing mutually agreed and verified physical barriers in the command-and-control sequence.
• Discard any existing operational plans for massive attacks that still remain from the Cold War days. Interpreting deterrence as requiring mutual assured destruction (MAD) is an obsolete policy in today's world, with the U.S. and Russia formally having declared that they are allied against terrorism and no longer perceive each other as enemies.
• Undertake negotiations toward developing cooperative multilateral ballistic-missile defense and early warning systems, as proposed by Presidents Bush and Putin at their 2002 Moscow summit meeting. This should include agreement on plans for countering missile threats to Europe, Russia and the U.S. from the Middle East, along with completion of work to establish the Joint Data Exchange Center in Moscow. Reducing tensions over missile defense will enhance the possibility of progress on the broader range of nuclear issues so essential to our security. Failure to do so will make broader nuclear cooperation much more difficult.
• Dramatically accelerate work to provide the highest possible standards of security for nuclear weapons, as well as for nuclear materials everywhere in the world, to prevent terrorists from acquiring a nuclear bomb. There are nuclear weapons materials in more than 40 countries around the world, and there are recent reports of alleged attempts to smuggle nuclear material in Eastern Europe and the Caucasus. The U.S., Russia and other nations that have worked with the Nunn-Lugar programs, in cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), should play a key role in helping to implement United Nations Security Council Resolution 1540 relating to improving nuclear security -- by offering teams to assist jointly any nation in meeting its obligations under this resolution to provide for appropriate, effective security of these materials.
As Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger put it in his address at our October conference, "Mistakes are made in every other human endeavor. Why should nuclear weapons be exempt?" To underline the governor's point, on Aug. 29-30, 2007, six cruise missiles armed with nuclear warheads were loaded on a U.S. Air Force plane, flown across the country and unloaded. For 36 hours, no one knew where the warheads were, or even that they were missing.
• Start a dialogue, including within NATO and with Russia, on consolidating the nuclear weapons designed for forward deployment to enhance their security, and as a first step toward careful accounting for them and their eventual elimination. These smaller and more portable nuclear weapons are, given their characteristics, inviting acquisition targets for terrorist groups.
• Strengthen the means of monitoring compliance with the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) as a counter to the global spread of advanced technologies. More progress in this direction is urgent, and could be achieved through requiring the application of monitoring provisions (Additional Protocols) designed by the IAEA to all signatories of the NPT.
• Adopt a process for bringing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) into effect, which would strengthen the NPT and aid international monitoring of nuclear activities. This calls for a bipartisan review, first, to examine improvements over the past decade of the international monitoring system to identify and locate explosive underground nuclear tests in violation of the CTBT; and, second, to assess the technical progress made over the past decade in maintaining high confidence in the reliability, safety and effectiveness of the nation's nuclear arsenal under a test ban. The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization is putting in place new monitoring stations to detect nuclear tests -- an effort the U.S should urgently support even prior to ratification.
In parallel with these steps by the U.S. and Russia, the dialogue must broaden on an international scale, including non-nuclear as well as nuclear nations.
Key subjects include turning the goal of a world without nuclear weapons into a practical enterprise among nations, by applying the necessary political will to build an international consensus on priorities. The government of Norway will sponsor a conference in February that will contribute to this process.
Another subject: Developing an international system to manage the risks of the nuclear fuel cycle. With the growing global interest in developing nuclear energy and the potential proliferation of nuclear enrichment capabilities, an international program should be created by advanced nuclear countries and a strengthened IAEA. The purpose should be to provide for reliable supplies of nuclear fuel, reserves of enriched uranium, infrastructure assistance, financing, and spent fuel management -- to ensure that the means to make nuclear weapons materials isn't spread around the globe.
There should also be an agreement to undertake further substantial reductions in U.S. and Russian nuclear forces beyond those recorded in the U.S.-Russia Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty. As the reductions proceed, other nuclear nations would become involved.
President Reagan's maxim of "trust but verify" should be reaffirmed. Completing a verifiable treaty to prevent nations from producing nuclear materials for weapons would contribute to a more rigorous system of accounting and security for nuclear materials.
We should also build an international consensus on ways to deter or, when required, to respond to, secret attempts by countries to break out of agreements.
Progress must be facilitated by a clear statement of our ultimate goal. Indeed, this is the only way to build the kind of international trust and broad cooperation that will be required to effectively address today's threats. Without the vision of moving toward zero, we will not find the essential cooperation required to stop our downward spiral.
In some respects, the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons is like the top of a very tall mountain. From the vantage point of our troubled world today, we can't even see the top of the mountain, and it is tempting and easy to say we can't get there from here. But the risks from continuing to go down the mountain or standing pat are too real to ignore. We must chart a course to higher ground where the mountaintop becomes more visible.
Mr. Shultz was secretary of state from 1982 to 1989. Mr. Perry was secretary of defense from 1994 to 1997. Mr. Kissinger was secretary of state from 1973 to 1977. Mr. Nunn is former chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
The following participants in the Hoover-NTI conference also endorse the view in this statement: General John Abizaid, Graham Allison, Brooke Anderson, Martin Anderson, Steve Andreasen, Mike Armacost, Bruce Blair, Matt Bunn, Ashton Carter, Sidney Drell, General Vladimir Dvorkin, Bob Einhorn, Mark Fitzpatrick, James Goodby, Rose Gottemoeller, Tom Graham, David Hamburg, Siegfried Hecker, Tom Henriksen, David Holloway, Raymond Jeanloz, Ray Juzaitis, Max Kampelman, Jack Matlock, Michael McFaul, John McLaughlin, Don Oberdorfer, Pavel Podvig, William Potter, Richard Rhodes, Joan Rohlfing, Harry Rowen, Scott Sagan, Roald Sagdeev, Abe Sofaer, Richard Solomon, and Philip Zelikow
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: We the Well-armed People
on: January 15, 2008, 10:02:55 AM
I didn't know that the SCOTUS wrote its own question presented. VERY interesting!
Here's this discouraging piece from John Lott on the DOJ's intervention in the case. How do I call/email the White House?
The Bush DOJ shoots at the Second Amendment.
By John R. Lott Jr.
A lot of Americans who believe in the right to own guns were very disappointed this weekend. On Friday, the Bush administration’s Justice Department entered into the fray over the District of Columbia’s 1976 handgun ban by filing a brief to the Supreme Court that effectively supports the ban. The administration pays lip service to the notion that the Second Amendment protects gun ownership as an “individual right,” but their brief leaves the term essentially meaningless.
Quotes by the two sides’ lawyers say it all. The District’s acting attorney general, Peter Nickles, happily noted that the Justice Department’s brief was a “somewhat surprising and very favorable development.” Alan Gura, the attorney who will be representing those challenging the ban before the Supreme Court, accused the Bush administration of “basically siding with the District of Columbia” and said that “This is definitely hostile to our position.” As the lead to an article in the Los Angeles Times said Sunday, “gun-control advocates never expected to get a boost from the Bush administration.”
As probably the most prominent Second Amendment law professor in the country privately confided in me, “If the Supreme Court accepts the solicitor general’s interpretation, the chances of getting the D.C. gun ban struck down are bleak.”
The Department of Justice argument can be boiled down pretty easily. Its lawyers claim that since the government bans machine guns, it should also be able to ban handguns. After all, they reason, people can still own rifles and shotguns for protection, even if they have to be stored locked up. The Justice Department even seems to accept that trigger locks are not really that much of a burden, and that the locks “can properly be interpreted” as not interfering with using guns for self-protection. Yet, even if gun locks do interfere with self-defense, DOJ believes the regulations should be allowed, as long as the District of Columbia government thinks it has a good reason.
Factually, there are many mistakes in the DOJ’s reasoning: As soon as a rifle or shotgun is unlocked, it becomes illegal in D.C., and there has never been a federal ban on machine guns. But these are relatively minor points. Nor does it really matter that the only academic research on the impact of trigger locks on crime finds that states that require guns be locked up and unloaded face a five-percent increase in murder and a 12 percent increase in rape. Criminals are more likely to attack people in their homes, and those attacks are more likely to be successful. Since the potential of armed victims deters criminals, storing a gun locked and unloaded actually encourages crime.
The biggest problem is the standard used for evaluating the constitutionality of regulations. The DOJ is asking that a different, much weaker standard be used for the Second Amendment than the courts demands for other “individual rights” such as speech, unreasonable searches and seizures, imprisonment without trial, and drawing and quartering people.
If one accepts the notion that gun ownership is an individual right, what does “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed” mean? What would the drafters of the Bill of Rights have had to write if they really meant the right “shall not be infringed”? Does the phrase “the right of the people” provide a different level of protection in the Second Amendment than in the First and Fourth?
But the total elimination of gun control is not under consideration by the Supreme Court. The question is what constitutes “reasonable” regulation. The DOJ brief argues that if the DC government says gun control is important for public safety, it should be allowed by the courts. What the appeals court argued is that gun regulations not only need to be reasonable, they need to withstand “strict scrutiny” — a test that ensures the regulations are narrowly tailored to achieve the desired goal.
Perhaps the Justice Department’s position isn’t too surprising. Like any other government agency, it has a hard time giving up its authority. The Justice Department’s bias can been seen in that it finds it necessary to raise the specter of machine guns 10 times when evaluating a law that bans handguns. Nor does the brief even acknowledge that after the ban, D.C.’s murder rate only once fell below what it was in 1976.
Worried about the possibility that a Supreme Court decision supporting the Second Amendment as an individual right could “cast doubt on the constitutionality of existing federal legislation,” the Department of Justice felt it necessary to head off any restrictions on government power right at the beginning.
But all is not lost. The Supreme Court can of course ignore the Bush administration’s advice, but the brief does carry significant weight. President Bush has the power to fix this by ordering that the solicitor general brief be withdrawn or significantly amended. Unfortunately, it may take an uprising by voters to rein in the Justice Department.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / J. Adams: The more things change , , ,
on: January 15, 2008, 09:50:04 AM
"Public affairs go on pretty much as usual: perpetual chicanery and
rather more personal abuse than there used to be... Our American
Chivalry is the worst in the world. It has no Laws, no bounds,
no definitions; it seems to be all a Caprice."
-- John Adams (letter to Thomas Jefferson, 17 April 1826)
Reference: The Adams-Jefferson Correspondence, Lester Cappon, ed.,
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / NY Slimes caught in flagrante delito again
on: January 14, 2008, 08:26:51 PM
We Stand Behind Our Stereotype
By JAMES TARANTO
January 14, 2008
There is a school of thought in journalism according to which it is bad form to mention the race or ethnicity of a criminal suspect or defendant unless there is a compelling reason to do so. The idea is that such references gratuitously perpetuate stereotypes while imparting information that is of no use to the reader.
But racial and ethnic groups are not the only ones who take offense at such stereotypes, as the New York Times reports:
Veterans groups have long deplored the attention paid to the minority of soldiers who fail to readjust to civilian life.
After World War I, the American Legion passed a resolution asking the press "to subordinate whatever slight news value there may be in playing up the ex-service member angle in stories of crime or offense against the peace." An article in the Veterans of Foreign Wars magazine in 2006 referred with disdain to the pervasive "wacko-vet myth," which, veterans say, makes it difficult for them to find jobs.
The wacko-vet myth is alive and well. This very passage comes from a 7,000-word front-page piece in yesterday's Times titled "Across America, Deadly Echoes of Foreign Battles":
The New York Times found 121 cases in which veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan committed a killing in this country, or were charged with one, after their return from war. In many of those cases, combat trauma and the stress of deployment--along with alcohol abuse, family discord and other attendant problems--appear to have set the stage for a tragedy that was part destruction, part self-destruction.
Are they depraved on account of they were deployed? In fact, the Times's data are not sufficient to establish a correlation, much less a casual relationship, between stateside homicide and previous service in Afghanistan or Iraq.
To determine whether there's such a correlation, we'd need to know, in addition to the number of war vets charged with homicide, the corresponding figure for the general population, as well as the denominators--i.e., the number of war vets and the size of the population as a whole. A serious analysis would also take into account the demographic characteristics of the veteran population, which is disproportionately young and male.
This the Times does not do. Power Line's John Hinderaker conducts some back-of-the-envelope calculations and finds that if the Times's numbers are correct, "the rate of homicides committed by military personnel who have returned from Iraq or Afghanistan is only a fraction of the homicide rate for other Americans aged 18 to 24."
The Times, however, pre-empts this line of argument by acknowledging a defect in its methodology:
To compile and analyze its list, The Times conducted a search of local news reports, examined police, court and military records and interviewed the defendants, their lawyers and families, the victims' families and military and law enforcement officials.
This reporting most likely uncovered only the minimum number of such cases, given that not all killings, especially in big cities and on military bases, are reported publicly or in detail. Also, it was often not possible to determine the deployment history of other service members arrested on homicide charges.
If the numbers aren't comprehensive, what exactly is the Times trying to prove here? This is where things get interesting:
The Times used the same methods to research homicides involving all active-duty military personnel and new veterans for the six years before and after the present wartime period began with the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.
This showed an 89 percent increase during the present wartime period, to 349 cases from 184, about three-quarters of which involved Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans. The increase occurred even though there have been fewer troops stationed in the United States in the last six years and the American homicide rate has been, on average, lower.
What the Times has discovered, then, is a dramatic increase in the number of news reports in which homicide defendants are identified as servicemen or recent veterans. Does this mean that those who've served their country are more crime-prone now than they were in peacetime? Or does it mean that reporters are more prone to perpetuate the wacko-vet myth than they were during peacetime?
The Times is trying to prove the truth of a media stereotype by references to media reports. It might have proved nothing more than that it is a stereotype.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Russia
on: January 14, 2008, 05:25:29 PM
British-Russian Tension Escalates
By C.J. CHIVERS
MOSCOW — A British cultural organization on Monday defied a Russian government order to close offices in two cities, creating a fresh strain in the already tense relations between Russia and Britain.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry summoned the British ambassador to Russia to its offices and threatened a series of punitive measures, including refusing to renew the visas of the organization’s staff and opening tax proceedings against the group.
The ambassador, Anthony Brenton, remained publicly defiant after the meeting, saying that the organization planned to continue operating all of its offices. Mr. Brenton also said that Russia’s demands violated international law on consular activities.
The two governments have been at odds over a series of espionage and extradition disputes.
The latest disagreement centers on the operations of the British Council, an organization that is operated and financed by the British government to encourage cultural exchange between the two countries.
The council has offices in Moscow, St. Petersburg and Yekaterinburg, the three Russian cities where Britain maintains diplomatic missions.
Late last year, as part of a continuing tension between Russia and Britain since the poisoning death in 2006 of former K.G.B. officer Alexander V. Litvinenko in London, Russia demanded that the British Council offices in St. Petersburg and Yekaterinburg close by Jan. 1.
Russia contends that the offices operate illegally and that the council has permission to maintain offices only in Moscow.
Russia celebrates New Year’s and Orthodox Christmas in an extended holiday. The dispute flared again on the first Monday after the holiday, when both offices reopened.
The Foreign Ministry immediately released an angry statement, saying it had told Mr. Brenton to comply with Russian demands or risk straining relations further.
“The ambassador was informed that the Russian side considered the action a deliberate provocation, directed at complicating the relationship between Russia and Britain,” the statement said.
Britain has denounced the order to close the offices, saying that the council’s activities comply with the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations and that it should be immune from political disputes.
James Barbour, a spokesman for the British Embassy, said that Mr. Brenton had been handed a letter by the Russian Foreign Ministry and was reviewing its contents. But the council, he said, would continue to operate.
“My understanding, and the understanding of the British government, is that the offices of the British Council will remain open,” he said.
Russia has also threatened to close the British Council’s main office, in Moscow, as one of its retaliatory measures.http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/15/wo...russia.html?hp
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / OBL's son moving to UK?
on: January 14, 2008, 05:23:26 PM
Bin Laden's son applies to move to U.K. with wife - Daily Mail RIA Novosti
Monday January 14, 2008
Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden's son has applied for a visa to the United Kingdom where he intends to live with his British wife, the Daily Mail reported.
Omar Bin Laden, 26, and his wife Jane Felix-Browne, 52, say they have been interviewed at the British Embassy in Cairo. The embassy has declined to comment on the issue.
The British woman, who changed her name to Zaina Al Sabah Bin Laden after her marriage to Omar, has been married six times and has three sons and five grandchildren, according to the tabloid.
If the couple's application is accepted, they will move to Jane's $1.1 million home in Cheshire, near Manchester.
The Daily mail quoted her as saying: "The embassy staff are all very friendly and they are doing all the checks. It could take a while for the visa to come through but there's no reason in law why Omar and I should not be able to live in the U.K. together."
The son of the world's most wanted terrorist has divorced his first wife, the mother of his two-year-old son, and is currently waiting for confirmation of the divorce to come through from Saudi Arabia, so that he can prove the British woman is his only spouse.
"We have been told there will not be a problem as long as we can provide the original documents from his divorce from his first wife. And that should be done in a week," Mrs Bin Laden said.
A British marriage visa would allow Omar to live in the country for two years, after which he would be able to apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain.
The couple say they are "peace activists", and are organizing a horse ride from Cairo to Morocco.
Omar Bin Laden told the Mail on Sunday: "Associates of my father forced the cancellation of the Dakar Rally [across north-west Africa], but they won't stop me from riding. We want people to join us on the trek - Jews, Arabs, Christians, Muslims, it doesn't matter where people are from."
DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Re: Politica-Economia en Latino America
on: January 14, 2008, 10:30:07 AM
A Hollywood Yarn Unravels
By MARY ANASTASIA O'GRADY
January 14, 2008; Page A12
It was Christmas week in the Colombian city of Villavicencio and the events, as they were set to unfold, had all the makings of a Hollywood blockbuster. If only the "heroes" hadn't been exposed as liars.
A 3-year-old boy, his mother and another woman, all hostages of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), were about to be freed. Credit for their release was to go to Hugo Chávez, president of Venezuela. Former Argentine President Néstor Kirchner had flown up from Buenos Aires to take part in the show. Oscar-winning director Oliver Stone was on hand too, eager to document the Christmas spirit of the revolutionary killers and their socialist sympathizers. The child, as luck would have it, was called Emmanuel.
WSJ's Americas columnist Mary Anastasia O'Grady discusses the series of embarrassments that have befallen Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in recent months.
The part of the villain was bestowed on Colombian President Álvaro Uribe, a U.S. ally who as a matter of policy has refused to give in to FARC demands for Colombian territory in exchange for the release of hostages. Mr. Uribe had also recently announced that Mr. Chávez was no longer welcome as a negotiator in the broader effort to free former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, three American contractors and 41 other politically valuable FARC hostages. He had jerked away the welcome mat after Mr. Chávez tried to bypass him and talk directly to the Colombian military. According to the script, even Mr. Uribe's stubbornness couldn't stop the big-hearted Mr. Chávez from winning the freedom of these three.
For Mr. Stone, an anti-American Christmas miracle was in the offing. His film would portray Mr. Chávez as a humanitarian hero while demonizing Mr. Uribe. But it wasn't to be an obscure foreign film with no American message. It would also complement the assertions of U.S. unions, other trade protectionists and President Bush's political adversaries, all of whom insist -- against the evidence -- that the Colombian president violates human rights.
Of course, the American left's current obsession with Mr. Uribe is not really about concern for human life. It's about the pending U.S.-Colombian free trade agreement, which they want to kill on "moral" grounds. Depicting Mr. Uribe as an intransigent right-winger is critical to their narrative. In this, the protectionists are allies of the rebels. The truth is that Mr. Uribe's restoration of law and order in Colombia has thrown the guerrillas back on their heels, and they are now frantically pulling the levers of international propaganda.
Over Christmas week the suspense surrounding the promised release was building. Mr. Chávez reminded TV viewers daily that his dramatic rescue plan had nothing to do with him and everything to do with his tender concern for the hostages. Mr. Uribe had agreed to allow Venezuelan aircraft to swoop into Colombia to pick up the two women and the child. The FARC had only to say where. But no word came.
The rebels blamed the delay on bad weather and on Mr. Uribe, who they said had mobilized his armed forces in the area. Mr. Uribe denied the charge, as did his top military commander. Mr. Chávez said Mr. Uribe could not be trusted. Meanwhile the Venezuelan minister for FARC relations, Ramon Rodríguez Chacín, made excuses for the rebels, who, he said, had to be ready for Colombian military actions against them after the handover. The guerrillas, he said, should "prepare their retreat strategy and take all the security measures they need."
Finally, on Dec. 31, Mr. Uribe held a press conference to give his "hypothesis" of why the liberation hadn't occurred: The FARC had lied when it said it had the child, and it had been trying to buy time to find him. In fact, the boy was in a foster home in Bogotá. The suggestion was a bombshell, but after DNA tests confirmed the fact, Mr. Uribe was vindicated.
Among the more shocking revelations was the FARC's inhumane treatment of the infant. His mother, Clara Rojas, who had been Ms. Betancourt's vice presidential running mate, was kidnapped in 2002. The child was born in a rebel camp in 2004, and was less than one year old when he was left with a local peasant. After about a month, his humble caretaker realized he could not treat the child's serious illnesses and took him to a local clinic, which transferred him to a hospital.
Press reports say that doctors diagnosed the baby with anemia, malaria, a parasitic skin disease, malnutrition and an arm that had been broken at birth and not treated. "Anyone would have fallen apart before this child, with so many diseases," the hospital director told the Miami Herald. "He didn't raise his eyes. He got toys but did not pick them up. He did not stand but dragged himself on his butt. He cried but no tears came because of the malnutrition."
When the news of the child's whereabouts broke Mr. Stone went away spitting mad, not at his FARC heroes, who had been exposed as child abusers, but at Mr. Uribe and Mr. Bush. Of the FARC he said, "Grabbing hostages is the fashion in which they can finance themselves and try to achieve their goals, which are difficult. I think they are heroic to fight for what they believe in and die for it, as was Castro in the hills of Cuba."
Meanwhile, with Mr. Chávez looking like a fool, the two women were finally freed on Thursday. The FARC had reason to help him try to salvage his image: As this column has frequently noted, it needs Venezuela as its main transit route for cocaine and as a safe haven.
Mr. Chávez tried to paint himself as a neutral, third-party peacemaker but a day later he peeled off his mask. We already knew that a diplomat from Cuba, which has been sowing terror in Colombia for 50 years, accompanied the hostages to Caracas, underscoring the ties between Mr. Chávez, Cuba and the rebels. We also knew that as the helicopter carrying the hostages took off Mr. Rodríguez Chacín called to the rebels, "keep up the fight and count on us!"
On Friday, Mr. Chávez went further, arguing that the FARC has a "true" army that "occupies space" and is therefore a "belligerent" -- a term that would give it standing under international law. He demanded that its terrorist status be revoked. Colombia called his speech "off-the-wall" but it knows better. Following the hostage release, this was a calculated move and is only the latest step in what is now Mr. Chávez's war, waged by the FARC, against Colombia.
• Write to O'Grady@wsj.com
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / WSJ: Me, Myself, and I
on: January 14, 2008, 09:18:13 AM
Me, Myself and I
By COLLIN LEVY
January 14, 2008; Page A13
After months of presidential primary debates, town-hall meetings and cable talkathons, I hate myself. And I mean that in the most old-fashioned way.
For all the rhetorical flourish on display, many of the presidential candidates still don't have a grip on the King's English. That great American personal pronoun, the first person singular, which adorns nearly every sentence of candidate discourse, is still too slippery for many of this year's White House aspirants.
Speaking on Social Security, Democrat hopeful Barack Obama boasted that "here's an area where John (Edwards) and myself were actually quite specific." A few minutes later, Bill Richardson wondered, "What is wrong with having been like myself -- 14 years in the Congress, two Cabinet positions?"
Campaigning is certainly exhausting in a primary homestretch, which may explain this gem from Mitt Romney: "It is going to take a person who is himself an innovator like myself who has the experience to bring change to Washington." Republican contender Ron Paul noted proudly that "We have a lot of similarities . . . Barack Obama and myself, because our campaigns are made up of young people."
The new verbal tic is part trend and part defensive posture. Since the Me Generation, "I" and "me" have become increasingly tangled up as Americans have looked for ways around tricky constructions. As sportswriter Red Smith once put it, "Myself is the foxhole of ignorance, where cowards take refuge, because they were taught that me is vulgar and I is egotistical." In the same spirit, "myself" has become the campaign's de rigueur grammar cop-out, substituted for I or me when the candidate isn't sure which is accurate -- or worse, assumes Americans will see proper English as elitist.
Yet grammar still matters to a lot of Americans. Potential employers often report they are put off by job applicants who display bad spelling or grammar -- taking it as a sign of sloppiness, inattention to detail or lack of IQ. Why shouldn't voters hold the next leader of the free world to similar standards? Especially since, as Richard Lederer, former usage editor of the Random House Dictionary points out, when candidates "chicken out and use 'myself'" in place of I or me, "it shows an inability to take a stand" -- and isn't that something voters should care about?
The stakes are high, and the wrong pronoun can even change the meaning of a sentence. In his New Hampshire victory speech after the New Hampshire primary, John McCain told a cheering crowd, "Enjoy this. You have earned it more than me." (When he presumably meant, you have earned it more than I have.)
The misuse of "I" took its own toll on Bill Clinton in 1992. Running against then incumbent President George H. W. Bush, Gov. Clinton famously said: "If you want a spring in your step and a song in your heart, give Al Gore and I a chance to bring America back." The mistake spawned a pretty good media lashing, as it should have. New York Times columnist William Safire wrote in his language column, "Between you and me -- never you and I . . . the best answer is 'Give I a break.'"
By the time the 1996 debates came around, the president learned his lesson and dumbed it down. At the podium, Mr. Clinton remarked on the "big differences between Sen. Dole and myself."
Not that the 2008 candidates can't find support from the more flexible sort of grammarian for their innovative usage of "myself." One school of lexicographer holds that proper English is however people use it. So, though the classically-approved usage of "myself" is as an intensive ("I myself feel that way") or reflexive ("I hurt myself"), several dictionaries approve its "informal use" as an all-purpose substitute for "I" or "me." What's next, ketchup on hot dogs?
Defenders of heterodoxy say the casual usage has been around for centuries, finding mention in dusty old texts of Chaucer and other reputable English and American writers. But its growing use is intensely controversial among grammarians. "People who are shaky in their grammar think of "myself" as a safe usage," says Bryan Garner, former editor of Oxford's Dictionary of Modern American Usage, "but to a real snoot, it's bothersome."
To handle the skirmish, dictionaries now include tortured "Usage notes" on the casual version. The 2006 American Heritage Dictionary, referring to its in-house advisers, points out that "a large majority of the Usage Panel disapproves of the use of -self pronouns when they do not refer to the subject of the sentence."
One imagines a lot of furniture being broken up by American Heritage's more liberal experts. The dictionary goes on to say, "Seventy-three percent (of panel members) reject the sentence 'He was an enthusiastic fisherman like myself.'" The Panel is even less tolerant of compound usages. Eighty-eight percent find this sentence unacceptable: 'The boss asked John and myself to give a brief presentation.'"
Despite the excessive presence of "myself" in the current race, its emergence in political campaigning is not recent. John F. Kennedy used "myself" awkwardly once in his debate with Richard Nixon on Oct. 7, 1960, remarking on "the issue between Mr. Nixon and myself." Jimmy Carter used "myself" once in his October 1976 debate with President Gerald Ford, noting that "I think that we'll have good results on November the second for myself and I hope for the country."
Presidential campaigns have been dotted with stories of candidates maligned for misspellings and malapropisms memorable enough to define a political career. (See former Vice President Dan Quayle, whose misspelling of potato(e) in the days before spell-checkers turned him into a national punch line.) The most notorious of these has probably been President George W. Bush. So in the pronoun sweepstakes, he must be the worst offender of all, right?
He's not. Referring to his own grammatical quirks in a debate with Al Gore, the then Texas governor's usage was impeccable. "Well, we all make mistakes," he said, "I've been known to mangle a syllable or two myself."
Ms. Levy is a senior editorial writer at the Journal, based in Washington.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / J. Story: Interpreting the C.
on: January 14, 2008, 09:03:57 AM
"The constitution of the United States is to receive a reasonable
interpretation of its language, and its powers, keeping in view the
objects and purposes, for which those powers were conferred. By
a reasonable interpretation, we mean, that in case the words are
susceptible of two different senses, the one strict, the other
more enlarged, that should be adopted, which is most consonant
with the apparent objects and intent of the Constitution."
-- Joseph Story (Commentaries on the Constitution, 1833)
Reference: Story, Commentaries on the Constitution, 140.
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Revenge, Law into own hands
on: January 13, 2008, 02:46:10 PM
Man sodomizes stepson in revenge
Texas man sodomizes stepson in revenge
FORT WORTH, Texas - A father sodomized his 18-year-old stepson to avenge the teenager's alleged rape of the man's 8-year-old daughter, police said. The father, 32, turned himself into to authorities on Friday and was released from jail Saturday after posting a $17,500 bond. He faces a charge of aggravated sexual assault.
The stepson was arrested Jan. 2 and charged with suspicion of aggravated sexual assault. Police say the father caught him assaulting his daughter, and a subsequent examination at a hospital revealed the girl had been sodomized. Sgt. Cheryl Johnson, supervisor of the Fort Worth sex crimes unit, said in a story posted Saturday on the Fort Worth Star-Telegram's Web site that people need to "allow the criminal justice system to work for them."
"This is a very unique case, but we have a criminal justice system in place, and no one can take the law into their own hands," Johnson said.
The Star-Telegram didn't identify the father or the stepson to protect the identity of the girl. Fort Worth police didn't immediately return phone and e-mail messages from The Associated Press.
When the stepson was arrested, the man warned his wife not to get the teenager out of jail. She posted bond for the teen's release. When he called home Jan. 3 after getting released, the father took the call and picked him up, police said. Instead of taking the teenager home, the Arlington man drove to an abandoned house in Fort Worth, beat his stepson with a baseball bat and sodomized him with a metal tool, police said. After the man left, the stepson found a pay phone and called police, who searched the abandoned home.
"We did find evidence at the scene to corroborate our victim's story," Johnson said.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The 2008 Presidential Race
on: January 12, 2008, 01:04:53 PM
Agreed in part, though I think the analysis of the Fair Tax to be cliched and flawed. The Balance of Trade analysis is more or less corrrect, but substantially irrelevant-- the real issue is capital flows (which simply dwarf trade flows) and the value of the dollar. With Gold approaching $900 and oil having kissed $100, it seems obvious that there are too many dollars out there. (In Euro terms, in gold terms, gold's rise has been far, far less.) Yet Bernake seems to be a clueless Keynesian looking to prime a pump when what he is really doing is pushing on a string. I fear stagflation is coming and that, as you note, none of the Dems and few of the Reps seem to get it.
The true issue as I see it is a matter of relative tax rates. (Here Fred is strong, Huck interesting but suspect, Rudy pretty good, Romney OK, McCain suspect) Europe, (due to the dynamics of east Europe, Ireland?) has cut and simplified taxes and with a good chance of a Dem victory in November, the Bush rate cuts seem likely to "expire" -- not to mention additonal Dem tax increases and economic meddling planned. The US corp tax rate is now second highest in advanced world IIRC. THIS IS THE CORE PROBLEM IN MY OPINION. Naturally a stampede for the exits begins in the stock market.
Staying with the subject of this thread (feel free to carry political economic subjects to the thread for them), this bodes ill for the Reps unless they can front someone who can fly into the face of the conventional wisdom and carry the day.
Here's this from the WSJ about Hillary's next incarnation:
Mrs. Clinton's Sex Appeal
By JAMES TARANTO
January 11, 2008
Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia has the most interesting poll result we've seen in all the years of the 2008 presidential campaign:
Let's not forget the enduring affection New Hampshirites have for their "Comeback Kid" Bill Clinton. He was everywhere, and he issued hard-edged--some say petty--blasts at Obama that received saturation attention in the media. Interestingly, Democratic voters in the exit poll were asked if Bill Clinton were a White House candidate in '08, would they have voted for him or their current candidate. By a margin of 58 percent to 27 percent, Hillary Clinton's voters preferred Bill, while all other Democrats kept most of their own voters. This is not a compliment to Hillary, but it's obvious that without Bill, she would not be in a position to win the party nomination.
Did any pollster think to ask Republican voters in 2000 to choose between their candidate and George Bush père? We're pretty sure not, and that's revealing in itself. Although George W. Bush undoubtedly benefited from his famous political name, it's highly doubtful that Republican voters would have preferred the elder Bush (who, having served only one term, was constitutionally eligible to run). Indeed, although the elder Bush now receives lots of backhanded compliments from those who despise his son (even George McGovern!), many Republicans remember him for tax increases, David Souter and Saddam Hussein's survival.
In Mrs. Clinton's case, the comparison to that feminist icon Lurleen Wallace seems more apposite all the time. But as we look toward November, it's worth pondering the nature of this longing for Bill Clinton.
It seems unlikely that it is, at its root, about policy. Mr. Clinton was not a defining ideological figure, no FDR or Reagan. To the extent that he moved his party, it was toward the center, and the party--including Mrs. Clinton--has in many ways moved back.
There is perhaps an element of nostalgia for the peace and prosperity of the 1990s, notwithstanding that the peace was illusory and the prosperity hasn't gone away.
But above all, Clinton nostalgia is about partisanship. Mr. Clinton endeared himself to his party, and especially its left wing, not via his policies but by provoking the enmity of Republicans--most notably, by being impeached. His final two years in office thus produced a partisan closing of the ranks behind him, to some extent despite his centrist policies. (Ironically, George W. Bush might now enjoy more support than he does among Republicans if the Democratic opposition were better organized.)
It's telling that in Iowa and New Hampshire, Mrs. Clinton did much better among Democrats than among independents. This may augur well for her in subsequent primaries and caucuses, many of which are limited to registered Dems. But it may bode ill for November, when the majority of voters will be non-Democrats. Bill Clinton, after all, never quite managed to get a majority of the popular vote, against fairly weak Republican opposition (albeit with Ross Perot available as an alternative).
To be elected, Mrs. Clinton will have to find an appeal broader than her husband's, a tall order given that many of her supporters prefer him. Off the top of our head, the only idea that occurs to us is one she seems to be trying: urging women to vote for her because she'd be the first female president.
There is a risk of taking this too far. The Las Vegas Review-Journal reports on a bizarre comment Mrs. Clinton made yesterday while campaigning for the Jan. 19 Nevada caucuses:
Clinton and her busload of traveling press moved from there to the popular local Mexican restaurant Lindo Michoacan, where a "roundtable" that was actually square passed a microphone around to tell her people's concerns about the mortgage crisis and foreclosures. She took notes and munched on tortilla chips. . . .
A man shouted through an opening in the wall that his wife was illegal.
"No woman is illegal," Clinton said, to cheers.
No woman is illegal? She really seems bent on alienating male voters, doesn't she?
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Strange Case in NYC
on: January 12, 2008, 12:30:05 PM
January 11, 2008
One Dead After Attack on Transit Worker
By AL BAKER
A New York City Transit worker walking home after a late shift, three muggers armed with a curved knife and a bystander who somehow got caught in the middle: they all converged on a dark and rainy street in Upper Manhattan late Thursday in a blood-soaked frenzy that left the bystander stabbed to death and two others — including the transit worker — hospitalized.
Hours after the midnight attack on West 139th Street and St. Nicholas Avenue, detectives were still trying to sift through the details of the deadly encounter.
As the day wore on, it appeared that the bystander, Flonarza M. Byas, got involved either as a good Samaritan trying to help the struggling transit worker, Maurice Parks, or inadvertently collided with the mugging. Earlier theories — that he might have been one of the assailants or that he might have jumped in to prey on the conductor once the muggers knocked him down — were being discounted.
One thing was clear: As of late Friday, investigators said it appeared that the subway motorman was a victim who decided to fight back — just as officials said he did when he was mugged in the city in 1994.
This time, Mr. Parks was attacked from behind, hit on the side of the head and knocked to the ground after he emerged from the subterranean subway tunnels at West 135th Street and walked about three blocks, the police said. Once down, the assailants started beating Mr. Parks and took a denim bag he had packed with clothes and papers. The muggers — detectives believe there were three men in all — pulled a knife and Mr. Parks pulled one too, the police said.
The conductor apparently carried the blade for just this reason, so he could defend himself, one law enforcement official said. But who stabbed whom first in this case is an open question.
When the blades were wielded, the tally of wounds was long: Mr. Parks, 39, of Manhattan, was stabbed in the abdomen and slashed in the hands; Mr. Byas, 28, was stabbed in the chest, back and leg; and Hector Cruz, 21, was stabbed twice in the abdomen, the police said.
The official said that investigators believe Mr. Parks was stabbed by Mr. Cruz and that he — in turn — stabbed Mr. Cruz and Mr. Byas. The police said they believed Mr. Byas was homeless and said he had received a summons an hour before the attack for trespassing in a nearby park. But Mr. Byas’s fiancé and his brother each insisted he had been employed as an accountant and was not homeless.
“He was a really good person, a person I really loved a lot,” said Stephanie C. Diaz, 22, who said she and Mr. Byas were engaged to be married last year. “We had a lot of plans for us; it’s just hard to see that go away.”
One official said Mr. Byas “wandered into the middle of it, unbeknownst to the victim, Parks.” The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is continuing, said that Mr. Parks appeared to believe Mr. Byas was an assailant so he stabbed him. “That is what it looks like,” the official said.
Another official said another possibility is that Mr. Byas might have mistook Mr. Parks for a criminal.
“It’s possible he thought Parks was the aggressor,” the second official said of Mr. Byas. “He probably stepped in to help, but it might have been difficult to tell who was the aggressor and who was the victim, Parks or the others.” The official, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity, added of Mr. Byas: “He could have been stabbed by both of them, for all we know.”
In the chaos, 911 calls were made. When uniformed police officers from the 26th Precinct arrived on the street in the Hamilton Heights neighborhood they were flagged down by Mr. Cruz, who was bleeding, and Leandro Ventura, 15, who initially characterized themselves as victims. Mr. Parks and Mr. Byas were lying on the ground next to one another less than a block away to the west. Mr. Parks identified Mr. Ventura as one of his assailants, the police said, and the three wounded men were taken by ambulance to Harlem Hospital Center, where Mr. Byas pronounced dead at 12:46 a.m.
Mr. Ventura, meanwhile, was taken into custody and interviewed at the precinct station house, the police said. He was later charged with first-degree robbery, even though his relatives said he was being wrongly accused.
“He implicates himself in robbing, but tries to put himself away from the stabbing,” the first official said of Mr. Ventura, adding that investigators believe Mr. Cruz was wielding the knife.
Two knives were recovered as evidence — the folding knife with a curved blade and a straight knife that Mr. Parks is believed to have pulled from his pocket. Detectives were seeking a third assailant whom the responding officers initially saw, but who is believed to have fled. They were checking video cameras of nearby stores.
As for Mr. Parks, a conductor who became a transit worker in 1997, he was recovering after surgery on Friday, his mother and a spokesman for his union said.
Officials said it was not likely he would be charged criminally.
In New York, it is legal for someone to carry a knife provided the state penal law does not define it as illegal, such as a switchblade or a gravity knife, for example, according to prosecutors and criminal defense attorneys. Many objects — such as a legal knife or a baseball bat — can be classified as a “dangerous instrument” if they are used in a crime, the analysts said.
“It’s a common question in criminal cases, whether what someone had in their possession fits the definition of these few illegal knives, or whether they knew that the knife was illegal,” said Thomas M. O’Brien, an attorney with the special litigation unit of the city’s Legal Aid Society, who said he could not comment on the case in Manhattan. “Just having an ordinary knife is not a crime.”
At Mr. Parks’s bedside was Roger Toussaint, the president of the Transport Workers Union, Local 100, said the union spokesman, Jesse Derris. Transit workers were seen on Friday coming and going from the hospital at Lenox Avenue and 135th Street.
And Mr. Parks’ mother, Mona Parks, 57, who lives in the Bronx, spoke outside the hospital, saying she was upset that her son had been so seriously hurt, but relieved he had survived. She said she had spoken to him and that he whispered that he wanted some water as he slowly regained consciousness after surgery.
“I’m glad he did what he did, otherwise he’d be dead,” said Ms. Parks. Mr. Derris said Mr. Parks, “works vacation relief, meaning he covers different lines on the numbered trains when people are on vacation.” He works nights, Mr. Derris said, and got off work at about 11:23 p.m. on Thursday.
Ms. Parks and a martial arts instructor, Little John Davis, said Mr. Parks was a dedicated student of martial arts and was physically fit. “I’m sad that it happened,” Mr. Davis said. “But it’s good that somebody had some training to be able to take care of themselves.”
Ms. Parks said her son is not reckless and that his heroics were borne of necessity.
“If he had an opportunity to run he would’ve run, but there were four of them,” she said, apparently mistakenly including Mr. Byas in the group of assailants. At Mr. Ventura’s home at West 141st Street, the teenager’s older brother defended him. George A. Ventura, 21, said his brother was walking home from playing basketball in St. Nicholas Park when he saw the altercation and stopped to help one of the stabbed men who was screaming for help. Mr. Ventura said his brother flagged down a police car.
“I know he had nothing to do with it,” said Mr. Ventura, who said his brother is a student at Washington Irving High School. “I know his friends, I’ve never seen my brother hanging with older dudes in my life.” He added: “He’s a good kid, he’s not a troubled dude, he always listens.”
George Ventura said that the police called the family home after the incident and that when he and his mother, Yolanda Escoto, went to the precinct, officers said the teenager was a witness. It was not until Friday morning that the family learned he was a suspect, said George Ventura.
The teenager’s lawyer, Ismael Gonzalez, said, “He’s going to plead not guilty to the charges.”
Relatives of Mr. Cruz also came to visit him at the hospital. “He’s a good kid,” said his sister, who declined to provide her name. “He was hanging out with the wrong people.”
Colin Moynihan, Daryl Khan and Robin Stein contributed reporting.http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/11/nyregion/11cnd-stab.html?_r=2&hp=&oref=slogin&pagewanted=print&oref=slogin
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Military Science
on: January 12, 2008, 12:01:53 PM
James T. Conway
First to the Fight
By BRENDAN MINITER
January 12, 2008; Page A9
When James T. Conway went down to see the draft board at the height of the Vietnam War in 1969, he was told "we're not going to draft you. You've got a great number and you don't have to worry about military service." He responded, "You don't understand, I actually want to go."
Today, as Commandant of the Marine Corps, he's one of the nation's leading military commanders. He's led tens of thousands of Marines on two significant campaigns in Iraq. The first was the drive on Baghdad in 2003; the second was what turned out to be an aborted assault on Fallujah in April 2004. In 2006 he became the steward of a fighting force with a history that stretches all the way back to 1775, before there was a United States of America.
But it's the future of the Corps, not its past, that dominates Gen. Conway's thoughts and our conversation. We met at the Pentagon earlier this week -- just a few days before the one-year anniversary of President Bush's decision to "surge" more troops into Iraq. He was dressed in cammies, combat boots and an open collar. He's lean and tall and he seemed to envelop the table we were seated at. He's also a man who gives the appearance of someone who would much rather be with his Marines in Anbar province than in an office on the outskirts of Washington.
Two related concerns about the war occupy his mind: That in order to fight this war, his Corps could be transformed into just another "land army"; and, if that should happen, that it would lose the flexibility and expeditionary culture that has made it a powerful military force.
The Corps was built originally to live aboard ships and wade ashore to confront emerging threats far from home. It has long prided itself in being "first to the fight" relying on speed, agility and tenacity to win battles. It's a small, offensive outfit that has its own attack aircraft, but not its own medics, preferring to rely on Navy corpsmen to care for its wounded.
For more than a decade, the size of the active-duty Marine Corps has been 175,000. The Army, by comparison, has more than 500,000 soldiers on active duty.
Now, however, the Corps is being expanded to 202,000 over the next couple of years. And what's more, the Marines are being asked to conduct patrols and perform other non-offensive operations in Iraq that are forcing the Corps to become a more stationary force than it traditionally has been.
It's a "static environment where there is no forward movement," Gen. Conway says. And "that gets more to an occupational role, and that's what the Army historically does and the Marine Corps has previously seen very little of."
One way the Marines are clearly changing is in the vehicles troops use to patrol in Iraq. "If you look at the table of equipment that a Marine battalion is operating with right now in Iraq," Gen. Conway explains, "it is dramatically different than the table of equipment the battalion used when it went over the berm in Kuwait in '03, and it is remarkably heavier. Heavier, particularly in terms of vehicles.
"I mean the Humvees were canvas at that point for the most part. Today they are up-armored and we're looking at vehicles even heavier than that. We've got a whole new type of vehicle that we're patrolling in, conducting operations in, that's the MRAP [Mine Resistant Ambush Protected], a 48,000 pound vehicle. . . . these type of things, make us look more like a land army than it does a fast, hard-hitting expeditionary force."
Gen. Conway commends the MRAP's performance: "[W]e had over 300 attacks against the MRAP without losing a Marine or sailor." And, he says, "We always have to be concerned about protecting our Marines. We owe that to the parents of America."
"But," he adds, "first we have to be able to accomplish our mission. And I think there are a lot of instances where a lighter, faster, harder-hitting force that gets to a scene quickly is more effective than a heavier, more armored force that gets there weeks or months later."
It is clear that the MRAP can make it more difficult to maneuver in a battle zone. "We saw some problems with the vehicle once it went off of the roadways," Gen. Conway says. "Its cross-country mobility, particularly in western Iraq where you have wadis [dry riverbeds] and small bridges and that type of thing was not what we hoped it would be."
And it is something Gen. Conway has decided to have fewer of. He recently announced that the Marines are halting orders for these vehicles. The Corps will take delivery of a total of 2,300 new MRAPs by the end of the year, which it will use to conduct missions in Iraq. But Gen. Conway is canceling orders for 1,400 additional MRAPs that he and his advisors believe they will not need in the coming years. In the process, Gen. Conway is saving Uncle Sam $1.7 billion. "Yeah. I mean, that to me was a common sense kind of determination."
In short, wars have a tendency to change the culture of the militaries that fight them. For the Marines, the cultural change they fear most is losing their connection to the sea while fighting in the desert.
Today there are about 26,000 Marines in Iraq, many of them on their second or third tour, and tens of thousands of others who have either recently returned or who are preparing to go in the coming months and years. Keeping a force that size in Iraq has made it difficult for the Marines to give mid-level officers assignments that would hone the skills necessary to conduct what has always been a central component of Marine warfighting -- landing troops on a beach head.
"If you accept a generation of officers is four years," Gen. Conway says, "that's what an officer signs on for, we now have that generation of officers -- and arguably troops -- that have come and gone, that are combat hardened, but that will never have stepped foot aboard ship. . . . an amphibious operation is by its very nature the most complicated of military operations; and that we have junior officers and senior officers who understand the planning dimensions associated with something like that, that have sufficient number of exercises over time to really have sharpened their skills to work with other services to accomplish a common goal -- these are the things that concern me with the atrophying of those skills and the ability to go out and do those things."
Gen. Conway graduated from Southeast Missouri State University in 1969, got married, and volunteered for the Marines at a time when the Vietnam War was still raging. He had friends -- fraternity brothers -- who hadn't kept their grades up and who got drafted.
Not that he regrets signing up. "I thought about trying to contact [that recruiter] and thank him for the way he kind of reeled me in," he says.
As a young officer, Gen. Conway didn't end up in Vietnam. But he did get a front row seat in watching the Marine Corps rebuild itself after the war in Southeast Asia ended. And now, looking back through history, he has a clear perspective on the turning points in the development of the modern Marine Corps.
The first turning point came in World War I at the Battle of Belleau Wood, where a few thousand Marines helped stop a German advance that otherwise might have taken Paris and knocked France out of the war. Marines fought so ferociously in hand-to-hand combat in dense French forest in that battle, that the Germans nicknamed them "Devil Dogs." Afterward, Congress expanded the size of the Marines to more than 70,000, up from about 14,000 at the start of the war.
The second turning point brings Gen. Conway back to his concern for protecting the Marines' institutional culture. "Others will cite other battles," he said, but he sees the Battle of Guadalcanal in World War II, a six-month campaign in the Pacific starting in August 1942, as a turning point.
It was there that Marines, later reinforced by Army units, dealt the Japanese their first significant land defeat. "It was only our expeditionary ability to get out there rapidly, as rapidly as we could . . . to put the force out there, smack in the path of the Japanese [that] was a major capability and one we're still very proud of."
So is the Marine Corps the right force to be fighting in Iraq now? It's a loaded question because in recent months Gen. Conway made headlines by airing a plan that would have had the Marines rotate out of Iraq and, with a somewhat smaller force, into Afghanistan. The plan was a nonstarter with Defense Secretary Robert Gates and has been shelved.
"Yeah, I think we are," Gen. Conway said. "For what the nation is now engaged in, it is a major insurgency. From our perspective a counterinsurgency. And when the nation is as hotly engaged as we are in Iraq, I think that's exactly where the Marine Corps needs to be.
"Now, it has necessitated that we undergo these changes to the way we are constituted. But that's OK. We made those adjustments. We'll adjust back when the threat is different. But that's adaptability . . . . You create a force that you have to have at the time. But you don't accept that as the new norm and you do the necessary draw-down at a time when you can."
As for now, he sees the expansion of the Corps to 202,000 "as good . . . We need a Marine Corps that's larger. We need an Army that's larger until we get through what probably is going to be, I think will be, a generational struggle. I think it is absolutely necessary. . . . our military today, all the services all uniforms, is still less than 1% of our great country."
Has the country already forgotten the lessons of 9/11?
Not all of us, Gen. Conway says. "I still hear that a lot, you know, we saw [a] surge [in enlistments] after 9/11, but if you talk to a young Marine out there, even people who were, I don't know, 12, 13, 14 at that point, [they] are still saying that, you know, that they are offended by that, are still incensed by that and they realize that those are still essentially the people out there that we're fighting, so it continues to reverberate. . . . When I visit Gen. Odierno in Baghdad, he's got a picture, a very large picture of one [World Trade Center] tower burning and the other plane about to hit. And I think that our country would do well to remember how we got to where we are today."
Mr. Miniter is an assistant features editor for The Wall Street Journal.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / The Lost Archive-- fascinating!
on: January 12, 2008, 10:20:11 AM
The Lost Archive
Missing for a half century, a cache of photos
spurs sensitive research on Islam's holy text
By ANDREW HIGGINS
January 12, 2008; Page A1
-- Munich, Germany
On the night of April 24, 1944, British air force bombers hammered a former Jesuit college here housing the Bavarian Academy of Science. The 16th-century building crumpled in the inferno. Among the treasures lost, later lamented Anton Spitaler, an Arabic scholar at the academy, was a unique photo archive of ancient manuscripts of the Quran.
The 450 rolls of film had been assembled before the war for a bold venture: a study of the evolution of the Quran, the text Muslims view as the verbatim transcript of God's word. The wartime destruction made the project "outright impossible," Mr. Spitaler wrote in the 1970s.
Mr. Spitaler was lying. The cache of photos survived, and he was sitting on it all along. The truth is only now dribbling out to scholars -- and a Quran research project buried for more than 60 years has risen from the grave.
"He pretended it disappeared. He wanted to be rid of it," says Angelika Neuwirth, a former pupil and protégée of the late Mr. Spitaler. Academics who worked with Mr. Spitaler, a powerful figure in postwar German scholarship who died in 2003, have been left guessing why he squirreled away the unusual trove for so long.
Ms. Neuwirth, a professor of Arabic studies at Berlin's Free University, now is overseeing a revival of the research. The project renews a grand tradition of German Quranic scholarship that was interrupted by the Third Reich. The Nazis purged Jewish experts on ancient Arabic texts and compelled Aryan colleagues to serve the war effort. Middle East scholars worked as intelligence officers, interrogators and linguists. Mr. Spitaler himself served, apparently as a translator, in the German-Arab Infantry Battalion 845, a unit of Arab volunteers to the Nazi cause, according to wartime records.
During the 19th century, Germans pioneered modern scholarship of ancient texts. Their work revolutionized understanding of Christian and Jewish scripture. It also infuriated some of the devout, who resented secular scrutiny of texts believed to contain sacred truths.
The revived Quran venture plays into a very modern debate: how to reconcile Islam with the modern world? Academic quarrying of the Quran has produced bold theories, bitter feuds and even claims of an Islamic Reformation in the making. Applying Western critical methods to Islam's holiest text is a sensitive test of the Muslim community's readiness to both accommodate and absorb thinking outside its own traditions.
Read the Quran in English and see other languages and readings"It is very exciting," says Patricia Crone, a scholar at Princeton's Institute for Advanced Study and a pioneer of unorthodox theories about Islam's early years. She says she first heard that the Munich archive had survived when attending a conference in Germany last fall. "Everyone thought it was destroyed."
The Quran is viewed by most Muslims as the unchanging word of God as transmitted to the Prophet Muhammad in the 7th century. The text, they believe, didn't evolve or get edited. The Quran says it is "flawless" and fixed by an "imperishable tablet" in heaven. It starts with a warning: "This book is not to be doubted."
Quranic scholarship often focuses on arcane questions of philology and textual analysis. Experts nonetheless tend to tread warily, mindful of fury directed in recent years at people deemed to have blasphemed Islam's founding document and the Prophet Muhammad.
A scholar in northern Germany writes under the pseudonym of Christoph Luxenberg because, he says, his controversial views on the Quran risk provoking Muslims. He claims that chunks of it were written not in Arabic but in another ancient language, Syriac. The "virgins" promised by the Quran to Islamic martyrs, he asserts, are in fact only "grapes."
Ms. Neuwirth, the Berlin professor now in charge of the Munich archive, rejects the theories of her more radical colleagues, who ride roughshod, she says, over Islamic scholarship. Her aim, she says, isn't to challenge Islam but to "give the Quran the same attention as the Bible." All the same, she adds: "This is a taboo zone."
Ms. Neuwirth says it's too early to have any idea what her team's close study of the cache of early texts and other manuscripts will reveal. Their project, launched last year at the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Science and Humanities, has state funding for 18 years but could take much longer. The earliest manuscripts of the Quran date from around 700 and use a skeletal version of the Arabic script that is difficult to decipher and can be open to divergent readings.
Mystery and misfortune bedeviled the Munich archive from the start. The scholar who launched it perished in an odd climbing accident in 1933. His successor died in a 1941 plane crash. Mr. Spitaler, who inherited the Quran collection and then hid it, fared better. He lived to age 93.
The rolls of film, kept in cigar boxes, plastic trays and an old cookie tin, are now in a safe in Berlin. The photos of the old manuscripts will form the foundation of a computer data base that Ms. Neuwirth's team believes will help tease out the history of Islam's founding text. The result, says Michael Marx, the project's research director, could be the first "critical edition" of the Quran -- an attempt to divine what the original text looked like and to explore overlaps with the Bible and other Christian and Jewish literature.
A group of Tunisians has embarked on a parallel mission, but they want to keep it quiet to avoid angering fellow Muslims, says Moncef Ben Abdeljelil, a scholar involved in the venture. "Silence is sometimes best," he says. Afghan authorities last year arrested an official involved in a vernacular translation of the Quran that was condemned as blasphemous. Its editor went into hiding.
Many Christians, too, dislike secular scholars boring into sacred texts, and dismiss challenges to certain Biblical passages. But most accept that the Bible was written by different people at different times, and that it took centuries of winnowing before the Christian canon was fixed in its current form.
Muslims, by contrast, view the Quran as the literal word of God. Questioning the Quran "is like telling a Christian that Jesus was gay," says Abdou Filali-Ansary, a Moroccan scholar.
Modern approaches to textual analysis developed in the West are viewed in much of the Muslim world as irrelevant, at best. "Only the writings of a practicing Muslim are worthy of our attention," a university professor in Saudi Arabia wrote in a 2003 book. "Muslim views on the Holy Book must remain firm: It is the Word of Allah, constant, immaculate, unalterable and inimitable."
Ms. Neuwirth, the Berlin Quran expert, and Mr. Marx, her research director, have tried to explain the project to the Muslim world in trips to Iran, Turkey, Syria and Morocco. When a German newspaper trumpeted their work last fall on its front page and predicted that it would "overthrow rulers and topple kingdoms," Mr. Marx called Arab television network al-Jazeera and other media to deny any assault on the tenets of Islam.
Europeans started to study the Quran in the Middle Ages, largely in an effort to debunk it. In the 19th century, faith-driven polemical research gave way to more serious scientific study of old texts. Germans led the way.
Their original focus was the Bible. Priests and rabbis pushed back, but scholars pressed on, challenging traditional views of the Old and New Testaments. Their work undermined faith in the literal truth of scripture and helped birth today's largely secular Europe. Over time, some turned their attention to the Quran, too.
In 1857, a Paris academy offered a prize for the best "critical history" of the Quran. A German, Theodor Nöldeke, won. His entry became the cornerstone of future Western research. Mr. Nöldeke, says Ms. Neuwirth, is "the rock of our church."
The Munich archive began with one of Mr. Nöldeke's protégés, Gotthelf Bergsträsser. As Germany slid towards fascism early last century, he hunted down old copies of the Quran in the Middle East, North Africa and Europe. He took photographs of them with a Leica camera.
In 1933, a few months after Hitler became chancellor, Mr. Bergsträsser, an experienced climber, died in the Bavarian Alps. His body was never given an autopsy; rumors spread of suicide or foul play.
His work was taken up by Otto Pretzl, another German Arabist. He too set off with a Leica. In a 1934 journey to Morocco, he wangled his way into a royal library containing an old copy of the Quran and won over initially suspicious clerics, he said in a handwritten report about his trip.
The Nazis began to use Arabists early in the war when German forces began pushing into regions with large Muslim populations, first North Africa and then the Soviet Union. Scholars were used to broadcast propaganda and to help set up mullah schools for Muslims recruited into the German armed forces.
Mr. Pretzl, the manuscript collector, appears to have worked largely in military intelligence. He interrogated Arabic-speaking soldiers captured in the invasion of France, then, according to some accounts, set off on a mission to stir up an Arab uprising against British troops in Iraq. His plane crashed.
Film from the Quran photo archive
Responsibility for the Quran archive fell to Mr. Spitaler, who had helped collect some of the photos. During the war, Mr. Spitaler served in the command offices in Germany and later as an Arabic linguist in Austria, gaining only a modest military rank, records indicate.
After the war, he returned to academia. Instead of reviving the Quran project, he embarked on a laborious but less-sensitive endeavor, a dictionary of classical Arabic. After nearly half a century of work, definitions were published only for words beginning with two letters of the 28-letter Arabic alphabet.
Mr. Spitaler rarely published papers, but was widely admired for his mastery of Arabic texts. A few scholars, however, judged him overly cautious, unproductive and hostile to unconventional views.
"The whole period after 1945 was poisoned by the Nazis," says Günter Lüling, a scholar who was drummed out of his university in the 1970s after he put forward heterodox theories about the Quran's origins. His doctoral thesis argued that the Quran was lifted in part from Christian hymns. Blackballed by Mr. Spitaler, Mr. Lüling lost his teaching job and launched a fruitless six-year court battle to be reinstated. Feuding over the Quran, he says, "ruined my life."
He wrote books and articles at home, funded by his wife, who took a job in a pharmacy. Asked by a French journal to write a paper on German Arabists, Mr. Lüling went to Berlin to examine wartime records. Germany's prominent postwar Arabic scholars, he says, "were all connected to the Nazis."
Berthold Spuler, for example, translated Yiddish and Hebrew for the Gestapo, says Mr. Lüling. (Mr. Spuler's subsequent teaching career ran into trouble in the 1960s when, during a Hamburg student protest, he shouted that the demonstrators "belong in a concentration camp.") Rudi Paret, who in 1962 produced what became the standard German translation of the Quran, was listed as a member of "The Institute for Research on and Eradication of Jewish Influence on German Church Life." Despite their wartime activities, the subsequent work of such scholars is still highly regarded.
By the mid-1970s, Mr. Spitaler in Munich was nearing retirement at the university there. He began moving boxes into a room set aside for the dictionary project at Bavaria's Academy of Sciences. His last doctoral student in Munich, Kathrin Müller, who was working on the dictionary, says she looked inside one of the boxes and saw old film. She asked Mr. Spitaler what it was but didn't get an answer. The boxes, she now realizes, contained the old Quran archive. "He didn't want to explain anything," she says.
In the early 1980s, when the archive was still thought to be lost, two German scholars traveled to Yemen to examine and help restore a cache of ancient Quran manuscripts. They, too, took pictures. When they tried to get them out of Yemen, authorities seized them, says Gerd-Rüdiger Puin, one of the scholars. German diplomats finally persuaded Yemen to release most of the photos, he says.
Mr. Puin says the manuscripts suggested to him that the Quran "didn't just fall from heaven" but "has a history." When he said so publicly a decade ago, it stirred rage. "Please ensure that these scholars are not given further access to the documents," read one letter to the Yemen Times. "Allah, help us against our enemies."
Berlin Quran expert Ms. Neuwirth, though widely regarded as respectful of Islamic tradition, got sideswiped by Arab suspicion of Western scholars. She was fired from a teaching post in Jordan, she says, for mentioning a radical revisionist scholar during a lecture in Germany.
Around 1990, Ms. Neuwirth met Mr. Spitaler, her old professor, in Berlin. He was in his 80s and growing frail, but remained sharp mentally. He "got sentimental about the old times," recalls Ms. Neuwirth. As they talked, he casually mentioned that he still had the photo archive. He offered to give it to her. "I had heard it didn't exist," she says. She later sent two of her students to Munich to collect the photo cache and bring it to Berlin.
The news didn't spread beyond a small circle of scholars. When Mr. Spitaler died in 2003, Paul Kunitizsch, a fellow Munich Arabist, wrote an obituary recounting how the archive had been lost, torpedoing the Quran project. Such a venture, he wrote, "now appears totally out of the question" because of "the attitude of the Islamic world to such a project."
Information about the archive's survival has just begun trickling out to the wider scholarly community. Why Mr. Spitaler hid it remains a mystery. His only published mention of the archive's fate was a footnote to an article in a 1975 book on the Quran. Claiming the bulk of the cache had been lost during the war, he wrote cryptically that "drastically changed conditions after 1945" ruled out any rebuilding of the collection.
Ms. Neuwirth, the current guardian of the archive, believes that perhaps Mr. Spitaler was simply "sick of" the time-consuming project and wanted to move on to other work. Mr. Lüling has a less charitable theory: that Mr. Spitaler didn't have the talents needed to make use of the archive himself and wanted to make sure colleagues couldn't outshine him by working on the material.
Mr. Kunitzsch, the obituary author, says he's mystified by Mr. Spitaler's motives. He speculates that his former colleague decided that the Quran manuscript project was simply too ambitious. The task, says Mr. Kunitzsch, grew steadily more sensitive as Muslim hostility towards Western scholars escalated, particularly after the founding of Israel in 1948. "He knew that for Arabs, [the Quran] was a closed matter."
Ms. Müller, Mr. Spitaler's last doctoral student, says the war "was a deep cut for everything" and buried the prewar dreams of many Germans. Another possible factor, she adds, was Mr. Spitaler's own deep religious faith. She opens up a copy of a Quran used by the late professor, a practicing Catholic, until his death. Unlike his other Arabic texts, which are scrawled with notes and underlinings, it has no markings at all.
"Perhaps he had too much respect for holy books," says Ms. Müller.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Iraq
on: January 12, 2008, 09:43:33 AM
This article indicates that Kurd-Sunni live and let live may be a while off , , ,
Omar was a Sunni Arab from a village outside Mosul; he was a short and weedy man, roughly 30 years old, who radiated a pure animal anger. He was also a relentless jabberer; he did not shut up from the moment we were introduced. I met him in an unventilated interrogation room that smelled of bleach and paint. He was handcuffed, and he cursed steadily, making appalling accusations about the sexual practices of the interrogator’s mother. He cursed the Kurds, in general, as pig-eaters, blasphemers, and American lackeys. As Omar ranted, the interrogator smiled. “I told you the Arabs don’t like the Kurds,” he said. I’ve known the interrogator for a while, and this is his perpetual theme: close proximity to Arabs has sabotaged Kurdish happiness.
Omar, the Kurds claim, was once an inconsequential deputy to the now-deceased terrorist chieftain Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Omar disputed this characterization. By his own telling, he accomplished prodigies of terror against the pro-American Kurdish forces in the northern provinces of Iraq. “You are worse than the Americans,” he told his Kurdish interrogator. “You are the enemy of the Muslim nation. You are enemies of God.” The interrogator—I will not name him here, for reasons that will become apparent in a moment—sat sturdily opposite Omar, absorbing his invective for several minutes, absentmindedly paging through a copy of the Koran.
During a break in the tirade, the interrogator asked Omar, for my benefit, to rehearse his biography. Omar’s life was undistinguished. His father was a one-donkey farmer; Omar was educated in Saddam’s school system, which is to say he was hardly educated; he joined the army, and then Ansar al-Islam, the al-Qaeda–affiliated terrorist group that operates along the Iranian frontier. And then, on the blackest of days, as he described it, he fell prisoner to the Kurds.
The interrogator asked me if I had any questions for Omar. Yes, I said: Have you been tortured in this prison?
“No,” he said.
“What would you do if you were to be released from prison right now?”
“I would get a knife and cut your head off,” he said.
At this, the interrogator smacked Omar across the face with the Koran.
Omar yelped in shock. The interrogator said: “Don’t talk that way to a guest!”
Now, Omar rounded the bend. A bolus of spit flew from his mouth as he screamed. The interrogator taunted Omar further. “This book of yours,” he said, waving the Koran. “‘Cut off their heads! Cut off their heads!’ That’s the answer for everything!” Omar cursed the interrogator’s mother once again; the interrogator trumped him by cursing the Prophet Muhammad’s mother.
The meeting was then adjourned.
In the hallway, I asked the interrogator, “Aren’t you Muslim?”
“Of course,” he said.
“But you’re not a big believer in the Koran?”
“The Koran’s OK,” he said. “I don’t have any criticism of Muhammad’s mother. I just say that to get him mad.”
He went on, “The Koran wasn’t written by God, you know. It was written by Arabs. The Arabs were imperialists, and they forced it on us.” This is a common belief among negligibly religious Kurds, of whom there are many millions.
“That’s your problem, then,” I said. “Arabs.”
“Of course,” he replied. “The Arabs are responsible for all our misfortunes.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Anti-semitism & Jews
on: January 12, 2008, 09:34:55 AM
Bush Says U.S. Should Have Bombed WWII Death Camp During Holocaust Memorial Tour
Friday , January 11, 2008
President George W. Bush, on an emotional tour of Israel's Holocaust memorial, stopped in front of an aerial photo of Auschwitz on Friday and told his secretary of state that the U.S. should have bombed the death camp to stop the extermination of Jews there, the memorial's chairman said.
It was a rare acknowledgment from a U.S. leader on an issue that has stirred deep controversy for decades.
The Allies had detailed reports about Auschwitz during the war from Polish partisans and escaped prisoners. But they chose not to bomb the camp, the rail lines leading to it, or any of the other Nazi death camps, preferring instead to focus all resources on the broader military effort.
Between 1.1 million and 1.5 million people were murdered at the infamous camp in Poland.
Bush twice had tears in his eyes during an hour-long tour of the museum, said Yad Vashem's chairman, Avner Shalev, who guided Bush through the exhibits.
Upon viewing an aerial shot of Auschwitz, taken during the war by U.S. forces, Bush called the ruling not to bomb it "complex." He then called over Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to discuss President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's decision, clearly pondering the options before rendering an opinion of his own, Shalev told the Associated Press.
"We should have bombed it," Bush said, according to Shalev.
Tom Segev, a leading Israeli scholar of the Holocaust, said the Bush comment, which appeared spontaneous, marked the first time an American president had made this acknowledgment.
"It is clear now that the U.S. knew a lot about it," he said. "It's possible that bombing at least the railway to the camps may have saved the lives of the Jews of Hungary. They were the very last ones who were sent to Auschwitz at a time when everybody knew what was going on."
Bush, making the most extensive Mideast trip of his presidency, was accompanied on his tour of the museum by a small party that included Rice, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Israeli President Shimon Peres.
At the compound, overlooking a forest on Jerusalem's outskirts, Bush visited a memorial to the 1.5 million Jewish children killed in the Holocaust, featuring six candles reflected 1.5 million times in a hall of mirrors.
At the site's Hall of Remembrance, he heard a cantor chant a Jewish prayer for the dead. There, Bush, wearing a yarmulke, placed a red-white-and-blue wreath on a stone slab that covers ashes of Holocaust victims taken from six extermination camps. He also lit a torch memorializing the victims.
"I was most impressed that people in the face of horror and evil would not forsake their God. In the face of unspeakable crimes against humanity, brave souls — young and old — stood strong for what they believe," Bush said.
"I wish as many people as possible would come to this place. It is a sobering reminder that evil exists, and a call that when evil exists we must resist it," he said.
The memorial was closed to the public and under heavy guard Friday, with armed soldiers standing on top of some of the site's monuments and a police helicopter and surveillance blimp hovering in the air overhead.
It was Bush's second visit to the Holocaust memorial, a regular stop on the visits of foreign dignitaries. His first was in 1998, as governor of Texas. The last sitting U.S. president to visit was Bill Clinton in 1994.
In the memorial's visitors' book, the president wrote simply, "God bless Israel, George Bush."
Shalev then presented Bush with illustrations of the Bible drawn by the Jewish artist Carol Deutsch, who perished in the Holocaust.
Deutsch created the works while in hiding from the Nazis in Belgium. He was informed upon, and died in 1944 in the Buchenwald camp. After the war, his daughter Ingrid discovered that the Nazis had confiscated their furniture and valuables but had left behind a single item: a meticulously crafted wooden box adorned with a Star of David and a seven-branched menorah, containing a collection of 99 of the artist's illustrations of biblical scenes.
The originals are on display at Yad Vashem. The memorial recently decided to produce a special series of 500 replicas, the first of which was presented to Bush.
Debbie Deutsch-Berman, a Yad Vashem employee whose grandfather was Deutsch's brother, said she was proud that Bush would be given her relative's artwork.
"These are not just his paintings, they are his legacy, and the fact that they survived shows that as much as our enemies tried to destroy the ideas that these paintings embody, they failed," she said.
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / The Nat Geo Documentary on the Dog Brothers: Fight Club
on: January 11, 2008, 11:53:29 AM
I've decided to establish a thread dedicated to National Geographic's "Fight Club" documentary on the Dog Brothers. Duplicating the info already posted on the thread "Spike TV etc"
This link is for Eastern Time (ET in the link)http://channel.nationalgeographic.com/channel/ET/daily/20080123.html
This link is for Pacific Time (PT in the link)http://channel.nationalgeographic.com/channel/PT/daily/20080123.html
Wednesday January 23 6 pm & 9 pm PST (9 pm & 12 am EST)
Saturday January 26 7pm and 10pm PST (10 pm and 1 am EST)
Monday January 28 10am PST (1 pm EST)
Wednesday January 30 2 pm (5 pm EST)
A few words on the name "Fight Club".
Frankly, I spoke against the “Fight Club” name of the piece when it was first proposed. To me it not only resonated of the Brad Pitt movie of that night—an interesting movie no doubt, but possessing a , , , vibration that might interfere with viewer’s “empty cup” towards the “Dog Brothers Experience”. For me the name itself apart from the associations that come with the movie, ran the risk of triggering viewer assumptions about us being of thuggish values.
On the other hand, Nat Geo wanted something that would not only fit on the spine of a DVD box, but could provide an easy handle that would “bring people in” and thought my suggestions such as “Tao of the Dog- Higher Consciousness through Harder Contact” to be both “too heady” and too long to fit in program listings and unlikely to communicate to viewers what the hell the program was about-- reasonable points all!
The point about "bringing people in" I think is key because what is really important is the substance of the show that people see once they tune in.
Returning to the subject at hand, Nat Geo tells me it will be establishing a blog to help build buzz for the show. To help I would like to ask any and everyone who participated in the documentary itself, who fought in that Gathering, who fought in any Dog Brother Gathering, anyone who considers themselves part of the extended Dog Brothers tribe, to post here in this thread about what it all means to you, to share stories and so forth. Dog Tom's post in the August 2008 Gathering thread http://dogbrothers.com/phpBB2/index.php?topic=1484.0
would be a good example of the sort of thing we are looking for.
The Adventure continues!!!
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Jefferson: War and Commerce
on: January 11, 2008, 10:11:25 AM
"War is not the best engine for us to resort to; nature has given
us one in our commerce, which if properly managed, will be a
better instrument for obliging the interested nations of Europe
to treat us with justice."
-- Thomas Jefferson (letter to Thomas Pickney, 29 May 1797)
Reference: The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Ford, ed., vol. 8
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Islam in Europe
on: January 10, 2008, 11:30:51 PM
Head banker leaves job over Muslim gaffe
By OUT-LAW.COM → More by this author
Published Tuesday 8th January 2008 10:22 GMT
Find out how your peers are dealing with Virtualization
A senior banking industry figure has left his job after making a joke about Muslims which reportedly stunned colleagues and was the subject of complaints. Marc Howells of Barclaycard Europe has left his post.
Howells was discussing quarterly figures with staff when he is reported as saying: "The results were like Muslims – some were good, some were Shi'ite".
The remark was reported to senior management and a complaint was made. It is understood that Howells has left in what has been called 'redundancy under compromise'. He was the head of Barclaycard in Europe.
Barclaycard will not comment directly on Howells and his leaving of the company, but company sources told the Daily Telegraph newspaper: "Once word got round and a complaint was made he was toast. Part of the deal was that the circumstances of his departure must never be disclosed. But there was no chance of that once his Shi'ite joke started doing the rounds."
"We have nothing to add on this particular case," said a Barclaycard statement. "Everybody who works here gets guidance of what is right and what is wrong. We have a robust approach to equality and diversity and do not tolerate discrimination."
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ
on: January 10, 2008, 08:56:14 AM
IMHO the Wall Street Journal, especially its editorial page, is an extraordinary newspaper.
The Wall Street Journal has a long tradition of vigorous and independent editorial commentary. As early as 1902 Charles Dow wrote a column called "Review & Outlook," and that title runs today over our editorials in editions on three continents. In the boom of the 1920s, the paper was distinguished by the reporting and commentary of its proprietor, C.W. Barron. In the years after World War II, Bernard Kilgore was the publishing genius who forged the Journal into a national and now international institution. (See "Barney Kilgore Built His Dream.") But it was for editorial writing that his Journal won its first two Pulitzer Prizes, to William Henry Grimes in 1947 and Vermont Royster in 1953. In 1951 Mr. Grimes famously spelled out The Journal's approach to reporting and editorializing in "A Newspaper's Philosophy."
Looking back over this history, what's surprising is not the change of views but their constancy. (See "Journal Editorials and the Common Man.") They are united by the mantra "free markets and free people," the principles, if you will, marked in the watershed year of 1776 by Thomas Jefferson's Declaration of Independence and Adam Smith's "Wealth of Nations." So over the past century and into the next, the Journal stands for free trade and sound money; against confiscatory taxation and the ukases of kings and other collectivists; and for individual autonomy against dictators, bullies and even the tempers of momentary majorities. If these principles sound unexceptionable in theory, applying them to current issues is often unfashionable and controversial.
Even regular readers often inquire about how our articles and views manage to appear five days a week, or how many people write the editorials? This is not as simple a question as it seems. When we counted the other day, the full-time budgeted staff of the editorial page numbered 43. This staff is responsible for the editorial and op-ed pages of The Wall Street Journal, The Wall Street Journal Asia, The Wall Street Journal Europe, the daily Leisure & Arts pages of the domestic Journal and the critical reviews and Taste page for the Weekend Journal, and OpinionJournal.com with its substantial body of original content.
At last count, about 22 of the 43 staff members have written at least one editorial over the last year. But there are many other things to do. Ten are involved in producing the pages (i.e., formatting the electronic images that fill printing plates or computer screens), clerical and business-management tasks. Six are principally involved in arts and cultural reviewing, which on this newspaper are recognized as an opinion function. Eight are mainly involved in the two international editions, both writing editorials and editing feature articles, and two devote most of their time to producing the OpinionJournal.com Web site features.
In New York and Washington, a core group of 12 people is principally involved in writing editorials or our proprietary columns. Another four are principally involved in editing features from outside contributors and letters to the editor. Of course, many editorials and articles are used in more than one edition, often with appropriate customization. And some writers or editors may be doing editorials one day, cultural reviews the next and feature articles the third. Out of this maelstrom, three sets of editorial and op-ed pages across the world get filled every morning. Our tradition has long been to avoid set-piece meetings but to gather come-who-wants informally. This tradition is now giving way to e-mail exchanges, and we've adopted one formal meeting a week for more free-ranging discussion.
But coordination of policy positions is not as difficult as an outsider might think, for we all share a similar world view. The most important coordinators--Editorial Page Editor Paul Gigot and Deputy Editors Daniel Henninger and Melanie Kirkpatrick--have worked together for decades. They are guided by the tradition of free people and free markets set out by Charles Dow and elaborated by a long string of editors.
A word is due here about journalistic philosophy, as opposed to political philosophy. The Journal editorial pages are obviously in themselves a substantial journalistic enterprise. But they are dwarfed by the Journal news department: more than 600 reporters on the global news staff and another 900-plus on Dow Jones Newswires. Following the American newspaper practice, the heads of News and Editorial report independently to the publisher, Gordon Crovitz.
We expect our editorial writers to do their own reporting, developing their own sources and seeking news from their own perspective and insights. It may sometimes happen that news sources get calls from both news and editorial departments. Sometimes the dispatches of news and editorial seem to disagree, primarily in reflecting different sets of news sources. While this can be confusing, we do not see that the reader is the loser.
We believe that the ultimate function of the editorial pages is the same as the rest of the newspaper, to inform. But in opinion journalism we have the additional purpose of making an argument for a point of view. We often take sides on the major issues of politics and society, with a goal of moving policies or events in what we think is the best direction for the country and world. We recognize that others may disagree but see little value in equivocation. In stating our own views forcefully, we hope to raise and sharpen the level of debate and knowledge. And we hope that our editorials reflect not merely the passing whim of passing editors, but a body of thought shaped by a century of tradition.
DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / Re: Cuba
on: January 10, 2008, 08:20:30 AM
Cuba's Transition Begins
By BRIAN LATELL
January 7, 2008; Page A12
Without a hint of irony, Fidel Castro asserted twice last month in columns in Cuba's Granma newspaper, that he is not one "to cling to power." The truth is that few world leaders in modern times have ruled as long as he has. On New Year's Day he began the 50th year of his dictatorship.
But now, at the age of 81, handicapped and incapable of providing coherent leadership, the end of his historic reign is imminent. He has not been seen in public for more than 17 months after ceding authority "provisionally" to his brother Raúl, Cuba's defense minister.
During his incapacitation there have been no reports of Communist Party officials seeking his counsel, carrying out his directives, or even taking initiatives in his name. When pressed to comment on Fidel's condition and role in the leadership, Cuban officials lately have been saying mainly that he continues to inspire them and provide ideas.
So it seems all but certain that, voluntarily or not, he'll vacate the Cuban presidency early this year, though he may symbolically hold onto some new, wholly honorific title.
The transition at the top will probably set in motion cascading reassignments of civilian and military officials. Raúl Castro will call the shots, but mostly from behind the scenes. With his own bases of support in the armed forces that he has run since 1959, the security services he has controlled since 1989, and the Communist Party he manages, he has the power and legitimacy to preside over the succession. He has been the designated heir since January 1959. And at the age of 76, with many years of hard drinking under his belt, he is probably viewed by most in the leadership as a transitional figure, better to be courted than challenged.
Raúl's style guarantees that Cuba will be governed differently. He'll rule more collegially than his brother, consulting trusted subordinates and delegating more. During the interregnum he has worked with officials of different generations and pedigrees, even promoting one long-time archrival to create a united front after his brother's initial withdrawal.
On his watch, Raúl has broken some previously sacred crockery as well. He has admitted that Cuba's many problems are systemic. In his disarmingly accurate view, it is not the American embargo or "imperialism" that are the cause of problems on the island, as his brother always insisted, but rather the regime's own mistakes and mindsets. He has called on Cubans, especially the youth, to "debate fearlessly" and help devise solutions for the failures. Candid discussions at the grassroots level have proliferated.
Yet like his brother, Raúl has no intention of opening Cuba to free political speech or participation. While the number of Cubans willing to voice their discontent publicly is on the increase, so too is the brutality of government reprisals against would-be leaders of the dissident movement. By acknowledging state failures, Raúl is playing with fire, and if the lid is going to be kept on, those challenging the regime have to pay a price. As to his own future, in the leadership realignments he plans, he will probably move up one rank and assume command of the Communist Party as first secretary.
In an address last July dedicated primarily to massive failures in agriculture, Raúl called for "structural and conceptual" change. Given his past sympathetic references to the laws of supply and demand, his advocacy of liberalizing economic reforms in the 1990s, and the many for-profit enterprises his military officers have been encouraged to run, he probably plans to introduce market incentives in the countryside. That might prove the first step toward adopting something akin to the Chinese or Vietnamese economic development models.
It has been Raúl's preference since the earliest days of his partnership with Fidel to work inconspicuously in the background. As they have been doing since Fidel's confinement, others will represent Cuba abroad and preside at holiday events. Someone who is not named Castro will likely become Cuba's next president. There has never been a "third man" in the running for leadership. But legitimizing the longer-term succession is surely now one of Raúl's highest priorities. Politburo member and Vice President Carlos Lage is the leading candidate. A medical doctor 20 years younger than Raúl, Mr. Lage is widely considered an advocate of economic reform.
After nearly a half century of Fidel's suffocating control, the transition will be daunting. His successors are inheriting a bankrupt and broken system, a profoundly disgruntled populace, and acute economic problems. The worst of these are the dysfunctional public transportation and agricultural sectors, a housing shortage, decrepit infrastructure, unemployment and the widening gap in living standards between Cubans with access to hard currency and the more numerous poor who must subsist on worthless pesos.
And there is Hugo Chávez. Unlike Fidel, Raúl has no personal rapport with the mercurial Venezuelan president, and surely no desire to be subordinated to another narcissistic potentate just as he is finally close to escaping his brother's grip. But Cuba has become highly dependent economically on Venezuela. The value of the Chávez dole, mostly oil, reached between $3 billion and $4 billion last year, approaching the amounts once provided by the Soviet Union. Raúl would be loath to provoke the Venezuelan. Without his support, the Cuban economy would soon plunge into deep recession.
There is no way to know how skillfully Raúl Castro will lead and deal with inevitable crises once his brother is gone. He clearly wants to begin rectifying economic problems but knows that, for some time at least, he cannot broadly repudiate his brother's legacy. A powerful backlash could come from fidelista hard-liners in the leadership -- and perhaps from Mr. Chávez. In the end, however, it is the gamble Raúl will have to take.
Mr. Latell served as national intelligence officer for Latin America from 1990-1994 and is author of "After Fidel," (Palgrave Macmillan, 2005).
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Hamilton: good govt will be popular
on: January 10, 2008, 07:57:59 AM
"I will venture to assert that no combination of designing men
under heaven will be capable of making a government unpopular
which is in its principles a wise and good one, and vigorous in
-- Alexander Hamilton (speech to the New York Ratifying Convention,
Reference: The Works of Alexander Hamilton, Henry Cabot Lodge,
ed., II, 29.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Defining Diversity Down
on: January 09, 2008, 05:41:16 PM
Defining Diversity Down
A proposal to make it easier to get into California colleges.
Wednesday, January 9, 2008 12:01 a.m. EST
The world gets more competitive every day, so why would California's education elites want to dumb down their public university admissions standards? The answer is to serve the modern liberal piety known as "diversity" while potentially thwarting the will of the voters.
The University of California Board of Admissions is proposing to lower to 2.8 from 3.0 the minimum grade point average for admission to a UC school. That 3.0 GPA standard has been in place for 40 years. Students would also no longer be required to take the SAT exams that test for knowledge of specific subjects, such as history and science.
UC Board of Admissions Chairman Mark Rashid says that, under this new system of "comprehensive review," the schools "can make a better and more fair determination of academic merit by looking at all the students' achievements." And it is true that test scores and grades do not take full account of the special talents of certain students. But the current system already leaves slots for students with specific skills, so if you think this change is about admitting more linebackers or piccolo players, you don't understand modern academic politics.
The plan would grant admissions officers more discretion to evade the ban on race and gender preferences imposed by California voters. Those limits became law when voters approved Proposition 209 in 1996, and state officials have been looking for ways around them ever since. "This appears to be a blatant attempt to subvert the law," says Ward Connerly, a former member of the University of California Board of Regents, who led the drive for 209. "Subjective admissions standards allow schools to substitute race and diversity for academic achievement."
One loser here would be the principle of merit-based college admissions. That principle has served the state well over the decades, helping to make some of its universities among the world's finest. Since 209, Asian-American students have done especially well, with students of Asian ethnicity at UCLA nearly doubling to 42% from 22%. Immigrants and the children of immigrants now outnumber native-born whites in most UC schools, so being a member of an ethnic minority is clearly not an inherent admissions handicap. Ironically, objective testing criteria were first introduced in many university systems, including California's, precisely to weed out discrimination favoring children of affluent alumni ahead of higher performing students.
The other big losers would be the overall level of achievement demanded in California public elementary and high schools. A recent study by the left-leaning Institute for Democracy, Education and Access at UCLA, the "California Educational Opportunity Report 2007," finds that "California lags behind most other states in providing fundamental learning conditions as well as in student outcomes." In 2005 California ranked 48th among states in the percentage of high-school kids who attend college. Only Mississippi and Arizona rated worse.
The UCLA study documents that the educational achievement gap between black and Latino children and whites and Asians is increasing in California at a troubling pace. Graduation rates are falling fastest for blacks and Latinos, as many of them are stuck in the state's worst public schools. The way to close that gap is by introducing more accountability and choice to raise achievement standards--admittedly hard work, especially because it means taking on the teachers unions.
Instead, the UC Board of Admissions proposal sounds like a declaration of academic surrender. It's one more depressing signal that liberal elites have all but given up on poor black and Hispanic kids. Because they don't think closing the achievement gap is possible, their alternative is to reduce standards for everyone. Diversity so trumps merit in the hierarchy of modern liberal values that they're willing to dumb down the entire university system to guarantee what they consider a proper mix of skin tones on campus.
A decade ago, California voters spoke clearly that they prefer admissions standards rooted in the American tradition of achievement. In the months ahead, the UC Board of Regents will have to decide which principle to endorse, and their choice will tell us a great deal about the future path of American society.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Privacy
on: January 09, 2008, 04:55:35 PM
By MIGUEL HELFT
Published: December 11, 2007
OAKLAND, Calif., Dec. 10 - Will privacy sell?
Skip to next paragraph
Blogrunner: Reactions From Around the Web
Ask.com is betting it will. The fourth-largest search engine company will
begin a service today called AskEraser, which allows users to make their
searches more private.
Ask.com and other major search engines like Google, Yahoo and Microsoft
typically keep track of search terms typed by users and link them to a
computer's Internet address, and sometimes to the user. However, when
AskEraser is turned on, Ask.com discards all that information, the company
Ask, a unit of IAC/InterActiveCorp based in Oakland, hopes that the privacy
protection will differentiate it from more prominent search engines like
Google. The service will be conspicuously displayed on Ask.com's main search
page, as well as on the pages of the company's specialized services for
finding videos, images, news and blogs. Unlike typical online privacy
controls that can be difficult for average users to find or modify, people
will be able to turn AskEraser on or off with a single click.
"It works like a light switch," said Doug Leeds, senior vice president for
product management at Ask.com. Mr. Leeds said the service would be a selling
point with consumers who were particularly alert about protecting their
"I think that it is a step forward," said Ari Schwartz, deputy director of
the Center for Democracy and Technology, about AskEraser. "It is the first
time that a large company is giving individuals choices that are so
But underscoring how difficult it is to completely erase one's digital
footprints, the information typed by users of AskEraser into Ask.com will
not disappear completely. Ask.com relies on Google to deliver many of the
ads that appear next to its search results. Under an agreement between the
two companies, Ask.com will continue to pass query information on to Google.
Mr. Leeds acknowledged that AskEraser cannot promise complete anonymity, but
said it would greatly increase privacy protections for users who want them,
as Google is contractually constrained in what it can do with that
information. A Google spokesman said the company uses the information to
place relevant ads and to fight certain online scams.
Some privacy experts doubt that concerns about privacy are significant
enough to turn a feature like AskEraser into a major selling point for
Ask.com. The search engine accounted for 4.7 percent of all searches
conducted in the United States in October, according to comScore, which
ranks Internet traffic. By comparison, Google accounted for 58.5 percent,
Yahoo for 22.9 percent and Microsoft for 9.7 percent.
"My gut tells me that basically it is not going to be a competitive
advantage," said Larry Ponemon, chairman and founder of the Ponemon
Institute, an independent research company "I think people will look at it
and see it as a cool thing, and they may use it. But I don't think it will
be a market differentiator."
Mr. Ponemon said many surveys showed that while about three in four
Americans said they were concerned about privacy, their concern was not
sufficient to make them change their behavior toward sharing personal
information. About 8 percent of Americans were concerned enough about
privacy to routinely take steps to protect it, the surveys showed.
"Privacy only becomes important to the average consumer when something blows
up," Mr. Ponemon said.
Of course, something has already blown up. Last year, AOL released the
queries conducted by more than 650,000 Americans over three months to foster
academic research. While the queries where associated only with a number,
rather than a computer's address, reporters for The New York Times and
others were quickly able to identify some of the people who had done the
queries. The queries released by AOL included searches for deeply private
things like "depression and medical leave" and "fear that spouse
The incident heightened concerns about the risks posed by the systematic
collection of growing amounts of data about people's online activities. In
response, search companies have sought to reassure consumers that they are
serious about privacy.
While companies say they need to keep records of search strings to improve
the quality of search results and fight online scams, they have put limits
on the time they retain user data.
Google and Microsoft make search logs largely anonymous or discard them
after 18 months. Yahoo does the same after 13 months.
In recent months, privacy has emerged as an increasingly important issue
affecting major Internet companies. Several consumer advocacy groups,
legislators and competitors, for instance, have expressed concerns about the
privacy implications of the proposed $3.1 billion merger between Google and
the ad serving company DoubleClick, which is being reviewed by regulators in
the United States and Europe.
Last month, the Federal Trade Commission held a forum to discuss concerns
over online ads that appear based on a user's Web visits. And just last
week, the popular social networking site Facebook suffered an embarrassing
setback when it was forced to rein in an advertising plan that would have
informed users of their friends' buying activities on the Web. After more
than 50,000 of its members objected, the company apologized and said it
would allow users to turn off the feature.
In some cases, companies have argued that they are required to keep records
of search queries for some time to comply with laws in various countries.
"Those arguments are seriously undermined when their competitors erase data
immediately," said Chris Hoofnagle, a senior lawyer at the Samuelson Law,
Technology & Public Policy Clinic at the University of California, Berkeley.
Mr. Hoofnagle and other privacy advocates said they hoped AskEraser would
pressure Google and others to offer a similar feature. A Google spokesman
said the company takes privacy seriously but is not currently developing a
service to immediately discard search queries.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Madison: RKBA
on: January 09, 2008, 04:54:26 PM
This is why we were supposed to have militias, instead of a standing army.
The armed populace was supposed to be the final check in our system of
checks and balances:
The federal and State governments are in fact but different agents and
trustees of the people . . the adversaries of the Constitution seem to have
lost sight of the people altogether in their reasonings on this subject; and
to have viewed these different establishments not only as mutual rivals and
enemies, but as uncontrolled by any common superior in their efforts to
usurp the authorities of each other. These gentlemen must here be reminded
of their error. They must be told that the ultimate authority, wherever the
derivative may be found, resides in the people alone . .
James Madison Federalist 46. According to Tench Coxe, another prominent
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / CCW Self-Defense in Memphis, TN
on: January 09, 2008, 04:51:40 PM
With more people carrying guns, self-defense killings on increase
By Christopher Conley
Saturday, January 5, 2008
The number of justifiable homicides in Memphis jumped from 11 in 2006 to 32 in 2007.
No one is sure why, but one man has a theory.
"The thugs have started running into people who can protect themselves," said Tom Givens, owner and instructor at the firearms training school RangeMaster, 2611 S. Mendenhall in Memphis.
Police detectives and prosecutors don't think it's that simple, and they acknowledge the spike could be a one-time occurrence.
"It's hard to put your finger on it," said police Lt. Joseph Scott. "There are more handgun carry permits, there is more education, but you can't say that's the reason."
More people are getting carry permits and more people know their rights. As many as 35,000 people in Shelby County have carry permits, which means they have had some training on the laws governing self-defense.
The education, Givens says, is "trickling down" to friends and family members.
There were 19 fewer criminal homicides in 2007 compared to 2006. There were fewer gang killings as well, which are less likely to be viewed as justified, and there were fewer beating deaths, which, again, are rarely justifiable.
But there were more deadly shootings by law enforcement officers last year -- four by Memphis police, including one by an officer assigned to a federal fugitive task force. There was also one by a Shelby County sheriff's deputy and one by a University of Tennessee officer. All were found to be what internal affairs investigators term "good shoots."
Tennessee law gives citizens the right to defend themselves if they have a reasonable and imminent fear of harm from a carjacker, rapist, burglar or other violent assailant. They can also employ deadly force to protect another person.
And while a diminishing number of states require citizens to try to avoid a confrontation before using deadly force, Tennessee does not have such a "retreat law."
When someone claims self-defense, it is the burden of the prosecutors to refute that claim. Tie goes to the shooter.
"The state has to prove it was not justified. ... We have the burden of proof," said Asst. Dist. Atty. Tom Henderson, a member of the review team that determines whether killings are justified.
Even if the shooting is found to be justified, the shooter often suffers trauma. Even if the shooter is a police officer.
Henderson has seen one trend: "The more the public is afraid of crime, the less concerned they are with criminals being shot." But he can't say that has affected the totals for justifiable homicides.
When someone claims self-defense, detectives often have to dig to determine what happened.
They look at the forensic evidence to see if it matches up with the shooter's story. What does the gunshot look like? Is it at the right angle, the right distance? Did anyone see a gun?
Recently, a killing that looked like a case of a citizen defending himself and his girlfriend from a burglar had an odd twist.
Investigators said Antionita Clay, 31, called boyfriend Christopher Jones and told him someone had broken into her home and might still be there.
Jones went to Clay's Camelot Lane apartment and confronted Asa Marmon, 22, who had a stun gun. When Marmon lunged at Jones, Jones shot him.
Clay filed a burglary report and denied knowing Marmon, but investigators quickly learned that Clay and Marmon were involved sexually.
Clay told police she knew Jones had a handgun and she wanted Jones to scare Marmon.
Jones told police he thought he was confronting a burglar or rapist based on what Clay told him. Prosecutors decided Jones was justified in killing Marmon, but they still charged Clay on Dec. 28 with reckless homicide.
- Chris Conley: 529-2595
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: Crimes using knives
on: January 09, 2008, 03:57:14 PM
Man stabs self with knives in pants
Man accused of stealing hunting knives hidden in waistband trips, stabs self
The Associated Press
updated 6:23 p.m. ET, Tues., Jan. 8, 2008
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. - A man who hid hunting knives in his pants to try to steal them from a western Michigan store tripped while fleeing and stabbed himself in the abdomen, police say.
The suspect was hospitalized after Monday night's attempted theft from a Meijer Inc. superstore in Grand Rapids and is expected to face a misdemeanor shoplifting charge, police say.
The wounds did not appear to be life-threatening, The Grand Rapids Press reported.
The man had put about $300 worth of hunting knives in his waistband, police told WZZM-TV. Police say he tried to leave the store, but Meijer employees confronted him and a scuffle followed.
The man then fell and was stabbed by the knives he had hidden in his clothing, police said. They said it happened about 5:40 p.m.
"The man was taken to the hospital," said Meijer spokesman Frank Giuliano. "We are cooperating with the investigation by police."
Police said the suspect has a record of retail fraud.
"I saw a man laying down on the mat by the carts, a knife by him with blood on the full blade of the knife," shopper Heather Dodd told WOOD-TV. "It was not a dull kitchen knife or a sharp butcher's knife, it was somewhere in between.
"Someone was holding him down so I just walked around him, grabbed my cart, made sure everything was OK and got out of the way."
© 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/22560281/?gt1=10755