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Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Sisters for Situational Ethics
on: September 13, 2008, 09:00:19 AM
Wow, the NRO piece isn't "temperate" but the 2 Rachel posted are? The double standards being flung about where Palin is concerned demonstrate just how sunk in situational ethics most Democrats are.
The main reason I long ago abandoned my left leaning ways was the expectation that you have to march in ideological lockstep with all fellow travelers lest you be cast out as an apostate. I'd do something silly like point out how high Stalin had stacked corpses, say there are biological difference between women and men, point out recycling isn't economically sustainable, or otherwise tinkle on a PC shibboleth and would get shrieked at and shunned. Histrionics and peer pressure do not an argument make so I migrated toward political circles that had less use for them.
As that may be, the lockstep expectation works pretty good when it comes time to nominate a candidate: the various covens convene, declare which candidate best connotes the orthodoxies du jour, the assembled masses unite behind the anointed one, and then join battle against the evil republicans. Alas, this process excludes the bitter church goers and gun owners of fly over country by design, and when winning requires communication with the bitter masses it's discovered that anyone capable of doing so has long since been browbeaten into submission or excommunicated outright. Another election gets lost and stolen election teeth gnashing proceeds apace.
Bottom line, the arguments posted above will only sway those who have drunk the kool-aid, but look like a situational rehash to those your side of the aisle need to convince.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Canons & Broadsides
on: September 12, 2008, 10:34:13 AM
Feminist Army Aims Its Canons at Palin
Because womanhood is a state of mind.
By Jonah Goldberg
Whether or not Sarah Palin helps John McCain win the election, her greatest work may already be behind her. She’s exposed the feminist con job.
Don’t take my word for it. Feminists have been screaming like stuck pigs 24/7 since Palin was announced as McCain’s running mate. (Are pig metaphors completely verboten now?)
Feminist author Cintra Wilson writes in Salon (a house organ of the angry left) that the notion of Palin as vice president is “akin to ideological brain rape.” Presumably just before the nurse upped the dosage on her medication, Wilson continued, “Sarah Palin and her virtual burqa have me and my friends retching into our handbags. She’s such a power-mad, backwater beauty-pageant casualty, it’s easy to write her off and make fun of her. But in reality I feel as horrified as a ghetto Jew watching the rise of National Socialism.”
And that’s one of the nicer things she had to say. Really.
On Tuesday, Salon ran one article calling Palin a dominatrix (“a whip-wielding mistress”) and another labeling her a sexually repressed fundamentalist no different from the Muslim fanatics and terrorists of Hamas. Make up your minds, folks. Is she a seductress or a sex-a-phobe?
But this any-weapon-near-to-hand approach is an obvious sign of how scared the Palin-o-phobes are.
Gloria Steinem, the grand mufti of feminism, issued a fatwa anathematizing Palin. A National Organization for Women spokeswoman proclaimed Palin more of a man than a woman. Wendy Doniger, a feminist academic at the University of Chicago, writes of Palin in Newsweek: “Her greatest hypocrisy is in her pretense that she is a woman.”
It’s funny. The left has been whining about having their patriotism questioned for so long it feels like they started griping in the Mesozoic era. Feminists have argued for decades that womanhood is an existential and metaphysical state of enlightenment. But they have no problem questioning whether women they hate are really women at all.
Since we know from basic science that Palin is a woman — she’s had five kids, for starters — it’s clear that these ideological thugs aren’t talking about actual, you know, facts. They’re doing what people of totalitarian mind-sets always do: bully heretics, demonize enemies, whip the troops into line.
The academic feminist left has scared the dickens out of mainstream men and women for so long, the liberal establishment is terrified to contradict feminists’ nigh-upon-theological conviction that female authenticity is measured by one’s blind loyalty to left-wing talking points. This is a version of the Marxist doctrine of “false consciousness,” which holds that you aren’t an authentic member of the proletariat unless you agree with Marxism.
It works like this: If you don’t agree with feminist scolds, you’re not a real woman, even if you’re a very feminine working mom. But even if you’re an actual man — never mind a childless feminist who looks like a Bulgarian weightlifter in drag — you’re a “real woman” solely because you nod your head like a windup clapping monkey every time you read the latest editorial in Ms. Recall how they christened Bill Clinton the “first female president,” too.
But here’s the fun part. Feminists are hooked on their own Kool-Aid; they actually believe the stuff they say. The shrill, angry women you see on MSNBC claiming to speak for all women actually think they do. But they don’t. They speak for a few left-leaning women in faculty lounges, editorial boardrooms and that’s about it.
Mainstream liberals have been in captivity for so long, eagerly accepting their ritual beatings, that they’ve gotten Stockholm Syndrome and convinced themselves that Gloria Steinem and Co. are the authentic voices of women everywhere.
The reality is that there is an actual reality out there, and it doesn’t look anything like what feminists see beyond the rims of their ideological blinders.
For instance, immediately after the Palin announcement, the priestesses not only ruled it “sexist” for McCain to pick a woman but also said it was strategically dumb — “insulting to women!” — to think any real women would switch support from the beatified Obama to that old devil McCain.
Well, according to a Washington Post/ABC News poll, there’s been a 20-point swing among white women from Obama-Biden to McCain-Palin. Did this “ideological brain rape” suddenly induce an epidemic of false consciousness?
Of course not. Nor are women mindlessly switching loyalties because there’s a woman on the ticket. What the Palin pick has demonstrated, however, is that the Feminist-Industrial Complex is a fraud. Disagreeing with self-described feminists doesn’t mean you’re anti-woman. Usually it just means you’re sensible.
And for that lesson alone, we should all be grateful.
— Jonah Goldberg is the author of Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning.
— Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online.
National Review Online - http://article.nationalreview.com/?q=MjE4ZTcxZjQ5YjBiYzFlMGJlMzk5YjNjOTkyZWQyMTg=
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Pseudo Messianism Wears Thin
on: September 12, 2008, 07:43:50 AM
Obama’s Descent to Earth
It’s hard to maintain a celestial conceit for four years — even if you believe it yourself.
By Charles Krauthammer
The Democrats are in a panic. In a presidential race that is impossible to lose, they are behind. Obama devotees are frantically giving advice. Tom Friedman tells him to “start slamming down some phones.” Camille Paglia suggests, “be boring!”
Meanwhile, a posse of Democratic lawyers, mainstream reporters, lefty bloggers, and various other Obamaphiles are scouring the vast tundra of Alaska for something, anything, to bring down Sarah Palin: her daughter’s pregnancy, her ex-brother-in-law problem, her $60 per diem, and now her religion. (CNN reports — news flash! — that she apparently has never spoken in tongues.) Not since Henry II asked if no one would rid him of his turbulent priest, have so many so urgently volunteered for duty.
But Palin is not just a problem for Obama. She is also a symptom of what ails him. Before Palin, Obama was the ultimate celebrity candidate. For no presidential nominee in living memory had the gap between adulation and achievement been so great. Which is why McCain’s Paris Hilton ads struck such a nerve. Obama’s meteoric rise was based not on issues — there was not a dime’s worth of difference between him and Hillary on issues — but on narrative, on eloquence, on charisma.
The unease at the Denver convention, the feeling of buyer’s remorse, was the Democrats’ realization that the arc of Obama’s celebrity had peaked — and had now entered a period of its steepest decline. That Palin could so instantly steal the celebrity spotlight is a reflection of that decline.
It was inevitable. Obama had managed to stay aloft for four full years. But no one can levitate forever.
Five speeches map Obama’s trajectory.
Obama burst into celebrityhood with his brilliant and moving 2004 Democratic convention speech (#1). It turned an obscure state senator into a national figure and legitimate presidential candidate.
His next and highest moment (#2) was the night of his Iowa caucus victory when he gave an equally stirring speech of the highest tones that dazzled a national audience just tuning in.
The problem is that Obama began believing in his own magical powers — the chants, the swoons, the “we are the ones” self-infatuation. Like Ronald Reagan, he was leading a movement, but one entirely driven by personality. Reagan’s revolution was rooted in concrete political ideas (supply-side economics, welfare-state deregulation, national strength) that transcended one man. For Obama’s movement, the man is the transcendence.
Which gave the Obama campaign a cult-like tinge. With every primary and every repetition of the high-flown, self-referential rhetoric, the campaign’s insubstantiality became clear. By the time it was repeated yet again on the night of the last primary (#3), the tropes were tired and flat. To top himself, Obama had to reach. Hence his triumphal declaration that history would note that night, his victory, his ascension, as “the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.”
Clang. But Obama heard only the cheers of the invited crowd. Not yet seeing how the pseudo-messianism was wearing thin, he did Berlin (#4) and finally jumped the shark. That grandiloquent proclamation of universalist puffery popped the bubble. The grandiosity had become bizarre.
From there it was but a short step to Paris Hilton. Finally, the Obama people understood. Which is why the next data point (#5) is so different. Obama’s Denver acceptance speech was deliberately pedestrian, State-of-the-Unionish, programmatic, and only briefly (that lovely coda recalling the March on Washington) lyrical.
The problem, however, was that Obama had announced the Invesco Field setting for the speech during the pre-Berlin flush of hubris. They were stuck with the Greek columns, the circus atmosphere, the rock-star fireworks farewell — as opposed to the warmer, traditional, balloon-filled convention-hall hug-a-thon. The incongruity between text and context was apparent. Obama was trying to make himself ordinary — and serious — but could hardly remember how.
One star fades, another is born.
The very next morning, John McCain picks Sarah Palin and a new celebrity is launched. And in the celebrity game, novelty is trump. With her narrative, her persona, her charisma carrying the McCain campaign to places it has never been — and by all logic has no right to be — she’s pulling an Obama.
But her job is easier. She only has to remain airborne for seven more weeks. Obama maintained altitude for an astonishing four years. In politics, as in all games, however, it’s the finish that counts.
— Charles Krauthammer is a nationally syndicated columnisthttp://article.nationalreview.com/print/?q=N2JiYTc5OWEyYmRlZjY0ZTI1NjQ5OTU4ODgzMmM2YmE=
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Sauds Walk Out on OPEC?
on: September 11, 2008, 08:16:48 PM
I haven't encountered a second source yet, but if this is so it's big news with more backstory to emerge.
The death of OPEC
Posted Sep 11 2008, 07:01 AM by Douglas McIntyre Rating:
Saudi Arabia walked out on OPEC yesterday, saying it would not honor the cartel's production cut. It was tired of rants from Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and the well-dressed oil minister from Iran.
As the world's largest crude exporter, the kingdom in the desert took its ball and went home.
As the Saudis left the building, the message was shockingly clear. “Saudi Arabia will meet the market’s demand,” a senior OPEC delegate told the New York Times. “We will see what the market requires and we will not leave a customer without oil."
OPEC will still have lavish meetings and a nifty headquarters in Vienna, Austria, but the Saudis have made certain the the organization has lost its teeth. Even though the cartel argued that the sudden drop in crude was due to "oversupply", OPEC's most powerful member knows that the drop may only be temporary. Cold weather later this year could put pressure on prices. So could a decision by Russia that it wants to "punish" the U.S. and European Union for a time. That political battle is only at its beginning.
The downward pressure on oil got a second hand. Brazil has confirmed another huge oil deposit to add to one it discovered off-shore earlier this year. The first field uncovered by Petrobras has the promise of being one of the largest in the world. The breadth of that deposit has now expanded.
OPEC needs the Saudis to have any credibility in terms of pricing, supply, and the ongoing success of its bully pulpit. By failing to keep its most critical member, it forfeits its leverage.
OPEC has made no announcement about any possibility of dissolving, but the process is already over.
Top Stocks blogger Douglas A. McIntyre is an editor at 24/7 Wall St.http://blogs.moneycentral.msn.com/topstocks/archive/2008/09/11/the-death-of-opec.aspx
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Congress readies to Butchers a Hog
on: September 11, 2008, 11:02:20 AM
Are You Ready for a Bailout
Matthew Swibel, 09.10.08, 6:00 AM ET
Call it a Washington pile-on.
A normal taxpayer might think that since the Treasury Department has just committed the government to spending an unknown (but possibly very large) amount taking over Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, Congress would be in a tightfisted mood.
But that's not the way some Washington lobbyists and politicians think. Instead, they're viewing the bailout as an invitation to push through other taxpayer-financed bailouts and aid in the few weeks that Congress will work before members break to campaign full time for the November elections.
"We're talking about the next New Deal," enthuses William McNary, president of USAction, a national coalition of grass-roots community organizers. He wants more money from Congress for everything from food stamps to inspecting and fixing bridges and roads.
U.S. automakers General Motors, Ford Motor and Chrysler, for their part, are pushing Congress to appropriate by the end of this month $3.75 billion of $25 billion in loans authorized last December to help the money-bleeding companies overhaul their plants so they can build more fuel-efficient vehicles.
They want another $25 billion in low-cost loans authorized for when they've run through the first $25 billion. Pete Davis, president of Davis Capital Investment Ideas, predicts the government's budget wonks will estimate that the added $25 billion loan package will cost taxpayers $900 million.
Hey, that's less than $1 billion. Plus, it will play well politically in Michigan, where more than 260,000 manufacturing jobs have been lost since 2000, and in Detroit, where one in every 10 workers is without a job.
Meanwhile, Democrats in Congress are itching to pass a second economic stimulus package to benefit American consumers before they make their way to the ballot box--except that it won't go directly into Americans' bank accounts this time around, as it did with the tax rebates in round one.
Reports say the measure, not written yet, will total $50 billion in the form of grants to help state and local governments with infrastructure projects, Medicaid costs and local law enforcement, as well as relief for Gulf Coast residents struggling with flood costs and those in the Northeast and upper Midwest straining to pay winter heating bills.
Politics plays a part in this of course. "I got a four-letter word: j-o-b-s," said U.S. Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill. "That's the focus of the second stimulus. We want to own the issue that we are the party of a jobs agenda. We will take it up as soon as we are done with the energy bill."
But the demand for more infrastructure spending isn't coming from just Democrats. Desmond Lachmann, a resident fellow from the conservative American Enterprise Institute, has advocated it too.
Also with her hand out is Bush administration Transportation Secretary Mary Peters, who told Congress last week she wants it to inject $8 billion into the federal Highway Trust Fund. The trust's main source of funding is the flat, 18.4-cents-per-gallon gas tax. The rising price of gas has led Americans to drive tens of billions of miles less this year--meaning less money going into the trust fund.
All this is in addition to the $70 billion to $100 billion that Congress is expected to pass in supplemental funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Then, of course, there's the Fannie and Freddie rescue. The Congressional Budget Office estimates the bailout could cost taxpayers $25 billion in the long run. But rescuing the mortgage giants--which together have roughly $6 trillion in liabilities--might also cost zilch. Or, if the housing market worsens, the bill could be much bigger.
William Poole, former president of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, calculates that should Fannie's and Freddie's loan books suffer 5% losses, the bailout would cost the taxpayers about $300 billion. http://www.forbes.com/home/2008/09/09/bailouts-congress-automakers-biz-cz_ms_0910beltway.html
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Meth Freak's Mantra
on: September 10, 2008, 01:11:58 PM
"Lipstick on a pig is , , , sexist,"
One etymology I've heard is that the phrase was a '50's term coined to describe an esthetically unpleasing woman who dons a dress and makeup to poorly conceal that fact. IMO, McPalin are overplaying this hand; they should just stand back and let BHO stutter. Indeed, he's starting to come off like a meth freak reciting his mantra: "swift boating," "change," "diversion," "phony," ohhhhhhmmmm.
Think Mark Steyn has it right:
Pig in a poke [Mark Steyn]
I agree with Mark K that Governor Palin, who kills elk for breakfast, shouldn't be seen to complain Obama-like about how beastly and mean her opponents are. Years ago in Britain there was a dialogue-free commercial in which a cute chick looked into the camera and put on her lipstick while the soundtrack played some smooth sax instrumental of "Put On A Happy Face". That's what Sarah should do: Put on a happy face.
If you read Obama's books, you know that his preferred voice is a detached, slightly unknowable cool. He is, in that sense, like an iconic movie star running for president. But, two months out from the big vote, doing a gazillion appearances and interviews a day, you can't get by on just the detached cool, and whatever's underneath starts to show.
We already know that Obama is pretty terrible when he's off the prompter.
We also know that an amazing number of the media-Democrat elite openly loathe Sarah Palin, and everything about her from her alleged Eighties hair to her hillbilly fecundity. Oh, sure, if you press them, they'll talk about per diems and the bridge to nowhere for a bit, but they'd much rather trash her personally - reviling her as both an uptight fundamentalist and a whip-wielding dominatrix in the same publication on the same day. Given what's been expressed publicly by Maureen Dowd, Gloria Steinem et al, is it likely that in private the upper echelons of the Obama campaign are immune to the gleeful contempt for Palin expressed by almost all other prominent "liberals"?
And that's the issue. The problem is not whether Obama's sexist but whether he's disciplined enough to keep the public from glimpsing the less attractive elements of liberal-elite condescension. Where now the iconic cool of the snows of Iowa?
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Harpoons to India
on: September 09, 2008, 10:17:03 PM
Hmm, who has a navy India might want to fling some missiles at? Betcha folks in Moscow and Beijing are muttering under their breaths.
Pentagon notifies US Congress of missile sale to India
10 Sep 2008, 0403 hrs IST,AFP
WASHINGTON: The Pentagon said on Tuesday it has notified the US Congress of a possible sale to India of two dozen Harpoon air to ground anti-ship missiles.
Such a deal would be worth as much as 170 million dollars, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency said.
"India intends to use the Harpoon missiles to modernize its air force anti-surface warfare mission capabilities and improve its naval operational flexibility," the agency said in a statement.
Boeing would be the prime contractor.
The 84L Harpoon Block II missiles are designed primarily as satellite guided anti-ship missiles.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Michelle Rhee v. the Teacher's Union
on: September 09, 2008, 02:54:45 PM
September 09, 2008, 8:00 a.m.
Reforming D.C. schools, whatever the political consequences.
By Elise Viebeck
Every July, an elite group assembles in the mountain resort of Sun Valley, Idaho, for a private retreat. It’s like summer camp for the executive set, with golf, rafting, and fishing for seasoned attendees like Bill Gates, Rupert Murdoch, and Michael Bloomberg. Recreation is combined with more intellectual pursuits, however, including closed-door panels that survey economic, geopolitical, and cultural trends.
This past summer, there was a new face in the mix: Michelle Rhee, reform-chancellor-extraordinaire of the D.C. public-school system. And though she’s only headed into her second year on the job, Rhee says she felt at home among the Sun Valley crowd, populated not only by wealthy moguls, but also by some the most successful entrepreneurs in recent memory. “These are folks who really understand what it takes to run a high-functioning, high-performing organization,” Rhee told National Review Online. “And they were incredibly supportive, incredibly excited about what we’re doing here in D.C.”
Rhee’s results-oriented efficiency often evokes comparisons with elite corporate leaders. Yet for Rhee, the week of casual luxury in Sun Valley was an anomaly — a far cry from her daily grind in D.C., where she’s confined to a business suit, a rigorous schedule, and a flood of e-mail she answers herself. As the sixth school chief in ten years, she has taken up the burden of a district she says is a victim of “extremely failed bureaucracy.”
“Look at the fact that so few of our kids are performing at grade level; that we have a 70-point achievement gap between wealthy white students and poorer minority students; that of all ninth-graders in the district, only 9 percent graduate from college within five years,” she says. “These are our data points.”
She insists that her obligation is to D.C. public-school students — all 49,400 of them. That “do it for the children” rhetoric doesn’t fall flat coming from Rhee — she has two daughters who attend elementary school in the district. You read that right: elementary school. At 37, Rhee is the District’s first superintendent under the age of 50. This daughter of South-Korean immigrants is also the first Asian-American superintendent — and the first non-black superintendent in nearly 40 years.
Rhee assumed control of D.C.P.S. having earned a master’s degree in education policy from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. But her zeal for education reform she credits to the three years she spent teaching in an elementary school in Baltimore. She had joined Teach for America after graduating from Cornell University and was sent to a second-grade classroom at Harlem-Park Elementary, where she and a co-worker were able to raise their students’ failing scores to the 90th percentile.
The difference, she notes, was in the approach to teaching. “Teacher quality is the single factor that has the most influence on student performance, without a doubt,” she says. “I learned as a teacher that what second-graders can do depended on my expectations. If you have extraordinarily high expectations of kids, that they can meet them.”
Later, Rhee founded the New Teacher Project, a nonprofit that puts qualified teachers, sometimes recruited from industry, in underperforming schools throughout the country. Her insistence on teacher quality as has been the cornerstone of her reform agenda as chancellor. She is currently in the process of negotiating “the most radical teachers’ union contract in the country” — one that would introduce the option of merit pay for district teachers.
In discussing those contract negotiations, she emphasizes that two parties sign — so if the contract is flawed, the district can’t grumble without admitting partial blame. “A lot of things in collective bargaining agreements in urban school district do not serve children well. . . . Those provisions need to be aggressively reformed.”
Rhee has remained impervious to political interests while making tough choices on how best to administer the district’s resources, and (as you’d expect) a number of the decisions she’s made — school closures, for example, or the choice to fire non-union central-office workers — have proven controversial. Rhee has intrepidly crossed a number of such minefields in her brief tenure. That’s probably because Rhee is a rare breed in D.C., having been appointed without political experience or aspirations. She has said that this is a “one-time gig,” allowing her to pursue her reforms without worrying about the political ramifications.
Now, at the start of a new school year, Rhee’s hard-charging leadership has drawn predictable criticism from teachers’ unions as she plans another year of energetic reform. “I’m a very disillusioned Democrat,” she laughs, and continues earnestly. “The Democratic party must break ties with the teachers’ unions. There is no way that we will see radical reforms in urban school districts until that happens. In the last decade, the educational policy of the Republican party has been much, much stronger.”
“I am a big believer in school choice,” she explains. “I would never do anything to limit a parent’s ability to choose the school that is best for their child. But it’s also true that we at D.C.P.S. can be much, much more competitive.”
That competitiveness is the goal of a small group of reform-minded urban superintendents — including New York’s Joel Klein, Chicago’s Arne Duncan, and Atlanta’s Beverly Hall — who have dared to break with the Democratic party on key education policies. “We’re all Democrats, but we’re also all up on a hill saying ‘Do not roll back No Child Left Behind!’ Democrats’ soft ideas on accountability are not going to help the kids in the nation’s capital or in other urban areas. The Democratic party needs to get moving with policies that will actually help poor and minority kids.”
Rhee says that the political waters in heavily Democratic D.C. are navigable thanks to Mayor Adrian Fenty, who supports her “100-percent, 100 percent of the time.” Also a fresh presence in D.C. politics, Fenty pried D.C.P.S. from the grip of the educational bureaucracy by placing it under the jurisdiction of the mayor’s office, creating the possibility for a schools’ chancellorship that was a more dynamic and effective position.
Her esteem for Fenty is obvious. “He is truly unlike any politician I have ever met in my life,” she says. “He is willing to put all of his political capital on the line to ensure that the schools are successful. He doesn’t look at this from a political angle at all. Many things that I’ve done have resulted in a backlash against him, impacting his approval ratings — but he never, ever hesitates. Few superintendents in the country get the kind of support that I do.”
Looking forward, her agenda includes reforms that will involve the private sector in the management and funding of troubled schools; in fact, she’s already established a separate 501(c)3 to field philanthropic donations to the district. In this vein, her time in Sun Valley may eventually reap dividends for D.C.P.S: though she would not give details, Rhee says that many fellow conference attendees expressed an interest partnering with her to achieve real reform in D.C. schools.
“Our goal is very clear. We want to be the highest-performing urban school district in the country. We want to be the district of choice for the families in D.C., and we want to close the achievement gap between wealthy white students and their poor minority counterparts.”
In the meantime, Rhee seems to welcome the pressure, as she weighs the support of many D.C. residents, the criticism of her opponents, and the district’s students. “Feeling the means we’re doing the right thing.”
— Elise Viebeck, a Collegiate Network intern at National Review, is an editor emerita of the Claremont Independent at Claremont McKenna College.
National Review Online - http://article.nationalreview.com/?q=MzZmOWExMjM2ZTZhNTYwOWM1ZjQwMmI0ODNhYTA1Zjk=
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Hansen Excuses Eco-Terrorism
on: September 08, 2008, 09:31:07 AM
There is so much wrong with this picture I don't know where to start:
Published online 5 September 2008 | Nature | doi:10.1038/news.2008.1086
All fired up
American climate scientist James Hansen explains why he's testifying against coal.
James Hansen, the director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City, is well known for rattling his nation's political establishment. This week, the climate scientist was in London, UK, to testify on behalf of activists who defaced a coal-fired power station in Kent. Geoff Brumfiel caught up with Hansen at a London hotel to find out what has got him all hot and bothered.
Why did you come to testify?
Nothing could be more central to the problem we face with global climate change. If you look at the size of the oil, gas and coal reservoirs you'll see that the oil and gas have enough CO2 to bring us up to a dangerous level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
There's a potential to solve that problem if we phase out coal. If we were to have a moratorium on coal-fired power plants within the next few years, and then phase out the existing ones between 2010 and 2030, then CO2 would peak at something between 400 and 425 parts per million. That leaves a difficult problem, but one that you can solve.
Do you think that leaders like UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown have lived up to their promises on climate change?
It depends on whether they will have a moratorium on coal-fired power. I think that the greenest leaders, like German chancellor Angela Merkel and Prime Minister Brown, are saying the right words. But if you look at their actions, emissions are continuing to increase. All of these countries and the United States are planning to build more coal-fired power plants. And if you build more coal-fired power plants, then it is not possible to achieve the goals that they say they are committed to. It's a really simple argument and yet they won't face up to it.
So do you think that these activists were justified in doing what they did?
The activists drawing attention to the issue seems to me as justified. You should try to do things through the democratic process, but we really are getting to an emergency situation. We can't continue to build more coal-fired power plants that do not capture CO2 if we hope to solve the problem.
We need to get energy from somewhere. So if we're not getting it from coal, then where?
The first thing we should do is focus on energy efficiency. The fact that utilities make more money by selling more energy is a big problem. We have to change those rules. Then there is renewable energy — in order to be able to fully exploit renewable energy, we need better electric grids. So those should be the first things, but I think that we also need to look at next-generation nuclear power.
Some have said you are hypocritical for flying all the way from the US to the UK just to testify. How do you respond?
I like to travel as little as possible, not only because it uses less CO2 but because I prefer to do science. But sometimes there are things which are sufficiently important that I think it makes sense.
What do you think the roll of the scientist should be in the broader societal debate on climate change?
I think it would be irresponsible not to speak out. There is a clear gap between what is understood by the relevant scientific community and what is known by the public, and we have to try and close that gap. If we don't do something in the very near future, we're going to create a situation for our children and grandchildren that is out of control.http://www.nature.com/news/2008/080905/full/news.2008.1086.html
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Jews and their DNA, 2
on: September 07, 2008, 12:19:26 PM
Traditional accounts of Jewish history, it would appear, are part true and part myth. Despite their dispersion in space and time, the Jews have continued to be that most curious (and in the eyes of many, preposterous) of combinations: at once a people or nation, fellow communicants in the world’s oldest monotheistic religion, and a family or tribe belonged to only by those born or married into it. They could not have remained such an amalgam had they not clung to strict rules of membership and admission.
Yet these rules were not observed everywhere or always. There were periods and places in which a blind eye was turned to them, most often when violations were not remediable. Had a rabbi arrived in Yemen or Bukhara soon after the founding of its Jewish community, he might have been able to insist on the halakhic conversion of its handful of Jews. But this would no longer have been practicable after several generations had gone by, especially since Yemenite and Bukharan Jews would have forgotten by then that their maternal progenitors were not halakhically Jewish and would have reacted with resentment to such a demand. Similarly, Khazars identifying themselves as Levites were accepted as such without inquiries into their past. It is an old rabbinic adage that one does not inflict demands on the public that the public is incapable of meeting. Better a tolerated myth than an intolerable truth.
Such, at any rate, was the attitude of a pre-modern age in which all Jews accepted rabbinic authority, so that all rabbis felt obliged to find solutions for all Jews. Since the mid-19th century, however, this has progressively ceased to be true. Rabbinic authority itself has fractured and dissipated. Most Jews no longer want rabbis to be responsible for them, and most rabbis no longer feel responsible for most Jews. The consequence of this, as reflected in the “Who Is A Jew?” debate that has racked world Jewry for the past several decades, is that the Jewish tribe is breaking up. In the United States, Orthodox rabbis do not recognize the Jewishness of converts to Reform or Conservative Judaism, Conservative rabbis do not recognize the Jewishness of children born to Jewish fathers but not to Jewish mothers, and Reform rabbis routinely preside over the marriages of Jewish men to non-Jewish women even though they may be creating future generations that they alone will consider Jewish.
In Israel, where non-Orthodox marriages and conversions cannot be performed, the problem is even more severe, for Jewishness in a Jewish state is a secular legal category as well. Israel’s Law of Return, for example, guarantees the right to immigrate and acquire Israeli citizenship to every Jew and his immediate family, including the first two generations of his descendants. Yet the more contentious the question of who is a Jew becomes, the more this law divides Jews rather than unites them.
Meanwhile, already living in Israel are hundreds of thousands of halakhically non-Jewish immigrants, most from the former Soviet Union, who entered the country under the Law of Return because they were either married to Jews or had a Jewish father or grandfather. As matters stand now, they and their children cannot have a Jewish wedding in Israel. Many of them, probably most, would like recognition as Jews, and not a few would be willing to convert in order to obtain it. But Israel’s Orthodox rabbinate has made the conversion procedure so difficult, in part by hinging it on the promise to live an Orthodox life, that most prospective converts have been deterred. Recently, perhaps for the first time in Jewish history, a conversion was retroactively annulled by the rabbinate on the grounds that such a promise was not kept.
For its part, the rabbinate insists that it has been forced to adopt more rigorous standards by the secular nature of Israeli society, which precludes the kind of “honor system” for determining Jewish identity that was operative in Jewish life in the past. Even Israelis whose Jewishness might appear to be beyond question now find themselves questioned about it.
To take a small personal example: my Israeli-born daughter, whose Israeli ID card lists her as “Jewish” and who is getting married in Israel this month, has been required to provide a letter from an Orthodox rabbi in the United States, where I and my wife were born and raised, attesting to the Orthodox ceremony in which we were wed in New York. The reasoning behind this is simple. Had we been married in Israel, this would have been considered proof of our daughter’s Jewishness, since our own Jewishness would already have been rabbinically certified. But if we were married in a non-Orthodox ceremony in the United States, we would have to bring further proof of our Jewishness since no non-Orthodox rabbi could be trusted to have vetted us properly.
And what could such further proof be? If we could find no Orthodox rabbi to speak for us, it would indeed be difficult to supply. My daughter would then have had the option of either arduously trying to assemble convincing evidence or of getting married outside of Israel (in which case her marriage would be recognized by Israeli secular law). Yet if she were to choose the second of these courses, as an increasing number of young Israelis are doing nowadays in their disinclination to deal with the rabbinate, she would in effect be choosing it for her children, too, since by the time they reached marriageable age, proof of their Jewishness would be even more difficult. In this manner, a growing public is being created in Israel that is losing its Jewish status in the eyes of rabbinic law.
The rabbinate’s position is understandable. Once, when there was no secular advantage in being Jewish, there was no reason to suspect anyone’s declaration of Jewishness; now, such avowals can no longer be taken at face value. And understandable, too, is the position of Israeli secularists who are indifferent to the rabbinate’s attitude or even welcome it.
For such secular Israelis, the idea of biological Jewishness is an embarrassing anachronism. Secular Zionism, after all, set out to normalize Jewish existence. Surely, they reason, its goal should therefore be to make Israelis a people whose identity is based, like that of other peoples, on territory, language, and culture rather than on shared blood ties. If Orthodoxy wishes to hasten this process, so much the better. Perhaps one day Israel will be become the “state of all its citizens” that democratic values require it to be, a country of Hebrew-speaking Jews, Muslims, and Christians, all equal before the law. Although the great majority of secular Israelis do not yet subscribe to this point of view, more and more will come to it if things continue on their present course.
As far as much of the rest of the world is concerned, biological Jewishness has always been an embarrassing anachronism—at least ever since the time of the Roman Empire and early Christianity. For the most part, Jews have nevertheless managed to go their own unembarrassed way. The genetic record shows that they have on the whole succeeded. But this is only, the same record shows, because they have made a point in the past of not embarrassing one another. There is a lot of DNA in the Jewish people that came in, as it were, through the back door. Unless ways are found to keep this door open, the walls of the house may have to be torn down.
In 2003, a year after the publication of my book Across the Sabbath River, I became involved in a historical genetics-research project myself. I did so at the invitation of two geneticists whose names appear on many of the scientific papers mentioned in this article: Professor Karl Skorecki and Dr. Doron Behar of Rambam Hospital and the Rappaport Research Institute in Haifa. They had read my book and wanted to know how I felt about taking part in a DNA study of the Mizo and Kuki people of northeast India, the purpose of which would be to determine whether there was evidence for a “Jewish”—that is, a Middle Eastern—origin for any of them.
Both men had qualms about the matter. Unlike other genetic investigations they had participated in, this one might have practical consequences. The B’nei Menashe believe that they descend from one of the “ten lost tribes” of Israel that was driven into exile by the Assyrians in the 8th century b.c.e. This belief, which first surfaced in Mizoram and Manipur in the 1950’s, is basic to their identity. Because of it, they have chosen to live Jewish lives and to convert once they have managed to reach Israel.
In my book I had come to the unexpected conclusion that there was a kernel of historical truth in their claim, although I did not think that more than a tiny fraction of Mizos and Kukis might have distant Israelite ancestors. What would happen, Skorecki and Behar asked, when our study was published? Whatever its findings, they would be certain to disappoint the B’nei Menashe and perhaps even to undermine their sense of Jewishness. And what if these findings were seized on by those in the Israeli government who wished to shut the country’s gates to the B’nei Menashe? Did we have the moral right to take such risks?
I answered that I thought we did. (This is the only basis I can imagine for David Goldstein’s strange statement in Jacob’s Legacy that I “agitated for the Mizos to undergo DNA tests in order to vindicate their claims.”) Israel’s gates had already been shut—and, apart from briefly swinging open again in 2006-7, have remained so—and even if one did not agree that the scientific truth was worth pursuing at all costs, someone else would pursue it in this case if we didn’t. It was best for the work to be done by an Israeli team that was sensitive to the issues involved.
In the end, we went ahead. Three rounds of sampling, based on the theories in my book and involving approximately 500 people, were carried out in India in 2003, 2006, and 2007. Although Goldstein writes (on what grounds, I again don’t know) that “most” Mizos and Kukis “resisted” genetic testing, I am aware of only one case in which someone who was asked to be sampled refused to cooperate. The difficulties were of an entirely different nature, such as a suitcase full of samples that was lost for several days in Tashkent, or the fact that at a critical juncture one of our samplers was murdered for reasons having nothing to do with our study.
The final lab results are now being tabulated. They will not, so it seems, be earth-shaking. Nearly all of the samples have turned out to have typically Tibeto-Burmese DNA. Although a very few look Middle Eastern, there may be no way of absolutely ruling out other possible sources for them. After all our effort, the results are inconclusive. And in any case, as historical geneticists are fond of saying, “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” There are many reasons why an originally small input of DNA might not turn up in a study: its bearers may have failed to reproduce their lineage, or the sample may be too small, or a crucial population group may be missing from it.
It has not been my impression, however, that the B’nei Menashe are waiting for the results with bated breath. In the five years that have passed since the study was commenced, scarcely any of them has contacted me to ask about it, and there has been, as far as I know, little discussion of it in their community. There appears to be no reason to think that, when eventually published, it will have much of an impact on them or their fate.
This comes as a relief. Despite my assurances to Skorecki and Behar, I too had my doubts. But the B’nei Menashe are more grounded in their own beliefs than we had feared. They will stick to them regardless of what two highly professional geneticists and one sadly amateur historian say in some scientific journal.
This, I think, is as it should be. There may be a few people who can subsist on an austere regimen of all truth and no myth, and there are all too many people who live on a flabby diet of all myth and no truth. But some indeterminably proportioned combination of the two dispositions is what most of us require for our health. This is as true of societies as it is of individuals.
I myself have long suspected, starting far before I knew anything of historical genetics or Arthur Koestler’s The Thirteenth Tribe, that I have Khazar blood in me. One of my father’s sisters had distinctly slanty eyes. In one of her daughters, these are even more pronounced. The daughter’s daughter has features that could come straight from the steppes of Asia.
I rather like the idea of Khazar forefathers. Far from deconstructing my Jewishness, it romanticizes it even more. The thought that my distant ancestors on the plains of Russia had the intelligence and folly to choose Judaism for their religion; that they prayed to a Jewish God as they rode into battle; that (as the historians tell us) they held back the Muslim invasion of Europe from the east and helped keep the West safe for Dante and Shakespeare. Does it make me feel that, as Arab propaganda would have it, I don’t belong in Palestine? Why should it? We Khazars threw in our lot with the Jews and the Jews embraced us. Since then, we’ve also been Jews.
And who is we? Each of us has had many thousands of forebears, and each of those had many thousands in turn. The traces of millions of human beings are in our minds, our hair, our eyes and noses, our inner organs, the shape of our toes, our trillions of cells. By pure chance, two of these trillions are passed on unchanged and can be given labels like R-M117. Instructive as they are, we needn’t make too much of them.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Hillel Halkin is a columnist for the New York Sun and a long-time contributor to COMMENTARY. His “How Not to Repair the World” appeared in our July-August issue.
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1 Yale, 176 pp., $26.00. 2 Grand Central, 432 pp., $27.99. 3 An assimilationist Jew and at one time of his life an idiosyncratic Zionist, Koestler was attracted to this theory because it demonstrated, so he thought, that the Jews of the Diaspora were a “pseudo-nation” held together by “a system of traditional beliefs based on racial and historical premises which turn out to be illusory.” Either, therefore, they should emigrate to Israel or they should cease to exist. Ironically, however, Koestler’s book was soon enlisted by Arab propaganda in its war against Israel and Zionism. What claim could the Jews have to Palestine, Arab spokesmen asked, if their original ancestors came from southern Russia? 4 Constituting, like priests, about four percent of the world’s Jews, Levites can easily be identified because, again like priests, they are assigned minor tasks in Jewish ritual to this day, so that every religiously observant Levite knows he is one.https://www.commentarymagazine.com/viewarticle.cfm/jews-and-their-dna-12496?page=2
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Jews and their DNA,1
on: September 07, 2008, 12:18:44 PM
Jews and Their DNA
Hillel Halkin From issue: September 2008
Eight years ago, I published an article in these pages called “Wandering Jews—and Their Genes” (September 2000). At the time I was working on a book about a Tibeto-Burmese ethnic group in the northeast Indian states of Mizoram and Manipur, many of whose members believe that they descend from the biblical tribe of Manasseh, and about a group of Judaizers among them known as the B’nei Menashe, over a thousand of whom live today in Israel as converts to Judaism.
This led me to an interest in Jewish historical genetics, then a new discipline. Historical genetics itself was still a pioneering field, launched by the discovery that two sources of DNA in the human body, the Y chromosome that determines male sex and the mitochondria that aid cell metabolism, never change (barring rare mutations) in their transmission from fathers to sons and from mothers to children of both sexes. This made it possible to trace paternal and maternal lines of descent far into the past and to learn about the movements and interactions of human populations that originated hundreds, thousands, and even tens of thousands of years ago.
In my article, I observed that preliminary studies in Jewish genetics had both “shored up” and “undermined” some conventional ideas about Jewish history. On the one hand, they had indicated that there was a high degree of Y-chromosome similarity among Jewish males from all over the world, coupled with a much lower degree when the comparison was made between Jews and non-Jews in the same region. The one part of the globe in which Jews correlated as highly with many non-Jews as they did with other Jews was the Middle East—precisely what one might expect of a people that claimed to have originated in Palestine (or in Ur of the Chaldees, if you go back to Abraham) and to have spread from it.
Other studies established that the Y chromosomes of kohanim—male Jews said to descend from the priestly caste whose supposed progenitor was the biblical Aaron—had their own unique DNA signature, labeled the Cohen Modal Haplotype. Not only did half of all kohanim, who comprise about four percent of the world’s Jewish population, share this DNA configuration, but minor mutations in it pointed to a common ancestor who lived a few centuries before or after 1000 B.C.E.—that is, close to the period in which Aaron and his brother Moses are situated by biblical chronology.
Such evidence seemed to confirm traditional notions of Jewish origins. It suggested that the Jews, while certainly not a “race,” were indeed, despite the skepticism of many modern historians, the highly endogamous people they had always considered themselves to be, one that had admixed with outsiders relatively little during long centuries of wandering in the Diaspora. It also strengthened the reliability of the Bible as a historical source. Modern critics who contended that the Bible was a late document that imagined a largely non-existent past had always singled out the priestly codes of the Pentateuch as a prime illustration of this. But if the priesthood was really an institution going back to early Israelite history, rather than the backward projection in time of later generations, revisionist Bible criticism itself needed to be revised.
Yet there was contrary evidence, too. Early studies of mitochondrial DNA reported that Jewish women, unlike Jewish men, did not correlate well with one another globally. Furthermore, the greatest demographic mystery of Jewish history—that of the origins of the Ashkenazi population of Central and Eastern Europe—had only appeared to deepen.
The standard Jewish version of these origins was that Ashkenazi Jewry had first crystallized in the late first millennium of the Christian era in the French-German borderland along the Rhine; that it had reached the Rhineland from southern France, to which it had come in earlier centuries either directly from Palestine or via Italy and Spain; and that it had then migrated eastward and northward into Central and Eastern Europe.Even before the advent of historical genetics, however, this account had been challenged. There were linguists who argued that East European Yiddish, the Germanic language of most Ashkenazi Jews, had more in common with the dialects of southern and southeastern Germany than with those of the Rhineland in the west. There were demographers who contended that the Jewish population of the Rhineland prior to the appearance of East European Jewry, which would eventually become the world’s largest Jewish community, was too small to account for the latter’s rapid growth.
The early genetic findings appeared to support the challengers. If the Rhineland theory was correct, Ashkenazi DNA should have had greater affinities with non-Jewish DNA from northern France and western Germany than with non-Jewish DNA from elsewhere; no one denied, after all, that wherever and whenever Jews had lived, some Gentiles must have joined them or begotten children with them. Yet there was no sign of this. Where, then, had Ashkenazi Jewry come from?
It was a mixed picture. Since then, eight years have gone by, historical genetics has greatly refined its methods and taxonomy, and several major new studies in Jewish genetic history have been published. What, viewed from their perspective, does Jewish history look like now?
Two new books address this question. One, David B. Goldstein’s Jacob’s Legacy: A Genetic View of Jewish History, is the work of a scientist who teaches at Duke University and has been personally involved in much Jewish genetic research.1 The other, Jon Entine’s Abraham’s Children: Race, Identity, and the DNA of the Chosen People, is by a layman and journalist.2 Yet since Entine has done a serious and responsible job of reporting, and Goldstein has written a non-technical survey for the general reader, the difference between them is one more of style than of substance. They agree on most major points, starting with the puzzling disparity in the distribution patterns of Jewish Y-chromosome and mitochondrial DNA.
The fact of this disparity is now solidly established. There is no doubt that statistically (and only statistically: it is important to keep in mind that any randomly chosen Jewish individual may prove an exception to the rule), Jewish males with antecedents in such widely separated places as Yemen, Georgia, and Bukhara in Central Asia are far more likely to share similar Y-chromosome DNA with one another than with Yemenite, Georgian, or Bukharan non-Jews. Jewish females from the same backgrounds, on the other hand, yield opposite results: their mitochondrial DNA has markedly less resemblance to that of Jewish women from elsewhere than it does to that of non-Jewish women in the countries their families hailed from. The main difference between them and these Gentile women is that their mitochondrial DNA is less varied—that is, they descend from a small number of maternal ancestors. Geneticists call such a phenomenon, in which a sizable population has developed from a very small number of progenitors, a “founder” or “bottleneck” effect. (In “bottlenecks,” these few progenitors are survivors of larger groups that were drastically reduced by war, famine, plague, or other calamities.)
This calls for a new understanding of the spread of Jewish settlement in the Diaspora. Until now, it has been assumed that nearly all of the world’s Jewish communities began with the migration of cross-sections of older communities, which took their families, institutions, and practices with them and perpetuated their lives in new surroundings. Now, it would seem, as David Goldstein writes, that
[some] Jewish men . . . travel[ed] long distances to establish small Jewish communities [by themselves]. They would settle in new lands and, if unmarried, take local women for wives. The communities might [at a later date] have been augmented by additional male travelers from Jewish source populations. Once they were established, however, the barriers would go up against further input of new mitochondrial DNA, precisely because of female-defined ethnicity [i.e., the halakhic practice of determining Jewishness by the mother]; few [additional] females would be permitted to join.
Presumably, these adventurous bachelors setting out (perhaps on business ventures) for far lands could not persuade Jewish women to come with them, or else they traveled to their destinations with no intention of staying there. In the absence of rabbis to perform conversions, they married local women who, while consenting to live as Jews, were not halakhically Jewish. By halakhic standards, therefore, their descendants were not Jewish, either, even though their Jewishness was not challenged by the rabbinical authorities. Although such communities must, in their first generations, have known the truth about themselves, this does not appear to have bothered them or anyone else very much.
In a class by itself is the mitochondrial DNA of Ashkenazi women. It does not correlate closely with the DNA of non-Jewish women in Western, Central, or Eastern Europe and it has a large Middle Eastern component. Yet in their maternal lineage, Ashkenazim, too, exhibit a strong “founder effect.” Over forty percent of them, a 2005 study showed, descend from just four “founding mothers” having Middle-Eastern-profile mitochondrial DNA. Since Ashkenazi Y-chromosome DNA does not exhibit so dramatic a founder’s effect, one can assume that Ashkenazi Jewry, too, began with the migration of a preponderantly male group of Jews to new territories. Because these territories, however, were more contiguous with the old ones than were far-flung regions like Bukhara or Yemen, the men were more able to import wives from existing Jewish communities and less dependent on marrying local Gentiles.
But where did Ashkenazi Jewry, male and female alike, derive from if not from the Rhineland? One possibility that is more consistent with the linguistic data is that it entered southern Germany from northern Italy and pushed further north from there into the Slavic-speaking areas of Europe. Another is that Jews migrated to Slavic lands from the Byzantine Empire. These hypotheses, which are not mutually exclusive, can now claim a measure of scientific support, since the Y chromosomes of Ashkenazi Jews have more in common with those of Italians and Greeks than with those of West Europeans.
A more dramatic scenario, popularized by Arthur Koestler in his 1976 book The Thirteenth Tribe, has to do with the Khazars, a Turkish people living between the Black and Caspian Seas, whose royal house adopted Judaism (with what degree of rabbinical supervision, we have no way of knowing) in the 8th century c.e. A great deal is obscure in the history of the Khazar kingdom, which at its apogee ruled much of present-day Ukraine, and the degree of the Judaization of its population is uncertain. Yet Koestler and a small number of historians on whom he based himself were convinced that, following the destruction of this kingdom in the 11th century by its Slavic enemies, many of its Jews fled westward to form the nucleus of what was to become East European Jewry.3
The Khazar theory never had many backers in scholarly circles; there was little evidence to support it and good reasons to be dubious about it. Why, for instance, does medieval rabbinic literature almost never mention the Khazars? Why, if they spoke a Turkish language, did East European Jewry become Yiddish-speaking? “Like virtually every academic I have ever consulted on the subject,” David Goldstein writes, “I was initially quite dismissive of Koestler’s identification of the Khazars [with] Ashkenazi Jewry.” Yet, he continues, “I am no longer so sure. The Khazar connection seems no more farfetched than the spectacular continuity of the Cohen line.”
This is one of the few occasions on which Jon Entine disagrees with him. Abraham’s Children declares:
The studies of the Y-chromosome and [mitochondrial] DNA do not support the . . . notion that Jews are descended in any great numbers from the Khazars or some Slavic group, although it’s evident some Jews do have Khazarian blood. The Khazarian theory has been put to rest, or at least into perspective.
Who is right? Either could be, for the latest evidence is ambiguous. It consists of two studies. One, “Y-Chromosome Evidence for a Founder Effect in Ashkenazi Jews,” was published in 2004 in the European Journal of Human Genetics by a small team from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The other was the work of a larger, American-Israeli-British group to which Goldstein belonged; its report, “Multiple Origins of Ashkenazi Levites: Y-Chromosome Evidence for Both Near Eastern and European Ancestries,” appeared in the American Journal of Human Genetics in 2003. Both studies discuss a mutation, widely found in Poland, Lithuania, Belarus, and Ukraine, that occurs in a Y-chromosome classification known as Haplogroup R, at a DNA site labeled M117.
The Hebrew University study states:
Recent genetic studies . . . showed that Ashkenazi Jews are more closely related to other Jewish and Middle Eastern groups than to their host populations in Europe. However, Ashkenazim have an elevated frequency of R-M117, the dominant Y-chromosome haplogroup in Eastern Europeans, suggesting possible gene flow [into the Ashkenazi population]. In the present study of 495 Y chromosomes of Ashkenazim, 57 (11.5 percent) were found to belong to R-M117.
As for the American-Israeli-British study, it was designed to ascertain whether Levites, who functioned as priests’ assistants in the ancient Temple and are supposedly also descended from Aaron, have a worldwide genetic signature similar to or the same as the Cohen Modal Haplotype.4 The answer turned out to be negative, since the Y chromosomes of Levites from different geographical backgrounds proved to correlate no better with one another than they did with the Y chromosomes of non-Levitic Jews. And yet, rather astonishingly, Ashkenazi Levites, when taken separately, do have a “modal haplotype” of their own—and it is the same R-M117 mutation on which the Hebrew University study centered! Fifty-two percent of them have this mutation, which is rarely found in non-Ashkenazi Jews and has a clear non-Jewish provenance.
What is one to make of this finding? An 11.5-percent incidence of R-M117 among Ashkenazi Jews in general is easily explainable: the mutation could have entered the Jewish gene pool slowly, in small increments in every generation, during the thousand years of Ashkenazi Jewry’s existence. (This need not necessarily have been via conversion to Judaism and marriage to Jewish women. Pre- and extra-marital sexual relations, and even rape, widespread in times of anti-Jewish violence, were in all likelihood more common.) But the 52-percent rate among Levites is something else. Here we are dealing not with a gradual, long-term process (for no imaginable process could have produced such results), but with a one-time event of some sort.
Such an event could obviously not have been a sudden influx of Levites into the Jewish community from a Gentile society. Both of our studies, therefore, raise the possibility that the original R-M117 Levites were Khazarian Jews who migrated westward upon the fall of the Khazar kingdom. Of course, since all or most Khazarian Jews were converts (although some may have been Jews who came from elsewhere), few could have descended from Aaron. Yet it is quite possible that some became, or were designated, “honorary” Levites in the course of the Judaization of the Khazarian population. As the American-Israeli-British study observes, Jews traditionally held to “a lesser degree of stringency for the assumption of Levite status than for the assumption of Cohen status,” so that self-declared Khazarian Levites might have fathered lineages whose Levitic pedigree came to be accepted.
But if R-M117 did enter the East European Jewish gene pool via a lineage of Khazar Levites, how many Khazars can be assumed to have joined the Ashkenazi community? At this point, it becomes pure guesswork. Analyzing the data, the American-Israeli-British study concludes that the number of R-M117 Levites absorbed by Ashkenazi Jewry ranged from one to fifty individuals. But as much as we might like to do the rest of the arithmetic ourselves, we can’t. For one thing, we have no way of knowing what the percentage of Levites in the Khazarian Jewish population was. Nor do we know the percentage of Khazars possessing M117, which is found in 12 or 13 percent of Russian and Ukrainian males today. If these were also its proportions among the Khazars, there would have been seven non-M117 Khazars joining or founding Ashkenazi Jewry for every Khazar who had the mutation.
In sum, even if the R-M117 Levites are traceable to Khazaria, the total flow of Khazarians into the East European Jewish population could have been anywhere from a single person to many thousands. If it was the latter, the Khazar input was significant, as David Goldstein suspects it was; if the former, it was trivial, as Jon Entine believes. The last eight years of research in Jewish historical genetics have not left us any wiser in this respect.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Anti-Semitic Motifs in Arab Cartoons, 2
on: September 07, 2008, 11:09:56 AM
"Another well-known Egyptian cartoon portrays Sharon with horns and blood dripping from his mouth.19 A Jordanian cartoonist Rasmy shows a plumber repairing a number of taps. From the American tap comes oil, from the Turkish, water and from the Israeli blood."20
Kotek says that to the best of his knowledge, the blood theme is anti-Semitic, and not a general racist theme. No other people has been accused of drinking blood. The origins of this myth are in twelfth century Christian England, where the blood libel was invented.
"The eighth recurring anti-Semitic theme in Arab cartoons is the most extreme. The concept that the Jews not only murder, but preferably target children, is what the cartoonists try to convey through their imagery. This depicts the Palestinians primarily as children or babies. Thus, Arab and Muslim propagandists turn Palestinian children into the paradigm of the victim, despite the fact that most of their dead are adults."
Kotek observes: "The Palestinians do live a tragedy on a daily basis and have had over the last decade about 5,000 dead. Many Israelis have also been killed. During the same period of time, two million Sudanese have died; three million Africans around the big lakes; 200,000 Bosnians; 150,000 Algerians and 100,000 Chechenians. The media, however, concentrate on the Palestinians.
"A Palestinian caricature shows the Statue of Liberty lifting with her right arm a Palestinian child dripping blood. In her left hand, she protectively holds Barak.21 A Kuwaiti cartoon shows an old Jew wearing a kippa and carrying a gun, shafting a child into a burning oven to bake matzot. The reference is both to the Shoah - which now the Palestinian child is portrayed as undergoing - and ritual crime.22
"The official website of the Palestinian Authority's press service carries a caricature of Sharon with a blood-covered axe slaughtering a baby, or fetus, against a background of a butcher's hooks with children hanging from them, next to a sign saying 'Palestinian blood.' A large sign on the counter says 'Sale.'23
"In the Qatari journal Al Watan, Sharon is shown drinking from a cup on which is written 'blood from Palestinian children.' On the bottom of the cup it says 'Made in the U.S.A.'24 In Al Hayat al-Jadida, Sharon offers the bleeding head of a young Palestinian on a plate to George Bush.25 The earlier-mentioned cartoons of the Jew as a blood-thirsty vampire thus combine two anti-Semitic themes in one design."
Arabs want Peace, Israel does not
"The ninth anti-Semitic motif used is that Israel is a 'perfidious' country which does not want peace. The theme of 'the perfidious Jew' is an ancient one in Islamic anti-Semitism. Mohammed is said to have tried to make peace with the Jews at times, but, they allege, he was systematically betrayed, and he murdered them.
"Rasmy shows a Palestinian throwing his weapons on the floor saying: 'I give up my weapon to convince you.' An Israeli soldier from behind the wall kills him saying, 'That's how I believe you.'26 In a Syrian cartoon, an Israeli offers a ball to Arafat holding a dove. On the top is written 'The Oslo Accords.' The ball explodes, killing the Arab. The Israeli walks away strangling the dove."27
Apologies for Suicide Bombers and Terrorism
"The tenth motif concerns apologies for suicide bombers. I collected many cartoons calling for outright murder. In the hundreds of designs I analyzed on this theme I did not find a single one depicting the Israeli as a civilian. He is always a soldier or an ultra-orthodox Jew. He has no father, mother or child.
"A Jordanian cartoon by Rasmy shows a Palestinian with his face covered and dynamite on his body, saying to a Russian Jewish immigrant shown as an ultra-orthodox Jew: 'Come into my arms.'28 Another one by Emad Hajjaj shows a Palestinian mother raising her arms, holding up her children who are depicted as suicide bombers."29
Kotek concludes that these caricatures often express a new type of anti-Semitism. "They are frequently 'calls for murder.' To the cartoonists, death seems the only worthy punishment that 'the Zionist enemy' merits. As Pierre-André Taguieff notes in his book on the new Judeophobia,30 this Islamic-Jihadic version is explicitly genocidal. It defines its battle as a total elimination of the absolute enemy."
The Fascination of a Child
When asked how he became so interested in cartoons, Kotek says that when he was nine years old - shortly before the Six Day War - a book published by an Israeli scholar on anti-Semitic caricatures already fascinated him. "Some books you read when you are young, can influence your entire life.
"Belgium has always focused a great deal on cartoonists and their iconography. Living there, one's mind is more open to this art form. I even wrote an article on Hergé, Belgium's most important cartoonist, who was an anti-Semite.
"I was thus predisposed toward the caricature. It is a simple and convincing tool to demonstrate quickly the extremely serious developments taking place in the Arab world. Their themes are used in the Western world as well. The similarity of these cartoons with those of the Nazis is evident, which has already been demonstrated in an earlier book by Arieh Stav."31
In order to obtain the copyright for the caricatures, Kotek wrote to many cartoonists in the Arab world. As Belgium has an anti-Israeli image, especially in view of the law suit brought against Sharon, many of those queried automatically assumed that he was anti-Israeli. Quite a few gave him permission to use their cartoons without payment.
A Peace Camp Rightist
"In Europe, being an anti-racist makes one automatically a leftist. When you fight anti-Semitism however, you are seen as a right-winger - a supporter of the Likud and of Sharon. This is untrue, as I am a conscious Jew who belongs to the peace camp. I see myself as a friend of Israel, yet critical of some of its policies. But once you become aware of the enormous Arab hate and demonization of Israel you have to defend Israel. I am horrified by the impact of anti-Zionism combined with the great ignorance I often find among people about Israel.
"The cartoons in my book - representative of a much larger collection - show how old Christian myths of the diabolic Jew are resuscitated in the Arab world. Palestinian cartoonists often lay the emphasis on ritual murder of children. They then try to give this tenability by claiming that Israelis target Palestinian children."
Kotek says that these allegations have also permeated Western society as they resonate with the long-standing prejudices of the Christian world. He follows the French and Belgian media closely. "It occurs regularly that when French or Belgian radio reports a Palestinian being killed, they also tell his age. This is the only conflict in the world in which the age of the victim is mentioned.
"In the collective sub-conscious of many Christians, and now Arabs, anti-Semitic myths cannot be eradicated. They present the Jews as 'the Eternal Jew,' a warmonger and a danger for the world. This is no longer just an Arab concept. Many recent polls in the European Union confirm how strong these prejudices have permeated this continent."
Interview by Manfred Gerstenfeld
* * *
1. Joël et Dan Kotek, Au nom de l'antisionisme: L'image des Juifs et d'Israël dans la caricature depuis la seconde Intifada (Brussels: Éditions Complexe, 2003). [French]
2. Al-Hayat al-Jadida, 28 December 1999, Kotek, op. cit., p. 53.
3. Al-Hayat al-Jadida, 22 March 2000, Kotek, op. cit., p. 52.
4. Bernard Lewis, "Islam: What Went Wrong?" in The Atlantic Monthly, January 2002.
5. Al Akhbar, 3 October 2000, Kotek, op. cit., p. 60.
6. Al Goumhouriya, 24 April 1996, Kotek, op. cit., p. 62.
7. Teshreen, 15 April 1993, Kotek, op. cit., p. 63.
8. Daily Star, 3 April 2002, Kotek, op. cit., p. 63.
9. Daily Star, 23 October 2000, Kotek, op. cit., p. 64.
10. La Revue du Liban, 8 December 2001, Kotek, op. cit., p. 65.
11. Kotek, op. cit., p. 158.
13. Al Dustour, 3 February 2001, Kotek, op. cit., p. 66.
14. Kotek, op. cit.., p. 152.
, Kotek, op. cit., p. 69.
16. Kotek, op. cit.,p. 71.
17. Kotek, op. cit., p. 71
18. Al-Ahram, 21 April 2001, Kotek, op. cit., p. 76.
19. Al-Haqiqa, 5 May 2001, Kotek, op. cit., p. 79.
, Kotek, op. cit., p. 77.
21. Omaya, 28 October 2000, Kotek, op. cit., p. 91.
22. Al-Rai Al-Ram, 5 April 1988, Kotek, op. cit., p. 83.
23. Official website of Palestinian Authority, Kotek, op. cit., p. 82.
24. Al-Watan, 24 July 2002, Kotek, op. cit., p. 80.
25. Al Hayat al-Jadida, 6 October 2001, Kotek, op. cit., p. 84.
, 23 September, 2001, Kotek, op. cit., p. 94.
27. Al-Thawra, 1 October 1988, Kotek, op. cit., p. 94.
, 7 March 2001, Kotek, op. cit., p.96.
, 27 August 2004, Kotek, op. cit., p.95.
30. Pierre André Taguieff, La Nouvelle Judeophobie (Paris: Les Mille et une Nuits, 2002). [French]
31. Arieh Stav, Peace: The Arabian Caricature; A study of Anti- Semitic Imagery (Jerusalem: Gefen, 1999).
* * *
Dr. Joël Kotek was born in Gent in 1958. He studied history at the Free University of Brussels and has a doctorate in Political Science from the Institute for Political Studies (Sciences Po) in Paris. He teaches Political Science at the Free University of Brussels, specializing in the subject of European Integration. He is also director of Training at the Center for Contemporary Jewish Documentation in Paris.
The cartoons in this interview have been taken from Dr. Kotek's book. Other cartoons with English explanations from this book can be found in the booklet, "Fighting Anti-Semitism," published jointly by the JCPA and the office of the Minister for Diaspora and Jerusalem Affairs, Natan Sharansky. A Hebrew version of this booklet can be seen at: http://www.antisemitism.org.il/antisemheb.pdf
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Anti-Semitic Motifs in Arab Cartoons, 1
on: September 07, 2008, 11:08:15 AM
by Dr. Joel Kotek
Published June 2004
No. 21, 1 June 2004 / 12 Sivan 5764
We would also like to draw your attention to another article on anti-Semitic cartoons: Jew-Hatred in Contemporary Norwegian Caricatures by Erez Uriely
Major Anti-Semitic Motifs in Arab Cartoons
Interview with Joël Kotek
The main recurrent motif in Arab cartoons concerning Israel is "the devilish Jew." This image conveys the idea that Jews behave like Nazis, kill children and love blood. The similarity with themes promulgated by the Nazis is evident. Many Arab cartoons praise suicide bombing or call for murder. The collective image of the Jews thus projected lays the groundwork for a possible genocide.
A caricature may have as much influence on public opinion as an editorial.
Palestinian cartoonists often place emphasis on the anti-Semitic accusation of "ritual murder" of children. This is underscored by their claim that Israelis target Palestinian children. To dehumanize Jews, Arab cartoonists often depict them as malevolent creatures: spiders, vampires or octopuses.
Several Arab hate motifs also have permeated Western society as they resonate with the long-standing anti-Semitic prejudices of the Christian world.
"The collective image of the Jews created by Arab cartoons lays the groundwork for a possibility of genocide. My collection of Arab caricatures demonstrates this. One can argue about whether these genocidal ideas are conscious or subconscious. My view is that they are still at the subconscious stage."
Dr. Joël Kotek, a political scientist at the Free University of Brussels, searched the Internet daily for anti-Semitic cartoons in the Arab media for over two and a half years and found about 2,000. Even an initial superficial analysis revealed that the cartoons not only targeted Israel, but were aimed at all Jews. His subsequent research resulted in a book co-authored with his brother Dan Kotek. Published in French, its title translates as In the name of anti-Semitism: The image of the Jews and Israel in the caricature since the second Intifada.1
In a world where image plays a central role, the cartoon, Kotek stresses, has become a popular and efficient means of communication. A caricature may have as much influence on public opinion as an editorial.
The visual impact of these drawings is further strengthened by the fact that many Arab cartoonists are quite gifted illustrators.
Kotek says: "The main recurrent theme in these cartoons is 'the devilish Jew.' By extension, this image suggests that the Jewish religion must be diabolic, and the entire Jewish people evil. I even found a Greek Orthodox cartoonist of Lebanese origin, who conveys the message that the Jewish religion has caused the State of Israel to be so 'evil.' The cartoons convey the idea that Jews behave like Nazis, leading readers to conclude that the only logical solution is their elimination. As the Arab world is becoming increasingly convinced of these ideas, they have no inhibitions showing them on a multitude of websites."
Ten Major Themes
Several hundred Arab cartoons from Kotek's collection are categorized according to ten anti-Semitic themes in his book: "The first theme is based on the oldest anti-Semitic motif, demonization of the Jew. In the Islamic world the Jew's status - like that of Christians - is that of a dhimmi, a second-class citizen.
"Israel, an entire state of these 'inferior creatures,' has won military victories against the Arab world. By their logic, this was only possible, they believe, because Jews are 'satanic beings.' In the cartoons I collected, the Jew is depicted as inhuman and an enemy of humanity. This dehumanization is necessary to justify the hoped for elimination.
"On 28 December 1999 - well before the second Palestinian uprising - Al-Hayat al-Jadida, the official Palestinian Authority journal, published a cartoon expressing this core idea. It depicted an old man in a djellaba, symbolizing the twentieth century, taking leave of a young man wearing a tee-shirt symbolizing the twenty-first century. In between them stood a small Jew with a Star of David on his breast, above which an arrow pointed to him saying, 'the illness of the century.'2
"A few months later on 22 March 2000, the same journal ran another cartoon showing a large Pope talking to a small Jew with the skin, feet, and tail of an animal, and a big hooked nose, wearing a kippa. The Pope exclaimed 'Peace on Earth' while the Satanic-looking Jew calls out 'Colonies on Earth.'"3
A second central theme in the cartoons Kotek has collected is the Jew as a murderer of God. "This is originally a Christian motif. Bernard Lewis has shown how this theme had been appropriated by the Islamic world. This representation serves in efforts to obtain the sympathy of some Christians by adapting one of their central myths.
"Lewis said that the first manifestations of anti-Semitism in the Middle East originated among Christian minorities there who were inspired by Europeans. These ideas initially had only a limited impact. The poison spread after 1933, when Nazi Germany promoted hatred of the Jews in the Arab world. Thereafter, the Palestinian conflict enabled the diffusion of an anti-Semitic interpretation of history.4
"In the Muslim worldview one cannot kill God, but can wound Him. Their discourse says that not only did the Jews betray Mohammed, but before that, they had turned Jesus - a prophet, according to Islam - into a martyr. In a dangerous mutation, Islamic anti-Semitism says, as if it were to the Christians, that the Jews treat Palestine as they treated Christ. In this way they transform the story's main characters: the Israelis have become the Romans and Jesus has become a Palestinian.
"Whenever there is a report from Bethlehem, the Israeli soldiers are depicted by Arab cartoonists as Romans, while Bethlehem is described as Christ's birthplace. In the Islamic world the motif of the Jews wounding the prophet is not ancient. Its inventors are Christian Arabs in the 1980s."
Israel as a Nazi State
"The third motif in these cartoons is Israel as a Nazi state. This is based on two contradictory allegations, which the Islamists try to reconcile. Their first claim is that the Shoah never happened. Their second contention is that if it did, it has caused more damage to the Palestinians because they believe they are being treated worse than the Nazis treated the Jews.
"Long before Sharon came to power, the theme of the Israeli as a Nazi was well-represented in the Arab caricature. According to it, all Zionists from Peres and Barak to Sharon are inspired by Nazi methods. The paradox is quite evident if one remembers the Arab sympathies for the Nazis during the Second World War. After the war many Arab intellectuals denied the crimes the Nazis committed during the Holocaust. These were rarely denounced.
"A cartoon in the Egyptian Al-Akhbar shows Barak dressed as a Nazi with a Hitler moustache, blood dripping from his hands.5 In another caricature in the Egyptian daily Al Goumhouriya from 1996, Hitler is shown wearing a swastika band on his arm, while telling Shimon Peres, wearing a Star of David band on his arm: 'I made a mistake by not understanding the importance of American support.'6
"A 1993 cartoon in the Syrian daily Teshreen shows one soldier with a Star of David on his helmet and another with a swastika on his helmet. The caption reads: 'The Security Council has studied the case of genocide of the Palestinians.' The long list is of Israeli crimes; the small list of Nazi crimes.7 In the Lebanese Daily Star in 2000, four consecutive drawings show how Sharon, with a Star of David on his lapel, becomes Hitler with a moustache, and on his lapel, a swastika. The cartoonist Jabra Stavro, born in Beirut, has won many prizes."8
Kotek says: "The fourth motif - zoomorphism - is a very common theme throughout the world. To abuse one's adversaries, one dehumanizes them by turning them into animals. In Nazi, Soviet and Romanian caricatures, the Jew is often depicted as a spider, perceived as an evil animal. Stavro in the Daily Star portrays Barak, with a Star of David on his breast, as a spider interrupting the peace process.9
"The two other predominant anti-Semitic zoomorphic motifs are the blood-thirsty vampire and the octopus. The vampire image is a classic theme used by anti-Semites. I have not found any other people besides the Jews represented as such. This genocide-preparing design originates in Christian imagination.
"Another caricature by Stavro in the Daily Star of 23 October 2000, depicted a spider with a Star of David on its body and the head of Ehud Barak in a web on which the word 'war' is written many times. A cartoon in the weekly La Revue du Liban shows an octopus with the Star of David on its body, its tentacles strangling Fatah, Jihad and Hamas. This is another cartoon by Stavro.10
"The Arab cartoonists often follow the Nazis as far as the bestial representation of the Jews is concerned. The messages transmitted are that the Jews are destructive, inhuman and evil. In 1934 a Nazi cartoonist drew an octopus with a Star of David whose tentacles covered the globe.11 A 2002 cartoon from Russia shows a Star of David with America throwing coins on it. The star then mutates into an octopus with rockets and planes in its tentacles.12
Snakes, Pigs and Cockroaches
"Occasionally, other animals are used to dehumanize the Jews. Emad Hajjaj, a well-known Ramallah-born cartoonist living in Jordan, designed a two-headed snake with Stars of David on its body, depicting the heads of Sharon and Barak.13 The cartoon's message is simple: these persons are two faces of the same monstrosity. It was published in the Jordanian daily Al Dustour.
"Sometimes one also finds pigs representing the Jew in contemporary Arab cartoons. This classic dehumanizing motif has its origins in the Middle Ages, though everybody knew that the pig was a forbidden animal to the Jews.
“This approach of zoomorphism exists in every culture and has cultural specifics. The snake is used by almost everybody. It appeared very often in French caricatures about the Germans before the Second World War and vice versa. The Hutus in Africa consider the Tutsis cockroaches.
"In the Israeli press one rarely finds cartoons depicting Arabs as animals. In such instances, they do not appear in mainstream papers but originate from extremist bodies such as the forbidden Kach movement or the Women in Green. These occasionally present Arafat as a pig or snake."14
"Masters of the world"
"The fifth anti-Semitic motif in Arab cartoons echoes the classic conspiracy theme, that 'the Jews control the world.' This explains Arab thought as to why they have not been able to win against these people. Before 1967, the classic theme - also in the Soviet world - was that the Israelis were the aircraft carrier of the United States in the Middle East.
"Today the opposite idea is depicted. Israel's opponents allege that the Jews dominate the United States. By implication, they also claim that the Jews are the 'masters of the world' - a classic conspiracy theme exploited by the Nazis. For the communists, the Jews were the bourgeoisie and the capitalists; for the Nazis they represented the essence of capitalism.
"Many Arabs wonder why the United States supports Israel rather than their own cause. They find this mysterious and have developed a simple response: The Jews dominate the world. As the Arab world is in a rather poor state, they claim that its masters, i.e., the Jews, are the cause of their problems. This motif is identical to that exemplified in the Russian Czarist falsification of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Thus, subconsciously, they want to get rid of these 'evil conspirators.' In the caricatures Israelis are rarely shown. When they are, they are often represented as ultra-orthodox Jews, which is another absurdity.
"The gifted American caricaturist of Algerian origin, Bendib, designed a monkey with a Star of David on its breast sitting on top of the globe on which small figures of the Pope and an Arab are drawn. The monkey says: 'Jerusalem: from New York City to Kuala Lumpur, undivided, eternal capital of Israel; everything else is negotiable.'15 In this cartoon the domination motif is thus combined with that of zoomorphism."
The Jew, a Corrupting Force
"The sixth recurring anti-Semitic motif is that of the Jew as a corrupting force. This is a derivative of the theme that Jews dominate the world with their money. Arab anti-Semites allege U.S. presidents are linked to Jewish banks and other Jewish money. What the Arabs forget in the caricatures is that George W. Bush was their candidate in the last American elections. Most Jews, who are liberals and thus Democrats, voted for Al Gore. Jews also supported Clinton. In the perception of the cartoonist, however, everything becomes possible.
"Bendib draws God holding a fat bag of dollars. On it the names of major Jewish organizations are written: 'ADL, AIPAC, ZOA.' God outstretches his hand to Bush, who slaughters a child on the altar of the Holyland Foundation for needy Muslim children. The caption reads: 'And the Almighty dollar [represented by God] said: "Sacrifice me, a Muslim son, or else." And George the W. said "You've got it Lord, if this improves my chances for a second term."'16
"A caricature in Teshreen shows bearded Jews with sidelocks and a bag stepping on Hitler to access an open safe filled with money on which is written: 'U.S.' The Holocaust is thus introduced as a motif of blackmail in order to extract money."17
Blood Libel Motif
"Yet another major theme in Arab cartoons is the bloodloving or blood-thirsty Jew. This originates in Christian anti-Semitism. The Christian anti-Semitic libel alleged the Jews needed Christian blood for their Passover service. Its claim is that the Jew is evil, as his religion forces him to drink blood. In today's Arab world this image of unbridled hatred has mutated into the alleged quest for Palestinian blood.
"There are so many of these cartoons that I could select only a few for my book. Blood-drinking Jews are frequently shown by Al Ahram, one of Egypt's leading dailies. On 21 April 2001, it printed a cartoon showing an Arab being put into a flatting mill by two soldiers wearing helmets with Stars of David. The Arab's blood pours out and two Jews with kippot and Stars of David on their shirts drink the blood laughingly.18
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / But What about the Flushed Koran?
on: September 07, 2008, 10:55:01 AM
If true, here's what a little magnanimity will get you. Riots and calls for wanton slaughter will doubtless ensue, and then Western apologists will doubtless leap to defense (/sarc).
Sunday, September 07, 2008 Israel Today Staff
Muslims urinate on Torah scrolls in Hebron
Jewish worshippers returning to Hebron's Cave of the Patriarchs after Muslims were given exclusive access to the holy site at the weekend reported that the cabinet containing their Torah scrolls had been urinated on.
One Jewish resident of Hebron told Israel National News that he and several other men had to move the cabinet to another part of the room because of the strong smell of urine in the area where it is usually positioned.
Additionally, green Hamas flags were found placed in the windows that mark the burial sites of Abraham, Isaac, Sara, Rebecca and Leah.
The Cave of the Patriarchs is split into Jewish and Muslim sections, as both groups revere Abraham.
Several times a year, the holy site is given over to one or the other group exclusively to mark special holy days. Muslims were given exclusive access to the Cave of the Patriarchs on Friday to mark their holy month of Ramadan.
Another Jewish resident of Hebron said that some damage to Jewish religious articles or the Jewish side of the site is found every time the Muslims take over.http://www.israeltoday.co.il/default.aspx?tabid=178&nid=17101
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / $45 Trillion Counter Consensus
on: September 06, 2008, 07:09:41 PM
The 'consensus' on climate change is a catastrophe in itself
By Christopher Brooker
Last Updated: 12:01am BST 31/08/2008
As the estimated cost of measures proposed by politicians to "combat global warming" soars ever higher – such as the International Energy Council's $45 trillion – "fighting climate change" has become the single most expensive item on the world's political agenda.
As Senators Obama and McCain vie with the leaders of the European Union to promise 50, 60, even 80 per cent cuts in "carbon emissions", it is clear that to realise even half their imaginary targets would necessitate a dramatic change in how we all live, and a drastic reduction in living standards.
All this makes it rather important to know just why our politicians have come to believe that global warming is the most serious challenge confronting mankind, and just how reliable is the evidence for the theory on which their policies are based.
By far the most influential player in putting climate change at the top of the global agenda has been the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), set up in 1988, not least on the initiative of the Thatcher government. (This was why the first chairman of its scientific working group was Sir John Houghton, then the head of the UK's Meteorological Office.)
Through a succession of reports and international conferences, it was the IPCC which led to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, soon to have an even more ambitious successor, to be agreed in Copenhagen next year.
The common view of the IPCC is that it consists of 2,500 of the world's leading scientists who, after carefully weighing all the evidence, have arrived at a "consensus" that world temperatures are rising disastrously, and that the only plausible cause has been rising levels of CO2 and other man-made greenhouse gases.
In fact, as has become ever more apparent over the past 20 years –not least thanks to the evidence of a succession of scientists who have participated in the IPCC itself – the reality of this curious body could scarcely be more different.
It is not so much a scientific as a political organisation. Its brief has never been to look dispassionately at all the evidence for man-made global warming: it has always taken this as an accepted fact.
Indeed only a comparatively small part of its reports are concerned with the science of climate change at all. The greater part must start by accepting the official line, and are concerned only with assessing the impact of warming and what should be done about it.
In reality the IPCC's agenda has always been tightly controlled by the small group of officials at its head. As one recent study has shown, of the 53 contributors to the key Chapter 9 of the latest report dealing with the basic science (most of them British and American, and 10 of them associated with the Hadley Centre, part of the UK Met Office), 37 belong to a closely related network of academics who are all active promoters of the official warming thesis.
It is on the projections of their computer models that all the IPCC's predictions of future warming are based.
The final step in the process is that, before each report is published, a "Summary for Policymakers" is drafted by those at the top of the IPCC, to which governments can make input.
It is this which makes headlines in the media, and which all too frequently eliminates the more carefully qualified findings of contributors to the report itself.
The idea that the IPCC represents any kind of genuine scientific "consensus" is a complete fiction. A
gain and again there have been examples of how evidence has been manipulated to promote the official line, the most glaring instance being the notorious "hockey stick".
Initially the advocates of global warming had one huge problem. Evidence from all over the world indicated that the earth was hotter 1,000 years ago than it is today.
This was so generally accepted that the first two IPCC reports included a graph, based on work by Sir John Houghton himself, showing that temperatures were higher in what is known as the Mediaeval Warming period than they were in the 1990s.
The trouble was that this blew a mighty hole in the thesis that warming was caused only by recent man-made CO2.
Then in 1999 an obscure young US physicist, Michael Mann, came up with a new graph like nothing seen before.
Instead of the familiar rises and falls in temperature over the past 1,000 years, the line ran virtually flat, only curving up dramatically at the end in a hockey-stick shape to show recent decades as easily the hottest on record.
This was just what the IPCC wanted, The Mediaeval Warming had simply been wiped from the record.
When its next report came along in 2001, Mann's graph was given top billing, appearing right at the top of page one of the Summary for Policymakers and five more times in the report proper.
But then two Canadian computer analysts, Steve McIntyre and Ross McKitrick, got to work on how Mann had arrived at his graph.
When, with great difficulty, they eventually persuaded Mann to hand over his data, it turned out he had built into his programme an algorithm which would produce a hockey stick shape whatever data were fed into it.
Even numbers from the phonebook would come out looking like a hockey stick.
By the time of its latest report, last year, the IPCC had an even greater problem. Far from continuing to rise in line with rising CO2, as its computer models predicted they should, global temperatures since the abnormally hot year of 1998 had flattened out at a lower level and were even falling – a trend confirmed by Nasa's satellite readings over the past 18 months.
So pronounced has this been that even scientists supporting the warmist thesis now concede that, due to changes in ocean currents, we can expect a decade or more of "cooling", before the "underlying warming trend" reappears.
The point is that none of this was predicted by the computer models on which the IPCC relies.
Among the ever-growing mountain of informed criticism of the IPCC's methods, a detailed study by an Australian analyst John McLean (to find it, Google "Prejudiced authors, prejudiced findings") shows just how incestuously linked are most of the core group of academics whose models underpin everything the IPCC wishes us to believe about global warming.
The significance of the past year is not just that the vaunted "consensus" on the forces driving our climate has been blown apart as never before, but that a new "counter-consensus" has been emerging among thousands of scientists across the world, given expression in last March's Manhattan Declaration by the so-called Non-Governmental Panel on Climate Change.
This wholly repudiates the IPCC process, showing how its computer models are hopelessly biased, based on unreliable data and programmed to ignore many of the genuine drivers of climate change, from variations in solar activity to those cyclical shifts in ocean currents.
As it was put by Roger Cohen, a senior US physicist formerly involved with the IPCC process, who long accepted its orthodoxy: "I was appalled at how flimsy the case is. I was also appalled at the behaviour of many of those who helped produce the IPCC reports and by many of those who promote it.
"In particular I am referring to the arrogance, the activities aimed at shutting down debate; the outright fabrications; the mindless defence of bogus science; and the politicisation of the IPCC process and the science process itself."
Yet it is at just this moment, when the IPCC's house of cards is crumbling, that the politicians of the Western world are using it to propose steps that can only damage our way of life beyond recognition.
It really is time for that "counter-consensus" to be taken seriously.http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/main.jhtml?xml=/earth/2008/08/31/eaclimate131.xml
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Sunspot Minimum
on: September 06, 2008, 05:16:31 PM
Sure thing, Crafty. Click the link at the end to eyeball related graphs.
Sun Makes History: First Spotless Month in a Century
Michael Asher (Blog) - September 1, 2008 8:11 AM
The record-setting surface of the sun. A full month has gone by without a single spot (Source: Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO))
Sunspot activity of the past decade. Over the past year, SIDC has continually revised its predictions downward (Source: Solar Influences Data Center)
Geomagnetic solar activity for the past two decades. The recent drop corresponds to the decline in sunspots. (Source: Anthony Watts)
A chart of sunspot activity showing two prior solar minima, along with heightened activity during the 20th century (Source: Wikimedia Commons)
Drop in solar activity has potential effect for climate on earth.
The sun has reached a milestone not seen for nearly 100 years: an entire month has passed without a single visible sunspot being noted.
The event is significant as many climatologists now believe solar magnetic activity – which determines the number of sunspots -- is an influencing factor for climate on earth.
According to data from Mount Wilson Observatory, UCLA, more than an entire month has passed without a spot. The last time such an event occurred was June of 1913. Sunspot data has been collected since 1749.
When the sun is active, it's not uncommon to see sunspot numbers of 100 or more in a single month. Every 11 years, activity slows, and numbers briefly drop to near-zero. Normally sunspots return very quickly, as a new cycle begins.
But this year -- which corresponds to the start of Solar Cycle 24 -- has been extraordinarily long and quiet, with the first seven months averaging a sunspot number of only 3. August followed with none at all. The astonishing rapid drop of the past year has defied predictions, and caught nearly all astronomers by surprise.
In 2005, a pair of astronomers from the National Solar Observatory (NSO) in Tucson attempted to publish a paper in the journal Science. The pair looked at minute spectroscopic and magnetic changes in the sun. By extrapolating forward, they reached the startling result that, within 10 years, sunspots would vanish entirely. At the time, the sun was very active. Most of their peers laughed at what they considered an unsubstantiated conclusion.
The journal ultimately rejected the paper as being too controversial.
The paper's lead author, William Livingston, tells DailyTech that, while the refusal may have been justified at the time, recent data fits his theory well. He says he will be "secretly pleased" if his predictions come to pass.
But will the rest of us? In the past 1000 years, three previous such events -- the Dalton, Maunder, and Spörer Minimums, have all led to rapid cooling. One was large enough to be called a "mini ice age". For a society dependent on agriculture, cold is more damaging than heat. The growing season shortens, yields drop, and the occurrence of crop-destroying frosts increases.
Meteorologist Anthony Watts, who runs a climate data auditing site, tells DailyTech the sunspot numbers are another indication the "sun's dynamo" is idling. According to Watts, the effect of sunspots on TSI (total solar irradiance) is negligible, but the reduction in the solar magnetosphere affects cloud formation here on Earth, which in turn modulates climate.
This theory was originally proposed by physicist Henrik Svensmark, who has published a number of scientific papers on the subject. Last year Svensmark's "SKY" experiment claimed to have proven that galactic cosmic rays -- which the sun's magnetic field partially shields the Earth from -- increase the formation of molecular clusters that promote cloud growth. Svensmark, who recently published a book on the theory, says the relationship is a larger factor in climate change than greenhouse gases.
Solar physicist Ilya Usoskin of the University of Oulu, Finland, tells DailyTech the correlation between cosmic rays and terrestrial cloud cover is more complex than "more rays equals more clouds". Usoskin, who notes the sun has been more active since 1940 than at any point in the past 11 centuries, says the effects are most important at certain latitudes and altitudes which control climate. He says the relationship needs more study before we can understand it fully.
Other researchers have proposed solar effects on other terrestrial processes besides cloud formation. The sunspot cycle has strong effects on irradiance in certain wavelengths such as the far ultraviolet, which affects ozone production. Natural production of isotopes such as C-14 is also tied to solar activity. The overall effects on climate are still poorly understood.
What is incontrovertible, though, is that ice ages have occurred before. And no scientist, even the most skeptical, is prepared to say it won't happen again.
Article Update, Sep 1 2008. After this story was published, the NOAA reversed their previous decision on a tiny speck seen Aug 21, which gives their version of the August data a half-point. Other observation centers such as Mount Wilson Observatory are still reporting a spotless month. So depending on which center you believe, August was a record for either a full century, or only 50 years.http://www.dailytech.com/Sun+Makes+History+First+Spotless+Month+in+a+Century/article12823.htm
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Politics of Pakistani Deception, 4
on: September 06, 2008, 12:32:43 PM
VI. The Path of Jihad
After I met Namdar, the Taliban commander, he ordered some of his young fighters to take me to the Afghan border. The mountains that ran along the border shimmered in the monsoon rains, and a new stream was running down from the peaks. It was this range, called the White Mountains, through which Osama bin Laden escaped from Tora Bora in December 2001. The Afghan frontier, the fighters told me, was a day’s walk over the hills.
It was along a similar route, two years ago, that an 18-year-old Pakistani named Mudasar trekked into Afghanistan to blow himself up. His family, who live in the town of Shakhas in Khyber agency, told me they learned of his fate in a telephone call. “Your son has carried out a suicide operation inside of Afghanistan,” a man said without identifying himself. There was no corpse to send home to Pakistan, so Mudasar’s family and the rest of the villagers of Shakhas gathered for a ghaibana, a funeral without a body.
“It is very respectable to die this way,” Abu Omar, Mudasar’s brother, told me one day at a cafe in Peshawar. Mudasar and Abu Omar were both part of the tide of young Pakistani men that has been surging across the Afghan border to fight the Americans. Abu Omar described his brother as intensely religious, without hobbies — unlike Abu Omar himself, whose passion was playing fullback on the soccer field. “Mudasar would lie awake at night crying for the martyred people in Afghanistan,” Abu Omar said.
What finally drove Mudasar to want to kill Americans was a single spectacular event. In January 2006, the Americans maneuvered a Predator drone across the border into Pakistan and fired a missile at a building they thought contained Ayman al-Zawahiri, Al Qaeda’s deputy leader. The missile reportedly missed Zawahiri by a couple of hours, but it killed his son-in-law and several other senior Al Qaeda members. A number of civilians died as well, including women and children. Television footage from the scene, showing corpses lying amid the rubble, sparked protests across Pakistan.
“My brother saw that and resolved to become a martyr,” Abu Omar told me.
Confiding in only his mother and brother, Mudasar enrolled in a local camp for suicide bombers. Abu Omar declined to tell me who ran the camp or where it was, saying such things were military secrets. “There are many such camps,” he said and shrugged.
It was during our second meeting, in Peshawar’s main shopping area, that Abu Omar agreed to talk about his own mission across the border. We sat in a shabby second-floor office in the Saddar bazaar. Last October, following the death of his brother, Abu Omar enrolled in one of the Taliban training camps inside Khyber agency operated by Mehsud’s organization. The camp, Abu Omar said, was split into three sections: one for bomb making, one for reconnaissance and ambushes and one for firing large weapons. Abu Omar’s section was given a heavy machine gun.
“Big enough to shoot down helicopters,” he said.
Abu Omar spoke listlessly but in great detail. The militant camp sat within a few miles of the Afghan border, he said, and only a few miles from a Pakistan military base. Most of the volunteers were Pakistani, he said, although foreigners trained, too, including a Muslim convert from Great Britain.
“He had blond hair, but a very long beard,” Abu Omar said, breaking into his only smile of the afternoon. “A good Muslim.”
When the time finally came, Abu Omar said, he and about 20 of his comrades moved at night to a safe house near the Afghan frontier, in Mohmand tribal agency. They were just across the border from Kunar, one of the most violent of Afghanistan’s provinces. There, he said, he and his comrades waited for two days until the way was clear. Then, when the signal came, they moved across. None of the men, Abu Omar said, were particularly worried about what would happen if they were spotted by Pakistani troops. “They are Muslims,” he told me. “They support what we are doing.”
Fighting in Afghanistan, Abu Omar said, was a hit-and-miss, sometimes tedious affair: once across the border, he and the other fighters sat inside another safe house for two days, waiting for word to launch their attack. Finally, Abu Omar’s commander told them that there were too many American and Afghan soldiers about and that they would have to return to Pakistan.
The second time, the mission worked. Crossing into Kunar once more, Abu Omar and the other fighters attacked a line of Afghan army check posts just inside the border. Omar put his heavy machine gun to good use, he said, and four of the posts were overrun. “We killed seven Afghan soldiers,” he claimed. “Unfortunately, there were no Americans.”
Their attack successful, Abu Omar and his comrades trekked back across the Pakistani border. The sun was just rising. The fighters saw a Pakistani checkpoint and headed straight for it.
“They gave us some water,” he said of the Pakistani border guards. “And then we continued on our way.”
VII. The Rose Garden
From the Rose Garden of the White House, you could just make out the profile of the Pakistani prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani, sitting across from President Bush inside the Oval Office. It was Gilani’s first official visit and, by all accounts, not a typical one. That same day, July 28, as Gilani’s plane neared the United States, a Predator drone had fired a missile into a compound in South Waziristan, killing Abu Khabab al-Masri, an Al Qaeda poison and bombing expert. The hit was a significant one, and Al Qaeda posted a eulogy to al-Masri on the Internet a couple of days later. Gilani, according to the American analyst who was briefed by officials, knew nothing of the incident when he arrived in Washington. “They just did it,” the analyst said. The Americans pressed Gilani, telling him that his military and security services were out of his control and that they posed a threat to Pakistan and to American forces in Afghanistan.
At the Rose Garden, though, appearances were kept up in grand style. Bush and Gilani strode from the Oval Office side by side. Gilani laughed as the two leaders stopped to face the assembled reporters. Over to the side, to the right of the reporters, the senior members of Bush’s foreign-policy team had gathered, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her deputy, John Negroponte.
“Pakistan is a strong ally and a vibrant democracy,” Bush said. “We talked about the common threat we face: extremists who are very dangerous people. We talked about the need for us to make sure that the Afghan border is secure as best as possible: Pakistan has made a very strong commitment to that.”
“Thank you,” Gilani said, hesitating, looking at Bush. “Now?”
“Please, yes, absolutely,” the president said.
Gilani played his part. “We are committed to fight against those extremists and terrorists who are destroying and making the world not safe,” Gilani said. “There are few militants — they are hand-picked people, militants, who are disturbing this peace,” he concluded. “And I assured Mr. President we’ll work together for democracy and for the prosperity and peace of the world.”
And then the two men walked together back into the White House, with Rice and Negroponte trailing after them.
Dexter Filkins, a correspondent for The Times, reported from Afghanistan and Pakistan from 1997 to 2002. He is the author of ‘‘The Forever War.’’http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/07/magazine/07pakistan-t.html?_r=1&ref=world&oref=slogin
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Politics of Pakistani Deception, 3
on: September 06, 2008, 12:31:56 PM
IV. A New Government, A New Tack
In February, nationwide elections lifted to power Pakistan’s first full-fledged civilian government in nine years. The elections followed the tumultuous events of Benazir Bhutto’s return from exile and her assassination.
If there was any reason to hope that the government’s games with the Taliban would end, this was it: Pakistan’s new leaders declared they had a popular mandate to steer the country in a new direction. That meant, implicitly, reining in the military and the spy agencies. At the same time, the country’s new civilian leaders, led by Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, made it clear that they would not be taking orders from officials in the Bush administration, whom they resented for having supported Musharraf for so long. (Musharraf, facing impeachment, finally resigned from the presidency last month.) Instead of launching military operations into the tribal areas, Pakistan’s new leaders promised to embark on negotiations to neutralize the militants.
The leader of this new civilian effort in the tribal areas is Owais Ahmed Ghani, governor of the North-West Frontier Province. Since February, Ghani is said to have embarked on a series of negotiations in tribal areas.
I went to see Ghani earlier this summer at the governor’s mansion in Peshawar, inside a lovely compound built by the British at the height of their imperial power. Ghani seemed as if he might have stepped from the Raj himself: he gave off an air of faint amusement, a British affectation common in the upper tiers of Pakistani society. On his wall hung a British-made Enfield rifle, preserved from colonial days. Outside, peacocks strolled across the manicured lawn.
“You know the joke about the Pathans,” Ghani began, using the old British name for the Pashtuns, the ethnic group that dominates the tribal areas and the Taliban. “A Pathan’s heart hammers harder when he has a gun than a woman!”
Suddenly turning serious, Ghani spelled out a state-of-the-art counterinsurgency campaign to defeat the militants in control of the FATA. He emphasized that the purely military approach to the tribal areas had failed — not merely because the army has been unable to succeed militarily but also because it no longer could count on popular support. “No government can afford to make war on its own people for very long,” Ghani said.
The new approach, Ghani said, would entail negotiations and economic development. Under the plan, the government would pour billions into the region over the next five years to build schools, roads and health clinics. (The United States has agreed to pitch in $750 million.) The political negotiations, Ghani said, would be conducted by civilian members of the government and the region’s tribal leaders, not, as in the past, by military officers and Taliban militants. Ghani called this new strategy “Jang and Jirga” — the Pashto words for “war” and “tribal council.” Carrot and stick.
“The idea is to drive a wedge between the militants and the people,” Ghani said. “There will be no negotiations with the militants themselves.”
Ghani’s previous post had been as governor of Baluchistan Province, to the south, where he had weakened an ethnically based insurgency that had churned on for decades. He said he was confident he could do the same here. “Don’t underestimate the Pakistani desire to confront the militants,” he insisted. “Ninety percent of the country is behind us.”
It was sundown when Ghani and I finished talking. As I strolled across the grounds of the governor’s compound, a group of soldiers had just begun lowering the Pakistani flag. Another man blew into a bugle, playing “A Hundred Pipers,” a Scottish air.
FOR GHANI AND PAKISTAN’S civilian government, the crucial players in achieving peace are traditional tribal leaders whose power is independent of the Taliban or other militants. This method of governing the tribal areas — indirect rule through local chiefs — dates back to the British imperial period. The British put tribal leaders — known as maliks — on the payroll to stand in for the central government, which imposed no taxes or customs duties and, in turn, did very little. At the same time, imperial administrators reserved for themselves extraordinary powers of arrest and punishment that extended to collective reprisals against entire tribes. The purpose of the malik system was to keep the tribal areas quiet and at least nominally under the thumb of the imperial government. This preserved a feudal political structure, and feudal levels of economic development, into the 20th century.
The British system, with a little tinkering, has survived to this day: the FATA stands apart from the rest of Pakistan, with little or no government presence and little or no development. Not 1 person in 5 can read or write. Pakistani political parties are banned. Universal suffrage wasn’t allowed until 1997. Until recently, tribesmen could claim no protection by Pakistan’s Constitution or its courts. Inside the FATA, the locals do not even change the time on their clocks, as other Pakistanis do, when daylight savings begins. “English time,” it is called.
A few days after my talk with Ghani, I met an elder of one of the two main tribes of South Waziristan. He refused to give his name and insisted that I refer to him as Jan. South Waziristan is believed to contain the largest number of militant Arabs and other foreign fighters, possibly even bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri. To be more specific about Jan — to use his name, to identify the tribe he leads, to name the town where he lives — would almost certainly, he said, result in his death at the hands of the militants and Taliban fighters who control South Waziristan.
“There are many Arab fighters living in South Waziristan,” Jan told me. “Sometimes you see them in the town; you hear them speaking Arabic.
“But the important Arabs are not in the city,” he continued. “They are in the mountains.”
Important Arabs? I asked.
“They ride horses, Arabian horses; we don’t have horses like this in Waziristan,” Jan said. “The people from the town take food to the Arabs’ horses in the mountains. They have seen the horses. They have seen the Arabs. These horses eat better than the common people in the town.”
How do you know?
“I am a leader of my tribe. People come to me — everyone comes to me. They tell me everything.”
What about Osama? I asked. Is he in South Waziristan?
“Osama?” Jan said. “I don’t know. But they” — the Arabs in the mountains — “are important.”
The labor it took to persuade Jan to speak to me is a measure of what has become of the area over which his family still officially presides. Since it was not possible for me to go to South Waziristan — “Baitullah Mehsud would cut off your head,” the Taliban leader, Namdar, told me — I had to persuade Jan to come to Peshawar. For several days, military checkpoints and roadblocks made it impossible for Jan to travel. Finally, after two weeks, Jan left his home at midnight in a taxi so no one would notice either him or his car.
Jan had reason to worry. Seven members of his family — his father, two brothers, two uncles and two cousins — have been murdered by militants who inhabit the area. Jan said he believed his father was killed by Uzbek and Tajik gunmen who fled to South Waziristan after the American invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. His father had opposed them. Jan’s cousins, he said, were killed by men working for Baitullah Mehsud. Jan’s father was a malik, and thousands of Waziri tribesmen came to his funeral: “the largest funeral in the history of Waziristan,” Jan said.
The rise of the Taliban and Al Qaeda has come at the expense of the maliks, who have been systematically murdered and marginalized in a campaign to destroy the old order. In South Waziristan, where Mehsud presides, the Taliban and Al Qaeda have killed more than 150 maliks since 2005, all but destroying the tribal system. And there are continual reminders of what happens to the survivors who do not understand this — who, for example, attempt to talk with Pakistan’s civilian government and assert their authority. In June, Mehsud’s men gunned down 28 tribal leaders who had formed a “peace committee” in South Waziristan. Their bodies were dumped on the side of a road. “This shows what happens when the tribal elders try to challenge Baitullah Mehsud,” Jan said.
Like Taliban militias in other parts of Pakistan, Mehsud’s men have been strong-arming families into turning over their young sons to join. “They have taken my own son to be a suicide bomber,” Jan said. “He is gone.” The Talibs, he said, now control the disbursement of all government money that comes into the area.
The Taliban have not achieved this by violence alone. They have capitalized on the resentment many Pakistanis feel toward the hereditary maliks and the government they represent. Taliban leaders and their foot soldiers come mostly from the lower classes. Mehsud, the Taliban chieftain, was an unemployed man who spent his time lifting weights before he picked up a gun. Manghal Bagh, the warlord in Khyber agency whom the Pakistan military went after in June, swept public buses. “They are illiterate people, and now they have power,” Jan said.
EVERYWHERE I TRAVELED during my stay in the tribal areas and in Peshawar, I met impoverished Pakistanis who told me Robin Hood-like stories about how the Taliban had challenged the wealthy and powerful people on behalf of the little guys. Hamidullah, for instance, was an illiterate wheat farmer living in Khyber agency when, in 2002, a wealthy landowner seized his home and six acres of fields. Hamidullah and his family were forced to eke out a living from a nearby shanty. Neither the local malik nor the government agent, Hamidullah told me, would intervene on his behalf. Then came Namdar, the Taliban commander. He hauled the rich man before a Vice and Virtue council and ordered him to give back Hamidullah’s home and farm.
Now Hamidullah is one of Namdar’s loyal militiamen.
“There are so many guys like me,” he said, cradling a Kalashnikov.
The social revolution that has swept the tribal areas does not bode well for the plans, laid out by Governor Ghani, to oust the Taliban by boosting the tribal elders. Nor does it hold out much promise for the Americans, who have expressed hope that they could do in the FATA what they were able to do with the Sunni tribes in Iraq. There, local tribesmen rose up against, and have substantially weakened, Al Qaeda of Mesopotamia.
Indeed, in some cases the distinction between tribe and Taliban has vanished altogether. Baitullah Mehsud, for instance, comes from the Mehsud tribe, one of the two largest clans of South Waziristan. (“The Taliban is the Mehsud tribe,” Jan said. “They are one and the same now.” )
Mehsud is the most powerful of dozens of Taliban chieftains who control the tribal areas. Some of them answer to Mehsud; some do not. The others are no less brutal: in July, for instance, in Bajaur tribal agency, the Taliban leader Faqir Mohammed staged a public execution of two men “convicted” of spying for the United States. One was shot; the other beheaded. A photograph of the men’s last moments was displayed on the front page of The News, a Pakistani newspaper.
The chieftains’ rivalries are intense, too. Six weeks after I met Namdar, he was gunned down by one of his bodyguards, in the very house where I met him. It isn’t entirely clear who ordered the killing of Namdar, but many of his followers suspect it was Mehsud.
V. The Game Changes
While most of the Taliban chieftains do share a basic ideology, they appear to be divided into two distinct groups: those who send fighters into Afghanistan to fight the Americans and those who do not. And that is an important distinction for the Pakistanis, as well as for the Americans.
After the rout of the Taliban government in Afghanistan in the fall of 2001, many militants fled across the border, and the Taliban inside Pakistan grew. At first, they largely confined their activities to the tribal areas themselves, from where they could send fighters into Afghanistan. That started to change last year. Militants began moving out of the FATA and into the rest of Pakistan, taking control of the towns and villages in the neighboring North-West Frontier Province. Militants began attacking Pakistani police and soldiers. Inside the FATA, Mehsud was forming Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, an umbrella party of some 40 Taliban groups that claimed as its goal the domination of Pakistan. Suddenly, the Taliban was not merely a group of militants who were useful in extending Pakistan’s influence into Afghanistan. They were a threat to Pakistan itself.
The turning point came in July last year, when the government laid siege to a mosque in Islamabad called Lal Masjid, where dozens of militants had taken shelter. The presence of the militants inside Islamabad itself, Pakistan’s stately, secular-minded capital, was shock enough to the country’s ruling class. Then, after eight days, on orders from Musharraf, security forces stormed the mosque, sparking a battle that left 87 dead. The massacre at Lal Masjid became a rallying cry for Islamic militants across the country. Mehsud and other Islamists declared war on the government and launched a campaign of suicide bombings; there were 60 in 2007 alone. In an act of astonishing humiliation, Mehsud’s men captured 300 Pakistan Army soldiers that came into South Waziristan; Mehsud eventually let them go. And then, in December, a suicide bomber, possibly dispatched by Mehsud, killed Bhutto.
The bloody siege of Lal Masjid, Western and Pakistani officials say, finally convinced senior Pakistani military and ISI leaders that the Taliban fighters they had been nurturing for so many years had grown too strong. “Now, the militants are autonomous,” one retired Pakistani official told me. “No one can control them anymore.”
IN JANUARY OF THIS YEAR, Pakistan opened an offensive into South Waziristan that was far fiercer than any that had come before. It inflicted hundreds of casualties on Mehsud’s forces and caused at least 15,000 families to flee. Then, after just three weeks, the operation ended. As they had before, Pakistani commanders and Mehsud struck a deal. But this time, remarkably, the deal seemed to stick. The army dismantled its checkpoints and pulled back its troops, and the suicide bombings all but stopped.
What happened? A draft of the peace agreement struck between the army and Mehsud may help explain. The agreement itself, which has not been officially released, provides a look into the Pakistani government’s new strategy toward the militants. According to the agreement, members of the Mehsud tribe agreed to refrain from attacking the Pakistani state and from setting up a parallel government. They agreed to accept the rule of law.
But sending fighters into Afghanistan? About that, the agreement says nothing at all.
And that appears to be the essence of the new Pakistani game. As long as the militants refrain from attacking the state, they are free to do what they want inside the tribal areas — and across the border in Afghanistan. While peace has largely prevailed between the government and the militants inside Pakistan since earlier this year, the infiltration of Taliban fighters from the tribal areas into Afghanistan has risen sharply. Even the current Pakistani offensive, according to Maj. Gen. Jeffrey J. Schloesser, the top American commander in eastern Afghanistan, has failed to slow the influx.
In short, the chaos has been redirected.
This must have been why Namdar told me with such confidence that “fighting the jihad” insulated him from the Pakistani government. The real purpose of the government’s Khyber operation became clear: to tame Manghal Bagh, the warlord who does not send men into Afghanistan and who was encroaching on Peshawar. Indeed, after more than a week of enduring the brunt of the army’s assault, Bagh agreed to respect the Pakistani state. Namdar had been left alone by government troops all the while.
If channeling the Taliban into Afghanistan and against NATO and the Americans is indeed the new Pakistani game, then one more thing is also clear: the leaders of the Pakistan Army and the ISI must still be confident they can manage the militants. And it is certainly the military and ISI officers who are doing the managing — not the country’s elected leaders. When I asked Jan, the tribal elder, about the negotiations that Ghani had described for me — talks between the country’s new civilian leaders and FATA’s tribal elders — Jan laughed. “The only negotiations are between the army and the Taliban, between the army and Baitullah Mehsud,” he said. “There are no government officials taking part in any negotiations. There are no tribal elders taking part. I’m a tribal elder. I think I would know.”
Western officials agreed that the influence of Pakistan’s new civilian leaders over strategy in the tribal areas was close to nil. “Until the civilians get their act together, the military will play the dominant role,” a Western analyst in Pakistan, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told me. The parliamentary coalition cobbled together earlier this year is already falling apart.
“It’s a very close relationship,” Jan said, describing the meetings between the Pakistan Army and the Taliban. “The army and the Taliban are friends. Whenever a Taliban fighter is killed, army officers go to his funeral. They bring money to the family.”
Indeed, American officials said in July that the ISI helped Jalaluddin Haqqani’s fighters bomb the Indian Embassy in Kabul. The attack killed 54, including an Indian defense attaché. American officials said the evidence of the ISI’s involvement was overwhelming. “It was sort of this ‘aha’ moment,” one of them said.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Politics of Pakistani Deception, 2
on: September 06, 2008, 12:31:01 PM
III. Playing the Game
The idea that Pakistan’s military and intelligence agencies could simultaneously be aiding the Taliban and like-minded militants while taking money from the United States is not as far-fetched as it may seem.
The relationship dates to the 1980s, when, following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Pakistan became the conduit for billions of dollars of American and Saudi money for the Afghan rebels. Pakistan’s leader, the fundamentalist Gen. Zia ul-Haq, funneled the bulk of the cash to the most religiously extreme guerrilla leaders. After the Soviet Union withdrew in 1989, Pakistani military and intelligence services kept on supporting Islamist militants, notably in the Muslim-majority Indian state of Kashmir, where they threw their support behind a local uprising. Through time, with the Pakistanis closely involved, the Kashmiri movement was taken over by Islamist extremists and foreign fighters who moved easily between Pakistan and Kashmir.
Then, in 1994, Pakistani leaders made their most fateful move. Alarmed by the civil war that engulfed Afghanistan following the Soviet retreat, Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and her government intervened on behalf of a small group of former anti-Soviet fighters known for their religious fanaticism. They called themselves “the students”: the Taliban.
With Pakistan providing support and the United States looking the other way, the Taliban took control of Kabul in 1996. “We created the Taliban,” Nasrullah Babar, the interior minister under Benazir Bhutto, told me in an interview at his home in Peshawar in 1999. “Mrs. Bhutto had a vision: that through a peaceful Afghanistan, Pakistan could extend its influence into the resource-rich territories of Central Asia.” That never happened — the Taliban, even with Pakistani support, never completed the conquest of Afghanistan. But the training camps they ran, sometimes with the help of Pakistani intelligence officers, were beacons to Islamic militants from around the world.
By all accounts, Pakistan’s spymasters were never terribly discriminating about who showed up in their training camps. In 1998, when President Bill Clinton ordered missile strikes against camps in Afghanistan following Al Qaeda’s bombings of American embassies in East Africa, several trainers from Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, were killed. Osama bin Laden was supposed to be there when the missiles struck but apparently had already left.
After 9/11, President George W. Bush and other senior American officials declared in the strongest terms that Pakistani leaders had to end their support for the Taliban and other Islamic militants. Pakistan’s military dictator, Pervez Musharraf, promised to do so.
Yet the game did not end; it merely changed. In the years after 9/11, Musharraf often made great shows of going after militants inside Pakistan, while at the same time supporting and protecting them.
In 2002, for instance, Musharraf ordered the arrest of some 2,000 suspected militants, many of whom had trained in Pakistani-sponsored camps. And then, quietly, he released nearly all of them. Another revealing moment came in 2005, when Fazlur Rehman, the leader of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam, one of the most radical Islamist parties, denounced Musharraf for denying the existence of jihadi groups. Everyone knows, Rehman said in a speech before Pakistan’s National Assembly, that the government supports the holy warriors. “We will have to openly tell the world whether we want to support jihadis or crack down on them,” Rehman declared. “We cannot afford to be hypocritical any more.”
In 2006, a senior ISI official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told a New York Times reporter that he regarded Serajuddin Haqqani as one of the ISI’s intelligence assets. “We are not apologetic about this,” the ISI official said. For a presumed ally of the United States, that was a stunning admission: Haqqani, an Afghan, is currently one of the Taliban’s most senior commanders battling the Americans in eastern Afghanistan. His father, Jalaluddin, is a longtime associate of bin Laden’s. The Haqqanis are believed to be overseeing operations from a hiding place in the Pakistani tribal agency of North Waziristan.
But such evidence, however intriguing, fails to answer the critical questions: Exactly who in the Pakistani government is helping the militants and why?
THE MOST COMMON THEORY offered to explain Pakistan’s continued contact with Islamic militants is the country’s obsession with India. Pakistan has fought three major wars with India, from which it split violently upon independence from Britain in 1947. To the east, the Pakistani military and intelligence services have long tolerated and sometimes directed militants moving into Indian Kashmir. To the west, Afghanistan has long been seen as a potentially critical arena of competition with India. After the U.S.-led invasion in the fall of 2001, for example, India lost no time in setting up consulates throughout Afghanistan and beginning an extensive aid program. According to Pakistani and Western officials, Pakistan’s officer corps remains obsessed by the prospect of Indian domination of Afghanistan should the Americans leave. The Taliban are seen as a counterweight to Indian influence. “We are saving the Taliban for a rainy day,” one former Pakistani official put it to me.
Another explanation is growing popular hatred of the United States. Pakistan’s leaders — whether Musharraf or the army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, or the country’s leading civilian politicians — are finding it more and more difficult to mobilize their own army and intelligence services to act against the Taliban and other militants inside the country. And while the Pakistan Army used to be a predominantly secular institution, increasingly it is being led by Islamist-minded officers.
The pro-Islamist and anti-American sentiments pervading the armed forces might help explain why a group of ill-trained, underpaid Pakistani Frontier Corps soldiers would open fire on American troops fighting the Taliban. Those same sentiments buttress the notion, offered by some American and Pakistani officials, that rogue officers inside the army and ISI are supporting the militants against the wishes of their superiors.
Finally, there is the problem of the Pakistan Army’s competence. For all the myths that officers like Musharraf have spread about the institution, the simple fact is that it isn’t very good. The Pakistan Army has lost every war it has ever fought. And it isn’t trained to battle an insurgency. Each of the half-dozen offensives the army has launched into the tribal areas since 2004 has left it bloodied and humbled.
For all these reasons, when it comes to the militants in their midst, it’s easier for Pakistan to do as little as possible.
“There is a growing Islamist feeling in the military, and it’s inseparable from anti-Americanism,” I was told by a Western military officer with several years’ experience in the region. “The vast majority of Pakistani officers feel they are fighting our war. There is a lot of sympathy for the Taliban. The result is that the Pakistanis do as little as they possibly can to combat the militants.”
These are reasonable explanations, offered by reasonable people. But are such explanations enough? The more Pakistanis I talked to, the more I came to believe that the most reasonable explanations were not necessarily the most plausible ones.
ONE SWELTERING AFTERNOON in July, I ventured into the elegant home of a former Pakistani official who recently retired after several years of serving in senior government posts. We sat in his book-lined study. A servant brought us tea and biscuits.
Was it the obsession with India that led the Pakistani military to support the Taliban? I asked him.
“Yes,” he said.
Or is it the anti-Americanism and pro-Islamic feelings in the army?
“Yes,” he said, that too.
And then the retired Pakistani official offered another explanation — one that he said could never be discussed in public. The reason the Pakistani security services support the Taliban, he said, is for money: after the 9/11 attacks, the Pakistani military concluded that keeping the Taliban alive was the surest way to win billions of dollars in aid that Pakistan needed to survive. The military’s complicated relationship with the Taliban is part of what the official called the Pakistani military’s “strategic games.” Like other Pakistanis, this former senior official spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of what he was telling me.
“Pakistan is dependent on the American money that these games with the Taliban generate,” the official told me. “The Pakistani economy would collapse without it. This is how the game works.”
As an example, he cited the Pakistan Army’s first invasion of the tribal areas — of South Waziristan in 2004. Called Operation Shakai, the offensive was ostensibly aimed at ridding the area of Taliban militants. From an American perspective, the operation was a total failure. The army invaded, fought and then made a deal with one of the militant commanders, Nek Mohammed. The agreement was capped by a dramatic meeting between Mohammed and Safdar Hussein, one of the most senior officers in the Pakistan Army.
“The corps commander was flown in on a helicopter,” the former official said. “They had this big ceremony, and they embraced. They called each other mujahids. ”
“Mujahid” is the Arabic word for “holy warrior.” The ceremony, in fact, was captured on videotape, and the tape has been widely distributed.
“The army agreed to compensate the locals for collateral damage,” the official said. “Where do you think that money went? It went to the Taliban. Who do you think paid the bill? The Americans. This is the way the game works. The Taliban is attacked, but it is never destroyed.
“It’s a game,” the official said, wrapping up our conversation. “The U.S. is being taken for a ride.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Politics of Pakistani Deception, 1
on: September 06, 2008, 12:27:52 PM
Every now and then the old gray hag publishes something interesting.
September 7, 2008
Right at the Edge
By DEXTER FILKINS
I: The Border Incident
Late in the afternoon of June 10, during a firefight with Taliban militants along the Afghan-Pakistani border, American soldiers called in airstrikes to beat back the attack. The firefight was taking place right on the border itself, known in military jargon as the “zero line.” Afghanistan was on one side, and the remote Pakistani region known as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, or FATA, was on the other. The stretch of border was guarded by three Pakistani military posts.
The American bombers did the job, and then some. By the time the fighting ended, the Taliban militants had slipped away, the American unit was safe and 11 Pakistani border guards lay dead. The airstrikes on the Pakistani positions sparked a diplomatic row between the two allies: Pakistan called the incident “unprovoked and cowardly”; American officials regretted what they called a tragic mistake. But even after a joint inquiry by the United States, Pakistan and Afghanistan, it remained unclear why American soldiers had reached the point of calling in airstrikes on soldiers from Pakistan, a critical ally in the war in Afghanistan and the campaign against terrorism.
The mystery, at least part of it, was solved in July by four residents of Suran Dara, a Pakistani village a few hundred yards from the site of the fight. According to two of these villagers, whom I interviewed together with a local reporter, the Americans started calling in airstrikes on the Pakistanis after the latter started shooting at the Americans.
“When the Americans started bombing the Taliban, the Frontier Corps started shooting at the Americans,” we were told by one of Suran Dara’s villagers, who, like the others, spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of being persecuted or killed by the Pakistani government or the Taliban. “They were trying to help the Taliban. And then the American planes bombed the Pakistani post.”
For years, the villagers said, Suran Dara served as a safe haven for jihadist fighters — whether from Afghanistan or Pakistan or other countries — giving them aid and shelter and a place to stash their weapons. With the firefight under way, one of Suran Dara’s villagers dashed across the border into Afghanistan carrying a field radio with a long antenna (the villager called it “a Motorola”) to deliver to the Taliban fighters. He never made it. The man with the Motorola was hit by an American bomb. After the fight, wounded Taliban members were carried into Suran Dara for treatment. “Everyone supports the Taliban on both sides of the border,” one of the villagers we spoke with said.
Later, an American analyst briefed by officials in Washington confirmed the villagers’ account. “There have been dozens of incidents where there have been exchanges of fire,” he said.
That American and Pakistani soldiers are fighting one another along what was meant to be a border between allies highlights the extraordinarily chaotic situation unfolding inside the Pakistani tribal areas, where hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Taliban, along with Al Qaeda and other foreign fighters, enjoy freedom from American attacks.
But the incident also raises one of the more fundamental questions of the long war against Islamic militancy, and one that looms larger as the American position inside Afghanistan deteriorates: Whose side is Pakistan really on?
PAKISTAN’S WILD, LARGELY ungoverned tribal areas have become an untouchable base for Islamic militants to attack Americans and Afghans across the border. Inside the tribal areas, Taliban warlords have taken near-total control, pushing aside the Pakistani government and imposing their draconian form of Islam. And for more than a year now, they have been sending suicide bombers against government and military targets in Pakistan, killing hundreds of people. American and Pakistani investigators say they believe it was Baitullah Mehsud, the strongest of FATA’s Taliban leaders, who dispatched assassins last December to kill Benazir Bhutto, the former prime minister. With much of the North-West Frontier Province, which borders the tribal areas, also now under their control, the Taliban are increasingly in a position to threaten the integrity of the Pakistani state.
Then there is Al Qaeda. According to American officials and counterterrorism experts, the organization has rebuilt itself and is using its sanctuaries inside the tribal areas to plan attacks against the United States and Europe. Since 2004, six major terrorist plots against Europe or the United States — including the successful suicide attacks in London that killed 52 people in July 2005 — have been traced back to Pakistan’s tribal areas, according to Bruce Hoffman, a professor of security studies at Georgetown University. Hoffman says he fears that Al Qaeda could be preparing a major attack before the American presidential election. “I’m convinced they are planning something,” he told me.
At the center of all this stands the question of whether Pakistan really wants to control the Talibs and their Qaeda allies ensconced in the tribal areas — and whether it really can.
This was not supposed to be a major worry. After the attacks of Sept. 11, President Pervez Musharraf threw his lot in with the United States. Pakistan has helped track down Al Qaeda suspects, launched a series of attacks against militants inside the tribal areas — a new offensive got under way just weeks ago — and given many assurances of devotion to the antiterrorist cause. For such efforts, Musharraf and the Pakistani government have been paid handsomely, receiving more than $10 billion in American money since 2001.
But as the incident on the Afghan border suggests, little in Pakistan is what it appears. For years, the survival of Pakistan’s military and civilian leaders has depended on a double game: assuring the United States that they were vigorously repressing Islamic militants — and in some cases actually doing so — while simultaneously tolerating and assisting the same militants. From the anti-Soviet fighters of the 1980s and the Taliban of the 1990s to the homegrown militants of today, Pakistan’s leaders have been both public enemies and private friends.
When the game works, it reaps great rewards: billions in aid to boost the Pakistani economy and military and Islamist proxies to extend the government’s reach into Afghanistan and India.
Pakistan’s double game has rested on two premises: that the country’s leaders could keep the militants under control and that they could keep the United States sufficiently placated to keep the money and weapons flowing. But what happens when the game spins out of control? What happens when the militants you have been encouraging grow too strong and set their sights on Pakistan itself? What happens when the bluff no longer works?
II. Being a Warlord
Late in June, to great fanfare, the Pakistani military began what it described as a decisive offensive to rout the Taliban from Khyber agency, one of seven tribal areas that make up the FATA. “Forces Move In on Militants,” declared a headline in Dawn, one of Pakistan’s most influential newspapers. Reporters were kept away, but footage on Pakistani television showed troops advancing behind trucks and troop carriers. The Americans were pleased. “We think that’s a positive development and certainly hope and expect that this government will continue,” Tom Casey, the deputy spokesman at the State Department, said.
The situation was serious indeed: Peshawar, the capital of North-West Frontier Province and just east of Khyber agency, was almost entirely surrounded by Taliban militias, which had begun making forays into the city. The encirclement of Peshawar was the culmination of the Taliban’s advance: first they conquered the tribal areas, then much of the North-West Frontier Province, and now they were aiming for the province’s capital itself. The Talibs were cutting their well-known medieval path: shutting girls’ schools, banishing women from the streets, blowing up CD kiosks and beating barbers for shaving beards.
A few days into the military operation, the photographer Lynsey Addario and I, dressed in traditional clothes and with a posse of gunmen protecting us, rode into Khyber agency ourselves. “Entry by Foreigners Prohibited Beyond This Point,” the sign said on the way in. As we drove past the dun-colored buildings and corrugated-tin shops, every trace of government authority vanished. No policemen, no checkpoints, no guards. Nothing to keep us from our appointment with the Taliban.
It was a Friday afternoon, and our guides suggested we pull off the main road until prayers were over; local Taliban enforcers, they said, would not take kindly to anyone skipping prayers. For a couple of hours we waited inside the home of an uncle of one of our guides, listening to the muezzin call the locals to battle.
“What is the need of the day?” a man implored in Pashto over a loudspeaker. “Holy war — holy war is the need of the day!”
After a couple of hours, we resumed our journey, traveling down a mostly empty road. And that is when it struck me: there was no evidence, anywhere, of the military operation that had made the news. There were no Pakistani soldiers, no trucks, no tanks. Nothing.
After a couple of miles, we turned off the road and headed down a sandy path toward a high-walled compound guarded by young men with guns. I had come to my destination: Takya, the home village of Haji Namdar, a Taliban commander who had taken control of a large swath of Khyber agency.
Pulling into Namdar’s compound, I felt transported back in time to the Kabul of the 1990s, when the Taliban were at their zenith. A group of men and boys — jittery, clutching rifles and rocket-propelled grenades — sat in the bed of a Toyota Hi-Lux, the same model of truck the Taliban used to ride to victory in Afghanistan. A flag nearly identical to that of the Afghan movement — a pair of swords crossed against a white background — fluttered in the heavy air. Even the name of Namdar’s group, the Vice and Virtue brigade, came straight from the Taliban playbook: in the 1990s, bands of young men under the same name terrorized Afghanistan, flogging men for shaving their beards, caning women for walking alone and thrashing children for flying kites.
The young fighters were chattering excitedly about a missile that had recently destroyed one of their ammunition dumps. An American missile, the kids said. “It was a plane without a pilot,” one of the boys explained through an interpreter. His eyes darted back and forth among his fellows. “We saw a flash. And then the building exploded.”
His description matched that of a Predator, an airborne drone that America uses to hunt militants in the tribal areas. Publicly, at least, the Predator is the only American presence the Pakistani government has so far allowed inside its borders.
We walked into the compound’s main building. In a corner, Namdar sat on the floor, wearing a traditional salwar kameez, but also a vest that looked as if it had been plucked from a three-piece suit. He stood to shake my hand, and he gave a small bow. To break the ice, I handed him a map of Pakistan and asked him to show me where we were. Namdar peered at the chart for several seconds, his eyes registering nothing. He handed it to one of his deputies. He resumed his stare.
Trying again, I asked about the Pakistani military operation — the one that was supposed to be unfolding right now, chasing the Taliban from Khyber.
Why, I asked Namdar, aren’t the Pakistani forces coming after you?
“The government cannot do anything to us, because we are fighting the holy war,” he said. “We are fighting the foreigners — it is our obligation. They are killing innocent people.” Namdar’s aides, one of whom spoke fluent English, looked at him and shook their heads to make him speak more cautiously. Namdar carried on.
“When the Americans kill innocent people, we must take revenge,” he said.
Tell me about that, I asked Namdar, and his aides again shook their heads. Finally Namdar changed his line. “Well, we can’t stop anyone from going across” into Afghanistan, he said. “I’m not saying we send them ourselves.” And with that, Namdar raised his hand, declining to offer any more details.
By many accounts — on the streets, among Western analysts, even according to his own deputies — Namdar was regularly training and dispatching young men to fight and blow themselves up in Afghanistan. An aide, Munsif Khan, told me that his group had sent “hundreds of people” to fight the Americans. At one point, he described for me how the Vice and Virtue brigade had recently set a minimum-age requirement for suicide bombers. “We are opposed to children carrying out suicide bombings,” Khan said. “We get so many young people coming to us — 15, 16 years old — wanting to go on martyrdom operations. This is not the age to be a suicide bomber. Any man who wants to be a suicide bomber should be at least 20 or 25.”
Khan himself, a former magazine reporter in Peshawar, had been gravely wounded in a car-bomb attack last year. His feet were mangled, and he could walk only with crutches. A bloody struggle for power rages among the many Taliban warlords of the FATA; Khan said his assailants had likely been dispatched by Baitullah Mehsud, the powerful warlord in South Waziristan, because Namdar had refused to submit to Mehsud’s authority.
Another of Namdar’s aides had spoken enthusiastically of his commander’s prowess in battle. “He is a great fighter!” the aide told me. “He goes to Afghanistan every month to fight the Americans.”
So here was Namdar — Taliban chieftain, enforcer of Islamic law, usurper of the Pakistani government and trainer and facilitator of suicide bombers in Afghanistan — sitting at home, not three miles from Peshawar, untouched by the Pakistani military operation that was supposedly unfolding around us.
What’s going on? I asked the warlord. Why aren’t they coming for you?
“I cannot lie to you,” Namdar said, smiling at last. “The army comes in, and they fire at empty buildings. It is a drama — it is just to entertain.”
Entertain whom? I asked.
“America,” he said.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Health Care Economics, 2
on: September 06, 2008, 10:13:04 AM
Wood’s clinic isn’t without its detractors, particularly among insurance companies that see prepaid physician plans as competition. But it hasn’t deterred him. “I’ll sign up one patient at a time if I have to,” Wood told the Journal. “I can’t see my practice surviving for the next 10 years without this model.”
Henry Ford didn’t invent the automobile. He just found a way to mass-produce it, allowing him to sell an affordable, reliable form of transportation to middle-class Americans. Can twenty-first-century entrepreneurs do the same for health care, which seems defined by expensive, labor-intensive services? In a word, yes—by “unbundling” inexpensive services from expensive settings like hospitals and by moving from a reactive medical model that treats already sick patients (very expensive) to a predictive, personalized model that monitors patients for disease predispositions and keeps them healthy (far cheaper).
Wal-Mart, for all the fire that labor activists direct at it, is quickly becoming the Henry Ford of health care. It took a bold stride into health-care markets in 2006, rolling out a Florida pilot program offering dozens of generic drugs at just $4 for a month’s supply. The program quickly spread to other states and added many new generics, including medicines for glaucoma, attention deficit disorder, fungal infections, and acne. As of May 2008, Wal-Mart estimates, the program has saved consumers over $1 billion in prescription drug costs. Competitors like Target and Kroger have rushed to match its offerings.
Another low-price, low-tech step toward shrinking health-care costs is the emergence of convenient-care clinics like RediClinic and MinuteClinic, which are housed in larger retail stores like Wal-Mart, Target, and CVS. The first convenient-care clinic, QuickMedx (later renamed MinuteClinic), opened in Minneapolis–Saint Paul in 2000 after its founder, Rick Krieger, couldn’t find a doctor on short notice to administer a strep-throat test to his son. Wasn’t there a better way, he wondered, to get fast, convenient care for simple illnesses? “We are not talking about diabetes, cancer, or heart disease,” he told Harvard Business School researchers in 2002. “We are talking about colds, throat and ear infections.”
The convenient-care clinics all use a similar model: offer a list of simple, low-cost health-care services for the consumer who can’t see his regular physician or doesn’t have one. The clinics keep prices down by offering care from a skilled nurse practitioner under the oversight of a licensed physician. Instead of skipping care or going to an emergency room, patients strapped for time or money can just head for a local store. As of November 2007, some 800 convenient-care clinics were operating across the U.S., up from 62 in 2006, with hundreds more planned.
Despite their popularity with consumers, the clinics have met with opposition from some state medical societies and groups within the American Medical Association that feel that the clinics fragment health care by preventing patients from developing long-term relationships with primary-care physicians. Web Golinkin, RediClinic’s chief executive officer, believes that these concerns are greatly exaggerated. “The reality is that care is already fragmented,” he says. Further, millions of Americans don’t have primary-care physicians or have trouble accessing them, and millions more lack insurance; convenient-care clinics may not address all these patients’ needs, but they can at least get them routine care and provide an entry point into the broader health-care system. “We see a lot of patients who are outside of our scope of practice,” Golinkin acknowledges, “but we refer them back to their primary-care physicians if they have one and help them find one if they don’t.” He objects to the idea that patients must seek an expensive consultation for every medical condition: “Spending $200 or $250 to treat a consumer’s strep throat is not a sustainable model.”
Convenient-care clinics show a lot of promise, but state regulations that prohibit them outright or make it difficult for them to operate effectively are holding them back. “Probably the biggest hurdles are regulations of physician oversight of nurse practitioners,” says Golinkin. Most states require such supervision, but some take the principle to an extreme by requiring doctors to be on site at the clinics or by severely limiting the number of nurses they can manage at one time. These regulations drive up clinic costs, making them unprofitable.
Other states strictly regulate who can own and operate the facilities. According to the California HealthCare Foundation, California laws “require ownership by local physicians who operate the health care facility”; as a result, the CHCF notes, “there are very few clinic operators or clinics in California,” though MinuteClinic is trying to gain a foothold there. And even in California, promising early evidence suggests that convenient-care clinics, despite their scarcity, are changing the economics of basic health care. In May 2007, the Los Angeles Times reported that the state’s largest physicians’ association, HealthCare Partners Medical Group (with more than 500,000 patients), started posting prices—at a substantial markdown—for many common procedures, in a direct concession to competitive pressure from convenient-care clinics.
The really exciting strategies for controlling health-care costs are genetic technologies that will identify the tiny differences in DNA that make some people susceptible to various diseases, from diabetes to Alzheimer’s. Myriad Genetics reports $100 million in revenue for a test that has told 150,000 female customers whether they carry the BRCA gene, which puts them at increased risk of developing breast or ovarian cancer. Another company, Navigenics, offers a $2,500 test called Health Compass that screens consumers for 20 conditions, including diabetes, prostate cancer, and obesity. “In five years, we will have a very large number of these gene tests,” Kari Stefansson, who leads the biotech firm deCode Genetics, told Forbes, “and they will be frequently used, at least by an educated portion of the population who will want to know.”
Over the next 10 to 15 years, moreover, technology will offer Americans customized health-care solutions tailored to their individual genetic profiles—individualized regimens of exercise, diet, and drugs to ward off diseases far earlier and more effectively than is possible today. One small company that exemplifies the trends in personalized medicine is Genomas, which is exploring pharmacogenomics, or how drugs interact with people’s genes to produce different reactions. Many patients taking common drugs—statins for high cholesterol, for instance, or antipsychotics for mental illness—have adverse reactions that lead them to switch medicines repeatedly or to stop taking them altogether. These actions can lead to more expensive health complications, like heart attacks. Some experts estimate that about 2 million serious adverse drug reactions may occur every year, producing 100,000 deaths and billions of dollars in excess health-care costs. Genomas’s technology, which it calls PhyzioType, may help physicians and insurers predict common side effects and realize huge savings. (One study has found that effective genetic testing for a single blood-thinning drug, warfarin, could help patients avoid “85,000 serious bleeding events and 17,000 strokes annually,” reducing costs by $1.1 billion.)
The field remains in its infancy. Some voice concerns about the quality of the science linking newly discovered genes with complex conditions like heart disease or diabetes, and worry that fly-by-night companies will just hand patients test results without any counseling about what they mean. These concerns are legitimate but not insurmountable—and it’s easy to see how powerful market applications will emerge. Patients with a family history of chronic ailments like diabetes, heart disease, and cancer, for example, might gladly pay extra for an insurance package that included genetic counseling and guidance on which drugs were likely to offer the best outcomes and the least risk of dangerous side effects.
To unleash the full promise of these new technologies and business models, policymakers should deregulate the market for medical products and services while liberating consumer demand. Congress should give individuals the same tax deduction for the purchase of health insurance that employers now have. Also, because each state currently requires any insurer doing business in that state to cover certain mandated services—driving up the cost of basic health insurance—we should create a national market for health insurance, perhaps through an optional federal charter (as now exists for banks) or through direct cross-border sales. This increase in individually owned insurance and real market competition would encourage companies to offer a broad mix of new health-care services and insurance products that cater to consumers’ real needs at prices they can afford. As the insurance environment became defined by individuals purchasing their own portable coverage, employers, unions, and hospitals would become trusted health-care intermediaries and help patients navigate the system.
In 2003, Congress enacted a moratorium on Medicare payments to physician-owned hospitals that has since expired, though opponents keep trying to resurrect it. It should stay dead, thus encouraging health professionals to explore new venues for patient care and create new bundles of health-care services. Doctors, convenient-care clinics, and specialty hospitals could then compete for customers in a wide variety of health-care settings. There isn’t one store for electronics, and there’s no reason that there should be one venue, or just a few, for health care.
Today, you don’t have to pick up a science-fiction novel to envision the future of health care. Convenient-care clinics already offer a wide range of basic health-care services at affordable prices; more services—perhaps including genetic testing—are sure to follow, with the results flowing back to a patient’s primary-care physician in an electronic health record that is reliable, secure, and easy to use. Doctors who are now overwhelmed and underpaid will opt out of insurance for most basic services in return for prepaid primary-care agreements that offer patients more convenience and better care at affordable prices. Waiting at a doctor’s office or an emergency room for basic care will decline, replaced by access to your primary-care physician through e-mail and even cell phone. Entrepreneurs will mine reams of information to help devise state-of-the-art patient-care regimens for complex diseases like cancer, helping patients in small Iowa towns get the quality of care currently available only at academic hospitals in Boston or New York. Patients will pay for many more basic services out of tax-exempt health savings accounts (HSAs), driving continuous competition and innovation. Finally, advances in genetics will enable doctors to match patients with treatment regimens that give them the best chance of avoiding unwanted side effects and maximizing good outcomes.
In short, from HSAs to DNA, we’ll be matching the right treatment to the right patient at the right price, and we’ll be restoring patients to the center of medical decisions—which is where they belong.
Paul Howard is the director of the Manhattan Institute’s Center for Medical Progress and the managing editor of its web-based journal, Medical Progress Today.http://www.city-journal.org/2008/18_3_health_care_innovators.html
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / New Health Care Models, 1
on: September 06, 2008, 10:12:38 AM
Health Care’s New Entrepreneurs
Innovators are bringing consumer-oriented medicine to market, with promising results.
For seriously ill patients, American health care is second to none. Our commitment to innovation is unmatched; our researchers have won more Nobel Prizes for medicine than all other countries’ combined; our biotech and pharmaceutical industries, thanks partly to lavish federal funding for basic science research, are the envy of the developed world. So lopsided is the field that thousands of European scientists have relocated to companies in the U.S., where they have a better chance of transforming cutting-edge research into lifesaving new medicines.
But American health care is also much more confusing, impersonal, and expensive than it needs to be. Conflicting opinions from doctors and insurers often strand patients with complex diseases in a medical maze. Many primary-care physicians, frustrated with red tape and puny reimbursements, limit the number of Medicare and Medicaid patients whom they see, or they drop out of the profession altogether. Adding insult to injury, employers and employees face seemingly endless cost increases, with health-insurance premiums rising much faster than inflation or income.
Thankfully, entrepreneurs are finding ways to bring innovative, consumer-oriented health care to market—simplifying medical decisions, reinvigorating primary care, and lowering health-care costs. From health insurance to DNA-driven medicine, American health care is experiencing a revolution from below that promises to improve quality, lower costs, and empower people to control their own health care.
Today, we shop for cut-rate hotels on Travelocity, bargain for airfares on Priceline, and seek reliable information on everything from computers to flat-screen TVs at CNET. The same information explosion is occurring in health care. Dozens of websites, such as WebMD, Revolution Health, and eHealthInsurance, now offer consumers up-to-the-minute information on medical conditions, drugs, and insurance options, as well as basic quality information on doctors and hospitals. Internet-savvy patients can walk into their doctors’ offices knowing more about the latest treatments than their physicians do.
Critics counter that health care is more complicated than hotels. Without someone to help manage complex information, they point out, patients may find themselves overwhelmed by options, fall prey to snake-oil salesmen, or fail to see that they have received incorrect diagnoses or poor treatment plans. But where critics see a problem, entrepreneurs see an opportunity. Companies are finding ways to make even the most complicated medical decisions simpler for patients.
Take the Boston-based firm Best Doctors, founded in 1989 by Harvard Medical School professors. Best Doctors uses peer evaluations of physicians—polling 50,000 doctors worldwide in 400 medical specialties—to identify leading medical experts and then makes them available to 10 million patients in 30 countries. Normally, insurance companies limit patients’ access to specialists by requiring prior authorization for referrals, limiting access to preferred networks, or asking patients to pay more out of pocket. Patients whose employers offer Best Doctors, on the other hand, can go directly to the firm without prior authorization whenever they have serious medical problems and need help making decisions.
One such patient is John de Beck, a California teacher diagnosed with prostate cancer. De Beck faced a dizzying array of options, from cutting-edge robotic surgery to more traditional surgical, hormone, and radiation treatments. Since his employer had contracted with Best Doctors, John immediately had access to a “handler” who got John’s permission to send his medical records—including original biopsy slides and CT scans—to a Best Doctors clinical team. The team wrote a synopsis of John’s case and sent it to a leading Harvard expert on prostate cancer. Within a few weeks, John and his doctor got a binder from the expert that examined and explained his treatment options and made a personal recommendation for him.
Over the next year, John consulted with Best Doctors every time he needed to make a key decision about his treatment—for example, getting another opinion from a University of Chicago expert about a new type of radiation treatment, proton therapy. The depth of the reviews—and the fact that they came from leading experts who had no stake in his case—proved invaluable. “I can’t imagine, with the income that I’ve got, to be able to even find . . . somebody to personally review my case and write a personal diagnosis,” de Beck says.
“We trust patients to self-select,” Best Doctors president Evan Falchuk explains. “When they feel uncertain about something, they have the most interest in making sure things go right.” Falchuk hopes that Best Doctors is part of a growing trend toward more consumerism in health care—even in single-payer systems like Canada’s. “Even government-run systems are suffering from the same cost trends we are,” he says. Consequently, they are searching for ways to share costs with people, “and as the financial burdens fall more on individuals, those individuals want control.”
Marcus Welby, M.D. last aired on ABC in 1976. Fast-forward 30 years or so, and think about the prime-time doctor dramas that have replaced it: ER, Grey’s Anatomy, House, Scrubs, and Nip/Tuck. The folksy primary-care doctor familiar to patients a generation ago has all but vanished from America’s primary cultural medium, television—and this reflects his real-life decline. Insurance reimbursements, and especially Medicare, may pay primary-care physicians only a small fraction of the actual costs of treating patients, especially after one takes into account rising demands on doctors’ time and dramatically increased administrative overhead. Consequently, many doctors are retiring or avoiding primary care. In reality, as on television, hospital emergency rooms and expensive specialists are replacing them.
Personal relationships between primary-care doctors and patients foster long-term health and keep health-care costs in check, so this is an unwelcome development. And it could hardly come at a worse time. The need for primary care will rise rapidly in the years ahead as tens of millions of aging baby boomers develop serious chronic ailments ranging from heart disease to diabetes to cancer. The nation’s over-65 population will double by 2030; the American Academy of Family Physicians, however, reports that from 1997 to 2005, the number of med-school graduates entering primary-care residencies dropped 50 percent.
Policymakers compound the problem by advocating universal insurance schemes that would inject millions more patients into the system without fixing any of its underlying problems. In July 2007, the Wall Street Journal reported that many Massachusetts residents were having trouble finding primary-care providers, even as the state embraced a universal insurance mandate that could thrust 550,000 previously uninsured residents into overcrowded doctors’ offices. The Massachusetts Medical Society found that for new patients, the average wait to see an internist was up 57 percent since the previous year, to more than seven weeks.
Primary-care doctors’ woes are severe in the rest of the country, too. “Most physicians out there are in networks, meaning that they accept insurance and are held to the reimbursement schedules currently available to them,” says Kevin Kelleher, a Virginia doctor. And insurance rewards procedures—tests and surgeries—much more handsomely than it does working with patients on the prevention and management of chronic disease. The result: as reimbursements have flatlined or even declined, the traditional family practice has evolved into a high-volume, prebooked business in which physicians have just a few minutes to spend with each patient. “Double booking has become extremely common in the last six or eight years,” Kelleher observes. “Doctors don’t have any quality time to spend with their patients. . . . They’re lucky if they can address a current pressing health issue, let alone discuss prevention.”
Instead of waiting for the system to change, some physicians are changing the system. In 2004, in Reston, Virginia, Kelleher and Mark Vasiliadis founded Executive Healthcare Services, where clients receive a full range of preventive, primary-care, and acute treatments for a flat monthly fee of $150 to $450, depending on the size of their families. There are no contracts; if EHS clients don’t feel that they’re getting value for their money, they can leave. Kelleher says that EHS’s patient-retention rate is about 98 percent.
This out-of-pocket payment model counters some of the system’s perverse incentives. “We can very frequently just discuss problems on the phone with patients, since 90 percent of the diagnosis traditionally comes from their history,” Kelleher points out. “If someone calls with elbow pain, I can spend 15 minutes on the phone with them. I don’t have a financial impetus to get them into my office.”
Comparatively high prices allow EHS to operate with just 300 patients or so, a stark contrast with the 2,500 patients whom the average primary-care doctor must serve in order to turn a profit after low insurance reimbursements. EHS’s enviable scale won’t work nationwide, Kelleher admits, but he thinks that components of his program could be modified to accommodate larger practices and lower prices. For instance, patients could bolster their current insurance reimbursements with a flat monthly fee—maybe as little as $20—and in exchange receive enhanced primary-care access (longer appointments, say) from doctors with somewhat smaller practices.
Further, filing claims with insurance companies is so time-consuming and expensive that doctors could lower prices—perhaps by 20 to 30 percent or more—simply by offering more basic services on a cash basis. Primary-care physicians in this type of system would likely see fewer patients every day but could offer them more time and attention. Some observers have derisively called this “concierge medicine.” But it would be more accurate to say that Kelleher and his colleagues have embraced a primary-care model that puts the doctor-patient relationship first—where it used to be.
This model seems to be gaining traction with frustrated patients and doctors. Last October, one West Virginia doctor made national news when the Wall Street Journal chronicled his prepaid primary-care plan. Vic Wood offers the 100 or so patients in his plan unlimited primary and urgent care, basic diagnostic tests, and many generic drugs for a monthly fee ranging from $83 for an individual to $125 for a family.
One patient is a private music teacher who, before joining Wood’s plan, had gone without health insurance for four years because his wife’s health insurance would have cost him $400 a month. Wood diagnosed him with high cholesterol and is treating him, with excellent results. A local business started offering Wood’s clinic as a benefit, switched to a major medical plan with a high deductible, and saw its monthly premiums drop by $4,000. The firm’s health insurer lowered its rates the following year, noting that workers “required less time in the hospital and used Dr. Wood’s clinic for nearly all of their primary care,” reported the Journal.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Credit where Credit's Due
on: September 06, 2008, 08:40:31 AM
The media's attacks on Sarah Palin backfire.
by William Kristol
09/15/2008, Volume 014, Issue 01
The editors of THE WEEKLY STANDARD believe in giving credit where credit is due. The presidential race looks a whole lot better today than it did two weeks ago. For this, thanks are owed to two men--Barack Obama and John McCain--and to that herd of independent minds, the liberal media.
First: Thank you, Barack Obama. He lacked the confidence or the strength to ask Hillary Clinton, recipient of some 18 million votes, to join him on the ticket. Such a ticket, uniting and exciting the Democratic party, would have been hard to beat in this Democratic year. Having ruled out Clinton, Obama then lacked the nerve to double down on the theme of change, by selecting, say, Virginia governor Tim Kaine or Kansas governor Kathleen Sebelius. A change versus experience election wouldn't have been a bad bet for Obama. Instead, he settled on an unimpressive vice presidential pick, a long-time, long-winded overrated senator from a safe state, who gave him no lift at all in the polls, and offers no prospect of doing so.
Second: Thank you, John McCain. He showed guts with his pick of Sarah Palin. He also demonstrated a shrewd strategic sense. He knew that running on experience would carry him only so far--most likely to a respectable defeat. He understood the implications of Obama's passing over Hillary--not that Clinton voters would vote for McCain-Palin (though if even a few do so, it could make a difference), but that his pick of Palin when compared with Obama's shying away from Hillary would show McCain as a bolder and more confident leader. And he had the sense that Palin's anti-establishment conservatism, pro-family feminism, and tough-minded reformism would add something important to his campaign.
Third: A special thank you to our friends in the liberal media establishment. Who knew they would come through so spectacularly? The ludicrous media feeding frenzy about the Palin family hyped interest in her speech, enabling her to win a huge audience for her smashing success Wednesday night at the convention. Indeed, it even renewed interest in McCain, who seems to have gotten still more viewers for his less smashing--but well-received--presentation the following evening.
The astounding (even to me, after all these years!) smugness and mean-spiritedness of so many in the media engendered not just interest in but sympathy for Palin. It allowed Palin to speak not just to conservatives but to the many Americans who are repulsed by the media's prurient interest in and adolescent snickering about her family. It allowed the McCain-Palin ticket to become the populist standard-bearer against an Obama-Media ticket that has disdain for Middle America.
By the end of the week, after Palin's tour de force in St. Paul, the liberal media were so befuddled that they were reduced to complaining that conservatives aren't being narrow-minded enough. Thus, Hanna Rosin--who has covered religion and politics for the Washington Post, and has also written for the New Yorker, the New Republic, and the New York Times--lamented in a piece for Slate: "So cavalier are conservatives about Sarah Palin's wreck of a home life that they make the rest of us look stuffy and slow-witted by comparison." I suppose it was ungenerous of conservatives, in our broad-mindedness and tolerance of human frailty, to have let Ms. Rosin down, just when she was counting on us to bring out the tar and feathers. But she gives us too much credit when she suggests we make the liberal media look stuffy and slow-witted. They do that all by themselves.
For instance, what in the world can she be thinking when she refers to "Sarah Palin's wreck of a home life"? The only "domestic irregularities" (to use Ms. Rosin's loaded term) she cites are "two difficult pregnancies--Palin's with a Down syndrome baby and now her unmarried teenage daughter's." The second of these is a situation that the young woman and her family seem to be dealing with appropriately by their own lights. "Bristol and the young man she will marry are going to realize very quickly the difficulties of raising a child, which is why they will have the love and support of our entire family," the Palins said. But what is "irregular" about bringing to term a Down syndrome child? Is Rosin suggesting--without having the courage to say so--that Mrs. Palin should have aborted the baby? Is it upsetting to her to have a prominent woman choose not to do so?
Some may think we should also thank Sarah Palin for coming through, under pressure, with flying colors. But we're looking forward to expressing those thanks personally, at the vice presidential residence here in Washington.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Damn Liars & Stats
on: September 06, 2008, 08:27:20 AM
Scientists, few of whom are trained statisticians, often start rummaging around the statisticians' tool boxes for gee whiz methods to beat spurious data into shape. Statistician William Briggs has a site (http://wmbriggs.com/
) devoted to examining mis-applied statistical method. Below is a recent piece.
Do not smooth times series, you hockey puck!
Published by Briggs at 7:47 am under Bad statistics, Global warming
The advice which forms the title of this post would be how Don Rickles, if he were a statistician, would explain how not to conduct times series analysis. Judging by the methods I regularly see applied to data of this sort, Don’s rebuke is sorely needed.
The advice particularly relevant now because there is a new hockey stick controversy brewing. Mann and others have published a new study melding together lots of data and they claim to have again shown that the here and now is hotter than the then and there. Go to climateaudit.org and read all about it. I can’t do a better job than Steve, so I won’t try. What I can do is to show you what not to do. I’m going to shout it, too, because I want to be sure you hear.
Mann includes at this site a large number of temperature proxy data series. Here is one of them called wy026.ppd (I just grabbed one out of the bunch). Here is the picture of this data:
The various black lines are the actual data! The red-line is a 10-year running mean smoother! I will call the black data the real data, and I will call the smoothed data the fictional data. Mann used a “low pass filter” different than the running mean to produce his fictional data, but a smoother is a smoother and what I’m about to say changes not one whit depending on what smoother you use.
Now I’m going to tell you the great truth of time series analysis. Ready? Unless the data is measured with error, you never, ever, for no reason, under no threat, SMOOTH the series! And if for some bizarre reason you do smooth it, you absolutely on pain of death do NOT use the smoothed series as input for other analyses! If the data is measured with error, you might attempt to model it (which means smooth it) in an attempt to estimate the measurement error, but even in these rare cases you have to have an outside (the learned word is “exogenous”) estimate of that error, that is, one not based on your current data.
If, in a moment of insanity, you do smooth time series data and you do use it as input to other analyses, you dramatically increase the probability of fooling yourself! This is because smoothing induces spurious signals—signals that look real to other analytical methods. No matter what you will be too certain of your final results! Mann et al. first dramatically smoothed their series, then analyzed them separately. Regardless of whether their thesis is true—whether there really is a dramatic increase in temperature lately—it is guaranteed that they are now too certain of their conclusion.
There. Sorry for shouting, but I just had to get this off my chest.
Now for some specifics, in no particular order.
A probability model should be used for only one thing: to quantify the uncertainty of data not yet seen. I go on and on and on about this because this simple fact, for reasons God only knows, is difficult to remember.
The corollary to this truth is the data in a time series analysis is the data. This tautology is there to make you think. The data is the data! The data is not some model of it. The real, actual data is the real, actual data. There is no secret, hidden “underlying process” that you can tease out with some statistical method, and which will show you the “genuine data”. We already know the data and there it is. We do not smooth it to tell us what it “really is” because we already know what it “really is.”
Thus, there are only two reasons (excepting measurement error) to ever model time series data:
To associate the time series with external factors. This is the standard paradigm for 99% of all statistical analysis. Take several variables and try to quantify their correlation, etc.
To predict future data. We do no need to predict the data we already have. Let me repeat that for ease of memorization: Notice that we do no need to predict the data we already have. We can only predict what we do not know, which is future data. Thus, we do not need to predict the tree ring proxy data because we already know it.
The tree ring data is not temperature (say that out loud). This is why it is called a proxy. It is a perfect proxy? Was that last question a rhetorical one? Was that one, too? Because it is a proxy, the uncertainty of its ability to predict temperature must be taken into account in the final results. Did Mann do this? And just what is a rhetorical question?
There are hundreds of time series analysis methods, most with the purpose of trying to understand the uncertainty of the process so that future data can be predicted, and the uncertainty of those predictions can be quantified (this is a huge area of study in, for example, financial markets, for good reason). This is a legitimate use of smoothing and modeling.
We certainly should model the relationship of the proxy and temperature, taking into account the changing nature of proxy through time, the differing physical processes that will cause the proxy to change regardless of temperature or how temperature exacerbates or quashes them, and on and on. But we should not stop, as everybody has stopped, with saying something about the parameters of the probability models used to quantify these relationships. Doing so makes use, once again, far too certain of the final results. We do not care how the proxy predicts the mean temperature, we do care how the proxy predicts temperature.
We do not need a statistical test to say whether a particular time series has increased since some time point. Why? If you do not know, go back and read these points from the beginning. It’s because all we have to do is look at the data: if it has increased, we are allowed to say “It increased.” If it did not increase or it decreased, then we are not allowed to say “It increased.” It really is as simple as that.
You will now say to me “OK Mr Smarty Pants. What if we had several different time series from different locations? How can we tell if there is a general increase across all of them? We certainly need statistics and p-values and Monte Carol routines to tell us that they increased or that the ‘null hypothesis’ of no increase is true.” First, nobody has called me “Mr Smarty Pants” for a long time, so you’d better watch your language. Second, weren’t you paying attention? If you want to say that 52 out 413 times series increased since some time point, then just go and look at the time series and count! If 52 out of 413 times series increased then you can say “52 out of 413 time series increased.” If more or less than 52 out of 413 times series increased, then you cannot say that “52 out of 413 time series increased.” Well, you can say it, but you would be lying. There is absolutely no need whatsoever to chatter about null hypotheses etc.
If the points—it really is just one point—I am making seem tedious to you, then I will have succeeded. The only fair way to talk about past, known data in statistics is just by looking at it. It is true that looking at massive data sets is difficult and still somewhat of an art. But looking is looking and it’s utterly evenhanded. If you want to say how your data was related with other data, then again, all you have to do is look.
The only reason to create a statistical model is to predict data you have not seen. In the case of the proxy/temperature data, we have the proxies but we do not have temperature, so we can certainly use a probability model to quantify our uncertainty in the unseen temperatures. But we can only create these models when we have simultaneous measures of the proxies and temperature. After these models are created, we then go back to where we do not have temperature and we can predict it (remembering to predict not its mean but the actual values; you also have to take into account how the temperature/proxy relationship might have been different in the past, and how the other conditions extant would have modified this relationship, and on and on).
What you can not, or should not, do is to first model/smooth the proxy data to produce fictional data and then try to model the fictional data and temperature. This trick will always—simply always—make you too certain of yourself and will lead you astray. Notice how the read fictional data looks a hell of a lot more structured than the real data and you’ll get the idea.
Next step is to start playing with the proxy data itself and see what is to see. As soon as I am granted my wish to have each day filled with 48 hours, I’ll be able to do it.
Thanks to Gabe Thornhill of Thornhill Securities for reminding me to write about this.http://wmbriggs.com/blog/2008/09/06/do-not-smooth-times-series-you-hockey-puck/
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Asian Geopolitics
on: September 06, 2008, 07:44:01 AM
So Far, It Just Isn't Looking Like Asia's Century
By Joshua Kurlantzick
Sunday, September 7, 2008; B03
So much for the Asian century. The Thais are bickering with themselves, and when they're done doing that, they'll bicker with the Cambodians -- again. China may be Japan's biggest trading partner, but they hate each other anyway. Malaysia and Indonesia? Two countries divided by the same language.
I've spent a lot of time in Asia over the past decade, as an expat and a traveler. From where I stand, the place is a geopolitical mess. Hogtied by nationalism and narrow self-interest, the countries of the East won't be banding together to replace the West as the seat of global power -- at least not anytime soon.
Asia's troubles have been on prominent display in recent weeks as anti-government demonstrations, fueled in part by anti-Cambodian nationalism, rocked Bangkok. Earlier this summer, Thailand and Cambodia moved onto war footing because of a dispute over a mountaintop temple -- not exactly a living example of the Beijing Olympics' motto: "One World, One Dream."
Of course, an Asian version of the European Union isn't out of reach, as many Asian leaders know. But today, the continent battles a kind of split personality. On the one hand, many cultural, economic and political trends suggest that Asian nations are becoming more integrated than ever before. But on the other, a virulent nationalism is spreading in the region, one that feeds on reinterpreted -- or even imaginary -- history to gin up hatred and push small-minded agendas.
Elites in Asia clearly understand the benefits of integration, and businesses and officials together are promoting the trend. In 2004, China replaced the United States as Japan's biggest trading partner. Chinese yearly trade with the ten Southeast Asian nations will likely surpass $200 billion by 2010.With the expansion of satellite television, Asian airlines and regional hiring by Asian conglomerates, businesspeople watch the same news, cool their heels together in a slew of space-age international airports and mingle at cocktail parties and pan-Asian business summits. Fads that start in Tokyo or Seoul, such as drinking red wine or dying hair blond, sweep through the region. At summits of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), I've seen packs of diplomats gathered at bars swapping stories in fluent English about their hijinks during graduate school at Johns Hopkins University.
Despite all that love, most of the region's multilateral institutions do little more than meet for the sake of meeting. In Cambodia and Laos, local officials and fishermen despair that dams built by China on the upper portion of the Mekong River are blocking water flow -- and ravaging fishing in the southern stretch of that river that snakes through their countries. "But when we . . . try to bring this up at ASEAN meetings," Sokhem Pech, a leading Cambodian Mekong expert, told me, "no one even wants to talk about it." The committee officially monitoring the Mekong, which doesn't include China, is so feeble that it rarely speaks out on the issue.
The problem: Calls to nationalism and an obsession with sovereignty are drowning out calls for cooperation. The passage of time since World War II, when nationalism led to catastrophe, has allowed politicians to wield it more freely for short-term gain. "The Chinese are ignorant, so they are overjoyed," Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara quipped after China launched a manned spaceship in 2003. "That [spacecraft] was an outdated one. If Japan wanted to do it, we could do it in one year."
This sort of nationalism isn't the stuff of a few firebrands. Across the continent, populist politicians have scrubbed school textbooks, whether to minimize Japan's atrocities in South Korea and China during World War II or to erase the memory of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia -- perhaps because Prime Minister Hun Sen was an officer in the genocidal regime before he turned against it. Traveling to Cambodia, I meet teenagers who know practically nothing about what happened in their country in the 1970s. China, too, has whitewashed the memory of the Tiananmen Square crackdown of June 4, 1989. When a "Frontline" documentary crew went to Beijing University a few years ago and showed students the iconic 1989 photograph of the man who stopped a tank in its tracks, no one recognized it.
Politicians aren't the only ones embracing nationalism. In 2002, when Thailand was still recovering from its financial meltdown, government-backed filmmakers produced "The Legend of Suriyothai" to restore their country's wounded pride. One of the most expensive pictures in Thai history, it told the story of an ancient Thai queen who died fighting Burmese invaders -- and compounded Thais' hostility toward Burma, their neighbor to the west.
The Internet has further empowered Asian nationalists, allowing them to air their vitriol unchecked. On Chinese online bulletin boards such as the "Strong Nation Forum," which is run by the People's Daily, respondents compete for the most aggressive stance and ridicule Chinese leaders for compromising on issues such as relations with neighboring countries or Tibet or Taiwan. In Japan, the blogosphere helped spark sales of the manga comic book "Hating the Korean Wave." And in Indonesia, online writers helped fuel anger at neighboring Malaysia for the use of a supposedly Indonesian jingle in a tourism campaign and for the mistreatment of an Indonesian karate referee. These are petty grievances, but the Internet amplifies even the smallest outbursts, and reactions can be fierce. Just last week, Vietnam's foreign ministry called in China's ambassador to protest the appearance on Chinese Web sites of "invasion plans" that purported to detail the occupation of Vietnam by the People's Liberation Army.
Whenever I visit Asia, I meet young people who detest neighbors they barely know. "The Thais, all they care about is money. Nothing else," one Burmese acquaintance told me in Rangoon, despite the fact that he'd never actually been to Thailand. In one study taken last year by a leading Japanese nongovernmental organization, two-thirds of the Chinese polled said they had either a "very bad" or "relatively bad" impression of Japan.
As any politician can tell you, public opinion counts. In an open society such as the Philippines, rising anti-Chinese sentiment helped force the government in September 2007 to suspend China-funded projects valued at $4 billion. Even countries that have little history of animosity toward each other can be swept into a rage by the new nationalists. In 2006, after Singaporean state investment fund Temasek Holdings purchased Thai telecommunications giant Shin Corporation, Thai bloggers and online columnists condemned the deal, arguing that a Singaporean company would have control over sensitive Thai communications infrastructure. Thousands of Thais marched to Singapore's embassy in Bangkok -- a move that left urbane Singaporean diplomats, more accustomed to managing business deals than bullhorns, a bit flat-footed.
All these problems don't seem to have resonated in the United States, where an entire industry has developed around predictions that the Asian century will replace the American one. And maybe it will -- a few centuries from now.
Joshua Kurlantzick is a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and a fellow at the Pacific Council on International Policy.http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/09/05/AR2008090502657.html
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Iraq "Fusion Cells"
on: September 06, 2008, 07:04:29 AM
U.S. Teams Weaken Insurgency In Iraq
By Joby Warrick and Robin Wright
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, September 6, 2008; A01
By the time he was captured last month, the man known among Iraqi insurgents as "the Tiger" had lost much of his bite. Abu Uthman, whose fierce attacks against U.S. troops and Iraqi civilians in Fallujah had earned him a top spot on Iraq's most-wanted list, had been reduced to shuttling between hideouts in a Baghdad slum, hiding by day for fear neighbors might recognize him.
In the end, a former associate-turned-informant showed local authorities the house where Uthman was sleeping. On Aug. 11, U.S. troops kicked in the door and handcuffed him. They quietly ended the career of a man Pentagon officials describe as the kidnapper of American journalist Jill Carroll and also as one of a dwindling number of veteran commanders of the Sunni insurgent group known as al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI).
Uthman, whose given name is Salim Abdallah Ashur al-Shujayri, was one of the bigger fish to be landed recently in a novel anti-insurgent operation that plays out nightly in Baghdad and throughout much of Iraq. U.S. intelligence and defense officials credit the operation and its unusual tactics -- involving small, hybrid teams of special forces and intelligence officers -- with the capture of hundreds of suspected terrorists and their supporters in recent months.
The "fusion cells" are being described as a major factor behind the declining violence in Iraq in recent months. Defense officials say they have been particularly effective against AQI, which has lost 10 senior commanders since June in Baghdad alone, including Uthman.
Aiding the U.S. effort, the officials say, is the increasing antipathy toward AQI among many ordinary Iraqis, who quickly report new terrorist safe houses as soon as they're established. Fresh tips are channeled to fast-reaction teams that move aggressively against reported terrorist targets -- often multiple times in a single night.
"Wherever they go, they cannot hide," said a senior U.S. defense official familiar with counterterrorism operations in Iraq. "They don't have safe houses anymore."
The rapid strikes are coordinated by the Joint Task Force, a military-led team that includes intelligence and forensic professionals, political analysts, mapping experts, computer specialists piloting unmanned aircraft, and Special Operations troops. After decades of agency rivalries that have undermined coordination on counterterrorism, the task force is enjoying new success in Iraq with its blending of diverse military and intelligence assets to speed up counterterrorism missions.
Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen said in a recent interview that the cells produce intelligence that nets 10 to 20 captures a night in Iraq.
"We're living in a world now where targets are fleeting," Mullen said. "I don't care if they're on the ground, in the air, on the sea or under the sea -- you don't get much of a shot, and you've got to be able to move quickly."
Fusion cell teams have helped collect and analyze intelligence not only against AQI and Sunni insurgents but also against Shiite militias and foreign fighters, say U.S. military officials.
Headquartered in an old concrete hangar on the Balad Air Base, which once housed Saddam Hussein's fighter aircraft, about 45 miles north of Baghdad, the Joint Task Force in Iraq runs fusion cells in the north, west and south and in Baghdad, U.S. officials said.
The headquarters bustles like the New York Stock Exchange, with long-haired computer experts working alongside wizened intelligence agents and crisply clad military officers, say officials who have worked there or visited.
Huge computer screens hang from the ceiling, displaying aerial surveillance images relayed from Predator, Schweizer and tiny Gnat spycraft. The Bush administration's 2009 supplementary budget request included $1.3 billion to fund 28 unmanned aircraft, officials said, and all will go to the interagency teams in Iraq and Afghanistan, not the Air Force.
For the Joint Task Force, the CIA provides intelligence analysts and spycraft with sensors and cameras that can track targets, vehicles or equipment for up to 14 hours. FBI forensic experts dissect data, from cellphone information to the "pocket litter" found on extremists. Treasury officials track funds flowing among extremists and from governments. National Security Agency staffers intercept conversations or computer data, and members of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency use high-tech equipment to pinpoint where suspected extremists are using phones or computers.
Fusion cells remain one of the least-known aspects of U.S. operations in Iraq, U.S. officials said, but they have produced significant captures. In March, a fusion cell team captured Hajji Mohammed Shibl, whom U.S. authorities had linked to a string of gruesome attacks on U.S. and Iraqi forces. His Shiite militia group has ties to Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps and Lebanon's Hezbollah.
"The capabilities for high-end special joint operations that exist now only existed in Hollywood in 2001," said David Kilcullen, a terrorism expert and adviser to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
Data gathered in a raid at midnight -- collected by helmet-mounted cameras that can scan rooms, people, documents and cellphone entries and relay the pictures back to headquarters -- often lead to a second or third raid before dawn, according to U.S. officials.
"To me, it's not just war-fighting now but in the future," Mullen said. "It's been the synergy, it's been the integration that has had such an impact."
Defense officials said Uthman's capture reflected the success of the program and also sent a powerful message to remaining AQI members, who are now surrounded by foes even in regions once regarded as friendly. While AQI remains capable of staging deadly suicide bombings, its leaders are becoming reviled throughout the country and are hard-pressed to find sanctuary anywhere in Iraq, according to U.S. defense and intelligence officials.
The progress has somewhat eased concerns among military analysts about an al-Qaeda resurgence in Iraq after U.S. combat troops draw down, Pentagon and intelligence sources said.
The shift also is tacitly acknowledged inside al-Qaeda's base on the Afghan-Pakistan border, as Osama bin Laden has begun retooling his propaganda campaign to emphasize the conflict in Afghanistan instead of the failing effort in Iraq, the officials said. While there is little evidence that al-Qaeda is attempting to move fighters and resources from Iraq to Afghanistan, the Iraq conflict is no longer driving recruitment and donations for al-Qaeda as it did as recently as nine months ago, they said.
Attacks inside Iraq by AQI, meanwhile, have dropped sharply, with 28 incidents and 125 civilian deaths reported in the first six months of this year, compared with 300 bombings and more than 1,500 deaths in 2007.
"Iraq will always be a target that resonates for al-Qaeda, but we believe it will never again be the central front," said a U.S. counterterrorism analyst who was not authorized to speak on the record. "Their ability to affect what is going on in Iraq has been greatly diminished."
AQI's decline can be traced to several factors, the officials said. Last year's troop increase helped stabilize Baghdad and other major cities, freeing combat forces to take on AQI strongholds throughout the country.
Even before the "surge," the much-celebrated Anbar Awakening movement signaled a rift between tribal leaders of Iraq's Sunni minority and AQI. Since 2006, defense officials have described a deepening revolt by Sunnis repelled by al-Qaeda's brutal attacks against civilians and forced imposition of sharia, or Islamic law. Sunni leaders also objected to AQI's takeover of smuggling routes and black-market enterprises long controlled by local chiefs.
"We don't see the Sunni community going back to al-Qaeda under any circumstances," the senior defense official said.http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/09/05/AR2008090503933.html?hpid=topnews
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: China
on: September 05, 2008, 08:02:27 AM
2nd post. In view of recent reports of US incursions, this is interesting.
China to provide Pakistan four AWACS aircrafts
Updated at: 1510 PST, Friday, September 05, 2008
ISLAMABAD: Air Chief Marshall Tanvir Mahmood Ahmed on Friday said China would provide four AWACS aircrafts to Pakistan for the purpose of aerial surveillance, adding an agreement in this regard has been signed by the two countires.
Talking to Geo News, he said talks were also underway to purchase FC-20 aircrafts from China and added 30 to 40 planes would be provided to Pakistan under the agreement signed by China and Pakistan.
Air chief Marshall further said four such aircrafts were being also acquired from Sweden for aerial surveillance.http://www.thenews.com.pk/updates.asp?id=54260
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / China Helps Pakistan w/ Nukes
on: September 05, 2008, 07:58:46 AM
China sees India as a strategic opponent; appears they've decided to give India something to think about, and have been doing so for a while.
China tested nukes for Pakistan, gave design
5 Sep 2008, 1046 hrs IST, CHIDANAND RAJGHATTA,TNN
WASHINGTON: While an assortment of non-proliferation hardliners and hi-tech suppliers treat India with immense suspicion in the matter of nuclear trade predicated on tests, it turns out that the United States and the west were fully aware of Chinese nuclear weapons proliferation to Pakistan, including conducting a proxy test for it, as far back as 1990.
In some of the most startling revelations to emerge on the subject, a high-ranking former US official who was also a nuclear weapons designer has disclosed that ''in 1982 China's premier Deng Xiaoping began the transfer of nuclear weapons technology to Pakistan.'' http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/msid-3447395,prtpage-1.cms
The whistleblower isn't a think-tank academic or an unnamed official speaking on background. Thomas Reed, described as a former U.S ''nuclear weaponeer'' and a Secretary of the Air Force (1976-77) writes in the latest issue of Physics Today that China’s transfers to Pakistan included blueprints for the ultrasimple CHIC-4 design using highly enriched uranium, first tested by China in 1966. A Pakistani derivative of CHIC-4 apparently was tested in China on 26 May 1990, he adds.
Reed makes an even more stunning disclosure, saying Deng not only authorized proliferation to Pakistan, but also, "in time, to other third world countries.'' The countries are not named. He also says that during the 1990s, China conducted underground hydronuclear experiments—though not full-scale device tests—for France at Lop Nur.
Reed’s disclosures are based on his knowledge of and insights into the visits to China by Dan Stillman, a top US nuclear expert who went there several times in the late 1980s at Beijing invitation, in part because the Chinese wanted to both show-off and convey to the US the progress they had made in nuclear weaponisation.
One of Stillman's visit to the Shanghai Institute of Nuclear Research (SINR), writes Reed, ''also produced his first insight into the extensive hospitality extended to Pakistani nuclear scientists during that same late-1980s time period,'' which would eventually lead to the joint China-Pak nuclear test.
Chinese nuclear proliferation to Pakistan, including the supply of hi-tech items like ring magnets in the early 1990s, has always been known to the non-proliferation community (which largely slept on the reports). But this is the first time it has been confirmed by such a senior official.
In the late 1980s, both the Reagan and the George Bush Sr administration repeatedly fudged the issue to certify that Pakistan had not gone nuclear despite obvious evidence to the contrary.
In his assessment of the Chinese nuclear program based on Stillman’s visits, Reed writes admiringly about Beijing’s successes, saying ''Over a period of 15 years, an intellectually talented China achieved parity with the West and pre-eminence over its Asian peers in the design of nuclear weapons and in understanding underground nuclear testing.''
"China now stands in the first rank of nuclear powers," he concludes.
In trenchant observation, Reed writes, ''Any nuclear nation should consider its nuclear tests to be giant physics experiments. The Chinese weaponeers understood that well; other proliferators do not. Many states have considered their early nuclear shots to be political demonstrations or simple proof tests. In China, however, extremely sophisticated instrumentation was used on even the first nuclear test.''
Chronicling the progress of China’s nuclear weapons program, Reed writes: Atop a tower on 16 October 1964, China's first nuclear device, 596, was successfully fired. US intelligence analysts were astonished by the lack of plutonium in the fallout debris and by the speed with which China had broken into the nuclear club, but that was only the beginning.
Eighteen months later, in the spring of 1966, China entered the thermonuclear world with the detonation of a boosted-fission, airdropped device that used lithium-6, a primary source of tritium when bombarded with neutrons. That test, their third, achieved a yield of 200–300 kilotons. By the end of the year, they made the leap to multistage technology with a large two-stage experiment that yielded only 122 kilotons, but it again displayed 6Li in the bomb debris.
The Chinese then closed the circle on 17 June 1967, unambiguously marching into the H-bomb club with a 3.3-megaton burst from an aircraft-delivered weapon. On 27 December 1968, the Chinese bid the Johnson administration farewell with an improved, airdropped 3-megaton thermonuclear device that for the first time used plutonium in the primary.
It is clear from the reactor-to-bomb progression times that by 1968 China had unequivocally entered the European nuclear cartel on a par with the U, says Reed. Furthermore, China had become a thermonuclear power. It had achieved the leap from the initial A-bomb test to a 3.3-megaton thermonuclear blast in a record-breaking 32 months. It had taken the US more than seven years to accomplish that feat.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: McCain
on: August 30, 2008, 02:45:24 PM
As you say, she is not EVEN a particularly gifted amateur, much less an experienced professional. Being President of the United States is the toughest job in the word, therefore someone who isn't even "a particularly gifted amateur" should never be in charge.
Uh no, I said she may prove to be. I in fact think she has more going for her on the qual front than Barry and can't imagine she could be more insufferable than Joe.
BO could use a little more experience, eh? And Kimbo's ground game could use a wee bit more coaching.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Favoring Rodentia Defenestration
on: August 30, 2008, 11:11:46 AM
The thing that annoys me most about the American political process is that about the only way to work yourself up the ranks is to become an unctuous weasel. It seems like the system has evolved in such a way that it manufactures myopic, doctrinaire, pork barrel slathered situational ethicist who will shake your hand and steal your wallet while smiling telegenically all the while. I've met a lot of folks over the years who I think would do a far better job in Washington than the rictus grinning retreads we usually end up with, though I'm not sure many could have survived the sausage factory you have to step through to get there.
Enter Sarah Palin. Ms. Palin may very well prove to be a not particularly gifted amateur, but she has done some stepping up and cleaning house before getting propelled to the head of the line, and she damn sure has a lot more grab your boots, get your hands dirty, and get the job done in her past than does the honorable Senator from Illinois. I hope she surrounds herself with competent advisors, steels herself for some serious OJT, and starts pitching unctuous weasels off the balcony.
I might not be sitting this one out any longer.
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / CATO Policy Forum
on: August 29, 2008, 08:40:54 AM
Should No-Knock Police Raids be Rare-or Routine?
Thursday, September 11, 2008
4:00 PM (Reception To Follow)
Featuring Cheye Calvo, Mayor, Berwyn Heights, Maryland, Radley Balko, Senior Writer, Reason and author of Overkill: The Rise of Paramilitary Police Raids in America, Peter Christ, Co-founder, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. Moderated by Tim Lynch, Director, Project on Criminal Justice, Cato Institute.
The Cato Institute
1000 Massachusetts Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20001
Watch the Event Live in RealVideo
Listen to the Event in RealAudio (Audio Only)
The Prince George’s County police department is under fire for a recent drug raid on the home of Berwyn Heights mayor Cheye Calvo. Unbeknownst to Calvo, a box containing marijuana was delivered to his home. Shortly thereafter, police officers kicked in the front door and shot both of Calvo’s pet Labrador retrievers. The police have subsequently cleared Calvo of any wrongdoing but are unapologetic about their raid tactics. Are no-knock, paramilitary raids an appropriate tactic for drug investigations? Or do sudden, unannounced entries bring unnecessary violence to police investigations? Join us for a discussion of the Prince George’s incident and, more broadly, the militarization of police work in America.
Cato events, unless otherwise noted, are free of charge. To register for this event, please fill out the form below and click submit or email firstname.lastname@example.org
, fax (202) 371-0841, or call (202) 789-5229 by 4:00 PM, Wednesday, September 10, 2008. Please arrive early. Seating is limited and not guaranteed. News media inquiries only (no registrations), please call (202) 789-5200.
If you can't make it to the Cato Institute, watch this forum live online.http://cato.org/event.php?eventid=5268
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Bummer, No Recession
on: August 29, 2008, 08:14:58 AM
The Recessionistas Were Decisively Wrong
The story behind 3.3 percent second-quarter GDP growth.
By Jerry Bowyer
I’ve spent much of the past year both on Kudlow & Co. and in columns arguing with Jared Bernstein, Robert Reich, Barry Ritholz, Jonathan Chait, and others about whether or not we’re in a recession. These folks (some of whome are members of the “Kudlow Caucus”) were certain we were, while I, along with Larry and other supply-siders, thought we were not. As of this week, and a revised GDP-growth number of 3.3 percent for the second quarter, we now know most authoritatively that the recessionistas were wrong.
Bernstein and Reich, in particular, were flatly wrong. They argued that tax cuts favoring the rich worsened income inequality; that this inequality, coupled with the excessive volatility of free-market capitalism, led to plunging home prices that not only made people feel poorer, but in a reverse “wealth effect” caused a plunge in consumer confidence; and that all this presaged a plunge in consumer spending, which ultimately drove the economy into recession.
The way out of this spiral, they said, can only be a combination of massive government spending and some form of consumer-rebate “stimulus package” to restore spending and, through spending, economic growth. This scenario was, and is, nonsense on stilts.
The housing crisis wasn’t created by free-market capitalism, but by government meddling. In particular, the crisis is rooted in a raft of government regulations that forced banks to ignore traditional lending standards — such as credit history, income, and neighborhood economic conditions — and instead embrace non-culturally “discriminatory” lending practices based on racial-identity politics. Once the banks were forced to make loans based on political, rather than financial, criteria, and once Fannie and Freddie were forced to buy these loans in the secondary mortgage market, collapse was inevitable.
In addition, there is no wealth effect from falling home prices. People generally don’t spend based on the value of their homes, partly because people almost never know the value of their homes. Furthermore, for every seller taking a bath during a down market there is a buyer getting the deal of a lifetime. Predictions about consumer attrition simply have not materialized because, as Milton Freedman taught us, spending patterns are based on long-term income expectations. For this and many other reasons the much-heralded consumer collapse has yet to appear.
Now let’s look at what did happen. The 2003 tax cuts increased wealth in every segment of the economy, sparking a multi-year boom. But these tax cuts were passed with expiration dates, and the first Bush-tax-cut expiration occurred at the end of last year when small businesses lost some of their ability to take a tax deduction on purchases of business equipment. As the chart shows, this event coincided with a trough in the economic cycle. This past winter, congressional Republicans successfully fought to add the small-business tax breaks to what otherwise was a useless stimulus package, and the market for business equipment recovered in the spring. Voilà — the economy snaps back to 3.3 percent GDP growth.
Will the New York Times and the rest of the media storm-crows who spent most of the spring and summer cackling the “recession” word admit their error and reverse course? I think you already know the answer to that question.
— Jerry Bowyer is the chief economist of Benchmark Financial Network.
National Review Online - http://article.nationalreview.com/?q=NmQ5ZGE1YWFhOTMwYTdiNzRiODljZmQwODBmZDlmYzQ=
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Israel: No Nukes for Iran
on: August 29, 2008, 07:56:48 AM
'Israel reaches strategic decision not to let Iran go nuclear'
Aug. 29, 2008
JPost.com Staff , THE JERUSALEM POST
Israel will not agree to allow Iran to achieve nuclear weapons and if the grains start running out in the proverbial egg timer, Jerusalem will not hesitate to take whatever means necessary to prevent Iran from achieving its nuclear goals, the government has recently decided in a special discussion.
According to the Israeli daily Ma'ariv, whether the United States and Western countries will succeed in toppling the ayatollah regime diplomatically, through sanctions, or whether an American strike on Iran will eventually be decided upon, Jerusalem has put preparations for a separate, independent military strike by Israel in high gear.
So far, Israel has not received American authorization to use US-controlled Iraqi airspace, nor has the defense establishment been successful in securing the purchase of advanced US-made warplanes which could facilitate an Israeli strike.
The Americans have offered Israel permission to use a global early warning radar system, implying that the US is pushing Israel to settle for defensive measures only.
Because of Israel's lack of strategic depth, Jerusalem has consistently warned over the past years it will not settle for a 'wait and see' approach and retaliate in case of attack, but rather use preemption to prevent any risk of being hit in the first place.
Ephraim Sneh a veteran Labor MK which has left the party recently, has sent a document to both US presidential candidates, John McCain and Barack Obama. The eight-point document states that "there is no government in Jerusalem that would ever reconcile itself to a nuclear Iran. When it is clear Iran is on the verge of acquiring nuclear weapons, an Israeli military strike to prevent this will be seriously considered."
According to Ma'ariv, Sneh offered the two candidates the "sane, cheap and the only option that does not necessitate bloodshed." To prevent Iran's nuclear aspirations, Sneh wrote, "real" sanctions applied in concert by the US and Europe is necessary. A total embargo in spare parts for the oil industry and a total boycott of Iranian banks will topple, within a short time, the regime which is already pressured by a sloping economy and would be toppled by the Iranian people if they would have outside assistance.
The window of opportunity Sneh suggests is a year and a half to two years, until 2010.
Sneh also visited Switzerland and Austria last week in an attempt to lobby those two states. Both countries have announced massive long-term investments in Iranian gas and oil fields for the next decade.
"Talk of the Jewish Holocaust and Israel's security doesn't impress these guys," Sneh said wryly.
Hearing his hosts speak of their future investments, Sneh replied quietly "it's a shame, because Ido will light all this up." He was referring to Maj. Gen. Ido Nehushtan, the recently appointed commander of the Israeli Air Force and the man most likely to be the one to orchestrate Israel's attack on Iran's nuclear facilities, should this become the necessity.
"Investing in Iran in 2008," Sneh told his Austrian hosts, "is like investing in Krups Steelworks in 1938, it's a high risk investment." The Austrians, according to Sneh, turned pale.
In related news, Israel Radio reported that Iran has finished installing an additional 4,000 centrifuges in the Natanz uranium enrichment facility. The Islamic Republic also announced it will install an additional 3,000 centrifuges in coming months.
The pan-Arabic Al Kuds al Arabi reported Friday that Iran has equipped Hizbullah with longer range missiles than those it had before the Second Lebanon War and also improved the terror group's targeting capabilities.
According to the report, which The Jerusalem Post could not verify independently, Hizbullah would begin a massive rocket onslaught on targets reaching deep into Israel's civilian underbelly in case the Jewish State would launch an attack on Iran.
This article can also be read at http://www.jpost.com
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Pseudoscience on Parade
on: August 29, 2008, 07:23:15 AM
Undermining Scientific Credibility
Scientists Need to Step Up and Defend Their Turf—Now
Science is the knowledge of Nature and the pursuit of such knowledge. Scientists are generally held in high regard by laypeople. It is, after all, a noble and rewarding calling. Scientists span the political spectrum, come from every nation and race, and subscribe to any religious creed (or none).
The nonpartisan nature of the study of Nature has engendered the support of people worldwide, with scientists accumulating considerable political capital due to this broad spectrum of high regard. Unfortunately, most scientists, particularly those in academia, are politically naïve and unaware of the power of the wealth amassed. It is thus not surprising that others with less noble motives are arrogating the political capital rightly belonging to science and scientists.
Pseudoscientists come with various agendas—political, religious, and industrial are common examples. On the extreme left wing, when the overt political agenda fails to convince sufficient voters in the usual democratic exercise of elections, science is presented to gain support for the now-covert political agenda.
The typical guise here is any number of popular but scientifically questionable green or sustainable environmental initiatives. While there are certainly plenty of scientifically legitimate environmental issues, the left-wing pseudoscientists infiltrate easily, and readily convince the masses of the scientific credibility of their cause.
When the burning issue turns out to be wrong or grossly overstated, the credibility thieves slink back into the shadows, while science and legitimate scientists suffer the loss of credibility and respect. Meanwhile, legitimate environmental threats are pushed aside, and the thieves plan their next steps, financed again by inappropriate withdrawal of scientists’ political capital.
On the extreme right wing we find the religious pseudoscientists, who also illegitimately withdraw from the bank of scientists’ political capital in asserting what they call science to support what should be left to faith. Nowhere is this more evident than in the contentious debate of biblical creationism under the pseudoscientific guise of intelligent design.
The mere fact that this issue is under popular debate and even litigation proves that at least some people are convinced by the scientific content argued by the pseudoscientists representing a covert religious view. Of course many people hold beliefs in the absence of supporting evidence and even in the face of compelling counterevidence—that is, after all, the basis for religious faith.
Even many legitimate scientists hold religious beliefs, delegating and limiting their scientific beliefs to the natural world and their religious faith to the supernatural. But that is different from, and does not legitimize, the deceiving of people seeking scientific evidence before adopting beliefs.
For example, when family theme parks present “scientific evidence” purporting to support the notion that people walked the Earth with dinosaurs nearby, people are tricked into believing something that should be taken on religious faith as true scientific evidence contradicts the notion. This dishonesty undermines science, certainly, but also faith, as religious faith should stand on its own; it does not require the support of purloined and manipulated scientific evidence.
The industrialists also arrogate science when they present pseudoscience to sell questionable products. Nowhere is this more evident than in the healthfood market where organic foods are marketed and sold to naïve consumers based on the claimed superiority of the products. Food supplements and herbal remedies in reality are, at best, benign placebos or, at worst, malignant uncontrolled drugs of unknown purity and batch-varied potency.
Healthfood purveyors have convinced consumers that “science is on our side,” manipulating public support while shilling sales. Again, the price—loss of public credibility—is eventually paid when the scam becomes apparent, and not by the thieves responsible, but by the legitimate scientists who develop products with attributes backed by real and meaningful scientifically sound data.
In all these cases, thieves are squandering the political capital that properly belongs to the community of legitimate scientists. So far, the thieves have become wealthy, advanced their political agendas, and now enjoy an unearned status. Real scientists, the ones who have earned the social status and political capital, are too naïve to recognize that they are being robbed. The common assets are being stolen, eroded, and polluted from various sources claiming science as their own. When will real scientists start defending their property?
Alan McHughen is a professor at the University of California, Riverside. Email: www.alanmc@
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Commissars and Coronations
on: August 28, 2008, 01:43:22 PM
Barack Obama, Aspiring Commissar
By the Editors
While the Obama coronation proceeds apace in Denver, it is in Chicago that Americans are getting a disturbing demonstration of his thuggish methods of stifling criticism.
Stanley Kurtz, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, is a Harvard-educated social anthropologist and frequent contributor to National Review, among other publications. He is widely respected for his meticulous research and measured commentary. For months, he has been doing the job the mainstream media refuses to do: examining the background and public record of Barack Obama, the first-term senator Democrats are about to make their nominee for president despite the shallowness of his experience and achievement.
Kurtz has written extensively, and with characteristic attention to factual detail, about Obama’s early career as a “community organizer,” his cultivation of benefactors in the most radical cauldrons of Chicago politics, his long-time pastor’s immersion in Black Liberation Theology, his ties to anti-American zealots, and the years in the Illinois state legislature this self-styled agent of change spent practicing the by-the-numbers left-wing politics of redistribution and race-consciousness, remaining soft on crime and extreme on abortion.
This has led Kurtz, naturally, to scrutinize the relationship between Obama and one of his early political sponsors, William Ayers. Ayers, as we have previously detailed, is a confessed terrorist who, having escaped prosecution due to surveillance violations that came to light during his decade on the lam after a bombing spree, landed an influential professorship in education at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). As he has made clear several times before and after helping to launch Obama’s political career, Ayers remains defiantly proud of bombing the Pentagon, the U.S. Capitol, and other targets. He expresses regret only that he didn’t do more. Far from abandoning his radical politics, he has simply changed methods: the classroom, rather than the detonator, is now his instrument for campaigning against an America he portrays as racist and imperialist.
Obama supporters risibly complain that shining a light on the Obama/Ayers relationship is a “smear” and smacks of “guilt by association.” A presidential candidate’s choice to associate himself with an unrepentant terrorist would be highly relevant in any event — does anyone think the Obamedia would keep mum if John McCain had a long-standing relationship with David Duke or an abortion-clinic bomber?
But we are talking about more than a mere “association.”
Bluntly, Obama has lied about his relationship with Ayers, whom he now dismisses as “a guy who lives in my neighborhood.” Ayers and Obama have made joint appearances together; they have argued together for “reforms” of the criminal justice system to make it more criminal-friendly; Obama gushed with praise for Ayers’ 1997 polemical book on the Chicago courts; and they sat together for three years on the board of the Woods Fund, a left-wing enterprise that distributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to their ideological allies. Most significant, they worked closely together on the Chicago Annenberg Challenge (CAC).
The CAC was a major education reform project, proposed by Ayers, which was underwritten by a $49.2 million grant from the Annenberg Foundation, complemented by another $100 million in private and public funding. The project ran for about five years, beginning in 1995. As the liberal researcher Steve Diamond has recounted, Ayers ran its operational arm, the “Chicago School Reform Collaborative.” Obama, then a 33-year-old, third-year associate at a small law firm, having no executive experience, was brought in to chair the board of directors, which oversaw all “fiscal matters.”
By the time the CAC’s operations were wound down in 2001 it had doled out more than $100 million in grants but had failed to achieve any improvement in the Chicago schools. What little is known about the grants Obama oversaw is troubling. As Diamond relates, one of the first CAC awards in 1995 was $175,000 for the “Small Schools Workshop,” which had been founded by Ayers and was then headed by Mike Klonsky. It was only the beginning of the CAC’s generous funding of Klonsky — a committed Maoist who had been an Ayers comrade in the radical Students for a Democratic Society (the forerunner of Ayers’ Weatherman terrorist organization), and who hosted a “social justice” blog on the Obama campaign website until his writings were hastily purged in June after Diamond called attention to them.
The CAC records, said to comprise 70 linear feet of files, have long been maintained at the library of the UIC, the public university where Ayers teaches. This summer, Kurtz made an appointment to review them and, after being assured access, was blocked from seeing them by library administrators, who stammered about needing permission from the “donor” — whom they declined to identify. Kurtz energetically raised public awareness to the stonewalling, and the library finally relented this week. That is, as Barack Obama prepares to accept the Democrats’ nomination tonight, the records of his only significant executive experience just became available for review on Tuesday.
Kurtz began his review, and on Wednesday was invited on Milt Rosenberg’s radio program to discuss it. Rosenberg is a Chicago institution. His program, “Extension 720,” has aired for more than 30 years — a civil forum where knowledgeable guests from across the political spectrum discuss important issues in revealing two-hour interviews. What happened Wednesday night was stunning, as even the normally unflappable Rosenberg observed.
The Obama campaign — which has emissaries appearing everywhere — declined Rosenberg’s invitation to have a representative appear on the program and respond to Kurtz’s factual assertions. The campaign did, however, issue an “Obama Action Wire” that encouraged supporters to contact the program (telephone information was provided) and use scripted “talking points” to disrupt Kurtz’s appearance, which it deemed “unacceptable.” As the Politico’s Ben Smith reported, the campaign also urged supporters to demand that Rosenberg scrap the appearance of Kurtz, whom the campaign libeled as a “smear-merchant” and a “slimy character assassin.” The rant was reminiscent of the work of the left-wing media “watch-dog” Media Matters for America.
Other than denigrating Kurtz for being conservative, Obama’s operatives have provided no response to the substance of his claims. In their only pretense of engaging him, they accuse him of telling “a flat out lie” that Ayers recruited Obama for the CAC. Though it is a reasonable inference that Ayers recruited Obama, the careful Kurtz has stopped short of making it — observing only that Obama offers no explanation of how he was recruited if not through Ayers, his friend and the CAC’s driving force.
The station, WGN, has made a stream of the broadcast available online, here, and it has to be heard to be believed. Obama’s robotic legions dutifully jammed the station’s phone lines and inundated the program with emails, attacking Kurtz personally. Pressed by Rosenberg to specify what inaccuracies Kurtz was guilty of, caller after caller demurred, mulishly railing that “we just want it to stop,” and that criticism of Obama was “just not what we want to hear as Americans.” Remarkably, as Obama sympathizers raced through their script, they echoed the campaign’s insistence that it was Rosenberg who was “lowering the standards of political discourse” by having Kurtz on, rather than the campaign by shouting him down.
Kurtz has obviously hit a nerve. It is the same nerve hit by the American Issues Project, whose television ad calling for examination of the Obama/Ayers relationship has prompted the Obama campaign to demand that the Justice Department begin a criminal investigation. Obama fancies himself as “post-partisan.” He is that only in the sense that he apparently brooks no criticism. This episode could be an alarming preview of what life will be like for the media should the party of the Fairness Doctrine gain unified control of the federal government next year.
National Review Online - http://article.nationalreview.com/?q=MmUwOTllNmMzZDNlMTljMGFmY2JkZTllYmQyOTY0ODY=
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Cellular Extreme Makeovers
on: August 28, 2008, 11:20:54 AM
Scientists Reprogram Adult Cells' Function
Advance Stirs Up Debate on Embryos
By Rob Stein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 28, 2008; A01
Scientists have transformed one type of fully developed adult cell directly into another inside a living animal, a startling advance that could lead to cures for a variety of illnesses and sidestep the political and ethical quagmires
associated with embryonic stem cell research.
Through a series of painstaking experiments involving mice, the Harvard biologists pinpointed three crucial molecular switches that, when flipped, completely convert a common cell in the pancreas into the more precious insulin-producing ones that diabetics need to survive.
The experiments, detailed online yesterday in the journal Nature, raise the prospect that patients suffering from not only diabetes but also heart disease, strokes and many other ailments could eventually have some of their cells reprogrammed to cure their afflictions without the need for drugs, transplants or other therapies.
"It's kind of an extreme makeover of a cell," said Douglas A. Melton, co-director of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, who led the research. "The goal is to create cells that are missing or defective in people. It's very exciting."
The work was hailed as a welcome development even by critics of research involving embryonic stem cells, which can be coaxed to become any tissue in the body but are highly controversial because they are obtained by destroying embryos.
"I see no moral problem in this basic technique," said Richard Doerflinger of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, a leading opponent of embryonic stems cell research. "This is a 'win-win' situation for medicine and ethics."
Researchers in the field, who have become accustomed to rapid advances, said they, too, were surprised by the advance.
"I'm stunned," said Robert Lanza, chief scientific officer of Advanced Cell Technology in Worcester, Mass., a developer of stem cell therapies. "It introduces a whole new paradigm for treating disease."
Melton and other researchers cautioned that many years of research lay ahead to prove whether the development would translate into cures.
"It's an important proof of concept," said Lawrence Goldstein, a stem cell researcher at the University of California at San Diego. "But these things always look easier on the blackboard than when you have to do them in actual patients."
Although the experiment involved mice, Melton and other researchers were optimistic that the approach would work in people.
"You never know for sure -- mice aren't humans," said George Q. Daley, a stem cell researcher at Children's Hospital in Boston. "But the biology of pancreatic development is very closely related in mice and humans."
Melton has already started experimenting with human cells in the laboratory and hopes that within a year he can start planning the first studies involving people with diabetes. "I would say within five years, we could be ready to start human trials," Melton said.
Other scientists have begun trying the approach on other cells, including those that could be used to treat spinal cord injuries and neurodegenerative disorders such as Lou Gehrig's disease.
"The idea to be able to reprogram one adult neuron type into another for repair in the nervous system is very exciting," said Paola Arlotta, who is working in the Center for Regenerative Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital-Harvard Medical School in Boston.
The research is the latest development in the explosive field of regenerative medicine, which seeks to create replacement tissues and body parts tailored to patients. That objective appeared within reach after scientists discovered stem cells. But stem cell research has been hampered by objections from President Bush and others who believe that the earliest stages of human life have moral standing.
Scientists last year shocked the field when they announced they had discovered how to manipulate the genes of adult cells to turn them back into the equivalent of embryonic cells -- entities dubbed "induced pluripotent stem" or "iPS" cells -- which could then be coaxed into any type of cell in the body.
The new work takes further advantage of the increasing ability scientists have developed in harnessing the once-mysterious inner workings of cells -- this time to skip the intermediary step of iPS cells and directly transform adult cells.
"This experiment proves you don't have to go all the way back to an embryonic state," Daley said. "You can use a related cell. That may be easier to do and more practical to do."
Doerflinger argued that the discovery was the latest evidence that research involving human embryos is no longer necessary. "This adds to the large and growing list of studies helping to make embryonic stem cells irrelevant to medical progress," Doerflinger wrote in an e-mail.
But other researchers disputed that, saying it remains unclear which approach will ultimately prove most useful.
"Embryonic stem cells offer a unique window in human disease and remain a key to the long-term progress of regenerative medicine," Melton said.
For their work, Melton and his colleagues systematically studied cells from the pancreas of adult mice, slowly winnowing the list of genes necessary to make a "beta" cell that produces insulin. After narrowing the candidate genes to nine, the researchers genetically engineered viruses known as adenoviruses to ferry the genes into other pancreatic cells, known as exocrine cells, which normally secrete enzymes to help digest food. That finally enabled the researchers to identify the three crucial genes needed take control of the rest of the cell's genes to convert an exocrine cell into a beta cell.
"It was a mixture of work, luck and guessing," Melton said. "We achieved a complete transformation, or re-purposing, of cells from one type to another. We were delighted."
When the scientists tried the approach on diabetic mice, the animals became able to control their blood sugar levels.
"It didn't cure the mouse, but they were able to reduce their blood sugar levels to near-normal," Melton said.
Melton and others said it remains to be seen whether it will be necessary to use genetically engineered viruses, which could face obstacles obtaining regulatory approval because of concerns about unforeseen risks, or whether chemicals might be found to do the same thing.
If preliminary studies in the laboratory are promising, Melton said he might first try converting liver cells to insulin-producing pancreatic cells, because that would be safer than using the pancreas. An alternative strategy would be to use the approach to grow beta cells in the laboratory and transplant them into patients.
Lanza said he is optimistic.
"One day, this may allow the doctor to replace the scalpel with a sort of genetic surgery," Lanza said. "If this can be perfected, it would represent one of the holy grails of medicine."http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/08/27/AR2008082701829.html?hpid%3Dmoreheadlines&sub=AR
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Economics of Flu Vaccines
on: August 27, 2008, 12:04:55 PM
Novavax Moves Closer to Licensing Bird Flu Vaccine
By Kendra Marr
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 27, 2008; D04
Novavax said yesterday that its bird flu vaccine elicited a robust immune response in humans, moving the biotech a step closer to licensing its pandemic vaccine production system.
In the trial, 160 patients received two vaccine injections, of 15 to 90 micrograms, one month apart. Of the patients who received the highest dosage, 94 percent produced antibodies to neutralize H5N1, an Indonesian strain of bird flu that emerged in 2005 and has been linked to 110 deaths.
"These results are strong and very competitive," said Rahul Singhvi, Novavax's chief executive.
Shares of Novavax fell 6 cents, or 2 percent, to $2.91.
Novavax has had a demo of the vaccine manufacturing process set up at its Rockville headquarters since May 1 but does not have a buyer.
There were 385 cases of bird flu in humans, leading to 243 deaths, from 2003 to June 19, according to the World Health Organization's most recent data. Outbreaks have mostly centered on Asia.
Many large multinational biotechs -- GlaxoSmithKline, Sanofi-Aventis, Novartis -- are working on bird flu vaccines in the United States and Western Europe under government contract, said Ken Trbovich, an analyst with RBC Capital Markets.
Novavax has partnered with GE Healthcare to reach the rest of the world by providing other countries a system to quickly mass-produce vaccines.
"If you truly believe a pandemic outbreak is likely, there is reason to believe foreign governments and the U.S. will clamp down and control the supply," Trbovich said. He added, "Other places in the world may have a lot of money, but no amount of money will get you vaccines in the case of a pandemic."
Traditionally, to create flu vaccines, drugmakers grow live virus strains in chicken eggs, which act as incubators. The virus is later killed and bottled into a vaccine. But eggs are a volatile medium, and a scarce supply essentially stops production.
Novavax's bird flu vaccine uses particles that mimic the size and shape of the virus, which trigger an immune response but lack the genetic material to replicate.
Because the particles are produced in more stable insect-cell cultures, yields are seven to 10 times higher than egg-based manufacturing, Novavax said. The vaccine can also be created within 10 to 12 weeks of identifying a pandemic strain -- half the time it takes to make egg-based vaccines.
GE is developing the production equipment, which is cheap to set up and run in case of a pandemic.
In December, Novavax studied low doses of its bird flu vaccine in a much smaller patient population. After tweaking the production process, the biotech was able to elicit a stronger immune response in this recent trial.
Novavax is seeking a governmental or pharmaceutical partner to finance the next set of human trials.
"We see no reason to invest additional money of our own into the pandemic vaccine when we can wait for a foreign government that needs this vaccine to put money in," Singhvi said.
Meanwhile, Novavax will be begin human tests of its seasonal influenza vaccine, using virus-like particles, in the fall. Currently all U.S. flu vaccines are egg-based.
"The pandemic area is difficult to monetize even if you successfully generate a contract," Trbovich said. "There are no reoccurring revenues. Moving a seasonal flu vaccine into clinical trials is their first real commercial opportunity."
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Sez it All, Al
on: August 25, 2008, 04:49:32 PM
Overheard at the DNC: Sharpton on the Constitution
David Weigel | August 25, 2008, 4:59pm
At the DNC. Rev. Al Sharpton, rushing from point A to point B, gets waylaid by a reason staffer. Another person horns in, and the following fragmented exchange occurs:
Fan: Reverend, Reverend! Can you sign my pocket Constitution?
Sharpton: (distracted) I won’t sign anything I haven’t read.
Sharpton rushes off, leaving a disappointed autograph seeker in his wake.http://www.reason.com/convention2008/show/128261.html
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Evolutionary Attention Spans
on: August 25, 2008, 09:45:35 AM
What's Sexier than Public Policy?
Ronald Bailey | August 25, 2008, 10:09am
Sex, of course. That's why newspapers obsess over Sen. Larry Craig's (R-ID) (alleged) public bathroom romances but not his position on the Medicare prescription drug benefit program which is costing taxpayers billions. And why CNN ran 24/7 coverage of Gov. Elliot Spitzer's (D-NY) high cost hotel dalliances, but not his serial abuses of prosecutorial discretion.
The Washington Post's Shankar Vedantam's always interesting Department of Human Behavior feature delves into the question of why media tend to focus on sex over policy. Evolutionary psychologists argue that thanks to our evolutionary biology gossip is what interests readers, listeners, and viewers. As Vedantam explains:
[University of Guelph in Ontario psychologist Hank] Davis and other evolutionary psychologists argue that the reason John Edwards's adultery has more zing in our heads than a dry policy dispute that could cost taxpayers billions of dollars is that the human brain evolved in a period where there were significant survival advantages to finding out the secrets of others. Since humans lived in small groups, the things you learned about other people's character could tell you whom to trust when you were in a tight spot.
"We are continuing to navigate through the modern world with a Stone Age mind," Davis said.
In the Pleistocene era, he added, there was no survival value in being able to decipher a health-care initiative, but there was significant value in information about "who needs a favor, who is in a position to offer one, who is trustworthy, who is a liar, who is available sexually, who is under the protection of a jealous partner, who is likely to abandon a family, who poses a threat to us."
We may consciously know that we are no longer living in small hunter-gatherer groups and that it no longer makes sense to evaluate someone like Edwards as we might a friend or intimate partner, but our reptilian brain doesn't realize this. Our prefrontal cortex might reason that a man who cheats on his wife while she is fighting cancer could make a perfectly fine president in a complex world, but the visceral distaste people feel about Edwards stems from there being an ancient part of the human brain that says, "Gee, I don't want to get mixed up with this guy, because even in my hour of greatest need I might not be able to count on him," said Frank T. McAndrew, an evolutionary social psychologist at Knox College in Illinois.
Most Americans, of course, will never have any personal interaction with the people they elect president. Nonetheless, if the evolutionary psychologists are correct, people will tend to choose leaders they can relate to personally -- and reject the leaders with whom they cannot see having a personal relationship.
"The human brain does not have any special module for evaluating welfare policy or immigration policy, but it has modules for evaluating people on the basis of character," said Satoshi Kanazawa, an evolutionary psychologist at the London School of Economics. "That is probably why we have this gut reaction to affairs and marriages and lying. All of those things existed in the ancestral environment 100,000 years ago."
Whole Vedantam feature here.http://www.reason.com/blog/printer/128249.html
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Reappraisal
on: August 23, 2008, 07:16:15 AM
No smoking hot spot
David Evans | July 18, 2008
I DEVOTED six years to carbon accounting, building models for the Australian Greenhouse Office. I am the rocket scientist who wrote the carbon accounting model (FullCAM) that measures Australia's compliance with the Kyoto Protocol, in the land use change and forestry sector.
FullCAM models carbon flows in plants, mulch, debris, soils and agricultural products, using inputs such as climate data, plant physiology and satellite data. I've been following the global warming debate closely for years.
When I started that job in 1999 the evidence that carbon emissions caused global warming seemed pretty good: CO2 is a greenhouse gas, the old ice core data, no other suspects.
The evidence was not conclusive, but why wait until we were certain when it appeared we needed to act quickly? Soon government and the scientific community were working together and lots of science research jobs were created. We scientists had political support, the ear of government, big budgets, and we felt fairly important and useful (well, I did anyway). It was great. We were working to save the planet.
But since 1999 new evidence has seriously weakened the case that carbon emissions are the main cause of global warming, and by 2007 the evidence was pretty conclusive that carbon played only a minor role and was not the main cause of the recent global warming. As Lord Keynes famously said, "When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?"
There has not been a public debate about the causes of global warming and most of the public and our decision makers are not aware of the most basic salient facts:
1. The greenhouse signature is missing. We have been looking and measuring for years, and cannot find it.
Each possible cause of global warming has a different pattern of where in the planet the warming occurs first and the most. The signature of an increased greenhouse effect is a hot spot about 10km up in the atmosphere over the tropics. We have been measuring the atmosphere for decades using radiosondes: weather balloons with thermometers that radio back the temperature as the balloon ascends through the atmosphere. They show no hot spot. Whatsoever.
If there is no hot spot then an increased greenhouse effect is not the cause of global warming. So we know for sure that carbon emissions are not a significant cause of the global warming. If we had found the greenhouse signature then I would be an alarmist again.
When the signature was found to be missing in 2007 (after the latest IPCC report), alarmists objected that maybe the readings of the radiosonde thermometers might not be accurate and maybe the hot spot was there but had gone undetected. Yet hundreds of radiosondes have given the same answer, so statistically it is not possible that they missed the hot spot.
Recently the alarmists have suggested we ignore the radiosonde thermometers, but instead take the radiosonde wind measurements, apply a theory about wind shear, and run the results through their computers to estimate the temperatures. They then say that the results show that we cannot rule out the presence of a hot spot. If you believe that you'd believe anything.
2. There is no evidence to support the idea that carbon emissions cause significant global warming. None. There is plenty of evidence that global warming has occurred, and theory suggests that carbon emissions should raise temperatures (though by how much is hotly disputed) but there are no observations by anyone that implicate carbon emissions as a significant cause of the recent global warming.
3. The satellites that measure the world's temperature all say that the warming trend ended in 2001, and that the temperature has dropped about 0.6C in the past year (to the temperature of 1980). Land-based temperature readings are corrupted by the "urban heat island" effect: urban areas encroaching on thermometer stations warm the micro-climate around the thermometer, due to vegetation changes, concrete, cars, houses. Satellite data is the only temperature data we can trust, but it only goes back to 1979. NASA reports only land-based data, and reports a modest warming trend and recent cooling. The other three global temperature records use a mix of satellite and land measurements, or satellite only, and they all show no warming since 2001 and a recent cooling.
4. The new ice cores show that in the past six global warmings over the past half a million years, the temperature rises occurred on average 800 years before the accompanying rise in atmospheric carbon. Which says something important about which was cause and which was effect.
None of these points are controversial. The alarmist scientists agree with them, though they would dispute their relevance.
The last point was known and past dispute by 2003, yet Al Gore made his movie in 2005 and presented the ice cores as the sole reason for believing that carbon emissions cause global warming. In any other political context our cynical and experienced press corps would surely have called this dishonest and widely questioned the politician's assertion.
Until now the global warming debate has merely been an academic matter of little interest. Now that it matters, we should debate the causes of global warming.
So far that debate has just consisted of a simple sleight of hand: show evidence of global warming, and while the audience is stunned at the implications, simply assert that it is due to carbon emissions.
In the minds of the audience, the evidence that global warming has occurred becomes conflated with the alleged cause, and the audience hasn't noticed that the cause was merely asserted, not proved.
If there really was any evidence that carbon emissions caused global warming, don't you think we would have heard all about it ad nauseam by now?
The world has spent $50 billion on global warming since 1990, and we have not found any actual evidence that carbon emissions cause global warming. Evidence consists of observations made by someone at some time that supports the idea that carbon emissions cause global warming. Computer models and theoretical calculations are not evidence, they are just theory.
What is going to happen over the next decade as global temperatures continue not to rise? The Labor Government is about to deliberately wreck the economy in order to reduce carbon emissions. If the reasons later turn out to be bogus, the electorate is not going to re-elect a Labor government for a long time. When it comes to light that the carbon scare was known to be bogus in 2008, the ALP is going to be regarded as criminally negligent or ideologically stupid for not having seen through it. And if the Liberals support the general thrust of their actions, they will be seen likewise.
The onus should be on those who want to change things to provide evidence for why the changes are necessary. The Australian public is eventually going to have to be told the evidence anyway, so it might as well be told before wrecking the economy.
Dr David Evans was a consultant to the Australian Greenhouse Office from 1999 to 2005.http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,,24036736-17803,00.html
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Gender Athletic Performance Differences
on: August 22, 2008, 01:42:43 PM
August 22, 2008, 0:00 p.m.
Olympian Political Correctness
In all the Olympic hype, you won't hear about performance differences between Venus and Mars.
By Todd Gallagher
‘Can Jamaica’s Sprinters Fight Crime?” That’s the tongue-in-cheek headline of a recent Time magazine article celebrating the remarkable Olympics performances of track stars from that Caribbean nation. In the space of a few days, Usain Bolt smashed world records in the men’s 100 and 200 meters, while three Jamaican sprinters swept the medals in the women’s 100 meters.
Time’s question is amusing, but for me, the incredible accomplishments of the Jamaican track team call to mind another question that isn’t so funny to a lot of people — as I learned the hard way.
You see, I wrote a book in which I worked with professional athletes and Olympic medalists to settle a series of long-running sports debates. The questions I heard most often had to do with gender: How big is the gap between the top male and female athletes?
One of my initial findings was jarring: the women’s Olympic record in the 100 meters, set in 1988 by superstar Florence Griffith-Joyner, is virtually identical to the U.S. record for 14-year-old boys — also set in 1988, by the less heralded Curtis Johnson. The winning time of 2008 women’s gold medalist Shelly-Ann Fraser? Well over a tenth of a second slower than Johnson’s.
Nor is the 100 meters an aberration. In sport after sport, evidence shows that the top female professional athletes in the world are on par with the best American 14- and 15-year-old boys. Nearly every female Olympic record in speed, strength, and endurance events falls between the records set by the best American 14- and 15-year-old boys:
Speed/Endurance Record Times:
Distance Men’s Boys’ 14 Women’s Boys’ 15
100M 9.69 10.64 10.62 10.42
200M 19.30 21.49 21.34 20.97
400M 43.49 47.16 48.25 46.55
800M 1:42.58 1:55.9 1:53.43 1:51.03
1500M 3:32.07 4:04.1 3:53.96 3:51.5
5000M 13:05.59 15:46.8 14:40.79 14:32.8
10000M 27:05.10 32:48.0 30:17.49 31:43.2
Leaping Records (in meters):
Event Men’s Boys’ 14 Women’s Boys’ 15
High Jump 2.39 2.04 2.06 2.18
Long Jump 8.90 7.21 7.40 7.49
Pole Vault 5.95 4.72 4.91 5.33
Triple Jump 18.09 14.74 15.33 14.98
Direct competition between women and boys tends to confirm the gap: the women’s Olympic hockey team has lost to boys’ high school junior-varsity teams; the women’s Olympic soccer team has lost to club teams of 15-year-old boys, the Colorado Silver Bullets professional baseball team has lost to American Legion squads — the list goes on and on.
I was surprised that this information had never been disseminated widely, since the data I researched and the interviews I conducted didn’t take long to put together. Obviously, I’m not suggesting that any slob off the street could outrun Shelly-Ann Fraser; but if she can’t beat the time that a 14-year-old boy set 20 years ago, surely that fact should inform a number of gender-and-sports discussions: Has Title IX done enough to level the playing field for female athletes — or has it actually penalized male athletes? Should golfers like Michelle Wie receive sponsors’ exemptions to compete against men in PGA tournaments? Should Wimbledon award men and women tennis players the same prize money?
Experts in the field of gender differences in sports emphatically argue that men’s superior performance is due primarily to societal factors — if they’re even willing to concede men’s superior performance, that is.
For example, in October 2007, Eileen McDonagh of Northeastern University and Laura Pappano of Wellesley College published Playing with the Boys: Why Separate Is Not Equal in Sports. “The premise of this book, and our work,” McDonagh says, “is that sex segregation does not reflect sex differences between men and women, rather it constructs them.”
I laid out the results of my research for Pappano and asked why male athletes outpace female athletes starting at 14 and 15. She answered: “Women are told around that time that they are athletically inferior to men and that they should start acting like ladies. That’s why we see the boys making such stunning gains at that age and the girls begin to suffer.”
While no one can deny that societal factors play some role, the research makes it pretty clear that there was a simpler explanation for the gap: puberty. The Centers for Disease Control publishes growth charts for the U.S. population which reveal that boys hit their major growth spurt between the ages of 14 and 15 — precisely when the best boy athletes begin to outperform the top adult female athletes.
My interviews with female professionals and others in the world of women’s sports confirmed the importance of boys’ physical development at that age. Aaron Heifitz, the publicist for the U.S. national women’s soccer team, described how the women’s squad performs against the best youth club players in Southern California: “The boys’ 13s we can handle pretty consistently, but when the boys start really developing at 14, and especially 15, that’s when you start to see real separation and they pass even the best women’s players. They’re just bigger, stronger, and faster.”
Eileen McDonagh has suggested that gender differences don’t matter in skill-based games that don’t place a premium on size, strength, and speed — pointedly asking, during a speech at Wellesley, “Why on earth are pool and ping-pong sex segregated?” Here again, even a little research reveals that the best female performers can’t compete consistently with the best males. Ping-pong actually relies heavily on physical attributes, and the difference between male and female competitors is almost as severe as it is in tennis — where the 203rd-ranked male player soundly defeated both Serena and Venus Williams in separate exhibition sets (6-1 and 6-2, respectively). In pool, Jean Balukas — possibly the greatest female player of all time — finished in the middle of the pack in men’s events in the 1980s; and Jeanette “The Black Widow” Lee — formerly the world’s Number One female player — told me, “You would not believe the amount of men, in my world, who can wax me.”
Cathy Young, the author of Ceasefire: Why Women and Men Must Join Forces to Achieve True Equality, suggests that that failure to discuss research findings openly and honestly reflects a larger feminist agenda of “bio-denial” to promote the idea that there are no natural differences between the genders. “There’s a whole establishment that’s invested in perpetuating the notion that there are not inborn differences between the genders athletically, and that any differences can only be attributable to sociological circumstances and societal oppression. They have a clear agenda to empower women through a distorted notion of equality but these people are saying things that are completely out of touch with biological reality.”
Kurt Fischer, director of the Mind, Brain, and Education Program at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, has seen this firsthand. “I’ve been at faculty meetings where the notion that there are differences in the genders is ridiculed,” Fischer says. He adds, “[T]he first woman dean at Harvard was my dean when she got here, and when I would try to bring up studies that showed inborn gender differences she wouldn’t even allow it.”
Anyone who saw what happened to Harvard president Lawrence Summers — for even suggesting that there could be inborn gender differences — might conclude that challenging the claims of the Laura Pappanos of the world is an unnecessary headache. “When you have a large group of people with a vested interest in maintaining an agenda,” Fischer observes, “they’re going to find ways to attack anyone or anything that threatens their existence.”
The media have also obscured the facts in this debate. Young suggests a reason for this: “At most newspapers, Title IX is gospel at this point. And anything that could be seen as an argument against it is going to be ignored, attacked, or ridiculed.”
Professor Fischer was not surprised when I told him of my difficulties getting traction with my own data. “I have a colleague here in town that has a biologically based view of gender differences. She’s done a whole lot of research that shows fairly large, important differences between boys and girls in their socio-relationships at an early age. And she was prevented from publishing that at several points from people who just didn’t want to hear that point of view, regardless of the evidence.”
We almost certainly won’t hear anyone discussing controversial gender issues in all the hype surrounding the closing days of these Olympic Games. But maybe if we keep laying out the data in a calm and rational manner, we can advance the discussion beyond the biased, politically correct, opinionated nonsense that passes for serious intellectual debate on this subject.
— Todd Gallagher is the author of Andy Roddick Beat Me with a Frying Pan: Taking the Field with Pro Athletes and Olympic Legends to Settle Sports Fans’ Greatest Debates.
National Review Online - http://article.nationalreview.com/?q=ODlmNmJhM2JhMGZmOWQxOTMzMGE1YWFmMzkzZDNlODM=
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The 2008 Presidential Race
on: August 22, 2008, 09:29:44 AM
Ahhh I have no interest turning this into a Bill and Hillary debate (or a Bush/Cheney debate), but for the record the fact is Bill and Hillary were NEVER convicted of perjury.
So if a tree falls in the forest, blue dress and "I didn't have sexual relations with that woman" and all, it doesn't make a sound? Trust the converse is true that Bush, Cheney, Rove, Petaeus, et al aren't war criminals, election stealers, tools of big oil, members of various cabals bent on world domination, felons, and all the other dreck and gibberish that many throw around about 'em?
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Chavez Cements Socialism
on: August 20, 2008, 08:20:57 PM
Chavez's Big Grab
By INVESTOR'S BUSINESS DAILY | Posted Wednesday, August 20, 2008 4:20 PM PT
Socialism: Venezuela's seizure of Cemex assets Monday is more than a typical nationalization of resources. Its vindictive manner has much to do with the firm's Mexican headquarters. It's a message to others in the region.
Like a quasi-military conquest, Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez marched in troops to "take back" four Cemex cement plants in the dead of night as part of his nationalization of cement announced in April. "It was time," he said Tuesday, calling it one of his "steps toward socialism."
Chavez then popped out fireworks as red T-shirted mobs, judges and politicians headed to the plants and cheered their "victory."
Why was Cemex "defeated"? Because last April, Mexico's Cemex told Chavez its plants were worth $1.3 billion, based on standard norms of value. Chavistas said no dice, and after driving their stock price down in Caracas trade, offered $800 million tops.
The Venezuelans, of course, had the last word, and moved into their clownish conquest even before Chavez's 90-day negotiation period expired.
For Latin Americans, this is something of a wake-up call. No longer will Latin American companies be exempt from Chavez's power plays. In fact, a Latin American company might now expect even worse treatment than the western ones Chavez has grabbed.
Mexican President Felipe Calderon, no stranger to public quarrels with Chavez over free markets, complained that Chavez's takeover amounted to discrimination against the Mexican company. He noted that Venezuela had paid two other cement firms — Holcie of Switzerland and Lafarge of France — fair prices for their assets. So the Mexican company was ripped off, which "we cannot understand," Calderon said, calling for more talks.
The sooner Mexico recognizes the obvious, the better.
Chavez's vindictive treatment of a Mexican company has more to do with his loathing of Mexico, and the capitalist development path it has pursued, than it does with price. Successful Latin American companies ought to expect particularly harsh treatment from Chavez if they succeed. There already are many signs of this.
For one, the last time Chavez made a show of troops and flags was when he seized Exxon Mobil's assets in 2007. Like Exxon, Cemex is a foreign company, and the amounts expropriated — about $1 billion in Exxon's case and $1.3 billion in Cemex's — are comparable.
Second, like Exxon, Cemex is a big company that has resisted being kicked around by a petty dictator. Cemex reportedly has told Chavez that it would see him in international court.
As global companies, both Exxon and Cemex know their responses to Chavez are being watched closely by other dictators. They must defend their shareholders, an alien notion to Chavez.
Still, it goes even beyond that. Mexico's Cemex, like U.S.-based Exxon, is known for its advanced technology, state of the art operations, fiscal transparency and high profitability. For any company this is remarkable. But for a Mexican company it is especially so.
Chavez not only cannot stand Mexico, he also cannot stand the idea of a successful, world-class Latin American company like Cemex providing an example to the region. Rather than leave them alone, he's not only trying to rub their presence out with nationalization, he's also tricked up bogus charges of tax evasion and environmental damage — something no nationalized firm has avoided.
Chavez has nationalized telecommunications, electricity, farms, iron, steel, oil and banks over two years in a bid to end private property and turn Venezuela into Cuba. All of the nationalized firms have since gone from profitability to losses.
The prosperity and better life Cemex's jobs represent for its 67,000 workers as well as the superior product it delivers to its customers directly challenges Chavez's claim to ideological dominance in the region.
As we said, Cemex likely will defend itself in court. But Mexico's government will have to toughen up and prepare to confront a predator challenging the success of its private sector on more than just this front. Chavez's wrath against Mexico is particularly strong.http://www.ibdeditorials.com/IBDArticles.aspx?id=304125139898165#
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Biden his Time
on: August 20, 2008, 03:03:34 PM
Biden Prepares 50,000-Word Acceptance Speech
Senator to Address Convention on Wednesday, Thursday
In an indication that he expects to be Barack Obama's vice-presidential pick, Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del) has begun writing a 50,000-word acceptance speech, aides to the senator confirmed today.
The address, which Mr. Biden has been working on around the clock, is an abridged version of a 200,000-word acceptance speech that Mr. Biden wrote when he ran for President in 1988.
According to those familiar with the speech, if Mr. Biden is tapped as Mr. Obama's vice presidential choice the Delaware senator would begin delivering the speech on Wednesday night of the Democratic convention and conclude it on Thursday night.
Representatives of television news divisions said they were undecided as to how to cover the Biden speech, but none were willing to commit to covering the speech live in its entirety.
"We may wind up airing some of it on CNBC or maybe the USA Network, and then cut away to something else," said Carol Foyler on NBC News. "We're basically going to treat it like the hammer throw."
Mr. Biden, who was accused of plagiarizing a speech by a British politician when he ran for President in 1988, is unlikely to get caught doing that this time, according to one aide: "If there are some plagiarized bits in this speech, he'll stick them at the end after the audience has lost consciousness."http://www.borowitzreport.com/
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / iCan't Download Protest Music
on: August 20, 2008, 02:57:44 PM
iTunes Store embroiled in Olympic protest over Tibet
By Charles Jade | Published: August 20, 2008 - 02:19PM CT
As if Apple didn't have enough problems right now with iPhone woes and a MobileMe meltdown, The Sydney Morning Herald is reporting that the iTunes Store has become part of an international incident. The story began shortly before the start of the Olympics when a pro-Tibet organization, The Art of Peace Foundation, cobbled together an album from some 20 artists, Songs for Tibet - The Art of Peace. From superstars and plastic surgery addicts like Madonna to the totally hot Regina Spektor—what pipes hath she!—the music, while not new, really isn't too bad. There's also 15 minutes of video from some guy wearing sheets for those who buy the album. Unless you are in China, that is.
It seems that foreigners living in China have begun to have problems with accessing the iTunes store. The Herald reports what is allegedly the response of Apple customer support to a blogger named JeninShanghai.
"iTunes is not being blocked in China from our end, but access to the iTunes Store IS restricted in some areas in China. This would also explain why it's happening to your friends there as well," the response reads.
"I would advise that you contact your ISP [internet service provider] about this matter. Please also note though that accessing the US iTunes Store outside of the geographic region of the United States is not supported, and that attempting to access it while in China is at your own risk."
The catalyst for this apparent interruption of service may have been a stealth protest instigated by The Art of Peace foundation. Its album was to be given away free to athletes, and "over 40 Olympic athletes in North America, Europe and even Beijing" downloaded it. And for those thinking this is simply a reactionary response from an authoritarian regime, one need only visit the iTunes Store and peruse the reviews. Besides one-star ratings and plenty of hanz, there is no shortage of hilarious broken-English comments.
Tibet is China forever! Taiwan is! We are all Chinese Nation! Chinese people to roar! Chinese is the roar! This genuine peace cheers! Love China!
Dalai Lama = LIAR. Tibet separatists are mainly funded by the CIA. Dalai Lama was biggest slave holder in human history.
Apple Inc is really, really so stupid of putting an album like this on the very position of iTunes Store.
Setting aside whether the Dalai Lama is like Hitler—how do you say Godwin's Law in Mandarin?—the nationalist sentiment is not really surprising, but that last comment is something to think about. Apple just opened its first store in Beijing and is actively pursuing negotiations over bringing the iPhone to China. An issue like this certainly doesn't help. Of course, it's not like Apple will pull the album, but it's an open question whether politically-sensitive albums like a second Songs for Tibet, let alone something like Songs for Palestine, will be debuting at the iTunes Store any time soon.http://arstechnica.com/journals/apple.ars/2008/08/20/itunes-store-embroiled-in-olympic-protest-over-tibet
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Reeducating Septuagenarians
on: August 20, 2008, 11:05:31 AM
August 21, 2008
Two Women Sentenced to ‘Re-education’ in China
By ANDREW JACOBS
BEIJING — Two elderly Chinese women have been sentenced to a year of “re-education through labor” after they repeatedly sought a permit to demonstrate in one of the official Olympic protest areas, according to family members and human rights advocates.
The women, Wu Dianyuan, 79, and Wang Xiuying, 77, had made five visits to the police this month in an effort to get permission to protest what they contended was inadequate compensation for the demolition of their homes in Beijing.
During their final visit on Monday, public security officials informed them that they had been given administrative sentences for “disturbing the public order,” according to Li Xuehui, Ms. Wu’s son.
Mr. Li said his mother and Ms. Wang, who used to be neighbors before their homes were demolished to make way for a redevelopment project, were allowed to return home but were told they could be sent to a detention center at any moment. “Can you imagine two old ladies in their 70s being re-educated through labor?” he asked. He said Ms. Wang was nearly blind.
A man who answered the phone at the Public Security Bureau declined to give out information about the case.
At least a half dozen people have been detained by the authorities after they responded to a government announcement late last month designating venues in three city parks as “protest zones” during the Olympics. So far, no demonstrations have taken place.
According to Xinhua, the state news agency, 77 people submitted protest applications, none of which were approved. Xinhua, quoting a public security spokesperson, said that apart from those detained all but three applicants had dropped their requests after their complaints were “properly addressed by relevant authorities or departments through consultations.” The remaining three applications were rejected for incomplete information or for violating Chinese law.
The authorities, however, have refused to explain what happened to applicants who disappeared after they submitted their paperwork. Among these, Gao Chuancai, a farmer from northeast China who was hoping to publicize government corruption, was forcibly escorted back to his hometown last week and remains in custody.
Relatives of another person who was detained, Zhang Wei, a Beijing resident who was also seeking to protest the demolition of her home, were told she would be kept at a detention center for a month. Two rights advocates from southern China have not been heard from since they were seized last week at the Public Security Bureau’s protest application office in Beijing.
Ms. Wu and Ms. Wang were well known to the authorities for their persistent campaign for greater compensation for the demolition of their homes. Mr. Li said his family had given up their home in 2001 with the expectation that they would get a new one in the development that replaced it. Instead, he said, the family has been forced to live in a ramshackle apartment on the capital’s outskirts.
“I feel very sad and angry because we’re only asking for the basic right of living and it’s been six years, but nobody will do anything to help them,” Mr. Li said.
He said that he and Ms. Wang’s daughter tried to apply for their own protest permit on Tuesday but that the police would not even give them the necessary forms.
The two elderly women were given administrative sentences to re-education through labor, known as laojiao, which seeks to reform political and religious dissenters and those charged with minor crimes like prostitution and petty theft. Government officials say that 290,000 people are detained in re-education centers for terms ranging from one to three years, although detentions can be extended for those whose rehabilitation is deemed inadequate.
Human rights advocates have long criticized the system because punishment is handed down by officials without trials or means of appeal. Last year, the government briefly grappled with revamping the system but backed off in the face of opposition from public security officials.
Although it is unlikely that women as old as Ms. Wu and Ms. Wang would be forced into hard labor, many of those sentenced to laojiao often toil in agricultural or factory work and are forced to confess their transgressions.
Tang Xuemei contributed research.http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/21/sports/olympics/21protest.html?_r=1&oref=slogin