Saturday, October 30, 2010

A Brief History of the Jack O' Lantern...

People have been making jack o'lanterns at Halloween for centuries. The practice originated from an Irish myth about a man nicknamed "Stingy Jack." According to the story, Stingy Jack invited the Devil to have a drink with him. True to his name, Stingy Jack didn't want to pay for his drink, so he convinced the Devil to turn himself into a coin that Jack could use to buy their drinks. Once the Devil did so, Jack decided to keep the money and put it into his pocket next to a silver cross, which prevented the Devil from changing back into his original form. Jack eventually freed the Devil, under the condition that he would not bother Jack for one year and that, should Jack die, he would not claim his soul. The next year, Jack again tricked the Devil into climbing into a tree to pick a piece of fruit. While he was up in the tree, Jack carved a sign of the cross into the tree's bark so that the Devil could not come down until the Devil promised Jack not to bother him for ten more years.

Soon after, Jack died. As the legend goes, God would not allow such an unsavory figure into heaven. The Devil, upset by the trick Jack had played on him and keeping his word not to claim his soul, would not allow Jack into hell. He sent Jack off into the dark night with only a burning coal to light his way. Jack put the coal into a carved-out turnip and has been roaming the Earth with ever since. The Irish began to refer to this ghostly figure as "Jack of the Lantern," and then, simply "Jack O'Lantern."
In Ireland and Scotland, people began to make their own versions of Jack's lanterns by carving scary faces into turnips or potatoes and placing them into windows or near doors to frighten away Stingy Jack and other wandering evil spirits. In England, large beets are used. Immigrants from these countries brought the jack o'lantern tradition with them when they came to the United States. They soon found that pumpkins, a fruit native to America, make perfect jack o'lanterns.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Help! My Doctor is "Going Boutique"

Not too long ago, my internist "went boutique." What does that mean? A 2002 article in the British Medical Journal described it this way:
Dr Sidney Wolfe, director of consumer organisation Public Citizen's health research group in Washington, DC, said, “Boutique medicine is a predictable consequence of how badly our healthcare system is functioning.”

The American Medical Association has not taken an official position on the issue. But Dr Richard Roberts, chairman of the American Academy of Family Physicians, said, “If you have a substantial portion of America's doctors doing this, who's going to take care of everybody else? We've got over 40 million people in this country without health insurance, and another 20 million who are underinsured. What's wrong with this picture?”"
In my case, I received a letter that informed me unless I paid a thousand dollars a year, on top of what Blue Cross provided for office visits, my doctor would no longer see me.

Instead, I could go see someone from a list of doctors who had agreed to accept his patients for "continuity of care." Well, I thought to myself. If my doctor doesn't want to see me, I don't want to see him. Another doctor told me, "he's good, but he's not that good." So I checked the list. Only one doctor had a medical degree from an American medical school. Some "choice." I called and was accepted as a patient.

Then, a few months later, a new letter arrived, from the new doctor. He was going into a modified boutique system himself, he said, called MDVIP. (The company is owned by Proctor and Gamble, makes of Tide Detergent, by the way.) He would still agree to see me, but only for a short 15-minute appointment. For longer appointments, 30-minutes or more, I would have to pay him an extra fee, as well.

Both of these doctors had invited me to sales seminars at local hotels before they switched to the new system--just the kind of things condo salesmen or hedge fund operators tended to run, before the recent Wall Street collapse.

Well, I talked to yet another doctor, who said that the two-tier practice sounded unethical on its face, that it was wrong to treat patients differently based upon their ability to pay. Apparently, this idea has occured to some lawyers, even Members of Congress, but so far no one has acted upon it. You can find out more about the legal problems with boutique practices, on attorney Steven M. Goldstein's webpage. Apparently, there have been questions from members of Congress:
These practices have not slipped under the radar screen of government officials, as numerous investigations and other efforts to stop this movement have begun. The most visible action was a letter sent in March of this year to the Inspector General for the Department of Health and Human Services by five members of Congress, including Representative Henry Waxman from California and Representative Pete Stark, the author of the Stark self-referral law. In their letter, the Congressmen raise several concerns that the boutique practices are violating federal laws, and they asked the Inspector General to take "rapid action" against these practices. Last year, Senator Bill Nelson of Florida introduced a bill in Congress to prohibit physicians from charging additional fees to Medicare patients. In addition, various state agencies have begun their own investigations. Departments of Insurance in the states of Massachusetts and Florida are reviewing the practice.
Nevertheless, little has been done to stop a questionable practice that results in fewer doctors being available to see patients--at a time of crisis in national health care.

Laura Newman cited the "boutique" phenomenon as a horrifying symptom of a developing American class system in health care, one that harms public health directly by rationing care on the basis of ability to pay in the British Medical Journal:
Charatan points out that the rise of boutique medicine means that more doctors can cream from the top, picking those who pay the most. Unsettling questions remain: are American doctors and insurers in their silence building a system that is eroding the public's health? In the past, doctors' leaders and researchers have waged a successful battle in the United States to allow specialty referrals, taking their battle to the press, Capitol Hill, and state legislatures. But they have become eerily quiet on this issue. It is high time for those claiming interest in the public's health to publicise the situation and document the harm.

I haven't seen too many articles about the phenomenon in the media. My guess is that all too many writers, editors, producers, and the like are happy to pay the extra fees for VIP treatment, and haven't spent much time thinking about the ethical or public health considerations. There's a term for this mentality: "Public be damned."

The thought occurs: Perhaps this discouraging phenomenon might be added to the anti-elitist agenda of the Tea Party Republicans when they enter Congress as part of the effort to "repeal and replace Obamacare?"

WSJ: US Intelligence Budget Over $80 Billion

And what do we get for our money, exactly? Someone please tell me. Oh, you can't because it is a secret? Well, I can tell you that we didn't get Osama bin Laden, dead or alive...So, can we please have our money back? Full AP story here.

WSJ: Bloomberg's FOIA Problem

In today's Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg's Matthew Winkler complains that FOIA isn't helping Bloomberg find out what the US Treasury did with taxpayer money in the 2008 bank bailout--and that government secrecy is bad for business, bad for the economy, and bad for America...
Americans remain bitter about federal bailouts, even after every penny of the $309 billion rescue of banks and insurers was returned at a profit. Why? Because our government refuses to disclose all of the facts and, until it does, every poll will continue to show a lack of confidence in the government and in the companies that finance America.

More than a dozen books have been written about the collapse of the world's biggest credit market and the government's unprecedented steps to protect hundreds of banks from certain ruin. Yet we still don't know: Who made the decisions?

Treasury FOIA Officials Mission: "...withhold information from release to public"

From the Washington Examiner:
Officials at the Treasury Department’s Office of Financial Stability contracted with a small consulting firm that has given nearly $25,000 to Democratic candidates since 2005 (and no money to Republicans) to hire “Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Analysts to support the Disclosure Services, Privacy and Treasury Records.” The firm is currently advertising a job opening for a FOIA analyst with experience in the “Use of FOIA/PA exemptions to withhold information from release to the public” (emphasis mine, and if that link goes down, The Examiner has kept a copy for its records).

UPDATE: Phacil has changed their job description on their website (without making a note), however here is a link to another job description for the same job that still uses the above as a qualification. They also have not yet returned calls to The Examiner. The side by side comparison of the old and modified versions are at the bottom of this post.

This means that the entire OFS, which is tasked with overseeing the Troubled Asset Relief Program, is trying to hire people who will withhold information from release to the public.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

James Taranto on Katie Couric

From the Wall Street Journal's OpinionJournal:
They Have Indoor Plumbing Too
Howard Kurtz, who recently moved from the Washington Post to The Daily Beast, has a report on "CBS Evening News" anchorman Katie Couric, which includes this howler:

That's why Couric has spent recent weeks in Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston and New Brunswick, New Jersey. She is touring what she calls "this great unwashed middle of the country" in an effort to divine the mood of the midterms.

"This great unwashed middle of the country"? Do you think you could be a little more condescending, Katie?

Moreover, although Chicago at least is in the Midwest, in no other sense are any of these cities in the "middle." Politically? All four cities are in counties that went overwhelmingly for Barack Obama, giving him, respectively, 76.2%, 83%, 76.9% and 60.2% of the vote.

A probably apocryphal quote attributed to Lyndon Johnson has it that if he's lost Walter Cronkite, he's lost Middle America. Barack Obama doesn't need to lose Katie Couric. She's lost Middle America all by herself!

William Easterly on the Ivy League v Middle America

There has been a lot of talk this political season about Ivy League Elitism. My own background—of belonging and yet not quite belonging to the elite— makes me very conflicted.

On Monday, I gave a seminar (not for the first time) at my undergraduate alma mater, Bowling Green State University, which is located in my hometown of Bowling Green, Ohio. It was a very good audience, and I enjoyed as always interacting with my old professors, my first mentors in economics, Charles Chittle, John Hoag, and Leo Navin, as well as with one of BGSU’s new generation of star professors, Timothy Fuerst. I also gave a talk at my old high school (BGHS), and was very impressed with the knowledge and smarts of the students (from the Model UN club) and the Social Studies teacher who hosted me, Theresa Dunn, on development topics.

Earlier this year, I attended an awards ceremony where I was one of 100 alumni that were “among the most prominent” of BGSU’s first 100 years, 1910-2010. Some of my friends teased me that getting an award like this was a bit easier at BGSU than it would have been at, say, Harvard, and I played along with maximum self-deprecation. Yet at the awards ceremony, I felt very humbled by how impressive the rest of the 100 were, with high-achieving entrepreneurs, scientists, actors, artists, and athletes.

My Bowling Green experience always reminds me how American economic development is not just built on a bicoastal elite that went to the elite high schools and universities, but on a very broad and deep Middle America (usually dissed as “flyover America”). The bicoastal elite itself is not a fixed hereditary class, but is constantly renewing itself with new recruits from the same vast Middle, of which I am originally one.

The Massive Middle also provides upward mobility to the poorer regions. My family had lived in one of the poorest regions of the US, the Appalachian Mountains of western Virginia and West Virginia for seven generations. My father grew up in southern West Virginia during the Depression, after having lost his own father at age 2 to tuberculosis. Yet thanks to his hard-working mother and his own hard work, he got a Ph.D. at West Virginia University (WVU) and then got a job as a biology professor at BGSU. Government-funded education like WVU, BGSU, and BGHS is also what helped create the Massive Middle.

So after all this, I am a bit conflicted about the Ivy League Elite. I don’t like the anti-intellectual attacks on this elite (from the Middle); I respect very much all the incredibly smart and creative people I know who belong to this elite. Contrary to the perception of the attackers from the Middle, the elite universities do a great job producing world-class ideas and achievements.

At the same time, I don’t like the pretensions of some in the elite who look down on the Middle and who think they are the only ones qualified to contribute to our development.

Having been on both sides, Middle and Elite, it looks to me like BOTH are success stories in themselves and BOTH have played their own important part in America’s Miracle of Development.

Robert Spencer on Juan Williams

From Human Events:
Juan Williams makes the understandable post-9/11 observation that the sight of Muslims on airplanes makes him nervous, and NPR immediately fires him. Bill O’Reilly states the obvious truth that Muslims attacked the United States on 9/11, and Whoopi Goldberg and Joy Behar walk off the set. These incidents and others demonstrate that the Leftists in the mainstream media and their Islamic supremacist allies are wholly intellectually bereft—and so they cannot engage their opponents on the level of ideas, but must instead bludgeon them into silence...

...But by the 1970s and 1980s, the Soviet regime had grown sclerotic, and had lost the assurance that its own people were still terrorized enough to keep silent, or that it could still count on a foreign intelligentsia willfully blind enough to defend the regime. And so instead of mounting flashy show trials, it packed off its opponents to mental hospitals under the cover of darkness. They simply didn’t exist any longer. It was an effective tactic in the short run, as it certainly silenced their opponents of the day; in the long run, it was an expression of exhaustion, an admission of defeat.

NPR used essentially the same tactic on Juan Williams: it declared his opinions beyond the pale of decent people and cast him out of polite society, into the outer darkness inhabited by Fox News, far from the politically correct fold. NPR apparently did not anticipate the fury of the American people at the public station’s bullying and refusal to countenance reality. Goldberg and Behar tried the same tactic with Bill O’Reilly: in stalking off the stage, they were actually banishing him, along with his claim—as obvious to most Americans as it was outrageous to them—that Muslims killed Americans on 9/11. This is likewise what Jeffrey Goldberg and others who have tried to do to Pamela Geller: render her so radioactive through misrepresentation of what she has said that decent people will turn away.

As they practice these tactics, the implicit admission rings louder and clearer all the time: they have no arguments. They can’t really explain why Juan Williams should not be nervous at the sight of Muslims on an airplane. They have no idea how to answer O’Reilly’s follow-up question that if it wasn’t Muslims who killed us on 9/11, then who was it? And they have no comeback to the arguments from reason, decency, common sense and history that Pamela Geller has adduced against the Ground Zero mosque, and so instead of acknowledging these arguments they try to destroy her personally.

The Leftists who control the media and the Islamic supremacists of whom they provide fawning and mendacious coverage cannot defeat their opponents. They are exhausted. They are finished. The only weapons they have left are feigned moral outrage, defamation, and smear.

Seth Lipsky: NPR Bad for High Culture

From "The Real Case for Defunding NPR," in the Wall Street Journal:
My quarrel with government subsidies to NPR—via grants from the federally funded Corporation for Public Broadcasting—is that they cast a chill over the markets in which private entrepreneurs seek to raise capital for what might be called highbrow journalism. It is hard to quantify this. But it is a conclusion that I have reached after more than two decades spent seeking to raise capital for privately-owned publications competing in this arena.

More than once I have been interrupted, while singing the song of quality journalism to a potential investor, to be asked, "Isn't this already being done by public broadcasting?"

In the instances when that or similar questions were put to me, I was not even seeking to raise capital for broadcasting but rather for small newspapers—the Jewish Forward, in the 1990s, and then the New York Sun. And I wasn't entirely hapless. Many millions of dollars were eventually invested in the two newspapers, and any failures they met were not the fault of the government, but were entirely my own.

I have often wondered, though, what effect the government subsidies have on the broader world, in broadcast and print, of quality journalism. I recognize that the percentage of NPR's funds coming from the taxpayers is but 1% or 2%, or between $1.5 million and $3 million. But whatever the scale, seed capital from a credible investor is an enormous help to any effort, and my own experience is that it would have been easier to raise capital had there been no government-funded competition.

These are questions for Congress to explore when it looks into whether to continue funding for NPR. It's been nearly two generations now since President Lyndon Johnson signed the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967. It's not clear to me, incidentally, what constitutionally enumerated power Congress was relying on to pass such an act. But leave that question aside. What has been the impact on the quality of privately funded journalism of the octopus that government funding of broadcasting helped create?
More about NPR from Lipsky in The New York Sun.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Our Readers are Invited to an Exhibition of Paintings By Polly Evans at the Arts Club of Washington on November 5th

Click to print invitation.

Sarah Palin: End Federal Funding for NPR

Has NPR's firing of Juan Williams given Republicans an issue with "curb appeal" to swing voters? First Mike Huckabee, now Sarah Palin, have called for ending federal funding for NPR. Actually, they would need to do more--to strip NPR and CPB of preferential treatment when it comes to subsidy, advertising, payola and plugola, links to partisan political activity, tax exemptions, reserved frequencies of the electromagnetic spectrum, etc. Republican George W. Bush had eight years--but didn't do a thing. Let's hope that Huckabee and Palin would actually do what they say they want to do...From Sarah Palin's Facebook page:
At a time when our country is dangerously in debt and looking for areas of federal spending to cut, I think we’ve found a good candidate for defunding. National Public Radio is a public institution that directly or indirectly exists because the taxpayers fund it. And what do we, the taxpayers, get for this? We get to witness Juan Williams being fired from NPR for merely speaking frankly about the very real threat this country faces from radical Islam.

We have to have an honest discussion about the jihadist threat. Are we not allowed to say that Muslim terrorists have killed thousands of Americans and continue to plot the deaths of thousands more? Are we not allowed to say that there are Muslim states that aid and abet these fanatics? Are we not allowed to even debate the role that radical Islam plays in inciting this violence?

I don’t expect Juan Williams to support me (he’s said some tough things about me in the past) – but I will always support his right and the right of all Americans to speak honestly about the threats this country faces. And for Juan, speaking honestly about these issues isn’t just his right, it’s his job. Up until yesterday, he was doing that job at NPR. Firing him is their loss.

If NPR is unable to tolerate an honest debate about an issue as important as Islamic terrorism, then it’s time for “National Public Radio” to become “National Private Radio.” It’s time for Congress to defund this organization.

NPR says its mission is “to create a more informed public,” but by stifling debate on these issues, NPR is doing exactly the opposite. President Obama should make clear his commitment to free and honest discussion of the jihadist threat in our public debates – and Congress should make clear that unless NPR provides that public service, not one more dime.

Mr. President, what say you?

- Sarah Palin
Here's my idea for Palin's 2012 platform, or Mike Huckabee's: Use NPR's radio frequencies for data transmission channels that expand the speed and availability of the wireless internet instead of broadcasting. This would be truly public radio, where any American citizen is able to Google, Wiki, Blog, Tweet or podcast. The US government has already taken reserved military channels for this purpose, but more are needed--and NPR has abused the channel reservation it enjoys today. With Joan Kroc's 450 million endowment, plus the additional contribution from George Soros, the NPR network could stay in business as an internet broadcaster and via iTunes on a level playing field with everyone else. Existing NPR radio spectrum could be made available for its best and highest use to serve the American public, while NPR listeners could continue to enjoy their channels on their smartphones, netbooks, iPods, and iPads--without federal subsidy.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Juan Williams: NPR Worse Than Nixon

This all led to NPR demanding that I either agree to let them control my appearances on Fox News and my writings or sign a new contract that removed me from their staff but allowed me to continue working as a news analyst with an office at NPR. The idea was that they would be insulated against anything I said or wrote outside of NPR because they could say that I was not a staff member. What happened is that they immediately began to cut my salary and diminish my on-air role. This week when I pointed out that they had forced me to sign a contract that gave them distance from my commentary outside of NPR I was cut off, ignored and fired.

And now they have used an honest statement of feeling as the basis for a charge of bigotry to create a basis for firing me. Well, now that I no longer work for NPR let me give you my opinion. This is an outrageous violation of journalistic standards and ethics by management that has no use for a diversity of opinion, ideas or a diversity of staff (I was the only black male on the air). This is evidence of one-party rule and one sided thinking at NPR that leads to enforced ideology, speech and writing. It leads to people, especially journalists, being sent to the gulag for raising the wrong questions and displaying independence of thought.

Daniel Schorr, my fellow NPR commentator who died earlier this year, used to talk about the initial shock of finding himself on President Nixon’s enemies list. I can only imagine Dan’s revulsion to realize that today NPR treats a journalist who has worked for them for ten years with less regard, less respect for the value of independence of thought and embrace of real debate across political lines, than Nixon ever displayed.

Jihadwatch: NPR Fired Juan Williams Under CAIR Pressure

Robert Spencer writes:
It turns out that NPR fired Williams after CAIR [Council on American Islamic Relations] sent out a national press release in which CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awad said this about Williams' statements: "Such irresponsible and inflammatory comments would not be tolerated if they targeted any other racial, ethnic or religious minority, and they should not pass without action by NPR."

And NPR hurried to appease this thuggish Hamas-linked group.

Everyone's favorite stomach-stapled beekeeper, Ibrahim "Honest Ibe" Hooper of CAIR, was just on Fox, defending his takedown of Williams (while denying that CAIR demanded that he be fired), playing the victim card and hectoring Meghan Kelly, demanding to know if she agreed with Williams. (Kelly stood her ground magnificently.) In the course of things he said, "Everyone is accountable for what they say."

Is that so, Ibe? So I guess you're accountable for saying this, eh? "I wouldn't want to create the impression that I wouldn't like the government of the United States to be Islamic sometime in the future."

Anyway, it's bad enough that NPR would with such alacrity do the bidding of a group like CAIR, but it's even worse that Williams' rather commonplace remarks are being represented as some terrible "demonizing" of all Muslims. He said that he gets nervous on a plane when he sees people in Muslim garb. Even though the 9/11 hijackers and others did not wear Muslim garb, there are many other Islamic jihadists who have worn it, and all of the jihadists have explained and justified their actions by reference to Islamic texts and teachings. No Islamic sect or school of jurisprudence worldwide, meanwhile, has renounced the jihad against unbelievers or the imperative to impose Sharia upon them.

Are there Muslims who are not waging jihad against unbelievers? Of course. But the unwillingness of the Islamic community in the U.S. and Europe to back up its protestations of condemnation of terror with real action to root out the jihad ideology from its ranks makes it impossible to determine whether or not any given Muslim is an Islamic supremacist, or a jihadist.

Is this to "demonize" all Muslims? Of course not. But if Honest Ibe Hooper and his ilk are really not wanting Muslims to be demonized, instead of inviting that "demonization" so they can use it to claim victim status and wring more concessions out of a compliant politically correct media establishment, they could have reacted to Juan Williams' by recognizing that if anyone gets nervous when seeing people in Muslim garb, it is the fault of the Muslims who have committed acts of violence in the name of Islam. And they could begin honest, genuine efforts to root out the jihad doctrine and Islamic supremacism from their communities.
More on this, from Elisabeth Meinecke of
NPR fired Juan Williams this week for saying he was uncomfortable when he sees people in Muslim dress on an airplane that he's riding. I missed Williams' original comments on the The O'Reilly Factor, so I went to YouTube to find the clip.

Guess who had it? CAIR TV's YouTube channel. Thei description had an action item asking people to "Ask NPR to Address Analyst's Remarks on Muslims."

CAIR's website has an action alert asking "American Muslims and other people of conscience to thank The View co-hosts Whoopi Goldberg and Joy Behar for speaking out when their show’s guest, Bill O’Reilly, made anti-Muslim remarks."

However CAIR hides behind a PR blitz, they support terrorism. Even federal prosecutors, during cases in Dallas and Chicago, have introduced proof that CAIR and other conspirators "used deception to conceal from the American public their connections to terrorists" (this is from the Investigative Project on Terrorism).
Still more, from Tim Graham of the Media Research Center:
t shouldn't be shocking that as many NPR stations are conducting pledge drives of their liberal audiences, NPR has found a pretext to fire its longtime analyst Juan Williams for an appearance on Fox News. NPR listeners have complained loud and long that NPR analysts should not dignify that right-wing media outlet with their presence. Williams admitted on The O'Reilly Factor "when I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous."

It should be noted that the Council for American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) sent around a press release on Wednesday afternoon. CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awad called for action against Williams: "Such irresponsible and inflammatory comments would not be tolerated if they targeted any other racial, ethnic or religious minority, and they should not pass without action by NPR." The New York Times somehow omitted CAIR from its Juan-is-gone story.

Saying that Muslims scare you after 9/11 or the failed Christmas Day bombing over Detroit is apparently "inconsistent" with and intolerable of NPR's editorial standards.

"Tonight we gave Juan Williams notice that we are terminating his contract as a Senior News Analyst for NPR News," NPR said in a statement.

"Juan has been a valuable contributor to NPR and public radio for many years and we did not make this decision lightly or without regret. However, his remarks on The O'Reilly Factor this past Monday were inconsistent with our editorial standards and practices, and undermined his credibility as a news analyst with NPR. """''''''''''''''''''"''

Alicia Shepard, NPR's ombudsman, told the minorities-in-journalism blog Journal-isms by e-mail, "My office spent most of Wednesday fielding phone calls and emails from NPR listeners angry and upset by what Juan Williams said about Muslims. We got at least 60 emails and that was in response to something he said on another network. My job is NPR’s content – not Fox’s. While this must have been a tough decision since Juan joined NPR in 2000, I think NPR’s management made the right call."
I met Alicia Shepard when she covered the PBS funding debate years ago as a journalist, before she became an NPR executive. IMHO she didn't make the right call defending an unjust decision, contrary to freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of conscience...and reality itself.

Juan Williams Fox News clip as posted on CAIR YouTube Channel, here:

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

My Lunch at Ray's Hell Burger

Today someone I know and yours truly had lunch at Ray's Hell Burger, the nondescript hamburger stand located in a Wilson Boulevard strip mall in Arlington, VA where President Obama lunched with Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian president, this past summer, as shown in the clip above.

To me, it seemed a lot like the Obama administration itself: Disappointing; a lot of filler; cash only--no credit; no hell being raised...although perfectly pleasant.

However, there were a lot of military personnel wearing camouflage, just like when the two presidents visited. They must work in the office buildings nearby, which struck this noncombatant civilian as a bit strange--since they really stood out, in sharp relief, from the other customers.

It was very busy, so plan to arrive early.

CIA or CYA? Panetta Reports on Chapman/Khost Attack Findings

IMHO, After reading this news report, they might as well change the middle initial in the name of America's leading intelligence agency...

The Christian Science Monitor reports:
Of course, the Chapman incident also raises questions about the strength of CIA capabilities, even when working on top of a costly military presence. The CIA did not heed Jordanian intelligence warnings about the double agent, Humam Khalil al Balawi, and security measures at Chapman failed.

Yet, no one will be punished for the failures. Speaking to reporters yesterday in Washington, Mr. Panetta said that internal probes found shortcomings “across several agency components,” meaning that “responsibility cannot be assigned to any particular individual or group.”

And, as reported in Wired's Danger Room Blog:
That led some within the CIA to believe Balawi when he said he could get close to Ayman al-Zawahiri, deputy leader of al Qaeda. The Post reports that CIA briefed the White House and U.S. Central Command on the Balawi operation. Panetta’s letter conspicuously does not mention any pressure from the White House that might have contributed to the insufficient vetting, but that’s a possibility nevertheless.

Officials now believe that Balawi was playing the CIA all along, in order to get close enough to kill operatives, as he ultimately did at Forward Operating Base Chapman in Khost, Afghanistan. Panetta’s letter conceded that Balawi had “not rejected his terrorist roots.” Earlier this year, al Qaeda released a martyrdom tape Balawi made bragging about his imminent attack.

Panetta vowed to continue “the most aggressive counterterrorism operations in our history,” an effort that has brought CIA drone strikes in Pakistan to an all-time high. And it’s worth mentioning that a persistent knock on the CIA, from the 9/11 Commission and others, holds it to be unwilling to take risks for national security. Aversion to risk was clearly not a problem in the Balawi case — something for agency critics to think about.

The CIA’s new inspector general, David B. Buckley, will review the Balawi report. Whether he’ll have more to say about what went wrong — or if the Congressional intelligence committees will inquire further — remains to be seen.

Update: Much more from the New York Times and the Washington Post, which report that a CIA officer in Jordan failed to pass along warnings from a Jordanian intelligence operative that Balawi was in fact an al-Qaeda double agent. (And that December 30, 2009, contrary to what I initially wrote, wasn’t the worst single-day loss of CIA life in the agency’s history; it’s the worst since the 1983 bombing of the U.S. embassy in Beirut.)
You can read Panetta's full statement on the Washingtonian's blog. Here's an excerpt:
...The review is now complete, and I would like to thank those who participated. They did our Agency a great service. It was, to be sure, a difficult task—especially since key insights perished with those we lost. Perfect visibility into all that contributed to the attack is therefore impossible. But based on an exhaustive examination of the available information, we have a firm understanding of what our Agency could have done better. In keeping with past practice, we will provide the Khowst report to the Office of Inspector General.

In highly sensitive, complex counterterrorism operations, our officers must often deal with dangerous people in situations involving a high degree of ambiguity and risk. The task force noted that the Khowst assailant fit the description of someone who could offer us access to some of our most vicious enemies. He had already provided information that was independently verified. The decision to meet him at the Khowst base—with the objective of gaining additional intelligence on high priority terrorist targets—was the product of consultations between Headquarters and the field. He had confirmed access within extremist circles, making a covert relationship with him—if he was acting in good faith—potentially very productive. But he had not rejected his terrorist roots. He was, in fact, a brutal murderer.

Mitigating the risk inherent in intelligence operations, especially the most sensitive ones, is essential to success. In this case, the task force determined that the Khowst assailant was not fully vetted and that sufficient security precautions were not taken. These missteps occurred because of shortcomings across several Agency components in areas including communications, documentation, and management oversight. Coupled with a powerful drive to disrupt al-Qa’ida, these factors contributed to the tragedy at Khowst. Each played an important role; none was more important than the others. Based on the findings of the task force and the independent review, responsibility cannot be assigned to any particular individual or group. Rather, it was the intense determination to accomplish the mission that influenced the judgments that were made.

There are no guarantees in the dangerous work of counterterrorism, but the task force identified six key areas that deserve greater focus as we carry out that vital mission. We will:

Enforce greater discipline in communications, ensuring that key guidance, operational facts, and judgments are conveyed and clearly flagged in formal channels.

Strengthen our attention to counterintelligence concerns while maintaining a wartime footing.

Apply the skills and experience of senior officers more effectively in sensitive cases.

Require greater standardization of security procedures.

More carefully manage information sharing with other intelligence services.

Maintain our high operational tempo against terrorist targets, even as we make adjustments to how we conduct our essential mission...

...We’ve now taken a hard look at what happened and what needed to be done after the tragedy at Khowst. While we cannot eliminate all of the risks involved in fighting a war, we can and will do a better job of protecting our officers. Drawing on the work of the task force and its insights, it’s time to move forward. Nothing in the report can relieve the pain of losing our seven fallen colleagues. By putting their lives on the line to pursue our nation’s terrorist enemies, they taught us what bravery is all about. It is that legacy that we will always remember in our hearts.

Leon E. Panetta
Bottom line, as Mark Twain wrote of the official inquiry into the explosion of the steamboat Amaranth in The Gilded Age: "A jury of inquest was impaneled, and after due deliberation and inquiry they returned the inevitable American verdict which has been so familiar to our ears all the days of our lives—'NOBODY TO BLAME.'"

Fox News: Bush Pentagon Hosted Al Qaeda Mastermind

From Fox News (ht Drudge):
According to the documents, obtained as part of an ongoing investigation by the specials unit "Fox News Reporting," there was a push within the Defense Department to reach out to the Muslim community.

"At that period in time, the secretary of the Army (redacted) was eager to have a presentation from a moderate Muslim."

In addition, Awlaki "was considered to be an 'up and coming' member of the Islamic community. After her vetting, Aulaqi (Awlaki) was invited to and attended a luncheon at the Pentagon in the secretary of the Army's Office of Government Counsel."

Awlaki, a Yemeni-American who was born in Las Cruces, N.M., was interviewed at least four times by the FBI in the first week after the attacks because of his ties to the three hijackers Nawaf al-Hazmi, Khalid al-Mihdhar and Hani Hanjour. The three hijackers were all onboard Flight 77 that slammed into the Pentagon.

Awlaki is now believed to be hiding in Yemen after he was linked to the alleged Ft. Hood shooter Major Nidal Malik Hasan, who e-mailed Awlaki prior to the attack.

Sources told Fox News that Awlaki, who is a former Muslim chaplain at George Washington University, met with the Christmas Day bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab in Yemen and was the middle-man between the young Nigerian and the bombmaker. Awlaki was also said to inspire would-be Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad.
Then-Army Secretary Thomas White had been an Enron executive prior to government service, and according to Wikipedia, resigned amid a corruption controversy:
While serving as Vice Chairman of Enron Energy Services White had actively pursued military contracts for the company and in 1999 had secured a prototype deal at Fort Hamilton for privatising the power supply of army bases.[2] Enron had been the only bidder for this deal after White had controversially used his government and military contacts to secure key concessions.

In his first speech just “two weeks after he became secretary of the Army, White vowed to speed up the awarding of such contracts”;[3] as the Enron Ft. Hamilton contract, despite the fact that he still held a considerable interest in Enron. A Pentagon spokeswoman responded to suggestions of a possible conflict of interests by saying that “Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld sees no conflict and has complete confidence in the Army secretary”.

The Washington Post reported that in late October 2001, White made numerous phone calls to Enron executives including Vice President Jude Rolfes, CFO Jeff Skilling and CEO Ken Lay.[4] Shortly after the calls were made, White unloaded 200,000 Enron shares for $12 million. The L.A. Times reported that White had brief conversations with Rumsfeld in November and Powell in December, the focus of which were "a concern on their part for the impact that the bankruptcy of Enron may have had on my personal well-being. My response in both cases was that I had suffered significant personal losses but that I would persevere."

The New York Times reported that in late January 2002, Rep. Henry Waxman requested a meeting with White regarding the military contracts and the irregularities with the accounting at E.E.S. stating “you are in a unique position because you are the person in government who has the most intimate knowledge of Enron”. Furthermore the Washington Post reported that at this time White still held interests in Enron, including a claim on 50,000 stock options and an annuity paid by the company, despite having promised to divest himself at his confirmation hearing 8 months earlier. This earned him a rebuke from Sens. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and John Warner (R-Va.) of the Senate Armed Services Committee. He was also accused in the Washington Post of Misuse of Government Property, by allegedly using military jets for personal trips for himself and his wife. In July, following news reports of the company’s involvement in the 2000-2001 California electricity crisis, White denied his involvement under oath before the Senate Commerce Committee.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

CIA Sues Former Agent Over Book Charging Corruption

From The Washington Times:
Ishmael Jones, pen name for the 20-year CIA veteran and Arabic speaker who said he sought to expose corruption in the agency, is facing a civil lawsuit over his 2008 book, "The Human Factor: Inside the CIA's Dysfunctional Intelligence Culture."

The book is a detailed account of his career inside the CIA's clandestine service and his work as a "nonofficial cover" operative in the Middle East and Europe.

"The book contains no classified information and I do not profit from it," Mr. Jones told The Washington Times. "CIA censors attack this book because it exposes the CIA as a place to get rich, with billions of taxpayer dollars wasted or stolen in espionage programs that produce nothing."

The CIA said in a statement to The Times that the legal action was filed against the former officer for "breaking his secrecy agreement."
Here's the problem in a nutshell: Established U.S. law does not permit secrecy clauses to be used to hide illegal acts. But courts traditionally defer to the CIA. So, if there were corruption at the CIA, no one would be able to root it out through publicity, because Justice Brandeis' best disinfectant could not be used to do so. If the premise holds, then, a culture of complete secrecy must enable corruption--which in turn must endanger US national security.

Conclusion: Current CIA secrecy policy is a threat to US national security.

You can buy the 2008 book from, here:

US Justice Department, Michigan AG Charge Blue Cross With Price-Fixing

From the Detroit Free Press:
Millions of Michigan consumers have paid higher health insurance premiums over the last three years because Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan forced at least 70 hospitals statewide to charge its competitors more, according to a lawsuit filed Monday by the U.S. Justice Department and Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox.

The antitrust lawsuit alleges that Blue Cross -- the state's largest insurer -- used its muscle and size to negotiate deep discounts for itself.

The hospitals include Beaumont Hospitals, St. John Providence Health System and Botsford Hospital. The lawsuit alleges that the practice drove up prices for competitors such as Health Alliance Plan, one of the state's biggest health maintenance organizations, and at-large private insurers such as Aetna and Humana.

In some cases, Blue Cross paid hospitals more than what was proposed to close the deal, the Justice Department alleges. If it prevails, other insurers and their customers might get better deals on hospital prices.

In a statement, Blue Cross spokesman Andrew Hetzel said the insurer's negotiated discounts keep costs reasonable for its members. He said the lawsuit was "without merit."

The Justice Department has won five similar cases since 1994 in Ohio, Rhode Island, Oregon, Washington, D.C., and Arizona.

Suit against Blue Cross could have significant repercussions

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan was so eager to crush the competition that it sometimes paid even more than it proposed if a hospital agreed to charge other insurance companies much higher prices, state and federal attorneys charged Monday in a lawsuit filed in Detroit's federal court.

Beaumont Hospitals, a three-hospital system based in Royal Oak, for example, charged Blue Cross competitors at least 25% more than it charged the Blues. The same happened at all of the Detroit-area hospitals in the St. John Providence Health System and more than 65 others around the state.

Michigan insurance industry leaders say the lawsuit could have a major impact on hospital service pricing.

The lawsuit "clearly identifies an issue that appears to have been impeding other carriers to compete," said Rick Murdock, executive director of the Michigan Association of Health Plans, which represents several dozen health plans in the state. "The association always has stood for creating affordable health care policies and a level playing field."

The U.S. Justice Department and Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox allege Blue Cross has been wielding its influence with more than half of the state's hospitals since 2007, when it started offering most-favored nation clauses, which gives preferential treatment to certain hospitals. They are seeking an injunction.
a link to the Michigan Attorney General's charges in PDF format. More in the Wall Street Journal.

Monday, October 18, 2010

NY Times Reporter to Outraged Reader: "F--- you"

From Jihad Watch:
Jihad Watch reader Mike read this post about a New York Times article in which the author, James C. McKinley, Jr., noted that Fort Hood jihadist Nidal Hasan shouted "Allahu akbar" before he started on his mass-murder spree, and then said, "Yet the gunman and his motive remain an enigma."

McKinley did mention the "Allahu akbar," but McKinley ignored the mountain of evidence indicating that Hasan was a jihadist, including Hasan's own PowerPoint presentation delineating Islam's theology of jihad and warning that Muslims should be allowed to opt out of the U.S. military because adverse consequences could ensue if they were made to fight fellow Muslims, and the fact that he passed out Qur'ans on the morning of his mass murders. So Mike wrote this to McKinley at the Times:

J, "The gunman and his motive remain an enigma."
I'm not sure I've ever seen a better example of cultural rot than this sentence.

We live in a bizarre age when not only to traitors and jihadis get full rights of American citizens, but more bizarrely people like you continue to turn yourself into a human pretzel to avoid connecting the religion of Islam to the violence it inspired in Hasan's own words and deeds.

You're just another ass hat working at a newspaper gainfully employed to keep people confused.

Harsh? Maybe. But right. And in a magnificent example of the media elite's contempt for the people it continues to try to fool, McKinley responded with this:

Fuck you.
BTW, I didn't see this response covered in the NY Times Company's online handbook from 2004, Ethical Journalism: A Handbook of Values and Practices for the News and Editorial Departments.

The Social Network

Saw The Social Network the other day with someone I know. It was enjoyable and unsettling at the same time.

A friend from film school said the film is the Faust story version 2.0. Sean Parker, played by Justin Timberlake, is the Devil, tempting Mark Zuckerberg, played by Jesse Eisenberg, to betray his friends and partners in exchange for wealth, women, and power. He added that it was also about exclusion, and that Zuckerberg is motivated to betray the socially prominent twins who keep him in the bike room of the Porcellian Club and hand him a plastic-wrapped sandwich. Unable to enter the exclusive precincts of the elite, Zuckberger determines to set up his own business with his equally outsider friend, a Brazilian business student named Eduardo Savarin.

It also seems rather like What Makes Sammy Run? version 2.0 (or 1.0 for a movie, since Schulberg's book and play version never made it onto the big screen). That tale of a Jewish screenwriter who backstabbed his way to the top was among the iconic works of 40s and 50s angst and alienation literature. Zuckerberg's sociopathic interpersonal behavior recalls Sammy Glick's.

Perhaps one of the more interesting aspects of Aaron Sorkin's screenplay is the title: THE SOCIAL NETWORK. What does it mean, excactly? Is the network, Facebook--or, as I suspect, the network of exclusive social clubs at Harvard, to which Zuckerberg aspires to be admitted? Interestingly, the only traditional social networking event Zuckerberg attends in the film is at the Jewish fraternity. Despite founding Facebook, he remains unclubbed at the end--even his former friend and partner Eduardo Savarin is hazed by the Phoenix club. Money can't buy you love, and apparently, can't buy you social acceptance, either (as the first scene with his Boston University girlfriend, Ms. Albright, foreshadows, and in a "completion and return" underscores with a final screen shot).

My favorite scene is where the Winklevoss twins go to Harvard president Larry Summers for help, pointing out that Zuckerberg has broken "Harvard law." Summers remains unmoved and unhelpful--merely suggesting that they invent something me, this scene is revelatory of what went wrong with Summers at Harvard--and reminded this viewer of his White House failures in the Obama administration. Not only is Summers depicted as not smart; he's not sensitive, not responsible, and not admirable.

I personally enjoyed how many scenes took place in noisy nightclubs and loud restaurants. Somehow, it captured the emptiness and vulgarity of life before the financial collapse. Looking backwards, hindsight is 20/20.

And then there's the Wizard of Oz angle, perhaps it is all smoke and mirrors, with Ms. Albrecht as Dorothy and Mr. Parker as the Wicked Witch of the West. Of course, it could be noted the film uses the Rashomon-like structure of Citizen Kane to portray Zuckerberg in flashback from a variety of viewpoints. Fun for film students to see the various homages to earlier classics, no doubt.

In any case, I enjoyed the picture. It is a period piece, a depiction of life before bail-outs, only yesterday. Five stars.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Desert of Forbidden Art

Shows Sunday at 4:00 pm at the National Gallery of Art, in Washington, DC:

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

DCPS, Metro TeenAIDS respond to Hardy Middle School "sex test" uproar as Rhee resigns | The Georgetown Dish

Whatta way to go! Michelle Rhee has resigned, amidst a sex text scandal at D.C.'s Hardy Middle covered online in this article:DCPS, Metro TeenAIDS respond to Hardy Middle School "sex test" uproar as Rhee resigns says The Georgetown Dish
As WJLA, NBC4 and FOX5 covered the "sex test" controversy at Hardy Middle School first reported in The Georgetown Dish, DCPS issued a statement to Hardy parents and The Washington Post and other media reported that Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee will resign today.

The DCPS statement defended the sex education program at Hardy, but not the failure to get informed consent from parents for their children's participation in both the test and the program. "Both the 'Making Proud Choices!' and DCPS health curriculum of which it is a part are in-line with the DC Health Learning Standards as well as the National Health Education Standards," the DCPS statement said.

The DCPS statement argued about the definition of a "test", stating that the sex "'pre-test' Hardy students were given was not a test at all, but an assessment used to determine the students’ baseline knowledge and to responsibly assure that students get all of the information and skills they need to protect themselves," said DCPS. The statement did not explain the thinking behind a "pre-test" administered to 12-year-olds referred to sexual organs and activities, so-called "dental dams," drug use during sex, and transgenderism.

"Unfortunately," DCPS said, "the opt-out letter to parents regarding this unit in the health class went home on the same day that the assessment was administered. As a result, there was not enough time to allow for parental response before the unit began."

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Pam Geller on the NY Times's "Distortions, Inaccuracies, and Lies"

From Atlas Shrugs:
As expected, the New York Times did an extraordinarily nasty and fallacious piece on me. It is full of distortions, inaccuracies and lies from beginning to end.

Referring to me using terms like "socialite," "dilettante," and other words invoking silly, superficial, purposeless women, is downright farcicial. Show me a socialite who is fighting for American values 20 hours a day. I don't even have lunch, let alone gala charity events. The only thing worthwhile in this piece is the actual interview, which is, frankly, all that really matters. But let's have a cursory look at this piece, shall we?

The numbers quoted from my divorce settlement are grossly, wildly inaccurate. I don't want to air dirty laundry in public, but there is absolutely no truth to what Anne Barnard and Alan Feuer "reported" about this. And although I do not want to get into personal matters, how do they know that my deceased ex "didn’t always agree" with what I was saying? Did they employ a ouija board? Just for knowing, this claim also is patently false.

Of course they hold up my lack of journalistic "credentials" as a disadvantage. Clearly we see how this "advantage" has rendered the New York Times and the rest of the fraternity of credentialed journalists hopelessly inaccurate and incapable of objectivity and responsible journalism. Why no piece like this on Daisy Khan, or Feisal Abdul Rauf, or Sharif El-Gamal?

Here is credentialed journalism: they say without explanation that I "posted doctored pictures of Elena Kagan, the Supreme Court justice, in a Nazi helmet." They don't bother to mention that the Kagan photoshop came after it was revealed that Kagan had cited in her thesis a German Marxist who became a Nazi when Hitler took power. They claim that I said that "a young Barack Obama slept with 'a crack whore,'" without mentioning that in that post I was making a point about unfair journalists (like these Times writers), constructing a reductio ad absurdum about media bias.

Just to show how avid and careful they were in their quest for the facts, they have me video blogging from an Israeli beach. Won't Fort Lauderdale be surprised to find out that the Zionist war machine is now occupying Florida beaches? Richer still was their reference to "arching her bikini-bared back provocatively." Please. I was submerged in the water with my kids in the background. Talk about easily titillated! I never arched my back except to swim away. They've been spending too much time with the Taliban. And they fault me for equating Palestinians with Hamas. The Palestinians elected Hamas, but who cares?

I know they spoke to Pamela Hall, but she is not mentioned in the article. They asked her what my worst traits were, but she must not have given them any grist for their mill.

It's revealing how many times they refer to my "Long Island-accented voice" and upbringing. It says more about them than it does about me. It's elitist, it's snobbish, and it's condescending.

But while they have room for that, you'll notice that the Muslim Brotherhood is nowhere mentioned in this piece, although I referred to them extensively. Even when they referred to the halal Campbell's Soup story, they declined to mention ISNA or the Muslim Brotherhood, only referring to a nameless Islamic group. Why is the New York Times so solicitous or afraid of the Muslim Brotherhood, that they won't mention its name? Nor do they mention the mega-mosque's earlier name, Cordoba Initiative, although it was only known as such for many months.

They refer to my work as a "crusade," but never refer to the supremacists' jihad as anything nefarious. They refer to my work as waging "a form of holy war," but never, ever discuss the real holy war against the West.

They say Paypal branded me a hate site. I know that facts are irrelevant, but they didn't.

In talking about my role in the mosque controversy, they say:

Two days later, Ms. Geller invited readers to protest the “9/11 monster mosque being built on hallowed ground zero,” in a post that was among the first to spread the misimpressions that the project was at the World Trade Center site and would solely house a prayer space.

Who's misimpressioning here? The site of the building is Ground Zero. You can have your own opinion, but you can't have your own facts. That building was hit by the landing gear from one of the planes, and destroyed. It is part of the Ground Zero attack site. And I never said that the building would solely house a prayer space. (Note "prayer space": the Times can't bring itself to call it a mosque, even though the prayer space in this building will be a mosque.)

Even the links they provide are deliberately deceptive. When deriding me for calling Sharif El-Gamal a thug, they don't link to his rap sheet or his threatening of a moderate Muslim. They only link to the post about his being a tax deadbeat, which is not about his thuggishness.

They minimize the mortal threat to Rifqa Bary's life, mischaracterizing her father's death threat to her for leaving Islam for Christianity as Rifqa having "accused her parents of abuse." They say I helped draw "vociferous objectors to a hearing this summer on a since-scrapped proposal for a mosque on Staten Island." Here again, they make no mention of the fact that it was a Muslim Brotherhood mosque. "Vociferous objectors" is Times-speak for patriots and defenders of freedom.

As far as the public school madrassa in Brooklyn goes, I referred extensively to Pamela Hall's seminal work. She was responsible for taking what should have been a Pulitzer-Prize-winning picture of the Almontaser-sanctioned "Intifada NYC" t-shirt. They quote the head of the school, Dabah Almontaser, saying: “New York is the cosmopolitan city of the world. They figured that if they could do it here, they could do it anywhere. And sadly, they did.” Do what? Fight for justice? Stand up against the jihad against Israel? Stand up against a public school being made into a madrassa? I would do it again. And going to Almontaser for her take on the madrassa is like going to the fox for his take on the henhouse.

They gave space to hit-and-run insults from anonymous people at the New York Observer, which was swarming with doctrinaire leftists like Mike Tomasky and Joe Conason, and note: they made no mention of the fact that I worked all my life, from the time I was thirteen. I worked full-time from the time I was seventeen. My high school was on split session; I got out at noon and worked til eight. I worked through college, and never stopped working until I left to raise my children in my late thirties. "Socialite," my eye!

The New York Times said: "And Ms. Geller said, without evidence, that the center’s financing might be tied to terrorists." We know that Rauf is a leading member of the Perdana Organization, the single largest financier of the Turkish terrorist group's jihad flotilla against Israel. Rauf and Daisy Khan have received funding from the Xenel Corporation. The connection between Xenel and al Qaeda, according to the Orlando Sentinel, was persuasive enough that the city of Orlando decided to cancel the contract it had previously awarded to Xenel. The involvement Bin Laden-tied Xenel led to the cancellation of a different 100-million-dollar project in Florida. If such ties would cancel a convention center, why not a 100-million-dollar Islamic supremacist mega mosque at the site of largest attack on American soil by these same players? And yet the Times says I have no evidence.

They ridicule the idea of taqiyya, calling it "the hiding of true beliefs, religiously sanctioned for Muslims, usually minority Shiites, under hostile rule." They don't mention that the idea of religious deception in Islam is not just held by Shi'ites, but is founded on the Koran, which tells Muslims that they can pretend to be friends with unbelievers to "guard themselves against them" (3:28). A hadith explains this as meaning "We smile in the faces of some people, but behind their backs we curse them." That sounds like Rauf, with his love for religious dialogue in English and rejection of it in Arabic, to me.

They claim that I am branding Rauf a "radical Islamist," when in fact his own words are those of a radical: "We tend to forget, in the West, that the United States has more Muslim blood on its hands than al Qaida has on its hands of innocent non Muslims. You may remember that the US-led sanctions against Iraq led to the death of over half a million Iraqi children. This has been documented by the United Nations. And when Madeleine Albright, who has become a friend of mine over the last couple of years, when she was Secretary of State and was asked whether this was worth it, said it was worth it." Referring to jihadis, he says: "How do you tell people whose homes have been destroyed, whose lives have been destroyed, that this does not justify your actions of terrorism? It's hard. Yes, it is true that it does not justify the acts of bombing innocent civilians, that does not solve the problem, but after 50 years of, in many cases, oppression, of US support of authoritarian regimes that have violated human rights in the most heinous of ways, how else do people get attention?" Rauf calls Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi "a very very well known Islamic jurist, highly regarded all over the Muslim world" -- Qaradawi has approved of Palestinian suicide bombings and genocide of the Jews. It was on Qaradawi's authority that Hamas began to use women in suicide attacks. He has called for "drastic" punishment of homosexuals. (Video here.)

They refer to the pain expressed by those who oppose the Ground Zero mega mosque as "heckling." And I had to laugh, of course, when the New York Times said that Rush Limbaugh, Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin were getting their talking points from me. Has anyone told Rush yet?

Barnard and Feuer write, "Opposition to Park51 grew — and with it, antipathy for Islam." It wasn't "antipathy for Islam" -- that is more of that racist-Islamophobic-anti-Muslim nonsense. It was outrage at the lack of compassion and sensitivity to the pain and the grief the mega mosque organizers were causing. To suggest that I provided the vocabulary to express this grief, under the guise of "worries about Islam," is laughable. It is justifiable concern about slaughter in the name of jihad, Islamic supremacism, the subjugation of women, and gender apartheid. The dead can't speak.

They're snarky about anyone who goes off the reservation, but they actually refer to the disinformationalists and propagandists of Media Matters as a "media tracking group," and not the left-wing propaganda hate site that it is, void of facts -- like this article. They say: "Her claims were disputed often enough that the liberal media-tracking group Media Matters called on stations (ineffectually) to stop presenting her as an expert." They do not and cannot, however, cite one example where I was actually wrong; instead, they just resort to ad hominem attacks. The Times is implying in this that I was so inaccurate that the smear machine Media Matters called on stations to stop featuring me in the interests of accuracy, when actually Media Matters was afraid that some of the truth was getting out to the public despite their best efforts. That they mention Loonwatch, a Goebbels-style hate site, speaks volumes.

And they say this about the EDL: "Ms. Geller went on to champion as patriotic the English Defense League, which opposes the building of mosques in Britain and whose members have been photographed wearing swastikas. (In the interview, Ms. Geller said the swastika-wearers must have been “infiltrators” trying to discredit the group.)" They don't mention that the EDL unequivocally supports Israel, waves the Israeli flag, has a Jewish division, has Hindu and Sikh members, and does have an ongoing problem with leftist infiltrators joining their rallies in order to try to discredit them by making racist or neo-Nazi statements.

They expose themselves completely when brushing over the death of Aqsa Parvez. They never mention why she didn't have a headstone in the first place (because she brought dishonor to the family, which is why she was murdered, and that dishonor did not merit her being remembered after death). They put "honor killings" in quotes, as if it were something I made up. In all their combing through my site, they seem to have missed this post. Is it any wonder that these reporters don't understand the whole idea of compassion and decency in regard to the Ground Zero mosque, when they put the term "honor killings" in quotes?

One thing the Times got right: the picture of me accompanying the article is accurate!

Friday, October 08, 2010

Charlie Cook on How Democrats Squandered Election 2010

Washington's best political analyst, Charlie Cook, says that if the Democrats lose control of Congress in November, it's their own fault:
Running against former President George W. Bush worked for the first few months of 2009 in special elections but doesn't work so well now. While voters are happy to blame him for the beginning of the recession, he no longer seems to be terribly relevant; attacking him doesn't seem to get much traction these days. Candidates have found that running on the effectiveness and success of their economic stewardship doesn't work, nor on efforts to address climate change or on the new health care law.

Since voters aren't happy at all with Washington or anything that has happened in Washington in years, Democrats don't have much to brag about. Therefore, they have to run against their challengers, just in the same way that Republicans were advised to run by their equally astute advisers in 2006.

So Democrats are now trying to portray the field of Republican challengers and open seat candidates as the most sordid group since "Gov. William J. Lepetomaine" and "Attorney General Hedley Lamarr" put together their group of ax murderers, cattle thieves, and other miscreants to go after Sheriff Bart and the idyllic town of Rock Ridge in Mel Brooks' Blazing Saddles.

For those with young children, it may be a good time to make sure the Disney Channel is paid up on your cable and the DVD player is in good working order. You really don't want your kids watching commercial television these days, given the negative ads that are already running by candidates on both sides.

There is no question that Democrats have their backs to the wall. It's unprecedented to see so many incumbents running behind their challengers.

While the Cook Political Report has a general policy of not putting unindicted incumbents in categories worse than our "Toss Up" column, which is akin to the critical ward of a hospital, we are now looking at moving a dozen or so Democratic House incumbents into the Lean Republican column (Sen. Blanche Lincoln is already there).

Furthermore, only one GOP incumbent today seems to be a candidate for moving into Lean Democratic. With less than a month to go to the election, something could obviously happen that would change the trajectory of this election -- but it would have to be something pretty dramatic, and I don't see that happening.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

The Coming Ice Age by Elaine Jarvik

Forgive the plug, but I just have to add a link to the website for Salt Lake City's Pygmalion Theatre's production of my cousin Elaine Jarvik's new play, The Coming Ice Age.

It's about someone's difficult transition from the family home to "senior living." The show runs from October 21st through November 6th. Golden Girls is off the air, so if you happen to find yourself in Utah, you might want to buy a ticket...

UPDATE: Salt Lake Tribune article, here.

Pam Geller on the Trial of Geert Wilders

The real hero of freedom is not Daisy Khan, but Geert Wilders and others who stand with him. The real ones under threat are not Daisy Khan and the Imam Rauf, but people who have spoken out, even accidentally like Molly Norris, and those who are opposing their Islamic supremacist plan to put a mosque at Ground Zero.

Geert Wilders is our proxy. We are all on trial. Our freedom of speech is on trial. The Organization of the Islamic Conference means to shut us all up. That’s what they were doing in Chicago last week.

Wilders is us. If you value your freedom, stand with him.

Nat Hentoff on Justice Brandeis and the Fourth Amendment

From Jewish World Review:
As Sen. Frank Church said long ago when he was the first to discover the omnipresent spying on us of the National Security Agency (NSA), eventually, "no American would have any privacy left, such is the capability to monitor everything. … There would be no place to hide."
Not at all surprisingly, President Obama has extended the reach -- and just about total lack of accountability -- of the NSA.

But if the Republicans take control of Congress after the midterm elections -- and then under a new Republican president in 2012 -- is there any certainty that we may begin to be under the protection of the Fourth Amendment again?

Insofar as the tea partiers will continue to be an influence on the Republicans -- having already been instrumental this year in re-electing some -- I have not, as I've reported, seen much concern among them about our vanishing privacy (though I admire the tea partiers declared devotion to the Constitution).

As of this writing, I have no idea who will be the Republican presidential candidate in 2012, but I'm not aware that any of the potential leading Republican candidates are impassioned about the Fourth Amendment.

Even if she's not a candidate, the perennial newsmaker Sarah Palin will be an influence on the 2012 elections. She probably doesn't remember, but I was the first national columnist to recommend to John McCain that she be on his ticket, having read of her independence of party orthodoxy in Michael Barone's invaluable "Almanac of American Politics," as governor of Alaska. Anyway, I strongly recommend to firebrand Palin what Justice Louis Brandeis wrote in his dissent in the first Supreme Court wiretapping case, Olmstead vs. United States (1928):

"Discovery and invention have made it possible for the Government, with means far more effective than stretching upon the rack, to obtain disclosure in court of what is whispered in the closet. … The progress of science in furnishing the Government with means of espionage (on American citizens) is not likely to stop with wiretapping." Was he ever right!

"Ways may some day be developed," Brandeis continued, "by which the Government, without removing papers from secret drawers, can reproduce them in court." (He didn't foresee the Patriot Act's giving the FBI permission to sneak into our homes when we aren't there and photograph those papers.)

The time did come, as Brandeis prophesied, when the Government "will be enabled to expose to a jury the intimate occurrences of the home" -- and any of our communications in almost any form, if this Obama legislation becomes and remains law.

What Brandeis also warned -- and this should be remembered during the midterm and 2012 elections: "The makers of our Constitution undertook to secure conditions favorable to the pursuit of happiness. They recognized the significance of man's spiritual nature, of his feelings, and of his intellect. … They sought to protect Americans in their beliefs, their thoughts, their emotions and their sensations. They conferred, as against the Government, the right to be let alone -- the most comprehensive of rights, and the right most valued by civilized men. To protect that right, every unjustifiable intrusion by the Government upon the privacy of the individual, whatever the means employed, must be deemed a violation of the Fourth Amendment."

And must be deemed as being at the core of what Barack Obama continuously subverts in "the liberties we cherish."

I deeply hope the tea partiers will add Justice Louis Brandeis to their reading as they work to restore the Constitution's separation of powers. Consider the effect on new generations growing up under government insisting on back doors into what we say, feel and think. Sending Obama -- and any Democrat or Republican who supports his "big brother" mentality -- back into private life is the change we must believe in to get our basic freedoms back.

Bob (Trach) Trachinger, 1924-2010

Professor Robert Trachinger, aka "Trach," died last month. I was his teaching assistant for three semesters at UCLA, for "Issues in Broadcasting." He chose me again and again to work for him. It was an honor.

Trach was a great teacher, a great guy, and a great inspiration. He taught me how to teach. He had been a network vice-president, as well as a television engineer and technical director for ABC Sports, and ABC News, and KABC, where he worked on network football and the Olympics. He developed slow motion video for sports replays as well as an underwater television camera. Working for him was a delight. He had a twinkle in his eye. His classes were packed, and always had a waiting list. I was lucky to have known him. Here's an excerpt from his UCLA obituary:
Robert Trachinger, innovative ABC television executive and TFT professor, passed away Sunday, September 19, in Rancho Santa Fe, CA, at the age 86.

Trachinger's work in broadcasting began in 1950, at ABC, where he worked on a broad spectrum of programming, including the early live serial “Space Patrol”, innovative documentaries such as “Decision to Die" and on live coverage of the Kennedy-Nixon debates and the Academy Awards.

He worked side by side with Roone Arledge, then President of ABC Sports on “Wide World of Sports” and the Olympic Games telecasts, beginning with the Winter Games in Innsbruck in 1964 and concluding with the landmark Summer Games in Los Angeles in 1984.

“The Hollywood Reporter” recently called Trachinger “a technical wizard,” acclaimed in engineering circles for his innovative thinking and for his contributions to broadcast technology. He was responsible for developing the first hand-held TV camera, the first underwater TV camera (field-tested in his own swimming pool) and slow-motion videotape for replay at sports events, introduced on-air in 1961.

The winner of three Emmy Awards, Trachinger retired from ABC as a vice president in 1985.

In addition to his professional career, Trachinger had a deep commitment to education and to mentoring young people. At his death he was a Professor Emeritus of the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television, having taught courses in production and ethics in media from 1968 to 1998.

He was instrumental in introducing classes in live TV production into the TFT curriculum. The van for remote production that is still parked at the School, between Melnitz and East Melnitz, was acquired for the School by Trachinger through his many industry connections.
Here's a link to his Hollywood Reporter obituary.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Philippa Foot, 1920-2010

I was saddened to learn of the death of British moral philosopher Philippa Foot, at the age of 90.

She had been my landlady at Oxford, when I moved to England to try to produce documentary films (and considered studying philosophy there). Her house at 15 Walton Street was just as one would imagine the home of an Oxford don. Books, velour chairs, velour curtains, lovely views of the hills.  I found it through a listing in the New York Review of Books, to which she had been a regular contributor--until, she explained to me, the clique that ran NYRB decided she wasn't to appear in it anymore.  She was the granddaughter of President Gover Cleveland. She was the daughter of "Baby Ruth," of candy-bar fame. Her father was a British coal baron. Once, she told me she did not like the horsey, doggy, hunting British country life in which she had grown up. She preferred the life of the mind, and she managed to live in it, as an Oxford philosopher, author, and intellectual.

More than that, Philippa Foot a kind soul, and a generous one.  In England, she took me under her wing, introduced me to her sister Marion, who introduced me to London Society at the Garrick Club (at a dinner with pillar Anthony Howard), had me as a guest at Cleveland Hill (there introduced to classicist M.I. Finley, known as "Finley of Harvard" and uncle George Cleveland, son of the American President, who ran a summer stock theatre in Tamworth, New Hampshire), and variously extended unsolicited kindnesses. When Professor Foot came to teach at UCLA, where I was in film school, she invited me to a party at her home, at which my father met Christopher Isherwood--an evening he talked about for years.

All my memories of Professor Foot are good ones. She not only taught "virtue philosophy," she lived it.

Here is an excerpt from her obituary in The Telegraph:
In a key article, Moral Arguments (1958), Philippa Foot challenged this relativistic stance, suggesting that anyone who uses moral terms at all (bad, good and the like), whether to assert or deny a moral proposition, must abide by certain agreed rules for their use . The only recourse of someone who fails to accept the rules, she wrote, would be “to abjure altogether the use of moral terms”.

In her view the distinction between statements of fact and value is based on two false assumptions: first, that any individual may, properly, base his beliefs about matters of value on premises which no one else would recognise as valid; secondly, he may refuse to accept another’s evaluation because their standards are not ones he accepts.

The first assumption is refuted, she argued, by an appeal to the basic idea that words, while they may not have an intrinsic meaning, do have a proper use: “It is surely clear that moral virtues must be connected with human good or harm, and that it is quite impossible to call anything you like good or harm.” Against the second assumption, she put forward the tentative idea that a moral question can be argued down to a point which reveals an “ultimate end” beyond which it is ridiculous to inquire, as it does not make sense to ask: “Why do you hate pain?” or “Why do you want to feel happy?”

In her book Natural Goodness (2001) Philippa Foot rebutted the philosophical distinction between descriptive meaning (which deals with facts) and evaluative meaning (dealing with moral qualities). In the case of living things — plants, animals and humans — she argued that evaluations simply state a special class of fact. Natural goodness can apply as well to physical parts of living beings as to their actions: to say that a tree has good roots, in her analysis, is logically the same as to say that a person performs a good deed. The underlying logic has to do with the assumption that good roots or good actions are those that are necessary in the lives of individuals of that species. Moral goodness should therefore be understood as the natural flourishing of humans as living beings.

And here is an excerpt from her obituary in The Guardian:
Foot pooh-poohed what she called the "rigoristic, prissy, moralistic tone" so frequent in moral philosophy, and the way it had lost touch with real life. "I do not know what could be meant by saying that it was someone's duty to do something," she said, "unless there was an attempt to show why it mattered if this sort of thing was not done."

Non-cognitivist theories (Hare's prescriptivism, Ayer's emotivism, more recently Allan Gibbard's expressivism), which variously deny that moral statements can be true or false, render moral judgment so subjective and capricious that, strictly speaking, it might just as well extend to "the wrongness of running round trees right-handed or looking at hedgehogs in the light of the moon".

But she opposed such theories not just because they were too wide, but because they were too narrow. In the 1950s she had begun, along with Anscombe, to shift the focus away from what makes an isolated action good or bad, to the Aristotelian concentration on what makes a person good or bad in the long-term. Morality, she argued, is about how to live – not so much a series of logically consistent, well-calculated decisions as a lifetime endeavour to become the sort of person who habitually and happily does virtuous things. And "virtuous", for Foot, meant well-rounded and human. She condemned as moral faults "the kind of timidity, conventionality and wilful self-abnegation that may spoil no one's life but one's own", advocating "hope and a readiness to accept good things".

Foot continued, and modified, her onslaught on subjectivism in ethics throughout her life. She also attacked utilitarian theories, which see goodness as a matter of actions' consequences, and tend to equate the badness of failing to prevent an evil outcome with perpetrating it. In a paper on abortion (The Problem of Abortion and the Doctrine of Double Effect, 1967), she used what became a much-cited example to pinpoint fine distinctions in moral permissibility where an action has both good and bad results – the dilemma facing the driver of a suddenly brakeless trolley-bus that would hit five people unless he steered it on to another track into only one person.

Unlike many philosophers, Foot never strained our basic intuitions in the interests of pursuing some wild theory to its (il)logical conclusion. She said that, in doing philosophy, she felt like a geologist tapping away with a tiny hammer on a huge cliff. But her resolute tapping hit many fault-lines and reduced several inflated edifices. "Very tender and adorable, yet morally tough and subtle, and with lots of will and self-control," was how Murdoch described her.

In Human Goodness (a paper included in the book Natural Goodness, 2001), Foot wrote that wisdom and temperance are important virtues, but that often we revere those who lack them and live chaotic lives, which, she added, is probably not "just romantic nonsense". "Of course what is best is to live boldly, yet without imprudence or intemperance, but the fact is that rather few can manage that." She, however, was one of those few.

Here's an excerpt from the NY Times obituary by William Grimes:
In her early work, notably in the essays “Moral Beliefs” and “Moral Arguments,” published in the late 1950s, Ms. Foot took issue with philosophers like R. M. Hare and Charles L. Stevenson, who maintained that moral statements were ultimately expressions of attitude or emotion, because they could not be judged true or false in the same way factual statements could be.

Ms. Foot countered this “private-enterprise theory,” as she called it, by arguing the interconnectedness of facts and moral interpretations. Further, she insisted that virtues like courage, wisdom and temperance are indispensable to human life and the foundation stones of morality. Her writing on the subject helped establish virtue ethics as a leading approach to the study of moral problems.

“She’s going to be remembered not for a particular view or position, but for changing the way people think about topics,” said Lawrence Solum, who teaches the philosophy of law at the University of Illinois and studied under Ms. Foot. “She made the moves that made people see things in a fundamentally new way. Very few people do that in philosophy.”

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Robert Spencer on the Plight of Molly Norris

From Human Events:
Molly Norris’s cause should be taken up by all free people – not least the President of the United States. Obama could have explained that human beings control their own reactions to things. If Muslims chose yet again to riot and murder because of Terry Jones or Molly Norris, that would be a choice they would be making out of an unlimited array of other choices. Instead, Western authorities have fallen into the Islamic supremacists' trap and are starting to behave in just the way they want them to: thinking that they must not do certain things, because if they do, there will be violence from Muslims. Yet that violence is in every case solely the responsibility of the perpetrator, not of anyone else.

Obama could have said that the idea that Molly Norris would have to give up her career and live in hiding because of cartoons is unconscionable. He could have told the Islamic world that cartoons depicting Muhammad did not harm Muslims, and that the willingness of some Muslims to commit murder over such depictions was the only thing that made people care to draw Muhammad in the first place.

Obama could also have said that to threaten people with death because of cartoons was destructive to free speech and hence to free societies — and as such, it was something that the U.S. would do everything it could to resist. He could have announced that Molly Norris and others who were threatened for exercising their freedom of speech would be given full round-the-clock protection — and that if violent protests and riots over cartoons broke out in areas where American troops were deployed, those troops would put down those riots and protect the innocent to the fullest possible extent.

Apparently when Muslims behave with violent irrationality, Obama thinks that it is entirely the responsibility of non-Muslims to clean up the mess they make. In these dark days we don’t have any leaders who will stand up for the freedom of expression, explaining its importance as a bulwark against tyranny. Molly Norris, wherever she is, and the embattled free people of the United States, deserve better.