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Archive for December 2010

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Iran’s Nukes

Potential Iranian Responses to NATO’s Missile Defense Shield

December 27th 2010

Iran - Iran Long-Range Missile

The new “Strategic Concept” that NATO is expected to adopt at its Lisbon summit this weekend offers the advantage of an early initial capability to defend Europe against the emerging Iranian ballistic missile threat, even though—in deference to Turkish sensibilities—NATO is not expected to identify Iran as the source of the threat. For now, the Islamic Republic is unable to reach targets in Eastern Europe, but that could change as early as 2012 if Tehran decides to commence production of the medium-range Sajjil-2 missile. And because the NATO concept hinges first on the deployment of ship-based missile systems to the eastern Mediterranean, followed later by the deployment of land-based interceptors, it entails certain vulnerabilities that Iran could exploit in the near term. Read more ..

Edge on Terror

Palestinian Authority Touts “Jihad Jesus” in a Ploy for Worldwide Support

December 27th 2010

Palestine Topics - Abbas at Christmas Mass

In a December 3 interview with Palestinian Authority TV, author Samih Ghanadreh was asked about his new book Christianity and its Connection to Islam. He told the interviewer that he remembers fondly how PLO leader and terrorist Yasir Arafat referred to Jesus Christ as “the first Palestinian Shahid (martyr).” The interviewer averred Ghanadreh’s comment, saying “Jesus was a Palestinian; no one denies that.” Islamist terrorists who detonate explosive suicide vests to kill themselves and Jewish or Christian victims are also denoted as “martyrs’ by supporters of the Islamist jihad against Israel and the West.

A native of Nazareth, Ghanadreh’s comment underscores similar declarations made by terrorist organizations and religious leaders in the region about Jesus, giving a modern militant aspect to Jesus, who for Christians bears the title (among others) of “Prince of Peace,” “Sun of Justice,” and “Son of God.” On the official website of the the Communications and Education Authority of the ruling Palestinian faction Fatah, for example, the following statement is found: “If we are proud of the holiness of our land, then we are proud and pride ourselves that the first and most important holy woman among the nations and peoples is from the holy land: The Virgin Mary—the woman of love and peace—is of the nation of Palestine…” Read more ..

The Energy Edge

From Greenhouse Gases to Green Agenda: Five Energy Issues to Watch

December 27th 2010

Politics - Capitol Building at night

It’s been a dynamic past 12 months on the energy front. The massive Gulf oil spill dominated much of the news cycle. And while Democratic efforts to pass comprehensive climate change legislation in the Senate failed, the Obama administration is moving ahead with plans to use its existing powers to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

With the end of the year drawing close—the 111th Congress is over and President Obama is in Hawaii with his family for the holidays—it seems only fitting to turn our attention to next year. Without further ado, here are five things to watch out for in 2011.

Attempts to block the Environmental Protection Agency’s climate regulations:

On Thursday, just hours before most people in Washington left town for the holidays, the EPA made two major announcements in its efforts to reduce the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. The agency laid out a timetable for phasing in emissions standards for power plants and refineries, and announced it would issue greenhouse gas permits in Texas, where the governor had refused to align with federal rules. On top of that, beginning in January the EPA will, on a case-by-case basis, begin phasing in rules that require large new industrial plants and sites that perform major upgrades to curb emissions. Read more ..

The WWI Christmas Truce Revisited--Why Not Every Day?

December 27th 2010

I was fascinated by the historian revisiting the so-called Christmas truces that were recorded in World War I (see The Reality of the Mythic Christmas Truces of World War I, Features December 21, 2010). The letter by the Scottish-Canadian soldier recounts the celebratory ceasefires at the front during the holiday. I have always asked myself this one question. Why not every day?

The Roadway's Edge

“Black Boxes” Could Solve Crash Mysteries

December 27th 2010

Transportation Topics - Munfordville KY crash

Munfordville, Kentucky: Joel Gingerich hadn’t planned to join his fiancée and her family on a road trip to Iowa for a wedding. But at the last minute, before the sun rose on the morning of March 26, 2010, he hopped into the 15-passenger Dodge van. It was a decision that would cost him his life.

Gingerich, fiancée Rachel Esh and her family, all members of a close-knit Mennonite community, were just minutes into the journey when an 80-foot-long, 38-ton Freightliner tractor-trailer lost control on the other side of a wide, grassy median. The truck trampled over two sets of steel barrier cables, hit the Mennonites’ van, ricocheted off a rock wall and burst into flames. Eleven died in the crash on Interstate 65 south of Louisville in southern Kentucky, including Gingerich, Esh and seven members of her family. The truck driver from Alabama was burned so badly that state troopers couldn’t make out his flesh from the metal of his rig. Read more ..

Brazil and Palestine

The Logic Behind South American Countries’ Support for a Palestinian State

December 27th 2010

Latin American Topics - da silva and abbas
José Inázio Lula Da Silva and Mahmoud Abbas

In December, Brazil recognized the creation of a Palestinian state (with pre-1967 borders) while the U.S was making serious efforts to bring the Israelis and Palestinians together. The creation of a Palestinian state has been supported not only by President Barack Obama and his predecessor George W. Bush but also by every Israeli Prime Minister in the last decade including the current one, Benjamin Netanyahu. This move, was followed by Argentina and Bolivia; most likely, Uruguay will follow early next year. However, Brazil’s leadership and initiative in this endeavor is clear. Read more ..

The Armenian Genocide

Congress Fails to Pass Armenian Genocide Recognition Resolution

December 27th 2010

Genocides - Armenian death march
Turkey's Armenian death march

The 111th Congress adjourned December 22 without bringing up the latest incarnation of legislation that would have recognized the 1915 killings of 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman Empire as genocide. Lobbying groups were on alert over the weekend on reports that Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) would bring the resolution to the floor in the final days of the lame-duck session. But lawmakers went home for the holidays without passing Rep. Adam Schiff's (D-Calif.) resolution, angering Armenian groups and leaving Turkish groups breathing a sigh of relief.

"[Pelosi's] decision to not move this legislation forward during her four years as Speaker represents a failure of Congressional leadership on human rights and, sadly, a setback to America's standing in the struggle to end the cycle of genocide," Ken Hachikian, chairman of the Armenian National Committee of America, said in a statement. The Turkish Coalition of America praised the efforts of the Congressional Turkish Caucus in keeping the resolution from coming to the floor. Read more ..

Edge of Space

Astronomers Find that the Most Massive Stars are Born in Near Isolation

December 27th 2010

Science - Star view

New observations by University of Michigan astronomers add weight to the theory that the most massive stars in the universe could form essentially anywhere, including in near isolation; they don't need a large stellar cluster nursery.

This is the most detailed observational study to date of massive stars that appear (from the ground) to be alone. The scientists used the Hubble Space Telescope to zoom in on eight of these giants, which range from 20 to 150 times as massive as the Sun. The stars they looked at are in the Small Magellanic Cloud, a dwarf galaxy that's one of the Milky Way's nearest neighbors. Their results, published in the Dec. 20 edition of the Astrophysical Journal, show that five of the stars had no neighbors large enough for Hubble to discern. The remaining three appeared to be in tiny clusters of ten or fewer stars. Doctoral student Joel Lamb and associate professor Sally Oey, both in the Department of Astronomy, explained the significance of their findings in a paper entitled "The Sparsest Cluster with O Stars." Read more ..

Russia on Edge

Russia’s Rule of Law Appears Before the World’s Court

December 27th 2010

Russian Topics - Khodorkovsky
Mikhail Khodorkovsky

A guilty verdict that was reached in Yukos oil case will decide whether Russia will become a country of freedom and law or become stuck in Soviet-like repression, says one of the accused. Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Russia’s richest man who dared to challenge Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, founder of the Menapet bank, the major shareholder of the Yukos oil company, was arrested in October 2003 along with co-principal Platon Lebedev.

Both were found guilty in May 2005 of tax evasion and sentenced to nine years in prison. The sentence was later reduced to 8 years. Their second trial on fraud charges began on March 31, 2009. Last week, presiding Judge Viktor Danilkin was due to deliver a verdict in Moscow but it was put off until this week. The guilty verdict was read in a Moscow courtroom on December 27, and Khodorkovsky was soon spirited away by police. Some supporters, who stood outside chanting "Freedom!" and "Russia without Putin," were also whisked away by the heavily armed security. Read more ..

Counteracting Lunacy on Islamic Hate Speech

December 27th 2010

Some months ago, Anwar al-Aw’laki—the pestering and festering American-born imam hiding out in Yemen—has issued a fatwa (an obligatory and legal Islamic ruling) calling for the death of Molly Norris, the woman who dared pen an invitation to draw Mohammad on Facebook. Apparently, Mohammad’s saintly purity and demi-god status is at risk—and must be countered with murder—by this utterly minor development. Apparently, the true believers are so insecure, so delicate that their lives and the meaning of their existence are threatened by amateur drawings of their prophet. Ms. Norris, like many infidels before her, must now fear for her life. The million-dollar question, the elephant in the room, looms. How do we counteract this lunacy and its threat to our freedom of expression (and peace of mind), a basic tenet of our unique civilization? Just last week, even the peace-loving socialist Swedes were subject to terrorist bombs because of a re-printed cartoon of Mohammad. Clearly, negotiation and persuasion is a waste of time in the face of such childish fanaticism.

Instead, Congress must pass a new law, outlawing (as it does hate speech and murder as an accomplice) this type of international and unmitigated incitement to murder. In each case of a don’t-do-or-say-that-or I’ll-kill-you fatwa from an influential fanatic against a US citizen, the government should pass a judgment in absentia, declaring this dangerous nonsense criminal and illegal. The law could be particularly applicable if the fanatic was a US citizen, like our dear Mr. al-Aw’laki. If ignored, the judgment should give the US military the right to treat those perpetrators as criminals, to be captured and if not to be eliminated, just as we do Al Qaeda members and those that make our country’s demise their personal fetish. Perhaps this policy will finally turn the tables on those issuing murderous fatwas with impunity. When these bloodthirsty radicals become the object of our efficient and capable military—when the proverbial sword that they so barbarously unsheathed cuts both ways—they will surely be more circumspect in initiating murder.

Wikileaks on the Edge

WikiLeaks Revelations Do Not Come Close to Changing the Rules of the Game

December 27th 2010

Politics - Julian Assange WikiLeaks

Julian Assange has declared that geopolitics will be separated into pre-“Cablegate” and post-“Cablegate” eras. That was a bold claim. However, given the intense interest that the leaks produced, it is a claim that ought to be carefully considered. Several weeks have passed since the first of the diplomatic cables were released, and it is time now to address the following questions: First, how significant were the leaks? Second, how could they have happened? Third, was their release a crime? Fourth, what were their consequences? Finally, and most important, is the WikiLeaks premise that releasing government secrets is a healthy and appropriate act a tenable position?

Let’s begin by recalling that the U.S. State Department documents constituted the third wave of leaks. The first two consisted of battlefield reports from Iraq and Afghanistan. Looking back on those as a benchmark, it is difficult to argue that they revealed information that ran counter to informed opinion. I use the term “informed opinion” deliberately. For someone who was watching Iraq and Afghanistan with some care over the previous years, the leaks might have provided interesting details but they would not have provided any startling distinction between the reality that was known and what was revealed. If, on the other hand, you weren’t paying close attention, and WikiLeaks provided your first and only view of the battlefields in any detail, you might have been surprised. Read more ..

The Tax Edge

Why the VAT Is Not Pro-Saving

December 27th 2010

Economy - Money Money Money

President Barack Obama’s unsustainable near-term fiscal policies are now preamble to the massive and longstanding long-term fiscal problems highlighted in the Bowles–Simpson Commission report, the Domenici–Rivlin report, and elsewhere. As Europe in similar straits is now demonstrating that, in the immortal words of Herb Stein, “what cannot go on forever won’t.”

The preferred solution to excessive deficits for those favoring big government is to turn to a value-added tax (VAT) for additional revenues. In making their case for a VAT, proponents often cite economic advantages of a VAT over an income tax as though the policy was to substitute the VAT for income tax rather than add the VAT. For example, one argument often raised in favor of the VAT is that it would improve the level of private saving. But given that the VAT is being proposed in addition to the income tax rather than as a substitute for it, this argument is flat-out false. Read more ..

The Nuclear Edge

On Arms Control, Learn from Reagan

December 27th 2010

Politics - Atomic Weapon Test Shot

START skeptics are driven by something else: the idea that arms-control treaties should serve our security interests now and in the longer term. New START does neither.

That is why the Senate should consider the full record of the negotiations before voting to approve a treaty that will: 1. encumber our freedom to deploy ballistic-missile defenses; 2. squander the negotiating leverage needed to bring Russian shorter-range missiles under control; and 3. reduce verification standards in this and probably future such agreements. Read more ..

Book Review

Edwin Black's 'The Farhud' Makes for Uncomfortable but Necessary Reading

December 27th 2010

Book Covers - Farhud book

The Farhud: Roots of the Arab Nazi Alliance in the Holocaust. Edwin Black. Dialog Press. 2010. 464 pages. Buy it here.

“This book is a nightmare... I regret that I was the one who had to write it. I hope it never becomes necessary to write another like this one.’ These are among the opening words to Edwin Black’s new book, Farhud.

Much of Farhud does not make for comfortable reading. The central event is the two days of rioting in June 1941, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of Jews – the exact figure is not known - destruction of property, mass looting, rape and mutilation. Farhud is the Arabic name for ‘ violent dispossession’. The pro-Nazis who planned it, however, had a more ambitious and sinister objective in mind: the round-up, deportation and extermination in desert camps of the Jews of Baghdad.

The Farhud was the Iraqi Jews' Kristallnacht. Samuel Edelman, in an afterword to Black’s book, admits he had never heard of this terrible event until 2003. Yet, as Black shows, the Farhud cemented a wartime Arab-Nazi alliance designed to achieve a shared objective: to rid Palestine, and the world, of the Jews. The killing sprees by Arabs continued into North Africa and Balkans: the Germans raised five Arab batallions in Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco. Bosnian Muslims, personally recruited into SS divisions by the pro-Nazi Mufti of Jerusalem, entered into a grisly and murderous partnership with the Ustasha Catholic Croat nationalists to wipe out 100,000 Gyspies and Jews in Yugoslavia. After the war was over, the legacy endured: The mass exodus of the 140,000 Jews of Iraq followed a Nazi pattern of victimisation – dismantlement, dispossession and expulsion. Read more ..

China and Europe

China Ready to Help Europe Return to Economic Health

December 27th 2010

China Topics - China EU commerce

China says it is ready to do what it can to help European countries deal with the financial crisis that has shaken confidence in the euro. The statement follows reports that China is ready to buy billions of dollars worth of Portuguese bonds.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu says China supports international plans to help European countries weather the financial crisis. Jiang said China will do what it can to support euro zone countries to overcome the financial crisis, as well as bring about economic and fiscal recovery. Read more ..

The Prehistoric Edge

Fossil Finger Bone Yields Genome of a Previously Unknown Human Relative

December 27th 2010

Archaeology Topics - Denisovan cave dig

A 30,000-year-old finger bone found in a cave in southern Siberia came from a young girl who was neither an early modern human nor a Neanderthal, but belonged to a previously unknown group of human relatives who may have lived throughout much of Asia during the late Pleistocene epoch. Although the fossil evidence consists of just a bone fragment and one tooth, DNA extracted from the bone has yielded a draft genome sequence, enabling scientists to reach some startling conclusions about this extinct branch of the human family tree, called “Denisovans” after the cave where the fossils were found.

These were the findings of an international team of scientists, including many of the same researchers who earlier this year published the Neanderthal genome. Richard Green of the University of California, Santa Cruz, played a lead role in the analysis of the genome sequence data, for which a special portal was designed on the UCSC Genome Browser. The team was led by Svante Pääbo of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany. Read more ..

The Prehistoric Edge

Dead Sea Drilling Project To Chart Human History in the Region

December 27th 2010

Israel Topics - Dead Sea drilling

About 50 miles from Bethlehem, a drilling project is determining the climate and earthquake activity of the region of Israel. Scientists from eight nations are examining the samples taken from beneath the Dead Sea, after drilling a borehole in this deepest basin in the world. The International Continental Scientific Drilling Program (ICDP) brings together research teams from Israel, Japan, Norway, Switzerland, the U.S. and Germany. Researchers were also drawn from Jordan and areas under the control of the Palestinian Authority. 

Scientists and technicians of the GFZ German Research Center for Geosciences have now completed a geophysical measurement procedure in the hole and helped with the initial examination of the cores in a field laboratory. According to a statement, “We have drilled through about half a million years of sedimentary deposits,” estimates Dr. Ulrich Harms from the ICDP’s operational support group at the GFZ. “From this, we can deduce not only the climate history, but also the earthquake activity in this seismically very active region.” The direction and inclination of the well were determined with high precision below the Dead Sea, which is around 1000 feet deep at the site of drilling rig, while the physical properties of the rocks were measured down to the bottom of the 1500-foot deep bore hole. Read more ..

Edge on Global Warming

Israeli Scientists Digging Deep into Mankind’s Origins and Climate Change

December 27th 2010

Israel Topics - Zvi ben-Avraham
Prof. Zvi Ben-Avraham

Israeli researchers are drilling through four ice ages, epic sandstorms, mankind’s migration from Africa to the New World, and the biggest droughts in history. Tel Aviv University is heading an international study that for the first time will dig deep beneath the Dead Sea, about a third of a mile down under the ground and about a fifth of a mile under water. Drilling with a special rig, the researchers will look back in time to collect a massive amount of information about climate change and earthquake patterns.

The study is led by Professor Zvi Ben-Avraham of Tel Aviv University’s Minerva Dead Sea Research Center. Said Ben-Avraham, it “aims to get a complete record in unprecedented resolution—at one year intervals—of the last 500 thousand years,” says Prof. Ben-Avraham.

Looking at the core sample to be dug about five miles offshore near Ein Gedi, Israel, the researchers hope to pinpoint particular years in Earth’s history to discover the planet’s condition. They hope to find out what the climate was like 365,250 years ago, for instance, or determine the year of a catastrophic earthquake. Read more ..

Religious Tolerance

Americans are Increasingly Tolerant But Divided Over Religion

December 27th 2010

Social Topics - Lighting a candle against the darkness

A recently published study on religion in America found that the country is becoming increasingly divided between those who are fervently religious on the one hand, and those who are not so religious or even hostile to religion on the other. But at the same time, the study’s authors say Americans have never been more tolerant of one another.

Harvard University Professor Robert Putnam is a highly influential academic. In 1995, he published an essay that transformed thinking about civic life in America. Together with University of Notre Dame Professor David Campbell, Putnam has now published what he describes as an in-depth study of the role of religion in American life in the last half century. Based on a random sampling of 3,000 people from all faiths and walks of life, they found that a “God gap” has formed. Very religious Americans tend to be Republican and conservative, while more secular people tend to be progressive or vote for the Democratic party. Read more ..

The EU on Edge

Europe to Take a Perilous Next Step

December 27th 2010

Europe Topics - EU flag

Europe is on the cusp of change. An EU heads-of-state summit December 16 launched a process aimed to save the common European currency. If successful, this process would be the most significant step toward creating a singular European power since the creation of the European Union itself in 1992 — that is, if it doesn’t destroy the euro first.

Envisioned by the EU Treaty on Monetary Union, the common currency, the euro, has suffered from two core problems during its decade-long existence: the lack of a parallel political union and the issue of debt. Many in the financial world believe that what is required for a viable currency is a fiscal union that has taxation power — and that is indeed needed. Read more ..

Edge on Terrorism

Saudi Arabia's Questionable Support of America's War on Terror

December 27th 2010

Contributors / Staff - Mitchell Bard
Mitchell Bard

While the United States has publicly lauded Saudi Arabia as a major ally in the ongoing war on terror, classified diplomatic cables uncovered by the whistleblower site WikiLeaks in late November show that the State Department holds a much more pessimistic view toward the Saudi commitment to counter-terrorism.  More than nine years after the attacks of September 11th, the released cables reveal that U.S. officials feel Saudi Arabia continues to permit, and at worst even encourage, the financing of terrorists. 

In recent years, wealthy Saudi nationals were identified as funneling millions of dollars through various government-sanctioned charitable organizations that help fund Islamic terror organizations, including Bin-Laden's Al-Qaeda and Palestinian Hamas.  According to one of the released cables, "Donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide."

Though the Saudi government was not directly indicted by WikiLeaks for financing terrorism, both their support for extremism and their reluctance to embrace the American-led war on terror is well documented.  In 2002, at the height of the Palestinian Intifada, the Saudis' sponsored a telethon for "Palestinian martyrs" through which hundreds of thousands of dollars were distributed to the families of suicide bombers. An estimate released in 2003 showed up to 60 percent of Hamas' total budget was supplied by Saudi Arabia, either from official government sources or through organizations whose ongoing activities were protected by the government. Read more ..

The Koreas on Edge

Time to Stop Coddling North Korea

December 27th 2010

Contributors / Staff - Armstrong_Williams

These are tense times on the world stage. Drip-drips of classified information strain already dicey relations between the U.S. and its allies. Russian spies are caught red-handed and swapped for others. Iranians negotiating with anyone bent on the destruction of Israel. And yet, the current conflict and on-again, off-again talks with North Korea make one long for the simpler days of Cold War era diplomacy.

A pattern is clearly forming with the North Koreans, and it does not favor peace-loving nations around the world, most notably the United States and South Korea.

Last month’s shelling of Yeonpyeong Island was just the latest in a string of actions by the Communist regime that signals either the country’s desperation, or desire to provoke its enemies, or both. The artillery barrage comes on the heels of a shocking discovery by an American scientist who was practically handed the keys to a new, advanced uranium-enrichment facility no one knew or thought could exist inside the dark Korean border. That follows the unprovoked sinking of a South Korean warship in March, leaving 46 sailors and crew dead. But wait—there’s more. Read more ..

Iran on Edge

Clash of the Titans in Iran

December 27th 2010

Iran - Ali Khameini2

Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has never been happy about the status of the Iranian presidency -- neither during his own tenure, from 1981-1989, nor during the terms of his three successors.
Tension between the president and the Supreme Leader is built into the Islamic Republic's core. The Supreme Leader has absolute authority and can veto decisions made by the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government. At the same time, the president emerges from an electoral process with an agenda and ambitions of his own. During a president's second term -- which Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has now begun -- the tensions inevitably emerge into public view.

Khamenei has never been willing to tolerate a president with a large independent power base. In the past, he clipped the wings of Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who had strong ties to the merchant class, and of Mohammad Khatami, a reformer whose support came from Westernized middle-class professionals. Though Ahmadinejad received the Supreme Leader's support in the face of large-scale protests against his re-election last year, Khamenei does not appear hesitant about limiting the president's power. Read more ..

The Energy Edge

Hello, New Congress: For Our Energy Future, Cut Pork, Simplify Bills and Embrace Alternative Options

December 27th 2010

Contributors / Staff - Gal Luft

What should the new Congress do to address America’s energy security challenge?

First, insure America against the next oil shock. America is still mired in a recession yet oil, the commodity that lubricates its economy, is already at $90 a barrel. Iran, which currently presides over OPEC, announced that oil is set to hit $100 in the short term, a price the Islamic republic sees as “quite normal.” At current prices America pays more than a billion dollars a day for foreign oil. But this cost is bound to increase whether or not we overcome the recession. If strong growth resumes, demand for oil will grow and so will its price. A lingering recession, on the other hand, could too bring about high oil prices. Oil makes the lion share of all traded commodities. Possible economic dislocations like dollar collapse or the onset of inflation will trigger a rush to commodities and this in turn will cause an upward pressure on crude prices. If oil goes back to its summer 2008 level of nearly $150, some $700 billion will migrate overseas, an amount equivalent to our defense budget or about half of all discretionary spending. In the current economy, such an oil spike would be as devastating as a second heart attack for a fragile patient who is just recovering from a first one. It could send the country into a depression. Congress should do all it can to prevent such oil-induced economic heart attack. Read more ..

Movie Review

127 Hours: A Human Victory or the Chaos of Nature

December 27th 2010

Film - 127 Hours

127 Hours. Director: Danny Boyle. Starring: James Franco, Kate Mara, and Treat Williams. Length: 94 minutes

For his latest film, Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, Slumdog Millionaire) has made the very odd choice of the true-life story of Aron Ralston (James Franco), the young engineer and outdoorsman who, in April, 2003, fell into a rock declivity in Blue John Canyon, Utah, where his arm was trapped by a fallen boulder. After five days of waiting and hoping in vain for help to arrive, he realized that he had to leave the arm behind or he would soon be dead. The result is probably the most fun you could have watching a representation of someone who cuts his own arm off, even though Mr. Ralston’s story—told in his memoir, Between a Rock and a Hard Place, on which the film is based—provides too slender a dramatic base to sustain a feature-length film. It’s a great news item or anecdote, of course, but there’s just not enough going on—or so, at any rate, it would seem—to fill more than ninety minutes of screen time.

That’s why it is stuffed with Danny Boyle-type technical wizardry. To break up the monotony, he resorts to much use of split-screen techniques, speeded up motion, hallucinatory dream sequences and, through it all, a lively pop musical sound-track to help make up for the lack of dialogue or movement in the story itself. The first and best of his tricks is that the title doesn’t come until a good quarter of an hour into the picture at the moment when, after its hero’s driving and biking and running and chatting up a couple of pretty fellow-hikers leads him to his fated encounter with the boulder—whereupon we see written on the screen “127 Hours.” Read more ..

Book Essay

Yehuda Avner Takes a Close Look at Israel’s Leaders

December 27th 2010

Book Covers - Prime Ministers

The Prime Ministers: An Intimate Narrative of Israeli Leadership. The Toby Press. 2010. 715 pages.

The Prime Ministers, Yehuda Avner’s riveting chronicle of the country’s diplomacy through the eyes of an aide and adviser to successive leaders, has now become an international bestseller.

Based on the copious notes and records Avner retained from the countless meetings he attended, observing firsthand the momentous events of that period, the book provides an unprecedented and fascinating insight into the thinking of the inner circles of the leaders of the day as they grappled with the burning issues confronting them. It enables a reader to become a fly on the wall, witnessing the most stirring discussions and negotiations related to the crucial decisions made during tumultuous times. The authenticity of the conversations and the prevailing atmosphere conveyed were endorsed by leading Israeli and foreign diplomats who had been participants.

Although it is a massive tome comprising more than 700 pages, Avner’s eloquent style and wry wit, with which Jerusalem Post readers have become acquainted through his columns, make it eminently readable for laymen no less than scholars, who I predict will all read it from cover to cover. Read more ..

Edge on Immigration

Beyond the DREAM Act: Getting Immigration Reform Right

December 27th 2010

Mexican Topics - US Border Patrol arrest

Last weekend, the United States Senate voted not to proceed to a final vote on the House-passed Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act. This bill would have given legal permanent resident status to illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. before the age of 16 and who agreed to attend college or enter the military. In this way the bill would have granted amnesty to around 2.8 million illegal immigrants inside the U.S.

Now that Congress has rejected the “amnesty” strategy once again, it is time for the Administration to put this unrealistic approach aside once and for all and begin a serious, practical, and honest approach to fixing America’s broken borders and flawed immigration system. Pushing the issue off on the next generation or using immigration as a tool to win votes through amnesty is not only irresponsible but wrong in terms of national security, the rule of law, and economic prosperity.

Not a New Problem

The number of illegal immigrants inside the U.S. topped off at around 12 million. Since the recent economic recession began, numbers have decreased to around 10.8 million. In 1986, the U.S. attempted to handle the issue by granting amnesty to the 2.7 million illegal immigrants inside the U.S. at that time. This amnesty, however, worsened the illegal immigration problem, encouraging more individuals to cross the border illegally and stay in the U.S Read more ..

Book Review

Churchill's Secret War: Revisionism for the Sake of Humanity

December 27th 2010

Book Covers - Churchills Secret War

Churchill's Secret War: The British Empire and the Ravaging of India during World War II. Madhusree Mukerjee. Basic Books. 2010. 368 pages.

“Humankind cannot bear very much reality”, T.S. Eliot wrote in "Four Quartets." But only reality, however bleak, dignifies humankind. That is why we need revisionist historians who keep correcting our consoling and self-justifying narratives.

Two recent books have aroused controversy precisely because they set out to challenge versions of reality which have been the conventional wisdom for the past 50 or so years. One recounts how the man who has been acclaimed as the “Greatest Briton” who ever lived, carelessly sacrificed the lives of over one million Indians in the pursuit of victory in World War II. The book is Churchill’s Secret War by Madhusree Mukerjee.

Publishers Weekly describes this book as an important correction of the common picture of India as a “placid imperial bastion during WWII.” Rather, India was in fact racked by famine and insurrection, according to this searching history. Mukerjee surveys a country seething with violence, as Congress Party militants agitating for independence turned to rioting and assassination campaigns after bloody police crackdowns, and an army of Indian guerrillas fought alongside the Japanese against the British. Read more ..

Inside Jihadism

The Muslim Brotherhood and its Challenge to the World

December 27th 2010

Islamic Topics - Muslim Brotherhood Cairo
Muslim Brotherhood protest

The Muslim Brotherhood (MB) is one of the most dangerous Islamic groups in the world today, not only because it supports terrorism—providing political and financial support for its Palestinian branch, Hamas, for example—but because it is part of a global Islamist network and promotes an ideology that encourages extremism and terrorism.

With branches in seventy countries and linked to major Islamic organizations, the MB has an extensive and well-financed network of educational, social, and cultural institutions which promote a strategic MB plan for Islamic dominance—not through violence, but integration, becoming part of the national social and political life, and the application of Sharia law. Read more ..

Assange and Blaxthos Poster Boys for Internet Legislative Reform

December 22nd 2010
The Wikileaks debacle courtesy of Julian Assange, Wikipedia revisions on Holocaust topics courtesy of those such as Blaxthos, and newspaper comment pages have become poster boys for legislative reform on Internet accountability and liability. We need to plug the gaps. In some countries, legislation is now brewing that would require websites such as Wikipedia and the New York Times to reveal the names of anonymous posters who slander, libel, or otherwise damage individuals, and do so without a court order but upon written request. This raises the possibility that if an American website shows in a country, compliance with local laws in that country could trump the protections of the Communications Decency Act. I think it is only a matter of time before the new Republican Congress starts the ball rolling and updates the Communications Decency Act to subtract those carte blanche protections. There is no reason for violators and transgressors on the Internet should have protections they would not enjoy in the printed medium.

Edge on Terror

Threat of Food Contamination by Al-Qaeda Terrorists Takes Some of the Cheer out of Christmas

December 22nd 2010

Food - Chinese buffet

Top security personnel of major hotel and restaurant chains were briefed this year by Homeland Security officials about an Al-Qaeda terrorist plot to poison food over a single weekend in the United States. The hospitality industry in the US is reportedly taking steps to counter the threat to its customers. Homeland Security is claiming that intelligence on this alleged threat is outdated, but remains a possibility. Media reports about proposed food contamination piqued concerns in the days preceding the observance of Christmas.

Homeland Security had determined earlier, however, that there was “credible” evidence for concern for a terrorist threat coming out of Al-Qaeda based in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Uncovered earlier this year, the plotters were said to plan the use of two poisons—ricin and cyanide—that would be slipped into the food of unwitting diners at buffets and salad bars. On December 6, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said of her department, “We operate under the premise that individuals prepared to carry out terrorist acts are in this country.” The group that is said to be planning the food poisoning is the very same that attempted to detonate bombs secreted in computer components mailed from the Arabian Peninsula on board cargo planes destined for the United States. In one case, a synagogue in Chicago was the intended recipient of a mail bomb. Read more ..

Afghanistan on Edge

Afghan Government Disbands Dozens of Private Security Firms

December 21st 2010

Afghan Topics - Afghan weapons

The government of Afghanistan has announced its determination to shut down all private security companies operating in the country. Kabul has already disbanded 57 of them.

An Interior Ministry official overseeing the campaign, General Abdul Manan Farahi, said the targeted companies, are all Afghan, and include unregistered and illegal firms that have broken domestic laws. He said more than 3,000 individuals have seen their weapons confiscated.

Farahi said companies protecting aid and development projects and diplomatic missions would be able to continue operating but only within the premises they are guarding. He also said the headquarters of remaining companies have been moved outside the capital, Kabul. Read more ..

The Political Edge

For Obama, START is “Personal”

December 21st 2010

Russian Topics - Russian ICBMs

President Obama is making a final push to secure the votes for an arms treaty that stands not just as a political goal but a highly personal one.

The president needs nine Republican votes to win the two-thirds Senate majority to ratify the New START treat with Russia, and Obama has continued to call Republican senators to bring them on board, according to the White House.

Obama seems near another victory in what has been a surprisingly productive lame-duck session. Every Senate Democrat is expected to support ratification, and several Republican senators, most recently Scott Brown (R-Mass.), have said they will vote to approve the treaty. Read more ..

Attempts to Wipe Away American Sign Language Are an Assault against the Deaf

December 21st 2010
Attempts to wipe away American Sign Language are an little more than assault against the Deaf. Genocide treaties make it clear that obliterating one group's culture is a form of genocide. I suggest people see Edwin Black's seminal work War Against the Weak to see how the most elite in our country mustered the best of intentions to create a master race where the so-called inferior would not exist. Turns out that those in power considered ninety percent of everyone else to be "inferior." We must not let this happen again.

Iran on Edge

Iran to Cut Diplomatic Ties with the United Kingdom

December 21st 2010

Iran - Ahmadinejad The Man

Iranian lawmakers are moving forward with plans to sever diplomatic ties with the United Kingdom. Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani said on December 21 that lawmakers of the Islamic Republic need to send London a serious message, and that a bill aiming to cut ties with Britain would be discussed very soon.

Iran's government-controlled Fars new agency quoted Speaker Larijani as saying Iran needed to respond to what he called "the British government's positions" over the past year. The Iranian parliament's national security and foreign policy committee backed the legislation Sunday, but the motion requires the approval of the full parliament and of a constitutional watchdog to take effect. Read more ..

Religious Freedom

What Does Religious Freedom Have to Do With It?

December 21st 2010

Contributors / Staff - Jennifer Marshall
Jennifer Marshall

Religious liberty and a thriving religious culture are defining attributes of the United States, characterizing the American order as much as its political system and market economy. From the earliest settlements of the 17th century to the great social reform causes led by religious congregations in the late 19th century and again in the 20th century, religion has been a dominant theme of American life.

Today, almost 90 percent of Americans say that religion is at least “somewhat important” in their lives. About 60 percent are members of a local religious congregation. Faith-based organizations are extremely active in providing for social needs at home and in sending aid abroad.

Why does religious liberty matter—to America and to the world?

Freedom of religion is a cornerstone of the American experiment. That is because religious faith is not merely a matter of “toleration” but is understood to be the exercise of “inherent natural rights.” As George Washington once observed: “[T]he Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.” And “what is here a right towards men, is a duty towards the Creator,” James Madison wrote in his 1786 Memorial and Remonstrance. “This duty is precedent, both in order of time and in degree of obligation, to the claims of Civil Society.” Read more ..

The Koreas on Edge

South Korea Remains on High Alert

December 21st 2010

Korea Topics - N Korean troops

South Korea’s government remains on high alert, watching for a North Korean response to the South’s military exercises. South Korean fighter jets and warships are patrolling for a second straight day, ready to react should North Korea launch a military strike.

The patrols continue even though Pyongyang said it did not intend to retaliate against South Korea’s artillery training in disputed waters on Monday. Read more ..

Religious Tolerance

Bishop Tutu is No Saint When it Comes to Jews

December 21st 2010

Africa Topics - Desmond Tutu
Bishop Desmond Tutu

Among the world’s most respected figures is South Africa’s Bishop Desmond. His recognizable face—with its ever present grin—has become a symbol of reconciliation and goodness. But it masks a long history of ugly hatred toward the Jewish people, the Jewish religion and the Jewish state. Bishop Desmond Tutu is no mere anti-Zionist (though Martin Luther King long ago recognized that anti-Zionism often serves as a cover for deeper anti-Jewish bigotry). He has minimized the suffering of those killed in the Holocaust. He has attacked the “Jewish”—not Israeli—“lobby” as too “powerful” and “scar[y].” He has invoked classic anti-Semitic stereotypes and tropes about Jewish “arrogance,” “power,” and money. He has characterized Jews a “peculiar people,” and has accused “the Jews” of causing many of the world’s problems. He once even accused the Jewish state of acting in an “unChristian” way. Read more ..

Border War

Mexican Mother who Sought Justice for Murdered Daughter is Herself Assassinated

December 21st 2010

Mexican Topics - Marisela Escobedo Ortiz
Marisela Ortiz protests her daughter's murder

A chilling video, taken by CCTV camera, captured the assassination of Marisela Escobedo Ortiz, a Mexican human rights activist who - for more than two years - has demanded justice for her murdered 16-year-old daughter, Rubí Marisol Frayre. Rubi was shot to death, allegedly by a lover, and her body later burned and left at a garbage dump.

Marisela was arranging on the evening of December 16 her protest signs in front of the government house in the Mexican state of Chihuahua, preparing for yet another demonstration, when a man emerged from a car and shot her in the head. Falling to the ground, she was soon taken by local police to hospital while she still showed signs of life. However, she was finally pronounced dead despite medical attention. Read more ..

Islma on the Edge

Muslim Family in Spain Sues over a Lesson in Ham

December 21st 2010

Islamic Topics - Peaceful Muslims at Prayer

According to media reports in Spain, a Muslim student accused his teacher of Islamophobia during a geography class at a school in Cadiz. The city is located near the southernmost tip of the Iberian Peninsula, in Andalucia. The teacher was giving a course on variations in climate and spoke of the famous hams of Trevelez, which are cured to perfection in the region's cold and dry climate.

According to a local newspaper, a Muslim student demanded that the teacher refrain from speaking of ham since the salty viand offended his Muslim identity. Pork is proscribed under Islamic religious law, known as sharia. Even so, Spaniards—not otherwise encumbered by such proscriptions—are avid consumers and producers of pork. Ham is one of the signature products of Spain, especially the beloved 'serrano' and 'jabugo' hams produced by Spain's black 'pata negra' pigs. Read more ..

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