Friday, February 29, 2008

Obama, Being Called a Muslim Is Not a Smear

Published on Friday, February 29, 2008 by The Nation
by Naomi Klein

Hillary Clinton denied leaking the photo of Barack Obama wearing a turban, but her campaign manager says that even if she had, it would be no big deal. “Hillary Clinton has worn the traditional clothing of countries she has visited and had those photos published widely.”

Sure she did. And George W. Bush put on a fetching Chamato poncho in Santiago, while Paul Wolfowitz burned up YouTube with his antimalarial African dance routines when he was World Bank prez. The obvious difference is this: when white politicians go ethnic, they just look funny. When a black presidential contender does it, he looks foreign. And when the ethnic apparel in question is vaguely reminiscent of the clothing worn by Iraqi and Afghan fighters (at least to many Fox viewers, who think any headdress other than a baseball cap is a declaration of war on America), the image is downright frightening.

The turban “scandal” is all part of what is being referred to as “the Muslim smear.” It includes everything from exaggerated enunciations of Obama’s middle name to the online whisper campaign that Obama attended a fundamentalist madrassa in Indonesia (a lie), was sworn in on a Koran (another lie) and if elected would attach RadioShack speakers to the White House to broadcast the Muslim call to prayer (I made that one up).

So far, Obama’s campaign has responded with aggressive corrections that tout his Christian faith, attack the attackers and channel a cooperative witness before the House Un-American Activities Committee. “Barack has never been a Muslim or practiced any other faith besides Christianity,” states one fact sheet. “I’m not and never have been of the Muslim faith,” Obama told a Christian News reporter.

Of course Obama must correct the record, but he doesn’t have to stop there. What is disturbing about the campaign’s response is that it leaves unchallenged the disgraceful and racist premise behind the entire “Muslim smear”: that being Muslim is de facto a source of shame. Obama’s supporters often say they are being “Swiftboated,” casually accepting the idea that being accused of Muslimhood is tantamount to being accused of treason.

Substitute another faith or ethnicity, and you’d expect a very different response. Consider a report from the archives of this magazine. Thirteen years ago, Daniel Singer, The Nation’s late, much-missed Europe correspondent, went to Poland to cover a hotly contested presidential election. He reported that the race had descended into an ugly debate over whether one of the candidates, Aleksander Kwasniewski, was a closet Jew. The press claimed his mother had been buried in a Jewish cemetery (she was still alive), and a popular TV show aired a skit featuring the Christian candidate dressed as a Hasidic Jew. “What perturbed me,” Singer wryly observed, “was that Kwasniewski’s lawyers threatened to sue for slander rather than press for an indictment under the law condemning racist propaganda.”

We should expect no less of the Obama campaign. When asked during the Ohio debate about Louis Farrakhan’s support for his candidacy, Obama did not hesitate to call Farrakhan’s anti-Semitic comments “unacceptable and reprehensible.” When the turban photo flap came up in the same debate, he used the occasion to say nothing at all.

Farrakhan’s infamous comments about Jews took place twenty-four years ago. The orgy of hate that is “the Muslim smear” is unfolding in real time, and it promises to greatly intensify in a general election. These attacks do not simply “smear Barack’s Christian faith,” as John Kerry claimed in a campaign mailing. They are an attack on all Muslims, some of whom actually do exercise their rights to cover their heads and send their kids to religious school. Thousands even have the very common name Hussein. All are watching their culture used as a crude bludgeon against Obama, while the candidate who is the symbol of racial harmony fails to defend them. This at a time when US Muslims are bearing the brunt of the Bush Administration’s assaults on civil liberties, including dragnet wiretapping, and are facing a documented spike in hate crimes.

Occasionally, though not nearly enough, Obama says that Muslims are “deserving of respect and dignity.” What he has never done is what Singer called for in Poland: denounce the attacks themselves as racist propaganda, in this case against Muslims.

The core of Obama’s candidacy is that he alone–who lived in Indonesia as a boy and has an African grandmother–can “repair the world” after the Bush wrecking ball. That repair job begins with the 1.4 billion Muslims around the world, many of whom are convinced that the United States has been waging a war against their faith. This perception is based on facts, among them the fact that Muslim civilians are not counted among the dead in Iraq and Afghanistan; that Islam has been desecrated in US-run prisons; that voting for an Islamic party resulted in collective punishment in Gaza. It is also fueled by the rise of a virulent strain of Islamophobia in Europe and North America.

As the most visible target of this rising racism, Obama has the power to be more than its victim. He can use the attacks to begin the very process of global repair that is the most seductive promise of his campaign. The next time he’s asked about his alleged Muslimness, Obama can respond not just by clarifying the facts but by turning the tables. He can state clearly that while a liaison with a pharmaceutical lobbyist may be worthy of scandalized exposure, being a Muslim is not. Changing the terms of the debate this way is not only morally just but tactically smart–it’s the one response that could defuse these hateful attacks. The best part is this: unlike ending the Iraq War and closing Guantánamo, standing up to Islamophobia doesn’t need to wait until after the election. Obama can use his campaign to start now. Let the repairing begin.

Naomi Klein is the author of many books, including her most recent, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. Visit Naomi’s website at, or to learn more about her new book, visit .

Quaker Teacher Fired For Changing Loyalty Oath

Published on Friday, February 29, 2008 by The San Francisco Chronicle

by Nanette Asimov

California State University East Bay has fired a math teacher after six weeks on the job because she inserted the word “nonviolently” in her state-required Oath of Allegiance form.

Marianne Kearney-Brown, a Quaker and graduate student who began teaching remedial math to undergrads Jan. 7, lost her $700-a-month part-time job after refusing to sign an 87-word Oath of Allegiance to the Constitution that the state requires of elected officials and public employees.

“I don’t think it was fair at all,” said Kearney-Brown. “All they care about is my name on an unaltered loyalty oath. They don’t care if I meant it, and it didn’t seem connected to the spirit of the oath. Nothing else mattered. My teaching didn’t matter. Nothing.”

A veteran public school math teacher who specializes in helping struggling students, Kearney-Brown, 50, had signed the oath before - but had modified it each time.

She signed the oath 15 years ago, when she taught eighth-grade math in Sonoma. And she signed it again when she began a 12-year stint in Vallejo high schools.

Each time, when asked to “swear (or affirm)” that she would “support and defend” the U.S. and state Constitutions “against all enemies, foreign and domestic,” Kearney-Brown inserted revisions: She wrote “nonviolently” in front of the word “support,” crossed out “swear,” and circled “affirm.” All were to conform with her Quaker beliefs, she said.

The school districts always accepted her modifications, Kearney-Brown said.

But Cal State East Bay wouldn’t, and she was fired on Thursday.

Modifying the oath “is very clearly not permissible,” the university’s attorney, Eunice Chan, said, citing various laws. “It’s an unfortunate situation. If she’d just signed the oath, the campus would have been more than willing to continue her employment.”

Modifying oaths is open to different legal interpretations. Without commenting on the specific situation, a spokesman for state Attorney General Jerry Brown said that “as a general matter, oaths may be modified to conform with individual values.” For example, court oaths may be modified so that atheists don’t have to refer to a deity, said spokesman Gareth Lacy.

Kearney-Brown said she could not sign an oath that, to her, suggested she was agreeing to take up arms in defense of the country.

“I honor the Constitution, and I support the Constitution,” she said. “But I want it on record that I defend it nonviolently.”

The trouble began Jan. 17, a little more than a week after she started teaching at the Hayward campus. Filling out her paperwork, she drew an asterisk on the oath next to the word “defend.” She wrote: “As long as it doesn’t require violence.”

The secretary showed the amended oath to a supervisor, who said it was unacceptable, Kearney-Brown recalled.

Shortly after receiving her first paycheck, Kearney-Brown was told to come back and sign the oath.

This time, Kearney-Brown inserted “nonviolently,” crossed out “swear,” and circled “affirm.”

That’s when the university sought legal advice.

“Based on the advice of counsel, we cannot permit attachments or addenda that are incompatible and inconsistent with the oath,” the campus’ human resources manager, JoAnne Hill, wrote to Kearney-Brown.

She cited a 1968 case called Smith vs. County Engineer of San Diego. In that suit, a state appellate court ruled that a man being considered for public employment could not amend the oath to declare: his “supreme allegiance to the Lord Jesus Christ Whom Almighty God has appointed ruler of Nations, and expressing my dissent from the failure of the Constitution to recognize Christ and to acknowledge the Divine institution of civil government.”

The court called it “a gratuitous injection of the applicant’s religious beliefs into the governmental process.”

But Hill said Kearney-Brown could sign the oath and add a separate note to her personal file that expressed her views.

Kearney-Brown declined. “To me it just wasn’t the same. I take the oath seriously, and if I’m going to sign it, I’m going to do it nonviolently.”

Then came the warning.

“Please understand that this issue needs to be resolved no later than Friday, Feb. 22, 2008, or you will not be allowed to continue to work for the university,” Hill wrote.

The deadline was then extended to Wednesday and she was fired on Thursday.

“I was kind of stunned,” said Kearney-Brown, who is pursuing her master’s degree in math to earn the credentials to do exactly the job she is being fired from.

“I was born to do this,” she said. “I teach developmental math, the lowest level. The kids who are conditionally accepted to the university. Give me the kids who hate math - that’s what I want.”

Oh, I get it now............we're going to have NO TEACHER LEFT BEHIND as well. How clever.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Obama Fights False Links to Islam

Can Obama get by this latest "Swift Boating"? Can people see past it?


WASHINGTON (AP) — For Barack Obama, it is an ember that he has doused time and again, only to see it flicker anew: links to Islam fanned by false rumors, innuendo and association.

Obama and his campaign reacted strongly this week when a photo of him in Kenyan tribal garb began spreading on the Internet. And the praise he received Sunday from Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan prompted pointed questions — during Tuesday night's presidential debate and also in a private meeting over the weekend with Jewish leaders in Cleveland.

During the debate, Obama repeated his denunciation of Farrakhan's views, which have included numerous anti-Semitic comments. And, after being pressed, he rejected Farrakhan's support in the presidential race.

The Democratic candidate says repeatedly that he's a Christian who took the oath of office on a family Bible. Yet on the Internet and on talk radio — and in a campaign introduction for John McCain this week — he is often depicted, falsely, as a Muslim with shadowy ties and his middle name, Hussein, is emphasized as a reminder of Iraq's former leader.

"If anyone is still puzzled about the facts, in fact I have never been a Muslim," he told the Jewish leaders in Cleveland, according to a transcript of the private session.

The photo of Obama wearing Kenyan tribal raiments — taken by an Associated Press photographer during his visit in 2006 to the country where his father was born — resurfaced on the Internet amid unsubstantiated claims that it was being circulated by members of Hillary Rodham Clinton's campaign. Clinton and her aides said they had nothing to do with it. The Obama campaign accused them of "shameful, offensive fear-mongering."

On Tuesday Republican candidate McCain denounced the introduction he got in Cincinnati that criticized Obama in vivid terms. Talk show host Bill Cunningham referred to Obama three times as "Barack Hussein Obama" and called him a "hack, Chicago-style" politician during the introduction of McCain.

The Obama campaign is closely attuned to the rumors and insinuations. Information on Obama's Christian faith is prominently available on the "Know the facts" page of his Web site. The campaign has distributed flyers to churches in states with presidential contests. And it encourages supporters to flag any attack that may make its way into cyberspace.

"Our campaign is vigilant in quickly responding to any information about Senator Obama that surfaces, be it on the Internet, in the media or from our opponents," spokesman Bill Burton said Wednesday.

If there is confusion — and opportunity for political mischief — it derives at least in part from Obama's rich cultural background. His mother was a white woman from Kansas, his father was Kenyan and he spent part of his childhood in Indonesia, a largely Muslim country.

"My grandfather, who was Kenyan, converted to Christianity, then converted to Islam," Obama said Sunday. "My father never practiced; he was basically agnostic. So, other than my name and the fact that I lived in a populous Muslim country for four years when I was a child, I have very little connection to the Islamic religion."

Obama has become careful in denouncing the links, lately noting that some rumors about him also have been insulting to Muslims. Jim Zogby, founder and president of the Arab American Institute, said many Arab Americans are drawn to Obama because of his cultural background.

"It is clear he wants to have a broader relationship with the Muslim world," Zogby said. "He has a biography that connects him to the Muslim world."

Obama, though in the presidential limelight now for more than a year, is still introducing himself to voters. An AP-Yahoo poll in January asked people to volunteer the first few words that came to mind about each of the candidates, and 4 percent of the respondents, unprompted, mentioned the word Muslim when describing Obama.

Some of the rumors and allegations about Obama are clearly not true, yet still spread, often anonymously:

_ A debunked chain e-mail circulating widely on the Internet suggests he is hiding his Islamic roots. It says he was sworn into the Senate on the Quran and turns his back on the flag during the Pledge of Allegiance.

He took his Senate oath with his hand on a family Bible, and he says, "Whenever I'm in the United States Senate, I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America." In fact, no candidate could survive if he publicly spurned the pledge.

_ Another false report says he attended a Muslim madrassa school as a child in Jakarta. Obama was born in Hawaii and moved to Indonesia when he was 6 to live with his mother and stepfather. He returned to Hawaii when he was 10 to live with his maternal grandparents. Interviews last year by The Associated Press at the elementary school in Jakarta found that it is a public and secular institution and has been open to students of all faiths since before Obama attended in the late 1960s. Said vice principal Akmad Solichin: "Yes, most of our students are Muslim, but there are Christians as well. Everyone's welcome here."

_ Obama also has faced questions about his pastor at Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, where he has been a member for 20 years. Trinity calls itself "Unashamedly Black and Unapologetically Christian." But it accepts non-black congregants. The United Church of Christ's president and general minister, the Rev. John H. Thomas, was quoted in a church publication as pointing out that the Rev. Jane Fisler-Hoffman, Illinois Conference Minister, who is white, "has been a member of the congregation for years."

_ Obama has been asked about Farrakhan's words of praise and Farrakhan's receipt of an award from "Trumpet Newsmagazine," a Trinity church publication last month. Obama told Jewish leaders Sunday: "An award was given to Farrakhan for his work on behalf of ex-offenders completely unrelated to his controversial statements. And I believe that was a mistake and showed a lack of sensitivity to the Jewish community and I said so."

Farrakhan did not endorse Obama but said Sunday: "This young man is the hope of the entire world that America will change and be made better." Asked Tuesday night whether he would accept support from Farrakhan, Obama said: "I live in Chicago. He lives in Chicago. I've been very clear, in terms of me believing that what he has said is reprehensible and inappropriate. And I have consistently distanced myself from him."

Following an exchange with Clinton, he then added: "There's no formal offer of help from Minister Farrakhan that would involve me rejecting it. But if the word 'reject' Senator Clinton feels is stronger than the word 'denounce,' then I'm happy to concede the point, and I would reject and denounce."

Candidates Lay Out Baseball Allegiances

In a brilliant stroke of incisive reporting, if I must say so myself, my journalistic work has revealed the baseball logyalties of the various presidential candidates. The results may come as a surprise to some, while others will have their darkest suspicions confirmed.

Barack Obama: "I believe in hope. It's been a century since the Cubs won a World Series. People....the time is NOW!"

Hillary Clinton: "I'm a New York Yankees fan. Like the Yankees, I have been there, in the thick of the fight, winning the World Series. They can make things happen, and so can I! Plus, they're owned by a billionaire who might contribute to my campaign."

John McCain: " As a humble Senator from the great state of Arizona, I support the Arizona Diamondbacks. True, it's torture to watch them. But I know about torture. That's why, ladies and gentlemen, I will make a great president and commander in chief. Plus, I like chili dogs. What food is more American than chili dogs?"

Mike Huckabee: "Baseball is wrong for America. God does NOT support baseball, especially the Chicago Cubs. Baseball is NOT mentioned in the Holy Bible. When I talk to God, HE does not like baseball. As president, one of my first acts would be to eliminate the sinful game of baseball. I think arena football is the way to go. And I'm not afraid to say it in the eyss of the American people and in the eyes of the LORD"

Ralph Nader: "People, the Milwaukee Braves never should have moved to Atlanta. This was just plain wrong and I want to make it clear that I am the only candidate who will say this. You will not hear it from the other candidates who have strong, murky ties to professional baseball. But it needs to be part of the debate. Hey, I like bowling and I hate to see it sullied by candidates who wont' listen to the millions of Americans who love bowling. I read recently that attendance in the venerable American institution, the bowling league, are down. Now, they are getting their bowling shirts from overseas, taking jobs from hard-working Americans as well. This is symptomatic of what's wrong with America. Baseball? We need to focus.................

There you have it. This is stuff you won't see on CNN. But it's an important choice and we, the American people, must have all the information when we enter the polling booth this November. There's a lot on the line!

The Audacity of Hope

It's one degree outside. There's at least two feet of snow on the ground. But something keeps me going. I know the start of baseball season is only a month away. Being a life-long Cub fan, I believe in hope. I have to in order to survive. I watch the Cubs year after year. Most years they suck. Often they show signs of brilliance. Pretty human, if you ask me. Last year, the Cubs made the playoffs after some dismal years. Perhaps this year they'll be even better. Time for my annual prediction. Folks, you've heard it here first: the Cubs will win the World Series this year. There, I said it. I'm ready for an exciting year of thrills, chills and likely disappointment. You may ask why? Or who cares, Mr Poodledoc? Is this some kind of perverse addiction? Is Barack Obama a Cub fan? One of my plans today is to contact his campaign and find out. The public has a right to know.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Nader Is Too Late to Play, and Stakes Are Too High

I find myself agreeing with much of what is said here. Yes, Nader raises some important issues, asks some tough questions. But I don't respect him for two things: not "bothering" to build a party, a viable third-party, and helping Bush steal Florida. Things would likely have been better if Nader had stayed out of the race in 2000. But I guess we'll never REALLY know. Thanks a bunch, Ralph.....

Published on Tuesday, February 26, 2008 by The Capital Times (Madison, Wisconsin)

by Ed Garvey

The New York Times reported the other day that Ralph Nader was thinking of running for president this year and before anyone could holler “No Más!” Ralph went on “Meet the Press” and announced he is, indeed, a candidate, apparently without a party.

In the interest of disclosure, I have to tell you that Ralph campaigned for me in my Senate race against Bob Kasten in 1986 and he has been a role model for taking on the establishment. In my view he has done more for consumers than anyone. I like and respect Ralph. (But I feel compelled to deal with one issue: Florida. I guess he didn’t cause the defeat of Al Gore because Gore won! But, had he not been in the race, the theft of Florida might have been too large to cover up.)

Ralph said some things in 2000 about Gore and Bush that made most of us scratch our heads. No difference between them? Whoa, Nelly! Had Bush not won, 4 million displaced Iraqis might be at home; thousands of American casualties would probably have been avoided; John Roberts and Samuel Alito would not be justices on the U.S. Supreme Court; and we wouldn’t be talking about waterboarding or repeal of habeas corpus.

There was a big difference. A huge difference. Had Gore been elected, we would have a jump on global warming. With Bush we are the laughingstock of the world we should be leading.

It is a given that Ralph marches to his own drummer and will ignore my advice, but I’m giving it anyway. Stick to the issues. Don’t fire at the Democratic candidate by telling us he is a younger John McCain. Raise all the issues, and propose your own solutions.

Ralph asked, “Who will raise the issue of single-payer health care if I don’t”? The answer is: You can raise it every day — you don’t need to be a candidate to speak up. Dennis Kucinich raised the issue in almost every debate he was in and we will push Barack Obama in that direction. The 47 million people without health insurance will demand a workable solution. I’m all for single-payer because it is the most efficient, cost-effective and sensible way to deal with our broken health care delivery system.

Having said that, we could all have predicted that neither Obama nor Hillary Clinton would embrace single-payer. Had Ralph joined Kucinich in the primaries, the two might have forced the issue, but it’s too late now.

And suppose Ralph would be the only one to raise the issue. Where would he raise it? He won’t be in the debates, so did raising it on “Meet the Press,” when Super Tuesday is a distant memory, advance the case for single-payer health care? I don’t think so.

Suppose Ralph had a legitimate chance to be elected president. That could only happen if he won the nomination as a Democrat.

Ralph is right in pushing his issues, but if he would somehow be the decisive factor in electing John McCain, you can take it to the bank — we would have no comprehensive health care for four and probably eight years but we would witness the tragedy of another Roberts, Scalia, or Alito going to the Supreme Court and we would endure four more years of Gitmo, torture, renditions, tax cuts for the wealthy while millions are kicked out of their homes. We might well bear witness to the bombing of Iran.

Let’s face it. This is not 1968 but the stakes are very high. Single-payer vs. Obama’s plan does not measure up to the Vietnam War as a moral imperative. As for Iraq, we will not have hawks leading the ticket. Clinton and Obama want to end the occupation. Had Clinton and Obama said, “McCain is right — 50 or 100 years — fine with us” then someone might be needed to take on the Democratic nominee. But I repeat, this is not 1968. This is not Gene McCarthy taking on Lyndon Johnson.

The time to take on the issues was in Iowa, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, and Super Tuesday. OK, I feel better.

Eyes on the prize!

Ed Garvey is a Madison lawyer, political activist and the editor of the Web site.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

"My Name is Rachel Corrie" comes to Madison. At last.

March 16 will mark five years since the death of Rachel Corrie in Rafah.

There will be a local production of the play, My Name is Rachel Corrie, in Madison. The play will open on Friday, March 7 at 7:30 pm at the Orpheum Theater, 216 State Street. Admission is $5.00.

Preceding the play, there will be a fundraising dinner beginning at 5:30 pm in the Orpheum Lobby Restaurant with Craig and Cindy Corrie, parents of Rachel Corrie. All proceeds above cost will go toward emergency relief in Gaza.

The play will be performed again on Saturday, March 8 at 7:30 pm at the Orpheum Theater. On Friday, March 14 and Saturday, March 15, the play will move to the Overture Center for the Arts, 201 State Street. Both shows will be at 7:30 pm. A donation is requested for admission.

We hope you will join us and please bring friends and family. The play is appropriate for older middle school and high school students. Finally, the play script has been issued in book form and can be purchased at Rainbow Bookstore. It will also be available at the play.(the script is very moving and important to read, even if you can't make the play.......

For more information on the Madison production, call 608-906-3207 or e-mail rafahsistercity(at)

Visiting the Torture Museum: Barbarism Then and Now

The times they are a changing...NOT!

by Karen J. Greenberg

Sometimes a little stroll through history can have its uses. Take, as an example, the continuing debate over torture in post-9/11 America. Last week, Stephen Bradbury, the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, testified before the House Judiciary Committee about waterboarding. In defending its use, Bradbury took a deep dive into the past. He claimed that the CIA’s waterboarding of at least three of its prisoners bore “no resemblance” to what torturers in the Spanish Inquisition had done when they used what was then called “the Water Torture.”

As part of his defense of the techniques used by the Bush administration to gain information, Bradbury went out of his way to play the historian, claiming that the water torture of yore differed from today’s American-style version in crucial ways. The waterboarding employed by interrogators during the infamous Spanish Inquisition, he insisted, “involved the forced consumption of a mass amount of water.” This led, he claimed, to the “lungs filling with water” to the point of “agony and death.” The CIA, on the other hand, employed “strict time limits,” “safeguards,” and “restrictions,” making it a far more controlled technique. As he put it: “[S]omething can be quite distressing or uncomfortable, even frightening, [but] if it doesn’t involve severe physical pain, and it doesn’t last very long, it may not constitute severe physical suffering” - and so would not qualify as torture. Bradbury summed up his historical case this way, “There’s been a lot of discussion in the public about historical uses of waterboarding,” but the “only thing in common is the use of water.”

To remind readers, Bradbury is the government lawyer who, in 2005, drafted two secret memos authorizing the use of freezing temperatures, and waterboarding in CIA attempts to break terrorism detainees. Nor is Bradbury the only one with the urge to distinguish any current American proclivity towards torture from the barbaric procedures used until the Enlightenment set in. As Senator Joseph Lieberman commented last week, citing another medieval torture technique, waterboarding “is not like putting burning coals on people’s bodies. The person is in no real danger. The impact is psychological.” Waterboarding isn’t torture, both men claimed, because it leaves no “permanent damage.”

Visiting the Water Table

It’s here that our stroll down history’s narrow, medieval lanes comes in. Anyone curious to test Bradbury’s historical accuracy should consider a visit to one of the dozens of torture museums that dot Europe’s landscape. Why not, for instance, the bluntly named Torture Museum in Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic. Unlike other European memorials to torture, such as the Clink Prison in London and the torture museums in Florence and San Gimigniano, this modest two-story building in a former private home in Prague’s historic Old Town is a relative newcomer to the continent’s penchant for recording its past mistakes.

Upon entering one of a series of gloomy, cave-like rooms, filled with the implements of the dismal craft that had its heyday from the fifteenth to the eighteenth century, you would notice a range of mechanical devices and iron tools (also illustrated in drawings galore), all once meant to pierce, prod, or otherwise drive some poor heretic into the agony of confession. Often in those years before video cameras were available, all this was done in public sight.

And then, as you wound your way through the exhibit, you would come upon one of its centerpiece displays — the “water torture table” to which Bradbury alludes. After you’d checked out the period drawings of prisoners being tied to the edges of the flat tabletop or read about the interrogation method in which the water-filled abdomen was struck repeatedly with heavy blows, you might stop for a moment to consider the more detailed explanatory text nearby.

It would inform you that, over the course of these centuries, several water torture techniques were developed, one of which involved “inserting a cloth tube into the mouth of the victim [and] forcing it as deep as possible into his throat. The tube was then filled slowly with water, swelling up and choking the victim.” This is, in fact, an almost exact description of what has been described as CIA-style waterboarding. Former interrogation expert Malcolm Nance, once an instructor for the U.S. military’s SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape) training program — said to have been the template for some of the interrogation techniques the Bush administration developed — himself experienced waterboarding. He has described the process this way:

“Unless you have been strapped down to the board, have endured the agonizing feeling of the water overpowering your gag reflex, and then feel your throat open and allow pint after pint of water to involuntarily fill your lungs, you will not know the meaning of the word…

“Waterboarding is a controlled drowning that, in the American model, occurs under the watch of a doctor, a psychologist, an interrogator and a trained strap-in/strap-out team. It does not simulate drowning, as the lungs are actually filling with water. There is no way to simulate that. The victim is drowning. How much the victim is to drown depends on the desired result (in the form of answers to questions shouted into the victim’s face) and the obstinacy of the subject.”

The similarity in methods across a torture gulf of at least four centuries would have been but the first of many striking lessons for our modern moment from a tour of this museum, only steps from the famed Charles Bridge with its own medieval and religious statues, a museum modest in everything but its subject matter. Perhaps the eeriest lesson would be just how many of the torture techniques illustrated in these rooms are still painfully recognizable, are, in fact but minor variations on those practiced today in America’s name.

Take, for example, those etchings of the strappado or “jerking” in which the arms were pulled up behind the prisoner in what would now be called a “stress position” before he would be “jerked” or dropped painfully. The weights and leather ties on display are perhaps a reminder that a version of the strappado is perhaps the most common form of torture reportedly used throughout America’s offshore prison systems today. It is called “short shackling.”

And don’t forget the Vigil or Cradle of Judas, which today we far more mundanely term “sleep deprivation.” Or what about the medieval use of cold water sprinkled onto naked bodies (another kind of water torture), today mimicked with what official documents call “exposure to freezing temperatures”? Of course, with those infamous photos from Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison in mind, you would have no trouble recognizing the persistent themes of nakedness and sexual humiliation endemic to what no one back in the less civilized days of the Inquisition hesitated to label “torture.”

Torture Lite

As you wandered through the Prague Torture Museum, noting all the practices other than waterboarding that have their modern American equivalents, you shouldn’t skip past the medieval forms of torture the United States doesn’t practice. Scattered through these precincts are terrifying mechanical devices and tools that once led to permanent physical damage and often to the death of those being questioned. Take the Virgin of Nuremberg, a full-body casket studded with spikes meant to slowly pierce any living being closed inside and sure to cause a long, agonizing death.

Then, there’s the Bock, often called the Witch’s Billy Goat, a wood pyramid designed to pierce the genitals, and that torture shown in classic Hollywood medieval costume dramas, the Rack, in which the human body was literally stretched beyond the tearing point, or the Garrote, an instrument whose sole task was to crush the head.

Had Stephen Bradbury come along with you, eager to discover the differences between pre-Enlightenment torture and today’s “enhanced interrogation” methods, he might feel satisfied indeed as he passed through this part of the exhibit — if, that is, he avoided the accompanying texts that sit on small easels near these horrifying arrays of instruments. For on them, you and he would find the theory that lay behind the practices of those torturers from a barbaric past, and he would discover that those torturers of old, like his colleagues in the Bush administration, distinguished between torture and Torture Lite. The former was indeed meant to result in permanent damage or simply death. The latter was consciously meant to cause “mere” suffering, however protracted.

Reading these texts, Bradbury might find himself uncomfortably at home. After all, his Justice Department has followed similar reasoning, although, unlike medieval torturers, its practitioners have used it as the basis for distinguishing between torture and what they like to describe as “enhanced interrogation techniques.” They have, in other words, declared part of the Spanish Inquisition’s torture techniques too lenient to qualify as torture. This is perhaps their unique achievement.

Medieval torturers, of course, hadn’t had the benefit of the Enlightenment and modern American civilization when they failed to make this fundamental distinction. They did not understand that the infliction of “mere suffering” did not qualify as torture.

If Bradbury were being honest with himself, however, he would certainly recognize a parallel between the medieval distinctions and those made by his predecessor as head of the Office of Legal Counsel, John Yoo. In his infamous “Torture Memo” of August 2002, Yoo parsed the definition of torture this way: “[Torture] must be of an intensity akin to that which accompanies serious physical injury such as death or organ failure… Because the acts inflicting torture are extreme, there is [a] significant range of acts that though they might constitute cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment fail to rise to the level of torture.”

In terms of torture as it was understood from medieval times until the Enlightenment, what American interrogators have inflicted on terror suspects in secret prisons around the world has amounted “only” to Torture Lite, now redefined as “mere suffering” and so not really torture at all. As Bradbury reminded congresspeople just the other day, what we do is, by definition, not torture. Following Yoo’s and Bradbury’s lead, the President, Vice President, two Attorney Generals, and the Secretary of State have joined in the same chorus, repeatedly insisting that “we do not torture.” And in John Yoo’s terms, echoing pre-Enlightenment understandings, we don’t.

Now, if Bradbury were to stop off by that Water Torture table on his way out of the museum and then opened his catalogue of the show, he might be intrigued to discover as succinct a legitimization of his form of torture as any he offered Congress. The catalogue follows a passage noting that the medieval water torture “in all of its variations, was considered ‘light’” with this: “…and any eventual confession obtained through this technique was considered by the courts to be ‘spontaneous’ and obtained without the application of torture.”

If this isn’t a moving example of the brotherhood of torturers across the centuries, what is? After all, just as in the distant past, there has, in recent years, been purpose behind the seeming madness with which the Bush administration embraced torture and then repeatedly insisted on calling it not-torture. The purpose centuries ago was to have any confessions admissible in court - and this, certainly, was what Yoo and his colleagues must have been hoping for all along. In the specific cases of the three detainees whom top administration officials have recently admitted were waterboarded — Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Ibn al Shayk al-Libbi, and Abu Zubaydah — their confessions, obtained by a range of “enhanced interrogation techniques,” have repeatedly been called trustworthy, valuable, and conclusive as to guilt by administration spokespeople.

Someday, Americans will have to reckon with this period of time — and with a group of leaders who were more comfortable with definitions out of the darker ages than ones out of the Enlightenment era. This administration’s bold flirtation with torture, medieval-style, has led us into sorry company, whether in the past or the present. Its top officials told the world they would do “what it takes” in their war on terror and in the Middle East, with or without allies. They then chose to leave the family of nations and take up kinship in the family of torturers.

Someday, our children may travel to Washington and somewhere near the Smithsonian and the Holocaust Museum, perhaps they, like the Czechs and other Europeans, will be able to visit their own official torture museum. There, a step from the Potomac River, they will be able to view strange instruments for inflicting pain and perhaps even watch horrifying videos of torture happening. And they may wonder how we ever faltered so miserably when it came to a war that was supposed to be on terror, but ended up adopting the worst traditions of terror in the Age of Barbarism Lite.

Karen J. Greenberg, the Executive Director of the Center on Law and Security at the NYU School of Law, is the editor of the Torture Debate in America and, with Joshua Dratel, The Torture Papers: The Road to Abu Ghraib as well as the forthcoming The Enemy Combatant Papers: American Justice, the Courts and the War on Terror (Cambridge University Press, April 2008).

Obama’s Kenyan Roots

Hmmmm, I'm not really buying into America as the land of opportunity, a bunch of Horatio Alger stories. Recent studies show that this economic mobility is less possible for blacks than whites. However, I thought this was important to post for a couple of reasons. First, there's this campaign afoot to make Obama out aa a Muslim, and how BAD would that be for our country? Then there's the rampant xenophobia in this country, a nation of immigrants. What is THAT about? Yes,yes, Obama IS a politican but perhaps, just perhaps, his election would call into question this hatred of immigrants or at least bring it more into the light of day. We shall see.......

Published: February 24, 2008

A barefoot old woman in a ripped dress is sitting on a log in front of her tin-roof bungalow in this remote village in western Kenya, jovially greeting visitors.

Mama Sarah, as she is known around here, lives without electricity or running water. She is illiterate and doesn’t know when she was born. Yet she may have a seat of honor at the next presidential inauguration in Washington — depending on what happens to her stepgrandson, Barack Obama.

Mama Sarah cannot communicate with Mr. Obama, who calls her his grandmother, because she speaks only her Luo tribal language and a little Swahili. Senator Obama’s Luo is pretty much limited to “musawa,” meaning “how are you?”

People around here are giddy at the prospect of a President Obama.

“I’m up at 4 a.m. or 5 a.m. to listen to BBC news and get the latest on the campaign,” said Nicholas Rajula, who describes himself as a cousin of the senator. “By the way, what’s the latest news about the superdelegates?”

You might think that all Kenyans would be vigorously supporting Mr. Obama. But Kenya has been fractured along ethnic lines in the last two months, so now Mr. Obama draws frenzied support from the Luo ethnic group of his ancestors, while many members of the rival Kikuyu group fervently support Hillary Rodham Clinton.

The Obamas are better off than most in the area, for Mama Sarah’s house has a tin roof — a step up from the mud huts with thatch roofs that are common in the village. Mama Sarah also has a cellphone, which she charges from a solar panel, and a radio that she uses to follow primaries in America.

But the poverty is unmistakable. Jane Raila, who says she is another relative of the senator, was hobbling barefoot with a homemade crutch, for she had been crippled by polio as a child. “We’re all very excited by the news from the U.S.,” she said. “We stay up late to listen to the news bulletins.”

Mr. Obama’s late grandfather is said to have been the first person in the area to wear Western clothes rather than just a loincloth. For a time he converted to Christianity and adopted the family name Johnson.

Later he converted to Islam, taking four wives. Senator Obama’s father, who apparently converted to Catholicism while attending a Catholic school, was also polygamous in keeping with local custom, taking an informal Kenyan wife who preceded Mr. Obama’s mother but remained a consort, according to accounts by local people and the senator himself.

The father, also named Barack Hussein Obama, was as much of a pathbreaker as his son. He went from herding goats in Kogelo to studying in Hawaii and at Harvard, even if his career as an economist was frustrated in part by ethnic rivalries.

Senator Obama barely knew his father and does not know his Kenyan relatives well. He has visited Kenya three times, most recently very briefly in 2006.

On his last visit, Mr. Obama visited two area schools that had been renamed for him. The intention in renaming the schools seems to have been partly to attract funding. One person after another noted pointedly that it was a shame that a school named for a great American should be so dilapidated.

Some of Mr. Obama’s innumerable relatives also see him as a meal ticket. They have made arrangements with a tour group to bring buses of visitors to have tea with Mama Sarah.

They are also trying to raise money from interviews with her. I had made arrangements to visit Mama Sarah weeks ago, and she had agreed to speak. But when I showed up, she said that her children had told her to keep quiet. Frantic phone calls. Fierce arguments. Hints that money might make an interview possible. I didn’t pay. I didn’t get the interview.

That’s O.K. Having seen the poverty in Kogelo, I’m less offended by the outstretched palms than awed by the distance that the Obama family spans.

Frankly, I worry that enemies of Senator Obama will seize upon details like his grandfather’s Islamic faith or his father’s polygamy to portray him as an alien or a threat to American values. But snobbishness and paranoia ill-become a nation of immigrants, where one of our truest values is to judge people by their own merits, not their pedigrees. If we call ourselves a land of opportunity, then Mr. Obama’s heritage doesn’t threaten American values but showcases them.

The stepgrandson of an illiterate, barefoot woman in this village of mud huts in Africa may be the next president of the United States. Such mobility — powered by education, immigration and hard work — is cause not for disparagement but for celebration

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Do Not Be Ashamed

Ahh, I wish I had read (and understood) this poem many years ago. How different my life would have been. But I understand it now and there's still time.....although I don't know how long....

You will be walking some night
in the comfortable dark of your yard
and suddenly a great light will shine
round about you, and behind you
will be a wall you never saw before.
It will be clear to you suddenly
that you were about to escape,
and that you are guilty: you misread
the complex instructions, you are not
a member, you lost your card
or never had one. And you will know
that they have been there all along,
their eyes on your letters and books,
their hands in your pockedts,
their ears wired to your bed.
Though you have done nothing shameful,
the will want you to be ashamed.
They will want you to kneel and weep
and say you should have been like them.
And once you say you are ashamed,
reading the page they hold out to you,
then such light as you have made
in your history will leave you.
They will no longer need to pursue you.
You will pursue them, begging forgiveness.
They will not forgive you.
There is no power against them.
It is only candor that is aloof from them,
only an inward clarity, unashamed
that they cannot reach. Be ready.
When their light has picked you out
and their questions are asked, say to them:
"I am not ashamed." A sure horizon
will come around you. The heron will begin
his evening flight from the hilltop.

--Wendell Berry

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Dumbing of America

Call Me a Snob, but Really, We're a Nation of Dunces
by Susan Jacoby
from The Washington Post Online
February 17, 2008

This article, recommended by a F/friend is worth a read. Are we getting dumber or is it just the politicians? My son having trouble writing, but a genius at Excel. Well, he is a good writer, but especially on a computer. And folks, let's NOT lay the blame on the teachers, please. But some of the numbers in this article are really amazingly disturbing......

Read the article.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Unstoppable Obama

by Barbara Ehrenreich

When did you begin to think that Obama might be unstoppable? Was it when your grown feminist daughter started weeping inconsolably over his defeat in New Hampshire? Or was it when he triumphed in Virginia, a state still littered with Confederate monuments and memorabilia? For me, it was on Tuesday night when two Republican Virginians in a row called CSPAN radio to report that they’d just voted for Ron Paul, but, in the general election, would vote for… Obama.

In the dominant campaign narrative, his appeal is mysterious and irrational: he’s a “rock star,” all flash and no substance, tending dangerously, according to New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, to a “cult of personality.” At best, he’s seen as another vague Reaganesque avatar to Hallmarkian sentiments like optimism and hope. While Clinton, the designated valedictorian, reaches out for the ego and super-ego, he supposedly goes for the id. She might as well be promoting choral singing in the face of Beatlemania.

The Clinton coterie is wringing its hands. Should she transform herself into an economic populist, as Paul Begala pleaded on Tuesday night? This would be a stretch, given her technocratic and elitist approach to health reform in 1993, her embarrassing vote for a 2001 bankruptcy bill supported by credit card companies, among numerous other lapses. Besides, Obama already just leaped out in front of her with a resoundingly populist economic program on Wednesday.

Or should she reconfigure herself, untangle her triangulations, and attempt to appeal to the American people in some deep human way, with or without a tear or two? This, too, would take heavy lifting. Someone needs to tell her that there are better ways to signal conviction than by raising one’s voice and drawing out the vowels, as in “I KNOW…” and “I BELIEVE…” The frozen smile has to go too, along with the metronymic nodding, which sometimes goes on long enough to suggest a placement within the autism spectrum.

But I don’t think any tweakings of the candidate or her message will work, and not because Obama-mania is an occult force or a kind of mass hysteria. Let’s take seriously what he offers, which is “change.” The promise of “change” is what drives the Obama juggernaut, and “change” means wanting out of wherever you are now. It can even mean wanting out so badly that you don’t much care, as in the case of the Ron Paul voters cited above, exactly what that change will be. In reality, there’s no mystery about the direction in which Obama might take us: he’s written a breathtakingly honest autobiography; he has a long legislative history, and now, a meaty economic program. But no one checks the weather before leaping out of a burning building.

Consider our present situation. Thanks to Iraq and water-boarding, Abu Ghraib and the “rendering” of terror suspects, we’ve achieved the moral status of a pariah nation. The seas are rising. The dollar is sinking. A growing proportion of Americans have no access to health care; an estimated 18,000 die every year for lack of health insurance. Now, as the economy staggers into recession, the financial analysts are wondering only whether the rest of the world is sufficiently “de-coupled” from the US economy to survive our demise.

Clinton can put forth all the policy proposals she likes–and many of them are admirable ones–but anyone can see that she’s of the same generation and even one of the same families that got us into this checkmate situation in the first place. True, some people miss Bill, although the nostalgia was severely undercut by his anti-Obama rhetoric in South Carolina, or maybe they just miss the Internet bubble he happened to preside over. But even more people find dynastic successions distasteful, especially when it’s a dynasty that produced so little by way of concrete improvements in our lives. Whatever she does, the semiotics of her campaign boils down to two words–”same old.”

Obama is different, really different, and that in itself represents “change.” A Kenyan-Kansan with roots in Indonesia and multiracial Hawaii, he seems to be the perfect answer to the bumper sticker that says, “I love you America, but isn’t it time to start seeing other people?” As conservative commentator Andrew Sullivan has written, Obama’s election could mean the re-branding of America. An antiwar black President with an Arab-sounding name: See, we’re not so bad after all, world!

So yes, there’s a powerful emotional component to Obama-mania, and not just because he’s a far more inspiring speaker than his rival. We, perhaps white people especially, look to him for atonement and redemption. All of us, of whatever race, want a fresh start. That’s what “change” means right now: Get us out of here!
Barbara Ehrenreich, the author of Nickel and Dimed (Owl), is the winner of the 2004 Puffin/Nation Prize.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Thanks to Herb Kohl and his other Senate "Friends"

Yes, it passed. Handily. Our "Democratic" Senator and billionaire, Herb Kohl, voted in favor of this bill. Predictably. Our other Senator, Russ Feingold, did not. This article came out before the final vote, but makes some important, discouraging points. One thing for me: it's time to replace Herb Kohl. But would this make a difference? Shame on you Mr Kohl and others. Now the phone company can listen to my conversations. They can read my blog. And it's all ok. Cowards!

Amnesty Day for Bush and Lawbreaking Telecoms

by Glenn Greenwald
Published on Tuesday, February 12, 2008 by

The Senate today — led by Jay Rockefeller, enabled by Harry Reid, and with the active support of at least 12 (and probably more) Democrats, in conjunction with an as-always lockstep GOP caucus — will vote to legalize warrantless spying on the telephone calls and emails of Americans, and will also provide full retroactive amnesty to lawbreaking telecoms, thus forever putting an end to any efforts to investigate and obtain a judicial ruling regarding the Bush administration’s years-long illegal spying programs aimed at Americans. The long, hard efforts by AT&T, Verizon and their all-star, bipartisan cast of lobbyists to grease the wheels of the Senate — led by former Bush 41 Attorney General William Barr and former Clinton Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick — are about to pay huge dividends, as such noble efforts invariably do with our political establishment.

It’s worth taking a step back and recalling that all of this is the result of the December, 2005 story by the New York Times which first reported that the Bush administration was illegally spying on Americans for many years without warrants of any kind. All sorts of “controversy” erupted from that story. Democrats everywhere expressed dramatic, unbridled outrage, vowing that this would not stand. James Risen and Eric Lichtblau were awarded Pulitzer Prizes for exposing this serious lawbreaking. All sorts of Committees were formed, papers written, speeches given, conferences convened, and editorials published to denounce this extreme abuse of presidential power. This was illegality and corruption at the highest level of government, on the grandest scale, and of the most transparent strain.

What was the outcome of all of that sturm und drang? What were the consequences for the President for having broken the law so deliberately and transparently? Absolutely nothing. To the contrary, the Senate is about to enact a bill which has two simple purposes: (1) to render retroactively legal the President’s illegal spying program by legalizing its crux: warrantless eavesdropping on Americans, and (2) to stifle forever the sole remaining avenue for finding out what the Government did and obtaining a judicial ruling as to its legality: namely, the lawsuits brought against the co-conspiring telecoms. In other words, the only steps taken by our political class upon exposure by the NYT of this profound lawbreaking is to endorse it all and then suppress any and all efforts to investigate it and subject it to the rule of law.

To be sure, achieving this took some time. When Bill Frist was running the Senate and Pat Roberts was in charge of the Intelligence Committee, Bush and Cheney couldn’t get this done (the same FISA and amnesty bill that the Senate will pass today stalled in the 2006 Senate). They had to wait until the Senate belonged (nominally) to Harry Reid and, more importantly, Jay Rockefeller was installed as Committee Chairman, and then — and only then — were they able to push the Senate to bequeath to them and their lawbreaking allies full-scale protection from investigation and immunity from the consequences of their lawbreaking.

That’s really the most extraordinary aspect of all of this, if one really thinks about it — it isn’t merely that the Democratic Senate failed to investigate or bring about accountability for the clearest and more brazen acts of lawbreaking in the Bush administration, although that is true. Far beyond that, once in power, they are eagerly and aggressively taking affirmative steps — extraordinary steps — to protect Bush officials. While still knowing virtually nothing about what they did, they are acting to legalize Bush’s illegal spying programs and put an end to all pending investigations and efforts to uncover what happened.

How far we’ve come — really: disgracefully tumbled — from the days of the Church Committee, which aggressively uncovered surveillance abuses and then drafted legislation to outlaw them and prevent them from ever occurring again. It is, of course, precisely those post-Watergate laws which the Bush administration and their telecom conspirators purposely violated, and for which they are about to receive permanent, lawless protection.

What Harry Reid’s Senate is about to do today would be tantamount to the Church Committee — after discovering the decades of abuses of eavesdropping powers by various administrations — proceeding in response to write legislation to legalize unchecked surveillance, bar any subjects of the illegal eavesdropping from obtaining remedies in court, and then pass a bill with no purpose other than to provide retroactive immunity for the surveillance lawbreakers. That would be an absurd and incomparably corrupt nonsequitur, but that is precisely what Harry Reid’s Senate — in response to the NYT’s 2005 revelations of clear surveillance lawbreaking by the administration — is going to do today.

Analogously, in 1973, The Washington Post won the Pulitzer Prize for its work in uncovering the Watergate abuses, and that led to what would have been the imminent bipartisan impeachment of the President until he was forced to resign in disgrace. By stark and depressing contrast, in 2006, Jim Risen, Eric Lichtblau and the NYT won Pulitzer Prizes for their work in uncovering illegal spying on Americans at the highest levels of the Government, and that led to bipartisan legislation to legalize the illegal spying programs and provide full-scale retroactive amnesty for the lawbreakers. That’s the difference between a country operating under the rule of law and one that is governed by lawlessness and lawbreaking license for the politically powerful and well-connected.

Chris Dodd went to the Senate floor last night and gave another eloquent and impassioned speech, warning of the consequences for our country from telecom amnesty. He specifically focused on the permanently and comprehensively suppressive effect it will have on efforts to investigate what the Bush administration did in illegally spying on Americans.

At around 2:25, Sen. Dodd quoted from this blog (from this post specifically regarding last week’s testimony of Michael Mukasey) concerning the consequences for our country from ensuring, as the Senate is about to do, that such blatant and deliberate governmental lawbreaking is protected and goes forever unpunished.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

A Cool-Thinking Hitter and a Long Title Drought:Cubs to win it all this year with new player from Japan

Published: February 12, 2008 in the New York Times, which rarely acknowledges that any baseball teams exist outside of New York and Boston. Now, I probably sound bitter and all (and I am), having grown up with the Cubs and never seeing a championship. The last time the Cubs were actually IN the World Series was 1945, where they lost to the Detroit Tigers. It's been 100 years since they won a world series. 1908. But I'm certain (and you hear it here first!) that this is the year they will win the World Series. Close friends know I say this every year. Of course. Hope springs eternal and all that. Plus, if you are a Cub fan, all you can do is hope. I'm sticking with my team, even if they've frustrated me year after year after year after year (to quote Steve Goodman). And Steve Bartman is no where to be seen......this article is interesting to me because it shows how international baseball continuse to become......

In place of a batter warming up, a rusty drum stuffed with burning timber sat in the on-deck circle warming a team of industrial league players as they endured the early February cold of suburban Osaka. Specks of ash fluttered in the air like snowflakes as players gathered behind home plate to listen to the batting advice offered by the only player not dressed in the red and white uniform of Nippon Life Insurance.

The advice was so riveting that a company executive in a tie felt compelled to practice shifting his weight on the muddy field while swinging an imaginary bat.
The special instructor was the most heralded professional to come out of Nippon Life as well as the newest member of the Chicago Cubs — Kosuke Fukudome (pronounced KOH-skay Foo-koo-DOUGH-may), a left-handed, power-hitting outfielder.

In a country where playing and practicing baseball is a year-round endeavor, Fukudome was taking his daily off-season workout regimen on a farewell tour to thank those who had helped him achieve his latest accomplishment: becoming the 10th Japanese position player to sign with a Major League Baseball team.
And not just any team, for that matter. The Cubs go to spring training with reminders all around them that this is the 100th anniversary of their last World Series title. It is a drought beyond comprehension and yet here comes Fukudome — who would not know Steve Bartman from Batman — to see if he can learn English, hit major league pitching and help conquer the Cubs’ curse.

In some respects, Fukudome is now unrecognizable as the player who starred here for three years after high school. The Central League’s Chunichi Dragons drafted him in the first round as a shortstop out of Nippon Life in 1998. He spent the first three years of his professional career on the left side of the infield before finally being asked to shift to the outfield.

Fukudome, who was interviewed for this article in Japanese, quickly replied with a laugh when he was asked what kind of shortstop he was: “The kind that caused my pitchers great anxiety.”

Unlike many poor-fielding infielders who are escorted to left field, Fukudome was converted to right. His strong arm and speed were seen as more appropriate for the higher demands of the position. But no one could have projected what he was about to accomplish. In his first season in right field, with no prior outfield experience, he won the first gold glove of his career.

“Early on, everyone tried to run on me because I was inexperienced out there,” Fukudome recalled proudly. “But I had 14 assists that year and 13 of them were direct throws to the base. In retrospect, right field was the position best suited to take advantage of the strength of my throwing arm. The gold glove came largely because of my high assists total.”

Maybe so, but even as base runners learned to respect his arm and his assists fell to single digits, a high aptitude for the new position allowed him to continue playing it at a gold glove level. He earned four gold gloves in six seasons as Chunichi’s right fielder.

Curiously, the same year he devoted himself to learning the nuances of the outfield, he also hit over .300 for the first time. Fukudome was a .265 hitter in his first three seasons, but he prevented Hideki Matsui of the Yomiuri Giants from winning the triple crown in 2002 by hitting .343 to capture the first of his two batting titles.
“I definitely don’t think it’s a coincidence that my batting improved when I shifted to right field,” Fukudome said. “I was always on edge in the infield because you don’t know when the ball’s going to come shooting at you. I found the outfield much more relaxing. Even when the ball’s hit my way, the spatial difference allows me plenty of time to react. The higher relaxation meant a better rhythm, and I was able to take that into the batter’s box.”

The left-handed hitting Fukudome settled into that smoother rhythm nicely with three more .300-plus seasons over the next five years. He won another batting title in 2006, when he was the most valuable player of the Central League. He also began showing power more appropriate for his 6-foot, 188-pound frame by hitting 34 home runs in 2003 and topping 30 again in 2006. He led the league in doubles three times and in triples twice. Perhaps most enticing to the Cubs was Fukudome’s solid on-base percentage, which exceeded .400 in four of his final five seasons in Japan.
By the time he reached free agency this off-season, Fukudome had established himself as a consistent, formidable threat on offense and defense. While he acknowledges having no major league heroes as a child and no particular affinity for the game in the United States, he says he sees his four-year deal with the Cubs as the natural progression for his career as he approaches his 31st birthday in April.
“People often describe players jumping to the major leagues as challengers, but I don’t feel that way at all,” he said. “To me, it’s just the logical next step in my career. I’m always looking for ways to better myself as a baseball player, and the road just happened to go through M.L.B. I didn’t go in search of it; it was just there when I was ready to take the next step.”

That next step begins at the Cubs’ spring training camp in Mesa, Ariz. Fukudome is expected to arrive there Thursday, before the reporting date for position players, so he can adjust to his new surroundings and continue his workouts.
Because he insisted he would rely on the same principles that led him to the majors, it seemed worthwhile to find out what he said that so captivated the group at Nippon Life’s home field.

“I was explaining to them that if you told a man to stand on his hands for a day, he couldn’t do it,” Fukudome said. “But if you told him to stand on his legs for a day, that would be no problem. The point is your legs have more power than your arms so when you’re batting, you’ve always got to be concerned with how to transfer the power of your legs to the bat in your hands.

“Since the hips are the midpoint between the two, the way you rotate them is crucial for delivering the strength from your legs. This isn’t the stuff of home runs, it’s about effectively harnessing the power from below to make contact with a strongly pitched ball and not be beaten by its strength.”

If those are the kinds of thoughts Fukudome has when he stands on a baseball field in the numbing cold, he may be well suited for Wrigley Field in April. The Cubs are hoping he will have such thoughts in the chill of October, too — as they try to keep 100 years of frustration from turning into 101.

By the time he reached free agency this off-season, Fukudome had established himself as a consistent, formidable threat on offense and defense. While he acknowledges having no major league heroes as a child and no particular affinity for the game in the United States, he says he sees his four-year deal with the Cubs as the natural progression for his career as he approaches his 31st birthday in April.

Monday, February 11, 2008

What Do Quakers Believe?

Historically there can be no question but that the Society began as a Society of Christians, and for the most part of its life the Christian basis was accepted without demur by its members However, a Society lives in its members and not in its history. Any discussion of what the early Quakers believed is interesting...yet the important question is what Quakers believe now, not what they believed fifty or two hundred and fifty years ago…

[Members] should not concern themselves with questions such as "What are your beliefs, my beliefs, the Society's collective beliefs...for such questions lead on to judgments of others, and the sorting of humanity into Christians and non-Christians.

It would be more productive and more Quakerly if the questions we asked ourselves were:

(a) Why do I have to have beliefs?

(b) Does it matter to me what other people believe?

(c) Is it important to me if those with whom I worship and work are exclusive Christians or not?

(d) If it matters to me, why does it matter?

This last question is...the critical issue… It is surely very important to know why the convictions of others in this respect should matter so much to us. And it is worth remembering that one reason for attaching importance to uniformity of belief is not being quite sure of oneself. I feel fairly sure Jesus himself ...would have been quick to recognize and applaud other teachers whose teachings were similar to his. We need the teachings too badly to split hairs about the differences...or worry about the names we give them.

- Geoffrey Hubbard, 1974

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Waterboarding for God, With Decency and Compassion

Published on Sunday, February 10, 2008 by

by Ray McGovern

After one spends 45 years in Washington, high farce does not normally throw one off balance. I found the past few days, however, an acid test of my equilibrium.I missed the National Prayer Breakfast-for the 45th time in a row. But, as I drove to work I listened with rapt attention as President George W. Bush gave his insights on prayer:

“When we lift our hearts to God, we’re all equal in his sight. We’re all equally precious…In prayer we grow in mercy and compassion…. When we answer God’s call to love a neighbor as ourselves, we enter into a deeper friendship with our fellow man - and a deeper relationship with our eternal Father.”

Vice President Dick Cheney skipped Thursday’s prayer breakfast in order to put the final touches on the speech he gave later that morning to the Conservative Political Action Conference. Perhaps he felt he needed some extra time to devise careful words to extol “the interrogation program run by the CIA…a tougher program for tougher customers, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of 9/11,” without conceding that the program has involved torture.

But there was a touch of defensiveness in Cheney’s remarks, as he saw fit repeatedly to reassure his audience yesterday that America is a “decent” country.

After all, CIA Director Michael Hayden had confirmed publicly on Tuesday that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and two other “high-value” detainees had been waterboarded in 2002-2003, though Hayden added that the technique has since been discontinued.

An extreme form of interrogation going back at least as far as the Spanish Inquisition, waterboarding has been condemned as torture by just about everyone-except the hired legal hands of the Bush administration.

On Wednesday President Bush’s spokesman Tony Fratto revealed that the White House reserves the right to approve waterboarding again, “depending on the circumstances.” Fratto matter-of-factly described the process still followed by the Bush administration to approve torture-er; I mean, “enhanced interrogation techniques” like waterboarding:

“The process includes the director of the Central Intelligence Agency bringing the proposal to the attorney general, where the review would be conducted to determine if the plan would be legal and effective. At that point, the proposal would go to the president. The president would listen to the determination of his advisers and make a decision.”

Dissing Congress

Cheney’s task of reassuring us about our “decency” was made no easier Thursday, when Attorney General Michael Mukasey stonewalled questions from the hapless John Conyers, titular chair of the House Judiciary Committee. Conyers tried, and failed, to get straight answers from Mukasey on torture.

Conyers referred to Hayden’s admission about waterboarding and branded the practice “odious.” But Mukasey seemed to take perverse delight in “dissing” Conyers, as the expression goes in inner city Washington. Sadly, the tired chairman took the disrespect stoically.

He did summon the courage to ask Attorney General Mukasey directly, “Are you ready to start a criminal investigation into whether this confirmed use of waterboarding by U.S. agents was illegal?”

“No, I am not,” Mukasey answered.

Mukasey claimed “waterboarding was found to be permissible under the law as it existed” in the years immediately after 9/11; thus, the Justice Department could not investigate someone for doing something the department had declared legal. Got that?

Mukasey explained:

“That would mean the same department that authorized the program would now consider prosecuting somebody who followed that advice.”

Oddly, Mukasey himself is on record saying waterboarding would be torture if applied to him. And Michael McConnell, Director of National Intelligence, was even more explicit in taking the same line in an interview with Lawrence Wright of New Yorker magazine. McConnell told Wright that, for him:

“Waterboarding would be excruciating. If I had water draining into my nose, oh God, I just can’t imagine how painful! Whether it’s torture by anybody else’s definition, for me it would be torture.”

Okay, it would be torture if done to you, Mike; how about if done to others? Sadly, McConnell, too, missed the prayer breakfast and the president’s moving reminder that we are called “to love a neighbor as ourselves.” Is there an exception, perhaps, for detainees?

Cat Out of Bag

When torture first came up during his interview with the New Yorker, McConnell was more circumspect, repeating the obligatory bromide “We don’t torture,” as former CIA Director George Tenet did in five consecutive sentences while hawking his memoir on 60 Minutes on April 29, 2007. As McConnell grew more relaxed, however, he let slip the rationale for Mukasey’s effrontery and the administration’s refusal to admit that waterboarding is torture. For anyone paying attention, that rationale has long been a no-brainer. But here is McConnell inadvertently articulating it:

“If it is ever determined to be torture, there will be a huge penalty to be paid for anyone engaging in it.” Rest of article here.

Inequality, Not Identity, Fuels Violence in Kenya

Published on Sunday, February 10, 2008 by

by Yifat Susskind

From day-one of the crisis that has gripped Kenya this year, much of the mainstream media has been quick to label the violence “tribal warfare,” while the top US envoy to Africa called the Kenyan clashes “ethnic cleansing.” The problem with those terms is that they don’t actually explain anything. Yet many people hear the words “tribal warfare” or “ethnic cleansing” and assume that people’s identity is the root of the violence in Kenya.We live in a time when the notion of a “clash of civilizations” passes for political science and an us-versus-them mentality (”you’re either with us or with the terrorists”) is the basis of super-power foreign policy. The crudeness of those ideas makes it hard to remember that, while identity can be mobilized in the service of hatred, a person’s “tribe,” ethnicity, or religion does not cause or motivate violence.

So what does? In the case of Kenya, tribal categories are a short-hand for describing people’s unequal access to political power and economic resources.

Since Kenya won independence from Britain in 1963, a small Kikuyu elite has dominated government and business opportunities. Meanwhile, most Kenyans have been dangerously impoverished by the debt crisis that began in the late 1970s. Like many countries throughout the Global South, Kenya was forced to sell off state-owned assets like major transport and telecommunications systems and to cut government spending to repay loans to big banks and rich governments (mostly in the US and Europe). As a result, millions of Kenyans have been denied basic resources and services, like health care, clean water, education, and decent housing.

When Mwai Kibaki was elected in 2002, he promised to share power and resources more equitably. Instead, he allowed Kikuyu elites to keep control of the country’s wealth and governing institutions. That betrayal galvanized support for Raila Odinga’s opposition Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), especially among the poor. In December 2007, Kibaki’s party rigged national elections to prevent the ODM from unseating him and disseminating political power and access to basic economic resources more broadly.

Those are the real grievances fueling the violence today. They have their roots not in any “ancient tribal rivalries,” but in government policies meant to enrich a few at the expense of the majority. Kenya’s poor majority includes members of the Luo, Luhya, and Kalenjin tribes, who initiated the protests in December, and most Kikuyus, who are not part of the governing clique but have been scapegoated in the crisis.

Thinking of Kenya’s conflict as a class war rather than a tribal war reveals those aspects of the crisis that are about material things: a fight over access to farmland, housing, and clean water. But that explanation alone misses a more complex reality. Because identity is fluid, partial, and somewhat subjective, tribal or ethnic divisions can be calcified, even created, when identity is invoked to mobilize people for political ends. Both Kibaki and Odinga are guilty of goading people to violence in this way. And every time the BBC or the Washington Post utters the words “tribal warfare,” they help propel the self-fulfilling logic of identity-based violence. It’s a dangerous game: once violence is unleashed, it takes on its own momentum. We’ve seen that dynamic to grave effect in Yugoslavia, Rwanda, and Sudan. And that may be what we’re witnessing in Kenya now, as protest over a disputed election seems to have morphed into something uglier and more dangerous.

The way that people define a crisis shapes which solutions they choose. That’s why a lasting solution to the crisis in Kenya requires junking the hollow concept of “tribal warfare.” Tackling the poverty and inequality that politicians have perpetuated by manipulating ethnicity may prove a lot tougher than resolving an electoral blow-out. But there are Kenyans who are paving the way forward.

On January 25, the “Kenyan Women’s Consultation Group” addressed peace mediators Kofi Annan, Graça Machel, and Benjamin Mkapa. The women call for “comprehensive constitutional reform that would ensure equitable distribution of national resources,” as part of their far-reaching peace proposal. Like many progressive Kenyans, the Women’s Consultation Group recognizes that while inequality in Kenya runs along tribal lines, it’s the inequality, not the tribal identity, that is fueling the violence today.

Yifat Susskind is Communications Director of MADRE, an international women’s human rights organization

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Iraq: "Stop the war or you'll put your eye out"!

Yesterday, as I do pretty much every Friday morning, I attended eye rounds over at the University of Wisconsin Hospital on campus. Most of the time, the talks are about human eye issues rather than the veterinary eye disease seen in our lab. But I always learn something and if possible, I always get the blueberry muffin off the "treat tray".

This day was different. The speaker was presenting a talk on Eye Trauma. Now, I know that sounds strange that I'd be interested in this, but we do see a fair amount of eye trauma: dog bites to the eye, foreign bodies from dogs sticking their heads out the window, cat scratch, BB's, stick in the eye, ShiTzus, Pugs, to name a few.

So..........I was a bit stunned when the speaker, a human opthalmologist I've heard give excellent presentations before, said her talk would be mostly about eye injuries in the Iraq war. She gave a lot of statistics, intermixed with photos of mobile army hospitals, explosions from IED's, etc. I felt a bit frightened. She didn't say what her stance was on the war. Later, I almost asked her.

The numbers are scary. She looked at the period in the war of 2004 through 2005. I will try to accurately as possible reproduce the numbers. 1706 soldiers killed, 16,000+ wounded. Of those wounded, approximately 900 had "open eye injuries" where something penetrates or otherwise opens up the globe. Of the 900, 70 underwent enucleation (eye removal) and 6 underwent bilateral enucleation (yes, both eyes). The causes: 73% from explosions (IED's and such, usually from the compression caused by the explosion shock wave), 8% had metal penetration, 7% glass, 5% bone and 7% brick or rock.

She detailed the treatment procedure. Mobile hospitals at the scene, bigger hospitals in say, Baghdad, a possible side trip to a German hospital, then home to Walter Reed. She gave outcome statistics showing the success of this treatment. The vast majority of patients showed no disabling visual loss after 21 days. In response to a question from Poodledoc, she said the patients were not followed up any longer than that. From my vet work, I know that "nasty things can happen" in an injured eye farther down the road than 21 days.

She made the statement that things would be better if soldiers were more disciplined about wearing eye protection. Apparently the soldiers refused to wear them because as one put it: "they make us look like senior citizens from Miami".

And speaking of Miami, she pointed out that the army hospitals in Iraq saw the third highest level of trauma behind hospitals in Miami and LA. Huh? Is there a war on in those cities? She seemed proud about the reduction of disabling eye injuries since the first world war.

I walked back to the Vet School feeling very sad and wondering what the level of eye trauma and eye/vision loss was among Iraqi civilians, who don't get evacuated to state of the art hospitals....

Thursday, February 7, 2008

This Week's Quote

I found this provocative and worth thinking about, rather than dismissing it......polarization around various causes does not work and leads, often, to violence....

"Bleeding-heart liberals could accomplish far more if they reached out to build common cause with bleeding-heart conservatives."

- Columnist Nicholas Kristof, in an article titled, "Evangelicals a Liberal Can Love." One example he cites: "In parts of Africa where bandits and warlords shoot or rape anything that moves, you often find that the only groups still operating are Doctors Without Borders and religious aid workers: crazy doctors and crazy Christians."(Source: The New York Times)

Midwest Eye Conference

(click on image to enlarge)

Last weekend's Midwest Eye Conference in lovely Oklahoma City was a big success. It started with a reception Friday night, then we wandered about downtown to look for a place to eat.
I was pleased that on Saturday morning, when the presentations began, I was the second speaker following my esteemed colleague from Wisconsin, Dr Simon Pot, who was talking about a cataract operation in a penguin who resided at the Milwaukee Zoo. I gave my chat about a weird, rare eye tumor of dogs. I was glad people were paying attention enough to ask some questions. I thought it went well and it was a relief to get it over with, frankly. The rest of the morning was filled with additional talks.
That afternoon, we received a tour of the Cowboy Museum. I had been looking forward to this. I thought, mistakenly, that Trigger, Roy Roger's horse, resided there, stuffed and mounted. I was sad to hear that Trigger resides at possibly three other places. None of the docents were sure. The museum is huge, with lots of money being donated by...........John Wayne. I have to admit that some of the museum was interesting. I enjoyed the section on movie cowboys of old, the part about cowboy humorist Will Rogers, and the Native American art. As we entered the room of Native American art, the docent said: "These things are more like artifacts than art". The room was filled with beauty. Beaded moccasins, jewlery, blankets, sculpture. Seemed like art for me. The way the "interaction" between whites and Native people was described, was so far from the truth, I had to laugh to keep from crying. A couple of my European colleagues were particularly upset. I knew it would be quite a bit of cowboy mythology, but wasn't prepared for the magnitude of the distortions. Plus the life-size statues of Charleton Heston,John Wayne, and Ronnie Reagan were a bit much. I thought it was interesting to see John Wayne's kachina (sp?) doll collection. Was it that he understood that this dolls had spiritual import? Did he think they were beautiful? The docents didn't know. The silly part of me wondered that it would have "tarnished" Wayne's "image" if the information got out that he collected "dolls". The Native American depicted above sums up how I felt as I left the museum.
That evening, we had a really nice dinner, with a one man cowboy play/standup comic. It wasn't very funny but the food was exceptional. Talks continued Sunday morning. They were generaly quite good and I learned a lot.
Lastly, we left and tried to fly home. Due to a series of flight delatys, cancellations and snow, we didn't arrive in Madison until 9:30. Aside from that, the weekend was a success and I enjoyed getting to know my colleagues better.

(click on image to enlarge)

From left to right: Dr Simon Pot, Dr Christiane Kafarnik, Dr Patricia Mundy

Monday, February 4, 2008

How Cats Purr

On the incredibly long, seemingly endless flight back from the Midwest Eye Conference (more on that later), the question came up: How do cat's purr? Not one of us four veterinarians could answer this. So here's some info off the Internet. Any other theories out there?

A purr is a sound made by some species of felines and is a part of cat communication. It varies in detail from cat to cat (e.g., loudness, tone, etc.), and from species to species, but can be characterized as a sort of tonal buzzing. All domestic cats purr in a frequency range of 22.4 to 30.2 hertz. Some cats purr so strongly that their entire bodies vibrate; conversely, other cats may purr so quietly that the only indication is a vibration felt when touching the cat's throat. In addition, some are able to meow or hiss without interrupting the purring sound. (Listen (help·info) to a domestic cat purring)

How felines purr
Despite being a universally recognized phenomenon, the exact mechanism by which the cat purrs has been frustratingly elusive for scientists. This is partly because the cat has no obvious anatomical feature unique to it that would be responsible and may also be partly because a cat placed in a laboratory for examination is unlikely to make the noise.
One hypothesis, backed up by electromyographic studies, is that cats produce the purring noise by fast twitching of the muscles in their larynx, which rapidly dilate and constrict the glottis, thus causing vibrations in the air both during inhalation and exhalation[1]. There is also some contribution from the diaphragm. A timing mechanism in the brain sends neural messages to the muscles in the larynx, rhythmically opening and closing the air passage approximately 25 times per second.[2] Combined with the steady inhalation and exhalation of air as the cat breathes, a purring noise is produced with strong harmonics.[3]
It was once believed that only the cats of the Felis genus could purr; some older texts may still say this.[4] In fact, all cats are able to purr. However, the entire Panthera genus is able to purr only while exhaling. Cats that are not members of the Panthera, even larger ones such as the cheetah, purr.[5].

Historical theories
One theory held that purring involved blood hitting the aorta. Another possibility was that another area of soft tissue or muscular tissue in the neck or torso (e.g., the diaphragm) similarly vibrates. Another held that purring might be caused by vibration of the hyoid apparatus, a series of small bones connecting the skull and the larynx that nominally serves to support the tongue. Yet another theory held that cats might possess a special purring organ, though none was ever found.[citation needed]

Why felines purr
Above all, the purr is probably the cat's way of communicating to others (cats and humans) that it is in the mood to be sociable. The purring sound is frequently made at the same time that other 'sociable' signals are made, e.g. erect tail, slightly closed "contented" eyes, not walking away. Naturally, in most situations, this will also be when the cat is feeling contented, but it need not necessarily be so. Humans usually interpret the purring of a domestic cat as an expression of some type of friendliness or contentment. This assumption is based on the observation that cats often (though not always) purr when being stroked by humans.
It is, however, not entirely clear to scientists whether this really is one of the cat's reasons for making the sound; it is well-established that a cat also purrs when it is uneasy, nervous or in great pain, perhaps to comfort itself or to express submission. Other theories suggest that a cat purrs when it wants, needs, or is receiving attention, whether it be affection or medical treatment. When cats purr while also lightly clawing the ground it may mean they are trying to relieve stress or comfort themselves.[citation needed]
An intriguing possibility postulated by Roy Feinson in The Secret Language of Names (The Overlook Press, 2004) suggests that the question is best answered by asking 'when do cats not purr?' He writes "...a clowder of wildcats relax under a tree engaging in gentle purring when one of the cats spots a rabbit. The cat abruptly stops purring and the sudden silence immediately puts the other cats on alert without any audible or motion signal that might have alerted the prey. Thus, maintaining a low-energy purr at times of well-being allows the absence of that sound to become a communication device."

The theory is strengthened by the fact that cats tend not to purr when alone.

Ethologist Paul Leyhousen, in his book Cat Behavior, interprets purring as a signal meaning "I am not a threat" to explain the otherwise differing circumstances that elicit the sound.
Purring may also be a signaling mechanism between mother cats and nursing kittens. Female cats are known to purr while giving birth. Kittens purr while nursing, presumably as an "all's well" signal to their mother.

K.M. Dyce, W.O. Sack and C.J.G. Wensing in Textbook of Veterinary Anatomy 3rd Ed. 2002, Saunders, Philadelphia; p156
^ Purring for bone strength and healing
^ How A Puma Purrs
^ Overview of Felidae
^ Cheetahs can purr
Stogdale L, Delack JB. Feline purring. Compendium on Continuing Education for the Practicing Veterinarian 1985; 7: 551, 553.
Reprinted in: Voith VL, Borchelt PL (eds). Readings in Companion Animal Behavior. Trenton: Veterinary Learning Systems, 1996; 269-270.

From Wikepedia, so take it with a grain of salt......