Thursday, April 30, 2009

Brooks on Obama

No, not David Brooks.

Daniel Henninger in the Wall Street Journal mentions an anecdote from Harry Reid's upcoming book.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, in a book out next week, tells of congratulating freshman Sen. Obama on a phenomenal speech. Without a hint of conceit, Mr. Obama replied, "Harry, I have a gift."

And, of course, one immediately recalls Mel Brooks.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

What the Manhattan overflight fiasco really means

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I was in New York on a business trip on 9/11/2001. I was on a shuttle to LaGuardia that went into the Midtown tunnel at 8:45 AM - when we came out, the bus driver told us to look at the WTC because the radio news said a plane hit it. We saw the tower burning. A few minutes later, we reached a point on the expressway where we could see the WTC again -- and both towers were burning. Couldn't figure that one out -- until later, at the airport, when we heard about the second plane, and saw the towers collapse on CNN.

My trip took me back INTO Manhattan the next afternoon. The streets were deserted, except for some taxis and emergency vehicles, and ash particles wafted through the air, even up at 57th St. Everyone at dinner and at the hotel was on the edge of panic - rumors of more bombs at the Empire State Building, worries about friends and colleagues and loved ones...

And for months after, on return trips to Manhattan, I'd be walking through the city and enjoying the fine weather -- and then come across the "Have You Seen This Person" flyers on a bus shelter, or the children's drawings sent from Iowa to a NYFD fire station.

My colleague who worked across the street from the WTC arrived at the Canal St. subway station at 8:45 AM and saw everything. He still can't talk about just what he witnessed.

I am deeply grateful to the men and women of the Bush Administration who ensured that my home state of California didn't suffer a similar attack, and that my family and friends and neighbors were spared the horror and grief that the people of New York experienced -- and still feel to this day. What this latest fiasco tells us in the starkest and most definitive terms is that President Obama has a total "9/10" mindset, and no personal understanding of the magnitude and significance of the 9/11 attacks and what they meant to the people who were directly affected.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Three American women

Funny how everyone thought that pirates taking an American ship captain hostage was huge news and a national security crisis, and President Obama received plaudits for ordering Navy SEALs onto the scene with a brief to use deadly force to rescue the hostage -- yet there's next to no attention being paid to THREE American journalists, all women, being held hostage by far more dangerous criminals.

American journalists Laura Ling, rigtht, and Euna Lee. Photo: AP

April 18, 2009: Roxana Saberi, a 31-year-old dual American-Iranian citizen. Photo: AP

Euna Lee and Laura Ling are being held by the criminal regime of Kim Jong-Il in North Korea.
The two women journalists Euna Lee, a Korean-American, and Laura Ling, a Chinese-American, were arrested two weeks ago after straying across North Korea’s northwestern border with China while on assignment.

They now appear to be caught up in the middle of a high-stakes game of “diplomatic blackmail” as tensions rise over North Korea’s plans to conduct a missile-test in defiance of UN resolutions.

That report was from April 1st. The missile test has come and gone, but the women remain hostages.
North Korea is proceeding with a trial against two Korean-American journalists from California, despite witnesses claiming they were detained when North Korean border guards entered Chinese territory to seize them while their cameras were rolling. The trial will be held behind closed doors, and foreign governments have expressed concern the process will not allow the journalists a fair hearing or even a defense.

Ling and Lee were reportedly interviewing women who lived in the border area about their treatment under the Communist regime. At least one witness has said they were filming from Chinese territory when one or more North Korean border guards crossed into Chinese territory and seized them and their equipment at gunpoint.

The two American journalists have reportedly been allowed consular access, in accord with international law, and a Swedish delegation has visited with them to check on their condition and their needs. The American government is saying their detention is unfounded and requests have been made for China to intervene, on grounds its sovereign territory was violated by the border guards.

To be clear: an eyewitness account says that the North Koreans took two American journalists hostage in a criminal cross-border raid, just as Hamas took Gilad Schalit hostage and Hezbollah took Regev and Goldwasser hostage (well, in the latter case, took their bodies hostage, as the two Israelis were murdered in the kidnap attempt).

In Iran, another American has been taken hostage -- in this case, the sham trial has already concluded, and the woman is in an Iranian prison.
An American journalist jailed by Iran on charges of spying for the United States "is in bad condition," her father said Monday [April 27], almost a week after she went on hunger strike.

Reza Saberi said he and his wife Akiko visited their daughter Roxana in Tehran's Evin jail on Sunday, taking flowers for her 32nd birthday.

"She is very, very weak and frail ... she is in a bad condition. She can hardly stand up," he told Reuters. "I'm worried about her health. I'm worried about her life."

The 68-year-old said he pleaded with her to stop the hunger strike, but she resisted during the 20-minute visit.

Roxana Saberi, a dual American-Iranian citizen, was convicted more than a week ago and sentenced to eight years in prison after a swift, one-day trial behind closed doors. She began her hunger strike Tuesday to protest her imprisonment, her father said.

"She said that she has started a hunger strike and this is the fifth day and that she will continue until she is free. I tried to tell her that this can be dangerous, but she didn't give me any time to protest," her father, Reza Saberi, told The Associated Press.

What is President Obama's response? At the recent Summit of the Americas, he at least acknowledged the case of Roxana Saberi:
"I am gravely concerned with her safety and well-being," Obama said of Roxana Saberi.

"I have complete confidence that she was not engaging in any sort of espionage," he added. "She is an Iranian-American who was interested in the country which her family came from. And it is appropriate for her to be treated as such and to be released."

Wow! Strong words, indeed. It is appropriate for her to be released.

Well, that's more than he's said on behalf of Euna Lee and Laura Ling. For them, not a word has passed the President's lips -- not that's been reported publicly, anyway.

So it seems that the inauguration of our new President was also a declaration of open season on Americans for all rogue states. Not only are those regimes not unclenching their fists, they're closing them tighter around the throats of three American women.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Chinese "hack" Iranian fruit stands

The nefarious and unscrupulous Chinese have attacked the revolutionary purity of the Islamic republic with counterfeit Israeli citrus.
Here's a juicy story: Panic erupted over the weekend in Teheran after Iranian authorities were horrified to discover that citrus fruit being snatched up by buyers across the capital were marked as Israeli-grown Jaffa sweeties.
Israeli-grown Jaffa sweeties.

It was later discovered, however, that the "sweeties" were likely Chinese fruit fraudulently marketed as the prestigious Israeli product.

Two Iranian press agencies reported Sunday that citrus with stickers bearing the words "Jaffa sweetie Israel PO" had appeared in Teheran, but that the suspicious fruit had been packed in boxes that clearly said "Product of China."

Nevertheless, Teheran immediately responded to the "Zionist" infiltration.

According to Iran-based Press TV, Hossen Safaie, the head of the Fruit and Vegetable Distribution Center of Teheran, expressed his hope that the lawbreakers would be brought to justice and that "his organization will not allow those who want to make a profit ignore the Iranian citizens' religious and revolutionary learning."

In case you were wondering, "The Jaffa sweetie, a pomelo-grapefruit hybrid, is popular in world markets due to its taste, low seed count and easy-to-remove peel."

Apparently rather a lot of Israeli produce makes its way to Arab countries that technically have a boycott against Israeli products. Naturally -- where else in the region do growers produce avocados, persimmons and other similar fruit?

A glimmer of hope

Underscoring the difference between Gaza and the West Bank:
Palestinian security forces on Sunday gave the IDF an explosive belt found in the West Bank town of Salfit.

Palestinian sources said that belt contained eight kilograms of TNT and that it was ready for detonation.

A Hamas operative arrested by the Palestinian Authority some two weeks ago led the security forces to the belt's hiding place.

A Palestinian official quoted by Israel Radio said the explosive belt was prepared by Samar Dawarhaka, a Hamas operative killed by the IDF some four years ago.

After 3,000 years, still strangers in a strange land

Jews have lived on the Arabian Peninsula since well before the birth of Mohammed and the rise of Islam. A remnant still do in a few places -- but perhaps one of those places, Yemen, will be Judenrein soon.
KHARIF, Yemen – In this village in northern Yemen, where a kosher butcher slaughters chickens and the school bus carries young boys in side curls along a dirt track to their Hebrew studies, one of the oldest Jewish communities in the Arab world is fighting for its survival.

Yemen's Jews, here and elsewhere in the country, are thought to have roots dating back nearly 3,000 years to King Solomon. The community used to number 60,000 but shrank dramatically when most left for the newborn state of Israel.

Those remaining, variously estimated to number 250 to 400, are feeling new and sometimes violent pressure from Yemeni Muslims, lately inflamed by Israel's fierce offensive against Hamas militants in Gaza that cost over 1,000 Palestinian lives.

They face a Yemeni government that is ambivalent — publicly supportive but also lax in keeping its promises — in an Arab world where Islamic extremism and hostility to minorities are generally on the rise.

"There is hardly a mosque sermon that's free of bigotry. The government's own political rhetoric marginalizes the Jews, and civil society is too weak to protect them," says Mansour Hayel, a Muslim Yemeni and human rights activist who is an expert on Yemen's Jewry.

One can clearly see whether the Arab and Muslim world has become a better or worse place -- even in terms of the welfare of its Muslim citizens -- since it expelled the bulk of its Jewish population.

Taliban booby-traps children's toys

In a time-honored form of war crime, the Taliban in Pakistan are booby-trapping toys in an effort to terrorize families by putting bombs in children's toys. The latest example is a soccer ball bomb outside a girls' school.
The football explosion happened in a village in the mountains of Lower Dir. The children, five of them girls, found the ball as they were returning from school. Seven victims belonged to the same family.

Pakistan's Interior Ministry chief, Rehman Malik, blamed the Taliban saying: "The Taliban have exposed their real face by killing innocent children."

He said investigators would check whether the children were targeted because their families had refused to let the Taliban take them for training, including as suicide attackers.

He also appealed to parents across North West Frontier Province (NWFP) to stop children accepting food or toys from strangers.

And they say that American airstrikes drive civilians into the arms of the Taliban? Anyone who seeks the shelter of their embrace deserves whatever they get.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Remember the Spanish flu?

Of course you don't. It killed 50 million people in 1918-1919.

Now the swine flu outbreak in Mexico has some parallels:
"This is an animal strain of the H1N1 virus, and it has pandemic potential because it is infecting people," said the WHO's director-general, Margaret Chan, as public health experts gathered in emergency session in Geneva to discuss the outbreak.

The mutant vaccine-resistant strain - a previously unseen combination of pig, bird and human and viruses - is causing panic in Mexico's capital, one of the world's biggest cities where most of the victims have died.

Mexico City's mayor has cancelled all public events for 10 days and school, colleges and museums have been closed. Alarmed residents are stockpiling food to hole up at home or packing bags and leaving the city - an exodus that could spread the disease.

Most of the victims have been aged 25 to 45 and the disease is thought to have been passed from person-to-person, heightening fears that the virus could be the beginning of a pandemic. Men and women in their prime were the greatest casualties of the so-called Spanish flu that wiped out about 50 million people after the First World War.

More than 1,000 people have fallen ill in Mexico with suspected flu, while eight people in the bordering US states of California and Texas have also been infected. In New York, 75 children from a private school in Queens who fell sick with flu-like symptoms last week were being tested for the disease after it emerged that some pupils recently visited Mexico.

Miss Chan said the strain is still poorly understood and the situation is evolving quickly. "We do not yet have a complete picture of the epidemiology or the risk, including possible spread beyond the currently affected areas," she said. "Nonetheless, in the assessment of WHO, this is a serious situation."

Good news: Tamiflu works to reduce the symptoms of those infected with this new strain. Bad news: there ain't nearly enough Tamiflu to help everyone if this becomes a pandemic.

Wash your hands often. Avoid crowds. Consider a face mask if going to an area with an outbreak.

Is this mass murderer now in custody?

On a day when at least 75 Iraqis were murdered in suicide bombings in Baghdad and at a Shia shrine in Diyala, the Iraqi security forces announced the arrest of the mastermind of the bombings, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, a leader of the so-called Islamic State of Iraq.

Great news, if true:
The Islamic State of Iraq is an umbrella group of militant Sunni factions which is said to be dominated by Baghdadi's al-Qaeda in Iraq, which is affiliated to "core" al-Qaeda in Pakistan.

His arrest, which could not be confirmed, and even his death have been reported before. Security experts have speculated in the past that Baghdadi was a character invented by some extremist groups rather than a real person.

Let's cross our fingers and hope that this mass murderer is now out of commission. The early indications, though, aren't bright: Suicide bombers killed 60 people in an attack at a Shia Muslim shrine in Baghdad, the deadliest single terrorist strike in Iraq in almost a year.
The bombing brought the toll from suicide attacks in the country to almost 150 deaths in just 24 hours.

Two terrorists wearing vests packed with explosives approached separate entrances to the Imam Moussa al-Kadhim shrine in the Shia district of Kadhimiya. One blew himself up at the gates, while the second entered a courtyard before detonating his explosives.

Police said that at least 20 of those killed at the shrine - a frequent target of Sunni Muslim insurgents - were Iranian pilgrims.

A further 125 people were reported to have been injured in the attack.

It was the bloodiest terrorist operation in Iraq since 63 people died in a truck bombing in Baghdad on June 17 last year.

The shrine attack came a day after 89 people were killed in two suicide bombings, which targeted police and civilians in a square in central Baghdad and Shia pilgrims from Iran at a restaurant in Diyala province, north of the capital.

They followed the arrest on Thursday of a man who police in Baghdad claimed was the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Missing link to the pinnipeds

From Nature magazine, via Scientific Blogging, news of a missing link in the fossil record of the evolution of pinnipeds: Puijila Darwini - 'Missing Link' In Evolution Of Seals, Sea Lions And Walruses.
Modern seals, sea lions, and walruses all have flippers—limb adaptations for swimming in water. These adaptations evolved over time, as some terrestrial animals moved to a semi-aquatic lifestyle. Until now, the morphological evidence for this transition from land to water was weak.

Skeletal illustration of Puijila darwini
Skeletal illustration of Puijila darwini. Credit: Mark A. Klingler/Carnegie
Museum of Natural History

"The remarkably preserved skeleton of Puijila had heavy limbs, indicative of well developed muscles, and flattened phalanges which suggests that the feet were webbed, but not flippers. This animal was likely adept at both swimming and walking on land. For swimming it paddled with both front and hind limbs. Puijila is the evolutionary evidence we have been lacking for so long," says Mary Dawson, curator emeritus of Carnegie Museum of Natural History.

Portions of the Puijila darwini specimen were found in 2007 in deposits that accumulated in what was a crater lake in coastal Devon Island, Nunavut, Canada. A subsequent visit in 2008 yielded the basicranium, an important structure for determining taxonomic relationships.

Gee, is there any connection?

So the American Nazis decided to go to Skokie on April 19 to join in the celebration at the opening of the Illinois Holocaust Museum.

Meanwhile, back in the Fatherland, Germany's Interior Minister reports that Neo-Nazi crimes in Germany soared last year by 16 per cent, according to new government figures:
The number of far-Right attacks rose to 20,422, with violent crimes up 5.6 per cent at 1,113 cases, including two killings.

Far-Right crimes accounted for two thirds of all "politically motivated" crimes last year, which reached 31,801 -- an increase of 11.4 percent and the highest level since 2001.

Wolfgang Schauble, the German interior minister, said the rise in politically motivated crime was disturbing. He swore that the Berlin government would counter it with a variety of "measures against extremism, racism and intolerance".

Mr Schauble said that the current grim economic conditions faced by Germany were "chillingly similar" to the desperate days of the 1920s and 30s which propelled the Nazis to power on the back of popular despair at mainstream politicians. These conditions, he feared, were luring more and more young people into the far-Right scene.

"They are attracting young people to a greater extent than the conventional far-Right scene has been able to so far," said Mr Schauble.

Hmmm... maybe these two stories are connected somehow.

Ya think?

Monty Python's Scotland Yard

So, like, a couple of days before Easter, the whole of British law enforcement swoops down and arrests 11 Pakistani nationals and one British citizen in what the police call a "major terrorist plot." The police had to advance the timetable for their arrests because the Metropolitan Police's counterterrorism chief accidentally held a report on the plot in a way that let a press photographer get a clear and readable picture of it.

And now? 12 arrested after alleged 'Easter bomb plot' released without charge.
Eleven of the men - all Pakistani nationals - now face being deported after they were transferred into the custody of the UK Borders Agency.

They were released after investigators spent 13 days searching for evidence following the arrests from a number of addresses in Greater Manchester, Liverpool and Lancashire under the Terrorism Act.

Gordon Brown and Jacqui Smith had previously claimed the operation had uncovered a "very big plot" against the UK, and police chiefs defended their actions yesterday.

However, questions are being asked as to the timing of the raids and the basis for the alleged intelligence of a plot given that no evidence was found.

The operation was run by Greater Manchester Police, together with MI5, but it was ultimately authorised by the then natonal head of counter-terrorism, Scotland Yard Assistant Commissioner Bob Quick.

The raids led to his resignation, after he inadvertently allowed details of the operation to be photographed.

So the police believe that these men are a clear and present danger to Britain's security, but after 13 days of searching, they can't come up with concrete evidence to support that belief. Of course, Muslim advocacy groups in Britain are quick to point out that this is just more official harassment of their co-religionists:
Inayat Bunglawala, a spokesman for the Muslim Council of Britain, said: "Instead of releasing them with good grace and making clear a mistake has been made, the government is seeking to deport them, citing a very vague national security threat. That is a very dishonourable way of proceeding."

Turn a terrorist plot into a propaganda victory against British counterterrorist operations. Brilliant.

It almost has me expecting the Spanish Inquisition.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Jihadi Workout, or, Buns of Semtex

Jane Fonda tapes being haram, the jihad has developed its own workout program: Workout tips for jihad offered by al-Qaeda supporting magazine.
Complete with photographs of men in white robes with scarves covering their faces performing a variety of squats and sit-ups, it advises supporters to keep in shape so that they can "strike hard" against their enemies.

There is also a warning against visiting "un-Islamic" western gyms including LA Fitness with their "music, semi-naked women, free mixing and the danger of showing off".

That last bit could explain this pose (it does get lonely on the North West Frontier):