Wednesday, January 31, 2007

American Jewish Committee posts provocative essay on liberal criticisms of Israel


Patricia Cohen has a provocative story “Eassy Linking Liberal Jews and Anti-Semitism Sparks a Furor” in the Arts Section of The New York Times, Jan. 31, 2007. The link is this: (Visitors may need an online NYT subscription or an individual purchase from NYT to see all content.)

The 20-page essay was posted at the website of the American Jewish Committee, here. The title is “Progressive Jewish Thought and the New Anti-Semitism.” It is authored by Alvin H. Rosenfeld, an English Professor at Indiana University, and has an Introduction by David A. Harris of the AJC. The site has a special internal link to download the essay (free right now) as a PDF file for private non-commercial use only. (You may need the latest Adobe reader version.)

The core controversy is that supposedly “liberal” Jewish thinkers are playing Uncle Tom and crossing the line by questioning the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state. One can quibble about what this means. The essay criticizes some sources, such as the collections “Wrestling with Zionism: Progressive Jewish-American Responses to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict” and “Radicals, Rabbis, and Peacemakers: Conversations with Jewish Critics of Israel,” both edited by playwright Tony Kushiner. The essay does not mention Jimmy Carter, but verbally some people have criticized Carter’s latest book “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid” (Simon & Schuster, 2006).

The problem that strikes me is something raised by Tammy Bruce in her book “The Thought Police: Inside the Left’s Assault on Free Speech and Free Minds” (2003, Three Rivers Press). (Review is here: ) . There seems to be an unwritten rule that some invisible lines should not be crossed in questioning the key values that identify various groups. In the gay community, for example, it is sometimes taboo to question the idea of homosexuality as immutable, or to criticize gender-identity situations. Although the core value set itself varies with the group, with anti-Semitism the notion is understandable given the history that led to the formation and growth of Israel. It should be possible to question the takings of property (from libertarian ideas about property rights) from Palestinians in the West Bank over the decades without questioning the right of Israel to exist. It should be possible to question the collectivism and group mentality, to the point of building “children’s houses” in kibbutzes, a mindset that market forces have started to disrupt in recent years, as seen in the recent Israeli TV independent films “Kibbutz” and “The Children’s House.” Here is a related entry by me.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Protest against Iraq war on Jan 27, 2007 on Washington Mall


The protest was lively, on a one-day respite from the return of winter, as the temperature on the Mall in Washington got to about 50 degrees. The signs were pretty explicit, calling for impeachment, another one proposing a memorial with a list of names, very much like the Vietnam War memorial; another read "no billionaire left behind" (or "leave no billionaire behind:) and refered to Enron. The crowd was mostly white and middle class or upper. The "March" ran from about 11 AM until 1 PM and went around the Capitol.

A few active servicemembers did attend, and this is their constitutional right to do so.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Travel in Islamic countries by known gays



With all of the media reports of horrific prosecutions and persecutions of gays in many Islamic countries, I have wondered if it is dangerous for someone publicly known to be homosexual (as from a visible website) to visit countries like Saudi Arabia or even Egypt (say, to visit the Pyramids or other archeological sites). Could someone be held as a prisoner there for having published "illegal" (in Islamic law) materials on the Internet before travel?

Friday, January 19, 2007

Egypt tries blogger for what amounts to sedition






Abdel Kareem Nabil Soliman went on trial in Egypt Jan 18, 2007 for "insulting Islam" and inciting sectarian violence with his blogs. What is interesting, as with American sedition laws in the past, is the fear that writings from a relatively small and "insignificant" source really can undermine religious or political power structures. Blogs can do so when they can be found by so many people with search engines (taking advantage of the mathematics of binary searches), and relatively obscure blogs are often found if they are written well enough. Egypt has arrested a number of bloggers for encouraging democracy. Nabil also criticized President Honsi Mubarak in his blog, which was in Arabic.



Update: 2/28/2007

The Washington Post ran an editorial today, "Blogger on Ice: Once Again, Egypt's Hosni Mubarak shows zero tolerance for secular democartic dissent," at this link. Although Mubarak maintains that he is suppressing radical Islam, actually he is targeting bloggers who fight for democratic reforms in Egypt, including the aforementioned Abdel Kareem Nabil Soliman, sentenced to four years in jail last week, partly for "insulting the president". Another such prisoner is Ayman Nour. Mubarak has also jailed more than 800 members of the Muslim brotherhood.

It's interesting to see how those who are in power are so thin-skinned and easily threatened by the speech of others, as well demonstrated in the recent film from Sony Pictures Classics about the East German secret police Stasi spying on a writer, in The Lives of Others.

Update: March 13, 2007:

CNN runs a video about the four-year prison sentence for Kareem, and the news story maintains that this is the first time that Egypt has given a sentence specifically for blogging, rather than for other associated charges.

Art drawings are mine from 5th Grade when we studied Egypt, around 1955. What did a great civilization come to?

Update: March 26, 2007

Goodbye Mubarak Rally, against Constitutional Constraints, Egyptian embassy, Washington DC, March 26. Here is the Nora Younis reference.


Thursday, January 18, 2007

FISA court will supervise surveillance


The Bush administration agreed to remove a wiretapping and surveillance program run by the National Security Agency (at Ft. Meade, Md, halfway between Washington and Baltimore) without court supervision, and obtain approval from a secret FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) court before eavesdropping on telephone, cell phone, or email or chat conversations overseas with suspicious parties. The Justice Department has notified the Sixth Circuit.

I receive perhaps 20 spam messages from overseas every day, removed by the AOL spam filter, and probably several of them daily relate to the "Nigerian scam." This is well known and not of much concern (except for people who fall for them), as prosecutions are difficult in practice. Since 2002 I have received at least two overseas emails that were disturbing enough in content to be reported to law enforcement. Websites like mine may sometimes attract persons who want to disclose such information.

The Washington Post story is by Dan Eggen, Jan. 18, 2007, at this link. The DC Examiner story is by Lara Jakes Jordan, at this link.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Military members: appeal for redress


Linton Weeks has a story in the January 16, 2006 The Washington Post, "Why They Fight -- From Within: Two Navy Men Create an Outlet For Military Protests on The Web," about the website Appeal for Redress. The site would enable servicemembers to appeal directly to members of Congress to consider changing policy in Iraq, including earlier withdrawal. The Website does explain military servicemember First Amendment rights as supported by DOD Directive 1325.6, "Guidelines for Handling Dissident and Protest Activities Among Members of the Armed Forces," here.

There is a lot of controversy among some people as to whether soldiers have a right to question foreign policy, since there is civilian control of the military. Ironically, this point has been brought up in the past in conjunction with the "don't ask don't tell" policy for gays in the military.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Wikileaks is a new tool for anonymous dissent


Elizabeth Williamson has a story in The Washington Post Monday Jan. 15, 2006, “Freedom of Information: the Wiki Way: Site to Allow Anonymous Posts of Government Documents”, at this link. The story is about http://www.wikileaks.org, which would allow persons to post documents from overseas about corruption and government misconduct. A typical example and the first document, go to “Inside the Somali Civil War and the Islamic Courts” at http://www.wikileaks.org/inside_somalia_v9.html The site has FAQ’s and calls for volunteers, and a statement by Daniel Ellsberg. The concept is based on the open-content (open source) Wikipedia model where visitors build the information data base. The entire site should be live by March 2007. The site is supposed to have technical measures in place to protect anonymity.

One would think that a site like this could put considerable political pressure on major trading partners with leftover authoritarian governments, especially China, and that it could eventually be useful in persuading governments to ease Internet censorship. Of course, countries like North Korea and radical Islamic states will be unwilling to tolerate open dissent.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

President Bush announces "last chance" buildup in Iraq


President Bush addressed the nation at 9 PM EST Wednesday night, and announced plans to increase troops in Iraq by 20,000. He admits disappointment with the results due to lack of sufficient troops, and lack of sufficient authority for the troops to act on conditions.

Most commentators say that this is the last chance (not the "pentultimate" or "antepenultimate" buildup). Republicans may go over to the Democrats and try to bring the troops home. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi expressed anger that she had not been consulted before the speech was written.

But this reminds me of General William Westmorland's repeated calls for more troops in Vietnam during the Johnson administration. I was drafted in early 1968, just after the Tet Offensive.

The CNN story is here.

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Spain nixes Basque peace process


There was an AP story by Daniel Wolls in The Washington Post today, "Spain Declares End to Basque Peace Process," at this link. (May require online membership of subscription or fee.)

The Basque area runs from northwestern Spain into southeastern France. The Basques are a people of uncertain origin with an isolated language (Euskara) with unusual grammar. I visited Bilbao and San Sebastian/Donesta in May 2001 (arriving in San Sebastian on a Saturday Night train from Lisbon, having spent the day before at Fatima in Portugal). You have to take a bus for the 60 mile ride to Bilbao, which opens up as a spectacular coastal city with unusual mixes or architecture. I stayed in a hotel on the Nervion river near the Guggenheim, and had a suite for $100 a night (inexpensive by European standards). Although there is a lot of speculation about the origins (perhaps even Atlantean or extraterrestrial) of the Basque people, they are not distinquishable physically from other Europeans, and the population in the city is extremely mixed, the way it is in London. Yet the ETA headquarters and flag were near the hotel, but everything was quiet when I was there. The city of 350000 has an impressive Metro. Being in this isolated city gives one the feeling of being on another planet, with a civilization similar to our own. There is a Basque railray between Bilbao and San Sebastian that does not appear to be covered by normal train service or passes.

San Sebastian is a spectacular city with a canal with enormous, California-style homes, and a famous circular beach that has appeared in the movies.

(I have yet to find my pictures from that trip, having moved; the picture hear comes from a hike in VA.)

Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Global Warming: Accuweather has a major blog


AccuWeather has started its own blog on global warming, and indeed the entries are disturbing. The blog is called “Global Warming Center” and is at this link. It points to an article in the British journal The Independent by Steve Connor, Review of the Year: Global Warming: our worst fears are exceeded by reality,” at this link. There is discussion of terms like “positive feedback loops” and “tipping points”.

The best known media event in 2006 concerning global warming was Al Gore’s film “An Inconvenient Truth.” Leonardo Di Caprio has become active in the global warming, as he appears on Oprah, makes a film himself called “The 11th Hour,” and helps gets released another documentary “The Great Warming.” Here is a link to my reviews of these movies.

Dependence on fossil fuels is a major part of the debate, and there are at least two major domestic sites about strip mining: “I Love Mountainshttp://www.ilovemountains.org/ , (a group which offers a free short film called "Kilowatt Ours"),and “Stop Mountaintop Removal.”

The issues becomes global politically with Bush’s reluctance to become involved with the Kyoto accords, but most of all because the developing world (especially China) will use fuel resources and is likely to contribute to carbon dioxide emissions in an attempt to raise its living standards to those that approach ours, in countries with much higher populations (in Africa, much higher birth rates, though not China, which has its controversial one child per urban family policy). Ultimately this gets down to becoming an individual moral issue.

Picture: "Lover's Leap" at Natural Tunnel State Park in SW Virginia, on a humid, overcast July day in 2005.

Monday, January 1, 2007

Scientists develop mad cow resistant beef


On the first day of 2007, The Washington Post reported the development of a line of beef without the protein susceptible to mad cow diseases. The beef would be used for the development of pharmaceuticals, and not for food. The drugs would presumably be safer because they could not transmit an absent protein.

The story is by Rick Weiss and the link is here.

The agent is known as a prion, or protein infectious molecule. The agent cannot be readily destroyed by heat or radiation, as can viruses. It has no genetic RNA or DNA as such. The "infection" is more like crystalization in a high school science lab. A susceptible molecule comes into contact with the surface geometry of the prion, and folds its own surface geometry to fit like a lego toy. This sets up a chain reaction within other similar molecules in the nerve or brain tissues, resulting in disintegration of the tissue into a spongy like substance. Diseases like kuru and Creutzfeldt-Jakob may be caused by such mechanisms. Huntington's, however, seems to be inherited. It is unclear whether such molecules could contribute to Alzheimer's disease or similar dementia in the elderly, particularly early.

In the early 1980s, there were even some wild speculations that prions could cause AIDS, well before HTLV-III (then to be called HIV) were announced as discovered. There was a famous article about prions in Discover magazine in 1983, with discussion of the work of Stanley Prusiner.