Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Health care law omission could doom whole thing

By Donald Sensing

Severability clauses are common in public laws and contracts. The clause specifies that if a section of the bill or contract is found to be invalid, then only the affected section is stricken. The rest of the bill or contract remains in force.

There is no "severability" clause in the Obamacare bill.



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Healthier, weathier, but not wiser

By Donald Sensing

Poor Richard tells us, "Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise."

Well, two out of three ain't bad, I guess.

Over the past 200 years, people around the globe have grown healthier and wealthier. Sadly, we are no wiser.

A fascinating live chart:



Last word, too, to Poor Richard:

If what most men admire, they would despise,
’Twould look as if mankind were growing wise.
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Sunday, November 28, 2010

Faith and death in North Korea

By Donald Sensing

Christianity is a summary-sentence capital offense in North Korea.

"While Interviewee 17 was in the North Korean Army, his unit was dispatched to widen the highway between Pyongyang and the nearby port city of Nampo. They were demolishing a vacated house in Yongkang county, Yongkang district town, when in a basement between two bricks they found a Bible and a small notebook that contained 25 names, one identified as pastor, two as chon-do-sa (assistant pastors), two as elders, and 20 other names, apparently parishioners, identified by their occupations. The soldiers turned the Bible and notebook over to the local branch of Department 15 of the Korean Workers Party (KWP), but the Party officials said it was up to the military police unit, Bowisaryungbu gigwanwon, to investigate. 
Tracked down at their place of work through the listing of occupation in the notebook, the 25 persons were picked up without formal arrest by the military bowibu. The interviewee was not aware of any judicial procedures for those seized. In November 1996, the 25 were brought to the road construction site. Four concentric rectangular rows of spectators were assembled to watch the execution. Interviewee 17 was in the first row. The five leaders to be executed - the pastor, two assistant pastors, and two elders - were bound hand and foot and made to lie down in front of a steamroller. This steamroller was a large construction vehicle imported from Japan with a heavy, huge, and wide steel roller mounted on the front to crush and level the roadway prior to pouring concrete. The other twenty persons were held just to the side. 
The condemned were accused of being Kiddokyo (Protestant Christian) spies and conspiring to engage in subversive activities. Nevertheless, they were told, “If you abandon religion and serve only Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, you will not be killed.” None of the five said a word. Some of the fellow parishioners assembled to watch the execution cried, screamed out, or fainted when the skulls made a popping sound as they were crushed beneath the steamroller. Interviewee 17 thought, at the time, that these church people were crazy. He thought then that religion was an “opiate,” and it was stupid for them to give up their lives for religion. He heard from the soldiers who took away the other twenty prisoners that they were being sent to a prison camp. He sketched from memory a diagram of the execution scene."
Even the appearance of Christian faith is deadly.
"A young woman, in her twenties, was washing clothes in a tributary to the Tumen River (the border between China and North Korea). When packing up the clothes, she dropped what was believed to be a small Bible. The actual words used by the North Korean authorities were “Christianity book” (kiddokyo chaek). Another washer woman reported the girl to the police. According to Interviewee 4, the informer may not have known that the book was a Bible, but all suspicious activity had to be reported to the police.
The woman and her father were tried and condemned practically in the same sentence, then immediately shot several times at close range with rifles.

Christians are hardly the only people persecuted to death in North Korea. Really, the whole country is. One presumes as well that adherents of other religions, say Islam, would likewise be killed. There is an official state religion, juche, which is not called religion, of course, but includes the deification of the late Kim Il-Sung and his psychopathic son, Kim Jong-Il.

North Koreans are obligated to make what amounts to a hajj to Pyongyang to lay flowers at the foot of Il Sung's enormous statue.
Consider two of the "11 Reasons Why North Korea Is The Most Bizarre Nation On Earth."
#1 The first "Great Leader" of North Korea, Kim Il-Sung, is deeply revered in North Korea. In fact, there are over 500 statues of Kim Il-sung scattered throughout the country. Many Koreans apparently believe that Kim Il-Sung actually created the world.

#2 It is said that hanging up pictures of Kim Il-Sung is compulsory for every household in North Korea.
These are some of the reasons that trying to explain the North's recent shelling of the South Korean Yeonpyeong island is a fool's errand. There is really no basis to suppose that there was a reason for the attack at all. Of course the shelling was approved at the pinnacle of the North's government - though not necessarily by Kim John-Il personally, who just may be nutty as a fruitcake anyway - but for what reason? Well, because, that's what, which may be as good a reason as we'll ever discern.

(What does make sense, though, is that the North's disclosure of its heretofore secret uranium-enrichment plant and the shelling are a single, the message being: Yes, we have a nuke program and you don't know what else we have that's still hidden. By the way, we're shelling Yeonpyeong to make sure you understand not to assume we are being put on the defensive.)

David Warren writes, however, that saying Kim Jong-Il is crazy avails of nothing:
The conventional explanation for these and the many other incidents (including many minor ones that hardly make world news), is that the North Korean Great Leader of the moment, is crazy. I fall into this myself, sometimes -- one foot -- but then have to explain the difference between medical and moral insanity.

The "completely crazy guy" theory of history explains nothing, and is useless. Hitler was a crazy guy; Stalin was a crazy guy; Pol Pot was a crazy guy -- but mad only north-northwest. Often from a desperate position, they played brilliantly, cheated brilliantly. ...

The current North Korean position is perhaps as desperate as it has ever been. Such indications as we have are of a prison camp in which the people are quite literally starving, and the whole totalitarian infrastructure might be cracking from withdrawal of some foreign aid. The Great Leader of the moment is thought to be ill, and there could be a "succession crisis." Alternatively, this crisis is being staged, in order to sucker the West into renewing aid, in the belief that a more reasonable leadership may soon emerge.
Of which there is practically no chance.

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Saturday, November 27, 2010

Harry Potter v. Unstoppable - two short reviews

By Donald Sensing

"Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1" is clearly the box office winner for the two weekends it has been showing, but is it the best new release out there?

Rotten Tomatoes reviewers say no. There, both the Disney animation, "Tangled," in its first weekend, and the action-suspense "Unstoppable" are rated higher. Hallows came in at 78 percent red (hence, fresh, as opposed to rotten green), which is pretty doggone good. But the other flicks came in at 87 and 84 percent, respectively.

Here is my very short review of Hallows: booooooooooorrrriiiiinnnngggg. This movie bored me to tears. As my daughter, a devoted Potter fan, said, the subtitle of Hallows should have been, "Harry Potter goes camping. And camping. And camping. Then he goes camping some more." That's the problem with making a movie for which there must be a sequel; the seventh book is, after all, showing over two movies. The producers said they split the book in twain for theater because of its length. Well, too bad they don't have wizard powers like Potter, or they'd have known to cut the camping (90 percent of it, anyway) and then one movie would have done the job.

I give Deathly Hallows, Part One, four of 10 elder wands.


Unstoppable, OTOH, has no pretensions as Hallows does. Unstoppable is a movie about two guys trying to stop a runaway train from destroying Stanton, Pa. That's it. There's no cosmic wisdom, no fate of all humanity hanging in the balance (though presumably there is the fate of some thousands of Stantonites). Denzel Washington plays Frank Barnes, a prematurely-retired engineer with 18 days left on the job. Chris Pine plays Will Colson, a newbie right out of train company basic training. The screenplay makes a desultory attempt to get a buddy movie playoff between the two, but fortunately, it's abandoned early.

There's very little CGI in the scenes, filmed mostly with real trains and elsewhere with large-scale models. It works, mate. The movie is an ode to working stiffs with a little bit of economic populism thrown in - the company's CEO, advised on the golf course that the train's toxic tanker cars could kill thousands of people asks what would happen to the company's stock price if that occurred. But fortunately, such flirtations are rare and inconsequential.

Instead, just a rollicking yarn of two everymen and a woman yard manager trying to figure out how to stop a half-million pounds of certain mayhem. They're making it up as they go along.

Here's the trailer:



And here is Emory University physics Prof. Sidney Perkowitz explaining the physics behind the movie, especially concerning the train's destructive potential.



I give Unstoppable nine of 10 wrecked locomotives.


Unstoppable is based on a true runaway train event of CSX railroad that happened in 2001. The real event was not nearly as dramatic as the movie, btw. The whole story is told, with actual footage, on Youtube:



So there ya go.

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The Iron Harvest of World War I

By Donald Sensing

Came across this information whilst surfing around. There is a place in Belgium called Houthulst where a lot of combat took place during the Great War. It was near there that poisonj gas was first used in warfare, April 22, 1915. German troops opened dispersant cannisters at their own lines. The wind carried the gas across Allied trenches. Before the day was out, 5,000 Allied soldiers were dead, many thousands more injured.

Still coping with munitions from World War One. Enormous numbers of duds are turned up every year. Many of them are still filled with deadly poison gas.
Today Houthulst has Belgium's largest collection area of unexploded gas munitions. The amount is staggering. There are 18,000 unexploded gas shells, totaling at least 300,000 kilos. It has been estimated that for every square meter of terrain along the old entrenchments, reaching from Belgium's coast through the country and France to the Swiss border, a metric tonne of artillery projectiles fell.

With the dud rate ranging from 25-33 percent of fired shells, Houthulst's still mostly-lethal stockpile grows daily as more ordnance comes to the surface across the region. Only a minority of duds are gas shells. Belgian farmers turn up or discover more shells so frequently that the Belgian army's collection patrol makes two trips daily through the region.

The thousands of shells at Houthulst are stacked in rows upon the ground. Many of the shells at Houthulst are leaking. They are placed in concrete bins, but there are no bunkers to enclose them. A disposal processor nearby x-rays the shells to see whether they contain explosive or gas. The ones that contain gas are drilled and vacuum evacuated into sealed containers. These are taken to Antwerp where the gas in burned at super-high temperatures.

But there is another site in Belgium that may contain a hundred times as much gas. The site is the sea bed near the port of Zeebrugge, only a few hundred meters from the shoreline. This site threatens Holland also because of tidal currents. Millions of tons of munitions were dumped there after the Great War. The dumping went on for six months at a rate of about 340 tonnes per day. The government classified all the details and the site was forgotten about.

The location was accidentally again brought to light in 1971 by dredging and is now well known but unmarked; the Belgian government has classified all information about the site. A researcher at the Belgian Free University has calculated that more than 1,000,000 liters of pure poison gas lies there, most of it mustard gas. Mustard gas is not degraded by seawater. If mustard shells start cracking, the hazards will be immense.

World War One, it is feared, has yet to claim its final victims.

Links:

http://www.greatwar.nl/frames/default-houthulste.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iron_harvest

http://forums.wildbillguarnere.com/index.php?/topic/7229-houthulst-can-anybody-verify-this/

http://www.militaryphotos.net/forums/showthread.php?94760-Legacy-of-the-Great-War

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Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thankfulness

By Donald Sensing

Thanksgiving 2010

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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thanksgiving Eve

By Donald Sensing

This Thursday is Thanksgiving, a time when we take a day off to celebrate with families reunited and get stuffed fuller than the Thanksgiving turkey. What are you thankful for? I am thankful for - the fork!

As table utensils go, the fork is a recent invention. The knife was first, of course, dating to prehistory. The spoon also dates to the Stone Age, literally. But forks date only from ancient Greece, and then they were large cooking utensils, not for the dining table. Table forks were invented only about 1,400 years ago in the Middle East and did not appear in Europe until the eleventh century, and then only in Italy. The Italians were very slow to adopt them, not using them widely until five hundred more years passed. Forks did not reach France until 1533, but the French thought using them was an affectation and their adoption was very slow. The first table fork reached England in 1608, where they were promptly ridiculed as being effeminate and unnecessary. Over many years, forks came to be adopted by the wealthy, who had them made from expensive materials intended to impress guests.

The first Thanksgiving dinner celebration in Plymouth Colony was in 1623. Its table was bereft of forks. The pilgrims and the Indians invited to the feast used knives, spoons, their fingers and cloth napkins to manipulate their food. So I am thankful to have a fork to make eating Thanksgiving dinner easier.

There is a connection between giving thanks and food that reaches back thousands of years. As the children of Israel prepared to cross into the Promised Land, Deuteronomy chapter eight records that Moses told them,
10 When you have eaten your fill, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. 11 Make sure not to forget the Lord your God. Do not fail to obey his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. 12 Otherwise, when you always have plenty to eat and when you build fine houses and settle down, 13 and when your herds and flocks grow large and your financial assets increase and all your wealth compounds, 14 then your heart will become too proud for God and you will forget the Lord... . 17 You may say to yourself, "Everything I have I have gained by my own skills and efforts. I have done it all myself." 18 But God gives you the ability to produce wealth in the first place. It is a way God confirms the covenant that he made with your ancestors, just as it is today. (8:10-13a; 17-18)
The children of Israel knew, as we do, that life was sustained by food. But they emphasized as well that their lives were sustained by the presence of God. After all, God had not only delivered them from slavery in Egypt, he had also sustained them with manna from heaven as they wandered in the Sinai. They understood that filling the soul was as important as filling the plate.

I wonder what this Thanksgiving will really mean to Americans. I don’t mean this question in some cynical sense. I know that the holiday is deeply significant to many people, including, I imagine, everyone here tonight. Yet these are not ordinary times, at least not as we have thought of them.

Read the full post!

Muslims may grope themselves themselves at airports

By Donald Sensing

Hands off, TSA! I'll inspect my own scarf!
The Council for Islamic-American Relations, CAIR, has issued advisories for Muslim air travelers that includes this tidbit:
If you wear the Islamic head scarf and you are selected for secondary screening, ask the TSA officer if the reason you are being selected for secondary is because of your head scarf. If the officer confirms you were referred to secondary because of your head scarf, before you are patted down, you should remind the TSA officer, who should be of the same gender, that they are only supposed to pat down the area in question, in this scenario, your head and neck. They should not subject you to a full-body or partial-body pat-down. You can always request to pat down your own scarf, including head and neck area, and have the officer perform a residue swab of your hands.
Well anyone may request anything at the checkpoints, I suppose. What about men wearing a keffiyah?Do they get to pat themselves down, too? (Does that mean they get a "grope discount?" Heh!) No supporter of the new procedures am I, but I'm skeptical that the TSA would go along. After all, if Muslims can grope themselves at airports, so can anyone else!

Which means we might get a new ending for the old Mae West quip:

"Is that a gun in your pocket or are you just glad to see me?"

Bang!

Oh, it was a gun.

Another thought occurs: if you went to an airport and started groping yourself the same way that the TSA claims power to do, you would be arrested. But when the TSA does it to you . . . .

As for a Muslim woman trying to get on an airplane in Australia,
She can not walk in Australian airports if she is wearing scarf, the hijab that covers a woman’s hair and neck. Keeping in mind the security measures at airports, Australian Federal government wants to ban wearing Muslim scarf, particularly the niqab and the burka that conceal the person from head to toe.
Update: "Grope and change," heh!
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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Heh!

By Donald Sensing

And again I say, "Heh!"

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Dying to be safe

By Donald Sensing

Raise the speed limit to fight terrorism!

I posted in "Dying for a safe flight" that Arizona State University physics Prof. Peter Rez has calculated that the chances of an airline passenger contracting fatal cancer from just one x-ray security scan to be one in 20 million. Those are minuscule odds, of course, but the way the math works out is that 40 people will die from the scans who would not die if they had not been scanned. Explanation at the post.

Now the NYT's Nate Silver explains in, "The Hidden Costs of Extra Airport Security,"

A study by three professors at Cornell University found, for instance, that when the T.S.A. began to require checked baggage to be screened in late 2002, it reduced overall passenger traffic by about 6 percent.
Some of the would-have-flown folks just stayed home, or course, but some substantial number drove instead. But there are human costs to that, too.
But this too has its consequences, since car travel is much more dangerous than air travel over all. According to the Cornell study, roughly 130 inconvenienced travelers died every three months as a result of additional traffic fatalities brought on by substituting ground transit for air transit. That’s the equivalent of four fully-loaded Boeing 737s crashing each year.
I surmise that with the extremely invasive inspections being done today, the number of people driving rather than flying will rise even more, and accordingly, so will the fatalities.

So the increased security measures have the perverse effect of causing more deaths than would occur among travelers without them. As Prof. Rez pointed out, the chance of dying from just one scan is the same as dying in an airborne terrorist attack, so from the standpoint of saving lives, the porno scans offer no benefit. Add now the 500-plus people dying while driving instead of flying and it's clear that from the perspective of saving American lives, al Qaeda is already winning its "death by a thousand cuts" strategy.

But almost 600 additional deaths scattered across the roads or years from now in hospices is merely a statistic, but a planeful of immolated passengers is a headline.

Since we are so security mindful these days, it seems obvious that the fewer people who fly, the less likely it is that an evildoer trying to board a plane could get lost in the crowd and the crush of people wanting to get through the checkpoints as quickly as possible.

So the government should be encouraging people to drive rather than fly in the first place, yes? Fifteen months ago I called for dramatically-higher speed limits on interstate highways to fight global warming by reducing the number of airline flights ("Raise the speed limit to fight global warming!"). The same argument I made then - time efficiency for trips under 500 miles and much lower emission from autos than jets - is even stronger now because flying takes so much longer because of more time spent getting groped or irradiated, or both.

So let's hear it for 100 mph! Everybody go get one of these and show those terrorists they can't intimidate us!



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Monday, November 22, 2010

American monarchists

By Donald Sensing

Monarchism has returned to America, a sad development for a nation founded on revolt against monarchy and all it represented. Worse, modern American monarchism is of the Old Europe variety: backward looking, dynasty oriented and focused on protecting the political order so as to hang on to power, much as were the monarchists of Old Europe up to World War I.

In times past, the American Right ("conservatives") was the defender of the status quo. Conservatives were seen, rightly or wrongly, as valuing social stasis above all, resistant to change and holding on to old ways far after their uselessness had been demonstrated. Conservatives were accused of siding with big business against the laborer, of privileging capitalists over unions, of large institutions against the individual. And there was some truth to all of this.

The Left ("liberals"), on the other hand, was seen as champions of the little guy, advocates of dispossessed and disadvantaged. Liberals were understood to stand for the dignity of the individual over the impersonal and depersonalizing forces of corporatism and government. Liberals championed individual rights against the state. And there was some truth to all of this.

Then the Left and the Right, liberals and conservatives, changed places. The Right went Left and the Left went Right. Or something like that, since political characterizations from America's olden days don't work very well anymore. When did this happen, and why?

Read the rest.

Related: "Let them eat cake ride buses."

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Pistole panics after TSA probes ABC reporter

By Donald Sensing

An ABCNews female reporter was probed so deeply by a TSA gate agent that she described the experience as, "worse than going to the gynecologist." The unnamed reporter also said, "It was embarrassing. It was demeaning. It was inappropriate."

TSA Administrator John Pistole beelined straight to ABC's Good Morning America talk show this morning to backtrack furiously from his prior, stout defense of the sexual-assault procedures that he has insisted all week will never be relaxed.

That search was against protocols and "never" should have happened, TSA Administrator John Pistole told "Good Morning America" today.

"There should never be a situation where that happens," Pistole said. "The security officers are there to protect the traveling public. There are specific standard operating protocols which they are to follow."

Pistole, reponding to complaints from passengers, has maintained that the TSA will not change its pat down procedures. But today he said the agency is "open" to changing security procedures.
Only yesterday, Pistole said that despite protests, "we are not changing the policies."

Why the change so suddenly? Well, consider whether Pistole would have gone to FoxNews Channel right away to back down and apologize if the reporter had been from that network.

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Sunday, November 21, 2010

NFL's Vince Young self destructs again

By Donald Sensing

Tennessee Titans' quarterback Vince Young was yanked (again) from the starting slot after today's loss to the Washington Redskins. It wasn't the loss that led to his downfall, although that couldn't have helped his case. Nor was it necessarily his injured thumb that pulled him off the field in the third quarter (IIRC) and that may require surgery and would have benched him for some weeks in any event.

According to reports, not yet online, before the end of the game Young walked into the locker room, throwing his shoulder pads into the stands along the way. He shortly reappeared on the sideline wearing street clothes, then left the arena altogether.

Almost immediately after the game, Titans Coach Jeff Fisher announced that he was yanking Young from the starting slot, saying that there was no excuse for his conduct.

Young has had a tumultuous career at the Titans, his only pro team. While he is undoubtedly enormously talented, his performance and emotional disposition have both been decidedly irregular at best.

I think that today marks the end of his Titans tenure and maybe the end of his pro career. While he'll be carried on the roster until the end of this season, he won't be back on the roster next year. Enough is enough.

Backup QB Kerry Collins did not play today because of his own, pre-existing injury. That left third-stringer Rusty Smith to carry the banner, but his inability to deliver a passing game was noticeable. The Titans lost by a field goal in overtime. For at least the near term, though, Smith will be the starter, Fisher said.

Update: The Tennessean is all over it. Sports columnist Dave Climer also thinks that Young has no future with the Titans. Although team owner Bud Adams has championed Young in the past over Coach Fisher's objections, those days may be gone, says Climer.

More here.

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Friday, November 19, 2010

"Let them eat cake ride buses."

By Donald Sensing

Marie Antoinette, queen of France to Emperor Louis XVI, is rumored to have been informed that the peasants had no bread, to which she responded, "Qu’ils mangent de la brioche," or "Let them eat brioche."

The quote has gone down in pop culture as, "Let them eat cake," but brioche is actually bread, albeit  enriched with a high content of butter and eggs. Of course, if the peasants had had butter and eggs, they would have had ordinary flour-and-water bread anyway.

Whether Queen Antoinette actually uttered the words (and there is no actual evidence that she did), the quote has gone down in history as the premier example of monarchical, dismissive contempt for the masses that characterized Old Europe.

The Queen of Homeland Security
And so it is now with the latest waving-away of the concerns of American citizens subjects by Homeland Security Secretary Queen Janet "Antoinette" Napolitano. Responding to the widespread protests against the TSA's "naked body" airport scanning and near-sexual-assault patdowns, she said plainly that if people don't want to submit to scanning or groping, they may "travel by some other means, of course that's their right." Thank you for that concession, highness. "Let them ride buses" if they don't like how we run our hands over their private parts - or their children's.

So, majesty, we can always - by your leave, of course! - travel by other carrier. Well, let's consider traveling to/from Honolulu. Driving, obviously, is right out. Nonstop flights between Los Angeles and Honolulu take between 5-1/2 - 6 hours and there are many flights every day, costing $330 and up. Surface voyages, if you can find one, take six days and are, shall we say, somewhat infrequent. They cost more than $1,000 for an inside cabin (all info from Expedia.com listings.)

So you're at home in Honolulu, say today, Nov. 19. You get a phone call that your mom has been rushed to a hospital in Los Angeles and is not expected to live more than 36 hours. You can be on a plane almost immediately, certainly before sundown, and land at LAX six hours later. Time elapsed since you got the call: 15-18 hours, tops.

Or you can wait for the next ship to Los Angeles, a Princess liner that will depart on Dec. 2 from Lahaina, arriving at Los Angeles on Dec. 8. Time elapsed since you learned of your mother's imminent demise: 19 days.

Which means you'll get there in time to lay a bouquet on your mom's grave, unless her last request was to be buried in her hometown of Schenectady, which you will reach in another two days on Amtrak. That would make three full weeks altogether since you got the call.

Just imagine how routine sailing and entrainment would work for business traveling. But according to Queen Janet of homeland security, that's your choice

As Mark Steyn has pointed out, the TSA profiles things, not persons. And now the things they are profiling are, well, you know, our things. So we are faced with the lunacy of pilots and copilots being naked-scanned or felt up to make sure they aren't packing a bomb or a penknife, when all either has to do is climb the plane to 500 feet, idle the engines and push the flight wheel hard forward and port!

This is bureaucracy at its worst. A professor of management at a large state university emailed Glenn Reynolds,
Anyone that studies organizations or has spent time in corporate or large-government environments, understands why the TSA and the Department of Homeland Security were bad ideas. The expressed goal was to integrate all of the diverse elements associated with public security into one entity and make them work seamlessly. The only way to do this, however, is through fairly rigid bureaucratic rules and strict policy guidelines. How would you control the behavior of screeners in diverse places such as Minot and NYC? You do it through strict policy and procedures. You simply cannot permit discretion on the part of individuals as this would jeopardize organizational control of these people. This is why TSA seems mindless… the thinking is being done elsewhere... .
No, thinking is not being done at all.

Update: The new nickname for the machines is "porno scanners." Well, yeah, and at the link, Prof. Ann Althouse wants to know, "Who's getting rich selling those see-you-naked TSA body scanners?" Good question.

Update: Gizmodo on Napolitano's permission to travel by other means:

And she's completely correct. You have that right, people. Do you want to travel from New York to Los Angeles? Take the car. Or the train. Or run, Forrest, run. Do you want to travel to Paris this summer? Easy. Get in your bloody car and drive all the way to Alaska, then cross the Bering Strait in a ferry, and drive all through Asia down to Europe.
But if you want to take the airplane, you will have to be the object of the stupid, incoherent and ineffective TSA rules, which include naked pictures at the body scanner or a touchy-touchy session. Just deal with it, ok?

Yep, that's the choice all right.

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The theology of jihad, part 2

By Donald Sensing

Crossing the bridge to paradise

In my first installment of this series, I examined the historical roots of jihad in Islam. Jihad is to strive to defend or advance Islam either in warfare or through developing one’s personal Islamic character. Violent jihad is "lesser jihad," in distinction to "greater jihad," which is nonviolent but of much larger and scope and broader - nay, total - in application. Al-Islam.org explains the distinction:

In its most outward sense jihad came to mean the defence of dar al-islam, that is, the Islamic world, from invasion and intrusion by non-Islamic forces. The earliest wars of Islamic history which threatened the very existence of the young community came to be known as jihad par excellence in this outward sense of 'holy war'. But it was upon returning from one of these early wars, which was of paramount importance in the survival of the newly established religious community and therefore of cosmic significance, that the Prophet nevertheless said to his companions that they had returned from the lesser holy war to the greater holy war, the greater jihad being the inner battle against all the forces which would prevent man from living according to the theomorphic norm which is his primordial and God given nature.
Islamic theology explains greater jihad along this line of thought:
[H]umans have been created with a sound nature and provided by God with a true religion that enables them to have fullness of life through close communion with God in this world and the next. Each human is a religiously grounded person, created and endowed with a fitra, a ‘sound constitution’ that acts as a kind of internal guidance system and way to God.
Islam claims it is this true religion and the way to God. Greater jihad is achieving this "close communion" with God, and there is no other way. Jihad is literally the only way to paradise. Unlike Christianity, Islam has no concept of original sin - a stain of sin innate to human beings, present in each person even at birth that can be remitted only by God, not by anything mortals can do. In Islam, remission of sins can be done and salvation attained only by the believer's deeds in submission to Allah through Islamic confessions and obeying Islamic law. If a Muslim carries out Islam's commandments, then judgment day will be lightly born. If not, disaster.

A Muslim professor of Islamic studies at The George Washington University explained it to me this way 17 years ago. On the day of judgment, each person will have to cross a bridge from earth to paradise. The bridge spans a chasm so deep its bottom cannot be seen. To fall into the chasm is to plunge to Hell forever. If one has faithfully kept Islam's commandments and done well, then one's bridge will be so wide it will stretch from horizon to horizon. But if one has stayed in sin, the bridge will be only as wide as a human hair.

Muslims therefore know that their eternal destiny is in doubt at every moment because sin and merit are always in flux. This may seem quaint to us North Americans. We are so confidently (and unjustifiably) self-assured of our salvation (if we even believe it conceptually at all) that we hardly ever think about it. But for devout Muslims, earning salvation and avoiding Hell's very real torments is the actual purpose of living this life. It is what gives life focus and meaning.

However, even considering the bridge to paradise as an allegory, a Muslim can never know how wide his bridge is on any given day. But he does know that waging jihad is the most meritorious act a Muslim can do, and if one's greater jihad expands or further establishes Islam in the world then all the better.

Next installment: why all America is "ground zero" for greater jihad.

Part one is here, What is Jihad, Really?

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Thursday, November 18, 2010

ACLU vs. TSA?

By Donald Sensing

What's next, cats and dogs living together? Amid what is widely seen as a conservative backlash against the TSA's "naked body" airport scanning and near-sexual-assault patdowns, ACLU chapters are joining the protests and seeking input from travelers.

ACLU.org:

Screeners are now authorized to use the front of their hands and to touch areas around breasts and groins. Passengers being screened are supposed to be given privacy during these more invasive pat-downs and the searches are supposed to be done by screeners of the same sex. Opting for the pat-down will take more time.

The ACLU is interested in obtaining information about the conduct of these searches. If you are denied the right to opt out of the body scanner machines or believe you have suffered from rough, rude, and humiliating manhandling and groping of breasts and crotch areas, sexual comments, and a lack of privacy, please contact us by using the complaint form linked below.
KTVB.com: "ACLU claims TSA screenings violate civil liberties"
Monica Hopkins with the ACLU of Idaho says the new screening techniques violate every traveler's civil rights when they should just be used for high-risk travelers.

"What we're talking about here is everybody gets screened at the highest level,” said Hopkins. “Thereby, everybody has to surrender a very high level of civil liberties."

Hopkins also says these new screenings were rushed into practice in response to a passenger smuggling a bomb in his underwear onto a Northwest Airlines flight last Christmas. But according to a report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office, the scanners might not have detected that bomb.

And as far as the claim that people can just 'not fly.'

"A lot of people do have to fly,” said Hopkins. “A lot of people travel for their employment. I'm sure they're not willing to give up their jobs, especially in an economy like this. What TSA is doing right now is giving people an intolerable choice. Either submit to overly invasive groping or to a visual strip search."
The station reports that the ACLU has already received more than 400 complaints. You can click here for their online complaint form.

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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Dying for a safe flight

By Donald Sensing

What is being lost in the protests against the TSA's scanning machines, or the near-sexual-assault patdown subjected on passengers who refuse the scanning, is that the scanning machines are themselves going to kill some people.

The machines are used, of course, to detect potential weapons of one kind or another. They've been nicknamed "naked body" scans because they visually strip the subject down to his/her bare skin.

The pilots' union has protested that flying at high altitudes already exposes crews to high radiation levels. The TSA responds that each scan emits only one-thousandth as much radiation as a typical chest X-ray. Not a chance, replies Arizona State University physics Prof. Peter Rez, who calculated the dose to be one-fiftieth to one-hundredth of a chest X-ray. Even so, the increased radiation exposure for passengers is, as the TSA claims, minuscule.

But minuscule does not equal zero. Prof. Rez calculates the chances of a passenger contracting fatal cancer from just one scan to be one in 20 million. As of 2008, the latest year for which numbers are available, there were 809,611,003 air passengers, representing 100 million (rounded) individual Americans who flew.

If all 100 million people take eight scans per year, and if one scan will kill five of them, then the statistical risk being forced upon us is that 40 Americans per year will eventually die from taking the scans.

The risk is higher for people with increased sensitivity to radiation, such as children and people with some kinds of medical conditions, according to scientists at the University of California at San Francisco.

Prof. Rez adds that the country's 250,000 commercial aircrew may receive up to 250 scans per year, meaning that in addition to the 40 passengers dying, two aircrew will die.

The problem, says Prof. Rez, is that the risk of dying from the scans is just as high as the risk of dying from an airline-related terrorist incident. The scans provide no "payoff," mathematically speaking. It's zero sum.

These risks obtain only with X-ray scanners, not millimeter-wave scanners. The TSA is using some of the latter. You can tell which is which - millimeter-wave machines are grayish-white and cylindrical. The X-ray scanners are blue with two walls.

So you decide to take your small child through the grope search rather than have her face the increased risk from X-ray scanning? Well, the grope is not only incredibly invasive, it's terrifying:



An El-Al consultant observed after stricter security measures were instituted after 9/11, "You do not have an airline-security system, you have a passenger-harassment system." Several years on, it's only worse.

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What's next - snakes on a plane?

By Donald Sensing

"Smuggled Crocodile Escapes, Causes Panic. Plane Crashes into House Killing 20 Passenger and Crew."

A small airliner crashed into a house, killing a British pilot and 19 others after a crocodile smuggled into the aircraft in a sports bag escaped and started a panic. ...

It has now emerged that the crash was caused by the concealed reptile escaping and causing a stampede in the cabin, throwing the aircraft off-balance.

A lone survivor apparently relayed the bizarre tale to investigators.

The crocodile survived the crash, only to be dispatched with a blow from a machete.
What? They killed the croc?

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US forces using human shields

By Donald Sensing

Shocking, photographic proof that US troops in Afghanistan are using human shields.

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Friday, November 12, 2010

Obama gets one half right

By Donald Sensing

However inartfully phrased part of his answer was, President Obama showed in India that he gets the fact that America's economic power will be challenged in coming years by the rising economies of India and China.

Speaking at a town hall meeting in Mumbai, he said, "I do think that one of the challenges that we are going face in the US, at a time when we are still recovering from the financial crisis is, how do we respond to some of the challenges of globalisation? The fact of the matter is that for most of my lifetime and I'll turn 50 next year - the US was such an enormously dominant economic power, we were such a large market, our industry, our technology, our manufacturing was so significant that we always met the rest of the world economically on our terms. And now because of the incredible rise of India and China and Brazil and other countries, the US remains the largest economy and the largest market, but there is real competition."
The size of the American economy, recession-laden though it is, still is much greater than either India or China - or both combined. But both are coming on strong, with China occupying the number one slot in rate of growth and India number two.

From 2007 until now, India's GDP growth never sank even to 5 percent annually and was more than 9 percent well into 2008. That placed India just behind China as an emerging economy. Goldman Sachs has said that in 10 years, India's GDP will be quadruple that of 2007. This year, India's GDP is expected to grow by more than 7 percent.

As for China, "According to the Conference Board, a highly respected economic research association, China will overtake the US as the world’s biggest economy by 2012, or within two years."
OK, so in dollar terms, that’s obviously not going to be the case. It will be a lot longer than two years before China overtakes the US on that measure. But in terms of purchasing power parity, according to the Conference Board’s latest world economic outlook, China is already nearly there, and by 2020 will have reached a size of output which is nearly half as big again as the US.
Purchasing power parity means, briefly, measuring economic output "according to the volume, not the price of goods and services produced." So in dollar-to-yuan terms, China's economy will be far from America's equal in 2012, but in volume output, it will likely be greater. Think that's a false comparison? Think again - a cab ride in Washington, DC, costs many multiples more than a cab ride in Beijing, but the "volume" of each is the same.

That means that when China's economy does surpass America's in money-normed terms, its economic volume will be magnitudes greater than ours. Some economic analysts say that will happen in only a quarter century.

Furthermore, there are certain trade and other economic realities that are radically different from those of only a couple of decades ago, reports Pankaj Mishra.
A tangle of bilateral trade agreements underpins Asia's new economic unity. China and Asean countries already constitute the biggest free-trade zone in the world. Asian fears of China's rise, which the United States keenly monitors, look minor beside the fact that China is now the largest export market for Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, in addition to being India's biggest trading partner.
This development serves pretty much to shut America out of significantly increasing its market share among ASEAN nations (Association of Southeast Asian Nations). No wonder, said Mishra, that when India's prime minister visited Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, last week, editorialists there deemed his visit "more important than the jaunt of Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, to the region at the same time."

Inflation in China is low and GDP growth is forecast this year to be about 7.5 percent. Compare both India's and China's performance to the USA's anemic GDP growth of less than 3 percent for the past three years.

However, the problem with Obama's analysis is not that it is incorrect (which it isn't), but that his two years in office force the conclusion that he has no idea how to shape government policy to meet this challenge. Victor Davis Hanson put it well: "Obama seems to think that making money is a casual enterprise, not nearly so difficult as community organizing, and without the intellectual rigor of academia — as if profits leap out of the head of Zeus."

And the professor lists Obama's spoken desire for "redistributive change," spreading the wealth around, "fairness," not revenues, as being the central issue in federal tax policy and his claim (as president!) that "at some point you've mad enough money." So, observes Prof. Hanson, "for most of his life Barack Obama has done quite well without understanding how and why American capital is created ... "

The Politico reports,
And business leaders, even the few who continue to be Obama-friendly, say they are convinced he is hostile to free markets and the private sector. Some of these executives have balance sheets flush with cash but are reluctant to add jobs or expand in part because they don't trust Obama’s instincts for growth.
The WSJ's Daniel Henninger says that the problem isn't limited only to the chief executive. The whole Democrat party, he says, suffers from the same dysfunction.
The Democrats running things the past two years proved they have no clue about the business of business. In their world, the real world of the private economy is an abstraction, a political figment. ...

The party's decoupling from vast swaths of America at work didn't start with Barack Obama. Al Gore and John Kerry ran hard against the depredations of the insurance, pharmaceutical and oil industries. The post-modern Democrats, starting at the top, convey the impression that the average company consists entirely of three guys in spats, silk vests and top hats, like the little character on the Monopoly cards, who deserve to be indicted or monitored.
And so in this, as in so many many things, America's president is good at describing problems but neither has a clue of how to address them nor any interest in learning. And there is no corrective within his own party to ameliorate the effects of his disastrous economic-political philosophy because the rest of the party believes it, too.

So start buying stocks of Chinese and Indian companies, folks.

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Thursday, November 11, 2010

Much appreciated

By Donald Sensing

Journalist Michael Silence says, "Thank you, veterans."

Michael works for Knoxville's News-Sentinel. I met Michael years ago at a bloggercon in Nashville and have corresponded with him for longer than that. He's a class act and a classy man. Whenever you get frustrated with the state of journalism in America today, take comfort: Michael is still on the job, not all is lost.

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"Your blood is legitimate for us"

By Donald Sensing

The murder of Iraqi Christians by Sunni Muslim terrorists continues.

BAGHDAD -- Suspected Sunni militants took aim again at Baghdad's dwindling Christian community, setting off a dozen roadside bombs Wednesday and sending terrified families into hiding behind a church where walls are still stained from blood from an attack nearly two weeks ago.

Five people were killed and 20 were wounded in the bombings and mortar attacks that targeted Christians across the city, police and hospital officials said. Iraqi Christians are already reeling after the earlier attack on a Sunday Mass service left 68 people dead, and many are now wondering whether it's time to leave their homeland.
These are not political killings. Christians in Iraq have practically no influence in the government. (Nominal Christian Tariq Aziz served as Saddam Hussein's foreign minister; he was just sentenced to death by the al-Maliki government - not for the appalling crimes he committed, but for his role in suppressing a Shiite opposition movement.)

No, the Sunni murders of Christians are religious-sectarian killings, pure and simple. Two weeks ago, Sunni gunmen stormed Our Lady of Salvation Church while its congregation was in worship. They shot dead everyone sitting in the front pew, then held the rest hostage. When Iraqi security forces tries to resolve the situation, the Sunnis set off bombs.
A priest at the church, Moukhlis Shash, said four families arrived Wednesday, and he expects more in the coming days. He said some of the families found on their doorsteps a bullet wrapped in paper that read: "Your blood is legitimate for us."
Their blood is "legitimate" for the Sunni terrorists because they are Christian and for no other reason.
Fadel Mikha Sam'an, 66, said he went to Syria four days ago after losing three relatives in the church attack.

"The terrorists are killing Christians. They want to empty Iraq of Christians," he said.
But that can't be true, Mr. Sam'an, because we have been informed by our president that the killers' religion "reaffirms peace, fairness, tolerance. I think all of us recognize that this great religion in the hands of a few extremists has been distorted by violence."

Well, everything's all right, then.

Related: Muslim jurists in Pakistan have just sentenced a Christian woman to death for defaming Muhammad.

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Love and hope - Veterans Day

By Donald Sensing

I realize that it may seem a little self serving for me to honor Veterans Day since I am a veteran myself, but I hope you will trust me that this isn’t for me. As a Cold Warrior, my service was not especially demanding compared to the men and women serving today or those who served in the hot wars of Vietnam, Korea or World War Two. They are whom I have in mind.

Read the rest at Right Network.

I also recommend pretty much everything on today's page there:

Ronald Reagan: The Boys of Pointe du Hoc
Let us continue to stand for the ideals for which they lived and died.

The Name in the Stone
On Living with the Loss of a Son in Wartime.

Why I Quit...
A Desert Storm veteran explains his decision to leave Air Force after 22 years

VETERANS DAY 2010
Some Gave All

Honors delayed but not denied

By Donald Sensing


Albert Caspers, 85, recently received his World War II medals. He has two purple hearts, a bronze star for bravery and 3 battle stars. His division, the 99th Infantry, was in the Battle of the Bulge among others.


Sixty-five years after earning two Purple Heart medals for wounds suffered in combat and a Bronze Star Medal for combat action, World War II infantryman Albert Caspers, 85, finally received his medals.
“I was talking about a year ago with a veteran’s service officer and he asked if I had ever been given the medals and I said I hadn’t, so he gave me some forms to fill out,” Caspers said. “That was last year and the Army finally sent me the medals.”

Although modest about discussing his wartime experiences, as Veterans Day approaches, Caspers says he’s proud to have the medals, which include two Purple Hearts, a Bronze Star and three Battle Stars, including one for the Battle of the Bulge.
Mr. Caspers, thank you for your service and sacrifice of your blood.

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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Religion of "peace, fairness, tolerance" watch

By Donald Sensing

Speaking this week to an Indian audience in Mumbai, President Obama said, "More than a billion people practise Islam and an overwhelming majority view their obligations to a religion that reaffirms peace, fairness, tolerance. I think all of us recognise that this great religion in the hands of a few extremists has been distorted by violence."

Asa Bibi, Christian, condemned to die by adherents of
"peace, fairness, tolerance" for not being
verbally respectful of Muhammad
You know, a few extremists like the jurists in Pakistan, who have just sentenced a Christian woman to death for defaming Muhammad.
Asia Bibi, a 45-year-old mother-of-five, denies blasphemy and told investigators that she was being persecuted for her faith in a country where Christians face routine harassment and discrimination. ...

The court heard she had been working as a farmhand in fields with other women, when she was asked to fetch drinking water.

Some of the other women – all Muslims – refused to drink the water as it had been brought by a Christian and was therefore "unclean", according to Mrs Bibi's evidence, sparking a row.

The incident was forgotten until a few days later when Mrs Bibi said she was set upon by a mob.
The police were called and took her to a police station for her own safety.

Shahzad Kamran, of the Sharing Life Ministry Pakistan, said: "The police were under pressure from this Muslim mob, including clerics, asking for Asia to be killed because she had spoken ill of the Prophet Mohammed.

"So after the police saved her life they then registered a blasphemy case against her." He added that she had been held in isolation for more than a year before being sentenced to death on Monday.
The blasphemy law in Pakistan is used routinely and regularly to persecute non-Muslims to make sure they know their place there as third-class citizens. This is not "extremism." It is a mainstream, government-sanctioned practice in one of the most populous Muslim countries in the world. And almost no Pakistani Muslims speak out against it.

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"A Bar Mitzvah for warriors"

By Donald Sensing

Happy birthday to the U.S. Marine Corps!

John P. McCann:

A venerable Marine Corps tale goes like this: charged by the Continental Congress with raising two battalions of Marines, Captain Samuel Nicholas established recruiting headquarters at Philadelphia’s Tun Tavern. There he enlisted a new recruit and told the man to wait outside. Two minutes later, a second recruit joined the first.

Second Recruit: "So is being a Marine tough?"

First Recruit: "This is nothing. You should’ve been here in the Old Corps." ...

[E]ach unit’s commanding officer slices the birthday cake. As these are Marines, a Mameluke sword is used. ...

Generally, the unit commander presents the first piece of cake to the oldest Marine, who in turns presents the second piece to the youngest Marine, symbolizing care for the troops in your charge--and the passing of tradition from older to younger. In a way, it’s similar to a Bar Mitzvah, held by warriors.

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America the evil, again

By Donald Sensing

Well, this has been working up for a long time and was summarized by Richard Fernandez on the occasion of the American hand-wringing on the anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing.

“Given enough time and opportunity," writes Richard, "the masters of the narrative will eventually succeed in making the Pacific War all about American aggression.”
And here we are: World War II was a defensive war for Japan against American imperialist aggression. An historian who participated in a conference hosted by the National Endowment for the Humanities recorded that in her 30 years of college-level teaching, " I have never witnessed nor participated in a more extremist, agenda-driven, revisionist conference, nearly devoid of rhetorical balance and historical context for the arguments presented."
One presenter specifically wrote about turning down a job offer when he realized that his office would overlook a fleet of U.S. Naval warships, “the symbol of American power and the symbol of our [Hawaiians'] dispossession…I decided they could not pay me enough”…

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor should be seen from the perspective of Japan being a victim of western oppression (one speaker likened the attack to 9-11, saying that the U.S. could be seen as “both victim and aggressor” in both attacks); that American “imperial expansion” forced Japan’s hand: “For the Japanese, it was a war to defend their unique culture against Western Imperialism.”

Those misguided members of the WWII generation on islands like Guam and Saipan who feel gratitude to the Americans for saving them from the Japanese are blinded by propaganda supporting “the image of a compassionate America” or by their own advanced age. One author/presenter questioned whether the Americans had saved anyone from anything (Camacho 177, 209), arguing that the Americans could be seen as easily and justifiably as “conquerors and invaders” (199).
This kind of "thinking" is rampant among American academic historians.

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Tuesday, November 9, 2010

California rocket leaves DOD clueless

By Donald Sensing

Update: Nothing to see here, folks! More at bottom.

A CBS affiliate station in California happened to take video of a large, fast rocket hurtling skyward off the coast, but the Defense Dept. says it wasn't theirs and they have no idea whose it was.

A team aboard a KCBS News helicopter took the video of an the unidentified projectile, trailing a large contrail, as it rose from an unknown point in the Pacific Ocean off Los Angeles on Nov. 8.

Here's the vid.



Update: Contrail explained! It is in fact a horizontal, high-altitude jetplane contrail that only looks vertical because of the angle of sight from the low-flying news helicopter to the contrail. This would also explain why the FAA said there were no anomalous radar readings during the day. Technical analysis here. And here is a no-sound video of the same event that makes it pretty obvious.



Remember the old adage, "First reports are always wrong."

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Robert Gibbs beclowns himself

By Donald Sensing

This is almost a "dog bites man" story, it's so un-unusual: White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs making a clown out of himself. Yes, he brought the Chicago way to New Delhi: "Gibbs threatens to pull Obama from India talks after press dispute."

[D]uring President Obama's trip to India, Gibbs assumed the role of press advocate and threatened to pull Obama out of bilateral talks with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh because three U.S. reporters were blocked from covering the meeting.

Indian officials would let only five reporters into Hyderabad House in New Delhi instead of the agreed-upon eight.

The Washington Post's Scott Wilson—who was on White House pool duty Monday and filed the report for the White House press corps—wrote that "Gibbs announced loudly and persistently on steps of Hyderabad House that he would pull" President Obama out of the meeting "unless 'the White House 8,' as we've come to be known, were all allowed in."
Reporter Wilson said that "Gibbs convinced them, through high volume and repetition, that he was serious" about pulling Obama. After a few moments the Indians caved and Gibbs got his way. It was barely in time because his next threat would have been to hold his breath until he turned blue.

Just imagine the idiotic brass of this guy. Imagine that the Indian officials had not relented. Did Gibbs really (I mean, really) think that he would be able to burst into a meeting of the American president with the prime minister of the hosting country, just stomp his foot and bellow, "Barry, I didn't get my way and you gotta leave now"?

And did he really expect the president to stand right up and say, "Primke Minister Singh, because three other reporters are not here, I am breaking off this conversation right now even though we have matters that are literally of world importance"?

Democrat operators are publicly saying that Obama needs to fire the insiders who have steered him to political disaster. He should start with his clown-in-chief, Robert Gibbs.

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Monday, November 8, 2010

What is jihad, really?

By Donald Sensing

Part 1 of 3

In India, responding to a question, President Barack Obama displayed a view of Islamic jihad that at best is amazingly naive. According to The Hindu newspaper, a student "invited his opinion on jihad during his town hall style meeting at Mumbai's St. Xavier's college."

“The phrase jihad has a lot of meaning within Islam and is subject to a lot of different interpretations, but I will say that first Islam is one of the world's great religions. More than a billion people practise Islam and an overwhelming majority view their obligations to a religion that reaffirms peace, fairness, tolerance. I think all of us recognise that this great religion in the hands of a few extremists has been distorted by violence,” Mr. Obama said.

He saw isolating these “distorted notions” as the challenge before us. He stressed on practising universal principles, irrespective of one's religion or opinion of a religion.

“Whatever may be your religion we can treat each other with respect as per some of the universal principles.
The obvious question is, "What exactly are the 'universal principles' that will require adherents of Islam to act like liberals in love of tolerance and brotherhood regardless of religion? Those are Western principles, and a fairly late development in the West, that mainline Islam has never adopted and simply rejects today.

So here is part one of a three-part series on what is jihad as Islam defines it, not as tolerant, live-and-let live Western politicians imagine it to be. Whatever jihad is, it does not include tolerance. What exactly is jihad and where does it fit into Muslim theology?

The root of "jihad" is judh, Arabic for "striving." Jihad in Muslim theology is striving to defend or advance Islam or increase one's faithfulness to Islam. Jihad is not peripheral to Islam. It stands at its very center. Jihad is central to Muslim soteriology, its theology of salvation. Jihad is theologically joined at the hip to sharia, Islamic law, for it is sharia that both commands jihad and justifies jihad.

Muslim scholars and jurists distinguish between "greater jihad" and "lesser jihad," a distinction going back to Muhammad himself. Jihad, says al-Islam.org, has been conceptually corrupted in modern years both by Western usage to mean only holy war and by numerous Islamic groups, contending for power and influence, who have also overemphasized its military component.

According to Farida Khanam, the Arabic word jihad, by itself,
... does not connote the sense of reward or worship in the religious sense of the word. But when the word jihad became a part of Islamic terminology, the sense of reward or worship came to be associated with it, that is to say, if struggle is struggle in the simple sense of word, jihad means a struggle which is an act of worship, the engagement of which earns reward to the person concerned. As the Quran says: "Strive for the cause of God as you ought to strive" (22:78).
Jihad certainly does mean warfare to defend or advance Islam. But not just any war Muslims wage is jihad. Unless a war has been declared jihad by recognized clerical authority, it's just warfare, not jihad. However, in historic Muslim theology, jihad more generally means striving toward equilibrium of Islamic character both within individuals and among the Muslim umma (the people of a Muslim society). Says al-Islam,
Muslims as both individuals and members of Islamic society must carry out jihad, that is they must exert themselves at all moments of life to fight a battle both inward and outward against those forces that if not combatted will destroy that equilibrium which is the necessary condition for the spiritual life of the person and the functioning of human society. This fact is especially true if society is seen as a collectivity which bears the imprint of the Divine Norm rather than an antheap of contending and opposing units and forces.
So how did jihad come to be associated with Islamic warfare? Tajuddin B. Shu`aib explains.
[F]or Muslims to wield weapons in a war in which Islam itself is defended - as the [Saudi 1979] anti-Soviet fatwa declared - is literally an act of worship. The Muslim jihadi has the right to expect reward proportionate to his sacrificial worship. In military jihad, the ultimate sacrifice is to die, which deserves the ultimate reward, immediate entry by the slain jihadi's soul into Paradise. This doctrine springs from the words of Mohammed himself, who during the battle of Badr told his soldiers, "I swear by the One in whose hand Mohammad's soul is, any man who fights them today and is killed while he is patient in the ordeal and seeks the pleasure of Allah, going forward and not backing off, Allah will enter him into Paradise."
Jihad, then is actual worship in Islam. But jihad is not simply a variety of worship. Jihad forms the very core of Muslim worship. Jihad can be violent or nonviolent. Waging war to defend or advance Islam is "lesser jihad," the kind that Islamist terrorists claim to be doing. It gets the headlines, but "greater jihad" is the more pernicious threat to the West. I explained why in, "The Threat of a Greater Jihad."

In my next installments, I’ll explain why jihad is irreducibly required for salvation in Muslim theology and why jihad requires the supremacy of sharia, Islamic law, over the social, domestic and political systems of society.

Update:

Part 2

Part 3

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Britain: Church attendance rising

By Donald Sensing

After decades of decline, church attendance in Great Britain seems to have bottomed out. Weekly worship attendance is increasing, not spectacularly by any means, but for long enough to be a definite trend.
The British number-crunching group Christian Research declared an end to a decades-old attendance decline in the Church of England and the Catholic Church, and a slight uptick among Baptists. 
This was surprising news to those who figured Christianity was still dying in Britain, where only about 7 percent of people regularly attend worship, and where atheist groups bought billboards to tell the passing pope, "Two million Scots are good without God." 
Christians cautiously welcomed the survey. "It's not a massive upswing by any means," said Michael Hudson of Christian Research. "But it did look as if the decline had come to an end."
The numbers showed Church of England attendance holding fairly steady since 2001 at just under 1.2 million. Catholic attendance leveled off in 2005 at a little more than 900,000, while Baptist Union attendance increased modestly since 2002 to nearly 154,000.
Meanwhile, here in the colonies, the fastest growing religious affiliation in America is non-affiliation - people who have severed ties with a church or who have never joined. One in six American adults say they are not part of any organized religion. The number is much higher for young adults. More than one-fourth of Americans say they don’t even want a religious funeral. And according to the National Council of Churches' 2010 annual report, only the Roman Catholic Church grew last year, but by less than 1.5 percent - which is a loss relative to population growth.

What are British churches, even the long-moribund C of E, doing that American churches are not?

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Sunday, November 7, 2010

Scientist to Stephen Hawking: You're out of your league

By Donald Sensing

I wrote earlier that physicist Stephen Hawking, whose scientific work is justly regarded highly, has turned to science fiction. Now scientist and science editor Alex Berezow weighs in with, "Stephen Hawking Should Stick to Physics."

Unfortunately, Dr. Hawking is at it again. And by "it," I mean bestowing upon us his rather bizarre thoughts on everything under (or above) the sun. His latest installment comes in an interview with TIME magazine, in which he provides yet more thoughts on God, death, and consciousness--three subjects of which he has absolutely no expertise.

My problem with Dr. Hawking is not that he speaks about subjects outside his area of research. As a scientist-turned-editor, whose job it is to read and comment upon multiple scientific fields, that would be a hypocritical stance. However, I do have a rule: When commenting on fields outside one's area of expertise, scientists should be as "conservative" as possible; that is, their comments should shy away from "extremist" positions.

So that is why I find Dr. Hawking's public comments so puzzling. ...

It seems that some scientists cannot escape the apparently irresistible temptation to apply their expertise to every subject known to man--in particular, philosophy and religion. However, it is downright fallacious to do so.
This is the problem of "limit questions," ones that can't be answered within the bounds of one's own discipline of expertise. Hawking is of course perfectly free to deny God's creativity or existence, but to assert it "as a scientist" is to cross into answering limit questions. It's like an attorney saying, "As an a lawyer, I can tell you that The New Orleans Saints won't be able to win the Super Bowl again." What?

Clergy are also unfortunately liable to make limit pronouncements, too. Many times I have heard colleagues pronounce definitively on issues for which they have no expertise and for which a theological degree offers no preparation, say, on crime prevention or economic policy.

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