Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Now that is insecure

From The New York Times: By Thomas Friedman
This Iranian regime is afraid of its shadow. How do I know? It recently arrested a 67-year-old grandmother, whom it accused of trying to bring down the regime by organizing academic conferences!

Yes, big, tough President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — the man who shows us how tough he is by declaring the Holocaust a myth — had his goons arrest Haleh Esfandiari, a 67-year-old scholar, grandmother and dual Iranian-U.S. citizen, while she was visiting her 93-year-old mother in Tehran. Do you know how paranoid you have to be to think that a 67-year-old grandmother visiting her 93-year-old mother can bring down your regime? Now that is insecure.
It’s also shameful....

In other words, our only hope of either changing this Iranian regime or its behavior, without fracturing the country, is through a stronger Iranian middle class that demands a freer press, consensual politics and rule of law. That is our China strategy — and it could work even faster with Iran.

I'm not quite sure how fast that is, but it probably does beat another war.

David Brooks on Al Gore's "Vulcan Utopia"

From The New York Times:
Fortunately, another technology is here to save us. “The Internet is perhaps the greatest source of hope for re-establishing an open communications environment in which the conversation of democracy can flourish,” he writes. The Internet will restore reason, logic and the pursuit of truth.

The first response to this argument is: Has Al Gore ever actually looked at the Internet? He spends much of this book praising cold, dispassionate logic, but is that really what he finds on most political blogs or in his e-mail folder?

Go animalistic on me, David!

Maureen Dowd goes Greek with W, neocons

How We’re Animalistic — in Good Ways and Bad - New York Times:

Harvey Mansfield, a leading Straussian who taught political science at Harvard and who wrote a book called “Manliness” (he’s for it), gave the Jefferson lecture recently at the National Endowment for the Humanities in Washington.

It was an ode, as his book is, to “thumos,” the Greek word that means spiritedness, with flavors of ambition, pride and brute willfulness. Thumos, as Philip Kennicott wrote in The Washington Post, “is a word reinvented by conservative academics who need to put a fancy name on a political philosophy that boils down to ‘boys will be boys.’ ”...

With cold realism, Thucydides captured the Athenian philosophy in the 27-year war that led to its downfall as a golden democracy: “The strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.”

What message can we take away from Thucydides for modern times?

“To me,” Professor [Donald] Kagan [of Yale] said, “the deepest message, the most tragic, is his picture of civilization as a very thin veneer. When you punch a hole in it, what you find underneath is hollow, the precivilized characteristics of the human race — animalistic in the worst possible way.”

On a lighter (and tastier) note...

The New York Times > Katz's Delicatessen Restaurant Review > :
To revel in its pastrami sandwich, one of the best in the land, with an eye-popping stack of brined beef that’s juicy, smoky, rapturous. To glory in the intricate ritual of the place: the taking of a ticket at the door; the lining-up in front of one of the servers who carves that beef by hand; the tasting of the thick, ridged slices the server gives us as the sandwich is being built; the nodding when we’re asked if we want pickles, because of course we want pickles.

It’s a ritual unique to Katz’s, an argument, along with Katz’s age, to consider it the king of New York delis, reigning above the Carnegie, above the Second Avenue Deli, which closed a year and a half ago. It may reopen, but not on Second Avenue, a reminder that nothing can be taken for granted.

Katz’s shouldn’t be. At few other restaurants can you feel that you’ve stepped this surely into a living museum, a patch of urban mythology....

“You’ve got to assume it’s not the ‘Sex and the City’ tour,” said a lunch companion.

I remain loyal to Carnegie for deli. When I'm near Houston St., I head for Yonah Schimmel's for a knish. But next time I'm in the neighborhood, maybe I'll drop by Katz's for some tongue.

Return to Arlington

Today we (my mother, brother, sister, nephew and I, and then later, my wife, son, daughter and son in law) returned to Arlington National Cemetery to visit my father's grave and, I guess, to try to take in the place with emotions slightly muted from the funeral itself. Another bright, beautiful, warm Washington day. This time the route was more familiar, without the extra anxieties of the funeral schedule and the caravan of cars--we all squeezed in, and were able to take advantage of the lifetime pass to the cemetery provided to first degree relatives of those buried there.

So many Jewish prayers begin with invocations of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (and today, of Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel and Leah), asked that their merits in G!d's eyes be conferred on us, who are less deserving of G!d's consideration. So too here--we relatives are given privileges (and treated with a special deference by the many Arlington guards and guides), owing entirely to Dad's merits, and not to our own.

Dad is buried just inside the main gate, in section 33, within a short walk of the Administration Building and Visitor Center, and reasonably accessible via the Metro station, for those better able to walk than I. the Kennedy grave sites (which we visited today) are not too far; nor, we think, are the tombs of the Unknowns. Tour groups walk nearby, but not right at the spot. Most of the graves nearby date to 1955 and 1956, and the grave immediately left of his belongs to a veteran of the Spanish American War. A couple of graves nearby contain veteran, spouse and infant child (one a junior)--heartbreaking to contemplate. We didn't notice other Jewish graves in the immediate vicinity. There were flowers on Dad's newly filled grave, from cousins in California. One of the strange things about yesterday's ceremony, with the military pallbearers and protocols, is that we (my sister excepted) did not actually touch Dad's casket (although we participated in the Jewish ritual of reluctantly shovelling a bit of dirt on it). Today, I lay down next to the grave and bawled.

Back at the hotel, we watched a newly made DVD copy of a video interview my sister conducted with each of my parents 13 years ago (they were 73 then), during a calm and reflective moment when their memories were sharp (my mother's, amazingly so) and their health was better. They each spoke about their families, the journeys to America in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, their growing up experiences during the hard times of the Depression, the War years and experiences, and their early life as a couple, before and just after moving to Miami. Seeing and hearing Dad, so focussed, so compelling as a storyteller, so moving in describing his military training and time in combat, his reflections on both the terrors of war and the lessons--particularly discipline and learning to get along with very diverse others in the most trying circumstances--was incredibly powerful. His reflections on the need for mandatory national service and the benefits he thought that would bring to American life (a position I largely share, although I never realized Dad felt so passionately about it) were really inspiring to me.

Mom has been having a very difficult time, and the combined emotional and physical stresses of recent weeks have taken a heavy toll. My brother decided to take her home a day earlier than initially planned, and my sister to accompany them, so we disbanded shortly after viewing the video as they headed for the airport. We decided to stay, not least because several Washington-area friends were planning to visit at tonight's shiva gathering. We took the "kids", and our new son in law (making his first visit to D.C.--amazing!) on a quick tour of the monumental and governmental city in all its majesty, winding up with a visit to the apartment building on Woodley Place, between the Connecticut Avenue and Calvert Street bridges, where we lived from 1978-82 (leaving almost exactly a quarter century ago, almost to the month), when both our children were born, and where Mom and Dad visited to help us with our newborns and glory in their first grandchildren. Such a wonderful period in all our lives.

Ah, the arcs and cycles of life. Very much present in our lives this week.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

R.I.P. (Part One, to be continued)

Today we buried my father and began our shiva, the Jewish formal mourning practice, typically lasting seven days from the date of burial. In our case, the timing has been odd, since Dad died on May 18, eleven days ago. Burial was delayed because of the wait for burial at Arlington, the intervening Jewish holiday of Shavuot (during which Jewish burials are not conducted), and the Memorial Day holiday weekend (during which burials are not conducted at Arlington).

A Jewish burial at Arlington National Cemetery is a distinctive and memorable experience, a blending of disparate cultures and customs, of different modes of honoring and remembering.

The day beckoned bright and warm, with a beautiful, expansive blue sky and the distinctive view of Washington's monumental skyline visible in the distance. We are told the Superintendent of Arlington picked a special spot for Dad, in an established section of the vast military cemetery, amidst other highly decorated veterans of World War II, not so far from the Administration Building where we gathered to complete the initial paperwork. They had his date of death wrong, and were able to correct that on the official record and design for his gravestone marker. They had his rank and medals right, and knew that his would bear a Star (or Shield) of David, rather than the ubiquitous crosses one sees here. Dad wanted his fellow citizens and all others to know that Jews fought and fight for their country, most particularly in the War against Hitler and Nazism.

We were helped through the formalities by a retired Sergeant-Major, an African American man of military bearing and a helpful and compassionate disposition. He first checked the readiness of the gravesite, then returned to lead our convoy to it. No horse-drawn caisson--that is reserved for more senior ranks, and requires a very long wait in any case. With war casualties from Iraq and Afghanistan, and the passing of the Greatest Generation, that can be three months nowadays. How do families cope with that?

So, we made our way by car behind the hearse to the point of roadway nearest the open plot, then made our way across the unsteady ground. The flag-draped casket was borne by military pallbearers, who moved with well-practiced, elegant precision. My brother and I, with some help from the sergeant-major, helped our mother with the difficult and emotional trek. The pallbearers stood to attention, holding the flag taut above the casket, awaiting our slow-paced arrival.

Then began the interdigitation of Jewish and military elements of the ceremony. The rabbi was an old friend of mine, dating to overlapping high school and college careers and overlapping time in Israel in the early 1970s: Gerald Serotta, longtime Hillel rabbi at George Washington University, more recently a congregational rabbi and peace and human rights activist. I have long admired him, and was delighted he was able and willing to assist with Dad's funeral. Gerry introduced the service, explained the unusual sequence of events, and read a favorite passage from Ecclesiastes. Then the military: a firing party, a poignant buglar's taps (bringing my brother, among others, to tears), the ceremonial folding of the flag and its presentation to my mother, "with the thanks of a grateful nation" for my father's service. Quite an emotional moment to live through, however often one has read about it or seen it depicted in the movies. And the note from "the Arlington lady" on behalf of the Army. The military detail marched off, to ready for the next of the 29 burials scheduled for that day at Arlington, leaving us to conclude with the Jewish part of the service.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Goodbye, Dad

Weisbard, Ralph M.
Ralph M. Weisbard died on Friday, May 18, 2007, after an extended illness.

Ralph was born on Nov. 7, 1920, in New York City, the son of Irving and Sadie (Cohen) Weisbard. Growing up in a working-class family (his father was a milkman and grocery worker) during the Depression, he lived in numerous apartments in Brooklyn and Manhattan and in Elizabeth, New Jersey. (His uncle, the celebrated Cantor Yossele Rosenblatt, who had been scheduled to officiate at Ralph's bar mitzvah in 1933, died during a visit to Palestine some months earlier.)

Ralph worked as a civilian at the Brooklyn Navy Yard during the early years of World War II, where he met (and worked under the supervision of) Ruth O. He repeatedly attempted to enlist for military service, but was turned down on medical grounds. He then secretly sought the aid of a physician to treat him and help camouflage his condition, also hiding this surreptitious activity from his mother, who, had she known, probably would have killed him before he met the enemy. He then asked to be reclassified as draft-eligible and entered the army.

Following eventful training as a bespectacled, flat-footed New York Jew at Camp Shelby in Mississippi, he was assigned to the combat infantry ("so he could see the enemy") and sent, as he had desired, to the European theater to fight Hitler. He served heroically with the Seventh Armored Division at the Battle of the Bulge and moved with the lead units into and across Germany during the final year of the War. He was awarded the Silver Star, Bronze Star, Purple Heart, and other decorations for his valor.

During his time in uniform, he maintained an active correspondence with Ruth. A friendly relationship blossomed into a romance, and they married on his return from the War.

Ralph completed a degree in accounting at NYU and soon thereafter moved with Ruth to Miami, where they began a family. Ralph joined the Miami accounting firm of Weber Thomson and Lefcourt (which subsequently merged into the national firm of Laventhol and Horwath), becoming a CPA and serving as partner until his retirement in the mid-1970s.

Ralph took great pleasure in being with people (including many relatives from the New York area who visited and sometimes retired to Miami Beach and surrounding communities). He enjoyed a variety of athletic activities, including league bowling, tennis, and especially golf. He participated in a number of veterans, Masonic and Jewish activities. He was also a lively story-teller, taking particular pride in recounting episodes of standing up to anti-Semitic provocations during his school years and army service, particularly during his army training in Mississippi. Ralph was proud to be a Jew and an American, and exemplified the promise of American life.

Ralph was a devoted husband and loving father and grandfather, who encouraged and supported the education of his children and grandchildren. He is survived by his wife of nearly 61 years, Ruth (O.); by three children, Alan (Phyllis) of Madison, Marshall (and Donna Rosenblum) of Santa Fe, N.M., and Cheryl Weisbard (Dr. Steven) Foung of Palo Alto, Calif.; by four grandchildren...and two step-grandchildren..., and by sisters, Yvette W. Fields and Helene W. Moldan. Ralph will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery on May 29, 2007. Shiva at the Weisbard home on Sunday, June 3, 2007.

Contributions in Ralph's memory may be made to the Holman Weisbard Fund for Adult Jewish Learning at Beth Israel Center in Madison, WI , to the UW Center for Patient Partnerships, to hospice, or to another charity of your choice.

Honoring Our Dead

Arlington National Cemetery
FUNERAL SCHEDULE FOR Tuesday, May 29, 2007
Please report to origin 1/2 hour prior to start time


National Cemetery is 22211. Use internet search engines for obtaining maps to the area.

From Richmond:
Drive north on Route 95. Near the Washington Beltway, Route 95 will merge with the Beltway-do not merge with the Beltway. Continue traveling north on Route 395 toward Washington, DC. Take Exit 8-B (Arlington National Cemetery exit). This exit is to Route 27. Stay in the left lane until reaching the circle (on the Virginia side of the Arlington Memorial Bridge). Proceed counter-clockwise around the circle to Memorial Drive.

On Memorial Drive there will be a traffic guide who will be directing all traffic into the pay parking facility. If you are here for a funeral, stay to the right on Memorial Drive and inform the traffic guide that you are here for a funeral (please provide the name of the decedent to the guide). You will then continue on Memorial Drive. At the end of the street, turn left into the cemetery (if you are going to a service at the Administration Building) or turn right into the cemetery and follow the white line (if you are going to the Old Post Chapel on Fort Myer for a chapel service).

From Frederick, Maryland:
Travel south on Route 270. Near the Washington Beltway (Route 495) the lanes will split. Stay to the right and follow the signs to Virginia. You will merge with the Beltway and continue traveling south on the Beltway. Upon crossing the American Legion Bridge (leaving Maryland and entering Virginia), get into the right lane and take the first exit (George Washington Parkway). Travel on the GW Parkway until you start going under bridges. Take the Arlington Cemetery-Memorial Bridge exit. Merge left with the traffic exiting from Route 110. At the stop sign make a left onto Memorial Drive. See the directions above for Memorial Drive.

From Baltimore:
Drive south on the Baltimore-Washington Parkway or on Route 95 to the Washington Beltway. You can travel on Route 95 (eastern side of the Beltway) or travel on Route 495 (to the western side of the Beltway). If you follow Route 95, stay on the Beltway to Route 395 north (see directions from Richmond). If you follow Route 495 stay on the Beltway to the George Washington Parkway (see directions from Frederick).

From Western Virginia:
Follow 66East to Exit 73 “Lee Highway.” Follow Lee Highway to Fort Myer Drive. Make a right on to Fort Myer Drive. Follow Fort Myer Drive, immediately after passing over a bridge make a left on route 50. Iwo Jima Memorial will be on your right side. Follow route 50 and stay in your right lane. Exit on to George Washington Parkway. Stay in your right lane. Follow Parkway until you see a sign for Arlington National Cemetery. Take exit to Arlington National Cemetery. Stay to your left. After stop sign make a left turn. Cemetery is straight ahead.

One and only: The Wise Bard quotes Robert Novak

Murtha's Friends -
Jack Murtha, the maestro of imposing personal preferences on the appropriations process, looks increasingly like an embarrassment to Congress and the Democratic Party. But there is no Democratic will to curb Murtha, one of Speaker Nancy Pelosi's closest associates. Nor are Republicans eager for a crackdown endangering their own earmarkers.

So far as I can tell, Jack Murtha's sole redeeming feature is his military credibility as an opponent of the Iraq War. For that, he deserves both kudos and appreciation.

But this old style pol otherwise exemplifies everything wrong with get along, go along politics as usual, especially on the ethics front. Having nearly been elected House majority leader with Speaker Pelosi's strong support, he is, as Novak suggests (even broken clocks are right twice a day) an acute embarrassment to the Democrats' ethics platform in the last election, and, with the cave-in on funding for the War, a threat to the Party's credibility with its own supporters, not to speak of the wider American public.

It is worth remembering that however critical one may be (and I am) of Newt's 1994 contract on America, the Democratic Congressional majority of the time was corrupt and largely ineffectual (think of its fragmented and disastrous performance on health care reform), and richly deserved to lose, as it did, "big time." Too bad there wasn't a better opponent to take charge. (Ralph, where were you then, when we needed you? Actually, if memory serves, Nader was speaking out...)

Bottom line: Dems, get your act together, and keep your promises to your supporters and the American people! No more politics as usual. Leadership should lead, not be complicit. Insist that Murtha, and other opponents of meaningful political reform, start to behave themselves-- maybe for the first time in their careers.

The Wise Bard does not hew any party line.

Trust and Betrayal - New York Times

From The New York Times:

“In this place where valor sleeps, we are reminded why America has always gone to war reluctantly, because we know the costs of war.” That’s what President Bush said last year, in a Memorial Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery.

Those were fine words, spoken by a man with less right to say them than any president in our nation’s history. For Mr. Bush took us to war not with reluctance, but with unseemly eagerness....

The truth is that the nightmare of the Bush years won’t really be over until politicians are convinced that voters will punish, not reward, Bush-style fear-mongering. And that hasn’t happened yet.

Here’s the way it ought to be: When Rudy Giuliani says that Iran, which had nothing to do with 9/11, is part of a “movement” that “has already displayed more aggressive tendencies by coming here and killing us,” he should be treated as a lunatic.

When Mitt Romney says that a coalition of “Shia and Sunni and Hezbollah and Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood and Al Qaeda” wants to “bring down the West,” he should be ridiculed for his ignorance.

And when John McCain says that Osama, who isn’t in Iraq, will “follow us home” if we leave, he should be laughed at.

But they aren’t, at least not yet. And until belligerent, uninformed posturing starts being treated with the contempt it deserves, men who know nothing of the cost of war will keep sending other people’s children to graves at Arlington.

A World Apart Within 15 Minutes

Israel and the Price of Blindness

From The New York Times:
...The documentary, called 'A World Apart Within 15 Minutes' and directed by Enas Muthaffar, captures the psychological alienation that has intensified in recent years and left Israelis and Palestinians worlds apart, so alienated from each other that a major Palestinian city has vanished from Israelis' mental maps.

Never mind the latest flare-up in Gaza. What matters in the world's most intractable conflict is the way the personal narratives of Israelis and Palestinians, coaxed toward intersection by the Oslo Accords of the 1990s, have diverged to a point of mutual nonrecognition.

Ramallah is about 10 kilometers north of Jerusalem. For most Israelis, it might as well be on the moon. It is not just the fence, called the 'separation barrier' by Israelis and the 'racist separating wall' by Palestinians, that gets in the way. It is the death of the idea of peace and its replacement by the notion of security in detachment....

But detachment is an illusion. Life goes on behind the physical and mental barriers Israelis have erected. Or rather, it festers. As Itamar Rabinovich, the president of Tel Aviv University, remarked to me: "Palestine is a failed pre-state."

For that failure, Palestinians must take responsibility. But this aborted birth is also Israel's work....
The West Bank, after 40 years under Israeli control, is a shameful place. If this is the price of Israeli security, it is unacceptable. Power corrupts; absolute power can corrupt absolutely. There are no meaningful checks and balances in this territory, none of the mechanisms of Israel's admirable democracy. The result is what the World Bank this month called a "shattered economic space." ...

Israel has an obligation to open its eyes and do some wall-jumping. The country has just been shaken by the Winograd Report, a devastating look at last summer's war against the Lebanese militia, Hezbollah. It is now time for a report of similar scope on Israel's West Bank occupation.

I can see no better way to arrest the cycle of alienation. Time is not on the side of a two-state solution.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Critical Care Without [Individual] Consent

Critical Care Without Consent - From By Rob Stein

The federal government is undertaking the most ambitious set of studies ever mounted under a controversial arrangement that allows researchers to conduct some kinds of medical experiments without first getting patients' permission.

The $50 million, five-year project, which will involve more than 20,000 patients in 11 sites in the United States and Canada, is designed to improve treatment after car accidents, shootings, cardiac arrest and other emergencies.

The three studies, organizers say, offer an unprecedented opportunity to find better ways to resuscitate people whose hearts suddenly stop, to stabilize patients who go into shock and to minimize damage from head injuries. Because such patients are usually unconscious at a time when every minute counts, it is often impossible to get consent from them or their families, the organizers say.

The project has been endorsed by many trauma experts and some bioethicists, but others question it. The harshest critics say the research violates fundamental ethical principles.

My colleague at UW, Dr. Norman Fost, was a leading proponent of the regulatory changes that permit such research. I have been of mixed mind on this topic.

Petro-Bleak House | money : U.S. appeals court tells Exxon to pay fishermen:
A federal appeals court on Wednesday denied Exxon Mobil Corp.'s request for another hearing, letting stand its ruling that the energy giant owes $2.5 billion in punitive damages for its 1989 oil spill in Alaska.

The ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco is a milestone, ending a ping-pong cycle of decisions and appeals between the California court and the Alaska district court.

Now only the U.S. Supreme Court can consider any further appeals.

An Exxon spokesman said yes, the company will appeal...

Lawyers for the plaintiffs say about 20 percent of their clients in the extensive class action have died waiting for payment. The class now stands at about 33,000 commercial fishermen, cannery workers, landowners and Natives, local governments and businesses.

Reveal your favorite fonts...

From Slate Magazine:
This is fun, sort of. Take a look if so moved.

Fitzgerald on Libby sentencing

'While the disappointment of Mr. Libby's friends and supporters is understandable,' Fitzgerald writes, 'it is inappropriate to deride the judicial process as 'politics at its worst' on behalf of a defendant who, the evidence has established beyond a reasonable doubt, showed contempt for the judicial process when he obstructed justice by repeatedly lying under oath about material matters in a serious criminal investigation.'

Fitzgerald continues: 'Mr. Libby's prosecution was based not upon politics but upon his own conduct, as well as upon a principle fundamental to preserving our judicial system's independence from politics: that any witness, whatever his political affiliation, whatever his views on any policy or national issue, whether he works in the White House or drives a truck to earn a living, must tell the truth when he raises his hand and takes an oath in a judicial proceeding, or gives a statement to federal law enforcement officers.'...

"The judicial system has not corruptly mistreated Mr. Libby; Mr. Libby has been found by a jury of his peers to have corrupted the judicial system."

Bill Maher ends season in full suck mode

... But I was up all night on Wikipedia doing an exhaustive study of former presidents, and while other presidents have sucked in their own individual ways, Bush is like a smorgasbord of suck. He combines the corruption of Warren G. Harding, the abuse of power of Richard Nixon and the warmongering of James K. Polk.

I mean, who would you rank lower than George W. Bush? Nixon got in trouble for illegally wiretapping Democratic headquarters; Bush is illegally wiretapping the entire country. Nixon opened up relations with the Chinese; Bush let them poison your dog. Herbert Hoover sat on his ass through four years of calamity, but he was an actual engineer. If someone told him about global warming, he would have understood it before the penguins caught on fire. Ulysses Grant was a miserable drunk, but at least he didn't trade booze for Jesus and embolden the snake handlers -- he did the honorable thing and stayed a miserable drunk. Grant let his cronies loot the republic, but he won his civil war.

For some inexplicable reason Republicans have taken to comparing Bush to Harry Truman -- a comparison that would make sense only if Harry Truman had A) started World War II and B) lost World War II. Harding sucked, but he once said, 'I am not fit for this office and never should have been here.' So at least he knew he sucked. He never walked offstage like Bush does after one of his embarrassing press conferences with a look on his face like, "Nailed it." Bush still acts like every failure is just a friend he hasn't met yet.

BTW, Maher also took a good, if less colorfully worded, shot at the Dems before heading for Las Vegas.

I don't Kevork, but he did. Will he again?

LANSING, Mich. (AP) -- For nearly a decade, Dr. Jack Kevorkian waged a defiant campaign to help other people kill themselves....

But as he prepares to leave prison June 1 after serving more than eight years of a 10- to 25-year sentence in the death of a Michigan man, Kevorkian will find that there's still only one state that has a law allowing physician-assisted suicide -- Oregon.

Experts say that's because abortion opponents, Catholic leaders, advocates for the disabled and often doctors have fought the efforts of other states to follow the lead of Oregon, where the law took effect in late 1997...

'End-of-life care has increased dramatically'' in Oregon with more hospice referrals and better pain management, says Valerie Vollmar, a professor at Oregon's Willamette University College of Law who writes extensively on physician-assisted death.

Opponents and supporters of physician-assisted death say more needs to be done to offer hospice care and pain treatment for those who are dying and suffering from debilitating pain.

''The solution here is not to kill people who are getting inadequate pain management, but to remove barriers to adequate pain management,'' said Burke Balch, director of the Powell Center for Medical Ethics at the National Right to Life Committee, which opposes assisted suicide....

Kevorkian has promised he'll never again advise or counsel anyone about assisted suicide once he's out of prison. But his attorney, Mayer Morganroth, said Kevorkian isn't going to stop pushing for more laws allowing it.

My father suffered during his final days (indeed, during his final year or more), and we with him. His strong heart held out much longer than anyone anticipated. He was able to avoid being moved from the room at the assisted care facility that he was used to (we brought in a hospital bed and other assistive equipment to help him move about), and we managed to avoid catheters and invasive tubes and machines. He largely stopped eating, although we tried to keep him (naturally) hydrated as best we could. We worked with a superb geriatrician, and reached a consensus in his last weeks that our goal was to make Dad as comfortable as possible, without invasive interventions that would only slow the inevitable. We arranged for hospice care over the final weeks, and the hospice team kept him comfortable with appropriate pain care. They were also excellent in providing psychological support both for him and for us. Although there were some misunderstandings and mis-steps along the way, all those involved in Dad's care brought compassion and dedication to their task. In the hours after his death, many of those involved in his care came by to hold his hand, some to kiss him, and to say goodbye. I'm very glad "doing away with him" was not an option on the menu, for him, for the family, or for the caregivers.

We were, of course, very lucky to have the resources and access to caregivers to make this possible. Others don't.

And, of course, others think differently.

The Moon and the Sun Over Miami

Donna Smith: The Huffington Post:
But on that boat in the bay we were all quiet. The wind blew through our hair as the daylight drifted away, and we were left with our imaginings. The sound of the boat's engine and the flap of the flag droned in the background. What brought us to this spot and this moment was pain. What was easing us into what was to come was an emulsion of nature and wonder and fear and hope. I wanted to tuck the image away somewhere safe in my soul. I wanted it etched there forever. What I did not know was how many moments like it would come in the days ahead.

For me, the past 20 years had been filled with fights about insurance coverage, humiliation about not being able to pay large deductibles and co-pays, and general strain on my marriage and my family that resulted from the financial pressure. Though we never, ever went without insurance, we had been bankrupted by the crushing medical costs not covered by insurance. Few people understood how we got into that financial boat, and we not only faced my husband's heart disease, my cancer and several major medical crises, but also the shame of failing financially. We felt so alone and lost.

I wrote a response to Michael Moore's call for 'health care horror stories' back in early 2006, and here I was nearly a year later as part of this amazing group of fighters and heroes, traveling on this unknown journey together.

What Do You Want to Ask Al Gore?

Arianna Huffington: The Huffington Post:
But it's a Catch-22: the Gore on display in Assault -- and during much of the press he's done in support of it -- is extremely compelling: bold, passionate, knowledgeable, thoughtful, articulate, self-deprecating. Exactly the qualities that have so many Democrats eying him with nothing short of lip-smacking longing.

So far, much of Gore's book tour has been drenched in irony, with his castigation of the mainstream media's fixation on the horserace aspects of politics being met with horserace questions, while his rebuke of our cultural obsession with nonsense like Britney's hair, Lindsay's sex life, and Nicole's weight has been met with stories obsessing about his weight, his double chin, and his love of clam dip.

Was it ever thus, or is all of this new?
I suspect JFK was elected, at least in part, on his looks (and/or Nixon defeated on his jowls, stubble and sweat), and their great debate was far from Lincoln-Douglas. When was the last time a Presidential election was decided on the basis of meaty, substantive debate on the major issues facing the country? One might argue Reagan- Carter, although saying that gives me hives.

I am inclined to think the nature of media coverage has changed things. Newsmen used to at least pretend everyone cared about "the issues"; that is now the exception rather than the rule, and so many of the punditocracy and reporters are bubbleheads.

Friday, May 25, 2007

How Monica Goodling played the "girl" card

By Emily Bazelon and Dahlia Lithwick - Slate Magazine:

Let's pretend for a moment that the world divides into two types of women: the soft, shy, girly kind who live to serve and the brash, aggressive feminists who live to emasculate. Not our paradigm, but one that's more alive than dead.

When she was White House liaison in Alberto Gonzales' Justice Department, Monica Goodling, 33, had the power to hire and fire seasoned government lawyers who had taken the bar when she was still carrying around a plastic Hello Kitty purse. Goodling, in fact, described herself as a 'type-A woman' who blocked the promotion of another type-A woman basically because the office couldn't tolerate infighting between two strong women. ('I'm not just partisan! I'm sexist, too!') That move sounds pretty grown-up and steely. Yet in her testimony this week before the House judiciary committee, Goodling turned herself back into a little girl, and it's worth pointing out that the tactic worked brilliantly."...

What really shot Goodling into the stratosphere of baby-doll girls were her own whispered words: "At heart," she testified, "I am a fairly quiet girl, who tries to do the right thing and tries to treat people kindly along the way." The idea, of course, was to scrub away her past image as ruthless, power-mad, and zealously Christian....And at the heart of Goodling's ingénue performance? The astonishing claim that while she broke the law, she "didn't mean to." This is the stuff of preschoolers, not cum laude graduates of law school....

But heed the lesson, girlfriends. It works. Republicans on the House judiciary committee had only gentle words and lavish praise for this girlish Monica. Even as she testified to repeatedly breaking the law, these genial uncles lauded her "class" and her courage, falling over themselves to observe how hard testifying must have been for her. Kyle Sampson must be wondering where all this sympathy was when he was on the stand. For the most part, even the Democrats were too bamboozled to be effective. It's no accident that some of the day's most brutal questioning came from Reps. Linda Sanchez, D-Calif.; Maxine Waters, D-Calif.; and Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas; who may well have been as annoyed by Goodling's Girl Secretary performance as they were by the underlying conduct....

What will happen to Goodling? She'll lay low for a while. She'll leave Washington, maybe. And then she'll re-emerge in another position of power; power that she will cast as reflected glow from greater men. Because to help yourself by playing helpless is the stuff of real smarts and savvy. Goodling's day in the spotlight wasn't exactly a good day for feminism. But in the end, maybe she's bamboozled us, too, because if we ever have to testify before Congress, hand us the pigtails and lollipop.

If this doesn't elicit some comment, I'm not sure what will.

FLASH: Report Says Iraq Problems Were Expected

From The New York Times:
WASHINGTON (AP) -- U.S. intelligence analysts predicted, in two papers widely circulated before the 2003 Iraq invasion, that al-Qaida would see U.S. military action as an opportunity to increase its operations and that Iran would try to shape the post-Saddam era. The top analysts in government also said that establishing a stable democracy in Iraq would be a long, turbulent challenge.

Democrats said the documents, part of a Senate Intelligence Committee investigation released Friday, make clear that the Bush administration was warned about the challenges it now faces as it tries to stabilize Iraq.

''Sadly, the administration's refusal to heed these dire warnings -- and worse, to plan for them -- has led to tragic consequences for which our nation is paying a terrible price,'' said Senate Intelligence Chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va.

But that's not nearly as interesting as a Republican response:

But some Republicans rejected the committee's work as flawed. The committee's top Republican, Sen. Kit Bond of Missouri, said the report's conclusions selectively highlight the intelligence agencies' findings that seem to be important now, distorting the picture of what was presented to policymakers.

He said the committee's work on the Iraq intelligence ''has become too embroiled in politics and partisanship to produce an accurate and meaningful report.''

Kind of takes the breath away, that politics and partisanship might result in selective use of intelligence, distorting the overall picture presented to the public. Thank goodness the Republicans in Congress are ever-alert to protect us from such dastardly behavior.

And you can quote me on that!

Former Tour de France Winner Admits to Doping

Fans shocked, shocked...
From The New York Times: By IAN AUSTEN

Topping off a week of doping confessions, Bjarne Riis of Denmark became the first Tour de France winner to admit to the use of performance enhancing drugs.

Speaking at a televised news conference, Riis said Friday that he used the blood boosting hormone erythropoietin, or EPO, from 1993 to 1998, including the period when he rode to victory in the 1996 Tour de France. He said he also used cortisone and human growth hormone.Riis, who now manages the elite cycling team CSC, offered to give up his Tour title, an unprecedented event in the history of the 104-year-old race....

However, given Riis’s offer, McQuaid said that the race records may be altered to show that the 1996 Tour had no winner.

That may be just as well. The second-place finisher that year was Riis’s teammate, Jan Ullrich of Germany, who is now the subject of a doping investigation. Third place went to Richard Virenque, who was the leader of a team that became of the focus of a series of antidoping raids by police in 1998.

The Onion

Study: 38 Percent Of People Not Actually Entitled To Their Opinion

CHICAGO—In a surprising refutation of the conventional wisdom on opinion entitlement, a study conducted by the University of Chicago's...


Film Offers New Talking Points in Health Care Debate -From The New York Times:
Few of them may become Michael Moore fans. But some insurance industry officials and health policy experts acknowledged yesterday that the film documentary “Sicko,” Mr. Moore’s indictment of health care in this country, taps into widespread public concern that the system does not work for millions of Americans.

The movie, which had its first showing at the Cannes Film Festival on Saturday and received many favorable reviews, presents a series of heart-rending anecdotes meant to illustrate systemic failures and foul-ups under the nation’s insurance industry — even if many of the major pieces of evidence are ones that have been widely reported elsewhere and in some cases date back 20 years...

Uwe E. Reinhardt, a health economist at Princeton, said that based on reviews, the movie is “exaggerated, biting, unfair,” but he added that a number of recent books and reports by academic experts had been at least as critical...“My point is we are on the verge of a populist reaction to the health system,” Professor Reinhardt said. “The American people are on the point of being fed up.”...

“They hate the system — it’s too expensive — but we have been hearing about these things for 35 years,” Professor Altman said. “Unless we have a meltdown which affects the middle class — that is nowhere near happening — we will not be willing to fundamentally restructure the system.”...

The conversation turned to whether Mr. Moore planned to back any of the current proposals for health care reform, or whether he would come up with his own plan. Some suggested that he stick to his position that the insurance companies be done away with, replaced by national universal health care system.

“Let’s be honest, no one’s going to support dismantling the private health care system,” Mr. Moore replied. “I don’t think the insurance companies are just going to give up the profit motivation.”

New Machine Keeps 'Heart in a Box' Beating Art Caplan on MSNBC:
Now there's a machine that can do what Poe imagined - preserve a beating heart in isolation. And while this might seem to be the yuckiest idea to come down the pike in a long time, it really represents a bold and fascinating advance in trying to save the lives of people with failing hearts.

The 'heart in a box' machine, known as the Organ Care System, is made by TransMedics Inc., of Andover, Mass. Doctors in Pittsburgh recently announced that they used the machine to keep hearts beating for hours on their own after being removed from cadavers. Three patients, a 47-year-old man and two women in their 50s, received these hearts and all seem to be doing very well.

The machine will be tested further in the coming year at five transplant centers in the U.S. - the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles, the University of Chicago Hospitals' Cardiac Center and the Cleveland Clinic. The researchers want to be sure that hearts transplanted out of the box really work as well as those preserved by current methods.

A Short American Life

From The New York Times:
I asked Leana about her health insurance coverage, just in case she catches leprosy on the Africa trip.

“Actually, I was going to become one of the 45 million uninsured for the summer,” she said. “The think tank does not provide insurance for ‘temporary’ employees, and my school did not allow extension of health insurance post-graduation. I still haven’t found a reasonably priced insurance plan for this period.”

Aaaaargh! When a newly minted doctor investigating Americans’ access to medical care has no insurance — then you know that our health care system is truly bankrupt....

Even if a single-payer system isn’t politically possible right now, universal coverage is feasible through other mechanisms — as Massachusetts has shown. We need to hold the presidential candidates accountable, for universal coverage is an idea whose time came in the 1920s. We should insist we get it before the 2020s.

Rethinking Old Age

From The New York Times:
Is it any wonder most people dread nursing homes?

The things she misses most, she told me, are her friendships, her privacy, and the purpose in her days. She’s not alone. Surveys of nursing home residents reveal chronic boredom, loneliness, and lack of meaning — results not fundamentally different from prisoners, actually.

Certainly, nursing homes have come a long way from the fire-trap warehouses they used to be. But it seems we’ve settled on a belief that a life of worth and engagement is not possible once you lose independence.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Compared to What?: Palestine

Common Ground News Service:
At this sad juncture, it has become apparent that neither Hamas nor Fatah, alone or combined, have learned the political art of working together in a coalition to serve their public, the Palestinian people. Party politics and the struggle over power have led to killings and almost to civil war. The only way to prevent total disaster is for the Arab nations, with the backing of the UN and acquiescence of Israel, to work together in order to prevent the growing snowball of violence from spreading all across the region.

* Hanna Siniora is the Co-CEO of IPCRI – the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information. This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) and can be accessed at

Nobel laureate cancels London trip due to anti-Semitism

From Ynetnews:
An American Nobel laureate has cancelled a planned visit to a London university because of what he perceives to be 'a widespread anti-Israel and anti-Semitic current in British opinion', the Guardian newspaper reported Thursday.

Steven Weinberg, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin, had been invited to Imperial College to speak in honor of a Pakistani physicist, Abdus Salam, and to deliver a talk at a conference on particle physics.

Where's the tofu?

Clinton offers plan to control health care costs | Chicago Tribune:
For Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, the problems of the American health care system have been a political danger zone since she unsuccessfully tackled the issue as first lady in the early 1990s...

On Thursday, as a candidate for president, [Senator Hillary] Clinton (D-N.Y.) returned to the complicated and contentious topic, acknowledging mistakes and promising that she had learned from the experience.

'Now, I've tangled with this issue before, and I've got the scars to show for it,' Clinton told an auditorium packed with medical students and doctors at George Washington University. 'But I learned some valuable lessons from that experience. One is that we can't achieve reform without the participation and commitment of health care providers, employers, employees and other citizens who pay for, depend upon and actually deliver health care services.'

Clinton delivered a proposal Thursday focused on reining in health care costs, a problem affecting virtually everyone in the United States. Two other proposals are in the offing — one to improve the quality of health care and the other to insure all Americans. She has already introduced legislation in Congress to expand health care coverage to all children.

Global Bioethics: Pakistan

Daily Times :
ISLAMABAD: Shifa Medical College Dean Dr Amin on Thursday said it was obligatory for medical colleges to educate their students about clinical ethics.

Introducing the Clinical Ethics workshop’s aim in his welcome address, Amin said medical students should undergo moral and ethical training.

Amin deliberated in his presentation on the Islamic perspective of biomedical ethics that differed from the practice in the west, particularly the US.

Global Bioethics: South Africa

Legalbrief :
The Steve Biko Centre for Bioethics at Wits – SA's only fully-fledged centre for bioethics was launched in February at Constitution Hill.

According to the Sunday Times, the centre which has four full-time staff, has a heavy teaching load across the health sciences faculty at Wits. It also runs a master's programme on bioethics and health law and conducts ethics workshops.

Global Bioethics: Kenya


The East African Standard (Nairobi) By Steve Mkawale

Scientists, medics and researchers in Africa now have a centre to address ethical issues their professions face.

The first regional bio-ethics centre that was inaugurated at Egerton University on Friday will address ethical issues related to medicine, life sciences and related technologies.

Science and Technology minister, Dr Noah Wekesa, described the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation sponsored project as a milestone.

'The project is a testimony to the confidence the international community has in our training institutions and a complement to Egerton University,' the minister said.

Wekesa advised students and scientists to make use of the centre. He said it would improve ethical conduct in the field of science and technology. The minister challenged students to embrace science and technology as the future of the continent depended on technological advancement.

'Science is the driving force of development that will help in elevation of poverty in Africa,' said Wekesa.

The Pope's Favorite Rabbi

From TIME:
[Jewish studies scholar Jacob] Neusner, 74, lives by the story's moral: confrontation is part of his makeup, take it or leave it. One might expect many Christians to leave it. But at least one has not. In his new book, Jesus of Nazareth (Doubleday; $24.95), Pope Benedict XVI devotes 20 pages to
A Rabbi Talks with Jesus
, a 161-page grenade Neusner lobbed in 1993. In that volume, the professor (now at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y.) and noncongregational rabbi projected himself back into the Gospel of Matthew to quiz Jesus on the Jewish law. He found the Nazarene's interpretation irredeemably faulty. In his 14-years-delayed response, Benedict not only compliments Neusner as a 'great Jewish scholar' but also recapitulates the thesis of A Rabbi Talks and spends a third of one of his 10 chapters answering it.

There is no real precedent for this. The last time Christianity and Judaism had knockdown debates was during medieval 'disputations' convened by Christian authorities and decisively rigged against the Jews. Although the Second Vatican Council of 1962-65 renounced the Roman Catholic teaching that Jews were Christ killers and John Paul II acknowledged Jews' ongoing presence by visiting a synagogue, postwar papal discourse has focused on Christianity's view of Judaism, not the reverse, and steered serenely around fundamental controversies. Jesus of Nazareth takes the next huge step: "a Pope taking seriously what a Jew says--and says critically--about the New Testament," marvels Eugene Fisher, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' liaison for Catholic-Jewish relations. "Wow. This is new."...

Regarding one verse, Benedict writes that "Neusner shows us that we are dealing not with some kind of moralism, but with a highly theological text, or, to put it more precisely, a Christological one." He acknowledges the rabbi's point that Jesus is offering the Jews a transformation rather than a continuation of the Torah but maintains that the trade-off is worth it, provided Jesus is not merely "a liberal reform rabbi" but "the Son." That Neusner and other Jews regard that very Sonship as a deal breaker does not bother him much. "It would be good for the Christian world to look respectfully at this obedience of Israel," he writes, "and thus to appreciate better the great commandments" as universalized by Jesus.

Neusner is not my favorite rabbi (or rabbinic scholar). Then again, Benedict is not my favorite Pope.
Kind of reminds me of Orthodox rabbis, Christian priests, and Muslim imams coming together in their opposition to the gay rights parades in Jerusalem.

How Idol insinuates itself into pop-music history

By Katherine Meizel and Jody Rosen - Slate Magazine

Katherine Meizel is a Ph.D. candidate in ethnomusicology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where she is writing her dissertation on American Idol.

Oy. Filling a much needed gap in the literature.

Shavuot Reflections

The importance of recognizing the role of our predilections in forming our attitudes toward God and revelation is that they force us to take responsibility for choosing the form of our agnosticism. We can be disengaged agnostics, waiting passively for someone to prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that God exists and that the Torah is God’s word. Alternatively, we can become engaged agnostics, taking our not knowing as a symptom of the limitedness of our own understanding and seeking as a consequence to know, understand, and experience more through Torah and mitzvot.

And that is precisely why those of us who doubt God’s existence and/or the historicity of revelation need to celebrate Shavu’ot. We need to allow ourselves to be challenged by the message of Shavu’ot, that there is a God, and God has a will for us individually and collectively. The deep truths of existence lie beyond our individual and collective grasp. We need to return again and again to the study of Torah in an attempt to discover these truths and apply them to our lives.

Perhaps the Torah is literally God’s word... Perhaps it is an imperfect reflection of a supernatural revelatory experience. Perhaps it is the result of a collective effort by the Jewish people to understand God’s will for us here on earth. These are important historical questions that admittedly have theological implications. However, there is a deeply religious question transcending these that faces each of us: how will I respond to the possibility of God and Torah, with indifference or with the humility of human limitedness that leads to encounter? We need your answer by tomorrow.

Shabbat shalom,

Rabbi Eliezer Diamond, JTS

On overdoing it

The Sages said: If a nazirite, who only denied himself wine, is need of expiation, all the more so one who has cut himself off from everything! Therefore, the Sages decreed that one should abstain only from those things banned by the Torah; he should not bind himself with vows and oaths regarding permitted activities. So said the Sages: Is it not enough for you that which the Torah forbade -- you have to enjoin yourself from other things? Those who constantly deny themselves are not on a good path, and the Sages forbade one from tormenting oneself with fasts. Regarding all these and similar things, Solomon decreed: Don't overdo goodness and don't act the wise man to excess, or you may be dumbfounded. (RaMBaM, Hilhot De’ot, 3:1)

Shabbat Shalom is available on our website:

Transcending "time management"

Althouse: Time management expert does an interview with me and considers it "a bust.":
I'm sure my point was that if you do something that you love, that is intrinsically rewarding, you don't have to think of making time for it. It makes its own time. The trick is to find your way into a life where you do what you love, something with intrinsic value for you. I blog about what interests me; blogging is a process of being interested in things.

'Cowboy up,' Alberto

From The Los Angeles Times: By David C. Iglesias
DAVID C. IGLESIAS was the U.S. attorney for New Mexico from October 2001 to February 2007.
WHAT HAPPENS in a presidential administration when loyalty, to borrow a phrase from 'Star Trek,' becomes the 'prime directive'? What happens when its all-encompassing fog obscures all other values — such as fealty to the Constitution, the rule of law or simple humanity?

What happens is that terrible decisions are made, repeated and then justified by this shibboleth. That's just one of the lessons that has emerged from the U.S. attorney scandal....

What has become clear already is that the "loyalty uber alles" mentality has infected a wide swath of the Bush administration. Simple notions like right and wrong are, in their eyes, matters of allegiance, not conscience....Loyalty is a virtue with limits. That was one of the many hard lessons from Watergate. In that scandal, some of President Nixon's staffers carried their loyalty to the president all the way to federal prison....

And what of the embattled attorney general? Will Gonzales stay on to be the only Cabinet officer to receive a no-confidence vote? I once said that I found Gonzales to be a personal inspiration. No one can deny him his life's story, which is the American dream writ large. It began in Humble, Texas, born of impoverished Mexican American parents. He, like me, is a veteran of the U.S. military. He went to some of the best schools in America, including Harvard Law. Yet, somewhere along the line, he drank the loyalty Kool-Aid. Watching him testify b, efore the Senate and House was painful for me. He had been a trailblazer for the Latino community, and then, in the space of a few hours of tortured testimony, he became just another morally rudderless political operative.

Docs doing, learning abortions

Broadsheet -From
... the Los Angeles Times reports that for every abortion-rights setback, new medical students step up to buck the trend. 'For them,' the article says, 'doing abortions is an act of defiance -- a way of pushing back against mounting restrictions on a right they've taken for granted all their lives.'"...

"Most medical schools barely mention the subject and it's rarely included in ... residencies," says the article. "Just half the nation's obstetrics-gynecology residencies -- and only 20 out of 400 family practice residencies -- integrate abortion into physician training, according to Lois Backus, executive director of Medical Students for Choice. Most residents interested in the field must study on their own, often through after-hours electives in abortion clinics."

"They have to be enormously committed to work it in..."

Letters to the Editor--from a NARAL primer

NARAL Pro-Choice Texas: Letters to the Editor:
To the Editor, re 'A Sharp Turn for the Supreme Court on Abortion' (letters, April 20):

I am a rheumatologist caring for a patient whose lupus nephritis is flaring. Her creatinine is rising as her platelet count falls, and she has failed to improve with pulse methylprednisolone and intravenous cyclophosphamide. I am contemplating using rituximab. I would like to refer this case to the United States Supreme Court for its guidance.
Richard Zweig, M.D.
Santa Rosa, Calif., April 20, 2007

(Letter to the editor printed in the New York Times after the Supreme Court's April 18, 2007 ruling on the Federal Abortion Ban)

I missed this first time around, but am pleased to recirculate now.

Oedipus Wrecks

Marty Kaplan: From The Huffington Post:
I wonder what Bush thinks of us.

I don't mean us as in, left blogistan; I mean us as in, America. Day after day, the president sees polls saying that at least 70% of the country consistently believes that he's, oh, put the country on the wrong course, mired us in a hopeless quagmire, politicized the justice system, handed over the regulatory reins to the corporate sector, transferred massive wealth from the middle to the robber barons, obliterated civil liberties, and so on.

Along with our view of what he's done to the country, we 70-percenters also have our pet theories of his character and psychology, of why he's done it. When pollsters ask Americans what words come to mind to describe the president, terms like 'delusional,' 'ideologue,' 'stubborn' and 'idiot' top the charts, suggesting the kind of explanations that Americans use to account for his behavior, to motivate his disastrous persistence.

But surely, when the president looks at his approval numbers, he, too, must have his own pet theories about why we Americans put him in the cellar. How might he explain our overwhelming rejection of him?...

No doubt the president has additional explanations for Americans' failure to give him 70% support. But looking at this list, I'm struck by how similar it must have been to the theories his own parents developed to explain their son's behavior through the years. How could such a privileged child, born to such an illustrious clan, gone on to be such a disappointment, such a wastrel? He's fallen in with bad friends... he believes what people tell him... those Yale professors have caved to the hippies... he plays cards all day... he's lazy... he doesn't go to church... God knows what drugs he takes... he won't grow up... they say blue blood runs thin...

Marty Kaplan was a college classmate who's done well fo himself. I've been enjoying his columns in the HuffPo, and sharing some excerpts with readers here.

Reflections on THE GOSPEL OF JUDAS and the history of Christianity

By Elaine Pagels, from Edge
..Anyone who joined this movement was aware that he or she could be killed for it, as many had been—Jesus' closet disciple Peter was crucified by the Romans, Paul was beheaded, while other followers of Jesus, like his brother James and his follower Stephen, were lynched by public mobs and riots. It was very dangerous to be a part of this movement. And one of the most troubling problems with anybody associated with it was, what do you do if you're arrested? What do you do, knowing that this could happen? Do you run? Do you accept persecution as if this were something God wanted? There is a Jewish tradition about persecution and about martyrdom which sees dying for God, as they called it, as a way of witnessing God's power. The followers of Jesus argued intensely about that question. And the Gospel of Judas is one of the writings that comes out of these intense, painful arguments involving the threat of violence—arrest, threat of torture and public execution. This shows us what DIDN'T become Christianity—and casts very new light on what did.

For when Jesus' followers tried to make sense of how their messiah died, some suggested that Jesus died as a sacrifice—"he died for our sins." The idea that Jesus' death is an atonement for the sins of the world becomes the heart of the Christian message, for many. It's certainly the heart of the New Testament gospels. There Jesus, before he dies, tells his disciples, when you eat this bread you're eating my body, which I'm giving for you; you're drinking my blood when you drink this wine. Because I'm giving my body and my blood as a voluntary sacrifice for you. So the worship of Jesus' followers became a sacred meal in which people drank wine and ate bread, ceremonially reenacting the death of Jesus.

We call it the Eucharist, the Mass. We're so used to it we hardly see that it's a cannibalistic feast. But whoever wrote the Gospel of Judas has Jesus laughing at the disciples, to say, what you're doing is ludicrous. Turning the death of Jesus into something like an animal sacrifice. Eating flesh and drinking blood ritually, even, is a kind of obscene gesture. This author, this follower of Jesus, sees the idea of Jesus dying for our sins as a complete misunderstanding of the whole message of Jesus.

So, although the Gospel of Judas is an authentic early Christian document, it was early condemned as "blasphemy". We don't know whether this actually IS what Jesus taught—for although New Testament Gospels say that Jesus did teach secret teaching, they don't tell us what it was. But we do have many new texts that show us secret teaching, like the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Mary Magdalene, the Gospel of Phillip. And probably Jesus, like other first-century rabbis, taught one kind of message in public, with thousands of people listening, and other kinds of teaching in private. We don't think the Gospel of Judas belongs in the canon—but we also don't think it belongs in the trash: instead it belongs in the history of Christianity—a history that now, in light of all these recent discoveries, we now have to rewrite completely.

Time for a new lexicon

From Haaretz :
By Meron Benvenisti

If you study the public discourse on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, you will discover a fascinating phenomenon: The concepts that were coined during the 1970s continue to define a reality that has since changed beyond recognition. The old concepts that comprise the dictionary of the conflict have turned into code words that make any argument or clarification superfluous.

Concepts like 'dividing the land,' 'settlements,' 'occupation,' 'separation' or 'a Palestinian state' are perceived as self-evident and those who use them assume the listener attributes an identical meaning to them. The terms, which were meant to simplify reality, have become absolute concepts with qualitative values. When using these terms, a person defines himself as belonging to a particular political camp...

Benvenisti is a longtime Israeli critic of the Occupation, and its negative impact on the prospects for a viable peace. His reflections on political rhetoric (follow link above) are instructive.

"Politics of Fear"

RIGHTS: Amnesty Report Decries "Politics of Fear":

WASHINGTON, May 23 (IPS) - The 'politics of fear' are polarising the world and leading to an erosion of human rights, according to Amnesty International's annual report released Wednesday...

'Fear thrives in myopic and cowardly leadership. There are indeed many real causes of fear but the approach being taken by many world leaders is short-sighted, promulgating policies and strategies that erode the rule of law and human rights, increase inequalities, feed racism and xenophobia, divide and damage communities, and sow the seeds for violence and more conflict,' the report says.

The mouse that roared (well...)

By Dahlia Lithwick - Slate Magazine:
...[Monica] Goodling takes complete blame for having 'crossed the line'—even the legal line, i.e., the civil-service rules—by asking 'political questions of applicants for career positions.' In response to a question from Bobby Scott, D-Va., she adds, 'But I didn't mean to.' Oh. Well then, that's OK. For Goodling, this exchange is key, because she has a grant of immunity to testify today, so presumably anything she gets in, she can't be prosecuted for. She cops to breaking the law with enough charm to sway Republicans on the committee into repeatedly thanking her for her noble and selfless service to the nation. I think they want to offer her McNulty's old job....

It's not just that Goodling comes across as better, smarter, and more honest than Gonzales, Sampson, and McNulty put together, although she does. It's that the committee, in expecting to question the Great Exploding Idiot Barbie today, is completely underprepared and overmatched.

Chalk up another one to the soft bigotry of low expectations.

Mostly, Lithwick tees off on the Committee. The Republicans were noxious, most of the Dems, pathetic...

Blogging the Bible: Meet the Bible's only Arab

By David Plotz - Slate Magazine:
Let's pause for a moment to observe the entrance of the Bible's first, and I believe only, 'Arab.' Arabia is referred to a few times in passing in various books, and anonymous 'Arabians' are mentioned, but Geshem is the single named Arab. (Geshem is king of part of the Arabian Peninsula, according to a footnote in my Bible.) In what can be seen as a darkly humorous divine joke, the only Arab in the Bible turns out to be 1) an enemy of the Jews and 2) at odds with them over who should control Jerusalem. Given the poison between Arabs and Jews today, isn't it appropriate that their relationship was born in strife?

Of course, when can return to Isaac and Ishmael for a preview. And the Koran tells the story differently.

The whole scene is almost too depressing—or too funny—to believe. Consider the first and only conversation between a Jew and an Arab. When Geshem and his cronies heard that Nehemiah is rebuilding the wall, they 'mocked and ridiculed' him. Nehemiah responds by saying: 'The God of heaven is the one who will give us success, and we His servants are going to start building; but you have no share or claim or historic right in Jerusalem' (emphasis added). That's right, 2,500 years have passed, and it's the same argument!

Cheating Across Cultures

- From Inside Higher Ed :
...the complaints serve to spotlight some of the particular challenges inherent in addressing issues of academic integrity involving international students, many of whom come to American colleges with different conceptions of cheating. As the number of international students has increased in recent years — and the number of academic misconduct incidents involving international students has risen accordingly — educators have increasingly embraced the need to address academic integrity concerns proactively, recognizing in their actions the various cultural influences that can help cause one to cheat.

Most of the concerns surrounding international students and cheating center around plagiarism, a form of cheating that’s all too common among American undergraduates, some of whom say they were never taught what was legitimate and what wasn’t. But while international students certainly are far from alone in cheating, their circumstances are often unique, and international student advisors and experts cite a whole host of specific reasons why international students might knowingly or unknowingly circumvent the system.

Foremost among them is that the Western style of citing sources isn’t universal: Greenblatt points out that many Asian students, for instance, come from educational systems in which the norm is to repeat back a textbook or a professor verbatim (without a citation), as a sign of respect to the source of knowledge. In collectivist cultures, adds Petra Crosby, director of international student programs and a lecturer in the cross-cultural studies concentration at Carleton College, knowledge is often viewed as a shared endeavor, so “copying” doesn’t always encapsulate the same connotation. Not to mention that knowledge itself can be defined differently, at least as far as what’s common and doesn’t need to be cited: What’s common knowledge in Indiana can, after all, be substantially different than what’s common knowledge in India....

Broader Vision for Languages: MLA

From Inside Higher Ed:
Taken together, the [MLA] report says that the definition of successful language training should change. “The language major should be structured to produce a specific outcome: educated speakers who have deep translingual and transcultural competence,” the report says. “Advanced language training often seeks to replicate the competence of an educated native speaker, a goal that post-adolescent learners rarely reach. The idea of translingual and transcultural competence, in contrast, places value on the ability to operate between languages. Students are educated to function as informed and capable interlocutors with educated native speakers in the target language. They are also trained to reflect on the world and themselves through the lens of another language and culture. They learn to comprehend speakers of the target language as members of foreign societies and to grasp themselves as Americans — that is, as members of a society that is foreign to others.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Summers strikes again?

Kim Bottomly, deputy provost for science, technology and faculty development at Yale University, has been named president of Wellesley College.

How many women scientist University Presidents will owe their appointments, in some small part, to the loose lips of Larry Summers? Is there a suitable reverse expression (less cliche'd than "every cloud has a silver lining") for "no good deed goes unpunished"?

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

New Abortion Bill To Require Fetal Consent

New Abortion Bill To Require Fetal Consent | The Onion - America's Finest News Source
New Abortion Bill To Require Fetal Consent

Shark Family Values

Study: Female Sharks Fertilize Own Eggs - From The New York Times:
DUBLIN, Ireland (AP) -- Female sharks can fertilize their own eggs and give birth without sperm from males, according to a new study of the asexual reproduction of a hammerhead in a U.S. zoo.

The joint Northern Ireland-U.S. research, being published Wednesday in the Royal Society's peer-reviewed Biology Letter journal, analyzed the DNA of a shark born in 2001 in the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, Neb. The shark was born in a tank with three potential mothers, none of whom had contact with a male hammerhead for at least three years.

Where is Jerry Falwell now that we need him?

Anonymous sperm donor traced on internet

New Scientist: Anonymous sperm donor traced on internet

LATE last year, a 15-year-old boy rubbed a swab along the inside of his cheek, popped it into a vial and sent it off to an online genealogy DNA-testing service. But unlike most people who contact the service, he was not interested in sketching the far reaches of his family tree. His mother had conceived using donor sperm and he wanted to track down his genetic father.

That the boy succeeded using only the DNA test, genealogical records and some internet searches has huge implications for the hundreds of thousands of people who were conceived using donor sperm. With the explosion of information about genetic inheritance, any man who has donated sperm could potentially be found by his biological offspring. Absent and unknown fathers will also become easier to trace....

"This is the first time that I know of it being done," says Bryan Sykes, a geneticist at the University of Oxford and chairman of, a genetic genealogy service. The case raises serious questions about whether past promises of anonymity can be honoured, he says...

The news will be especially unsettling for men who donated anonymously before the power of genetics was fully appreciated. Donors were often college students who traded their sperm for beer money. Many have not told their wives or children and have never considered the implications of having a dozen offspring suddenly wanting to meet them. "The case shows that there are ethical and social concerns about assisted reproduction that we did not think about," says Trudo Lemmens, a bioethicist at the University of Toronto, Canada.

Can anyone figure this out?

U.S. about-face gives Israel green light for Syria dialogue - From Haaretz :
By Ze'ev Schiff

The Bush administration has changed its position regarding a possible receptive Israeli response to the calls of Syria's President Bashar Assad for peace talks.

The American change of heart is accompanied by several preconditions. Washington emphasized that Israel is, of course, entitled to discuss the future of the Golan Heights, security arrangements and peace with Syria. But Israel should insist on not agreeing to any negotiations, not even indirectly, regarding the United States' positions, and also not about the future of Lebanon.

The new American message says that in possible talks with Syria, there are three 'cards,' or main issues. The first is the Golan Heights card, and this is a matter for Syria and Israel to decide.

The two other cards are Lebanon and the Washington's policies. Israel has been told that it is not in its interest to make promises to the Syrians regarding the way the U.S. will behave. This is a matter to be dealt with only by the U.S. and the Bush administration. Furthermore, Israel was told that the Lebanese question cannot be on the table of negotiations between Syria and Israel.

Let's hope?

From an article on the impact of displaced Iraqis on life in Jordan: Print:
Now he [Firas, a native Jordanian] lives in an apartment he rented with several friends in Amman. Every day he sleeps in a different bed: 'It depends who isn't in the apartment that day.' What about marrying an Iraqi woman, he is asked. 'No, no. The Iraqi women are disrespectful. They're tough and they demand a lot from their husbands. It's the bad education of Saddam Hussein, who granted Iraqi women a high status. Here the women are still polite. Let's hope that the Iraqi women won't ruin them for us.'

Free Haleh!--A Scholar Detained

From Inside Higher Ed::

When news broke that Iran had incarcerated Haleh Esfandiari in a notoriously brutal prison in northern Tehran on May 8, politicians, including the presidential hopefuls Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, spoke out for the Iranian-American scholar’s release. So did a coalition of faculty members, with a letter to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

And just as academics began stepping up their public criticisms of the Iranian government’s actions on Monday with an additional flurry of letters and petitions, reports surfaced that Esfandiari — director of the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, in Washington — had been charged with “seeking to topple the ruling Islamic establishment.” Despite the escalations and some calls for an academic boycott, no serious plans for the latter seem to be in the works so far.

The Wilson Center said it doesn’t know if the charges are formal. “This is very disturbing,” Lee H. Hamilton, the institution’s president and director, said in a statement. “Haleh has not engaged in any activities to undermine any government, including the Iranian government. Nor does the Wilson Center engage in any such activities. The charges are totally unfounded, and without any substance whatsoever. There is not one scintilla of evidence to support these outrageous claims.” The center, though partially funded by the federal government and nominally a part of the Smithsonian Institution, is nonpartisan and widely considered independent.

The allegations that Esfandiari was somehow backing an American agenda to attack the Iranian government from within also raise academic freedom concerns. Even a presumption that a scholar’s work is not independent and part of a national agenda could undermine academics’ work on the Middle East, suggested Jonathan Knight, who directs the program in academic freedom and tenure at the American Association of University Professors, which released a letter to Ahmadinejad on Monday urging Esfandiari’s release.

“Now that view” — that someone is “doing the bidding of the American administration” — “should be very worrying to any scholar who writes an article or affiliates with a project that can be interpreted by Iranian authorities as hostile to them,” Knight said.

Are medical residents "students"?

From Inside Higher Ed: Big Legal Victory for Teaching Hospitals:

Universities and hospitals that train doctors won a potentially huge victory Friday in a long-running, many-million-dollar legal fight with the Internal Revenue Service.

The ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit vacated a lower federal court’s 2005 decision that medical residents are in all cases required to pay Social Security taxes on their wages. The lower court’s ruling — which clashed with a 1998 decision by another federal appeals court that had been seen as the prevailing legal precedent — had been embraced by the Internal Revenue Service in its push to force teaching hospitals to pay tens (if not hundreds) of millions of dollars in back taxes....

We reject the government’s assertion that courts should defer to a ‘bright line’ rule that medical residents can never be exempted from [Federal Insurance Contributions Act] taxation as students,” the appeals panel added. “Instead, a case-by-case analysis is necessary to determine whether a medical resident enrolled in a [graduate medical education] program qualifies” for a student exemption.

The appeals court directed the lower court to rule specifically on whether “Mount Sinai qualifies as a ’school, college, or university’ and whether the Mount Sinai residents qualify as ’students.’ ” (Florida’s Mount Sinai does not award medical degrees, unlike the similarly named institution in New York with which it is not affiliated.)

Spelling it out...

Untitled Document: "St. Lawrence University President Blasts U.S. Education Secretary in Speech

CANTON, N.Y., May 21 (AScribe Newswire) -- At its commencement ceremony held on Sunday, May 20, St. Lawrence University President Daniel F. Sullivan blasted U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, calling a recent report issued by a commission she appointed 'a national embarrassment.'

In his remarks before 551 graduates and their guests, Sullivan said that the education department is out of touch with what America wants and needs from its educated populace and lashed out at the Spellings' proposed reforms.

'Almost every day we read in the newspaper of efforts by Spellings to dumb down the education for life we seek to provide at St. Lawrence and substitute something that is woefully inferior,' Sullivan stated.

He added that the report of the Commission on the Future of Higher Education (the 'Spellings Commission') was 'meant to be a bold outline for how higher education in America should be reformed to meet the needs of students and the nation in the 21st century. Instead, it is in its major thrusts, in my view, a national embarrassment.'

Sullivan said, 'The vision of higher education suggested in the report is a cafeteria 'grab-and-go' system about as far removed from intentional, serious, dedicated and demanding study as one can get. And in the entire document, the word 'faculty' is used only once, in an aside, as if the future strength and vitality of the nation's professoriate were somehow irrelevant to creating and sustaining excellent higher education in the 21st century."

Just in time for Spellings appearance on the Daily Show?
UPDATE: Which was pretty lame.

What If Ruth the Moabite Came to America Today?

From Rabbi Arthur Waskow

Today in America, more and more of us are poverty-stricken like Ruth, outcasts like Ruth; some of us are prosperous, like Boaz. Boaz affirmed that in a decent society, everyone was entitled to decent work for a decent income. Everyone -- even, or especially, a despised immigrant from a despised nation. Everyone -- not just 94% of the people. Everyone had the right simply to walk onto a field and begin to work, begin to use the means-of-production of that era.

And Boaz could not order his regular workers to be economically "efficient." They could not harvest everything: not what grew in the corners of the field, not what they missed on the first go-round. Social compassion was more important than efficiency. No downsizing allowed.

Although Boaz was generous-hearted, Ruth's right to glean did not depend upon his generosity. It was the law.

Ruth was entitled not only to a job, but to respect. No name-calling, no sexual harassment.

And she, as well as Boaz, was entitled to Shabbat: time off for rest, reflection, celebration, love. She was entitled to "be" -- as well as to "do."

Because Ruth and Boaz, the outcast and the solid citizen, got together, they became the ancestors of King David ? and therefore of Messiah, the transformation that brings peace and justice to the world.

Smithsonian toned down exhibit on Arctic

Smithsonian toned down exhibit on Arctic - Yahoo! News:
Smithsonian Institution toned down an exhibit on climate change in the Arctic for fear of angering Congress and the Bush administration, says a former administrator at the museum.

Among other things, the script, or official text, of last year's exhibit was rewritten to minimize and inject more uncertainty into the relationship between global warming and humans, said Robert Sullivan, who was associate director in charge of exhibitions at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History.

Also, officials omitted scientists' interpretation of some research and let visitors draw their own conclusions from the data, he said. In addition, graphs were altered 'to show that global warming could go either way,' Sullivan said.

'It just became tooth-pulling to get solid science out without toning it down,' said Sullivan, who resigned last fall after 16 years at the museum. He said he left after higher-ups tried to reassign him.

At least the exhibit doesn't have cowboys saddling up dinosaurs! (See museum of creationism)

Latest US News Survey of Poor Job Prospects: Whistleblowers

Whistleblowers Charge Retaliation; More Protections Sought:
By William Fisher
t r u t h o u t | Report

Career federal employees who report waste, fraud, abuse and mismanagement in government agencies are routinely subjected to career-ending retaliation, humiliation and legal costs - despite laws that are supposed to protect them, and repeated assurances from the White House, many government agencies and Congress that there is zero tolerance for retaliation.

These are some conclusions of public interest organizations that monitor the federal bureaucracy. They say the incidence of retaliation has increased exponentially during the administration of President George W. Bush, and they are calling on Congress to strengthen legal protections for whistleblowers.

As more than 40 public interest groups marked 'Washington Whistleblowers Week' - a weeklong gathering of whistleblowers from throughout the country in Washington, DC, to share their stories with Congress and the public - Joan Claybrook, president of the advocacy group Public Citizen, said, 'Whistleblowers are crucial to the health of democracy and need stronger protections from Congress against retaliation.'...

Science relating to public health issues has also been under severe scrutiny. Emblematic of this problem was the resignation of Dr. Susan Wood, who quit her post as assistant commissioner of women's health at the Food and Drug Administration in protest against the FDA's long delay in approving the so-called Plan B emergency contraception medication for over-the-counter sale, despite the recommendations of agency scientists and outside review panels. Dr. Wood chose to resign after repeated unsuccessful attempts to make her objections heard within the FDA.

Dr. Wood charges that federal health agencies "seem increasingly unable to operate independently, and that this lack of independence compromises their mission of promoting public health and welfare." She added, "Whether it is the environment, energy policy, science education or public health, the American public expects our government to make the best decisions, based on the best available evidence."

"Having spent 15 years working for the federal government, nearly five of which were at the FDA, I care deeply about what's happening in the federal agencies, particularly our health agencies. Nearly twenty-five cents of every consumer dollar is spent on products regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. We count on the FDA for the safety and effectiveness of our medicines, vaccines and medical devices, and for the safety of the blood and food supply. The American public does not want to - nor should it - have to think twice about the quality and reliability of information it is getting from the FDA. Its reputation as the international gold standard for regulatory agencies, and as a body that sets the bar very high when it comes to scientific evidence and integrity, is being put at risk over adult access to contraception. Why would the administration risk such a reputation over this?"

Excerpted from a lengthy original report on Truthout.