Tuesday, April 24, 2007

A captain in the US army's email written to your's truly

A few weeks ago, I was perusing Daily Kos, when I happened to read comments written by a very knowledgeable user. He debunked some of the more outlandish things blabbed about by user "Meteor Blades." Intrigued, I wrote him an email. It turns out this individual is a captain in the US army. He goes by the user name "John Rohan," and he is an extraordinary person. This is the email he wrote to your's truly...I think it will enlighten you all. It puts the Iraq War in a very different light.
Sorry it took so long to answer back. I've been on leave the last couple weeks and don't check this email account often. By coincidence, like your friend, I am a captain in the army too, and have done two tours myself. I think we should stay, but I would drastically change tactics and then cut down the troop numbers greatly. I would declare martial law, appoint a single strongman in charge for a two-year period, arrest Muqtada Al-Sadr, draft every eligible male, ban all personal weapons period, issue a new Iraqi ID without religion indicated on it, ban all non-essential foreigners from entering the country, and shut down the cell phone network. All the above would make life very difficult for the terrorists. To answer some of your other questions, here below is a letter I sent out to all my friends back in February, just before I got back from Iraq my second time. John Hello all, I'm leaving Iraq safe and sound. In fact, I am literally waiting for my flight out of here as I write this. This was my second tour, and hopefully my last. Now that you don't need to worry about me anymore (and if you didn't worry, it’s ok) I just wanted to describe my tour a little here to the people I love and to tell you a few things the press gets wrong. This way I also don't need to describe what I did here a dozen times over. If you are not interested, just skip all the below. It ended up longer than I planned. The opinions here are mine only, and probably not shared by everyone on this list. 1) What my job was: I was the intel officer for a transition team. We were a very small (11 man) team that worked as a liaison to an Iraqi national police battalion (Once upon a time, there was a real difference between Iraqi police, National police, and Iraqi army, but no more - they really all do the same job). We were pretty much on our own, and worked with our Iraqi soldiers on a daily basis. When I first got here, I expected we were to train them, and work with their staff. In reality, we didn't do much training; these guys were mostly all veterans, some of the Iran-Iraq war. I did work with their intel officers and train them, but the majority of our time was spent on joint patrols, or watching them while they conducted searches and raids. They prefer to have US forces there so people will see the raid is legit, not being done by a militia. We prefer to be there, because then there's less chance the Iraqis would abuse prisoners or mishandle weapons or evidence. 2) What is Baghdad like? - Well, it’s pretty much like it was in 2003-2004. That is, hot, dry, and not a lot of fun. The whole place just looks and reeks of death. Along the streets you can find one black spot after another where a bomb has gone off. If you look at the buildings, it would be hard to find one without bullet marks on it. At regular intervals there are lots twisted shapes of cars, the remnants of car bombs that exploded but were never towed off. Playgrounds are rusty relics, soccer field have been neglected and turn into trash dumps. Dust is everywhere, and it’s impossible to keep anything really clean. All the buildings, no matter their original color, turn the same dust color eventually, so the whole city is essentially the same color everywhere. It’s impossible to really describe in one email the many ways dust degrades the quality of life here. This country was had the most advanced and prosperous civilization in the world. But that was thousands of years ago, when the rivers provided plenty for the 1 million people of the land. Now it’s 23 million, and there's also less river because Turkey has damned up many of the sources for the Tigris and Euphrates. There are actually fish still living in the Tigris, but you wouldn't want to swim in it or drink from it, I promise you.In the distance, you regularly hear the pops of gunfire, and every once in a while, a mortar. Some of the gunfire is celebratory, and sometimes the bullets fall and kill people. I've seen the US wrongly blamed for this; people don't understand that bullets fall to earth, and they assume that a single bullet from the sky must have been fired from an aircraft.If you looked around, you might also notice that women are missing. Of all people you see walking on the streets or riding in a car, there are about 6-7 men for every woman. Baghdad streets are usually crowded with children, but normally all you see are boys. Many soldiers get the impression that there aren't many women in this country, when in reality there are far more women than men. The reason is very simple. People who think the US is a chauvinistic society should try visiting Iraq (or any country in the Middle East). Iraqis believe a woman's place is in the home (both figuratively and literally) and even when they go out they cover up from head to toe with a garment called the abaya. This was true in Saddam's time as well, but it’s even worse now, because of fears of woman's safety. To contrast with Germany, where women go jogging or biking all the time, this would be impossible here. To Muslims, everything is connected to sex, everything. If a woman did decide to simply jog down a street, I am told that everyone will point to her and say: "look at that bad woman, she is trying to show off her body to everyone", and the religious militias might beat her up for it.Believe it or not, Iraqi police and Iraqi army have women in them, but very few, and their job is really only to search female prisoners. Before they go home for the day, they change out of their uniform into an abaya, and generally don't tell their friends or family about their "scandalous" job. 3) Did I see any action? In 2003-2004, during my first tour, very little. I mostly dealt with prisoners and didn't go on many patrols or raids. But this time, I have been shot at, had a bomb blow up directly in front of me while manning a gun turret, witnessed a suicide car bomb go off just down the street (and searched through the grisly aftermath), treated an Iraqi gunshot victim while under fire, and many other gruesome things. I'm not trying to toot my own horn here; I didn't really do anything heroic, I just did the same job as everyone else with me at the time. But as bad as it was, all this is far worse for the average Iraqi soldier. They have to go through all this, plus they get paid far less for it, they don't have a safe place to go home to eventually, they don't have the advanced body and vehicle armor like we do, and their medical care is seriously lacking, since so many doctors have left the country to take safer, better paying jobs in the West. Here are just some of the ways the media or press either misunderstands Iraq, or deliberately distorts it: Myth 1) Every time we kill/capture an insurgent, more just takes his place, the war is just creating more terrorists. This is true to a point, but there is the other side of the coin. Every time terrorists kill an Iraqi national, it drives his family members to want to fight the terrorists - some of them join the ISF (Iraqi security forces) for this reason; unfortunately, many instead join a competing terrorist group to take out revenge. Myth 2) We are losing the war The war is actually a stalemate right now. If we are losing then the terrorists must be winning. Problem is, they don't dare openly control any territory and disappear pretty quickly whenever coalition forces or ISF show up in force. Moreover, they haven't achieved any of their objectives other than terrorizing the population. We made much more progress initially, but then it stopped. We are simply too divorced from the culture, language, and society to make much more progress. We can't blend in with the population or go deep undercover to root out the insurgents from their lairs. The Iraqis really do have to take it from here. For this reason, the planned upcoming surge in troops will not help much unless the tactics also change. We need to show a little more imagination than just playing "whack a mole". Some of the ideas I've heard kicked around for the extra troops do sound pretty good, but I'm not in that planning loop. Just have to see how it goes. Myth 3) Iraq is in a Civil War Not exactly a myth; This is actually entirely how you define civil war. It certainly isn't what you imagine as a classical example of Civil War, such as the US or Spanish Civil Wars. There aren't two clearly definable sides to the conflict. Each insurgent group (and there are many) is either Sunni or Shia, never mixed. But even these groups fight among themselves and both fight against US troops or Iraqi forces. If the US completely pulled out, my prediction is that it would turn into open civil war, with more definable sides as each faction decided to join one side or another. The danger is that the surrounding nations would get involved, and could be a very messy war. Myth 4) It’s a scandal that we didn't have more body armor for the troops or vehicles at the start of the war This one really galls me and I hear it a lot. Its strange that people who allege this didn't see it also as a scandal that Clinton didn't have body armor for soldiers in Somalia, Bosnia, or for that matter, any President in any prior war in US history (we have had flak jackets since Vietnam, but they stop shrapnel only - they aren't bulletproof). The reason why not every soldier had the IBA (interceptor body armor) at the start was that it was just being introduced for the very first time when the invasion took place! Now there is some misunderstanding on this among the public - if police departments have had bulletproof vests for a long time, why did it take the military so long to get them? The types of vests that police use would be pretty useless out here. Police vests stop handguns only, they don't stop any rifles unless they are of a very low caliber, and can't stop armor piercing bullets at all. The IBA is capable of stopping almost every kind of bullet there is (at least for a few hits). But it is bulky and hot as hell in the summertime!! Incredibly, some people are calling for more armor, like full arm and leg protection... I would ask them to try themselves going through an Iraqi Summer with all that on!! Also incredibly, sometimes the press is still claiming we don't have enough body armor, which hasn't been true for the last three years. Vehicle armor is a little different issue, and plenty of soldiers don't agree with me here. I feel the administration could have done more here, but not much. If, before the war, Rumsfeld tried to budget hundreds of millions for armor upgrade kits for Humvees, congress would have slammed him for it, and rightly so. There was no justifiable reason at that time to spend millions to put armor on a vehicles that still couldn't stand up to even the weakest Iraqi tank. Keep in mind that Humvees were meant to be military cars, like jeeps. They weren't supposed to be armored fighting vehicles. For that job we already had the Abrams tank, the Bradley, or the M113. But shortly after the invasion, it was decided that these vehicles were not ideal for regularly patrolling city streets, so they decided to go with Humvees for some patrols. I remember this time clearly. I guess they could have waited a couple months until more uparmored Humvees were available, but that would have given theinsurgents a faster head start in the cities of Iraq. I'm not sure if there really is a perfect answer here. Myth 5) The war was illegal It may have been immoral, if that's your opinion (not mine), but the war was actually technically legal. The UN had a mandatory resolution on Iraq authorizing the use of force if they didn't comply with inspections. Saddam didn't comply for 10 years and we let him get away with it (although we bombed him several times during the Clinton years). After such a long period of time, maybe it would have been better to get another resolution, but that's another story. Myth 6) Bush is to blame for all this violence Bush is certainly most to credit or blame for the invasion, but primary blame for the sectarian violence is on those who actually commit it. I saw this same attitude a couple years ago when so many commentators blamed the French government for the riots in Paris. I think there is an element of racism here; as if Arabs or Muslims in general just by nature can't help rioting or bombing other people, and so Bush's war set them all off and now of course that's all they will do. They can help it. They don't have to kill each other if they don't want to. If they don't want the US there the government now can simply ask us to leave. Even if they were justified in attacking coalition forces, what justification is there for them to blow up oil pipelines, hospitals and even crowded market places? That doesn't hurt us, it only hurts them.Shortly after I got here, there was a very shocking murder in a neighborhood right next to ours. An 8 year old boy was found dead with drill holes in his body and head. Let me say this straight - an EIGHT year old boy (same age as my daughter) was not just murdered, but tortured several times with a power drill. I'm sorry if that sounds upsetting (it upset me greatly) but there's no way to sugar coat it. It was almost certainly done by the Jaysh Al Mahdi (Sadr's militia), since that is one of their favorite techniques. Now there's no possible way this little boy was involved in terrorism. The only purpose of this torture and murder was to terrorize that particular Sunni neighborhood, and I'm sure it worked. Now in spite of all their religious justifications (it’s weird how every threatening letter here, no matter how violent the threats, is signed "in the name of Allah, the compassionate, the merciful"!), the terrorists are human beings and deep down they know they are doingsomething wrong. Of the hundreds of prisoners I have dealt with, some of whom were literally caught in the act, I have yet to see one proudly admit he is fighting a just cause, or doing something right. You know what insurgents do when they get caught? They cry, cry, cry and deny, deny deny. Even if they are caught with overwhelming evidence, they make the most ludicrous stories about their situation (one guy claimed he was setting off bombs only to protect children because children kept trying to play with them!!!), or they will claim they were forced to join the terrorists because of threats to their family. It’s usually not true, but even if true, I don't believe that being threatened is a justifiable excuse for murdering innocent people. Strangely, for all their ferocity, they are extremely docile after they are caught and almost always spill their information very freely. If they truly believed they were fighting a just cause I think their behavior would be very different. I read in the paper that the Gitmo prisoners act very differently. Maybe it’s because they are the most hard core extremists? I don't know. Myth 7) Soldiers rape, murder and torture They do, but so do everyone else in the world. Certainly not at the rates you see in the press. My experiences here have forced me to challenge some of my past assumptions. For example, years ago when I saw the movie "Platoon", like everyone else I took it for granted that just like in the film, soldiers in Vietnam regularly tortured/raped/killed civilians, and got away with it. Now I am much more skeptical of these claims; I'm sure they happened, but I believe it may have been much more rare than people assume. The reason is because reporting on Iraq and soldiers actions has been so skewed from my personal experience that sometimes I wonder if I will ever believe the news again. I'm not exaggerating, probably only about 30% of what you read in the press about Iraq, especially if they are recent reports, is accurate. I can't tell you how often a news report said civilians were killed here or there in Baghdad, when I was there and no such thing happened at all. Or three werekilled but the news outlets say 30. Or they label the dead as "civilians" when more accurately they were actually armed insurgents. Moreover, there is no balance at all. On the very rare occasions when a soldier was accused of rape, it makes front pages everywhere. Yet, there have only been a handful of rape allegations in Iraq and even fewer verdicts. Moreover, anytime you have between 100-200 thousand people in one place, you are likely to have some incidents of rape and sexual assault. In fact, the rate out here is probably lower than the US average. Heck, once in 2003 my unit stopped a rape in progress at an Iraqi home. Did the press report it? Of course not, that's not newsworthy to them.In fact, going back to the murdered boy I spoke about earlier: the press didn't report that either. And why should they? It happens here every day. But one incident alone was far more egregious than all of the "tortures" done at Abu Gharayb put together, yet Abu Gharayb was splashed on the front page of the NYT at least two dozen times.Speaking of Abu Gharayb, I have had Iraqi prisoners sent there on my orders. A few of them were later released and I met them again (they sometimes come back trying to find out what happened to other prisoners, or looking for their missing belongings or some such). This was both before and after the big scandal broke. I asked them how they were treated, and not a single one of them told me he was abused there. They did have plenty of complaints about the food, the length of time, visitation, etc. But not abuse. In any case, I think a lot of this distortion is because people want to discredit Bush, and so they do it by criticizing the military, like they are one and the same. But I need to emphasize this: It is NOT George W Bush's military! We are not his personal force. I have served since the Clinton years and seen very little difference in the way the military is run. Bush is commander in Chief, but he actually scarcely gets involved in the day to day operations. Myth 8) We armed Saddam in the first place I see this falsehood repeated a lot, and a lot of authors have tried to cash in on it. The US did provide some assistance, but we never sold weapons to Saddam (at least not directly, and saying we "armed Saddam" is ridiculous). The US did directly sell some artillery pieces to Iraq, but the last was in 1967, before Saddam's time. During the Iran-Iraq war, the US also sold some unarmed helicopters, and some US companies sold chemicals, some of which were used to help make chemical weapons later. But the chemicals themselves were perfectly legal to sell, and Saddam was also buying them from other countries anyway. The CIA did help Iraq make contacts to buy weapons from several other nations, and strangely these nations get very little criticism for it. For example, France sold Saddam Roland missiles, Mirage fighters and Super Etendard bombers, while Argentina sold thousands of anti-personnel mines. One popular weapon of choice among insurgents is a particular Italian-made anti-tank mine. Myth 9) The US used chemical weapons in Fallujah This was a huge lie spread in a short film by RAI, an Italian company, several months ago, and was debunked, but not loudly enough, in my opinion. They showed footage of blackened bodies with Iraqis claiming that it was done by napalm and white phosphorous from US attacks. But they didn't seem to notice that the bodies still had clothes on them, and the clothes weren't burnt at all! The bodies were actually dug from the ground and were black from decomposition, not burning. In any case, napalm has never been used here to my knowledge, and in the desert it wouldn't be very useful anyway. White phosphorous has been used to smoke out insurgents, since it makes a lot of smoke, but it doesn't work well as a weapon. But even if it was used as a weapon, it is not a chemical weapon under any international agreement. This is an important distinction, because every weapon on Earth, whether bullets, knives or bombs, uses chemicals. Myth 9) The Iraqi people hate Americans and want to kill each other I see this attitude around, among a lot of soldiers too. Truth is, probably less than 1% of Iraqis want to kill Americans, and over 90% want the violence to end. But even 1% in a nation of 23 million is 230,000 people, so it’s still a lot of people! But the point is, the vast majority of Iraqis are decent people, and they really do want and end to the fighting and just to be able to live in a decent country. I'm not just saying this in some obligatory way. There are several Iraqis that I am very proud to call my friends, and would be welcome in my home anytime. But what they don't seem to understand yet is that the US cannot fix this all for them. They must do this themselves.
I hope you found this all as interesting as I did!

Oh what a choice i have at the next General Election

Peter Tatchell has been selected by the Green Party as it's canidiate to stand for the Oxford East seat at the next General Election. It should make it an interesting election campaign (they've been boring to be honest in the last few years - i swear the lib dems thought i was voting for them as i had a Radiohead t-shirt on when i went to vote at the last election, i voted Labour). He will have an uphill struggle if you go by the last election results for Oxford East. Andrew Smith (Labour) had 36.9% of the vote compared to the green party's share of 4.3% of the vote. Full election stats. Peter Tatchell will probably not win the seat. Andrew Smith may well just hang onto his seat at the next election (Liberal Democrats stand a good chance of winning the seat, unless there is a major recovery from the Conserative party). In any case i shall be following the election campaign for Oxford East whenever the next Election is called (2008 or 2009). As to who i'm voting for at the next election ? It all depends on how well the political parties are doing at the time. My vote will come down to Labour or the Liberal Democrats. I don't really connect with the Conserative party. Though i am interested in seeing David Camerons policy's, as they will be the first step in him winning or losing the next election. BBC news article about Tatchell.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

British Politics - an interesting few months lay ahead

Come this May it will have been 10 years since Tony Blair took the Labour Party to a landslide victory over the tired Conserative party that had been in power for nearly 20 years. I could detail how Blair went about winning that election, but i won't. Suffice to say Blair changed the very soul of the labour party to win elections. New Labour is a pale shadow of Old Labour. Now the next few months are going to be very interesting indeed. On the one hand elections are coming in May. The conventional wisdom is that Blair will annouce that he is standing down as the leader of the Labour party after those Elections have taken place. That is just the first part of the process that will lead to Mr Blair leaving Number 10. It appears that Gordon Brown has already begun plotting his leadership election campaign. According to an article on the guardians website, Brown has the support of 217 Labour MP's, 93 are undecided, and 35 have refused to back him. Interestingly enough David Miliband the Environment sectary has been put down as undecided, even though he has said he would support Brown's leadership challenge. Many of Blair's supporters are pinning their hopes on Miliband running against Brown (anyone but Brown they shout). Now in my own opinion Miliband would be better off sitting this one out. As i think he is the future of the Labour party. My feeling is that the next general election will end up being a hung parliament. Which means that no single party has enough seats to form a majority Government in the house of commons. If a hung Parliament does indeed occur then i believe Labour and the Liberal Democrats will most likely form a Government to keep the Tories out. The next interesting development is the fact that the Police have handed in their file on the cash for honours scanadal (it is illegal for Parties to take donations from doners on the provision that the donater would recieve a peerage in the house of lords). This file has to be reviewed by several different lawyers before the CPS decides if it is viable to press ahead with a prosecution, the process could take weeks or months. Those in the frame are some of Blair's closet aides. This may well dog Blair in his last weeks and months in Office. I doubt this would lead him to resigning as Prime Minister because he is obsessed with his legacy and perhaps doing as much damage to the labour party as he can. One final bloody nose for Brown. So he will cling on to his post for as long as possible. Unlike the Tory party the Labour party do not stab leaders in the back, because it's often a messy and drawn out affair that can play badly with the public. Labour MP's are terrified of losing their seats at the next election. Which brings me to David Cameron or as i like to think of him Blair Version 2.0 Cameron and his team have extensively studied the Blair way to winning and keeping power. Cameron has so far only given very sketchy details about Conserative Policys. Instead going for the headlines i.e. hug a hoodie e.t.c I have a distinct feeling that Tory policy will be dressed up to appeal to us the humble voters. And if they do win power, they will pretend to follow those policys, only to subtly change them. I will never vote for the Conserative party, because i frankly dislike them. I joke that i won't vote for them because Thatcher took away my free milk at school. But the real reasons are that i do not share the Conserative outlook. It harks back to a British nation that died with Thatcher when she fell from grace. So the next few months are going to be quite interesting. Party politics will rear it's ugly head and the usual antics will happen in the house of commons. Tony Blair will face increasing pressure to stand down from the Brown camp if the CPS decide to go ahead with a criminal trial over the cash for honours. The elections will go badly for Labour, as a reaction to Blair's arrogance towards his handling of Iraq and other issues. The SNP will most likely clean up in the Scottish elections, starting the path towards a vote on the issue of Scotland becoming an independent nation once more. So if things go well for Blair he will be out of office by July. With Brown almost certainly becoming the Prime Minister. If things go badly for Blair ? He'll leave office in disgrace and not in the blaze of glory that he wishes to leave Number 10 in. Blair's legacy ? Spin instead of substance with only a few good deeds to his name. It's been an interesting 10 years, watching the Blair/Brown relationship develop into outright hatred on either side. Tories being so shell shocked they became incapable of mounting any credible challenge to Tony Blair. The Liberal Democrats slowly building on election wins at local and national levels. And the build up of apathy towards politicians which have lead to some very low turn outs at local and general elections. The next few months will have many twists and turns before the post Blair era begins. Blair will not go quietly though. Most outgoing Prime Ministers have a pop at the detractors and then spend the rest of their lives attacking the Party that has dumped them. Thatcher has only lived this long out of spite towards the Tory party. She is a shadow that Cameron if he likes it or not, will have to excise from the British publics collective memory, if he has a chance in hell of getting a majority at the next election. Brown's leadership scheme. Cash for Honours information.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Holocaust survivor was a hero at VA Tech shootings

Amidst the tragedy of the VA Tech shootings is one inspirational story: a Holocaust survivor professor gave his life to save his students. he put his body in front of the shooter, blocking entrance into his classroom, and perished from bullets. JPost wrote a great article highlighting what happened. Please read it right here.
As Jews worldwide honored on Monday the memory of those who were murdered in the Holocaust, a 76-year-old survivor sacrificed his life to save his students in Monday's shooting at Virginia Tech College that left 33 dead and over two dozen wounded. Professor Liviu Librescu, 76, threw himself in front of the shooter when the man attempted to enter his classroom. The Israeli mechanics and engineering lecturer was shot to death, "but all the students lived - because of him," Virginia Tech student Asael Arad - also an Israeli - told Army Radio. Several of Librescu's other students sent e-mails to his wife, Marlena, telling of how he blocked the gunman's way and saved their lives, said Librescu's son, Joe. "My father blocked the doorway with his body and asked the students to flee," Joe Librescu said in a telephone interview from his home outside of Tel Aviv. "Students started opening windows and jumping out."
Thanks to Kevin for pointing out this story. I am awed by the bravery and valor of this incredible man.

Virginia Tech campus shootings

I'm at a loss for words over this. It appears yet again that America needs to debate it's gun laws properly. However the time for that is not now. The gun man has been named as Cho Seung-Ho, a 26 year old student from South Korea (who was in the US legally). It's just a tragic waste of life and seems senseless. One of the Victims was a 75 to 76 (reports are conflicting on his exact age) year old Professor of mechanics and engineering. His name was Liviu Librescu, a survivor of the Holocaust and a well know figure in academic circles internationally. He apparently put himself between the gunman and his students, to allow them time to escape through a classroom window. A terrible waste of life, as for so many of the victims yesterday. My thoughts are with the family's of the Victims. Virginia tech shootings CNN BBC reports on the shootings. BBC in pictures report JP.com Article Foxnews Article

Friday, April 13, 2007

Maybe women...really DON'T need men??

A new scientific study came out, saying that they see a possible way for two women to reproduce, and have the kids genetically their's. (it would only be able to be a woman) Oh yes, read it yourself! Can you imagine the implications for this, if it actually becomes a reality? Can Maureen Dowd really be right?

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

For Red Tulip...

I hope this will make you laugh... Your Friends, :)

Pelosi seeks to 'talk' with Ahmedinejad (aka Dinnerjacket)

That's right, Nancy Pelosi is open to meeting with Ahmedinejad, aka Dinnerjacket the Holocaust denier, who is seeking nukes and said he wants the end of Israel.
Words really fail me. This is a new low. We know that Nancy previously was in Syria with a shmata on her head, meeting with Assad, telling them the US seeks peace. (it should be noted there were prominent Repubs there as well, including Jihad Darrell, who was on Bill Maher's show a month back, saying that "Palestine" was a land of peace prior to Israel's creation)

This is like some sort of bizarro dream. They really are laughing at us. Iran is to make a movie and book about the British soldiers. I am sure this will be a real "explosion" at the box office, aren't you?

This is the world we live in, folks. The Speaker of the House travels to Syria with a shmata on her head, and then announces she wants to go to Iran. This is our reality.


Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Hospital Bans Hot Cross Buns in Effort to Avoid Offending non-Christians

No, really. Feel free to read about this yourself.

Due to a fear of "upsetting non-Christians," hospital patients could not eat a traditional food on Easter. Now, I happen to find hot cross buns to be delicious, and I even like the little hot cross buns song! And yup, I am Jewish. This all is utter nonsense.

Where are we going as a civilization that we ban hot cross buns from English hospitals, simply out of fear of offending?

How can this horrible trend of giving into madness be reversed?

Monday, April 9, 2007

Culture for All book club

In light of all the recent troubles with the world, I figured that Culture for All should have a book club. I think that it would be nice to have a place where we all read books of relevance, and then discuss them. The first book on the list is Ayaan Hirsi Ali's Infidel. I am halfway through this book, and I feel it is so great, that all Culture for All readers should read this, in order to discuss the implications of what Ms. Hirsi Ali brings up in her life story. I have found her life to be so compelling, so astonishing, that I think everyone who can read this book, should. Here are some other books I have in mind, after Infidel... 1) Man's Search for Meaning, by Viktor Frankl - One man, a world reknowned psychotherapist, discusses his experience in Auschwitz, and how he has observed that those who had a reason to live were much more likely to survive. It is an inspirational story, and shows how nihilism may lead to the death of the West. 2) Restoring Free Speech and Liberty on Campus, by Donald Downs - I have not read this book yet, but I have it from Amazon. Mr. Downs discusses how campus speech codes and political correctness has led to an atomsphere of repression and lack of real learning on college campuses he gives his prescription over how to change things, and traces the history of this development. 3) The Middle East, by Bernard Lewis - Gives an overview of the history of the Middle East. great primer, lacks Said-ian political correctness. 4) The New Concise History of the Crusades, by Thomas Madden - An un-PC history of the crusades. Essential reading, given the history of the Crusades apparently is still being debated. 5) In Spite of the Gods, by Edward Luce - A concise book, explaining the rise of modern India. For those who crave an understanding of modern India, this is one of the best books out there. I gained invaluable insights into India, and exactly how and why things are how they are, by reading this book. Of course, it tells one side of the story - but it's a story you rarely hear. ------------------------- Thsoe five books are future books planned for the Culture for All book club. But first of all - Ayaan Hirsi Ali's Infidel. Anyone who can get a hold of it, please do! I would love everyone's thoughts about this very powerful tome.

Iran announced it is going nuclear

Well, kind readers, the day of reckoning is coming closer...Iran has announced it is enriching uranium, and said it will not suspend this process. Evidently, some uranium has already been enriched. Feel free to read more about this right here. My prediction: the world will not do a single thing to stop Iran, and Iran WILL go fully nuclear. After the pathetic response to the British hostages...I don't see how the West will do anything other than bend down, kiss the ankles, and take it. Iran said they will kidnap more soldiers in the future, and the response of the West is "Yes yes, we will capitulate without firing a shot!" We have lost the will to fight, most recently evidenced by the House Democratic leader meeting with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt! To sum up... Iran kidnapped soldiers, who then immediately afterwards appeared on TV and apologized for being in the way of Iranian guns. They get back to the UK and say that "fighting was not an option." (huh?) Iran says they will kidnap more soldiers, they are fighting our soldiers in Iraq as we speak, they announce they will enrich uranium, and our response is to meet with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and have a Khomenei imam lead the Texas state legislature in prayer. Sanctions against Iran? We can forget that, because how can we lecture Russia and China when in fact the EU is a major trading partner with Iran? Have we lost the will to fight? Are we so blinded by the almighty dollar that we are willing to put up with basically anything, even the loss of life and liberty, just for a fast buck?

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Passover and Easter with cancer

Hello all, I thought I would share a story about Passover and Easter with my family. But before I do, I should give a bit of a back story. My dad and mom are divorced, and my dad remarried to a Catholic woman whose prior husband coincidentally was Jewish. (he died) Her own beliefs are a mix of Catholicism, Judaism, and agnosticism. My dad is an agnostic Jew. Anyway. So Monday of last week was the first night of Passover - first seder. I decided to go to my dad's house for first seder, because I wanted to be there for my dad, since my stepmom has cancer that appears to be incurable. My grandma (dad's mom), her boyfriend (oh yes, she has a boyfriend!), and aunt picked me up at my apartment for the drive out to Long Island. I should say I was hacking up a storm the whole way, because I had a very bad cold. I even purchased surgical masks, so I would not get my stepmom sick. Along the way, we passed an Italian ices store, and picked up the ices for desert. I was of course criticized for even mentioning ices, as I shouldn't want desert, evidently, because I am a house. (of course I was also was asked if I wanted ices, after they should I shouldn't even LOOK at desert!) I also purchased the seder plate for the seder. My grandma cooked her bland chicken matzoh ball soup. We got to the house (my dad's house), and I ended up sitting there with my grandma, her boyfriend, and my aunt. We were waiting for my dad and stepmom to get back from chemo treatment. I was sitting there, getting hungry, and then got a phone call that my dad and stepmom won't get home until 7:30 pm or later. Meanwhile, my grandma was going on and on and on about my weight. Okay I get it - I have to lose weight. But again - not housely. And it made the entire time just unbearable. Then my grandma's boyfriend got to the point where he had to drive back home - as he is old and a not-so-great driver. So my grandma heated up the matzoh ball soup, while I was downstairs, stewing, chatting with Adil. I had lost all my appetite. My grandma came downstairs and said "You have to eat, too!" She admonished me to eat. So...I ended up eating matzoh ball (bland) soup, with the whole chicken and whole (unchopped u)p vegetables in the soup, with grandma, her boyfriend, and aunt. I also smeared some charoset on matzoh, drank two glasses of wine, said a prayer...and then left. NO seder. Hacking up a storm the whole time. Miserable when I got home. I also missed work for this. THEN... I came over today, for Easter dinner. Oh yes, my dad is having an Easter dinner, though never had a seder. I guess this shows you how secular my family has become. But anyway, I hold no grudges about this. I have decided to just grin and bear this all. But I have remained kosher for Passover all week long. I guess what had me mildly upset was when I asked my stepmom if she wanted some matzoh brei I was going to cook, and she yelled at me about it. Saying it was rude to even think about cooking. Then she apologized, only to say that on Easter I should "observe how a REAL family has a REAL dinner." But instead of getting completely outraged by this...I decided that I should be grateful. Grateful that my stepmom is somehow, miraculously, getting better. Against all medical projections. Perhaps it's the prayer, I don't know. I think it's just the determination to live. "He who has a why to live can withstand almost any HOW." - Nietsche In any case...I should not even complaining. I guess where I am going with all this is that I have realized how lucky I am. I am so exceedingly lucky to be born Jewish and be born in America. I could have been born in Somalia, as Ayaan Hirsi Ali was. I could have been many things. But I am not. So during this holiday season...think about the daily miracle of life. We are alive. We have our minds, our health, our spirit. So many things to be thankful for. We go through the daily bull caca of life...but in the end it's all worth it. I think it's all worth it.

Friday, April 6, 2007

India-Israel-US conference at Columbia University

I attended a conference about two months back that I never wrote about, but which in fact is an important first step in building bridges to the future. This conference was about Indian-American-Israeli relations, held at Columbia University. An article about the conference may be read here. I said I would write details about this conference, and here they are. Firstly I want to say that this conference was co-sponsored by many organizations, but I heard about it through AJC. I decided to attend because of my passion for both India and Israel. (well witnessed on this blog) The speakers were all well informed and interesting. Of particular note was Ambassador Raminder Singh Jassal, who served as the ambassador from India to Israel from 2001-2004 and has been the Indian ambassador to the United States since January 2005. The other speakers included an Indian-American Jew, an Indian who specializes in media relations, a high ranking officer in the Indian army, and a representative from AJC. Of all the speakers, I was struck with the following information in particular... The media rep said that the most important fact is that Israelis and Indians are building person to person bonds. She said that individual Indians and Israelis are connecting and seeing each other as people. I think this is key and the person to person bonds will be invaluable in the future. The army officer said that Israel and India do joint training sessions with each other. He said that the IDF has done practice drills in India, utilizing India's vast space as well as varied climate. He also said Indian and Israeli scientists have been working jointly on various military projects, including Israeli scientists who have repaired/rebuilt all the Soviet-era machinery of the Indian army. There is an intelligence link between the nations, and a commonality of a threat. The Indian-American Jew stressed that Jews in India have lived peacefully for generations, and now there are Israelis who travel to India - where you can even see menus in Hebrew! He noted in particular the absence in India, in contrast to most of the rest of the world, of a history of antisemitism. Finally, of note was the ambassador, who said that trade between India and Israel has skyrocketed in recent years, with tiny Israel being India's ninth largest trading partner. He said there is a common threat both nations face, and both nations are also democracies. The ambassador also praised the US for the nuclear deal reached last year, calling it historic. The ambassador only predicted the relationship between India and Israel (as well as the US) to get better. Afterwards, there were questions and answers, and the first question was from a total moonbat, who asked if there really was a common bond of democracy between India and Israel, since Israel is an apartheid state, not a democracy. This was shot down quickly, as I nearly puked in my mouth, listening to her. Another person asked how Muslims are treated in the Indian army - if they are seen as a weakness or a strength. The army guy said the Muslims in India are seen as a strength, and their Islamic status is a non-issue. My own question was, as usual, the most controversial of the night. I asked why sort of things are being done to confront Islamic terrorism within India, and to prevent people from wanting to be terrorists, and what should be done of Gandhi's failed legacy, as pacificism does not work in an age where Islamists wish to kill as many people as possible, and will not be deterred by pacifism. The answer I received was basically a non-answer. The answer centered on making people less poor, so they will not be lured into Islamofascism, and then saying Gandhi's words should not be taken literally today, but his spirit is still of consequence, saying David Ben Gurion had a portrait of Gandhi in his home. They basically said that if you show humanity, it will work. Afterwards, I enjoyed kosher vegetarian Indian cuisine, and I met the wife of the creator of Camera. I had an amazing talk with her, gave her my business card, and have been receiving emails from Camera ever since! Overall, it was a great conference, and I was very happy to be there and see it all firsthand. I hope there will be more conferences like them in the future, and I promise to report back as to the details about them in a more timely fashion.

Caroline Glick on The Iranian Hostage Crisis and More

Hi all,

I just wanted to link you to a MUST READ article written by Caroline Glick. It details exactly how the US/UK/Germany/Israel must act if it hopes to win the war against the Islamofanatics.

Here's the start of the brilliance:

The footage of the British hostages thanking Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for his hospitality and forgiveness, like the footage of Speaker of the US House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi covering her head in a scarf while on a visit to Damascus, was enough to make you sick.

Must we lose this war?

Read the whole thing!

My analysis is exactly the same as Glick's though I didn't have the wisdom to phrase things as perfectly as she did. It is disgusting to see the world gloating over the "benevolence" of Iran, compared to the "evil" of Abu Ghraib and the US. That is the end result of what happened. And meanwhile, what of the British hostages? They said after they got back to safe harbor that they were blindfolded and isolated, and forced to make the remarks they made on TV.

But none of this matters, and the world doesn't care.

Iran had its PR coup, and they exposed the West as weak, useless, feckless, and inept.

Please read Caroline Glick, and her analysis on what must be done. I would love your feedback!

Thursday, April 5, 2007

My meeting with Elliott Abrams

As mentioned previously, I met with the Deputy National Security Advisor to the United States, Elliott Abrams, a few weeks ago. He was at a local area synagogue, and spoke after Friday night services. The main subject of his talk was Jews in government. Essentially, his claim was that from the 1960s-1990s, it was basically a nonissue to see a Jew in government. However, with the Walt and Mersheimer paper, suddenly, the outside community (not the Bush administration) sees it as a problem that Jews are in government. He said that there are now college courses at elite universities that look at whether the "Israel lobby" and AIPAC control US foreign policy. The Walt/Mersheimer paper is read, and then the Dershowitz response paper is read. Both are 'debated,' to determine the 'truth' of whether AIPAC and the "Israel lobby" control foreign policy. Imagine that. Imagine if there was a class where Holocaust denial literature was read on par with Elie Wiesel's books, and the "truth" of it were debated. Such is the state of modern American academia. Truly frightening. Abrams said that he feared for the future generations, saying he saw antisemitism on the rise not just abroad, but here on American soil, in American academia.

After his talk, there were many questions and answers posed. I raised my hand and asked the first question. My question was: "In light of the fact that Yassir Arafat's uncle was a Nazi who was an architect of the Final Solution, and that Fatah's roots are indeed in Nazism (and there is no indication that Abbas/Abu Mazen thinks any differently)...why is Israel and the US fooling itself by pretending that somehow Abu Mazen is 'moderate' and should be 'negotiated with'?"

Abrams's response was very instructive. He said that Abu Mazen may not be a moderate by "our standards," but he was someone who at least "wanted to talk." However, Abu Mazen has little power, and so it's basically pointless to speak to him until and unless he does have power. He then went on a long sidenote about how moderates rarely do end up in power in these sorts of nations. According to this 'logic,' then it would be up to the US and Israel to do all that is possible to empower Abu Mazen.

But here is where you kind folks will be enlightened. After the talk, a little birdie told me that some people close to Elliott Abrams completely disagree with his characterization of Abu Mazen as "someone who wants to talk," and a "relative moderate," but could not say so publicly. This little birdie also thanked me for saying what I said publicly.

Interesting, no?

Other tidbits from Abrams...

He spoke of Iran and its nuclear threat, and then said that the Democrats wanted to put language into a bill that would take the military option OFF the table for Iran. He said (and I agree with him) that the only way to be effective with Iran is to keep the military option on the table, and he admonished many Jewish organizations who remain silent about this. He also spoke support of the democracy project in these Muslim nations. He believes that democracy is ultimately the answer, since no democracy is a threat to the world.

Afterwards, I privately approached Mr. Abrams. I said to him "Mr. Abrams, respectfully, how can you say that democracy is the answer, when in Egypt, if there were fair elections, the Muslim Brotherhood would be elected TOMORROW? And the same is true in most of the Muslim world. Democracy? What about Indonesia, where the "democratically" elected president said the Holocaust never happened? What about Iraq, where it looks likely that there will be sharia law? Islam itself is both a political system and a religion. Isn't THAT the problem?"

His response was basically that Egypt is in the state it is in because Mubarak (president of Egypt) has suppressed all opposition parties, and hence the ONLY choice now is the Muslim Brotherhood. He said democracy is a long term, not immediate solution there. Then he said that the Indonesian PM who denied the Holocaust was, after all, voted OUT. He spoke ultimately a line about optimism. And he did so privately - with no one else nearby to even listen in. In short, this is what he really believes. I also mentioned Sandmonkey (with regards to democracy in Egypt) - and yes, Mr. Abrams has heard of him.

There you have it, folks. An inside track into the mind of a top official in the Bush administration, and my interaction with him. I hope you enjoy this read.

I should say that after the talk with Mr. Abrams, I spoke with a director from the Obsession movie (who attended this event), about radical Islam and the like. It was interesting that he did not know much to anything about India. He also thought Robert Spencer's words were "extremist," but he has read his books.

My next post will be a detailed rendering of my attendance at the US-Indian-Israeli relations event.