Friday, December 12, 2008

New HIV/AIDS article I wrote

Here's an article I wrote about HIV/AIDS and insurance, it was posted on the website last night. The photo above is of the woman in the lead, who was infected with HIV after being raped.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Quote

Time is the most precious thing we own

Embedded at West Point

Although I chose to attend NYU in part because of the opportunities New York would offer me, never did I imagine that through NYU I would spend a day at West Point. But That’s exactly where I was this past week.

As I’ve said in prior posts, my Reporting I professor believes in learning by doing (which is a nice way of saying, "learning by messing up"). She’s sent us out on assignments that most professors wouldn’t dream of assigning first semester students. Just the other day I overheard two professors marveling at the work our class did on election night; we were really thrown into the deep end and told, “swim.”

So when the professor was contacted by a major at West Point, located in upstate New York, interested in having journalism students spend the day embedded with cadets at the military school, she couldn’t possibly say no.

When she announced in class we were to be embedded I had visions of getting dirty in the trenches, jumping over barbed wire, and riding around in humvees a la Generation Kill. That wasn’t the case.

We were there to sit in on a simulated Baghdad mission. The aim was for the cadets to experience a simulation of working Baghdad checkpoints. We left at 10:30AM and didn't get back until after 8PM. I was surprised by how beautiful the West Point campus was.

During the simulated mission the cadets sat in front of computer screens showing images of where they were: various checkpoints in the fictitious Al Mansor neighborhood of Baghdad a la Grand Theft Auto. The cadets would have to make real time decisions about how to handle various situations, and man the radio reporting back to Headquarters.

Why did they want us there? In Iraq it’s not uncommon to have a journalist embedded within a platoon or company. So the West Point major wanted his cadets to gain experience interacting with journalists.

The simulation was bloody. Two insurgent car bomb attacks (VBIED’s in military parlance- Vehicle Borne Explosive Device) rocked the neighborhood, 25 Iraqi civilians, one US soldier, and five insurgents died. I was embedded with the radio operator at the platoon’s command post, we had a map but no computer, so I didn’t see anything.

For all the simulation’s benefits, it lacked the urgency and emotion of what I would imagine of a real Baghdad checkpoint. When the American soldier was killed, his partner radio back to the command post a flat toned, “Jim’s dead, over.”

After about 20 minutes the simulation was over. We journalists had to get that day’s Baghdad story: the two bombings and resulting deaths.

The most interesting part of the day was when we met with Lieutenant Colonel Hilferty, an army press officer who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some would call the talk he gave us candid; others would call it unprofessional. Here are some gems:
  • “I don’t feel bad about Pat Tillman dying, I feel bad about the way we handled his death.” – I knew what he was trying to say, but damn.
  • “On a personal level, I cannot stand Dexter Filkins.” – He said this to Ali, a guy who’s worked extensively with Filkins in Baghdad
  • “The English press officers are incompetent.”
Anyway, all in all it was a pretty good week. Here are some more pictures I took:

Saturday, November 08, 2008

The Age of Obama

The age of Obama is upon us. Last Tuesday night, as we all know by now, Democratic Presidential candidate Barack Obama buried Republican John McCain to become the first black President. He even won North Carolina, a state that hadn’t gone blue since the Civil Rights Era.

Not bad for a half Kenyan Democrat with a Muslim name and little experience.

I spent election night at NYU’s Journalism building on Cooper Square where almost everyone was hard at work filing stories. Everyone but me.

I had been up since 6 a.m. and had already filed my two pieces; an article on Cuban voters in New Jersey, and a day-of story on the hearings at the Board of Elections in Elizabeth, NJ.

I gotta say, I wasn’t quite happy with how either article turned out. But I learned a lot from them. I became much more comfortable approaching people, and I learned that it’s never too early to call people. Learning, although rewarding, sure is frustrating.

After the election was called I walked by Union Square on my way home. It was around midnight and the square was packed with Obama supporters drunk on victory. It was electric. People danced. People sang. People hugged strangers. The crowd was so big it poured into the street, blocking traffic. Cars were honking- some to get by, other to show their Obama support- and the crowd grew even more riled up with each passing honk.

Two cops stood on the South side of 14th Street looking on. They pair didn’t look too worried; these were Greenwich Village people, after all. They were content to let the College students, Yuppies, and Hipsters celebrate.

Now comes the real work. Obama’s going to face more challenges than any other President in recent memory. The worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. The war in Iraq. The war in Afghanistan. Iran. Al Qaeda and its supporters. Energy Policy. Health care. And that’s just what we know of. Let’s see what the next four years brings. At least it’ll be an interesting time to be a journalist.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Lectures

One of the best things about going to NYU is the people the school attracts. In the last two weeks I’ve attended lectures with Dan Rather, Israeli President Shimon Peres and former Mexican foreign minister Jorge Castañeda. Last night a New York Times reporter came to talk to my Reporting class.

He looked to be in his late 30’s and entered the journalism world straight out of college when he began working at a small paper in North Carolina in the early 1990’s (he admitted that you can’t really do that today). He decided to be a journalist because he wanted to do something that could have a positive affect on the community while living an interesting and adventurous life. (and he has)

After a few years in North Carolina, he moved to the AP’s Miami Bureau. But he hated the AP job (too much sitting in an office), so he found a job at The Miami New Times, an alternative Village Voice type of paper.

Then love struck. He fell in love with a Colombian woman in Miami and when she went back to Colombia he went with her.

The relationship didn’t last, but he stuck around in Bogotá for six years where he wrote freelance and stringed for some big time places. He told us that the largest frustration of his career was a story he did on these mafia groups in São Paulo, Brazil for The New York Times Magazine.

The leaders of the mafia group he was covering were doing long jail sentences but, because they were so powerful, for all intents and purposes they controlled the jail. The warden was in their pocket and they decided who came in the jail and who came out.

Well, Semple worked on the story for three months, actually managed to smuggle himself inside the jail to interview these guys, and wrote a really long story; only for the magazine to kill the story when Bush launched the Iraq invasion and the editors stopped caring about Brazil.

He came back to the US in 2004 and landed at The New York Times. He reported from Baghdad from 2004 through 2007. Now he’s back in New York working for the Metro Desk, doing stories on immigration.
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What’s in the News:
• Obama is leading McCain in the polls
• Diego Maradona just took charge of the Argentine national team
• Charlie Rose is partnering with Slate to put video clips online (although that’s not really news)
• The price of oil dropped to $63 a barrel

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Debate Clip



Here's my first Clip in. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


The person I profiled really did me a favor in letting me interview her. I've known her for well over a decade and would be surprised if anyone has ever said anything bad about her. Although this is a short piece (around 300 words), she's very interesting and smart and, hopefully, I did her justice.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Dexter Filkins Talk

New York Times war correspondent Dexter Filkins is probably the most talked about journalist in the country right now. And, just by chance, I saw him speak this past week at the New York Times’ building.

Last Tuesday I was covering a graduation ceremony for America’s VetDogs, an organization that provides service dogs to disabled veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Our reporting I professor wants us out in the field as much as possible, so this week, instead of having class, she sent us an email listing events taking place that day in New York. We had to pick an event, report it, then write up the story and email it to her by midnight.

I chose the VetDogs event because I thought it was the most interesting and important. Apparently so did a lot of my classmates. Five other people from my class showed up, including Ali, the guy from Iraq I mentioned previously.

I’ve been friendly with him and after the event finished we chatted a bit. He knows I’m interested in the Middle East and we compared books we had read about the region.
(Not only had he read the books, he knew most of the authors)

And then he told me: “I’m going to a talk about the future of the Middle East tonight at the New York Times building.”

“Oh wow,” I said.

“You wanna come?”

Do I wanna come????? Hell yeah, I wanna come!!!!

The talk featured Filkins, former Times Jerusalem Bureau chief Steven Erlanger, and Robin Wright, author of Dreams and Shadows. The tickets, $30 a pop, had sold out weeks in advance but I got in free because of my friend. Filkins and Erlanger didn’t seem too optimistic about the Middle East’s future. Wright, citing a democracy activist who’s spent most of his life in a Syrian jail cell, weirdly saw a bright future.

The three spoke about their experiences for 45 minutes, then opened the floor for a 45 minute Q&A. To summarize what they said:

Filkins at one point admitted that we (the Western world) don’t truly understand the Middle East. On a good day we can only catch a glimpse of it. He gave a story about Iraq as an example, saying that their were two conversations going on in Iraq: the conversation the Iraqis were having with the Americans, and the conversation the Iraqis were having with each other.

He returned to the US in December 2006 to write his new book, The Forever War, which was released a few weeks ago. His goal was to give a worm’s eye view of reporting from Iraq and Afghanistan. The book contained 91 chapters, he said. Each was a short-take about what it was like to cover the war.

Last month he returned to Baghdad and was blown away by the progress that had been made. People were cowering in their homes when he left in 2006. Public parks were a no man’s land, often littered with dead bodies in the morning. Now people were enjoying themselves in the street, women were walking around in jeans and T-shirts, and the vibe felt eerily relaxed.

He attributed the progress to the surge and the Sunni awakening councils, but warned that the situation could collapse tomorrow. Filkins explained that the surge was much more than just the addition of 30,000 troops. General Petreaus instituted a new counter-insurgency strategy, which was the real beneficial aspect.

The Sunni Awakening councils could not be under-estimated, he said. But the councils were made up of former insurgents (at one point he committed a Freudian slip and referred to the councils as “insurgent councils”). He recounted a meeting he had with a council leader whose last name was Al-Tikriti. The guy was from Saddam’s hometown, might’ve been related to him.

He said that the key to understanding the lull in violence was this:
Sunni insurgents saw the Americans as invaders and occupiers and fought them from the beginning. Then Al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia came
along. AQM targeted not only the Americans, but the Iraqi Shi’a as well, reasoning they were apostates.

The Sunni insurgents wanted to kill Americans all day long, but didn’t see the point in killing shi’a. This created a conflict between Al-Qaeda and the Sunni insurgents, and the insurgents were soon forced between a rock and a hard place.


The Shi’a greatly outnumber the Sunnis in Iraq, and control the new government being established. Shi’a death squads (many of which had links to the central government) began retaliating genocidally against the Sunnis for Al Qaeda's attacks.


The insurgents looked to their left and saw Al-Qaeda. They looked to their right and saw the Shi’a. Then they looked straight ahead and saw the Americans, who suddenly didn’t look so bad anymore. An alliance with the Americans was their ticket home.


So now we have the present situation: the former Sunni insurgents make up the awakening councils and we pay each council member $300 a month, basically not to shoot at us. And we’re their buffer against the shi’a. The central government now wants to disarm and break up the awakening councils. If they press too hard, everything could fall apart.

He said he had no idea what would happen in Iraq, and anyone who does is lying. The lull in violence is built on a house of cards. But a house of cards is better than no house at all, he added.

The discussion then turned to Afghanistan. Filkins said that the surge/awakening council strategy most likely would not work in that country. Doling out money to the awakening councils worked because, in essence, we gave money to the tribal leaders who then distributed it to their flock. Iraqi society, surprisingly, has a coherent and orderly tribal structure. If you make peace with the tribal leader, you make with the tribe.

Afghanistan does not have that. Afghan society used to be based on a similar tribal structure but, after about 30 years of continuous war, that is gone. The Taliban in particular saw the tribal leaders as a threat and went after them to consolidate power in the 90’s.

Now, Afghanistan is a free for all and there’s no tribal leaders left to pay to quell violence.

Furthermore, Afghanistan is stuck in the 4th century. They have like a 20 percent literacy rate, no roads or infrastructure, and no industry. Bombing them wouldn’t really do anything. And the Taliban are literally from another planet. There’s nothing the US could conceivably negotiate with them.

When the discussion turned to the November election, Filkins said most Iraqis would prefer McCain. If the Arab world could vote, they would overwhelmingly vote for Obama, he said. Except in Iraq. Iraqis get scared when they hear Obama’s pullout talk. They know that, if the Americans left soon, the house of cards would collapse and the bloodshed would be worse than imaginable. So they prefer McCain.

The other two didn’t have anything really new to say. But Erlanger did note that the recent news that Afghan President Hamid Karzai's brother is a big player in the heroine trade had been an open secret for years. He also stressed the labyrinthine element to the Middle East. Speaking of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, Iraq, and Afghanistan, Erlanger remarked that, if there were easy answers, they would have been done already.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

The month that was

I rushed to my Reporting I professor’s Cooper Square office before going to work last Wednesday morning. I was worried. One of my classmates had already begun interning at The Daily News, another had begun interning as a fact checker at The New York Times, and I thought I was falling behind. I hadn’t begun interning anywhere yet. I had only gotten my first clip (journalese for “published article”) the day before.

“Don’t worry,” the professor reassured me. “You’re doing better than most. If you weren’t, trust me, I’d tell you.”

Then she filled me in a bit more. The girl interning at the Daily News came into the program with years of writing experience. Fact checking doesn’t count for shit. If I wanted an internship, she would get me one, it was just a question of whether I was ready.

But I’m not ready yet. Internships are important. But it’s also important to do well at them, and that’s what I’m preparing for right now.

I have a story due for class every week. Often times we have to write a story during class as well. In the last month I’ve written about the reaction of female Hillary supporters to Sara Palin, what it’s like working by ground zero, Harlem’s African American Day Parade, A NJ hair salon owner who invested his retirement money in Fannie Mae last spring, Muslims breaking the Ramadan fast, and a former Chilean President’s visit to NYU(my first clip).

My professor has given me great feedback. She has no time for the, “it’s not bad, here’s what I might change,” bullshit. She gets straight to the point and has edited some of my stories to pieces. But I’m grateful for her attitude because I really see my writing improving.

Once my stories get good enough- probably within the next few weeks- I'll have plenty of opportunities to get more clips.  Stories for class will be published on Pavement Pieces, a multimedia website run by the professor. The professor has also arranged for us to spend election day in real newspaper newsrooms, I'll be at the Star-Ledger, where we'll file (at least) two election stories. One story is to be around 1,000 words, the other about 650. November 4 should be intense.  At the end of the semester the class will also do a big multimedia project on Aids.

That's right, I’ll be learning multimedia skills this year. I’m real excited about that. You only get out of school what you put into it, and I’m trying to squeeze NYU dry.
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Last month I read The Forever War, Dexter Filkins’ new book about his experience covering the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The book is a fast read, it’s more a memoir of his experiences covering the war than a book like Fiasco, which was straight up reporting.
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What’s in the News?
  • A $700 Billion bailout was given to Wall Street by the US government. The bailout bill had initially been rejected by congress, but was passed on its second go round after minor changes. It’s unclear whether the $700 billion will be able to restore the proverbial floodgates. What’s the difference between a recession and a depression?
  • Tzipi Livni is about to become Prime Minister of Israel. The outgoing premier, Ehud Olmert, is stepping down because of a corruption indictment.
  • Obama is ahead in the polls.

Clips, Class and the UN

It was a perfect early fall morning- not hot enough to wear shirtsleeves, not cool enough for a jacket; the sky was cloudy, but not like it was ready to rain- and high school aged Jewish day schoolers, old people, and a contingent of pro-Israel Evangelicals stood outside the United Nations.

They were there to protest Iranian President Ahmed Ahmedinejad’s presence at the UN General Assembly. I was there to cover the protest.

The protest was staid, considering Ahmedinjead’s violently anti-Semitic rhetoric. There was no fist pumping or adrenaline raising chanting that I picture a protest having. More mid season baseball game than Latin American soccer match.

Ellie Wiesel, the holocaust survivor and Nobel laureate spoke. So did Natan Sharanksy, the Soviet Jewish dissident who, before being allowed by the USSR to make aaliyah, spent years in the gulag.

But the two, impressive if aging, failed to fire up the crowd.

Wiesel: Ahmedinejad wishes to follow in Hitler’s footsteps. This makes him an arche criminal. Honor is absent from his life and his vocabulary. Stop Iran now.

Sharansky: Iran is the evil empire. It must never go nuclear.

As I was scouring the crowd for interviews I bumped into a reporter from the New York Sun. I didn't get her name but she was young, probably around my age, and I shadowed her for a while. Although interviewing might look straight forward, it's not. So I wanted to see her MO for finding good people to interview and her way of asking questions.

Regrettably, the reporter is probably out of a job now. Last week the New York Sun closed its doors. Not good.
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The former President of Chile, Ricardo Lagos, was in town for the UN General Assembly as well. He spoke at NYU- although he didn't really say much- last Monday evening and I covered it for the Washington Square News, NYU's student newspaper. It's not exactly The New York Times but hey, I got a clip.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Sarah Palin's Foreign Policy Experience

Two weeks ago the country was introduced to John McCain’s VP pick: Sarah Palin, a first term governor of Alaska. Not the most experienced person to ever be in a Presidential race (not to say Obama has a lot of experience either). But Palin’s foreign policy “credentials” are absurd. I’m sure it’ll only get worse as time goes on, but this is what we’ve got so far:

• She went to Kuwait (not Iraq) to address Alaska National Guard troops

• She’s been to Ireland- her plane refueled there on her Kuwait trip

• She’s seen Russia from an Alaska island

• She’s been to Mexico and Canada on vacation

Life is for the Pushy

Last week I wrote my first article for class and, just as I thought, the professor tore through it (although she did tell me that it was decent for the first article). But the hardest part of it all was interviewing people. I’ve never been rejected by so many people in my life.

So on Sunday I asked Professor Serrin if he had any tips about landing interviews. He had organized a little party at his Greenwich Village apartment as a chance for the first semester students and third semester students to meet each other. (The journalism program is three semesters) The third semester students were all real cool and most remembered me from my visit to NYU last spring, which I appreciated.

“You gotta be aggressive but nice,” Serrin told me in response to my question. “Life is for the pushy.”

Then he told me a story to illustrate that you’ll never know what you’ll get if you just ask:

In the early 70’s he was on assignment in Miami for the Detroit Free Press. He was hanging out in a hotel lobby looking to interview people when he saw the light above the elevator flash. The elevator doors opened and an old Jewish guy stepped out of the elevator who looked a lot like Meyer Lansky.

But he didn’t just look like Meyer Lansky. He was Meyer Lansky, one of the most notorious organized crime figures in American history. The guy Hyman Roth was based on in Godfather II. The arch villain so smart the FBI actually gave up on catching him.

So Serrin walked up to him and asked for an interview. The old mobster looked at him and said, “sure thing, my boy.”

Lansky obviously didn’t tell him anything heavy. But he interviewed Meyer Lansky. All he had to do was ask. Life is for the pushy.
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Some things I learned in class this week:
• Never use “however” in a newspaper article
• Never start the lead (the first paragraph of an article) with a quote
• A journalist should “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable”
• Never put your opinion in an article, no one cares what you think
• My dad knows a hell of a lot more about the Pentagon Papers than my Law & Mass Communication professor
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I finally got my third class and no, it’s not Arabic. I did everything I could but the Middle Eastern Studies Department told me to get lost. I couldn’t even sit in on the class the departmental director said. I’ll spare explaining the reasons why, not like I really believed them anyway.

But I will learn Arabic. It’ll help me a ton in my career.

In the end I registered for a class on US – Latin American Relations taught by Jorge Castañeda, the former Foreign Minister of Mexico (2000-2003). We have to read a book a week and I already have a background in Latin American history. But the big positive is that I’m taking a class with Jorge Castañeda. He seems like he has a firm head on his shoulders and is living in the real world, not like the classic ivory tower professor.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Back to School

It’s weird to be back at school. The undergraduates that will graduate come May were high school seniors when I received my BA in May 2005. But back I am, at NYU for a Masters in Journalism.

I’ve wanted to be a journalist ever since I wrote some stories for the Santiago Times while in Chile two years ago. But breaking into the industry is tough. Impossible if you have no clips. So upon returning from Chile to the US in January 2007 I began working at a law firm.

But my journalism dream never vanished. I applied to J School at the end of last year, and I will now make my dream my reality.

The first we thing we did at orientation is sit around a big table- all thirty-something of us- and introduce ourselves. The dean of the program, Professor Serrin, went first. He’s somewhere in his seventies and seems like a warm guy who really cares about the students, plus he’s a Hall of Fame journalist, so to speak. He grew up in a blue collar family, wanted to write but couldn’t afford to move to Paris to write novels so he began working at a newspaper.

He moved up the writing ranks and made a name for himself in Michigan; he covered the National Guard at Kent State, striking steel workers, won all sorts of prizes, and then went to the New York Times where he was a big shot reporter for a long time. Pretty impressive.

Next is our turn: the students. Not too many people stood out- most are early to mid twenties, little writing experience- until about two-thirds away around the table when a middle-aged Middle Eastern looking guy introduced himself.

His name is Ali, and he’s from Iraq. Yes, a real Iraqi. In the flesh. He’s been living for the past year or so in Dearborn, Michigan. But prior to coming to the U.S. he worked at the New York TimesBaghdad Bureau- first as a translator, then a journalist- where he covered the insurgency and Saddam’s trial and execution.

Oh, and he’s friends with Dexter Filkins- perhaps the greatest American foreign correspondent of his generation- and John Burns- the mop-topped legendary Times journalist. (On a side note, the very British sounding Burns actually grew up in Canada, who would’ve guessed?)
Hardly a bad guy to study around. Hopefully I’ll get to know him over the next year and a half.

After Ali introduced himself there’s a few seconds of silence. The vibe around the room was: Holy Shit.

Then someone asked Ali a question. Something about John Burn’s feelings on the war and whether he’s personally apologized to Ali about initially supporting the invasion.

What?!?! You’ve known the guy no longer than 13 seconds. I’d have a tough time ever asking him about the war, let alone about the thoughts of his friend while in front of at least 30 people. Who asks that?!?!?!

Well, a forty-something know-it-all with no discretion, that’s who. Regrettably she’s in one of my classes. In case you’re wondering, Ali stepped around the question. He essentially said they had had a number of conversations about the situation in the past . . . it’s a real tough issue . . . life under Saddam was hell . . . etc.
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My first class was Reporting I. The professor used to work at the Philadelphia Inquirer and just completed a book about Iraqi war veterans. She’s a proponent of the “learn by doing” school; so airy, theoretical talk will be kept to a minimum. “This is not a classroom, it’s a newsroom,” she says. We’ll be going out, finding stories, and writing articles.

Our first assignment was to interview female former Hillary supporters to see how they felt about McCain’s VP pick, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. I think I did a decent job on the story but I’m sure she’s tearing it apart as I write this. I can’t wait to look at the article again a few years from now and think, “Oh my God, how could I have written such garbage?”

We’re supposed to be registered for three classes but currently I’m only registered for two: Reporting I and Media Ethics. I would like to take Arabic as my third course. It’s an undergraduate course which technically is not allowed so Professor Serrin is looking into it (he thinks it’s a great idea).

Anyway, it feels good to be advancing toward a goal again.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

All the Jobs are going to India

The Newspaper industry shrinks just as more people graduate from Journalism school. Many veteran journalists are consequently leaving the industry and a small but growing amount of young journalists are going abroad to make their bones. But rather than the charm laden Hemingway-esque European haunts of yesteryear, young American journalists are choosing to go to India. Salon reports.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Hamas Boot Camp


Hamas Boot Camp Photo-essay courtesy of ForeignPolicy.com-- click on the image above.

The Good Neigbor Policy: Arab Style

You come from a dirt poor country ravaged by years of war and terror. You have little remaining infrastructure and a tenuous supply of water. Your country needs all the help it can get. But the one thing you do have is oil, the blessing and the curse. Your country, Iraq, sits on the world’s third largest oil reserves.

With the price of oil being well over $100 a Barrel for the foreseeable future now is the time for you to cash in, right? So what does Iraq do? They cut a deal to sell neighboring Jordan discounted oil at $22 a Barrel!!!!!

Can someone explain this to me? What sense does that make? What is Jordan giving them in return?

Monday, August 04, 2008

Bad News from the Star-Ledger

Almost every morning I wake up, make coffee, and browse the Star-Ledger, New Jersey’s largest and most respected newspaper. The Star Ledger has been with me for as long as I can remember and is one of the things which, in my mind, makes the state more than just a punch line for garbage, corruption, and mafia jokes.

And yet, I missed this front page story from last Thursday until my dad pointed it out. The Star Ledger is about to go under for all intents and purposes:
“The owners of The Star-Ledger announced yesterday they will sell the newspaper if they cannot win union concessions and persuade a large number of nonunion, full-time workers to take buyouts in the next two months.”

The paper’s owners, the Newhouse newspaper chain, has threatened to sell the paper off if 200 of the newspaper’s 756 nonunion full-time employees don’t take buyouts. The Ledger’s total workforce is 1,412, so we’re talking more than 10 percent of the paper’s staff.

While it’s not the New York Times or Washington Post, it’s no community publication either. It sells 350,000 papers daily and 520,000 on Sundays, and has won Pulitzers and other national awards for their investigative pieces. It’s exposed prostitution rings, ex-Newark Mayor Sharpe James’ corruption, Jim “I am a gay American” McGreevey’s sleaze (how was he not indicted, anyway?), and many other scandals.

Will the Ledger be able to keep up with a considerably reduced workforce? This is bad news for the people of New Jersey and good news for its corrupt powerbrokers and assorted malcontents. Here’s a piece from the Times about the whole thing.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

More News from the Middle East

The Forever War, a much anticipated book by New York Times correspondent Dexter Filkins, is scheduled to hit shelves this September.

Filkins is one of the best American journalists around. Since 2001 he has reported the Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, prior to working for the Times he was the LA Times’ New Delhi Bureau Chief. The Forever War reportedly is a treatment of the America’s military involvement in the Middle East after 9/11.

News

Ever wonder how life in New York compares to say, Baghdad? Well, here’s a cool post from the New York Times’ Baghdad Bureau blog by an Iraqi reporter visiting New York. He compares the sights, sounds, and happening in New York to those in the Iraqi capital.
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The New York Times also reports today that top level CIA officers traveled to Pakistan to discuss the Pakistani intelligence’s support of Islamic militants in the country’s tribal areas along its border with Afghanistan.

I personally have had a lot of concern about this for a while. Prior to 9/11 Pakistan’s intelligence service, known as the ISI, had a close relationship with the Taliban (and perhaps Al Qaeda). Although after September 2001 they officially turned against their former colleagues, many wonder whether the ISI is still supporting them clandestinely.

This raises a lot of hard questions. We give economic and military aid to Pakistan. Where does that money go? Is a portion indirectly funneled to the Islamic militants we are fighting in Afghanistan and other enemies?

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Oil/ Saudi Arabia

Washington Post: Don’t expect oil prices to go down significantly EVER AGAIN.
Here’s why. – This is the first in what will be a series of articles… interesting and informative.
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Also, I just finished Steve Coll’s The Bin Ladens, an excellent book that traces not only the history of the Bin Laden family from village poverty in Yemen to the multi-millionaires they are today, but also the history of 20th century Saudi Arabia.

"My grandfather rode a camel. My father rode in a car. I fly in a jet. My son will ride a camel." Saudi Arabian Proverb

Saturday, July 05, 2008

The Zohan

Well, I finally saw Don’t Mess with the Zohan, and I have to say that it was Adam Sandler’s best movie in years.

The Zohan can be summed up as: Moshe Dayan moves to New York to become a hairdresser. It was genuinely funny (although perhaps not everyone will understand all the hummus jokes), while at the same time maintaining a philosophical point.

The Zohan, played by Adam Sandler, is an Israeli commando who kicks ass and takes names; he can even catch a bullet between his thumb and forefinger. And yet, he’s fed up with the Arab-Israeli conflict. “When does it all end?” he’s constantly asking himself.

During a meeting to plan the apprehension of a terrorist the Zohan asks, “Why take him if we are going to release him in the end anyway?”

So he fakes his own death and moves to New York to pursue his dream: live in tranquility and make a living as a hairdresser.

High jinks follow but the film raises a key issue as Israel is preparing for a prisoner swap with Hezbollah. The Israelis will supposedly be swapping Samir Kuntar, a convicted terrorist who, among other things, killed a Jewish child by crushing her skull. –I’m sure he will be given a hero’s reception in Lebanon and the Arab world- perhaps that says something.
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Best line: some WASPish business man refers to Arabs and Israelis as being “kaki” colored.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Some Interesting Quotes

“The measure of prudence and resolution is to know a friend from an enemy; the height of stupidity and weakness is not to know an enemy from a friend.

Do not surrender your enemy to oppression, nor oppress him yourself. In this respect treat enemy and friend alike. But be on your guard against him, and beware lest you befriend and advance him, for this is the act of the fool. He who befriends and advances friend and foe alike will only arouse distaste for his friendship and contempt for his enmity. He will earn the scorn of his enemy, and facilitate his hostile designs; he will lose his friend, who will join the ranks of his enemies.

The height of goodness is that you should neither oppress your enemy nor abandon him to oppression. To treat him as a friend is the mark of a fool whose end is near.

The height of evil is that you should oppress your friend. Even to estrange him is the act of a man with no sense, for whom misfortune is predestined.

Magnanimity is to befriend the enemy, but to spare them, and to remain on your guard against them.”
- Ibn Hazm of Crdova (994-1064) from The Book of Morals and Conduct
(which I found in Bernanrd Lewis’s excellent From Babel to Dragomans)
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“Translations are like women: some are beautiful; some are faithful; few are both.”
-a “French wit” (also of From Babel to Dragomans)

Saturday, June 21, 2008

A Week without News

Israel is diplomatically engaging Syria, and now, for the first time, Lebanon. Here’s an analysis from the Council of Foreign Relations.

Israel and Hamas have come to a six month hudna/truce. This may likely have little long term consequence as both sides will probably be prepping for the next round.

Israel conducts war games exercise with Iran and her nuclear facilities in mind. I take this seriously.

Hezbollah may be preparing terrorist attacks across the globe as a response to the February assassination of Imad Mughniyeh, the terrorist group’s operational chief. According to U.S. and Canadian intelligence agencies, certain Hezbollah terrorist leaders have left Lebanon (nobody knows why) and Hezbollah members were seen casing Ottawa’s Israeli Embassy and Synagogues in Toronto.

Opec and the other big energy players are convening an impromptu meeting in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia this weekend to see what can be done about oil prices, currently over $130 a barrel.
-Don’t get your hopes up-
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This is only a a minuscule summary of what’s happening in the world. But imagine if there were no news?

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Ireland: Treaty of Lisbon Treaty of Shisbon

Europeans conquered the world and were at the vanguard of everything in the modern era. Then came World War II. But why is the European Union- a rebuilt harmonious Europe of 500 million- not a real global power? Henry Kissinger summed it up best: “Who do I call if I want to call Europe?”

The Treaty of Lisbon was to remedy this question. But last week, when the Irish voted down a referendum on the Treaty, the world found out Europe indeed may never be a global power. Rather, it will continue for the foreseeable future as a bureaucratic economic federation. But “the United States of Europe”? Unlikely.

The Treaty of Lisbon (O Tratado de Lisboa, as they say in Portuguese- sorry but I had to throw that in) was essentially a rewritten European Constitution that had famously been rejected in 2005 referendums by the French and Dutch publics. It was to (slightly) reform the European Union, and would have given it a real President and a Minister of Foreign Policy. In other words: people to call.

The Treaty of Lisbon had to be approved by every country of the 27 member EU, so the Irish referendum basically killed the Treaty (This time Ireland was the only country to put the Treaty to a referendum-which they had to do by Irish law).

Why did the Irish vote the Treaty down? Why did the French and Dutch do much the same with the proposed constitution three years ago? That’s what everybody is debating.

As a whole the EU has done wonders for Europe: it helped and continues to help bring peace, stability, and prosperity to the region (witness the histories of Ireland, Spain, Greece; and the newly integrated Eastern European countries).

Yet treaties and the like to further strengthen European Union institutions have been constantly rejected because, in my opinion, there is no real European identity. Countries and regions within countries have strong identities, but the idea of “Europe” doesn’t inspire passions. A man from Barcelona would die for Catalunya, and most likely Spain; but not for Europe. And that’s what these referendums and votes have really been about.

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Many commentators are saying the Irish are in essence hypocritical. EU membership has done wonders for the country. After the Irish joined in 1973 the emerald isle went from an impoverished place at the edge of the world known for getting their asses kicked by the English, emigration, potato famines, alcoholism, and leprechauns; to the “Celtic tiger,” an economic juggernaut with one of the best living standards in the world. People argue that because of this the Irish should be in favor of anything the Brussels leadership wants.

This criticism strikes me as patronizing. Yes, EU membership has been great for the Irish on the whole, but that does not mean they “owe” the EU anything and should back any proposal to strengthen the Union.

Just as Ireland (along with every other country to gain admittance) petitioned to be granted membership, the EU member countries in turn voted to grant them membership. Ireland is the equal of France, Germany, Italy, etc. If they prefer Europe in its current state that is their right and they should vote accordingly. If the Irish want to see changes, but not ones stipulated in the Treaty of Lisbon, it is their right to reject the treaty.
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Der Speigel has a pretty good special on the whole issue. Check it out (in English).

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

New Yorker Piece on Hugo Chavez

Latin America is the U.S.'s backyard (sorry, it's true). It's also geopolitically unimportant and is largely ignored.

But one figure from the region stands out: Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

Who is Hugo Chavez? What does he want? Answers and more questions in this long New Yorker piece.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Accents

Any American soccer fan knows that Mexican national team players tend to be sore losers. It’s always somebody else’s fault that they lost, no team ever plays better than them. But Mexican national team goalie Osvaldo Sanchez recently took classlessness to another level.

After Mexico’s win against Peru, American reporter Luis Arroyave of the Chicago Herald Tribune went to interview Sanchez in Spanish. Arroyave is of Latin descent and, while he speaks and understands Spanish perfectly, being American he naturally speaks with an American accent. Sanchez preceded to mock Arroyave by answering his questions in an exaggerated American accent (and the surrounding reporters laughed).

What a classless guy. I really feel for Arroyave and have suffered similar experiences when I was living in Chile. Where do some people get off? Once, upon checking into a hostel in Argentina, the woman working the front desk told me my accent sounded a terrible mixture of a Chilean and American accent. Really? How many other travelers checking in that day spoke any Spanish? One? Two? And not to toot my own horn but after a year in Chile my Spanish was pretty damn good, I can guarantee I spoke better than any other person in the hostel. So excuse me if I speak with an accent.

On that very same trip I took a long bus ride and put my bags in the baggage compartment below. Upon arriving to our destination a bus terminal worker began unloading the compartment. When he unloaded my bag I asked him to pass it to me. He heard my American accent and, as he gave me my bag, said, “I need teep.” That’s right, in making fun of my accent he mispronounced the word “tip.” Everybody else, who naturally spoke very little or no English, burst out laughing. I was going to say something to the guy but then thought better of it and just walked away.

But how much of a jerk off do you have to be? If somebody respects your culture enough to take the time to learn your language (and learning a language is far from easy), you should at least show them a modicum of respect and not make fun of their accent. It’s very simple really: I don’t speak like a native because, just like the aforementioned reporter, I am NOT a native.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Altidore to Villarreal

Josie Altidore, the latest great hope for American soccer, will soon be joining Freddy Adu –the other great hope- on the Iberian peninsula as he has just inked a deal with Villarreal of the Spanish league for $8 million. (Adu signed a little less than a year ago for Benfica, Portugal’s top club)

Altidore, an 18 year old forward for the New York Red Bulls, is one of the best prospects the United States has ever had.

Villarreal, known as the yellow submarine for their yellow uniforms, are a great team. They finished second in the recently 2007/2008 season and will be playing in the Champions League this fall. Altidore will probably find it difficult to get playing time as Villarreal are a strong team boasting players like Robert Pirés and Nihat. But he should learn a lot and it could take his play to a new level.

If I’m not mistaken Altidore will be the first American to play in the Spanish premier league (Tab Ramos played in the second division). American soccer sure is progressing, albeit not as fast as fans would like—did people really expect something other than a 2-0 loss to England at Wembley?

Here's a highlight reel of some of Altidore's goals courtesy of YouTube.

Friday, May 30, 2008

First Contact in the Amazon

Images of an uncontacted tribe deep in the Brazilian Amazon. They have spears and bows and arrows and are preparing to fire on the photographer snapping pictures from a helicoptor. Pretty cool.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Cool Quote

“While it’s true that knowledge is power, mystery has its own special sweetness.”
-David Grossman, The Zig Zag Kid

Monday, May 26, 2008

Negotiation

Last week President Bush touched off a media firestorm which is sure to rear its head again this fall. He lambasted “appeasers” who “believe that we should negotiate with the terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along.''

Ironically Bush uttered these words in Israel, a country that is currently doing the very things he was condemning. The Israelis are indirectly negotiating with Syria (through Turkey) and Hamas (through Egypt). The Syrians are state-sponsors of terrorism; they give money, training and sanctuary to both Hamas and Hezbollah, and are strongly suspected of being behind the 2005 assassination of Lebanese President Rafik Hariri. Meanwhile, Hamas – who violently seized control of the Gaza Strip in June 2007- indiscriminately fire missiles onto southern Israel and are responsible for innumerable suicide bombings.

Let’s put aside for the moment issues like the correctness of criticizing from abroad (personally I don’t really care) or whether an outgoing President should inject himself into the new Presidential campaign (Bush’s comments were –at least in part- a shot at Obama after all). The President is speaking to a fundamental issue regarding our way forward in the Middle East and the fight against terrorism.

There are those who compare negotiating with terrorists and their state sponsors to Neville Chamberlain’s naïve 1938 dealings with Hitler. Hitler very clearly spelled out his intentions in Mein Kampf and letting the Germans take hold of the Sudetenland was futile. In no way did it stop the Nazis from carrying out the rest of their agenda.

Like Hitler Iranian President Ahmedinejad has made in very clear what he wants to do: acquire nukes and “wipe Israel off the face of the map.” Consequently, negotiating with Iran would be an act in futility as well.

The other side of the coin is that diplomacy and appeasment are not the same. We lose nothing by sitting down to talk with our enemies. We negotiated many times with the Soviet Union (even under Ronald Reagan) and under Bush's watch have done so with Iran, Libya, and North Korea.

I have to say that I’m more inclined to talk with no preconditions (with nation states, not terrorists nor any other non-State entities). However, deep down I harbor doubts that this indeed may be naïve, and I do think we should be very careful in what and how we negotiate. Here are two good op-eds from the New York Times on the issue: Yes, We Should ------ No, We Should Not
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For an excellent read I highly recommend The Shia Revival, by Vali Nasr. It’s a real eye opening book that summarizes the split between Sunnis and Shia and their history of relations. But the crux of the book is about the sectarian conflict(s) unleashed by the War in Iraq, why they came about, and why they are so important, not just to Iraq, but to the entire region.

Gregg Graduating

As I grow up- well, I’m done growing- as I age, the years come and go faster and faster. It seems only yesterday that I graduated from college, yet in truth I graduated three years ago. Last weekend my family and I packed up two cars and set off from Jersey City on an eight hour journey through cornfields and cow pastures to Pittsburgh. We were headed to Carnegie Mellon University to see my little brother graduate from college.

He graduated with a BS in Physics and will begin a PhD program in the fall (my little brother the mad scientist). It’s nice to see him succeed, but damn.

Rain was forecast for the day of the graduation but just as the ceremony began the sun poked its way through the clouds. Al Gore was the primary speaker and he gave a decent if unspectacular speech about energy policy (to my dad’s disappointment he held off on declaring himself a candidate for November). As he was talking I playfully asked my uncle why Gore wasn’t recounting how he invented the internet. My uncle murmured something back about the former VP not wanting to perjure himself.

But the speaker who really moved the crowd was CMU Computer Science professor Randy Pausch.

Professor Pausch was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer and given three to six months to live… last August (no, he hasn’t “beaten” it though, it didn’t look like he had that much longer to live), and he gave a short, truly inspiring speech about living life to the fullest, if you want to watch the speech -about six minutes long- it's posted below.

For a much longer version of the speech check out Pausch's homepage here and scroll down a bit to "the Last Lecture" (it’s like 70 minutes but it’s good).

During the ceremony the CMU President also announced the university had just graduated its first class on its Qatar campus (that’s right, Qatar, the small Middle Eastern country).

Carnegie Mellon’s Qatar campus isn’t a study abroad site. It’s a local Carnegie Mellon with local matriculating students. Now, I’m not sure quite how I feel about CMU’s Qatar venture, but they’re not the only American university to do this (NYU, where I will soon be attending again, is in on the game as well), but it’s pretty interesting and is a story that I’m sure most Americans do not know about.
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Which brings us to other Middle Eastern issues.
Life is now moving forward in Lebanon once again as the various factions have come to a power sharing agreement. But I'll save writing about this for another day or so.

And no, I’m not so presumptuous as to think anybody either does or should care about what I think regarding the all too explosive events- both literally and metaphorically- in the Middle East. I write about it (and other things) to attempt to organize my thoughts and further my own understanding of the world. It’s a vitally important region of the world and will only continue to be. Its problems (and by extension ours) aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Tom Friedman Again, Almodovar, and Doug Feith

Is New York Times columnist Tom Friedman back from the dead?

He wrote a touching Mothers' Day column last Sunday and today wrote a well reasoned column regarding Iran, and Middle East policy. He's come to some pretty illogical conclusions in the past (like the 2006 election of Hamas being a GOOD thing for peace because it would moderate Hamas policies-- just as the Nazis moderated their policies after being confronted with governing), but his latest columns have been pretty well reasoned and have added to the conversation. Take this for instance:

"The big debate between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton is over whether or not we should talk to Iran. Obama is in favor; Clinton has been against. Alas, the right question for the next president isn’t whether we talk or don’t talk. It’s whether we have leverage or don’t have leverage."

He also points out that, like Afghanistan, in the past Lebanon has been a graveyard of imperial dreams.
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I just read in Spanish newspaper El País that Pedro Almodóvar is filming another movie with Penelope Cruz. Almodóvar's one of the top directors in Europe. His last film, Volver, was good but not great, but he's won a plethora of awards and his movies are always very interesting. Watch the first half of La Mala Educación (with Mexican Gael García Bernal speaking with a Spanish accent), it will blow your mind.

The movie's called "Abrazos Rotos" (Broken Hugs), the article didn't reveal anything about the film's plot but, judging from Almodóvar's past work, I can assure you that their will be a love component and some really fucked up sexual thing (incest, child molestation, crossdressing, whatever. It's always there in his movies). Once you get past that stuff his movies are always entertaining and original.



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Also, I almost forgot but former Under-secretary of Defense Doug Feith (an ideological architect of the Iraq War) was on the Daily Show the other night promoting his new book, War and Decision.

Jon Stewart(who I'm not always a big fan of) conducted one hell of an interview, much better than you'd see on CNN. No soft ball questions, and did his best not to let Feith talk his way out of anything or "misremember" the past. here it is:

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Gracias a la vida


Gracias a la vida/ que me ha dado tanto/ me dado la sonrisa/ y me ha dado el llanto
-Carlos Gardel (Tanguero de los Tangueros)
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I've been critical of Tom Friedman in the past, but this really is a great Mothers' Day column. I especially appreciate the Israeli General telling Friedman he's an optimist because he's so short he can only see the full half of the glass.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Is America Finished?

Here's an interesting review of Fareed Zakaria's new book, The Post-American World, from the New York Times Book Review. The review addresses why talk of America's demise may be premature.
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Also, Zakaria has a new Foreign Affairs show premiering on CNN this June which I am looking forward to. He is a very intelligent analyst (and the editor of Newsweek International) and hopefully his show can raise the level of dialog like Charlie Rose. Here's a link to his website.

New Maradona Documentary

In other news. . . . A touch more light hearted than the preceding posts. . . . .

I attended Santiago’s film festival a year and a half ago and saw Amando a Maradona, a documentary of the life and crimes of Diego Maradona, one of the best players to ever touch a soccer ball but also known for his tragic drug addictions. True story: At the summit of Zidane's career in 2000, Michel Platini- a former French soccer great himself- was asked to compare Zidane with Diego. He responded, “what Zidane can do with a soccer ball Diego could do with an orange."

Now at next month’s 61st annual Cannes Film Festival one of the headliners will be “Maradona” another documentary of the soccer great. The doc's been produced by the award winning Emir Kusturica (his name means nothing to me, I have no idea who he is). I Can’t wait to see it though.

Here's a song about Diego by Manu Chao, with footage of him playing as a youth:

La vida es una tombola (Life is a lottery)

Friday, May 09, 2008

Whither Obama

Back to domestic politics. I’m not thrilled with any of the Presidential hopefuls, but then again I’m a cynic.

It now appears that Obama is a few steps away from securing the Democratic Presidential nomination. Now, when Obama speaks he moves me, he really does. Next to him any other politician seems like flat soda; and I agree with most of his policies.

And yet… I don’t think he’s adequately explained the Reverend Wright fiasco. (By the way, the reverend’s latest ramblings are pretty comical, really: By criticizing Wright’s inflammatory sermons people are criticizing the black church. Criticizing the black church is the same as “talking about his mother,” and if you think Wright’ll let anybody talk about his mother, “you’ve got another thing coming.” -- That's literally what he said, watch it on YouTube)

Obama has since (rightfully) disowned him, nevertheless by Obama's own admission Wright has been a very influential figure in his life. How exactly so? How has he influenced his thinking? Where exactly does he agree and disagree with him? There are many churches that do community service without the whole “God Damn America” thing (and in his sermon he said “America,” not “the U.S. government of 1847 that did _X_," give me a break) or the rhetoric about the government being responsible for the AIDS virus. Why did he stay at Trinity Baptist all this time?

Why did he stick with Wright for so long, and even have him baptize his children? Lately Obama supporters have been portraying Wright as a “crazy uncle.” However crazy he may be, he was Obama's “uncle” by choice, not by blood.

What else worries me is Obama’s (lack of) experience. Yes, he is very intelligent, but at the end of the day he’s a first term senator and has basically been campaigning for President since he arrived in the Senate.

He’s going to need someone with a lot of experience for VP (Richardson, anyone?) which brings us to the proposed Barack-Hillary ticket. There is a better chance of Osama Bin Laden converting to Judaism than Hillary being Obama’s VP candidate.

All this talk of how Hillary can pull in white working class votes is utter nonsense. Yes, she can do that in Democratic primaries against a black man with a Muslim name. But that does NOT mean she can do it in a general election against John McCain.

She’s one of the most divisive figures in America. A very conservative friend of my father’s registered as a democrat in the New Jersey primary solely to vote AGAINST Hillary. Ask yourself, would any other politician inspire this much revulsion?

She's battle hardened and has survived everything the Republicans have attacked with? I would bet you all the money in my bank account that for years Republicans have been collecting everything they can about her and just waiting until she's the candidate. They have files full of scandals and circumstantial evidence of anything and everything. Lying about dodging sniper fire won't be anything. Hillary coming anywhere near the Democratic ticket would be the best thing that could possibly happen to the Republican party since Ronald Reagan.

Moreover, do you think Obama wants Bill meddling in his campaign?
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With all that said, I just cannot see Obama winning come November. I’m no fan of McCain either but I’ll post about him another time.

The News from Beirut

The state is the organization that holds a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence
-German Sociologist Max Weber

The more things change, they more they stay the same. Lebanon again looks to be on the brink of civil war. In the past few days Hezbollah has seized control of entire districts of Beirut and has violently clashed with pro government forces. See the New York Times article here.

These current Beirut events should put to rest the claims that Hezbollah is not a terrorist organization but are “noble patriots fighting Israeli imperialist aggression.” In reality this argument should have been given up after Israel's withdrawal from southern Lebanon in the summer of 2000. Perhaps Hezbollah stuck around to combat the imperialism of the Syrians who formally occupied Lebanon through 2005? Oh, wait, that's right... they get funding from Syria.

What makes them a terrorist organization? Look no further than their 1994 bombing of AMIA, Buenos Aires’ Jewish Community Center, which killed upwards of 85 people (
while treating the attack very seriously, Argentine authorities have yet to make any arrests after 14 years of investigation).

Now it should be evident to even Noam Chomsky and his acolytes who these people really are:
An extra-national Shiite terrorist organization with links to Iran and Syria that contribute to the instability of Lebanon and the greater region.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Too Old to Learn a New Language?

There are many things I wish I could do. Playing soccer again is one of them, but that’s a story for another time. I wish I had more money, I wish it were a nice day out, but above all I wish I could speak Hebrew, the language of my people.

Learning a language is hard though, and very time consuming. Especially a non-Indo European language. That’s why I envy little kids for their language ability. Who cares if you can’t cross the street or tie your shoes, when you’re four years old you can learn a language in mere MONTHS. Even more, a four year old will learn to speak with a NATIVE accent, that’s almost super human. Oh, to be young again.

When I was 17 I spent a month touring around Israel. Upon returning to beautiful exotic New Jersey I went to Barnes & Noble and bought a Hebrew language text book. I was going to learn the language of my people. Yet here I am lamenting years later so there’s little need to recount the outcome of this noble endeavor.

But six months ago I decided to take a Hebrew course at the 92nd Street Y. The class was relatively small, we met once a week, and the teacher was a Sabra, a native born Israeli. Yet the class didn’t go so well. We moved though the material very quickly. I was still struggling with the alphabet when we were reviewing past tense verb conjugations. Moreover, due to personal issues I was having, I didn’t have time to study the vocabulary or do much work on my own.

Now I’m thinking of ordering a Hebrew Rosetta Stone program. This (quite pricey) computer program is supposed to be highly effective in foreign language acquisition and is what the U.S. State Department uses with its Foreign Service Officers. Click here for a free demo

The program takes its name from the Rosetta Stone, an ancient Egyptian artifact (shown right). Egyptian hieroglyphics had long baffled western archaeologists when Napoleon’s army invaded Egypt and in 1799 uncovered the stone. It was engraved with an ancient Greek text, along with translations of two different sets of Egyptian hieroglyphics.

Archaeologists of that era were familiar with ancient Greek and used it to break the hieroglyphic code. This proved to be a watershed moment, archaeologists then used the deciphered text to make sense of other hieroglyphics which had been prior deemed undecipherable. The computer program is supposed to work the same way and be an invaluable tool in learning a new language. We’ll see.

Israel Turns 60

Sixty years ago this week David Ben Gurion gave a wink to all our ancestors, then he icily smiled and gave the finger to Hitler and his Nazis, Torquemada and his inquisitors, the Cossacks, Islamists, Romans, Assyrians, Babylonians, Ancients Egyptians and every other anti-Semite who has ever lived when he announced the founding of the State of Israel.

This post is meant to celebrate the Jewish state and all it’s achievements in the last sixty years. I am not attempting to refute anti-Zionists/ anti-Semites, nor condemn anybody for any policies. Nor am I attempting to call Jimmy Carter an asshole (all this, perhaps, will be done another time).

TO ISRAEL: L’CHI-AM!!
“Freedom is the oxygen of the soul.” –Moshe Dayan

“Above all, this country is our own. Nobody has to get up in the morning and worry what his neighbors think of him. Being a Jew is no problem here.” –Golda Meir

"Many say the message of the Holocaust is to never forget. I disagree. The message is, it's harder to kill us when we have AK 47's."
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There are articles everywhere you look about Israel’s 60th. Why? What makes the Jews so special? Do you know how few Jews there are in the world? There are more Basques than there are Jews. If you're now asking yourself who the Basques are do not feel discouraged, what does the average person know about the Basques? Nothing. There are only 13 million of us Jews the world over, yet our name is known where ever the wind blows. I’ll post my thoughts on this issue another (more sober) time.

Here’s a thought provoking piece from Jeff Goldberg of the Atlantic (again) on Israel’s future. It’s been much discussed in the blog world, some people love it, others hate it. Here’s an op-ed from the International Herald Tribune.

Friday, May 02, 2008

The Death of Ari Ben Canaan

The real life Ari Ben Canaan dies at home in Tel Aviv.

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*Israel's turning 60, I'll post about that, and other developments, soon.

Friday, April 25, 2008

China Learns English

China, as you know, is getting set to host the 2008 Summer Olympics. What you perhaps didn’t know is that the Chinese have been mounting a historic campaign to teach English to millions of their citizens in time for the Games (guess how that’s going…)

Courtesy of the New Yorker here’s an engrossing story about China’s efforts to master English, told through the prism of one of its foremost English instructors and motivational speakers.

To summarize the article, China only recently turned to English to help them develop. After Mao Ze Dong ascended to power they turned to Russian over English. Only about ten years ago did serious English language learning come to the fore once again. Now there’s a huge push to learn Shakespeare’s tongue; many people see speaking English as offering life changing possibilities (I agree wholeheartedly).

I know very well how hard it is to learn a foreign language. Moreover, as a former English language teacher, I have a lot of respect for Li Yang, the guy profiled. Teaching English effectively is really hard work. Not only do you have to be able to explain grammar concepts effectively, you have to inspire the students to want to learn, and you have to foster an atmosphere in class where students feel comfortable making mistakes.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Al Qaeda Complains

Don’t you just hate it when someone else gets credit for something you did? All that time, all that hard work you put in, only to see others bask in the glory. Anybody can understand the frustration.

Well, that’s how Ayman Zawahiri and the rest of Al Qaeda feel when people blame 9/11 on “the Jews.” -----See the BBC article here

Zawahiri, on a recently released audio recording on some Islamist website, claims it as an idea propagated by (shia) Iran to discredit the Sunnis.

Please, don’t forget to rub this in the face of any conspiracy theorist/anti-Semite you might meet in the future.

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As an addendum, the Onion beat me to it:

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Me and my Brother


“Me against my brother, me and my brother against my cousins; me, my brother and my cousins against our nonrelatives; me, my brother, my cousins and friends against our enemies in the village; all of these and the whole village against the next village.”

-Arab Proverb

What I'm Reading

The history of the twentieth century was a clash of ideologies: Communism, Fascism, and Capitalism. Will the 21st century be an ideological/civilizational clash as well? Capitalism? Secularism? Zionism? Whabbism? Salafism? And God knows what else?

Over the past year I’ve been trying to read up on the Middle East. History, literature, journalism, you name it. I really want to know every detail of how the U.S. got itself into Iraq, how the Middle East came into it’s present state, and what the future holds.

I just finished The Looming Tower by Lawrence Wright of The New Yorker. Published in 2006, the book traces the rise of Islamic fundamentalism from the mid-century writings of the intellectual Sayyid Qutb to 1970s Egyptian jails to Soviet occupied Afghanistan to Al Qaeda and 9/11 with a lot of stops in between. It’s a very informative read, it illuminates a lot of issues, and brings even more questions to the fore. Wright is a great story teller and really moves you through the book, no easy task given the subject matter.

Next up is Shah of Shahs by Ryszard Kapuscinski on the 1970s overthrow of the last Shah of Iran. In addition I’m planning to read Once Upon a Country by Sari Nuseibeh.

I am also itching to read War and Decision, Douglass Feith’s recently published memoir of his time in the Bush administration. Feith is the former Undersecretary of Defense -he worked for Rumsfeld- and has (in)famously been called “the stupidest fucking guy on the planet” by General Tommy Franks (ret). He was one of the driving forces behind the decision to invade Iraq. It’ll be interesting to read his side of events, and his self-criticism – I’m assuming it’ll be there anyway. (But I’ll wait until the book comes out in paperback).