Archive for December 5th, 2010
When will the Washington Post editorial page decide to stop smearing Joe and Valerie Wilson? The Post is up in arms over Hollywood’s “disregard for the truth” and is out in print today with an editorial trying to discredit the Wilson’s and the movie. Good on the Post. Their editorial is a tangible reminder that the Post’s editorial team has learned nothing from its shameful cheerleading for the Bush invasion of Iraq and its defense of the leak that destroyed the career of a covert CIA case officer — Valere Plame.
What is driving the Post on this matter? Is it the commercial and critical success of Fair Game, the movie based on the book by Valerie Plame Wilson recounting the professional and personal harm inflicted on her and her family because her husband, Ambassador Joe Wilson, who had the audacity to call out the Bush Administration for lying to the American people about the rationale for going to war in Iraq? Is it lingering petty anger at Joe Wilson because he published the famous op-ed in the pages of the New York Times rather than the Post challenging the Bush Administration’s claim that Iraq was buying yellowcake uranium?
It is the essence of irony that the Post’s editorial page, which acquired a reputation of journalistic courage for pursuing Richard Nixon’s abuses of power, is to now using that platform to act as the chief apologist for George W. Bush’s ill-conceived and unjustified war in Iraq by attacking people like Joe and Valerie Wilson.
Today’s editorial concludes with this:
When it comes to truth twisting on Iraq the Washington Post should look in the mirror. Joe’s op-ed in the NY Times did not make the claim that Joe, “proved that Mr. Bush deliberately twisted the truth.” Joe Wilson wrote:
If the Post is going to skewer Hollywood for alleged inaccuracies then it ought to lead by example and get its facts scrupulously correct. Nowhere in that July 2003 did Joe Wilson accuse George W. Bush of lying.
The Post also repeats the vicious, despicable claim that Ambassador Wilson lied about his wife. The only one lying in this matter is the Post’s editorial page. These are the simple facts:
Valerie Wilson was covert CIA case officer who was still under non-official cover status when Robert Novak, with help from the White House of George W. Bush, exposed her identity. The Washington Post continues to insist that only State Department’s Richard Armitage was to blame, when the public record, including testimony in the Scooter Libby trial, shows that White House officials Karl Rove and Ari Fleischer, among others, were spreading Val’s name around town with various reporters. The fact that those reporters did not publish the information, and thus insulated the likes of Rove and Fleischer against being indicted, does not change the fact that there was a coordinated White House effort to use Valerie’s identity and association to discredit Joe.
If accurate reporting is the standard it is worth noting that Pincus and Leiby also reported:
The movie effectively dispenses with the canard that Valerie Plame Wilson was not a covert operative… the question of how Joe Wilson was picked for the unpaid Niger assignment. Here, the picture gets it right. The CIA says its counterproliferation officials selected Wilson and asked his wife to contact him; she did not “recommend” him. In fact, agency officials had used him for an earlier overseas assignment.
Valerie was Chief of Operations on the Directorate of Operations Iraq Task Force. She had the job of running field operations with human assets to uncover Iraqi efforts to acquire nuclear technologies. What Valerie did was so sensitive that the CIA continues to deny her the legal right admit to having worked for the CIA prior to February 2002. The CIA insist on the legal fiction seven years after her identity was exposed and still demands that she not acknowledge in public what is already in the public domain. No intelligence organization make such demands on a person who was just a “desk jockey” or “glorified secretary.”
The exposure of Valerie’s position as a CIA officer not only destroyed her career, but caused significant damage to the national security of the United States. Of course the Post editorial page is loathe to admit that fact. Today’s editorial includes the following claim:
The movie portrays Ms. Plame as having cultivated a group of Iraqi scientists and arranged for them to leave the country, and it suggests that once her cover was blown, the operation was aborted and the scientists were abandoned. This is simply false. In reality, as The Post’s Walter Pincus and Richard Leiby reported, Ms. Plame did not work directly on the program, and it was not shut down because of her identification.
Well, actually, we do not know the specifics of what Valerie did and did not do at the CIA. As noted above the CIA refuses to this day to acknowledge that Valerie worked at the CIA prior to February 2002. Pincus and Leiby wrote:
It’s true that Valerie Plame Wilson was working with one of the CIA’s teams trying to gather intelligence on Iraq WMD operations, but she evidently did not play the central role that the film puts her in. She was not directly part of the scientist program, according to agency officials. . .
Although the film suggests that the blowing of Valerie’s cover led directly to the shutdown of the Iraqi scientist exfiltration, an intelligence insider told us: “Something like this, if it was going on, wouldn’t have been canceled for this reason.”
Although the movie does a good job of representing the kind of work that Valerie did as a case officer, it does not tell what she really did because the CIA will not allow her to talk. Valerie did not, cannot and does not talk about what she did. She’s kept her part of the bargain that came with taking a job at CIA even though many senior CIA officials neglected to hold up their part of the bargain. I find it curious that CIA officials acknowledge that she did work on the scientist program but “not directly.” So enough of the anonymous quotes to reporters. Let’s get everyone on the record. I know that Valerie is ready to go. She has never been one to exaggerate her status. She is not your typical Washington-based bureaucratic climber who inflates their resume and work accomplishments.
Even though I still hold Top Secret clearances, Valerie has not divulged the specifics of what she did beyond the fact that she was Chief of Ops for the Iraq Task Force. What I know for certain is that she was undercover case officer because we, along with 50 plus other CIA employees, were in the same Career Trainee program. As a case officer she was responsible for handling spies — i.e., foreign agents who agree to commit treason by giving secret information to the United States. It is amazing to me that an editor at the Post like Fred Hiatt can hold the position he does and insist on the nonsense that the exposure of a Non Official Covert officer’s identity has caused no harm to our nation’s security. Valerie handled information and sources far more sensitive than anything revealed in WikiLeaks.
The heart and soul of the movie Fair Game, however, is not about the details of who said what to whom but what people in power did to punish the Wilsons. There is one central, indisputable fact — Valerie Plame was an undercover officer and people with direct ties to the office of Vice President Cheney were spreading her name around town in a clumsy effort to discredit her husband, Joe Wilson, for the simple act of telling what he knew about Bush Administration claims that Iraq was trying to buy uranium. But the movie also is about what happened in the lives of two American citizens who had loyally served their nation overseas in dangerous assignments and found themselves at the center of a White House driven smear campaign. That attack hurt Joe and Valerie economically and emotionally and almost destroyed their family. So much for the Republican commitment to “family values.” Fortunate for us Joe and Valerie survived to tell their story in an intimate and unflinching look behind their front door.
Today’s editorial in the <emWashington Post is a sad reminder that some of the journalists who enabled the ill-conceived war in Iraq and facilitated the smear of two American citizens are still alive and well in Washington, D.C. This is a culture of corruption within journalism. A nameless person writes in the name of the Post and uses lies and half-truths to perpetuate an attack on Joe and Valerie Wilson. And that is what journalists call courage?
The Washington Post is not happy with Fair Game for one simple reason — it documents for history the failure of the Post and others like it to do their job as journalists and the willingness of the Post to pay the role of hitman for political operatives at the White House. That's the nerve Fair Game hits and a powerful blow it is.
I remember the moment I decided to vote for then Senator Barack Obama for president. He was loosening up behind the three-point line in a gym packed with soldiers. I remember thinking, “Under the best of circumstances that’s at a forty percent make.” With pressure, and I assumed that shooting hoops while being filmed by the national media was pressure, the odds of missing soared.
Obama nailed it.
And right then and there he won my vote.
My wife suggested if I voted for the junior senator from Illinois it should be based on something more substantive than a jump shot, say bringing home all the troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, or creating jobs, or helping the poor. But I’m a basketball junkie and I figured that anyone who could nail one from downtown under those circumstances would perform coolly and boldly in every conceivable situation.
But like so many progressives, my patience with my president is running out.
Not that the White House is going to panic that my occasional $25 donation to the Democratic National Committee will cease. Not that they will notice that this morning I sent $10 to ActBlue to pay for ads to pressure senators to end the Bush tax cuts. I’m just a guy in LA, a public school teacher, who has voted Democratic for forty-one years, save for when I moved to California in 1980 and registered as a Republican so I could vote for Illinois Rep. John B. Anderson against Ronald Reagan in the presidential primary. Following that vote, I quickly re-registered as a democrat.
But if the White House agrees to any deal that extends the Bush tax cuts, unless such a deal would prevent an imminent nuclear war, I will leave the political party that my parents cherished and that I believed, until recently, cared deeply about the middle class, the working class, and the poor. I will leave the party that I felt has stood on the right side of the most important political issues of my lifetime: civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights, ending the Viet Nam War, curbing presidential abuse of power, helping the needy, protecting the environment, and making college education more affordable for the have-nots.
If President Obama agrees to a deal that would give the Koch Brothers, Rupert Murdoch and Alex Rodriguez healthy tax cuts that will be paid for by my children’s generation and their children’s generation, then the Democratic Party is not the one I so proudly registered with as an 18-year old liberal growing up in Texas.
I won’t, as a protest move, register with the Green Party, though I believe in their platform. I don’t believe third parties will make a positive difference in American anytime soon.
I’ll just fill out the form to become an Independent; I’m assuming I can do it on line, and probably chastise myself for a long time to come for not seeing past that jump shot and voting for Hillary.
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The President’s Deficit Commission ended not with a bang but with a whimper. The recommendations of the Chairmen–millionaire Democratic Wall Street investment banker Erskine Bowles and crotchety old former Republican Senator Alan “Social Security’s a Milk Cow with 310 Million Teats” Simpson–fell 3 votes short of the number needed to send their package of cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and taxes for corporations and the rich to Congress. Despite efforts by Bowles, Simpson and their media enablers to spin their “let them eat cat foot” recommednations as setting the terms for future debate, their report is likely to go to the same graveyard where the work of so many blue-ribbon commissions go to be buried.
Let’s put aside the question of why Barack Obama decided to appoint a Deficit Commission instead of a Jobs and Growth Commission.
Let’s also put aside the fact that the national debt was caused principally by the Bush tax cuts, two wars paid for on the national credit card, the unpaid-for Bush Medicare drug plan (which, like Obamacare, prohibited the government from negotiating lower prices with drug companies), and the reduction in tax revenues brought about by the great recession caused by Wall Street greed and government deregulation, none of which is seriously addressed by the Deficit Commission.
In the face of those stubborn facts, the President’s Commission took 10 months, 18 mostly rich and conservative luminaries (and a handful of token liberals), and a government-paid staff to come up with a predictable set of solutions weighted towards reductions in Social Security and Medicare and tax breaks for the well-off that, which, despite being stacked from the start to reach the predictable results, still couldn’t garner the necessary votes to go to Congress.
In contrast, I’m just one well-read guy who contributes regularly to The Huffington Post and is bit of a policy wonk in my spare time. So I decided to issue my own Deficit Report by scratching it on the back on an envelope and posting it here. (Just kidding–I’ve actually been thinking and writing seriously about these isues for many years) My One-Man Deficit Commission challenges Bowles and Simpson to debate the merits of our respective Plans, any time, any place.
Here’s my One-Man Deficit Commission’s 5-Part Plan:
Some more details on my Plan:
1.Medicare-For-All: Let’s start with a key fact which was largely ignored by the Deficit Commission. There is no long-term debt crisis in America; there’s a long-term health care cost crisis. That’s so important to understand, I’ll say it again. There is no long-term debt crisis in America; there’s a long-term health care cost crisis.
If health care costs in America were similar to those in other rich capitalist countries, there would be no federal deficit, even if nothing else were changed on the spending side or the revenue side.
The chart below shows that if American health care costs continue to increase at current rates, deficits as a percentage of GDP will soar to uncontrollable levels, and no amount of other budget cuts or revenue increases will be able to get them under control. But if America reduced its health care costs to the same percentage of GDP as those in Canada, France, German, Holland, or England, deficits would quickly disappear and would in fact turn into surpluses without doing anything else.
America spends twice per-capita on health care costs as other developed countries. In 2007, it was $6,096 in the US, $3,173 in Canada, $3040 in France, $3,171 in Germany, $3,092 in the Netherlands and $2,560 in the UK. Although America spends double what other rich countries spend on health care, it doesn’t get better results, ranking 37th in the world in health care outcomes, just behind Dominica and Costa Rica and just ahead of Slovenia and Cuba. Since the Federal government pays half of America’s health care costs through Medicare, Medicaid, the VA, tax benefits, and other programs, it’s America’s outsized health care costs that are driving the long-term debt.
What’s the difference between America and the rest of the developed capitalist world when it comes to health care costs? Every other capitalist country has either a form of government-run single-payer health care (“Medicare for All”), or a highly regulated utility. Only America has a system based upon for-profit private health insurance. Obamacare did nothing to change this. In fact, it reinforced the private health insurance system by mandating that starting in 2014, every uninsured American must buy unaffordable private health insurance (with the government partially subsidizing the cost up to a modest income level.) Obamacare did virtually nothing to reign in the soaring costs of private health insurance. The few proposals that could have reduced costs–creating a robust public option using Medicare rates to compete with private insurance and giving the government the right to negotiate lower drug prices–were traded away by the White House in backroom deals.
Adding back these provisions in the future would make a dent in the the deficit. But even a robust public option would only be a small piece of a continued multi-payer system that would be unable to negotiate a national health care budget on a global basis and sufficiently reign-in costs.
Medicare For All would save approximately $400 billion dollars a year in administrative costs alone and could reduce the deficit to zero. So that’s the first, and most important, proposal in my one-man Deficit Commission’s recommendations. In fact, it would save so much money that I could stop right there. But here are some other deficit reduction recommendations:
2.End the Bush Tax Cuts for the Rich Now/ End all the Bush Tax Cuts When the Economy Recovers. That anyone can take seriously Republican demands to extend the Bush tax cuts for the richest 2%–at a cost of $700 billion over 10 years–shows just how cynical and reckless our politics have become. That Barack Obama can acquiesce to this charade shows, as Paul Krugman wrote on Friday, the White House’s “moral collapse and loss of direction.” That Democrats can argue that trading $700 billion in long-term debt for $60 billion in short-term debt to extend unemployment insurance is a fair political trade shows just how cowardly the Democratic Party has become.
President Obama should have announced that he would veto any tax bill that extends tax cuts for the top 2% beyond the end of this year. Harry Reid should have announced that he would pass tax cuts for the bottom 98% using reconciliation–which only requires 51 votes instead of 60–just how the Bush tax cuts were passed in the first place. To the detriment of our country, none of this is likely to happen and the richest Americans will be able to buy more yachts and invest more millions overseas on $700 billion borrowed by the US Treasury. Having further ballooned the debt, Republicans will then call for slashing government programs for the poor and middle class and reducing Social Security and Medicare to solve their self-created debt crisis.
Moreover, while almost no one is willing to say so, in the long-run the country cannot afford most of the remaining Bush tax cuts on the other 98% of the population. Agreed that the middle of a recession is not the time to raise taxes on the middle class, who need every dollar to pay for food, housing, medical care, and education. But the Bush tax cuts on the remaining 98% will cost approximately $3.3 trillion dollars over the next 10 years. They should not be made permanent. Rather, when the economy recovers–say when unemployment falls below 6%-7%–they should all expire and return to the tax rates paid during the Clinton boom years. That would cost the average middle class person about $600 per year, hardly too much in “shared sacrifice” for the health of the nation’s finances.
3.A Financial Transactions Tax. The idea is simple. If you charge a very small tax on a very large volume of transactions, you can raise a ton of revenue with minimal impact on those transactions. As economist Dean Baker has pointed out, a 0.25% tax on buying or selling a stock would be $25 on a $10,000 stock purchase, which would make little difference to someone intending to hold the stock for any period of time. Similarly a 0.02% tax on a farmer purchasing futures the hedge her wheat crop would cost the farmer $80 for hedging a $400,000 crop.
Yet a modest tax, too small for most investors to even notice, could add $100 billion per year–$1 trillion over 10 years–to Federal revenues.
It would have the added advantage of discouraging the kinds of speculation that helped cause the financial meltdown. Speculators who buy and sell by the minute and hour to earn pennies per transaction multiple times would be discouraged. Complex derivatives would be taxed numerous times in the chain of transactions, reducing the amount of profit from creating so much complexity that almost no one can understand or regulate the transactions.
4.End The War in Afghanistan. The War in Afghanistan cost $72.9 billion in 2010, up from $55.2 in 2009 due to President Obama’s escalation. The real cost is even higher, since these hard costs do not include the expense of paying for veterans’ medical care, replacing military equipment destroyed on the battlefield, or servicing the debt on war costs paid for with borrowed money. With less than 100 Al Qaeda members in Afghanistan, what has now become “Obama’s War” is not making us any safer, while failed nation-building in Afghanistan is taking needed resources from nation-building at home. Bring almost all the troops home from Afghanistan as soon as possible.
5.Reduce Military Spending/Increase Spending on Civilian Infrastructure and Jobs. US military spending is nearly half of all military spending in the entire world. It’s 8 times higher than the next highest competitor, the Chinese. The US maintains over 700 military bases in over 130 countries around the world, including substantial installations in German and Korea, over half a century after the end of World War II and the Korean War and over two decades after the fall of the Soviet Union.
The greatest threat to American security isn’t nation-states armed with tanks and missiles, but terrorists armed with box-cutters. Yet we still spend more on the military than we did at the height of the Cold War. Why? Because it’s good for the defense industry, that spreads military-related jobs into almost every Congressional district, contributes massively to politicians, and scares politicians that if they cut military spending, some of their constituents will lose jobs.
The solution is to convert many of those jobs building tanks, jet fighters, and aircraft carriers–which do nothing to build a long-term sustainable economy–into jobs building roads, bridges, schools, high-speed transportation and alternative energy. That wouldn’t necessarily substantially reduce government spending, but by creating sustainable economic growth, it would expand the GDP, increase tax revenues, and reduce the deficit as a percentage of GDP. It would also be good for America.
The details of cutting the military budget without sacrificing security are complicated. A good place to start is with the report “Debts, Deficits, and Defense” by the Sustainable Defense Task Force chaired by Rep. Barney Frank.
So that’s my One-Man Commission’s plan to cut the deficit. It saves more money than the official Deficit Commission Chairman’s plan. And it doesn’t take the savings out of the hide of the middle class. Some of the savings can be used to make investments to grow the economy by extending unemployment benefits, giving federal aid to the states to save jobs, and to invest in infrastructure and a green economy. And in the long-term, economic growth is the most sustainable way to reduce the deficit as a percentage of GDP which is what really counts. If the economy remains stagnant, unemployment remains high into the foreseeable future, and consumer demand remains low, tax revenues will continue to crater and deficits will continue to grow.
Now you may say that my Commission’s proposals, even if they make sense, aren’t practical and are unlikely to be enacted in the foreseeable future. And you may be right. But then how practical are many of the key proposals of the official Deficit Commission Chairmen, which couldn’t even garner the necessary votes from the stacked Commission to send them to Congress, much less to pass Congress? How many Congress people are going to vote to eliminate the home mortgage deduction on millions of middle class Americans? How many are going to vote to make Grandma pay more for her Medicare treatments? Or to increase the retirement age for Social Security? Are these proposals any more likely to pass in the foreseeable future than Medicare For All?
I submit that these proposals are no more practical than mine. And, if enacted, they would do great harm to the American middle class. If they have any veneer of practicality, it’s only because the pundit class proclaims them as the mark of courage in a politician. But while they might be popular in a handful of zip codes in suburban D.C. and New York, they would be wildly unpopular in most of the country, and no matter how much money Karl Rove or the Chamber of Commerce offers politicians to support them, most politicians would still fear being run out of office if they supported these draconian measures.
So what should progressives be doing? Should we be arguing about whether it’s a pragmatic political compromise to trade $700 billion in tax cuts for the richest 2% for $60 billion in unemployment benefits? Or should we be spending our time educating and organizing people about the changes that could really improve their lives, and reduce the deficit to boot? It may be a long, hard slog. But I submit it’s far better to do the latter.
NEW YORK (The Borowitz Report) — WikilLeaks has finally met its match.
That’s the bombshell from fugitive founder Julian Assange, who said that after months of hacking former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin’s brain, WikiLeaks has come up empty.
“I challenge the best hackers in the business to have a look inside,” he said, speaking from an undisclosed location. “There’s nothing there.”
Mr. Assange, still on the run from authorities, said that once his team of hackers gained access to Gov. Palin’s brain, “What little we found there was so encrypted it bore no resemblance to any recognizable language.”
The WikiLeaks founder said that his discovery about Gov. Palin’s brain is good news for her political future: “Most politicians have to worry about their private thoughts coming back to haunt them, but that clearly isn’t going to be a problem for her.”
For her part, Gov. Palin seemed to be relishing her role as the one politician in the world who has nothing to fear from WikiLeaks.
On Twitter, she addressed the following message to Mr. Assange: “How’s that Wiki-Leaky thing workin out for ya?” More here.
The Los Angeles Times says Andy Borowitz has “one of the funniest Twitter feeds around.” Follow Andy on Twitter here.
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Some of the most important occasions in our life call for a toast. At weddings, birthdays, retirement parties, and other momentous occasions, a toast (a very short speech) is often expected. Some find this task daunting, but if you’re prepared, speaking in front of a group can even be enjoyable.
If you don’t want to say the wrong thing or look foolish, do your homework. To avoid rambling or stumbling over your words, practice ahead of time.
The Host and Guest of Honor
The host should propose the first toast. This is considered the “toast of welcome,” and it also serves as a signal for everyone to begin eating. It can be as simple as “Welcome to each of you, bon appetit.” The host does not rise for this initial toast unless there is more than one table for the group, or the table is larger than ten people.
Make sure that all glasses have been filled before giving your toast. Toasting is acceptable with nonalcoholic beverages such as soft drinks or sparkling water, even for those offering a toast.
As the dinner progresses, the host offers a toast to the guest of honor, if there is one. After the toast, the host raises his/her glass to the guest of honor, at which time all guests follow the host’s lead, pick up their glasses, and take a sip.
In turn, the guest of honor responds to the toast by toasting the host, including some kind words about the host.
The guest of honor must always respond to a toast, but does not drink to him/herself.
At an informal gathering, anyone can propose a toast after the host extends a welcome toast.
Other toasts may be directed to the host, but not the guest of honor.
If the host has not given a toast by the dessert course, inspired guests may certainly toast the host.
Don’t clink your crystal to get the attention of those around you. This will break it.
How to toast? Stand, pick up your glass and say, “May I please have everyone’s attention?” Speak slowly, clearly, and loudly enough to be heard.
It’s always good to start with humor, as long as it’s polite humor.
Avoid profanity when giving a toast.
A toast should not be too personal.
Toasts should be light and short, no more than three minutes.
If a toast is proposed to you, sit quietly, smile and bask in the moment of the attention. You do not raise your own glass.
A toast should be responded to with a toast; it shows a lack of social sophistication not to respond.
At informal dinners, it’s not necessary for guests to rise except the person making the toast. At formal dinners, if the person being toasted is a VIP such as a foreign dignitary or a distinguished person, all guests should rise.
Always raise your glass when a toast is offered, even if you don’t drink.
The Golden Rule of Toasting is to remember the three B’s: Begin, Be Brief, and Be Seated. It’s a toast, not a roast!
Lisa Mirza Grotts is a recognized etiquette expert, on-air contributor and the author of A Traveler’s Passport to Etiquette. She is a former director of protocol for the city and county of San Francisco and the founder and CEO of The AML Group (www.AMLGroup.com), certified etiquette and protocol consultants. Her clients range from Stanford Hospital to Cornell University and Levi Strauss. She has been quoted by Cond Nast Traveler, InStyle Magazine, and the Los Angeles Times. To learn more about Lisa, follow her on www.Twitter.com/LisaGrotts and www.Facebook.com/LisaGrotts.
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Can’t tell you how it happened. All I know, it just happened.
Been thinking and reading a lot about President Barack Obama. Lots of news commentaries about his alleged lack of leadership on this or that issue. About his disappointing the Gay and Lesbian and Transgender Community on his election pledge to end the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy in the armed services. And his disappointment by the anti-war coalition, who supported him because of his opposition to the war in Iraq, only to find that he has escalated the US’s involvement in Afghanistan. Now, after the midterm election victories of the Republicans, he seems willing to compromise on his pledge to end tax breaks for the rich.
In previous blogs, I have tried to contribute to a constructive analysis and dialogue about Obama’s presidential leadership. Several readers accused me of being an “apologist” for Obama. Perhaps, in artfully, but all I was trying to do was to present objectively those major issues confronting this administration, requiring decisive presidential leadership
Few news columnists can match the political erudition of Frank Rich of the New York Times. In the Sunday edition he wrote:
After reading this, I watched a PBS special on the songs and protest music of the 1960s. It bought back a flood of memories: my friendships with Mary Travers and Peter Yarrow of “Peter Paul and Mary,” Lorraine Hansberry, Robert Nemiroff, Ernie Lieberman, Art and Burt DuLugoff of the Village Gate night club in NY, Pete Seeger, Albert Grossman, Odetta, James Brown, Al Bell of Stax Volt Records, Harry Belafonte, James Baldwin, and many others of that period.
However, nothing influenced me more to write this blog than listening, again, carefully to some of the lyrics of Bob Dylan’s “Blowin in The Wind.”
Then, I began to think about 1968: about Allard Lowenstein, President Lyndon Johnson, Senator Eugene McCarthy, Sarah Kovner and Harold Ickes of the New York Democratic Party New Coalition who had the courage to lead a grassroots challenge to Lyndon Johnson’s re-election.
Lyndon Johnson was one of the greatest presidents in the history of our country. He enacted Immigration reform, bills establishing a National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, a Highway Safety Act, the Public Broadcasting Act, creation of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, a bill to provide consumers with some protection against shoddy goods and dangerous products, Social Security and Medicare, Voting Rights Act of 1965, only to mention a few. But, he squandered and threatened the viable implementation of these legislative achievements by his aggressive pursuit and escalation of the war in Vietnam.
Some of us, like Allard Lowenstein, Sarah Kovner, Harold Ickes, Eleanor French, Blair Clark, decided that Johnson’s pro Vietnam policy had to be publicly challenged. Our “agent” for this challenge was Senator Eugene McCarthy from Minnesota. He may have been an “uncertain trumpet” on other domestic issues. However, we worked hard to support his candidacy for President in the New Hampshire Democratic primary as a challenge to the Vietnam policy of President Johnson. McCarthy came in second with 42% percent of the vote against 49% for the President. This precipitated Johnson to announce that he would not seek re-election as the candidate of the National Democratic Party.
When few other public figures of national stature spoke out about Johnson’s escalation of the war in Vietnam, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, at New York City’s Riverside Church, before a meeting of Concerned Layman and Clergy, on April 4th, 1967, said “A time comes when silence is betrayal.” For Dr. King, it was “time to break the silence.”
And, so it is with Obama’s continued squandering of the extraordinary support he developed for his election as President.
Go and check out the video clips of the panorama of faces that assembled in Grant Park in Chicago after the election results confirmed his victory. Check out the million + people who came to Washington to witness his Inauguration.
It is not easy to consider challenging the first African-American to be elected as President of the United States. But, regrettably, I believe that the time has come to do this.
It is time for Progressives to stop “whining” and arguing among themselves about whether President Obama will or will not do this or that. Obama is no different than any other President, nominated by his national party. He was elected with the hard work and 24/7 commitment of persons who believed and enlisted in his campaign for “Hope” and “Change.”
You don’t have to be a rocket scientist nor have a PhD in political science and sociology to see clearly that Obama has abandoned much of the base that elected him. He has done this because he no longer respects, fears or believes those persons who elected him have any alternative, but to accept what he does, whether they like it or not.
It is time for those persons who constituted the “Movement” that enabled Senator Barack Obama to be elected to “break their silence”; to indicate that they no longer will sit on their hands, and only let off verbal steam and ineffective sound and fury, and “hope” for the best.
The answer is blowin’ in the wind
The pursuit of the war in Afghanistan in support of a certifiably corrupt Afghan government and the apparent willingness to retreat from his campaign commitment of no further tax cuts for the rich, his equivocal and foot dragging leadership to end DADT, his TARP for Wall Street, but, equivocal insufficient attention to the unemployment and housing foreclosures of Main Street, suggest that the template of the 1968 challenge to the reelection of President Lyndon Johnson now must be thoughtfully considered for Obama in 2012.
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by Clarence B. Jones, Stuart Connelly
Black Swan is a perfect movie. Intellectually provocative. Emotionally engaging. Sensual. Heart breaking. It is a movie that stays with you for a very, very long time after the credits rise. And for me, it is a movie that serves as a reminder of why I chose to become a filmmaker in the first place. To make art that tears through the barriers of social propriety and speaks truths that the heart needs to hear.
From the first frame, you are swept into the dark and brooding world masterfully crafted by Darren Aronofsky, a director who is at the height of his talent. In an era of digital filmmaking and explosive special effects, Aronofsky shows us again the simple power of old-fashioned grainy film and muted lighting to pull us into another reality. One that reflects the dark shadows of our own minds, the fear that comes from looking into places within our souls that we have locked away and refused to face.
Black Swan follows the journey of Nina, a ballerina played with aching honesty by Natalie Portman. Nina longs to rise to the top of her ballet company and is given the opportunity of a lifetime when the artistic director (Vincent Cassel) casts her as the lead in his new production of Swan Lake. Nina’s role requires her to master two personas – that of the White Swan, a pristine and angelic presence, as well as her nemesis, the Black Swan, a sensual temptress who steals the heart of the White Swan’s lover. The role of the virginal White Swan is easier for the repressed and emotionally controlled Nina. It is the Black Swan that presents Nina her greatest challenge – to break free of her inner walls and embrace the intense power within her. As Nina struggles with the demands of the two roles, the darkness within her own psyche is unleashed as she becomes increasingly convinced that Lily, a new dancer in the company played by Mila Kunis, is maneuvering to take her place.
To be honest, I know nothing about ballet. Like many others who will see this film, I have never taken the time to appreciate the art form, dismissing it as the effete predilection of upper class snobs. Aronofsky is clearly aware of that prejudice, and the one moment he permits us to leave the closed and controlled world of the ballet company, he faces it head on.
The rebellious newcomer Lily convinces a hesitant Nina to go clubbing, and the two ballerinas meet handsome young men who are rather blunt when they find out about the girls’ profession. “Sounds boring,” says one of the guys harshly. His wingman, played by Sebastian Stan who starred in my recent NBC television series Kings, is a little better at his game and manages to feign interest in ballet in the hopes of getting laid. But his face still says it all. Ballet is for uninteresting people leading uninteresting lives.
As Aronofsky shows us over two hours of (literally) nail-biting tension and suspense, he is dead wrong.
Black Swan is full of so many surprises that I hesitate to give more details of the film’s plot for fear of lessening its impact. But I will say that, at its heart, the movie is about the quest for perfection. Nina’s obsession with being perfect – the perfect ballerina, the perfect daughter, the perfect Swan – lead her down an increasingly dark path in which her sanity is threatened and the drums of tragedy thunder with increasing dread.
It is a journey that many of us can understand. It is the terrible price of ambition. Anyone who has ever sought to better themselves knows that with each success comes a hunger for more. Each victory becomes less fulfilling, as it simply points out how many more battles must still be fought. The farther we climb up the mountain of our hopes and dreams, the more infuriatingly distant the peak becomes. We desperately seek to transcend our limitations, only to find that in our quixotic quest for an illusory perfection, we are actually rushing toward an abyss of self-hatred and self-destruction.
As a Sufi mystic, I sense the sacred drive behind that madness for perfection. Sufism, the mystical heart of Islam, teaches that we were all originally one with God in a realm beyond time and space. Our souls were created and lived in a state of divine perfection, where all things were possible, where there were no limitations, just boundless potentialities. And yet our souls chose to leave that state of infinite bliss and enter into the material world, with all of its limitations, suffering and pain. Why? Because perfection was itself a lonely prison.
With everything available to us, we were satiated to the point of despair. No joy of growth, no thrill of overcoming challenges, no way to taste the pleasure of victory over daunting obstacles. It was a state that my brothers in the Jewish mystical tradition of Kabbalah call the “bread of shame.” That which is earned too easily has no value. And if one is flooded with gifts without ever experiencing the dignity of earning them through hard work, the gifts become sour and ugly. When all things are available without effort, then nothing has any value.
And so our souls made a fateful decision – to relinquish our inherent divine abilities to manifest instantaneously and to take form in a material world that was bounded by limitation. A cold world that is often hostile and presents dangers to our physical, emotional, and spiritual lives every day. It is a world where suffering and failure are the norm, and one must struggle every day to get by. It is the world of limitation we see around us and within us at every moment.
And yet the Sufis say we chose to come to this valley of tears for a reason. Not to stagnate or wallow in our miseries. But to remember who we actually are, who we always have been – divine souls that are capable of transcending all limitations and manifesting everything our hearts desire. And that longing to rediscover the majesty of our souls, that desire to re-experience oneness with God, is what causes us to lift ourselves above the muck and grime of life and master our circumstances. The quest for perfection is at its core a quest to return to God, our source.
But it is a quest that is fraught with many dangers, the greatest being delusion and obsession. Delusion in not seeing where we really are in the journey, and obsession in trying to force ourselves faster than we are ready or able to go. The quest for mastery is a journey that we each must embark on, but by definition it is the riskiest of all ventures. For in the process of seeking perfection, we are constantly reminded of how we fall short. And unless we can accept that chasm between our ideal and our reality, we can be driven into the depths of despair.
In Islam, there is a belief that all souls must cross over a bridge to Paradise, a bridge that sits right over the gaping maw of the Fire. The bridge is razor thin and one’s actions in life determine whether a soul can cross the tightrope of eternity safely, or whether the soul trips and falls into the abyss.
For Sufis, the lesson of this sober image is that, in seeking to return to Heaven, we must risk falling into Hell.
That dangerous journey into the heart of perfection is the journey of Black Swan. And it is a journey that is perfectly (if I may use that word) embodied by the remarkable Natalie Portman.
Portman brings Nina to life with heart-wrenching authenticity. Her hopes, dreams, foibles, and insecurities are our own. And her terrifying descent into her personal hell makes us face our own inner demons with brutal honesty. There is a widespread belief that Portman will win the Academy Award for best actress for this role. If so, it may be because in this film we finally get a chance to see who she really is on many levels she has hidden from us before.
As I watched the film, I was struck with a strange sensation that this movie was perfectly cast, because I suspect that Portman understands Nina’s painful quest for perfection far more than she has ever been willing to share with the world.
To the public, Natalie Portman lives a charmed life. A movie star since she debuted at the age of 13 in The Professional, Portman went on to graduate from Harvard. Unlike other child stars, she managed to maintain a dignified and private life, excelling in school even as she became part of history’s most valuable film franchise Star Wars, playing the doomed wife of Darth Vader. Portman earned her first Oscar nomination for Closer before she turned 25. And she has dedicated herself to humanitarian causes, including supporting micro-financing opportunities for women in poor countries. Publicly, Portman has the persona of a saint. The image of the perfect girl that can do no wrong.
And yet I have never believed that public persona represented her deeper truth. The challenges of being thrust into the limelight at such a tender age must have weighed deeply on Portman. The added pressure of being held up by the public as an icon of perfection, of not being allowed to be flawed and human like everyone else, is unimaginable. It is a tribute to her inner strength that she has maintained her dignity in a world that sets up idols on a pedestal and then gleefully waits for them to destroy themselves. And yet I have no doubt that there are moments when this talented young woman has wanted to break free of the expectations around her, to free herself from the myth of “Natalie Portman” and write her own destiny as a real, living human being, warts and all.
I believe that inner struggle is what we are privileged to watch in Black Swan. The struggle of a young woman facing the demons of perfection, of confronting the expectations of her family, peers and mentors. In my experience in Hollywood, I have found that many actors use their craft as a means of hiding who they really are from the world as well as from themselves. In taking on this role, Natalie Portman has done the most intimate and risky thing for an actor – revealing naked truths that may very well reflect the deepest core of her own being.
Black Swan is a tragedy because it reveals the tragedy of the human condition. The tragedy of longing to return to a home that we ran away from and that is now always just one step ahead of us, like the end of a rainbow. We are children of the Sun, and like Icarus, we long to fly back to our origins. But the melting wings of human frailty bring us always crashing back to earth.
So if perfection is not possible, attainable, or even desirable, what is the purpose of our lives?
To answer that, like any good Sufi, I will share a story.
An American woman who embraced Sufism went on a journey to the Muslim world to find a shaykh, a mystical teacher who could guide her on her spiritual path. She told the shaykh that she sought the perfection that came from unity with God. The shaykh nodded and told her that her first step on the journey would come once she mastered a simple earthly task, such as grooming a horse. He took her to the stable and gave her a brush. The woman diligently spent hours carefully brushing the mane and coat of the shaykh’s favorite horse.
At the end of the day, the shaykh returned and she showed him her work. He frowned and pointed out how many tiny hairs were still out place. Looking closer, the woman realized he was right. She vowed to do better the next day. After spending many more hours carefully and lovingly caressing the horse with the brush, she showed the shaykh her work. He shook his head, frustrated. Yet again he pointed out tiny flaws in the horse’s coat. She really needed to do better.
This went on day after day, and the woman began to despair. Every day she showed the shaykh her work, and every day he found it imperfect. After several months, when the shaykh yet again dismissed her brushing as inadequate, the woman exploded in fury.
“Dammit! It’s good enough!”
The shaykh turned to her with a smile, his eyes twinkling.
“You have finally passed the test.”
Thank you Darren Aronofsky for gifting the world with your remarkable film Black Swan. And thank you, Natalie Portman, for the courage to show us the truth in your performance. Perfection is an illusion.
As we Sufis say: “There is great beauty in the idea of the rose. There is greater beauty in the rose as it actually appears, with all of its flaws.”
Kamran Pasha is a Hollywood filmmaker and the author of Shadow of the Swords, a novel on Crusades (Simon & Schuster; June 2010). For more information please visit: http://www.kamranpasha.com
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Until Thursday, the blogosphere was alight with speculation over NASA’s announcement that they would “discuss an astrobiology finding that will impact the search for evidence of extraterrestrial life.” That sentence was, of course, designed to be titillating, but NASA may have overplayed their hand. Watch the video below for details:
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Recently, I spoke to Howard Davies, Director of the London School of Economics and Political Science, on the school’s evolution and philosophy, globalization and education, translating research into practice, the need to integrate the study of religion into modern curriculum, and the future of the institution.
The following is an excerpt, while the full interview can be found here.
Rahim Kanani: What have been some of the major milestones of LSE over the last decade?
Director Davies: On the intellectual side, one crucial development has been something called the International Growth Center, which is the largest individual research project that the school has ever undertaken, which is in fact, a partnership with the British government’s Aid Ministry on trying to work out how best to spend the British aid budget in a way which promotes growth in the countries which they spend the money in, so essentially they have outsourced their research and their economics to the LSE. So now we have small offices in different developing countries trying to look at what are the promising avenues of growth for Rwanda or Ghana or Bihar in India or wherever, and how to then try to orient the government’s aid program to the most promising areas. That is the focus of the International Growth Center, which is a big initiative for the LSE. [more]
Rahim Kanani: When we talk about the LSE motto, which is to understand the causes of things, how would you describe the school’s effort to translate this mission into teaching and learning?
Director Davies: Interestingly, we have just launched a new course here, which all our undergraduates will take, which is precisely called “understanding the cause of the things”, because we actually thought to ourselves: are we really remaining faithful to this original mission? And we decided that, certainly there were a lot of things we do that can be put under that, but nonetheless we felt that we perhaps were missing out on the big issues of the day if you like, and we were not making our students as well aware of these big issues as we should, so we’ve decided to add a new program, which everybody will take no matter what their major is: half of it in the first year, and half of it in the second year. It’s a “big issues” course, so there will be about six or seven different modules. One of them in fact I teach myself, which is about why are there major financial crises and what can you do to reduce the incidence and the severity of them? Another is why is it so difficult to reduce poverty in Africa. A third is whether climate change really happening. If it is, how do we know it is? And what might we sensibly do about it? Another is, what is the importance of culture? Is it the case that there are good solutions in government and economics that work in some places and not others based on cultural difference? Everybody is now going to take this course. We started it last year as a pilot, and this year we’ve instituted it for everyone as: LSE 100, Understanding the Causes of Things. [more]
Rahim Kanani: In your eight years as Director of the LSE, what has surprised you the most about this institution?
Director Davies: I think that I didn’t understand when I first arrived just how well known the place was globally. I knew that it had a lot of foreign students, but I didn’t know the extent to which in a number of countries I’ve been to they almost see the LSE as a kind of finishing school for their country if you like. Practically everybody in public life in Greece has been to the LSE. The same thing is true in Singapore. The same is true in Malaysia. It’s astonishing how much the school has become a kind of center of interest in a lot of countries where a lot of the leading people in business and politics have at least spend some time here. I’m not saying that this is the only place they come to, a lot of them have come here for a year to do a master’s like you did, but a lot of those places there is a huge network of ex-LSE people in countries, which I never would have dreamt was the case. I recently went to Brunei and I discovered to my amazement that half the Brunei establishment is ex-LSE, so that has been the surprise for me.[more]
The full interview can be found here.
Future publications include interviews with Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor to President Barack Obama, Drew Faust, President of Harvard University, and many more. To see the full list, click here.
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She said it was “an ongoing challenge” to persuade Saudi officials to treat such activity as a strategic priority.
The groups funded include al-Qaeda, the Taliban and Lashkar-e-Taiba, she added.
The memo, released by Wikileaks, also criticised efforts to combat militants by the UAE, Qatar and Kuwait.
Meanwhile, a lawyer for the founder of the Wikileaks website said he was holding back secret material for release if anything happened to him.
He told the BBC that a rape case being prepared in Sweden against Julian Assange, an Australian national, was politically motivated.
, Mrs Clinton urged diplomats to redouble efforts to stop funds reaching militants “threatening stability in Pakistan and Afghanistan and targeting Coalition soldiers”.
“While the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) takes seriously the threat of terrorism within Saudi Arabia, it has been an ongoing challenge to persuade Saudi officials to treat terrorist financing emanating from Saudi Arabia as a strategic priority,” she wrote.
The Saudi government had begun to make important progress, but “donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide”, she added.
Al-Qaeda, the Taliban and Lashkar-e-Taiba “probably raised millions of dollars” annually from Saudi sources, often – and the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, she alleged.
Mrs Clinton said reforms to criminalise terrorist financing and restrict the overseas flow of funds from Saudi-based charities had been effective, but that they did not cover equally suspect “multilateral organisations”.
that the Pakistani charity Jamaat-ud-Dawa, which has been accused of being a front for Lashkar-e-Taiba, used a Saudi-based front company to fund its activities in 2005.
The that the Saudi authorities remained “almost completely dependent on the CIA” for information.
Wikileaks is currently working through the publication of more than 250,000 US diplomatic cables, whose release has embarrassed the United States.
Washington has condemned the disclosures – including indiscreet descriptions of world leaders and instructions to spy at the UN – as an attack on the world community.
In the latest releases, three other US allies in the Gulf were also listed as sources of funding for militants in the memo sent by Mrs Clinton.
Al-Qaeda and other groups continued to “exploit Kuwait both as a source of funds and as a key transit point”, partly because it remains the sole Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) country that has not criminalised terrorist financing, the cable said.
Kuwaiti officials resisted the “draconian” measures sought by the US against the Revival of Islamic Heritage Society, a charity designated a terrorist entity in 2008 for providing aid to al-Qaeda and affiliated groups, according to one cable.
Qatar is meanwhile criticised for having “adopted a largely passive approach” to fundraising activities, and its overall level of counter-terrorism co-operation with the US is “considered the worst in the region”.
The UAE is described as a “strategic gap” that militants can exploit, with the , there.
“High volumes of cash and electronic funds flow both to and from Afghanistan and Pakistan, the vast majority of which is derived from legitimate trade and remittances. The lack of effective border controls on cash is no doubt exploited by Taliban couriers and Afghan drug lords, camouflaged among traders, businessmen and migrant workers,” one cable said.
Another cable said militants avoided money transfer controls by sending amounts below reporting thresholds, using couriers and hawala – an Islamic informal transfer system.
Emerging trends include mobile banking, pre-paid cards, and internet banking.
There was but a single new wide-release this weekend, as the weekend after Thanksgiving is a scary time for Hollywood. Few studios are willing to risk dealing with the post-holiday hangover, so this weekend brings just The Warrior’s Way. But we’ll get to that in a minute. First off, Tangled took the box office crown in its second weekend, dropping just a bit less than Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part I, which was enough to score the number one slot. The Disney animated fairy tale grossed $21.5 million, which accounts for a somewhat troubling 56% drop in weekend two. With $96 million in twelve days, getting to $200 million is no longer the sure-thing that I pegged last weekend. Still, the film is Disney’s biggest non-Pixar hit in quite a long time. It’s about $13 million ahead of Chicken Little at the end of its respective weekend, about $26 million ahead of Enchanted at the end of its post-Thanksgiving weekend twelfth day, and it’s nearly $31 million ahead of Bolt at the same interval. It will outgross Princess and the Frog next weekend and has pretty much passed Meet the Robinsons as of today. So by any rational standard, the film is a big win for the Mouse House, even if the film did cost (allegedly) $260 million to make. If that’s true, then it will still be a very long time before Tangled gets in the black, although the likely trillions of dollars in merchandise sold will likely help ease the overbudgeting.
Second went to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part I, which pulled in $16.7 million in its third weekend. The drop was heavy (-66%), but frankly not too far off from similar post-Thanksgiving plunges for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (-53%), Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (-68%), and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (-63%).With $244 million in the bank by the end of day 17, the seventh Harry Potter sequel has nearly surpassed the domestic gross of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban ($249 million), and is barely outpacing Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince ($243 million in seventeen days, but $255 million in nineteen days at the end of weekend three) to remain, for the moment, the fastest-grossing film in the franchise. At this point, the film should reach at least $290 million (or about what the last three sequels grossed), but the franchise will have to wait for the grand finale to see a major domestic gross bump.
The lone new wide-release this weekend was The Warrior’s Way, which debuted in nineth place with just $3 million, for a $1,881 per-screen average. To make matters worse, the two-years delayed, $42 million western/martial arts hybrid scored a “C-” from CinemaScore. Nothing more to see here, folks. The other big new release opened on just 18 screens. Black Swan, the critically-acclaimed Darren Aronofski ballet horror film opened with a whopping $1.4 million for a shockingly-good $77,000 per-screen average. The Natalie Portman Oscar-bait thriller scored one of the largest debuts for a small release ever. On films playing on seven or more screens, the films’s average was second only to Precious, which scored $104,025 per screen on 18 screens last November. It will quickly expand over the next couple weeks, so we’ll see if it becomes the ‘it’ Oscar bait film of the season (ALA Brokeback Mountain, Juno or Slumdog Millionaire).
For the rest of this article, go to Mendelson’s Memos.
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It’s the most… wonderful time… of the year. And the most frantic and anxious and mind numbing and expensive. The rewarding part is my on- going seasonal side job as a lumpy elfin holiday gift consultant, where it is an honor and a privilege to be able to pass along some hot tips for this year’s Christmas shopping lists. None of which involve surplus uranium tailings from sales to the Iranians.
There’s still more than a few of us struggling to climb out of financial holes so deep we’re being tickled by the tendrils of redwood roots, but we’re not that difficult to shop for. Dollar coins. Discount clothing. Used food. Lint covered gum and pennies. Roadkill wrapped in the Sunday Funnies. We are the re- giftable.
It’s the other end of the spectrum that concerns me. The least needy of us. Wall Street is shoveling out record bonuses. Again. What to get the person who can buy anything? Perhaps the gifts you’ve lined up for your investment banker friends won’t be considered up to snuff. Well, I’m here to convince you to let those worries go. After all, it’s the thought that counts. Ha ha ha ha ha ha.
No, seriously. To ease your stress, we here at Durstco have come up with a catalog of prospective Christmas Gifts that any Wall Street Tycoon would be honored to find under their holiday shrubbery. And who knows, maybe in appreciation, he or she will slide you insider status on the newest IPOs. Probably not, but what the hell, here we go with the TOP TEN CHRISTMAS GIFTS FOR YOUR WALL STREET BROKER BUDDIES.
10. A peacock. Provides the double benefit of being both the ultimate symbol of excessive extravagance and extremely difficult to care for.
9. A copy of George W Bush’s autobiography because, during the holidays, everyone can use a good laugh.
8. A kidney in an ice chest. Purchased from a poor person. Always good to have one lying around just in case.
7. A Lexus. According to TV, that’s what rich people give each other for the holidays. Don’t forget the big red bow.
6. A get out of jail free card. No, a real Get Out of Jail Free Card. You must know somebody who knows somebody.
5. A Faberge Egg. Only 42 are known to have survived. Go for it. Check out eBay. Or call Meg Whitman direct.
4. A pair of Bernie Madoff’s underwear. Or just frame any old pair of size 36s and say they’re his. Its what he would have done.
3. A signed first edition of Tom Wolfe’s “Bonfire of the Vanities” because nothing else says, “Master of the Universe” quite like it.
2. A US Senator. Oh sure, they probably already have one socked away, but who’s ever thrown out a Senator because they went bad? Not Congress.
1. A soul. Odds are, they’ve sold, misplaced or ruined theirs. Just realize in advance they’ll probably sell, misplace or ruin this one as well.
Will Durst is a San Francisco based humor columnist who frequently tells jokes. Out loud. On purpose. In front of people. Who laugh. Ideally.
Catch an example at the Rancho Nicasio on Sunday, the 5.
And the Big Fat Year End Kiss Off Comedy Show XVIII, December 26- January 1.
More at willdurst.com.
Twitter. Facebook. Blah blah.
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NASA’s amazing Spirit and Opportunity rovers have survived (and generally thrived) on Mars for more than 25 times their expected lifetimes, returning spectacular images and other data that are helping scientists literally rewrite the textbooks about Martian history. Usually in the space probe business your camera is zooming past a planet or moon or asteroid or comet at breakneck speed and you basically have to take whatever you can get, given the limited lighting, power, time, or other constraints. The longevity of the Mars rovers, however, has given us the luxury — and it is a luxury! — of much more time devoted to photography than previous missions, much more bandwidth for sending pictures back to Earth, and better resolution cameras compared to previous Mars missions. The result is now more than 250,000 photos beamed back from the rovers since 2004. A subset of them, specifically selected for showcasing in glorious full-page color and foldouts in “Postcards from Mars,” were taken with an eye for lighting, framing, color, depth of focus — the same kinds of factors that Earth-bound landscape photographers routinely consider. My goal in pulling together this collection of photos from the rovers has been to share the beauty, desolation, grandeur, and sometimes plain old alien strangeness of the Red Planet. Postcards from Mars is a partly scientific, partly artistic, partly abstract, partly realistic photographic story about what has been a very human exploration adventure on another world-just experienced remotely through robotic eyes.
Launch the fullpage Big Shots slideshow >>
While driving over the reddish rocks and soils of Mars, the rover’s wheels dig below the thin
dusty layer and reveal darker, brownish soils just below. The circular tracks are “pirouettes”
that the rovers occasionally do to align their radio antennas for best possible communications.
Spirit rover, Pancam image, mission sol (martian day) 141 (May 26, 2004).
From “Postcards from Mars” by Jim Bell; Photo credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell University
While driving over the reddish rocks and soils of Mars, the rover’s wheels dig below the thin
dusty layer and reveal darker, brownish soils just below. The circular tracks are “pirouettes”
that the rovers occasionally do to align their radio antennas for best possible communications.
Spirit rover, Pancam image, mission sol (martian day) 141 (May 26, 2004).
From “Postcards from Mars” by Jim Bell; Photo credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell University
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by Jim Bell
This week marks the 30th anniversary of John Lennon’s assassination. While some wonder what Lennon’s next 30 years would have produced, others are focusing more on the day of his death. Discussion has also predictably turned to the legacy that the musician left behind, and how we remember him today. Here’s a sampling of different takes on Lennon:
He was an artist through and through: “Lennon’s willingness to let life bleed into art, and art into life, seems remarkably prescient,” says Newsweek’s Andrew Romano. “Today it’s a prerequisite for stardom.” He demonstrated how “stars could mine their fame for inspiration and bend it to their will,” and “he showed how much of a celebrity mass media could make you.” That’s the mark he left on the world of celebrity – “When Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt lured the paparazzi to Namibia for the birth of their daughter Shiloh, then donated the proceeds from the sale of her baby pictures to a local charity, they were pulling a John and Yoko.”
Was he really such a pacifist? “Lennon will be celebrated as a man who boldly proclaimed for peace in a world gone mad,” says John McMillan in The Boston Globe. We remember him this way at least partially due to our “desire to underscore the tragedy and senselessness of his death.” However, these “well-intended tributes and vigils are off the mark.” In reality, Lennon was “ambivalent about pacifism, and his public enthusiasm for the peace movement was fleeting and capricious.” If we’re more honest about Lennon’s views and experiences in the 1960s, we can “understand just how harrowing and uncertain that decade was.”
Lennon was more complicated than we recall: Lennon came to “reflect the attitude of his generation,” says Ray Connolly in The Telegraph. “But for the past three decades the man I’ve been reading about has grown less and less like the John Lennon I knew.” Yoko Ono and others have “air-brushed from public memory” any “warts” Lennon had. Even though we “speak of him in idealised tones” now, Lennon was a “complex, often contradictory character,” who “did some very foolish things when he let a nave, well-meaning heart rule a hasty, agitprop head.”
‘Tis the season once again. The menorahs are being lit, the radio stations are running 24/7 Christmas music and the season of parties is just ramping up. Front porches have zoomed from the pumpkins to scarecrows to the holiday wreaths in record time. With the upcoming buzz of office holiday parties, neighborhood cookie swaps and extended family celebrations, how do we juggle the joys of gathering with the struggles?
Humans are not that much different from squirrels, I have come to believe. In my neck of the woods, squirrels at this time of year are truly insane. They scramble around collecting the last acorns and nuts to shove in their nests (far more than they can ever eat), make mad bomber dashes across the street just missing a passing tire, and chatter at each other from tree branches like clucking hens.
Modern humans are not much different during December. Instead of preparing our cellars with food for the winter, we take that “nesting energy” and use it to race from store to store and come home with bags of gifts, bottles of wine, sweet treats and more decorations for the house. We look forward to the excitement of getting together, yet we also feel burned out by the over-stimulation.
Let’s explore that collective tension here. We have a longing to gather together in the winter via ancient rituals like the solstice, Hanukkah and Christmas. The people of most cultures share a love of lighting candles, singing songs, spending time with our friends and family, acknowledging our faith and our blessings and gifting one another in various ways.
This desire is fundamental to our internal balance and wellness. Human beings are wired for community and clan-style gatherings. Think of one of your favorite memories in life — what is it about? Most of our cherished memories are of the times we spent with people we love, and not the things we accomplished or purchased.
Sometimes the struggle of the holidays is balancing our inner picture with reality. Our memories of perfect holidays past may be pretty fuzzy and devoid of the pre-dinner fights, whining over gifts or burned crowned roast that we all know are classic year after year. Despite the stresses of the moment, most people reflect on the season with fondness and often forget the petty stresses that seem so important right now.
The secret to holiday madness is to remember that it is about cherishing and not about charging. It is about sharing and not about giving. Sometimes the silly expectations we set up for having the perfect house, perfect outfit, perfect gift or perfect meal usurp the original intention, and the magic of the moment is lost in anger, tension, frustration or sadness.
This season, adopt a “go with the flow” attitude, and remember that what makes a truly satisfying gathering or memorable gift is your ability to be present. Everyone is happier, and magic can flow out of unplanned moments. The economic fallout has left everyone with less money to spend, but does this have to ruin the holiday? Only if material gifts were all that mattered. We don’t have to store our nests with iPads and diamond watches but with love, support and happy memories gathered around a tree a table or a candle flame.
It is known that general anxiety and stress can be remedied by the release of oxytocin, a hormone that is fast becoming the hot shot of neuroscience. Once thought to be relegated to lactating women, oxytocin plays a much larger role in increasing our sense of altruism, connections to other people and even a sense of trusting our government. Think of that warm, fuzzy feeling you get when imagining a perfect “Norman Rockwell” moment — that is oxytocin flowing through your veins, and it is a powerful healer.
It has been found that oxytocin helps to counter-balance the affect of stress in our bodies. However, oxytocin is not released unless we are together, or unless it is triggered by nurturing images and memories. Think of the genius! When we are stressed out, we often turn to our partners, our family or friends to help us by taking a walk, talking it out or doing something fun to take our minds off of it. Instinctively we understand that we need contact with others to keep ourselves sane.
Gathering with others has a tension of splendor and struggle. Just know that. We want to go to the office party, and then we come home disenchanted. It happens. The pressures to hit the mall, keep up with the Joneses and complete our to-do list amplifies this time of year, making it harder for that gentle oxytocin to flow. How do we create a season of peace?
Here are a few suggestions:
Focus on the moments. Let’s face it: the holidays are stressful. No doubt about it. Traffic jams, irritated people, lines, pushing and shoving — the whole shebang. Focus on the sweet old lady bagging your sweater or the soft hand holding yours while you pick out a tree — keep those safe.
Don’t do too much. Be realistic with your time, budget and energy. If a holiday fundraiser auction is stressing out the wallet, make a polite excuse and stay home with cozy jammies and old TV reruns.
Make time to be with others you love. If all your obligations are for work, create some time to have a gathering with the people who make you happy. Share some wine, food and a few laughs.
Make time to be with yourself. As the season darkens, the time for being internal, quiet and reflective begins. Take some time for long bubble baths, journaling, meditation and inspirational reading.
As always, I love to hear from you, my friends here at The Huffington Post. Our online conversations are oxytocin starters for me! I appreciate those of you who stop by week after week and count you as my blessings this year! Feel free to drop a note below and let us know how you are balancing the season. Cheers!
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It appears that when the going gets tough for some private military contractors, even if it is a result of their own wrongful actions, the tough turn to the taxpayers to bail them out,
according to a post on The Pop Tort, which is a project from consumer advocates at the Center for Justice & Democracy.
It has long been known that the Pentagon legally covers dozens of military contractors doing dangerous jobs at home, such as making anthrax vaccine or disposing of mustard gas. But the immunity for harm granted KBR, which has brought us such creative innovations as gang rapes and carcinogenic burn pits in its mission to make U.S. troops the best supported in human history, appears to be far broader — and potentially costlier to taxpayers — according to documents released by U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer last Wednesday.
Thanks to the Oregonian, the largest newspaper of Oregon, a state I once had the pleasure of living in for some years, we know that a Feb. 18, 2010, letter from KBR managers reported that the total cost of soldiers’ claims against the contractor could exceed $150 million. “KBR does not believe that the company is liable for any damages,” KBR’s Michael Morrow wrote to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. But he wrote that KBR continues to incur research and legal fees, and would bill the government for allowable costs not paid by insurance.
Remember that a deposition filed last summer in U.S. District Court in Portland revealed that on the eve of the Iraq invasion, a KBR attorney won a secret clause ensuring that U.S. taxpayers, and not KBR, would pay in the event of any death or injury.
Oregon Congressman Blumenauer also sought a list of contracts with similar immunity provisions from the Pentagon. On Nov. 24, Undersecretary of Defense Frank Kendall released a list of more than 120 contracts issued by the Army, Air Force, Navy and other defense agencies since 2004. They are posted on Blumenauer’s website.
According to PopTort the list of contractors include major airlines American, Continental and United, as well as military contractors Raytheon Missile Systems, General Dynamics, L3, Lockheed Martin, BAE, and Boeing. Other indemnified companies include Mason and Hanger, a company which stores and transports containers of the nerve agent VX, and several firms that maintain facilities to destroy chemical agents.
To date, at least one case has resulted in lawsuits or taxpayer fees. In December 2008, Emergent BioDefense Operations Lansing Inc. sought $1.5 million from the Army for 14 lawsuits arising from its manufacture of the anthrax vaccine. The Pentagon deemed many of the claims ineligible and paid $646,000 in two of the lawsuits.
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Hypothetical tweets from real NFL figures!
@dmcfadden20 When I first heard that embarrassing cables were being released, I thought our coach had been fired. #punchline
@gregolsen82 Why is Coach Smith saying “no second axe for Calvin Johnson”? Why is he allowed to have even one? #skipthatplay
@DJDannyWare28 Ahmad Bradshaw & Brandon Jacobs will be splitting carries, but hopefully they won’t touch the ball often on the same play. #fumble
@mr_carter99 (Andre Carter) I’m extremely confident we can hold the Giants’ margin of victory to less than 35 points. #greatexpectations
@felixjones28 I hear Peyton Manning’s in a slump, so we should have a good shot at winning this week. #themsfightingwords
@MikeVick If we lock in our playoff seed with at least one game remaining I’m going to call my own number on every play just for fun. #teamplayer
@AaronRodgers12 In the mid-1990s 49ers-Packers games meant Steve Young vs. Brett Favre. I wonder what ever happened to those guys. #youshouldknow
@ndamukong_suh If anything happens to @drewstanton this weekend I’m playing quarterback. #nosuchthingasasneakwithhim
@GLew17 (Greg Lewis) They’re from Buffalo, and they play outdoors?!? #snowmisers
@johnabraham55 We want to see if we can win a game without having Matt Bryant make a last-second field goal. #heresthekicker
@GK_McCoy (Gerald McCoy) So far this season we’re proud of our execution. #johnmackaywouldbeproudtoo
@reggie_bush @Pierre_Thomas, @Pierre_Thomas – how are you? How are you? #sittingwiththetrainersittingwiththetrainer
@Jonathanstewar1 In the locker room we’ve started referring to Steve Smith as “The Invisible Man” #dontgetthemanangry #youreonetotalk
@20westbrook Matt Millen said we have no idea what’s going on in our locker room. #hewouldknow
@ddockett (Darnell Dockett) We’ve won three games, have lost six straight, and we still have a chance to win our division. #theyredone
@SeaHawk58 (Aaron Curry) Carolina – when’s the last time they were good? #notsincejakedelhommeleft
@MardyGilyard Whatever we do, we won’t get Derek Anderson mad. #puttingtheirheartsandsoulintoit
@DUSTINKELLER81 When we win Coach Ryan says that instead of shaking Coach Belichick’s hand he’s going to kick him in the ass. #whatifyoulose
@GaryGuton59 Coach Belichick says he’s going to wear steel pants just in case. #dontworryrexcantlifthislegthathigh
@willallen_25 Anyone have any good ideas on how to stop Peyton Hillis? #tellhimthegamesmondaynight
@CJSPILLER I saw Brett Favre this week – he was an exhibit at the Natural History Museum. #fossilfuel
@FABEWASH31 (Fabian Washington) Terrell Suggs and James Harrison see head-to-head on the issue of fines for violent hits. #tacklingdummies
@mvp86hinesward Terrell Suggs asked James Harrison for a ride to New York to discuss the issue of fines with Commissioner Goodell. #nowiggleroom
@ithinkurwright (Eric Wright) It’s too bad Flipper Anderson never played for the Dolphins. #itstoobadjimbrownismadatthebrowns
@ochocinco #9 – who are you, and what have you done with Carson Palmer? #invasionofthebodysnatchers
@dwightfreeney The Chargers are a good team, but we should all commit hari-kari if we lose to the Cowboys at home. #thatwontbenecessary
@ArianFoster Guess I can go ahead and book that vacation I had planned for early January. #nopotentialconflicts
@ChrisJohnson28 I’m getting lots of angry calls from fantasy football geeks who are unhappy with my stats. #wrongnumbers
@kirkmorrison55 Coach Del Rio says if our defense doesn’t improve he’s going to come out of retirement to play linebacker. #lostasteportwo
@GlennDorsey72 When our kicker misses a field goal, we call it a Succup Fuccup. #whatrhymeswithndamukongsuh
@knowshonmoreno I’m still not sure why we even bother having a running back on the field. #somebodysgottablock
@naanee11 Coach Turner told us he’ll be fired if he loses again in the playoffs – we could avoid that by missing the playoffs. #flawedlogic
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According to some statistics, travel contributes to much as 10% of the global GDP. Given the current global GDP is in excess of 50 trillion dollars annually, that is a staggering number.
However, travel companies – airlines, hotels, tourism operators and everyone involved in the travel space fail to do a good job of making travel fun. Sure, they show you the glossy photos, hand out postcards and try to sell you on the experience. But, it stops with the sale. The delivery never happens.
Travel is personal and travel is an experience. There is no one in the world who wants to see the Eiffel Tower or the Statute of Liberty alone. They want to experience it with someone. It doesn’t matter if it snows, rains or the price is exorbitant. Travel is all about the experience. And, it’s about who you experience it with. On every level, travel is personal.
But, travel companies don’t deliver the experience. And haven’t managed to deliver on it over the past decade. Sure, security has gotten in the way, but that has very little to do with airlines. People would rather be safe than feel insecure. And, travel security takes a few minutes on the worst day.
Starting with airlines to tourism companies, travel has become overly commercial. People sell the same thing over and over and over again. If you consider your best trip, you’ll remember the memories and the people that accompanied you on your trip. Sure, the monuments and the buildings will be there. But, they’re all secondary.
Today, before you even step on to a plane, airlines have made it a point to frustrate you, starting by charging ridiculous baggage fees. Then, when you step on to a plane, many flight attendants are grumpy and often times treat the most exciting profession in the world like a paper pushing job. On board, there is very little comfort – no food, no pillows and no blankets. Each of these things make a trip better. Not worse. Yes, they cost money. But, in the long run, these things also build loyalty. And, pulling such tactics also forces customers to travel less. Why? It’s not the cost. It’s the feeling of being cheated at every turn.
Same thing applies to hotels. As I’ve traveled to 5 new countries this year, I’ve discovered that higher the room rate, the lower the services. On a recent family trip, we stayed in one of the higher end resorts in Mexico. Billed as a 5-star resort, there was a fee for everything. And, these fees (to put it politely) were insane. It should be illegal to pay $30 for less than a day of Internet access. Similarly with bottled water – charging $10 for half a gallon of water is simply insulting. On the contrary, I recently booked a non name-brand hotel in London. It was centrally located, extremely cost effective and provided all their guests with complimentary bottled water and unlimited Internet access. The experience was significantly better for less than 25% of the cost. Now I’ll go out of my way to look for non-brand hotels.
Once travelers arrive in a new destination, they often times bring a guide book. I did the same thing this year and threw out nearly all the books on day 1. Why? Because they were impersonal. Travel is about experiences, adventures and people. It is not a 400 page history lesson. I do not need a book that’s bigger than my college textbook to tell me 9 different categories of hotels and restaurants. As a content creator, this frustrates me the most as I have to spend hours digging through the most useless data in the world. Do I really care that there is a restaurant on the Sydney Harbour that is booked a month in advance and costs more than my air ticket? No! Why such recommendations even make it into a guide book are beyond me.
The only thing I care about when landing in a new city is how to get around and get the most out of it. And, I’d like to it to be personalized. Offbeat Guides started doing something similar a few years ago, but even their travel guides are too generic. For the right guide, I’d be willing to pay as much as $50.
But, in an age where everything is going digital, I want to experience travel the way I do things in my everyday life. I don’t want to be stuck with an utterly useless travel book and lug it around all day. Many people have iPhones, iPod touches and other smart phones. For travel, these platforms have yet to be leveraged.
Big travel companies, such as Lonely Planet have created digital versions of their guide books. However, they contain minimal interactive features. On a recent trip to Sydney, Australia, I purchased their $5.99 guide book for my iPod touch. I couldn’t use it for a single day. The search functionality was poor, the maps crashed and it was mostly a history lesson than a tourism book.
At the end of the day, the travel industry keeps digging itself into a bigger hole. When I pay for something, I expect to receive something. With air travel, hotel stays and tour guides, this hasn’t been the case. They haven’t managed to keep up with what people want. And, just like any other business, when you treat people poorly, don’t be surprised if they abandon your product. The travel industry has a lot further to go — in terms of customer experience and digital adoption. For one of the most exciting industries in the world, it sure is backwards.
Aanarav Sareen is a content creator and digital media consultant. He blogs at Digital Media Business and publishes the monthly Digital Media Newsletter. He’s also the host of the weekly Digital Media Podcast.
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Government should be transparent by default, secret by necessity. Of course, it is not. Too much of government is secret. Why? Because those who hold secrets hold power.
Now Wikileaks has punctured that power. Whether or not it ever reveals another document–and we can be certain that it will–Wikileaks has made us all aware that no secret is safe. If something is known by one person, it can be known by the world.
But that has always been the case. The internet did not kill secrecy. It only makes copying and spreading information easier and faster. It weakens secrecy. Or as a friend of mine says, the internet democratizes leaking. It used to be, only the powerful could hold and uncover knowledge. Now many can.
Of course, we need secrets in society. In issues of security and criminal investigation as well as the privacy of citizens and some matters of operating the state–such as diplomacy–sunlight can damage. If government limited secrecy to that standard–necessity–there would be nothing for Wikileaks to leak.
But as we can see from what has been leaked, there is much we should know–actions taken in our name–that government holds from us. We also know that the revelation of these secrets has not been devastating. America’s and Germany’s relationship has not collapsed because one undiplomatic diplomat called Angela Merkel uncreative. Wikileaks head Julian Assange told the Guardian that in four years, “there has been no credible allegation, even by organizations like the Pentagon, that even a single person has come to harm as a result of our activities.”
So perhaps the lesson of Wikileaks should be that the open air is less fearsome than we’d thought. That should lead to less secrecy. After all, the only sure defense against leaks is transparency.
But that is not what’s happening. In the U.S., the White House announced a new security initiative to clamp down on information. The White House even warned government workers not to look at Wikileaks documents online because they were still officially secret, which betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of the definition of secret as something people do not know. I fear that one legacy of Wikileaks’ work will be that officials will communicate less in writing and more by phone, diminishing the written record for journalism and history.
I have become an advocate of openness in government, business, and even our personal lives and relationships. The internet has taught me the benefits of sharing and connecting information.
This is why I have urged caution in not going overboard with the privacy mania sweeping much of modern society and especially Germany. Beware the precedents we set, defaulting to closed and secret, whether in pixelating public views in Google Street View, or in disabling the advertising targeting that makes online marketing more valuable and will pay for much of the web’s free content.
I fear that a pixel fog may overcome us, blurring what should be becoming clearer. I had hoped instead that we would pull back the curtain on society, letting the sunlight in. That is our choice.
In researching my book on the benefits of publicnness (to be published as Public Parts in the U.S. and Das Deutsche Paraoxon in Germany), I have found that new technology often leads to fears about exposure of privacy. The invention of the Gutenberg press, the camera, the mass press, the miniature microphone, and now the internet have all sparked such worry.
Now, in Wikileaks, we see a new concern: that secrecy dies. It does not; secrecy lives. But it is wounded. And it should be. Let us use this episode to examine as citizens just how secret and how transparent our governments should be. For today, in the internet age, power shifts from those who hold secrets to those to create openness. That is our emerging reality.
Business, be warned: You are next.
NOTE: Welt am Sontag in Germany asked me for this op-ed on Wikileaks. Hier ist es, auf Deutsch.
MORE: This Economist post thinks likewise.
AND: Jay Rosen is concerned that Julian Assange ducked the question of how diplomacy can operate without assurances of secure communication.
SEE ALSO: Matthew Ingram’s excellent post at Gigaom reminding us all that if government can restrict Wikileaks’ speech, it can restrict us all. Like it or not, Wikileaks is the press. So why isn’t the press defending its rights?
PLUS: Here is a discussion on Howard Kurtz’ CNN Reliable Sources Sunday morning with me, Time editor Rick Stengel, and the New York Times’ Mark Mazetti:
This Blogger’s Books from
What Would Google Do?
by Jeff Jarvis
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In our dialogue about narcissists and sociopaths, many of you have shared your own stories. The damage people do is sometimes beyond my ken. The wounds they inflict because of thoughtlessness or pure malice can last a lifetime. Some of you wrote about your pain. Some were enraged. Some longed for reconciliation, others for vindication. Some wanted revenge, plain and simple, while others talked about letting go.
How does one proceed after living with or being raised by a narcissist?
There are choices.
Some people opt for the courts and struggle for a sense of justice. This is a noble but arduous road. Ultimately it is a judicial crap shoot. You have one lawyer playing against another, unpredictable juries, and the participation of the original perpetrator, who is usually far from remorseful and to whom you are tied for the duration of the proceedings. Sometimes it is hugely successful. Other times, it is painful beyond words.
Some people take the road of least resistance: avoidance and amnesia. I can understand this. It can seem a very safe place to be. Unfortunately, it usually ends up quite the opposite because it is a trance of sorts. While some people call this letting go, it is not. It is a numbing. We ignore the wound, but it can fester, affecting how we receive and participate in all other relationships from the point of injury forward.
Some people refuse all of the above and instead rest in the familiarity of active anger and resentment. One woman I know said she wouldn’t give up her anger if her life depended on it. I asked her why, and she said, “It fuels me.”
Some people want to forgive — not forget, not appease, not roll over, but forgive. But what does this mean, really?
The word “forgiveness” has been used interchangeably with the word “appeasement.” For many reasons, the least of which is accuracy and the greatest of which is our spiritual survival, this is a grave mistake.
My observations may be of some service in understanding and clarifying the erroneous notion that forgiveness should ever be equated with appeasement or confused with unearned trust. They are not only unequal, they are opposites. How we forgive as well as when and why we ought to offer forgiveness are fundamentally important psychologically as well as spiritually.
Forgiveness and appeasement must both be very clearly defined. Forgiveness is the letting go of hatred, resentment and pointless, pervasive and paralyzing fear. It does not mean that we must be foolishly fearless or naive. It does not mean that we stop protecting ourselves or deny what is truly dangerous around us. It does not mean that we ignore the obvious or trust what is intrinsically untrustworthy. It does not mean that we relinquish our God-given capacities for discernment and good judgment. When evil comes knocking, we should lock the door. Forgiveness is not banal and is never another word for “niceness.”
Appeasement, on the other hand, often parades as benevolence but is actually cowardice, a derivative of a particular form of fear that is so consuming, so pervasive and pathological that it is flatly denied. When we appease, we essentially give up rational fear even though we may truly need it. We think that by being “nice” or by giving the bully what he wants, he will stop being a bully. Appeasement doesn’t prevent bad behavior; it perpetuates and encourages it. That is foolishness.
Forgiving Is Not Excusing or Denial
It is my personal belief that there are things that right-mindedness and spiritual maturity call us to do and not do. And I want to state up front that a great deal of my thinking on these matters has been influenced C.S. Lewis, who gave us quite a bit to digest on the issue of forgiveness:
Real forgiveness between two persons, as Lewis so rightly points out, does not mean pretending the hurt has not occurred and does not require that we look away from the wrongdoing. Forgiveness — even God’s forgiveness, which is infinite — starts with a steady gaze at the wrongdoing itself. To forgive entails an acknowledgment of the hurt and then, when there is contrition and repentance, a reconciliation.
As Lewis reminds us again and again, true forgiveness demands that we look at the deed squarely, “seeing it in all its horror,” after which we are able to extend compassion and be reconciled with the person but not with the deed. The deed and all its underpinnings must be shed for good. It is this understanding of forgiveness that makes it possible to fight an enemy without hating him.
Forgiveness is Not Codependence
Many people who come into my office live with rather troubled people, some of them truly awful. Some of them are being abused, some are stuck in situations with alcoholic parents that are frighteningly chaotic, others in marriages with addicts or thieves who are stripping them of every reasonable creature comfort.
I know one woman whose addicted husband stole all her clothing to sell on the street so he could buy a night’s worth of methamphetamine. By the time she was able to take her daughter and herself to a battered women’s shelter, she had all their worldly goods contained in one paper shopping bag.
Traumatized people (individuals, not collectives or organizations) — immigrants from Cambodia, North Korea, parts of Africa, victims of abuse — can’t help but bristle at the mention of the word forgiveness. And I understand why they do. I also know that they will never recover without it. My task is to help them see that forgiveness does not mean they need to allow the behavior to continue or accept the next empty promise any more than acceptance means approval. In their lexicon, the term “forgiveness” implies that they have to pretend they were never abused or tortured or victimized. To forgive, in their minds, means a tacit cooperation in the codependency and abuse. When I say the word “acceptance”, their hearts hear “denial,” and their minds see a continuation of all that is wrong and truly morally and emotionally unacceptable.
It is imperative for there to be some contrition and an effort to change the negative behavior in order for forgiveness to be wholeheartedly given and for reconciliation (person-to-person or nation-to-nation) to take place. Father Russell Radoicich, an Orthodox Priest in Butte, Montana, clarifies the it this way, “Consider the difference between ‘I’m sorry’ and ‘Please forgive me.’ One is a proclamation and the other is a supplication. One involves ‘I’, one involves ‘the other.’ One is prideful and arrogant, almost a rant, the other is humble, contrite.” There is no doubt that he is right and that we must be savvy enough and clear-minded enough to know the difference so that we are not manipulated into putting ourselves in harm’s way. I have never heard a narcissist or sociopath sincerely say, “Forgive me.”
However, while a full reconciliation may depend on repentance, our forgiveness does not. In fact, we can forgive a person who is quite ill and committed to a path of destruction using words we have heard before, “Forgive them for they know not what they do.” Putting ourselves in harm’s way is another matter.
Here’s an example C.S. Lewis gives in his essay, “The Cardinal Virtues”: “The fact that you are giving money to a charity does not mean that you need not try to find out whether that charity is a fraud or not.”
One may forgive the thief but put locks on the door. One may forgive one’s enemy but be prepared to do battle in the event of an attack. One may set firm limits with one’s child and still provide unconditional love.
A Case in Point
Forgiveness is so hard for some people that it seems impossible. I had one client whose life revolved around her pain and all the love she was unable to get from the important men in her life. One of them, naturally, was her father, for whom she nurtured the most gruesome resentment. She hated him and said so in nearly every session. All her troubles were because of him, she believed. And to some degree that was true because her hatred tied her to him and his inadequacies as a parent harder and tighter than the original insults she suffered.
We talked about forgiveness more than a few times, and she said once, “It’s like sand in my mouth. I can’t swallow it.” I tried to help her see that forgiveness was not for the forgiven in this case so much as it was for the forgiver, that it would set her free to find the love and acceptance she’d always wanted. But she was resolute. Unfortunately, that has kept her terribly unhappy and fearful. Her hatred was so great that she could no longer see what was blatantly true. With her vision distorted that way, her responses to life were equally distorted. As a result, not only did she not find the love and acceptance she longed for, but she fell into relationships that validated her worst thoughts about herself. This is how it works in the personal realm.
Finally Fighting the Enemy
We are asked to love our enemies. We don’t hear much about this in the media, but it is what we are asked to do. Yet if we look at Biblical history, it is filled to the brim with some of the bloodiest battles in history. How is that possible? How can we be commanded to forgive, to love and to show mercy while being simultaneously called upon to protect oneself and one’s family, to be intolerant of evil when it manifests before us — even to the point of killing?
This is the crux of the matter, because if we can understand this, we can see deceptions where they exist and sidestep the inevitable disappointments of personal appeasement. The truth is that evil can never be appeased. Appeasement only postpones. The price we pay is not mitigated, it is multiplied.
I see a couple of steps to answering this, the first one being that while one belief system may in fact be better than another (e.g., honoring women as opposed to brutalizing them), ultimately we are no different from the enemies we are fighting. We are all human and imperfect. Accepting our humanity and our imperfect natures puts the conflict and the inevitable combat in an entirely different context. No one gets out of this sinless or alive. Forgiving is not only hard to do but impossible when we think of forgiveness as pardoning or forgetting or failing to correct. When we remember that we all need forgiveness, even if we believe we are fighting rightly, it is far easier to forgive those with whom we are engaged in battle.
The other point that Lewis makes, and I shall close with this, is that while we may kill to protect ourselves, we may not enjoy it. We may not hate, nor may we enjoy hating. We may pick up swords and fight evil, but we may not fight it by becoming evil ourselves. He covers this in his essay “Forgiveness”: “In other words, something inside us, the feeling of resentment, the feeling that wants to get one’s own back, must be simply killed.” First things first. We must deal with the enemy in us before we can deal rightly with the enemy facing us.
This Blogger’s Books from
The Next Osama
by Judith Acosta
The Worst Is Over: What to Say When Every Moment Counts–Verbal First Aid to Calm, Relieve Pain, Promote Healing, and Save Lives
by Judith Acosta, Judith Simon Prager
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I was surprised this week to discover that there exists a World Congress of Poets, and even more surprised to learn that it’s been around for more than 40 years. It got my mind spinning. I wondered: is there a domed building in Geneva where poets argue under statues of the muses? Do they cut backroom deals on acceptable variations to the sonnet and jockey for positions on the metaphor committee?
After my daydreaming, their website was a little disappointing. The Congress has no stately facilities — it doesn’t even seem to have facilities — and it makes no real attempt to govern anything. And while its members include the well-known Swedish poet Tomas Transtrmer, membership seems to be open to anyone willing to pay $400. The Congress is very good at dreaming up impressive names for itself, like the United Poets Laureate International (UPLI) and the World Poetry Society.
This year’s session in Taipei, Taiwan promises to be a “special and profound cultural feast of body, mind and spirit,” and it sounds a lot like a vacation. Congressional members travel to scenic spots around Taiwan to recite poetry, and they finish up with a trip to the International Flora Exposition. This all made more sense once I read the group’s charter, which details a purpose, which, while noble, is far more humble than I’d imagined:
Peace and brotherhood through poetry — we can all admire that. But it’s a bit awkward that the featured speaker at this year’s event is Abdul Kalam, a former President of India whom the Taiwanese media is introducing as “the father of India’s missile program.” In his remarks to the Congress, Kalam said of poetry, “The whole world can be connected through the words of poets.” He continued:
Things got awkward when he went on to explain what missiles can do (ok, not really).
Living up to the designation “congress,” this year’s session has even featured some political infighting: the Chinese delegation is boycotting the event. We can assume that this has something to do with its being held in Taiwan, but congressional organizers state that there has simply been a “misunderstanding.”
One thing, at least, can’t be misunderstood. While its members may be reciting poetry and smelling flowers instead of debating an extension of the Bush tax cuts, this year’s Congress of Poets will be more popular, and perhaps even more effective, than the one in Washington.
What are the physical sensations you associate with hunger? For most people these sensations include stomach grumbling, headaches, light-headedness, irritability, fatigue and inability to focus. And for many people, these uncomfortable symptoms are the undoing of all of their attempts to lose weight by eating less food. Since eating removes the symptoms, these common symptoms are mistakenly believed to be hunger. People are led by these symptoms to consume more calories than they require, and this widespread overeating behavior has led to an epidemic of obesity, and a continual rise in preventable chronic diseases. Understanding the science behind overeating behaviors could be a key factor in reversing these trends.
Are these sensations truly signs of hunger? Conventional wisdom, and even medical textbooks, would suggest that they are. I disagree.
In my experience treating thousands of patients and guiding them through transitioning to a high nutrient density diet, I have observed that my patients’ perceptions of hunger change. As their diet improves — feelings of hunger become less frequent, less uncomfortable, and are mainly felt in the mouth and throat (“true hunger”) rather than the head and stomach. I have now documented and published these results in the article “Changing perceptions of hunger on a high nutrient density diet” in Nutrition Journal, a peer-reviewed publication that encourages scientists and physicians to publish results that challenge current models, tenets or dogmas. This data collected on 768 participants does just that — these results argue for a complete re-evaluation of our definition of human hunger.
The following are the five key results from my study:
1.”Hunger pains” were experienced less often and less intensely on a high nutrient density diet.
2.Discomfort between meals or upon a skipped meal was experienced less often on a high nutrient density diet.
3.Eighty percent of respondents reported that their experience of hunger had changed upon following a high nutrient density diet. The changed perception of hunger was proportional with the degree of dietary compliance.
4.Irritability and decline in mood were experienced less often on a high nutrient density diet
5.A high nutrient density diet was associated with more feelings of hunger in the mouth and throat and less in the head and stomach.
Conclusion: Enhancing the micronutrient quality of the diet leads to changes in the experience of hunger and a reduction in uncomfortable symptoms associated with hunger despite a lower caloric intake .
So if stomach grumbling, headaches and light-headedness a few hours after a meal disappear on a diet rich in micronutrients and are not really hunger, what are they?
The typical Western diet is characterized by high calorie processed foods: oils, sweeteners and animal products; a diet that is low in phytochemicals and other micronutrients. There is evidence that such a diet, low in phytochemicals, results in inflammation, oxidative stress and accumulation of toxic metabolites [2-4].
When digestion is complete, the body begins to mobilize and eliminate waste products, causing uncomfortable symptoms. If we allow waste metabolites to build up by eating unhealthy foods, we will feel discomfort when the body attempts to mobilize and remove these wastes. I propose that these sensations are actually symptoms of detoxification and withdrawal from an unhealthy diet, lacking in crucial micronutrients. I call this “Toxic Hunger”. Scientists now know that unhealthy food has effects on the brain similar to those of addictive drugs. Natural plant foods, rich in micronutrients, do not produce withdrawal symptoms — because inflammatory compounds and excess free radicals do not accumulate.
This is why so many diets fail. Simply restricting portions of the same disease-causing foods does not resolve the symptoms of toxic hunger. In addition to being effective for weight loss, a high nutrient diet has now been scientifically shown to change the perception of hunger, getting people in touch with “true hunger” (throat hunger).
Thousands of obese individuals who have failed one diet after another in the past have now lost dramatic amounts of weight. A high nutrient diet, if widely adopted, could bring millions of people in touch with true hunger, and stop the proliferation of obesity and preventable chronic disease.
You can read the free full-text with complete references of my study here.
1.Fuhrman, J., et al., Changing perceptions of hunger on a high nutrient density diet. Nutr J, 2010. 9: p. 51.
2.Egger, G. and J. Dixon, Inflammatory effects of nutritional stimuli: further support for the need for a big picture approach to tackling obesity and chronic disease. Obes Rev, 2010. 11(2): p. 137-49.
3.Devaraj, S., et al., High-fat, energy-dense, fast-food-style breakfast results in an increase in oxidative stress in metabolic syndrome. Metabolism, 2008. 57(6): p. 867-70.
4.Bhosale, P., B. Serban, and P.S. Bernstein, Retinal carotenoids can attenuate formation of A2E in the retinal pigment epithelium. Arch Biochem Biophys, 2009. 483(2): p. 175-81.
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Eat to Live: The Revolutionary Formula for Fast and Sustained Weight Loss
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Disease-Proof Your Child: Feeding Kids Right
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The brains of the infant, toddler and preschooler are genetically programmed to develop most effectively when exposed to an environment which has remained essentially unchanged over the past tens of thousands of years. During this period of our evolution, early childhood was characterized by specific types of social interaction, including language exposure, social experiences leading to an understanding of self-awareness and one’s role in society, as well as virtually limitless opportunities for physical play, imaginative play and creativity.
We now live in a society where these types of experiences, so critical for appropriate brain development, have been usurped by television and other electronic media. In the United States, the average time television is on in the home each day approaches seven hours. We live in a society where the number of downloads or DVDs rented each day is six million, while only three million books are checked out of libraries. The average U.S. household has 2.24 televisions, with 66 percent of U.S. homes having three or more televisions. The typical American child spends 1680 minutes watching television each week, while more than 70 percent of day care centers also have the television playing during a typical day. The average American youth spends 900 hours in school each year, but watches 1500 hours of television.
By the time the typical American child finishes elementary school, he will have witnessed 8000 murders on television, while 79 percent of Americans feel that TV violence helps precipitate real-life violent behavior. The average American child witnesses 20,000 30-second television commercials each year. Incredibly, 59 percent of Americans can name all three of The Three Stooges, while only 17 percent can name at least three Supreme Court justices.
The main areas of concern with reference to television and children are:
1. Time spent watching TV displaces other types of creative and imaginative activities.
2. Television watching discourages reading.
3. Television watching discourages exercise.
4. Television advertising increases demand for material possessions.
5. Exposure to violence on television can increase aggressive behavior in some children.
First and foremost, the most important issue with reference to children watching television is that the passive act of watching television displaces other activities in which the child could have been participating. When a child is watching television, he or she is not involved in play, not socializing with other individuals and most importantly, not receiving feedback as to the actions or consequences of his or her behavior. Television is a one-way street. According to Nielsen statistics, children between the ages of 2-5 years typically spend approximately 21.8 hours each week watching television. That works out to approximately three hours each day, or 25 percent of their time awake.
These are preschoolers, and this is the period of time when it is desperately important for these children to achieve a significant milestones in mental development, physical development and perhaps most importantly, social development — that is, their ability to define and refine what constitutes socially appropriate behavior. This is achieved through interaction with others, including parents and caregivers, as well as other children, during play.
From the earliest moments of life, children begin to learn the fundamentals of language. The most powerful influence for effective language development are the verbal interactions with caregivers. Author Marie Winn, in her book “The Plug-In Drug,” summarized the influence of television on language development by stating, “the major effects are indirect, resulting from the varied verbal experiences the child will not have had as a result of his or her time-consuming involvement with television — the hundreds or thousands of words not spoken and responded to by another human being, the question is not asked and answered, the conversations not had.”
The negative aspect of television on the first two years of brain development, in terms of displacing other activities that the child would have otherwise engaged in, are of such great concern that the American Academy of Pediatrics recently indicated that children two years and younger should not watch any television whatsoever. But despite this edict from the American Academy of Pediatrics, most parents seem to be deluded into lobbying for and seeking out television programs with appropriate content often as a matter of convenience, since television clearly serves as a babysitter of sorts for parents feeling time-constrained. But while content is clearly an important issue, the amount of time a child spends watching television is equally important, for reasons described above. The fundamental here is that when children watch television they are not in other fundamentally important activities for cognitive and social development.
1. Children need to be exploring their physical world. They need to be learning the fundamental laws of physics by manipulating objects.
2. Play becoming fantasy play is critically important for brain development. Specifically, this type of play paves the way for understanding symbolism, which is the cornerstone of reading and, indeed, mathematical skills as well.
3. Television limits a child’s motivation to explore and to engage himself in creative activities. Almost without regard to television content, what is being fed into a child’s brain when watching television requires very little thought and does not allow any room for questioning and the development of alternative understandings or explanations.
4. Language development also suffers in children watching television. To learn the appropriate usage of language, the child must experience appropriate responses from those around him during his attempts to use language. Children learn language by modifying their understanding based upon the responses they receive and even the corrections offered. Television does not provide this important feedback.
5. The important development of social skills, understanding the consequences of one’s actions, learning to vary ones behavior in response to particular social experiences, are limited in the child who spends time watching television. There is no feedback from the television with respect to a child’s behavior leading to compromise of the so-called “emotional quotient” (EQ).
6. Fantasy and creativity are critically important for appropriate brain development. The ability of a child to fantasize, to create alternative scenarios and to explore “other realities” ultimately creates a brain that can think outside the box, paving the way for the ability to achieve novel solutions to problems and creative ways of responding to academic challenges later in life. These are experiences a child has every day during creative and imaginative play. As I explained in Raise a Smarter Child by Kindergarten, creative and imaginative play ultimately creates a comfort zone in which a child is able to function, learning from his trials and errors and becoming more comfortable with the option of failure. None of this activity takes place if a child is engrossed in television where fantasies are spoon-fed and provide no opportunity for alternative explanations. Further, preschoolers typically have difficulty in differentiating between fantasy and reality. Their understanding of what constitutes the real world can be strongly influenced by what they observe on television.
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It’s the holiday time of year, but it is cold and flu season, too.
You want to enjoy the season to the fullest, so how do you avoid the inconvenience of having a cold and being down for the count? Here are some simple lifestyle steps that can help.
1. Take Vitamin D. Despite its name, vitamin D is really a hormone rather than a vitamin. We receive very little from our food, and since most people wear sunscreen outside, we are seeing an epidemic of vitamin D deficiency. Although normal levels are 30-100 ng/dl., the optimal levels to avoid not only the common cold, but more serious illnesses like cancer and diabetes, are above 50 ng/dl.
One study showed that taking 2,000 IU of vitamin D per day for one year virtually eliminated self-reported incidences of colds and flu. Some researchers are now referring to vitamin D as “the antibiotic vitamin” since it boosts protection in the white blood cells of antimicrobial compounds that defend the body against germs. Have your vitamin D levels measured by your health care professional and consider a supplement of at least 1,000 IU of D3 per day.
You may have heard about the recent report by the Institute of Medicine’s Food and Nutrition Board. That report did not address optimization of vitamin D levels (just its effect on bones). It is almost impossible to significantly raise your vitamin D levels when supplementing at only 400-600 IU/day. For optimal health, have your levels re-measured after taking supplements.
2. Move your body. David Neiman of Appalachian State University states, “Near daily exercise creates a cumulative effect on the immune system.” His recent study gave evidence that subjects exercising five days per week have almost half as many colds or sore throats than those not exercising. Exercise stimulates natural killer cells that protect against viruses. One more reason to get moving.
3. Get your sleep. Sheldon Cohen, Ph.D., and colleagues at Carnegie Mellon University studied how sleep habits can increase susceptibility to colds. They found people who slept less than seven hours a night were three times more likely to catch a cold than those who sleep eight hours or more per night. The researchers concluded that sleep disruption interferes with the immune system’s ability to regenerate itself.
4. Maintain a healthy diet – Have protein at each meal and avoid processed, starchy and high sugar foods. While protein helps make antibodies that play a role in immunity, sugar lowers the immune system and increases susceptibility to sickness.
5. Eat yogurt. Natural probiotics in yogurt have beneficial bacteria for a healthy gut. Since the gut is the largest organ in your body, maintaining healthy natural flora can protect against viruses.
When you consider what you might miss, incorporating these five practices, along with good hygiene (washing your hands often and keeping your hands off your face) seems well worth the investment of time and energy. After all, you want to find yourself being passed the hors d’oeuvres, not the box of tissues!
Susan is the author of “A Recipe for Life by the Doctor’s Dietitian.” For more information, visit susandopart.com.
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A Recipe for Life by the Doctor’s Dietitian
by Susan B. Dopart, Jeffrey M. Batchelor
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