Today in History – October 31

Today is Saturday, Oct. 31, the 304th day of 2009. There are 61 days left in the year. This is Halloween. A reminder: Daylight-saving time ends Sunday at 2 a.m. local time. Clocks go back one hour.

Today’s Highlight in History

On Oct. 31, 1517, Martin Luther posted the 95 Theses on the door of the Wittenberg Palace church, marking the start of the Protestant Reformation in Germany.

On this date

In 1864, Nevada became the 36th state.

In 1887, Chiang Kai-shek, the Chinese general and president whose regime collapsed to the Communists in 1949, was born.

In 1926, magician Harry Houdini died in Detroit of gangrene and peritonitis resulting from a ruptured appendix.

In 1938, the day after his “War of the Worlds” broadcast had panicked radio listeners, Orson Welles expressed “deep regret” but also bewilderment that anyone had thought the simulated Martian invasion was real.

In 1941, the Navy destroyer USS Reuben James was torpedoed by a German U-boat off Iceland with the loss of some 100 lives, even though the United States had not yet entered World War II.

In 1956, Rear Admiral G.J. Dufek became the first person to land an airplane at the South Pole.

In 1959, a former U.S. Marine showed up at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow to declare he was renouncing his American citizenship so he could live in the Soviet Union. His name: Lee Harvey Oswald.

In 1967, Nguyen Van Thieu took the oath of office as the first president of South Vietnam’s second republic.

In 1968, President Lyndon B. Johnson ordered a halt to all U.S. bombing of North Vietnam, saying he hoped for fruitful peace negotiations.

In 1984, Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by two Sikh security guards.

In 1991, theatrical producer Joseph Papp died at age 70.

In 1992, it was announced that five American nuns in Liberia had been shot to death near the capital Monrovia; the killings were blamed on rebels loyal to Charles Taylor.

In 1993, Italian movie director Federico Fellini died at age 73.

In 1994, a Chicago-bound American Eagle ATR-72 crashed in northern Indiana, killing all 68 people aboard.

In 1996, a Brazilian Fokker-100 jetliner crashed in Sao Paulo, killing all 96 people on board and three on the ground.

In 1998, a genetic study was released suggesting President Thomas Jefferson did in fact father at least one child by his slave Sally Hemings.

In 1999, ten years ago, EgyptAir Flight 990, bound from New York to Cairo, crashed off the Massachusetts coast, killing all 217 people aboard.

In 2001, a 61-year-old New York hospital worker died from inhalation anthrax.

In 2001, Microsoft and the Justice Department reached a tentative agreement to settle the historic antitrust case against the software giant.

In 2004, five years ago, in the closing hours of their bitter campaign, President George W. Bush and challenger Sen. John Kerry charged through the critical battlegrounds of Florida and Ohio, going from hushed Sunday church services to raucous campaign rallies with promises to keep America safe.

In 2005, President George W. Bush nominated Judge Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court.

In 2006, P.W. Botha, South Africa’s apartheid-era president, died at age 90.

In 2007, three lead defendants in the 2004 Madrid train bombings were found guilty of mass murder and other charges, but four other top suspects were convicted on lesser charges and an accused ringleader was completely acquitted in the attacks that killed 191 people.

In 2008, one year ago, President George W. Bush signed an executive order restoring the Libyan government’s immunity from terror-related lawsuits and dismissing pending compensation cases.

In 2008, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Studs Terkel died in Chicago at age 96.

Today’s Birthdays

Author Dick Francis is 89. Former Cambodian King Norodom Sihanouk is 87. Actress Lee Grant is 82. Movie critic Andrew Sarris is 81. Former astronaut Michael Collins is 79. Former CBS anchorman Dan Rather is 78. Folk singer Tom Paxton is 72. Actor Ron Rifkin is 70. Actress Sally Kirkland is 68. Actor David Ogden Stiers is 67. Actor Stephen Rea is 63. Olympic gold medal distance runner Frank Shorter is 62. Actress Deidre Hall is 61. Talk show host Jane Pauley is 59. Actor Brian Stokes Mitchell is 51. Movie director Peter Jackson is 48. Rock musician Larry Mullen is 48. Actor Dermot Mulroney is 46. Rock musician Mikkey Dee (Motorhead) is 46. Rock singer-musician Johnny Marr is 46. Actor Rob Schneider is 45. Country singer Darryl Worley is 45. Actor-comedian Mike O’Malley is 44. Rap musician Adrock (Adam Horovitz) is 43. Songwriter Adam Schlesinger is 42. Rap performer Vanilla Ice (aka Rob Van Winkle) is 41. Rock singer Linn Berggren (Ace of Base) is 39. Reality TV host Troy Hartman is 38. Gospel singer Smokie Norful is 36. Actress Piper Perabo is 33. Actor Brian Hallisay is 31. Actor Eddie Kaye Thomas is 29. Rock musician Frank Iero (My Chemical Romance) is 28.

Today’s Historic Birthdays

Jan Vermeer
10/31/1632 – 12/15/1675
Dutch painter

Clement XIV
10/31/1705 – 9/22/1774
Italian Roman Catholic pope (1769-74)

William Paca
10/31/1740 – 10/23/1799
American signer of the Declaration of Independence

John Keats
10/31/1795 – 2/23/1821
British poet

Sir Joseph Wilson Swan
10/31/1828 – 5/27/1914
English physicist and chemist

Galileo Ferraris
10/31/1847 – 2/7/1897
Italian physicist

Juliette Gordon Low
10/31/1860 – 1/18/1927
American founder of Girl Scouts of America

Andrew Volstead
10/31/1860 – 1/20/1947
American Congressman from Minnesota (1903-23); introduced National Prohibition Act

Eugene Meyer
10/31/1875 – 6/17/1959
American publisher of The Washington Post (1933-46)

Chiang Kai-shek
10/31/1887 – 4/5/1975
Chinese president of Nationalist government (1928-49) and leader of Taiwan (1949-75)

 Sir George Hubert Wilkins
10/31/1888 – 12/1/1958
Australian-born British explorer

Ethel Waters
10/31/1896 – 9/1/1977
American jazz and blues singer and film actress

Wilbur Shaw
10/31/1902 – 10/30/1954
American race-car driver

Michael Landon
10/31/1936 – 7/1/1991
American television actor

Thought for Today

“There are very few monsters who warrant the fear we have of them.” – Andre Gide, French author and critic (1869-1951).


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Largest Bat In Europe Inhabited Northeastern Spain More Than 10,000 Years Ago

bat spain

This is what the bat, Nyctalus lasiopterus, looks like nowadays.

Spanish researchers have confirmed that the largest bat in Europe, Nyctalus lasiopterus, was present in north-eastern Spain during the Late Pleistocene (between 120,000 and 10,000 years ago). The Greater Noctule fossils found in the excavation site at Abríc Romaní (Barcelona) prove that this bat had a greater geographical presence more than 10,000 years ago than it does today, having declined due to the reduction in vegetation cover.

Although this research study, published in the journal Comptes Rendus Palevol, is the second to demonstrate the bat’s presence in the Iberian Peninsula, it offers the first description in the fossil record of the teeth of Nyctalus lasiopterus from a fragment of the left jaw.

“It is an important finding because this species is not common in the fossil record. In fact, the discovery of Nyctalus lasiopterus at the Abríc Romaní site (Capellades, Barcelona) is one of the few cases of fossils existing on the species in the European Pleistocene,” says Juan Manuel López-García, principal author of the work and researcher at the Institute of Social Evolution and Human Palaeoecology at the Rovira i Virgili University (URV).

The analysis of the fossilised remains found at the site during the campaigns from 2004 to 2006 reveals that the largest bat in Europe inhabited north-eastern Spain more than 10,000 years ago. “Nyctalus lasiopterus is a fairly unknown species nowadays, with an indistinct geographical distribution in the peninsula, which does not include the region of Catalonia,” adds López-García.

Distribution due to environmental factors

“The presence of Nyctalus lasiopterus in the north-eastern Iberian Peninsula strengthens the evidence that this species had a wider geographical range during the Pleistocene than today,” says the palaeontologist. During the mild periods, when the development of vegetation gave these animals refuge, the Noctule had a wider territory.

Until now, the large bat had been located in mountainous regions such as the Eastern Pyrenees, the Cantabrian Mountains, the central mountain range or open Mediterranean landscapes where oaks, holm oaks and pines dominate.

However, the study confirms a change from the distribution of the species during the Late Pleistocene and the Holocene (less than 10,000 years ago) to now. “The reduction in vegetation cover could be the reason for the current low densities of the species and its biased geographical distribution,” concluded López-García.


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Don’t turn up the heat on the West

By making Western provinces pay for adventures in global warming policy we will be playing with Confederation.

An article on The Globe’s front page carrying the headline “Canada can meet its climate goals, but the West will write the cheques” raises, among many others, two very interesting points. The article is about a study, conducted by two ardent environmental advocacy groups – the Pembina Institute and the David Suzuki Foundation – and was sponsored by the Toronto Dominion Bank.

The headline has the virtue of capturing the first point I want to underline. In our new green-genuflecting age any substantial, purely Canadian effort to curb greenhouse gases – any policy, economic or otherwise – will have a massive and negative impact on Alberta and Saskatchewan.

If there are taxes on oil development, if we introduce carbon penalties on industry, if there is a deliberate brake put on the oil sands, or an effort to shut them down altogether – this latter not an unthinkable proposition in certain quarters – whatever is done will, sooner or later, take revenues and jobs, take enterprise, out of Alberta in particular. For purely projected and speculative benefits to the world’s climate a century hence – and, despite the unctuous insistence of many to the contrary, speculative they remain – people are seriously considering policies that will penalize the West for its success as an energy producer now.

This is reckless. The oil industry of some Western provinces has been Canada’s dynamo these past few years. It has been our major shield during this recession. It has given the dignity of jobs to tens of thousands of Canadians. It is all that. But if “Central” Canada, as the political and economic axis of Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal is still known in some quarters out West, now – under the impetus of the green craze – is seen to be setting limits, placing penalties, or bleeding disproportionate taxes, particularly in Alberta’s case, it will churn a backlash that will make regional hostilities set loose by the national energy program a few decades ago seem like warm-ups for a yoga class.

It will shape a whirlwind of political discontent, set the West against East, and far from incidentally have deep repercussions in the many other provinces that have their citizens working in one capacity or another in the oil patch. The fury over the national energy program may be spent, but its memory – pardon the word – is green. That fury, I reiterate, will be as nothing compared with the political fury of a second attempt to “stall the West.” Should some global warming action plan attempt to put the oil sands and Western energy development at significant disadvantage, or draw taxes out of the economies of the Western provinces to pay for adventures in global warming policy, we will be playing with Confederation.

That is a prediction it takes no computer modelling to make. If Alberta in particular, and the Western provinces more generally, come to be portrayed as villains in the global warming morality play, more than the climate a century hence is at stake.

Secondly, I would urge a caution to all people working in the oil sands in particular. The TD study – farmed out to the economic specialists of the David Suzuki Foundation and the Pembina Institute – should be seen as a loud, low shot across the bow. The oil sands project, already castigated by every green-blooded organization on the planet, featured in a full-blown National Geographic hit-job some months back, is going to be the great emblem of a world “toxifying” itself, and paving the way for global warming Armageddon. It is now boilerplate in news stories as the “dirtiest project on the planet.” It photographs vividly – as National Geographic’s glossy toss-off demonstrates – because of its scale and makes for wonderful anti-energy posters. The oil sands are a target.

Environmentalists are very good at what they do. They play the news media better than Glenn Gould doing a Bach prelude. They know how to sell their point of view, how to build a villain, how to shortcut an argument. Big Green – and there is a Big Green as much as there is a Big Oil – knows the game. Find a symbol. Find one project that, superficially, can stand for all others. The oil sands, despite the hundreds or thousands of less scrupulous and governed energy projects all over the world, despite China’s spectacular use of coal, or the accelerated developments all over the Third World, will be the emblem of choice for the eco-warriors. The media-smart apostles of Al Gore, the Sierra Club and hundreds of other NGOs and eco-lobbies will turn the oil sands into the blight of our time.

It’s only a number of weeks ago, remember, that the great crisis in the auto industry called forth billions to rescue the great manufacturing base of Central Canada. The West will note the contradiction. Spend billions to save an industry that runs on petroleum – it’s here in Ontario – hit the source industry to “save the planet” – that’s in the West.

Pursue this course and things will get warm. And I’m not talking about the climate.

Rex Murphy, Globe and Mail


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Barack and Michelle Obama: Mr & Mrs show irks voters

As political woes mount, not all have been won over by the first couple’s intimate revelations

With difficult state elections and a crucial military decision looming, President Barack Obama sat down with his wife Michelle last month to give an in-depth magazine interview about a subject that has hitherto not ranked highly on the White House political agenda — the state of the first couple’s marriage.

The president used the occasion to complain that when he recently hopped aboard Air Force One to fly his wife to New York for dinner and a Broadway show, “people made it into a political issue”.

Obama went on to insist that his marriage was “separate and apart from a lot of the silliness of Washington”. He then proceeded to discuss his romantic ups and downs in startling detail with a reporter from The New York Times Magazine.

Publication of that unusually candid interview highlighted an intriguing contradiction that has begun to haunt the Obama White House. The president’s family has become one of his most valuable political assets. Yet the attempts by the Obamas to shield their private lives from scrutiny are increasingly being subverted — by the Obamas themselves.

When the interview appeared on the paper’s website ahead of publication today, it prompted a flood of reader reactions from “They are a beautiful couple” and “exceptional role models” to “Why should I care about their marriage?” and “This stuff is none of my business”.

There were also several expressions of concern, echoed privately by Democratic strategists, that the openness of the Obamas about what Michelle described as the “bumps” in their relationship, may help turn a historic presidency into a soap opera. “All this scrutiny cannot be good for a marriage,” worried one of the readers of the Times.

glamourThe sense that the Obamas are flirting with disaster by parading their happy family life was magnified by Michelle’s Marie Antoinette-like appearance this week on the cover of Glamour magazine — at a time when many Americans continue to lose their homes or jobs every month.

In the interview with Glamour, Michelle discussed her fashion choices and appeared to tease her husband: “One thing I’ve learnt about male role models is that they don’t hesitate to invest in themselves.” The timing and content of the piece prompted Sally Quinn, a veteran Washington style-watcher, to suggest that the first lady had been badly advised.

“I’m not sure if I had been her adviser I would have said for her to do the Glamour cover because it might begin to trivialise her and what her role is,” she said.

The enthusiasm for the Obama family has until now obliged most Republicans to bite their tongues when discussing Michelle and the children, but there were mutterings last week that the president might be using his enviable private life as a diversion from awkward political realities — notably the prospect this week of Democratic defeats in elections for state governors in New Jersey and Virginia.

“Funny how every time there’s a crisis we end up reading about Michelle,” noted one Republican insider. “It’s great to see that the first couple have such a wonderful relationship,” added a Times website reader. “Now can the president please get down to solving the country’s problems?”

Yet even the hardest-nosed Washington operatives confessed last week that reading about the Obamas’ love life was a lot more fun than ploughing through 1,900 pages of the revised healthcare bill.

In their tell-nearly-all interview, the Obamas came across as a thoughtful, sensible and undeniably appealing couple who have nonetheless experienced the professional and personal strains that any working couple would recognise.

At one point Michelle expressed frustration at her secondary role after the years she spent as a high-earning hospital executive in Chicago: “Clearly Barack’s decisions are leading us. They are not mine, that’s obvious,” she said. “I’m married to the president of the United States, I don’t have another job.”

That the marriage experienced “bumps” came as no surprise: Richard Wolffe, a Newsweek journalist, has already described in his book on Obama’s rise how Michelle at one point became “angry at [Barack’s] selfishness and careerism; he thought she was cold and ungrateful”.

Asked if their marriage had come close to rupture, Obama told The New York Times: “That’s over-reaching it. But I wouldn’t gloss over the fact that that was a tough time for us. There were points in time where I was fearful … that she would be unhappy.”

Michelle said the strains had been “sort of the eye-opener to me, that marriage is hard. Going into it, no-one ever tells you that. They just tell you, ‘Do you love him … what’s the dress look like’?”

Valerie Jarrett, the couple’s close friend and White House adviser, said last year’s campaign had initially caused problems when Michelle was depicted as bitter and unpatriotic. Yet she eventually became a valuable surrogate, impressing huge crowds when her husband was absent.

“They both rallied to each other’s defence and support,” said Jarrett. “By having to work hard at it, it strengthened their marriage.”

In the White House, the couple seems to have settled into a comfortable routine of public affection and teasing — Barack sometimes addresses Michelle as Flotus (first lady of the United States) but both sought to dispel the notion that everything in the White House rose garden is pink.

“The strengths and challenges of our marriage don’t change because we move to a different address,” said the first lady. The image of a flawless marriage was “the last thing we want to project . . .this perfection that doesn’t exist”.

Currently condemned to a photogenic but stultifying life as chief fashion plate and do-gooder, Michelle is widely assumed in Washington to be desperate to sink her teeth into a meaty political issue.

Yet she protested, a little too fiercely some thought, that she was “so not interested in a lot of the hard decisions that he’s making … I have never in my life ever wanted to sit on the policy side of this thing”.

Those latter remarks were in striking contrast to the magazine article’s portrayal of the Obamas as the model of a modern presidential couple. Many Democrats who supported Hillary Clinton, now Obama’s secretary of state, have noted that Michelle seems closer to Laura Bush, wife of George W, in choosing a non-political role.

Hillary Clinton, who famously took an aggressive role in presidential policy-making, notably on healthcare, was the “truly modern and transformational first lady”, noted one of her Democratic supporters. “Michelle has proven to be utterly conventional.”

Yet the bottom line for Obama remains the state of the economy and the progress of the wars he is fighting abroad. While Michelle’s approval ratings remain buoyant, the president’s continue to slide. A poll last week showed only 31% of Americans believe he can control federal spending (down from 52% at his election) and only 28% believe he can heal political divisions (down from 54%).

For all Obama’s glamour and sophisticated intellect, he is in danger of being seen as a failing politician. And familiarity with the details of his private life may quickly turn to contempt.

London Times


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Opening Up A Colorful Cosmic Jewel Box

jewel box

The FORS1 instrument on the ESO Very Large Telescope (VLT) at ESO’s Paranal Observatory was used to take this exquisitely sharp close up view of the colorful Jewel Box cluster, NGC 4755. The telescope’s huge mirror allowed very short exposure times: just 2.6 seconds through a blue filter (B), 1.3 seconds through a yellow/green filter (V) and 1.3 seconds through a red filter (R). The field of view spans about seven arcminutes.

Star clusters are among the most visually alluring and astrophysically fascinating objects in the sky. One of the most spectacular nestles deep in the southern skies near the Southern Cross in the constellation of Crux.

The Kappa Crucis Cluster, also known as NGC 4755 or simply the “Jewel Box” is just bright enough to be seen with the unaided eye. It was given its nickname by the English astronomer John Herschel in the 1830s because the striking colour contrasts of its pale blue and orange stars seen through a telescope reminded Herschel of a piece of exotic jewellery.

Open clusters [1] such as NGC 4755 typically contain anything from a few to thousands of stars that are loosely bound together by gravity. Because the stars all formed together from the same cloud of gas and dust their ages and chemical makeup are similar, which makes them ideal laboratories for studying how stars evolve.

The position of the cluster amongst the rich star fields and dust clouds of the southern Milky Way is shown in the very wide field view generated from the Digitized Sky Survey 2 data. This image also includes one of the stars of the Southern Cross as well as part of the huge dark cloud of the Coal Sack [2].

A new image taken with the Wide Field Imager (WFI) on the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope at ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile shows the cluster and its rich surroundings in all their multicoloured glory. The large field of view of the WFI shows a vast number of stars. Many are located behind the dusty clouds of the Milky Way and therefore appear red [3].

The FORS1 instrument on the ESO Very Large Telescope (VLT) allows a much closer look at the cluster itself. The telescope’s huge mirror and exquisite image quality have resulted in a brand-new, very sharp view despite a total exposure time of just 5 seconds. This new image is one of the best ever taken of this cluster from the ground.

The Jewel Box may be visually colourful in images taken on Earth, but observing from space allows the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope to capture light of shorter wavelengths than can not be seen by telescopes on the ground. This new Hubble image of the core of the cluster represents the first comprehensive far ultraviolet to near-infrared image of an open galactic cluster. It was created from images taken through seven filters, allowing viewers to see details never seen before. It was taken near the end of the long life of the Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 ― Hubble’s workhorse camera up until the recent Servicing Mission, when it was removed and brought back to Earth. Several very bright, pale blue supergiant stars, a solitary ruby-red supergiant and a variety of other brilliantly coloured stars are visible in the Hubble image, as well as many much fainter ones. The intriguing colours of many of the stars result from their differing intensities at different ultraviolet wavelengths.

The huge variety in brightness of the stars in the cluster exists because the brighter stars are 15 to 20 times the mass of the Sun, while the dimmest stars in the Hubble image are less than half the mass of the Sun. More massive stars shine much more brilliantly. They also age faster and make the transition to giant stars much more quickly than their faint, less-massive siblings.

The Jewel Box cluster is about 6400 light-years away and is approximately 16 million years old.


[1] Open, or galactic, star clusters are not to be confused with globular clusters ― huge balls of tens of thousands of ancient stars in orbit around our galaxy and others. It seems that most stars, including our Sun, formed in open clusters.

[2] The Coal Sack is a dark nebula in the Southern Hemisphere, near the Southern Cross, that can be seen with the unaided eye. A dark nebula is not the complete absence of light, but an interstellar cloud of thick dust that obscures most background light in the visible.

[3] If the light from a distant star passes through dust clouds in space the blue light is scattered and absorbed more than the red. As a result the starlight looks redder when it arrives on Earth. The same effect creates the glorious red colours of terrestrial sunsets.


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Keats Speaks

keats speaks

“I have explored all these paths, which are more in number than your eyelashes,” says the John Keats of Jane Campion’s new movie, “Bright Star,” as he escorts Fanny Brawne, the young woman he is about to fall in love with, through a sparse wood. It’s a nice line, and when she tells him that she admires witty men, he comes up with another: “I know these dandies. They have a mannerism in their very eating and drinking, in their mere handling a decanter.” Lost though I was in admiration of the elfin good looks of Ben Whishaw, who plays Keats, and the poise of Abbie Cornish, who plays Brawne, I managed to retain enough presence of mind during this scene to admire their dialogue too, which sounded like authentic Georgian English. This is how they might actually have talked, I thought: playful, delicate, precise. How did Campion, who wrote the deft and artful screenplay herself, come up with it?

The old-fashioned way, as it turns out: Keats came up with it first. As I learned from an edition of Keats’s letters, the poet tried out the line about eyelashes on his friend John Hamilton Reynolds, and the one about mannered decanter-handling on his brothers Tom and George. Campion has cut and pasted masterfully. She has the cinematic version of Keats read aloud the real Keats’s letters, as you might expect, but she also borrows in more subtle ways. When, in the movie, Keats’s friend and roommate Charles Brown asks Brawne the trick question of whether she found the rhymes in “Paradise Lost,” which doesn’t have any, “a little pouncing,” the juicy adjective sounds right because Keats himself used it to complain about the rhyme scheme of the classic English sonnet. When Campion’s Keats asks Brawne’s little sister: “Have you been eating rosebuds again? Where do your cheeks get their blush?” it seems quite likely that Campion was thinking of the song from Keats’s epic poem “Endymion” that begins, “O Sorrow/Why dost borrow/The natural hue of health from vermeil Lips?/To give maiden blushes/To the white Rose bushes/Or is it thy dewy hand the daisy tips?”

So the movie Keats does talk the way the real Keats wrote. But does he talk the way the real Keats talked? Like most moviegoers, I expect early-19th-century characters to speak in sentences more carefully and elaborately structured than the ones I usually hear, but my expectation may be an artifact of the recording technology then available. Georgian English has been preserved only via the written word, and in the act of transcription, spoken errors may be amended — hemming and hawing edited, false starts pruned and simple phrases joined into complex ones. Keats himself was aware of the problem; a friend once charged that in “Endymion,” “the conversation is unnatural and too high-flown.” Indeed, although Wordsworth, a fellow Romantic, called for poetry written in “the language really spoken by men,” the diction and grammar in Keats’s poems is far from workaday.

Perhaps this is because Keats was self-conscious about his everyday speech. In August 1818, Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine accused him of “Cockney rhymes,” pointing out that he matched thorns with fawns and higher with Thalia. In poems that he inserted in his letters, he rhymed shorter with water and parsons with fastens. The pattern suggests that he suffered from nonrhoticity — the tendency to drop “R” sounds from the ends of syllables and words. As well he should have, the scholar Lynda Mugglestone wrote in 1991, noting that nonrhoticity was part of “then-current educated usage.” In fact, Mugglestone observed, Blake had rhymed lawn with morn, and Tennyson was to rhyme thorns and yawns.

Mugglestone notwithstanding, some of the spelling mistakes in Keats’s letters look incriminating. He wrote “ax” for ask, “ave” for have and “milidi” for milady. It’s impossible to know, however, whether Keats had the lower-class accent that these spellings evoke or was merely pretending to have it in order to amuse his readers. He underlined to show he was kidding when he wrote to his friend Reynolds that “from want of regular rest, I have been rather narvus” and when he wrote to his sister that “I have been werry romantic indeed, among these Mountains and Lakes.” Even when he didn’t underline, he may have been axing his readers to understand that he was aving a joke all the sime. His ear for dialect seems to have been acute. From Scotland he reported to his brother Tom that whiskey was called whuskey, and when Reynolds went to Devonshire with his family, Keats wrote to him that “your sisters by this time must have got the Devonshire ees — short ees — you know ’em; they are the prettiest ees in the Language.” He was probably too gifted a linguist to have been saddled long with an accent that embarrassed him.

Indeed, after reading Keats’s letters, I wondered if Campion should have let her hero talk a little goofier. He had a weakness for puns, especially dirty ones, and he loved slang. “Stopping at a Tavern they call ‘hanging out,’ ” he gleefully informed his brothers, soon after “getting initiated into a little Cant.” He described a hard-drinking friend as having “got a little so so at a Party,” dismissed a deception as “a Bam” and once recommended to his sister-in-law that she wake his brother up with “a cold Pig,” that is, a dousing. Campion’s greatest misrepresentation, however, is of Keats’s poetic delivery. “You know how badly he reads his own poetry,” one of his friends once complained to another. On this point, Whishaw is completely unfaithful.

Caleb Crain is the author of “American Sympathy: Men, Friendship and Literature in the New Nation.”


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Hillary Clinton says Pakistan does not really want to stop al-Qaeda

clinton pakistan

Hillary Clinton was greeted by Ghalib Iqbal, the Pakistani chief protocol officer, when she arrived for her three-day tour of Pakistan.

Hillary Clinton chastised Pakistan yesterday for not making enough effort to seize senior al-Qaeda leaders who she said were hiding in the lawless tribal region bordering Afghanistan.

“I find it hard to believe that nobody in your government knows where they are and could not get them if they really wanted to,” the US Secretary of State told a group of Pakistani newspaper editors.

Her comments came as the Pakistani military said that Said Bahaji, a member of a Hamburg terrorist cell linked to the 9/11 attacks, could be involved with the militants fighting the Pakistani forces in South Waziristan.

US intelligence officials have repeatedly said they believe that Osama bin Laden and his associates were hiding near the border with Afghanistan but this was the first time a senior American official has accused Pakistan of not trying hard enough to apprehend them.

“May be that is the case, may be they are not getable. I don’t know,” Mrs Clinton said. “As far as we know they are in Pakistan.”

During a visit to the eastern city of Lahore, Mrs Clinton also warned that Pakistanis that they must get their act together to solve the challenges facing Islamabad.

Her outburst has been poorly received by many Pakistanis, who blame US policy for most of their country’s problems in dealing with rising terrorism.

A senior security official said: “Pakistan has done far more than any other country in combating al-Qaeda, capturing at least 700 of its activists.”

Mrs Clinton was on a three-day visit to Pakistan designed to shore up the US relationship with Pakistan and offer help in its military campaign against Taleban militants.

A major purpose of her visit was to heal the widening distrust between the two countries. Part of her efforts were directed at interacting with wider representatives of Pakistani society including the media, politicians and students.

But her charm offensive was derailed when she was confronted by sceptical Pakistanis questioning the US intention to build a long term relationship with the South Asian Muslim nation.

During a meeting at Lahore University one student asked: “What guarantee can the American give Pakistanis that you guys would not betray us like you did in the past?”

In another confrontation, a member of parliament from Pakistan’s tribal region known as FATA said US policy was the main cause of terrorism spilling over into Pakistani cities.

“You have to stop drone attacks and killing our people if you really want peace in the region,” she was told.

An editorial in The Dawn, Pakistan’s most prestigious English language newspaper, read: “Unfortunately, when it comes to strategic issues — the real meat of Pak-US relations — Mrs Clinton’s trip has come perhaps a few weeks too soon.”


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‘Please, send me back to jail’

“A man’s home is where his wife lives,” the chief justice declared in an English case in 1863. But a Sicilian magistrate recently heard a plea from a man who was trying to be sent to jail to avoid living with his wife.

Holy Gambino, a 30-year old builder, had been convicted and sentenced to prison for dumping hazardous waste after being caught by police unloading dangerous materials from a lorry on to public ground. After serving some of his sentence, he was then released back into the community to live at home under house arrest in Villabate, near Palermo.

After suffering what he described as relentless nagging by his wife about his defects as a husband and father, Gambino went back to the police station in Ficarazzi to hand himself in and request a return to prison.

It is the first time in Sicily that someone challenging his sentence has argued for a return to prison rather than release from it.

After hearing his plea, however, the magistrate simply cited him for the summary offence of breaking a condition of his house arrest (in travelling to the police station) and sent him directly back home with an order to try to get along with his wife.

Previously, the Italian courts have heard other unusual marital cases related to nagging. In 2003, a court in Rome heard the case of a 23-year-old woman who had been chronically nagged by her mother-in-law about improving her make-up and her figure. The court ruled that “excessive and unreasonable interference” by the mother-in-law was sufficient grounds for a divorce.

In England, nagging was once recognised as a proper basis for divorce in a case in 1947 where a wife had evidently driven her husband into a significant state of mental ill-health by persistently badgering him for many years often until 3 or 4am. “One knows” the judge said “that dropping water wears the stone”.

But where wives have been accused by husbands of ‘nagging’, the female exhortations are often completely reasonable and wouldn’t be condemned if the relationship were between co-workers or flatmates. In 1975, a court heard how Maureen O’Neill had prevailed on her husband for some time to improve his DIY work. But she wasn’t concerned about a shelf that fell down. For years the husband had all the floorboards up everywhere, regularly mixed concrete in the living room, took 30 tons of rubble from under the house and put it in the garden, rarely washed and refused to put a door on the toilet for eight months. The court wasn’t sympathetic to the husband’s ‘stop nagging me’ attitude and granted the wife a divorce.

Professor Gary Slapper is Director of the Centre for Law at the Open University.


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Obama seeking options on forces

President looks to send fewer additional troops

President Obama has asked the Pentagon’s top generals to provide him with more options for troop levels in Afghanistan, two U.S. officials said late Friday, with one adding that some of the alternatives would allow Obama to send fewer new troops than the roughly 40,000 requested by his top commander.

Obama met with the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the White House on Friday, holding a 90-minute discussion that centered on the strain on the force after eight years of war in two countries. The meeting — the first of its kind with the chiefs of the Navy, Army, Marine Corps and Air Force, who were not part of the president’s war council meetings on Afghanistan in recent weeks — prompted Obama to request another such meeting before he announces a decision on sending additional troops, the officials said.

The military chiefs have been largely supportive of a resource request by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, that would by one Pentagon estimate require the deployment of 44,000 additional troops. But opinion among members of Obama’s national security team is divided, and he now appears to be seeking a compromise solution that would satisfy both his military and civilian advisers.

Obama is expected to receive several options from the Pentagon about troop levels next week, according to the two officials, who discussed the deliberations on the condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak publicly.

Before he can determine troop levels, his advisers have said, he must decide whether to embrace a strategy focused heavily on counterinsurgency, which would require additional forces to protect population centers, or one that makes counterterrorism the main focus of U.S. efforts in the country, which would rely on relatively fewer American troops.

One option under review involves a blend of the two approaches, featuring an emphasis on counterterrorism in the north and some parts of western Afghanistan as well as an expanded counterinsurgency effort in the south and east, one of the officials said. Obama has also asked for a province-by-province review of the country to determine which areas can by managed effectively by local leaders.

The president appears committed to adding at least 10,000 to 15,000 troops in Afghanistan in an effort to bolster the training of Afghan army and police officers in the country. Current plans call for the United States to double the size of the Afghan army and police forces to about 400,000 in the hope that they can take over security responsibilities.

In meeting with the military chiefs, Obama heard their assessment of the how prepared the services are to handle a new commitment. “Each chief discussed the state of their own service, how they are doing today and what the long-term consequences will be for each of their services,” an administration official said. The military advisers also put the troop deployments in the context of the rest of their global deployments, including in Iraq.

It was not a “recommendations meeting,” with concrete options of how to proceed, the official said. That will presumably come in the next such meeting, which has not been scheduled.

The timing of Obama’s decision on Afghanistan remains up in the air. But his request for another meeting with the military chiefs — and the expectation that he will meet again with his top national security advisers before reaching a conclusion — may leave him too little time to decide the issue before he travels to Asia on Nov. 11. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton plans to be overseas for much of that time, except for a brief stint at home from Wednesday to Friday. , giving Obama little opportunity to convene his war council in person. It appears increasingly likely that Obama will not announce his new Afghanistan strategy until after returning to the United States on Nov. 20.

Obama has come under criticism from Republicans, notably former vice president Richard B. Cheney, for deliberating so long, but his advisers have said he is determined to get the decision right rather than satisfy his critics.

In contrast to Iraq, where there was significant dissension on whether to deploy an additional 30,000 troops in 2007, the top brass has been mostly united in the support of McChrystal’s call for more troops in Afghanistan.

Both Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top commander in the Middle East, have told the administration that they agree with McChrystal’s dire assessment of the security situation and his call for more forces to wrest the initiative back from the Taliban.

The service chiefs have not publicly voiced either support or opposition. Gen. James T. Conway, the Marine Corps chief, had campaigned hard this year for the Marines to play a much larger role in the country. In internal meetings, Army chief Gen. George W. Casey Jr. has raised concerns about “dwell time” — the periods that troops have at home between deployments.

The Army is particularly concerned that soldiers who spend less than 18 months at home between combat tours do not have enough time to train for high-intensity tank warfare.

A U.S.-Iraq security pact requires the United States to withdraw its forces from Iraq by the end of 2011, which would reduce some of the strain on the American military. But bombings this week in Baghdad, which killed more than 155 Iraqis, raise questions about whether Iraq is stable enough to allow for an accelerated drawdown in advance of that deadline, as some military officials had hoped.


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Kennedy Surprised by ‘Such Strong American Outrage to the Wall’

The Day Berlin Was Divided

DEU Jahrestag Mauer

An elderly East German couple is prevented from crossing the border from East Berlin to West Berlin on Aug. 13, 1961, the day the Berlin Wall went up.

US diplomat William R. Smyser was stationed in Berlin when the Wall went up in 1961. In an interview with SPIEGEL ONLINE, he explains how President John F. Kennedy was initially relieved by the construction — and even tried to sell it as a success for the West.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Mr. Smyser, when the construction of the Berlin Wall began in August 1961, you were serving as a US diplomat in Berlin. What reaction were you expecting from Washington?

Smyser: We all expected President John F. Kennedy to react very strongly to this violation of Allied rights. After all, the Wall — or the barbed wire that was put up first — limited our ability to move around Berlin. We were very disappointed when there was no sharp reaction at all from the White House. But the President had gone through the Vienna summit with Soviet Leader Nikita Khrushchev a few months before, in June of 1961, where the Soviet leader had told him that he wanted to block all Western access to Berlin and wanted the American troops to leave the city. Kennedy feared such a blockage of transit, which might have led to war over Berlin.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: So Kennedy was actually relieved when he “only” saw the Wall going up?

Smyser: Kennedy thought to himself that day: Ah, that is the way Khrushchev will solve the refugee problem in East Germany — where many thousands of people had fled to the West in the previous months. The President said to aides, this is not a very nice solution but it is a hell of a lot better than war. After Kennedy left Vienna, he thought that war was on the horizon. What the Wall showed him was that Khrushchev was solving his refugee problem in a way that would not violate American rights.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: The State Department in Washington even tried to frame it as a success for the West.

Smyser: That was one of the craziest things US diplomats ever did. We tried very hard to tell them that this was exactly the wrong message. Dean Rusk, Secretary of State at the time, wanted to say the construction of the wall represents a victory for the West because it showed that the Communists had to imprison their own people. But they only said it once or twice and when everybody scoffed, they retracted it.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: To what extent was the West German government aware of Kennedy’s thought process?

Smyser: Not at all. But they knew that the Western powers had agreed shortly before that if there was only a stoppage of the refugee problem, for example by the installation of barbed wire or the construction of a wall, that would not trigger a war.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Because Kennedy did not care first and foremost about the people in East Berlin.

Smyser: He was concerned about American lives in Berlin. The President said: German reunification is not an issue. What he worried about in Berlin was Khrushchev’s effort to force the Americans out or to shoot down an American plane flying there. He thought that might be a reason for war since he could not accept such hostility due to the strategic importance of Berlin during the Cold War. Kennedy was very concerned about a nuclear confrontation with the Soviet Union, much more than his predecessor Dwight D. Eisenhower. He was the first US president who had to cope with the fact that the Soviets could reach America with a nuclear missile.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Did Kennedy fear Krushchev?

Smyser: He thought that Khrushchev was irrational. He feared that Krushchev might do something that would lead to war — and he seemed to Kennedy like a man he couldn’t deal with. After the Vienna summit, the President refused several invitations to meet with him again.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: When did Kennedy begin to realize that his initial reaction to the construction of the Wall had been too muted?

Smyser: About 48 hours later. He realized it because in the two days after the construction, almost every American newspaper wrote that this was unacceptable and that it was a big defeat for the United States. They accused Kennedy of appeasement. Leading diplomats cabled the President from Europe: Hope is dying here, you have to do something. That was a real blow to Kennedy. Finally he decided he had to send a brigade to Berlin to avoid a public relations disaster. He did not anticipate American outrage over the construction of the Wall to be so strong.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: And the Russians relented. They treated the incoming American brigade with the utmost courtesy and did not seek any further escalation.

Smyser: Khrushchev thought he could not go further at that point. Only later, during the Cuban missile crisis, did he dare to provoke the Americans again. Khrushchev would have even been happy with just the construction of barbed wire. He called the Wall “this hateful thing.” The Soviet leader was a strong believer in the glorious future of Communism. And such a future did not include a Wall. When the barbed wire was put up, he did not want more, for fear of economic retaliation by the West.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Kennedy recovered, too. When he travelled to Berlin in the June of 1963, he got a rock star reception. Hundreds of thousands of people cheered him on and listened to his “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech.

Smyser: By then, the people in Berlin had obviously not forgotten the Wall and Kennedy’s silence about it. But they had begun to learn that Kennedy would defend them and would defend the right of the city to be as it was. They had seen that in the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, which they had perceived as a Russian effort to threaten Kennedy and challenge him on Berlin. When the US President stood up to Khrushchev to force out the Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba, people in Berlin told me: “It’s all about us.” They felt that the Cuban missile crisis had solved the Berlin crisis. Kennedy would have had a very different reception in Berlin just a year earlier. But by 1963, the citizens said: He is a good man, he fought for us. Of course, that only applies to the people in West Berlin. The people in the East continued to be disappointed in him.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Today, we see another young, rather inexperienced president in the White House, Barack Obama. What can Kennedy’s early test and his early stumble teach him?

Smyser: Kennedy himself said about the presidency: This job is overwhelming. The situation is somehow different for Obama, he does not have a Khrushchev or a Cuban missile crisis to deal with. But still, he faces other problems like Afghanistan and Iran. The learning curve for a man that age in the White House is enormous. It is easy to make a wrong decision first, because you don’t see the complexities and you are simply not experienced enough. Afghanistan and also Iran will be questions where Obama has to figure out what he can or cannot do. Foreign affairs should be the same kind of test for him as it was for Kennedy. Obama is following the Kennedy model of a young inexperienced president who has to learn really fast on the job.

Interview conducted by Gregor Peter Schmitz


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No end in sight

Bombs and politics in Iraq

Another “spectacular” raises doubts about American troop withdrawals

TWO car bombs that exploded on October 25th in the centre of Baghdad claimed the lives of at least 155 people and injured more than 700. The main targets were the Ministry of Justice and the office of the governor of Baghdad province. Almost simultaneously the explosions blew windows and their frames several hundred metres along Haifa Street, near the fortified Green Zone. Burst water mains flooded parts of the area, washing over charred bodies and through burned cars. This was the second such attack in two months and the bloodiest in two years. On August 19th bombs destroyed several government buildings, including the ministries of finance and foreign affairs, killing about 100 people.

Since then, a new sense of crisis has enveloped the Iraqi capital. The overall number of attacks has decreased in the past year, but spectacular assaults are on the rise. This is affecting politics. Elections are due in January and security is now a big issue. Within hours of the bombings, some politicians were pointing fingers. “Voters know these are manipulations by the Saddamists,” says Ammar al-Hakim, the new leader of the largest Shia party. Many other Iraqis blame the same Sunni insurgents, including al-Qaeda and members of Saddam Hussein’s former regime. On October 27th a group calling itself Islamic State in Iraq, which is affiliated with al-Qaeda in Iraq, claimed responsibility for the bombings, saying it had attacked “dens of infidelity” in the capital.

These big attacks undermine more than just stable government. Few foreign aid organisations have set up in Iraq so far and the United Nations is expanding its operations very cautiously. This week’s gory pictures will hardly encourage them. The same goes for businessmen who went to last week’s Iraq investment conference in Washington, DC, attended also by the prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki. A further casualty of the bombings are Iraq’s neighbourly relations. Desperate to find culprits, Iraqis accuse Syria and Iran of complicity. They may share some blame, but the hysterical barbs of some politicians will make future co-operation difficult. Iraq will still need trading partners after the elections.

The latest bombings come at a fragile time in the pre-election timetable. As The Economist went to press, members of parliament were trying—and failing—to agree on a new election law, raising the prospect of a delay in the poll. If so, Mr Maliki would rule next year as a caretaker, creating more uncertainty. At the same time, the American army is continuing with plans to pull out. It hopes to withdraw 70,000 soldiers by August 2010, leaving a force of only 50,000 for another year. But doubts about the wisdom of this timetable are rising. Why not make sure peace works first?

After all, America’s presence, now mostly hidden on bases outside the urban areas, is no longer antagonising Iraqis as it once did. This week’s attacks were not against “infidel occupiers”; violence is increasingly a local affair. Iraqis are having to accept that bombings and assassinations may be with them for a long time, even if an all-out civil war can be avoided.

The sites of the latest attacks were symbolic. Haifa Street was in the hands of insurgents three years ago. American and Iraqi troops fought pitched battles to retake it in what turned out to be the start of the “surge” that eventually helped to improve security in much of Iraq. Before its residents could return, bodies were stacked up like bales of hay along the tree-lined street. Now the cycle repeats itself, and maybe not for the last time.

The Economist


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The Carnivore’s Dilemma


IS eating a hamburger the global warming equivalent of driving a Hummer? This week an article in The Times of London carried a headline that blared: “Give Up Meat to Save the Planet.” Former Vice President Al Gore, who has made climate change his signature issue, has even been assailed for omnivorous eating by animal rights activists.

It’s true that food production is an important contributor to climate change. And the claim that meat (especially beef) is closely linked to global warming has received some credible backing, including by the United Nations and University of Chicago. Both institutions have issued reports that have been widely summarized as condemning meat-eating.

But that’s an overly simplistic conclusion to draw from the research. To a rancher like me, who raises cattle, goats and turkeys the traditional way (on grass), the studies show only that the prevailing methods of producing meat — that is, crowding animals together in factory farms, storing their waste in giant lagoons and cutting down forests to grow crops to feed them — cause substantial greenhouse gases. It could be, in fact, that a conscientious meat eater may have a more environmentally friendly diet than your average vegetarian.

So what is the real story of meat’s connection to global warming? Answering the question requires examining the individual greenhouse gases involved: carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxides.

Carbon dioxide makes up the majority of agriculture-related greenhouse emissions. In American farming, most carbon dioxide emissions come from fuel burned to operate vehicles and equipment. World agricultural carbon emissions, on the other hand, result primarily from the clearing of woods for crop growing and livestock grazing. During the 1990s, tropical deforestation in Brazil, India, Indonesia, Sudan and other developing countries caused 15 percent to 35 percent of annual global fossil fuel emissions.

Much Brazilian deforestation is connected to soybean cultivation. As much as 70 percent of areas newly cleared for agriculture in Mato Grosso State in Brazil is being used to grow soybeans. Over half of Brazil’s soy harvest is controlled by a handful of international agribusiness companies, which ship it all over the world for animal feed and food products, causing emissions in the process.

Meat and dairy eaters need not be part of this. Many smaller, traditional farms and ranches in the United States have scant connection to carbon dioxide emissions because they keep their animals outdoors on pasture and make little use of machinery. Moreover, those farmers generally use less soy than industrial operations do, and those who do often grow their own, so there are no emissions from long-distance transport and zero chance their farms contributed to deforestation in the developing world.

In contrast to traditional farms, industrial livestock and poultry facilities keep animals in buildings with mechanized systems for feeding, lighting, sewage flushing, ventilation, heating and cooling, all of which generate emissions. These factory farms are also soy guzzlers and acquire much of their feed overseas. You can reduce your contribution to carbon dioxide emissions by avoiding industrially produced meat and dairy products.

Unfortunately for vegetarians who rely on it for protein, avoiding soy from deforested croplands may be more difficult: as the Organic Consumers Association notes, Brazilian soy is common (and unlabeled) in tofu and soymilk sold in American supermarkets.

Methane is agriculture’s second-largest greenhouse gas. Wetland rice fields alone account for as much 29 percent of the world’s human-generated methane. In animal farming, much of the methane comes from lagoons of liquefied manure at industrial facilities, which are as nauseating as they sound.

This isn’t a problem at traditional farms. “Before the 1970s, methane emissions from manure were minimal because the majority of livestock farms in the U.S. were small operations where animals deposited manure in pastures and corrals,” the Environmental Protection Agency says. The E.P.A. found that with the rapid rise of factory farms, liquefied manure systems became the norm and methane emissions skyrocketed. You can reduce your methane emissions by seeking out meat from animals raised outdoors on traditional farms.

CRITICS of meat-eating often point out that cattle are prime culprits in methane production. Fortunately, the cause of these methane emissions is understood, and their production can be reduced.

Much of the problem arises when livestock eat poor quality forages, throwing their digestive systems out of balance. Livestock nutrition experts have demonstrated that by making minor improvements in animal diets (like providing nutrient-laden salt licks) they can cut enteric methane by half. Other practices, like adding certain proteins to ruminant diets, can reduce methane production per unit of milk or meat by a factor of six, according to research at Australia’s University of New England. Enteric methane emissions can also be substantially reduced when cattle are regularly rotated onto fresh pastures, researchers at University of Louisiana have confirmed.

Finally, livestock farming plays a role in nitrous oxide emissions, which make up around 5 percent of this country’s total greenhouse gases. More than three-quarters of farming’s nitrous oxide emissions result from manmade fertilizers. Thus, you can reduce nitrous oxide emissions by buying meat and dairy products from animals that were not fed fertilized crops — in other words, from animals raised on grass or raised organically.

In contrast to factory farming, well-managed, non-industrialized animal farming minimizes greenhouse gases and can even benefit the environment. For example, properly timed cattle grazing can increase vegetation by as much as 45 percent, North Dakota State University researchers have found. And grazing by large herbivores (including cattle) is essential for well-functioning prairie ecosystems, research at Kansas State University has determined.

Additionally, several recent studies show that pasture and grassland areas used for livestock reduce global warming by acting as carbon sinks. Converting croplands to pasture, which reduces erosion, effectively sequesters significant amounts of carbon. One analysis published in the journal Global Change Biology showed a 19 percent increase in soil carbon after land changed from cropland to pasture. What’s more, animal grazing reduces the need for the fertilizers and fuel used by farm machinery in crop cultivation, things that aggravate climate change.

Livestock grazing has other noteworthy environmental benefits as well. Compared to cropland, perennial pastures used for grazing can decrease soil erosion by 80 percent and markedly improve water quality, Minnesota’s Land Stewardship Project research has found. Even the United Nations report acknowledges, “There is growing evidence that both cattle ranching and pastoralism can have positive impacts on biodiversity.”

As the contrast between the environmental impact of traditional farming and industrial farming shows, efforts to minimize greenhouse gases need to be much more sophisticated than just making blanket condemnations of certain foods. Farming methods vary tremendously, leading to widely variable global warming contributions for every food we eat. Recent research in Sweden shows that, depending on how and where a food is produced, its carbon dioxide emissions vary by a factor of 10.

And it should also be noted that farmers bear only a portion of the blame for greenhouse gas emissions in the food system. Only about one-fifth of the food system’s energy use is farm-related, according to University of Wisconsin research. And the Soil Association in Britain estimates that only half of food’s total greenhouse impact has any connection to farms. The rest comes from processing, transportation, storage, retailing and food preparation. The seemingly innocent potato chip, for instance, turns out to be a dreadfully climate-hostile food. Foods that are minimally processed, in season and locally grown, like those available at farmers’ markets and backyard gardens, are generally the most climate-friendly.

Rampant waste at the processing, retail and household stages compounds the problem. About half of the food produced in the United States is thrown away, according to University of Arizona research. Thus, a consumer could measurably reduce personal global warming impact simply by more judicious grocery purchasing and use.

None of us, whether we are vegan or omnivore, can entirely avoid foods that play a role in global warming. Singling out meat is misleading and unhelpful, especially since few people are likely to entirely abandon animal-based foods. Mr. Gore, for one, apparently has no intention of going vegan. The 90 percent of Americans who eat meat and dairy are likely to respond the same way.

Still, there are numerous reasonable ways to reduce our individual contributions to climate change through our food choices. Because it takes more resources to produce meat and dairy than, say, fresh locally grown carrots, it’s sensible to cut back on consumption of animal-based foods. More important, all eaters can lower their global warming contribution by following these simple rules: avoid processed foods and those from industrialized farms; reduce food waste; and buy local and in season.

Nicolette Hahn Niman, a lawyer and livestock rancher, is the author of “Righteous Porkchop: Finding a Life and Good Food Beyond Factory Farms.”


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The House Ethics Committee at Work

A computer gaffe has revealed some of the secretive workings of the House ethics committee, including preliminary inquiries into complaints against 19 members and some of their staff. The accidental disclosure, made by a staffer who was later fired, sent a bipartisan jolt through Congress, which is already wary about new and long overdue mandates for greater ethical transparency.

It’s important to stress that none of the disclosed inquiries are conclusive or indicate whether any member will be charged with misdeeds. Intended or not, the reported signs of life on the ostensibly moribund ethics committee are an encouraging sign that Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s decision to create a separate, quasi-independent Office of Congressional Ethics has had an effect.

The office is charged with making discrete preliminary inquiries into complaints and forwarding any recommendations for fuller investigation to the ethics panel. That’s exactly what happened in the ethics committee’s decision this week to look into whether Representative Maxine Waters of California played an unfair role in getting bailout money for a bank where her husband had been a director.

Ms. Waters denies violating ethics, as does Representative Laura Richardson of California, the subject of a separate investigation into whether she failed to disclose loan and foreclosure dealings.

The data mishap confirmed that two inquiries remain as glaringly unfinished business: the controversial financial dealings of Representative Charles Rangel, the Ways and Means Committee chairman, and the clique of defense appropriators and their cozy relationship with deep-pocketed and well-rewarded defense contractors. Lawmakers understandably worry about the political chaff from greater transparency. They should use their angst to prod the committee to do its job, promptly and thoroughly, and present the public with credible results.

Editorial, New York Times


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Secret Mission Rescues Yemen’s Jews

yemen 1

UNDER SIEGE: The State Department has resettled about 60 Yemeni Jews in the U.S. since July amid rising violence; more are expected to arrive. Here, the father of Moshe Nahari, who was killed in December, with his daughters outside a court in Yemen following a hearing in the murder case.

In his new suburban American home, Shaker Yakub, a Yemeni Jew, folded a large scarf in half, wrapped it around his head and tucked in his spiraling side curls. “This is how I passed for a Muslim,” said the 59-year-old father of seven, improvising a turban that hid his black skullcap.

The ploy enabled Mr. Yakub and half a dozen members of his family to slip undetected out of their native town of Raida, Yemen, and travel to the capital 50 miles to the south. There, they met U.S. State Department officials conducting a clandestine operation to bring some of Yemen’s last remaining Jews to America to escape rising anti-Semitic violence in his country.

In all, about 60 Yemeni Jews have resettled in the U.S. since July; officials say another 100 could still come. There were an estimated 350 in Yemen before the operation began. Some of the remainder may go to Israel and some will stay behind, most in a government enclave.

The secret evacuation of the Yemeni Jews — considered by historians to be one of the oldest of the Jewish diaspora communities — is a sign of America’s growing concern about this Arabian Peninsula land of 23 million.

The operation followed a year of mounting harassment, and was plotted with Jewish relief groups while Washington was signaling alarm about Yemen. In July, Gen. David Petraeus was dispatched to Yemen to encourage President Ali Abdullah Saleh to be more aggressive against al-Qaeda terrorists in the country. Last month, President Barack Obama wrote in a letter to President Saleh that Yemen’s security is vital to the region and the U.S.

Yemen was overshadowed in recent years by bigger trouble spots such as Afghanistan. But it has re-emerged on Washington’s radar as a potential source of regional instability and a haven for terrorists.

The impoverished nation is struggling with a Shiite revolt in the north, a secessionist movement in the south, and growing militancy among al-Qaeda sympathizers, raising concern about the government’s ability to control its territory. Analysts believe al-Qaeda operatives are making alliances with local tribes that could enable it to establish a stronghold in Yemen, as it did in Afghanistan prior to the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

The State Department took something of a risk in removing the Yemenis to the U.S., as it might be criticized for favoritism at a time when refugees elsewhere are clamoring for haven. The U.S. calculated the operation would serve both a humanitarian and a geopolitical purpose. In addition to rescuing a group threatened because of its religion, Washington was seeking to prevent an international embarrassment for an embattled Arab ally.

President Saleh has been trying to protect the Jews, but his inability to quell the rebellion in the country’s north made it less likely he could do so, prompting the U.S. to step in. The alternative — risking broader attacks on the Jews — could well have undermined the Obama administration’s efforts to rally support for President Saleh in the U.S. and abroad.

“If we had not done anything, we feared there would be bloodshed,” says Gregg Rickman, former State Department Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism.

Mr. Yakub says the operation saved his family from intimidation that had made life in Yemen unbearable. Violence toward the country’s small remaining Jewish community began to intensify last year, when one of its most prominent members was gunned down outside his house. But the mission also hastens the demise of one of the oldest remaining Jewish communities in the Arab world.

Jews are believed to have reached what is now Yemen more than 2,500 years ago as traders for King Solomon. They survived — and at times thrived — over centuries of change, including the spread of Islam across the Arabian Peninsula.

“They were one of the oldest exiled groups out of Israel,” says Hayim Tawil, a Yeshiva University professor who is an expert on Yemeni Jewry. “This is the end of the Jewish Diaspora of Yemen. That’s it.”

Centuries of near total isolation make Yemeni Jews a living link with the ancient world.

Many can recite passages of the Torah by heart and read Hebrew, but can’t read their native tongue of Arabic. They live in stone houses, often without running water or electricity. One Yemeni woman showed up at the airport expecting to board her flight with a live chicken.

Through the centuries, the Jews earned a living as merchants, craftsmen and silversmiths known for designing djanbias, traditional daggers that only Muslims are allowed to carry. Jewish musical compositions became part of Yemeni culture, played at Muslim weddings and festivals.

“Yemeni Jews have always been a part of Yemeni society and have lived side by side in peace with their Muslim brothers and sisters,” said a spokeswoman for the Embassy of Yemen in Washington.

In 1947, on the eve of the birth of the state of Israel, protests in the port city of Aden resulted in the death of dozens of Jews and the destruction of their homes and shops. In 1949 and 1950 about 49,000 people — the majority of Yemen’s Jewish community — were airlifted to Israel in “Operation Magic Carpet.”

About 2,000 Jews stayed in Yemen. Some trickled out until 1962, when civil war erupted. After that, they were stuck there. “For three decades, there were no telephone calls, no letters, no traveling overseas. The fact there were Jews in Yemen was barely known outside Israel,” says Prof. Tawil.

After alienating the West by backing Iraq during the first Gulf War, Yemen sought a rapprochement with Washington. In 1991, it declared freedom of travel for Jews. An effort led by Prof. Tawil and brokered by the U.S. government culminated in the departure of about 1,200 Jews, mainly to Israel, in the early 1990s. Arthur Hughes, American ambassador to Yemen at the time, recalls that those who chose to remain insisted: “This is where we have been for centuries, we are okay; we’re not going anywhere.”

The few hundred Jews who stayed behind were concentrated in two enclaves: Saada, a remote area in Yemen’s northern highlands, and Raida to the south.

In 2004, unrest erupted in Saada. The government says at least 50,000 people have been displaced by fighting between its troops and the Houthis, a Shiite rebel group.

Animosity against Jews intensified. Notes nailed to the homes of Jews accused them of working for Israel and corrupting Muslim morals. “Jews were specifically targeted by Houthi rebels,” says a spokeswoman for the Yemeni embassy in Washington.

In January 2007, Houthi leaders threatened Jewish families in Saada. “We warn you to leave the area immediately… [W]e give you a period of 10 days, or you will regret it,” read a letter signed by a Houthi representative cited in a Reuters article.

Virtually the entire Jewish community in the area, about 60 people, fled to the capital. Since then, they have been receiving food stipends and cash assistance from the government while living in state-owned apartments in a guarded enclave, says the Yemeni embassy in Washington.

President Saleh, a Shiite, has been eager to demonstrate goodwill toward the Jews. On the Passover holiday, he invited TV crews to videotape families in the government complex as they feasted on lamb he had ordered.

Raida became the last redoubt of Yemeni Jews, who continued to lead a simple life there alongside Muslims.

Ancient stone homes dot the town. Electricity is erratic; oil lamps are common. Water arrives via truck. Most homes lack a TV or a refrigerator. The cell phone is the only common modern device. Some families receive financial aid from Hasidic Jewish groups in Brooklyn and London, which has enabled them to buy cars.

Typically, the Jewish men are blacksmiths, shoe repairmen or carpenters. They sometimes barter, trading milk and cow dung for grass to feed their livestock. In public, the men stand out for their long side curls, customarily worn by observant Jewish men. Jewish women, who often marry by 16, rarely leave home. When they do, like Muslim women, only their eyes are exposed.

For fun, children play with pebbles and chase family chickens around the house. At Jewish religious schools, they sit at wooden tables to study Torah and Hebrew. They aren’t taught subjects like science, or to read and write in Arabic, Yemen’s official language.

“I showed them a multiplication table and I don’t think they had ever seen one,” says Stefan Kirschner, a New York University graduate student who visited Raida in August 2008 and says he sat in a few classes.

In September 2008, militants detonated a car bomb outside the U.S. Embassy in Yemen’s capital of Sanaa, killing 16 people. The attack raised fresh concern about Muslim extremism and the government’s stability.

Then, on Dec. 11, a lone gunman shot dead Moshe Nahari, a father of nine and well-known figure in Raida’s Jewish community. Abdul-Aziz al-Abdi, a retired Air Force pilot, pumped several bullets into Mr. Nahari after the Hebrew teacher dismissed his demands that he convert to Islam. In June, the shooter was sentenced to death.

Israel’s offensive against Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip later in December sparked protests in Yemen. Jewish men and children in Raida were heckled, beaten and pelted with rocks. A grenade was hurled at the house of Said Ben Yisrael, who led one of three makeshift synagogues in Raida, and landed in the courtyard of his two-story home.

From the safety of his new home in suburban New York, Mr. Yakub recounted his last months in Yemen. Rocks shattered the windows of his house and car. Except for emergencies and provisions, Jews began to avoid leaving home. When they did, Mr. Yakub and other Jews took to disguising themselves as Muslims.

“This was no way to live,” he said, seated at the head of a long table surrounded by his wife and children.

Salem Suleiman, who also arrived recently in New York, bears scars from rocks that hit his head. “They throw stones at us. They curse us. They want to kill us,” he said. “I didn’t leave my house for two months.”

New York had a community of about 2,000 Yemeni Jews. Yair Yaish, who heads the Yemenite Jewish Federation of America, says he was barraged with “desperate calls from the community here saying we have to do something to get our families out.”

yemen 2

The U.S. Ambassador to Yemen urged Yemeni ministers to facilitate the departure. After initial reluctance — the government preferred to give the Jews safe haven in the capital city — Yemen agreed to issue exit permits and passports.

“It was the embassy’s view, and the Department concurred, that because of their vulnerability, we should consider them for resettlement,” says a spokeswoman for the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration.

Jewish Federations of North America raised $750,000 to help the effort. Orthodox groups also pledged to pitch in. The Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society was tasked with their resettlement.

Word reached Jews in Raida that there was an American plan afoot to rescue them.

The first applicants signed up at the U.S. Embassy in January. To avoid attracting attention, families convoyed to Sanaa in taxis at dawn.

Later they traveled to a hotel for interviews with U.S. officials. To establish a case for refugee status, they had to demonstrate a well-founded fear of persecution. For many of the women, it was the first time speaking with anyone outside the home.

As news spread of their imminent departure, many families reported trouble selling property. Potential buyers offered low prices or refused to bid, thinking they could get the property free after it was deserted.

“All they have is this little house worth $15,000,” says Yochi Sabari, a Jew from Raida who lives in New York and has relatives in Yemen. “They can’t leave until they sell it.”

About three weeks before their travel date, the U.S. embassy contacted the first four families cleared for travel. On July 7, their 17 members traveled to the airport in Sanaa and boarded a Frankfurt-bound flight.

When the Yemenis landed in New York the next day, Jewish organization officials there to greet them spotted several women cloaked in black robes, only their eyes exposed.

“The Jewish women were the ones in burqas,” says Gideon Aronoff, president of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society. He says he was “initially shocked.”

Several families missed the two flights offered to them by the U.S. and, therefore, forfeited their chance to move here. Family members say they are having trouble disposing of assets. An undisclosed number of people have reached Israel, including the family of Mr. Ben Yisrael, whose home was the target of a grenade, and the family of Mr. Nahari, who was slain in December 2008. In the U.S., the Yemeni refugees are being settled in Monsey, a suburban enclave of ultraorthodox Jews, lined with strip malls that sell black coats and wide-rimmed hats worn by Hasidic men.

The Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society’s network established a Monsey office, where case managers arrange housing and disburse food stamps, cash and other refugee benefits to the Yemeni arrivals. Many of the adults, caseworkers say, aren’t yet capable of budgeting, following a schedule or sitting still in a structured classroom to learn English.

On a recent morning, Mr. Suleiman, a 36-year-old father of three, retrieved an alarm clock that he received with his furnished apartment.

“I still don’t know how to use this,” he said. “The children have been playing with it.”

Miriam Jordan, Washington Post


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Physicist Makes New High-resolution Panorama Of Milky Way

milky way

Full sky panorama of the Milky Way

Cobbling together 3000 individual photographs, a physicist has made a new high-resolution panoramic image of the full night sky, with the Milky Way galaxy as its centerpiece. Axel Mellinger, a professor at Central Michigan University, describes the process of making the panorama in the November issue of Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific.

“This panorama image shows stars 1000 times fainter than the human eye can see, as well as hundreds of galaxies, star clusters and nebulae,” Mellinger said. Its high resolution makes the panorama useful for both educational and scientific purposes, he says.

Mellinger spent 22 months and traveled over 26,000 miles to take digital photographs at dark sky locations in South Africa, Texas and Michigan. After the photographs were taken, “the real work started,” Mellinger said.

Simply cutting and pasting the images together into one big picture would not work. Each photograph is a two-dimensional projection of the celestial sphere. As such, each one contains distortions, in much the same way that flat maps of the round Earth are distorted. In order for the images to fit together seamlessly, those distortions had to be accounted for. To do that, Mellinger used a mathematical model — and hundreds of hours in front of a computer.

Another problem Mellinger had to deal with was the differing background light in each photograph.

“Due to artificial light pollution, natural air glow, as well as sunlight scattered by dust in our solar system, it is virtually impossible to take a wide-field astronomical photograph that has a perfectly uniform background,” Mellinger said.

To fix this, Mellinger used data from the Pioneer 10 and 11 space probes. The data allowed him to distinguish star light from unwanted background light. He could then edit out the varying background light in each photograph. That way they would fit together without looking patchy.

The result is an image of our home galaxy that no star-gazer could ever see from a single spot on earth. Mellinger plans to make the giant 648 megapixel image available to planetariums around the world.

An interactive version of the picture can viewed on Mellinger’s website.


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Five Best Books on Women’s Suffrage

As the Nov. 3 elections near, Sally McMillen votes for these books on women’s suffrage.

1- In Her Own Right

By Elisabeth Griffith

Oxford, 1984

This absorbing biography does full justice to Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902), a pivotal figure in the women’s suffrage movement during the 19th century. Elizabeth Griffith details Stanton’s long, fascinating life and close collaboration with fellow women’s-rights campaigner Susan B. Anthony. “In Her Own Right” examines the attributes as well as the shortcomings of a woman who was uncompromising in her pursuit of radical demands, not just for the right to vote but also for divorce-law reform, marital property rights and equal wages. Toward the end of her life, Stanton produced the two-volume “Woman’s Bible,” which offered commentaries on the Good Book’s negative attitude toward women. (Stanton had long blamed ministers as a major obstacle to women’s advancement.) Griffith re-establishes Stanton’s vital role among early suffragists—she was, after all, one of the principal organizers in 1848 of the groundbreaking Seneca Falls Convention, a catalyst for much that followed.

2- Century of Struggle

By Eleanor Flexner

Harvard, 1959

Though now half a century old and succeeded by more modern scholarship, Eleanor Flexner’s study of the prolonged fight for women’s voting rights remains the best comprehensive overview. Flexner covers the major issues and the major reformers—movement leaders as well as women who organized unions, broke into previously men-only professions and challenged laws that restricted women’s opportunities. The last third of “Century of Struggle” examines the final push for a constitutional amendment in the early 1900s as a new generation of leaders, often at odds with one another, fought to secure the vote and to convince lawmakers that theirs was a just cause.

3- New Women of the New South

By Marjorie Spruill Wheeler

Oxford, 1993

Marjorie Spruill Wheeler focuses on the challenges faced by suffragists in the South, where resistance was the strongest. States’ rights and race played a significant role, sometimes in unexpected ways: Wheeler highlights the stories of 11 suffragists who adopted a racist “Southern strategy” that proposed white women voters as a counterweight to the voting power of black males. By 1910, when suffragists working at the national level focused their efforts on a constitutional amendment, some Southern allies balked because a federal law would undermine states’ rights—a traditional regional value that outweighed even getting the right to vote. Wheeler’s portrait of the battle for suffrage in the South illustrates why the nationwide effort was so difficult and protracted.

4- Winning the Vote

By Robert P.J. Cooney Jr.

American Graphic, 2005

Undertaken in conjunction with the National Women’s History Project, “Winning the Vote” is a remarkable photographic record of the women’s suffrage movement. But Robert Cooney did more than compile photographs of suffragists and their demonstrations; he also gathered a staggering array of posters, cartoons, buttons and banners. The book is hefty but a delight to peruse, and Cooney’s essays ably convey the excitement and drama of the movement. He offers sensitive portraits of numerous players— black and white, female and male—who committed their lives to fighting for suffrage and equal rights for women.

5- Harriot Stanton Blatch and the Winning of Woman Suffrage

By Ellen Carol DuBois

Yale, 1997

The subject of this excellent biography is the spunky, independent daughter of Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Ellen Carol DuBois shows how Harriot Stanton Blatch took up the suffrage cause but also worked to establish an identity separate from her strong-willed mother. After marrying British businessman Harry Blatch in 1882, Harriot lived for 20 years in England, where she organized social-reform efforts. Upon her return to the U.S., she focused—successfully—on bringing more working-class women into the suffrage movement. DuBois makes a compelling case that Blatch deserves a place in the pantheon of women who made the final push that won the right to vote.

Ms. McMillen, a history professor at Davidson College, in Davidson, N.C., is the author of “Seneca Falls and the Origin of the Women’s Rights Movement” (Oxford, 2008).


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Fifty Years of Simplicity as Style

Strunk and White taught us that clear thinking and clear writing go together.

A reader of “The Elements of Style” once sent E. B. White a clipping of a book review that misquoted William Strunk as having advised writers to “Use less words!” White wrote back: “I often wish Strunk could come alive so that I might hear the gnashing of his teeth.”

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of Strunk and White’s “The Elements of Style,” and lately I’ve been thinking it would be fun if both authors could come back to life, at least long enough to mark the occasion and to give us their thoughts on the proliferating varieties of written communication we’ve crammed into our lives in recent years. A friend of mine suggests that as soon as they got a close look at the current situation—the flurry of texting, tweeting, IMing and Facebook chatting, much of it speed-thumbed while steering with the forearms—Strunk and White’s next move would be to form a suicide pact.

Maybe. I think it’s more likely that they might just shrug, resolve to stay off the roads, and settle back over chilled martinis to reminisce about their Cornell days. Strunk and White, both reasonable, good-humored men, would recognize that texting, tweeting, emailing and the rest are simply conversation: the “rules-free, lower-case flow that keeps us cheerfully in touch these days,” as White’s stepson, the well-known New Yorker writer Roger Angell, writes in the foreword to the current edition of “The Elements of Style.”

The young, and those who wish to appear so, have always roped off sections of the language for their own use, speaking and writing in ways that can seem runic and needlessly opaque to outsiders. That kind of dialogue is one of the great pleasures and purposes of friendship, and only a tin-eared egghead would wish to strip this happy new dialect of its ubiquitous acronyms, its winking semicolons, its shrieking caps, and its ecstatic picket rows of exclamation points.

No, “The Elements of Style” is after bigger game. And, these 50 years on, for any kind of writing more formal than an email, the book’s central tenets are as pertinent as they’ve ever been. Strunk and White would no doubt be happy, as most writers and readers are, that the Internet is such a text-heavy medium. But with the new habits of speed, compression and informality the Web and its technological kin encourage, it’s more important than ever for writers to develop an ear for levels of usage, a sensitivity to the needs of the linguistic moment, and the ability, when necessary, to jump the ruts of habitual informality and apply the tools and techniques of more careful writing.

Pity, for example, the freshly minted job applicant whose thumbs are more nimble than his judgment (“i cn work a spreadsheet gr8!!!”). In business, in education, in the arts, in any writing that takes place outside the linguistic cul-de-sac of our close friends and relatives, writers are expected to reach for certain standards of clarity, concision and care. And those core standards of careful writing are still illuminated, memorably and wittily, by “The Elements of Style.”

Strunk and White perennially remind writers to observe common rules of punctuation and syntax; to be mindful of structure and prefer succinctness to flabbiness; to aim for prose that is concrete, active and clear; and to be sensitive to current word usage. The last chapter of Elements, “An Approach to Style,” caps the book’s argument beautifully by offering a handful of sensible truths about how writers might achieve a style and voice all their own.

Earlier this year there was a bit of a dustup in the blogosphere (I’m sorry, but that seems to be the word we’ve settled on) occasioned by the anniversary of the “Elements.” Into the midst of mostly laudatory, if sometimes tongue-in-cheek, essays and reviews celebrating the venerable style guide, critics have lobbed a few stink bombs.

Some fault “Elements” for the doctrinal, vaguely medicinal air they claim clings to it. Some point out imperfections and inconsistencies in the authors’ understanding of grammar and syntax. Some sputter—out of ignorance, I can only assume—about the pair’s supposed lack of credentials (Strunk was trained in grammar and philology at Cornell and the Sorbonne and was at home in at least four languages; White was one of the most celebrated American writers of the 20th century).

For all its popularity, its plain common sense, and its decades of success in the classroom, it is surprising the extent to which the book gets up the noses of some academics and critics. Funny thing is, in their own writing, particularly in those portions of it that work best, those same critics faithfully observe the main tenets of the Strunk and White doctrine even while cursing it.

“The Elements of Style” is not perfect. It’s a bit of a hodgepodge, and some sections have aged more gracefully than others. But it offers clear advice for dealing with writing’s most important and fundamental challenges, and it has helped many writers to think and write more effectively.

Those attributes alone might have been enough to fuel the book’s 50-year run, but believers have always felt there is something more here, an extra dimension that has likely been a fundamental source of the book’s long success. As practical as it is for helping writers over common hurdles, “The Elements of Style” also embodies a worldview that, for some, is as appealing as anything either author ever managed to get down on paper.


“Elements” is a credo. It is also a book of promises—the promise that creative freedom is enabled, not hindered, by putting your faith in a few helpful rules; the promise that careful, clear thinking and writing can occasionally touch truth; the promise of depth in simplicity and beauty in plainness; and the promise that by turning away from artifice and ornamentation you will find your true voice.

Mr. Garvey is the author of “Stylized: A Slightly Obsessive History of Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style,” published this month by Simon & Schuster.


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The Missiles of October

The next hemispheric crisis could involve Venezuela and Iran.

“All war is based on deception.” —Sun Tzu

In the summer of 1962, the leader of the great Soviet empire, Nikita Khrushchev, faced a serious problem. His huge intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) didn’t work. Their launchers were unreliable, their aim was off and the fuel used to rocket them skyward was so volatile that they had to be stored empty. In case of an attack, they would first have to be tanked up before being fired. The Soviet premier understood that since his ICBMs were a crucial part of his nuclear balance with the U.S., this put him at a major disadvantage.

However, Khrushchev did have a smaller, intermediate-range missile that was dependable, accurate and quite deadly. But it was too small to hit the U.S. all the way from Russia. So Khrushchev, the chess enthusiast, thought up a bold countermove. He decided to secretly place his smaller but more reliable missiles within range of the United States and, thus, in one stroke, completely level the playing field.

Under a false manifest, he sent an armada of ships carrying 60 missiles and 40 launchers along with a small army of 40,000 Soviet technicians on a clandestine journey to his new client state, Cuba. The trip took three weeks and the technicians were not allowed topside during the day in case they were seen by U.S. planes. In spite of numerous warning signs, the secret operation went undetected by Washington.

That’s because the wily Soviet premier suckered the young American President, John F. Kennedy, by an exchange of messages that year. In an outright lie, Khrushchev promised Kennedy that he would not place any menacing weapons outside of the Soviet Union and Kennedy believed him. At the same time, Khrushchev stepped up the heat in Berlin—the other hot spot in the Cold War—focusing Kennedy’s attention away from Cuba.

The ruse worked even though there were hundreds of reports concerning Soviet missiles coming from a variety of sources. But with each clue, the U.S. intelligence community failed the president by talking itself out of the possibility that the Russians would actually do what they were doing. However, there was one man in the federal government who felt uncomfortable with the status quo and believed it was his job to worry about exactly this kind of problem.

John McCone was a conservative Republican industrialist who had made a fortune building ships during World War II. He entered government service late, in the Eisenhower administration, and was clearly an odd duck in the group of Democratic New Frontiersmen. But on Robert Kennedy’s insistence, President Kennedy placed him in charge of the CIA after the Bay of Pigs disaster in 1961. McCone was smart. He constantly put himself in Khrushchev’s head and he realized that summer that if he were the leader of the USSR, Cuba was exactly where he would place his short-range missiles.

McCone pressed Kennedy for U-2 flights over Cuba to see if he was right. Kennedy refused. He worried that the U-2 flights might be seen as a provocation.

McCone would not let up, even after a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) in September completely rejected McCone’s notion. Giving one reason after another, the NIE confidently predicted the Soviets would not place offensive missiles in Cuba at that time. But the crusty CIA director refused to accept his own agency’s report. Finally, prodded by McCone and some Republicans on the Hill, including Sen. Ken Keating of New York, Kennedy acquiesced to one flight on Oct. 14, 1962.

Four weeks after the NIE assured Kennedy that all was well in Cuba, a U-2 plane flew over the Caribbean island nation for 12 minutes taking photographs that what would clearly show the missiles, launchers and everything else under construction—probably the most crucial 12 minutes in the Cold War.

Kennedy was furious—mostly at himself for having been hoodwinked by the old Russian. Upon first seeing the photos through a magnifying glass, his brother Bobby, the attorney general, let loose with a string of expletives, “Oh s—t! s—t! s—t! Those sons of bitches Russians!” according to Max Frankel’s excellent “High Noon in the Cold War: Kennedy, Khrushchev, and the Cuban Missile Crisis.” But the U.S. was lucky this time. It had discovered the missiles before they were operational. Kennedy would go on to skillfully negotiate a settlement with Khrushchev through 13 tense days without firing a shot.

But, as Mr. Frankel explains in “High Noon,” Kennedy could do this because he had Nikita Khrushchev on the other side of the table. The Soviet leader who instigated this potential disaster had also lived through two world wars, and ultimately did not want to subject his people to another round. “Once you begin shooting, you can’t stop,” he told his son Sergei, realizing he had overplayed his hand. Kennedy and Khrushchev were adversaries but they were both rational.

Still, if Kennedy had waited a precious few weeks longer, if he had believed the NIE, or if there had been no John McCone to press for the U-2 flight, then the missiles would have been up and ready leaving no alternative to a massive land invasion of Cuba. And the Cuban Missile Crisis may very well have had a decidedly different and much deadlier outcome.

What can we learn from this chapter of history that will help up us deal with future nuclear threats from, say, Iran? Perhaps it’s that the most catastrophic consequences come when we talk ourselves into believing what we want to believe.

Today, the client state may be slightly further to the south in Venezuela. The missiles could be deadlier. And the man on the other end of the phone won’t be Nikita Khrushchev. Next time a U.S. president could be dealing with the mullahs in Iran.

Mr. Kozak is the author of “LeMay: The Life and Wars of General Curtis LeMay” (Regnery, 2009).

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Honduras 1, Hillary 0

A Honduran compromise provides Secretary of State Hillary Clinton with an elegant diplomatic exit.

The big news in Honduras is that the good guys seem to have won a four-month political standoff over the exile of former President Manuel Zelaya. Current President Roberto Micheletti agreed yesterday to submit Mr. Zelaya’s request for reinstatement as president to the Supreme Court and Congress, and in return the U.S. will withdraw its sanctions and recognize next month’s presidential elections.

Mr. Zelaya, whose term would have expired in January, isn’t likely to be reinstated, given that the court has twice ruled against his right to remain in office. The Honduran Congress, which voted in June to remove Mr. Zelaya, will then use that high court’s opinion to decide if he should be restored to power.

There is a risk that Venezeula’s Hugo Chávez and other Zelaya allies will try to buy support for their man and stir other trouble. But Hondurans who have rightly stood up to enormous U.S. pressure to reinstate Mr. Zelaya aren’t likely to be intimidated now.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton trumpeted the result as a diplomatic triumph, but it’s more accurate to say that it extricated her and the Obama Administration from the box canyon they entered by throwing in with Mr. Zelaya. Hondurans had deposed Mr. Zelaya on entirely legal grounds for threatening violence and violating the country’s constitution in an attempt to run for a second term. The U.S. nonetheless meddled and demanded that Mr. Zelaya be reinstated.

But Hondurans refused to bend, and the State Department apparently decided at last that Honduras was going to go ahead with its election whether the U.S. agreed or not. The Honduran compromise provided Mrs. Clinton with an elegant diplomatic exit.

Washington and the Organization of American States have now promised to send observers and recognize the elections; there will be no amnesty for Mr. Zelaya if he is charged with a crime; and the zelayistas will renounce their plans to call for a constituent assembly to rewrite the constitution. If Mrs. Clinton wants to call this a victory, it is—for Honduras.

Editorial, Wall Street Journal


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Why Worry?

If Iran and North Korea want the bomb so badly, we should ‘let them have it.’

In the years since the first nuclear bomb was tested in 1945, the world’s major powers have acquired vast arsenals of the devastating weapons. Minor powers have been working feverishly to follow suit. Some unstable and menacing ones, like Pakistan and North Korea, have been successful. Among those seeking to join the club, Iran is leading the pack. More than a half-century since the birth of the atomic age, nuclear weapons remain the polestar around which geopolitics revolve.

Is all the worry about them misplaced? John Mueller, a political scientist at Ohio State University, certainly thinks so. In “Atomic Obsession,” he argues that nuclear weapons are far less important both as threats and as deterrents than almost anyone assumes. The weapons have always been nearly superfluous, he says; they remain so today.

In World War II, Mr. Mueller claims, it was not the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that prompted Tokyo to capitulate; it was the Soviet declaration of war on Japan. In the Cold War, it was not the nuclear “balance of terror” that kept the peace between the U.S. and the Soviet Union; it was each country’s broad mutual interest in avoiding war. In the post-Cold War era, with the superpower rivalry gone, the weapons remain “useless.” They are dangerous in only an inadvertent way: Efforts to check their spread have led to policies “that have been unwise, wasteful, and destructive—sometimes even more destructive than the bombs themselves.”

atomic obsessionMr. Mueller’s analysis is not a mere academic exercise. He is attempting to answer a question that is especially pressing at the moment: what to do about the nuclear aspirations of Iran and North Korea. His counsel, in both cases, is laissez-faire. If these countries want the bomb so badly, we should “let them have it.”

North Korea’s only interest in nuclear weapons, Mr. Mueller explains, is “to stoke its nationalist ego” and, by North Korean logic, “to deter an attack.” To deal with Pyongyang’s nuclear status, we need “a calm—that is to say, non-hysterical—policy discussion,” one that recognizes that even if North Korea refuses to give up its small arsenal, like earlier entrants into the nuclear club it is likely “to find the weapons to be useless.”

The menace of Iran is also one of our own “extravagant imaginings,” Mr. Mueller says. Among other things, Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, “has forcefully proclaimed that ‘We do not need these weapons.’ ” But even if Mr. Khamenei turns out to be lying and Iran does develop an arsenal, the Islamic republic, according to Mr. Mueller, will discover “that the bombs are essentially useless and a very considerable waste of money and effort.”

Mr. Mueller’s thesis rests on an apparent contradiction. On the one hand, he repeatedly asserts the uselessness of nuclear weapons. He notes that they have not been used since 1945, even though all the nuclear powers have been in plenty of wars. He also asserts that possessing such weapons invites far more trouble than they are worth. For the big powers, it is the expense. For the little ones, it is the expense along with the ire of their neighbors, which can lead to sanctions, conflict and invasion.

On the other hand, as Mr. Mueller readily concedes, many countries want nuclear weapons. Indeed, many countries—democracies and tyrannies alike—have already made enormous expenditures and taken considerable risks to acquire them. So Mr. Mueller must claim the existence of an “atomic obsession.” World leaders somehow cannot see, as he does, that nuclear weapons have no value. But have so many leaders really been deluded on this point over the past 65 years? Or is Mr. Mueller—someone responsible for running only a college classroom, not a country—the one suffering from a delusion?

The argument of Mr. Mueller’s book reaches self-parody when he argues that “massive exaggerations of the physical effects of nuclear weapons have been very much the rule” throughout the nuclear age. The public is therefore ill-informed, he says, left to believe that a nuclear war would extinguish civilization and primed to worry about the nuclear danger far more than is warranted.

Setting us straight on this score, Mr. Mueller explains that the effects of a nuclear blast are not as bad as we imagine. A suitcase-size nuclear bomb that is detonated “in the middle of Central Park would not be able to destroy any buildings on the park’s periphery.” No doubt that is good news (if true) for those New Yorkers with a view of the park, but it somehow fails to bring much comfort. Mr. Mueller also offers a thinly sourced disquisition on the health effects of radioactive fallout. Exposure to low doses of radiation, he says, might actually be “beneficial by activating natural coping mechanisms in the body.” Again, it is hard to feel comforted by such a claim.

At a moment when the spread of nuclear weapons is bringing us palpably closer to the day when they might again be used in anger, “Atomic Obsession” deserves serious attention, not for the light it casts on its subject but for the powerful way it illuminates the impulse, in the face of danger, to bury one’s head in the sand.

Mr. Schoenfeld, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, is a resident scholar at the Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, N.J.


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Bad Manners From a Dictator

The U.N. is outraged at Robert Mugabe’s rudeness.

The United Nations is shocked that its torture inspector has been deported from Zimbabwe. “I think I have never been treated by any government in such a rude manner than by the government of Zimbabwe,” Manfred Nowak huffed on Thursday.

The special rapporteur for the U.N. Human Rights Council says he is alarmed that an invitation extended to him by Morgan Tsvangirai, Zimbabwe’s nominal prime minister, was disregarded by Robert Mugabe’s immigration officials. This is not, he protests, in the spirit of February’s shaky power-sharing deal between Zimbabwe’s dictator and his democratic challenger.

Forgive us if we can’t work up the correct degree of outrage at Mr. Nowak’s treatment. Mugabe has been abusing, dispossessing, murdering and most recently starving his domestic “enemies” for the better part of 30 years. For much of that time, he was garlanded in so many Western honors it almost seems surprising he didn’t win a Nobel Peace Prize.

Even now, despite ongoing EU sanctions, he is being courted at the highest levels. Last month Brussels sent a high-level delegation to Zimbabwe, led by Development Commissioner Karel De Gucht, for talks that included Mugabe. And earlier this month, Madrid said it would use its turn at the rotating EU presidency next year to push for more talks between Brussels and Harare.

Meanwhile, Mugabe’s abuses remain unchecked, including attacks on members of Mr. Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change and invasions of still more white-owned commercial farms. But, of course, this is nothing more than what dictators of Mugabe’s ilk always do. The wonder of it is that the West keeps knocking on his door, seeking to reason with a man who treats them with the contempt they probably deserve.

Editorial, Wall Street Journal


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Today in History – October 30

Today is Friday, Oct. 30, the 303rd day of 2009. There are 62 days left in the year.

Today’s Highlight in History

On Oct. 30, 1938, the radio play “The War of the Worlds,” starring Orson Welles, aired on CBS. (The live drama, which employed fake breaking news reports, panicked some listeners who thought the portrayal of a Martian invasion was real.)

On this date

In 130, the Roman emperor Hadrian officially founded the city of Antinoöpolis in ancient Egypt.

In 1340, an allied force of Castilian and Portuguese Christians defeated the Muslim Marnids of North Africa at the Battle of Río Salado.

In 1485, Henry Tudor was crowned Henry VII, founding the Tudor dynastyé He ended the Wars of the Roses, used his children’s marriages to build alliances, and signed treaties that increased England’s power.

In 1735, the second president of the United States, John Adams, was born in Braintree, Mass.

In 1831, escaped slave Nat Turner is apprehended in Southampton County, Va., several weeks after leading the bloodiest slave uprising in American history.

In 1893, the U.S. Senate gave final congressional approval to repealing the Sherman Silver Purchase Act of 1890.

In 1905, Emperor Nicholas II issued the October Manifesto, bringing the end of unlimited autocracy in Russia and ushering in an era of constitutional monarchy.

In 1944, the Martha Graham ballet “Appalachian Spring,” with music by Aaron Copland, premiered at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., with Graham in a leading role.

In 1945, the U.S. government announced the end of shoe rationing, effective at midnight.

In 1953, George C. Marshall, who, as secretary of state following World War II, engineered a massive economic aid program for Europe, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

In 1961, the Soviet Union tested a hydrogen bomb, the “Tsar Bomba,” with a force estimated at about 50 megatons.

In 1961, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev orders the de-Stalinization of the USSR; the Soviet Party Congress unanimously approved a resolution ordering the removal of Josef Stalin’s body from Lenin’s tomb.

In 1974, Muhammad Ali regained his world heavyweight title by knocking out George Foreman in the eighth round of a 15-round bout in Kinshasa, Zaire, known as the “Rumble in the Jungle.”

In 1975, the New York Daily News ran the headline “Ford to City: Drop Dead” a day after President Gerald R. Ford said he would veto any proposed federal bailout of New York City.

In 1979, President Jimmy Carter announced his choice of federal appeals judge Shirley Hufstedler to head the newly created Department of Education.

In 1984, police in Poland found the body of kidnapped pro-Solidarity priest Father Jerzy Popieluszko, whose death was blamed on security officers.

In 1989, Mitsubishi Estate Co. announced it was buying 51 percent of Rockefeller Group Inc. of New York. (However, amid a real estate slump, Mitsubishi ended up walking away from its investment in 1995.)

In 1997, a jury in Cambridge, Mass., convicted British au pair Louise Woodward of second-degree murder in the death of 8-month-old Matthew Eappen. The judge later reduced the verdict to manslaughter and set Woodward free.

In 1998, A mudslide caused by Hurricane Mitch killed at least 2,000 people in Nicaragua.

In 1999, ten years ago, fifty-four people were killed in a fire inside a four-story building crowded with weekend shoppers and diners in Incheon, South Korea.

In 2000, comedian, TV host, author and composer Steve Allen died at age 78.

In 2002, Minnesota Democrats tapped former vice president Walter Mondale to run for the seat of the late Sen. Paul Wellstone less than a week before the election. (Mondale lost to Republican Norm Coleman.)

In 2002, rapper Jam Master Jay of Run-DMC was killed in a shooting in New York at age 37.

In 2004, five years ago, the decapitated body of Japanese backpacker Shosei Koda was found wrapped in an American flag in northwestern Baghdad; the militant group led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi later claimed responsibility.

In 2004, grateful fans embraced the World Series champion Boston Red Sox, hailing the team as heroes during a jubilant parade.

In 2004, actress-dancer Peggy Ryan died in Las Vegas at age 80.

In 2005, the body of Rosa Parks arrived at the U.S. Capitol, where the civil rights pioneer became the first woman to lie in honor in the Rotunda.

In 2008, one year ago, a federal jury in Miami convicted the son of former Liberian President Charles Taylor in the first case brought under a 1994 U.S. law allowing prosecution for torture and atrocities committed overseas. (Charles McArthur Emmanuel was later sentenced to 97 years in prison.)

Today’s Birthdays

Actor Dick Gautier is 72. Movie director Claude Lelouch is 72. Rock singer Grace Slick is 70. Songwriter Eddie Holland is 70. Actor Ed Lauter is 69. R&B singer Otis Williams (The Temptations) is 68. Actor Henry Winkler is 64. Rock musician Chris Slade (Asia) is 63. Country/rock musician Timothy B. Schmit (The Eagles) is 62. Actor Leon Rippy is 60. Actor Harry Hamlin is 58. Actor Charles Martin Smith is 56. Country singer T. Graham Brown is 55. Actor Kevin Pollak is 52. Actor Michael Beach is 46. Rock singer-musician Gavin Rossdale (Bush) is 42. Actor Jack Plotnick is 41. Comedian Ben Bailey is 39. Actress Nia Long is 39. Country singer Kassidy Osborn (SHeDAISY) is 33. Actor Gael Garcia Bernal is 31. Actor Matthew Morrison is 31. Actor Shaun Sipos is 28. Actor Tequan Richmond (“Everybody Hates Chris”) is 17.

Today’s Historic Birthdays

John Adams
10/30/1735 – 7/4/1826
Second president of the United States (1797-1801)

Alfred Sisley
10/30/1839 – 1/29/1899
French Impressionist painter

Louis Winslow Austin
10/30/1867 – 6/27/1932
American physicist

William F. Halsey Jr.
10/30/1882 – 8/16/1959
American naval commander; led World War II Pacific naval campaigns

Ezra Loomis Pound
10/30/1885 – 11/1/1972
American poet and literary critic

Charles Atlas
10/30/1892 – 12/24/1972
Italian-born American bodybuilder; co-created mail-order bodybuilding course

Dickinson Woodruff Richards
10/30/1895 – 2/23/1973
American Nobel Prize-winning physiologist (1956)

Ruth Gordon
10/30/1896 – 8/28/1985
American actress

Fred Friendly
10/30/1915 – 3/3/1998
American broadcast journalist

Daniel Nathans
10/30/1928 – 11/16/1999
American Nobel Prize-winning microbiologist (1978)

Louis Malle
10/30/1932 – 11/23/1995
French film director

Thought for Today

“It almost seems that nobody can hate America as much as native Americans. America needs new immigrants to love and cherish it.” – Eric Hoffer, American philosopher (1902-1983).


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‘Sacked over fly’

Adolf Hitler in 1941
Hitler eventually dismissed Fritz Darges over an incident with a fly

The memoirs of one of Adolf Hitler’s closest aides could shed new light on the Nazi leader’s personal involvement in the Holocaust, media reports say.

Fritz Darges, who has died aged 96, was a member of Hitler’s inner circle for four years of the war.

As Hitler’s last SS adjutant, he was present for all major conferences, the UK’s Daily Telegraph reported.

Historians believe his manuscript could provide key evidence that Hitler ordered the deaths of six million Jews.

If so, it would debunk claims by revisionist historians that the Nazi dictator knew nothing of the Holocaust, the newspaper reported.

In an interview with a German newspaper shortly before his death, Mr Darges told how he met Hitler at the Nuremburg party rally in 1934.

“He had a sympathetic look, he was warm-hearted. I rated him from the off,” he is quoted as saying.

“I must, and was, always there for him, at every conference, at every inter-service liaison meeting, at all war conferences. I must say I found him a genius. We all dreamed of a greater German empire. That is why I served him and would do it all again now,” he was quoted as saying.

‘Sacked over fly’

He also told the German newspaper how he was dismissed by Hitler over a bizarre incident involving a fly.

The fly had been buzzing around the room during a strategy conference in July 1944, irritating the Nazi leader.

Hitler ordered Mr Darges to get rid of it, but the SS adjutant suggested that as it was an “airborne pest” the job should go to Luftwaffe adjutant, Nicolaus von Below.

He said Hitler then flew into a rage and dismissed him, saying: “You’re for the eastern front.”

Mr Darges had trained as an export clerk but joined the SS in April 1933.

He became senior adjutant to Hitler’s secretary Martin Bormann in 1936 and was promoted to the Fuhrer’s personal staff in 1940.

He died at his home in Celle, near Hannover, last weekend.


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Out of puff

Tobacco-related deaths

Where smoking kills most people

NEARLY one in five deaths in rich countries is caused by smoking, according to new data released this week by the World Health Organisation. In 2004, the latest year for which data are available, tobacco use killed an estimated 5.1m people worldwide, or one in every eight deaths of adults aged 30 and over. Residents of richer countries are suffering more now because they have been smoking longer: cancers and chronic respiratory diseases caused by tobacco smoke take a long time to develop. Deaths in poor countries, where many more people have taken on rich-world smoking habits in recent decades, are predicted to rise dramatically in the next 20 years.



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A public row

Health-care reform in America

Democrats are trying to revive the idea of a government-run health plan

“IT’S not really a public option, it’s a consumer option.” So declared Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the House of Representatives, this week. Her effort to rebrand the hugely controversial proposal to add a government-run insurer (usually called a “public plan”) to the health reforms now being negotiated seems ridiculous at first blush. In fact, it is part of a concerted and clever push by the political left that could—just possibly—revive an idea that had seemed dead and buried.

When Mrs Pelosi revealed, on October 29th, the House’s version of a health-reform bill, there were no real suprises; as expected, a public plan featured prominently. The real suprise had come three days earlier. Until very recently, it had looked as though the proposal to tack on a public plan was, despite fervent support among the left, politically doomed. First came Barack Obama’s slippery but clear efforts to back away from it. Then came a crucial vote of the Senate Finance Committee, which rejected the public plan. The final congressional health bill must reconcile the versions coming out of the full House and Senate, and the powerful Finance Committee’s rejection had appeared to be a final nail in the coffin.

But this week Harry Reid, the leader of the Senate Democrats and an ardent fan of the proposal, dropped a bombshell. During the process of reconciling the output of the Senate’s Health and Finance Committees, he overruled the wishes of the latter. So the health bill that the full Senate is likely to consider over the next few weeks now looks likely to include a public plan.

In an effort to win over as many sceptics as possible, though, Mr Reid has circumscribed his public plan in several ways. First, only a minority of Americans (essentially, those without employer-provided coverage) would be eligible. Second, the plan is forbidden from dictating that hospitals accept the same low reimbursement rates given by Medicare, the government scheme for the elderly. Most important, though, is that individual states would be allowed to opt out.

Though leftists groused that this was too weak a proposal, the news buoyed the spirits of public-plan advocates in the House. Many conservative Democrats there (including the “Blue Dog” coalition) and moderates from conservative districts are reluctant to cast a vote for any final House bill with the public plan without cover from the Senate: their vote would be in vain, but they would still get pummelled by Republicans back at home for supporting the plan. Anthony Weiner, a liberal congressman from New York, gushes that “Reid was worth 15 votes!”

Perhaps, but it is too early to say whether Mr Reid’s gamble was bold or reckless. That is because it has offended moderates in both chambers. As Mrs Pelosi scrambles to put together a majority of 218 votes in the House, it is too early to say whether the 15 votes she supposedly picked up this week were offset by many more refuseniks. A caucus meeting of House Democrats this week gave an indicator that the latter might be true. Rumours swirled that efforts to promote a “strong version” of the public plan (one which would tie reimbursement rates to Medicare) failed to garner sufficient support in the House.

Mr Reid’s gambit has also offended several important moderates in the Senate, who are now considering dropping all support for the health reform effort, which might still deprive the Democrats of the 60 votes they need for normal passage of a bill. This is a grave matter, as Mr Obama has indicated that he would like health reform to pass without resorting to a hugely provocative procedure known as budget reconciliation, which would require only 50 votes.

One senator with his nose out of joint is Joe Lieberman of Connecticut who is now officially an independent but who still caucuses with the Democrats. He said this week that he cannot vote for any Senate bill that contains a public plan. Similar noises were made by Olympia Snowe of Maine, the lone Republican to vote for the bill passing out of the Senate’s finance committee. There are at least three other wavering Democrats in the Senate—Louisiana’s Mary Landrieu, Arkansas’s Blanche Lincoln and Nebraska’s Ben Nelson—who all, unsurprisingly, come from states that voted for John McCain in the last presidential election.

Whether a public plan will prevail or not is anyone’s guess. A strong version has no chance of passing both chambers, but it is now possible that some lesser version could end up on Mr Obama’s desk for signature. He himself has advocated a compromise version that would be triggered only after a few years, and only if private competition failed to achieve affordable universal cover. That plan, which the courageous (and now snubbed) Ms Snowe also supports, may yet emerge at the eleventh hour as a compromise. The only thing that can be said with certainty is that a proposal that seemed close to death is now alive and kicking.


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Honduras Rivals Reach Zelaya Deal

Representatives of ousted President Manuel Zelaya and Honduras’ interim government signed an agreement late Thursday that could open the way for Mr. Zelaya’s reinstatement.

No text of the accord was immediately released, but it was greeted by all sides as a resolution to the long-running political dispute that has polarized the country and subjected it to international sanctions.

“Tonight I am pleased to announce that … I authorized my negotiating team to sign a final accord that marks the beginning of the end to the political situation in the country,” interim President Roberto Micheletti said in a televised address.

The agreement appears to soften Mr. Micheletti’s previous stance that the Supreme Court which has already rejected Mr. Zelaya’s reinstatement decide the issue.

Instead, the high court would make a recommendation, but the final decision would be left to a vote in Congress.

The agreement also creates a power-sharing government and requires both sides to recognize the Nov. 29 presidential elections. The international community has threatened to not recognize the vote if Mr. Zelaya is not reinstated, but on Thursday, Organization of American States Political Affairs Secretary Victor Rico told reporters that both the OAS and the United States “will accompany Honduras in the elections’ as a result of the accord.

Mr. Zelaya also praised the agreement, though it is unclear whether he has a chance in a congressional vote.

“We are optimistic because Hondurans can reach agreements that are fulfilled,” Mr. Zelaya told Radio Globo, an opposition station, adding, “This signifies my return to power in the coming days, and peace for Honduras.”

The agreement, if it holds, could represent a much-needed foreign policy victory for the United States, which dispatched a senior team of diplomats to coax both sides back to the table.

“This is a great moment for Honduras, and its people should be proud that Hondurans have achieved this accord,” said Tom Shannon, U.S. assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs, who arrived with the U.S. delegation Wednesday.

Mr. Rico said “they [the negotiators] are the heroes of Honduran democracy .. and this is a great moment for Honduras.” The OAS had tried for months to bring the two sides together.

Mr. Micheletti called the pact a “significant concession” on his part. He also said that one of the provisions of the pact requires foreign powers to drop sanctions and reverse aid cutoffs imposed after the coup, and send observers to the upcoming elections.

The Supreme Court has already rejected Mr. Zelaya’s return, saying he was replaced as president on June 28 because he violated the Constitution by pressing for a vote on potential constitutional reforms. Mr. Zelaya’s opponents accused him of attempting to pass the reforms in order to end a ban on presidential term limits something the leftist leader denies.

Mr. Zelaya, who is holed up at the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa, the capital, has said Congress should make the decision on his reinstatement, even though he currently enjoys the support of only about a fifth of the legislators.

Earlier Thursday, police fired tear gas to disperse a march of about 1,000 Mr. Zelaya supporters as they neared the hotel where the talks were taking place.


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Too small to lead

R. Creigh Deeds, the Democratic candidate for Virginia governor, seems poised to lose the jewel in President Obama’s political crown.

In November 2008, Obama was the first Democrat since Lyndon Johnson to win the electoral votes of the commonwealth. Obama’s victory was a case study in how he might transform American politics, building an alliance of new voters and suburban Southerners to defeat Republicans at the heart of their power.

A year later, the Virginia governor’s race displays a Democratic promise gone crusty and stale. The Republican candidate, Bob McDonnell, threatens to turn a lead into a rout. Democratic leaders, getting a head start on recrimination, fault Deeds’s political skill, but mainly his tirelessly negative campaign. While McDonnell has talked of jobs and roads, Deeds has spent millions on ads warning of the Talibanization of Virginia by Mullah McDonnell, who was accused of opposing birth control, women in the workplace and breast-cancer screening. The charges did not stick. One unnamed White House official recently complained that Obama “had drawn a road map to victory in Virginia. Deeds chose another path.”

But there is another explanation. Perhaps Deeds and Obama have declined in support for the same reason — because they are taking the identical path.

It is difficult to remember now, but Obama was elected largely for his tonal, not ideological, appeal. His announcement speech in Springfield, Ill., denounced “the smallness of our politics.” At the time, Obama adviser David Axelrod explained, “If you can inspire people and if you can give them something real to believe in, you can advance your campaign without tearing everybody else down.” During the primaries, Obama ended up benefiting from the contrast with Hillary and Bill Clinton’s wrecking crew.

But the tonal candidate also had a conventionally liberal policy agenda. And as that agenda has run into resistance — on spending, health care and climate legislation — the president’s tone has utterly changed.

The Obama administration has gone after both Rush Limbaugh and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce — showing an inability to distinguish between the burning of heretics and the burning of bridges. It has courted insurance companies, then publicly demonized them for showing independence. Obama has tended to define all opposition, particularly on health care, as resulting from fear, cowardice and selfishness — instead of admitting genuine disagreement. At a recent fundraiser, he mocked Republicans as robots who “do what they’re told.” He has engaged in consistent, classless, self-excusing criticism of his predecessor. Other presidents have been known for a war on totalitarianism or a war on terrorism. Obama is known for a war on Fox News.

“The campaign,” Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen say in Politico, “underscores how deeply political the Obama White House is in its daily operations — with a strong focus on redrawing the electoral map and discrediting the personalities and ideas that have powered the conservative movement over the past 20 years.” Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander — a conservative, but not normally an angry one — describes these tactics as behavior “typical of street brawls and political campaign consultants.” It is also behavior typical of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who called town hall protesters “evil-mongers,” and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who labeled them as “simply un-American.”

There are many reasons why Obama, according to Gallup, has suffered the largest decline in approval, at this point in his term, of any elected president since 1953 — and why fewer Americans approve of the job done by Congress than believe in UFOs. But one reason is surely the bitter, brittle tone of the new Democratic establishment — highlighted by the promise they have raised and disappointed.

How did the tonal candidate become so tone-deaf? We have always known that there are two Obamas. One is the thoughtful, Niebuhr-quoting professor, who listens to every side and speaks inspiring words of unity. The other Obama comes from Chicago and suffers from an excess of Chicagoans around him. Many Democrats seem to like the street-brawling side of Obama and his team. Many independents and Republicans seem less enthusiastic that Mr. Hyde has moved in his furniture and clearly plans to stay.

America in 2008 and Virginia in 2009 show that tone is an underestimated factor in American politics. Positive candidates in these races have looked like leaders and winners. Negativity has seemed trivial. Virginians seem to be deciding that Deeds is too small to be governor. Obama seems intent on proving that he is too small to be an effective president.

Michael Gerson, Washington Post


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The Tenacity Question

Today, President Obama will lead another meeting to debate strategy in Afghanistan. He will presumably discuss the questions that have divided his advisers: How many troops to commit? How to define plausible goals? Should troops be deployed broadly or just in the cities and towns?

For the past few days I have tried to do what journalists are supposed to do.

I’ve called around to several of the smartest military experts I know to get their views on these controversies. I called retired officers, analysts who have written books about counterinsurgency warfare, people who have spent years in Afghanistan. I tried to get them to talk about the strategic choices facing the president. To my surprise, I found them largely uninterested.

Most of them have no doubt that the president is conducting an intelligent policy review. They have no doubt that he will come up with some plausible troop level.

They are not worried about his policy choices. Their concerns are more fundamental. They are worried about his determination.

These people, who follow the war for a living, who spend their days in military circles both here and in Afghanistan, have no idea if President Obama is committed to this effort. They have no idea if he is willing to stick by his decisions, explain the war to the American people and persevere through good times and bad.

Their first concerns are about Obama the man. They know he is intellectually sophisticated. They know he is capable of processing complicated arguments and weighing nuanced evidence.

But they do not know if he possesses the trait that is more important than intellectual sophistication and, in fact, stands in tension with it. They do not know if he possesses tenacity, the ability to fixate on a simple conviction and grip it, viscerally and unflinchingly, through complexity and confusion. They do not know if he possesses the obstinacy that guided Lincoln and Churchill, and which must guide all war presidents to some degree.

Their second concern is political. They do not know if President Obama regards Afghanistan as a distraction from the matters he really cares about: health care, energy and education. Some of them suspect that Obama talked himself into supporting the Afghan effort so he could sound hawkish during the campaign. They suspect he is making a show of commitment now so he can let the matter drop at a politically opportune moment down the road.

Finally, they do not understand the president’s fundamental read on the situation. Most of them, like most people who have spent a lot of time in Afghanistan, believe this war is winnable. They do not think it will be easy or quick. But they do have a bedrock conviction that the Taliban can be stymied and that the governments in Afghanistan and Pakistan can be strengthened. But they do not know if Obama shares this gut conviction or possesses any gut conviction on this subject at all.

The experts I spoke with describe a vacuum at the heart of the war effort — a determination vacuum. And if these experts do not know the state of President Obama’s resolve, neither do the Afghan villagers. They are now hedging their bets, refusing to inform on Taliban force movements because they are aware that these Taliban fighters would be their masters if the U.S. withdraws. Nor does President Hamid Karzai know. He’s cutting deals with the Afghan warlords he would need if NATO leaves his country.

Nor do the Pakistanis or the Iranians or the Russians know. They are maintaining ties with the Taliban elements that would represent their interests in the event of a U.S. withdrawal.

The determination vacuum affects the debate in this country, too. Every argument about troop levels is really a proxy argument for whether the U.S. should stay or go. The administration is so divided because the fundamental issue of commitment has not been settled.

Some of the experts asked what I thought of Obama’s commitment level. I had to confess I’m not sure either.

So I guess the president’s most important meeting is not the one with the Joint Chiefs and the cabinet secretaries. It’s the one with the mirror, in which he looks for some firm conviction about whether Afghanistan is worthy of his full and unshakable commitment. If the president cannot find that core conviction, we should get out now. It would be shameful to deploy more troops only to withdraw them later. If he does find that conviction, then he should let us know, and fill the vacuum that is eroding the chances of success.

Gen. Stanley McChrystal has said that counterinsurgency is “an argument to win the support of the people.” But it’s not an argument won through sophisticated analysis. It’s an argument won through the display of raw determination.

David Brooks, New York Times


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A Tittle-Tattle World

I wanted to test the theory that a gossip magazine can gauge the strange state of the global economy and so I found myself at Tatler magazine.

In these gloomy days for the press, it’s rather a tonic to visit the headquarters of a publication that’s been around 300 years, took 285 years to turn a profit and can’t be bothered with a Web site. Online-versus-print debate has begun to rival annuity tables in the realm of the stultifying.

“I think it adds to our cachet that we’re not online,” Catherine Ostler, the breezy editor of Tatler, told me in her cluttered corner office. She’s just put together the ad-packed 300th-anniversary issue with a mischievous cover of the queen in profile, daubed with Union Jack colors. “We went slightly Sex Pistols with it.”


Tatler, a society magazine with a naughty streak and what Ostler calls an “appetite for other people’s antics,” was first published on April 12, 1709. The epigraph — equivalent to today’s corporate mission statement — was: “What’er men do, or say, or think or dream/Our motley paper seizes for its theme.”

In that spirit the first Tatler (from “tittle-tattle,” or gossip) debated the merits of ogling, opined on wrinkles and titillated readers with an account of an aristocratic young man who had taken to drink because he was consumed with unrequited love for a married woman. From there to reality shows is but the blinking of an eye.


The magazine was a mega-hit, passed around the coffee houses of Queen Anne’s London. Isaac Newton subscribed. But politics intervened — Tatler was too Whig for a Tory government — and this first incarnation lasted just 22 months.

So began a saga of centuries that saw Tatler appear and disappear; devour proprietors; chronicle the royals from King Edward VIII’s abdication to Princess Di’s divorce (“Diana: Monster or Martyr?” asked one cover); take Tina Turner to Eton; do Madonna on the cover in 1986; reveal the talents of a then 26-year-old editor called Tina Brown (now leading The Daily Beast); and chronicle social taste from Cecil Beaton to bad-girl artist Tracey Emin.

“We’ve been sustained by the power of gossip,” Ostler said. But who buys the magazine? “It’s an odd patchwork, old money, new money, all ages, the Russian oligarchs, Gulf people, jet set types, not just the British upper class any more, people from all over.”

Tatler’s 300th birthday extravaganza was sponsored not by some well-to-do British duke (a few survive) but by an Omani scent (“Amouage”) that’s a favorite with the sultan.

Speaking of Russian oligarchs, Tatler now has a year-old Russian edition that’s a sizzling success. In fact it was when I heard this tidbit on the radio as I drove distractedly up New York’s West Side highway that I decided to visit Tatler. Twenty years from the fall of the Communist empire, more than a year into the Great Recession, Britain’s society rag par excellence is all the rage in Moscow.

Perhaps, as Ostler suggested, that’s because 21st-century Moscow resembles 18th-century England: The oligarchs and their families form a smallish circle with incredible influence and money, much like the tight-knit aristocrats of Queen Anne’s time.

They cluster, these overnight billionaires, not in coffee houses but sushi bars, and they love to read about each other’s antics, foibles and favorite designer labels. Russia, a literary nation with money fever, is a good place for Tatler. Perhaps an apt symbol of our age is a Russian kid trotting around Eton in a boater.

The thing about money is it’s fungible. As the Romans observed, “Pecunia non olet” — money has no smell. It also has no morals. The deepest revolution of the post-Cold-War era has been the instant global transferability of capital, combined with technology’s eradication of distance: This has created immense wealth but equally immense imbalances, because workers cannot move as freely or as fast as capital.

Social upheaval has been avoided in part because technology is an anger dampener: It connects but isolates, and it distracts.

Russia’s Tatler enclave (an unaudited circulation of 120,000 against an audited 85,000 for the British original) is of course surrounded by swamps of vodka-soaked penury, just as Brazilian high society is surrounded by slum kids with guns. Still, the model has held; in fact it’s produced startling progress.

But at a price: The financial crisis of the 1990s and the Great Recession that began last year. After the 2008 meltdown everyone knows about the contagion of debt syndicated across the globe, compensation designed to reward short-term return, greed run amok, risk underpriced. But as markets recover without jobs — and Muscovite high rollers devour Tatler — I wonder if any lessons have been learned. I see more old habits than new ideas in a global economy of startling inequities and equally startling social passivity.

All of which leads me to believe that lovable Tatler will thrive — in London, in Moscow and possibly next in Shanghai or São Paulo. There will be antics to chronicle, dreams to stir, fungible money to bankroll the mischief, and — soon enough — another meltdown with its roguish winners, forgotten losers and unlearned lessons.

Roger Cohen, New York Times


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Where Do Jews Come From?

This much is known: In the mid-eighth century, the ruling elite of the Khazars, a Turkic tribe in Eurasia, converted to Judaism. Their impetus was political, not spiritual. By embracing Judaism, the Khazars were able to maintain their independence from rival monotheistic states, the Muslim caliphate and the Christian Byzantine empire. Governed by a version of rabbinical law, the Khazar Jewish kingdom flourished along the Volga basin until the beginning of the second millennium, at which point it dissolved, leaving behind a mystery: Did the Khazar converts to Judaism remain Jews, and, if so, what became of them?

Enter Shlomo Sand. In a new book, “The Invention of the Jewish People,” the Tel Aviv University professor of history argues that large numbers of Khazar Jews migrated westward into Ukraine, Poland and Lithuania, where they played a decisive role in the establishment of Eastern European Jewry. The implications are far-reaching: If the bulk of Eastern European Jews are the descendents of Khazars—not the ancient Israelites—then most Jews have no ancestral links to Palestine. Put differently: If most Jews are not Semites, then what justification is there for a Jewish state in the Middle East? By attempting to demonstrate the Khazar origins of Eastern European Jewry, Mr. Sand—a self-described post-Zionist who believes that Israel needs to shed its Jewish identity to become a democracy—aims to undermine the idea of a Jewish state.

Published in Hebrew last year, “The Invention of the Jewish People” was a best seller in Israel. In March, the French translation, also a best seller, received the prestigious Aujourd’hui Award, which honors the year’s best nonfiction book. Past winners include such intellectual titans as Raymond Aron, Milan Kundera and George Steiner. “The Invention of the Jewish People” is being translated into a dozen languages. Mr. Sand is delivering lectures this month in Los Angeles, Berkeley, New York and elsewhere.

What should we make of Mr. Sand’s radical revisionist history? There is reason to be very skeptical. After all, we have been here before. In 1976, Arthur Koestler published “The Thirteenth Tribe,” which argued that Diaspora Jews were a “pseudo-nation” bound by “a system of traditional beliefs based on racial and historical premises which turn out to be illusory.” The genetic influence of the Khazars on modern Jews is, he wrote, “substantial, and in all likelihood dominant.” Koestler’s speculations were not novel. The connection between the Khazars and the Jews of Eastern Europe had been debated by both scholars and conspiracists (the two are not mutually exclusive) for centuries.

“The Thirteenth Tribe” was savaged by critics, and Mr. Sand’s repackaging of its central argument has not fared much better. “A few Jews in Eastern Europe presumably came from the Khazar kingdom, but nobody can responsibly claim that most of them are the descendents of Khazars,” says Israel Bartal, a professor of history at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. We simply don’t know enough about the demographics of Eastern European Jews before the 13th century to make such an assertion, Mr. Bartal says, adding, “Sand has not proven anything.” According to Peter B. Golden, a professor of history at Rutgers University, the Khazars are likely one of a number of strains that shaped the Jewish population in Eastern Europe. But, he stresses, DNA studies have confirmed that the Middle Eastern strain is predominant.

In “The Invention of the Jewish People,” Mr. Sand suggests that those who attacked Koestler’s book did so not because it lacked merit, but because the critics were cowards and ideologues. “No one wants to go looking under stones when venomous scorpions might be lurking beneath them, waiting to attack the self-image of the existing ethnos and its territorial ambitions.” But Koestler was himself uneasy about scorpions. The Khazar theory, he knew, was an article of faith among anti-Semites and anti-Israel Arab politicians. Just a few months before “The Thirteenth Tribe” was published, the Saudi Arabian delegation to the United Nations declared Zionism illegitimate because it was conceived by “non-Semitic Jews” rather than “our own Arab Jews who are the real Semites.” (An Israeli ambassador, wrongly, countered that Koestler’s book had been secretly subsidized by the Palestinians.) Perhaps more disconcerting, the neo-Nazi National States Rights Party in the U.S. declared “The Thirteenth Tribe” to be “the political bombshell of the century” because “it destroys all claims of the present-day Jew-Khazars to any historic right to occupy Palestine.” Members of Stormfront, a self-described “white nationalist” Internet community, have predictably reacted to Mr. Sand’s book with glee.

I recently called Mr. Sand in Paris, where he is on sabbatical, to ask if he is concerned that “The Invention of the Jewish People” will be exploited for pernicious ends. “I don’t care if crazy anti-Semites in the United States use my book,” he said in Israeli-accented English. “Anti-Semitism in the West, for the moment, is not a problem.” Still, he is worried about how the forthcoming Arabic translation might be received in the Muslim world, where, he says, anti-Semitism is growing. I ask if the confident tenor of his book might exacerbate the problem. He falls quiet for a moment. “Maybe my tone was too affirmative on the question of the Khazars,” he reluctantly concedes. “If I were to write it today I would be much more careful.” Such an admission, however, is unlikely to sway the sinister conspiracists who find the Khazar theory a useful invention.

Mr. Goldstein is a staff editor at the Chronicle of Higher Education.


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