Tracking the Mahdi on WikiLeaks

[ cross-posted from Zenpundit ]

A quick search for “Mahdi” and “Mehdi” and “Twelfth Imam” in the 294 messages so far published in diplomatic Wikileaks reveals some references to individuals with those names, and a couple to Moqtada al-Sadr’s Jaysh al-Mahdi (spelled “Jaysh al-Madhi” in one cable by someone who is perhaps confused by the similarity of the name to that of Mahatma Gandhi), along with three cables in which Mahdism is touched upon.


09ASHGABAT1182 of September 16, 2009 reports a comment by an undisclosed source who is “adamant” that the US should not enter into direct talks with Iran’s leadership:

Not only, he insisted, is the Iranian leadership “untrustworthy,” and dominated by a group of “messianics,” who base crucial decisions about domestic and foreign policy on a belief in the imminent return of the “Missing” (Twelfth) Imam.

From my point of view, any foreign policy based on or strongly influenced by belief in the imminent return of a prophesied figure of good or evil, whether that figure be Moshiach or Christ or Mahdi, Antichrist or Dajjal, should be cause for concern: from a religious perspective, because messianic expectations are precisely what Matthew is talking about when he writes that “false Christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect” (Matt 24.24) – and from a secular perspective because such identifications have been made again and again across history, often with disastrous results (think Waco, think the 1979 siege of Mecca, think the Taiping Rebellion).

That’s why I’m interested in monitoring the various strands of apocalyptic thinking out and about in the world today.


A little over a month earlier, on August 3, 2009, 09RPODUBAI316 under the sub-head “A Benevolent Dictator’s Fall from Grace” discussed the idea that the “Arab street” (both Sunni and Shi’a are mentioned) initially saw some Mahdist qualities in Ahmadinejad:

A Syrian journalist and blogger, who owns a media consultancy firm in Dubai, believes that many in the Arab street initially viewed Ahmadinejad when he came to power in 2005 as a “benevolent dictator.” Citing the tradition of the Mahdi, the media consultant argued that both Shi’a and Sunni Arabs are taught from early childhood to await the arrival of a strong and unimpeachable figure who will lead the Muslim world. The media consultant maintained that even secular Arabs view the world, albeit unintentionally, with this ingrained mindset. Our contact argued that Ahmadinejad played in to this narrative, and when Ahmadinejad arrived on the international stage many Arabs saw him, in contrast to their own flawed leaders, as a humble and pious man who was brave enough to stand up for his people and the greater Muslim world by confronting Israel and the West head on. However, both the intensely competitive campaign period and the forceful reaction by the Iranian people to the official election results have led some moderate Arabs to rethink Ahmadinejad’s true disposition. The election, the media consultant said, led some Arabs to understand that despite his astutely crafted and well-marketed image in the Arab world, Ahmadinejad is resented by many Iranians for domestic mismanagement, incompetence, and corruption. Because of this public fall from grace, so the media consultant told us, Ahmadinejad is no longer the “untouchable, holy figure” in the Arab world he once was — his flaws have brought him down to the level of the Arab world’s own imperfect leaders.

I’m reminded of the way that Steve Davis of Charleston, SC, among others, projected messianic qualities onto then-candidate Obama, when he wrote:

Barack’s appeal is actually messianic, it’s something about his aura, his spirit, his soul, that exudes enlightenment in the making.

I interpret Obama’s Lebanon, NH remarks as making light of that sort of projection (McCain’s video makes light of it, too), whereas Ahmadinejad appears to take his own status within the aura of the Mahdi all too seriously.


The last reference allows me to end on a happier note.

The French diplo Jean-Christophe Paucelle is quoted in 09PARIS1046 of July 31, 2009 on the topic of Ahmadinejad’s inauguration.

First he mentions that since non-Muslims had not been invited to previous inaugurations, European members of the diplomatic corps might not know which door to take if they wished to walk out on the ceremony, should such an action be called for… and then he discusses an additional reason why the French would attend the ceremony, despite the contested nature of the election:

Paucelle said that the case of detained French citizen Clothilde Reiss has also influenced the EU decision to attend the inauguration ceremonies. “We think she may be released soon, and we don’t want to create another irritant,” Paucelle said. “There are enough already.” He reported that the French have reason to believe Reiss may form part of a group of detainees likely to be released on the August 7 anniversary of Imam Mahdi. Paucelle noted that a letter released July 29 by Ahmadinejad supported the idea of granting clemency to post-election protesters during Mahdi celebrations. “The Iranians will need to take face-saving measures, and so she will likely transfer to house arrest or some other status,” Paucelle said. He added that, of course, she may not be released at all next week, but the French remain optimistic that she will soon be out of prison.

Clotilde Reiss was indeed not released on that occasion — but she was in fact freed somewhat later, on Sunday, May 16th, 2010.

Portland and Closed Systems

The attempted terrorist attack in Portland was thwarted by the FBI. Ironically, in 2005 the Portland city council voted (by 4 to 1) to withdraw their city’s police officers from participation in the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force.

Now, Portland’s mayor says he might ask the council to reconsider the decision about participation in this task force. Is it because he realizes that the threat of terrorism is real, and that anti-terrorism efforts like those being conducted by the Joint Task Force were indeed justified?…ie, that Portland was wrong in its initial decision? Not at all:

“[Adams] stressed that he has much more faith in the Obama administration and the leadership of the U.S. Attorney’s office now than he did in 2005”

I was reminded of something Arthur Koestler wrote about closed systems and the people who believe in them.

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Quote of the Day

Now the Republic’s enemies must be asking themselves: where is the bottom to these people’s incompetence? Can they do anything at all? How safe is it to rush ahead? Why don’t we try?
And if they do, what tools will President Obama have left? Diplomacy? Economic incentives or sanctions? Moral authority? Maybe the military. Yes that’s it. But his competence at war is predicted by his incompetence in peace. One would hope he’d have the sense to stay away from truly dangerous tools and that probably means he doesn’t know better.

Richard Fernandez

Senators Kerry and Lugar – Senators to the World!

Because I’m loads of fun, I decided to pay a visit to Senator Lugar’s website. I searched for the names “Kerry Lugar” which turned up the following:

Senator Lugar considers a secure Pakistan to be vital in the protection of United States security interests in Afghanistan and throughout the Middle East and South Asia. From January 2003 to December 2006, Senator Lugar served as Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and has been the Republican leader since January 2007. In this capacity, he has exercised close oversight of U.S. policy in Pakistan and participated in more than 15 hearings related to ongoing affairs in the country from 2003 to the present.

Goodness! That is impressive! Wait a minute, what’s that you say?

Since 1951, the United States has given significant funding to Pakistan. Since September 11, 2001, U.S. funding has been intended for the following five purposes: to cover the extra cost to Pakistan’s military of fighting terrorism; provide Pakistan with military equipment to fight terrorism; to provide development and humanitarian assistance; covert funds (such as bounties or prize money); and cash transfers directly to the Pakistani government’s budget.
Pakistan (sic) one of only four countries to receive direct cash transfers. Between 2002 and 2008, this “thank you” to Pakistan for help in fighting terrorism cost the U.S. taxpayer $2,374,000,000. By its nature, these cash transfers became Pakistani sovereign funds, precluding U.S. oversight.

“U.S. Aid to Pakistan—U.S. Taxpayers Have Funded Pakistani Corruption,” Belfer Center

Oh dear. Well, that is unfortunate. Perhaps the close oversight needs some tweaking?

Again from the Senator’s website, I find a link to something called PUBLIC LAW 111–73—OCT. 15, 2009 – the ENHANCED PARTNERSHIP WITH PAKISTAN ACT OF 2009. The linked .pdf has lots of stuff like the following in it:

OPERATIONS RESEARCH.—The term ‘‘operations research’’ means the application of social science research methods, statistical analysis, and other appropriate scientific methods to judge, compare, and improve policies and program outcomes, from the earliest stages of defining and designing programs through their development and implementation, with the objective of the rapid dissemination of conclusions and concrete impact on programming.

That sure is a lot of words. You know what has fewer words in it? This: By its nature, these cash transfers became Pakistani sovereign funds, precluding U.S. oversight.

I suppose Instapundit does have a point: “I’d say that if the GOP has started issuing seats like titles of nobility, without caring what the voters think, then that’s beyond redemption. Nobody should be immune to a primary challenge.”

I guess not.

(Look, I can’t read “legalese” so I have no idea if the Enhanced Partnership With Pakistan Act Of 2009 will be able to avoid the problems of the past. Maybe I am being unfair. What I’d like to know from our readers is the following: once the cash is transferred to the civilian government, how can we know what it is being used for?)

Update: I changed “legalize” to “legalese”. Didn’t catch it the first time. I’m sure there are other errors. My writing skills are a bit shaky. I’m trying to improve them so if you see mistakes could you please point them out in the comments? I’ve got busy days and blogging is the lowest priority. I love it, but it’s low priority compared to other stuff.

Around Chicago November 2010 (Part 2)

Upper left – a crazy guy dressed as an Eagle for the Bears vs. Philadelphia game on Sunday night.  The Eagles fans were not shy about taunting Bears fans even when outnumbered 100-1 I questioned their sanity.  Upper right – the view from the “cheap seats” at the non-PSL seats at the Bears game where Dan and I reside.  Lower left – a view from the escalator at the Crate and Barrel store on Michigan avenue… as a kid I used to hate going there.  Lower middle – a view looking north on Lake Shore drive at half time at the Bears game from “the columns” at Soldier Field, probably near the time when that guy jumped out of the stadium and died.  Lower right – the ever-photogenic Sofitel hotel in the Viagra Triangle.  If you like more (funny) Bears stuff (not the part about the fan dying, that is sad) be sure to check out the “most important site on the Internet” Drunk Bear Fans where there is plenty more where that came from.

Fixing the US Housing Finance System

This is a summary of a working paper available at the links for which comments are welcome. (An earlier post on related topics appeared here.)

Download the paper (500KB pdf).


The Administration will soon propose legislation to address the future of the US housing finance system, and it’s a sure bet that this will include re-incarnating Fannie and Freddie in some form. Prominent Republican politicians have also recently called for “privatizing” these entities. This is sheer folly. The problem with keeping Fannie and Freddie or an alternative government sponsored capital market hybrid that seeks to limit and/or price government backing is that policymakers have always done just that! It was investors, not policy-makers, who conferred “agency status” on Fannie and Freddie in spite of their prior ill designed privatizations.

Regardless of whether you believe they were leaders or followers in the sub-prime lending debacle—and the evidence overwhelmingly favors the former view–they have always represented a systemic risk and are inherently inconsistent with a competitive financial system. There are significant roles for government in a competitive market oriented housing finance system, but this isn’t one of them.

Public deposit protection is here to stay. Nobody is suggesting getting rid of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, but public protection requires appropriate regulation.

Whether homeownership subsidies such as the mortgage interest deduction are appropriate is an ongoing debate. Nobody is suggesting getting rid of all homeownership subsidies, but credit subsidies for low-income borrowers and other politically preferred groups should be budgeted, targeted and separated from finance.

Discrimination in lending that is not based on the ability to pay is illegal. Nobody is suggesting relaxing current anti-discrimination laws and regulations, but competition often mitigates all forms of inappropriate lending discrimination better than regulation.

Capital market financing will remain necessary. Nobody is suggesting getting rid of the FHA/Ginnie Mae program or the almost equally massive Federal Home Loan Bank System, but reforms of these programs are necessary after the housing markets recover.

Private label mortgage securitization contributed to the sub-prime lending debacle. Nobody condones the abuses, but private label securitization worked well until regulatory distortions encouraged securitizers to bypass the private mortgage insurance industry, the traditional gatekeepers responsible for preventing excessively risky lending.

A competitive market oriented system serves qualified home borrowers and lenders best but has few political constituents. Politicians much prefer the deferred off budget costs of Fannie and Freddie but the long run costs of delivering subsidies that way far exceed the benefits.

The four steps necessary to restore a stable competitive market oriented housing finance system are:

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Chicago Tea Party Event: Wednesday, December 1 at 7:00 PM

The next meeting of the Chicago Tea Party will be held on Wednesday, December 1 at 7:00 PM at Blackie’s, 755 S. Clark. (Or sign-up through Facebook.)

I am going to this meeting. I have never been to a Tea Party meeting, so far, for some reason. I recently exchanged emails with Steve Stevlic, Director, Tea Party Patriots Chicago. I look forward to meeting him.

Perhaps some of our ChicagoBoyz readers will be there as well.

UPDATE: Note this is a monthly event, occurring the first Wednesday of every month.

The featured speaker will be Adam Andrzejewski from For the Good of Illinois. Adam is promoting transparency in Illinois government through the Open the Books project. This is a strong added inducement to attend. Please look at the links to his organizations above, and see the good work he is continuing to do.

I supported Adam on this blog when he was running for the Republican nomination for governor. I had the pleasure of speaking to Adam recently, and I said, and I firmly believe, that had he been nominated, the energy and excitement that caused a GOP groundswell nationwide would have carried him to victory as well. Adam would have presented a real alternative. (As I also told him, he is the only person I have ever voted for, not counting Reagan in 1984, who I actually thought would do a good job, rather than simply voting against the Democrat.) Brady ran a lifeless and low-risk campaign, a typical idea-free Illinois Republican campaign, that was completely at odds with the spirit of 2010. He stumbled to defeat in a year where victory was there for the grasping, with the Republicans picking Obama’s old Senate seat and four Houses seats in Illinois. There are times when fortune really does favor the bold, and this year was one of them. As a result we in Illinois are stuck once again with the feckless and hopelessly wrongheaded Pat Quinn, while the state swirls down the drain, an Island of Blue in a Red Midwestern sea, a big, out of step, bankrupt state like New York or Calilfornia. Too bad.

As it happens, more or less by luck, I was at the first-ever Tea Party protest in Chicago on February 27, 2009 on Daley Plaza. My office at that time was across the street, and I walked over just to see what was going on. I recall it was very cold. The crowd was well-behaved, with a smattering of obvious psychos, as you inevitably find at any gathering on Daley Plaza. There were a lot of obviously home-made signs, some of which were clever. I also recall someone was talking (I think it was Dan Proft) and whoever the speaker was said the word “Repubican” and got an immediate, loud, angry BOO from many in the crowd. That was striking. The crowd seemed more anti-partisan than non-partisan, and certainly not pro-Republican. I said to myself: “hmmm, something new and interesting is astir in the land, a great and angry giant may at last be awakening” or prescient and prophetic words to that general effect. (You will have to take my word for it.) However, the movement that was getting started then has greatly exceeded my hopes and expectations, and I think we have still only seen the beginning of a historic mass movement.

How to deal with North Korea

While I’ve been purposefully avoiding any news shows or blogs this weekend, the situation in North Korea forces me to post this potential solution to the problem. Let’s start with some premises.

1. NK is a buffer state for China. It exists at China’s will.
2. NK is a clear and present danger to its own people and to the world.
3. China, belligerent and “ascendant” as she may be, is linked to our currency and to our consumption of her cheap goods.

While I could add details and subheadings to the above, I think the premises are sound. If not please correct me.

With that in mind, why shouldn’t America, in the person of its CEO, simply offer China the ultimatum below.

Dear Hu,

This nation tires of the dangerous and evil games played by Kim Jong Il. He is a dangerous man who is actively destroying his own people. The United States has played the diplomatic games with this madman long enough, yet fully realizes that we have no optimal military option.

Given that you have it with in your power as a nation to change the nature of NK, and that you clearly are using NK as a threatening buffer state, I see no reason to remain diplomatically engaged with the buffer state puppet – Kim Jong Il. I think we will deal with your nation alone.

With that in mind, I offer the following ultimatum. You will immediately begin the process of forcing regime change in NK. The best solution would be for you to begin the process of reunification, but I would be happy to hear other alternatives.

If you fail to begin this process, I will use all my administrative powers, and lobby Congress to use its powers to shut down all trade with China until such regime change is effected.


President Obama (or his successor)

Why shouldn’t we use trade as weapon in this situation? Aside from hurting Walmart’s stock price for a few quarters and losing a few transportation jobs in the interim, why can’t we do this? Discuss.

“Chesterton’s Warning”

It sounds like a preoccupation of the exotic fringe to most of us now, but nine decades ago eugenics was openly advocated as a mainstream Progressive idea. Indeed, the most certifiably advanced minds of the day promoted and celebrated it. In 1923, former President Charles W. Eliot of Harvard, U.S. Senator Royal Copeland of New York, former President David Starr Jordan of Indiana and Stanford Universities, President Livingston Farrand of Cornell University, and a host of other educational, medical and social-welfare luminaries making up the Eugenics Committee of the United States came forth with a program calling for “selective immigration, sterilization of defectives and control of everything having to do with the reproduction of human beings.” In 1932, Margaret Sanger, founder of the organization that would eventually become Planned Parenthood, advocated “a stern and rigid policy of sterilization and segregation to that grade of population whose progeny is already tainted or whose inheritance is such that objectionable traits may be transmitted to offspring.” Nor was support restricted to a secularist avant-garde. As Christine Rosen has shown, many American Christian and Jewish religious leaders, including even some Roman Catholics, were fully supportive of eugenic ideas and policies. It was no fringe phenomenon.1

Wilfred M. McClay, The American Interest.

(1) RESTREPO Monday, 11/29/10 at 9PM ET/PT; (2) Maj.Gen. Scales on Small Unit Dominance

This is the television premier of this extraordinarily film. I wrote about seeing this filmhere.

Restrepo chronicles the deployment of a platoon of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley. The movie focuses on a remote 15-man outpost, Restrepo, named after a platoon medic who was killed in action. It was considered one of the most dangerous postings in the U.S. military. This is an entirely experiential film: The cameras never leave the valley; there are no interviews with generals or diplomats. The only goal is to make viewers feel as if they have just been through a 94-minute deployment. This is war, full stop. The conclusions are up to you.

I highly recommend this film to all of our readers.

An information page for Restrepo is here, including video.

On a related note, I also highly recommend this article entitled Small Unit Dominance: The Strategic Importance of Tactical Reform, by Maj.Gen. Robert H. Scales.

Slightly more than 40 years ago my unit was butchered by elements from the North Vietnamese 29th Regiment at a mountaintop firebase overlooking the A Shau Valley. Nineteen of my 55 soldiers were killed or wounded severely enough to warrant evacuation. The loss was mainly my fault. I wasn’t new at the job. This was my fourth command so I thought I knew what I was doing. A much smarter and better trained and equipped enemy taught me that I did not.
The event made me promise that I would never go to war again No. 2 in a two-sided contest. It also burned into the depths of my soul several questions that have lingered and festered ever since. I asked why the most technologically advanced country on the planet was unable to make better weapons and equipment than the enemy. I asked why my soldiers were so poorly prepared physically, intellectually and emotionally for this fight. I asked why my experience as a combat leader could be gained only by spilling their blood.

Maj.Gen. Scales goes on to say:

In July, I watched the Afghanistan war documentary “Restrepo” play out on the screen and compared it to my experience decades ago: same type of unit (airborne light infantry), same lousy rifle (M16/M4), same helicopter (CH-47), same machine gun (M2), same young men trying to deal with the fear of violent death. Seared in my brain is the image of a young soldier at Fire Base Restrepo hacking away at hard clay and granite trying frantically to dig a fighting position. The U.S. is spending more than $300 billion on a new fighter plane. We haven’t lost a fighter pilot to enemy action since 1972. Why after nine years of war can’t we give a close-combat soldier a better way to dig a hole? For that matter, why do soldiers exiting fire bases not have some means of looking over the next hill? Why doesn’t every soldier have his own means to talk to his comrades by radio? Why can’t soldiers on a remote fire base detect an approaching enemy using sensors? Why can’t soldiers rely on robots to carry heavy loads and accomplish particularly dangerous tasks? I could go on, but you get the point.

Why indeed. I was struck by the same questions. Much of the American arsenal verges on science fiction. But what you see in Restrepo would be familiar to soldiers from 50 or more years ago. In fact, an infantry platoon from 1918 would be very roughly like one of platoon depicted in Restrepo, while an airplane from that era is from an entirely different universe from the aircraft of today.

Air and sea dominance have served us well, though the cost of maintaining them seems to be snowballing out of control. Nonetheless, with the USA fighting land wars against committed opponents we need to spend effort on gaining an edge in that domain as well. Our enemies drag us down to their level, where their numbers and home-field advantage are most telling, when we engage in this type of labor-intensive combat. We cannot match their numbers, and skill and training alone will not prevail over those numbers. Additional tools beyond what they can match may make the difference. Having a Buck Rogers aircraft overhead, while hacking out a hole with a shovel in the hard earth below, shows a misdirection of resources.

(h/t to Adam Elkus for this article.)

Recent Reading: Black on Red, by Robert Robinson

In 1930, Robert Robinson–a black toolmaker working for the Ford Motor Company in Detroit–accepted a one-year assignment to apply his skills in the Soviet Union. He didn’t get out until 1974. His first renewals of his Soviet residency were voluntary; his later residency there, not so much.

Robinson gives a detailed account of day-to-day life in the Soviet Union and of the attitudes he encountered toward blacks and Americans; he also comments on the postwar rise of anti-Semitism. His book gives a good feel for what it must be like to live in an environment where everything you can do is entirely dependent on the government. He describes, for example, the joy of the peasants when Malenkov briefly replaced Stalin and it was announced that “all peasants are free to sell to sell their personally grown agricultural products in the free market.”

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From the Pen of William Seward: One More Thanksgiving Message

This is the proclamation which set the precedent for America’s national day of Thanksgiving. During his administration, President Lincoln issued many orders similar to this. For example, on November 28, 1861, he ordered government departments closed for a local day of thanksgiving.


Sarah Josepha Hale, a 74-year-old magazine editor, wrote a letter to Lincoln on September 28, 1863, urging him to have the “day of our annual Thanksgiving made a National and fixed Union Festival.” She explained, “You may have observed that, for some years past, there has been an increasing interest felt in our land to have the Thanksgiving held on the same day, in all the States; it now needs National recognition and authoritive fixation, only, to become permanently, an American custom and institution.”


Prior to this, each state scheduled its own Thanksgiving holiday at different times, mainly in New England and other Northern states. President Lincoln responded to Mrs. Hale’s request immediately, unlike several of his predecessors, who ignored her petitions altogether. In her letter to Lincoln she mentioned that she had been advocating a national thanksgiving date for 15 years as the editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book.


The document below sets apart the last Thursday of November “as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise.” According to an April 1, 1864, letter from John Nicolay, one of President Lincoln’s secretaries, this document was written by Secretary of State William Seward, and the original was in his handwriting. On October 3, 1863, fellow Cabinet member Gideon Welles recorded in his diary how he complimented Seward on his work. A year later the manuscript was sold to benefit Union troops.


By the President of the United States of America.


A Proclamation.


The year that is drawing toward its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of almighty God.


In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign states to invite and provoke their aggressions, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere, except in the theater of military conflict; while that theater has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union.


Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defense have not arrested the plow, the shuttle, or the ship; the ax has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege, and the battlefield, and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.


No human counsel hath devised, nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the most high God, who while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.


It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American people. I do, therefore, invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens. And I recommend to them that, while offering up the ascriptions justly due to him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation, and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity, and union.


In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United Stated States to be affixed.


Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the Unites States the Eighty-eighth.


By the President: Abraham Lincoln


William H. Seward,

Secretary of State

It Works Until It Doesn’t

The Euro came into being in 2002, replacing many national European currencies with a common currency. There are 16 members, with the largest economies being the Germans, French, Netherlands, Italy and Spain. The launch of the Euro was done successfully and it brought down transaction costs and financing costs across the Euro area, and was part of a broader movement of labor and services across the region (not as simple as the currency conversion, however).

The Euro was originally at around 80 cents to the dollar; it has gone as high as $1.50 to 1 USD and currently ranges around $1.30 – $1.40. This appreciation has been significant, caused both by policies that weakened the USD and strengthened the Euro.

While the Euro has been a successful currency and has brought benefits to the region’s economies, particularly the weakest economies (like Greece, Spain, Italy, Ireland, and Portugal, the “PIIGS”), recently the region has had difficulty with high budget deficits and the specter of outright default in these weaker countries.

While all parties benefit from having the Euro, some parties benefit more than others, and are “free riders” – particularly the weak Mediterranean countries that would never have such low financing costs and ability to easily raise funds in the bond markets without the implicit backstop of the German, French and Dutch treasuries.

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Giving Thanks

For my Family

For my Home, my Country. A wonderful experiment in self-governance that, despite deep difficulties and irregularities, remains a dream-beacon.

For the Brave: Project Valour-IT.

For Beauty and for Books and for Art:

How delightful it would be to be a governess! To go out into the world; to enter upon a new life; to act for myself; to excercise my unused faculties, to try my unknown powers; to earn my own maintenance, and something to comfort and help my father, mother, and sister, besides exonerating them from the provision of my food and clothing; to show papa what his little Agnes could do; to convince mamma and Mary that I was not quite the helpless, thoughtless being they supposed.

Agnes Grey, Anne Bronte.

My copy of the Bronte book has a cover painting of great quietness, symmetry and mystery: Interior, by Vilhelm Hammershoi.

As long as we are discussing art, the flickr page for iPad created art is here. This wonderful experiment in self-governance frees us to create more and more and more. All hail the creators!

For Humor:

In “Whiter Shades of Pale,” Mr. Lander’s targets are more far-flung, and it’s a treat to watch him take aim. He takes note of the industries, in addition to classical music, that survive solely on white guilt: “Penguin Classics, the S.P.C.A., free-range chicken farms, and the entire rubber bracelet market.” About the chef Anthony Bourdain’s TV show — during which Mr. Bourdain eats arcane dishes and complains about tourists — the author writes, “There hasn’t been a show this reaffirming to white people since ‘Seinfeld.’ ”

New York Times books page

Yes, I am aware that I linked a Penguin Classics book above. That’s humor, too :). (Plus, I really love the books.) And for those not familiar with Mr. Lander’s brand of satire, he is making gentle fun of a certain mindset and attitudes, not race.

For Friends. Be well.

Happy Thanksgiving!


A distinctly North American holiday, Thanksgiving is probably the closest thing to a celebration of philosophical thought that you will find. Tabulate your blessings, give thanks for them whether big or small, and consider where you would be without them.

I hope this is a joyous day for you. If not, then at least remember that it could be much worse.


(Cross posted at Hell in a Handbasket.)

The Mayflower Compact

Mayflower Compact

In the name of God, Amen. We whose names are underwritten, the loyal subjects of our dread Sovereign Lord King James, by the Grace of God of Great Britain, France and Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith, etc.
Having undertaken, for the Glory of God and advancement of the Christian Faith and Honour of our King and Country, a Voyage to plant the First Colony in the Northern Parts of Virginia, do by these presents solemnly and mutually in the presence of God and one of another, Covenant and Combine ourselves together into a Civil Body Politic, for our better ordering and preservation and furtherance of the ends aforesaid; and by virtue hereof to enact, constitute and frame such just and equal Laws, Ordinances, Acts, Constitutions and Offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the Colony, unto which we promise all due submission and obedience.
In witness whereof we have hereunder subscribed our names at Cape Cod, the 11th of November, in the year of the reign of our Sovereign Lord King James, of England, France and Ireland the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth. Anno Domini 1620

May God bless all our ChicagoBoyz and -Girlz, our families, our readers and their families, our friends and our enemies (turn their hearts to righteousness, O Lord!), and an extra slice of God’s love to everyone cannot be with their family on Thanksgiving, or has no family to go to, and is noshing at home, or is on duty on land or sea, or is stuck somewhere, and may be noodling on the computer and see this … .

May God grant safe travels and happy reunions and kindness and all good things, great and small, including but not limited to turkeys not being overcooked, and the gravy coming out correctly, and nothing burnt, and everything on the table on schedule and looking and tasting good, and many willing and cheerful hands making light work of the cleanup afterward, and a nice walk in the dusk and the cold air after dinner.

Thank you Lord for this great country, still a “civil body politic” after almost 400 years, and thank you for all who took risks and made sacrifices to give us what we have. Please grant that we may we be worthy to keep it and preserve it and improve it and to pass it on even greater than it was given to us.

God bless America.

Thanksgiving and Temporal Bigotry

(Basically a run of an earlier post)

Stuart Buck encountered a teacher who said “Kids learn so much these days. Did you know that today a schoolchild learns more between the freshman and senior years of high school than our grandparents learned in their entire lives?” (“She said this as if she had read it in some authoritative source”, Stuart comments.)

She probably had read it in some supposedly-authoritative source, but it’s an idiotic statement nevertheless. What, precisely, is this wonderful knowledge that high-school seniors have today and which the 40-year-olds of 1840 or 1900 were lacking?

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A Second Anecdote – The Drama of the Apathetic

The “pursuit of happiness” isn’t mindless partying – at which my students are experts – but a life of productivity and energy, of fulfilling the potentials of the talents with which each is entrusted, as the Biblical parable goes. Does anyone think that the young man of the post below is fulfilling his potential? This is the right our society should give – to become not merely to be.

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Another Anecdote from the Classroom: Reading & Its Perspective

I set my students a minor task in rhetoric & comp: definition, narrated example. The terms were gendercide, feminization of American culture, and democide. When I defined them in a general way, my students posited reasons men drop out. One girl said they were lazy; another argued they were stupid. I looked at the boys; no argument there. What’s happening, I thought. Then, as they discussed organizational approaches, one said his topic was gendercide in Bosnia. I was surprised – most were looking at India and China.

The paper proved problematic. The most obvious flaw was the length of an interview with a woman in a refugee camp – the block quote took up most of his paper. A woman was interviewed who described the destruction of her village: the boys and men separated from women and children. Then, the women heard gunfire. The young boys came running, telling them “it was finished.” The women were ordered off to Albania. Spotty gunfire continued. The women were threatened; they started on their trek. The incident, of course, was representative not only of tragedies of that place and time, but eternal ones in war zones. At the end of America’s first war, King Philip was executed, his children and wife sold into slavery. But we don’t need much historical knowledge to recognize the pattern.

My student’s belief was that this described a society that wanted to rid itself of women and children so it could have a stronger, more educated workforce. Indeed, he observes “in the past, women were emotionally murdered because of the male dominant workforce.” In a flourish at the conclusion, he says we are learning women are capable and perhaps one will become president, perhaps the best president we’ve had. Transitions were less his strong suit than mine – and mine are often tenuous. And, well, sure. A woman and mother of three daughters doesn’t think we belong at the back of the bus – nor under a veil.

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David Bowie, “The Man Who Sold the World” (Saturday Night Live, 1979, with Klaus Nomi and Joey Arias)

David Bowie & Klaus Nomi – The Man Who Sold The World from André Goldvasser on Vimeo.

This was a great rock’n’roll moment. Bowie’s appearance on SNL, doing this song as well as “Boys Keep Swinging” and “TVC15” was unlike anything anyone had seen before. I clearly remember seeing this show when it was, in fact, live. It was completely mindblowing.

Bowie came to New York and sought out Klaus Nomi. Bowie brought in Arias for the SNL performance along with Nomi, because Arias and Nomi had a gig together dancing together in the window of Fiorucci. Bowie’s rigid suit was based on a similar get-up used by Dada poet Kurt Schwitters. Nomi, an eccentric and unique artist, sadly died from AIDS only a few years later. Jimmy Destri from Blondie is on the keyboards.

Bowie reignited his career with this appearance.

(If you go to this Bowie biography and search “Nomi” there are a few pages about this show which are available for free.)

Smart Phones and Medicine

Teledermoscopy enables rapid transmission of dermoscopic images via e-mail or specific web-application and studies have demonstrated a high, 91%, concordance between face-to-face diagnosis and remote diagnosis of such images. Further to this, telediagnosis of melanocytic skin neoplasms achieved a diagnostic accuracy of 83% versus the conventional histopathologic diagnosis. Mobile teledermoscopy is the combination of such approaches enabling transfer of images captured with cellular phones coupled with a pocket dermatoscope and preliminary studies have demonstrated the feasibility and potential of its use in triage of pigmented lesions. Such applications are of benefit to physicians in enabling easy storage of data for follow-up or referral of images for expert second opinion and may facilitate a “person-centered health system” for patients with numerous moles and pigmented skin lesions who could forward images for evaluation.

Semin Cutan Med Surg. 2009 Sep;28(3):203-5. Mobile teledermoscopy–melanoma diagnosis by one click?

More data just means more data. Someone – or some thing – has to interpret all of the information generated by new technologies. Too bad we are creating a health care system with all the responsiveness of a snail on downers.

Model that we are creating: A federal bureaucrat commissions a study, to be vetted by a centralized board, to be further vetted by a state panel, to be implemented by a local health care provider, and zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz….

Model real-life Millenials will someday use for medical diagnostics: “There’s an app for that.”

I’m exaggerating for effect so don’t get too hung up on the potential accuracy of the prediction. You get the point.

Yell at me in the comments or whatever.

What the Dickens? Symbolic details in Inspire issue 3

[ cross-posted from Zenpundit ]

It’s easily missed. It’s part of the “small print” that most small-format paperbacks carry on the copyright page:

The sale of this book without its cover is unauthorized. If you purchased this book without a cover, you should be aware that it was reported to the publisher as “unsold and destroyed.” Neither the author nor the publisher has received payment for the sale of this “stripped book.”

Here’s the picture that AQAP took of the copy of Dickens’ novel Great Expectations they inserted into one of their bombs recently – which they then published in issue 3 of their English language magazine Inspire:


And here’s the explanation that accompanies that photo, in a piece titled “The Objectives if Operation Hemorrhage” by their “Head of the Foreign Operations Team”:

This current battle fought by the West is not an isolated battle but is a continuation of a long history of aggression by the West against the Muslim world. In order to revive and bring back this history we listed the names of Reynald Krak and Diego Diaz as the recipients of the packages. We got the former name from Reynald de Chatillon, the lord of Krak des Chevaliers who was one of the worst and most treacherous of the Crusade’s leaders. He fell into captivity and Salahuddeen personally beheaded him. The name we used for the second package was derived from that of Don Diego Deza, the Inquisitor General of the Spanish Inquisition after the fall of Granada who along with the Spanish monarchy supervised the extermination and expulsion of the Muslim presence on the Iberian Peninsula employing the most horrific methods of torture and done in the name of God and the Church. Today we are facing a coalition of Crusaders and Zionists and we in al Qaeda of the Arabian Peninsula will never forget Palestine. How can we forget it when our motto is: “Here we start and in al-Aqsa we meet”? So we listed the address of the “Congregation Or Chadash”, a Gay and Lesbian synagogue on our one of our packages. The second package was sent to “Congregation B’nai Zion”. Both synagogues are in Chicago, Obama’s city.
We were very optimistic about the outcome of this operation. That is why we dropped into one of the boxes a novel titled, Great Expectations.

They may not have read the book or seen the movie, as Ibn Siqilli comments at the link above, but they do have long memories and/or a taste for history, and they are indeed sending signals with small details like the fictitious names of their addressees.


This is in line with one of the basic premises of Islamic thought: that the world we inhabit is a world of ayat or symbols (the singular is ayah, and the word is also used to refer to the verses of the Qur’an, each of which is viewed as a symbolic utterance). Here, for instance, is a passage from Fazlun Khalid’s paper, Islam and the Environment, from the website of Jordan’s Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought:

The Qur’an refers to creation or the natural world as the signs (ayat) of Allah, the Creator, and this is also the name given to the verses contained in the Qur’an. Ayat means signs, symbols or proofs of the divine. As the Qur’an is proof of Allah so likewise is His creation. The Qur’an also speaks of signs within the self and as Nasr explains, “… when Muslim sages referred to the cosmic or ontological Qur’an … they saw upon the face of every creature letters and words from the cosmic Qur’an … they remained fully aware of the fact that the Qur’an refers to phenomena of nature and events within the soul of man as ayat … for them forms of nature were literally ayat Allah”. As the Qur’an says, “there are certainly signs (ayat) in the earth for people with certainty; and in yourselves. Do you not then see?” (Adh-Dhariat, 51:20, 21).


BTW, I don’t think Penguin (or, for that matter, Charles Dickens) got paid for that book… whatever their expectations may have been.