I’ve been spending a lot of time studying all kinds of things on the Middle East recently because I believe the human rights violations committed by extremist religious states are dire. It’s almost impossible to pick out a region of the world these days–or a continent–where religious extremists aren’t committing atrocities and removing the rights of others.
I want to start with ISIS. ISIS is a radical Sunni Jihadist group that is tearing through parts of Iraq and Syria. They are destroying historical sites, villages, homes, and competing religions in an attempt to create a homeland for radical Sunnis. They have recently attacked the Yazidis and the Kurds. Yazidis are a hybrid of various traditions of Islam–primarily of the Sufi school–and Zoroastrianism. There are hundreds of thousands of displaced citizens due to recent ISIS aggression into the region.
A humanitarian crisis that could turn into a genocide is taking place right now in the mountains of northwestern Iraq. It hasn’t made the front page, because the place and the people are obscure, and there’s a lot of other horrible news to compete with. I’ve learned about it mainly because the crisis has upended the life of someone I wrote about in the magazine several weeks ago.
Last Sunday, Karim woke up around 7:30 A.M., after coming home late the night before. He was about to have breakfast when his phone rang—a friend was calling to see how he was doing. Karim is a Yazidi, a member of an ancient religious minority in Iraq. Ethnically, he’s Kurdish. An engineer and a father of three young children, Karim spent years working for the U.S. Army in his area, then for an American medical charity. He’s been waiting for months to find out whether the U.S. government will grant him a Special Immigrant Visa because of his service, and because of the danger he currently faces.
Karim is from a small town north of the district center, Sinjar, between Mosul and the Syrian border. Sinjar is a historic Yazidi area with an Arab minority. Depending on who’s drawing the map, Sinjar belongs to either the northernmost part of Iraq or the westernmost part of Kurdistan. Since June, when extremist fighters from the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham captured Mosul, they’ve been on the outskirts of Sinjar, facing off against a small number of Kurdish peshmerga militiamen. ISIS regards Yazidis as devil worshippers, and its fighters have been executing Yazidi men who won’t convert to Islam on the spot, taking away the women as jihadi brides. So there were many reasons why a friend might worry about Karim.
“I don’t know,” Karim said. “My situation is O.K.” “No, it’s not O.K.!” his friend said. “Sinjar is under the control of ISIS.”
Karim had not yet heard this calamitous news. “I’ll call some friends and get back to you,” he said.
But the cell network was jammed, so Karim walked to his father’s house. His father told him that thousands of people from Sinjar were headed their way, fleeing north through the mountains to get out of Iraq and into Kurdistan. It suddenly became clear that Karim would have to abandon his home and escape with his family.
ISIS had launched its attack on Sinjar during the night. Peshmerga militiamen were outgunned—their assault rifles against the extremists’ captured fifty-caliber guns, rocket-propelled grenades, mortars, anti-aircraft weapons, and armored vehicles. The Kurds began to run out of ammunition, and those who could retreated north toward Kurdistan. By dawn, the extremists were pouring into town. Later, ISIS posted triumphant photos on Twitter: bullet-riddled corpses of peshmerga in the streets and dirt fields; an ISIS fighter aiming his pistol at the heads of five men lying face down on the ground; Arab locals who stayed in Sinjar jubilantly greeting the new occupiers.
Karim had time to do just one thing: burn all the documents that connected him to America—photos of him posing with Army officers, a CD from the medical charity—in case he was stopped on the road by militants or his house was searched. He watched the record of his experience during the period of the Americans in Iraq turn to ash, and felt nothing except the urge to get to safety.
The Yezidi are now a diaspora trapped on a mountainside. They practice some of the oldest religious traditions mankind invented and many of their practices and myths found their way to much younger traditions like Christianity.
They are scared of lettuce. They abhor pumpkins. They practise maybe the oldest religion in the world. And now, after at least 6,000 years, they are finally being exterminated, even as I write this.
If you haven’t noticed this epochal crime – the raping and the slaughter – you’re not alone. Of late, the world has focused on the horrors of Gaza. When we’ve had time to acknowledge the Satanic cruelties of Isis, in Iraq, we’ve looked to the barbaric treatment of women, and Christians. Yet the genocide of the Yezidi, by Isis, is as evil as anything going on right now in the Middle East; it is also uniquely destructive of a remarkable cultural survival.
So who are the Yezidi? Some years ago I studied them when researching a thriller. I also traveled to meet their small diaspora community, in Celle, north Germany. And what I found was astonishing.
Yezidism is much older than Islam, and much older than Christianity. It is also deeply peculiar. The Yezidi honour sacred trees. Women must not cut their hair. Marriage is forbidden in April. They avoid wearing dark blue because it is “too holy”.
They are divided strictly into castes, who cannot marry each other. The upper castes are polygamous. Anyone of the faith who marries a non-Yezidi risks ostracism, or worse. Yezidism is syncretistic: it combines elements of many faiths. Like Hindus, they believe in reincarnation. Like ancient Mithraists, they sacrifice bulls. They practise baptism, like Christians. When they pray, they face the sun – like Zoroastrians. There are also strong links with Sufism, the mystical branch of Islam.
Then there is the devil worship: arguably, the Yezidi worship what Christians or Muslims might call “Satan”, though the Yezidi call him “Melek Taus”, and he appears in the form of a peacock angel.
Why might Melek Taus be “the devil”? For a start, the Yezidi believe the peacock angel led a rebellion in heaven: clearly echoing the story of Lucifer, cast into Hell by the Christian God. Also, the very word “Melek” is cognate with “Moloch”, the name of a Biblical demon – who demanded human sacrifice.
The avian imagery of Melek Taus likewise indicates a demonic aspect. The Yezidi come from the ancient lands of Sumeria and Assyria, in modern-day Turkey, Iraq and Kurdistan. Sumerian gods were often cruel, and equipped with beaks and wings. Birdlike. Three thousand years ago the Assyrians worshipped flying demons, spirits of the desert wind. One was the scaly-winged demon in The Exorcist: Pazuzu.
The Yezidi reverence for birds – and snakes – also appears to be extremely old. Excavations at ancient Catalhoyuk, in Turkey, show that the people there revered bird-gods as long ago as 7000BC. Even older is Gobekli Tepe, a megalithic site near Sanliurfa, in Kurdish Turkey (Sanliurfa was once a stronghold of Yezidism). The extraordinary temple of Gobekli Tepe boasts carvings of winged birdmen, and images of buzzards and serpents.
Taking all this evidence into account, a fair guess is that Yezidism is a vastly ancient form of bird-worship, that could date back 6,000 years or more. If this is right, it means that Yezidism is therefore the Ur-religion, the mother ship of Middle Eastern faiths, and it is us who have incorporated Yezidi myths and beliefs into our religions, of Christianity and Islam and Judaism.
ISIS is literally exterminating all those individuals of rival religions. It is destroying their places of worship and any historical artifacts related to their existence.
The Yezidi religion is part of the Kurdish identity. Iraqi Kurdistan’s flag eschews the crescent moon so common on the flags of Islamic countries and opts for fire imagery from the Yezidi religion instead. Many years ago I interviewed the president of Duhok University in Iraq Kurdistan and he seemed to speak for the majority when he professed his affection for these people and their ancient religion. “I am a Muslim,” he told me. “But I love the Yezidis. Theirs is the original religion of the Kurds. Only through the Yezidis can I speak to God in my own language.”
Sinjar is a Kurdish town, but it’s in Nineveh province outside the Kurdish autonomous region. The armed Kurdish Peshmerga forces operating there ran out of ammunition and had little choice but to retreat in the wake of the ISIS assault. Tens of thousands of civilians fled the area and are stranded atop a remote mountain without food, water, or shelter.
Eight years ago I visited the Yezidi “Mecca” in Lalish, Iraq, inside the Kurdish autonomous region a ways south of Duhok. This is where the Yezidis believe the universe was born. Eternal flames burn forever in little shrines. Baba Sheik, their leader, showed me around and took me into their temple.
“All people in the world should be brothers,” he said. “You are welcome here for the rest of your life.”
Meanwhile, we continue to witness the effects of the latest Israeli attack on Gaza. This includes reactions that may surprise you. Universities are supposed to grant professors academic freedom to express unpopular ideas. It’s a hallmark of a free country and an open learning environment. Today, an Arab American professor has lost his job due to his open support of the Palestinian cause on Twitter. I’m going to refer you to the blog of Corey Robin.
Until two weeks ago, Steven Salaita was heading to a job at the University of Illinois as a professor of American Indian Studies. He had already resigned from his position at Virginia Tech; everything seemed sewn up. Now the chancellor of the University of Illinois has overturned Salaita’s appointment and rescinded the offer. Because of Israel.
The sources familiar with the university’s decision say that concern grew over the tone of his comments on Twitter about Israel’s policies in Gaza….
For instance, there is this tweet: “At this point, if Netanyahu appeared on TV with a necklace made from the teeth of Palestinian children, would anybody be surprised? #Gaza.” Or this one: “By eagerly conflating Jewishness and Israel, Zionists are partly responsible when people say antisemitic shit in response to Israeli terror.” Or this one: “Zionists, take responsibility: if your dream of an ethnocratic Israel is worth the murder of children, just fucking own it already.”
In recent weeks, bloggers and others have started to draw attention to Salaita’s comments on Twitter. But as recently as July 22 (before the job offer was revoked), a university spokeswoman defended Salaita’s comments on Twitter and elsewhere. A spokeswoman told The News-Gazette for an article about Salaita that “faculty have a wide range of scholarly and political views, and we recognize the freedom-of-speech rights of all of our employees.”
I’ve written about a number of these types of cases over the past few years, but few have touched me the way this one has.
It’s unbelievable to me that the University of Illinois could be quite so blind to the principles of academic freedom. This is a principle worth defending.
While Salaita has been until very recently very active on Twitter, he stopped posting several days ago, which is unusual for him. He is an active writer beyond Twitter, with op-eds (which of late have identified him as an Illinois professor) and with campaigns on behalf of the movement to organize an academic boycott of Israel. He has also published scholarly books, including Israel’s Dead Soul (Temple University Press) and Arab American Literary Fictions, Cultures, and Politics (Palgrave Macmillan).
Salaita’s writing last year, while at Virginia Tech, drew fierce attacks (including death threats). In a piece in Salon, he questioned the idea that people should be asked in various ways to “support the troops.”
“ ‘Support the troops’ is the most overused platitude in the United States, but still the most effective for anybody who seeks interpersonal or economic ingratiation,” Salaita wrote. “The platitude abounds with significance but lacks the burdens of substance and specificity. It says something apparently apolitical while patrolling for heresy to an inelastic logic. Its only concrete function is to situate users into normative spaces.”
While Virginia Tech did not fire him (as many critics urged it to do), some faculty members thought the university — in pointing out that his views didn’t reflect those of the institution — didn’t do enough to defend his academic freedom.
Some who have raised questions about Salaita at Illinois have stressed that they are focused on what they see as incivility and bigotry, not opposition to Israeli or American policies.
We’re going to have to see what I come up with today because I openly admit to being extremely tired. We’ve had all this rain recently and it’s dark and gloomy all the time. Yesterday, it was so hard and heavy that the French Quarter flooded. So, here are a few things to consider before I head back to bed for awhile.
The Boston Globe features an article arguing that Southern Blacks and Hispanics will eventually trump angry, resentful, and backward white Republican voters in the South. If only. The analysis is by Bob Moser. The demographics have to be playing into white backlash which make the South the epicenter of voter suppression laws but it’s also a place where voter turnout is highly irregular.
The question is whether Democrats in these states are better served by following the region’s five-decade-long drift toward the GOP — or by betting that the climate is finally changing in their favor.
It’s a sign of things to come in states like North Carolina, where large influxes of Latino immigrants and “relocated Yankees,” both black and white, are tilting the demographic balance toward the Democrats and inspiring a new progressive movement. But despite Obama’s own surprising Southern breakthroughs — after Al Gore and John Kerry lost the entire region, he won three large Southern states in 2008 and two in 2012, falling just short in North Carolina — the region’s blue future is still a long-term proposition. Candidates like Hagan are stuck between the past, when Southern Democrats’ recipe for victory involved courting white moderates and conservatives, and a future in which they’ll be able to successfully campaign as full-throated, national-style Democrats. To win, Hagan and her compatriots must simultaneously woo independent-minded whites while persuading massive numbers of young voters and nonwhites, who lean left on both economic and social issues, to join them.
It’s an awkward proposition, to be sure. But the Democratic contenders have appeared hell-bent on making it look downright impossible.
In a poll by Landmark Communications released Sunday, Democrat Michelle Nunn has a commanding lead against both of her potential challengers in Georgia’s US Senate race. Against Rep. Jack Kingston (R-GA) Nunn is up by eight points, 49% to 41%. The poll also shows her with a nice lead against businessman David Perdue as Nunn leads him 48% to 42%. Perdue and Kingston are heading into a GOP primary runoff this coming Tuesday. The survey shows Kingston with a sizable lead as he is ahead by seven points, 48% to 41%.
While Nunn holds leads against both men, the thought is that she’d prefer to face Kingston in the general election. Atlanta-based political analyst Bill Crane had the following to say after this poll was released.
“I think Michelle Nunn would prefer to run against Jack Kingston. Twenty-two year incumbent, PAC money, special interest, her preferred race is the race that I think she’s going to get.”
Nunn taking the Georgia Senate seat would put a huge crimp in the plans of Republicans who feel they can take over the US Senate this November. Currently, the GOP needs to net six seats in the midterm to become the majority party in the Upper Chamber. Losing a Senate seat in a deep-red state that was previously held by a Republican will almost certainly prevent Republicans from taking over the Senate. While it is nearly a given that Democrats will lose seats this November, it is looking more and more promising that they will be able to retain control of the Senate.
There’s all kinds of things happening that have caused me to pull the blankets over my head. The horrors in the Gaza strip, the ongoing downed Malaysian jet catastrophe, and the week long visit of the Army of God to our city. They’re all over our women’s health clinics and they are creepy as creepy gets. Russia’s hand prints are all over the downed commercial airliner. Militants weirdly suggested that the people on the plane were all dead before the plane took off. WTF kind of craziness is this?
In a briefing at the Pentagon on Friday, Rear Admiral John Kirby told reporters that it “strains credulity” to think pro-Russian separatists believed to have shot down MH17 didn’t have at least some help from Moscow. Kirby said the Buk is a “sophisticated piece of technology” that would likely require technical assistance from Russia.
Indeed, Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove said in June the U.S. military’s intelligence was that rebels were being trained in tanks and anti-aircraft capability across the border, before heading back into eastern Ukraine to put it into practice.
According to IHS Jane’s Defense, a resource for intelligence and defense analysis, operating a Buk requires a trained crew. While the government of Ukraine also has Buk missile systems, Jane’s notes that the Ukrainian military has none of the systems in the region near the MH17 crash, as they were overtaken by pro-Russian separatists.
“The system is not a simple system to use. You need at least four to six months of training and ongoing training to operate it,” Ronald Bishop, a former U.S. Air Force missile expert, told Australia’s Warwick Daily News. “To fire this system you need to have highly-specialized military training.”
It finally looks like Europe is getting fed up with Russia and their cronies. The response comes because of the careless treatments of the remains of the victims of the missile attack.
Investigators are still far from an official judgment of what brought down a Malaysia Airlines flight in eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 passengers and crew onboard. But the global court of public opinion, the verdict appears to be rendered.
Vladimir Putin is guilty.
The Russian President could once claim a semblance of a role as a global statesmen. But with the downing of a commercial airliner by what U.S. and Ukrainian officials suggest were pro-Moscow rebels using a missile supplied by Russia, Putin was facing a very personal barrage of worldwide condemnation that threatened to result in further sanctions on Russia if it did not rapidly change course in Ukraine.
Australia raised the prospect of banning Putin from a G-20 meeting of the world’s most powerful nations in November if he did not exert more pressure on the rebels who left corpses strewn on the ground for days,contaminated the crash site, and hampered an international investigation. Britain, meanwhile, openly accused the Russian leader of sponsoring “terrorism.” U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry, appearing on multiple political talk shows Sunday, called this a “moment of truth” for Russia.
Particularly in Europe – a continent long leery of going too far to pressure Moscow over its support of separatists in Ukraine – initial shock was quickly gathering into outrage and action.
On Sunday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President François Hollande and British Prime Minister David Cameron held a joint phone call on Russia. A Downing Street spokesman said the three leaders agreed that the European Union “must reconsider its approach to Russia and that foreign ministers should be ready to impose further sanctions on Russia when they meet on Tuesday.”
John Kerry gave Fox News a perfect opener during an appearance on Sunday. Fox is about as neocon as you can get and they love it when Israel goes on any killing spree. Kerry’s oops moment is interesting. It’s hard to believe some one as skilled in politics as Kerry didn’t assume a hot mike and inquiring minds.
In an unusual moment during “Fox News Sunday,” host Chris Wallace presented Secretary of State John Kerry with video recorded before he came on air.
Wallace introduced the segment as being in reference to civilians killed in fighting in the Gaza Strip. “While you were on camera and while on microphone,” Wallace said, “you spoke to one of your top aides between the interviews about the situation in Israel.” He then played what the network had recorded. In the clip, Kerry is holding a cellphone conversation with someone. The person on the other end of the call isn’t identified, and the audio from the other participant is staticky.
Kerry’s comments are clear. “It’s a hell of a pinpoint operation,” he says, then repeats it. “It’s a hell of a pinpoint operation.” It’s an apparent reference to Israel’s insistence that its incursion into the region would be limited. “It’s escalating significantly,” the person on the phone replies, and Kerry then says: “We’ve got to get over there. I think we ought to go tonight.” He then calls it “crazy” to be “sitting around.”
“When you said it’s a hell of a pinpoint operation,” Wallace asked, are you “upset that the Israelis are going too far?”
“It’s very difficult in these situations,” Kerry said, repeating that the United States supports Israel’s right to defend itself. He then explained his comments by saying, “I reacted, obviously, in a way that anybody does in respect to young children and civilians.”
I’m getting really tired of every one fellating Bibi. He’s got to be high up there on the War Criminals list now and it’s about time we pressure Israel for a regime change. To hate Bibi is not to hate Jewish people. It’s to abhor genocide. I just really have gotten to the point where I hate religion altogether and the Abrahamic brands are just about the worst of it all. It’s just evil. Here’s the resident evil religious whackos plaguing New Orleans for the week. I’m probably going to go do some clinic escorting midweek.
A week of planned anti-abortion protests in the New Orleans area began Saturday morning (July 19) with about 55 people affiliated with Operation Save America gathered at the Causeway Medical Clinic in Metairie.
Shortly after, 40 picketed a private home in Carrollton, some holding posters with graphic images of aborted fetuses. Organizer Rusty Thomas of Waco, Texas, said activists are still arriving and other demonstrations are planned for coming days.
The organization said it was encouraged by anew Louisiana law that opponents say will likely shut down three of the five clinics in the state that perform abortions. The law, which supporters say is aimed at improving patient safety, goes into effect Sept. 1.
Richard Fegan of Mandeville, outside the Metairie location, said, “We’re trying to shut the place down because God gives life and God takes life … this place is trying to be God.”
Planned Parenthood said the protests are sparked by the organization’s upcoming new facility on South Claiborne Avenue in New Orleans. No one was gathered at the construction site Saturday morning.
“Planned Parenthood’s focus is the health and safety of women, men and families in Louisiana,” said Melissa Flournoy, state director of Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, in a statement. “These extremist organizations are trying to stop a new health center from serving this community, but in the end they’re only helping us build more support.”
It’s just hard to know what to do with people that just want to inflict their view of the world on the rest of us. What is with all this craziness? It’s like we’ve not gotten much farther than when we crawled out of the caves. At least back then, we could only do limited damage.
Anyway, naptime is calling my name folks! What’s on your reading and blogging list today?
Can you believe it is December 1st? Honestly, I can’t.
What an exhausting year this has been, to think it is almost over.
Anyway, here are your reads for this morning, Israeli Arabs, Palestinians protest plan to relocate Bedouins.
Thousands of Arab citizens of Israel and Palestinians in East Jerusalem and the West Bank demonstrated Saturday against an Israeli government plan that in some cases would relocate Bedouins from traditional lands in the Negev desert to urban communities.
Some of the gatherings turned violent, with 28 protesters arrested and at least 15 police officers injured, one of them stabbed. Police fired stun grenades, tear gas and skunk water to disperse demonstrators.
The “Day of Rage” was called as the Israeli parliament was preparing to give final approval to what has become known as the Prawer Plan, named after an Israeli government official who wrote it.
Israeli officials say the plan was reached after extensive consultation with Bedouin leaders. It would provide recognition and previously denied services for some Bedouin communities that have been viewed by the Israelis as squatters on state land and relocate others while providing some compensation.
The controversial plan faces strong opposition from many Bedouins, who say it would in effect expropriate 200,000 acres of Arab land and forcibly relocate more than 40,000 Bedouins.
The protest have even spread to the UK: Day of Rage Rocks Israel, Spreads to UK.
U.S. airline officials say they are complying with new State Department guidance urging carriers to alert China before any flights pass through that country’s new self-declared air-defense zone.
Airline officials said Saturday that compliance would not disrupt travel to Asia, since they already communicate with any government when crossing through or over foreign territory.
In US politics: N. Georgia key battleground in Senate GOP primary
At the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains sits one of the most Republican congressional districts in the country that is home to Georgia’s governor, lieutenant governor and speaker of the House.
The 9th Congressional District and the nearby 14th district are considered the heart of the GOP in Georgia and will be key battlegrounds in a fiercely contested Republican primary next year for an open U.S. Senate seat, a race that will be watched nationally as Democrats look to thwart efforts by Republicans to take control of the Senate.
While not as populous or packed with deep-pocket donors as metro Atlanta, the two districts in north Georgia offer a strong and reliable base of fiscal and social conservatives and are largely up for grabs considering no major candidate has a direct link to the area.
Yeah this is my district, the Saxby Chambliss district….according to that article, 20 percent of the state’s Republican voters are in these districts.
All the top candidates have already made trips and are expected to keep visiting ahead of the May 20 primary. The voters are used to seeing their elected officials and are known for asking tough questions.
“They are a lot like Iowa caucus voters. They expect to see their candidates in the flesh,” said Lake, who recently left the Senate campaign of Rep. Phil Gingrey of Marietta, citing differences in opinion, and is no longer aligned with a candidate in the race.
A number of voters who attended a recent congressional hearing in the 9th district said they remain undecided. Besides Gingrey, the other major candidates are tea party favorite Rep. Paul Broun of Athens; Karen Handel, who has a statewide grassroots organization from her previous campaigns; fundraising leader Rep. Jack Kingston of Savannah; and David Perdue, cousin of former Gov. Sonny Perdue and past CEO of Dollar General and Reebok.
Ugh. More disgust at the link, with no possible chance of getting a decent representative in Washington D.C.
Another link on an asshole of another kind: Seattle Asshole Demands Employee Firing Over Bar’s Google Glass Policy
The most absolute awful thing about the story of Nick Starr is not that he exists, but that there are surely more people like him: the Seattle IT drone threw a Facebook fit when he was asked to take off his face-camera at a cafe. “I would love an explanation, apology, clarification…or her termination.”
Read the rant at the link above.
Here’s the logic: the ability to covertly take pictures of people and perhaps post them to Twitter—as Starr has done in the past—shall not be infringed upon. Any attempts to subvert this divine right will be attacked in kind. This is an ostensibly carbon-based life form arguing for garnished wages or a lost job because he couldn’t wear a face computer into a watering hole.
Those Google Glass things are over the top and cross the line…and that this asshole has taken pictures of people in the bathroom and put them online…geez what a dickhead.
Okay, two links about JFK:
In Wednesday’s Nova special on the JFK assassination, private investigator Josiah Thompson is an avuncular presence, repeatedly explaining what happened on Nov. 22, 50 years ago in Dallas.
But Thursday the author of Six Seconds in Dallas said he was “outraged,” calling the program “rigged.”
He wasn’t accusing “Cold Case: JFK” of faking or staging any tests, but said the program failed to fully examine acoustic evidence that suggests four shots were fired that day, because doing so might have derailed the show’s conclusion, that Lee Harvey Oswald was probably the only gunman.
Jack Ohman suggested “we see what we want to see” regarding the JFK assassination (“Kennedy slaying answers elude us”; Forum, Nov. 17). Marcos Breton blamed our skepticism on advancing age: “It’s the ultimate baby boomer fetish,” he scoffed (“Count me out of the JFK club”; Our Region, Nov. 17).
If you still think the Warren Report is an example of a trustworthy, paternal federal government here to help you, listen up.
Remember the auction of Classic Movie Memorabilia? If you are curious as to how much some of those items ended up going for, check it out here: Classic Movie Memorabilia
ICONIC MALTESE FALCON LEAD STATUETTE FROM THE 1941 FILM Sold for $4,085,000 At the TCM / Bonham’s Auction Nov 23,2013
Angela Lansbury is making a comeback. No, she is not dead. Hold Up–Angela Lansbury Is Returning To The Stage
In breaking entertainment news that is sure to get me 500 billion clicks today alone, Angela Lansbury is set to make her triumphant, beautiful return to the stage. After a more than 40 year absence from the London stage,
Jessica FletcherLansbury will star in a West End revival of Noel Coward’s play Blithe Spirit.
TCM has been showing some crappy movies lately, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang? Please. Hopefully they get back to the good stuff soon.
Anyway, this next article is interesting too, from BBC News – A visit to a hidden coca plantation
The Peruvian government says it is committed to eradicating the coca leaf, from which cocaine is made – but a walk in the jungle suggests that for cash-strapped farmers, it is not an easy choice.
I should probably have listened just a little more carefully when the farmer answered my question.
I had asked if she would show me where her hidden coca plantation was – and what she said was: “Yes, of course, but it will mean a bit of walking.”
Now, I like walking, I walk for pleasure. But what a Peruvian farmer means by a “bit of walking” turned out to be rather different from what I mean.
We were in the region known as the High Amazon. It is breathtakingly beautiful. Green, lush hillsides and steep wooded valleys, where the foothills of the Andes meet the Amazon jungle. Traditionally it has been one of the main production centres for Peruvian cocaine.
And from coke production to art history: Vermeer’s Secret Tool: Testing Whether The Artist Used Mirrors and Lenses to Create His Realistic Images | Vanity Fair
David Hockney and others have speculated—controversially—that a camera obscura could have helped the Dutch painter Vermeer achieve his photo-realistic effects in the 1600s. But no one understood exactly how such a device might actually have been used to paint masterpieces. An inventor in Texas—the subject of a new documentary by the magicians Penn & Teller—may have solved the riddle.
In the history of art, Johannes Vermeer is almost as mysterious and unfathomable as Shakespeare in literature, like a character in a novel. Accepted into his local Dutch painters’ guild in 1653, at age 21, with no recorded training as an apprentice, he promptly begins painting masterful, singular, uncannily realistic pictures of light-filled rooms and ethereal young women. After his death, at 43, he and his minuscule oeuvre slip into obscurity for two centuries. Then, just as photography is making highly realistic painting seem pointless, the photorealistic “Sphinx of Delft” is rediscovered and his pictures are suddenly deemed valuable. By the time of the first big American show of Vermeer paintings—at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in 1909—their value has increased another hundred times, by the 1920s ten times that.
Despite occasional speculation over the years that an optical device somehow enabled Vermeer to paint his pictures, the art-history establishment has remained adamant in its romantic conviction: maybe he was inspired somehow by lens-projected images, but his only exceptional tool for making art was his astounding eye, his otherworldly genius.
That is a long read…complete with videos.
Have a good day, and think of this as an open thread.
There’s a long article in the September 30 New Yorker by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Dexter Filkins about a powerful Iranian military leader named Qassem Suleimani. Sueimani is the Commander of the Quds Force. According to Wikipedia, the Quds Force is:
a special unit of Iran‘s Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution (Revolutionary Guard). It has been tasked with “exporting” Iran’s Islamic revolution, and is responsible for “extraterritorial operations” of the Revolutionary Guard.
Filkins describes the functions Quds Force as follows:
The force is the sharp instrument of Iranian foreign policy, roughly analogous to a combined C.I.A. and Special Forces; its name comes from the Persian word for Jerusalem, which its fighters have promised to liberate. Since 1979, its goal has been to subvert Iran’s enemies and extend the country’s influence across the Middle East. Shateri had spent much of his career abroad, first in Afghanistan and then in Iraq, where the Quds Force helped Shiite militias kill American soldiers.
I have to admit that I haven’t read the entire article yet, but yesterday I heard a fascinating interview of Dexter Filkins by Terry Gross on her NPR show Fresh Air. You can listen to the interview at the link. It lasts about 44 minutes. Filkins covered the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq for the New York Times beginning in 2002. In addition, he is the author of the book The Forever War. Based on what I heard in the Fresh Air interview, just about everything many Americans think we know about Iran, Iraq, Syria and Iran’s powerful influence in the Middle East is going to have to be revised and updated. Even Filkins was surprised by what he learned through his research and reporting in Iran.
Here’s what Filkins writes about Suleimani:
Suleimani took command of the Quds Force fifteen years ago, and in that time he has sought to reshape the Middle East in Iran’s favor, working as a power broker and as a military force: assassinating rivals, arming allies, and, for most of a decade, directing a network of militant groups that killed hundreds of Americans in Iraq. The U.S. Department of the Treasury has sanctioned Suleimani for his role in supporting the Assad regime, and for abetting terrorism. And yet he has remained mostly invisible to the outside world, even as he runs agents and directs operations. “Suleimani is the single most powerful operative in the Middle East today,” John Maguire, a former C.I.A. officer in Iraq, told me, “and no one’s ever heard of him.”
According to Filkins, through Suleimani’s influence, after the U.S. took down Saddam Hussein and everything went to hell in Iraq, Iran has basically controlled what went on there; and now Iran is a powerful influence in the Syrian conflict. Here’s the introduction to the Filkins interview from Fresh Air site. Meet The Iranian Commander Pulling Strings In Syria’s War:
Perhaps the most important military commander in Syria’s civil war is not Syrian at all. He’s Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Suleimani, and he’s the subject of an article by Dexter Filkins in the current edition of The New Yorker.
For the past 15 years, Suleimani has been the chief of the Quds Force, a small but powerful branch of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. He’s not a familiar name to Americans, but one former CIA officer described him to Filkins as “the single most powerful operative in the Middle East today.”
Filkins writes that Suleimani “has sought to reshape the Middle East in Iran’s favor, working as a power broker and as a military force: assassinating rivals, arming allies, and, for most of a decade, directing a network of militant groups that killed hundreds of Americans in Iraq. The U.S. Treasury Department has sanctioned Suleimani for his role in supporting the Assad regime, and for abetting terrorism.”
On Suleimani’s influence on the reshaping of the Middle East:
Qassem Suleimani — who is this extraordinarily powerful man behind the mask, very mysterious guy, very powerful guy — he was instrumental in 2010 in making sure that the Americans left no troops behind in Iraq. During the Iraq War, he supervised and directed militias which were responsible for hundreds of American deaths.
It appears, by the evidence, that the Iranians, and the Quds Force in particular, were behind the assassination of Rafik Hariri, the president of Lebanon, in 2005. Qassem Suleimani appears to be running or directing or at least playing a very large part in the war in Syria on behalf of the Assad government. So he’s everywhere, and, again, the Iranians have been extraordinarily aggressive over the past 15 years in asserting themselves in the Middle East, often at American expense.
Filkins also says that it’s clear the Iranians do want to develop nuclear weapons, and he doubts if the U.S. will be able to get them to agreed not to do it. The reason the Iranians are reaching out to the West right now is that the sanctions are really hurting them–basically the middle class in Iran has been decimated.
You can read more excerpts from the interview at the Fresh Air site. I plan to finish reading the Filkins article in the New Yorker today. I hope I’ve given you enough information to get you to read it too. I’m sure this article will be much discussed in the coming weeks.
Here’s Charles Pierce on the Filkins piece: The Limitless Bungling Of George W. Bush And Co.
Dexter Filkins has a long, fine piece in the September 30 New Yorker about one Qassam Suleimani, an Iranian who seems to be the Zelig of Middle East spookdom, and who is now currently working with the Assad government in Syria.
Since then, Suleimani has orchestrated attacks in places as far flung as Thailand, New Delhi, Lagos, and Nairobi-at least thirty attempts in the past two years alone. The most notorious was a scheme, in 2011, to hire a Mexican drug cartel to blow up the Saudi Ambassador to the United States as he sat down to eat at a restaurant a few miles from the White House. The cartel member approached by Suleimani’s agent turned out to be an informant for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. (The Quds Force appears to be more effective close to home, and a number of the remote plans have gone awry.) Still, after the plot collapsed, two former American officials told a congressional committee that Suleimani should be assassinated. “Suleimani travels a lot,” one said. “He is all over the place. Go get him. Either try to capture him or kill him.” In Iran, more than two hundred dignitaries signed an outraged letter in his defense; a social-media campaign proclaimed, “We are all Qassem Suleimani.”
If you want evidence behind your essential instinct that the tangle in that part of the world is beyond our ability ever to untangle, you’ve got it here. But there is one other little tidbit that’s worth bringing up, given the fact that some officials formerly in the employ of C-Plus Augustus — most notably, David Frum — have snuck into the national dialogue again, probably through an unguarded window, instead of going off and living a penitent’s existence for what they did to the country.
(To be entirely fair, according to Filkins, Suleimani was formed by his participation in the savage Iran-Iraq War in which the United States, employing the brilliant realpolitik of blood-beast Henry Kissinger, helped both sides, guaranteeing that nobody would trust us thereafter. Genius!)
In other news,
Hillary had a few choice words for the Republicans who are trying to shut down the government in order to defund The Affordable Care Act. From the WaPo: Hillary Clinton says government shutdown ‘wouldn’t be the worst thing for Democrats’:
Hillary Rodham Clinton said Tuesday that if a “noisy minority” of Republican lawmakers force a government shutdown over funding for President Obama’s signature health-care law, they would face negative political consequences.
“It wouldn’t be the worst thing for Democrats if they tried to shut the government down,” said Clinton, a former secretary of state and potential 2016 Democratic presidential candidate. “We’ve seen that movie before and it didn’t work out so well for those so-called obstructionists.”
Clinton was referencing the political harm for Republicans in the mid-1990s when they forced a shutdown during husband Bill Clinton’s presidency.
“If they want to try to shut the government down, that’s on their head, that’s their responsibility,” she added.
Isn’t it great to have Hillary talking about politics again?
I’m really late with this post, so I’m going to wrap it up with a link dump:
From Huffington Post — DC Exempts Itself From Federal Government Shutdown
From The Political Carnival: Don’t Buckle Your Seatbelt? Go To Jail — Or Your Death
From Vanity Fair, battles among the richie-riches in San Francisco’s toniest neighborhood –
Bluebloods & Billionaires
Scientific American — Peculiar Brain Signals Found in “Flat-Lined” Patient What does it really mean to be dead?
Now it’s your turn. What’s your recommended reading for today? Please let us know in the comment thread, and have a great day!
Well, I guess you can tell from the title of the post, we will start this morning by talking about the big ol’ state of Texas.
This is the first link from Addicting Info, I have a few links from the AI blog today…anyway, here is the latest strike down in Governor GoodHair’s War on Women, Rick Perry Vetoes Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay – Senfronia Thompson Reacts
On Friday, June 14, Texas Governor Rick Perry vetoed House Bill 950 (HB 950). HB 950 would have brought Texas into compliance with the federal Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 signed by President Barack Obama. The bill makes it easier for women to sue employers over wage discrimination between their male counterparts.
You can find a video interview at the link with,
Texas District 141 Representative, and Chair of the Local and Consent Calendars, Senfronia Thompson, the author of HB 950. She states that she was shocked and disappointed that Texas Governor Rick Perry vetoed the bill. She said she meticulously worked with Republicans to formulate a bill that could garner support in from both parties in both chambers of the legislature.
The bill was passed in the Texas House on April 25, 2013. It passed the Texas Senate on May 22, 2013. The bill was passed by a bipartisan legislature that is dominated by Republicans.
So, Perry even vetoed a bill that was passed by a bunch of Republicans. Sigh. But don’t you worry, at least one thing is safe in Texas, thanks to Perry…because on the same day he vetoed the Fair Pay bill, he signed the “Merry Christmas” bill. Texas Gov. Perry signs ‘Merry Christmas’ bill into law
Surrounded by sleigh bell-ringing Santa Claus impersonators, Gov. Rick Perry on Thursday signed a law protecting Christmas and other holiday celebrations in Texas public schools from legal challenges – but also stressed that freedom of religion is not the same thing as freedom from religion.
It was a serious tone for an otherwise fun bill-signing and should bolster the governor’s Christian conservative credentials before he travels to Washington for the Faith & Freedom Coalition’s “Road to Majority” conference with the likes of tea party darlings and U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida, Kentucky’s Rand Paul and fellow Texan Ted Cruz.
Dubbed the “Merry Christmas” bill, the bipartisan measure sailed through the state House and Senate to reach Perry’s desk.
It removes legal risks of saying “Merry Christmas” in schools while also protecting traditional holiday symbols, such as a menorah or nativity scene, so long as more than one religion and a secular symbol are also reflected.
Oh, may the Gawds be praised! At least they have the token secular symbol and “other” religious holiday symbol as a requirement. Believe me, this Merry Christmas bill is still going to piss off some people, cough…. Gretchen Carlson. Anyway, the sponsor of the bill Republican Rep. Dwayne Bohac of Houston said:
…of Perry: “This is not a governor that shirks away from the tough issues. And this should not be a tough issue, which is what’s even amazing about all this. But this is just political correctness that’s run a-muck and our brains have been completely fallen out as a result.”
Funny, it seems like he sure as hell shirked that big “tough” issue of fair pay.
I am going to move on to another “tough” issue, this link is also from Addicting Info, it is a very good post, Navy Judge Rules Rapists Shouldn’t Be Discharged (VIDEO)
Is the military just completely tone-deaf on the issue of sexual assault and rape in its ranks? Are those who’ve deigned themselves mouthpieces of the military just as clueless in their defense of this heinous situation? It would certainly seem so. Not only are the numbers staggering and inexplicable, but we’ve got idiotic conservatives blaming military rape on pornography, hyper-sensitive feminists, and “hormone level created by nature,” illustrating not only their profound cluelessness about the pathology of rapists, but the reasons why so many rapes and assaults go unreported. In fact, in a recent high-profile case where a victim did speak up and go to trial, the commander overturned the jury verdict to allow a rapist the freedom to advance in the ranks while his victim was stigmatized out of the service.
It’s entrenched, systemic corruption within what has been a very macho, male-dominated culture and it doesn’t appear the powers-that-be intend to take appropriate responsibility for the disturbed, entitled, misogynist criminals under its jurisdiction who are acting out with impunity and, in too many circumstances, to few consequences.
Okay, now get ready for it…
Latest case in point: Navy Judge Commander Marcus Fulton has just ruled that comments made by the President regarding military rape “would unduly influence” any potential sentencing in the cases of two defendants in military sexual assault cases, U.S. vs. Johnson and U.S. vs. Fuentes. Stars and Stripes reports that, per the judge’s ruling, should the two men be found guilty, they cannot be punitively discharged because of “unlawful command influence,” meaning, because of what President Obama, as the Commander in Chief, said. Would you like to know what incendiary, unduly prejudicial, trial-influencing comments the president made, so inflammatory that if two servicemen are actually found guilty of violently raping they should not be punished?
“The bottom line is: I have no tolerance for this,” Obama said, according to an NBC News story submitted as evidence by defense attorneys in the sexual assault cases.
‘I expect consequences,” Obama added. “So I don’t just want more speeches or awareness programs or training, but ultimately folks look the other way. If we find out somebody’s engaging in this, they’ve got to be held accountable — prosecuted, stripped of their positions, court martialed, fired, dishonorably discharged. Period.”
Do I hear the deafening roar of incredulity at the notion that these comments could possibly be framed as cause to excuse two rapists from punishment? Maybe that roar is just in my head, but damn, it is loud.
No, it the roar is in my head too. I will continue to post more of this article written by Lorraine Devon Wilke because I have to…
As a woman, a human being; an American, I’m writing this with a knot of rage in my stomach, rage at the notion that a Navy judge could take these firm but generic comments of appropriate anger, comments that are not only justified but, if anything, not strong enough, and use them as justification for NOT PUNISHING RAPISTS. It is unconscionable, amoral, certainly indefensible. But the judge not only stands by his ruling, he seems to think “members of the public” would be incapable of reading Obama’s anger at the horrific, systemic rape of both male and female service members as anything other than a direct command from him… a hypnotic order that would supercede any ability on their part to make judicious decisions about each individual case at hand. Sheep, listening and following the cult leader. Dear God. But here are his own words:
“A member of the public would not hear the President’s statement to be a simple admonition to hold members accountable,” Fulton stated. “A member of the public would draw the connection between the ‘dishonorable discharge’ required by the President and a punitive discharge approved by the convening authority.
“The strain on the system created by asking a convening authority to disregard [Obama’s] statement in this environment would be too much to sustain public confidence.”
And guess what follows this logic? Defense attorneys gleefully grabbing the ruling to use as a “way out” for their rapist (alleged…. I know) clients.
“I think that as a defense attorney, I would raise this argument in virtually any [sexual assault] case I had,” said Victor Hansen, vice president of the National Institute of Military Justice and former instructor at the Army’s JAG school.
However, in recent months there has been a lot more said — and in overly specific terms — about sexual assault by military and political leaders, Hansen noted. Obama’s call for dishonorable discharges is an example of such specificity, which begins to sound to military juries like a direct order from the commander in chief.
“This is bad lawyering on [Obama’s] advisor’s part,” Hansen said. “It’s certainly not a problem to say that sexual assault is a bad thing and we need to weed it out … that’s innocuous. It’s when they get very pointed that it’s problematic.”
So there you go; Obama’s verbiage was parsed as “too pointed” – daring to suggest consequences – and those who would go to any lengths to get military rapists off, excluded from commensurate punishment and consequence, are now licking their chops at the convenience of the judge’s ruling and how it will positively affect their own cases.
So far no one in the Navy judicial branch, JAG, is willing to address the ruling or its subsequent impact, though they did confirm its authenticity. Nor has the White House yet addressed the issue. But the 26,000 military rape and sexual assault victims of the past year, both male and female, are surely feeling, once again, victimized by a system that seems hellbent on doing everything to protect criminals within its ranks and little or nothing to defend, support and find justice for those who’ve been assaulted, raped, hurt, traumatized and, in many cases, pressured out of the military.
WHEN WILL THIS CHANGE?
You know, when the Newtown Shooting happened, my dad said that was the turning point…he said that was so horrible that people would demand tighter gun laws…he said the outrage would bring about change. At the time I told him no, there would be no changes made, sure we would have people talking about it, and laws would get proposed but nothing would change.
I know that there is plenty of attention, well let’s just say temporary attention lately on the military’s “culture” toward sexual assault. And honestly, like the gun control laws…and the equal pay bills, I just feel that there are some things which will never change. At least in my lifetime. Because it seems that they didn’t changed in my grandmother’s lifetime…they are definitely not going to in my mom’s lifetime…and I highly doubt they will in mine.
Boy, I seem to sound like a Cassandra don’t I?
Okay, like I said in the beginning of this post, there is one more link from Addicting Info, this one goes hand in hand with a link I saw on Susie Madrak’s blog. Y’all know the horrible time my family had with Bank of America, and the many times we sent our modification papers in, only to get another letter saying we have to send the same documents once again.
Well, check this shit out. As Susie puts it: BoA gave cash bonuses for HAMP foreclosures
No, it wasn’t just bad luck when that Bank of America rep kept telling you they “never got the paperwork.” We’ve been hearing these disgusting stories for a long time. Glad to hear they’re making their way into court, where there’s at least a chance that Bank of America might actually pay for some of their sins:
Bank of America Corp. (BAC), the second-biggest U.S. lender, rewarded staff with cash bonuses and gift cards for meeting quotas tied to sending distressed homeowners into foreclosure, former employees said in court documents.
Mortgage workers falsified records and were told to delay U.S. loan-assistance applications by requesting paperwork that the Charlotte, North Carolina-based bank had already received, according to statements from ex-employees filed last week in federal court in Boston. The lender improperly disqualified applicants to the Home Affordable Modification Program, or HAMP, according to a May 23 statement from Simone Gordon, a loss-mitigation specialist who left the company in 2012.
Bank of America Corp. is being sued by homeowners who didn’t receive permanent loan modifications after making payments under trial programs, according to court papers.
“We were regularly drilled that it was our job to maximize fees for the bank by fostering and extending delay of the HAMP modification process by any means we could,” Gordon said. Managers instructed staff to “delay modifications by telling homeowners who called in that their documents were ‘under review,’ when in fact, there had been no review,” she said.
Bank of America, which has spent more than $45 billion to settle claims tied to its 2008 takeover of Countrywide Financial Corp., is being sued by homeowners who didn’t receive permanent loan modifications after making payments under trial programs, according to court papers. Statements from seven former loan employees were included in a filing last week as part of plaintiffs’ attempt to gain class-action status. The lender has denied the allegations.
Bank of America has managed to make the news yet again, but not for the right reasons. According to several ex-employees, Bank of America systematically declined homeowners the ability to modify their loans under the government’s Home Affordable Modification Program, or HAMP. Bank of America rewarded staff with various perks, including cash bonuses and gift cards, for meeting quotas by sending homeowners seeking loan modifications into foreclosure. With these new explosive allegations, a new lawsuit is being brought against Bank of America. The former employees’ testimonies and revelations will strengthen the lawsuit, which is a consolidation of 29 separate suits against the bank from across the United States and is seeking class action certification. According to court documents, the lawsuit is being brought by homeowners who didn’t receive permanent loan modifications after meeting their obligations under the trail programs.
I knew those BoA basturds were doing this kind of crap. I wonder what kind of slap on the wrist they will get for this shit.
This post is getting rather long so here are the rest of the morning’s links, real quick like.
There is a lot of news out of the Middle East this weekend, so I have some articles for you to look at:
For two years, President Obama has resisted being drawn deeper into the civil war in Syria. It was a miserable problem, he told aides, and not one he thought he could solve. At most, it could be managed. And besides, he wanted to be remembered for getting out of Middle East wars, not embarking on new ones.
So when Mr. Obama agreed this week for the first time to send small arms and ammunition to Syrian rebel forces, he had to be almost dragged into the decision at a time when critics, some advisers and even Bill Clinton were pressing for more action. Coming so late into the conflict, Mr. Obama expressed no confidence it would change the outcome, but privately expressed hope it might buy time to bring about a negotiated settlement.
You can read the rest of the article and speculation about the meaning behind how the aid to Syrian rebels was announced at the link.
Update: Centrist Hassan Rouhani is Iran’s new president, having won a massive victory in a field of 6 candidates. 13:19 ET, 6/15/13
Early election returns in Iran suggest that former National Security adviser and nuclear negotiator Hassan Rouhani may have won over 50% of the vote, in which case he will have won without needing to go to a second round. Too early to tell if that is so. While it is true that the president in Iran is more like the typical US vice president and is relatively powerless, he can nevertheless set a tone and initiate policies slightly different from those of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Iran is not yet a totalitarian dictatorship, and Khamenei himself has sometimes been forced to tack with the wind. Any change will be slow and at the margins, but it could nevertheless be significant in a very polarized world.
In the US….and stuff:
Exclusive – Wal-Mart’s everyday hiring strategy: Add more temps | Reuters -No surprises there.
One more link for you, it is really just a picture, I realize this is one of the first Sunday reads I have written without a history link…so in lieu of a long historic read, I will give you this…a medieval knight…guinea pig style, talk about “your mother being a hamster…”Anyway, enjoy:
If your guinea pig routinely dashes off into armed combat (or just likes the look of scale mail), you might want to outfit him or her in this handsome suit of armor, perfect for rolly-polly rodents.
After Lucky, the original owner of the armor and model for these photos, passed away, eBay seller mightys0x decided to auction off Lucky’s armor. All of the proceeds from the auction will go to Metropolitan Guinea Pig Rescue in Virginia, the organization that rescued and adopted out Lucky. Lucky’s owner made the scale mail and purchased the tiny helmet. The auction ends on June 21st.
Anyone with a friend who has a guinea pig, and is fond of Monty Python?
And finally, I know that today is Father’s Day, so for all those Daddy’s out there:
Have a wonderful day, and if you are around, let us know what you are thinking and reading about today.