Friday, October 30, 2009


Peggy Noonan: On Her Way Back?

Peggy Noonan, once a speechwriter for President Reagan and now a Wall Street Journal columnist, has been slipping for some time. I remember when she took a leave of absence from her job at WSJ in 2004, to campaign for the re-election of George W. Bush; she felt that having him at the helm was more important than her job. By 2008, though, she had become increasingly disillusioned with the President, and in her columns was sounding more and more like a liberal Democrat.

In particular, she's been a strong supporter of Barack Obama's candidacy and Presidency, largely from the perspective of the hope he brought with him... and some readers have been perplexed at her willingness to be caught up in the hype. (She keeps offering the President advice, for example, on the theory that he just doesn't understand.)

Today's column, however, marks a refreshing (for me) return to pragmatism. She doesn't name the President directly, but it's pretty clear what she means:
It is a curious thing that those who feel most mistily affectionate toward America, and most protective toward it, are the most aware of its vulnerabilities, the most aware that it can be harmed. They don't see it as all-powerful, impregnable, unharmable. The loving have a sense of its limits.

When I see those in government, both locally and in Washington, spend and tax and come up each day with new ways to spend and tax—health care, cap and trade, etc.—I think: Why aren't they worried about the impact of what they're doing? Why do they think America is so strong it can take endless abuse?

I think I know part of the answer. It is that they've never seen things go dark. They came of age during the great abundance, circa 1980-2008 (or 1950-2008, take your pick), and they don't have the habit of worry. They talk about their "concerns"—they're big on that word. But they're not really concerned. They think America is the goose that lays the golden egg. Why not? She laid it in their laps. She laid it in grandpa's lap.

They don't feel anxious, because they never had anything to be anxious about. They grew up in an America surrounded by phrases—"strongest nation in the world," "indispensable nation," "unipolar power," "highest standard of living"—and are not bright enough, or serious enough, to imagine that they can damage that, hurt it, even fatally.

We are governed at all levels by America's luckiest children, sons and daughters of the abundance, and they call themselves optimists but they're not optimists—they're unimaginative. They don't have faith, they've just never been foreclosed on. They are stupid and they are callous, and they don't mind it when people become disheartened. They don't even notice.
(emphasis mine)

The title of her column: We're Governed by Callous Children -- speaks volumes.

Read the whole thing. She also has some interesting examples of "going Galt" -- people who refuse to put up with ever-higher taxes, and choose to simply opt out instead. I suspect we'll be seeing more and more of that.


Tuesday, October 27, 2009


"Give Galt A Chance"

Thanks to Instapundit, I just saw this well-written post, with a lovely "photo" to go with it:

Okay, it’s time to finally admit it: Barack Obama hates businessmen. Not just certain businessmen, mind you, but the entire profession.

Obama has demonized just about every business sector in America. Through the 2008 campaign to the present, he has gone after credit card companies, the coal industry, mortgage companies, real estate companies, steelmakers, utilities, drug companies, doctors, oil companies, Wall Street, defense contractors, and health insurance companies, just to name a few. In each case he has dinged them for greed, taking excessive profits, and failing to put people first. His criticisms have not been over minor matters but over their basic core functions, and their values or lack of them.

Obama demonstrates almost complete ignorance about the private sector and it’s no wonder: he has so little experience in it. He has spent his adult life in college, teaching college, and organizing communities. The one private sector job he has held, for a consulting firm in New York, he recounts as a terrible experience. In his memoirs he describes the experience as working for a private business “like a spy behind enemy lines.”
(emphasis mine)

President Obama would do well to heed the words of Winston Churchill:
"Some regard private enterprise as if it were a predatory tiger to be shot. Others look upon it as a cow that they can milk. Only a handful can see it for what it really is - a strong horse that pulls the whole cart."
But he isn't very fond of Sir Winston, is he?

Paraphrasing the Churchill quote above, Robert Heinlein once summed up economics succinctly by describing "the makers, the takers, and the fakers". An economy that demonizes the makers will shortly have fewer of them, a process that Instapundit has been calling "going John Galt". And, as he points out, this is becoming ever-more popular.


Monday, October 26, 2009


The Guardian: British Bastion of Israel-Bashing

Carol Gould of Pajamas Media notes that, in a recent list of Nobel Prize winners in the Guardian, the Israeli names -- Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Rabin, and Shimon Peres -- were somehow omitted.

Coincidence? Accident? One might be naive enough to think so, if it wasn't part of a consistent pattern. As she points out, her occasional pro-Israel reader comments are deleted from the Website... while editorials titled "Israel Simply Has No Right To Exist" are given priority.

I guess it's time to dust off the sixty-year-old argument again. Is this anti-Zionist? (Unquestionably.) Is it also antisemitic? That's debatable. Personally, I'd say "no", since it was the Israelis, not the non-Israeli Jews, who were omitted. The list at Harry's Place shows Joseph Rotblat's prize for 1995, for example.)

The list has, apparently, been corrected... and the Guardian's editor has weighed in that it was a database error. (As commenters on the site point out: when all your errors go in the same direction, there's something more than carelessness at work. Does the Guardian err in Israel's favor, in roughly equal amounts to errors in the other direction? Does the Guardian ever err in Israel's favor?)

It's good to know who one's friends are.


Friday, October 23, 2009


A Flash Of Perspective

Remember discussions of "character" during the 2008 Presidential elections? A point made by supporters of Sen. McCain, time and time again, was that character matters -- your character, your sense of honor, your track record how you deal with friends and opponents (and how you distinguish the two), all these strongly influence the decisions you will make as an executive.

The point was then made that, with respect to then-Senator Barack Obama, we knew virtually nothing about him. He had no executive experience from which to draw a track record of successful decisions; his college transcripts were sealed, and remain sealed to this day; serious inquiry into his past was firmly discouraged. (To the everlasting shame of our supposedly independent press, they were asked to support Sen. Obama blindly, and they did.)

As such, we were being asked to make a huge leap of faith, based on the candidate's word and nothing else -- a candidate who, for all we knew, could have been the world's most successful snake-oil salesman. We couldn't judge him on his actions and accomplishments, because he had virtually none he was willing to let us examine carefully. "Trust me", he essentially said... and, in a spirit of hope (or naivete, or perhaps both), we did.

We are now seeing, more and more, the consequences of that leap of faith. Mr. Obama was criticized many times, for many things, during the campaign -- and those criticisms were quickly hushed up, as though none of them mattered -- but now we are seeing how those criticisms reflect the man himself, and the way he acts and makes decisions. He was criticized then for avoiding difficult issues and difficult questions (for example, with his classic response "Look, why can't I just eat my waffle?"); today he is dragging his feet on approving more troops for Afghanistan, a step insisted upon by Gen. McChrystal (whom he appointed to the job), in what Obama used to call a "war of necessity". Mr. Obama was criticized then for his economic priorities (as he famously told Joe Wurzelbacher: "I think when you spread the wealth around, it's good for everybody"); as President, he has nationalized industries to an extent not seen in this country for generations. He was criticized for being thin-skinned -- remember when he warned reporters not to make fun of his ears? -- and today we find that he can't stand being criticized, to the extent of shutting off news organizations that refuse to toe the party line:
Decide for yourself what the most disgraceful aspect of this is. Was it the fact that Gibbs told Jake Tapper explicitly on Monday that the White House wouldn’t try to dictate to the press pool who should and shouldn’t be included — before doing precisely that? Was it Anita Dunn going out of her way to say she respects Major Garrett as a fair reporter — before the administration decided he didn’t deserve a crack here at Feinberg? Or was it the repeated insistence by Dunn and Axelrod that of course the administration will make its officials available to Fox — before pulling the plug today?
As Jennifer Rubin writes in Commentary, the heavy-handedness can no longer be ignored:
It’s a cringe-inducing moment, both for those who oppose the White House on policy grounds and those who cheer its every move. As surely as Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton allowed their personal flaws to erode the office of the presidency, Obama seems bent on allowing his own flaws (thin-skinnedness, hubris) to do potentially grave damage to the office as well. And over what? Not some grand policy matter or some key personnel matter, but over the desire to exclude a news network that has criticized him. For those who suggested that Obama’s main selling point was his “superior temperament,” we anxiously await an admission of grave error. It seems they were terribly mistaken.

It has been said that you are known by who your friends and your enemies are. In the case of President Obama, his actions speak louder than his words, and they tell us strongly that his enemies are not al-Qaeda (whom he pledged to fight in Afghanistan, but now isn't sure about)... or Iran, which continues to call America "the Great Satan" and to fight directly against American troops in Iraq, but which Obama insists on "engaging". No, his enemies -- the ones who earn his venom -- are the conservatives who criticize his policies (whom he openly calls liars, and whom his cabinet calls everything from "unpatriotic" to un-American"), and the one news organization willing to ask tough questions.

President Obama continues to show contempt for Americans that disagree with him. As such, I have to say that I was annoyed to hear, on the morning news, that the President will spend a significant part of today at MIT, walking distance away from my office. He's liable to mess up my commute home. It's doubtful that he'll accomplish anything else.

UPDATE: No, he didn't mess up my commute; I saw the police barricades going up on my way in to the office, and I stayed at my desk until well past 5PM, when the streets were open again.

On the other hand, I was surprised to read that, even in Massachusetts, President Obama was followed by protesters. In this case, they were liberal protesters -- Code Pink ladies (angry that we still have troops in Iraq and Afghanistan), LGBT groups (angry about the President's failure to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell, among other things), environmental groups, and so on.

If the President is now being hounded by the left... and headlines a major fundraising dinner for the sitting Governor of Massachusetts, which then has trouble even filling the hall... then his popularity is indeed in trouble.

And apart from his popularity, what does he have, really? He can't claim support because of his policies, given that he's deviated from so many of his campaign promises. He can't rely on being able to think quickly and make snap decisions, because he can't. He doesn't even have the power of his soaring rhetoric, long his greatest gift, because fewer and fewer people are willing to believe him. And he certainly can't rely on character, which the American people were willing to take on faith that he had; his private war on Fox News answers that question pretty definitively.

What does that leave, Mr. President? Think about it; the American people are waiting for your answer.

UPDATE 2: Ed Morrissey has something similar to say:
Obama wanted to be President, not to lead, but just to win. Now that he has won, he has no core set of governing principles other than what impacts Barack Obama. He has offered no leadership on any part of his agenda all year long, content to have Nancy Pelosi run it for him. His foreign policy thus far consists entirely of making himself personally popular with the world. On Afghanistan, Obama has thus far allowed Robert Gates and David Petraeus to make his decisions, only balking at the moment because the McChrystal strategy puts him at odds with his base, which could erode his popularity.

We’ve complained a number of times about the cult of personality that surrounds Obama, but as [Chuck] Todd implies with this answer, it’s really all Obama has.
(emphasis mine)

And now, with special elections putting Republican governors into place in Virginia and New Jersey, we find that President Obama's popularity, such as it is, doesn't translate to those he supports. (In both cases, he campaigned heavily for the Democratic candidates.)

Personally, I think this means that, even if the President remains personally popular, that doesn't mean people trust the candidates he vouches for... which means that, in a real sense, they don't trust him.

If you can't use your popularity to accomplish anything, what good is it?


Wednesday, October 21, 2009


Does The World Like Us Now?

It would appear so, at least according to GfK Custom Research:
NEW YORK – October 5, 2009 – Brand America is now ranked #1 by global citizens, according to the GfK Roper Public Affairs & Media, a division of GfK Custom Research North America. Results from the 2009 Anholt-GfK Roper Nation Brands Index(NBI), which measures the global image of 50 countries, show the United States taking the top spot as the country with the best overall brand, up from seventh last year.

"What’s really remarkable is that in all my years studying national reputation, I have never seen any country experience such a dramatic change in its standing as we see for the United States in 2009,” explains Simon Anholt, NBI founder and an independent advisor to over a dozen national governments around the world. "Despite recent economic turmoil, the U.S. actually gained significant ground. The results suggest that the new U.S. administration has been well received abroad and the American electorate’s decision to vote in President Obama has given the United States the status of the world’s most admired country.”

The NBI is based on a global survey in which people from across 20 major developed and developing countries are asked to rate each nation in six categories: Exports, Governance, Culture, People, Tourism and Immigration/Investment. The NBI ranking is based on the average of these six scores.
Ryan Mauro of Pajamas Media adds:
[President Obama] personifies the American dream and the credibility of American values — the most important reasons the world admires the U.S. As an African-American, he debunks the stereotype heard far too often around the world that America is a racist country. And as an African-American who grew up poor, he is a walking rebuttal to the allegations that in our country not everyone can make it and those who are disadvantaged are left to dangle in a net of unachievable dreams.

Merely saying the words “President Obama” discredits anti-American propaganda around the world and causes those facing barriers to their own personal fulfillment to place faith in the values that have allowed Obama, and the U.S. as a whole, to succeed. You add Obama’s personal likeability, ability to inspire, and eloquent rhetoric that sounds principled and tough when necessary but not frightening to the world audience and you have a man that they see as the personification of the good of America.
Personally, I never thought America's image abroad was as important as it was made out to be. (Actions speak louder than words, and so forth.) Still, it did seem clear to me that, with such harsh and unyielding opposition to President George W. Bush, it was more difficult for him to get anything done.

We have yet to see what fruits will come of this new-found popularity. After all, America's enemies and adversaries do not seem impressed by any of this. And if the United States must fight a trade war against Russia, or a shooting war against Iran, would other countries be more likely to help because of American popularity? I doubt it.

Still, the man ran for President at least partially on the premise that he'd get the world to like America again. He seems to have succeeded in that.


Tuesday, October 13, 2009


Say That Again?

Maybe I should watch the Sunday-morning news shows... they seem to be getting more and more entertaining:
Attacking the news media is a time-honored White House tactic but to an unusual degree, the Obama administration has narrowed its sights to one specific organization, the Fox News Channel, calling it, in essence, part of the political opposition.

“We’re going to treat them the way we would treat an opponent,” said Anita Dunn, the White House communications director, in a telephone interview on Sunday. “As they are undertaking a war against Barack Obama and the White House, we don’t need to pretend that this is the way that legitimate news organizations behave.”
(Later: she's doubling down on that comment.)

Uh, Ms. Dunn, it's called journalism. In this case, that means holding the President to his promises and announcing things that seem newsworthy, even if they could hurt the President's standings in the polls.

(Or perhaps that should be "because they could hurt the President's standings in the polls"... which certainly seemed to be the policy of the major networks in the six years or so before Mr. Obama became President. Remember the slogans of those years? "Speaking truth to power"... "Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable"... "Dissent is the highest form of patriotism". I'd think those slogans would apply just as firmly to a Democrat President as to a Republican, no?)

The funny part is that while the Obama Administration treats Fox News as an "enemy", Fox News is laughing all the way to the bank:
Fox’s senior vice president for programming, Bill Shine, says of the criticism from the White House, “Every time they do it, our ratings go up.” Mr. Obama’s first year is on track to be the Fox News Channel’s highest rated.
The un-funny part, of course, is that the White House would declare an American news channel the enemy, and have the gall to do it publicly. (Doesn't the United States have actual enemies to fight? Remember the war in Afghanistan and Iraq that Obama spoke about so earnestly, and so often, on the campaign trail? This isn't a good time to get distracted with petty grievances, Mr. President.)

Dare I ask what might have happened if, for example, President Bush had declared CBS, or the New York Times, an enemy of his administration? (And he had reason to do so. The New York Times published stories of secret security operations, from CIA safehouses to warrantless wiretapping, thereby blowing existing operations and placing Americans directly in jeopardy. CBS released a transparently bogus story, clearly with the intent of influencing a Presidential election, only a month or so before voting day. All Fox has done is to publish complaints about President Obama's policies, details about the backgrounds of his political appointees, and stories on the public record that might prove embarrassing to the Administration -- all of which was routine, at the very least, during the Bush years.)

Even if this were not an incredibly arrogant thing to say -- declaring Fox to be an "enemy" that is "at war with the White House", unlike the way "legitimate news organizations behave" -- it's still an incredibly stupid thing to say. Does the Obama Administration truly believe that fewer people will watch and listen to Fox News now? Do they not understand, as they watch Fox's ratings soar, that doubling down on a losing strategy will get them nowhere?

We were told during the election that Barack Obama was the smartest candidate for President in a generation, if not more... while his opponents pointed out repeatedly how inexperienced he was. I'm seeing a lot more evidence of the latter than of the former.

More and more, this is looking like an Administration of amateurs.

UPDATE: And now, as though Afghanistan and Iraq were not difficult enough, the Obama Administration is picking more fights. First Fox News, then!? This is worthy of the attention of the White House?


Friday, October 09, 2009


For What?

My thoughts exactly

I heard on the radio this morning, on my way to work, that President Obama had been named as this year's winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. Apparently even he was astonished.

You know, I remember when the Nobel Peace Prize was supposed to reward people who'd spent their lifetimes working for world peace... ideally, people who had actually accomplished something for all their efforts. I'm referring to people like Nelson Mandela (1993), the Dalai Lama (1989), Mother Teresa (1979), Norman Borlaug, the man who fed the world (1970), Martin Luther King Jr. (1964), and even Begin and Sadat (1978) -- who may not have advanced world peace much, but did sign a peace treaty that had long been believed to be all but impossible. All these people accomplished something very significant, and most needed to devote a lifetime of tireless effort to get there.

More recently, however, we've had Rabin, Peres, and Arafat (1994), "for their efforts to create peace in the Middle East". (Rabin's accomplishment was nothing more than to agree to negotiate with Arafat; Arafat's accomplishment was to smugly agree to stop killing Israelis for the duration of the awards ceremony; and Peres threatened to hold his breath and stomp his feet unless he got it, too. If this is worthy of a Nobel Peace Prize, then ten-year-olds should just get it automatically.)

Then there was Jimmy Carter (2002), which was touted as a "lifetime achievement award", but which Nobel committee members privately admitted was merely intended as a snub to then-President Bush. (Now that's a worthy goal -- a Nobel Peace Prize in the service of playground politics.)

Then there were the awards for attempting to do something noble, such as the 2005 award to the International Atomic Energy Agency and Mohammed el-Baradei for "their efforts to prevent nuclear energy from being used for military purposes". (I'm not aware that either of them actually accomplished anything towards that end, but hey, they tried.) In a similar vein was the 2007 award to Al Gore "for [his] efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change" (although the dangers of man-made climate change, and the degree to which it actually happens, seem less and less with each passing year); frankly, I wonder if this was intended as a consolation prize to Mr. Gore (for losing the Presidency to Bush in 2000).

And now we have President Barack Obama, awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for... well, for what? According to the Nobel Committee, it's for "his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples".

Is this in reference to his overseas speeches, in which he called on everyone but himself to change their lives in ways he'd be happy to dictate? Or is he being rewarded, by the lights of the committee, for his supreme accomplishment of not being President Bush?

Because let's face it -- as far as world peace is concerned, the man hasn't done anything. Peace in the Middle East is no closer because of his efforts; nor are we any closer to a resolution of the fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan. The dangers of a nuclear-armed North Korea and Iran are as scary as ever. Heck, by placating foes and alienating allies, by trying to subvert the democratic process in Honduras, it looks a lot as though the man has decreased the chances for world peace.

In short, President Obama was just awarded the Nobel Prize for a year or two worth of inspiring rhetoric, and nothing more. Unbelievable.

You know, a number of online commentators have noted that Obama recently suffered a humiliating defeat (in his failed efforts to get the 2016 Olympic Games to his hometown of Chicago)... and that this might be a good thing, because it might teach the President some much-needed humility at no cost to the security of the United States.

If so, I'm afraid that accomplishment just went out the window. It's possible that President Obama will respond to this award with humility, but I greatly doubt it.

And the Nobel Peace Prize slides ever further towards irrelevancy and self-parody.

(I have to love this comment, by the way, from Nobel Peace Prize laureate Lech Walesa (1983), on hearing about Obama's award: "Who? What? So fast?")

Instapundit is staying on top of the snarky comments, which is going to be a full-time job. (Like this, for example: "I like the comments section at the London Times on this one. The prevailing reaction seems to be along the lines of, 'OK, you've had your joke. Now tell us who *really* won.'"

UPDATE: As an article in The American Thinker points out, the deadline for submissions to the Nobel Committee is February 1st.

In other words, either the Nobel Committee thought that President Obama earned the prize from eleven days in office, or else they thought him so very, very important that it was worth waiving the rules just for him.

Or, to be fair, perhaps a starry-eyed Obamaite submitted the name before the deadline (no doubt also submitting Obama's name for the Pulitzer Prize, the Heismann Trophy, and so on) -- and the committee was sufficiently dazzled with Obama's accomplishments since then, such as they are, to give him the prize. That still doesn't speak well for the committee, but it's better than the other two choices.

UPDATE 2: Ouch. And ouch again.

UPDATE 3: Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal captures the mood perfectly:
The peace Nobel is a much misunderstood prize. With the exception of a few really grotesque picks (Le Duc Tho, Rigoberta Menchú, Yasser Arafat), a few inspired ones (Carl von Ossietzky, Norman Borlaug, Andrei Sakharov, Mother Teresa, Lech Walesa, Aung San Suu Kyi) and some worthy if obvious ones (Martin Luther King, Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin, Mikhail Gorbachev, Nelson Mandela and F.W. de Klerk), most of the prize winners draw from the obscure ranks of the sorts of people the late Oriana Fallaci liked to call "the Goodists."

Who are the Goodists? They are the people who believe all conflict stems from avoidable misunderstanding. Who think that the world's evils spring from technologies, systems, complexes (as in "military-industrial") and everything else except from the hearts of men, where love abides. Who mistake wishes for possibilities. Who put a higher premium on their own moral intentions than on the efficacy of their actions. Who champion education as the solution, whatever the problem. Above all, the Goodists are the people who like to be seen to be good.
Indeed. (Along the way, Mr. Stephens lists some Peace Prize laureates who have faded into history, as have their accomplishments, and suggests that Mr. Obama is in very good company with them.)

As for me, I've written before on the people who, as Richard Fernandez says, believe that "the enemies of reason cannot be enemies of reason... even the unreasonable must be, in some fashion, reasonable".


Monday, October 05, 2009


Sometimes It Just Seems The Whole World Is Jewish

That's a chapter heading from the book "The Jewish Connection", pointing up the fact that Jews, and Jewish connections, can show up in the most unlikely times and places.

For example, Adolf Hitler's paternal grandfather is unknown; given that, by Hitler's standards, one Jewish grandparent was enough to send you to the concentration camps, he tried strenuously -- without success -- to get to the bottom of it. He was threatened with blackmail at least once because of this.

(By Jewish law, of course, Hitler could not have been considered Jewish, because his mother was not Jewish. It was only because of Hitler's perverted racial standards that the issue even came up. Hoist on your own petard, Adolf.)

With that precedent, I guess I shouldn't have been surprised to read about Hitler's spiritual descendant, the man who never tires of saying that Israel should be wiped off the map, and his Jewish connection:

click for a higher-resolution photo
A photograph of the Iranian president holding up his identity card during elections in March 2008 clearly shows his family has Jewish roots.

A close-up of the document reveals he was previously known as Sabourjian – a Jewish name meaning cloth weaver.

The short note scrawled on the card suggests his family changed its name to Ahmadinejad when they converted to embrace Islam after his birth.

The Sabourjians traditionally hail from Aradan, Mr Ahmadinejad's birthplace, and the name derives from "weaver of the Sabour", the name for the Jewish Tallit shawl in Persia. The name is even on the list of reserved names for Iranian Jews compiled by Iran's Ministry of the Interior.
That sounds pretty definitive to me. But what fascinates me even more is the suggestion that the name was changed when the family "converted to embrace Islam, after his birth."

Was Mahmoud himself born a Jew? (If so, I have to wonder what his original first name was.)

This could well be a hoax, mind you; I can't read Farsi, so I'd have no way of knowing. But if it turns out to be true, the man will shortly become a laughingstock... and will deserve to be.

(hat tip: Instapundit.)

UPDATE: Oh well, it was fun while it lasted... an expert on the Iranian Jewish community disputes the claim:
Professor David Yeroshalmi, author of The Jews of Iran in the 19th century and an expert on Iranian Jewish communities, disputes the validity of this argument. "There is no such meaning for the word 'sabour' in any of the Persian Jewish dialects, nor does it mean Jewish prayer shawl in Persian. Also, the name Sabourjian is not a well-known Jewish name," he stated in a recent interview. In fact, Iranian Jews use the Hebrew word "tzitzit" to describe the Jewish prayer shawl. Yeroshalmi, a scholar at Tel Aviv University's Center for Iranian Studies, also went on to dispute the article's findings that the "-jian" ending to the name specifically showed the family had been practising Jews. "This ending is in no way sufficient to judge whether someone has a Jewish background. Many Muslim surnames have the same ending," he stated.

Upon closer inspection, a completely different interpretation of "Sabourjian" emerges. According to Robert Tait, a Guardian correspondent who travelled to Ahmadinejad's native village in 2005, the name "derives from thread painter – sabor in Farsi – a once common and humble occupation in the carpet industry in Semnan province, where Aradan is situated". This is confirmed by Kasra Naji, who also wrote a biography of Ahmadinejad and met his family in his native village. Carpet weaving or colouring carpet threads are not professions associated with Jews in Iran.

According to both Naji and Tait, Ahmadinejad's father Ahmad was in fact a religious Shia, who taught the Quran before and after Ahmadinejad's birth and their move to Tehran. So religious was Ahmad Sabourjian that he bought a house near a Hosseinieh, a religious club that he frequented during the holy month of Moharram to mourn the martyrdom of Imam Hossein.

Moreover, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's mother is a Seyyede. This is a title given to women whose family are believed to be direct bloodline descendants of Prophet Muhammad. Male members are given the title of Seyyed, and include prominent figures such as Iran's supreme leader Ali Khamenei. In Judaism, this is equivalent to the Cohens, who are direct descendants of Aaron, the brother of Moses. One has to be born into a Seyyed family: the title is never given to Muslims by birth, let alone converts. This makes it impossible for Ahmadinejad's mother to have been a Jew. In fact, she was so proud of her lineage that everyone in her native village of Aradan referred to her by her Islamic title, Seyyede.

The reason that Ahmadinejad's father changed his surname has more to do with the class struggle in Iran. When it became mandatory to adopt surnames, many people from rural areas chose names that represented their professions or that of their ancestors. This made them easily identifiable as townfolk. In many cases they changed their surnames upon moving to Tehran, in order to avoid snobbery and discrimination from residents of the capital.

The Sabourjians were one of many such families. Their surname was related to carpet-making, an industry that conjures up images of sweatshops. They changed it to Ahmadinejad in order to help them fit in. The new name was also chosen because it means from the race of Ahmad, one of the names given to Muhammad.

According to Ahmadinejad's relatives the new name emphasised the family's piety and their dedication to their religion and its founder. This is something that the president and his relatives in Tehran and Aradan have maintained to the present day. Not because they are trying to deny their past, but because they are proud of it.
Hat tip: Solomonia.


Thursday, October 01, 2009


On The Need For Universal Healthcare

..or the lack of such a need...

Here's an interesting article, by a breast-cancer specialist and cosmetic surgeon from California, on her experiences with people who chose not to have health insurance (and were occasionally quite vehement about it).

Although she doesn't connect all the dots, her point is unmistakable: that many people would rather pay for any number of luxuries and not pay for health insurance. They knew it was available -- and sometimes were given financial incentives to get it -- but simply didn't want it.

This is important, because we've been encouraged to think of people without health insurance as needing it desperately. Such people, of course, should be helped, and I don't know of anyone who would argue the point.

(A different question is who should help them. Should the federal government help them, for example, thereby ensuring that taxpayers everywhere must support the sick poor everywhere? Should it be done at the state level instead? Should doctors be encouraged to work pro bono for patients that need it, and get tax credits in return?)

But what of people who have consciously chosen not to get health insurance? Should they be required to have health insurance for their own good, and should federal tax money be used to pay for it? (Keep in mind that they're not going to be happy about this; among other issues, their taxes will go up too.)

I don't think so. Health insurance, like all insurance, is a gamble; I'll pay $250 per month, say, for insurance against a particular type of disaster. I'm gambling that the disaster will happen, and that if I didn't have insurance, I would have had to pay more than what my $250/month adds up to by then. (The insurance company, of course, is counting on the opposite -- that people will pay for insurance policies and never have to collect on them. Averaged over all their clients, the insurance companies win, because they can calculate what kind of insurable events happen in a given population, and adjust their rates accordingly. That's not evil, by the way; that's the cost of doing business.)

But what of a person who doesn't expect any kind of medical problem, and would much rather use that $250/month to stuff a mattress, or pay into a 401K, or make payments on a sports car that they can enjoy right now? I think that's their decision, and we should respect it, whether or not we'd make the same decision.

Read the whole thing
. It's interesting to hear a counterpoint to the uninsured sob-stories.


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