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Archive for June, 2008

This is a great country. Even a black man with no discernible accomplishments can become president.

Looks like you can disown your family. When the nation first took note of Barack Obama’s crackpot racist church, he made a great fuss about how it was woven into his life, the good and the not-so-good together, just like kin. But after the Rev. Michael Pfleger, a rancid white Catholic priest, took the pulpit to mock Hillary Clinton, Obama had had enough and left the congregation. Obama’s life story, especially his search for fathers, mentors, and an identity, is compelling. He has written about it rather well, and a great writer could find in it the materials for art, be it ghost written or not.

The question that will dog him, from now to November, and perhaps beyond, is, do we want to entrust the presidency to an earnest, ambitious, still-unformed man who, on the eve of his 47th birthday, knows where he wants to bo, but notyet who he is, and where has he been?

The presidency is not an intership, and it should not be a novel.

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Lessons on Life

There was a man who had four sons. He wanted his sons to learn not to judge things too quickly. So he sent them each on a quest, in turn, to go and look at a pear tree that was a great distance away.

The first son went in the winter, the second in the spring, the third in summer, and the youngest son in the fall.

When they had all gone and come back, he called them together to describe what they had seen.

The first son said that the tree was ugly, bent, and twisted.

The second son said no it was covered with green buds and full of promise.

The third son disagreed; he said it was laden with blossoms that smelled so sweet and looked so beautiful, it was the most graceful thing he had ever seen.

The last son disagreed with all of them; he said it was ripe and drooping with fruit, full of life and fulfillment.

The man then explained to his sons that they were all right, because they had each seen but only one season in the tree’s life.

He told them that you cannot judge a tree, or a person, by only one season, and that the essence of who they are and the pleasure, joy, and love that come from that life can only be measured at the end, when all the seasons are up.

If you give up when it’s winter, you will miss the promise of your spring, the beauty of your summer, fulfillment of your fall.

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It took my dad to the…

I took my dad to the mall the other day to buy some new shoes. We decided to grab a bite at the food court. I noticed he was watching a teenager sitting next to him. The teenager had spiked hair in all different colors: green, red, orange and blue. My dad kept staring at him. The teenager would look and find him staring EVERY time.

When the teenager had enough, he sarcastically asked “What’s the matter old man, never done anything wild in your life?”

Knowing my Dad, I quickly swallowed my food so that I would not choke on his response; knowing he WOULD have a good one. And in the classic style he did not bat an eye in his response. “Got drunk once and had sex with a peacock. I was just wondering if you were my son.”

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WASHINGTON: Israel carried out a major military exercise earlier this month that American officials say appeared to be a rehearsal for a potential bombing attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Several American officials said the Israeli exercise appeared to be an effort to develop the military’s capacity to carry out long-range strikes and to demonstrate the seriousness with which Israel views Iran’s nuclear program.

More than 100 Israeli F-16 and F-15 fighters participated in the maneuvers, which were carried out over the eastern Mediterranean and over Greece during the first week of June, American officials said.

The exercise also included Israeli helicopters that could be used to rescue downed pilots. The helicopters and refueling tankers flew more than 900 miles, which is about the same distance between Israel and Iran’s uranium enrichment plant at Natanz, American officials said.

Israeli officials declined to discuss the details of the exercise. A spokesman for the Israeli military would say only that the country’s air force “regularly trains for various missions in order to confront and meet the challenges posed by the threats facing Israel.”

But the scope of the Israeli exercise virtually guaranteed that it would be noticed by American and other foreign intelligence agencies. A senior Pentagon official who has been briefed on the exercise, and who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the political delicacy of the matter, said the exercise appeared to serve multiple purposes.

One Israeli goal, the Pentagon official said, was to practice flight tactics, aerial refueling and all other details of a possible strike against Iran’s nuclear installations and its long-range conventional missiles.

A second, the official said, was to send a clear message to the United States and other countries that Israel was prepared to act militarily if diplomatic efforts to stop Iran from producing bomb-grade uranium continued to falter.

“They wanted us to know, they wanted the Europeans to know, and they wanted the Iranians to know,” the Pentagon official said. “There’s a lot of signaling going on at different levels.”

Several American officials said they did not believe that the Israeli government had concluded that it must attack Iran and did not think that such a strike was imminent.

Shaul Mofaz, a former Israeli defense minister who is now a deputy prime minister, warned in a recent interview with the Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot that Israel might have no choice but to attack. “If Iran continues with its program for developing nuclear weapons, we will attack,” Mofaz said in the interview published on June 6, the day after the unpublicized exercise ended. “Attacking Iran, in order to stop its nuclear plans, will be unavoidable.”

But Mofaz was criticized by other Israeli politicians as seeking to enhance his own standing as questions mount about whether the embattled Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, can hang on to power.

Israeli officials have told their American counterparts that Mofaz’s statement does not represent official policy. But American officials were also told that Israel had prepared plans for striking nuclear targets in Iran and could carry them out if needed.

Iran has shown signs that it is taking the Israeli warnings seriously, by beefing up its air defenses in recent weeks, including increasing air patrols. In one instance, Iran scrambled F-4 jets to double-check an Iraqi civilian flight from Baghdad to Tehran.

“They are clearly nervous about this and have their air defense on guard,” a Bush administration official said of the Iranians.

Any Israeli attack against Iran’s nuclear facilities would confront a number of challenges. Many American experts say they believe that such an attack could delay but not eliminate Iran’s nuclear program. Much of the program’s infrastructure is buried under earth and concrete and installed in long tunnels or hallways, making precise targeting difficult. There is also concern that not all of the facilities have been detected. To inflict maximum damage, multiple attacks might be necessary, which many analysts say is beyond Israel’s ability at this time.

But waiting also entails risks for the Israelis. Israeli officials have repeatedly expressed fears that Iran will soon master the technology it needs to produce substantial quantities of highly enriched uranium for nuclear weapons.

Iran is also taking steps to better defend its nuclear facilities. Two sets of advance Russian-made radar systems were recently delivered to Iran. The radar will enhance Iran’s ability to detect planes flying at low altitude.

Mike McConnell, the director of national intelligence, said in February that Iran was close to acquiring Russian-produced SA-20 surface-to-air missiles. American military officials said that the deployment of such systems would hamper Israel’s attack planning, putting pressure on Israel to act before the missiles are fielded.

For both the United States and Israel, Iran’s nuclear program has been a persistent worry. A National Intelligence Estimate that was issued in December by American intelligence agencies asserted that Iran had suspended work on weapons design in late 2003. The report stated that it was unclear if that work had resumed. It also noted that Iran’s work on uranium enrichment and on missiles, two steps that Iran would need to take to field a nuclear weapon, had continued.

In late May, the International Atomic Energy Agency reported that Iran’s suspected work on nuclear matters was a “matter of serious concern” and that the Iranians owed the agency “substantial explanations.”

Over the past three decades, Israel has carried out two unilateral attacks against suspected nuclear sites in the Middle East. In 1981, Israeli jets conducted a raid against Iraq’s nuclear plant at Osirak after concluding that it was part of Saddam Hussein’s program to develop nuclear weapons. In September, Israeli aircraft bombed a structure in Syria that American officials said housed a nuclear reactor built with the aid of North Korea.

The United States protested the Israeli strike against Iraq in 1981, but its comments in recent months have amounted to an implicit endorsement of the Israeli strike in Syria.

Pentagon officials said that Israel’s air forces usually conducted a major early summer training exercise, often flying over the Mediterranean or training ranges in Turkey where they practice bombing runs and aerial refueling. But the exercise this month involved a larger number of aircraft than had been previously observed, and included a lengthy combat rescue mission.

Much of the planning appears to reflect a commitment by Israel’s military leaders to ensure that its armed forces are adequately equipped and trained, an imperative driven home by the difficulties the Israeli military encountered in its Lebanon operation against Hezbollah.

“They rehearse it, rehearse it and rehearse it, so if they actually have to do it, they’re ready,” the Pentagon official said. “They’re not taking any options off the table.”

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The Supreme Court declared Wednesday that executions are too severe a punishment for child rape, despite the “years of long anguish” for victims, in a ruling that restricts the death penalty to murder and crimes against the state.

The court’s 5-4 decision struck down a Louisiana law that allows capital punishment for people convicted of raping children under 12. It spares the only people in the U.S. under sentence of death for that crime — two Louisiana men convicted of raping girls 5 and 8.

The ruling also invalidates laws on the books in five other that allowed executions for child rape.

However devastating the crime to children, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in his majority opinion, “the death penalty is not a proportional punishment for the rape of a child.” His four liberal colleagues joined him, while the four more conservative justices dissented.

There has not been an execution in the United States for a crime that did not also involve the death of the victim in 44 years, a factor that weighed in Kennedy’s decision.

Rape and other crimes “may be as devastating in their harm, as here, but ‘in terms of moral depravity and of the injury to the person and to the public,’ they cannot be compared to murder in their ‘severity and irrevocability,'” Kennedy said, quoting from earlier decisions.

The victim in the case decided Wednesday was an 8-year-old girl raped by her stepfather at their home in Harvey, La., outside New Orleans.

Angry Louisianans who backed the law said the court was out of touch.

“The opinion reads more like an out-of-control legislative debate than a constitutional analysis,” said Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, a Republican. “One thing is clear: The five members of the court who issued the opinion do not share the same ‘standards of decency’ as the people of Louisiana.”

With the court already on record this term reaffirming the constitutionality of capital punishment in a case dealing with lethal injection, Kennedy dwelt at length on the need to limit the death penalty to the most heinous killings.

The decision allows death sentences to continue to be imposed for crimes such as treason, espionage and terrorism, which Kennedy labeled as crimes against the state.

The Supreme Court banned executions for rape in 1977 in a case in which the victim was an adult woman.

Forty-four states prohibit the death penalty for any kind of rape, and five states besides Louisiana have allowed it for child rapists. Montana, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Texas allow executions in such cases if the defendant had previously been convicted of raping a child. Georgia’s statute is broader, Kennedy said.

The court struggled over how to apply standards laid out in decisions barring executions for the mentally retarded and people younger than 18 when they committed murder. In those cases, the court cited trends in the states away from capital punishment.

In this case, proponents of the Louisiana law said the trend was toward the death penalty, a point mentioned by Justice Samuel Alito in his dissent.

“The harm that is caused to the victims and to society at large by the worst child rapists is grave,” Alito wrote. “It is the judgment of the Louisiana lawmakers and those in an increasing number of other states that these harms justify the death penalty.”

But Kennedy said the absence of any recent executions for rape and the small number of states that allow it demonstrate “there is a national consensus against capital punishment for the crime of child rape.”

Kennedy acknowledged that the decision had to come to terms with “the years of long anguish that must be endured by the victim of child rape.”

Still, he concluded that in cases of crimes against individuals, “the death penalty should not be expanded to instances where the victim’s life was not taken.”

The author of the Louisiana law, former Republican state Rep. Pete Schneider, said even opponents of the death penalty told him they would kill anyone who raped their children. “When are you going to have the courage to stand up for what’s right for all of the people — but especially the children under 12 that have been brutally raped by monsters?” Schneider demanded, directing his comments to the justices in Wednesday’s majority.

The last executions for crimes other than murder took place in 1964, according to a database maintained by the Death Penalty Information Center.

Ronald Wolfe, 34, died in Missouri’s gas chamber on May 8, 1964, for rape. James Coburn was electrocuted in Alabama on Sept. 4 of that year for robbery.

The case before the court involved Patrick Kennedy, 43, who was sentenced to death for the rape of his 8-year-old stepdaughter in Louisiana.

Kennedy was convicted in 2003. The girl initially told police she was sorting Girl Scout cookies in the garage when two boys assaulted her.

Police arrested Kennedy a couple of weeks after the March 1998 rape, but more than 20 months passed before the girl identified him as her attacker.

His defense attorney at the time argued that blood testing was inconclusive and that the victim was pressed to change her story.

The Louisiana Supreme Court upheld the sentence, saying that “short of first-degree murder, we can think of no other non-homicide crime more deserving” of the death penalty. State Chief Justice Pascal Calogero noted in dissent that the U.S. high court already had made clear that capital punishment could not be imposed without the death of the victim, except possibly for espionage or treason.

The girl’s mother was reached by The Associated Press following the court’s decision Wednesday. “We don’t talk about that,” she said and hung up.

A second Louisiana defendant, Richard Davis, was given the death penalty in December for repeatedly raping a 5-year-old girl in Caddo Parish.

Local prosecutor Lea Hall told jurors: “Execute this man. Justice has a sword and this sword needs to swing today.” Both men will get new sentences.

The case is Kennedy v. Louisiana, 07-343.

Perhaps  Justice Kennedy should suffer the rape of one of his own. Then he just might see the fucking light.

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SAN FRANCISCO — For more than two years, executives and other senior employees have been leaving Yahoo at a steady, persistent trickle.

The trickle has turned into a flood. In a matter of days after Yahoo’s announcement last week that merger talks with Microsoft had ended and that the company had instead chosen to sign a search advertising partnership with its No. 1 rival, Google, three executive vice presidents, two senior vice presidents and handful of other well-regarded employees have announced their intention to leave.

The precipitous exodus is hollowing out Yahoo’s senior management ranks. It is also raising new questions about the future of the company and its top executives. Analysts say that the departures suggest that Jerry Yang, the chief executive, and Susan L. Decker, the president, are increasingly isolated.

“Wall Street has lost all confidence at this point,” said Ross Sandler, an analyst with RBC Capital Markets. “The senior managers have clearly lost confidence in the strategy and have lost confidence in Sue and Jerry, and that’s not a good thing.”

Scott Kessler, an equity analyst with Standard & Poor’s, said: “One of the reasons that Jerry was selected to be the C.E.O. is because he could get people excited about working for Yahoo again. Now people are taking a step back.”

Mr. Yang and Yahoo’s board are also under pressure from Carl C. Icahn, the activist investor, who is waging a fight for control of the company’s board. Although he has vowed to remove Mr. Yang if he succeeds, Mr. Icahn has said little about his plans since the Yahoo-Google deal was announced last week.

Yahoo insiders confirmed on Thursday that three more senior executives, Qi Lu, Brad Garlinghouse, and Vish Makhijani, are leaving the company. All were responsible for critical areas of Yahoo’s business.

Yahoo declined to confirm the departures. In a statement, the company said: “We have a deep and talented management team across all areas of the company.” It said that Yahoo is experiencing “the attrition that’s to be expected in the Internet industry.” Mr. Garlinghouse and Mr. Makhijani did not return calls or answer e-mail inquiries seeking comment. Mr. Lu could not be reached.

Among the newly departing executives, Mr. Garlinghouse is perhaps the best known outside of Yahoo. He is senior vice president for communications and communities, and is responsible for vital products like Yahoo’s e-mail and messaging services, Yahoo Groups and Flickr, the popular photo sharing site.

He gained wide notoriety when an internal memo he wrote was leaked to The Wall Street Journal in November 2006. The memo, which he named the Peanut Butter Manifesto, criticized Yahoo for spreading its resources too thinly across too many projects, as peanut butter is spread on toast.

Mr. Makhijani, who is senior vice president of Yahoo’s search group, is leaving to join Yandex, Russia’s leading search engine, the Yahoo insiders said.

On Monday, Jeff Weiner, who is executive vice president of Yahoo’s network division and Mr. Garlinghouse’s and Mr. Makhijani’s boss, announced that he was leaving to divide his time between two venture capital firms. Usama Fayyad, who is chief data officer and the executive vice president in charge of Yahoo’s research organization, also announced his departure this week.

The spate of departures leaves Yahoo’s network division, which is responsible for almost all of the Yahoo portal, without its top leader and two of his four deputies. Mr. Lu is executive vice president for the search and advertising technology group. He oversaw engineering efforts for the company’s search engine and search advertising technology.

The departures have also affected the ranks of senior engineers and managers. Last week, Jeremy D. Zawodny, who joined the company in 1999 and helped start its developer network, said he was leaving. This week, Caterina Fake and Stewart Butterfield, the husband-and-wife team who founded Flickr and sold it to Yahoo in 2005, also announced their departures.

“These were all talented, good people,” said Christa Quarles, an analyst with Thomas Weisel Partners.

The exodus comes as plans for a major reorganization are taking shape and could be announced as early as next week, according to the people with knowledge of the management departures. The reorganization is being pushed by Ms. Decker.

While the exact outline of the organizational changes is unclear, Hilary Schneider, a protégé of Ms. Decker who is executive vice president for global partner solutions, is expected to assume greater responsibilities, these people said.

A senior Yahoo executive said a reorganization “is the worse possible thing they would do at the moment. In a time of total instability, the last thing you want to do is make people nervous about their jobs.” He spoke on condition of anonymity because, although he was also considering options outside of Yahoo, speaking out could jeopardize his employment.

The departure of Mr. Lu was reported Thursday in the Web site AllThingsD. The departures of Mr. Garlinghouse and Mr. Makhijani were reported Thursday in the blog TechCrunch.

Meanwhile, Microsoft is making no secret that it sees the apparent disarray as an opportunity. In February, Microsoft’s chairman, Bill Gates, said that Yahoo’s talented engineers were among the reasons Microsoft was seeking to acquire the company. Now Microsoft is making new overtures to those engineers.

On Wednesday, the company took out a full-page ad in the San Jose Mercury News, whose distribution area includes Sunnyvale, where Yahoo is based, and other Silicon Valley cities, to recruit Internet search specialists at its valley campus.

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What a cryin’ shame.

Bo Diddley, a founding father of rock ‘n’ roll whose distinctive “shave and a haircut, two bits” rhythm and innovative guitar effects inspired legions of other musicians, died Monday after months of ill health. He was 79.

Diddley died of heart failure at his home in Archer, Fla., spokeswoman Susan Clary said. He had suffered a heart attack in August, three months after suffering a stroke while touring in Iowa. Doctors said the stroke affected his ability to speak, and he had returned to Florida to continue rehabilitation.

The legendary singer and performer, known for his homemade square guitar, dark glasses and black hat, was an inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, had a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame, and received a lifetime achievement award in 1999 at the Grammy Awards. In recent years he also played for the elder President Bush and President Clinton.

Diddley appreciated the honors he received, “but it didn’t put no figures in my checkbook.”

“If you ain’t got no money, ain’t nobody calls you honey,” he quipped.

The name Bo Diddley came from other youngsters when he was growing up in Chicago, he said in a 1999 interview.

“I don’t know where the kids got it, but the kids in grammar school gave me that name,” he said, adding that he liked it so it became his stage name. Other times, he gave somewhat differing stories on where he got the name. Some experts believe a possible source for the name is a one-string instrument used in traditional blues music called a diddley bow.

His first single, “Bo Diddley,” introduced record buyers in 1955 to his signature rhythm: bomp ba-bomp bomp, bomp bomp, often summarized as “shave and a haircut, two bits.” The B side, “I’m a Man,” with its slightly humorous take on macho pride, also became a rock standard.

The company that issued his early songs was Chess-Checkers records, the storied Chicago-based labels that also recorded Chuck Berry and other stars.

Howard Kramer, assistant curator of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, said in 2006 that Diddley’s Chess recordings “stand among the best singular recordings of the 20th century.”

Diddley’s other major songs included, “Say Man,” “You Can’t Judge a Book by Its Cover,” “Shave and a Haircut,” “Uncle John,” “Who Do You Love?” and “The Mule.”

Diddley’s influence was felt on both sides of the Atlantic. Buddy Holly borrowed the bomp ba-bomp bomp, bomp bomp rhythm for his song “Not Fade Away.”

The Rolling Stones‘ bluesy remake of that Holly song gave them their first chart single in the United States, in 1964. The following year, another British band, the Yardbirds, had a Top 20 hit in the U.S. with their version of “I’m a Man.”

Diddley was also one of the pioneers of the electric guitar, adding reverb and tremelo effects. He even rigged some of his guitars himself.

“He treats it like it was a drum, very rhythmic,” E. Michael Harrington, professor of music theory and composition at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn., said in 2006.

Many other artists, including the Who, Bruce Springsteen and Elvis Costello copied aspects of Diddley’s style.

Growing up, Diddley said he had no musical idols, and he wasn’t entirely pleased that others drew on his innovations.

“I don’t like to copy anybody. Everybody tries to do what I do, update it,” he said. “I don’t have any idols I copied after.”

“They copied everything I did, upgraded it, messed it up. It seems to me that nobody can come up with their own thing, they have to put a little bit of Bo Diddley there,” he said.

Despite his success, Diddley claimed he only received a small portion of the money he made during his career. Partly as a result, he continued to tour and record music until his stroke. Between tours, he made his home near Gainesville in north Florida.

“Seventy ain’t nothing but a damn number,” he told The Associated Press in 1999. “I’m writing and creating new stuff and putting together new different things. Trying to stay out there and roll with the punches. I ain’t quit yet.”

Diddley, like other artists of his generations, was paid a flat fee for his recordings and said he received no royalty payments on record sales. He also said he was never paid for many of his performances.

“I am owed. I’ve never got paid,” he said. “A dude with a pencil is worse than a cat with a machine gun.”

In the early 1950s, Diddley said, disc jockeys called his type of music, “Jungle Music.” It was Cleveland disc jockey Alan Freed who is credited with inventing the term “rock ‘n’ roll.”

Diddley said Freed was talking about him, when he introduced him, saying, “Here is a man with an original sound, who is going to rock and roll you right out of your seat.”

Diddley won attention from a new generation in 1989 when he took part in the “Bo Knows” ad campaign for Nike, built around football and baseball star Bo Jackson. Commenting on Jackson’s guitar skills, Diddley turned to the camera and said, “He don’t know Diddley.”

“I never could figure out what it had to do with shoes, but it worked,” Diddley said. “I got into a lot of new front rooms on the tube.”

Born as Ellas Bates on Dec. 30, 1928, in McComb, Miss., Diddley was later adopted by his mother’s cousin and took on the name Ellis McDaniel, which his wife always called him.

When he was 5, his family moved to Chicago, where he learned the violin at the Ebenezer Baptist Church. He learned guitar at 10 and entertained passers-by on street corners.

By his early teens, Diddley was playing Chicago’s Maxwell Street.

“I came out of school and made something out of myself. I am known all over the globe, all over the world. There are guys who have done a lot of things that don’t have the same impact that I had,” he said.

Goodbye, old friend.

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