News & Commentary
Here are five stories that shaped my world this week:
The New Egypt: If anyone has any doubts of the direction that Egypt is heading, further away from the United States and western values, and not approaching it as some have hoped, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi's comments to The New York Times make it clear, the AFP article says. It is understandable why the current Egyptian leader would defend his Muslim Brotherhood values so close to his heart; it's not clear why America ought to support it.
In his interview, Morsi also reaffirmed his links to the Muslim Brotherhood, a religious organization viewed by many in the United States with suspicion. "I grew up with the Muslim Brotherhood," the president said. "I learned my principles in the Muslim Brotherhood. I learned how to love my country with the Muslim Brotherhood. I learned politics with the Brotherhood. I was a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood."
He also pointed out that the United States should not expect Egypt to live by its rules as the West, underscoring a cultural divide between the two nations. "If you want to judge the performance of the Egyptian people by the standards of German or Chinese or American culture, then there is no room for judgment," he said. "When the Egyptians decide something, probably it is not appropriate for the US. When the Americans decide something, this, of course, is not appropriate for Egypt."Moon Program For Cancer: In an article by Meredith Wadman in Nature, the president of the United States' largest cancer-treatment centre has a made a bold statement, reminiscent of President John F. Kennedy's moon challenge fifty years ago. It's a bold initiative, but a good one; I was wondering when such an initiative would happen. Undoubtedly, knowledgeable skeptics point out that cancer is a complicated and intelligent disease. Even so, there are always skeptics before every breakthrough, as there were during the early years of the Moon Program.
Yet, such skeptics, although well meaning (or not), never are the individuals at the forefront of innovation and discovery; they lack the imagination and courage. Such is the historical record of innovation. You need money, commitment, hard work and imagination to succeed. Bravo to Dr. DePinho, the MD Anderson Cancer Center and the many benefactors; we wish them well in their great initiative.
At a news conference on 21 September, Ronald DePinho, the president of the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, told reporters his institution would spend up to $3 billion over ten years to attack eight cancers in a new “moon shots” programme.
The goal: to dramatically accelerate discoveries that will reduce mortality from the following eight cancers: acute myeloid leukemia/myelodysplastic syndrome; chronic lymphocytic leukemia; melanoma; lung cancer; prostate cancer, and triple-negative breast and ovarian cancers.
These ”inaugural” moon shots DePinho said, were chosen by a panel of 25 experts led by Frank McCormick, the president of the American Association for Cancer Research. They looked at numerous proposals put forward by MD Anderson researchers in the time since DePinho took the job at the helm of MD Anderson one year ago.Odds Of Surviving Surgery Have Improved Greatly: The rates of surviving a surgical procedure have increased significantly in the last few decades, despite surgeries becoming more complicated and patients becoming older. The chances of dying in the operating room are about one-tenth that of what they were before 1970, the study's benchmark year. Before 1970, 357 people per million surgeries died from receiving anesthetic, the study said. That rate dropped to 34 people per million in the 1990s and 2000s. That's a 90 percent rate of improvement. The findings ought to give comfort to persons undergoing surgical procedures, knowing that their chances of coming out of the procedure have increased significantly since 1970. This is indeed good news, both revealing and proving how advances in science and medicine contribute to our well-being.
There are a number of reasons for the improvement, says an article in CTV News:
The lead author of the study said a variety of factors have contributed to the improvement in surgical survival. "You can't point to one thing," said Dr. Daniel Bainbridge, an anesthesiologist and associate professor in the department of anesthesiology and peri-operative medicine at the University of Western Ontario."I'm sure it's better drugs. It's better training of our residents. It's better operating room environments, cleaner environments. Better equipment. It's an understanding about safety and culture safety and avoiding drug errors."
The study, published in this week's issue of the journal The Lancet, was undertaken to see whether advances in the science of anesthetizing people and improved surgical safety procedures were actually translating into fewer deaths in operating rooms.With more than 230 million major surgeries occurring annually around the world, the stakes are high.
Bainbridge and his group explored the issue by amalgamating data from 87 studies other researchers had done to try to get a global picture of what had been happening over the past few decades to rates of deaths during or immediately after surgery. The patient pool in the combined studies represents 21.4 million times people were administered general anesthetic for surgery.U.S. President Obama's U.N. Speech: On Tuesday September 25th: Presient Obama delivered a speech to the 67th United Nations General Assembly; the full speech can be found here. The 4,000-word speech had a few bright spots, such as the words below, as reported in The Guardian:
There are no words that excuse the killing of innocents. There is no video that justifies an attack on an Embassy. There is no slander that provides an excuse for people to burn a restaurant in Lebanon, or destroy a school in Tunis, or cause death and destruction in Pakistan.
More broadly, the events of the last two weeks speak to the need for all of us to address honestly the tensions between the West and an Arab World moving to democracy. Just as we cannot solve every problem in the world, the United States has not, and will not, seek to dictate the outcome of democratic transitions abroad, and we do not expect other nations to agree with us on every issue. Nor do we assume that the violence of the past weeks, or the hateful speech by some individuals, represents the views of the overwhelming majority of Muslims– any more than the views of the people who produced this video represent those of Americans.
However, I do believe that it is the obligation of all leaders, in all countries, to speak out forcefully against violence and extremism. It is time to marginalize those who – even when not resorting to violence – use hatred of America, or the West, or Israel as a central principle of politics. For that only gives cover, and sometimes makes excuses, for those who resort to violence.But the speech, in its naive desire to not offend the feelings of anyone, had a sense that it was almost an apology for American and western values rather than a robust apologia for them—the speech gave the remarkable but undesirable impression that the speaker was unsure of whether he himself believed that western liberal values such as freedom of speech, which includes the possibility of at times offending religious sensibilities, were something that he truly believed in and cherished:
I know there are some who ask why we don't just ban such a video. The answer is enshrined in our laws: our Constitution protects the right to practice free speech. Here in the United States, countless publications provoke offense. Like me, the majority of Americans are Christian, and yet we do not ban blasphemy against our most sacred beliefs. Moreover, as President of our country, and Commander-in-Chief of our military, I accept that people are going to call me awful things every day, and I will always defend their right to do so. Americans have fought and died around the globe to protect the right of all people to express their views – even views that we disagree with.
We do so not because we support hateful speech, but because our Founders understood that without such protections, the capacity of each individual to express their own views, and practice their own faith, may be threatened. We do so because in a diverse society, efforts to restrict speech can become a tool to silence critics, or oppress minorities. We do so because given the power of faith in our lives, and the passion that religious differences can inflame, the strongest weapon against hateful speech is not repression, it is more speech – the voices of tolerance that rally against bigotry and blasphemy, and lift up the values of understanding and mutual respect.Iranian President's Top Press Adviser Jailed: While Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was in New York delivering a speech to the United Nations on Wednesday, his top press adviser was taken into custody to begin serving a six-month jail sentence; he was "convicted of publishing material deemed insulting to the country's supreme leader," an Associated Press report published in Haaretz says. His arrest comes on top of two others this week—the son and daughter of Iran's former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani were arrested for essentially protesting against the conservative regime—as the Islamic Republic attempts to quell dissent and send a signal to reformers.
And last week, Reporters Without Borders said that two women journalists were arrested, bringing the total to at least 57 women journalists and bloggers who have been arrested and given jail terms since the June 2009 elections. This is undoubtedly bad news for free speech and democracy. But there is a silver lining, namely, that moderates in Iran are speaking out against hard-line policies that the majority of Iranians do not want.
Ali Akbar Javanfekr, who is also the head of the state-run IRNA news agency, is one of dozens of Ahmadinejad's allies detained since April 2011 in the fallout from a political feud between the president and the country's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Iran's hardline political establishment slapped down Ahmadinejad and his supporters after the president briefly challenged an order from the country's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei over the choice of intelligence chief.
An Iranian court convicted Javanfekr last November of "publishing materials contrary to Islamic norms," and also banned him from journalism activities for three years. The charges against him included insulting Khamenei, who has the final say on all state matters in Iran. The semiofficial Fars news agency said judicial agents detained Javanfekr late Wednesday. IRNA said Javanfekr was arrested as Ahmadinejad, who had shielded his press adviser in the past from arrest, began his speech at the U.N. General Assembly in New York.
The case against Javanfekr began after he wrote in an official publication that the practice of women wearing a head-to-toe black covering known as a chador was not originally an Iranian practice but was imported. This was considered offensive by hardline Iranian clerics.& One More, Because It's Important
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Speech At The U.N.: On Thursday September 27th, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel addressed the 67th session of the United Nations General Assembly. I think it was an excellent, eloquent, informative and rational speech, mixing ancient history and modern history, and in the process giving a defence of the values that define western liberal democracy. Yes, he spoke about the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran, and using a cartoon-like graphic on the importance of agreeing on a "red line"—which may I add was effective. All this is to say that in a clash between mediaevalism and modernity, it is modernity that defines western civilization; this excerpt speaks of a hope that we all share: "Israel stands proudly with the forces of modernity," the prime minister said.... "So too will a cloistered Middle East eventually yield to the irresistible power of freedom and technology. And when this happens our region will be guided not by fanaticism and conspiracy, but by reason and curiosity." Am Yisrael Chai. You can view the entire 32-minute speech here and here.
September 29th in History
522 BCE: Darius I of Persia kills the Magian usurper Gaumâta, securing his hold as king of the Persian Empire;
1227: Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor, is excommunicated by Pope Gregory IX for his failure to participate in the Crusades;1789: The First United States Congress adjourns;
1911: Italy declares war on the Ottoman Empire;
1923: The British Mandate for Palestine takes effect, creating Mandatory Palestine;
1938: Munich Agreement: Germany is given permission from France, Italy, and Great Britain to seize the territory of Sudetenland, Czechoslovakia. The meeting occurred in Munich, and leaders from neither the Soviet Union nor Czechoslovakia attended;1943: World War II: U.S. General Dwight D. Eisenhower and Italian Marshal Pietro Badoglio sign an armistice aboard the Royal Navy battleship HMS Nelson off Malta;
2004: The asteroid 4179 Toutatis passes within four lunar distances of Earth.