Friday, March 31, 2006

Should We Mind Corrrect English Usage?

Three Updates So Far. . .April 15. 2006 Scroll down
Updates * * * Scroll down * * *

If he and Obasanjo run against each other, it will beg the question: is any civilian capable of running Nigeria?

After our short visit I had to beg the question the world has been asking finally has an answer: what's a middle-aged PR guy, who happens to work with a lot of biosciences companies, do to unwind on the weekends?

The experience does beg a question.

That should beg the question: What is a neocon?

It makes you wonder (no, it does NOT “beg the question”) why, though, the idea videotaping yourself lip-synching to pop music seems so, well, gay

Thomas’ solution (as CP notes) allows philosophy to operate according to its own principles—no revelation may enter as this would be to beg the question.

This does beg the question, why didn’t Locke first try to crawl threw the vents first?

It does beg the question of whether any form of enterprise architecture should be handled by consultants and what can corporate America see and learn from our government as to how not to do enterprise architecture.

My argument doesn’t beg the question by first assuming that God exists as following from premise (3). All premise (3) concludes is simply that the universe has a cause, not that that cause is necessarily God.

Doesn’t it beg the question of what’s wrong with their country of origin? And if there is something wrong, then why isn’t anything being done to change those countries?


Puzzled?

Well, that was the intention. The above ten statements were lifted randomly from a Google search in the blogosphere of the phrase, beg the question. Google gave out 30,973 results. And indeed, upon reviewing the above statements, you will find that this phrase forms the common thread that binds them all together.

And your purpose is?

English being such a dynamic and universally used language, one cannot help finding and discovering words and phrases whose usage have changed over time, either subtly or abruptly in some kind of barrage in popular usage. And the common phrase above is one such classic example. And if current usage as exemplified by most (one exception, maybe) of the above statements is to be accepted, then consider how differently the original meaning compares with the current one. Not unlike another classic example, the verb, to cleave, which in olden times meant to join together or unite. But now means to cut apart as evidenced by the use of the term, meat cleaver.

In its original concept, using the term to beg the question is to point to a logical fallacy, brought out when one argues taking for granted or assuming the thing that one is precisely trying to prove. In other words, in a roundabout or circular way one evades the issue by not giving a straightforward answer, or making the argument part of the proof.

Believe it or not, Aristotle defined this fallacy:

The fallacy was described by Aristotle in his book on logic in about 350BC. His Greek name for it was turned into Latin as petitio principii and then into English in 1581 as beg the question.

So?

Well, if you accept the current usage as reflected by most of the above statements, the phrase then comes to mean:

That the statement made prompts or forces the question to be asked.

While the original intent of the term was to point to a fallacy, like for instance when one makes the following statement:

We should not kill because all people should be allowed to live.

Then one can respond that the above argument is begging the question.

Consider the confusion then when both become standard and accepted usage. Readers will not be sure what the intended meaning of the writer is and in this instance one is very different from the other.

Are there more out there?

UPDATE

To Reader PhilippinesPhil:

As one can deduce from this blog’s archives, I appear quite attached to and enamored with the subject of the English language. Wrote a blog entry about English being the unofficial lingua franca of the blogosphere


Another word that has raised the hackles of many language purists is disinterested, its usage and meanings. Now many use and accept it to mean as not interested, rather than the more traditional and standard one which is to denote impartiality. Imagine picturing a “disinterested judge” as yawning at the proceedings, rather than listening intently and showing no biases.

I regularly resort to Google to try and learn about words, their etymology, current usage and meanings, etc.

Are many aware that one can Google using foreign language characters? After all many sites are written in languages other than English.

Sometimes morbid curiosity can amount to some good, such as accidentally tripping into some yet untapped features of some resources.

I had wanted to learn more about an unknown Russian actress raunchily featured in one episode of the Red Shoe Diaries series, a project of David Duchovny, made famous by that sci-fi thriller of HBO as one of the duo FBI agents, Mulder and Scully.

Well, I learned about her name but it was in Russian characters, from some Russian website featuring, you know what, pretty young Russian women.

So copied and pasted the name to Google and got the needed results.

SECOND UPDATE:

One essayist, a Mr. Michael Saffran, associate director of University News Services and an adjunct professor of communication at Rochester Institute of Technology, thinks bloggers should mind their grammar and spelling.

To accent his point, he has coined a word, wrogging, which at this stage may be too early to see if it will catch on in the blogosphere.

But as defined, wrogging is to be used “to distinguish higher-quality writing on some blogs from the personal-diary-like revelations on many others.”

He lists his wrogging requisites:

• No first drafts, also known as ramblings, streams of consciousness and brain dumping (some call that writing — it's not).

• Proper grammar, punctuation and spelling (this should go without saying; but without saying it, they're often the first to go on some blogs).


• Simple thoughts are sometimes OK; simplistic thoughts are never OK (there is a subtle difference between the two).

• Follow the writing process: Think — Write — Edit — Rewrite (Nowhere in the writing process will you find: "Post first draft of the first thoughts that enter your mind.")

• Have passion for words, writing and reading good writing.


And I say, Amen.

THIRD UPDATE
Commented at Tiger Beat blog


English is a second language to me. And it took great pain and effort, and time too, to arrive at a place where I can write English decently and be understood by a host of readers coming from different backgrounds. And the learning continues to this day.

It comes as a surprise then to read that other writers of English, where it is the native tongue, would pose any question at all with your proposition that correct grammar and usage should be a standard in blog writing.

Beyond just being understood easily and properly, I personally find that the habit of using English properly can lead to a better mastery of the language. In this instance I subscribe to the cliché that practice makes perfect.

On another, but sadder, note, I am reminded of the old homeland where endemic poverty has not made possible the more universal usage of computers. Instead, they have the cheaper cell phones which they use essentially as their communicating tool. So instead of emails or blogwriting, many resort to sending texts to each other in packets of a few hundred characters. Most educated citizens are bi-lingual and English is the second language, though it is the medium of instruction in most schools.

Sad, because in their texting in English, they have somehow created an entirely new vocabulary designed primarily to save characters and speed up the process. And thus, to the uninitiated, they come out like coded messages. Missing vowels. Spelling based solely on how the word sounds. Lowercasing. Sentences interspersed with the dialect. Etc.

In effect, the process is mangling whatever English is learned in school because this corrupted form is now seeping into formal communication. Pretty soon, it could become second nature and reflexive.

Healing Power of Prayer Fails Test

Here are excerpts from a news report documenting prayer’s healing failure in the largest study so far:

A study of more than 1,800 patients who underwent heart bypass surgery has failed to show that prayers specially organized for their recovery had any impact, researchers said on Thursday.

In fact, the study found some of the patients who knew they were being prayed for did worse than others who were only told they might be prayed for -- though those who did the study said they could not explain why.


Read the entire study.


Tests like this are of course contributory signs of our growing agnostic and secular times; thus even such a benign but very reverentially sacrosanct practice as praying is now put to a litmus test. Tested essentially to determine its efficacy in healing illnesses of people being prayed for or being prayed over.

To be fair the test really was focused on group praying rather than individual, personal or family praying. And praying done essentially by strangers. Most probably buoyed up and inspired by some reported successes of group intercessory prayers. Like those typically witnessed in religious revival meetings and those conducted in charismatic movements and similar gatherings or movements.

And for further illustration, the Catholic Sacrifice of the Mass would be a perfect example of group praying. And another would be praying done by those in monasteries. The report skirts the more thorny issue of personal prayers with the carte blanche statement that such was popularly believed to be efficacious. Quite ironic considering that even a statement of Christ would defer more to group praying rather than individual praying. Christ avers in the following paraphrased statement that: when two or more of you gather and pray in my name, I will be in your midst. Implying that his presence, and hopefully intercession, is guaranteed under such a milieu.

Praying and prayers have historically and traditionally been viewed with awe-some deference in most major if not all religions. As a ritual and regular practice, devotees have always been enjoined to develop the habit of praying, especially during times of need, both personal and otherwise.

Some religions more than others have embraced praying as a very critical and integral component and vehicle of worship and adoration.

And devotees are strongly encouraged to pray for anything and everything their hearts may desire. So long as they are all for morally good and upright purposes.

Growing up Catholic, we were taught that one’s entire day of actions, words, and thoughts could be all rolled up and offered as one big efficacious prayer. The formula was to intone the Morning Offering first chance in the morning.

It went this way:

O Jesus, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I offer You my prayers, works, joys and sufferings of this day for all the intentions of Your Sacred Heart, in union with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass throughout the world, in reparation for my sins, for the intentions of all my relatives and friends, and in particular for the intentions of the Holy Father. Amen


We were quite unquestioning and unequivocal about praying and prayer. We simply did it. And hoped for the best.

Many of us never really delved into the whys and wherefores, or even if it made sense at all given what we know about our created existence and the God who made that possible. The God who is all-knowing, all-powerful and all- mighty.

Thus, for example, it never occurred to us kids that that God already knows everything because he is omniscient. He already knows everything past, present, and future. Thus, in His eyes everything for everybody including inanimate objects in creation is already neatly laid out, unchangeable and unalterable. Why then, the need for praying to ask for things or to allow things to happen? What could we possibly do, either individually or collectively, to affect or change any or all that?

Nor did we consider the very obvious dilemma as characterized by prayers for victory being offered by two opposing teams prior to their competition. How could that one same all-good God possibly resolve which team would get His nod?

Just the same the efficacy of praying was never in doubt, whether for its healing powers or its abilities to bring about things wished for.

Here’s an earlier blog entry dealing more deeply into Praying and Prayer.


But to reiterate, from an Ignatian Perspective, here is how praying should be viewed and undertaken:

That we must pray as though the matter we desire depended entirely on God and then work on it as though it depended entirely on ourselves.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Hot-Button Issue: Emigration and Immigration

Very much like the physical movements of the earth around fault lines, the tectonic plate-like upheavals of different peoples around the globe have also caused both fears and concerns centering around impacts, both positive and negative, on the different "plates" or regions of the world.

Europe mulls over its growing Muslim populations which have grown exponentially during the last three decades, creating many fissures or enclaves of splintered parts exerting social and political pressures and sore points within the different citizenries. The population components in countries like Holland have shifted considerably because of immigration and in Paris, certain areas are now off-limits to certain authorities such as the police due to pressures exerted by their largely unassimilated minority populations.

And the US is no stranger to such cataclysmic tremors, maybe as a consequence of its very liberal policies on immigration, or very lax enforcement of immigration laws. The US Senate is now locked in heated discourses about a pending a immigration bill that addresses the over 11 million illegal immigrants who reside within its borders and over 75% of which come from Mexico and Latin American countries, with more being added each day as the porous southern borders continue to be largely neglected.

Taking a macro view then of all these temblors, one may be able to take a much more rounded and detached view of how this "pale blue dot" looks given all these upheavals.

One such site looks at all these people movements and plots how these shifts are remapping and realigning the different regional "plates". It is the WorldMapper.

Take a little time to find out how the globe now looks because of the world-wide emigration, people departing from their places of origins, and the resulting immigration of people getting into new areas.

First, take a look at the Total Land Area in the globe.
Each territory's size on the map is drawn according to its land area:

The total land area of these 200 territories is 13,056 million hectares. Divided up equally that would be 2.1 hectares for each person. A hectare is 100 metres by 100 metres.

However, population is not evenly spread: Australia's land area is 21 times bigger than Japan's, but Japan's population is more than six times bigger than Australia's.


Second Map: Total World Population
The size of each territory shows the relative proportion of the world's population living there.

In Spring 2000 world population estimates reached 6 billion; that is 6 thousand million. The distribution of the earth's population is shown in this map.India, China and Japan appear large on the map because they have large populations. Panama, Namibia and Guinea-Bissau have small populations so are barely visible on the map.

Population is very weakly related to land area. However, Sudan which is geographically the largest country in Africa, has a smaller population than Nigeria, Egypt, Ethiopia, Democratic Republic of Congo, South Africa and Tanzania


Third Map: Total Population During Year One
This map shows the distribution of the world population in 1AD

The population two thousand years ago is estimated to have been 231 million. At this time North and South America were sparsely populated, as was Asia Pacific. The estimated population of New Zealand was zero. Southern Asia, Northern Africa, China and Southern Europe (parts of the same land mass) had relatively high populations.

Colder Northern latitudes tended to have lower populations.

The territories that now encompass the Ganges, Tigris, Yangtze, Nile and Po rivers were the most populous.


Fourth Map: Total Immigrants
The territory size shows the number of international immigrants that live there.

Three percent of the world population in 2000 were born in a territory different to where they now live: one hundred and seventy-four million people have moved to a new territory.

The United States receives the highest number of international immigrants (people born in another territory and no longer resident there); however Andorra has highest proportion of immigrants living within its borders. Four out of every five people in Andorra are international immigrants.

In the Philippines and Guyana, territories experiencing some of the lowest immigration, only one person in every 500 is an international immigrant.


Fifth Map: International Emigrants
Territory size shows the number of international emigrants originating there.

This map shows the proportion of the world's international emigrants coming from each territory. This map indicates that the worldwide spread of origins is not dominated by any single region. Nevertheless variations exist.

Regional averages for the percentage of the population that emigrate range from one percent of the population in Southern Asia, Eastern Asia and Japan, to eight percent in Eastern Europe and nine percent in the Middle East.

Sixth Map: Net Immigration
Territory size shows the relative levels of net immigration in all territories (immigration less emigration).

Richer territories tend to experience net immigration (greater immigration than emigration). Just under half of the 200 territories mapped currently experience net immigration. Those territories with net emigration (greater emigration than immigration) have size zero on this map.

Regions experiencing the highest net immigration are North America, Western Europe and the Middle East. Together these three regions account for 79.5% of world net immigration. The United States alone receives 37.1% of the world net total.


Seventh Map: Net Emigration
Territory size shows the relative quantity of net emigration in all territories (emigration less immigration).

Over half of the territories in the world are currently experiencing net emigration. More people are leaving them than are coming to them.

Territories with net emigration generally are poorer than those with net immigration. Mexico is the country with the highest net emigration, with a net loss of 8.8 million people in 2000. Mexico is in North America, the region whose territories have the largest net immigration.

The United State's high immigration rate is linked to Mexican emigration. Were the United States and Mexico combined to be one territory then this movement of people would not be recorded as immigration nor emigration.


Visit the site, there are more maps, such as relating to tourism, projections of population growth, etc.

Gives one a more comprehensive and global outlook.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Is The Name DARFA familiar?

Well, it is only the precursor of the present-day Internet. Before the blogosphere, and all the other spheres in the cyber-firmament, even before WWW, there was Arpanet of DARPA.

It is the acronym for The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and is the central research and development organization of the US Department of Defense (DoD).

Its primary mission:

.. to manage and direct selected basic and applied research and development projects for DoD, and to pursue research and technology where risk and payoff are both very high and where success may provide dramatic advances for traditional military roles and missions.


In the current Iraqi War, the most pernicious and deadly problem encountered by the Coalition forces, and including the Iraqi civilians, has been the almost unstoppable effectiveness of the IEDs, or the improvised explosives devices. Or simply your home-made roadside bombs.

Iraq is one of the most heavily mined nations in the world. As of early 2003, it was estimated that there were over 10 million mines already in the ground—8 million antipersonnel (AP) and 2 million antitank (AT), with Iraq both a producer and exporter of AP mines.


DARPA is in the middle of all this planning and research to try to neutralize the effectiveness of IEDs.

Check this out.
The latest experiment of scientists has been to try and create an army of cyber-insects that can be remotely controlled, like many roadside bombs are, to check out explosives and send transmission.

Here’s the rest of the report from the BBC:

The idea is to insert micro-systems at the pupa stage, when the insects can integrate them into their body, so they can be remotely controlled later.

Experts told the BBC some ideas were feasible but others seemed "ludicrous".

A similar scheme aimed at manipulating wasps failed when they flew off to feed and mate.

The new scheme is a brainwave of the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa), which is tasked with maintaining the technological superiority of the US military.

It has asked for "innovative" bids on the insect project from interested parties.

'Assembly-line'

Darpa believes scientists can take advantage of the evolution of insects, such as dragonflies and moths, in the pupa stage.

"Through each metamorphic stage, the insect body goes through a renewal process that can heal wounds and reposition internal organs around foreign objects," its proposal document reads.

The foreign objects it suggests to be implanted are specific micro-systems - Mems - which, when the insect is fully developed, could allow it to be remotely controlled or sense certain chemicals, including those in explosives.

The invasive surgery could "enable assembly-line like fabrication of hybrid insect-Mems interfaces", Darpa says.

A winning bidder would have to deliver "an insect within five metres of a specific target located 100 metres away".

The "insect-cyborg" must also "be able to transmit data from relevant sensors, yielding information about the local environment. These sensors can include gas sensors, microphones, video, etc."

'Fiction'

Scientists who spoke to the BBC news website were unconvinced.

Entomology expert Dr George McGavin of the Oxford University Museum of Natural History said the idea appeared "ludicrous".

"Not all wacky ideas are without value. Some do produce the goods. My feeling is this will probably not produce the goods," he said.

"What adult insects want to do is basically reproduce and lay eggs. You would have to rewire the entire brain patterns."

Dr McGavin said it appeared impossible to connect the technology to the right places during the metamorphic phase, particularly with regard to flight.

Prof Andrew Parker, research leader at the Natural History Museum's zoology department and a specialist in bio-mimetics, said the concept was not too far fetched but had its limits.

Technology could help direct an insect to chemicals such as in roadside bombs, he said, but controlling full flight was "a long way off".

Entomology expert at the museum, Stuart Hine, agreed it was plausible to use insects to detect explosives.

But he added: "I feel that the reality of such cyborg fusion between insect and machine lies squarely in the realms of fiction."

To receive micro-signals from the insects would require a dish "quite close and several feet in diameter, rendering it a less than covert operation".

Darpa's previous experiments to get bees and wasps to detect the smell of explosives foundered when their "instinctive behaviours for feeding and mating... prevented them from performing reliably", it said.

Darpa was founded in 1958 to keep US military technology ahead of Cold War rivals.

Its website says it has around 240 personnel and a $2bn (£1.1bn) budget. Supporters say much of its work has been successful, but it has also drawn criticism for unusable "blue-sky" projects.

A former director said in 1975: "When we fail, we fail big."

In The Philippines: Of Cacao trees, Chocolate, and Tablea

I'm sure many of us have often wondered how the cacao trees started to grow in the old homeland. We have somehow assumed that it is native to our place, because it is a tropical tree.

But searches about its origins do not point to any Far East connections. Usual reports point to Latin American roots, specifically Aztec ones.

So, if not native to us, how did it get to the Philippines?

One possible explanation is contained in this little chronology:


* Chocolate was first noted in 1519 when Spanish explorer Hernando Cortez visited the court of Emperor Montezuma of Mexico. American historian William Hickling's History of the Conquest of Mexico (1838)reports that Montezuma "took no other beverage than the chocolatl, a potation of chocolate, flavored with vanilla and spices, and so prepared as to be reduced to a froth of the consistency of honey, which gradually dissolved in the mouth and was taken cold." The fact that Montezuma consumed his "chocolatl" in goblets before entering his harem led to the belief that it was an aphrodisiac.

* In 1528 Cortez brought chocolate back from Mexico to the royal court of King Charles V. Monks, hidden away in Spanish monasteries, processed the cocoa beans and kept chocolate a secret for nearly a century. It made a profitable industry for Spain, which planted cocoa trees in its overseas colonies.


If this is true, I suppose we have to give credit to Mother Spain for bringing it to our shores.

At present, cacao beans are almost as commonplace as coffee beans. And the cacao trees now form part as an important component in the intercropping farming methods used in many areas where coconut trees are also abundant. Many will find these cacao trees growing underneath rows of the taller coconut trees. And like coconut trees that can grow as high as 3000 feet, cacao trees adapt also to higher altitude.

Chocolate and cocoa drinks are now daily staple or food items for most countries in the world.

It serves us right to know where their basic ingredients come from.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Global Terrorism: Iraqi Philippine Connections

Here's the latest as a cover story from the Weekly Standard.

Though it has always been suspected all along that the home-grown terrorist group in the Philippines called Abu Sayyaf had international connections, most notably with Libya's Qaddafi, now translated documents coming from the treasure trove of captured documents from Iraq are beginning to paint a clearer and documented picture of these connections.

Reproduced below is the complete and comprehensive report on the translated documents:

Saddam's Philippines Terror Connection
And other revelations from the Iraqi regime files.
by Stephen F. Hayes
03/27/2006, Volume 011, Issue 26



SADDAM HUSSEIN'S REGIME PROVIDED FINANCIAL support to Abu Sayyaf, the al Qaeda-linked jihadist group founded by Osama bin Laden's brother-in-law in the Philippines in the late 1990s, according to documents captured in postwar Iraq. An eight-page fax dated June 6, 2001, and sent from the Iraqi ambassador in Manila to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Baghdad, provides an update on Abu Sayyaf kidnappings and indicates that the Iraqi regime was providing the group with money to purchase weapons. The Iraqi regime suspended its support--temporarily, it seems--after high-profile kidnappings, including of Americans, focused international attention on the terrorist group.

The fax comes from the vast collection of documents recovered in postwar Afghanistan and Iraq. Up to this point, those materials have been kept from the American public. Now the proverbial dam has broken. On March 16, the U.S. government posted on the web 9 documents captured in Iraq, as well as 28 al Qaeda documents that had been released in February. Earlier last week, Foreign Affairs magazine published a lengthy article based on a review of 700 Iraqi documents by analysts with the Institute for Defense Analysis and the Joint Forces Command in Norfolk, Virginia. Plans for the release of many more documents have been announced. And if the contents of the recently released materials and other documents obtained by The Weekly Standard are any indication, the discussion of the threat posed by Saddam Hussein's Iraq is about to get more interesting.

Several months ago, The Weekly Standard received a set of English-language documents from a senior U.S. government official. The official represented this material as U.S. government translations of three captured Iraqi documents. According to this source, the documents had been examined by the U.S. intelligence community and judged "consistent with authentic documents"--the professionals' way of saying that these items cannot definitively be certified but seem to be the real thing.

The Weekly Standard checked its English-language documents with officials serving elsewhere in the federal government to make sure they were consistent with the versions these officials had seen. With what one person characterized as "minor discrepancies," they are. One of the three documents has been posted in the original Arabic on the website of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. A subsequent translation of that document is nearly identical to the English-language text that we were given.

These documents add to the growing body of evidence confirming the Iraqi regime's longtime support for terrorism abroad. The first of them, a series of memos from the spring of 2001, shows that the Iraqi Intelligence Service funded Abu Sayyaf, despite the reservations of some IIS officials. The second, an internal Iraqi Intelligence memo on the relationships between the IIS and Saudi opposition groups, records that Osama bin Laden requested Iraqi cooperation on terrorism and propaganda and that in January 1997 the Iraqi regime was eager to continue its relationship with bin Laden. The third, a September 15, 2001, report from an Iraqi Intelligence source in Afghanistan, contains speculation about the relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda and the likely U.S. response to it.

ON JUNE 6, 2001, the Iraqi ambassador to the Philippines sent an eight-page fax to Baghdad. Ambassador Salah Samarmad's dispatch to the Secondary Policy Directorate of the Iraqi Foreign Ministry concerned an Abu Sayyaf kidnapping a week earlier that had garnered international attention. Twenty civilians--including three Americans--had been taken from Dos Palmas Resort on Palawan Island in the southern Philippines. There had been fighting between the kidnappers and the Filipino military, Samarmad reported. Several hostages had escaped, and others were released.

"After the release of nine of the hostages, an announcement from the FBI appeared in newspapers announcing their desire to interview the escaped Filipinos in order to make a decision on the status of the three American hostages," the Iraqi ambassador wrote to his superiors in Baghdad. "The embassy stated what was mentioned above. The three American hostages were a missionary husband and wife who had lived in the Philippines for a while, Martin and Gracia Burnham, from Kansas City, and Guillermo Sobrero, from California. They are still in the hands of the Abu Sayyaf kidnappers from a total of 20 people who were kidnapped from (Dos Palmas) resort on Palawan Island." (Except where noted, parentheses, brackets, and ellipses appear in the documents quoted.)

The report notes that the Iraqis were now trying to be seen as helpful and keep a safe distance from Abu Sayyaf. "We have all cooperated in the field of intelligence information with some of our friends to encourage the tourists and the investors in the Philippines." But Samarmad's report seems to confirm that this is a change. "The kidnappers were formerly (from the previous year) receiving money and purchasing combat weapons. From now on we (IIS) are not giving them this opportunity and are not on speaking terms with them."

Samarmad's dispatch appears to be the final installment in a series of internal Iraqi regime memos from March through June 2001. (The U.S. government translated some of these documents in full and summarized others.) The memos contain a lengthy discussion among Iraqi officials--from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Iraqi Intelligence Service--about the wisdom of using a Libyan intelligence front as a way to channel Iraqi support for Abu Sayyaf without the risks of dealing directly with the group. (The Libyan regime had intervened in an Abu Sayyaf kidnapping in 2000, securing the release of several hostages by paying several million dollars in ransom. Some observers saw this as an effort by Muammar Qaddafi to improve his image; others saw it as an effort to provide support to Abu Sayyaf by paying the ransom demanded by the group. Both were probably right.)

One Iraqi memo, from the "Republican Presidency, Intelligence Apparatus" to someone identified only as D4/4, makes the case for supporting the work of the Qaddafi Charity Establishment to help Abu Sayyaf. The memo is dated March 18, 2001.



1. There are connections between the Qaddafi Charity Establishment and the Abu Sayyaf group in the Philippines; meanwhile, this establishment is providing material support to them.

2. This establishment is one of the Libyan Intelligence fronts.

3. The Tripoli post has indicated that there is a possibility to form what connections are available with this establishment as it can offer the premise of providing food supplies to [Ed: word missing] in the scope of the agreement statement.

Please review . . . it appears of intelligence value to proceed into connections with this establishment and its intelligence investments in the Abu Sayyaf group.
The short response, two days later:


Mr. Dept. 3:
Study this idea, the pros and the cons, the relative reactions, and any other remarks regarding this.

That exchange above was fully translated by U.S. government translators. The two pages of correspondence that follow it in the Iraqi files were not, but a summary of those pages informs readers that the Iraqi response "discourages the supporting of connections with the Abu Sayyaf group, as the group works against the Philippine government and relies on several methods for material gain, such as kidnapping foreigners, demanding ransoms, as well as being accused by the Philippine government of terrorist acts and drug smuggling."

These accusations were, of course, well founded. On June 12, 2001, six days after Samarmad's dispatch, authorities found the beheaded body of Guillermo Sobrero near the Abu Sayyaf camp. Martin Burnham was killed a year later during the rescue attempt that freed his wife.

A thorough understanding of the relationship between Iraq and Abu Sayyaf (the name, honoring Afghan jihadi Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, means "Father of the Sword") will not come from an analysis of three months' correspondence between Manila and Baghdad in 2001. While it is certainly significant to read in internal Iraqi documents that the regime was at one time funding Abu Sayyaf, we do not now have a complete picture of that relationship. Why did the Iraqis begin funding Abu Sayyaf, which had long been considered a regional terrorist group concerned mainly with making money? Why did they suspend their support in 2001? And why did the Iraqis resume this relationship and, according to the congressional testimony of one State Department regional specialist, intensify it?

ON MARCH 26, 2003, as war raged in Iraq, the State Department's Matthew Daley testified before Congress. Daley, the deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, told a subcommittee of the House International Relations Committee that he was worried about Abu Sayyaf.

"We're concerned that they have what I would call operational links to Iraqi intelligence services. And they're a danger, they're an enemy of the Philippines, they're an enemy of the United States, and we want very much to help the government in Manila deal with this challenge," Daley told the panel. Responding to a question, Daley elaborated. "There is good reason to believe that a member of the Abu Sayyaf Group who has been involved in terrorist activities was in direct contact with an IIS officer in the Iraqi Embassy in Manila. This individual was subsequently expelled from the Philippines for engaging in activities that were incompatible with his diplomatic status."

This individual was Hisham Hussein, the second secretary of the Iraqi Embassy in Manila. And Daley was right to be concerned.

Eighteen months before his testimony, a young Filipino man rode his Honda motorcycle up a dusty road to a shanty strip mall just outside Camp Enrile Malagutay in Zamboanga City, Philippines. The camp was host to American troops stationed in the south of the country to train with Filipino soldiers fighting terrorists. The man parked his bike and began to examine its gas tank. Seconds later, the tank exploded, sending nails in all directions and killing the rider almost instantly.

The blast damaged six nearby stores and ripped the front off of a café that doubled as a karaoke bar. The café was popular with American soldiers. And on this day, October 2, 2002, SFC Mark Wayne Jackson was killed there and a fellow soldier was severely wounded. Eyewitnesses almost immediately identified the bomber as an Abu Sayyaf terrorist.

One week before the attack, Abu Sayyaf leaders had promised a campaign of terror directed at the "enemies of Islam"--Westerners and the non-Muslim Filipino majority. And one week after the attack, Abu Sayyaf attempted to strike again, this time with a bomb placed on the playground of the San Roque Elementary School. It did not detonate. Authorities recovered the cell phone that was to have set it off and analyzed incoming and outgoing calls.

As they might have expected, they discovered several calls to and from Abu Sayyaf leaders. But another call got their attention. Seventeen hours after the attack that took the life of SFC Jackson, the cell phone was used to place a call to the second secretary of the Iraqi embassy in Manila, Hisham Hussein. It was not Hussein's only contact with Abu Sayyaf.

"He was surveilled, and we found out he was in contact with Abu Sayyaf and also pro-Iraqi demonstrators," says a Philippine government source, who continued, "[Philippine intelligence] was able to monitor their cell phone calls. [Abu Sayyaf leaders] called him right after the bombing. They were always talking."

An analysis of Iraqi embassy phone records by Philippine authorities showed that Hussein had been in regular contact with Abu Sayyaf leaders both before and after the attack that killed SFC Jackson. Andrea Domingo, immigration commissioner for the Philippines, said Hussein ran an "established network" of terrorists in the country. Hussein had also met with members of the New People's Army, a Communist opposition group on the State Department's list of foreign terrorist groups, in his office at the embassy. According to a Philippine government official, the Philippine National Police uncovered documents in a New People's Army compound that indicate the Iraqi embassy had provided funding for the group. Hisham Hussein and two other Iraqi embassy employees were ordered out of the Philippines on February 14, 2003.

Interestingly, an Abu Sayyaf leader named Hamsiraji Sali at least twice publicly boasted that his group received funding from Iraq. For instance, on March 2, 2003, he told the Philippine Daily Inquirer that the Iraqi regime had provided the terrorist group with 1million pesos--about $20,000--each year since 2000.


ANOTHER ITEM from the Iraq-Philippines files is a "security report" prepared by the Iraqi embassy's third secretary, Ahmad Mahmud Ghalib, and sent to Baghdad by Ambassador Samarmad. The report provides a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the Iraqi Intelligence operation in the Philippines. A cover memo from the ambassador, dated April 12, 2001, gives an overview: "The report contain[s] a variety of issues including intelligence issues and how the Philippines, American and Zionist intelligence operate in the Philippines, especially the movements of the American intelligence in their efforts to fight terrorism and recruiting a variety of nationalities, particularly Arabs."

Ghalib's report is a rambling account of a phone conversation he had with an Iraqi intelligence informer named Muhammad al-Zanki, an Iraqi citizen living in the Philippines, who is referred to throughout the document as Abu Ahmad. The embassy official is looking for information on a third person, an informer named Omar Ghazal, and believes that Abu Ahmad might have some. (To review: Salah Samarmad is the Iraqi ambassador; Ahmad Mahmud Ghalib is the embassy's third secretary, most likely an Iraqi intelligence officer and author of the "security report"; Abu Ahmad is an Iraqi intelligence informer; and Omar Ghazal is another Iraqi intelligence informer.)

As the conversation begins, Abu Ahmad tells his embassy contact that he doesn't know where Omar Ghazal is and would have told the embassy if he did. He then tells the embassy contact that when he called Omar Ghazal's aunt to check on his whereabouts, she used a word in Tagalog--walana--which means "not here." But Abu Ahmad says its connotations are not good. "That word is used when you target one of the personnel who are assigned to complete everything (full mission). Then they announce that he is traveling and so on, and that's what I'm afraid of." The Iraqi embassy contact asks him to elaborate. "I have been exposed to that same phrase before, when I asked about an individual, and later on I found out that he was physically eliminated and no one knows anything about him."

The embassy official assures Abu Ahmad that Iraqi intelligence has also lost track of Ghazal, and became alarmed when he abruptly stopped attending soccer practice at a local college. Abu Ahmad fears the worst. "I'm afraid they might have killed him and I'm very worried about him," he says, according to the report. "The method that those people use is terrible and that's why I refuse to work with them."

The Iraqi embassy official interrupts Abu Ahmad. "Who are they? I would like to know who they are."

"Didn't I tell you before who they are?"

"No."

"The office group," says Abu Ahmad.

"Which office?" asks his Iraqi embassy handler.

"A long time ago the American FBI opened up an office in the Philippines, under American supervision and that there are Philippine Intelligence groups that work there. The goal of the office is to fight international terrorism (in the Philippines of course) and they have employees from various nationalities that speak of peace and international terrorism and how important it is to put an end to terrorism. The office also has other espionage affairs involving Arab citizens to work with them in order to provide them with information on the Arabs who are living in the Philippines and also for other spying purposes."

Abu Ahmad continues: "They also monitor diplomacy, and after I tried to lessen my amount of office work, I became aware that the office group was trying to get in contact with the person who is in charge of temporary work, Malik al-Athir, when he was alone."

Abu Ahmad tells his Iraqi embassy contact, Ghalib, that "the office" was trying to recruit an Arab to monitor Arab citizens in the Philippines. The Iraqi embassy contact suggests that Abu Ahmad volunteer for the job. Abu Ahmad says he had other plans. "I am leaving after I finish selling my house and properties and will move to Peshawar [Pakistan]. There I will be supplied with materials, weapons, explosives, and get married and then move to America. Do you know that there are more than one thousand Iraqi extremists who perform heroism jobs?" The speaker presumably means martyrdom operations.

The Iraqi embassy contact asks Abu Ahmad how he knows that those people are not "Saudis, Kuwaitis, Iranians."

Abu Ahmad replies: "They are bin Laden's people and all of them are extremists and they are heroes. Do you want me to give you their names?"

"Why not? Yes, I want them," says the Iraqi embassy contact.

"I will supply you with the names very soon. I will write some for you because I am in touch with them," says Abu Ahmad.

This report raises more questions than it answers. Who is Omar Ghazal and why did he disappear? What is the "office group" and how is it connected to Americans? What happened to Abu Ahmad? Were his stated plans--moving to Peshawar to obtain weapons and explosives and then moving to the United States--just bluster to impress his Iraqi embassy handler? A way to discontinue his work for the Iraqi regime? Or was he serious? Is he here now?

A SECOND internal Iraqi file obtained by The Weekly Standard concerns relations between Iraqi Intelligence and Saudi opposition groups. The document was apparently compiled at some point after January 1997, judging by the most recent date in the text, and discusses four Saudi opposition groups: the Committee for Defense of Legitimate Rights, the Reform and Advice Committee (Osama bin Laden), People of al Jazeera Union Organization, and the Saudi Hezbollah.

The New York Times first reported on the existence of this file on June 25, 2004. "American officials described the document as an internal report by the Iraqi intelligence service detailing efforts to seek cooperation with several Saudi opposition groups, including Mr. bin Laden's organization, before al Qaeda had become a full-fledged terrorist organization." According to the Times, a Pentagon task force "concluded that the document 'appeared authentic,' and that it 'corroborates and expands on previous reporting' about contacts between Iraqi intelligence and Mr. bin Laden in Sudan, according to the task force's analysis."

The most provocative aspect of the document is the discussion of efforts to seek cooperation between Iraqi Intelligence and the Saudi opposition group run by bin Laden, known to the Iraqis as the "Reform and Advice Committee." The translation of that section appears below.


We moved towards the committee by doing the following:

A. During the visit of the Sudanese Dr. Ibrahim al-Sanusi to Iraq and his meeting with Mr. Uday Saddam Hussein, on December 13, 1994, in the presence of the respectable, Mr. Director of the Intelligence Service, he [Dr. al-Sanusi] pointed out that the opposing Osama bin Laden, residing in Sudan, is reserved and afraid to be depicted by his enemies as an agent of Iraq. We prepared to meet him in Sudan (The Honorable Presidency was informed of the results of the meeting in our letter 782 on December 17, 1994).

B. An approval to meet with opposer Osama bin Laden by the Intelligence Services was given by the Honorable Presidency in its letter 138, dated January 11, 1995 (attachment 6). He [bin Laden] was met by the previous general director of M4 in Sudan and in the presence of the Sudanese, Ibrahim al-Sanusi, on February 19, 1995. We discussed with him his organization. He requested the broadcast of the speeches of Sheikh Sulayman al-Uda (who has influence within Saudi Arabia and outside due to being a well known religious and influential personality) and to designate a program for them through the broadcast directed inside Iraq, and to perform joint operations against the foreign forces in the land of Hijaz. (The Honorable Presidency was informed of the details of the meeting in our letter 370 on March 4, 1995, attachment 7.)

C. The approval was received from the Leader, Mr. President, may God keep him, to designate a program for them through the directed broadcast. We were left to develop the relationship and the cooperation between the two sides to see what other doors of cooperation and agreement open up. The Sudanese side was informed of the Honorable Presidency's agreement above, through the representative of the Respectable Director of Intelligence Services, our Ambassador in Khartoum.

D. Due to the recent situation of Sudan and being accused of supporting and embracing of terrorism, an agreement with the opposing Saudi Osama bin Laden was reached. The agreement required him to leave Sudan to another area. He left Khartoum in July 1996. The information we have indicates that he is currently in Afghanistan. The relationship with him is ongoing through the Sudanese side. Currently we are working to invigorate this relationship through a new channel in light of his present location.
(It should be noted that the documents given to The Weekly Standard did not include the attachments, letters to and from Saddam Hussein about the status of the Iraq-al Qaeda relationship. And the last sentence differs slightly from the version provided to the New York Times. In the Weekly Standard document, Iraq is seeking to "invigorate" its relationship with al Qaeda; in the Times translation, Iraq is seeking to "continue" that relationship.)

Another passage of the Iraq-Saudi opposition memo details the relationship between the Iraqi regime and the Committee for Defense of Legitimate Rights (CDLR), founded by Dr. Muhammad Abdallah al-Massari. Once again, Dr. Ibrahim al-Sanusi, the senior Sudanese government official, was a key liaison between the two sides. Al-Massari is widely regarded as an ideological mouthpiece for al Qaeda, a designation he does little to dispute. His radio station broadcasts al Qaeda propaganda, and his website features the rantings of prominent jihadists. He has lived in London for more than a decade. The Iraqi Intelligence memo recounts two meetings involving Dr. al-Sanusi and CDLR representatives in 1994 and reports that al-Massari requested assistance from the Iraqi regime for a trip to Iraq.

In 1995, the Iraqis turned to another Saudi to facilitate their relationship with al-Massari. According to the Iraqi memo, Ahmid Khudir al-Zahrani was a diplomat at the Saudi embassy in Washington who applied for political asylum in the United States. His application was denied, and al-Zahrani contacted the Iraqi embassy in London, seeking asylum in Iraq. His timing was good. Al-Zahrani's request came just as Iraqis were stepping up efforts to establish better relations with the Saudi opposition. According to the Iraqi Intelligence memo:


A complete plan was put in place to bring the aforementioned [al-Zahrani] to Iraq in coordination with the Foreign Ministry and our [intelligence] station in Khartoum [Sudan]. He and his family were issued Iraqi passports with pseudonyms by our embassy in Khartoum. He arrived to Iraq on April 21, 1995, and multiple meetings were held with him to obtain information about the Saudi opposition.
These contacts were not, contrary to the speculation of some Middle East experts, simply an effort to keep tabs on an enemy. The memo continues, summarizing Iraqi Intelligence activities:


We are in the process of following up on the subject, to try and establish a nucleus of Saudi opposition in Iraq, and use our relationship with [al-Massari] to serve our intelligence goals.

The final document provided to The Weekly Standard is a translation of a memo from the "Republican Command, Intelligence Division," dated September 15, 2001. It is addressed to "Mr. M.A.M.5."


Our Afghani source number 11002 (his biographic information in attachment #1) has provided us information that the Afghani consul Ahmed Dahestani (his biographic information attachment #2) has talked in front of him about the following:

1. That Osama bin Laden and the Taliban group in Afghanistan are in communication with Iraq and that previously a group of Taliban and Osama bin Laden have visited Iraq.

2. That America has evidence that the Iraqi government and the group of Osama bin Laden have cooperated to attack targets inside America.

3. In the event that it has been proven that the group of Osama bin Laden and the Taliban planning such operations, it is possible that America will attack Iraq and Afghanistan.

4. That the Afghani consul heard of the relation between Iraq and the group of Osama bin Laden while he was in Iran.

5. In the light of what has been presented, we suggest to write to the committee of information.

This document is speculative in parts, and the information it contains is third-hand at best. Its value depends on the credibility of "source number 11002" and of Ahmed Dahestani and of the sources Dahestani relied on, all of which are unknown.

We are left, then, with three small pieces to add to a large and elaborate puzzle. We will never have a complete picture of the Iraqi regime's support for global terrorism, but the coming release of a flood of captured documents should get us closer.

A new and highly illuminating article in Foreign Affairs draws on hundreds of Iraqi documents to provide a look at the Iraq war from the Iraqi perspective. The picture that emerges is that of an Iraqi regime built on a foundation of paranoia and lies and eager to attack its perceived enemies, internal and external. This paragraph is notable:


The Saddam Fedayeen also took part in the regime's domestic terrorism operations and planned for attacks throughout Europe and the Middle East. In a document dated May 1999, Saddam's older son, Uday, ordered preparations for "special operations, assassinations, and bombings, for the centers and traitor symbols in London, Iran and the self-ruled areas [Kurdistan]." Preparations for "Blessed July," a regime-directed wave of "martyrdom" operations against targets in the West, were well under way at the time of the coalition invasion.

Think about that last sentence.



Stephen F. Hayes is a senior writer at The Weekly Standard.



© Copyright 2005, News Corporation, Weekly Standard, All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

The US Soldier: Surviving Away From Home

The picture of a US soldier during wartime is one stark image evoking inspiration and the notion of valor from the beholder. Young and patriotic, maybe still naïve and not wise enough to the ways of the world, but already doing altruistic services for country and freedom. Americans are quite justified in heaping praise, gratitude, and care and concern for their safety and comfort away from hearth and home. Various celebrities through the USO visit them afield to try and bring some joyful and entertaining respite from the daily grind of soldiering in many theatres where wars and strife are aflame. Families try to bring cheers writing letters and sending packages containing items reminding the on-duty soldiers about home and loved ones.

But by and large, while away from home, the lonely soldier has to make do and be self-sufficient in the inhospitable war-wracked areas that teams are assigned. Especially for those who spend days on end away from the little comforts that base camps and stations could provide; where some semblances of home can be found, such taken-for-granted amenities as home-cooked meals, radio music, some air-conditioning maybe, and basically a roof to rest weary heads and sleep under.

To the US Marine, he is taught early on from boot camp that his rifle is his best friend, there always by his side and reach to protect and shield him from the unimaginable perils of wartime conditions. And rightly so, he savors and respects that friendship like no other save maybe his fellow Marines.

But we know too well that even for the battle-hardened soldiers, fighting is not the only primal concern. He has to continue to live, to maintain his health, to renew his vigor and strength so he can fight another day. He has to sustain himself with food so he can continue to be an efficient fighting force in the pursuit of his high ideals.
And when a soldier is away from camp, away from the few amenities accorded him as a food-dependent human being, he has to rely on what he carries with him over and above the one best friend that will prolong his fighting life, his armaments.

And that will be food. For on patrols, or sorties, or skirmishes away from camp or station, one does not notice any “chuck-wagon” tugging along the trip to provide hot nutritious and clean meals for the bone-weary hungry soldiers.

How does the individual soldier then in that situation continue to provide good and clean sustenance for himself? He can’t possibly go on fighting each day without regular food intake. We all know that as regular folks we normally require three square meals to get by doing our normal chores. How much more for the fighting soldier, under prolonged stress and fear and usually getting inadequate sleep.
This is where the MRE comes in. It is the US Armed Forces’ packaged Meals Ready to Eat, wrapped in industrial-grade plastic and issued to individual Marines and soldiers. A 12”x8” dark brown or gray bulging packet containing all the necessary food items and condiments necessary to deliver a balanced meal. Three of these packages are supposed to account for three square meals a day, with required daily calories already accounted for.

Packed with his armaments and survival tools are these little packages weighing less than two pounds each. Heroic stories abound how soldiers would do away with toting the required number of these life-sustaining packages preferring instead to carry more armaments as part of their weight-laden gear.

Being the parent of three Marines, I am quite familiar with MREs brought home by the kids during furloughs or vacation.

Each package contains a complete meal, specifying a particular menu. And a very ethnically-diverse armed forces like the US have to provide for menus that will appeal to as many soldiers as possible.
Let us examine the exact contents of one such MRE.

This particular meal is Menu No. 9 Beef Stew, and contains the following:

Main Entrée – Beef Stew, 8 oz - wrapped in thick foil and packed in a carton

Oat Meal Cookie, Chocolate Covered, 1.52 oz – wrapped in foil

Crackers, 1.41 oz – wrapped in foil

Plastic packet containing – iodized salt, tissue, creamer, Tabasco, 2 pcs chick lets, matchbook, sugar, iced tea drink mix, and moist wipe.

Cheese Spread With Jalapenos, 1.5 oz – wrapped in foil

Cocoa Beverage Powder, 1.5 oz – wrapped in foil

A Plastic Spoon

A Brochure showing nutrition values

One wrapper of Assorted Charms, 1 oz

And the ubiquitous MRE heater packet.


Here's a report on how these meals are prepared with the users preferences utmost in the minds of the food scientists:

A lot of cooks in the MRE kitchen
Men in lab coats and hair nets whet GIs' frontline appetite
Kim Severson, Chronicle Staff Writer
Monday, April 7, 2003

Natick, Mass. -- There is a seriousness of purpose here in the Department of Defense test kitchen these days.

In a sprawling, 1960s-style building set alongside a lake in this Boston suburb, two men in lab coats and hair nets bend over a stainless steel table covered in pale orange food bars each the size of a pack of cards.

They're figuring out how to cram 2,100 calories into each bar, at the same time making sure the slightly sweet, grain-based rations will survive a drop from an airplane. The bars will be distributed as humanitarian aid, and might keep fleeing war refugees alive.

Over in the department where field rations are developed, there is a similar gravitas. Like anxious mothers, nutritionists wonder how the new Meals Ready to Eat (MREs) created for the troops in Iraq are going over. Are the soldiers eating?
In the U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center in Natick, where every recipe required to feed the 1.4 million people in the nation's armed services is developed, it's more than the standard worry a home cook has about a new dish. Military food scientists know that making sure a soldier is well-nourished is as important to winning a war as the right ammunition and a working gas mask. Food that doesn't taste good goes uneaten, compromising a soldier's health and performance. And the nutritionists know they also have to prevent battlefield anorexia, a condition where the stress of war dulls appetites to dangerous levels.

BIG CHANGE IN APPROACH

That's why the military's approach to feeding soldiers is radically different than it was a decade ago, with meals now tailored to the tastes of an ethnically diverse fast-food generation raised on tacos, teriyaki and Starbucks.

In 1991, when troops fighting the Gulf War tasted the first generation of the military's new field rations, the reaction was a fractured version of the don't ask, don't tell policy.

When the food scientists originally developed MREs, they didn't ask what the modern soldier might find appealing. But the soldiers told them -- and in no uncertain terms -- calling the field rations "Meals Rejected by Everyone." They tossed unopened brown plastic bags filled with casseroles and ham loaf into the desert, and had nicknames for the worst entrees, like the "four fingers of death." Translation: smoked frankfurters.

"We had kind of a father-knows-best mentality about the menus," said Gerald Darsch, joint project director for the Department of Defense's combat feeding program based here.

GIS' TASTES DRIVE THE MENU

Today, he says, everything is driven by soldiers' tastes. "Everything we create is war fighter-recommended, war fighter-tested and war fighter-approved, " he said.
Although soldiers are supposed to eat three MREs a day, they often don't. Soldiers on the move who find the MREs too difficult to prepare in the field or too bulky "field strip" their packs of food to make room for gear. And some units have reported having to cut back their rations to one meal a day as they wait for supplies to reach them. That makes what nutritionists put in each ration pack extremely important.

"We know food matters, especially on the front lines. What they eat has a very positive impact on mood, which has a positive impact on morale, which has a scientifically proven impact on performance," Darsch said.

Ever since the war in Iraq began, the MRE part of the program has been front and center. Each year, the military orders about 3 million of the 1 1/2- pound food packages from three commercial food manufacturers contracted to produce them. Since October, however, the order has doubled and the factories are on overtime. More than 48 million MREs are stockpiled in the warehouses of Kuwait.

VEGETARIAN OPTIONS

The new breed of MREs offers 24 entrees, including four vegetarian options like cheese tortellini and pasta Alfredo. The choices are geared to a more diverse fighting force that has a strong preference for spicier ethnic food. Some MREs feature Thai chicken, Jamaican pork chops or a gloppy cheese dish called Mexican macaroni. Little bottles of Tabasco or packets of cayenne or Mrs. Dash seasoning are included to pep up entrees.

Dried cappuccino and chai are replacing freeze-dried coffee. Powdered Gatorade-type drinks are being tucked into food packs for quick energy. The military has even developed its own power bar, called the HooAH! bar. And some rations contain dried versions of milk shakes in chocolate, strawberry or vanilla.

"You know when you shake this thing up and drink it down, it tastes like you're not here for 15 minutes," one Marine a few miles outside Baghdad told Chronicle reporter John Koopman.

YOUNG SOLDIERS GO FOR IT

Koopman, who ate the old C-rations as a Marine in the 1970s, reports that the new MREs are generally a hit with the young soldiers he's talked to. But, he said, they don't like the fancy stuff.

"What they like most of all is basically beef or meat. Being from San Francisco, I'm the only one who eats the vegetarian meals," he said. "The Marines love me because I'll take the pasta and vegetables."

However, any MRE that has a pack of Skittles or M&Ms is considered a good one, he said. Field studies have shown that young soldiers take comfort in name brands and commercial packaging, so some MREs feature morale-boosting snacks like M&Ms, Lorna Doone cookies, Skittles and Jolly Ranchers, which have become popular currency in poker games.

THE MILITARY'S REQUIREMENTS

The trick, of course, is making all of it work within the military's tight physical and nutritional requirements. The whole package can't weight more than a pound and a half, although the military brass would like them lighter -- and it can't be much larger than a hardback novel.

The food inside the tan plastic MRE bag must be edible for up to three years stored at 80 degrees. The packages have to be waterproof, vermin-proof and able to survive a 100-foot drop without a parachute.

Soldiers heat the food in the field. In the new version, cooking is done by an ingenious chemical heating sheet in a plastic pouch, which soldiers activate by simply pouring in an ounce of water.

Then there are the nutritional demands, as outlined in the eight-page Nutritional Standards for Operational Ratios (NSOR). That job falls to dietitian Judy Aylward at the Natick center. She has to ensure that each meal contains about 1,250 calories, with enough carbohydrate, fat, protein and vitamins to satisfy the surgeon general. That gives each soldier about 3,750 calories a day -- nearly twice the 2,000 calories most of us should eat to stay fit.

FAT 35% OF THE CALORIES

To cram so many calories in such a small space, Aylward has to be creative. Fat accounts for about 35 percent of the calories in each entree, five percent more than most nutritionists recommend. "There's just no way I can get the calories in the package without that fat content," she said.

Sugary drink mixes, jam and candy help pump up the carbohydrate and calorie count. To meet the micronutrient requirements, many of the grain-based items are fortified with vitamins. And because there are more women eating the meals than ever before, folic acid and iron are added.

In the vegetarian meals, getting enough protein and zinc is a problem, so Aylward makes sure those meals have packets of peanut butter. In fact, she is using so much peanut butter, soldiers are complaining.

"No one can eat that much peanut butter," wrote one soldier in a feedback form that hit Aylward's desk recently. "I suggest replacing it with more jalapeno cheese spread, which is excellent."

TWEAKING THE MENU

The crew at Natick constantly tinkers with the MRE menu. Behavioral scientists go through soldiers' trash during field exercises to see what is being thrown out, and study which items get traded or used in unexpected ways, like the cocoa powder and nondairy creamer that soldiers mix into crumbled crackers or pound cake to create "Ranger pudding."

Panels of soldiers and officers evaluate existing dishes and suggest which ones to eliminate. Next year, the Jamaican pork chop and the beef with mushrooms will be out, but New England clam chowder will be in. By 2005, the dreaded Country Captain chicken and Thai chicken will make way for a cheese omelet and chicken fajitas -- the latter a dish that couldn't be included until the commercial producers who contract with the military could wade through the specifications and find a way to keep flour tortillas fresh for three years.

"But they really want pizza and beer," Aylward said. "We're working on it -- the pizza, at least."

Reverse Evolution

An interesting story for our very troubled times. In times of world-wide crippling strife and violence around the world, many a mind can wander to the hallowed halls of simpler times – at times, of eons past. Way eons past. Of times quite unknown to homo sapiens who has made his indelible marks and blazed his labyrinthine trails on this small green dot in the universe no more than 50,000 years ago.

Of times of mental or intellectual simplicities, or call it retardation for after all that is how it is called today. To times of the hominids, not yet then quite adept to walking erect and using hands with the unique opposable thumbs for a myriad of purposes. Purposes, both good and sinister.

The story below seems to tell us that those times are not quite extinct as we all would like to believe. Scientists at present can only say that this may be caused by closely-related parents handing down to their offspring faulty genes causing this evolution throwback, characterized by mental retardation and walking on all fours.

Just think if human hands continue to be specialized primarily for mobility and motility, there necessarily would be less violence inflicted on another’s neighbor using one’s resourceful digits. That would be good. Right?

Ever wondered why the police’s first priority in apprehending any criminal is to cuff the hands?

Just some crazy troubling thoughts.

The time-warp family who walk on all fours
by BEN FARMER, Daily Mail 08:31am 7th March 2006

An extraordinary family who walk on all fours are being hailed as the breakthrough discovery which could shed light on the moment Man first stood upright.
Scientists believe that the five brothers and sisters found in Turkey could hold unique insights into human evolution.

The Kurdish siblings, aged between 18 and 34 and from the rural south, ‘bear crawl’ on their feet and palms.

Study of the five has shown the astonishing behaviour is not a hoax and they are largely unable to walk otherwise.

Researchers have found a genetic condition which accounts for their extraordinary movement.

And it could provide invaluable information on how humans evolved from a four-legged hominid into a creature walking on two feet.

Two of the daughters and a son have only ever walked on two palms and two feet, but another son and daughter sometimes manage to walk upright.

The five can stand upright, but only for a short time, with both knees and head flexed.

Their remarkable story is told in a television documentary, to be screened next week, which shows scientists studying their movement, but also their struggle to fit in with modern society.

Professor Nicholas Humphrey, evolutionary psychologist at the London School of Economics, visited the family twice. He said: “It’s amazing as an example of a strange, strange aberration of human development. But their interest is how they can live in the modern world.”

The five are all mentally retarded. Their mother and father, who are closely related are believed to have handed down a unique combination of genes which result in the behaviour.

Some researchers argue the genetic fault has caused the brothers and sisters to regress to a form of ‘backward evolution’. Others believe it has led to brain damage which has allowed them to develop the walk.

Rather than walking on their knuckles, like gorillas or chimpanzees, they walk on the palms of their hands, with their fingers spread upwards.

Scientists believe this may be the way hominids moved to protect their fingers for more delicate movements.

Prof Humphrey said he thought the family had reverted to an instinctive form of behaviour encoded deep in the brain but abandoned during evolution.

He said: “I do not think they were destined to be quadrupeds by their genes, but their unique genetic make-up allowed them to be.

‘It has produced an extraordinary window on our past. It is physically possible, which no one would have guessed from the modern human skeleton.”

Study of their hands has shown they are heavily callused and have been walking like this for years.

Prof Humphrey said: “However they arrived at this point, we have adult human beings walking like ancestors several million years ago.”

The five siblings spend most of their time sitting outside the family’s basic rural home.

However, one brother travels to the local village where he engages in basic interactions with people.

The documentary, to be shown on BBC2 on Friday, March 17, is called The Family That Walks On All Fours.