Randy's Corner Deli Library

31 October 2008

Studs Terkel, Chronicler of the American Everyman, Is Dead at 96

View from a booth:

A great gift to the world is now gone. I grew up listening to Studs Terkel on WFMT in Chicago, reading his books (the first one I recall reading was "Working") and being totally enthralled with every one of his books of oral histories, each one a treasure of wisdom about so many things. I've made certain that Mitchell has a dose of Studs, too, so that the American Everyman will continue, at least through my family. May his memory be for a blessing among all the mourners of Zion.

Randy Shiner

Studs Terkel, Chronicler of the American Everyman, Is Dead at 96

Published: October 31, 2008

Studs Terkel, a Pulitzer prize-winning author whose searching interviews with ordinary Americans helped establish oral history as an important historical genre, and who for nearly half a century was the voluble host of a radio show in Chicago, died Friday at his home in Chicago. He was 96.

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Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

Studs Terkel in 2003 in New York.

His death was confirmed by Lois Baum, a friend and longtime colleague at WFMT radio.

In his oral histories, which he called guerrilla journalism, Studs Terkel relied on his enthusiastic but gentle interviewing style to elicit, in rich detail, the experiences and thoughts of ordinary Americans. “Division Street: America” (1966), his first best-seller and the first in a triptych of tape-recorded works, explored the urban conflicts of the 1960s. Its success led to “Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression”(1970) and “Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do”(1974)। “ ‘The Good War’: An Oral History of World War II,” won the 1985 Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction.

In “Talking to Myself,” Mr। Terkel turned the microphone on himself to produce an engaging memoir, and more recently, in “Race: How Blacks and Whites Think and Feel About the American Obsession” (1992) and “Coming of Age: The Story of Our Century by Those Who’ve Lived It”(1995)’ he reached for his ever-present tape recorder for interviews on race relations in the United States and the experience of growing old.

Although detractors derided him as a sentimental populist whose views were simplistic and occasionally maudlin, Mr। Terkel was widely credited with transforming oral history into a popular literary form. In 1985 a reviewer for The Financial Times of London characterized Mr. Terkel’s books as “completely free of sociological claptrap, armchair revisionism and academic moralizing.”

The elfin, amiable Mr. Terkel was a gifted and seemingly tireless interviewer who elicited provocative insights and colorful, detailed personal histories from a broad mix of people. “The thing I’m able to do, I guess, is break down walls,” he once told an interviewer. “If they think you’re listening, they’ll talk. It’s more of a conversation than an interview.”

Mr. Terkel’s succeeded as an interviewer in part because he believed most people had something to say worth hearing. “The average American has an indigenous intelligence, a native wit,” he said. “It’s only a question of piquing that intelligence.

In “American Dreams: Lost and Found” (1980), he interviewed police officers and convicts, nurses and loggers, former slaves and former Ku Klux Klansmen, a typical crowd for Mr. Terkel.

Readers of his books could only guess at Mr. Terkel’s interview style. Listeners to his daily radio show, which was broadcast on WFMT since 1958, got the full Terkel flavor, as the host, with breathy eagerness and a tough-guy Chicago accent, went after the straight dope from such guests as Sir Georg Solti ,Toni Morrison and Gloria Steinem.

“It isn’t an inquisition, it’s an exploration, usually an exploration into the past,” he once said, explaining his approach. “So I think the gentlest question is the best one, and the gentlest is, ‘And what happened then?{minute} ”

Studs Terkel was born in the Bronx on May 16, 1912, the third son of Samuel Terkel, a tailor, and the former Anna Finkel, who had immigrated from Bialystok, Poland. In 1923 the family moved to Chicago. In the late 1930s, while acting in the theater, Mr. Terkel dropped his given name, Louis, and adopted the name Studs, from another colorful Chicagoan, James T. Farrell’s fictional Studs Lonigan.

His childhood was unhappy. The boy’s father was an invalid who suffered from heart disease. His mother was volatile and impetuous, given to unpredictable rages that kept the household in a state of fear and apprehension. “What nobody got from her was warmth and love, or at least not a display of it,” Mr. Terkel said.

After moving to Chicago, the Terkels managed hotels popular with blue-collar workers, and Mr. Terkel often said that the characters he encountered and the disputations he witnessed at the Wells-Grand Hotel on the Near North Side were his real education. Although he read avidly and feasted on Roget’s Thesaurus, he was, by his own reckoning, no scholar.

He earned philosophy and law degrees at the University of Chicago, but after failing a bar exam he worked briefly for the Federal Emergency Relief Administration in Chicago, doing statistical research on unemployment in Omaha. He then found work counting bonds for the Treasury Department in Washington.

When he returned to Chicago in 1938, Mr. Terkel, who once described his life as “an accretion of accidents,” joined the Federal Writers’ Project, a New Deal program. He wrote scripts for WGN radio and, after appearing in “Waiting for Lefty” at the Chicago Repertory Group, found work in soap operas like “Ma Perkins” and “Road of Life.”

What he called his “low, husky, menacing” voice made him a natural to play heavies। “I would always say the same thing and either get killed or sent to Sing-Sing,” he later recalled।

It was while performing with the Chicago Repertory Group that he took the name Studs. In 1939 he married Ida Goldberg, a social worker from Wisconsin whom he met while they were both with the Chicago Rep.She died in 1999. The couple had one son, Dan Terkell , who lives in Chicago.

After a one-year stint writing speeches and shows in the special services of the Army Air Corps in 1942 and 1943, he was discharged from the military because his perforated eardrums, the result of childhood operations, made him unfit for overseas duty. He found work doing news, sports and commentary for commercial radio stations in Chicago, and in 1945 he was given his own radio show, “The Wax Museum,” on WENR.

Although the show, which ran for two years, was primarily a jazz program, Mr. Terkel also followed his other enthusiasms, playing country music, folk, opera and gospel, as the mood seized him. He was one of the first to promote artists like Mahalia Jackson, Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, Big Bill Broonzy and Burl Ives. On occasion, he would invite composers or performers to sit down for an on-air interview. His passion for jazz led to his first book, “Giants of Jazz,” (1957) a collection of jazz biographies.

In 1950, Mr. Terkel became the star and host of “Studs’ Place,” a variety show set in a barbecue joint, with Mr. Terkel appearing as the owner, shooting the breeze with his staff and with the guest of the week. (In a short-lived precursor of the show, Mr. Terkel played a New York bartender.) Along with Dave Garroway’s talk show and “Kukla, Fran and Ollie,” the program helped define the relaxed, low-key Chicago school of television.

In January, 1952, with McCarthyism in full flower, NBC canceled the show shortly after picking it up for national broadcast, nervous because Mr. Terkel had a habit of signing petitions in support of liberal and left-wing causes. Executives in New York told him that he could clear his record by saying that he had been duped into signing the petitions. Mr. Terkel refused. “Duped” made him sound stupid, he said.

Blackballed from commercial radio, Mr. Terkel found work in the theater, appearing in a national tour of “Detective Story” and in other plays. One day, in October, 1952, he was surprised to hear Woody Guthrie on the radio. “I wondered, who plays Guthrie records except me?” he later recalled. “So I called WFMT. They were delighted to hear from me.”

In a partnership that would endure for more than 45 years, Mr. Terkel broadcast a daily hour of music, commentary and interviews, helping to build WFMT into a major fine-arts station syndicated around the country.

Although he shied away from actors and politians, anyone else was fair game, and the guest roster include figures as diverse as John Kenneth Galbraith, Garry Wills, Aaron Copland and Oliver Sacks. In 1980 he won a Peabody Award for excellence in journalism. His official title at the station, where he was instantly recognizable by his wayward white hair, red-and-white-checked shirts, and well-chewed cigar, was Free Spirit.

In the 1960s, AndrĂ© Schiffrin, the publisher and editor who ran Pantheon Books, was looking for a writer to produce the American equivalent of Jan Myrdal’s “Report from a Chinese Village,” a collection of interviews that shed light on the lives of ordinary Chinese under Mao. He called Mr. Terkel and suggested Chicago as a subject. Mr. Terkel went out into the city’s neighborhoods, tape recorder in hand, and produced “Division Street,” an enormous success and the beginning of a lifelong relationship in which Mr. Schiffrin would propose an idea and Mr. Terkel would execute it.

“Division Street” consisted of transcripts of 70 conversations that Mr. Terkel had with people of every sort in and around Chicago. Peter Lyon, reviewing it in The New York Times Book Review, said it was “a modern morality play, a drama with as many conflicts as life itself.”

In “The Great Divide: Second Thoughts on the American Dream” (1989), he returned to an earlier subject and looked at it afresh. When Random House executives forced out Mr. Schiffrin as head of Pantheon, Mr. Terkel walked out with him, bringing his work to Mr. Schiffrin’s New Press, which published “My American Century,” a “best of” compilation.

It was followed by three more volumes of memoirs, “My American Century” (1997) “Touch and Go” (2007), and the forthcoming “P.S. : Further Thoughts from a Lifetime of Listening,” which is due out on Nov. 11. In 1997 he received the National Book Foundation Medal to honor his contributions to American letters.

In “Talking to Myself: A Memoir of My Times,” Mr. Terkel took on his toughest interview, and many critics found the book frustrating for its refusal to delve too deeply into its author’s personal life and feelings. Mr. Terkel acknowledged the justice of the complaint.

“I’ve met hundreds, no, I’ve met thousands of interesting people, and I’ve been so caught up with them and fasinated by them and intrigued with them it’s almost like there’s no room inside me to be interested in my own feelings and thoughts,” he told an interviewer.

It may be the one time in his life that Mr. Terkel’s ruling passion failed him. “I don’t have to stay curious, I am curious, about all of it, all the time,” he once said. “ ‘Curiosity never killed this cat — that’s what I’d like as my epitaph.”

Rashid Who?

The New Republic
Rashid Who? by
Why the Jews finally came home to Obama
Post Date Friday, October 31, 2008

By late last spring, concerns about Jews deserting the presumptive Democratic nominee, Barack Obama, had reached a fever pitch. Writing in his popular blog for Politico, Ben Smith declared that Obama had a "Jewish problem." In late May, Jodi Kantor of The New York Times traveled to Florida to interview the elderly Jews who were thought to be most skeptical of the Illinois Senator. Kantor's article--"As Obama Heads to Florida, Many of Its Jews Have Doubts"--included one octogenarian's ominous warning: "The people here, liberal people, will not vote for Obama because of his attitude towards Israel." When State Senator Stephen Geller, who represents a heavily Jewish section of South Florida, went to tout Obama to his constituents, he felt as if "they were going to get out of their walkers and crush me," he told me.

Geller's fear seemed, as least in part, to be based in fact: Polls at the time showed Obama struggling in comparison to earlier Democratic candidates. A Gallup poll from May showed that Barack Obama would receive merely 60 percent of the vote in a then still hypothetical match-up against John McCain--a far cry from the 75 percent that John Kerry enjoyed in 2004. In private, some Jewish Democratic leaders feared the final Obama numbers would be even worse. Smear campaigns involving "Barack HUSSEIN Obama" e-mails frightened off some Jews, and fears that Obama would be dovish on Israel (heightened by e-mails that named "Zabrinski" as one of his closest advisers) alienated others.

Now, however, with the election only days away, it's clear that Jews have come home. According to Gallup's latest numbers, 74 percent support the Illinois senator. It's true, of course, that Jews generally vote Democrat in the end, and reports of their party-switching are almost always exaggerated. But Obama has been especially savvy about keeping the chosen people on his side--a strategy that could prove very helpful next Tuesday.

Obama managed to hold onto the
Jewish vote in part because of choices he made early on in the election, namely his struggle to prove himself tough on Jewish issues and to combat the viral smear campaigns with information campaigns of his own. When his Middle East policy adviser Robert Malley admitted to having met regularly with Hamas, Obama fired him from the campaign. He also distanced himself from President Carter under similar circumstances. For outreach coordination, Obama hired Dan Shapiro, a well-regarded former Bill Nelson staffer who put together a relentlessly on-message operation that distributed endless talking points to allies and potential allies. Last January, for example, the campaign circulated a letter signed by the heads of the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee, and the Simon Wiesenthal Center denouncing the smear campaign.

"[Obama's people] weren't doing more than Hillary," says long-time Jewish Democratic operative Steve Rabinowitz, who supported Clinton in the primaries. "But Obama needed it more. And they were as aggressive as possible."

The early anxiety that fueled a stronger-than-expected internal operation simultaneously led to the creation of a number of pro-Obama Jewish groups outside the campaign. "The Great Schlep," an effort by a start-up group called the Jewish Council for Education and Research to bring young voters into Florida to convince their grandparents to vote Obama, has been the most visible, if not necessarily the most productive. A video promoting the project, featuring the comedian Sarah Silverman, was one of Youtube's most watched videos in October. Other grassroots group, such as Jews for Obama and Rabbis for Obama, sprung up last spring and are still in operation. And, although it declines to release specific figures, the National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC) says it is spending more money this cycle than it ever has in the past on direct mail, phone banking, advertising in the Jewish press, and canvassing Jewish voters. Surrogates like Dennis Ross, Chuck Schumer, and even Ed Koch, who endorsed Bush in 2004, have made the synagogue and community-center rounds, helping to shore up Obama's credentials on Jewish issues.

At the same time, the response of Jewish Republicans and McCain supporters to Obama's late surge with Jewish voters has been disorganized and inept. In late October, the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC), the major independent Jewish group on McCain's side, released a flurry of direct mail and TV advertisements reminding voters of Obama's ties to Reverend Jeremiah Wright and former terrorist William Ayers. Targeted to swing states with large Jewish populations, the RJC's campaign cost upwards of $1 million. But voters yawned--the campaign was on the air just as Obama's numbers among Jewish voters were going up. Part of the problem is that McCain's initial appeal to the Jewish community was largely predicated on his position as a moderate Republican. As he's shed his moderate image--or as Obama's campaign has undermined it--his appeal to Jewish voters has declined. And attacks that seem too partisan further alienate Jewish voters, who tend to be center-left to liberal--perhaps a reason why McCain's recent attempts to associate Obama with Palestinian-American professor Rashid Khalidi haven't stuck.

Finally, the contrast between the two vice-presidential nominees provided a major lift for Obama and may have been the central factor in turning the Jewish vote around. When Joe Biden spoke to the NJDC's annual convention in late September (after the Council initially requested Obama), he was greeted like an old friend coming home. He was affectionately introduced by Michael Adler, a former NJDC chair; the two have known each other for 30 years. In a hushed, passionate tone, Biden recalled bringing his children to visit Auschwitz, as well as his own trips to Israel. When hearing politicians speak about Israel, "Jews want to see the emotion," says Jay Footlik, who directed Jewish outreach for John Kerry. Even Benjamin Chouake, chairman of the hard-line Norpac and a member of John McCain's finance committee, concedes Joe Biden's bona fides on foreign policy. "His heart is in the right place," says Chouake.

Conversely, it would be hard to overestimate the role that Sarah Palin has played in bringing the Jewish vote solidly behind Obama. During the national honeymoon that followed her selection and convention speech, Jewish voters simply did not share the rest of the country's enthusiasm--and that was the very moment when Jewish polling numbers began to tip back in Obama's favor. According to an American Jewish Committee poll, 54 percent of Jews disapproved of her selection. As Koch told me, perhaps summarizing the Jewish community's collective response: "She scares the hell out of me."

After choosing Palin, McCain was no longer running the campaign of a moderate Republican. He could no longer hammer away at Obama on Israel, for he had selected a nominee with literally zero record on the issue. When the RJC was asked to defend her initially, the group argued that her pro-Israel credentials were proven by the photo of an Israeli flag on her desk. (That's the kind of qualification, of course, that is probably shared by every member of Congress, save maybe Jim Moran.) Dov Hikind, the unusual New York State Assemblyman, broke with the Democrats to endorse McCain. But he gets tripped up when queried about Palin. He criticizes Obama for lacking experience, before explaining that, when it comes to Palin, "Experience should not be an issue in this campaign." The Palin selection cut against McCain's best argument, and the consequences for the Jewish vote--as, of course, for the vote in general--have been clear.

Of course, contrary to the early punditry, the mass migration of Jewish voters might never have been a real risk. The generation of Jews Democrats have been worried about--elderly Jews, especially those in Florida--is the same generation responsible for making Jews a base constituency of the Democratic Party. It seems unlikely that these Jews, many of whom refer to themselves as "New Deal Democrats," will abandon the party en masse. As State Senator Ted Deutch, who represents Boca Raton as well as several Century Villages, told me, "There's a reason that they've been voting for Democrats all their lives." Nonetheless, the fear that Jews might desert the Democratic Party comes up every four years. (One former Kerry staffer who worked on Jewish outreach recalls being hired precisely because the campaign was worried that the candidate would lose an unprecedented number of Jews to Bush.) If Obama performs as well as expected on November 4th, this theory might finally be put to bed.

Ethan Porter has written for The Forward and is the associate editor of Democracy: A Journal of Ideas.

30 October 2008

Allies of Palestinians see a friend in Barack Obama

There's a bit of a kerfuffel being made over Barack Obama's relationship with Rashid Khalidi. I've done a bit of research on him, and he is certainly a champion of the cause of the Palestinians. Hopefully he is a better champion than the ones that they have presently, the ones that have been keeping them in bondage and decrepitude for the past 40 years as pawns in a game that only the side that promises a real future, Israel, can win. Sure, Obama will likely have contact with Khalidi, but that contact is more likely to help the cause of peace in the Middle East than it will a worsening of things there, as if that were possible. This "new revelation" -- known about since last April, is more bullshit from the Republican party to scare Jews and Christian fundamentalists away from voting for Obama. The Republican Party, a shell of its former self, can go suck an egg cream.

Randy Shiner

Obama scores well with Palestinians
Joe Raymond / Associated Press
Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama addresses a rally at South Bend Washington High School Wednesday in South Bend, Ind.

Allies of Palestinians see a friend in Barack Obama

Joe Raymond / Associated Press
Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama addresses a rally at South Bend Washington High School Wednesday in South Bend, Ind.
They consider him receptive despite his clear support of Israel.
By Peter Wallsten, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
April 10, 2008
CHICAGO -- It was a celebration of Palestinian culture -- a night of music, dancing and a dash of politics. Local Arab Americans were bidding farewell to Rashid Khalidi, an internationally known scholar, critic of Israel and advocate for Palestinian rights, who was leaving town for a job in New York.

A special tribute came from Khalidi's friend and frequent dinner companion, the young state Sen. Barack Obama. Speaking to the crowd, Obama reminisced about meals prepared by Khalidi's wife, Mona, and conversations that had challenged his thinking.

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His many talks with the Khalidis, Obama said, had been "consistent reminders to me of my own blind spots and my own biases. . . . It's for that reason that I'm hoping that, for many years to come, we continue that conversation -- a conversation that is necessary not just around Mona and Rashid's dinner table," but around "this entire world."

Today, five years later, Obama is a U.S. senator from Illinois who expresses a firmly pro-Israel view of Middle East politics, pleasing many of the Jewish leaders and advocates for Israel whom he is courting in his presidential campaign. The dinner conversations he had envisioned with his Palestinian American friend have ended. He and Khalidi have seen each other only fleetingly in recent years.

And yet the warm embrace Obama gave to Khalidi, and words like those at the professor's going-away party, have left some Palestinian American leaders believing that Obama is more receptive to their viewpoint than he is willing to say.

Their belief is not drawn from Obama's speeches or campaign literature, but from comments that some say Obama made in private and from his association with the Palestinian American community in his hometown of Chicago, including his presence at events where anger at Israeli and U.S. Middle East policy was freely expressed.

At Khalidi's 2003 farewell party, for example, a young Palestinian American recited a poem accusing the Israeli government of terrorism in its treatment of Palestinians and sharply criticizing U.S. support of Israel. If Palestinians cannot secure their own land, she said, "then you will never see a day of peace."

One speaker likened "Zionist settlers on the West Bank" to Osama bin Laden, saying both had been "blinded by ideology."

Obama adopted a different tone in his comments and called for finding common ground. But his presence at such events, as he worked to build a political base in Chicago, has led some Palestinian leaders to believe that he might deal differently with the Middle East than either of his opponents for the White House.

"I am confident that Barack Obama is more sympathetic to the position of ending the occupation than either of the other candidates," said Hussein Ibish, a senior fellow for the American Task Force on Palestine, referring to the Israeli presence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip that began after the 1967 war. More than his rivals for the White House, Ibish said, Obama sees a "moral imperative" in resolving the conflict and is most likely to apply pressure to both sides to make concessions.

"That's my personal opinion," Ibish said, "and I think it for a very large number of circumstantial reasons, and what he's said."

Aides say that Obama's friendships with Palestinian Americans reflect only his ability to interact with a wide diversity of people, and that his views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have been consistent. Obama has called himself a "stalwart" supporter of the Jewish state and its security needs. He believes in an eventual two-state solution in which Jewish and Palestinian nations exist in peace, which is consistent with current U.S. policy.

Obama also calls for the U.S. to talk to such declared enemies as Iran, Syria and Cuba. But he argues that the Palestinian militant organization Hamas, which governs the Gaza Strip, is an exception, calling it a terrorist group that should renounce violence and recognize Israel's right to exist before dialogue begins. That viewpoint, which also matches current U.S. policy, clashes with that of many Palestinian advocates who urge the United States and Israel to treat Hamas as a partner in negotiations.

"Barack's belief is that it's important to understand other points of view, even if you can't agree with them," said his longtime political strategist, David Axelrod.

Obama "can disagree without shunning or demonizing those with other views," he said. "That's far different than the suggestion that he somehow tailors his view."

Looking for clues

But because Obama is relatively new on the national political scene, and new to foreign policy questions such as the long-simmering Israeli-Palestinian conflict, both sides have been looking closely for clues to what role he would play in that dispute.

And both sides, on certain issues, have interpreted Obama's remarks as supporting their point of view.

Last year, for example, Obama was quoted saying that "nobody's suffering more than the Palestinian people." The candidate later said the remark had been taken out of context, and that he meant that the Palestinians were suffering "from the failure of the Palestinian leadership [in Gaza] to recognize Israel" and to renounce violence.

Jewish leaders were satisfied with Obama's explanation, but some Palestinian leaders, including Ibish, took the original quotation as a sign of the candidate's empathy for their plight.

Obama's willingness to befriend Palestinian Americans and to hear their views also impressed, and even excited, a community that says it does not often have the ear of the political establishment.

Among other community events, Obama in 1998 attended a speech by Edward Said, the late Columbia University professor and a leading intellectual in the Palestinian movement. According to a news account of the speech, Said called that day for a nonviolent campaign "against settlements, against Israeli apartheid."

The use of such language to describe Israel's policies has drawn vehement objection from Israel's defenders in the United States. A photo on the pro-Palestinian website the Electronic Intifada shows Obama and his wife, Michelle, engaged in conversation at the dinner table with Said, and later listening to Said's keynote address. Obama had taken an English class from Said as an undergraduate at Columbia University.

Ali Abunimah, a Palestinian rights activist in Chicago who helps run Electronic Intifada, said that he met Obama several times at Palestinian and Arab American community events. At one, a 2000 fundraiser at a private home, Obama called for the U.S. to take an "even-handed" approach toward Israel, Abunimah wrote in an article on the website last year. He did not cite Obama's specific criticisms.

Abunimah, in a Times interview and on his website, said Obama seemed sympathetic to the Palestinian cause but more circumspect as he ran for the U.S. Senate in 2004. At a dinner gathering that year, Abunimah said, Obama greeted him warmly and said privately that he needed to speak cautiously about the Middle East.

Abunimah quoted Obama as saying that he was sorry he wasn't talking more about the Palestinian cause, but that his primary campaign had constrained what he could say.

Obama, through his aide Axelrod, denied he ever said those words, and Abunimah's account could not be independently verified.

"In no way did he take a position privately that he hasn't taken publicly and consistently," Axelrod said of Obama. "He always had expressed solicitude for the Palestinian people, who have been ill-served and have suffered greatly from the refusal of their leaders to renounce violence and recognize Israel's right to exist."

In Chicago, one of Obama's friends was Khalidi, a highly visible figure in the Arab American community.

In the 1970s, when Khalidi taught at a university in Beirut, he often spoke to reporters on behalf of Yasser Arafat's Palestine Liberation Organization. In the early 1990s, he advised the Palestinian delegation during peace negotiations. Khalidi now occupies a prestigious professorship of Arab studies at Columbia.

He is seen as a moderate in Palestinian circles, having decried suicide bombings against civilians as a "war crime" and criticized the conduct of Hamas and other Palestinian leaders. Still, many of Khalidi's opinions are troubling to pro-Israel activists, such as his defense of Palestinians' right to resist Israeli occupation and his critique of U.S. policy as biased toward Israel.

While teaching at the University of Chicago, Khalidi and his wife lived in the Hyde Park neighborhood near the Obamas. The families became friends and dinner companions.

In 2000, the Khalidis held a fundraiser for Obama's unsuccessful congressional bid. The next year, a social service group whose board was headed by Mona Khalidi received a $40,000 grant from a local charity, the Woods Fund of Chicago, when Obama served on the fund's board of directors.

At Khalidi's going-away party in 2003, the scholar lavished praise on Obama, telling the mostly Palestinian American crowd that the state senator deserved their help in winning a U.S. Senate seat. "You will not have a better senator under any circumstances," Khalidi said.

The event was videotaped, and a copy of the tape was obtained by The Times.

Though Khalidi has seen little of Sen. Obama in recent years, Michelle Obama attended a party several months ago celebrating the marriage of the Khalidis' daughter.

In interviews with The Times, Khalidi declined to discuss specifics of private talks over the years with Obama. He did not begrudge his friend for being out of touch, or for focusing more these days on his support for Israel -- a stance that Khalidi calls a requirement to win a national election in the U.S., just as wooing Chicago's large Arab American community was important for winning local elections.

Khalidi added that he strongly disagrees with Obama's current views on Israel, and often disagreed with him during their talks over the years. But he added that Obama, because of his unusual background, with family ties to Kenya and Indonesia, would be more understanding of the Palestinian experience than typical American politicians.

"He has family literally all over the world," Khalidi said. "I feel a kindred spirit from that."

Ties with Israel

Even as he won support in Chicago's Palestinian community, Obama tried to forge ties with advocates for Israel.

In 2000, he submitted a policy paper to CityPAC, a pro-Israel political action committee, that among other things supported a unified Jerusalem as Israel's capital, a position far out of step from that of his Palestinian friends. The PAC concluded that Obama's position paper "suggests he is strongly pro-Israel on all of the major issues."

In 2002, as a rash of suicide bombings struck Israel, Obama sought out a Jewish colleague in the state Senate and asked whether he could sign onto a measure calling on Palestinian leaders to denounce violence. "He came to me and said, 'I want to have my name next to yours,' " said his former state Senate colleague Ira Silverstein, an observant Jew.

As a presidential candidate, Obama has won support from such prominent Chicago Jewish leaders as Penny Pritzker, a member of the family that owns the Hyatt hotel chain, and who is now his campaign finance chair, and from Lee Rosenberg, a board member of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

Nationally, Obama continues to face skepticism from some Jewish leaders who are wary of his long association with his pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., who had made racially incendiary comments during several sermons that recently became widely known. Questions have persisted about Wright in part because of the recent revelation that his church bulletin reprinted a Times op-ed written by a leader of Hamas.

One Jewish leader said he viewed Obama's outreach to Palestinian activists, such as Said, in the light of his relationship to Wright.

"In the context of spending 20 years in a church where now it is clear the anti-Israel rhetoric was there, was repeated, . . . that's what makes his presence at an Arab American event with a Said a greater concern," said Abraham H. Foxman, national director for the Anti-Defamation League.


Alec Baldwin on Sarah Palin: "A Very Beautiful Woman" and "Bible Spice"

Archaeologist says he found oldest Hebrew writing

View from a booth: If this is true, and they can't make this stuff up, it affirms my view that while there is obviously some metaphor in the Bible, there must also be some factual history contained in it. It only makes sense that written history was combined with oral history and traditions to form what we know as The Bible. The rest, as R'Hillel said, is commentary.

Randy Shiner

Archaeologist says he found oldest Hebrew writing
Oct 30 06:26 PM US/Eastern
Associated Press Writer
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In this photo taken on Sunday, Oct. 26, 2008, Archeologist Yossi Garfinkel...

In this photo taken on Sunday, Oct. 26, 2008, Archeologist Yossi Garfinkel...

In this photo taken on Thursday, Oct. 23, 2008, Archeologist Yossi Garfinkel...

HIRBET QEIYAFA, Israel (AP) - An Israeli archaeologist has discovered what he believes is the oldest known Hebrew inscription on a 3,000-year-old pottery shard—a find that suggests Biblical accounts of the ancient Israelite kingdom of David could have been based on written texts.

A teenage volunteer discovered the curved shard bearing five lines of faded characters in July in the ruins of an ancient town on a hilltop south of Jerusalem. Yossi Garfinkel, the Israeli archaeologist leading the excavations at Hirbet Qeiyafa, released his conclusions about the writing Thursday after months of study.

He said the relic is strong evidence that the ancient Israelites were literate and could chronicle events centuries before the Bible was written. This could suggest that some of the Bible's accounts were based on written records as well as oral traditions—adding credence to arguments that the Biblical account of history is more than myth.

The shard was found near the stairs and stone washtub of an excavated home. It was later discovered to bear characters known as proto-Canaanite, a precursor of the Hebrew alphabet.

The Israelites were not the only ones using the proto-Canaanite characters, and other scholars suggest it is difficult—perhaps impossible—to conclude the text is Hebrew. However, Garfinkel based his identification on a three-letter verb from the inscription meaning "to do," a word he said existed only in Hebrew.

"That leads us to believe that this is Hebrew, and that this is the oldest Hebrew inscription that has been found," he said.

Hirbet Qeiyafa sits near the modern Israeli city of Beit Shemesh in the Judean foothills, an area that was once the frontier between the hill-dwelling Israelites and their enemies, the coastal Philistines. The site overlooks the Elah Valley, said to be the scene of the slingshot showdown between David and the Philistine giant Goliath, and near the ruins of Goliath's hometown in the Philistine metropolis of Gath.

Carbon-14 analysis of burnt olive pits found in the same layer of the site as the pottery shard helped archaeologists date it to between 1,000 and 975 B.C., the same time as the Biblical golden age of King David's rule in Jerusalem.

Archaeology has turned up only scant finds from David's time in the early 10th century B.C., leading some scholars to argue the Bible's account of the period inflates the importance of him and his kingdom. Some have even suggested his kingdom may not have existed at all.

But the fortified settlement where the writing was found contains indications that a powerful Israelite kingdom existed near Jerusalem in David's time, says Garfinkel.

If his claim is borne out, it would bolster the case for the Bible's accuracy by indicating the Israelites could record events as they happened, transmitting the history that was recorded in the Old Testament several hundred years later.

Modern Zionism has traditionally seen archaeology as a way of strengthening the Jewish claim to Israel and regarded David's kingdom as the glorious ancestor of the new Jewish state. As a result, finding evidence of his rule has importance beyond its interest to scholars.

The script, which Garfinkel suggests might be part of a letter, predates the next significant Hebrew inscription by between 100 and 200 years. History's best-known Hebrew texts, the Dead Sea scrolls, were penned on parchment beginning 850 years later.

The shard is now kept in a university safe while philologists translate it, a task expected to take months. But several words have already been tentatively identified, including "judge," "slave" and "king." The inscription was shown to other scholars at a peer presentation of the findings.

Some scholars are hesitant to embrace Garfinkel's interpretation, and his findings are already being wielded in the ongoing debate over whether the Bible—written hundreds of years after many of its events are supposed to have occurred—is more fact or legend. But the find is certain, at the very least, to prove useful in understanding the development of language and ancient alphabets.

Other prominent Biblical archaeologists warned against jumping to conclusions.

Hebrew University archaeologist Amihai Mazar said the inscription is "very important," but suggested that calling the text Hebrew might be going too far.

"The differentiation between the scripts, and between the languages themselves in that period, remains unclear," he said.

If the inscription is Hebrew, it would connect the Hirbet Qeiyafa settlement to the Israelites and make the text "one of the most important texts, without a doubt, in the corpus of Hebrew inscriptions," said Aren Maier, a Bar Ilan University archaeologist.

While the site is likely to add another "building block" to the historical record, archaeologist Israel Finkelstein of Tel Aviv University said the claims about it went beyond the strict boundaries of science.

Finkelstein, who has not visited the dig but attended a presentation of the findings, warned against what he said was a "revival in the belief that what's written in the Bible is accurate like a newspaper."

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

28 October 2008

Meet Sarah McCain Palin Ciptak

Meet Sarah McCain Palin Ciptak
16/10/2008 07:36 - (SA)
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Washington - A supporter of Republican presidential candidate John McCain and running mate Sarah Palin went beyond a bumper sticker and named his new born daughter after the duo.

The child's name, Sarah McCain Palin Ciptak, however was a surprise to her mother.

The parents had agreed to name the girl Ava Grace, but father Mark Ciptak instead filled out the birth certificate with the political name to draw attention to the candidates, he told local newspaper the Kingsport Times News.

He only later told his wife, Layla.

"To be sure, she was not quite fond of me or of what I had done, but we've had some time to talk it over, and she has been really supportive through it all," Ciptak told the newspaper.

The name has drawn a slew of media attention, and the couple said they have not decided whether to keep the name or have it changed to their original choice.

h/t to Stephen Colbert

27 October 2008

Feds disrupt skinhead plot to assassinate Obama

View from a booth: Thank Gd for decent people in the world who took these two beauties seriously when they said they were going to drive into Barack Obama in a car, guns ablaze. The suspects are 18 and 20 years old. What kind of world is this? Yasher Koach to all the law-enforcement, from Crockett County Sheriff Troy Klyce, sll the way up to the secret service. This country is going to have to make a stand against these domestic terrorists just as we did with respect to the ones presently sitting in Guantanamo Bay, 1/3 of whom have done nothing to us. Remember the sinking feeling you had in the pit of your stomach when you think "what if" Bobby Kennedy had lived. We cannot afford the same question to be asked about Barack Obama. All measures have to ensure his life for the good of this country. His existence as President and Commander In Chief is now more than ever a national security issue given the precarious position we find ourselves in economically and the transitory nature of our foreign policy regime which has been allowed to debase us as a nation of Americans. As much as there needs to be a war on the Taleban 10,000 miles away, there needs to be a war on the terrorists that are right here at home.

Randy Shiner

Feds disrupt skinhead plot to assassinate Obama
Oct 27 05:27 PM US/Eastern
Associated Press Writer
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Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill. gestures during...

WASHINGTON (AP) - Law enforcement agents have broken up a plot by two neo-Nazi skinheads to assassinate Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama and shoot or decapitate 88 black people, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco Firearms and Explosives said Monday.

In court records unsealed Monday in U.S. District Court in Jackson, Tenn., federal agents said they disrupted plans to rob a gun store and target a predominantly African-American high school in a murder spree that was to begin in Tennessee. Agents said the skinheads did not identify the school by name.

Jim Cavanaugh, special agent in charge of ATF's Nashville field office, said the two men planned to kill 88 black people, including 14 by beheading. The numbers 88 and 14 are symbolic in the white supremacist community.

The men also sought to go on a national killing spree after the Tennessee murders, with Obama as its final target, Cavanaugh told The Associated Press.

"They said that would be their last, final act—that they would attempt to kill Sen. Obama," Cavanaugh said. "They didn't believe they would be able to do it, but that they would get killed trying."

An Obama spokeswoman traveling with the senator in Pennsylvania had no immediate comment.

The men, Daniel Cowart, 20, of Bells, Tenn., and Paul Schlesselman 18, of Helena-West Helena, Ark., are being held without bond. Agents seized a rifle, a sawed-off shotgun and three pistols from the men when they were arrested. Authorities alleged the two men were preparing to break into a gun shop to steal more.

The defendants were arrested Oct. 22 by the Crockett County, Tenn., Sheriffs Office. "Once we arrested the defendants and suspected they had violated federal law, we immediately contacted federal authorities," said Crockett County Sheriff Troy Klyce.

Attorney Joe Byrd, who has been hired to represent Cowart, did not immediately return a call seeking comment Monday.

Cowart and Schlesselman are charged with possessing an unregistered firearm, conspiring to steal firearms from a federally licensed gun dealer, and threatening a candidate for president.

The investigation is continuing, and more charges are possible, Cavanaugh said.

The court records say Cowart and Schlesselman also bought nylon rope and ski masks to use in a robbery or home invasion to fund their spree, during which they allegedly planned to go from state to state and kill people.

For the Obama plot, the legal documents show, Cowart and Schlesselman "planned to drive their vehicle as fast as they could toward Obama shooting at him from the windows."

"Both individuals stated they would dress in all white tuxedos and wear top hats during the assassination attempt," the court complaint states. "Both individuals further stated they knew they would and were willing to die during this attempt."

Cavanaugh said there's no evidence—so far—that others were willing to assist Cowart and Schlesselman with the plot.

He said authorities took the threats very seriously.

"They seemed determined to do it," Cavanaugh said. "Even if they were just to try it, it would be a trail of tears around the South."


Associated Press writer Erik Schelzig in Nashville, Tenn., contributed to this report.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

25 October 2008

Palin's 'going rogue,' McCain aide says

View from a booth:

This comes as no surprise. The ship of state in the Republican party is up for grabs. I say to the respectable people who are Republicans, let the Sarah Palin lovers form their own political party, because the time that I remember when the word "Republican Party" did not irritate my gag reflex are in the past. If you want a Republican Party that commands respect and not a sick derision from people of my ilk, I'd suggest you remind yourselves again who you are and exactly what you stand for after some time in the political desert.

Randy Shiner

Palin's 'going rogue,' McCain aide says

  • Story Highlights
  • Sources say there is brewing tension between McCain aides and Palin
  • Palin aide says she is trying to take control of her message
  • "She is a diva. She takes no advice from anyone," says a McCain adviser
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ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico (CNN) -- With 10 days until Election Day, long-brewing tensions between GOP vice presidential candidate Gov. Sarah Palin and key aides to Sen. John McCain have become so intense, they are spilling out in public, sources say.

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin speaks at a rally in Sioux City, Iowa, on Saturday.

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin speaks at a rally in Sioux City, Iowa, on Saturday.

Several McCain advisers have suggested to CNN that they have become increasingly frustrated with what one aide described as Palin "going rogue."

A Palin associate, however, said the candidate is simply trying to "bust free" of what she believes was a damaging and mismanaged roll-out.

McCain sources say Palin has gone off-message several times, and they privately wonder whether the incidents were deliberate. They cited an instance in which she labeled robocalls -- recorded messages often used to attack a candidate's opponent -- "irritating" even as the campaign defended their use. Also, they pointed to her telling reporters she disagreed with the campaign's decision to pull out of Michigan.

A second McCain source says she appears to be looking out for herself more than the McCain campaign.

"She is a diva. She takes no advice from anyone," said this McCain adviser. "She does not have any relationships of trust with any of us, her family or anyone else.

"Also, she is playing for her own future and sees herself as the next leader of the party. Remember: Divas trust only unto themselves, as they see themselves as the beginning and end of all wisdom."

A Palin associate defended her, saying that she is "not good at process questions" and that her comments on Michigan and the robocalls were answers to process questions.

But this Palin source acknowledged that Palin is trying to take more control of her message, pointing to last week's impromptu news conference on a Colorado tarmac.

Tracey Schmitt, Palin's press secretary, was urgently called over after Palin wandered over to the press and started talking. Schmitt tried several times to end the unscheduled session.

"We acknowledge that perhaps she should have been out there doing more," a different Palin adviser recently said, arguing that "it's not fair to judge her off one or two sound bites" from the network interviews.

The Politico reported Saturday on Palin's frustration, specifically with McCain advisers Nicolle Wallace and Steve Schmidt. They helped decide to limit Palin's initial press contact to high-profile interviews with Charlie Gibson of ABC and Katie Couric of CBS, which all McCain sources admit were highly damaging.

In response, Wallace e-mailed CNN the same quote she gave the Politico: "If people want to throw me under the bus, my personal belief is that the most honorable thing to do is to lie there."

But two sources, one Palin associate and one McCain adviser, defended the decision to keep her press interaction limited after she was picked, both saying flatly that she was not ready and that the missteps could have been a lot worse.

They insisted that she needed time to be briefed on national and international issues and on McCain's record.

"Her lack of fundamental understanding of some key issues was dramatic," said another McCain source with direct knowledge of the process to prepare Palin after she was picked. The source said it was probably the "hardest" to get her "up to speed than any candidate in history."

Schmitt came to the back of the plane Saturday to deliver a statement to traveling reporters: "Unnamed sources with their own agenda will say what they want, but from Gov. Palin down, we have one agenda, and that's to win on Election Day."

Yet another senior McCain adviser lamented the public recriminations.

"This is what happens with a campaign that's behind; it brings out the worst in people, finger-pointing and scapegoating," this senior adviser said.

This adviser also decried the double standard, noting that Democratic nominee Sen. Barack Obama's running mate, Sen. Joe Biden, has gone off the reservation as well, most recently by telling donors at a fundraiser that America's enemies will try to "test" Obama.

Tensions like those within the McCain-Palin campaign are not unusual; vice presidential candidates also have a history of butting heads with the top of the ticket.

John Edwards and his inner circle repeatedly questioned Sen. John Kerry's strategy in 2004, and Kerry loyalists repeatedly aired in public their view that Edwards would not play the traditional attack dog role with relish because he wanted to protect his future political interests.

Even in a winning campaign like Bill Clinton's, some of Al Gore's aides in 1992 and again in 1996 questioned how Gore was being scheduled for campaign events.

Jack Kemp's aides distrusted the Bob Dole camp and vice versa, and Dan Quayle loyalists had a list of gripes remarkably similar to those now being aired by Gov. Palin's aides.

With the presidential race in its final days and polls suggesting that McCain's chances of pulling out a win are growing slim, Palin may be looking after her own future.

"She's no longer playing for 2008; she's playing 2012," Democratic pollster Peter Hart said. "And the difficulty is, when she went on 'Saturday Night Live,' she became a reinforcement of her caricature. She never allowed herself to be vetted, and at the end of the day, voters turned against her both in terms of qualifications and personally."

CNN's Ed Hornick contributed to this report.