I put Middle Earth Journal in hiatus in May of 2008 and moved to Newshoggers.
Well Newshoggers has closed it's doors so Middle Earth Journal is active once again.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Sunday Reading

This morning's reading harvest is richer than normal. Sometimes I find little or nothing of interest. But on mornings like this I'm overwhelmed by a trove of content too rich to take in all at once.  Here's the list (so far...).
Take your pick.

Drone crashes mount at civilian airports
 By Craig Whitlock, Published: November 30

A review of thousands of pages of unclassified Air Force investigation reports, obtained by The Washington Post under public-records requests, shows that drones flying from civilian airports have been plagued by setbacks.
Among the problems repeatedly cited are pilot error, mechanical failure, software bugs in the “brains” of the aircraft and poor coordination with civilian air-traffic controllers.
Josh Landis' News Roundup about Syria. 
Landis is the dean of academic experts on Syria. I have followed him for years. He knows and loves the country like no one else writing in English and is able to write with the detachment of an ER doctor responding to a car crash. This, from one of his links, is unsettling.
   NATO will likely decide next week whether or not to deploy surface-to-air Patriot missiles in Turkey, which would serve to protect the country from potential Syrian missiles that could contain chemical weapons, as well as intimidate Syrian Air Force pilots from bombing the northern Syria border towns.
   The armed rebels currently control much of Northwest Syria along the border of Turkey, making the border a likely conflict zone should Syrian missiles be implemented.
   Although State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the Patriot missile system would not be used beyond the Turkish border, military sources told Israeli news service DEBKAthat all of northern Syria – including Aleppo and Homs – would become controlled by the Turkish-NATO team.
   The US has so far hesitated to intervene on the ground in Syria, fearing the risks would be too great for their own soldiers and could worsen the conflict. But 18 months after the start of the civil war, intervention has increasingly entered the US radar. 
“Arms are not a strategy; arms are a tactic,” US Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford said during a conference in Washington. “A military solution is not the best way for Syria. Efforts to win this by conquering one side or the other will simply prolong the violence and actually aggravate an already terrible humanitarian situation. Syria needs a political solution.”
The US government has not made any official announcements that it was considering providing weapons, but the Congressional officials and diplomats told the Times that a decision would likely be made after Obama selects his new national security team. 
He particularly points to this next link which I have printed out (six pages pdf) for reading later today.
Syria’s Long Civil War 
by Glenn E. Robinson 
This writer affirms what I have been thinking from the outset of the Syrian uprising, that Syria is not really a country in the usual sense of the word. It is a geo-political construct, a remnant of colonial history, a collection of religious, ethnic and language groups, each of which might have been a separate country, all under one political entity. Those who study history will recognize this as another Lebanon writ large.
    Syria’s troubles go well beyond warring ethnic and confessional groups, to the fact that Syria as a political entity—as a nation—hardly exists. To be sure, the country’s two major cities, Damascus and Aleppo, have very long histories and strong localized identities. However, until the twentieth century, Syria was never a country unto itself. During the half millennium when it was part of the Ottoman Empire, Syria was not even constituted as a single administrative district within the empire, but was split among several districts.
     The invention of modern Syria following the First World War was based largely on agreements between the French and the British. Syria was not unique in this. Indeed, the modern borders of scores of countries in the developing world were based more on the interests of the colonial powers than on any historical or geographic reality.
[...]
      Syria encompasses five primary ethnoconfessional parochial identities, and many more fragmentary ones. Because a proper census has not been conducted since French colonial days, one can only estimate percentages. Roughly two-thirds of Syrians are both Arab by ethnicity and Sunni Muslim by religion. The bulk of this population appears to oppose the regime in Damascus.
      Alawites, Christians, and Kurds each make up about 10 percent of Syria’s population. However, significant minorities exist within each of these minorities. For example, the Christian community, split among Greek Orthodox, Maronite Catholics, Roman Catholics, Armenians, and others, hardly speaks with a single voice. The Druze, about 4 percent of the population, are an offshoot Islamic sect that incorporates strong folk traditions into religious practice.
Let’s Talk About Breasts
Reproductive Health Is Also Environmental Health. We Have A Lot Of Catching Up To Do.
Florence Williams is the author of Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History and a contributing editor at Outside Magazine.  This link, from Zócalo Public Square, reads like a sequel to Rachel Carson's Silent Spring.
[...]  
    At the time I tested my milk eight years ago, little was known about the possible health effects of these substances in humans, but since then, more work has been done. One of the more alarming studies of California women found that for every 10-fold increase in the concentration of four common formulations of flame retardants, there was a 30 percent decrease in the odds of getting pregnant each month. But there is still much to be learned about the effects of these chemicals on women and fetuses. (Breast milk, incidentally, is still preferable to formula from a health standpoint.)
    Since I did my test, I’m happy to report that the class of flame retardants in question is being quietly phased out of use. Consequently, its levels in breast milk are falling. The legal flammability standards remain in place, however, and eerily similar substances—also largely untested—have stepped in to fill the commercial void.
[...]
    In its lifetime, the Environmental Protection Agency has only banned a handful of chemicals. Under the Obama administration, after 12 years of political stonewalling, the agency finally restricted use of formaldehyde, a known carcinogen. Congress has also held up much-needed reforms to the Toxic Substances Control Act, the weak-kneed legislation governing chemicals testing.
    Today, Europe is a safer place than the United States to gestate and nurse a baby. And while we seem to be moving ahead—haltingly, and without the full support of our politicians—we have no way of knowing what the future holds for the coming generations.