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Sunday, June 28, 2009

The New York Times, Roger Cohen and "Borat"

The New York Times, Roger Cohen and "Borat"? Wherein lies the nexus? Roger Cohen/Sacha Cohen? No, think again, but meantime let's have a look at yesterday's box score.

On Saturday, I went two for two, as they say in baseball: two online comments submitted in response to New York Times op-eds, two online comments censored. Nothing remarkable about that, unless I have so irritated The Times that they have decided not to post any more of my comments. Needless to say, I sent a protest via e-mail to Clark Hoyt, Public Editor of The Times:
Dear Clark,

You claim . . . that my comments have not been posted because they were "off the topic".

I have just been censored again. My censored comment to Cohen's op-ed, "Iran's Second Sex", of today's date, quotes Cohen three times:

In "Iran's Second Sex", Roger Cohen writes: "The mullahs of Qom have lots of training in how to say the opposite of what they said before." Apparently, Qom's mullahs are not the only ones with this skill: Cohen has seamlessly moved from regime empathizer to regime detractor.

Roger now tells us that Neda "personifies a certain Iran that I've tried to evoke since the beginning of this year." Oh, really. I remember a protracted media campaign , relentlessly informing us that Iran is "not totalitarian".

Roger also tells us in this op-ed that Iran is "a real country with real people rather than a bunch of zealous clerics posing a nuclear problem." I've got news for you, Roger, North Korea is also a real country with real people, but this does not diminish the dire nuclear problem posed by its totalitarian dictator.

Yes, Iranian women are oppressed, and this should have been noted by you long ago.

Likewise the time has come for you to make amends and forthrightly describe the horrifying persecution of Iran's Baha'is, a matter to which you have devoted no more than a single sentence in the past six months.

Also, you need to revisit Iran's tiny, frightened Jewish community. It is now time to report what Iran's Jews, who fled Iran and are no longer afraid to tell the truth, have to say.

If you wish to claim that my comment of today's date was not on-topic, please justify the posting of comment no. 35, which states in its entirety:

One wonders what this country would look like the fundamentalist religious conservative wing of the Republican Party took power.

Kindly explain to me how the rejection of my comment does not amount to vulgar, politicized censorship by The Times of dissenting opinion. You claim that The Times is a proponent of "robust debate", yet here is your answer, real time.

If "censorship" and "anti-Semitism" are of interest to you and you wish to discuss these matters, my telephone number appears below.

Clark Hoyt, notwithstanding his sincerity (see his e-mail to me in my prior post), did not call me. So let's get back to "Borat".

In "Borat", a reporter from Kazakhstan, who speaks broken English and is unfamiliar with American culture, is sent across the U.S. to recount his experiences. Absurd as the plot of "Borat" might seem, is it any less absurd than what The Times did: sending Roger Cohen, who does not speak Farsi and has no degrees in Middle Eastern studies, on two whirlwind tours of Persia? The results speak for themselves:
  • In "The Other Iran" (February 1), Cohen declares that the "Islamic Revolution has proved resilient in part through flexibility", and "axis-of-evil myopia has led U.S. policy makers to underestimate the social, psychological and political forces for pragmatism, compromise and stability" in Iran.
  • In "Reading Khamenei in Tehran" (February 18), Cohen insists that "Khamenei sees his primary task as safeguarding a revolution whose core values include . . . social justice."
  • In "What Iran's Jews Say" (February 22), we are told that the "reality of Iranian civility toward Jews tells us more about Iran - its sophistication and culture - than all the inflammatory rhetoric." Cohen fails to inform us that he was speaking with Iranian Jews via an interpreter who was reporting back to the Iranian government. He also fails to inform us of what he later acknowledged at Sinai Temple: the Jews with whom he spoke were exercising self-censorship.
  • In "From Tehran to Tel Aviv" (March 22), Cohen tells us that the Iranian "regime's provocative rhetoric masks essential pragmatism" and "the mullahs are anything but mad". Cohen goes on to claim that Supreme Leader Khamenei quieted a crowd chanting "Death to America!", but Cohen, who does not speak Farsi, could not possibly understand the subtleties of Khamenei's speech.
  • In "Israel Cries Wolf" (April 8), Cohen concludes: "What's critical right now is that Obama view Netanyahu's fear-mongering with an appropriate skepticism, rein him in, and pursue his regime-recognizing opening toward Tehran".
  • In "Iran Awakens Yet Again" (June 10), Cohen enthuses: "For months now, I've been urging another look at Iran, beyond dangerous demonization of it as a totalitarian state. Seldom has the country looked less like one than in these giddy June days." Cohen describes Iran's democracy as "incomplete but vigorous".
  • In "Iran's Day of Anguish" (June 14), Cohen acknowledges "I erred in underestimating the brutality and cynicism of a regime that understands the uses of ruthlessness."
  • In "My Name Is Iran" (June 18), Cohen attributes great symbolic significance to the response "My name is Iran", when he asks the name of a young female protester. Apparently unbeknownst to Cohen, "Iran" is a common woman's name in Iran (there is a book by Ms. Iran Davar Ardalan, entitled "My Name Is Iran"). Cohen labels Moussavi "the reformist of impeccable revolutionary credentials". No mention that as prime minister, Moussavi presided over the execution of thousands of dissidents. No mention that Moussavi defended the taking of hostages at the U.S. embassy in Tehran and backed the fatwa against British author Salman Rushdie.
  • In "Children of Tomorrow" (June 22), Cohen describes his meeting with the son of Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, whom Cohen calls "the establishment's embittered eminence grise". Cohen fails to note that Rafsanjani, a leading backer of the "reformist" Moussavi, is charged by Argentine prosecutors with masterminding the 1994 suicide bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, which resulted in the murder of 85 people and the serious wounding of 151.
  • In "Iran's Second Sex" (June 26) Cohen acknowledges that Iranian women's "subjugation became a pillar of the Islamic state," despite his original premise that the Islamic revolution's "core values" include "social justice". Cohen complains that Qom's mullahs "have lots of training in how to say the opposite of what they said before."

Notwithstanding all of the above, The Times is now holding Cohen out as an "expert" on Iran. In his column "On the Ground", fellow New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof complimented Cohen on his "superb columns" and invited The Times' readers to submit their questions to Cohen.

Thanks, but I think Cohen lost his credibility long ago. Submit a question to Cohen or watch "Borat" for the umpteenth time? You know what I'm going to choose.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Clark Hoyt Responds; Has The New York Times Filed for Moral Bankruptcy?

In response to my second open letter to Clark Hoyt, Public Editor of The New York Times, entitled "Why Is Anti-Semitism Permitted in Online Comments 'Moderated' by The Times?"
(http://jgcaesarea.blogspot.com/2009/06/open-letter-no-2-to-clark-hoyt-public.html), I received on June 23, 2009 the following e-mail from Mr. Hoyt:

Dear Jeffrey Grossman:

As my assistant, ________ has told you, I am considering a public editor column on the subject of comments on the Web site of The Times. I have inquired about why your comments have not been posted and have been told that those that were rejected were considered off the topic.

Times editors agreed that some of the comments you objected to should not have been posted, and it is my understanding that they were taken down. Others were within the bounds of robust debate.

I appreciate hearing from you.

Yours sincerely,

Clark Hoyt

Public Editor

The New York Times


This message caused me no small amount of anguish. Allow me to explain:

As a student I always believed that there was something sacrosanct about The New York Times, a higher wisdom, an indubitable font of fact and learning. Later in life, I had the privilege to guide, interpret for and protect several of The Times' more fabled reporters during periods of strife, and I was inspired by their professionalism. Now, with one short e-mail from The Times' Public Editor, all of this has gone up in smoke.

Although extremely terse, let's examine Mr. Hoyt's e-mail line by line:

As my assistant _______ has told you, I am considering a public editor column on the subject of comments on the Web site of The Times.

Yes, your assistant, ________ indeed sent me an e-mail dated July 7, 2008, i.e. one year ago, stating:

Mr. Hoyt is thinking about addressing the issue of comment moderation in an upcoming column. Do you have a record of the comment you tried to post but was rejected? He would need to have the specifics.

I immediately provided the materials requested by Mr. Hoyt's assistant and continued to send him comments as they were rejected. i.e. censored, by The Times' moderators. Mr. Hoyt is still "considering" a public editor column on the subject of comments on the Web site of The Times? Forgive me if I don't hold my breath.

I have inquired about why your comments have not been posted and have been told that those that were rejected were considered off the topic.

If Mr. Hoyt "inquired" about my comments, whom did he ask? If he was "told" that my comments were not on-topic, who told him? The "moderators" themselves?

Why didn't Mr. Hoyt take a minute to read one of the censored comments in my first open letter to him ("Why Are Non-Abusive, On-Topic, Online Comments Censored by The Times? Open Letter to Clark Hoyt, Public Editor of The New York Times, http://jgcaesarea.blogspot.com/2009/06/open-letter-no-1-to-clark-hoyt-public.html). Go ahead, Mr. Hoyt, read the comment concerning Qaddafi, then tell me it was not "on-topic".

My most recent comment to be censored, in response to Bob Herbert's June 20, 2009 op-ed, "A Threat We Can't Ignore" ("Don't count out the connection between the right-wing hate-mongers and the gun crazies who believe a well-aimed bullet is the ticket to all their dreams'), stated:

Bob, I also abhor the hateful, dangerous language of the far-right. However, I think you must also be cognizant of the hateful language of the far-left, which, in response to certain New York Times op-eds, has found its way into New York Times online comments. One such comment, which was removed following my protests, also appeared to call for a "well-aimed bullet". See: http://jgcaesarea.blogspot.com/2009/06/open-letter-no-2-to-clark-hoyt-public.html

Not on-topic?

Yes, I know: when there are so many other important matters at The Times, why should Mr. Hoyt concern himself with censorship, and if it makes Mr. Hoyt feel any better, I informed Mr. Herbert of this censored comment, and Mr. Herbert did not bother to respond.

Times editors agreed that some of the comments you objected to should not have been posted, and it is my understanding that they were taken down.

Questions:

Why were these comments permitted by The Times' "moderators" in the first place and not removed until I brought them to the attention of The Times? Why did Mr. Hoyt not respond immediately to my e-mail objecting to this phenomenon (it was another editor of The Times, who finally acted on my complaint)? Why was there a proliferation of such racist online comments? What changes have been made to ensure that this phenomenon is corrected?

Mr. Hoyt doesn't say the ugly word in his e-mail, so let me say it again: anti-Semitism. Has it become politically correct? Are Jews the one minority whom today it is permissible to target?

Others were within the bounds of robust debate.

Notwithstanding my entreaties, anti-Semitism continues to find its way into New York Times online comments. Recently, I brought the following language to Mr. Hoyt's attention from a comment, the first posted by The Times' "moderators", in response to Roger Cohen's June 20, 2009 op-ed, "City of Whispers":

Look for Israel to use the US to bomb Middle Eastern countries and then Israel with the Sole Power will then take over the US. [Sic]

Is Mr. Hoyt claiming that this comment, which was not removed, falls within the bounds of "robust debate"? A subsequent comment posted in response to this same op-ed stated:

Obama wascompletly mute during 23 days 24/7 of jewish barabrities on Gaza civilians when 1400 of them perished in that onslaught. [Sic]

Okay, so The Times permits outright falsehoods, but is The Times also willing to allow a free interchange between the words "Jewish" and "Israeli"?

I appreciate hearing from you.

Mr. Hoyt appreciates so much hearing from me that it has taken him more than a year, since my first e-mail, to answer personally.

Yours sincerely,

Forgive me if I question Mr. Hoyt's sincerity. Meanwhile, notwithstanding the promise made by Mr. Hoyt's department to review Roger Cohen's "What Iran's Jews Say" from the standpoint of journalistic ethics, no one has gotten back to me.

*********

So, are we back to square one? If The Times is willing to permit anti-Semitism in "moderated" online comments, do we merely cancel our subscriptions? The Times doesn't care.

Imagine, however, if we inform The Times' advertisers, one at a time, about this "moderated" hatred.

More about this in a future post.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Investing Then and Now, Compugen

Almost 50 years ago, I took all of my savings, $150, from raking leaves and shoveling snow, and invested in a company named Corn Products, which manufactured Skippy Peanut Butter, Hellmann's Mayonaise and Mazola Corn Oil. I asked to hold the three shares in my own name and received in the mail a handsome stock certificate with a vignette depicting a farm, a factory and a goddess cradling the earth in her delicate hands. More remarkable, several weeks later I received a personal letter from the President of Corn Products, welcoming me into the company's family of shareholders.

Over the many years that I held these shares, I always made a point of buying their products at the grocery store and reading from cover to cover their quarterly and annual reports. The company prospered, never failed to pay a quarterly dividend, and after some 20 years as a shareholder, I reluctantly sold these shares at a profit.

Today, still a creature of habit, I continue to take a very personal interest in the companies in which I invest and actively attempt to examine their employees, management, science and aspirations. I have no interest in day trading, i.e. buying and selling shares in companies of which I know little more than their symbols. Instead, I do the unacceptable: I fall in love with the companies in which I invest, and they become part of my family.

I want to tell you about an Israeli company named Compugen whose shares I own. This is not a recommendation to buy or sell. Rather, I hope to describe an organization which embodies many of the values that I hold dear. For better or worse, this company has penetrated my soul.

Compugen was born some 10 years ago and initially studied a little known phenomenon known as alternative splicing. According to the prevailing science of the time, every gene in the body gave rise to a single protein; however, in rare instances a gene could give rise to multiple proteins via alternative splicing. Compugen came along and asserted, based upon its computer studies, that no small percentage of human genes produced multiple proteins via alternative splicing. Lo and behold, it was subsequently discovered that humans had far fewer genes than previously thought, and Compugen was proven correct.

As a result of this discovery pertaining to alternative splicing, Compugen was able to create a better map of the transcriptome (our body's RNA) and proteome (our body's proteins) and to identify a number of potential therapeutic proteins. But unlike other small biotech companies which gambled everything on the success of a limited number of product candidates, Compugen continued to invest in R&D.

Peptides are fragments of proteins. Compugen determined the cleavage points of the body's proteins and created maps of the human, viral and bacterial peptidomes. Having reached this stage, Compugen was finally ready to create cutting edge, therapeutic discovery platforms and to build an inventory of new therapeutic candidates at a time when the pipelines of Big Pharma were going dry.

Why did Big Pharma's pipelines go dry? In part because they all relied on the same high throughput and ultra-high throughput technologies. They created vast libraries of molecules which they threw at targets and waited to see if anything happened. At first this system yielded results, but over time costs rose while discoveries became few and far between. Of late, Big Pharma has fired large numbers of R&D personnel and has begun to seek new therapeutic and diagnostic candidates outside its own walls.

Compugen's discovery platforms? I do not pretend to understand the genius underlying their mechanics, but I can try to appreciate their beauty. Example:

It is known that proteins fold in various manners. It is also known that when proteins fold in certain ways, they assume a disease associated conformation ("DAC"), and Compugen has learned to predict peptides that prevent proteins from assuming their disease associated conformations. Although the animal testing of the resultant therapeutic candidates is early stage, the results are thus far remarkable: An initial run of the DAC blocker platform resulted in the computerized prediction of therapeutic peptide candidates for some 40 drug targets with potential use for solid cancers, inflammatory diseases, septic shock and viral diseases. Seven of these drug targets were selected for initial experimental validation, and peptide blockers were found for all seven.

Another example:

Some 40% of all drugs work by modulating what are called G-protein coupled receptors ("GPCRs"). Discover a new GPCR peptide ligand and you have an approximately 50% chance of eventually bringing to market a new drug. Unfortunately, GPCR ligands are difficult to find: only two such ligands have been disovered on average each year over the past decade. After studying the structure of known GPCRs, Compugen created a discovery platform for novel GPCRs, using its peptide libraries. In the initial run of this platform, eight new GPCR peptide ligands were discovered. Better still, Compugen recently announced that one of these newly discovered GPCR peptide ligands was able to activate the Relaxin receptor and showed positive therapeutic effects in an animal model of pulmonary fibrosis, an incurable condition: "Following two weeks of administration of the CGEN-25009 peptide to mice induced with lung fibrosis, there was a complete reduction in the fibrosis." It remains to be seen whether this GPCR peptide ligand has applications for liver fibrosis from hepatitis C and alcohol abuse, i.e. cirrhosis of the liver, and for kidney fibrosis from hypertension.

Compugen is tiny: only some 40 employees. How can they succeed where Big Pharma has failed? Because one exceptional scientist is worth more than an entire mediocre R&D army. Because as in Robert Frost's poem, Compugen ventured down the path seldom traveled. Because Compugen attempted the near impossible - computerized modeling of cellular processes on the molecular level - and, after 10 years of intensive, painstaking effort, is succeeding. Were mistakes made along the way? Absolutely, but Compugen channeled everything they learned from their mistakes into improving their algorithms and discovery platforms.

As I already said, the purpose of this post is not to recommend the purchase or sale of Compugen's shares. Rather, watch with me the announcements of this little company over the coming months. This is breakaway science upon which medical progress will be grounded.

Yes, I am a twenty-first century, fossilized anachronism, who takes pride in his company. It's about hope. It's about caring. It's about a better future for my children and my children's children.

[On June 23, Compugen announced that CGEN-25007, a therapeutic candidate discovered by means of the Company's DAC blocker platform, "has shown positive therapeutic effects in an animal model of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), a commonly used term covering ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease." According to the announcement: "Professor Markus F. Neurath, from the University of Erlangen, Germany, who supervised the study and is a recognized world expert in this field, stated: 'The results achieved with CGEN-25007 are very impressive. In the past, we have evaluated numerous molecules in this model but never saw such dramatic effects. If these results continue to be confirmed in further studies, this molecule should represent a very exciting drug candidate in this substantial, and largely unmet medical need.'"]

Saturday, June 20, 2009

The New York Times Circles Its Wagons

Yesterday, The Times published Bob Herbert's op-ed, "A Threat We Can't Ignore", very similar in content to Rich's recent "The Obama Haters' Silent Enablers" and Krugman's recent "The Big Hate". In response to Mr. Herbert, I submitted the following online comment:

Bob, I also abhor the hateful, dangerous rhetoric of the far-right. However, I think The Times must also be cognizant of the hateful language of the far-left, which, in response to certain New York Times op-eds, has found its way into New York Times online comments. One such online comment, removed following my protests, also appeared to call for a "well-aimed bullet". See http://jgcaesarea.blogspot.com/2009/06/open-letter-no-2-to-clark-hoyt-public.html

Although I believe my comment was not "abusive" and "on-topic", it was censored by The Times. Why should I be surprised? The Times also censored a similar comment that I submitted in response to Rich's op-ed, "The Obama Haters' Silent Enablers".

It is disappointing that The Times' op-ed writers lack subject matter for their columns, notwithstanding the earthshaking events that swirl about us, and find themselves dwelling on the same themes. Maureen Dowd, apparently still recovering from a bout of plagiarism, has lost her voice, and, without Dick Cheney to kick around, has wasted her two most recent op-eds on Obama's fries and flies.

More worrisome is the reemergence of online hatred in response to The Times' op-eds. The first comment permitted to be posted in response to Cohen's "City of Whispers" states:

Look for Israel to use the US to bomb Middle Eastern Countries and then Israel with the Sole Power will then take over the US. [Sic]

I brought this comment to the attention of Messrs. Sulzberger and Hoyt. Neither responded to my messages. The following language from comment no. 112 was also later permitted by The Times:

Obama wascompletly mute during 23 days 24/7 jewish barabrities on Gaza civilans when 1400 of them perished in that onslaught. [Sic]

Another complaint to The Times. Again, silence. Is this the readership that Sulzberger is pursuing?

Notwithstanding the assurances I received that Clark Hoyt, Public Editor of The New York Times, intends to address the issues of journalistic ethics and censorship that I raised, his column today is devoted to "Putting a Price on News".

"Putting a Price on News"? If The Times doesn't wake up soon to the reasons underlying its shrinking circulation, its news will not be worth a wooden nickel.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Selective Hearing

President Obama declared in his inaugural speech:

Those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history, but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.
Today those pretty words, composed for the president, have proven baseless. Iran's protesters are being murdered and mauled in the middle of the night by the Basij, yet President Obama remains silent. The protesters call his name, but President Obama pretends not to hear.

If President Obama cannot personally summon the fortitude to condemn these outrages and express his moral indignation, he should convene an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council. Those persons who have taken to the streets of Tehran must be made to know that the world is witnessing both their courage and the turpitude of their tormentors.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Was Roger Cohen's "What Iran's Jews Say" in Keeping with The Times' Ethical Guidelines? Open Letter No. 3 to Clark Hoyt

Dear Mr. Hoyt,

As you well know, three months ago I sent you, in your capacity as Public Editor of The New York Times, an e-mail, inquiring whether Roger Cohen's op-ed, "What Iran's Jews Say", dated February 23, 2009, adhered to your newspaper's ethical guidelines. I received the following response, dated March 20, 2009, from one of your staffers:

I am looking into this further, and doing some homework on the case right now. I also have Mr. Hoyt looking into it, and I will report our findings to you as soon as they are ready.

Well, it is almost three months since your staffer began his "homework", and I have yet to hear back from him or you. Is this the pace at which your department works, or has something else happened?

Just in case your "examination" is still active, allow me to jump-start matters. First, listen to Cohen's question and answer session at Sinai Temple in Los Angeles on March 12, 2009 (I already provided you with the Internet link), then kindly answer a few easy questions. Shall we begin?

As acknowledged by Cohen and known to all, most of the Iranian Jewish community has fled Iran, and Cohen's op-ed did not account for Iran's angry expatriate Jews, e.g., those at Sinai Temple, some of whom are no longer afraid to express their contrary opinions. So, at a minimum, Cohen's op-ed should have been entitled:

"What Iran's Remaining Jews, i.e. the Ones Who Haven't Fled, Say"

But let's take this a step further. Cohen never spoke with all of Iran's remaining Jews; in fact, he spoke with only several of them, and it cannot possibly be the case that they all think alike. For transparency's sake, surely you agree that the title should have read:

"What a Few of Iran's Remaining Jews, i.e. the Ones Who Haven't Fled, Said to Me"

But wait, there's more. At Sinai Temple Cohen acknowledged that he doesn't speak Farsi and that his conversations were conducted via an interpreter. As such, maybe the correct name for this op-ed should have been:

"What a Few of Iran's Remaining Jews, i.e. the Ones Who Haven't Fled, Said to Me Via an Interpreter"

Is that all? Sorry, but I'm afraid there's something else. Cohen acknowledged that the interpreter was assigned to him by an agency of the Iranian government and was reporting back to the Iranian government concerning Cohen's conversations. Given the need for transparency, the more appropriate appellation for this op-ed might have been:

"What a Few of Iran's Remaining Jews, i.e. the Ones Who Haven't Fled, Said to Me Via an Interpreter, Who Was Assigned to Me and Reporting Back to the Iranian Government"

But we're not finished yet. Yes, I know the title is already long, but for the sake of "truth in advertising", how can we possibly avoid observing, as acknowledged by Cohen himself, that those Persian Jews with whom he met were exercising self-censorship for fear of retribution. Hence, how about:

"What a Few of Iran's Remaining Jews, i.e. the Ones Who Haven't Fled, Said to Me, While Exercising Self-Censorship for Fear of Retribution, Via an Interpreter, Who Was Assigned to Me and Reporting Back to the Iranian Government"

Now forgive me for being petty and tiresome, but I fear there is one last, crucial detail that also needs to be included: I understand that Cohen's interviews with the Iranian Jews, whose names were cited in the op-ed, were arranged in advance by the Iranian government. Accordingly, wouldn't it make sense to call this op-ed:

"What a Few of Iran's Remaining Jews, i.e. the Ones Who Haven't Fled and Who Were Vetted in Advance by the Iranian Government, Said to Me, While Exercising Self-Censorship for Fear of Retribution, Via an Interpreter, Who Was Assigned to Me and Reporting Back to the Iranian Government"

Yes, I know that's a mouthful, but section 15 of The Times' "Ethical Journalism, A Handbook of Values and Practices for the News and Editorial Departments" (the link appears on your web page, i.e. that of the Public Editor) specifically provides:

The Times treats its readers as fairly and openly as possible. In print and online, we tell our readers the complete, unvarnished truth as best we can learn it. It is our policy to correct our errors, large and small, as soon as we become aware of them.

An absurd title for an op-ed? Indeed, but no more absurd than the op-ed itself.

Given The Times' obligation to correct errors "large and small, as soon as we become aware of them", is it your position, Mr. Hoyt, that there was no need to inform The Times' readers of any of the above concerning the basis for and background of "What Iran's Jews Say"? If indeed this is your conclusion, just say it. A few readers may chuckle; however, I don't think any of this should be swept under the carpet, Persian or otherwise.

I have already expressed my horror and indignation at the anti-Semitic online comments that were posted in response to Cohen's series of op-eds concerning Iran. Now, following Cohen's admission that he "erred in underestimating the brutality and cynicism of a regime that understands the use of ruthlessness," it remains for Cohen and The Times to apologize for the cynical use of Iran's fragile, frightened Jewish community in a myopic media campaign.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Roger's Day of Anguish

After much routine censorship of my online comment submissions in response to New York Times' op-eds, I finally got one through concerning Roger Cohen's "Iran's Day of Anguish", which seems to have struck a chord with many of The Times' readers:

"I erred in underestimating the brutality and cynicism of a regime that understands the use of ruthlessness."

You "erred"? After months of hectoring and haranguing us on a weekly basis, you "erred"? No, Roger, you were "wrong big-time": Iran is indeed "totalitarian".

I am curious: Did you learn anything from your mistake?

Do you now understand that someone who does not speak the local language and has not spent meaningful time in the relevant part of the world is ill-equipped to opine on such matters?

Are you now aware that your op-ed concerning the frightened, remaining members of Iran's Jewish community was myopic and self-serving?

Can you now understand Israel's existential concerns vis-a-vis Iranian development of nuclear weapons?

Do you now feel any regret that you devoted only a single sentence during these many months to the horrifying persecution of Iran's Baha'is?

I await your answers.

Let me tell you what I did not include in this comment for fear of again being censored: I wanted to ask Cohen if he was aware of and sorry for the torrent of antisemitism prompted by his op-eds in New York Times' online comments.

Krugman and Rich recently wrote op-eds complaining of the hatred spawned by the right-wing media. I wish they had taken the time to look in the mirror and see the rabid antisemitism and calls for violence in response to New York Times' op-eds.

It is high time for both the right and left to turn down the rhetoric and emphasize a culture of tolerant, reasoned debate. Anyone listening?

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Is Obama Sacrificing the Baha'is in Pursuit of Rapprochement with Iran?

Another Thursday, another Roger Cohen op-ed devoted to Iran ("Iran Awakens Yet Again"), and another JG online comment censored by The Times:

Back in Tehran, Roger, who doesn't speak Farsi, gleefully observes: "For months now, I've been urging another look at Iran, beyond dangerous demonization of it as a totalitarian state."

Maybe this visit, Roger, you'll have the courage to ask to meet with Iran's Baha'is, particularly their seven community leaders, imprisoned for more than a year without legal counsel, falsely charged with espionage, and facing execution.

As observed in a February 26, 2009 Voice of America editorial "reflecting the views of the United States Government" (www.voanews.com/uspolicy/2009-02-23-voa5.cfm):

"More than 9 months have passed since 7 leaders of the Baha'i community in Iran were arrested and sent to prison with no access to legal counsel. Now the Iran government has announced the 7 have been charged with espionage. The move is the latest in decades of repressive measures against the Baha'is, the largest non-Islamic religious minority in Iran. Those measures include barring Baha'is from attending public universities or working in public agencies, destroying or closing Baha'i places of worship, bulldozing Baha'i cemeteries, legally confiscating Baha'i property, and killing Baha'is with impunity."

This doesn't sound "totalitarian" to you, Roger?

One cannot help but draw parallels between the persecution of Baha'is in Iran and the persecution of Jews in pre-war Nazi Germany.

This savage oppression of the Baha'is , who are deemed apostates by Iran's Shiite mullahs, must not be swept under the Persian carpet. Apostacy, pursuant to pending Iranian legislation, will be punishable by death.

I am appalled that the persecution of Iran's Baha'is continues to be ignored by Cohen.

Censored by The New York Times? What else is new. However, in this instance, given how, some 60 years ago, The Times shunted news of the Holocaust to its back pages, this lack of sensitivity to the persecution of the Baha'is is nothing less than outrageous.

More worrisome still: Reference to Islam's history of religious "tolerance", but no mention by Obama of the Baha'is during his Cairo speech.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Censored, Again, by The New York Times: Is Obama Above Criticism?

Notwithstanding The New York Times' purported policy that online comments to op-eds "are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive", the comment I submitted to Roger Cohen's June 7, 2009 op-ed, "Ask Not for a Great Line", was censored by The Times. Judge for yourself whether or not this comment, albeit critical, was on-topic and not abusive:

And a fawning member of the priestly order of Cohens would have thee know that a new American Idol hath been born, but he be a False Messiah. Or in more mundane words, Roger's right: Obama is indeed a marvelous orator, but the speech in Cairo consisted of half-truths.

No mention by Obama of the 30 million Kurds seeking independence: this would have outraged the Turks, the Syrians, the Iranians and Iraq's "Sunni elite".

No mention by Obama of the Nazi-like persection of Iran's Baha'i: this would have infuriated Iran's Shiite mullahs, who consider the Baha'is apostates. Apostacy, according to pending Iranian legislation, will be punishable by death.

The "intolerable" situation of the Palestinians? No willingness to acknowledge that their situation came about after Arafat rejected Ehud Barak's 2000 Camp David proposal to return to the '67 borders in exchange for peace. And certainly no willingness to observe that their situation was precipitated by daily suicide bombings aimed at Israeli civilians, which resulted in a new border fence, and by incessant rocket and mortar attacks aimed at Israeli civilians, which spawned Operation Cast Lead.

You recall Obama's obeisance to Saudi King Abdullah in London? Well, in Cairo Obama figuratively bowed a second time by lending credence to Abdullah's claim that "a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict would be the 'magic key' to all issues in the region." http:/in.reuters.com/article/worldNews/idINIndia-40143320090607

What Obama didn't tell you is that most wars in this region have absolutely nothing at all to do with Israel. To name just a few in no particular order: The North Yemen Civil War (1962-1970, pitting Egypt against Saudi Arabia); The Libyan-Egyptian War (1977); The Sand War (1963-1964, Morocco against Algeria); Algeria-Morocco border clash (1967); The Polisario War for Independence (1975-1991); The Algerian War Against Islamic Terrorism (1992-1999); The Libyan invasions of Chad (1979 and again in 1981); The Libyan-Sudanese Conflict (1972-1976); The Yemen Civil War (1994); The Hanish Islands Conflict (1995); The Sa'dah Insurgency (2004-2008); The First Gulf War (1990-1991); The Turkish-Syrian Border Incidents (1957); The Syria-Jordan War (1970); The Lebanese Civil War (1975-1991); The Iraq-Iran War (1980-1988); The Dhofar Revolution (1962-1975); The Kurdish Revolts in Iraq (1974, 1983-1988 and 1991); The Shiite Revolt in Iraq (1991); The Baharaini-Qatari Wars (1978, 1982, 1986, 1991); Franco-Tunisian Border Clashes (1957-1962); Muslim Brotherhood Insurrections in Syria (1980 in Aleppo and 1982 in Hamah); Black September (1970-1971 between Jordan and the PLO); Gazan Civil War (2006-2007 between Hamas and Fatah).

Worst of all, Obama, with the able assistance of James Jones, now even has the Israeli peace camp running scared in the knowledge that Israel might soon join the Reverend Wright and Barack's grandma "under the bus", and that's no way to treat a stalwart ally.

Why is Cohen rapturous over a masterpiece of obfuscation, not even written by Obama? Yes, Obama is photogenic and reads well from teleprompters placed on his left and his right, much like television anchorpersons, but is this all it takes to transport Roger into ecstacy? Roger would have us know that this speech "furthered the strategy of an American rapprochement with Islam to isolate 'extremists' (terrorists no longer)." But what about the simple truth? Does it no longer matter?

[The New York Times published on June 8, 2009 an op-ed by Andre Aciman, entitled "The Exodus Obama Forgot to Mention" (www.nytimes.com/2009/06/09/opinion/09aciman.html?ref=option). Mr. Aciman's op-ed notes that 800,000 Jews were forced to flee their Middle East homes and abandon all their property in the 20th century, but Obama failed to mention this calamity in his Cairo speech.]

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Why Is Antisemitism Permitted in Online Comments "Moderated" by The Times? Open Letter No. 2 to Clark Hoyt, Public Editor of The New York Times

Dear Mr. Hoyt,

In my prior open letter to you, I asked why non-abusive, on-topic, online comments are censored by The Times. Now, I would like to ask why antisemitism has been permitted in online comments "moderated" by The Times.

On March 3, 2009 I sent you an e-mail, informing you that my online comment submission in response to Roger Cohen's March 1, 2009 op-ed, "Iran, the Jews and Germany", had been censored. I also sent you an example of another comment in response to that same op-ed, which was permitted to be posted by The Times' "moderators":

The general Jewish reaction to Cohen's article about Iran Jews demonstrates to a good extent that most recent, and presently overriding, Jewish "malady".

The term "malady" used here refers to two and only two things:

- Total unwillingness to see things any differently from their own perception

- Over sensitivity to any thing BUT complete, verbatim, repetition and duplication of their own outlook to things related to or "affecting them.

With Israel's establishment over the ruins of Palestine, the Palestinian people and Palestinian society, an act unparalleled in modern history, caused by that very act Israel, and the Jews in general, have come to expect total submission from ALL in the West in all matters related or affecting them.

The syndrome is understandable: having had their way in an unprecedented act of dislocation, dispossession, subjugation and sup plantation of one people by another "people" to the endless general support and acclamation of the West they are, rightly (?), puzzled if what are relatively other "minor" points related or affecting them are disputed or not echoing their own outlook as they should!

Israel in particular and most of the Jews in general have come to expect total kowtow and unflinching support to their outlook, perceptions and advocacies and, with Israel, designs and plans for the future.

What the world in general and the West in particular is witnessing now is the reversal of the Jewish "persecution" complex of yore into its perverted/inverted mirror image: Jewish "untouchability" complex.

This development is neither good to the world nor to the Jews. [Sic]

You did not answer this e-mail, and not surprisingly, antisemitism continued to appear in New York Times' online comments. In response to Roger Cohen's April 7, 2009 op-ed, "Turkey Wants U.S. 'Balance'", the following comment, for example, was posted:

There is no country called Israel, just the squatting of tribal criminals from the Eastern Bloc.

And in response to Cohen's April 15, 2009 op-ed, "Realpolitik for Iran", the following comment, which received many "Readers' Recommendations", was posted:

Israel was smart to place people in all areas of the US Govenment and Schools to make sure they were able to use the United States for their needs. . . . Over the pass 8 years Israel had control of US Policy and still today Law Makers are working for Israel not the American people. President Bush was behind every request Israel had even the Palestine (Shaoh) Holocaust attack. . . . Israel has broken the 1948 settlement deal ordered by the United Nations. Greed has taken over Israel as it is run by corrupt Leaders. [Sic]

My persistent protests were finally reviewed by a senior editor of The Times, and these and other comments were removed. Problem solved? No. In response to Cohen's May 28, 2009 op-ed, "Obama in Netanyahu's Web", the following comment was permitted to be posted:

Seeing the destruction and misery that the current Jewish Israeli population is capable of, and willing to commit, against poor and defenseless people leaves one to wonder what they would do had the Holocaust never taken place and there were twice as many of them as there are now. . . .

After additional e-mails, this comment was also ultimately removed.

Questions naturally arise: Who are these "moderators" who permit this antisemitic abuse? Are they the same persons responsible for "Editors' Selections"? Why was my initial e-mail to the Public Editor simply ignored? And why are these abusive comments particularly prevalent in response to Cohen's op-eds (I would like to discuss this issue in my third and final open letter to you)?

I have seen "abuse" approaching what I have delineated above, albeit of a different kind, in only one other instance, i.e. in response to Maureen Dowd's April 29, 2009 op-ed, "Vice's Secret Vices", where one comment stated:

I think writing about Dick Cheney is at bottom passe Maureen. If you can't get the balls to put a material bullet between his eyes,,go away. [Sic]

I dashed off another e-mail to an editor of The Times, and this comment was instantly removed. It is a pity that the antisemitic comments were not removed with the same alacrity.

My question to you, Mr. Hoyt, is why has the authorization and publication of this vile extremism in The Times' online comments, which I have painstakingly brought to your attention, not been examined in one of your columns? I would like to believe that such an examination needs to be done openly, candidly and urgently. I think such an examination takes precedence, for example, over "the logic of The Times' slow-to-change style manual", which was the subject of one of your recent columns.

Max Frankel, Pulitzer Prize Winner and former Executive Editor of The New York Times, wrote concerning The Times' coverage of the Holocaust (www.racematters.org/turningawayfromholocaust.htm):

AND then there was failure: none greater than the staggering, staining failure of The New York Times to depict Hitler's methodical extermination of the Jews of Europe as a horror beyond all other horrors in World War II - a Nazi war within the war crying out for illumination.
. . . .
Why, then, were the terrifying tales almost hidden in the back pages? Like most - though not all - American media, and most of official Washington, The Times drowned its reports about the fate of the Jews in the flood of wartime news. Its neglect was far from unique and its reach was not then fully national, but as the premier American source of wartime news, it surely influenced the judgment of other news purveyors.
. . . .
After the Nazi's slaughter of Jews was fully exposed at war's end, Iphigene Ochs Sulzberger, the influential daugher, wife and mother of Times publishers, changed her mind about the need for a Jewish state and helped her husband, Arthur Hays Sulzberger, accept the idea of Israel and befriend its leaders. Later, led by their son, Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, and their grandson Arthur Sulzberger Jr., The Times shed its sensitivity about its Jewish roots, allowed Jews to ascend to the editor's chair and warmly supported Israel in many editorials.

And to this day the failure of America's media to fasten upon Hitler's atrocities stirs the conscience of succeeding generations of reporters and editors. It has made them acute to ethnic barbarities in far-off places like Uganda, Rwanda, Bosnia and Kosovo. It leaves them obviously resolved that in the face of genocide, journalism shall not have failed in vain.


Given all of the above, I wonder how Mr. Frankel would react if he were to read the above online comments permitted by The Times' "moderators". I would also be curious to know Mr. Frankel's thoughts concerning the title of Roger Cohen's op-ed, "Obama in Netanyahu's Web".

Mr. Sulzberger did not respond to my request that The Times apologize for the title of Cohen's op-ed.

The years pass, but notwithstanding Mr. Frankel's optimism, nothing really changes.

Newsweek, Iran and the Baha'is: Naivete or Much Worse?

First we had Roger Cohen of The New York Times spending three weeks in Iran and singing paeans to Persian "civility" in countless op-eds, yet mentioning the horrific persecution of Iran's Baha'is only once in a single sentence.

Now we have Fareed Zakaria, Editor of Newsweek International, in the June 1, 2009 issue of Newsweek telling us (www.newsweek.com/id/199147):

Everything you know about Iran is wrong, or at least more complicated than you think. Take the bomb. The regime wants to be a nuclear power but could well be happy with a peaceful civilian program.

Yeah, right. Absent from Zakaria's article is any mention of Iran's May test-firing of a medium-range solid-fuel missile capable of hitting Israel and U.S. bases in the Persian Gulf (www.washingtonpost.com/wpdyn/content/article/2009/05/20/AR2009052000523.html).

Also absent from Zakaria's article is any mention of the horrific persecution of Iran's Baha'is. As observed in a February 22, 2009 Voice of America editorial "reflecting the views of the United States Government" (www.voanews.com/uspolicy/2009-02-23-voa5.cfm):

More than 9 months have passed since 7 leaders of the Baha'i community in Iran were arrested and sent to prison with no access to legal counsel. Now the Iranian government has announced the 7 have been charged with espionage. The move is the latest in decades of repressive measures against the Baha'is, the largest non-Islamic religious minority in Iran. Those measures include barring Baha'is from attending public universities or working in public agencies, destroying or closing Baha'i places of worship, bulldozing Baha'i cemeteries, legally confiscating Baha'i property, and killing Baha'is with impunity.

One cannot help but draw parallels between the persecution of Baha'is in Iran and the persecution of Jews in pre-war Nazi Germany. This savage oppression of the Baha'is, who are deemed apostates by Iran's Shiite mullahs, must not be swept under the Persian carpet.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Iranian Officials to Receive July 4 Invitations

So Obama has authorized U.S. embassies to invite Iranian officials to July 4 Independence Day parties. Oddly enough, these invitations are being extended at a time when the U.S. Commission on Religious Freedom is decrying a horrifying deterioration in religious freedom in Iran.

A VOA editorial, "reflecting the views of the U.S. Government", states in relevant part (http://www.voanews.com/uspolicy/2009-05-18-voa6.cfm):

In a report released this month, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, a bipartisan governmental body, described a deteriorating situation regarding religious freedom in Iran - particularly for Baha'is, Evangelical Christians, and Sufi Muslims.

At least 30 members of the Baha'i community are in prison because of their faith, according to the Commission. Dozens are awaiting trial, while others have been arbitrarily sentenced to prison terms ranging from 3 months to several years. The 7 Baha'i community leaders remain in prison charged with crimes - such as "insulting religious sanctities" and espionage - that could result in the death penalty. May 14th was the one-year anniversary of their arrest.

The Commission also cited the cases of persecuted Christians in Iran, like Marzieh Esmaeilabad and Maryam Rustapoor. The two women were arrested in March for practicing Christianity after authorities raided and confiscated material from their home. Authorities reportedly have accused them of engaging in anti-government activities, and they are being held in Evin where they face further interrogation.

Sufi Muslims have also been targeted by the Iranian government because of their faith. The Commission reports that in the past year more than a dozen Sufi Muslims, including 6 members of the Gonabadi Dervishes on Kish Island, were arrested; some are still in prison, while the whereabouts of others are unknown.

Most disconcerting, the Iranian Parliament is considering approving draft revisions to the penal code that would make conversion from Shi'a Islam to any other religion (known as apostacy) a crime punishable by death.

I hope U.S. diplomats and their Iranian guests enjoy their hamburgers as they gaze up at the fireworks, while those brutally tortured by the Persian theocracy claw at the walls in the darkness of their cells.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Why Are Non-Abusive, On-Topic, Online Comments Censored by The Times? Open Letter No. 1 to Clark Hoyt, Public Editor of The New York Times

Dear Mr. Hoyt,


Although you have never personally responded to any of my e-mails, you are surely aware of the various issues I have sought to bring to your attention, inasmuch as members of your staff have requested information from me and provided assurances that these issues are under review. However, the months go by, and your column relating to these issues has yet to appear.


My work teaches me that when a problem goes untreated, it grows larger, and the original problem that I sought to bring to your attention has indeed grown larger, so large, that I will divide the problem into three "open letters". I would add that there are many other readers of The Times who are asking the same questions and avidly await your answers.


Of course, it could well be that these questions cannot be answered by you and must be taken "upstairs". That's okay. Just say so, and I will leave you in peace.


A little history: Back a year ago, I noticed that several of my online comments critical of "candidate" Obama's relationship with Reverend Wright were being "rejected", i.e. censored, by The Times' online "moderators". I sent you e-mails asking the reason, and lo and behold, one of your staffers wrote back:


Mr. Hoyt is thinking about addressing the issue of comment moderation in an upcoming column. Do you have a record of the comment that you tried to post but was rejected? He would need to have the specifics.

I was happy to provide you with the "goods". In fact, I was so happy, I continued to send you my comments as they continued to be censored. Censorship of intelligent dissent at The New York Times, that shining beacon of free speech? Surely a fluke. I was confident that the problem was being addressed and that it was only a matter of time until it would be resolved.

An example of a comment censored by The Times? Here's one I submitted in response to Qaddafi's January 2009 op-ed:

The author of Lockerbie is provided an op-ed pulpit by The New York Times to proselytize his newly discovered moderation. A New York Times scoop? Not.

As already reported by Reuters, Muammar Qaddafi spoke yesterday via satellite with Georgetown University students, and in addition to recommending a conciliatory dialogue between President Obama and Osama bin Laden, Qaddafi called for the establishment of a single state to be called "Isratine" to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. What does not appear in the NYT op-ed, however, is Qaddafi's recommendation to the students of Georgetown that if the Jews did not accept a one-state solution, they should move to Hawaii, Alaska or an island in the Pacific, where "they could live peacefully in an isolated setting."

What does Mr. Qaddafi have in mind? Much can be learned from his speech broadcast by Al Jazeera on April 10, 2006:

"Some people believe that Muhammad is the prophet of the Arabs or the Muslims alone. This is a mistake. Muhammad is the Prophet of all people. He superseded all previous religions. If Jesus were alive when Muhammad was sent, he would have followed him. All people must be Muslims. . . . We have 50 million Muslims in Europe. There are signs that Allah will grant Islam victory in Europe - without swords, without guns, without conquests. The 50 million Muslims of Europe will turn it into a Muslim continent within a few decades. . . Allah mobilizes the Muslim nation of Turkey and adds it to the European Union. That's another 50 million Muslims. There will be 100 million Muslims in Europe. Albania, which is a Muslim country, has already entered the EU. Fifty percent of its citizens are Muslims."

In his January 14 op-ed, "Magic and Realism", Roger Cohen wrote: "The world view shaped in the Middle East by Al Jazeera is not amenable to Western logic." My guess is that Mr. Cohen does not speak Arabic, but what is reported above by Al Jazeera is amenable to almost any one's logic, Eastern or Western, and leaves little question as to the future Qaddafi foresees for Europe and "Isratine".

It might also be worth noting that following Qaddafi's 1969 coup, Qaddafi confiscated all Jewish property in Libya and cancelled all debts owed to Jews.

But let bygones be bygones. I would like to invite Mr. Qaddafi for coffee and cake at my Caesarea, Israel residence on Saturday at noon, and Roger Cohen is invited to write the exclusive report of this historic meeting. Rest assured, I am already polishing the silverware and dusting the cupboards in avid anticipation of our "sulkha". ("Sulkha"? Sorry, Roger, if you ever want to breach the logic of Al Jezeera, you will need to learn the lingua franca of the region.)

According to The Times: "Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive." This rejected comment attempted to provide critical information to New York Times' readers concerning the underlying intentions of Qaddafi. There was nothing "abusive" about the comment; it was on-topic, and there was no reason for it to be censored.

I sent you this and other censored comments, but you did not answer. And then the rabidly anti-Semitic and violent comments started to appear, but this is the subject of my next open letter to you.

I asked for information concerning the educational background and experience of The Times' moderators, who were censoring my comments. It was never provided.

I asked whether these same moderators were responsible for choosing "Editors' Selections". I was never answered.

I asked whether truthful content was a prerequisite for "Editors' Selections" (I remember one Editors' Selection claiming that Israel stood behind the Pakistani atomic bomb effort). No one responded.

Last week one of your staffers wrote to me:

I have written to you many times telling you that Mr. Hoyt is planning a column on comment approval. He is planning to and will write one. I imagine that he will get into your claims. But, it is one of many he is planning.

Mr. Hoyt, I understand from your staffer that you do not view the censorship of online comments and the suppression of intelligent dissent as critically important. I disagree.

As mentioned above, when you do not deal with small problems they grow larger, and in my next open letter to you, I would like to discuss the rabid anti-Semitism and a particularly revolting call for violence against a former Vice President that found their way into New York Times online comments.