‘This Machine Surrounds Hate and Forces It to Surrender’

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Pete Seeger and the banjo

Pete Seeger with his banjo in 2004 (AP/Rebecca J. Rosen)

When I think of Pete Seeger, who passed away early this morning at the age of 94, in my mind he is never empty-handed. Always, always, always, he carried with him his banjo.

He was just 27 years old when folklorist Alan Lomax asked him about his odd choice of instrument in an interview.

“Hello there, Peter,” Lomax says.

“Howdy,” Seeger replies.

“Mighty nice music you’re making, Pete.”

“Oh, I’m just warming up.”

“What’s that funny looking guitar you’re playing?”

“Oh this isn’t a guitar. This is a banjo,” says Seeger.

“Well tell me: Is the banjo something new?”

“New? It’s about as new as America is.”

And age wasn’t all that the banjo and America have in common. The banjo is an instrument whose history reflects the nation’s: It was born in slavery, gained popularity on the minstrel stage, and, eventually, in Seeger’s hands, turned against its own past, becoming a “machine [that] surrounds hate and forces it to surrender”—at least, that was the proclamation written upon its head.

Seeger himself first fell in love with the banjo at age 16, when he attended a folk festival with his father in Asheville, North Carolina. At the time, the banjo was thought of as a “white” instrument, the province of poor Appalachian farmers. But, as Seeger explained in the interview above, the banjo hadn’t always been that way. “You see,” Seeger tell Lomax, “American negro slaves made the first real banjos, a couple hundred years ago, out of ol’ hollow gourds and ‘possum skins I guess.”

In fact, banjo historian Greg Adams told me, the banjo was first created by enslaved Africans in the Caribbean in the 17th century, a New World take on traditional West African instruments. The first North American reference to a banjo dates to 1736 in New York City, but most of the earliest references to American banjos come from the Chesapeake region. Generally speaking, Adams says, the banjo’s spread followed slavery’s.

It was in the 1830s and ’40s that white Americans started picking up banjos too, often in the context of racist minstrel shows, imitating slave life through the appropriation of slave instruments. The first white banjo performer, Adams explained, was Joel Walker Sweeney, a blackface minstrel performer, who was taught to play by African-Americans around Appomattox, Virginia, in the 1830s. It was through minstrelsy, Adams says, that “the banjo crossed over from vernacular traditions into American popular music and popular culture.”

From there, the banjo’s popularity continued to grow, flourishing both in a variety of genres at home—ragtime, vaudeville, early jazz, early country, bluegrass (led by the inimitable Earl Scruggs)—and abroad, particularly in minstrel performances.

It’s in the folk revival in the middle of the 20th century that Pete Seeger took the banjo and transformed it. “The banjo in the hands of Pete Seeger becomes this iconic representation of community and social justice and social awareness,” Adams says.

How did he do that? How did Seeger take an instrument—one with no inherent properties of justice, as evidenced by its history—and assign it a new cultural value?

There is no way to answer this but to observe the rarity of a force like Pete Seeger upon the Earth.

Sure, the banjo has a jaunty, inviting sound. Sure, it can be played in a variety of ways, making it suitable for a range of musical genres. But these qualities did not prevent it from being a prop of racist entertainment. They did not make it a symbol of community. They did not transform it into a “machine [that] surrounds hate and forces it to surrender.”

That was the work of man. One man, really.

Seeger’s banjo now resides at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio,where he donated it following an ill-fated attempt to sell it on eBay to raise money for Haitian earthquake relief. After watching bids climb to unimagined heights, Seeger canceled the auction. No machine to surround hate and force it to surrender should live in a private living room of a fancy home, after all.

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7 Big Lies Conservatives Want You To Believe About Martin Luther King, Jr.

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Martin Luther KingLibrary of Congress

When you look at American history from a straight progressive versus conservative viewpoint, ignoring the changes in party affiliation (which have been complicated, but I attempted to explain them here), there have not been too many universally agreed upon conservative victories. Primarily because conservatives are conservatives and want things to stay the same. And things have changed.

When women wanted the vote, obviously, the people not wanting that to change would have been considered conservative. Those who wanted to keep Jim Crow would have been conservatives. Many of those who would have been considered heroes to the conservatives at the time would seem super backwards to almost anyone today. No one is going around wearing a Joseph McCarthy t-shirt, and cool kids on campus are not sitting around reading “The Bell Curve.”

So it’s easy to understand why they want, so desperately, to either be able to make progressive heroes their own, or–if they are not popular enough– to do everything they can to desecrate their memory. They want Susan B. Anthony, they want Frederick Douglass, and they want Martin Luther King, Jr. Some even want Che Guevara. Why? Because they’re cool. And who doesn’t want to be cool?

Since they’re still fighting with what Margaret Sanger fought for, they’ll make up straight-up ridiculous lies about how she was a total racist who wanted to abort all the black babies. They make up lies about all these people. And they will repeat them, and repeat them and repeat them, until people just hear them so often they assume that they’re true.

The “Martin Luther King was definitely a conservative Republican” meme has been pushed so hard that people are actually surprised now when one explains that he was not, and that he was, in fact, truly reviled by not only conservatives but also people who considered themselves “moderates.” He was considered a radical. Ronald Reagan’s response to his assassination was to say that “he had it coming,” because he was a lawbreaker.

The problem, however, isn’t just that conservatives want to adopt MLK as one of their heroes, but the false things they attribute to him in order to validate him as one.

1) He was a conservative Republican!

MLKRepublicanBillBoardDeath And Taxes Magazine

Do you know what “conservative” means, even? It means maintaining the status quo. It means you don’t want things to change, and you certainly do not want them to change radically. You want things to stay the way they are. Martin Luther King did not want things to stay the way they were and believed in fighting for radical change. Duh.

Also, if he was a conservative, then why was he quite clearly surrounded by leftists and progressives all the time? Just asking. Or do you think that Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton were “conservatives” then? Also, I would like to submit those two as glaringly obvious evidence that being a Christian does not make someone a conservative by default.

As for the Republican thing? First of all, Dr. King stated repeatedly that he was neither a Democrat nor a Republican. Which, actually, was a very common stance amongst leftists in those days, because–quite frankly–both parties were pretty terrible. However, he did say this in regards to the 1964 Republican convention:

The Republican Party geared its appeal and program to racism, reaction, and extremism. All people of goodwill viewed with alarm and concern the frenzied wedding at the Cow Palace of the KKK with the radical right. The “best man” at this ceremony was a senator whose voting record, philosophy, and program were anathema to all the hard-won achievements of the past decade.

Senator Goldwater had neither the concern nor the comprehension necessary to grapple with this problem of poverty in the fashion that the historical moment dictated. On the urgent issue of civil rights, Senator Goldwater represented a philosophy that was morally indefensible and socially suicidal. While not himself a racist, Mr. Goldwater articulated a philosophy which gave aid and comfort to the racist. His candidacy and philosophy would serve as an umbrella under which extremists of all stripes would stand. In the light of these facts and because of my love for America, I had no alternative but to urge every Negro and white person of goodwill to vote against Mr. Goldwater and to withdraw support from any Republican candidate that did not publicly disassociate himself from Senator Goldwater and his philosophy.

2) He was fiercely pro-life

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Ok, so MLK’s crazy niece Alveda is the one who first perpetuated this lie, but it’s total BS. As a conservative Republican herself, she’s spent several years desperately trying to appropriate her uncle’s legacy for the right– much to the chagrin of Coretta Scott King, mind you. Who will tell you in no uncertain terms that Dr. King was very definitely pro-choice.

Anyway, if you don’t want to believe the man’s wife when she tells you that King was pro-choice… uh, the fact that in 1966 he was the recipient of Planned Parenthood’s Margaret Sanger Award for his support of choice and family planning, might tell you something. He not only accepted this award, but he gave a wonderful speech about the importance of family planning in regards to economic justice.

3) He totally hated the gays

Wrong again, friends. Now, there isn’t that much information out there on this. Why? Because it wasn’t something people talked about back then. It just wasn’t. Of course, one can assume that if this was a particularly strong belief of his, that he probably would have delivered a few sermons on it here and there, as he was not exactly someone who was known to hold back his feelings on anything.

However, what we do know is that one of his closest associates, and the primary organizer behind the March on Washington, was Bayard Rustin– who was an out and proud gay man, who fought both for civil rights and for gay rights. We know that King considered Rustin a close friend, and that his orientation was not a problem for him. As strange as it seems now, that was pretty radical for the time in which they lived.

4) He was viciously opposed to Affirmative Action

NOOOOOOOOOOOO. God no. BIG NO.

This is one of the BIG ONES. Conservatives tend to take the one thing they know about Dr. King other than that he was a Christian– the part of the “I Have a Dream” speech that goes “I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character,” as evidence that he was opposed to Affirmative Action.

In reality? I’m pretty sure he would have supported it, given that it was pretty much his idea in the freaking first place.

Yeah. Really. King wrote a lot in support of similar programs in India to help those formerly in the “untouchables” caste, and America’s GI Bill, about how there should be a similar program here to help black people in terms of employment and access.  He stated that there needed to be ”a massive program by the government of special, compensatory measures which could be regarded as a settlement in accordance with the accepted practice of common law.” Given that there weren’t any Affirmative Action policies at the time, his organization, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference created something similar – Operation Breadbasket. Clergy would call up businesses in the area to find out how many black people they had working there, and if the percentage was significantly less than the percent of black people in that city, they’d boycott that business.

For the record, probably every single damn thing most people believe about Affirmative Action is total bullshit. It’s not a requirement, it’s a tax break– and it wouldn’t be necessary if it didn’t already exist in first place, but to the benefit of white men who generally prefer hiring white men. Also, for the record, as far as college based AA programs go? Why do I never hear anyone complaining about “legacies” the same way I hear them complaining about AA? You think George W. Bush got into Yale on his own merits?

“Whenever the issue of compensatory treatment for the Negro is raised, some of our friends recoil in horror. The Negro should be granted equality, they agree; but he should ask nothing more. On the surface, this appears reasonable, but it is not realistic.”

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

5) He would have supported the conservative rhetoric of being “colorblind”

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Oh come on. The conservative idea of a colorblind society is one in which they get to spit on your face and tell you it’s raining. I am pretty sure that MLK did not think that calling attention to systemic racism was a waste of time. He was not a “Oh, well, let’s just pretend everything is peachy keen so we don’t upset anyone” kind of guy. He was well aware that racism was much more than just some yahoos running around in white sheets.

6) Because of said “content of character” thing, he was definitely into free market capitalism

Jp16kOccupy Wall Street

Yeah, no. Pretty much his whole thing was wealth redistribution. Part of the reason he was hated by conservatives was because they thought he was a commie. He was also extremely supportive of unions.

“It is a crime for people to live in this rich nation and receive starvation wages”

“This will be the day when we shall bring into full realization the American dream — a dream yet unfulfilled. A dream of equality of opportunity, of privilege and property widely distributed; a dream of a land where men will not take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few; a dream of a land where men will not argue that the color of a man’s skin determines the content of his character; a dream of a nation where all our gifts and resources are held not for ourselves alone but as instruments of service for the rest of humanity; the dream of a country where every man will respect the dignity and worth of human personality — that is the dream.”

I could go on forever with these, because there are a hell of a lot.

7) That if he was alive now, he’d be one of them, and they’d totally love each other

Yeah, I’m sure they’d love him just as much as they adore Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson. I’m sure they wouldn’t scream and scream that he was being a “race baiter” or any some such, and that they’d listen intently whenever he spoke about racial issues. Totally sure that wouldn’t happen at all.

The fact is, because Dr. King is dead, they feel like they’ve got a little more leeway for their pipe dreams about how they’d totally be buddies now.

I have no problem with conservatives respecting Dr. King. They should, everyone should. But they should respect him for who he was, not for who they need him to have been. I don’t agree with every single person in history that I admire. Hell, almost all the philosophers of interest were giant misogynists. I don’t have to pretend they weren’t in order to like the other things they did.

For the record though, if conservatives really wanted a Civil Rights icon to call their own, they could always go with post-Black Panther era Eldridge Cleaver, who converted to Mormonism and became a super wacky Conservative Republican in the 80s. He even ran for office twice before going back to jail for burglary and crack possession. Although I’m not sure how they’d take to “Soul on Ice.”

More from Death and Taxes Magazine:

Read more: http://www.deathandtaxesmag.com/213435/7-big-lies-conservatives-want-you-to-believe-about-martin-luther-king-jr/#ixzz2r3csCxF5

Canadian Prime Minister

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Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his wife Laureen have arrive in Israel today (Sunday) on an official four-day visit. The Canadian Prime Minister is accompanied by ministers, MPs and business people. This is Harper’s first visit to Israel and the first by a serving Canadian Prime Minister since 2000.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his wife Sarah will welcome Harper and his wife in an official ceremony Sunday afternoon at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem. The Netanyahus will later host the Harpers for dinner at their official residence in Jerusalem.

On Monday, Prime Minister Harper will be the first Canadian Prime Minister to address the Knesset.

On Tuesday morning, the Canadian PM will meet with President Shimon Peres and attend a joint meeting of the Israeli and Canadian governments at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem. The Netanyahus will, afterwards, accompany the Harpers to Yad Vashem. An official dinner for Prime Minister Harper, his wife and the accompanying delegation will be held Tuesday evening in Jerusalem.

On Wednesday, the Harpers will tour Christian holy sites in northern Israel, after which they will go to Tel Aviv University, where Prime Minister Harper will receive an honorary doctorate and meet with students.

Prime Minister Netanyahu and Prime Minister Harper have previously met in London in April 2013 and in Ottawa in March 2012.

Harper: Through fire and water, Canada will stand with you

 

Canadian PM met with many standing ovations, but in the end, was treated like family and interrupted by Arab MKs who relegated him to the Likud’s benches.

Stephen Harper, January 20, 2014

Stephen Harper, January 20, 2014 Photo: GPO/AMOS BEN GERSHOM

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper received a very warm welcome in the Knesset Monday.

The first speech in the Knesset by a Canadian prime minister was peppered with standing ovations, the enthusiastic likes of which may not have been seen since Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu addressed the US Congress in 2011.

Statements like “through fire and water, Canada will stand with you” were met with rousing rounds of applause, and though clapping is against Knesset protocol, even Speaker Yuli Edelstein joined in.

The Canadian premier said he believes “it is right to support Israel because, after generations of persecution, the Jewish people deserve their own homeland and deserve to live safely and peacefully in that homeland.

“Let me repeat that: Canada supports Israel because it is right to do so,” he emphasized. “It is… a Canadian tradition to stand for what is principled and just, regardless of whether it is convenient or popular.”

“The friendship between [Israel and Canada] is rooted in history, nourished by shared values, and it is intentionally reinforced at the highest levels of commerce and government as an outward expression of strongly held inner convictions,” Harper said in French and English.

Some of those shared values are “freedom, democracy and rule of law,” in which Israel “has long anchored itself,” he said.

“These are not mere notions,” he added. “They are the things that, over time and against all odds, have proven to be the only ground in which human rights, political stability and economic prosperity may flourish.”

Palestinians also deserve these things, Harper said, expressing support for “a viable, democratic Palestinian state, committed to living peacefully alongside the Jewish state of Israel,” though, “sadly, we have yet to reach that point.”

“I believe that a Palestinian state will come, and one thing that will make it come is when the regimes that bankroll terrorism realize that the path to peace is accommodation, not violence,” Harper stated.

Despite the nearly wall-towall support for Harper’s words as expressed by the many standing ovations, the “robustness of Israeli democracy,” as Netanyahu called it, was demonstrated several times with Arab MKs interrupting the Canadian minister as he spoke about anti-Semitism in some criticisms of Israel.

“We have witnessed in recent years the mutation of the old disease of anti-Semitism and the emergence of a new strain…. People who would never say they hate and blame the Jews for their own failings or the problems of the world, instead declare their hatred of Israel and blame the only Jewish state for the problems of the Middle East. As once Jewish businesses were boycotted, some civil-society leaders today call for a boycott of Israel,” Harper stated.

“Don’t mislead; we want to boycott settlements,” MK Ahmed Tibi (UAL-Ta’al) interrupted in English.

“Most disgracefully of all, some openly call Israel an apartheid state,” Harper continued, as MK Taleb Abu Arar (UAL-Ta’al) shouted: “It is.”

“Think about the twisted logic and outright malice behind that: a state, based on freedom, democracy and the rule of law, that was founded so Jews can flourish, as Jews, and seek shelter from the shadow of the worst racist experiment in history, [a state] that is condemned – and that condemnation is masked in the language of anti-racism. It is nothing short of sickening. But this is the face of the new anti-Semitism,” Harper went on.

Tibi pointed at the coalition’s side of the plenum, shouting “That’s where the Likud sits; you should be there,” and then he and Abu Arar demonstratively walked out as the audience cheered Harper for his comments against anti-Semitism.

“What else can we call criticism that selectively condemns only the Jewish state and effectively denies its right to defend itself while systematically ignoring – or excusing – the violence and oppression all around it?” the Canadian prime minister asked. “What else can we call it when Israel is routinely targeted at the United Nations, and when Israel remains the only country to be the subject of a permanent agenda item at the regular sessions of its human rights council?” Edelstein, who spoke before Harper, commented to him after his speech: “You’re not a guest, you’re family, because there were interruptions, which is unusual for foreign guests.”

Earlier, Netanyahu gave a speech in support of Harper, breaking protocol to give large swaths of it in English.

“You are a true friend in Israel,” he said. “The people in Israel thank you for your steadfast support.”

Netanyahu commended Harper for his “courage to stand for the truth and courage to say it” when faced with people “who try to deny the connection between [the Jewish people] and our land. You know the facts of our past well.”

Describing the necessity of security arrangements in the event of a peace agreement, Netanyahu quipped: “If I’m not mistaken, Yonge Street [in Toronto] is longer than the State of Israel, so we have no margin of error.”

“There are thousands of miles between the large Canada and the small – larger than life but physically small – Israel, but our nations are close.

It’s deep in our hearts,” Netanyahu stated. “We will always see Canada as a close friend.”

Opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Labor) dedicated much of his speech to the Toynbee- Herzog debate at McGill University in 1961, in which his uncle, then-ambassador to Canada Yaakov Herzog, debated notoriously anti-Semitic British historian Arnold Toynbee.

“Since you’re part of the family, I won’t hide our disagreements,” Herzog said. “I believe we need to separate ourselves from the Palestinians while protecting Israeli security.

We need a Palestinian state near an Israeli one, based on 1967 lines with land swaps while annexing settlement blocs… We have to try everything for peace and back the great effort US Secretary of State John Kerry is investing and give him a chance,” Herzog stated.

“Enough is enough,” he added in English, and in a reference to Canadian-Jewish singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen called to “let the dove free.”

Herzog also did not miss the chance to take a dig at Netanyahu and his breach of protocol, pointing out that “the official languages here are Hebrew and Arabic, not English.”

Prime Minister Netanyahu said Sunday, “Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is a great friend of the State of Israel. He has strongly opposed against attempts to delegitimize the State of Israel and has taken a praiseworthy moral stand against these attempts. I welcome his arrival together with his wife and the members of his delegation. We will work together to further enhance the important relations between our two countries.”

Vladimir Jabotinsky

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<p>Map of Greater Israel, a term used by Revisionist Zionism (explanation in comments) [480x688]<br /><br /><br />
Vladimir Jabotinsky,  (born 1880, Odessa, Russian Empire [now in Ukraine]—died Aug. 3, 1940, near Hunter, N.Y., U.S.), Zionist leader, journalist, orator, and man of letters who founded the militant Zionist Revisionist movement that played an important role in the establishment of the State of Israel.Jabotinsky began his career in 1898 as a foreign correspondent, but his popularity as a journalist led to his recall to Odessa in 1901 as an editorial writer. By 1903 Jabotinsky began to expound Zionist views for the restoration and creation of a Jewish national state in Palestineboth in his writings and in his oratory, of which he was a master. During the next decade, he continued to work as a journalist while traveling in Europe and crystallizing his Zionist views, which tended to be uncompromising and political, rather than cultural.

During World War I, he was convinced that the Ottoman Empire, then the ruling power in Palestine, would fall and that in this vacuum the Jews could colonize Palestine if they had demonstrated service to the Allies. He thus convinced the British government to allow military participation by Jewish refugees from the Ottoman Empire.

In 1920 Jabotinsky organized and led a Jewish self-defense movement (Haganah) against the Arabs in Palestine. The British, who then ruled the country, sentenced him to 15 years at hard labour, but this action provoked such an outcry that he was soon reprieved. In the 1920s he was active in many international Zionist organizations, including the World Union of Zionist Revisionists in 1925.

Testifying before the British Royal Commission on Palestine, Jabotinsky gave an impassioned expression of his Revisionist views. The source of Jewish suffering was not merely anti-Semitism, he said, but the Diaspora (dispersion) itself; the Jews were a stateless people. Assigning cultural Zionism a relatively low priority, he advocated the creation of a Palestinian Jewish state on both sides of the Jordan, with continued Jewish immigration to achieve a Jewish majority there, and employment of Jewish troops for self-defense as part of the permanent garrison. In 1940, while in the United States to visit Betar, the youth organization of the Zionist Revisionist Party, Jabotinsky died of a heart attack. His followers, who had already founded theIrgun Zvai Leumi terrorist group, active in Palestine in the 1940s, later founded the Israeli Ḥerut Party.

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NAFTALI BENNETT: PALESTINIAN STATE WILL DESTROY ISRAEL’S ECONOMY

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IN PASSIONATE SPEECH, BENNETT SLAMS TWO-STATE SOLUTION, THOSE CLAIMING PEACE TALKS IN ISRAEL’S ECONOMIC BENEFIT. ‘FOR DECADES THERE HAS BEEN DESIRE TO DIVIDE ISRAEL, EXCUSE KEEPS CHANGING: FIRST IT WAS PEACE, THEN DEMOGRAPHICS, NOW ECONOMICS’TO HIS VISUAL AID, BENNETT CAME ARMED WITH A MAP OF ISRAEL – WEST BANK INCLUDED – IN WHICH HE PORTRAYED JUDEA AND SAMARIA AS A MOUNTAINOUS SHIELD PROTECTING CENTRAL ISRAEL FROM WEST BANK PALESTINIANS. RELATED STORIES: 

POINTING TO THE MAP, BENNETT SAID: “COPY PASTE WHAT HAPPENED IN SDEROT TO THE REST OF ISRAEL. HOW WILL ISRAEL’S ECONOMY LOOK IF A ROCKET WILL FALL IN SHENKAR STREET IN CENTRAL HERZLIYA? WHAT IF ONCE A YEAR A PLANE WILL CRASH AT BEN GURION AIRPORT?” POINTING TO HIS SECOND VISUAL AID, A GRAPH SHOWING THE CORRELATION BETWEEN PEACE NEGOTIATIONS AND GROWTH OF ISRAELI ECONOMY, BENNETT MADE THE CLAIM THAT PEACE TALKS, AND THEIR ENSUING POLITICAL FALLOUT, HAVE A NEGATIVE EFFECT ON ISRAEL’S GROWTH, THE LARGEST ALLEGED DROP BEING REGISTERED AFTER FORMER PRIME MINISTER EHUD BARAK‘S CAMP DAVID TALKS WITH YASSER ARAFET. “ISRAEL BELONGS TO THE JEWISH PEOPLE FOR THOUSANDS OF YEARS, THAT’S A FACT. BUT NOW I AM TALKING ABOUT ECONOMY. “FOR OVER 20 YEARS THERE HAS BEEN A DETERMINATION TO DIVIDE THE COUNTRY, ONLY THE EXCUSE HAS CHANGED. ONCE THEY SAID IT WAS FOR PEACE… THEN (LIVNI SAID) FOR APPEASING THE WORLD, THEN FOR DEMOGRAPHICS AND NOW ECONOMY.”

“WILL WE DIVIDE JERUSALEM BECAUSE OF THE ECONOMY? WILL WE GIVE UP THE GALILEE? OR WILL WE HAND OVER THE NEGEV BECAUSE OF INTERNATIONAL PRESSURE ON OUR TREATMENT OF THE BEDOUINS.”

Syrian President Bashar Assad

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Had it not been for his brother’s death in a car accident, Syrian President Bashar Assad would probably be practicing ophthalmology in London. 

 

In 1994, devastated by the accidental death of his oldest son Basil, whom he had groomed as his successor, the late President Hafez Assad pressed Bashar to abandon his career in medicine in the English capital to prepare for the presidency. 

 

Bashar was put on a fast-track military course and in 1999 he was promoted to the rank of colonel. 

 

President Assad feared that his second son’s lack of experience would spell the end of his Baath Party’s 30-year grip on power. Stricken by heart disease, Assad sidelined his competitors within Baath and arranged for Bashar to play an increasingly important role in running the country. 

 

Bashar cut his teeth on Lebanon where his father had imposed Syrian hegemony. 

 

Despite fears of unrest following Assad’s death, the presidency was smoothly transferred to Bashar in June 2000. 

 

Six months later, Bashar married Asma (Amah) Akhras, a British-born Syrian-Sunni computer systems analyst. A year later, their first son was born and named Hafez. 

 

In his first speech to parliament, Bashar told legislators: “Democracy is the basis for everything, but it is not proper to apply the democracy of others to us. And we can not live their history and culture. In the West, there are other habits. We must have our own democracy.” 

 

In addition, he announced that Syria demand ed that Israel fully retreat from the Golan Heights as a necessary condition for peace between the two countries. 

 

Bashar also endorsed Hizbullah’s continued military presence along Lebanon’s border with Israel and supported the Palestinians’ right to use violence against the Jewish State. 

 

Although he freed dozens of political prisoners and initiated a series of economic and social reforms at home, his foreign policy put him on a collision course with the United States. 

 

Assad ignored repeated calls by Washington that he stop supporting Hizbullah in Lebanon and allowing Palestinian terror groups to operate on Syrian territory. His failure to prevent foreign insurgents from crossing into Iraq and his alliance withIran added fuel to the fire. 

 

The assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in February 2005, for which Syria was largely blamed, was the final stroke that prompted Washington to pull its ambassador from Damascus. 

 

The assassination touched off massive street protests in Lebanon, forcing Syria to end its 29-year military presence in its smaller neighbor. 

 

A UN commission set up in April 2005 to investigate the assassination pointed to Syrian involvement in Hariri’s killing as well as in a string of attacks against anti-Syrian politicians and journalists. 

 

Over the last two years Assad made several peace overtures towards Israel , but many analysts claimed that these appeals were only an attempt to mend Syria’s relationship with the US and to boost its international standing. 

 

 

After the Israeli army’s poor performance against Hizbullah last summer , Assad warned that although Syria preferred to liberate the Golan Heights peacefully it would not hesitate to go to war against the Jewish State to achieve its goals if peaceful means failed.

 

Profitable Learning Curve for Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg (Reblogged)

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In Taking Facebook Public, Reshaping It Around Mobile Phones, Chief Gained Focus on Bottom Line

Mark Zuckerberg has prioritized increasing Facebook’s ad revenue. Reuters

MENLO PARK, Calif.— Mark Zuckerberg needed help. Facebook Inc. FB +0.54% ‘s initial public offering in May 2012 had been a mess. And after turning a website born in his college dorm room into a company valued at $100 billion, the young chief executive was under pressure to prove he could sell lots of ads on smartphones.

Facebook has seen its shares rise and revenue from mobile ads jump up. How did CEO Mark Zuckerberg turn the company around after its ill-starred IPO? Evelyn Rusli joins digits. Photo: AP.

So he went for a long walk a few weeks later through the center of Facebook’s corporate campus here with Andrew “Boz” Bosworth, a top engineer at Facebook and friend who once was Mr. Zuckerberg’s teaching assistant at Harvard University.

“Wouldn’t it be fun to build a billion-dollar business in six months?” Mr. Zuckerberg asked. He wanted Mr. Bosworth to help lead the company’s shaky mobile-ad business, then bringing in almost nothing. Another part of the job: figure out all the ways Facebook could make money.

Ads didn’t sound like fun to Mr. Bosworth, but his boss persisted. Soon, the engineer was filling in the blanks of a spreadsheet that grew to about 80 pages long. The entries became the manifesto of an in-house project that Mr. Zuckerberg called “Prioritization.”

Interviews for this article with the CEO, Facebook directors and executives, and dozens of other engineers, friends and former employees laid out how Mr. Zuckerberg’s growing attention to the bottom line was part of a sea change by the often-stubborn, idealistic 29-year-old chief executive once called “toddler CEO” in Silicon Valley. Taking Facebook public and reshaping it around mobile phones forced him to grow up.

“It’s a story of a vertical learning curve,” says venture capitalist Marc Andreessen, a Facebook director and longtime adviser to Mr. Zuckerberg.

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Mr. Zuckerberg still wears jeans and a T-shirt to work, drives a black, stick-shift Volkswagen GTI and keeps the temperature in his glass meeting room, known as the “aquarium,” near 68 degrees to keep everyone alert. As a holiday gift, friends of Mr. Zuckerberg got socks decorated with the image of Beast, his white, woolly Hungarian shepherd.

Yet Mr. Zuckerberg has learned to embrace—or at least accept—the reality that he now is in charge of what might be bluntly described as the most visible advertising business in the world. It is a big leap for the college dropout who wrote in a letter to potential investors just before the initial public offering: “Facebook was not originally created to be a company.”

He embraced the idea in 2012 of selling more ads in Facebook’s prized “news feed,” the center of the screen where the social-networking site’s 1.2 billion members spend most of their time. The news feed is a constantly updated list of stories from people and pages followed by a Facebook user.

The intensified focus on advertising, long shunned as less important than the photos and status updates posted by users, generated a surge in new revenue from corporate giants such as McDonald’s Corp. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. WMT -0.79% Analysts expect Facebook to announce later this month that its revenue jumped more than 40% in 2013 compared with a year earlier. About $3 billion of the company’s revenue—or more than one-third of the overall total—likely came from mobile advertising.

Facebook shares jumped 105% last year, compared with the technology-heavy Nasdaq Composite’s rise of 38%. On August 2, the stock climbed back above its IPO price of $38, erasing a $50 billion slide in stock-market value. Facebook closed Friday at $54.56 a share.

Still four months away from his thirtieth birthday, Mr. Zuckerberg is worth about $20 billion. Last month, he pocketed about $1 billion in his first stock sale since Facebook went public, and separately he donated about $1 billion in stock to the Silicon Valley Community Foundation.

Facebook’s CEO is putting new focus on the bottom line. Reuters

Mr. Zuckerberg bristles at the view of some people close to him that he has changed as a CEO. His primary mission still is to connect the world digitally with Facebook. “It drives me crazy when people write stuff and assert that we’re doing something because the goal is to make a lot of money,” he says.

Even in his most self-reflective moments, what Mr. Zuckerberg sees is a series of logical moves and adaptations that are part of what he calls a “continuous trajectory.” In an interview, he paused abruptly after saying the words “business review.”

“Uh, I’ve never used that term before,” he said with a smile.

Despite all the improvements, Mr. Zuckerberg must show that Facebook can out-innovate a steady stream of upstarts. Investors were rattled in October when Facebook reported a decline in use among young teenagers, some of whom are migrating to newer mobile-phone apps such as Snapchat. Snapchat messages automatically disappear in 10 seconds or less.

Last fall, Mr. Zuckerberg approached Snapchat with a takeover offer for more than $3 billion. Snapchat’s 23-year-old chief executive said no. Facebook previously tried to create a similar app called Poke, with Mr. Zuckerberg even contributing some computer code, but the project flopped.

A secret project called Firefly included a “social” phone that was to be created with HTC Ltd. of Taiwan—but was killed by Mr. Zuckerberg in mid-2012 because of glitches, according to people who worked on the project. An app for Google Inc. GOOG +0.21% ‘s Android operating-system mobile phones, known as Home, has failed to gain momentum since last spring’s debut, despite a big publicity push by Facebook. And a smartphone released by HTC and based largely on Firefly’s design has been a dud.

Mark Zuckerberg has prioritized increasing Facebook’s ad revenue. Shown, an employee at the Menlo Park, Calif., headquarters. Associated Press

Nasdaq’s board in Times Square in New York on Facebook’s trading debut Associated Press

Just a few years ago, Mr. Zuckerberg paid little attention to many of the numbers that are obsessions to shareholders. In 2010, he said there was “no point right now in having a massive profit.” He boasted that the ad business “factors in, like, not at all” to decisions about Facebook’s operating platform and user services. His No. 1 goal: increase the company’s total membership to one billion users.

“If you brought up revenue in an argument with Zuck, you would lose automatically,” says one former senior employee. He recalls being chided for mentioning revenue while discussing a new product. Mr. Zuckerberg says such comments are a reminder that Facebook was designed to care more about its mission than money.

At the time, most Facebook users looked at the site on a desktop computer. Ads usually were banished to the right-side gutter of the screen, the Facebook equivalent of Siberia.

By the end of 2011, though, the surging popularity of smartphones was causing Facebook users to spend less time on computers. “The IPO process surfaced how fast the mobile shift was happening,” says Facebook director Peter Thiel, a founder of PayPal and one of Facebook’s earliest investors. Executives worried that Facebook was falling behind at an alarming rate.

Internal data showed that many users were so frustrated by Facebook’s mobile software that they would quit the app and use their tedious mobile Web browsers to reach the social-networking site instead.

The smartphone shift also was a problem for Facebook’s ad business. There was no easy way for the company to relegate ads to the side of small screens, and Facebook had no mobile ads to sell anyway. Meanwhile, efforts to sell older types of ads on desktop computers were starting to lose their punch as more users embraced mobile devices.

“We pulled the lever, but this time, it didn’t work,” recalls one senior employee about 2012’s first quarter.

Just before Facebook went public in May 2012, Mr. Zuckerberg walked into the “aquarium” and did something that surprised everyone.

A group of Facebook engineers presented the latest mock-ups of ads for Facebook’s iPad app. The ads were marooned on a separate screen—and to the right of the news feed.

The CEO quietly studied them. “Why don’t we just explore ads in news feed?” he said, according to people at the meeting. Mr. Zuckerberg indicated that he would be open to the possibility of more types of ads there, including ones not tied to “likes.”

“Oh, my gosh, he’s actually open to it,” one executive present at the meeting remembers thinking. No one in the room asked Mr. Zuckerberg why. They were too worried he would change his mind.

“It’s not like I just decided to get more involved in ads,” he says now. “I needed to because basically the ad product had to be more integrated.” He adds: “And that created all these hard decisions that we needed to do well.”

Mr. Zuckerberg’s willingness to upend even what some people close to him describe as sacrosanct beliefs took on more urgency after Facebook’s bungled IPO, which subtracted more than 25% from the share price in its first 10 days of trading.

In public, he tried to play down the importance of the stock price. Mr. Thiel now says the CEO was more worried than he let on, citing the risk that Facebook employees who owned stock might get discouraged and quit. “I care about this because I want to retain my people,” Mr. Zuckerberg told senior executives in a private meeting.

Facebook’s first earnings report, which hit analysts’ targets but disappointed investors who wanted even more, sent the stock into another tailspin. The mood of some employees darkened.

A worried Mr. Zuckerberg asked Facebook executive Mike Schroepfer, one of his most trusted lieutenants, to interview engineers about morale. They were frustrated about the plummeting stock price and worried that top management couldn’t relate to their financial stress because those executives owned so many Facebook shares that they were rich despite the stock’s slide.

Mr. Schroepfer, usually an unemotional software engineer, choked up when he presented the results to a room full of engineers. “I know you are fathers, parents. I am, too, and I know that you have to think about putting your kids through school,” he said, according to someone at the meeting.

Mr. Bosworth, the Facebook engineer who agreed to help Mr. Zuckerberg hunt for new revenue, worked on his spreadsheet for about 1½ months, quizzing scores of employees. Around the same time, Mr. Zuckerberg began assigning revenue targets to certain product teams. Previously, he resisted the idea because he worried managers would become too fixated on money.

Over the next several months, Mr. Zuckerberg also grew to fully embrace putting “nonsocial” ads, or those that aren’t tied to a user’s “likes” or other signals, in the news feed. The shift came after Chris Cox, Facebook’s vice president of product, showed the CEO internal data that suggested his previous resistance to nonsocial ads was hurting Facebook’s business.

Tests by the company showed that adding nonsocial ads improved the overall quality of Facebook’s advertising for users. “At the time, it kind of struck me as a crazy idea,” Mr. Zuckerberg says, since those ads veered away from Facebook’s traditional word-of-mouth-based pitches.

The CEO even compromised on a subject where he had rarely budged before: user experience.

Mr. Zuckerberg told Mr. Cox that some decline in usage would be an acceptable trade-off for higher ad sales, as long as Facebook made improvements elsewhere that more than offset the decline. The first test showed that more ads reduced user activity by 2%, below a target of a low single-digit percentage, while overall “engagement” rose by a much bigger percentage. Engagement is a broad gauge of user activity.

Facebook’s sales gain of 53% to $1.81 billion in the second quarter was the company’s largest jump ever. In July, a beaming Mr. Zuckerberg addressed most of the company’s more than 5,000 employees. “We did a good job,” he said. “We’re figuring this out.” A few days later, Facebook shares drifted above their IPO price.

Mr. Zuckerberg now meets often with Facebook’s biggest advertising clients, often spending hours with them. He has told customers to message him with ideas, which he will consider incorporating into product decisions.

At a visit last summer to the headquarters of Facebook ad client McDonald’s in Oak Brook, Ill., he learned how to cook an egg-white breakfast sandwich and asked the head of french fry taste tests why one batch he tasted looked a few shades lighter than fries served in McDonald’s restaurants.

Her answer: French fries sold at McDonald’s are cooked in oil that has been through multiple fry cycles. Mr. Zuckerberg said: “You have the greatest job ever.” His own Facebook page has long been peppered with McDonald’s and Chicken McNuggets references.

This year, Mr. Zuckerberg will have to wrestle with how to avoid turning off some Facebook users with too many ads, as some critics have warned. Some investors are antsy for Facebook to wow users with something new.

Mr. Zuckerberg says he is aware of the risks, but notes that user activity still is rising. The company does more than 35,000 surveys a day to monitor user sentiment, and the “driving force behind everything is that we’re trying to build the best experience for mobile,” he says.

Some of the changes at Facebook remind him of walkways at his old high school, Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire. As a student, he was befuddled by a meandering path to the campus cafe. The route seemed strange, so Mr. Zuckerberg did some research.

The answer? “Instead of choosing the path up front, they kind of waited and saw where people walked and put a path where people walked,” he says.

—Reed Albergotti contributed to this article.

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