This excellent article from one of our most incisive foreign policy minds is well worth reading. Boot is one of those rare authors who routinely transcend soundbites and provides in-depth analysis through his own extended thoughtful observations on the ground.
We Are Winning. We Haven't Won. America has a chance at a historic victory in Iraq, but only if we don't pull out too many forces too soon.
by Max Boot
02/04/2008, Volume 013, Issue 20
Nine months ago, when I was last in Iraq, the conventional wisdom about the war effort was unduly pessimistic. Many politicians, and not only Democrats, had declared the surge a failure when it had barely begun. Today we know that the surge has succeeded: Iraqi and American deaths fell by approximately 80 percent between December 2006 and December 2007, and life is returning to a semblance of normality in much of Baghdad. Now the danger is that public opinion may be turning too optimistic. While Iraq has made near-miraculous progress in the past year, daunting challenges remain, and victory is by no means assured.
Steve Forbes' recent OpEd on the effects of a weak dollar also provided one of the more clear explanations for the sub-prime crisis that is now afflicting the U.S. economy:
Banks themselves engaged in a binge of creating off-balance-sheet structures, most notably with so-called SIVs (structured investment vehicles). The idea was that you could generate juicy fees packaging subprime mortgages and could finance them with commercial paper and not have to set capital aside. Voila! Returns on capital blossomed! Now many of these institutions are scrambling for infusions of capital from Asia and the Middle East, as circumstances force them to put these bizarre, loss-laden vehicles back on their balance sheets. The banks' behavior is inexcusable. But, as with bartenders who continue to ply drunken patrons with drinks, the Federal Reserve bears a heavy Responsibility for creating loads of excess capital in the first place and the Bush White House for winking and nodding while the dollar was being debased.
As we navigate through these turbulent economic waters, one thing seems clear: what banks and brokers were peddling during the real estate boom of the last several years, was essentially garbage. Forbes' assessment that these securitized "packages" did not come with balance sheets is absolutely on target. In essence, they were money making schemes gone awry, with no responsibility whatsoever attached--only anticipated margins of profit. In short, junk. Now, as the Fed prepares to cut interest rates even further, as the administration searches for ways taxpayers can bail out failed lenders and subprime borrowers, the questions is who will ultimately pay and how? One broker I recently spoke to over dinner likened the current market to a toddler throwing a tantrum until he receives a cookie (read: lower interest rates)...and when the cookie has been consumed, throws another tantrum, and another....
...Lisa Gherardini is the answer to a 500 year old mystery--who was the model for Leonardo da Vinci's "Mona Lisa." The detective work invested into identifying Lisa Gherardini del Giocondo as the inspiration for da Vinci's most famous painting is a story in and of itself. The story behind Mona Lisa is just as fascinating The Discovery article is provided below, in full.
Mona Lisa's Identity Confirmed by Document
Rossella Lorenzi, Discovery News
Jan. 16, 2008 -- The mystery over the identity of the woman behind Leonardo da Vinci's "Mona Lisa" painting has been solved once and for all, German academics at Heidelberg University announced on Tuesday.
Mona Lisa is "undoubtedly" Lisa Gherardini del Giocondo, according to Veit Probst, director of the Heidelberg University Library.
Conclusive evidence came from notes written in October 1503 in the margin of a book.
Discovered two years ago in the library's collection by manuscript expert Armin Schlechter, the notes were made by Florentine city official Agostino Vespucci, an acquaintance of Leonardo da Vinci, in an edition of letters by the Roman orator, Cicero.
In his annotations, Vespucci wrote that Leonardo was working on three paintings at the time, including a portrait of Lisa del Giocondo.
"All doubts about the identity of the 'Mona Lisa' have been eliminated," the university said in a statement.
Vespucci's notes also "establish more precisely the year the painting was done," the university said.
Until now, the only other source to have identified the sitter in Leonardo's masterpiece as Lisa Gherardini, was the 16th century painter and art historian Giorgio Vasari.
In his work "Lives of the Artists," Vasari named Lisa Gherardini, the wife of the wealthy Florentine silk merchant Francesco del Giocondo as the subject of the portrait and concluded that the portrait was painted between 1503 and 1506.
But doubts about Vasari's attribution have always abounded since he was known to rely on anecdotal evidence.
The work is unsigned, undated and bears nothing to indicate the sitter's name. Attempts to solve the mystery surrounding her famous smile as well as her identity have included theories that she was the artist's mother, a noblewoman, a courtesan, even a prostitute.
There have also been theories that the sitter was happily pregnant, or affected by various diseases ranging from facial paralysis to the compulsive gnashing of teeth.
"The German finding confirms that Vasari is indeed a reliable source," Giuseppe Pallanti, the author of two books on the "Mona Lisa," told Discovery News.
Pallanti was the first historian to identify the sitter in Leonardo's portrait as Lisa Gherardini, following 25 years of research.
"Indeed, I found documents showing that Leonardo's father -- a local notary, Ser Piero da Vinci -- and Lisa's family were neighbors, living about 10 feet away from each other in Via Ghibellina," Pallanti said. "Leonardo met a pregnant Lisa in 1500 in Florence. In December 1502 she gave birth again."
According to Pallanti’s research, Lisa Gherardini, a member of a minor noble family of rural origins, was born on June 15, 1479, in a rather ugly house in Via Sguazza in Florence.
In 1495, when she was 16 years old, she married the merchant Francesco del Giocondo. Ser Francesco was 14 years her senior and had lost his first wife, Camilla Rucellai, the previous year.
The girl moved to Del Giocondo's house, located in today's San Lorenzo market quarter. Though the house was big and beautiful, the surroundings were less than ideal. Prostitutes populated the area, which was a sort of Renaissance red light district.
In that house, Lisa gave birth to five children: Piero, Andrea, Giocondo, Camilla and Marietta.
Pallanti was also able to reconstruct Lisa's last years. She died four years after her husband's death on July 15, 1542, at age 63, and was buried in the convent Saint Orsola.
The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference.
The opposite of art is not ugliness, it's indifference.
The opposite of faith is not heresy, it's indifference.
And the opposite of life is not death, it's indifference. -Elie Wiesel