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In Memoriam: Dr. Ibrahim Nahel Othman

Dr. Ibrahim Nahel Othman was a young Syrian doctor who gave up his job to care for those injured in democracy demonstrations and justifiably afraid to seek medical treatment in regime-controlled hospitals.

He was known as the “Doctor of the Revolution” and co-founder of the Physicians Coordinating Committee in Damascus.

This video shows Dr. Ibrahim ‒ he was often called by his first name ‒ preparing a field operating room, explaining to a reporter how he was able to treat some patients with so little, and how others died because he could do nothing for them, their injuries were so great.

At the very beginning of the revolution, when an activist asked him to help with the injured, he answered, “Give me an hour to say goodbye to my parents because I might not come back.”

After months in hiding as one of Assad’s Most Wanted, Dr. Othman was shot and killed on Dec 11 (according to Syrian Local Coordinating Committees, other sources report Dec 12) by regime intelligence forces as he tried to escape to Turkey.

You can read his obituary in English on CNN.com and read the Facebook page in Arabic created in his honor.

The French Ministère des Affaires étrangères released this statement:

“France strongly condemns the despicable murder of Dr. Ibrahim Nahel Othman by Syrian forces.

A man of peace, Dr. Ibrahim Nahel Othman had, through his courage and action in coordinating Damascus Doctors, achieved unanimous recognition and respect, particularly for his constant commitment to treating the injured without discrimination.

Through him, his murderers sought to prevent free access to the victims and to treatment.

At a time when this crime arouses a strong sense of indignation and deep shock in Syria, France reaffirms her determination to stand alongside the Syrian people in the face of the relentless crackdown to which they have been subjected for more than nine months.

France, more than ever, is mobilizing her efforts in all international forums in order to bring an end to the crackdown in Syria.”

Dr. Othman, of Barzeh, Damascus, was 26 years old. He was one of 19 Syrian doctors to be killed by the Assad regime during 2011.

Unedited translation of testimony given by a doctor from Mujtahed Hospital about the bombing on 6 January 2011, as reported to the Local Coordination Committees of Syria. The LCCs have been collecting such eyewitness testimonies and publishing daily statistics – with full names and home towns, when known – of the dead, wounded, and disappeared since the protests began and their data is being provided to the Arab League monitors. (What the monitors do with and about this information is another post.)

“I participated in rescuing the victims of the bombing that happened in Midan today, most injuries of security agents were as a result of gunshots not fragments of explosives nor the bombing itself, nurses were able to identify injured security agents and their names.

We’ve been told that the bombing targeted 2 security buses parked near Midan police station, security forces were deployed heavily in the hospital while we were treating the injured, there was a dispute between security administrations about who is to take control.

After 2 hours injured people from demonstrations started coming to the hospital, nurses refused to take care of them or even rescue them, cleaning workers also refused to help on the grounds that they are “intruders” and “traitors”, we were also prohibited from helping them.”

Bashar Defects from the Army

Proven money-saving strategy in International Criminal Court these days: dictators who hang themselves on international TV before they even get to The Hague!

“Never interfere with your enemy when he’s in the process of destroying himself,” the saying goes, and it’s never been more true than for President Bashar al-Assad, the self-professed non-commander-in-chief of the Syrian armed forces.

Being in Turkey during yet another absurd Assad media opportunity (watch the interview in full here), then seeing the Istanbul reaction to it, deserves a pause in my Christmas travel programming.

Bashar and Barbara’s ABC network interview pre-empted a European football match in a sports bar in trendy Beyoğlu. Damning excerpts of the interview played on 2 giant screens on the Bosphorus ferry.

Two headlines dominated the news in Turkey this week: the Merkel/Sarkozy Eurozone deal and the escalating violence in Syria. And nobody’s sure which one they should be worried about more.

Just because Turks aren’t out on the street by the thousands (yet) demonstrating in support of the Syrian people doesn’t mean they’re not keenly aware of what’s going on there hour by hour. If I had a 900 kilometer border with a country on the verge of…we’re not sure yet, but it won’t be good…I’d keep very current on the news, too.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said last spring that there was no question of Turkey closing its borders with Syria, yet that’s exactly what’s happened already in at least 2 cases, primarily because truck drivers going back and forth across the border are being shot at indiscriminately.

Guess not so many trucks lately, with the 30% tax on imported goods Turkey just slapped on Syria, which might hurt Assad’s pride more than his pocketbook, given the downward spiral of that friendship, gone in 9 months from warm-like-family to cold-as-ice.

Although the Turkish government long ago “ran out of patience” and came “to the end of the road” with the Assad regime, this week for the first time Erdogan stated that all options were on the table, should the Syrian conflict impact the region and, specifically, send a flood of refugees across its borders.

Then, in the middle of all this, Barbara Walters of ABC goes to Damascus…and Americans groan.

Baba Wawa, Barbara’s nickname and persona made famous by brilliant comedienne Gilda Radner of Saturday Night Live. Barbara, whose latest gig is a gossipy women’s morning talk show, whose topics range from interviews with cute movie stars to cute hairstyles for summer.

And that’s exactly how she posed her soft-ball questions to Bashar: in that awe-struck, kiss-up way of hers that works for the cast of Twilight, but grossly minimizes the seriousness of Assad’s crimes against humanity continuing unhindered in Syria, thanks to ping-pong foreign policy in the United Nations and the Arab League.

Obviously Bashar wasn’t confident enough in his lies to talk to hard-hitting Anderson Cooper of CNN, who’s been “keeping ‘em honest” in the Arab Spring for months now and has made it his personal mission to out Bashar on his violent duplicity, especially his army’s crimes against children.

It’s hard to choose the most ridiculous part of that ridiculous interview, but Bashar saying he wasn’t in control of the Syrian army ranks right up there. That the armed forces weren’t his, they belonged to the country, and he wasn’t in charge of them.

Really? You’re President but not Commander-in-Chief? You’re not the one giving orders?

No orders were given, he said (conveniently in the 3rd person).

“Bashar defects from the army.” Demonstrators in Homs pounced on that revelation, and Homsis are the fastest protest sign-makers in this whole revolution.

To the real defectors, members of the Free Syrian Army ‒ 10,000 strong, according to their commander who’s giving orders from Turkey, which also hosts the fledgling Syrian National Committee ‒ it’s not news, it’s irony.

Of course, Bashar and his cronies are in charge of everything, everywhere, 24×7. That’s how dictatorships work (and why the Assad family has proven over the decades that they’ll do anything rather than give theirs up). Syria’s suffocating, humiliating government that knows nothing but brutality is exactly what prompted Syrians to leverage the Arab Spring in the first place and say, “It’s our turn! We can do it!”

That, and the kidnapping, torture, and murder of Hamza al-Khateeb, whose horrific and well-documented death enraged the Syrian people…and whose death Bashar claims never happened. (Somebody, please send him the YouTube link to the Arabic media interview with Hamza’s mother.)

To look at those gruesome photos of young Hamza, as he was given back to his family, and to have no visible reaction…when looking at those same photos from 6,000 miles away moves many of us to tears, even now.

I guess the new obituaries ‒ new names, photos, and bios that are posted every single day on Facebook ‒ aren’t real, either. Dozens and dozens, including 9 children in the past 24 hours.

Guess Assad hasn’t heard about Maher al-Hussein, 10 years old, who bled to death in his own home after being hit by a sniper bullet in Bab Sebaa, Homs. Or 12-year-old Mohammed Nassar, who was also killed by cross-fire.

There’s a massacre brewing in Homs that’s every bit as real as what the UN Security Council voted to prevent in Benghazi, Libya back in March…which China and Russia had no problem with. It promises to be just as devastating as Bashar’s father Hafez’s demolition of Hama in 1982, with one big difference.

The brave social media heroes of Syria, who risk their lives every time they shoot a video, make a phone call, and post or tweet, will try, through non-violent protest and spreading news around the world, to stop it. If they can’t, they’ll document it.

Either way, Bashar will pay. As Syrian democracy activists have said over and over: not one name, one family, one story will be forgotten and left out of the indictment to the International Criminal Court.

Once the Assads are gone and Syria is a democracy, the first city I’ll visit is the one I’ve written the most about on this blog: Homs. Of all the major cities in Syria, Homs is well-known among its fellow citizens for its generous spirit and sense of humor and people I know from Homs are exactly like that.

Both of these positive attitudes are contagious, and that scares hey-don’t-blame-me, it’s-not-my-army Bashar to death.

As well it should.

It’s All Greek To Me

“Another American Tanks World Markets”

I made up this headline from the G20 summit in Cannes, but I wouldn’t have been surprised to see it on somebody’s front page this week, alongside “George, Of All The Bonehead Moves…”

Not many Americans outside the Midwest know this about Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou: “Giorgakis” (Little George) is from…St. Paul, Minnesota!

That’s why, when economic austerity measures required for the initial 110€ billion bailout were implemented in May, Greek protesters yelled, “George, go home!”

Please don’t.

We already have too many politicians in office who are willing to rack up huge government bills as long as it panders to their own constituents, then are equally willing to risk our country’s debt default to save their own careers.

Some of these politicians are even from Minnesota, Michele (Bachmann).

In a perfect example of nepotism gone wrong, this 3rd-generation Greek Prime Minister single-handedly sent the global financial markets into a tailspin on Monday by announcing a referendum on the EU and IMF bailout that took months of maneuvering, cajoling, begging, threatening, and pleading to finalize…

…and Greece was lucky to get, and arguably didn’t deserve.

On the eve of the G20 summit, George drops a bomb: he wants the Greek people to vote on whether to accept the billions of free money in part 2 of the biggest bailout in the history of bailouts: valued at 130€ billion this time, with 50% debt forgiveness, orchestrated by Greece’s Eurozone neighbors, at no small financial and political cost to themselves.

Which we now want to “choose” after the fact, because we hate it that this free money is contingent on us doing stuff we should be doing anyway, and I’ve had a hard time explaining these austerity measures to the Greek public without looking like I’m part of the problem, which I am.

Which proves, Eurofriends, that no good deed goes unpunished.

French President Nicholas Sarkozy says Greece should never have been admitted to the Eurozone in the first place. True. Yet here they are, ungratefully so, forcing the Eurozone to contemplate a painful divorce, minimally a legal separation with endless alimony and child support.

But Papandreou’s referendum had a predictably short shelf life.

Recap of the France/Germany G20 dress-down: let’s be perfectly clear, George, we’re not paying another red cent of the debt you racked up from years of riotous living ‒ that Greece blatantly lied about to the Eurozone, by the way ‒ until you agree to the austerity measures set forth in the 26 October agreement.

Of course the austerity measures are harsh, George. They’re meant to be. It’s the only way Greece has any chance of getting its fiscal house in order, and the only way we can try to ensure you don’t suck the rest of the Eurozone into your black hole.

Only in your dreams could you cash that mid-November bailout installment check you can’t live without, while simultaneously holding the Eurozone hostage with your “sometime next year” referendum.

George the American is a gambling man who doesn’t know when to fold ‘em (and may well lose tomorrow’s confidence vote because of it).

Who knows perfectly well that tax increases are key to Greece’s austerity plan, yet shies away from his responsibility to tell the voters plainly. Who was willing to risk the stability of the Euro, and by extension another global recession, to make a point.

Sound familiar? It’s like George never left St. Paul.

The Cheeseburger Primaries

“I weigh too much because I eat too much,” he said. “And I eat some bad things, too.”

Finally, some honesty in politics!

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, less than 6 feet tall and ‒ I’m guessing here ‒ 350 pounds on a good day, is being courted to add some ballast to the GOP presidential race, since Mitt Romney is a competent bore and Rick Perry is a disaster-in-waiting and the rest of the field isn’t even worth mentioning, except former Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman, who’s far too moderate and has far too global a perspective to win the Republican nomination.

As if those were bad things.

Chris Christie and his oversized approval rating would be a Democrats’ nightmare largely ‒ see? already I can’t help it ‒ because he’s a biiiiiiiiiiiiiig…personality who’d look like the protective big brother of little brother Barack, who’s less than half his size, from being bullied on the school playground.

I’d want Governor Christie on my side, too, just not literally. Can’t you just picture him coming down the airplane aisle toward you and your heart sinking, knowing that ‒ Murphy’s Law ‒ he’ll be sitting in the middle seat next to you and wanting to put the armrest up?

Like you’re really gonna tell Tony Soprano’s elected representative that he should’ve bought an extra seat.

Although even Governor Christie himself makes jokes about “throwing his weight around,” and imagine how many more writers would gladly “weigh in” over the next 13 months if he ran for president, chronic obesity is a very serious health risk, not to mention an incredibly poor example to our nation of 30% obsese children and adolescents, according to the CDC.

I’d hate to see Christie undermine First Lady Michelle Obama’s healthy food campaign for kids, and kids physical fitness standards championed by none other than his former fellow Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger!

When Christie was in the hospital in July due to his chronic asthma, more than one journalist stated the obvious: “Will his weight sink his presidential bid?”

…or tragically leave his 4 children without a father and the Tea Party at the rudder?

We’ve seen this culinary vice in the Oval Office before. While we questioned Bill Clinton’s bad taste in women, we secretly sympathized with his bad taste in food because most of us have, at one time or another, lost control of our cars while driving past In-N-Out Burger and suddenly found ourselves ordering a Mustard-Grilled off the Secret Menu.

Granted, no paparazzi followed us around afterwards, taking unflattering photos of us in our running shorts and plastering them on the front page of the Washington Post.

There was something ‒ dare I say, loveable? ‒ about a world leader who, during his first term in office, incurred the annual wrath of Commander Somebody, M.D. at the Bethesda Naval Hospital over steak fries and chocolate malts.

That same Presidential physician would take one look at Chris Christie and go into cardiac arrest.

However, remember that immediately following the Cheeseburger-in-Chief, we elected a skinny guy who got straight As at Bethesda and went to bed at 9pm.

And look where that got us.

Even though I feel confused by Bill Clinton the Disciplined Vegan, A Shadow of His Former Self, every once in awhile he channels his inner cheeseburger and says something like he did during the debt ceiling standoff: “Mr. President, if I were you, I’d invoke the 14th amendment right now and dare the Tea Party to take me to court.”

And telling people where to get off sure seems like a New Jersey specialty.

While I like Governor Christie’s views on education and green energy, I disagree with him on many other issues and fear most of all his dangerously nonexistent foreign policy experience.

No, Chris, it’s not our eternal destiny to be the world’s policeman.

Here’s my bare minimum Presidential candidate bar:

I give you a blank piece of paper. On it, you draw a map of the Middle East and North Africa, marking every border, country, capital, and major geographic landmark. Next, you write down leadership names, types of government, primary industries, and the top 3 issues facing each country today. Last, I want to know whether each country is, is not, or ever has been an ally of the United States, and why.

Extra points if you can describe in detail the mix of religions; minus points if you call Iran an Arab country!

If I can do all of this without much difficulty (and I’m not running for leader of the free world), then so should you.

But I can’t argue with Christie on budget negotiations, during which Congress acts like all people do on crash diets: rude and not in the mood. However, “to make (a) budget deal, you must get (the) leadership talking in one room.”

Governor, I’d like to offer an amendment: lock the door from the outside. Nobody goes home until you have a deal. That means eating Chinese takeout and wearing dirty clothes. The real reason it took so long to get a deal in August was that the leadership let people go home to Georgetown and take showers.

The American people instruct and empower our President: turn up the pain machine on our employees in Congress to, as Governor Christie put it, “finish this off.”

…or somebody might finish you off, President Obama, come November 2012 and Chris Christie just might be the guy who brings home the bacon for the Republican party.

According to Chris Christie, this country is “thirsting” (and maybe hungering, too) “for…someone of stature and credibility” to deal with crises. To “find principled outcome where people are also compromising.”

Now I’ll take an extra helping of that.

What’s Really at Stake With Back to School

Everybody gets extra credit this year…in politics.

In Tacoma, the 3rd-largest school district in Washington state, USA, 1,900 public school teachers are on strike and have defied a court order to return to work. They’ve delayed the start of the new academic year for 28,000 students over unresolved contract disputes including pay, class size, and seniority-based job reassignments.

The teachers union may or may not have the right to strike, said a judge today, but the public generally agrees that teachers are underpaid and under-appreciated. Class size is a problem nationwide, despite us continually voting to tax ourselves to fix this. (Am I the only one wondering where all that money went?)

While some parents and students support teachers to continue negotiating while school is open, teachers aren’t getting universal sympathy for an all-out strike this time around.

From reading the local press lately and knowing how prior Seattle-area teachers strikes went down, it’s much the same conflicted thinking. Some are sympathetic to teachers and feel like they’ve been pressured and ignored one too many times. Others think teachers should be thankful they have jobs in this recession and need to share the pain of state budget cuts. Some worry about classes cutting into 2012 summer vacation, disrupting family and child care plans.

Meanwhile, no learning is happening, except learning that some adults, after having the whole summer off, don’t have to go back to work in September if they don’t feel like it, and they’ll probably still get paid. Hey, I want that job!

Teachers counter that if they cave in to school district demands, their complaints will never be resolved. Could be true. But if they make the strike long enough and painful enough, they will be. Hard to say.

Some students think teachers should grow up. Teachers think the school district should grow up. Here’s a thought: maybe you both need to grow up.

Tacoma teachers, it’s worth thinking globally: are your issues are so important to you to voice publicly and demand change that you’d still be willing to go on strike if you knew it meant risking being fired on by security forces? Or attacked with tear gas? Or imprisoned and tortured?

Then imagine you’re not an adult teacher. Imagine you’re an elementary school student striking in front of your school in Ghutta, Homs, Syria, with siblings in high school doing the same thing, and your parents wholeheartedly supporting you all, striking like this.

Telling observation from a Homs activist: “We grew up repeating every morning in school the famous slogan ‘Our leader forever, the comrade Bashar al Assad’ (or his father when he was alive). Most of us used to say it automatically without even realizing what we are saying. It was a form of indoctrination. Today, the students chanted ‘Freedom’ in many schools across Syria.”

(Students in Hama are taking it one step further, as Hama is famous for doing, and burning the indoctrination books.)

Unlike democracies, where different points of view are welcome, even encouraged, dictatorships ‒ with which Americans in our generation thankfully have no personal experience ‒ rely on fear, plus a potent mixture of hero worship, humiliation, mutual suspicion, and inability to picture things any way than how they are today…until the Arab Spring comes along in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and not-quite-Yemen and you began to realize the freedoms and opportunities you’ve been missing out on all this time.

Fast-forward to Homs in September 2011 and there, as in Damascus, Hama, Idlib, and Deir ez Zor provinces, this familiar student refrain is driving Bashar al-Assad and his Dictator of Education completely crazy: from Zamalka, Damascus, “No studying and no teaching until the fall of the President!”

Now that’s what I call an intractable union demand.

Demographics drives this reality. While birth rates in Europe have dropped off precipitously and the American Baby Boomer generation is set to retire, causing Social Security and Medicare costs to soar, over 40% of the Syrian population is under 18.

That’s almost 9 million young people who certainly aren’t going to vote for anybody named Assad. So best to make sure they never get a chance to vote.

On the first day of school, September 18, schools were nominally open, but attendance across Syria was sparse, to say the least. Some teachers didn’t show up at all. Kids who weren’t protesting were being kept at home by parents as a protest against the regime, or for their safety.

No argument about class sizes here.

Instead of cracking the books, look at what Syrian school kids were doing instead: stomping on a photo of Bashar’s face, burning it, then tearing it up and throwing away the pieces!

Same sentiment in Kanaker, where students shout right into the camera, “No studying until the regime falls!” Then, without warning, the security forces fire on the school children (in Qusayr, SW of Homs).

Sigh. This is going to be a long, sad school year.

Ironically, students might end up at school another way…because their classrooms are now prisons for protesters who’ve been arrested. Children, their teachers, and their parents might end up in class together.

In Al-Kiswah, about as pastoral as it gets 13 kilometers/6 miles south of Damascus, students’ banners read: ”This is my school. Its chairs became confession chairs. My father, brother, and cousin, all of them were beaten here.

How can I go to school before we topple the regime?”

Those same fathers, brothers, and cousins ‒ 3,000 in all ‒ who’d demonstrated the day before school started.

Including one father who said, “We want freedom even if we have to keep our demonstrations going for years, not only 6 months. We have nothing to lose if we are ready to sacrifice our lives

(notice, not our salaries, our seniorities, our work environments)

…the most precious thing we have.”

Moammar Orders FouFou and ZoomKoom

You know what they say about crap flowing downstream.

They must be talking about Moammar Qaddafi and his “invitation” to “relocate” to “Three Rivers”: Burkina Faso, where the Black Volta (Mouhoun), White Volta (Nakambé), and Red Volta (Nazinon) literally meet.

Honestly, I prefer the Lower Volta, on the Ghanaian coast toward Togo. Where farmers raise shrimp and shallots. Where learning the language, Ewe, is easy and fun, and comes with this finger-snapping handshake that’s like dancing: you can do it only if the other person does it at the same time. Where the same people invite you to (Christian) churches for weddings and (animist) shrines for funerals.

But enough about Ghana for today. We’re headed to the Upper Volta, getting the 411 on a country that not many people outside of the African Union have opinions about, or could even find on a map.

Now, if it were me, I’d fly to Accra and travel 250 kilometers/155 miles ‒ a mere 7 hours by bus ‒ north to Kumasi. Spend the night at a guest house on a dirt road, run by 2 widows who cook suspicious fish, questionable porridge, and untouchable tomatoes. The next morning, I’d take another bus north…until people started speaking French.

(But, Moammar, since you’re you and you’re driving, point your Mercedes caravan south-west through Niger for 4,800 kilometers/3,000 miles to Burkina Faso’s capitol city, Ouagadougou. I hope you have AC; it’ll be 35C/95F and 90% humidity. At least.)

I can tell you right now, learning French will be a major challenge. I’ve been to French school and French teachers don’t mess around. I doubt you have much of a gift for languages because when you speak on Arab TV, you’re subtitled in Arabic. (Qaddafi speaks a Libyan dialect, so even Arabs from other countries can’t really understand him.)

First up, new lodgings for you. Remember that seaside villa previously owned by your son Saif al-Islam, with the infinity pool like you see in Architectural Digest? Nothing like that.

Something modest, overlooking the savannah.

Take heart. Eventually, you’ll be looking out at the Mediterranean Sea again…through prison bars. Better yet, looking out at the North Sea from the Cour Pénale Internationale in The Hague.

Meanwhile, lose the brocade robes and get some chickens, for brochettes de poulet later. Nobody in Burkina Faso will look at you twice. If you’re living large in Ouagadougou with all that gold and cash you smuggled out of Libya over the decades, especially in a 4-star hotel that until recently had a portrait of you hanging in the lobby, you might as well wear an “Escaped Dictator” sign on your back because some average guy earning $1 a day is going to take the Libyan opposition up on its generous finder’s fee.

Since the Burkina Faso government recognized Libya’s National Transitional Council last month and Interpol has a Red Notice out on you, staying inconspicuous might mean doing some of your own cooking. I know you’ll be homesick for Sharba Libiya (because I am, too): a spicy lamb soup so easy I recommend it to helpless dictators.

Start with vegetable ghee, “samn” in Arabic. You could use oil, so why ghee? Simple food chemistry. You can fry at a much higher temperature without setting off all your smoke alarms.

Sear pieces of lamb ‒ good color outside, still raw inside. (Properly cooked lamb is PINK, people, not brown). Add parsley, onion, and tomatoes. Just enough water to cover ‒ no need for veal stock ‒ and bring to a boil. When you add the orzo, ajoute aussi un peu de persil et des feuilles de coriandre.

Season generously with cayenne pepper, salt, and cinnamon. Or hararat, this great Libyan spice mix you can make yourself, or buy at an ethnic grocery store….by the kilo.

Literally as the soup bowls leave the kitchen, and not a moment sooner, add mint ‒ crushed dry is fine, shredded fresh is best ‒ and a splash of fresh-squeezed lemon juice.

For anybody but you, Moammar, I’d make mhalbiya (rice pudding) for dessert. Libyans flavor it with ‘atr (geranium extract), but orange blossom water will do.

Then I’d make some ka’k hilu (Libyan pretzels with sesame and fennel seeds) for myself.

At Le Cordon Bleu, we learned to drink while we cooked and, compared to the fundamentals of Islam and humanity you’ve already obliterated, this sin hardly even registers. Try the Burkinabè specialty banji, palm wine (fermented palm sap), partaken liberally by the 40% non-Muslims in this secular country. Or, if you’re still on the wagon, there’s always zoomkoom, a non-alcoholic “soft drink” made with millet flour.

Think really watery pancake batter flavored with lemon, ginger, and sometimes tamarind.

You might be in Burkina Faso for awhile and, for all the wrong reasons, you’ll give thanks for every meal. Just imagine if you’d sought exile in Russia!

There’s great Burkinabè cuisine in Paris, if you know where to look, and I do.

La Goutte d’Or is a gritty neighborhood in 18ème. At the famous Marché Barbès, in daylight and with local African friends, I buy more than I can realistically carry on the Métro of colorfully exotic, embarrassingly cheap ingredients you can’t find anywhere else in Paris.

Since it’s just as risky to shop when you’re hungry, we’re at the restaurant Etoile de Burkina near Place Hébert. On August 4.

Accidentally celebrating the anniversary of the Burkina Faso revolution. Learning why Burkinabè cuisine is called “l’émotion par les sens.” Sharing food with people who aren’t even at our table.

Riz gras, Burkina Faso’s national dish: rice cooked in fat with tomatoes and spices. Tô, bitter millet dough, with gombo (okra sauce) and yams on the side. Pan-fried fish, their beady eyes staring up at me from the plate.

Foufou, which in East Africa we call ugali: grits without butter or salt, formed into pasty polenta-like cakes. Brochettes upon towers of brochettes beside bowls upon bowls of delicious sauces.

Then a Burkinabè spin on a Sénégalese classic: Poulet Yassa.

Chicken stew with garlic, generous lemon, super generous onion, and any orphan vegetables you find hanging around. Mustard, if you can believe that. Red Hot Chili Peppers, which isn’t just a band.

Served with a Mòoré garnish, to celebrate: “Laafi bala!” (Peace! Health!)

Omar the Bounty Hunter

You know you’re back…when you’re back on Twitter.

After months of no Internet service in Libya, and not much interesting to post anyway, suddenly this week…signs of life!

On Tuesday, the formerly state owned (but now opposition controlled) ISP went live with a 3-word message: “Libya, one tribe.”

Immediately, someone tweeted: #egypt 18 days #tunisia 29 days #libya 186 days…

… #syria 159 days (and counting)!

Call it the Twitter Freedom Countdown, or the Middle Eastern Dictator Eviction Notice.

Nice to hear that great ol’ Arab Spring humor hasn’t changed, meantime: “It’s safe to assume that ol’ Moamar is having a bad hair week.”

After months of back and forth between the Qaddafi army and the opposition forces and no sustainable progress on either side ‒ leaving NATO wondering that if 20,000 sorties wouldn’t cause this regime to fold, then what would it take exactly ‒ the rebels made a breakthrough and knocked over Tripoli even faster than they expected to themselves.

In the last several months, the rebels have slowly transitioned themselves from a rag-tag group of untrained, undisciplined civilians ‒ definitely not their fault that they’d chosen other careers, never imagining becoming soldiers ‒ to an organization cohesive enough to implement military advice from Libyan and allied advisers and to seed armed sympathizers within Tripoli to cast a well-orchestrated deciding blow.

Now there’s a $2 million bounty on Qaddafi’s head. Hey, for that kind of money, I’ll throw in his 2 nitwit sons for free!

Even though Qaddafi is still on the run, life is going on just fine without him, as foreign governments and Libyans alike act as if he wasn’t even there. The National Transitional Council (NTC) in Benghazi, now recognized by the Arab League as the sole legal representative of the Libyan people, wasted no time in announcing their relocation to the nation’s capitol.

Half of our team moved in mid-week. Many thanks for having office space organized for us in advance.

“I declare the beginning and assumption of the executive committee’s work in Tripoli,” said Vice-Chairman Ali Tahuni yesterday. “Long live democratic and constitutional Libya and glory to our martyrs.”

(In a touching sign of solidarity, the Libyan embassy in London has been flying the Syrian flag alongside its own, just as Tunisia did for Libya back in the day. “Libya has increased our resolve,” say Syrian activists, in this, their 24th consecutive week of protests, to the well-chosen theme for the last Friday of Ramadan: the Friday of Patience and Persistence.

From the demonstration in Bab il-Sbaa’, Homs: “We are like everyone else, looking for our place under the free sun.” Today Qaddafi, tomorrow Bashar.)

So, please send that check for $1.5 billion of our un-frozen assets to our new HQ, so we can start feeding some people around here…although hold that thought because we’ve just discovered a huge regime stockpile of food, enough to feed the population of Tripoli twice over.

For a year!

It’s telling how many commentators have called Libya the “anti-Iraq.” Certainly many countries, none more so than the USA, can learn from Iraq how not to go about a regime change.

For example, we’re not firing from their jobs and automatically ostracizing everyone who has worked for the regime ever, whether they liked it or not, which would be anyone not named Qaddafi.

Policemen, please keep policing. (At our request, the UN will send experts to help us organize proper security.) Teachers, keep teaching. Oil workers, keep drilling.

…and for the first time in months, you’ll actually be getting paid to do this!

Doctors, keep treating, and we’re working 24×7 to restore electricity and water to all the hospitals because we know you’re overrun with injured, who are barely hanging on alongside the 100s of long-dead.

The provisional government has already proclaimed no reprisals (and no destruction of public property). This might be hard to implement, since Amnesty International says there were crimes against humanity committed on both sides of this conflict. However, immediate priorities are stability of this newborn free society and getting the oil business back running at full capacity, which the NTC says will take about a year.

Sure, there will be trials, and punishments, up to and including the International Criminal Court ‒ as soon as you track down ex-“Brother Leader” Muammar and his ex-heir-apparent Saif al-Islam, please give us a call and we’ll send somebody from The Hague to collect them ‒ my guess is there will also be an amnesty plan, even for some of the armed forces.

NTC Deputy Chief Mahmoud Jibril said it best: “All Libyans have a responsibility today to protect their safety, what they own, and [my emphasis] they must even protect those who have hurt us.”

One of the finest mental images of the week was of rebels ransacking the Qaddafi compound ‒ containing treasures beyond their wildest dreams, bought over the past 40 years with their money ‒ and driving off into the sunset with 4 of Saif’s expensive sports cars.

But it’s not over ‘til it’s over, say cooler heads, prevailing. Qaddafi and his family are still at large, his hometown of Sirte has not yet fallen, and regime sympathizers ‒ some of them snipers, with plenty of ammo left in the clip ‒ are still holding out in hotbed neighborhoods in south Tripoli, hoping for a miracle Qaddafi will never deliver.

But you will. Plenty of time for that victory lap.

Syria’s Mother-in-Chief and the Ramadan 155

Chère Madame Asma al-Assad, First Lady of Syria: what do you have to say for yourself now?

You’re still hiding in London, while tens of dozens more Syrian mothers grieve for their children, who are missing, injured, or dead simply because they and their families asked your husband for freedom.

Remember on June 6, I published the Syria’s Mother-in-Chief: 70 Names We’ll Never Let You Forget? Even at that time, there were more children than that who had died and, for various reasons, were not included on activists’ lists, or were listed but unnamed.

Fast-forward 2 1/2 months… Your husband and his forces had killed over 100 children before Ramadan had even begun and took advantage of the month of August not for religious contemplation, but to send his militia to lie in wait and shoot children as they walk out of mosques after evening prayers.

The Syrian Coordination Committees told Al-Arabiya on August 15 that 260 people had been killed just since the beginning of Ramadan, including 14 women and 33 children. Activist Wissam Tarif told Anderson Cooper on CNN on August 19 that 148 Syrian children had been murdered since the uprising began on March 15. Other estimates swing wildly between 120 and 170 dead.

But starting from 148 and counting names of children from Daraa, Homs, and Hama it seems aren’t accounted for on 19 August, that means 155 are dead. 155 innocent Syrian children lost, Asma. Because of you.

That’s more than twice as many dead children as when we last spoke! Others are missing, imprisoned, or injured, or whose details haven’t yet been confirmed by the standard activists require: verification by 2 sources who don’t know each other.

Asma, you need to cancel that shopping trip and READ EVERY WORD of the descriptions that follow. View every photo. Watch every gruesome video, some of which left Syrian activists, who sadly have to sort through dozens of gruesome videos every day, speechless.

Remember that each of these children were loved, and are missed. Some weren’t even old enough to walk. Some were their parents’ only children. Some were refugees already, living in crushing poverty.

Your husband’s army has even deprived some of these parents of places to bury their precious children, or have dug up their children’s graves and stolen the bodies, taking photos of them first, so they could lay the blame on these non-existent “armed gangs.”

(One activist asked: have you ever heard of armed gangs who risk their lives to bury their victims, and bury them in the back gardens of their own homes if they can’t get to the cemetery? Who bury the dead in individual coffins? Mark the graves with names and dates of the deceased? Regularly put flowers on the graves?)

These are some of their stories, so that we don’t forget:

On Ramadan Eve, Gadeer Mousa Alhamdel was killed in Soran.

At the beginning of this video, baby Layal Askar is crawling around after her cat, petting him. By the end, she is wrapped in her burial shroud, dead.

A young man was killed in Hama while he was crossing the street bringing water to some men there. Bystanders didn’t dare go into the street to get his body, because of snipers, so they pulled him toward them with a long wire.

Idlib: look, these are the live bullets that were fired, and the bombs that were thrown at protesters by security forces. 2 died and women and children were also hit.

Child shot and killed by security forces in Talbesah, Homs after Al-Taraweeh prayers.

After the army occupied al-Horani hospital in Hama, the electricity was cut off. When the generators ran out, the army refused to give the hospital gasoline to run them, so all the premature babies in incubators died. The power generator at the adjacent al-Raiyes hospital, which specializes in obstetrics and premature infants, was shelled by the army and caused the death of all the babies in incubators there, too.

16-year-old Nada Ahmed Raslan (girl) and 10-year-old Ali Hassan Al Nimr died in the barbaric attack on the village of Al-Houleh, Homs, in the morning.

Deir ez-Zour: according to an eyewitness, a woman carrying her child was killed in cold blood right in front Al Furat Hospital and is now in the hospital morgue.

Deir ez-Zour: Yahya al-Shaher (girl) was killed by regime forces in the al-Huwaiqa neighborhood. She was buried in al-Mahtal park.

Soran, north of Hama: the military fired on a car filled with women and children, killing a daughter Yara Alfares, age 2, and her mother Yumna Abdilsattar Haj Mahmoud.

Luay Umar and 13-year-old Ahmed Abara disappeared from Hawla, Homs.

Funerals were held for 5 children from the same family in Taybat al-Imam, rural Hama; security forces shot them at random while they were playing.

(Of the 34 people killed in rural Idleb, Arbeen, Hawla, Homs, Deir ez-Zour, Halfaya, Soran, Taybat al-Imam, Hama, and Latakia so far this week, 11 were children.)

4-year-old child kidnapped and held for ransom so his father would surrender himself to police. The family home was also robbed.

Little girl in Daraa crying when her father and grandfather were arrested.

16-year-old from Douma was killed.

17-year-old Amer Hammash was killed in the al-Ramel neighborhood of Latakia.

Muhammad al-Tarn, an orphan from a poor family in al-Mashaa, Hama, was shot 3 times, twice in the head and once in the neck. If he lives, he’ll be disabled for life.

Homs: 9-year-old Yahia Sulaiman was killed by armed militia. He was nipped and killed by a single bullet in the head.

Yihiya Kleb, age 6, was shot dead as he was leaving the mosque. The narrator of this video says, “These are your achievements, Bashar.”

Ola Yaser Jablawi, age 2 1/2, was shot in the eye and killed. Her parents, who live next to the Alkilab mosque, Bustan Alsamaka neighborhood, Latakia, had tried to conceive for 8 years before she was born. Her parents had been warned to escape an attack, but their car was fired upon at a security checkpoint. Ola’s father was shot in the shoulder. He was later kidnapped and his whereabouts are unknown. If you watch this video, you will break down; the father is crying out to God as his little daughter lies in the street, dead.

Two boys, ages 6 and 9, were also killed in Latakia, as army tanks attacked from the seaport.

A very small boy, Mohamed Yasser Khalaf was murdered.

Homs: an injured boy was shot by security forces. I think we are viewing his last breaths here.

A young boy was brutally murdered in Homs as he was leaving the mosque after night prayers.

Regime forces were targeting and killing women and children as they fled the Latakia massacre. Terrible, terrible injuries.

Mohammad Jobar Shohan, age 13, was shot at noon by a sniper in Al-Raml, Latakia, at the Palestinian refugee camp.

An entire family murdered by Assad thugs.

Nada Hassan Saad was also killed in the brutal attack on Al-Raml, Latakia. She was a Palestinian mother of 2 children.

A woman and her 2 children were killed in the shelling of Suran, Hama late in the evening.

Boy in Saraqeb, Idlib shot and injured by security forces.

The child Khalid Ahmed Sulaiman was tortured and killed by Assad forces in Homs. Even worse video of his injuries.

Abdurahman Hajar, age 2, from Bab eSba’a, was shot in his right side. The bullet passed through his penis and cut it off.

This video is of the funeral of Jalal Muhamed Bassem and a tiny baby.

Sana Kanas (girl) was killed.

Homs, al-Baiada: a young boy was shot by Shabiha (regime-sponsored gangs).

Boy shot by Shabiha and security forces during the demonstration in Hama.

3-year-old girl shot during the protest in Hauran. She was among 18 people killed that day.

3 children were among those killed by security forces in Ghabagheb, Daraa: Muhammad Bader Najem, age 15, Muhammad Omar Sharaf, age 11, and a 3-year-old girl.

Another teenager, Haitham Rifae Wazir, age 18, was killed by regime forces in Jubar, Homs.

Injured child, a boy.

Avaaz citizen journalist reported from Deir ez-Zor that of 17 arrests today, 4 of them were children: two children age 15, one child age 13, and one child age 12. The Shabiha and the army forced them to remove their clothes and paraded them all down the street, naked.

Homs, Tadmur: 2 children, Mohammad Adnan Al-Faris, age 12, and Hya Zoghby, age 17, were killed by sniper fire from atop the Vila Tadmur Hotel.

Asma, I’m updating this list every day and know I’m not keeping up with the tragic stories of children pouring out of Syria.

One of my friends is from Homs, your ancestral city. She’s your age and a mother of young children, too. You know what she said about you? “Asma knows if she says anything (against the regime), she will be killed, so she’s content.” Content to do what? I ask. Her reply was the worst indictment one mother can ever give to another.

“Content not to be brave.”

Not 24 hours after I wrote this post, Assad security forces kicked the UN humanitarian delegation out of Homs for “safety reasons,” so they don’t know Homs had 5 child victims (3 killed, 2 injured) today, 22 August. 5-year-old Majid and his father were killed when security forces fired at the Fatima mosque after evening prayers. His sister, standing on a balcony nearby, was seriously injured, as was another young boy elsewhere in the city. Baby Alaa Abu Alaban was also lost. Another young boy was shot in the head and killed. You can clearly see and hear the sniper fire. Men are dragging the child’s body out of the street, leaving a smear of blood behind. Al Jazeera English reported 5 were killed and 80 wounded in Homs today, but those numbers have risen in recent hours. Shabiha also attacked and killed civilians in Assi Square, Hama. Clearly the UN visit has not stopped the regime’s brutality in the least. Even though Assad saved his worst violence for after the delegation left each city, the whole world, including the UN, sees the truth on YouTube.

Bashar the Blasphemous and His Kingdom, Finished

“There is no God but Bashar.” “God Bashar and Maher (Bashar’s brother and military leader) Mohammed.”

“God, it’s about time you come down (from your throne) and Assad be put in your place.”

This is the hideous graffiti the people of Hama have to look at every day, left behind by the Syrian regime militia after last week’s siege, with this ominous threat: “If you come back (to protest), we’ll come back (to kill you).”

But anytime Bashar’s followers shout, “We Bow Only to Assad,” the Syrian public shouts back, “We Won’t Kneel,” the Friday 12 August protest theme.

Assad, increasingly desperate, has stepped up his brutality during Ramadan, the holiest month of the Muslim calendar. Even his “frenemies,” still politically on the fence, draw the line at snipers picking off worshippers (including children) of any faith as they leave services. Sending your troops into a house of worship while people are praying. Torturing your fellow citizens to death for bowing to God instead of you.

I’ve told you already about Thamer Al-Sahri, age 15, who was tortured to death in May because he refused, over and over again, to kneel to Bashar, to anyone but Allah. Adult prisoners who were eyewitnesses to those events relayed his bravery to his family, who relayed it to Syrian activists. I read the full account and can say only this: I haven’t read anything like it in my lifetime.

That a child who to the very end was calling out for his parents to save him would still refuse to worship anyone but God takes tremendous courage I’m not sure I have. I need to give that some serious thought.

So does Bashar.

And while he does, there’s another true story from the Middle East that he needs to read, about a leader in ancient times who had similar delusions of grandeur, and how tragically that ended for him.

If you’re familiar with the Old Testament of the Holy Bible, you might’ve read Chapter 5 of The Book of Daniel and the story of King Belshazzar, the King of Babylon (in modern-day Iraq) and ‒ or so he thought ‒ the King of No Consequences.

One night, Belshazzar threw a raucous party at his castle for 1,000 friends, high-ranking employees, and extended family. Among other outrages, he served his guests wine in gold and silver goblets from the Temple. He’d been working up to that travesty for awhile, elevating himself higher and higher as a monarch as he sunk lower and lower as a man, both morally and spiritually.

The sad thing was he knew so much better. He’d watched his father King Nebuchadnezzar go down that road and knew exactly where that kind of pride led. The difference was that Nebuchadnezzar eventually repented, realizing that God had brought him low ‒ it doesn’t get much lower than eating grass in the pasture with the animals ‒ so that when he had a second chance to make things right, he would.

And did.

The last half of Nebuchadnezzar’s life was even more prosperous, and blessed, than the first. “My honor and splendor were returned to me for the glory of my kingdom,” he said. When he hit rock bottom, he admitted God’s tough love was what he’d needed, when he’d needed it, and his experiences are documented in the first person in Daniel Chapter 4.

So even we today don’t have to repeat his thousand-years-old mistakes.

But his son Belshazzar thought those rules didn’t apply to him and paid with his life for his flagrant dismissive-ness of the God of Heaven.

So, at this party, during which holy vessels intended solely for worship and had been “borrowed” from the House of God were being desecrated, we read that a man’s hand appeared out of nowhere and its fingers wrote some words on the plaster of the dining room wall.

The king was very afraid of the mysterious hand and even more afraid that he couldn’t read the message it had written.

I think Belshazzar knew instinctively that the message was from God and that it was meant for him personally because it says he went white as a sheet and his legs were trembling so much, he couldn’t walk. Heaven speaking to you in such a direct way is a very profound and serious thing, even if you haven’t heard that voice for a long time, if ever.

Fortunately, he had the presence of mind to listen to the Queen’s advice.

Daniel, as we know from Chapters 1-4, had been brought as a child slave to Babylon from Judah, in what we now call the West Bank, after the siege of Jerusalem. Through a series of events, he’d proven the power of the one God he worshipped, as opposed to the many gods of his captors, and the previous monarch went so far as to laud Daniel’s God and insist that his subjects pay respect, or else.

It was also common knowledge in the kingdom about Daniel’s interpretations of King Nebuchadnezzar’s dreams and, although he’d attained power and position in the interim, he and his friends from Judah were best known for their discretion and maturity.

Belshazzar, who remembered Daniel’s “excellent spirit,” once he gave it some thought, called for him to be brought in immediately.

The king offered to pay Daniel to find out the meaning of the message on the wall, but it wasn’t Daniel’s message and he wasn’t selling it. Daniel also understood the finality of what he was about to tell Belshazzar: the Lord has spoken and He says you are done.

Tu as refusé de rendre gloire au Dieu qui tient dans sa main ta vie présente et ta destinée. God, who holds your very breath in his hands, He you have not glorified.

Written on the wall: “God has numbered the days of your kingdom, and finished it. You’ve been weighed in the balances and found wanting. Your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and the Persians.”

It’s telling that, after hearing such a message, the king’s first response was to try once again to compensate Daniel for his services, still thinking that fortune fixes everything.

Later that night, Belshazzar was killed. Even though we don’t know the exact circumstances of his death, it’s clear it was God’s doing.

Anyone who wouldn’t respond, and repent with tears (as did other powerful people in the Scripture who made near-fatal spiritual errors), to a physical hand writing a message on an actual wall, to a message you couldn’t possibly miss the meaning of…

Had Belshazzar responded the same way his father had, despite everything he’d done ‒ and allowed to be done ‒ during his reign over Babylon, God might’ve listened. Maybe He would’ve taken Belshazzar’s life that night anyway, but He also might’ve given the king a very brief chance before death to settle his accounts.

I don’t know whether Bashar al-Assad knows this story, but I’m positive he’s kneeled in a mosque on many Fridays since childhood, reciting with other worshippers, “There is no God but Allah.”

NOT “There is no God but Bashar.”

He’s already lost his job, and the whole world knows it, but that’s the least of his worries.

For Bashar al-Assad, or anyone in power, to elevate himself to the level of God and demand his minions do so ‒ on pain of death, given his torture and murder of defected soldiers ‒ is a most dangerous game. If, after perpetuating lie upon mortal and spiritual lie and using your God-given gifts for ill, you have the audacity to impersonate Him, and justify it with bloodshed…

You’re finished. God says so, and we believe Him.

Hamza Hears Freedom Ring

Let them eat…steak?

The last person’s portrait I ever expected to see in Congress Hall in Philadelphia, where our Congressional leaders did the heavy lifting on the Bill of Rights, was Marie Antoinette’s.

Turns out, she was invited there!

Marie, the monarch whose blatant excesses inspired revulsion and outrage among the impoverished populace, who through revolution eventually brought about egalité, fraternité et fidélité: La République Française.

Despite all this, we apparently were so grateful for France’s help in overthrowing our own monarch, King George III of Britain, that we requested portraits of Marie and Louis XVI to round out the new capitol décor!

Little did we know ‒ but we should’ve expected no less from larger-than-life characters like that ‒ their portraits would be 7 feet tall.

So, as our Congressional representatives debated and negotiated for months on end the finer points of our democracy, including admitting new states to the Union and creating our own Navy, they did so under the watchful eye of France’s infamous “Cake Lady.”

You already know how much I dislike cake, and sweets period (which I realize causes my friends and fans from the Middle East to look on me with deep suspicion), so it’s a good thing Philly is steak country. Unfortunately, I don’t mean Porterhouse or filet mignon.

I mean cheese steak. (Philly cheese steak is redundant, I’m corrected before I say a word.)

Lucky or not, depending on your cholesterol count, Sonny’s Famous is just down the way on 3rd & Market. Right side of the street facing Penn’s Landing, across from the church cemetery, where many of Sonny’s former customers rest in peace.

Because the “classic” cheese steak is rib-eye with Cheese Whiz and fried onions. “That’s what Sonny eats,” proclaims the sign by the cash register, right next to “Cash only.” Anything you leave in the tip jar, we’ll use to send Sonny flowers c/o the Mercy Philadelphia Hospital cardiac ward.

Cheese Whiz is one of those American inventions most of us have never eaten, but we still want to pretend we’ve never heard of: an orange-like, plastic-like cheese impersonation that you spray out of an aerosol can.

Kind of like orange shaving cream. Yum.

But research is research and sometimes you just have to grin…and share it. A typical cheese steak can feed 2 or 3 people. Maybe more on a beastly hot day like today, when all that really sounds good is an ice water with an ice water chaser.

But since I have no takers, probably because I’d chosen the least of the fatal condiments on Sonny’s menu (marinara), my cheese steak and I go picnicking all by ourselves, in the shade across the lawn from the Liberty Bell.

Two weeks ago today, Hamza Al-Khateeb ‒ the 13-year-old hero from Dara’a, who was tortured to death by the Assad regime in April and has become the face of the peaceful Syrian revolution ‒ was in Washington, DC, leading the first-of-how-many-ever-it-takes national demonstrations for freedom and democracy in Syria.

From the White House, he traveled north ‒ and backwards in time ‒ to the birthplace of the United States of America.

It’s no wonder Syrians are loving the ever-quotable Patrick Henry because he, like them, just would not let up. In 1765, his opinion was, “If this be treason, make the most of it,” the colonial-era version of “Bring it on.” Ten years later, his unpopularity with the British monarchy was as high as ever: ”Give me liberty or give me death.”

Or, “Until the last drop of blood,” say the Syrians, fearless.

For anyone who thinks freedom came easy for our 13 colonies, think again. Between the Sugar Act opposition in 1764 and the British surrender at Yorktown in 1781 were some terrible, bloody years, as you’d expect from a civilian uprising against a professional army.

We’re talking about farmers, teachers, laborers. Physicians, attorneys, shopkeepers. Five thousand slaves, whose own freedom and equality was not guaranteed in the Declaration of Independence.

Women and children at Valley Forge, who put their lives on the line to support the troops, on the battlefield and off.

This ragtag group, under the leadership of General George Washington, defeated the most powerful army in the 1700s world. Because, at the end of the day, you have to want freedom more than the people who don’t want you to have it.

And the colonists did.

It was in Independence Hall, next door to Congress Hall, that our Declaration of Independence from Britain was drafted by President of Congress John Hancock and adopted on July 4, 1776 by him and 55 of his colleagues…after one tiny little last-minute edit at the request of George Washington, who was entitled.

Mr. Hancock had a 500£ bounty on his head anyway, so he signed the document first: with flourish, in 48-point font. George III won’t need his glasses to read this, he commented.

The last phrase: “We mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.”

History tells us that 5 of those 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence were captured by the British army and tortured to death as traitors. Nine others served as soldiers themselves and either died on the battlefield or from their wounds afterward. The sons of 4 more served in the Revolutionary army and were either killed or captured.

Two more men’s wives died in prison, or were left to die, when they refused to divulge the whereabouts of their husbands.

At least 12 signers lost every possession they owned, under the British “scorched earth” policy. Properous men before the Revolution, most died in poverty, alone.

Liberty took these men at their word, but they’d heard freedom ring and decided it was worth it.

Although it’s the Centennial Bell that rings in Independence Hall today, the original Liberty Bell remains on display and lives on in our national psyche. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said in his famous speech at the Lincoln Memorial 48 years ago this month: “When we allow freedom (to) ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day…”

Syria will have its own Liberty Bell. It probably won’t be a bell, but it’ll be some iconic image that future generations of today’s martyrs will point to and say, “Our children, parents, siblings, colleagues, and friends died for this.”

Philadelphia was the host city for Democracy version 1.0, which like all version 1.0s was incomplete and imperfect. To prevent representatives from the southern states from walking out of the negotiations, the issue of slavery was tabled and not abolished for 100 more years. Women weren’t created equal, either, and didn’t get the right to vote until 1920.

(Even then, the bill passed in Congress by only 1 vote, and only because the mother of the Congressman in question wrote him a letter saying he’d better be a “good boy” and do the right thing!)

It’s impossible to miss the unflattering comparison between our Founding Fathers ‒ and Founding Mothers ‒ and the recent 3-ring circus on Capitol Hill over the debt ceiling. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a quality children’s theatre performance like that. Put on by grownups.

Grownups whose ridiculously generous salaries, benefits, and travel I pay for.

Regardless of your political viewpoint, I think it’s clear the majority of our elected officials are so busy pandering to their faithful fans back home that they forget their job is not to be re-elected.

Their job is to govern.

And this country was built on sacrifice. Not “everybody-except-me” sacrifice. Not “only-if-I-feel-like-it” sacrifice. My sacrifice and your sacrifice and our sacrifice.

Really, after 235 years of democracy, we’re showing other countries how NOT to do it?

Meanwhile, no thanks to us, somebody’s making progress. “#FreeSyria will be born while #Bashar days are numbered,” tweets someone about the night protest in Homs. “Victory is near,” writes a Facebook admin on Ramadan Friday, “and a #FreeSyria will emerge! The brave souls of #Midan stand up once again.”

And lest you think Syrians are at all discouraged: “#Assad shelling #Hama every 10 seconds…

…but we only hear #Freedom.”