Saturday, April 28, 2012
64 and counting!
We wanted better news, an all-we-are-saying headline
bordered by peace lily silhouettes, a sprout of Israeli
blue and white flags on Independence Day;
a world aligned in Hatikvah harmony. No missiles from Gaza;
no quarrels about its capitol, Jerusalem; Pollard freed; no naqba
chorus; no Jews to boycott the country
they loved. Yet, on Independence Day, our roll call of its drum rolled
honor guard, its martyred angels, stalls. Disbelief spreads; we
celebrate with caution the hunted share,
unlike July fourth, its fireworked exclamation. We dodge real rockets,
Goliath neighbors who never pause nor never die, it seems;
there is no day unstained, unmarked by animosity.
Still we celebrate. Weavers of peace,
our children learn to revel, to rail like King David
at the crescent moon, as it looms.
B. Koplen 4/27/12
Tuesday, April 24, 2012
What we see at Yad Vashem,
from Mt. Remembrance, makes me want to flee.
But there is no easy way out,
no trail of emptied popcorn boxes or candy wrappers
to follow to an exit
to the open sky.
I want to return to that beautiful day I recall
just an hour earlier; want to go down
to Jerusalem, its broad streets and black hats.
Instead, I feel trapped by pictures of those who
may have been relatives I never met, never
mourned. I wonder whether I’ve been marked
for murder like them when alarms come about Iran.
What crude sounds might usher in that nuclear
Holocaust, its mutant ideologies, its mayhem?
I slow down, suddenly reluctant to leave. Spirit
Rabbis hover; I sense their gleanings from Yad Vashem
confer an impenetrable shield of prayers.
Wednesday, April 18, 2012
Halfback in pink “Please join us. We have a ticket for you.” The parents of Virginia Tech football star, David Wilson, had surprised me with a forty yard line ticket next to theirs at the Duke University game. That was a few years ago when David was seeing limited action. Yesterday I discovered how much that had changed.
In fact, as for red letter days, yesterday was bold and bright. Much of that was due to a visit by David, but, thanks to another friend, Bill, the day surpassed any, even my wildest expectations.
“There they were,” said Bill, “side by side,” he told me, as if, ten or twelve generations later, the union of he and his wife had been foretold. Bill knew that his great-great-great and counting relative, Hugh Williamson, had represented North Carolina when he signed America’s Constitution.
Hundreds of years later, Bill married his wife, Jeanne [sadly, deceased]. In time, they discovered that they shared a bit of important history. Jeanne’s ancestor represented New Jersey at the Constitutional signing.
Did the signatories know each other? That question was answered when Bill and Jeanne studied the picture of the signers. There they were, next to each other!
“I want to see that picture,” I told Bill as he was leaving.
How often, I wondered, do any of us get to be that close to history in the making?
Even sports history. Enter David Wilson.
“Can you do it?” David had asked James, my salesman, about two pair of pants he bought and needed altering for a trip he was taking, a flight to “CNN headquarters” to be interviewed as a celebrity in the upcoming professional football draft.
Although I’d been asked to do the alterations, since I hadn’t made the sale I didn’t know David had chosen a navy and a pink pair. In the years I’d known David, I’d come to see him as a serious student and an absolute gentleman who was anything but flashy. In fact, he had seemed one of the most conservative young men I’d ever met, as far as his clothing and his behavior were concerned.
“Just like his Dad,” I’d noted a number of times. That’s why I was shocked to see he had chosen a pair of pink pants. “David in pink?” I’d asked myself.
Minutes before my store closed, David called to ask if I could wait for him. He needed to pick up his altered pants fifteen minutes after my doors were locked. Would I wait? I said I would.
At 5:44, David whipped his black Dodge Charger into the parking space by my front door.
“I also need a pink pocket square,” he said, grinning.
That grin reminded me of what I’d forgotten. David’s irrepressible sense of humor.
“Got a pink bow tie,” he told me, “to go with my navy blazer. Gotta wear my pink pants.”
I agreed. What better way to dress up for a spectacular show of history in the making?
B. Koplen 4/17/12
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Tuesday, April 17, 2012
Automotive poets Like an expectant father waiting for the water to break, I watched, periodically, as my two mechanics sorted through tools in the back of their pick up and removed yet another part of my ailing car. “Two more months,” I’d told them, “that’s all I need it to work.” By 1:00 p.m., their surgical repairs had taken five hours.
Parts were neatly spread on the space on the parking lot adjacent to my car. The hood was up, a tent of sorts that they were usually under. From a window on the second floor of my store, I saw them in poses that often appeared more dramatic than mechanical. By 3:00 p.m., I wondered whether they’d come to an impasse. I never asked them that question because I didn’t have time; we were busy and I had to steal away for glances from the window upstairs.
Around 5:00 p.m., I admit to having being worried. I’d sneaked outside about an hour earlier and was shown the problem. It wasn’t the hose that they’d initially suspected; it was a gasket on the bottom of the engine that had allowed the leak. Thanking them for their know-how and their persistence, I went back inside, fingers still crossed.
When I locked the doors at 6:00, I wasn’t sure what I’d find when I walked to the back of the building. They’d been at it since 8:00 a.m.; I’d been carless for almost three days. Had my Skylark been salvaged or rendered absolutely useless? My faith in their abilities, thanks to past performances, was justified. But this time, their task was a huge ten hour procedure.
One of the men, lean and six two or three, usually soft spoken, announced confidently that I could “...drive it to New York if I wanted.” I noted the change in his visage from the day before when we’d planned the work. While doing that, he’d mentioned the cancer he’d been battling for years that had spread “to his groin area.”
I had winced then, but I felt like applauding as he put back the last of his tools. Just as affable, the other man, shorter but more muscular, offered a sixty second explanation about the work they’d completed. “You ought to keep this car,” he told me. “It’s in great shape...,” he said.
So true, I thought to myself, for an automobile that’s almost seventeen years old. “You’ve brought it back to life, again!” I exclaimed. “Thanks,” I said, pleased to pay them a little more than we’d agreed.
And they might be right about keeping the car. It runs beautifully although it looks rag tag. Chances are that I’ll like it even more if they cure an air conditioning problem that’s gone unfixed since my daughter, almost a college grad, was in high school.
I know they can. And will. They share my affection for the car. That’s easy to tell. Chances are that they’re reminded of their fathers who taught them how to be mechanics. Tomorrow I may ask them about that, about whether their Dads knew Wendell Scott, the famous race car driver and mechanic. Perhaps their fathers went to Wendell’s church or vice versa.
Like many unheralded black men of that generation, my two mechanics, the next generation, may be just as unheralded to all but me.
To me, under the hood, they’re automotive poets of the highest order.
B. Koplen 4/16/12
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Sunday, April 15, 2012
Don’t Block Bad News Winning smile, athletic build, humbly appreciative, the young man was introduced to me as the Boys’ and Girls’ Club student who was to compete in the statewide contest for the Virginia Youth of the Year. When his advisor asked if I provide him a suit, shirt, and tie for the competition, I didn’t hesitate to do so.
“You’ll win with this,” I said, when I saw that the suit we’d agreed on appeared to have been tailored for him. Although he beamed, I couldn’t ignore the prominent keloid scar tissue that covered most of his left cheek. I did not stare, but I forced myself to avoid finding a way to ask him about it. In truth, it didn’t matter.
Still, I wondered what the judges might think. That was more than a week ago, five days before I encountered another puzzle I couldn’t avoid.
My 1996 Buick Skylark, once revived by two old-fashioned mechanics who were customers of mine, had overheated so badly that I was afraid to drive it. Just a day after filling my radiator with a half gallon of antifreeze, it had almost red-lined.
The next person to turn the key in the ignition was one of my mechanics. “Needs a water pump,” he said, minutes later. “I could hear it immediately.” He described the noise he’d heard.
“So that’s what it was,” I replied. I’d been hearing the sound for a couple of weeks.
An hour later, my new water pump was installed, and my radiator was re-filled, ready for a test drive around the block. Once again, I thought, my car was spared.
Or so it seemed. But twenty minutes passed, and my mechanics hadn’t returned my keys. At best, I knew that was a bad omen.
“Let me show you,” one of them said when they finally returned. “See this hose,” he said, as he pointed a tiny flaslight toward the bottom of the engine. “That’s where the radiator fluid is gushing out. That side of your engine has to be disconnected to reach it,” he said. “It’ll take hours.”
And $200 to replace an eight dollar part. See-sawed by that news after the water pump solution, I sighed. “If that’s all it will cost,” I told myself, “for two more months when I plan to retire it, it’ll be worth it.” Looking at my mechanics, I said, “Let’s do it.”
I told myself that bad news most likely follows good. Philosophically, I allowed that the reverse was also true. As my mechanics left, I glanced at the morning newspaper I’d been too busy to peruse.
On the second page, I saw an article I was eager to read. “Danville student named Virginia Youth of the Year.” Its second paragraph made my car troubles seem slight. It read:
Senior Troy Reid was named Youth of the Year at the Danville Area Boys and Girls Clubs and went on to compete in the Area Council Youth of the Year competition in Tyson’s Corner.
Almost as an affirmation of the idea that good news follows bad, the final paragraph made me cheer:
He [Troy] received a $1000 scholarship as state winner and will go on to compete in the Southeast Regional Competition in Atlanta this June. The winner there will compete in the National Youth of the Year Competition for Boys and Girls Clubs of America.
Perhaps I’ll drive my Skylark to Atlanta to see the contest in June. What a triumph that would be!
Saturday, April 14, 2012
a Heaven of sorts
In your Manhattan you insist my skyscraper
prayers have a head start. On this angel high floor,
your lashes turn gossamer; our voices never touch
ground. Lightning appears to applaud you;
thunder claps and I get closer. Elements shift;
darkness lifts. Love, you say, is tumultuous.
I watch as you point; a hawk
carries raindrops on the tops of its wings.
I look down to see
what Dedalus might have seen. And I’m frightened
as you press me against a window sixty
stories up. You tell me love
is a parachute if I’ll let it be. And I know
I have nowhere to flee, no way to escape
this, your confines of the sacred.
Wednesday, April 11, 2012
Mistaken identity... “Let me get my wife,” my customer insisted. He, a man in his fifties, couldn’t decide whether to buy a dress shirt I had specially priced at $12.50 without her input.
Almost ten minutes later, past our closing time, he opened the door for her to enter. At least 300 pounds and only 5’ 3” or 4”, she moved slowly on her walker, the tubes from her oxygen cannister firmly in place. After inching her way to a chair near the entrance, she sat as he looked at more shirts and ties. Baffled by his indecision, I mentioned to her the shirt I had offered him.
With a sweetness that struck me as extraordinary due to her condition, she explained, “I used to buy his clothes. Now he has to. Also, he’s very upset. He needs something for his younger sister’s funeral. She was killed in a car wreck yesterday.”
Knowing that helped me to help him. I found the clothing he needed and manipulated the price as a comfort to him. He was most appreciative. She smiled as she pulled money from her purse to pay me. Handing it to him, he gave it to me, and offered an humble, “Thank you.”
Admittedly, I held my breath as she struggled to get out of her chair, then struggled to push her walker twelve feet to the front door. “We’ll be back,” they assured me.
As I locked the door behind them, I paused. Always, when it comes to funerals, I work with the bereaved. I figure that we can return to business as usual when the grief passes. And it will; at least, for most of my customers, it always seems to.
For me, however, there’s a grief I can’t seem to shake. Its recurrence appears to be inevitable due to horror stories that continue to mimic ones that were beginning to settle under memory’s blanket. Dramatically, covers are torn away by newer atrocities. None are accidental.
In that regard, here in the United States, there is a growing question about who to trust, and another regarding reliable identification. What allows me to know, absolutely, that any American Muslim has not been radicalized? Although that question disturbs many and may seem unfair, after U.S. Army Major Nidal Malik Hasan murdered 13 innocents in cold blood, I’ve had to question how many more intelligent and seemingly prosperous Muslims have hidden their radicalization.
And to what end? Why does a prominent organization such as CAIR rush to defend Muslims accused of terrorist acts? (Please see pages 236-39; 176-78; 235 in the Muslim Mafia, ISBN 9781935071105) Their members, dressed in suits, appear to be exemplary executives or lawyers, i.e., ordinary Americans.
How do we ferret out those who would harm us from those we can trust? To whom, we must ask, do they give allegiance? In some cases, the answer is obvious, although seemingly deniable.
One such instance is Rep. Keith Ellison, who, when elected to Congress, chose to be sworn in by placing his hand on Thomas Jefferson’s copy of the Koran. (Please see Muslim Mafia, pages 195-198) Unfortunately, Ellison’s trail of support CAIR is well documented. That’s unfortunate because CAIR’s connection with the Muslim Brotherhood has also been undeniably revealed (ibid., pages 292-295).
That said, the question remains. How do we know who to trust, i.e., who is not practicing Mohammad’s taquiyyah (deception)? Should all elected officials who are Muslim be made to swear on an Old or New Testament? On our American Constitution? Should they be required to speak out against those in the ummah (community of Islam) who desire or intend to make the United States into Dar el Islam as part of a future caliphate?
Do my questions befuddle or incense? If so, why? I welcome moderate Muslims who want to debate and discuss Islam and its merits in our democratic (rather than theocratic) society. To all of them, I would plea: “Help me get out the truth about your religion, about how you despise the Muslim Brotherhood and its credo.” (The credo: "Allah is our goal, the Prophet is our leader, the Quran is our constitution, the Jihad is our way, and the death for Allah is our most exalted wish." PMW Bulletins: Translation of important Muslim Brotherhood book: Jihad is the Way by Itamar Marcus and Nan Jacques Zilberdik Feb. 9, 2011)
To date, there are no takers. That’s why my concern with homegrown American terrorists continues to grow. An interesting article from (of all places!) the Good News Magazine (Please see: What's Behind Islamic Terror? - Good News Magazine | United ...
www.ucg.org/news-and-prophecy/whats-behind-islamic-terror ), written especially for an American Christian audience, addresses the problem:
...Gartenstein-Ross says homegrown terrorists "are very valuable to al-Qaeda, since they are Westerners (from America or Europe), fit in with Western society better than Middle Easterners do, have the right travel documents, have the command of the English language or the relevant European language, and know how to not raise suspicions."
Typically, homegrown extremists are indoctrinated inside the United States (or another Western nation), with help from extremist Web sites or jihadist clerics. Then many, but not all, travel to an al-Qaeda training camp in the Middle East or Pakistan for terror training and logistical support. Some are then assigned to go on a suicide assignment. This is how Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab almost blew up the airliner bound for Detroit last December.
Counterterrorism officials believe the accelerated radicalization among American Muslims has been driven by a wave of English-language online propaganda and the spread of radical ideology in American mosques. There are a growing number of mosques in the United States, totaling 1,200 today, reported Joel Rosenberg in Inside the Revolution (p. 141). Between 50 and 80 percent are believed to be under control of extremists or dominated by their theology.
Rosenberg also quotes findings from a 2007 study by the Pew Research Center on the attitudes of Muslims in America. The study found that 5 percent of them had a "favorable" view of al-Qaeda. "Moreover, nearly three in 10 (27 percent) said they either didn't know or refused to answer the question about their view of al Qaeda. Out of 2,350,000 Muslims, this means there are at least 117,500 Muslims inside the U.S. who like what Osama bin Laden and his colleagues are doing and have a favorable view of their terrorist network."
Further, "if those who refused to answer the question were disguising their own support for al Qaeda, there could be another 600,000 or more Radical Muslims or Radical-leaning Muslims or sympathizers inside the country" (p. 144). Clearly, America has a large "pool" for potential homegrown terrorists.
B. Koplen 4/11/12
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Saturday, April 7, 2012
Next year in... They’d heard about our sale, a group of Easter suits for $55.55, truly a steal. That’s what led them from Red House, VA to my store in Danville, almost an hour’s drive.
“I know about Red House,” I told them. “Isn’t an Islamic compound near there?” A year ago I’d tried to find it, but was unsuccessful.
Nannie and her husband knew what I was asking about. “We’ve never been there,” she told me. “But the Muslims we’ve met have been friendly.”
They knew how to get to the compound, and gave me directions. But, as Nannie and I talked, I became more interested in seeing the farm she’d bought with her husband more than thirty fives years ago when they moved to Red House. “I planted two grape vines then,” she told me. “Each of them is more than twenty five feet long. The trunks are this big,” she said, making a circle with her fingers that seemed about the size of my calf.
“There’s something you may want to see,” I replied. Minutes later, I showed her my photo of my first grapes that I’d planted more than ten years ago. She seemed impressed. “I’d love to take pictures of yours...if you’d like that.” I explained that I didn’t have mine any more since I’d sold my house and its grape vines.
She loved the idea. “Maybe you’ll come when they’re ripe in August. You can pick some of mine. And I want you to see my pear tree too,” she told me. “I still can’t believe it was blown there many years ago during a bad storm. We left it where it landed, and it grows more pears than we can use.” She mentioned the jams, preserves, pickles, and condiments she’d made. “And there were some left over!” she exclaimed.
I thought of that unexpected delivery of her pear tree on Thursday when I was digging, cleaning a lot near downtown that I’ll eventually sell. Like her tree, I had a visitor I hadn’t seen before, a beautiful Carolina blue bird that flew from a tree just across the road to one on my property. Attracted to grub worms I uncovered, it flew within yards of where I was digging. For more than an hour, I noticed the blue bird come and go.
That’s when I decided to offer the next grub worm directly to my visitor. Putting one on my shovel, I looked in the direction of the bird’s perch, then tossed the grub about twelve feet in front of me. Moments later, the blue bird snatched the morsel. I looked for more.
And I remembered doing something similar at my former home where I’d planted my grape vines. As my younger daughter watched, I held a nectar filled feeder for humming birds to land on. When they buzzed by my ear to land on the feeder, I was thrilled.
Soon after that came my first grapes, grapes I’d hoped to turn into Passover wine someday. Although the coming of this year’s Passover is my first full year without that dream, I may have found its replacement, thanks to Nannie’s offer, just in time for a Pesach to come.
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Thursday, April 5, 2012
Sick jokes “What the hell?!” I was talking, shouting, screaming in my car, at its NPR radio station that was broadcasting an interview aired by the BBC on its show, PRI’s The World. PRI, Public Radio International, was interviewing three Pakistani comedians in its piece, “Standup Comedy in Pakistan Gains A Following.” (Please see: Standup Comedy in Pakistan Gains A Following | PRI's The World...www.theworld.org/2012/04/standup-comedy-in-pakistan...)
What shook me were the comments of comedian Sami Shah. Although I had missed the first part of the interview, I was very sure my reaction to what I was hearing wasn’t due to a lack of context. This is what greeted me. Shah was speaking:
“I’m trying to understand why people become suicide bombers. I can’t understand the virgins thing… I do not understand it. Like why 72? Why 72? Why not 71?” [my italics] Shah asked in his act. As Shah explained, sometimes jokes about subjects familiar to Pakistanis – like suicide bombings – don’t make sense to outsiders. [my emphasis]
That’s when I made my feelings known to the airwaves that were fouling my front seat. For Shah to think that suicide bombings “...don’t make sense to outsiders” is absolutely wrong, dead wrong.
But there was more, an amazing continuation that sent ripples of disgust and sadness and horror through me. How I wished I could transmit them, shape them to send as a shock wave directly back to Sami Shah and PRI! Here’s what followed:
“...I have this bit about suicide bombing. And every comedian in the world has a suicide bombing bit, but mine had a detail, that I didn’t realize, only Pakistanis would know, which is that when the suicide bomber blows himself up, his head is always found. Every Pakistani knows that, they always find the frickin head,” [my emphasis, enlarged, as an indication of my indignation] Shah said with a chuckle.
“Said with a chuckle?” Astounded, I pulled over. Outraged and offended by a man laughing about the disconnected head of a duped Muslim murderer and the sick god/prophet he (or she) worshipped, I wondered whether Sami Shah had a one-liner about the lifeless victims of his oh-so-funny headless miscreant.
In other words, Sami wasn’t funny. On TV and the Net, I had seen those monstrous heads and their splattered remains; for years, I have cried for the innocent men, women, and children who died due to an inane act of criminal and explosive jihad. Indeed, to laugh at such jokes, if that’s what they can be called, is tantamount to conspiring.
By then, I was panting, trembling as I listened to the end of the report:
“Like, will you look the way you did the moment you died?” Shah asked an audience at his show. “Because most suicide bombers you’re just a head at that point. Or will you look the way you do when you’re alive? Because I don’t want to meet virgins looking like this, without a head.”
“I did that bit for BBC recently,” Shah reflected, “and everyone was like, ‘Oh my god, that’s such a random detail, that’s so Pakistani, that detail.’ And I was like, ‘yeah, I guess so’. So the things that make us different are our details are slightly more bizarre and maybe more morbid than someone else’s.
Morbid, perhaps, but Pakistani humor is growing ever more sophisticated, and popular. [me, again. That Islam transforms once ‘normal’ humans into psychopaths is more than troubling; it’s disgusting. And to Sami and the BBC, I must ask whether this is truly a laughing matter...]
B. Koplen 4/5/12
Tuesday, April 3, 2012
Subterfuge When I wanted to learn, firsthand, about the Palestinian Solidarity Movement and its larger umbrella organization, the ISNA, I signed up to attend, as a participant, the PSM Conference held at Duke University. Unlike me, many Jews protested instead; they stood outside with their placards and pamphlets. Since I was on the pre-registered list, I was allowed inside where I was treated like one of the supporters of the Palestinian cause .
Inside, many were wearing Arafat style kaffiyehs or were selling anti-Israel t-shirts; still others were soliciting support for the boycott of Israel. All of them seemed to have forgotten that the President of Duke had promoted the weekend long Conference as an opportunity to create a healthy dialog. “What a numbskull he is!” I thought, as I leafed through my packet of information about classes being offered the following day. One of them was blatantly offensive; its purpose was to teach how to take over a campus newspaper.
As I said, I was undercover; Duke’s President had been hoodwinked. (Please see: Palestine Solidarity Movement Conference Speakers Attack Israel at ... www.adl.org/israel/psm_duke.asp Oct 20, 2004 – Duke University: Target of Anti-Israel Activists ... 2004, for the fourth National Student Conference of the Palestine Solidarity Movement (PSM).)
More than seven years later, a friend, Sidney, mentioned a presentation by P. David Gaubatz, author of a book I had purchased long before, Muslim Mafia [ISBN: 978-1-935071-12-5]. At the time I bought the book, I hadn’t thought I would ever meet Gaubatz, a former agent of Air Force Special Investigations.
In a room along with a few dozen others, I listened intently as Gaubatz explained how he and his son infiltrated CAIR and uncovered its connection to the Muslim Brotherhood and their purpose, i.e., to undermine “...our Constitution to eventually replace it with Shariah law.” (p. ii)
Details of such underhanded methods and subterfuge fill the book. Nonetheless, “A NOTE OF CAUTION FROM THE AUTHORS,” states clearly that the Muslim Mafia “...is not a book about Islam or Muslims in general.” The cautionary note continues:
It is about the threat from Shariah Islam and violent jihad propagated by a criminal class of Muslims known as the Muslim Brotherhood or the “Ikhwan mafia.” This secretive organization dominates most established Muslim groups and mosques in America while exploiting, manipulating, and even victimizing law-abiding Muslim Americans. Only a small part of the world’s 1.3 billion Muslims are part of this dangerous group. This book is about them.
What makes this such a compelling read is its documentation. Gaubatz and his son captured “...reams of exclusive documentary evidence” that included “...several boxes of confidential files obtained legally, if clandestinely.” That information consists of “...more than twelve thousand pages of documents that collectively amount to a smoking gun linking the nation’s preeminent Islamic lobby group to terrorism, fraud, and sedition.” (p. iii)
“We’ve only been allowed to make use of about 500 pages so far,” Gaubatz told me. “Soon, the court will rule on whether we can use the other 11,500 pages.”
How soon will that be? It’s difficult to say, especially since CAIR is fighting to suppress its release. Nonetheless, the documentary evidence in Muslim Mafia is, to say the least, unsettling. It details with alarming clarity the nefarious work of CAIR and those affiliated with it.
To think that there are 11,500 more pages to be revealed is gut-wrenching. My hope is that, before the eleventh anniversary of the World Trade Center massacre, Gaubatz will be well on his way to compiling Muslim Mafia, Part Two.
In my essays to follow, I will write about many of the most shocking trails I followed as I read his first part. Please allow this to serve as my warning that reading my coming articles may cause you to feel that you’ve been cheated and lied to; indeed, you may suffer a sense of betrayal that the Duke President never admitted because he felt he acted in good faith.
If only he could have read Muslim Mafia before deciding to allow the PSM Conference...
B. Koplen 4/3/12
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