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These are all the Blogs posted on Sunday, 16, 2011.
Sunday, 16 January 2011
How They Tested Stuxnet

From The New York Times, January 15, 2010:

Israel Tests on Worm Called Crucial in Iran Nuclear Delay

 

The Dimona complex in the Negev desert is famous as the heavily guarded heart of Israel’s never-acknowledged nuclear arms program, where neat rows of factories make atomic fuel for the arsenal.

Over the past two years, according to intelligence and military experts familiar with its operations, Dimona has taken on a new, equally secret role — as a critical testing ground in a joint American and Israeli effort to undermine Iran’s efforts to make a bomb of its own.

Behind Dimona’s barbed wire, the experts say, Israel has spun nuclear centrifuges virtually identical to Iran’s at Natanz, where Iranian scientists are struggling to enrich uranium. They say Dimona tested the effectiveness of the Stuxnet computer worm, a destructive program that appears to have wiped out roughly a fifth of Iran’s nuclear centrifuges and helped delay, though not destroy, Tehran’s ability to make its first nuclear arms.

“To check out the worm, you have to know the machines,” said an American expert on nuclear intelligence. “The reason the worm has been effective is that the Israelis tried it out.”

Though American and Israeli officials refuse to talk publicly about what goes on at Dimona, the operations there, as well as related efforts in the United States, are among the newest and strongest clues suggesting that the virus was designed as an American-Israeli project to sabotage the Iranian program.

In recent days, the retiring chief of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency, Meir Dagan, and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton separately announced that they believed Iran’s efforts had been set back by several years. Mrs. Clinton cited American-led sanctions, which have hurt Iran’s ability to buy components and do business around the world.

The gruff Mr. Dagan, whose organization has been accused by Iran of being behind the deaths of several Iranian scientists, told the Israeli Knesset in recent days that Iran had run into technological difficulties that could delay a bomb until 2015. That represented a sharp reversal from Israel’s long-held argument that Iran was on the cusp of success.

The biggest single factor in putting time on the nuclear clock appears to be Stuxnet, the most sophisticated cyberweapon ever deployed.

In interviews over the past three months in the United States and Europe, experts who have picked apart the computer worm describe it as far more complex — and ingenious — than anything they had imagined when it began circulating around the world, unexplained, in mid-2009.

Many mysteries remain, chief among them, exactly who constructed a computer worm that appears to have several authors on several continents. But the digital trail is littered with intriguing bits of evidence.

In early 2008 the German company Siemens cooperated with one of the United States’ premier national laboratories, in Idaho, to identify the vulnerabilities of computer controllers that the company sells to operate industrial machinery around the world — and that American intelligence agencies have identified as key equipment in Iran’s enrichment facilities.

Seimens says that program was part of routine efforts to secure its products against cyberattacks. Nonetheless, it gave the Idaho National Laboratory — which is part of the Energy Department, responsible for America’s nuclear arms — the chance to identify well-hidden holes in the Siemens systems that were exploited the next year by Stuxnet.

The worm itself now appears to have included two major components. One was designed to send Iran’s nuclear centrifuges spinning wildly out of control. Another seems right out of the movies: The computer program also secretly recorded what normal operations at the nuclear plant looked like, then played those readings back to plant operators, like a pre-recorded security tape in a bank heist, so that it would appear that everything was operating normally while the centrifuges were actually tearing themselves apart.

The attacks were not fully successful: Some parts of Iran’s operations ground to a halt, while others survived, according to the reports of international nuclear inspectors. Nor is it clear the attacks are over: Some experts who have examined the code believe it contains the seeds for yet more versions and assaults.

“It’s like a playbook,” said Ralph Langner, an independent computer security expert in Hamburg, Germany, who was among the first to decode Stuxnet. “Anyone who looks at it carefully can build something like it.” Mr. Langner is among the experts who expressed fear that the attack had legitimized a new form of industrial warfare, one to which the United States is also highly vulnerable.

Officially, neither American nor Israeli officials will even utter the name of the malicious computer program, much less describe any role in designing it.

But Israeli officials grin widely when asked about its effects. Mr. Obama’s chief strategist for combating weapons of mass destruction, Gary Samore, sidestepped a Stuxnet question at a recent conference about Iran, but added with a smile: “I’m glad to hear they are having troubles with their centrifuge machines, and the U.S. and its allies are doing everything we can to make it more complicated.”

In recent days, American officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity have said in interviews that they believe Iran’s setbacks have been underreported. That may explain why Mrs. Clinton provided her public assessment while traveling in the Middle East last week.

By the accounts of a number of computer scientists, nuclear enrichment experts and former officials, the covert race to create Stuxnet was a joint project between the Americans and the Israelis, with some help, knowing or unknowing, from the Germans and the British.

The project’s political origins can be found in the last months of the Bush administration. In January 2009, The New York Times reported that Mr. Bush authorized a covert program to undermine the electrical and computer systems around Natanz, Iran’s major enrichment center. President Obama, first briefed on the program even before taking office, sped it up, according to officials familiar with the administration’s Iran strategy. So did the Israelis, other officials said. Israel has long been seeking a way to cripple Iran’s capability without triggering the opprobrium, or the war, that might follow an overt military strike of the kind they conducted against nuclear facilities in Iraq in 1981 and Syria in 2007.

Two years ago, when Israel still thought its only solution was a military one and approached Mr. Bush for the bunker-busting bombs and other equipment it believed it would need for an air attack, its officials told the White House that such a strike would set back Iran’s programs by roughly three years. Its request was turned down.

Now, Mr. Dagan’s statement suggests that Israel believes it has gained at least that much time, without mounting an attack. So does the Obama administration.

For years, Washington’s approach to Tehran’s program has been one of attempting “to put time on the clock,” a senior administration official said, even while refusing to discuss Stuxnet. “And now, we have a bit more.”

Finding Weaknesses

Paranoia helped, as it turns out.

Years before the worm hit Iran, Washington had become deeply worried about the vulnerability of the millions of computers that run everything in the United States from bank transactions to the power grid.

Computers known as controllers run all kinds of industrial machinery. By early 2008, the Department of Homeland Security had teamed up with the Idaho National Laboratory to study a widely used Siemens controller known as P.C.S.-7, for Process Control System 7. Its complex software, called Step 7, can run whole symphonies of industrial instruments, sensors and machines.

The vulnerability of the controller to cyberattack was an open secret. In July 2008, the Idaho lab and Siemens teamed up on a PowerPoint presentation on the controller’s vulnerabilities that was made to a conference in Chicago at Navy Pier, a top tourist attraction.

“Goal is for attacker to gain control,” the July paper said in describing the many kinds of maneuvers that could exploit system holes. The paper was 62 pages long, including pictures of the controllers as they were examined and tested in Idaho.

In a statement on Friday, the Idaho National Laboratory confirmed that it formed a partnership with Siemens but said it was one of many with manufacturers to identify cybervulnerabilities. It argued that the report did not detail specific flaws that attackers could exploit. But it also said it could not comment on the laboratory’s classified missions, leaving unanswered the question of whether it passed what it learned about the Siemens systems to other parts of the nation’s intelligence apparatus.

The presentation at the Chicago conference, which recently disappeared from a Siemens Web site, never discussed specific places where the machines were used.

But Washington knew. The controllers were critical to operations at Natanz, a sprawling enrichment site in the desert. “If you look for the weak links in the system,” said one former American official, “this one jumps out.”

Controllers, and the electrical regulators they run, became a focus of sanctions efforts. The trove of State Department cables made public by WikiLeaks describes urgent efforts in April 2009 to stop a shipment of Siemens controllers, contained in 111 boxes at the port of Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates. They were headed for Iran, one cable said, and were meant to control “uranium enrichment cascades” — the term for groups of spinning centrifuges.

Subsequent cables showed that the United Arab Emirates blocked the transfer of the Siemens computers across the Strait of Hormuz to Bandar Abbas, a major Iranian port.

Only months later, in June, Stuxnet began to pop up around the globe. The Symantec Corporation, a maker of computer security software and services based in Silicon Valley, snared it in a global malware collection system. The worm hit primarily inside Iran, Symantec reported, but also in time appeared in India, Indonesia and other countries.

But unlike most malware, it seemed to be doing little harm. It did not slow computer networks or wreak general havoc.

That deepened the mystery.

A ‘Dual Warhead’

No one was more intrigued than Mr. Langner, a former psychologist who runs a small computer security company in a suburb of Hamburg. Eager to design protective software for his clients, he had his five employees focus on picking apart the code and running it on the series of Siemens controllers neatly stacked in racks, their lights blinking.

He quickly discovered that the worm only kicked into gear when it detected the presence of a specific configuration of controllers, running a set of processes that appear to exist only in a centrifuge plant. “The attackers took great care to make sure that only their designated targets were hit,” he said. “It was a marksman’s job.”

For example, one small section of the code appears designed to send commands to 984 machines linked together.

Curiously, when international inspectors visited Natanz in late 2009, they found that the Iranians had taken out of service a total of exactly 984 machines that had been running the previous summer.

But as Mr. Langner kept peeling back the layers, he found more — what he calls the “dual warhead.” One part of the program is designed to lie dormant for long periods, then speed up the machines so that the spinning rotors in the centrifuges wobble and then destroy themselves. Another part, called a “man in the middle” in the computer world, sends out those false sensor signals to make the system believe everything is running smoothly. That prevents a safety system from kicking in, which would shut down the plant before it could self-destruct.

“Code analysis makes it clear that Stuxnet is not about sending a message or proving a concept,” Mr. Langner later wrote. “It is about destroying its targets with utmost determination in military style.”

This was not the work of hackers, he quickly concluded. It had to be the work of someone who knew his way around the specific quirks of the Siemens controllers and had an intimate understanding of exactly how the Iranians had designed their enrichment operations.

In fact, the Americans and the Israelis had a pretty good idea.

Testing the Worm

Perhaps the most secretive part of the Stuxnet story centers on how the theory of cyberdestruction was tested on enrichment machines to make sure the malicious software did its intended job.

The account starts in the Netherlands. In the 1970s, the Dutch designed a tall, thin machine for enriching uranium. As is well known, A. Q. Khan, a Pakistani metallurgist working for the Dutch, stole the design and in 1976 fled to Pakistan.

The resulting machine, known as the P-1, for Pakistan’s first-generation centrifuge, helped the country get the bomb. And when Dr. Khan later founded an atomic black market, he illegally sold P-1’s to Iran, Libya, and North Korea.

The P-1 is more than six feet tall. Inside, a rotor of aluminum spins uranium gas to blinding speeds, slowly concentrating the rare part of the uranium that can fuel reactors and bombs.

How and when Israel obtained this kind of first-generation centrifuge remains unclear, whether from Europe, or the Khan network, or by other means. But nuclear experts agree that Dimona came to hold row upon row of spinning centrifuges.

“They’ve long been an important part of the complex,” said Avner Cohen, author of “The Worst-Kept Secret” (2010), a book about the Israeli bomb program, and a senior fellow at the Monterey Institute of International Studies. He added that Israeli intelligence had asked retired senior Dimona personnel to help on the Iranian issue, and that some apparently came from the enrichment program.

“I have no specific knowledge,” Dr. Cohen said of Israel and the Stuxnet worm. “But I see a strong Israeli signature and think that the centrifuge knowledge was critical.”

Another clue involves the United States. It obtained a cache of P-1’s after Libya gave up its nuclear program in late 2003, and the machines were sent to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, another arm of the Energy Department.

By early 2004, a variety of federal and private nuclear experts assembled by the Central Intelligence Agency were calling for the United States to build a secret plant where scientists could set up the P-1’s and study their vulnerabilities. “The notion of a test bed was really pushed,” a participant at the C.I.A. meeting recalled.

The resulting plant, nuclear experts said last week, may also have played a role in Stuxnet testing.

But the United States and its allies ran into the same problem the Iranians have grappled with: the P-1 is a balky, badly designed machine. When the Tennessee laboratory shipped some of its P-1’s to England, in hopes of working with the British on a program of general P-1 testing, they stumbled, according to nuclear experts.

“They failed hopelessly,” one recalled, saying that the machines proved too crude and temperamental to spin properly.

Dr. Cohen said his sources told him that Israel succeeded — with great difficulty — in mastering the centrifuge technology. And the American expert in nuclear intelligence, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the Israelis used machines of the P-1 style to test the effectiveness of Stuxnet.

The expert added that Israel worked in collaboration with the United States in targeting Iran, but that Washington was eager for “plausible deniability.”

In November, the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, broke the country’s silence about the worm’s impact on its enrichment program, saying a cyberattack had caused “minor problems with some of our centrifuges.” Fortunately, he added, “our experts discovered it.”

The most detailed portrait of the damage comes from the Institute for Science and International Security, a private group in Washington. Last month, it issued a lengthy Stuxnet report that said Iran’s P-1 machines at Natanz suffered a series of failures in mid- to late 2009 that culminated in technicians taking 984 machines out of action.

The report called the failures “a major problem” and identified Stuxnet as the likely culprit.

Stuxnet is not the only blow to Iran. Sanctions have hurt its effort to build more advanced (and less temperamental) centrifuges. And last January, and again in November, two scientists who were believed to be central to the nuclear program were killed in Tehran.

The man widely believed to be responsible for much of Iran’s program, Mohsen Fakrizadeh, a college professor, has been hidden away by the Iranians, who know he is high on the target list.

Publicly, Israeli officials make no explicit ties between Stuxnet and Iran’s problems. But in recent weeks, they have given revised and surprisingly upbeat assessments of Tehran’s nuclear status.

“A number of technological challenges and difficulties” have beset Iran’s program, Moshe Yaalon, Israel’s minister of strategic affairs, told Israeli public radio late last month.

The troubles, he added, “have postponed the timetable.”

 
Posted on 01/16/2011 2:52 AM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Sunday, 16 January 2011
And How The Americans Helped A. Q. Khan's Career, And Then Destroyed Evidence

Book accuses U.S. and Swiss of nuclear cover-up

Fri, Jan 14 2011

By Louis Charbonneau

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The CIA persuaded Switzerland to destroy millions of pages of evidence showing how a Pakistani scientist helped Iran, Libya and North Korea acquire sensitive nuclear technology, according to a new book.

"Fallout" by Americans Catherine Collins and Douglas Frantz tells the story of the illicit nuclear procurement network created by Abdul Qadeer Khan, a metallurgist who is widely considered the father of Pakistan's nuclear weapons program.

In 2004, Khan admitted to selling Iran, North Korea and Libya uranium enrichment technology that can be used to produce fuel for civilian reactors or atomic weapons. Khan's movements have been curtailed since his public confession.

Analysts and U.N. officials have said that Khan's illicit network, which specialized in helping countries skirt international sanctions, created the greatest nuclear proliferation crisis of the atomic age.

"Fallout" is the second book on the Khan network by Frantz and Collins, a husband-and-wife team of investigative journalists.

They say the United States pressured the Swiss government to destroy evidence that could have helped U.N. investigators determine the full extent of Khan's black marketeering and say they did it to cover up CIA mistakes that had enabled Khan's network to flourish.

The CIA, the authors say, tracked Khan's activities for years thanks to a Swiss family, the Tinners, involved in the supply of nuclear technology which was a key element in Khan's network. Members of the family were recruited by the CIA.

Through the Tinners, the CIA successfully infiltrated the Khan network, but Washington failed to act quickly enough to stop it spreading "the world's most dangerous technology to the world's most dangerous regimes," Frantz told Reuters.

The CIA tried to sabotage Iran's nuclear program while monitoring Khan, but it appears the Iranians discovered the problems with equipment that had been tampered with and repaired it, the authors write.

"STUPIDITY"

A Swiss investigator who worked on the Khan case was quoted by the authors as saying that Washington had wanted the evidence collected in raids on the Tinners' home and offices, including computer files, hard drives, disks and documents, to be destroyed in order to "hide their own stupidity."

"They are responsible for the spread of this dangerous technology," the investigator said. "You cannot stop it now. The Tinners were free. They were computer freaks, living in different countries, and duplicating all those files."

Among the files confiscated from the Tinners, Collins and Frantz say, were elements of a Chinese design for a nuclear weapon that had been scanned and could therefore have been copied and disseminated around the world.

Investigators from the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) also identified possible elements of designs for two other more sophisticated Pakistani nuclear weapons among the materials they were allowed to see.

In addition to the discovery of more than 300 schematics for two types of Pakistani atomic weapons in the Tinners' possession, hard drives belonging to the family were found in Thailand, Malaysia and South Africa, showing that classified information useful in making bombs had traveled the globe.

CIA spokesman George Little dismissed the idea that the CIA had bungled its handling of the Khan network.

"The disruption of the A.Q. Khan network was a genuine intelligence success, one in which the CIA played a key role," he said. "The agency's commitment to our counterproliferation mission is unwavering."

A spokesman for the Swiss Justice Ministry said his government had done nothing to undermine the IAEA investigation of the Khan network.

"The Federal Council always took the information needs of the IAEA into account," spokesman Guido Balmer said.

He referred to a May 2008 statement by the Swiss Federal Council, which said Switzerland had destroyed the "dangerous" evidence -- two tons of paperwork, dozens of computers, hard drives and disks -- "for security reasons and in accordance with our duties under international law."

The Vienna-based IAEA declined to comment.

Posted on 01/16/2011 3:01 AM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Sunday, 16 January 2011
A Perfect Way For Saudis & Emiratis To Spend A Tiny Bit Of Their Trillions

Somalia Drought Might Kill 2.5 Million, Prime Minister Says

Somalia’s agriculture is collapsing as the war-torn East African nation faces a drought that might cause the deaths of as many as 2.5 million people, Prime Minister Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed said today.

“Unless we will have immediate support, definitely there will be a catastrophic situation in Somalia,” Mohamed told reporters at the United Nations in New York. “I am making a very strong appeal to the international community to address this humanitarian crisis.”

Somalia, with a population of 10 million, has been in a state of civil war for two decades and hasn’t had a functioning central administration since the 1991 ouster of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre. Its Transitional Federal Government and 8,000 African Union troops are battling Islamic militants, which the U.S. says have links with the al-Qaeda terrorist network, for control of the capital Mogadishu and southern Somalia.

Prime Minister Mohamed told the UN Security Council that the African Union troops and forces loyal to his government have taken control of 60 percent of Mogadishu and that 80 percent of the people in the capital now live in that area. He said an increasing number of young fighters of al-Shabaab, the leading Islamic group, have begun surrendering to government forces.

The AU contingent is scheduled to be increased soon by 4,000 troops following the Security Council’s decision on Dec. 22 to authorize reinforcements.

Economic Signs

Mohamed said that, aside from agriculture, the nation’s economy also is showing signs of improvement. The port in Mogadishu collected and deposited $2 million in the central bank in November, the highest monthly total in 20 years, he said.

“We were impressed by what the prime minister said,” Mark Lyall Grant, Britain’s ambassador to the UN, told reporters. “The next seven months are a critical period in the future of Somalia.”

Somalia also will start governing its untaxed and unregulated telecommunications industry to boost growth and investment, Information, Posts and Telecommunications Minister Abdulkareem Jama said today.

The government will begin paying soldiers’ January salaries, a week after it completed payment of December wages, Defense Minister Abdulhakeem Mohamud Haji said in an e-mailed statement dated Jan. 10 from Mogadishu. Prior to the payment of December salaries, soldiers hadn’t been paid for seven months, said Colonel Hassan Muse, a government army commander.

“We want space for our enterprising people to return home and establish flourishing businesses as they have done around the world,” Mohamed said.

Posted on 01/16/2011 3:16 AM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Sunday, 16 January 2011
A Musical Interlude: You Try Somebody Else (Ambrose Orch., voc. Sam Browne)

Listen here.

Posted on 01/16/2011 3:05 AM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Sunday, 16 January 2011
A More Optimistic View Of Potential Food Crises And Overpopulation

I was intrigued to read Nicolai Sennel's post, and the comments on it, about the potential for conflict over food in the near future. Certainly there are threats other than those of the maniacal Islamic Supremacist kind or of the man-made environmental degradation kind, but just as many Muslims call themselves that and do so really for identification purposes only and thereby complicate the issue, and just as much environmental damage caused by man is being either addressed or talked about with a view to solving the problem and that also complicates the issue, then we must keep in mind that global food statistics are incredibly complicated and also serve to obfuscate the issue. They are not quite as straightforward as Nicolai would have one believe.

The following is from Eating Ecologically, specifically this article:

A report by CNN in 2007 produced some startling statistics on food waste1:

Young people wasted more than older people, higher income households wasted more than lower income households and parents with young children threw out the most fresh food2. There appears to be little incentive to correct this as it is relatively good for business.

The developed world chucks out a lot of food. Such is the volume that according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), if just 5 percent of Americans' food scraps were recovered it would represent one day's worth of food for 4 million people. The U.N. World Food Programme offers another way of looking at it: It says the total surplus of the U.S. alone could satisfy "every empty stomach" in Africa (France's leftovers could feed the Democratic Republic of Congo; and Italy's could feed Ethiopia's undernourished).

Proportionately, the UK and Japan have traditionally been among the worst offenders worldwide in recent years when it comes to food waste, discarding between 30 and 40 percent of their food produce annually. The figures for how much the U.S. throws out, however, vary considerably depending on whom you ask. According to the USDA, just over a quarter of the country's food -- about 25.9 million tons -- gets thrown in the garbage can every year.

But according to a study conducted by the University of Arizona, that figure could be as high as 50 percent, as the University claims that the country's supermarkets, restaurants and convenience stores alone throw out 27 million tons between them every year (representing $30 billion of wasted food). Either way, it still costs the U.S. around $1 billion every year just to dispose of all its food waste, according to the EPA."

Increasing prosperity leads to increasing waste as there is little financial pain. One thing is clear, the world suffers. This is an issue that has to be taken on by governments driven by public demand as businesses by and large have no incentive to rein this in.

Food waste produces methane: a significant source of greenhouse gas. Food waste also adds impressively to environmental degradation in general.

[...]

Food waste that goes to land fill undergoes anaerobic digestion (breakdown in the absence of oxygen) to produce methane instead of CO2if we ate it as food. Methane is 23 times more potent than CO2as a greenhouse gas. Because of the amount of food going to land fill, the contribution to global warming is very significant. WRAP (Waste and Resource Action Program) a UK based group estimates that if food were not discarded in this way in the UK, the level of greenhouse gas abatement would be equivalent to removing 1 in 5 cars from the road (WRAP 07). A study done by Timothy Jones of the University of Arizona, if Americans cut their food waste by half, the environmental impact by such things as land degradation, water depletion, habitat loss, greenhouse gas production, would be reduced by 25%1.

1) Rachel Oliver. CNN report. All About: Food Waste. 2 October, 2007. http://edition.cnn.com/2007/WORLD/asiapcf/09/24/food.leftovers/#cnnSTCText

2)Clive Hamilton, Richard Denniss, David Baker. Wasteful Consumption in Australia. The Australia Institute. Discussion Paper Number 77 2005. Downloadable from www.tai.org.au

Globally, one third of all the food produced never gets anywhere near a human mouth, or indeed any mouth at all, but is simply discarded. In the western world one fifth (20%) of all the food we produce is discarded due to it not looking right for the consumer (you and me) before we even consider what each of us buys and then throws away uneaten.

Nicolai is correct, of course, about the fact that a significant number of people on this planet do not get enough to eat and that that will be a problem in the years to come. However, the problem does not appear to lie with the food production industry (farmers big and small all over the world) but with the food valuation and distribution systems that are currently in use. We have allowed food to become a political weapon both at home and abroad and we ignore the fact that we already produce enough food for everyone, and then some, at our peril.

In a nutshell: as long as we affluent members of the global community insist on enjoying such unnatural practices as eating fresh strawberries in the winter and asparagus out of season and as long as we refuse to ship surplus basic foodstuffs to where they are needed at prices that the recipients can afford and instead build large stockpiles in order to speculate on the commodities and futures markets then we are indeed looking at increasing numbers of people becoming increasingly violent about their lack of proper nutrition – and I, for one, cannot, and will not, blame them.

Posted on 01/16/2011 6:33 AM by John M. Joyce
Sunday, 16 January 2011
Forgotten Sanctity

Today, Sunday, is the Feast Day of St. Priscilla – one of our more obscure Saints. She was a member of the gens Acilia in Imperial Rome and the wife of the Consul (with Trajan) Manius Acilius Glabrio. They became Christian and were killed on the orders of the Emperor Domitian but beyond that we know very little about her or her husband. We don’t even know for sure why she was regarded as a Saint by her contemporaries, but it seems that it was because she remained steadfast in the Faith despite being tortured by Domitian’s soldiers.

The Catacomb of St. Priscilla is named after her and she and her husband are buried there. It is likely that the Catacomb was originally in ground owned by her or her family – that is certainly the traditional view and would conform with the naming habits of Christians in Imperial Rome, but the idea that it was excavated beneath a house she lived in is unlikely to be true given that the Catacomb obviously started life as a quarry and is some distance from the centre of Imperial Rome. Today the ground is the Villa Ada Park off the Via Salaria in the north-eastern corner of the modern city and the entrance to the Catacomb is through the cloister of the Monastery of the Benedictines of Priscilla on the Via Salaria.

St. Priscilla was obviously highly regarded in the early days of the Faith – a number of the early Popes and Martyrs are buried in her Catacomb as well as some very prominent early Christians and it contains a not inconsiderable number of pieces of important early Christian art, as well as one highly controversial very early fresco showing a woman officiating at the Mass.

Many of the walls and ceilings display fine decorations illustrating Biblical scenes. There are a number of wall paintings of Saints and early Christian symbols. Particularly notable is the "Greek Chapel" (Capella Greca), a square chamber with an arch which contains 2nd century frescoes generally interpreted to be Old and New Testament scenes, including the Fractio Panis. Above the apse is a Last Judgment. There are scenes from the life of a prestigious Christian woman of the 2nd century AD. Near this are figures of the Madonna and Child and the Prophet Isaiah, which also date from the 2nd century AD and are some of the oldest Marian paintings ever found. Mary is shown with Jesus on her lap in what we today consider to be the conventional pose. The Catacomb also contains an equally early depiction of the Annunciation.

The Catacomb is divided into three principal areas: an arenarium, a cryptoportico from a large Roman villa, and an underground burial area of the noble Roman family Acilius Glabrio. On account of the fact that seven early popes and many martyrs were buried in the cemetery, it was known as the "Queen of the Catacombs" in antiquity.

But enough about the Catacomb. It’s fairly obvious that Saint Priscilla died a Martyr’s death for being true to our Faith and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ centuries before the fanatical hordes of Islam started persecuting us Christians. Maybe today we should ask her to add her prayers to ours as we pray for the safety of all Christians everywhere but especially for those trapped by circumstances beyond their control amongst the intolerant Mohammedan heathens. Maybe God will listen to her; maybe our trapped brethren will gain inspiration from her example.

After all, our forefathers thought highly of her – we really have to make an effort to remember our history and our culture. We really shouldn’t have forgotten Saints!

Posted on 01/16/2011 6:52 AM by John M. Joyce
Sunday, 16 January 2011
Helen Rose Ebaugh, Mightily Impressed With Fethullah Gülen

Helen Rose Ebaugh, an American sociologist -- who was so fearful of losing her objectivity should she meet Fethullah Gülen that she resolutely refused to do so -- has been studying, and even written a book on, the Gülen movement She has come away most impressed with that movement, seeing its blend of Faith and Good Works as a welcome antidote to something she calls "Islamophobia." And she believes the fears of Turkish secularists are overblown, even hysterical.

Here is her story, and her photograph:

‘Gülen movement challenges Islamophobia, contributes to peace’

 
16 January 2011, Sunday / DÄ°LEK HAYIRLI, Ä°STANBUL
 
           
 
Professor Helen Rose Ebaugh is the author of “The Gülen Movement: A Sociological Analysis of a Civic Movement Rooted in Moderate Islam”
 
American sociology professor Helen Rose Ebaugh, who is also the author of a book analyzing the Gülen movement, said the movement is a powerful challenge to the fears that people have after the 9/11 attacks and also praised the movement for its tremendous contribution to world peace. [note that those "fears" are being depicted as prompted by that single attack, and not thousands of attacks since then, or thousands that went unremarked before, on non-Muslims by Muslims, not least in Muslim-dominated lands. And the "fears" that people have increase the more they learn not so much about this or that attack but about the ideology -- the texts of Islam, as received and understood by those Muslims who take Islam most to heart (a "moderate Muslim" being one who is ignorant of, or chooses to ignore or somehow dismiss, what the texts of Islam tell him he must believe and, when able, act upon)
 

The professor visited Ä°stanbul last week upon an invitation from the Journalists and Writers Foundation (GYV) and shared her opinion with Sunday’s Zaman. Ebaugh is known for her book titled “The Gülen Movement: A Sociological Analysis of a Civic Movement Rooted in Moderate Islam.”

“I do not think there are people in Houston who are afraid of this movement. Rather I think that a lot of people are realizing that the emphasis on education and interfaith dialogue [by the Gülen movement] is exactly what we need to hear from the Muslim world. (we have interfaith healers all over the place, and it's always the same exercise in self-abasement by the Christian and Jewish participants -- funny that Hindus and Buddhists are never invited, as if in order to keep up that deceptive line in the "three abrahamic faiths")

So I see it as a powerful challenge to the fears that people have after 9/11,” by which Ebaugh was referring to the growing trend of Islamophobia in the Western world.

The Gülen movement is inspired by internationally renowned Turkish scholar and intellectual Fethullah Gülen.

For the professor, the best way to overcome any kind of prejudice is one on one, getting to know people who challenge your stereotypes. “As long as the [Gülen] movement stays clean and there is not any terrorism or violence in it, people will continue to call it ‘peace loving’ on the whole,” she added. (no, the large -- and growing -- number of non-Muslims whio have gone far beyond the sensationalist fixation on terrorism and have studied the texts despite the karen-armstrongs, john-espositos, and w understood to be only one of the instruments of Jihad, and

Ebaugh also said the movement was contributing to world peace tremendously. She praised the launch of Abant platforms that bring together people from different positions for dialogue. She believes these efforts help to make a more peaceful world for all nations.

In response to a question about Gülen’s critics, the professor said she takes the criticisms quite seriously, but critics fail to provide data about their concerns.

“In a way I can understand their concerns. Nobody wants an Islamic state like Iran. People want women to have freedom within a movement. Nobody wants secret societies lurking around, so their concerns are legitimate. It’s just that I don’t see any data and nothing from my interviews connects those concerns with what I see in the movement. And I say to these critics over and over again: ‘Please give me data. I’m a scientist -- show me where your fears come from,’ but nobody produces data to show that it is more than just fear. It is ideology.”

Ebaugh is surprised most by “the fear that the movement is trying to infiltrate the military and the government in order to plan a takeover.” She said: “Some of these critics were convinced that that’s about to happen. I was surprised to see how sure they were of this, but they said to me, ‘Everybody knows this.’ I said: ‘I don’t know it. I need some names. I need some data,’ but that could never be produced. I was surprised how adamant people were in their convictions that this is what was happening. The other thing that surprised me was that over 50 percent of these critics had never met anybody in the movement, but they were part of a group that thought the same way; also many of them read Cumhuriyet [newspaper] and were getting a lot of their sources there. I was amazed at how few of them had first hand experience with people in the movement.” (Helen Rose Ebaugh, American sociologist, claims to know better than perennially-imperilled Turkish secularists what threats are real, and what imaginary, to Turkish secularists)

What attracted the professor to the Gülen movement was the protest raised by Fethullah Gülen in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.

After 9/11 I was looking for Muslims who would speak up and challenge the terrorism. And 11 days after the attack, Mr. Gülen protested the attack,” she said.  (why the wait? And can't one be against spectacular acts of terrorism, for reasons other than moral outrage -- for example, that such attacks harm the onward march of Islam, awakening Infidels just a bit too early in the game?)

For her, there are civil movements similar to the Gülen movement in other parts of the world, but what distinguishes the Gülen movement from others is that it is a “decentralized” movement. “This is very important. Because rather than going from top to down, it goes from down to top. And this gives dynamism and commitment to the movement.”

Financial transparency

In response to a question on the financial transparency of the Gülen movement, Ebaugh said: “The chief administrators of these institutions were very open about the initial money, where their current operating budget comes from. They opened up their books to me. I found a lot of transparency,” she said.

The professor started her research on the Gülen movement on its financial resources, and she interviewed people from the movement from the richest to the poorest.

She noted that everyone being suspicious about what was behind the scenes was mainly because the movement was acting in many areas of life. In her experience people have been very forthright about their financial transactions. She said she found no reason to suspect any other financial action “on the side.”

Asked whether she was satisfied about the answers she got regarding the funding of the movement, Ebaugh said: “I felt I had answered my basic question. When you realize that most people are giving an average 10 percent and multiply that by millions in the world, you get big figures. Plus, many of these projects become self-supporting, such as the schools.”

Ebaugh said she believed the main reason for the worldwide respect for the Gülen movement (?)-- such as some countries allocating land for Gülen schools -- was the movement’s “good works” and “good hearts.” She said: “Everybody wants to educate young people. I mean that’s the start of a basic human value, so here are these people coming and emphasizing basic human values, tolerance and interfaith dialogue. And this isn’t just wishes floating in the sky. The volunteers in the movement are effective, they get results.” (what kind of education? What kind of "basic human values, tolerance, and interfaith dialogue? What "results" do they get?)

What impresses the professor about volunteers in the movement who travel to other parts of the world to educate people is their “dedication.” She said the “education volunteers” are very dedicated to the beliefs and values of the movement, and they are willing to give of themselves to have the movement attain its objectives. (if fanatical dedication is what most impresses, then surely  Nazis and the Communists are the ones who most impress).

Social status of Gülen school students

Ebaugh also shared her opinions about the class structure of the followers of the movement. She said: “I think it’s appealing to all ranks of society in different ways. With Kimse Yok Mu [Is Anybody There], it’s addressing people in dire need, in disasters, in whatever. Many of the schools are in minority areas, but they are also attracting middle class and wealthier children who can afford the tuition, and then a lot of the luncheons and dialogue activities are drawing politicians, businessmen and leaders in the community. So I think it is addressing all different levels, maybe in different ways, but there is something for everybody.”

In her book, Ebaugh tells of her experiences talking to people who donate to the movement. During the interview, she shared a similar story. “I was touched by these workers. For example, one of the workers said he was laid off from his job and had no income so for several months he couldn’t give anything to the movement; however, he went and volunteered in one of the schools while he was looking for a job because he felt that that if he couldn’t give his money he could give his time.”

“For many of them it is a burden, but they still do it,” she said.

She also underlined that she did not meet Fethullah Gülen and does not want to because she is more interested in how his words and opinions impact people’s lives.

I am basically a social scientist. And I am very committed to the use of the scientific method to study a phenomenon. (so what, in Helen Rose Ebaugh's view, is "the scientific method"? Youth wants to know). So I was afraid that if I met Mr. Gülen, my readers would say I was saying what he wants me to say. I needed to keep a distance. I wanted to be objective as an outsider. I could give a better analysis in this way.”

 

Posted on 01/16/2011 9:34 AM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Sunday, 16 January 2011
CAMERA: Nonsensical News Of The Day

Nonsensical News of the Day, Courtesy of AFP

In an article on reported U.S.-American sabotage efforts directed against Iran's nuclear weapons program, the AFP today identifies Israel's reported nuclear weapons program as the Middle East's "sole" nuclear weapons program. Come again? That's right, the article begins:

US and Israeli intelligence services collaborated to develop a destructive computer worm to sabotage Iran's efforts to make a nuclear bomb, The New York Times reported Saturday.

So far, so good. The third paragraph, though, leaves us scratching our heads in puzzlement:

The testing took place at the heavily guarded Dimona complex in the Negev desert housing the Middle East's sole, albeit undeclared nuclear weapons program.

Posted on 01/16/2011 10:47 AM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Sunday, 16 January 2011
"Colonisation Massive" Or, How Le Monde Reports On Israel

Israël sur le point d'autoriser un nouveau projet de colonisation massive à Jérusalem-Est

LEMONDE.FR avec Reuters | 16.01.11

 

Un nouveau projet de construction massive dans un quartier de colonisation de Jérusalem-Est annexée, portant sur 1 400 logements, est en cours d'autorisation, a rapporté dimanche la radio militaire israélienne.

 

Le Monde, which did more damage to the French elite, in forming them by misinforming them, or by failing to inform them, about Islam -- has a lot to answer for. For decades its main Middle East "expert" was one Eric Rouleau, who was all through the resistible rise of Khomeini a misunderstander of, and apologist for, that trogolydytic cleric, and who for decades as well accepted every kind of Arab propaganda --- beginnning with the invention of "le peuple palestinien" and continuing with such tendentious stuff as "les colons juifs" for those Jews who had every right to live in, and chose to live in, that part of Mandatory Palestine that the Arabs had seized by force of arms, in the 1948-49 war, and then held onto until the Six Day War, when what had always been part of Mandatory Palestine -- set up, let the world be reminded, for the sole purpose of establishing on a small sliver of land, teeny-tiny Western Palestine (all of historic Palestine east of the Jordan was ripped from the Mandate, by unilateral action of the British in 1921, and instead assigned to the just-created Emirate of Transjordan), and ending with those mind-altering and misleading (in this context) words "occupation" and "territoires occupés." And the one reporter for Le Monde who, having lived in both Cairo and Algiers, came to know Islam, and minds on Islam, hearts filled with Islam, and reported truthfully, that is Jean Peroncel-Hugoz, and wrote the devastating "Le radeau de Mahomet," was -- just as soon as his book appeared -- taken off the Middle East and North Africa beat, and consigned to writing travel articles from such places as Portugal. That, in short, has been the record of reporting at Le Monde, the "paper that everyone reads" as Eugene Ionesco once called it, denouncing it for its coverage of the "right-wing Christians" during the Muslim war on Christians in Lebanon.

Now what Le Monde chooses to call "East Jerusalem" is simply that part of Jerusalem that the Arabs held onto from 1949 to 1967, and then lost in a war of their own -- chiefly of Nasser's -- making. During that time the venerable Jewish tombstones in the cemetery on the Mount of Olives were pulled up and destroyed, many of them being used to line the floors of Jordanian army latrines. In the Jewish Quarter, all but one of the synagogues -- 37  of them -- were dynamited or otherwise destroyed. The Western Wall was off-limits to Jews (compare the way that  the Israeli government ensures freedom of religon, and Musilm access to Muslijm sites --  save at moments of extreme tension, when young Arabs have a habit of carrying large rocks all the way up to the top of the Temple Mount for the sole purpose of fthrowing them down on Jews worshipping at the Western Wall below -- and in those cases only Arab males of a certain age are denied, and most temporarily, such access).

And what the Israeli government has done is allow Jews who own property -- bought from Arabs -- in part of Jerusalem, the capital of Israel, to build apartments there, as apartments are built in Paris, London, New York. So what? Why should Israel have to worry about what others think about what should be, in a morally sane, and historically informed world, a perfectly routine event, and one, furthermore, if it strengthens the position of Israel, should be welcomed by non-Muslims everywhere, for their destiny is linked, though some of them have gotten the link backwards, to the wellbeing of Israel, which means its ability  to both withstand Muslim aggression and to lend a hand to the rest of the West in time of need -- and that time of need, as Iran and the spectactular Stuxnet  performance demonstrate, is already at hand.

Time to wave goodbye to the ghost of Beuve-Méry, and read Le Figaro, and such columnists as Yvan Rioufol. 

Posted on 01/16/2011 10:50 AM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Sunday, 16 January 2011
Tax Delux

Fitting, enlightening, but is it art? Who better to decide than the taxman? Charles Moore in The Spectator:

The question of what is art vexes the tax authorities as well as philosophers. Last month, the Art Newspaper reported the latest twist in a wonderful, long-running row. The European Commission has decided that two pieces of installation art — ‘Hall of Whispers’ by Bill Viola, and ‘Six Alternating Cool White/Warm White Fluorescent Lights/Vertical and Centred’ by Dan Flavin are not, after all, works of art. The first is classified as ‘DVD players and projectors’ and the second as ‘light fittings’. This makes them liable not for the 5 per cent VAT rate that applies to art sales, but the standard rate — now 20 per cent. In this month’s issue, the Art Newspaper campaigns vigorously for a reversal. But for those of us not in the art world, it is hard not to have a sneaking sympathy for the taxmen. If Mr Flavin did not want to have his six alternating cool white/warm fluorescent lights/vertical and centred treated as light fittings, why did he give them that title? They clearly are light fittings, after all, whereas their status as art is debatable. If the artists win their case, there is surely a risk that all manufacturers of light fittings will reclassify them as art to attract the lower rate. Sandy Nairne, the director of the National Portrait Gallery, is quoted as saying that the Commission’s ruling was ‘about a factual definition of what art is’. Yes, but since the dominant theories for the last hundred years have proudly broken down the barriers between art and everything else, it seems fitting that the results should have to pay the going rate. ‘You can’t just take lightbulbs out of a household appliance store and make a work of art,’ says Mr Nairne. I thought we had been taught, ever since Duchamp, that you can.

Talking of lights, how many Germans does it take to change a light bulb?

One. It is a very simple procedure.

Posted on 01/16/2011 11:17 AM by Mary Jackson
Sunday, 16 January 2011
A Musical Interlude: Love Me (Lee Morse)

Listen here.

Posted on 01/16/2011 12:33 PM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Sunday, 16 January 2011
Israel’s Nuclear Facility in Dimona Tested the Stuxnet Malworm

The New York Times had a front page investigative piece, “Israel Tests on Worm Called Crucial in Iran Nuclear Delay”  with the stunning revelation that Israel’s Dimona nuclear facility, code named, the ‘textile factory,’ tested the Stuxnet malworm using P-1 centrifuges- the same ones that Iran had acquired from the AQ Khan network. Iran has go on to develop in own version- the P-2 centrifuge.

Note this comment in the Times account:

Behind Dimona’s barbed wire, the experts say, Israel has spun nuclear centrifuges virtually identical to Iran’s at Natanz, where Iranian scientists are struggling to enrich uranium. They say Dimona tested the effectiveness of the Stuxnet computer worm, a destructive program that appears to have wiped out roughly a fifth of Iran’s nuclear centrifuges and helped delay, though not destroy, Tehran’s ability to make its first nuclear arms.

“To check out the worm, you have to know the machines,” said an American expert on nuclear intelligence. “The reason the worm has been effective is that the Israelis tried it out.”

  Watch this Israel Channel 10 video on the Dimona Facility based on the Vanunu affair revelations;

  

The P-1 centrifuges themselves were copies of a Dutch version that A.Q. Khan had stolen plans to help create Pakistan’s own Islamic nuclear bomb arsenal. The question is how did Israel acquire the P-1 centrifuges? One possibility is that the P-1 specifications might have been part of the documents from the Swiss Tinner family nuclear black market ring deal cut by US authorities with the Swiss judiciary to avoid revelations during a public trial. The second possibility might be purchase of P-1 centrifuges by Israel from A.Q. Khan through a third world front company. Thirdly, Russia has been heavily involved with Iran’s nuclear power effort via development of the Bushehr reactor. There have been allegations that Mossad may have penetrated Russian scientists working on the Bushehr project. Could Putin, concerned about whether Iran would turn the tables on Russia and produced nuclear weapons, have authorized provided the technical information to the Israelis?

The Times investigative article also had revelations about a collaborative effort between Israel and the US that began under the Bush Administration in 2004 and the alleged acceleration under the Obama Administration, allegedly to avoid the ‘opprobrium’ of a military option against the Iranian nuclear enrichment and weapons development program.

What is remarkable according to a friend and senior scientist at the Institute for Human and machine Cognition in Pensacola, Florida, Tim Hutcheson, was the adoption of ‘man in the middle’ features that disguised the Stuxnet malware so that it would appear that the system was operating properly when it was actually spinning out of control and crashing.  Effectively, the Stuxnet became a cyber ‘sleeper cell’ that when awakened metastasized like an amoeba infecting computers using the Siemens SCADA software operating system for the controllers.

From the Times account, it appears that Siemens' cooperated with the Idaho National Laboratory to identify the vulnerabilities of the controllers used for the enrichment cascade facility at Natanz. That led to interception of shipments from Dubai to Bandar Abbas in Iran. The Times article notes:

In a statement on Friday, the Idaho National Laboratory confirmed that it formed a partnership with Siemens but said it was one of many with manufacturers to identify cyber vulnerabilities. It argued that the report did not detail specific flaws that attackers could exploit. But it also said it could not comment on the laboratory’s classified missions, leaving unanswered the question of whether it passed what it learned about the Siemens systems to other parts of the nation’s intelligence apparatus.

The trove of State Department cables made public by WikiLeaks describes urgent efforts in April 2009 to stop a shipment of Siemens controllers, contained in 111 boxes at the port of Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates. They were headed for Iran, one cable said, and were meant to control “uranium enrichment cascades” — the term for groups of spinning centrifuges.

Subsequent cables showed that the United Arab Emirates blocked the transfer of the Siemens computers across the Strait of Hormuz to Bandar Abbas, a major Iranian port.

Then there is the curious disconnect between the statements of outgoing Mossad Chief Meir Dagan and Israeli PM Netanyahu evident in the latter’s annual press conference remarks to foreign journalists in Jerusalem on Wednesday. Dagan a year ago had said that Iran would have nuclear weapons in 24 months, now he went on record as saying 2015. PM Netanyahu said au contraire.

With regards to Dagan’s 2015 assessment, Netanyahu said: “I think that intelligence estimates are exactly that, estimates. They range from best case to worst case possibilities, and there is a range there, there is room for differing assessments.”

Netanyahu and his close aides are privately furious with Dagan for allowing his somewhat generous assessment of Iran’s capabilities to become public. They are concerned that this potentially allows the international community to ease up on pressure on Iran and undercut the Prime Minister’s strategy of intensifying world pressure on Iran. One advisor said, “Dagan should be drawn and quartered.”

 Perhaps, as one observer told me today, this disconnect may be part of Dagan’s entry into politics. Or, it may reflect additional Israeli intelligence assessments on Iran’s progress in nuclear weapons development. The matter might not  be settled until the stunning news comes of the first seismic evidence of the nuclear device test in Iran.  Wisely, Israeli PM Netanyahu is in favor of maintaining the military option.

Iran’s paranoia about the damage caused by Stuxnet was on display earlier this week, when Intelligence chief Heidar Moslehi, announced that they had broken a Mossad assassination ring producing an alleged confession from an Iranian trained in Israel, MajidJamali-Fash using techniques reminiscent of a fictional Mossad agent Gabriel Allon scenario by author Daniel Silva. Jamali-Fash was implicated in assassination of Tehran U physicist, Masoud Ali-Mohammadi.

Charley Levine in a Yediot Aharanot op ed, Cyber Victory in Iran: Nobel Peace Prize for Stuxnet? called this the most underreported story of 2010. Levine noted:

A key lesson has clearly been learned: Attack effectively and keep quiet. A cursory Google news scan turned up only 30 references to Osirak which is of course more history than news in 2011. But key word searches for the Syrian episode revealed only 131 news references, and Stuxnet barely cleared the 1,000 hurdle. Contrasted to Justin Bieber announcing his upcoming performance in Israel, these tiny numbers border somewhere between negligible and non-existent.

The temporary derailment of Iran's atomic program is the greatest news story NOT reported on in 2010, made possible by the world media's fierce indifference to this defeat by malware. Meanwhile, the West can sleep just a little better tonight as a result; comforted by the amazing results that transcended tepid international sanctions…results secured by a smart and civic minded Lone Ranger who might be considered for the next Nobel Peace Prize. But nobody for sure knows who that quiet masked man was. Or what he did. Or why he did it.

Given today’s Times story, perhaps Mr. Levine may have spoken  too soon. Stuxnet has become a big story in 2011.

Posted on 01/16/2011 3:54 PM by Jerry Gordon
Sunday, 16 January 2011
Yvonne Ridley on former President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali

Mrs Tiddley writes for Iranian Press TV.

As one of the cruelest oppressors on the planet scrambled to board a plane to escape what some may consider a well deserved lynching, the truth is he had no idea where he was going.

A desperate man, he finally found a bolthole in the Red Sea port city of Jeddah on Friday, arriving around midnight after close ally President Nicholas Sarkozy rejected a request for his plane to land on French soil.

The Saudi government refuses to say how long he will be their guest but I like to think the many soldiers posted outside the palace's half dozen or so gates are not there for his protection but there to ensure he remains within the high sided walls.

Quite how this secular leader will settle in the land of the Two Holy Mosques is beyond me. Ben Ali despised Islam to such an extent he made sure his brutal enforcers abused and punished those God-fearing Tunisians who wore hijabs and grew beards.

For instance, the Ministers of Foreign Affairs and the Interior and the Secretary-General of Tunisia's ruling political party, the Constitutional Democratic Rally, stated several years ago that they were so concerned about rise in the use of the hijab by women and girls and beards and the qamis (knee-level shirts) by men, that they called for a strict implementation of decree 108 of 1985 of the Ministry of Education banning the hijab at educational institutions and when working in government.

Police ordered women to remove their headscarves before entering schools, universities or work places and others were made to remove them on the street. Amnesty International reported at the time that some women were being arrested and taken to police stations where they were forced to sign written commitment to stop wearing the hijab.

Perhaps someone should remind the Saudis about that and have him charged under Shari'a law just for starters.

Posted on 01/16/2011 4:21 PM by Esmerelda Weatherwax
Sunday, 16 January 2011
Watch Ken Timmerman on Fox & Friends Discuss his novel St. Peter's Bones

NewsMax columnist and acclaimed author, Ken Timmerman has written a  thriller, St. Peter's Bones. His latest novel has a vitally important message about Islamic Jihad pogroms against the only reliable American allies in Iraq - the ancient Assyrian Chaldean Christian community. It is a powerful indictment of mainstream Christian indifference to the plight of embattled Christian minorities in the Middle East. Every Member of Congress should read this book.

Here is the scenario of Timmerman's new novel St. Peter's Bones

A NOVEL OF THE PERSECUTED CHURCH IN IRAQ...

The time is 846 AD. Rome is under siege. Before the Saracen armies sack the Vatican, Pope Leo IV calls on a sect of trusted warrior monks to evacuate from his palace the most sacred of holy relics, the bones of St. Peter, the "rock" on whom Christ said his church would be built. Now the secret has fallen into the hands of a radical Muslim insurgent group in modern-day Iraq, who plot to wipe out the monastery where for centuries the sacred relics have been stored, along with dark secrets from the earliest days of Islam.

U.S. Special Forces operator Danny Wilkens is back, this time chasing Muslim insurgents in Iraq and a corrupt former CIA officer who is secretly in league with them. When Wilkens discovers pages of a mysterious text during the take down of an insurgent cell, he thinks it's some kind of code. But soon his Iraqi Christian translator, Yohannes ("Johnny") Yohanna enlightens him: the text is written in Aramaic, the language of Jesus. And it tells the story of a legendary Christian monk who is said to have dictated portions of the Koran to the Prophet Mohammad in an effort to spread the Gospel into Arabia.

You may watch Ken on Fox & Friends on Monday, January 17th at 6:45 AM EST in the US discuss the novel and the rising persecution of Christian minorities in the Middle East.  Timmerman, noted in an email the vital message of his book and tomorrow's apperance on Fox & Friends:

As you may know from my work at Newsmax.com, I have been covering the ongoing persecution of Christians in Iraq for much of the past four years, and have made several reporting and mission trips to northern Iraq, Jordan, and Lebanon to report on them.

But it’s one thing to read a news story about church-bombings and murder; it’s quite another to experience it through the eyes of the victims themselves. That’s why I wrote St. Peter’s Bones.

Told by a young Christian “terp” working for U.S. Special Forces in Iraq, St. Peter’s Bones is a war novel. It’s also a love story, and the saga of an Assyrian family struggling over four generations of war and attempted genocide.
 

 

Posted on 01/16/2011 4:59 PM by Jerry Gordon
Sunday, 16 January 2011
Sam Schulman: Facing "Facing History And Ourselves"
Posted on 01/16/2011 7:29 PM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Sunday, 16 January 2011
Frank Furedi On Tariq Ramadan

From The Spiked Review Of Books:

The truth about tolerance


Frank Furedi, author of the forthcoming On Tolerance: A Defence of Moral Independence, takes to task Tariq Ramadan, who wants to bury the Enlightenment virtue of toleration and replace it with recognition.
Frank Furedi

Tariq Ramadan’s The Quest for Meaning is very much a ‘spirit of the age’ book. One of the most influential intellectual trends today is to seek refuge in nature, to search for meaning not in the human-made world but in the natural or biological world. This can be seen in the current fashion for evolutionary psychology, neuroscience, behavioural economics and environmentalism. Another powerful intellectual trend is what we might call a twenty-first-century version of perspectivism, which one-sidedly emphasises the intuitive and contingent aspects of human experience. And The Quest for Meaning tightly embraces both of these fashionable approaches to the world.


Cover illustration by
Jan Bowman

Although Ramadan’s book is presented as a spiritual meditation on the problems of existence, it is actually an eclectic mixture of current intellectual prejudices and old-fashioned appeals to revelation and dogma. What is fascinating about the book is the manner in which it leaps from discussing clusters of neurons to issuing poetic homilies about the nature of meaning. Statements such as ‘We are heading for the realm of consciousness and mind where all wisdoms remind us that it is shores that make the ocean one, and that it is the plurality of human journeys that shapes the common humanity of men’ sound like first drafts of the script for Lost. However, while Ramadan’s musings are elliptical, they nonetheless convey a clear message: that truth is very relative, or, as he puts it, ‘we have to begin humbly, by admitting that we have nothing more than points of view’. The only thing we share, he says, is our difference and diversity.

What distinguishes Ramadan from the usual posse of post-modernist or post-colonial critics of Enlightenment principles is that he writes both as an outsider and an insider. He is both an external critic of Western rationalism but also an internal advocate of the West’s rejection of its own legacy. His synthesis of Islamic particularism and European multiculturalism actually gives meaning to, and reinforces, Western self-doubt. In effect, Ramadan celebrates Western cultural elites’ own disenchantment with the principles of the Enlightenment, only he gives it an Islamic twist. Although he has gained an international reputation as an outstanding Islamic scholar, his arguments clearly bear the stamp of nineteenth-century European perspectivism and twenty-first-century Western multiculturalism.

Outwardly, Ramadan upholds the ideal of open-mindedness. But it’s an open-mindedness that avoids critical thinking and making judgments. His call for embracing multiplicity and diversity is about avoiding the challenge of intellectual clarification and moral judgment. Yet his celebration of diversity is deceptive, too, because his cheering of difference is actually oriented only towards those whose views echo his own. His acceptance of ‘all outlooks’ certainly does not extend to classical liberal thought; indeed, it’s worth noting that the only strong argument consistently pursued through his book is a critique of the liberal virtue of tolerance.

These days, multiculturalist thinkers frequently dismiss fundamental liberal moral principles such as freedom and tolerance as illusions, or as not being good enough. The claim that tolerance is ‘not enough’ springs from the idea that it is not a suitable principle for managing conflicts between the diverse lifestyles and groups that inhabit contemporary society. Ramadan is prepared to accept that tolerance had some value in the distant past, but he argues that it no longer possesses any positive virtues. He says tolerance has lost its positive content because it no longer involves the questioning of power. For Ramadan, calls for tolerance are really about acquiescing to prevailing power relations. ‘Calling upon powers to be tolerant once meant asking them to moderate their strength and to limit their ability to do harm’, he writes. ‘This actually implied an acceptance of a power relationship that might exist between the State and individuals, the police and citizens, or between colonisers and the colonised.’ (p47)

Here, it is important to note that the theorists of tolerance - Locke or Mill - were not motivated by a desire to challenge relations of power but rather by the goal of restraining the state from regulating people’s views and opinions. Their impulse was to uphold the freedoms of belief, conscience and speech, because liberals took the view that it was preferable for people to find their own path to the truth than that truth should be imposed from above. It was how the power of the state was used, rather than power relations in general, which the demand for toleration sought to address. However, Ramadan’s principal motive for questioning the virtue of tolerance is less about questioning prevailing power relations, and more about objecting to making any acts of judgment, evaluation or discrimination – acts which are actually integral to the virtue of tolerance.

Ramadan regards toleration as a form of paternalism; he castigates tolerance as the ‘intellectual charity’ of the powerful. From this perspective, tolerance constitutes a kind of insult, since ‘when standing on equal footing, one does not expect to be merely tolerated or grudgingly accepted’ (p47). In line with the values transmitted by the therapy culture that is currently widespread in the Western world, Ramadan wants, not toleration, but respect, validation and uncritical acceptance. That is why he, like numerous other multiculturalists, rejects tolerance on the ground that it is patronising or is ‘not enough’.

Ramadan’s claim that people do not want to be tolerated is another way of saying that they don’t want to be judged – but they do want to be affirmed. In his own way, Ramadan gives voice to the Western therapeutic imagination’s estrangement from making value judgments. Contemporary Western culture’s refusal to judge goes hand-in-hand with its celebration of the therapeutic value of affirmation and boosting self-esteem. This sensibility inexorably leads to the affirmation of individual and group identities, an act which has become something of a sacred duty in recent years. It is this gesture of granting respect-on-demand which constitutes the real insult these days, since it does not actually take people seriously. It is about making people feel good about themselves rather than seriously engaging with them – and that is the real form that patronising ‘intellectual charity’ takes today.

The obvious contradiction between toleration and affirmation means that contemporary culture and society are increasingly wary of the virtue of tolerance. Within multiculturalist doctrine, the principal strategy for overcoming this contradiction is to expand the meaning of tolerance so that it ends up encompassing the idea of acceptance and respect. And this semantic extension of tolerance, so that it takes on board the idea of uncritical recognition, transforms its very meaning; it turns a key Enlightenment virtue into an act of unconditional acceptance.

Ramadan is at least consistent. In his desire to uphold the values of recognition and respect, he rejects the virtue of tolerance altogether rather than seeking to give it a new meaning. He consigns it to the dustbin of ‘cultural domination’, insisting that ‘when it comes to relations between free and equal human beings, autonomous and independent nations, or civilisations, religions and cultures, appeals for the tolerance of others are no longer relevant’. Why? Because ‘when we are on equal terms, it is no longer a matter of conceding tolerance, but of rising above that and educating ourselves to respect others’ (p48). It is worth noting that the traditional liberal idea of tolerance also upholds the notion of respect – not, however, the idea of unconditional affirmation, as respect is understood today, but the liberal notion of respecting people’s potential for exercising moral autonomy.

It is precisely because Ramadan is unsympathetic to the idea of individual autonomy and moral independence that he can casually dismiss tolerance as the intellectual charity of the powerful. Tolerance is anything but charity. It refuses to suppress beliefs and views that are judged to be erroneous because it recognises that it is through the exercise of individual autonomy that greater clarity about the truth can be gained. In the end, everyone gains from toleration, since it is through exposure to conflicting views that society acquires certain insights and experiences an intellectual and moral flourishing.

Ramadan’s rejection of tolerance is driven by hostility towards the idea of critical judgment. But how can a ‘Quest for Meaning’ proceed without a capacity to judge? It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Ramadan’s exhortation to ‘Judge Not’ is about evading making serious choices between different ways of life. ‘Avoiding Meaning’ would perhaps have been a better title for this book.

Frank Furedi’s On Tolerance: A Defence of Moral Independence is published by Continuum in June 2011. 

 

Posted on 01/16/2011 7:36 PM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Sunday, 16 January 2011
A Musical Interlude: Don't Bite The Hand That's Feeding You (Irving Kaufman)

Listen here.

Posted on 01/16/2011 7:51 PM by Hugh Fitzgerald

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