Friday, November 30, 2007

Two-State solution or Apartheid

In the immediate aftermath of Olmert's bold admission of Palestinian suffering come more words that must ring alarmingly concessionist in the ears of many Israelis.

Olmert to Haaretz: Two-state solution, or Israel is done for

By Aluf Benn, David Landau, Barak Ravid and Shmuel Rosner, Haaretz Correspondents and AP

WASHINGTON - "If the day comes when the two-state solution collapses, and we face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights (also for the Palestinians in the territories), then, as soon as that happens, the State of Israel is finished," Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told Haaretz Wednesday, the day the Annapolis conference ended in an agreement to try to reach a Mideast peace settlement by the end of 2008.

"The Jewish organizations, which were our power base in America, will be the first to come out against us," Olmert said, "because they will say they cannot support a state that does not support democracy and equal voting rights for all its residents."

Olmert pointed out that he had said similar things in an interview he gave four years ago, when he was deputy prime minister under Ariel Sharon, in which he revealed for the first time his proposal for a withdrawal from most of the occupied territories.

"Since then, I have systematically repeated those positions," he said, adding that people "will say I'm having problems and that's why I'm trying to do [a peace process], but the facts must be dealt with justly."

Olmert said the Annapolis conference "met more than we could have defined as the Israeli expectations, but that will not absolve us of the difficulties there will be in the negotiations, which will be difficult, complex, and will require a very great deal of patience and sophistication."

According to Olmert, "we now have a partner," in Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. "He is a weak partner, who is not capable, and, as Tony Blair says, has yet to formulate the tools and may not manage to do so. But it is my job to do everything so that he receives the tools, and to reach an understanding on the guidelines for an agreement. Annapolis is not a historic turning point, but it is a point that can be of assistance."


Abbas: Now is the moment of truth for Palestinian statehood

By Reuters, via Ha'aretz

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told his people on Thursday the "moment of truth" on Palestinian statehood has come, following his participation in the Annapolis conference in the United States.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Abbas agreed at the conference hosted by U.S. President George W. Bush this week to try to forge a peace treaty and create a Palestinian state by the end of 2008 - a timetable skeptics say is too ambitious.

"The time of extravagant promises by one rival trying to outbid another must go and not return," Abbas told a rally in Tunis, where he stopped on his way back from the United States. "Now is a moment of truth, not one of illusion," he added.

Abbas is locked in a power struggle with Hamas Islamists who control Gaza, part of the territories occupied in the 1967 Middle East war where Abbas wants to establish a Palestinian state.

"The stark truth says that the whole world recognized our Palestinian state with its East Jerusalem as its capital," Abbas said.

The Palestinian leader described future peace negotiations with Israel as a "political battle" but said he was optimistic about the outcome.

Negotiators will meet again on December 12 in Jerusalem.

"We are starting a political battle on very complex and complicated negotiations with the aim of establishing a Palestinian state," he said.

Abbas was addressing members and officials of Tunisia's ruling Democratic Constitutional Rally party gathered in Tunis to voice support for his efforts to forge a deal with Israel on a Palestinian state.

"My heart is full of hope about the negotiations ... The new opportunity must be exploited with seriousness and faithfulness".

Every Word is True!

Snippet from Skepchick, via BlogRush.

CNN/YouTube debate:
One questioner from Texas said (and I’m paraphrasing from memory), “There’s one question that will tell me everything I need to know about you. [Holds up the Bible] Do you believe every word in this book?”

Most of the candidates skirted the question with the typical “symbolism and allegory” apologies, but Huckabee, who has a degree in theology (how scary is that?) says (paraphrasing again), “The Bible cannot be understood by a finite mind because it was created by an infinite God. If you can understand every word in your Bible, your God is too small.” (this was met with applause)

Let’s just think that through. An omniscient, omnipotent, and infinite God created a book via humans and for humans, and this is the only vehicle through which they are able to experience and understand him, and he made it too complicated for them to understand. And the fact that it can’t be understood only proves how great he is.

So I guess the more senseless the scripture, the greater the god. Wow. I may need a theology degree to understand that line of thinking…


Thursday, November 29, 2007

Red State Update: CNN Republican debate...

From the inimitable Dun Lapp and Jackie Broyles (Jackie in 08!), their critiquing of the CNN/YouTube Republican debate. Watch it: it'll cheer you up...

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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Fox News Porn

Here's a brilliant spoof on Fixed Noise's tendency to show blanked bits of young nubile flesh, usually accompanied by half-hearted condemnations that are supposed to shore up their "family values" and "good clean fun" image. Whether you like Fox or not, this is as good as good pastiche gets... (warning: no real adult material here...)

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Olmert's bold step

Annapolis: By recognising the pain and suffering of Palestinians, Israel's prime minister showed his strength

Jonathan Freedland - Guardian America (CiF)

Ehud OlmertIt's not news that the key players at the Middle East peace talks in Annapolis are three men united by weakness. George Bush is in his last year with opinion poll ratings somewhere around his ankles, Ehud Olmert's numbers are not much better while Mahmoud Abbas is a president who rules only half his people. That said, strength and weakness are relative qualities - some are weaker than others.

The evidence for that came in the contrast in the speeches delivered by the two antagonists. Ehud Olmert included a remarkable passage [edit: full transcript of Olmert's speech from JPost] about Palestinian suffering: "For dozens of years, many Palestinians have been living in camps, disconnected from the environment in which they grew, wallowing in poverty, neglect, alienation, bitterness and a deep, unrelenting sense of deprivation. I know that this pain and deprivation is one of the deepest foundations which fomented the ethos of hatred towards us."

No Israeli prime minister has ever spoken of the Palestinian refugee experience in such terms before. Golda Meir denied there was even a Palestinian people. But now Olmert has come close to recognising the experience that lies at the heart of Palestinian national identity. To speak of Palestinian refugees "disconnected from the environment in which they grew" is to acknowledge that their roots lie elsewhere - in lands from which they were dispossessed and which are now Israel.

This may sound like a statement of the obvious to the rest of the world, but for an Israeli leader to say as much is significant. It marks a step away from the denial of historic reality which has for so long been a feature of official Israeli discourse.

Moreover, by conceding that "this pain and deprivation" has "fomented" hatred of Israel, Olmert has broken from the usual narrative of the right. The traditional rightist position is that Palestinians hate Israel out of some innate, implacable perhaps even racist loathing: to suggest otherwise is to submit to pinko, European "root cause-ism". But here is Israel's own prime minister saying that if Palestinians hate Israel, they have a reason - and, by implication, a good one.

Admittedly, this shift in rhetoric did not accompany a shift in position on the substantive issue. Olmert made clear that the Palestinian refugees whose fate he had lamented would find a "proper framework for their future in the Palestinian state" to come. In other words, they shall have no right of return to Israel. That policy has not changed.

Still, what underpins the right of return question is, in part, the Palestinian desire to have what they call the nakba, the catastrophe, of 1948 recognised by Israel. And today Olmert made a step towards that.

There was no real equivalent in Abbas's speech. At a similar peace gathering in Aqaba in 2003, the then Palestinian prime minister spoke of "the suffering of the Jews throughout history." He did not do any of that in Annapolis. Instead, he emphasised the Palestinians' pain and reiterated their demands: no more occupation, settlements or assassinations, an end to the separation wall, the release of prisoners and much more.

That makes complete sense. Abbas needed to shore up his own Palestinian constituency, to prove to those watching back home that he had not sold them out. Olmert felt that need too, obviously - but he had enough room for manoeuvre to reach out to his adversary. In other words, Abbas had to use strong words in Annapolis because he is the weaker party. Olmert could afford to sound softer because, of the two of them, he is the stronger. Such are the paradoxes of peacemaking.

How Annapolis Helps

Here's a pretty optimistic assessment of the achievements in Annapolis. For what it's worth...

By David Ignatius
Wednesday, November 28, 2007; Page A23

After watching President Bush earnestly deliver his benediction to the Annapolis peace conference, a caustic English friend likened the scene to one of the durbars held periodically to bolster the British Empire's rule in India. As with the long-ago gatherings of maharajahs, wrote my friend, "so the U.S. has convened its vassals from around the world to witness -- mostly in silence -- a grand event, the import of which is closed to them."

A note of skepticism is always warranted on the topic of U.S.-Arab-Israeli peacemaking. And in the run-up to Annapolis, expectations were so low they were sinking into the Chesapeake Bay.

But in this case, I take the contrarian view: Something real did happen in Annapolis. The process that began Tuesday may not lead to peace, but that doesn't mean that Annapolis was simply a gaudy, empty show. A careful reading of the "Joint Understanding" that was announced by Bush reveals the achievements and the failures. I find several important steps forward:

For starters, the document commits the parties to begin negotiations on a peace treaty "resolving all outstanding issues, including all core issues without exception." The text unfortunately doesn't specify what these unmentionables are, but negotiators understand that it does mean the two deal-breakers: Jerusalem and the right of return of Palestinian refugees. The prayers of Israelis that they wouldn't have to talk about Jerusalem, and of Palestinians that they wouldn't have to discuss the right of return, have not been answered.

The most contentious passage was the last paragraph, which concluded that "implementation of the future peace treaty will be subject to the implementation of the road map, as judged by the United States." The Israelis won an important concession here, in the understanding that a treaty won't happen unless there is security on the ground, as the road map mandates. But they gave up something important, too, in specifying that America will decide whether the road map conditions are being met.

This role of arbiter puts Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice squarely in the middle of the process as the proverbial "honest broker." And it gives the United States considerable leverage to prod the two sides.

Second, it matters that all sides have agreed to "vigorous, ongoing and continuous negotiations" through 2008. This alters the agenda for the region, in a positive way. A peace process has begun, and all the powers in the region -- including Iran, Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas -- will have to deal with it. The radicals will try to blow it up, but if any progress is being made, that will be difficult. The process will become credible if the road map conditions improve next year -- if Arabs see Israelis dismantle settlements and if Israelis see Palestinian security forces establishing order and curtailing terrorism. If the two sides fail to take these crucial confidence-building steps and cede ground back to the extremists, it will be their fault.

The very words "peace process" have a narcotic effect, and that's not all bad. They are the diplomatic equivalent of creating facts on the ground. They become the focus of attention. They distract from other problems. In a Middle East that is already far too volatile, this tranquilizing aspect of the Annapolis process is useful -- and shouldn't be squandered.

Third, it's important that the Saudis, Syrians and other Arab League members were present at the conference as prospective midwives. That was Rice's goal when she began thinking about the Annapolis process -- to get "buy-in" from the Arabs at the outset so that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas would have some cover. The Arab presence also gives Israelis a hint of what full Arab recognition would feel like.

The Saudis came because they are worried about the rise of Iran and the radicals. But it would be a mistake to see Annapolis simply as a pretext for a new anti-Iranian front. "There is a feeling that all of us are exhausted by this," one Saudi explained. "To have stability in the Middle East, the Palestinian issue must be resolved."

The Syrians came because Annapolis explicitly signaled that their issues are on the table, too. The schedule of yesterday's events specifically mentioned "Israel-Syria" and "Future Separate Tracks Between Israel and Neighbors." Some leading Israeli politicians, including Defense Minister Ehud Barak, would like to start negotiations with Syria tomorrow. Damascus, by its presence in Annapolis, showed that it may be ready to play.

Sometimes, the things that matter are the ones right in front of your nose, and that's the case with Annapolis. Critics talked for months about how the conference wouldn't happen and wouldn't matter anyway. Well, it did, and it does. A peace process, with all its ambiguity and occasional sophistry, is underway.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007 Poco Loco...

On my many Tinkerweb travels I've come across some plain old bullshit, not to mention some outright dangerous nonsense., dedicated to exposing the lunacy of the far left moonbats, falls into both these categories.

Let me be emphatic: exposing bullshit, lies and distortions, whether they come from the left or the right in my book is a noble pastime. Unfortunately it isn't one that should be undertaken by those who themselves are extremists. And, going by quite a few of its entries and by comments made by its fans, is a far rightwing bunch if I've ever come across one. would have been an equally appropriate name. give just a few examples of the sheer magic of wingnuttery, when it comes to wild exaggerations, blatant distortions, the endless creating of straw men arguments and more besides that, in an effort to prove that moonbats are truly mad. Unfortunately for our intrepid nutters, they come across as possibly even more biased and one-dimensional than their target group. This one is from a little gem titled Atheist Sunday School:

The universities and hospitals bequeathed to us by Christians aren't enough for secular progressives — now they're even taking over Sunday school.

Yep folks, it's official, all hospitals and universities have been bequeathed to the US by Christians...

And now the Baaaad Ait-ieests are "taking over" Sunday school too! Except they're not... Except this is nothing more than Christian paranoia. The initiative taken by the Humanist Community Center, unnecessary as it might seem to me, has nothing to do with a take-over.'s grasp on reality seems severely impaired by their own horrible bias.
The Humanist Community Center in Palo Alto, California, offers atheist Sunday school, so that the offspring of local moonbats can learn liberal "values" — presumably including the sanctity of abortion, the nobility of homosexuality, and the iniquity of Christians, Caucasians, and America.

Satirical as this may be intended, it's nonetheless not much short of slander. It implies that Atheists somehow consider homosexuality to be "noble", when most actually see homosexuality as simply something people shouldn't be discriminated against.

I'll let the "iniquity of Christians" BS pass as too puerile to respond to but the accusation of bias against Caucasians is quite a serious allegation. Also, to imply that American Atheists are un-American is just a tad McCarthy-esque.
Similar programs are planned for Phoenix, Albuquerque, and Portland, Oregon. Atheists even have special sleepaway camps, where they probably don't have to worry about discrimination against homosexual councilors taking their little boys out into the woods.

Yep, that's right wingnutters, Atheists don't worry about discrimination against "homosexual councilours", even though the latter have a clear propensity for "taking little boys into the woods" (please note irony!) At this point, someone should really sue
Not to worry: with the proper instruction, Damian will grow up understanding that human life is a random accident with no moral significance, and the universe is a vacuum devoid of meaning that created itself for no particular reason.

The usual claptrap about "random accidents" and the burning question: "Where do Aithe-iiists get their moral values from, huh?" Based on that latter question, it would be reasonable to assume that all Christians would be thieves, murderers and rapists, if it wasn't for God telling them right from wrong. So much for free will (and by logical consequence, freedom)...

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Fred Thompson: Fixed News is biased against me...

From Pandagon.

What do you know — we have a genius observation from the GOP Clown Car. The presidential hopeful and Law & Order actor seems to have felt the love from the “fair and balanced” network. Pull out the tiny violin:
Former Sen. Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.) suggested on Sunday that Fox News is biased against his campaign, charging that the network highlights commentators who have been critical of his run for the presidency.

In an interview on “Fox News Sunday,” host Chris Wallace pressed Thompson on how some conservatives have lambasted Thompson’s campaign and showed clips of Fox conservative commentators Charles Krauthammer and Fred Barnes criticizing the former senator.

Thompson said, “This has been a constant mantra of Fox, to tell you the truth.” He noted that other conservatives have praised his bid for the GOP nomination and took issue with a Fox promo that focused on polling in New Hampshire, where Thompson is registering in the single digits.

Thompson, in a firm, but measured tone, scolded Wallace: “…for you to highlight nothing but the negatives in terms of the polls and then put on your own guys who have been predicting for four months, really, that I couldn’t do it, kind of skew things a little bit. There’s a lot of other opinion out there.”

Personally, tell me where I go wrong, but I seem to have noticed just the teensiest, weensiest bit of a whiff of support by the champs of satLITE distortion for Ghouliani...

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Monday, November 26, 2007

Jackie Mason's Christian America...

In one of his latest biweekly vlog rants, Jackie Mason goes all over the show, then completely overboard. These vlogs are in stark contrast to most of his previous stand-up work, which is largely non-political and which I used to completely adore. The vlogs however increasingly portray Mason as a cantankerous conservative whose samples of videod verbal gassiness strike me as being about as funny as a rantin' and a railin' Trotkyite on a soap box.

In the video rant below Mason joins the ranks of American Christians who feel their religion and "traditional values" are under attack from all sides. Mason unflinchingly calls the US "a Christian country", then proceeds to ramble on a bit about the West's latest politically expedient fad, "Judeo-Christian values". Somewhere along the line pornography gets dragged into it and you get the impression that Mason toils under the delusion that porn is now taught in US state schools.

The US, as far as I can see, is supposed to be the ultimate experiment in terms of a multi-ethnic, multi-religious and pluralistic liberal democracy. Clearly this is what the founding fathers had in mind. That the majority of the country adheres to various strands of Christianity doesn't in any way, shape or form alter that. But with the "war on terror" in full swing and many Christians regressing back to simplistic, Manichean views regarding Good Xtians v. Bad Moooooslims, perhaps it should come as no surprise some of them are kitting themselves out with a neatly fitting persecution complex.

Mason for instance mentions verbose Atheists, presumably as part of the mob persecuting our Good Christians, yet most of the latter will tell you that American Atheists make up less than 5 % of the population, are far too noisy and should really shut up (see also the Atheism altercation on CNN some time ago). Who's being persecuted here?

H/T to, and more comment at: Bacon Eating Atheist Jew.

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Thursday, November 22, 2007

Conservapedia and Homosexuality

What is it with American Conservatives and their obsession with homosexuality? Personally I've lost count of the number of American bloggers who in debate have resorted to calling me gay (but usually in the vilest of terms), even though I'm as straight as a fiddle, just because in their mediocre minds they seem to feel that levelling the g-word at someone is somehow going to be perceived as an insult and that that might just shut them up.

And now there's Conservapedia, this concerted attempt by some US conservatives to leave themselves wide open to scorn, derision and ridicule and make more centrist conservatives cringe even more than when Ann Coulter threatens to open her mouth.

Conservapedia is supposed to lend some counterweight to perceived "liberal bias" in Wikipedia, as well as provide US conservative home-schoolers, afraid their beautiful broods might catch a "liberal virus" from state schools, with "educational materials" and has been going for some time now. So it's reasonable to ask, in Mr Bush's parlance: "Is our children learning (and what am they teaching)?"

Time for some statistics. According to Conservapedia's own wisdom, 9 of the 10 most visited Conservapedia pages are homosexuality related (find the breakdown here). In fact, only the main page received the most traffic (1,922,731), the rest of the top ten pages are all homosexuality related and received 4,664,966 page views or 70.8 % of total top ten traffic. To put things "into perspective" a little, the 9 homosexuality pages featured in the top 10, account for 12.4 % of Conservapedia's total traffic.

Is this a case Conservative kids trying to understand what their parents' vile bias is all about? A case of "know your enemy"? We don't know but one thing's for sure: Conservative interest in all things gay continues to be at an all time high... And it does make you wonder whether they have an entry on "Public Restroom Wide Stance", doesn't it?

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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

One for the Creationists...

Man-sized sea scorpion claw found

The immense fossilised claw of a 2.5m-long (8ft) sea scorpion has been described by European researchers.

The 390-million-year-old specimen was found in a German quarry, the journal Biology Letters reports.

The creature, which has been named Jaekelopterus rhenaniae, would have paddled in a river or swamp.

The size of the beast suggests that spiders, insects, crabs and similar creatures were much larger in the past than previously thought, the team says.

The claw itself measures 46cm - indicating its owner would have been longer even than the average-sized human.

Overall, the estimated size of the animal exceeds the record for any other sea scorpion (eurypterid) find by nearly 50cm.

The eurypterids are believed to be the extinct aquatic ancestors of modern land scorpions and possibly all arachnids (the class of animals that also includes spiders).

"The biggest scorpion today is nearly 30cm so that shows you how big this creature was," said Dr Simon Braddy from the University of Bristol, UK.

It was one of Dr Braddy's co-authors, Markus Poschmann, who made the discovery in the quarry near Prum in western Germany.

"I was loosening pieces of rock with a hammer and chisel when I suddenly realised there was a dark patch of organic matter on a freshly removed slab," he recalled.

"After some cleaning I could identify this as a small part of a large claw. Although I did not know if it was more complete or not, I decided to try and get it out.

"The pieces had to be cleaned separately, dried, and then glued back together. It was then put into a white plaster jacket to stabilise it."

Full article with pictures and video link .

25,000,000 Database Records Gone!

From NO2ID (article contains many useful links):


It's hard to know whether to laugh or cry. The cabinet insists we should trust them to manage everyone's life through a National Identity Register. Meanwhile HMRC has mislaid discs containing the names, dates of birth, national insurance numbers and bank details of 25 million British people — more than seven million families.

The package was sent in the state's internal post — and was neither recorded nor registered. The value to organised crime of the information on the two "lost" discs is incalculable — but certainly runs into hundreds of millions of pounds. The government, of course, blames junior officials for a failure to follow protocols.

But it simply should not be possible for junior staff — or the chancellor himself — to collect or copy such details in one place. That it is, is a direct result of the government's obsession with centralised databases and its contempt for citizens' privacy.

Something positive may come of it, though. With your help, NO2ID can use this as a clear illustration of the real danger in state control of personal identity to defeat the ID scheme quickly.

The news comes just as NO2ID is raising desperately needed funds for a legal challenge to the database state. We have contacted all 11,000+ citizens who pledged to contribute £10 to a legal defence fund. If you didn't join that pledge, it's not too late to help.

If you're one of the 25,000,000 people who have already been exposed by the government, please help us make sure that this never happens again. If you're one of those lucky ones whose private information hasn't been lost in the internal post, please help us keep you safe.

To win the fight we don't just need funds for legal action. To keep up the pressure and battle the government's publicity machine costs money. If you haven't joined NO2ID already, or if you haven't given to our general funds recently, please do so now. Thank you for your support.

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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Dying of Occupation

By Bradley Burston, Haaretz Correspondent

Opinion polls consistently demonstrate that most Israelis would like the occupation to end. These words are directed to the substantial minority which disagrees.

This past weekend, a Gaza cancer patient named Nail al-Kurdi, 20, waiting since July for permission to cross into Israel for treatment, died of his illness. For five months, officials of the Shin Bet security service received request after request from Physicians for Human Rights, asking that they grant al-Kurdi a permit to be treated in Israel.

Request after request was denied. The stated reason? Security. In July, he was referred to Ichilov hospital for urgent diagnostic procedures. As the refusals mounted, his cancer spread. In a case involving al-Kurdi and a number of other seriously ailing Palestinians denied travel requests for treatment, the physicians group appealed the Shin Bet refusals to the High Court. The court allowed prosecutors an extension in the case to allow them to study it further. Al-Kurdi did not survive the extension.

The case bears special significance for Israelis who want the occupation to continue. Right-wing Israelis should be spearheading the fight for the rights of people like Nail al-Kurdi There is no evil quite like the evil of denying crucial medical treatment. Except one, perhaps.

Consider the case of Y.H., a 37-year-old Gazan in need of open-heart surgery. By contrast to al-Kurdi, the Shin Bet granted Y.H. an exit permit, so that he could travel to the West Bank city of Nablus for the operation. According to the physicians group, when he came to Erez Crossing to leave Gaza, Shin Bet agents called him aside for interrogation.

"If you help us we will help you," Y.H. quoted the agent as telling him, adding that the Shin Bet man asked him to provide information about his acquaintances.

The physicians group said that when Y.H. replied that he had no such information, "the interrogator said 'If you don't help up we won't help you. Go and die in Gaza.' He sent him back home, promising that he would never leave Gaza."

You may be among those who want to see the occupation continue because they believe that Arabs, and the greater Muslim world, will never truly abide the existence of a Jewish state, and that Palestinian independence in the West Bank and Gaza will serve as a base for unending attacks against Israel.

You need to fight for the humanitarian rights of Palestinians.

You may believe, with the Bible and/or Revisionist Zionism as your guide, that the borders of Israel should encompass all of the Holy Land from the Mediterranean to the River Jordan.

You, of all people, should work to see that Palestinians in need receive the aid they require.

You may ardently, wholeheartedly, unabashedly side with the settlers, and want to see their enterprise grow, prosper, and become permanent. You may be among those who dismiss entirely the rights of the Palestinians to a homeland and even to peoplehood.

You, more than anyone, should be zealous in seeing that the Palestinians in your midst are treated with the respect and concern that you accord any fellow human being. The same respect you would accord a fellow Jew.

For the rest of us in Israel, the struggle to support the rights of needy Palestinians encompasses all of this, plus the broader effort to undo and dismantle the occupation, before it undoes and dismantles the state of Israel.

Many on the right have suggested that it is now too late by far to end the occupation. Many on the left have become fearful that they are right.

In the meanwhile, however, the occupation continues to kill innocent people, and not only because they were unlucky enough to be in harm's way, caught in a crossfire. All too often, the occupation kills because we - right and left both - do much to little to keep it from killing. We have become too used to allowing cancer to go untreated, especially when it is eating away at our own conscience.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Jodeling Centrifuges?

From AP, via Ha'aretz.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Sunday told Dow Jones Newswires he would consult with other Muslim nations on a plan to enrich uranium outside the region in a neutral country such as Switzerland.

"We will be talking with our [Arab] friends," he said in exclusive comments to Dow Jones Newswires on the sidelines of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries' heads of state summit in Saudi Arabia.

BlogRush advertUnder a proposal put to Tehran by the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council, a multinational consortium established by the GCC would provide enriched uranium to power plants in Iran, the Middle East Economic Digest reported earlier this month, citing Saudi Arabia's Foreign Affairs Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal.

"The facility would produce nuclear fuel that the consortium would supply to Iran and other Middle East states looking to build their own nuclear power programs. We believe it should be in a neutral country - Switzerland, for instance," al-Faisal was quoted as saying.

The plan would allow Iran to develop its nuclear energy program while at the same time removing fears it is seeking to develop nuclear weapons.

Rest of article here.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Heed Iran's dissidents

An attack would fortify Tehran's nuclear hawks, and we would all suffer the consequences

Martin Woollacott

The Bush administration's predictable reaction to this week's report by the International Atomic Energy Agency has been to say that it demonstrates conclusively that Iran's nuclear cheating continues, and that there will be consequences. Israel has been even more severe, while Britain, France, and Germany all support the American line to one degree or another. One has to hope that, in private, there are at least elements of a more nuanced understanding of the situation. If not, we could soon find that the consequences for us are every bit as serious as any that may be borne by Iran.

The danger is not yet of an immediate American or Israeli attack, but of a sundering of the lines of communication between the various countries concerned, and a loss of control over events in a region already primed for reckless acts. If the US government took a step backwards to assess the scene coolly, instead of pressing on toward a deadly date with Iran, what would it see? Pakistan's future, and with it the whole western effort in Afghanistan and the Pakistani border region, in the balance; Turkey ready for military action in northern Iraq; Israel bombing a Syrian target in what can be seen as a warning to Tehran that the same, writ large, could happen to Iran, even if the US itself does not attack; the Annapolis peace conference discredited in advance, while the conflict between Fatah and Hamas worsens, with many in the region discerning an American hand in that deterioration.

And, outside the region, a parting of the ways over Iran looms for western countries with Russia and China, which could lead to a broader alienation. This is a bad direction. When things are slipping, a big power should not add to the confusion in which anxious and fearful governments are taking decisions - decisions on which they increasingly may fail to consult not only other countries, but wiser heads in their own countries.

That is clearly as true of Iran as it is of anywhere else. A serious argument over nuclear policy, and over foreign policy generally, is under way in Iran. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who - in the absence of positive achievements in other fields - has made a talisman out of nuclear defiance of America, is not necessarily the winner. It is probably true that there are few in the ruling elite who do not want Iran to have at least a nuclear weapons option; but there are senior figures ready to go slow and to push the issue into the future when, if relations with the United States were on a better basis, there might be less reason to pursue it. The supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, may soon have to take a bigger hand in the internal power struggle, and where he will come down is of critical importance.

The last thing outside powers should be contemplating is any action that makes the most desirable internal resolution less possible. And we should be taking public note of what Iranian dissidents are repeatedly saying, which is that they "categorically reject a military attack on Iran". Whatever happens, America and its supporters need to consider, reconsider and then consider again their long view. Would it be absolutely disastrous if Iran acquired a few nuclear weapons a few years earlier than would be the case if its facilities were bombed now? For that is what the issue comes down to - a delay, and maybe a pretty short one.

The Israeli military analyst Martin van Creveld recently noted that there has hardly been a year since 1945 in which there has not been heated talk of the terrible consequences of additional countries going nuclear. But the countries in question have either not done so or, when they have, the consequences have proved bearable.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Regan opens Fox's can of worms

Judith Regan's lawsuit against Fox sets up the possibility of some very interesting disclosures, says Richard Aregood

Thursday November 15, 2007
Guardian Unlimited

At first glance, the lawsuit by former book publisher Judith Regan against News Corporation, parent company of "fair and balanced" Fox News, has a certain similarity to the Iran-Iraq war: it's hard to work up a rooting interest in either side.

Regan, among other things, has shepherded the literary careers of celebrity authors such as Rush Limbaugh, OJ Simpson and porn star Jenna Jameson, eliciting surprise among some that her writers had read a book, let alone written one. Her most recent fame came from her role as the paramour of the former New York City police commissioner Bernard Kerik, meeting him for assignations in a city apartment intended to provide respite for 9/11 rescue workers.

News Corporation owns, among other properties, the New York Post, the 20th Century Fox movie studio, DirecTV, the Fox Network, Fox News and the recently acquired Wall Street Journal.

The Fox News chief, Roger Ailes, is a long-time Republican activist dating back to the days of the Richard Nixon administration, and a close associate of former New York mayor and Republican presidential candidate Rudolph Giuliani.

Ailes managed Giuliani's first and unsuccessful race for mayor in 1989, and Giuliani later officiated at Ailes's wedding. When Fox News was a start-up, then-Mayor Giuliani pushed so hard to force cable networks such as Time-Warner to carry it that a federal judge hearing a subsequent lawsuit blocked the mayor's plan to put Fox on a city-owned channel, calling it "special advocacy" to "reward a friend and further a political viewpoint". Guiliani was a highly visible tablemate and guest of Ailes and Fox at the most recent White House Correspondents' Dinner.

Ailes had for years been caustically critical of Cable News Network, calling it the "Clinton News Network" because of the friendship between Bill Clinton and former CNN president Rick Kaplan, although his criticism seemed to be based on Kaplan's access to Clinton rather than anything that actually appeared on CNN.

Despite Ailes's old claims of outrage, his close personal and professional relationship with Giuliani, in which both parties have provided direct support to the other, is at the very least unusual. And it is beyond unusual for a former campaign manager to direct coverage of his old candidate.

That's what makes the suit interesting. Regan's 70-page filing, in spite of its frustrating lack of elaboration on its most spectacular allegations, paints a picture at considerable variance from the 24-hour news network's "fair and balanced" slogan.

Her central point, which might seem credible to anyone who has seen a Sean Hannity-Giuliani televised lovefest, is that Fox's coverage of the presidential race is determined by its desire to promote Giuliani. In fact, she alleges in court papers that "a senior executive" had advised Regan to "lie to, and withhold information from, investigators concerning Kerik".

Indeed", it adds, "another News Corp. executive similarly advised Regan not to produce clearly relevant documents in connection with the government's investigation of Kerik".

That, Regan asserts, led to a concerted campaign to discredit her. "The smear campaign", she says, "was necessary to advance News Corp.'s political agenda, which has long centred on protecting Rudy Giuliani's presidential ambitions".

If that can be proven, it's contemptible. And if it emerges that one of those executives was Ailes, how much damage might that do to Fox News? We may never know who those executives were; Fox would appear to have a strong incentive to settle this matter before it gets anywhere near the courtroom. Even Regan might not really want to harm either Giuliani or Fox - she might just want lots of money.

If the suit does move forward and Regan can substantiate her claims, it will provide a critical boost for her lawsuit, which one employment lawyer called a "very well-drafted complaint". The lawyer, who asked not to be identified because she is not familiar with the details of Regan's contract, says an employer has to justify a firing for cause by showing that the employee did something fraudulent, illegal or in violation of company policy, particularly if damage to the company's reputation ensues. The misbehaviour has to be willful, deliberate, negligent or intentional.

But the most interesting stuff in the complaint is the part that she musters less dudgeon over. It calls into question whether Fox News has any relationship beyond its name with news.

This "senior executive", she says, tried to go beyond withholding facts from federal investigators that might hurt Guiliani or Kerik, his partner in the security consulting firm Giuliani Partners. "In fact", the suit says, "as is typically done when Fox News on-air talent and commentators receive their 'talking points', this executive attempted to influence any information that Regan might be asked to give regarding Kerik".

She also makes one final interesting about lawyers for News Corp. In discussions over an anti-Regan article in the New York Post that Regan says was totally fictional, her complaint alleges that the lawyers acknowledged that the article in question was per se defamatory, but they offered her a dubious reassurance: "No one believes what they read in the New York Post."

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Health, Fitness and Threadmills: Jackie Mason

Jackie Mason has been getting a tad on my nerves of lately. I've watched this man countless times in his many stand-up routines attacking anything left, right, Jewish, Goy, black, religious, atheist or anything else with a zest that's infectious. Jackie never spares anyone or anything the rod and seemed impossible to place in any definitive political or other category. That's his strength and his device: you can't get mad at him because before you've had a chance he's ridiculing something or someone that you too feel really deserves it. But on his biweekly vlog, Mason clearly does show his political credentials and they're arch-conservative. Problem? No, but it definitely makes his brand of comedy less funny, he's not that much of a political satirist and he should really leave that to the experts of which in the US there are many.

But rummaging a little through his YouTube archive I came across another non-political rant of the kind that made Mason famous and practically a brand name. So, from what is still one of the funniest men on the planet, here's Jackie Mason on why "everything is dangerous"...

My special relationship

I arrived from the US 17 years ago and each time I go back it seems to have morphed further into a Simpsons episode

Tim Dowling - Guardian CiF.

One of the planks of Gordon Brown's Mansion House speech last night was the affirmation that Britain's "special relationship" with the United States was still going strong. After a summer of hints that the nature of the peculiar alliance was destined to change, came an assurance that nothing would change: Britain would remain the stolid, sensible friend that America never listens to.

My own special relationship with America, my homeland, is under considerably more strain. I came to Britain 17 years ago, and I have never been back to the States for any length of time since. Before that, I had barely been anywhere else. In the meantime, the place has changed so much that I sometimes wonder if where I'm from still exists.

When I go back now everything is bigger - the cars, the houses, the portions, the people. At first I think that I have been in a small country for so long that my eyes have shrunk. This bigness is not considered a disease of excess, but some bizarre form of constitutional entitlement - the right to drink Coke from a container the size of your head.

Every time I leave the States they add another rule to the already overregulated game of American football. As a spectator sport I never really liked it; now I can't even follow it. They don't play music on the radio any more. The airwaves have been commandeered by rightwing gasbags. How bad must music have got for this to happen? Arnold Schwarzenegger is the governor of California. Sometimes I still wake up believing that this only happened in an episode of The Simpsons.

Above all, it is a country that voted George Bush Jr into the White House twice. When I left America, the idea that another member of the Bush family would ever be president seemed remote; that the acknowledged screw-up eldest son would get a shot at it would have been considered preposterous. Not only did he get in, he formed a cabinet with a bunch of people from the Nixon administration, and then they set about improving his war record (which currently stands at dodged 1, started 2). America seems to be, if anything, a slightly safer place than it was 17 years ago, but everybody seems much more frightened. Passport control has become a hostile and forbidding place, even for US citizens. The oddest thing, of course is to spend time with friends and relatives who don't find any of this weird. They're like lobsters who've been put in a pan of cold water that is slowly, imperceptibly heating up. I drop in at boiling point, and I feel pain.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Take the Blog Readability Test...

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Monday, November 12, 2007

Faster than the USS Enterprise?

From Science Guardian this piece, between science and science fiction (science faction?):

Researchers follow the Enterprise and look into warp speed

James Randerson

Captain Kirk and his crew may someday be followed on their travels across the universe at warp speed by the rest of us. If scientists meeting for a one-day international conference next week have their way, the starship Enterprise's warp drive will no longer be the stuff of science fiction but a viable means of travelling vast distances at faster than the speed of light.

Anyone wanting to boldly go on a trip to a far-off galaxy should not hold their breath though. Scientists admit there is little chance of anyone building a warp drive this century, but there is serious academic interest in the subject.

Next Thursday, the British Interplanetary Society is bringing together physicists for a conference entitled Faster than Light: Breaking the Interstellar Distance Barrier. "The main purpose is to raise awareness of this obscure field of research within general relativity and quantum field theory and attract new and particularly young researchers to work on the technical problems," said organiser Kelvin Long.

Although the subject is firmly in the realm of exotic physics, he said previously controversial ideas often find their way into the mainstream eventually. "Historically, black holes and worm holes were not taken seriously. Now, dozens of papers are published every year on these topics. It is desirable for warp field theory to receive similar attention, if we are to realistically appraise its potential," he said.

Scientists admit there is little chance of building a warp drive this century, but the makers of Star Trek have had a canny knack of predicting technological developments that are now part of everyday life. James T Kirk's orders from an alien planet were conveyed by a communicator that looks very much like a mobile phone.

The theory behind travelling at warp speed is that you bend the fabric of space and time in a small region around a space craft by creating an anti-gravitational field. This causes space behind the warp bubble to expand away from the vehicle. In front space collapses like in a black hole. This theoretically allows you to move your craft across enormous distances at a faster speed than light. One of the central tenets of Einstein's theory of special relativity is that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light within spacetime, but the idea with warp speed is that a small region of spacetime itself moves. It is a bit like standing on a moving walkway at an airport: because the walkway is moving you travel forward faster than you could by walking the same distance on solid ground.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

WW 10 to WW 20...

Via BlogRush, I found this little gem of satire by John Holbo ( on Max Boot's commentary of Podhoretz' World War IV:

Commentary hosts a symposium on Podhoretz’ World War IV. Their question: “What Kind of War Are We Fighting, And Can We Win It?” I like this bit from Max Boot:
By publishing World War IV, Norman Podhoretz has performed yet another important public service, showing once again why he was such a worthy recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. At a time when our political leaders are split over whether we are actually at war with terrorists, when opposition to the war effort in Iraq is growing, and when apathy and complacency appear to be settling in among the public, he lucidly and compellingly explains why we are fighting, how we can prevail, and why we must do so.

My major disagreement with him is pretty minor. It concerns what to call this conflict. Labeling it World War IV assumes that the cold war was World War III, but almost nobody calls it that. Maybe they should, but they don’t. As a matter of purely historical accuracy, moreover, the cold war should be called World War V, since the first world war was really the Seven Years’ War, known in North America as the French and Indian War, while the second was the Napoleonic War. If we follow this logic, we would relabel the 1914-18 conflict World War III and the 1939-45 conflict World War IV, in the same way that George Lucas relabeled his first Star Wars film “Episode IV” after producing three “prequels.”

But merely to advance this argument is to reveal its impracticality.

I think the way to deal with this is to renumber W.W. I as 10 and W.W. II as 20. This will allow for the retroactive insertion of new World Wars, before and between the old ones, if necessary.

Please feel free to discuss the various contributions by the participants.

And some of these comments are indeed hilarious... (here ).

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Julie-Anne for Prezedint?

Here's a good piece by the editor of The Guardian America on Giuliani (or "Julie-Anne" as my fellow blogger Cookie and US conservative likes to call him).

Michael Tomasky - CiF

This is one dangerous man: it's George Bush with brains.

Giuliani caricatureNew York's former mayor Rudy Giuliani is living up to his reputation as someone who will do and say anything for power.

People of Britain: congratulations are in order. You have now joined ferret owners, sidewalk artists, hot dog vendors, publicly funded attorneys for poor people, low-income community college students, museum curators, a couple of innocent black men shot dead by the police, the sections of the New York City charter governing rules of succession to the mayoralty and, of course, Hillary Clinton, as objects of Rudy Giuliani's demagoguery and wrath.

You may by now have heard the story. In a radio ad that his campaign prepared for New Hampshire voters, Giuliani tells listeners that he was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2000 and goes on to say: "My chance of surviving cancer - and thank God I was cured of it - in the United States: 82%. My chances of surviving prostate cancer in England: only 44% under socialised medicine."

The numbers are false. The actual five-year survival rate in Britain is 74%, which is still lower than America's, but obviously high enough for the figure not to have constituted fodder for a campaign commercial. (Even the remaining, much smaller difference, is largely explained by more widespread screening in the US, which catches many more incidents of prostate cancer that are non-lethal).

(Continued below ad)

It turned out that Giuliani's numbers were from a seven-year-old article in a conservative policy journal. The article was written by his own healthcare policy adviser, who admitted that his comparison was a "crude" interpretation of a study by a respected health policy group. The group, in turn, said the article's author had grossly misused its numbers.

That's about as red-handed as anyone in politics gets caught these days. But when asked if the campaign would continue to use the figure, a Giuliani spokeswoman said, "Yes, we will."

I know the form all too well. I covered Giuliani for a dozen years in New York (note to angry American rightwingers preparing to email me a warning to keep my foreign nose out of their business: I'm as American as a Ford F-150).

The man lies with staggering impunity. But here's the thing: he does it with such conviction and such seeming authority that people who are not inclined to study the matter will believe him - will in fact be utterly convinced that Giuliani is speaking the gospel truth, and they will prove almost impossible to shake from this conviction.

Giuliani's hypocrisy with regard to this ad doesn't end with the fake statistics. As Joe Conason noted on, Giuliani was at the time of his treatment the mayor of New York and enrolled in a nonprofit health maintenance organisation for government employees - that is, mini-socialised medicine. And as Ezra Klein noted on Comment is free, the treatment that saved Giuliani was developed in Denmark - which, as Klein drolly notes, "is both in Europe and has a universal healthcare system".

But none of this will stop Giuliani. He will say and do anything he feels he needs to say and do to get power.

Newspapers write that he was "liberal" on social issues in his mayoral days, as if his positions on abortion and immigration were matters of conviction. Nonsense. He took the positions he needed to take to be elected in an overwhelmingly Democratic city. (Although to grant him a speck of humanity, I'd guess that his pro-gay rights views were more or less genuine: anyone living in the city gets to know many gay people.)

And now he is saying and doing whatever he needs to say and do to get millions of rightwing Americans to support him. He recently told a meeting of social conservatives that his reliance on God "is at the core of who I am". As mayor he was known to attend mass almost never, he obviously cheated serially on the wife (wife No 2) he married in the Catholic church, and the only occasions on which I can remember him invoking God when he was mayor were the two times he was forced to say "so help me God" in taking the oath of office.

But forward he will charge, telling more lies with even more impunity. And immunity, because in a culture where a sense of history is largely limited to remembering certain stirring television images, he will for the most part get away with it, confident in the knowledge that the main thing most Americans will ever recall about him is the film clip of him running from the rubble of the World Trade Centre on September 11. A far smaller percentage will know that the reason he had run was because he had catastrophically decided to place his emergency command centre in the tower complex - the only building in New York that had previously been the target of a major terrorist attack.

And by the way: shame on Gordon Brown for inviting him to No 10 in September. Yes, there's a long tradition of presidents and prime ministers welcoming party standard-bearers from across the pond. But Giuliani isn't yet that. Brown had no business giving him the kind of special benefit that an audience with a prime minister bestows.

Brown and all of Britain will be better off the sooner they figure this out: Giuliani is a dangerous man. George Bush with brains. Dick Cheney with better aim. Consider yourself warned.

• Michael Tomasky is the editor of Guardian America