Friday, December 29, 2006

Taking a break, good night. Happy New Year.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Guess this is a sort of fixation of interest lately, but here’s some more about the Iranian nuclear threat, except one could say it’s less of a threat than what’s otherwise imagined.

For instance, in a March 2006 address to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Generals, director-general Mohamed ElBaradei declared that “the Agency has not seen indications of diversion of nuclear material to nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices. Regrettably, however, after three years of intensive verification, there remain uncertainties with regard to both the scope and the nature of Iran’s nuclear programme” (my emphasis). That’s a big qualifier, but my suspicion is it won’t be changed by threatening war.

According to a November 2005 report entitled Implementation of the NPT [Non-Proliferation Treaty] Safeguards Agreement in the Islamic Republic of Iran, “The Agency has continued to monitor installations related to the uranium gas centrifuge and laser enrichment programmes, and has not observed any inconsistency with Iran’s voluntary undertaking not to carry out any enrichment activities” (my emphasis once again).

John Chipman, director of the International Institute for Strategic Studies explained in a 6 September 2005 report, “Iran has submitted to extensive investigations by the [IAEA] since 2003 to verify Iran’s acknowledgement of undeclared nuclear activities extending back over nearly 20 years. … Although a number of uncertainties remain about past and current activities, including the history of Iran’s enrichment and reprocessing efforts, we judge it is unlikely that Iran is hiding significant stocks of fissile material or production facilities for such material.” According to the Chipman dossier, “Public estimates for how long it would take Iran to acquire nuclear weapons range from only a few years to at least a decade.”

Ten years would put us in 2016, very close to the time when Iranian “revenue from its oil exports” might “virtually disappear” and another energy source would be needed — as “economic geographer” Roger Stern of the National Academy of Sciences just reported, according to an AP wire in today’s Washington Post (“Iran Oil Revenue Quickly Drying Up, Analysis Says,” A9). One finding from the Stern report declares that “there could be merit to Iran’s assertion that it needs nuclear power for civilian purposes.”

Without going on a limb, one could argue somewhat forcefully that canceling the economic sanctions we’re enforcing, at great peril to the Iranian people, would strip the regime ruling roughshod over them of any plausible reason to continue developing nuclear energy — much less any potential for acquiring weapons.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

(from my [poorly-written] post on a recent openDemocracy forum)

The Iranian elections signal a good measure of hope for the country and the region. Ahmadinejad campaigned (to a narrow win in 2005) on a populist platform and spent it all on embarrassing Iranians with his belligerent rhetoric and antics that, I think, draw instant parallels vis-à-vis the United States and Bush.

It is clear that the Iranian people want to defang their renegade president and hopefully steer their future toward a more moderate standing viz. the U.S., if not outright reform. There is still room for good-faith negotiations; there is also still plenty of time. If they have no (perceived) reason to acquire a nuclear deterrent, they probably won’t have one.

Iran, to be sure, is not a free country. But the youth there are said to be quite pro-Western and pro-American, and that’s very good. A crucial mistake would be to further isolate the country, including signs like that as well as the now-defunct reformist movements that can be jump-started, by screwing this up with further steps of aggressive threat and covert war-plans. Iraq is a basket-case next to this.

Monday, December 18, 2006

At least there’s some sanity in Tehran. (From a recent anti-Ahmadinejad demonstration at Amir Kabir University, courtesy Hasan Sarbakhshian of the Associated Press.) DEATH TO THE DICTATOR indeed. So I guess “death” is another way of saying “down with”? Not “down” as in “cool with,” but… nevermind.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

From the Old Master himself.

Monday, December 11, 2006


Well, not really, according to Nicholas Kristof, the New York Times columnist whose admonitions to stop the Darfur slaughter have gone totally unheeded. But he’s talking about Muslims this time. No, not Arabs, he is quick to add. (Not all Arabs are Muslim, not all Muslims are Arab; in fact, most are not.)

Here’s a passage — or, borrowing from Sullivan’s lexicon, the ‘money quote’:

“The Koran and Bible alike have passages that make 21st-century readers flinch; most Christians just ignore sections on slavery or admonitions to kill a disobedient child. Likewise, some Muslims are reinterpreting Koranic passages on polygamy and amputations, saying they were restricted to particular circumstances that no longer apply. [For great analysis from an avowed Islamic humanist going by the moniker Ali Eteraz, check out the archives of his now-defunct site which is listed under my links.]

“Frankly, I don’t see that any religion’s influence is intrinsically peaceful or violent. Christianity inspired both Mother Teresa and pogroms. Hinduism nurtured Gandhi and also the pioneers of suicide bombings. [True, true, although I didn’t know about the Hindu suicide bombers thing; and Hitchens has some questions about Teresa’s saintliness.]

“These days, ferocious anti-Semitism thrives in some Muslim countries, but in the Dreyfus affair a century ago Muslims sided with a Jew persecuted by anti-Semitic Christians. And the biggest sectarian slaughter in Europe in modern times involved Christians massacring Muslims at Srebrenica. [Um, if we’re counting “modern times” … oh, sectarian slaughter; regardless, the Holocaust should be included in that category.]

“The plain fact is that some Muslim societies [point of confusion: when is it Muslim, versus Islamic or Islamist? These have almost become interchangeable] do have a real problem with violence, with the subjugation of women, with tolerance. But the mosaic of Islam is vast and contains many more hopeful glimpses of the future.

“There is a historic dichotomy between desert Islam — the austere fundamentalism of countries like Saudi Arabia — and riverine or coastal Islam, more outward-looking, flexible and tolerant. Desert Muslims grab the headlines, but my bet is that in the struggle for the soul of Islam, maritime Muslims have the edge.”

Ah, okay. Those damn desert A-rabs are the ones getting us in a pinch, Mr. Kristof; I see. Of course that is just irony. What’s interesting here is that he takes pains to differentiate the Muslim populations but has no problem grouping the ‘sand monkeys’ together as one homogenous, threatening group. Subtly racist of that distinction, no?

Saturday, December 02, 2006

I don’t pretend to any expertise or field experience, so this is just from what’s been reported and the situation as I’ve followed it. But enough with the disclaimers; they’re redundant and therefore unnecessary, and perhaps annoying and … I guess that’s disclaiming the disclaimer.

The need to express an opinion on things of pressing importance and consequence seems high for a lot of people, especially for those (myself included) who are neither directly involved nor actually knowledgeable. Sometimes things are better left unsaid, as they may simply add nothing new to the dialogue. But this blogger is not here to determine that, because for someone to say “That’s nothing new” smacks of elitist presupposition.

Yet that’s exactly the problem. An elite of commentators and analysts digests reality for us nearly constantly, too rapidly to either absorb or reflect on what we see and hear, enforcing some memes and throwing out others. The idea of being overabundantly interconnected with the world and yet so disconnected from it emerges, no longer so paradoxically. We want the real-world picture, with the fuzzy ambiguities sharpened, the murky subtext dredged out onto the microscope slide for powerful focus, all and everything chopped up, packed away and sold en masse.

What about the cynical, absolutist and simplistic lenses wielded at times by our self-appointed opinionists? I’ll of course admit my membership in the “blogosphere,” something that remains unclear in what it is or what it’s doing, or contributing to. It certainly cannot be a coherent whole, and therefore not any kind of sphere. (Maybe, instead, it’s a sphere in the sense of a gaseous ball of fire, which has no real surface but is rather pulled into its shape by the force of gravity.) Whatever it is, the blogs themselves form a sort of disjointed group that has plenty of opinionists, commentating aggregators, etc.

The world may be totally insane, but I think a lot of promise exists in many places. One hope of mine is that the collective power of human thought (in any medium) will eventually break apart the forces of evil that the surface of these media keep reflecting, masking that hope with overwhelmed notes of resignation and pretensions of understanding.