Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Random picture


Murs qui protègent, murs qui séparent Series, 'Walls which protect, walls which separate', from L'Express.

Random picture...

Ping pong tournament in China... This and other cool photos from Le Figaro here...

Random picture...

Tidal channels near Iran's Qeshm Island. Source: NASA/JS. See this and 34 other pictures taken from the International Space Station (ISS) at The Big Picture.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Mental health break



(a little on the jerky side, but....)

Nanovision Mimo UM-710 - USB ext monitor


Interested in a second, third, or fourth monitor on your computer? Nanovision makes a line of small external monitors that connect via USB and use DisplayLink technology to create a virtual graphics card. Unbox the monitor (in the box you get the mimo monitor, the stand and connector, a USB cable, a manual, and a CD-ROM); plug in the monitor with the USB cable; install the driver; and reboot the computer. A control button on the task bar allows you to tweak your settings.

You want to click on 'Extend To' and chose the direction you want e.g. if you choose 'Down' then you can move your mouse pointer from your desktop to the mimo by moving it down off the desktop screen onto the mimo screen. Click on 'Advanced Options' to pull up Windows' Display Settings... if you click on the appropriate monitor number you will see that the 'Extend the desktop to this monitor' is checked. Voila, ready to go!

Once I had the mimo set up, if I chose the 'Mirror' setting, the mimo mirrored the desktop. However, given the differing screen resolutions and sizes between the mimo and the desktop I could only see part of the desktop screen on the mimo, which did not seem particularly useful. Choosing the 'Extend' setting just gave a blank mimo screen (not blank, actually the background from the desktop without anything else...). Some head scratching ensued. OK, so perhaps this is totally obvious and assumed to be known by the user (since it isn't mentioned anywhere in the documentation!) , but all that is necessary to do is to drag the selected application or widget onto the minimo! For example, the picture and screen captures below show Windows Media Player on the mimo while web browsing on the desktop.

All in all, a nice addition if you want to keep an eye on a program, widget, etc., for example a Twitter client such as Seesmic, while working in another program on your desktop (or laptop for that matter). It "works "out of the box", only takes a couple of minutes to set up, and works very well. It is a little expensive, but definitely a cool gadget.

Note: there are other models with additional features. For example the UM-750 also has a microphone, web cam, and also a touch screen.

Mimo UM-710 Review: Amazing Alternative for Double Desktop
The Nanovision Mimo UM-710 - USB powered external monitor
Nanovision MIMO UM-710 & UM-730 USB displays Review
Review: Nanovision mimo UM-710
Unboxing: 7" LCD Mimo Monitor UM-710 model

Friday, June 26, 2009

Random picture...

From the welcome screen at the web site of the Rahbar (Leader) of Iran, Ayatollah Sayyid ‘Ali Khamene’i. Hmm, closet Moussavi supporter? Nah, just kidding, actually green is the traditional color of Islam (e.g. see here, here, and here).

Random picture...

Marjan the blind lion of the Kabul zoo, see the original article below, followed by a translation...

(De Kaboul) Marjan est un lion. Il est le héros du zoo de Kaboul. Sa statue est installée face à l'entrée du parc et un photographe attitré y attend le visiteur pour l'immortaliser posant à ses côtés. Il est dit aussi que caresser sa crinière de bronze est garant de bonne fortune. Le sculpteur a particulièrement soigné la noblesse de l'animal, mais sur un mode réaliste, n'oubliant surtout pas de représenter l'orbite vide, signe poignant de la souffrance infligée à l'animal. Marjan était un héros aveugle. Il fut à la fois bourreau et victime de cette histoire qui renvoie une fois encore à la guerre.

Elle est largement connue à Kaboul et au delà, sous des versions différentes. Je tiens celle-ci d'un contemporain. Nous l'appelerons Nagib. Il était ce jour-là notre guide dans Kaboul. Selon son récit, l'histoire s'est passée alors que les moudjahidines, après avoir remporté une victoire historique, s'installaient au pouvoir en 1993. Maîtres pour un temps à Kaboul, ils se montrèrent incapables de s'entendre pour gouverner et leurs divergences se traduisirent en affrontements violents et finalement en guerre civile. La ville et ses habitants étaient alors pris en otages.

Le zoo fut l'un des terrains de la bataille. Plusieurs factions y passèrent et se payèrent sur la bête, si l'on ose dire. Ils mangèrent quelques-uns des pensionnaires, le cerf et quelques lapins et tuèrent l'unique éléphant. Le lion, ce fut différent. Un combattant impétueux -Nagib ne souvient ni de son nom ni de la faction à laquelle il appartenait- décida de le défier en combat singulier. « On va voir lequel de nous deux est le vrai lion », aurait-il crié en sautant dans l'enclos. Ce furent ses derniers mots.

Moudjahidin ou taliban ?

Le combattant avait un frère qui, pour venger l'affront, jeta une grenade sur l'animal, lui brisant les dents et lui arrachant un œil, entre autres blessures. Le lion avait perdu la vue mais il survécut plusieurs années avant de mourir de vieillesse en 2002. Dans une autre version, la victime était un taliban qui s'était réfugié dans cette partie du zoo alors que la bataille faisait rage alentour avec les moudjahidines et il serait tombé accidentellement dans l'enclos du lion. La suite, le frère, la grenade, etc. est commune à toutes les versions, mais celle de notre interlocuteur est aussi une sorte d'allégorie.

Il faut dire que Nagib, était lui même un moudjahid à cette époque. Il avait seize ans quand il rejoignit la résistance contre les soviétiques dans les rangs prestigieux commandant Massoud et il y passa vingt-deux mois. Il raconte qu'il a quitté les moudjahidines peu avant la victoire et la prise du pouvoir parce que les comportements de ses camarades de combat, lui inspiraient, dit-il, les plus grandes craintes.

Les faits lui ont donné raison et ce fut même pire encore, mais l'épisode du lion, apparemment anecdotique à l'échelle de la nouvelle catastrophe qui s'abattait sur l'Afghanistan, lui semble une assez bonne illustration de ce qui précisément allait conduire le pays au désastre.

L'arrogance et la forfanterie du défi, suivies par une vengeance aussi cruelle qu'irréfléchie, voilà bien pour Nagib, ce qui marqua l'époque et nous entraîna dans la spirale d'une violence sans fin. Quinze ans après, il dit avoir parfois des remords, mais il ne regrette pas l'idéalisme de son engagement. Il ne comprend pas bien comment les valeurs du combat se sont aussi vite corrompues, mais c'est une autre histoire.

Quant au lion Marjan, le héros de celle-ci, il est bien à sa place. Dans son innocence et sa fierté, il symbolise le pays et le peuple, bafoués et trahis par ceux qui prétendaient gouverner leur destin.

« Nous sommes tous comme Marjan. La violence ne nous a pas abattus. Nous avons survécu. Le peuple est toujours vivant, mais comme le lion, édenté et aveugle. »

Situé à la périphérie de la capitale, le long de la rivière Kaboul, le zoo est une attraction populaire. On y vient en famille, hommes et femmes mélangés, ce qui n'est pas si fréquent dans l'espace public de la ville, sinon au bazar. Ce n'est pas un zoo très riche, mais sa clientèle ne l'est pas davantage. Les visiteurs appartiennent visiblement au petit peuple de Kaboul. Ils vont d'enclos en cages avec une joie curieuse qui fait plaisir à voir tant les occasions de réjouissance semblent leur être comptées.

Cachez ce cochon chinois…

The remainder of the article may be read here... The full translation is below:

Marjan, Kabul's blind lion, symbol of the Afghan wars:

(Byline Kabul) Marjan is a lion. He is the hero of the Kabul zoo. His statue is installed at the entrance to the park and an appointed photographer waits there to immortalize visitors posing next to it. It is also said that rubbing his bronze mane is a guarantee of good fortune. The sculptor took great care to emphasize the nobility of the animal, but realistically did not forget to show its empty eye socket, poignant sign of the suffering inflicted on the animal. Marjan was a blind hero. He was at the same time torturer and victim of this story that goes back to the war.

It (the story) is well known in Kabul and beyond, in different versions. I got this version from a contemporary, let us call him Nagib. That day he was our guide in Kabul, and according to his account, the story happened when the moudjahidin, after having gained a historical victory, took power in 1993. Masters for a time in Kabul, they showed themselves unable to agree enough to govern, and their differences were translated into violent confrontations and finally into civil war. The city and its inhabitants were then taken as hostages.

The zoo was one of the battle-grounds. Several factions spent time there, and one could say they lived on the animals. They ate some of the inhabitants - the stag and some rabbits, and they killed the single elephant. The lion, that was different. An impetuous combatant, Nagib couldn't remember his name nor the faction to which he belonged, decided to defy the lion in single combat. “We will see which of us is the true lion”, he shouted while jumping into the enclosure. These were his last words.

Moudjahidin or taliban?

The combatant had a brother who, to avenge the affront, threw a grenade at the animal, breaking its teeth and putting out its eye, among other injuries. The lion had lost its sight but he survived for several years before dying of old age in 2002. In another version, the victim was a taliban who had taken refuge in this part of the zoo while the battle raged around with the moudjahidin, and he accidentally fell into the lion's enclosure. The remainder of the story, the brother, the grenade, etc. are common to all the versions, but that of our interlocutor is also a kind; of allegory.

It should be said that Nagib, was a moudjahid himself at that time. He was sixteen years old when he joined the resistance against the Soviets, (serving) in the prestigious ranks of commandant Massoud, where he spent twenty-two months. He said that he left the moudjahidin shortly before the final victory and seizure of power, because the behaviors of his comrades in combat inspired great fears in him, or so he said.

What (subsequently) happened proved him right and even more, but the episode of the lion, apparently anecdotal compared to the scale of the disaster which fell on Afghanistan, seemed to him to be a good illustration of what precisely was going to lead the country to disaster.

The sheer arrogance and brazenness of the challenge, followed by an act of revenge as cruel as it was thoughtless, was for Nagib, an indicator which characterized the era and led to a spiral of violence without end. Fifteen years later, he says he sometimes has remorse, but does not regret the idealism of his engagement. He does not really understand how the values of the combat were so quickly corrupted, but that's another story...

As for the lion, Marjan, the hero of this story, he is well in his place. In his innocence and his pride he symbolizes the country and its people, ridiculed and betrayed by those who pretended to control their destiny.

“We are all like Marjan. The violence did not kill us. We survived. The people are still living, but like the lion, made toothless and blind.”

Located at the periphery of the capital, along the Kabul river, the zoo is a popular attraction. Families go there, men and women mixed, which doesn't happen very often in public except for at the bazaar. This is not a very rich zoo, but then neither are its customers. The visitors belong obviously to the small people of Kabul. They go from enclosure to cage with a curious joy, a pleasure to see given that their occasions for rejoicing seem somewhat limited.

Hide this Chinese pig…

Perhaps fifty species live in the park, the majority of them local fauna along with some rarer animals donated by the Peoples Republic of China, such as the superb bear and the pair of lions which replaced Marjan (himself also a gift of the Chinese), and a pig, recently arrived it seems, then subsequently quickly withdrawn from public sight.

An international news agency, quoting the zoo administration, wrote that this was due to the fear of swine flu. One can truly say that the presence of the pig in the Kabul zoo had caused a certain queasiness among the visitors and that it being put into quarantine satisfied everyone. Nobody really stopped in front of its empty enclosure, the more so because in the neighboring enclosure one could admire a Marco Polo stag with superb horns.

And even if the zoo is, as already mentioned, modest, the spectacles offered to the families by the macaques or the bears seemed to suffice for their happiness. One sees few smiles in the streets of Kabul and one can imagine that there aren't very many reasons to have happy faces. At the zoo, even if you don't understand what the parents are saying to their children, they seem happy to be there together. And it is this image that you retain, this small naive happiness which we enjoy while looking of the animals, which do not seem more unhappy here than elsewhere, although they are not freed... but that is not the subject of our story today.

At least one can pay this homage to them; to lighten their glances, to give birth to smiles and laughter in a city which does not seem to offer many occasions for this. Places of distraction are not legion in Kabul. Free access within easy reach of the inhabitants of the city, and this brave, small zoo is precisely one of these rare oases.

I do not know if the visitors who are photographed with the lion learn lessons from the tale by our friend Nagib. But they certainly do not fail to rub Marjan's mane.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Random chart...

A chart showing world economic output, in which the current recession so far tracks fairly well with the depression... Source and additional information here: Green shoots, 1930

Leverage...

Not content with letting the facts speak for themselves, some are trying to leverage existing differences and/or animosities to embellish the facts, presumably to get a better reaction and/or more support from the "west" i.e. United States, U.K., Europe, etc. A couple of memes that have circulated and continue to circulate:

  • Forces or countries inimical to the U.S. are portrayed as the only ones who have rushed to congratulate Ahmedinajad on his re-election. You know who, the 'usual suspects' - Hamas, Hezbollah, Syria, North Korea, Cuba, Venezuela, Russia, China, etc. Proof, were it needed that they are all a bunch of "thugs." Unfortunately for this meme a number of leaders who are classified as "friendlies" (for example, Turkish President Gul and Prime Minister Erdogan) also congratulated Ahmedinajad; as well as a number of U.S. "clients", including Hamid Karzai (Afghanistan), Jalal Talabani (Iraq), Fouad Siniora (Lebanon), and President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilan (Pakistan)...

  • Rumors and tweets abound that various countries/external forces have supplied manpower to help the Iranian authorities crack down on the protestors (e.g. see below). Again, the "usual suspects" are fingered e.g. "arabs", Chechens, Hamas, (Lebanese) Hezbollah, Syria, and (again) Venezuela... Some of this could be from Iranians who are loath to believe that their countrymen are willing to engage in the violence against them, but it's also another example of embellishing by leveraging existing prejudices and animosities to strengthen the message....

Right-wing Media & Twitter Echo-Chamber Continue to Spread Unsubstantiated Rumors

Monday, June 22, 2009

Random chart...

Graphics showing the 2008 world consumption per capital in tonnes of oil (above) and natural gas (tonnes oil equivalent, below). Source: BP Statistical Review of World Energy June 2009

And crude oil prices from 1861 to 2008:

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Blurring fact and opinion...

My co-blogger, Tosk, has already penned an entry (The 'theft' of the Iranian election) that complained that "those attempting to understand what has transpired are ill-served by the pap that most of the media is serving up!" Although some days have passed and more is known re what happened, the media still are doing a very poor job in providing clarity and facts re the issue and most often opinion is paraded as fact. Two examples: one from the 'mainstream media' Christian Science Monitor, the other from the blogs, in this case The Daily Kos (see both below).

When this blogger first ran across the Christian Science Monitor article (the CSM usually being an excellent source of information) and saw the title, he was hopeful... at last, what is known! Unfortunately it turned out to mostly be the opinions of a single "expert." 'Known' turned out to be a pastiche of unsupported claims, beliefs, opinions, and expectations (see relevant brown-highlighted sections below). Facts were remarkable only by their absence.

The single Daily Kos diary entry made two mutually-exclusive claims. It initially started out with the claim that the Iranian regime had never actually bothered counting votes since "the fix" was in... Remember, no counts were made! Yet barely a few paragraphs later it reveals to us the real elections numbers... Hmm, so apparently the votes really may have been secretly counted! Bah, this blogger finds it hard to give much credence to a report that completely contradicts itself in this fashion!

The bottom line: there are many reasons to suspect electoral fraud; the circumstances leading up to, during, and after the elections had many irregularities and were hardly the model of transparency; and the entire electoral system works within unique constraints that make it less than ideal (e.g. vetted and approved candidates, etc.) However, most sources (traditional news or otherwise) are not providing anything factual for folks to "know" the truth here, and most people are left to assume the correctness of their preconceived notions...


From the Christian Science Monitor:

Was Iran's election rigged? Here's what is known so far

In the biggest presidential election turnout in the history of the Islamic Republic, some 85 percent of Iran's electorate went to the polls last Friday and gave incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a landslide victory.

Or did they?

Defeated challenger Mir Hossein Mousavi claims that the official result of 62.6 percent for Mr. Ahmadinejad and just 33.7 percent for him was a "dangerous charade," and has called for a new election. His newspaper, Kalameh Sabz, reported that more than 10 million votes were missing personal identification numbers that made the votes untraceable. He also says some polling stations closed prematurely, preventing some voters from casting ballots.

Many others also suspect the legitimacy of the vote, for a number of reasons:

Results from 39.2 million handwritten ballots came much more swiftly than in previous votes, emerging within hours. Detailed election data typically released has not been made public.

Iran's Supreme Leader sanctioned Ahmadinejad's victory after a day, instead of the customary three.

Ahmadinejad made a surprisingly strong showing in wealthier cities, where he is known to have less support, and in the ethnic strongholds of his rivals. Results from cities and rural areas normally vary, but this time were remarkably consistent.

Farideh Farhi of the University of Hawaii, whose decades of studying Iran has included poring over data from Iranian elections, says the result was "pulled out of a hat." Here's why.

Monitor: How does this election compare to past votes in Iran?

Ms. Farhi: My personal feeling is that Ahmadinejad could not have gotten anything more than 10 million. And I really do have the data from previous elections, each district, how they voted, each province, to make comparisons with these numbers that the Ministry of Interior have come out.

I am convinced that they just pulled it out of their hats. They certainly didn't pull it out of ballot [boxes] or even stuffed ballots, they just made up numbers and are putting it out. It just doesn't make sense.

I do take the numbers of the Interior Ministry very seriously. I pore over them every election. I did it last time in the parliamentary election, to determine the orientations and what they mean. I always do that.

In this election, I am not even going to spend time on this, because of all the [problems].

Monitor: Weren't there party monitors at the polling stations, to watch the count?

Farhi: There were party monitors, and the boxes were all counted, and there were records made, and the information was relayed to the Interior Ministry on a piecemeal basis.

But at one point, immediately after the polls were closed, a very few people, without the presence of any monitoring mechanism, started giving out these numbers. And that's why I think this was brazen manipulation.

It wasn't that they only wanted Ahmadinejad to win. They also wanted to make a case that we can do anything we want to do. And they were, I argue, very much interested in demoralizing this 20 to 30 percent extra voters that are coming in.

They simply are not interested in these people continuing to be interested in politics in Iran. The want them to become demoralized and cynical, because their participation in the Iranian electoral process is extremely destructive for the [Islamic] system ...

What they have not counted on, of course, is a group of people that they essentially think of, for lack of a better word, Westernized wishy-washy liberals, who never stand for anything, would actually be upset that this election was stolen in such a brazen way.

They assumed: 'Ah, you know, we go into the streets, we yell at them, and a couple of shots and they go home and close their doors.'

They knew that they were a minority, and that's why they tried to pull this off. They thought they could bully people, through violence. And they may ultimately be correct. But it seems they have underestimated, not only the crowds, but Mr. Mousavi.

Other red flags

Analysts expected a closer race, if not a reverse of that result, after a final surge in cities across Iran galvanized a large anti-Ahmadinejad vote.

Secret Iranian government polls reported by Newsweek earlier this month estimated that Mousavi would win 16 to 18 million votes, and Ahmadinejad just 6 to 8 million. Those polls found that even the Revolutionary Guard and Iran's "vast intelligence apparatus seem to have come around to this position: a large majority of them also plan to vote for Mousavi," Newsweek reported.

Earlier polls appeared to indicate a stronger showing for Ahmadinejad, who – though under fire for poor economic performance, a surge of inflation, and unemployment – had made 60 visits to Iran's provinces handing out cash and development projects.

The final "official" figures, however, gave Ahmadinejad 24.5 million votes, and Mousavi 13.2 million. That result was a shock for many Iranians and analysts.

The powerful Guardian Council will now be investigating irregularities. Daily protests, riots, and violence have marred the aftermath, and Iran's supreme religious leader Ayatollah Sayed Ali Khamenei – who had very quickly pronounced Ahmadinejad's victory "divine" – on Tuesday called for national unity.

But could there have been the widespread fraud? And what does the perception of a stolen vote mean for the hundreds of thousands of Mousavi supporters – and tens of thousands of Ahmadinejad loyalists – who have taken to the streets?

Farhi says of the 11 million new Iranian voters, she "simply, simply cannot believe" that Ahmadinejad could have won 8 million of them.

"The history of the Islamic Republic is that they never vote for status quo, they always vote for change," says Farhi. "I know people who entered this electoral process, who never voted in the Islamic Republic, and they came in and voted simply against Ahmadinejad." (Ed note: historically every standing Iranian President has been re-elected i.e maintenance of the status quo, at least in terms of persoin in charge)

From The Daily Kos:

Let me bring you up to date. Every single agency, in and outside of Iran, and practically everyone who knows anything about the nation has declared this thing a Sham. The vote wasn't stolen, the vote wasn't EVEN COUNTED. It was invented. This coup has been bought around by the guard, and supported by the Ayatollah. The actions take are indefensible, and a group of hardline radicals are ignoring the will of the Iranian people.

Even now the phone lines and internet connections have gone eerily dead, alongside the electricity for the entire city of Tehran. The police is out looking for Satellites, and communications from Iranians on Twitter, Facebook and through blogs have totally died out.

Make no doubt about it. Tehran is under martial law.

From the streets I have updates, a friend in Iran is a sports journalist for the immensely popular national football team. Due to the nature of his reporting, he has been practically ignored, and free to switch his reporting over to covering these events.

This is what he is telling me about what he has heard.

* 1. The Green protesters have taken over at least two police stations in north of Tehran, the Guards are trying to take back the buildings.

* 2. University dormitories across Iran have been attacked by the Revolutionary Guards.

* 3. The building of the ministry of Industry, and a major telecommunication center, have been set on fire.

* 4. Sharif University's professors have resigned on mass.

* 5. Unrest in Rasht, Tabriz, Isfahan, Shiraz and every other major city.

Meanwhile supporters are saying that Mousavi has asked people to form near his campaign offices at 12:30 today. His supporters now consider him President. Others are reporting this is a police trap. Very well may be.

Mousavi is no lightweight. He has held back out of care for his country, and his people. But let us not ignore the facts. Mousavi was Prime Minister during the Iraq-Iran War, and he knows HOW to run a campaign.

If Mousavi want's it and I hope he does, this revolution is on, and the National Guard will fall to the hands of the people.

Meanwhile inside Government Officials are leaking the REAL election numbers.

Unofficial news - reports leaked results from Interior Ministry:
Eligible voters: 49,322,412
Votes cast: 42,026,078
Spoilt votes: 38,716
Mir Hossein Mousavi: 19,075,623
Mehdi Karoubi: 13,387,104
Mahmoud Ahmadi-nejad (incumbent): 5,698,417
Mohsen Rezaei (conservative candidate): 3,754,218

Keep this rec'd and keep Iran in your thoughts.

Down with the Dictator, Down with the Ayatollah. Allaho Ackbar!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Aargh!


Is there anything as annoying as technology gone bad? This blogger recently bought a new computer, which came with Works 9.0 pre-installed. Needing the Office suite (Word and Excel mostly) for work-related documents, the store sold me a Microsoft Office Standard 2007 Upgrade pack, "for existing users of one of the Microsoft products listed on the side panel" i.e. Microsoft Works 6.0 or higher. All well and good.

OK, got home, and tried to install. Hmm, it won't work. Turns out that people with Works 9 have to download and run a program from Microsoft if they have Works 9.0 because of a known bug.... This is very nicely explained and easily found in the Knowledge base - KB843290. OK, so I download and run the program. Hmm, it won't work because it is looking for a file that does not exist on the computer. It helpfully prompts me to insert my Works installation CD. Fabulous, except that I don't have this as the Works came pre-installed (and no one provides CDs when you buy a computer anymore!) Impasse. Googling for the file brings no joy!

One online suggestion is to go and buy the Works package. Having just sprung a considerable amount for the hardware this blogger is not particularly inclined to re-pay for software he already has bought, so back to search. Finally, eureka, stumbles upon the answer. Apparently what you can do is a) Download the trial edition of Office 2007, and b) apply the upgrade. Tada!! Fixed and ready to roll... Begs the question as to why this has to be so complicated (and, no, don't suggest that switching to a Mac will result in computer nirvana!)

The 'theft' of the Iranian election


The big news of the moment is the aftermath of the elections in Iran, with the issue being the legitimacy of the incumbent, Ahmedinajad, being declared the victor (with 63% of the vote compared to runner-up Moussavi at 34% (both numbers rounded). Many have claimed that the election must have been rigged - ranging from those who believed that Ahmedinajad was going to win but only after going to a second round of voting, to those who believe that Moussavi won and the election result was reversed.

Reading the various accounts, articles, opinion pieces, etc., the level of superficiality in most is truly amazing. Here this Twitterer thought that with the Obama administration we were now beyond the days of dumbed down, one-dimensional analyses. Guess we need President/Professor Obama to give a speech to explain the subtleties....

OK, this Twitterer is not an Ahmedinajad fan and does not take the position that the Iranian elections were either free or fair. The very fact that the Guardian Council decided which candidates would be allowed to run was a way of 'fixing' the election. And subsequently, there were numerous irregularities and ways in which the thumb was put on the scales (ranging from official television and media coverage, to interference with various modes of communication e.g. SMS, to support from the Supreme Leader - both when chose to say something, and also when he chose not to react or take a position (e.g. see (here and here). However, thus far, what he objects to is that the majority of what is out there is profoundly unserious...

Let's look at some of what is advanced in favor of the proposition that the elections were massively fraudulent:
  • Many articles just assume the fraud, or content themselves to anecdotal stories e.g. quoting an Iranian as saying that he/she didn't vote for Ahmedinajad and didn't know anyone in town that would have voted for him either (yes, there are a number of articles like these with puerile thinking!). A variant of this quotes a journalist who walked around town asking voters who they planned on voting for and found no one who would reply 'Ahmedinajad'.
  • Very many articles just assumed that Moussavi was going to win, so that any other outcome would be prima facie proof of electoral fraud. Why would they make this assumption? This Twitterer is not sure, but generally articles of this type gushed in wonder at some or all of the following: Moussavi spoke to very large crowds (the fact that Ahmedinajad did as well apparently was inconsequential); the crowds were very enthusiastic, there was a lot of green (hmm, wasn't aware that green translated to certain electoral victory); there were lots of women and Moussavi's wife was especially prominently featured, (again, unsure why the fact that there were very many women at Ahmedinajad's rallies did not register, because they were more likely to be in chadors perhaps this somehow meant they didn't count); Moussavi's supporters were very youthful; they used Twitter, SMS, and texting a lot more than the incumbent's campaign; etc., etc. These articles seemed to view events through the lens of the recent U.S. elections (variations of the word 'Obamaesque' often appeared in these articles), and assume that what is good for us surely is good for the Iranians!
OK, having dutifully discarded these weighty articles, let us consider those that at least have a modicum of thought put into them:
  • One piece of evidence cited is the lopsided nature of the result - Ahmedinajad 63% to Moussavi 34%. an almost 2:1 margin. While many public opinion surveys were taken they varied wildly e.g. see this list on Wikipedia. However consider an opinion poll conducted by an American organization, the Terror Free Tomorrow Center for Public Opinion. Its survey prior to the election showed that among voters who expressed a preference, Ahmedinajad led Moussavi by a margin of 2.4:1. Granted, it showed a large number undecided, but this throws some cold water on the theory that a 2:1 margin must obviously have been "cooked."
  • Another set of arguments considers the geographical spread of voting patterns across the country. One criticism is that the official numbers show Ahmedinajad beating Moussavi (an Azeri) in Azeri regions, surely an issue. However, the same poll referenced above also showed a 2:1 edge in favor of Ahmedinajad among Azeri voters.
  • Put forward as evidence are also the claims of Moussavi and some of his supporters (e.g. Moussavi won; officials admitted as much to the Moussavi campaign before reversing course, etc. etc.). Even if one ignores the fact that these claims are tinged with self-interest, there are some realities that undermine their credibility. Among these is that the Moussavi campaign claimed victory even before the closure of the polls... Also that they claim a win with 65%, when prior to the election the hope was to hold Ahmedinajad to a second round. Their claim was also rather unspecific - they apparently "knew" based on their poll watchers (while simultaneously complaining that these folks were often not allowed in).
  • Other "evidence" cited comes from other parties with an interest (a.k.a axe to grind). Sometimes they let loose a whopper big enough to show that they have little to no credibility, and thus should be ignored... An example here might be National Council of Resistance of Iran leader Maryam Rajavi , who announced: "More than 85 percent of the 51.2 million eligible voters boycotted the mullahs' sham presidential election"., and claimed, laughably, that the real voter turnout was only 7.5 million!
  • Some of the narrative developed also does not seem to be consistent. For example, according to Juan Cole: "Here is how I would reconstruct the crime. As the real numbers started coming into the Interior Ministry late on Friday, it became clear that Mousavi was winning. Mousavi's spokesman abroad, filmmaker Mohsen Makhbalbaf, alleges that the ministry even contacted Mousavi's camp and said it would begin preparing the population for this victory. The ministry must have informed Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who has had a feud with Mousavi for over 30 years, who found this outcome unsupportable. And, apparently, he and other top leaders had been so confident of an Ahmadinejad win that they had made no contingency plans for what to do if he looked as though he would lose. They therefore sent blanket instructions to the Electoral Commission to falsify the vote counts." Others make much of the bad blood between Moussavi and the Supreme Leader, and between Rafsanjani (supporting Moussavi) and the Supreme Leader. All of this seems overstated. Let us remember that the four candidates were vetted and approved to run by the Guardian Council (while hundreds of other potential candidates were eliminated). This fact, along with the fact that all four are stalwarts of the revolution (even though they have been classified in the press as "moderates" and "hard-liners", and their differences exaggerated) make these narratives unlikely. How likely is that the Supreme Leader would be so worried about the victory of a screened and 'approved' candidate, that sensing that the candidate might win he pulls a crude stunt that loses him all credibility? The more so, because even if Moussavi had won he could still have been easily 'neutered' just as "reformer" Khatami had been previously? (Side note, in his Salon article Cole is a little more circumspect - his blog's 'Stealing the Iranian election' becomes 'Ahmedinajad reelected under a cloud of fraud.')
  • Much has also been made re Rafsanjani's support of Moussavi. This actually may not have been a plus for Moussavi - Rafsanjani (though extremely well plugged in) is not very popular, and, if memory serves, Ahmedinajad crushed him the first time he was elected...
  • An observation regarding the announced counts was made that seemed credible to this Twitterer - that as the counts were announced "... a perfect linear relation between the votes received by the President and Mir Hossein Mousavi has been maintained..." and that apparently this was very suspicious. Alas, all this proved was that this Twitterer needs to brush up on his statistics, as this theory was debunked by Nate Silver...
So, bottom line, the semi-automatic acceptance of claims of electoral fraud by many is unsupported, and even those attempting to understand what has transpired (including this Twitterer) are ill-served by the pap that most of the media is serving up!

Karim Sadjadpour called it correctly in Foreign Policy when he wrote: "... Given the depth of polarization in Iran, the final results will likely be hotly contested by the losing side..." It is to be hoped that the violence will abate and that this will be ultimately resolved somehow...

Articles pre- & post-election:
Landslide or Fraud? The Debate Online Over Iran’s Election Results NYT's The Lede
Faulty Election Data & Statistical Evidence Does Not Prove That Iranian Election Was Rigged
Iran's Pres. Candidates Recognize the Web as a Go-To to Win
Reformists a Force in Looming Presidential Election
Another Coup for the Hardliners
The Supreme Leader's One Vote
Iranians vote in droves, Mousavi ally claims lead
Iran elections disputed
Rivals in Iran vote issue competing victory claims
Wishful thinking from Tehran
‘It’s a Coup d’Etat’
Reverberations as Door Slams on Hopes of Change
Iran:Riot in Tehran streets after election day"Death to the dictator!"
Ahmadinejad reelected under cloud of fraud & Stealing the Iranian Election
Iran elections: revolt as crowds protest at Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's 'rigged' victory

Links to pictures:
Autnews
Flickr: mousavi1388's photostream

Pre-election backgrounders:
A Primer on Iran’s Presidential Election System
The List: Iran's Presidential Wannabes
Why Iran '09 Could Be Like Florida '00
Iranian Presidential Elections: Ghost at the Election Banquet
Iranian Presidents Have a Critical Role in Policymaking

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Misc updates...


1. The June 27th entry, 'On the road to extinction' reprised a January 2002 oped on flora and fauna in Afghanistan endangered by the decades of war and strife. This month the National Environment Protection Agency of Afghanistan just released a list of protected species, including mammals, birds, and plants...

2. The April 22nd, 2008 entry, 'WMD aren't what they used to be' reprised a May 2006 oped on the subject... What is a weapon of mass destruction (WMD) lists some of the definitions...

Random picture

Without comment...

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Random chart...

Growth in the numbers of Israeli settlers in the Occupied Territories over the years... Regardless of settlement freezes, "natural growth", removal of "outposts", expansion of units, Oslo, war, Road map, etc. , etc. the direction is.... up.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Random chart...

Lebanese Elections II

A few observations from the recent Lebanese parliamentary elections:

1. Unfortunately for those who like to put things and groups into easy 'buckets' (e.g. pro-western, pro-Syrian, Hezbollah-led, etc.), a chart which shows that the reality is much more complex than most of the facile depictions in the 'western' press...
2. How is it that there were "sweeps" in 23 of the 26 electoral districts??
3. The losers (M8 - 54.8%) actually got more total votes than the winners (M14 - 45.2%) per Aah, that damn popular vote.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Lebanese elections

The results (by electoral district, with corresponding sect). Note: the independents lumped in with M14... Available in a spreadsheet here.



(Apologies for any spelling errors or seat mis-allocations...)

Cairo - Reaction I

Picture Credit: Ben Curtis / Associated Press

In his speech in Cairo before he got to an enumeration and discussion of "the issues", President Obama started off with an attempt to build bridges between the United States and "Islam" and "Muslims around the world." This was at several levels, first with the observation of shared values; second, the recall of Islam's contribution to civilization; third, the statement of historic ties between the U.S. and Islamic countries; and fourth, the role of Muslims in American history... He also spoke warmly of his personal ties - his family background, having spent part of his formative years in Indonesia, even his name...

All, well and good. However, it must not have been lost to many in his audience that much of the personal history and ties he was now touting as positives were things he was at pains to play down and obfuscate during the primary and general elections. As such, his minions came forth to attack anyone who prominently mentioned his middle name; while speaking and being seen at many churches and synagogues, he (as, it must be said, with almost all the candidates) was not as keen to appear in any mosques and gave them a wide berth; and on a couple of occasions women in head-scarves were politely requested by campaign staff to remove themselves from photo backdrops... None of which need necessarily detract from him personally, but which potentially somewhat undercut the message that the relationship between the United States and Muslims is one of mutual respect...

Sunday, June 7, 2009

So, what happened to...


... "toxic assets"? Remember them?? They were pegged as the ostensible cause of the economic and financial downturn!! Supposedly, they couldn't be valued since no viable secondary market existed, and as a result the banks couldn't value each other and thus were chary about loaning money to one another... thus causing the financial and credit 'freeze.' The original solution was the TARP, the rationale for which was to buy up these toxic assets so as to get them off the books of the financial institutions, which could then recapitalize...

Well, none of the TARP money was ever used for this purpose. Then, earlier this year, the FDIC launched its 'Legacy Loans Program' to "... cleanse bank balance sheets of distressed loans and other assets and reduce the associated market overhang..." Well, this never got off the ground either, and is now effectively dead, see 'The quiet death of Geithner's controversial loan plan'

So, since we haven't addressed the ostensible cause of the crisis, this would seem to mean that either the crisis was misdiagnosed (and that weakness in mortgage-backed securities was not the cause); or that since nothing had been done here, that the crisis remains and will be ongoing... Since the administration does not seem to be doing anything here, presumably that means that either the whole bit about "toxic assets" was a bit of misdirection, or that they believe that the massive TARP and ARRA spending will get the banks and financial institutions "over the hump" until things improve... One wonders which it is!!

The June 8th Business Week has an article on this subject, "They're Not All Toxic Loans." This article says that the $3.7 trillion pool of residential mortgage-backed securities from 2004 to 2007 has shrunk to $1.7 trillion. This is because credit-worthy borrowers are refinancing into cheaper mortgages or paying off their mortgages, while on the other end homeowners are losing their homes to foreclosure. The article quotes an S&P group managing director as saying, "The market has kind of resolved a lot of the problem." Hmm, so although defaults are still increasing (and much more so than the write-offs taken by the banks and financial institutions), housing prices are still stagnant or heading in the wrong direction; a wave of mortgage rate "resets" were still due; the economy is shrinking, people are losing their jobs (and presumably their ability to pay), and many are still underwater; the crisis is worming its way into commercial real estate, credit card debt, and other areas; etc., etc. things are "resolving"?? Let's certainly hope so (though it does seem that something doesn't add up here)!!

Previous blog entries related to this topic:

Random chart - May 17th, 2009
Random chart - April 18th, 2009
Held to account? - April 16th, 2009
Automotive restructuring - April 4th, 2009
Theory vs. practice - March 30th, 2009
Random chart - March 18th, 2009
Random chart - March 12th, 2009
Random chart - March 9th, 2009
Random thoughts - Feb 15th, 2009
Rhetorical questions - Feb 11th, 2009
Better charts - Feb 10th, 2009
Random charts - Feb 9th, 2009
Random chart - Feb 8th, 2009
The high and mighty... - Feb 6th, 2009
Stimulus update II - Feb 3rd, 2009
Stimulus update - Jan 28th, 2009
Some recovery info - Jan 28th, 2009
Random chart - Jan 13th, 2009
Irony alert! - Jan 7th, 2009
Misc TARP updates - Dec 20th, 2008
Bailout/handout - Dec 13th, 2008
Recession decision - Dec 11th, 2008
Oh wow - Nov 24th, 2008
The answer? - Nov 18th, 2008
G20 - Nov 17th, 2008
Misc. financial crisis - Nov 15th, 2008
Financial Crisis misc. - Nov 11th, 2008
Goofs - Nov 7th, 2008
The money PIT - Oct 31st, 2008
Repeat question - Oct 30th, 2008
Up or down
- Oct 29th, 2008
Lest we forget... - October 27th
One possible reason... - Oct 27th
Great quotes... - Oct 27th
Thank you California and Florida - Oct 26th
The elephant (and donkey) in the room - Oct 25th
Great quotes... - Oct 25th
Say what? - Oct 22nd
Crisis unfolding - Oct 21st
Once, squared, cubed - Oct 8th
Mortgage mess - Oct 7th
Crash victims... charities - Oct 6th
Executive compensation (Section 111)Oct 4th
MOABOct 4th
Quotes… (updated) Oct 4th
Fingers crossedOct 4th
Great quotesOct 2nd
Wall Street vs. Main Street – IIOct 2nd
Wall Street vs. Main Street Oct 1st
Yet another plan (Soros) Oct 1st
Ouch – IIOct 1st
OuchSept 30th
All about CDSs Sept 30th
Genius!Sept 30th
Crisis expandingSept 29th
Great quotesSept 27th
Redefining “too big to fail”Sept 27th
Crashing the partySept 27th
Rough LandingSept 25th
Confused and nowhere to go (updated)Sept 24th
Street-wiseSept 24th
One can dreamSept 23rd
Government bailoutsSept 23rd
What it took – Sept 23rd
Truth RIP (updated 9/22)Sept 22nd
Vox clamantis in desertoSept 22nd
Finely calibrated reactionsSept 16th
Fannie and FreddieSept 10th
Fannie Mae and Freddie MacJul 24th
Mortgage meltdown (update) - Apr 1st
Mortgage meltdownMar 31st
Housing Stories III Jul 29th
Housing stories – IIMar 6th
Housing storiesApr 5th

The Cairo speech...

Remarks of President Barack Obama

A New Beginning

Cairo, Egypt June 4, 2009

I am honored to be in the timeless city of Cairo, and to be hosted by two remarkable institutions. For over a thousand years, Al-Azhar has stood as a beacon of Islamic learning, and for over a century, Cairo University has been a source of Egypt's advancement. Together, you represent the harmony between tradition and progress. I am grateful for your hospitality, and the hospitality of the people of Egypt. I am also proud to carry with me the goodwill of the American people, and a greeting of peace from Muslim communities in my country: assalaamu alaykum.

We meet at a time of tension between the United States and Muslims around the world - tension rooted in historical forces that go beyond any current policy debate. The relationship between Islam and the West includes centuries of co-existence and cooperation, but also conflict and religious wars. More recently, tension has been fed by colonialism that denied rights and opportunities to many Muslims, and a Cold War in which Muslim-majority countries were too often treated as proxies without regard to their own aspirations. Moreover, the sweeping change brought by modernity and globalization led many Muslims to view the West as hostile to the traditions of Islam.

Violent extremists have exploited these tensions in a small but potent minority of Muslims. The attacks of September 11th, 2001 and the continued efforts of these extremists to engage in violence against civilians has led some in my country to view Islam as inevitably hostile not only to America and Western countries, but also to human rights. This has bred more fear and mistrust.

So long as our relationship is defined by our differences, we will empower those who sow hatred rather than peace, and who promote conflict rather than the cooperation that can help all of our people achieve justice and prosperity. This cycle of suspicion and discord must end.

I have come here to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world; one based upon mutual interest and mutual respect; and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive, and need not be in competition. Instead, they overlap, and share common principles - principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.

I do so recognizing that change cannot happen overnight. No single speech can eradicate years of mistrust, nor can I answer in the time that I have all the complex questions that brought us to this point. But I am convinced that in order to move forward, we must say openly the things we hold in our hearts, and that too often are said only behind closed doors. There must be a sustained effort to listen to each other; to learn from each other; to respect one another; and to seek common ground. As the Holy Koran tells us, "Be conscious of God and speak always the truth." That is what I will try to do - to speak the truth as best I can, humbled by the task before us, and firm in my belief that the interests we share as human beings are far more powerful than the forces that drive us apart.

Part of this conviction is rooted in my own experience. I am a Christian, but my father came from a Kenyan family that includes generations of Muslims. As a boy, I spent several years in Indonesia and heard the call of the azaan at the break of dawn and the fall of dusk. As a young man, I worked in Chicago communities where many found dignity and peace in their Muslim faith.

As a student of history, I also know civilization's debt to Islam. It was Islam - at places like Al-Azhar University - that carried the light of learning through so many centuries, paving the way for Europe's Renaissance and Enlightenment. It was innovation in Muslim communities that developed the order of algebra; our magnetic compass and tools of navigation; our mastery of pens and printing; our understanding of how disease spreads and how it can be healed. Islamic culture has given us majestic arches and soaring spires; timeless poetry and cherished music; elegant calligraphy and places of peaceful contemplation. And throughout history, Islam has demonstrated through words and deeds the possibilities of religious tolerance and racial equality.

I know, too, that Islam has always been a part of America's story. The first nation to recognize my country was Morocco. In signing the Treaty of Tripoli in 1796, our second President John Adams wrote, "The United States has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Muslims." And since our founding, American Muslims have enriched the United States. They have fought in our wars, served in government, stood for civil rights, started businesses, taught at our Universities, excelled in our sports arenas, won Nobel Prizes, built our tallest building, and lit the Olympic Torch. And when the first Muslim-American was recently elected to Congress, he took the oath to defend our Constitution using the same Holy Koran that one of our Founding Fathers - Thomas Jefferson - kept in his personal library.

So I have known Islam on three continents before coming to the region where it was first revealed. That experience guides my conviction that partnership between America and Islam must be based on what Islam is, not what it isn't. And I consider it part of my responsibility as President of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear.

But that same principle must apply to Muslim perceptions of America. Just as Muslims do not fit a crude stereotype, America is not the crude stereotype of a self-interested empire. The United States has been one of the greatest sources of progress that the world has ever known. We were born out of revolution against an empire. We were founded upon the ideal that all are created equal, and we have shed blood and struggled for centuries to give meaning to those words - within our borders, and around the world. We are shaped by every culture, drawn from every end of the Earth, and dedicated to a simple concept: E pluribus unum: "Out of many, one."

Much has been made of the fact that an African-American with the name Barack Hussein Obama could be elected President. But my personal story is not so unique. The dream of opportunity for all people has not come true for everyone in America, but its promise exists for all who come to our shores - that includes nearly seven million American Muslims in our country today who enjoy incomes and education that are higher than average.

Moreover, freedom in America is indivisible from the freedom to practice one's religion. That is why there is a mosque in every state of our union, and over 1,200 mosques within our borders. That is why the U.S. government has gone to court to protect the right of women and girls to wear the hijab, and to punish those who would deny it.

So let there be no doubt: Islam is a part of America. And I believe that America holds within her the truth that regardless of race, religion, or station in life, all of us share common aspirations - to live in peace and security; to get an education and to work with dignity; to love our families, our communities, and our God. These things we share. This is the hope of all humanity.

Of course, recognizing our common humanity is only the beginning of our task. Words alone cannot meet the needs of our people. These needs will be met only if we act boldly in the years ahead; and if we understand that the challenges we face are shared, and our failure to meet them will hurt us all.

For we have learned from recent experience that when a financial system weakens in one country, prosperity is hurt everywhere. When a new flu infects one human being, all are at risk. When one nation pursues a nuclear weapon, the risk of nuclear attack rises for all nations. When violent extremists operate in one stretch of mountains, people are endangered across an ocean. And when innocents in Bosnia and Darfur are slaughtered, that is a stain on our collective conscience. That is what it means to share this world in the 21st century. That is the responsibility we have to one another as human beings.

This is a difficult responsibility to embrace. For human history has often been a record of nations and tribes subjugating one another to serve their own interests. Yet in this new age, such attitudes are self-defeating. Given our interdependence, any world order that elevates one nation or group of people over another will inevitably fail. So whatever we think of the past, we must not be prisoners of it. Our problems must be dealt with through partnership; progress must be shared.

That does not mean we should ignore sources of tension. Indeed, it suggests the opposite: we must face these tensions squarely. And so in that spirit, let me speak as clearly and plainly as I can about some specific issues that I believe we must finally confront together.

The first issue that we have to confront is violent extremism in all of its forms.

In Ankara, I made clear that America is not - and never will be - at war with Islam. We will, however, relentlessly confront violent extremists who pose a grave threat to our security. Because we reject the same thing that people of all faiths reject: the killing of innocent men, women, and children. And it is my first duty as President to protect the American people.

The situation in Afghanistan demonstrates America's goals, and our need to work together. Over seven years ago, the United States pursued al Qaeda and the Taliban with broad international support. We did not go by choice, we went because of necessity. I am aware that some question or justify the events of 9/11. But let us be clear: al Qaeda killed nearly 3,000 people on that day. The victims were innocent men, women and children from America and many other nations who had done nothing to harm anybody. And yet Al Qaeda chose to ruthlessly murder these people, claimed credit for the attack, and even now states their determination to kill on a massive scale. They have affiliates in many countries and are trying to expand their reach. These are not opinions to be debated; these are facts to be dealt with.

Make no mistake: we do not want to keep our troops in Afghanistan. We seek no military bases there. It is agonizing for America to lose our young men and women. It is costly and politically difficult to continue this conflict. We would gladly bring every single one of our troops home if we could be confident that there were not violent extremists in Afghanistan and Pakistan determined to kill as many Americans as they possibly can. But that is not yet the case.

That's why we're partnering with a coalition of forty-six countries. And despite the costs involved, America's commitment will not weaken. Indeed, none of us should tolerate these extremists. They have killed in many countries. They have killed people of different faiths - more than any other, they have killed Muslims. Their actions are irreconcilable with the rights of human beings, the progress of nations, and with Islam. The Holy Koran teaches that whoever kills an innocent, it is as if he has killed all mankind; and whoever saves a person, it is as if he has saved all mankind. The enduring faith of over a billion people is so much bigger than the narrow hatred of a few. Islam is not part of the problem in combating violent extremism - it is an important part of promoting peace.

We also know that military power alone is not going to solve the problems in Afghanistan and Pakistan. That is why we plan to invest $1.5 billion each year over the next five years to partner with Pakistanis to build schools and hospitals, roads and businesses, and hundreds of millions to help those who have been displaced. And that is why we are providing more than $2.8 billion to help Afghans develop their economy and deliver services that people depend upon.

Let me also address the issue of Iraq. Unlike Afghanistan, Iraq was a war of choice that provoked strong differences in my country and around the world. Although I believe that the Iraqi people are ultimately better off without the tyranny of Saddam Hussein, I also believe that events in Iraq have reminded America of the need to use diplomacy and build international consensus to resolve our problems whenever possible. Indeed, we can recall the words of Thomas Jefferson, who said: "I hope that our wisdom will grow with our power, and teach us that the less we use our power the greater it will be."

Today, America has a dual responsibility: to help Iraq forge a better future - and to leave Iraq to Iraqis. I have made it clear to the Iraqi people that we pursue no bases, and no claim on their territory or resources. Iraq's sovereignty is its own. That is why I ordered the removal of our combat brigades by next August. That is why we will honor our agreement with Iraq's democratically-elected government to remove combat troops from Iraqi cities by July, and to remove all our troops from Iraq by 2012. We will help Iraq train its Security Forces and develop its economy. But we will support a secure and united Iraq as a partner, and never as a patron.

And finally, just as America can never tolerate violence by extremists, we must never alter our principles. 9/11 was an enormous trauma to our country. The fear and anger that it provoked was understandable, but in some cases, it led us to act contrary to our ideals. We are taking concrete actions to change course. I have unequivocally prohibited the use of torture by the United States, and I have ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed by early next year.

So America will defend itself respectful of the sovereignty of nations and the rule of law. And we will do so in partnership with Muslim communities which are also threatened. The sooner the extremists are isolated and unwelcome in Muslim communities, the sooner we will all be safer.

The second major source of tension that we need to discuss is the situation between Israelis, Palestinians and the Arab world.

America's strong bonds with Israel are well known. This bond is unbreakable. It is based upon cultural and historical ties, and the recognition that the aspiration for a Jewish homeland is rooted in a tragic history that cannot be denied.

Around the world, the Jewish people were persecuted for centuries, and anti-Semitism in Europe culminated in an unprecedented Holocaust. Tomorrow, I will visit Buchenwald, which was part of a network of camps where Jews were enslaved, tortured, shot and gassed to death by the Third Reich. Six million Jews were killed - more than the entire Jewish population of Israel today. Denying that fact is baseless, ignorant, and hateful. Threatening Israel with destruction - or repeating vile stereotypes about Jews - is deeply wrong, and only serves to evoke in the minds of Israelis this most painful of memories while preventing the peace that the people of this region deserve.

On the other hand, it is also undeniable that the Palestinian people - Muslims and Christians - have suffered in pursuit of a homeland. For more than sixty years they have endured the pain of dislocation. Many wait in refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza, and neighboring lands for a life of peace and security that they have never been able to lead. They endure the daily humiliations - large and small - that come with occupation. So let there be no doubt: the situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable. America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own.

For decades, there has been a stalemate: two peoples with legitimate aspirations, each with a painful history that makes compromise elusive. It is easy to point fingers - for Palestinians to point to the displacement brought by Israel's founding, and for Israelis to point to the constant hostility and attacks throughout its history from within its borders as well as beyond. But if we see this conflict only from one side or the other, then we will be blind to the truth: the only resolution is for the aspirations of both sides to be met through two states, where Israelis and Palestinians each live in peace and security.

That is in Israel's interest, Palestine's interest, America's interest, and the world's interest. That is why I intend to personally pursue this outcome with all the patience that the task requires. The obligations that the parties have agreed to under the Road Map are clear. For peace to come, it is time for them - and all of us - to live up to our responsibilities.

Palestinians must abandon violence. Resistance through violence and killing is wrong and does not succeed. For centuries, black people in America suffered the lash of the whip as slaves and the humiliation of segregation. But it was not violence that won full and equal rights. It was a peaceful and determined insistence upon the ideals at the center of America's founding. This same story can be told by people from South Africa to South Asia; from Eastern Europe to Indonesia. It's a story with a simple truth: that violence is a dead end. It is a sign of neither courage nor power to shoot rockets at sleeping children, or to blow up old women on a bus. That is not how moral authority is claimed; that is how it is surrendered.

Now is the time for Palestinians to focus on what they can build. The Palestinian Authority must develop its capacity to govern, with institutions that serve the needs of its people. Hamas does have support among some Palestinians, but they also have responsibilities. To play a role in fulfilling Palestinian aspirations, and to unify the Palestinian people, Hamas must put an end to violence, recognize past agreements, and recognize Israel's right to exist.

At the same time, Israelis must acknowledge that just as Israel's right to exist cannot be denied, neither can Palestine's. The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop.

Israel must also live up to its obligations to ensure that Palestinians can live, and work, and develop their society. And just as it devastates Palestinian families, the continuing humanitarian crisis in Gaza does not serve Israel's security; neither does the continuing lack of opportunity in the West Bank. Progress in the daily lives of the Palestinian people must be part of a road to peace, and Israel must take concrete steps to enable such progress.

Finally, the Arab States must recognize that the Arab Peace Initiative was an important beginning, but not the end of their responsibilities. The Arab-Israeli conflict should no longer be used to distract the people of Arab nations from other problems. Instead, it must be a cause for action to help the Palestinian people develop the institutions that will sustain their state; to recognize Israel's legitimacy; and to choose progress over a self-defeating focus on the past.

America will align our policies with those who pursue peace, and say in public what we say in private to Israelis and Palestinians and Arabs. We cannot impose peace. But privately, many Muslims recognize that Israel will not go away. Likewise, many Israelis recognize the need for a Palestinian state. It is time for us to act on what everyone knows to be true.

Too many tears have flowed. Too much blood has been shed. All of us have a responsibility to work for the day when the mothers of Israelis and Palestinians can see their children grow up without fear; when the Holy Land of three great faiths is the place of peace that God intended it to be; when Jerusalem is a secure and lasting home for Jews and Christians and Muslims, and a place for all of the children of Abraham to mingle peacefully together as in the story of Isra, when Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed (peace be upon them) joined in prayer.

The third source of tension is our shared interest in the rights and responsibilities of nations on nuclear weapons.

This issue has been a source of tension between the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran. For many years, Iran has defined itself in part by its opposition to my country, and there is indeed a tumultuous history between us. In the middle of the Cold War, the United States played a role in the overthrow of a democratically-elected Iranian government. Since the Islamic Revolution, Iran has played a role in acts of hostage-taking and violence against U.S. troops and civilians. This history is well known. Rather than remain trapped in the past, I have made it clear to Iran's leaders and people that my country is prepared to move forward. The question, now, is not what Iran is against, but rather what future it wants to build.

It will be hard to overcome decades of mistrust, but we will proceed with courage, rectitude and resolve. There will be many issues to discuss between our two countries, and we are willing to move forward without preconditions on the basis of mutual respect. But it is clear to all concerned that when it comes to nuclear weapons, we have reached a decisive point. This is not simply about America's interests. It is about preventing a nuclear arms race in the Middle East that could lead this region and the world down a hugely dangerous path.

I understand those who protest that some countries have weapons that others do not. No single nation should pick and choose which nations hold nuclear weapons. That is why I strongly reaffirmed America's commitment to seek a world in which no nations hold nuclear weapons. And any nation - including Iran - should have the right to access peaceful nuclear power if it complies with its responsibilities under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. That commitment is at the core of the Treaty, and it must be kept for all who fully abide by it. And I am hopeful that all countries in the region can share in this goal.

The fourth issue that I will address is democracy.

I know there has been controversy about the promotion of democracy in recent years, and much of this controversy is connected to the war in Iraq. So let me be clear: no system of government can or should be imposed upon one nation by any other.

That does not lessen my commitment, however, to governments that reflect the will of the people. Each nation gives life to this principle in its own way, grounded in the traditions of its own people. America does not presume to know what is best for everyone, just as we would not presume to pick the outcome of a peaceful election. But I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn't steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose. Those are not just American ideas, they are human rights, and that is why we will support them everywhere.

There is no straight line to realize this promise. But this much is clear: governments that protect these rights are ultimately more stable, successful and secure. Suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away. America respects the right of all peaceful and law-abiding voices to be heard around the world, even if we disagree with them. And we will welcome all elected, peaceful governments - provided they govern with respect for all their people.

This last point is important because there are some who advocate for democracy only when they are out of power; once in power, they are ruthless in suppressing the rights of others. No matter where it takes hold, government of the people and by the people sets a single standard for all who hold power: you must maintain your power through consent, not coercion; you must respect the rights of minorities, and participate with a spirit of tolerance and compromise; you must place the interests of your people and the legitimate workings of the political process above your party. Without these ingredients, elections alone do not make true democracy.

The fifth issue that we must address together is religious freedom.

Islam has a proud tradition of tolerance. We see it in the history of Andalusia and Cordoba during the Inquisition. I saw it firsthand as a child in Indonesia, where devout Christians worshiped freely in an overwhelmingly Muslim country. That is the spirit we need today. People in every country should be free to choose and live their faith based upon the persuasion of the mind, heart, and soul. This tolerance is essential for religion to thrive, but it is being challenged in many different ways.

Among some Muslims, there is a disturbing tendency to measure one's own faith by the rejection of another's. The richness of religious diversity must be upheld - whether it is for Maronites in Lebanon or the Copts in Egypt. And fault lines must be closed among Muslims as well, as the divisions between Sunni and Shia have led to tragic violence, particularly in Iraq.

Freedom of religion is central to the ability of peoples to live together. We must always examine the ways in which we protect it. For instance, in the United States, rules on charitable giving have made it harder for Muslims to fulfill their religious obligation. That is why I am committed to working with American Muslims to ensure that they can fulfill zakat.

Likewise, it is important for Western countries to avoid impeding Muslim citizens from practicing religion as they see fit - for instance, by dictating what clothes a Muslim woman should wear. We cannot disguise hostility towards any religion behind the pretence of liberalism.

Indeed, faith should bring us together. That is why we are forging service projects in America that bring together Christians, Muslims, and Jews. That is why we welcome efforts like Saudi Arabian King Abdullah's Interfaith dialogue and Turkey's leadership in the Alliance of Civilizations. Around the world, we can turn dialogue into Interfaith service, so bridges between peoples lead to action - whether it is combating malaria in Africa, or providing relief after a natural disaster.

The sixth issue that I want to address is women's rights.

I know there is debate about this issue. I reject the view of some in the West that a woman who chooses to cover her hair is somehow less equal, but I do believe that a woman who is denied an education is denied equality. And it is no coincidence that countries where women are well-educated are far more likely to be prosperous.

Now let me be clear: issues of women's equality are by no means simply an issue for Islam. In Turkey, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Indonesia, we have seen Muslim-majority countries elect a woman to lead. Meanwhile, the struggle for women's equality continues in many aspects of American life, and in countries around the world.

Our daughters can contribute just as much to society as our sons, and our common prosperity will be advanced by allowing all humanity - men and women - to reach their full potential. I do not believe that women must make the same choices as men in order to be equal, and I respect those women who choose to live their lives in traditional roles. But it should be their choice. That is why the United States will partner with any Muslim-majority country to support expanded literacy for girls, and to help young women pursue employment through micro-financing that helps people live their dreams.

Finally, I want to discuss economic development and opportunity.

I know that for many, the face of globalization is contradictory. The Internet and television can bring knowledge and information, but also offensive sexuality and mindless violence. Trade can bring new wealth and opportunities, but also huge disruptions and changing communities. In all nations - including my own - this change can bring fear. Fear that because of modernity we will lose of control over our economic choices, our politics, and most importantly our identities - those things we most cherish about our communities, our families, our traditions, and our faith.

But I also know that human progress cannot be denied. There need not be contradiction between development and tradition. Countries like Japan and South Korea grew their economies while maintaining distinct cultures. The same is true for the astonishing progress within Muslim-majority countries from Kuala Lumpur to Dubai. In ancient times and in our times, Muslim communities have been at the forefront of innovation and education.

This is important because no development strategy can be based only upon what comes out of the ground, nor can it be sustained while young people are out of work. Many Gulf States have enjoyed great wealth as a consequence of oil, and some are beginning to focus it on broader development. But all of us must recognize that education and innovation will be the currency of the 21st century, and in too many Muslim communities there remains underinvestment in these areas. I am emphasizing such investments within my country. And while America in the past has focused on oil and gas in this part of the world, we now seek a broader engagement.

On education, we will expand exchange programs, and increase scholarships, like the one that brought my father to America, while encouraging more Americans to study in Muslim communities. And we will match promising Muslim students with internships in America; invest in on-line learning for teachers and children around the world; and create a new online network, so a teenager in Kansas can communicate instantly with a teenager in Cairo.

On economic development, we will create a new corps of business volunteers to partner with counterparts in Muslim-majority countries. And I will host a Summit on Entrepreneurship this year to identify how we can deepen ties between business leaders, foundations and social entrepreneurs in the United States and Muslim communities around the world.

On science and technology, we will launch a new fund to support technological development in Muslim-majority countries, and to help transfer ideas to the marketplace so they can create jobs. We will open centers of scientific excellence in Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia, and appoint new Science Envoys to collaborate on programs that develop new sources of energy, create green jobs, digitize records, clean water, and grow new crops. And today I am announcing a new global effort with the Organization of the Islamic Conference to eradicate polio. And we will also expand partnerships with Muslim communities to promote child and maternal health.

All these things must be done in partnership. Americans are ready to join with citizens and governments; community organizations, religious leaders, and businesses in Muslim communities around the world to help our people pursue a better life.

The issues that I have described will not be easy to address. But we have a responsibility to join together on behalf of the world we seek - a world where extremists no longer threaten our people, and American troops have come home; a world where Israelis and Palestinians are each secure in a state of their own, and nuclear energy is used for peaceful purposes; a world where governments serve their citizens, and the rights of all God's children are respected. Those are mutual interests. That is the world we seek. But we can only achieve it together.

I know there are many - Muslim and non-Muslim - who question whether we can forge this new beginning. Some are eager to stoke the flames of division, and to stand in the way of progress. Some suggest that it isn't worth the effort - that we are fated to disagree, and civilizations are doomed to clash. Many more are simply skeptical that real change can occur. There is so much fear, so much mistrust. But if we choose to be bound by the past, we will never move forward. And I want to particularly say this to young people of every faith, in every country - you, more than anyone, have the ability to remake this world.

All of us share this world for but a brief moment in time. The question is whether we spend that time focused on what pushes us apart, or whether we commit ourselves to an effort - a sustained effort - to find common ground, to focus on the future we seek for our children, and to respect the dignity of all human beings.

It is easier to start wars than to end them. It is easier to blame others than to look inward; to see what is different about someone than to find the things we share. But we should choose the right path, not just the easy path. There is also one rule that lies at the heart of every religion - that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us. This truth transcends nations and peoples - a belief that isn't new; that isn't black or white or brown; that isn't Christian, or Muslim or Jew. It's a belief that pulsed in the cradle of civilization, and that still beats in the heart of billions. It's a faith in other people, and it's what brought me here today.

We have the power to make the world we seek, but only if we have the courage to make a new beginning, keeping in mind what has been written.

The Holy Koran tells us, "O mankind! We have created you male and a female; and we have made you into nations and tribes so that you may know one another."

The Talmud tells us: "The whole of the Torah is for the purpose of promoting peace."

The Holy Bible tells us, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God."

The people of the world can live together in peace. We know that is God's vision. Now, that must be our work here on Earth. Thank you. And may God's peace be upon you.

And some (randomly chosen) reactions:

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Hamas's Meshaal reacts to the speech

P.S. This blogger will provide some thoughts over the next few days...

 
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