Sunday, March 2, 2008

Testing eco-detergents

From Grist:

While shopping, I kept an eye out for the nasty stuff -- the surfactant nonylphenol ethoxylate or NPE, an endocrine disruptor and estrogen mimic; phosphates, which help remove minerals and food bits but cause harmful algal blooms in waterways (these have been phased out by U.S. companies); and bleach, which gets it white, but doesn't treat your lungs right. The problem is, most detergents don't so much list ingredients in that sort of detail -- and they're not required by law to disclose their ingredients to consumers even when asked. Instead, they use more vague terms like "surfactant" or "washing soda" or "brightener," so I found myself looking at their various eco-claims -- that is, what they say their products don't contain.


I also decided to go with detergents "free and clear" of dyes and perfumes, because why bother with possible irritants and allergens if you have the option? A number of the bottles proudly announce that their contents are biodegradable or petroleum-free. According to the Seventh Generation bottle, if every U.S. household replaced one bottle of petroleum-based detergent with a plant-based one, 149,000 barrels of oil could be saved -- enough to heat and cool 8,500 homes for a year.


~ read on... ~

The ties between China’s surveillance sector and American capital markets

Li Runsen, the powerful technology director of China's ministry of public security, is best known for leading Project Golden Shield, China's intensive effort to strengthen police control over the Internet.

But last [August] Mr. Li took an additional title: director for China Security and Surveillance Technology, a fast-growing company that installs and sometimes operates surveillance systems for Chinese police agencies, jails and banks, among other customers. The company has just been approved for a listing on the New York Stock Exchange.

The company's listing and Mr. Li's membership on its board are just the latest signs of ever-closer ties among Wall Street, surveillance companies and the Chinese government's security apparatus.

Wall Street analysts now follow the growth of companies that install surveillance systems providing Chinese police stations with 24-hour video feeds from nearby Internet cafes. Hedge fund money from the United States has paid for the development of not just better video cameras, but face-recognition software and even newer behavior-recognition software designed to spot the beginnings of a street protest and notify police.

Now, the ties between China's surveillance sector and American capital markets are starting to draw Washington's attention.

Rep. Tom Lantos, the California Democrat who is chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said he was disturbed by a recent report in The New York Times about the development of surveillance systems in China by another company, China Public Security Technology, which, like China Security and Surveillance, incorporated itself in the United States to make it easier to sell shares to Western investors.

Mr. Lantos called American involvement in the Chinese surveillance industry “an absolutely incredible phenomenon of extreme corporate irresponsibility.”

He said he planned to broaden an existing investigation into “the cooperation of American companies in the Chinese police state.”

Executives of Chinese surveillance companies say they are helping their government reduce street crime, preserve social stability and prevent terrorism. They note that London has a more sophisticated surveillance system, although the Chinese system will soon be far more extensive.

Wall Street executives also defend the industry as necessary to keep the peace at a time of rapid change in China. They point out that New York has begun experimenting with surveillance cameras in Lower Manhattan and other areas of the city, and that corporations make broad use of surveillance cameras in places like convenience stores and automated teller machines.

~ read on... ~


Haunted tourist attractions in Britain threatened by mobile phones

Missed odd news from a time of upheaval (Oct, 2001):

Mobile phones are killing off ghosts, a British expert who has spent years researching the occult says.

Tony Cornell, of the Society for Psychical Research, told the Sunday Express newspaper that reports of ghost sightings had started to decline when mobile phones were introduced 15 years ago.

"Ghost sightings have remained consistent for centuries. Until three years ago we'd receive reports of two new ghosts every week," said Cornell, of Cambridge in Eastern England.

"But with the introduction of mobile phones ... ghost sightings began to decline to the point where now we are receiving none."

According to the paper, haunted tourist attractions in Britain could be under threat if the number of cell phones continues to grow from the current 39 million.

Apparently paranormal events, which some scientists put down to unusual electrical activity, could be drowned out by the electronic noise produced by phone calls and text messages.

~ link ~

JFK's unrecognised progeny?

Soon, a non-disclosure agreement was drawn up, and Caddy made plans to come to New York to discuss how we might proceed. As it happened, his client—whose name he had not divulged as yet—would be in town in November for business. We could meet at the Harvard Club.

Then, hesitating slightly, Caddy added, “I can tell you that his name is Jack.”

“Jack?” I said. “You're serious?”

“Yes. It's also the name of his father, who raised him.”

It was beginning to sound like a page from a 60s thriller. The protagonist conveniently bore his famous father's nickname, just like the rake in Charles McCarry's spy novel Lucky Bastard—an alleged J.F.K. love child who, with the help of Soviet backers, makes a Manchurian Candidate–style run for the White House. In this instance the central figure would even turn out to be named Jack Worthington, evoking the name Oscar Wilde bestowed upon his classic character Jack Worthing, who concocts an alter ego and forges a double life in The Importance of Being Earnest.

When, I wondered, would the sultry blonde—or the stone-cold corpse—show up at the receptionist's desk?

~ from A Claim to Camelot ~

Berlin Exhibition Closes after Muslim Threats

A Berlin gallery has closed an exhibition of satirical art by the controversial Danish group Surrend after receiving threats from a group of Muslims. The men were objecting to a picture of the Kaaba at Mecca under the title "Dumb Stone."

Eighteen months ago, the severed head of Muhammad was enough to get an opera temporarily cancelled (more...) in Berlin. This time around, it's an irreverent image of the Kaaba in Mecca that has caused an exhibition in the German capital to shut its doors.

But there is one major difference between the two incidents: Whereas the mere spectre of possible attacks was enough to get the Deutsche Oper to put the kibosh on a Mozart opera in 2006, Berlin's Galerie Nord closed its doors this week after a group of Muslims walked into the gallery and threatened staff with violence.

"It was a very explosive situation," Jan Egesborg, whose satirical art group Surrend created the Galerie Nord exhibition, told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "We don't want to be part of the current Islamophobic tendency in Europe. We weren't trying to provoke Muslims."

The exhibition, called "ZOG -- Surrend," opened last Friday and was scheduled to run until the end of March. Conceived by the controversial Danish satirical art group, it included a picture of the black, cube-shaped Kaaba in the Muslim holy city of Mecca. ... Gallery manager Ralf Hartmann decided on Tuesday to shut down the show after six men believed to have been Muslims turned up demanding that the image be removed. The men reportedly threatened the staff with violence should they not comply.

The president of Berlin's influential Academy of Arts, Klaus Staeck, who opened the exhibition last week, expressed his support for the Danish group Friday. "I extend my solidarity to all artists ... whose work is threatened by violent people who hold different beliefs," Staeck said, adding that he hoped the exhibition could re-open soon...

~ more... ~

'Bringing order' to the Arctic

The fast-warming Arctic's vast economic potential makes it increasingly prone to smuggling, perilous polar tourism, environmental catastrophes and even armed conflict unless Canada and the U.S. lead efforts to bring order to the region, according to a new analysis.

Former U.S. Coast Guard Lt.-Cmdr. Scott Borgerson, in the latest issue of Foreign Policy magazine, argued that Washington has to start with a Canada-U.S. agreement on how the Arctic should be regulated as global warming opens northern sea lanes.


He also called on American leaders to take seriously Canada's sovereignty claims over the Northwest Passage, as well as consider a way to resolve competing claims involving Russia, Denmark and Norway.

[The upshot of which is to declare:]

"Unless Washington leads the way toward a multilateral diplomatic solution, the Arctic could descend into armed conflict."

~ from Arctic debate could result in armed conflict, says former American coast guard official ~


The Russian election and the speck in your eye

The following AP report is probably a fair assessment:

" ... There is no significant opposition to Dmitry Medvedev, who says that if he wins he will ask Putin to become prime minister - an offer that Putin is sure to accept.

Medvedev has even based his platform on a vow to pursue "the Putin plan." It's a telling demonstration of how Putin established dominion over Russian politics through genuine popular support, marginalizing opposition parties and putting national broadcasters under the state's thumb.

Critics denounce the election as little more than a cynical stage show. ... "

My question is, why is the same insight lost in the U.S. elections? Take decades-worth of American Cold War propaganda, reverse it and ask which of its assertions wasn't true of the U.S. itself? One example: the obsession with Soviet drunkenness. It would never let one imagine that the streets and sidewalks of America were littered with shards of coloured beer bottle glass, and that the constant nightmare posed by drunk drivers ever existed.

Torture and Hollywood's unprecedented influence on the issue

" ... In the last eighteen months, Antonin Scalia, one of the most influential judges in American history, has twice suggested that he would turn to a fictional television character named Jack Bauer to resolve legal questions about torture. The first time was in a speech in Canada, and the second, only three weeks ago, in an interview with the BBC. This is evidence of the unprecedented influence of a television program on one of the most important legal policy issues before our country today. And it is, or should be, very troubling.

Most of our discussion of torture has focused on the arena of policy formation and debate. We have seen the issues tackled from the perspectives of the law, of ethics and from a utilitarian stance. That is, we have had a focus on the discussion which has occurred in Washington, within the upper echelons of Government, the courts, Congress, major think tanks and the academy. But in this process we are ignoring the forum in which public opinion on these questions may well be settled: namely in the broadcast media.

[ ... ]

News coverage of the torture issue began in proper terms after the publication of the Abu Ghraib photographs. There were a handful of reports that predated this, such as notice of the first two deaths in Bagram Air Base. At the time the Abu Ghraib photographs appeared, I had completed a major study by the NYC Bar Association looking into legal standards governing interrogation practices. This study had been directly inspired by information the Bar had received from its JAG members to the effect that unlawful torture techniques were being used. Specifically, the following techniques were the focus of our concern: waterboarding, long-time standing, hypothermia, sleep deprivation in excess of two days, the use of psychotropic drugs and the sensory deprivation/sensory overload techniques first developed for the CIA at McGill University. Each of these techniques has a long history. Each had historically been condemned as “torture” by the United States when used by other nations. Each was clearly prohibited under the prior U.S. Army Field Manual. And each was now being used.


[ ... ]


The theme of torture is nothing new to Hollywood, of course, it has appeared in many forms, frequently in romanticized historical settings. But when it makes its appearance in connection with contemporary settings there are some consistent themes. As the World War II era propaganda poster says “Torture—The Tool of the Enemy.” We used torture to define the enemy and to separate the enemy from us. The use of torture by the enemy marked them. They were evil, intrinsically evil, because of their use of these techniques. Conversely, the victims were Americans or American allies. Torture killed or maimed, but it did not work. It was a sign of weakness. A good example of these themes and their development can be found in a series of World War II films, such as “13, rue Madeleine,” which was of course the address of the Gestapo in Paris during World War II.


[ ... ]

Whereas before, torture was the “tool of the enemy,” now torture is the tool of Jack Bauer. Its use is a heroic act of defiance, often of petty bureaucratic limitations, or of conceited liberals whose personal conscience means more to them than the safety of their fellow citizens. While Bauer is presented as an ultimate heroic figure (and also a figure with some heroic flaws), those who challenge use of the rough stuff are naïve, and their presence and involvement in the national security process is threatening. We see a liberal who defends a Middle Eastern neighbor then under suspicion, and who winds up being killed because the neighbor is in fact a terrorist.

We're looking at a Hollywood specialty: a “reality” show which is divorced from reality. It grossly simplifies necessarily complex facts, and it pares away critical factors which a responsible citizen should be thinking about. But more importantly, perhaps, it is a head-on attack on morality and ethics. The critics of torture are shallow figures, self-serving politicians—vain, arrogant, indifferent to the harm they are doing to society. But in fact the arguments against torture are profound and informed by centuries of human experience and religious doctrine. Torture has in the course of the last two hundred years emerged as an intrinsic evil in Christian teaching; the teaching of most churches—protestant, Catholic, Evangelical—rejects the idea that a state can ever legitimately employ torture.

[ ... ]

We should start with a frank question: was “24” been created with an overtly political agenda, namely, to create a more receptive public audience for the Bush Administration's torture policies? I think the answer to that question is now very clear. The answer is “yes.” In “Whatever It Takes,” Jane Mayer has waded through the sheaf of contacts between the show's producer, Joel Surnow, and Vice President Cheney and figures right around him. There is little ambiguity about this point, namely, if the torture system introduced after 9/11 can be traced back to a single person, it is Vice President Cheney. He pushed relentlessly for use of the tools of the “dark side,” and he ruthlessly took out everyone who stood in his way. He also worked feverishly to disguise or cloak his intimate involvement in the entire process. I take it as a given that Surnow is working to develop public attitudes which are more accepting of torture; to overturn centuries-old prejudices against torture. He is a torture-enabler. ... "

~ from How Hollywood Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the (Ticking) Bomb ~

Tax haven fears for image, amid child abuse probe

A search for human remains in a cellar of a former children's home is fuelling fears on the Channel island of Jersey that its image as a tourist destination could be tainted.

A crisis meeting of hotel and travel trade bosses was held Friday in the tourist office in Saint Helier, capital of the biggest of the Channel islands also well known as a tax haven.

"Nothing (in Jersey) has changed, it's a caring, compassionate and secure island," Philip Ozouf, Jersey's economic development minister, told AFP, in a message that has been repeated by tourism professionals on the island, which attracted nearly 400,000 visitors last year, 80 percent of whom were British.

~ more... ~

UN chief: Israel's use of violence in Gaza is 'excessive, disproportionate'

The United Nations Security Council expressed "deep concern" Saturday over the escalation in Gaza fighting, as UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the ongoing rocket fire at Israeli towns and cities as well as what he termed Israel's "excessive and disproportionate" response.

Speaking at an emergency session of the council on the escalation of violence in Gaza, called by Security Council member Libya on behalf of the Arab League and at the request of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Ban also condemned Palestinian rocket attacks against southern Israel.

"While recognizing Israel's right to defend itself, I condemn the disproportionate and excessive use of force that has killed an injured so many civilians, including children," Ban told the emergency session of the council.

~ more... ~

Arms dealers doing what they do best

Washington ponders a policy shift toward Pakistan

Senior Pentagon officials have visited Pakistan recently with an eye toward assessing what shift might be needed in US military policy there. "Is it a threat that the [Pakistanis] are ready to handle? Do they need help? Do they need training help? Do they need other types of help? That's what we're trying to assess right now," said General James Cartwright, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Despite temptations to cut military aid to Pakistan, analysts warned that doing so would run the risk of making Washington look like a fickle ally. The Pakistani military is already worried about the reliability of the United States as a military partner, given that the most high-profile weapons sale -- of F-16 fighter jets -- was held up for years. In a time of transition, the analysts said, the Pakistani Army needs to be assured that Washington is on its side.

Gates arrives in Delhi to push weapons sale
US Defence Secretary Robert Gates plunged into one of the world's hottest arms market yesterday, saying rapidly expanding US-Indian defence ties were in both countries' interests.

His arrival coincided with news that India successfully tested its first nuclear capable missile from a submerged platform, completing its goal of developing air, land and sea-based ballistic missiles.


Asked if helping to arm an emerging nuclear power carried risks, Gates said, “We have to deal with the world as we find it.”

“India is the world's largest democracy. It is in our interest to develop this relationship, just as it is in India's,” he told reporters in New Delhi after strolling the grounds of the tomb of 16th century Mughal emperor Humayun.

He cited the ambitious schedule of US-Indian exchanges and exercises, and the growing defence trade relationship.

He also expressed hope for completion of a US-Indian civil nuclear technology agreement that has been held up by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's communist allies, but said that was not part of his talks here.

Gates flew in from Indonesia, where he also pledged strong US support for arms sales to the Indonesian military and its emergence as a power in southeast Asia.


“This is a much bigger deal,” a senior US defence official travelling with Gates said of India. “There are larger amounts of more complicated equipment involved. But the real takeaway is that it's not just the equipment, it's the broad military relationship.”

“We have a much broader set of agenda items to keep ticking along here which move on their own timelines and set of actors,” said the official, who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity.

India announced last month that it will buy six Hercules C-130J aircraft from US giant Lockheed Martin in a deal worth $1bn.

“We have tried for some years now to get a seat at the table, a chance to compete, and we are finally there with India's signing a contract to purchase six C-130Js at the end of January,” said another US official.

US firms also are competing with Russian and European rivals to supply India with 126 multi-role fighters, a deal valued at $10 to 12bn.


Gates was scheduled to hold a series of meetings with Indian leaders before departing for Turkey today.


[ ... ]

Without mentioning China, Gates in earlier stops emphasised US interest in Australia and Indonesia assuming a larger security role in the region and the world in partnership with the US.
“One of the reasons we're having all these discussions about weapons procurement and joint training and exercises is that there is a fundamental commonality of interests between the US and these three democracies that we are visiting,” the senior defence official said.

William Cohen pushes Mideast arms deal
When Congress gets back to business in the new year, one of its priorities will be consideration of the Bush administration's request for a massive arms sale - in the neighborhood of $20 billion - to Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf states.

Israel and Egypt also stand to gain billions more in U.S. weapons as part of the package Congress will review.

The proposed deal is controversial because of the Saudi component. Given the Saudi government's questionable record on fighting terrorism and curtailing terrorism financing, its funding of extremist wahabbist mosques, its supply of foreign fighters into Iraq and a judicial system that recently ordered 200 lashes for a rape victim, some in Congress don't believe the kingdom should be rewarded with top-of-the-line American weaponry.

Lantos Blocks Effort to Stop Saudi Arms Deal
An effort led by Jewish Democrats in Congress to block the Bush administration's planned sale of arms to Saudi Arabia is bound to fail because it is opposed by one of the top-ranked Jews in Congress.

Reps. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.) and Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) asked colleagues to sign on to a letter to Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, asking him to convene the committee to block the arms sale.

"Chairman Lantos does not intend to ask the committee to consider any resolutions of disapproval on this matter," Lantos spokeswoman Lynne Weill said on Jan. 15 when asked about the letter.

The Bush administration formally announced the proposed $120 million sale of 900 Joint Direct Attack Munitions last Monday, the announcement timed for the Saudi leg of President Bush's Middle East tour. Congress has 30 days to reject the sale.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said that the sale brought to $11.5 billion proposed deals with Saudi Arabia and its neighbors. More sales could be in the offing, as Bush anticipated $20 billion when he announced the proposal last July.

Bush made the sale a centerpiece of his administration's efforts to create an alliance that would confront Iranian hegemony in the region and bolster his bid for an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal by year's end. This agenda featured prominently in his eight-day trip to the region earlier this month.

The JDAMs -- components that add deadly accuracy to long-range missiles -- had been the most controversial element of the weapons sale.

The big three arms dealers
A new report produced by the non-partisan Congressional Research Service (CRS), and published in Washington, has claimed that the United States is the world's principal arms supplier to the developing world. It is followed closely by Russia and Britain. But the CRS report said the US arms trade cooled slightly in 2006, shrinking from nearly $46 billion in 2005 to nearer US$40 billion.

Russia, the world's second biggest wholesaler of weapons raked in $8.7 billion from weapons sale in 2006, nearly 22 percent of the market and the UK came in third with $3.1 billion in sales. Earlier this year, Britain's Prime Minster Gordon Brown, declared that he would shut down the Defence Export Sales Organisation, which supports and promotes British weapons system overseas. Britain is also at the forefront of the push for a UN treaty regulating global arms trade that would limit sales to war areas and so-called tyrannical regimes. The US is yet to present its stance on the proposed treaty to the UN.

Saudi links traced to Hasan Ali
The Enforcement Directorate investigating Pune's billionaire horse breeder Hasan Ali have found Saudi links to him in the latest development.

Ali ha been so far been charged with alleged billion dollar frauds and also terror links.

Indian investigators claim to have found links between Ali and billionaire Saudi Arabian arms dealer, Adnan Khashoggi.

Enforcement Directorate sources told NDTV that Ali has received millions of dollars from Khashoggi into his Swiss accounts.

Adnan Khashoggi transferred US $300 million from his Chase Manhattan Bank account in New York into Hassan Ali's United Bank of Switzerland account in Zurich.

The Swiss authorities froze the account saying that the ''Funds were from weapons sale.''

Ali and his close associate Kashinath Tapuriah then adopted different techniques to try and make this account operational.

The link to Khashoggi adds a new dimension to the investigation into Ali.

Khashoggi is known in India as one of those named in the Jain Commisison of enquiry into the Rajiv Gandhi Assassination and globally for brokering arms deals between the US and Saudi Arabia.

Investigators say that this only convinces them of Ali's wide range of operations and contacts.

At the moment much of their leads are based on growing evidence of Ali's massive holdings in Swiss accounts.

Documents available with the ED, which they seized in searches at Ali's residence show that one of Hassan Ali's Swiss accounts had US $560 dollars in 1997.

Two years later, the same account mysteriously increased to $969 million. Most of this money is lying as liquid cash and bonds

Along with his partner Kashinath Tapuriah, Ali allegedly opened two fictitious companies Autumn Holdings and Paysons in the Virgin Islands and laundered money to the tune of US $280 million.

Shockingly a year after he was raided, the US $8 billion man still roams free.

Our military gun merchants
The soldiers, commanders and generals who have been involved in the selling of arms and ammunition from the Nigerian Army Central Ordinance depot in Kaduna to the Niger Delta militants surely know that these arms will be turned against their own colleagues deployed to maintain peace in that sensitive area, and yet commit the act. To them, it was just another “business.”

But it was a most treasonable business. That it went on for so long undetected raises serious questions about the alertness of our army, and about the professionalism, dedication and commitment of our officers and men in uniform.

Their unconscionable actions have led to the escalation and prolongation of the Niger Delta conflict and to the mounting casualties of Nigerian soldiers and civilians in that part of the country. It has also led to significant economic losses to the nation in reduced oil production and export. They have thus not only sabotaged the country militarily, they have also sabotaged the economy. Their actions are definitely acts of high treason.

[ ... ]

We are familiar with the police selling their weapons to armed robbers for criminal operations, but now, the military have added another dimension to this criminal propensity of our nation generally, and all this can be attributed to the general level of greed and corruption in the society. These shocking actions by the police and the army are indeed very consistent with the criminal looting of our treasuries by those who lead and govern our nation.

Having set a general climate from the top, of corruption with impunity, all others simply follow their example by exploiting the opportunities within their areas of authority and responsibility to have their own share of corrupt money.

The president, governors and others in the high echelons of government have access to the treasury through inflated contracts awarded to their cronies and families, and make use of that access to enrich themselves. Policemen do not have such access, but at least have access to weapons which they too can sell to also enrich themselves. So also, the soldiers.

Kosovars and other Albanians - Why Great Albania is a Myth

To the politicians of the Balkans - almost without exception corrupt and despised by their own constituencies - the myth of Great Albania comes handy. It keeps the phobic Macedonians, the disdainful Serbs and the poor and crime ridden Albanians united and submissive: each group for different, idiosyncratic reasons.

To reiterate, the Myth of Great (or Greater) Albania is the belief that people of Albanian extract, wherever they may be, regard their domicile as part of a Great Albania and undertake all efforts necessary to secure such an outcome. Thus, to mention one example, Kosovo would, in all likelihood, become a part of this Great Albania, so the myth goes, because prior to 1912, when the Serbs occupied it, Kosovo has administratively been a component of an Ottoman mandated Albania.

Sali Berisha - a former President of Albania - talks ominously about an "Albanian Federation". The younger, allegedly more urbane Pandeli Majko, erstwhile Prime Minister of Albania, raises the idea of a uniform curriculum for all Albanian pupils and students, wherever they may reside. Albanians in Macedonia make it a point to fly Albanian flags conspicuously and on every occasion. They rapturously celebrated Kosovo's unilateral declaration of independence on February 17, 2008.

Thus, a Great Albania could well have been a plausible scenario except for two facts. First: there are major, historic, and irreconcilable differences between various Albanian groups and second: a Great Albania is without historical precedent and runs contra to the self-interest of the Albanian political, business, and intellectual elites in Kosovo, Macedonia, and Albania.

[ ... ]

Only the Kosovars welcomed the Germans as liberators from Serb serfdom (as did Albanians in Macedonia to a lesser extent). A Kosovar, Xhaferr Deva, served as Minister of the Interior in the hated World War II government in Albania, which collaborated wholeheartedly with the Nazis. Deva was responsible for the most unspeakable atrocities against the Albanian population in Albania proper. This did not endear the Kosovars to the Albanians.

Thus, the forced re-union in 1999 was a culture shock to both Kosovars and Albanians. The Kosovars were stunned by the living conditions, misery and lawlessness of Albania proper. The Albanians were envious and resentful of their guests and regarded them as legitimate objects for self-enrichment. There were, needless to say, selfless exceptions to the egotistic rule, but they were few, far between, and the exception to the rule.

Finally, historically, there was never a "Great Albania" to hark back to. Albania was created in 1912 (its borders finally settled in 1913) in response to Austro-Hungarian demands. Kosovo was never encouraged to secede from the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes (later known as Yugoslavia). The Albanian King Zog suppressed the activities of Kosovar irredentist movements in his country in between the two world wars. Albania, mired as it was in the twin crises of economy and identity, had little mind or heart for Kosovo.

Moreover, business, intellectual, political, and criminal elites in all three territories - Kosovo, Western Macedonia, and Albania - have a lot to lose from an Albanian Anschluss (unification): their elevated positions, access to funds and independent streams of income (for instance, from the customs and tax administrations), and their chances of upward social mobility. The self-interest of these powerful groups is the best guarantee that a Great Albania will never emerge except in fervent, jingoistic propaganda and nationalistic-romantic poetry.

~ full article ~

MI6 hasn't killed anybody in years, former chief says

Daniel Craig's first job as James Bond in the film Casino Royale was to fly to Prague to kill a renegade MI6 officer. Having thus earned his 007 designation and the much vaunted licence to kill, he went on to gun down a dozen prison guards in Madagascar while hunting a terrorist bomb-maker.

It must have come as something of a surprise to him last week, then, to learn that MI6 hasn't killed anyone for years. Sir Richard Dearlove, the former MI6 chief, told the inquest into the death of Diana, Princess of Wales that, contrary to claims from two separate whistleblowers – David Shayler, who said the service had drawn up a plan to kill Colonel Gadaffi, and Richard Tomlinson, who described a plot to kill Slobodan Milosevic – the service had not carried out any assassinations since he joined it in 1966.

Technically, under the Intelligence Services Act, the real James Bonds could commit any crime outside the UK, be it murder or bigamy, if it were authorised by the foreign secretary. However, while Dearlove conceded that there had once been a plan drawn up to kill a Balkans war criminal, the officer responsible was apparently rapped over the knuckles and told never to think such nasty thoughts again...

~ from Don't worry, 007, you're still licensed to kill ~

Freeconomy backpacker forced to quit England to India peace walk

Man who aimed to walk to India forced to quit

A British man who aimed to walk from Bristol to Gandhi's birthplace in Porbander, India without spending any money has been forced to give up at Calais.

Mark Boyle, 28, who began his trip with only t-shirt, sandals and a bandage four weeks ago, hoped that strangers along the way would provide him with food and places to stay.

He is a member of the Freeconomy movement, which believes in a " moneyless society in which no money changes and there is no duality between giving and receiving", and would like to see money disappear altogether.

After reaching Calais Mr Boyle made the decision to quit his trip because as he could not speak French people thought he was an asylum seeker or a freeloader and would not give him food or board.

The 28-year-old kept an online diary of his adventure, where in one of his final entries he wrote: "…they had also seen us as just a bunch of freeloading backpackers, which is the complete opposite of what the pilgrimage is about".

The peace venture was satirised by MND:

Freeloading Euro Backpacker Upset People Think He's a Freeloading Euro Backpacker

Yes, the world is all in darkness. Despair is still our uninvited companion. The hand of black death still grips us tightly.

Imagine these darn French people? Looking upon this scruffy, unkempt, penniless, freeloader looking for a free meal and imagining he is a scruffy, unkempt, penniless, freeloader looking for a free meal! Don't they know what is at steak here (uh, I mean stake)? Why it's none other than peace in our times, man! You know how Brits like to have "peace in our times," doncha? Heck, it's always just around the corner.

Oh, those French talk a good game about all that peace stuff, but here — right when peace was almost within their grasp — they let it all slip away and just because they refused to part with a meal or two. Not a speck of cheese, a thimble of wine… not a single croissant could these misers spare.

So, now humanity will have to wait for another scruffy, unkempt, penniless, freeloader looking for a free meal to bring the enlightenment to us all.


Walking for world peace, from London to the Persian Gulf

An Iranian who has been living in England for years, is walking from London to the Persian Gulf for the cause of world peace.

He arrived in Kashan on Saturday. He started his march on May 11, 2007.

Mohammad Samqani said the most important aim of his journey is to convey Iranian message of peace and friendship to the world.

He said he has walked more than 4,000 kilometers and has passed countries like the Netherlands, Germany, Poland, Slovakia, Hungry, Serbia, Bulgaria, Georgia and Armenia...

~ link ~


Taoist, Buddhist, Confucian China

" ... Chinese mythology is unique in that though it is populated by hundreds of gods and goddesses and supernatural beings like dragons, there is no concept of an all-powerful divine entity or God. Conflicts related to rebirth (found in Hinduism) and sin (found in Judaism, Christianity and Islam) are conspicuous by their absence. Chinese culture is very this-worldly . What matters is the here and the now. Social ethics and morality matter more than spiritual issues. Three thought processes have influenced Chinese thought – Taoism, Buddhism and Confucianism.

Taoism is the mystical face of China.

The underlying principle of Taoism is that the whole world functions on an interplay of two forces which expand and limit each other: the yang and the yin. Yang is all that is masculine, hot, sharp, bright, heavy and dry while yin is feminine, cold, soft, dark, light and wet. Disharmony between the two leads to disorder and disease. From these beliefs comes Fengshui , a set of principles that govern architecture and interior planning, that influences the flow of energy through various objects and colors so as to draw good luck and fortune in a particular direction.

[ ... ]

The Chinese believe in numerous heavens and numerous hells. These are places of reward and punishment. The most righteous end up as gods in the highest heaven ruled by the Jade Emperor, who comes closest to being the Chinese equivalent of God. The Jade Emperor's heavenly court resembles the earthly court in all ways, having an army, a bureaucracy, a royal family and parasitical courtiers. The Jade Emperor's rule is orderly and without caprice. The seasons come and go as they should, yin is balanced with yang, good is rewarded and evil is punished. The Jade Emperor sees and hears everything; even the softest whisper is as loud as thunder to the Jade Emperor.

During the Chinese New Year, the Chinese burn ritualistic paper money to pay for the travel of the household gods who make their way to Jade Emperor's court to pay their respects and report on household affairs. Another ritual is to smear malt sugar on the lips of the Kitchen God, one of the traveling deities, to ensure that he either submits a favorable report to the Jade Emperor or keeps silent. Both these rituals indicate the worldly nature of the Chinese culture and the great value given to social reputation.

In keeping with its worldly philosophies , the Buddhism that became popular in China was the Mahayana school where the aim was not to become a Buddha through individual effort (prescribed by the older Thervada school) but to invoke the intervention of compassionate Bodhisattvas who could make material world more bearable. One of the most popular Bodhisattavas, elevated to the status of goddess, was Kwan Yin who was so kind and compassionate that she was expelled from hell by the lords of the underworld because her presence made it difficult to torture the wicked. Her temples even today are filled a throng of pilgrims shaking rattles and setting off firecrackers to get her attention.

Confucianism is less mystical and focused on worldly matters like family and state. The Confucian system revolves around five relationships: between Emperor and subjects, between husband and wife, between father and son, between elder brother and younger brother and between friends. It states that everything and everyone in heaven and earth has its proper position and so long as everyone retained his proper position through restraint, respect, righteousness and ritual there would be order and peace all around.

From the Confucian way of thinking came the idea that Chinese culture attempts to create on earth, the perfection of Tian or the heavens. The Great Wall was built to protect the perfect culture on earth. The Chinese emperor was the earthly counterpart of the Jade Emperor, who ruled over the highest heaven . His bureaucracy and his army and his palace, the Forbidden City, were earthly counterparts of the bureaucracy, army and palace in heaven. ... "

~ From Unique spiritual cauldron of Taoism, Buddhism & Confucianism
~


The Enduring Power of Ethnic Nationalism

" ... Today, people tend to take the nation-state for granted as the natural form of political association and regard empires as anomalies. But over the broad sweep of recorded history, the opposite is closer to the truth. Most people at most times have lived in empires, with the nation-state the exception rather than the rule. So what triggered the change?

The rise of ethnonationalism, as the sociologist Ernest Gellner has explained, was not some strange historical mistake; rather, it was propelled by some of the deepest currents of modernity. Military competition between states created a demand for expanded state resources and hence continual economic growth. Economic growth, in turn, depended on mass literacy and easy communication, spurring policies to promote education and a common language -- which led directly to conflicts over language and communal opportunities.

Modern societies are premised on the egalitarian notion that in theory, at least, anyone can aspire to any economic position. But in practice, everyone does not have an equal likelihood of upward economic mobility, and not simply because individuals have different innate capabilities. For such advances depend in part on what economists call "cultural capital," the skills and behavioral patterns that help individuals and groups succeed. Groups with traditions of literacy and engagement in commerce tend to excel, for example, whereas those without such traditions tend to lag behind.

As they moved into cities and got more education during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, ethnic groups with largely peasant backgrounds, such as the Czechs, the Poles, the Slovaks, and the Ukrainians found that key positions in the government and the economy were already occupied -- often by ethnic Armenians, Germans, Greeks, or Jews. Speakers of the same language came to share a sense that they belonged together and to define themselves in contrast to other communities. And eventually they came to demand a nation state of their own, in which they would be the masters, dominating politics, staffing the civil service, and controlling commerce.

Ethnonationalism had a psychological basis as well as an economic one. By creating a new and direct relationship between individuals and the government, the rise of the modern state weakened individuals' traditional bonds to intermediate social units, such as the family, the clan, the guild, and the church. And by spurring social and geographic mobility and a self-help mentality, the rise of market-based economies did the same. The result was an emotional vacuum that was often filled by new forms of identification, often along ethnic lines.

Ethnonationalist ideology called for a congruence between the state and the ethnically defined nation, with explosive results. As Lord Acton recognized in 1862, "By making the state and the nation commensurate with each other in theory, [nationalism] reduces practically to a subject condition all other nationalities that may be within the boundary. . . . According, therefore, to the degree of humanity and civilization in that dominant body which claims all the rights of the community, the inferior races are exterminated, or reduced to servitude, or outlawed, or put in a condition of dependence." And that is just what happened.

[ ... ]

Since ethnonationalism is a direct consequence of key elements of modernization, it is likely to gain ground in societies undergoing such a process. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that it remains among the most vital -- and most disruptive -- forces in many parts of the contemporary world.

More or less subtle forms of ethnonationalism, for example, are ubiquitous in immigration policy around the globe. Many countries -- including Armenia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Israel, Serbia, and Turkey -- provide automatic or rapid citizenship to the members of diasporas of their own dominant ethnic group, if desired. Chinese immigration law gives priority and benefits to overseas Chinese. Portugal and Spain have immigration policies that favor applicants from their former colonies in the New World. Still other states, such as Japan and Slovakia, provide official forms of identification to members of the dominant national ethnic group who are noncitizens that permit them to live and work in the country. Americans, accustomed by the U.S. government's official practices to regard differential treatment on the basis of ethnicity to be a violation of universalist norms, often consider such policies exceptional, if not abhorrent. Yet in a global context, it is the insistence on universalist criteria that seems provincial.

Increasing communal consciousness and shifting ethnic balances are bound to have a variety of consequences, both within and between states, in the years to come. As economic globalization brings more states into the global economy, for example, the first fruits of that process will often fall to those ethnic groups best positioned by history or culture to take advantage of the new opportunities for enrichment, deepening social cleavages rather than filling them in. Wealthier and higher-achieving regions might try to separate themselves from poorer and lower-achieving ones, and distinctive homogeneous areas might try to acquire sovereignty -- courses of action that might provoke violent responses from defenders of the status quo.

Of course, there are multiethnic societies in which ethnic consciousness remains weak, and even a more strongly developed sense of ethnicity may lead to political claims short of sovereignty. Sometimes, demands for ethnic autonomy or self-determination can be met within an existing state. The claims of the Catalans in Spain, the Flemish in Belgium, and the Scots in the United Kingdom have been met in this manner, at least for now. But such arrangements remain precarious and are subject to recurrent renegotiation. In the developing world, accordingly, where states are more recent creations and where the borders often cut across ethnic boundaries, there is likely to be further ethnic disaggregation and communal conflict. And as scholars such as Chaim Kaufmann have noted, once ethnic antagonism has crossed a certain threshold of violence, maintaining the rival groups within a single polity becomes far more difficult.

This unfortunate reality creates dilemmas for advocates of humanitarian intervention in such conflicts, because making and keeping peace between groups that have come to hate and fear one another is likely to require costly ongoing military missions rather than relatively cheap temporary ones. When communal violence escalates to ethnic cleansing, moreover, the return of large numbers of refugees to their place of origin after a cease-fire has been reached is often impractical and even undesirable, for it merely sets the stage for a further round of conflict down the road.

Partition may thus be the most humane lasting solution to such intense communal conflicts. It inevitably creates new flows of refugees, but at least it deals with the problem at issue. The challenge for the international community in such cases is to separate communities in the most humane manner possible: by aiding in transport, assuring citizenship rights in the new homeland, and providing financial aid for resettlement and economic absorption. The bill for all of this will be huge, but it will rarely be greater than the material costs of interjecting and maintaining a foreign military presence large enough to pacify the rival ethnic combatants or the moral cost of doing nothing. ... "

~ full article ~

State Dept retracts Kenya 'Ethnic Cleansing' label

The State Department backed away Wednesday from its top African envoy's description of postelection violence in Kenya as "ethnic cleansing," saying it was too early to characterize the situation in such terms.

In comments aimed at easing emotional reactions to the phrase and potential comparisons to Rwanda's genocide and the ongoing conflict in Sudan's Darfur region, department spokesman Sean McCormack indicated that Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer had been speaking for herself when she used the term "ethnic cleansing."

~ link ~


A Catholic take on the 'War on Terror'

" ... As part of this constructive dialogue, the US should: 1) honestly and promptly reorient all those economic and political interests and policies in the Middle East countries which unjustly make us rich and powerful at their expense; 2) respect the Middle East's proud tradition of neutrality by not forcing it at gunpoint to be either pro-America or pro-terrorist; and 3) engage in mutual treaties of peace with these countries. On July 7, when London buses were bombed, EWTN's Life on the Rock happened to have as its guest Anna Halpine, an important Catholic UN worker and activist. When she was asked in an email her opinion on why terrorism exists, she answered, "It's lack of dialogue." More dialogue is needed between public officials and their people, as well as between public officials themselves. She emphasized that civil leaders must listen to all the problems, concerns and grievances of their people.

The two big problems today among obstinate conservatives and neocons can be summarized quite concisely: 1) They refuse to recognize and work to rectify US-led social, economic, religious, and political injustice in the world, and just as stubbornly reject the UN as opportunity to do so; and 2) when this hypocritical, blind-eye, deaf-ear policy naturally results in hateful threats against America, they force those leaders to drop their hostility or face war. Does this make any sense? Is it morally upright and sound foreign policy? Not at all, said Pope John Paul. If the US would pursue true dialogue and diplomacy with terrorist nations--shutting its mouth more often to listen--without craftily abusing dialogue to serve its enrichment alone, as JP II and Benedict XVI have urged us for several decades now, global terrorism would drastically decline. ... "

~ more... ~


The last woman jailed as a witch in the UK

...and the campaign to clear her name:

" ... When the battleship Barham was torpedoed by the Germans in November 1941, with the loss of over 800 lives, the Admiralty delayed announcing the news to maintain morale.

But the secrecy was ended within a few days when medium Helen Duncan told a couple during a seance that their son, a sailor on the ship, had appeared from the spirit world to tell them it had sunk.

In one of the most bizarre acts of the Second World War, Mrs Duncan was accused of leaking military secrets - and became the last woman jailed as a witch in the UK.

Now campaigners want an official pardon for the Scots-born mother of six, who spent nine months in Holloway Prison, north London.

A group of mediums have handed a petition to the Scottish Parliament, calling on it to lobby Home Secretary Jacqui Smith.

[ ... ]

Despite the controversy, Mrs Duncan reputedly numbered Winston Churchill and George VI among her clients.

Churchill denounced the case against her as "obsolete tomfoolery" and visited her in prison. ... "

~ more... ~


In Uganda, Prisons Officers to Pay Torture Victims

Prison officers who torture inmates will now be held responsible for their acts, including compensating the victims, the commissioner general of Prisons has said.

Dr. Johnson Byabashaija said the new Prisons Act 2006 shifts the burden of compensating torture victims from the State to the perpetrators of the crime.

"It is no longer a request that we observe inmates' rights. It is a legal requirement.

"It is no longer the Attorney General who is going to be sued for abusing prisoners' rights but the individual officer," Byabashaija warned.

He was on Wednesday speaking at the opening of a workshop for local administration prisons officers who have been integrated into the main prisons service.

The integration follows the enactment of the new law, which placed all local government policing agencies under the Commissioner General of Prisons...

~ more... ~


New Kerouac book due in November

Co-written in 1945 by Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs, And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks deals with the event that gave the Beat writer group its notoriety: the stabbing of David Kammerer by Lucien Carr. The Telegraph writes:

Carr served two years after admitting manslaughter, claiming Kammerer had been obsessed with him and had become violent.

Carr confessed to Kerouac and Burroughs, who helped him dispose of the knife but did not go to police. Kerouac was arrested as an accessary to the killing in 1944 and was put in a Bronx jail but he was freed after his girlfriend, Edie Parker, stood bail.

Burroughs was arrested but escaped incarceration after his father put up bail.

The book's publication will be a cause célèbre, given the enduring appeal of the authors. It is understood legal wranglings within the Kerouac estate are the reason it has not been published before, although neither writer was keen for that to happen. In a documentary Burroughs described it as "not a distinguished work".


US Great Seal Conspiracy Debunked by Alleged Conspirators

The Associated Press tells us: " ... Not that the Seal's symbols — the all-seeing eye, the unfinished pyramid, the Latin phrases, the bald eagle clutching an olive branch and arrows and the number 13 — aren't powerful.

They are, historians say. Yet their meanings have been misidentified, misunderstood and misrepresented almost since the Continental Congress first commissioned the Seal in 1776.

It would be another six years before the original design was approved and another 128 before it evolved into its current form. Along the way, a movement to decipher the Seal's meaning with ancient Egyptian, mystical and otherwise otherworldly explanations has gained currency.

The Internet age has seen an explosion in such conspiracy theories, many which have now been ingrained in public consciousness through the popular "National Treasure" movie franchise that serves up a combination of Masonic lore and historical myths in blockbuster Hollywood fashion.

Among them:

_That the Seal proves the domination of the United States by a powerful, quasi-religious cult. The Ancient Scottish Rite of Freemasonry is a perennial favorite of conspiracy theorists as some Founding Fathers were Masons and the Seal uses several Masonic symbols.

_That the Seal draws on Satanism or polytheistic ritual to promote a universal new world order under which Earth would be ruled by a single omnipotent government.

_That repeated references to 13 — the number of steps in the unfinished pyramid, stars in the constellation over the eagle's head, arrows in the eagle's claw, stripes on the eagle's shield, letters in the phrase "Annuit Coeptis" — demonstrate the power of 13 American families. ... "


~ From Great Seal Secrets Revealed! ~

Also check out The United States Seal - Fact, Fiction or Conspiracy?

'I already know who rules the United States'

" ... That having been said, I also realize that conspiracy theories are total nonsense. As anyone whose ever tried to keep a secret will tell you, any group larger than one person probably has a stool pigeon in it. Besides, who needs scapegoats like the Masons and the Men in Black? I already know who rules the United States.

Insurance companies.

Think I'm joking? Well, try this on for size. From the Revolutionary war to the 1970's, U.S. citizens were the tallest people in the world. However, over the last 60 years or so, Americans have been getting progressively shorter while Europeans have been growing progressively taller. In fact, in the middle of the 1800's, the average Dutchman was six centimeters shorter than the average American. Today, that trend is completely reversed.

I would love to blame this on the fact that Europeans often build their nuclear reactors in the middle of cities. After all, it would be really cool if the whole glowing continent was getting bigger because of an Attack of the 50-foot Women-style atomic-era disaster. However, according to a recent study that was jointly conducted by Princeton University and the University of Munich, the actual culprit is America's lower nutritional standards and its lack of a health-care safety net. According to this study, the fact that 15% of American children have no health coverage, combined with the fact that the remaining children often have to fight for a decent standard of care, is partially to blame for America's shortness epidemic.

On the bright side, this means that we can stretch out in smaller airplane seats. On the downside, it means that, if you want to stare down a Dutchman, you'll probably need to stand on a telephone book. ... "

~ From Health insurance companies: They ARE the boss of you ~


'Self as a verb, ego as a noun'

MG: Could you define ego in terms of the 8-circuit brain? Do you see a distinction between ego and self?

AA: In context to the 8-Circuit Brain model, the first four circuits symbolize specific developmental stages of the ego personality as our physical, emotional, conceptual and social survival strategies and defenses. However, until these levels or circuits can be experienced firsthand and redefined for oneself, our survival strategies and defenses tend to run, more or less, on automatic. Running on automatic means a life defined and driven chiefly by the unconscious parental and societal conditioning we were raised with, rather than a life dictated by our own innate sensibilities, values and ethics as an awakening human being.

This shift from automatic living to awakening parallels Carl Jung's Individuation, Dada Bhagwan's Self-realization, Dr. Abraham Mazlow's Self-Actualization, G.I. Gurdjieff's Self-Work and other related approaches to differentiating the innate being from the unconscious complexes we have mistaken for identity.

The 8-Circuit Brain can offer useful guidelines for revisioning these four survival modes, according to one's own discovery of what each one means and how they interact with each other, towards the maturing of a strong, supple and flexible ego. How the term "ego" differs from "self" should remain an ongoing inquiry. In shorthand, ego refers to any self-image or idea we have become emotionally invested in protecting, defending and preserving; for whatever reasons. The term "self", for me, represents a process not a goal; self as a verb, ego as a noun.

Our experiences are mediated by our bias, beliefs, ideas, ideals, etc. When these mediations can be minimized we can open up to a more direct experience of whatever is happening. As we experience life more directly, or with minimal mediation, a new kind of self develops...one that must stay open and flexible to persist, rather than the ego tendency for fixating on a set image or idea of who we are or what is happening. Again, self as verb, ego as noun.

Since the ego is made up of ephemeral image-stuff, it is naturally insecure and understandably covets the idea of being in control or the boss of it all. Even though deep down we may know it's an illusion to feed the ego's fantasy, we do it anyway. That's sleepy human. We also forget it's a fantasy and end up taking ego way too seriously. Dreaming humans. The process of selfhood, on the other hand, seems more guided by the gestalt of the situation itself, as if to say the situation were the boss. Ah! The awakening human!

 
MG: Where do the "upper" process-oriented circuits 5-8 fit in?

AA: Whereas the first four circuits symbolize a hierarchy of survival needs, circuits five through eight represent states of consciousness and functions of intelligence operating with, what I call, transpersonal post-survival agendas. These agendas push and stretch human consciousness to their outermost limits and can be thought of as evolutionary triggers. Upper circuit experiences are often triggered by specific types of shocks, such as fifth circuit shock of ecstasy, sixth circuit shock of uncertainty (or relativity), seventh circuit shock of unity and eighth circuit shock of impermanence.

~ From The 8-Circuit Brain and Other Bright Ideas: Part 2 ~

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