Sunday, January 4, 2009

The Greek December

It was horrible knowing I was being snooped on

Even though I wasn't having an affair, it's terrifying how easy even a technologically incompetent fool like my dear husband managed to plug straight into my life. I started to rethink what I'd done that day and saw how easy it would be for perfectly innocent things to be misinterpreted. Such as if I'd written “love” at the end of an e-mail. Or had a brief, harmless whinge about husbands to a friend on the phone. Or snogged the TV repair man . . .

You can see why people on Big Brother go so mad so quickly. Even though they know they're being spied on, it's a huge pressure.

While Matt had his gadgets, I felt totally self-conscious . . . I started to behave as though I were being monitored. Not a nice feeling.

If I ever do conduct an illicit relationship with a man called Geoff, which, despite this little saga, is unlikely, I now know not to do it by e-mail or phone or at home or by car. So we shall meet in the woods that are walking distance away on Sunday mornings when the kids are with Nana and Matt goes for his bike ride.

There are ways of getting your own back on an overly inquisitive husband, of course. I did my own research in the wake of Massagegate and it turns out that you can employ a few quite simple counter-espionage measures. The internet offers bug detectors, machines that interfere with hidden voice recorders and mobile phones with inbuilt encryption. For £122, you can buy a small sweeper that alerts you to hidden bedroom cameras. And there's another little box that produces white noise to mask sweet nothings.

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Police set to step up hacking of home PCs

THE Home Office has quietly adopted a new plan to allow police across Britain routinely to hack into people's personal computers without a warrant.

The move, which follows a decision by the European Union's council of ministers in Brussels, has angered civil liberties groups and opposition MPs. They described it as a sinister extension of the surveillance state which drives “a coach and horses” through privacy laws.

The hacking is known as “remote searching”. It allows police or MI5 officers who may be hundreds of miles away to examine covertly the hard drive of someone's PC at his home, office or hotel room.

Material gathered in this way includes the content of all e-mails, web-browsing habits and instant messaging.

Under the Brussels edict, police across the EU have been given the green light to expand the implementation of a rarely used power involving warrantless intrusive surveillance of private property. The strategy will allow French, German and other EU forces to ask British officers to hack into someone's UK computer and pass over any material gleaned.

A remote search can be granted if a senior officer says he “believes” that it is “proportionate” and necessary to prevent or detect serious crime — defined as any offence attracting a jail sentence of more than three years.

However, opposition MPs and civil liberties groups say that the broadening of such intrusive surveillance powers should be regulated by a new act of parliament and court warrants.

They point out that in contrast to the legal safeguards for searching a suspect's home, police undertaking a remote search do not need to apply to a magistrates' court for a warrant.

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A new kind of mind

It is hard to imagine anything that would "change everything" as much as a cheap, powerful, ubiquitous artificial intelligence—the kind of synthetic mind that learns and improves itself. A very small amount of real intelligence embedded into an existing process would boost its effectiveness to another level. We could apply mindfulness wherever we now apply electricity. The ensuing change would be hundreds of times more disruptive to our lives than even the transforming power of electrification. We'd use artificial intelligence the same way we've exploited previous powers—by wasting it on seemingly silly things. Of course we'd plan to apply AI to tough research problems like curing cancer, or solving intractable math problems, but the real disruption will come from inserting wily mindfulness into vending machines, our shoes, books, tax returns, automobiles, email, and pulse meters.

This additional intelligence need not be super-human, or even human-like at all. In fact, the greatest benefit of an artificial intelligence would come from a mind that thought differently than humans, since we already have plenty of those around. The game-changer is neither how smart this AI is, nor its variety, but how ubiquitous it is. Alan Kay quips in that humans perspective is worth 80 IQ points. For an artificial intelligence, ubiquity is worth 80 IQ points. A distributed AI, embedded everywhere that electricity goes, becomes ai—a low-level background intelligence that permeates the technium, and trough this saturation morphs it.

Ideally this additional intelligence should not be just cheap, but free. A free ai, like the free commons of the web, would feed commerce and science like no other force I can imagine, and would pay for itself in no time. Until recently, conventional wisdom held that supercomputers would first host this artificial mind, and then perhaps we'd get mini-ones at home, or add them to the heads of our personal robots. They would be bounded entities. We would know where our thoughts ended and theirs began.

However, the snowballing success of Google this past decade suggests the coming AI will not be bounded inside a definable device. It will be on the web, like the web. The more people that use the web, the more it learns. The more it knows, the more we use it. The smarter it gets, the more money it makes, the smarter it will get, the more we will use it. The smartness of the web is on an increasing-returns curve, self-accelerating each time someone clicks on a link or creates a link. Instead of dozens of geniuses trying to program an AI in a university lab, there are billion people training the dim glimmers of intelligence arising between the quadrillion hyperlinks on the web. Long before the computing capacity of a plug-in computer overtakes the supposed computing capacity of a human brain, the web—encompassing all its connected computing chips—will dwarf the brain. In fact it already has.

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What Liberal Media?

It is almost amusing that Corporate Ownership has sown the seeds of its own destruction. With every take-over of smaller papers, with every computerized programming effort, with the dumbing down of the news, and turning it into infomercial junk, the corporate owners thought that they were squeezing profits out in ways never before attempted. No longer were 4% returns appropriate; 14% was their goal. With every firing, consolidation, cutting of staff, dropping of resources, they forgot that one key ingredient - their audience.

What was worse was the political tone that spread throughout Corporate MSM, especially the last 8 years. Hard questioning of Bush, Cheney, or Condi was deemed off-limits. Questioning policy decisions or military, economic, or social policy fiascoes could not happen, lest the media be painted with some imaginary broad "traitor" brush. In many ways by design (Clear's ban of Dixie Chicks), and in others by circumstance, America's MSM became both a corporate message machine, as well as scared of its own shadow (much like the Democratic leadership in Congress). Even Katrina, with its floating, rotting corpses, did not wake up MSM and force it to reassess its warm, friendly relationship to this administration.

Some people, especially on the far left, have called for the return of the so-called Fairness Doctrine. With that tool, they think that they could match Rush's and Sean's lines and lies, step by step, word for word. They are wrong. Frankly, the Fairness Doctrine is a canard. We live in a different world, and we no longer have three TV, five radio stations, and a morning or evening newspaper as our sole access to world events. This law will not solve anything.

You cannot mandate content from the top down, as we see each day. The Corporate Ownership has tried, for eight years, to force its pro-business opinions (tort reform, Medicare's Prescription mess, and so many more) down America's throat. Yet, despite that constant pro-business drum beat, most Americans are willing to seek national health care, a quick exit from Iraq, stem cell research, and a real Department of Justice, among other "socialist" and "liberal" ideas.

Simply matching or replacing the conservative slant currently in the MSM with a liberal or progressive tone will not fix the problem. Eventually, any liberal message would have the same track record as the conservative outlets, ie eventual failure. (which would give Rush even more gristle to choke on, between his Viagra and Oxycontin binges) Unfortunately, the disease (Corporate control and consolidation) remains in place.

Clearly, there is great interest in news. Blogs and websites discuss Palestine, Syria, China, and Euro-Dollar exchange rate with far more detail and interest than you would ever find on CNN, Fox, ABC, NBC, or CBS. There is a possible solution to the MSM mess. The solution is divestiture. No more massive media chains, controlling and directing how news is reported to 80% of the population. Small papers would again go back to their 4% profits, but again concentrate on local stories of interest. Radio stations would compete for listeners, not by following the political and programing whims of Wall Street or Clear, but by being creative and interesting.

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Russia in talks with Iran over sale of anti-aircraft missiles, despite Israeli objections

Israel plans to send one of its most senior security officials to Moscow tomorrow to express concern over Russia's decision to renew contacts with Iran for the sale of advanced anti-aircraft missiles, Haaretz has learned.

Israeli officials said the government will send the Defense Ministry's Diplomatic-Security Bureau Maj.-Gen. (res) Amos Gilad to try to dissuade the Kremlin from supplying Iran with S-300 missiles - which would significantly complicate any military strike against Iran's nuclear facilities.

During his two-day visit in Moscow, Gilad will meet with the Russian chief of staff, the head of intelligence as well as senior defense officials and diplomats. In addition to talks on the S-300 sale, Gilad is expected to bring up the Iranian nuclear program and Syria's supplying of Russian-made weapons to Hezbollah.

Earlier this year, Russia said it would not move forward with the transaction. In October, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert visited Russia, where he met with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and with his foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov. The meeting was set up to try and persuade the Russians to drop two deals in the works - one to sell S-300 missiles to Iran and the other to sell them to Syria.

The Russian foreign ministry's spokesman said Russia will not go ahead with the Iranian deal. "We have declared more than once at the very highest political level that we do not intend to supply those types of armaments to countries located in regions that are, to put it mildly, unstable areas," said Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko.

The Russian official added that the Kremlin makes decisions on selling such systems based on "both preserving the balance of power in the given region, and taking into account the need to provide stability and security in the region."

But in spite of these statements, Israeli officials say Russia and Iran renewed negotiations on the purchase of the missile system several weeks ago. The sources confirmed a report that appeared in the foreign press on the matter two weeks ago.

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Target Iran - Air strikes

One potential military option that would be available to the United States includes the use of air strikes on Iranian weapons of mass destruction and missile facilities.

In all, there are perhaps two dozen suspected nuclear facilities in Iran. The 1000-megawatt nuclear plant Bushehr would likely be the target of such strikes. According to the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center, the spent fuel from this facility would be capable of producing 50 to 75 bombs. Also, the suspected nuclear facilities at Natanz and Arak will likely be targets of an air attack.

American air strikes on Iran would vastly exceed the scope of the 1981 Israeli attack on the Osiraq nuclear center in Iraq, and would more resemble the opening days of the 2003 air campaign against Iraq. Using the full force of operational B-2 stealth bombers, staging from Diego Garcia or flying direct from the United States, possibly supplemented by F-117 stealth fighters staging from al Udeid in Qatar or some other location in theater, the two-dozen suspect nuclear sites would be targeted.

Military planners could tailor their target list to reflect the preferences of the Administration by having limited air strikes that would target only the most crucial facilities in an effort to delay or obstruct the Iranian program or the United States could opt for a far more comprehensive set of strikes against a comprehensive range of WMD related targets, as well as conventional and unconventional forces that might be used to counterattack against US forces in Iraq.

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Predictably, FOX News uses Middle East conflict to push war against Iran

“Fair and balanced” FOX News offered (chicken)hawk John Bolton as its sole guest to discuss the latest Israeli conflict on last night's (12/29/08) Hannity & Colmes. As Jane Hamsher pointed out in an interesting post, the knee-jerk, pro-Israel American media response is beginning to change. But not on FOX News. In nearly three hours of prime time (I tuned out after On The Record began rehashing the white gal overboard story also discussed on H&C), only Alan Colmes cast doubt on Israel's tactics, though he was more skeptical than critical. Nobody else even went that far. But Bolton didn't just support Israel. As he has whenever the subject of the Middle East comes up, he used it as a rationale for ratcheted up militarism and a strike against Iran. With video.

In Part 1 of the two-part discussion, Bolton said the current conflict gave him “flashbacks to the summer of 2006," during Israel's conflict with Lebanon.” I had flashbacks, too, but for a different reason. Bolton has used previous Middle East flare ups to push for war against Iran in just the same way: by scorning diplomatic efforts and frightening viewers into thinking time is running out. During the 2007 Lebanon strife, he said,

“I think there is a cost to diplomacy. In the area of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, time is not on our side. Time is used by countries like Iran to perfect their nuclear weapons program. We can't allow that to go on any further.”
Last night, Bolton said,
“Every problem in the region that we have now gets worse once Iran gets nuclear weapons. And I'm afraid we are ever closer to that point... I don't think there's anything at this point standing between Iran and nuclear weapons other than the possibility of the use of military force, possibly by the United States, possibly by Israel. I don't see the Bush administration doing it. So it could well come down to Israel.”
Last night, Bolton also said that the United States should support Israel because the US will want to (or more likely, in his view, should) react just as disproportionately. “While the focus is certainly on Israel, Israel, in a sense, is a surrogate for the United States. God forbid another attack comes against us and we have a president who decides to respond to it, we will be criticized for the disproportionate use of force... The notion of proportionate force is something that can easily be turned against the United States.”

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Musical Innerlube: Eric Maldonado - Unspoken Words

Composition dedicated to Steve Vai

What is Hamas?

While these arguments are oft-repeated in today's media, Levitt does little to address research that supports a very different conclusion regarding the Hamas dawa. Some of the key findings of this research point to institutional features that demonstrate no preference for religion or politics over other ideologies, particularly in programmatic work; an approach to institutional work that advocates incrementalism, moderation, order and stability; a philosophical and practical desire for productivity and professionalism that shuns radical change and emphasizes community development and civic restoration over political violence; and no evidence of any formal attempt to impose an Islamic model of political, social, legal or religious behavior, or to create an alternative Islamic or Islamist conception of society.

While there can be no doubt that, since its inception, Hamas has engaged in violence and armed struggle and has been the primary force behind the horrific suicide bombings inside Israel, Levitt's presentation reduces this increasingly complex and sophisticated organization to an insular, one-dimensional and seemingly mindless entity dedicated solely to violence, terrorism and Israel's destruction. To fully understand the current political stature of Hamas, it is necessary to closely examine the dramatic transitions that have occurred within the organization itself, among Palestinians with respect to their society, and in Palestine's relationship with Israel.

From the point of view of Hamas, Palestine is an Arab and Islamic land that fell to colonial control with the demise of the Ottoman Empire. The establishment of the State of Israel is viewed as a way to perpetuate colonial authority over the Muslim homeland and is therefore illegitimate. As victims of colonialism, Hamas argues that Palestinians have the right to resist and struggle to regain their homeland and freedom, viewing this as a local and nationalist struggle. Now, almost two decades after its birth, Hamas has grown in size and popularity. While changes have not been made to its frame of reference or objectives, its political discourse has become more refined and streamlined, particularly with regard to its relations with local groups, political factions, other religious communities and other nations.

Unfortunately, Matthew Levitt's book does not address the critical evolutionary processes — particularly with regard to its organizational structure and political, social and economic role in Palestinian society — that have characterized the Palestinian Islamist movement and Hamas's rise to power. The ability of Hamas to reinterpret itself over time through processes of radicalization, de-radicalization, de-militarization and re-radicalization is a pronounced and common theme in its historical evolution. Levitt neglects to address the significance behind this commitment to reinterpretation. His analysis aims simply to demonize Hamas, and he discounts the critical connections between changing patterns of protest and structures of society, competing visions of a Palestinian social and political order, and contesting Islamic and secular definitions of meaning and legitimacy. The synergy among these forces has characterized the history and growth of Palestinian Islamism.

Israel's military occupation, which has long been the defining context for Palestinian life, is almost absent from Levitt's book. Hamas's popularity and growing empowerment derive from its role as a resistance organization, fighting against an occupation that is now 40 years old. Israel's steady expropriation, fragmentation and division of Palestinian lands; settlement construction and expansion; closure restrictions and destruction of the Palestinian economy are not part of Levitt's discussion, nor is the right of the Palestinians to resist these measures. In those few instances where the occupation is mentioned, it is couched in terms that acknowledge Palestinian hardship — a reality exploited by Hamas — but justified as a response to terrorism. In the absence of any serious examination of Israel's occupation, Levitt's portrayal of the rise of Hamas is completely detached from the context within which it was produced and shaped.

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As if things weren't bad enough, Russian professor predicts end of U.S.

For a decade, Russian academic Igor Panarin has been predicting the U.S. will fall apart in 2010. For most of that time, he admits, few took his argument -- that an economic and moral collapse will trigger a civil war and the eventual breakup of the U.S. -- very seriously. Now he's found an eager audience: Russian state media.

In recent weeks, he's been interviewed as much as twice a day about his predictions. "It's a record," says Prof. Panarin. "But I think the attention is going to grow even stronger."

Prof. Panarin, 50 years old, is not a fringe figure. A former KGB analyst, he is dean of the Russian Foreign Ministry's academy for future diplomats. He is invited to Kremlin receptions, lectures students, publishes books, and appears in the media as an expert on U.S.-Russia relations.

But it's his bleak forecast for the U.S. that is music to the ears of the Kremlin, which in recent years has blamed Washington for everything from instability in the Middle East to the global financial crisis. Mr. Panarin's views also fit neatly with the Kremlin's narrative that Russia is returning to its rightful place on the world stage after the weakness of the 1990s, when many feared that the country would go economically and politically bankrupt and break into separate territories.

A polite and cheerful man with a buzz cut, Mr. Panarin insists he does not dislike Americans. But he warns that the outlook for them is dire.

"There's a 55-45% chance right now that disintegration will occur," he says. "One could rejoice in that process," he adds, poker-faced. "But if we're talking reasonably, it's not the best scenario -- for Russia." Though Russia would become more powerful on the global stage, he says, its economy would suffer because it currently depends heavily on the dollar and on trade with the U.S.

Mr. Panarin posits, in brief, that mass immigration, economic decline, and moral degradation will trigger a civil war next fall and the collapse of the dollar. Around the end of June 2010, or early July, he says, the U.S. will break into six pieces -- with Alaska reverting to Russian control.

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Pat Robertson sees left tilt, rebound under Obama

"What the Lord was saying, the people are willing to accept socialism to alleviate their pain," Robertson said on a broadcast of "The 700 Club." He hosts the program, which is aired from the Christian Broadcasting Network studios in Virginia Beach.

Robertson said the economy, particularly the stock market, could start rebounding by the second quarter.

"Cast off the gloom and the doom because things are getting ready to turn around," he said. "I'm flying in the face of all of the experts or most of the experts who say, 'Oh, no, no, no, it's going to get worse,' but I don't think so."

Robertson's prophecies are an annual tradition at CBN and Regent University, where he unveils his predictions at a New Year's Day chapel service. Robertson is founder, president and chancellor of Regent.

The revelations are the product of his regular end-of-the-year prayer retreat.

"I say with humility, I hope I've heard the Lord. I spend time praying and asking him for wisdom and if there's a mistake, it's not his fault, it's mine," Robertson said.

Robertson said on New Year's Day that "nothing will stand in the way of a plan by Obama to restructure the economy in the same fashion as the New Deal in the '30s," according to videotaped comments aired on Friday's show.

The New Deal consisted of economic initiatives, such as publicly funded job programs, that Democratic President Franklin D. Roosevelt promoted during the Great Depression.

Robertson said Friday that with a New Deal-style initiative, "you're federalizing many of the things you're doing. And it'll be the largest transfer of power to Washington since the '30s, but people are just willing to accept it because the pain has been so bad."

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France braced for 'rebirth of violent left'

The French government fears a wave of extreme left-wing terrorism this year with the possible sabotage of key infrastructure, kidnappings of major business figures or even bomb attacks.

Secret French government reports, seen by the Observer, describe an "elevated threat" from an "international European network ... with a strong presence in France" after the radicalisation of "a new generation of activists" in recent years. Senior analysts and experts linked to the government have drawn parallels with the Action Directe group, which carried out 50 or more attacks in the early 1980s. Others cite the example of the Baader-Meinhof gang.

A report by the French domestic intelligence service talks of "a rebirth of the violent extreme left" across Europe that is likely to be aggravated by the effects of the economic crisis. Other secret documents expose alleged links with activists in Italy, Greece, Germany and the UK. "It has been growing for three or four years now and the violence is getting closer and closer to real terrorism," said Eric Dénécé, director of the French centre of intelligence research and a former Defence Ministry consultant.

While some believe such claims to be scaremongering, the present political atmosphere is tense, with many among right-wing President Nicolas Sarkozy's aides fearing a repeat of the violence in Athens last month, when angry and alienated young people and a hard core of violent left-wing extremists rioted for several days, causing significant damage and bringing the city to a halt.

Last week hundreds of fly-posters around Paris called on young people "forced to work for a world that poisons us" to follow the example of their Greek counterparts. "The insurrection goes on. If it takes hold everywhere, no one can stop it," the posters said.

The recent intelligence reports have blamed violent demonstrations against changes in employment law in 2006, often by middle-class young people, for the recruitment of large numbers of new activists.

A series of incidents last year confirmed the fears of French police. In January two activists were arrested in possession of what was alleged to be bomb-making materials. In November nine people were arrested after a lengthy surveillance operation in the central French village of Tarnac, where they had set up a commune. Two of the alleged ringleaders, Julien Coupat, 34, and his partner Yildune Lévy, 25, are still in prison accused of sabotaging high-speed TGV railway lines and "associating with wrongdoers with terrorist aims".

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Is your turmoil like my turmoil?

While Greek anarchists protested against the police, in Bulgaria it was the police themselves who protested. Bulgarian law forbids strikes by the armed forces or security sector, so on Saturday morning, 13 December, police officers gathered in huge numbers near the Interior Ministry “to light a cigarette.” They demanded a Christmas bonus, higher salaries, and better working conditions. An ordinary officer receives 300 to 500 euros monthly and often goes to work carrying his own laptop. A dialogue started and the ambitious new minister, Michail Mikov, promised reform, but the police came back a week later with a twist on the smoking event. They drank cold water, a traditional gesture of defeat.

Just as Greek anarchists were eventually joined by farmers protesting the allocation of funds in the state budget, so Bulgarian corn farmers decided to voice their disapproval of the budget. On 19 December, they jumped on their tractors and drove into downtown Sofia to demand higher subsidies. Dairy farmers joined in over an ongoing dispute with the government about subsidies. Environmental activists also arrived, protesting a new forestry law because they think it threatens protected natural reserves. Finally, a peaceful student march formed: 20-year-old Stoyan Baltov had been killed a week earlier by drunken youngsters in a part of the city that had been envisioned as a student quarter but has degenerated into a compound of bars, discos, casinos, drug dealers, and shady characters.

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Riots a warning of more chaos

The riots that have rampaged across Greece may have many causes, but one that is rarely mentioned is the fracturing of the Greek left into George Papandreou's traditional socialist party, PASOK, and an increasingly radicalized faction that refuses all accommodation with either the European Union or modern economics. To varying degrees, this divide is paralyzing Socialist parties across Europe.

That the traditional left is so inert in the midst of today's economic crisis is more than strange.

Instead of thriving on renewed doubts about capitalism, Europe's Socialist parties have failed to make any serious political inroads. In countries where they hold power, such as Spain, they are now very unpopular.

Where they are in opposition, as in France and Italy, they are in disarray -- as are Germany's Social Democrats, despite their being part of the ruling Grand Coalition. Even Sweden's out-of-power Socialists, the country's dominant party for a century, have failed to capitalize on the crisis. The United Kingdom may be the exception, though the pro-market Labor Party shaped by Tony Blair may not count as a party of the left anymore.

European socialists have failed to address the crisis cogently because of their internal divisions. Born anti-capitalist, these parties all (to greater and lesser degrees) came to accept the free market as the foundation of the economy. Moreover, since 1991 and the collapse of the Soviet system, the left has lacked a clear model with which to oppose capitalism.

But, despite paying lip service to the market, the European left remains torn by an inner contradiction between its anti-capitalist origins and its recent conversion to free-market economics. Is the present crisis a crisis of capitalism or just a phase of it? This controversy keeps left-wing intellectuals, pundits and politicians busy on television talk shows and in café debates across Europe.

A new far left

As a result, a struggle for power has erupted. In France and Germany, a new far left -- composed of Trotskyites, communists and anarchists -- is rising from the ashes to become a political force again. These rejuvenated ghosts take the form of Oskar Lafontaine's Left Party in Germany, as well as various revolutionary movements in France. The actual alternative to capitalism that this far left seeks is anyone's guess.

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Riots in Greece aftermath - les Fleurs Du Male

It is inevitable that the sun will rise at the beginning of a new day. Not every day; but on most days this simple truth has held true so far.

The prevailing opinion was that "Greece is relatively sheltered from the crisis"; "Greece is fairly stable financially speaking". Well, these famous last words didn't last long before reality suddenly came crashing in, doing away with what can easily be now called wishful thinking. Out of seemingly nowhere, pent-up anger, frustration, even rage consumed the centers of all major Greeks cities for a few days - for Athens and Thessaloniki, the two largest cities, that was about two weeks.

All hell broke loose, as "anarchists" burned down cars, banks, shops and everything that was readily accessible. Almost without fail, day after day, a bit after the sun disappeared into the Greek seas, the Greek mainland was burned down by the angry protesters. Shop owners would not repair the damages, as they knew that come next day, they'd have to repair them anew. And in the morning, the smell of freshly burned garbage fouled major streets and avenues where real estate value in the not so distant past soared at several thousand Euros per m2. This, day after day, was what life in the center of Thessaloniki and Athens was like - not in 1821, the date Greece became an independent state, but in 2008.

The Greek political system was slow to respond, if it did respond at all. In a climate of despair and pending doom, trapped into a whirlwind of scandals and widespread corruption, ranging from Siemens to the "holy scandals" of Vatopedio, the government obviously decided to wait this one out. And so did the opposition. To be quite frank, nobody here in Greece knows where either party stands - or what really happened during this time. The whole thing is but a blur for most and what's left is essentially just a severe case of hangover.

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Democratic tendencies

Is Iraq moving closer to democracy while Europe is moving in the opposite direction?

The shoe-throwing incident by Muntadhar al-Zaidi in mid-December has made him a local and international hero. It's not so much in the boldness of his action, but that he did something that most people around the globe dreamed of doing, albeit with different sorts of objects. While analysts everywhere put al-Zaidi and his action in the spotlight, guaranteeing him more than his fair share of fifteen minutes of fame, the true significance behind the incident went unpronounced.

Most western observers who wrote about the shoe-flying incident did so with undertones of glee and admiration, but at the same time they were careful to not let this admiration and glee show too much. Phrases like “aalthough that action was not expressed in a civilized manner” or “although there is no doubt that the action itself was not exactly pleasant” were often used as qualifiers. Hence, most practiced a form of self-censorship, adding that they personally don't condone such behaviour. The net result of this is that feelings and actions of many in the west similar to that of al-Zaidi were thus further repressed by notions of what is considered decent and proper behaviour when personally confronting a politician.

Those who espouse the glories of western liberal democracy often forget that the modern version is missing one key element: the right to revolution and civil disobedience. One of the architects of the liberal democratic tradition, Thomas Jefferson, summed it up best when he noted that the tree of democracy needed to be nurtured with blood from time to time, as this was its natural manure. Clearly, in most contexts the reference to blood as the natural manure for democracy should be taken figuratively. However the end result is usually more or less the same: leaders should be held to account for their actions and not feel comfortable within the dictates of constitutional rules and regulations. Indeed, countries often celebrate revolutions (and some very violent ones, at that) in where tyranny was overcome. The French Revolution of 1792 and the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 are merely two such examples.

In the case of the Hungarian Revolution, it's ironic that some who were involved in its suppression of the uprising ended up celebrating the revolutionary event. In fact, these same individuals have been praised by their western counterparts for the minimal role they played in the regime change of 1989. This only goes to show how perverted present day concepts of democracy and freedom really are.

It's questionable whether a revolution, such as the Hungarian Revolt in 1956, could occur once again in Europe. This is not because people aren't suppressed by a surveillance society which impoverishes them materially as well as aesthetically. The December demonstrations and protests in Greece is a perfect example of this. Nor is it because European authorities don't use violence against public demonstrations and protests: Sweden, Italy, and Hungary are just a few countries in Europe where police violence in the form of live ammunition (including the use of sharp sabres) have been employed which caused not only severe injuries but in some cases even death.

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The robbery & murder behind the story of Hanukka

It is often the minor characters that play a pivotal role. So it is in the story of Hanukka, where every Jewish child knows the names of Judas Maccabeus and Antiochus Epiphanes, but who has heard of Heliodorus, intimate "friend of the emperor" Seleucus IV or chief minister of the empire, as he is called in the Second Book of Maccabees?

As in all good battles over religion, money plays an important part, and it certainly did so in the case of the Seleucids, the Syrian-Greeks, versus the Maccabees. Emperors are always short of cash, and use their powers of taxation to obtain it. But when times are hard, they pursue conquest and robbery to get their hands on it. So it was with the Seleucid emperors and the events of the revolt that led up to Hanukka.

We have to go back to 187 BCE, when Seleucus IV succeeded to the throne of his father Antiochus III, aka Antiochus the Great. Antiochus had wrested Coele-Syria, later called Palestine, from the Ptolemies of Egypt, who had held it for a hundred years after the death of Alexander the Great. The emerging Romans, not happy to see an expansion of the Seleucid Empire, finally accepted it as fait accompli but they imposed a heavy fine on Antiochus the Great in 188 BCE.

Before that, the Jews of Jerusalem had welcomed Antiochus by opening the city gates to his army in 200 BCE in return for which he had given them a charter that allowed them to live according to their ancestral ways, exempted the priests from taxes and even made royal contributions to the Temple upkeep and sacrifices.

When Antiochus the Great died, Seleucus IV continued the benevolent policies of his father and the contributions to the Temple. But he soon ran out of funds, and was interested to learn that the Temple housed a very great treasure.

The game had been given away by Simon of Bilgah, who was deputy to High Priest Onias III, and on bad terms with him. Simon had told the local Seleucid governor that the Temple contained "untold riches... and suggested that these... might be brought under the control of the king" (II Maccabees 3:6).

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Barricade and history: Notes on the intensification of bourgeois antagonism

The violent clash is first and foremost a clash within the latent level of the enactment and the assignment of meaning to space and time. It is the clash between the objective structure (the dog) with its knowledge and practice-based assignments of meaning (the dog's tail), some assignments critiquing the conditions of objectification of these very structures “arming the tail with teeth so that it can bite the dog”.

Every social class tries to use or transform the space of the city for its own gain. In this way we see the inscribing, in an elliptic trajectory, of a tradition of the oppressed: some tradition that holds the barricade as its visible material expression. The barricade represents on a spatial level what already exists in the social: The rupture with the assignment of meaning to the city as a unit that is supposedly whole and equal. A rupture with a definition of society as a permanent union of equals. From the part of sovereignty, it is this very unity of space that guarantees its continuation in time. The verge-esque state of the barricade reveals the radical division of the urban space. This division seems no longer solid, functional, inescapable - and becomes the main component of unity instead. It becomes a (national) unity (an ideologically constructed identity) that is divided. The propositional rupture of the social fabric comes to confirm the theoretical observation of a process of social change. The theory and practice of the oppressed come together in a materially effective cosmology. It is this very practice that accelerates the rhythm of the flow of historical time and it is this theory that conceptualises this acceleration.

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Dialogue of cultures

Efforts to hold an intercultural dialogue between Arabs and Europeans have been going on for some time now. Endless seminars and conferences were held. The latest of those was the "Intercultural Encounters on the Shores of the Mediterranean, the Alchemy of an Uninterrupted Dialogue", held in the Paris UNESCO headquarters on 4-5 December 2008. The event was part of the Arabia Plan, coordinated by Oman's UNESCO delegate Moussa bin Jaafar.

For myself, I am not sure we can discuss the dialogue of cultures in isolation of the existing structures of power. This is what I said in a paper I presented at the abovementioned conference. Can such a dialogue be fruitful while power is so unevenly distributed in today's world?

In my attempt to answer that question, I suggest that we look into four phases of cultural interaction between Arabs and Europeans. The first phase is when the balance of power was tilted in the Arabs' favour during the Middle Ages. The second phase is when the balance of power was in Europe's favour, from the Renaissance through colonialist times. The third phase is that of national liberation movements, at a time when the international system was mainly bipolar. The fourth phase is that of the post-Cold War era, when the US tried via globalisation to make the world its playground.

Let's discuss the first phase. In the Middle Ages -- that is, from the rise of Islam in the seventh century until the Ottoman conquests of the 16th century -- Arab civilisation was predominant. The Islamic empire, encompassing parts of the northern Mediterranean, had no equal. The interaction between Arabs and Europeans in this phase was not always peaceful. Conflict and frictions were common. But the overall balance of power was tilted in the Arabs' favour, even during the Crusades. The Crusaders came in nine waves, all with the support of the church, aiming to seize Jerusalem and roll back the forces of Islam. It wasn't until the Egyptians captured Louis IX, the king of France who was leading the seventh Crusade in person, that the Crusades lost steam.

During the Crusades, the Arabs and Europeans seemed equal on cultural and political terms. But this was mostly an illusion. The Arabs were significantly ahead and the Europeans had much to learn from Arab and Muslim scientists. Historians agree that interaction between the Arabs and Europe happened across three channels: Andalusia, Sicily and the Crusades. Arab knowledge moved on from Sicily to Italy, from Andalusia to Spain, and onward to France and the rest of Europe. During the Crusades, the Europeans copied, and stole, what they could of the rich Arab heritage they encountered.

It is a matter of common knowledge that Europe rediscovered Greek heritage through Arabic translation. Arab scholars were not just copying the knowledge they received, but invented new fields of knowledge, such as algebra. They brought sophistication to the much older disciplines of medicine, engineering, astronomy and surgery. Arab books in medicine, engineering, and astronomy were an essential read in major European universities until the middle of the 17th century. Cultural interaction that prevailed in Andalusia under Arab rule remains a unique model of tolerance to this day.

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What we see, what we hope: Declaration of solidarity with the uprising in Greece

We want first of all to say a collective yes! to the uprising in Greece.  We are artists, writers and teachers who are connected in this moment by common friends and commitments.  We are globally dispersed and are mostly watching, and hoping, from afar.  But some of us are also there, in Athens, and have been on the streets, have felt the rage and the tear gas, and have glimpsed the dancing specter of the other world that is possible.  We claim no special right to speak or be heard.  Still, we have a few things to say.  For this is also a global moment for speaking and sharing, for hoping and thinking together. . .

No one can doubt that the protest and occupation movement that has spread across Greece since the police murder of Alexis Grigoropoulos in Athens on 6 December is a social uprising whose causes reach far deeper than the obscene event that triggered it.  The rage is real, and it is justified.  The filled streets, strikes and walk-outs, and occupied schools, universities, union halls and television stations have refuted early official attempts to dismiss the social explosion as the work of a small number of "young people" in Exarchia, Athens or elsewhere in Greece.

What remains to be seen is whether the movement now emerging will become an effective political force -- and, if it does, whether it will be contained within a liberal-reformist horizon or will aim at a more radical social and political transformation.  If the movement takes the liberal-reformist path, then the most to be expected will be the replacement of one corrupt party in power by its corrupt competitor, accompanied by a few token concessions wrapped in the empty rhetoric of democracy.  These would almost certainly be the smoke-screen for a reactionary wave of new repressive powers masquerading as security measures.  Only radically democratic and emancipatory demands, clearly articulated and resolutely struggled for, could prevent this outcome and open the space for a rupture in a destructive global system of domination and exploitation.  As we count ourselves among those who experience this system as the violent negation of human spirit and potential, we could only welcome such a rupture as a reassertion of humanity in the face of a repressive politics of fear.

Observing events in Greece and the official and corporate media discourse developing in response to them, we note the emergence of what begins to looks like a new elite consensus.  The "violent unrest" in Greece, we are told with increasing frequency, is the revolt of the "700-Euro generation" -- that is, of overeducated young people with too few prospects of a decent position and income.  The solution, by this account, is to revitalize Greek society through more structural adjustments to make the economy more dynamic and efficient.  Once all people are convinced they will be welcomed and integrated into consumer reality and rewarded with purchasing power commensurate with their educational investment, then the conditions of this "revolt" will have been eliminated.  In short: everything will be fine, and everyone happy, once some adjustments have made capitalism in Greece less wasteful of its human resources.

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Dispatches: The Killing Zone [Repost]

British report on Israeli violence in Gaza against not only Palestinian civilians, but international aid volunteers and foreign reporters as well.


image from

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