Monday, November 26, 2007

Selected on 26.11.2007

Guantanamo document confirms psychological torture
After Wikileaks 7th of November 2007 release of the 2003 Guantanamo Bay (Camp Delta) Standard Operating Procedure (SOP), the Pentagon attempted to play down the document's revelations of systematic human rights violations, claiming the procedures were quickly changed. Wikileaks has obtained the 2004 Guantanamo bay SOP which affirms the 2003 procedure and entirely contradicts the Pentagon claims.

China in Africa: Developing ties
Africa's need for new and bigger capital investments and China's hunger for exploration of more natural resources and investments in foreign economies are matching in Africa.

Zero Carbon House
The Zero Carbon House is a low energy demonstration project to show how renewable energy can create a unique living experience on a remote island in a severe climate. A holistic approach has been taken to eliminating household carbon emissions that would normally result from heating and powering the home, running the family car and growing and transporting food.

If America should go Communist
Leon Trotsky's infamous manifesto written in 1934 on what will happen if America became a communist country. It would be interesting to conduct now this thought-experiment and imagine America transformed into Communism in the modern world and the implications thereof.

Flying Spaghetti Monster
The Flying Spaghetti Monster (also known as the Spaghedeity) is the deity of a parody religion called The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster and its system of beliefs, "Pastafarianism". The religion was founded in 2005 by Oregon State University physics graduate Bobby Henderson to protest the decision by the Kansas State Board of Education to require the teaching of intelligent design as an alternative to biological evolution.

Winner of the 2006 yoyo world championships
Watch this video and see what a man can do with yoyo... This shows how even the most dul lof sports, or so I thought before at least, can be turned into the most creative of human endeavors.

Obama open to limited legalization of Marijuana
Obama's past is fast catching on him..:) He wants now to legalize a partial use of Marijuana evoking its similarities with morphine..

Daylight map of the world
Amazing imaging.. Good usage put to Google technology. You can trace lifetiem where at what time is light!

Computer Enhancers
Dozens of improvements to, totally meaningless, or humorous (intentional and otherwise), computer messages. Even Bush is not spared.

The Earth Clock
Every essential detail, including world population statistics, CO2 emissions, oil pumped, nuclear waste and more, rendered in an instantaneous way. You can have the same number projectiosn for a week, a month, a year. Amazing!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Egypt in the eyes of a foreigner: Habits of ordinary Egyptians...

On streets

  1. Cars, taxis, buses all HORN all the time…no matter if there is an obstacle, a passenger crossing the street, a stranded animal stuck in the middle of the road, or nothing at all. They horn and horn… I have seen a motorbike riding through a lonely street and horning all along…
  2. Anyone who seems to be vaguely different from a typical Egyptian – basically this category includes people with fair skin, blue/green eyes, brunet/blond/red hair, light color of skin – is greeted on streets. You walk along a street and people greet you, ask you where you are from tell their name and then say "You are welcome." You take a cab, the cabbie looks at you asks where you from are and says "Welcome, welcome." No matter if you say you have been in Egypt for 1 day on visit, 5 months working, or 4 years living. As long as you have a slight accent in Egyptian colloquial or look like a foreigner, they never fail to welcome you.
  3. Introducing themselves on streets, restaurants, clubs. Welcoming is one part of the story. Frequently, you might be stopped and asked what your name is without any visual or other prompting. They will then happily tell their name and walk away, having an air of someone whose day was made by this encounter. I was once sitting on a pavement outside in front of a restaurant, having a conversation (in English) with a potential employer, when I was suddenly tapped on a shoulder. I turned around, still talking on the phone only to see an Egyptian man, in his 40s, well-dressed and smiling at me. He asked me, quite ignoring the fact that I was talking on the phone, what my name was, told consequently his name, inquired whether I was English or American, and walked away with even a wider smile. I was left flabbergasted and managed hardly to finish my conversation.
  4. Exchange of telephone numbers. This is especially common among taxi drivers. You take a taxi, make a small talk with the cabbie to leave a good impression and not to seem a total jerk a.k.a. ignorant foreigner, which will then allow you to pay fairly instead of an overblown price you might be asked for otherwise. You make a small talk, and if it is in Arabic, however ridiculous or scarce you knowledge of it is, and guaranteed they like you, which then leads them to take your number. This is done in such a sure and overconfident way that it leaves no room for doubt or suspicion as to whether you will or will not give it. No one asks your permission to have you r number. They just take out their phones (interestingly, most of cabbies have phones more expensive then I have – K700 SonyEriccson) and ask you to type your number on their mobiles. It is impolite if you refuse. I never did.
  5. (Applies to foreign women only) If you are a female and you look foreigner – by virtue of your dresses or expression of your face – you have a more-than-50% chance of being approached and talked to. In difference from usual welcomes and name exchange, foreign women are also asked what they do in the city and country, for how long and if there is anything that can be done for them. If you say you are looking for a specific shop to buy something, it is not excluded that the Egyptian guy will offer his services of accompanying you and helping you to obtain whatever you look for. He will do so usually for free but in anticipation of you leaving your number or for a possibility of a further encounter.
  6. Taxis horn at you passing by. You walk along a street with an unintentional and casual way, you hear a horn from behind; you turn around to see an approaching taxi blinking at you with its from lights. If you react in any possible way, be it winking, raising your hand, or merely smiling, the taxi will stop and ask where you want to be taken. I usually wave and thank the driver aloud and continue walking along my way.
  7. Baksheesh for sake of baksheesh. There is a heightened presence of dismissed military on streets. Soldiers, sergeants, captain are ubiquitous and armed usually with AK-47 automatic guns. I don’t quite yet get the purpose of their presence. I witnessed street fights almost in front of these soldiers who looked with just as much amazement at people hitting each other as other uncommitted bystanders. These dismissed soldiers however are not shy to ask for baksheesh, a tip, whenever they think you look rich enough or foreign enough. I once went out of taxi and started walking towards my hostel in the city center. I had then a sergeant who started walking along me. I looked at him quizzically and surprised, he started saying something in Egyptian I did not quite get. He then realized I am not getting his introductory tale, went straight to the point and asked for flis, money. I asked why and he said baksheesh. Oh, I was surprised. This was the first time someone asked me for baksheesh without rendering any service or favor. The person just wanted me to give him some money. He was not begging. But eh thought its rather normal to stop a foreigner in an impromptu manner and ask him for money. This habit is also quite applied by men who clean streets. You pass by in a taxi; you stop on red. A man who happens to be cleaning the street approaches you and asks you for money. I usually give them a pound or two, although there is no apparent reason why I would give them money, besides the resulting feeling incited by knowledge of despicable conditions they work in and the insignificant amount of money they get for their work.
  8. Water coming from above, but it s not a rain. Due to warm weather conditions, it is widespread to use ACs in buildings, offices, even in elevators. What is somewhat uncommon is to feel drops of water or sometimes even streams coming over your head and shoulders when you walk on a street. AC water, that is. Another source of uncalled for water droplets on your clothes and head are the myriad of sèche-linge (dryers on which you hang your clothes for drying) overhead.
  9. Telling directions .Usually when you ask for directions to anyone seeming local, you will get some. Question is whether what you get will correspond with reality. I got plenty of times wrong directions, and it wasn’t due to my lack of Arabic to communicate. It just seems that people don’t want to seem unhelpful and prefer to tell you something rather than nothing. It is reminiscent of Japanese. There is however a slight difference. Here you can tell if they don’t know by the vagueness of their directions, whereas in Japan you usually get quite precise directions, however wrong they might eventually be.

In restaurants

  1. It is very rare to find a waiter in however an expensive a restaurant to have a decent command of English. No one needs a waiter being able to recite from top of his head Shakespeare or Chaucer. All a foreigner needs is a waiter to understand simple phrase in English, mostly about food ordering. Even simple "I would like to…" or "Please wait…" is usually misunderstood. They just smile and bring you whatever they think you ordered.
  2. In response to you ordering something in a restaurant, waiters in Egypt say "It's OK," which sounds bizarre for native speakers or anyone knowledgeable of subtleties of the language. This "It's OK" is a direct translation of Meshi or Haadr, which means agreement, OK, or good depending on context. Imagine yourself saying "I would like a strawberry juice" and getting a response "It's OK." Then you call him again and ask him for something else and you get again "It's OK." "It's OK" is used in English in very different circumstances for conveying a rather different message.
  3. In difference from most of Western or American restaurants with fixed menu sets, you can always ask for add-ons or removals from your meal. You can really modify your menu meal up to a point of non-recognition. You can ask like cheese, tomatoes, or anything else to be added or removed. They will smile at you and say "It's OK" or "No problem."
  4. In prestigious restaurants, ordering food might be challenging and patience requiring. You might order a rather simple-sounding meal and have to wait for an hour or 1.5 hours to get what you ordered. The sense of time in restaurants in Egypt is very blurred. You have to be ready to wait for long time even for aperitifs or simple Coke.

To be continued….

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Religion, natural resources and development

There is a running line on headtops of many: the more religious the country and its population, the less developed thus less probability for a better future of that country. In addition, the contrary is generally held as true. The less religious the country or society, the more probable it will soar to a higher level of life standards.

This approach became intuitive only in the light of 21st century history. Religiousness had more than a passing negative impact on the level of development of a society or nation, and that is what I am going to elaborate here.

I will have to hinge on three basic premises. One, a country’s development level (positive or negative) depends on the availability of natural resources in the country. Two, this development depends, among other things, on the religiousness, i.e. the measure of how religious the country’s population is, independently of the religion’s nature. Three, this development depends on beliefs and intentions of its leaders, in other words, man or women who hold the power. I will then give weight to each of these three dimensions.

development = a*natural-resources + b*religiousness + c*leadership

where a, b, and c are corresponding weights.

One of the first inventions, which brought enormous momentum to the world development (entailing much exploitation of natural resources by depletion of minerals), was the revolutionization of warfare, and most importantly the “discovery” of iron.

At the beginning, there was the “Golden race” of people who lived like demigods with carefree heart, remote from toil and misery and who, at the end of their reign, were transformed into “divine spirits … watchers over mortal men, bestowers of wealth.” Then there followed the Silver race, “much inferior” to the Golden race, “but they too have honor.” The third race, that of Bronze men was “a terrible and fierce race,” characterized by violence and lack of agriculture – a clear sign of civilization’s absence – a people who ate only meat and wild things growing in forests. They were “unshapen hulks, with great strength and indescribable arms growing from their shoulders above their stalwart bodies.” They didn’t have iron, or at least they didn’t know how to work it, and they now lived in the “chill Hades’ house of decay.”[1]

The present is located in the fifth age, the age of the race of Iron men. In terms of moral character, the world of Hesiod’s Iron race contemporaries seems to have been situated somewhere between that of the deformed and violent and primitive Bronze age and that of demigods who lived in the Blessed Isles: although troubled with vice, selfishness and dishonesty, at least the Iron race is civilized. However, Hesiod later introduces the notions of justice and morality as paths that mortal men and women can choose to follow and in which “a kind of Golden Age is open to those who deserve it by their just and virtuous lives.” [2]

Iron needs higher temperatures than copper (1100o – 1150o) to be separated from its ore and, unlike copper and gold, is never found free in nature. Isn’t it remarkable that Hesiod, in his own time, already conceived humans as living in the Iron Age – the age of a metal, which is the most used (with its alloy steel) of all metals, comprising roughly 95% of all the metal tonnage produced worldwide? Evidence suggests the first people to work iron were Hittites during 15th – 13th centuries BC, which happened to coincide with their Golden Age. Hittite lands were rich in mineral reserves of copper, lead, silver and iron. Trade with other countries was limited. Whenever Hittites needed special natural resources, conquest provided the solution, not foreign trade. Hittites zealously guarded the technique of making iron, which they regarded as more precious than gold and which, given its versatility, hardness and low cost, was to proliferate later on.

The art and architecture of Hittites was strongly influenced by neighboring countries. They used stone and brick as well as wooden columns to erect their houses and temples. The Hittites built large palaces, temples and fortifications, upon which carved relieves, adorned walls, gates and entrances. Their religion was one of great syncretism, their central elements being gathered from the Sumerians, Babylonians, and other peoples. It is often characterized by the expression, “1000 gods of Hatti.” By incorporating foreign gods into the Hittite pantheon, the Hittite rulers secured their control over the subdued people. Hittites performed daily cultic rituals, in which the deities were brought food and drink. There were also other festivals, on monthly and annual bases.[3]

And the bigger picture? Metallurgy was already well developed by 3000 BC, from whence the gold plating began. Three uses of metals had the most profound impact: the development of swords, mirrors and coins. Swords, firstly bronze then iron and then steel, revolutionized the entire warfare. Hittites and other nations, which became influential, owned much to this development. Mirrors served to advance human experiences and knowledge about the universe and stars above and ultimately gave birth to the science of optics. Money existed as commodity, from salt to tobacco to cows, from primordial times. The English salary comes from Latin salarius, ‘of salt’ (Roman soldiers were paid in salt). The transition from this proto-money to money proper, coins, took place in Lydia, the Neo-Hittite successor, in 7th century BC. First coins were made of electrum, a natural admixture of gold and silver. Money was what drove the commoditization of products and thus development of economies. As a consequence, the first retail market was introduced in Lydian city Sardis, where everyone could buy and sell for money. The resulting boom of trade transformed Lydia into one of the flourishing cultural and trade centers of the world.[4]

The second important driving force behind the momentous development of the world (also entailing depletion of world forestry and dumping of dangerous chemicals into the nature) was the invention of paper. Among its most profound influences that changed the face of the world has been its usage for producing books, and most notoriously the most republished book in the world – the Bible (well over 1000 major editions since 5th century).

The word paper comes from the Greek term for the ancient Egyptian writing material called papyrus, which was formed from beaten strips of papyrus plants. However, paper was invented in China during 2nd century AD. That paper was thin and translucent, not like modern Western paper, and thus only written on one side. Books were invented in India, of Palm leaves. Modern papermaking typically does begin with trees as the raw material, although many non-woody plants can be used. Plants used for papermaking include cotton, wheat straw, sugar cane waste, flax, bamboo, and linen rags. Cotton is used to make US currency, which is 75% cotton and 25% linen, according to the US Treasury Department. But it is the wood pulp that is most commonly used to make paper. The major environmental problems of wood pulping come from its negative impact on forest resources and from its waste by-products such as dioxins and furans; in high pulping areas such as British Columbia, high concentrations of these contaminates led to the closures of some fisheries in 1992.

The increased usage of paper, especially after Gutenberg’s invention of printing mechanism with movable type in 15th century, allowed a rapid proliferation of not only literature-, philosophy- and science-related materials and ideas but also a vast spread of religious doctrines via the Bible (in Europe), which in turn, “boosted” the Renaissance Age and was at grassroots of the Industrial Revolution in and eventual supremacy of Europe, capped by presence of kings such as Louis XIV. Muslims didn’t embrace this technology at that time deeming it un-Islamic.

Now, let’s have a look at several countries in modern times and their level of development.

The Kingdom of Norway is the current top-ranked nation in the UN Human Development Index.[5] The Norwegian economy is an example of mixed economy – a combination of free market and government control. The government controls key areas, such as the vital petroleum sector. The country is richly endowed with natural resources such as petroleum, fish, forests, and minerals. Recent research shows early evidence of massive amounts of coal. Norway has around 4.6 million inhabitants of which 86% belong to the Church of Norway, which professes the Lutheran Christianity. Despite this big number, one survey has found that Norway was the least religious country in Western Europe.[6]

But Norway wasn’t always well developed. Prior to mid-19th century, agriculture was pervasive in the country. The Industrial Revolution started to take pace in Norway somewhat later than in the rest of Europe, and by 1910 the industrial output exceeded the agricultural one. It was only in 1969 that oil reserves were discovered. From this moment on, it was clear to Norwegian leaders that the only way the country could effectively use petro-krones for sustainable development of the economy was via increased investments in research and development and continuous alliances and collaborations with European and American institutions and companies.[7]

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia's economy is petroleum-dominated; roughly 75% of budget revenues and 90% of export earnings come from the oil industry. The oil industry comprises about 45% of Saudi Arabia's GDP, compared with 40% from the private sector. Saudi Arabia possesses about 25% of the world's proven total petroleum reserves as of 2005. The Basic Law of Government adopted in 1992 declares that the Koran is the constitution of the country. There are no recognized political parties or national elections. The king must retain a consensus of the Saudi royal family, religious leaders, and other elements in Saudi society. Saudi Arabia, unlike Norway, is the 76th in the UN Human Development Index.[8] Innovation (thus research and development) is largely stifled and is considered by majority of population as un-Islamic. Saudi Arabia ranks 85th on the Index of Economic Freedom.[9]

Summary table


In ancient times religiousness came in handy as was seen from the Hittite story. It was also important to have visionary leadership at the top which would lead the country in a direction of prosperity.

Numerous ancient civilizations including Aztecs, Inca, ancient Egyptians, and ancient Chinese were, with small exceptions, notoriously religious. Their religions gave not only push-forward for development of their art, culture, science, and sophisticated social structures but also served as governance and law dispersal systems. However, their religions were being perpetually revived and were never considered to have obtained a final form.

In Middle Ages both Europe and Muslim countries were religious. The latter were, almost till 14th century, more developed than the former. Since the Industrial Revolution, the situation has reversed. Majority of Chinese and Indians are still religious and both countries are poised to overtake the US in terms of development.

It became almost a common-folklore that natural resources and leadership corruption are correlated and a country with religious population and leaders and abundant natural resources is doomed to decline. These premises were present in past but the result was the total opposite. Many can state that this is rather true in cases of Saudi Arabia and Iran nowadays. It thus seems that, besides natural resources and religiousness, the leadership and their political agenda matter as well.

What is the prediction for future? The three dimensions might give a rough estimate of what the future of a region, a country or of the world might look like. Without further ado I will give here the resulting weights I calculated using some empiricism and evidence from American and Chinese histories, not provided here. Normalizing the above equation of development level, we obtain the following result for modern times and future:

development = 0.25*natural-resources + 0.3*religiousness + 0.45*leadership

The development will depend 45% on the leadership, 30% on religiousness of the population and 25% on the availability of natural resources.

One vital fact, it seems, is that the “fixedness” of a religion (ex. Islam, which is as it was in 6th century) plays a crucial role in determining the “sign” of the religiousness factor in the above equation. When the religion is “fixed” the factor b (0.3) obtains a negative sign and development and religiousness become negatively correlated.

We also must not forget that the equation yields only a probability, not a guarantee, that a country will develop.

There are no whole truths;

All truths are half-truths.

It is trying to treat them as

Whole truths that plays devil.

- Alfred North Whitehead, Dialogues (1953)

[1] Hesiod, Theogeny and Works and Days, translated with an introduction by M.L.West (Oxford University Press, 1988).

[2] Giamatti, Earthly Paradise and the Renaissance Epic.

[3] See Encyclopedia LexicOrient - .

[4] Peter Watson, History of Ideas, Oxford 2005.

[7] See, for example, the article at about the role Norway plays in the scientific and technological cooperation with other European countries and Australia.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Egypt in the eyes of a foreigner: (Part 5) First day...

One of most important reasons for me to come to Egypt was to learn Arabic. Second most important reason was to get acquainted more closely with Egyptian culture and traditions, of which I have been fond of reading.

First traces of Arabic, a Semitic language closely related to Hebrew and Aramaic, date back to 8th century BC. By 4th century AD, several Arab kingdoms were flourishing in southern Iraq, southern Syria and Central Arabia, which developed the tradition of pre-Islamic (Jahili) Arabic poetry, Modern Arabic is classified as a language with 27 sub-languages in ISO 639-3. These sub-languages – otherwise known as colloquials – are spoken in more than 26 countries in the Middle East, Northern Africa and Western Sahara.

Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) derives from Classical Arabic, the only surviving member of the Old North Arabian dialect group, attested epigraphically since the 6th century, which has been a literary language and the liturgical language of Islam since the 7th century.

This resumed my general knowledge about Arabic language when I stepped into the office of STA Travel agency in Geneva. I knew no particular details or specifics. I expressed my will to study Arabic in Egypt and was told there is indeed a course of Arabic language for different levels of proficiency. At the agency, I didn’t receive any additional information pertaining course except that there were courses for beginners, intermediate and advance, each having a duration of either four or five weeks. I vowed for a one-month beginners course, further anticipating a possibility of taking another one.

Before coming to Egypt my vocabulary of Arabic included three words: Salam, Insha'allah, Yalla. I did not even know the Arabic alphabet.

Shortly after checking in at the hostel for first few nights, I took a quick shower and went to the reception with a list of applied phrases and words such as "thank you," "hello," "how" to be translated into Arabic. The reception guy was very kind, and he translated all phrases and threw few in himself, which he thought would be useful for me.

With this list of few applied phrases and expressions to be useful for taxis, Alexandra and I decided to meet in the morning and go together to the school on the first day. We took the taxi and told him the address "Shera Mahmoud Azmi" (Mahmoud Azmi Street). This street was supposedly short and we would have no problem of finding it, or so we thought at the beginning. We stopped on a street Mahmoud Azmi, and the taxi driver drove off happily, pouching 15 pounds for a drive of maximum 4 pounds, as I found eventually. This did not seem to be a problem at that moment. The problem was that the street, on which we were left, had no school on it. It did not take us long to realize that this was a wrong street. Later on, we understood what the problem was. We were in a wrong part of the city, which happened to have a street called exactly like what we were looking for. All this took time and when we finally took another taxi, this time specifying the part of the city we wanted to go – Muhandissin area – it was getting late. Yes, we were late on the very first day.

Our school, International Language Institute (ILI), is situated in a building in one a residential quarters of Muhandissin area. We quickly went to the second floor where the reception was, and presented ourselves. Alexandra, due to her prior knowledge of Arabic, was placed in the intermediate level, whereas I was to go to the beginners' course.

I entered the room, 15 minutes late, filled with approximately 18 people and class already going on. I was promptly asked to introduce myself and without further ado plunged into the essentials of the first-day lecture with the rest of the class. We were all handed printouts, which in retrospect turned out to be our study books. Only during the class, I discovered that it was the class of Egyptian colloquial. Startled, I asked whether I would learn the "normal" Arabic? A classmate of mine looked at me with puzzled expression of face. He thought I was mocking him. He explained me patiently that this was only a colloquial and I had to check with the reception if I was also to take the MSA course. During the first pause, I went to reception and was informed that indeed I was enlisted for MSA course. The reception officer, an Egyptian woman in her 50s, was amazed at my degree of ignorance and carelessness. I decided to take a course, paid a lot of money for it, but had no idea what this course included. I was amazed myself because there existed no rational explanation or justification.

Our classes usually started at 9am with Egyptian colloquial, followed by the MSA course at 11:30. During the big break, I met several other people, including one American, named Salaadin, namesake of the great Kurdish-Muslim general who repulsed Christian and Jews from Jerusalem at the end of 12th century AD. The course was over at 2pm, and I did not have a proper place to stay. I decided I would stay another night at the hostel, which was quite expensive. The school was helping students to find apartments, but again as I was told later, the school and the brokers involved in the search had their cut, which in some cases elevated the price up to 20%.

On the first day at school, I also met my American friend Tucker, who was in our MSA class. My first impression of him was contrary to what my ultimate impression of him is. During our first lesson of MSA, our teacher started by asking us to repeat Arabic letters after him. You would be amazed to see how all beginners try to interchangeably utter and emit sounds, which had a vague resemblance to what teacher himself was pronouncing. Tucker had the most ridiculous of pronunciations. We were all terrible, especially during the first 30 minutes, but in his case, there was a whole theatre show accompanying his short pronunciation "session". All of us mispronounced greatly even the simplest of letters, and some of us were unable at all to pronounce some letters. We all giggled along our own "performances" but when it came to Tucker many of us, including me, just exploded. I could not help myself but laugh aloud. Even teacher, patiently polite and solemn, cracked a wide smile. Every tie it was his turn to pronounce a letter, he would listen carefully to the teacher, solemnly look for two seconds at teachers lips as if he could gain the fluency of language by a mere look at lips which possess that fluency. This stage was followed by another two seconds of Tucker opening his mouth, but emitting no sound. His facial contours would then twist unnaturally, his mouth moving from half-open to fully open and back to half-open, adjusting its vocal apparatus, his eyes bulging, his nose contracting, for yet another two seconds. The culmination came, as most of us thought, when his brain, after multiple trials, refused to adopt his larynx to a seemingly impossible task of pronunciation. At this moment, he would emit a sound, out of desperation or perhaps hope, which more resembled an ululation or a shriek, differing hugely from what it was to imitate.

Understandably, our first day at school was fun, at least for me. Perhaps the fact that Tucker was quite different from us was what made me talk to him. We both were looking for an apartment but none of us could afford what our school had to offer. We decided we will conduct together our search and returned happily back to our hostel.

The rest of my day, I passed revising my very meager vocabulary of Arabic obtained during our first class and thinking how our choices determine who we ultimately become.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Selected on 18.11.2007

100 ways to save your environment
Most of proposed ways of action are straigforward, require little effort, and can be easily incorporated in every-day lives of many people! Gooooooooo..!!!

Who's on First?Takeoff
Condi and Bush trying to figure out who is the president of China....

A Beautiful paysage
Clouds encroaching on a green mountain..Extraordinary.

100 ways to confuse your roomate
Get rid of an annoying and nerdy roomate. Or just use for fun!!!

25 unexpectedly useful websites for the uncommonly curious
This eclectic list of websites contains so many out of the ordinary pleasures that it is hard to know where to start.

America, country where power is in the hands of dogmatic and religious Christians

Times for presidential elections come closer; talks surrounding presidential candidates become louder.

To be a president of country or even to be considered a presidential candidate, you should preferably have at least one advanced degree. You should also be well versed in politics and have basic knowledge in history and geography.

In case of American presidential candidates "you need to be good at politics and should be graduated from high school." No question of what "good at politics" means. This probably might mean having a basic knowledge of geography and politics, but I don’t think so. There is an interesting video clip explaining some of important "characteristics" that any aspiring "successful" American presidential candidate must possess.

An interesting book by columnist Roger Simon who covered the 1988 presidential campaign, and includes his detailed report on the campaign and some details, which are both informative and wickedly funny. Many a dirty techniques (ex. blackmail) are used to eliminate, hogwash and silence. Bush, for example, struggling to overcome the Wimp Factor, is shown crushing his opponent with base tactics, which included the exploitation of racial fear. Particularly revealing is Simon's I-was-there analysis of how Bush's "media handler," Roger Ailes, generaled his client to victory.

There is however an unwritten criteria, fulfillment of which gives a fighting chance against any Presidential rival and is above and beyond any other criteria: to be religious (necessarily Christian) and (preferably openly) practicing Christian. Many past presidents and of course the incumbent one are religious. Take for example Nixon, who was an outspoken Quaker, hosting religious services in the East Room of White House during his stance as a president. Or Reagan. He once said, "[Americans] must seek Divine guidance in the policies of their government and the promulgation of their laws." The Bible, argued Reagan, held all the answers. "I'm accused of being simplistic at times," he said more than once. "But within that single Book are all the answers to all the problems that face us." His National Security sessions were held in the presence of a religious scholar, who would advise him based on notions of Second Coming, Paradise, and Original Sin.

It is interesting to see whether America will ever evolve to where a non-Christian candidate would stand a chance of seriously contesting American presidency. (Jewish Senator Joe Lieberman is an exception. During his 2000 vice-presidential run, he managed to out-God all the other candidates).

George W. Bush not only invokes his God in virtually every speech he makes, he also openly admits that he takes his instructions from his God. And look where that has brought the world and America. It brings to mind the words of Sinclair Lewis, who said, "When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross."

The religious right and their supporters have brainwashed the American public into believing that Christianity is patriotic. In fact, according to a recent survey by the First Amendment Center, 65% of Americans believe that the nation's founders intended the US to be a Christian nation and 55% believe that the Constitution establishes a Christian nation.

This is a total hogwash. Read the American Constitution. It makes no mention of God or Christianity. Acquaintance with the Bill of Rights will also prove useful.

It was for good reason that America's founders wrote the "separation clause" into the First Amendment, which states that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion."

It was to protect the minority from tyranny of the majority. America's founders didn’t want it to sink into theocracy. They knew that theocracy always leads to oppression. America's founders wanted to establish a democracy in which the government serves all the people, not just the Christian ones.

America, under recent and not-so-recent presidents, has been sinking deeper and deeper into theocracy. In order to reverse this situation, America needs to vote for candidates who take their instructions not from a deity, but from the people and the Constitution. Otherwise, America will be no longer America envisioned by its founders.

America resembles more and more closely to its declared "enemy" Iran.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Selected on 16.11.2007

Big Bang or Big Goof? Astronomer Challenges 'Seeds' Proof

Most astronomers say that world-famous images from the Cosmic Background Explorer satellite show structures of the early universe. But a lone radio astronomer is claiming that the pictures depict nearby hydrogen gas clouds in our own galaxy, calling a key theory into question.

Cold War II

An insightful article by Noam Chomski explaining how Iran's role might or might not evolve into a Cold War II.

Sensitive Guantánamo Bay Manual Leaked Through Wiki Site

A never-before-seen military manual detailing the day-to-day operations of the U.S. military's Guantánamo Bay detention facility has been leaked to the web, affording a rare inside glimpse into the institution where the United States has imprisoned hundreds of suspected terrorists since 2002.

Cool photos of lightnings...

Really amazing photos of lightnings...

UK chooses "most ludicrous laws"

Among the most ridiculous laws listed by UKTV Gold were:

  • It is illegal to die in the Houses of Parliament (27%)
  • It could be regarded an act of treason to place a postage stamp bearing the British king or queen's image upside-down (7%)
  • Eating mince pies on Christmas Day is banned (5%)
  • In the UK, a pregnant woman can legally relieve herself anywhere she wants (4%)
  • The head of any dead whale found on the British coast automatically becomes the property of the King, and the tail of the Queen (3.5%)
  • It is illegal not to tell the tax man anything you do not want him to know, but legal not to tell him information you do not mind him knowing (3%)
  • It is illegal to enter the Houses of Parliament wearing a suit of armour (3%).

  • Source:

    Egypt in the eyes of a foreigner: (Part 4) Traffic and taxis of Cairo

    Hardly an hour in the territory of Cairo airport, I already had a few snippets of what was to be seen afterwards. Alexandra turned out to be from our school and accidentally was to stay in the same hostel for several nights as I was. We waited a little bit longer and our guide decided that we should go. We left the airport and started looking for his car. At the beginning I started looking up for a parking, to give up several minutes later, realizing there was no real designated place to park a car. I mean there was but cars were parked all over that place and its surroundings and the only place, which was kept free and controlled on subject of illegal parking was the immediate proximity of the main exit gate of the airport and the adjacent route, serving up a main venue for buses, minibuses and other four-wheeled vehicles.

    His car – I however have doubts whether that might be called a car in any of Western countries – was situated amidst a patch of an admixture of asphalt and freshly wet mud in a place, which would be hard to find, considering no landmarks or any other orientation that one could relay to. The car itself was a Fiat, if I remember correctly, dating perhaps from late 50s or 60s. Yes, it was that old. twenty meters away from the car we came across another person, an Egyptian, who happened to be also with our guide. Thus four of us incrusted – for a lack of a better word describing our action – ourselves into the car with our luggage and were on our way to the city.

    I and Alexandra engaged in a mundane conversation of sorts one has in such a situation; where are your from, what did you study, first time in Egypt, why do you want to learn Arabic, etc. We also had eventual interruptions of our Egyptian guides who were trying hard to figure out where we came from. Their scarce English knowledge turned out to be hardly sufficient to understand names of countries such as Armenia and Belgium pronounced in English. Luckily, Alexandra had already taken some classes of Modern Standard Arabic and could utter some phrases in Arabic, much to the delight of our guides, who never ceased to grin at her at any possible opportunity through the front and side mirrors of the car.

    Another conclusion crept up: Egyptian men are very fond of European women, all the more when the latter show signs of caring about Egyptian culture or being able to speak some, however unsubstantial it might be, Arabic.

    Alexandra spoke quite well Arabic. But then and there she didn’t revise much her Arabic and had problems expressing herself. Also, it turned out to be evident that her high Arabic – I call Modern Standard Arabic high Arabic, reminiscent of hoch Deutsch, high German – was badly understood by our guides, and this wasn’t because of her accent in Arabic or lack of vocabulary. As we were to find later on, majority of Egyptians either have hard time understanding high Arabic or are totally at lose. Only a few select, educated elite are able to read, write and even to speak in high Arabic, despite the large amount of newspapers circulated daily and available to everyone and despite the fact that all media emissions were conducted in high Arabic.

    I have seen many bizarre things in my life and there was very little that I expected would truly amaze me. I thought I have seen it all. But I was up for a surprise. The traffic in Cairo streets.

    Did you watch sci-fi movies such as 5th element or I,Robot. You have scenes of futuristic streets riven with ground and spatial alleys, pathways, and streets and in which traffic is going in all direction without any collision nonstop, with speeds considered normal in car racing. I wouldn’t exaggerate telling that what I witnessed resembled so much these fictional scenes that I felt somewhat in awe at the beginning. There was however a slight difference between those movie scenes and Cairo streets. It was that in movies some cars and vehicles also circulate in the air; this apparently wasn’t yet the case in Cairo. Traffic circulation happens only on the ground.

    There are no first, second or third lines even on largest of streets (take Gamat El Dowal or Ahmad Orabi streets for example). Cars intermingle, change lines, stop and start, double and wink at each other at any possible moment in any possibly imaginable and sometimes unimaginable way.

    There is no traffic lights, or to be precise, they don’t usually work. Instead you have police officers or dismissed military sergeants standing on major crossings and pathways and manually regulating the traffic. Needless to say that it doesn’t work efficiently, nor work at all sometimes. The policemen raises his hand to stop one line of cars, but it takes usually several cars to bypass his hand and continue their way before the line comes to a final stop, giving way for the other line of cars.

    There is no regulated place of bus or taxi stops on streets. There are some bus stop places but you can stop a bus anywhere on a street by raising your hand. The bus however doesn’t grind to a total stop, in expectation of you to climb it up. It merely decelerates and it is up to you to jog along it and to jump on it. Oh, a mere detail. These busses, almost always and all of them, are jammed to an impossible level. There are always people hanging from open doors. One of these people is the hailer. He hails people to take the bus. He announces an approximate route, itself subject to changes if passengers so wish, and calls loudly and emphatically for pedestrians to take the bus. So taking a bus in Cairo amounts to spotting one, hearing carefully and trying to discern from a usually broken colloquial Egyptian the approximate route, then jogging along the bus for up to ten meters, during which others hanging from the door will make space for a footstep, and putting your foot and trying to hold on to something or someone at the same time. And this ride costs almost nothing - 0.5 pounds.

    Taxi ride is also quite unorthodox, compared to what a Westerner used to lower standards (even) might expect. Let’s start by description of how almost 90% of Cairo taxes look like. It is a car, usually old and technically unsupported and abject-looking. It might date from late 50s – I had several of those, where the driver would come and open and close my door by hinging and unhinging it and where there were no mirrors, no lights, no panels of indication, but an old steering wheel, three pedals and a gear – up to late 70s the newest. In most cases you have a 70% chance that you will not be able to open or close the door; 80% chance that the front seat where you usually sit (only if you are a male) is dirty, shabby, and looks otherwise adamantly unwelcoming. And not to forget the driver himself. The taxi driver looks usually as if he were freshly released from Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq or such and has no real knowledge or awareness of anything but his steering wheel. He usually looks worn, unshaved, wearing crumpled and dirty clothes, sports a look, which is usually varying from outmost hostile to totally indifferent to sometimes bizarre sympathy. For this latter however you have to speak some Arabic or be a nice Western girl, preferably blond with all physical attributes present and evident.

    Since recently, there are also so-called yellow-cabs, a flotilla of rather new Western cars, Skodas or Passats usually, but this is for privileged or insistent few.

    Once you stop a taxi, which on busy streets might be a challenge, the game starts. You lean to the window of the taxi and tell in Arabic, most recommended, your destination address and preferably also the area name in Cairo where your destination lies. At this point the taxi driver, if he understood where you want to go, usually asks how much you want to pay. It is needless to say that this is subject to negotiation. If you are a good negotiator you might end up having a fair price; if you aren’t good at negotiating and you have to take many taxis, you will notice how quickly you spend lot of money on taxis.

    The rule is that taxi drivers try to rip off foreigners. The better-dressed you appear the higher the initial price you are told. On average they ask, for example, 10 Egyptian pounds instead of three-to-five pounds. In the evening, the prices go even higher. You might be asked to pay 20 pounds for the route you paid 5 pounds during the afternoon. The key is to negotiate and to please. An alternative to it is what is suggested in majority of mainstream popular guidebooks on Egypt such as Lonely Planet or Rough Guide: have the amount you think is fair and jump into taxi once you think the taxi driver understood your destination. Go out of the car, throw the money into the open window and walk away as fast as you can. That is what is recommended. Apparently, those guides didn’t warn that some members of your family might be involved in next phrases and sentences that the taxi driver will not hesitate to shout after you if thinks he didn't rip you off. But that’s the European way. Throw and run, and no matter the humiliation.

    Next, I will describe my first days in school.

    Thursday, November 15, 2007

    Egypt in the eyes of a foreigner: (Part 3) Beginnings…

    Swissair provided a comfortable plane. I was sitting next to a German girl and an Egyptian man. I didn’t engage in a conversation with them until shortly before landing. I had a pile of books and a new report by The Economist on global markets and trends and was keen to check them out before I land in Egypt. Bizarre. During the whole trip I was immersed in those reports, numbers and predictions and I also read a chapter of Peter Watson’s “History of Ideas,” a truly fabulous but understandably hard-to-digest mammoth of a book on history from the point of view of emergence, development and exhaustion of ideas. The moment came when all foreigners were given two little forms, a blue and a green, to fill out and return to the air crew. I, like a true Swiss, immediately put myself to work by studiously and rapidly filling out both forms. When I raised my head I saw the Egyptian man who was sitting on the other side of my row looking at me with a sheer amazement. I looked puzzled and he noticed it because he said, “Why are you filling this form? You are an Egyptian of course. You mustn’t fill it out; it is only for foreigners.” He said this after three hours of sitting not even 2 meters away from each other but having exchanged no other word before it. It seemed to him totally obvious that an Egyptian as I was for him, I was totally unaware of required procedures.

    I objected. In a somewhat sardonic way I said “I don’t really look Egyptian now, do I?” I don’t think I looked Egyptian then or even now. It was his turn to object. He said I did. So did the German girl who was hitherto busy leafing endlessly through some meaningless girly magazine especially produced for types such as herself sitting in between us. I was astonished. I merely smiled back and took it as a good omen for someone who was coming to Egypt, like so many before him, to find something he thought he knew he was looking for…

    The Egyptian man smiled back, produced a business card, a shabby-looking one, from his pocket inside his crumpled suit and handed it to me, saying that I could contact for matters diverse at any time, and that he would be more than glad to help me.

    First glimpse of Egyptian culture, that is called. Hospitality.

    First feeling. It is hot. A killing sun doesn’t spare a human or an animal. Luckily, we got into a shuttle rather quickly, which took us to a terminal where the passport check was to happen. The moment we went inside I thought I went into an accelerated episode of a rather unpleasant dream. Flocks of people in all colors and strips moved around in a way, compared to which Brownian movement would seem rather regular. I blinked because I didn’t know where to shove myself to have my passport checked and to proceed for luggage. I looked around for good five minutes before deciding to go towards a line full of small kiosks, all of which sported “VISA 15 USD.” It turned out that in order to obtain a visa, one didn't have to undergo all the tenacious security checks and hussle. It sufficed to pay 15 USD and get it in the airport.

    I didn’t have time to change any money into Egyptian pounds back in Switzerland. I went closer and stood in what seemed to me to be a line to change some money. 15 minutes passed and I realized I had to push my way through the crowd which gathered around me in that time.

    First conclusion. Egyptians have no idea how to stand in the line. They just push and pull till they reach at the desired point where they conduct their affair or buy something or change something regardless of all other people who stand there for the same purpose and try to do exactly the same thing, and regardless of whether these others came before or after. Me, me, me, no one else.

    By a miracle perhaps, I found my luggage in hodge-podge of other luggage and was scurried through to the exit door by a police officer who was keen enough to have zero patience for those who decided to just take a breath and stay immobile for a second in the midst of an ever-growing crowd in front of the exit door. I passed through the door and I felt myself transported to a bazaar back in Armenia in the beginning of 1990s when products were scarce and demand was immeasurably higher than the supply. There was an enormous host of grey-black clad masses, more precisely said men, assembled in front of the exit door and all of them shouting names, surnames, names of companies or any other thing that might identify a person. I knew I am to be met by a person who would have my school’s logo and my name in it. I started to frantically look for it. It was not easy. Took me 10 additional minutes to glimpse a yellow-grayish blank carton piece irregularly raised high in the air with something that I thought could be approximated to my surname. I approached to a man who had it. In the deafening noise surrounding us, I made him understand it was me, at which point he directed me with his glance to go and sit behind the mass of people on benches; he continued waving the same carton, having plastered on it something else, some other anme I thought. I did as he asked me to. After yet another 15 minutes he decided that perhaps I was the last one to arrive for today. He asked me “Is someone else?” I gathered he wanted me to tell him if there was someone else with me on the plane from school. I said no. He mumbled something I thought was in English but didn’t even dare to try to translate it. I started thinking of how I would have to make my way alone to Cairo and ainfd a place to sleep.

    Then suddenly his phone rang. He picked up and immediately handed it to me. I looked surprised but nevertheless accepted the phone. I just came to the Cairo airport; my flight was slightly late, and apparently I wasn’t expecting to receive a call from anyone at all. I heard a girl’s voice asking me “Who are you and where are you?” I thought this must be a director of the school, for who else would ask me this question upon my arrival. I said ”In the Airport Madame, and I am sorry to be a bit late; my flight was delayed.” She dismissed what I said and added “Where are you exactly in the airport because I am also there but am unable to find the person who was to meet me.” I understood. Yet another stranded student of our school. I gave her directions with whatever bearings I could see around me. 10 minutes later, an attractive Belgian student emerged from the crowd and walked towards us as if she already knew us for long time. She was smiling…. It was Alexandra.

    Egypt in the eyes of a foreigner: (Part 2) Egypt calls…

    An ancient Greek wise man made once a very smart remark. He drew a circle on a patch of sand. He compared the knowledge we possess with the inner part of the circle and the outer part of the circle with the knowledge that we don’t possess and don’t know. He then noticed that the bigger the circle is the bigger its circumference is, i.e. longer the “border” of inner and outer parts is. The circumference, he said, was the essential. With growth of knowledge, it permanently grew, thus making us feel how much more we still don’t know, which in some cases proved to be rewarding (continuous drive to learn even more) or depressing (realizing the futility of our efforts towards possession of an exhaustive knowledge).

    Switzerland cherished in me what no other country did: culture of learning. But there is a mistake in my previous statement. It wasn’t the country itself responsible for this development of my character, but several people, who showed me which route to borrow towards where it would seem to be lighter. I never ceased to be grateful to these people, who inadvertedly helped me transform myself from a total and proud ignoramus to a person who realized how much he didn’t know and who also realized that learning is the only path towards understanding, although the summit can never be reached…

    Reading induced more reading. Learning induced more learning. Dreaming induced more reading, learning and consequently dreaming.

    At some point, I came to realize that I needed to learn Arabic, if for nothing else, to at least be able to read the Koran in its original language. Arabs were famous since ages unknown to be masters in prose and poetry. The Koran was and still is considered an apogee, a supreme creation of such a sort. The beauty of its language not only enchants, but also leaves in awe a reader who forcibly thinks that such a book couldn’t have been conceived by simple mortals.

    Yes, that is how it started. I wanted to read the Koran. And yes, I also wanted to visit Egypt. My solution: language course in Egypt for several months. My short-sightedness: not going deep into details of modern Egyptian life and modern traditional behaviors exhibited in every day lives of Egyptians. My arrogance: relying on my extensively confident self and my ability to adopt and to integrate, I thought I didn’t have to know more about Cairo – the city I would be spending several months in – than what I remembered from a history book: it was founded by Fatimids in 10th century of our era.

    I went to the Egyptian Consulate to obtain a visa. By precaution or curiosity, the Consul General of Egypt in Geneva, Switzerland, wanted to see me in person and ask my motifs and plans for future. He had a hard time believing that I wanted to go to Egypt for language studies. His reaction was rather normal considering the bad timing that I chose to apply for a visa and my background in nuclear physics. The timing was bad because Egypt was on the verge of reactivating its nuclear program, and it was a very sensitive issue in the whole of region. The Consul General suspected I had something to do with it. A derisory idea, while I was trying to already rid myself of longstanding bonds I had with science once and for all.

    I got a tourist visa for one month. I was told I can easily prolong it in Cairo once I have an invitation letter from the language school. Everything seemed to be set for me to start a new page of my life.

    I bought tickets to Cairo with Swissair. In the airport, just before boarding, I took a good look at the sky, at buildings in the airport, at people and their dresses, at their eyes and their movements. I tried to memorize as much as I could because I knew that my eyes will not perceive anything I saw just then in the same way. I also knew the life will never remain similar to what I used to have during last four years. I turned around boarded the plane…

    Egypt in the eyes of a foreigner: (Part 1) Prelude

    I liked Egypt. I loved it. I read intensively about it since several years. I read its ancient history, most notably historic novels of Christian Jacq, including five books on Ramses the Great, books on Nefertiti and Sun King, and the “Affaire Tutankhamun” – Tutankhamun’s affair, the story of how Howard Carter, an English archeologist, stumbled upon not-so-famous Pharaon’s tomb containing riches that still decorate the entire second floor of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.

    I also read general history of Egypt since Ptolemaic and up to the rise of Muhammad Ali, the first leader advocating the cause of the country as an independent Arab state and fighting for it.

    Ever since in Switzerland, I always wanted to make a 2-3 weeks visit to Egypt to visit sites and places I have reading and dreaming about. I wanted to see the riches of Tutankhamun, the Valley of Kings, and three Great Pyramids of Giza; I wanted to have a ride along the Nile river in Feluka or have a donkey or camel passage to the depth of Egypt, to its south where then-great cities of Aswan and Luxor are. I wanted to visit the Great Temple of Abu Simbel and to walk around corridors of Rammeseum. I just wanted to see one of three cradles of civilization where the proximity to Nile and its fertile waters provided much needed food stock and conditions for development of agriculture, eventually spawning a booming economy around Delta, based on which the country called Egypt flourished since 5,000 years at least.

    I wanted to visit oases and deserts of Egypt. I wanted to borrow the same path that some 2,400 years ago a young Macedonian Alexander went along in search of stars and in hope of finding himself. Like so many others, he came to Egypt to find blessing, to find light, to find destiny. He left his trace in Egypt. So did many others before and after him, leaving Egypt as always in its state of unceasing convergence of different people from different walks and talks of the world having dreams unimagined by one another, having come to Egypt in full confidence of finding what they were looking for.

    I wanted to feel the country, which the greatest of Pharaohs considered his home, and which he built and protected against all peril with his own life. I wanted to be inspired by the country where the Father of Medicine and Builder of Great Pyramids, walked once in. I wanted to see the beauties of the country, whose beautiful queen changed the faith of her country and the world by her charms and enchantment.

    Egypt. Egypt; a country that inspired, challenged, beaconed, entrapped, and transformed…

    Sunday, November 4, 2007

    Iraqi invasion: oil perspective

    The British built the Kirkuk-to-Haifa pipeline in 1927. In 1934, they completed a 12-inch pipeline from the Kirkuk fields to Al-Haditha on the Euphrates River. At that point the pipeline forked. One branch went through Syria to Tripoli (Lebanon). The other went across Jordan to Haifa. The British built refineries at both Tripoli and Haifa to handle this Iraq oil. (In World War II, Germany wanted to get control of this oil.)

    In 1945 the British added a parallel 16-inch pipeline in Syria.

    When Jews started to invade Palestine in 1945, Syria shut down its branch to Tripoli. Iraq shut down all oil from from Kirkuk to Haifa. At that point, most of northern Iraq’s oil went to the Turkish port city of Gihan, which was OK with the US, since Turkey was a US ally against the USSR. Turkey collect transit fees for this oil.

    In 1947 the British oil refinery at Haifa still handled trickle of oil from miscellaneous areas, and still employed some 1,700 Arab workers, plus 360 Jewish employees. The Arab and Jewish workers formed a union to oppose British tyranny. Then Israel was created. Immediately Irgun (commanded by Menachem Begin), the Hagana and other terrorist groups moved in. Irgun had bombed the King David Hotel the year before, and they started massacring Arabs in Haifa and elsewhere.

    In 1952, western oil companies built two new lines through Syria to Tripoli. The pipeline to Haifa was allowed to decay. Pieces of it were dismantled. Various interests used the pieces to build water pipelines.

    In 2003, Bush invaded Iraq, partly to topple Saddam Hussein, partly to revive the pipeline to Haifa (Kirkuk oil fields were said to contain perhaps 40% of Iraq’s oil), and partly to bring oil deals to his personal friends, such as Ray L. Hunt. Small American oil companies like Hunt Oil will extract Kurdish oil as soon as and if Mosul and Kirkuk are broken off from Iraq (17 November 2007). Mosul is the first stop for Kirkuk oil.

    When the Haifa pipeline opens back up, only Jordan (not Israel) will collect hefty transit fees. Kurdish oil will go to Europe via Israel, not Turkey. This might be a reason why Turkey is threatening to invade. The minute Bush invaded Iraq, the Turkish realized that the pipeline to Haifa would be opened back up. Therefore Turkey tried to make deals with Central Asian states (such as Azerbaijan) to get new pipelines to Turkey, but now Iran and Russia have foiled Turkish plans by forming the new alliance of Caspian Sea states. Turkey feels squeezed. This is yet another reason why they are threatening to invade northern Iraq.

    Shortly after the 2003 invasion, Benyamin Netanyahu (the then Israeli finance minister) boasted, “Soon you will see Iraqi oil flowing to Haifa. It is just a matter of time until the pipeline is reconstituted, and Iraqi oil will flow to the Mediterranean. It's not a pipe dream.”

    Under a 1975 Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) the US guaranteed all Israel's oil needs in the event of a crisis. This MoU is quietly renewed every five years. It commits US taxpayers to maintain a strategic US reserve for Israel, equivalent to $3 billion in 2002 dollars. Special legislation was enacted to exempt Israel from restrictions on oil exports from the US. Moreover, the US government agreed to divert oil from the US, even in case of oil shortages in the US. The US government also guaranteed delivery of oil in US tankers if commercial shippers become unable or unwilling to carry oil from the US to Israel.

    Israel can wrench lot of oil from the region if the pipeline were used again and Kurds were willing to sell the oil. It would also make Kurds dependent on Israelis for oil revenues and thus give a greater leverage to Israelis over Kurds of the region...

    Iran: Iraq 2, with a bigger update and impossible to manage?

    Whose word would bears more wieght when it comes to nuclear technology related questions: that of a Nobel prize-winning head of an international agency specializing in nuclear issues who was right about Iraq's artificially concocted WMDs, or that of a bunch of belligerent, shameless , and uncompetent neocons who make no secret of their desire to whack Iran at the earliest opportunity?

    That is the stark choice facing the sane people of the world, given the smearing of IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei for not joining the hysterical lynch mob building up against Iran. Criticised by Condi Rice and others in the Bush administration, it is uncannily reminiscent of the slurs against him and UN weapons inspector Hans Blix in the run up to the invasion of Iraq - and we should remember that the US vindictively tried to unseat him afterwards for not joining in the lying game.

    ElBaradei is hardly acting as cheerleader for the Iranians. He says that his inspectors have not seen "any concrete evidence that there is a parallel military program," though he could not yet swear to its absence. The reasons for that being Iran's still somewhat uncomfortable attitude to open all doors at any moment for all of nuclear facilities. Iran needs some wooing but the case is far from being hopeless, on contrary, wiht little bit of patiance and open-mindedness if not the ideal, at least quite a progress will be observed.

    ElBaradei believes that the issues the West has with Iran can be resolved through negotiations - in which it would help if the US were not implicitly or more recently explicitly as well threatening war. But it looks as though a similar stage is reached when Saddam let in the inspectors. When they found no WMDs Bush cried foul, ordered the UN inspectors out and sent the troops in. As it seems now, the US and its Western allies will not accept anything short of regime change in Tehran - no matter what ordinary Iranians and other countries might want and what the IAEA says.

    The only difference from last time is that France has defected, and France's opposition to the war in Iraq was as much because of Saddam's oil contracts with Total and Elf-Aquitaine as any deep attachment to international law.

    The situation is more inflamed by an aggressive and unhelpful rhetoric aimed to show its friends and enemies how unafraid and how challenging Iran ca be, especially towards a superpower such as the US. Yes, Iran has survived one onslaught by the US and its allies during the Iran-Iraq war. But where is the guarantee it will survive the second one, especially because in this case a more idealistic and therefore more universally appealing hype is built against it? What is even more ridiculous is that Ahmandinejad is not in control of Iran's nuclear capacity, reserved for the Guardian council and its Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. So much fuss over nothing...

    Instead of smiling while uttering phrases, which leave the international society aghast, it would be more constructive and fruitful to open up fully Iran's nuclear facilities and invite IAEA as well as independent experts for monitoring. This way, it will clear away all doubts and will give Iran a good conscious to go ahead, and if the US tries to tweak and twist then Iran will have all the rights for high rhetoric and more.