Saturday, December 30, 2006

The Oud – A Masterpiece

Talking of the Oud, it is a string instrument sometimes referred to as Lute or Barbat.

Whenever the name Oud is mentioned, some think of earlier civilizations such as Mesopotamia. Legend even has it that there are magical powers behind this instrument.

The Oud is not only played or found in Arabia, it is in Europe, Africa and the Americas not to mention others. The Czech and Slovaks adore it, Bahrainis even sleep with it, Canadians collect them etc. etc.

How or why you play your Oud shouldn’t be underestimated. People play the Oud for various reasons – whereas some play it to communicate the message of Harmony and Peace, others play it to instigate Hatred.

There is no magic in the Oud – it is, and remain an instrument, it is a tool. The purpose for which you use it, will determine the result it will bring you.

One effective use of the Oud is to express gratitude for one’s life to the Creator of life itself. When I think of the Oud in this perspective, I think of the name Judah – which means Praise.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Treasure Hunter

Treasures are normally not so easy to come by :
But with a little determination, they can be found;
With a little perseverance, they can be acquired;
They are things often stored up for winners.

So why don't you start to hunt for your treasure now?

Rifles for Palestinians? Israel says yes

Hopes shipment helps fight against Hamas
December 29, 2006

JERUSALEM -- With Israel's blessing, Egypt has delivered a large arms
shipment to forces loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas,
officials said Thursday -- the latest Israeli attempt to boost the
embattled leader in his bloody conflict with the militant Islamic Hamas.

Though there has been a weeklong hiatus in armed clashes, Palestinians
fear the heavily armed security forces of Hamas, which runs the
Palestinian government, and Fatah could erupt in violence at any time.

Israel has been trying to reinforce Abbas' standing among his people.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Abbas is a partner for
negotiations -- unlike Hamas, which rejects the existence of Israel and
refuses to renounce violence.

Amos Gilad, a senior Israeli Defense Ministry official, told Israel
Radio the military assistance was rendered to reinforce the ''forces of
peace'' against the ''forces of darkness'' threatening the region, a
reference to Islamic extremists.

Nabil Abu Rdeneh, a spokesman for Abbas, issued a statement denying any
arms deal. However, at midday Thursday, witnesses saw a truck belonging
to the pro-Fatah National Security force carrying what appeared to be
sealed boxes of weapons.

When the truck attempted to make a quick detour, one box fell onto the
ground, scattering a pile of automatic guns on the road, the witnesses
said. Security men in the truck quickly got out and collected the

Israel approved the transfer of 2,000 automatic rifles, 20,000
ammunition clips and 2 million bullets on Wednesday, Israeli officials
said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the shipment had not
been officially confirmed by Israel, the Palestinians or Egypt.

Ahmed Youssef, a political adviser to Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of
Hamas, said Egyptian officials had assured him no arms were sent. He
accused Israel of spreading false rumors about an arms shipment in ''an
attempt to increase tensions among the Palestinians.''

Seventeen people have died in this month's Hamas-Fatah fighting, which included an assassination attempt on Haniyeh.

On Thursday, the prime minister left Gaza to resume a trip to Gulf
states that had been cut short by the violence, which has since
subsided. He was headed first to Saudi Arabia, then to Kuwait, Qatar
and Jordan, where he and Abbas have been invited by King Abdullah II
for talks. Ref. : Chicago Sun-Times

Glimpses of the many sides of faith

December 29, 2006

As 2006 draws to a close -- an annus horribilis for some of us, annus mirabilis for others -- it's once again time to reflect on some of the more spiritually intriguing ideas I've heard this year.

Heartening, maddening and challenging, here are (in no particular order) a few sound bites from the year in faith:

"The glorious thing for you always has consequences for others."

Al Gini, Loyola University Chicago philosophy professor and author of Why It's Hard to Be Good

"The world distrusts us not because we are rich and free. Many of us are not rich, and some of us aren't especially free. They distrust us because we are deaf and blind, because too often we don't understand and make no effort to understand."

Cardinal Francis George talking about how Americans are viewed by the rest of the world

"My wish is that this joyous occasion will offer hope to all of the mothers of Iraq whose children have been kidnapped. May they all be returned safely and swiftly to their mothers' arms."

Mary Beth Carroll, aunt of kidnapped American journalist Jill Carroll, upon her niece's release after three months in captivity in Iraq

"It's not an act of God, it's an act of guys!"

Studs Terkel talking about the Sago mine disaster in West Virginia

"I'd Really Rather You Didn't Act Like A Sanctimonious, Holier-Than-Thou Ass When Describing My Noodly Goodness. If Some People Don't Believe in Me, That's Okay. Really, I'm Not That Vain. Besides, This Isn't About Them So Don't Change The Subject."

one of the Eight "I'd Rather You Didn'ts," spiritual pillars of the fanciful Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster

"If you're trying to lure him onto the baseball field, you start by showing how beautiful the game is. You don't start with the infield fly rule."

the Rev. Bob Barron on evangelization and how to draw people to Roman Catholicism

"For me, spiritual concerns are totally pervasive. There is nothing separate from it. It's complete and sort of urgent."

author Anne Rice

"The people who make themselves rich in the name of God or Allah are fair game, as are the people who pretend to speak for Krishna or Y*HW*H -- usually to their own advantage. YOU may say that God said, 'touch not the apple of mine eye' -- but until God sends us the memo, you're fair game, bud."

Robert Darden, editor in chief of the religious satire magazine the Wittenburg Door

"We always think that uncertainty weighs us down. But what would it mean if we danced with uncertainty?"

Rabbi Irwin Kula, author of Yearnings: Embracing the Sacred Messiness of Life

"The saints are imperfect, too. That strikes people as sort of heretical because what we've done is we've tamed them. And, boy, to tame someone like Francis of Assisi is quite a trick. But we've turned him into this sort of non-threatening hippie who talks to birds. That's why we could feel comfortable putting him in our garden because, ya know, he's so adorable. Like a puppy. . . . Can you imagine someone putting a statue of Dorothy Day in their garden? Ooh, she'd be mad."

the Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest and author of My Life With the Saints

"To me, justice is just a tool to get a person to the point of admission because it's good for the soul and it gets them right with God. Ultimately, our concern was that George Ryan would get right with God. If it cost us our kids . . . so that something like that might happen, who am I to tell God that that's not fair?"

Scott Willis, the father of six children killed in a fiery car crash in 1994 caused by a truck driver who paid a bribe for his license from then-Secretary of State George Ryan's office

"When people have the strongest reactions to [hypocrisy], I always take that as a red flag. It's a 'protective' response. In other words, it's too painful for me to recognize the hypocrisy in my own life, therefore I can put my energy into damning it in the other person."

Lallene Rector, dean of Garrett Evangelical-Theological Seminary

"The quest is not just believing in God, but believing in other people. Believing in ourselves as children of God, and that we are called to see other people as God sees them, not as we would like them to be."

Jean Vanier, founder of L'Arche

"Poetry provides a space for a spiritual lollygag."

Illinois Poet Laureate Kevin Stein

"Part of the reason that I've had trouble going to church and staying in church is not feeling like the sermon some minister was espousing was connecting with me in any way. Whereas a good four lines from a John Hiatt song could mean so much more to me."

WXRT radio DJ Lin Brehmer

"You can't overdo it, but you can't under-do it, either."

Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, a Tibetan Buddhist lama and marathon runner

"When people ask me for advice -- and I don't know why they're so foolish as to do so, but some people do -- I say, 'Every morning, look in your bathroom mirror and say three times: 'It's not about me.'"

author Tom Robbins

Ref. : Chicago Sun-Times

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Moscow Links Poisoning Inquiry to Yukos Case

STEVEN LEE MYERS writes in NY Times (Published on December 28, 2006) - MOSCOW, Dec. 27 — Russia’s Prosecutor General’s Office on Wednesday produced a startling new twist in the investigation of the killing of Alexander V. Litvinenko, the former K.G.B. officer who died in London in November of radiation poisoning. It announced that it was investigating the possible involvement of former executives of Yukos Oil, the company dismantled by a prosecutorial assault last year.

In a statement released Wednesday evening, the prosecutor’s office said its investigation indicated a link between the poisoning of Mr. Litvinenko and criminal cases under way against Yukos executives. It singled out Leonid B. Nevzlin, a major shareholder and partner of the company’s jailed chief executive, Mikhail B. Khodorkovsky.

The statement did not elaborate on any evidence that might link Mr. Nevzlin and others to Mr. Litvinenko’s death, which was caused by a high dose of a radioactive material, polonium 210.

The accusation nevertheless was an effort on the part of the Russian government to tie Mr. Litvinenko’s death to accusations of a convoluted web of economic and other crimes that destroyed Yukos, once Russia’s richest company.

The prosecution of Yukos and Mr. Khodorkovsky was widely seen as a Kremlin-led campaign against a company seen as defiant of President Vladimir V. Putin and against a man seen as a potential political threat.

A spokesman for Mr. Nevzlin, a close associate of Mr. Khodorkovsky who is wanted on charges in Russia and lives in self-imposed exile in Israel, dismissed the new accusations as a continuation of that campaign.

“We all know the methods of the K.G.B.,” the spokesman, Amir Dan, said in a telephone interview, referring to the defunct Soviet security agency. “The statement is ridiculous. It is not worth any comment.”

When Mr. Litvinenko fell ill on Nov. 1, officials in Russia ridiculed the accusations of Russian involvement. But when he died on Nov. 23 from the effects of radioactive poisoning, investigators here agreed to assist British detectives, who visited for several days this month.

The statement from the Prosecutor General’s Office said the investigations of Yukos had now been combined with that of Mr. Litvinenko’s killing.

“A version is being verified according to which the contractors of these crimes may be one and the same group of people whose names are on the international wanted list” for committing grave crimes, the prosecutors’ statement said. It specified Mr. Nevzlin as one of them but did not identify any others.

Mr. Nevzlin has long evaded Russian requests for extradition — a source of diplomatic irritation between Russia and Israel. On Sunday he arrived in the United States on vacation, Mr. Dan said, prompting new demands by the Russians that the Americans arrest him.

A United States government official who has been briefed on the case and spoke on condition of anonymity because of privacy regulations said Mr. Nevzlin arrived at Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey on Sunday and was questioned by Customs and Border Protection officers. He had a valid visa and was allowed into the country, the official said. A Justice Department spokesman said the department had no information about Mr. Nevzlin.

The prosecutors’ statement said Russia would prepare new requests for extradition, though it did not identify the countries to which the requests would be made.

Mr. Nevzlin’s name has surfaced in connection with the Litvinenko case before. He met with Mr. Litvinenko in the weeks before his poisoning, evidently in October. After Mr. Litvinenko’s death, Mr. Nevzlin said that Mr. Litvinenko had provided him with a dossier that “shed light on most significant aspects of the Yukos affair.”

The dossier’s contents remain unclear, but Mr. Nevzlin said he had provided them to British investigators. It was also unclear how Mr. Litvinenko, who fled Russia in 2000, could have come to possess incriminating information about a case that unfolded after his departure.

In another aspect of the Litvinenko case, investigators in Germany discovered traces of polonium at places visited by Dmitry V. Kovtun, another businessman and former security officer who was one of two Russian businessmen who met Mr. Litvinenko in London on Nov. 1, the day he was evidently poisoned.

The traces found in Germany appeared to have been left in the days before Mr. Kovtun flew from Hamburg to London on that morning.

Prosecutors here say they are investigating Mr. Kovtun’s poisoning as an attempted murder committed in conjunction with Mr. Litvinenko’s killing. That would suggest that Mr. Kovtun was a victim, not a suspect.

Mr. Kovtun is said to be in a Moscow hospital being monitored for symptoms of radiation poisoning, though his condition and whereabouts are shrouded in mystery. He and the other businessman, Andrei K. Lugovoi, were questioned by Russian and British investigators. Nothing is known of the nature of their responses.

The man at the center of the Yukos affair, Mr. Khodorkovsky, the company’s former chairman, has also come under new prosecutorial scrutiny. Convicted last year on charges of fraud and tax evasion that his supporters described as politically motivated, Mr. Khodorkovsky was transferred over the weekend from the remote Siberian prison where he was serving an eight-year sentence to a regional detention center in Chita.

On Wednesday prosecutors preparing new criminal charges against him questioned him and his jailed business partner, Platon A. Lebedev, Mr. Khodorkovsky’s lawyer said in a statement. The lawyer, Yuri M. Schmidt, said investigators accused his client of laundering money by making contributions to Open Russia, a social and educational charity Mr. Khodorkovsky founded. The authorities have since closed the charity.

Mr. Schmidt said the timing of the new questioning amounted to “moral and physical pressure” on his client, whose current sentence does not end until 2012. Ref. NY Times

Islamist Forces in Somali City Vanish

JEFFREY GETTLEMAN writes in the NY Times (Published December 28, 2006) - NAIROBI, Kenya, Dec. 27 — The Islamist forces who have controlled much of Somalia in recent months suddenly vanished from the streets of the capital, Mogadishu, residents said Wednesday night, just as thousands of rival troops massed 15 miles away.

In the past few days, Ethiopian-backed forces, with tacit approval from the United States, have unleashed tanks, helicopter gunships and jet fighters on the Islamists, decimating their military and paving the way for the internationally recognized transitional government of Somalia to assert control.

Even so, the Islamists, who have been regarded as a regional menace by Ethiopia and the United States, had repeatedly vowed to fight to the death for their religion and their land, making their disappearance that much more unexpected.

Fortified checkpoints across the city — in front of the radio station, at the airport, at the main roads leading into Mogadishu and outside police stations — were abruptly abandoned Wednesday night, residents said.

Many of the teenage troops who made up the backbone of the Islamist army had blended back into the civilian population, walking around without guns or their trademark green skullcaps.

The sudden reversal left it unclear whether a war that had threatened to consume the Horn of Africa had quickly ended, or the Islamists had merely gone underground, preparing to wage a guerrilla insurgency, as some leaders had threatened.

“The whole city is just waiting,” said Sheik Ahmed Shiro, a Koranic teacher in Mogadishu.

At 10 p.m. on Wednesday, several Islamist leaders emerged to hold a news conference at their headquarters in Mogadishu. They did not explicitly concede defeat to the transitional government, but seemed to be preparing their forces for such an eventuality. “We need our soldiers to return to their positions for the sake of the people,” said Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed, one of the leaders. “Even if your positions are transferred to the government, you must stay where you are and make sure Mogadishu is as safe as it was before.”

As he spoke, Mogadishu was rapidly descending back into the clan-based anarchy that had been its hallmark for most of the past 15 years, before the Islamists came to power and pacified the city.

Witnesses said bands of armed thugs swept through the markets, smashing and stealing at will. Gunfire rattled from neighborhood to neighborhood as the disparate clan-based militias that had joined forces to form the Islamist movement began to fragment and turn on one another.

With the war going badly for them, clan elders had been rapidly losing faith in the Islamist leaders, residents said. The quick defeat the Islamists suffered earlier on Wednesday at Jowhar, the last major town on the road to Mogadishu, seemed to be the final straw.

The Islamists started out as a grass-roots movement of clan elders and religious leaders who banded together earlier this year to rid Mogadishu of its notorious warlords, earning them a lot of public support.

But much of that good will seems to have been sapped by their decision to go to war against the transitional government and the Ethiopian forces protecting it.

The Islamists attacked Baidoa, the seat of the transitional government, on Dec. 20; a few days later, they announced that Somalia was open to Muslim fighters around the world who wanted to wage a holy war against Christian-led Ethiopia.

That provoked a crushing counter-attack by the Ethiopians, who command the strongest military in East Africa. For the past week, the Islamists have lost one battle after another, their adolescent soldiers no match for a professional army.

By Wednesday, the Islamists were cornered. Thousands of troops from the transitional government were closing in on the seaside capital from two directions.

Mogadishu was coming unhinged. The ports and airports had closed, leading to a shortage of just about everything, sending prices for food, medicine and fuel skyward. A gallon of gas in Mogadishu now costs $8.

The once feared Shebab, the devout young Islamic fighters, began deserting in droves. (Shebab is the Arabic word for youth.) “We can’t resist,” said Musa Abdullahi, an 18-year-old Shebab who quit his unit after half his comrades were cut down by Ethiopian helicopter gunships. “We thought this fighting would be like the others. It’s not.”

Ahmed Nur Bilal, a retired Somali general, said the war had been a horrible miscalculation.

One of the first things the Islamists did after the fighting started was to close all schools in Mogadishu in order to send more young people to the front. “They’ve misled our children to their deaths,” Mr. Bilal said.

Residents said that crowds in one slum threw rocks at the Islamists’ pickup trucks as they drove by on Wednesday. Some people openly celebrated in the streets by hoisting up pictures of the transitional government’s leaders and gleefully chewing khat, a mildly narcotic plant the Islamists had outlawed.

The demonstrations helped prompt the clan elders, who are regarded as the pillars of Somali society, to act. According to residents in Mogadishu, the leaders of several major clans — and some businesspeople who had been financing the Islamists — demanded that the Islamist leaders return the armed pickup trucks that had been lent to the movement.

Faced with the loss of support from their counterparts, other clan leaders saw the coalition begin to crumble and withdrew their trucks as well, leaving little of the organized force that once lent the Islamists their power.

One adviser to Western diplomats who has close contacts with both the Islamists and the transitional government described the unraveling as an “organic process that rose up from the people, in an unorganized way, Somali style.”

Disappointment in the Islamists, however, does not necessarily translate into widespread enthusiasm for the transitional government, which until last week had been considered weak and divided by many Somalis. Thousands of people in Mogadishu, a war-weary city of two million, have begun to pack up and leave, residents said, afraid not only of the possibility of heavy urban fighting but also of a return to warlord rule, which kept Mogadishu in anarchy for years.

The transitional government has sent mixed signals about what it plans to do next.

Until now, Mogadishu had been considered too dangerous as a headquarters for the transitional leaders, themselves a mix of clan elders and former warlords. But transitional government leaders have always said they eventually planned to base their government in the capital, and this week they vowed to keep fighting until Mogadishu was theirs.

Several Mogadishu residents said on Wednesday night that they expected the Ethiopian-backed forces to march into the city at dawn. That has been a pattern since the fighting began, with the Islamists retreating from cities across Somalia during the night and the transitional government troops arriving in the morning. But some analysts believe there will be a few days of negotiations before that happens.

Ethiopian officials have said that occupying Mogadishu is not part of their plan. But they have also said that rooting out Islamist extremists is their priority. Ref: NY Times

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The Substance To Making Good Decisions

Decisions normally set in when we are faced with choices. Whenever we are handed an array of choices, we can be sure that some elements of fairness are embodied with it - for instance, the Freedom of Choice when options are available. As a matter of fact, our decisions follow when we have weighed the choices at hand. Freedom of Choice although has been abused every now and then by mankind, it still remains a freedom that nature has installed for all.

Whatever our decisions may be, they would be nothing unless we find the Substance to arriving at them - the Substance to our Decision Making.

The following are some favorite quotes from some famous Statesmen from around the world when they addressed the subject of ‘Faith’:

Henry Mencken :“Faith may be defined briefly as an illogical belief in the occurrence of the improbable.”

Nachman of Bratslav: “Faith is not only in the heart; it should be put into words.”

Martin Luther King Jr.: “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”

Saint Augustine: “Unless you believe, you will not understand.”

Saint Augustine: “Faith is to believe what you do not see; the reward of this faith is to see what you believe.”

Mark Twain: “Your faith is what you believe, not what you know.”

Leo Tolstoy: “Until you do what you believe in, how do you know whether you believe in it or not?”

Without divulging further, I honestly believe that what a person need, in order to be ' so sure’ of one’s beliefs is ‘Faith’ and nothing less. True Faith, comes from hearing and hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ. Actually ‘the truth’ is not ‘in the search itself’. As a matter of fact, the truth is the GIFT of God to mankind, and that GIFT is Christ Jesus. God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son. The GIFT is the reason for all the festivities around the whole world at this time of the year.

Again, when people give and share during this time of the year which is Christmas, they are actually trying to emulate God when He gave His greatest GIFT, which is, Christ Jesus, to mankind - for God is a Giver. One wise man once put it this way “Christmas is not about gifts, it is about the GIFT, which is Christ Jesus”.

You may read this post of mine.

Monday, December 25, 2006

He Is Celebrated Everywhere

Breaking News : Even in Dubai, Bahrain, Lebanon, Russia, Iran, Iraq and in China, the GIFT - Christ Jesus - is celebrated and will continue to be celebrated to all corners of the world. The GIFT of God to mankind is Christ, He is Lord and He is Saviour. Merry Christmas!

[ An Emarati man looks at a giant Christmas tree at Wafi shopping mall in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Sunday Dec. 24, 2006. ]

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Iran President Facing Revival of Students’ Ire

Protesters at Amir Kabir University mocking President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad during his visit there.

Published: December 21, 2006

TEHRAN, Dec. 20 — As protests broke out last week at a prestigious university here, cutting short a speech by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Babak Zamanian could only watch from afar. He was on crutches, having been clubbed by supporters of the president and had his foot run over by a motorcycle during a less publicized student demonstration a few days earlier.

But the significance of the confrontation was easy to grasp, even from a distance, said Mr. Zamanian, a leader of a student political group.

The student movement, which planned the 1979 seizure of the American Embassy from the same university, Amir Kabir, is reawakening from its recent slumber and may even be spearheading a widespread resistance against Mr. Ahmadinejad. This time the catalysts were academic and personal freedom.

“It is not that simple to break up a president’s speech,” said Alireza Siassirad, a former student political organizer, explaining that an event of that magnitude takes meticulous planning. “I think what happened at Amir Kabir is a very important and a dangerous sign. Students are definitely becoming active again.”

The protest, punctuated by shouts of “Death to the dictator,” was the first widely publicized outcry against Mr. Ahmadinejad, one that was reflected Friday in local elections, where voters turned out in droves to vote for his opponents.

The students’ complaints largely mirrored public frustrations over the president’s crackdown on civil liberties, his blundering economic policies and his harsh oratory against the West, which they fear will isolate the country.

But the students had an additional and potent source of outrage: the president’s campaign to purge the universities of all vestiges of the reform movement of his predecessor, Mohammad Khatami.

Last summer the newly installed head of the university, Alireza Rahai, ordered the demolition of the office of the Islamic Association, which had been the core of student political activities on campus since 1963 and had matured into a moderate, pro-reform group.

Since then, students say, more than 100 liberal professors have been forced into retirement and many popular figures have been demoted. At least 70 students were suspended for political activities, and two were jailed. Some 30 students were given warnings, and a prominent Ph.D. candidate, Matin Meshkin, was barred from finishing his studies.

The students also complain about overcrowded and crumbling dormitories and proscriptions against women wearing makeup or bright colors, rules that were relaxed when Mr. Khatami came to power in 1997.

Amir Kabir University of Technology, a major polytechnic institute, has been a hotbed of student activism since before Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s Islamic Revolution of 1979. Drawing on networks at universities around the country through an office that links their Islamic associations, students can organize large protests on a moment’s notice. There are also student guilds, which are independent, and more than 2,000 student publications.

Mr. Zamanian, the head of public relations of the Islamic Association at Amir Kabir, said that while the situation had not been ideal in the Khatami years, Mr. Ahmadinejad’s antireformist campaign had led students to value their previous freedoms.

They were permitted to hold meetings and invite opposition figures to speak, he said, and could freely publish their journals. Now, he said, their papers are forbidden to print anything but reports from official news agencies.

The students also complain about the president’s failure to deliver economic growth and jobs. At last week’s protest, which coincided with a now infamous Holocaust conference held by the Foreign Ministry, students chanted, “Forget the Holocaust — do something for us.”

A student who identified himself only as Ahmad, for fear of retribution, said: “A nuclear program is our right, but we fear that it will bring more damage than good.”

Another student said: “It is so hard and costly to come to this university, but I don’t see a bright future. Even if you are lucky enough to get a job, the pay would not be enough for you to pay your rent.”

Mr. Zamanian said that the protest had not been planned ahead of Mr. Ahmadinejad’s visit, but that students were further enraged when they saw supporters of the president being bused in.

Although the auditorium was almost filled with the president’s supporters by the time any students were let in, the protesters forced their way inside, chanted, “Death to the dictator,” and held banners calling him a “fascist president.” They also held up posters of the president with his picture upside down and set fire to three of them. Many of the students are now in hiding.

At one point, the head of a moderate student guild complained to Mr. Ahmadinejad that students were being expelled for political activities and given three stars next to their names in university records, barring them from re-entering. The president responded by ridiculing him, joking that the three stars made them sergeants in the army.

The president was eventually forced to cut his speech short and leave. But angry students stormed his car, kicking it and chanting slogans. His convoy of four cars collided several times as they tried to leave in a rush. Eventually the students were dispersed.

An entry on Mr. Ahmadinejad’s Web log, posted Wednesday, played down the scale and significance of the protest, writing that the president had a “good feeling when he saw a small group amid the dominant majority insulting him without any fear.”

A few days after the protest, former Amir Kabir students affiliated with the Islamic associations’ coordinating office wrote a letter to Mr. Ahmadinejad. In it, they turned down what they said was his invitation to share their problems with him, because they believed that he wanted to use the occasion to bolster his candidates in the local elections.

The students also wrote that the president had insulted their intelligence by talking to them in the same language he uses in remote villages on his provincial trips.

“You should know that what happened at Polytechnic University was the voice of universities and the real voice of the people,” they wrote. Tehran Polytechnic was the university’s name before the revolution. Ref. NY Times

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

A Dose of Reality TV for Congress

Published: December 20, 2006

If Democratic leaders truly want to put some nip into the new Congress, they should finally free up television coverage of floor debates so citizens can see the unvarnished state of the people’s forum. Current TV restrictions allow only static head-on shots of whoever has the floor, lending chamber proceedings all the excitement of a postage stamp.

The cameras should be liberated to pan the floor and look for reaction shots. Who but working
politicians would suspect there’s a risk to showing real life? C-Span watchers were deprived of a much needed touch of humanity during President Clinton’s impeachment trial when one weary senator listened to the interminable proceeding with his shoes off.

The speaker’s office has been wary of allowing free-ranging cameras since coverage was permitted 28 years ago. Visitors to the chamber galleries can plainly see scenes denied to TV watchers — sideline wheeling and dealing; the representative more interested in the newspaper than the debate; the senator nodding off, understandably perhaps; and the near-empty chamber surrounding the orator speaking for the stationary camera.

Politicians should be the first to realize the possibilities of open viewing. There’s no shortage of them working the camera angles during the president’s annual State of the Union address, that rare night of free-rein TV. Imagine if there had been a roving camera eye at the debate over Medicare drug subsidies three years ago when the Republican leader, Tom DeLay, kept the vote open beyond the time limit. All C-Span viewers could see was the droning scene of time being killed. What was really happening was Mr. DeLay roaming the floor and arm-twisting members to vote for passage.

That’s the reality of politics. Americans should be allowed to see it on TV. - Ref. : The New York Times

Apple to get a month of security bugs

By Robert McMillan, IDG News Service

Apple will soon be a member of the “month of bugs” club.

On Jan. 1, two security researchers will begin publishing details of a flood of security vulnerabilities in Apple’s products. Their plan is to disclose one bug per day for the entire month, they said Tuesday.

The project is being launched by an independent security researcher, Kevin Finisterre, and a hacker known as LMH, who declined to reveal his identity.

Some of the bugs “might represent a significant risk,” LMH said in an e-mail interview. “Others have a lower impact on security. We are trying to develop working exploits for every issue we find.”

The two hackers plan to disclose bugs in the Mac OS X kernel as well as in software such as Safari, iTunes, iPhoto and QuickTime, LMH said. Some of the bugs will also affect versions of Apple’s software designed to run on Microsoft’s Windows operating system, he added.

LMH was one of the brains behind the recent Month of Kernel Bugs project, which exposed flaws at the core of several different operating systems. It was inspired by an earlier effort, called the Month of Browser Bugs, which was kicked off in July.

This latest Apple project is being launched to raise awareness of security vulnerabilities in Apple’s products and to “stomp smugness,” Finisterre said via e-mail.

While the Macintosh is generally considered to be more secure than the Windows PC, many security researchers believe that this reputation is not attributable to any superior security practices on the part of Apple. They say attackers have been deterred by the Mac OS X’s more secure Unix kernel and the product’s less widespread adoption.

Apple enthusiasts and security researchers have been at odds since last August, when David Maynor and Jon Ellch claimed to have discovered a flaw that affected Apple’s wireless device drivers. They played a video at the Black Hat conference demonstrating how this flaw could be used to run unauthorized code on a MacBook. However, their claims have been slammed because the demonstration used a third-party wireless card rather than the one that ships with the MacBook, and because the two hackers still have not published the code used in their attack.

LMH said the Apple community’s negative response to Maynor and Ellch’s claims played a role in the decision to launch the Month of Apple bugs.

“I was shocked with the reaction of some so-called ‘Apple fans,’” he said. “I can’t understand why some people react badly to disclosure of issues in their system of choice. … That helps to improve its security.”

A similar effort to disclose flaws in Oracle’s software had to be abandoned before it was ever launched last month. The man behind the Week of Oracle bugs, Cesar Cerrudo, of Argeniss Information Security, said he pulled the plug when it became clear that the project could damage the relationship between one of his customers and Oracle. “This customer realized that they could have had serious business problems, so they changed their mind and asked to cancel it,” he said via instant message on Tuesday.

LMH said he didn’t expect any legal problems from Apple. “I keep talking to a guy from the Apple security team and I’m willing to help whenever necessary,” he said. “I’m far away from any illegal activity.”

Apple, for its part, did not seem to be upset with the project. “We always welcome feedback on how to improve security on the Mac,” said Anuj Nayar, an Apple spokesman.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Tara Conner -> Miss USA


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Tara's Walk of Shame

Posted Dec 19th 2006 10:37AM by TMZ Staff

Tara Conner: Click to watchToday could mark the end of Tara Conner's reign as Miss USA.

TMZ spotted the besieged beauty queen as she arrived at Trump Tower in New York City, where she is meeting with The Donald to discuss her fate. A press conference is expected later this morning where Conner's status as Miss USA will be announced.

Conner is under fire with allegations of drug use
and excessive partying. New York Daily News reported that she failed a
drug test for cocaine. Sources tell TMZ that the blonde Kentucky beauty
will be officially replaced by Miss California, Tamiko Nash.

USA 2001, Kandace Krueger, was standing outside of the Trump Tower this
morning and told TMZ, "This is very disappointing to me if the
allegations are true. Tara Conner should have the crown taken away.
When you become Miss USA, you have to take the title seriously and you
have to make good decisions and Tara obviously didn't." More...

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AOL Re-Org Unveiled: Six Business Units Will Report To COO Ron Grant

  • Posted by Staci D. Kramer

  • Mon 18 Dec 2006 05:27 PM PST
I’m sure this will spread fast but you probably are reading it here first ... As we reported Friday, AOL Chairman and CEO Randy Falco is unveiling the Time Warner unit’s new structure today. From the Falco memo that just went out to AOL employees:

“I want to focus first on the functional areas that I will have reporting to me. I will have eight direct reports, beginning with Ted Leonsis, our Vice Chairman, and of course Ron (Grant) as COO. Steve Swad, Finance; Ira Parker, Legal; Lance Miyamoto, Human Resources; and Tiane Mitchell Gordon, Diversity and Inclusion will all report to me. Additionally, reporting to me will be Tricia Primrose Wallace, who will step up to become head of Corporate Communications. ... In addition, we will be appointing a Chief Marketing Officer to help us manage the AOL brand and oversee the company’s consumer marketing efforts.

Reporting to Ron will be our business units: Products, Programming, Platforms, AOL Media Networks, Paid Services, and International. And because smoothly integrating our technology resources into the business units has been such a priority, Ron also will have the Chief Technology Officer report to him.”

The structure, which I was told last week would be logical, is just that. The old AOL had a lot of criss-crossing wires; this version—at least on the proverbial paper—appears to be more clear cut. The business unit heads (the memo doesn’t include titles for these posts.):

-- Products: Kevin Conroy. “In addition to driving continued improvements in mail, the client, portals, video and video search, storage, and our safety and security products, Kevin’s group will now oversee our AIM and mobile products. Kevin’s group will also include the technology resources recently assigned these product areas.”

-- Programming: Bill Wilson, as expected. “ Bill will focus on improving our existing programming experiences while developing new ones, either internally or through partnerships on the model of TMZ and Lat34.”

-- Platforms: TBD. Search, commerce, local-based services including MapQuest. “We are currently in discussions with possible candidates for this role and hope to make an announcement soon.”

-- AOL Media Networks: Mike Kelly. I wasn’t sure this would work out this way given Falco’s advertising backbround and the usual new-exec temptation to bring in someone familiar. “Mike Kelly continues in his role as head of AMN, which includes advertising sales, client solutions and Mike has done an outstanding job rebuilding and re-energizing AOL’s ad sales, and the results—46% growth in Q3, for example—bear this out.”

-- Paid Services: Kim Partoll. “Even with our shift to an advertising business model, managing our relationship with our millions of subscribers, as well as offering them new services, remains an important element of our strategy.”

-- International: TBD. Perhaps the most gaping strategic hole. “We already have strong portals in the UK, France and Germany, and just launched portals in Austria and the Netherlands. We are also looking to launch our India portal soon and are pursuing other opportunities in Asia, South America, and so on. We will be announcing a new leader for International in the near future.”

Not a business unit but new CTO Balan Nair also will report to Grant; Nair, a recent hire, was chief information officer.

The memo makes official what we’ve already reported: the departures of Jim Bankoff, Randy Boe, John Buckley and Joe Redling. John McKinley is included in the group but he had already announced plans to leave.

-- Falco acknowledges the most recent re-org by former Chairman and CEO Jon Mille. Falco: “I believe that there were many important and correct decisions made regarding the structure of the organization as announced by Jon Miller earlier this fall. At the same time, having reviewed the structure, Ron and I believe that it can be tighter, clearer, and better focused on operations. It’s our desire to instill greater focus on execution.”


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Apple buffs up the Mac

The Mac was back at Apple in 2006.

A generation of technology buffs has come to know Apple Computer as a music company, but Apple spent most of this year overhauling its core lineup of desktops and notebooks with Intel's processors, to favorable results. The company logged perhaps its best financial year in its 30-year history, with record revenue and profits and a hefty stock price by the end of the year.

But that news was tempered by the warning that past financial results might have to be restated as Apple works its way through an investigation of its stock option award process, part of the wider re-examination of stock option backdating that tripped up dozens of Silicon Valley companies this year (including CNET Networks, publisher of CNET CEO Steve Jobs has managed to avoid any fallout from the investigation, but longtime executive and board member Fred Anderson stepped down from Apple's board in October as part of the inquiry More....