Thursday, October 30, 2008
Hold on to what you believe even if it is a tree which stands by itself.
Hold on to what you must do even if it is a long way from here...
Hold on to my hand even when I have gone away from you.
-Nancy Wood, from Many Winters
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
If you don't have an account, you will have to create one. This is a TV show called 30 Days. In this episode, a white Christian male from West Virginia, goes to live with Muslim Americans for 30 days. It is really interesting. And I think it is fairly unbiased.
There are so many things I like about Islam.
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Monday, October 20, 2008
The judge ordered everyone except the suspects out of the courtroom, as protesters piled in and lawyers complained of intolerable conditions.
The suspects are accused of belonging to a shadowy ultra-nationalist network.
Prosecutors say the group plotted a series of attacks aimed at provoking the military into carrying out a coup.
The trial may revive tensions between the Islamist-rooted ruling AKP party and the secular military, analysts say.
Among the 86 suspects appearing before the Silivri prison-court were retired army officers, politicians, academics and also journalists, who are alleged to be members of the Ergenekon group.
The 2,455-page indictment holds the group responsible for at least two violent attacks - a bombing of a secularist newspaper in 2006 and an attack on a court the same year in which a judge was killed.
The attacks on these key parts of the secular establishment were supposed to provoke the military into launching a coup in defence of secular interests, it is alleged.
The suspects deny the charges, saying they are politically-motivated.
As the trial opened, the presiding judge asked spectators and reporters to leave the tiny courtroom, amid protests by defence lawyers that they could not work in such conditions.
Outside the courtroom, scores of demonstrators with Turkish flags held a protest rally. Many of them chanted: "The traitors are in parliament, the patriots are in prison."
As the trial quickly began to descend into disarray, the presiding judge decided to adjourn proceedings for several hours.
The trial is unusual in a number of ways: the sheer size of it and the fact that the defendants include retired Turkish military officers, the BBC's Pam O'Toole says.
That is something which would have been unthinkable only a few years ago, given the power of the military, which has mounted three coups since 1960 and, in 1997, eased the country's first pro Islamist prime minister from power, our correspondent says.
Then there is the nature and scope of the charges, some of which would not seem out of place in a Hollywood thriller, she adds.
But many Turks regard the trial as the latest stage in an ongoing power struggle between Turkey's secular nationalist establishment and the governing AKP.
The alleged plotters were indicted this summer, shortly before a decision in a court case aimed at closing down the AKP for allegedly becoming a focus for anti-secular activities.
Government critics believe the timing was no coincidence.
Some of them maintain the Ergenekon network simply does not exist; many others believe this trial is the AKP's revenge for the closure case, which in the end did not succeed in the Constitutional Court.
Meanwhile government supporters portray it as a step towards accountability and democracy by taking much needed action against so called "deep state" nationalist groups, who have previously been virtually untouchable.
The military denies any links to such groups.
Turks will watch this case closely, but it could be months, or even years, before there is a result, our correspondent says.
Sunday, October 19, 2008
By Arthur Fromme
October 19, 2008
In the current economic gloom, there's a ray of travel-related sunshine: the increased strength of the U.S. dollar. Though no one can explain exactly why, the dollar has risen against every major foreign currency other than the Japanese yen, and it has increased substantially against some of them. Though the change in exchange rates hasn't been large enough to make a major difference in European travel, it has dramatically transformed the cost of visiting a number of other highly attractive destinations.
Australia comes first. As recently as six months ago, the Aussie dollar was traded almost at parity to the U.S. dollar. Suddenly, the U.S. dollar buys $1.40 to $1.50 Australian dollars (the rate varies from day to day), and Australia has become 40 percent to 50 percent cheaper to the American tourist. Hotel rates and restaurant costs "down under," sightseeing fees, clothing and souvenirs are today considerably below the price levels to which we're accustomed.
Mexico's currency has also weakened substantially against the U.S. dollar. A year ago, you received 10.50 pesos for one U.S. dollar; today, you receive between 12 and 13 pesos to the dollar. In a country so easily reached from all parts of the U.S.—in Acapulco and Puerto Vallarta, Cancun and Mazatlan, along the Mayan Riviera and the new Nayarit district—prices were always moderate even before the strengthening of the dollar, but now they're positively cheap. So the smart American traveler will dust off those travel plans and book a flight to this colorful country with its gracious, courteous people—and low, low costs.
Thailand presents a mixed picture. Its unit of currency, the baht, has recently been selling at a rate of 34 to the dollar (earlier, the rate was 28 to the dollar), and a country that was always low-priced to the traveler with U.S. dollars has become cheaper still. Unfortunately, there's considerable unrest in Thailand, culminating recently in street riots and some bloodshed. But the tourist has always traveled safely in this land of gentle Buddhist people. I would continue to recommend travel there and remain firm in my belief that the unrest will be short-lived.
The Island of Bali: Its currency, the Indonesian rupiah, has continued to decline against the U.S. dollar. A year ago, $1 bought 9,073 rupiah; it now buys nearly 10,000 rupiah, and an island that was always amazingly cheap has become cheaper still. Get there fast.
Iceland: No nation has had a worse economic crisis than Iceland, for reasons (bank failures) too complex to discuss. A year ago, you received 60 Iceland kronur for one U.S. dollar; today you receive roughly 110 Iceland kronur. Since the nation's cost-cutting airline, Icelandair, is also running unprecedented sales on airfares to Iceland, this is perhaps your best time ever for soaking in those thermal waters.
Canada: Just a few months ago, one U.S. dollar bought one Canadian dollar. Today one U.S. dollar buys almost $1.20 Canadian, and everything in Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver and the like costs about 20 percent less.
But while the currencies of Europe have weakened by about 10 percent against the U.S. dollar (as I write this, you only pay $1.72 for a British pound, $1.34 for a euro), the shift hasn't yet been great enough to substantially lower the cost of traveling in these pricey precincts.
Odd, isn't it? Just when most of us are beginning to feel impoverished, the cost of traveling to numerous foreign destinations has become much lower than before.
Friday, October 17, 2008
Turkey and Austria pushed out Iceland for the two rotating seats that are reserved for the mostly European bloc. Iceland had lobbied hard, although its financial crisis had raised questions about its candidacy. Turkey won 151 votes and Austria 133, surpassing in the first round of voting the 128 votes required for the two-thirds majority out of 192 votes cast.
In the race for the single available Asian rotating seat, Japan easily defeated Iran by 158 votes to 32.
They join Uganda, for Africa, and Mexico in taking up the five rotating seats on the 15-seat Security Council for the 2009 and 2010 sessions.
The Security Council vote is hotly contested. Even as members grumble about the diminished relevancy of a Security Council designed circa World War II, more and more nations seek to wield the influence gained by winning a seat at the Council’s iconic horseshoe-shaped table.
The day of voting is one of the few days in the organization’s calendar when the atmosphere in the United Nations becomes electric, and everyone shows up. Candidates must achieve a two-thirds majority among voting nations to win a seat.
It is a time of intense lobbying by candidates, and the results are not always predictable. Most ambassadors overestimate the number of votes they will receive because everyone promises to vote for them.
Regions try to create consensus around one candidate to avoid a bruising vote. Uganda has been anointed for the Africa seat this year, and Mexico for Latin America. Most diplomats had expected Japan to win the contest for the Asian seat easily.
But Iran argued that it deserved the spot, having not been on the Council since 1956, while Japan has served nine times, the last ending in 2006.
Diplomats said that Iran was a long shot, noting the country’s standoff with the Security Council over the nuclear issue, with three rounds of sanctions against it. Nobody wanted to repeat the experience with Rwanda in the early 1990s, when it used its seat to hinder resolutions aimed at the violence there.
Iran ran a low-key campaign. Despite the likelihood of a humiliating loss, it refused to withdraw from the ballot on the insistence of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, diplomats said.
The intention to win a seat is often announced a decade in advance. It is a bit like applying for a prestigious college: You have to prove you are well rounded. At the United Nations, that means first showing active interest in peace and security issues. (Turkey contributes personnel for peacekeeping operations in four countries.).
Second, you must show you are working to improve the environment and alleviate poverty. (Iceland’s literature highlighted pictures of third world students attending its geothermal training program.)
Events can create turbulence around the most carefully choreographed campaigns, however. Witness Iceland and its financial crisis. It joined the United Nations in 1946, but decided only in 1998 to join the rotation of the other Nordic states on the Security Council.
The other candidates had issues, too. Austria’s anti-immigrant, far-right parties won almost a third of the vote in September parliamentary elections. Ambassador Gerhard Pfanzelter has tried to counter any doubts by noting that Austria has a historical commitment to the United Nations, hosting important organizations like the International Atomic Energy Agency and serving as a bridge between combative nations since the cold war.
Turkey last held a Security Council seat in 1961. Ambassador Baki Ilkin argued that Turkey’s time was due and that its geographic position at the crossroads between the turbulent Middle East, the turbulent Caucasus and the turbulent Balkans made it ideal to lend regional sensitivities to important Council deliberations.Every country has an equal vote, so none were considered too small to lobby. Nauru and Tuvalu and Palau pulled the same weight as the five permanent members of the Security Council — the United States, China, Russia, Britain and France — that never have to run.