News & Current Affairs

September 26, 2008

Pilot completes jetpack challenge

Pilot completes jetpack challenge

A Swiss man has become the first person to fly solo across the English Channel using a single jet-propelled wing.

Yves Rossy landed safely after the 22-mile (35.4 km) flight from Calais to Dover, which had been twice postponed this week because of bad weather.

The former military pilot took less than 10 minutes to complete the crossing and parachute to the ground.

The 49-year-old flew on a plane to more than 8,200ft (2,500m), ignited jets on a wing on his back, and jumped out.

Yves Rossy aimed to reach speeds of 125mph

Mr Rossy had hoped to reach speeds of 125mph.

It felt “great, really great”, said Mr Rossy: “I only have one word, thank you, to all the people who did it with me.”

He said weather conditions on Friday had been perfect and his success signalled “big potential” for people to fly “a little bit like a bird” in the future.

Known as “Fusionman,” he was aiming to follow the route taken by French airman Louis Blériot 99 years ago when he became the first person to fly across the English Channel in a plane.

In Dover, Mr Rossy flew past South Foreland lighthouse – which the building’s manager Simon Ovenden said Blériot used as a target during his pioneering flight – and looped onlookers before landing in a field.

“It’s a remarkable achievement, we saw the climax of his attempt as he came down to earth with his parachute. It’s been an exciting afternoon,” said Geoff Clark, a 54-year-old spectator from Chatham, in Kent.
His quote consistently is: I’m not worried about risk, I manage risk
Kathryn Liptrott
National Geographic Channel

Mark Dale, the senior technical officer for the British Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association, described Rossy’s flight as a “fabulous stunt”.

In an interview earlier this week, Mr Rossy said: “If I calculate everything right, I will land in Dover. But if I get it wrong, I take a bath.”

The flight was broadcast live for the National Geographic Channel. Its producer, Kathryn Liptrott, told the  Mr Rossy was fearless.

“When we’ve talked to him and asked him are you worried about risk his quote consistently is: I’m not worried about risk, I manage risk.

“He flew Mirage fighters for the Swiss army, he now flies an Airbus. And in his sort of heart he’s a pilot and a parachutist and what they do is manage risk.”

The longest flight he had previously taken lasted 10 minutes.

The wing had no rudder or tail fin, so Mr Rossy had to steer it using his head and back.

As well as a helmet and parachute, he wore a special suit to protect him from the four kerosene-burning turbines mounted just centimetres from him on the wing.

Advertisements

Bush scrambles to save $700B bailout plan

Bush scrambles to save $700B bailout plan

President George W Bush has said that legislators will “rise to the occasion” and pass the Wall Street rescue plan.

In a statement he said that are still disagreements because, “the proposal is big and the reason it’s big is because it’s a big problem”.

President Bush is expected to resume talks with Congressional leaders later on Friday to try to reach an agreement.

He wants to pass a $700bn (£380bn)rescue package to buy mortgage-backed assets from US banks.

‘Shouting match’

He added that, “there is no disagreement that something substantial must be done”.

Talks to agree the huge bail-out of the financial industry ended in a “shouting match” on Thursday.

After several hours of discussions with President Bush, a group of Republican members of Congress blocked the government plan.

The proposal would have seen the government buy bad debts from US banks to prevent more of them collapsing.

The leader of the Democrats in the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, told ABC News that she “hoped” a bailout plan could be agreed within 24 hours, because “it has to happen”.

Financial markets are gummed up because banks do not know exactly how much bad debt they hold and are therefore reluctant to lend to businesses, consumers and each other.

The fall-out of this credit crunch continues to have a huge impact:
The United States suffered its largest bank failure yet, when regulators moved in to close down Washington Mutual and then sold it to US rival JP Morgan Chase for $1.9bn
In a co-ordinated move the European Central Bank, the US Federal Reserve, the Bank of England, Bank of Japan and the Swiss National Bank announced new short-term loans to the banking sector worth tens of billions of dollars
Banks continued to cut costs, with UK banking giant HSBC saying it would axe 1,100 jobs
Shares in UK bank Bradford & Bingley fell another 20% to 17 pence before recovering slightly.

‘Full throated discussion’

On Thursday, Democrat and Republican legislators appeared to have struck a deal.

A group of Democrats and Republicans even made a public statement, with Senator Christopher Dodd, chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, announcing that they had reached “fundamental agreement” on the principles of a bail-out plan.

But after the White House meeting, the top Republican on the committee, Richard Shelby, told reporters: “I don’t believe we have an agreement.”

The intense discussions reportedly saw US Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson literally down on one knee, begging Ms Pelosi to help push through the bail-out package.

September 25, 2008

Pakistan fires on Nato aircraft

Filed under: Latest, Politics News — Tags: , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 6:10 pm

Pakistan fires on Nato aircraft

Pakistani soldier in Bajur

US action across the Pakistan border has raised tensions

Pakistan says its troops fired warning shots at two Nato helicopters as they crossed the border from Afghanistan.

It is the first time the Pakistan army has admitted opening fire near US or Nato forces, as tension grows over cross border military action.

Nato said its aircraft were not in Pakistani airspace when shots were fired over Khost province.

The Pentagon said they were US helicopters and that Pakistan would have to explain what had happened.

Chief Pakistani military spokesman Major General Athar Abbas said that the helicopters had “crossed into our territory in Ghulam Khan area”.

“They passed over our checkpost so our troops fired warning shots,” he said.

He added that the matter was being taken up with the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) in Kabul.

‘Flares’ fired

However, Pakistan’s new president, Asif Ali Zardari, appeared to contradict his military spokesman, insisting that his troops had only fired “flares” to warn the helicopters they were near the Pakistan border.

The BBC’s Syed Shoaib Hasan, in Islamabad, says that the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan is very unclear.

Map locator

There is an imaginary border called the Durand line which each side marks differently.

Our correspondent says that, in reality, the border is marked by a 3-4km (1-2 mile) stretch of no man’s land.

Pakistan says that this is its territory and Afghanistan makes similar claims.

In a statement, Isaf said its helicopters had received small-arms fire from a Pakistan military checkpoint along the border near Tanai district, Khost, on 25 September “while conducting routine operations in Afghanistan”.

“At no time did Isaf helicopters cross into Pakistani airspace,” it added.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said: “The flight path of the helicopters at no point took them over Pakistan.”

He said US and Nato officials were speaking to their Pakistani counterparts to determine what had happened and to ensure there was no recurrence.

“The Pakistanis have to provide us with a better understanding of why this took place,” he said.

Local tribesmen in the area told the BBC that two helicopters were trying to cross into Pakistani territory near Ghulam Khan, in North Waziristan, when Pakistani troops at posts near the border fired at them.

There are currently two Western military operations in Afghanistan – a US-led coalition and the Nato-led Isaf mission.

It appears the helicopters involved in Thursday’s incident were US OH-58 reconnaissance aircraft operating under the Nato flag.

The BBC’s Martin Patience, in Kabul, says it is believed to be the first time Nato helicopters have been fired on in this fashion.

BORDER TENSIONS
3 Sept: First reported ground assault by US troops in Pakistan – Islamabad responds furiously
15 Sept: Pakistani troops reportedly fire in air to stop US troops crossing in S Waziristan
17 Sept: Top US military chief Adm Mike Mullen visits Pakistan to calm tensions
16 Sept: Pakistan says it was not told of fresh US missile strike
22 Sept: Pakistani troops in fresh firing to deter US incursion into N Waziristan, officials say
25 Sept: Pakistani troops fire warning shots at Nato helicopters on border with Khost

Correspondents say there is growing anger in Pakistan at US forces in Afghanistan allegedly violating Pakistani sovereignty.

The remote Afghan-Pakistani frontier is rife with militant groups.

BBC defence correspondent Rob Watson says the US doubts Pakistan’s capability – and even willingness in some quarters – to tackle Islamic extremists.

There has been growing tension between the two countries since 3 September when the US conducted its first ground assault in Pakistani territory on what it said was a militant target in South Waziristan.

Pakistan reacted angrily to the action, saying 20 innocent villagers had been killed by US troops.

Local officials have said that on two occasions since then Pakistani troops or tribesmen have opened fire to stop US forces crossing the border. The claims were not officially confirmed.

On Wednesday, a drone believed to be operated by the CIA crashed inside Pakistan.

The US and Nato have called on Pakistan to do more to curb militants operating in the border area.

‘How Bagram destroyed me’

Filed under: Latest, Politics News — Tags: , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 6:10 pm

‘How Bagram destroyed me’

Jawed Ahmad has just been released from US military detention at Bagram air base near the Afghan capital, Kabul. In a rare insider’s account of the base, he alleges abuse and, most controversially, that prison guards mishandled the Koran. He spoke to the BBC’s Martin Patience.

 


For Jawed Ahmad the last 11 months have been the worst of his life.

Jawed Ahmad

Jawed Ahmad says he will fight to his ‘last breath’ for justice

“They destroyed me financially, mentally and physically,” says Mr Ahmad, 21, wearing a traditional shalwar kameez and sporting a thin, wispy beard.

“But most importantly, my mother is taking her last breath in hospital just because of the Americans.”

Mr Ahmad was detained for almost a year in the Bagram air base where US forces imprison suspected Taleban and al-Qaeda fighters. He was freed last Saturday.

The facility has a controversial past – two Afghans were beaten to death by their American guards in 2002.

‘Don’t move’

Jawed Ahmad was a well-known journalist in Kandahar working for Canadian TV and on occasions the BBC. Previously, he had spent two and half years as a translator for American special forces.

For nine days they didn’t allow me sleep – I didn’t eat anything
Jawed Ahmad

So, when a press officer from an American military base asked him to come for a chat, he thought nothing of it – these people were supposed to be his friends after all.

“At once around 15 people surrounded me and dropped me to the floor,” says Mr Ahmad, becoming increasingly animated as he spoke.

“They shouted at me saying ‘don’t move’ and then they take me to the prison.”

Mr Ahmad says that the prison guards – he assumes they were American – then hit him and threw him against truck containers.

But he says that the abuse did not end there.

“For nine days they didn’t allow me sleep. I didn’t eat anything – it was a very tough time for me,” he says. “Finally, they told me you’re going to Guantanamo Bay.”

He was accused of supplying weapons to the Taleban and having contacts with the movement.

Mr Ahmad protested, saying that as a journalist it was his job. They then, he says, shaved his head and put him in an orange jump suit.

But before leaving Kandahar – his guards had one final message.

“I will never forget it,” he says. “They said ‘you know what?’, and I said ‘what’ and they said there is no right of journalists in this war.”

‘Unconscious’

Despite the threat of being sent to Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, Mr Ahmad was flown to Bagram air base about 70km (40 miles) north of the capital, Kabul.

Bagram air base

Bagram serves as a military base, airfield and detention centre

It’s where the US military detains about 600 prisoners whom they define as unlawful combatants.

“When I landed first of all they stood me in snow for six hours,” he says. “It was too cold – I had no socks, no shoes, nothing. I became unconscious two times.”

He continued: “They learned one word in Pashto ‘jigshaw, jigshaw’ – it means ‘stand up’. And when I became unconscious they were saying ‘jigshaw’.”

For the next 11 months Mr Ahmad was held at the facility – he says that he was unsure why he was there, and when, if ever, he would be released.

He says he and his fellow prisoners were taunted continuously by the guards.

“I thought they were animals,” he says. “When they cursed me, I cursed them twice. I challenged them.”

Mr Ahmad says he was sent into solitary confinement after an article appeared in the New York Times about his incarceration, which apparently irritated the guards.

He says he was chained in the cell in stress positions making it almost impossible to sleep.

But most inflammatory of all, Mr Ahmad says that other prisoners told him that the guards mishandled the Koran.

“They didn’t do it only one time, not two times, they did it more than 100 times. They have thrown it, they have torn it, they have kicked it.”

The day Mr Ahmad learned he was being set free was an emotional moment.

“Sometimes I laughed, sometimes I cried, sometimes I prayed,” he says. ” Finally, the next morning they just released me.”

Denial

In a statement, the US military at Bagram air base said that there was no evidence to substantiate any claims of mistreatment.

They added that Mr Ahmad had been turned over to the Afghan government as part of a reconciliation programme.

But Mr Ahmad says that he will pursue justice for what has happened to him.

“I will fight to my last breath to get my rights,” he says. ” I will knock on the door of Congress, I will ask Obama, I will ask Hilary Clinton, even Bush – I will not leave any person.”

Canadian guilty in terror trial

Filed under: Latest, Politics News — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 5:52 pm

Canadian guilty in terror trial

Map

A Canadian man has been found guilty of participating in a terrorist group that allegedly planned to storm parliament and behead the prime minister.

The 20-year-old was arrested in 2006 along with 17 others in a massive anti-terrorism operation in Toronto.

Delivering the verdict, the judge said there was “overwhelming” evidence that a terrorist group existed and that the accused “knew what it was about”.

The trials of 10 others, including the alleged ringleaders, are still pending.

Charges against the remaining suspects have since been dropped.

Undercover operation

The man, a convert to Islam, cannot be identified under Canadian law as he was a minor at the time his arrest in 2006.

He had denied all terrorism-related charges, and his lawyer argued that the bomb plot was a “jihadi fantasy” that the accused knew nothing about.

Working toward ultimate goals that appear unattainable or even unrealistic does not militate against a finding that this was a terrorist group
Judge John Sproat

However, Superior Court Justice John Sproat found him guilty of attending terrorist training camps and described him as an eager “acolyte” of the ringleader.

“He clearly understood the camp was for terrorist purposes,” the judge told a court in Ontario.

“Planning and working toward ultimate goals that appear unattainable or even unrealistic does not militate against a finding that this was a terrorist group,” he said.

He found the defendant guilty of participating in a terrorist organisation rather than the more serious crime of plotting bomb attacks – a charge faced by some of the group.

The cell members were arrested in the summer of 2006.

Prosecutors said the group conspired to obtain several tonnes of ammonium nitrate – a fertilizer that can be used to make explosives – and bomb key Canadian landmarks including the parliament buildings in Ottawa.

Canada’s intelligence agency described the alleged campaign as “al-Qaeda inspired”.

September 24, 2008

American v British teeth

Filed under: Health and Fitness, Latest, Reviews — Tags: , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 5:27 pm

American v British teeth

From top left, by row, Missy Elliot, Jessica Simpson, Ricky Gervais, Tony Blair, John Travolta, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Matt Lucas, Victoria Beckham, Kate Bosworth, Brandon Routh, David Walliams, Elton John, Tom Cruise, Megan Gale, Mick Jagger and Robbie Williams

Ricky Gervais is the first to admit that his teeth are neither white nor straight – and Americans mistakenly think he wears bad false teeth for comedic purposes. Why the dental divide?
British teeth are not like American teeth.

Hollywood smiles are pearly white paragons of straightness. British teeth might be described as having character.

Ricky Gervais at the Emmys
These are my real teeth. You think I’d wear them all the time if they weren’t real?
Ricky Gervais’ reply to interviewer remarking on his ‘false teeth’

So much character, in fact, that Ricky Gervais says one US journalist complimented him on being prepared to wear unflattering false teeth for his role as an English dentist in his latest film, Ghost Town. Only he didn’t.

“He was horrified that I could have such horrible real teeth. It’s like the biggest difference between the Brits and the Americans, they are obsessed with perfect teeth,” says Gervais.

Unlike many British stars hoping to make it big across the Atlantic, Gervais hasn’t bought himself a Hollywood Smile.

But what is it about the bright white and perfectly straight teeth of Los Angeles that Americans love – and expect of their public figures?

“Americans have the idea uniformity is equivalent to looking good. The British character is more free-spirited, more radical,” says Professor Liz Kay, dean of the Peninsula Dental School in Exeter and Plymouth.

She says Americans aspire to a row of teeth which are absolutely even and white.

Artificial smile

Whiter than white, it transpires. Teeth naturally vary in colour and the palette can tend closer to cream than white.

In Cold Comfort Farm in 1995; and in 2001 after Serendipity and Pearl Harbor

Kate Beckinsale, now glossy of mane and white of tooth

“US teeth are sometimes whiter than it is physically possible to get in nature – there is a new reality out there. The most extreme tooth bleaching is terrifying, it looks like it’s painted with gloss paint and has altered what people perceive as normal,” says Professor Jimmy Steele, of the School of Dental Science at Newcastle University.

The British traditionally prefer “nice natural smiles – natural in colour”, he says, and have had a more functional view of teeth and dentistry, whereas Americans have always seen teeth more aesthetically, hence the rise of the artificial smile in show business and pop culture.

Cue jibes such as The Bumper Book of British Smiles which cajoles Lisa Simpson into having a brace, and Mike Myers’ mockery of buck-toothed Brits in Austin Powers. Conversely, in the UK the snide remarks are saved for those who have had obvious work done, such as Simon Cowell or glamour model Jodie Marsh.

When it was widely reported that Martin Amis had secured a book advance in 1995 to help “do his teeth” – which the author denied – he was lampooned by critics. And more recently there has been much speculation over whether Gordon Brown has had a smile makeover.

Until now it has been considered rather un-British to go for an upgrade, says Professor Steele.

Simon Cowell

A new smile for a job on US TV

He now performs cosmetic dentistry on a wide spectrum of patients, from an 82-year-old woman with overlapping teeth who finally wanted to “do something for herself”, to a 17-year-old worried that fluoride had given her mottled teeth that were whiter than normal.

But the main difference is that Brits tend to go for more conservative treatments.

“Dental tools can do an awful lot of damage if used inappropriately. Crowns can mean a perfectly good tooth has to be cut down, which can weaken the tooth or damage nerves in the long run,” he says.

Metal mouth

While it is starting to be more common to see braces on adults, most people opt for quicker solutions, says Martin Fallowfield, a cosmetic dentist and executive board member of the British Dentist Association.

UV whitening treatment

Whitening can be done by chemicals or UV light

“Quite often teeth whitening is a 40th or 50th birthday present,” he says, a procedure that can be done in a dentist’s chair in two hours for about £650. A more intensive “smile makeover” – perhaps involving veneers, crowns and reconstruction work – can take months and cost anything from £2,000 to £10,000.

Dentistry in the UK is a £5bn market, and Mr Fallowfield expects this to rise to £15bn within 10 years, largely fuelled by private cosmetic dentistry. While NHS dentists are in short supply in parts of the country, the number of dentists registered with the General Dental Council is up from 31,029 in 2000 to 35,419 in 2007.

On average, cosmetic procedures account for a third of a dentist’s income from non-NHS work, according to research by the British Dental Association.

Among Mr Fallowfield’s patients is Jenny Horton, 36, who has had four crowns redone, six new ones added and her lower teeth whitened after she had a baby.

British toothpaste advert

Toothpaste has long promised to do more than just clean

“The first thing I notice on people is their smile,” she says. “I wanted a confidence boost – I was putting my hand over my mouth before, now I can smile. And the compliments have come flooding in: people haven’t noticed my teeth, but say I look well.”

But Brits haven’t embraced the full Hollywood makeover – yet.

“Americans don’t mind this unnaturally white look. It’s a new phenomenon, like buying a Rolls Royce and telling the world. They are wearing a smile as a badge,” says Mr Fallowfield.

Nor do aspiring actors and actresses need to get a new and very expensive set of pearly-whites, says Sylvia Young, of the eponymous theatre school. “A trip to the orthodontist can be a good idea, to get the teeth straightened if need be.”

As for the likes of Ricky Gervais, it makes sense to stick to his guns, says Mr Fallowfield.

“A lot of people in his place would have had their teeth fixed in this day and age. But for comedians, it’s good to look unique.”

 


Add your comments on this story

Which direction for Turkey now?

Filed under: Latest, Politics News, Reviews — Tags: , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 5:24 pm

Which direction for Turkey now?

Guards at Ataturk's Mausoleum in Ankara

The US had feared Turkey was facing too much towards the East

Not so long ago the question of “who lost Turkey?” seemed to dominate US think tank discussions and conferences.

Turkey’s refusal to allow US troops to use its territory to open a second front against Saddam Hussein provoked the worst crisis in relations between Ankara and Washington that many commentators could remember.

Worse, the arrival into power of the Justice and Development Party (the AKP) with its Islamist roots, which then embarked upon a new foreign policy of outreach towards the Middle East, seemed to confirm the fears of many in Washington.

Turkey, they felt, was inexorably being drawn back into the Middle East and Asia and away from its long-standing anchorage in Nato and the West.

With the US presidential election fast approaching, and with the multiplicity of problems in the Middle East set to be at the top of the next administration’s agenda, I came to Turkey to try to answer the question – was this staunch Cold War ally being lost to the West?

Surely things were more complicated? Was Turkey’s new orientation being misunderstood by some in Washington? And what did Turkey itself want from the next US administration?

‘Meaningful contribution’

My first port of call was a pavilion in the grounds of the last sultan’s palace on the edge of the Bosphorus. It is now the Turkish prime minister’s Istanbul office.

There I met Ambassador Ahmet Davutoglu, a quietly spoken academic who is widely acknowledged as the architect of the Turkish government’s new foreign policy.

Ambassador Ahmet Davutoglu (February 2008)
Turkey’s diplomatic power is an asset for our western orientation
Ambassador Ahmet Davutoglu

His 2001 book, entitled Strategic Depth, sought to chart a new course for Turkey in the aftermath of the Cold War.

“There was a need to reinterpret the geographical and historical context of Turkey,” he told me.

“The aim was to reintegrate the country into its surrounding region.”

Nonetheless, he was at pains to point out that these new relationships were compatible with Turkey’s long-standing Atlanticist and European tilt.

“If you have more influence in your own hinterland, you will be a more meaningful contributor to the EU or to Nato,” he told me.

“Turkey’s diplomatic power,” he said, “is an asset for our western orientation.”

There is no doubting the extent to which Turkey has played upon its extraordinary geographical position to develop new diplomatic and trading links.

Today it is as friendly with Syria as it is with Israel. It has close ties with Iran and Saudi Arabia. It has good relations with both Palestinian factions, Hamas and Fatah.

It has developed a strong relationship with Russia and it maintains its strong links with the US and western Europe.

Iraq concern

 

Mr Davutoglu is now the Turkish prime minister’s chief foreign policy adviser.

Turkey, he told me, was looking to play an ever-greater role in the Middle East, and despite all of the ups and downs between Ankara and Washington, ties between them were firm.

A Turkish youth holds a PKK flag (file image)

The US views the Turkish separatist PKK as a security threat

“The Turkish-American relationship is not an ordinary relationship,” he told me.

“It is well-established, it is well-institutionalised, and very sophisticated. Whoever comes to power in Washington, that institutionalised framework will set the basic parameters for the new president.”

It is certainly true that the Bush administration’s decision to view the Kurdish separatist organisation, the PKK, as a threat to US security interests as well as those of Turkey has gone some way to restoring trust between the two governments.

Iraq though, and especially the circumstances of any US troop withdrawal by a new US president, is a major concern for the Turkish authorities.

Veteran commentator Professor Iltar Turan told me that Turkey fears Iraq might simply break up if there is a too hasty US withdrawal; it might degenerate into full-scale civil war.

“Iraq needs to be integrated better,” he told me, “before a full US withdrawal can be entertained.”

We expect and hope that the new US administration will be more supportive of Turkey, but we will have to see
Suat Kiniklioglu
MP

There is also a strong sense here that Turkey’s diplomatic initiatives have not been fully understood or welcomed in Washington.

The Bush administration has been at best indifferent to Turkey’s major initiative in the region – its efforts to broker a peace deal between Israel and Syria.

Four rounds of indirect talks have been held in Istanbul, mediated by Mr Davutoglu himself.

He refused to touch on any detail, such were the sensitivities, but, he assured me, the progress had been remarkable.

Security matters

In Ankara, I went to see one of the AKP’s most prominent foreign policy experts, Suat Kiniklioglu, an MP and spokesman for the Foreign Affairs Committee.

On Syria, he said that the US administration “had been very distant”.

But he believed that the US was belatedly coming around, though he acknowledged that Turkey’s ties with Iran were something that the Bush administration would not favour.

“We expect and hope that the new US administration will be more supportive of Turkey. But you know,” he mused, “we will have to see – there are two very different candidates and there could be two very different Americas, depending upon who will win in November.”

 

So who do the Turks want to see as the next US president?

Not surprisingly, opinions differ.

I think a McCain presidency – especially with Ms Palin as vice-president, would be nothing short of catastrophic
Soli Ozel
Writer and academic

Prof Turan told me that Senator Barack Obama’s inexperience in foreign policy worries many Turks, along with some of the things he has said on issues that matter greatly to Turkey.

“Many of us,” Prof Turan told me, “think that the election of Senator John McCain who is familiar with security matters – and the US-Turkish relationship is to a large extent based on security concerns – is better.”

The leading writer and academic Soli Ozel took a different view. He told me that he favours Mr Obama.

“I think a McCain presidency – especially with Ms Palin as vice-president – would be nothing short of catastrophic,” he said.

“A white man of 72 years of age who is a Republican – I don’t think that is what the world looks to in order to mend relations with America around the globe, so I think that whatever is going to be good for the world, ought to be necessarily good for Turkey.”

Official spokesmen obviously do not want to be drawn into the political fray.

But Mr Davutoglu told me that Turkey wanted greater US attention to the crisis around its borders.

“The Turkish foreign agenda is like the United Nation’s agenda”, he argues.

“What do you have on UN agenda today? The Palestinian question, the Iraqi question, the Iranian question, the Caucasian question, the Kosovo question – they are all on Turkish foreign policy agenda too,” he said.

“Without Turkish involvement,” he went on, “it is going to be difficult to solve any of these crises. So Turkish strength, in terms of hard power, of soft power, in terms of economic relations, is an asset for any American administration.”

‘Derivative policies’

 

To get the perspective of someone with a foot in both countries, I went to see Soner Cagaptay of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

He heads their Turkish research programme and is currently in Istanbul teaching for three months.

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana (R) welcomes Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan at the EU headquarters in Brussels (15/09/2008)

Turkey can look elsewhere if it is rejected by the EU

“Turkey policy in Washington,” he says, “has always been a derivative of other policies – of Iraq policy, of Afghanistan policy and maybe now even of Georgia policy.

“Turkey is important as a secondary partner, not as a primary partner, with which the US envisions its big foreign policy debate.”

Whoever takes over in Washington, he says, needs to take a view of Turkey from 30,000 feet up; to realise that it is important when the US plans policies, not only when it is implementing them.

“This,” he argues, “would probably give the Turks the sense of importance they are trying to find in the region, and it would be one way for the next US president to counter Turkey’s ongoing rapprochement with Russia and Iran.”

In my week shuttling between Istanbul and Ankara, it seemed clear that Turkey was proud and confident of its considerable diplomatic achievements .

It wants these to be seen as an asset by the West too.

Turkey’s new regional aspirations are not to be seen as being in conflict with its anchorage in the western camp.

But if the West rejects Turkey – and by this Turkish commentators generally mean the European Union – then Turkey does have other cards to play.

No wonder then that the EU’s ambivalence towards Turkey creates so much unease in Washington.

Kidman hails ‘fertile waterfalls’

Kidman hails ‘fertile waterfalls’

A pregnant Nicole Kidman at an awards ceremony with husband Keith Urban in May 2008

Kidman already has two children, but both were adopted

Nicole Kidman has credited a waterfall with bringing about a flurry of pregnancies – including her own – on the set of one of her films, Australia.

The actress said seven babies had been conceived during production of the film in a small town in Australia’s outback.

“There is something up there in the Kununurra water”, in which she and six other woman swam, she told The Australian Women’s Weekly.

Kidman, 41, gave birth to her third child, Sunday Rose, in July.

She is married to country music singer Keith Urban and has two children – both adopted – from her previous relationship with fellow star Tom Cruise.

‘Fertility waters’

Kidman filmed Australia, directed by Baz Luhrmann, in Kununurra, a small town in the far north of the state of Western Australia.

“I never thought that I would get pregnant and give birth to a child, but it happened on this movie,” she said in the interview.

“Seven babies were conceived out of this film and only one was a boy. There is something up there in the Kununurra water because we all went swimming in the waterfalls, so we can call it the fertility waters now.”

Analysing Bin Laden’s jihadi poetry

Analysing Bin Laden’s jihadi poetry

Undated file image of Osama Bin Laden

The tapes show Osama Bin Laden to be ‘an entertainer with an agenda’

To many people Osama Bin Laden is the ultimate barbarian, to others an elusive Muslim warrior. Most know him simply as the world’s most wanted man.

Few would imagine him as a published poet or wedding raconteur.

But now a host of previously unpublished speeches made by the man accused of planning the 9/11 attacks on the US are to be made public.

They include sermons and readings delivered at a wide range of events from weddings to jihadi recruitment sessions.

The material was discovered on a dozen of 1,500 cassettes found in al-Qaeda’s headquarters in Kandahar, Afghanistan, which was evacuated during the US-led invasion in 2001.

Encompassing recordings from the late 1960s until the year 2000, the collection includes hundreds of sermons by Islamic scholars, political speeches by al-Qaeda’s top strategists and even footage of live battles – as well as recordings of the group’s reclusive leader.

According to one US linguistics expert, Flagg Miller, who has spent five years analysing the material, the tapes provide an audio library of Bin Laden’s development as an orator.

The assistant professor of religious studies at the University of California, Davis said the recordings also offer “unprecedented insight” into debates within Bin Laden’s circle in the years leading up to the attacks on the US on 11 September 2001.

Jihad and weddings

Prof Miller’s analysis of the tapes shows Saudi-born Bin Laden to be a skilled poet who weaves mystical references as well as jihadist imagery into his verse, reciting 1,400-year-old poetry alongside more current mujahideen-era work.

“[The readings] were sometimes given to large audiences when he was recruiting for jihad in Afghanistan… and other times they were delivered at weddings, or to smaller audiences, possibly in private homes,” Prof Miller, a linguistic anthropologist specialising in the Middle East, told.

Poetry is important to Bin Laden’s core audiences of radical Islamists and disaffected youth, and his verses have been picked up by his followers around the world and used in their own work, said Prof Miller.

“The violence and barbarism of war can sicken anybody and poetry is a way to frame that violence in higher ethics,” he said.

However, some scholars have objected to the publication of Bin Laden’s poetry, saying the work has only sparked interest because of the notoriety of its author, and that publishing the verse gives a forum to a reviled figure.

In one of his own poems, Bin Laden, whose whereabouts remain unknown, refers to a youth “who plunges into the smoke of war, smiling”.

“He hunches forth, staining the blades of lances red. May God not let my eye stray from the most eminent humans, should they fall,” continues the recital.

The words are believed to have been recorded in the mountainous Afghan cave complex of Tora Bora in 1996, as the al-Qaeda chief made his first declaration of war against the US.

Performer with an agenda

Often identifiable by his distinctive monotone, Bin Laden’s recitals show him to be “the performer, the entertainer with an agenda”, said Prof Miller, who is researching a book analysing the poetry and its role in jihad.

Flagg Miller
Bin Laden uses poetry to tap into the cultural orientation, the history and the ethics of Islam
Prof Flagg Miller
University of California, Davis

“They also show his evolution from a relatively unpolished Muslim reformer, orator and jihad recruiter to his current persona, in which he attempts to position himself as an important intellectual and political voice on international affairs.”

Earlier material is littered with references to tribal poetry, Koranic verses and mystical allusions – mountains, for example, are used as metaphors to help his followers avoid the temptations of the secular world.

In one instance the man accused of orchestrating bombings in East Africa, Indonesia, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, as well as the US, describes himself as a “warrior poet”, whose words will lead his followers to an idyllic refuge in the Hindu Kush mountains.

More recent recordings are both more professionally produced and more overtly political – the anti-Western rhetoric with which the world has become familiar since the 9/11 attacks.

Prof Miller said that if alive, Bin Laden would still be writing poetry, which is central to the oral traditions of his tribal culture.

“Poetry is part of the oral tradition in the Arab world, which Bin Laden uses to tap into the cultural orientation, the history and the ethics of Islam,” he said.

The tapes are currently being cleaned and digitised at Yale University in the US and public access is expected to be granted in 2010.

Prof Miller’s findings are published in the October issue of the journal, Language and Communication.

Congress cool after bail-out plea

Filed under: Business News, Latest, Politics News — Tags: — expressyoureself @ 1:16 am

Congress cool after bail-out plea

Protesters hold up signs as lawmakers quiz administration officials on Capitol Hill on 23 September 2008

The is growing concern over the bail-out’s cost to the taxpayer

US lawmakers have expressed strong scepticism about a bail-out of the banking system, following a five-hour Senate hearing on the rescue plan.

Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson told the panel that delaying the $700bn (£382bn) bail-out would put the entire US economy at risk.

Lawmakers say they want assurances that the plan will benefit ordinary American home-owners as well as Wall Street.

Some have gone further, calling the plan a potential waste of public money.

“Without question, our markets and financial institutions need serious attention,” said the leading Republican on the Senate Banking Committee, Richard Shelby.

“I do not believe, however, that we can solve this crisis by spending a massive amount of money on bad securities.”

Committee chairman Chris Dodd, a Democrat, called the package “unacceptable” in its present form.

‘Best protection’

The White House has called on Republicans and Democrats to work together to approve the plan, under which a federal fund could buy bad debt from financial institutions with “significant operations in the US”.

The fund would aim to sell off these mortgage-related debts in the future when, the Treasury says, their value may have risen.

The best protection for the taxpayer… is to have this work
Henry Paulson

Addressing the committee, both Mr Paulson and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said the bail-out was vital.

“Action by the Congress is urgently required to stabilise the situation and avert what otherwise could be very serious consequences for our financial markets and for our economy,” Mr Bernanke said.

Mr Paulson, meanwhile, called the proposal “the single most effective thing we can do to help homeowners, the American people and to stimulate our economy”.

“The best protection for the taxpayer… is to have this work,” he said.

But senators from both parties have voiced concerns taxpayers would be paying a huge price for mistakes made by banks.

They also said it was crucial not to rush through the bail-out – which is unprecedented in US history – without carefully considering how it would work.

Democrats are seeking greater oversight of the plan, help for Americans who stand to lose their homes and limits on compensation for executives at firms selling bad assets.

The Democratic Senator for New Jersey, Robert Menendez, warned against being “stampeded into bad decisions”.

But he said there was a consensus that action had to be taken.

“The question is – is it the right action at the end of the day? You can take the wrong action, and that won’t do anything for markets and the long-term process.”

Mr Bernanke and Mr Paulson are scheduled to testify to a House of Representatives committee on Wednesday.

Global markets have been focused on the wrangling over the bail-out.

News of the plan late last week led to a rally, but this week has seen further falls amid concern that it could be delayed or watered down.

« Newer PostsOlder Posts »

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.