News & Current Affairs

July 26, 2009

US urges Syria on Mid-East peace

Filed under: Latest, Politics News — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 3:18 pm

US urges Syria on Mid-East peace

The United States has called for Syria’s “full co-operation” in trying to achieve a comprehensive Middle East peace settlement.

Speaking after talks in Damascus, Barack Obama’s envoy George Mitchell said discussions with Syria’s president had been “candid and positive”.

Mr Mitchell said restarting peace talks between Syria and Israel was a “near-term goal”.

He later arrived in Israel, to try to revive Israeli-Palestinian talks.

Mr Mitchell’s visit to Damascus was his second since June, amid a renewed US push for peace since President Obama took office earlier this year.

The envoy’s trip comes ahead of a string of visits to Israel this week by leading Obama administration officials, at a time when US-Israel relations are unusually strained.

‘Historic endeavour’

Mr Mitchell said he had told Syrian President Bashar Assad that Barack Obama was “determined to facilitate a truly comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace”.

Naturally, in the context of friendly relations between allies, there isn’t agreement on all points
Benjamin Netanyahu
Israeli prime minister

“If we are to succeed, we will need Arabs and Israelis alike to work with us to bring about comprehensive peace. We will welcome the full co-operation of the government of the Syrian Arab Republic in this historic endeavour,” he said.

Correspondents say the visit was not expected to bring a breakthrough, but Syrian officials have been encouraged by Washington’s new willingness to listen.

Damascus is a major player in the region, because of its support for the Palestinian militant group Hamas, its backing for Hezbollah in Lebanon, and its close links with Iran.

In the past, this made Syria a pariah in the eyes of the Bush administration, which cut virtually all ties with Syria, the BBC’s Natalia Antelava reports from Beirut.

Washington is a long way away from getting Damascus on its side, but for now at least, the atmosphere of hostility which dominated during the Bush administration seems to be a thing of the past, our correspondent says.

Syria was expected to lobby Mr Mitchell on the issue of the Golan Heights, a strategic mountainous area seized by Israel in 1967 which Syria wants back.

Syria’s official news agency quoted President Assad as stressing to Mr Mitchell “the Arab right to recover occupied lands through achieving a just and comprehensive peace.”

Direct talks between Israel and Syria broke down in 2000 over the scale of a potential Israeli pull-back on the Golan Heights.

Sticking points

The diplomatic flurry comes at a time of strained relations between the US and Israel.

The BBC’s Middle East correspondent Katya Adler says Mr Obama has been leaning on Israel’s government unusually hard for an American president.

Washington has called on Israel to stop all Jewish settlement building in the occupied West Bank, but Israel says it will not curb what it calls “natural growth” there.

Mr Mitchell arrived in Israel later on Sunday and met defence minister Ehud Barak in Tel Aviv.

In an effort to kick-start stalled Israeli-Palestinian talks, the envoy is due to meet Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas on Monday and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday.

Shortly before Mr Mitchell’s arrival in Israel, Mr Netanyahu said he hoped to reach an agreement with the US.

“This relationship is important and strong. Naturally, in the context of friendly relations between allies, there isn’t agreement on all points, and on several issues we are trying to reach understanding,” he said.

As well as Mr Mitchell, US defence secretary Robert Gates and National Security Advisor James Jones are also due to hold talks in Israel.

Our correspondent says Iran and its nuclear programme will certainly be discussed.

Israelis say that is their top priority but arguably the focus of the visits will be the possibilities for peace between Israel and the Palestinians and also the wider Arab world, she notes.

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July 20, 2009

Enduring allure of Egyptian belly dance

Enduring allure of Egyptian belly dance

Ahlan Wa Sahlan belly dance festival

The Ahlan Wa Sahlan festival has been a big hit this year

Hundreds of women of all nationalities sway their hips and twirl in time to the beat of a drum in a hotel ballroom by the pyramids in Cairo.

Belly dancing is said to have been practised in Egypt since Pharaonic times and now it has caught on around the globe.

It is well-established in Europe and the US and has recently spread to Asia. This year dozens of dancers travelled from China for the Ahlan Wa Sahlan belly dancing festival.

“Because this is the land of dance, women have to come!” declares Raqia Hassan, the festival organiser.

“When she comes she can meet famous dancers and musicians. She can see the pyramids. Anyone who comes to Egypt one time, she cannot stop coming back.”

Japanese belly dance fan

Safa Bakr’s shop attracts women from all over the world

Raqia, who has taught many belly dancing celebrities, leads her large class through the basic moves of the dance putting together a routine.

“It’s fun and you can do this at any age,” says Ewa Horsfield from London. “You can express your own personality. It’s an individual dance. You just listen and respond to the music.”

Many speak of the fitness benefits of belly dancing.

“In China all ladies like for their health,” says Angel from Shanghai.

“This kind of dance began here. Here teachers [are] very, very good so all Chinese ladies want to come.”

Contradictions

Belly dancing is big business in Egypt thanks to the global market.

Designer, Safaa Yasser Bakr, runs a belly dancing costume shop in the historic Khan el-Khalili bazaar.

She helps a Brazilian woman try on a sky-blue sequinned bra and a matching skirt with a split up one side.

“In one show big stars change costume many times,” she tells her. “You need maybe five different pieces.”

Nowadays Safaa sells most of her alluring outfits to foreigners.

Safa Yasser Bakr

Safa sells her wares in Khan el-Khalili – Cairo’s Islamic heart

“I see people coming from France, Italy, United States, Argentina, Spain, Japan,” she says.

But in Egypt at large, many experts fear the dance is losing its appeal.

Society has become more religious and conservative over the past generation and belly dancing is not considered a respectable profession.

“I don’t like belly dancing. I don’t like to see a woman half-naked dancing and moving her body like that,” says one man on the street in central Cairo.

“It has a kind of sexual movement. That’s why I don’t like to watch it,” adds his friend.

An older passer-by remembers the famous dancers of the 1960s with affection but says he would not let his wife or daughters dance in public today.

“I liked the old belly dancer because you could not see a lot of her body,” he remarks. “They were very respectable – not like the new ones now.”

Enduring art

Dance historian, Mo Geddawi, accepts belly dancing is facing a challenging time in Egypt but says this must be seen in perspective.

“Forget about different governments and religion,” he says. “When Christianity and then Islam came the dance was taboo, but people continued to dance.”

“Sometimes in public it is less but the dance never died.”

For now though international devotees help to ensure the dance goes on.

Diana Esposito from New York came to Cairo on a scholarship to study the social and economic reasons for its decline but has become an accomplished belly dancer herself.

“The first time I saw it I thought the movements were so sensual,” she says. “I decided to try something new and it became an addiction.”

“I don’t see the dance being done properly anywhere else in the world. That’s why everyone flocks here – this is the capital of belly dance.”

July 17, 2009

Wikipedia painting row escalates

Wikipedia painting row escalates

Georgina Spencer, Duchess of Devonshire ascribed to Sir Joshua Reynolds, circa 1759-1761. © National Portrait Gallery

Work by Sir Joshua Reynolds was among those uploaded to Wikipedia

The battle over Wikipedia’s use of images from a British art gallery’s website has intensified.

The online encyclopaedia has accused the National Portrait Gallery (NPG) of betraying its public service mission.

But the gallery has said it needs to recoup the £1m cost of its digitisation programme and claims Wikipedia has misrepresented its position.

The NPG is threatening legal action after 3,300 images from its website were uploaded to Wikipedia.

The high-resolution images were uploaded by Wikipedia volunteer David Coetzee.

Now Erik Moeller, the deputy director of the Wikimedia Foundation which runs the online encyclopaedia, has laid out the organisation’s stance in a blog post.

‘Empire building’

He said most observers would think the two sides should be “allies not adversaries” and that museums and other cultural institutions should not pursue extra revenue at the expense of limiting public access to their material.

“It is hard to see a plausible argument that excluding public domain content from a free, non-profit encyclopaedia serves any public interest whatsoever,” he wrote.

He points out that two German photographic archives donated 350,000 copyrighted images for use on Wikipedia, and other institutions in the United States and the UK have seen benefits in making material available for use.

Another Wikipedia volunteer David Gerard has blogged about the row, claiming that the National Portrait Gallery makes only £10-15,000 a year from web licensing, less than it makes “selling food in the cafe”.

They honestly think the paintings belong to them rather than to us
David Gerard
Wikipedia volunteer

But the gallery insists that its case has been misrepresented, and has now released a statement denying many of the charges made by Wikipedia.

It denies claims that it has been “locking up and limiting access to educational materials”, saying that it has been a pioneer in making its material available.

It has worked for the last five years toward the target of getting half of its collection online by 2009. “We will be able to achieve this,” said the gallery’s statement,”as a result of self-generated income.”

The gallery says that while it only makes a limited revenue from web licensing, it earns far more from the reproduction of its images in books and magazines – £339,000 in the last year.

But it says the present situation jeopardises its ability to fund its digitisation process from its own resources.

Legal issues

The gallery has claimed that David Coetzee’s actions have breached English copyright laws, which protect copies of original works even when they themselves are out of copyright.

The National Portrait Gallery now says it only sent a legal letter to David Coetzee after the Wikimedia Foundation failed to respond to requests to discuss the issue. But it says contact has now been made and remains hopeful that a dialogue will be possible.

A spokeswoman also said that the two German archives mentioned in Erik Moeller’s blog had in fact supplied medium resolution images to Wikipedia, and insisted that the National Portrait Gallery had been willing to offer similar material to Wikipedia.

National Portrait Gallery

The gallery said the row could prevent it putting more of its collection online

The gallery also explained how David Coetzee was able to obtain the high resolution files from its site. They were made available to visitors using a “Zoomify” feature, which works by allowing several high resolution files to be seen all together.

It claims Mr Coetzee used special software to “de-scramble” the high-resolution tiles, allowing the whole portrait to be seen in high resolution.

The British Association of Picture Libraries and Agencies has backed the National Portrait Gallery’s stance.

“If owners of out of copyright material are not going to have the derivative works they have created protected, which will result in anyone being able to use then for free, they will cease to invest in the digitisation of works, and everyone will be the poorer,” it wrote in an email to its members.

But the Wikipedia volunteer David Gerard accuses the gallery of bureaucratic empire building.

“They honestly think the paintings belong to them rather than to us,” he wrote.

July 15, 2009

Price of habit chokes US smoker

Filed under: Business News, Latest, Politics News — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 6:06 pm

Price of habit chokes US smoker

Josh Muszynski

Josh Muszynski: ‘I thought someone had bought Europe’

A man in the United States popped out to his local petrol station to buy a pack of cigarettes – only to find his card charged $23,148,855,308,184,500.

That is $23 quadrillion (£14 quadrillion) – many times the US national debt.

“I thought somebody had bought Europe with my credit card,” said Josh Muszynski, from New Hampshire.

He says his appeals to his bank first met with little understanding, though it eventually corrected the error.

It also waived the usual $15 overdraft fee.

“It was all back to normal,” Mr Muszynski told his local television station, WMUR. “They reversed the negative balance fee, which was nice.”

Debt crisis

His nightmare began when he checked his online bank account a few hours after buying the cigarettes.

He thought he would be a couple of hundred dollars in the black. But his overdraft had pushed him into the red – by an amount equivalent to many times the entire US national debt.

“It is a lot of money in the negative,” he said. “Something I could never, ever, afford to pay back.

A copy of Josh Muszynski's bill

The 17-digit amount on his online bill shocked Mr Muszynski

“My children could not afford it, grandchildren, nothing like that.”

In panic, Mr Muszynski rushed back to the petrol station, but they were unable to help. He says he then spent two hours on the phone with the Bank of America.

Eventually, it assured him it would be fixed – and the next morning, it had been.

But no-one has yet explained to Mr Muszynski how such a astonishing error could have been made.

July 11, 2009

Obama speaks of hopes for Africa

Obama speaks of hopes for Africa

US President Barack Obama, on his first trip to sub-Saharan Africa since taking office, has said Africa must take charge of its own destiny in the world.

Mr Obama told parliament in Ghana during his one-day stay that good governance was vital for development.

Major challenges awaited Africans in the new century, he said, but vowed that the US would help the continent.

The US president’s trip comes at the end of a summit of eight of the world’s most powerful nations, held in Italy.

Ghana was chosen as the destination for the president’s visit because of its strong democratic record.

Mr Obama headed from parliament to Cape Coast Castle, a seaside fortress converted to the slave trade by the British in the 17th Century. He was accompanied by his wife, Michelle, a descendant of African slaves, and both of his young daughters.

People crowded into a public area outside the fort to greet Mr Obama, with those unable to get a place in the throng climbing onto nearby roofs and filling balconies just to catch a glimpse of the US leader.

Africa’s choice

Mr Obama spoke to parliament shortly after a breakfast meeting with Ghanaian President John Atta Mills.

He wore a broad grin as he was greeted at the podium by a series of rousing horn blasts from within the chamber.

US President Barack Obama speaks to the Ghanaian parliament
Development depends upon good governance. And that is a responsibility that can only be met by Africans
US President Barack Obama

“Congress needs one of them,” Mr Obama joked, before turning to more serious matters.

“I have come here to Ghana for a simple reason,” the US president said: “The 21st Century will be shaped by what happens not just in Rome or Moscow or Washington, but by what happens in Ghana as well.”

Delivering a message that “Africa’s future is up to Africans”, Mr Obama conceded that the legacy of colonialism had helped breed conflict on the continent.

“But the West is not responsible for the destruction of the Zimbabwean economy over the last decade, or wars in which children are enlisted as combatants,” he added.

He praised Ghana’s own progress, governance and economic growth, saying Ghana’s achievements were less dramatic than the liberation struggles of the 20th Century but would ultimately be more significant.

“Development depends upon good governance,” Mr Obama told legislators. “That is the ingredient which has been missing in far too many places, for far too long.

“And that is a responsibility that can only be met by Africans.”

‘Yes you can’

Expanding on his message, Mr Obama said four key areas were critical to the future of Africa and of the entire developing world, citing democracy, opportunity, health and the peaceful resolution of conflict.

ANALYSIS
Andrew Harding, BBC News, Accra
Andrew Harding, BBC News, Accra

The speech has gone down extremely well. This is a country that has been enormously proud to play host to Mr Obama and referred to him as a brother. People say endlessly that he is part of the family and they are expecting a great deal of him.

It was a very broad-ranging speech but Mr Obama has an ability because of his heritage, his Kenyan father, to reach out and speak to Africans in a way that I think most foreign leaders would find very difficult.

There are very few barriers for Mr Obama in this conversation that he is trying to initiate with Africans and I think that this speech will have ticked many, many boxes.

This is Mr Obama trying to link Africa into the international community.

He hailed Ghana’s democratic society, calling for strong parliaments, honest police, independent judges and a free press across Africa.

However, there were some blunt words directed at other countries, many of which have been undermined by despotic leaders and corrupt politicians.

“Africa doesn’t need strongmen, it needs strong institutions,” Mr Obama told his audience.

“No person wants to live in a society where the rule of law gives way to the rule of brutality and bribery. That is not democracy, that is tyranny.”

He pledged to continue strong US support for public healthcare initiatives in Africa, and called for sensible use of natural resources such as oil in the face of the threat of climate change.

“Africa is not the crude caricature of a continent at war,” Mr Obama added. “But for far too many Africans, conflict is a part of life, as constant as the sun. He described wars as a “millstone around Africa’s neck”.

“You have the power to hold your leaders accountable, and to build institutions that serve the people,” Mr Obama said, describing freedom as Africa’s “inheritance” and urging the continent to beat disease, end conflict and bring long-lasting change.

In an echo of his presidential election campaign, he drew his speech to a close with a version of his trademark slogan: “Yes you can,” he told the gathered legislators.

Tight security

On the streets of Accra, many billboards welcoming Barack Obama have been erected, including one showing an image of the president and wife with the words: “Ghana loves you”.

A young supporter listens to Barack Obama's speech

Barack Obama’s speech was welcomed by Ghanaians of all ages

People have poured into Accra for a glimpse of the president during his 24-hour stay in Ghana.

But security is tight for the president’s visit, and few ordinary Ghanaians will have the chance to glimpse the first African-American President of the United States.

Mr Obama arrived in the capital late on Friday, fresh from the G8 summit in Italy where heads of state agreed on a $20bn (£12.3bn) fund to bolster agriculture – the main source of income for many sub-Saharan Africans.

July 2, 2009

Americans seek their African roots

Americans seek their African roots

Oprah Winfrey

Oprah Winfrey originally thought her ancestors were Zulu

First it was Oprah Winfrey’s wistful reach for the continent, now other prominent African Americans are finding their roots.

In 2005 Oprah Winfrey underwent DNA testing in an effort to determine the genetic make-up of her body’s cells.

The popular American talk show host wanted to know where her ancestors, taken as slaves to the United States, had come from.

Famous genes

Since then thousands of other African Americans have followed suit, many of them household names in the US.

Comedian Chris Rock discovered that he was descended from the Udeme people of northern Cameroon.

Chris Rock

Chris Rock is descended from the Udeme people of northern Cameroon

LeVar Burton, an actor who played the slave Kunta Kinte in the TV drama Roots, linked himself up genetically with the Hausa in Nigeria.

Civil rights leader Andrew Young traced his lineage to the Mende people of Sierra Leone and is also believed to be a distant relative of one of the leaders of the 1839 Amistad slave ship mutiny.

DNA testing has also resulted in some African Americans being bestowed with honorary African titles.

The Oscar-winning actor Forest Whitaker, who portrayed the Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, was made an honorary chief of Igboland in south-eastern Nigeria.

He was given the title of Nwannedinambar of Nkwerre which means “brother in a foreign land”, during a visit to Nigeria in April.

Getting results

There are more than two dozen genealogy organisations in the US selling genetic ancestry tests but African Ancestry is the only black-owned firm.

It is also the first to cater specifically to African Americans. Of the half a million Americans who have purchased DNA tests, around 35,000 of them are African American.

African Ancestry charges $349 to test either a person’s maternal or paternal lineage.

Once the fee is paid, swabs used to collect a DNA sample from the inside of the cheek are sent to the customer and then back to African Ancestry’s laboratory.

We did not talk about where we came from when I was growing up
Lyndra Marshall

The DNA’s genetic sequence is extracted and compared to others in the firm’s database.

The company claims this contains 25,000 samples from 30 countries and 200 ethnic groups, and is the largest collection of African lineages in the world.

African Ancestry say that they are very precise in tracing where a person’s ancestors originate from.

Once this is known, a “results package” is sent out, including a print-out of a person’s DNA sequence, a certificate of ancestry and a map of Africa.

“It’s a kind of welcome to Africa package,” said Ghanaian-born Ofori Anor, editor of the African expatriate magazine, Asante.

Transformation

Gina Paige, a founder of African Ancestry, wants to transform the way people view themselves and the way they view Africa.

When many African Americans visited Africa in the past, they were interested mostly in kente cloths and masks, nowadays they want to know more about the country they are visiting.

A poster for African Ancestry

The company has been accused by critics of being inaccurate

Although they still visit the slave castles, they are now also interested in the price of property.

Purchasing a townhouse in the Ghanaian capital Accra or a commercial property in Sierra Leone’s Freetown feels less implausible.

“What we need now is for people to get deeply involved in one particular country or region or culture,” said Andrew Young, the civil rights leader whose consulting firm acts as a liaison for American companies wanting to do business in Africa.

There has been a change too in the way Africans see African Americans and claims of kinship that were once viewed with amusement are now embraced.

This is partly due to the emergence of President Barack Obama and because of the role played by African Americans in his historic election.

As a result, African politicians and businessmen want African Americans to lobby in the US on the continent’s behalf.

Traditional African rulers have also been busy handing out honorary chieftaincies to African Americans in the hope it will lead to an increase in investment and a boost in tourism.

With Obama being both African and American, and our president, this has made many of us interested in where we came from
Lyndra Marshall

Guinea-Bissau’s Tourism Ministry encouraged comedian Whoopi Goldberg to visit when in 2007, DNA tests showed she was descended from the Papel and Bayote people of the country.

Unfortunately, Goldberg has not taken up the offer as she has a fear of flying and has not been in an aeroplane for 20 years.

Unlike the Hollywood actress, as soon as Lyndra Marshall, a 56-year-old retiree from Maryland near Washington DC discovered her African heritage, she immediately boarded a plane for Ghana’s Ashanti region.

“We did not talk about where we came from when I was growing up,” said Ms Marshall.

Since she found out she was of Ashanti descent, she has been trying to get other people to visit and invest in the country.

Along with DNA technology, Ms Marshall credits President Obama with kindling an interest in Africa.

“With Obama being both African and American, and our president, this has made many of us interested in where we came from, too.”

Getting it right

Although many people are excited about the prospect of tracing their ancestry, critics say the work of America’s genealogy companies is far from accurate.

African Americans just want to be able to say they were once kings and once ruled the world
Ofori Anor
Editor, Asante magazine

On a visit to South Africa in 2005, Oprah Winfrey said that DNA testing had conclusively revealed where she is from. She thought she was Zulu but subsequent DNA testing showed she was a descendent of the Kpelle people of Liberia.

Professor Deborah Bolnick of the University of Texas is particularly critical of African Ancestry.

She says its database is too small to fulfil its marketing promise that it is “the only company whose tests will place your African ancestry in a present day country or region in Africa”.

“Consumers should know the limitations and complexities before they spend hundreds of dollars thinking they’re going to find an answer to who they really are,” said Professor Bolnick.

“It’s really much more uncertain than the testing companies make out.”

Despite these limitations, African Ancestry customers like Ms Marshall are convinced her results are correct.

“I have lots of family that look very Ghanaian, they are short like them, dark like them and I have a cousin that looks just like the Ashanti king.”

However, comments like this offend the Editor of Asante magazine.

“African Americans just want to be able to say they were once kings and once ruled the world,” said Mr Anor.

He feels that African governments and traditional rulers should stop the practice of granting citizenship and chieftaincies to African Americans.

“Just because your genetics show you came from a place, should that mean you can lay claim to that group of people or place now?”

July 1, 2009

Iran ‘disqualifies’ EU from talks

Filed under: Latest, Politics News — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 6:09 pm

Iran ‘disqualifies’ EU from talks

13 June

Britain has denied allegations of involvement in the Iranian riots

The EU is no longer qualified to take part in talks on Iran’s nuclear programme, Iran’s military chief says.

Maj Gen Hassan Firouzabadi, Iran’s chief of staff, accused the EU of “interference” in riots which followed June’s disputed presidential elections.

The EU has for the past few years been involved in talks to try to persuade Iran to abandon its nuclear ambitions.

EU states, meanwhile, are considering withdrawing their ambassadors from Iran in a growing diplomatic row.

External pressure

Britain has proposed the step, after Iran detained nine of its embassy staff in Tehran last week. Eight have since been released.

The diplomatic correspondent says the diplomatic signalling seems to have had an effect, and EU governments will now be looking for the remaining detained staff member to be released.

He adds that the problem more generally is that any external pressure tends to be used by the Iranian government to bolster its own narrative of outside interference.

In the wake of mass street protests against President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s relection, Iran’s Basij militia has called for the defeated opposition candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi to be prosecuted.

‘Nine offences’

The semi-official Fars news agency said the militia – a volunteer force of Islamic government loyalists – had accused Mr Mousavi of nine offences, including propaganda against the state, and complicity in disrupting national security.

It is our historic responsibility to continue our complaint and make efforts not to give up the rights of the people
Mir Hossein Mousavi
Iranian presidential candidate

In a letter to the chief prosecutor, the militia said Mr Mousavi had been involved in the street protests, in which about 17 protesters and a number of militia members were killed.

The Iranian presidential elections, held on 12 June, returned President Ahmadinejad to power for a second term in office.

But the opposition disputed the result, saying the vote had been rigged.

Both Mr Mousavi, and another defeated opposition candidate Mehdi Karoubi, have issued statements on their websites describing any government led by President Ahmadinejad as “illegitimate”.

Mr Mousavi wrote: “It is our historic responsibility to continue our complaint, and make efforts not to give up the rights of the people.”

And he called for the release of the “children of the revolution” – a reference to the hundreds of reformist figures detained during the unrest.

‘Hostility’

In his statement, reported by Fars, army chief of staff Gen Firouzabadi accused some EU members of supporting the riots, and demonstrating their hostility to the Iranian people.

The EU has yet to comment, but earlier urged Iran to avoid conflict with the international community.

Previously, Iran had aimed its allegations at Britain in particular and at the weekend detained the local employees of its embassy. Five were released on Monday, and a further three on Wednesday.

Iran says it is enriching uranium for power plants, but some Western countries suspect it plans to build nuclear weapons.

Three EU countries – Britain, France and Germany – have led negotiations over Iran’s nuclear programme, along with the United States, Russia and China.

‘Non-negotiable’

At their last talks, they offered Iran a package of incentives if it would stop its nuclear activities.

But Iran insists that its right to enrich uranium is non-negotiable.

In a separate development, officials in Tehran said President Ahmadinejad had cancelled his trip to an African Union summit in Libya.

Mr Ahmadinejad’s office did not give any reason for the decision.

November 18, 2008

Is Barack Obama black?

Filed under: Business News, Latest, Politics News, Reviews — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 2:49 pm

Is Obama black? It depends on who – and when – you ask.

For some of us, the heralding of Barack Obama as the first black president of the United States seems a rather uncontroversial claim.

Obama isn’t black. ‘Black,’ in our political and social reality, means those descended from West African slaves
Debra Dickerson

Not so for others. One well-known African American writer, Debra Dickerson, famously objected to calling Obama black arguing that because he is not descended from slaves, he is not of the people properly defined as “black.”

Ergo, he is not black – at all.

The bulk of the people protesting against references to Obama as a black man, however, grant that he is “part” black (by way of his father), but assert that because he also has a white mother it is not “accurate” to call him black. He he is “in fact” mixed-race, they say.

Opposing arguments

My first reaction to questions about the “correctness” or “accuracy” of Obama’s racial classification is to undermine the premise of the question itself. The search for the “correctness” of racial identity presumes that a definitive answer can be found.

Barack Obama and Stanley Armour Dunham

Barack Obama lived for many years with his white grandparents

It presumes that race is a real entity, something fixed, or natural. It seems to deny what scholars have laboured for decades to demonstrate – that the criteria used to classify people in racial categories, the categories used in a given society, and the uses to which those categories are put – vary by place and time. They are, as academics are fond of saying, “socially constructed”.

Yet the predilections of the scholar fail to satisfy those who claim to know what race Obama “is”, for these are really statements about what the speaker thinks he ought to be.

When people insist that Obama “is” black, they point to his self-identification as such, and the assertion that when most people look at him, they see a black man.

VIEWPOINTS
Kimberly McClain Dacosta
Kimberly McClain DaCosta is Associate Professor of African and African American Studies and Social Studies at Harvard and the author of Making Multiracials: State, Family and Market in the Redrawing of the Color Line

Calling him “black” seems to acknowledge the connection between his rise and the struggles of a people.

When others argue that Obama “is” mixed-race, they point to the fact that he has a white mother, not only a black father, and was raised in an interracial family.

Calling him “mixed-race” seems to acknowledge that family, offering a corrective to centuries of denying our tangled genealogies.

De-stigmatisation

What I find most interesting about the question of what racial label to assign Obama, is that we are asking the question at all.

As recently as 20 years ago, the question of Obama’s racial position would be presumed settled before it was even asked.

Mama Sarah Obama

Obama’s Kenyan grandmother, Mama Sarah, will attend his inauguration

In keeping with the one-drop rule – the practice of categorising as black anyone with any known African ancestry – Obama’s identification as a black person would be expected, accepted and unremarkable.

The person suggesting that Obama be classified as mixed-race would quite likely have been met with suspicion or a confused look (“What’s that?”) since for most of US history, in most places, mixed-race identity has not been collectively recognised.

In the last 20 years, however, the collective efforts of mixed-race people in the US to de-stigmatise interracial families and garner public recognition of mixed race identity have been fairly successful (for example, the US government now enumerates mixed race identities).

Stares

Even so, the question whether Obama is black or mixed-race reflects a basic misunderstanding of the experience of those of us who have grown up in interracial families, particularly those of us of African descent, born in the post-Civil Rights period.

Many of us forged a black identity, one that was not at odds with being mixed-race, but arose out of our experiences as mixed people

We (I have an African American father and an Irish American mother) were raised on the front lines of racial change, where the new rules about interracial intimacy often clashed with the old – both in public and in our own families.

The affection we were so comfortable showing our white mothers at home drew stares, and worse, from both whites and blacks in public.

It was in our families where we first felt love and protection as well as the first sting of racial prejudice.

And many of us forged a black identity, one that was not at odds with being mixed-race, but arose out of our experiences as mixed people: from an awareness that the racial dilemma we were born into has its deepest roots in anti-black prejudice.

For us, being black and mixed-race are not mutually exclusive. We have learned to live with the contradictions.

Perhaps it’s time for everyone else to learn to live with them too.

November 5, 2008

Obama wins historic US election

Democratic Senator Barack Obama has been elected the first black president of the United States.

“It’s been a long time coming, but tonight… change has come to America,” the president-elect told a jubilant crowd at a park in Chicago.

His rival John McCain accepted defeat, saying “I deeply admire and commend” Mr Obama. He called on his supporters to lend the next president their goodwill.

The BBC’s Justin Webb said the result would have a profound impact on the US.

“On every level America will be changed by this result… [it] will never be the same,” he said.

Mr Obama appeared with his family, and his running mate Joe Biden, before a crowd of tens of thousands in Grant Park, Chicago.

“If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible, who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time, who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer,” he said.

He said he had received an “extraordinarily gracious” call from Mr McCain.

He praised the former Vietnam prisoner of war as a “brave and selfless leader”.

“He has endured sacrifices for America that most of us cannot begin to imagine,” the victor said.

He had warm words for his family, announcing to his daughters: “Sasha and Malia, I love you both more than you can imagine, and you have earned the new puppy that’s coming with us to the White House.”

Congratulations… You are about to go on one of the great journeys of life
President George W Bush

But he added: “Even as we celebrate tonight, we know the challenges that tomorrow will bring are the greatest of our lifetime – two wars, a planet in peril, the worst financial crisis in a century.

“The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep… But America – I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there.”

From red to blue

Mr Obama captured the key battleground states of Pennsylvania and Ohio, before breaking through the winning threshold of 270 electoral college votes at 0400 GMT, when projections showed he had also taken California and a slew of other states.

HAVE YOUR SAY

I find myself strangely emotional about this. I want to go wake up my neighbours and hug them

Amy Scullane, Boston

Then came the news that he had also seized Florida, Virginia and Colorado – all of which voted Republican in 2004 – turning swathes of the map from red to blue.

Several other key swing states are hanging in the balance.

In Indiana and North Carolina, with most of the vote counted, there was less than 0.5% between the two candidates.

However, the popular vote remains close. At 0600 GMT it stood at 51.3% for the Democratic Senator from Illinois, against 47.4% for Arizona Senator McCain.

The main developments include:

  • Mr Obama is projected to have seized Ohio, New Mexico, Iowa, Virginia, Florida, Colorado and Nevada – all Republican wins in 2004.
  • He is also projected to have won: Vermont, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Delaware, Massachusetts, District of Columbia, Maryland, Connecticut, Maine, New Jersey, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, New York, Rhode Island, California, Hawaii, Washington, Oregon.
  • Mr McCain is projected to have won: Kentucky, South Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Arkansas, Alabama, Kansas, North Dakota, Wyoming, Georgia, Louisiana, West Virginia, Texas, Mississippi, Utah, Arizona, Idaho, South Dakota.
  • Turnout was reported to be extremely high – in some places “unprecedented”.
  • The Democrats made gains in the Senate race, seizing seats from the Republicans in Virginia, North Carolina, New Hampshire, New Mexico and Colorado. They also increased their majority of the House of Representatives.
  • Exit polls suggest the economy was the major deciding factor for six out of 10 voters.
  • Nine out of 10 said the candidates’ race was not important to their vote, the Associated Press reported. Almost as many said age did not matter.

LOSSES AND GAINS
Key states
Projected gains for Obama in former Republican states of Ohio, New Mexico, Iowa, Virginia, Florida, Colorado, Nevada
Senate seats
Virginia: Democrat Mark Warner replaces retiring Republican John Warner
New Hampshire: Democrat Jeanne Shaheen unseats Republican John Sununu
North Carolina: Democrat Kay Hagan replaces Republican Elizabeth Dole
New Mexico: Democrat Tom Udall replaces retiring Republican Pete Domenici

Several states reported very high turnout. It was predicted 130 million Americans, or more, would vote – more than for any election since 1960.

Many people said they felt they had voted in a historic election – and for many African-Americans the moment was especially poignant.

John Lewis, an activist in the civil rights era who was left beaten on an Alabama bridge 40 years ago, told Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church: “This is a great night. It is an unbelievable night. It is a night of thanksgiving.”

Besides winning the presidency, the Democrats tightened their grip on Congress.

The entire US House of Representatives and a third of US Senate seats were up for grabs.

Democrats won several Senate seats from the Republicans, but seemed unlikely to to gain the nine extra they wanted to reach the 60-seat “super-majority”, that could prevent Republicans blocking legislation.

September 27, 2008

Chinese astronaut walks in space

Chinese astronaut walks in space

A Chinese astronaut has become the first in his country’s history to take a walk in space.

In an operation broadcast live on national TV, fighter pilot Zhai Zhigang emerged from the capsule orbiting the Earth to wave a Chinese flag.

Mr Zhai, 42, stayed outside the capsule for 15 minutes while his two fellow astronauts stayed in the spacecraft.

The exercise is seen as key to China’s ambition to build an orbiting station in the next few years.

Mr Zhai began the manoeuvre just after 1630 Beijing Time (0830 GMT) on Saturday, and completed it about 15 minutes later.

“I’m feeling quite well. I greet the Chinese people and the people of the world,” he said as he climbed out of the Shenzhou VII capsule.

His colleague, Liu Boming, also briefly got his head out of the capsule to hand him the flag.

Mr Zhai wore a Chinese-made spacesuit thought to have cost between £5m and £20m ($10m-$40m) for the space walk.

The “yuhangyuan” (astronaut) was tethered to the capsule with an umbilical cable.

Mr Zhai retrieved an externally mounted experiment.

The third yuhangyuan on the mission is Jing Haipeng.

Leap

The Shenzhou VII capsule soared into orbit on a Long March II-F rocket from Jiuquan spaceport in north-west China on 25 September.

1958: Base for spaceflights built at Jiuquan, in Gobi desert
April 1970: China launches its first satellite into space
1990-2002: Shenzhou I-IV are launched to develop systems
Oct 2003: The first manned space mission launches on Shenzhou V
Oct 2005: The Shenzhou VI mission takes two men into space
Oct 2007: Chang’e-1 orbiter sent on unmanned mission to the Moon

The rocket put the Shenzhou capsule in a near-circular orbit more than 300km above the Earth.

Earlier, Zhang Jianqi, one of the chief engineers for China’s space programme, said keeping three men in the spacecraft, and then sending one outside, would be a “big test”.

“This is a big technological leap,” he told state-run news agency Xinhua.

“The risks are quite high. Sending up three astronauts is a jump both in quantity and quality.”

The ship is to release a 40kg (90lb) satellite which will circle the orbiter and beam back images to mission control.

At the end of the mission, the Shenzhou re-entry capsule will target a landing in north China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.

China became only the third nation after the United States and Russia to independently put a man in space when Yang Liwei, another fighter pilot, went into orbit on the Shenzhou V mission in October 2003.

Two years later, Fei Junlong and Nie Haisheng completed a five-day flight on Shenzhou VI.

According to the Associated Press news agency, Xinhua posted an article on its website prior to the lift-off that was written as if Shenzhou VII had already been launched into space.

The article reportedly carried a date of 27 September and came complete with a dialogue between the astronauts.

Chinese media report that this latest mission is the “most critical step” in the country’s “three-step” space programme.

These stages are: sending a human into orbit, docking spacecraft together to form a small laboratory and, ultimately, building a large space station.

The Shenzhou VIII and IX missions are expected to help set up a space laboratory complex in 2010.

China launched an unmanned Moon probe last year about one month after rival Japan blasted its own lunar orbiter into space.
SHENZHOU VII SPACECRAFT

1. Forward orbital module – crew live and work in this section, which contains scientific equipment. In future missions, this module may remain in orbit as part of a Chinese space station
2. Re-entry capsule – contains seats for three crew
3. Propulsion module – contains spacecraft’s power unit and liquid fuel rocket system
4. Solar panels – spacecraft carries one pair of solar panels
5. Spacewalk – One yuhangyuan (astronaut) exits the orbital module on a tether. Another crew member stands just inside to assist in case of an emergency

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