It was a matter of death tolls: Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani is quitting his (overblown) role as mediator and peacemaker in Iraq. “The most influential moderate Shia leader in Iraq has abandoned attempts to restrain his followers, admitting that there is nothing he can do to prevent the country sliding towards civil war,” the UK Telegraph reports. “Aides say Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani is angry and disappointed that Shias are ignoring his calls for calm and are switching their allegiance in their thousands to more militant groups which promise protection from Sunni violence and revenge for attacks.” No word yet on whether he'll join Andre Agassi in his retirement. Vegas isn;t Sistani's kind of town. But you never know. At any rate, his withdrawal is not news to most careful observers.
Forget Lebanon and the Palestinians. Israel is planning for war with Syria and Iran, according to a Sunday Times report: “The challenge from Iran and Syria is now top of the Israeli defence agenda, higher than the Palestinian one,” said an Israeli defence source. Shortly before the war in Lebanon Major-General Eliezer Shkedi, the commander of the air force, was placed in charge of the “Iranian front”, a new position in the Israeli Defence Forces. His job will be to command any future strikes on Iran and Syria. The Israeli defence establishment believes that Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear programme means war is likely to become unavoidable. “In the past we prepared for a possible military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities,” said one insider, “but Iran’s growing confidence after the war in Lebanon means we have to prepare for a full-scale war, in which Syria will be an important player.”” [The article in full] But don’t be fooled, Israel is still clobbering Gaza as 7 Palestinians are killed in 24 hours.
Israel’s siege of Lebanon to end within 48 hours? “In Egypt on the latest leg of his tour, Annan was asked by reporters after meeting President Hosni Mubarak if he expected Israel to lift its blockade of Lebanon. "Yes, within 48 hours," Annan answered. "Because we are all working very hard and with a bit of goodwill and reasonableness, we should be able to resolve it within the next 48 hours.”
9/11 Five Years On: How the world turned on America: “For all its geopolitical ramifications, 9/11 evoked principally, at the time, the rawest of emotions at a fellow human’s plight,” writes Gerard Baker, the US editor of the UK Times. “What eyes didn’t weep at the sight of those wretched figures leaping to their deaths? What stomach didn’t churn at the thought of those helpless pilots as their throats were slit in their cabins? What heart didn’t lift a little at the story of the desperate passengers on United Flight 93, fighting back against the monstrous aliens violently wresting control of their doomed lives? […] But that instantaneous solidarity with a stricken superpower was not, as it turned out, anything like a good predictor of the history that would unfold over the next half a decade. As it prepares to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the attacks, America stands reviled in the world as never before. It is a remarkable turnabout. In the same amount of time that elapsed between the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and the Treaty of Versailles, in as many months as passed between Germany’s invasion of Poland and D-Day, the US has gone from innocent victim of unimaginable villainy to principal perpetrator of global suffering. So complete has been this transformation in global sentiment that it is inconceivable now, should America be attacked again, today, that the tragedy would elicit the same response.” Besides, Americans are still far from safe.
When the West gives in to fear, fanaticism and religious prudery: Melanie La’Brooy, in a column for Australia’s The Age, is upset that music videos feature naked girls, and that the videos are on at her health club. She must’ve not heard of complaining to management, if her tastes are an issue. “Anyway,” she writes, “my weekly doses of health club porn are the reason that I've found myself in the disconcerting position of empathising with Indonesian Islamic fundamentalists. The fundamentalists are behind a movement towards sharia law in Indonesia that is placing huge pressure on the Indonesian Parliament to pass an anti-pornography bill now being debated. Sharia law is not something that I endorse, for as a mini-skirt wearer (10 years in prison under the proposed bill) who likes to kiss my fiance in public (five years' imprisonment) and who has been known to dance in an unseemly fashion (another 10-year sentence), if the bill passes into law, I'd run the risk of spending the rest of my life in an Indonesian jail for the sake of a regular Saturday night out. […] And yet the fact that support for the bill has been sparked by the publication of the Indonesian edition of Playboy and the desire to protect Indonesian culture from the decadent West caused an undeniable twinge of sympathy.” Meanwhile, up in Anchorage, strippers fight for back pay.
Google does history, too (at a price): “Hoping to become an even more indispensable source of information, Google Inc. introduced a news archive Tuesday that allows users to read historical articles dating back decades, such as the original reports about the U.S. moon landings. But the new service comes with a catch: In many cases, users must pay for access to the stories.”
Green Seattle? Think again: Since 1972, Seattle has lost 1.7 million trees.