Monday, April 28, 2008

Welcome to America

Obesity is the second leading cause of preventable death in the U.S.

Approximately 127 million adults in the U.S. are overweight, 60 million are obese (Body Mass Index or BMI > 30) and 9 million are extremely obese (Body Mass Index or BMI > 40).

Currently, an estimated 65.2 percent of U.S. adults, age 20 years and older, and 15 percent of children and adolescents are overweight and 30.5 percent are obese (childhood or pediatric obesity).

Approximately 62 percent of female Americans are considered overweight.

Approximately 67 percent of male Americans are considered overweight.


And Americans think "terrorism" is a bigger threat to their lives.

How well propaganda works.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Secular Fundamentalism

An interview with

A lot of people would find it counterintuitive that you would go from your last book, "American Fascists," which was a scathing critique of Christian fundamentalism in the U.S., to writing against atheism. Do you see these as connected projects?

I do. I didn't start out that way, because these guys were not on my radar screen. I think a lot of their popularity stems from a legitimate anger on the part of a lot of Americans toward the intolerance and chauvinism of the radical religious right in this country. Unfortunately, what they've done is offer a Utopian belief system that is as self-delusional as that offered by Christian fundamentalists. They adopt many of the foundational belief systems of fundamentalists. For example, they believe that the human species is marching forward, that there is an advancement toward some kind of collective moral progress -- that we are moving towards, if not a Utopian, certainly a better, more perfected human society. That's fundamental to the Christian right, and it's also fundamental to the New Atheists.

You know, there is nothing in human nature or in human history that points to the idea that we are moving anywhere. Technology and science, though they are cumulative and have improved, in many ways, the lives of people within the industrialized nations, have also unleashed the most horrific forms of violence and death, and let's not forget, environmental degradation, in human history. So, there's nothing intrinsically moral about science. Science is morally neutral. It serves the good and the bad. I mean, industrial killing is a product of technological advance, just as is penicillin and modern medicine. So I think that I find the faith that these people place in science and reason as a route toward human salvation to be as delusional as the faith the Christian right places in miracles and angels.

Monday, April 14, 2008

The Food Supply

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Where Israel Gets Its Oil...More Hypocrisy From The Paranoid State

If you've ever wondered about the definition of hypocrisy you'll find the answer right here.

Last month the Swiss foreign minister visited Iran and, together with President Ahmadinejad, attended the signing of a multi-billion euro contract for Iran to supply Switzerland with large amounts of natural gas over the next 25 years.

The US State Department immediately condemned the deal and said it would be investigating whether it breached the Iran Sanctions Act. Israel complained too, describing the Swiss minister's visit to Tehran as an "act unfriendly to Israel". Various Jewish groups also joined in the protests, including the World Jewish Congress.

This righteous indignation was entirely predictable but more than a little odd nevertheless. On March 30, the Swiss newspaper Sonntag retaliated with the revelation that Israel, supposedly observing an ironclad boycott of all things Iranian, has been buying Iranian oil for years.
The story is in German but Israeli journalist Shraga Elam has provided me with a translation which I'll quote from here.

"Israel imports Iranian oil on a large scale even though contacts with Iran and purchasing of its products are officially boycotted by Israel. Israel gets around the boycott by having the oil delivered via Europe. A reliable Israeli energy newsletter, EnergiaNews, reported this last week [March 18] ... "EnergiaNews got the information about the Iran trade from sources with ties to the management of Israeli Oil Refineries Ltd ... According to EnergiaNews the Iranian oil is liked in Israel because its quality is better than other crude oils. "The report by EnergiaNews editor Moshe Shalev states that the Iranian oil reaches various European ports, mainly in Rotterdam. It is bought by Israelis and the necessary European bill of lading and insurance papers are supplied. Then it is transported to Haifa in Israel. The importer is the Eilat-Ashkelon Pipeline Co (EAPC), which keeps its oil sources secret."

EAPC was established in 1968 as a joint Israeli-Iranian company to transport oil from Iran to Europe. After the fall of the Shah, Iran ceased to play an active role in its affairs and there are ongoing legal disputes between the two partners.
The Swiss report continued:

"It is not clear if the Iranian exporters know about Israeli purchases of their oil. At the other end, the Israeli buyers and governmental offices are well aware of where the high-grade oil comes from, although it is a blatant defiance of the boycott. The EnergiaNews article even made it through Israeli censorship, which asked only for some changes in the text. The fact that the report cleared the censors increases the credibility of the information. In the past, such reports were forbidden."When questioned by Sonntag, an energy expert of one of the leading Israeli papers confirmed the EnergiaNews report: Israel has been importing Iranian oil for many years. The expert stressed, however, that the purchases were made on the free market and not directly from Iran."
Sonntag quoted a spokesman for Oil Refineries Ltd as denying that his company imports and processes Iranian oil. However, Sonntag pointed to a report in Haaretz newspaper last October which said that an Israeli energy company called Paz would be refining Iranian oil and supplying it to the Palestinian Authority from the start of this year.

This begs the question: if Iran is, as Bibi Netanyahu argues, an existential threat to Israel, why does the government allow such trade? Would Israel have the US attack Iran's nuclear programme and provoke a potential region-wide conflict while it cannot seem to wean itself from high quality Iranian crude? You'd think if Israelis are cowering in fear from an Iranian bomb and the arch antisemite Ahmadinejad, they wouldn't want to trade with such an enemy.

When is a boycott not a boycott? When it's in your naked economic interest to circumvent it, apparently. But one should ask: if Israel doesn't honour its self-declared boycott of Iran, why should the rest of the world honour its boycott of Hamas and Gaza? If Israel doesn't honour its own boycott, then why should members of Congress vote with AIPAC when it proposes a measure that even Israel honours only in the breach?

It's interesting to note from a discussion (in Hebrew) on the Kedma website that Israel does not formally define Iran as an "enemy nation" and therefore in a strictly legal sense such trade is permissible. Ironically, Iran too has a boycott against Israel in place and is violating its own measures in that regard. Furthermore, the same commenter notes that Israel last week dismissed attempts to engage Syria in a diplomatic process as a failure because Syria refuses to renounce its ties with Iran.
Do I hear the word "hypocrisy"?