Jewish writer reports from Iran – raises a storm in America

Inside a synagogue in Esfahan

A row has broken out over allegations of antisemitism at the New York Times, America’s most vaunted name in journalism and a newspaper with a large Jewish readership. The storm centres on a column about Jews in Iran written by New York Times journalist Roger Cohen and a cartoon attacking the recent war in Gaza.

The newspaper, and Cohen in particular, has been accused of being too critical of Israel and an apologist for Iran and its leader, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Cohen’s column was written from Iran about the country’s small Jewish minority. His piece acknowledged the difficulties the group experienced and portrayed them as part of an Iranian society that he said was more tolerant, democratic and sophisticated than many American critics allowed.

Such sentiments might seem uncontroversial, but in America no one touching on issues around Israel or antisemitism escapes close scrutiny. Cohen was attacked by Jewish writers and bloggers. The Jerusalem Post dubbed him “misled”, while the Atlantic Monthly called him “credulous”. Others went much further…

Perhaps part of the reason for the intensity of the attack is the fact that he is Jewish himself. “I think it’s partly my name. The ‘self-hating Jew’ things can come to the surface in some of the responses,” he said. Another reason is that the column appeared in the Times, which many media experts hardly see as a fierce critic of Israel, given its home audience. “As soon as I read the column I thought a lot of people would be unhappy,” said Jack Lule, a journalism professor at Lehigh University.

Any critic of Israel’s government comes to expect charges of anti-Semitism. It generally is more ferocious than the old McCarthy Days [and post-McCarthy] label of anti-American against any citizen who challenges U.S. foreign policy. After all, Israel occupies a special place in the American mythology of Freedom Fighters We Love and Support.

The ranks of Americans with friends in Israel’s Left has diminished – mostly as that independent Left has dwindled through age, collaboration with Centrist and Right politicians. So, that American Jewish voice shrinks, as well. Even the last of my old friends who once shared the occasional cell during earlier American repressions – are gone – the Arab and the Jew, they used to call themselves in argument. Though they both were Jews.

Button, Barrichello and Brawn head the grid in Australia

Jensen Button during practice in Australia. Yup, slicks are back.
Daylife/Reuters Pictures

Britain’s Jenson Button claimed pole position for Sunday’s Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne — leading a sweep of the front row for Formula One new boys Brawn GP. Button edged out teammate Rubens Barrichello of Brazil by three hundredths of a second to claim the fourth pole of his career…

But Saturday’s qualifying provided little cheer for reigning world champion Lewis Hamilton, who will have to start from 18th in the grid. Hamilton struggled to the 15th best time but was relegated to the very rear of the grid because the gearbox in his McLaren had to be changed.

He later gained a partial reprieve as the Toyotas of Timo Glock and Jarno Trulli were penalized for a technical infringement with the rear wings of their cars…

Like McLaren, Ferrari were also off the pace with Felipe Massa qualifying seventh best and Kimi Raikkonen in ninth, although both will move up a place after the punishment meted out to Toyota by race stewards.

It is the first time in 38 races that neither a Ferrari or McLaren is on the front row for a grand prix.

Sebastian Vettel will start from third on the grid on his debut for Red Bull, with Robert Kubica also performing superbly for BMW Sauber — the Pole joining the promising young German on the second row…

Button will be aiming for the second victory of his 154 grand prix career in a remarkable reversal of fortunes for the former Honda team whose future looked bleak when the Japanese car manufacturer pulled out of the sport late last year blaming the global economic downturn. But a management buyout led by technical guru Ross Brawn rescued the team and secured drives for Button and Barrichello.

Exciting as all hell. Even though I’m a McLaren and Hamilton fan, it’s a gas to see Ross Brawn pull off a season start like this one.

‘Dumbest criminal in Pennsylvania” picks police conference

Jerome Blanchett took a loaded handgun into the Holiday Inn-Harrisburg East on Friday, passing dozens of unmarked police cars in the parking lot and a sign at the hotel’s entrance welcoming 300 officers to the Pennsylvania Narcotic Officers’ Association conference, police said.

Nevertheless, the 19-year-old Harrisburg man went into the men’s room and waited to rob the next person who walked through the door, police said.

Unfortunately for Blanchett, that person was John Comparetto, a retired New York City Police Department lieutenant. “He chose to rob a cop in a place where there were 300 cops,” Comparetto said afterward. “He’s not very bright…”

Blanchett demanded money, and Comparetto handed over $138, police said. Blanchett took Comparetto’s cell phone, told him to drop his pants and threatened to kill him if he tried to follow him, police said.

Seconds after Blanchett left the bathroom, Comparetto pulled a handgun from his ankle holster and went after his attacker, he said. Their guns drawn, he and other officers took Blanchett into custody as he was trying to get into a taxi outside the hotel…

“I knew I could take away the gun, but I hurt my back a few years ago,” Comparetto said. “I’m too old to be fighting people. So I made an assessment that I would cooperate and worry about this afterward.”

“This should make all Pennsylvania news as the dumbest criminal in Pennsylvania.”

This clown qualifies as one of the dumbest crooks in the country.

Shoddy wiring ‘everywhere’ on Iraq bases

Daylife/AP Photo

Thousands of buildings at U.S. bases in Iraq and Afghanistan have such poorly installed wiring that American troops face life-threatening risks, a top inspector for the Army says.

It was horrible — some of the worst electrical work I’ve ever seen,” said Jim Childs, a master electrician and the top civilian expert in an Army safety survey. Childs told CNN that “with the buildings the way they are, we’re playing Russian roulette.”

Childs recently returned from Iraq, where he is taking part in a yearlong review aimed at correcting electrical hazards on U.S. bases. He told CNN that thousands of buildings in Iraq and Afghanistan are so badly wired that troops are at serious risk of death or injury.

He said problems are “everywhere” in Iraq, where 18 U.S. troops have died by electrocution since 2003. All deaths occurred in different circumstances and different locations, but many happened on U.S. bases being managed by various military contractors. The Army has reopened investigations in at least five cases, according to Pentagon sources.

Of the nearly 30,000 buildings the Army’s “Task Force Safe” has examined so far, Childs said more than half “failed miserably.” And 8,527 had such serious problems that inspectors gave them a “flash” warning, meaning repairs had to be completed in four hours or the facility evacuated.

He said the majority of those buildings were wired by contractor KBR, based in Houston, Texas.

Well, there’s a surprise, eh?

What are the funniest words of middle-class food woe you ever heard?

Only breadsticks can save us, now!

Like many food-obsessed people, I collect things. In my case, I collect mostly useless things. For example, I have a drawer full of plastic chopsticks from my local Vietnamese takeaway that I am convinced will come in handy should I decide to make noodles for 40 surprise dinner guests or if I plan to fashion a representation of The Gherkin on a rainy Sunday afternoon when Bolton Wanderers v West Bromwich is the only football on the box.

I have a library of takeaway menus stretching back at least 18 years and most of which, I am sure, refer to places that have rightly long since closed. I also have a dusty pile of well over 2,000 business cards from restaurants all over the world, which I pick up as a matter of habit and almost never look at again.

However, my favourite collection of all is a rapidly growing list of overheard middle-class foodie lamentations – railings against the general unfairness of life and how it can come between a person and the eating happiness they deserve.

The catalogue was already quite a lengthy one and is growing all the time and the current incumbent at the top of the pile is my brother-in-law, Matt. He is a good northern lad and a long time supporter of Sheffield Wednesday who would definitely mark himself down as being credible on a street level, even if said street was a leafy avenue with nice detached houses. However, during a family holiday in Devon, while scouring the aisles of a sparsely stocked budget supermarket with my nephew and niece in tow he was heard to wail to my sister:

“The children are getting upset. Quick, where are the grissini?”

Fracking hilarious article if you’re a foodie. And I am. I hear remarks like these every Saturday morning on our weekly grocery shopping run.

Owners drop Freedom Tower name for new WTC skyscraper

Daylife/AP Photo

The agency that owns the space where the World Trade Center towers stood is freeing itself of the term “freedom” to describe the signature skyscraper replacing the buildings destroyed on September 11, 2001.

The change from Freedom Tower was revealed Thursday at a news conference where the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey announced the signing of the first commercial lease in the building to a Chinese company. The building is expected to be completed in late 2013.

“We’ve referred to the primary building planned for the site as One World Trade Center — its legal name and street address — for almost two years now, as well as using the name the Freedom Tower,” said Stephen Sigmund, a spokesman for the Port Authority, in a statement released to CNN. “Many will always refer to it as the Freedom Tower, but as the building moves out of the planning stage and into full construction and leasing, we believe that going forward it is most practical to market the building as One World Trade Center.”

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg…said he was not upset by the Port Authority’s decision. “It’s up to the Port Authority,” he said. “I have no idea what the commercial aspects are, and we can say, ‘Oh, we shouldn’t worry about that,’ but of course you have to, particularly now.

“I would like to see it stay the Freedom Tower, but it’s their building, and they don’t need me dumping on it. If they could rent the whole thing by changing the name, I guess they’re going to do that, and they probably, from a responsible point of view, should. From a patriotic point of view, is it going to make any difference?”

The building was named the Freedom Tower in the first “ground zero” master plan. Officials said at the time that the tallest, most symbolic of five planned towers at the site would demonstrate the country’s triumph over terrorism.

Some people will never lose the Cold War ideology that requires everything to be named after freedom or liberty or democracy. All concepts reduced by the day-to-day practices of the politicians who developed the so-called War on Terror after 9/11.

Another good opportunity for people to ask me if I’m an American Patriot. And get my standard answer:

I’m embarrassed to admit I’m from Earth.

Obama monitors the growing flood disaster in North Dakota

Houses across the river from Fargo – in Minnesota – already lost
Daylife/Reuters Pictures

U.S. President Barack Obama has been monitoring the flooding situation along the Red River in North Dakota and Minnesota, the White House said.

The president talked Friday with North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Fargo, N.D., Mayor Dennis Walaker “to express his concern for the residents of North Dakota and Minnesota and to ensure that the states are getting the federal assistance they need to supplement any state and local efforts,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said.

Federal support is being provided along Red River, which rose to historic levels Friday and expected to crest between 41-43 feet on Saturday, Gibbs said. Emergency declarations for the two states have been approved.

Acting Federal Emergency Management Agency chief Nancy Ward was in Fargo, working with federal, state and local officials “to ensure that federal assistance is provided to support the response to the flooding,” the spokesman said. Department of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano also has been in contact with state and local officials, briefing Obama on her discussions.

Does anyone out there think that President Obama is going to be slipshod in his attention to FEMA disaster response – after the bumbling examples of his predecessor? Har!

Europe, aided by safety nets, resists stimulus requests

Last month Frank Koppe gathered together all 50 of his employees at Koppe-Apparatebau for coffee, cake and the kind of bad news that has lately become all too familiar. He told them the small company’s business, designing and manufacturing custom equipment for industrial plants, had been sliced nearly in half.

But rather than resorting to layoffs, Mr. Koppe asked half his employees to come in every other week. The government would make up roughly two-thirds of their lost wages out of a fund filled in good times through payroll deductions and company contributions.

The program — known as “Kurzarbeit,” which translates as “short work” — and others like it lie at the heart of a heated debate that has erupted on the eve of next week’s Group of 20 meeting of industrialized and developing nations and the European Union, creating a rift between the Obama administration and European governments. The United States is pressing for a coordinated package of stimulus plans by member countries to encourage economic growth…

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Wind-powered car breaks world record

A British engineer from Hampshire has broken the world land speed record for a wind-powered vehicle.

Richard Jenkins reached 126.1mph (202.9km/h) in his Greenbird car on the dry plains of Ivanpah Lake in Nevada.

American Bob Schumacher set the previous record of 116 mph in 1999, driving his Iron Duck vehicle.

“It’s great, it’s one of those things that you spend so long trying to do and when it actually happens, it’s almost too easy,” Mr Jenkins told the BBC.

The Greenbird is a carbon fibre composite vehicle that uses wind (and nothing else) for power. The only metalwork used is for the wing bearings and the wheel unit.

Bravo! Wish I was there to see it.