Mohammad Ali Abtahi faces prison for dissent in Iran

Daylife/Reuters Picture used by permission – passed by Iranian censors

A former Iranian vice president has been sentenced to six years in jail after being accused of fomenting unrest to overthrow the government.

Mohammad Ali Abtahi is the most senior reformer to face imprisonment following the disputed presidential election in June. Abtahi was vice president for parliamentary and legal affairs during the 1997-2005 presidency of Mohammad Khatami.

His lawyer, Saleh Nikbakht, said he planned to appeal against the verdict. He has 20 days to submit the appeal. Abtahi was released on $700,000 bail after the verdict was delivered…

Iran’s security forces have warned the opposition not to take part in demonstrations, in an attempt to avoid a revival of the protests that erupted after the presidential elections on 12 June in which President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad secured a second term. The turmoil after the election was the worst in Iran since its 1979 Islamic revolution. Authorities deny vote-rigging and portrayed the unrest as a foreign-backed bid to undermine the Islamic state…

Iran’s judiciary said last week that five people have been sentenced to death and 81 have received jail terms of up to 15 years in connection with protests and violence after the poll, but it did not give their names.

My personal association with freedom fighters in Iran goes back to the days of the resistance to CIA-led gangsters overthrowing the democratically-elected Mossadegh government. The contradictions are tough.

After all, accusations of foreign intervention, deceit and gangsterism by the United States are rooted in legitimate history. Our own sleazy support of reactionaries and monarchies in the Middle East don’t inspire automatic trust in the opposition to Islamic Republics of any flavor.

Still, reluctance to allow a broader democracy in the nation which led that fight in the region is despicable. A political decision resented by Iranians that matches their contempt for the hypocrites in Congress and the Knesset who have suddenly discovered a need for freedom.

Test-taking tips – to get into kindergarten

Kayla Rosenblum sat upright and poised as she breezed through the shapes and numbers, a leopard-patterned finger puppet resting next to her for moral support.

But then came something she had never seen before: a visual analogy showing a picture of a whole cake next to a slice of cake. What picture went with a loaf of bread in the same way?

Kayla, who will be 4 in December, held her tiny pointer finger still as she inspected the four choices. “Too hard,” she peeped.

Test preparation has long been a big business catering to students taking SATs and admissions exams for law, medical and other graduate schools. But the new clientele is quite a bit younger: 3- and 4-year-olds whose parents hope that a little assistance — costing upward of $1,000 for several sessions — will help them win coveted spots in the city’s gifted and talented public kindergarten classes.

Motivated by a recession putting private schools out of reach and concern about the state of regular public education, parents — some wealthy, some not — are signing up at companies like Bright Kids NYC. Bright Kids, which opened this spring in the financial district, has some 200 students receiving tutoring, most of them for the gifted exams, for up to $145 a session and 80 children on a waiting list for a weekend “boot camp” program…

“It’s unethical,” said Dr. Elisabeth Krents, director of admissions at the Dalton School [private] on the Upper East Side. “It completely negates the reason for giving the test, which is to provide a snapshot of their aptitudes, and it doesn’t correlate with their future success in school.”

No similar message, however, has come from the public schools. In fact, the city distributes 16 Olsat practice questions to “level the playing field,” said Anna Commitante, the head of gifted and talented programs for the city’s Department of Education.

As for parents doing more — like hiring a tutor — Ms. Commitante said she finds “anything else a little too stressful for young kids” but that “we can’t dictate what parents choose to do…”

While disgusted by that portion of a society that doles out disposable income to acquire an advantage for their kids – when they really are thinking of it that way – I can’t condemn parents who feel they’re unable to help their kids on their own. Maybe they feel they lack sufficient education to help. Maybe parents – when they’re both available – are working too many hours to have the time.

My own family taught us to read before kindergarten came along. Library time – which was a dedicated portion of Saturday – included getting advice from librarians on self-education, books to take home to guide us in learning well at the sole elementary school we had access to.

I wouldn’t call that unfair.

Shifting blame is a social disease

Nathanael J. Fast, an assistant professor of management and organization at the USC Marshall School of Business and Larissa Tiedens, a professor of organizational behavior at Stanford, conducted four different experiments and found that publicly blaming others dramatically increases the likelihood that the practice will become viral. The reason: blame spreads quickly because it triggers the perception that one’s self-image is under assault and must be protected.

The study called “Blame Contagion: The Automatic Transmission of Self-Serving Attributions” is believed to be the first to examine whether shifting blame to others is socially contagious. The results will be published in the November issue of Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

“When we see others protecting their egos, we become defensive too,” says Fast, the study’s lead author. “We then try to protect our own self-image by blaming others for our mistakes, which may feel good in the moment.” He adds that in the long run, such behavior could hurt one’s reputation and be destructive to an organization and further to our society as a whole.

Tiedens said the study didn’t specifically look at the impact of hard economic times, but it undoubtedly makes the problem worse.

“Blaming becomes common when people are worried about their safety in an organization,” she said. “There is likely to be more blaming going on when people feel their jobs are threatened.”

Fast says that when public blaming becomes common practice — especially by leaders — its effects on an organization can be insidious and withering: Individuals who are fearful of being blamed for something become less willing to take risks, are less innovative or creative, and are less likely to learn from their mistakes.

Blame creates a culture of fear,” Fast said, “and this leads to a host of negative consequences for individuals and for groups.”

Har! I’ve worked for a few companies that sound just like this study.

I imagine it’s a global phenomenon. More representative of our species than individual cultures.

U.S., Mexico establish new political direction over drug gangs

Daylife/AP Photo used by permission

The $1.4 billion Mérida Initiative, an anti-drug package designed under the Bush administration, ends next year. In an interview with The Dallas Morning News, the senior official outlined Obama administration priorities in supporting the government of President Felipe Calderón in its battle with the cartels and the violence and corruption they engender – much of it along the Texas border.

U.S. and Mexican officials are looking for ways to gradually move the focus of their efforts from dismantling and disrupting cartels to strengthening Mexico’s weak democratic institutions and weeding out corruption, the official said.

“Corruption remains a pretty significant concern,” said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity. “That’s a serious, serious problem. It’s gotten better than it was, but we need more trusted counterparts to mount effective operations.”

The bleak assessment is shared by some Mexican officials. The battle has “exposed Mexico’s corruption and vulnerabilities and weak judicial institutions,” Joel Ortega, Mexico City’s former police chief, said recently at Columbia University in New York City.

“To win this war, we will need the full participation of society, including the media and law enforcement,” Ortega said. “We’re facing the biggest threat to our country’s national security…”

In recent weeks, officials from the two countries have been meeting in Washington and Mexico City to coordinate efforts beyond the Mérida Initiative

The Obama administration will seek to fund a counternarcotics package to Mexico and Central America, though under a different name to reflect the administration’s shift in priorities, the official said. Those priorities include focusing on training judges and law enforcement officials and working with communities to create job opportunities to prevent young people from seeking jobs with cartels…

RTFA. Overcoming Mexico’s tradition of institutional corruption, supporting a barely-existing movement for democracy and freedom – ain’t ever going to be easy. The same structures that enforced national unity brought all the trappings of fiefdom, as well.

Usually unspoken, racist traditions of “Spanish” families over Indios dominate whole provincial elections. They are exploited as thoroughly by the drug cartels as populist – and reactionary – class divisions within Mexican society.

Not so easy for the United States to overcome when the same traits stain our own border states.

Darwin book found on toilet bookshelf = $99,000

An auction house says it is selling a rare first edition of Charles Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species” found in a family’s guest lavatory in southern England.

Christie’s auction house said Sunday the book — one of around 1,250 copies first printed in 1859 — had been on a toilet bookshelf at a family’s home in Oxford.

The book will be auctioned on Tuesday — the 150th anniversary of the publication of the famous work. Christie’s said the book is likely to sell for 60,000 pounds ($99,000).

Darwin’s “The Origin of Species” outlined his theory of natural selection — the foundation for the modern understanding of evolution.

Finding such a work in England is no surprise, of course – nor is the value.

It just occurred to me that a couple hundred years from now people will be turning up antique copies of “Going Rogue” found in some Bible Belt crapper. Do you think it will be worth more than toilet paper?

Inkonsequential KKK still holds rallies? Hrmph

The Ku Klux Klan protested before a University of Mississippi and LSU game today. The focus of the Ku Klux Klan’s protest was a line that is chanted at the end of the University of Mississippi’s fight song: From Dixie with Love. The line that is chanted is, “The South will Rise Again.”…

The chant has been deemed racist and offensive by the many African American students who attend the University of Mississippi. In fact, the chant has become so troublesome, that University of Mississippi Chancellor, Dan Jones had ordered students to stop chanting. After they continued chanting, he ordered the song From Dixie with Love to cease being played. The Ku Klux Klan came out to rally in lieu of the chant “The South Will Rise Again”….

As if there were any doubt that the chant was associated with racism, the Ku Klux Klan verified Chancellor Jones’ statements referring to the symbolism associated with the chant. In attendance with the KKK, was the Mississippi White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan grand titan, Shane Tate. Shane Tate had confirmed the KKK’s presence at today’s game in an E-Mail message to the Daily Reveille. It read, “We are coming to Ole Miss to say enough is enough on attacking our Christian, southern heritage and culture, and it’s time for every person to have a right to freedom of speech.”

One of the best ridicules of the KKK I’ve ever seen:

It’s been many years since I first watched and enjoyed this movie (Bustin Loose), and I recommend it.  Richard Pryor’s performance might surprise you.

I Bought an ATM machine off Craigslist for $750 with 1000 credit card numbers inside. Yup. So much for security.

After the Vegas DEFCON ATM debacle where hackers hacked hackers by setting up a fake ATM in front of the facilities security office, I needed to see how stupid easy it was to buy an ATM and just set it up anywhere. So my search began.

I started looking on e-bay and found plenty of new and used ATMs ranging from $500-2500 but quickly determined I didn’t want to pay $300 for shipping. Next was Craigslist

I quickly found an ad from a bar north of Boston. They were selling pool tables, Budweiser neon signs and an ATM. I took my hacker with me and met Bob. Bob rented a room above the bar and was doing the deed for the owner. The bar was an old relic that was closing and liquidating its grungy assets. The ATM was sitting right next to the bar covered in 5 years of beer. Thank heavens they were smart enough to cover the keypad in clear plastic…

Needless to say I wanted to unbolt this thing as quickly as possible, get out of there and douse myself head to toe in pure alcohol hand sanitizer. After my hacker played with the manual, got it working and determined it was worth the financial risk, we loaded it on my trailer, paid $750 (down from a grand) and brought it home and put it in my garage.

My hacker comes over to my garage, manual in hand, all giggly, like hackers sometimes do and says “Watch this”. He punches the master codes to access the machines data on a device called an eprom and hundreds of credit and debit card numbers just start falling all over the floor…

Here’s the first of a few upcoming videos of what happened next:

This could make you never want to use an ATM ever again. And stay out of sleazy bars.