Archive for the ‘world’ Category

Muslim victims of 9/11

December 7, 2007
Nasima H. Simjee, 38, New York, N.Y.
Rahma Salie, 28, Boston, Mass.*
Shabbir Ahmed, 47, New York, N.Y.*
Tariq Amanullah, 40, Metuchen, N.J.*

In Thy Seed: a book for Jews, Christians, Muslims

November 28, 2007
'In Thy Seed': The Scriptures Revisited: Genesis of the Middle East Imbroglio
‘In Thy Seed’: The Scriptures Revisited: Genesis of the Middle East Imbroglio by Abdul Malik (Paperback – Jul 9, 2007)
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Editorial Reviews
The book is divided into six parts. Part I deals with the origins, composition and structure of the Bible, and Part II discusses some core beliefs. Part III examines some of the key Biblical texts from a new perspective, while Part IV gives essential points about Islam. Part V highlights other relevant issues, with Part VI dealing with the historical background and long relationship between Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The book thus covers a wide canvas, but does not lose sight of its central theme. Biblical quotes are from the King James’ Authorised Version, the oldest English text. Later translations have been avoided as they give edited texts or fresh meanings, which only complicate matters. Quotes appear in the text instead of as Footnotes or Chapter Notes. The Bibliography at the end will assist the reader in undertaking further study.”

About the Author

The author received his early education at missionary schools. He was familiar with many Christian concepts when, under Pope John-Paul II the Vatican called for a dialogue with other religions. As part of this initiative, in 1979-80 the author was invited as a lay Muslim to deliver a series of talks on Islam to some Roman Catholic nuns. This led him to look at the Bible from a Muslim perspective, and his interest grew as he learnt more about the misconceptions and historical factors that have alienated Christians from Islam. The impact of this on world events prompted further study and reflection, the results of which appeared partly as some press articles in 1998. Notes made during the study in more than a quarter of a century have now been updated and are presented in this book.

In Thy Seed looks at the Bible from a completely new angle, and also discusses some related aspects to help clarify the issues. Though the author presents his findings from the point of view of a Muslim, he does it in a spirit of conciliation and to promote understanding.

Developments following 9/11 make such a work both relevant and urgent, and it is hoped that the book will contribute to developing a better relationship among the worlds great monotheistic faiths and bring them closer. Different branches of the same tree, they count around one half of the worlds population as their adherents, and can together bring harmony and peace to a troubled world.

  • Paperback: 380 pages
  • Publisher: BookSurge Publishing (July 9, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0973368799
  • ISBN-13: 978-0973368796
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)

World’s Longest Underground River

May 28, 2007

World’s Longest Underground River Discovered in Mexico, Divers Say

John Roach
for National Geographic News

March 5, 2007

Divers exploring a maze of underwater caves on Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula have identified what may be the longest underground river in the world.

The waterway twists and turns for 95 miles (153 kilometers) through the region’s limestone caverns, said British diver Stephen Bogaerts, who made the discovery with German colleague Robbie Schmittner.


In a straight line, the system would span about six miles (ten kilometers) of land. (Related: “Huge Underground ‘Ocean’ Found Beneath Asia” [February 27, 2007].)

Bogaerts and Schmittner spent four years exploring using underwater scooters and specially rigged gas cylinders to find a connection between the Yucatán region’s second and third longest cave systems, known respectively as Sac Actun and Nohoch Nah Chich (Mexico map).

“We expected to have done it by December 2004,” Bogaerts said. “But, unfortunately, we were unable to make the connection in the area we were looking in, so we had to look somewhere else.”

The team scoured the passages, marking each new twist and turn with carefully labeled rope.

On January 23 the pair headed toward the final connection from opposite sides and used an unopened bottle of champagne to make the final tie-off between the two systems.

“It’s a little bit like planting a flag on the moon or the top of [Mt.] Everest,” Bogaerts said.

Explorer’s Paradise

Gene Melton is chair of the Lake City, Florida-based National Speleological Society’s Cave Diving Section. He said the connection caps 20 years of exploration and mapping in the Yucatán’s underground labyrinth.

“[Bogaerts and Schmittner] saw the trending of certain passages going together, and they started making a major effort to explore it,” he said.

Long a popular retreat for beachgoers, the Yucatán Peninsula has become a favorite destination for cave divers, Melton added.

“Just about any time you go you can nearly always go find a new place to explore,” Melton said.

He likens the region to “a huge limestone sponge.”That’s because the peninsula is largely made of limestone, a soft and porous rock that is easily eroded by slightly acidic rainwater, which carves out underground passages as it courses toward the Caribbean Sea.

The pathways range from jumbo-jet-size rooms with long stalagmites and stalactites to narrow slits that divers must blindly squeeze through.

The passages are completely flooded with water that stays a constant 76 degrees Fahrenheit (25 degrees Celsius) year-round.

The water itself is layered: A lens of freshwater rests on top of salt water. When fresh rainwater percolates down, the liquid flows out horizontally and is discharged into the ocean.

Divers access the caves through sinkholes called cenotes, which lay scattered throughout the peninsula under the rain forest canopy.

“But the water isn’t just flowing through these underground rivers … 98 percent of the water is actually trapped in the rock,” Bogaerts, the diver, said.

Conservation Call

The Yucatán’s natural hydraulic system sustained the Maya for centuries and today is the main freshwater source for the region’s booming tourism trade.

But the cave diving community is concerned that the rapid pace of development could stress the supply.

“These cave systems are so extensive and so interconnected that if there is a point of pollution in one area then it can quickly get distributed to a very, very wide area,” Bogaerts said. (Related: “Under-Ice Lakes in Antarctica Linked by Buried Channels” [April 19, 2006].)

The explorers hope their discoveries will help bring attention to the caves, which suffer the “out of sight, out of mind” problem.

“We still have a great deal more to do,” Bogaerts said. “There are other cave systems nearby that we are currently trying to connect into this system, and one of the goals of that is to show everybody how interconnected this [underground river system] is.”

Colossal Squid caught

March 9, 2007

How the world’s largest squid was caught—and the bidding war for the exclusive footage slated to be shown this spring.

The colossal squid surfaces. Note the size of the crew member's hands (in red gloves)

New Zealand Ministry of Fisheries

The colossal squid surfaces. Note the size of the crew member’s hands (in red gloves)

 View related photos

Web exclusive

By Matthew Philips


Updated: 5:35 p.m. ET March 7, 2007

March 07, 2007 – John Bennett is used to the monotony. As captain of a New Zealand commercial fishing boat, he’s accustomed to spending months at a time afloat in the Antarctic Ocean, staring at—well, nothing. “Just ice really, lots and lots of ice,” says Bennett. “Sometimes, not even a seabird.” On a particularly calm day in late January, Bennett was tending to his deep-sea fishing lines—each one 2,000 meters long (nearly a mile and a quarter), and sporting up to 10,000 baited hooks—in hopes of a major toothfish haul. Suddenly, the calm was shattered—by the sight of a colossal squid surfacing near the stern. The beast, a 33-foot-long adult male weighing half a ton, had wrapped itself around one of Bennett’s lines. “It was just this great big brown shape,” recalls Bennett, who was watching from the bridge. “It came up right alongside us. Everyone was yelling and screaming.”

Bennett hurried to the deck to confer with Geoff Dolan, an observer from the New Zealand Ministry of Fisheries who was on board. International law requires that anything caught in Antarctic waters must be kept onboard and documented to guard against overfishing. So Bennett really didn’t have a choice but to haul in the squid. “We decided to get him onboard in as good a condition as we could,” says Bennett. “If we’d released him, he wouldn’t have survived.” By then the crew had gaffed the creature in an attempt to get it off the line. But its grip was tight, both on the line and on the five-foot-long toothfish he was eating. “He wasn’t giving up that fish,” says Bennett. “When we finally pulled him in, the fish was half-eaten.”

What Bennett and his crew pulled in that day turned out to be the largest colossal squid ever recovered—cause for considerable excitement aboard his ship, the San Aspiring, and around the world. As word of the catch spread late last month, the news wires buzzed with squidmania. WORLD’S LARGEST INVERTEBRATE CAPTURED read the headlines. If cut up for calamari, the stories said, the squid would produce rings the size of tractor tires. As word got out that the catch had actually been recorded on video, Bennett found himself in the middle of an international bidding war.

Bennett and his quarry

New Zealand Ministry of Fisheries

Bennett and his quarry

The colossal squid, it seems, is one of those creatures that captures our imagination, largely because it is so rarely captured. Including Bennett’s catch—and a 20-foot female he found floating dead in 2003—only a handful have ever been recovered. Most of them were just damaged fragments—a tentacle here, a dorsal fin there. The species wasn’t even identified until 1925, when pieces of one were found inside the stomach of a sperm whale. More than a century after Jules Verne popularized the creature as a mythic, ship-wrecking monster in “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea,” the colossal squid remains very much a scientific mystery.

“We know relatively nothing about them,” admits Steve O’Shea, director of the Earth and Oceanic Sciences Research Institute at the Auckland University of Technology and one of the world’s leading squid experts. O’Shea says they are as long as their cousins, the giant squid, but much heavier—and, O’Shea believes, more aggressive predators. Bennett’s first catch helped fill in some blanks; his latest catch, at 990 pounds, is nearly three times the weight of his last. Which verifies what many scientists have suspected for years but never had the evidence to prove: these creatures get much, much larger than previously believed.

It’s a point that O’Shea has been arguing for some time. He often examines the stomach contents of whales stranded off the coast of New Zealand and says that he’s found a large number of colossal squid beaks that were clearly from specimens considerably larger than anything ever caught. Three years ago he proposed that a colossal squid could grow as big as half a ton. The reaction of his colleagues? “The scientific community laughed at me,” he says.

But a half-ton squid was no laughing matter to Bennett and his crew. Getting it aboard took nearly two hours. It was slippery, Bennett said, much more “gelatinous” than his previous squid quarry. Though he says he never felt threatened by the creature, Bennett did get a close-up view of its massive beak, which he believes could have easily crunched his forearm. “Being alongside a creature like this is just awesome,” he says. “It’s easy to see why outlandish stories about them get stretched out.”

Dolan, the Ministry of Fisheries observer, remembers being surprised at how docile and sluggish the squid was. “It really didn’t put up much of a fight,” he says. “Its tentacles were moving back and forth, but that’s about it. It certainly wasn’t grabbing crew members and pulling them back into the sea.”

As it happens, Bennett had brought along a video camera in order to film a small documentary about Antarctic toothfishing for a New Zealand TV station (that’s Chilean sea bass to you and me). He was able to capture a good bit of footage of the squid being hauled in. Bennett confirms that a production company in Auckland bought the footage, though he declines to specify what he was paid. An official with the Ministry of Fisheries told NEWSWEEK that offers to buy the footage had been pouring in and that some were “longer than a telephone number.” Bennett said that a documentary featuring the coveted footage should be released sometime in April.

Once aboard, the squid was lowered into the ship’s cargo hold and put on ice for the next two weeks as Bennett and his crew chugged 1,700 miles back to the southern coast of New Zealand. The squid remains frozen solid as preparations are being made to hand it over to the Museum of New Zealand in Wellington. That should happen on March 11, O’Shea says. But first, museum officials have to figure out how to store the thing. “The problem is we haven’t seen it yet,” says museum spokesperson Jane Keig. “We need to get it here to see how we’ll preserve it.”

An illustration of a giant squid from Jules Verne's 'Voyages Extraordinaires'

An illustration of a giant squid from Jules Verne’s ‘Voyages Extraordinaires’

That won’t be easy, says O’Shea. “We’re dealing with a 450-kilogram frozen lump of flesh. We’ve got to have a specially designed tank constructed.” O’Shea estimates that it could take up to four days for the squid to completely thaw out, a delicate process that will leave him and his colleagues only a small time frame in which to take samples and examine it. Still, those precious minutes could prove more valuable than years worth of colossal squid research. “The scientific value is enormous. It’ll more than double our knowledge,” says O’Shea, who hopes the research will shed light on the species’ hunting and mating behavior, its age and its intelligence (which O’Shea already suspects to be fairly negligible). The brain of a 275-kilogram giant squid is only about 20 grams and shaped like a doughnut, he says, “There’s not a lot of comprehension going on up there.” Might the colossal squid be brighter than its smaller cousin? “Doubtful,” says O’Shea. “In all likelihood, it’s one of the stupidest creatures in the sea.”

As O’Shea prepares to study the half-ton specimen, he remains convinced there are bigger squids still to be found at sea. “There’s probably a female out there that’s a full ton,” he says, noting that females tend to be half (*) again as large as their male counterparts. Until Bennett sails again, it seems, the half-ton specimen will just have to do.

* a sane voice: “half” ? shouldn’t it be twice?

The Energy Wars

March 6, 2007

The Energy Wars

The rise of a new global energy elite means high oil and gas prices are here to stay.


By Michael Hirsh


Updated: 3:19 a.m. ET May 7, 2006

May 3, 2006 – It is a mantra of the globalization crowd. In today’s global economy, we are told, all that really matters is which country produces the best brains and skills. The world is flat, after all. The playing field is leveled. Wrong, wrong and wrong. What also matters, we are learning, is who controls the world’s energy resources. Evo Morales’s abrupt decision earlier this week to nationalize Bolivia’s natural-gas industry was only the latest worrisome move in a long-term trend. Morales, a leftist elected president last December, was apparently influenced by a meeting he had in Havana last Saturday with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who’s rocketed to international prominence by doing much the same thing to his country’s oil industry. President Chavez, sitting atop his growing pile of petrodollars, has gleefully thumbed his nose at Washington’s efforts to rein him in. Similarly, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is defiantly enriching uranium and sneering at Western threats of sanctions. And he obviously thinks he can, perhaps because no one is threatening to cut off Iran’s oil exports as part of the forthcoming sanctions plan.

The would-be czar of this new global energy elite is Vladimir Putin. Having spent the better part of his six years in office wresting control of his nation’s vast oil and gas resources, the Russian president is now playing a brass-knuckle game of power politics. When Putin partially cut off gas supplies to Ukraine and therefore to Western Europe in the first three days of the year—mainly to bully Ukrainian President Viktor Yuschenko into taking a lower price—the European Union went into a state of near panic. According to the Energy Charter Secretariat in Brussels, by 2020 the Western Europeans are expected to get half their gas from Russia, which commands 28 percent of world gas reserves, more than any country in the world. Suddenly the Europeans realized there weren’t that many alternative suppliers. Putin’s Kremlin-controlled gas monopoly, Gazprom, has hired German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s predecessor, Gerhard Schröder, as a consultant. Gazprom deputy CEO Alexander Medvedev admitted at an economic forum earlier this month that even Britain’s flagship utility, Centrica, should be considered a potential takeover target. “With our present financial strength, it is very difficult to find a company which is not on our watch list,” he said.

What does all this geostrategic strutting have to do with soaring prices at the gas pump? For one thing, the uncertainty created by Iran, Iraq and Venezuela has added a $10-$20 risk premium to the price of oil per barrel, according to Wall Street analysts. The politics of energy also doesn’t bode well for future prices, as U.S. Secretary of Energy Sam Bodman seemed to suggest last weekend when he said Americans might have to get used to paying $3-plus per gallon for gasoline.

Today, oil and gas experts around the world are growing alarmed not just at future scarcity—the idea that the world may have hit “peak oil” seems to be taking hold—but at who’s in control of the precious stuff. As demand for energy explodes worldwide, there is less of it available and less exploration for it. That is partly because of a dropoff in investment created by the decline in oil prices in the ’90s. But it is also because multinational corporations like ExxonMobil (despite its record profits) now own just 6 percent of supplies, versus a whopping 77 percent that’s now owned by state-owned entities, according to the Petroleum Finance Corp., a Washington-based consulting group. State control guarantees less efficiency in the exploration for oil, and in the extraction and refinement of fuel. Further, these state-owned companies do not divulge how much they really own, or what the production and exploration numbers are. These have become the new state secrets.

Quietly an understanding of this power shift in the world is growing in Washington, as well. The price shock after Hurricane Katrina, especially—not to mention the plummeting poll numbers that followed for Bush—led administration officials to understand just how fragile U.S. economic security has become because of energy. Nothing quite like it has happened since the 1973 OPEC embargo. Administration sources say the Katrina effect, as well as concern over moves by Chavez, were mainly behind Bush’s surprising call for an end to “America’s oil addiction” in his State of the Union address last January. At the same time, U.S. officials have come to realize that there is deep anger and enmity in the Kremlin against the United States (particularly over U.S. efforts to win Ukraine and Georgia to the West), and that Putin has his own agenda. One example: even as Moscow has joined the Western effort to confront Tehran over its nuclear program, Russia and Iran are taking a unified stand in resisting a U.S. effort to build a trans-Caspian pipeline that would reroute gas out of the Russian system to Baku, Azerbaijan.

Putin has long been nursing ambitions of using Russia’s vast oil and gas supplies as an instrument of power. In the mid ’90s, after 15 years in the KGB, Putin went back to school, attending the St. Petersburg Mining Institute. He wrote a dissertation titled “Toward a Russian Transnational Energy Company.” The topic: how to use energy resources for grand strategic planning. There is reason to believe that Putin’s highly publicized confrontation with Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the former owner of the defunct Yukos—the last of the big private energy concerns in Russia—was about much more than wresting political power from the so-called oligarchs, former apparatchiks who gained control of Russia’s resources after the Soviet Union’s collapse. Putin is not known to be personally corrupt, or even particularly power-hungry. What he is hungry for—and indeed has been since he was elected in 2000—is a restoration of Russia’s power and influence. Some observers believe that Putin’s trumped-up arrest of Khodorkovsky—who will be spending the next few years in a Siberian labor camp—was mainly about taking control of the energy sector, rather than edging aside a political rival.

It is tempting to say that oil and gas have become the new strategic weapons of the 21st century. But in one crucial respect that is not true. As Putin discovered from his aborted effort to cut off Ukraine’s gas—and as even Ahmadinejad is learning—when you threaten to cut off your customers, you only cut off your own nose. You have to sell oil to someone; otherwise crude is just black muck. Where the control of energy counts is in accumulating wealth, and therefore power and influence. As former U.S. under secretary of State Marc Grossman says, “The question is what are they doing with the money.”

The Bush administration may think it has one trump card in Iraq. U.S. interests obviously lie with the vast proven and potential Iraqi oil fields, said to be the world’s largest. The Iraqi oil ministry has signed about 40 memorandums of understanding, many with U.S. companies, according to industry sources. Under them, the majors such as ExxonMobil, Chevron and ConocoPhillips are giving technical advice “free” to the ministry (a typical get-in-the-door strategy for the industry). Challenged at a congressional hearing in March, CENTCOM commander Gen. John Abizaid was frank in suggesting that, while oil was not the reason America went to war, it may provide a critical reason for staying. “The United States and its allies have a vital interest in the oil-rich region,” Abizaid said. “Ultimately it comes down to the free flow of goods and resources on which the prosperity of our own nation and everybody else in the world depend.”

But after three years of explosive anger against the U.S. occupation, it would be foolish to think that the Iraqi government, too, won’t catch the nationalist bug that’s spreading worldwide, in what appears to be an outgrowth of both antiglobalization sentiments and anti-Americanism. “I think the likelihood is high that American companies will have some significant position in Iraq,” says J. Robinson West, head of Petroleum Finance Corp. “On the other hand I think it’s highly unlikely that the petroleum sector will be dominated by American companies. We really didn’t go to war over oil, and I think at this late date we don’t want to make it look like we did.” ExxonMobil spokesman Russ Roberts adds, “The Iraqi oil belongs to the Iraqi people. If the Iraqi people determine that they want the help of international oil companies in developing their resources, then ExxonMobil would certainly be interested in participating.”

What does it all mean? “Welcome to the age of energy insecurity,” says West, a former Reagan administration official (and friend of Dick Cheney’s, the man who once dismissed energy conservation as a “personal virtue”). “Worldwide production will peak. The result will be skyrocketing prices, with a huge, sustained economic shock. Jobs will be lost. Without action, the crisis will certainly bring energy rivalries, if not energy wars. Vast wealth will be shifted, probably away from the U.S. For the last 20 years, U.S. policy has discouraged production and encouraged consumption. If we dither any more, we will pay a terrible price, the economic equivalent of a Category 5 hurricane. Katrina was Category 4.”

Washington appears as helpless in preparing for this crisis as it did in anticipating Hurricane Katrina. As we have seen in recent weeks, Congress is still dithering over such silly proposals as a $100 rebate to gasoline customers. But Republican leaders are balking at sponsoring proposals that could really make a difference, like a new gasoline tax that would change U.S. consumption habits and a serious increase in CAFE (corporate average fuel-economy) standards, which require automakers to meet an average mileage requirement. With the GOP facing a bitter fight for control of the Congress later this year, such measures are considered too politically painful. There could be a lot more pain for Americans down the road, however, at the hands of Putin and his energy-rich allies.