Gog, Magog, Iraq, and the mafia

August 21, 2009

So here’s a little sample of what happens when you make a interesting cocktail mix of politics and religion, especially bizarre religious mindsets. President Chirac recounts a story you may have heard before about the lead up to the Iraq war.

Now out of office, Chirac recounts that the American leader appealed to their “common faith” (Christianity) and told him: “Gog and Magog are at work in the Middle East…. The biblical prophecies are being fulfilled…. This confrontation is willed by God, who wants to use this conflict to erase his people’s enemies before a New Age begins.”

This bizarre episode occurred while the White House was assembling its “coalition of the willing” to unleash the Iraq invasion. Chirac says he was boggled by Bush’s call and “wondered how someone could be so superficial and fanatical in their beliefs.”

Well, there’s a huge contributing factor to what got us in Iraq. Dulled uncritical religious thinking. This is also consistent with all those Bible quotes from Rumsfeld, of course, fueling the fire for Bush’s self-proclaimed crusade. How many lives have been lost and how many resources have been squandered for Bush’s religious misadventure? Whatever the opportunity cost, it certainly has left us in a sorry state. As everyone should know by now, there were no weapons of mass destruction, Iraq was not allied with Al Queda, and Iraq posed no serious threat to us and now our economy is a mess. Although the latter is not entirely the fault of going into Iraq, but it certainly hasn’t helped.

So, what does what happened then have to do with now? You may recall America’s own dark little mercenary unit called Blackwater. It seems Obama is still funding this group. Why? There is a bit of information on one of the cofounders of Blackwater, Erik Prince, a crony of Bush. He is a big sponsor of and intimately related to that repressive group, The Family Research Council, known for wanting to disestablish public education, put prayer back in schools, and bigotry against gay people in regards to marriage. It was alleged (bottom of the wiki) by two Blackwater employees that:

Prince “views himself as a Christian crusader tasked with eliminating Muslims and the Islamic faith from the globe,” and that Prince’s companies “encouraged and rewarded the destruction of Iraqi life.”

But wait, there’s more! We also have the C-Street Christian mafia, an organization in which Congress are members of, and which seems to act as a kind of white washing facade for all sorts of corruption. Here you can hear more about this insidious organization from author Jeff Sharlet (be sure to check out his book, The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of
American Power
, a behind the scenes frightening look at what these power hungry self righteous tyrants are all about.

From American Atheist, we have a few tidbits of information.

Family leaders consider their political network to be Christ’s avant
garde, an elite that transcends not just conventional morality but
also earthly laws regulating lobbying. In the Family’s early days,
they debated registering as “a lobby for God’s Kingdom.” Instead,
founder Abraham Vereide decided that the group could be more
effective by working personally with politicians. “The more invisible
you can make your organization,” Vereide’s successor, current leader
Doug Coe preaches, “the more influence you can have.” That’s true —
which is why we have laws requiring lobbyists to identify themselves
as such.

Yes, super secret organizations wielding power behind the scenes. Because, you know, a healthy democracy just thrives on that stuff.

But David Coe, Doug Coe’s son and heir apparent, calls himself
simply a friend to men such as John Ensign, whom he guided through
the coverup of his affair. I met the younger Coe when I lived
for several weeks as a member of the Family. He’s a surprising
source of counsel, spiritual or otherwise. Attempting to explain
what it means to be chosen for leadership like King David was —
or Mark Sanford, according to his own estimate — he asked a young
man who’d put himself, body and soul, under the Family’s authority,
“Let’s say I hear you raped three little girls. What would I think
of you?” The man guessed that Coe would probably think that he was
a monster. “No,” answered Coe, “I wouldn’t.” Why? Because, as a
member of the Family, he’s among what Family leaders refer to as the
“new chosen.” If you’re chosen, the normal rules don’t apply.

So, if you are chosen by God, according to the Christian mafia, the normal rules of man do not apply. Well, of course, why didn’t I think of that earlier? If I get myself chose, I can do anything! Their self proclaimed role models are Hitler, Mao, and Stalin. A very powerful light needs to be shone on this group.

Yes, many people do not take their religion to this extreme. There are many moderates content to believe, go to church on various Sundays, and have a normal life. But, like a cancer, religious memes are not content to remain local and benign. Inherent in religious thinking are threats to a healthy democracy, and all humanity. Humanity, as a whole, needs to stop giving any religion a free pass and examine these beliefs critically. After all, even the moderates stand on the same foundation as those in Blackwater, the Christian mafia, and all the rest.

Thanks to Vjack at Atheist Revolution for the posting about this.

Disabling the Cain myth

August 20, 2009

There was a bit of stir in the blogsphere recently concerning a certain visit of freethinkers, scientists, and assorted godless heathens to a certain Creation “Museum”. The Creation Museum, located somewhere in Kentucky, of course stands out as a shining example, a tremendous monument to humanity’s ability to remain stubbornly and willfully ignorant, while still somehow retaining the ability to read. The event was sponsored by the Secular Student Alliance (Go here to get involved.) and was a resounding success, such as from the above links and here (with associated links), and elsewhere.

Other than that, I won’t say much about the visit as I was unfortunate enough not to go and much more about can be found elsewhere. I was sent a book from this Hall of Ignorance previously, which when I free up some time I hope to review a bit of here. A cursory glance reveals extremely poor and misrepresented science, lies, and ad hominem attacks against Charles Darwin. Wonderful. Now one of the items I saw when looking through the various blog reports concerning this Cargo Cult Museum was an entire panel explaining from where Cain picked up his wife. Given the absurd starting assumptions, the only possible answer is that his wife was his sister.

As luck would have it, I came across this very topic discussed at GodAndScience.org. Not surprisingly, the author supports Ken Ham’s (the creator, if you will, of the afore-mentioned Baffle ’em with BS Museum in Kentucky) proposition. For a site advertising itself as showing God through science, I was surprised at how little science there was in this particular post. The idea is that man (an creation) was formed to perfection. Therefore no genetic flaws. So there will not be the genetic problems of inbreeding right from the start. These imperfections started multiplying after the so-called fall. So, at the time, marrying your sister was fine. I had seen further arguments elsewhere that this is consistent with the longer lifespans in the earlier parts of the Bible, presumably believing that genetic mutations necessarily lead to shorter lifespans.

The problem is that this is not how science is done. You don’t start with a conclusion based on an old book you think is right, and throw around some sciency terms, like genetics, in an effort to arrive at some self consistency. You might as well analyze the science in Lord of the Rings. You may get some cool ideas and interesting consistencies, but it is still fiction.

Let’s start with the idea of perfection, which I guess means no genetic defects, whatever that means. A genetic characteristic is beneficial ultimately in the “eye of the environment”, so I’m not really sure what this perfection entails at a reasonable level of precision. Certainly there are some defects which turn out to be harmful, some neutral and a few of which happen to be advantageous for a particular environment. I presume the biblical justification is that Adam was made “in the image of God”, since I can’t find any Bible references to Adam being genetically perfect. So God has genes, and specifically none of which are defective? Has anyone done a genome sequence of God to discover by how much we differ from genetic perfection? Or is being made in the image something different? Perhaps spiritual awareness? Would this entail knowledge of good and evil? God supposedly knew good from evil, but humans had to eat magic fruit to obtain this? So, perhaps not a perfect image? How did the introduction of sin lead to genetic defects and how can you test this? So right away our first assumption leads to more questions for which no clear answers are available.

At one time I did hear arguments that the old age (some to past 900, including Adam) to which people lived in the pre-flood era were consistent with the idea that human started with “perfect” genes before the fall. It is not at all clear to me how a lack of genetic defects leads to lifespans on the order of those mentioned in the Old Testament. I’ve seen no scientific evidence to support this. Other interpretations hold that the numbers associated with the long ages held only symbolic meaning, so not all Christians buy into a literal long lifespan picture presented by the Bible. That the earliest humans had the longest lifespans also flies in the face of available evidence (also mentioned in the discussion at the bottom of the page here). Note that the average life span in the Neolithic age, that is 9500 B.C., close to 5000 years before Creationists say we had the first human, was about 20.

So, how could this be made somewhat scientific? First thing to do is forget the Bible. You want independent evidence that will corroborate it, not by starting off with the Bible as your conclusion. Where is the evidence that the earliest humans had far fewer genetic defects? What predictions does this model lead to? Should we see an increase in the number of genetic defects through human existence? Should we expect a continuous rise in defects (accounting for systematic error due to pollutants in our industrial age)? If you want to take the approach that the earliest humans were living over 500 years of age, apart from old mythological stories, where is the actual evidence? Bone analysis can tell us something about age and we haven’t seen anything like the claimed ages in the Bible.

We do have bones from some of the earliest humans from 195,000 years ago. We also have the skeleton of a 25-35 year old woman from France who died about 13,000 to 15,000 years ago, roughly 7000 years before death came into the world, according to Creationists.

Stimulating park

August 17, 2009
Joshual Tree National Park early spring

Joshual Tree National Park early spring

The picture above is from a little trip we took to Joshua Tree National Park a couple of years ago and shows a few of the Joshua trees for which the park is named in the foreground. Really a wonderful trip. The U.S. has a pretty extensive national park system that covers a wide array of unique scenery and habitats. As Obama just underwent a whirlwind tour of a few national parks, I figured it would be interesting to see how the national parks fit into Obama’s picture. The national parks received 589 million dollars in stimulus from the stimulus bill. That was for roads and some infrastructure. There is also 146 million for trail maintenance, etc., etc.

One question the GOLP earlier raised were concerns on what good funding the parks under a stimulus package would be? The idea is that you pretty up the parks, or what have you and then you are done; what has been done to help the economy?

Our national parks were largely neglected under Bush, so, every little bit to get our parks back up to snuff is a good thing. There are all sorts of opportunities for maintenance of buildings, roadways, etc. This is work which, albeit temporary, could help keep people employed long enough to last out the effects of this recession. As an example, check out the projects planned for the Great Smoky Moutains. The work being drawn up there means jobs. In the end, all of us benefit from having a well maintained park system housing some of the true wonders of our planet.

GOLP — The Grand Old Loony Party

August 16, 2009
The New Republicans

The New Republicans

Well, even for somebody with no time like myself, these past few weeks have been pretty amusing. Of course, we all know about the so-called “Birthers”. People, which many Republicans don’t seem to discourage, who remain convinced, in spite of incontrovertible evidence to the contrary, that Obama was not born in the U.S. The latest bout of lunacy emerging from the far right concerns health care. Of course, anyone can read the health care bill being proposed by a quick google search. In spite of this, we have Republican inciting their base with lies, misleading information, and hysteria. For example, for a quick web-reference, we have from Urban Legends one section of the bill that appears to have stirred up some controversy. It is a bit long to reproduce here, so feel free to read it for yourself, but essentially what it boils down to is more frequent consulting sessions for Medicare will pay for more frequent consulting sessions to discuss end-of-life issues when faced with terminal illnesses and such. From this we get the wizened philosopher Sarah Palin stipulating this means government death panels. Such a leap is rarely found, except in the delusional minds of conspiracy nuts, or the power hunger tyrants who want rile them up.

We also have claims that a government run plan being offered as an option to help the uninsured will lead to “socialized medicine”, for which medical care here will become as horrible as it is in Germany or France. In fact, while I was in Germany, I received really good health care. For more on health care in Europe, look here. As one of the stories embedded therein, you can read how German patients are mostly quite happy with their health care system.

But don’t expect to see little snippets of reality like this from right-wing Republicans. Health care here in the U.S. is in serious need of reform. By not acting now, the cost will be higher in the future. This may not be the most perfect of all bills, but is a step in the right direction. There is still serious discussion to be had regarding the contents and the vision of health care in our country. It is immoral to simply neglect the health care of those many who are currently uninsured. But serious discussion is exactly what we are not seeing from the Republicans. Instead we see fear mongering, misinformation and disruption. See any of the famous town hall meetings for an example. We see actual prevention of any attempt for serious discussion. We see efforts to try to simply stop progress, sometimes because they simply don’t like the President, or just simply fear of change. Fear that the Republican leadership and media like Fox News are only too happy to feed.

It is actually coming back to bite some of the Republicans as well. In today’s LA Times there was an article describing just this. They’ve riled up their credulous mob to such a state that it is backfiring. According to the article:

But the conservative mobilization has also created an unusual dilemma for Republican leaders, who want to turn the enthusiasm into election victories next year but find themselves the target of ire from many of the same activists.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), chairman of the GOP’s Senate campaign committee, was booed at a “tea party” rally in July for supporting the government bailout of the financial services industry.

And one of the GOP’s most reliable conservatives, Rep. Bob Inglis of South Carolina, was shouted down at a recent town hall meeting when he criticized a conservative broadcaster and tried to counter claims that children would soon be forced to receive swine flu vaccinations.

“You cannot build a movement on something that is not credible,” said a frustrated Inglis, referring to the vaccine issue and other false rumors being spread by more aggressive critics of the health bill.

“Going door to door, I found opposition tending toward hostility,” Inglis added. “At town meetings, the hostility went straight through to hysteria.”

So, it seems the more right-wing Republican are fervently steering our country into rule by credulous and unthinking mob (even to their own detriment). The GOP has actually stepped over the line and become completely insane.

The Beck paradox

August 14, 2009

Unfortunately, I have not had very much time to put into watching actual news, let alone Faux News, but after my run and during stretches tonight I managed to see a little of the Colbert Report (caution, automatic audio there) which had an interesting clip of Glenn Beck. The whole Beck video can be found here.

Essentially, he said that Obama has a “deep seat hatred for white people”. When confronted with the fact that Obama has actually put many Caucasians (or “white people”) on his staff, he replied that he wasn’t saying that that Obama “didn’t like white people”, but that he was still was clearly a racist. His evidence was that Obama attended Rev. Wright’s church (I would be prepared to call Obama delusional on this point, but that’s a different story). Oh, and calling the actions of a cop stupid for arresting a professor for behaving obnoxiously. I am not sure Beck understands the meaning of the word evidence.

This begs two questions.
1) Why is Glenn Beck still on the air?
2) Why would anyone hire Beck for any position requiring at least a high school diploma?

But then, this is television, and Faux News no less. So, probably the answer to 2) explains 1).

Dear Birthers

August 1, 2009

Was President Obama born in the United States?

Birth certificate from a real actual U.S. state

Birth certificate from a real actual U.S. state

Yes.

You may now return to your regularly scheduled Michael Jackson news.

The Quitter

July 28, 2009
Hunt this!

Hunt this!

As many know, in one of the more bizarre twists to emerge from our American politics is the resignation of Sarah Palin as governor of Alaska. She quit because she apparently thought she would be more effective, for, I’m not sure, fighting to get rid of gun control by not holding political office? I suspect it is so she will have more time to promote her book. In any case, it is a brash move of irresponsibility, no matter her competence. So in the news item I linked to, we have this:

“You’re gonna see anti-hunting, anti-Second Amendment circuses from Hollywood,” the outgoing governor said. “They use Alaska as a fundraising tool for their anti-Second Amendment causes… Hollywood needs to know: ‘We eat, therefore we hunt.”

Wow. I must admit, I was previously unaware that our citizens in Alaska lived in a hunter/gatherer society. Living from hunt to hunt, killing a moose only to survive the next harsh winter. I did not know. But wait, a quick google search shows that Wasilla, Alaska has 17 grocery stores!. Maybe it really isn’t that bad there. But really, have people really been going off the deep end about her hunting? I know that is one thing concerning her I actually don’t care about. I used to fish a lot and have relatives that hunt, and as long as we’re not talking endangered species, I don’t really see a problem. Although not in “the biz”, I live relatively close to Hollywood also.

The problem with Palin is not that she’s a hunter. It is the fact that whenever she give an interview or speech she betrays an astounding shallowness of knowledge, lack of curiosity about the world around her, and lack of critical thinking skills. In light of this, it is my little sliver of hope, my little fantasy, that she is quitting because she’s realized that she’s gotten in over her head and shouldn’t be in a position of public responsibility.

Billboard theocracy

July 23, 2009
Suggested billboard

My own suggested billboard

From my home state of Florida, we have a call to arms for theocrats everywhere. A fellow by the name of Gregg Smith apparently want to bring our country back to God by invoking the fiction that this what the founding fathers intended. On his website, he writes:

“The Judeo-Christian foundation that the Founding Fathers established when America began is the reason that this country has prospered for 200-plus years,” said Kemple, president and sole employee of the local Community Issues Council, which paid for the Web site.

“The fact is, for the last 40 years, as anti-God activists have incrementally removed the recognition of God’s place in the establishment of our country, we have gone downhill.”

I’m sure he’ll be publishing some peer reviewed paper soon to provide support for the claimed cause and effect correlation. I wonder if in his paper, he will make note of the fact that the famous Treaty of Tripoli, unanimously approved by congress in 1797, states in Article 11, “As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquillity, of Mussulmen; and, as the said States never entered into any war, or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties, that no pretext arising from religious opinions, shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.” (emphasis mine).

So, essentially, Gregg Smith is putting up billboards with quotes from the founding fathers to support his contention that their intent was a nation founded on Judeo-Christian principles (whatever that means). Never mind the fact that Jefferson was pleased with what he called the wall of separation between church and state. Never mind the fact that there is sufficient evidence to believe that Adams, Jefferson, Washington, Madison, and others were likely deists who strove to maintain no overlap between government and religion (remember, the no religious test specified in the Constitution?). In fact, in addition to ignoring history, Smith creates some of his own. On one billboard we have:

…carry the same message but with fictional attribution, as with one billboard citing George Washington for the quote, “It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible.”

Washington never said this, but:

“I don’t believe there’s a document in Washington’s handwriting that has those words in that specific form,” Kemple said. “However, if you look at Washington’s quotes, including his farewell address, about the place of religion in the political sphere, there’s no question he could have said those exact words.”

So, they are reduced to making things up. Very nice indeed. Next I’ll just claim that Rockefeller meant to leave me all his assets; it is something he could have done.

But, you know, although we are fortuitous that the founding fathers had the astounding insight to separate the state from religion, to argue that this was the right thing to do because they were the founding fathers is fallacious. It is argument from authority. If the founding fathers did, for the sake of argument, establish a theocracy, with religious tests in the Constitution and so on, this would be as wrong now, as it would have been the wrong thing to do then. If that had been the case, we would need to change it. History shows that societies function better when religion is kept out of the apparatus of the state (see here.).

Hat tip to PZ Myers.

Unscientific America, a nonreview Part 1

July 19, 2009
Stepping out

Stepping out

Lately there’s been a lot of talk about Chris Mooney’s and Sheril Kirshenbaum’s latest book, Unscientific America. I have not yet read this book. I would like to, but burdened already underneath a huge reading list and too many projects, it is not likely I will have a chance to do so. So this, unlike other reviews of the book out there, will be a non-review. I think it is good that they have sparked some discussion, although much of the discussion seems to have been focused on the wrong things. From the review I linked to above, much of their discussion seems to not have been backed up with sufficient evidence and they don’t seem to have really addressed the root causes of the problem, if in fact, there is a problem.

They seem to lay part of the scientific illiteracy problem at the feet of the so-called new atheists. Apparently spending a couple of chapters to do so. The thinking seems to be that outspoken atheists alienate people and drive them away from science. They single out P.Z. Myers and Richard Dawkins as the poster children for this so-called bad behavior. There is a strong anti-science component in the U.S. There are people determined to undermine science education and public policy choices informed by good science. In strong part, this component is fueled by religious fervor and thinking. People like P.Z. Myers are addressing this, and rightly so. The muddle headed anti-critical thinking that is often inspired by religious thinking needs to be pointed out, and when necessary, mocked. One of the factors, according to their blog, Moony and Kirshenbaum, decided to leave science blogs was the “Crackergate” affair (Google it, if you haven’t heard about it. I’m too lazy to go digging around for that at the moment.). This just borders on the bizarre. It was not directed at them. In fact, the whole thing should have been merely a barely noticed minor blip on the “blog-dar”. The fact that it got so much attention speaks far more about the disproportionate reactions religious thinking inspires than anything Myers did. This fact seems to have been lost on Mooney and Kirshenbaum.

Nevertheless, Mooney and Kirshenbaum do a service on at least helping to spark some discussion on addressing scientific illiteracy. I don’t think a case is clearly made that it is a growing problem, but I think we are probably safe in assuming that we, as a nation, are not as literate in science as we could be. I think there is some discussion to be had on just how literate is enough. Not everyone is going to be needing to figure out how to do lattice gauge calculations, or what have you. Certainly, as a representative democracy, we need to be able to carry on a public discussion about climate change, recognize the need for vaccines, alternative energies, and so forth. There are several contributing factors to anti-science thinking in the U.S. Religion is one of them. The other is that same democratic spirit that made helps to define our national character. “I don’t need no ivory tower scientist to tell me how things work!”. Yankee ingenuity, all of us are equally capable, no elites necessary. I personally know several people where these traits combine to make the perfect storm. “Creationism is just another viewpoint! It should be taught in the schools on at least equal footing!”. These are factors about which very long discussions can be had and perhaps we’ll explore these further in future posts (I’ve already hit on these a few times myself), though feel free to tackle them in comments.

The suggestion that Mooney and Kirshenbaum make is to pave the way for an increased number of literate science communicators, modeled after Carl Sagan. Get scientific ideas out to the public and help them understand what we’re doing, and how things work. Chad Orzel, over at Uncertain Principles is running with this ball. I certainly agree that it is important to get ideas out there. To enable people to see a little better how the world works, and how it effects daily lives and public policy. It is an important mission. Of course, in fact, there are plenty of good science communicators out there already. There is Chad Orzel, of course. We also have Phil Plait, Sean Carroll, et al, P.Z. Myers (linked to earlier), Jennifer Oulette, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Ken Miller, and many more. My first thought is not that there is a lack of good science communicators, but many are lost in the white noise of everything available on all the different available media. With a few exceptions (Phil Plait on Coast to Coast radio, for example), one has to seek these guys out. There is a preaching to the choir effect where those who are interested and motivated by science will find these good communicators. We have to nurture the interest, and I think this starts with a good education, along with something that will engage imagination and curiosity.

So to start with examining such matters, and to throw in a few thoughts, I’ll look to myself as an example. What motivated me to go into science? What were the initial seeds? One of course, was museums. Visiting air and space museums and natural history. Another was the movie 2001, A Space Odessy”. I had no idea what this movie was about as a kid, but the awesomeness of space exploration was firmly transfixed in my mind and inspired me to learn all I could. Another factor that contributed to my motivation was the lunar landing of Apollo 11 on July 20, 1969. Getting humans to the moon, and then back, was a stunning achievement, not only for America (after all, it was a competition with the Soviets), but for all humanity. This motivated many young minds at the time into studying science and engineering.

It is now 40 years after this stunning achievement. Friday night, I saw nothing on T.V. celebrating this. Aside from a few obligatory film footage shots on CNN this morning and a good article in the LA Times, the media have been relatively quiet. Is this part of the problem? What can be done now to make the type of inspiration stemming from Apollo 11 part of our national fabric?

The Iran problem and theocracies

June 28, 2009

One of the larger pieces of news over the last few weeks was the Iranian election. Or what passes for an election anyway. As I’m sure everybody has heard by now, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was allegedly re-elected and Mir Hossein Mousavi, was apparently not. As Mousavi seemed to have a lot of popular support this shocked many Iranians who took to the streets to voice their disapproval. The regime, led by Supreme Leader issued stern warnings and eventually cracked down on dissent with violence. This was accompanied by an attempt to control information. Not allowing journalists to properly cover events, and attempting to control and censor the internet connections to and out of Iran. Typical of a theocratic mindset. We see the same thing on a very small scale on some religious blogs. Post a sound rebuttal to some argument and it is deleted, at least at some sites. Can’t let people see that. Fortunately, the educated populace of Iran managed to skirt around some of these issues and get videos posted to youtube and so forth.

But what about the internet censorship? Apparently two companies are involved in developing the technology to help the religious leaders of Iran monitor and possibly block internet access, Nokia, and Siemens. From the article:

in confronting the political turmoil that has consumed the country this past week, the Iranian government appears to be engaging in a practice often called deep packet inspection, which enables authorities to not only block communication but to monitor it to gather information about individuals, as well as alter it for disinformation purposes, according to these experts.

The monitoring capability was provided, at least in part, by a joint venture of Siemens AG, the German conglomerate, and Nokia Corp., the Finnish cellphone company, in the second half of 2008, Ben Roome, a spokesman for the joint venture, confirmed.

How does it work?

Deep packet inspection involves inserting equipment into a flow of online data, from emails and Internet phone calls to images and messages on social-networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Every digitized packet of online data is deconstructed, examined for keywords and reconstructed within milliseconds. In Iran’s case, this is done for the entire country at a single choke point, according to networking engineers familiar with the country’s system. It couldn’t be determined whether the equipment from Nokia Siemens Networks is used specifically for deep packet inspection.

.

Big Brother is alive and well in Iran. From a technology standpoint, it is kind of cool how it works, but ultimately is fundamentally at odds to a healthy democracy. Interestingly, the President of Iran has little real power. The ultimate power rests with the undemocratically selected Supreme Leader. From the Wiki:

However, certain executive powers, such as command of the armed forces and declaration of war and peace, remain in the hands of the Supreme Leader.[5] Furthermore the Supreme Leader may even dismiss the president and prevent the legitimation of any law (appointed by assembly) by the institutions under his control, the Guardian Council and the Expediency Council.

So, that’s the real problem. A shining example of how religion mixed with politics leads to a mindset critical of openness, and insidiously controlling of all. Iran needs a velvet revolution. I doubt that will happen though as this is not a threat to national identity and does not interfere with local religious practices. But it should inspire all of us to vigorously support the American United for Separation of Church and State organization.