comparing countries

After I left Iran, I used to go every day to Google News and type "Iran" to read about the latest news from there. Once, I believed that there was some hope that things would get better in Iran, that the economic or political situation would somehow improve. The country has a restless young population, some very clever people, and the tolerant King Cyrus as part of its history. But after living there for nineteen months (April 2002 to October 2003) I realised the future there is bleak. Most intelligent people living there want to leave. I know some who don't, but generally they are eternal optimists, people with wool in their eyes, or people with even more inertia than me. The most useful thing I learned from my stay was Persian itself -- though that will deteriorate without constant practice.

Financially Iran was not good for me - and I have promised myself not to move to a country where I would be paid less than Australia, because I think I would lose self-respect. I wonder what I gained from it; I think the experience made me a much more interesting person, although Australians aren't that much interested in Iran and I don't suppose that will change unless George and/or Johnny decide to invade. (I note though that The Diplomat magazine seems to have an article about Iran every month.)

I've been thinking about Quality of Life lately. Is Australia the best place to live and is Brisbane a good city in Australia? Mercer and the Economist Intelligence Unit seem to think so. (Though compare Ireland's position in the latter with the broadband penetration mentioned next.) Perhaps Brisbane just doesn't seem exciting to me since I've lived here most of my life.

Recently I visited South Korea. Since I came back to Australia, I've been typing "Korea" into the search box at Google News instead of "Iran". There is some good news - OECD broadband figures show Iceland and Korea have wunderbar broadband penetration. Whereas Australia is still living with 256kbps "fraudband"; there was an article about it in the Australian Financial Review on the 8th April. In this respect, I feel Australia is very backward compared to Korea. Also, Korea has the world's first HSDPA network.

And yet, economic indicators are falling in Korea and the Australian economy seems to be strengthening. (Though I am confused about which way the dollar is heading: the Big Mac index predicts up to $US0.90 whereas the head of Queensland Investment Corporation predicts $US0.50. Bloomberg shows traders divided in their recommendations.)

Somewhere, perhaps in a Korean English newspaper, I read that Korean fertility is the lowest in the world. (Correction: quote from Robert Samuelson article about Russia - "by not having children, people are voting against the future - their countries and perhaps their own." So how is the future in Korea?

I need love and excitement while still maintaining a high quality of life and not working excessive hours. Can I have all of that?


Ali Kaboli

Much energy and many words have been wasted on a story which turned out to be false. Here is a story which is true and I have a first-hand source in Iran to confirm the story.

Iran Christian convert faces possible death penality.

The authorities have warned his family not to publicise his case, but he has been in jail for 25 days now and they must do something. So if you read this, just link to the story on your blog and maybe something can be done. Perhaps an Amnesty-style letter writing campaign might work, if I knew who to write to? If the story gets enough publicity, the Iranian government will be shamed into releasing him.


national post retracts Iran Jews story

The National Post apologises to readers for their monumental screw-up of last Friday. Their apology fails to address many issues - but clearly someone at the National Post should resign over this. And they could say they are dropping Amir Taheri as a correspondent. This retraction appears on Page 2 and is only available to subscribers to the website!! So they are hardly "facing up to their mistakes in an honest open fashion" as they claim. I'll put their apology here to help them out. (I saw it at born with a tail and MEPForum.)

As noted at The Gazetteer, and by myself, the story was "circularly sourced" - the letter from Rabbi Marvin Hier to Kofi Annan quoted Taheri's story "to appear in Friday's National Post". So all of this traces back to Taheri, and the NP doesn't admit this, nor the circular sourcing. As a comment at Born With a Tail notes, all of Wattie's sources were second-hand and outside Iran and that is not good enough for a story of this magnitude. Having lived in Iran, I have lots of sources there who could check that quickly - but the idiotic journalists at the National Post just couldn't be bothered making calls outside the US and Canada. They relied on Iranian exiles no-one has ever heard of. Nor could they be bothered looking at an Iranian news website containing the text of the bill.

The reaction of the Iranian embassy was just about believable though - relations between Iran and Canada are really rock-bottom, though they haven't gone as low as the crediblity of the National Post after this story.

I wonder if the Murdoch rag, the New York Post, will publish a similar retraction, as they published a similar article on May 20, the day after the National Post story appeared?

Our mistake: Note to readers

Douglas Kelly
National Post

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Last Friday, the National Post ran a story prominently on the front page alleging that the Iranian parliament had passed a law that, if enacted, would require Jews and other religious minorities in Iran to wear badges that would identify them as such in public. It is now clear the story is not true. Given the seriousness of the error, I felt it necessary to explain to our readers how this happened.

The story of the alleged badge law first came to us in the form of a column by Amir Taheri. Mr. Taheri, an Iranian author and journalist, has written widely on Iran for many major publications. In his column, Mr. Taheri wrote at length about the new law, the main purpose of which is to establish an appropriate dress code for Muslims. Mr. Taheri went on to say that under the law, "Religious minorities would have their own colour schemes. They will also have to wear special insignia, known as zonnar, to indicate their non-Islamic faith."

This extraordinary allegation caught our attention, of course. The idea that Iran might impose such a law did not seem out of the question given that its President has denied the Holocaust and threatened to "wipe Israel off the map." We tried to contact Mr. Taheri, but he was in transit and unreachable.

The editor who was dealing with Mr. Taheri's column wrote to Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles. The Wiesenthal Center is an international Jewish human rights organization that keeps a close watch on issues affecting the treatment of Jews around the world, and maintains contacts in many countries, including Iran. Asked about the specific allegation that Iran had passed a law requiring religious minorities to identify themselves, Rabbi Cooper replied by e-mail that the story was "absolutely true." When a reporter spoke to Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean of the Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, a short while later, Rabbi Hier said the story was true and added that the organization had sent a letter to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan asking him to take up the matter. (Rabbi Hier has
since said that, contrary to the understanding of the reporter, the Wiesenthal Center had not independently confirmed Mr. Taheri's allegation.)

The reporter also spoke with two Iranian exiles in Canada -- Ali Behroozian in
Toronto and Shahram Golestaneh in Ottawa. Both said that they had heard the the story of the badges from their contacts in Iran and they believed it to be true.

Canada's Foreign Affairs Department did not respond to questions about the issue until after deadline, and then only to say they were looking into the matter. After several calls to the Iranian embassy in Ottawa, the reporter reached Hormoz Ghahremani, a spokesman for the embassy. Mr. Ghahremani's response to the allegation was that he did not answer such questions.

We now had four sources -- Mr. Taheri, the Wiesenthal Center and two Iranian exiles in Canada -- telling us that according to their sources the Iranian law appeared to include provisions for compelling religious minorities to identify themselves in public. Iranian authorities in Canada had not denied the story. Given the sources, and given the previous statements of the Iranian President, we felt confident the story was true and decided to publish it.

The reaction was immediate and distressing. Several experts whom the reporter had tried unsuccessfully to contact the day before called to say the story was not true. The Iranian embassy put out a statement late in the day doing what it had failed to do the day before -- unequivocally deny such a law had been passed.

The reporter continued to try to determine whether there was any truth to the story. Some sources said there had been some peripheral discussion in the Iranian parliament of identifying clothing for minority religions, but it became clear that the dress code bill, which was introduced on May 14 and has not yet been passed into law, does not include such provisions.

Mr. Taheri, who had written the column that sparked the story, was again unreachable on Friday. He has since put out a statement saying the National Post and others "jumped the gun" in our characterization of his column. He says he was only saying the provisions affecting minorities might happen at some point. All of the people who read the column on the first day took it to mean the measure was part of a law that had been passed. Mr. Taheri maintains the zonnar, or badges, could still be put in effect when the dress code law is implemented.

On Saturday, the National Post ran another front-page story above the fold with the Iranian denial and the comments of the experts casting doubts on the original story.

It is corporate policy for all of CanWest's media holdings to face up to their mistakes in an honest, open fashion. It is also the right thing to do journalistically.

We acknowledge that on this story, we did not exercise sufficient caution and skepticism, and we did not check with enough sources. We should have pushed the sources we did have for more corroboration of the information they were giving us. That is not to say that we ignored basic journalistic practices or that we rushed this story into print with no thought as to the consequences. But given the seriousness of the allegations, more was required.

We apologize for the mistake and for the consternation it has caused not just National Post readers, but the broader public who read the story. We take this incident very seriously, and we are examining our procedures to try to ensure such an error does not happen again.

Douglas Kelly,


National Post


new computer

My new computer arrived at work!! Woo-hoo!! It's state of the art as of now. It's better than my boss's computer, so he suggested swapping them around. But it's mine, mine, mine!! And it belongs to the IMB so he can't do that. The old maths computer is going back to Maths, probably for some sucker of a PhD student or postdoc to use. Ha ha.

I am reviewing some of the trip photos on the new 19-inch LCD monitor and I can see how out-of-focus many of them were. Oh well.


national post Bush propaganda

One of Canada's two major national newspapers had a huge banner headline on May 19, 2006: "IRAN EYES BADGES FOR JEWS". Just below, there was a huge picture of two Jewish people in the Budapest Ghetto in 1944 wearing yellow badges. The story claimed a new law required Iranian Jews to wear yellow badges. The only problem was that the story was complete fiction. The next day the same journalist, Chris Wattie, published a "retraction" which seemed to blame Amir Taheri, their alleged source. The Simon Wiesenthal Center also cited Taheri as their source in their letter to Kofi Annan. Taheri has written many great books about Iran, but I remember in one of his articles he wrote that the US navy sank half the Iranian navy one day in 1984 (he should have written 1988) and he has a very unorthodox theory about Iranian hijab, that it was somehow invented by Imam Moussa Sadr. But I don't think anyone believes this except him.

It reminded me of the time when Michael Ledeen claimed that Ayatollah Montazeri had written a fatwa against suicide bombing. That story was completely false too, but no retraction has yet appeared in the National Review.

This story has served only one aim - it's helped associate the Iranian government and Nazi Germany in people's minds. There's a book by Norman Solomon called War Made Easy about the steps the US president needs to take when he wants to attack another country. And one of the steps is to say "This guy is worse than Hitler." Today, I saw a clear example of this propaganda in action.

UPDATE 20 May 2006

The story appeared in the New York Post today, unchanged! The banner headline is "FOURTH REICH" and one of the journalists is Andy Soltis. He is a chess grandmaster and a good chess author - but his fact-checking sucks. The article is available on the Benador Associates website and the original Canada Post article is there too.

I also noticed that the letter from Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal Center to Kofi Annan was dated May 18, 2006 and referred to an upcoming article in the Friday National Post - I suppose this enabled the National Post to give another "source" for their article in a circular fashion. What a crock this has all turned out to be.

UPDATE 24 May 2006

Not only is the story false, it lacks any foundation. I have no idea where it came from. All the discussion on the bill was carried live on state radio and Reuters has an article debunking the story now also. I know the Tehran-based journalist who wrote the Reuters article - she is very hard-working and an impeccable source. Taheri "stands by" his story. Let's look at what he wrote again...

[A] law passed by the Islamic Majlis (parliament) on Monday [...] envisages separate dress codes for religious minorities, Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians, who will have to adopt distinct colour schemes to make them identifiable in public.

But the bill is available on the net as pointed out by Hoder and there is nothing like that in the bill as Taheri claimed. So his story is a lie based on rumors which is not backed up by even one Iranian source.

Finally a good reason to disbelieve everything in the original article is that Taheri mentions a minister named "Pourhardani" in his story and there is no minister with a name even close to that - the Culture Minister's name is Mohammad Hossein Saffar-Harandi. See Jim Henley "Taheri-ng it up" and Jim Henley "Taheri-ng it up again". (Actually, Taheri writes "Pourharandi" and "Pourhardani" in the original National Post article, not corrected at the Benador Associates website article yet. It was very sloppy work.)



I dream about computer hardware in my sweet, happy dreams! Realistically, I should be happy with this Powerbook G4 which I got in April 2004. But I am feeling greed or something. I covet after and lust for the Macbook Pro! I want the 15 inch version. On the next iteration, it had better have the 8x dual-layer DVD writer (or a Blu-ray drive) and a 160Gb hard drive. I just learned that 160Gb notebook drives are available today, they are $345 at Nintek. And at the NewEgg site lots of people are saying there will be 200Gb notebook hard drives very soon. The price of everything drops so fast! On August 2, 2005, I bought a 2Gb SD Card for $207.80 and a 2Gb USB flash drive for $169.40 from YeahDone. Now the price for a 4Gb SD card is $141.90 and a 4Gb USB flash drive is $152.90. Wow, so much money down the drain, as my parents would say.

My new work computer should be arriving on Friday! What a joyous day it will be! It's a 3.2GHz Pentium-4 640 (whatever this means) with 2Gb of RAM. On the weekends, it will be running Crafty to analyse various chess positions. Maybe the game I played on Thursday night. Who knows. It will be doing something anyway. It's always a shame to see computers not being used.



Sometime in April I added port forwarding for SSH to a WGR614v5 router so that I could connect to my old crappy Evo N115 running Debian Linux from anywhere. The router is on a BigPond cable connection.

Since then a lot of people have tried to break into it. I have no idea why as it's a very old computer (from March 2002) and there is nothing at all personal or interesting on it. I use it for integer programming problems in combinatorics and for playing with Debian Linux and that's it. The first people were from the webserver www.aname.co.kr ( at ANAM Electronics in Korea, on April 26 from 11:14 to 11:45 and on April 27 from 04:46 to 05:26. They tried 482 passwords for root (the system administrator account) and 7 passwords for "guset" (they couldn't even spell "guest"!) before giving up. Shouldn't they have been working hard? Anyway it made me curious, I wondered what kind of passwords they had been trying - I read the manpage for sshd_config to see if it could log the plaintext passwords they tried, but even debug level DEBUG3 doesn't do that, so I gave up. I couldn't be bothered editing the source code to keep track of what idiots are doing.

(It also made me think again about Korea, and whether people there have more tolerance for spam than in other countries, because it used to be one of the worst spam-origin countries. Now it's dropped to 7th place on the Spamhaus list of countries. But now having been there, I think people there are just as annoyed by spam as people anywhere else.)

niavaran:/var/log# (cat auth.log auth.log.0; gzip -dc auth.log.?.gz) | grep failure | tr ' ' '\n' | grep rhost= | sort | uniq -c |sort -n
1 rhost=
1 rhost=
1 rhost=
2 rhost=
3 rhost=
6 rhost=
7 rhost=
8 rhost=
9 rhost=cpe-071-071-245-176.carolina.res.rr.com
66 rhost=
87 rhost=
144 rhost=testmail.enserg.fr
182 rhost=velos.avacom.net
489 rhost=www.aname.co.kr
654 rhost=
946 rhost=
951 rhost=
1312 rhost=59-106-15-169.r-bl100.sakura.ne.jp
4467 rhost=



I want to publicly thank Jenny and Sule for their hospitality in Korea and Turkey. Jenny's sister drove me to Incheon Airport from downtown Seoul and petrol is much more expensive in Korea than in Australia. And in Turkey it's the most expensive in the world. KoƧ University has an idyllic location in Istanbul, it comes at the cost of being hard access via public transport though.

Someone told me that there were Baduk (Go) columns in every Korean newspaper. I decided to test this theory - I looked at the eight Saturday dailies available on the Korean Air flight and looked through each of them for the Go column. But only one of them had such a column. I should not have believed the person who told me that because she doesn't read newspapers anyway. :-)

Today, I burnt most of my pictures to DVD. Everything fits on one DVD if I leave off the "panoramic" shots... like for instance when I was going north on the Dangsan bridge from Dangsan to Hapjeong and took many shots of the bridge out of the left-hand windows (which bridge is that?) and also about 100 shots from the Seoul Tower windows (there are 48 windows in the observatory). One day I'll play with Photoshop and make it into a panoramic picture. The Homeplus DVD failed to verify correctly so it's just a coaster now. Waste of 1900 won.


Today I returned from Seoul! I have been eating soooooooooo much stuff: desserts at Twosome near Hongik University, Outback Steakhouse in Mokdong, Ipanema in Chung-dong... Today I got home, had a shower, walked over to the scales and I am 76.2kg and 14% body fat!! (It was 15% or 16% when I left.) This is just bizarre. Of course I have been walking all day every day catching the subway and so on. But still. Korean food must be good. Perhaps if I move to Seoul I will look like Hugh Jackman within a few months!!