Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Granville Sewell on natural processes, evolution and the second law of thermodynamics

Dr Granvill Sewell has just released a video outlining his concerns on the relationship between the evolutionary materialist view of origins and the second law of thermodynamics:

He had earlier observed:

. . . The second law is all about probability, it uses probability at the microscopic level to predict macroscopic change: the reason carbon distributes itself more and more uniformly in an insulated solid is, that is what the laws of probability predict when diffusion alone is operative. The reason natural forces may turn a spaceship, or a TV set, or a computer into a pile of rubble but not vice-versa is also probability: of all the possible arrangements atoms could take, only a very small percentage could fly to the moon and back, or receive pictures and sound from the other side of the Earth, or add, subtract, multiply and divide real numbers with high accuracy. The second law of thermodynamics is the reason that computers will degenerate into scrap metal over time, and, in the absence of intelligence, the reverse process will not occur; and it is also the reason that animals, when they die, decay into simple organic and inorganic compounds, and, in the absence of intelligence, the reverse process will not occur.

The discovery that life on Earth developed through evolutionary "steps," coupled with the observation that mutations and natural selection -- like other natural forces -- can cause (minor) change, is widely accepted in the scientific world as proof that natural selection -- alone among all natural forces -- can create order out of disorder, and even design human brains, with human consciousness. Only the layman seems to see the problem with this logic. In a recent Mathematical Intelligencer article ["A Mathematician's View of Evolution," The Mathematical Intelligencer 22, number 4, 5-7, 2000] I asserted that the idea that the four fundamental forces of physics alone could rearrange the fundamental particles of Nature into spaceships, nuclear power plants, and computers, connected to laser printers, CRTs, keyboards and the Internet, appears to violate the second law of thermodynamics in a spectacular way.1 . . . . 

What happens in a[n isolated] system depends on the initial conditions; what happens in an open system depends on the boundary conditions as well. As I wrote in "Can ANYTHING Happen in an Open System?", "order can increase in an open system, not because the laws of probability are suspended when the door is open, but simply because order may walk in through the door.... If we found evidence that DNA, auto parts, computer chips, and books entered through the Earth's atmosphere at some time in the past, then perhaps the appearance of humans, cars, computers, and encyclopedias on a previously barren planet could be explained without postulating a violation of the second law here . . . But if all we see entering is radiation and meteorite fragments, it seems clear that what is entering through the boundary cannot explain the increase in order observed here." Evolution is a movie running backward, that is what makes it special.

THE EVOLUTIONIST, therefore, cannot avoid the question of probability by saying that anything can happen in an open system, he is finally forced to argue that it only seems extremely improbable, but really isn't, that atoms would rearrange themselves into spaceships and computers and TV sets . . . [NB: Emphases added. I have also substituted in isolated system terminology as GS uses a different terminology. Cf as well his other remarks here and here.]

Of course, his point is hotly disputed by those who hold that the open system nature of the earth is sufficient to account for the origin of life and of its body plans. But, his core point is a serious one. 

If you want, my own thermodynamics thoughts are here, and my wider survey on origins is here. Such thoughts are set in a wider worldviews framework, here on, in context.

I trust these considerations will be at least a spark to think for your own self about some truly momentous issues. END

Monday, February 27, 2012

Capacity Focus, 35: The Royal Society (UK) Furber Report on Computing in schools -- the need to move beyond digital literacy to digital productivity through education in Information, Communication AND Control Technologies for all

The UK's Royal Society has just issued a major report on Computing in Schools, which, in a key clip, says:

At the turn of the century, the [UK] government responded to business needs by establishing Computing as a component of the National Curriculum, under the heading of ‘ICT’ – Information and Communications Technology – a mixture of many related components . . . We appear to have succeeded in making many people comfortable with using the technology that we find around us, but this seems to have been at the expense of failing to provide a deeper understanding of the rigorous academic subject of Computer Science and exposure to the opportunities for interest, excitement and creativity that even a modest mastery of the subject offers . . . .

We [Furber et al] aspire to an outcome where every primary school pupil has the opportunity to explore the creative side of Computing through activities such as writing computer programs (using a pupil-friendly programming environment such as Scratch1). At secondary school every pupil should have the opportunity to work with microcontrollers and simple robotics, build web-based systems, and similar activities. We recognise that not all pupils will wish to seize these opportunities, but they should be able to do so if they do wish to.
1 NB: Scratch is a “lego-brick” style educational programming language developed through MIT. Alice and Greenfoot are similar initiatives. Greenfoot has the advantage that it is in effect Java, and Alice “now” integrates with Java.
It is clear that the UK  is now contemplating giving all students a serious level exposure to computing, from primary level on, and that at secondary level, they are calling for exposure to the application of computing to control technologies, including microcontrollers and robotics. 

In short they see that digital literacy is not enough, we need digital productivity too.

This acknowledged need, of course, is the context of the recently released Raspberry Pi "computer on a business-card sized motherboard" and it underscores the significance of the stress on "adding a second C" to the now common ICT, for Control: ICCT. (Both of these issues have been discussed recently in the KF blog, here and here. Computer programming "for all" has been discussed here.)

What may be astonishing to many is the idea that all students should get exposure to computer programming from primary school level. 

A glance at an MIT video on how the Scratch language presents programming as a lego-bricks style click to build exercise can help us see how that would work:

Intro to Scratch from ScratchEd on Vimeo.

I am sure that this approach could be useful for a great many people who have gone on beyond the primary school age range! 

Indeed, the approach is now emerging as more or less standard for first educational programming languages, e.g. Alice and Greenfoot. (I would emphasise using a language that offers an easy migration path to Java or is a form of Java itself, as Greenfoot is.) 

In short, it looks like we can see a way to begin to build the digital productivity capacity we need to add to the digital literacy capacity that we increasingly recognise we need. END

Monday, February 13, 2012

Matt 24 watch, 151c: Some balancing thoughts on the threat of IslamISM (as opposed to the religious sensibilities of ordinary people who are of the Muslim faith tradition)

In following up on the breaking news post of yesterday, I ran across a video that we need to watch, "Islam: What the West needs to know."

Having said that, I have a caution that leads me to reframe the context of the video. 

For, in my estimation, it lends itself to a fundamental error: confusing ideologies and radicalised (and perhaps power-wielding) factions on the one hand, with the mass of people under the domination of the ideologues at any given time, or even across history.

To give a case in point, since 1979, the radical Shiite IslamISTS of Iran have ruled that country with an iron hand, and control the organs of power, arms, the economy, the media, education, the Mosques, etc. And yet, at every point where they have been able to make their voices heard, the ordinary Iranian people have made it absolutely clear that they do not accept the radical totalitarian ideologies and agendas of their cruel overlords. 

That is why these overlords have had to resort to snipers shooting protesters, and to draconian hanging judges, to forced sham marriages and rapes of condemned virgin women (God help us, evidently down to 10 or 12 years of age . . . ) on the eve of their hanging [as psycho-spiritual torture as there is a common Islamic belief that virgin women have a guaranteed place in heaven -- a former perpetrator reports that these victims spend the remainder of their last night on earth before they go out to face the hangman in a state of such screaming horror as is indescribable; it finally broke through to his conscience . . . ], much more of the worst sort of secret police methods and the like, to maintain their power over the people. 

Indeed, had it not been for the Guardian Council so-called vetting the candidates for elections, Mr Ahmadinejad would never be the President, announcer and face-card for the radical Mullahs.

Nor is this new. 

If we glance at the story of the Exodus, we will see how the hard-hearted autocrat ruling over Egypt under the pretence that he was a living god, clearly had even among his advisors those who were cautioning moderation. So also, when we look at how the Israelites were able to obtain gifts of jewels etc on the eve of their departure, the not so veiled sub-text is that the ordinary people of Egypt were not exactly in agreement with the overlords who had brought such ruin to the land, by their stubborn defiance of God and the cry of liberty. That is why also, we can see the presence of the so-called mixed multitude who went out with the core Israelites. Voting with their feet.

In short, we are seeing here yet another form of the moral tension that lies in all of our hearts:
(i) We are finite, fallible, morally fallen/struggling, and too often ill-willed; but equally,

(ii) There is in our hearts the in-built voice of conscience that reflects the core morality written into the fabric of our being that tells us in no uncertain terms that we are under moral government and must respect and treat our neighbours as we would wish to be treated by them.
That is why, when Locke set out to ground principles of liberty and justice in the community in Ch 2, Sec. 5 of his second treatise on civil government, he so effectively cited "the judicious [Anglican Canon Richard] Hooker":

. . . if I cannot but wish to receive good, even as much at every man's hands, as any man can wish unto his own soul, how should I look to have any part of my desire herein satisfied, unless myself be careful to satisfy the like desire which is undoubtedly in other men . . . my desire, therefore, to be loved of my equals in Nature, as much as possible may be, imposeth upon me a natural duty of bearing to themward fully the like affection. From which relation of equality between ourselves and them that are as ourselves, what several rules and canons natural reason hath drawn for direction of life no man is ignorant . . . [[Hooker then continues, citing Aristotle in The Nicomachean Ethics, Bk 8:] as namely, That because we would take no harm, we must therefore do none; That since we would not be in any thing extremely dealt with, we must ourselves avoid all extremity in our dealings; That from all violence and wrong we are utterly to abstain, with such-like . . . ] [[Eccl. Polity,preface, Bk I, "ch." 8, p.80, cf. here. Emphasis added.]

Having said this caution, let us be fair.  

There is no doubt that the following video cites accurate facts and texts, and it is fair comment to describe the founder of Islam (who is revered in Islamic tradition as a great example) as a C7 war-lord, caravan raider and oriental despot whose word was law. Indeed, when he felt it so or said it was so, Mohammed's word was regarded as unchangeable divine law.

Yes, Mohammed was also prone to assassinate opponents and critics, and seems to have at minimum personally supervised the beheading of the six or seven hundred members of the third of the three Jewish tribes of Yathrib, the city which took him in as leader when he fled Mecca; and which was re-named Medina. 

Yes, as well he kept a harem; including his favourite wife Aisha, whom -- per his earliest biographers -- he married at six or seven years of age and took from her dolls to his bridal chamber when she was nine or ten. (Apparently, that was how some elite men of Arabia acted at the time, but we should also note that there was no doubt that his affection for her was reciprocated and he literally died in Aisha's lap when she was eighteen, at sixty-two or sixty-three years of age.) 

And, for centuries thereafter, Islam was indeed spread by force of arms through Jihad leading to imposition of the then emerging Sharia [a theocratic law], and reduction of conquered peoples under Apartheid-like Dhimmitude.

And today, such IslamISM -- or as the Algerian moderates called it, Islamo-FASCISM -- is a global threat, in both Sunni and Shiite forms. Let us clip Spencer and Horowitz on this, from their online article, Why “Islamo-Fascism”?, to help clear the air:
When President Bush used the term “Islamo-Fascism” to describe the jihadists who have attacked us, many complained that it reflected prejudice against Muslims. The Council on American Islamic Relations, a “civil rights” organization with ties to the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, protested that the term “feeds the perception that the war on terror is actually a war on Islam.” In fact, the opposite is the truth. As the Algerian sociologist Marieme Helie Lucas explains, the term “Islamo-Fascism” was “initially coined by Algerian people struggling for democracy, against armed fundamentalist forces decimating people in our country, then later operating in Europe, where a number of us had taken refuge.” In other words, the term “Islamo-Fascism” originates with moderate Muslims under attack from Muslim radicals, who murdered more than 150,000 Muslims whom they regarded as infidels in Algeria in the 1990s.
Helie Lucas is the founder of the group Women Living Under Muslim Laws, which resists the oppression of women by these fanatics. The term Islamo-Fascism, as she explains, refers to “political forces working under the cover of religion in order to gain political power and to impose a theocracy (‘The Law’ -- singular -- of God, unchangeable, ahistorical, interpreted by self appointed old men) over democracy (i.e. the laws -- plural -- voted by the people and changeable by the will of the people).”
The term “Islamo-Fascism” does not refer to a generalized “war on Islam,” but to a defensive war against the attacks of radicals who have murdered hundreds of thousands of moderate Muslims, Jews, Christians, gays, women and infidels since the first radical Islamic state was formed in Iran in 1979, and the modern global jihad was launched in earnest.
Moderate Muslims who hold to Islam as a religion but reject its political ambitions are happy to live in pluralistic societies that separate religion from the state. Moderate Muslims are willing to live with non-Muslims as equals. It is these Muslims who are the victims of the Islamo-Fascists and the natural allies of the West, which is also the target of the jihad.
The jihadists, who are waging this war, are exponents of political – rather than religious – Islam. They are indeed fascists, sharing crucial ideological convictions with historical fascist movements. [Cf also Horowitz's rebuttal to IslamIST push-back rhetoric, here.]
That should be clear enough to those willing to listen, on the dangers of IslamIST ideology, ideologues and the street-level muscle that gives such ideologues power to kill with the poison in their tongues and pens. 

Let's put it a bit more directly: if you will not listen to the ghosts of 150,000 Algerian victims of such bloody-minded fanaticism, you have patently closed your mind and hardened your heart to the truth you should heed.

As also, Boko Haram is now showing any and all willing to listen in Nigeria.

But, I have no doubt -- there are hate sites out there that target this blog [and after over 100 poisonous comments clogging up my in-box from one of their operators, I have felt it wise to for now close off comments in this blog . . . ] -- that there are many who will seek to twist such words of warning into strawman caricatures to their rhetorical advantage, and that there are many who will be naively taken in by such willful disregard for truth or fairness. 

Let us recognise that such hoggish and willfully deceitful behaviour on the part of the manipulators simply exposes what spirit they are of. (And, yes, I just linked Matt 7:6 from the Sermon on the Mount: "Do not give that which is holy (the sacred thing) to the dogs, and do not throw your pearls before hogs, lest they trample upon them with their feet and turn and tear you in pieces." [AMP])

And, I have long since laid out principles and steps we can take in response to such malicious spin tactics.

All of this means that we should indeed heed the cautions in the video just below, as they tell us what can happen if we were to fall under ruthless IslamIST rule:

But on the other hand, we should not fall into the error of projecting unto ordinary people who are Muslims that they are necessarily like this, or are particularly prone to become like this. That is where the Tony Blairs, George Bushes and Condi Rices of this world do have a point: there are many moderate Muslim people and leaders, who simply are not, nor are they particularly prone to become, fanatics.

Where the Walid Shoebats and Robert Spencers of the world do have a point that we had better heed, is that the history of Islam is that, too often, radical factions and autocrats seize power in Islam, and appeal to the disturbing elements of Islamic history and tradition. Such are dangerous, just as those factions that seized power in Germany in the 1930s and set out to even subvert the Christian faith in support of their fanaticism, were. 

And for that matter, in the Middle Ages, popes and elites were able to exploit popular feelings to "justify" going to war in defence of Christendom and to retaliate for massacres of pilgrims, but all too soon this turned into the usual rapacity and organised theft and slaughter that wars are so notorious for becoming. 

So also, we must not forget how Christian theologians and elites in the days of the reformation said and did the indefensible. Nor, should we forget how it took centuries of struggle to reach a point where our civilisation was able to repudiate the African slave trade based on kidnapping -- something explicitly put under a sentence of death in the OT scriptures, and just as directly condemned in the NT as being utterly incompatible with eternal life. Then, it took the better part of a century and at least one bloody civil war to legally eradicate the actual institution of slavery itself.

In short, if we want to poke at real or imagined splinters in the despised other's eyes, we can sit around all day at it, and will in the end do little or no good to anyone. Indeed, we will only deepen the polarisation and the mutual rage that stabilises it. Instead, let us mutually acknowledge our finitude, proneness to error and to moral struggle, and see how we can work together to do better. let us determine to love neighbour, but recognise the destructive nature of sin and the reality that we all face it. 

Then, let us pledge to build bridges not walls and to thus work together for good even across the most profound differences and disagreements.

But a legitimate part of this is what his video does well: we do have to expose problems and deal with fanatical factions and power elites, including resisting their aggression and propaganda efforts, not sweep them under the carpet.

So, now, let us watch and let us understand in a wider context, then let us act with grim resolve. END

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Matt 24 watch, 151b: Breaking, Iran rumoured to be on verge of a bomb trigger

I have just been to WND, and see a report as below, that follows up from this report of a week ago:

>>Countdown! Iran's finger on nuclear trigger
2 warheads, payloads could be weaponized in weeks

By Reza Kahlili
WASHINGTON – Iranian nuclear experts have completed the component for a nuclear bomb trigger, overcoming a major obstacle in obtaining the bomb, according to sources within Iran.

As reported last May, the Iranian nuclear and military industries, under the order of Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, were to weaponize at least two warheads with a nuclear payload no later than next month.

Sources within the Revolutionary Guards reveal that the work on the trigger is taking place covertly under the control of the Guards in the cities of Darkhovin and Isfahan . . . .

The IAEA last November indicated that Iran had experimented with firing multiple detonators with a high level of simultaneity. The report also indicated that Iran as early as 2003 began a large-scale experiment to initiate a high-explosive charge in the form of a hemispherical shell. This indicates work on a nuclear bomb. . . . [MORE]>>

Israel Matzav adds that the author is an ex Revolutionary guard (the byline at WND adds, former CIA operative), and that Israel-based blog observes that the report in 2007 that took a military option off the table at that time, is dubious in light of evidence pointing to work on nuke bomb triggers since 2003.

Further to all this, it seems from the report that Iran may soon launch a one-ton payload satellite, which would be essentially equivalent to its having inter-continental range ballistic missile [ICBM] capacity.

This initial report seems to be unique, and many will brush off the source, but given the known trends and recent announcements by the Iranian leadership that they will shortly have something major to say, this will bear watching. END


F/N: A glimpse of the underlying Mahdist thinking can be gathered from Kahlili's condensed version of a Farsi language Iranian documentary, with English sub-titles. The men from the east spoken of in the video are probably the Black Flag army from Khorasan of the end of days Hadiths on the rise of the world-conquering Mahdi, interpreted in Shiite Islam as the 12th Imam:

The video note at Youtube says:
The edit and translation is by Reza Kahlili (Copyright: Reza Kahlili) - (The original Farsi version is over one hour long and the makers have stated specifically that there are no restrictions on copying said video. They have also asked the public to distribute the video). For more information about this movie and on the book "A Time to Betray", please visit: http://atimetobetray.com/
 F/N: Update, news article here.

Capacity Focus, 34: The rising cost of "made in China" as an opportunity/challenge for industrial development and capacity building

On Feb 2nd, The Motley Fool investment analysts published an analysis of how rising labour costs in China are changing the balance of industrial competitiveness factors, based on a study by the legendary Boston Consultants Group:
In 2010, a Chinese worker could produce just 27% of what his/her American counterpart could for every hour worked. Not because Chinese workers are lazier, nor because American workers are a dialed-in group of high-efficiency automatons. No, American workers hold the advantage largely because of our head start on automation -- we've got better machines . . . . Rising wages in China further erode the advantages of setting up shop there . . . . 

[Now,] labor doesn't account for all of the costs of making a product. As the report's authors note, "Labor content ranges from only about 7 percent for products like video cameras to about 25 percent for a machined auto part." Therefore, since 2000, the tradeoffs for Chinese labor have been economically beneficial for global companies.

But while Chinese laborers are making steady gains in productivity, so too are their wages. BCG offers a succinct view: "Although we forecast that Chinese productivity growth will remain impressive ... output per worker will increase at only half the pace of the rise in wages." In other words, multinational corporations are going to be getting weaker and weaker returns on their investments in Chinese labor.
According to BCG the pattern over the past decade or so has been:

BCG (Fair Use): Chinese vs American workers -- Productivity vs Labour costs, 2000 - 2015 (estimate)
That looks and sounds rather familiar to us in the Caribbean: even with primitive techniques, once we are in a global era, sufficiently low labour costs can give a competitive edge. 

Chopping cane by machete was good enough to more or less keep our economies going for generations, but at the cost of having a large, impoverished, poorly educated peasantry. But, if we then have a rising expectation on wage rates social services and living conditions, we can price ourselves out of the market. 

That could of course open the door to someone who is even hungrier and willing to chop canes more cheaply. But, what happens if someone invents a sugar cane harvester that beats what a village full of cane choppers can do?

A Cane harvester in action -- notice how few people are needed (Source: Earth U [Costa Rica], fair use. Note the EU proposals to modify the harvester to make cane harvesting play a bigger role in a green energy future. Notice as well their note on how dangerous manual harvesting is, with Brazil suffering about 100 deaths per year 2002 -5.)
Especially, if our cane choppers and their children have an elementary school education only, or maybe the children have access to high schools and colleges that fit them to be clerks or teachers of academic subjects, but not to be an effective industrial workforce?

Of course, we can build hotels on our beaches and work as construction workers, room maids, cooks, gardeners, taxi drivers, waiters and porters.

But then, when oil prices shoot up, or a hurricane hits, or crime makes our destinations less attractive, we are right back in the problem.

Mottley Fool's argument is of course that US workers, especially in the relatively low cost semi-third world states, are again attractive. Attractive because they have sufficient education, sufficient productivity and the ability to work with high tech factories, that the market factors are re-balancing.

But, that points to Mexico and the Caribbean as well.

And, it highlights the desperate need to have sufficient education in the relevant technology fields that our people can work with factories and systems based on information, communication and controls technologies [Let's call that ICCT's], on a competitive basis.

So, we are right back to the need to find a way to teach computing for all, to teach interfacing, electronics and controls for all, and to exploit modular, low cost technological systems and approaches such as the Arduino or the Raspberry Pi that enhance our own firms and farms. We have to look at mechatronics and robotics. And more. 

Or, we lock ourselves out.

The message is clear: we need to rethink our education, our productivity systems, and our stance in the relevant markets. 

Sure, renewed and retargetted agriculture can be a part of the mix. 

Sure, we will continue to be competitive for now as a tourism destination. 

Sure, we are dipping our toes in the IT world. 

But, we dare not neglect the use of ICCTs in industry, commerce, institutions, and the farm. 

And our decision-makers and influencers have to open up their minds to this world, and decide that we must move ahead, or we will find ourselves locked out of the gateways to prosperity in the decades ahead.

Which also means we have to rethink and revamp our education and training systems.

For, much of what we need pivots on our building up the ability to be effective and productive with the world of technology. Where also, too much of what I am seeing shows a focus on tech as cool toys and entertainment gadgets. We are digital consumers, not digital producers.

In a digital age where Apple has rocketed to the top ranks of global firms by being the digital producer and purveyor to the digital consumer, that should get our attention, bigtime.

Let's lay out some numbers for Apple, as at Fri afternoon, Feb 10, 2012:
Share price: US$ 493.42 (and rising)
52 wk range: US$ 310.50 - 497.62
Price/Earnings: 14.04
Market Capitalisation: US$ 460.05 Billion
That's a lot of iPads, iPods, iPhones, iTunes, and iOS Apps!

Business Summary:
Apple Inc., together with subsidiaries, designs, manufactures, and markets mobile communication and media devices, personal computers, and portable digital music players; and sells related software, services, peripherals, networking solutions, and third-party digital content and applications worldwide. Its products and services include iPhone, iPad, Mac, iPod, Apple TV, the iOS and Mac OS X operating systems, iCloud, and various accessory and support offerings, as well as a range of consumer and professional software applications. The company sells its products and services to consumers, small and mid-sized business, education, enterprise, and government customers through its retail stores, online stores, and direct sales force, as well as through third-party cellular network carriers, wholesalers, retailers, and value-added resellers. In addition, it offers various third-party iPhone, iPad, Mac, and iPod compatible products, including application software, printers, storage devices, speakers, headphones, and other accessories and peripherals, through its online and retail stores; and digital content and applications through the iTunes Store, App Store, iBookstore, and Mac App Store. As of September 24, 2011, the company had 357 retail stores, including 245 stores in the United States and 112 stores internationally. Apple Inc. was founded in 1976 and is headquartered in Cupertino, California.
The message should be screaming from our headlines on our news-stands, and it should be saturating our news, talking heads shows and call-in programmes. Our educators and parents should be putting it at the head of every PTA meeting agenda.

That, by and large this just is not happening, or not sufficiently, is flipping a red flag warning on our being dangerously out of touch with crucial trends in our time.

Hence, again, of course, the significance of a digital age oriented technical side of the AACCS proposal for a regional cyber college and micro-campus centre based associate programme. 

But of course, the issues are much, much wider than that.

So, again: why not now, why not here, why not us? END

Friday, February 03, 2012

Matt 24 watch, 151: Is a nuke-threshold (or outright nuclear) war looming over the ME Horizon?

The latest assassination of an Iranian nuclear scientist by a car bomb, a few weeks back, strongly suggests -- with the Stuxnet cyber attacks that seem to have damaged a lot of nuke material concentration centrifuges -- that major covert action has been ongoing to try to delay Iran's breakout to a nuke bomb and missile package. 

Likewise, Iran is facing increasing sanctions. 

However, for years now, sanctions and talks (predictably) have in the end consistently proved inadequate.

As the Irish Times (acc. through WND) reports on the ongoing annual Herzliya security conference in Israel:
THE HEAD of the Israeli army’s military intelligence branch, Maj Gen Aviv Kochavi, says Iran already has enough enriched uranium to make four atom bombs.
In a rare public appearance, he told the annual Herzliya security conference Israel has conclusive evidence that Teheran is trying to develop nuclear weapons.
“Iran is vigorously pursuing military nuclear capabilities and today the intelligence community agrees with Israel on that. Iran has over four tonnes of enriched materials and nearly 100kg of 20 per cent enriched uranium – that’s enough for four bombs,” he said.
The technical capability exists, the general said, and the final decision to manufacture a nuclear bomb will be taken by one man.
“When Khamenei gives the order to produce the first nuclear weapon – it will be done, we believe, within one year.”
As a window into the thinking of this sole decision-maker,  WND gives us a peek into what he said just a few days ago to delegates from all across the ME at an Iran-sponsored conference on what the media have been announcing over the past year as The Arab Spring (which is now rapidly becoming The IslamIST Winter -- as was warned against but largely ignored): 
“In light of the realization of the divine promise by almighty God, the Zionists and the Great Satan (America) will soon be defeated,” Ayatollah Khamenei, the Iranian supreme leader, is warning.
Khamenei, speaking to hundreds of youths from more than 70 countries attending a world conference on the Arab Spring just days ago, told a cheering crowd in Tehran that “Allah’s promises will be delivered and Islam will be victorious.”
The countries represented included Bahrain, Egypt, Libya, Palestine and Tunisia, all of which have been involved in the Arab Spring.
In his remarks, Khamenei advised the youths to remain vigilant, stating that the Islamic awakening in the region has delivered several blows to the enemies of Islam and that all Muslims, despite their own historical and social differences, remain united in opposing the “evil hegemony of the Zionists and the Americans.”
Khamenei then claimed the current century as the century of Islam and promised that human history is on the verge of a great event and that soon the world will realize the power of Allah.
Many clerics in Iran have stated that Khamenei is the deputy of the last Islamic messiah on earth and that obedience to him is necessary for the final glorification of Islam.
For years, Iran has been announcing the expected advent of the Islamic end times deliverer figure, the Mahdi, who in the Shiite  version of Islam, is the re-emergence from seclusion of the so-called 12th Imam of Islam.  

According to Hadiths -- recorded traditions of Mohammed that form in effect the second Islamic holy book -- the Mahdi is expected to come from the direction of Khorasan (= Eastern Iran and east beyond), with the all-conquering black flag army. It is worth the while to excerpt the earlier KF blog post:

something is seriously wrong with how we are learning our history and with how we are therefore thinking about current issues and challenges. Something that is therefore potentially fatally dividing and polarising our civilisation. And, just when we need to stand together with moral clarity and resolute determination to see the struggle through in the face of a rising existential global totalitarian threat.
What "global threat"?
The what?

The fact that we don't know the phrase is itself an evidence of what is going on.
So, let's pause a moment, to hear Sheik Muhammad Hisham Kabani – a chairman of the Islamic Supreme Council of America -- on the relevant hadiths (traditions of Mohammed):

“Hadith indicate that black flags [the flags of the army of Islam; now often seen in street protests] coming from the area of Khorasan will signify the appearance of the Mahdi is nigh. Khorasan is in todays Iran, and some scholars have said that this hadith means when the black flags appear from Central Asia, i.e. in the direction of Khorasan, then the appearance of the Mahdi is imminent.”

[The Approach of Armageddon? (Canada, Supreme Muslim Council of America, 2003), p. 231. (NB Others point out that Khorasan formerly referred to areas E & NE of Persian Empire; and point to the Taliban as the probable black flag army.) [HT: J Richardson, Will Islam be our Future?] ]

Then, let us hear no less than the Government of Iran speak, from the words of an official message to the world at Christmas 2007 in a Shiite IslamIST variation on the above Islamic traditions [note my distinctions], so that we can connect a few dots:
[T]he exploitation of the weak, the unjust system of distribution and denial of the rights of nations [i.e. inter alia Iran's "right" to break its former commitments under the Non Proliferation treaty, and access the technologies for the weapons that would equip it to "wipe Israel from the face of the map"], will end with the reappearance of Imam Mahdi (AS). In the government of the Imam man will witness real economic welfare throughout the world without any discrimination

. . . . Imam Mahdi and steadfast devotees will gather in Mecca . . . . Imam Mahdi sends troops who kill the Sofyani in Beit ol-Moqaddas [i.e. Jerusalem], the Islamic holy city in Palestine that is currently under occupation of the Zionists. . . . Imam Mahdi will be the leader while Prophet Jesus [NB: the Islamic end times no. 2 to the Mahdi: Isa, not the Biblical Jesus!] will act as his lieutenant in the struggle against oppression and establishment of justice in the world. Jesus had himself given the tidings of the coming of God's last messenger and will see Mohammad's ideals materialize in the time of the Mahdi. The seat of the Mahdi’s global government will be the city of Kufa [a Shiite city and centre of pilgrimage in Iraq] . . . .From here he will dominate the east and the west to fill the earth with justice.
And what will happen when Jerusalem is captured?

For that, we observe Egyptian authors Muhammad ibn Izzat and Muhammd ‘Arif, writing in Signs of Qiyamah (Islamic Book Service, New Delhi, 2004), p. 40:

The Mahdi will be victorious and eradicate those pigs and dogs [this is an allusion to an Islamic tradition that Jews were punished by Allah by being transformed into pigs, apes etc] and the idols of this time so that there will once more be a caliphate based on prophethood as the hadith states… Jerusalem will be the location of the rightly guided caliphate and the center of Islamic rule, which will be headed by Imam al-Mahdi… That will abolish the leadership of the Jews… and put an end to the domination of the Satans who spit evil into people and cause corruption in the earth, making them slaves of false idols and ruling the world by laws other than the Shari’a [Islamic Law] of the Lord of the worlds. [HT: JR]

Genocide, in one word. Or, as a notorious hadith that is cited verbatim in Hamas' charter, Clause 7, puts it:
"The Day of Judgement will not come about until Muslims fight the Jews (killing the Jews). When the Jew will hide behind stones and trees, the stones and trees will say O Muslims, O Abdulla [= slave or servant of Allah], there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him. Only the Gharqad tree would not do that because it is one of the trees of the Jews." (related by Sahih al-Bukhari and Muslim).
Summing up in the words of Joel Richardson:
Islamic tradition pictures the Mahdi as joining with the army of Muslim warriors carrying black flags. The Mahdi will then lead this army to Israel and re-conquer it for Islam. The Jews will be slaughtered until very few remain and Jerusalem will become the location of the Mahdi’s rule over the Earth.
In short, our civilisation now faces an ideology driven by an end-times global conquest mindset; one that is now on the verge of not only ballistic missiles but the nuclear bombs to put on them. One committed to the genocide of the Jews of Israel, and the conquest of the whole earth until it is duly submitted to Allah, to Allah's Prophet, to Allah's Law, and to Allah's Warriors led by Imam Mahdi.

One that of course has territorial claims against Israel: lands once under Islam must be recovered by any means necessary. 

(It is not at all a matter of who has legitimate historic claims to the land. The Jews obviously do, and the long term residents -- many of whom are Arabs -- do as well. If that was all that was at stake, any one of the many opportunities to get a reasonable compromise deal that would develop the region to the mutual benefit of all its peoples would have worked: in 1919, in 1947 - 48, in 1967, in 1977 - 79, in 1993 - 2000 and onward up to today. The hadith cited as clause 7 of the Hamas Charter tells us why all such deals have consistently failed, and why they consistently failed from the Arab side, with violence. [Post Colonialist myths about a Jewish colonising state that has imposed "Apartheid Mark II" on its Arab neighbours simply fail to explain the easily accessed facts. In fact, the closest thing to a colonial overlord was the British Mandatory Power under the 1919 Versailles-League of Nations regime. And, a League Mandate was very different from your typical colony! What, with annual reports to the League, on progress and issues, etc!])

But equally, IslamISM has claims that bear the same rationale against Spain -- al Andaluz.

Nowadays -- courtesy Dr Sultana Afroz's tendentious teachings that the original Spanish settlement of the Caribbean was Moorish [thus Islamic] and that most of the slaves brought here were Muslims, IslamISTS have similar claims against our Caribbean region as well . . . . So, the threat is a little more directly relevant than we might think.
We must never forget, that in IslamIST eyes, the much celebrated "peace" of Islam -- as in: Islam is the religion of peace -- is only attained under the hegemony of Allah, Allah's Prophet, Allah's law and Allah's warriors. In the meanwhile, the world is in two camps: the domain of Islam, and the domain of war. The latter, to be defeated, final victory being achieved under Mahdi, as excerpted.

In that ideological-apocalyptic context, the proposed NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan will be seen by IslamIST radicals as a defeat for enemies of Mahdi, Iran sees itself as the vanguard for said Mahdi, and the Arab Spring/IslamIST Winter is patently seen as preparing the wider region for the first stage of Mahdi's triumph. He is to subjugate the ME, massacre Jews, and with the re-emerged Isa [Islamic version of Jesus], the world to the East and the West is to be dominated.

Clearly, Khameni either takes this very seriously, or sees an opportunity for Iranian hegemony based on this sentiment. Or, both.

As this blog already noted, Mr Netanyahu, Israel's current Prime Minister, in his UN General Assembly reply to Mr Abbas, was grimly determined to warn that in the end, Israel will act in the face of existential threats. Youtube.

Against that backdrop, we can understand the following from The Washington Post, under the headline, "Is Israel preparing to attack Iran?":
[US Defense Secretary, Leon] Panetta believes there is a strong likelihood that Israel will strike Iran in April, May or June — before Iran enters what Israelis described as a “zone of immunity” to commence building a nuclear bomb. Very soon, the Israelis fear, the Iranians will have stored enough enriched uranium in deep underground facilities to make a weapon — and only the United States could then stop them militarily . . . 
The report goes on to note:
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak may have signaled the prospect of an Israeli attack soon when he asked last month to postpone a planned U.S.-Israel military exercise that would culminate in a live-fire phase in May. Barak apologized that Israel couldn’t devote the resources to the annual exercise this spring.

President Obama and Panetta are said to have cautioned the Israelis that the United States opposes an attack, believing that it would derail an increasingly successful international economic sanctions program and other non-military efforts to stop Iran from crossing the threshold. But the White House hasn’t yet decided precisely how the United States would respond if the Israelis do attack. 
The Obama administration is conducting intense discussions about what an Israeli attack would mean for the United States: whether Iran would target U.S. ships in the region or try to close the Strait of Hormuz; and what effect the conflict and a likely spike in oil prices would have on the fragile global economy.
The administration appears to favor staying out of the conflict unless Iran hits U.S. assets, which would trigger a strong U.S. response . . . .
U.S. officials see two possible ways to dissuade the Israelis from such an attack: Tehran could finally open serious negotiations for a formula to verifiably guarantee that its nuclear program will remain a civilian one; or the United States could step up its covert actions to degrade the program so much that Israelis would decide that military action wasn’t necessary.
By the time the Iranians hit US assets directly and openly, of course, they will have long since had the nuke-tipped, 6,000+ mile range missiles to back up such actions, and/or the nuke suicide bomber squads fired by visions of seventy two perpetually renewed virgins to smuggle in so-called backpack or suitcase nukes through the highly porous Mexican or Canadian borders of the US.

The current US estimate is that Israel is not bluffing, though many Israeli military and policy leaders are skeptical about the likely effectiveness of a strike that will almost certainly become a wedge issue with the Obama Administration; Israel, after all is notoriously being type-cast as the neighbourhood bully in the ME.  This would be simply an extension of the longstanding rift between Israel and the current administration in the US, it being clear to all with eyes to see and ears to hear that Mr Obama is no heart-felt friend of Israel. And, of course, many in our region will be all too willing to go on and on and on in that vein.

But, that neighbourhood bully factor should be balanced by the historical note that in 1967, when Israel saw itself as under credible threat of annihilation (due to the Nasser-led Ring of steel, and oil strangulation attempt through the Straights of Tiran), despite major doubts on what such a strike could achieve, Israel struck by air -- using, by and large, inferior aircraft -- against the Egyptian and other Arab air forces, and backed that up with a tank led attack that in the main used patched up and modified WW II era Sherman tanks against the Egyptian tank forces. 

The resulting astonishing triumph, we know today as the Six Day War.

The Israeli blog, Israel Matzav, reflects:
If we reach the point where the military option against Iran is about to become "use it or lose it," I highly doubt our government will lose it. I don't think any Israeli government - Right or Left - could risk the consequences of losing that military option and then God forbid Iran obtaining nuclear weapons.

I don't believe the US can stop this with sanctions and I don't believe negotiations would be anything but a stalling tactic. I believe the US can stop it with A LOT of covert action that significantly degrades Iran's nuclear program, but then it won't be so covert, will it?

Even if we only manage to put Iran off for a year, that year could have a huge advantage: There may be a new President in Washington who is more willing to confront Iran.
The bloggist then asks, "What could go wrong?"

Obviously, a lot.

But if Israel sees its survival at stake at the hands of an extremist Iranian regime that has backed terrorism for thirty-odd years, which has been threatening annihilation of Israel for years, and which has been the main backer for what is now a ring of apparently up to 200,000 rockets (mostly 25 mile range, but several thousands have much longer ranges) in Lebanon, Syria and Gaza, there is but little doubt that Israel is willing to strike.

For, even if the programme is only postponed by a year, that could be decisive.

And, I have but little doubt that Israel would be willing to use nuke bunker busters to take out hardened Iranian targets. Similarly, if Israel strikes, it is unlikely it will just strike nuclear targets, anything connected to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and the regime will be fair game.

That is why we need to take the following statement from Israel's Defense Minister quite seriously:
Israel's defense minister says there is growing international awareness that military action against Iran's nuclear program will have to be considered.

Ehud Barak told a security conference on Thursday in Herzliya, Israel, that he senses a change in international thinking. He says world leaders are increasingly realizing that if sanctions don't stop Iran's nuclear program, "there will be a need to consider action."
Israel, like the West, believes Iran is developing nuclear weapons. Israel has been a leading voice in calls to curb the Iranian program. Iran says its nuclear program is peaceful.
Israel has repeatedly hinted it is ready to attack Iran, saying that while it prefers a diplomatic solution, "all options are on the table."
This was backed up by comments to the same conference by Israel's Strategic Affairs Minister, Moshe Yaalon, that appear in the main body of the same Newsmax.com article:
Iran's suspected nuclear weapons installations are vulnerable to possible military strikes, Israel's vice premier warned Thursday, suggesting that underground bunkers don't offer sufficient protection . . . .

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta recently said even the most sophisticated U.S. bunker-buster bombs [presumably, conventional explosives ones] aren't powerful enough to penetrate all of Iran's defenses.
Yaalon, a former military chief of staff, suggested Thursday that forces guarding the nuclear installations could be targeted. Referring to the debate over bunker-buster bombs, he said that "at the end of the day it's possible to strike all the installations."
If conventional munitions, however sophisticated, are likely to be inadequate, that strongly suggests that nuke bunker busters -- perhaps, launched as GPS-guided cruise missiles from Israel's submarines in the context of an air strike that would saturate and distract Iran's defenses -- are on the table.

Multiply all of this by Iran's increasing bellicosity, threats to cut the world's oil-jugular vein through the Straights of Hormuz, and general ME instability over the past year that is rapidly putting IslamIST regimes in place in keystone Arab states. Blend in Turkey's shift back to a ME orientation and rising IslamISM.

Nuke threshold or outright nuclear war is plainly looming over the ME horizon, perhaps within the next several months to a year now.

That suggests major disruptions to the vital oil markets, and yet another oil price spike, probably to unheard of levels, US$ 200 - 300 or even more, if things break down sufficiently spectacularly. 

Here in our region that would probably severely disrupt our tourism trade, and the trade patterns we depend on for food and general consumption.

In addition, we must remember that regional power, Venezuela, is an Iranian ally, so fighting in the ME could have spillover effects in our region, especially if the US is involved one way or another.

All of this is deeply painful to consider, but we need to think about it very seriously and prepare for the possible consequences of a world that tumbles into even more dangerous developments in the ever-unstable Middle East. END

F/N Feb 4: Debates on when Iran moves into the immunity zone. The Israelis are evidently thinking: within six months, the Americans: maybe double that, and are hoping sanctions will work within six months.