Thursday, March 31, 2011

Iranian film says Muslim messiah returning soon

Ahmadinejad (Daniella Zalcman

A documentary video, “The Coming is Near,” released on March 28 by the Iranian government promotes the idea that the Mahdi, an apocalyptic Muslim messiah, is about to return to usher a new Islamic civilization.  The documentary is based in Twelver Muslim theology to which many of Iran’s highest leaders subscribe. 

Twelver Muslims are a branch of Shia (Shiite) Islam.  Shiites and Sunnis, two factions prominent in the Iraq War, split after the death of Muhammad in A.D. 632 in a disagreement over who his successor should be.  Sunnis, the dominant branch of Islam, believe that leadership should be by elected leaders, while Shiites believe that Muslim leaders should come from Muhammad’s family line.  The Shia believe that there were twelve such leaders, called imams, although many Shia religious leaders use the title today.

The twelfth imam, Imam al-Mahdi, lived in Samarra, Iraq and was last seen in A.D. 874.  Twelvers believe that the Mahdi is in “occultation,” in the spirit world, where he is still alive.  They believe that he will one day return during a time of world chaos to usher in a worldwide Islamic caliphate (kingdom). 

According to the Iranian documentary (you can see a translated version here), the second coming of the Mahdi will occur in the near future.   Although the Mahdi is not mentioned in the Koran, his return is discussed the hadiths, collections of narrative sayings by Islamic leaders.  Some of the signs of the Mahdi’s return discussed in the film include fear, earthquakes, and sedition throughout the world.  Cultural decay, such as adultery, homosexuality, and women not wearing the hejab (head scarf and/or veil) are also cited.

The film addresses recent world events and singles out the United States and Israel as sources of evil in the world.  It also specifically points to several nations that the film’s producers believe are keys to the return of the Mahdi.  Most obviously, Iraq, home to many of the world’s Shiites, is mentioned.  Twelvers believe that Iraq will be central to the conflicts that precede the Mahdi’s return as well as the eventual  capitol of the Mahdi’s worldwide Islamic caliphate.  In the final battle against Israel, Iraqi forces will march under flags that say “Alghovah.”

The film also mentions Yemen, one of many Arab nations where protesters are demanding the resignation of the ruling authoritarian government.  The film focuses on the Shiite guerillas allied with al-Qaeda.  Yemen was the origin of several bombs sent to the U.S. and U.K. in October 2010.  According to the hadiths about the Mahdi, Yemen will be the embroiled in a revolution prior to the Mahdi’s second coming.  When the Mahdi returns, one of his first battles will be against an army of one of the Yemeni tribes.  Yemeni soldiers will be among the first to enter Mecca after the Mahdi’s return.

The hadiths also refer to turmoil in Egypt.  The filmmakers say that that the people of Egypt were prophesied to rise up and kill their leader, plunging the country into turmoil.  The people of Egypt recently ousted their dictator, Hosni Mubarak, but they did not kill him.  Thus far, the Egyptian revolution has been relatively peaceful.

Saudi Arabia, the location of Mecca, also is found the film’s interpretation of Islamic prophecy.  The hadiths mention a royal line that some Muslim theologians believe is the house of Saud.  The death of a Saudi king named Abdullah is one of the key signs of the Mahdi’s return.  The current king of Saudi Arabia is named Abdullah and is suffering from an unspecified and possibly life-threatening illness.

It is perhaps unsurprising to anyone familiar with the Middle East that the Twelvers believe that Palestine (Israel) is also central to their end-time prophecies.  Imam Ali, the first imam after the Sunni-Shia split, said that Jews would come from the west and take control of Palestine while Arabs were divided.  According the film, Jewish control would last “until the time that the Arabs rid themselves of the influence of others, take back control of their affairs, and once again have strong determination.  At that time, they shall conquer the land of Palestine and the Arabs will be victorious and united.”  The destruction of Israel is the most important event marking the Mahdi’s return.

Khamenei (Dragonfire1024/Wikimedia)
Also unsurprising is the Iranian view of Iran’s role in the Mahdi’s return.  The filmmakers believe that the 1979 revolution was a precursor to the Mahdi’s return and that Iran’s purpose is to prepare the way for the Mahdi.  Muhammad is believed to have said, “In the end of time, descendents of Imam Ali will join ranks, their hearts close to one another through the cause of Ruhollah.”  The film depicts this is a reference to the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who they believe fulfills the prophecy of the man from Qom (a city in Iran where Khomeini studied). 

Imam Bagher, the fifth imam, is quoted in the film as saying, “I can see that the oppressed will rise from the East and request their rights and justice, but when it is ignored, they draw their swords and confront the enemy and that is how they succeed.  But they are not satisfied until all will revolt to see the guidance of the last messiah and their killed will be one of Martyrs.”

The film also discusses the primary characters in the Mahdi prophecies.  The Sofiani is only briefly mentioned in the film, but other sources indicate that this is a bloodthirsty leader with links to Syria.  The Sofiani will send an army to oppose the Mahdi.  He will also kill women and children.  Ironically, suicide bombers, terrorists, and Arab dictators all make war on women and children.

Seyed Khorasani is another prominent figure.  The film says that he is a high official who controls a great army and will pass the flag of Islam to the Mahdi.  He will reportedly be from the town of Bani Hashem and the province of Khorasan (although Bani Hashem is in Hormozgan rather than Khorasan).  He will also have a sign or disorder in his right hand and is associated with black flags.  The film claims that Ayatollah Ali Khamenei may be Seyed Khorasani.  Khamenei is from Mashad, which is in Khorasan, and his right arm has been paralyzed since an assassination attempt in 1981.

The Yamani is also named in the film.  Yamani is a soldier of the Mahdi with strong ties to Yemen.  The film points to Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of the terrorist group Hezbollah, as the Yamani.  The film claims that he was born in Yemen and immigrated to Lebanon, but western sources indicate that he was actually born in Beirut.

Finally, Shoeib-Ebne Saleh is the commander-in-chief appointed 72 months prior to the Mahdi’s second coming.  Saleh is appointed by Seyed Khorasani with the goal of capturing Jerusalem.  Not surprisingly, the identity of Shoeib-Ebne Saleh is purported to be none other than Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.  Ahmadinejad was took office on August 6, 2005.  In the estimation of the filmmakers, end time events will be occurring 72 months, six years, after Ahmadinejad’s inauguration.  That will be this August. 

Putin and Khamenei.  Ezekiel prophesied an alliance between Russia and Iran (
Accordingly, Ayatollah Khamenei is quoted in the film as saying,   “I can tell you with utmost confidence:  The promise of Allah for The Coming and the establishment of a new Islamic civilization is on its way.”  The approaching date of August 2011 also explains the title of the documentary.  The leaders of Iran truly believe that the emergence of their Islamic messiah is only a few months from occurring. 

Many Georgians might be surprised to know that there is a Twelver Shia congregation in Atlanta.  The Dar-e-Abbas Islamic Center in Lilburn describes itself as adhering to the “Ashari (Twelver) Shiah tradition of Islam” on its Facebook page.  Several attempts were made to contact Dar-e-Abbas by email and telephone, but thus far no response has been received. 

Many western observers, particularly those who are secular, may discount the effect of Twelver prophetic beliefs on the geopolitical actions of Iran’s leadership.  However, Ahmadinejad and Khamenei have a long history of working to prepare the world for the Mahdi.  Their goal of a Muslim Jerusalem and an Islamic caliphate extending around the world puts them on a collision course, not only with Israel, but with the United States and most of the rest of the world.  If the Iranian regime obtains nuclear weapons, they may set in motion events that will spark a large-scale atomic holy war.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Even $4 gas doesn't make "green" cars cost effective

President Obama in a Chevy Volt
As the Libyan crisis sends oil prices skyward, many Georgians may be considering the purchase of a hybrid or electric car.  Hybrids, such as the Toyota Prius, have become popular in recent years.  More recently, electric cars such as the Chevy Volt have been introduced.

According to, the average gas price in Georgia has risen to $3.43 per gallon.  According to the Energy Information Administration, this is still below the national average of $3.56.  California’s average price topped the nation at $3.96. 

Again according to the E.I.A., until this year national average gas prices had hovered in the $2.70 range since the end of the gas spike of 2008 and the beginning of the recession.  The current national average represents an increase of about $1.25 over the price for the last two years.  Those drivers considering buying a hybrid should consider whether a hybrid or electric car is more cost effective than a traditional gas-powered economy car.

To determine whether a “green” car is cost effective, compare them to traditional gasoline-driven cars.  The new Chevy Volt is an electric car.  The website of Jim Ellis Chevrolet in Atlanta lists a 2011 Volt at $44,695.  For comparison, Sandy Springs Ford offers a 2011 Ford Focus for $14,999, a difference of $29,696. 

Assuming that gas prices continue to rise to $4.00 per gallon, as some in President Obama’s administration might like, a driver would have to purchase more than 7,424 gallons of gas for their Focus.  Assuming all city driving at an efficiency of 24 MPG, this would mean driving more than 178,176 miles.  According to the Federal Highway Administration, the average driver only drives 13,476 miles per year.  At that rate, it would take over thirteen years for the Volt to break even.  The mileage would be even higher if more driving is done on the highway where fuel efficiency is greater. 

A similar comparison can be done with a hybrid auto.  The Japanese earthquake has caused a temporary increase in the price of the Toyota Prius as supplies of the car from Japan have been interrupted, but other hybrids and electric cars are available on the market at normal prices.  For example, Ford offers a Fusion hybrid with a suggested retail price of $28,800.  This is only $13,801 more than the conventionally powered Focus. 

Ford Fusion
The problem with the hybrid is that its fuel economy is only marginally better than the gasoline focus.  The Fusion gets 41 MPG on the highway and 36 in the city, while the Focus is rated at 35 MPG on the highway and 24 in the city.  The difference is larger for city driving where the Focus’ electric motor runs more than its gasoline engine.   The average of the two is 8 MPG in favor of the Fusion.

The price difference in the two cars divided by $4 per gallon of gasoline means that it would take 3,450 gallons of gas to make the more expensive Fusion break even with the Focus.  In city driving where the Fusion is more efficient, that amount of gasoline would carry a Focus 82,800 miles and a Fusion 124,200 miles.  Based on the FHA’s annual average mileage, that would take about nine years.  

There are other details to consider as well.  Depending on where you live and when you buy, there might also be government subsidies, tax credits or corporate incentives that would make a “green” car more financially attractive.  Conversely, the resale value of these cars has not been thoroughly established since the technology is new and the number of used hybrids and electric cars on the market is relatively small. Further, the reliability of the batteries that power the electric motors in “green” cars is untested beyond a few years.

A big deciding factor in whether to buy a “green” car is where and how much it will be driven.  If the car will be used primarily to drive short distances in the city, a “green” car will be more attractive than if it will be used on the highway for longer distances, where the efficiency advantage of the electric motor is negated.  For cars that are only driven a few thousand miles per year, a conventional gasoline powered car is likely to be more cost effective unless gas prices rise much higher than they are today.  A “green” car would not be as attractive for a commuter from Atlanta’s outlying suburbs as it would for someone who lives downtown, but drives a high number of miles around the city.

A “green” car would also be unattractive as a family auto.  Most green cars are the size of compact cars that are unsuited for hauling children and the assorted paraphernalia that parents need to keep them fed, happy, and safe.  A “green” minivan may be years away from the market.  Likewise, heavy trucks needed on farms or for hauling trailers and equipment have no competition in the “green” marketplace.

Many conservatives consider the government’s support of “green” autos to be another example of ill-advised subsidies for favored companies.  Even with subsidies, these cars are expensive, inefficient and do not meet the needs of most families.   In a time of high deficits and national anxiety over debt, such subsidies may be out of place.  If the government stays out of the market, consumers might eventually decide to embrace “green” cars as a response to rising gas prices.  Alternatively, government subsidies of favored companies might crowd out new technologies that are even more promising than hybrids and electric cars.  The question is whether most Americans prefer to have the government choose the new technologies that bureaucrats deem best or to allow consumers to make their own choices free of government interference.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Georgia reactor is similar to failing Japan nuclear plant

Georgia is not typically associated with earthquakes, but fault lines do run through Georgia.  The Great Valley fault extends from Chatsworth to Cartersville and the Brevard fault runs from Atlanta to Stephens County and then to Brevard, N.C.  These faults, as well as the New Madrid fault in Arkansas and Missouri, have produced earthquakes and tremors in Georgia on multiple occasions.

The earliest recorded Georgia earthquake was in 1811 and shook bricks from chimneys.  Savannah and Tybee Island were shaken by the 1886 quake centered near Charleston, S.C.  This earthquake was estimated at approximately 7.6 on the Richter scale.  There have been a number of earthquakes in Georgia that are rated at V or VI on the Mercalli Scale.  This is considered strong and would be approximately equivalent to a 6 on the Richter scale.  The U.S.G.S reports the most recent Georgia earthquake was a 2.2 that was centered near Milledgeville on August 10, 2010.  (See the U.S.G.S. Seismic Hazard Map of Georgia here.)

Georgia also is home to two nuclear power plants.  The Edwin Hatch plant in Baxley has two units, which have been operating since 1974 and 1978 respectively.  The Alvin Vogtle plant in Waynesboro also has two units.  These came online in 1987 and 1989.  A new reactor is currently being built at Plant Vogtle.  Other states bordering Georgia also have additional plants such as the Savannah River Site which is located in South Carolina near Augusta.

Hatch’s Unit 1 is only three years younger than Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan that is center of the current crisis and has the same GE Mark 1 boiling water reactor.  Nevertheless, experts point out that the problem in Japan is not with the design of the reactor itself, but with the fact that the earthquake and tsunami cut off electrical power to the plant.  Diesel backup generators then came online, but stopped working several hours later.  At that point, the pumps that provided water to cool the fuel rods ceased to function.  The Wall St. Journal reports that the Japanese engineers failed to cool the rods with sea water until it was already too late.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s assessment was that the tsunami was primarily responsible for the loss of power in the Japanese plants.  The damage caused by tsunamis is limited to coastal areas about 1,000 feet from the water.  Georgia’s nuclear plants are far enough inland that they would not be threatened by a tsunami.  The NRC further states that U.S. nuclear plants are designed to withstand the largest magnitude expected in their area plus a safety margin.  The Japanese plants withstood an earthquake magnitude of 9.1.  Georgia earthquakes have historically been limited to about six on the Richter scale.

The Union of Concerned Scientists claims that many U.S. plants, like the one in Baxley, have the same vulnerability to loss of main and backup power.  The group says that the Japanese plant had batteries that supplied the plant with electricity for eight hours, but engineers could not restore power in that time.  According to the U.C.S., many U.S. nuclear plants have battery power that only lasts four hours.

The instability of the world’s oil supply and its increasing price, along with concerns over global climate change, make nuclear power an important part of America’s future energy plans.  While Georgia is not in imminent danger of an earthquake or tsunami, there is the possibility of power loss from other sources.  As the U.C.S points out, fires, which can be caused by earthquakes, can pose a significant risk of damage to a reactor’s primary and secondary power systems.

In the U.S., fire protection standards were updated after a 1975 fire at Brown’s Ferry near Decatur, Ala.  which threatened the plants ability to control one of its reactors.  Changes to the standard in 2010 allow individual plants to evaluate their own fire risks.  Some claim that this standard is too weak and point out that many U.S. nuclear reactors are in violation of fire codes.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission stated in response that older plants were built before 1981 when fire protection standards were updated.  Exemptions were issued to these existing plants in cases where safety gains from modifications would have been negligible.  Further, the NRC says that the voluntary fire risk analysis program will enhance safety by focusing attention on “design and operational issues according to their importance.”

In spite of its potential as clean energy, nuclear power has long had strong opposition in the United States.  No nuclear power plant has been built in the U.S. since 1979, the same year that the Three Mile Island incident occurred.  As a result, the U.S. does not rank in the top ten nations according to the percentage of electrical power provided by nuclear energy, but ranks first in the number of reactors shut down.  According to the Energy Information Administration, the U.S. gets just under 20% of its power from nuclear energy.  More than 76% of France’s energy is nuclear.