Samir Nasri in Demand

June 16, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Parvez Fatteh, TMO, Founder of http://sportingummah.com, sports@muslimobserver.com

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France’s Samir Nasri controls the ball during their Euro 2012 Group D qualifying soccer match against Belarus at Dinamo stadium in Minsk June 3, 2011.

REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko

The agent of Arsenal scoring sensation Samir Nasri indicates that talks between the player and Arsenal are still ongoing, despite reports to the contrary. There have been rumors of interest on the part of Manchester United amidst reports of Nasri’s displeasure with Arsenal’s attempts, or lack thereof, to improve thus far in the offseason.

“I want to clarify that there has been no break with the Gunners over the contract’s renewal and we should meet again soon with Arsene Wenger,” Nasri’s agent Alain Migliaccio told calciomercatoweb. “There are a few clubs interested in Samir, but it is useless to name them. Before listening to other teams, we need and we want to talk with Arsenal.”
Nasri had a prolific season with Arsenal, making for a nice bounce-back after having been left off of the French World Cup team last summer amidst politics and infighting. However, much of the mayhem has since tied to outgoing French coach Raymond Domenech, so Nasri’s reputation has been rehabilitated sufficiently with his play for Arsenal this past English season. And with his value at an all time high, Arsenal owner, American Stan Kroenke, is reportedly set to break the bank to keep him.

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Review of Talfazat Box

September 3, 2009 by · 27 Comments 

By Adil James, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS)

Farmington–September 2–I recently had the opportunity to review the Talfazat (http://www.talfazat.com) television box supplied by Neulion–one of the advertisers we are proud to have in this newspaper.

Bottom line:  For $30 per month, this is a reliable way to get 24 channels of Arabic television into your home, even if for example you live in the middle of an apartment complex and have no ability to put out a satellite dish.

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I received the Talfazat box late last week and tested it extensively, testing the bandwidth usage of the box, testing the picture quality and resolution, refresh rate, testing the robustness of the system by intentionally bringing it to the breaking point–and the short answer after this testing is that the Talfazat box will not halt or buffer, despite mistreatment–despite some rumors to the contrary about other IPTV sources.

Talfazat in Arabic means “televisions,” more and more of which are displaying signals through means unimagined twenty years ago.  The newest means is IPTV.  Just as VOIP revolutionized and is revolutionizing home telephones, so too is IPTV in the beginning stages of revolutionizing home television.  One key difference is price.  Where VOIP providers charge a flat fee that is perhaps one fifth of a standard telephone monthly bill, IPTV providers are much closer in price to their satellite and cable competitors.

When you get the box, it is about the size of a thick hardback book, but lighter—see above.  It has a power switch on the front, and another power switch on the back.  The box has an HDMI out, Component out, S-Video out, it has at least two USB ports; it also comes with all the cables you need to connect to your TV and internet (except HDMI) and a remote. It comes with a component cable, a special adapter cable to plug component cables into your box, audio right-left channel cables, and more, plus a LAN/ethernet cable.

Setup

Setup is super easy, and the directions are also simple, colorful, and easy to follow.  Without cracking the directions book I was able to install the Talfazat box and begin watching television.

Channels—Live TV

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Note—Mr. Alyas Ali of Talfazat explained to me that in Canada more channels are available than in the US—Canadians have about 10 additional channels available.

The box supplies 24 continuous live stream channels, including Al Jazeera in English.  Most of the other live channels are state broadcasts from the Arab world, except for Al Jazeera Arabic.

Here are the channels I found.

Future TV Al Rai TV
Mehwar Al Aan TV
Sama Dubai Alsumaria TV
Infinity TV Bahrain TV
Arab Woman Channel Program Baghdadia
ZMTV Hannibal TV
Sudan TV Emirates
Tele Liban Palestine TV
Abu Dhabi Bahrain
Al Jazeera (Arabic) Al Jazeera (English)
Arabic News Al Alam
MICFM Panorama
   

The channels are numbered 2 thru 74, with of course many blank channels between 2 and 74.

I can’t comment on the actual programs because I neither speak Arabic nor am familiar with Arabic television.  But AlJazeera in English is interesting, with very high quality stories and not biased as some would have you believe.

There is a program guide that shows programming data about 28 hours in advance—you push a button on the remote and can see what’s currently on (showing six channels on the screen at a time).  You can see up to 28 hours in advance what will be on.

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Channel Quality

Unfortunately I am not in a position to review the quality of the live TV streams made available by Talfazat—I might understand a few words of Arabic but if I try to force myself to watch these Arabic channels I will probably fall asleep.  I did watch Al Jazeera in English—which for some of TMO’s readers might be by itself worth the price of admission to the Talfazat world.

Video On Demand

There is also video on demand, which gives you access to back episodes of perhaps 100 total different TV shows–some individual shows have as many as perhaps 50 different episodes available.

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There are 7 categories under “Video on Demand.”  They are:  Comedy, Drama, Lifestyle, Music, Religious, Talk Show, and Ramadan 2009.  Under each category a varying number of shows are listed (under Comedy there are perhaps 30 shows, under Religion or Ramadan there are only a few).  Once you select a show, you will see the available number of episodes for that show, which again varies.  For some shows perhaps 50 episodes are available.  For other shows, only a few episodes are available.  You select the episode you want with your remote, and after a few minutes it should begin to play.

A few episodes refuse to play, but if you have your heart set on any specific serial you should easily be able to find an episode that will work from that serial (pictured below see the show “La Youmal” with 9 available episodes to watch; Also pictured is a cartoon episode playing via video on demand).

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There are on the remote buttons for fast forward and rewind of video on demand shows, but they did not work well for me—being perhaps the only way I could (despite my tries) to make the Talfazat box seize up and start heavily buffering.  Therefore you will likely have to watch your shows start to finish unless Neulion fixes this feature—it is possible this was just my connection.

 

Settings

In addition to the live TV and video on demand features, there is also a “Settings” screen you can access from the home directory.  When you go there after a few moments you will see a readout of your network, showing ip addresses.

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Note—as far as I can see there is no benefit in tampering with the settings.

Spotlight

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Another screen at the Talfazat home page.  As yet this is unsupported by Talfazat, likely preserved for future use.

Performance Testing

Capture

Here is a screenshot of Tomato running on the wrt-54g after testing.  The test began with Youtube videos towards the left of the screen (where the three sharp peaks are at about 300 kbits per second about a quarter of the way from the left side of the screen), and ends on the right side of the screen. 

I have a DSL network connection that I tested before doing a quick bench test of the Talfazat box at an average speed of 2.22 Mbits per second downstream.  I came to this number by using Firefox’s Broadband Speed Test and Diagnostics add-on, running the download speed check five times and averaging the results.

From this starting point I then went to my Linksys wrt-54g router running Tomato and watched the bandwidth usage as I did tests of the Talfazat box and other computers on the network accessing Youtube, Boxee, and Veoh.

I turned on Youtube and began watching the District 9 original movie, and my bandwidth usage went to 322.27 kbits/sec, then up to about 410 kbits/sec, and hovered in that area.

I turned on Pandora via Boxee and listened to my music stations, where my bandwidth was again in the same region—about 327.15 kbits/sec.

Then I used Boxee to watch Youtube instead of watching Youtube directly via a browser, and my bandwidth was at about 375 kbits/sec.

Then the real testing began—I turned on CSI Miami via Boxee.  After some initial choppiness during the CBS advertisement, the CSI show began, clear as a bell but perhaps with a little bit of choppiness, bringing my bandwidth usage up to 556 kbits/sec.  It varied as high as 1054.69 kbits/sec.

Then I turned on the Talfazat box and tuned to Al Jazeera in English—bandwidth went up to 1510 kbits/sec (Boxee was still on); when I turned off Boxee my bandwidth went down to about 850 kbits/sec and stayed pretty steady at about that level.

I stress tested the Talfazat box by running online video at two other places on my network, using Boxee and Veoh to stream video from three sources at the same time–although the network traffic went up to over 2 Mbits per second, I never saw Talfazat buffer or hesitate.

Therefore Talfazat’s promises of not buffering, and of not requiring more than 1 Mbit / sec, appear completely justified.  It may be that the box needs a little bit of overhead on top of the 700 kbits/sec, so I wouldn’t recommend going below their recommended 1 Mbit / sec, yet in my test Talfazat seemed to want only 700 kbits/sec in order to work just fine, as usual.

Picture quality

Picture quality is slightly worse than a standard definition satellite signal’s image.

Things that could improve

While testing the box I disconnected it from the internet completely while watching a show—to see what would happen.  What happened was the screen went dark.  It would have been better if there had been a simple message—“are you sure you are connected to the internet?” or “lost internet connection.”

More about the box

So if you want affordable Arabic television or if you live in an  apartment and can’t access a spot from which you can put up a satellite dish, or if you just don’t want to pay the relatively exorbitant fees charged by Dish Network and DirectTV, support one of our favorite sponsors, Talfazat and try out their box.

Also consider Talfazat’s Subcontinent cousin, DesiTV—for Indian and Pakistani channels and movies.

 

I will be mailing my box back to Talfazat with heartfelt thanks for their having allowed me to review Neulion’s cutting edge product.  You should definitely consider Talfazat if you are looking for a new way to get Arabic TV.

 

Note:  Since writing the above review I was told by Alyas Ali of Talfazat that the box is also capable of replaying any show from the last 24 hours (as long as it is green in the EPG guide pictured above).  This is like an automated Tivo function, very nice.  I have not yet tested this function and intend to add to this review once I have had a chance to try it.

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Investments in Complex Plants Backfire

August 13, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Ikuko Kurahone, Reuters

LONDON, Aug 12 (Reuters) – Oil firms that invested in complex refineries to process the most difficult crude and in theory generate big profits have inadvertently forced up the cost of feedstock, wrecking the economics of their plans, especially in Europe.

An increase in the cost of high quality lighter crude, which began about seven years ago, first inspired investment either in complex new plants or in adding cokers and residual hydrocrackers to existing refineries so they can process heavier oil.

What the refiners did not predict was the extent to which heavy crude costs would be driven higher by increased demand from more complex refineries and the plunge in refined products that followed the end of the oil market rally last year.

As profit margins have diminished, some new projects, particularly in Europe, are likely to be shelved, raising the prospect of supply tightness when demand recovers and as heavy crude supplies are expected to outstrip availability of lighter oil.

“The first wave of large investment in conversion capacity and new complex refineries is coming on line in 2009-2010. Whatever was planned for 2009-2010 is going to come on, cancellation/postponement more likely to affect projects scheduled from 2011 onward,” BNP Paribas oil analyst Harry Tchilinguirian said.

“The economics are more challenging as profitability of more expensive complex operations is eroded when the discount between the medium/heavy grades narrows relative to light grades.”

Light, sweet crude, with low sulphur content, gives a high yield of high value products such as gasoline, diesel and jet fuel.

Heavier, sour crude, which includes more sulphur that has little commercial value and requires longer processing, historically traded at a deep discount.

The medium heavy, sour Russian benchmark grade Urals, for instance, traded at discounts of about $7 a barrel when Brent and U.S. light crude futures hit a record high above $147 in July last year.

But since July this year, it has traded at near parity to lighter North Sea streams, including Brent and Forties.

Another of the variables relates to the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) as the group’s output cuts have reduced the amount of heavier crude available.

Thomas O’Malley, chairman of Europe’s top independent refiner Petroplus, told a webcast last week the narrower gap between light and heavy differentials would continue to constrain complex refiners.

“We may see three years of contraction of heavy light spreads … coker builders in the last couple of years are not happy builders,” he said.

Some analysts have said European refiners might have missed out on the cost advantage of a wide light-heavy spread once and for all.

By contrast with refiners in the United States, which has been processing heavy crude from domestic fields, as well as Mexico and Venezuela, for many years, deep conversion projects in Europe are recent.

They have been mostly geared to taking Russian medium-heavy Urals, which would have been unlikely to make the kind of profits possible from processing heavier Mexican and Venezuelan grades.

“Low demand and new refining capacity coming onstream in 2009 are likely to keep refining margins below those seen in recent years, unless serious disruptions occur on the supply side,” said one refiner in its second quarter earnings report.

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The Hummus War

October 16, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, MMNS

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The inconspicuous chickpea, while puny in size, is causing a major war of words between Israel and Lebanon. Both countries lay claim to inventing the savory dip that has become a worldwide hit thanks to the tasty travels of visitors to the Middle East which has caused a dramatic demand for Hummus in North America as well as other regions like Japan.

So what’s all the fuss about? Apparently, Israel has been laying claim to such Lebanese national dishes as Hummus, Falafel, Baba Ghannoui and Tabbouleh, which have been adorning the dinner tables of Lebanese families for centuries. The Director, Fadi Abboud, of the Lebanese Industrialists Society is launching a lawsuit against Israel for infringement across food copyright laws. “It is not enough they (Israelis) are stealing our land. They are also stealing our civilization and our cuisine,” said Abboud in a recent interview. The case will be mirrored after the successful feta cheese copyright dispute, where the European Parliament declared Greece as the sole country with rights to brand the salty dairy product as originating from the Greek culture, which includes a mandate that says any cheese that bears the name ‘feta’ must be produced with either sheep or goat’s milk.

This culinary war is not merely about bragging rights but rather millions of dollars in export revenues that are at stake. In the USA alone, the domestic market for store-brand hummus has grown by 78% this year alone. Hummus sales in America are valued at approximately $250 million dollars for this fiscal year and that figure is set to skyrocket as the demand for hummus continues it upwards spiral. The global market for Hummus is estimated to be in the billions of dollars.

The reason for the popularity of hummus is that it really is the perfect food. It’s smooth, goes down easy and digests well especially since it does not cause the ‘gassy’ after effects that most bean-based foods do. Hummus is also rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, healthy nutrients like iron and manganese, and is an excellent source of fiber. Talk show host Oprah Winfrey has even listed Hummus as one of the best foods for weight loss in her ‘O’ magazine citing that the creamy dip is filling and nutritious enough to snack on a few times a week.

Only time will tell who will win the rights to hummus as it remains to be seen just exactly where Lebanon will file it’s lawsuit given that it is officially at war with Israel. It’s also noteworthy to mention that the Palestinians also lay claim to being the originators of Hummus, however they have stayed out of the fray for the time being. If the case ever does appear in court, it’s likely another hummus contender may step in the ring. However, while their busy duking it out in court, anyone with a blender can whip up their own Hummus at home. Just visit www.allrecipes.com and search the word ‘Hummus’. Happy dipping!

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US to Iraq: You Need Uncle Sam

July 31, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

By Gareth Porter, Interpress Service

2008-07-24T083933Z_01_DSI19_RTRMDNP_3_IRAQ

A U.S. soldier from the Second Stryker Cavalry Regiment holds his weapon next to a villager during a joint operation with Iraqi police near Muqtadiyah in Diyala province July 24, 2008.

REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

WASHINGTON – Instead of moving toward accommodating the demand of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki for a timetable for United States military withdrawal, the George W Bush administration and the US military leadership are continuing to pressure their erstwhile client regime to bow to the US demand for a long-term military presence in the country.

The emergence of this defiant US posture toward the Iraqi withdrawal demand underlines just how important long-term access to military bases in Iraq has become to the US military and national security bureaucracy in general.

From the beginning, the Bush administration’s response to the Maliki withdrawal demand has been to treat it as a mere aspiration that the US need not accept.

The counter-message that has been conveyed to Iraq from a multiplicity of US sources, including former Central Command (CENTCOM) commander William Fallon, is that the security objectives of Iraq must include continued dependence on US troops for an indefinite period. The larger, implicit message, however, is that the US is still in control, and that it – not the Iraqi government – will make the final decision.

That point was made initially by State Department spokesman Gonzalo Gallegos, who stated flatly on July 9 that any US decision on withdrawal “will be conditions-based."

In a sign that the US military is also mounting pressure on the Iraqi government to abandon its withdrawal demand, Fallon wrote an op-ed piece published in the New York Times on July 20 that called on Iraqi leaders to accept the US demand for long-term access to military bases.

Fallon, who became something of a folk hero among foes of the Bush administration’s policy in the Middle East for having been forced out of his CENTCOM position for his anti-aggression stance, takes an extremely aggressive line against the Iraqi withdrawal demand in the op-ed. The piece is remarkable not only for its condescending attitude toward the Iraqi government, but for its peremptory tone toward it.

Fallon is dismissive of the idea that Iraq can take care of itself without US troops to maintain ultimate control. “The government of Iraq is eager to exert its sovereignty,” Fallon writes, “but its leaders also recognize that it will be some time before Iraq can take full control of security.”

Fallon insists that “the government of Iraq must recognize its continued, if diminishing reliance on the American military." And in the penultimate paragraph he demands “political posturing in pursuit of short-term gains must cease”.

Fallon, now retired from the military, is obviously serving as a stand-in for US military chiefs for whom the public expression of such a hardline stance against the Iraqi withdrawal demand would have been considered inappropriate.

But the former US military proconsul in the Middle East, like his active-duty colleagues, appears to actually believe that the US can intimidate the Maliki government. The assumption implicit in his op-ed is that the US has both the right and power to preempt Iraq’s national interests to continue to build its military empire in the Middle East.

As CENTCOM chief, Fallon had been planning on the assumption that the US military would continue to have access to military bases in both Iraq and Afghanistan for many years to come. A July 14 story by Washington Post national security and intelligence reporter Walter Pincus said that the army had requested US$184 million to build power plants at its five main bases in Iraq.

The five bases, Pincus reported, are among the “final bases and support locations where troops, aircraft and equipment will be consolidated as the US military presence is reduced."

Funding for the power plants, which would be necessary to support a large US force in Iraq within the five remaining bases, for a longer-term stay, was eliminated from the military construction bill for fiscal year 2008. Pincus quoted a congressional source as noting that the power plants would have taken up to two years to complete.

The plan to keep several major bases in Iraq is just part of a larger plan, on which Fallon himself was working, for permanent US land bases in the Middle East and Central Asia.

Fallon revealed in congressional testimony last year that Bagram air base in Afghanistan is regarded as “the centerpiece for the CENTCOM master plan for future access to and operations in Central Asia."

As Fallon was writing his op-ed, the Bush administration was planning for a video conference between Bush and Maliki, evidently hoping to move the obstreperous Maliki away from his position on withdrawal. Afterward, however, the White House found it necessary to cover up the fact that Maliki had refused to back down in the face of Bush’s pressure.

It issued a statement claiming that the two leaders had agreed to “a general time horizon for meeting aspirational goals” but that the goals would include turning over more control to Iraqi security forces and the “further reduction of US combat forces from Iraq” – but not a complete withdrawal.

But that was quickly revealed to be a blatant misrepresentation of Maliki’s position. As Maliki’s spokesman Ali Dabbagh confirmed, the “time horizon” on which Bush and Maliki had agreed not only covered the “full handover of security responsibility to the Iraqi forces in order to decrease American forces” but was to “allow for its [sic] withdrawal from Iraq."

An adviser to Maliki, Sadiq Rikabi, also told the Washington Post that Maliki was insisting on specific timelines for each stage of the US withdrawal, including the complete withdrawal of troops.

The Iraqi prime minister’s July 19 interview with the German magazine Der Speigel, in which he said that Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama’s 16-month timetable “would be the right timeframe for a withdrawal, with the possibility of slight changes”, was the Iraqi government’s bombshell in response to the Bush administration’s efforts to pressure it on the bases issue.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack emphasized at his briefing on Tuesday that the issue would be determined by “a conclusion that’s mutually acceptable to sovereign nations."

That strongly implied that the Bush administration regarded itself as having a veto power over any demand for withdrawal and signals an intention to try to intimidate Maliki.

Both the Bush administration and the US military appear to harbor the illusion that the US troop presence in Iraq still confers effective political control over its clients in Baghdad.

However, the change in the Maliki regime’s behavior over the past six months, starting with the prime minister’s abrupt refusal to go along with General David Petraeus’ plan for a joint operation in the southern city of Basra in mid-March, strongly suggests that the era of Iraqi dependence on the US has ended.

Given the strong consensus on the issue among Shi’ite political forces of all stripes, as well as Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the Shi’ite spiritual leader, the Maliki administration could not back down to US pressure without igniting a political crisis.

[Gareth Porter is an investigative historian and journalist specializing in US national security policy. The paperback edition of his latest book, Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam, was published in 2006.]

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