Thursday, December 27, 2007

Pakistan: Bhutto dies in blast, upheaval likely

Major news sources report this morning, Thursday Dec. 27, afternoon Pakistan time, that Pakistan former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, 54, was killed today in a suicide bombing, apparently "well planned," while departing from a political rally, at Rawalpindi, Pakistan. Other reports say that she was shot in the neck. The CNN story is here.

On Dec. 16, major sources had reported that Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf had halted emergency rule and was ready to form a new constitutional government. The CNN story is here. The martial law had been imposed because of an unspecified plot, which could have evicted him from power and might have given Al Qaeda or similar groups access to Pakistan's cache of small but ready nuclear weapons. It was not clear whether the assassination would in re-imposition of martial law. (So far Musharraf is saying he will try to stay on course for resumption of the constitution.) But terrorists often act by forcing leaders to become more repressive.

David Armstrong and Joseph Trento have written a book on Pakistan and nuclear weapons, reviewed here.

All of this is happening on a day when ABC "Good Morning America" reported on a New York City spent a year consuming nothing, to prove that they could live for "personal relationships" and not be dependent on technological infrastructures that seem to make individual Americans and westerners international scapegoats.

There are recent reports that Bhutto left instructions in her will that control of her party pass to her 19-year-old son, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari. If so, that is a bizarre use of the "dead hand" concept. The son is a college student at Oxford in England and seems to have spent little time in Pakistan. The father will assume the duties in practice. In my own substitute teaching experience, I have encountered students who were born in Pakistan or the Middle East and grown up in the West (Europe and/or the U.S.) Whatever the media says about this situation, my own observation is that typically such a person assimilates into the general cultural values of the West (of individualism), and may or may not personally practice Islam in some form. Such persons may be very good students academically and fluent in a number of languages (including Urdu, Farsi, etc) and this certainly creates interest.

Rick Sincere has a major blog posting on this tragic event here.

Update: Jan 1, 2008

CNN and Wolf Blitzer report that Bhutto was about to deliver a major report on elections scandals in Pakistan. The story is " Sources: Bhutto was to give U.S. lawmakers vote-rigging report," here.

Update: Jan. 17, 2008

Major media sources report that Taliban forces have seized at least two remote tribal areas from the Pakistani military, which fled, near the Afghanistan border. The ABC News story Jan. 18 is "Pakistani Army: Unwilling or Unable?: Twice in Two Days, Militants Rout Pakistani Troops in Troubled Tribal Regions," by Gretchen Peters and Nick Schifrin, link here.

Update: Feb. 8, 2007

Scotland Yard in the UK has released a report on the Bhutto incident. The USA Today story is here.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

U.S. makes turnabout on global warming at Bali conference

Today CNN reported on a global warming compromise reached at a climate conference in Bali (Indonesia) today in which U.S. negotiator Paula Dobriansky first rejected and then accepted a compromise. The story is "In U-turn, U.S. agrees to global warming deal," the story here.

CNN also has a major link page on the Kyoto Protocol here.

It remains to be seen how a treaty would eventually affect consumers in the United States, who must deal with competition from developing countries, especially China. The Bush administration has insisted that a meaningful compromise without opening programs from more of the developing countries.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Washington Post has paid insert on Malaysia

Today, Dec. 14, The Washington Post continued the series of paid advertisements from countries of the developing world with a section on Malaysia. For a while, Malaysia had the world's tallest buildings, the Petronas Towers, site of a climatic scene from the 1999 Fox film Entrapment.

Malaysia has a reputation of being a more progressive Islamic country, but the use of Sharia law has still proved nettlesome with many domestic issues. Like all countries, it has tried to remain vigilant against Al Qaeda, which reportedly met there in early 2001 planning the attacks. Generally, Malaysia has a reputation of being easier to visit than some Arab states (except UAE), and is in some ways less socially conservative than modern Singapore, which is a separate city-state.

In the 1990s, computer software vendors liked to send instructors to Far Eastern countries like Malaysia. I had an instructor in IDMS ADSO in 1994 who had spent a couple years in Kuala Lumpur. An entrepreneur who ran ISP services for me from 1997 to 2001 had a lot of clients in Malaysia.

Malaysia is actually a federation of thirteen states (like our original thirteen colonies) and used to be called "Malay States."

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

ABC News shows waterboarding; ex-CIA agent says that technique probably has prevented more attacks

I recall a scene in New Line's recent release "Rendition" where the character played by Jake Gyllenhaal, Hollywood's nicest "hunk," tells his boss (Meryl Streep) over a cell phone while overlooking a middle Eastern bazaar, "I'm here on my first torture." The audience laughed.

Last night's story on ABC World News Tonight by Richard Esposito and Brian Ross, "
Coming in From the Cold: CIA Spy Calls Waterboarding Necessary But Torture;
Former Agent Says the Enhanced Technique Was Used on Al Qaeda Chief Abu Zubaydah," link here, is anything but funny. Former CIA agent John Kiarakou admitted he was concerned about the ethics and morality of what he did, but he thinks it saved lives and now says that the information he got after about thirty seconds of torture may have prevented one or more major attacks in the United States since the interview. (ABC offers a video in ten parts of the full interview -- over a half hour of viewing, more than what was shown on the News show; it places copyright limitations on its use by others; please lead the legal instructions on the link above; I won't reproduce any of the video here). The televised news report did demonstrate briefly how waterboarding works; it simulates the experience of drowning, with pressure from the cellophane and use of the mammalian gag reflex. (The ABC video available on line does not include the demonstration). CIA agents themselves break in about ten seconds; Zubaydah lasted a couple minutes.

Zubaydah, according to these accounts, was a key figure in funding the 9/11 attacks. He claims he did not expect the large loss of life or collapse of the WTC buildings, although stories about the planning of the 1993 attack would contradict this, as would bin Laden's behavior when he gloated over the attacks in an Dec. 13, 2001 broadcast (the day I was laid off!)

The Washington Post has a story on P A1 this morning (Dec 11) "Waterboarding Recounted: Ex-CIA Officer Says It 'Probably Saved Lives' but Is Torture," by Joby Warrick and Dan Eggen, p A1, here. There has been considerable media coverage of the legal implications of possible CIA destruction of the evidence of its practices.

Generally, CIA officials have said that they thought that they legal clearance for the practices that they use, but they admit that the law is murky.

Note: See later posting Feb. 8, 2008 on this blog about "Human Rights First."

Monday, December 10, 2007

Gore scolds US and China in planetary emergency as he accepts Nobel Peace Prize

Monday former Vice-President Al Gore accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, Norway, and praised Europe and Japan but warned that the United States and China, if their citizens and leadership keep behaving as they have, could push the planet over the tipping point and cause a planetary catastrophe.

Gore maintains that a treaty, consumption taxes, and moratoriums on coal and other fossil fuel facilities are necessary.

The CNN story is " Gore: U.S., China must lead fight against 'planetary emergency'", here.

Norway was the subject of criticism, as it is a major oil producer.

I spent a week in Norway in the late summer of 1972, actually during a heat wave. I spent two days in Trondheim when it was incredibly hot (around 90 F). I visited friends in Oslo, took the train to Bergen, flew to Trondheim, then another train (across the Arctic Circle marker) and bus to Narvik, and then a train across into Swedish Lapland and the iron mining town of Kiruna.

I still wonder if Gore could announce at the last minute that he will run for president in 2008, spoiling the party. Or would he rather go on making movies?

Update: Dec 12

Check the latest AP story by Seth Borenstein: "Ominous Arctic melt worries experts", link here. The AOL copy of this story this morning has a photo gallery. The story predicts that the summer arctic icecap could be melted by 2012 (the Mayan apocalypse), instead of 2040 as once predicted.

AP has another story this morning by Michael Casey, "Poor hit hardest by climate change," here.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Japanese blog "beaucoup" yet keep low profiles

The Washington Post, on p A01, Dec. 6 2007, carries a curious story by Blaine Harden, "Japan's Bloggers: Humble Giants of the Web," here.

There is a curious paradox. The Japanese, with a generally high standard of living and not so many extremes of wealth as in our country, tend to enjoy technology but not to use it to stand out or seek fame. Self-promotion is considered rude and disrespectful in Japanese culture, more so than it is today here (although it used to be). So the blogs tend to be about rather trivial things that don't provoke comments or comments. The Japanese are big on mobile blogging and use it as a kind of toy, without taking it that seriously.

Of course, in other entries on my blogs (like Nov. 29 on my main blog), I've written about how the potential access of any one individual to an instant global audience can have surprising political ramifications, and can force more subtle levels of debate (connecting all the dots) out into the open. But many cultures don't see it that way.

To my way of thinking, blogging only about trivia seems to fit in to expectations of social conformity. In the US and to some extent Europe, many people blog to advertise their professional capability, which is a double-edged sword, as it invites the idea that professional "profile management" companies should be employed to deploy someone's Internet public image.

Apparently right now there are more blog posts in Japanese than there are in English.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Venezuelan President Chavez threatens oil embargo for Monday

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez threatened to impose an embargo on oil shipments to the United States Monday Dec. 3 if he wins a complicated constitutional referendum (including abolishing term limits) Sunday Dec. 2 and the United States challenges it. The United States gets about 15% of its imports from Venezuela. Chavez has a long history of far-left socialism and imposing collectivist values. I wonder what Michael Moore would think of his health care system.

The CNN story is here.

The Arabs imposed an embargo on the United States in the fall of 1973 after Israel's quick Yom Kippur war, resulting in gas lines and odd-even rationing and Sunday gas station closings. The same thing happened in 1979 after disturbances in Iran.

Presumably this could push the price of oil well over $100 a barrel if it happened.

Update: Dec 4

Well, oil prices may be sliding in OPEC boosts production (you can never tell anymore from day to day); and Chavez's referendum lost big. President Bush discussed this at his news conference this morning, with some neo-conservative pleasure. Here is the CNN story "Jubilant Chavez opponents revel in referendum defeat", here.

Update: Feb. 10, 2008

Sandra Sierra, AP Staff Writer, has a story tonight "Venezuelan President Threatens to Cut Off Oil Sales to US, Calls Exxon Mobil 'Outlaws'", regarding a radio broadcast today by Hugo Chavez. He called Exxon Mobil "outlaws," as apparently Exxon Mobil has challenged state nationalization agreements in US, British and Dutch courts. ExxonMobil's website has no comment yet on the effect of the litigation and threats, if any.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Annapolis: Mideast Peace Process to continue in January 2008

The summit at Annapolis has yielded a promise from leaders of Israel and Palestine that the peace process will continue in January, 2008. The three big issues are (1) an independent Palestinian state (2) the Palestinian refugees (3) the status of Jerusalem.

We've seen this kind of benchmark agreement before. Back in 1978, Jimmy Carter jawboned Begin and Sadat into peace talks at his September Camp David accords, and even appealed to family values to get them to keep talking. Today, younger people in the region say (as on a film on PBS Tuesday night "Campus Battleground" from the "America at a Crossroads" series -- see the TV blog for Nov 26) say they look forward to a day where individual values trump over tribal and religious strife in the region. Yet, people who elect to move to Israel often believe in the idea of the chosen people, and that the Holocaust proves that Israel must be their historical homeland, even if established by expropriatory land takings and even if it must be defended by all security means necessary. Individually, many people who have lived in Israel tell me that the Palestinians should have their homeland so that this strife stops, but they are afraid to say it publicly.

Commentators maintain that a lot depends upon the involvement of the president himself. Bush may travel to the region early in 2008, and his successor will need to be heavily involved, regardless of party.

Ex Prime Minister of Britain, Tony Blair, has a job as a peace mediator. He points out that it is difficult to get Hamas into the negotiations when it does not officially recognize the right of Israel to exist.

There are many media stories. The Washington Post story today (Nov 28, p A1) is by Glenn Kessler, "Mideast Talks Yield Promises To Press On; Israelis, Palestinians Will Restart Peace Negotiations," link here.

The New York Times story today, by Steven Lee Myers and Helene Cooper, is "Israel and Palestinians Set Goal of a Treaty in 2008", here.

The 1993 Oslo Declaration of Principles is here.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Severe sentence for Saudi woman illustrates radical Islamic social values

Blame the victim??

Major media reports have focused on a harsh corporal punishment sentence given to a woman by a Saudi court. She was in a car with another man for an innocuous purpose, and was pulled out of the car and raped. Although the perpetrators were sentenced to 2-9 years, she was also sentenced for being in a car (the private company) of another man who was not a blood relative.

Although this is shocking by western standards and it is appropriate for western governments to criticize Saudi Arabia 's justice system, which seems designed to protect the absolute religious monarchy and not the individual, it's well to ponder the cultural issues. Blood relationships are all that a lot of people have to live for and generate all the mechanisms by which people get "taken care of" (e.g. personal power), so in some cultures extreme measures are taken to protect them.

Update: Nov 28, 2007

A Saudi court will review this case, according to ABC.

There is also a case in Sudan of a British teacher threatened with jail and lashes for allowing a seven year old in a private school to name a Teddy Bear "Mohammed," which radical Islam calls blasphemy. A typical story is on Richard Dawkins.

Sudan has gotten a poor reputation for hosting Osama bin Laden in the 90s, and for its abuse of minorities in Darfur, as documented in two recent films, The Devil Came on Horseback, and Darfur Now. Check reviews here (Sept. 12).

Update: Nov. 30

The teacher was sentenced to jail. But radicals in the Sudan are protesting and demanding here execution, story here.

On Dec 3, however, major news outlets reported that the president of Sudan had pardoned her because of heaving lobbying from Muslims in Britain's parliament. She was released and deported back to Britain.

Update: Nov. 30, 2007

Now there is an ABC 20-20 story of a teenage boy from France who was a victim of rape and was accused by Dubai authorities of provoking it. The authorities feel pressured to reinforce Islamic "law". The story is on ABC about the inconsistencies in modern Arabia (even a bustling, more "progressive" and certainly rich city) is here.

There is more on the site "Boycott Dubai," set up by the boy's mother in Paris.

Update: Dec. 17

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia as pardoned the woman, although not the man that was with her.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Debate on loose nuke risk in National Interest; important conference at Naval Academy in Annapolis

The current print issue of The National Interest (Nov/Dec 2007) has a couple of lively items about two of the most critical issues: nuclear threats, and supposed “resource wars.”

Earlier, John Mueller had published an article called “Radioactive Hype”, link here) (Subscription required to get entire essay). Mueller has other “devils advocate” pieces, like “Harbringer or Aberration?: A 9/11 Provocation” here.

The current issue has (on p. 12) detailed responses by Graham Allison (“The Three “Nos” Knows”), Joseph Cirincione (“Cassandra’s Conundrum”), and William C. Potter (“Nonj-Proliferation Parody”), as well as a rebuttal from Mueller, whose books include Retreat from Doomsday (1989), The Remnants of War (2004) and Overblown (2006). Allison (author of “Nuclear Terrorism: The Ultimate Preventable Catastrophe”, 2004) repeats horrific probabilities of the likelihood of a nuclear incident in the west each year and every ten years, making it look like a matter of time. (And he is talking about an actual nuclear weapon, not a contaminated conventional weapon). An already assembled “suitcase” nuclear weapon stolen from Russia or Pakistan (the kind deployed on the Fox “24” program) could, in some cases, be concealed in illegal drugs shipments. Cirincione writes that the current Bush administration has acquiesced to “management of” proliferation rather than its prevention.

On page 48 there is an essay “What Resource Wars” by David Vector, in which the writer plays down the international tensions that would likely result over oil shortgages and unequal sacrifices to prevent global warming. He believes that oil makes unstable governments even more unstable, and believes that China can become much more self-sufficient in oil.

The magazine’s site has a piece “Thoughts of the Annapolis Conference” about the summit at the Naval Academy this last week of November, here.

A couple of important films on the nuclear leak issue are "Last Best Chance" (from NTI, the Nuclear Threat Initiative) and "PU-239" from Picturehouse / HBO (recently shown on cable). Another new important book is "America and the Islamic Bomb" by David Armstrong and Joseph Trento, Steerforth Press, 2007.

News reports indicate the arrest this week of three persons in Eastern Europe by Interpol for trying to acquire radioactive substances from the former Soviet Union.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

OPEC may dop dollar in pricing oil; bonds can be affected

The Washington Times, this Thanksgiving Day, has a financially scary story (front page, A1) by Patrice Hill, "Oil Greasing dollar's skid: OPEC's move adds to woes of currency, economy," link here.

Left-wing Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, along with new member Ecuador, helped push OPEC to consider a policy of pricing oil on a currency other than the dollar, possibily the more stable Euro. Wednesday, the price of oil went over $99 a barrel briefly before settling down to about $97. That would be more like about 65 Euros. Chavez has said that oil could rise to $200 a barrel if the US precipitates further military action in the Middle East.

The US dollar has lost value because of oil imports and the subprime mortgage crisis, but most of all because of the expense of the war in Iraq, without tax increases (presumably on the rich, at least as demanded by the Left) to pay for it, leading to huge budget deficits.

That can, according to the Washington Times article, lead to a run on US Treasury Bills held by Persian Gulf states, and could make formerly stable bonds less stable. It could also lead to 70s style increases in interest rates.

Still, the biggest problem is the dependence on foreign oil and on carbon-emitting technologies, competing with other societies that want to raise their standards of living, which can cause individual Americans to appear to be immoral materialists and hedonists in the eyes of some parts of the world.

Update: Nov. 24, 2007

Related to all this is the story in the Business Section, D1, Sat. Nov. 24, The Washington Post, by Tomoeh Mukakami Tse "Crunch May Hit Insurers of Bonds: Downgrading Weighed for 8 Leading Firms", here
When a bond insurer is downgraded, the bonds that it has certified as risk-free may themselves become less valuable. This would seem to make bonds seem less safe than they have been. All of this is related to war-related federal deficits and to the subprime crisis, all of which suggests that American consumers live beyond their means in the largest sense.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

UN Panel to U.S. and China: Cool It, or Else (Global Warming)

Today (Saturday Nov. 17) major media outlets have reported that U.N. Secretary Ban Ki-Moon issued a report today indicating that the United States and China, the two biggest emitters of greenhouse gases and previous and potentially future competitors and enemies (and Security Council members), must do more to reverse greenhouse gases and do it quickly. Other parts of the world, especially Africa and southern Asia, will suffer catastrophes if we don't. This report is underscored by the typhoon this week striking low-lying Bangladesh.

The AOL story ("U.N. Panel Offers Dire Warming Forecast") is here. It has many still illustrations. AOL shows 14 cities at risk from rising seas. The FairProxy web blog is this.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report can be found here.

Visitors should also look at the PDF "Synthesis Report" (about 6 meg) here.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Pilots use 9/11 as reason to urge re-opening UFO investigations

A story on Reuters this morning (link here) maintains that "Former pilots and officials call for new U.S. UFO probe." It was also presented on AOL.

An international panel of over 20 former pilots called on the Pentagon to re-open what amounts to Project Blue Book. Some files from it are open to the public under the Freedom of Information Act. I actually looked at these in the 1990s, and visited an area in SW Virginia reporting sightings in 1992. The pilots cited the example of the September 11, 2001 ("9/11") attacks as an example showing that unexplained warnings should not be ignored.

I associated with an Arizona group called "Understanding" in the 1970s, headed by a Dr. Dan Fry, known for a self-published book "To Men of Earth" in which he maintained that he hosted an alien for years himself. A typical web link is here.

Films have been made about the possibility of a sudden UFO "invasion" over the decades, one of the most notorious being "Independence Day" in 1996, directed by Roland Emmerich (20th Century Fox). I have always thought that a more subtle film about what would "really" happen if there were a smaller scale unmistakeable contact (how would it affect the stock market, the media, civil liberties, etc) would be interesting, and at least two of my own screenplay scripts deal with that. Another film that is obviously important is "Contact" (1997), dir. Robert Zemeckis, Warner Bros., based on the novel by Carl Sagan.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Washington Post has paid China insert

Just as it did some time back with Russia, The Washington Post, on Friday November 9, 2007, included a paid advertising supplement from China ("Reports from China"). The Post itself did not contribute any content. The inclusion is comparable to paid programming on networks.

Some of the issue brags about China's space program ("Fly me to the Moon"), but much of it aims to refute popular impressions that China is recklessly contributing to pollution, global warming, and pandemic concerns. Anderson Cooper has hit China particularly hard in his recent "Planet in Peril" television documentary film on CNN. There are detailed reports about Hunan Province and about Beijing, for the 2008 Olympics.

The space program aims to return man to the Moon by 2015.

Mitch Moxley has an article called "Land of opportunity: Mitch Moxley looks at how foreigners start up businesses in China." One business is Salo Homes, which houses visiting foreigners.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Pakistan: martial law, maybe: connect the dots please

Today there were widespread, although brief, media reports that Pakistan ‘s military president Gen. Pervez Musharraf may be close declaring a state of emergency and martial law, if his Oct. 6 “victory” is not confirmed. A typical story is an AP-CNN “Pakistan militant clash 'kills 70'”here.

Newsweek’s big story on Pakistan (Mark Hosenball and Zahid Hussain, Oct. 29, 2007) talks about the uncertainty of stocks of highly enriched uranium within Pakistan. Various groups like “Last Best Chance” have emphasized accounting for stocks from the former Soviet Union, but most attention to Pakistan has been with existing small nukes, rather than raw materials. All of this seems to make the situation seem even more urgent.

Update Nov. 3

On Saturday morning, Nov. 3, CNN announced that martial law had been implemented in Pakistan, with a "media blackout," and that its constitution had been suspended. The CNN story is here.

Update: Nov. 5

In a story that seems almost comical, an AP writer Munir Ahmad reports today that Pakistani police are attacking lawyers, something that conservative right wingers would relish in the US, maybe. The link is here. The story is also front page on Yahoo!

Remember, "Pakistan" means "Land of the Pure" in Urdu.

Update: Nov. 11, 2007

The AP, in a story by Matthew Rosenberg, reported "Musharraf bows to U.S. calls; emergency to end in a month; Bhutto 'is not free to go'", as carried on page A1 of The Washington Times Nov. 10. However, Jane Perlez and David Rhode report in The New York Times, Nov. 11, "Musharraf Refuses to Give Date for Ending Rule by Decree" although there are supposed to be parliamentary elections in January 2008, story.

But on Sunday, Joby Warrick in The Washington Post, p A1, reports: "Pakistan Nuclear Security Questioned: Lack of Knowledge About Arsenal May Limit U.S. Options," here, to the effect that the United States has never been able to monitor Pakistan's nuclear stash adequately. And in the Outlook Section, Douglas Frantz and Catherine Collins have "Those Nuclear Flashpoints Are Made in Pakistan: The fallout from U.S. policy in Pakistan may not be just dictatorship. It could be something worse" -- a mushroom cloud like on the Fox Show "24", story here.

The International Atomic Energy Agency, iaea, in Vienna has a story "Confidence fails to ease fears over nuclear threat" By Farhan Bokhari and Jo Johnson, link here from the London Financial Times, here.

IAEA's home page is here.

Visitors may want to check "A Brief History of Pakistan's Nuclear Program" and Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan here. Also the story by Robert Windrem Nov. 6 2007 on MSNBC, "Pakistan's nuclear history worries insiders: 'Nuclear coup' in 1990 and bin Laden meeting offer two chilling precedents" here.

Update: Sunday, Nov 18

David E. Singer and William J. Broad have a major New York Times story today, "U.S. Secretly Aids Pakistan in Guarding Nuclear Arms," for the past six years, link here.
It was also a headline story on AOL today.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Sovereign democracy, a new paradigm proposed by Russian professor

The Washington Post today (Oct. 31, 2007) included a paid advertising supplement from Russia, called "Kremlin Kiss-In".

There is an interesting essay on p H4 by Leonid Pokykarov, professor at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow. It is called “Sovereign Democracy as a Concept for Russia.” The term “democratic capitalism” is tossed around in the United States by neoconservatives as a prescription for the Middle East, and Pokykarov is hinting at the idea, already discussed earlier by Robert Reich, that democracy and capitalism can be somewhat antagonistic concepts. Instead he associates populist democracy with nationalism and sovereignty, and considers it ("sovereign democracy") a practical and political luxury that only 12 to 15 nations around the world can afford. He would view the members of the European Union as having given up “sovereignty” (except maybe Britain). Likewise, after the breakup of the Soviet Union at the end of 1991, the proposed “Commonwealth of Independent States” fell apart quickly, and worked out as well as the American Articles of Confederation in the 18th Century. He would seem to have some faith in Putin’s idea of “sovereign democracy” despite the progressive challenges of chess champion Garry Kasparov, and the rise of various extremist nationalist groups in Russia that could be seen as destabilizing and dangerous. He believes that large powers like the U.S. should be pragmatic in addressing problems in other countries (obviously Iraq) and not insist on the ideology of "democracy" until it at least recognizes the right of people to their own national identity and sovereignty.

Page J5 has an article by Alexander Yakovenko on global warming, “The Basic Principles of the Russian Approach,” which seem pretty generic. The underlying conflict will be between well developed consumer countries (the US and Europe) and developing countries (China) counted on for cheap labor.

Update: Nov. 14, 2007

The Washington Post has a second paid insert from Russia today. On page H5 there is a provocative article about life in Siberia, "Grandpa: All You Need is Love ... and Perhaps a Little Bit of Land," by Marina Kkariss. The article presents the shrinking population in the immense countryside as a threat to national sovereignty for Russia (which could break up into its autonomous regions). There is pressure that every household have "at least three children." The article discusses an elderly man who has a son with 12 children and a daughter with 12 children. There is emphasis placed on working the land and on sharing of chores among siblings, and on blood loyalty as a whole.

Philip Longman had discussed the problem of shrinking birthrates in many countries in his 2004 book "The Empty Cradle."

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Newsweek, NBC Nightly News make alarming report on conditions in Pakistan

A cover story on this week’s Newsweek (“Where the Jihad Lives Now”) calls Pakistan the world’s most dangerous nation (it isn’t Iraq). The link for the story is this.

NBC Nightly News tonight had a detailed report by Richard Engel covering the story. The three minute spot showed the town of Peshawar, about 200 miles west of Islamabad, with a home in which Osama bin Laden lived, and supposedly the town is the “birthplace of Al Qaeda.” The spot discussed the rapid growth of madrasah ‘s, and showed one with about 800 students, who spend hours memorizing the Koran. There are about 20000 of these in the country. A headmaster of one of the madrasahs characterized the United States as the “enemy” intending to make “slaves” of Muslim (e.g., “family slaves”). (NBC and MSNBC normally work closely with Newsweek.) The CIA unclassified public link and map for Pakistan is here.

The spot also showed a bit of coastal city Karachi (where much of “A Mighty Heart” dealing with Daniel Pearl takes place), where Osama bin Laden was known to frequent before 9/11. Extremism has found roots in many poorer neighborhoods of that city, with threats against businesses that sell western movies and music, and (to enforce visual conformity) barber shops that shave beards (although shaving sometimes has been reportedly used in purification rituals).

The story reminded us that Pakistan is a nuclear nation, in conjunction with the attempt on former prime minister Bhuto last week in Karachi.

In my own information technology career, it was common to encounter men who had come from Pakistan, often before 1980. During the 80s and 90s there was almost never any discussion of Muslim religious ideas in the workplace, and workers seemed well integrated into American capitalism, consumerism, and workplace technology and professionalism. Many physicians in PPO’s come from Pakistan and India both. One worker told me what IT jobs were like in Pakistan as far back as 1970, where there were many programmers for few jobs (no females worked) and where the number of compiles or tests allowed to get a job running was limited.

(See blog entry on Ignatius article Oct. 18.)

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Reich has essay questioning the concept "democratic capitalism"

In the months after 9/11, conservative columnists constantly repeated mantra-like criticisms of radical Islam-ist countries as not having tried "democratic capitalism." Before, in this column, in noting the success of youthful prodigies from around the world, I noted that the one thing they had in common was relative freedom, a market economy, and democratic governments, whatever the ideological details of local politics on some areas like health care.

Now, Foreign Policy, in Oct. 2007, has, on p 38, a probing essay by Dr. Robert F. Reich, former (and in his own way flamboyant) Secretary of Labor for the Clinton Administration. It is "How Capitalism Is Killing Democracy." The subtitle is "Free markets were supposed to lead to free societies. Instead, today's supercharged global economy is eroding the power of the people in democracies around the globe. Welcome to a world where the bottom line trumps the common good and government takes a back seat to big business." To him, the neo-conservative phrase, "democratic capitalism", however uplifting overseas, is a bit of an oxymoron (make like "gay 'marriage'", if you follow the conservative The Washington Times 's practice of putting the second word in quotes).

The tone of the essay certainly reminds me of Mother Jones or of The Nation. He echoes the tone of David Callahan's 2004 book "The Cheating Culture" in his critique of extreme capitalism, on a global scale. He seems at odds with Alan Greenspan ("The Age of Turbulence") in maintaining that some sense of the greater good needs to underly public behavior and policy.

He is critical of placing to much confidence on corporate generosity (although a bit more from well organized companies like Wal-Mart can certainly help people rebuild from Katrina and the wild fires --instead the LDS Church seems to lead the pack in organized help). Companies have a fiduciary responsibility to maximize investors' bottom lines. Generosity comes from individuals. But people need to think further ahead, and realize their consumer interests (like the cheapest possible electronics or clothes) may not be in the best interest of world peace and long term economic stability, let alone moral fairness. He thinks people should give a little, almost in Biblical charity, and protect their neighbors. No real argument. But absolute selfishness is not a virtue.

He is especially critical of corporate lobbying and corporate welfare, and the tendency of corporations to manipulate public speech. Both conservatives and liberals weigh in on pork barrel a lot. Because of the Internet, speech has become much more individualized, which means lone individuals can make a real difference in the outcome of subtle social and political debates. But even that raises new ethical questions about conflict of interest, and corporate America has tended to view personal Internet use more as a tool for social networking (which they want to exploit) and for publication of ideas.

I didn't see this article online, but it's worth picking up at the newsstand or in the library in hard copy. Sometimes we still need the world of print.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

David Ignatius on a possibly nuclear Al Qaeda

Today, Oct. 18, 2007, there are multiple copies of a syndicated column by David Ignatius, “Al Qaeda’s Search for Nukes” at PrairiePundit is a typical example. Here is the link.

The column is alarming, with evidence of attempts by Al Qaeda to try to acquire such weapons as early as 1993, and with the interpretation of a called-off cyanide attack in 2003 as meaning something bigger was coming.

The article discusses Department of Energy official Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, who he says "is paid to think about the unthinkable." There is very little of Mowatt-Larssen's work directly accessible on the Net. However, this is a link to a counterintelligence plan, and it describes such measures as polygraph tests (which will probably be replaced eventually with MRI "brain scan" lie detection technology discussed recently in the media).

In a sense, however, some of this is familiar. As far back as 1999, ABC Nightline had simulated an anthrax subway attack, two years before 9/11. One week before 9/11 Popular Science had described a scenario for an electromagnetic pulse attack. The media and Internet have been filled with stories as to how nuclear weapons (about the size of a refrigerator) could be manufactured and hidden by lead to escape port security, or be assembled in clandestine fashion somewhere in the US. There have been stories of “suitcase nukes” missing from Russia (and some of them in possession of Pakistan, which could fall into terrorist hands if Musharraf falls). Sam Nunn and others have set up a group called Last Best Chance aimed at security loose nuclear material from around the world, especially in former Soviet republics. A recent strike by Israel into Syria sounds like a security step to control proliferation. One of the most important books on this risk is Graham Allison's Nuclear Terrorism: The Ultimate Preventable Catastrophe (Times Books, 2004).

The control of access to loose material seems like an item of highest priority, and questions about the stability of Russia (as raised by Garry Kasparov) make one wonder how completely successful an attempt to account for everything can be. Stability of old enemies like Russia and China, as well as the continued issue of North Korea, are major concerns in preventing some future huge tragedy.

Late today, major media outlets reported an assassination attempt, with many fatalities, on former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto as she returned to Pakistan and visited the large coastal city Karachi. She left in 1999. She was well known to support US efforts to root Al Qaeda out of Pakistan. Even though the deepest support for bin Laden is thought to be in the rural Pashtun tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, many activities supporting Al Qaeda may have taken place in that city over the years (as depicted in the movie A Mighty Heart this year). Bin Laden is known to have visited there various times before 9/11 and could conceivably escape on the Indian Ocean there.

Pakistan, remember, is a nuclear power, with some smaller or suitcase nukes in its possession, and these could fall into the wrong hands quickly. Musharraf himself is a military dictator, an ally of the U.S. when in uniform for mainly temporary political reasons. Alan Greenspan, in his new book The Age of Turbulence, writes in a cursory footnote on p 469, "A nuclear detonation on U.S. soil, I fear, could temporarily unhinge our economy." Euphemism to be sure.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Chinese police monitor Internet users as well as censor content

Internet censorship in China seems to continue unabated. According to a story in PC World by Steven Schwankert of the IDG News Service, “Press Group Slams Chinese Internet Censorship”, the Chinese quasi-Communist government uses thousands of police to monitor the activities or ordinary users. The link is here. There is a report from “Reporters Without Borders” called “Journey to the Heart of Internet Censorship (here, in pdf format) that the government itself is trying to prevent from disseminated.

Journalists are told not to discuss certain topics, and many overseas servers of sporadically blocked and time out. Many Chinese ISPs and sites have shut down, sometimes intermittently.

It’s interesting that the government believes it is so vulnerable to what bloggers and journalists may say. It must have a lot to hide. Of course, American companies like Microsoft have been accused of cooperating with the Chinese government’s censorship activities in order to do business there. Here is a typical story, from BBC, “Microsoft Censors Chinese blogs: Chinese bloggers posting their thoughts via Microsoft's net service face restrictions on what they can write” from June 2005.

Update: Oct. 24, 2007

Foreign Policy online has a web-extra in October, "How to Do It: Circumventing the Censors,: here. The underlying concept seems to be to use tools to render your identity anonymous.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

"Libel Tourism": British law tempts Islamists to quash speech globally

Michael J. Broyde and Debdorah E. Lipstadt have a disturbing op-ed on p. A27 of The New York Times, today, Thursday, Oct. 11, 2007, “Home Court Advantage” with the insert headline, “American authors need to be protected from libel tourism.” Here is the link. It may require registration or purchase.

There are two issues at stake. One is that suddenly, authors and publishers have found that some countries, Britain, at least, will honor lawsuits against them for books not published in those countries but ordered by at least one citizen of the country online. This seems to be new with the Ehdrenfeld case, discussed below. The other issue is something like “full faith and credit” among the states in the United States”: courts are now considering where libel judgments from foreign countries can be collected from Americans without being brought in American courts. It is surprising to me that they could be. The op-ed authors encourage Congress to pass a law preventing state or federal courts from enforcing overseas judgments without be brought in American courts. Even without such a law, however, one would expect current and future defendants to find support to take this to the Supreme Court if necessary.

Right now, a district court in New York is considering whether a judgment against Rachel Ehrenfeld, an American author, whose book “Funding Evil: How Terrorism Is Financed and How to Stop It,” published in 2003, tries to establish that a certain Saudi sheik (named in the op-ed; I’ll decline to name him here for right now) has financed radical Islamic terrorism, apparently through charities. A 2005 version of the book (with a "Preface to the Expanded Edition" that discusses the UK litigation) is available from Amazon (despite a supposed agreement to destroy the book). I ordered the book today. However, another book from Cambridge University press by , J. Millard Burr and Robert O. Collins, “Alms for Jihad,” was withdrawn by the publisher without giving the authors a chance to defend, but this book apparently (given the name of the publisher) was published in the United Kingdom. Amazon offers only a review of that book as an e-doc. In practice, the American justice system seems to have gone after "false store front" charities with some vigor, sometimes prosecuting innocent businessmen here.

One important factor is that Britain demands much more of defendants when there are libel claims. Kitty Kelly, author of the “The Royals,” warned the media that “truth is not an absolute defense to libel in Britain” as it is supposed to be in the United States. Furthermore, in Britain, a plaintiff does not have to show that the libel was done with malice. Libel claims in Britain, however, have typically occurred in the past with books published in Britain and been made by British subjects or about incidents involving British subjects (such as the Princess Diana tragedy, about which rumors abound). For interests in other countries or parties (especially radical Islam) to use British courts to suppress worldwide speech, especially against defendants in other countries when these defendants have no practical ability to afford to defend themselves in Britain, is particularly sinister and this is something Congress should take up immediately.

The op-ed referred to books, but one wonders about websites, such as blogs and social networking profiles. Could Saudi businessmen try to shut down blogs that criticize them?

This sounds like a critical legal issue that bears careful watching, for detailed progress of specific cases and any bills in Congress.

Update: Jan. 9, 2008

The new "unauthorized biography" of Tom Cruise by Andrew Morton, to be published by St. Martin's Press Jan. 15, 2008, will not be published in Britain, where libel is harder to defend (at least according to Kitty Kelly). Nevertheless, couldn't the same sort of action be brought in Britain against this book anyway, given the example set here by the book about Khalid bin Mahfouz?

Update: Aug. 31, 2008

The Washington Times, on p B3, published an op-ed by Clifford May, "Free Speech Under Fire," about libel tourism, and discussed the propsoed Free Speech Protection Act of 2008 (introduced by New York representatives Peter King, a Republican, and Anthony Weiner, Democrat) link here.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Bloggers get Al Qaeda web sites shut down

The Washington Times has an provocative story today (Wednesday October 10, 2007) about “blogger” vigilantes in the international scene, on p A1, by Audrey Hudson, “Blogs target jihadis online: Force servers (even those overseas) to close sites.” The link is this. The story lists nineteen sites in a box called “Jihad Bookmarks,” sites put up by Al Qaeda or sympathizers with violent rhetoric and images, some of them of insurgency in Iraq.

Individual bloggers have sometimes pressured ISPs to close down sites with violent rhetoric, which the story says has pressured Al Qaeda to place more effort on sending tapes to the major media outlets with risky land courier operations. The story mentions Dr. Rusty "John Doe" Shackleford who runs the “Jawa Report,” here.

The story reports that bloggers sometimes contact the FBI, and often want to, in contrast to the recent controversy over reporters’ guarding confidential sources and shield laws. I have done so myself a few times. Sometimes parties with axes to grind contact individual bloggers instead of the major media or law enforcement, and sometimes these parties may want to see others caught.

“Vigilante” activity on the Internet has attracted attention in other areas, such as Peej and NBC Dateline with its notorious TCAP series, or Lane Hudson, whose anonymous blog helped bring down Florida Republican Congressman Mark Foley in 2006 and may have had a material effect on the midterm Congressional elections. I’ve noticed this consistently: sometimes obscure materials reported by bloggers or individual websites get picked up by major media, or sometimes even get written into fictitious settings as in television series and soaps.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

European Union action on lead in computers could complicate "tin whiskers" reliability problem

Jordan Robertson, an Associated Press Technology writer, has a story about tin whiskers on Yahoo! today. The title is “Tiny Tin Whiskers Imperil Electronics.” The link is here or here.

The problem of microscopic frays on tin solder connections has been known for decades, and electronics and computer manufacturers have generally added a slight amount of lead into the alloy to combat that physical property of tin.

Recently the European Union banned this practice. The concern is that computer or electronics parts wind up in landfills or dumps and can contribute to lead poisoning of children. The moral question sounds like a “technology v. people” one, although a reported like John Stossel would probably contest that.

Silver and copper might substitute for lead, but require much higher temperatures. This still sounds like a significant engineering problem.

It is unclear how the European Union ban would affect overseas products intended for sale in the United States. Potentially, it could make computers purchased in the future less stable. Hard drives and other components have become much more dependable (as well has have much higher storage capacity for less money) during the past ten years.

Here is NASA’s link on tin whiskers:

Here is an article on lead-free electronics from Advanced Packaging.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Tensions in Afghanistan cause postponement of movie release

This evening, Thursday, Oct. 4, 2007, NBC Nightly News reported that Paramount has decided to delay release of the film "The Kite Runner" because of concerns over possible reprisals in Afghanistan. The film was to released by "Paramount Vantage" (the trademark that Paramount now uses for its independent films) and was produced with the help of Dreamworks SKG. The director is Marc Forster, and it is based on the well known book by Khaled Hosseini. The book was published in 2004 by Riverside (Amazon link). The screenplay adaptation is by David Benioff.

The NBC news story indicated that the release might be delayed by as much as six weeks. There was no immediate web reference on MSNBC, but it will probably appear shortly. But Reuters has a story "Studio Acts to Shield Child Stars of 'Kite Runner'" by Steve Gorman, here.

The Washington Post had a story in the Style Section, page C1, Oct. 5, 2007, by John Ward Anderson and William Booth, "'Kite Runner': Danger On and Off the Screen", link here.
The story says that Paramount Vantage has pushed the release back to Dec. 14, limited in a few cities until January. The movie will not be shown in Afghanistan, but DVDs will probably show up there. The movie was filmed in China. The story indicates that the danger could increase if the Taliban becomes stronger again because Bush administration policies turn out not to be effective enough.

The story in the film has some violence that would reflect poorly on the perpetrators. But it is fiction, the book is a novel. The story cites Afghanistan's 28% literacy rate, and then reads, quoting Abdul Latif Ahmadi, president of Afghan Film, "This is the mentality of the people in Afghanistan... People don't realize that it's not true. When they watch a film, they accept it -- it's real, why did they do it?" This gets into the "Touching Doctrine" that I discussed on my main blog (check my Profile) on July 27, 2007.

It is extremely disturbing, even to a freelance writer like me, that a major media company has to delay distribution of a film because of fear of reprisals for speech. This, to a western mind, sounds like giving in to bullying.

We have seen other films about serious international issues (two films recently about Darfur, for example).

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

NY Times Science Issue on Arctic Ice Melt

Andrew C. Revkin has written and assembled a large report on the unexpectedly summer icecap melt in the Arctic in the Tuesday Oct. 2, 2007 The New York Times, section D. The story is called "Arctic Melt Unnerves the Experts", with the link here. There are multiple photographs, and maps showing meterological explanations for the melt. But it seems unquestionable that fossil fuel burning has led to a much more rapid summer melt of the arctic ice cap (including Greenland) than had been expected, even in Al Gore's and Leonardo Di Caprio's films. The rise in sea level could occur even more rapidly. The refreeze in the autumn will take longer (although at the North Pole the sun sets for six months around Sept. 22). The lack of ice can increase global warming and approach the "tipping point" because blue water does not reflect summer sunlight the way ice does. On the other hand, a sudden melt could affect ocean currents (the Gulf Stream and feedback loop) in such a way as to compromise western Europe's relatively mild winters. All pretty sobering stuff.

Update: Oct. 7, 2007

Bjorn Lomborg has a large pragmatic essay in the Outlook Section of The Washington Post today, "Chill out. Stop fighting over global warming -- here's the smart way to attack it," link here.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Myanmar provides another platform for citizen journalism

Today, Friday September 28, 2007, Geoffrey A. Fowler has a "Wall Street Journal" article on p 1, "'Citizen Journalists' Evade Blackout On Myanmar News". "Professional" journalists with regular press credentials have been forced to leave and faced very serious risks to life if they try to report on the military government of Myanmar (Burma). But citizen journalists have been active, using cell phones and rare connections. The government has tried to cut off all Internet and other communication. Other media sources today reported an entrepreneur in Britain processing stories from Myanmar and getting them up on the web.

An important film was Beyond Rangoon (1995), directed by John Boorman, from Columbia Pictures.

Update: Oct. 4, 2007. The New York Times has a front page story by Seth Mydans, "Monks Are Silenced, and for Now, the Web Is, Too," here. The story mentions crackdowns in Belarus, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. A related link is the Open Net Initiative.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Russia: Kasparov v. Putin

Last night, Sunday, Sept. 23, 2007, CBS “60 Minutes” did a spot on Garry Kasparov, former FIDE World Chess Champion, who “retired” from chess at 42 in 2005. Correspondent Steve Kroft did a story on him and his United Civil Front, to oppose the policies of Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Kasparov accuses Putin of running a “police state” and squashing dissent, running the country for the sake of the elite. In some ways, he sees Russia as reverting back to the society under communism of the former Soviet Union. But under Soviet regimes, he probably would have been imprisoned in a gulag, at least until Gorbachov.

Another good article is on the Volokh Conspiracy, “Garry Kasparov on Putin’s Russia and the Godfather,” (July 29, 2007), here:

Garry Kimovich Kasparov was born Garri Weinstein. He has a new book “How Life Imitates Chess: Making the Right Moves, from the Board to the Boardroom”, to be published on Sept. 25.

As an international chess champion, Kasparov was known for his creative style, balancing positional play with tactics. He would challenge dogmatic theories, such as those about an isolated pawn. He had a knack for finding opening lines considered less desirable and rehabilitating them, and bringing them back into the mainstream of opening theory, as with the Tarrasch Defense of the Queen’s Gambit Declined. (Look at “Tarrasch Defense Rules” here: ). He tended to prefer queenside openings with white, but often chose aggressive lines and played them in a more tactical style. He was very effective in playing for wins with the black pieces.

Kasparov is certainly becoming a historical figure from the liberty point of view. Chess is the most individualistic of all major games (except for Go, maybe, and perhaps international tennis or solo events like skateboarding (Shaun White) and skiing). It is interesting how the game and the way he plays it expresses his personal philosophy, and how he wants to use it to free the world’s largest country (except for China), with its authoritarian history.

Given all the wild East Internet activity, Russia certainly has gotten a reputation for "new capitalism." Yet, since the 1990s, and with the Russian financial crisis of 1998, there has always been a legitimate fear of Russian nationalism and the fear that it can lapse back into a new totalitarianism, as with some reports of some communo-fascist pro-Putin youth groups. It's confusing was to what Russian political identity will morph to.

Kasparov is certainly out of his element, playing on the road, or with the Black pieces, and his position is not yet minus over plus.

Update: Sept. 30, 2007

According to an AP story by Lynn Berry on Sunday, Sept. 30, Kasparov entered Russia's presidential race on Sunday. His candidacy still needs to be registered and he could be blocked.

His book is "How Life Imitates Chess" and it is reviewed on my books blog (see profile)>

Putin is said to be interested in running for the parliament so that he could become a Prime Minister after his term as president expires.

Update: Nov. 25, 2007

There is an AP story today by Mansur Mirovaley in the Detroit News, "Kasparov jailed after anti-Putin protest", here. Kasparov was sentenced to five days in jail.

Update: Dec 3, 2007

Review of CNN's report by Christiane Amanpour, "Czar Putin", here, as well as discussion of the Sunday Dec 2 election.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Mystery strike by Israel against missing nuclear material

The administration has been mum about this, but apparently Israel "went in" and destroyed a site in Syria thought to have nuclear materials of some kind, purchased from North Korea (rather than Iran). Sam Nunn and others (the film "Last Best Chance") and homeland security guru Randall J. Larsen ("Our Own Worst Enemy" -- see my books blog Sept. 18) have stressed the importance of aggressive programs overseas to account for nuclear materials. The United States recently had an embarrassing domestic incident in which a nuclear warhead as shipped cross country without proper accounting.

The president of Iran (Mahmoud Ahmadinejad) has created controversy with a visit to New York City, including a speech scheduled at Columbia University. The university invited him out of "academic freedom," yet the university president confronted him. At one point he retorted that Iran doesn't have homosexuals, and the US does.

Gay Patriot blog commentary on Ahmadinejad's remarks here.

Update: Oct. 5, 2007.

ABC "World News Tonight" gave an exclusive on the Israel strike on Syria, saying that the Bush administration asked it to postpone the strike from July. The materials may have been in Syria for some time. The ABC News story by Charles Gibson is "
High Level Debate Stalled Syria Air Strike
U.S. Was Concerned Over Intelligence, Stability to Region, Officials Tell ABC News", link here. Is this Israel's "Cuban Missile Crisis"?

Update: Oct. 19, 2007

ABC News has a big story today by Martha Raddatz, "EXCLUSIVE: The Case for Israel's Strike on Syria: Official: Air Attack Targeted Nascent Nuclear Facility Built With North Korean 'Expertise'", here. There was a cylindrical structure with apparently North Korean design. The US military considered a special forces raid, but the White House nixed the idea, until Israel went in. This sounds a bit like the photographic evidence before the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

NBC Today has story on female fire department in Iran

Today, The NBC "Today" show, with Matt Lauer, featured an interesting report on women in Iran. An entirely female fire company (in a city fire department) was shown. Yet women must still wear the veil, and have been prosecuted for showing too much ankle in public. The veil actually stimulates a booming business in “nose jobs” plastic surgery in Tehran.

The report indicated that the increase in well-educated women is bound to lead to challenges to religious, patriarchal Shiite male-dominated authoritarianism.

A good recent account of Haleh Esfandiari, who spent 105 days in the Evin Prison in Tehran, is here, AP story by Stephen Manning in The Washington Post, Sept. 9, 2007, here: (may require registration or purchase).

I recall that, in 1980, the company EDS, in its former property on Forest Lane in Dallas, kept a running count of the elapsed days that the hostages had been held in Iran since November 1979.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Major media reports on new bin Laden video surfacing just before 9/11 anniversary

Today, Tuesday September 11, 2007, is the sixth anniversary of the tragedy, and the first time, in a perpetual calendar sense, that the anniversary has occurred on the same day of the week.

The media has made much of the release of a two videos, one on Saturday and one today (Sept 11, the "anniversary"), a 47 minute video exalting "martyrs." The Saturday piece from Osama bin Laden in which he appears to have dyed his beard black, or be wearing a “hairpiece.” (Some reports seem to indicate more than one video, or more than one version of the video.) This, to appeal to youthful vanity, is seen as unusual in Muslim culture, which supposedly venerates its elders. Osama bin Laden would have turned 50 years old in March.

So far the video(s) have not been obviously available on any mainstream websites. I suppose it is accessible P2P. The government has analyzed it (them), and believes that it indicates that bin Laden is still alive. The videos refer to some events this summer.

The English language version of the Al Jazeera account of the video, “US ‘analyzing new bin Laden video’” is here. Many websites carrying messages from al Qaeda have been shut down, according to this report.

Bloomberg has a more detailed account by Michael Heath and Camilla Hall, here.

The Associated Press has a story (and a short video clip of length 1:20) today by Lee Keath, the press release coming from the News Journal Online of Daytona Beach, FL, here.

The video(s) continue the usual ideological rant, with apparently nothing specific. I do recall the chilling videos played by the major media on Oct. 7, 2001 in immediate response when the United States took action in Afghanistan, and other videos, such as a particularly gloating video shown on Dec. 13, 2001. (The have been about 75 such videos since 9/11/2001). It is clear, however, that Bin Laden and radical Islam as a whole believe (however they cloak their beliefs in historical grievances over occupied lands) in a “tainted fruits” theory of individual morality, and that those who lost lives or lost in other ways in these or similar tragedies in recent history are personally atoning for the “sins” of not only themselves but of others who benefit from their society. Many religions subscribe to this sort of moral belief, and it can be intellectually compelling. As just one example, it’s true, land and property were taken or expropriated from individual Palestinians by force and without compensation (by Israel), a practice that offends and shames modern ideas of individual rights and seems to deserve response. In the early days of my adult working life and living on my own, I did encounter a lot of this sort of indignant thinking from the radical Left within this country, a subset of people who wanted to see justice performed on those it perceived as oppressors ("rich people"). This sort of "subversion" can lead to other threats economic in nature but of colossal scale, and imagination is the only limit, as we have seen in the commentary of the past six years.

It seems interesting, today, to reflect that apparently only Christianity offers salvation through Grace, and allows the individual to be saved by the atonement of one person sent to atone, Jesus. Even some forms of Christianity, however, emphasize works and karma. Traditional Christianity and Catholicism have much of their own hypocrisy and are far from perfect in practice, but Grace gives it one big advantage. Maybe that helps accounts for the advances of western civilization compared to Islam, and other ideologies. The previous Pope, remember, was instrumental in helping Reagan with the fall of Communism. Bin Laden brazenly demands that the entire planet convert to Islam (restoring the Caliphate would no longer be good enough) so that everyone submits to his idea of atonement, no one is forgiven. That sounds a bit like Chairman Mao's Cultural Revolution, where everyone has to become a peasant. Sayyid Qutb's theories of religious virtue, where everyone submits and is brought low, as covered in articles in The Weekly Standard in 2002, come to mind. But one big difference between religious theories of "atonement" and classical-liberal or libertarian and secular ideas of "personal responsibility" are that in the latter, force is not used for force any individual to share in payback for some collective wrong.

The Sept. 3 2007 issue of Newsweek has a Special Report "Into Thin Air" on p 24, with the black and white mountain scenery cover and the byline "He's Still Out There: The Hunt for Bin Laden." Indeed, if you follow the logic of the recent Paramount Vantage film A Mighty Heart, he might have escaped through the huge coastal city of Karachi, where, according to many sources (at least one told to me personally) he has had many contacts since the 1990s.

There seems to be a cottage industry in finding these videos. See the story by Joby Warrick, "Bin Laden Brought to You By ..." on Wed. Sept 12, 2007, p A1, here.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Worker immigrants send money back to families in "old countries"

Today (Tuesday Sept. 4. 2007) The Washington Times (on page A1 print) ran an AP story by William Kole, “Remittances aid Families back in the old countries: Immigrants sent home $275 billion in 2006”.

The story can be interpreted in many contexts. There is the brain drain concern, and a security concern that money can be laundered through hawalas. But the cultural motive is what stands out. Most cultures from the “non West” (including Muslim cultures) exhibit greater tribe and blood loyalty than is commonly expected in the US, in Britain and Commonwealth countries, and in Western Europe in general. It is common and expected in these cultures for breadwinners to send money back, not just to wives and children, but to extended family members, especially parents. In “advanced countries” filial responsibility is an underground controversy, respected by many but not yet talked about much by politicians (even conservative ones). In Poland, anti-gay government officials warned that Europe was under threat from alien cultures that “protect their families” by having more children. In the news story, some of the “old countries” were former communist countries like Albania.

The demographics of all this is getting noticed more, like by author Bruce Bawer in his recent book “While Europe Slept.” The family values thing certain relates to assimilation.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Separation of church and state: in long-view world history terms, an anomaly

On Sunday Aug. 19, 2007 The New York Times Magazine ran an interesting essay on “political theology” by Mark Lilia, “The Politics of God, photographs by Thomas Struth, atarting on p 28. The magazine cover (and a section of the essay) is called “The Great Separation” and the by-line reads “We in the West find it incomprehensible that theological ideas still inflame the minds of men, stirring up messianic passions that can leave societies in ruin. We had assumed that this was no longer possible, that human beings had learned to separate religious questions from political ones, that political theology died in 16th-Century Europe. We were wrong. It’s we who are the fragile exception.”

He goes through a long history of the church and state question, a good final exam essay in world history, it seems. He puts particular emphasis on the influence (with some paradox) of Hobbes and then Rousseau.

But the central question seems anthropological. Human beings, coming alive in a world that they did not choose to be born in, seek an explanation for the condition in which they find themselves, seek some kind of order. It’s natural to assume that God (or the gods) want things to work a certain way (say, heterosexually). Religious ideas go hand in hand with collective values that justify the subordination of individual expression for the supposed stability, safety, and (given a hostile external world) prosperity of the group. You can certainly see that in Leviticus. And you can see it in Sharia law. Indeed, Lilia’s ideas might help us understand how someone (“messianic”) like Hitler could take over an advanced nation, even if it was on its back. All kinds of other practices over the ages, like simony, can fall into place.

Lilia’s piece deserves to be compared with recent books by Robert W. Merry, Sands of Empire: Missionary Zeal, American Foreign Policy, and the Hazards of Global Ambition (2005), and Amy Chua. World on Fire: How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability, both reviewed on by books blog.

Yes, many people defer to religion to determine what is "right" and "wrong" and it seems perfectly "natural" to do so. But some of the more subtle and psychological subtexts of the cultural wars to project well onto "secular humanist" analysis on issues like shared burdens and "hyper-individualism v. solidarity." The conclusions from making such analysis are not always reassuring.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Indonesia may start using provisional H5N1 vaccine

The CPM Group (Contingency Planning Management Group) reports “Indonesia to Begin H5N1 Vaccination despite WHO Recommendations. The story is here (requires registration to see text).

This refers to avian influenza (so called “bird flu”), and according to the story the number of fatalities in Indonesia has risen recently from 82 to 103. So far the worldwide death toll is 192, out of 319 documented infections.

The World Health Organization wants to keep the vaccine stockpiled should a pandemic occur. The vaccine is relatively new and it is not clear how effective it could be, or if could be manufactured in response to a demand.

The Centers for Disease Control link on the current status of avian influenza is here.

As a general matter, much more progress needs to be made in reducing potential vaccine manufacturer liability and in improving vaccine technology to give the United States sufficient protection from the possibility, somewhat remote, of a full scale "Spanish flu" type epidemic, as demonstrated in the 2006 ABC film "Fatal Contact: Bird Flu in America."

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Blogger throws curve at global warming debate; but look at the real evidence

“Quarter-Degree Fix Fuels Climate Fight” Andrew C. Rivkin, in The New York Times online, Sunday Aug. 26, 2007, here (I could not find it in the print version), discusses a blog by retired Canadian scientist Steve McIntyre “Climate Audit” ; also look at this. . The blogger apparently uncovered a slight error by NASA in reporting global average temperature since 2000 (some missing data), very slightly nudging it downward to the point that 1934 might be the warmest year ever. Yet Mr. McIntyre does not doubt that efforts need to be made to limit greenhouse gases. Conservative pundits have jumped on this blogosphere event to claim that global warming is a “manmade” reporting artifact (not a real man-made phenomenon) but that would be hard to justify when we look at melting of glaciers and polar icecaps. It is not immediately clear how this could affect the graphs in Al Gore’s “college lecture” in his film and book “An Inconvenient Truth.”

The New York Times today also has another important story, “As China Roars, Pollution Reaches Deadly Extremes”, by Joseph Kahn and Jim Yardley, which is part of a series “Choking on Growth.” The link is this: There are plenty of multi-media materials in report.

This series should be studied in regard to the dependence of American consumers on products made a low wages in China, with apparently inadequate safety controls (as with the recent toy scandal) and the likely political effect that Chinese growth will make on energy demands and global warming, assuming Al Gore and Leonardo Di Caprio are right (I think they are).

Greece, the whole country, has, according to multiple media reports, been under a state of emergency because of raging brush fires, exacerbated by the hotter dry summer, but some of the fires appear to have been set.

Update: Sept. 13, 2007

Dr. Timothy Ball (National Resources Stewardship Project) and Tom Harris have an ambiguous Commentary on p 21 of the DC Examiner, "New doubts on global warming in revised NASA temperature data," with questioning of the reliance on computer models forecasting global warming. The article discusses NASA GISS director James Hansen's response to McIntyre's post.