Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Venezuela: Chavez shuts down "subversive" television station

Venezuela president Hugo Chavez has drawn international criticism and public protests for shutting down (by refusing to renew the broadcast license of) station RCTV, which he claims backed a coup against him in 2002 and promotes subversive ideas.

Chavez has been a source of concern because of his far left-wing socialism and the fact that Venezuela is the fourth largest supplier of imported oil to the U.S.

As with China (reaching back to the days of Mao 's "cultural revolution" of the 60s), far left wing governments tend to suppress open free speech and dissent on the theory that dissent comes from "privilege" and is intended to exploit "ordinary working people".

The Washington Times, on May 29 2007, has a major front page story here.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Critical court case in Malaysia on Islam and state

Malaysia's highest court, the Federal Court in Kuala Lumpur, will soon (perhaps even May 30) have to decide if Islamic Shariah law applies to someone who was registered as Muslim but has chosen to renounce Islam or convert to another faith (in the case of Lina Joy, Christianity). Muslim law finds itself in a Catch-22 in trying to have it both ways as a secular country and a Muslim country, since Shariah law is supposed to pre-empt secular law for Muslims. The AP story by Eileen Ng is here, and was reprinted in The Washington Times today.

Americans in technical careers have often traveled to Malaysia for business (computer manufacturers have always sent a lot of trainers there), and one friend of mine had major clients there when he ran an ISP. Kuala Lumpur was made to look like a slick city in the 1999 film "Entrapment" but a recent independent film "I Don't Want to Sleep Alone" (shown at the Andy Warhol Museum recently) shows the side of poor people in a city sharply divided by wealth. Nearby Singapore, famous for its economic boom, is a secular independent city-state with very conservative social values based on secular philosophy.

Update: June 4, 2007

The woman lost her court case and may leave Malaysia. The story on May 31 in tbo.com by Eileen Ng is "Christian Convert May Leave Malaysia", here.

Some of the philosophical thinking may include the notion that a person owes a cultural loyalty to the religious entity or family that reared her, regardless of her own desires or beliefs or of a more abstract idea of right and wrong.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

New report on soaring CO-2 emissions

USA Today has a report by Dan Vergano, "Study: Worldwide Carbon Dioxide Emissions Soar", on May 22, 2007, at this link.

Venus greenhouse gas carbon dioxide emissions rates tripled between 2000-2004 compared to the 1990s, according to the journal of the Proceedings from the National Academy of Sciences (now located in new quarters in the Ballston area of Arlington VA). This is largely because of the rapid growth of industry and consumerism in developing countries, especially China, who want to share the consumptive lifestyles of the West. There is another link to these stories here.

The Academy offers many documents if one searches "global warming". A typical example is "Abrupt Climate Change: Inevitable Surprises", here.

Note also two big stories in the June 2007 National Geographic. First, there is Paul Nicklen "Life at the Edge: On the frontier of a frozen ocean, rising temperatures imperil wildlife whose survival depends on ice." (P 32). For this ecosystem, the absence of ice sheets is like a garden with no soil. Then there is Tim Appenzeller and James Balog, "The Big Thaw: It's no surprise that a warming climate is melting the world's glaciers and polar ice, but no one expected it to happen this fast," p. 56. The problem is that both Greenland and Antarctica create their own climates by mass, so once ice starts being lost, the process can accelerate very quickly. Original projections that the Greenland ice cap melt could raise sea levels by one foot in a century now are replaced by the possibility that it could raise twenty feet. Most of habitable Florida, other coastal areas, and certainly poorer coastal areas in India, Bangladesh, Indonesia, etc. could be lost in a few decades.

Yet The Donald Trump still builds condos in Florida and hires his apprentices to supervise them.

Picture: coal strip mine highwall at Barton MD, south of Cumberland, where a wall collapsed in April 2007. The "coal measures" start behind the Allegheny Front and Eastern Continental Divide and strip mining is still a big issue.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Huge immigration bill in Senate

The Senate proposes to develop a "path to citizenship" for up to 12 million undocumented or "illegal" immigrants in the United States. There would be a fine ($5000), and at least one return to home country every eight years with a guarantee of right of return.

Guest worker programs would allow up to 400000 workers a year with a "Y" visa. Supporters deny that this is an "amnesty" program.

Citizenship and various visa applications would place more emphasis on individual skills and education and less on legal family ties. This is bound to become politically controversial in various committees. Many cultures have more children and place more psychological value on blood loyalty for its own sake than does some of the US, and many immigrants send money back home for relatives. The legal recognition of marriage becomes critical, and of course LGBT immigrants have potentially inferior opportunities without access to marriage. The CNN story for May 17 2007 is here.

There is a Washington Blade story on May 4, 2007 by Amos Linn, "No Place to Call Home: Recent state victories are good news, but don’t forget about plight of bi-national couples", here.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Prince Harry will not go to Iraq -- protecting privilege? -- reminds us of the draft

British Army off Staff Gen. Richard Dannatt announced today that Britain's third in line for the throne, Prince Harry, will not go to Iraq with his unit even though he is commissioned in the British Army and appears to have done very well.

Of course, security problems, given the Prince's fame, were cited. That's a no brainer. But the idea of not sending someone who has chosen a military career, and then not letting him share the risk, is morally disturbing. (Okay, if you want, you can get into the "morality" of royalty if you want.) If the prince were deployed, it would be entirely appropriate to give his unit even more security or deploy him only in easier to secure areas, but he really should have been allowed to go. This sounds like an admission that conditions in Iraq are so out of control that the future of the region really is in grave doubt. The Green Zone is reported to be under heavy pressure now. (Is this about democracy, or is it about oil?)

I was somewhat sheltered when I was in the Army. I "volunteered for the draft" and then enlisted RA for two years two weeks early and wound up at Fort Jackson, SC Feb. 9, 1968. The Army recruiter had said that there was a 95% chance that I would wind up in Vietnam as a 11Bravo infrantryman "as cannon fodder" if I did not sign up for at least three years. Some men believed that, but I did not. As it turned out, even though I recycled in Basic once, I got sent to the Pentagon as an 01E20 "Mathematician" after Basic and was quartered on South Post at Fort Myer (South Post no longer exists). Then, some shenannigans occurred as I was processed for my TS, and I wound up being transferred to Fort Eustis ("Fort Uselss") Virginia, near Williamsburg, in the Combat Development Command Transportation Agency. I spent the last 17 months of my tour in the low rise white wood building that is no longer there.

Today, the Pentagon cold shoulders the idea of the draft again, whereas a few politicans (such as Rangel) argue that it would be much fairer than the "back door draft" of multiple tours. The idea that "sacrifice" should be shared equitably is very hard for us to get a grip on in today's political debate. The draft also would beg the question of what should happen to "don't ask don't tell" as being gay shouldn't keep one out of the draft (it didn't during Vietnam), and it also begs the question of conscripting females. Of course, their (the liberal politicians') real purpose is to get us out of Iraq altogether. When Saddam Hussein's statue fell in 2003 (after the "shock and awe"), little did we know.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Bush says he can step up plans for fuel efficiency

President Bush, on Monday May 14, called for the establishment of higher fuel efficiency standards for automobiles, as a step in reducing dependence on fossil fuels (especially foreign oil), and in reducing greenhouse gas emissions that may cause global warming.

Critics of the Bush administration have long maintained that failure to do so will increase international tension and the likelihood of other conflicts over limitations on natural resources and environmental degradation. Until now, Bush has turned a cold shoulder on the Kyoto accords. Filmmakers are turning to the issues, such as Leonardo Di Caprio with the project “The 11th Hour” and the well known film “An Inconvenient Truth” from Al Gore, and Netflix’s on release “A Crude Awakening” from Basil Gelpke and Ray MacCormack. My reviews are here.

Bush said in the Rose Garden Monday that he can implement regulatory changes before he leaves office in January 2009 without Congressional approval.

The media did not pick up a lot on this story. But there is a story by Jim Rutenberg and Edmund L. Andrews “Bush Calls for Work for Higher Fuel Efficiency” in The New York Times, May 15, 2007, here (may require membership or login).

In the mean time, because of refinery problems, even without any immediate crude oil supply choke points today, gasoline prices are now at record levels and could even lead to spot shortages in some areas. The number of domestic refineries has gone down from over 300 twenty years ago to about 160 now.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Homeland Security in Alabama and misworded website

A blog called Freestudents has noted that a discussion on a website run by the Homeland Security Department of the State of Alabama would have classified most people to express views questiong government authority as "terrorists". He also notes that, after he posted a link to the blog and notified some friends, the pages disappeared, without explanation. Here is the specific link on the "Classically Liberal" blog, a posting called "Down the Memory Hole". The author saved images of the posting, and one can click on them and enlarge them so that the original text can be read,

This looks like an "English composition" or "I got a D on my first theme" problem. It's often tough to discuss concepts and threats without wording things in such a way as to be overly inclusive. When I read the posting it struck me as more of an English composition or interpretation problem. High school and college students are reminded this all the time, to be very precise in characterizing things, and to be very careful about the context in which potentially provocative statements are made.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Islamism, traditionalism, and secularism: important article in The American Interest

Amir Taheri has an important essay, "What Do Muslims Think?" in the May / June 2007 issue of The American Interest. The link is here. The author contests the idea that radical Islam has advanced so much in contrast to the mass of Islam as a whole, much of which obviously benefits from modern capitalism and it hidden form of "freedom." The author discusses the effects of traditionalism and secularism on Islam, with respect to such issues as usury or "no interest" religious laws, prohibition of limited liability of an individual (which used to prevent liability companies and partnerships common in the west). On social issues, Islam (despite supposedly strict sharia) has become more pragmatic, often willing to at least accept a "don't ask don't tell" approach to homosexuality. He writes "The absence of a central authority has allowed Muslim societies to adopt pragmatic approaches to many controversial scientific issues" and, earlier, "Radical Muslim advocates today are standing on soapboxes suspended in very thin social air."

But his most astonishing statement comes when he discusses Western ideas of personal equality. He writes "Islam is based on a baroque hierarchy of inequality." That almost sounds like the way Charley Chaplin characterizes the ideology of Nazism when he gives his famous impromptu speech at the end of the film "The Great Dictator." Capitalism and the free market accept the idea that people will not perform equally or be rewarded equally. But to have the freedom to compete in a market, one must first be an equal person before the law (or in the church or mosque). The inequality mentioned here is that defined in religious or political laws, the notion that some arbitrary characteristics, or, more likey, situation with respect to familial or tribal ancestry, make one person superior to another. It's hard for markets to keep this separated, so its easy to understand why people become disillusioned and attracted to radical ideology when the rules of competition are unfair.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Honeybee colonies dying off

Donald Trump, in NBC's Apprentice LA, had a task where the teams had to don beekeeper clothing and harvest honey at a California farm. They actually got stung.

But in early May 2007, US beekeepers have been describing "Colony Collapse Disorder," that so far has cost 25% of the colony hives. The problem is international, going as far as Brazil.

Bees pollinate over 90% of our crops, and honeybees account for about 70%. This could result in serious food supply problems by the end of the year if not reversed.

Earlier rumors related to cell phone signals, but now some sort of fungus or parasite is suspected. Even the idea of some kind of deliberate contamination (a 9-11 type fear) has not been ruled out (just as with pet food the problem is not yet resolved).

The Walt Disney documentary "Secrets of Life" in the late 1950s documented the life cycle of the honeybee and ant, both social insects (I remember the bizarre "honey cask ants").

Update: 5/16/2007

Anderson Cooper 360 (CNN) reports research indicating that recently implemented insecticides may be compromising honeybee immunity, allowing novel viral infections.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Military blogging comes into question with new Army OPSEC reg; blogs offer chronicles of war in Iraq

Nikki Schwab has a special to The Washington Post, May 2, 2007, “Blogs Chronicle War from Soldiers’ Perspective.” Blogs have provided a comprehensive, if piece-wise, record of the war in Iraq (and Afghanistan) and constitute an unprecedented source of detailed military history. The link is here.

However, the Army (along with other services) has issued a regulation requiring bloggers to register their blogs with a commander and OPSEC (operations security) officer before making postings in a public forum. This was established with Army Regulation 530-1 (PDF file link here), published April 19, 2007. Servicemembers' blogs must be reviewed at least quarterly.

Some soldiers have maintained that this will drive out the “good bloggers” and that others will violate security rules and go uncaught. For example, look at Blackfive 's article "The End of Military Blogging", here. Here is a nother story.

Of course, gay military bloggers may not discuss their sexual orientation or private lives, under “don’t ask don’t tell.”

There are numerous servicemember produced videos on Youtube, some of them discussed at this link.

There has been controversy in the business world about employee personal blogging and the recent trend for employers to check for social networking sites and personal blogs of job applicants or employees, and there has been some activity in “reputation management.” These problems have been covered extensively in my other blogs. The Army regulation could set an example that could be followed in civilian areas, DOD or not.

Update 5/14/2007:

On May 14, the Pentagon announced that it would block access to Myspace, YouTube, and from some other popular sites, at least from military computers overseas. I am not sure if my own sites are affected, as the volume of hits from .mil networks (probably soldiers concerned about "don't ask don't tell") has always been significant. Probably not, as I don't have user input (except for comments on the blogs). Here is a major story.

The Washington Post story on May 15 is by Alan Sipress and Sam Diaz, "A Casualty of War: My Space: U. S. Military Blocks Popular Web Sites, Cutting Ties to Home", here.

The list of blocked sites is (1) MySpace (2) YouTube (3) PhotoBucket (4) Metacafe (5) MTV (6) iFilm (7) Hi5 (8) Pandora (9) BlackPlanet (10) 1.FM (11) StupidViolence (12) FileCabi

Apparent DOD does not feel that the competing social networking sites (like Facebook) use as much bandwidth as Myspace. Questions are being raised as to why the military could not ration bandwidth, and as to whether soldiers in combat areas really would have Internet access (even in cares) with their own private accounts.

It would seem that this decision, coming under criticism, is likely to change again.