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.