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: http://www.chessgames.com/perl/chesscollection?cid=1003670 ). 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.