Monday, March 31, 2008

Vatican reports that Muslims outnumber Catholics

The Vatican announced publicly for the first time on March 30 that now Muslims are more numerous than Roman Catholics.

The story is said to have appeared in the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano. The link for this paper in English is here, and the interview in which Monsignor Vittorio Formenti made this statement does not seem to be available online there yet (the website currently goes through March 26) but will probably appear April 1.

The AP story by Allesandra Rizzo "Muslims more numerous than Catholics" maintains that in 2006 Catholics accounted for about 17% of the world's population, but Muslims 19%, and Christians as a whole, 33%. The article mentions that Muslims tend to have higher birthrates, so that the discrepancy may increase. Some "transplanted" Muslims also tend to have more intra-family loyalty, with many Muslim immigrants in Europe sending money home to relatives. The link for the story is here. The story was featured on AOL Sunday night. Bruce Bawer had covered all of this in his book "While Europe Slept."

This whole issue fits into a recent The Nation story (by Kathryn Joyce) about birthrates and "Demographic Winter," here (look on Feb 20, second part of the posting).

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Graham Allison has alarming op-ed on nuclear threat

Graham Allison is the author of the 2004 book from Times Books, “Nuclear Terrorism: The Ultimate Preventable Catastrophe.” Today (March 30, 2008), Allison has a summary editorial based on largely the same material in the Commentary (Section B) of The Washington Times, “Preventing a nuclear terrorist attack.,” link here. It’s probably a coincidence that editorial appears the same weekend that the controversy over the Dutch short film on radical Islam (“Fitna”) erupted.

Allison answers five basic questions about how such a mega-disaster could happen. Terrorists could make a Hiroshima-sized device from enough highly enriched uranium (HEU) in about a year. A stolen assembled weapon could be detonated a few days after the trigger lock was open. However, the cores of these weapons deteriorate over time, and some of them might not work even if acquired.

Graham writes that, despite the six year domestic lull since 9/11, “a nuclear terrorist attack on the United States is more likely than not in the decade ahead.” He suggests that the reader visit this URL and enter a home zip code, to see the effects of blast and radiation. Blast destruction is almost complete for 1/3 from the point of impact of a 10 kiloton Hiroshima sized device, and firestorms would rage for about a mile radius, with lethal radiation. The website requires Internet Explorer 6.0 or higher (Mozilla does not work) and opens in a new window (must allow popups, and usually this means hitting the control key and Enter key at the same time).

Although this is a bombastic statement, Allison proposed “the three No’s” as a way of reducing risk. (1) no unsecured nuclear weapons and materials (2) no new domestic nuclear capabilities (3) no more countries allowed to have nuclear weapons. Although the tone of the last proposal somehow reminds me of DC’s handgun law.

I’ve discussed the Nuclear Threat Initiative and its film “Last Best Chance.” The most important step seems to be securing nuclear materials in Russia, the former republics, and particularly the management of Pakistan, or some way of securing Pakistan’s cache of small nukes. There have been widespread “rumors” of small “suitcase” weapons around the world (especially in Russia) and it is hard to judge their objective credibility. Many or all of them might have become inoperable. The idea that such a weapon could be detonated motivated a sequence in the Fox show “24” in 2006.

In addition, it is obviously necessary to monitor Iran and particularly North Korea, to make sure that nothing vital of theirs winds up in the wrong hands. The Bush administration thought the same thing of the regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, but history has not proved him right yet. In the 1990s, North Korea was often viewed as an important a threat as radical Islam.

I also recall seeing the BBC film “The War Game” at graduate school in 1967, directed by Peter Watkins, about the effect of a nuclear blast on an English city. A child was saying “I don’t want to do anything.” Such an incident in a major city could cause political changes that would destroy personal choice and freedom for a lot of people and challenge their ability to live meaningfully making their own choices, as they have been accustomed. It’s hard to see how I could be of much good in such a world. It must not be allowed to happen.

See also this blog March 25 for a similar piece by a different writer in the Post.

Update: April 2

Mimi Hall has an important story on p 4A of USA Today, "Experts to testify of 'growing' nuke threat to U.S.," link here.

Thomas B. Cochran and Matthew G. McKenzie have an article on p 98 of the April 2008 Scientific American, "Detecting nuclear smuggling" which maintains that port radiation monitors cannot sufficiently detect HEU. The authors, in addition to what Allison wants, suggest having all uranium around the world diluted.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Saudi Arabia may allow a Catholic church

John Phillips has a story in the Washington Times today (March 29) indicating that Saudi Arabia is open to relaxing its absolute prohibition against even private practice of non-Muslim religions by guest workers (as from oil companies) within the Kingdom. The story is "Vatican, Saudis discuss a church," link here. Saudi Arabia may allow a Catholic church to be built. There is a church in Qatar, according to the story.

I have heard stories about workers in Saudi Arabia as far back as the 1970s. Religious police would search civilian work quarters for alcohol and other non-compliance. This would sound like a big problem for companies hiring technical workers to send them to Saudi Arabia and some other Muslim countries.

Pope John XXIII, however one feels about Catholic moral theology, may have been instrumental in helping the Reagan administration undermine Communism and the Soviet Union in the 1980s.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Washington Times interviews Condoleezza Rice on international security, race

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice gave a video interview to The Washington Times on March 27, in which she discussed several important topics. One was the ever present danger of nuclear terrorism, and the importance of the United States maintaining a good relationship with Russia (and with other former Soviet republics) to continue removing nuclear waste. She indicated that stability in Russia is important and that some of the political unrest there (and suppression of dissent, as from chess player Kasparov) was troubling.

She also made an interesting comment, that white people have always been “ahead in line” because those of European descent came over to the New World by choice (often at great risk, as history shows – just remember the first settlement at Jamestown), where as blacks were brought over in shackles on slave ships (as in the book and film “Amistad”). "Black Americans were a founding population," she said. The Washington Times, in its foreign section, titles the story “Rice hits U.S. ‘birth defect’”, link here. The link offers a seven-minute video from the interview. Some of her remarks may have been prompted by Barack Obama's "pastor" controversy.

Of course, social conservatives have sometimes made troubling arguments about relative birth rates recently.

It has always interested me that Dr. Rice is quite a pianist, and almost had a career as a concert pianist and musician instead. I have written about other young musicians on my other blogs.

Picture: It looks like it came from Stephen King's "Langoliers." Near the Nissan Pavillion in northern Va.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Post has major op-ed on domestic nuclear threat

Jay Davis has a sobering column on p A15 of the March 25 2008 Washington Post, “After a Nuclear 9/11,” link here.

The op-ed faces the possibility, as outlined in Graham Allsion’s 2004 book, that terrorists really could assemble and detonate a nuclear weapon within the United States. He goes on to discuss the importance of improve the science of detecting the source of radioactive hazards, to the point that they can be traced very quickly.

He points out leaks that have occurred at the borders of India, Slovakia, and even in a “private garden” in Germany. David Armstrong and Joseph Trento had discussed (in a book – see Feb. 5 on this blog) serious policy leaks within previous and current US administrations allowing Pakistan to continue developing nuclear weapons, which can easily fall into the wrong hands.

Furthermore Sam Nunn has helped found the Nuclear Threat Initiative ("Nuclear Security Project") to accelerate the police call on nuclear materials in other countries, especially the remnants of the former Soviet Union. And that group has produced a film “Last Best Chance” and offers a DVD.

See this blog March 30 for discussion of a similar article by Graham Allison.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

CNN, others report new Bin Laden "statement" about Danish cartoon controversy

Media reports describe a new statement by Osama bin Laden, with particular attention to the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy (wiki link with details).

The link for the CNN story " Purported bin Laden message condemns Europe" is here.

The statement contained the bizarre statement about the cartoon, that mocking the founder of Islam "violates the etiquettes of dispute and fighting," as if there were some sort of honor code for battle like that in the middle ages (or that used for duels early in American history).

The statement did not seem to relate to events beyond 2005.

The cartoon controversy seems bizarre to westerners, who find the images (probably legally copyrighted) innocuous and find the literal idea of blasphemy hard to believe.

Bin Laden is still believed to he hiding out in tribal areas along the mountainous areas of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. However, there is a remote chance, at least, that he could have fled through Karachi on the Indian Ocean to some other clandestine location.

Unrelated to the Danish controversy was the Iran newspaper cockroach cartoon controversy, link here.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Bird flu decimates Bangladesh poultry business

The World and I (a pricey illustrated conservative magazine about world affairs published by The Washington Times) has a report about the decimation of the poultry industry in Bangladesh due to avian influenza. So far, the losses amount to 3/4 of a billion dollars. The link is here (may require subscription).

I don't recall such widespread decimation of poultry in China and Indonesia. The residence of farmers in close proximity to poultry in primitive rural conditions is thought to increase the risk of transmission from birds to human and then mutation into human-human transmission later. This may have happened a few times in Indonesia.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Protests in Tibet spread to other provinces in China

Unrest in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, is spreading to other Chinese provinces as the government cracks down against religious dissent. The Dalai Lama spoke in exile this morning, and there is a big story on ABC, by Tini Tran, "Tibet Protests Spread to Other Provinces As Dalai Lama Warns of 'Cultural Genocide," featured link at ABC this morning, here.

New reports show Lhasa deserted, must a surprisingly modern city, one of the world's highest, at 15000 feet (La Paz, Bolivia, reaches about 13000 feet).

I had reviewed the movie "10 Questions for the Dalia Lama," which gave the history of his exile, back in June 2007, here. I "met" the Dalai Lama in the boarding line at Schiphol in Amsterdam in May 2001 as I waited to fly back to Minneapolis on KLM/Northwest.

The whole incident should be a major embarrassment for China, as it prepares for the Beijing Olympics.

When I grew up in the 50s, I had thought of Tibet as an autonomous, almost independent country. No more, it seems.

Picture: Panda at the DC Zoo (look closely in middle of picture, enlarge first).

March 18, 2007

There is an AP story "Dalai Lama to Resign if Violence Worsens" by Gavin Rabinowitz, link here.

March 19:

There is a CNN story " Tibetans continue to defy China crackdown," link here, with about 90 seconds of live video of Chinese troops and violence; it appears that people are burning at one point.

Chinese troops are reported going "door to door" to hunt for dissidents.

March 20.

The latest, from Gavin Rabinowitz, from AP and ABCnews, is "Dalai Lama Willing to Meet China's President, Says He's Not Seeking Independence," link here.

Friday, March 14, 2008

College students can lose in-state status because of illegal immigrant status of their parents

The illegal immigration debate is affecting college students themselves naturally born in the United States (potentially eligible to become president) but to parents present here illegally. Virginia can deny in-state assistance to students up to age 24 (when they are considered educationally dependent on their parents) when the students cannot show their parents are in the country and state legally. Virginia will waive the requirement for students over 18 when the students have shown they have become independent of their parents.

The story in the March 14 2008 Washington Post by Susan Kinzie is “The University of Uncertainty: Va. Children of Illegal Immigrants Lack In-State Status,” link here. This is part of the Post’s “Immigration Debate: Full coverage.”

Should college students be penalized for the "illegal behavior" of their parents? It's family responsibility in reverse.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Netherlands and Britain involved in disturbing deportation case with gay teen from Iran

There is a disturbing and somewhat complicated asylum case going on. A Dutch court reportedly rejected the attempt of Mehdi Kazemi to Britain, where his request for political asylum had already been turned down, and where he faced deportation to Iran and possible execution there.

However there seemed to be some hope that Britain would review the case.

The AP story by My Corder on March 12 is here. The story was republished on AOL, and slightly less than half of survey takers so far believe that Western governments should give asylum to gays from radical Muslim countries.

Gay travelers who are public (as on the Internet) would probably have to be very careful about travel to some Muslim countries. It would seem as though this can be an issue when accepting employment with private contractors that send engineers overseas to these countries, something I will pursue later.

I've even wondered if it would be safe for me to travel to Egypt to see the Pyramids.

Update: March 14:

Britain has halted the deportation of Kazemi. The Washington Post story by Mary Jordan is "Britain Halts Deportation Move Against Gay Iranian: 19-Year-Old Fears Execution at Home," March 14, p A10, link here.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

US State department, Mideast "strangers" take to careful blogging to promote peace

Nicholas Kralev has a story on p A11 of the March 11 Washington Times, “Stare blog solicits views on hot-button issues: But department will not take public opinions into account,” link here.
There are various discussions about the intentions of groups like Hamas, and whether the United States could every work with them.
The blog appears to be this. “Dipnote: U.S. Department of State Official Blog,” link here.

So government agencies are using the blogosphere the way they have used press conferences, speaking engagements and press releases.

There is another story “Unlikely friends blog for peace” by Joshua Mitnick, link here.

The blog is called “Life must go on in Gaza and Sderot,” run by two men at opposite ends of Gaza. The URL is this.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Foreclosures and international oil prices: a definite (negative) correlation

Well, it's getting ugly. This inflationary stagflation has a self-reinforcing cycle, the kind you describe on essay questions for SAT's. Today (March 6), the crude oil futures make a hedge against the falling dollar, and that drives up the price of crude oil further.

And what drove the dollar down? Everybody is saying it's the foreclosures. Today, for the first time in history, Americans owe more on their homes than they are worth (that is, their total mortgage debt exceeds their total equity, for the first time in history).

The underlying problem, so well described by Lou Dobbs and Jack Cafferty in their recent books, is that creation of "real wealth" -- content-oriented work -- has tending to shift overseas. Americans have gotten used to depending on cheaper labor, and they has caught up with the consumer. Jobs have been created for a while by manipulating demand, a huckster-driven culture that helped create the subprime mess.

The other problem is the cost of the War in Iraq (much more so than Afghanistan), the burdens of which have not been born equitably (look at the backdoor draft). When citizens do not share burdens equitably, the economy tanks.

The best story that I could find on the international aspects of the foreclosure crisis was this one today on CNBC: "Oil Ends at Record Above $105 on Weak Dollar," link here. Adding to all of this is political instability in Venezuela and Nigeria, and looming threats in all of the Middle East.

Here is the AP story on the total equity v debt problem, by J. W. Elphinstone, "Low Home Equity, Record-High Foreclosures: a Limp Housing Market Looks Even Weaker," link here.

Monday, March 3, 2008

ExxonMobil at the center of international oil price rise; Venezuela, OPEC, the Valdez suit all matter

ExxonMobil is at the center of some controversies as OPEC prepares to meet Wednesday March 4 in Vienna. Shokri Ghanem, head of Libyan oil policy and Chief Executive of Libya's National Oil Co said that OPEC will discuss the dispute between ExxonMobil and Venezuela. When socialist president Hugo Chavez nationalized the industry in the Orinoco Basin, ExxonMobil left the country and won a legal arbitration judgment to recover $12 billion in "expropriated" assets. Chavez had threatened to embargo oil to the United States in such circumstances, a threat that may be helping prop up the price of crude oil, right now about $103. Other factors include the falling dollar, political instability and violence in Nigeria, and long-term security concerns about the oil fields in Saudi Arabia and Al Qaeda, as well as the loss of output from Iraq due to "civil war" (for all intents and purposes).

The AP story is here.

The US Supreme Court heard arguments Feb. 27, 2008 about punitive damages against ExxonMobil for the 1989 Valdez accident. Actual damages have long since been paid. The Exxon website story is here. Exxon has an analyst meeting March 5 that will be covered on the web, link here. Exxon stocks rose Monday March 3, 2008 to a fairly normal price (87.75) despite the "uncertainties" because of recent record profits.

The other big story today affecting international oil markets is something like "Ahmadinejad: US power crippling in Iraq", by Anna Johnson, link here. Two decades after the Iran-Iraq war, Iran is trying to take advantage of the Shiite position in Iraq.

Update: March 6, 2008

The latest AP story on the dispute between Colombia with oil-producing Venezuela and with Ecuador is by Jorge Rueda, "Venezuela seeks condemnation of Colombia," here.

OPEC refused to raise production March 5, and oil rose to over $105 a barrel, as US inventories are less than thought. The story by William J. Kole is "No Production Boost for OPEC," here.

Update: March 6, 2008

ExxonMobil issued a statement " ExxonMobil to Invest at Record Levels to Meet Growing Energy Demand," link here. This is to include investments in more politically stable countries, which is said to be realistic because of higher crude oil prices. But Exxon today closed at 84.61, a significant drop.

There is further information about an asset swap between Exxon and Venezuela: Patricia Rondon, Reuters, "UPDATE 1-Venezuela will talk to Exxon about asset swap," link here.

March 6 2008

The latest, from AP writer Andrew O. Selsky, is "Venezuela's President Calls for Cooling of Tensions With Colombia As Leaders Gather at Summit," link here.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Singapore advertises itself

The "conservative" DC area newspaper The Washington Times carried a paid advertising supplement Thursday, Feb. 28 for the island nation of Singapore. It is a sovereign state, separate from Malaysia. Like the Brits, they drive on the left.

Yes, it does support the idea that a socially conservative small "city-state" can be economically and socially stable and prosperous. It talks about the perfect shade of green throughout the city (especially pertinent now), about the responsibilities of citizens to make it green, and about the ocean-moderated basking climate near the Equator.

Singapore has been known for its very strict laws regarding littering and environmental cleanliness, which is thought to help stabilize society and business. Singapore has also attracted attention by using caning as a sentence. Singapore requires National Service of every able-bodied male.

Singapore has long been reported in conservative publications as having pro-natalist and pro-family policies, but the Wikipedia entry indicates a low birth rate, requiring immigration.

Singapore has a world-class symphony orchestra that made many recordings of lesser known European late romantic works in the late 1980s and 1990s for the "Records International" and "Marco Polo" compact disc labels.