Thursday, August 28, 2008

Low birth rate countries need to look at how they treat women in the workplace (Japan is a case in point)

The CIA publishes statistics on birthrates around the world. For example, there is a 2008 “World FactBook” table of “annual births per 1000” with Niger leading the wolrd at 49.62, and the United States in place 152 with 14.18 births per thousand. Japan is at 223 with 7.87.

Blaine Harden, of the Washington Post Foreign Service, found a similar CIA table expresses as lifetime births per woman, where the United States is in position 127 at 210, and Japan is in place 217 at 122. The article (on p 10 Aug. 28, 2008) is “Japanese Women Shy from Dual Mommy Role: As birthrate keeps dropping, experts worry about growing willingness to do without childen – or childish husbands”, link here. The article online contains a two-minute video, filmed by Harden, of a Tokyo single woman Takato Katayama.

The social status of women seems to be a driving factor in lowering birthrates as countries increase their per-person standard of living, especially in the cities. To encourage women to have enough children to keep the working population stable, companies would need to provide more benefits for working mothers, and society would have to encourage more women to return to work after pregnancy. Western Europe is already finding this. Such efforts would run counter to philosophical egalitarian arguments about equal duties (and especially hours and work schedules) equal pay.

Personal "self-centeredness" or lack of socialization, or, for that matter, sexual orientation are not being depicted as causes of low birthrates outside of politically conservative circles, like the religious right.

The Post article shows Mali (also in west Africa, near Niger) as having a high birth rate, and Singapore, for all of its social conservatism and pro-natal attitudes, has a lifetime per woman birthrate of 1.08.

Japan has the highest percentage of people 65 and over and lowest 15 and younger.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Salman Rushdie's settlement with other authors again advertises London as "the Libel Capital of the World"

I wrote about Britain’s (or London’s) capacity to attract “libel tourism” on Oct. 11, 2007 on this blog with the case of a Saudi sheik who brought suit about a book published elsewhere. (Check the Blogger archives.) Today, there’s another case that sounds related, although one has to say it originated in London. Famous author Salman Rushdie accepted a retraction and apology and revision of a book “On Her Majesty’s Service” (don't mix this up with the James Bond novel) with destruction of existing copies (in lieu of money) in London, regarding apparently untrue statements made about him by the authors. The author was Ronald Evans (and ghostwriter Douglas Thompson) and apparently there were allegations or implications about how Rushie and others treated his guards.

Rushdie is controversial because he lived for a long term under guard after Islamic extremist threats made against him for his 1988 novel “The Satanic Verses”, supposedly “blasphemous.” This sort of thing has sometimes been a problem in Britain and in Europe, but had not happened in the United States. However, on Aug. 6 on this blog, I reported a story about Random House’s cancellation of a novel ("The Jewel of Medina") about the wife of the prophet Mohammed by Sherry Jones, out of “security fears” although there are more details to the story that have emerged recently (see that entry).

The story about Rushdie appeared Aug. 27 on p A10 of The Washington Post, “Rushie Shoots Down Book’s False Claims: Innovative Libel Settlement Grants Author Public Apology,” by Post foreign service writer Mary Jordan, link here.

Rushdie’s lawyer Mark Stephens said “London it the libel capital of the world. “People jet in from all over the world to launder their reputations” in Britain because of the way British libel laws work and don’t easily accept truth as an absolute defense to libel. Kitty Kelly told the media this in the fall of 1997 after her book “The Royals” stirred up controversy after Princess Diana’s tragic auto crash death in a Paris tunnel on August 31, 1997. Stephens also said that to lose a libel case in London “you have to be a moron in a hurry.” Maybe Michael Fertik (“Reputation Defender”) should open an office in London!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Swiss government apparently destroys secret nuclear plans that could have wound up in Iran or with Al Qaeda

The New York Times featured a disturbing front page story today, Aug 25, about nuclear raw materials, and a possible plot to get them to Iran, North Korea, or certain elements in Pakistan related to Abdul Qadeer Khan. Three Swiss engineers, Friedrich Tinner with two sons, are accused of having developed a clandestine relationship with Khan.

The detailed story is called “In Nuclear Net’s Undoing, a Web of Shadowy Details”, by William J. Broad and David E. Sanger, link here. The Swiss government claims to have destroyed the materials and computer documentation. The material would have been much more valuable to a state like Iran or North Korea than rogue elements of a group like Al Qaeda. Nevertheless, the whole situation (which the CIA has spent money on but cannot discuss) is quite disturbing now in view of the uncertainty that follows Musharraf’s being “run out” from Pakistan, when one considers that Pakistan belongs to “the Club.”

Collecting and securing (or destroying) loose nuclear and other WMD materials from around the world, especially Russia and the remnants of the former Soviet Union and Communist block, is a major national security priority for all democratic countries.

The Pakistani scientist Khan was depicted last year in a controversial book by David Armstrong and Joseph Trento, reviewed here on the books blog in December 2007.

In a distantly related story, early Aug. 26 The New York Times also reported in a story by Choe Sang-Hun that North Korea was threatening to restore its facility to make plutonium for nuclear weapons, nullifying a foreign policy achievement of President Bush, link here.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Huge crack in glacier in northerm Greenland

Seth Borenstein, of the AP, reports today (Aug. 24) a huge late summer crack in the icecap in northern Greenland. The crack is eleven miles long and a huge chunk of ice may break off in an area that had been thought immune to melting from global warming. The report came out on Thursday Aug. 21.

The link is here and it has a satellite photo.
The story was reported also on AOL this evening. But only 43% of AOL responders were “very concerned” about global warming.

Other reports indicate that the entire Arctic Ocean icecap may soon melt in summers. A rapid glacial breakoff and melt could accelerate the rise of sea level, or possibly disturb the Gulf Stream.

Farther south, the Jakobshavn Glacier is moving further inland.

Greenland, belonging to Denmark, was a location in the 1997 Bille August’s sci-fi thriller “Smilla’s Sense of Snow” (book by Peter Hoeg).

Friday, August 22, 2008

China orders two eldery protesters to "Maoist" labor camps; visiting American bloggers held

Audra Ang has a number of disturbing stories with the Associated Press about China’s abuses of human rights and suppression of speech during the Olympics. I couldn’t get them to come up on the AP site, but they do work at The Washington Times.

For example, on Aug. 21, there is a story “Seniors ordered to year of labor: Elderly women tied to protest,” link here.

Two elderly women, 77 and 79, one of them blind, were ordered to “re-education camps” that recall Chairman Mao’s “Cultural Revolution” after the pair repeatedly applied for a permit to hold a permit in an assigned area. The protests apparently were related to the government’s taking their homes (uncompensated "eminent domain" takings) for redevelopment during the Olympics. A 1957 law, from the Mao era, allows the government to prison to perform “penal labor” without trial or charges.

It's odd that the government calls this "re-education." During the 60s, there was at least a pretense of forced "equalization" with expropriation during the "purification" of Mao. Now, the expropriation simply serves the capitalist aims of others, with no apology. Confucian authority is supposed to take care of people?

Furthermore, five western (American) bloggers without media credentials have been held in connection with Tibet-related protests. It is not clear if American tourists who have blogged about China from home (like me) would be at risk if visiting there, or if visiting other authoritarian countries like Egypt or Saudi Arabia. Does anyone know?

Thursday, August 21, 2008

China has major age scandal with its Olympic gymnast(s)

David Flumenbaum has written a detailed blog entry in the Huffington Post demonstrated the evidence that China’s (female) gymnast He Kexin is actually 14, two years under the legal minimum age for legitimate competition. The link to his site is this and the name of the article is “Scandal of the Ages: Documents Reveal Underage Chinese Gymnast”.

Flumebbaum’s blog entry integrates several search engine cache copies of China Daily articles about Kexin, the oldest of which admits to an age of 14. Cache copies on the Internet are a well-known source of “reputation mischief”; even after a webmaster corrects and item or removes information on request to deal with a publicity problem, the public can still find the information in caches. There is even a China Digital Times article that refers to him as 13. Apparently the problem was explosed by an "ordinary" blogger in China, and gives one reason why China's government fears free speech.

There is discussion of how one can tell someone’s age at inspection, but that is not true. China is well known to pressure young athletes for success to make “The People” look good.

But, in these Olympics, the “visiting teams” are doing well. Home team advantage has not worked that well. Think of swimming as “Baltimore at Beijing” and you don’t even need the Orioles when you have Michael Phelps. We learned today that his mother is a school principal in suburban Baltimore.

Major news outlets have many stories now on the age scandal in the Olympics.

Pakistani women who try to assert their rights become targets for legal action by relatives

Foreign service writer Mary Jordan (along with Shaiq Hussain and Itmiaz Ali) has a front page story today in the Washington Post about the extreme patriarchal nature of much of Pakistani society. The name of the story is “Searching for freedom: chained by the law: As Pakistani women assert rights, families use legal means to get revenge,” link here.

The story takes place in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, a depicted (with slides) a woman who had spent nine months in prison for adultery. The system treats women much harder than men for indiscretions, and regards female loyalty as a matter of “family honor.”

The Aurat Foundation is a major organization looking after the rights of women in Pakistan. When a woman leaves a bad marriage (on her own), male relatives often file complaints against her alleging sexual misconduct, according to the group.

Pakistan, in many areas, allows polygamy and men to have up to four wives. I wonder immediately, what happens to the “less competitive” men who have no wives? Conservative author George Gilder wrote back in the 1980s (“Men and Marriage”) that Arab men who can’t find wives are drawn to homosexuality, which is also punishable by death in radical Islam, but that nevertheless is practiced covertly.

In fact, the extreme focus on patriarchal values in tribal Islam seems to be an extension of the same value system among some religious “conservatives” in this country. Men feel that they need to have their values pandered to for them to remain interested in their wives and able to support their wives and children. Without such favoritism, there would be no point in marriage at all, it seems. That’s the trouble with religious morality, taken to its extreme. In fairness, however, enforcing monogamy, “one to a customer” as Gilder put it in his book, would mean that every man has an “equal” chance to become a family provider.

The story presents women in poor areas as becoming conscious of the idea of rights, because cell phones and Internet technology now move into the poorest tribal areas. (That would help the military track terrorists, but that doesn’t seem to happen easily.)

In the U.S. (in New York, Washington, Dallas and Minneapolis) I have long worked with men who had come from Pakistan as far back as the 1970s. I never ran into any expression of radical religious views. One said that back in the 1970s there were hundreds of applicants for every computer programming job, and that workers were very careful about how many tests and how much computer time it took to get an application working!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Russia threatens little Poland with nukes -- really?

So, do you believe that the Cold War is coming back, on top of all the other problems?

A Russian general warns Poland that it risks an attack, even one with a tactical nuclear weapon, by agreeing to a deal with the US to host ten interceptor missiles, along with another future battery.

Poland says that the intention is to protect the new Eastern Europe from Al Qaeda and Iran, not just Russia.

But Russia has so many of the loose nukes that Sam Nunn and Joe Lieberman want to collect and secure.

One of the most disturbing accounts (“Poland advances defense deal; Russia puts heat on Ukraine”) was in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune Aug. 19, link here.

I visited Poland for two days in May 1999, taking the night train to Krakow from Berlin, having to “bribe” the conductor to get a bunk. I visited Auschwitz-Birkenau, then took the train the next day to Warsaw, which still looked rather plain. From the train I could see farmers thrashing hay by hand. Poland is still one of the most socially conservative countries in Europe. Yet, even before the fall of Communism, Krzysztof Kieslowski made his famous “Decalogue” of films about the moral issues that arise in a Warsaw apartment house.

Monday, August 18, 2008

An old Heritage Foundation article on free speech abroad still seems relevant

While doing some summer basement cleaning, I found a copy of an old Washington Times from Dec. 29, 2002 (way back) with an op-ed by Edwin J. Feulner, Ph. D., called “Danger: Free Speech at Work,” about some problems overseas. I thought the were worth noting. The Heritage Foundation link is here.

In Britain, in November 2002, London police raided 150 homes and arrested 60 people for “racist threats and homophobic harassment.” Although the speech may have been tasteless and violated what most ISP’s consider TOS violations, it seems bizarre to arrest people for the stimulation of bad thoughts in others. Of course, in London the terror problem seems more immediate than it does in the US, especially after 2005.

In Canada, a newspaper was fined for quoting a Biblical “clobber passage” (probably Leviticus) supposedly about homosexuality. Sweden is reportedly trying to ban homophobic speech by constitutional amendment. It seems as though you control the changing of times (and the protection of members of formerly maligned and identifiable groups) by controlling what people can say about the groups.

Feulner then defends the free speech rights of Alan Dershowitz, for suggesting that, after suitable announcements, Israel should go after private citizens in the West Bank who inadvertently or unknowingly harbor terrorists. For Israel to do so would amount to a war crime, Feulner says, if you accept the principle that civilians should be punished only for their own deliberate wrongful acts. (We have potential situations like that in our own law in the US, as with some subtle problems with the Internet.) But Feulner insists, he would never stop Dershowitz from publishing his views on this matter, however extreme they seem.

This was all from six years ago. But it still sounds relevant to me.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Email to me claims to have information about what is going on in Nigeria

I got an email this morning from a person named David Evoh with the following information: he is (or claims to be)
leader of Ijaw Youth in the Niger Delta, in Nigeria, with this Email address: "ndyouths at".

He gave a link to this site for the Urhobo Historical Society, here. McCafee checks this site as OK. There are a number of articles about the relationship of oil companies to Nigeria and the various peoples. The articles claim that rebels can cause disruption to oil production without major damage. There are vigorous complaints against ExxonMobil in one piece, both with regard to people and the environment. The visitor would have to read all of these and judge for herself. There is also a long essay on the activities of the World Bank. Some activists accuse the World Bank of employing “economic hit men” (as with the book by John Perkins in the August 2008 reviews on my books blog) to cause nations to become indebted, and then maintain that the debts are being paid through gasoline prices.

The writer of the email opens the email with the self-identification: "We are democrats from the Niger Delta Nigeria suffered by the federal government.” The email also made this ambiguous but possibly alarming statement: “We hold keys to Major crude oil rigs/wells in our region despite the presence of multinational companies here. We need your mutual cooperation urgently.” I’m not sure what a blogger is supposed to do about it! (Certainly, do not respond to it!) The meaning may be unclear because the writer does not know idiomatic English and expresses himself with odd choices of words. (It’s not the usual “Nigerian scam” that we often hear about -- or is it?) But the website does appear to make legitimate arguments about what is going on in Nigeria, even if these facts on the site could be challenged by other parties to the issue.

I suppose this bizarre email (even given the circumstances) should be investigated. I have passed it on to a larger news organization.

A more mainstream source of information on the oil industry and its problems in Nigeria appears in National Geographic in February 2007, "Curse of the Black Gold: Hope and Betrayal in the Niger Delta: The Niger Delta holds some of the world's richest oil deposits, yet Nigerians living there are poorer than ever, violence is rampant, and the land and water are fouled. What went wrong?" by Tim O'Neill, with photographs by Ed Kashi, link here.

Update: September 22, 2008

An Energy Wire from the "Newsweek" subdirectory in The Washington Post by David Ignatius and CNN's Fareed Zakaria, as well as Steve Mufson, continues the subject of the "Nigerian Oil Threat" with a discussion of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), link here. There is a claim that daily oil production in Nigeria has dropped by 280000 barrels a day since Sept. 13, which may help explain the run-up today. It has hit Shell's earnings hard, particularly.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Pakistan: Musharraf will resign in lieu of impeachment; outlook for policy on Al Qaeda uncertain

Media sources report that Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf will resign from office and leave soon, since “Parliament” is going to impeach him. The development seems to change the perception of Musharraf as a military dictator, often seen in his olive green or brown uniform, sometimes even in fatigues.

Musharraf has been an important ally to the Bush administration in the “war on terror” but his military has been unable to control the northwestern tribal areas that border Afghanistan. Also the return and assassination of Benazir Bhutto would complicate his situation, to say the least.

It is unclear who his successor would be, and what kind of policy a successor will have regarding Al Qaeda. Pakistan has a cache of small suitcase nuclear weapons and belongs to the nuclear club. There is always concern that the weapons will fall into the wrong hands.

The latest story about Musharraf appears in various sources, such as in the Wall Street Journal, posted today (after press) by Zahid Hussain and Peter Wonacott, link here.

The New York Times ran a story on Aug 8, by Jane Perlez, link here, “Pakistan Coalition Moves to Impeach Musharraf.”

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Female "Osama bin Laden" arrested (Aafia Siddique); Brian Ross has chilling report on ABC

Brian Ross has a disturbing video on ABC News (go to the main site; the video link does not have an external URL) on the capture in Afghanistan of Aafia Siddique, called Al Qaeda’s “Mati Hari” or the female “Osama bin Laden.”

Apparently she is the first big-time female to be arrested in connection with these plots. The thumb drive (memory stick) in her possession contained maps of targets in New York City and elsewhere, reported in the media. Mentioned was the Department of Agriculture’s Plum Island, which was connected by “urban legends” to AIDS experiments in the 1980s in “The New York Native.” She is said to have had cyanide in her possession. Furthermore, according to Brian Ross's video on ABC, she had encouraged Muslim women to have “lots of babies” as future jihadists. That comment seems to play into the “demographic winter” concerns about relative fertility rates of populations in Europe, played up by social conservatives.

Born in 1972 in Pakistan, she is said to have graduated from MIT.

The National Terror Alert Center has a story, “Al Qaeda’a Aafia Siddique Could Prove a Treasure Trove of Intelligence,” link here.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

EU countries feel housing bubble

The housing bubble and unsound mortgage prices that have plagued the United States have apparently “spread” to Europe, especially Spain and Germany. Overbuild luxury units stay on the market and fall in price in Madrid, according to Anthony Faiola, in “Economic Malaise Threatens to Undermine European Unity” on the front page of The Washington Post this morning, Aug. 12, link here.

When I stayed in Lisbon on the first night of my spring 2001 Europe trip, I saw a lot of tile-roof and colorful condo construction near my hotel about four miles east of the Lisbon harbor. The drivers said, “they’re getting a lot of money from the European Union to catch up.” I saw more on the bus trip to Fatima the next day.

I noticed luxury homes everywhere in the Basque city of San Sebastian, Spain, most of all, along the canal leading from the famous circular beach.

The increasing problems with European housing might help the US dollar recover a bit and help hold down oil prices.

Today, in a financial meeting, I asked how banks could have been so reckless five years ago with poor loans. There was a reaction that negated any personal responsibility. Your competitors do it, so you have to. Nobody saw the bubble coming. Values would go up forever.

But they never do. There are only so many blocks to build a pyramid with. Otherwise, it’s called “get something for nothing.” Then it’s immoral.

Monday, August 11, 2008

France, among EU countries, is aggressive in encouraging a higher birth rate

The European Union now experiences a fertility replacement rate of 1.48 children per couple. When combined with longer life spans, that demographic development is leading more governments to pay attention to social policies that allow and encourage couples to have children. The United States has rate of 2.1, but much of that is accounted for by the immigrant and minority communities.

“Red, white and blue” France has actually raised its rate to 2.0. Yesterday, a Washington Times op-ed told the story of an Atlanta native who took a three-year live from a job at IBM France with the promise of her job at the same compensation when she returns.

Europeans are finding that offering fertility actually depends on making it possible for women to continue working and have children at the same time.

This is harder to do in the United States because so many salaried jobs depend on uncompensated overtime. If the workplace is too “pro-family”, then childless people will have to take up more of the workload for compensation that goes to people who have kids, as source of social friction. In Europe, this seems like less of a problem because vacations are longer and hours are shorter to start with, generally speaking. Family demographics don’t generate the social tensions there that they do here, except in some communities, such as with Muslim immigrants who are not well assimilated, or in some of the former Soviet bloc countries, especially Poland where the moral teachings of the Vatican are unusually influential.

Russia had a “conception day” in September 2007, where couples with babies were rewarded. Russia also has a serious population replacement problem.

Italy is reported as having a serious birth dearth.

Conservative commentators often speak of a “demographic winter” in Europe where Muslim populations gain political influence because of relative population growth, eventually threatening democratic political freedoms with ideas from radical Islam. That observation has often been made in Poland, where one official said “they take care of their families” in an anti-gay context.

The Washington Times story/op-ed is by Elizabeth Bryant, and is titled “Babies with benefits: France helps women to have more children,” link here.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Russians attack web infrastructures of former republics (Georgia, previously Estonia)

Brian Krebs, of the Washington Post, reports that Georgian websites have been compromised, at the same time or perhaps even before Russian troops moved in to the Ossetia section of The Republic of Georgia. The story (Aug. 10) is here. But Russians have been harassing web properties of other countries among the supposed “Commonwealth of Independent States” (such as what the Soviet Union was supposed to become when it collapsed at Christmas, 1991).

CNN is reporting that the conflict that began in Ossetia is moving to other parts of the republic, and the provincial capital of Tskhinvali now lies in ruins. The story is here. Apparently Georgian troops have withdrawn from defending some areas.

Attacks on the web infrastructure of small former republics have happened before. In 2007, hackers took down “the most wired country in Europe,” Estonia (home of composer Eduard Tubin and of the “Singing Revolution”). The incident seemed to be related to policies toward ethnic Russians in Estonia. The Wired story appeared a year ago, here. PBS reported this incident on its "Wired Science" program in 2007.

Georgia has been an important U.S. ally in Iraq, and has pulled troops back. The Ukraine is siding with Georgia.

Update: August 13

Bloggers have been reporting the fighting from the streets, and dispute there is meaningful progress. CNN story is here.
"Global Voices Online" has a summary by Veronica Khokhlova, called "What's Next," link here. That page has a link to another blog, "From the Frontline," by Elia Varela Serra, over on the right column.

Update: August 14, 2008

As some observers question the "rumors" about Russia's use of cyberwarfare, Kim Hart of the Washington Post has a Business Section article "Longtime Battle Lines Are Recast In Russia and Georgia's Cyberwar," link here.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Hugo Chavez tightens grip on Venezuela

In a country renowned for its youth music program (covered on the drama blog Aug 2), the actions of Hugo Chavez, bypassing constitutional referendum to seize more power in Veneuzuela seems ironic indeed. The Washington Post has an editorial discussing his antics on p A20 today, titled “Power Grab: Hugo Chavez launches a new attack on his country’s freedoms”, link here. It will be interesting to see his bent on nationalization further affects oil markets. The Post draws an interesting comparison to Bolivia.

Most other coups and dictatorships in Latin American, as detailed in Naomi Klein’s huge book “The Shock Doctrine” about “catastrophe capitalism”, have been of the right-wing variety. It is true that authoritarian systems, particularly on the left wing side, can pretend that they can meet basic needs and some sort of forced stability. Chavez says he will imprison distributors for failing to sell “items of necessity.” And, yes, there is this music program, that has produced conductor Gustavo Dudamel. There are good things. And at what cost to freedom.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Random House cancels publication of novel about Mohammed

In a shocking tale of corporate timidity (perhaps I should call it cowardice), Random House called off publication of a book of a novel by journalist Sherry Jones, to be called “The Jewel of Medina,” which would have told the story of Aisha, the young wife of the prophet Mohammed. This was supposed to be a two-book deal worth $100,000. The cancellation occurred in May of this year.

The Wall Street Journal Opinion story is by Asra Q. Noami, dated Aug. 6, 2008, and titled “You Still Can’t Write About Mohammed,” link here.

The opinion relates a fear that the book would become another “Satanic Verses” resulting in threats like those against novelist Salman Rushdie. There had been controversy over a short film called “Fitna” by former Netherlands lawmaker Geert Wilders, which Livelink removed from its site because of threats. It is still available on the Internet, however. See my movies blog, March 28 2008 entry.

Random House has given in. Who’s next? Sometimes the Domino Theory makes sense.

Update: Aug 21, 2008

The Washington Post has an account of the cancelation in the Style Section today Aug. 21, 2008, authored by Michelle Boorstein, titled “A Book Too Hot Off the Presses: Random House Feared Radical Muslim Backlash,” link here. According to the story, Denise Spellberg, at the University of Texas and a professor in Middle East studies, called the publisher and said the book was inflammatory. It’s a bit unclear from the Post story, but it appears that Spellberg was to review the book. Also, according to the story, Spellberg said she might sue “if her name wasn't taken out of the book's bibliography.” She played the “family card”. Now, that’s a bit strange, because fiction books don’t normally have bibliographies the way non-fiction policy books do. Maybe what is meant, if she was mentioned as a reviewed. Now, it does sound reasonable that if someone doesn’t want her name mentioned on the book’s dust jacket as a reviewer, that the request would be honored by the publisher. That sounds pretty standard. Of course, however, the reviews would start showing up in Internet search engines anyway, an issue that we all know in conjunction with all these discussions about “reputation defense.”

There is another account, from a bizarre site called “Stop the ACLU” about this, from Aug, 6, 2008, “Clueless Dhimmitude and Denise Spelling,” link here.

I wonder if Ms. Jones should publish the book herself, or use a cooperative service like iUniverse. I certainly would purchase a copy.

What if someone composes a world-class opera about the origins of Islam. Would the Met be afraid to perform it?

Update: Aug. 27, 2008

The Washington Post published a probing editorial "Random Error: Fearing the risk of violence, a publisher capitulates" on Friday, Aug. 22, 2008 on p A16, link here. The Post also discusses Ms. Spellberg, and argues that, whatever the controversy, Random House apparently believed that the novel has artistic merit. I'm going to claim "fair use" and quote the entire last paragraph of the editorial, because there's no better way to summarize it, and because the point is so critical:

"This time -- for the first time in its history -- Random House capitulated, even though its own experts told it the book might be offensive only to "some," not most, Muslims. Only "a small, radical segment" might resort to violence. Yet that intolerant fringe, newly empowered and emboldened by this victory, will be around for a long time to come. Leading cultural institutions must stand up to it -- lest the most violent acquire a veto over our most precious freedoms."

A "Random Error" is not James Hilton's "Random Harvest."

On August 23, 2008 the Washington Post published a "Letter to the Editor" called "Random House's Retreat," here, on page A14. The letter writer wants to boycott Random House.

And today, Aug. 27, 2008 the Post published another letter "Throwing Stones at Random House," on p A16, link here. The writer agrees with the newspaper but says that the Post itself should have shown more courage a few years ago and published the cartoons associated with the Jyllands-Posten Cartoon Controversy.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Conflict between Pakistan and India complicates control of Afghanistan

The increasing tensions, again, between India and Pakistan are complicating efforts to contain the Taliban in border areas between Afghanistan and Pakistan, and maintain stability in Afghanistan.

The US admits that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence assisted with a militant attack on an Indian embassy in Kabul, and the ISI may have played a role in a 2001 attack on India’s parliament building. Complicating the picture further is the role of Afghan mujahedeen Jalaluddin Haqqani, from the remote border tribal area or North Waziristan.

Haqqani’s activities date back to the days of resistance against the Soviet Union in the 1980s, just as is the case with Osama bin Laden.

The situation is politically sensitive because India has been active with reconstruction projects inside Afghanistan.

The Wall Street Journal weekend story appears on p A6 and is authored by Jay Solomon, link here.

To a westerner, it seems unfathomable that the border areas are so difficult to control with any sense of law and order. But this sort of story points out some of the complications.

Friday, August 1, 2008

LA Times reports bizarre break in unsolved 2001 case; but not necessarily "solved"

There is a bizarre twist in the story of the post 9/11 incidents in which five persons in the eastern United States died of anthrax, mailed to a Florida workplace (the company that published the National Enquirer and other similar tabloids), and to several members of Congress and the media. Seventeen persons were infected and recovered. Casualties included postal workers, who started wearing gloves handling mail. There was also discussion of irradiating the mail.

Bruce E. Ivins apparently committed suicide with an overdose. He was apparently going to be charged with unauthorized possession of biologically hazardous materials outside the federal workplace. He had worked for 18 years at the biodefense research laboratories at Ft. Detrick, Md, near Frederick, 40 miles NW of Washington DC along I 270, at the foot of the first ridge of “Catoctin Mountains”. I visited the exterior perimeter and saw the gate myself in 1988.

It is not clear that the FBI would have charged him for the actual deaths and attack.

Earlier, the Department of Justice settled with another scientist mentioned as a “person of interest” without sufficient evidence. The scientist had sued for defamation. (The scientist had also written an unpublished novel about a biological attack -- following the theme developed on these blogs about the potential legal risks fiction resembling reality -- and this work wasn't even posted anywhere). A similar situation had occurred with an incorrect FBI allegation against a security guard at Olympic Park in Atlanta in 1996.

The incidents, in late September and throughout October in 2001, frightened a nation, on the heels of 9/11. A whole post office in Washington DC was closed for months, and some congressional facilities had to be decontaminated with chlorine dioxide.

Earlier, media reports had also speculated on the possibility of a foreign source, rumored to have come from Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. The fear that followed the attacks contributed to the political climate that, along with faulty intelligence and misleading testimony by Colin Powell before the United Nations, led to the American invasion in Iraq in March 2003. The reports seemed credible at the time because the incidents stopped suddenly, as if the attacker had run out of material. That would have been consistent with a foreign source. The Weekly Standard published material on this theory in 2002. Furthermore, the FBI arrested two Arab men around a complex near Trenton, NJ in late 2001, supposedly in connection with the attacks, and then nothing more was ever heard about the arrests.

So, this mystery is by no means solved.

The Los Angeles Times story is by David Willman, and appears here and is dated Aug 1, 2008. It includes a video.

It seems that the Los Angeles Times, despite the corporate pressure reportedly put on it according to a 2007 PBS Frontline program om journalism, is very much in the running as a "world" newspaper.


Now it sounds as if the government is acknowledging that it was going to prosecute Ivins for the attacks and seek the death penalty. This news came out at around 5 PM today, right after Pete Williams on NBC said that the DOJ could not release details until next week.

Also, other stories indicate that Ivins had actually "helped" the FBI with the early stages of the investigation. Stories that broke Friday tied the DNA from the envelope to beakers in Ivins's lab. One bizarre story claimed that he could have mailed it to test a vaccine. There were other stories about "sociopathy."

Update: August 6, 2008

The government unsealed the documents today, and the DOJ website is this.

One theory is that Dr. Ivins wanted to demonstrate the need for a better anthrax vaccine, after the experience of the 1991 Persian Gulf War, where many veterans seemed to have become ill as a result. Now the government maintains that Dr. Ivins was responsible for the mailings and probably acted alone.

Second Picture: Fort Detrick