Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Kurds share a dangerous abusive practice with societies in Africa

Amit R. Paley of the Washington Post Foreign Service has a story on Monday, Dec. 29, 2008 about female circumcision in Kurdistan, in northern Iraq (and eastern Turkey). The practice is better known in Africa, and is seen as a way men in a patriarchal society remain in “control” (the article is a bit more explicit). The story illustrates a family in Tuz Khurmatu, Iraq. The story appears on page A09 Monday and has this link. The title of the story is "For Kurdish Girls, a Painful Ancient Ritual: The Widespread Practice of Female Circumcision in Iraq's North Highlights The Plight of Women in a Region Often Seen as More Socially Progressive."

The practice does not occur in the Sunni or Shiite parts of Iraq, or in other major Muslim countries in the Middle East, even though these societies are often tribal and patriarchal in nature. There does not seem to be any justification for it in Islam.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Israel attacks against Hamas in Gaza could lead to oil supply disruption

A story from Jerusalem early Monday Dec 29 on CNN maintains that Israel is in “all out war” against Hamas with strikes on Gaza, which started Dec. 27, so far resulting in over 300 deaths.

Oil prices rose slightly and stock market prices fell Monday somewhat in additional uncertainty. But oil prices had fallen to below $40 a barrel because of recession.

The lingering fear is that Israel’s behavior could cause a 70s style embargo or incite terrorist strikes against oil production facilities in Saudi Arabia to punish the west. Oil prices have been so volatile in 2008 that it is almost impossible to predict what would happen.

The link for the CNN story is here.

Tim Paradis, AP business writer, has a story this morning on the fear that the sudden Middle East explosion could disrupt oil production here.

Monday night (Dec 29) ABC "Nightline" showed a Palestinian in Gaza with a Yankee pinstripe mourning the loss of five children to an Israeli rocket.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

China allows civil suit and judgment in cyberbullying case in Beijing

A man in Beijing, Wang Fei, has been awarded a $1300 judgment after a cyberbullying incident that led to the suicide of his wife, a case in China that vaguely resembles the notorious Lori Drew case in the United States.

A man had posted details about his supposed affair online, resulting in multiple personal vigilante threats.

This case appears to be the first known in China relating to cyberbullying or even “reputation defense.” This sounds odd given China’s propensity for political censorship, widely reported in the media and requiring cooperation of American companies doing business there.

The Wired news story is by Kim Zetter, and appeared Dec. 22, 2008.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Japan sliding back into its 90s style deflationary depression

Japan is sinking deeper into recession, according to reports from The Washington Times, based on the International Monetary Fund. Japan’s output decreased over 8% in November.

Japan experienced repeated bouts of deflation during the 1990s after real estate and stock market bubbles burst around 1990. Japan’s example may bode poorly for western countries as a whole dealing with the current crisis. But Japan, unlike the US now, is faced with a soaring yen.

With deflation, both businesses and consumers tend to hold on to cash and wait for prices to get even lower. The problem is particularly persistent in electronics and computers, where technological advance tends to drive down price anyway. And this is a very important cornerstone in Japan. With the auto industry that should be less so, because Japan has done better than Detroit on making fuel-efficient cars that will be in demand.

The link for the Dec. 27 story by David M. Dickson in the Washington Times is here.

The International Monetary Fund has a survey report on the global financial crisis dated Dec. 15, 2008 here.

Friday, December 26, 2008

China, with conservative, "Confucian" economic strength, may recover much more quickly than The West

The New York Times on Friday Dec. 26, 2008 has some articles that show how important China has become economically and how much leverage it may have soon on the whole U.S. economy. The front page story by Mark Lander is “The Reckoning: Dollar Shift: Chinese Pockets Filled as Americans Emptied Theirs.” The online version of the article title reads “Chinese Savings Helped Inflate American Bubble”, link here. That makes us think that the “bailout” U.S. solution of printing money right now may not work if China calls in its investment in us some day. We seem to have depended on their cheap labor far too long.

The Business Section has a story by Keith Bradshear, “A Banking Upgrade in China: Qualifying Tests for Financial Workers.” And Jimmy Wang has a story “Chinese recruiters look abroad for diversity and expertise.” China does have strict qualifying tests for financial planners and advisers, and seems to have managed its mortgage business relatively conservatively (with high down payments for homes), compared not only to the United States but also to Britain and much of Western Europe. Again, this may make recovery in the West harder and give China a lot of political leverage.

Some laid off financial workers from firms in the U.S. with bilingual (Chinese) skills are already finding employment in Chinese financial institutions.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Iraq celebrates Christmas for first time

The “new” government in Iraq has declared Christmas an official holiday in the war torn country for the first time. Christians are a significant minority in Iraq, which only now is getting some sense of stability in the factional fighting between Shiites and Sunnis and various groups since the fall of Saddam Hussein in April 2003.

Jim Heintz has a story on the AP site, here. ABC News reproduced the story Christmas morning.

The story shows Christians around a fire during Christmas Eve mass at The Great Virgin Mariam Church in Hamdaniya area, about twenty miles from Mosul.

In the Vatican, Pope Benedict criticized the rampant materialism and greed that led to the worldwide financial collapse.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Washington Times op-ed suggests "global cooling"

Since I’ve met libertarian commentator Deroy Murdoch before, I thought I would mention his column on the first page of the Voices section of the Dec. 21 2008 Washington Times, called “Global cooling?”, link here.

He mentions the early bitter cold this December, the cool summer in Alaska (Sarah Palin country), the snow in the Brazilian Highlands (which is not that unusual). Well, remember, we had a mid December ice storm in interior New York and New England, when it should have been snow. Doug Hill of Washington DC’s WJLA predicts a snowy winter for Washington because of low pressure in the Eastern Atlantic, but we’ve had nothing more than a trace so far this December. Doug Hill has also, in public forums at high schools, mentioned that before 1980 scientists were actually more worried about global cooling than warming, and questions the political motives of the global warming "debate."

We’ve had early cold before, such as in December 1983, and again in 1989. And in January 1998, there was a massive ice storm in Eastern Canada – the problem is, it should have been snow.

As Al Gore points out, the mathematics of climate change points out to overwhelming evidence that some of it is man made. But global warming could suddenly lead to cooling if the melting of the Greenland ice cap disrupted the Gulf Stream and feedback ocean currents in the Atlantic.

Deroy Murdock is a media fellow with the Hoover Institution of War, Revolution and Peace at Stanford University.

One other “true thing”, the Washington Times, when accessed in Firefox on my XP Home edition machine, sometimes puts up ads that somehow hang Firefox. Google Chrome and IE seem to work OK on them. I don’t know why. On another (newer) XP Pro machine they work fine in Firefox. I do love the Washington Times’s opinions on the international and national security issues, but sometimes not all of them are up online immediately, some of them disappear, and the ads are sometimes goofy. I usually do buy a print edition (reporters need to earn their salaries, you know), but that’s possible for readers only in the DC area, generally. And recently the paper stopped printing on Saturdays to cut costs.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

China bans New York Times online

The AP is reporting that China blocked access to the New York Times online website today (Dec. 20). Earlier this week, a number of other western papers had been blocked but some were restored Friday. The link is here.

AOL ran the story tonight, and posted a survey showing that a majority of users do not use the New York Times online.

China has more Internet users than any other country, but believes that the government must prevent dissent in order to retain stability. Other smaller countries that are conservative but thought of as a little more progressive (like Singapore -- see Dec 8 posting here) also censor Internet content. China’s Confucian values as well as Communist roots would resist the effects of “asymmetry”.

But it is surprising to see major newspapers blocked. China lifted some censorship of professional journalists at the last minute during the August Olympics.

My own websites (including blogs and conventional sites) have very little traffic from China (suggesting probable government blockage because of my political content), but substantial traffic from Middle Eastern countries including Saudi Arabia and Iran. One would expect it to be common for wealthy or connected people in all these countries to get around filters with various proxy arrangements.

Friday, December 19, 2008

MSNBC reports on new book on nuclear forensics

Robert Windrem, a senior executive news producer for NBC news, has a provocative story on MSNBC “Doomsday detectives battle nuclear terrorism: New book outlines U.S. strategy for determining source of a possible attack”, with link here. The book in question is by Jeffrey T. Richelson and is named “Defusing Armageddon”, to be published Jan 5 2009 by W.W. Norton, 416 pages.

In the event of a nuclear blast anywhere in the world, investigators would be able to track back the origin of the device with forensics and trace the source of the original HEU or plutonium. This is more likely to be achievable than complete prevention of a nuclear device (or EMP blast).

The MSNBC story has links to the earlier report about the greater than 50-50 chance of a WMD attack on the United States by 2013, from the Commission on the Prevention of WMD Proliferation, as well as (perhaps a bit alarmingly) a link on how a bomb is built. I won’t repeat that link.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Does the U.S. "need" oil dependence to be a super power?

Does dependence on foreign oil actually increase the position of the United States in the world as “The Superpower.” The answer is yes, if you believe the analysis and futuristic scenarios laid out by Daniel W. Drezner, in the Nov/ / Dec. 2008 “National Interest”, on p. 8. The link (for the article dated 10/30/2008 is here.)

He outlines a scenario where the West really does embrace the need for innovation to address climate change and oil tap outs, but where more progressive Middle Eastern countries become even more powerful by diversifying culturally, as Dubai, for example is trying to do. Dubai (the Burj) has ever reason to address climate change since it is building “Palms” communities out in the sea. He thinks that some Muslim countries, even Saudi Arabia, will set up multi-cultural zones and practice strict Islam only in certain areas. They will not become western democracies with western social pluralism, but they will become more tolerant.

He thinks that by 2030 China will be calling the shots, and that some of the intermediate powers, like Russia, will be in for rough sledding as petroleum becomes less important.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Senate: Rumsfeld and co. responsible for Gunatanamo abuse, maybe others

The Washington Post reports today (Dec 12) that former defense secretary Donald H Rumsfeld and various other Bush administration officials bear responsibility for the treatment of detainees at Guantanamo and perhaps other installations. The story, by Joby Warrick and Karen DeYoung, has this link.

The Senators involved are Carl M. Levin (D-MI) and John McCain (R-AZ). The closest document that I could find was on Levin’s subsite here.

Apparently at issue were techniques based on SERE, or Survival, evasion, resistance and escape, borrowed from military survival schools that deal with countries that do not follow the Geneva Convention rules (which were taught to us in Basic Combat Training!).

The techniques could have included what is called extreme rendition (including waterboarding), as in the popular film, or the Abu Ghraib scandal, or even the abuse at Bagram (as in “Taxi to the Dark Side”).

Monday, December 8, 2008

Singapore is hostile to free speech

Fred Hiatt, Editorial Page Editor for The Washington Post has a disturbing op-ed today (on p A19) about Singapore, the utopian city-state in Southeast Asia. It’s called “A Public Enemy in Singapore”, link here.

The story is about one Chee Soon Juan, prosecuted and jailed a few times for speaking in public without a permit and selling books in public without permission. He’s actually been jailed for trying to leave Singapore. I guess if had published “Do Ask Do Tell” and developed and deployed these websites and blogs in Singapore the same thing would have happened to me.

He’s also been sued for “defamation” by leader Lee Kuan Yew and son Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, for comparing the government to a charity ridden by scandal. Imagine being sued by the president of the United States or the prime minister of a European country, or by the Queen of England.

The government’s contention is that a small state has to demand conformity to retain social stability. Rather than like an aircraft carrier, it’s like a row boat at sea, where everyone must stroke in unison.

There’s no question that authoritarianism can sometimes promote stability. Singapore in some ways is a Utopian state, almost out of science fiction and on another planet, and people there perceive the unfolding of their lives differently than we do.

High school civics and government teachers should present this editorial in comparison to American First Amendment ideals.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Washington Times runs big editorial on a (soon to be) nuclear Iran

Today, Friday Dec. 5, 2008, the Washington Times, on p. A20, ran a full page editorial “Iran’s Upper Hand”, link here. It should be noted right off that the Washington Times no longer prints a Saturday edition, so this editorial carries the readers until Sunday. The article talks about the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Iran’s Project 111. It’s long, alarming, and rather a mouthful of words. The online version has a picture with a backdrop poster of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (curiously framed in green) behind a missile.

The Times believes that “a nuclear-capable Iran armed with ICBMs could be only months away.”

Earlier, on this blog, I’ve noted other alarming web stories (by Clifford May and William Graham) about Iran’s intentions, one of which could be to launch a missile from sea over the United States to create an electromagnetic pulse. The US is the arch enemy that could be conquered, according to this theory. Objectively, it’s hard to tell if this is scare talk, or if Iran (or a group like Al Qaeda) really could explode such a device at high altitude this way, and if such a device really would have the effect predicted. More mainstream groups emphasizing the control of nuclear materials seem to ignore or downplay this risk, and instead discuss the possibility of nuclear or radiologically contaminated detonations of small or crude devices within the US. As noted, a few days ago a major terror watchdog group predicted a better than even chance of a major attack somewhere in the western world by 2013 unless we get a grip on things, quickly.

Remember, also how Iran president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (note the Persian: "محمود احمدی‌نژاد ", or even "mæhmuːd-e æhmædiː-neʒɒːd") behaved at Columbia University in a speech to students, and what he said did not exist in Iran. He was laughed at. But he comes from the New Axis of Evil.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

China might see a repeat of "cultural revolution"

The Tuesday Dec. 2 the Wall Street Journal ran a detailed story about “reverse migration” in China from the cities back to the countryside, by Shai Oster, “China Fears Restive Migrants as Jobs Disappear in Cities,” link here.

The story reports protests in China and the government, known for repressing free speech as on the Internet, is sometimes willing or even eager to make concessions. But another complication is that many peasant lands have been taken over by corporate interests without adequate compensation for peasants, who know must deal with returning workers from the cities. But these workers sometimes worked for very low wages for exports anyway.

This sounds like a little bit of the reprise of the “cultural revolution” of Mao of the 1960s. Maybe now it is a “free market cultural revolution” or a “Peoples capitalist republic cultural revolution.” China’s ideas of meritocracy and family loyalty are hitting hard.

Agricultural practices in southern China, where people live close to livestock and especially poultry, are of concern to world public health officials, as these practices breed species jumps in viruses like avian influenza.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Washington Times reports progress in West Bank "deal"

The Washington Times reported today Tuesday Dec. 2, with a headline in its “PLO ready for state in West Bank: Gaza affiliation awakes Hamas surrender.” The story is by Nicholas Kralev, and the online headline is “Palestinians shift position of peace accord.” The thrust of the story is that Palestinian negotiators would accept the idea of a Palestinian state limited to the West Bank only, and accept the idea that Gaza is included later on if Hamas gives up control of its strip. The link is here.

The story got relatively little attention from other media outlets during the day, but it would seem to fit the spirit of suggestions made earlier by former president Jimmy Carter.

Significant progress in the Middle East could make terrorist attacks less likely from other sources, and could help worldwide economic recovery return sooner.

Commission on the Prevention of WMD Prevention issues dire warning

On December 1 2008, the Commission on the Prevention of WMD Proliferation and Terrorism, led by former Sens. Bob Graham of Florida and Jim Talent of Missouri, issued a report warning that a attack on the United States using nuclear (presumably that includes radiological or EMP) or biological weapons was likely on the United States homeland by 2013, by the end of Obama’s first term. The domain name for the Commission is prosaic: “Prevent WMD” and the link is this. The report was not on the website yet, but the site offers a Feedburner subscription for receipt.

The United States should be particularly concerned that disgruntled, unemployed (as in Russia) or ideologically unstable scientists will become terrorists and be able to manufacture and distribute WMD’s.

The AP story by Pamela Hess is here. The report was mentioned briefly, in passing, on the NBC Today show December 2.

ABC "World News Tonight" gave more details, indicating that the report indicates that the world is more likely than not to experience a WMD attack by 2013 unless there is significant progress in security nuclear and biological materials, and that security has been getting laxer, not better. A similar theme is often articulated by the Nuclear Threat Iniative.

ABC "Nightline" had done a series on a fictitious subway biological attack in 1999, before 9/11.