Sunday, May 25, 2008

China's Seeing Eye showplace city


The May 29, 2008 issue of Rolling Stone continues the debate about China’s quixotic domestic policies (mixing capitalism and communism as if throwing sodium into water in a chemistry class) with an article on p 59 by Naomi Klein, link here. The story title is “China’s All Seeing Eye: With the help of U.S. defense contractors, China is building the prototype for a high-tech police state. It is ready for export” and it gives a detailed study of the new city of Shenzhen, across an area of marsh about thirty miles from Hong Kong, which, as we remember, China “took over” on July 1, 1997. In 1980, the city did not even exist, apart from some fishing villages. Today it is a city of 12 million and looks, in the pictures in the article, like a settlement out of a sci-fi movie. (I won’t hot link the photos because of legal concerns, but just pretend that I could. The pictures and maps are stunning. There is a good reason to buy hard copies at the 7-11, sometimes.)

Here is where “big business” gets to experiment with an authoritarian-style “police state,” with security cameras on every corner and links to police stations from every Internet café. One problem seems to be that China wants to raise rural towns for its own style of “capitalism,” and would squash grass-roots dissent inherent in blogs. The article gets into a discussion of the US Fourth Amendment and the deceptiveness of the Patriot Act, which the Chinese seem to be willing to learn from.

Somehow, in my mind, Singapore comes to mind for comparison.

China is also drawing extremely bad press (which it tries to suppress) from shoddy school construction compared to "capitalist" efforts, as shown in the earthquake. Today The New York Times has a front page story by Jim Yardley, Jake Hooker and Andrew C. Revkin, "Chinese Are Left to Ask Why Schools Crumbled," link here. Also, check the Times online for a May 26 story on aftershocks published in advance.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

A New Jersey Mom blogs for human rights in the Muslim world (Yemen)


As with Heather Armstrong (Utah) last week on ABC Nightline, another start-up "mommy" blogger has hit the media big time. This time, the blog is called “Armies of Liberation” about attempts to bring civil rights and political sanity to repressive regimes in the Middle East, with a recent focus on Yemen. The blog pays particular attention to the case of Yemeni journalist Abdul Karim al-Khaiwani, for reporting on a local rebellion in a remote part of the desert country on the southern end of the Arabian peninsula. In Yemen, as in many middle eastern countries (like Egypt), amateur and professional reporters and bloggers can be imprisoned or possibly executed for stirring dissent against religious or political authority.

The blogger is Jane Novak, a “stay-at-home” mom in Monmouth County, New Jersey, who knows no Arabic and entered the area of political blogging out of her own moral and political convictions. Today, Robert F. Worth wrote a detailed story about her and the blog on p A14 of The New York Times today (May 20, 2008), titled “A blog banned in Yemen, but written in New Jersey; defending a jailed journalist from afar,” with the online edition story called “a living-room crusade via blogging,” link here (registration may be required).

What is different about journalistic story is that the reporter is a national of his own country. Other attention to journalists recently have focused on American and European journalists – the (Paramount) movie about Daniel Pearl “A Mighty Heart,” or recent stories about how handsome, conspicuous and omnipresent British journalist Dan Rivers had to hide from authorities with hats and disguises in Myanmar after the cyclone. Also, the media has paid a lot of attention recently to calls to strengthen journalists’ shield laws in the USA.

Novak’s website appears to have two separate blog threads, and also refers to the Weblog Awards, which I’ll have to look at some more soon. Her stories (including discussions o poverty and living conditions in Yemen now) make compelling reading, and sound like a movie script (Participant, perhaps) in progress.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Egypt cracks down on Facebook protest over food prices


I recall, in the early days of my explorations of activism, sometime in 1972, hearing about silly demonstrations such as a “lettuce boycott.” That was when I was socializing “on my own time” with elements of the Peoples Party of New Jersey, not accepting how radical Dr. Spock’s party really was.

So goes grass roots activism today in Egypt, against high food prices, which are caused by global demand pressures, not specifically by anything Egypt’s government has done. Ellen Knickmeyer (foreign service writer) on the front page of the Sunday May 18 Washington Post gives the story of a Facebook group, partly organized by Ahmed Maher, that tried to organize a Sunday strike. At one point Facebook would shut his account down on suspicion of spam because high email volume. Eventually he would be arrested and tortured by Egyptian authorities. The story title is “Fighting rebellion on Facebook is struck down by force in Egypt,” link here. The story offers two slides, one showing the results of the “rendition.” The Post online carries a supplementary article “Going underground in Cairo” in which Maher told reporters they would have to be able to help push-start his failing stickshift car. (Search for the writer’s name; there are multiple links.)

The story shows the determination in many Muslim countries to squash Internet dissent. It recalls the mood of the recent Egyptian film “The Yacoubian Building” now available from Strand.

Picture: (Mine) from a personal Sierra Club hike in Big Bend, 1979 (printed then in analog and reproduced now).

Friday, May 16, 2008

China, after earthquake, experiences private charity, new in a post-Communist society


The tragic earthquake in southwest China does seem staggering by American standards. The 7.9 quake was felt throughout most of the country. This is comparable to what would happen in the US if a major earthquake were to hit today along the New Madrid dimple in the lower Mississippi Valley.

The most interesting observation, though, has that a lot of private giving and charity, however unorganized, is happening within China now. This is unprecedented in a society where the Communist State was supposed to take care of all needs from cradle to grave – even though that was set up in part in the 60s by the “Cultural Revolution” where intellectuals were forced to toils peasants or “proles”, part of extreme left wing moralism that was manifest in that time. I can remember activists in the “People’s Party of New Jersey” in the early 70s (Benjamin Spock’s party) maintaining that China had a society to be emulated! Furthermore, China’s one child per family policy meant that now many families have lost all lineage.

The Washington Post has a front page story May 16 by Maureen Fen, of the paper’s foreign service, “Chinese open wallets for quake aid; individual giving booms in a society long under sole care of the state,” link here.

There is no question that China’s behavior after the disaster compares well to that of Myanmar, where the government’s reaction has led to a calamity unimaginable even on the History Channel’s “mega disasters.”

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

National Geographic reiterates the "crude awakening" theory about oil reserves and future production


The June 2008 issue of National Geographic runs a brief but particularly disturbing story on p 87 by Paul Roberts, “Tapped Out” with the byline “World oil demand is surging as supplies approach their limits.” This threat is something we have already seen in the Red Envelope film “A Crude Awakening” two years ago. The website is ngm.com, but the June issue is not available online as of today (May 13).

The article starts with an account of a calculation by Saudi geologist Sadad I. Al Husseini, that world oil production would level off in this decade, perhaps as early as 2004. As larger fields have fewer reserves, smaller fields must be found and they are much more expensive to develop and use. The article notes some disagreement among oil experts about this theory.

The article provides a brief but critical summary of alternatives like biofuels, coal to oil, and tar sands (and perhaps oil shale).

The article concludes with some startling sentences. “A peak or plateau in oil production will also mean that, with rising population, the amount of gasoline, kerosene, and diesel available for each person on the planet may be significantly less than it is today… Any meaningful discussion about changes in our energy-intensive lifestyles, says Husseini, ‘is still off the table.’ With the inexorable arithmetic of oil depletion, it may not stay off the table much longer.”

Monday, May 12, 2008

NY Times series on Islamic authoritarianism: family values


Michael Slackman has a series in the New York Times, “Generation Faithful: Perpetuating Authority” about the fundamentalist Islamic world. The newspaper online story even offers a link to a blog in Arabic. Today, the Times ran a particularly interesting story “Young Saudis, Vexed and Entranced by Love’s Rules: Clinging to Islamic Customs While Sometimes Trying to Evade Them,” on the front page, link here. The detailed article gives a fascinating account of the way the strict rules of tribal Islam play out in a Saudi family. There is a curious notion of family honor embedded in the way men handle women. Men are assumed to own “rationality.” Women must be kept out of sight from men until married for childbearing. To a western mind this is hard to make sense of, but in their culture, it actually seems to keep men “interested” in their wives and keep their society stable. Of course, they claim it is mandated by the Koran.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Venezuela, Nigeria pose serious issues for oil supply as prices rise quickly; could Saudi Arabia be next?


Venezuela is one major sources of high quality crude for refineries. The EIA provided a study of the short term effects of the temporary loss of Venezuelan crude in 2002, by Joanne Shore and John Hackworth, here.

US intelligence services have been doing some “hacking” themselves into caches and computer files of socialist president Hugo Chavez, and apparently believe that Chavez is trying to spread unrest in neighboring Colombia, and interfere with efforts to stem drug traffic. This can pose grave problems for the United States. Action could mean further attempts by Chavez to nationalize oil resources for to implement an 1970-s style “Arab oil embargo” on the US.

Jose De Cordoba and Jay Solomon give the details "Chávez Aided Colombia Rebels, Captured Computer Files Show," in the May 8 Wall Street Journal, link.

The political issues in Venezuela are a major topic in the recent film “The War on Democracy” by Christopher Martin and John Pilger.

Oil companies have had to deal with violence in Nigeria as well, related to the attempts since 1999 to install “neoconservsative” style democratic reforms. Well known NYC author and internationally-exploring journalist Sebastian Junger has an article “Blood Oil” (analogous to “Blood Diamonds”) in the Feb. 2007 Vanity Fair, here.

Even so, American crude inventories right now are high, according to a story by Robert Tuttle in the Bloomberg News, May 7 here. However, the intelligence stories regarding Venezuela and Colombia surfaced May 9 and may have contributed to the record price of $126 a barrel.

But international tensions in Venezuela and Nigeria would seem to run the risk of tempting terrorists into further attacks on the major production facilities in Saudi Arabia or on tankers in the Gulf region, as in the movie “Syriana”, or the CNN special "We Were Warned".

Update: May 15. An accident (rather than violence) led to an oil pipeline explosion in Nigeria today. CNN video link is here.

Picture: Chickens at Mt. Vernon Estate in the slave house. "The sky is falling."

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Myanmar humanitarian crisis: politics, global warming, charities


Cyclone Nargis flooded areas of Myanmar (Burma) 35 miles inland with the storm surge (it’s not a “tidal wave”) that may have killed over 100,000 (41000 are missing) people and devastated an area much larger than that associated with Hurricane Katrina. The storm came onshore from the West on Friday May 2 as a Category 4 by the hurricane scale, and was a Category 1 when it passed over Rangoon and a tropical storm when it entered Thailand. In nearby Yangon, there was no electricity for 6 million residents.

Some aid has arrived from Thailand, but the world has watched in disbelief as the military junta resists aid from western countries and charities, like Save the Children, which says it has been able to start providing aid anyway, story. That particular charity was reported by John Stossel on 20/20 some years back.

As with previous storms in Bangladesh, the event shows that the increase in storms with global warming may affect impoverished low-lying areas around the world, especially the tropics, the most. Rice and food production may be affected even more.

A later story on CNN is " Rotting corpses pile up as Myanmar stalls on aid," link here.

The political problems in Burma were covered in the 1995 film from Columbia, directed by John Boorman, Beyond Rangoon.

May 10

CNN offers a link so a shocking Time article by Romesh Ratnesar, "Is it Time to Invade Burma?", link here.

Myanmar now faces an unprecedented public health crisis. Is this where a mutation in a virus like H5N1, capable of launching a crippling pandemic, could occur?

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Turkish educators offer moderate Muslim education in Pakistan


Education in Pakistan is a major issue. While Pakistan has “conventional” public schools, the poorest parents cannot afford books and uniforms and may well send male children to madrasas, or religious schools funded by radical outside money. Boys spend hours memorizing the Koran and have an “education” appropriate for a 14th Century tribal society.

A number of Turkish educators have set up “moderate” schools in Pakistan and are trying to change the culture, and act in a manner like Muslim “Peace Corps” volunteers.
The New York Times ran a story Sunday by Sabrina Tavernise, “Turkish schools offer Pakistan a gentler vision of Islam,” link here.

As indicate in recent a recent PBS documentary ("The Al Qaeda Files"), education alone does not resolve everything; jobs are important, too. Much of Al Qaeda’s leadership has come from relatively well-educated but disenchanted young men, especially from Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

Monday, May 5, 2008

US offers triage analysis for potential pandemic; other countries likely to do the same


Lindsey Tanner of the Associated Press has a disturbing story today “Who should M.D.’s Let Die in a Pandemic? Report Has Answers.” The report was compiled from a number of government agencies including the CDC, HHS, and the Department of Homeland Security. The link is here.
The recommendations for triage and rationing of life-saving care are rather specific.

AOL carried the story today with a headline that was a little less sensitive, “Who should not be saved in a pandemic?” (The title may have religious objections to some.) There is a survey that so far offers surprising results; most Americans recognize that lines will need to be drawn and even they or their family members could get excluded.

It is expected that other western countries will have similar reports, as these scenarios have been demonstrated in a number of films.

The largest concern is that H5N1 or a similar virus could mutate in such a manner as to become more transmissible human-human. The danger of such mutation is greater in parts of the world where people live in close proximity to poultry and cannot afford good hygiene, but the effect could be rather quick and global because of travel. It is not likely that there would be a single “index case” as in the movies. The Spanish flu in 1918 appeared simultaneously in several parts of the world at the same time, a circumstance never fully explained.

China had a scare with this sort of problem with SARS in 2003, which was contained.

Persons who had recovered would be expected to “volunteer” to help care for the ill because of the shortage of medical personnel and overwhelming caseload, and recovered people would be naturally immune.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Yemen has "lost" all prisoners from USS Cole Incident in 2000


The attempts of the US to hold all those accountable for the attack on the USS Cole in October 2000 in Yemen came to an end, as all of the defendants held in Yemen have escaped or been freed. This was reported this morning by Craig Whitlock on the front page of the May 4 Washington Post, story “Probe of USS Cole Bombing Unravels; Plotters Freed in Yemen; U.S. Efforts Frustrated,” link here.
Two prisoners are held by the US at Guantanamo.

This report appeared on the same day that I watched the first of two discs from Betflix on PBS Netflix “Al Qaeda Files” which gave quite a bit of details about the USS Cole attack in the closing days of the Clinton administration, about one year before the 9/11 attacks.

On the same day, Michael Moore offered the speculation on Larry King Live that Osama bin Laden may not be holed up in a cave in the tribal areas near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, shortly after Morgan Sprulock’s film on the hunt for bin Laden came out. Moore believes that bin Laden can pay to take care of himself in almost any country in the world.

Friday, May 2, 2008

More Reports from China: food prices, tibet


The Washington Post today (May 2) has another paid insert “Reports from China,” (the website seems to be this: http://www.reportsfromchina.com/ ) and the most important story is probably by Xin Zhiming, “Price surge becomes real food for thought.” While basic food and grain supplies seem adequate, prices are rising quickly, affecting particularly the urban poor.

More rural villagers have moved to non-agricultural jobs. “All farming-related costs are rising and people don’t like to farm.” That sounds like a distant echo from Chairman Mao’s “cultural revolution” in the 1960s when intellectuals were forced to become peasants, sometimes to glee of the extreme Left even in the United States.

Chinese agricultural has been problematic for world health reasons. In some southern areas, people live very close to farm animals and poultry, and this is thought to increase the likelihood of viral mutations that could cause human pandemics, such as avian influenza.

The biggest problem may be simply the sudden increase in demand, for a higher standard of living for everyone -- particularly demand for fossil fuels.

The paper has an article criticizing the behavior or protesters against the Olympic torch runs in London, Paris and San Francisco, “No case for even devil’s advocates.” There is an article by Lisa Carducci, “Combating ignorance on Tibet,” and claims “The Tibetains outside Tibet are the victims not only of ignorance but of a well-organized campaign of misinformation.” She also writes, “The Dalai Lama, who left the country when he was still very young an under the influence of a group, and never saw Tibet with his own eyes later in life to be able to judge things for himself, is also a poor victim – much like the woman in the village market.”

Also, Reuters has a news story about a deadly enterovirus outbreak in eastern China, "Deadly virus spreads in China, 21 children die," link here.