Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Radical Islamist in Pakistan becomes bellicose

The Associated Press reports a very alarming story by Ishtiaq Mashud about a bellicose “threat” to the United States homeland by radical Islamist Baitullah Mehsud, who has a $5 million reward out for his capture. He claimed responsibility for a deadly attack against a Pakistani government police academy, and wants to avenge against US missile and perhaps drone attacks in the tribal border areas with Afghanistan. The link is here.

An earlier version by Babar Dogar was printed in the Washington Times March 31 on p A14.

Sara A. Carter and Eli Lake have a similar later story on the Taliban's latest rant in the April 1, 2009 Washington Times, link here. It says that the FBI has issued alerts nationwide.

Monday, March 30, 2009

North Korea holds two American journalists for trial

The Associated Press reports that two American journalists are being held in North Korea for “hostile acts” which seem to be unspecified. The story is by Jean H. Lee and appears here. They face “trial” and twenty years in prison. The detention apparently occurred near the border with China, and the journalists were apparently trying to interview dissidents.

North Korea is reportedly on the verge of a controversial missiles test.

CNN has produced a documentary called “Undercover in the Secret State” in 2005; and ABC produced “North Korea: Inside the Shadows”

Christiane Amanpour of CNN was allowed to make her “Notes from North Korea” in May 2008.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Time Magazine covers a "soft revolution" in Islam

Robin Wright has a major story in the March 30 issue of Time, “Islam’s Soft Revolution: Across the Muslim world, a new generation of activists, bloggers and preachers is discovering new ways to synthesize Islam and modernity”, on p 34, link here.

The article describes an activist, Dalia Ziada, who attempted to stage a human rights film festival in Cairo. The government apparently closed down the theater at the last minute, so she rented a boat for the festival, beyond the reach of the law, it seems, sailing out of jurisdiction. (Does that sound like gambling on riverboats in the United States?)

The new revolution is anti-jihadist and anti-political, but at the same time socially conservative. While resisting the worst abuses of patriarchal values, it still emphasizes the importance of family. It purports to become a "kinder, gentler" Islam.

The article says that polls show that most Muslims in the middle East want a blend of theocracy with democracy. For example, they probably want democratic elections but want to follow religious law or Sharia. Muslims are still angry about the West’s support of anti-democratic regimes for self-serving purposes.

Also, today, Carlos Lozada has an provocative (and double-edged) proposal on p B01 of the March 29 Washington Post: "The Big Idea: Want to Fight Terrorists? Try Mocking Them", link here. Sounds risky.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

China loosens Internet speech restrictions a bit for grieving parents

The autocratic government of China’s “People’s Republic of Capitalism”, with all its Confucian values used to justify clamping down on Internet free speech, is starting to give in to grieving parents, from a variety of disasters ranging from the 2008 earthquake to a recent scandal involving contaminated milk. China seems to be allowing more speech from parents about losses of children due to government failures. This is still true in a one-party authoritarian country where everyone is effectively appointed.

The Washington Post has a story on Saturday March 28, 2009 “Grieving Parents Gain Clout In China: Party Steps Lightly In Wake of Disasters,” link here. The “Party” here is the now “capitalist” Communist party.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Wind turbines have fix for danger to flying animals

Plans to increase renewable power production around the world from wind turbines have met serious environmental challenges from dangers posed to birds, and especially bats.

The airborne mammals die when drawn into areas of low pressure near the turbines, resulting in massive internal hemorrhage. Bats are very important ecologically around the world.

Engineers are finding that they can turn off the turbines during periods of low wind speed, when bats are less likely to be around.

The Washington Times story by Tait Militana is “Wind energy finds fix for exploding bats”, Monday March 23, 2009, link here.

The problem recalls a similar one for the airline industry: birds flying into jet engines.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Iran, Syria continue to punish political and "cultural" bloggers

The Washington Times today (Monday March 23, 2009) has an editorial about the legal and religious persecution of bloggers in Iran and Syria.

Blogger Omidreza Mirsayafi had been put in prison and died recently “Mysteriously”. His blog “Rooz Negar” had been regarded as a “cultural blog” but that was taken as “political.” The editorial also maintains that Iranian-American journalist Roxana Saberi has been held in prison for over a month.

In Syria, Tariq Biasi was arrested for publish a false statement, “I am a Muslim.” The editorial counts six words, I count four here!

The editorial is called “Death to Bloggers: Iran silences another free voice”, link here.

I wonder if I would be arrested if I simply set foot in Iran or Saudi Arabia. I haven’t seen the State Department warn western bloggers about this, but wouldn’t a visitor who blogs from home in the west and criticizes Islam be subject to arrest if in that country? When abroad you are subject to the laws of the host country. I wonder if it is safe to visit the Pyramids in Egypt some day.

Update: April 18

Iran has sentenced Roxana Saberi to eight years in prison. CNN story is here.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Australia may have blacklist including innocuous sites; Wikileaks appears to go off-line

There are reports that Australian authorities are planning to ban certain websites, and that innocuous sites like that of a dentist have been caught in the dragnet. The blacklist was created by the Australian Communications and Media Authority and apparently leaked and published by Wikileaks.

ABC-affiliate Station WJLA in Washington has a news story Friday March 20 here.

Wikileaks was not operating tonight properly, and here is another curious story saying it was taken off line. I went ahead and subscribed. Even Sunday afternoon, March 22, the site banner said "Wikileaks is overloaded by global interest."

There is another story by Brett Winterford on CRN Australia, “Doubts expressed over ACMA blacklist leak” link here.

Update: March 28, 2009

The Wikileaks site seems to be working again, and the article on the sites banned by Australia appears here.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Pope Benedict says condoms actually increase spread of HIV in Africa

Two AP stories today by Victor L. Simpson report the continued opposition of the Vatican to the use of condoms, even to control the spread of HIV in Africa,

Previously German born Benedict XVI had never spoken explicitly on condom use. But now he is insisting that abstinence, rather than condom use, is the only morally acceptable way to control STD’s.

Abstinence is a difficult sell in African cultures that do not regard teens as “men” until they have fathered children, they say. This also makes a celibate priesthood less credible in some areas.

The main story appeared March 15 and the link is here.

On Wednesday, March 18, the Washington Post, on p A09, ran a shorter Simpson AP story “Pope says condoms worsen HIV problem”, link here.

Now 22 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa are infected with HIV, mostly through heterosexual contact. The presence of other untreated STD’s is thought to have amplified the epidemic through heterosexual transmission after about 1980, once unbanization of Africa had taken hold. HIV is thought to have been present in Africa since early in the 20th Century, however. However it may have undergone mutations in the mid 20th Century that led previous primate diseases to infect humans more readily, or contact with primates could have started the epidemic.

Washington DC has seen an explosion of HIV within the city, and the epidemiology is beginning to resemble the African pattern.

Update: March 29, 2009 Edward C. Green has an article on p A15 of the Washington Post today, "The Pope May Be Right", link here. Green makes an argument about "risk compensation" which says that if behavior is made safer but is still risky, people will engage in it. In some parts of Africa, he says, the "risk compensation" argument is more relevant to heterosexuals than it had been in the West for gay men before.

Picture: Near Fredericksburg, VA (not Africa)

Monday, March 16, 2009

Iraq, without Saddam, is finally almost normal

Tonight (Monday March 16) ABC News reporter Terry McCarthy provided an unbelievably optimistic view of life in Iraq now, which in most areas seems surprisingly pacified. He took an auto day trip south of Baghdad, flew to Basra on a commercial airliner and found a hospital treats foreign patients, and then flew up to the Kurdish north, where there are still some problems. The story is titled “Iraq: Country Headed in New Direction: Reporter Finds Optimism and Community in Iraq After Six Years of War”, link here and it appeared today on ABC World News Tonight, and showed much of the road trip.

Nevertheless, the State Department still issues a vigorous travel warning, link here.

What accounts for the turning point in the pacification of Iraq, after six years of war and the removal of Saddam Hussein? The change in the last year is really remarkable.

Think back to August 1, 1990.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

China demands that US guarantee its government bond debt

One of The Washington Post’s most-viewed articles today is about China’s concern about U.S. government debt. In that regard, Chinese Premier Wen Jinbao shares the same sentiments as ABC’s John Stossel. The story is by Anthony Faiola (with Lori Montgomery and Ariana Eunjung Cha) and is titled “China Worried About U.S. Debt; Biggest Creditor Nation Demands a Guarantee”, link here appearing Saturday March 14, 2009 on the front page.

From a moral perspective, underneath the debt concern lies the use of cheap, often slave labor in China and other countries for manufacturing western goods. Employees often have much less freedom than we have and are much more bound by involuntary filial obligations than are most middle class people in the west.

Picture (incidental): anti-Iran demonstration near the White House in Washington, March 13.

Friday, March 13, 2009

IPCC issues upgraded dire warning on global warming and sea level rise from Denmark

Jan M. Olsen has an AP story about a meeting in Copenhagen where hundreds of scientists warned yesterday (March 12, 2009) that climate change may occur much more rapidly than expected, and that sea levels could rise by over one meter by 2100. The link is here.

AOL reported the story, along with extra slides, and a poll that so far suggests only lukewarm concern about climate change from the general public, and a pessimistic attitude that public carbon habits will change in time.

The Climate Change 2007 Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, AR4 Synthesis "Summary for Policymakers", is here. The three day meeting in Denmark aimed to upgrade the 2007 report.

There is an island off Denmark, Samso, that is supposed to be powered entirely by renewable energy, description here.

I found a Wordpress blog from Feb. 2009, however, that talks about IPCC "excuses", here.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Chinese Internet censorship has Confucian social roots; writers get around it with pictographic metaphors

Chinese intellectuals are taking advantage of the pictograph structure of their language to write allegorical stories that, in metaphor, criticize the power structures in “The Peoples Republic of Capitalism”. Michael Wines has a story on the front page of the New York Times (Thursday March 11, 2009), “Mythical Beast (a Dirty Pun) Tweaks China’s Web Censors” here.

The writings take the form of songs about an alpaca or similar creature.

Chinese discussion forums and individual blogs have been yanked quickly and automatically when government censorship robots find objectionable “political” content, but sometimes it is possible to avoid the censorship by writing in pictograms.

The Chinese censorship issue seems to go beyond the immediate concerns of a political power structure, although that is an obvious factor. It seems that Chinese society objects to the idea that an individual stands out without taking personal responsibility for family or others in a community first. This seems to be a Confucian moral idea that relates also to filial piety. It is actually more common in the United States, too, than people realize.

Chinese society is certainly authoritarian, and it seems like a strange mixture of capitalism, and pseudo-fascism and communism (they can co-occur). The Chinese know that a rising standard of living will require "inequality" so they tend to require personal socialization (before standing out and being notices) as a way of installing some sort of "moral balance." Asian societies often place a lot of emphasis on the moral significance of individual "duty." By keeping the demands for socialization high, the Chinese believe they promote stability. For example, Ted Koppel reported last summer that the Chinese tolerate gay bars, but that most "gay men" have to "go straight" and marry and have one child after age 30, so that they have a "standing" or "stake" in material progress. Political speech, as opposed to commercial activity that would actually make money, is seen as self-indulgent and simply disruptive. It sounds antithetical to Western ideas of free speech, but actually things were this way in the United States until the 1960s. The Chinese might also fear that political speech could become nihilistic, and actually bring back the extreme Leftist ideas like "cultural revolution" that happened during the pure Communist past.

Other important news stories today report that China is buying up caches of crude oil in order to be ready when the West begins its economic recovery.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Markle Foundation release report on coordinating intelligence, protecting civil liberties

The Markle Foundation, Task Force on National Security in the Information Age, has published a PDF document (100 pages) and associated multi-media summary and press release “Mobilizing Information to Prevent Terrorism: Accelerated Development of a Trusted Information Sharing Environment,” the Third Report from the Group, link here. The Press Release is here, “Report recommends new concepts that reconcile national security needs with civil liberties requirements”, Zoe Baird and James Barksdale are the chairpersons.

The Wall Street Journal has a story this morning by Siobhan Gorman, “Group finds intelligence gap persists,” link here.

In general, the group feels that the government is not able to connect the dots and protect civil liberties simultaneously. Agencies need to share information at a higher level as well as just tips. The Group also recommends a new Information Sharing Institute.

In this age of asymmetry, it is possible for ordinary citizens, especially those active on the Web, to receive unsolicited “tips” which they may not recognize (differentiate from spam) and which government may not be able to assess properly. The asymmetry could also sometimes make ordinary citizens accidental “accomplices” of terrorists, a possibility that was sometimes mentioned in the media shortly after 9/11 in conjunction with “steganography” and hacking on the Web.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Obama wants to work with "moderate" elements of the Taliban

President Barach Obama wants to reach out to “moderate” elements of the Taliban. This was a teasing headline story on AOL, but appeared on the front page of the New York Times today, Sunday, March 8. The story is by Helene Cooper, Sheryl Gay Stohlberg, Jeffrey Zeleny and Peter Baker. The title is “Obama ponders outreach to elements of the Taliban; Says Iraq strategy may help in Afghanistan, urges less fear about the economy,” link here.

The New York Times interviewed Obama on Air Force One yesterday, with a number of pictures shown in the issue.

I suspect some journalists who have covered the Taliban, such as Sebastian Junger (I’ve met him once and been to his Half-King restaurant), might question Obama’s intentions. Go back to Junger’s article “Into the Valley of Death” (the title reminds me of the movie "In the Valley of Elah") in the January 2008 Vanity Fair, here.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Israel creates controvery by demolishing Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem: what about "property rights"?

Palestinians living in East Jerusalem are facing demolition of their homes because of a catch-22, where Israel will not allow them residency or building permits. And now, according to a story March 6 in the Washington Post by Mohammed Assadi, at least one Palestinian, Sharif Attoun, ordered the "pre-emptive" demolition of his own home. The online story at the Washington Post is here.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas wants to make East Jerusalem of a future independent state, and it seems that Israel’s expansion is based on taking of property by force, much as is the case with many areas of the West Bank.

Libertarians, particularly, have criticized Israel’s behavior, over several decades in different circumstances, taking property from Palestinians by force and displacing them, leading to the cycle of psychological shame that has become such a tragedy.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Can AIG take down the entire free ("capitalist") world?

Can just one company take down an entire planet’s economy? This planet’s? Well, yes, if you believe all the major media outlets. AIG’s (American International Group_ secondary bailout, and enormous $61billion 4Q loss was blamed for the free fall of all the markets today. AIG is like the black widow spider an the center of a credit default swap insurance web that runs all over the world. Europe seems to have been as guilty of the mortgage mess as we were.

So, for all practical purposes, AIG is almost already nationalized. The fear is that it will still go under, and then that means many other major banks all over the world will go with them.

All because of the credit default swaps that they insured?

Erik Holm and Margaret Popper have a story on Bloomberg, “AIG’s Liddy says Greenberg responsible for losses,” link here. Greenberg says that the company was always profitable under his reign and that unsound practices didn’t start until he left.

Is there any end to this gloom? “How low can it go?”