Friday, December 30, 2011

Birth rates fall in Brazil, much of Latin America, even in rural areas

Even in developing countries, even in the countryside sometimes, birth rates are dropping. Juan Feroro has a front page story in the Dec. 30, 2011 Washington Post, ‘The incredible shrinking family. In Brazil and throughout Latin America, fertility declines as attitudes change”, link here

The birthrate in Latin America has dropped from six children per family in 1960 to 2.3 now.
Toward the end of the article, Brazil’s career women are said to be asking “Why do they need children?”
Another reason is that previous dictators, while wanting to populate rural areas in Communist style, actually drove families into cities where children were a “burden”. 

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Iran expands threat to close Strait of Hormuz

As a follow-up to a Washington Times warning on November 15, the New York Times is now reporting, in a story by Rick Gladstone today, that Iran has threatened to blockade the Strait of Hormuz if the US or the West tries to impose any sanctions at all to undermine its nuclear energy (and probably nuclear weapons) program.  The link is here

In other words, Iran has expanded its threat to beyond the consequences of an attack from Israel (or for that matter Sunni forces).  It says that not a single drop of oil would get through.
All of this creates a serious policy issue for the Obama administration, as to how to position itself militarily. It might have to keep the Strait open by force.  Otherwise there could be severe and sudden supply and oil price problems early in 2012.  But there is no Soviet Union (not even in the movies) stopping it now.

CNN has some detailed analysis Dec. 28 here, by Tim Lister, who calls this sabre-rattling and maintains a prolonged blockade is not possible. However, in 1980 there was fear that it could be possible.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Washington Times calls for political anmesty for Christians in Muslim countries

I’ve never been one to buy into the idea of perceiving oneself primarily as a member of a “persecuted” group.  As I noted here recently (Dec. 4), Christian denominations sometimes focus on members of their faith in various parts of the world as persecuted groups.  But so does everyone else in the Middle East. All sides are “guilty” of this.  Jimmy Carter once called this a kind of apartheid.

The Washington Times, nonetheless, has an important editorial Christmas Day, “Being Christian is a death sentence: America needs to give shelter to persecuted believers from Muslim lands,” link here.  

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

WSJ reports on volunteer vacations, mostly overseas

If you feel the moral urge to volunteer big time, you can look at the Wall Street Journal Monday Dec. 19, “Saving the World: One Vacation at a Time”, by Nancy Tergesen, a whole section of the paper in print, the Journal Report, link here. Call this "voluntourism".
You can collar big cats in Namibia, look for signs of global warming in the Hudson Bay (I like these two) or teach English in Peru.  Many of the opportunities are physically demanding and in remote areas. And you pay for them, but you might get tax breaks.  And you might share community duties, like KP. 
I did go on a few Sierra Club trips when I lived in Dallas in the 1980s (one was a visit to the Glen Rose Nuclear Power Plant in 1982), and in 1984 I tried a “Spring Work Camp” for the Lama Foundation in New Mexico (just two days of it).

Monday, December 19, 2011

So what's next for the Democratic People's Republic of Korea?

Another Sunday night surprise.  Kim Jong Il drops dead on a train of a cardiac arrest at age 69.
All is quiet now. But what I recall from the mid 1990s was that North Korea was thought of as the most likely site for a next war, not the Middle East again. Al Qaeda and Iran weren’t perceived as dangerous as North Korea then. 
And around 2003 George Tenet, CIA director during the period after 9/11, warned Congress that North Korea was capable of lobbing a nuclear warhead all the way to the US Pacific Northwest.  Others warn that a hostile North Korea could hide nuclear weapons in merchant ships or rogue vessels commandeered by terrorists (same comment for Iran).  And don’t forget the possible EMP implications. 
Kim Jong Un: Who is he?  Choi Jong Kun gives some analysis on CNN to Kristie Lu Stout.

On Monday night, CNN was saying that what the North Korean military does in the next two days will be "decisive." Really?

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Iraq: is it over? How will Iraq treat its bloggers?

Finally, the War in Iraq, subject of so many documentaries, and cause of so many devastating war wounds, is over. 
I remember March 19, 2003, being at the Bryant Lake Bowl in Minneapolis for a small independent film screening for IFP.  After the screening, as people went to the bar, the business turned on the TV in the auditorium, just as the “Shock and awe” attack on Baghdad started.  
I can even remember when the first Persian Gulf War started in January 1991, just as I was arriving at a Bally’s Spa for a workout, and it was on their TV’s.  

Already, there are stories about problems on Iraq's borders with its own defense. How will Iraq behave with respect to criticism and blogging?

Later, Saturday, CNN was reporting more local violence in Iraq, such as an attack against a young woman in front of her home when she was the sole support for her family. 
Wikipedia attribution link for picture of ziggurat.
We’re very much left with “Obama’s War” – Afghanistan. 

Friday, December 16, 2011

Blogger, in post-Mubarak Egypt, still sentenced to prison for insulting military

Maikel Nabel, a prominent blogger in Egypt, has been sentenced to two years in prison on charges of insulting the Egyptian military (reminding us of Thailand's laws against insulting the royalty), as crackdowns on free speech continue well after the outer of Mubarak. 

Nabel was convicted based on comments he made on his personal blog and Facebook account.  The story could underscore the observation that authoritarian governments are not above taking advantage of Facebook’s real identity policy.  It also shows that governments ousted by revolutions are often replaced by governments that continue many repressive practices. 

Leila Fadel has the story in the Thursday Washington Post here.

Nabil has been continuing a hunger strike. 

During elections the Muslim Brotherhood’s “Freedom and Justice” party seems to run ahead of the conservative Salafist Nour Party. 

Thursday, December 15, 2011

SOPA contradicts recommendations of OECD on Internet Policy

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), with 34 member states (including Egypt)  announced on Dec. 13 its Recommendation for Internet Policy Making, here.

Katitza Rodriquez has a commentary for Electronic Frontier Foundation this morning, announced on Twitter, which shows how SOPA and Protect-IP undermine the credibility of the US as a leader in Internet freedom, with its sudden rush to “defend copyright at any cost.”  Already China is taking notice and there are signs it is using the objections of major US media industries to “amateurism” to justify its continued veil of censorship.  The EFF link is here.  What kind of example do we set for Thailand with its "lese majeste" laws.
SOPA is due for “markup” before the US House of Representatives today, Dec. 15.

Of course, there is a technical question with international ramifications:  Is it really possible for the US to segregate "foreign sites" and treat them differently?  The New York Times had recommended that idea as a compromise. 

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Teenager escapes from kidnappers tied to Al Qada in Philippines

Lindsay Murcoh and Al Jacinto in an Australian newspaper have a riveting account of the escape of 14-year old Kevin Lunsmann from kidnappers in the Philippines thought to be associated with Al Qaeda.

His mother had been released in October but he was still held in captivity. He escaped through a waterway and survived in the jungle until arriving at a tribal village. 

The presence of Al Qaeda in the Philippines was covered heavily in the media shortly after 9/11. 

Here is the link

Monday, December 12, 2011

The EMP threat: Newt Gingrich may be right to warn us (but he misses the real problem)

Maybe GOP candidate Newt Gingrich, however polarizing he is (and intellectual as a college professor) reads my blogs.  The New York Times this morning has a front page story about his concern over the possibility of a terrorist or enemy EMP attack with a high altitude blast.  The story, by William J. Btoad, is “Among Gingrich’s Passions, a Doomsday Vision”, link here.

Gringrich made a warning that Iran could bring down our civilization in the debates Saturday night, and not too many noticed. 

The Times article says that if you’re going to the trouble to set off a blast, you’d probably go for nuclear destruction anyway.  

Hawaii actually experienced EMP damage in 1962 after an American thermonuclear test in the Pacific.
It’s true that EMP damage would be “permanent” and take months to repair.

But the greater danger may be, as the Washington Times has pointed out before, terrorists commandeering a boat offshore and launching a medium altitude blast, causing more localized damage, or even the idea that terrorists could commandeer special military microwave hardware and inflict EMP damage on selected areas.  That possibility is implied by an item in the Ordnance Museum at Aberdeen Proving Grounds and has been discussed here before, as such weapons have been used in Iraq and probably Afghanistan (“Obama’s War”)
A local EMP strike is demonstrated in the movie “Oceans 11” (2001) but the lights could not come right back on, as they do in Las Vegas in the hit movie (right after the “smash and grab job”).   

Popular Science discussed these possibilities in an article that appeared just before 9/11 and curiously can’t be found online today. 

I suppose if hostile alien extraterrestrials existed and wanted to take over, they would start with an EMP blast, and there would be nothing we could do about it!  So even on that count, Hollywood has it wrong. As one friend said one time, “I will accept nothing less.”   Or, “the world ended yesterday and you were too sinful to notice.”

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Man sentenced in Thailand for translating, linking to book that "insults monarchy"; "lese majeste" laws

There has been a major story about the conviction of Joe Gordon for “lese majeste” in Thailand, for translating “The King Never Smiles”, with a sentence of 2.5 years.  

There is also the element that he posted links to the book on the web.  In the US, the idea that one could incur legal sanctions merely for providing hyperlinks is controversial at best, and usually isn’t actionable (although some say SOPA could change that).

Thailand’s laws about “insulting the monarchy” are the strictest in the world, comparable to issues with insulting Muhammad in Islamic countries.  Bloggers from the west need to ponder these risks before visiting these countries, should their work be discovered while they are in such countries. 

Here is a Wordpress story.
 Here is the AP story on YouTube:

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Barbara Walters confronts Syrian president Assad

Barbara Walters has a transcript at ABC on her interview with Syrian president Bashar al-Assad here.  On Nightline, she said she was surprised how calm the streets were in some places, while demonstrations fomented nearby.  Assad denied the reports of violence against his own people.  

Assad is said to have promised presidential elections by 2014 with opposition parties.  Walters thinks it is too late.  

Walters confronted Assad with the charges made by the UN of his crimes against humanity.  He says that the United Nations is not "credible". 

Wikipedia attribution link for map of Syria.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Little notes about international evangelism

Here are a couple of tiny items I noticed in Church today.

At the First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC, there is a map showing in which countries Christianity is outlawed by state religions, and others where it is officially tolerated but repressed.  I was surprised to see “progressive” and “moderate” Turkey on the latter list, as well as India. 

This is the way the evangelistic community looks at the world. It's interesting and striking to see the word "persecuted".

At a Presbyterian Church in Arlington, I saw a sign looking for donations for student desks in southern Sudan – is that Darfur?
 And at a bazaar at Washington-Lee High School on Saturday I picked up this poster on the parallels between Lincoln and Kennedy, the latter of whom got us through the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 (while I was at NIH -- a bad  and falsely sheltered period of my life).
Dec. 6:

I noticed a sign in Shirlington, Arlington VA, "Wheels to Africa, Donate a Bike".  Here's the website