Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Chinese children often raised by grandparents in countryside without their working parents

The flood of workers to the cities in China for low-wage jobs has left behind a large number of children sent back to the countryside to be raised by grandparents or other relatives, often not even speaking the same dialect of Chinese, according to a Washington Post story New Year’s Eve by William Wan, link here

One in five children are raised without their parents, despite the one-child policy (which is being loosened in slow steps).
All of this does seem to relate to China’s trade policy, employing workers, both men and women, at low wages.  The men and women often meet in the cities and have children that they send back “home”.  

Monday, December 30, 2013

Homeless men recruited to help clean Japan's Fukushima nuclear power plant

Homeless men are being hired to help clean up the area around the severely damaged Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan. This may include people made homeless by the quake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown.
RT News has a typical story here
I saw the headline on a billboard in the Ballston Common Mall in Arlington VA tonight. I thought it was rather stunning to see.
Older men, past sperm-bearing age, have been encouraged to work in the area, too. 

Friday, December 27, 2013

American worker captured in Pakistan says US has abandoned him

An American technician, Warren Weinstein, was abducted in Pakistan by elements of Al Qaeda more than two years ago, and says in a Christmas video that he feels abandoned by the Obama administration.

CNN has the story and video here,

The story again reinforces the danger to many American technical workers taking assignments in unstable parts of the world, particularly those with religious conflict.  How good you get volunteers to ever go?  

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Saudi blogger to be tried for apostasy, possible death penalty

CNN is reporting that Saudi blogger Raif Badawi has been forwarded for trial for apostasy by a judge in Saudi Arabia, a charge that can bring death.  Before media had reported that he had been sentenced to death for "insulting Islam".  The newest story is here.

Ensaf Haidir has apparently originally told reporters that her husband had been sentenced to death already.

Basawi had started the "Free Saudi Liberals" website in 2008.  

I do wonder if a tourist with visible blogs could be at risk if he entered Saudi Arabia, for example, for work.   

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

South Sudan topping CAR, Somalia, Syria, North Korea as among the worst countries in the world.

Is South Sudan going to displace the Central African Republic as maybe the worst place in the world?  Targeting of civilians?  Look at this story by Nicholas Kulish in the New York Times, here.
Countries are bad for different reasons.  Consider North Korea, Syria, Iran, Somalia, and then Uganda, which, despite the horrific law just passed there, sounds relatively more civilized.

No question, any country like this makes a haven for terrorists who could show up here.

The thinking seems to be, "it's my way, or no way." 

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Horrific anti-gay law passes parliament in Uganda

On Friday, the parliament in Uganda passed the long anticipated anti-gay law.
The law would provide life imprisonment for homosexual acts when at least one partner has HIV, but also provides prison for those who counsel homosexuals (some news reports said that it punishes failure to report homosexuals). The death penalty was not included.
CNN has a typical news story here  and the comments are illuminating as to showing the variety of attitudes. Who wants to be proud of a "culture" based on poverty and cronyism? Anti-homosexual laws got introduced into Africa during colonialism, and Uganda seems to have been fired up by a few imported “evangelists”.
The proponents of the law claim it is necessary to protect “family life” and children in Uganda.  It sounds like a thinly veiled claim that if homosexuality is not persecuted, fewer men will want to have children and continue their families.  That sort of reasoning seems to have influenced the anti-gay “propaganda” law in Russia, where Putin is very concerned about low birth rates and emigration. 
I have reviews of two films on the Uganda situation on Sept. 15 and Oct. 25, 2013 on the Movies blog.  Uganda is said to have the worst legal environment, but other countries, like Nigeria, have oppressive laws.  At one time Nigeria actually had active branches of Metropolitan Community Church.  South Africa seems to be the only major country that has turned around. 

In India, the country's supreme court has overturned a ruling invalidating its sodomy laws, and said that this matter belongs to its parliament. 


CNN re-aired its "Wine to Water" Heroes project tonight, a water project set in South Sudan and Uganda.  The Nile River starts in Uganda.  It would be impossible for an LGBT person to be sent to work on a water engineering project or volunteer in a country like this.  Think about the implications if you put "2 and  together"/  

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Remember the Vietnam era draft? Vietnam still has human rights abuses on free speech

I was drafted in early 1968, went through a dubious period of Basic Combat Training at Fort Jackson, SC and even got recycled.  I was in Special Training when President Johnson announced he would not run on March 31, 1968.  I was still there, but about to move on, when Martin Luther King was assassinated. We believed in the domino theory then. My education kept me out of combat and out of Nam altogether.
We lost it all in 1975 (“The Killing Fields”), but Vietnam gradually developed markets, like China. But according to a Washington Post editorial on Dec. 14, Vietnam, like China, still punishes advocates of free speech.  The Post talks about Nguyen Thi Tram and the punishment doled to not only him but other family members, even a niece.  They do that in these cultures.
The link for the editorial is here.
Wikipedia attribution link for Basic Combat Training Reception Station picture. 

Monday, December 9, 2013

A quick visit to the Mandela memorial at the South African Embassy this evening

I did pay an outdoor visit to the Embassy of the Republic of South Africa on Massachusetts Ave. in Washington DC this evening around 5 PM. 

The embassy is under construction, so some of the administrative work is temporarily done in another building on International Drive near the Van Ness-UDC Metro Stop.  The media have not been clear on this.  But the commemoration statue is at the Mass. Avenue location.

Anderson Cooper’s show on CNN this evening reiterated the history of South Africa in the 1980s, under minority white-run apartheid, where in the black communities people could be detained and held without charge indefinitely for even organizing protests, and where spies or informants roamed to pick people up. Ted Koppel often covered this on Nightline in the 1980s on ABC.  

Sunday, December 8, 2013

A quick visit to the United States Institute of Peace

There is a new facility on Constitution Avenue in Washington DC near the Lincoln Memorial and Federal Reserve, the United States Institute of Peace. 
The website is here and the facility seems to be open to the public for events.  There is a schedule of events there (a “Peace Game”, and symposia on Afghanistan and then the Congo – which Anthony Bourdain recently reported), but it isn’t clear if these are open or how one would attend.
The building is impressive and appears to have a lot of book libraries inside, as viewed from the street.

I found an odd “smiley” cardboard picket on the street outside the Institute late Saturday.  I don’t know what it meant.

The organization should not be confused with The Washington Peace Center near Thomas Circle, link here, a group to revisit later. I've personally seen the Carter Center in Atlanta once, in 1994. 

Friday, December 6, 2013

WSJ highlights Mandela's former Marxist background and change of viewpoint

The Wall Street Journal offers an editorial Friday morning “Nelson Mandela: A would-be Lenin who became Africa’s Vaclav Havel”, link (paywall) here
The WSJ talks about Mandela’s rise in the African National Congress and that organization’s affiliation with the Soviets and communism.  Does that change the spin on Mandela?  In 1948, the National Party made apartheid and white privilege a matter of law.  White people who grew up in that world rationalized it, just as they rationalized slavery and segregation in US history.  Communism, on the surface, might have sounded like an antidote.
What seems monumental is Mandela’s forgiveness and his change of views, on what kind of revolution really works. 
There’s another moral point that drives home.  He spent 27 years in prison under horrible conditions.  I could not personally live through something like that.  If I were imprisoned wrongfully (a subject that will be explored by CNN’s film “An Unreal Dream”, the airing of which was postponed by Mandela’s passing) I think I would see my purpose and life destroyed, and simply want justice.  I could not see being “honored” for taking the fall for someone else’s evil.  Yet, it happens all the time.  Mandela probably understood this when he went to prison, because he had already become “revolutionary”.  I never did.  I would never accept the idea of sacrifice, and recovery later.  I would never accept the unusual kind of love that would have to be both taken and given.  Insularity, perhaps, is itself dangerous. 

On Sunday, Dec. 8, Bill Keller has a similar column on o, 8 of the Review Section, "Nelson Mandela, Communist", link here
Wikipedia attribution link for Capetown picture. 

Thursday, December 5, 2013

In some interior areas in China, the government does not allow home or personal Internet access at all

Christopher Beam has an intriguing article in the Dec. 9, 2013 "The New Republic" on p. 5, "Behind China's Cyber Curtian: Visiting the country's far reaches, where the government has shut off the Internet".  The online version doesn't seem to be up yet (except in an illegal copy site), and will have a paywall.  I usually pick up TNR in hardcopy when in a Barnes and Noble.
The writer describes a journey by bus in Sichuan Province in China, far inland, where people apparently cannot get Internet at all for home use, either wirelessly on cell phones or from cable.  These regions tend to be near Tibet, where the government fears more unrest.  Even so, real estate and corporate development goes on, without any expectation that citizens need to be able to go online.  It's like the 80s here.  
This would be a bigger problem when corporations transfer people to work here, especially from western countries.  

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Truck carrying radioactive waste stolen near Mexico City, a threat to the US?

A truck containing a small thumb-sized payload of radioactive Cobalt-60 was stolen near Mexico City today, according to many news sources.

NBC News has a detailed story by Pete Williams here.

In the US and western countries, payloads of radioactive materials are supposed to be moved under tight security and controls.  That isn't possible in Mexico.

Apparently the payload as medical.  There is no direct evidence that it was stolen to bring it into the US, and the thieves may not know what they have.  It would be intercepted at the US border.

Authorities said that it would difficult to make this into a dirty bomb, but perhaps barely conceivable.

The IAEA has a paper on the importance of sealing radioactive sources, here.

CNN has a story by Rafael Romo and others, with some discussion of past incidents, here.

The incident occurred early Monday AM, which could mean that there could have been enough time for the vehicle to be driven to the US by now.  It's not clear when border authorities were told.
The scenario reminds me of the 1975 film "Sorcerer" which I saw in NYC.

Update: Later this evening

Multiple media sources report recovery of the truck, and of the canister with radioactive materials in an unpopulated area near the site of the theft.  It is not completely clear whether all of the radioactive material has been recovered.

Sources claim that smaller thefts trucks carrying hazardous materials do in Mexico, and none have looked for the materials.  But Charles Krauthammer wrote on Fox News that it is conceivable Hezbollah could try a theft like this, and there is some indication a theft was planned.  Why was material like this carried without GPS and in an unsecured manner?

The US Department of Homeland Security (and Customs) is assisting Mexico with the police investigation.  

Monday, December 2, 2013

Is the Central African Republic the world's most unstable country?

On Sunday, December 1, 2013, at the First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC, the Interim Preaching Minister Dr. Stan Hastey spoke, in a sermon titled “Advent and Apocalypse”, about the Central African Republic (CAR). North of the Congo (itself covered so well this fall by one of Anthony Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown” episodes) and landlocked completely, but largely south of the Sahara, it is one of the most lawless places on Earth with one of the lowest per capita incomes (ranked 179 out of 187), despite abundant natural resources.  The conditions there are described as more disorganized than even those in Somalia or Rwanda (in the 1990s).  The country is apparently a leftover of French colonialism in the 19th Century. The capital Bangui, on the southern border, is described as one of the most dangerous in the world.

Because of lack of development, most of the power is hydroelectric, which ironically sounds like a good thing for the environment and sustainability. But not for the economy there now.
If this is a part of the world where “volunteers” are needed to build infrastructure, it’s easy to see why there are to step up.  

Wikipedia attribution link for CAR classroom.


Michael Gerson has an op-ed on the CAR in the Washington Post on Friday Dec. 13, "The Central African Republic needs our help", link here. It could become the next haven for international terrorists.

Update: January 9. 2014

Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

NBC News has a video on the Central African Republic.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Population debate from right wing in the west leads to calls for "the right babies", fearing Islamic fertility

All the major media have been writing that China should ditch its one-child policy completely now. They admit (for example, Time) that the policy did help the “nation” raise its standard of living, but it isn’t sustainable, for decades.   Now China, like so many other countries, will become an elderly country.

There is an article in “Reality Check” by Eleanor J. Bader, Jan. 29, 2013, called “Stoking Fire: Islamophobia trumps ‘pro-life’ ideology”, link here. She discusses claims by Annilka Rydh, Joseph D’Agostino and Stephen Moser (“Population Research Institute”) and Daniel Pipes (“Mideast Forum”), who all basically claim (as Pipes writes) that western adults have become “too self-absorbed to have children”, leading to a gradual takeover of the west by Muslims who have many more children and young adults.  Even gay author Bruce Bawer has admitted this in a book “While Europe Slept” as did Phillip Longman in “The Empty Cradle” (2004).
Technology and the information age have tweaked how we see ourselves in relation to others, leading us often to be “alone together”, much focused on what we can accomplish by ourselves first.   

Natalie Angier has a couple of bug articles about families and demographics in the US in the New York Tiimes Tuesday Nov 26, link here. A sidebar article on p. D3, "Wanting marriage and pursuit of happiness" notes that single men used to be driven out of town in the 19th century unless they boarded with respectable families, and were regarded with suspicion as late as the 50s (really alter).  Marital fatherhood was viewed as a moral requirement as much as fidelity. 

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Iran deal generally accepted; young adults often skeptical of working overseas in developing countries

The media is hopping about the deal to let Iran have lighter sanctions in return for constraining its nuclear activities.  John Kerry sounded quite proud of the deal this morning.  CNN has a good summary of what you need to know, link here.
But the reason to contain Iran’s nuclear business is quite straightforward.  It could develop a nuclear weapon and launch missiles toward Israel, maybe further.  And indignant terrorists could try to craft a high-altitude EMP device and launch one off-shore covertly, although that is harder to do that the right wing usually says.
The indignation is an important idea, and I’ll go off track a bit with a recent conversation that I had lately. It does seem that young adults in the engineering area are aware of opportunities in developing countries, but they now regard going to some countries or parts of the world as highly dangerous, especially after the Kenya attacks.  The parts of the world that might need the benefits of water and other engineering projects supported by Matt Damon and others are often among the most unstable, the most under the spell of religious extremism (not always Muslim) and the most hostile to LGBT people or even women in leadership positions, so working there socially can be difficult.
Yet, without “volunteers”, cultural divisions, seeding resentment, keep growing.  Of course, the Peace Corps enters in here, but even the Peace Corps, while accommodating to gays for example, is now concerned when volunteers have high profiles in social media.

It's interesting, too, that I grew up in a time when there was a military draft, and sharing risk at one part of life (at least for men) was expected, unless "deferred".  This is a real "ask not".  

I’ll just say that in some social gatherings, shirt buttons aren’t safe. 

Monday, November 18, 2013

China causes academics, journalists in the US to self-censor

Here’s an attention-getting story in the Washington Post, p. A23, by Fred Hiatt, “How China censors Americans”.  The online title is more detailed, “Chinese leaders control media, academics, to shape the perception of China”, link here.
China has a history of denying visas to academics and sometimes journalists with a history of criticizing the policies of the country.  Would they deny entry to a blogger like me?
Some universities operate campuses in China, or have a lot of Chinese students, and feel an incentive to tow the self-censorship line. Journalists with relatives in China report that those extended family members are sometimes threatened.  
What’s more interesting is that, according to the story, Hollywood often alters scripts so they will be acceptable in China.  That may not matter for some kinds of films, but I wonder how it would affect the “independent” market.  If someone goes out and looks for investor money to produce a controversial film, are bean counters really likely to worry about how a movie will sell in authoritarian countries?  That could matter to me.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

China finally eases one-child policy, says it will close "reeducation academies"

There has been a lot of coverage of China’s one-child policy, and Friday the nation announced that it would ease the policy, allowing a married couple where either child was an only child to have two children.  There are many reports,  typical one being in Salon, by Katie McDonough, here
China also said it would close its “reform prison camps” where people – said to be petty criminals but often dissidents – can be held and ‘reeducated” without trial.  But it’s not clear if some of the people would not be sent to regular prisons.
It does seem strange that China has clung to its one-child policy while other countries, including Japan, struggles with aging populations and low birth rates.  China has its own demographic problems, having strengthened its “filial piety” laws in recent years.

The education camps had been around since the 1950s, and became the most notorious during Mao and the Cultural Revolution.  Communist ideology in the 1960s insisted that every person takes his turn becoming a peasant and experiencing what everyone else does (supposedly).  Authoritarian societies often push the idea that survival of a culture depends on disciplining those who are a little different.  

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Muslim teenage boys in Europe feel pressured to go to Syria to fight

Young men in Germany and perhaps other western European countries are responding to calls from radical Islamic imams to travel to Syria and join rebel groups righting Assad,  according to a story in the Washington Post Tuesday, November 12, 2013, by Michael Birnbaum and Souad Mekhennet, link here. Parents sometimes go to Syria to try to find them and bring them back.  It’s very interesting to me that radical Islamic culture is so strong that young men feel compelled to enlist to fight “other people’s battles”.   Yet, I can remember a little cultural pressure like that when I was growing up.  

Monday, November 11, 2013

Typhoon Haiyan leaves apocalyptic damage to some of the Philippines

Monday morning, the Washington Post has a detailed story about the catastrophe left in the Philippines left by Typhoon Haiyan (o Yolanda), which crossed the nation on Nov. 8.  About ten percent of the country is heavily damaged. 

The Washington Post reports the worst destruction in Tacloban, a city of 200,000, on the East side, with 10000 dead and widespread looting and breakdown of order.  That city was within the band where sustained winds exceeded 115 mph.  But some towns in the 60-115 area were also destroyed, including Coron and Busuanga. 

The country is more exposed to extreme tropical weather than the US because it is much closer to the Equator.  I remember the country seemed like a curiosity as a boy, as it appeared on board games like Global Pursuit.  Haiyan may be the largest hurricane ever to develop on Earth (three times the area of Katrina), and could have covered an area the size of Texas.  It is not clear if it comes from climate change. The country seems to have a much weaker infrastructure than Japan.  
But severe hurricanes at that latitude do develop later in the fall, and have occurred in December.  It’s unlikely that a storm of this size could strike the Atlantic or even the Gulf this late.  However, Hurricane Hazel generated 90 mph winds in the DC area in October 1954;  I remember that storm as a boy, but it was not particularly destructive in north Arlington.

CNN called Haiyan stronger than Katrina and Sandy combined, and reports gusts hitting land of over 230 mph, like an F4 tornado.  Anderson Cooper narrates this video.

The Washington Post coverage by Chico Harlan and Carmela Cruz is here. NBC News has detailed coverage (by Dr. Nancy Snyderman and others) and slide show here and reports over 56,000 homes destroyed on the island of Panay.
The media does list many relief organizations.  Can churches organize on-the-ground relief trips?  Only the largest organizations have been able to do this for Haiti, and this is likely to be true of this disaster. Right now, this is a job for military humanitarian missions, starting with Navy hospital ships.  But a catastrophe can be a great equalizer.  The Philippines did have problems with the presence of Al Qaeda after 9/11.  

I must say that during some portions of my own adult life, people have sometimes talked about immigrants from this country with some degree of flippancy.

The film "La Source" about relief in Haiti (Movies blog Oct. 26, 2013) seems relevant.

I'm told by business contacts that the areas well south of the path of the eye of the typhoon are functioning and have power and services, despite some damage.

Wikipedia attribution link for Philippines map. 

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Will Britain impose a "license to publish"?

Does Brtiain need a First Amendment?  Kenan Malik argues what sounds like common sense in a New York Times piece here Sunday
The British government wants to force newspapers to join some kind of voluntary guild, and the government wants to use an arcane “legal instrument” called a “royal charter”, which sounds pretty much like a “license to publish”, a concept that sounded legitimate when the printing press was invented.  (I had discussed this in my 1998 “Our Fundamental Rights” booklet).

If this kind of thinking can affect established publications, what about amateur bloggers? 
All of this follows the “phone hacking” scandal, where Murdoch and others played NSA in reverse, proving that private interests can watch politicians and celebrities. 

Friday, November 8, 2013

European Court rules on asylum for LGBT people from African countries with harsh anti-gay laws that are enforced

The European Court of Justice (ECJ), in the Netherlands, has ruled gay and lesbian citizens from any African country that regularly imprisons people for homosexual conduct or even speech or even appearances, can seek political asylum in any EU country.
The mere presence of a “sodomy law” would not automatically guarantee that asylum could be caught unless the country enforced the laws.  The countries that seem to be most at issue include Uganda and Nigeria.
ThinkProgress has a story by Andrew Butterfield here
A good question would come up with Islamic countries.

Many states in the United States had sodomy laws, which were made unconstitutional by the 2003 Lawrence v. Texas decision.  A few states (most of all Texas) considered very draconian anti-gay laws in the 1980’s with the AIDS epidemic.  In a few states, the individual states laws are still technically on the books even in spite of the Lawrence decision.  

Update: Nov 12

The International Business Times reports that the UK has become overzealous in asking immigrants seeking political asylum for being gay to prove they are gay with graphic materials, in this story by Palash Ghosh, "Do Ask, Do Tell: UK Authorities asking 'gay' asylum seekers to prove sexual orientation, link here

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Northern Nigeria apparently showing aggressive persecution from radical Islam

Today I saw a poster ad on the Washington DC Metro mentioning violence in northern Nigeria against Christians by a group called “Martyr for Muslim Belief” (as a recall).  The website “persecution” mentions a group called Boko Haram. The applicable stories on their blog seem to be here. I wasn't in a good position to photo it without rudeness.  

Nigeria is said to have passed a Uganda-style anti-gay law, but it's not clear whether it comes from Islamic or radical evangelical forces. 
It’s interesting to see this ad so soon after a major piracy incident off the west Nigeria coast and reports that American crew were taken ashore.  Little media coverage has occurred in the past week.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Is modern civilized living an unsustainable historical anomaly? "It won't be so bad, or will it?"

Can modern western civilization as we know it be sustained indefinitely?  When I watch a National Geographic “Doomsday Preppers” episode, I’m struck by the level of knowledge of potential threats these people do have.
I think that the biggest threats are probably natural.  The single biggest danger is probably a huge solar storm, with coronal mass ejections, which could take out the power grid in major sections of the world, more likely at latitudes closer to the poles.  Northern Europe and Russia may be at more risk than the United States.  It’s worthy of note that solar storms have nothing to do with global warming, so the right wing is “right” about that.  There may be a lot that the power industry, concerned about share prices, should do to reduce the threat;  European utilities may be ahead of us on this.
Other major risks could be really huge earthquakes, perhaps a supervolcano, or perhaps a mega-tsunami, which is possible in the Atlantic (maybe hitting parts of the US East Coast with a wall of water 300 feet high) because of instability in the Cumbre Vieja volcano off the African Coast, capable of creating huge underwater landslides.  The possibility of an asteroid or comet strike is significant, but there’s a lot that technology can do to ward off such threats.

Climate change provides threats that are much longer in time frame, which is why the present a different kind of moral problem.  People living today need to be concerned about generations that will follow them.  People in wealthier countries have fewer children.  You get where this can go.   In the nearer term, climate change may mean more extreme storms, especially in coastal areas, and more long tracking supersized tornados, possibly in areas not accustomed to them, as well as more derechos (which are more common in regions with wide differences between seasons). Areas not used to extreme thunderstorms and hurricanes, like northern Europe, may see more extreme cold core, Sandy-like “superstorms”, as went across England last week.

On top of this, there is, of course, the terror threat, which seems to be increasing overseas and seems to be largely low-tech and “personalized”.  Although public sensibilities (and my own) are grossly offended by targeting individuals in crowds (as in Boston, and then Kenya), the biggest economic risks would still come from true WMD’s, with the biggest single threat probably being radioactive dispersion.   It’s appropriate to keep nuclear weapons out of rogue states completely, as the possibility of a lob-strike from North Korea or Iran in the future cannot be completely foreclosed.  The right wing makes a lot of the idea of an EMP strike from a high altitude blast, but that would require a terrorist group to launch a missile with a nuclear warhead from offshore (like a commercial ship) and get past NORAD (as in the book “One Second After”).  The possibility that rogue groups could do considerable local damage with conventional flux weapons (which US and NATO militaries use in deployment) sounds more likely to me (it’s been mentioned in the Washington Times and is discussed in Michael Maloof’s book “A Nation Forsaken”).  The idea that a cyberattack could take down the entire power grid (as in the book “Gridlock” or the NatGeo film “American Blackout” or a similar show two years ago on CNN) sounds less likely and ought to be easily preventable with proper security.

Don't forget pandemics.  The biggest threats are probably natural.  Why aren't we more aggressive in making vaccines for avian influenza and SARS-like infections?

As for the NSA spying scandal, I see both sides.  The problem is, we can’t afford to miss one real threat.

The possibility of extreme disruption of my own life from an angry or indignant or burdened outside world has always been in my mind.  The need to be prepared for it has a big effect on our moral perspective about interpersonal and familial relations.  Should capacity to take in others (in a "radical hospitality" mode) be expected of everyone?
As for "The Purification": It won't be so bad -- or will it?   

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Piracy incident near Nigeria seems urgent; recall an earlier communication to me in 2008

Pirates have kidnapped the captain and chief engineer of an oil tanker off the Nigeria coast, after an attack, a bit in the manner of the film “Captain Phillips”, according to a Reuters story here
What is disturbing is that there seems to be no Naval warship in the region or any plans for a rescue.  That is what CNN reported, and from a national security view[point, that sounds outrageous. 
Later information suggests that the Americans were singled out and that they may have been taken onshore to a primitive compound run by the pirates.
I received a bizarre email about Nigerian oil security on Aug. 15, 2008 which I published here on that day.  

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Japan's low birth rate attracts attention about what makes people tick; ZPG is still active

Japan’s low birthrate is continuing to attract attention, and it seems to bore deep into levels of desire and personal motivation, according to a Guardian piece, by Abigail Haworth, “Why young people in Japan have stopped having sex”, link here.
The right wing will make this into the ultimate horror, that people have become so self-absorbed that the self-giving love of marriage and commitment no longer interests them.  There’s a lot in this article about what makes people tick when there are cycles of prosperity and hardship.
Yet, the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research, as tweeted by Ezra Klein of the Washington Post, reports otherwise, here
Today, I received a mailer from ZPG, Zero Population Growth. In lower income parts of the world, population increases.
So governments in Europe notice that the native white population has fewer kids, resulting in depending on more immigrants, especially from Muslim countries, leading to eventual political instability.  Immigrants send money to family back home.  Russia takes it so far as to go after speech letting people know that homosexuality exists.
The right wing (proponents of the “natural family”) even makes these arguments for the US.
China finds its one-child policy is leading to unsocialized adults and an aging population.
In another recent story, Hardin, in northeast China, is reported to have the worst smog ever.  Hardin, a city I had never heard of, has a population almost that of NYC.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Journalist in Morocco arrested for "indirect" hyperlink (with degrees of separation) to supposed terror site

Electronic Frontier Foundation is reporting on the arrest  in Morocco of Ali Anouzla, editor of an Arabic online journal Lakome, for allowing a link to a news story that in turn linked to a YouTube video posted by a terrorist group.
It sounds incredible that someone could be arrested merely for a link, or even for a topological connection through links to an illegal site.  As EFF analyst Jillian York wrote, “a link is just a link, except when it isn’t”, in the article here. The article compares this to the Barrett Brown case in the United States, discussed on my main blog Sept. 9. 2013. 

The Lakome site, linked by EFF, does not make a lot of sense when translated into English by Google translate, at least to me. 

Thursday, October 17, 2013

CNN airs new video of Kenya mall attack, talks to FBI consultant on how to behave if kidnapped

CNN has released new video of the recent terror attack at the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya.  The link, including about five minutes of video of the attackers’ behavior, is here

A hostage expert and former FBI agent spoke on CNN today, and advised a hostage to “treat your captors like royalty” and to let them know if you have a medical condition, because if you do, you’re not as “valuable”.  He also said, speak only when spoken to.”  It’s like the attitude of the Somali pirate in the film “Captain Phillips”, who says, “I am the captain now.”

Wikipedia attribution link for onlookers photo near mall.  

Saturday, October 12, 2013

"Climate Departure": DC's flight leaves in 2047, for "Cloud Atlas"

After blogging so much about the debt ceiling and terrorism, I’ve let my beady eyes go off climate change. 
There is a concept called “climate departure” which is defined as the point where the average temperature of the coolest year is warmer than the warmest year average between 1960 and 2005. The Washington Post has a story here. Generally, climate change seems to raise temperatures in polar regions faster.  But climate departure seems to occur in lower latitudes first.  It would hit Washington DC in 2047, when I would be 104.

Could the mid Atlantics become like Florida some day?  Not clear.  But the heat waves will get longer and storms, while not necessarily more frequent, more intense.  2013 has been a light year for storms in the DC area.  

Friday, October 11, 2013

Brtiain threatens major censorship of the press

Note well a piece by Suzanne Fields in the Washington Times Thursday Oct. 10, “Shackles for a feisty free press”, link here
Fields reports that Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron has announced that the government will introduce new “press regulation”, for the first time in 300 years.  Fields points out that the UK does not have a First Amendment and has much stricter libel law than does the US.  

The article goes on to discuss a controversial essay in the Daily Mail about Labor Leader Ralph Miliband. by Ed Miliband, which seems to be intertwined with the censorship controversy, here

What about blogging in Britain now? 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Effectiveness of Al Shabab recruitment in Kenya raises western security concerns

The New York Times, in a story by Nicholas Kulish and Josh Kron, reports that, after Somalis, Kenya “sends” more angry young men to Al Shabab than any other country, and they often return back home, a radical jihadists, capable of organizing attacks against upper middle class soft targets. The story headline (on the front page) suggests a threat to threat to the West, and some young men have been recruited from Somali communities in the US.  But the article does not suggest that there is significant organization outside Africa.  The link is here. No question, the implications of the Kenya attack underscore the folly of Congress's partisan bickering and shutdown.  
The group uses “unsent” emails with shared passwords to avoid detection, which would normally be a risk of cell phone use.

I recall that the ABC series “Flash Forward” two years ago speculated about a secret particle physics facility in Somalia.  It seems oddly prescient, and it’s too bad the series didn’t continue.  

Monday, October 7, 2013

Raids in Libya, Somalia underly the folly of the shutdowns

CNN has an interesting analysis of the two raids that occurred over the weekend, one in Libya and the other in Somalia, link here.  

The first raid, a snatch and grab of one of the most wanted, is said to have gotten a treasure trove of information, which might indeed call for “extreme rendition”.  It also gives an idea for what some CIA field work might be like .  It’s also noteworthy that so many suspected have been indicted in secret by grand juries while overseas.  Ordinary citizens can be called into jury duty to examine these cases. 
The story is also important in that it underlies the foolishness of the partisan shutdown It’s praiseworthy that Seals could accomplish these missions, but in the homeland, Congress is definitely stretching our personal luck. 

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Epidemic blindness in Ethiopia can be fixed by a cheap 10-minute surgery

ABC News has an a story about epidemic “cataract blindness” in Ethiopia, which is epidemic because of malnutrition and sun exposure, and which the story says can be remedied by surgery that costs $11 and takes about ten minutes.  The story by David Muir and others is here
There is a special campaign on the website, although many people (myself included) don’t like to respond to so many separate campaigns.

It’s not clear how an operation that would cost thousands in the US could cost so little, even in the developing world.  What does that say?  

Friday, September 27, 2013

UN report on man-made climate change is pretty scathing

The UN International Panel on Climate Change has reduced a report indicating a 95% chance that the spike in carbon dioxide levels and world temperatures in the past few decades is man-made.  CNN has a detailed report and multiple videos here.

All likelihood is that sea levels would rise by several feet at least by 2100, and that storm surges will become stronger.
One of the biggest but uncertain risks could have to do with methane release.
The direct link to the UN report seems to be this.

Moral questions arise in the idea that many people don’t experience “generativity” as part of their locus of personal responsibility.  Advanced countries with lower populations will be accused of emitting much more carbon per person.   

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Save the Children offers sponsorships of individual children overseas; is this tantamount to parenthood?

Yesterday, I received a “mirror card” from an international charity, Save the Children, which is a regular monthly beneficiary of an estate contribution.  While I don’t normally discuss this operation publicly, I did want to make a point about the card.
Back in my working days, I made small contributions to STC, from about 1977 until the layoff at the end of 2001 (discussed widely on my IT page).   It was small, and I tended to think of it as “conscience money”.  For quite a considerable portion of these years, STC would offer sponsorships of individual children, usually in Africa.  As the children reached 18 or some specific age, they would be replaced.  Sometimes the children would write letters.  I rarely responded.
I do wonder if this practice is appropriate for me right now.  It seems that establishing a “relationship” of any kind with a thirteen year old boy (in Haiti in this case)  is taking on a responsibility.  Would I be prepared to bring him here?  To become a foster parent? To adopt him?  To prepare home for him?   Is this something I should be expected to do?  It’s an intriguing question.  But with a specific, named child (which I will not identify) it seems like it is taking on a one way permanent responsibility. 

The appeal had an expiration date of Oct. 15, 2013.  Real kids don't have expiration dates.
STC had called about two months ago about this program, and said it would send a package, and encourage recruiting other sponsors.  It called a second time, the caller thinking I had “volunteered”.  I asked for the package again.  Maybe this is that package. 

I’ll discuss it with a local church I have mentioned here before.  I wonder what others think of the practice, and the question that it poses.  

It’s important to remember that a few countries, notably Russia, do not want to allow adoption of their children in the US for political reasons.  And the whole process has been plagued with grave problems.  Christian charities take this on as a mission or a calling.  It has always been interesting, to wonder about the idea of being responsible for raising other people's children when one did not have one's own. and did not engage in the the activity personally necessary to reproduce (I could be more blunt), but is supporting those who do.    

Talking on a child would mean a career change.  I would have to learn what it is like to "sell things" to support a family, in a society of people who pretend to be self-sufficient and not need anything, not want to be bothered in pursuing their own agendas.  Salesmanship, it seems, used to be part of "real life". 

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Apparent progress in freeing hostages in Kenya; CNN says attack has western domestic security planners worried

CNN is reporting that most of the hostages have been freed by force by the Kenyan army from Al-Shabaab, but there are at least 68 dead in Nairobi.  The attack was surreptitious and unusually brutal in a personal sense, CNN story here. CNN reports that three of the terrorists may be from the US, possibly from Minnesota, which has a large Somali community.
CNN has paid a lot of attention to the crisis today, and covered the subject of mall security in the US, especially the Mall of America near Minneapolis, which actually practices lock-downs.  Security can certainly inspect backpacks and items brought into malls without creating disruption. But soft target dangers have existed for years, such as the parking garage under the WTC in NYC in 1993. Many domestic dangers with a variety of WMD’s exist, as have been covered on this blog before.  

The nature of security threats, being so varied (among international terrorists and lone wolfs in the US), makes the budget showdown in Congress particularly dangerous.  It also does give pause to think that NSA monitoring, despite the Snowden and Wikileaks scandals, may be essential in preventing major domestic threats.
Prince William has spent a lot of time in Kenya doing conservation, and a local church sent a gay male couple over to Kenya covertly around 2004 on humanitarian work, with Uganda next door. 
Going to that part of the world is just plain risky.