Monday, January 28, 2013

Did Chernobyl cause the implosion of the Soviet Union (rather than Ronald Reagan's pressure)?

Mark Joseph Stein has a fascinating op-ed on Slate ("The Big Questions"), offering the theory that the Chernobyl nuclear power plant accident in April 1986 in the Ukraine led to the total collapse of the Soviet Union on Christmas Day, 1991 (the country pretended it could exist as a “Commonwealth of Independent States” for a while). 
The link for the story (offered by the Washington Post) is here

Until Chernobyl, Soviet citizens had believed that life could gradually get better within the confines of the heavily regulated and bureaucratic hypersocialist state.  After the accident, it seemed “unsustainable”.

The Soviets even tried to spread the risk by shipping slightly contaminated food to other areas.
Miles O’Brien recalls the event for PBS News Hour:

Wikipedia attribution link of picture of abandoned city of Pripyat, with Chernobyl in the distance. 

Saturday, January 26, 2013

China's college graduates eschew Maoist factory work (with plentiful jobs), even though office jobs are harder to find; manual labor shortage affects housing

China is experiencing the “moral laziness” problem that would have delighted my own father, who used to lecture me about “manual labor” and “formation of proper habits.” At least that’s the inference in a Jan. 25 New York Times story by Keith Bradsher, “With diplomas, Chinese reject jobs in factory”, link here
College graduates want white-collar office jobs, but the demand in China, because of its export-driven manufacturing economy, is for regimented factory jobs.

Complicating the picture is China’s long-standing “one child per family” policy since the late 1980s, and Confucian values that supposedly maintain class separation (from what I had called “low work” as a boy). 
New factory workers used to have to pay foremen, although that practice is slowly subsiding. But workers still have dorms are small apartments, maybe about 100-150 square feet per person. It appears that housing is weak because there is not enough manual labor to build it.  Internet service is also somewhat limited.  

The "one child" or "little emperor" policy certainly didn't promote communist values.  

Curiously, media have reported that China is the only nation with relatively friendly diplomatic relations with North Korea.  

Thursday, January 24, 2013

North Korea says it will "target" US; Hillary loses temper before Congress over Benghazi; oil workers face danger anywhere in Middle East or third world

There’s a lot going on right now.
The most dangerous story concerns North Korea announcing that both its internal nuclear tests with HEU and its rocket launches will “target U.S.”, as in a story by Ju-min Park and Choonsik Yoo from Reuters, link.

Experts, in contradiction to George Tenet in the early 2000’s, say that North Korea does not have the ability to reach the western US or Alaska right now.  (ABC reports that it may have a 6000 range.) The most grave possible incident could be an EMP (electromagnetic pulse) attack, crudely suggested in the film “Red Dawn 2”.North Korea is said to lake the ability to miniaturize the weapon to make it fit on a missile. 
Elsewhere, Hillary Clinton sounded evasive when she said “What difference does it make?” in response to questions about how her State Department had characterized the attack on Benghazi, Sept. 11, 2012.  I think Hillary lost her temper on the stand.  She seemed to lose control of her duties in recent months. 

This sort of evasiveness gets dangerous, giving the nature of the threats.  Rand Paul (R-KY) said he would have fired her!  Kerry will have to keep his head on when he takes over. 

Was there an intelligence failure before Benghazi? It was more a matter of reaction.  But of course we had a massive failure (under Bush) before 9/11 and a massive miss-assessment of Iraq. We can't afford this with North Korea, or life as we know it could be over for a lot of us some day.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

The recent rogue attack at an oil installation in Algeria points out the danger that contractors who work in the oil industry face when they go to anywhere in the third world.  An email that I got from “resistance” in Nigeria Aug. 15, 2008 (reproduced here on that date) makes the point.  In recent years, given the popularity of Facebook and Twitter for sending protests, I have not gotten these sorts of communications the way I did a few years ago.  

Monday, January 21, 2013

US snubs Internet treaty of WCIT; Post applauds decision

The Washington Post has an editorial today complementing the United States for refusing to sign a United Nations treaty that would allow authoritarian countries to censor Internet content. The editorial is called “Keeping the Internet Free”, here.

Under current arrangement, governance of domain names by ICANN runs under contract with the United States Department of Commerce.  

Bloomgberg has called the WCIT the “SOPA that wasn’t”, here.

The Post also has a column today by Jared Genser, “Inside Pyongyang’s gulags”, about the way the North Korean government punishes whole families for two or three generations for the dissent of one member.  The government even speaks of “the seeds of bad families”.   North Korea is still the most visible example today of where an ideology of making sure that everyone is brought equally low can lead.  

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Lone protester (from former Soviet Union) on Mall complains of US seizure of his media

Today, I encountered, next to the National Day of Service tent, a protester Ahmadjonov Shuhratjon, who marched alone with the sign shown.

I found an article by a person of this name on Streetsense, here

He appears to be from Uzbekistan.

He claims that his media (both hardcopy and on the Internet) have been disrupted by US officials, in violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (link)

From what I can quickly find on the Web, I can’t tell exactly what his complaint is.  I’ll keep this in mind and see if Electronic Frontier Foundation turns up anything. 

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

NBC news reports on euthanasia in The Netherlands, Belgium

It’s not widely discussed, but NBC news this morning has as many as three stories on euthanasia in several countries and states. It is legal in the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, and in the US in Montana, Washington and Oregon.  But remember, Jack Kevorkian served eight years in prison for his activities in Michigan in the 1990s.  

The main NBC story (about Dutch mobile units) is here.    There are two other stories, about a pair of blind-deaf brothers in Belgium, and a story about Rick Santorum’s critical comments.  

Note the reader's comments about the matter, and the suppression of a comment about health care and custodial care costs. 

The Patients Rights Council has a page on the subject here

Life spans are increasing partly because modern medicine can prolong life, even with disability, longer than it could a few decades ago.  So the obligation to support life with extreme disability has become a huge moral issue that affects everyone, not just people who marry and have children.  Of course, this ties into the “pro life” debate in this country.

The Netherlands and a few other countries have taken a different approach.  Social conservatives fear a slippery slope, that in the worst case scenarios could bring back practices like those in Nazi Germany or ancient Sparta. 

Privately, a lot of people say that they wish Netherlands-style practices were legal here, however. The recent French film "Amour"  (Movies blog, Jan. 12) makes a case.   

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Syrian blogger freed after media pressure, but his brother stays in jail just because of blood relations

On Thursday, Anderson Cooper interviewed Zaidoun Al-Zoabi, who had been released from prison in Syria for his  activism.  (Anderson had referred to him as “our voice”.)  But his brother was still in prison, “just because he’s my brother”.

Zaidoun said he was treated “respectfully” in prison but almost died because there was no medication.  He said he got a call from a woman to come to a cafĂ© and was arrested when he arrived.  

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

WSJ writes about Portugal's low birth rate problem

The Wall Street Journal had an article Tuesday on low birth rates specifically in Portugal, with a focus on the town of Melgaco.

New mothers get a grant of $1300, along with nursery services and tax breaks.

A third of the town is over 65 in age. 

The story by Patricia Kowsmann is here.  The article is titled "Slowing birthrates weigh on Europe's weak economies". 

The birthrate in the town has dropped by half.

I spent a night in Lisbon in April 2001, before a bus to Fatima, site of the supposed appearance of Mary.  I then took a train to San Sebastian the next evening.

In 2001, Lisbon seemed to be booming with condo construction, given the upcoming euro conversion.  It has become one of the more endangered economies in Europe, and demographics is part of the reason. 

Wikipedia attribution link for Fatima Sanctuary  

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

WSJ reports continued censorship, detention of bloggers in Syria, China

There are two big stories in the Wall Street Journal Tuesday, Jan. 8 about free speech in authoritarian countries.

Lawrence Lessig (“Code is law”) has a piece “Online artists share work – tyrants prefer that they share a cell”, link here.

 He gives a telling account of computer programmer Bassel Khartabil, who was arrested and held in March (and ever since) for working on Syria’s account of the Creative Commons project.  The silver linings playbook is that the Assad regime will surely fall now. 

Then Josh Chim and Brian Spegele worte (p A8) about protests after a new government propaganda chief  in Chinarewrote an editorial in the “Southern Weekly”.  China is in transition as some activists hope that the new Communist Party Secretary General Xi Jinping will allow relaxation of pressures against speech, and particularly the sentencing of activists to labor camps for re-education, Mao style.  The link for the story is here. There is supposed to be some kind of "deal" on the censored editorial in Guangzhou now. 
Relevant is the film “High Tech, Low Life” at Tribeca in 2012, reviewed here Apri; 26, 2012 on the Movies blog.  

Sunday, January 6, 2013

China goes after home churches; Saudi Arabia a challenging place for westerners to work

The First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC is still holding services in the Fellowship Hall, and I’ll note the progress on the organ on my drama and music blog soon. 

There were a few reports posted on bulletin boards about persecution.  One was about the apparent tendency for China’s government to disrupt “home churches” particularly in the southern part of the country, even near Shanghai. 

Another was about the small Island nation of Maldives, threatened by climate change (as with the film “The Island President”, reviewed on the movies blog April 16, 2012), which reportedly insists that religious practice on the island nation remain Muslim.

I’m not one to make a lot of victimization, but the reports of this sort of thing in nations that should be advanced beyond that is disturbing.
I also understand, from the grapevine, that it is still difficult for many Americans to work (as for contractors) to work in Saudi Arabia.  Religious police still visit their residences (unless they are in consulates), to look for alcohol, sexual variations, and the like.  I had heard this back in 1980 in Dallas from a consultant who had worked for Aramco there for a year.  Whatever an employer’s non-discrimination policies are, the culture of the host country can be a big deal.  Fundamentalist Sunni Islam perhaps follows the religious laws of the Pentateuch more literally than do any Christians or Jews.  

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

"Obama's war" means continuing rendition, holding terror suspects overseas without due process

Craig Whitlock has a disturbing story in the Washington Post about the process of “extreme rendition” (without an interrogator as nice as actor Jake Gyllenhaal or a boss like Jodie Foster) continues overseas under the Obama administration, a carryover from Bush.  Terror suspects are held without charge (maybe treatment not so physical as in New Line’s movie) in Djibouti, after a happenstance arrest.  In the case in the story, two are Swedes and one is a Birt. The administration's behavior appears to violate due process. 

Also, grand jury proceedings to indict suspects are held in secret.

The link for the Post story is here

The Obama administration says it is thwarted by Congress in trying to close Guantanamo (go all the way back to the 1992 film "A Few Good Men").
I wonder how likely it is that an average citizen could be called for grand jury on a matter like this, or to a terror trial (here in northern VA, we’re not far from the Alexandria federal district court where many are held -- see picture Feb. 16, 2011).  It could certainly lead to long term jury sequestration (and down with blogs).