Thursday, January 30, 2014

Amanda Knox convicted again, apparently under double jeopardy; extradition not in play now, seems unlikely

An Italian Court has “re-convicted” Amanda Know of the 2007 murder of Meredith Kercher.  ABC News has the detailed story by Alyssa Newcomb and Phoebe Natanson.
This was the third trial. Legal commentators said that the DNA evidence on a knife fell well below accepted standards, but the current court and jury seemed to ignore industry standards in certifying DNA tests.
Knox remained in Seattle for the trial.  The obvious question would be whether Italy would request extradition. This cannot happen until the Italian Supreme Court has reviewed the case. If the conviction stands, the US government will be likely to try to find legal arguments not to honor the extradition request.
The US may decline extradition of someone who could not have been convicted under US constitutional protections, in a manner that resembles the idea of asylum. 
In the US, a defendant can be retried after a conviction is overturned, as explained here.  But under prohibition of double jeopardy, the defendant cannot be retried if actually acquitted, however.  It seems that there is a question as to whether the acquittal was exactly that, or just an overturning of a conviction.

Commentators seem to say that it was a real acquittal. (Compare to Michael Morton and Ryan Ferguson cases in the U.S. on the TV blog under “wrongful convictions” label, also look at the Innocence Project and the film “The Exonerated”.)
The Italian appeals court had done its own forensics and had apparently decided the DNA evidence of Knox (and Sollecito’s) participation was not present. The boyfriend still gets 25 years in prison. 

Update: Sat, Feb. 1

On CNN, Richard Herman and Avery Freeman disagreed on whether the State Department would feel forced to extradite Knox if the conviction is upheld in Italy.  Herman didn't seem to give much credence to the double jeopardy argument. 

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

ABC reports on child boxing which supports poor rural families in Thailand

ABC Nightline presented a report on the practice of forcing children to box to support their families in rural Thailand.

The transcript of the ABC Nightine story is here.

The kids show evidence of concussion and cumulative brain damage or memory loss. 

Yet parents, especially among the poor, believe that this builds character.  A film “Buffalo Girl” is being made by Todd Gellstein about the practice.

One family had 16 children and all fight. 

100,000 kids in Thailand engage in the sport.

The filmmaker says that this is simply a way of life for the poor.  It make keep kids out of sex trade and drugs, but at a horrible cost.   

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

A sobering conversation in NYC with an exchange graduate student from China

On the way back to midtown Manhattan from the Columbia University area and the Riverside Church early Sunday afternoon. I encountered a flood of exchange students from Columbia who were there for only a few months.  I happened to talk to a young woman from China. She seemed to be about 22 and spoke perfect English, with little accent.

She said that life was OK in China for people with connections or education.  Internet freedom didn't seem to be missed by people who somehow had opportunity.  She said that I should go.  I wondered if the visibility of my blogs would get me in trouble there. They are supposed to be blocked, but my recent stats show increased traffic from China (and other authoritarian countries, including the Muslim world and Africa -- but I haven't seen the DPRK yet).  Banning or blocking content by governments doesn't seem to have much effect, but I wonder what happens to the blogger if he travels there.

I asked her why China's government is so skittish about tolerating criticism, and seems so vulnerable to "Mr. Nobody" bloggers.
She said that China's government knows what happened to the Soviet Union at the end of 1991 and really  fears the same thing is going to happen to them.  As I recall, the 1991 collapse seemed sudden, but it had a long build up, after the Berlin Wall fell (resulting in Leonard Bernstein's famous Christmas Day concert of the Beethoven Ninth in Berlin in 1989).

She didn't mention Tiananmen Square in 1989, but that event would fit in, too.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Putin says there is a difference between "relations" and "propaganda of relations"

The Washington Post is reporting that Russian President Valdimir Putin has said “Gays are safe at the Olympics as long as the ‘leave kids alone’”, in a front page story Friday by Kathy Lally, link here
The tone of the comment is certainly disturbing and insulting, as it insinuates that gay men and lesbians would have an innate tendency to prefer minors or look for them.  But the comments is more about speech: he doesn’t want teenagers to learn about homosexuality and then “decide” that they are not going to try to have children, in a country very concerned about population loss. 
Why can’t Russia have an honest discussion internally about population loss, and about the need for larger families?  In and of itself, that is a subject that Russians need to understand.  I don’t know whether Russia has filial responsibility laws, but that would also go along with such a discussion.

Putin did point out that Russia no longer has sodomy laws (they were overturned in 1993, while many American states still had them until Lawrence v. Texas – in fact some still have them) and that people are not arrested for what they do in their own homes. 
Putin says that there is a difference between a “ban on (private adult consensual sexual) relations” and the “propaganda of such relations”.  That is the authoritarian mindset, that the loyalty and synergy of people is maintained by propaganda. In the west, there is supposed to be a variety of views about something with the individual making his own choice, as long as the person takes responsibility for his or her actions.  It sounds like that narrower view of personal responsibility, in the Russian view, cannot sustain a nation. 

Putin's comments also reflected an idea about "sending a message" in defiance of "traditional values".  He suggestet that some countries would legalize pedophilia (the age of consent is lower in most European countries than in most US States). Why is advocacy of equal rights or even of stopping vigilante-style harassment "propaganizing" to children?

One other observation to keep in mind -- the 2013 Russian law bans making information about "non-traditional sexual relations" available to minors, even when heterosexual.  It effectively bans discussion in front of children any sexual topics that present the idea of sexuality separated from procreative potential. 

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Nigeria is also one of the world's most anti-gay countries

The Los Angeles Times Tuesday carried a detailed story on Nigeria's "Anti Gay Marriage Law" which is really just an ant-gay law, and which has resulted in many arrests, especially in Muslim northern Nigeria. The story by Carol J. Willimas is here. Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan had signed the bill into law in 2013.

The law even bans "gay organizations" and gay bars or any facilitation of the ability of homosexuals to meet.  Such a prohibition would obviously be unconstitutional in the US on both due process and First Amendment grounds.

The article points to a a study by the Pew Research Center, "The Global Divide on Homosexuality", link here, where acceptance of homosexuality is generally greater in richer and less "religious" countries.  It also is usually less acceptable in countries with larger non-white populations.  Less affluent countries obviously don't accept the premises of individualism.  African countries tend to connect homosexuality with colonialism.

Nigeria has also been notorious for activity of pirates of the western coast, and for disruption of oil pipelines by protestors (email to me printed here Aug. 15, 2008).

Yet in the 1980s Nigeria had several congregations of the Metropolitan Community Church.    

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Ann Curry on the CAR; more on the roots of terror in extreme inequality

An op-ed in the New York Times Thursday by Kenneth Odede, “Terrorism’s Fertile Ground”, about social conditions in Kenya and similar countries certainly gives reason to ponder.  The article, on p. A21, has link here   The “working class” is treated in such bad faith that there is almost no way for young men to earn money but to go to terror camps.  The article does support the idea of terror as “class war”, and paints a grim picture of what could get out of control if inequality is simply too far out of hand in the west.  It also comports with colonialism, and conspiracy theories that sound ridiculous to us, such as the idea that gay rights is a colonialist plot in Uganda.

Ann Curry has an on-the-ground article updating the crisis in the Central African Republic, where tens of thousands are in tents, link on NBC here. (See also story Dec. 2). 

Wikipedia attribution link for CIA map of CAR.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Death from bird flu (H5N1) reported in Canada

There is a report that a man who had traveled to Beijing has died in Alberta, Camada of H5N1 avian infkuenza, or bird flu.  The UK Guardian reports the death here.

The province reports that ten people have died of H1N1, or swine flu, which the current vaccine is spposed to prevent.

Canadian officials say that the H5N1 case seems to be isolated.  Human H5N1 has occurred in southeastern China, but had not been reported in Beijing as far as I had heard.

Media is also reporting the possibility of Pacific Ocean water becoming contaminated with Fukashima radioactive waste, and eventually reaching the US Pacific coast.  It would seem to be tremendously diluted if it could.  

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Rodman's visit to North Korea simply blows up

The visit of basketball personality Dennis Rodman to North Korea and teasing of the psychopathic leader Kim Jong Un has certainly exploded.

Tonight, CNN's Anderson Cooper reports on the anger of Kenneth Bae;s sister, as reported on AC360 here.  Bae is still at hard labor in a DPRK prison.

Earlier Rodman had blown up an interview with CNN's Chris Cuomo (original link). .Rodman had claimed that his visit was a "birthday present" for the young dictator, turning 30, who had just had his own uncled assassinated.

Let us not forget that North Korea could be capable of lobbing ICBM's with nuclear weapons or EMP devices toward western US some day relatively soon.

PBS Frontline will soon air "The Secret State of North Korea".

Update: Jan. 8

Jimmy Kimmel notes that about ten players on a basketball team traveled to North Korea with Rodman. Kimmel said that Un would make a "good boyfriend" for Rodman. 

Friday, January 3, 2014

Egypt re-introduces the steganography fear over a puppet character

Egypt’s reported paranoia about a Muppet-style puppet character on Egyptian television and on the Internet illustrates concern over steganography, the possibility that terrorists could convey instructions in popular media, even on amateur websites, as was expressed here shortly after 9/11.
Erin Cunningham has a front page story in the Washington Post on the character Abla Fahita, link here

The concern led to speculation right after 9/11 that amateur Internet access could be reduced for reasons of national security, but that did not happen here. But it might overseas, and it does.  

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Tsarnaev's were radicalized by cults and mind control, not by Internet, says Steve Hassan

Tamerlan Tsarnaev was very likely “recruited” and radicalized very quickly when overseas, and underwent a process similar to joining a cult.  His younger brother Dzhokhar followed suit.
That is what Steven Hassan, author of “Freedom of Mind”, tells CNN’s Erin Burnett in this interview, link
This disputes the idea that Tamerlan and perhaps Dzhokhar radicalized themselves and learned how to improvise weapons just through the open Internet, a finding that free speech advocates will welcome.

Hassan also notes how quickly Katherine Russell, who married Tamerlan, was persuaded to give up her independent academic life and marry Tamerlan and become a Muslim wife, a process that cuts both ways in anyone’s moral system.  The New York Daily News had a story about this here
Hassan explained Dzkokhar’s blasé behavior three days after the bombing as evidence of mind control by his older brother, and of “dissociate disorder”, where reality is denied.