Saturday, February 27, 2016

Should individual donors "sponsor" children overseas through charities unless they intend to "follow through"?

Recently, I was friended by someone whose page took me to a particular charity serving children in some countries in Africa, calling itself "BaNgaAfayo" ("Act like you care").
A Facebook posting  (page) offered an opportunity to sponsor a child by Paypal, with a requested donation of $40 a month.  There is a link explaining how sponsorship works.  It is also possible to donate without sponsorship. But  it seems a little hasty to "sponsor" an overseas child "merely" though Paypal, even with Bible verses quoted above.

Back in the 1970s, I “sponsored” a child with Save the Children.  I may have thought of it as “conscience money”.  I would get regular letters from a child in an African country, which I did not answer. The chikd would change periodically, once a year.  I stopped donation after the 2001 layoff, and then resumed in 2011 with better circumstances.  This time I did not opt to “sponsor”.

My own feeling is that sponsoring a child should come with a personal commitment.  If one builds a connection to a specific child at all, it should be 100%.  One should be prepared to visit (I might not be welcome in Kenya or Uganda), and even follow through with adoption, which could become a trend in the future.  Individual children (if orphaned) would not present the “Trojan” security issues that refugees might, so the political work to make this more likely could be promoted.

My own preference is also giving through secular charities, to which I give today through a mechanism set up at Wells Fargo.  But some charities may not want to work with a “distanced” relationship and may want more personal involvement. I also feel it is not my own calling to become involved in sending a “religious” message or “saving souls”.

Vox has promoted the idea of direct cash payments to poor people, who know what they need.  I personally think that support of infrastructure projects (water, electricity, Internet) is actually very important, and is less direct.

There is a site called “Give Well” which discusses specific  charities, and does speak well of a charity called “Give Directly”, link here,

I do wonder about church-sponsored missions in various countries, especially now Central America.

 A local church sends a youth group to Belize every summer and has a “scholarship” fund for residents because Belize doesn’t offer free public high school education.  A 30-hour fast in support goes on right now this weekend while I write this post!  But I wonder why this is a personal issue for teens, when there is a political problem there: rich people buy resorts fifteen miles away from the mission, and yet the government doesn’t provide free secondary education.  Is the policy of another country our personal problem?  Maybe yes, in terms of giving back.  Other churches have sent groups to Guatemala, Nicaragua, and even El Salvador (which is downright dangerous). All of these countries are under a “conservative” political eye over immigration (yes, Donald Trump).

There’s a good question, too, should charity focus at home first. Conservatives keep saying, “take care of your own first”.  But taking care of problems overseas does have national security benefits.

Wikipedia attribution link for picture of Kampala by Simisa

Friday, February 26, 2016

European countries crack down on free speech, an irony given the cartoon controversy

Raphael Minder writes in the New York Times (front page) Thursday, February 25, 2016, “Crackdowns on free speech rise in a Euorpe wary of terror”.

Minder starts the discussion with the depiction of an arrest of puppeteers in Madrid, Spain, for putting on a show that used a play on words that combine Al Qaeda and Basque separatism.  They are charged with “glorifying terrorism and promoting hatred”.

I visited Bilbao and San Sebastian myself in the spring of 2001, staying in a hotel near the ETA headquarters in Bailbao, but all was quiet.  There was a jogging race that Sunday.  I also visited the Guggenheim.

There are prosecutions of a rap musician and poet in Spain.  The puppet show was simply a work of fiction.  But fiction, as I’ve written before, can get people in trouble, as it did in my case when working as a substitute teacher in 2005.

All of this is ironic.  After all, the Charlie Hebdo attacks and probably Paris attacks were motivated by western speech seen as insulting to Islam.  So European lawmakers seem to be replicating the same style of thinking.  What happened to “Je suis Charlie?”  (Movies, Jan. 31, 2016). The article points out that the laws are vague and hard to predict in where the interpretation lies.

The article points out that other speech offenses, like denying the Holocaust, are already illegal in some countries.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

In the Netherlands, euthanasia for autism is possible

Charles Lane has an op-ed in the Washington Post today, Thursday, February 25, 2016, p. A17, “Where death is a cure for autism”.  Apparently, an autistic man in the Netherlands in his 30s asked to be euthanized over inability to form relationships.  It sounds like what he really had as Asperger’s, which when mild is often connected to brilliance. The request was honored, according to law.
The person might have felt that his life had become a bargaining chip for others.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

China's Xi Jinping says media must support the Communist Party line

Edward Wong writes on the front page of the New York Times today, that China’s current president Xi Jinping has stated his intentions to maintain tight control over what journalists and media say, even given modern technology, and even compared to his predecessor.  Media is expected to support the one-party line.  It seems remarkable in the modern age how a people, whose standard of living is indeed rising rapidly, is expected to follow an authoritarian philosophy on how information is not only distributed but even accessed at all.

I wonder if it really is dangerous for western bloggers to travel in China now. In the meantime, we let China affect our stock markets so much, and not even Donald Trump has complained.  

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Travel consultant gives tips for travel to non-democratic countries (even North Korea) at DC Travel and Adventure Expo

Today, I visited the Travel and Adventure Show  2016 in Washington DC at the Convention Center, open short hours Sunday (11 AM – 4 PM).  The visit does give a quick $16 preview of “parts uknown”.

Peter Greenberg spoke to a large audience about a number of controversial items.

First, he said, don’t depend on all the online amalgamation sites to find the best deals.  Only about 55% of the airfares (and hotel rates) are there.  Call the hotels.

He noted that the number of major US airlines has been code from eight to four, with some cities, like Cincinnati and Memphis, even Cleveland, having greatly reduced service and much higher fares. The walkup fare from Washington the any NY airport is 40 times the bus fare.

He also gave a story of checking an airfare on a major carrier, and checking it a half-hour later and finding it raised, even for a route that would not be popular.  He recommended disabling cookies in your browser.

I don’t think this has happened to me.

But the most controversial remarks concerned “safe” international destinations.  You can travel to an authoritarian country if (1) it clearly has one government in charge and (2) you follow all the rules.

 You can’t travel to Syria, but you can travel to North Korea, or Oman.  Just don’t try to sell Bibles or talk politics when you’re there.

I challenged him on this, with a question from the floor about LGBT travelers, and bloggers who may be known for political activism – traveling to countries like Russia and China.  He did agree that people who could be found on the Internet for “viral” political activism might face difficulties in some countries.
Update: February 29, 2016

UVa student Otto Frederick Warmbier has been held in North Korea for a trivial act, CNN story by Will Ripley.  The practical risks of travel seem great.  The DPRK accuses UVa of working with the CIA.

Update: March 16

Warmbier has been sentenced to 15 years hard labor (CNN story).

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Was Saudi Arabia involved in 9/11? Were some rogue officials? Vox revisits

Max Fisher has an article on Vox that recapitulates the debate on whether Saudi Arabia played a rile in the 9/11 attacks, here.  This idea has been explored in some films and documentaries like “Loose Change: 9/11” (“cf blog, Oct. 1, 2009) and Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11”
The article updates an earlier story based on Donald Trump’s recent comments (about President Bush_ and talks about a 2005 CIA report which is mostly redacted.

It does sound plausible that rogue elements within the Saudi kingdom were involved, as a natural outgrow of the kingdom’s willingness to fall under the influence of extremism.  But Vox doubts that the royal family itself or the government itself is capable of planning such an attack under our nose and not being caught.

I remember the day well, spent oblivious at a corporate function on the St. Croix river.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

NATO could not handle a Russian Balkan advance now; Zakaria on what makes America different

Today, Fareed Zakaria covered the concern of mountain tensions between Russia and not only Ukraine, but other former republics, most of all the three Baltic states.  NATO could not stop a 1956- or 1968- style Russian intervention in these countries, it was said.  The Defense News talks to the NATO Deputy Defense Secretary here.

It might even be possible that Finland could be in jeopardy.  A couple of Russian films and suspense novels have hinted at this idea, as well as the idea that many sites with radioactive materials are in NW Russia.

An attack on a NATO member (including the Baltic states) is an attack on everyone, and could technically create a state of war for the US, with legal and political consequences.

Fareed Zakaria discussed today what makes America different – the idea that there is no one religion or national group that is supposed to be preferred over everyone else, disagreeing with Marco Rubio’s “robotic” speeches, here.  

Thursday, February 11, 2016

US, Russia, other powers agree on a plan for immediate cease-fire in Syria; not sure how it can be accomplished now

The United States and Russia have agreed to a “cessation of hostilities” in Syria, to be effective within a week.  All of the other major world powers are said to have signed the agreement, with a story in the Washington Post by Karen DeYoung

Immediate humanitarian aid will be provided by military forces in the besieged areas.  But it is not clear what affect, if any, this has on processing refugees, even into Turkey.  The emphasis is more on setting up a zone as safe as possible in the area.

That would seem to require possible boots on the ground to counter ISIS forces.

James Clapper, National Intelligence Director, had testified Wednesday that ISIS is the most significant non-state threat to the US and Allies, even homelands, USNI story.  It was not clear what the scope of this statement would be.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Twitter increases its activity in suspending terrorist-related accounts; what about forgiveness?

On Saturday, Mike Isaac reported in the New York Times, “Twitter is more aggressively scrubbing accounts with ties to extremists”  particularly ISIS.   Twitter has closed over 125,000 accounts associated with extremism (mostly radical Islam) in the past six months.  Twitter is more willing to report volumes of suspensions than other social media companies, but must depend on user input.

The article notes that Twitter is very effective in “crowd-sourcing” promotions for many “amateur” but mainstream content, especially self-published books and videos.  Tactics designed merely to increase followers or sell lists violate TOS, but standards of courtesy (for example replying to non-followers to gain more of their followers) remain vague and some practices are controversial but acceptable to some.

There has been some material about forgiveness of terrorists, such as in this ABC story or in this Christianity Today article about a viral video

Friday, February 5, 2016

How to tell what sites are blocked in mainland China (curiously, Wordpress is OK)

I looked at the Wikipedia chart of websites blocked in China, and see that most of the major social media sites (Google, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, etc) appear blocked, generally for several years, chart here.  Curiously, Wordpress isn’t on the list.  The list does not apply to Hong Kong and perhaps a few other locations.

I also found a site to test sites, “Blocked in China”. I found that my blogspot blogs, even with “real” URL’s, are blocked (or give errors).  But my and Wordpress sites work. Sometime in the past, I think I was told that doaskdotell was blocked, but in 2013, a vendor in China contacted me and asked if I wanted to reserve my domain name there (as a subdomain).  I think I’ve written about this before.

I’ve always seen traffic from the Middle East on my stats, and sometimes China.  I think I’ve seen some traffic from Blogger despite the block in the past, and it’s probably easy to get around with proxy servers and the like.

Curiously, I found a story on PC World dating back to about 2007 indicating that in the past Blogspot had been available.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

WSJ article notes extremist messages from supposed mainstream mosques

Some leading Islamist institutions are preaching extremism and aggressive, conquering forms of “jihad”, according to Steven Stalinsky in the Wall Street Journal, p. A11, Wednesday February 3, 2016, “A Mosque as Extremist Megaphone” .  The article points to the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, as preaching eventual conquest of all of the West, including the U.S.

This sounds like Khrushchev saying “We will bury you” when I was coming of age.  Or Hitler’s invading Poland in 1939 and expanding East.

The article was motivated by Obama’s visit to a mosque.

Wikipedia attribution link for washing station in al_Aqsa Mosque  p.d. by “Wilson”.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Journalist in Turkey gets life sentence for scoop; Airbnb on the West Bank

Take note of a Washington Post editorial Tuesday, February 2, 2016, “A journalist’s scoop is rewarded with life in prison in Turkey”   In a politically moderate Islamic country and normally a US ally, Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan seems to show shocking callousness to Chinese-style clamping down on reporting of possible corruption, such as shipping arms to Syria.
How good a country is Turkey anyway?  The editorial came out the same day that I saw the film “Mustang”.

If you want to be an international journalist, you pay your dues.

William Booth reports on the front page about Airbnb offering rooms in settlement homes on the West Bank, indeed “a room with a view”, story.

Monday, February 1, 2016

South Korean economy sours for most young adults, leading to emigration

Structural inequality is severely affecting young adults in South Korea, according to a Washington Post story Monday morning February 1, 2016 by Anna Fifield, p. A10, “Many young South Koreans want out”.   There seems to be a “silver spoon” (aka Ann Richards talking about the first George Bush) phenomenon, where a few youth get the plum jobs, but others work on contract without regular pay and live literally at the office.  So many want to emigrate to Australia (land of “Blog Tyrant”) or the US, and will even join the US military if it advances citizenship.

In addition, young adults have to think about the possibility of war from the north.

The same reporter has written about “Internet addiction boot camps” in South Korea, which has faster Internet speeds than the US, usually.

Wikipedia attribution link for downtown Soeul picture by Stari4EK, under CC SA 2.0 license.