Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Yemeni Al-Qaeda's Tips for Aspiring "New Media" Magazine Editors:

Sada al-Malahim manages to get by without paid advertisements. The staff keeps costs down by having no central office. The editor sometimes communicates with his far-flung jihadi writers through the pages of the magazine itself. (In one issue, he apologized that he had too much content to run in a single issue, but he promised jilted contributors that their work would appear in the subsequent issue.) Most of the contributors are either members of al-Qaida or their relatives, and they're probably not paid for their writing.

Monday, December 28, 2009

How marketing techniques can help NGO's and Aid Foundations save millions of lives, and save millions more from social apathy:

Any consumer-products company rolling out a brand of toilet paper will agonize over marketing. The messaging will be carefully devised, tested with focus groups, revised based on polling, tested in a particular market, tweaked, and tested again. And that's for a product whose launch makes no difference for humanity. In contrast, if an aid group is trying to raise support for a new program that could save many lives, it will often rely on a hodgepodge of guilt and statistics that limit its effectiveness. It has been said that "statistics are human beings with the tears dried off." That's precisely the problem—all the psychological research shows that we are moved not by statistics but by fresh, wet tears, with a bit of hope glistening below.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Detroit-bound Nigerian bomber's hometown blames foreign schooling for his actions.

"We the children of the masses in this country, we don't know anything about terrorism because our parents are poor. They don't have the money to take us abroad," said 25-year old student and Funtua resident Usman Mati.

The Parallels Between The United States and Alexander The Great's Afghan Tribal Problems

A persuasive argument that conflict in the region has always revolved around tribalism.

An on-going set of interviews with Chief Ajmal Khan Zazai, of the Zazi region on the Af-Pak border:

"So, to answer your question, who are these insurgents? Are they coming from Pakistan or are they living within the Zazi Valley?

These insurgents are living within the Zazi Valley. We have identified their commanders and members and they are not more than 35 men. Can one imagine that only 35 men are intimidating the lives of over 250,000 people?"

Old New York Was Once New Amsterdam...

Much as New Orleans was a product of French colonization, another distinct and vital city in the United States, New York, has Dutch roots that have shaped its subsequent history:

“Most historians don’t think much of the Dutch; they minimalize the Dutch influence and try to get out of that period as quickly as possible to get into English stuff,” Mr. Gehring said, explaining why he has spent half of his 70 years mining Dutch colonial history. “What you find out is how deeply the Dutch cast roots here and how much of their culture they transmitted to this country.”

The Forgotten History of Afghanistan

As German forces mull over negotiations with the "Moderate" Taliban factions in Afghanistan, BBC correspondent and documentary filmmaker Adam Curtis' blog provides a thought-provoking, heart-breaking, and ultimately surprisingly history of this war-torn land.

Who knew Italian avant-garde artists and Madison, Wisconsin had such an impact on Afghan society today?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

In Greece, elements of the traditional "Left" have come together to organize widespread strikes.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Follow the Money

While the Iranian government has recently provided money for the construction of a hospital in Bolivia, anti-government protesters have turned to sloganeering on the national banknotes to get their voices heard:

The Central Bank of Iran has tried to take these banknotes out of circulation, but there are just too many of them, and gave up. For the activists’ people it’s a way of saying “We are here, and the green movement is going on”.
Evidently, Iran and Bolivia are proponents of the "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" school of International Relations.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Did Non-Denominational, feel-good, prosperity-focused mega-churches prime Americans into taking subprime loans they couldn't pay?

“I wasn’t very surprised when the whole subprime-mortgage thing blew up. I’m sure a loan officer never said, ‘God wants you to have a house.’ But you’ve already been taught that. Now here comes the loan officer saying, ‘Sign here, and this house will be yours.’ It feels like a gift from God. It’s the perfect fuel for the crisis.”
The thesis that only Islam is to blame for Muslims' supposed inability to assimilate in Europe is far too simplistic to stand the test of reality. In fact, it's just as simplistic as the argument peddled by the Muslim right wing, which is that Islam is the only cure for whatever ails Muslims.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Somali Pirate stock exchange:

Somalia's Western-backed government of President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed is pinned down battling hard-line Islamist rebels, and controls little more than a few streets of the capital.

The administration has no influence in Haradheere -- where a senior local official said piracy paid for almost everything.

"Piracy-related business has become the main profitable economic activity in our area and as locals we depend on their output," said Mohamed Adam, the town's deputy security officer.

"The district gets a percentage of every ransom from ships that have been released, and that goes on public infrastructure, including our hospital and our public schools."

(via Global Guerrillas)
Your political views correlate with how light or dark you perceive Barack Obama's skin to be.

Monday, November 30, 2009

The Recession vs. The Great Depression: Comparing Unemployment Numbers

The unemployment numbers in the United States aren't pretty.

As of September 2009, 31 million American citizens among a total population around 308 million were reportedly unemployed.

Using the 1930 Census baseline of around 122,775,046 registered Americans, multiplied by the peak Great Depression unemployment rate of 24.9% in 1933, we get a number equal to about 30,570,986 officially unemployed people in the United States during the worst year of the Great Depression - which is slightly less than the total number of unemployed Americans today.

In comparison, dividing our present total population of 308 million by the 31 million unemployed Americans would equal a 9.935% unemployment rate for September 2009. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, unemployment increased by 0.4% this month, making their official October 2009 unemployment rate 10.2%, and my rough calculations not too far from the actual government statistics.

Obviously, the various data collection methodologies need to be factored in, so none of these statistics are 100% accurate. Even the Bureau of Labor Statistics website itself admits this point:

since it is impractical to actually count every unemployed person each month, the Government conducts a monthly sample survey called the Current Population Survey (CPS) to measure the extent of unemployment in the country. The CPS has been conducted in the United States every month since 1940, when it began as a Work Projects Administration project. It has been expanded and modified several times since then."

Proportionately speaking, the United States unemployment rate hasn't reached the worst levels of the Great Depression. However, assuming the population and unemployment rate statistics I've used are all relatively accurate, the actual number of unemployed people in the United States right now is larger than it ever was during the Depression.*

Better brush up on that resume.

*If anyone reading this has more precise data related to this subject that would refute my claims, I would love to see it. Then again, I would also love it if 31 million people in my country weren't unemployed to begin with.
Barcelona, then and now:

Personally, I'd take "then" over "now" - people on the streets together in a pedestrian and bicycle-friendly environment with few cars and centralized public transportation looks a lot more enjoyable than the car-dominant design of modern urban planning where almost nobody hangs out in the streets.
Will high-rise urban farms become the future of food production?

The Trans-American Vigilantes

With the widespread proliferation of firearms within a globalized economy with increasing wealth disparities, non-state responses to organized crime have emerged in Mexican towns and Brazilian favelas to fill the security gaps the government police and military forces can't.

Meanwhile, fears provoked by the Obama administration and the current economic decline in the United States has led plenty of 2nd Amendment enthusiasts to form militias in anticipation of lawlessness and/or a federally-imposed attempt at martial law.

While many of these vigilante organizations exist to defend against armed, criminal groups involved with narco-trafficking, Colombia's own United Self-Defense Groups of Colombia (AUC), in contrast, are actually funded by the cocaine trade to fight anti-government guerrillas.
Man gives up money and modern conveniences, is made happier for it:

“People often ask me if I miss my old world... stress, traffic jams, bank statements, utility bills... why would I miss any of that? Now I’ve tasted life without money I never want to go back to the way I lived before.”

This isn't the first time this realization has occurred in history.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Digital Love

Modern cellphone technology - complete with built-in cameras and Bluetooth technology, has allowed young people in countries with strong, traditional cultural restraints on gender interaction and sexual behavior to circumvent the imposed social order.

Along with people in these countries, it has also allowed people in less restrained cultures to date anonymously through cell phone dating companies. However, it has also allowed people - even celebrities - to expose themselves in potentially embarrassing manners.
Christian Creationist views are influencing Islamic conceptions of the Theory of Evolution:

Addressing the conference in Alexandria, organised for the bicentenary of Darwin’s birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species, he said that concerns among Muslims about evolution were being fuelled by Christian creationists. People in Muslim countries would find creationist theses on the internet and, not realising that these were on the fringes of scientific debate, assume that creationism had scientific credibility in the West.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Hip-Hop Chic: A Brief Look Into Unintended Consequences of a Globalized Economy and American Pop Cultural Ubiquity

American hip-hop producer, Pharrell, has launched a "Pacifist" bulletproof jacket with the help of Italian fashion boutique, Moncler, made of recycled plastic bottles. Pharrell has previously ventured into fashion design with his Billionaire Boys Club line, co-run by the high-end Japanese hip-hop/"streetwear" brand, A Bathing Ape.

Although concepts like "hip-hop fashion design" and "high-brow streetwear" sound like oxymorons, given the low-brow cultural origins and associations of streetwear staples, hip-hop fashion remains a popular international clothing style and aesthetic of choice - perhaps, in part, to it's individualistic, anti-authoritarian connotations. In any case, Pharrell's new jacket manages to combine the grim, gangsta aesthetic traditionally associated with hip-hop culture (itself a product of urban-based, low-income African-American culture), with the avant-garde design impulses of modern fashion (a predominantly Caucasian affair with some exceptions).

Of course, he's not the only popular black producer/performing artist with unabashed design impulses. Nor is he the only one to profit from cultivating and mass-marketing hip-hop fashion. Nor is he the first one (or last) to sell a lifestyle aesthetic associated with youth, rejection of surrounding cultural norms through co-option of negative imagery as a source of personal power and esteem, independent thought processes, and affirmations of one's own uniqueness, non-conformity and creativity all through one's selections in upper- and lower-body wear.

...of course, it's also important to remember that jeans, t-shirts, athletic shoes, and form-fitting women's clothing as the default fashion norm of billions of people worldwide is a historically recent development.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

9 vs. 9

Compare and contrast the Nine Nations of North America, with their Chinese counterparts.

Could economic, social, and environmental challenges eventually fragment these two large nation-states into their hypothetical cultural parts?* History hasn't treated it's complex, multicultural empires very kindly...

*yes, the United States and Canada are separate nation-states, but are also arguably politically and socially integrated enough to be treated as a collective "North American" political unit.

The Growing Iraqi Diaspora

Millions of displaced Iraqis have found different havens while their country still struggles for stability. Many have fled to nearby countries, while thousands more have resettled in Europe. More and more numbers are resettling in the United States - specifically to Detroit, where the nearby suburb of Dearborn holds a large, established, and growing Middle Eastern population - despite state and regional economic woes.

How well the members of this Iraqi diaspora assimilate to the cultures of their new homes in the coming years and decades remains to be seen.

Monday, November 16, 2009

MC Putin's Bad Rap

While today's popular American rap styles sound quite a bit different from it's 70's New York roots, Russia's prime minister seems to have finally entered the 20th century and caught on to this new-fangled, breakdancing craze.

Wonder what could have motivated this powerful Russian figure into something like this?

"Putin's approval ratings last month had the sharpest fall since he stepped down as Kremlin chief in May 2008. His rating fell 6 percentage points to 66 percent on Oct. 24-25, according to leading pollster FOM.

Putin's aides responded with plans for a flurry of prime ministerial appearances, including a televised question-and-answer session with the Russian people this month."

...so how does Russian Hip-Hop key into Putin's future political success?

""He communicates to all social groups. Hip-hop culture is very popular and youths from all corners of our country are fans of this culture," Peskov said."

However silly and kitsch this political stunt may look to Anglo-American eyes, Putin's message about drugs and alcohol is timely given the eye-opening death and addiction rates in post-Soviet Russia these days.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

A Public Service Annoucement Brought To You By Our Barbaric Neighbors to the North

Canada, a nation-state with Anglo-Franco roots and a recent influx of East and South Asian immigrants, has explicitly banned "barbaric" practices such as honor-killings and genital mutilation in a newly-distributed citizenship guide.

While this serves as good reminder and reinforcement of Canadian cultural values and mores, it's but one of many steps needed to foster cultural assimilation: "...it's not enough to make statements about what people should or shouldn't do, because that approach doesn't register with people who are influenced by this very irrational religious zeal."

Exit in Indonesiaville

This large, multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, archipelago nation has ejected all sorts of non-Indonesians this week - everyone from international Greenpeace deforestation activists "violating their tourist visas", to Sri Lankans of dubious refugee status, to Australian-bound, Afghan migrants using the country as a halfway point. As the Taiwan News also points out, "Indonesia has become a major transit point for people fleeing countries like Afghanistan, Iraq and Sri Lanka."

And as economic, social, and environmental problems worsen worldwide, we can expect to see more frequent migrations of impoverished peoples to perceived lands of opportunity.

Mr. Obama Goes To Shanghai

US President Barack Obama's upcoming visit to China has raised questions about perceptions of race (specifically, those of African descent, who have migrated to China over the last few years in increasing numbers), along with questions about the nation's own identity and national borders - to the point of Chinese officials comparing the Tibetan independence issue to the American Civil War. This is not the first time this comparison has been made.

The Washington Times article also makes a good point

"Along with India and Indonesia, China is one of a handful of vast, multiethnic nations that follow the contours of fallen empires. Because of their size and history, all three nations grapple with the same issues: border disputes, ethno-nationalism, occasionally violent movements by disaffected ethnic or religious minorities."

Friday, November 13, 2009

A Tale of Two Drug Hubs

Afghanistan isn't the only place where an economic void filled by drug money has led to violence. Compare these two American locales:

1. a sleepy, logger town quickly becoming a cannabis production center due to a perfect storm of climate and law - and drawing more and more seedy elements, along with its first shooting.

2. a former industrial giant with one of the highest rates of violence (and worst reputations) in the country deals with the murder of a murder witness to a crime linked to a major crack cocaine supplier.

While Hayfork is only in the beginning stages of it's illicit drug-fueled economy, Detroit represents the end result on a grander scale - a society shaped, influenced, and ultimately controlled by violence driven contraband profiteering.

Whether one is in favor of an all-out ban of psychoactive substances or legalization of everything, it's becoming increasingly clear that the worse-case scenario may, in fact, be the hazy middle ground.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Supply Chain and Demand: Perspectives on the Future Challenges to Global Resource Distribution

Contrary to popular belief, there really is no such thing as a truly "free market" - all goods and prices need to factor in:

- production time

- transportation time

- cost of raw materials

- cost of packaging

- production and transportation times for raw materials and packaging

- the salaries of people involved in making sure every step of the process runs smoothly

- and most importantly, energy costs

Concerns over the future availability of abundant cheap energy have led to conflicting views on how the current supply chain system and global economy will adapt to these constraints. Some see a challenging, but ultimately positive outcome. Others, less so. And some don't think there's anything to worry about to begin with.

However, energy isn't the only problem supply chain analysts should be worried about. Current socio-political trends - terrorism, piracy, insurgency, civil wars, embargoes - can, have, and will continue to inhibit the flow of goods and energy worldwide. Factoring these types of disruptions in will create a more accurate picture of how supply chain operations will evolve, as well as potential solutions to the growing aforementioned problems.

Worse case scenario, the future of product transportation could look something like a less hilarious and more depressing Road Warrior.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

And While We're Talking About the Taliban...

This whole article is worth reading, but following quote speaks volumes:

"My Taliban guards slept beneath bedspreads manufactured by a Pakistani textile company and emblazoned with characters from the American television show “Hannah Montana” and the movie “Spider-Man.” My blanket was a pink Barbie comforter."

Let's hear it for globalization.

Not If You Were The Last Jihadi On Earth

"The perfect storm of drugs and terrorism ... may be heading toward Central Asia," warned Costa. "A big part of the region could be engulfed in large-scale terrorism, endangering its massive energy resources."

I bet a lot of Americans who supported the war in Afghanistan didn't quite anticipate some of the subsequent developments worldwide, as well as back home.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

With allies like these, who needs espionage?

True, this is a case of the FBI posing as Mossad in a sting, rather than an actual Israeli intelligence operation. Then again, the idea not without precedent.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Post-Colonial Popular Music (or "In Defense of the Idea of Vampire Weekend")

These days, it seems fashionable to toss around accusations of "musical neo-colonialism" towards (predominantly white and privileged) American indie rock bands drawing from the indigenous and traditional folk musical styles of other cultures.

Essentailly, the line of thinking goes as follows: because the members of these bands came from a socioeconomic group that has benefited from the economic exploitation of other lands, it is inherently unjust for these musicians to experiment with instruments, scales, beats, and melodies "belonging" to cultures they weren't born and raised in - regardless of their own role or influence (if any) in the current global economic system and subsequent wealth disparities.


However, a brief look at a few musical developments since the fall of Western colonialism shows that the "logic" behind this attitude is, at best, selectively ignorant of the last several decades of popular culture to the point of absurdity:

- Bossa nova emerged from Brazilian samba and American Jazz (both genres themselves evolving out of African slave diasporas in their respective countries).

- British and state-side rock bands affiliated with the term "punk" flirted with Jamaican Reggae and Ska during the 70's and 80's, and in turn, influenced later popular American "rock" bands.

- A cross between Japanese sound synthesis technology and a pre-recorded snippet of experimental 70's German keyboard-driven rock helped launch Hip-Hop and inspire the development of Techno - which are now two of the most popular musical genre families worldwide.

- And even the most beloved and well-dressed example of Western pop dabbled in the centuries-old music of the former "Crown Jewel of the British Empire"...not to mention the more recent "cultural appropriation" of non-Western musical motifs by Jay-Z and 50 Cent (both of whom represent the cultural, historical, and aesthetic antithesis of Vampire Weekend, along with having far more radio and television exposure).

This basic fusion of European, African and occasionally other musical and cultural sensibilities within the landmasses we now refer to as "the Americas" has been covered (in a much better fashion) by numerous people before me - and none of the previous examples even account for the expansive influence of Latino cultures and musical styles on Western popular music as well.

I'm not saying you have to like Vampire Weekend's polo shirts, Ivy League degrees, or use of sub-Sarahan African-influenced guitar riffs to sing about punctuation marks you're not quite sure when to use. Dismiss them as pretentious or patronizing of other cultures if you must. Point is, if your criticism of Vampire Weekend and their ilk has to do more with the perceived connotations of their image, rather than the merits of their music, just shut up, enjoy the songs, and wear a blindfold if you have to.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Race to the Finish: Conceptions of "Blackness" and Interracial Marriage in the United States and Brazil

By now, most Americans have heard the news of Louisiana judge Keith Bardwell's refusal to grant a marriage license to an interracial couple. Dismaying as this is, the interesting part lies in his rationale:

He came to the conclusion that most of black society does not readily accept offspring of such relationships, and neither does white society, he said.

"There is a problem with both groups accepting a child from such a marriage," Bardwell said. "I think those children suffer and I won't help put them through it."


Of course, the most famous mixed-race American happens to be the current president of the United States:"Perhaps he's worried the kids will grow up and be president," said Bill Quigley, director of the Center for Constitutional Rights and Justice, referring to President Barack Obama, the son of a black father from Kenya and a white mother from Kansas.

Still, children of mixed African and European ancestry - and even interracial courtship - remain a rare, and often taboo, subject in the United States. Even for the open-minded, racial preferences and self-segregation still manifest themselves on the internet in the world of online dating as well as other social networking websites.


However, even in countries such as Brazil, where "Pardo" (brown or mixed-race) is an officially-recognized racial category, the issue of defining race and "blackness" is still a contentious debate:

"And if the United States is a country where black people with light skin used to sometimes “pass,” i.e., pretend to be white, well, in this country “passing is a national institution.”

But perhaps the United States is leaning in this direction, as well.

El Valle de Silicio Nuevo?

Will Chile become the next worldwide information technology hot spot? Through generous entrepreneurial incentives, an active marketing campaign, and ample natural resources, it's possible this long strand of land sandwiched between the Andes and Pacific can become the next global IT center - and perhaps surpass some of its continental neighbors.

Plus, this blogger can tell you first hand that Santiago is not a bad looking city by any means.

(thanks, Reason)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

ni hao, world

More and more students in the English-speaking world (including my 17-year old sister) are learning how to speak like 1.3 billion of their fellow humans. Not only have increasing numbers of schools offered Chinese as an elective, but students (or anyone else) can even learn from the comfort of their own internet connections.

Operation Zombieland Freedom

By no means do I mean to diminish the tragedy and pain this young man's family and friends are going through, but maybe he should have reconsidered the film he chose to take his life during before purchasing his ticket.

Call it a hunch, but I don't think watching walking corpses and wanton shooting of humanoid figures is necessarily the best way to ease back into civilian life, particularly after spending a few years making some corpses of your own.

(Thanks, AV Club)

Monday, October 12, 2009

China to Break Up India?

An "unofficially" sanctioned article encouraging the fragmentation of India along ethnic lines for the geopolitical benefit of China has sparked debate on the nature and future of "India" as a whole:

"According to the article, if India today relies on any thing for unity, it is the Hindu religion. The partition of the country was based on religion. Stating that today nation states are the main current in the world, it has said that India could only be termed now as a 'Hindu religious state'. Adding that Hinduism is a decadent religion as it allows caste exploitation and is unhelpful to the country's modernisation, it described the Indian government as one in a dilemma with regard to eradication of the caste system as it realises that the process to do away with castes may shake the foundation of the consciousness of the Indian nation."

While divide and conquer is everyone's favorite classic military strategy, there may be something to the article's contention that fragmented, "post-Indian" ethnically/culturally-based nation-states on the subcontinent could provide greater material and social benefits to their respective peoples, than the larger pan-ethnic, pan-religious state with traditional Hindu beliefs functioning as the religious and cultural hegemon (as is the case with modern India). Then again, as most Indians know, the road to partition is often paved with blood...

(thanks, Naxalite Rage)

The Parallels Between Turn-Of-The Century Anarchists and Modern Islamists

Striking parallels, indeed.

"They justified their attacks to themselves by claiming they were trying to give the wealthy, or the West, a taste of how "their people" felt. Yet in both movements, intriguingly, it was largely middle class intellectuals who turned to violence. Both Emile Henry and Mohammed Atta – the leader of the 9/11 hijackings – were engineers who found in mathematics a sense of purity and order and rationality that soothed them, and seemed like a refuge from a chaotic world. The leading anarchists in Europe – Mikhail Bakunin and Peter Kropotkin – were both Russian noblemen, just as Osama bin Laden is the son of a Saudi billionaire...They were people who chose to renounce their riches and side with the embattled tribe "beneath" them, and claimed to be fighting for its survival."

Of course, as the article implies towards the end (but does not directly state), many of the demands and issues championed by the anarchists, such as the eight-hour day and injured worker's compensation, were predominantly-based on economic and physical hardship. When governments put reforms into place to address these grievances, the appeal of radical anarchism subsequently dwindled.

However, while fundamentalist Islamic groups draw on the horror of preexisting economic and physical hardships to fuel their growth and legitimacy, the basis of the overall movement lies in a strict, hierarchical interpretation of a religious tradition already espousing the perfection of it's spiritual truths and laws of human conduct. Thus, it's difficult to conceive of concessions a nation-state would need to make in order to satisfy the demands of hardcore Islamists - particularly ones that didn't infringe on groups espousing un-Islamic ideals and lifestyles.

(thanks, Global Guerrillas)

Monday, September 14, 2009

Humpty Dumpty Sat On a Wall...

Can China Keep It Up?

In a global recession? Hell no.

"Meanwhile, Beijing’s recent moves carry the seeds of future troubles. Stimulus spending contributes to overcapacity. There’s already a surfeit of highways, ports, airports and power plants. The country’s other big beneficiaries of government largesse—heavy industries such as steel, industrial-strength glass and aluminum—have spare capacity as well. The risks of deflation are rising.

Any unprofitable projects will cause nonperforming loans to mushroom. If that weren’t enough, much of the new liquidity flowing through the system is sloshing into property and stock markets. That could easily create bubbles, which, when burst, would saddle Chinese banks with even more bad debt. State banks may require a second massive bailout, just a few years after the first, to stay afloat."

Propety bubbles? Bad debt? Massive bank bailouts? I thought we were talking about China...

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