Thursday, December 23, 2010

Israel Can't Live With Christmas, Can't Live Without It

Although founded as a Jewish state, Israel has an Arab Christian minority.

Not surprising, considering the present borders of Israel encompass places Jesus is said to have lived, such as Nazareth. This has been a cash cow for the Israeli tourism industry, who hosts tourists all year round, especially during Christmastime.
Israel is preparing for the arrival of 90,000 tourists this Christmas by promoting access to holy sites and ensuring safety for all.
Nearly 2.4 million Christian tourists are expected to visit Israel by the year's end, according to the ministry of tourism. One-third of the Christian tourists are pilgrims visiting holy sites in the West Bank and Jerusalem.
Nazareth, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the Via Dolorosa and the Mount of Olives are located in Israel. Bethlehem is in the West Bank.
On one hand, Israeli tolerance for Christianity can be seen by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Christmas greetings yesterday to Israeli and global Christians alike.

On the other hand, the holiday cheer didn't extend to a Nazareth suburb this year.
"The request of the Arabs to put Christmas trees in the squares in the Arab quarter of Nazareth Illit is provocative," Mayor Shimon Gapso told AFP. 
"Nazareth Illit is a Jewish city and it will not happen -- not this year and not next year, so long as I am a mayor," he said of the northern Israeli town.
"Nazareth is right next door and they can do what they want there," he said.
His decision angered the town's Arab and Christian minority, who accused him of racism.
And the holy culture wars rage on. Happy Festivus.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Yes To Biogas, No To Biomass (and Maybe To Biodiesel)

The Swedish city of Kristianstad runs almost entirely on biogas.
Instead, as befits a region that is an epicenter of farming and food processing, it generates energy from a motley assortment of ingredients like potato peels, manure, used cooking oil, stale cookies and pig intestines.
A hulking 10-year-old plant on the outskirts of Kristianstad uses a biological process to transform the detritus into biogas, a form of methane. That gas is burned to create heat and electricity, or is refined as a fuel for cars.
Once the city fathers got into the habit of harnessing power locally, they saw fuel everywhere: Kristianstad also burns gas emanating from an old landfill and sewage ponds, as well as wood waste from flooring factories and tree prunings.
While the United States has no fossil fuel-free cities yet, there are some promising developments for biofuels in the country, such as $30 million in grants going towards biofuel research and Chicago high school students learning how to produce biodiesel - and sharing the knowledge with others:
“These city kids are reaching out to rural schools,” said Brian Sievers, WYMHS math teacher and the biodiesel club sponsor. Sievers said his five-member club had enough materials donated to build two biodiesel processors and wanted to share one with a school that didn’t have access to as many resources. 
The WYMHS biodiesel club collected used cooking oil, built one biodiesel processor, and produced biodiesel. Club members tested the emissions of their biodiesel at an Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) vehicle testing facility in Chicago. 
Biomass, on the other hand, is quite unpopular with some communities across the United States.
The first organized opposition to biomass plants in southern Indiana rose up in the tiny town of Milltown on the Blue River, where Milltown's main business is an outfitter for canoers who want to float down the river on hot summer days. When a startup company called Liberty Green Renewables LLC quietly purchased land near the river for a new plant to be fueled by waste wood, the community's Paul Revere--a lively woman named Cara Beth Jones--roused friends and neighbors to speak out against what they believed would be a blow to their modest tourist economy and an industrial intrusion in their little town. They put out yard signs and showed up at state permit hearings to point out holes in the company's plan. They convinced their Crawford County commissioners to pass an ordinance requiring a local license for a new industrial facility.
With the economic uncertainty, who knows if and when private or public capital for widespread biowaste energy plants will come...or if they can even be pitched to communities across the country.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Even Communists Love Social Media

Cuba recently launched its very own "version" of Wikipedia, called EcuRed.
In EcuRed's entry on the U.S., for instance, the site notes that America has taken "by force territory and natural resources from other nations, to put at the service of its businesses and monopolies." Presidents gazed longingly at fertile, delicious Cuba "like those who admire a beautiful fruit that will end up falling in their hands."
While my Spanish is rusty, I imagine this is about as impartial and informative of a source as Conservapedia.

Also worth nothing that Cuban citizens (not the government) have developed their very own version of Craigslist as well, called Revolico, with some interesting origins:
"The List" for those who for some strange reason does not know them, are lists of mailing addresses that were created a few years old with the aim, in the beginning, to announce the purchase, sale and exchange of hardware typically used . It was a way to support the "homebuilding" or the eagerness and curiosity characteristic of the Cuban, to enter the world of computing in a more informal and less institutional. This trend was growing, and it was not just hardware, more and more people had access to Email, today will announce many things, and a few of us who rely on this handy tool for everyday life.
In the most natural I think an active and cooperative community, which functions as a single body, governed by the collective intelligence and mass. Each and every one, protect our interests and therefore the group, so it is not surprising that when one or two have wanted to come to mess noise in the system and discuss politics, religion or any other troubled topic, have not place and most have responded.No statutes or rules defined, everyone knows what can and what not.
Meanwhile, China has launched its own "version" of Twitter, called "Red Microblog" to dispense handy Chinese Communist Party slogans and encouraging words from Mao in an effort to counter public dissent on the internet.

But the very fact that the CCP has dived into social media may be a sign of the times in China:
"The era of the microblog has hit China," said Dr Steven Dong at the Global Journalism Institute at Tsinghua university in Beijing. "This would not have been possible two years ago, but the Olympics, the Shanghai Expo and the Guangzhou Asian Games have affected China's politics, economy and culture," he said.
"This is a good platform for discovering and spreading news about mass incidents," he added, although he noted that newspapers are still more trusted.
According to EnfoDesk, a Chinese analyst, there will be 75 million microbloggers in China by the end of 2010, an 837 per cent increase from last year. The firm estimates that the number will double next year and then to 240 million by 2012.
The lesson here for authoritarian regimes? If you can't beat the free market capitalists' new fangled "social media" programs, then join 'em...Like Hugo Chavez.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Some Widely Different Perspectives On Wikileaks

Wikileaks is an intelligence operation specifically designed to erode particular relationships the US has with allies.
And I wonder whether, in fact, there aren't some operations internationally, intelligence services, that are feeding stuff to WikiLeaks, because it is a unique opportunity to embarrass us, to embarrass our position, but also to undermine our relations with particular governments.
For example, leaving aside the personal gossip about Sarkozy or Berlusconi or Putin, the business about the Turks is clearly calculated in terms of its potential impact on disrupting the American-Turkish relationship.
Wikileaks is an attempt to weaken the Obama Administration's global reputation.
“This will obviously damage Obama and his policies,” says Sergei Strokan, a foreign affairs columnist with the Moscow business daily Kommersant. “Obama made a strong emphasis on international affairs, outreach to the Muslim world, and resetting relations with Russia. These leaks show that many diplomats take a privately cynical view of those goals, or are actually working at cross purposes to them. All these disclosures will be a serious blow to America's new image in the world, and will only undercut Obama.
Wikileaks is a website that runs in conjunction with US intelligence.
Is there some tacit understanding between the website and the US government? It may be worth asking. And what does it mean to other countries that are on the radar screen of WikiLeaks?
Wikileaks is the raw data of history.
 Causation and contingency are laid before us: a quarter-million instances of American foreign policy being enacted, or 391,832 points of data that future historians will use to write the history of this war in Iraq. And from that raw data: new approaches to the truth, yes, but not truth itself.
Wikileaks' latest release is benefiting Israel.
A senior member of the ruling Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) also pointed at Israel on Wednesday.
"One should look at which country is content (with the leaks). Israel is extremely content," AKP deputy chairman Huseyin Celik said, according to Anatolia news agency.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Sorry for the lack of posts, folks - it's been one technical difficulty after the next over at Culture Bore HQ (my apartment).

More long-form posts and commentary coming soon, but as always, you can get your daily dose of intellectual stimulation at the Culture Bore Twitter feed.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

"Language as Power" in Recent News

Page 30 recently had three interesting posts pointing to articles that demonstrate the "language spread as form of cultural power" point I made the case for in my previous post.

Iran's national TV channel launches Spanish version
""As half of the world's population speaks Spanish we will start a network within the next few months," Ezatollah Zarqami, the head of Iran's state television network, IRIB, announced in Tehran.
IRIB broadcasts in Arabic, English and other languages – as well as Farsi. It has repeatedly been accused of illegally jamming broadcasts into Iran it dislikes, most notably of BBC Persian TV and the Voice of America in Farsi.
"This new Spanish network will have a major role in reflecting the ideological legitimacy of our system to the world," Zarqami told prayer leaders."
(This follows in the wake of similar efforts by Brazil and China to reach out and generate ties with the populations of other countries.)

Growing Chinese tourism shows shortage of qualified Korean-Chinese interpreters in South Korea
Visitors to Korea from China continue to increase every year, but insufficient interpretation is leading to fears of a drop in tourism quality for those visiting. According to a report issued today (4 October) last year the top visitors to Korea came from Japan at 3 million and China at 1.3 million. The number visiting from China is expected to be 1.7 million this year and reach 2.2 million in 2011. However, guides with certification in the Chinese language number just 2,818, which is just a third of those with certification in Japanese at 8,801 and half of those with certification in English, at 4,857.

Georgia mandates universal English lessons to leave Russian cultural orbit 
Over the next four years all school children will become English-speaking," Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili said. "This means that English will be the language they know best after their mother tongue, Georgian. Nothing like this has been done in any of the post-Soviet countries."
Georgian TV would also broadcast more English-language films with subtitles in order to help older people get used to hearing English spoken, he added.
Analysts said that Georgia, which fought a short unsuccessful war against Russia in 2008, was keen to purge itself of its Russian cultural and linguistic legacy.
Russian was the second language and widely spoken in Georgia in both Tsarist and Soviet times. Many Georgians aged over 40 still speak Russian.

In a world shifting away from US-led, English-speaking dominance, language will continue to be source of tension, conflict, and political influence in the years to come.

Population Size = Cultural Influence

Case study #1: the world's richest nations can't function without a steady stream of foreign-born workers with handful of noticeably different cultural practices from the native population.
Immigrants account for 16.8 percent of Germany’s workforce, according to 2008 data from the Federal Statistical Office. In Sweden, 15.4 percent of the labor force was born elsewhere. Both countries have unemployment rates -- 7.5 percent in Germany and 7.4 percent in Sweden -- below the European Union’s 9.6 percent average.
Politicians hostile to migrants often target Muslims in their policy proposals. The minority Dutch government that depends on parliamentary support from the anti-immigrant Freedom Party plans to ban full-face Islamic veils. A referendum held last year in Switzerland banned the construction of minarets.
Polls show as many as 70 percent of Germans at least partly support former Bundesbank board member Thilo Sarrazin, who published a book in August that said Turks and Arabs are making Germany “dumber” and living off the welfare state.
The Sweden Democrats, which won 20 seats in the 349-member parliament, ran a television commercial in the runup to the Sept. 19 election showing burqa-clad women knocking over an elderly lady as she tried to pick up her pension check. 
Here, the dominant cultures in the European states ban symbols of the immigrant cultures out of fears of the immigrant cultures dominating in the future.

Case study #2: Organization studying dying languages accidentally stumbles upon "lost" Koro language in rural India.
In “The Last Speakers: The Quest to Save the World’s Most Endangered Languages,” published last month by National Geographic Books, Dr. Harrison noted that Koro speakers “are thoroughly mixed in with other local peoples and number perhaps no more than 800.”
Moreover, linguists are not sure how Koro has survived this long as a viable language. Dr. Harrison wrote: “The Koro do not dominate a single village or even an extended family. This leads to curious speech patterns not commonly found in a stable state elsewhere.
By contrast, the Aka people number about 10,000 living in close relations with Koro speakers in a district of the state of Arunachal Pradesh, where at least 120 languages are spoken. Dr. Anderson said the coexistence of separate languages between two integrated groups that do not acknowledge an ethnic difference between them is highly unusual.
As Dr. Harrison and Dr. Anderson expanded their research, comparing Koro with several hundred languages, they determined that it belonged to the Tibeto-Burman language family, which includes 400 tongues related to widely used Tibetan and Burmese. But Koro had never been recognized in any surveys of the approximately 150 languages spoken in India.
The effort to identify “hot spots of threatened languages,” the linguists said, is critical in making decisions to preserve and enlarge the use of such tongues, which are repositories of a people’s history and culture.
In the case of Koro speakers, Dr. Harrison wrote in his book, “even though they seem to be gradually giving up their language, it remains the most powerful trait that identifies them as a distinct people.” 
Here, we see that the vast range of human languages (and by nature, group distinctions) may, in some cases, be held by fewer than 100 people.

Although the world population has grown to nearly 7 billion people, not every self-identified cultural/tribal groups has grown accordingly - after all, there are a lot more Mandarin-speaking Han Chinese than Koro-speaking Indians.

So like the classic model of natural selection, the more "powerful" languages tend to dominate and ultimately drive other language groups into extinction (see also the history of the European settlers in the American continents). Because most language groups have distinct cultures attached to them, the largest, strongest languages have their cultural artifacts (literature, self-written histories/mythologies, religious texts, stories, jokes, pop culture references, idioms, collective ways of thinking, etc.) come to dominate and replicate with generation upon generation born and raised into the language/culture group.

Thus, whatever the largest languages in the world become in the future, the histories written and remembered about today and yesterday will be shaped accordingly. Whether we're talking about a relatively insignificant language in a backwater region of India, or the latest chapter in the Christian-Muslim "Clash of Civilizations" storyline, the ebb and flow of hundreds of "us vs. them" battles between different groups in the same geographic areas will steer the course of the future - and what we remember about the past.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Hugo Chavez Does Not Understand The Concept of "International Reputation"

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez recently called for the reorganization of the Caracas airport for a rather curious reason from the mouth of a supposed socialist:
"It's a big airport, how come it does not make a profit?" Chavez said of the Maiquetia airport, which lies on the coast just outside the Venezuelan capital Caracas.
"Cuba's Jose Marti airport gives the Cuban government $100 million each year for its operations, planes coming and going. But Maiquetia gives no profits," he added in a TV address.
"I've told the new (transport) minister to intervene the Maiquetia international airport."
Chavez gave no more details of the problems at the airport that he wanted to root out, but said the measure was necessary to maximize income for the Venezuelan state.
"We need to take control of those airports because we need to look after the economy. We can't keep depending on oil."

Maybe the Caracas Maiquetia Airport doesn't make money because:

1. Caracas has a nasty reputation for high murder rates.

2. Chavez nationalizes every industry he can. Individuals and corporations with lots of money tend to dislike their financial assets getting nationalized and thus avoid investing in countries where this happens.

3. The airport isn't even secure to begin with.
Travel to and from Maiquetía Airport, the international airport serving Caracas, can be dangerous, and corruption at the airport itself is rampant. Both arriving and departing travelers, including foreigners, have been victims of personal property theft and muggings in the airport. The embassy has received multiple, credible reports that individuals wearing what appear to be official uniforms or other credentials are involved in facilitating or perpetrating these crimes. For this reason, U.S. citizen travelers should be wary of all strangers, even those in official uniform or carrying official identification, and should not pack valuable items or documents in checked luggage.

With this in mind, it shouldn't shock anyone that the Caracas Maiquetia Airport is hardly a cash cow.

link round-up October 6th, 2010

Islam, by the statistics - How the son of Libya's dictator controls the service used by millions of Twitter accounts

Monday, October 4, 2010

Hollywood's Loss is Detroit's Gain - The Future Landscapes of American Film

Tax credits have recently made Detroit a hub for television and film production - along with several other spots outside of Los Angeles.
Regional filmmaking has been on the increase for decades, as southern California became more expensive to work in and overexposed on screen. New Mexico, Louisiana, Georgia, New York, Canada and others have wooed the lucrative entertainment business with tax-incentive packages. The revenue and jobs are welcome, and sometimes buttressed by a little brand-building, perhaps attracting tourists or investment.
As places like Hollywood and New York City have become iconic in American cinema, and as the article goes on to note Detroit scenery filling in for Switzerland and Washington D.C., it'll be interesting to see if/how varied film settings across the US change American perceptions of those locations - as well as global perceptions of the United States (since pirated American films can be found just about anywhere in the world these days).

Monday, September 27, 2010

21st Century China: Economic Powerhouse or Enron-like Train-Wreck Waiting To Happen?

[via Flickr]

On one hand, it's very easy to be frightened by China's seemingly endless growth in political and economic power.
Why on earth are the Chinese playing military games with Japan, threatening Southeast Asia, or entering politics at all? When they stay silent, we ignore them. When they threaten boycotts or use nationalist language, we get scared and react. We still haven't realized that the scariest thing about China is not the size of its navy or the arrogance of its diplomats. The scariest thing is the power China has already accumulated without ever deploying its military or its diplomats at all.

And some of China's expensive, high-cost expenditures put current long-term American infrastructure coordination to shame.
China is doing moon shots. Yes, that’s plural. When I say “moon shots” I mean big, multibillion-dollar, 25-year-horizon, game-changing investments. China has at least four going now: one is building a network of ultramodern airports; another is building a web of high-speed trains connecting major cities; a third is in bioscience, where the Beijing Genomics Institute this year ordered 128 DNA sequencers — from America — giving China the largest number in the world in one institute to launch its own stem cell/genetic engineering industry; and, finally, Beijing just announced that it was providing $15 billion in seed money for the country’s leading auto and battery companies to create an electric car industry, starting in 20 pilot cities. In essence, China Inc. just named its dream team of 16-state-owned enterprises to move China off oil and into the next industrial growth engine: electric cars.

On the other hand, perhaps China may be more fragile than most people realize.
Beyond economic output, more than three-fifths of China’s overall exports and nearly all its high-tech exports are made by non-Chinese, foreign companies. Foreign companies take advantage of low Chinese wages to reprocess imports of semi-manufactured goods that are then shipped to Europe and the U.S. China remains, in essence, a subcontractor to the West, says Will Hutton, British political analyst and author of an influential book on China, “The Writing on the Wall.” Despite China’s export success, there are few great Chinese brands or companies. China needs to build them, says Hutton, but doing that in a one-party authoritarian state, where the party second-guesses business strategy for ideological and political ends, is impossible.”
Because of China’s climate of corruption and authoritarian secrecy, even the volume of industrial output has been questioned. Some doubt China’s numbers and official reports. Investment guru James Chanos, who rose to prominence when he predicted the Enron meltdown (and pocketed a billion dollars shorting Enron stock), is shorting China now.
Says Chanos, “China is cooking its books. State-run companies are buying fleets of cars and storing them in parking lots and warehouses” to pump up state-mandated production figures. As evidence of this, experts point out that while car sales have been rising by a huge 20 percent per month, auto fuel usage seems to be rising by only 3-5 percent per month. Chanos also says China is plagued by an ominously growing real estate bubble in high-rise buildings, offices and condos. Much of China’s high growth originally came from decades-long heavy investment in infrastructure, but increasingly it has been coming from construction. Chanos estimates that 50 percent to 60 percent of China’s GDP now comes from alarming levels of overbuilding, virtually none of which is affordable to the average Chinese. “This is not affordable housing for the middle class; this is high-end condos in major urban areas and high-end office buildings, which no one is buying,” says Chanos.
So modern China is driven by rapid spending and building and consuming for the sake of rapid growth, with some useful public infrastructure investments here and there.

Clearly, nothing the Chinese government is doing is sustainable, or factors in a Plan B in case the growth paradigm abruptly shifts (due to war, famine, natural disaster, global pandemic, societal collapse, etc.) but I don't think anyone influential cares while there's money to be made, and yachts to be sailed.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

African Colonialism 2.0 - China in Senegal

Most people think of European exploitation when they see the words "African colonialism."

However, decades after independence for the former African colonies, China is moving into the economically-starved nations, buying up land, and shipping off the profits back to the motherland - with barely a cent going to the natives.

For example, take this documentary, "The Colony" about the Chinese migrants to Senegal, and the social and economic tensions caused as a result.

Chinese growth reliant on destroying local competition + destroyed local industry + Senegalese getting no piece of the Chinese economic growth = resentment and potential future ethnic violence.

And I'm sure anti-Chinese fervor in Africa will only increase in the coming years.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Koran's Influence on Early American History

Turns out the Founder Fathers you've heard of all read and studied it.
Thomas Jefferson, especially, had a familiarity with Islam that borders on the astonishing. Like Adams, he owned a Koran, a 1764 English edition that he bought while studying law as a young man in Williamsburg, Va. Only two years ago, that Koran became the center of a controversy, when the first Muslim ever elected to Congress, Keith Ellison, a Democrat from Minnesota, asked if he could place his hand on it while taking his oath of office — a request that elicited tremendous screeches from the talk radio extremists. Jefferson even tried to learn Arabic, and wrote his Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom to protect “the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and the Mahometan, the Hindoo and infidel of every denomination.”

Once again, the principle of "freedom of religion" was originally intended to apply to Muslims as well.
This theory was eloquently expressed around the time the Constitution was written. One of its models was the 1780 Massachusetts Constitution, which John Adams had helped to create, and which, in the words of one of its drafters, Theophilus Parsons, was designed to ensure “the most ample of liberty of conscience” for “Deists, Mahometans, Jews and Christians.”

And even African slaves of the Muslim faith kept it alive.
While evidence is fragmentary, as many as 20 percent of African-American slaves may have come from Islamic backgrounds. They kept their knowledge of the Koran alive through memory, or chanted suras, or, in rare cases, smuggled copies of the book itself. In the 1930s, when WPA workers were interviewing elderly African-Americans in Georgia’s Sea Islands, they were told of an ancestor named Bilali who spoke Arabic and owned a copy of the Koran — a remarkable fact when we remember that it was a crime for slaves to read. In the War of 1812, Bilali and his fellow Muslims helped to defend America from a British attack, inverting nearly all of our stereotypes in the process.

Given the anti-Christian/Jewish sentiment popular in the various fundamentalist strands of Islam today, the following is an interesting historical contrast:
Jefferson and Adams led many of our early negotiations with the Islamic powers as the United States lurched into existence. A favorable treaty was signed with Morocco, simply because the Moroccans considered the Americans ahl-al-kitab, or “people of the book,” similar to Muslims, who likewise eschewed the idolatry of Europe’s ornate state religions.

 So, to sum up, America's Koran-versed Founding Fathers explicitly included Islam into American society, and at least one Muslim nation saw Americans as "people of the book." if only we can get millions of people across the world to realize this. Otherwise, forgotten history will triumph once again in favor of self-serving story lines.

Friday, September 24, 2010

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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

link round-up 9/22/10

A series of mapped out stereotypes. [via]

Turkish-Kurdish tension spreads throughout Turkey

Paris to encourage drinking tap water, discourage bottled water

Mexican papers ask drug cartels what can and can't be published

Iraqi-Syrian relations improve after years of refugee tension

New Delhi's embarrassing infrastructural challenges for the upcoming Commonwealth Games

Compare and Contrast - Attacking Iran's Nuclear Facilities

On one hand, you have Iranian president Ahmadinejad warning of a retaliatory "war with no limits"
"The United States has never entered a real war, not in Vietnam, nor in Afghanistan, nor even World War II," the Iranian leader told American editors and reporters when asked about how Iran would react to any US supported strike by Israel on Iran's nuclear facilities.

On the other hand, a complex cyber-worm called Stuxnet may be responsible for destroying at least one Iranian nuclear facility.

Langner is quick to note that his views on Stuxnet's target is speculation based on suggestive threads he has seen in the media. Still, he suspects that the Bushehr plant may already have been wrecked by Stuxnet. Bushehr's expected startup in late August has been delayed, he notes, for unknown reasons. (One Iranian official blamed the delay on hot weather.)
But if Stuxnet is so targeted, why did it spread to all those countries? Stuxnet might have been spread by the USB memory sticks used by a Russian contractor while building the Bushehr nuclear plant, Langner offers. The same contractor has jobs in several countries where the attackware has been uncovered.
"This will all eventually come out and Stuxnet's target will be known," Langner says. "If Bushehr wasn't the target and it starts up in a few months, well, I was wrong. But somewhere out there, Stuxnet has found its target. We can be fairly certain of that."

You have to hand it to Ahmadinejad for having the gall to make his retort when visiting New York City, but he (and we) may have no idea what tricks the US military would have in store for an overt war with Iran.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

link round-up 9/21/10

Google's dirty word censorship algorithm has an American slang bias

Young urban Chinese generation wants China to dump US debt holdings

Xia Wie, a 24-year-old graduate from Guizhou province, worries about the cost of housing and pollution in China. To her, lending money to the U.S. doesn't make sense.
"America is a developed country and does not need China's money," she said. "Let China put its money into itself so China will be strong."
It's also not sensible to Lin Xiang, a 25-year-old graduate of Peking University's Guanghua School of Management.
"We have financed the American people's overconsumption for many years," Lin said at a Starbucks on Financial Street, near the investment bank where he works.

Using social networks to predict flu epidemics

Illegal tobacco trading linked to drug smuggling and human trafficking

English-language radical Islamic websites skyrocketing

How most journalism relies on government support through grants or tax credits

Russia to spend $613 billion on updated weaponry

Concerns in UK Parliament over possible return to 1970's oil shock prices

Some Thoughts On "Pro-Islamic Bias"


Texas Board of Education to take on "pro-Islamic bias" in textbooks

"Without a doubt, social studies and science textbooks oftentimes find themselves at the crossroads of our nation's cultural wars," said Jay Diskey, executive director of the Association of American Publishers' School Division.
Most book companies create independent internal bias reviews "because they know it does them no good to produce things that are inaccurate and biased," Diskey said.
The books cited in the resolution currently are not used in Texas schools, Diskey said.

A few thoughts:

1. World history in a nutshell: people did horrifying things in the name of ____, people did beautiful things in the name of ____. Just figure out what things influenced what events in what proportions, and you're most of the way there.

So if enlightening cultural contributions and mass slaughter have both happened the name of Christianity, as well as Islam, then the history textbooks should reflect the murky, mixed, complicated, multi-sided, multi-causal nature of what actually happened to begin with.

2. In a way, this can be seen as an overall attack on perceived political correctness in education - the idea that the "liberal" history textbook writers want to shove foreign religions and ideas down American children's throats to make them more tolerant of everything except their own American heritage.

This has been a storyline amongst American conservatives for decades. And it's not completely baseless - you could argue that some historians like Howard Zinn intentionally attacked the "heroic" conception of American history to the point of making America as whole look more bad than good to the point of over-emphasis. But the Texas School Board's recent rhetorical change of the "slave trade" to the "triangular trade", as well as the downplaying of Thomas Jefferson in favor of John Calvin shows that historical bias can go in any direction - even as an overreaction to a perceived overreaction to the way history was taught in America.

There is, after all, a difference between correcting bias, and substituting one's bias for another bias.

3. This event is happening in the context of the greater societal debate over Islam in the United States, and this debate centers around these general thought patterns:

anti-Islam: "Apologist liberals ignore militant aspects of the religion's history and holy texts, and downplay/ignore the concentrated efforts of networked Islamist groups to undermine Western power and society for the sake of Islam. Most public moderate Islamic groups are propaganda fronts for those who want to impose sharia law, and the politically-correct are too blind to see this "stealth jihad". Islam imposes itself on others more so than other religious traditions, therefore it should be given more scrutiny than other religious belief systems in the United States. Defenders of Islam are destroying Western civilization and letting more and more Muslim immigrants into Western countries will eventually turn the societies into hardline Muslim societies in a few generations...a few bad apples ruin the bunch and group discrimination is justified."

anti-anti-Islam: "Religion is personal, all anti-Islamic bias is racist xenophobia from dumb white Sarah Palin-loving rednecks, not every Muslim wants to impose sharia law on the United States and the ones who do are radical extremists that don't represent the majority views, Islam is subject to personal interpretation, 1st amendment guarantees it's practice, conservative politicians and pundits are using Islamophobia to scare people into voting Republican for the midterm elections, Islamophobia in Western countries will be used by hostile regimes in majority Muslim countries as propaganda and undermine the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. People should be judged as people and not their religious beliefs and perpetuating anti-Islamic fears in America tears apart social cohesion and increases discrimination against innocent people...a few bad apples don't ruin the bunch and group discrimination is not justified."

In turn, I offer this observation:

pro-Reality: some Muslims want to "destroy the West", some are content to live their own lives. The number of Muslims who want to carry out Jihad is significantly large to be a political and security concern, but proportionately small compared to the roughly 1 billion Muslims across the world. Anti-Western Muslims and Anti-Muslim Westerners are both going to spin past and current events into their own storylines to appeal to their supporters in order to keep their movements alive and achieve their goals. Most people just want to be left alone and engage themselves in their day-to-day lives.

Too bad this debate isn't going away anytime soon.

Monday, September 20, 2010

link round-up 9/20/10

Favela (slum) tourism in Rio de Janeiro

The Chinese Communist Party drive to rid popular culture of the "three vulgarities"
WITH tens of millions of Chinese suffering from the country’s worst floods in years, President Hu Jintao convened a meeting of the ruling Politburo on July 23rd, to discuss what he said was an urgent issue. To a roomful of grim-faced officials, he declared that China must “resolutely resist” vulgar, cheap and kitsch forms of culture. The “great revival” of the Chinese people was, he said, at stake.
Thus was born a new campaign against what officials call the “three vulgarities”. The government news agency, Xinhua, has described this “new morality movement” as the leadership’s first broadside against vulgarity in years. Some online commentators in China call it a throwback to the 1980s and hugely unpopular drives that were designed to eradicate “spiritual pollution” and “bourgeois liberalisation”.

French wine vending machines to come to US? 

90% of Kuwati coral reefs dying

Russia sells missles to Syria

Displaced Sri Lankan Tamils and Muslims unable to return home after end of civil war

Chicagoan plants bomb near Wrigley drive the retiring mayor out of office?

Shell and UN back $100 million plan for clean energy stoves

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Ban Sharia Law? Define It First


Amid the New York City Islamic center controversy, Newt Gingrich recently called for a ban on the enforcement of Sharia law in the United States.
  • Is this pandering to a fearful conservative Christian base? Yes.
  • Will it ever-so-slightly increase hostility and discrimination against all ethnic groups associated with Islam in the US? Yes.
  • Is it likely Gingrich is getting on the pulpit to position himself as a presidental candidate? Yes.
  • Does that make calling for "banning Sharia law" in the United States not worthy of analysis or discussion? No.
While most governments are based on constitutions, there are several countries (even Britain) that have separate courts for state legal law and sharia law.
Examples can be seen in Nigeria and Kenya, which have sharia courts that rule on family law for Muslims. A variation exists in Tanzania, where civil courts apply sharia or secular law according to the religious backgrounds of the defendants. Several countries, including Lebanon and Indonesia, have mixed jurisdiction courts based on residual colonial legal systems and supplemented with sharia. Ahmad Nizar Hamzeh of the American University of Beirut says only Qatar has an official dual legal system where Adlia courts, or civil courts, are independent of the sharia system and legislate secular laws. 
Western countries are also exploring the idea of allowing Muslims to apply Islamic law in familial and financial disputes. In late 2008, Britain officially allowed sharia tribunals (NYT) governing marriage, divorce, and inheritance to make legally binding decisions if both parties agreed. The new system is in line with separate mediation allowed for Anglican and Jewish communities in England. Criminal law remains under the gavel of the existing legal system. "There is no reason why principles of sharia law, or any other religious code, should not be the basis for mediation," Britain's top judge, Lord Nicholas Phillips, said in a July 2008 speech (PDF). Supporters of this initiative, such as the archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, argue that it would help maintain social cohesion (BBC) in European societies increasingly divided by religion. However, some research suggests the process to be discriminatory toward women (BBC). Other analysts suggest the system has led to grey areas. Britain's Muslims come from all over the world, Ishtiaq Ahmed, a spokesperson for the Council for Mosques in England, told the BBC, noting that this makes it hard to discern at times "where the rulings of the sharia finish and long-held cultural practices start."

Many critics have condemned the Islamophobia in America as a redux of racial and Communist fears of the previous century, and pointed out the dubious ties of the leading anti-Islamic blogs driving the current controversies about Islam in the United States.

At the same time, while they rely on heavily biased, paranoid fearful language, top anti-Islamic websites such as Jihad Watch and Atlas Shrugs base much of their rhetoric on daily news posts noting situations like an Australian YMCA banning bare skin at swimming pools in the presence of Muslims, Sharia-compliant halal meals on British Airways, and Ukrainian cheerleaders banned from performing in front of the Turkish President Erdogan during a baskeball tournament.

Sure, major economic and social norm shifts due to Muslim presence are newsworthy and significant. But a constant stream of news links solely focused on Muslims "demanding" subtle changes from Western countries paints a slanted picture of a one-way "Islamic dominance of the Western civilization."

Nevermind the Western cultural influence in Islamic countries.
I shouldn't have been surprised at the notion of Muslim metalheads or punkers. Muslim history is full of characters and movements that seemed far out of the mainstream in their day, but that nevertheless helped bring about farreaching changes in their societies. As I nursed my drink, I contemplated the various musical, cultural, and political permutations that could be produced by combining Islam and hard rock. I began to wonder: What could Muslim metal artists and their fans teach us about the state of Islam today?
And so began a five-year journey across the Muslim world, from Morocco to Pakistan, with a dozen countries in between, in search of the artists, fans, and activists who make up the alternative music scenes of the Muslim world. My journey was long, and sometimes dangerous. But the more I traveled and the more musicians I met, the more I understood how much insight into Islam today could be gained by getting to know the artists who were working on what might seem to be the edges of their societies. Their imagination and openness to the world, and the courage of their convictions, remind us that Muslim and Western cultures are more heterogeneous, complex, and ultimately alike than the peddlers of the clash of civilizations, the war on terror, and unending jihad would have us believe.

Furthermore, there is no one interpretation of "sharia law."
Also meaning "path" in Arabic, sharia guides all aspects of Muslim life including daily routines, familial and religious obligations, and financial dealings. It is derived primarily from the Quran and the Sunna--the sayings, practices, and teachings of the Prophet Mohammed. Precedents and analogy applied by Muslim scholars are used to address new issues. The consensus of the Muslim community also plays a role in defining this theological manual.
Sharia developed several hundred years after the Prophet Mohammed's death in 632 CE as the Islamic empire expanded to the edge of North Africa in the West and to China in the East. Since the Prophet Mohammed was considered the most pious of all believers, his life and ways became a model for all other Muslims and were collected by scholars into what is known as the hadith. As each locality tried to reconcile local customs and Islam, hadith literature grew and developed into distinct schools of Islamic thought: the Sunni schools, Hanbali, Maliki, Shafi'i, Hanafi; and the Shiite school, Ja'fari. Named after the scholars that inspired them, they differ in the weight each applies to the sources from which sharia is derived, the Quran, hadith, Islamic scholars, and consensus of the community. The Hanbali school, known for following the most Orthodox form of Islam, is embraced in Saudi Arabia and by the Taliban. The Hanafi school, known for being the most liberal and the most focused on reason and analogy, is dominant among Sunnis in Central Asia, Egypt, Pakistan, India, China, Turkey, the Balkans, and the Caucasus. The Maliki school is dominant in North Africa and the Shafi'i school in Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei Darussalam, and Yemen. Shia Muslims follow the Ja'fari school, most notably in Shia-dominant Iran. The distinctions have more impact on the legal systems in each country, however, than on individual Muslims, as many do not adhere to one school in their personal lives.

These days, there seem to be two major views on how to interpret sharia.
...Muslims agree that sharia is God's law, but there is little consensus on the particulars. To some, sharia is a set of rules that are codified and unchanging. To others, it's a collection of religious principles that shift over time.
Imam Yahya Hendi, Muslim chaplain at Georgetown University and spokesman of the Islamic Jurisprudence Council of North America, describes Muslims as being divided into two camps: "Those who see sharia mandating that we live as Muslims did 1,300 years ago, and those who say sharia doesn't have a specific format as to how you live your life, that Islam gives you paradigms."
This question of how to define sharia has become a more urgent issue for Muslims around the world in recent decades as, according to some estimates, one-third of them live outside Muslim-majority countries for the first time in history. Conferences are held where scholars debate what it means for a government or a person to be "sharia-compliant."
Others say "sharia" refers to the specific words of the Koran (Muslims' holy book of God's revelation passed orally to the prophet Muhammad) as well as all the hadith, which are the actions and statements attributed to Muhammad that have been passed down, analyzed, interpreted (and sometimes tossed out) over the for centuries.
Many of the harshest, most controversial writings are in the hadith, such as those giving lower status to non-Muslims and mandates to stone adulterers (including a much-publicized stoning this month in Afghanistan, meted out by the Taliban). Muslims have debated their accuracy for centuries.
Another key source is fiqh, the collection of opinions scholars have written to determine how the will of God can be carried out in daily life. Some people include all fiqh as well when they refer to "sharia" or "Islamic law." 

So if we're going to talk about sharia law, we need to get specific with what we're dealing with...which leads us to debate at the heart of all of this:
  • What qualifies as "sharia"? 
  • How much of it is based on the authoritative Muslim texts (compared to indigenous customs and religious leader interpretations)?
  • How much of it is covered by the 1st Amendment?
  • Is not accommodating someone's personal interpretation of sharia a violation of the 1st Amendment? 
But Ali Khan, a law professor at Washburn University, sees a scenario where non-Muslims could be governed by Islamic law.
"Right now Islam is expanding in the United States," he says. "Now suppose that Muslims become a majority in a particular state; I think then the state laws would reflect Islamic law."
Khan notes that the heavily Muslim city of Dearborn, Mich., passed an ordinance that allows the call to prayer to be broadcast over loudspeakers. Khan believes that the rapid growth of American Islam means that more towns will enact laws friendly to the religion — such as banning alcohol or gambling. Of course, Christians have already done that in some cases by creating dry counties or passing blue laws that prohibit shopping on Sunday.
But religious accommodation can go only so far, says Clark Lombardi, a Shariah law expert at the University of Washington. Even if an entire state converted to a "Taliban-esque version of Islam," he says, the courts would not allow it to force women to wear veils, for example — that would violate their First Amendment rights.
"So we're not going to see hand chopping off, we're not going to see retaliatory violence, we're not going to see underage marriages, we're not going to see polygamous marriage," Lombardi says. "The U.S. court wouldn't do it. It's contrary to public policy, and they would refuse to apply that particular foreign law."

Of course, there are many laws on the books here based in Jewish, Christian and Mormon holy texts and traditions, and the Church and State battle has long been a part of American discourse.

But at the end of the day, the Constitution is the law of the land - no matter what religion the majority of Americans believe. Explictly banning anything related to "Islamic sharia dominance" would just be redundant.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Scientists Have Given Up On Explaining the Universe

Introducing "model-dependent realism"
Having declared that "philosophy is dead", the authors unwittingly develop a theory familiar to philosophers since the 1980s, namely "perspectivalism". This radical theory holds that there doesn't exist, even in principle, a single comprehensive theory of the universe. Instead, science offers many incomplete windows onto a common reality, one no more "true" than another. In the authors' hands this position bleeds into an alarming anti-realism: not only does science fail to provide a single description of reality, they say, there is no theory-independent reality at all. If either stance is correct, one shouldn't expect to find a final unifying theory like M-theory - only a bunch of separate and sometimes overlapping windows.

I get that measuring things we can't actually perceive is hard, but isn't it premature to declare "we'll never know how reality works?"

Nevermind the admission that we don't really understand what's going on around us - we can still make grand proclamations about the origins of the universe!
M-theory in either sense is far from complete. But that doesn't stop the authors from asserting that it explains the mysteries of existence: why there is something rather than nothing, why this set of laws and not another, and why we exist at all. According to Hawking, enough is known about M-theory to see that God is not needed to answer these questions. Instead, string theory points to the existence of a multiverse, and this multiverse coupled with anthropic reasoning will suffice. Personally, I am doubtful.

Let's just hope that someday quantum physics will advance beyond the "we have no fucking idea, but this concept sounds elegant" stage.

link round-up 9/17/10-9/18/10

Do one better than the multi-billion dollar US military-industrial complex and teach yourself Pashto. [via]

From a Pashto discussion forum:
Hard dialect: spoken in areas like Peshawar, Mardan, Swat, Malakand, Dir, Kohat, Paracinar, Jalalabad, Bajawar, Mohmand, Khyber,etc mainly in northern part of Pashto speaking areas. Here the pure Pashto words are pronounced as kh and g not sh and j if the 
The word for fine is pronounced as kha not sha. The word for beard is pronounced as gira not jira. 
Soft dialect:  Spoken in Kandahar and ares like Banu, Karak, Waziristan, Baluchistan, Paktya etc. Here the above sounds are pronounced as sh and g . Fine is sha here and beard is jira here.
I will try for your orientation of both the dialects or accents.THERE IS NOTHING TO DO SPECIAL .Often the symbol/ in this course denotes the difference of dialects. However it is not necessary to learn both the dialects as both are easily mutually intelligible. Accents of Qandahar and Peshawar or Mardan are the standard accents through out the world.
Remember that both the dialects are written in the same script . Thats why you see special Pashto letters for khe and ghe.
I wonder how many active duty soldiers in Afghanistan know this difference?

With Chicago's notorious history of corruption, what other global city offers a model to copy?
The problem with being a major global city is that it's hard to find mentors. If the "Big Daddy approach to city government doesn't work anymore" — to quote the headline of Greg Hinz's column — what approach does work, and where can Chicago go to study it? Nine years ago, Governingmagazine named Christchurch, New Zealand the best-run city in the world. Just last year,Maclean's magazine named Burnaby, British Columbia, the best-run city in Canada. Saskatoon was second. Toronto is often compared to Chicago and held up as a place Chicago can gainfully learn from, but according to Maclean's it is only the tenth-best run city in Canada.

Slate's investigation of the possible causes of the growing wealth gap in America 
Income distribution remained roughly stable through the postwar economic boom of the 1950s and 1960s. Economic historians Claudia Goldin and Robert Margo have termed this midcentury era the "Great Compression." The deep nostalgia for that period felt by the World War II generation—the era of Life magazine and the bowling league—reflects something more than mere sentimentality. Assuming you were white, not of draft age, and Christian, there probably was no better time to belong to America's middle class.

The NDM-1 "Indian Superbug" has gone global
The news is not good. This new resistance factor has been found so far in the United States, Canada, Belgium, the Netherlands, Austria, France, Germany, Oman, Kenya, Australia, Hong Kong and Japan. Most of the isolates, the bacterial samples in which it has been identified, are susceptible to only one or two remaining antibiotics. One was susceptible to none.
“These resistant bugs,” Dr. Patrice Nordmann, a professor of clinical microbiology at the South-Paris Medical School, said in a briefing here, “have already spread all over the world.”

Anti-Islam blog Jihad Watch has more daily visitors than top American conservative and liberal blogs


The Neoconservative and pro-Israel think tank ties to the Park51 movement and anti-Islam bloggers
It’s important to note this because the likes of Geller, Spencer and Horowitz present themselves as organic activists. Geller, for instance, describes herself as a mere blogger. It turns out she and the other organizers are more like professional activists, organizing the equivalent of what in American politics is called “astroturf”--manufactured grassroots--backed by powerful interest groups. Politico ’s story revealed that Horowitz has paid $460,000 a year and Spencer $140,000 a year for these “activist” groups. In other words, they are clearly full-time, dedicated rabble-rousers.

The Indian land-grab in Ethiopia (while the population still struggles for food)
In recent months, the impoverished and chronically food-insecure nation has become one of the world’s leading agribusiness destinations after the government leased for 40-99 years one of its hottest commodities: farmland. As a result, a host of countries from South and Southeast Asia and Latin America rushed in to seize the opportunity. An estimated 50 million acres have been leased by them in the past two years, in a mad rush partly driven by last year’s global food crisis.
“Some tensions stem from local resentment, because many foreign companies have acquired huge tracts of land and started plantations. And the locals are not liking it for a host of reasons,” quips Dipo Dave Ifabaye, an African journalist.Consider this. New Delhi, troubled by lack of farmland at home, is encouraging Indians to buy mega farms across Africa. Saudi Arabia has shifted its total wheat production to Africa. The pace of the scramble for land has alarmed policymakers. Unsurprisingly, locals aren’t too happy about this. In fact, even the United Nations (UN) agrees, deals are being signed with little public input, and local ministers promising just about anything But even the UN has little choice. Food is scarce in Africa, and Ethiopia recently asked for food aid for about six million people, as drought devastated East Africa.

Brazillian election highlights flaws in the country's economic and democratic structures
Even with the election of more progressive governments, the Brazilian government maintains its anti-popular character, without making changes that address the deeper structural problems of the country. How do you assess democracy and the State in Brazil?
First, there is a natural logic to how the accumulation and exploitation of capital overrides governments and laws. Second, in the neoliberal period, what capital has done was to privatize the state. That is, the State became the hostage of the bourgeoisie so that it would work only in function of its economic interests. And it scrapped the State in the areas of services for the entire population, such as education, health, public transport, housing etc..
For example, we have 16 million illiterates. To educate them would cost no more than about 10 billion reais (US$ 5.8 billion). It seems a lot - the state with all its legal apparatus prevents the money from being used - but this represents two weeks of interest payments that the state makes to banks. We build bridges and roads in weeks, but to solve the deficit of public housing is impossible? We still have 10 million homes needed for the people.

Friday, September 17, 2010

(belated) link round-up for 9/16/10

However, compared to all other global religions, Buddhism tends to be the one least associated with warfare, even while the Sri Lankan state, constitutionally bound to “foster and protect Buddhism,” was conducting a brutally efficient elimination campaign against Tamil insurgency, with the enthusiastic support of its Buddhist community. In fact, “Buddhist warfare” was not unknown to Western observers prior to this--the first works on Japan’s militant monks were published already in the late nineteenth century. The myth of “nonviolent Buddhism” persisted, however, owing much to the pacifist leanings of Western Buddhist converts who tended to “see no evil” in their adopted religion, as well as to the widespread tendency to apply “positive Orientalist” stereotypes to Tibet, often seen as a peaceful Shangri-La of sorts in the apologetic writings of Western supporters of its charismatic Fourteenth Dalai Lama.  

FiveBooks on understanding Pakistan
Cases of corruption and extra-regional assaults have certainly not deflated the mystique of political Islam given its powerful components such as resistance, sacrifice, utopianism, shared brotherhood and austerity. Following the dissolution of the communist regimes, it has been asserting its own space and here its various manifestations are falling beyond the orbit of simplistic and monolith definitions. Many Muslims, especially from amongst the modernists, have readily internalised simplistic and solely negative explanation of Political Islam, which, accordingly, becomes the bane of all the problems across the Muslim countries and communities. 

 Zawahri urges Turks and Pakistanis to rise up against their governments due to Afghanistan involvement
Zawahri, believed to be hiding in mountains along the Afghan-Pakistani border, spoke in a 44-minute recording which appeared to mark the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in the United States.
"The primary concern of the ruling class in the government and army of Pakistan is filling their domestic and foreign bank accounts with dollars, and as far as they are concerned, Pakistan and its people can go to hell," he said.

The African-American Migration that Made America
Yet no immigrant group had as profound an impact on the U.S. in the hundred years following the Civil War as the millions of African Americans who fled to the North and West -- first in a trickle and swelling, in the years after World War I, to a roaring river of humanity. By the time this movement abated in the 1970s, more than half the South's black population had resettled outside the old Confederacy.
And, as Pulitzer Prize winner Isabel Wilkerson makes clear in her new, improbably page-turning account of that Great Migration, the black citizens who crossed the Mason-Dixon Line to reach their new homes bore many striking similarities to those who crossed the Atlantic Ocean.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Tit For Tat: Iran Funds Cuba, US Funds Saudi Arabia

Questions about the viability of Cuba's economy have also led to questions about the reliability of their economic statistics:
Officially—that is, according to the Cuban government statistics on which international bean counters rely—the Cuban economy has done relatively well. GDP rose in both 2008 and 2009, compared with U.S. contraction over the same period. The only European Union economy to fare better than Cuba last year was Poland, if you believe the government's numbers.

However, as the Slate article points out, these numbers might not to be too far off, partially due to all the Iranian investment Cuba has received  in recent years:
Cuba and Iran have pursued bilateral relations for some time, beginning in 2005 with a transportation investment program to aid Cuba’s failing transportation sector.  As part of this investment program, Iran sold 750 railway cars to Cuba in January 2008 under a $295 million loan to Cuba to finance imports from Iran.  In February 2008, Cuba and Iran inked their first agreement facilitating scientific and technological cooperation which focused on the biotechnology fields of medical and pharmaceutical development.  In June 2008, the two countries signed a memorandum of understanding reiterating their bilateral economic cooperation. 
Due in large part to the state-led economic cooperation agreements, trade between Cuba and Iran increased from $22.9 million in 2007 to $46.4 in 2008.  In September 2009, Cuba put into effect a bilateral trade agreement signed by Cuba and Iran in 2007.  The accord planned to increase trade between the two countries by decreasing tariffs on Iranian goods imported into Cuba by between 10 and 30 percent on 88 different products including textiles, industrial machinery and furniture.

On the other hand, this Cuban-Iranian economic cooperation pales in comparison to the $60 billion of weaponry the Obama administration wants to sell to Saudi Arabia.
The proposed Saudi sale, however, is weighted heavily toward strike aircraft (F-15s configured for ground attack) and anti-tank attack helicopters." What are these for? Not to defend against Iraq, as they might have been "during the Saddam Hussein years." Nor would it make sense for the Saudis to be "contemplating the invasion of Iran, even as a counter to an Iranian attack. Numbers and terrain are decisively arrayed against that as well." He thinks, instead, they're "arming as a regional rival to Iran--not for the defense of its own territory but as the leader of an Arab coalition, formed to gain ascendancy over Iran as the power broker in the Levant.

On the surface, the "you back-up my enemy in my backyard, I'll back-up your enemy in your backyard" logic makes sense. But then there's the Saud family succession politics to factor in...
Abdullah could be replaced by his designated successor and half-brother Crown Prince Sultan, who is also in his 80s and ill, and then by Prince Nayef, the most rigid and anti-Western of the heirs to Ibn Sa’ud, founder of the modern Saudi state. 
Nayef, who is in his late 70s, is the protector of the Wahhabi clerics and was the first Saudi leader to declare that 9/11 was a Zionist conspiracy.  In such hands, American-provided arms could, by the law of unintended consequences, end up turned in a more dangerous direction. 
The long-term regional consequences of a well-armed Saudi Arabia in region depend entirely of the mood of the rulers (and if the House of Saud doesn't get overthrown), so a regime unfriendly to Israel and the United States would complicate both country's interests, and make regional politics messy.

After all, a bolstered Saudi Arabian military will continue to fuel tensions with other Muslim states vying for regional power. And there are plenty of existing divides in the Muslim world.

Clearly, the US-Saudi deal will have huge consequences in the region if it actually goes through. But the future impact of economic relations between Iran and Cuba? That depends on who takes over after the Castro brothers and what they believe.

So really, you could say that the future world geopolitical alignment depends on when a bunch of powerful 80-something-year-old men die, and who the replacements are.

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