Upon hearing that the Chinese landscape provided James Cameron's inspiration behind a fantasy location in the movie, Avatar, the government of Zhang Jiajie in the Hunan province of China has changed the name from "Quin Kunzhu" ("South Sky Pillar" in English) to "Avatar Hallelujah Mountain."

"We hope the new name will help promote Zhang Jiajie to the world and bring us more tourists," said one of the local authorities.

Many Chinese are understandably angry.

"It only shows we lack cultural confidence," Li Daoxin, a professor at Peking University, told Guangming Daily, a government news agency. "The name Qian Kunzhu has a deep sense of Chinese traditional culture because it shows how ancient Chinese felt about the power of nature. It's completely unnecessary to change the name."

As it turns out, they may have renamed the wrong mountain in the wrong province.

However, at Avatar's China premiere in Beijing in December, director James Cameron said the sacred mountain was inspired by Yellow Mountain in An Hui province.

Despite sidestepping Haiti's foreign domination throughout it's history, Jared Diamond makes some valid points concerning the differences in development between Haiti and the Dominican Republic - both of which share the same island.

A second social and political factor is that the Dominican Republic — with its Spanish-speaking population of predominantly European ancestry — was both more receptive and more attractive to European immigrants and investors than was Haiti, with its Creole-speaking population composed overwhelmingly of black former slaves.

Hence, European immigration and investment were negligible and restricted by the constitution in Haiti after 1804 but eventually became important in the Dominican Republic.

The Founding Fathers, Haiti, and American geopolitical maneuvering during the Haitian revolution.

Despite his abhorrence of even the idea of a black republic, Jefferson cleverly used the war to America’s advantage. When Napoleon sent his brother-in-law, Charles Leclerc, to suppress the rebels in 1802, Jefferson adopted an official neutral policy, which enabled U.S. support to go to Toussaint. American public opinion turned against French brutality; Jefferson threatened an alliance with the English if the French occupied New Orleans.

London students are failing Biology exams for citing the Bible or Qu'ran as evidence.

Most of the next generation of medical and science students could well be creationists, according to a biology teacher at a leading London sixth-form college. "The vast majority of my students now believe in creationism," she said, "and these are thinking young people who are able and articulate and not at the dim end at all. They have extensive booklets on creationism which they put in my pigeon-hole ... it's a bit like the southern states of America." Many of them came from Muslim, Pentecostal or Baptist family backgrounds, she said, and were intending to become pharmacists, doctors, geneticists and neuro-scientists.

Mass production is about to get competition from production by the masses:

Today, micro-factories make everything from cars to bike components to bespoke furniture in any design you can imagine. The collective potential of a million garage tinkerers is about to be unleashed on the global markets, as ideas go straight into production, no financing or tooling required. “Three guys with laptops” used to describe a Web startup. Now it describes a hardware company, too.

Meanwhile, rural Cambodians are tinkering with Bamboo Trains to run on the infrequently used rail lines throughout the country, and profiting as well:

These bamboo trains, or “Norries” as they are called by locals, provide a link between villages, a way to get produce and animals to the market, a way to get lumber to building sites and a means of income for many as rich tourists pay up to $2/day to ride them. In Cambodia, that can equal two months wages to most citizens.

So why would the ruling junta of Myanmar suddenly announce that they would let the rightful president of the country, Aung San Suu Kyi, out of house arrest after 20 years?

Obama has offered Myanmar the prospect of better ties with Washington if it pursued democratic reform and freed political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi.

Of course, this could just be part of the diplomacy game the regime has been playing with the great powers for years now.

"You always see things balanced out. Say the Chinese come one month, and then the Indians comes the next, or a senior Burmese official goes to Delhi. It's just them being prudent, saying 'we don't have friends, we just have partners'."

The Taliban's new PR strategy:

Now, as the Taliban deepen their presence in more of Afghanistan, they are in greater need of popular support and are recasting themselves increasingly as a local liberation movement, independent of Al-Qaeda, capitalizing on the mounting frustration of Afghans with their own government and the presence of foreign troops. The effect has been to make them a more potent insurgency, some NATO officials said.

A rejection of Democratic health care legislation by a frustrated and fearful American Public? Or the latest in a disturbing trend of celebrity politicians in the U.S.?

Only time will tell.

Indonesian Muslim clerics are seeking to issue a fatwa against dreadlocks, punk haircuts and "funky" hairstyles.

An Islamic body which has issued fatwas on inappropriate behaviour from practising yoga to failing to vote in elections said it is now considering a request to tackle the craze among pupils in religious boarding schools.

Corporate Branding and the U.S. Presidency

There are many acts of destruction for which the Bush years are rightly reviled – the illegal invasions, the defiant defences of torture, the tanking of the global economy. But the administration's most lasting legacy may well be the way it systematically did to the US government what branding-mad CEOs did to their companies a decade earlier: it hollowed it out, handing over to the private sector many of the most essential functions of government, from protecting borders to responding to disasters to collecting intelligence.

Of course, the Democratic and Republican "Parties" are political brands of themselves, and voter awareness of candidates on all levels of U.S. politics involves massive amounts of advertising, so this aspect of branding in politics is nothing new - it's just the rest of the corporate mentality that's becoming the latest trend American political scene.

Brutal, slave-like working conditions have led southern Italy's hushed-over African (and Eastern European) immigrant population to protest de facto Mafia control over society.

"The farm and factory owners employ the Mafia caporali to bring the workers. The immigrants wait on the roads, the caporali pick them up and take them to the work. If they complain, they get killed."

Chicago, Martin Luther King Jr., and the city's continued legacy of segregation.

Somehow, I don't think this is quite what Jesus and Paul had in mind when they were trying to spread their teachings...

Mob rule abhors a vacuum:

Rebecca Gustavson, of USAID, said: “The UN is the lead distributor of food aid; we are one of the donors.” But at a press conference UN officials insisted Mr PrĂ©val’s administration remained in charge, with 5,000 US troops assigned to help to distribute rations. The result is a power vacuum into which the UN, the US military and aid agencies have been sucked with no consensus on who is in charge.

The case for taking away Israeli and Egyptian aid money for Haiti's benefit.

Israel has since built one of the most dynamic and entrepreneurial economies in the world. At the same time, the country is now led by a free-market prime minister who ideologically understands the risks of economic dependence. Is there any overarching reason why the training wheels can't come off?

Italian corporations' murky dealings with Iran and the Revolutionary Guard.

"The Italian embassy in Tehran brokers deals for us, helps us to meet the large supply gap created by U.S. restrictions. There is inevitably a political role in our big deals."

American "decline" in perspective:

When the Chinese produce one-quarter as much as Americans per capita, as will happen barring catastrophe, their economy will become the world’s largest. This will be good for them but will not mean “falling behind” for us...there is no reason for America to feel depressed about the natural emergence of China, India, and others as world powers.

Temping is becoming the new norm in American employment...much like their European counterparts:

For a glimpse of where things might be headed in the U.S., look at Europe, which makes a lot more use of temporary and part-time workers than U.S. employers do. That's in large part because of Europe's famously rigid labor laws; rather than hiring permanent workers, employers turn to temps and contractors who can be let go more easily during a downturn. In Spain, 85% of recent job losses in this recession were by temps or contractors. One big difference: Most European countries cover temps and part-timers with government health insurance and require that they receive wages and benefits comparable to those for permanent employees doing similar work.

(Thanks, Metafilter)

Linsday Lohan: An American actress known for her decadent, tabloid-fodder lifestyle and her journey into the world of Indian child-trafficking.

In a small Indian village, a lack of government oversight or presence has led to residents collecting donations to build their very own railway stop:

"Most of the 3,000-plus people living in the village are agriculturists. But such was the burning desire to have a station in the village, everybody contributed according to their capacity. Ranging from Rs 3,000 to Rs 75,000 they donated money for the station and we started construction in January, 2008," said Ranjeet Singh, former village sarpanch.

*****

Meanwhile, the northern half of the Ivory Coast has been tax-free due to it's de facto control by ex-rebels, leading to residents starting their own motorbike taxi businesses - in spite of a formal government ban:

"We created our union so that if the state comes back, we can continue," says Kone N'ze Siaka from the Union of Moto Taxi Drivers and owner of three scooters.

Ordos is a Chinese city fully-built with government money and oversight over the last five years. And as Al-Jazeera reports, it may have had something to do with pressures to maintain China's large GDP growth rate, as no one actually lives there:

Apparently, most voters in predominantly-Muslim societies tend to support secular parties over Islamic ones.

How Israeli "chutzpah" created the cultural climate for the world's most entrepreneurial country:

When the Intel Corporation began building its Israeli teams in the 70’s, the Americans found Israeli chutzpah so jarring that Intel started running “cross-cultural seminars on Israeliness.” Intel-Israel’s Mooly Eden, who ran the seminars, said that “from the age of zero we are educated to challenge the obvious, ask questions, debate everything, innovate.” As a result, he adds, “it’s more complicated to manage five Israelis than 50 Americans because [the Israelis] will challenge you all the time — starting with ‘Why are you my manager; why am I not your manager?’ ”

As NATO involvement in Afghanistan nears the time spent in the country by the former Soviet Union two decades prior, some Russian officials offer pragmatic advice and their government's official position on the current situation:

We insist that NATO troops stay in the country until the necessary conditions are provided to establish stable local authorities capable of independently deterring radical forces and controlling the country.

World War II, Cultural Memories and Understanding of Warfare, and the Law of Unintended Consequences:

Every battle was unrepeatable, every campaign was a special case. The people who were actually making the decisions in the war -- for the most part, senior staff officers and civil service workers who hid behind anonymous doors and unsigned briefing papers -- lurched from one improvisation to the next, with no sense of how much the limitless powers they were mustering were remaking the world.