Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Future Fault Lines of China

Where the next Chinese revolution will probably come from.
This year, Communist Party officials warned of three emerging threats to stability: underground labor unions, protesting farmers and dissatisfied veterans. Of course, farmers, workers and soldiers once formed the background of China's communist revolution. Now, officials say protesters among these groups must be suppressed.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Someone's Gotta Know Who Spent That $8.7 Billion...

The Department of Defense is unable to account for $8.7 billion dollars allocated for Iraqi reconstruction.
The Department of the Treasury established guidance for accounting for non-U.S. government funds when U.S. agencies act as a custodian of those funds, but DoD did not implement the guidance in a timely manner. More importantly, most DoD organizations that received DFI funds did not follow the guidance. Only one of these organizations established the required account and, as a result, accounts were not established for $8.7 billion (96%) of the DFI funds made available to DoD.
So, how many of these "DoD organizations" are there? What are the names of the people in charge? Why can't we hold them directly accountable to compel them to "jog their memory" about where some of this cash went?
DoD’s guidance also directed organizations that received DFI funds to reconcile all transactions prior to the time the guidance was issued. However, the reconciliations were not done. Due to the lack of records and personnel knowledgeable about financial and management decisions, we could not determine why the guidance was not followed. Because the accounts were not reconciled, DoD must rely on its organizations’ accounting records to determine the status of DFI funds. Our selective review shows the records were not always complete. For example, DoD could not provide documentation to substantiate how it spent $2.6 billion.
I have spent enough time working for/in conjunction with large, bureaucratic structures to know first-hand how easy it is to cover-up one's mistakes/evidence of breaking protocol. Auditing something as complex as the Department of Defense must be a mind-boggling task, but it should have been standard procedure for everyone to keep track of the spending as it happened.

Regardless of whether the fine men and women of these nameless DoD organizations are 1. lazy and incompetent or 2. horribly corrupt and in bed with recipients of this cash, what does it say about the United States military's ability to conduct and coordinate a war if it can't keep track of its own money? And worse, what does it say about the United States military if it can't even get its own personnel to care about its own resources?

Maybe I'm just naive.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Miscellaneous Links 7/26/10

Did organize crime play a role in Kyrgyzstan's ethnic violence?

Kyrgyzstan’s criminal networks generally fit into one of two categories, local experts tell The first – prison-based hierarchical networks – comprise professional criminals who follow an established code of conduct. Kamchi Kolbaev, an ethnic Kyrgyz, was reportedly one of the most influential criminal figures in the South. Authorities detained him on June 16, days after the outbreak of inter-ethnic violence in Osh and Jalal-abad. He has been undergoing interrogations since then.
Athletes – sportsmen, in local parlance – form the second type of networks. These groups are widely believed to engage in racketeering, money laundering, drug trafficking and fraud. Their leaders reportedly fund youth sports clubs, leisure facilities and private enterprises to attract crowds of young and unemployed men.

Widespread use of English in Indonesia is replacing native languages.

"Harry Potter" Actress' Family Plotted To Kill Her In Possible Honor Killing.

Toxic chemicals in food packaging seep through containers.

David Cameron Loves Turkey, Does Turkey Love The West?

British Prime Minister David Cameron is lobbying for Turkey to join the European Union.

Why? Because Turkey is becoming a major regional (and perhaps global) player on the world stage.

With Europe nudging to the West, and borders with Iran and Iraq too, the prime minister will argue that Turkey's geographic position gives it "unrivalled influence" facing both East and West.
Turkey has the second biggest army in Nato, and has been an important ally in the war in Afghanistan.
Despite a recent sharp spat with Israel over the raid on the Gaza flotilla, Turkey has an important role as a broker in the region, having worked to bring an end to disputes between Israel and Syria.
And with its young population of more than 70 million, Turkey's economy is surging, and its growth is expected to outpace India by 2017.
It is also an important junction for oil and gas pipelines heading West.
So for economic and political reasons, the appeal of a closer friendship between Turkey and the UK is obvious. But there are potential pitfalls.

However, some are concerned that Turkey is closer to its fellow Muslim neighbors in the Middle East, than any European country.

In the city’s bazaars, pistachio vendors summon passers-by in Arabic, while Arabic courses for Turkish businessmen are flourishing. Marriages between Turks and Syrians have become more common.
In Syria, meanwhile, where the alliance with secular Turkey represents a move away from its courtship with Iran, Turkey’s blend of conservative Islam and cosmopolitan democracy is increasingly viewed as a model in the younger generation. Turkish soap operas and films are attaining cult status, while “Made in Turkey” labels near the cachet of Paris or Milan.

Perhaps Turkey will "Westernize", perhaps Turkey will "Arabize", or perhaps Turkey will continue to develop some hybrid between the two - a socially conservative (sexually-restrained) consumerist democracy, not unlike a culturally-Islamic United States. The Anatolian peninsula that Turkey takes up has been a cultural crossroads for several millennia, so this could be the region's return to form.

This Whole Global Supply Chain Thing Could Use a Back-Up Plan

 Shipping consumer goods to the United States just got a bit harder.
Because of slow steaming, which takes containers out of the system for a longer period of time, and because places like Russia and India began to demand container space, finding something to ship goods in, much less space on a ship, has been problematic.
“There aren’t enough actual containers, so therefore, even if the vessel capacity situation is easing up a little bit,” said Peter Tirschwell, senior vice president for strategy at The Journal of Commerce, “you now have equipment that people can’t get.”
Given that most of the economic activity fueling the world revolves around transporting goods on razor-thin profit-margins and selling goods in "THIS WEEKEND ONLY __% OFF SELECT ITEMS" sales at large retailers who order these items in bulk, any minor disruption leads to everything getting more expensive for everyone.

Might not be a bad idea to look into re-localization efforts once the global supply chain starts to fragment from 1. energy costs, 2. regional wars, 3. international pandemics, 4. demand and supply outstripping transportation options, and 5. any other number of problems that throw off the entire economic system citizens of rich countries take for granted.

New York, New York - You're a Hell of Town (To Film In)

Why you've seen so many films take place in New York City.
The founding of the Mayor’s Film Office — the first agency of its kind in the world — remains to this day one of the Lindsay administration’s signal achievements, an innovation in governance since replicated by agencies or commissions in almost every state and major city in America, and scores of countries and provinces around the world. In New York alone, it helped to usher in what has become virtually an entire new industry, generating over five billion dollars a year in economic activity and bringing work to more than 100,000 New Yorkers: renowned directors and stars, working actors and technicians, and tens of thousands of men and women employed by supporting businesses, from equipment-rental houses to scenery shops to major studio complexes that now rival those of Southern California. Along the way, it has also helped to ensure that New York retains its status as one of the most familiar and compelling urban landscapes in the world. 
With the Karate Kid remake filmed in Beijing and the upcoming Transformers 3 filming near my workplace in downtown Chicago, hopefully we'll start to see some new cityscapes in future Hollywood films. And if we're lucky, we'll start to see some original plots, too.

Your Language Shapes How You Experience Everything

Space, time, causality, directions, who to blame for what - it turns out every language describes these seemingly universal experiences differently, and affects the way people understand and interact with the world.
Pormpuraawans, we found, arranged time from east to west. That is, seated facing south, time went left to right. When facing north, right to left. When facing east, toward the body, and so on. Of course, we never told any of our participants which direction they faced. The Pormpuraawans not only knew that already, but they also spontaneously used this spatial orientation to construct their representations of time. And many other ways to organize time exist in the world's languages. In Mandarin, the future can be below and the past above. In Aymara, spoken in South America, the future is behind and the past in front.
In addition to space and time, languages also shape how we understand causality. For example, English likes to describe events in terms of agents doing things. English speakers tend to say things like "John broke the vase" even for accidents. Speakers of Spanish or Japanese would be more likely to say "the vase broke itself." Such differences between languages have profound consequences for how their speakers understand events, construct notions of causality and agency, what they remember as eyewitnesses and how much they blame and punish others.
In studies conducted by Caitlin Fausey at Stanford, speakers of English, Spanish and Japanese watched videos of two people popping balloons, breaking eggs and spilling drinks either intentionally or accidentally. Later everyone got a surprise memory test: For each event, can you remember who did it? She discovered a striking cross-linguistic difference in eyewitness memory. Spanish and Japanese speakers did not remember the agents of accidental events as well as did English speakers. Mind you, they remembered the agents of intentional events (for which their language would mention the agent) just fine. But for accidental events, when one wouldn't normally mention the agent in Spanish or Japanese, they didn't encode or remember the agent as well.
This confirms something I've always suspected - though, many, many, MANY more studies need to be done before establishing any conclusions. But who knows, maybe socio-linguistics will take off as a discipline in a few years. Plus, advertising agencies would love to have these sort of language-based, psychological insights into consumers across the globe in order to make marketing that much more effective. So between academia and advertising, I'd say we'll see a lot more time, money, and effort thrown into exploring these ideas.

(via MetaFilter)

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Interesting Panel Discussion on Islamism and Modernity

This moderated panel between writers/think tank fellows is one of the more thought-provoking reads about contemporary Islam-related issues.

Especially worth noting is the idea that most Western intellectuals aren't debating hardline Islamist authors/speakers enough to help stem their growing influence in Middle Eastern and Central Asian countries.

The strictly intellectual debate is itself good, and one should never give up the idea that on certain questions, it is possible to convince people: it is possible to engage in debates and win. If you follow the rise and fall of Communism, you realize that Communism arose because Communist writers won—or appeared to win—certain debates. Many people were influenced; some here were influenced in different ways. Then serious counterarguments were raised by some of the greatest writers of the twentieth century. If you would have asked in 1948, is it worthwhile arguing with Communists or Stalinists, a lot of people would have said no, there’s no point; they’re utter fanatics, and they’re not going to listen. But those counterarguments won. It took a long time, but they did eventually triumph, and in this form: the Communists themselves came out against Communism.
Someday—and I hope Ms. Miller’s optimism is correct—the Islamists themselves will come out against Islamism. I don’t have her reportorial experience in the Middle East, but in one respect I share her optimism, and this has to do with Iran. We can see now that the Islamist militants—the very people who led the revolution of 1979 to create the Islamic Republic—are thinking their way through the contradictions of their own ideology, and some of those people are beginning to end up on the liberal side of that argument. The whole experience of the twentieth century should tell us that those people are going to win eventually. I wish the United States would act differently from the way it does, but ultimately it’s up to them. So these arguments do have a meaning, and intellectuals can play a role. Intellectuals are usually wrong, but some of them are sometimes right; and the ones who are right sometimes win.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Enemy of My Enemy is My (Temporary) Friend

Are traditional rivals Shiite Iran and Sunni Afghanistan Taliban working together to undermine US effort in the region?

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said in March that the Iranians were playing a "double game" inside Afghanistan by striving for good relations with Kabul while undermining the U.S. effort. Weeks later, Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said there was evidence that Iran was smuggling weapons into Afghanistan.
The U.S. military has not made public evidence supporting its suspicions, but some analysts say that if the allegations are true, that means Iran and the Taliban are willing to work with a traditional religious Muslim rival to get the Americans.
"If the Taliban is getting support from Iran, they know that it's not out of some love for them," said Mohsen Milani, an Iran scholar at the University of South Florida. "It's only because they are being used as useful idiots to do the dirty work that Iran doesn't want to do itself or that Iran is not capable of doing."

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Signs of the Collapse of the Iranian Government

It is entirely possible that the current regime in Iran will be directly attacked in some manner in the near future. Here are the kind of threats the government faces:

1. Israel may attack Iranian nuclear facilities.
Netanyahu added, “we should not allow irrational regimes like Iran to have nuclear weapons.”
Even though Netanyahu refused to outline a specific strategy or a deadline, he reiterated his nation’s willingness to utilize force to halt Tehran from developing its nuclear capabilities that Iran insists are for peaceful purposes.
The prime minister said, “there’s only been one time that Iran actually stopped the (nuclear) program, and that was when it feared U.S. military action.”
A United Arab Emirates ambassador publicly supported the idea of an Israeli strike to destroy Iranian nuclear facilities (but later backtracked).
At one point during the session, Mr. Otaiba suggested the U.A.E. would support such an Israeli strike.
"A military attack on Iran, by whomever, would be a disaster," he said. "But Iran with a nuclear weapon would be a bigger disaster."
Later, he acknowledged political consequences across the Mideast of a military attack. But he suggested they would be worth it, if a strike deprived Iran of a nuclear-weapons capability.
"There will be consequences, and there will be a backlash and there will be problems of people protesting and rioting and very unhappy that there is an outside force attacking a Muslim country," he said. "That is going to happen no matter what."
"But if you are asking me, 'Am I willing to live with that versus living with a nuclear Iran,' my answer is still the same. We cannot live with a nuclear Iran. I am willing to absorb what takes place at the expense of the security of the U.A.E."
2. Increased violent incidents against government members and important buildings.
A refinery in the southern city of Abadan was torched; a top regime apparatchik (head of the automobile industry) was shot in Damascus; explosions and fires consumed parts of Tehran's notorious Evin prison, where many political prisoners are kept; two suicide bombers killed scores of Revolutionary Guards at a mosque in the province of Baluchistan. And these are the more routine of the miseries and crises daily endured in Iran.
A Sunni separatist group, Jundallah, has taken credit for the mosque bombing.
Sistan-Baluchistan's Sunni majority has long had tense relations with Iran's central government.  Jundallah rebels have carried out numerous bloody mosque bombings in recent years.
Iranian officials have repeatedly accused the United States and Israel of supporting Jundallah.  U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, however, denounced Thursday's bombings, calling them "terrorist attacks."  Jundallah also reportedly enjoys close ties with the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban.
3. The Green movement has grown and picked up prominent supporters.
The regime is riven by internal conflict, and some of the past heroes of the Islamic Republic are openly siding with the Greens. This was seen in a dramatic television interview last week with the former defense minister, Admiral Ali Shamkhani, who enraged his interviewer by supporting many Green demands for greater freedom.
4. The influential Bazaari merchant class has gone on strike over a recent 70% tax hike.
Now too the strike that began in Tehran a week ago, has spilled over into the grand bazars throughout Iran. In Esfahan and Tabriz as well, bazar merchants who have come to a collective guild agreement have notified the tax division of the Ministry of Commerce. And though the Iranian regime rescinded the 70% tax hike, agreeing to a 15% increase, all businesses remain closed. Though this is said to ultimately be agreeable to the merchants, the fact that now the Esfahan and Tabriz bazar have joined the strike, is a sign that the regime has reaped what it has sewn.
Received reports indicate that the intense security atmosphere within the bazars also continues, as the regimes guards roam each section of the Tehran bazar.
Despite efforts to contain the media coverage and spread of strikes across the country, one newspaper has published photos. The Bazaari class had previously striked against the Shah in support of the 1979 Revolution.


With all these factors, it's hard to predict what will happen in Iran, except that something will. And soon.

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Legitimacy War on Terror

What we're really fighting for in Afghanistan at this point:

This is why U.S. officials are so concerned about the corruption in Karzai's regime, in the provincial districts, in the Afghan police—throughout the entire ruling apparatus. The issue here is not about imposing morality or building democracy; it's about instilling a sense of legitimacy—a bond between the people and the government. Without that, no counterinsurgency campaign can succeed, no matter how well the generals plan or the soldiers fight.
It's precisely for this reason that the other bit of news—that President Karzai has finally agreed to let Gen. Petraeus form local police forces around Afghanistan—is, at least potentially, promising.
But as long as the Taliban remains more flexible and efficient at providing government-like services than the US-backed Afghani government, the counterinsurgency campaign will continue to be an expensive, bloody game of cat and mouse.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Brainwave Analysis is the Future of Advertising

As both a team of Dutch scientists and Procter & Gamble's research group have shown, the brain reacts in measurable ways to effective advertising.
Finally, to test television ads for new Pantene, P&G, working with a firm it declines to name, hooked viewers up for a high-resolution electroencephalogram, placing caps on subjects' heads to measure their brainwaves as they watched commercials.
"We know based on what's firing in the brain whether or not we were tapping into her emotions, whether there is potential she will remember it, and whether she is paying attention to it," says Catherine Grzymajlo, a senior manager in P&G's consumer-market knowledge group.
Brainwave activity,or the lack of it,guided changes in Pantene's commercials, which began airing in May. In one ad, P&G noticed viewers were distracted when a model, with a look of frustration, was trying to deal with her unruly hair; they were wondering why she was upset and stopped focusing on the rest of the ad, Ms. Grzymajlo says. P&G re-edited the spot to focus less on the model's expression and more on her hair.
Pleased with the insights they gained, P&G researchers say they expect to do similar tests measuring brainwave responses to ads in the future.
"The sky's the limit in terms of what we can do with it," says Ms. Grzymajlo.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Art, Algae, and Post-Humanism

(via CultureLab via Christian Kerrigan)

A scientist and artist coming together to explore the future of the fusion between biology and technology with art derived from both.

The pair have collaborated since they discovered a shared interest in the blurred borderlands between nature and technology. "It's important to recognise that technology is invading us sooner than we think," says Kerrigan.
While Hanczyc is busy designing the footsoldiers for that invasion, Kerrigan is devising an artistic language to help us discover what it will mean. This language of images also helps Hanczyc explain and promote his own work.
Kerrigan isn't presenting coherent, worked-out visions of the future. His art, he says, draws on history and metaphor to give people ways of thinking about what may come. He sees his work as an inquiry, and he doesn't predetermine the results.

Death Before Dishonor

An Middle Eastern-style honor killing in a Phoenix, Arizona suburb.
But at home, Noor inhabited a darker world. She lived a life of subservience, often left to care for her six younger siblings. Noor's father, 49-year-old Faleh Almaleki, was strict and domineering, deeming it inappropriate for her to socialize with guys, wear jeans, or post snapshots of herself on MySpace. Her responsibility was to follow orders, or to risk a beating. From her father's perspective, the only time Noor's life would ever change would be when she married a man he selected for her — back in his homeland of Iraq. Noor, however, had a different vision for herself. Having lived in the U.S. for 16 years, she held dreams of becoming a teacher, of marrying a man she loved, and, most importantly, of making her own choices.
On a cloudless, breezy afternoon in late October 2009, her father set out to end those dreams. As Noor walked across a suburban parking lot to a Mexican restaurant with a friend — a 43-year-old woman named Amal Khalaf — Faleh Almaleki gunned the engine of his Jeep Grand Cherokee and bore down on his 20-year-old daughter and her companion. The women took off running but were no match for the SUV, already traveling close to 30 miles per hour. Suddenly Amal turned, held up her hands in a futile attempt to stop the Jeep, and froze. Moments later, the vehicle struck the women, tossing them into the air. Amal hit the pavement; Noor landed on a raised median, in a patch of pebbly landscaping. Faleh wasn't done, though. Swerving onto the median, he ran over his daughter as she lay bleeding, fracturing her face and spine. Then, he reversed and sped away.

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Indo-Pakistani-Iranian "Peace Pipeline"

India is trying to revive stalled pipeline talks with Iran, which by necessity, would need to pass by India's rival country, Pakistan. Needless to say, negotiations are a bit complicated.
India has been boycotting project talks since 2008 over concerns on safe delivery of gas and frequent changes in price of gas. New Delhi wants Iran to stick to the price agreed between them in 2007 and also wants it to be responsible for safe passage of gas through Pakistan.  
The pipeline has been on the drawing board since the mid-1990s, when Iran and India inked preliminary agreements to transport gas through Pakistan. It was dubbed the "Peace Pipeline", because of hopes it would lead to a detente between neighbours India and Pakistan. 
India fears for the safety of the pipeline in Pakistan's Balochistan province, home to a militant Islamist separatist movement, and wants Iran to take responsibility for safe passage of the gas through Pakistan. It wants to pay for the fuel only when it is delivered at the Pakistan-India border.
Obviously, it is in India's best interest to get Iran to shoulder as much as the cost and responsibility for delivering energy across Pakistan as possible. India, in turn, would be forced to turn a blind eye to American/European-imposed embargoes on Iran and subsequently give one major regional power a disincentive to support the NATO status quo in Asia.

Unsurprisingly, the US is already protesting an Iranian-Pakistani pipeline deal, despite Pakistan's severe need for energy to maintain social stability (and government legitimacy).
The Pakistani government does not want a confrontation with the Obama administration. At the same time, it has to address the country’s severe energy shortages. Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani told the media on June 22 that while the country was bound by UN sanctions on Iran, it was “not bound to follow” unilateral US measures. Last week Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi confirmed that the “Pakistan-Iran gas pipeline project had been finalised despite problems and pressures.”
Pakistan needs an estimated electricity generation capacity of 4,000 to 5,000 MW greater than the present 16,500 MW. Industry has been badly hit by rolling electricity blackouts that have worsened during the hot summer months. Government-imposed power cuts of 8 to 12 hours a day have become the norm, with an increasing number of unannounced cuts. Public anger over the lack of electricity has boiled over into protests in many parts of the country, some of which have blocked main roads and led to violent clashes with police.
The country’s 2008-2009 Economic Survey released with the budget last month noted: “[T]he cumulative effect of the energy crisis on the economy is estimated at upward of 2 percent of GDP during 2009-2010 alone.” The impact is particularly significant as Pakistan’s economic growth slumped to 2 percent for 2008-09 as a result of the global downturn and according to World Bank estimates will only reach 3.7 percent for 2009-10.
Pakistan is under pressure from the global financial markets to slash its public debt and budget deficits. According to the country’s central bank, the total debt to GDP ratio hit 61 percent last month, crossing the 60 percent ceiling mandated by the Fiscal Responsibility and Debt Limitation Act. The external debt to GDP ratio is 30 percent—a growing portion of which is to the International Monetary Fund.
 And India may try to bypass Pakistan altogether with a costly, underwater pipeline straight to Iran.
While denying that India had dumped the land pipeline which passes through Pakistan, Krishna pointed out to India's concerns about security and pricing that have delayed India's participation. 
Underlining Iran's importance for India recently in a speech, foreign secretary Nirupama Rao had said that unilateral sanctions against Iran would adversely impact "our energy security and our attempts to meet the development needs of our people". 
Barring the fact that it is home to the second largest gas reserves in the world, Iran is also crucial for India for its role in stabilising Afghanistan. 
As Rao had pointed out in her speech, Iran also has the potential of being a transit country for supply of third country energy to India, thanks to its its closer links with landlocked Central Asian countries. In fact, the matter was discussed with Turkmenistan president Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov during his recent visit to India. 
While a three-way "Peace Pipeline" could help simmer tensions between India and Pakistan, and would clearly help out all three countries own economic and social stability, it appears all sides of the deal are lobbying for whatever deal benefits them the most. Iran will come out on top either way, but the real question is what gets built, and whether India or Pakistan can outmaneuver the other.


Once the dust settles, Turkey may get natural gas operation rights in Iran's South Pars region.

Based on this and the above deals, it appears Iran is positioning itself to be the new energy hub of Asia - which will further solidify itself against US-led, international sanctions, and make Iran an important regional actor in the years to come.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Future of Spoken Tamil

Tamil, one of the dozens of languages in India, has been regarded as a classical language, but recent generations have not learned how to speak it, despite it's deep history:
You can’t separate people’s lives from the fabric of the language – it transcends other divides like caste and religion. You use the same proverbs, pass on the same folklore…and both in the literary tradition, and the folk tradition, Tamil has great significance.  
Its grammatical grandeur is great; the alphabet has been divided into subdivisions based on which part of your palate meets your tongue when you pronounce certain letters. You have poetic devices like edhugai-monai, which guide your rhyme and meter. You have five categories of land – hills, forests, grassland, fields, desert – and separate deities for each.  
So, it’s wonderful that this will be appreciated at the global level, and Tamil will be spoken of along with other classical tongues like Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Sanskrit and Persian. A lot of money is being spent to showcase Tamil culture. 

Czech Your Language Skills at the Door

Via the website on the corner of the picture.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Blog You Are Currently Reading Will Soon Be Outdated

The traditional blog may soon be rendered obsolete by social media.

Solid data about the blogosphere are hard to come by. Such signs as there are, however, all point in the same direction. Earlier in the decade, rates of growth for both the numbers of blogs and those visiting them approached the vertical. Now traffic to two of the most popular blog-hosting sites, Blogger and WordPress, is stagnating, according to Nielsen, a media-research firm. By contrast, Facebook’s traffic grew by 66% last year and Twitter’s by 47%. Growth in advertisements is slowing, too. Blogads, which sells them, says media buyers’ inquiries increased nearly tenfold between 2004 and 2008, but have grown by only 17% since then. Search engines show declining interest, too.
People are not tiring of the chance to publish and communicate on the internet easily and at almost no cost. Experimentation has brought innovations, such as comment threads, and the ability to mix thoughts, pictures and links in a stream, with the most recent on top. Yet Facebook, Twitter and the like have broken the blogs’ monopoly. Even newer entrants such as Tumblr have offered sharp new competition, in particular for handling personal observations and quick exchanges. Facebook, despite its recent privacy missteps, offers better controls to keep the personal private. Twitter limits all communication to 140 characters and works nicely on a mobile phone.
A good example of the shift is Iran. Thanks to the early translation into Persian of a popular blogging tool (and crowds of journalists who lacked an outlet after their papers were shut down), Iran had tens of thousands of blogs by 2009. Many were shut down, and their authors jailed, after the crackdown that followed the election in June of that year. But another reason for the dwindling number of blogs written by dissidents is that the opposition Green Movement is now on Facebook, says Hamid Tehrani, the Brussels-based Iran editor for Global Voices, a blog news site. Mir Hossein Mousavi, one of the movement’s leaders, has 128,000 Facebook followers. Facebook, explains Mr Tehrani, is a more efficient way to reach people.
This is unsurprising. I share many of the same links I write about on Culture Bore on my personal Facebook page, and generally get way more comments/link reposts within a closed friend network of 450+ people glancing through their Facebook wall feed than I have ever seen from posting here/using Twitter. 

It'll be interesting to see how these platforms converge in the future to share/transmit/filter information. Maybe it's time for a Culture Bore Facebook page.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

An Actual Secret Muslim Terrorist in US Government

And a Republican, no less.
Mark Deli Siljander, who represented Michigan in the House of Representatives from 1981-87 and was a delegate to the UN under president Ronald Reagan, pleaded guilty to acting as an agent for an Islamic charity with ties to international terrorism, according to Beth Phillips, US Attorney for the western district of Missouri.
Siljander was the last of five co-defendants in the case that involved the Islamic American Relief Agency (IARA) of Columbia, Missouri. IARA was shut down by the US government in 2004 for connections to terrorism.
The Justice Department had charged that IARA, whose headquarters were in Sudan, also funneled money to Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the militant Afghan leader and former prime minister of Afghanistan who leads the country's second-largest insurgent group.
So, in other words, the party whose ideological base perpetuates the "Barack Obama is secretly a Muslim" meme turns out to have a prominent official actively fundraising for Islamic terrorist groups.

The irony would be a lot funnier if terrorism didn't involve the whole "death and destruction" thing.

Poor, Fragile Pakistan

The war-torn, politically-volatile country of Pakistan, with a population of 145.5 million people (as of 1998), unsurprisingly has a large impoverished population.

A well-known human rights campaigner and lawyer, Hina Jilani, says that Pakistan spends too much on defence and too little on defending those in need.
"In all the hysteria about security," she told me, "We've neglected the issue of human security. It's shameful that we are a nuclear state, and we can't feed our own people."
Almost half the population here gets by on just one meal a day, according to the United Nations.
Yet in recent years, Pakistan has received billions in the form of aid, loans and debt rescheduling. The hungry might be forgiven for asking where all the money went. 
Unfortunately, this is a potent brew for failed-state status and only increases the likely instability in the entire region.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Hezbollah's Failed Mexican TV Venture and Iranian Proxies

Mexican authorities recently stopped a Hezbollah-sponsored television station from operating in the country. This adds to the troubling trend of anti-American fundamentalist Islamic terror cells in the Americas, as well as the reach of the international drug cartels.

In 2009 a U.S. commander tasked with overseeing U.S. military interests in the region said Hezbollah was linked to drug-trafficking in Colombia.
"We have seen... an increase in a wide level of activity by the Iranian government in this region," Admiral James Stavridis told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
"That is a concern principally because of the connections between the government of Iran, which is a state sponsor of terrorism, and Hezbollah," he said.
As long as Brazil and Venezuela are on friendly terms with Iran, these connections will only continue to strengthen.

Monday, July 5, 2010

One Man's Terrorism Is Another Man's Drink Special

An Irish group has criticized US bars that serve the Guinness/Bailey's/whiskey beverage known as an "Irish Car Bomb" for perfectly understandable reasons:

"I would have expected Americans, of all people, to behave more sensitively and responsibly. How would they like it if we developed the Al-Qaeda car bomb, the Twin Towers cocktail, or the 9/11 ice-cream sundae?"

Friday, July 2, 2010

German Turkish Imams and the Sudden Rise of Turkey

Turkish imams will help determine what the next generations of Turkish Muslims living in Germany believe - and to what extent they will integrate or assimilate.

And both the German and Turkish government are trying to influence what the imams are saying:

Ever since Turkey woke up to the fact that millions of its citizens were living in Germany and weren't coming home anytime soon, imams have been flown in for purposes as political as they are religious. DITIB was created by Turkish authorities in the early 1980s to check the wayward drift and cultural emancipation of West Germany's Turkish diaspora as well as the evolution of religious practices away from Turkish traditions. The imams are Prussian (perhaps "Ottoman" might be more apt) in that they harbor deeply conservative mores, an authoritarian disposition, and unswerving allegiance to the fatherland -- all of which they pass on to their believers in sermons, parish work, and religion classes. 
The Turkish imams' wages are paid by the government in Ankara, which regularly vilifies integration as a betrayal of Turkdom. Turks abroad should stay Turkish, whatever their citizenship, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has proclaimed. On visits to Germany, Erdogan has even called assimilation a "crime against humanity" and urged the creation of all-Turkish high schools in Germany. Ankara, which recently created a cabinet-level Office for Turks Abroad, even urges diaspora Turks to act in Turkish interests, as a kind of pro bono foreign service.
Between this, demanding reparations from Israel for the death of Turkish citizens in the recent flotilla raid, and involvement with the Iranian nuclear talks, it appears the Erdogan administration is making its presence known. In fact, Turkey appears to be launching itself as a global player in world events:
"International conjuncture changes. Turkey can not remain indifferent against the new influence areas like climate change, international migration and global economic crises," Davutoglu said while speaking at the Parliament during the discussions on a bill regarding Turkish Foreign Ministry's foundation and assignments.

Davutoglu said, "our efforts will be underway to increase role of Turkey in G20 and intensify works to change G20 from being a structure only making economic decisions."

"Turkey will not be a country speaking only on security. Turkey will be the spokesperson of human rights. Turkey will be the spokesperson of international conscience," Davutoglu said, adding that, "We will establish a Directorate General to prevent clashes and crisis management. We are not after being a mediator but every matter occurring in surrounding countries interests us," he said. 
And given their geographic position (and potential future rail-line connecting Europe to Pakistan), perhaps Turkey's rise in influence is inevitable. How this changes the dynamics of regional and global politics remains to be seen.

Jesus Died On a Mistranslation For Your Sins

A Swedish theologian claims Jesus couldn't have been crucified - at least, not in the way we understand it.
"the New Testament said that Jesus died some way on something called a staurus ... that's a Greek name for a cross or a pole or something ... I call it an execution device only to be [distinguished] from the common notion that it must be a cross, because it mustn't be a cross--it could be a pole, for instance, or a tree trunk, or something else." 

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