Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Recycling Broken Christmas Lights: From Illinois to China

A new law passed in Illinois will require people to recycle their old electronic gear.
Not only are consumers required to recycle TVs, computers, video games and much more, but so are manufacturers. 
Proponents hail it as an “amazing job creator” and a “boon to economic development,” not to overlook the obvious benefit of keeping toxic chemicals out of landfills and groundwater. 
According to the Environmental Law and Policy Center, the increasingly short life span of electronic items makes them the fastest-growing waste. They contain a lot of toxic materials — lead, mercury, arsenic, cadmium — but also a lot of reusable materials — copper, gold, plastic, glass, circuit chips.
Much of this broken technology can't be refurbished or broken-down in the United States, so ends up in places like China.
There are some U.S. companies and organizations that take Christmas tree lights for free and promise to recycle them in the United States. And some of those lights may, in fact, end up being chopped in U.S. recycling plants. But most, invariably, will be sold for about 60 cents a pound, stuffed into a shipping container, and shipped to China -- to the benefit of the environment, and pocketbooks, in both countries. Indeed, if there's a weak environmental link in the chain, it's the American consumers who start it by buying tens of millions of pounds of Christmas tree lights every year, only to throw them into the recycle bin, guilt free, when a bulb breaks. But Li, for one, doesn't mind: that waste is the raw material for his green business.

Sudanese Street Gangs In Omaha?

Why they are on the rise:
One critical problem for the Sudanese community was a lack of preparation by the city's public schools for the complex needs of refugee families, said Susan Mayberger, coordinator for migrant and refugee programming for Omaha Public Schools. The school district has taken steps to address the problem by adding programs that encourage parental involvement, she said. 
"I am afraid that with the Sudanese community, with a lot of the parents, we weren't supporting them to the same level that we are now," Mayberger said.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

University of Chicago Deal Shows How City Government Really Works

In essence, whoever has the cash in Chicago plays by their own rules
The fundamental shift towards neoliberalization of the economy and government at federal and state levels has changed how Mayors and Councils "govern" cities if they really govern them, in the classical civics-class sense, at all. Of course Emanuel, as one of the political architects of one of neoliberalization's most important structural supports, NAFTA, is not a victim of neoliberalization but an important figure in its rise. That fact is one of the reasons national elites rushed to fund his campaigns for Congress and the Fifth Floor. 
In the Neoliberal City, laws, regulations, and rules are less important than relationships between political leaders and wealth, or capital. Mayor Emanuel explicitly ran for office touting his ability to "leverage" his relationships with wealthy elites. He even comically justified his immense fundraising from out-of-state and global financial elites by pointing out that because the rich like him, he'll be able to beg goodies out of them for the public.
Which I guess is how it usually works.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Chinese Villagers In Open Revolt


Over 21,000 Chinese villagers in Wukan have completely driven out the police and Chinese Communist Party officials, after months of protests against corrupt officials and the death of a villager in police custody.

China can censor the internet protest keywords all it wants. But if people are getting angry enough to completely overwhelm local security forces in a small village, imagine what might happen in the future in a city like Shanghai.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Half of America Is Low-Income (Link Round-Up 12/20/11)

                                 

Census results show 48% of Americans are now "low-income" status
146.4 million U.S. citizens are now defined by their government as "low-income" -- with 49.1 million falling below the poverty line of $22,350 -- and it's a pretty troubling thought to think that you have about a one-in-two shot of meeting someone struggling to get by at random on the street.
Scientists develop model of a deep-sea, microbe battery
“The amount of power produced by these microbes is rather modest,” said Harvard biologist and engineer Peter Girguis, who presented his research December 5 at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union. “But you could technically produce power in perpetuity.” Girguis hopes to tap this power to run seafloor sensors. He and his colleagues measured the current by implanting an electrode in the side of an underwater chimney 2,200 meters below the surface at the Juan de Fuca Ridge off the Pacific Northwest coast.
Rethinking the idea of a "Christian Europe"
To argue all this is not to deny the distinctive character of the Christian tradition (or traditions), nor the important role that Christianity has played in incubating what we now call ‘Western’ thought, nor yet the significant philosophical advances made within that tradition. But the Christian tradition, and Christian Europe, is far more a chimera than a pure-bred beast. The history of Christianity, its relationship to other ethical traditions, and the relationship between Christian values and those of modern, liberal, secular societies is far more complex than the trite ‘Western civilization is collapsing’ arguments allow. The irony is that the defenders of Christendom are riffing on the same politics of identity as Islamists, multiculturalists and many of the other ‘ists’ that such defenders so loathe.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Skyrim, Microblogging, Food, and Sinking Ships (Link Round-Up 12/18/11)

[via Daily Mail story below]

China makes microbloggers write under real names
Quoting China's state-run Xinhua news agency, The Wall Street Journal reported that state secrets, material that threatens national security, posts that inspire ethnic resentment or discrimination, and posts involving rallies that "disrupt social order" were also being banned from microblogging sites.
Migrant boat to Indonesia sinks, 300 missing and feared dead
He said the passengers were mainly believed to be illegal migrants from countries including Iran and Afghanistan. Many boat people from the Middle East and Asia use Indonesia as a transit point en route to Australia. 
Local TV showed images of more than a dozen shocked-looking survivors huddled in a clinic in Trenggalek, a town on Java island's southern coast. 
Many economic migrants from the Middle East attempt to cross the Indian Ocean in boats in search of a better life in Australia.
Why Western and Asian foods taste different: food pairings
The more flavours two ingredients share, the less likely they are to be used together in east Asian cuisine - whereas 13 key ingredients, including butter, milk and egg, appear in 74.4 per cent of dishes in north America. 
There are flavours that 'define' a cuisine - for instance basil in south European food, or soy sauce in east Asian - but the classic pairings of each cuisine, such as parmesan cheese and tomato (which share lots of flavours), and garlic and sesame oil (which share very few) show that 'food pairing' is a distinctly western idea.
Venezuela hit with food shortages
Jorge Roig, vice president of Fedecamaras, a Venezuelan association that pulls together businesses, including many producers of basic goods, blames the new government price caps and regulations for the shortages. 
"People are doing panic buying. With these price caps, people are buying more than they need because they know many factories are not going to be able to produce their products. Production has gone down because there are price caps, production is not cost-effective and we have these conditions that discourage investment," Roig said.
Interview with author Ned Vizzini
I think this is the decision teenagers make when they get into fashion or poker or Skyrim. They want to shut out the complicated world in favor of a world they can control.

The Chicago Gang-Influenced City Council's "Doomsday" Plan

[Via Chicagoist]

Chicago has a sobering look at the influence street gang members and affiliates have in electing Chicago City Council members.

The Chicago staff blog, 312, contrasts this story with a recent piece in the Chicago Reader about the influence of big business in the Rahm Emmanuel administration and his ability to throw cash towards the politicians he supports.
It's not as simple as a transition from ward heeler to gangbanger; as the piece notes, gangs and politicians go back to the Lords of the Levee days. But as Bernstein and Isackson tell it, without the mediating influence of the patronage system—also a mediating influence between business and politics—it's a bit more like the olden times. 
That's where Bogira's piece completes the circle: a sense of what could come next, and Emanuel's role in it. Bogira focuses on Emanuel's New Chicago Committee, a PAC that supports "candidates for public office who share the goals of the political committee." It went seven-for-nine in its first local election cycle.
In the wake of the 2010 census results showing Latinos gaining over the black and white populations, various coalitions have bickered over what new map of Chicago's 50 Wards will balance racial representation and political incumbency to everyone's satisfaction.

If none can be agreed on, there's one more relatively fair map known as the "doomsday map".
It simply divides the city into squares. Ward boundaries don't meander all over the place to sort voters into predictable majorities. We hear it achieves near-perfect division of the city population, so each ward has the same number of people. And we hear it is likely to produce a City Council that closely mirrors the racial demographics of the city. 
What it doesn't do: Protect incumbents. 
Now you know why aldermen call it the doomsday map.
I wonder how all the proposed future ward maps line-up with Chicago gang boundaries?

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Dead Russian Journalists and How To Stop SOPA


Here's a Reddit thread on how to get the media to talk about SOPA.

[very similar advice to my piece on OWS]

Plus, SOPA could also kill things that have nothing to do with online piracy, like free online education.

In other censorship news, the founder of a Russian anti-corruption newspaper has been killed.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said journalists at Chernovik, known for reporting on corruption in the provincial administration, had been "routinely persecuted for their work." 
"Today's murder of Gadzhimurat Kamalov ... is a lethal blow to press freedom," the CPJ said in a statement. 
His killing was "a massive loss for independent journalism in the North Caucasus, Russia's most dangerous place for reporters," it quoted regional coordinator Nina Ognianova as saying.
Not a great week for public discourse.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Christopher Hitchens Just Died


RIP
The influential writer and cultural critic Christopher Hitchens died on Thursday at the age of 62 from complications of cancer of the esophagus. Hitchens confronted his disease in part by writing, bringing the same unsparing insight to his mortality that he had directed at so many other subjects.
I didn't agree with everything he wrote. But I'd be thrilled to write even half as well as he did.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Bonnie "Prince" Billy Kills Turkey, Sells New Record

[via John from Gonzo Chicago]

In a clip that is sure to disgust, offend, and spark more ethical questions than I care to mention, here's a promo for Bonnie "Prince" Billy's new record, "wolfroy goes to town" in which:
  1. A guy in a wolf costume cuts off the head of a turkey at a local butcher. 
  2. The bleeding turkey flails in pain.
  3. The wolf takes the packaged turkey home. 
  4. We get a plug for the new record and a nice-looking family's local Chicago butcher shop.
We'll see how this one works out for Drag City.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Occupy Freakonomics (Link Round-Up 12/13/11)

[via]

The methodology problems with Freakonomics
One of the delights of the books and the blog is the authors’ willingness to play with ideas and consider alternative explanations. But unquestioning trust in friends and colleagues combined with the desire to be counterintuitive appear in several cases to have undermined their work. They—and anyone who wishes to convey economics and statistics to a popular audience—just need to take the next step and avoid, in any given example, privileging one story over all other possibilities. This may require Levitt to be more skeptical of the research of his friends and colleagues, and Dubner to be more skeptical of Levitt. “Easy read” should not mean “easy write.”
Oman: the future U.S.-Iranian intermediary? 
Oman, a sultanate located just across the Gulf from Iran and straddling the other side of the Strait of Hormuz, is positioned to be the perfect go-between for the West when it comes to engagement with Iran. Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said, who overthrew his isolationist father in 1970, has been far friendlier with Western rulers than some of the other players in the region and remains on good terms with the Iranians as well.
Chicago traders call for "Occupying trading pits" to protest new electronic trading rules
“Are we going to sit here and be kicked in the teeth? Or are we going to fight back?” shouted Alan Young, a cattle broker who helped organize a raucous “Occupy the Pits” meeting of about 100 brokers and traders around the cavernous Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT), birthplace of the modern futures markets. 
“There will be a snowball effect if this thing goes electronic, and there won't be any more jobs left.”

Monday, December 12, 2011

Putin, Tax Rates, and Salafis (Link Round-Up 12/12/11)

[via XKCD]

But if Putin does fall, there may well be a period of chaos, as foreign investors pull their money out of the country (some are already considering that step, I’m told by a reliable source in the Moscow financial community) and the economic and political power decks get reshuffled. The political winner could turn out to be someone as unknown now to the public as Putin was when tapped by the Yeltsin circle to take the reins of power. Indeed, it could be almost anyone—except a liberal.
What you'd pay in taxes in several dozen countries
Herbert Hoover presided over the largest tax increase in peace time history of the United States. For top earners the rate went up from 25 percent to 63 percent. But not everyone in top 1 percent was paying 63 percent. In fact after the Hoover tax increase, there was a very wide range in rates between people who just barely made the top 1 percent and people who were like Andrew Mellon, like really, really the richest Americans. The range was from 8 to 63 percent. So people who just made it into the top 1 percent were facing the 8 percent rate -- that was not particularly high. The wealthiest of the wealthy of the wealthy were facing 63 percent. And this is 1931!
Interview with a Salafi member of the Egyptian Parliament 
Indeed, El-Kordi continued preaching and, in 1998, he became the Giza leader for al-Dawa al-Salfiyya, a national Salafist organization that was founded in Alexandria during the 1970s, but was closely monitored during the the Mubarak era. It was through this leadership position that he got to know the individuals who established the Nour Party earlier this year. To some extent, the Nour Party is an outgrowth of al-Dawa al-Salfiyya, and an essential component of the social networks that underlie the party’s quick formation. In this vein, all ten of the candidates on the Nour Party’s electoral list in Giza are active members in al-Dawa al-Salfiyya, which enabled them to claim meaningful supporters when the Nour Party was searching for candidates. El-Kordi describes al-Dawa al-Salfiyya as an indomitable force. “If we organized elsewhere like it was organized in Alexandria, nobody would be able to stand against us,” he says. “Because it represents the real Islam—the way Muhammad lived with his companions. You would just accept it naturally.”

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Whale Graveyard in Chile's Atacama Desert



Scientists just found fossils of several 5,000,000-year-old ancient whales, buried within a half-mile of each other in Chile's Atacama Desert.

Here's a picture of the Atacama Desert that I took a few years ago:


Considering the area is almost all sand, rock, mountain and salt flats, with scant vegetation and small towns, the fact that fossils of ANY kind were found there blows my mind.

Asian Space Race and NASA Privatization Will Help Us Reach Kepler-22b

Another article by me, courtesy of PolicyMic.
While space travel has become less of a national priority for the U.S. and Russia in subsequent decades, a new wave of corporate and governmental competition for space travel has emerged in recent years. Between the growing space race in Asia and trends towards privatized space travel in the U.S., the world is on the verge of new age of space exploration and technological advancement that will get us closer to travelling to Earth-like planets like Kepler-22b.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

HiView, The Google Earth For Mars


We can all now explore Mars from the comfort of our own homes, courtesy of the University of Arizona.
HiView is the best way to explore HiRISE images of the Martian surface at the full resolution of the imagery. Tracks of boulders that have fallen down crater walls, delicate rays of ejecta from fresh impact craters, and the unearthly formations created by carbon dioxide ice on the Martian south pole are just a few of the things that are waiting to be discovered by anyone using a tool like HiView with HiRISE imagery. 
Once the application has been downloaded to your computer, all that is needed to get started after launching the application, is a quick drag and drop of any of the links to the JP2 files on the HiRISE website to the HiView application window, and HiView will take care of the rest. No downloading of multigigabyte files required!
 The program hopes to get more people interested in space exploration.
"The pictures are beautiful, but there's real science in there," said Castalia. "That's part of what HiView allows people to do is to explore the science that's there in the imagery. People can really experience what it means to be involved in a Mars mission. All you have to do is get in there and explore."
Definitely cheaper than space travel. But not nearly as cool.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Detroit, Plastic Oceans, and Civil War (Link Round-Up 12/8/11)


Detroit "blotting" - residents developing empty property that the city won't sell
In Detroit, Cleveland, New Orleans and many other cities, residents already get first dibs on adjacent empty lots. The idea is to stabilize neighborhoods and bring land back on the tax rolls. So for instance, some Cleveland homeowners can buy an empty side lot for as little as a dollar. In Detroit, it's as little as 200 dollars. But the city owns 60,000 parcels of land, most of it vacant. "We haven't really promoted the program," says Rob Anderson, Detroit's new planning director. "I think that's why we have such small numbers."
Microplastics from fabrics leak into the oceans
Ecologist Mark Browne, University College Dublin, and several colleagues gathered sand samples from 18 beaches on six continents for analysis. It turns out that every beach tested contained microplastics (particles about the size of a piece of long grain of rice or smaller). Of the samples collected, nearly 80 percent were polyester or acrylic, though without further research, it's impossible to know exactly which type of clothing -- whether it's your stretchy yoga pants or that super-soft fleece blanket -- is causing the most problems. Currently, textile manufacturers are not required to test their fabrics for shedding.
Five Truths About Our Energy Future
IEA numbers have shown that globally over the past couple of years, we're emitting more carbon per unit of economic output. That's mean we're traveling in the exact opposite direction from where we need to be going, recarbonizing instead of decarbonizing, thanks chiefly to increases in dirtier energy such as coal and inefficient manufacturing in rapidly growing countries like China and India. It's a sign of just how difficult the clean-energy transition will be.
Why so few blacks study the Civil War
For that particular community, for my community, the message has long been clear: the Civil War is a story for white people—acted out by white people, on white people’s terms—in which blacks feature strictly as stock characters and props. We are invited to listen, but never to truly join the narrative, for to speak as the slave would, to say that we are as happy for the Civil War as most Americans are for the Revolutionary War, is to rupture the narrative. Having been tendered such a conditional invitation, we have elected—as most sane people would—to decline.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Los Angeles, Water on Mars, and Chinese Naval Warfare (Link Round-Up 12/7/11)


Los Angeles votes to end corporate personhood 
“Move to Amend’s proposed amendment would provide the basis for overturning the recent Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission,” stated Mary Beth Fielder, Co-Coordinator of LA Move to Amend. “The Supreme Court has no legitimate right to grant people’s rights to corporations. We must clearly establish that it is we, The People, who are meant to rule.” 
NASA Mars Rover finds minerals deposited by water
"This tells a slam-dunk story that water flowed through underground fractures in the rock," said Steve Squyres of Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., principal investigator for Opportunity. "This stuff is a fairly pure chemical deposit that formed in place right where we see it. That can't be said for other gypsum seen on Mars or for other water-related minerals Opportunity has found. It's not uncommon on Earth, but on Mars, it's the kind of thing that makes geologists jump out of their chairs."
Chinese president tells navy to prepare for war
China has recently acquired its first aircraft carrier and has been vocal about its naval ambitions. 
But its military remains primarily a land-based force, and its naval capabilities are still dwarfed by the US. 
Mr Hu told a meeting of military officials that the navy should "accelerate its transformation and modernisation in a sturdy way, and make extended preparations for warfare in order to make greater contributions to safeguard national security".

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Tebow, Potatoes, Islamists, and Gandhi (Link Round-Up 12/6/11)


Chuck Klosterman on Tim Tebow
Right now, whenever Broncos vice president of football operations John Elway gets asked about Tebow, he effectively says, "We have no choice but to play him. He wins games." It's not really a compliment. It's almost a criticism. But if Tebow did all this with a prison record, Elway would say the same thing in reverse order: "He wins games. We have no choice but to play him." Which is similar, but not the same.
Why analysts are overreacting to Islamist gains in elections
There are a couple of additional reasons for the alarmism. One is sloppy thinking in failing to distinguish radical Islamists (who of course have represented the most salient and worrisome form of transnational extremist violence in recent years) from all other political Islamists. A final reason is simple Islamophobia.
The surprising rise of the Egyptian Salafis
When I asked these bushy-bearded politicos how they had emerged from obscurity to omnipresence in a matter of months, they insisted that the Nour Party had organically grown from the bottom-up. “As Salafists, we are part of the Muslim community and we connect with Muslims as brothers, and there is a private connection as Salafists,” Mohamed Abdel Tawaq, the Nour Party’s 31-year-old Fayoum coordinator, told me. “We met each other through mosques and universities. We live in a Muslim society.” 
But the mass organization that they’d pulled off so quickly clearly requires money. Where is it coming from? “We pay zakat to an organization that belongs to the party,” said Abdel Tawaq. Rumor has it, I replied, that most of their funds come from Saudi Arabia, which—I didn’t say this part aloud—has a history of exporting its own Islamic radicalism elsewhere. “You see all the [Nour Party] branches around Egypt, and you think we have so much money,” said Ali Sharaf, a Nour party coordinator who was sitting nearby. “But we’re really struggling to pay the rent here. Our money comes from dues.” He said that dues were only 10 Egyptian pounds—roughly $1.75—each month, and that they had registered thousands of new members. (Given the ubiquity of the Nour Party’s banners and the scale of their operation, this is scarcely believable.)
How the potato changed the world
Many researchers believe that the potato’s arrival in northern Europe spelled an end to famine there. (Corn, another American crop, played a similar but smaller role in southern Europe.) More than that, as the historian William H. McNeill has argued, the potato led to empire: “By feeding rapidly growing populations, [it] permitted a handful of European nations to assert dominion over most of the world between 1750 and 1950.” The potato, in other words, fueled the rise of the West.
Anna Hazare, the Gandhi-like figurehead of the Indian anti-corruption protests
Two earlier Hazare fasts have already forced the government to act in ways it otherwise would not have. In April, it agreed to negotiate with Hazare's civil society supporters on terms for the anti-corruption agency, the Lokpal. In August, after the breakdown of those negotiations led to the brief imprisonment of Hazare and then a second fast, it agreed to pass a strong version of the Lokpal in the current parliamentary session. But the law has so far not passed. Now the clock is ticking again, with the government working to reduce the Lokpal's power and Hazare threatening to fast again.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood Already Signaling Rivalry With Salafis


I'd like to follow-up on my article on PolicyMic about why the Muslim Brotherhood wouldn't dominate Egypt's Parliamentary election.

The secular/liberal factions didn't eat into the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party's gains, but the Salafis' sudden rise has already pushed the FJP towards a publicly moderate position.
Despite the rivalry, Saad el-Katatni, the secretary general of the Brotherhood's political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party, said he didn't expect election competition to spill over into parliament. 
He said his party will work to form a broad coalition that includes liberal trends, and "absorbs" the Islamist parties who are new to the political scene.
"Some of the new parties wanted to be alone, to get as many seats as possible and to be seen as powerful in the parliament," he told the AP. "They will need to be part of the group (once in parliament). If they work alone, it will be a big loss for them." 
He said it was too early to speak of specific parliamentary alliances, but so far, the major Salafi party has signaled it won't join, and has already walked out on a pre-election coalition with the Brotherhood.
Hot Air notes that Salafis may gain an even higher proportion of seats in the coming rounds of voting, and speculates that whoever the FJP forms a coalition government with will get dragged down with them when the economy tanks, benefiting the opposition.

However, there's still the liberal coalitions, the young protesters still at Tahrir Square, the ex-Mubarak party members, and the ruling military council to all factor in.

So far, it looks like my thesis about the Brotherhood has proven correct. But what that means for the future of Egyptian politics remains to be seen.

I'll wait to comment further on my OWS and Gingrich/Groupon articles to see how they play out.

Putting Life Into Perspective (Link Round-Up 12/5/11)

[via  GONZO CHICAGO]

"I think there are two things that are really exciting about Kepler-22b," said Natalie Batalha, the deputy science team lead at Ames. "One is that it's right in the middle of this habitable zone.  
"The second thing that's really exciting is it's orbiting a star very, very similar to our own sun. This is a solar analogue, almost a solar twin, very similar to our own sun and you've got a planet 2.4 times the size of the Earth right smack in the habitable zone."
One of these newly surveyed monsters, which weighs as much as 21 billion Suns, is in an egg-shaped swirl of stars known as NGC 4889, the brightest galaxy in a sprawling cloud of thousands of galaxies about 336 million light-years away in the Coma constellation. 
The other black hole, a graveyard for the equivalent of 9.7 billion Suns, more or less, lurks in the center of NGC 3842, a galaxy that anchors another cluster known as Abell 1367, about 331 million light-years away in Leo.
Man fatally shot in Chicago's Uptown neighborhood
The shooting is related to gang activity in the area, according to Ald. James Cappleman (46th), who issued an alert to constituents after the shooting. 
Cappleman said that compared to last year, there is a decrease in shootings in Uptown, “but one shooting is still too many.”

Why Newt Gingrich Is The Groupon Of The GOP Race


Another article I wrote for PolicyMic:
While these seem like unrelated events, there are several parallels between Newt Gingrich's presidential campaign and Groupon's initial public offering campaign that demonstrate the difficulties of gaining and keeping popularity in today's news media environment. The viability of both elected politicians and publicly-traded companies is driven by outflanking competitors and delivering benefits to supporters, and the role of the media is to continually assess their ability to do these things. A comparison between Gingrich and Groupon shows that high-profile organizations can recover from early media scrutiny, but must continually battle to stay viable in the eyes of the media and public.
The deal is on.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

J.R.R. Tolkien and Vladimir Putin (Link Round-Up 12/4/11)


Egypt's Facebook revolutionaries failed to inspire voters
"We were camping in Tahrir up until two days before election day," said Khaled Sayed, a prominent activist who lost his race in a Cairo suburb. "The second reason we didn't do well was the sectarian nature of the voting instigated by the Islamists. This made many liberals vote for Egyptian Bloc as a balance to the Islamists."
Parliamentary voting exit polls show Vladimir Putin losing Russian support 
The vote was widely seen as a test of Putin's personal authority after signs that Russians have started to tire of his tough-guy image, built up by his crushing of a rebellion in revel Chehnya and antics such as bare-chested horse riding. 
"Russia has a new political reality even if they rewrite everything," said Sergei Obukhov, a parliamentary deputy of the Communist Party, which made considerable gains, its vote almost doubling to around 20 percent, according to the exit poll.
Why Iranians hate the British
Britain staged a joint invasion of Iran with Soviet forces when the Shah’s predecessor got a bit too close to the Nazis in World War Two and then helped the Americans overthrow the democratically elected Mohammed Mossadegh in 1953 after he nationalised Britain’s oil possessions in the country.
A WSJ writer retracts his attack on liberals' understanding of economics
Buturovic began putting all 17 questions to a new group of respondents last December. I eagerly awaited the results, hoping that the conservatives and especially the libertarians (my side!) would exhibit less myside bias. Buturovic was more detached. She e-mailed me the results, and commented that conservatives and libertarians did not do well on the new questions. After a hard look, I realized that they had bombed on the questions that challenged their position. A full tabulation of all 17 questions showed that no group clearly out-stupids the others. They appear about equally stupid when faced with proper challenges to their position.
J.R.R. Tolkien and the modern fantasy formula
Of all the unexpected things in contemporary literature, this is among the oddest: that kids have an inordinate appetite for very long, very tricky, very strange books about places that don’t exist, fights that never happened, all set against the sort of medieval background that Mark Twain thought he had discredited with “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.”
Latin American and Caribbean countries exclude U.S. and Canada from political/economic bloc
"China is always looking to approach its ties with Latin America and the Caribbean from a strategic perspective and is willing to deepen dialogue, exchanges and cooperation." Chile will assume the presidency of the group during its first year and the next summit will be held in Santiago at the end of 2012.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Naked Psychology and The War on Nuclear Iran (Link Round-Up 12/3/11)


The war against Iran's nuclear program has already begun
Even if the Mossad or the CIA are not involved in these incidents, the speculation that they are serves Western intelligence bodies by enhancing their image as "omnipotent," and heightening the Iranian leadership's fear. This is known as psychological warfare. 
Still, with all due respect for Western intelligence's great efforts - including what is probably unprecedented operational coordination - it is unlikely these operations could have succeeded without inside support, meaning from individuals or groups ready to help sabotage the ayatollahs' regime. It should be remembered that Iran is a mosaic of ethnic minorities, and almost all have reasons for disliking the regime; some have their own underground armed militias.
Naked people assumed to have less self-control than those wearing clothes
The idea that a body focus can lead to both decreased and increased mind stands in contrast to the term “objectification,” because it suggests that people seen as bodies are not seen as mindless objects but, instead, as experiencers: someone more capable of pain, pleasure, desire, sensation, and emotion but lacking in agency. In other words, focusing on the body does not lead to de-mentalization but to a redistribution of mind.
Myanmar's new, nearly-empty capital city
Myanmar has been so secretive that it's not clear precisely when work began on the city, nor how much it cost. It is lavish by any standards, but almost obscenely so against the backdrop of the enormous poverty elsewhere in the country. 
It's hard to say where the money came from – but the military had its finger in many business pies, of various degrees of legitimacy. China has also been a big benefactor.
Clay Shirky on the future of news reporting
Saying newspapers will provide a stable home for reporters, just as soon as we figure out how to make newspapers stable, is like saying that if we had some ham, we could have a ham sandwich, if we had some bread. We need to support the people who cover hard news, but when you see a metro daily for a town of 100,000 that employs only six such reporters (just 10% of the masthead, much less total staff), saving the entire edifice just to support that handful looks a lot harder than just finding new ways to support them directly.
One black author's mixed feelings about white Occupy Wall Streeter's complaints about police brutality
By Thursday, as I returned to New York City, I continued to see tweets and blogs about the brutality of the NYPD. Although I absolutely agreed with the sentiments, I had a nagging feeling in my stomach. I couldn't let it go. My inner militant Negro (whom I keep sedated with brunch and Modern Warfare 3) wanted to write in all caps: 
"OH, SO THE WHITE MAN GETS HIT AND NOW IT'S AN ISSUE! THE BLACK MAN HAS BEEN BEATEN FOR YEARS! WE DIDN'T LAND ON PLYMOUTH ROCK, PLYMOUTH ROCK LANDED ON US!!"

Thursday, December 1, 2011

New Belgium Beer and Biodiesel Made of Poop (Link Round-Up 12/1/11)

[via FT blog]

A Map of Homeless Shelters vs. Cupcake Shops in Chicago
In addition to rising numbers of homeless people, homeless program funding is on the chopping block. According to The Atlantic Cities, homelessness programs are facing a 50 percent funding cut. In addition, according to the Chicago News Cooperative, youth homelessness over 10,000, a 16 percent increase from last year.
Chinese economic collapse fears are in this season
Now China's housing bubble is deflating. Home prices reversed in October for the second consecutive month as cash-strapped developers became desperate to unload homes. An index of 35 major cities showed 29 had experienced a decline in sales from a year ago; sales plunged more than 50% in six of them, including Beijing. 
The Chinese government says it's all part of the plan. After loosening the credit spigot during the financial crisis to keep the economy humming, it's now tightening lending and clamping down on speculators. 
But critics said the damage has been done. Behind China's gleaming new high-rises, freeways and bullet trains, the bears see ghost towns, empty roads and superfluous rail lines. Public debt has exploded, raising fears of an overload that could weigh on China's economy.
Iran interferes in Iraqi Kurdistan
Iran is looking for auxiliaries to its considerable and menacing influence over the Iraqi central government, perhaps out of mere desire for aggrandizement. But Tehran may also fear that Arab Shias in Baghdad will prove a troublesome partner in its anticipated alliance of Shia-ruled Middle East states, once the U.S. leaves. Iraq's Shias, a majority of the country’s population, do not accept the political model of the Iranian clerical state, or “vilayet-e faqih” (governance by religious jurists). Hostility between Iranian and Iraqi Arab Shias, as described by Nathaniel Rabkin writing for THE WEEKLY STANDARD in 2007, is reflected in religious literature produced by Iraq’s Shia religious authorities, or marjae. And of course the Iraq-Iran war of 1980-88 has not been forgotten.
New Belgium and the rise of craft beer
Some craft brewers are stoic about the rise of these macrobrewed craft brands. “My outlook is, well, you’ve taught a lot of Americans that cloudy beer with spicy flavors is kind of cool,” says Garrett Oliver, brewmaster of the Brooklyn Brewery. “So who is that really good for? Is that good for MillerCoors? Maybe somewhat. Is it good for me? Absolutely.” Others are more concerned. Sam Calagione, founder of Dogfish Head Craft Brewery in Milton, Del., says, “They go into a Joe’s Bar and say, ‘Hey, we’ve got a craft beer. Instead of a keg of Dogfish Head at $140, we’ll sell you this quasi-craft beer for $90 and you can charge the same price per pint.’ They use these quasi-craft beers as pawns to clear the real craft beers off the chessboard.”
Nearly 50% of young people in Greece and Spain are unemployed
This isn't quite the picture that explains the euro debt crisis in one graph, but it tells a story. The euro was created partly to let poorer countries borrow more cheaply and help net exporters like Germany sell to richer neighbors. This has given Germany an amazing trade advantage, allowing it to sell its stuff to richer neighbors without seeing its currency appreciate or its goods get more expensive for Greeks and Irish to buy. Look how nicely that's worked out for Germany!
Bill Gates grant turning poop to productivity in Ghana
And Waste Enterprisers already has a small revenue stream from its third business: fish farms. The company is taking poorly performing waste stabilization ponds, and creating incentives to maintain them by making money off of the ponds through raising and selling catfish. By the time the water gets to the last pond, where the fish live, the water is treated enough to raise fish, Wade says. 
But are people willing to eat fish that have been raised on human feces, even if the waste has been semi-treated? And when you get down to it, will consumers be receptive to any product made out of human feces?

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

"Dr. Livingstone, I Presume?" (Link Round-Up 11/30/11)


"Rock" is no longer a catch-all term for pop music.
But if not rock, what? Is it time to start talking about emerging rock bands plugging into “the heart of hip-hop”? Should rappers be claiming non-rap artists as their own, forming a new lake that all other musical tributaries lead to? It might only be a matter of time before music historians remember Led Zeppelin and Aerosmith for contributing drum parts to so many classic rap songs; The Beatles for inspiring parts of the Beastie Boys’ Paul’s Boutique; and King Crimson for supplying an awesome hook to “Power” from West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Because Run-DMC won’t be barging into the music museums of the future; it will be running them.
Gene therapy blocks HIV in lab mice
But both Burton and Koff caution that gene therapy comes with its own set of problems. Because the antibody DNA is permanently inserted into the genome, there’s no way to turn it off if someone has an immune reaction against the antibodies. But it won't be known whether such side effects exist until the method is tested in people, something that Baltimore aims to do in the next few years. The researchers at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, meanwhile, hope to get the first round of human trials of their technique started before the end of 2012.
Why energy journalism is so bad
If the article only talks about resources or reserves, and doesn’t mention production rates, you can safely ignore it. Yes, America may have 1.5 trillion barrels of oil shale (not shale oil, which again is an entirely different thing), but right now we’re producing exactly zero barrels of it, and for good reason: it’s a highly marginal source of hydrocarbons, and too expensive to produce with today’s technology. Remember this: Only flow rates matter, not how much is in the ground.
100,000 Year-Old-Artifacts in Arabia Rewrite "Out of Africa" Theory
Instead of hugging the coast, early modern humans might therefore have spread from Africa into Arabia along river networks that would've acted like today's highways, researchers suggested. There would have been plenty of large game present, such as gazelles, antelopes and ibexes, which would have been appealing to early modern humans used to hunting on the savannas of Africa.
Henry Morgan Stanley's Willpower Secrets
You might think the energy spent shaving in the jungle would be better devoted to looking for food. But Stanley’s belief in the link between external order and inner self-discipline has been confirmed recently in studies. In one experiment, a group of participants answered questions sitting in a nice neat laboratory, while others sat in the kind of place that inspires parents to shout, “Clean up your room!” The people in the messy room scored lower self-control, such as being unwilling to wait a week for a larger sum of money as opposed to taking a smaller sum right away. When offered snacks and drinks, people in the neat lab room more often chose apples and milk instead of the candy and sugary colas preferred by their peers in the pigsty.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Muslim Brotherhood Will Not Dominate Egypt's Election


Another PolicyMic article I wrote:
Incumbent ex-members of Mubarak's dissolved National Democratic Party are expected to compete with the FJP for several seats. The Islamist vote will be split between the FJP, the Salafi fundamentalist al-Nour Party, Al-Gama'a al-Islamiya, and various smaller Islamist groups. Although many opposition groups joined the protests in Tahrir Square to condemning the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces holding an "illegitimate" early election, the square has mostly emptied out since Monday, and this may give an unexpected boost to secular liberals, independents, and other parties of all ideologies and sizes. The FJP gains will be sizable, but the resulting lower Parliament is likely to be fragmented and will force the party to focus on Egypt's vast economic problems instead of enforcing Islamic social codes.
As of the time of this posting, the Brotherhood is already calling for the Parliamentarian majority to appoint a Prime Minister, instead of the ruling SCAF.

Once the votes are counted, we shall see who gets to call the shots in Egypt.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Egyptian Election, Fed's Secret Bank Bailouts, and Stem Cell Windpipes (Link Round-Up 11/29/11)

[via Reddit]

Whoever wins the Egyptian elections faces economic disaster
In a trenchant posting last week, financial analyst David P. Goldman (Spengler) reported that Egypt’s stock exchange fell 11 percent in the first three days of the week and that the Egyptian pound was on the verge of collapse. Residents and foreigners were dumping the Egyptian pound and buying dollars and Euros -- yes, even Euros. It was becoming impossible to transport bank notes across the country, he noted, quoting Al Ahram, Egypt’s largest state-owned Arabic newspaper, as mobs of Egyptians were attacking the armed cars that try to transport them to branches of Cairo banks.  
First artificial windpipe made with stem cells
The artificial trachea was custom-made using three-dimensional imaging. First, a glass model was built to help shape an artificial scaffold. Stem cells were then inserted into the scaffold to create a functioning airway, the authors explained in a journal news release. 
The scientists said their technique is an improvement over other methods because they used the patient's own cells to create the airway so there is no risk of rejection and the patient does not have to take immunosuppressive drugs.
Record numbers of Japanese young people are single
The latest found that 61% of unmarried men aged 18 to 34 have no girlfriend, and half of women the same age have no boyfriend - a record high. 
More than a quarter of the men and 23% of the women said they were not even looking. 
Some cited a shortage of money, others a belief that it is impossible to find a good partner once they had passed the age of 25.
Fed secretly loaned $13 billion to banks in bailout money
The Fed didn’t tell anyone which banks were in trouble so deep they required a combined $1.2 trillion on Dec. 5, 2008, their single neediest day. Bankers didn’t mention that they took tens of billions of dollars in emergency loans at the same time they were assuring investors their firms were healthy. And no one calculated until now that banks reaped an estimated $13 billion of income by taking advantage of the Fed’s below-market rates, Bloomberg Markets magazine reports in its January issue.
From "Made In China" to "Brands From China"
The Chinese, he points out, are an innovative, with strong salesman-like instincts. Switching from assembling to a creating, from an engineering mindset to inventing, will inspire Chinese brands to export. Chinese aesthetics travel well, and cultural values, if not the political, are becoming universal.
UN Says Libyan ex-rebels are still detaining 7,000 prisoners
The detainees are being held without access to legal process because the police and courts are not functioning, and some may have been tortured.

Many are sub-Saharan Africans suspected of being mercenaries hired by the Gaddafi regime.
More food, more child malnutrition in India? 
To address malnutrition, he called for greater coordination in areas ranging from health and sanitation, to agriculture, to women’s status.

Egypt's Gas Problems



I've been working on a PolicyMic piece on the Egyptian election for the past couple of days.

So far, the elections have been peaceful, if not rife with campaign law violations.

At the same time, someone blew up a gas pipeline to Israel and Jordan in the Sinai Peninsula.

Meanwhile, the first third of a shipment of 21 tons of tear gas from the U.S. to the Interior Ministry was intercepted by customs officials the Suez Canal. Tear gas has previously been used as recently as last week in Tahrir Square against protesters.

So much for America winning hearts and minds in post-Mubarak Egypt.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Big Brother's Tolkien Fandom, OWS Protester's Alan Moore Fandom (Link Round-Up 11/26/11)

[via MetaFilter]

Alan Moore on protesters wearing Guy Fawkes masks
"I suppose when I was writing V for Vendetta I would in my secret heart of hearts have thought: wouldn't it be great if these ideas actually made an impact? So when you start to see that idle fantasy intrude on the regular world… It's peculiar. It feels like a character I created 30 years ago has somehow escaped the realm of fiction."
Reddit users looking to create an alternate, censorship-free internet
Mesh networks are designed to allow users to connect to one another directly instead of to a centralized Internet service provider. Universities like John Hopkins and Purdue have experimented with building mesh network technologies, and the State Department and the One Laptop Per Child program have both developed their own versions of mesh networks to either circumvent censorship in foreign regimes or, in OLPC’s case, connect users who don’t have access to Internet service providers.
Pakistan closes NATO supply routes after accidental friendly fire
"This will have a catastrophic effect on Pakistan-U.S. relations. The public in Pakistan are going to go berserk on this," said Charles Heyman, senior defense analyst at British military website Armedforces.co.uk. 
Other analysts, including Rustam Shah Mohmand, a former ambassador to Afghanistan, predicted Pakistan would protest and close the supply lines for some time, but that ultimately "things will get back to normal."
Banned neuro-toxic nerve gas used in Tahrir Square
Rashes, epileptic-type convulsions, temporary blindness and coughing up blood are among the symptoms being reported by Egyptian protesters who have fallen victim to a potentially lethal form of neuro-toxic nerve gas reportedly being deployed by security forces. 
After almost a week of protests against the ruling military junta left some 41 people dead, several sources claim scores have died from gas asphyxiation, while thousands more have received medical treatment after possibly being exposed to an agent known as CR gas.
Bankers arrested after siphoning millions of euros from Latvia, Lithuania 
Vladimir Antonov, 36, and a Lithuanian partner, Raimondas Baranauskas, 53, were detained Thursday on an arrest warrant issued by investigators probing alleged fraud and money laundering at his banks in the Baltic states, Lithuanian prosecutor Tomas Krusna told reporters.   
The Bank of Lithuania said late Thursday that his bank there, Snoras Bank, will be liquidated, calling it the best solution for country's financial system and economy, which were jolted after the bank was nationalized and its operations halted.
Palantir, the Tolkien-inspired War on Terror search engine for U.S. Intelligence groups
An organization like the CIA or FBI can have thousands of different databases, each with its own quirks: financial records, DNA samples, sound samples, video clips, maps, floor plans, human intelligence reports from all over the world. Gluing all that into a coherent whole can take years. Even if that system comes together, it will struggle to handle different types of data—sales records on a spreadsheet, say, plus video surveillance images. What Palantir (pronounced Pal-an-TEER) does, says Avivah Litan, an analyst at Gartner (IT), is “make it really easy to mine these big data sets.” The company’s software pulls off one of the great computer science feats of the era: It combs through all available databases, identifying related pieces of information, and puts everything together in one place. 
... 
“We were watching the government spend tens of billions on information systems that were just horrible,” Lonsdale says.“Silicon Valley had gotten to be a lot more advanced than government contractors, because the government doesn’t have access to the best engineers.”

Friday, November 25, 2011

Chinese Nude Photo Protests and Occupy Wall Street (Link Round-Up 11/25/11)


Bye, bye, Eurozone
A euro break-up would cause a global bust worse even than the one in 2008-09. The world’s most financially integrated region would be ripped apart by defaults, bank failures and the imposition of capital controls (see article). The euro zone could shatter into different pieces, or a large block in the north and a fragmented south. Amid the recriminations and broken treaties after the failure of the European Union’s biggest economic project, wild currency swings between those in the core and those in the periphery would almost certainly bring the single market to a shuddering halt. The survival of the EU itself would be in doubt.
The men behind Adbusters and Occupy Wall Street
Early on, Lasn and White said that the Wall Street occupiers needed a clear message. The revolutionaries in Cairo, they wrote, presented “a straight-forward ultimatum”: they wouldn’t leave the square until President Hosni Mubarak left office. Adbusters invited readers to “zero in on what our one demand will be.” The suggested ideas included a Presidential commission charged with ending the influence of money in politics, and a one-per-cent “Robin Hood tax” on all financial transactions.
Chinese Ai Weiwei supporters post naked self-photos to protest "pornography" charges
The daring move came after the Beijing authorities opened an inquiry last Friday into whether photographs taken by one of artist Ai Weiwei’s assistants are “pornographic”. Online protesters immediately launched their nude self-portrait campaign to condemn this move, which they see as yet another attack on Ai Weiwei, the artist who rose to international notoriety for speaking out on human rights violations in China.
The internet ruined film criticism (and so much more)
The rigorous division of websites into narrow interests, the attempts of Amazon and Netflix to steer your next purchase based on what you’ve already bought, the ability of Web users to never encounter anything outside of their established political or cultural preferences, and the way technology enables advertisers to identify each potential market and direct advertising to it, all represent the triumph of cultural segregation that is the negation of democracy. It’s the reassurance of never having to face anyone different from ourselves.
Chicago woman who got a drug raid sooner than an investigation of her attacker
A year and a half ago she was beaten by a neighborhood thug outside of a city bar. It took months of do-it-yourself sleuthing, a meeting with a city alderman and a public shaming in a community newspaper before the Chicago Police Department would pay any attention to her. About a year later, Shaver got more attention from cops than she ever could have wanted: A team of Chicago cops took down her door with a battering ram and raided her apartment, searching for drugs.
India creating powerful "regulatory" body just for genetically-modified crops
And yet, India’s Agriculture Minister has stated that the Ministry is "very supportive of GM crop research" and that the government is the process of designing a large number of transgenic crops. He also happens to own a stake in the Maharashtra Hybrid Seed Company (Mayhco) that develops these very seeds, and is partially owned by Monsanto.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Stop Occupying Wall Street, and Start Doing The Real Work


Some Occupy Wall Street debate fodder for your Thanksgiving dinner, courtesy of yours truly:
As Marshall McLuhan famously stated, the medium is the message. With so much of the news media driven by television and the internet, OWS protesters should ask themselves which image they honestly believe that journalists, politicians, and the general public are more likely to have the credible message to rally behind: The image of a mass of black hoodies, Guy Fawkes masks, and banners with vague, handwritten slogans? Or the image of a business suit-wearing representative of a political organization with an "official"-sounding name and digestible sound bites?
If you're American, be thankful today that you live in a society where you can debate nearly anything you want.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Chevron's Brazilian Oil Spill and Drug War Mercenaries (Link Round-Up 11/22/11)


"Conventional wisdom" about why the Egyptian revolution happened is wrong
Egypt’s was no cartoon dictatorship that indiscriminately banned protests. For at least a decade before Mubarak’s ouster, Egyptians were doing their politics outdoors. Citizens assembled daily on highways, in factory courtyards, and in public squares to rally against their unrepresentative government. Mubarak’s regime responded with a million-man police force that alternately cajoled and crushed the demonstrators. The goal was not to ban protests, but to obstruct any attempt to unify different groups and prevent sympathetic bystanders joining them. 
Egypt’s uprising happened when three distinct currents of protest—labor, professional, and popular—finally converged. That convergence transformed a routine political demonstration calling for reforms into a nationwide cry for regime change. Together, the protesters defeated a formidable police force and brought down a tenacious president. Now they are shaping the politics of post-revolutionary Egypt, resisting the military rulers’ efforts to take them off the streets.
Chevron's Brazilian oil spill leaves more questions than answers
On Wednesday, November 23, Chevron is expected to give further explanations about the disaster in a public hearing of the Environmental Committee of the Senate, along with Minister of Environment Izabella Teixeira, Minister of Mines and Energy Edison Lobao and representatives of the National Petroleum Agency (ANP) and IBAMA.
Anti-Islam is the new Antisemitism for European nationalists
Data in the study was mainly collected in July and August, before the worsening of the eurozone crisis. The report highlights the prevalence of anti-immigrant feeling, especially suspicion of Muslims. "As antisemitism was a unifying factor for far-right parties in the 1910s, 20s and 30s, Islamophobia has become the unifying factor in the early decades of the 21st century," said Thomas Klau from the European Council on Foreign Relations, who will speak at Monday's conference.
The obscure Pentagon office paying mercenaries to fight the U.S. War on Drugs
In 2009, a bureaucratic shift plucked the responsibility for training Afghanistan’s police out of the State Department’s hands. Suddenly, the contract — worth about $1 billion — landed with CNTPO. CNTPO quietly chose Blackwater for the contract, even though Blackwater guards in Afghanistan on a different contract stole hundreds of guns intended for those very Afghan cops. 
The incumbent holder of the contract, Blackwater competitor DynCorp, protested. It didn’t help that a powerful Senate committee discovered Blackwater’s gun-stealing antics. In December, DynCorp finally received the contract — administered by an Army office, not CNTPO.
The Illinois water pump that may have been hacked
It’s misleading to say that they’re connected to the Web. It makes it sound like the SCADA system has its own website or that the control engineers are playing online games from their desktops. That’s not the case. The reality is that in order to save money, the control servers are connected to the same local area network (LAN) as the front office computers, which do have Internet access. Therefore, if a bad guy can take over a desktop belonging to the receptionist, for example, he’ll very quickly figure out how to connect with the control servers that are part of the same LAN. In order to avoid this from happening, control servers are supposed to be on an entirely separate network. (This is called being “air-gapped.”) However, setting up two completely separate networks can be a very costly exercise, and a lot of small utilities just don’t bother to do it.
The problems with defining a "Greater Iran"
But if “Greater Iran” usually has secular-nationalist roots, the concept has also been taken up by some members of Iran’s clerical leadership. LiveLeak reported in 2010 that Ayatollah Mohammad Baqer Kharrazi, Secretary-General of Hezbollah-Iran, forwarded a plan for “reestablishing” a “Greater Iran,” encompassing all territories of the Achaemenid Persian Empire. Kharrazi’s scheme is grounded both in a conviction of Persian cultural supremacy, especially over the Arabs, and in Shia eschatology. According to the memo, his plan was designed to anticipate the “establishment of global government led by the Mahdi,” the messiah-like “hidden Imam” of Shiite end-of-days doctrine.
Study shows insects swap bacteria by drinking from the same plant
In this study, Caspi-Fluger only worked with whiteflies, but it’s likely that plants could also transmit bacteria to other arthropod groups. After all, the same strains of Rickettsia are also found in aphids, leafhoppers and mites. It will be interesting to see if the bacteria can form a stable relationship with insects that suck it up from plants, and whether it gets passed down from mother to daughters. If so, plants could act as unwitting match-makers that create new lasting alliances between insects and bacteria.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Saturn Storms, Boy and Girl Brains, and Iranian Drug Use (Link Round-Up 11/20/11)


Saturn's beautiful, 9,000 mile wide thunderstorm
The monster tempest, which extended north-south approximately 9,000 miles (15,000 kilometers), is the largest seen on Saturn in the past two decades and is the largest by far ever observed on the planet from an interplanetary spacecraft. 
...
"The Saturn storm is more like a volcano than a terrestrial weather system," said Andrew Ingersoll, a Cassini imaging team member at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. "The pressure builds up for many years before the storm erupts. The mystery is that there's no rock to resist the pressure - to delay the eruption for so many years."
Iran's serious drug epidemic
There are opiates, such as opium, morphine, and "crack" (which in Iran describes not the most addictive form of cocaine, but the most impure form of heroin) -- and synthetics, which includes ecstasy, psychedelics, and "shisha" -- crystal meth. Shisha and crack habits, Ali told me, are the most common forms of addiction.
Rumors of the medicinal power of rhino horns are driving them extinct
In fact, rhino horn is largely composed of keratin, the substance of which our fingernails and hair are made, and has no medicinal properties whatsoever. But the burgeoning Asian middle classes – those for whom traditional medicine is a way of life – have now gone from an ancient belief that the horn cures fevers, to believing that horn cures cancer, and are bidding the price up to spectacular and disastrous levels.
How do you measure the difference between boy and girl brains?
Sex differences don’t show up as separate clusters. They show up, in Cahill’s words, as “overlapping distributions.” Hyde explained that to compute the “effect size” of sex, you have to factor in the variability of scores among males and among females. Otherwise, you have no perspective on how meaningful the gap is between the male and female averages, relative to being Jane rather than Sally, or being Mike rather than Bill. You certainly can’t infer from a person’s sex how well he or she will do on a test.
A growing Indonesia will the be geopolitical battleground between China and US over the Pacific
There is no question that China is losing its export edge in low-grade industrial products. One of the reasons Western investors liked China was that a single country and a single set of relationships allowed them to develop production facilities that could supply them with products. All the other options aside from India, which has its own problems, can handle only a small fraction of China’s output. Indonesia, with nearly a quarter-billion people still in a low-wage state, can handle more. 
The political risk has substantially declined in the last few years. If it continues to drop, Indonesia will become an attractive alternative to China at a time when Western companies are looking for alternatives. That would energize Indonesia’s economy and further stabilize the regime. A more stable Indonesian regime would remove any attraction for an alignment with China and any opportunities for Chinese or Islamist subversion — even if, in the latter case, prosperity is not enough to eliminate it.
How did the world export $331 billion more than it imported?
The good news is that international concerns about global imbalances may be much less pressing than many think. The bad news is that conventional balance-of-payments measures are clearly less reliable in a world of rising intra-firm trade and complex supply chains. That matters because dodgy statistics lead to policy mistakes. Governments should clean the figures up.

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Post-Arab Spring Politics of Fashion: Niqab vs. Nudity?

[via albawaba]

Fully veiled or fully naked?
SOON after the liberation of Tripoli, the Libyan capital, this correspondent met a woman sporting a niqab, or face veil, along with a floor-length black dress and black gloves. Her eyes, all that could be seen, gleamed as she revelled in a new-found freedom. For 40 years under what she disdainfully termed the “liberalism” of Colonel Muammar Qaddafi, the niqab had been forbidden. “But now we can wear what we like!” 
Aliaa el-Mahdi, a 20-year-old university student in Cairo, has found a very different way to celebrate the Arab spring. She recently posted an alluring photograph on Facebook, Twitter and her personal blog. It showed herself standing unclothed, bar thigh-length stockings and a pair of bright-red shoes.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Orbiting Solar Power Plants Vs. Money and Space Junk


What if we could have satellites gather solar energy then beam it down to Earth?
The plan would be to release first one satellite, followed by a series of solar powered sattelites over the equator. Each would be several miles wide and would be built to collect sunlight 24 hours a day. The energy would then be converted to electricity aboard the craft and sent down to earth via giant antennas or lasers that would feed into power grids all over the world. 
The main obstacle scientists face with this project is funding. It is estimated to cost tens of billions of dollars just to fund the earth to space vehicles that would install the satellites over the equator. Scientist believe the project to be so internationally relevant that they recommend a number of governments, agencies, organizations, universities, and private donors to fund the solar satellites. 
For now, Artemis Innovation Management Solutions LLC, a Californian consultant company, has received a $100,000 contract from NASA for a pilot project that will explore and test the technology on a much smaller scale.
I love that instead of applying some of our government-funded R&D to this incredibly innovative idea, NASA outsourced the pilot program for a fraction of a cost of launching a space shuttle.

Still, with the amount of space junk orbiting Earth, I'm not sure how foolproof an orbiting power plant would be. Hopefully, the future test programs will be keeping their eyes on the skies.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Even Turkish Kids Can't Find Jobs Right Now

While I've been scrapping by the past few months with temp work and odd jobs, I'll gladly take my employment prospects here over the situation in Turkey.
Setting the stage for the unemployment conundrum is the demographic fact that more than half of Turkey's estimated population of 75 million people is under the age of 30. And not only are there more youngsters seeking employment, they tend to be better educated than their elders. 
Over the past decade, many 20-somethings in Turkey have become the first members of their respective families to attend university or other institutions of higher learning. Over the same period, the country has experienced robust economic growth -- 8.2 percent in 2010, and averaging 6 percent annually from 2002-2008. But the growing economy hasn't been able to create jobs fast enough to handle the increasing number of youths entering the labor force. That has left many newly minted graduates unable to find a job to match their skills.
Interestingly, Occupy Istanbul hasn't really taken off.
So far, the issue of youth unemployment has not resonated politically. Among Turkey's mainstream opposition parties, interest tends to gravitate more toward issues with regular news coverage, such as constitutional reform. Young people, meanwhile, haven't been very politically active of late. For example, youth turnout was low at a scantily attended Occupy Istanbul event staged in early November.
Like members of their generation elsewhere, it may not be long before an event or person galvanizes the young, frustrated, overeducated and underemployed masses into rising up to do...something.

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