Thursday, June 30, 2011

What Color Is Your Extinct Bird Or Dinosaur?

Someday, we may know what extinct birds and dinosaurs actually looked like.
The lab's powerful X-rays unveiled traces of pigment in the specimens. Chief among those was copper, which Manning explained stays behind as a "ghost of the biosynthesis and composition of eumelanin pigment, whose structure compares well with that mapped in living species."

Eumelanin is one of the coloring agents responsible for brown eyes and dark hair in many modern species, including humans. It would have been one of the factors that determined the birds' color patterns, along with structural properties of the birds' feathers and other pigments they ingested as part of their diets.
Just like revelations that the original colorings of Van Gogh paintings and Greek statues have changed or entirely disappeared over time, I wonder if any future chemical analysis will fundamentally alter the way we imagine dinosaurs - especially since we only have fossil fragments to make our images out of?

If my green Stegosaurus and blue and purple Brontosaurus toys have been lying to me all these years, I'm gonna be pissed.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

China, China, and China (Link Round-Up 6/29/11)

As GlobalPost pointed out in January 2011, China's banking market is hobbled by as much as a trillion dollars worth of "informal" loans, via loan shark lending, shadow banking and off-balance sheet transactions. Some of these loans go to desperate borrowers. Others are designed to circumvent stringent regulations from Beijing. Many originate from wealthy people and businesses looking to earn what may turn out to be a return that's too-good-to-be-true.

Given that little data is available about the borrowers, it's unclear whether this could turn out to be China's version of sub-prime fever.
*Here's what I had to say about this last year.

Chinese are now the world's biggest fans of shopping
A recent Harris Poll found that, compared to eight other developed and developing countries, Chinese shoppers love shopping the most and are second to India when asked if luxury brands are important. This beats out the US, known for its consumer addiction and endless credit card debt, where only one-third of respondents said they enjoyed shopping. Somehow the Chinese, with an average income of about $4,000, love shopping so much they even managed to become Louis Vuitton’s number one customer.
Fujian province has vowed to build “no more nuclear plants," Hong Kong’s Ching Chi Jih Pao economic daily reported. Fujian province governor Huang Xiaojing commented, "Fujian has three nuclear power plants, and that is enough. Projects that have not been completed must not be continued," adding that that it is necessary to make sure the nuclear power plants under construction are absolutely safe. Other projects that "have not been built and whose preliminary work has not been done must not go ahead."
*I'm sure with the speed in which Mao Zedong is spinning in his grave right now, China could power itself several times over.

Girl tries to auction virginity for an iPhone
According to the reports of Biznewschina, a female jiulinghou (Chinese teenagers born in the 90’s) tweeted on Weibo, the Chinese counterpart of Twitter, that her dream is “to own an iPhone4 but her father won’t let her get one.” In an attempt to fulfill her wish, she posted a picture of herself and some of her personal info and decided to put on sale her virginity for the most-coveted iPhone 4

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Viral Video Tips From Turn Right USA and Splack Pack

Since this video speaks for itself, let me just highlight two quick lessons here:

1. If you want to get attention (even at the risk of hurting your cause), make a video like this one.

2. If you want to make a legitimate point that will resonate with viewers, hire a professional.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Link Round-Up 6/26/11

[via Reddit]

Generation Gap
Younger members of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood leave to form new party
The new party, known as the Egyptian Current, is a direct challenge to the Brotherhood and follows the expulsion this week of Dr. Abdul Monem aboul Fotouh, a prominent member who defied the organization by running for president. Fatouh has the support of thousands of young members, many of whom reportedly have had their memberships in the organization frozen.

“We are convinced that Egypt is currently in need of political parties that rise beyond specific ideologies. The Egyptian mainstream political current should have a real voice in the country’s politics,” Mohammed Abbas told the Los Angeles Times. Abbas said he suspects he and others will also be expelled from the Brotherhood.
One If By Land, Two If By Sea
Turkish subway dig reveals world's largest shipwreck excavation
The wreck is among some 35 sunken ships at the old Byzantine harbor which had silted over, probably in the 10th century. The discovery of other Byzantine merchant ships has led this to be described as the greatest nautical archaeological site of all time. A collection of the discoveries has already been put together in an exhibition at the İstanbul Archaeological Museum, together with artifacts retrieved during other metro excavations around the city, including a hugely important find on the Asian side of the city at Üsküdar.

Archeologist Sırrı Çömlekçi was quoted in Radikal as saying that the remains from this Byzantine ship will provide a lot of information about the past.
Hidden city found intact undernearth Israeli port
All were last used by residents in 1291, the year a Muslim army from Egypt defeated Acre's Christian garrison and leveled its remains.
The existing city, built by the Ottoman Turks around 1750, effectively preserved this earlier town, which had been hidden for centuries under the rubble.
"It's like Pompeii of Roman times — it's a complete city," said Eliezer Stern, the Israeli archaeologist in charge of Acre. He called the town "one of the most exciting sites in the world of archaeology."
Nervous Israelis eye immigration to Europe and United States
Rachel Shitz has no reason to like Germany. She was born there before World War II and within six years had been expelled and most of her family killed. But the irony is – she now wants a German passport.
“I want German citizenship to help my children and grandchildren,” she explains, which might be shocking if it was not so common in Israel today.
In the last decade, some 50,000 Israelis have applied for EU citizenship. A quarter of a million already have a second passport. It is unlikely that any other country in the world has such a large percentage of new immigrants preparing to leave.
Slight Differences
Pakistan is not anti-American - just anti-invasion
The silent majority of Pakistanis don’t have the time or inclination to attend nonsensical gatherings where flag of the US, or any other foreign country, is burned. It would be as representative of Pakistan as a protest by the English Defence League would be of contemporary Britain.

With the billions of dollars in US aid being used to prop-up Pakistan’s deeply unpopular government – and no lessons learnt from Egypt and Tunisia – Hillary Clinton remarked on a trip to the country last month: "Pakistan should understand that anti-Americanism and conspiracy theories will not make the problem disappear." She was talking of a country where bootlegged copies of the latest Hollywood flicks are readily available in the bazaars, and where people wait in long queues to get a US visa. Anti-Americanism is as much a reality in Pakistan as WMD were in Iraq.
Life And Death
Afghan suicide bombing in maternity ward kills 25
It came as the latest atrocity struck the country. Afghan officials initially put the death toll as high as 60, but later revised the figure down.
Last month was the deadliest for civilians since the UN started compiling records four years ago. It documented 368 “conflict-related” civilian deaths, 82 per cent of them caused by insurgents.
Military and civilian casualties had already hit record levels in 2010 in the most violent year of the war since US-led invasion toppled the Taliban in late 2001.
Corporate Personhood
Who takes the blame for Tyson's bribery case in Mexico?
It would seem self-evident that if Tyson engaged in a conspiracy and violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, then someone at Tyson did so as well. The statute specifically provides for fines of up to $5 million and a prison term of up to 20 years for individuals, as well as fines of up to $25 million for companies.

I assumed the names were withheld because the investigation was continuing and further charges might be forthcoming. I was wrong.
The Sexual Evolution
Book documents pre-60's views on sexuality from those who lived it
Again and again they describe gradually finding out about it together and growing in intimacy privately within committed marriages. June (born 1914) says: ‘It was a matter of learning with each other what suited each other. It was an experiment and we didn’t know or read much about it.’ Both men and women valued ‘innocence’ as a virtue, not a restriction.

Unsurprisingly, the interviewees believe that the benefits of freedom and pleasure people enjoy today are outweighed by ‘a high divorce rate, marital infidelity, illegitimacy, sexually transmitted diseases, the pubic visibility of pornography, unrealistic expectations of sexual pleasure and the supposed lack of respect between men and women’.
Creating Out Of Dust
Solar powered 3D printer making glass sculptures

Matt Damon's Water Campaign, Egypt Rejects IMF, and Tearing Down L.A. County Homes (Link Round-Up 5/25/11)

Olsen and his colleagues believe the Pacific coconuts were introduced to the Indian Ocean a couple of thousand years ago by ancient Austronesians establishing trade routes connecting Southeast Asia to Madagascar and coastal east Africa.
Olsen points out that no genetic admixture is found in the more northerly Seychelles, which fall outside the trade route. He adds that a recent study of rice varieties found in Madagascar shows there is a similar mixing of the japonica and indica rice varieties from Southeast Asia and India.
Celebrity Philanthropy Gamification
In today's digital world, engagement can be stoked in ways that may not require Hollywood wattage. Sure, Damon can talk up his organization on Letterman; "that's an audience of 2.4 million to hear our message," says chief community officer Mike McCamon, who works closely with Damon on strategy, and is a veteran of Apple, Intel, and a handful of startups. But McCamon points out that 28 million people learned about the mission last December when they played Zynga's FrontierVille and were offered a chance to buy or give a blue water bison. That is the kind of engagement he could neither buy nor predict. "I cold-called Zynga out of the blue," he says. "It was incredibly effective and took us about as far away from the pandering, puppy-dog-eyes style of messaging as you can get." Zynga confirms raising $300,000 for
Egypt rejects IMF loan over popular discontent
An adviser told AFP news agency the decision had been partly a response to the "pressure of public opinion".

Many of those who took part in Egypt's uprising denounced the role of the IMF.

It was seen as bolstering the rule of now-deposed President Hosni Mubarak while imposing harsh economic conditions that benefited the rich more than the poor, says the BBC's Arab affairs editor Sebastian Usher.
Subject To Interpretation?
British Muslim PM: Pakistan denies women rights guaranteed by Islam
Warsi said: "I said to them ... let me talk to you about the rights of minorities, the protection of women and the concept of meritocracy. I gave real examples of how Islam embodies all of those values, and the question I put was: my country wasn't formed in the name of Islam, but yours was; so why does my country embody the values of the faith that your country was formed on the basis of?"

Warsi said her heritage enabled her to speak out. "This was not the west arriving with an ideological perspective of women's rights about to impose them on a nation. I understand this culture, I deeply understand the faith and the culture that is part of this nation ... But what I don't see is you in many ways having the very values upon which the nation was formed, the vision of the founder of Pakistan."
The Green Economy
Genetically-modified marijuana bolsters Colombian farmers
According to botanist Luis Miguel Alvarez, a teacher at the University of Caldas in Manizales and the author of several marijuana studies, after marijuana is grown and dried, it can endure long periods without spoiling, which is a strong economic advantage.

Police commander Rodriguez said the crop's growth poses a problem for local law enforcement, because profits are often used to finance other criminal activity.

"We believe that the sixth front of the FARC guerrilla forces are 90 percent financed by marijuana," he said. The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia is Latin America's largest and longest-fighting insurgency with 47 years of armed struggle and 8,000 fighters.
"Do You Have A Permit For That?"
L.A. County trucker's rural homes vs. the county zoning law enforcement team
Tough code enforcement has been ramped up in these unincorporated areas of L.A. County, leaving the iconoclasts who chose to live in distant sectors of the Antelope Valley frightened, confused and livid. They point the finger at the Board of Supervisors' Nuisance Abatement Teams, known as NAT, instituted in 2006 by Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael Antonovich in his sprawling Fifth District. The teams' mission: "to abate the more difficult code violations and public nuisance conditions on private property."
Hidden Cameras
The tomb was discovered in 1999 inside a pyramid among the ruins of the Mayan city of Palenque in the hills of the southern Mexican state of Chiapas.
But until now archeologists had not been able to access the vault believed to hold the remains of a Mayan ruler who lived between AD 431 and 550, the National Institute of Anthropology and History said in a release on Thursday.
By dropping the small camera 16 feet deep through a small hole at the top of the pyramid, researchers were able to get the first view of the intact tomb.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Gamification Will Save The World (Maybe)

Games are everywhere in our society. After all, video games are a multibillion dollar industry, sports are wildly popular worldwide, and even our "romantic" courtship process is commonly referred to as "playing the game." So it's not surprising that within the last few years, tech companies and marketers have been splicing together game mechanics with social media to promote brands and causes.

Lately, gamification has been used to promote everything from Lady Gaga to Green Giant. Just the other day, I was thinking, "why isn't anyone doing this with alternative energy?"

Well, it looks like dreams do come true, courtesy of SunPower:
Playing the game is simple. Just visit the Solar Discovery Game on Facebook and answer trivia questions to earn panels (or points) towards the grand prize. You’ll earn “virtual badges” for unlocking achievements along the way and can share your progress with your friends. Each week, we’ll add new questions to answer and new prizes to win.
This is a fantastic promotion on a number of levels, because:

1. The game has simple rules.
2. The game forces you to learn things about solar power.
3. You can share your progress with your friends, and also compete all over the world.
4. Putting "$25,000" and "prize" in a sentence is Marketing 101.

I would love to see organizations dedicated to changing the world add more game mechanics to their promotional campaigns.

Buster Benson, founder of goal-setting websites 43Things and 750Words had some interesting thoughts on the possibilities gaming can bring out in anyone:
There is a lot of talk about using gamification for different purposes. A lot of people see it as a loyalty program on steroids. Other people see it as a waste of time, or businesses trying to coerce their customers into doing things they don’t want to do.

On the other hand, if you can find businesses or games that tap into what the players naturally want already–and this is the area that I’m most interested in exploring–it’s always health, its a mastery of a skill, creation of habits, improvement of life, improvement of happiness, all those things that we’re trying to always do. This helps me avoid the whole other side of the gamification conversation which is all about loyalty. I’m really only interested in the portion of the conversation thats about helping people and empower them to do what they already want to do.
Even Al Gore sees the opportunities in using gamification techniques to solve problems:
Games have clearly arrived as a mass medium," says Gore. "This is a very large, extremely significant industry with a wildly diverse and rapidly-growing audience of players on all kinds of platforms. We already know the immense power of popular media to illuminate issues that can seem intractable and overly-complex, but [through games] can be illuminated and presented to general audiences in a way that invites people to become involved in trying to solve the problems that our society has to solve."
Of course, you can't just slap a cause onto a Pac-Man clone and call it a day.
Organizations and developers want to learn more about gaming so they can apply it to their causes, but that means many don't yet know enough about universal game design principles to develop games that are, to be blunt, actually any good.

The result tends to be well-intentioned interactive experiences that present or speak to issues, but with limited ability to achieve measurable impact or motivate players to action.
However, despite the inevitable learning curve many cause-based organizations and companies will face, people are already giving serious thought to ways to apply gamification to areas ranging from Smart Grid participation to interactive game-based journalism to changing the way we work.

After all, we all like to play games - why not design one where everybody wins?

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Area 51's Mystery Sickness, Hamburger History, and Blowing Billions of Dollars In Style (Link Round-Up 6/23/11)

They Won't Let Up
The Nuba, a diverse collection of black African tribes -- Muslim, Christian, and animist -- have long resisted the aggression of Sudan's Arab rulers in Khartoum. The government tried to eradicate them during the 1990s in a campaign of murder, starvation, rape, enslavement, and land seizure that killed as many as 200,000. During the north-south civil war, an estimated 30,000 Nuba joined the Southern-led Sudan People's Liberation Army, which was fighting to transform the whole of Sudan into a multiethnic democratic state.

In 1992, in the midst of the 22-year war, the government went so far as to declare a jihad in the Nuba Mountains. The official fatwa that declared the war made no distinction between Muslim and non-Muslim, stating, "An insurgent who was previously a Muslim is now an apostate; and a non-Muslim is a nonbeliever standing as a bulwark against the spread of Islam, and Islam has granted the freedom of killing both of them." The campaign included the use of chemical weapons (dropped by pilots from Saddam Hussein's air force) against the civilian population.
Billionaire Boys Club
Brother of Brunei's Sultan blows billions on absurdity
The sultan’s biggest extravagance turned out to be his love for his youngest brother, Jefri, his constant companion in hedonism. They raced their Ferraris through the streets of Bandar Seri Begawan, the capital, at midnight, sailed the oceans on their fleet of yachts (Jefri named one of his Tits, its tenders Nipple 1 and Nipple 2), and imported planeloads of polo ponies and Argentinean players to indulge their love for that game, which they sometimes played with Prince Charles. They snapped up real estate like Monopoly pieces—hundreds of far-flung properties, a collection of five-star hotels (the Dorchester, in London, the Hôtel Plaza Athénée, in Paris, the New York Palace, and Hotel Bel-Air and the Beverly Hills Hotel, in Los Angeles), and an array of international companies (including Asprey, the London jeweler to the Queen, for which Jefri paid about $385 million in 1995, despite the fact that that was twice Asprey’s estimated market value or that Brunei’s royal family constituted a healthy portion of its business).
Food For Thought
The Hamburger: Prince of Sandwiches?
As the major port of the Hanseatic League between the 13th and 17th centuries, Hamburg absorbed food and cooking methods from across Europe. Russian traders seem to have popularised steak tartare there by the 1500s, and the Germans – never shy of eating meat – co-opted minced beef into their repertoire earlier than most other Europeans. The OED's earliest reference to "Hamburg steak" is from 1802, a dish of salted and smoked minced beef. After the 1848 revolutions, Germans flowed into America, almost all of them leaving for New York on the nascent Hamburg America Line. Their preserved Hamburg steak was ideal for the long journey.
I Want To Disbelieve
The Area 51 Security Guard Sick From Mystery Toxic Fumes
Any hope Dunham had of finding information his employers may have been keeping about his case was dashed last year, when he came across a report published in 2007 by the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Audit Services, which pointed out that Bechtel, who took over running the test site in 1996, “destroyed supporting documentation from employee concern investigations” in apparent violation of federal law. No action was taken against Bechtel because the contract it had with the government permitted the destruction.

“There continues to be this use of national security laws and bureaucratic means to avoid any consideration of the case,” says Turley. “These men are dying off, and that clearly is part of the objective of the government. Every year, more of these individuals die, and with them die their cases.”
Saber Rattling
US providing Philippines with arms amid tensions with China
I believe some countries now are playing with fire. And I hope the US won't be burned by this fire," China's vice foreign minister Cui Tiankai said.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Virtual Japanese Candy Pop Stars, Dying Vultures, and the Secret Lives of Journalists (Link Round-Up 6/22-23/11)

Nature vs. Nurture
Across cultures, when peddling beauty-related products, advertisers use endorsers who have highly symmetric faces. Around the world, online female escorts are advertised as possessing the universally preferred hourglass figure. Globally, religious narratives, cosmetic companies and self-help gurus offer solace and hope to assuage the exact same set of Darwinian-based insecurities (e.g., mortality, mating concerns, parental worries, status angst).

Ultimately, successful global marketers are those who recognize the shared biological-based features that unite all consumers within the proverbial global village. To slightly reword the famous quote by the evolutionary geneticist Theodosius Dobzhansky: Nothing in consumer behavior makes sense except in the light of evolution.
Domino Theory
India's vulture population drops as its wild dog population soars
Vultures that ingest carcasses treated with diclofenac, a mild painkiller akin to such harmless curatives as aspirin and ibuprofen, develop untreatable kidney failure that kills them within weeks. Commonly used by humans worldwide for decades to control pain, Indians began using the drug on their livestock in the early 1990s. The effect on the vultures was immediate—dead birds literally falling from trees.
One study figured that 70 per cent of the world’s rabies deaths occur in India, where there are more than 17 million dog bites every year. In the decade of major vulture decline, from 1992 to 2003, one estimate showed dog populations increasing by a third, up to nearly 30 million. The escalation of the dog population corresponds perfectly with the disappearance of India’s vultures.
Don't Call It A Comeback
The Turkish leader once compared democracy to a streetcar: “When you come to your stop, you get off.” We are in for a surprise if the destination under his leadership turns out to be a new Muslim empire in the Middle East.
United They Stand
If Uttar Pradesh were to declare independence, it would be the world’s fifth most populous country (as the map below shows, it has about the same number of residents as Brazil). Yet its economy would only be the size of Qatar, a tiny oil-rich state of fewer than 2m people. That makes it poor on a per person basis. Despite India’s two decades of rapid growth, Uttar Pradesh’s GDP per head is close to that of Kenya. The map below presents country equivalents for India’s states and territories in terms of GDP, GDP per person (in PPP terms) and population.
The Medium Is The Message
Virtual Japanese pop group member created for candy advertisement
This past Sunday, Ezaki Glico, the candy company which aired the commercial, confirmed what many of AKB 48’s fans had come to suspect: Aimi Eguchi wasn’t real. The new group member, it turns out, was a computer-generated composite of the real band members. Her pretty face was actually made up of the “best features” of six other members: her eyes, nose, mouth, hair/body, face outline and eyebrows were not flesh-and-blood, but cut-and-paste.
Who, What, Where, When, Why, How
Journalist Jose Antonio Vargas on (reluctantly) being a illegal immigrant
In the five years that followed, I did my best to “do enough.” I was promoted to staff writer, reported on video-game culture, wrote a series on Washington’s H.I.V./AIDS epidemic and covered the role of technology and social media in the 2008 presidential race. I visited the White House, where I interviewed senior aides and covered a state dinner — and gave the Secret Service the Social Security number I obtained with false documents.
Journalists worldwide under-report their own rapes and sexual assaults
“The most I was ever groped was at Arafat’s funeral,” freelance photojournalist Stephanie Sinclair said. “I got groped a thousand times. It was horrifying. Everyone said it was hardest thing they ever covered. It was awful to be groped like that, on every part of my body.”

Kate Brooks, a photographer based in Turkey who freelances for The New Yorker, The Wall Street Journal and others, said a man grabbed her crotch from behind as she was photographing the scene of a suicide bombing in Afghanistan. Brooks said she usually tolerates groping—“it’s the way things are in the field”—but she found that episode as inexplicable as it was disturbing. Can it possibly be sexual, she asked, in such circumstances?

Monday, June 20, 2011

Pirates, Libertarians, and How The Ocean Is Dying Faster Than Anyone Imagined (Link Round-Up 6/20/11)

[via Reddit]

The world isn't actually getting smaller
But greater economic and political fragmentation is also, ironically, a ripple effect of globalization. As wealth and power have shifted to the emerging markets, those nations now have the money and confidence to call their own sho
ts — and their calls tend to be quite different from those we would make. Already this is reflected in company and consumer behavior. Firms like Hermès, General Motors, Levi Strauss and Coca-Cola rigorously tailor products specifically for emerging-market consumers. Pizza Hut in China is a luxury restaurant complete with white tablecloths and cutlery. For poor countries, Hewlett-Packard makes a "rural" laptop that can be set out in the dust and rain.
The Only World Map You Need
The Geopolitical Anomalies Map

North Atlantic Treaty Disorganization
Why Germany will stay out of Libya and Syria
SPIEGEL: On the eve of the first NATO airstrikes, you said on German public broadcaster ZDF: "Could the fact that we are suddenly intervening now have something to do with oil? We can't get rid of all the dictators in the world with an international military mission." Would you still say the same thing?

De Maizière: Yes. The "responsibility to protect" a country's civilian population if its government violates human rights is firmly anchored in international law. But does that mean we are allowed to intervene? Or does that mean we're actually required to? I believe that each military operation must be analyzed to determine whether its goals can be achieved with appropriate means and within an appropriate time frame as well as how one gets out at the end. Every one.

SPIEGEL: You are dodging the question. You have insinuated that Germany's NATO allies are only intervening in Libya because of oil.

De Maizière: No, I wasn't insinuating that at all. I strictly formulated that as a hypothetical.

SPIEGEL: But your formulation still implies it.
Left, Right, Wrong
Poll: Americans skewing towards Libertarianism
Whether people are as libertarian-minded in practice as they might believe themselves to be when they answer survey questions is another matter. Still, there have been visible shifts in public opinion on a number of issues, ranging from increasing tolerance for same-sex marriage and marijuana legalization on the one hand, to the skepticism over stimulus packages and the health-care overhaul on the other hand, that can be interpreted as a move toward more libertarian views.
Fukushima radiation is worse than you think
"Fukushima has three nuclear reactors exposed and four fuel cores exposed," he said, "You probably have the equivalent of 20 nuclear reactor cores because of the fuel cores, and they are all in desperate need of being cooled, and there is no means to cool them effectively."

TEPCO has been spraying water on several of the reactors and fuel cores, but this has led to even greater problems, such as radiation being emitted into the air in steam and evaporated sea water - as well as generating hundreds of thousands of tons of highly radioactive sea water that has to be disposed of.
Deep Sea Dying
The world's oceans are worse off than previously thought
In a wider sense, ocean acidification, warming, local pollution and overfishing are acting together to increase the threat to coral reefs - so much so that three-quarters of the world's reefs are at risk of severe decline.
Digital Piracy
Chinese book consumption remains the same after 20 years
Another serious problem is the piracy market. The low-quality pirated books enjoy many readers’ favour only because their prices are half or even lower than the authorized editions. Besides, some printers sell illegal books through piracy channels with the same quality of the genuine books without mentioning to the publishers. And the e-publishers who provide online readings chapter by chapter at about RMB0.03 per click per chapter also have a good market share.
Kazakhstan can't agree on how to deal with internet piracy
This is a crucial problem and, unfortunately, no country in the world has a clear decision for it. No country is the world is able to hold back the rapid digitization of pretty much everything that is not utterly material. You cannot make old laws work in the cyberspace, where material values easily transform into immaterial, where borders get erased and legal jurisdictions of real life just don't work.
Rival Schools
Chicago vs. Austrian Economics: a brief summary
Although most economists in the 20th century and our time would disagree strongly, Mises insisted that economic theory itself was an a priori discipline. What he meant is that economists shouldn't ape the methods of physicists by coming up with hypotheses and subjecting them to empirical tests. On the contrary, Mises thought that the core body of economic theory could be logically deduced from the axiom of "human action," i.e., the insight or viewpoint that there are other conscious beings using their reason to achieve subjective goals. (For more on Mises's methodological views, see this and this.)

In contrast, the seminal Chicago School article on methodology is Milton Friedman's 1953 "The Methodology of Positive Economics." Far from deriving economic principles or laws that are necessarily true (as Mises suggests), Friedman instead advocates the development of models with false assumptions.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

How Farming and Women's Fashion Are Bad For Us All (Link Round-Up 6/19/11)

[via Empty Kingdom...and NSFW]

Call Me Ishmael
Agriculture made people shorter, less healthy
“Culturally, we’re agricultural chauvinists. We tend to think that producing food is always beneficial, but the picture is much more complex than that,” says Emory anthropologist George Armelagos, professor of anthropology and co-author of the study.

Starting around 10,000 years ago, and continuing to relatively recently, no matter where and what crop, the pattern was the same. Agriculture led to shorter, less healthy people.
Fiscal Responsibility
Our $700 billion military budget
America’s defence spending, at nearly $700 billion a year, is bigger than that of the next 17 countries combined.
1,000 Words
War photographers describe (and question) their lives
What's important is that we show what human beings are capable of. The day I don't do that with my photography is the day I'll give up and open a restaurant.
Legalize It?
Why legalizing marijuana won't destroy the Mexican cartels
Another new source of cartel revenue is oil theft, long a problem for the Mexican government. The national oil company, Pemex, loses hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of petroleum every year to bandits and criminal gangs who tap into pipelines and siphon it off. Now the cartels are getting involved in this business, working with associates north of the border to sell the oil to American companies at huge markups.

In 2009 a federal court convicted an American businessman of helping to funnel $2 million in petroleum products stolen from Pemex by a Mexican cartel, eventually selling it to a Texas chemical plant owned by the German chemical company BASF. The chemical company claims never to have known where the products came from.
Shop 'Til We Drop
The social and environmental problems with women's fashion
So what's the answer? Buy carefully and buy less, is Siegle's argument and she's right. Consider everything from the origins of any garment, its sustainability and the working practices that went into its creation to whether it will actually add to the quality of your life or not. It almost goes without saying that, if we all chose to do that, the amount of product would naturally diminish to more manageable proportions. It may become more expensive as a result but the planet will only benefit for that.
Controversial monument keeps wounds and divisions from the Spanish Civil War open
The appearance of the monument – including the huge cross and the Francoist eagle insignia – clearly evokes national Catholicism, the far-right, deeply religious ideology of the Civil War's victors.

The Spanish are divided over the monument, with some viewing it as a central aspect of Spanish tradition and others as a temple to France worthy of destruction.

The commission's toughest challenge will thus be to decide whether to leave the remains of Franco at the Valley of the Fallen, or to remove them and bury them elsewhere.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

(VIDEO) Magnetic Space Bubbles, YouTube Korans and Chess With Gaddafi

Been a couple weeks since I've done one of these, so I decided to try one out with minimal editing:

Future episodes will probably be more timely, shorter, and talk about less videos. As always, let me know your thoughts on the format.

Kanye West's Nigerian Auto-Tune, Japanese Xenophobia, and the Indian Villaged Named After a Groupon Clone (Link Round-Up 6/17-18/11)

Hot Deals You Didn't Want
Coupons in your bank statements based on your buying habits
The bank deals may appear intrusive to some users who are wary of aggressive marketing techniques, but users will be able to opt out of the service. Jack Gillis, the director of public affairs at the Consumer Federation of America, said the deals were indicative of a larger trend — the prevalence of advertising in our lives.

“Is there an advertising-free space we can live in?” Mr. Gillis asked. But given the ubiquitous nature of advertising, consumers have become increasingly accustomed to highly tailored ads. “If in fact you are purchasing things from a retail establishment, you are probably going to appreciate a discount,” Mr. Gillis said.
Meanwhile, Back In India...
Holy Man Dies After Four-Month Fast Against Polluters is Ignored
Three years ago, Swami Nigmananda fasted on behalf of the river, and he got the attention of those in power. In April 2008, the mining was banned, but this cessation would be short lived. A few months later, the polluting industry resumed, as did the protests. Over the next several years, the activist's fasts would halt the mining, only to have it return over and over again.

Throughout, Nigmananda never wavered in his commitment to protect the Ganges from polluting profiteers who continued to pollute the holy river. So, on February 19, the Swami again declared a fast. By April 27, his health began to seriously deteriorate. On Monday, after 115 of peaceful defiance, Nigmananda died as the Ganges flowed, clouded by industrial waste.
Poor village renames itself ""
Snapdeal has adopted a remote village in India and enabled clean drinking water facilities for its people by installing manual pumps. To show their gratitude, the village’s residents have decided to rename their village to Nagar, actually taking the company by surprise. CEO Kunal Bahl tells me the goal has always been to build a socially responsible organization, and that the decision to provide clean drinking water for the village came from a conversation with one of its 500 employees in the hallways.
Emerging Markets (for Auto-Tune Dance Rap)
Kanye West signs Nigerian superstars Don Jazzy and D’banj
Hope Don Jazzy and D’banj are ready to be the most famous Nigerian musicians in America without the last name Kuti. In their home country, they’re apparently already superstars. The pair, who often work together, signed with Kanye West’s G.O.O.D. Records, which makes them automatically as popular as Mr. Hudson. A few select tracks from the two, happy numbers with Auto-Tune and chipper guitar work, are above and below.

Imperial Overstretch
The United States has too many military bases worldwide
“It makes as much sense for the Pentagon to hold onto 227 military bases in Germany as it would for the post office to maintain a fleet of horses and buggies,” writes Gusterson.
Oils Well That Ends Well
Gaddafi and US oil interests: the lead-up
U.S. oil producers nonetheless rallied on behalf of Qaddafi, according to formerly secret State Department cables published this year by WikiLeaks and lobbying records. The six U.S. oil companies, including Occidental, and two U.S. units of foreign companies doing business in Libya, boosted lobbying expenditures 63 percent to $75.8 million in 2008, when they were pursuing the waiver for Libya, filings show.
Lose Control
What the world is witnessing in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya is simply what happens when highly constrained systems explode.
Women's Rights
Tunsian women remain vigilant to ensure future role in society
In Tunisia, women have campaigned alongside men for political emancipation, yet they are paradoxically also in a defensive position. Many feel the need to defend the rights they enjoyed before the revolution while simultaneously building on them and pushing for greater overall political participation. It is a challenging position to be in, but the proliferation of newly created political parties since the revolution reveals that at least the options are no longer hopelessly polarized between dictatorship and Islamism.
Google Sun
Google funds solar panel development
Google also expects to make plenty of money. Needham won't disclose particulars, but he will say that SolarCity is "attractive enough for us to invest given the risks of the project." We do know that the company will reap a 30% federal tax investment credit for installed systems."
Public Discrimination
Profiling of local Muslim group highlights overall xenophobia in Japanese society
Another thing that Diène's report doesn’t touch upon are cultural manifestations of discrimination. For example, the recurring use of blackface iconography in TV and other media, or the fascination with Chibikuro Sambo, orLittle Black Sambo, (actually an unauthorized copy of The Story of Little Black Sambo by Helen Bannerman) which also employs blackface to portray the eponymous African-American child Sambo (South Indian in Bannerman's original version). There’s no inherent maliciousness in the story or in Sambo as a character. Nevertheless, incidents like this illustrate how dangerously easy it for the book to end up perpetuating discriminatory attitudes by reinforcing negative stereotypes.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

5 Cities, 5 Perspectives On Bicycles In Cities

Many people who ride their bikes on city streets (like myself) have an uneasy relationship with motor vehicles and urban layouts.

However, not every city treats bicyclists the same way, so here are five perspectives on city bicycling by location:

1. Toronto: Rob Ford, the city's bike-skeptical Mayor, is okay with them as long as they're painted neon colors:
Mugging for cameras in council chamber, Mr. Ford’s impromptu photo op came following the launch of “The Good Bike Project,” which will reclaim abandoned two wheelers, paint them bright colours and place them around the city. It’s an idea by artists Caroline Macfarlane and Vanessa Nicholas, who one day decided to paint an unwanted bike outside the OCAD Student Gallery on Dundas Street hot pink, only to get a ticket from the city saying it could not be on public property.

Scarborough councillor Gary Crawford, an artist himself, picked up the young women’s cause and the city has since backed off.
2. Chicago: Part of the street I would take to work every day (if Chicago weather didn't completely blow this year) has a new protected bike lane:
Mayor Rahm Emanuel held a press event at the site of the new lane, which will connect Milwaukee Avenue and Wells Street on Kinzie, and reaffirmed his support for biker safety. He also repeated his campaign pledge to expand protected bike lanes by 25 miles a year for each year of his four-year term. And Department of Transportation Commissioner Gabe Klein said his department was up to the challenge.
3. New York City: This informational video conclusively proves that riding in the bike lane is a great idea, except when its not:

4. Shenzhen: The rapidly-growing Chinese city banned noiseless electric bikes over too many accidents:
The ban was justified by officials stating that electric bikes were blamed for 64 deaths in 268 roads accidents last year.

The city has over 500,000 electric bikes and the ban is believed to greatly increase the operational costs of express delivery companies.

All over China, including capital Beijing, noiseless electric bikes are becoming immensely popular as more and more people opted for them to beat the traffic jams and reduce transport costs.
5. Philadelphia: Hipster City Cycle is a computer game modeled on 8-bit Nintendo games the fixed-gear bike subculture. As you can see, this is brilliant on a number of levels:

Also, don't forget to wear your helmet.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

4 Present U.S. Military Conflicts On Top Of Ancient Civilizations

[via Salon]

As a blogger who cares about history, archaeology, and the ways history is remembered, I have a soft spot for newly rediscovered ruins of ancient civilizations - particularly those that completely change the way we see the past.

Unfortunately, many of these sites just so happen to be buried underneath conflict zones involving the U.S. military.

All Roads Lead to Gaddafi's Stockpile

I first became aware of Libya's relatively well-preserved Roman ruins from reading an advertorial (a paid advertisement designed to look like an article) in the back of a Foreign Affairs issue years ago. The 4-page advertorial highlighted all the wonderful opportunities available in investing in a tiny tourism industry that was just bound to grow, particularly on the strength from the old Roman ruins.Of course, that's easier said than done.

The potential is clearly visible at Leptis Magna. Although it is a U.N. World Heritage Site, less than two hours' drive from the capital, there are no luxury hotels in the vicinity. A few stalls sell postcards and other tourist items, but Libya has yet to make the most of its long Mediterranean coastline the way neighboring Tunisia and Egypt have theirs.

Now Libya's Roman magnet for future hoteliers may be where Gaddafi is hiding weapons...and NATO hasn't ruled them out as a bombing target.

Alarm about the archaeological site soared this week after NATO officials said they could not rule out bombing in the area if Gaddafi’s troops are found to be using it as a military staging ground.

“For us as Libyans, these ancient monuments are part of our proud history,” rebel spokesman Mohamed Ali said via Skype from Doha. “They are more precious to us than oil.”

Susan Kane, a professor of archaeology at Oberlin College in Ohio who has done extensive work in Libya, said Libyan contacts she deems credible have told her the government is storing munitions in cultural sites, such as museums and ruins. She said that fighting around Leptis Magna would be a tragedy.
Obviously, tourists won't be flying into Tripoli anytime soon, but who knows if there will be anything left to see when they finally get there.

At least there are still plenty of other things buried in the sands of the Sahara.

Rocking The Cradle of Civilization in Modern-Day Iraq

Aside from reports of people looting the history museum in Baghdad soon after the fall of Saddam Hussein, there hasn't been much news about any recent findings from the numerous ancient civilizations that called modern-day Iraq home - after all, IED's and regional warfare have a funny way of scaring away archaeologists and leaving 4,000-year-old ruins exposed to the elements.

The Sumerian capital boasted paved roads, tree-lined avenues, schools, poets, scribes, and stunning works of art and architecture of the kind discovered by Woolley and his team.

But war and strife over the past 30 years closed Ur to foreign archaeologists, and since the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein Baghdad's struggling government has had bigger priorities than funding large-scale digs in a country with more than 12,000 documented archaeological sites.

Those who have come, however, have largely chosen to focus on the autonomous and relatively safe Kurdistan region in the north for excavations.
They have mostly avoided Ur and other sites in the rest of the country as safety remains a key issue, even though violence levels are lower than their peak in 2006 and 2007.

Luckily for history buffs, Iraq has recently announced plans to restore and preserve the ancient Ziggurat at Ur. Maybe the suicide bombers will forget it's there.

The Many Layers of Yemen

In contrast to Libya and Iraq, several archaeological surveys have been conducted in Yemen in recent years. While I haven't been able to find any news stories about archaeologists currently in Yemen, I'm sure more people are interested in taking cover right now.

Al-Qaida-linked militants seized control last month of two towns in Abyan, another southern province, and briefly took control of several neighborhoods in the neighboring province of Lahj last week.

Some of these militants belong to groups that have been quietly tolerated by longtime ruler Ali Abdullah Saleh and used to counter the weight of other extremists or against secessionists in the mostly secular south of the country.

Even before the drone strikes on Al-Qaeda-linked militants and the political protests, widespread smuggling and looting of Yemen's ancient Jawf kingdom sites have been major problems for those trying to preserve and understand what came before.

Indus River Valley Civilization, Buddhism, and Pakistani Geopolitics

Perhaps the most intriguing (and controversial) ancient ruins are located within modern-day Pakistan and every problematic area it borders (Indian border, parts of Kashmir, Baluchistan, and the porous Af-Pak border).

Some discoveries in the region, like the 4,300-year-old skulls from the Indus River Valley civilization displaying a type of ancient brain surgery, are politically harmless.
Scientists at the Anthropological Survey of India claim to have found evidence of an ancient brain surgical practice on a Bronze Age Harappan skull.

The skull, believed to be around 4,300 years old, bears an incision that indicates an “unequivocal case” of a surgical practice known as trepanation, says a research paper published in the latest edition of Current Science.
However, more recent Buddhist relics recovered by an Italian team were excavated under a low-profile for fear of their possible destruction by Taliban-style militants.
“No specific archaeological monuments were targeted by the extremists in Swat or adjoining areas,” said Director Italian Archaeological Mission in Pakistan, Dr Luca Maria Olivieri. He was addressing a conference titled “Italian Archaeology in Pakistan-Past and Present” held here at the Quaid-i-Azam University (QAU) on Wednesday.

Talking to The Express Tribune, he said that somehow, the Taliban did not damage the archaeological monuments, give or take a few exceptions. He was pointing to the Fazlullah-led Taliban militants on the 230-feet high, seventh century Buddha, carved in a rock at the lap of a mountain in Jehandad village, Swat.

So What Do We Do?

While geopolitics shouldn't stand in the way of the pursuit of knowledge, I do wonder if it's better for some of these past ruins to stay buried for the present - if only in hopes that today's conflicts flow into the past for future civilizations to ponder over alongside the ones still buried.

For all we know, there are plenty more ruins from all of these civilizations (and more from ones we don't remember) waiting to be dug up, cataloged and remembered for posterity.

Or maybe we should spend some time preserving what we already have.

Advertising In The Dark, Miracle-Gro Marijuana, and Why Free Shoes Won't Save The Third World (Link Round-Up 6/14/11)

"We Actually Don't Know What We're Doing With Your Eight-Figure Media Buy"
Nielsen admits internet ad campaigns don't reach their intended target demographics
“In one instance,” says Charles Buchwalter, svp of Nielsen Online Campaign Ratings, “we showed that in a campaign in which a CPG advertiser intended to reach females 18-34 for a personal care product, 55 percent of the impressions were served to men.”

Someone's Never Heard of Hydroponics...
Sales at Scotts rose 5% last year to $2.9 billion. But the Marysville, Ohio, company relies on sales at three key retailers—Home Depot Inc., Lowe's Cos. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc.—for nearly two-thirds of its revenue. With consumers still cautious about spending, the retailers aren't building new stores as quickly as they used to, making growth for suppliers like Scotts harder to come by. Against that backdrop, Mr. Hagedorn has pushed his regional sales presidents to look for smaller pockets of growth, such as the marijuana market, that together could produce a noticeable bump in sales.
Lost Cause
Poor countries need economic stimulation, not donated shoes
To begin with, giving a kid a pair of shoes manufactured elsewhere undermines the economic vitality of that kid’s community, as many bloggers have noted. Further, as Saundra Schimmelpfennig, a blogger at Good Intentions Are Not Enough, points out, shoes are already manufactured fairly cheaply in countries like Argentina, where Mycoskie was traveling when he decided to start TOMS. Expanding the manufacturing industry in poor countries is often seen as critical to their economic future, and offering children free shoes from an American company can undermine that. Why not provide a resource kids can’t find locally?

Schimmelpfennig writes: “TOMS Shoes is a good marketing tool, but it’s not good aid.” She has a long list of reasons, including: “It’s quintessential Whites in Shining Armor. It’s doing things ‘for’ people, not ‘with’ people.”

This argument echoes the larger-scale critique by Dambisa Moyo, author of the 2010 book Dead Aid, in which she takes on big-aid advocates like development economist Jeffery Sachs and singer Bono for perpetuating the idea that what poor countries need is charity, when what they really need are long-term economic-development solutions that they, themselves, control.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Fake Syrian Lesbian Bloggers, Living Laser Cells, and Why We're Probably At War In Libya (Link Round-Up 6/13/11)

[via imgur]

Yet Another Awful Story About Mexican Drug Cartel Violence
Cartel-forced "gladiator"-style death matches between captured victims
Former and current federal law-enforcement officers in the U.S. said that while they knew Mexican bus passengers had been targeted for violence, they'd never before heard of forcing passengers into death matches.
But given the level of violence in Mexico — nearly 40,000 killed in gangland warfare over the past several years — they didn't find it tough to believe.
Borderland Beat, a blog specializing in drug cartels, reported an account in April of bus passengers brutalized by Zeta thugs and taunted into fighting.
"The stuff you would not think possible a few years ago is now commonplace," said Peter Hanna, a retired FBI agent who built his career focusing on Mexico's cartels. "It used to be you'd find dead bodies in drums with acid; now there are beheadings."
Lesbian Syrian blogger turns out to be 40-year-old white guy
MacMaster, a Middle East peace activist who is working on his master’s degree at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, wrote that he fictionalized the account of a gay woman in Syria to illuminate the situation for a Western audience.

The hoax raises difficult questions about the reliance on blogs, tweets, Facebook postings and other Internet communications as they increasingly become a standard way to report on global events. Information from online sources has become particularly important in coverage of the Middle East uprisings, especially in countries that severely restrict foreign media — or that use social media against protesters.
Every Day I'm Hustlin'
Keeping Argentine businesses alive in a corrupt, erratic climate
Since the 1950s, a series of dictators had devastated the Argentine private sector, concentrating wealth into the hands of politically connected oligarchs, corrupt government contractors, and, most recently, foreign investors. In Argentine Spanish, the word for businessman—empresario—had become synonymous with criminal, and it was widely assumed that the most successful people had robbed and cheated to get where they were. The word for what Bilinkis was—emprendedor—was not in regular use. "I'd gone to one of the top business schools, and I'd never heard the word entrepreneur," Bilinkis says. "I just knew I wanted to start my own thing.
Vested Interests
The frosty relationship between Gaddafi and US Oil Companies
The companies needed little encouragement. Libya has some of the biggest and most proven oil reserves — 43.6 billion barrels — outside Saudi Arabia, and some of the best drilling prospects. Its older fields, which suffered during U.S. sanctions, could benefit from enhanced recovery techniques and be the source of vast new production.

“Oil companies were extremely excited to move into a territory that had been neglected for 20 years,” said Geoff D. Porter, a political risk and security consultant specializing in North Africa and the Sahara. He said experts believed that only 30 percent of Libya had been explored and that there was “much more oil to be discovered.”
Waiting In The Shadows
Iranian labor awaits the fall of the current regime
The labor movement is a modern phenomenon. It comes with industrialization and the factories. The clerical establishment comes from medieval times. It hasn’t changed a lot in the past 1,000 years. So the two look at each other with an innate suspicion, especially because the secular-left Marxist groups always based themselves on the labor movement, and many clerics consider them anti-religious. But one great thing about this Green Movement is that it’s breaking down the old barriers and boundaries. So between the labor movement and the democratic movement, everybody’s now open to new avenues and new ideas. So I imagine many clerics on the Green Movement side are now very keenly interested in the labor movement, and vice versa.
Obama is staying away from giving too much support—even moral support—to our movement, because if he does that, that’s very scary, because that makes it easier for the government to clamp down very heavily. So I think that’s a good decision. We don’t think it would help us at all if Obama gave lots of even verbal support. So the best support the U.S. government can give publicly is no support. Go after this regime with sanctions—we are all for it. And no military intervention of any kind, because this regime craves it. It would be a real shot in the arm for this regime if there is any sort of military threat to it, let alone bloodshed.
Lack of Focus Group
Can teen brainwaves predict pop hits?
A comparative analysis revealed that the neural data had a statistically significant prediction rate for the popularity of the songs, as measured by their sales figures from 2007 to 2010.

"It's not quite a hit predictor," Berns cautions, "but we did find a significant correlation between the brain responses in this group of adolescents and the number of songs that were ultimately sold."
Still No Cure For Cancer
Scientists create cell capable of making visible laser beam
Normal lasers, ever since their invention in the 1950s, use synthetic gain materials like gases, crystals and dyes to amplify photon pulses. But professor Seok-Hyun Yun and colleague Malte Gather, instead used green fluorescent protein (GFP), which is used to make jellyfish bioluminescent, as their gain material.

The team genetically engineered human embryonic kidney cells to produce GFP. They then placed a single cell between two mirrors. In terms of size, the mirrors were spaced 20 micrometers apart (20 millionths of a meter), and the cell was just 15 to 20 micrometers.

When the team ran pulses of blue light through the kidney-jellyfish combo, a visible laser beam shot out. It only lasted for a few nanoseconds, but the light could be easily detected and carried useful information on the properties of the cell. The cell also left the experiment unharmed.
Not Just Africa
Land commodification in India hits farmers hard
Land in not about building concrete jungles as proof of growth and development; it is the progenitor of food and water, a basic for human survival. It is thus clear: what India needs today is not a land grab policy through an amended colonial land acquisition act but a land conservation policy, which conserves our vital eco-systems, such as the fertile Gangetic plain and coastal regions, for their ecological functions and contribution to food security.

Handing over fertile land to private corporations, who are becoming the new zamindars [heriditary aristocrats], cannot be defined as having a public purpose. Creating multiple privatised super highways and expressways does not qualify as necessary infrastructure. The real infrastructure India needs is the ecological infrastructure for food security and water security. Burying our fertile food-producing soils under concrete and factories is burying the country's future.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

African Colonialism 2.0 Revisited

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently warned of a "new colonialism" in Africa in the form of foreign investments:
Clinton said that African leaders must ensure that foreign projects are sustainable and benefit all their citizens, not only elites. A day earlier, she cautioned that China's massive investments and business interests in Africa need to be closely watched so that the African people are not taken advantage of.

"It is easy, and we saw that during colonial times, it is easy to come in, take out natural resources, pay off leaders and leave," Clinton said. "And when you leave, you don't leave much behind for the people who are there. We don't want to see a new colonialism in Africa."
I've written about this before here and mentioned the United States' own involvement in a link on Friday's post.

Pretty much anyone with lots of wealth and ambition to keep growing it - be they from China, the United States, Europe, or any of the oil-producing OPEC countries - will probably continue to buy up African land for food and natural resource production, and give nothing but scraps (if anything) to the people that live there.

I agree that long-term investments that contribute to local economies will help Africa in the long run.

However, I wish I could believe that the United States government will ever crack down on its own well-funded institutions' land-grabs across the continent.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Harvard Ruins Africa, Re-Rewriting the American Civil War, and Defining "Flash Mob" (Link Round-Up 6/10/11)

[via reddit]

Poison Ivy League
Ivy League Hedge Funds Buy Up African Land and Displace People
"No one should believe that these investors are there to feed starving Africans, create jobs or improve food security," said Obang Metho of Solidarity Movement for New Ethiopia. "These agreements – many of which could be in place for 99 years – do not mean progress for local people and will not lead to food in their stomachs. These deals lead only to dollars in the pockets of corrupt leaders and foreign investors."
"The scale of the land deals being struck is shocking", said Mittal. "The conversion of African small farms and forests into a natural-asset-based, high-return investment strategy can drive up food prices and increase the risks of climate change.
Foreign Foreshadowing
Argentina and what happens when a country's economy collapses
When you ask any Argentinean person what concerns them the most, the first thing they’re going to be telling you is the crime problem. And the second one is the financial problem. Those are by far the top concerns the average Argentinean person has and I think that eventually it will happen in the U.S.A., as well. I think that five years from now or so you’re going to be talking to people and the thing that’s going to be concerning them is that Joe down the street suffered a home invasion and got beaten up, maybe even got killed.  All kinds of crime that didn't used to happen in the good parts of town. It’s going to be one of the greatest concerns people will have eventually.
The War Between the (White) States
American Civil War: a struggle over competing ideas of white, Protestant supremacy?
Goldfield shows how leading Union generals almost immediately became warriors on the frontier, bringing the zeal with which they decimated the backward South to the task of decimating backward "savages." That new crusade had direct ramifications for Southern blacks. Even when President Ulysses S. Grant tried to use the military to beat back white Southern paramilitary groups literally massacring African-Americans trying to execute basic rights, he couldn't, because soldiers were deployed out West in the new Civil War against Indians. One hero of the book, Mississippi Republican Gov. Adelbert Ames, tries to use his power to protect blacks from Southern Democratic violence, but there were no Federal soldiers left in his state to call upon, they were all on the anti-Indian front. As the state's "White Line" paramilitary group tore through Mississippi to violently intimidate black voters, Ames was forced to give up his governor's position and flee. Early in the book, Goldfield quotes a Northern newspaper editor proclaiming "We can have no peace in this country until the CATHOLICS ARE EXTERMINATED." Near the end, he finds a Birmingham News headline that reads: "We intend to beat the negro in the battle of life, and defeat means one thing: EXTERMINATION." That doesn't feel heavy handed; it's fact, and it's tragic.
Media Buzzwords
Whatever you wanna call the recent attacks in Chicago, don't call them "flash mobs"
The alleged attackers were black, the victims white. This has happened before, believe it or not, it has even happened on the Gold Coast before, though you wouldn’t know it, judging from the clamor of those certain Chicago is suddenly facing social breakdown. 
"We're Gonna Need a Bigger Boat"
DNA proves early South Americans settled Easter Island
Thorsby says there may have been a Kon-Tiki-style voyage from South America to Polynesia. Alternatively, Polynesians may have travelled east to South America, and then returned. There is already evidence for that: chicken bones found in Chile turned out to be Polynesian, so we know that the eastward journey did happen at some stage.
All Work And No Play You a Dull Billionaire
One of China's richest men only spends $20 a day
Zong's monk-like devotion to duty is legendary. A former employee remembers he personally reviewed every office expense, including the purchase of a broom.
He still personally signs every major spending decision. In his office are two safes in which he told me he keeps the company seals of each of his approximately 200 subsidiaries. 
He says he lives on $20 a day. "My only exercise is doing market research... my only hobbies are smoking and drinking tea," he told me (when I asked, he said his favourite brand was Lipton's).
No Girls Allowed
Australian gay bar wins right to ban women
VCAT has granted Sircuit Bar in Smith St an exemption to anti-discrimination laws, allowing it to ban women because they make the men uncomfortable. 
"The applicant primarily relies on the exemption to exclude women from the venue, other than on Sundays after 3pm," VCAT reasoned.
Tinsel Town Taboos
The lack of non-white love scenes in Hollywood movies
Once upon a time, non-white males had a hard time surviving action movies. Now, they can survive and even succeed, as long as they stay clothed. Brad Pitt can have saucy love scenes with Angelina Jolie and still earn almost $200 million.
But when they remake Shaft for a wide audience, poor "sex machine" Sam Jackson gets only one kiss in the entire film, upright and clothed. Of course, that's better than Morgan Freeman, who has had only one screen kiss in his entire career.
But I suppose I should be grateful, should consider the black male's cinematic promotion from corpse to eunuch to represent progress. In the long run, some say, the passage of time, and the cultural and genetic intermingling of the American melting pot are more likely to cure these ills than any amount of activism or finger-pointing.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Wikipedia and The Anti-Intellectual Geek

Maybe my efforts to get publishers to send me books to review are all in vain...

Let’s just put it this way. If, in the next five years, some prominent person comes out with a book or high-profile essay openly attacking education or expertise or individual knowledge as such, because the Internet makes such things outmoded, and if it receives a positive reception not just from writers at CNET and Wired and the usual suspects in the blogosphere, but also serious, thoughtful consideration from Establishment sources like The New York Times Review of Books or Time, I’ll say that geek anti-intellectualism is in full flower. [via MetaFilter]

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Czech Lesbian Prostitutes and Chinese Drunk Drivers (Link Round-Up 6/7/11)

[via reddit]

Correlation vs. Causation
Prochazka says that the higher rate is due to the fact that it's easier for lesbian sex workers to define their relationship with men as “strictly professional.”

But it also works the other way around.

Because of greater plasticity of female sexuality, he says, “Some women who have had bad experiences with men might seek tenderness and love from women, even though their natural preference might be heterosexual.”
The South Asian Rambo
Pun fired more than 400 rounds, launched 17 grenades and detonated a mine to repel the Taliban assault on his checkpoint near Babaji in Helmand Province, southern Afghanistan, last September.

Surrounded, the enemy opened fired from all sides and for 15 minutes Pun remained under continuous attack, including from rocket-propelled grenades and AK47 guns.

At one point, unable to shoot, he used his machine gun tripod to knock down a militant who was climbing the walls of the compound.
Two insurgents were still attacking by the time he ran out of ammunition, but he set off a Claymore mine to repel them.
Not Quite What Mao or Confucius Envisioned
“Many people just think they drink when they need to drink and they drive when they need to drive. They don’t yet realize those two are in conflict,” said Xia Xueluan, a sociologist at Peking University. “The change in culture in China hasn’t caught up with the growth in cars.”

He and other experts say drunken driving is the result of the new China colliding with the old.
Kids These Days
"I conducted a trip to Kenya last summer where I was able to build the SunSaluter using locally available materials, and I was able to work with people in the villages to build this project together," Full said. "I think this is really important, because if you want a technology to be sustainable — and you really want it to be viable and address the needs in the market — you're going to have to be able to first go there and understand what is needed."

Full spoke excitedly about her pilot project in Mpala, a small village of 1,000 people in central Kenya, where she deployed her invention in a real-world context. Full said she receives monthly e-mails updating her on the status of the small, zero-emission power station.
Redheaded Step-Ancestor
Three of the salt men date back to the Parthian (247 BCE-224 CE) and Sassanid (224-651 CE) eras, while all other human remains discovered at the site go back to the Achaemenid Dynasty (550-330 BCE). A sixth ‘salt man’ has been left in place due to the lack of equipment necessary for its preservation.
American (Conservative) Nightmare
I have travelled all over the world extensively and spend a great length of time in the Middle East and Asia. I would say that nations developing now and trying the bridge the gap between themselves and ‘The West’ are the areas of the world I am most concerned with. The reason is that these nations are using the same methods used by the U.S. and Europe which we are now paying for as ecological disasters and as Global Warming. They are using these methods because in many instances they are cheap and quick; often times the climate issues are exacerbated by geography and pre-existing weather patterns as well.

One of the most polluted placed I have been in recently is Tehran and it goes beyond the fossil fuels burned for millions of unregulated vehicles. Tehran and much of Iran is on a plateau, pollution just sits there and is visible as you fly in and out of the city as a thick brown layer.
Play Ball?
The Iranian women's soccer team was in tears after being forced to forfeit a 2012 London Olympics qualifying match this past weekend because it showed up to play in hijabs. FIFA banned the Islamic head scarf in 2007, saying that it could cause choking injuries -- the same reason it gave for recently banning snoods (neck warmers). FIFA also has strict rules against any religious statements in team uniforms.

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