Sunday, July 31, 2011

Culture Bore Will Be On Hiatus For August

Hey all,

I'm taking a hiatus on posting here for the month of August.

Aside from things going on in my personal life, I want to take time to write out longer, more thought-out original posts to complement the link round-ups (along with the YouTube show I plan on reviving again soon). I'm going to have even less time to do that in the coming weeks, so I'd rather just take a blogging break to focus on everything else.

I'll still post interesting links on the Facebook/Twitter feed, so go subscribe to those if you don't already.


Thursday, July 28, 2011

Growing Brains, Gardens, and Vines (Link Round-Up 7/28/11)

Thinking Cap
In a paper being published online July 28 in the scientific journal Cell Stem Cell, Sheng Ding, PhD, reveals efficient and robust methods for transforming adult skin cells into neurons that are capable of transmitting brain signals, marking one of the first documented experiments for transforming an adult human's skin cells into functioning brain cells.
Free(falling) Market
US corporate leaders now see the idea of making things as a cost of doing business, one best left to others. What has happened as a result is that much of the production for critical products and services that make our economy run is constructed by a patchwork global network of suppliers all over the world in unstable regions, over which we have very little control. An accident or political problem in any number of countries may deny us not just iPhones but food, medicine or critical machinery.
Perma-what now?
"I just trained the Oklahoma National Guard," Mr. Pittman said. "If that's any kind of benchmark." The troops, he said, plan to apply permaculture to farming and infrastructure projects in rural Afghanistan.

It's a system, permaculturists contend, that can work anywhere. In Park Slope, Brooklyn, Claudia Joseph, 53, has used the precepts of permaculture to develop new food gardens at the Old Stone House. (Its original 1699 Dutch edifice was a locus of the Battle of Brooklyn in the Revolutionary War.) "It's a huge breakthrough," she said. "To go from a swatch of grass to 1,000 blueberry bushes."
Global Lukewarming
New NASA analysis shows planet warming slower than computer model predictions*
The new NASA Terra satellite data are consistent with long-term NOAA and NASA data indicating atmospheric humidity and cirrus clouds are not increasing in the manner predicted by alarmist computer models. The Terra satellite data also support data collected by NASA's ERBS satellite showing far more longwave radiation (and thus, heat) escaped into space between 1985 and 1999 than alarmist computer models had predicted. Together, the NASA ERBS and Terra satellite data show that for 25 years and counting, carbon dioxide emissions have directly and indirectly trapped far less heat than alarmist computer models have predicted.
*Update: this is not a NASA study - it's a study using NASA data by this professor. Also note the number of times the word "alarmist" is used in this Forbes article.

Deleted Scenes From Avatar
The rainforest vine that evolved to pollinate with bat echo-location
The Cuban rainforest vine Marcgravia evenia has developed a distinctively shaped concave leaf next to its flowers which, the researchers noticed, is reminiscent of a dish reflector. By analyzing the leaf's acoustic reflection properties, they found that it acts as an ideal echo beacon, sending back strong, multidirectional echoes with an easily recognizable, and unvarying acoustic signature – perfect for making the flower obvious to echolocating bats.
They then trained nectar-feeding bats (Glossophaga soricina) to search for a single small feeder hidden within an artificial foliage background, varying the feeder's position and measuring the time the bats took to find it. The feeder was presented on its own or with a replica of either a foliage leaf or the distinctive dish-shaped leaf. Each feeder type was randomly tested once at each of the 64 positions within the artificial foliage background.
Sophisticated Detective Work
FBI training PowerPoint describes Muslims and their "7th-cenutry Arabian ways"
All this is revealed in a PowerPoint presentation by the FBI's Law Enforcement Communications Unit (.pdf), which trains new Bureau recruits. Among the 62 slides in the presentation, designed to teach techniques for "successful interviews/interrogations with individuals from the M.E. [Middle East]," is an instruction that the "Arabic mind" is "swayed more by words than ideas and more by ideas than facts."
Stimulus Plans
We need to stimulate the prospects for employment, but we also need to make it easier for people to just work in ways that may not show up in the official unemployment stats. You can think of this as tearing down barriers to "self-employment", if you must. Clearly, decoupling health benefits from employment would help a lot. Less obviously, but at least as importantly, we need to eliminate the insane patchwork of regulations that keep folks from legally cutting hair for money in a kitchen, or legally making a few bucks every now and then taxiing people around town in a 1988 Ford Escort.
Paradigm Shifts
"Most people...still cling to what I call the rearview-mirror view of their world. By this I mean to say that because of the invisibility of any environment during the period of its innovation, man is only consciously aware of the environment that has preceded it; in other words, an environment becomes fully visible only when it has been superseded by a new environment; thus we are always one step behind in our view of the world."

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Indian Lesbians, Gay Pakistanis (Link Round-Up 7/27/11)

Damn Tourists
One is hard-pressed to blame the Cambodian people and their government for this. Tourism, and the major role that Siem Reap and its showcase attraction of Angkor Wat play in this, is a major source of foreign revenue for a country that is considered to be among the poorest and least-developed countries in the world. The tourism industry is critical to its economy. Concerned conservationists and officials, however, are warning that, unless long-term, concerted efforts are made to strengthen its sustainability, the gem of its tourism industry will eventually collapse as Cambodia's "ace in the hole" for tourism and its developing economy."
"Facebook helps you connect and share with the people in your life"
Cabdulaahi Faarah (Faarax), a naturalized U.S. citizen, has proven to be one of al-Shabaab’s most effective Western recruiters. Now residing in Mogadishu, he uses his Facebook page to continue his recruiting efforts. In just the past week he has added more than 50 new friends — most of them in the U.S. — bringing the total number of his friends on Facebook to more than 500. His Facebook page was linked in a story by the Minneapolis Mirror following the June suicide bombing.
Mutually Assured Construction
India’s neighbor, Pakistan, however, is seriously concerned over the agreement. It suspects India will make “peaceful use” an excuse to expand its nuclear weapons.

“It is surprising that South Korea which claims to be the victim of North Korea’s nuclear program is itself becoming a party to the expansion of nuclear dual purpose technology,” a senior Pakistani official said.
A Man For All Seasons
"According to every convention, my friend Ifti was all wrong," blogged Azra Raza, a prominent oncologist. "He was born in the wrong country. He should have been born in Hollywood. ... He was born in the wrong body. He should have been Marilyn Monroe."
What The F___?
Shifts in the drug trade have led to parallel shifts by the FARC, which is deeply involved in narcotics trafficking. "Brazil is the second largest consumer of drugs in the world after the United States, and so the cartels are no longer just looking north," he said. "Now they are looking to the south for Brazil -- and also for Africa, [a new cocaine route to Europe]." Accordingly, FARC operations are now centered on the country's southwest. Valencia argues that the center of their operations is now Cali, the country's third-largest city and one quite close to the Pacific coast.
Most People Wouldn't
The Iranian daily Siyasat-e Rouz estimated that the operation of the Bushehr reactor depends on agreements between Russia and the West.
Alternative Pinhead-ergy
Solar start-up comany Semprius just unveiled an ultra-tiny solar cell that is half the size of a pinhead and (when combined with powerful but inexpensive lenses) can concentrate sunlight more than 11,000 times and convert it to electricity! The minuscule solar cells are created through a low-cost production system that utilizes standard manufacturing processes and micro-transfer printing. This system enables the creation of CPV modules with high performance, high reliability, and low cost – not to mention scalability and high-volume production.
Law of the Land
Haryana has been the centre of widespread protests by villagers who believe their village councils, or khaps should be allowed to impose their own punishments on those who disobey their rulings or break local traditions – mainly honour killings of those who marry within their own gotra or sub-caste, regarded in the state as akin to incest.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Belated Link Round-Up For 7/22/11

*this is being posted on 7/26/11 due to this and the fact that Culture Bore is presently written in a basement in Chicago. On the plus side, the new carpet feels kinda nice.

European Disunion
Belgium, a federation of Flemish and Walloon communities, hosts the EU in Brussels and is often held up as example of European integration.
Le Soir newspaper, the voice of the Belgian establishment has warned that the country's demise would signal the end of an EU "project" that, like Belgium, faces a popular backlash.
Wide Network
Many Uighur groups have, in the past, accused the government of portraying local protests and ethnic unrest as being driven by separatist groups in order to justify security clampdowns.

In 2009, the government blamed overseas groups for orchestrating ethnic riots between Uighurs and Han Chinese in the city of Urumqi, which left more than 197 people dead. However, dozens of the city's residents, in interviews with The Hindu last year, blamed long-standing distrust between both ethnic groups, driven by increasing migration and rising inequalities, as sparking ethnic tensions.
They Did It For The Lulz
I believe in some principles, but I think this ties back into what I said earlier about the younger generation and learning from common ground (the internet). Most of us aren't in too deep with politics, we have a lot to learn and experience to gain, so I don't want to take a complete side. Maybe if we're both still going in a year or two, we'll go over the same questions.
Back-Up Plan
Turkish basketball team makes offer to Kobe Bryant amid NBA lockout
Besiktas is trying to make the biggest splash in the business of luring locked-out N.B.A. players, and it remains one of the few teams with enough money to lure N.B.A. players abroad. Other clubs have seemed less willing to offer deals with escape clauses for when the lockout ends. Most of the other signings of N.B.A. players by foreign clubs have been for a full season, including Sonny Weems’s deal with a team in the Lithuanian league and Nenad Krstic’s with CSKA Moscow. Center Timofey Mozgov signed with B.C. Khimki of the Russian League. The Nets’ Sasha Vujacic signed with Anadolu Efes of the Turkish League; his contract has an option for a second season.
Field Trip
"Headteachers have described to me happy and outgoing young girls who have returned from their summer holidays withdrawn and distressed. I struggle to understand why the systematic and brutal wounding of young girls is not considered a national scandal. I know that right honourable and honourable members would not tolerate a situation in which little British girls were taken abroad and returned missing their fingers. Likewise, we should not tolerate female genital mutilation."

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Free Energy and The 90's Jesus Pop Machine (Link Round-Up 7/21/11)

Out Of Thin Air
Device collects ambient electromagnetic energy from radio/tv waves
Tentzeris and his team are using inkjet printers to combine sensors, antennas and energy scavenging capabilities on paper or flexible polymers. The resulting self powered wireless sensors could be used for chemical, biological, heat and stress sensing for defense and industry; radio frequency identification (RFID) tagging for manufacturing and shipping, and monitoring tasks in many fields including communications and power usage.
Mr. Jha said he wanted to point out inconsistencies even in the attitudes of people who might think of themselves as having moved beyond the issue of caste. As in the U.S., with racial affirmative action, many Indians couch opposition to “reservations” in terms of merit – with Indian students echoing white applicants to colleges who complain of being passed over for minority applicants they see as less deserving for having poorer grades.

Mr. Jha said he hears people say things like, “‘Would you go to a doctor who has come on a reserved quota?’”

“At the same time, would you go to an upper-caste doctor who hasn’t got admission through competition but who’s bought a seat?” said Mr. Jha.
Jesus Christ Superstars
Christian Pop Rock: No Match For Tastemaking Market Research
Basically, CCM caught on to the number one rule of coolness: don’t let your marketing show. The best bands—the successful ones, at least—learned to gloss over the gospel message the same way TV producers camouflaged corporate sponsorship. Explicitly Christian lyrics prevented DC Talk from crossing over to the secular market in the ’90s; today it’s difficult to imagine their unapologetic faith making it in the Christian circuit.
It Gets Better...But Sometimes Worse
Ghana cracks down on homosexuality
The move by the Minister follows months of campaigning by the Christian Council of Ghana which last week called on Ghanaians not to vote for any politician who believes in the rights of homosexuals.
Muslims and Christians in the Western Region have been staging protests ever since a local media report claimed there were around 8000 homosexuals and lesbians in the district.
Mapping The Past
A Brief History of Mapmaking
Pei Xiu (224–271), known as the “Ptolemy of China,” produced maps with a geometrical grid and graduated scale to more accurately determine location and the distance between points. In the 12th century, during the Song Dynasty, detailed maps of China and the surrounding region were etched into stone. These stone stele maps (named after the Stele Forest of Xian where they were found) are impressively detailed, with intricate coastal boundaries, major river systems, and hundreds of settlements.
Wheeling and Dealing
Joint South Sudan/Glencore oil partnership sparks concern
Raising concerns in South Sudan, Glencore was founded by fugitive U.S. financier Marc Rich, who until receiving presidential pardon in 2001 from President Bill Clinton, was wanted in the United States by the FBI for alleged tax fraud.

Glencore International is a multinational mining and commodities trading company with headquarters in Baar, Switzerland, and is the world's largest commodities trading company. It had a 2010 global market share of 60 percent in the international zinc market, 50 percent in the global copper market, 9 percent in the world's grain market and 3 percent in the international oil market

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

It Takes Two (Foreigners) To Tango

[Photo credit: me]

Some Argentines are furious about non-Argentines competing in and winning tango dance tournaments.
It seems paradoxical, in light of the present dispute, that tango originated among European immigrants here and in Uruguay in the late 19th century. The dance is "a blend of sex and chess," says tango expert Christine Denniston. After some down decades, tango started a renaissance in the 1980s, coinciding with the end of a repressive dictatorship in Argentina and the launch of a wildly successful international dance and musical show called "Tango Argentina." Last year, 100,000 foreign visitors came to Buenos Aires for August's "World Cup" and accompanying festival—a doubling of attendance in just two years.

Daniel Carreira, who runs the website in Buenos Aires, says he can think of at least two cases in recent years when foreigners—Japanese and Colombians—won their categories in the "World Cup." He says Argentines are slowly having to come to grips with the fact they no longer have a monopoly on the dance.
What the article doesn't get into (but should have) is the intense cultural pride and nationalism that permeates the country. To me, this quote says it all:
"Is it xenophobia—or are they just afraid of getting beaten?" 
It's both.

Sure, Argentina gets some tourists (like yours truly) for its European fusion in architecture styles and dishes (pasta, steak, empanadas, and not much else) and a lot of American and Spanish-language popular culture (such as Steven Segal's "Attack Force" and "White Chicks"). But the country, for the most part, is very insular.

Think of it this way: Buenos Aires is a large city in a sparsely populated part of the world that used to be very wealthy at the start of the 20th century. Argentina is former Spanish colony-turned-hub for European immigrants on a continent where the majority of people are non-white or mixed race. These factors contribute to a cultural bubble that raises Argentines to believe 1. they are the greatest people living in the greatest country in the world, and 2. they are beautiful Europeans in both culture and physical features.

I don't want to make a blanket statement about the country, because I met some wonderful, level-headed people in Argentina during my travels. 

But in many respects, the earlier quote is a trick question - because the national identity of Argentina is based strongly on racial/ethnic pride, Argentines offended by non-Caucasian tango champions are actually driven by both xenophobia and fears of being beaten - because, in this case, they blur together.

...Kinda like the movements in tango are supposed to.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Forget The Debt Ceiling (Link Round-Up 7/19/11)

[via Inhabitat]

Career Path
Teach For America? Or Teach For Resume-Padding?
Three years ago, a TFA recruiter plastered the Fordham campus with flyers that said “Learn how joining TFA can help you gain admission to Stanford Business School.” The message of that flyer was “use teaching in high-poverty areas a stepping stone to a career in business.” It was not only profoundly disrespectful to every person who chooses to commit their life to the teaching profession, it advocated using students in high-poverty areas as guinea pigs for an experiment in “resume-padding” for ambitious young people.

In saying these things, let me make it clear that my quarrel is not with the many talented young people who join Teach for America, some of whom decide to remain in the communities they work in and become lifetime educators. It is with the leaders of the organization, who enjoy the favor with which TFA is regarded with by captains of industry, members of Congress, the media, and the foundation world. They have used this access to move rapidly to positions as heads of local school systems, executives in charter school companies, and educational analysts in management consulting firms.
But Where Do You Put The Banner Ads?
How to design a better online newspaper
“Featured” sections are irrelevant, opinion-shaping editorial promotion; not news.
Headlines matter and can be scanned; intro text does not and compromises scanning.
Author, source, and date/time are important.
Opinion or Op Eds are distinct from news.
Article ratings or “likes” are irrelevant in the context of news.
Comments are not contextual to news, but to social media
Media types (video, gallery, audio) are not sections. These are simply common components of each story.
Buddhist caves in India demolished during mining
Amid reports that the four caves, located around 3 kms from here, were destroyed during the routine mining activity of the Mana Opencast Mines of Western Coalfields Limited on Wednesday, District Collector Vijay Waghmare said WCL "had not obtained any permission for the demolition of caves"
There aren't plans to commercially produce the BiPod quite yet; the model vehicle was built to measure outside interest in continued development. But the recent news that the Terrafugia Transition--another flying car--has been cleared for use by the U.S. National Highway Safety Administration means that other companies may be more interested in this kind of vehicle, simply because many of the legal hurdles have already been cleared.
Organizational Management Theory
Why India has problems feeding itself
In recent months, Thanks to a surge in oil and petrol prices and the rampant corruption and inefficiencies of the public welfare system, food prices have skyrocketed by 20 per cent, and many of the country’s poorest—the labourers who actually grow the grains — can’t afford to buy them.

Some farmers see no way out. Between 1997 and 2009, an estimated 200,000 Indian farmers committed suicide, buried under mountains of rising debt.

“It’s a double crisis,” said C.P. Chandrasekhar, a scholar at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi. “There’s both falling food production and people who can’t afford to eat. It’s a tragedy.”
What Debt Ceiling?
Warren Buffett calls for removal of debt ceiling
“We cannot go to Aug. 2 and tell the rest of the world, ‘Look because we’re having this little fight in our sandbox back here, that we’re going to essentially default on obligations of the United States for the first time in our history,’” he said.
Harsh Examples
China executes officials over corruption
Earlier this year, President Hu Jintao focused on corruption during his main speech to celebrate 90 years since the party was founded.

He warned that corruption could cost the party the support of the people.
Let's Meet Halfway
A liberal reads the conservative classics
Maybe, in part, it is because a central tenet of liberalism is that ideology should be eschewed in favor of the supposedly enlightened, pragmatic approach of making ad hoc judgments about issues. But on this conservatives are more realistic. Ideology is inevitable; we all have an ideology, whether we are aware of it or not. First of all, ideology is about values, and we can’t decide how we wish to solve policy issues without having a firm grasp on the values we are seeking to advance. Second, the world is too complex for us to make informed judgments about all of the issues that confront us. We need a philosophy to serve as a north star. One way I’ve been enriched by reading the great works of conservatism is that I’ve come better to appreciate how central ideology is to thinking about matters of governance and public policy.

Monday, July 18, 2011

When In Afghanistan...

You kill enough leaders, and soon there's no one left to run the country.
A decade later, the Taliban's own leadership has been decimated by the U.S.-led campaign of drone strikes and Special Forces raids. Ironically, the highly successful effort to kill off midlevel commanders has managed to wipe out the very people who need to be engaged in any future negotiated peace process. Such figures, whether Taliban or local insurgent leaders, some of whom have already indicated that they are tired of conflict, are now being replaced by a far younger and more radical swell of commanders, many of them in their early 20s. Often born or trained on the Pakistani side of the border with little sense of Pashtunwali, the traditional Pashtun tribal code of honor, they are proving far more hard-line and ruthless than their predecessors.
Failed state, here we come.

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Tangible Costs of Polluted Air and Climate Change (Link Round-Up 7/16/11)

[via Inhabitat]

Tragedy of The Commons
If someone offered you an investment that would pay out $25 for every $1 you paid you would probably take it.

It turns out that investing in clean air generates exactly those returns in health benefits to the American public. The rules that keep our air safe to breathe raked in annual benefits of $1.3 trillion compared to costs of only $53 billion in 2010. Things like avoided doctors’ visits, increased property values, and pollution-related deaths postponed add up to major money in the pockets of families around the country.
Indonesians are expected to experience warmer temperatures, increased precipitation (in the northern islands), decreased precipitation (in the southern islands), and changes in the seasonality of precipitation and the timing of monsoons. These phenomena could increase the risk of either droughts or flooding, depending on the location, and could also reduce biodiversity, lead to more frequent forest fires and other natural disasters, and increase diseases such as malaria and dengue, as well incidences of diarrhoea.
The political, economic, and social impact of this will be significant for an archipelago-based country with decentralized governance, poor infrastructure, and a history of separatist and radical conflict. According to a World Bank report, the greatest concern for Indonesia will be decreased food security, with some estimates projecting variance in crop yields of between -22 percent and +28 percent by the end of the century. Rising sea levels also threaten key Indonesian cities, including Jakarta and Surabaya, which could stimulate ‘disruptive internal migration’ and result in serious economic losses. Unsurprisingly, the poor likely will be disproportionately impacted by all of this.
Private Discourse
Ethiopian self-censorship
The MPs noted that state media, especially the Ethiopian Radio and Television Agency (ERTA) is not transmitting to the public about the weaknesses of the executive organs (ministries, authorities and agencies) which are identified by the standing committees because it is afraid of the executives.
“Whenever we meet some folks, they always teeth at us as if we are not worthy and do nothing at the parliament, except raising our hands to approve laws,” said one angry MP.

“You, state media journalists, don’t have the moral and professional integrity, like doctors and other professionals. Yon only report good parts of the executive organs,” he said adding that he never expects any improvements from ERTA in the future. The MP rather suggested that the best solution for the parliament is to have its own media, like some countries such as India.
In the the private sector, a creative director is actually in charge. In the public sector, a wide variety of agencies and private institutions are doing their own thing. What would the creative director for a city actually control? Logos? Signage? Street design? Planning reviews? It strikes me that in almost any case, the creative director would be a classic “czar” – that is, someone with nominal responsibility for something, but no real portfolio. The job of a czar is virtually impossible, as anyone who has held one can attest. If you don’t own bodies or budgets, you are basically reduced to begging people to do what you want. This requires deft salesmanship and relationship skills, but are those what creative director types are known for?
Indian Gigolo
Last year, 21 boys under 18 contracted HIV in Bombay. Seven succumbed to 'professional hazards'. Migration of men from the mofussils to the metros has been a centuries-old transition, and while patterns and compulsions of movement remain more or less unbroken, motives have got distorted. Young boys (mainly heterosexual), who in the throes of these times mature sooner and show physical signs of such ripening, have discovered a new inroad to money, and contrary to belief, it isn't easy money. This is a profession where youth and physical beauty have high stock. To understand this, process the recent commoditisation of masculinity, where smooth figures with waxed chests and shining hair move with a sensuality previously only imputed to femininity in the ads. Men sell sexuality as well as women today, if not better. (Perhaps that's why we see so much of John Abraham .)
Internet Killed The Periodical Star
“It is really interesting to me that Pitchfork has reached the level of prominence without having the bylines that you die to read,” he says. “I think it’s partly about the brand. Make the brand as big as possible. Take Lollapalooza. That fest has nothing to do with the name it comes from. Pitchfork has been really good at building a name. What does that mean for criticism? The jury’s out.”

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Arab Democracies, Modern Media Discourse (Link Round-Up 7/15/11)

All The News That's Fit To Press Release
Newsrooms shrink, public relations firms grow
Michael Schudson, a journalism professor at Columbia University, CJR contributor, and author of "Discovering the News," said modern public relations started when Ivy Lee, a minister's son and a former reporter at the New York World, tipped reporters to an accident on the Pennsylvania Railroad. Before then, railroads had done everything they could to cover up accidents. But Lee figured that crashes, which tend to leave visible wreckage, were hard to hide. So it was better to get out in front of the inevitable story.

The press release was born. Schudson said the rise of the "publicity agent" created deep concern among the nation's leaders, who distrusted a middleman inserting itself and shaping messages between government and the public. Congress was so concerned that it attached amendments to bills in 1908 and 1913 that said no money could be appropriated for preparing newspaper articles or hiring publicity agents.

But World War I pushed those concerns to the side. The government needed to rally the public behind a deeply unpopular war. Suddenly, publicity agents did not seem so bad. Woodrow Wilson picked a former newspaperman, George Creel, to head his new Committee on Public Information in 1917. The group cranked out thousands of press releases in support of the war and started a speakers bureau that eventually grew to 75,000 people, all giving morale-boosting talks across the country.
*I currently intern at a subsidiary of one of the largest PR firms in the world.

So while going to Harvard constitutes an invitation to join the American upper class, this invitation is pretty useless if you’re living in Canada. I often think about how I was given this invitation—this tremendously valuable thing—and I just kind of threw it away. I’m not sure how I feel about this.
The Enemy Of My Enemy Is Still My Enemy
As new Wikileaks reports indicate, despite the help of Pakistani nuclear scientist A.Q Khan in building Iran's post-revolution nuclear program, some top Pakistani officials do not want Iran to become a nuclear armed power. The Pakistani leadership, wishing for their country to remain the only nuclear Islamic state, cooperated with George W. Bush's efforts against Iranian nuclear development.

This is unlikely to change anytime soon. Pakistan, for all its rapprochement with Iran, considers it to be a rival in Afghanistan.
Evolution Theories Evolve
Is there a fourth "domain" of life?
For now, Eisen’s undecided on where giant viruses fit into the tree of life. They could have branched off early, he says, “but I think it is equally plausible that even the big viruses have stolen their cellular-organism-like genes from hosts of some kind.”
One way to cut down on the uncertainty would be to fill in more branches on the tree of life. It’s easy to forget that for all the millions of species scientists have discovered, there are millions–maybe tens of millions–more that are waiting to be found. Right now, scientists are forced reconstruct the tree of life by comparing species that are separated by hundreds of millions or billions of years of evolution. The more species scientists add to the tree of life, the closer those comparisons will become. And there’s no telling what sort of strange branches the tree will turn out to have.
Party Time
Will ultraconservative Salafists benefit the most in the Egyptian election?
Before Egyptians took to the streets to topple former President Hosni Mubarak, the only option for a religious vote were candidates from the Muslim Brotherhood, who ran as independents in Egypt's parliamentary elections. Despite the regime's attempts to restrict its participation in the political system by banning parties organized along religious lines, it was the best-organized Islamist movement in the country. These days, the Brotherhood has moved to the center and shows signs of fracturing, with members branching off to start their own political parties. The emergence of Salafi parties has broken the Brotherhood's monopoly on the religious vote and created an opening for more fundamentalist views.
The history of Syria's failed Baath Party ideals
Between 1947 and 1949 an odd group of idealists and hard realists in the American government set out to intervene in Syria. Their aim was to liberate the Syrian people from a corrupt autocratic elite - and allow true democracy to flourish. They did this because they were convinced that "the Syrian people are naturally democratic" and that all that was neccessary was to get rid of the elites - and a new world of "peace and progress" would inevitably emerge.
What resulted was a disaster, and the consequences of that disaster then led, through a weird series of bloody twists and turns, to the rise to power of the Assad family and the widescale repression in Syria today.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Murdoch, Afghanistan, Vomiting, and Dating (Link Round-Up 7/12/11)

[via Reddit]

Can't Live Without Him
Why politicians are more afraid of Rupert Murdoch's absence
Murdoch gets the approval of politicians, then, not by frightening them—anyone frightened by Fox News would be best off staying indoors all day—but by making their professional lives so pleasant and easy, by insulating them so thoroughly from journalistic scrutiny, that they dread the removal of the protection.
Things Better Explained With Venn Diagrams
In numerous occasions Taliban leader Mullah Omar himself has characterised his struggle as a "nationalist movement". Apart from the historical record showing that Washington always fears and fights nationalist movements, Omar's comment also shows that the Taliban strategy has nothing to do with al-Qaeda's aim of establishing a Caliphate via global jihad.

So al-Qaeda is not the major enemy - not anymore, nor has it been for quite some time now. This is a war between a superpower and a fierce, nationalist, predominantly Pashtun movement - of which the Taliban are a major strand; regardless of their medieval ways, they are fighting a foreign occupation and doing what they can to undermine a puppet regime (Hamid Karzai's).
Afghanistan's ethnic divisions aren't the problem
Ethnicity matters among Afghan politicians, but it is not a reliable indicator of political affiliation or loyalty. Even party affiliation isn’t a reliable indicator of where an individual legislator will come down on a nationally controversial issue, because Afghanistan’s party system is weak and party discipline within the parliament is almost non-existent.

The president knows that his special court could, for example, replace 10 Tajiks affiliated with the “opposition” Jamiat-e Islami party with 10 different Jamiati Tajiks and still give him 10 additional supporters in the parliament. And it appears that, broadly-speaking, that’s Karzai’s plan.
Purging Toxins
"Rehab Tourism" in Bangkok included vomit therapy
The Cabin reportedly takes in 15 foreigners per month, which works out to about 180 per year. A spokesperson at Tham Krabok said they get about 120 foreigners a year, "although the peak time is between August and December when we normally have around 20 foreigners here at any one time."

"I think this is because people tend to party during the summer months and then when summer ends they start to realize that maybe they have a problem," said the spokesperson. "We get people from all over the world but the most common countries are probably the United States, U.K., Ireland and Australia."
(Patent) Rules Were Made To Be Broken
"To make them available to all countries, India will also use the flexibilities allowed under TRIPS (trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights) to ensure that people living with HIV have access to all life-saving medicines," Sharma added.
GA crackdown on illegal labor threatens $300 million loss in agriculture sector
In short, we have turned good workers into criminals and turned criminals into bad workers, losing on both ends of the deal. Incredible.
Can't Byte Me Love
She identified two big social trends that have led to a greater reliance on online dating: an aging population, and women around the world entering the workforce, marrying later, divorcing more, moving from place to place. “Our social and sexual patterns have changed more in the last fifty years than in the last ten thousand,” she told me. “Our courtship rituals are rapidly changing, and we don’t know what to do.”

Monday, July 11, 2011

Pakistan and the United States: Worst Friends Forever

The US just announced that they are cutting $800 million of aid to Pakistan.
Since 2001, the US has provided $21bn in civilian and military assistance, including $4.5bn in the 2010-2011 financial year, as aid was increased under the Obama administration. Two proposed bills in Congress over the last week, which were voted down, would have cut off aid to Pakistan altogether.

Pakistan's economy is spiralling downwards, with electricity shortages shutting down industry, and rising food and fuel prices causing protests on the streets. Karachi, the country's economic powerhouse, is often shut down by ethnic gang violence, which has claimed more than 100 lives in the current spate of bloodshed.
Sure, nobody wants to see even the hint of state support for terrorist groups that bomb fellow Muslims in the name of Islam, nobody wants an aggressive, fundamentalist Pakistani state aiming its nuclear weapons at India or elsewhere, and nobody wants to see the Taliban defeat the Pakistani military and establish regional dominance, which is why we've given this kind of military aid before.

But I'd sure like to see a cost-by-cost break down of how the previous aid money was spent.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Agent Orange vs. The Amazon Rainforest (Link Round-Up 7/9/11)

Independence Day
The UN Security Council has passed a resolution approving a new 7,000-strong peacekeeping force for South Sudan - but this is basically a rebranding of the force which was already in Sudan, mostly in the south.

Khartoum has said its mandate would not be renewed, leading the US to argue that the 1,000 UN troops should be allowed to remain in South Kordofan. The 1,000 troops in the disputed town of Abyei are to be replaced by 4,200 Ethiopian soldiers.
Fight The Power
Muslim Brotherhood member Khalid Dawood, who attended the protest in Alexandria, said the Brotherhood – which in recent months has been plagued by internal splits and squabbles – was persuaded to attend because it was worried about the ruling military council's lack of transparency.
Rally organisers say Malaysia's electoral system is plagued with fraud - they want longer campaign periods, automatic voter registration and equality of access to the largely government-linked mainstream media.

The authorities say the protesters are trying to promote communist ideology, thereby "waging war against the king".
Right Hand, Meet Left Hand
Kenneth E. Melson, the ATF's acting director, has been under pressure to resign after the agency allowed guns to be purchased in the United States in hopes they would be traced to cartel leaders. Under the gun-trafficking operation known as Fast and Furious, the ATF lost track of the guns, and many were found at the scenes of crimes in Mexico, as well as two that were recovered near Nogales, Ariz., where a U.S. Border Patrol agent was killed.

In two days of meetings with congressional investigators over the weekend, Melson said the FBI and DEA kept the ATF "in the dark" about their relationships with the cartel informants. If ATF agents had known of the relationships, the agency might have ended the investigation much earlier, he said.
Al-Robin Hood
Nigerian authorities blame a radical Islamic sect known as Boko Haram for a series of attacks on government officials and security forces in the north. The group, modeled after Afghanistan’s Taliban, claimed responsibility for a June 16 blast at the national police headquarters in the capital, Abuja, which killed at least five people and injured 11.
Jungle Fever
Agent Orange used to clear Amazon
"They [deforesters] have changed their strategy because, in a short time, more areas of forest can be destroyed with herbicides. Thus, they don't need to mobilize tree-cutting teams and can therefore bypass the supervision of IBAMA," says Jerfferson Lobato of IBAMA.

While Agent Orange was originally designed to clear forest coverage in combat situations, its use became a subject of controversy due to its impact on humans and wildlife. During the Vietnam War, the United States military dispersed 12 million gallons of herbicide, impacting the health of some 3 million, mostly peasant, Vietnamese citizens, and causing birth defects in around 500 thousand children. Additionally, the chemical's effect on the environment have been profound and lasting.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

SlutWalks, Chinese Art Bribes, and Misguided Youth (Link Round-Up 7/7/11)

[via Inhabitat]

Kids These Days
Why the children in Canadian-Muslim families have more militant beliefs
I’ve spoken to many parents in the Pakistani and Somali communities who’ve “lost” their children to the jihad. Fathers, in tears, because they haven’t seen their sons for weeks. Convinced their boys have been recruited to Pakistan’s Taliban or Yemen’s faction of al-Qaeda or to Somalia’s al-Shabaab youth movement. Mothers who’ve watched their Canadian-born children turn into angry, militant Islamists.

And here I must stress something: There’s a difference between Islam and Islamism. Islam is a religion, a faith, as beautiful and as flawed as any other, which can be practised as liberally or as conservatively as we choose. Islamism, however, is a doctrine that uses Islam as political ideology, mandating sharia law, armed jihad against all non-Muslims and, ultimately, a domination of Islamism over the West. It’s this Islamism that’s seizing young Muslims.
Termite-based biofuel production?
“People have overlooked the host termite as a source of enzymes that could be used in the production of biofuels,” said Mike Scharf, professor in molecular physiology and urban entomology at Purdue University.

“For a long time it was thought that the symbionts (small organisms in termites’ guts), were solely responsible for digestion,” said Scharf, reports the journal Public Library of Science One.
No Future
The grim prospects of South African youth
She admitted to me she didn't know as much about politics or her own history as she would like, and said that that was true of many in her generation. That's in part because the real history is not taught in any detail in the schools, or shown with any regularity on South African TV stations that are more into selling than telling by pumping out sports and popular culture.

Kids know more abut Mandela than the movement he led, an expression of the celebrity worship that dominates youth culture. On TV here, Oprah is better known than such lionesses of the freedom fight as Albertina Sisulu, revered by many as the Mother of the Nation, who died a month ago.
Art History
The Chinese art of "elegant bribery"
The history of elegant bribery can be traced back to ancient Chinese dynasties, and arguably, it has been an intractable problem since the Ming dynasty (1368-1644). Consider the case of the prime minister Yan Song (1480-1567) and his son Yan Shifan (1513-1565): they were notorious for corruption in general, and they were known to have received elegant bribes in particular. Eventually, the emperor confiscated all of their properties, and over 6000 pieces of invaluable calligraphy and paintings were found— most of them were bribes of their subordinates.
What's In A Name?
The future of SlutWalks
The idea that women’s clothing has some bearing on whether they will be raped is a dangerous myth feminists have tried to debunk for decades. Despite all the activism and research, however, the cultural misconception prevails. After an 11-year-old girl in Texas was gang-raped, the New York Times ran a widely criticized story this spring that included a description of how the girl dressed “older than her age” and wore makeup — as if either was relevant to the culpability of the 18 men accused of raping her. In Scotland, one secondary school is calling for uniforms to be baggier and longer in an attempt to dissuade pedophiles.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

China's Secret Oil Spill, Secret Hindu Treasures, and a Very Public Journalist Assassination (Link Round-Up 7/5/11)

[via NASA]

Buried Treasure
The actual value of the treasure haul can be ascertained only after it is examined by the archaeological department, said Jayakumar.
The temple, dedicated to Hindu lord Vishnu, was built hundreds of years ago by the king of Travancore and donations by devotees have been kept in the temple's vaults since.
The Less You Know
The spill at one point had grown into an "oil belt" about three kilometres long and 30 metres wide -- larger than previously reported, the paper said.
The spill was first reported by a member of the public on the popular Chinese micro-blogging site Sina Weibo on June 21.
CNOOC confirmed nine days later that US oil company ConocoPhillips, which operates the Penglai 19-3 oil field where the leak originated, first reported oil on the surface of the sea "in early or mid-June", the China Daily said.
Spy vs. Not A Spy
US claims Pakistani spy network killed journalist
The anger over Mr. Shahzad’s death followed unprecedented questioning in the media about the professionalism of the army and the ISI, a military-controlled spy agency, in the aftermath of the Bin Laden raid.

Since that initial volley of questioning, the ISI has mounted a steady counter-campaign. Senior ISI officials have called and visited journalists, warning them to douse their criticisms and rally around the theme of a united country, according to three journalists who declined to be named for fear of reprisals.
Defeating The Purpose
Antimicrobal wipes and soaps make you sick
What is worse, perhaps the most comprehensive study of the effectiveness of antibiotic and non-antibiotic soaps in the U.S., led by Elaine Larson at Columbia University (with Aiello as a coauthor), found that while for healthy hand washers there was no difference between the effects of the two, for chronically sick patients (those with asthma and diabetes, for example) antibiotic soaps were actually associated with increases in the frequencies of fevers, runny noses and coughs [4]. In other words, antibiotic soaps appeared to have made those patients sicker. Let me say that again: Most people who use antibiotic soap are no healthier than those who use normal soap. AND those individuals who are chronically sick and use antibiotic soap appear to get SICKER.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Teacher Reform, T-Shirt Reform (Link Round-Up 7/4/11)

Those Who Can't Teach, Reform
Are Teachers the Weak Link of the educational system?
I have just found out that we are not part of the movement to “reform” schools. You see, we did not do all the stuff that the new “reformers” think is vital to improve our schools. We did not fire the staff, eliminate tenure, or go to pay based on test scores. We did not become a charter school. We did not take away control from a locally elected school board and give it to a mayor. We did not bring in a bunch of two-year short-term teachers.

Nope, we did not do any of these things. Because we knew they would not work.
Fashion with Function
T-shirt that can charge your cellphone
The material used in the shirts is made from a product called piezoelectric film, which is capable of transforming sound waves into an electric charge via the compression of interlaced quartz crystals. Once that electric charge is generated, it is stored in a reservoir battery which can, in turn, be used to charge your mobile device.
You Owe Us
Chinese local government debt equal to 1/4 of China's economic output
The National Audit Office said Monday that local-government debts total some 10.7 trillion yuan ($1.65 trillion), or 27% of China's gross domestic product last year. The report Monday was billed as a comprehensive tally of such debt, much of which was incurred during a two-year stimulus-spending binge ordered by Beijing to fight the effects of the global recession.

Some analysts say the National Audit Office's figure failed to count certain kinds of local government debt, meaning the actual total could be even higher.
Paper Nor Plastic
First waste-free grocery store opens in Austin, TX
If a store like In.gredients succeeds, will it push big brands to start providing bulk options in chain stores, and those chain stores to accept and promote those options? It'll be huge if we reach a point where you can bring a refillable bottle into Walmart or Target and fill it with shampoo or laundry detergent, and leave the store carrying all your groceries with no more packaging than you entered with.
How To Not Play Poker
Pakistan Defense Minister: We Can't Match India's Military
"The capacity of India and Pakistan to fight was for 20 to 22 days. Now India has inducted a lot of armaments, may be they can last for 45 days, we will not be able to do so," Mukhtar said in an interview to BBC Urdu.
Health Hazards
American Medical Association officially condemns photoshopping models
The AMA this week formally denounced retouching pictures and asked ad agencies to consider setting stricter guidelines for how photos are manipulated before becoming advertisements. "We must stop exposing impressionable children and teenagers to advertisements portraying models with body types only attainable with the help of photo editing software," said AMA board member Barbara McAneny.
Selective Memory
In Defense of Libraries
In the library, I am in a space beyond the marketplace, beyond consumption, beyond the money censors, beyond the noise. I am in a place where librarians have accumulated the knowledge and the stories important to me and my community.

The library is the embodiment and the refuge of our collective imagination. In the library, we learn just how big and full of possibility the world is and we build the kindling to fuel our creative fires and to change our culture.

Those two transformative acts are too important just to leave to the playgrounds and the graveyards of the marketplace.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Oil Leaks In Yellowstone River, Terrorist Lobbyists, and Maoist Delusions (Link Round-Up 7/2/11)

The Environmentalist's Nightmare
An Exxon oil pipeline running underneath the Yellowstone River near Laurel ruptured late Friday night and sent an undetermined amount of oil down river. The oil leak prompted the evacuation of several residents along the river.
History Lessons
What to learn from the 54 BC Battle of Carrhae
The Romans first fell back to Carrhae, but lacking provisions, were again forced to withdraw. Surena then arranged to meet Crassus, ostensibly to discuss terms. But it was a trap. In the resulting fight, Crassus was killed, his severed head sent north to Parthian King Orodes II, who was campaigning in Armenia. In the end, the Parthians killed some 20,000 Romans and captured 10,000.
Animal Farm
In the years since 1973 I have learned much, much more about how wrong I was to take Mao Zedong’s “socialism” at face value. I lived in China for a full year, from 1979-80, studying post-Mao “scar literature” and coming to realize, by talking with Chinese writers and readers, that even the denunciations that could be published in that era showed only the surface of the disastrous cruelties that had befallen China.
...In With The New
Kenyans ejected from homelands to make room for Western biofuel farms
Kagema says Nature Kenya is trying to support villagers to go to court. "These people have lived here for hundreds of years, but suddenly someone writes up a piece of paper and they are squatters on their own land. The delta is of international importance, yet they control the water and drain the wetlands and portions are parcelled off to private investors like the biofuel companies. Homes and lands are given away from under them. Nobody cares because nothing happens immediately, but it is coming. Tana Delta is in chaos. When everyone picks up their share with their bits of paperwork … it will be war. The day is coming."
Indian farmers look to solar panels
With 40 percent of India's rural households lacking electricity and nearly a third of its 30 million agricultural water pumps running on subsidized diesel, "there is a huge market and a lot of potential," said Santosh Kamath, executive director of consulting firm KPMG in India. "Decentralized solar installations are going to take off in a very big way and will probably be larger than the grid-connected segment."
Can't Buy Me Love
Iranian group lobbies for removal from terrorist listing
One of Washington’s top lobbying firms, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, has been hired by MEK supporters (the Iranian American Community of Northern California) to remove the organization from the Foreign Terrorist Organizations list. Lobbyists working on behalf of MEK include former congressman Vic Fazio (D-California) and Hal Shapiro, a former senior adviser to President Bill Clinton, whose State Department originally put MEK on the list.

MEK has also garnered support from the political odd couple of Howard Dean and John Bolton, along with former Republican Attorney General Michael Mukasey and Democratic ex-Energy Secretary Bill Richardson.

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