Thursday, September 29, 2011

Al-Qaeda vs. Iran: The 9/11 Propaganda Wars

At a recent UN speech, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad implied that the 9/11 attacks were caused by the United States, echoing a popular and enduring conspiracy theory.
In a veiled reference to the U.S., he charged that the "mysterious" Sept. 11 terrorist attacks were a pretext to invade Iraq and Afghanistan.
In response, Al-Qaeda's English-language "Inspire" magazine attacked Ahmadinejad for spreading falsehoods, and claimed it was due to jealously over the Sunni terrorist network's influence in the Islamic world and geopolitics.
For them, Al Qaeda was a competitor for the hearts and minds of the disenfranchised Muslims around the world. Al Qaeda, an organization under fire, with no state, succeeded in what Iran couldn’t. Therefore it was necessary for the Iranians to discredit 9/11 and what better way to do so? Conspiracy theories. 
Iran and the Shi’a in general do not want to give Al Qaeda credit for the greatest and biggest operation ever committed against America because this would expose their lip-service jihad against the Great Satan.
And, of course, plenty of comments below the NYT article are accusing Al-Qaeda of being a CIA front. But what if those commenters are Iranian plants?

...See how this conspiracy theory rabbit hole could go on and on?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A Seemingly Legitimate Documentary About Mayan-Alien Contact?

Given the popularity of History Channel's "Ancient Aliens" and 2012 conspiracy silliness, I'm shocked this isn't all over the news and Twitter.
A new documentary about Mayan civilization will provide evidence of extraterrestrial contact with the ancient culture, according to a Mexican government official and the film's producer.
"Revelations of the Mayans 2012 and Beyond," currently in production, will claim the Mayans had contact with extraterrestrials, producer Raul Julia-Levy revealed to TheWrap.  
"Mexico will release codices, artifacts and significant documents with evidence of Mayan and extraterrestrial contact, and all of their information will be corroborated by archaeologists," said Julia-Levy, son of actor Raul Julia.

Applied Sexual Economics 101

On one hand, I think the concept of "sexual economics" that this New York Post story covers is a huge oversimplification.
“The price of sex is about how much one party has to do in order to entice the other into being sexual,” said Kathleen Vohs, of the University of Minnesota, who has authored several papers on “sexual economics.” “It might mean buying her a drink or an engagement ring. These behaviors vary in how costly they are to the man, and that is how we quantify the price of sex.”
On the other hand, women withholding sex worked wonders in the Philippines.
The sex strike was an effort to end a separatist rebellion that's been under way on the Filipino island of Mindanao since the 1970s. 
The women are part of a sewing cooperative. They were fed up with not being able to deliver their products due to the violence that closed down a main road between two villages. So they withheld sex from their husbands until they promised to quit fighting. 
"If our husbands wanted to fight, we'd tell them not to. If they still went, we'd say OK, it's up to you. But you will not be accepted at home. 
Within weeks of the strike starting, the main village road re-opened and the fighting stopped.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Explaining The Pakistani Terrorist Problem

I've been reading Zahid Hussain's The Scorpion's Tail: The Relentless Rise of Islamic Militants in Pakistan-And How It Threatens America, and I'll post a review once I finish the book (got several other ones on the docket).

In the meantime, I recently came across two articles that trace why Pakistan has such a huge terrorist problem to begin with.

The American Interest explains how an incompetent, near-feudal civilian government and a powerful military in Pakistan led to the funding of various militant groups that the government can no longer control.
It is truly sobering to realize that even if things go relatively well in Afghanistan, the Pakistanis are certain to have their hands full with their own radical Islamists for years, probably decades, to come. Also sobering is the realization, after years of needless confusion, that radical Islamists in Pakistan are vastly more dangerous for the United States, its allies and the world at large than anyone or anything in Afghanistan.
And Foreign Policy clarifies that despite popular belief, the United States did not cause Pakistan's recent problems with terrorism, because they've existed long before 9/11.
Most pertinent of all, the Pakistani military must abandon the analytical distinction between "good" and "bad" militant groups, as well as abandoning the hope that "good" militant groups can fulfill regional strategic objectives, such as bringing India to the negotiating table on Kashmir or attaining "strategic depth" in Afghanistan. If nothing else, the last decade should have put paid to that theory of national interest. Notwithstanding the security establishment's desire to play favorites, the array of militant groups in Pakistan have a lot more that unites them than divides them. Indeed, LeJ -- to take one relevant example -- has deep connections with the Pakistani Taliban as well as al-Qaeda, both of whom have used extraordinary levels of violence against Pakistani targets. The idea that the state can take on one set of elements and leave others untouched is, in the medium- and long-term, completely fanciful.
Given the political currents in Pakistan, its hard to imagine these groups losing power any time soon.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Road To Fake Think Tank-dom

BBC's Adam Curtis delves into the somewhat improbable history of the early think tanks created to promote pre-determined conclusions.
The Think Tank that Antony Fisher set up was very different. It had no interest in thinking up new ideas because it already knew the "truth". It already had all the ideas it needed laid out in Professor Hayek's books. Its aim instead was to influence public opinion - through promoting those ideas.
It was a big shift away from the RAND model - you gave up being the manufacturing dept for ideas and instead became the sales and promotion dept for what Hayek had bluntly called "second-hand ideas".
To do this Fisher and Smedley knew they had to disguise what they were really up to. In 1955 Smedley wrote to Fisher - telling him bluntly that the new Institute had to be "cagey" about what its real function was. It should pretend to be non-political and neutral, but in reality they both knew that would be a front.
Curtis' ultimate (and debatable) point is that think tanks don't come up with new or different ways to organize society and solve its problems. Instead, they act as PR institutions to reinforce some variation of Friederich Hayek's managed, technocratic free market theories.

...My point is that starting a pirate radio station dedicated to Hayek's views is a really weird PR strategy.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Snapshots of Globalization: Katy Perry at Rock In Rio 2011

I happened to catch a banner ad on YouTube asking me to tune into a live stream of "Rock In Rio 2011" just now.

Having been to Rio and having been aware of the long-time success of the extremely large Rock In Rio concert series, I jumped in as Katy Perry launched into a medley of songs including "I Want Candy" and "Tootsie Roll", before launching into her own hit singles.

Looking at the lineup for the festival, there are a number of Brazilian acts, as well as hard rock bands like Guns 'N' Roses, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Metallica and Brazil's own Sepultura. Later on in the concert, Elton John and Rihanna will cap off first night of the festival.

But as I write this, the American pop singer and her Candy Land-themed backing band and dancers are gleefully performing "Hot 'N' Cold".

As a huge fan of bossa nova and 60's Brazilian rock, it's interesting to watch an entire crowd of Portuguese-speaking Brazilians singing along to "Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)" word-for-word. Although there are plenty of beautiful Brazilian vocal tracks, I'm sure the local equivalent of "Thank God It's Friday" isn't nearly as catchy as "T! G! I! F!" in perfectly accented American English. Watching Katy follow-up with a song about the merits of girls from California in a city renowned for exotic beaches and plastic surgeons was pretty funny, too.

But after several decades of English popular music's global dominance, maybe no one else cares that no artist from Rio de Janeiro is headlining the first night of its namesake festival.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

What The Chilean Student Protests Actually Look Like

While college students in the United States are mostly resigned to being saddled with unpayable debt and dismal job prospects, students in Chile have been protesting en masse for several months for a more affordable public education system.

The protests in action have looked a little something like this.


And this.

And even this.

Having been to Santiago, Chile before, what's weird to me is imagining all the tear gas and riot police in a city I found to be pleasant, but relatively calm. The sight of 15-year-olds making out in public, however, is totally normal (unfortunately).

American tourist observations aside, let's hope the Chilean students get what they're asking for.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Who "Won" The American Civil War?

This piece in The American Interest asks a very interesting question - who "really" won the Civil War?
Whatever else the Civil War failed to accomplish, and whatever questions it left unanswered, we can at least be reasonably certain about the answers to two questions: What America would we live in, and what world would others live in, if the American republic had fragmented into two or more pieces after April 1861? Or if the institution of slavery had survived, either in an independent Southern Confederacy or as the foundation of the new Western states whose future had been Abraham Lincoln’s greatest concern?
Everyone knows about the Gettysburg, Lincoln, the end of slavery, Reconstruction, and the Western expansion. However, you don't usually hear about the post-War rise of corporations and fluctuating commodities markets, which were just as vital to the development of this country.

But I guess it's kinda hard to dress up and re-enact those.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Religion's Awkward Collision With 2011 (Link Round-Up 9/17/11)

Paris has banned praying in the streets, a move seen to target the Muslim population.
The phenomenon of street prayers, which see Muslims spreading mats on footpaths, became a political issue after far right protests. 
France is home to the biggest Muslim minority in Western Europe. 
By some estimates, as many as six million French people, or just under 10% of the population, are Muslims, with origins in France's former North African colonies.
Turkish PM Tayyip Erdogan, making an appearance in Egypt, was rebuked by senior members of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood for advocating secular democracy.
“Now, in this transitional phase in Egypt, as well as in what comes after it, I believe that the Egyptians will establish democracy very well, and they will see that a “secular state” does not mean “an irreligious state.” Rather it means respect for all the religions and giving all individuals the freedom to practice religion as they please.” 
Erdogan’s remarks drew an immediate rebuke from Essam al-Arian, the number two man in the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood’s sponsored political party. He said that Egyptians did not need to be taught about democracy by Turkey.
Buddhists demolished a Muslim shrine in Sri Lanka over rumors of plans to build a mosque on the site.
Most of Sri Lanka's majority Sinhalese are Buddhist, and Muslims are regarded as a separate ethnic group. 
In a recent newspaper column, a veteran Muslim journalist said there was a growing fear among his community that some people were running a campaign to incite the Sinhalese against them, including through Sinhalese websites and print media.
Millenia-old Hindu funeral pyres have come under fire for the emissions they release.
Fifty to 60 million trees are burned during cremations every year in India, according to Mokshda, a Delhi-based NGO working to reduce the environmental impact of funeral pyres. 
"When you are burning those trees, you are emitting about eight million tonnes of carbon dioxide or greenhouse gas emissions," said Mokshda director Anshul Garg.
US Ambassador claims Afghan-based Haqqani network has links to the Pakistani government.
Pakistani authorities have consistently denied links with militant groups. 
The Haqqani network, which is closely allied to the Taliban, has been blamed for several high-profile attacks against Western, Indian and government targets in Afghanistan. 
It is often described by Pakistani officials as a predominantly Afghan group, but correspondents say its roots reach deep inside Pakistani territory, and speculation over its links to Pakistan's security establishment refuse to die down.
As we can see, religion is still a pretty touchy subject worldwide.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Two Ways To Write About The Pakistani Taliban

1. Tap all your sources in the insurgency, offend the powerful intelligence agencies, and ignore death threats until you are found dead.
Two days after Shahzad’s body was found, an I.S.I. official made a statement denying that its agents had played any role in the killing. Shahzad’s death, he said, was “unfortunate and tragic,” adding, “Baseless accusations against the country’s sensitive agencies for their alleged involvement in Shahzad’s murder are totally unfounded.” Forty-six journalists have been killed in Pakistan since 2001, and the I.S.I. had never before issued such a stark denial.
2. Let other journalists talk to the insurgents, and talk to the regular Pakistani people instead.

Yes, I realize a video isn't a written piece...but I'm still going to count the post-editing narration.

UPDATE: Terrorism is a big problem in Pakistan, but the major flooding in southern Pakistan is way more significant right now.
"The authorities are known to sleep at the time of urgency. These rains have been going on for several weeks now, which the government saw coming, but they've been caught napping, and any action is seen as too little too late," he said.
Even factoring out the groups who are sure to add fuel to the anti-government bandwagon, this is a disaster for Pakistani stability (and the Pakistani people) all-around.

Ghosts With Shit Jobs (and Concepts With Shit Premises)

The casual science fiction nerd in me loves the idea of Ghosts With Shit Jobs.

Good sci-fi is all about exploring plausible hypothetical situations and how they would affect everyday lives accordingly.

The only problem, however, is that the "Ghosts With Shit Jobs" concept is geopolitically implausible.

The main reason is that China can bypass the United States and simply outsource low-skilled labor to its own hundreds of millions of lower income citizens (and the entire Asian continent, for that matter).

An "American economic collapse" could result in a variety of ugly scenarios, but my guess is that all the Americans employable in a Chinese economy would immediately immigrate to cities like Beijing or Shanghai. If not China itself, Singapore would quickly become a destination of choice for skilled Americans needed in the new economic order.

...but this all assumes that China, or any other country in our globalized, heavily inter-linked marketplace, would survive a major hiccup in the world's largest economy. After all, just look at how the markets have been moving in reaction to what's happening in Greece.

While I do think this video explores some interesting ideas, the growing "what happens when China dominates the United States" fear is totally off-base, because the reality of that scenario would be much more complicated.

Despite what pundits may tell you, the world is much bigger than the United States and China.

Regardless, the rise of baby robot makers and "digital janitors" could still happen to a future near you.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Fighting Popular Terrorism With Comic Book Propaganda (Part 1)

[via Okezone]

I don't have to remind any American of what happened ten years ago.

But ever since, trillions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of lives have been spent fighting loosely-organized groups ranging from political Islamists to drug cartels to Maoists. While the defense industry has made a killing off all of the killing, most of these conflicts are nowhere near resolution and more and more kids are recruited to fight every day.

But can comic books win hearts and minds where guns and bombs have failed?

Nasir Abas, an Indonesian former Al-Qaeda trainer-turned-informant has recently published a comic book about his life.
He went from helping train Muslim extremists who carried out some of Southeast Asia's deadliest attacks, including the 2002 Bali bombings, to informing police about the inner-workings of the Jemaah Islamiyah network. 
He's also joined a government program to convince convicted terrorists that killing unarmed civilians in the name of their faith is wrong. 
"I want children to learn from my experience," Abas said of the colorful 137-page comic "I Found the Meaning of Jihad," which appeared in bookstores Friday and will be handed out at some schools and libraries. 
"I don't want them to make the same mistakes."
Of course, as any junior high school nerd knows, comics only have so much appeal, and are only one small part of the media people consume every day.
"We know young people are often targeted for recruitment by jihadist groups," said Kumar Ramakrishna, a terrorism expert in Singapore. 
"So reaching out in innovative ways, such as through pop music and comics ... is certainly a very good idea in my view."
Since most kids today use the internet (and YouTube) for their main source of entertainment, the Mexican government has released an anti-narco trafficking webcomic on on its YouTube channel.
The 10-episode comic series, posted over the summer in two- to three-minute episodes to the blog of President Felipe Calderon, is the latest weapon in a “cultural struggle” against drug cartels. The comics are said to be “a new space for communication” that will “help us better understand the phenomenon of organized crime,” said federal security spokesman Alejandro Poire. That is, government propaganda with a pop art twist. 
“We cannot allow, as a government and society, impunity for criminals to invade cultural spheres to normalize their crimes, weaken our values and impede the construction of a culture of legality that we all need to achieve genuine security,” Poire said. He added, “We should not be indifferent to these ‘narco-corridos.’ We already were for too long.” 
What Poire means by narcocorridos, of course, are popular country songs that celebrate the exploits of drug lords while promoting a luxurious drug-fueled lifestyle.

Of course, this video currently has barely over 5,000 views. Looking through gobiernofederal's 3,208 uploaded videos, it looks like the Mexican federal government isn't quite as popular as auto-tuned news memes or sports clips.

In a future post, I'll look at what's actually popular in Indonesian and Mexican popular youth culture to see what kind of relevance these anti-insurgent comics are likely to have.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

DNA Evidence of Kinky Homo Sapien Sex Lives

I've written in the past about how DNA evidence shows homo sapiens interbred with Neanderthals in Europe.

Now scientists have found evidence of interbreeding between humans and another extinct hominoid group in Africa.
"The populations that interbred in Africa were on a similar scale of divergence as the expanding modern population and Neanderthals were outside of Africa," Hammer said. "They were similar enough biologically so that they were able to produce fertile offspring, thus allowing genes to flow from one population to the other." 
The length of the exotic haplotypes from this extinct lineage suggests interbreeding might still have occurred until as recently as 35,000 years ago. 
"We think there were probably thousands of interbreeding events," Hammer said. "It happened relatively extensively and regularly."
Your family tree just got a whole lot weirder.

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