Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Global Impacts of $1.5 Billion (Give or Take)

$1.5 billion is a lot of money. But what it takes to get that much money says a lot about the world we live in.

UN seeks $1.5 billion for suffering Syrians
Inside Syria, U.N. agencies aim to help 4 million people in need of urgent humanitarian assistance, including an estimated 2 million displaced from their homes by fighting between President Bashar al-Assad's forces and rebels trying to topple him.

The plan provides for food, shelter and bedding, water and sanitation, emergency medical services, clothes, kitchen sets and baby supplies for beleaguered civilians in all 14 provinces.

The U.N.'s World Food Programme (WFP) is reaching 1.5 million Syrians inside the country with food rations each month, but said it faces increasing constraints, including mounting insecurity and fuel shortages.
UBS fined $1.5 billion in LIBOR scandal
The $1.5 billion UBS penalty is the second largest ever imposed on a bank, exceeded only by the $1.9 billion that HSBC agreed to pay to settle U.S. charges in connection with the laundering of drug cartel money.

"We deeply regret this inappropriate and unethical behavior. No amount of profit is more important than the reputation of this firm," said UBS Chief Executive Sergio Ermotti.
Either way, it's still not enough money to undo the world's mistakes.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Everyone is Losing in Syria

[via CNN]

Yesterday, Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah claimed that the Syrian rebels couldn't win against the pro-Assad forces in Syria.
"The situation in Syria is getting more complicated (but) anyone who thinks the armed opposition can settle the situation on the ground is very very very mistaken."
Today, Syria's Vice President Farouq al-Sharaa claimed that neither the rebels or the government could win.
Sharaa said the situation in the country was heading from bad to worse and that a "historic settlement", involving the formation of a national unity government, was needed to end the conflict, al-Akhbar newspaper cited him as saying in its Monday edition.
Now even Palestinian refugees are being bombed for taking sides.
Syria is home to more than 500,000 Palestinian refugees, most living in Yarmouk, and both Assad's government and the mainly Sunni Muslim Syrian rebels have enlisted and also armed Palestinians as the uprising has spread. 
Heavy fighting broke out 12 days ago between Palestinians loyal to Assad and Syrian rebels, together with a brigade of Palestinian fighters known as Liwaa al Asifah (Storm Brigade). 
Clashes flared again after the air strike as Palestinians from the pro-Assad Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC) fought Syrian rebels and other Palestinians, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights group.
The civil war continues, and unsurprisingly, no one can agree on a solution

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Golden Dawn Goes Global, While Scaring Politicians In Greece

In my latest Gapers Block piece, I analyze how and why Greece's far-right party, Golden Dawn, has opened branches across the world:
Barely a month after their electoral victories, Golden Dawn launched a widely-criticized branch in Melbourne, Australia, home to one of the largest Greek populations outside of Athens. In October, several groups protested the opening of a Golden Dawn office in New York City, which had opened for the explicit purpose of building support for the party among Greek expatriate communities and collecting food and medicine to distribute in Greece -- but only for Greeks. And in Montreal, Golden Dawn is holding a Christmas food drive. The catch? They're only giving food out to Greek Christians. 
But this quote near the bottom of the last story is what really caught my eye: 
"Golden Dawn members in the United States have told CBC News they plan to open chapters shortly in Chicago, in Connecticut and in Toronto."
Meanwhile, this is what people think about them back home:

Greek government considers outlawing Golden Dawn
In Sept. Digital Journal reported Greek ministers had debated outlawing Golden Dawn but Prime Minister Antonis Samaras did not give his support to the initiative. Now KTG reports unconfirmed sources reveal Samaras and third party coalition leader Fotis Kouvelis, allegedly gave their consent if the proposal has a sound legal basis.

Currently it would be against the Greek constitution to outlaw a democratically elected party.
High police support for Greece's Golden Dawn
In 13 nearby polling stations, Golden Dawn averaged more than 20 per cent of the vote, whereas in the neighbouring "civilian only" polling stations it received 6 per cent of the vote, or below the Athenian average.

In other words, it seems that it is the police presence that is the variable, which is pushing the Golden Dawn vote upwards.

If we make this assumption (and yes, it is an assumption), we can conclude that the percentage of police who are voting for Golden Dawn is consistently higher than the actual result from the polling station.
Greek Prosecutors to Review Video of Threat by Extremist
In a video posted on the Internet, the spokesman, Ilias Kasidiaris, can be heard arguing with police officers after demonstrators gathered near the site of one of the party’s events on the island on Sunday. Mr. Kasidiaris, who in June was charged with assaulting two rival lawmakers during a live television debate, told the police there would be deaths if the protesters were not removed.
“Believe me, you’ll have dead people by tonight,” Mr. Kasidiaris can be heard telling a senior police official. On Monday, as political parties condemned his outburst, the Greek police said the video had been sent to a prosecutor in Crete.
Golden Dawn is a political minority in Greece, but their presence has set off alarms in the country and abroad - and for good reason. Lest you believe they operate just like any other political party in Greece...

Right now, they aren't exactly seen as the most hospitable organization in Greece. How their outreach programs fare with the Greek-American, Greek-Canadian, and Greek-Australian communities remains to be seen.

Friday, December 7, 2012

PSY, Reggaeton, and the Politics of Pop Music

By now, you've probably heard the news about Korean K-Pop superstar PSY's anti-American concert performances.

In 2002, PSY protested the deaths of two Korean girls who were hit by a U.S. convoy by dressing like the above picture and smashing the prop tank on stage.

In 2004, after a Korean missionary was kidnapped and killed by a jihadist group over Korea's refusal to not deploy troops to Iraq, PSY joined several artists in condemning the terrorists. However, he had some choice words for the U.S. military:
Kill those f****** Yankees who have been torturing Iraqi captives
Kill those f****** Yankees who ordered them to torture
Kill their daughters, mothers, daughters-in-law and fathers
Kill them all slowly and painfully
People in the U.S. have been pissed all day today, and soon enough, an apology (probably written by his publicist) appeared:
The song I was featured in – eight years ago – was part of a deeply emotional reaction to the war in Iraq and the killing of two Korean schoolgirls that was part of the overall antiwar sentiment shared by others around the world at that time. While I’m grateful for the freedom to express one’s self, I’ve learned there are limits to what language is appropriate and I’m deeply sorry for how these lyrics could be interpreted. I will forever be sorry for any pain I have caused by those words.
However, people are still calling for his performance for President Obama at the Christmas in Washington event Sunday to be cancelled.


While not nearly as widespread of a news story, a very different strand of pop music has been banned in Cuba for very different reasons:
In an interview with state-run newspaper Granma, Orlando Vistel, the director of the Cuban Music Institute, explained that the island's government will take licenses away from musicians that "violate ethics" rules during concerts, adding that "severe sanctions" will be administered to officials who allow such groups to perform.

These measures could disproportionately affect Cuban reggaeton performers like Osmani Garcia, who have become hugely popular across the island thanks to songs with sexual lyrics and thumping rhythms that can be danced along to in a not-so-subtle way (read: perreo). This popular hit, called El Chupi Chupi, could become one of the first targets of the new music regulations.
Apparently, this isn't pro-revolutionary enough for the Cuban government:


There are a couple other interesting parallels here:

Most K-Pop borrows heavily from Western dance pop (It's worth noting that PSY studied in the U.S. at Boston University and the Berklee College of Music.) Meanwhile, Reggaeton comes from Puerto Rico and is popular across the Latin American world.

There's also a past vs. present dynamic at work here. A decade ago, PSY was happy to jump on the anti-American bandwagon twice to stay in tune with the sentiment of South Korean culture. Now, his international viral hit has plastered him and his horse dance all over U.S. television, and potentially even on a stage in front of Obama. Cuba's Reggaeton censorship reflects an older generation's desire to preserve certain music traditions vs. the vastly more popular reggaeton and hip-hop genres amongst the younger Cuban generation.

Despite the seeming ubiquity of popular dance music and culture across the world, lyrics still have the power to shock, offend, and spark debate. As more and more artists emerge in the coming years across cultural/lingustic boundaries and within authoritarian states, you can expect controversies like this to happen over and over again.

But if you're going to write words to a song, please put a tiny bit of thought into them, okay?

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Link Round-Up Hiatus (but follow me on Twitter/Facebook!)

Hey all,

As I'm sure you're aware, I like reading thoughtful, interesting articles that completely alter the way I see the world. That, in a nutshell, has always been the goal of Culture Bore.

However, reading through several of these articles in succession, choosing the best ones, then finding the best pull quotes to complement the hyperlinks in one sitting takes a significant chunk of time out of my nights and weekends. These chunks take time away from writing in-depth posts/articles, leaving my computer to enjoy the company of other people, and (often times) sleep.

So, for now, I'll go back to Tweeting/Facebook posting the same interesting links throughout the day in installments. You can follow me at @culturebore or "like" Culture Bore on Facebook for your future doses of paradigm-shattering stimulation.

Or something along those lines.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Mexico Has U.S. Guns, Vietnam Has Casinos (Link Round-Up 11/10/12)

[via Salon]

RT interview with Bashar al-Assad

Turkey and Iran catching up to Israel in scientific development
While Israel still leads in the number of patents it registers in the US, the last two indexes that were checked reveal that the gaps between Israel and Iran and Turkey are narrowing. The Technion researchers warn that if this trend continues, Iran and Turkey are expected to close the gap within a few years.

The researchers note that the rapid progress in the Middle Eastern countries is the result of high investments, new initiatives to construct research centers, collaboration with high-quality universities of developed countries and more. Thus, for example, Saudi Arabia recently inaugurated a science and technology university with an investment of $20 billion. In Qatar, an “education city” was built on an expanse of 14 square kilometers — the size of [Israeli city of] Kfar Saba — boasting six branches of leading universities from all over the world. Not far from there, an $8 billion research center will be inaugurated this year. In Abu Dhabi, renewable energy [and sustainability] research is being studied with the cooperation of leading American universities.

But the highest scientific research activity rate is to be found in Iran. According to the Thomson Reuters report, the scope of Iran’s research activity is growing at a yearly rate that is 11 times greater than the rest of the world’s countries. According to the report, impressive progress exists in 14 Middle Eastern countries (except for Israel that was not tested). These countries include: Turkey, Iran, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. In 2000-2009 research output grew in these countries, and the number of articles they publish now constitute four percent of the world output, compared to two percent of the output a decade ago. This represents a larger scientific research growth rate than anywhere else in the world.
Mexican cartels allegedly got guns from U.S. Border Patrol
According to Mexican magazine Revista Contralinea, the testimony comes from a protected government witness and former hitman, who cooperated in the prosecution of a Sinaloa Cartel accountant by the Mexican Attorney General’s Office. The testimony details a series of battles fought by a group of cartel members attempting to drive out rival gangsters from territory in Mexico’s desert west. To do it, the group sought weapons from the U.S., including at least 30 WASR-10 rifles — a variant of the AK-47 — allegedly acquired from Border Patrol agents.

If true, it could reignite the debate over Operation Fast and Furious, the last time U.S. authorities allowed guns to fall into the hands of Mexican gangsters. Two days after the election, Attorney General Eric Holder — who had been at the center of allegations surrounding the scandal — is now talking like he might not stay with the administration for much longer. “That’s something I’m in the process now of trying to determine,” Holder said Thursday. “I have to think about, can I contribute in a second term?”
Southeast Asia's competitive casino industry
Indeed, Vietnam’s casino industry has been a bright spot in the local economy. It has thriving casino cities which contribute much-needed dollar revenues to the local coffers and steady employment to local residents. It’s only other rival in the Indochina Peninsula is Cambodia which has at least 25 casino gaming complexes, although the frequent opening and closings of casinos in the country makes the number difficult to pinpoint.

Vietnamese and Cambodian casinos are popular because they are officially banned in Thailand and China which share land borders with both Vietnam and Cambodia. It’s no accident that casino centers in Vietnam and Cambodia are established in territories that are accessible to gamers in Thailand and China. Why fly to Macau or Las Vegas if casinos are already within reach near the border?

Cambodia’s main market is the Chinese who come ready to spend a sinful amount of money in casino centers. Even the Chinese government is encouraging its citizens to play in Cambodia’s casinos, many of which are owned or operated by Chinese nationals. Last year, Cambodia earned more than $20 million from casino taxes.
"Giant" Roman skeleton discovered
"We know nothing about the role or presence of giants in the Roman world," she said—other than the fact that the second century A.D. emperor Maximinus Thrax was described in literature as a "human mountain."

Minozzi noted, though, that imperial Roman high society "developed a pronounced taste for entertainers with evident physical malformations, such as hunchbacks and dwarfs—so we can assume that even a giant generated enough interest and curiosity."

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Obama Now, China Later (Link Round-Up 11/7/12)

[via Wonkette]

Inside look at the Chinese Communist Party's 18th Congress
After the congress closes on Nov. 14, the 200 or so full members of the newly established Central Committee -- which also includes 150-odd alternate, or second-tier and nonvoting, members -- will select from among themselves 25 members of the ruling Politburo, as well as a more elite group for China's supreme ruling council, the Politburo Standing Committee.

That's what the law says, anyway.

In reality, current and former Central Committee members choose their successors and the members of the CCDI. So when the deputies meet this Thursday, much of their work will have already been done for them. They will likely be handed an all-but-final list of candidates for the 18th Central Committee, with a "margin of elimination" of 15 percent. In other words, all the delegates need do is throw out 15 percent of the least popular candidates.
China's new leaders face foreign policy problems
Scholars sometimes argue that China’s leaders excel at foreign affairs strategy because they take the long view, while Western politicians can’t do so because they are encumbered by elections and legislatures.

This view of the Chinese leadership -- advocated in the past by Henry Kissinger -- doesn’t hold up today. The last generation of Chinese leaders has been generally shortsighted and ill-informed about international affairs. They don’t much like going abroad or having much to do with foreigners in China. They find international affairs difficult to understand and worry about embarrassing themselves in front of a foreign audience.

Moreover, China lacks an effective foreign policy apparatus to advise the leadership and carry out initiatives. A “small leading group” on foreign affairs is supposed to coordinate policies for the Central Politburo’s Standing Committee, the most powerful decision-making body in the country. It appears to do very little if any coordination, however. The Foreign Ministry is constantly at odds with various party departments and agencies with a hand in foreign affairs. And the military, at times, seems to have its own foreign policy, entirely uncoordinated with what goes on within the party or government. 
Syrian opposition talks collapse
The new leadership proposal included representatives from opposition groups outside the Syrian National Council, which was once seen as the most likely core of an interim government but has gradually lost favour both with the west and with rebels fighting inside the country.

On Wednesday night it seemed that representatives from the National Coordinating Committee, the Syrian Democratic Platform, and the Kurdish ethnic minority had rejected the plan.

“The components that were not in the SNC are not coming. The idea of a bigger coalition initiative has failed,” said Jamal al-Wa'ard, a military representative on the SNC.
Burmese opposition leaders call for end to ethnic violence
Ms Suu Kyi has emphasized the necessity of restoring the rule of law in the region and dealing with the root causes of the tensions.

Many of her foreign supporters have been disappointed that she has not taken a stand condemning discrimination toward the Rohingya, who have suffered many of the casualties and losses.

Yesterday’s statement also said that a 1982 Citizenship Law that lays out conditions for treating the Rohingya as Burmese nationals should be reviewed. It is highly restrictive and leaves the huge majority of an estimated population of 800,000 Rohingya effectively stateless.
Egyptian Islamists become more assertive in every day life
Since a group of youths killed a young man while he was out with his fiancée in the port city of Suez in July, there have been a steady stream of reports in a similar vein.

This week, a Suez grocer filed a legal complaint against a group of Salafis, or ultra-orthodox Muslims, who had threatened to enact religious justice against his son by cutting out his tongue. The Salafis accused the boy of insulting religion, according to Gharib Mahmoud, the grocer.

Self-appointed "committees for the propagation of virtue and elimination of vice" have surfaced elsewhere. The name evokes the religious police of Saudi Arabia, whose strict brand of Wahhabi Islam has inspired Salafis in Egypt in recent decades.
Millions of unreported Dengue Fever cases in India
The great danger of having hundreds of millions of people in India with undiagnosed and unacknowledged primary infections is that a sudden shift in the circulating dengue strain could cause a widespread increase in life-threatening illnesses.

“We have been fortunate so far,” said Dr. Kakkar of the Indian public health group. “But if, God forbid, we come across that situation we probably need far better health-care management and inpatient care facilities.”

Trucks spewing pesticides against mosquitoes are now a regular presence in New Delhi neighborhoods, but rapid and disorderly urbanization — a hallmark of India’s development — increases the risks of dengue proliferation, so few believe the government here can do much to halt its spread.
Chinese education is erasing the Uyghur identity
A common fear among Uyghur students is that the government is weakening and eroding the bilingual language policy currently in place. Although the government is eager to showcase its policy as evidence that it respects minority rights, in fact the bilingual schools are anything but bilingual. A Xinjiang high school teacher stated that although her students attend nine class periods per day, the only class conducted in Uyghur is the actual Uyghur language class. Teachers are not supposed to instruct students in other classes in Uyghur, even if the teacher and students are all native speakers and feel more comfortable speaking in Uyghur. Students revealed to me their concern that the ultimate goal of the government is assimilation. "They don't want us to be Uyghur," they complained, "they want us to be Chinese."

Students and teachers in Xinjiang are prohibited from attending any religious activities. They are not allowed to pray at a mosque or fast during Ramadan. One teacher noted that in Kashgar, students are kept on campus during the early afternoon so that they cannot attend midday prayers. College students also lose college credit if they are caught attending religious activities on campus. Moreover, if teachers or students in Xinjiang fill out any official government form that asks for a religious identification, they must write "none." They are explicitly told that they can believe in nothing more than Marxism, despite China's constitutional guarantee of religious freedom.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Go Vote (Link Round-Up 11/5/12)

The Gapers Block Guide to the Bottom of the Ballot

*There's more at stake in Chicago than the presidency, so please inform yourself if you haven't voted already.

The middle class will lose the 2012 election
If Mitt Romney wins the election, he will preside over a divided government and find it nearly impossible to accomplish anything in his agenda. If Barack Obama wins the election, he will preside over a divided government and find it nearly impossible to accomplish anything in his agenda.


Creating tens of millions of well-paying middle class jobs means giving tens of millions of people something to do with high added value. Presidents can't do that. Innovations can. But as Clayton Christensen described brilliantly in the Times, the U.S. economy has, for the moment, moved beyond "empowering" innovations that create new scalable products that require more workers toward "efficiency" innovations that make existing processes cheaper and easier -- and replace workers. The fixation on efficiency isn't evil. It's not a function of bad governance. Instead, Christensen writes, it's a stage of capitalism, and a dilemma for capitalists.
Black voters hit with polling misinformation
Persistent reports of robocalls incorrectly telling voters they can cast ballots over the phone and fears of aggressive challenges by monitors at polling places threaten to mar Election Day in many key states, voting rights advocates said Monday.

The fake phone calls, some of which involve live callers, continued to crop up in Virginia, North Carolina and Florida, primarily among African-American voters, said Barbara Arnwine of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. The group has mounted a counteroffensive of tens of thousands of calls reminding voters they can't cast ballots over the phone.

"That is really dirty," said Arnwine, who added that the callers' identities remain a mystery. "It's a very sophisticated operation and it's very widespread, and it's very troubling to us."
Chinese censor's rules for covering the U.S. Election
Use only Xinhua coverage of the U.S. presidential election. This must be strictly enforced; even China News Service copy must not be used. Do not produce in-house reports or commentary.
Hacking your DNA to cure diseases expands in Europe
Gene therapy treatments in the United States are primarily focused on cancer, including leukemia. No other gene therapy products are expected to be approved by major medical regulator agencies in 2012. The European Commission, which handles medical approvals for Europe, is widely considered to have a bureaucratic pipeline that is far more open to gene therapy than the United States.
Syria's Kurds are warring with Syrian rebels...and other Kurds?
The situation in predominantly Kurdish areas of Syria is made even more complex by tensions between the PYD and rival Kurdish factions. Rudaw, a Kurdish paper based in northern Iraq, recently quoted a PYD leader suggesting that members of a rival Kurdish alliance — the Kurdish National Council (KNC) — had fought alongside the FSA against the PYD’s militia in Ashrafiyeh. Other reports suggested that at least some of the FSA fighters involved were part of the Salahuddin Ayubi Brigade, a Kurdish-majority outfit fighting under the FSA banner. That prompted warnings from the PYD that the KNC and the Brigade would be held accountable for their role in the clashes.

In theory, at least, the rival Syrian Kurdish factions had been reconciled in July, when Iraqi Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani forged an agreement between the PYD and the dozen-plus parties comprising the KNC. The pact, intended to keep both regime forces and the FSA be out of Kurdish-majority areas, threatened to unravel long before last week’s clashes. “There were three aims for this treaty,” Abdul Hakim Bashar, head of the KNC, told TIME from northern Iraq. “To cut off the PYD from the Syrian regime, to prevent Kurdish-Kurdish war, and to prevent fighting with the Arab people.” The PYD, he claimed, “has not respected this treaty.”
India, China, and America's triangular diplomacy in the Indo-Pacific area
The rise of China and the emergence of India as naval powers has led to widespread recognition that the two oceans can no longer be seen as separate theatres but as a single strategic space—the Indo-Pacific.
China’s main maritime preoccupations are in the Western Pacific—reunifying Taiwan, defending Chinese territorial claims, and constraining American naval dominance.

Yet, China’s rising maritime profile in the Indian Ocean, from where it imports a large portion of its energy and mineral resources, is generating deep concerns in Delhi.

While India’s main interest is in securing its primacy in the Indian Ocean littoral, its navy is making frequent forays into the Western Pacific.
UN hits Pakistan's Haqqani network with sanctions
The militant group and its chief organizer of suicide attacks, Qari Zakir, were added to the UN's sanctions list, which entails nations freezing the assets of the network and issuing a travel ban against Zakir, in addition to imposing an arms embargo.

The Wall Street Journal reported that Zakir is the operational commander in Kabul, Takhar, Kunduz and Baghlan provinces, in addition to running the training program for suicide attacks including small arms training, heavy weapons and basic improvised explosive device construction.

The United States also officially listed Zakir as a global terrorist on Monday, coinciding with the UN's motion, CNN reported. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made the announcement in a written statement, saying the designation happened under the authority of an executive order.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Biofuel, Neanderthals, and Pussy Riot (Link Round-Up 11/3/12)

In China, they call hipsters "cultured youth"
Of course, the adaptability of corporate America continues to prove itself, and in the last decade we have seen hipsterism well and truly enter the American mainstream. Where recycling ideas from the past or from the working class was once a kind of anti-fashion, it is now fashion. And yet hipsterism has retained a flavor–however empty–of rebellion.

By contrast, China’s wonderfully sincere “cultured youth” lack the irony and apathy integral to hipsterism, characteristics which nonetheless can be found in China’s “2B youth.” These are young men and women who have nothing much going on in their lives (or, in some cases, their heads). As the photo collage suggests, “2B”ers like to engage in pointless and deliberately self-defeating behavior, all, it sometimes seems, for nothing more than the “lulz.”

Behind these Chinese counter-cultures lies a hard reality. A recently released Pew Global Attitudes Survey showed that 81% of those polled in China agreed with the following statement: “The rich just get richer while the poor get poorer.” And as Foreign Policy reported last month, the country’s gender imbalance—120 boys for every 100 girls—has put serious pressure on the nation’s bachelors. Those hunting for a bride have come to understand that they should come calling only when armed with an apartment. This, even though “the average property in a top-tier Chinese city now costs between 15 and 20 times the average annual salary.”
Pressure-cooking algae creates biofuel more efficiently
Once producing biofuel from algae is economical, researchers estimate that an area the size of New Mexico could provide enough oil to match current U.S. petroleum consumption. And, unlike corn produced for ethanol—which already accounts for half that area—the algae won't need to occupy good farmland, thriving in brackish ponds instead.
Romney's business strength was his campaign weakness
What he overlooked is that while the financial crisis has certainly weighed on the president, it has also altered public sentiment in a way that made Romney uniquely vulnerable. “In the 1980s white, blue-collar voters totally focused on race,” says Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg. “They felt that what was happening with blacks was centrally related to why they were losing income and in trouble. Today race has disappeared, and they’re focused on Wall Street, CEOs, and economic elites as the forces holding the middle class down.” Another Democratic pollster, Peter Hart, distilled this ethos into a word: “predators.”

If Romney didn’t see how damaging this could be, it may be because he had fallen prey to the same habits as his old clients, like Chrysler, putting his faith in what had worked so well for him in the past instead of devising a new strategy for the future. That would be ironic, but not nearly as surprising as it seems. When Romney was running Bain, there was a saying around the office: The best analysts in the world almost always have a blind spot—themselves.
German quits Taliban over its "Macho" behavior
"The sight of their badly mangled bodies moved me," he said. "I was scared and I wanted to get out. Waziristan was not what I was looking for." Underlying his dislike of his new life was the Taliban propensity to use drugs, and their "macho" attitude to women. In one case a Taliban fighter went to the German widow of a dead comrade and told her that she would marry him. The proposal was made without any consultation with her, "as if she was just an object" said Thomas U. in his statement.

In September 2010 the couple fled Pakistan and made their way to Turkey, where they were arrested.
Only sub-Sarahan African humans lack Neanderthal DNA
The researchers focused on 780,000 genetic variants in 125 people representing seven different North African locations. They found North Africans had dramatically more genetic variants linked with Neanderthals than sub-Saharan Africans did. The level of genetic variants that North Africans share with Neanderthals is on par with that seen in modern Eurasians.

The scientists also found this Neanderthal genetic signal was higher in North African populations whose ancestors had relatively little recent interbreeding with modern Near Eastern or European peoples. That suggests the signal came directly from ancient mixing with Neanderthals, and not recent interbreeding with other modern humans whose ancestors might have interbred with Neanderthals.
The oldest town in Europe — dating to 4,700 BC— is discovered in Bulgaria
Located near the Black Sea resort of Varna, the previously buried town was established sometime between 4,700 and 4,200 BC. This would mean the settlement predated the Greek civilization by 1,500 years.

Archaeologists have uncovered the ruins of two-story houses, perimeter walls, and parts of a gate, all of which were located near rock-salt deposits. It has been estimated that this establishment was home to about 350 people.

It is believed that the high stone walls encircling the area were built as fortifications to protect the town’s hoards of salt, which was as valuable then as oil and gold are today.
Medvedev: Pussy Riot should not be in jail
Dmitry Medvedev, Russia’s Prime Minister, directly contradicted President Vladimir Putin today by stating his view that the jailed members of the punk group Pussy Riot should be freed.

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alekhina were jailed for two years by a Moscow court earlier this year for “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred” after they performed a “punk prayer” criticising President Vladimir Putin in Moscow’s main cathedral.
Israel fears Syrian violence spreading to the Golan Heights
Israel is worried about what happens after Assad. The most likely possibilities are either that Syria will become a Sunni state, as the majority of the population is Sunni, or will fragment into several small mini-states. Assad is a member of the Alawite minority, a branch of Shia Islam.

The Druze community in the Golan Heights is watching the situation especially closely. Although they live under Israeli sovereignty, many of the Druze in the Golan Heights consider themselves to be Syrians. Only about ten percent of the 22,000 there have accepted Israeli citizenship.

At the beginning of the fighting in Syria, most of the Druze in the Golan supported Assad.
My Gapers Block piece on Chicago voting referendums

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Sexist Hipsters, Feathered Dinosaurs and Lazy Aliens (Link Round-Up 10/31/12)

[via Foreign Policy via Digg]

Hurricane Sandy destroys years of scientific research
Scientists are in a desperate frenzy to save what they can and transfer what can be moved to other areas of the hospital. In one case, scientists were rolling a big freezer -- the size of a big refrigerator -- to an area of the hospital with emergency power, the source told the News.

 Even more alarming, thousands of mice that are used by scientists for cancer research and other experiments, drowned during a flood. It is unclear how the mice died, but the source told the News that many of these mice are genetically modified for certain research and took years to produce. It will likely set back several scientists' work by years, the source said.

 "This does not equate to a loss of life, but it is extremely disheartening to see years of research go down the drain," the source said.
Researchers find first fossils of feathered dinosaurs in North America
The ostrich-like dinosaurs in the original Jurassic Park movie were portrayed as a herd of scaly, fleet-footed animals being chased by a ferocious Tyrannosaurus Rex. New research published in the prestigious journal Science reveals this depiction of these bird-mimic dinosaurs is not entirely accurate — the ornithomimids, as they are scientifically known, should have had feathers and wings. 
The new study, led by paleontologists Darla Zelenitsky from the University of Calgary and François Therrien from the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology, describes the first ornithomimid specimens preserved with feathers, recovered from 75-million-year-old rocks in the badlands of Alberta.
We are missing alien communications because they are cheap and lazy (like us)
"Short pulses rather than a continuous signal would also enable frugal aliens to use small and cheap transmitters. Small transmitters can beam out powerful radiation using high voltages – but only if they broadcast brief pulses that don't give the electric fields time to discharge. 
They wouldn't want to target individual stars: there are far too many of them. Instead, they'd build a powerful beacon, then swing that beacon around and repeat it. 
Astronomers have seen some unexplained signals that lasted for tens of seconds then were never seen again. Some of those could have been extraterrestrial beacons but there wasn't enough observing time to wait for any repeats."
How InBev ruined the Budweiser brand
For a number-crunching manager like Brito, an old, family-run company like Anheuser-Busch provided plenty of opportunities for cuts. He laid off approximately 1,400 people, about 6 percent of the U.S. workforce. He sold $9.4 billion in assets, including Busch Gardens and SeaWorld. AB InBev also tried to save money on materials. It used smaller labels and thinner glass for its bottles. It tried weaker cardboard for its 12-packs and cases. The old Anheuser-Busch insisted on using whole grains of rice in its beer. AB InBev was fine with the broken kind. “Our purchasing of rice has to do with how fresh the rice is, not whether it is whole or broken,” says Vallis.

The company played hardball with vendors. Anheuser-Busch has long boasted that “beechwood aging” enhanced Budweiser’s flavor. One of its two suppliers was Tom Urani, owner of Beechwood Corp. in Millington, Tenn. “In November 2008, we were featured in a nationwide ad,” Urani recalls. “It showed an aerial shot of our factory and said Anheuser-Busch is all about people, places, and quality.”

After the merger, AB InBev informed Urani that it would use only one beechwood provider. Urani was the losing bidder. He says this was the end of Beechwood Corp. Who else bought large amounts of beechwood chips but the makers of Budweiser? Urani threw a party on the final day. He invited Brito, who didn’t show up. That day, Urani drank his last Budweiser for the television cameras. “I’ve now become a bourbon guy,” he says. “I’ve lost weight.” AB InBev says it appreciates Urani’s years of service.
Here comes "Hipster Sexism"
Hipster Sexism consists of the objectification of women but in a manner that uses mockery, quotation marks, and paradox: the stuff you learned about in literature class. As funny as Dunham’s Girls is, it can definitely border on Hipster Sexism. For example, take the episode when the male protagonist Adam says, “Yo skank, where you at? Getting that pussy pounded?” Hipster Sexism supposedly makes “pussy pounding” funny because it announces that the phrase is now ironic — as is, “skank” — rather than gross or offensive. We get to laugh at the idea of young women so obsessed with boys and sex that they mistake voting for sex and at the same time feel cool and outré for being in on Dunham’s double meaning.
Tunisia extends state of emergency after attacks
The announcement comes after a series of attacks by radical Islamists in recent weeks.

The authorities have vowed to crack down on Islamist violence in the wake of a Salafist-led attack on the US embassy in September in which four assailants were killed.

On Tuesday, Islamists raided two national guard posts in a Tunis suburb, leading to clashes with security forces that killed one attacker, the interior ministry said.

After the clashes, dozens of Islamists, some armed with knives, took to the streets of Tunis on Wednesday.
France deports radical imam to Tunisia
France's Interior Ministry said in a statement that Hammami was expelled for his "deliberate, repeated and unacceptable provocations," which constitute a threat to France's society and security.

The ministry says in addition to his anti-Semitic speeches and calls for holy war, Hammami also drew condemnation over his defense of violence towards women.
Why Putin snubs India
While exploring Pakistan’s energy sector, infrastructure and trade possibilities has benefits of its own for Russia, it is the queue of nations vying to answer the Afghan question that Russia is striving to head by wooing Islamabad. Moscow is concerned about Afghanistan coming under Taliban rule once again, and the rising influence of Afghan terrorist organisations in the Central Asian states. And the odds are that, post-2014, Russia will stop cooperating with Nato troops, leaving one of these two possibilities:

1. Despite the withdrawal of American troops, the budding US-India partnership formulates the status quo in Afghanistan.

2. The Russia-Pakistan-China axis takes centre stage and takes charge of geopolitical decision-making in the region.
Germany reassures Turkey on European Union entry
The European Commission has said that Turkey must not only bend on Cyprus, but it also has a long way to go before its standards on human rights and freedom of speech can reach the levels required for membership.

Turkey’s minister for European Union affairs, Egemen Bagis, pointed out earlier in Berlin the progress that his country had made on human rights and freedom of speech since Mr. Erdogan’s party came into power about 10 years ago. He cited Kurdish language broadcasts and the restitution of property rights to religious minorities as examples of what he called “a much more democratic and transparent” country.
German politicians demand to see gold in Federal Reserve
From a purely logistical perspective, though, returning the reserves seems outlandish. One cannot simply pack 1,500 tons of gold into an Airbus A380 super-jumbo jet and fly it back to Germany.

The Bundesbank also objects to this notion for another reason. It says the gold is supposed to act as an emergency buffer. In the extreme situation of a currency collapse, the bankers say that the gold bars could easily and quickly be exchanged on location for pounds or dollars to pay urgent bills.

In a bid to calm the debate, the Bundesbank has pledged to bring back and inspect 150 tons of gold from abroad over the next three years. Furthermore, there are plans to count and weigh the gold bars stored in one of the nine chambers at the Fed in New York -- although no date has been set for this.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Monopoly, Zynga, and Copyright (Link Round-Up 10/29/12)

China has lost $3.79 trillion from money laundering since 2000
Apart from the fact that rampant tax evasion—likely to be the largest component of illicit outflows—have reduced tax revenues, the loss of capital has directly contributed to a worsening of China’s income inequality. Around the late 1970s, when the process of economic transition from a closed to an open market system started in China, the country had a relatively egalitarian society. Since then, China’s income distribution has become increasingly skewed, with the Gini coefficient—the international standard for measuring income inequality in a country—rising from .31 in 1981 to.47 in 2008. The rising inequality is also taking a toll on average household consumption, which declined by over 10 percentage points of GDP since the early 1980s. Indeed, increasing income inequality remains the soft underbelly of China’s impressive rise in the world economy and presents a serious challenge for maintaining social and political stability. That income inequality is a sensitive issue is borne by the fact that the government has not released official data on the Gini coefficient since 2000. Officials are doubtless aware that data on household income, which are obtained through government-sponsored surveys, are unlikely to reflect foreign holdings of illicit assets by high net worth individuals, thereby understating the already bad news regarding income distribution.
Burma's leader admits deadly attacks on Muslims
Thein Sein's acknowledgement follows the release of satellite images showing the severe scale of the destruction in one coastal town, where most – if not all – of the Muslim population appears to have been displaced and their homes destroyed.

The pictures, acquired by Human Rights Watchshow destruction to the coastal town of Kyaukpyu in the country's west. They reveal an area of destruction 35 acres in size in which some 811 buildings and boats have been destroyed.

The images confirm reports of an orgy of destruction in the town which occurred in a 24-hour period in the middle of last week after violence in the province broke out again on 21 October.
How a Supreme Court ruling may stop you from reselling just about anything
"This case is an attempt by some brands and manufacturers to manipulate copyright law, to control the distribution and pricing of legitimate, authentic goods," said eBay's top policy lawyer, Hillary Brill. "When an American purchases an authentic item, he shouldn't have to ask permission from the manufacturer to do with it what he wants."

Content companies would be allowed to control use of their goods forever. They could withhold permission for resale and possibly even library lending—or they could allow it, but only for an extra fee. It would have the wild effect of encouraging copyrighted goods to be manufactured offshore, since that would lead to much further-reaching powers under copyright.

"When we purchase something, we assume it's ours," said general counsel Mark Griffin. "What is proposed by [the content companies] is that we change the fundamental notion of ownership rights."

Book publishers and their content-industry allies say those concerns are overblown. No assault on libraries and garage sales is forthcoming, they argue. These organizations simply have a right to set different prices abroad, without being undermined in the US by importation they say is illegal.
Anonymous leaks confidential Zynga documents, over mistreating employees
As you know, gaming company Zynga laid off employees last week and shut down a few of its offices right before its quarterly earnings call. Well, Zynga has pissed off the online group Anonymous, and it’s quite serious. Here’s a video just released by them, discussing exactly what it plans to do and why. CNet is also reporting on this story, and we’re actively checking to see if this is a legitimate maneuver.

According to Business Insider, the group is threatening to take down both Zynga and Facebook on November 5th.
Monopoly - stolen game idea turned monopoly
Sometime in 1932, Darrow copied the layout of the board, the rules of play, the property names, the deed values, and the Chance cards, and made his own version of the game. His only innovation seems to have been to claim the mantle of sole inventor. He would soon be assumed into the pantheon of American heroes of commerce.

The irony was not lost on Anspach. Before being monopolized by a single person working in tandem with a corporation, Monopoly had in fact been “invented” by many people—not just Magie and the Raifords but also the unknown player who gave the game its moniker and the unsung Ardenite who had perhaps aided Magie in advancing its rules. The game that today stresses the ruthlessness of the individual and defines victory as the impoverishment of others was the product of communal labor.

None of the information Anspach uncovered helped his case when it went to trial in 1976. The widows of Eugene and Jesse Raiford testified, as did seven other witnesses who claimed to have played monopoly as many as twenty years before Darrow marketed his game. Anspach even put Robert Barton, the former president of Parker Brothers, on the stand. Barton, who was pivotal in helping Darrow secure a patent for his “invention,” admitted under oath that he was fully aware of the game’s history and that he knew Darrow had not in fact invented it. The judge was unmoved. He dismissed Anspach’s complaint, ordering all unsold copies of Anti-Monopoly to be “deliver[ed] up for destruction.” Seven thousand of the games were bulldozed into a garbage dump in rural Minnesota, where officials from Parker Brothers oversaw the interment.
How Cretaceous plankton led to Democratic voting blocks in the South
In this 2000 census, you can see that the counties with the biggest populations of African-Americans still trace that Cretaceous shoreline.

This, says marine biologist McClain, explains that odd stretch of Obama blue; it's African-Americans sitting on old soil from ancient organisms that turned sunshine into fertilizer. So plankton remain a force in Southern elections — though not always, not continuously. After the Civil War, when the South voted solidly Democratic and Jim Crow laws ruled, many blacks couldn't vote, so the pattern disappears. Voting rights laws hadn't been passed during the Goldwater-Johnson election of 1964, so in this map, the African-American difference is invisible.
Clinton in Algeria for talks on Mali, Al-Qaeda
Secretary Clinton talked with Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika about backing West African efforts against Islamic extremists in northern Mali.

When a March coup toppled the government in Bamako, militant groups in the north imposed a strict version of Islamic law. The terrorist group al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, known as AQIM, expanded its operations in northern Mali, moving to extend its reach throughout the Sahel.

Clinton said AQIM is working with other extremists to undermine democratic transitions in North Africa, and played a role in the September attack on the U.S. mission in the Libyan city of Benghazi that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Gone With the North Korean Wind (Link Round-Up 10/27/12)

Third-party candidates could tilt election outcome
The Romney and Obama campaigns scoff at the possibility of a third-party spoiler. But Goode’s popularity among some Virginians worried Republican leaders enough that they tried to strike the Constitution Party nominee from the ballot in the battleground state. Republican voters have urged Goode to withdraw, and Virginia’s Republican governor, Bob McDonnell, has even gone on air warning that a vote for Goode would only help keep Obama in the White House.

“In an incredibly tight election, any number of votes going to a third party could be significant,” said Whit Ayres, a GOP strategist. “You can never dismiss any concern. Just ask Ralph Nader and Al Gore.”

Gore’s narrow loss to Republican George W. Bush in 2000 was widely attributed to Nader, the Green Party nominee who took votes from Gore in the swing states of New Hampshire and Florida. Bush won New Hampshire — and its four electoral votes — by a 7,000-vote margin over Gore, with Nader winning more than 22,000 votes.
Imran Khan detained and 'interrogated over drone views' by US immigration
Some Canadian commentators have speculated that Khan's questioning was because of groups who have been protesting his visit to the US, including a group called the American Islamic Leadership Coalition which reportedly wrote to US secretary of state Hillary Clinton asking her to revoke the US visa granted to Khan.

"The US embassy made a significant error in granting this Islamist leader a visa," the group said in a statement.

"Granting individuals like Khan access to the US to fundraise is against the interest of the people of Pakistan and the national security interests of the US."
Family of China's prime minister made obscene amounts of hidden money 
Many relatives of Wen Jiabao, including his son, daughter, younger brother and brother-in-law, have become extraordinarily wealthy during his leadership, an investigation by The New York Times shows. A review of corporate and regulatory records indicates that the prime minister’s relatives — some of whom, including his wife, have a knack for aggressive deal making — have controlled assets worth at least $2.7 billion.

In many cases, the names of the relatives have been hidden behind layers of partnerships and investment vehicles involving friends, work colleagues and business partners. Untangling their financial holdings provides an unusually detailed look at how politically connected people have profited from being at the intersection of government and business as state influence and private wealth converge in China’s fast-growing economy.

Unlike most new businesses in China, the family’s ventures sometimes received financial backing from state-owned companies, including China Mobile, one of the country’s biggest phone operators, the documents show. At other times, the ventures won support from some of Asia’s richest tycoons. The Times found that Mr. Wen’s relatives accumulated shares in banks, jewelers, tourist resorts, telecommunications companies and infrastructure projects, sometimes by using offshore entities.
Al-Qaeda calls for kidnapping Westerners
In a video released on jihadist forums and translated by the US monitoring service, Zawahiri also lashed out at President Barack Obama, calling him a liar and demanding he admit defeat in Iraq, Afghanistan and North Africa.

Criticizing the new Egyptian government -- led by a president drawn from the Muslim Brotherhood -- as corrupt, he said a battle is being waged in Egypt between a secular minority and Muslims seeking implementation of Shariah law.

The Egyptian doctor, the former deputy to slain Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden, said these Egyptians want to see their government liberated from US influence and Palestinian victory over Israel, SITE reported.
Saudi Arabia expands historial mosque, ignores or destroys others
With cheap air travel and booming middle classes in populous Muslim countries within the developing world, both Mecca and Medina are struggling to cope with the 12 million pilgrims who visit each year – a number expected to grow to 17 million by 2025. The Saudi monarchy views itself as the sole authority to decide what should happen to the cradle of Islam. Although it has earmarked billions for an enormous expansion of both Mecca and Medina, it also sees the holy cities as lucrative for a country almost entirely reliant on its finite oil wealth.

Heritage campaigners and many locals have looked on aghast as the historic sections of Mecca and Medina have been bulldozed to make way for gleaming shopping malls, luxury hotels and enormous skyscrapers. The Washington-based Gulf Institute estimates that 95 per cent of the 1,000-year-old buildings in the two cities have been destroyed in the past 20 years.


The disregard for Islam’s early history is partly explained by the regime’s adoption of Wahabism, an austere and uncompromising interpretation of Islam that is vehemently opposed to anything which might encourage Muslims towards idol worship.

In most of the Muslim world, shrines have been built. Visits to graves are also commonplace. But Wahabism views such practices with disdain. The religious police go to enormous lengths to discourage people from praying at or visiting places closely connected to the time of the Prophet while powerful clerics work behind the scenes to promote the destruction of historic sites.
Unclaimed benefits in U.S. more common than unemployment benefit fraud
But most of the overpaid benefits didn’t result from acts of fraud, which must be committed deliberately. Sometimes the wrong formula is simply used when crunching the numbers, resulting in someone getting paid too much in benefits. Cases of fraud made up about a quarter of the total overpayments between 2007 and 2011, according to the article.

And overpayments made to unemployed people who didn’t meet the requirements for seeking a new job–by filing a minimum number of job applications each week, for example–now represent less than 5% of fraud. (During this period, the average overpayment was 11% and in cases of fraud was most commonly sent to someone who had returned to work.)

Looking at a longer period, from 1989 to 2011, overpayments made up less than one-tenth of all the jobless benefits paid, and those linked to fraud comprised less than 3% of all benefits. By contrast, unclaimed benefits amounted to nearly seven times the overpayments, according to the research.
Tens of thousands protest against austerity in Rome
Unemployment in Italy has risen to 10.7 percent, its highest since monthly records began in 2004, and unions are locked in disputes with companies over plant closures and layoffs. The nation's public debt is running at 126 percent of output, according to the International Monetary Fund.

"It's been years that there have been no investments, instead it's all outsourced and privatised, we are here to say enough and we hope this voice will grow," said another demonstrator, Caterina Fida.

Organisers said more than 100,000 people participated in the demonstration.
"Gone With The Wind" is a hit in North Korea
While Washington and Pyongyang are still technically at war, and hatred for the United States government is a constant in North Korean propaganda, American culture has always been quietly popular here. There are North Korean fans of everything from Mark Twain's short stories to bootleg Schwarzenegger movies.

Some believe the decision to publish "Gone With the Wind" was meant as a symbolic peace offering from North Korea to the United States — the two nations have sparred for years over Pyongyang's nuclear program. Others see it as an attempt by the government to teach its people about American culture, or at least Mitchell's version of that culture.

Or perhaps it was an insult. "Gone With the Wind" is, in many ways, a celebration of how North Korea sees its own history: as a small, honorable nation that stood up to Washington.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Chicago's Cultural Future (and My Vacation)

I'll be on vacation starting tomorrow. I likely won't post again until next Friday.

In the meantime, you can read my thoughts on the Chicago Cultural Plan final draft over at Gapers Block

See you in a week.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Exposed Breasts and Bain Capital (Link Round-Up 10/17/12)

  Bain Capital is sending Illinois jobs to China
It takes both capital and labor to make a successful business like Sensata Technologies. In order to make a few more bucks, 170 of the people who helped make the company thrive will be cast aside like so much trash. The layoffs will surely have a ripple-effect in Freeport – a town of 25,000 with a declining population and a poverty rate well above the national average. The move is the epitome of corporate America's lack of patriotism – it's capital unmoored from any sense of responsibility for the people that make the profits or the communities where they live. The city passed a resolution Monday asking Romney to intervene.

But the Sensata story has, so far, had little impact on the presidential race, mostly because Mitt Romney has no direct involvement in the operations of the company he established (despite continuing to make millions as a “passive retired partner”). But this is reading the story of Bain Capital too narrowly. Mitt Romney is directly responsible for its business model.

As Tom Gaulrapp -- a lifelong resident of Freeport and 33-year employee of Sensata – told the Huffington Post's Amanda Terkel, “They're still using his business model. He's the one who taught them how to do this. These guys were put there by him. So you can say he doesn't run the day-to-day operations, but he's still at blame for the way they do business."
Venezuela expels Paraguayan diplomats
Charge d'affaires Victor Casartelli said that he and three other Paraguayan diplomats in Caracas were told by Venezuela's Foreign Ministry to leave within three days.

Venezuelan government officials did not respond to calls seeking comment about the matter. Casartelli said that he received a call Tuesday from the Foreign Ministry informing him of the decision and that he met Wednesday with Venezuelan officials who confirmed that the four should go.

The expulsion of Paraguay's diplomats follows a bitter dispute between the countries that began in June with the congressional impeachment and ouster of Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo, an ally of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
Russian protest leader placed under house arrest
The country’s Investigative Committee said Sergei Udaltsov, 35, had been “placed under the obligation not to leave his place of residence” — a form of house arrest under Russian law.

Investigators had earlier questioned Udaltsov, a shaven-headed activist known for his punchy rhetoric and radical politics, after naming him as a suspect in a criminal probe into “plotting to organise mass unrest”, said Investigative Committee spokesman Vladimir Markine in a statement.

Udaltsov said he was not guilty.
Salafists destroy ancient Morocco carvings
Stone carvings in Morocco's High Atlas mountains dating back more than 8,000 years and depicting the sun as a pagan divinity have been destroyed by Salafists, a local rights group said on Wednesday.

"These stone carvings of the sun are more than 8,000 years old. They were destroyed several days ago," Aboubakr Anghir, a member of the Amazigh (Berber) League for Human Rights, told AFP.

"One of the carvings, called 'the plaque of the sun,' predates the arrival of the Phoenicians in Morocco," Anghir said.
No good options for Obama in Syria
No one points out the huge opportunity cost of what could have been and what could still be – albeit barely – if the US took decisive action to save tens of thousands of Syrian lives and possibly tip the balance of the conflict. Consider the contrast with Libya, where one of the outcomes of US intervention was tens of thousands of Libyans marching in the streets with placards declaring their support of the US and their outrage and sorrow at the murder of the US ambassador. And, on the world stage, Russia and China have been encouraged to believe that America will never push past a veto, effectively giving them the final word.

It may well be impossible to get the US to act before its presidential election in November. The only chance, in my view, is if countries in the region – Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates – call openly for US leadership. They should remind Obama of what foreign-policy experts Nina Hachigian and David Shorr have recently called “the responsibility doctrine”: great powers have an active responsibility to uphold global norms and solve global problems.

The Arab League should publicly charge the Security Council with abdicating its responsibility for preserving international peace and security and call on countries with important interests in the region to join with them in taking action. They should specifically call on the US to assume the mantle of global responsibility and, in the phrase that Obama used to describe the intervention in Libya, “create the conditions and coalitions for others to step up.” The League would be asking the US to live up to its values and pursue its interests, while at the same time fulfilling its own responsibility as a regional organization.
Mao ordered 1962 war to regain CPC control, reveals Chinese strategist
"I think we need to do some research. One anecdotal story I heard was because of Mao's own fear of his position in China in 1962 that he launched a war," said Wang, who according to senior Indian diplomats was often consulted by the Chinese leadership.

"In 1962, three years after the Great Leap Forward (GLF), Mao lost power and authority. He was no longer the head of the state and he went back to the so-called second line. The explanation given to us at that time was that he was more interested in ... revolution and so on," he said ahead of the 50th anniversary of the Sino-India conflict on October 20.

GLF was a mass campaign launched by Mao to use China's vast population to rapidly transform the country from an agrarian economy to a modern Communist society.

The movement turned out to be a catastrophe for China as millions of people perished in violent purges weakening Mao's position as supreme leader of the ruling Communist Party of China (CPC) and he was sidelined.
Why is the Western world still uptight about exposed breasts?
Bullying is as troublesome culprit in this case as whatever pretext prompted it. The stigma against female nudity is nevertheless something that costs women the world over very dearly. And it benefits none of the places where it prevails. Think of earth as a great natural experiment, where certain parts of Scandinavia think nothing of co-ed naked saunas, and certain parts of the Middle East require women to cover themselves in head-to-toe burkas on the street. How many Americans, Canadians, or Brits believe societies that enforce female modesty are better off? Or that countries where immodesty is most stigmatized are more moral or functional?
Yet we stigmatize the human body.

My interview in Chicago Talks RE: last night's Presidential Debate

[via WSJ]

Chicago Talks interviewed me about last night's Presidential Debate:
“The first question was a twenty-year-old college kid asking both candidates ‘Hey, I’m about to graduate and people are worried I won’t get a job after college. What do I do?’ and both of them launch into talking points, neither of which answer the question. So I kind of just walked out.”

Pretchel[sic] did eventually return to view the rest of the debate, but said he was initially disappointed that both candidates were trying to pass off memorized talking points as answers.
Yes, I did walk out of the debate a minute in out of frustration over injecting campaign trail sound bites into answers to direct questions. Don't worry, I'm well aware of how naive I sound here.

At the same time, if we're going to talk seriously about the future of the United States and its place in the world, we need the two most powerful politicians in the country to speak out in more than just canned talking points and planned zingers - Commission on Presidential Debates be dammed.

Overall, I felt the rest of the debate was engaging as political theater, if not always substance. Kudos to Candy Crowley for calling out candidates where she saw fit - even if she did have to help Obama explain his Libya stance for him.

Speaking of Libya, the foreign policy debate is next Monday. Given the immediate rise-and-fall of Big Bird and "binders full of women" jokes after the past debates, I shutter to think what ad-libbed Romney quip will end up being next week's insta-meme instead of any number of serious geopolitical issues.

I will be out of town and likely away from a computer, but I'll try to sneak some commentary in here where I can.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Islamist Swingers and Spider Silk (Link Round-Up 10/13/12)

[via Reddit]

Hezbollah admits to launching drone over Israel
The drone, which did not carry any explosives, was destroyed over a largely uninhabited area. It flew some 35 miles (55km) inland before being shot down.

On at least three occasions unmanned aircraft operated by Hezbollah have been detected over Israeli territory.

Although Israeli officials have not given details of where they think the drone came from, Israel's media have published maps indicating it was launched near the southern Lebanese port city of Sidon.
Mali Islamists tell France they will open doors of hell
MUJWA's Hamaha said that Islamists in the Sahara desert were largely funded by ransom payments from France and others. 
 "The top country who finances the jihadis is France," he said, adding that MUJWA could try to kidnap Hollande himself. "I wonder what the international community would say if we took the French president hostage."
The swingers’ guide to Islam
Of course, the ritual isn’t Islam as most would recognise it. Instead, it’s emblematic of Indonesia’s – and especially Java’s – syncretic mix of Islam with earlier Hindu, Buddhist and animist beliefs. But what is truly surprising is that even while Indonesia undergoes a steady shift towards more orthodox Islam, the ritual on Gunung Kemukus is exploding in popularity. It’s a quintessentially Indonesian contradiction.

Tracing the roots of the ritual at Gunung Kemukus involves dipping into the confused story of the fall of Majapahit, the last great Hindu-Buddhist empire of Java. At its height, Majapahit ruled vassals as far away as southern Thailand. But by the start of the 16th century, it had fallen apart and was being eclipsed by a plethora of small courts that were steadily adopting the new religion of Islam. The remainder of Majapahit’s court fled to the volcanic hills of eastern Java and Bali, where the old religion has carried on and evolved to today. Across Java, Islam spread unevenly. In some areas, a more orthodox form of the religion took hold; in other areas, a more pragmatic fusion was made with Java’s traditional beliefs, which are collectively known as kejawen.

All cultures are a blend of influences. But for the Javanese, a very cornerstone of their identity has been the ability to blend together contradictory ideas and belief systems that would leave other peoples hopelessly divided. It’s the kind of culture that will allow a ritual of adultery to exist alongside a moral code imported from the sparse deserts of the Arabian Peninsula. Nothing is black and white here. 
Spider silk could weave biodegradable computer chips
The achievement could open the door to medical applications, such as silk fibers carrying light to places in the body for internal imaging. Because spider silk is incredibly thin — roughly five microns in diameter or 10 times thinner than a human hair – surgeons could perform diagnostic exams using very small openings in the body.

“These materials are harmless, so you can implant them,” said biomedical engineer Fiorenzo Omenetto of Tufts University in Somerville, Massachusetts, who has been working in this field for years and will also be giving a talk on opportunities for silk in high-tech products at Frontiers in Optics. “The body has no reaction to them.”

Omenetto envisions future applications where, after a medical procedure, doctors and surgeons place a silk bandage in a patient embedded with electronic functions to monitor for possible infections. The patient can be closed up and then never have to worry about having the monitoring device taken out again because the body will simply absorb the material. Already his team has developed a small implantable radio frequency heater that could sterilize an area against bacteria.
Mysterious elk-shaped structure discovered in Russia
"The figure would initially have looked white and slightly shiny against the green grass background," write Stanislav Grigoriev, of the Russian Academy of Sciences Institute of History & Archaeology, and Nikolai Menshenin, of the State Centre for Monument Protection, in an article first detailing the discovery published last spring in the journal Antiquity. They note that it is now covered by a layer of soil.

Fieldwork carried out this past summer has shed more light on the glyph's composition and date, suggesting it may be the product of a "megalithic culture," researchers say. They note that hundreds of megalithic sites have been discovered in the Urals, with the most elaborate structures located on a freshwater island about 35 miles (60 km) northeast of the geoglyph.
The World’s First 3D-Printed Acoustic Guitar
Since the acoustic guitar would be made from fused plastic, Summit figured it would have some serious shortcomings. If it actually worked, it would probably sound worse than his old $100 model. But chances were the guitar would break under the 200 pounds of string pressure that comes with tightening the strings via a tuning machine. Summit set up a video camera to record what would happen when the stringing process started. “I thought it would at least be cool if the guitar exploded,” he says.

But, no. It worked, and it sounds pretty good. “It’s rich and full and has a great tonal range,” says Summit, who’s been known to play at friends’ weddings and at dive bars.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Paul Ryan and As Goes Janesville

Independent Lens | As Goes Janesville | Trailer | PBS from Independent Lens on Vimeo.

Saw an excellent documentary about Paul Ryan's hometown and the Governor Scott Walker recall election in Wisconsin called As Goes Janesville.

You can read my review here.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Rod Blagojevich Book Review: Golden

My review of Golden: How Rod Blagojevich Talked Himself Out Of The Governor's Office And Into Prison
Throughout the book, the authors describe how a son of working class Serbian immigrants with big dreams and lackluster academic and legal credentials used personal connections, charm, and a knack for memorization to work his way through the Chicago political machine.
In rapid succession, Blagojevich leapt from foot solider to Illinois state representative, U.S. Congressman, and finally, the state's 40th Governor. Along the way, Blagojevich honed his formidable retail campaigning skills, and refined several habits that come to define his leadership style: antipathy for policy details, reliance on subordinates to do his job for him, obsession with appearance and the spotlight, and near-constant scheming for more money to make possible his ultimate goal--winning the presidency. Coen and Chase then demonstrate how these habits reinforced the complex web of political nepotism and yes-men surrounding his administration that ultimately led to his downfall.

Leftist Adidas Tracksuits (Link Round-Up 10/10/12)

Hugo Chavez, Fidel Castro, and their love for tracksuits
In a manner reminiscent of how top athletes wear the products of sports clothing companies who sponsor them, for the past six years Fidel Castro has been photographed in Adidas, Fila, Puma, and Nike tracksuits, raising questions as to why the anti-imperialist former president, whose country has been under an economic embargo for the past 50 years, wears a personalized Adidas sweatsuit with his name embroidered on it.

​​As Andrew McKie wrote for The Daily Telegraph in 2008, "... Fidel seems to favour Adidas tracksuits which appear to be made of a cloth so rich in manmade fibres that downtown Havana could probably be powered off the static electricity they generate."

Chavez had better stay away from those Adidas-branded tracksuits. After all, in 2007 he was the one who told Castro to drop the tracksuit and go back to his military uniform.
Egypt's post-revolutionary talk shows: heavy on opinion, light on journalism
Egyptian TV platforms have thus been transformed into a battlefield of rival ideas and agendas. In this environment, assuming neutrality is widely understood to be an act of treason, especially by talk show hosts who identify themselves as servants of a cause and sociopolitical mentors for their audiences.
Pakistani's unite over shooting of 14-year-old girl by Taliban
Across the rest of the country, Pakistanis reacted with outrage to the attack on the girl, whose eloquent and determined advocacy of girls’ education had made her a powerful symbol of resistance to Taliban ideology.

“Malala is our pride. She became an icon for the country,” Interior Minister Rehman Malik said.

The army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, visited the Peshawar hospital where Ms. Yousafzai was being treated; in a rare public statement he condemned the “twisted ideology” of the “cowards” who had attacked her. Her parents and a teacher from her school remained at her side in the hospital.
Scotland to vote on independence in 2014
British Prime Minister David Cameron, who wants to keep Britain intact, had backed holding a vote as soon as possible on whether to end Scotland's 300-year-old union with England, with a simple "yes" or "no" single question.

Alex Salmond, leader of Scotland's nationalist government, had sought a third option to be included in the vote, allowing additional powers to be passed to the Scottish parliament.

However, he had also pushed for a delay until 2014, the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn, a famous Scottish victory over the English, giving his independence campaign more time to persuade voters to support the split.
Walmart worker strikes go viral, hitting 28 stores in 12 states
One of the problems striking workers cite is the lack of access to full-time working hours, which prevents them from obtaining even the meager health benefits the company offers. The National Consumer’s League (NCL) told Raw Story that Walmart’s refusal to provide those benefits by exploiting part-time labor leads to a number of spillover costs that taxpayers ultimately pick up.

“Many Walmart workers are dependent on public assistance programs due to their low wages and not having access to full time jobs and being denied benefits because they’re not working the number of hours required to get access to those benefits, or the benefits are just so expensive that on their low wages they just can’t afford them,” NCL Executive Director Sally Greenberg said in an exclusive interview. “Walmart has a record of even working with employees to sign them up for public assistance programs, which we think is really atrocious.”
Taiwan ask Apple to blur map images of its secret bases
The defence ministry reacted after the Liberty Times newspaper printed a satellite picture, downloaded with an iPhone 5, showing a top-secret long-range radar base in the northern county of Hsinchu.

"Regarding images taken by commercial satellites, legally we can do nothing about it," the ministry's spokesman David Lo told reporters.

"But we'll ask Apple to lower the resolution of satellite images of some confidential military establishments the way we've asked Google in the past," he said, referring to the Google Earth programme.
Kissinger opitimistc on China's future
The new generation, Kissinger said, faces a “transformation over the next 10 years” of moving “400 million people from the countryside into the cities.” This will involve not just technical infrastructure problems but a change of values and also a change in the role of the Communist party, he said.

Kissinger said he had spoken to Xi Jinping, the expected next Chinese president, and believes he will seek such enormous internal changes that “it’s unlikely that in 10 years the next generation will come into office with exactly the same institutions that exist today.

“This is one reason why I do not believe that great foreign adventures or confrontations with the United States can be on their agenda,” Kissinger said. But because Xi faces the need to make difficult domestic changes, he may be more assertive in responding to foreign critics, he added.
Chinese college graduates pessimistic on China's future
Nicholas Lardy, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, explains the youth population is suffering from the Chinese government's mismanaged initiative to expand higher education. The Chinese education system graduates about seven million students into the workforce, twice what it was five years ago.

But as the number of universities increases, the quality of the education decreases. Lardy says the government must stop this growth in higher education institutions because employers are losing faith in the quality of the graduates. He speculates that most students from reputable schools have no problem looking for jobs. It's the students from schools no one has heard of that are having the most trouble. Economy echoes similar sentiment. She says many of fourth and fifth tier schools are scams in education.

The GDP slowdown also means that young people are being squeezed out of the housing market by low wages and high housing prices. Home ownership is essential in China for young people. It's a measure of success as well as an essential prerequisite for marriage. Lardy says housing prices have gone up in double-digit rates in major cities in the last couple of years. Homeowners stand to benefit from this trend to the detriment of homebuyers, most of whom are young professionals.
The ancient tunnels to the "underworld" in Italy
The existence of the Sibylline Books certainly suggests that Rome took the legend of the Cumæan sibyl seriously, and indeed the geographer Strabo, writing at about the time of Christ, clearly states that there actually was “an Oracle of the Dead” somewhere in the Phlegræan Fields. So it is scarcely surprising that archaeologists and scholars of romantic bent have from time to time gone in search of a cave or tunnel that might be identified as the real home of a real sibyl–nor that some have hoped that they would discover an entrance, if not to Hades, then at least to some spectacular subterranean caverns.

Over the years several spots, the best known of which lies close to Lake Avernus, have been identified as the antro della sibilla–the cave of the sibyl. None, though, leads to anywhere that might reasonably be confused with an entrance to the underworld. Because of this, the quest continued, and gradually the remaining searchers focused their attentions on the old Roman resort of Baiæ (Baia), which lies on Bay of Naples at a spot where the Phlegræan Fields vanish beneath the Tyrrhenian Sea. Two thousand years ago, Baiæ was a flourishing spa, noted both for its mineral cures and for the scandalous immorality that flourished there. Today, it is little more than a collection of picturesque ruins–but it was there, in the 1950s, that the entrance to a hitherto unknown antrum was discovered by the Italian archaeologist Amedeo Maiuri. It had been concealed for years beneath a vineyard; Maiuri’s workers had to clear a 15-foot-thick accumulation of earth and vines.

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