Thursday, June 28, 2012

Food Deserts For The Poor, Food Riots For The Poorer (Link Round-Up 6/28/12)

[via BoingBoing]

Hence the importance of the media. Most Sudanese rely on outside sources for their news. By far the most popular outlet is the Qatari-financed satellite TV broadcaster Al Jazeera. But there's a problem: The Qataris are friendly with the Bashir regime, and so Al Jazeera's Arabic programming has been notably coy in its reporting. For the first few days Al Jazeera barely deigned to mention the demonstrations. Saudi-owned Al Arabiya has been notably more forthcoming, but not as many Sudanese watch it. Elmahdi credits Al Arabiya -- as well as Arabic radio broadcasts from the BBC, Radio Monte Carlo, and U.S.-financed Radio Sawa -- with pressuring the Qataris to provide more balanced coverage of the events. But there's still a ways to go. "Ultimately it's Al Jazeera that's going to make or break this," says Elmahdi. That may be a bit of an exaggeration, but only a bit.
What’s more, the method by which supermarkets are identified leaves out important nuances. Typically, a local list of food stores is screened for those that exceed a certain size. Modest green grocers, farmers’ markets, or street vendors won’t show up in the measure of “food access.” Indeed, one of the more obscure debates in policy circles is whether “food swamps” or “food grasslands” might be more apt descriptors. And while early studies found links between food access and either lower obesity rates or better diets, more recent ones question whether access plays a role in the obesity epidemic at all.
"Those primarily responsible are northern Europeans who have simply picked up a loose cobble stone or piece of mosaic they have found while wandering around Rome.

"They then put it in their luggage and take it home with them as a souvenir of their holiday – we have also found large milestones made from marble in suitcases that have been taken from the Appian Way."
Indeed, a six-month Fortune investigation reveals that the public case alleging that Voth and his colleagues walked guns is replete with distortions, errors, partial truths, and even some outright lies. Fortune reviewed more than 2,000 pages of confidential ATF documents and interviewed 39 people, including seven law-enforcement agents with direct knowledge of the case. Several, including Voth, are speaking out for the first time.
U.S. agencies have long been in bed with the Sinaloans, he explained to me, and this scheme to move massive numbers of weapons into the country is more of the same. He noted that it coincides directly with the cartel wars of the late 2000s. Project Gunrunner and later Fast and Furious were, Bojórquez is sure, a way for America to arm Chapo, with whom it's in business. To him, this connection is as clear as day.

Bojórquez is not alone -- most Mexican journalists I speak with, and many average Mexicans, take Washington's collusion with the Sinaloa cartel for granted.
The neglect of Afro-Iranians by most Iranians stems from a number of factors, most of which stem from the Aryan myth. The Aryan myth effectively whitewashed Iran’s history, leading many to believe that true Iranians are only light-skinned and that Iran never engaged in slavery. Beyond this, the lack of Afro-Iranian presence in media further reinforces any preconceived notions that exist about Africans in Iran: that they simply do not exist.
But Erdogan's vow to target Syrian military formations should they approach their shared border, support opposition forces "at any cost", and do all he can to bring down the Assad dynasty, barely disguises the weakness of Turkey's position. Ankara's twin priorities are both domestic in nature: modernisation and economic growth. Turkey does not want, and cannot afford, a war along its southern border that would jeopardise these aims, further destabilise the Kurdish regions, and seriously compromise its broader regional interests. Assad, presumably, knows this well.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

What Uruguay's Marijuana Legalization Bill Means For Chicago

My piece in Gapers Block.
Now comparing the laws of a country of 3.3 million people to a city of 2.7 million might be unfair, given the U.S. federal government's ultimate say on the enforcement of drug use and trafficking. However, they provide a useful contrast. The end goal of both of these pieces of legislation is to reduce local crime: Uruguay by directly profiting off of marijuana at the expense of criminal organizations, and Chicago by freeing up the police and court system to arrest and lock up more serious criminals.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Book Learnin' or Drug Sellin' (Link Round-Up 6/26/12)


Yasiin Bey, the Muslim rapper formerly known as Mos Def
For Bey, retiring “Mos Def” is nothing at all like when, in the late 1970s, folk singer Cat Stevens abandoned his music career when he became a Muslim and changed his name to Yusuf Islam. Islam, who returned to pop music as simply “Yusuf” with a 2006 album release, told The New York Times that he originally gave up music because its permissibility for Muslims “was just a gray area, so I stayed out in order to avoid conflict.”

Bey, however, seems to have come into his Islam through music. His father’s deeper impact notwithstanding, his conversion can be attributed largely to the influence of the pioneering hip-hop group A Tribe Called Quest. And though members of the group would not credit themselves with Bey’s becoming a Muslim, they were there when it happened—“so there,” deejay Ali Shaheed Muhammad told me. Bey declared himself a Muslim at Battery Recording Studios on 25th Street in New York City surrounded by members of Tribe during the making of their 1996 album Beats, Rhymes and Life.
Chicago rap is on the rise despite (or because of) a spiking youth homicide rate
Today, the perception is that street violence in Chicago has become more chaotic and that there are innocent victims and collateral damage. (According to the New York Times, homicides are up by 38 percent from just a year ago.) Much of what has made Keef's controversial music resonate so widely throughout the city is that his young age and seemingly reckless lyrics — dense with references to local sets, cliques, neighborhoods, and gangs — appear to epitomize this very sense of having lost control of the younger generation.
American kids are too spoiled to function
In the L.A. families observed, no child routinely performed household chores without being instructed to. Often, the kids had to be begged to attempt the simplest tasks; often, they still refused. In one fairly typical encounter, a father asked his eight-year-old son five times to please go take a bath or a shower. After the fifth plea went unheeded, the father picked the boy up and carried him into the bathroom. A few minutes later, the kid, still unwashed, wandered into another room to play a video game.
21-Year-Old British man faces death penalty in UAE over selling marijuana
Drug dealing is one of six serious crimes that carry a maximum penalty of death under federal law. The others are terrorism, rape, espionage and converting from Islam.

However, experts yesterday stressed that in every instance in which a lower court has issued a death sentence for drugs crimes over the past five years, the penalty has been overturned by higher courts.
Should the world follow Uruguay's plan to sell marijuana?
Late last week, the small and stable South American nation of Uruguay (pop. 3.3 million) proposed legalizing and monitoring marijuana sales — making the government, in fact, the sole legal seller. The purpose of the unprecedented bill, which Uruguayan President José Mujica calls an anticrime measure, is to preempt the often violent black market where marijuana is illegally sold (marijuana use itself is legal in Uruguay) and channel the $750 million that Uruguayan pot users spend on the drug each year into public coffers. “The traditional [interdiction] approach hasn’t worked,” Mujica said. “Someone has to be the first” to try this.
Chinese educational system can't produce innovation
In 2010, an international standardized test found that junior high school students in Shanghai had outperformed their peers in rest of the world in math, science, and reading, beating the U.S. averages by a wide margin. Many in the West saw it as an alarming indication of their own decline, but in many ways it was a sign of the amazing growth of Chinese education over past three decades, rebuilt from shambles after the decade-long Cultural Revolution ended in 1976. So far, it has served China phenomenally: its nine-year compulsory education system, installed in 1986, has boosted the country's literacy rate to around 92 percent (it was 67 percent as of 1980) and prepared millions of eligible young people for the rapidly expanding workforce. Now, however, as the economy shows signs of cooling, Chinese leaders are trying to engender more domestic innovation.

They hope to see an educated workforce, rather than toiling on factory floors or sitting in the cubicles of Western companies' Chinese branches, found their own businesses or brands that will sell to domestic as well as international buyers. They want domestic moviegoers to stop purchasing bootleg DVDs of Western blockbusters, and for foreign viewers to start raving about Chinese films. But the nation's education system, instead of channeling the youthful energy of China's next generation, seems to be blocking it.
Brazilian prisoners can read books for reduced time in jail
Inmates in four federal prisons holding some of Brazil's most notorious criminals will be able to read up to 12 works of literature, philosophy, science or classics to trim a maximum 48 days off their sentence each year, the government announced. 
Prisoners will have up to four weeks to read each book and write an essay which must "make correct use of paragraphs, be free of corrections, use margins and legible joined-up writing," said the notice published on Monday in the official gazette.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Chicago-Style Hillbillies (Link Round-Up 6/22/12)


15-year-old discovers better way to diagnose cancer
His advice for kids (and their parents) trying to figure out what to do with their creativity and imagination: “Make sure to be passionate about whatever it is you get into, because otherwise you won’t put the right amount of work into it.” Andraka was rejected by almost 200 researchers in his search for a lab to do his nanotube strip work until one scientist at Johns Hopkins gave him the space to work. “No one will be excited about your work if you’re not excited about it.”
The all-encompassing corruption in Chinese soccer
But, as with so many area of Chinese economics and politics, that state system was mated with a fitful free market and supercharged with cash, without an accountable bureaucracy to keep an eye on it. Ever since the early nineties, China has allowed some of its state-run teams to acquire corporate sponsorships and investors, and dole out higher salaries. But it was so swiftly overrun by gamblers with the power to fix games that the carmaker Geely dropped its support of a club in 2001, after less than a year. “I was shocked,” Geely’s chief, Li Shufu, told reporters. “For a match, bribes of a million, two million yuan”—a hundred fifty to three hundred thousand dollars—“were offered, and not a single football official or referee ever got caught.”
Uganda bans NGOs that promote homosexuality
“I have investigated and established beyond reasonable doubt that these NGOs have been involved in the promotion and recruitment in terms of the [gay] issues,” Minister Simon Lokodo told AFP.

Lokodo did not specify which organisations would be de-registered but said that the list included international and Ugandan group.
Southern Whites in the North Side: Chicago's Appalachians
In fact, records show that while the forties, fifties and sixties saw as many as 400,000 African-Americans migrate to Chicago from Deep South states like Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia, an estimated 70,000 whites also settled in Chicago after the Korean War. These migrants came from the Mid-South, the mountainous regions of states like North Carolina, Kentucky, Eastern Tennessee and West Virginia.

Like most new immigrant or migrant groups, they were immediately vilified. Yet perhaps because they were largely of the same race and spoke the same language, their own habits and customs were even more vehemently derived in the press. Albert N. Votaw, executive director of the Uptown Chicago Commission wrote an article titled “The Hillbillies Invade Chicago,” for the February, 1958 edition of Harper’s magazine stating:

“These southerners bring with them suspicion of landlords, bosses, police, principals, and most church people, settling in deteriorating neighborhoods where they can stick with their own kind, living much as they did back home, often removing window screens, they sit half-dressed where it is cooler and dispose of their garbage in the quickest way.”
Drones and intelligence leaks: an interview with former CIA expert Henry Crumpton
First, the government needs to set a higher bar for what is secret. There is a bureaucracy and, in some cases, a private-sector industry made up of vested interests who promote classification. Information is power, and that plays into these vested interests. Not only would requiring a higher standard for classifying information allow greater citizen access and understanding to a broader and deeper range of issues, it would save money and promote effective governance, including greater collaboration with foreign allies.
Golden Dawn: how fascist ideas rose up in Greece and the rest of Europe 
The fascist advance in troika-dominated Greece was predicted by analysts. The factors that fuelled it exist in other societies too. In eurozone countries falling victim to the debt crisis, fascism will return to the fore. It has dynamics weaker than in the 1930s, but it is dangerous again. European elites have been playing with fire for too long. Germany's chancellor, Angela Merkel, succeeded where the Führer himself had failed, in creating a Nazi party in Greece. Similar feats will require less effort in other countries.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Second City or Third-Rate? (Link Round-Up 6/19/12)

[via BoingBoing]

Chicago: The Second- (or Third-) Rate City
Chicago also needs something even harder to achieve: wholesale cultural change. It needs to end its obsession with being solely a global city, look for ways to reinvigorate its role as capital of the Midwest, and provide opportunities for its neglected middle and working classes, not just the elites. This means more focus on the basics of good governance and less focus on glamour. Chicago must also forge a culture of greater civic participation and debate. You can't address your problems if everyone is terrified of stepping out of line and admitting that they exist. Here, at least, Emanuel can set the tone. In March, he publicly admitted that Chicago had suffered a "lost decade," a promisingly candid assessment, and he has tapped former D.C. transportation chief Gabe Klein to run Chicago's transportation department, rather than picking a Chicago insider. Continuing to welcome outsiders and dissident voices will help dilute the culture of clout.
Asians surpass Hispanics as fastest-growing immigrant group in the US
More than six in 10 people between the ages of 25 and 64 who came from Asia in recent years have at least a bachelor's degree, twice as much as recent non-Asian immigrants. And they are three times more likely than other immigrants to get green cards because of their employer rather than their family ties.
Sorry, there's no alien spaceship at the bottom of the Baltic Sea
Even more odd for a seemingly natural formation, the main object is disc-shaped and “appears to have construction lines and boxes drawn on it,” Lindberg said. “There are also straight edges.”
The new age of dinosaur research: new answers with new questions
And now we’re in what paleontologist Thomas Holtz has called the “Dinosaur Enlightenment.” While the Dinosaur Renaissance was mostly an image change that raised a slew of questions about dinosaur biology, the Dinosaur Enlightenment is employing new techniques and ideas to approach long-standing questions about dinosaur biology. We’re finally starting to understand how dinosaurs grew up, how they might have mated and even what colors some dinosaurs were. But even the most basic aspects of dinosaur biology are open to revision—for example, paleontologists are trying to find ever-more-accurate and precise ways to estimate how heavy dinosaurs actually were.
The Louisiana schools using textbooks written by Fundamentalists
Are dinosaurs alive today? Scientists are becoming more convinced of their existence. 
Have you heard of the `Loch Ness Monster' in Scotland? `Nessie,' for short has been recorded on sonar from a small submarine, described by eyewitnesses, and photographed by others. Nessie appears to be a plesiosaur. 
Could a fish have developed into a dinosaur? As astonishing as it may seem, many evolutionists theorize that fish evolved into amphibians and amphibians into reptiles. This gradual change from fish to reptiles has no scientific basis. No transitional fossils have been or ever will be discovered because God created each type of fish, amphibian, and reptile as separate, unique animals. Any similarities that exist among them are due to the fact that one Master Craftsmen fashioned them all." 
Extract from Biology 1099, Accelerated Christian Education Inc. (1995)
Indiana First State to Allow Citizens to Shoot Law Enforcement Officers
The first of its kind in the United States, the law was adopted after the state Supreme Court went too far in one of its rulings last year, according to supporters. The case in question involved a man who assaulted an officer during a domestic violence call. The court ruled that there was “no right to reasonably resist unlawful entry by police officers.” 
The National Rifle Association lobbied for the new law, arguing that the court decision had legalized police to commit unjustified entries.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Chicago, Make Some Noise for [Insert Name Here]!

An article I wrote for Gapers Block about the state of popular music:
When I look at the line-up of the 2012 edition of the B96 Pepsi Summer Bash, I wonder what it has to offer the pop music fan in 2012. Scheduled performers Gym Class Heros, Karmin, Dev, Havana Brown and The Wanted have all already played Clear Channel's rival 103.5 KISS FM Fantabuloso music festival in May (itself sponsored by PepsiCo subsidiary Mountain Dew). And on the same day as this year's Summer Bash is the first day of Soldier's Field's Spring Awakening (co-sponsored by Red Bull). With co-headliners Afrojack (who has produced tracks for last year's Summer Bash headliners Chris Brown and Pitbull) and Skrillex, along with dozens of other DJ/producers, the event will most likely showcase what last year's B96 Pepsi Summer Bash only hinted towards: people like hearing songs in large groups, regardless of whether the performer is actually around to play it.

Occupy Mexico? (Link Round-Up 6/15/12)

  Using Skype in Ethiopia will get you 15 years in jail
Ethiopian authorities claim the drastic measures called for under the new law are necessary to protect against security threats. However, African Review notes that observers are saying the law is instead aimed at limiting freedom of expression and the flow of information between the nation’s 85 million people.
Brazilian farmers win lawsuit over Monsanto
Five million Brazilian farmers have taken on US based biotech company Monsanto through a lawsuit demanding return of about 6.2 billion euros taken as royalties from them. The farmers are claiming that the powerful company has unfairly extracted these royalties from poor farmers because they were using seeds produced from crops grown from Monsanto’s genetically engineered seeds, reports Merco Press.
Occupy Wall Street-style student protests hit Mexico 
Their goal is to knock out one of the core pillars, corporate television, that props up the corrupt political class. Their sophisticated approach is triggering a popular awakening and, like Occupy Wall Street, taking the old Left by surprise. If the Arab Spring taught our global movement about regime change then the Mexican Spring may teach us a crucial lesson in achieving media democracy.
US and Israel developing software that can read metaphors
Coming up with a computational method to identify metaphors is a huge task, Gibbs said. The standard definition now is that researchers know them when they see them.

A computer can deal with "It was the best of times," Argamon said. And it can deal with "It was the worst of times."

It is stuck if a writer puts the two sentences together.
Are corrupt countries using their UN carbon credits for the environment? 
“One of the first questions with any U.N. program is, ‘Who is overseeing this?’” said Rosett. “Very often no one is.”

The worldwide expansion of the CDM has been accompanied by “troubling stories in various countries,” said Abbass. “When you have over 4,000 projects, you’ll have some projects in areas in dispute.”
Barack Obama: who's responsible for the failures of his presidency?
Obama and his staff are constantly making decisions about what happens to be important at any given moment, based on daily events, click rates and noise levels. They stand in the middle of tornado made up of thousands of tiny news items, Internet discoveries and artificial scandals that a tireless, highly professional media industry is constantly producing -- in alliance with the world's busiest web community.

The amount of information that the White House deals with day after day and hour after hour is mind-boggling. It's an impossible place to work, and it's said that anyone who hopes to succeed there has to be made of the right stuff. Does this apply to Obama? Is he made for the office? Or is it one size too big, even for him?

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Timbuktu and Brain Implants (Link Round-Up 6/13/12)

[YouTube memefest via Reddit]

Islamist rebel group in Mali takes Timbuktu
Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb has made millions of dollars through ransom payments for Western hostages. This money is thought to have been spent on a more sophisticated arsenal that may, according to some Western intelligence estimates, include ground-to-air missiles looted from Gadhafi's arsenals. While specifics regarding this more sophisticated weaponry remains speculative for the time being due to a dearth of verifiable intelligence in the Azawad region, what is known is that this sprawling, ungoverned area is becoming a magnet for regional and even transnational jihadists, according to several witnesses.

Basically, Mali remains in political freefall while quarrelsome rebels attempt to consolidate their control over an area the nearly the size of Texas.
Obama's leaked trade documents show corporate power winning over sovereignty, environment
While the current trade deal could pose a challenge to American sovereignty, large corporations headquartered in the U.S. could potentially benefit from it by using the same terms to oppose the laws of foreign governments. If one of the eight Pacific nations involved in the talks passes a new rule to which an American firm objects, that U.S. company could take the country to court directly in international tribunals.
Public Citizen challenged the independence of these international tribunals, noting that "The tribunals would be staffed by private sector lawyers that rotate between acting as 'judges' and as advocates for the investors suing the governments," according to the text of the agreement. 
Modern elitism: oligarchy pretending to be meritocracy
While smartness is necessary for competent elites, it is far from sufficient: wisdom, judgment, empathy and ethical rigor are all as important, even if those traits are far less valued. Indeed, extreme intelligence without these qualities can be extremely destructive. But empathy does not impress the same way smartness does. Smartness dazzles and mesmerizes. More important, it intimidates. When a group of powerful people get together to make a group decision, conflict and argumentation ensue, and more often than not the decision that emerges is that which is articulated most forcefully by those parties perceived to be the “smartest.” 
It is under these conditions that destructive intelligence flourishes. Behind many of the Bush administration’s most disastrous and destructive decisions was one man: David Addington, counsel and then chief of staff to Dick Cheney. Addington was called “Cheney’s Cheney” and “the most powerful man you’ve never heard of.” A former Bush White House lawyer told The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer that the administration’s legal framework for the “war on terror”—from indefinite detention, to torture, to rejection of the 1949 Geneva Accords, to denial of habeas corpus—was “all Addington.”
Iraq's biggest ally is Iran, not US
I point all this out not to add to the fear-mongering and saber-rattling currently fashionable in D.C., but to highlight the absurdity of rattling those sabers at Iran without acknowledging the role played by our disastrous decade-long war in Iraq -- and the hubris, ignorance and lies that fueled it -- in making Iran more powerful. Every time those voices that helped get us into a war with Iraq beat the drums of war against Iran, they should be asked: what effect has the war you supported in Iraq had on Iran's power in the region? By clamoring for a war in Iraq, was it your plan to empower Iran? If not, and if you were so obviously wrong, then why should we trust you now? What rethinking have you done that would give you credibility this time around?
Survey: Smart people more likely to make stupid cognitive errors
When people face an uncertain situation, they don’t carefully evaluate the information or look up relevant statistics. Instead, their decisions depend on a long list of mental shortcuts, which often lead them to make foolish decisions. These shortcuts aren’t a faster way of doing the math; they’re a way of skipping the math altogether. Asked about the bat and the ball, we forget our arithmetic lessons and instead default to the answer that requires the least mental effort.
MIT makes glucose fuel cell for brain implants
This discovery is exciting for two main reasons: a) The fuel cell is completely synthetic, and b) they can be produced using low-tech, decades-old chip fabrication processes. Glucose fuel cells have been created before, primarily to power pacemakers, but they used biological enzymes (like your own cells) — and enzymes need to be replenished. Platinum, however, will happily strip electrons from glucose indefinitely. Platinum also has the added bonus of being very biocompatible — i.e. your immune system doesn’t try to reject it. Cerebrospinal fluid is almost entirely devoid of cells, too — it’s basically just a glucose-rich fluid that insulates your brain and spine. Because there are no cells, this means there are no white blood cells that can reject the fuel cell.
International poll shows China seen as top economic power over US
Across the 21 nations surveyed, the median percentage with positive views of China and the United States were about the same, at 49 percent and 52 percent, respectively. But Pew noted that overall figure concealed big differences in some countries. In Japan, 72 percent saw the U.S. favorably, versus just 15 percent for China. In Pakistan, 85 percent saw China favorably while just 12 percent said the same for the United States.

Monday, June 11, 2012

China Won't Hire You, Fake Mr. Bean (Link Round-Up 6/11/12)

[via flickr]

Muslim-Buddhist riots threaten a newly-democratic Myanmar government
Some analysts worry that as Myanmar's military-backed president continues opening up the country's economy and political system after more than a year in charge, the steps could inadvertently spark a worsening of the country's ethnic and religious divides as residents feel more free about expressing tensions that go back decades, and in some cases centuries. That's especially true where the Internet is concerned.

"People aren't used to the Internet yet. They think everything they see there is true," said a local business executive who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the subject. "Internet users also tend to be younger and maybe more volatile or aggressive than older generations who learned not discuss religious or racial matters so freely."
Indonesian horror films: now starring Fake Mr. Bean
The film — “Mr. Bean Kesurupan D.P.” — stars an actor who bears some resemblance to the British comedian and Indonesian actress/pop star Dewi Persik. The actor mimics Atkinson's unique brand of goofy physical comedy in a film about a hopping "pocong" ghost obsessed with the buxom dangdut singer.

Atkinson's iconic character is wildly popular in Indonesia and moviegoers packed the film's premier in Depok on Thursday in a rare show of interest in a locally-produced horror film.
The crackdown, which was announced in China's state-controlled media on May 15, officially targets foreigners living or working in China illegally.

Expat unease worsened after a xenophobic online rant by Yang Rui, a prominent TV host on CCTV 9. Rui lauded the campaign to protect "innocent girls" from "foreign trash", "thugs" and "spies", and described recently expelled al-Jazeera English correspondent Melissa Chan as a "foreign bitch".
China doesn't want to hire foreign workers
Given the choice between a Westerner with decent Mandarin and an educated, English-speaking local applicant, companies will favor the Chinese. “We almost only recruit PRC nationals or Chinese speakers,” says Thorneman. Those candidates—bright Harvard- and Wharton-educated returnees—are multiplying. In 1995 fewer than 24,000 Chinese students went abroad for education, according to EIC Group China, a provider of educational services. By 2010 that number had risen to 285,000. Not only are Chinese-born prospects more abundant and better suited to the environment, they’re also cheaper. Hiring a foreigner from a developed country to work in China costs 50 percent to 200 percent more than a local hire, according to a 2011 study by human resources consulting firm Aon Hewitt (AON).
A week in the life of a fake refugee in Levinsky, Tel Aviv
On Friday morning, my Eritrean friends tell me that I must go see Nagasi, or things will get messy. I ask them to explain it. Nagasi is apparently the representative of the Eritrean government, or the unofficial Eritrean ambassador in the State of Levinsky, if you will. They tell me that Eritrean authorities don’t care why and how you arrived in Israel: They only want you to keep paying taxes to the homeland. How much? Two percent of your income. As there is no way to find out your income, most Eritreans pay a regular monthly fee of $100. “What will happen if I don’t pay?” I ask. “Bad things will happen, to you and to your family,” was the reply.
African economies will be the fastest-growing in 5 years (if the Euro doesn't collapse)
Despite the economic gains, there are some who find the regimes unpalatable. Tom Cargill, the assistant director of the Africa programme at the foreign policy think tank Chatham House, said: "If you're interested in states becoming more economically successful, then what is coming out of Africa is good news. But if you are interested in an Africa where human rights are respected and governments take on the attributes of Western democratic countries, including fair elections and freedom of speech, then it isn't good.
Was a South Korean newspaper hacked by North Koreans?
North Korea's military on June 4 threatened attacks on the Seoul offices of South Korean media outlets including JoongAng Ilbo, for their critical coverage of a mass children's event in Pyongyang.

The military general staff listed the co-ordinates of some of the offices and said missile units and other forces had already targeted the buildings.

It did not mention a possible cyber-attack, although Seoul says its neighbour carried out several such attacks in the past.
North Carolina's tiny, award-winning newspaper vs. The World
A state bureau of investigations agent told me that downtown merchants have been repeatedly told by law enforcement that if they advertise with me there will be repercussions. One retailer, selling fifty-plus papers a week, suddenly stopped, saying they "couldn’t keep up with the quarters." But it turns out according to their staff, who came running out of the store to tell us, that, actually, they love the paper; some high-ranking person had told them that if they kept selling the paper they would lose the contract to feed all the prisoners in the jail. People will engage in war against you and there has been an economic war waged against us because we did expose the individuals who were expected to enforce the law, but who may in fact be the largest organized criminal group in the community, or they may even be controlling the crime.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Penguin Sex, China, and Skinheads (Link Round-Up 6/9/12)

[via Infozine]

China builds exact replica of Austrian tourist town
The original is a centuries-old village of 900 and a UNESCO heritage site that survives on tourism. The copycat is a housing estate that thrives on China's new rich. In a China famous for pirated products, the replica Hallstatt sets a new standard.
China can use fake parts and cyber-espionage to disable telecommunications
The electronic backdoor capability reportedly could allow the Chinese government through Huawei and ZTE to access information traveling through telecommunications networks or even sabotage electronic devices, Lignet said. With this capability, China would be in a position to sabotage critical U.S. weapons systems and sensitive cyber sites and could include intelligence or systems used by defense contractors doing work on behalf of the U.S. government.
The skinheads at Europe's biggest soccer tournament
“We have all these eastern European and former communist countries that 20 years ago were invisible or mute. Now they can express themselves and they do so with racist behavior. Polish football fans are notorious, and Ukraine is not far behind.”
Penguin sex is too shocking for science
“The pamphlet, declined for publication with the official Scott expedition reports, commented on the frequency of sexual activity, auto-erotic behaviour, and seemingly aberrant behaviour of young unpaired males and females, including necrophilia, sexual coercion, sexual and physical abuse of chicks and homosexual behaviour,” states the analysis written by Russell and colleagues William Sladen and David Ainley. “His observations were, however, accurate, valid and, with the benefit of hindsight, deserving of publication.”
How to overthrow a dictatorship
In this shabby hotel, in a nondescript corner of a Mediterranean island, 20 activists had come to attend a clandestine meeting on revolution: specifically, how to start one. Their instructors in this weeklong course were two former members of the Serbian youth group Otpor, which ousted the dictator Slobodan Milošević in 2000. Today, they work as trainers for an organization called the Centre for Applied NonViolent Action and Strategies, otherwise known as CANVAS. The Belgrade-based organization, staffed with veterans from nonviolent democratic struggles in Serbia, Georgia, Lebanon, the Philippines, and South Africa, is one of the leading groups training democratic political movements around the world. In the past nine years, this outfit has advised movements in more than 50 countries. The list reads like a global field manual for the battle between dictators and democrats: Belarus, Bolivia, Burma, Egypt, Georgia, Guatemala, Iran, the Maldives, Tibet, Venezuela, Vietnam, West Sahara, and Zimbabwe. The trainers running this seminar are two of CANVAS’s most experienced instructors; they have run more than 70 workshops between them, in dozens of countries.
US military suicide rate hits average of one per day 
While the reasons for the increase are not entirely understood, the army's own data suggest soldiers with multiple combat tours are at greater risk. But a portion of those taking their own life have never deployed, the figures show. 
Suicide among troops had levelled off during 2010 and 2011, but 2012 has seen the fastest pace since the US war in Afghanistan began in 2001.
Evolution attacked in Turkish higher education
Defenders of evolution have long complained that, during its decade-long rule, the (AKP) government has increasingly downplayed evolution theories in textbooks at the expense of creationist explanations. Officially, teachers are supposed to teach both concepts, but they are given great latitude in their classrooms. 
The national Education and Science Workers' Union (Egitim Sen ) claims that some of its 125,000 teacher-members now face pressure from religious parents, school administrators and Turkey's Ministry of Education not to teach evolution. The union is warning that instruction of evolution theories is now under threat.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Tibet, Drums, and Plane Crashes (Link Round-Up 6/8/12)

China bans international tourism to Tibet
Now, many are saying that the latest in a string of Tibetan self-immolations led to the country’s shutdown to outsiders. According to Free Tibet, a campaign promoting Tibetan independence from China, there have been more than 30 self-immolations since March 2011. Most recently, on May 27, 2012 two Tibetans were the first to set themselves on fire in Lhasa, Tibet’s tightly-controlled administrative capital. The shutdown also coincides with the Saga Dawa festival, which celebrates the Buddha’s birth and draws many Buddhists to Tibet. This year, the festival began on June 4, which is also the anniversary of the Chinese government crackdown on the Tiananmen Square protests.
Zildjian: the 400-year-old cymbal manufacturer and family business
First off, there's the literal secret - the special alloy of copper, tin, and silver that gives the Zildjian cymbals their world-renowned sound. 
It's a proprietary mix that Avedis Zildjian brought over with him from Turkey and handed down from generation to generation of Zildjians - and only to Zildjians.
Ex-Iranian official: target regime change, not the nuclear program
Sazegara chastised the Obama Administration’s decision not to intervene in the 2009 Green Revolution, describing it as “a great disappointment”. But he said that “beneath the surface there is a great anger burning across the land” and that the time has come to “reignite the revolution.”  
Sazegara said that the U.S. was “focused on the wrong course” in its dealings with Tehran, because the regime “will never give up its nuclear program.” The only recourse, he said, was to “reach over their heads” to the Iranian people and to encourage a change in the regime.
Twitter is squeezing out the professional critics
But critics have a deeper role still. When something new and startling comes along, it often baffles us, and we are tempted to drop it, pained, for easier cultural lifting. A great critic can help us to figure out what it going on, and to appreciate it in a richer way. When I saw Terrence Malick's The Tree Of Life, I was sure I had seen something extraordinary, but I felt I had barely begun to understand it. It was reading the body of criticism by terrific writers, such as Dana Stevens and Peter Bradshaw that led me deeper in. As film critic Pauline Kael put it: "We read critics for the perceptions, for what they tell us that we didn't fully grasp when we saw the work."
Nigerian plane crash shows the country's massive infrastructure problems
It was the worst air disaster in nearly two decades for Nigeria, a nation where carriers have longed used aging aircraft and often operate under little government scrutiny. Some passengers clutch Muslim prayer beads or Bibles, softly praying or loudly calling out "Blood of Jesus" as airplanes hit turbulence. Applause and more prayers punctuate landings. 
But flying is the quickest and safest way to move around a nation about twice the size of California with a crumbling network of roads that drivers in rickety buses and trucks speed along and where robbers lay in wait in the night.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Creationism, Destructionism (Link Round-Up 6/5/12)

[via Hong Wrong]

Evolution removed from South Korean Textbooks
Even the nation’s leading science institute — the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology — has a creation science display on campus. “The exhibition was set up by scientists who believed in creation science back in 1993,” says Gab-duk Jang, a pastor of the campus church. The institute also has a thriving Research Association for Creation Science, run by professors and students, he adds.
Why Islamic rap is scaring people across Europe
The debate over hip hop, Europe's dominant youth culture, stands in for a much larger debate about race, immigration and national identity. With many of the biggest stars being Muslim, the disputes over which Muslim hip hop artists are "moderate" or "radical" are also disagreements over what kind of Islam to allow into the public space. As European state officials decide what "hip hop policy" to adopt, American embassies on the continent have slowly inserted themselves into this delicate dance between European governments and their hip hop counter-publics.
Majority of China's water is polluted
Wu said that among 469 stations to monitor water quality along 10 major river basins, including that of the Yangtze River, the Yellow River and the Pearl River, 61 percent reported the rating between the first and third grade last year, which means the water could be used in water source, natural reserves and drinking water.

Meanwhile, 25.3 percent of rivers were polluted and rated as the fourth or the fifth grade, meaning that the water could not be immediately contact by people.
Ruins of Native American city to be demolished for commercial development
Until the surprise discovery of the new settlement, archaeologists thought this was pretty much all that was left of Cahokia — that almost everything else had been destroyed by development. 
And Pauketat is worried: By the time the East St. Louis dig wraps up later this year, only about a tenth of the ancient settlement will have been excavated. He says once the new Mississippi River bridge is finished, the other 90 percent, which is still buried under private land, could be destroyed.
600-year-old trees chopped down to make IKEA furniture
Protect the Forest say that the Kalevala forests hosts a number of red-list species, notably a number of lichen and fungi such as Antrodia crassa and Antrodia infirma (fungi), Bryoria Fremontii (black tree lichen), Hydnellum gracilipes (tooth fungus) and , Lobaria Pulmonaria (lungwort).
U.S. ends Pakistani "Sesame Street" funding over corruption allegations 
Pakistan Today reported on Tuesday that sources close to the project cite widespread inefficiency and the mishandling of aid money, including the use of U.S. money to pay off old debts and the awarding of contracts to relatives, as the reasons behind the end to the funding. The project had received half of the alloted funding before it was pulled.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Dancing Robots, Lady Gaga, and Radioactive Tuna (Link Round-Up 6/3/12)

[via Buzzfeed]

Good News Club: the Fundamentalist Christian group promoting genocide to children
The CEF's new emphasis on the genocide of nonbelievers makes a bad situation worse. Exterminist rhetoric has been on the rise among some segments of the far right, including some religious groups. At what point do we start taking talk of genocide seriously? How would we feel about a nonreligious group that instructs its students that if they should ever receive an order to commit genocide, they should fulfill it to the letter? When does a religious group qualify as a “hate group"? Should schools be involved in choosing which passages of scripture are appropriate in the public school context? But wouldn’t that involve the state in regulating religion? And isn’t that precisely why we used to keep religion out of the public schools in the first place?"
The Fundamentalist Muslim group in Indonesia using Lady Gaga to attack gender equality
Even if they were repelled by the utilisation of threats and violence of the radicals, dutiful Muslims were at least as repelled by the US singer's soft-porn imagery and brash LGBT proselytising. 
This has made the likes of Habib Rizieq Syihab's Islamic Defenders' Front (FPI), usually portrayed by the Jakarta media as white-garbed, wild-eyed hooligans, as popular with the mainstream as they have ever been.
Rio closes its large garbage dump by the bay
Long a symbol of ill-conceived urban planning and environmental negligence, Rio de Janeiro's Jardim Gramacho dump is being transformed into a vast facility that will harness the greenhouse gases generated by the rotting rubbish and turn them into fuel capable of heating homes and powering cars. Environmentalists had blamed Gramacho for the high levels of pollution in Rio's once pristine Guanabara Bay, where tons of run-off from the garbage had leaked.
"Seasteaders" gather in San Francisco to plan libertarian sea colonies
Dario Mutabdzija, president of Blueseed, which bills itself as "Silicon Valley's visa free offshore startup community," said more than 200 startup companies have expressed interest in his "visa-free" seastead off the Bay Area coast. The group is looking for a ship and believes it can go to sea as early as the end of next year.
Blueseed expects its offshore seastead will bypass U.S. immigration and business restrictions to draw entrepreneurs from around the world to work near Silicon Valley.
The open mp3/USB drive market in Mauritania
This is no amateur operation. Every computer trails a variety inputs: USB multipliers, memory card receivers, and microSD adapters. A virus scan is initiated on each new connection. Each PC is running some version of a copy utility to facilitate the process. The price is a standard 40 ougiya per song, about $0.14; like every market, discounts are available for bulk purchases. The music on the computers is dictated by the owners. Hassaniya music is most often carried by young Maurs, Senegalese Mbalax and folk by Pulaar and Wolof kids. While I’m searching for Hausa film music, I’m directed to the sole Hausa man in the market, a vendor from Niamey. I sit with the vendors, scrolling through the songs on VLC, selecting with a nod or a pass, the files copied to a folder, tallied, and transferred to my USB.
Radioactive tuna from Fukushima disaster found in California
"We were frankly kind of startled," said Nicholas Fisher, an expert at Stony Brook University in New York, who took part in the study. "That's a big ocean. To swim across it and still retain these radionuclides is pretty amazing."  
The operator of the Fukushima Daiichi plant, Tokyo Electric Power, estimates that 18,000 terabecquerels of radioactive materials flowed into the Pacific after the accident, either in the form of fallout or through mixing with water that leaked from the facility. A terabecquerel is equal to 1 trillion becquerels.
What exactly is the global middle class? People with cars.
The untapped potential of the middle class in developing countries is clearly evident when comparing car ownership levels there with those in advanced economies. The number of passenger vehicles per 1,000 people in India and China is just 10 and 27, respectively, compared with 502 in Germany and 451 in the United States. Even if the number of cars in circulation in China and India continues to grow rapidly -- near the 10 percent average annual growth rate recently projected by the International Energy Agency for these two countries -- it would take about 25 years for China and more than 40 years for India to reach the current penetration rates in advanced countries.

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