Friday, August 31, 2012

Chinese High School Football and Space Sugar (Link Round-Up 8/31/12)

High school football comes to Shanghai
In Mandarin, it’s called gǎnlǎnqiú (literally, ‘olive ball’) but back in the West, it’s better known as American football and what had just taken place on the grounds of the Shanghai High School was its team’s inaugural fixture.
Sugar found
Astronomers have made a sweet discovery: simple sugar molecules floating in the gas around a star some 400 light-years away, suggesting the possibility of life on other planets.

The discovery doesn't prove that life has developed elsewhere in the universe—but it implies that there is no reason it could not. It shows that the carbon-rich molecules that are the building blocks of life can be present even before planets have begun forming.
The "magical" king of Swaziland
While traditional culture ought to be celebrated, the stakes of Mswati's mental balance are high. For Swazi women ages 30 to 34, the HIV rate is 54 percent, the highest in the world. Life expectancy fell from 61 years in 2000 to 32 years in 2009.

Belief in his own divinity may allow Mswati to disconnect himself from these realities. In April of last year, he stirred anger by demanding cows and presents from his impoverished subjects to accompany government funding for his $652,000 40th birthday party (70 percent of the country lives on less than two dollars a day, and yet the royals are wealthy enough to skew World Bank statistics, making it seem a lot less bad.) In May, he flew to England for the Queen's Diamond Jubilee and let one of his 13 wives spend $60,000 at a South African hotel. Such decadence shouldn't be significant, but it becomes so when such a tiny and ailing populace must shoulder it. Later that month, the International Monetary Fund pulled an advisory team out of the country because it did not have faith in the government's commitment to rein in spending (not surprising when the government spends 17 percent of its budget on unnecessary security, funds lavish royal birthday parties, and then asks for loans).
Chinese arms exports are flooding Africa
China has blocked the release of embarrassing U.N. revelations of illicit arms transfers, stopped the reappointment of an arms expert who uncovered Chinese weapons and sought to restrict the budget to fund investigations. It has also consistently refused to allow U.N. investigators to trace the origin of Chinese weapons discovered in war zones.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

I'm Obama's PR Strategy To Disrupt RNC Media Coverage, AmA (Link Round-Up 8/29/12)

[via MetaFilter]

Don't Ask Politicians Anything (at least not on Reddit)
Much as many would like to believe that the medium determines the message, a modern politician is never unmediated. Not in a pie shop in Pennsylvania, not at a basketball game, not while having dinner, not on the phone with NASA, not on TV, not doing a Reddit AMA. Reddit is not a mic accidentally left on during a private moment. The kind of intimacy and honesty that Redditors crave does not scale up to national politics, where no one ever lets down his or her guard. Instead of using the stiffness and formality of the MSM to drive his message home, Obama simply used the looseness and casual banter of Reddit to drive his message home. Here more than in almost anything else: Tech is not the answer to the problems of modern politics.*

This is not to rain on Reddit's parade or to deny the slickness of the Obama campaign's surprise appearance. Nice job everyone, take a bow. But we'll know Reddit has really arrived as a political community when he uses a visit to announce a policy change they've been promoting, perhaps around marijuana policy or civil liberties broadly construed. Until then, it's all kissing babies and shaking hands, only with more LOLs.
Minimum wage raise in Shenzhen could raise tech product costs worldwide
The tech hub gained international notoriety following a string of suicides at the Foxconn iPhone factory in 2010, and since then several companies, including Foxconn, have stepped up and raised the basic pay and improved worker conditions. When Foxconn announced it would be raising wages by 16 to 25 percent in 2012, customers HP and Dell commented this could spell an increase in product prices, with HP chief executive Meg Whitman saying, "If Foxconn's labour cost go up, their product cost to us will go up. But that will be an industry-wide phenomenon and then we have to decide how much do we pass on to our customers versus how much cost do we absorb." Dell played down the potential knock-on effects, remarking that labour is a "very, very small piece" of overall overheads. The pay changes only took effect in August, so whether or not Whitman's words echo down the supply chain remains to be seen.
 Mitt Romney: King of debt creation
But what most voters don't know is the way Mitt Romney actually made his fortune: by borrowing vast sums of money that other people were forced to pay back. This is the plain, stark reality that has somehow eluded America's top political journalists for two consecutive presidential campaigns: Mitt Romney is one of the greatest and most irresponsible debt creators of all time. In the past few decades, in fact, Romney has piled more debt onto more unsuspecting companies, written more gigantic checks that other people have to cover, than perhaps all but a handful of people on planet Earth.
Controversial French essay blames Breivik’s killing spree on multiculturalism
Breivik, Millet writes, is “an exemplary product of Western decadence” and a “child of the ideologico-racial fracture that extra-European immigration has introduced in Europe.” Because he sees the resulting “loss of national identity” and “Islamization of Europe” decaying “Christian roots” everywhere, Millet appears to believe acts similar to Breivik’s may be replicated outside Norway as well.

“Within this decadence, Breivik is without doubt what Norway deserved, and what awaits our societies that won’t stop blinding themselves in denial,” Millet writes in “Éloge Littéraire d’Anders Breivik,” one of three essays published under the collective title Langue Fantôme (Ghost Language) on Aug. 24 by publisher Éditions Pierre-Guillaume de Roux. “European nations are dissolving socially at the same time as they’re losing their Christian essence in favor of general relativism.”
We should be worried about China's fall, not its rise
The most consequential effect of this disconnect is the loss of an opportunity both to rethink U.S. China policy and to prepare for possible discontinuity in China's trajectory in the coming two decades. The central pillar of Washington's China policy is the continuation of the status quo, a world in which the Communist Party's rule is assumed to endure for decades. Similar assumptions underpinned Washington's policies toward the former Soviet Union, Suharto's Indonesia, and more recently Hosni Mubarak's Egypt and Muammar al-Qaddafi's Libya. Discounting the probability of regime change in seemingly invulnerable autocracies has always been an ingrained habit in Washington.
North Korea has trillions of dollars in rare earth minerals it can't mine
Although these resources represent significant potential export wealth, North Korea’s mineral sector is underdeveloped, and what is produced is sold at a discount. It is estimated that, on average, North Korean mines operate at less than 30% of their capacity. Many mines need to be rehabilitated and lack a reliable power supply. Much of the equipment dates back to the cold war, and is no longer made, let alone used, outside of the North. Other mines were damaged during the environmental collapse of the 1990, and have not yet been reclaimed. North Korea lacks the resources to redevelop these mines domestically; it is dependent on foreign investment to increase mineral production.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Microparticles and Water Wars (Link Round-Up 8/27/12)

Colombia holds talks with FARC rebels
Santos said military operations would continue "on every single centimeter of national territory" during whatever peace process might emerge.

That statement was a clear allusion to the last peace dialogue held with the FARC, when the government surrendered a Switzerland-sized swath of southern Colombia to the rebels from 1990-2002 and reconciliation efforts collapsed as the guerrillas continued to mount attacks on security forces, kidnap politicians and traffic in cocaine.

Santos also mentioned that Colombia's No. 2 rebel band, the National Liberation Army known by its Spanish-language initials ELN had expressed a desire to participate in peace talks.
U.S. Arms Sales Make Up Most of Global Market
A worldwide economic decline had suppressed arms sales over recent years. But increasing tensions with Iran drove a set of Persian Gulf nations — Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Oman — to purchase American weapons at record levels.

These Gulf states do not share a border with Iran, and their arms purchases focused on expensive warplanes and complex missile defense systems.
The battle to redefine "Fair Trade" coffee
Some fair trade experts, such as the Washington State University sociologist Daniel Jaffee, see parallels between the organic agriculture movement of the 1960s and ’70s and what’s taking place in fair trade today. In both cases, standards were lowered or altered to pave the way for corporate involvement. Jaffee notes that what happened to organic agriculture is “a cautionary tale of label dilution and corporate capture,” and it could happen again to fair trade coffee.
How ants operate like the internet 
Prabhakar said that had this discovery been made in the 1970s, before TCP was written, harvester ants very well could have influenced the design of the Internet.

Gordon thinks that scientists have just scratched the surface for how ant colony behavior could help us in the design of networked systems.

There are 11,000 species of ants, living in every habitat and dealing with every type of ecological problem, Gordon said. "Ants have evolved ways of doing things that we haven't thought up, but could apply in computer systems. Computationally speaking, each ant has limited capabilities, but the collective can perform complex tasks.
Scientists invent injectable oxygen microparticles
This finding has the potential to save millions of lives every year. The microparticles can keep an object alive for up to 30 min after respiratory failure. This is accomplished through an injection into the patients’ veins. Once injected, the microparticles can oxygenate the blood to near normal levels. This has countless potential uses as it allows life to continue when oxygen is needed but unavailable. For medical personnel, this is just enough time to avoid risking a heart attack or permanent brain injury when oxygen is restricted or cut off to patients.
Here come the global water wars
Internationally, 780 million people lack access to safe drinking water, according to the United Nations. By 2030, 47 per cent of the world’s population will be living in areas of high water stress, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's Environmental Outlook to 2030 report.

Some analysts worry that wars of the future will be fought over blue gold, as thirsty people, opportunistic politicians and powerful corporations battle for dwindling resources.
Also, you can now stream the new Deerhoof album, Breakup Song, on YouTube 

Book Review: Rising Up From Indian Country by Ann Durkin Keating

I reviewed Ann Durkin Keating's new book on Fort Dearborn for Gapers Block:
Whether she intended it or not, Keating's book is timely and relevant in light of the state of modern warfare. Today unmanned US drones kill suspected terrorists (and whoever they may be with) in Pakistan and Yemen, local police in Mexico battle rival drug cartels with ex-soldiers in their ranks willing to block highways with smoldering cars and piles of dead bodies, and the Syrian military has wiped out pockets of anti-government rebels across the country along with their wives and children.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Class-Conscious K-Pop (Link Round-Up 8/24/12)

South Korea bans Apple and Samsung products over infringing each other's patents
The Seoul Central District Court ordered Apple to remove the iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, iPad 1 and iPad 2 from store shelves in South Korea, ruling that the products infringed on two of Samsung's telecommunications patents.

The court also ruled that Suwon, South Korea-based Samsung had infringed on one of Apple's patents related to the screen's bounce-back ability and banned sales of the Galaxy S2 and other products in South Korea. 
Samsung filed a lawsuit against Apple in Seoul in April last year regarding infringement of patents related to telecommunications standards.
Labor strife rises in Bangladesh - the place where your cheap clothes come from
Factory owners are major political donors and have moved into news media, buying newspapers and television stations. In Parliament, roughly two-thirds of the members belong to the country’s three biggest business associations. At least 30 factory owners or their family members hold seats in Parliament, about 10 percent of the total.

“Politics and business is so enmeshed that one is kin to the other,” said Iftekharuzzaman, director of Transparency International Bangladesh.“There is a coalition between the sector and people in positions of power. The negotiating position of the workers is very, very limited.”
Was Turkey the birthplace of Hindi and English?
Not everyone was convinced.

"There is so much about this paper that is arbitrary," Victor Mair, a Chinese language expert at the University of Pennsylvania, told Science.

The Atkinson model relies on logical leaps about the rates of language change and how languages diffuse, Mair said, while the steppe hypothesis "is based heavily on archeological data such as burial patterns, which are directly tied to datable materials."
The subversive message of "Gangnam Style"
The video is "a satire about Gangnam itself but also it's about how people outside Gangnam pursue their dream to be one of those Gangnam residents without even realizing what it really means," Kim explained to me when I got in touch with her. Koreans "really wanted to be one of them," but she says that feeling is changing, and "Gangnam Style" captures people's ambivalence.
"Koreans have been kind of caught up in this spending to look wealthy, and Gangnam has really been the leading edge of that," Hong said. "I think a lot of what [Psy] is pointing out is how silly that is. The whole video is about him thinking he's a hotshot but then realizing he's just, you know, at a children's playground, or thinking he's playing polo or something and realizes he's on a merry-go-round."
Animals have consciousness, according to leading neuroscientists
We declare the following: “The absence of a neocortex does not appear to preclude an organism from experiencing affective states. Convergent evidence indicates that non-human animals have the neuroanatomical, neurochemical, and neurophysiological substrates of conscious states along with the capacity to exhibit intentional behaviors. Consequently, the weight of evidence indicates that humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness. Non- human animals, including all mammals and birds, and many other creatures, including octopuses, also possess these neurological substrates.”
Older male sperm has more mutations
“Modern human populations are subject to many fewer selection pressures than has been the case throughout human evolutionary history,” Kondrashov writes. “Because deleterious mutations are much more common than beneficial ones, evolution under this relaxed selection will inevitably lead to a decline in the mean fitness of the population.”

Kondrashov thinks the recent rise in autism cases could be a good example of that. (He notes though, that scientists aren’t sure that the recent rise is real, and not based solely on broader recognition of the disorder.) It’s a very loaded issue, he says, but studies such as this are important so that scientists can figure out how big a problem this might be and how fast it may be acting.
India threatens to ban Twitter over riots
India would seem an unlikely country to crack down on the free flow of information, but the government fears it has become a threat to national security and has warned Twitter of “appropriate and suitable action” if it doesn’t close 20 accounts that it believes have spread scare-mongering stories.

The government had already blocked over 200 web pages which it claims have incited communal violence in the northeast of the country where fighting between Muslim settlers and local tribal group in the state of Assam.

Government officials say the sites, as well as mass SMS phone messages, had frightened people from the northeast working in southern cities that they had left for fear of reprisal attacks.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Ciao Rainforest, Ni Hao Urban Planning (Link Round-Up 8/18/12)

I'll be working on articles for Gapers Block and other places in the near future, so these link round-ups may be less frequent.

But don't worry, your favorite dose of globalization news and articles will still be here. I think.

Vietnam's war on bloggers
Tan, along with Phan Thanh Hai and Nguyen Van Hai, better known as “Dieu Cay,” was a member of the Free Journalists Club, an unsanctioned group pushing freedom of speech in Vietnam. Without the relevant government permission needed to form their group it was deemed illegal.

The three bloggers are scheduled be tried under section 88 of the criminal code, which relates to propaganda against the state. A maximum sentence could carry with it 20 years in prison, though most bloggers tried receive lower sentences.

It’s the latest in a string of arrests of bloggers and other dissidents. According to Human Rights Watch ten activists have been sentenced this year.
Few species survive in Brazil's fragmented Atlantic rainforest
Pockets of forest that survived clear-cutting and fires are scattered across the original domain of the forest. Some are the size of a football field, some half the size of Long Island, and although they are small by comparison with the forest’s former dimensions, they remain important refuges for the enormous biodiversity that the region still boasts.

Yet these scattered patches are not providing many important species the protection that they need to thrive, according to a study published online on Tuesday in the journal PLoS One. Researchers quantified the presence of 18 types of mammals in a sample of 196 Atlantic Forest patches and found that only about 22 percent of the animals that originally inhabited the areas continue to survive there.
The souls of Chinese cities
In recent years, jousting and differentiation among Chinese cities has grown quickly. "There's wasn't as much regional competition before the 1990s," Tao Ran, a scholar at the Brookings-Tsinghua Center for Public Policy, explained at a conference in Beijing earlier this year, "but the gradual privatization of industry has intensified cooperation for investment." Since the late 1990s, land sales have been a major source of city revenue, allowing an even greater degree of independence. Chinese cities have "a surprising amount of autonomy in terms of fiscal and legislative authority, even more than in the United States," explains Daniel Bell, a professor at Tsinghua University in Beijing and author of The Spirit of Cities. He thinks the rivalry between cities can be a good thing, pointing as one example to how the historic coastal cities of Dalian and Tianjin have each upgraded their infrastructure and now alternate as host cities of the Asian World Economic Forum meetings, better known as "summer Davos." During the Soviet-influenced era, urban planning was more homogenous, but now "city officials are asking themselves: What are the values that make us particular and distinguish us from other cities?"

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Lonely Planet: Bad Historians, Half-Decent Guidebooks (Link Round-Up 8/15/12)

[photo by Jason Prechtel, taken in March 2009 with Lonely Planet South America guidebook in hand]

Why do Lonely Planet guidebooks gloss over dictatorships?
TO ESTABLISH THE quality of the political education they're serving up to a new generation of travelers, it's useful to begin by skimming their guidebooks for undemocratic countries like Cuba, Iran, North Korea, and Syria.
There's a formula to them: a pro forma acknowledgment of a lack of democracy and freedom followed by exercises in moral equivalence, various contorted attempts to contextualize authoritarianism or atrocities, and scorching attacks on the U.S. foreign policy that precipitated these defensive and desperate actions. Throughout, there is the consistent refrain that economic backwardness should be viewed as cultural authenticity, not to mention an admirable rejection of globalization and American hegemony. The hotel recommendations might be useful, but the guidebooks are clotted with historical revisionism, factual errors, and a toxic combination of Orientalism and pathological self-loathing.
The other "preserve-or-demolish" Chicago architecture debate: Prentice Women's Hospital
Far too often, cities are faced with either-or propositions when it comes to older buildings: either save them and forego new development or tear them down and get the new development you need. Chicago, in this instance, could have both, since it’s possible to preserve Prentice for a new use and still allow Northwestern to expand its facilities. It just takes some imagination. And that’s just what seems lacking right now in the nation’s first city of architecture.
The forgotten Arab Spring in Western Iran 
If the West did attack Iran, do you think it would be a good chance for the Ahwaz to rise up?
Yes, but they’d need to finish the job. If the Ahwazis and other ethnic groups rose up, then the West left, Iran would take revenge on us by killing thousands. The regime is like a cancer on the world, and while it's still in power, there won’t ever be lasting peace in the region.
Iran threatens to cut itself off from the internet
“We have identified and confronted 650 websites that have been set up to battle our regime — 39 of them are by opposition groups and our enemies, and the rest promote Western culture and worshiping Satan, and stoke sectarian divides,” conservative cleric Hamid Shahriari said in March. “We are worried about a portion of cyberspace that is used for exchanging information and conducting espionage.”
To that end, Iran’s Ministry of Communications and Technology has announced the launch of a domestic intranet — a completely closed loop that would leave Iranian citizens without online access to the rest of the world.
Russian AK-47 factory thrives on American sales 
“Typically, an American family will have five or six short- and long-barreled guns,” Mr. Kuzyuk, a former director of the Boston Consulting Group in Moscow, said in an interview. “Some collectors have more than 20 guns.”

And in the United States, Izhmash cannot be underpriced by Chinese competitors. The federal government has banned most imports of Chinese handguns and rifles since 1994.

Aldermanic Privilege vs. Religious Freedom, Part II: Historic Preservation Boogaloo

[photo by Andrew Huff]

Fresh off the heels of Chicago Alderman Joe Moreno's Chik-Fil-A controversy, a Catholic parish is accusing a different alderman in Logan Square of using "aldermanic privilege" to suppress their freedom of religious expression.

...that is, the right to tear down a clergy dormitory building that happens to be zoned as Chicago Landmark:
Claiming their religious freedom had been violated, the protesters rallied over Colón's alleged refusal to help the parish find a way to remove the official Chicago Landmark status of their rectory. While the rectory was designated as a landmark as part of the Logan Square Boulevards District established in 2005, the parish said it never wanted the building in the district, can't afford to maintain it, and would rather tear it down, but can't due to the building's legal protection as a landmark. Furthermore, the parish alleged that the alderman had purposely left his house out of the district, and should use his power as alderman to help St. Sylvester do the same. Meanwhile, a dozen counter-protesters from a group called Logan Square Preservation stood in front of the alderman's office with their own signs and slogans, calling for the preservation of the St. Sylvester rectory's landmark status - and the building itself -- at all costs.
To understand what exactly took place, and why a building typically used to house clergy members even became a historic Chicago landmark, it's necessary to go all the way back to the early history of Logan Square.
In an ironic twist, the new Chicago ward map takes into effect this November, and guess which alderman gets St. Sylvester church in his ward?
When asked if St. Sylvester would take the fight to Alderman Moreno, Rev. Stein said he'd rather resolve the issue now, and not take it to the new alderman. However, he added, "We don't want this to become his problem, but it will be his problem if it's not dealt with."

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Green Energy, White Terrorists (Link Round-Up 8/14/12)

[via NPR

Several Obama Administration investments in solar energy companies that have failed
For those who have misunderstood my point and concluded that the goal of this post was to claim that Green Energy as a whole is not worth investing in: I make no claims to have investigated all Green Energy companies, only those which I have found that received stimulus loans, grants and/or tax breaks, so I would not feel comfortable in making any such claim. My purpose is also not to convince people to vote for Mitt Romney (which is a pretty laughable accusation to make about me, seeing as how I agree more with Obama than I do with Mitt Romney), but rather to criticize where criticism is due.

Obama can do better.
Top Ten differences between White Terrorists and Others
10. There is nothing you can do about white terrorists. Gun control won’t stop them. No policy you could make, no government program, could possibly have an impact on them. But hundreds of billions of dollars must be spent on police and on the Department of Defense, and on TSA, which must virtually strip search 60 million people a year, to deal with other terrorists.
What went wrong with European unity? The Euro.
The costs of failed economic policies extend well beyond the statistics of unemployment, real income, and poverty (important as they are). The grand vision of a union with a cementing sense of European unity is itself threatened by what is taking place in the economic arena. Those who advocated the “unity of a European currency” as a “first step” toward a united Europe have in fact pushed much of Europe into an entirely counterproductive direction for achieving European unity. There is, of course, no danger of a return to 1939, but, to use Auden’s analogy of the “dogs of Europe,” barking from sequestered regional bases of resentment and contempt does immense harm to the cause of cultivating European amity and unity.
Signs that your journalism has been compromised
Here's one you wouldn't think a journalist should even need to ask (but you'd be wrong): are there any public figures you refuse to honestly, objectively, publicly criticize? If yes… it's worse than bad. You're already suborned. You're not even a journalist.
Yes, there are people who care about the violence in Chicago
Jefferson has something of a point when he writes that "we as a nation care less when it's Chicagoans dying in their neighborhoods instead of Batman fans in a movie theater," but it sort of depends on what you mean by caring. The Aurora shooting may get more column inches and air time, but mass shootings haven't been as intensively studied, over time, as homicide in Chicago has—our city has been one of the most intensively studied in the country over the past century, and its ongoing crime problem has generated reams of academic and journalistic work, from Robert Sampson and Andrew Papachristos to Alex Kotlowitz and Steve Bogira. Just because it's not on CNN every day doesn't mean we don't know a lot about "wherever and why-ever and whomever is doing these shootings," and the problem's historical origins.
How India's favorite TV show uses data to change the world
All this feedback has an impact, both on the show itself and on India. Satyamev Jayate’s voting process, in particular, has yielded some impressive results. After the first episode about female feticide, or the selective abortion of female fetuses, 99.8 percent of viewers said they agreed with the idea of a fast-track court to prosecute doctors who perform such operations. When Khan presented the results to the Indian government, officials agreed almost immediately to amend the court system accordingly, the producer told me.

Sometimes, though, the results simply present an interesting — if not troubling — view into the Indian subconscious. Almost 32 percent of respondents, for example, voted in favor of the right of families to use force preventing the marriage of two willing adults (subsequent analysis uncovered some reasons why, including continuing opposition to inter-caste marriage), while almost 14 percent of respondents one week said that beating a woman is a sign of masculinity. And although women comprise only about 32 percent of the show’s audience, they have accounted for the majority of responses on shows addressing issues important to them.
The rise of the use of "-ome"
Generally, the new terms in scientific literature are meant to highlight the study of a comprehensive collection of data—such as all proteins in a cell (the proteome), all patent law rulings (the patentome) or all human culture (the culturome). Researchers hope to attract attention—and perhaps funding—by giving their topic a name brand that echoes the broader scientific advances of genomics.
Some scientists roll their eyes at this speedily spreading suffix. "It's a language parasite," said evolutionary biologist Jonathan Eisen at the University of California, Davis.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Italian Super Volcanos and Antarctic Palm Trees (Link Round-Up 8/8/12)

[Via Metafilter]

Italian Super Volcano near Pompeii could kill millions
The boiling mud and sulphurous steam holes of the area west of Naples known as the Campi Flegrei or Phlegraean Fields, from the Greek word for burning, are a major tourist attraction.

But the zone of intense seismic activity, which the ancients thought was the entrance to hell, also could pose a danger of global proportions with millions of people literally living on top of a potential future volcanic eruption.

"These areas can give rise to the only eruptions that can have global catastrophic effects comparable to major meteorite impacts," said Giuseppe De Natale, head of a project to drill deep under the earth to monitor the molten "caldera". "

However, the project, funded by the multi-national International Continental Scientific Drilling Programme, has run into major opposition from some local scientists who say the drilling itself could cause a dangerous eruption or earthquake.
A dozen (unnamed) countries to meet in Iran to discuss Syria
“The consultative meeting on Syria will be held tomorrow in Tehran with 12 to 13 countries from Asia, Africa and Latin America” represented, Salehi said on Wednesday, the official news agency IRNA reported. “Our main argument is an end to the violence and the holding of national dialogue in Syria. Iran’s efforts are aimed at ending the violence in Syria as soon as possible,” he said.
Iran is the key ally to the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad. US pressure excluded Iran from a previous diplomatic initiative led by former UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan to engage countries with influence in Syria in dialogue. On Monday, Iran’s foreign ministry announced it was calling the conference, and said nations having “a principled and realistic position on Syria” would take part.
Brazilian Central Bank workers go on strike
Irony aside, the broader issue here is that on the one hand the Brazilian government is trying to reduce the amount of inflation in the economy while on the other hand Brazilian public employee unions writ large are trying to get higher wages in order to stay ahead of inflation. If they get their raises, it'll be that much harder to contain economy-wide inflation. But if inflation isn't controlled, it'll be that much harder to contain militant labor action.

These are the kind of problems that the U.S. government ran into in the late 70s (the famous PATCO strike involved exactly this kind of demand for a huge nominal wage increase in the face of high inflation) and that many right-of-center commentators still seem obsessed with today. Pay attention to Brazil and you'll see that these aren't fake problems, they're just the problems of a very different country from the one we live in today. A country with a lot more underlying inflation and a lot more union militancy than the US in 2012.
Palm trees grew on Antarctica
Scientists drilling deep into the edge of modern Antarctica have pulled up proof that palm trees once grew there.

Analyses of pollen and spores and the remains of tiny creatures have given a climatic picture of the early Eocene period, about 53 million years ago.

The study in Nature suggests Antarctic winter temperatures exceeded 10C, while summers may have reached 25C.
African diplomats in Israel afraid to walk down streets 
According to the foreign diplomats, the racial slurs directed at them harm Israel's public image in Africa. They emphasized Israel's right to deport foreign migrants, but asked that the issue be dealt with in a humane manner.

They further said that the publicized deportation of migrants humiliates them and depicts them as dangerous criminals.
Social security benefits will be docked for unpaid loans, even if it's your grandkid's fault
The amount that the government withholds varies widely, though it runs up to 15%. Assuming the average monthly Social Security benefit for a retired worker of $1,234, that could mean a monthly haircut of almost $190. "This is going to catch an awful lot of people off guard and wreak havoc on their financial lives," says Sheryl Garrett, a financial planner in Eureka Springs, Ark.

Many of these retirees aren't even in hock for their own educations. Consumer advocates say that in the majority of the cases they've seen, the borrowers went into debt later in life to help defray education costs for their children or other dependents. Harold Grodberg, an elder law attorney in Bayonne, N.J., says he's worked with at least six clients in the past two years whose problems started with loans they signed up for to help pay for their grandchildren's tuition. Other attorneys say they're working with older borrowers who had signed up for the federal PLUS loan -- a loan for parents of undergraduates -- to cover tuition costs. Other retirees took out federal loans when they returned to college in midlife, and a few are carrying debt from their own undergraduate or graduate-school years. (No statistics track exactly how many of the defaulting loans fall into which category.)

Monday, August 6, 2012

Turkey Digs Ancient Statues, Syria Destroys Recent History

[Via Slate]

Two major archaeological discoveries were made in Turkey this past week.

One team found a giant statue of a Neo-Hittite warrior at a Tayinat Archaeological Project site in the southeast:
Archeologists in the southeast region unearthed the colossal head and torso sculpture at the site of a Neo-Hittite city, dating the piece to sometime around 1000 B.C. Standing about 5 feet in height, the bearded, curly-haired man holds a spear in one hand and a shaft of wheat in the other.
Halfway across the country in Central Anatolia, another team found several giant lion statues:
A search of the surrounding area revealed no evidence of a Hittite settlement dating back to the time of the statues. Also, the sheer size of the sculptures meant that the sculptors likely did not intend to move them very far.

Summers hypothesizes that, rather than being meant for a palace or a great city, the lions were being created for a monument to mark something else – water.

"I think it's highly likely that that monument was going to be associated with one of the very copious springs that are quite close," he said in the interview. "There are good parallels for associations of Hittite sculptural traditions with water sources."
The Hittites (and their heirs) are long-gone, and the region has changed quite a bit since the Bronze and Iron Ages.

But given the recent conflict in Syria, there's no guarantee that some artifacts from the region's varied past will survive the present warfare:
Krak des Chevaliers has been shelled after rebels sought sanctuary in this most glorious of Crusader castles, Syrian troops have taken over the castle at Palmyra and bombarded the Citadel of al-Mudiq, looters have used bulldozers to carry away the great Roman mosaics of Apamea. But the treasures of Damascus remain intact.

Salafists among the armed opponents of the Assad regime would presumably have no qualms about destroying the tomb of Saladin and the green silk cover bestowed upon it by Kaiser Wilhelm, nor what is said to be the headless corpse of John the Baptist beside the "built-on-air" Omayad Mosque in the Old City of Damascus. But the problem for all autocracies in the Middle East – and let us not forget the undemocratic gentlemen of the Gulf – is that they must sew their own presence into their country's history.
So goes another cycle of destruction in the region. And with that comes a new layer of cultural fragments for future archaeologists to rediscover...along with a new layer of cultural fragments for future world powers to ignore.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Palestine, Hispanic Panhandling, and Lollapalooza (Link Round-Up 8/5/12)

Lollapalooza coming to Israel in 2013
Lollapalooza Israel will take place August 20-22, 2013, in Tel Aviv's Yarkon Park, making it the first large-scale global music event in the country.

Israel marks the third international location for Lollapalooza, which expanded to Chile in 2011 and Brazil earlier this year.

"It's like an oak seed," Farrell explained to CNN. "You look at it and go, 'What's the potential of that thing?' Put it in the ground and it starts to sprout it, and it keeps growing, and more and more branches grow out of it."
Occupation, Not Culture, Is Holding Palestinians Back
As one of the most successful businessmen and industrialists in Palestine today (there are many of us), I can tell Mr. Romney without doubt or hesitation that our economy has two arms and one foot tied behind us not by culture but by occupation.

It’s hard to succeed, Mr. Romney, when roadblocks, checkpoints and draconian restrictions on the movement of goods and people suffocate our business environment. It is a tribute to the indomitable spirit of our Palestinian culture that we have managed to do so well despite such onerous constraints.
The spread of acid attacks on women in Colombia
“Sometimes in the West we make fast judgments and say, ‘Look how terrible they treat women in the East,’ and we don’t look first at ourselves,” said Monica Roa, the Bogota-based international programs director of Women’s Link Worldwide, a rights group. “The violence here may be different, but it emanates from the same place. This is a culture where machismo reigns, where men do what they want to do.” 
If a woman is attacked over a dowry in India or because she ventured outside without a veil in Pakistan, in Colombia a woman might be attacked because of sheer rage over her independence or even by a disturbed man she doesn’t know.
Syrian rebels hold 48 Iranians they accuse of being pro-Assad agents
A bus carrying the men was attacked on Saturday as it drove through Damascus, according to Iranian state-controlled media. Iranian officials described the group as Shiite devotees intending to visit one of their religion's most holy shrines in the city before inadvertently getting caught up in Syria's internal conflict.

The Syrian rebels who seized the Iranians released a video Sunday saying that the group had been conducting surveillance in the capital. The rebels accused at least one of the Iranians of having ties to Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards, a charge the rebels said was supported by an Iranian gun permit held by one of the men.
Why Pussy Riot is the only punk band that matters
Punk remains primarily a Western phenomenon, which means, as Propagandhi sang, "I recognize the irony that the very system I oppose affords me the luxury of biting the hand that feeds." Punks who don't actually live under real authoritarian governments don't face the high stakes that the members of Pussy Riot do. But while punk rock mobilized heavily against the 2003 Iraq war, releasing fundraiser albums for activist organizations and throwing anti-war concerts on the National Mall, they didn't so much as attract George W. Bush's attention. Pussy Riot, however, clearly has Putin's.
Ted Cruz claims to never have seen a Hispanic panhandler
Cruz’s remarks seem to play off of what the Encyclopedia of Homelessness called “the Latino paradox”: the belief that Hispanic immigrant communities, defined as being based more heavily around traditional family units, provide more informal ways for members to stay off the streets, even if they are in tighter economic straits compared to other populations.

However, this theory has come under question; a 2003 study for the Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences found that Hispanic homeless are actually more likely to be “hidden” because they used sleeping spaces that were underrepresented in typical surveys.
China already won the new Central Asian Great Game against the U.S. and Russia
But China’s emergence in the region has been remarkable. In just over a decade, it has concluded border agreements with its Central Asian neighbors and secured their cooperation in cracking down on regional Uighur-related violence. Economically, it is now the region’s largest trading partner and, for poorer Central Asian countries, the main source of investment and development assistance. It has also completed major new oil and gas pipelines to bring Central Asian energy eastward. Europe has been talking for decades about proposed Asian pipelines, like Nabucco, that might break the Russian transit monopoly. But the Chinese accomplished this quickly and decisively. Moreover, the very fact that the China–Central Asia pipeline consists of three separate joint ventures between the China National Petroleum Corporation and the host governments makes Beijing the clear arbitrator of any future regional pipeline disputes. So overall, while the Chinese would like to see even more economic integration and free trade between the members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, they have successfully accomplished a number of strategic goals in the region, all while downplaying their impact by publicly deferring to Russian primacy and jawboning about an alleged strategic partnership. It has been a smart and effective way of operating, and I’m not sure Moscow has an effective response.
China detains 2,000 in fake drug sweep
The government has repeatedly promised to tighten regulatory systems after safety scandals involving fish, drugs, toys, toothpaste, children's clothes, tires, drugs and milk fortified with melamine, used in the manufacture of tabletops.

But little has been done apart from a few, highly publicized arrests. Tackling the issue has not been helped by China's confused and still developing regulatory environment, corruption and the high profits counterfeiters can rake in.

Earlier this year, Chinese consumers recoiled at stories of drug capsules tainted with chromium, long-term exposure to which can cause serious organ damage.
Pakistani groups exploit Rohingya conflict to further own ends
Shahzad Ahmad, the Pakistan country director for the global online activism group called Bytes for All, says stories of Muslim victimization around the world are exaggerated in Pakistan by Islamist groups on the Internet.

“They use such campaigns not only to fund themselves but also to gain more political ground and recruit people for their cause. Our research shows that there are many fake photographs being used to propagate [stories of] atrocities against Muslims on many of the Facebook pages which originate from Pakistan,” says Mr. Ahmad.

Hundreds of pages in support of the Rohingya have appeared on the Internet over the past few months, he says.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Bad Journalism, Jurassic Park, and Bollywood Boobs (Link Round-Up 8/4/12)

Some Australian billionaire wants to make a real "Jurassic Park"
It was the same source who provided the Daily with an exclusive peek at Mr Palmer's plans to build towering hotels at the Palmer Resort with a 20-storey sky needle and a giant, London Eye-style ferris wheel. 
Mr Palmer has not commented on this vision yet. Sunshine Coast Mayor Mark Jamieson has said Mr Palmer was very serious about the plans. 
It is also understood Mr Palmer intends to target the Middle East market for his resort.
The Canadian-Indian pornstar in a new Bollywood film
The film is due to open this weekend at 1,300 screens with the equivalent of an 18 certificate. But is India ready? Manish Dubey, editor at the Bollywood channel UTV Stars, thinks so. "The days of a bikini providing titillation are gone. We are now moving towards bold acts which include love making scenes, going semi-nude and bold dialogues," he said, adding: "Nothing can be deemed 'shocking' for today's audience."

Even before its release, the film has proved too much for some parts of India, however. On Tuesday activists in Punjab from a group called Bhagwan Valmiki Shakti Sena burned effigies of Leone and her female director, Pooja Bhatt – who, in her previous life as an actor was one of the first Bollywood stars to kiss on screen.
150-year-old Bangladesh brothel fights for survival
The battle against long-established brothels in Bangladesh — a conservative Muslim-majority nation — is spreading, with at least four red light districts closed in the last decade.

The country’s largest brothel, Tanbazaar, situated on the outskirts of Dhaka, was shut down largely due to pressure from a ruling party lawmaker.

Tanbazaar, established in 1888, was converted into a market and many of the 2,600 sex workers ended up on the streets.
Chinese elites hire body-doubles to go to jail for them
The ability to hire so-called substitute criminals is just one way in which China’s extreme upper crust are able to live by their own set of rules. While Occupy Wall Street grabbed attention for its attacks on the “1 percent,” in China, a much smaller fraction of the country controls an even greater amount of wealth. The top one-tenth of 1 percent in China controls close to half of the country’s riches. The children and relatives of China’s rulers, many of whom grew up together, form a thicket of mutually beneficial relationships, with many able to enrich themselves financially and, if necessary, gain protection from criminal allegations.

A police officer in central China agreed to discuss the phenomenon of “replacement convicts” with me so long as I didn’t refer to him by name. “America has the rule of law, but China has the rule of people,” the police officer told me. “If somebody is powerful, there’s a good chance they can make this happen. Spend some money and remain free.” According to the police officer, hired stand-ins are “not common but not rare either.” As examples, the officer listed several high-ranking mafia figures whose underlings serve time in their stead. The mafia cares for the substitute’s family and pays a bonus for the time served.
African news-reporting focuses too much on misery
In Goma, part of a region the United Nations’ special representative on sexual violence in conflict Margot Wallström two years ago dubbed “the rape capital of the world,” I went to an impromptu hip-hop show, full of dancing Congolese. In Kinshasa, nearly a thousand miles away on the other side of the country, I met an oboist for the city’s symphony orchestra.

Congo, like America, is very many things, all at the same time. This should be obvious. Why would a foreign country be any less complex than our own? So why, then, if you’re reading or watching most American news, do you tend to see the same simplified stories over and over again?
Jonah Lehrer, journalism, and America's "shortcut" culture
What Lehrer did was plainly wrong. Still, it would be naive to think that quotes are never massaged. Though making up words and thoughts is obviously unacceptable, "cleaning up" a quote is something of a tradition.

If someone speaks in awkward stops and starts, repetitively, ungrammatically or otherwise in a way not conducive to a verbatim appearance on the page, there is no hard-and-fast rule for making those words more reader friendly. Ellipsis points and brackets? Indirect quotes? Taking out only the "ums" and "you knows"? It all requires having enough trust in ourselves that we can also ask our readers (and those we quote) to have that trust too.
Gore Vidal, and the death of the witty, public intellectual 
But although we hear from a far broader spectrum of voices, the end of the era of unabashedly elite public intellectuals coincides with a loss of a certain unironic seriousness in popular culture. The 1968 confrontation between Vidal and Buckley is famous today because of the way the two men sniped at each other, but before they descended into personal insults, the two men were engaged in a nuanced debate of constitutional principles. Buckley argued that Chicago's police could be forgiven for trying to silence protesters whose complaints might comfort America’s enemies in Vietnam; Vidal countered that political dissent, no matter how provocative, is protected under the First Amendment.

The angry confrontation between these two men is remembered today largely because such outbursts were so rare, so embarrassing. But now, when much political debate is designed to be entertainingly diverting, the name-calling would have been the whole point. With Gore Vidal's death, the world of letters has lost a valuable voice. And we have all lost yet another member of a generation of public figures that was willing, without apology or ironic deflection, to take serious matters seriously.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Interview: Glenn Greenwald

I interviewed Glenn Greenwald a few weeks ago for Gapers Block. Here's what he had to say:
Your speech was about what you call "The Surveillance State" - could you sum that up and give a few examples?
Yeah, it's just basically the conglomeration of government agencies and corporations which are in the business of gathering and collecting information about citizens, and what they say and what they do. And it can be anything from programs to eavesdrop on people's telephone conversations to storing their email communications to information about with whom they're communicating or [where] they're spending their money, where they go, those kinds of things.

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