Wednesday, October 31, 2012

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

[via Foreign Policy via Digg]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 29, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 27, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 19, 2012

Chicago's Cultural Future (and My Vacation)

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

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

See you in a week.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[via WSJ]

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 13, 2012

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

[via Reddit]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 12, 2012

Paul Ryan and As Goes Janesville

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

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

You can read my review here.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Rod Blagojevich Book Review: Golden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 8, 2012

Real Flying Saucers, Gold Bacteria, and Chinese Tech Espionage (Link Round-Up 10/8/12)

Air Force declassifies flying saucer plans from 1950's
The aircraft, which had the code name Project 1794, was developed by the USAF and Avro Canada in the 1950s. One declassified memo, which seems to be the conclusion of initial research and prototyping, says that Project 1794 is a flying saucer capable of “between Mach 3 and Mach 4,” (2,300-3,000 mph) a service ceiling of over 100,000 feet (30,500m), and a range of around 1,000 nautical miles (1,150mi, 1850km).
Magnets used to cure cancer
Often in cancer, apoptosis fails and cells are allowed to keep dividing uncontrollably.
The magnetic therapy involves creating tiny iron nanoparticles attached to antibodies which bind to "receptor" molecules on tumour cells. When the magnetic field is applied, the molecules cluster together, automatically triggering the "death signal" that sets off apoptosis.
Art-installation creates 24-karat gold with bacteria
He and Adam Brown, associate professor of electronic art and intermedia, found the metal-tolerant bacteria Cupriavidus metallidurans can grow on massive concentrations of gold chloride – or liquid gold, a toxic chemical compound found in nature.

In fact, the bacteria are at least 25 times stronger than previously reported among scientists, the researchers determined in their art installation, “The Great Work of the Metal Lover,” which uses a combination of biotechnology, art and alchemy to turn liquid gold into 24-karat gold. The artwork contains a portable laboratory made of 24-karat gold-plated hardware, a glass bioreactor and the bacteria, a combination that produces gold in front of an audience.

Brown and Kashefi fed the bacteria unprecedented amounts of gold chloride, mimicking the process they believe happens in nature. In about a week, the bacteria transformed the toxins and produced a gold nugget.
Unspent NATO summit $6.5 million will be used on public parks
The Bloomingdale Trail and boathouse projects will receive $2 million each in legacy funds. The remaining balance will be used to rehabilitate Riis, Jackie Robinson, Pleasant Point and Bronzeville-Buckthorn Parks, and Cornell Square, including installing signature playground s at each. The majority of the funds comes from $5.5 million in unused privately-raised funds for the May NATO summit.
IMF says risk of greater global slump
The report called for U.S. policy makers to find an alternative to planned automatic tax increases and spending cuts that would trigger a recession. Europeans must follow on their commitments for a more integrated monetary union, and many emerging markets can afford to cut interest rates or pause tightening to fight off risks to their economies, the IMF said.
Women in Mali protest new veil requirement
Women have been subjected to curfews, and have been publicly whipped for failing to wear veils. It’s also forbidden for them to be in the streets with men who aren’t their husbands or relatives.

The Islamists now control an area as large as France in the north of Mali.
Most African countries could be "middle income" by 2025
As many as 38 of sub-Saharan Africa's 48 countries could be regarded as ‘middle income’ by 2025, but World Bank chief economist for Africa Shantayanan Devarajan warned on Thursday that such an advancement would not necessarily translate into a reduction in poverty.
Chinese company plans to manufacture computers in US
China's largest PC maker, Lenovo, made a stunning announcement this week when it said it will make laptops, tablets, and desktops in the U.S.

So, why in the world would China's largest PC maker decide to manufacture devices here when America's two premier digital gadget suppliers, Apple and Hewlett-Packard, make virtually nothing in the U.S. and almost everything in China and/or Asia?
Why the US is really worred about Huawei and ZTE
Another incident, this one not as well documented but the subject of a great deal of informed speculation, concerns a 2007 Israeli air strike against what was at the time a suspected nuclear weapons research facility in Syria. A report by the IEEE Spectrum the following year traced reports that a French chip company that supplied the manufacturer of Syrian radar defense gear included a “kill switch” that allowed Israeli bombers to carry out their attack undetected.

So it’s not from out of nowhere that such national security concerns arise about a Chinese telecom concern.

One fundamental failure of all this official hand-wringing is that it neglects the fact that many if not most of the components, with the exception of certain higher-value chips like those from Intel, are manufactured in China. Cisco Systems and Juniper Networks in the U.S., Alcatel-Lucent in France and Ericsson in Sweden, all use Chinese-made parts and carry out at least some portion of the final assembly of their equipment in China.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

8 SEO Tips For Ruining Journalism (Link Round-Up 10/5/12)

[via Reddit]

How the Bleacher Report dominates sports coverage with bad articles
Launched in 2008, Bleacher Report meteorically rose to become one of the nation's most popular websites, and one of the three most-visited sports sites. Its dramatic success came via valuing site growth and pageviews over any semblance of journalistic "quality" or even readability. Operating a sports website on a supply-and-demand model turns out just as one would expect: High-trafficking Bleacher Report articles include "25 Wardrobe Malfunctions in Sports," "The 20 Biggest Criers in Sports," and "10 Possible Tiger Woods Porn Spin-offs: Mistress Edition." The site quickly earned a rep for expertly employing the Google search engine to inundate the web with horrible, lowest-common-denominator crap.
Justin Bieber, Columbine, and the frightening, Tumblr-fueled world of girl crushes
In some ways, the Columbiners are not so different from the Beliebers. The main difference, of course, is that Justin Bieber is unattainable because he's a famous pop musician, while Harris and Klebold are famous because they are murderers, and unattainable because they are dead. But a girl with a crush has more in common with another girl with a crush than she does with a regular civilian. Both groups tend to speak in the self-consciously cute vernacular of internet teens ("*fangirling*"; "UGH every time i look at him i just flail around for a minute"), making fun of their own intensity even as they indulge it. They appreciate crooked smiles, strong forearms, and boys who write bad poetry about love (Beiber: "If I could just die in your arms/I wouldn't mind"; Klebold: "I, who write this, love you beyond infinince").
And both groups have flocked to Tumblr to showcase their love—not surprising, actually, since Tumblr turns out to be the perfect medium for a crush shrine, one that's far more dynamic and interactive than a scrapbook or a bedroom wall. It allows posts and re-posts of pictures, quotes, gifs, and video clips while discouraging wider analysis or any sort of logical connection between content. Instead, the obsession acts as its own context. Every internet trinket relating to the crush object—a photograph of his parents' house, a doodle in the margin of his math homework, a yearbook photo, a stock photo of the gun he preferred, his autopsy report—is relevant, because a girl with a crush is omnivorous, and very, very hungry.
Geeks, "nice guy" creeps, and online dating pictures with fedoras
The concept of awkward men seeking online love appears to create a resentment issue for the women who end up fielding that search. Like Fedoras of OKC, Forever Alone Fedoras is apparently run by a woman fed up with the relative frequency of messages on dating sites from men wearing “these horrible hats that are an instant deal-breaker.” 
Says Forever Alone Fedoras: “a fedora speaks volumes about one’s character. It implies that he is a basement dwelling, live action role playing, no social skills having, complete and utter geek in the worst sense of the word.”
Anti-blasphemy laws oppress religious minorities
Because these laws appeal to extra-legal and extra-constitutional sentiments, values and principles that exist above and beyond the law itself, they lend themselves perfectly to abusive and discriminatory application. In the case of prosecutions regarding the dissemination of the inflammatory, offensive anti-Islam online video clip "The Innocence of Muslims," a Coptic Christian named Albert Saber has been arrested and remains in detention for allegedly posting the clip online. But no measures have been taken against the Salafist Al-Nas television station that broadcast significant portions of the video to its large audience in the earliest effort to whip up a public frenzy that led directly to the violent incidents that rocked the Middle East a few weeks ago.

Al-Nas defended its actions as responsibly alerting the public to a "threat" to Islam, but in fact it was the principal vehicle for disseminating the content of the clip in the Arab world. Had they ignored it, the ensuing chaos might well never have come to pass. The channel cynically served as the main public relations vehicle for the video, because the Saudi-funded extremist station and its radical backers understood that their political allies would be the direct beneficiaries of public outrage, which they were delighted to stoke to a fever pitch.
U.S. ignores the Burma-Bangladesh ethnic/religious violence
As political leaders in Burma hold their hand out to America for economic prosperity, mobs of Rakhine Buddhists are killing their fellow citizens, the Rohingya Muslim and leaving their villages in ashes. The U.S. State Dept and even the famous Burmese political leader An Aan Suu Kyi remains silent over the suffering of the Rohingya.

One of the regular chants of the anti-Muslim protesters here, is that the Rohingya people are "illegal immigrants from Bangladesh". However the Rohingya community according to historical accounts, has been in Burma for hundreds of years.
Bhuttan plans to be the first (21st century) 100% organic nation
"Bhutan has decided to go for a green economy in light of the tremendous pressure we are exerting on the planet," said Agriculture Minister Pema Gyamtsho to AFP.

"If you go for very intensive agriculture it would imply the use of so many chemicals, which is not in keeping with our belief in Buddhism, which calls for us to live in harmony with nature," Gyamtsho added.

Agriculture is the biggest sector of the Bhutanese economy, according to the WFP, and the majority of farmers grow rice and maize, the two primary foods.
Africa: the mobile-only continent
Historically Africa has been bereft of wired telecoms infrastructure. There was a statistic bandied about in the 1990s that Manhattan had more phone lines than the 55 countries in Africa. Impossible to verify, but it reveals the scale of the communications problem. Until mobile phones came along, that is.

Cellphones have made it possible for anyone to have a phone -- to make calls, send SMSes and, using clever payment systems like Kenya's M-Pesa, send mobile money to another phone user. Half of Kenya's GDP now moves through mobile money, and M-Pesa reportedly handles $20-million a day in transactions.

Mobile money is projected to become a $617-billion industry by 2016, according to researchers Gartner, who predict mobile transactions will reach $171-billion this year. Already, 80% of the world's mobile money transactions are happening in East Africa, driven by Kenya, the epicentre of mobile innovation.
4,000 Foxconn workers on strike over iPhone 5 quality control standards
“It was reported that factory management and Apple, despite design defects, raised strict quality demands on workers, including indentations standards of 0.02mm and demands related to scratches on frames and back covers,” notes China Labor Watch. “With such demands, employees could not even turn out iPhones that met the standard.”
Interview with Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff
While her predecessor enjoyed the international limelight, Ms Rousseff is an indifferent diplomat. She ruffled US and European feathers at the UN General Assembly last month by claiming that Islamophobia is on the rise in developed countries. But generally she describes a Brazil that is everyone’s friend, with special relationships with Lusophone African countries and its close ties with Europe through immigration. “The world for us is a multipolar one,” she says. 

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Greek Twilight: Breaking Golden Dawn (Link Round-Up 10/4/12)

Food prices, inflation rise sharply in Iran
Economists have been reporting distress signs in Iran’s economy since the beginning of the year, as new economic sanctions and an embargo began squeezing oil exports, Iran’s chief source of foreign currency. Sales of Iranian crude are down about 40 percent compared with last year, depriving the country of billions of dollars a month, industry analysts say. This week, the rial lost 40 percent of its value.

Shrinking oil revenue in turn weakened the rial, driving up the inflation rate and joblessness. But in recent weeks, the slow upward creep in prices turned into a gallop, said Steve H. Hanke, professor of economics at John Hopkins University and a senior fellow at the Cato Institute.

Based on an analysis of Iran’s black-market currency exchanges, Hanke said prices in Iran now appear to be doubling every 40 days, depleting both the savings and purchasing power of ordinary Iranians, particularly in the cities.
Anti-immigrant violence on the rise throughout Greece
With little chance of finding work, asylum seekers from Afghanistan, Somalia and, increasingly, Syria have been condemned to homelessness and abject poverty in decaying urban neighborhoods along with illegal economic migrants from countries such as Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Their plight has been made worse by a rapid rise in anti-immigrant sentiment that has fuelled the ascent of the extreme right-wing party Golden Dawn, which vows to “undirty” Greece of migrants. The party shot from being a taboo subject in polite society to a main topic of conversation after it won seats in parliament along with 7 percent of the vote in June.

It’s popular among a growing number of people who refer to their country as “Europe’s warehouse,” and say their country is overwhelmed by migrants when Greeks themselves are suffering.
French hotel under fire for suggesting it would ban Chinese tourists
Zadig et Voltaire operates a store in Hong Kong. Chinese tourists spent $47 billion on their bank cards abroad last year, the Financial Times reported, two-thirds more than a year earlier. The average Chinese tourist in France spends roughly $1,900 on shopping, by far more than any other tourists, according to Le Figaro — which also noted that the number of Chinese tourists to France are expected to rise from 900,000 last year to 4-5 million by 2015.

So far, the story has not attracted much attention among Chinese micro-bloggers, but for those netizens who have noticed, the statement hits a raw nerve. According to a popular urban legend, a sign reading “No dogs and Chinese allowed” hung at the entrance to the Huangpu Park in Shanghai when the city was a European entrepôt — a symbol of Western arrogance so reviled that Bruce Lee kung-fu kicked it into pieces in the 1972 classic Fists of Fury.
African migrants to sluggish Europe consider moving back home
The number of Senegalese people coming to Italy, as Cisse did, increased dramatically in the 1980s after a new law allowed them to work legally in the private sector.

Some 90,000 Senegalese now live in the country. As they settled in the region they created their own community association. Ahmadou Ndiaye has been vice president of the association for 25 years. He said the situation now is worse than it’s ever been.

“People who’ve lost their jobs can’t find work again — a lot of the unemployment is permanent. Some of our members can’t even pay the rent so they can’t afford to send money home to Senegal," he said. "This really is a crisis and people are now wanting to buy a ticket to return home to Africa.”
Bitter divides in Egypt's hardline Islamist party threaten its future
Nevertheless, after Mubarak's fall in February 2011, the movement's main institution of clerics, the Alexandria-based "Salafi Call," backed the creation of Al-Nour to run in parliament elections on the religious principle that "what is necessary permits what is prohibited." The party's showing was stunning, winning a quarter of the seats, second only to the Brotherhood's 50 percent of the legislature — a testimony to the popular networks Salafi clerics set up under Mubarak's rule. Parliament was disbanded by a court ruling this year because of faults in the election law.

Now the party is in a bitter feud over leadership.

The first camp is led by the party's founder and chief Emad Abdel-Ghafour, who advocates separating between the party and the Salafi Call to give the party ability to maneuver away from clerics' edicts.

The second camp is tightly connected to a heavyweight Salafi cleric, Yasser Borhami, and opposes separation. Several prominent party figures are in this camp, including former spokesman Nader Bakar, who was removed from his post by Abdel-Ghafour.
Early-to-mid 2000's internet photos set to disappear
While Webshots may not exactly be the most relevant service to many of us, the fact that it's wiping out so much user data is telling to what the future may hold. Seven years ago, Webshots was useful and important. Who know what Instagram or Twitter or Facebook will be like in 7 years, or in 15 years. It's not a stretch to imagine a day when all our words and images hosted on these services are removed as the companies collapse or morph. Friendster is now a video gaming service, MySpace is music streaming. When Facebook inevitably becomes primarily a service to communicate to our robot bulters through our cryogenic pods, what will happen to all our photos and messages?
One of the zillions of articles about fact-checking last night's Obama/Romney debate 
Many of the more flagrant manipulations of the facts in Denver were committed by the Republican challenger, according to congressional expert Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution think tank in Washington.
The Latin American James Carville's quest to re-elect Hugo Chavez
Today, Santana is to the resurgent Latin American left what James Carville was for Democrats in the United States during the 1990s—only with less lip and slightly lower fees. Though never an ideologue, Santana has made electing socialists his specialty. One of his clients is Mauricio Funes, El Salvador’s former Marxist guerrilla in chief. Another is the Peruvian firebrand Ollanta Humala, whom Santana repackaged as the Lula of the Andes. Last month he expanded his election empire even further, shepherding Danilo Medina to power in the Dominican Republic and running the winning campaign for Angola’s José Eduardo dos Santos, a Marxist who has ruled since 1979.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Vice, Art, and Chinese Censorship (Link Round-Up 10/3/12)

Vice will move CeaseFire doc, won't discuss their editorial standards
Smith wrote, "Over the past 15 years mainstream media has failed us." He added, "They don't keep powerful politicians and businessmen in check, the [sic] have failed as the fourth estate." Never mind that Vice Media is projected to make over $200 million this year (partially through advertising and brand sponsorships), uses the previous press spokesperson of former New York Attorney General (and current Governor) Andrew Cuomo, and is backed by a private equity firm advised by some of the most powerful figures in Hollywood, publishing, new media, and Chinese state-sponsored entertainment.
Can Vice get 20-somethings to care about the news?
This is what Vice sells: a brash reinvention of gonzo for the modern era. And it’s selling briskly. The company has 34 bureaus around the world and a dizzying array of brand extensions and partnership deals. There are Vice television shows, which broadcast Vice videos all through Europe, and Vice content deals with many of the old-news brands Smith openly mocks, including CNN. Vice has a bureau in Beijing and a hunky-dory relationship with the Chinese government, which recently allowed the site to take over an entire district in the capital city and throw a massive party for the Creators Project, a vertical sponsored by Intel dedicated to art and technology.
For now, China’s Gangnam moment seems far off. “In China, culture and the arts develop under the watchful eye of the government, and anything too hip or interesting gets either shut down or bought up. In Korea, by contrast, artists and entertainers thrive in a space that is highly commercialized but also pretty much free of the heavy hand of the state,” Delury told me, adding, “I kid government officials that the moment they understand why K-pop is so successful and try to replicate it, they will destroy it.”
Microblogging forces Chinese government to deal with public opinion
Facebook and Twitter are blocked in China partly to censor critical opinion and partly to protect its homegrown microblogging sites called Weibo.

The number of microbloggers increased sharply from about 63 million in 2010, said the report issued by a team of social sciences experts headed by Yin Yungong, director of the Institute of Journalism and Communication of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, affiliated to the government.

"Social networks like microblogging have begun to set the agenda of public opinions and affected public emotions in some incidents, like the high-speed train crash near Wenzhou, in east China's Zhejiang Province, in July last year," the report, quoted by state-run Xinhua news agency, said.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Sweatshops, Slaves, and Chicago Murder Rates (Link Round-Up 10/2/12)

Chicago murder rate this year passes 400 mark
"In Chicago, the epidemic of violence is spreading all over the place," said Ceasefire Illinois director, Tio Hardiman.

Under a grant from the city, the group recently started working with police in two neighborhoods, North Lawndale and Woodlawn. Results remain to be seen. Hardiman says slowing the city's homicide rate will take changes in policing and community strategies. No one is off the hook, he says.

"This is giving us a black eye across the nation. We've reached the 400 homicide mark and we're on pace to hit 500 homicides for the first time in several years. The mayor can only do so much. Police can only do so much. We all have to play a role," said Hardiman.
Did Romney invest in a Chinese sweatshop?
According to the report published by the Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights, the factory Romney cited was called Global-Tech Appliances Inc., which employed about 5,000 young women. The plant in Dongguan City, Guangdong,report that cites Republican Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney as having “knowingly invested in a brutal Chinese Dongguan sweatshop China, made small appliances in sweatshop conditions for Hamilton Beach, Sunbeam, Proctor Silex and Revlon behind barbed wire fences in the town of Qing-Xi.
Chinese firm sues Obama administration over blocking wind farm construction
The Obama administration said that Ralls has four wind farm projects that are within or in the vicinity of restricted air space at a naval weapons systems training facility. "There is credible evidence that leads me to believe" that Ralls Corp, Sany Group and the two Sany Group executives who own Ralls "might take action that threatens to impair the national security of the United States," Obama said in issuing his decision.
The Mafia is destroying the rainforest, controlling the timber trade
It's not as glamorous as cocaine or diamonds, but the illegal logging industry has become very attractive to criminal organisations over the past decade. A new report finds that up to 90 per cent of tropical deforestation can be attributed to organised crime, which controls up to 30 per cent of the global timber trade.
Mexicans confused and angry over new monument for Azerbaijan leader 
The Stalin-esque, bronze statue of Geidar Aliyev, the late authoritarian leader of the Caucasus republic, carries a plaque calling him "a brilliant example of infinite devotion to the motherland, loyal to the universal ideals of world peace." The monument erected in late August shows Aliyev sitting in a bronze chair in front of what appears to be an enormous, white marble map of Azerbaijan. 
"It is really out of place," said Miguel Angel Mendoza, an 18-year-old high school student who was walking past the monument to the longtime ruler, who led Azerbaijan first as Communist Party boss during Soviet times and then as president from 1993 to 2003. "Why couldn't they put up a monument to somebody who did something good?"  
It turns out that Azerbaijan contributed much of the 65 million pesos ($5 million) it cost to renovate not one, but two Mexico City parks, allowing it to put monuments in both. Critics say that Aliyev, who stifled dissent, shouldn't be on a boulevard decorated with statues to Mexican and foreign heroes.
The dark side of Dubai: harsh laws and slave labor
All over the city, there are maxed-out expats sleeping secretly in the sand-dunes or the airport or in their cars.

"The thing you have to understand about Dubai is – nothing is what it seems," Karen says at last. "Nothing. This isn't a city, it's a con-job. They lure you in telling you it's one thing – a modern kind of place – but beneath the surface it's a medieval dictatorship."
63,000-Year-Old modern human skull found in Laos
“No other artifacts have yet been found with the skull, suggesting that the cave was not a dwelling or burial site, Shackelford said. It is more likely that the person died outside and the body washed into the cave sometime later,” Dr Shackelford explained. “The find reveals that early modern human migrants did not simply follow the coast and go south to the islands of Southeast Asia and Australia, as some researchers have suggested, but that they also traveled north into very different types of terrain.”
“This find supports an ‘Out-of-Africa’ theory of modern human origins rather than a multi-regionalism model,” she said. “Given its age, fossils in this vicinity could be direct ancestors of the first migrants to Australia. But it is also likely that mainland Southeast Asia was a crossroads leading to multiple migratory paths.”

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