Thursday, November 15, 2012

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

Hey all,

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

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

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

Or something along those lines.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

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

[via Salon]

RT interview with Bashar al-Assad



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

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

[via Wonkette]

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

That's what the law says, anyway.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 5, 2012

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

The Gapers Block Guide to the Bottom of the Ballot

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

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

...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 3, 2012

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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