Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Sometimes, even Presidents and Prime Ministers can't unite the divides

State of the Union: Obama calls for action, with or without Congress
"What I offer tonight is a set of concrete, practical proposals to speed up growth, strengthen the middle class, and build new ladders of opportunity into the middle class. Some require congressional action, and I'm eager to work with all of you. But America does not stand still, and neither will I," Obama said during his speech.

In other words, with up to 535 members of Congress sitting in the same room during his speech, the President told them that he's going to go around them if necessary. One way is by using his pen to sign executive orders -- unilateral presidential directives.

Obama called for more government support to rebuild the nation's infrastructure, but warned he was willing to go it alone.

"I will act on my own to slash bureaucracy and streamline the permitting process for key projects, so we can get more construction workers on the job as fast as possible," he said.

The Republican Party has balked at the idea.
Ukraine's opposition celebrates as prime minister steps down
Mykola Azarov's resignation came after a week of violent clashes in Kiev, the capital, in which at least four activists were killed, dozens arrested and hundreds injured on both sides. It was the worst street violence in the history of post-Soviet Ukraine.

A short time after his announcement, the parliament rescinded unpopular anti-protest laws in another peace offering to opposition forces bent on the ouster of President Viktor Yanukovich.

Opposition leaders had been negotiating with Yanukovich for four days, demanding that he call elections for the presidency and parliament. In a statement published on the Cabinet's official website, Azarov said that "the scope of the acute and dangerous conflict" compelled him to resign in the hope of enabling a political compromise.

"We have been doing everything to prevent bloodshed, escalation of violence, violations of citizens' rights," the statement said. "For all these difficult years I have been doing my best for Ukraine to develop normally as a democratic European state."
Turkish prime minister delivers speech as a 10-foot hologram
Recep Tayyip Erdogan recorded the message in advance, which was beamed to an audience of thousands and a political gathering on Sunday.

According to Breitbart, he also warned of 'treasonous networks' working against him.

He told the crowd: 'We are going to the elections in the shadow of attacks prepared by treasonous networks. I urge all my mayoral candidates to not waste any of their time.'

However, despite the obvious spectacle of Mr Edrogan's delivery, he is not the world leader in holographic political speeches.
In 2012 Narendra Modi, an Indian opposition leader, used hologram technology to broadcast himself to 26 different audiences at once. He said this was a demonstration of India's technological prowess. 
  UN chief meets with Fidel Castro in Havana
Their talk touched on the troubles in Syria, the Central African Republic, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the statement said. They discussed food security, climate change and nuclear proliferation.

The statement made no mention of human rights or the treatment of Cuba's political dissidents. U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq said Ban raised the issue of human rights during meetings with a number of Cuban officials, including President Raul Castro, who is Fidel Castro's younger brother. Ban also discussed the U.S. embargo on Cuba with Raul Castro.

In a tweet, Washington's U.N. ambassador, Samantha Power, urged world leaders visiting Cuba to meet with "everyday Cubans" and independent groups "to learn what's really happening & support democratic change."
Thailand to go ahead with election despite fear of clashes, political limbo
The decision to go ahead with the polls came at a meeting between Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and Election Commission officials and cast further doubt over any quick resolution to months of protests aimed at ousting the government.

The demonstrations are the latest eruption in a political conflict that has gripped Thailand for eight years, broadly pitting Bangkok's middle class and royalist establishment against the mainly poor, rural supporters of Yingluck and her brother, ousted former premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

The protesters reject the election that Yingluck's party will almost certainly win.

They want to suspend what they say is a fragile democracy commandeered by former telecoms tycoon Thaksin, whom they accuse of corruption, and eradicate the political influence of his family by altering electoral arrangements.

As part of their campaign, the protesters have been disrupting election preparations and early voting. In some constituencies, candidates have been unable to register and there might not be a quorum to open parliament and choose a government.
Egypt's Sisi cleared for presidential bid
If Sisi does run for president, he is expected to win by a landslide. Only one other candidate - Hamdeen Sabbahi, who came third in the 2012 presidential election - has announced that he will run against him.

Other possible contenders, including former prime minister Ahmed Shafiq and retired general Sami Anan, have said they will wait to see whether Sisi runs before making any decision.

Monday’s announcement comes two days after tens of thousands of Egyptians demonstrated to mark the third anniversary of the 2011 revolution that overthrew former president Hosni Mubarak. Demonstrators said little about the uprising and most of them waved posters of Sisi, urging him to run for president.

Also on Monday, deputy prime minister Ziad Bahaa el-Din announced that he was resigning from the interim government.

In a letter dated January 23, Bahaa el-Din said he was stepping down to "resume his political and party and legal work" outside the government.

Bahaa el-Din is considered one of the more moderate figures in the cabinet and has been critical of a crackdown on Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood organisation and other groups opposed to the government.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Bricklayers Foundation, meet the internet

A sweet .gif of my band, Bricklayers Foundation, that Ross just made from a promo photoset we took at Lincolnwood, IL's very own Novelty Golf & Games.

New tunes are coming soon. In the meantime, you can stream tracks our previous album, Chips, released this past September.

Transgender media discourse blues

The complete Dr. V response archive (for now)
Second, while I agree with much of what is written below, I think a big point is being missed here about journalistic responsibility. I haven’t seen it expressed yet, anyhow.

It’s pretty simple: I can totally understand Hannan not knowing anything about the transgender community. Journalists regularly face subject matters about which they possess little to no background knowledge. Navigating that material and emerging on the other side with a well-written, well-researched story is a good portion of what we do every day.

However, you have to know your blind spots. It should not have mattered that Hannan and the Grantland team did not know anything about transgender issues. It should have only mattered that they knew that they didn’t know anything about transgender issues. When that happens as a journalist, you do your due diligence. You cover your ass. You find someone who knows what you don’t, and you make damn sure that by the time you publish your story, you’ve filled in the gaps in your knowledge.
Against Me! - Transgender Dysphoria Blues Pitchfork review
But identity is a different thing entirely—it's what houses ideology, where ideology goes to gather agency and dig roots. In a rare act, Laura Jane Grace and Against Me! draw a hard line between these concepts with their sixth studio album Transgender Dysphoria Blues. It’s almost kismet for a band who’s been lambasted for not committing to their ideologies to make an album about a real identity crisis. Grace came out as transgender in 2012, and started writing these songs around that period. They were built out from raw acoustic folk punk into 10 songs of slapdash glam punk that carry great urgency, even those songs that don’t directly concern Grace’s journey. She makes all that cis punk sound limp in comparison.
Transgender student rights law triggers sharp divide
Backers of the referendum campaign, who call themselves Privacy for All Students, label Ammiano's measure the "Coed Restroom Bill" and say it enables deluded or deceptive boys to infiltrate school facilities reserved for girls.

"It allows a boy to play on a girl's team ... based on his mental dysphoria of thinking of himself as a girl," said Dacus, whose organization is urging parents to tell their local schools they want their children's privacy protected.

Frank Schubert, who led the 2008 initiative campaign to ban same-sex marriage in California and is in line to manage the referendum campaign if it makes the ballot, put it more bluntly in a blog in August after Gov. Jerry Brown signed Ammiano's bill. 
"There is no such thing as 'gender identity' any more than there is 'ethnic identity.' There is only gender," which is fixed at birth, Schubert wrote.
After 20 years, transgender inmate is a step closer to surgery
Ever since she was convicted of a brutal murder in 1992, Michelle Kosilek has known that she'd be stuck in prison for the rest of her life.

That she can live with. The harder part was feeling she was stuck for life in the wrong body, says her attorney, Joseph Sulman.

"It's horrible," Sulman says. "I don't like to use the word 'torture,' but it's, you know, emotional claustrophobia and ... constant anxiety."
Is Rayon in “Dallas Buyers Club” our era’s Mammy in GWTW — or not?
Perhaps Rayon is really our era’s equivalent of Mammy in GONE WITH THE WIND. Mammy was a beautifully acted, lovingly created stereotype that was inadvertently but inevitably condescending, which people at the time could not recognize but that we can see with embarrassed immediacy.

I’m not sure. I’m not even sure it matters. Hattie McDaniel — who won the supporting actress Oscar — and Jared Leto were both impeccable in their performances, and I think Rayon, to the extent that Rayon is in the public consciousness, is probably a good thing. Then again, I suspect that critics would have said the same for Mammy in 1939.
On Jared Leto and Dallas Buyers Club
Recently, on the nationally television Golden Globe Awards, Jared Leto gave an acceptance speech when he was blessed enough to be honored for his performance in Dallas Buyer's Club. He spoke about shaving his legs, he spoke about his backside in his bikini, and he spoke about a Brazilian wax he never got because it seemed to be too much trouble. What he didn't speak about was the transgender woman he played, or the millions of other transgender people in the audience, or the hundreds of millions of people around the world who are living with and dying from the AIDS virus.

What Mr. Leto did was try desperately to distance himself from the person he portrayed. He did not want it to be known that he had anything in common with Rayon. There were absolutely no similarities, and so consequently, he had no responsibility. He owed nothing to no one. After all, that wasn't him. It was someone else. What Mr. Leto doesn't seem to quite grasp yet, is that there is no such thing as character. It doesn't exist. When you rise up to the challenges of bringing an imaginary circumstance given to you by an author to life by being who you are authentically, you don't do it by becoming someone else. No one ever does that. I've been in the theatre since 1968, and never once have I seen an actor sit backstage smoking while his Character goes on to give a performance. If that's happening to someone, they are either lying, or they need medication.

So Mr. Leto's attempts at trying to escape the part of himself he revealed on screen, not only failed, they were dangerous and selfish.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Civil war, global protests, future catastrophes - and that's just what's happening this week

"A house divided against itself cannot stand." - Shia LaBeouf 

Glenn Beck says he regrets 'helping tear the country apart'
I remember it as an awful lot of fun, and that I made an awful lot of mistakes, and I wish I could go back and be more uniting in my language. Because I think I played a role unfortunately in helping tear the country apart. And it's not who we are. I didn't realize how really fragile the people were. I thought we were kind of a little more in it together.

And now I look back and I realize if we could have talked about the uniting principles a little more, instead of just the problems, I think I would look back on it a little more fondly. But that's only my role.
Ukraine opposition meet protesters after talks with Yanukovich
Underlining the level of mistrust between the government and opposition, Prime Minister Mykola Azarov accused protesters of trying to stage a coup d'etat, and dismissed the possibility of an early presidential election to resolve the standoff.

"All those who support this coup should say clearly, 'Yes, we are for the overthrow of the legitimate authorities in Ukraine', and not hide behind peaceful protesters," Azarov said at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

"A genuine attempt at a coup d'etat is being carried out," Russian news agency Interfax quoted him as saying.

Azarov told Reuters the government had no plans to introduce a state of emergency: "We don't see the need for tough and extreme measures at the moment ... But don't put the government into an impasse," he said.

"People should not think that the government lacks available resources to put an end to this. It is our constitutional right and obligation to restore order in the country."
Thailand imposes state of emergency over unrest
The state of emergency was announced after a cabinet meeting on Tuesday and comes after a spate of attacks with explosives and firearms on the anti-government protesters blockading central Bangkok for which the government and the protesters blame each other.

On Sunday, 28 people were injured when grenades were thrown at one of several protest sites set up at major road sections in the city.

"The cabinet decided to invoke the emergency decree to take care of the situation and to enforce the law," Deputy Prime Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul said.

The emergency decree gives the government power to censor the media, ban public gatherings and detain suspects without charge.

It also allows for curfews and for parts of Bangkok to be declared off-limits.
Syria’s civil war: can Assad manipulate the West?
According to a report on January 17th by Reuters, based on intelligence and arms-industry sources, Russia has stepped up its military aid to Mr Assad. Since December “dozens of Antonov-124s have been bringing in armoured vehicles, surveillance equipment, radars, electronic warfare systems, spare parts for helicopters, and various weapons including guided bombs for planes…Russian advisers and intelligence experts have been running observation UAVs [drones] around the clock to help Syrian forces track rebel positions… and carry out precision artillery and air force strikes against them”.

The contrast with America, which has blown hot and cold about arming the rebels it claims to support, is stark. While the rebels continue to get money and weapons from Saudi Arabia and Qatar, they have had little from America, as fears have grown that arms would find their way into the hands of groups with links to al-Qaeda, such as Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS).

Western diplomats justify their emphasis on diplomacy by saying “there is no military solution”, but the regime and its allies, Russia and Iran, think otherwise. A degree of military success in the past nine months, combined with divisions among the rebels (which broke out in December into bitter fighting between relatively moderate factions and the most extreme jihadists, leaving around 1,000 dead so far), has convinced Mr Assad that he can grind down his enemies into a terrorist rump.
Turkey faces a 'war' within its borders as Prime Minister Erdogan cracks down on opponents
But the real reason behind Turkey’s political turmoil is much more complicated.

It is rooted in a bitter struggle between Mr Erdogan and Fethulleh Gulen, a spiritual leader who now lives in self-imposed exile in a Pennsylvania redoubt but whose movement, Hizmet, remains powerful in Turkey.

The war between Mr Erdogan and Mr Gulen comes after a decade of friendship, in which the two men worked together to advance the other’s interests. Mr Erdogan gave opportunities to Hizmet’s members, staffing his offices with its followers. And in turn Mr Gulen used his sizeable connections in the business community and with foreign diplomats to promote Mr Erdogan’s tenure at home and abroad.

They worked together to defang the Turkish military, whose generals were notorious for plotting coup attempts against the country’s political rulers. But once the threat of the military was gone, the Gulen-Erdogan alliance broke down as they began to vie for power among themselves.
CAR leader pledges talks with armed groups
Months of fighting pitting Seleka's mostly Muslim fighters against anti-balaka militia drawn from the Christian majority has driven out more than 1 million people from their homes and resulted in more than 2,000 deaths according to the UN.

But in a sign of growing support for Samba-Panza, a representative of former Seleka rebels, who seized power in a coup last March, has given her his backing.

"I want to meet with the armed groups and listen to them," Samba-Panza told reporters on Tuesday. "If they took up arms, then there is a reason for that."

General Ousmane Mamadou Ousmane, president of the commission in charge of military reform of the Seleka alliance, said: "Our goal is clear, to support the new president to finish her mission, to support her so that peace returns to Central African Republic."

A spokesman for a major group of anti-balaka fighters said on Monday he believed the new president could end the violence.
South Sudan rivals sign ceasefire agreement
South Sudan's government and rebels have signed a ceasefire agreement after talks in Ethiopia.

Under the deal, signed in a hotel in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, the fighting is due to come to an end within 24 hours.

In the past week, government forces have recaptured the two main cities under rebel control.

More than 500,000 people have been forced from their homes during the month-long conflict.
South Sudan rivals sign ceasefire agreement This 100-year-old idea could end San Francisco’s class war
I can’t tell you how sad it makes me to see the place where I spent my college years embroiled in a bitter class war. As San Francisco housing prices skyrocket, protests are multiplying against the tech companies that have decided to relocate their offices to the city. I can understand why the protesters are angry—the city has a woeful lack of housing and public transit. And yet, the tech companies are only doing what they should—clustering together to take advantage of the ideas that bubble up out of the community when creative people live in close proximity. Both sides are right.

So what is the Bay Area to do? How can this class war be ended peacefully? As it happens, the solution was thought of more than 100 years ago, by a San Francisco economist. His name—sadly forgotten in this day and age—was Henry George.

George’s key insight was simple: The value of land is more than just the value of the things on the land. As any broker will tell you, there are three important things in real estate: Location, location, location. A plot of land in downtown Manhattan will be worth much more than an identical plot in rural Kansas, even if they have identical houses built on top of them. So when a city grows or enjoys a boom, a lot of the new economic value will go to the people who own the land, regardless of what they build on it.
Roubini doom scenario: It looks like 1914 again
While Roubini is renowned for his bubble warnings and doom scenarios, his concerns weren't drawn out of thin air, but rather taken mainly from the lips of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.  
According to reports from both The Financial Times and BBC, Abe said on Wednesday that China and Japan were in a "similar situation" to that of Britain and Germany ahead of World War One.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Search engine optimization tips for cynics

Digg had several links today about this wonderful web of bandwidth we call the internet:

The six things that make stories go viral will amaze and maybe infuriate you
Since his initial foray into the nature of sharing, Berger has gone on to research and test a variety of viral-promoting factors, which he details in his new book, “Contagious: Why Things Catch On.” Almost ten years in, he feels he’s discovered a formula of sorts: as sites like Upworthy or BuzzFeed would likely put it, The Six Things You Need to Know to Make Your Voice Heard. While emotion and arousal still top the list, a few additional factors seem to make a big difference. First, he told me, you need to create social currency—something that makes people feel that they’re not only smart but in the know. “Memes like LOLcats, I think, are a perfect example of social currency, an insider culture or handshake,” Berger told me. “Your ability to pass it on and riff on it shows that you understand. It’s the ultimate, subtle insider signal: I know without yelling that I know. When your mom sees an LOLcat, she has no idea what it is.” When Upworthy first started, not everyone knew what it was, and the videos seemed fresh. Now they are being derided as link bait and mocked. Other sites, including the Washington Post, are copying their formula.

The presence of a memory-inducing trigger is also important. We share what we’re thinking about—and we think about the things we can remember. This facet of sharing helps explain the appeal of list-type stories (which I wrote about in detail last month), as well as stories that stick in your mind because they are bizarre. Lists also get shared because of another feature that Berger often finds successful: the promise of practical value. “We see top-ten lists on Buzzfeed and the like all the time,” he notes. “It allows people to feel like there’s a nice packet of useful information that they can share with others.” We want to feel smart and for others to perceive us as smart and helpful, so we craft our online image accordingly.

A final predictor of success is the quality of the story itself. “People love stories. The more you see your story as part of a broader narrative, the better,” Berger says. Some cat lists are better than others, and some descriptions of crying teen-agers are more immediately poignant; the best underlying story, regardless of its trappings, will come out on top. That, in fact, is what the Upworthy editors have argued in response to their critics: the headlines may seem like link bait, but the stories, the curators promise, are worthwhile. “Coming up with catchy, curiosity-inducing headlines wasn’t the reason Upworthy had those 87 million visitors,” they write. “It was because millions of members of the Upworthy community watched the videos we curated and found them important, compelling, and worth sharing with their friends.”

How a math genius hacked OkCupid to find true love
With that, he created two profiles, one with a photo of him rock climbing and the other of him playing guitar at a music gig. “Regardless of future plans, what’s more interesting to you right now? Sex or love?” went one question. Answer: Love, obviously. But for the younger A cluster, he followed his computer’s direction and rated the question “very important.” For the B cluster, it was “mandatory.”

When the last question was answered and ranked, he ran a search on OkCupid for women in Los Angeles sorted by match percentage. At the top: a page of women matched at 99 percent. He scrolled down … and down … and down. Ten thousand women scrolled by, from all over Los Angeles, and he was still in the 90s.

He needed one more step to get noticed. OkCupid members are notified when some­one views their pages, so he wrote a new program to visit the pages of his top-rated matches, cycling by age: a thousand 41-year-old women on Monday, another thousand 40-year-old women on Tuesday, looping back through when he reached 27-year-olds two weeks later. Women reciprocated by visiting his profiles, some 400 a day. And messages began to roll in.
The biggest land rush in the history of the internet starts on February 4
Hundreds of new gTLDs means hundreds of times as many available second-level domains. It could even mean an end to the increasingly silly names new businesses have to adopt just so they can secure a memorable web address. Shpoonkle, anyone?

So in June 2008, more than two years after an internal policy group first started considering it, ICANN’s board approved recommendations to create a fourth set of new gTLDs. Rather than planning extensive consultations about what they should be, this time ICANN allowed the market to decide. Anybody could apply to run a new domain, so long as they met certain requirements and coughed up a $185,000 application fee.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

On plagiarism, #stopcreating, and erring on the side of falling for metapranks

My recent piece in Gapers Block looks at a Shia LaBeouf-bylined essay appearing in The New Inquiry yesterday that wholly appropriates the parts of a book by MoMA poet laureate and plagiarism-as-art proponent Kenneth Goldsmith.

A couple people on Twitter are claiming I've been had and that the two collaborated on the essay, as maybe-evidenced by a deleted tweet in which LeBeouf claims Goldsmith helped out on the broader #stopcreating campaign.

Several points come to mind, but it's clear that the full story hasn't emerged yet, so I'll wait until then (if ever) to say more on the subject.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Property and pollution (link round-up 1/19/14)

Italy’s Jewish community grapples with attitudes on Israel
The meetings were called in the wake of an incident on January 14, in which Jewish protesters disrupted a panel discussion of a book on the left wing and Israel, “The Left and Israel: The Moral Frontier of the West.” The event was organized at a Rome Jewish center by the leftist Jewish group J-Call – which is modeled on the American J-Space, and the Hans Jonas Association Jewish cultural organization.

Amid what a report in the local Jewish media called “heavy intimidation,” the protesters prevented J-Call spokesman Giorgio Gomel, from speaking, and Gomel and another organizer had to be escorted from the premises by Jewish community security.

Gomel, who has been vocal in his criticism of Israel’s policy toward the Palestinians, has frequently come under fire from opposing Jewish factions. Reports said protesters on January 14 unfurled a banner saying “Gomel, go back to Gaza.”
The Mafia's Deadly Garbage: Italy's Growing Toxic Waste Scandal
"We are talking about millions of tons," Schiavone, formerly head of administration for the Mafia organization, told the parliamentarians. "I also know that trucks came from Germany carrying nuclear waste." The operations took place under the protection of darkness and were guarded by Mafiosi in military police uniforms, he said. He showed Italian justice officials the location of many of the dumpsites because, as he put it in 1997, the people in those areas are at risk of "dying of cancer within 20 years."

More than 16 years have passed since Schiavone uttered this prophecy before the investigative committee -- and nothing has been done. The outrage is all the greater now. Not only because cancer researchers have found mounting indicators that Schiavone might have been telling the truth. But also because numerous officials at all levels must have known about Schiavone's warnings since the mid-1990s -- and ignored them.

The pressure is particularly great on the following players:
  • Giorgio Napolitano was Italy's interior minister at the time and thus ultimately in charge of the investigation. Today, he is the country's president. 
  • Gennaro Capoluongo was, according to Schiavone, in a helicopter that went on a tour of some of the toxic waste dumps. Today, he is Italy's Interpol head. 
  • Alessandro Pansa was head of mobile units for the Italian police force at the time. Now he is head of the Italian State Police. 
  • Nicola Cavaliere was with the criminal police at the time and was involved in the case, according to Schiavone. Today is the deputy head of Italy's domestic intelligence service.
Video: India draws up a plan to give every adult a bank account
An expert panel has now drawn up a plan to give every Indian adult a bank account by 2016.
China starts televising the sunrise on giant TV screens because Beijing is so clouded in smog
The futuristic screens installed in the Chinese capital usually advertize tourist destinations, but as the season's first wave of extremely dangerous smog hit - residents donned air masks and left their homes to watch the only place where the sun would hail over the horizon that morning.

Commuters across Beijing found themselves cloaked in a thick, gray haze on Thursday as air pollution monitors issued a severe air warning and ordered the elderly and school children to stay indoors until the quality improved.
How China could save Detroit
He says reports of Chinese speculators buying dozens of vacant homes are exaggerated, but the attraction is real. Detroit’s assets — the auto industry, clean water, clean air, open land — resonate with Chinese homebuyers. “In China,” Stevanovich says, referring to Detroit’s bankruptcy, “crisis is opportunity.”

Elsewhere, the trend could be less welcome, and more weird. In Miami, an incredible 90 percent of condos are sold to overseas buyers, prompting speculation that the city’s condo boom is functionally a money-laundering operation.

But the money from Chinese residential investors could prove, in the coming years, to be of another order of magnitude. Housing prices in Palo Alto, Calif., are rising faster than in London, which realtors say is thanks to surging interest (and all-cash bids) from Chinese buyers an ocean away. Others say that stratospheric housing prices in Vancouver, Canada, can be blamed on an investor program aimed at wealthy Chinese immigrants, and that foreign buyers should bear additional taxes. In Oct., 2012, a similar tax was implemented in Hong Kong, a city that has also held rising Chinese speculation accountable for high home prices.
Rich Chinese continue to flee China
A new report shows that 64 percent of Chinese millionaires have either emigrated or plan to emigrate—taking their spending and fortunes with them. The United States is their favorite destination.

The report from Hurun, a wealth research firm that focuses on China, said that one-third of China's super rich—or those worth $16 million or more—have already emigrated.

The data offer the latest snapshot of China's worrying wealth flight, with massive numbers of rich Chinese taking their families and fortunes overseas. Previous studies show the main reasons rich Chinese are leaving is to pursue better educations for their kids, and to escape the pollution and overcrowding in urban China.
Sherlock is incredibly popular in China
With its mix of odd villains, eccentric aristocrats and fashionable London settings, "Sherlock" can draw on a Chinese fondness for a storybook version of Britain.

Wealthy Chinese send their children to local branches of British schools such as Eton and Dulwich. Rolls Royce Motor Cars Ltd. says China passed the U.S. last year to become the biggest market for its luxury sedans. On the outskirts of Shanghai, a developer has built Thames Town, modeled on an English village with mock Tudor houses and classic red phone booths.

"The whole drama has the rich scent of British culture and nobility," Yu said. "Our drama doesn't have that."
Ethiopia's landless young find hope and security in keeping bees
The prospect of earning money in Middle Eastern countries as a domestic maid or as a construction worker has spurred many young Ethiopians overseas. But for some the dream has become a nightmare as employers exploit them and ignore their rights.

Last month, the Ethiopian government ordered the repatriation of more than 130,000 young Ethiopian migrants illegally working in Saudi Arabia and placed a travel ban on workers going to the region for six months.

To help mitigate this crisis of land scarcity and spiralling youth unemployment, Farm Africa, an NGO, which has directors based in Addis Ababa, Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, has begun supplying beehives to 200 landless young people in the Tigray region to give them a resilient means of making a living.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Sherlock and the science of "sixth sense"

Part of the reason I haven't written for a week is because I've been sucked into watching Sherlock - a clever, near-perfectly executed series in which the title character (played by Benedict Cumberbatch) constantly cracks cases and outwits foes through what he calls the The Science of Deduction:
This is what I do:

1. I observe everything. 
2. From what I observe, I deduce everything. 
3. When I've eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how mad it might seem, must be the truth.
Now it seems that real-life researchers have taken this advice to heart.

A recent study claims that what we call ESP or "sixth sense" may simply be subconscious observation:
This was the conclusion researchers from Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences came to after they performed a study in which nearly 50 participants were shown a pair of pictures of the same woman.

The images were displayed for 1.5 seconds each with a one second break between them. Once the last photo was shown, the participant was asked whether a changed had occurred and, if so, what.

In some instances, there was no change, while in other cases the woman had a different hairstyle or switched around her accessories, including earrings, necklace or glasses.

"Changes could only be detected by comparing the two photographs," the researchers wrote in the study.

According to the researchers, the findings showed that participants could usually detect a change even if they were unsuccessful in identifying what precisely had shifted around. The result was observers reportedly "feeling" or "sensing" a change without being able to point directly at one.
Then again, who's to say the researchers deduced everything?

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Dennis Rodman, Voldemort, and Mountain Dew-flavored Cheetos

Here's a very special Asia-Pacific link round-up for y'all.

Rodman’s Goon Squad Goes to North Korea
“That’s not the right thing to do,” Dennis Rodman said. “He’s my friend first. He’s my friend. I don’t give a shit. I tell the world: He’s my fucking friend, I love him.” That’s what Rodman said in Beijing when answering questions about why he won’t ask North Korea’s boy tyrant, Kim Jong Un, about the myriad human rights violations he’s guilty of. Instead, for Kim’s 30th birthday, Rodman is hosting a game of “basketball diplomacy.” He’s assembled a team of ex-NBA players and “streetballers” to lace up against a North Korean squad.

For some of these ex-stars who’ve struggled with addiction and relevancy, it’s an inspirational story of perseverance. You know, like Space Jam, except not as fun, entirely pointless, and sans Bill Murray. Here’s who’s going to Pyongyang.
Who is Kenneth Bae, and why is he in a North Korean prison camp?
U.S. officials have repeatedly called on North Korea to release Bae. In August, the two countries appeared close, but North Korea rescinded an invitation to a U.S. envoy. Ambassador Robert King, President Barack Obama's special envoy for North Korean human rights issues, had been expected to fly to Pyongyang to try to win Bae's freedom.

In previous instances, North Korea has released Americans in its custody after a visit by some U.S. dignitary -- in recent cases, former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton.

But efforts by Bill Richardson, the former ambassador to the United Nations, was unsuccessful in winning his release during a visit to North Korea last year.

Even Rodman, at one point, called on North Korea's Kim Jong Un to release Bae.

"I'm calling on the Supreme Leader of North Korea or as I call him "Kim," to do me a solid and cut Kenneth Bae loose," Rodman said in a May 7, 2013, post to his Twitter account.
Why Rodman ever went to North Korea to begin with


 Is North Korean tourism unethical?
“Is sending the Harlem Globetrotters and Dennis Rodman to the DPRK strange? In a word, yes,” said Vice founder Shane Smith, who visited the country in 2009 for his company, which has made a name for itself by blending journalism with adventure tourism and which sponsored Rodman's February trip. “But finding common ground on the basketball court is a beautiful thing.”

... I also asked B.R. Myers, a North Korea scholar who has done research inside the country, about the ethics of tourism. He was not a supporter. "Many tourists -- and all of the foreign tour operators -- assuage their consciences by telling themselves they are furthering the cause of peace or reform by building trust, breaking down barriers, and so on," Myers told me via e-mail. "This is nonsense."

"For one thing," Myers wrote, "all the tourists are talking to the same tiny bunch of hardened cadres, guides and spies. For another, individual interactions, however friendly they might be, neither reflect nor have the slightest effect on how people feel as members of one group, race or nation vis a vis another."
South Korea urged Cambodia’s military to crack down on protesters
Among Cambodian soldiers at the scene of a demonstration, GlobalPost also identified an individual bearing a South Korean flag emblem on his army fatigues. The individual, who has not been identified, was captured in a video of the demonstration aftermath posted on Facebook on Thursday (he appears at the one-minute mark; screenshot below). His identity could not be verified.

Government officials denied the individual had any connection to the Cambodian or Korean militaries. “He could be the company’s security guard,” said Kheng, although he appears to be wearing a military uniform. Phay Siphan, a spokesman for the Council of Ministers, told GlobalPost: “The Cambodian military unit does not have Korean flag bearers. What you saw could be a private individual and not a unit from Korea.”

But others weren’t so certain. Over the past decade, the South Korean military has dispatched a handful of officers to advise the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces, said one Korean scholar of Cambodia who asked not to be named.

And South Korea is a known patron of the prime minister’s bodyguard unit, Brigade 70, despite reports of human rights abuses — including the shooting last week.
Revival of handmade posters channel young Korean concerns
There were no fresh facts, shocking revelations or radical opinions in the poster that suddenly appeared last month at Korea University. But it did expose the worries of frustrated and disaffected young people who feel they’ve been left behind by globalization.

Economic concerns, like low salaries and high rents, are widespread. College students are angry about expensive tuition and dim employment prospects. Support for the rail workers, another common cause, reflects concerns among young people that the rail privatization plan will start a trend, leading to higher costs for utilities and health care as they too become privatized, and to the end of the era of the coveted permanent government job.

The issue that seems to have most galvanized the poster writers is the scandal involving military and National Intelligence Service agents who carried out online campaigns during the 2012 presidential race to manipulate public opinion in favor of Park Geun-hye, who won the presidency by one million votes. Eleven officials in the Defense Ministry’s cyberwarfare unit are accused of spreading 2,100 messages praising Ms. Park. And, in a separate case, a team of N.I.S. agents is being tried for sending out millions of posts on Twitter and news websites in support of Ms. Park. The president has denied having had anything to do with the online campaigns, saying repeatedly that she had not benefited from them. ... The poster movement — a return to a more basic sort of expression — may best be seen as a backlash against an online culture that allows users to post whatever they want using false names or no names at all. Anonymity was once welcomed by political activists as a way to get opinions out in the open, but it has now come to be regarded as an obstacle to meaningful dialogue.
Harry Potter gets pulled into war of words between Japan and China
For China’s envoy, Lui Xiaoming, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s year-end visit to Yasukuni Shrine – where Japan’s war dead are honored – was evidence that dark forces were at play at the heart of the administration in Tokyo.

“In the Harry Potter story, the dark wizard Voldemort dies hard because the seven horcruxes, which contain parts of his soul, have been destroyed,” he wrote. “If militarism is like the haunting Voldemort of Japan, the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo is a kind of horcrux, representing the darkest parts of that nation’s soul.”

Mr. Liu went on to accuse Abe of putting Japan back on the path of prewar-style militarism, citing his plans to raise military spending, his eagerness to reform the postwar pacifist Constitution, and his apparent lack of remorse for his country's wartime conduct.

It took Japan just a few days to respond in kind, again in the pages of the Daily Telegraph. "East Asia is now at a crossroads," Japan’s envoy to London, Keiichi Hayashi, wrote. "There are two paths open to China. One is to seek dialogue, and abide by the rule of law. The other is to play the role of Voldemort in the region by letting loose the evil of an arms race and escalation of tensions, although Japan will not escalate the situation from its side.”
Frito Lay Japan unveils Mountain Dew Cheetos
Apparently, they taste like "sweet lemon lime chips."

The move is probably not a huge surprise as Frito Lay is the same company that introduced Pepsi-flavored Cheetos last year.

Stranger still, this isn't the first Mountain Dew-flavored snack put out by Frito Lay. Back in 2008, they came out with a mystery flavor of Doritos chips that turned out to be Mountain Dew flavor... here in the US!
Australia's asylum-seeker policy irks Indonesia
At a news conference Tuesday, Indonesia's Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa criticized Australia's hard-line policy of turning back asylum seekers who set out from Indonesian waters. He declined to confirm or comment on the most-recent boat incident, which was detailed in conflicting Indonesian media reports.

The Jakarta Post, citing the police chief in the eastern city of Kupang, reported the boat ran aground Monday, while other media reports said the accident occurred last month.

Australia declined to comment on whether its navy had recently turned back an Indonesian boat. Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said Tuesday it was the policy of Australia's conservative government to refrain from giving details of its operations or plans as this could provide intelligence to people smugglers.

Ties between the two nations hit a nadir in recent months in a row over alleged spying by Canberra on top Indonesian officials. Jakarta has previously also expressed reservations about Australia's policy of blocking boats carrying asylum seekers and sending them back to Indonesia, which is a frequent staging post for refugees from places including Afghanistan, Iraq and Sri Lanka.
Indonesia jails extremist over Myanmar embassy plot
He was found guilty of possessing explosive materials, a charge under tough anti-terror laws that can carry the death penalty in the most serious cases.

According to his indictment, he was part of an extremist group called Negara Islam Indonesia (the Islamic State of Indonesia).

Prosecutors said the planned attack was aimed at putting pressure on the government in Myanmar to do more to stop attacks on the Rohingya.

There have been a string of attacks on minority Muslims in Myanmar since 2012, mostly in the Rohingya's western home state of Rakhine. Hundreds have been killed and tens of thousands made homeless.
Rights should be part of US ‘pivot’ to Asia
Rumakabu told her story this year before a Biak Massacre Citizens Tribunal organized by the University of Sydney. The tribunal cast fresh light on one of Asia’s worst — and least recognized — atrocities of recent decades. The United States had backed Indonesia’s takeover of West Papua in the 1960s, after which an American company helped start the world’s biggest gold mine and third-largest copper mine there. Many West Papuans have joined the struggle for independence since. Now, more than 15 years since the massacre in the city of Biak, the United States is turning a blind eye toward human rights abuses in West Papua as it strengthens ties to Indonesia’s military.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in August that he welcomed “the progress Indonesia has made in improving transparency and the protection of human rights” as he signed a $500 million deal selling eight Apache attack helicopters. The sale, which is part of the US foreign policy “pivot” to Asia, went ahead despite the objections of some 90 human rights groups who argued that the aircraft could be used to further suppress the people of West Papua. US-supplied arms to Indonesia have been used in cracking down on resistance movements in West Papua and East Timor. The United States restored ties with Indonesian military in 2010 after cutting them in 1999 for Indonesian abuses in East Timor.

It was strange to hear Hagel’s claim that human rights protection in Indonesia has improved, when those responsible for massacres in West Papua and East Timor enjoy impunity while members of unarmed resistance groups face arbitrary detention and killings. Armed rebels in West Papua do exist in the form of the Free Papua Movement army. However, Indonesia has been indiscriminate in suppressing any kind of resistance movements. A month before the sale of the Apaches, United Nations high commissioner Navi Pillay expressed serious concerns about the human rights situation in Indonesia after police reportedly shot and killed two protestors preparing to mark the 50th anniversary of the annexation of West Papua.

By strengthening military ties, the United States is furthering a culture of impunity that fuels continuous human rights violations. Officers involved in abuses continue to rise in the ranks. Generals who were in command during alleged massacres are free to test their political ambitions. Former military chief Wiranto and former special forces unit chief Prabowo Subianto, both allegedly involved in abuses in East Timor and Papua, are running for Indonesia’s president in next year’s elections.
Small-scale gold mining pollutes Indonesian lands
Yuyun Ismawati, an environmental campaigner based in Britain, says the scope of the problem is evident in the amount of mercury being exported from around the world to Indonesia, her home country. Most of it, she says, is brought in illegally.

According to the Indonesian Ministry of Trade, the country imported slightly less than one metric ton of mercury in 2012 through two local companies, primarily for commercial manufacturing, including the production of light bulbs and batteries, and for use in hospital equipment. According to United Nations trade statistics, however, 368 metric tons of mercury, about 810,000 pounds, were legally exported to Indonesia in 2012 from countries that included Singapore, the United States, Japan and Thailand.

The yawning gap between what Indonesia officially reported as receiving and what was actually exported to it is not an anomaly. In 2011, the country officially imported 7.8 metric tons of mercury, while the United Nations reported that 286 metric tons was exported to Indonesia. The same disparity is evident for numerous other recent years.

In fact, the only data that added up for Ms. Yuyun, 49, a graduate school alumna of Oxford, was not about mercury but global gold prices, which nearly doubled from an average of $872 an ounce in 2008 to $1,669 in 2012. Gold ended 2013 at just over $1,200 an ounce.
Back from Indonesia, Emanuel talks weather response
The mayor, who vacationed in the equatorial Asian archipelago over the holidays with his wife and three children, shrugged when asked whether opponents who have dubbed him “Mayor 1%” for his wealth and pro-business policies will make political hay out of his absence. “Whether it’s the weather or not, I’m sure people will always find reasons to raise some questions,” he said.

Asked why he didn’t return to Chicago sooner in light of the harsh forecast, the mayor told reporters his Indonesian trip wasn’t all nature hikes and family fun. “I think every one of the commissioners know and would report I’ve been in contact with them on a regular basis, and with my chief of staff multiple times on a daily basis,” he said. “Communication equipment, be that text, cell phone, e-mail, allows you to stay in contact on a regular basis. My family would think that I wasn’t much on vacation, given all the communication I was in with them.”

Friday, January 3, 2014

Protesters hit by govt. forces (or gunfire) in Turkey, Cambodia, and Syria

Whatever role the Gulen movement may be playing in the current Turkish political chaos, the government has picked its new scapegoats in last year's Gezi Park protests:
Prosecutors in Turkey have charged 36 people with terrorism in connection with massive anti-government protests that rocked the country last year.

According to the indictment published on Friday, the suspects face a range of charges including membership in a terrorist organization, illegal possession of hazardous material, and terrorist propaganda.

"Protests that began in May went beyond a democratic reaction and turned into propaganda and demonstration outlets of terrorist organizations with the guidance of marginal groups," read the document.

"As a result, public property was destroyed, civil servants were incapacitated and security forces were injured," it added.

The defendants will face up to 58 years in prison if convicted.
Meanwhile, Cambodian soliders have already killed 3 protesters amid a nationwide garment workers strike for higher wages:
The violence came after weeks of escalating political and labor unrest marked by a series of opposition-led antigovernment protests and a nationwide strike that has stalled Cambodia's mainstay garment industry. Activists worry that the shootings could signal the government's growing propensity to use deadly force against its opponents, amid what political analysts say is Prime Minister Hun Sen's toughest political challenge in more than a decade.

At about 10 a.m. local time Friday, military police armed with assault rifles opened fire on several hundred workers who were blocking a road on the southern fringe of the capital, Phnom Penh, after the protesters started hurling objects at officers, police officials said.

Chuon Narin, deputy chief of the Phnom Penh Municipal Police, confirmed the death toll of three and blamed "gangsters" and "anarchists" for instigating "violence toward the police," saying "Police are trying to defend themselves."
In Syria, the ever-increasing Islamist factionalization has spurred its own protests (and reactionary gunfire):
Many of the signs and banners held up by protesters referred to abuses by the fundamentalist militants, including the torture and execution of Hussein Suleiman, a prominent activist doctor in the Aleppo area who used the name Abu Rayan. According to the Activists News Association, an opposition media network founded by the British-Syrian blogger Rami Jarrah, who writes as Alexander Page, a placard held up at a protest in Aleppo decried both the killing of Abu Rayan by ISIS and the murder of another doctor blamed on government forces.

Video posted online by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a group based in Britain with a network of activists inside Syria, was said to show protesters marching in Aleppo on Friday, chanting that President Bashar al-Assad and the Islamist rebel militia were both enemies of their revolution.


The same group reported on Facebook that a second clip recorded later showed “the moment demonstrators were fired upon by ISIS” as the militants attempted to disperse the protesters.
So much for 2014 being off to a fresh, hopeful start.

UPDATED: Looks like Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood protesters are getting killed, too:
One protester was killed in Cairo's Nasr City district, where demonstrators threw rocks and fireworks at police, who responded by firing tear gas, according to Ahram Online.

Two protesters were fatally shot in clashes in the northern Egyptian city of Ismailia, about 125 kilometers (78 miles) northeast of the capital, Cairo, Ahram Online reported.

One person was killed in Fayoum, southwest of Cairo, and another was killed in Alexandria, the news outlet reported. In Alexandria -- Egypt's second-largest city, 175 kilometers (109 miles) northwest of Cairo -- police intervened after Muslim Brotherhood supporters clashed with civilian opponents, Ahram Online reported.

The deaths come two days after the country's Interior Ministry said at least two demonstrators were killed in Wednesday clashes with security forces in Alexandria.

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