Wednesday, December 29, 2004

RealClimate � Climate Science

/ climate / change / facts /
A really useful site for those that prefer to remain among the reality-based community, setting things straight about climate change and the science behind it - a useful antidote to the corporate backed tripe, or the Lomborgian fallacies that pass for skeptical analysis these days...

The site describes itself as follows:
"RealClimate is a commentary site on climate science by working climate scientists for the interested public and journalists. We aim to provide a quick response to developing stories and provide the context sometimes missing in mainstream commentary. The discussion here is restricted to scientific topics and will not get involved in any political or economic implications of the science."

See also these two relevant news items:

- Earth's permafrost starts to squelch

- Argentina scolds 'two-faced' rich.

Paranoid conspiracy theories kill!

/ viruses / lethal / idiocy /
Stupid conspiracy theories and/or religious superstitions are lethal, as the story of current attempts to eradicate polio shows:
"...Polio's [resurgence] started in the summer of 2003 in northern Nigeria. In the Kano state, politicians and clerics claimed that the polio vaccine was a 'Western' ploy, tainted with HIV or with hormones meant to render Muslim women infertile. The resulting resistance to the eradication program led to immunizations being suspended for 11 months. By the summer of 2004, outbreaks in Nigeria had spread to 10 surrounding nations that had been polio-free for years, leaving nearly 700 children paralyzed and reestablishing polio in four countries..."

Monday, December 27, 2004

Comment fixes

/ fixing / this /
Well, the blogback comment system I was using started to falter & has relaunched or something and asks me to re-register, so I finally got down to rewiring the comments using blogger's comment system (designated below as "active comments") whereas the older comments I saved (in an ugly and hurried fashion) as combined posts in the new comments, had the blogback prompt removed from wherever there were 0 comments and where there existed comments they are now designated as "old_comments".

Thus, all new comments should be directed to the "active comments" link - all new posts will only have this option anyway.

Sunday, December 26, 2004

Abu Ghraib in Athens

/ greece / the other white meat /
Indicative of the kind of abuse endemic to the treatment of illegal immigrants (not only in Greece), but also of the inspirational nature of the new reality-photography initiated by the avant-guard soldier/artists in the US army, the Greek police has been caught torturing illegal Afghan immigrants, among them minors, in their houses and in an Athens precinct (images from the raided house and a few of its occupants here).

This came at the heels of the acquittal of a police officer from charges of rape committed against a Ukrainian woman, a case of blatant occlusion of justice to say the least. There has been little action on the part of the Greek police in persecuting the torturers and its a safe bet that the worse that can happen to them is a slap on the hand.

Thus, the reaction of ~50 young Athenian anarchists to the events, could be considered appropriate, even. Not really effective, and totally symbolic, of course, but it's some sort of relief that 30 years after the torturers' trials (in the aftermath of the military junta's collapse), there are some people willing to risk more than their free time to concretely express their opposition to such atrocities.

Friday, December 24, 2004

Oh! Apple tree, oh apple tree...

/ merry / newtonmas /
Nature and Nature’s Laws lay hid in night:
God said, Let Newton be! and all was light.
Alexander Pope

Tomorrow we will be celebrating the birth of Sir Isaac Newton, who was born on Christmas day 1642. A fine and appropriate alternative to the crassly commercialized shopping frenzy surrounding the birth of (the possibly non-existent) Jesus of Galilee, it can be adjusted to modern capitalist consumerism requirements by co-opting much of the Christmas celebration (pagan in origin itself of course), as in the substitution of the Christmas tree with the apple tree, or this specially designed Newton tree; the fat and sartorially challenged Santa Claus riding on reindeer (I mean, reindeer?) with the 17th century man of science, Newton's friend and financer of the publication of Sir Isaac's major opus Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica, Edmund Halley, riding on his Comet, according to its well defined trajectories (but alas showing up only every 76 years); the nativity scenes with the apocryphal apple falling on Newton's head etc.

The fact that sir Isaac, was by all accounts a nasty and jealous ole bugger, (enjoying sending counterfeiters to the gallows as Governor of the Mint) is by no means an obstacle to celebration (although had, say, Albert Einstein been born in a more opportune date, he would be a preferable alternative, on grounds of character alone), since we will be celebrating the man's ideas, contributions and, through them, rationality and the modern scientific method - not the petty old Don himself. Another beautiful detail is that using the modern calendar (which his theory of gravitation helped refine and standardize with an unprecedented accuracy) he was not born on Christmas but on January the 4th, possibly leading to heretical alternate celebrations of Newtonmas - much as the Slavic Orthodox churches celebrate Christmas on January the 7th because the *real* calendar is the *old* calendar...(showing a stubbornness in the face of facts that transcends the bizarre). The wonderfully ironic aspect of the holiday, is that sir Isaac was heavily into Biblical interpretation and chronology, to an unhealthy extent. As John Maynard Keynes (Newton's biographer among many other better-known things) has said:

Newton was not the first of the age of reason. He was the last of the magicians, the last of the Babylonians and Sumerians, the last great mind which looked out on the visible and intellectual world with the same eyes as those who began to build our intellectual inheritance rather less than 10,000 years ago. Isaac Newton, a posthumous child born with no father on Christmas Day, 1642, was the last wonder-child to whom the Magi could do sincere and appropriate homage.

So let's switch Magi: from Gaspar, Balthazar and whatshisname let's move on to the celebration of the last (and obviously the best) of their line.

Merry Newtonmas everybody!

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Ho, ho, ho

/ bleeding / christmas /
Matt Taibbi is driven to such a spiteful frenzy over the Christmas thing, that he regresses back to his old sociopathic, misathropic self we all knew and loved in the exile days. Merry Christmas:

I hate Christmas. I hate it more than anyone in the world. Put me in a room with the man you think is the world's biggest Christmas-hater, and within 10 minutes he'll be shining my shoes. Christmas is the world's most compelling argument for immediate nuclear attack against the territory of the United States. American Christmas makes heroes of Osama bin Laden, Jim Jones, the Shining Path, the Baader-Meinhofs, Jack the Ripper and the virus that causes AIDS.

It is true that American Christmas has not yet reached the point where it excuses the crimes of the Nazi Party. Still, even the regime of Adolf Hitler was probably too burdened by humanity to dream up an endless loop of I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus, blared over the speakers in the escalator entrance to Bed Bath and Beyond. We are the first explorers to set foot on this region of hell.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Whistle-blower anthropologist to be reinstated

/ field studies / anthropological / in a broader sense /

The American Anthropological Association moved on Thursday to right an 85-year-old wrong done to a pioneer in the field and a founder of the association. At its annual meeting, the group voted to rescind its censure of Franz Boas...

The controversy dates from December 1919 when, amid a bitter dispute about patriotism, espionage, and scientific ethics, the group's governing council censured Boas, then a professor at Columbia University and probably the country's best-known scholarly anthropologist...

But in the aftermath of World War I, he angered many of his peers by making sharp-tongued criticisms of anthropologists who had covertly served as U.S. spies in Latin America...

A detailed account of anthropologists as spies can be found in the Nation (where Boas' original denounciation of his spying colleagues was published). Some further details on the Boas affair can be found here.

Laughing Dragon, Dancing Bear

/ alliances / new /
"While President George W. Bush, his "neo-conservative" advisers, and centrist Democrats bask in the glow of America's status as "the one remaining superpower in the world," signs are mounting that other major powers do not intend to hunker down and suspend their own efforts to shape history.

The most striking result of Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov's four-day visit to China this week was the agreement announced Monday to hold "substantial military exercises on Chinese territory in 2005" (quote from Russia's Interfax news agency). This was Ivanov's second trip to Beijing this year, and Chinese President Hu Jintao used the occasion to assert, "Sino-Russian strategic coordination has attained an unprecedentedly high level."

The agreement to hold joint exercises is, in fact, unprecedented, and Hu went on to express satisfaction at the growth in relations between the two armies..."

As reported in Reuters, People's Daily, Novosti. Check out the take from this South Korean source: China-Russia-India: “Let’s Join Hands Against the US-EU”

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Turkey: The EU door has unlocked

/ europe / turkey / union /
Turkey has been given finally a launch date for accession talks. The terms were greeted as a success in Greece (and to a lesser extent in Cyprus). Yet, I can't help thinking that it's all a sham, since (at least) both France and Austria, will require, they say, a referendum to finalize their OK, which under current conditions means that the Turks will be refused entry to the EU. Also, the breadth and the scope of the change required in Turkey is bound to create reactions in Turkey, reactions that might create serious problems for the accession process.

I have mixed feelings about the Turkish accession to the EU. On the one hand I agree that culturally Turkey can certainly be part of Europe, and I'm optimistic that Greece will benefit from the process through improved relations and the fall out of heavier investment in the region. Yet I can't help but notice that the large bulk of the people unconditionally supporting Turkish accession are Euro-skeptics, people who would like to see the prospect of a closer European union crushed, and the EU reduced to simply a free trade zone. The fact that the US is annoyingly over-eager to push Turkey in the EU, can of course only reinforce my reservations.

Anyway, here are a couple of the more interesting articles I've read from the Turkish "side":

How different are we really?:

...Does the life of an ordinary Turkish family remind us of the life of an ordinary Afghan or Saudi Arabian family, or that of an ordinary Greek, Yugoslav or Italian family?

Religious differences are of course important. However, religion might not be the determining factor in secular countries like Turkey. A larger category, ‘social culture,’ shapes and determines people’s behaviors, habits and traditions...

From Hasan Unal:

Turkey would be better of outside the EU:

...But the fact is that the European honey-pot is emptying. New members are already bitterly disappointed to discover that they will have to wait 10 years before receiving the full available subsidies. The reality is that the Turks are in for a bit of a nightmare -a decade of acrimonious, protracted negotiations in advance of which they will have to make enormous concessions, including some that could easily excite the very nationalist-Islamist backlash that Turkey's pro-Europeans seek to forestall by opting for EU membership. The European Commission itself states in its reports that there must be permanent "derogations" on movement of Turkish labour and that Ankara should not be given any structural or agricultural funds...

I would also like to point out an article by Fred Halliday in Open Democracy, as an example of an ineffective argument in favour of Turkey: It targets the easy and "soft" (cultural and historical) arguments against Turkish accession effectively, yet it glosses over the issues of democracy (comparing Berlusconi's getting off on a technicality to systemic torture in Turkish jails isn't really ummm... convincing - and doesn't even touch the economic issues (the cost of Turkish accession to the large European countries) or the issue of "over-representation" (the poorest and newest member of the EU will have the greatest political clout through the European Parliament. Indicative of this (not uncommon lately) line of defence for Turkey is that it mentions in passing that of course Turkey will work towards "creating a reasonable federal solution to the Kurdish question" as if this is not opposed by very powerful segments of the Turkish elites and, quite probably, by a vehement majority inside Turkey! (The author is also impressively off the mark about Cyprus, both historically and politically...)

Friday, December 17, 2004

Why Does No One Care That The World’s Worst Conflict Has Broken Out Again?

/ it's only / africans / ? /
George Monbiot, is among the few noticing an apparently rather uninteresting piece of news:
"...On Sunday the civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), already responsible for 3.8 million deaths, started again. If you missed it, you're in good company.
The Rwandan army appears to have crossed back into north-eastern DRC. Rival factions of the Congolese army - some of them loyal to Rwanda - have started fighting each other. As usual, it's the civilians who are being killed - and raped and tortured and forced to flee into the forest. Last week, before the fighting resumed, the International Rescue Committee reported that over 1000 people a day are still dying from disease and malnutrition caused by the last conflict. Nearly half of them are children under five..."

What was still just a threat a few months ago, is seeming inevitable now, as the situation is getting rapidly out of hand as events unfold.

Again I ask, why does no one care about anything that's happenning in Africa, unless it's part of some agenda? This situation, although of incredible brutality, seems to bother no one. Is this a racism inbuilt in the media, in popular perception, what? Imagine if 3.8 million people were killed in a war anywhere else on the planet, what the coverage would be. Or even whether a war with such a toll would be possible anywhere else on the planet.

Might the blogosphere I wonder, break the pattern and be bothered to give a damn? Because that might - just might - help in turning some attention to the massacre, or making the "international community" a tiny fraction more interested.

On a related note: Africa needs a Marshal Plan.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

The case for Chechnya

/ imperialism / russian /
The Chechen war as an anti-colonial struggle; a very interesting, learned and serious analysis of Chechnya, it's history, the war and western attitudes:

The scale of destruction wrought in Chechnya in the course of the last decade, the scores of thousands of deaths, the continuing savagery of the occupation, all form a standing rebuke to the complacency of Western governments and citizens alike. But the most shameful aspect of both Russian and Western reactions to Chechnya—a mixture of eager complicity and mute acquiescence—is the consistent refusal to countenance the Chechens’ legitimate aspirations to independence. We should have no truck with such evasions. The Chechens are engaged in an anti-colonial struggle comparable to those waged by Europe’s other colonies in Africa or Asia in the last century. They have never accepted foreign dominion—‘no legitimate Chechen authority has ever signed any formal treaty accepting Russian or Soviet authority’—and have repeatedly given democratic approval to the idea of sovereign statehood. The starting point for any discussion should be the fact that they are as entitled to their independence as any other nation.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Ukraine again

/ lesser / evilism /
Chided for my doubts about the situation in the Ukraine by Doug Muir in my previous post about the Orange revolution, I was referred to this Timothy Garton Ash piece on Ukraine, in which he acknowledges the shortcomings of the "pro-Western" candidate and the other doubts that surround him, but nonetheless he sets the unbelievers straight: Yushchenko is still the better option... No! Really? I thought the guy with the dioxin seemed pretty nice on camera! The problem with the whole article was of course that it wasn't really cynical enough (much as the author tried) or bothered to go beyond today... So I had to wait for the above linked article of ex-exile journalist Matt Taibbi in order to be vindicated, by someone who is far more cynical tha I am. He too pretty much agrees that Yu is better than Ya, but points out that this is incidental to the problem, which is of course that one shouldn't really hold one's breath expecting far reaching democratic reforms or even a decline in corruption from either of the two. He also stresses the really annoying part of this whole furore, to me at least (a point I was much less eloquently trying to make earlier) concerning the coverage the whole thing has been receiving:

...This whole debate, it seems to me, is ridiculous.

Of course the U.S. is improperly influencing the domestic politics of places like Ukraine, Georgia and Serbia. It has been shamelessly injecting its proteges in ex-Soviet governments ever since the Soviet Union collapsed, and it has used groups like Freedom House and the NDI and USAID to funnel money to all sorts of unsavory characters. That's why the reaction of certain people familiar with these mechanisms has been to balk at the Orange Revolution—because it's seldom failed to be true that anyone described in the New York Times or other major American dailies as a "pro-Western politician" has ever turned out to be anything other than a scumbag of the highest order.

Hell, just look at this quote from Alessandra Stanley of the Times a few years back:

Under the leadership of President Leonid Kuchma, elected last July, the once isolated and economically ruined Ukraine has turned pro-Western and pro-economic-reform...

Within a few years, Kuchma would be chopping off the heads of journalists, and a few years after that, he'd be stealing elections. Next thing you know, this same pro-Western president is showing up in the news as the "Kremlin puppet," and his successor's opponent is being hailed as the Thomas Jefferson type. It should be noted that Yuschenko's chief pro-Western quality is that he opposes the government of the old pro-Western guy, Kuchma.

Anyone familiar with ex-Soviet politics has seen this script repeated endlessly over the last decade or so. It has always been next to impossible to identify the "pro-Western" politician by his politics alone, as he, too, steals elections (see: Boris Yeltsin's theft of the 1993 referendum), represses the media (Kuchma, lately the bad anti-West guy, beheaded Gongadze; Yeltsin, at the time still the good pro-West guy, whacked Dmitri Kholodov), and commits gargantuan acts of thievery (too numerous on all sides to detail).

Now, let me be clear, at first analysis I'm all for people in the streets - generally it's good. I'm sure that there are Ukrainians who seriously hope and believe that a Yushchenko government will mean the decline of the corruption and authoritarianism that have marked the previous years, and I'd wager that there are not a few Yushchenko supporters that believe that his economic program will make them less poor, or something equally IMHO outlandish. Good for them, and I hope they continue to join demonstrations and protests in the event that their current leadership fails them (which, if it happens of course, will be page 12 news in the same newspapers that have hailed the Orange revolution as a democratic Revelations of sorts). I also genuinely hope that Ukraine will be the exception rather than the rule and that things start looking up for this tortured republic. I really hope I'm being too cynical about it. Yet, I'm sorry, I find both the rhetoric and the expectations unrealistic. I can only hope that the exaggerated emphasis on reform will act as a force to push through some measure of true democratic changes and lead the country, at least, away from the mafioso decapitators and poisoners that seem to dominate its political life. But, people, I have to repeat this: the pro-Western candidate in previous Ukranian elections was Kuchma. Kuchma! The same man described currently as Putin's puppet.

So, what's not to be cynical about here?

Monday, December 13, 2004

Is Turkey the next Argentina?

/ IMF / disaster zones / next? /
Erinc Yeldan a professor in the department of economics at Bilkent University in Ankara and Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research on the prospects for a new IMF powered economic collapse. They're rather pessimistic about the direction the Turkish economy, under the guidance of the IMF, is taking:

"...The Turkish economy grew by an average of 7 percent annually in 2002-3, and is expected to have grown at the same rate in 2004. Inflation, which was at 68.5 percent in 2001, has been brought to a projected 11.4 percent for 2004.

But beneath these numbers, a crisis looms. The expansion has been driven by a huge inflow of capital from abroad, $10.9 billion in 2003 (4.6 percent of the economy) and $12.5 billion in just the first eight months of 2004. These are overwhelmingly speculative, short-term inflows - not direct investment, for example, which would expand the country's productive capacity and create jobs. Foreign direct investment has in fact fallen since 2000. The country is very vulnerable to a serious economic downturn when the inflow of foreign money goes dry.

These kinds of massive speculative capital inflows have a habit of reversing themselves, as they did in Asia in 1997, setting off the Asian financial crisis and a regional depression. In such situations, investors eventually begin to worry about the sustainability of such borrowing and debt. Any number of external events could trigger such an exodus from Turkey...

...As Turkey and the European Union continue talks on the possibility of EU accession, the Turkish government should re-examine its unsustainable economic policies of the last five years. Continuing these IMF-supported policies in hopes of garnering credibility with the EU may be dangerous. Ironically, such policies could lead to an economic failure that would actually doom Turkey's chances for membership."

Forgive me the extended quote, but this paints a picture quite different than the usual triumphalism. Of course what it fails to take into consideration is that, should Turkey receive an accession date, one could easily make the case that even investor flight would be reigned in and the EU economy would act as a safety valve against the Argentinization of the Turkish economy. Note that the way out of an economic disaster is apparently pretty much the opposite of IMF perscriptions, and it remains to be seen whether EU economies can suffer crashes - and what happens if they do.

It could be argued then, that for Turkey the EU accession talks might be far more important economically than politically. Making December 17th even more crucial in the short term...

Friday, December 10, 2004

Turkey, the EU and Cyprus

/ eu / turkey / cyprus /

My humble prediction is that, should Turkey not recognize Cyprus by Dec. 17, Cyprus and (probably) Greece (at the least) will veto any specific date for the beginning of accession negotiations. Although I've been a critic of the Greek Cypriot leadership, it stands to reason, really, that Turkey should at least recognize all the member-states of a union it plans to be part of. I can't imagine how this could be sidestepped at all. I can also foresee that, should Turkey not recognize Cyprus, the Greek government will have a hell of a difficult time not vetoing the accession dates for Turkey, regardless of the current climate of goodwill, which the Turkish military doesn't seem too keen to preserve anyway...

Wednesday, December 8, 2004

Cold fusion reheated

/ herrings / not quite / red /
Turns out that cold fusion is still alive (though hardly kicking) and it's still worth investing money on.

According to the report, the panel was "split approximately evenly" on the question of whether cold experiments were actually producing power in the form of heat. But members agreed that there is not enough evidence to prove that cold fusion has occurred, and they complained that much of the published work was poorly documented...
...Although the reviewers remained sceptical, they were nearly unanimous in their opinion that the energy department should fund well-thought-out proposals for cold fusion.

Regardless... Pons' and Fleischmann's handling of the issue will still remain as an example of how not to announce earth-shattering technological discoveries...

Friday, December 3, 2004

"What the Hague?" - War criminal at the helm in Kosovo?

/ balkans / success stories / war criminals /
With Ramush Haradinaj, a man charged with war crimes and suspected mafioso as Prime Minister, the Kosovar Albanian electorate sent a message of love and reconciliation to the beleaguered Serb minority in the province... finally we've come full circle to the time that the area was under an indicted war criminal's control, haven't we? Of course now it's different, and it represents "democracy at work" according to the United Nations Governor in Kosovo, Soren Jessen-Petersen. Meanwhile, Serbian President Boris Tadic (who represents the least aggressive position inside Serbia on the issue) made it clear recently, that he is adamant in his opposition to Kosovo's independence.

Speaking of Tadic, apparently just the other day he survived an assassination attempt... um... actually a road rage attack, by a Serbian US embassy employee, whetting the appetite of conspiracy theorists around the Balkans - and indeed the world, despite the obvious lack of motive...