Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Life saver

/ t-shirts / useful /
Strongly recommended for Greeks and various other darkish-but-not-quite-south-asian members of the "potential terrorist" class living in London, as London police chief Mr. Ian Blair makes the point* that he's willing to sacrifice hundreds of innocents to prevent the terrorists blowing up, well, hundreds of innocents... Found via the Greek blogosphere** which is still incredulous that such a thing could happen in London.

* "... He said the death of Jean Charles de Menezes was a "tragedy", but admitted more people could be shot as police hunt suspected suicide bombers..."
**in the comments here

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Capital crimes: misdemeanors

/ police state / building /
Now pay attention to this fact from the BBC:
"The police deployment of firearms is governed by a manual published by the Association of Police Officers, last revised in February 2005.

It is not true to say that police officers must identify themselves or shout a warning when confronting a suspect believed to pose a grave and imminent threat.

The manual says that that procedure 'should be considered' but recognises that the key aim of an operation is to 'identify, locate, contain and neutralise' the threat posed."

The story of how the Brazilian citizen was publicly executed by a group of armed plainclothes policemen is still somewhat hazy, yet as evidence gathers two things seem certain:
1. de Menezes, the Brazilian victim had nothing to do with islamists, suicide bombers or anything else.
2. The police followed the new procedure: they shot at will when they saw someone suspicious. The problem isn't with the policemen themselves (mainly). It's with their orders.

Now all this was done under Operation Kratos (Kratos meaning State in Greek, how's that for an ominous name?) according to the Guardian:
A senior Metropolitan police source with knowledge of firearms procedures said of the shooting at Stockwell: "This was an intelligence led operation, within the parameters of Kratos." Officially the Met will not talk about Kratos, but the tactics have been in place for a year and were developed after British officers learnt from their Israeli counterparts how best to tackle suicide bombers.

So these were plans that were being prepared a year ago and are based on Israeli tactics, I guess that's because the IDF's methods have proved so bleeding efficient and are exemplary in their consideration of civil liberties.

As I mentioned over at MeFi, there's a very simple problem with the idea of the police shooting anyone who looks suspicious with no warning at all: there are vastly more suspicious looking people everyday in the tube than there are suicide bombers. So it's fair to surmise that a rather longish trail of dead innocents will be accumulate before a single suicide bomber is brought down, especially given the fact that, come winter, a vest loaded with explosives can be fashionably and inconspicuously worn by a suicide bomber under, say, a business suit and a trenchcoat, while various sartorially challenged passersby are mowed down all around him.

Thus, eventually, the real danger for tube passengers would come from trigger-happy cops much more than from suicide bombers.

Anyway the fact that the current British government has pursued policies (under Blunkett) that seem to want to establish a surveillance dystopia, with very limited civil rights and an all powerful police, along with the fact that the bloody bastards were preparing this already a year ago, makes me very skeptical as to whether these measures' primary goal is to protect Londoners form suicide bombers (which is rather unlikely BTW) or to establish the foundations of a police state - a model to be exported to the continent I'm afraid. Needless to say that a state in which the police officers have a license to kill based on their mere suspicion (thus becoming judge, jury and executioners) should be described as a very problematic sort of democracy.

On the other hand one could also argue that putting a whole community's lives under the discretion of the police, is a sure way to make recruiting for Al Qaeda easier. Which apparently is quite OK, since it's becoming more and more obvious that the terrorists are exactly what the doctor ordered to implement the remilitarization of foreign policy and give an alibi to the new imperial grab.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Basra Strikes: The Iraqi Oil Workers Union

/ oil / workers / resist /
"15,000 Southern Oil Company workers from the General Union of Oil Employees - Iraq's largest independent union - began a 24-hour strike today, cutting most oil exports from the south of Iraq.

The strike is in support of demands made by Basra Governor Mohammad al-Waili - reflective of the wishes of the vast majority of Basra's residents - for a higher percentage of Southern oil revenue to be ploughed back into Basra's local economy. Basra's sewage system, electricity grid and medical services are still damaged and running at limited capacity. Despite being the capital of Iraq's oil reserves, the governorate is still struggling with entrenched poverty, malnutrition and an unemployment rate of 40%"

The Basra Oil Workers are striking demanding an end to the plunder brought by the occupation regime and its collaborators. They have been on the record opposing the US occupation and requesting immediate withdrawal of occpation troops:

...We lived through dark days under Saddam Hussein's dictatorship. When the regime fell, people wanted a new life: a life without shackles and terror; a life where we could rebuild our country and enjoy its natural wealth. Instead, our communities have been attacked with chemicals and cluster bombs, and our people tortured, raped and killed in our homes.

Saddam's secret police used to creep over the roofs into our homes at night; occupation troops now break down our doors in broad daylight. The media do not show even a fraction of the devastation that has engulfed Iraq. Journalists who dare to report the truth of what is happening have been kidnapped by terrorists. This serves the agenda of the occupation, which aims to eliminate witnesses to its crimes.

Workers in Iraq's southern oilfields began organising soon after British occupying forces invaded Basra. We founded our union, the Southern Oil Company Union, just 11 days after the fall of Baghdad in April 2003. When the occupation troops stood back and allowed Basra's hospitals, universities and public services to be burned and looted, while they defended only the oil ministry and oilfields, we knew we were dealing with a brutal force prepared to impose its will without regard for human suffering. From the beginning, we were left in no doubt that the US and its allies had come to take control of our oil resources...

Their communiqués and opinions can be found listed in the Basra Oil Workers weblog.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Not all Roses...

/ revolutions / revisited /
Neal Ascherson reports from Georgia about the "Rose revolution's" rather unimpressive performance, and the less than democratic wrokings of the Saakashvili government. Tellingly he mentions in passing that:

Those who work in television... say that restrictions on reporting have become tighter than they were under the Eduard Shevardnadze regime which Misha overthrew.

This is a picture consistent with what Liz Fuller reports in RFE/RL, in an article titled "Is Georgia Becoming Progressively Less Democratic?" where she mentions that "In a lengthy and detailed analysis of the aftermath of the 2003 Rose Revolution published in December, one London-based analyst suggested that the transition from Eduard Shevardnadze to Mikheil Saakashvili (who was elected president in early January 2004 with 96 percent of the vote) was one from 'democracy without democrats' to 'democrats without democracy.'"

Indeed it is possibly indicative that in a story related to the bizarre sounding power reform in Georgia, it is mentioned that:

"On June 6, an angry crowd of around 250 people broke into the provincial government building, demanding a meeting with the governor to protest against the new system. A meeting was granted the next day, but the governor, Giorgy Khachidze, was unsympathetic.

'I will not tolerate disorder even if the whole district comes to my door, men, women and children. If the police and I cannot restore order, we will call in the military,' he said."

The prospect of the army "restoring order" in demonstrations concerning electricity price hikes, is more reminiscent of Latin America in the 1980s obviously, rather than Western European democracies (although I have a dark presentiment that I'll live to see the day where this might change)...

The Orange Revolution seems to be running into obstacles as well, mostly economic, but issues of double standards in tackiling corruption and of political inaction are also apparent.

Yet the legacy of the revolutions (such as they were) is such that one can hope that popular reaction might possibly be now a permanent democratizing option. Once people have been on the streets and tasted victory, their passivity can no longer be taken for granted. As Victor over at Apostate Windbag pointed out a few months ago, like McNuggets, McRevolutions may also leave an unwanted aftertaste.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Africa: a pretty clear message

/ hypocrisy / spectacular /
Five African football teams all set to travel to the UK on Monday 19 July take part in the Homeless World Cup, the global street soccer tournament kicking off global poverty, have been refused entry to the UK by the British government. Just days before they were due to travel to Edinburgh for the event, entry is refused on the basis that they do not have sufficient funds to support themselves whilst visiting the UK.

As tournament director Mel Young pointed out:

"To deny homeless people access to the UK on the basis that they are too poor is ridiculous."

Mr Young said the controversy "raises some serious questions" about the government's pledges to fight poverty in Africa.

The mind boggles...

Friday, July 15, 2005

Outings R U.S.?

/ cockups / breathtaking /
This is a link to an astonishing story brilliantly pieced together by Dunvegan in Metafilter. It suggests that the London bombings were a long term result of a, seemingly inexplicable, outing of a Al Qaeda mole/double agent. If this isn't conspiracy, it's blatant idiocy.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Central Asia: Geostrategic tremors

/ games / great /
The Asia Times report on a conference that didn't quite make the news:
"Overshadowed in the Western press by the Group of Eight summit of leading industrialized nations and the complications to it caused by the London transit bombings, another summit - the July 5 meetings in Astana, Kazakhstan of the heads of government of the six members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) - promised to have greater geostrategic significance than the more widely reported events.

Created with its present membership of China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan in 2001, the origins of the SCO date to 1996 when Beijing initiated the Shanghai Five, which included all the current SCO members except for Uzbekistan. The official purpose of the alliance, according to its founding declaration, is to form a comprehensive network of cooperation among the member states, including military security, economic development, trade and cultural exchange.

Translated into geostrategic terms, the SCO arises from a confluence of interests among the major power centers of China and Russia, and the former Soviet republics of Central Asia, with the exception of Turkmenistan, which pursues a foreign policy of studied neutrality and isolation..."

Among the results: a demand by Kyrgystan and Uzbekistan for a timetable of US base withdrawal.

At the same time economic integration plans are moving ahead and, conceivably, this assessment might not be unrelated.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Eat this or else...

/ sovereignty / redefined /
Apparently making personal decisions about what to eat is not part of Democracy as defined by the WTO and the US government. This is breathtakingly perverse:
"A plan by Cyprus to put genetically modified food on separate supermarket shelves angered the United States on Wednesday, as Washington warned the move could harm bilateral ties.

The U.S. had sent a letter to the Cypriot parliament warning that the move by the European Union country would stigmatise biotech goods and could contravene Cyprus' obligations as a World Trade Organization member, deputies said.

A U.S. diplomat did not deny the existence of the note and said Washington regularly shared views with Cyprus on issues of concern.

Under EU legislation, each state is free to display biotech food as it wishes."

More here...

The catholic church and evolution

/ obscurantism / catholic /
Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, archbishop of Vienna, an important figure in the Catholic church, apparently with the Pope's blessing, undertakes to minimize the previous Pope's timid endorsement of evolutionary theory, by presenting objections to it that most obviously transgress into the realm of the empirical:

Ever since 1996, when Pope John Paul II said that evolution (a term he did not define) was "more than just a hypothesis," defenders of neo-Darwinian dogma have often invoked the supposed acceptance - or at least acquiescence - of the Roman Catholic Church when they defend their theory as somehow compatible with Christian faith.

But this is not true. The Catholic Church, while leaving to science many details about the history of life on earth, proclaims that by the light of reason the human intellect can readily and clearly discern purpose and design in the natural world, including the world of living things.

Evolution in the sense of common ancestry might be true, but evolution in the neo-Darwinian sense - an unguided process of random variation and natural selection - is not. Any system of thought that denies or seeks to explain away the overwhelming evidence for design in biology is ideology, not science.

Note the irony in the last phrase, a highly ideological and dogmatic worldview is contrasted with the opinion of the vast majority of biologists (possibly the consensus among all serious evolutionary biologists), yet it is the scientific view that is deemed "ideology, not science". I'm not sure why this view is considered "neo"-Darwinian. Is it implied that "old" Darwinism left much room for direct divine intervention in the process of evolution? If so this is patently false. By creating this dichotomy Schönborn is trying to portray the current scientific consensus as some sort of divergent ideologically minded sect.

In the NYT (which hosted the original article), Kenneth Miller, a Catholic Evolutionary scientist, explains:

"Unguided," "unplanned," "random" and "natural" are all adjectives that biologists might apply to the process of evolution, said Dr. Kenneth R. Miller, a professor of biology at Brown and a Catholic. But even so, he said, evolution "can fall within God's providential plan." He added: "Science cannot rule it out. Science cannot speak on this."

But this very indirect path of seeing the whole evolutionary history as part of Providence is obviously not enough for the more dogmatic among the Vatican's Guardians of Dogma. Rather, taking a page from modern PR techniques, Sch%C3%B6nborn insists that in denying most of modern evolutionary theory, the church is defending "reason" against those unreasonable scientists.

I'm eagerly awaiting Schönborn's "clarifications" regarding the acceptance of heliocentricism...

Friday, July 8, 2005

...an indiscriminate attempt to slaughter...

/ ... /
Ken Livingston, Mayor of London:

"I want to say one thing specifically to the world today. This was not a terrorist attack against the mighty and the powerful. It was not aimed at Presidents or Prime Ministers. It was aimed at ordinary, working-class Londoners, black and white, Muslim and Christian, Hindu and Jew, young and old. It was an indiscriminate attempt to slaughter, irrespective of any considerations for age, for class, for religion, or whatever.

That isn't an ideology, it isn't even a perverted faith - it is just an indiscriminate attempt at mass murder and we know what the objective is. They seek to divide Londoners. They seek to turn Londoners against each other. I said yesterday to the International Olympic Committee, that the city of London is the greatest in the world, because everybody lives side by side in harmony. Londoners will not be divided by this cowardly attack. They will stand together in solidarity alongside those who have been injured and those who have been bereaved and that is why I'm proud to be the mayor of that city."

Wednesday, July 6, 2005


/ blogging / around /

  • Jesus Lord Almighty! having lived in the American South for a number of years I was well aware of its rather unenviable mass educational situation. Yet this CBC report titled, innocently enough "Toyota to build 100,000 vehicles per year in Woodstock, Ont., starting 2008" is startling in how it.. ummmm... emphasizes these educational issues:
    Ontario workers are well-trained.
    That simple explanation was cited as a main reason why Toyota turned its back on hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies offered from several American states in favour of building a second Ontario plant...
    ..."The level of the workforce in general is so high that the training program you need for people, even for people who have not worked in a Toyota plant before, is minimal compared to what you have to go through in the southeastern United States," said Gerry Fedchun, president of the Automotive Parts Manufacturers' Association, whose members will see increased business with the new plant...
    ...Several U.S. states were reportedly prepared to offer more than double that amount of subsidy. But Fedchun said much of that extra money would have been eaten away by higher training costs than are necessary for the Woodstock project.
    He said Nissan and Honda have encountered difficulties getting new plants up to full production in recent years in Mississippi and Alabama due to an untrained - and often illiterate - workforce. In Alabama, trainers had to use "pictorials" to teach some illiterate workers how to use high-tech plant equipment.

    ... Yes. Picturebooks. The collateral damage of declining educational systems. For good measure the article adds another point, certain to outrage market fundamentalists in the US:

    In addition to lower training costs, Canadian workers are also $4 to $5 cheaper to employ partly thanks to the taxpayer-funded health-care system in Canada, said federal Industry Minister David Emmerson.
    "Most people don't think of our health-care system as being a competitive advantage," he said.

  • A family affair: "A research team at Sonoma State University has recently finished conducting a network analysis of the boards of directors of the ten big media organizations in the US. The team determined that only 118 people comprise the membership on the boards of director of the ten big media giants. This is a small enough group to fit in a moderate size university classroom. These 118 individuals in turn sit on the corporate boards of 288 national and international corporations. In fact, eight out of ten big media giants share common memberships on boards of directors with each other. NBC and the Washington Post both have board members who sit on Coca Cola and J. P. Morgan, while the Tribune Company, The New York Times and Gannett all have members who share a seat on Pepsi. It is kind of like one big happy family of interlocks and shared interests."

  • The "exile" reports on how "kill a NATO soldier" has unleashed American style censorship on the Russian blogosphere which, by the way, is thriving... I note Kirill Pankratov's concluding remarks on censorship:
    ...The censorship case got me thinking. Soviet censorship was like wall or a fence -- visible and imposing, monumentally built but rusting and full of cracks and holes, with most people knowing how to get around it. Putin's censorship is like the leftover rubble -- with pieces of concrete and steel rods lying around, formally non-existent but occasionally making a nuisance. American censorship is different -- it is like a virus which infects the brain from the childhood, all-encompassing but barely visible. It is harder to escape it, but necessary to fight against it.
  • Tuesday, July 5, 2005

    Energy - China's burning ambition

    / china / energetic /

    "The economic miracle that is transforming the world's most populous nation is threatened by energy shortages and rising pollution. It also risks plunging the planet's climate into chaos"... From Nature magazine a report on China's immense energy needs and what they might mean for China and the world:

    China is booming, and its hunger for energy is insatiable. For its people, the dismal air quality across much of the country is a constant reminder of its reliance on coal and other dirty fuels. When Nature visited Beijing to meet the technocrats responsible for China's energy policy, the city was blanketed in acrid smog. After just a few days of stagnant weather, visibility in some districts had dropped to tens of metres. Flights were delayed and the Beijing Environmental Protection Agency advised people to stay indoors. You could almost taste the sulphur in the air.

    The only good news environmentally is that the Chinese government apparently has realized that the best way to reduce energy consumption is by being more efficient and is working toward that goal...

    ...Another thing China is doing to feed its growing domestic demand for energy is going nuclear at a noticeable rate:

    The race to build more plants resumed last year, as China struggled with blackouts amid its worst energy crisis in decades.

    From the highest levels of Chinese government to the technicians running Qinshan and other plants, there is a newfound conviction that nuclear power is the most practical option for reducing the country's reliance on heavily polluting coal-fired power plants.

    "Build Nuclear Power, Enrich the People,'' says a slogan on billboards throughout the sprawling facility, built into a peninsula surrounded by farms and fishing villages.

    China expects the share of its power supplied by nuclear generation to grow to 4 percent by 2020 from 2.3 percent today. To meet that goal, it must build about two new facilities every year.

    In very related news, China's CNOOC bid for Unocal, if it goes through (which is far from certain - although one wonders about the reaction of the freemarketeers if a third country's government blocked the acquisition of a local company by an American corporation) apart from having the effect of semi-nationalizing an American Oil company (albeit by another nation - CNOOC is state owned) certainly signals China's strategic decision to increase control over Asian oil resources - which is what Unocal has to sell since:

    ...Unocal has few strategic oil assets in the United States. The company, based in El Segundo, California, does not have refineries or gasoline stations, having sold them eight years ago. In fact, the real prizes more than half of Unocal's production and reserves that both Chevron and the Chinese are after lie in Asia, particularly in Indonesia and Thailand.

    "The assets involved in the Unocal transaction are not of the scale or geographic location to make them of critical importance to U.S. energy security," said Amy Myers Jaffe, an energy fellow at the James Baker 3rd Institute for Public Policy in Houston. "Many of the important Unocal assets are actually located in Asia, and the energy produced there would never flow to the United States"...

    This is just one of the moves that China is making in the energy scene: as Manas Chakravarty in India's Business Standard writes, while discussing the world competition for resources, it's worth noting that:

    CNOOC'’s bid is the latest in a series of investments made by China aimed at tying up access to oil and gas resources to feed its ravenous energy needs. Here are a few examples of China's global hunt for energy:

    # In Sudan, China is the single largest shareholder in the consortium that dominates the country'’s oil industry

    # In Iran, China has a 50 percent share in the Yadavaran oil field

    # Sinopec has invested $1 billion in a joint venture with Petrobas for the construction of a gas pipeline that will cross the entire length of Brazil

    # China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) , China'’s largest energy company, owns 60 percent of Kazakhstan's Aktobemunigaz, and plans to build a pipeline to move the Kazakh crude into western China.

    ... and that doesn't include the deal between Venezuela and China a few months ago, or Sinopec buying 40% of a huge tar sand field in Western Canada (that's an investment for the future - making oil from tar sands is still very expensive and very dirty BTW).

    All in all between the geostrategic aspect of this and the pollution/global warming effect, it's worth paying close attention - this might be a defining and crucial issue of the 21st century.

    Friday, July 1, 2005

    Carving up the Loot

    / oil / spoils /
    "As the costs of the Iraq occupation spiral, British and American oil companies meet in secret next week to carve up the country's oil reserves for themselves...
    ...The Iraq war has so far cost America and Britain £105billion. But the financial clawback is gathering pace as British and American oil giants work out how to get their hands on the estimated £3trillion worth of oil.

    Executives from BP, Shell, Exxon Mobil and Halliburton, Dick Cheney's old firm, are expected to congregate at the Paddington Hilton for a two-day chinwag with top-level officials from Iraq's oil ministry. The gathering, sponsored by the British Government, is being described as the "premier event" for those with designs on Iraqi oil, and will go ahead despite opposition from Iraqi oil workers, who fear their livelihoods are being flogged to foreigners. The Met will be on hand to secure the venue ahead of the conference.

    "This is a networking opportunity for UK businesses involved in Iraqi oil," explained Dr Hussain Rabia, managing director of the consultancy Entrac Petroleum Ltd. "We have the moral support of the UK government. They're bringing the guys over from Iraq, offering them visas. We expect all the big oil companies to be there," he said..."

    This meetup despite its very low profile (almost conspiratorially off the news), did not manage to go completely unnoticed.

    via διπλωματικός λαθρεπιβάτης [in Greek]