Wednesday, 31 October 2007


Over a million people were evacuated in Southern California last week, but, as this Economist article wisely says, there are simple, 'low-tech' solutions to this mess. Plus, it's a wonder people act so surprised these fires ever happen, considering they are

an integral part of nature, the mechanism by which much of vegetation regenerates itself.
(Remember 2003?) Even the arsons are exaggerated due to the overabundance of tinder.

How do you think Mexico manages their fires? Prescribed burning to prevent massive wildfires (the other 'fire paradox'), along with some common sense measures. Alas, as the article concludes,
everyone seems more concerned about their roses than their roofs.

Sidenote: the sunny state isn't even on the list of worst forest fire areas.

Tuesday, 30 October 2007

Turkish incursion in Iraq

Threats abound as Turkey continues its assault against the Kurdish rebel group, the PKK, based in the relatively stable Kurdish area of Iraq.

Turkey can use different tools for fighting the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, including diplomacy, economic and military means as a last resort, [Turkish Foreign Minister] Babacan told reporters. ``All options are on the table.''
Babacan called for ``friends' support'' against the PKK, a separatist group, designated terrorists by the U.S. and the European Union, fighting Turkey from bases in northern Iraq.

The US cautioned the Turks not to meddle in Iraq's affairs; but Turkey stated it was only defending itself after recent — and long-running — terrorist attacks by the PKK. Iran has used this incident to play the 'good guy' card, championing diplomacy and its neighbor's right to security, while making America look all the more foolish for telling Turkey it cannot fight its own 'war on terror'. Opinions remained mixed. Turkey says that fighting is the only option left — which tells us a lot about the (failure of) diplomacy in matters relating to Iraq, and not just with America's foes (Turkey is an ally).

Monday, 29 October 2007

Bush warns of WWIII with Iran

And he calls Al Gore an alarmist?

New York Times:

Mohamed ElBaradei, the director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, urged the Bush administration on Sunday to soften its statements about Iran while maintaining diplomatic pressure to halt the nuclear enrichment that could lead to the production of a nuclear weapon.

But American lawmakers appearing on Sunday television talk programs were divided on whether efforts to influence Iran had been helped or hindered by the administration’s tough talk.

“We cannot add fuel to the fire,” Dr. ElBaradei said on “Late Edition” on CNN. “I would hope we would stop spinning and hyping the Iranian issue.” He also expressed frustration about the Israeli bombing in September of a building in Syria that analysts say may have contained the beginnings of a North Korean-designed nuclear reactor.

“To bomb first and ask questions later,” he said, was decidedly unhelpful.

In an Oct. 17 news conference, Mr. Bush said President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran had “announced that he wants to destroy Israel,” referring to Mr. Ahmadinejad’s comments that Israel “will disappear soon.” Mr. Bush also said he had “told people that if you’re interested in avoiding World War III, it seems like you ought to be interested in preventing them from having the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon.”

World War III? Bush's rhetoric was extreme enough before, but this is going way too far. Equating the 'Axis of Evil' to the WWII 'Axis' may be a next step for the Bush administration, drawing more parallels between the fake 'war on terror' and the 'Great War', the Second World War. Russia and Iran both pose potential threats, but neither is close to harming America enough to beat the war drum for. Some people, especially Republicans, are beating the same drum as the president, and that is worrying. You'd think they would have learned their lesson in the years of needless war in Iraq since 2003.

Baradei is right: the hype echoing from the White House and elsewhere can only make things worse. As far as scaring Iran into submission, the US has pursued some form of that policy for years, and look how it has worked out. People are as riled against the United States as ever, and an attack against Iran would surely not only be disastrous, but counterproductive. As for Russia, Putin is primarily posturing — although Moscow's partnership with Tehran is worrying.

I don't know about you all, I do not want another war waged against a nation on false premises and neoconservative spin.

Sunday, 28 October 2007

The latest 'crime against humanity': biofuels

Last week, a UN official declared that biofuels result in worse effects than their fossil fuel counterparts.

The UN special rapporteur on the right to food, Jean Ziegler, said he feared biofuels would bring more hunger.

The growth in the production of biofuels has helped to push the price of some crops to record levels.

Mr Ziegler's remarks, made at the UN headquarters in New York, are clearly designed to grab attention.

He complained of an ill-conceived dash to convert foodstuffs such as maize and sugar into fuel, which created a recipe for disaster.

Food price rises

It was, he said, a crime against humanity to divert arable land to the production of crops which are then burned for fuel.

He called for a five-year ban on the practice.

Within that time, according to Mr Ziegler, technological advances would enable the use of agricultural waste, such as corn cobs and banana leaves, rather than crops themselves to produce fuel.

As the world's population grows, and nations develop at record rates, more food and energy is needed. Sadly, many people are too short-sited to see the affects of the use of ethanol and the over-use of other energy sources as counterproductive and harmful. I hope that the ethanol bandwagon crashes soon, because at least here in the United States we are already seeing the negative economic effects of corn biofuels. Bio-waste fuels make far more sense.

Is waiting five years too much to ask? Or is our thirst for energy too great? We still have plenty of oil left, and currently using corn ethanol takes more energy to create than it releases, and is thus neither environmental nor economical. Sadly the politicians in capitols like Washington are all-too-eager to appease the agricultural special interests.

Darfur peace talks, if only...

Peace talks for Sudan's genocide-ravaged Darfur region opened on Saturday in Libya — home to leader Colonel Qaddafi, the dictatorial, pan-African, 'we have no right to intervene in their business'-ist. The Sudanese government pretended that they were the good guy by declaring a ceasefire; many key rebel groups are boycotting the meeting. The government has been both directly and indirectly supporting and encouraging ethnic cleansing in Darfur, while hampering humanitarian efforts there.

A peace deal is vital to the success of UN forces arriving in the region later this year.

Friday, 26 October 2007

Sick planet: the Geo-4 report

Recently, the United Nations released its major Global Environmental Outlook report.

As this BBC News article explains,

Geo-4 covers the whole range of environmental issues, and the links between them.

In these climate-obsessed times, it is often forgotten that issues like forestry, fresh water supplies, agriculture, biodiversity, and the spread of desert land all connect to each other and to climate change.

In the language of James Lovelock's Gaia theory, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports that have punctuated 2007 allowed us to take the planet's temperature; Geo-4 shows us what is going on in the blood supply, the lymph system, the intestines and the immune defences.

Third, it explores the links between social trends and environmental decline in a way that is not often done. Which other body, for example, asks whether the divergence we are seeing in the wealth of the richest and the poorest is good or bad for the environment?

This is a major report that should be brought to the attention of the public. Scientific evidence of our planet's declining state is not some alarmist liberal conspiracy, but a fact-supported plea for action. Often the ones who could take action most easily and effectively are some of the world's most affluent, and thus powerful, people, organizations, and nations, not to mention the big polluters and those who value short-term economic gain over long-term environmental livelihood (which greatly affects economic well-being too, not to mention mere human lives). Let's not value money over the planet that sustains — barely, at this point — our actions.

I hope to talk soon about the GEO report, as I skim it for eco-friendly living ideas (I've decided to move it from Mondays to Fridays). In the environmental complexities of today's world, it's good to look at the big picture.

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

It's UN Day!

Today — 24 October — is the anniversary of the founding of the United Nations in 1945, UN Day.

The UN is an important actor in international affairs. While it has plenty of faults — e.g. corruption, ineffectiveness because of it's too tough not tough enough, lack of agreement among member nations and support from the world's peoples, lack of scope in missions — the United Nations has overall made the world a better and safer place.

Climate change will be its biggest, truly global challenge yet, spanning its political, humanitarian, and scientific (policy) realms. Capturing the hearts and minds of the public while managing bickering nations are among other major, continuing challenges. The organization is dependent on its members. America especially must not lose hope in the organization and it, along with other world nations, should increase funding, which the UN is short of.

Happy 62, UN, hopefully the state of the world will improve in the years to come.

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

A look at 'Islamofascism'

In a recent Slate article, Christopher Hitchens tried his hardest to defend what has so far only served as a term for political — not objective or scholarly — use: 'Islamofascism', a mix of Islam, which some people fear, and fascism, which virtually everyone dislikes (I'd like to think so, at least). The word is a neologism, a pejorative term has taken the political right by storm.

Let's just look at definitions for a minute; maybe the dictionary can help sort this out. The OED defines "Islam" as:

noun 1 the monotheistic religion of the Muslims, regarded by them to have been revealed through Muhammad as the Prophet of Allah. 2 the Muslim world.

and "fascism" as:
noun 1 an authoritarian and nationalistic right-wing system of government. 2 extreme right-wing, authoritarian, or intolerant views or practice.

Adolph Hitler was a fascist; he advocated a specific system of government; Osama Bin Laden leans towards a theocracy following a twisted version of Islam (his terrorist orginization, Al Qaeda, and its followers are but fractured cells of fear- and hate-fueled Muslims who use terrorism to accomplish political and (pseudo-)religious means). But both figures inspire fear and hatred, making 'Islamofascism'. It is more than a stretch to call Al Qaeda fascist. Even the semi-theocracy of Iran probably couldn't be considered fascist.

Fascism is a centralized, authoritarian system of government; fascists are those who advocate such a government. So how are Osama and his crazed followers fascist? 'Islamofacism' is clearly not the right term to describe these terrorists. As despicable as they are, as a whole, the terrorists we are talking about are neither advocating what could be considered fascist governance nor are part of such a government.

The person who claims to have first used the word, Stephen Schwartz, wrote in the Weekly Standard, a conservative American publication, professing to the word's lack of objectivity while explaining it in his terms. Schwartz put the meaning of 'Islamofascism' in clear terms:
In my analysis, as originally put in print directly after the horror of September 11, 2001, Islamofascism refers to use of the faith of Islam as a cover for totalitarian ideology.

Why not just use Islamic extremism, or a more descriptive and accurate term than 'Islamofascism'? Because 'Islamofascism' (yes I will continue to put it in inverted quotes) is yet another political buzzword in the 'war on terror's lingual campaign towards spin supremacy.

There always has to be a 'war on' something. War is an emotionally-evocative and politically-charged word, as is terrorism (see definitions). 'Islamofascism' is yet another way to tie Islamic extremism to the so-called war on terror; it's just another lingual technique with political motives that advocates use to slant the debate (see surge), or as Jack Shafer, also writing in Slate, calls it, 'unspeak'.

US President Bush has used the word to describe Muslim terrorists, which inflamed religious sentiment in areas of the world that often need no more inflammation — i.e. the word was perceived as advocating a 'war on Islam', another reason against its use. In addition, calling the extremists a "fundamentalist empire" as Bush did is entirely misleading. There is no one enemy, despite what the White House would want us to believe. The conservative historian Niall Ferguson has denounced the term as "misleading" because it is meant to connect the "Great War" of WWII with the non-war of the 'war on terrorism'; it is an emotional, feel-good idiom that also serves for political use.

Monday, 22 October 2007

Rise and fall of the European far right

As Latin America has largely taken a turn to the left recently, Europe's right-wing has been on the rise, fueled in part by xenophobia and fear of the "Islomofascism" — a politically-charged, misleading, and ambiguous term which I personally avoid — descending upon their continent.

Good and bad political news came out of Europe over the past few days. The good is that Poland's far-right, nationalist Kaczynski brothers were defeated in the Polish polls by the center-right Civic Platform party. These rightists exploited fears of the EU among other things.

Meanwhile, the racist (xenophobic at the least), far-right Swiss People's Party (SVP) won a plurality in a parliamentary election. Running on an anti-foreigner platform...

the populist campaign was dominated by the single issue of immigration.

His party's election posters featured three white sheep standing on a red and white Swiss national flag kicking a black sheep out of the country. Alongside ran the slogan "More Security!"

How could these maniacs be in control of one-third of Switzerland's federal legislature? Still wondering whether they're anti-everyone-but-white-native-Swiss-people?
The party also wants to enforce a ban on the building of minarets.

Interestingly enough, over one in five Swiss people are foreigners, making this electoral victory even more sad.

Saturday, 20 October 2007

Iran's diplomatic voice of moderation silenced

One semi-moderate hardliner (Larijani) is dismissed as another ultra-hardliner (Pres. Ahmadinejad) stands

Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, viewed by the West as a moderating influence in Tehran, resigned before crucial talks with Europe this week over Iran’s nuclear program, signaling that officials here may have closed the door to any possible negotiated settlement in its standoff with the West.

How will the resignation of Larijani affect the already-deadlocked negotiations between Iran and the West over its 'peaceful' — which UN Security Council veto-welder Russia troublingly believes it is — nuclear program. Will the Islamic state become more radical — and rogue?

A BBC News reader summed this all up best: "The Iranian president obviously feel[s] he holds the all the aces". When — if ever — will the ayatollah step in to help relieve the massive tension between Iran and the international community, as he has before (e.g. with the recent temporary release of a jailed scholar)? Has the tipping point for US-Iran relations come to pass, meaning a potentially successful one-on-one meeting is not a possibility whatsoever? (Stubbornness on both sides is to blame.)

Iran has been offered a huge amount of incentives by American and European diplomats; it has played games and refused to take the rational action. Ahmadinejad is probbaly just waiting out for a sweeter deal, as diplomacy is currently at a virtual standstill, similar to the one worked out with North Korea. But whereas N Korea had only nukes, Iran, which is still in the early stages of nuclear development, has plenty of something everyone wants: oil.

What if the Nazis had won WWII?

Oftentimes when reading about World War II, I ask myself, 'What if Hitler would have successfully conquered Europe?' This map and explanation provide an answer — one of many — to that fascinating 'what if?'.

Friday, 19 October 2007

Eco-friendly living tip: cease the beef

Eight years ago, general science magazine New Scientist said this:

IT IS hard to measure the methane in a cow's farts. But Dieter Ehhalt has made an estimate. It is hardly an easy task to count how many cattle there are in the world. But the West German chemist has tried to do that too. Ehhalt's answers are, respectively, 200 grams per day and 1300 million. Together, they suggest that the world's cattle emit into the atmosphere approaching 100 million tonnes of methane each year, enough to warm up the planet.

Today global warming is all-the-more pressing. CO2 may be the prime culprit in the eyes of environmental do-gooders, but methane is also a factor in the human-encouraged changing in our planet's climate. It is amazing to look back nearly a decade ago and see that nobody but 'environmentalist nuts' — as they are so often stereotyped in mainstream culture — heeded the warnings of scientists; now the general public is becoming more aware. Still, we see some hardly scientific denials every now and then, and many are still not even pretending to take action, but the thought of the precious polar bear dying out and the Manhattan of 2020 being a tourist spot for scuba divers has changed some minds. Where am I going with this? Well the topic of that old news article is the "Earth-friendly living tip of the week", albeit a few days late — methane, in specific the methane emitted from cows.

Why red meat isn't bad just for your heart...
Cows not only require a huge amount of food and water, considering especially how much food they provide, but also produce large amounts of methane, a key and harmful greenhouse gas that plays a role in global warming. Thus beef consumption is far from a good thing for the Earth.

As was written in the Christian Science Monitor,
American meat eaters are responsible for 1.5 more tons of carbon dioxide per person than vegetarians every year. ... Livestock are responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse-gas emissions as measured in carbon dioxide equivalent, reports the FAO. This includes 9 percent of all CO2 emissions, 37 percent of methane, and 65 percent of nitrous oxide. Altogether, that's more than the emissions caused by transportation.

Beef is a big part of the livestock problem; a study earlier this year reported that
A kilogram of beef is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions and other pollution than driving for 3 hours while leaving all the lights on back home.

It can seem daunting that the steak you so enjoy is just as bad for the planet as a long drive in a SUV or 4X4, but it's about true. I'm one of those people who would love to be a vegetarian but just loves meat too much to kick the habit. However, I have lowered my beef intake, especially recently. This is more of a sacrifice than shutting off your computer or television, or changing a few light-bulbs; nonetheless it's something to consider. Lowering beef consumption is better for both health and environment, it seems.

Note: Usually I do the Earth-friendly living tip of the week on Mondays. Since this week has been a bit hectic, it's being done today instead.

Wednesday, 17 October 2007


New posts coming later this week.

I leave for China on 2 November.

More soon...

Monday, 15 October 2007

Is now the time for a Palestinian state?

Even as political tensions rise and the situation on the ground worsens, America seems to (finally) be pushing for an independent Palestinian state, if just in foreign policy rhetoric.

"Frankly it is time for the establishment of a Palestinian state," Ms Rice told reporters in a news conference which she held with the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.

One unique thing about the Bush administration is that it has always expressed a wish for a Palestinian state, something even the Clinton-led White House wasn't willing to do in public. Rice's wish for a sovereign state conflicts with the very slanted policy the US has held in favor of Israel, especially under President Bush.

Israel has attacked Syria; Hamas has offered to at least try to kiss and half-heartedly make up with its rival Fatah — news, both good and bad, has been coming out of this area of the Middle East. In the midst of all of it, I am frankly surprised to hear such a bold, but not bad, statement from the American secretary of state.

Rice hopes for a diplomatic meeting between Israeli and Palestinian leaders on American turf. I don't know what to make of that idea. On one hand, there is a desperate need for a peace settlement that results from concessions from both sides. One the other hand, assuming the proposed talks fail is this just an excuse for the US to say, 'Well, we gave it a try'? Will important Palestinian factions be kept out of the meeting, thus further alienating many and helping the radicals? I neither want to be too optimistic nor too pessimistic. United States isn't the only external party in this diplomatic picture: the Quartet, of which it is a member, has acted incorrectly at the wrong times — where is it when it's most needed and why can countries not be more flexible?

This summer the major unresolved issue (besides security) that prevented any progress between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators was refugees; now it looks like land rights in Jerusalem, a holy city to both Muslims and Jews, is a central focus.

It is believable that the White House wants a Palestinian state; I do not doubt that their intentions are good. But after years of poor policy under this president and others, I do not see what can change at this point as long as America has a role in the change. It is time for a Palestinian state; but shouldn't stability and agreement on the basic issues come first?

Sunday, 14 October 2007

Blog Action Day + Bush's inept global warming policy

Today is Blog Action Day, a day for bloggers to focus on the pressing issue of the environment.

Bloggers Unite - Blog Action Day

Tomorrow, as usual, I will do an "Earth-friendly living tip of the week"; but today I will focus on the political, as opposed to practical, side of global warming...

Mr. President, define 'flexible'
At his own climate change meeting a couple of weeks ago, President Bush stated a vague plan that is far from a compromise with even the moderates on the global warming issue. The American president's biggest step to meeting in the middle with the rational people who believe in scientific data instead of what lobbyists and pastors tell them — and this should be an indicator of not only how stubborn this man and his administration are, but how blind their policy is — was speaking of 'flexible' (i.e. industry-written) greenhouse gas targets, which mean nothing. Bush is sticking with White House policy of denying global warming and the human impact on the earth, and occasionally making a side-comment on how America shouldn't have to save the world if no one else will. (Perhaps the last thing he wanted to do was start a scientific debate against him, but that's what happened.)

Mr Bush stressed that combating climate change should not damage the economy.

And he again hinted that the US would not commit itself to mandatory CO2 cuts.

A few points on President George Bush's climate change policy:
  • Bush doesn't to justice to the climate change issue;
  • He pussyfoots the important issue of global greenhouse gas caps;
  • He is trying to appear somewhat eco-friendly to an increasingly aware American and global audience

    Bush does know that global warming will hurt the economy more in the long run than can even be imagined now, right? The costs will be much greater the longer America and the world wait to take action. It's amazing, but not altogether surprising, that such a person of power can value money, an artificial human creation, over nature, a target of man's massive destructive powers.

    Pundits have asked if Bush's latest environmental moves are stunts or real, albeit very small, progress; for now I'm erring on the side of the former.

  • Saturday, 13 October 2007

    Dreary Burmese days

    China may have finally joined much of the world in condemning Burma's brutal regime for its recent actions, but the move is too little, too late. Is most hope already lost for the pro-democracy movement in the nation also known as Myanmar?

    Following protests by monks and others, the military government jailed many religious figures and participants in the uprising. Now, nearly all major democracy activists have been arrested. Virtually no progress has been made in the area of human rights.

    Sadly, it seems that mass protests don't always spark revolution, or even minor political change; but, if the protests are large enough, they do alert the world to the cause of the protesters. Protests can also be countered by pro-government rallies — there was a government-created rally held earlier today, in which tens of thousands participated.

    Meanwhile, on the diplomatic front, the special UN envoy to Burma, Ibrahim Gambari, who visited Burma after protests heated up in September, is due to visit the country later this year. The nation's rich natural resources, especially its energy deposits, has allowed it to escape much pressure from international behemoths like China and India. The ASEAN bloc has been overly lax in its condemnation of the military junta, just as south African nations haven't put enough pressure on the deplorable state of Zimbabwe. The least that can be done internationally is ceasing the selling of arms to the nation.

    Friday, 12 October 2007

    An editorial cartoon is worth an entire blog post!

    This editorial cartoon about sums up my feelings on the congressional Democrats' amazing lack of guts and logic the case of their rolling over for the Bush administration and (mostly) agreeing with its horrendous NSA domestic wiretapping program.

    Thursday, 11 October 2007

    Some interesting 'Weekly Review' extracts

    One of my favorite news features is Harper's Weekly Review...

    In Iowa, Republican presidential candidate Fred Thompson continued to attest to the existence of WMDs in Iraq. ... Thompson ended his speech
    by asking for applause.

    And this is one of the frontrunners? Number one, nobody knows much about him (which is partially why he is so popular); number two his policies are not only week, but, as even conservative columnist David Brooks admitted, his speeches are really, really boring. I guess the MSM missed the above tidbit (?).

    In England, American gray squirrels were bullying diminutive, mild-mannered indigenous red squirrels.

    How telling.

    American pastors were luring teenage boys to church by installing large-screen game consoles equipped for group sessions of the video game "Halo." Responding to concerns that the explicit and realistic violence in "Halo" is at odds with Christian values, Gregg Barbour, a youth minister in Colorado, stated, "We want to make it hard for teenagers to go to hell."

    I don't exactly understand their reasoning, which, I guess, speaks to their level of faith.

    The Middlebury Institute, a liberal advocacy group opposing the Iraq War, and the League of the South, which displays a Confederate battle flag on its banner, met in Tennessee to discuss their shared goal of secession from the Union.

    Don't you love it when opposite sides come together because of a common cause?

    I regret the lack of posts these past couple of days; I blame the fantastic band Radiohead for releasing such an addictive album as In Rainbows (review and musical recap coming soon).

    Tuesday, 9 October 2007

    Another letdown for civil liberties... thanks to the Democrats?

    So they fight a largely (purely for some) symbolic, somewhat shallow battle over Iraq, but don't bother to stand up to the Bush administration when American civil liberties are threatened? Whose side are the Democrats on? Dems still seem to be worried more about appearing 'soft' on fighting terror than concerns of basic American freedoms.

    Only if one views the 'war on terrorism' as a real war that is serious enough that the US's fighting in it is allowed to chip away at the bedrock of American liberty (i.e. the Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution) can one truly not see how troubling the wiretapping expansion promoted by both political parties is.

    From today's New York Times:

    Two months after insisting that they would roll back broad eavesdropping powers won by the Bush administration, Democrats in Congress appear ready to make concessions that could extend some crucial powers given to the National Security Agency.

    Administration officials say they are confident they will win approval of the broadened authority that they secured temporarily in August as Congress rushed toward recess. Some Democratic officials concede that they may not come up with enough votes to stop approval.

    As the debate over the eavesdropping powers of the National Security Agency begins anew this week, the emerging measures reflect the reality confronting the Democrats.

    Although willing to oppose the White House on the Iraq war, they remain nervous that they will be called soft on terrorism if they insist on strict curbs on gathering intelligence.

    A Democratic bill to be proposed on Tuesday in the House would maintain for several years the type of broad, blanket authority for N.S.A. eavesdropping that the administration secured in August for six months.

    Because of their fear of being called wimps in the 'war on terrorism', the Democrats are once again caving into supporting a horrible Bush administration program (this same thing happened last summer too with the approval of the then-illegal White House NSA spying program). Great job guys; you've really served the people who gave you the majority in both houses of Congress well!

    It's time for oversight over the Bush administration; it's time for government contractors in Iraq as well as at home to admit and rectify their misdeeds; it's time for the US to admit errors and mistakes too; it's time for the transparency a working liberal democracy requires to shine through this White House, this Congress, and the courts. If only one of the two major political parties would fight for what the United States needs.

    Monday, 8 October 2007

    Earth-friendly living tip of the week: no standby

    Today I'm starting a new, regular In Perspective feature: weekly Earth-friendly living tips. Having already talked about CFL (swirly florescent) light bulbs, this week I will focus on turning off appliances.

    When you turn of your television, for example, chances are it is not actually turning off. Because of TV components, it takes a few seconds for the tube to power up. So manufactures figured out a way to make TVs (etc.) turn on faster: standby. When your television is on standby, it is still using up a decent about of energy — without being used. It is best to have all large or major appliances — computers, TVs, etc. — hooked up to a power strip.

    What I do every night or once I am finished watching television for a while is turn off that strip in order to conserve energy. I do the same with my computers and other electronic devices it is convenient to unplug. In Europe, more is being done to get rid of standby (many in the UK have the option of using a standby button). However, in America most people don't even know this feature exists; people think that when they turn their TV "Off" it is actually off. As the TerraPass blog says:

    [According to a CNET energy usage report for TVs] the average TV...has a standby mode that consumes 6.5% of the electricity used in full-power mode.

    6.5% might not sound like very much, but even in the average US household (where the TV is on for a staggering 8 hours a day) the standby mode is responsible for 13% of the TV’s energy consumption.

    And an aforelinked BBC article states:
    On average a traditional cathode ray tube (CRT) television set uses 100 watts of power when in use and about two watts on standby.

    Newer LCD and plasma screens are higher users of energy, with the largest models consuming up to 400 watts when in use and about four watts on standby.

    Unplugging things like televisions is just one way to reduce your carbon footprint — and it isn't that hard to flip a switch or unplug a device. Be sure to unplug chargers and other devices not in use; all these things add up, and not just on your electric bill! This week's tip helps both save you money as well as reducing your dent in the environment and, ultimately, our planet's dangerous turn towards global warming.

    Saturday, 6 October 2007

    Musharraf 'wins' one-man election

    Gen. Pervez Musharraf has apparantly won Pakistan's presidential election, although, as usual in a controversial way. Even if this wasn't a one-man race, I doubt the election would be fair, considering the precedent as well as Musharraf's lack of respect for the democratic process.


    President Pervez Musharraf easily won the presidential election today, but an opposition boycott and pending hearings in the Supreme Court, which still has to decide on his eligibility to stand for election in uniform, left him with an incomplete victory.

    The vote, by national and provincial assemblies, ended up as a one-man race after other candidates withdrew. All opposition parties refused to take part and only legislators from the ruling coalition, plus a few independents voted.
    General Musharraf had been widely expected to win the vote because the government coalition holds a majority in all but one provincial assembly.

    Pakistan's president has been facing many troubles lately, not least the failed attempt at power sharing with ex-PM Bhutto or the rise of extremism since his authoritarianism has pushed out the moderates. Engineering an election doesn't seem to be one of Musharraf's problems. He has defied the courts, ran in uniform, and always makes sure the vote goes his way (in this case, a boycott by the opposition led to the lack of, well, opposition). I wonder what the Supreme Court will say on this issue. More importantly, will Musharraf follow their decision, and what consequences lie ahead for Pakistan's people? Will 'war on terror' ally America recognize this election for the undemocratic sham it is, or will it turn (another) blind eye?

    Thursday, 4 October 2007

    Diplomatic progress with North Korea

    North Korea has vowed to disable much of its controversial nuclear program following intense diplomatic work over the past few months.

    North Korea has agreed to declare all its nuclear programmes and disable its main atomic reactor by the end of the year under US supervision, according to a six-nation agreement released Wednesday.

    The deal -- the second phase of a long-running process aimed at ending the North's atomic weapons drive -- was immediately welcomed by US President George W. Bush, as well as other six-party participants Japan and South Korea.

    UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who is South Korean, also welcomed the move and appealed to all the parties concerned "to step up their work for denuclearisation".

    The United States recently pledged millions in food aid to the country, and last summer a main nuclear reactor was shut down, albeit not permanently. However, as we are dealing with often-deceptive North Korea, it's important not to become too happy about this perceived progress until the 'denuclearisation' is indeed accomplished. Diplomacy looks to be on the right track with North Korea, with even the US helping it along.

    Even though skepticism should not be ceased at North Korea's motives, this latest move is one of great importance. Not only has North Korea made progress, but so have China and America, who have both learnt valuable lessons from this very long N Korea nuclear series. While it is not over yet, it is remarkable how progress was made so fast, and how far we are from one year ago. The most important thing in diplomacy, besides being open, diplomatic, and fair, is persistence. The New York Times praised the six-party diplomacy that resulted in the North Korean deal in an editorial today.

    From the beginning, the North Koreans wanted two things from their nuclear program: not weapons to threaten the world or for power purposes, but money and financial incentives and leverage for getting those kinds of gains. Iran will want at least just as sweet a deal. Given its meddling in other foreign affairs, it will want to grandstand for as long as possible before it level-headidly sits down to the negotiating table. Oddly enough, the US will do roughly the same thing. But instead of painting itself as the best as Iran does, it will try to paint Iran in a negative light, and sound objective doing so (something which the Iranian hard-liners cannot do well).

    However, people are wondering whether the same slow diplomacy that worked with North Korea will work with Iran in solving its nuclear weapons dispute. Still, a majority of experts believe that North Korea with nukes is far more dangerous than Iran, given its great poverty and lack of economic wealth (whereas Iran has oil); in addition, its regime is even more rogue and might be more open with giving nuclear information and technology to terrorists than even the notoriously terrorist-supporting Iran. North Korea is also far more advanced in its nuclear development than Iran.

    The Korean peninsula was also in the news due to a much-awaited meeting between the leaders of North and South Korea. The meeting resulted in an agreement of mutual peace and cooperation today, which is probably more than most analysts were expecting (many viewed the meeting to be purely symbolic and more of a help to North Korea's dictator Kim Jong-il than South Korea's president Roh Moo-hyun).

    A year ago North Korea was acting as rebellious and dangerous as ever, testing missiles and touting its nukes. Today, the situation has changed dramatically. China's use of influence and America's new-found diplomatic openness contributed to the successes of today. But the nuclear game with North Korea is not over yet.

    Wednesday, 3 October 2007

    Bush veto kills public health win-win

    Bush sinks the SCHIP
    Today, President George Bush (mis)used his veto power the fourth time in a move that hurts the health of American children as it helps the tobacco industry (see other bad Bush vetoes here). He received swift backlash for the move. The bill had many supports on both sides of the aisle in Congress. The only party I can think of who really wins from this veto is the tobacco lobby.

    State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) would provide government-subsudized health insurance to children whose parents are not poor enough to be eligible for Medicaid, but do not have enough money to provide healthcare for their children. Like any other similar program, SCHIP could be taken advantage of, but the pros outweigh the cons. The vast majority of people polled (over 70%) in a CNN poll, as well as in a Washington Post/ABC poll, were in favor of a government-sponsored move that would raise funding by $35 billion to insure around 10 million kids by raising tobacco taxes (win-win for public health!).

    Monday, 1 October 2007

    US Africom: pros and cons

    America is trying to increase its presence in Africa, expanding plans recently for an African command (no African nation has yet offered to serve as the base country for this command). In one sense, this is a further extension of American economic interests; in another, it builds on some of the good work the US is doing in Africa, apart from supplying aid. The bad side is a sort of neo-imperialism and self-interested policing, the good side of this Africom has its strengths too.

    The Pentagon says Africom will allow the US to have a more integrated and effective approach to the continent.

    This is a significant re-ordering of the US military, and an increased interest that can be explained in three words - oil, terrorism and instability.

    As the article also states, the United States gets around one-tenth of its oil from the African continent. We have seen China increasingly make friends in the region, utilizing soft power and economic ties in a diplomatic feat that will surely prove worth the energy investment.

    Where stability cannot be kept with existing forces, the already-overextended American military will step in to protect its own interests? I can see how that might not ring well with African leaders.

    In Djibouti, Kenya, and other nations, the US military is working on programs to help the civilians there, which kills two birds with one stone (Africa Command), if all goes well. Programs like that help the American image and fend of support for terror as well as helping people in a humanitarian sense. There is plenty of controversy over American military bases in African nations, and perhaps it verges on imperial hegemony. But even though it can hurt the US's image and make it seem more like a militaristic, imperial power the operations seem to quell some terrorism while aiding the local population, thus lowering the chance of public support for groups like Al Qaeda. As long as the local government agrees and the US helps the people there, the pros seem to outweigh the cons.

    The effort to, say, build schools and irrigation systems in East Africa (and elsewhere) is one positive military effort that deserves much more coverage in the press. Not as propaganda or pro-American patriotic support pieces, but as an expose of how the United States really is working in some places to make the world a better and more secure place. That darn civil war in Iraq is such a news hog. Humanitarian work, gaining the hearts and minds of civilians, should be a higher priority in the fight against terrorism than brute, imperial-like military force.

    Somalia has been a disaster. Supporting terrorists to fight other terrorists isn't a good idea; nor is funding a government that is exacting genocide (although America has now severed ties with Sudan); or breaking international restrictions to fund a failed fight against terrorists and Islamic radicals. But building schools for the poor and uneducated, especially those who may fall susceptible to Islamic extremists? Win for the humanitarians, win for national security and wider stability. But will Africom meet the same fate due to lack of public support as other American operations? Good PR is of the essence, as are positive actions.

    Happy first of October.