Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Treason is a capital crime, but is it treason?

I am split when it comes to Wikileaks. This has nothing to do with the result of the information being spread, but is rather related to the ways of working. Spreading information is essential in a democracy, thus Wikileaks is doing an important job. Especially if the information is showing governmental or corporate disregard for laws, international treaties or human rights. This is the job of a whistleblower.

However, in getting hold of this information laws are broken. To me this is really the same as the traditional espionage between nations or corporations. The only difference is that there is no clear entity in the receiving end, instead there is the general public.

What we have here is then a collision between the whistleblower act and treason/espionage. 

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Tuesday, 23 November 2010

War? Again? Still?

The Korean peninsula is yet again in a state of high tension. The two Korean nations are still formally at war since the Korean war and since then there has been numerous incidents, for example a South Korean ship was likely sunk by a North Korean torpedo. Now the North Korean army is firing grenades at the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong; several houses are burning, there have been several injuries, casualties are so far unknown. Yeonpyeong is located close to the disputed border between the nations. 

So where is all this going? Can we expect a full scale war?
Without underestimating the regime in Pyongyang, I think it is unlikely. I think there may be some skirmishes along the border and some possible retaliation. But mostly it will probably be handled on a diplomatic scale, and results will probably be limited. The North Korean army is large, but not most likely not as well equiped as the armies that would be facing them in a potential war. The USA and all western nations would be right behind South Korea in such a war, what is interesting is what stance China would take. Perhaps China could be a key player in calming the situation down. China is North Koreas largest trade partner by far and is giving the regime massive support, how long will the communist neighbours keep this up.

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Friday, 19 November 2010

Star Wars II

In the 1980's the US Department of Defense, under president Reagan, launched the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), more commonly known as Star Wars. The goal was to set up a defense against (nuclear) missiles based on directed energy weapons, for example lasers. The term Star Wars also refers to the ambition to have it based in space or at least high up in the sky. This programme was however ridiculously expensive and never finalised, in 1993 it was abandoned. Today there are ground-based anti-missile missiles in use. The US has such installations in Europe, which has angered their former Cold war enemy Russia. It has been considered a shift in the power balance. Now discussions are underway to expand this programme and cooperation between Europe and the US is set to increase. These deepened ties are somehow considered a threat by Russia, in the sense that Europe is clearly deepening its ties with USA and in doing so alienating Russia. 

Showing that this is not primarily a guard against Russia, NATO has now invited Russian leaders to talks about cooperation and some believe Russia may also be included in the missile shield. However, the Russian people seem to be reluctant to cooperate with NATO, their former enemy. This cooperation seem a bit doubtful in days where Russian nationalism is growing and the leading team with Medvedev and Putin turn away from democracy and seem determined to regain the old glory, in various ways.

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Tuesday, 16 November 2010


The earthquake in Haiti devastated the already poor country. Now since October a cholera epidemic is spreading in the temporary camps. So far over 900 have died from the epidemic and over 15 000 have been infected. Cholera spreads easily under these conditions and personal hygiene is essential to minimise spreading.
What is even more tragic is the riots caused by rumours that the cholera was spread to Haiti by Nepalese UN personnel. These rumours have now been confirmed. The riots have killed 2 persons and made work very hard for UN workers, making it worse for everybody. Apparently the riots have been started by Guy Philippe, a well-known Haitian druglord. For some reason he believes he has something to gain from this, perhaps weakening the government to gain power.

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Hunting the elusive God particle

Some possible traces of the elusive Higgs boson has been found, after collision between two protons the traces of two Z-particles were found, that in turn could be the remains of a Higgs boson. This is nowhere near conclusive evidence that the particle even exists, as Z-particles can be found after proton collisions without them being a Higgs boson first. The Higgs boson is the only missing particle in the Standard model of particle physics, thus finding it would help solve some inconsistencies in the model. The Higgs boson is thought to be the mediator of mass, as the photon is the mediator of electromagnetism.

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Monday, 15 November 2010

Food and weather

Throughout history we have been highly dependent on the weather for our supply of food. Many civilizations has gone under due to drought, bad harvests and so forth; basically hungry people will revolt, move our at least demand answers from their leaders. This is still true, especially in developing countries. Technology has helped us decrease this dependence to some extent, but it still exists.

Today bad weather makes the prices for grain and rice increase drastically, forcing governments to sell subsidised rice and grains to the citizens to keep the stability. This fall the weather phenomenon La Nina is causing drought in South America and heavy rains in Southeast Asia. This has destroyed harvests and caused market prices for rubber, palm oil and corn, among others, to increase heavily. Perhaps this is a good time to speculate in bull certificates based on food related raw materials.

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Friday, 12 November 2010

Cold Winds

As seen in the 1930's in the shockwaves of the depression, xenophobic wave are yet again hitting Europe. We all know how it all turned out in the 1930's and the following World War II. A clear parallell that can be found is the economic depression, but claiming this as the sole reason is a very simplified conclusion. A closer look on the current xenophobic wave with right wing parties gaining influence in many European countries shows a development that started before the current financial crisis, when the economy was in a period of growth and prosperity. Although it was to a large extent made on a not so steady ground, it was still perceived as a good economy, thus the depression can hardly be the only reason, or not even the main one. However the depression seem to have worsened the situation, but it did not start it.

So that brings us to the obvious question, what started it? This is obviously a very complex question and the best I can do is some loose speculation.

In the 1930's immigration to Europe was very low by today's standards, in this time period it was more a matter of finding a scape goat for the economic hardship and its consequences. Whereas today mobility over borders has greatly increased and many immigrants come to Europe for various reasons, hopefully making it the dynamic melting pot that once made the USA what it was and what it still is. This also brings new cultures and religions, to me it seems rather obvious that before you can fear something you need to experience it. Thus introducing new cultures will often be seen as a threat to what already exists. Furthermore, an decreased confidence in politicians and a general discontent turns voters to those building their image on being outsiders and against the current establishment, as these kind of right-wing parties often do.

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Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Inciting social disorder?

Yet again the Chinese government and court system fail to impress, by imprisoning an advocate of human rights. Zhao Lianhai was found guilty of "inciting social disorder" after founding a website called Kidnet Stone Babies to give information and resources for parents to babies that have gotten ill following the Chinese milk scandal in 2008. As always it was covered up to a large extent to not damage the view of China during the Olympic games in Beijing 2008. 300,000 Chinese babies were made ill, 50,000 hospitalised and at least 6 died after drinking milk formula deliberately tainted with melamine. Melamine is plastics and fertiliser and was added to make test show a higher protein content in the milk.After the scandal a handful of farmers, milk dealers and executives at Sanlu, the dairy firm that sold the tainted milk, has been jailed or executed, but the sentences for detained government officials have never been announced.

Zhao Lianhai was sentenced to two-and-a-half year in jail for organising the website and for demanding compensation for the victims. How this is "inciting social disorder" is beyond me. But this seem to be a convenient "crime" that is used by the Chinese government to dispose of dissidents and human rights activists.

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Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Expanding the Security Council

Talks of expanding the UN Security Council has been going on for a long time, but now it seems they have peaked a bit. There are mainly four realistic candidates for an expansion of permanent seats: India, Brazil, Japan and Germany. However there are a few more looking to get one, for example Egypt and South Africa. To me they all seem like good candidates; India and Brazil large countries, democratic and fast growing economies and Germany and Japan more mature industrialized economies that are also significant players on an international stage.

For Japan and Germany the exclusion has much to do with past wars, whereas for India and Brazil it has to do with the magnificent economic growth not starting until rather recently. To me India should be the most obvious candidate, as the worlds largest democracy and one of the largest economies.

The possible expansion and how it is implemented is very important for the maneuver room of the United States. If new permanent members get veto right in the Security Council it would make it harder to undertake any operations, since there will be more parties able to block a decision. This may be a solution that is good in theory, but not very practical in reality. On the other hand an expansion, especially, of non-Western countries would perhaps give the Security Council increased legitimacy outside of Europe and North America.
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Monday, 8 November 2010

Feces in, feces out

We have all heard about donating inner organs, blood or semen. Now for something I never heard about before, donating feces. New research shows that rectal injection of feces from a healthy person cures 75% of patients experiencing intestinal trouble caused by certain, often resistant, bacteria. These troubles often occur after antibiotics treatment has knocked out the naturally occuring intestinal bacteria, thus leaving room for harmful bacteria to grow. By injecting feces the naturally occuring intestinal bacteria are reintroduced to the system and can often drastically decrease the number of harmful bacteria.The treatment seems a little disturbing, but effective.

Sharing is caring.

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Saturday, 6 November 2010

Remember, remember, the 5th of November

5 November 1605 Guy Fawkes along with a group of 12 more young men conspired to blow up the House of Lords in London and kill king James. However information leaked, and the King's soldiers stopped the plot. It was done in a protest against a government, that was not functioning properly for its people, for this Guy Fawkes is regarded as a kind of hero in many circles. Jokingly he is referred to as the only one to enter the house of parliament with honest intentions. It is now one day too late to celebrate Guy Fawkes night, but still...

"Remember, remember the Fifth of November,
The Gunpowder Treason and Plot,
I know of no reason
Why the Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot."

On the album the Queen is dead by The Smiths there is an engraving on the original vinyl saying Guy Fawkes was a genious.

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Friday, 5 November 2010

The ugly face of the Red Dragon

Liu Xiaobo was named the Nobel Peace Prize laureate in October. He is to receive his prize in Oslo (Norway) in Decemeber. However, the Chinese regime will not let him come to Oslo to accept it since he is a political prisoner. Furthermore, the Red Dragon has today showed us its ugly face, as Cui Tian-kai, Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs, has warned other countries that plan to be represented at the ceremony. Cui threatens the rest of the world by stating that countries having representation at the ceremony will have to face the consequences. 

"This Nobel Peace Prize is highly politicized. The choice before some European countries and others is clear and simple: do they want to be part of the political game to challenge China's judicial system or do they want to develop a true friendly relationship with the Chinese government and people in a responsible manner?" says Cui.

This kind of bullying is of course unacceptable and I do hope all democratic countries will do what is right, and face these consequences, or call the bluff. It is important to show the Chinese government that these undemocratic actions are not tolerated in a democratic society.

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From one election to another

This week has seen an election in a country that likes to be perceived as the world's foremost democracy, now on to another election in a country that is commonly perceived as one of the least democratic countries. Burma is ruled by an undemocratic military regime, that has used violence and undemocratic measures to suppress and imprison the opposition. The most famous examples would be Aung San Suu Kyi who has been place in house arrest since 1989 and the recent (2007) protests of the monks. Many monks where shot or imprisoned, and today their democratic movement is living a life outside the spotlight in one of the world's most closed countries. The military regime is backed by China, Burma's most important trade partner, that is blocking UN resolutions against Burma. 

On Sunday an election will be held, however the party that won the last election will not participate. National League for Democracy won 392 out of 485 chairs in the parliament in 1990, but the parliament was never assembled and the military regime took the power instead. Participating in the election would mean they have to accept the constitution that is giving all power to the military and it would also entail kicking Aung San Suu Kyi out of the party.

The outcome of the election is quite clear, very little will change and the need for outside intervention seems obvious...

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Thursday, 4 November 2010

The Sphinx and the Egyptians

The mythical sphinx of Giza was constructed around 2500 BC by the Egyptian Pharao Khafra. Some theories is giving credit for building the Sphinx to Khafra's father, Khufu, or his half brother, Djedefre. It has now lost its nose and beard; especially the beard is quite characteristic for Egyptian Pharao depictions. Later on walls were constructed around the Sphinx to protect it from flying sand that would erode the statue.

New theories claim that the Sphinx was not originally constructed with a human head, but rather that of a lion or of the Jackal-Dog Anubis, God of the Necropolis.This is partly based on the proportions of the statue; the body is long and the head is quite small. Thus it is believe that the head used to be larger and has carved out of the original head.

One controversy based partly on the appearance of the Sphinx is about the race of the ancient Egyptians, some archaeologists/historians claim that the head has typical characteristics of a black African. This is obviously hard to determine after thousands of years of erosion. Also many paintings show black Egyptians from this time, and it has been proposed that the view of the Egyptians as rather light-skinned is a result of European racism during the earlier days of egyptology. Many however believe that the people of the ancient Egyptian civilization were not homogeneous, but rather mix with influences from several cultural and geographical areas. This make this controversy rather pointless, if not to discover the origins of the first inhabitants of the Egyptian Nile area and founders of the ancient civilization. Egypt is located in the crossroads between the African continent and the Middle East, and it is not unlikely that the population then, as it is now, was quite diverse.

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Wednesday, 3 November 2010

The result

In the end it seems the Democrats keep their majority in the Senate (counting two independents who caucus with the Democrats), however in the House of Representatives the Republican party will get a quite clear majority. This leaves us in a position where the Republicans have gained influence, and the Democrats have seen their room to maneuver decreased. Thus increased regulations on the financial markets may be hard to push through, at least as the Democrats has envisioned it. 

As for the Tea party candidates results are mixed, as expected you win some and loose some. Exact numbers should be available should be available soon.

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Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Pyongyang Bob strikes again

North Korea has now released an official statement concerning the torpedo that sunk a South Korean ship in March and killed 46 soldiers. As suspected the North Korean official standpoint is that it was not their torpedo, since it was supposedly made out of aluminum and all North Korean torpedoes are made from steel. They have even offered to send a torpedo to South Korea as "proof". As always, it is hard to trust Kim Jong-Il on this issue.

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Midterm Elections

Today Americans are voting in the midterm elections. The Republican party is expected to increase their influence, and the Tea Party movement is expected to gain influence as well. Elections for the congress is every two years; the Congress is the legislative body of the US government.The Congress is made up of two chambers: the Senate, to which members are elected for six-year terms; and the House of Representatives, whose members are elected for two-year terms. Meaning that all the 435 House seats will be filled by the will of the people now in November. Also around one one-third of the Senate is also elected, this year 37 senators will be elected or re-elected.

It is expected that the Republicans will get a majority of the chairs in the House of Representatives, the Senate seem to harder to predict and more uncertain. What is quite clear however is that this election will force president Obama to negotiate more with the Republicans and compromises will have to be made. The most pressing issue is obviously the strained economy, an area where compromises will be hard since the parties are quite far apart.

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Monday, 1 November 2010

Disputed land

Tension is building up between Japan and Russia after president Medvedev's visit to the Kuril islands. The Kuril islands are around 50 islands outside the eastern coast of Russia and north of Japan. After the Japanese surrender in World War II the Soviet Union annexed the four southernmost islands that previously belonged to Japan. Because of this issue there has been no official peace between Russia/Soviet Union and Japan following WWII. This is however disputed by Japan. In this context Medvedev's visit was a clear sign from Moscow that these islands are to be considered Russian ground and it not up for negotiation. This stop was made on his trip to the meeting of Southeast Asian nations the coming weekend.

Whether or not this should be seen as a sign of a Russian expansionistic and nationalistic movement is still unclear. The San Francisco Peace Treaty between the Allied Powers and Japan from 1951 states that Japan must give up all claims to the Kuril islands, but it also does not recognize the Soviet Union's sovereignty over the Kuril Islands.

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Biological diversity

Friday evening in Nagoya, Japan, a new treaty on biological diversity was signed by almost 200 nations. Finally some positive signals in international environmental work can be seen, even though the treaty is a compromise. The overall purpose is to reduce the loss of biodiversity over the coming 10 years.

The treaty contains an agreement on how to compensate nations for use of domestic "genetic resources", for example if a new pharmaceutical is developed from a medicinal plant. This is significant since many of these potential medinical plants exist in developing countries, whereas the companies using them are mainly from industrialised countries. 

Furthermore, it contains an agreement about protection of 17% of the land area and 10% of the ocean area on a national level. This was reduced from the proposed 20% and 15%.

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