Coffee beans excreted by elephants make pricy brew | Metro

Posted December 11, 2012 by Eric
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Coffee beans excreted by elephants make pricy brew http://metronews.ca/food/472413/coffee-beans-excreted-by-thai-elephants-make-pricy-brew/ I’m just testing out the WordPress app to see how easy it is to post news articles of interest to me. Maybe I’ll start blogging again.

Some Worst-Case Scenarios on Afghanistan and Pakistan

Posted December 7, 2009 by Eric
Categories: News

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On Afghanistan it can be a challenge to  make a case that Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s government should have Western support when taking into account the lack of rights for the female population. In some ways America is basically propping up a regime where, to cite the Reuters article “rapists have been pardoned by the government, girls and women have been imprisoned for running away from home, rape victims have been charged with adultery and … women in public life have been murdered”.

But the U.S. and NATO may not have a choice on the matter. This is a case of realpolitik–if NATO abandons Karzai then Afghanistan will fall to the Taliban, which may lead to the further destabilization of nuclear-armed Pakistan via alliances with the Pakistani Taliban which may subsequently serve as another base of operations for al Qaeda to plot out attacks against the West, just as it did on September 11th, 2001. Basically this is an inversion of the Cold-war era “domino theory” that the U.S. used as justification to overthrow Communist-like regimes and to invade Vietnam, whereby the argument went that if regimes fell to the “evil empire” (i.e. the USSR) then adjacent countries would also be vulnerable to Communist takeover and this would, as such, greatly amplify the Soviet’s threat to the West. This theory may only have been partially correct but this new variant–which I’m simply dubbing the “Black hole theory”–might be more credible.

For example, take a look at Somalia. This is a model of anarchy that terrorists can thrive in. The only redeeming feature of Somalia’s anarchy is its lack of organized structure that would allow for plots to be planned on a more reliable and consistent basis, but that does not mean that al Qaeda operatives and others cannot make plots in secret using this anarchy as cover. Of course, were the Taliban successful in once again conquering Afghanistan this would not be synonymous with anarchy but in many ways might be worse. In this model al Qaeda would be able to plan operations with state backing, as the Taliban has for years established itself to be its ally. Let us assume, for the sake of this argument, that the alliance between the Taliban and al Qaeda will hold and will not break due to differences in ideology and/or tactics. This is a rather large assumption to make but this is still very possible. With this in mind, one of the worst-case scenarios would be both the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan taking control over their respective countries and allowing al Qaeda to operate freely. It would be tempting but incorrect to believe that if the Taliban took over the Pakistani and/or Afghani governments they would also be at a strategic disadvantage. It is true that the Taliban specialise in sneak attacks and, when appropriate, hide amongst the populace to evade capture. It is also true that the Taliban have fared very poorly against America when they take over the apparatus and become visible targets. When the Americans invaded in October 2001 The Taliban fell in less than two weeks largely because the bombing targets for said Americans were clear and easy to define. Thus it would be tempting to believe that should Afghanistan fall to the Taliban they would find themselves in that exact same position. Unfortunately, their allies in Pakistan would complicate such a scenario, as Pakistan is nuclear-armed. Pakistan is now in the midst of heavy fighting amongst its own Taliban, the latter of which may forge a comprehensive partnership with their Afghan brethren. Other countries would have to think long and hard about the wisdom of attacking a Taliban-conquered Pakistan if, with perhaps some help from al Qaeda operatives, said Taliban obtain a nuclear deterrent. Even if the Taliban did not succeed in overthrowing the Pakistan and/or Afghanistan governments they still might be successful in destroying these governments. In other words, the Taliban and Al Qaeda might be able to induce a situation whereby there is no effective government in either of the two countries (some argue that that’s the case in Afghanistan right now!), leading to a climate similar to the aforementioned Somalia. Were this to happen it would be a terrible occurence. In many ways the Taliban and al Qaeda would have the best of both worlds, on the one hand having free reign to plot attacks on Western targets without fear of government interference yet on the other hand not having to worry about becoming easy targets themselves, as they still would not form an easily visible government.

This is all so very complicated and there are numerous variables that I haven’t even touched upon; these are only several of many possible scenarios and situations. I would recommend reading Myra Macdonald’s article Pakistan and Afghanistan:how do al Qaeda and the Taliban respond? and Paul Rogers’ Afghanistan: new strategy, old problem for an admittedly clearer perspective on this very complex issue.

Iranian Irony

Posted December 7, 2009 by Eric
Categories: News

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Iran police clash with opposition protesters

The irony of how the Basij and other Iranian security are firing rounds at protestors on “student’s day”, which is to commemorate the martyrdom of three students killed during the anti-shah protests of 1953, is profound. Ostensibly, the purpose of this day is to remember the injustice of the Shah’s regime and how oppressive it was especially to those who protested against it but now it is today’s theocracy that is using the same types of oppressive tactics on the current demonstrators. In fact, for an especially parallel comparison that points to the double-standards of the regime one need only remember the killing of Neda Agha Soltan. The irony could not be any more obvious; this is an example of hypocrisy in its purest form. I use the term ‘martyrdom’ deliberately–Iran’s political culture pertains heavily to such martyrdom–to the injustice of “good” people being imprisoned and/or killed. Perhaps now the Iranian theocracy is finally beginning to realise the dangers of promoting such a political culture, as the very attitudes and mindsets that worked against its enemies are now being used against it. That’s my wish, at any rate, although I know things in Iran are never that simple. Among other complicating factors are the Basij, who were brought up to be loyal to the Ayatollah right from the start. It seems highly dubious that any member of the Basij will turn against the regime. Still, no one could really have guessed the mass protests against Ahmadinejad in June, or at least not its scale. The future of Iran is inherently unpredictable.

This fact is a little scary when the regime’s bellicose attitude towards the anti-nuclear proliferation talks are taken into account. The administration of George. W. Bush was a boon for the theocracy. They had the perfect excuse to be belligerent in negotiations on Nuclear technology since Bush had already preemptively labelled Iran as part of a dubious “axis of evil” and did not seem to be intent on serious negotiations. But now it is obvious that the Iranian Government has been bluffing all along. The concessions among western powers and–most surprisingly–Russia and China seem to be huge but Iran’s establishment will not budge. Obama has not even been in office for a year and this is the regime’s attitude towards him. He simply cannot be accused of negotiating in bad faith if the regime refuses to negotiate with his administration altogether.

Dec. 8, 2009 update: It looks like despite the efforts of the clerical establishment students were still able to protest in the thousands. I’m interested to see how this develops.

Running & Music

Posted November 18, 2009 by Eric
Categories: running

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I find myself dealing with a problem that pertains to my distance runs. I like running for at least 15K five to six days a week. In the past, I would always run with music; I would always set the tracks to “shuffle” and part of the fun was not knowing which song would come next. Except this past year, more often than not, I would have trouble with my buds while running. Either they wouldn’t stay in the ear or the wires would get tangled up, caught in my shirt or some other variable. I have tried all kinds of combinations in an attempt to consistently have a hassle-free experience while running with earbuds but I have found that there is no ideal solution. I use a Zune, which I have already implied I think is a piece of crap, and I have tried clipping it on to my waist, a pocket, using an armband or various other strategies. Inevitably the wires get in the way somehow. I don’t think the Zune supports bluetooth technology but even if it did there’s probably a reason why you don’t hear a lot about wireless headphones for running; the quality and reliability is likely poor. I’ve tried a variety of different ear-pieces, including the so-called “twist to fit” MX85 from Sennheiser. That was a disaster. It begs for an instruction manual yet has none, the different parts designed to fit in your ear are hard to install, the pieces are easy to lose and expensive to replace and the glue keeping it together comes off within a few weeks. That’s been my experience at least, and Sennheiser must know how unreliable this product is because the restrictions on the warranty are a joke.

Despite all of this, I’ve discovered that I can run for at least 15K without any music at all with no real difficulty. I discovered this when I just put my earphones in my pocket during some runs out of frustration. If I can enjoy running for its own sake then why should I depend on music? Unfortunately, I plan on doing a second marathon next year, possibly the Ottawa one or maybe in Burlington Vermont. I cannot trust myself to run 42K without any music. As such, I might need to wait at least until after this next marathon before I swear off listening to music during runs altogether. This probably means that I still have to find the right type of ear buds placed in the right way. Alternatively, I can swear off running with music for now, but use it as an aid just for the marathon. It was never perfect but during my Montreal marathon I found a good position for my earphones–my waist and under my shirt–which largely worked because I didn’t need to carry a heavy fuel belt with me that normally gets in the way. So I can just save my music-listening until then. On the other hand, I still want to figure out a way to enjoy music without tangling or wire-pulling. I might need to experiment with more clips.

Tricky….

UDI

Posted November 16, 2009 by Eric
Categories: News

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I found the followings news-items to be of interest today:

Israel and the Palestinian territories are figuring a lot in the news these days, although, to be more accurate, it always is featured in the news. It’s interesting that Abbas is “considering” a unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood but this is obviously a hollow bluff. In another time, a unilateral declaration just might have worked. After all, for all intents and purposes that is what Israel did in 1947 and it worked then. A more recent example may be Kosovo, which is a less stable state but is still recognised as an independent nation by the majority of the international community regardless. This cannot work, however, for Palestine and it probably never will. The main reason: HAMAS controls the Gaza strip. The Palestinians are so deeply divided–having even fought a brief civil war only two years ago–that any such state would be, to use the words of Democratic Party Senator Ted Kaufman (DE), “dead on arrival.” A unilateral declaration for statehood is difficult to pull off even when most of the aspiring state’s populace is behind the idea; it’s impossible when there are such deep divisions. I don’t even need to cite the then-Yugoslavia of 1992 and the terrible wars that followed after Croatia, Slovenia, Macedonia and Bosnia declared independence from the federation because HAMAS will never agree to an independent Palestinian state that doesn’t comprise all of what is now Israel and will never work with FATAH. Even if such a UDI fell through what would this new Palestinian state look like? Would there be two different states, one in Gaza and one in the West Bank, similar to how East Pakistan became Bangladesh? None of this would work.

Berlin Wall

Posted November 10, 2009 by Eric
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There’s been a lot of talk on the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and that got me thinking about post-WWII German history–specifically the so called “Democratic Republic of East Germany.” The cold war certainly had its share of absurdities and the Berlin Wall was a very poignant example of this. The fact that East German guards were ordered to “shoot on sight” (Reuters, 2009) anyone that tried to flee to West Germany should have made clear even to Communist sympathisers that its entire philosophy could not work in the real world. If it could, why would there be orders to kill and imprison those who tried to leave? The very fact that East Germans were coerced by threat of death or imprisonment from leaving also meant that many such people wanted to leave. If communism was so great it would be logical to assume that there would be no need for such enforcement as people would want to stay voluntarily in order to reap the benefits such a system provided. The fact that the East German Government labelled the wall an “anti-fascist barrier” in 1961 only serves to highlight the hollowness of its system of governance. One thing that has puzzled me at times is–although I am sure travel throughout this “Democratic Republic” was restricted–why did not many East Berliners attempt to leave the city proper and escape to West Germany via the unwalled borders? After all, it was only Berlin that was walled in so far as I can tell.

That question aside, it can be aggravating to see how East Germany’s final head of state Egon Krenz felt about his fellow citizens. Did he truly believe that he was doing the people of East Germany a favour by forcing them to remain inside the country? Did he truly feel that the East Germans were “ungrateful” for not accepting an imposed system of governance he helped to enforce? It is maddening to think of such arrogance.

On a completely unrelated but very important note, please check out Eric Reeves’ latest post pertaining to Sudan–it is most enlightening.

Uncertainty

Posted November 7, 2009 by Eric
Categories: News

Here are some of the news items I found to be of interest today:

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