Talking to myself about foreign policy, US politics, technology, &c.

Archive for the ‘International’ Category

The Pharma Grinch’s Heart Grows 3 Sizes

Wednesday, March 7th, 2007

Evil heartless No. 4 drug company Sanofi-Aventis came out with a new antimalarial drug that will be delivered at cost to suffering people in Africa. Amazingly, a simple 3 day regimen can cure the disease.

big Canadian mosquitosIt’s nice to see. Malaria’s cost on Africa is monstrous; the deaths are only a fraction of it. The sick are a drain on the economy. Infected children are incapable of learning in school and are therefore less productive down the road.

One of the most innovative elements is their planned distribution. For people who can pay, the company will attempt to charge several times as much per dose. Branding, packaging, prestige – people pay lots more than they have to for Prada bags; why not anti-malarials?

The bigger question for me is: why? What makes Sanofi-Aventis invest the time and money into creating this treatment? Loads of my classmates are into corporate social responsibility – the idea that soulless Capitalist Pig Dogs can be convinced to Do the Right Thing. One of my friends suggested that press (they got NYT editorial applause out of it), altruism and (potential) profit make this an easy win for the company.

Ironically, one of the best treatments for malaria is DDT. Mosquito nets soaked in the stuff coupled with hosing the walls of your hut down with the insecticide can dramatically drop the number of infections. ‘Course, it got a bit of bad press in the 60s – enough to launch the modern environmental movement. But when you’re not blanket spraying across all your crops, it makes a lot of sense.

The World According to Oil

Tuesday, March 6th, 2007

Fascinating map. It’s self explanatory. Click for a PDF version.

For a bonus exercise:
How many of these would you define as “good guys?”

Thanks to Rep. Bartlett, fightin’ the good fight for Maryland’s 6th.

High Stakes in Serbia

Tuesday, March 6th, 2007

And here I thought that Slobodan Milosevic had escaped justice by not being convicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.

Some folks have avoided the outside chance that he’d come back for another round of terror and mayhem, this time drinking blood rather than just shedding it.

Serbian vampire hunters prevent Milosevic come-back.

I wonder if this will become a standard part of International Criminal Court proceedings?

Lara Croft Joins the Council on Foreign Relations

Tuesday, February 27th, 2007

Angelina JoliePerhaps because of her efforts saving ancient foreign artifacts of great power from falling into the hands of well-dressed terrorists, Angelina Jolie has joined the ranks of America’ most prestigious foreign policy organization, the Council on Foreign Relations.

Their parties just got a lot more interesting.

Seriously, she’s done an admirable job of using her celebrity for something good. Kinda like Bill Gates using his evil monopolist Scrooge McDuck money to save the world, or Bono ending poverty while wrapped in great sunglasses.

Perhaps I should drop this foreign affairs school thing and get me some acting lessons. ‘Cuz her acting skillz are why she’s popular, right?

Rogues’ Gallery v. World

Thursday, February 22nd, 2007

Clucking my tongue over a NYT article on the rise of Venezuelan influence in Bolivia, I came across this remarkable paragraph:

Though much of Venezuela’s aid is related to agriculture, like the donation of more than 300 tractors produced by a joint Venezuelan-Iranian venture, its military assistance has attracted the most scrutiny.

A joint Venezuelan-Iranian tractor factory. Great. The world is really splitting into two halves: a world of liberal democracies and a world of autocracies. Do we really think that a militant Shia theocracy lead by a ayatollah and a populist Bolivarian state (whatever that means) lead by a mid-ranking paratrooper have anything in common?

OK, there is one thing. Oil. That’s the problem with the icky black stuff; it is overwhelmingly in the hands of the bad guys. There’s no one other than Texas oilmen that should be opposed to conservation these days. Save the environment, stop bankrolling Very Bad People. Simple choice.

The Middle East is Complicated

Tuesday, February 20th, 2007

Check out this beautiful Flash illustration of the extraordinary progression of imperial expansion and retreat throughout the Middle East.

The rise and fall of these epic tides of history rearranged the maps and redefined the people living in this region of the world. But there was always some rubble left behind for the next waves to act upon.

While we’re getting edumakated, here’s a Mother Jones primer on everything we all ought to know about Iraq. (thanks, Kevin Drum)

The Son of the Father of the Turkmen

Sunday, February 11th, 2007

Turkmenbashi’s Golden StatueThe nasty, weird meglomaniac ruler of Turkmenistan Saparmurat Niyazov died (good riddance) about two months ago. Hopefully demons in hell are making him read his work of plagiarized philosophy interspersed with purple prose, the Ruhnama. Renaming himself Turkmenbashi, the Father of All Turkmen, he filled his natural-gas rich but agriculturally poor nation with the manifestations of one of the world’s most bizarre personality cults. The pic is a golden statue of His Amazingness that rotates to face the sun. It would be funny if it wasn’t so tragic for the 5 million that suffered under his capricious and authoritarian rule.

Elections were just held to find his replacement. Turnout was estimated at a laudably civic-minded 98.8%.

The “elected” replacement is a rather grey fellow (though all paled in comparison to the radiant Niyazov) named Gurnabguli Berdymukhamedov. What’s he like? Who knows. He made some noises about liberalization during the yawn-inducing campaign.

Basically Turkmenistan has nowhere to go but up. The oppressive personality cult will presumably subside. It wouldn’t really be possible for society to get less liberal, so one assumes that too will improve, at least a bit.

Rumor had it that Turkmenbashi may have had a little help in shuffling of that mortal coil; he may have become too much of a liability to other elites, especially in business. If true, it is doubly the case that Berdy will have to open up. So perhaps in this case second verse will not be same as the first.

Open for Turkmenistan for business, and who knows? In 20 years we will even have an open society.

Alternative scenario: the boiling pot of discontentment will take the opportunity of confusion during this transition to boil over, and perhaps the people will find a way to express their preferences with bullets, having been denied ballots.

The 3% Solution

Friday, February 9th, 2007

Seen “An Inconvenient Truth” yet? No? You should. I’ll wait.

*twiddles thumbs*


OK, good. Enjoy it? Terrified by it? Wondering what the solution is?

Simple. The United States and everyone else in the world needs to reduce CO2 levels by 75% by 2050.

If we can manage that, we’ll “only” reduce average temperatures by 2 degrees Celsius, which means we will encounter significant but not apocalyptic changes in our environment.

Sounds insurmountable, huh? Actually, we can do it. All it requires is an average reduction in emissions of 3% a year. Compounded over the period required, this would create the needed change in emissions required.

What is 3%?

Get a vehicle that’s 30% more efficient. Say, a Prius. That’d do it for transportation. Replace one 60 watt lightbulb/month with a compact florescent. Or switch to emissions-free electricity – many utilities let you do that. That’s a premium of about 10%, generally, on price. C’mon- you can take a 10% ding on your utility bill. That’s lighting. For buildings, turn your thermometer down 10 degrees at night. Or replace your fridge with an energy-star rated model. Or check the drafts and leaks in your house; they’re annoying, anyway. That 20% one-time reduction will take care of your 3%.

If all else fails, you can buy plenary indulgences for your carbon sins.

Is it easy? No. Is it awful? Not particularly. Not as bad as gas going up to, say, $3/gallon – and we all survived that.

But since you and I are the only nice people likely to do this, we’ll need the government to force it on us. The politics set the rule of the game. We need to make the rules such that 3% per year is the way we all play.

Elect Not to Go to War

Wednesday, February 7th, 2007

OK, so that last post was a bit fatalistic. How about this for a more positive view:

No two liberal democracies have ever gone to war with each other.

That’s the core insight of Michael Doyle (channeling Immanuel Kant) around which is built democratic peace theory.

It doesn’t mean that democracies are inherently peaceful; they can be downright aggressive. (Examples are left as an exercise for the reader.) Rhetoric about France aside, democracies just don’t attack each other.

Fine, whatever, you say. But couple this with the fact that the rapid expansion of democracy has been one of the great stories of the last 20 years.

Something north of half of the world’s population lives under some form of democracy; while in many places this does not fit Doyle’s requirements of liberal democracy, people in these places continue the struggle to consolidate their governments.

Some theorists have argued that a democraTIZING nation is the most volatile and war-prone of all, so there may be some bumps along the road. Perhaps, though, we will live to see within our lifetimes a world where war is nearly unthinkable.

Free Trade Will Prevent War with Prussia!

Tuesday, February 6th, 2007

Thought of the day:

Free Trade – what is it? Why, breaking down the barriers that separate nations; those barriers behind which nestle the feelings of pride, revenge, hatred and jealousy which every now and then break the bonds and deluge whole countries with blood; those feelings which nourish the poison of war and conquest…

Sounds like something I’d say and a lot of other folks do in defense of free trade.

Only problem is that these comments were made in 1843 (by a guy named Richard Cobden.) So it didn’t stop the most bloody century of conflict in human history. By some measures, there was more international integration before World War I than there is today, and look where that got us.

My point? Nothing in particular, except we need to be realistic about the chances of massive conflicts in the future; the only thing more common than grandiose declarations of the end of war have been, you know, wars.

Pacts to Avoid Pacts with the Devil

Monday, January 29th, 2007

Google’s famous motto is “don’t be evil.” So it’s hard to square that with the fact that they do a lot of stuff that is, er, evil.

It’s that stupid competitive market thing. For a lot of products and services, you’re selling to governments – often ones that want to prevent problematic info from getting to their subjects. You know, dangerous information about crazy things like “elections” or “due process.”

Since even Google isn’t a monopoly provider for search products, that means that any company willing cut this little faustian bargain can make a heck of a lot of money.

How to get around it? Perhaps the suppliers can create a united front with a code of ethics. Shockingly, other than Google the leader in this project is Microsoft, a company that I had always seen as practically in the brimstone business.

The whole thing begs the question of whether corporate social responsibility is a contradiction in terms, but it’s a start.

David’s Got A New Slingshot…

Thursday, January 18th, 2007

If you’re afraid you’re going to eventually go toe-to-toe with the world’s only superpower (currently accounting for about half of the total military expenditures in the world) you can’t fight on Goliath’s terms.

To mix classical hero metaphors, the Achilles heel of the US military establishment has often been considered the communications networks that tie our superdupertechno equipment together, especially our satellites. Well, the Chinese – the only legitimate military competitor one can see for the next 3 decades – just blew up one of their satellites as a test.

Was this because of Bush’s new directive that considered militarize space? Or just because any armchair general could tell them this was a good idea?

Whatever it means, a new space race looks to be looming. On the positive side, perhaps we’ll get some sci-fi stories coming to life in the near future.

I meant I should post every day. Or: I hate nationalists

Wednesday, January 10th, 2007

For any of our dear readers who happened to see this blog between 10 and 12 today, you might have found a slightly atypical post. It ran like this:

Under the banner “We are so sorry that our dear friend Saddam was killed in Iraq”:

Yes, I love you my dear sister Becca and my mum Margo but I love Saddam, too.

Thats the end of story, i am so sad…

(*&^ off Bush, you killed Saddam! I hate you! | Rest in Peace my Dear Saddam

You can imagine my surprise when I found it.

Listen well, children: keep your software up to date.

Here’s what happened.

A bit before “my” elegy for the late unlamented dictator posted, someone in Turkey did a search on google for blogs that had to do with Armenia and were running on WordPress (the fine software behind this fine blog).

There’s a bit of enmity between the two, seeing as how Turkey clearly was guilty of acts of genocide against the Armenians back in the Young Turk era at the end of the Ottoman Empire. For some reason they don’t like having this fact brought to their attention.

From that point, they checked to see if the software was exploitable (mine was, since I was a release behind.)

They broke in – not sure of the precise mechanism yet – and changed all the passwords, then reset the email addresses so passwords couldn’t be retrieved.

Then they posted the paeon to Saddam. Presumably to make me look bad, since even the most troglodyte Turkish nationalist probably isn’t a big fan of that dictator.

Fortunately I was able to find it and fix it quickly.

The post that triggered this takedown:
My sister Becca (who yes, I do love) was in Armenia building houses for poor people with a group of religious Habitat for Humanity people. For goodness sake, who’s opposed to that? It’s not like the cement was made from the ground-up bones of Ataturk or something. There’s one post on this site, but most of them are on blogspot – and very good. Great pictures too.

The person clearly is a bit of a geek, being a Linux user, but not enough so that he knew how to cover his tracks.

I think I’m going to post a lot more favorable stuff about Armenia in the future. The stupid thing is that I love Turkey; I spent 5 glorious days there this last summer; you can check out some pictures.

I suggest you find out more information on the Armenian genocide.

It makes me wonder why I’m interested in foreign policy, when the world is full of hateful petty nationalists like this particular excrescence.

On the positive side: someone’s reading my blog.

Yellow River to Change Name

Tuesday, October 24th, 2006

In another sign of how awful environmental problems in China are, the Yellow River turned red the other day.

The Chinese people are starting to pay attention to the environment; now that incomes are on the rise, people can afford to consider the world in which they live. And so the government is listening.

One of the colossal issues China faces is whether it can get a grip on its environmental problems before it turns most of the West into a wasteland. Right now the government is still myopically focused on growth – especially in the west – so things are going to get a lot worse before they get any better.

Constitutions Not Worth Paper Printed On for $600

Monday, October 16th, 2006

Amusing (except not really) tidbit from my Chinese Comparative Law class.

China has a lovely little constitution; it’s had several different versions since the declaration of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, the most recent from 1982.

The constitution is more of a document of Communist theory and the current semantic knots the leadership is tying themselves into to maintain any facade of Marxism with their current bloody laissez-faire capitalism.

It’s been evolving with the times; former president Jiang Zemin got his “Three Represents” theory embedded in the preamble of the document in return (allegedly) for releasing his control of the last levers of power.

One of the nicer additions of late was some human rights language; after years of calling human rights a modern-day form of imperialism, they now say blankly:
The State respects and preserves human rights.

They cover the same grounds as the Bill of Rights, including rather laughable ones such as:
Article 35. Freedom of speech, press, assembly
Citizens of the People’s Republic of China enjoy freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of procession and of demonstration.

All well and good, though let’s not ask the cudgeled protesting farmers about its efficacy. But let’s take a look at Article 51.

Article 51. Non-infringement of rights
Citizens of the People’s Republic of China, in exercising their freedoms and rights, may not infringe upon the interests of the state, of society or of the collective, or upon the lawful freedoms and rights of other citizens.

Good to know.

North Korea and Elder Brother China

Monday, October 16th, 2006

The tributary relationship between China and Korea in days of yore isn’t too far off of the Communist client state that Beijing has these days. Under the extended Confucian ethic of the tributary system, there are duties and responsibilities on each side. Proper deference to the wishes of their benevolent superior, China, in foreign policy relations is a core element of the relationship.

There’s no doubt that Korea ain’t walking the party line here. Those tests are not in China’s interest, and Elder Brother is getting pretty pissed off.
• If Korea goes nuclear, archrival Japan may do so.
• The threat pulls South Korea and Japan closer into an American orbit
• China is losing face from their unsuccessful attempts at negotiated settlements through the 6-party talks. They want a win here to prove they are a significant player in the international status quo.

The funny thing is that the only threat that North Korea has to hold over the Chinese is their own oppressed and starving people; given sufficient chaos in North Korea (or a little push from the government) the floods of refugees pouring across the border could prove a humanitarian disaster form of human wave attack.

China can wreck North Korea completely at any time; they need only turn off the oil taps that flow across the border. However, the threat of these pathetic starving hordes has kept them from brandishing these sticks.

Apparently punk-ass kid brother has crossed one to many lines. The Chinese are building a fence across the border by the Yalu River. Now in America we know something about the problems of such border barrier construction, so it’s not likely to be impervious.

If Beijing is preparing for hordes of fleeing refugees, they must be considering a harder line on North Korea. Watch this space.

Experiencing Armenia

Monday, August 21st, 2006


Traveling to another country can be a life-changing experience. I see it as an opportunity to encounter new cultures, new ideas, new people – and it also gives me chance to breakout of my world and my routine. However, unfortunately, it’s been a while since I’ve had the opportunity to travel. But that’s about to change. Recently I found out that I have been chosen to travel to Yerevan, Armenia to participate in a Habitat for Humanity build due to the generosity of FaithfulAmerica and the National Council of Churches.

During the ten day trip, I will be participating in a five day Habitat build. This work is desperately needed in Armenia, where 45% of the population lives in poverty. In some areas, they are still recovering from a devastating earthquake that hit in 1988. Houses are still made from sheet metal and wood planks, the “temporary housing” that was never made permanent.

During our free time we will be traveling to ancient holy sites, touring the countryside, experiencing the nightlife of the semi-cosmopolitan Yerevan and seeing what we can of Armenian history. I also have the honor of meeting with the Supreme Patriarch of the Armenian Church Karekin II.

This is going to be an amazing journey. I am so very thankful to Faithful America for choosing me as their representative. During the trip I will be blogging daily at and (hopefully, if all works with the internet connection!) here.

Please check back for updates between Sept. 2nd – Sept. 9th.

POSTED BY: becca


Habitat for Humanity


Tuesday, June 27th, 2006

Cross-posted from Allie and my travel web site,
We checked two critically important boxes off this weekend in our first trip outside of Bishkek. We spent a night in an honest-to-goodness yurt, and partook in the national drink of Kyrgyzstan: Kymmys, AKA fermented mares’ milk.

Allie and I had been getting increasingly desperate to get out of Bishkek, and finally managed it. We took a shared taxi on the three-hour trip to the relatively small town of Kochkor, nestled on the south side of the mountains behind Bishkek.

Shared taxis are one of the clever innovations they’ve come up with in this country poor in both finances and capital. Cars wait in certain well-known spots at the bus station, calling out their destination. Once they’re full, they take off and drive straight there, making such trips possible in a land where almost no one can possibly afford a car. Besides, some of the antediluvian Ladas that they drive around here look like they should have been taken off the road during the Truman administration, and I wouldn’t trust them for a ride across a parking lot, much less this rugged country. Further bearing in mind that in this very rugged country that the roads are in worse shape than the cars, and a decent car and driver seem like a really good idea. The roads are actually bad enough that people frequently drive on the shoulder; it’s in better repair than the asphalt.

We were later than we hoped getting out of town, and coupled with our finances it made our trip options a bit limited. We really lucked out, though, and had a delightful time. A grueling (for chubby me carrying our even tubbier bag) 3 hours through the foothills brought us to the jailoo (pronounced like everyone’s favorite J-Lo) or summer pasture for a Kyrgyz family. As they have since nomads first arrived in Kyrgyzstan, during the swelteringly dry summer flocks and folks take refuge in the still-lush upland pastures. They were in fact shockingly green; it was amazing to see the landscape change as we plodded higher.

Apart from a one-room brick house that was a modern innovation, life continued here as it must have forever. They had a small (!) flock of 500 or so sheep; we were told there were perhaps 5000 in the valley in all. Amazing things, sheep- turn grass and water into meat, clothes, and enough military power to terrorize the world until the 19th century. This not particularly conquest-oriented family also had a herd of cattle and a dozen or so horses, along with two mischievous donkeys whose tasks we never did figure out. Talented at braying at uncouth times in the morning, though. Food was simple, but tasty; flat bread, homemade butter, cream, and cheese from the cows, and for dinner mutton noodle soup. All washed down with oodles of the infamous kymmys.

Foreigners are told in no uncertain terms to take only a small amount of kymmys the first time you drink it; we simply don’t have the enzymes to break it down. This sensible precaution was annihilated by my lack of self-restraint and the pressures of Kyrgyz hospitality, and four bowls filled to the brim later it was time for bed. Happily, I didn’t become violently ill; actually, I developed quite a taste for the stuff. It’s like a yogurt-flavored milk with a smokey tang; really quite delicious. It’s only mildly alcoholic, so you really have to work at it to even get a mild buzz.

Perhaps at some later point I’ll describe what a yurt really is, but suffice it to say that we slept very well despite a loud thunderstorm and the louder donkeys. We would have been pretty cold without our blankets, though, another sign of how high up we made it.

The next morning after wandering a bit on our own, drinking in the magnificent scenery (and one more bowl of kymmys) we headed back down, relieved to see that our ancient car and its even more ancient driver had both survived one more night. He brought us back to Kochkor and from thence we made it to Bishkek in time to indulge in a tasty Indian dinner.

Munich is a loooong way from Mosul

Monday, February 13th, 2006

In the cartoon brou-ha-ha people have been making hysterical noises about concessions and appeasement. The constant refrain is “Remember Munich!” We gave in to Hitler in Munich and look where that got us.

Problem is, of course, that nothing is Munich. None of these crude historical analogies work. How is the will of thousands or millions of Muslims the same as that of one dictator? How can one “appease” a worldwide mob? Besides, I’m dubious at the premise- do we really think Hitler wouldn’t have gone on to do more damage if we simply had stared him down there?

But in the here and now, people really are spoiling for a cultural throwdown. I think we should lock up Samuel Huntington with, say, the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in a steel-cage grudge match. Put it on pay-per-view. That’s a clash of civilizations I’d like to see.

Briefly, about the cartoons: no one is immune from forseeable responsibility for their actions. However, a response that is completely out of control, disproportional, and insane doesn’t quite follow. While the cartoons are tacky, the response is not rational, and further it obviously is not an immediate response. While the outrage may be real, the fact that it’s emerging 5 months later makes it rather suspect.

Bin Laden is Still Alive

Thursday, January 19th, 2006

Doesn’t that bother anyone? Here we are 4 years after 9/11 and the most powerful nation in the world hasn’t hunted down and killed the perpetrator of the most deadly day on American soil since, what, Gettysburg? And he’s running free, filming videotapes.

This is a scandal.

Yes, I’m back, if anyone cares. I figure if bloggers people actually read take a week off, I can do a month.

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