Monday, May 31, 2010

Presidents: "War is money"

The - now former - German President Horst Köhler has just resigned after a slip of tongue in an interview about his visit to the German troops in Afghanistan. So, what did he say?
[military operations serves to] protect our interests, for example, free trade routes, or to prevent regional instability, which might certainly have a negative effect on our trade, jobs and income.
(German president quits over military remarks, German president Horst Köhler quits over Afghanistan gaffe, German President Quits Over Remarks on Military.)

Incidentally, just the other day another epic George W. Bush quote saw the light of day:

The best way to revitalize the economy is war [...] the United States has grown stronger with war.
Coming clean, huh?

(Argentina’s former president: Bush once claimed, ‘the best way to revitalize the economy is war’)

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Pipeline bombed twice this week in Yemen

The pipeline isn't the issue, it's just a target of a tribes revenge on the government.

"The pair attacks came in retaliation of an air raid that mistakenly killed a tribal dignitary, who also served as deputy governor of Marib province, Jabir Ali al-Shabwany, along with his four bodyguards [...] The targeted pipeline is located some 4 km west to the main oil production facility [Yemeni Safer Oil Company...] the tactic of today's bombing bore al-Qaida's characteristics"
- anonymous state official

Sources: Yemen armed tribesmen bomb another oil pipeline, Yemen tribe in new pipeline blast over airstrike, Yemen tribesmen bomb oil pipeline: provincial official.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Google Maps shows North Korea logging endangered tigers' protected forest

This scandal has been reported on several websites:
The sharp images from Google Earth clearly shows the North Korean communist dictatorship is logging forest areas in a UN national park. Not only does the megalomaniac Kim Jong-il seek to build a nuclear armament, impoverish his subdued people and occasionally sink South Korean ships – he's also cutting down trees in the fragile, ancient forest where the last Siberian tigers live.
International researchers have long been monitoring the NASA satellite images of the area since they are not allowed to inspect it on ground. They were wondering why the green color of the forest was fading to brownish. But the precise satellite images from Google Earth now shows why: The North Koreans have been secretly logging in strips no wider than 10 meters – too slim to stand out on the old NASA images.
I have applied for a permit to visit the area but have been denied access”, says scientist Lina Tang.

Or maybe not. The above text is typical but it's not really a quote. It has been further dramatized in order to illustrate the symptomatic: There are two “good stories” in the recent academic research published in Biological Conservation. One is in the tale of the reckless North Koreans. The other in the coolness of Google.

Wait a second – what are we talking about?

Forest areas surrounding a mountain on the border between North Korea and China. The Koreans call the mountain Baekdu-san, the Chinese call it Changbaishan and Wikipedia calls it Baekdu Mountain. At it's peak is a picturesque lake – sacred to some, probably tourist attraction to more – called Heaven Lake. Down its slope the climate changes from freezing tundra to temperate forest. It is home to many plants and animals; including the endangered Siberian tiger and wild ginseng.

So, what did the article by Lina Tang and the eight co-authors really say? Below is a summary.

Forest degradation deepens around and within protected areas in East Asia

It is true that the NASA Landsat images didn't show the finer details. But they do show a story going back to 1985. The methods chapter is interesting for people into geeky stuff about image analysis. It is indeed also true that the forests have suffered degradation on both sides of the border.
The Changbaishan and Baekdu-san were established as UNESCO Biosphere Reserves in 1979 and 1989 respectively to protect the ecosystem there which is home to the highest plant biodiversity in the cool temperate zone and – as mentioned – many endangered species. But there are many differences in the way the forests have been managed and much more is known about the Chinese parts.
The Chinese government has successfully enforced a ban on logging but areas has been severely damaged by storms and are still recovering. From 1985 to 2007 about 6% of the forest was lost. On the other hand, poaching has occurred and wild ginseng has been collected into obscurity. Right outside the reserve the Chinese have extensively logged the pine forest, doing some reforestation with birch and aspen.
On the Korean side about half the reserve area had suffered strip logging by 2007. This was clear only recently as the strips are about 10 meters wide, whereas in the older satellite images each pixel cover about 30 meters. The Koreans have cleared about 39% of the forest outside the reserve for agriculture.
Another thing the older satellite images didn't reveal was seed collecting and tourism. From the year 2000 to 2007 it was allowed to gather pine seeds in the Chinese reserve, a cherished food ingredient and valuable source of income for locals. In those years very few seeds were left to enter the natural cycle (animal food source and natural reforestation) and today nearly every tree bears wounds from climbing spurs. Also, in 2006 administration was moved from the Forestry Bureau to the Tourism Bureau. The number of visitors has rocketed from about 30,000 per year in the 1980ies to as much as 10,000 a day now. Much less is known about how the Koreans administrate the reserve but they do allow tourism.
The researchers estimate the “truly well-protected” reserve forest areas to be 44.9% in China and 34.6% in Korea. But these areas are ecologically isolated due to the extensive deforestation of the areas surrounding the reserves.

Second thoughts

Before raising an environmentalist call to relieve Kim Jong-il of his duties let us consider the following: The North Koreans are probably at least as effective as the Chinese in banning illegal logging, the Chinese side has suffered similar levels of deforestation and unfortunately this situation isn't exactly unique.
We're having problems with ecological isolation, illegal logging, poaching, severe weather events, climate change in many places around the world. The difference is in how to influence the leader(s) of this country – a problem similar to what we see in places like Zimbabwe.
Writing about development we are encouraged to not portray the third world as the victims of the story. Norht Korea, however, despite its few glimmers of progress and success is a unique tragedy. One with the bomb.

This story elsewhere: Treehugger / North Korea Logging in Protected Forest Discovered With Google, NASA Data, Mongabay / NASA, Google Earth catch North Korea logging protected area, UPI / Study: North Korea logs in protected area.
The Primary source is, of course:
Tang, L., Shao, G., Piao, Z., Dai, L., Jenkins, M., Wang, S., Wu, G., Wu, J., & Zhao, J. (2010). Forest degradation deepens around and within protected areas in East Asia Biological Conservation, 143 (5), 1295-1298 DOI: 10.1016/j.biocon.2010.01.024

This article is also posted at TH!NK ABOUT IT #3: Developing World.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Roosevelt's WWII Bill of Rights

From President Roosevelt's [Wikipedia] January 11, 1944 message to the Congress of the United States on the State of the Union in which he advocated a "Second Bill of Rights" [Wikipedia].

It is our duty now to begin to lay the plans and determine the strategy for the winning of a lasting peace and the establishment of an American standard of living higher than ever before known. We cannot be content, no matter how high that general standard of living may be, if some fraction of our people — whether it be one-third or one-fifth or one-tenth — is ill-fed, ill-clothed, ill-housed, and insecure.

This Republic had its beginning, and grew to its present strength, under the protection of certain inalienable political rights —among them the right of free speech, free press, free worship, trial by jury, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. They were our rights to life and liberty.

As our nation has grown in size and stature, however — as our industrial economy expanded — these political rights proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness.

We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. Necessitous men are not free men. People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.

In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all—regardless of station, race, or creed.

Among these are:

The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;

The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;

The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;

The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;

The right of every family to a decent home;

The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;

The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;

The right to a good education.

All of these rights spell security. And after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being.

Americas own rightful place in the world depends in large part upon how fully these and similar rights have been carried into practice for our citizens.

For unless there is security here at home, there can not be lasting peace in the world.

Never proposed, never passed. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was sick during the speech and died April 12, 1945.

"FDR's "Fireside Chats" With America" by Tony the Misfit.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Israel uses Golan to build wind energy industry

After decades of focusing on solar power, a natural enterprise for a country two-thirds desert, Israel is starting to pour resources into developing its wind energy industry.

Much of that potential, it says, is in the Golan Heights, a strategic and windswept plateau captured from Syria in the 1967 war. Once the focal point of fierce tank battles, the future of the territory will make or break any peace deal with Syria.

Israeli Infrastructure Minister Uzi Landau told Reuters that projects like the turbine field would have to be included in any negotiations with Syria.

160 turbines that will generate about 450 megawatts of electricity.

The Infrastructure Ministry, which set a target of generating 10 percent of Israel's energy from renewables by 2020, said permits have already been granted for 200 megawatts.

"If the land is returned to Syria in a peace deal, we will be compensated," [Multimatrix Chairman Uri Omid] said. "Regardless, this project can work for us or work for them. Someone will always need the electricity."

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Does poor health cause crime?

Just found The New York Times / For Crime, Is Anatomy Destiny? via Hunter-Gatherer / Does poor health cause crime?

The blog looks like something for the watchlist (John Durant, did you read some Kim Stanley Robinson?) and the article is very interesting. Some highlights:

shorter men are 20 to 30 percent more likely to end up in prison than their taller counterparts


both men and women who were rated unattractive (as rated on a five-point scale) in high school were more likely to commit — or at least more likely to be caught while committing — one of seven crimes, including burglary and selling drugs, than those rated average or attractive.


Public health policies successful at reducing obesity among individuals in the population will not only make society healthier, but also safer.
Read the whole thing for the links between attractiveness and health, income and crime. Good find, hunter-gatherer-blogger John Durant. Now, here are two links from my to-blog list that are a bit related:

Los Angeles Times / Hunger breeds violence

hunger and conflict go hand in hand. Millions of people in poor countries suffer the burden. In 2008, protests over high food prices swept the globe


Empty stomachs breed panic and desperation, while extremist groups
[...] use food to advance their violent missions while undercutting security.


A crucial element to fighting conflict in poor countries is to ensure adequate food, proper nutrition and access to education. School meals programs promote education and nutrition by giving hungry schoolchildren at least one meal a day. Once children start eating a healthy meal, schools report remarkable increases in enrollment, attendance and academic performance, and they are less vulnerable to recruitment by rebel forces.


Ensuring that no child goes to school hungry is the single greatest investment we can make in building prosperous, healthy and stable societies.
Granted, that was a different perspective. Here is a third:

The New York Times / Therapists Report Increase in Green Disputes

As awareness of environmental concerns has grown, therapists say they are seeing a rise in bickering between couples and family members over the extent to which they should change their lives to save the planet.

In households across the country, green lines are being drawn between those who insist on wild salmon and those who buy farmed, those who calculate their carbon footprint and those who remain indifferent to greenhouse gases.
The link between poverty, health, pollution and conflicts was also something I blogged about for the year 2008 Blog Action Day: Pollution, poverty, war, lights, camera... action!

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