Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Rolling Stone on Popemania

Up close, Pope Francis, the 266th vicar of Jesus Christ on Earth, a man whose obvious humility, empathy and, above all, devotion to the economically disenfranchised has come to feel perfectly suited to our times, looks stouter than on television. Having famously dispensed with the more flamboyant pontifical accessories, he's also surprisingly stylish, today wearing a double-breasted white overcoat, white scarf and slightly creamier cassock, all impeccably tailored. Rolling Stone
He's on the cover.

A local guide to Socchi

Pictures from a Danish pork factory

So it was with great anticipation that I looked forward to my visit to the Danish Crown slaughterhouse in Horsens, touted as “the most modern slaughterhouse in the world”.

The first part of the process is called the “black” slaughter line, and is in stark contrast with the minimalist, office-like corridors that surround the slaughtering area. We started off in the space where the pigs arrive – holding pens where up to 3,800 pigs (3 and a half hours worth of slaughtering) will sit for 1-2 hours before they are slaughtered. “Listen to that” says my guide, Agnete Poulsen. “Listen to what?”, I think. “There are thousands of pigs in here, and you can hardly hear a sound. Have you ever heard the noise that ten pigs can make? It’s incredible. These are very calm pigs – and that’s the way we want them to be. This room has been designed to calm the pigs down before they go into the slaughterhouse. If the pigs are stressed when they are killed, the quality of the meat will not be so good.” From there, the pigs are gently herded in small groups by a series of moving walls into a gas chamber, where they are rendered unconscious by C02 gas. A minute later, they tumble out of the chamber on to a conveyor belt from where they are strung up by their legs before being stuck in the carotid artery and bleeding to death. Alstair Philip

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Caesar interview

He says he was never witness to executions, nor did he see torture taking place. That wasn't his job. His task was that of taking photos of the corpses afterwards. He would snap four or five images per body -- of the face and other parts of the person -- documenting the cause of death, insofar as it was possible to determine. He did so tens of thousands of times between March 2011 and August 2013 -- when he finally fled Syria, taking some 55,000 photos with him on a USB stick. The images are of starved, strangled and tortured men, primarily young and mostly naked. Some have no eyes. The defector, who has been cited under the alias "Caesar," worked for Syrian security, and says that he and his colleagues were called on up to 50 times a day to photograph corpses, each of which was given a number for documentation purposes. Spiegel
Caesar is a code name of the a Syrian army member who took photographs of thousands tortured and murdered Syrians by the hand of the Syrian regime.

A good site to follow what's up in Ukraine

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Bunkers of Albania


There are about 700,000 of them in Alabania. Wow. 

Friday, January 24, 2014

One Cairo Morning

Daily News Egypt This attack happened near downtown area - on Port Said street - the area near the historic Cairo. The target is a large Police HQ. It happened at 6.30 AM this Friday morning - a weekend Egypt - which is a blessing otherwise the casualties would have been much higher. This area is a busy area full of shops and traders.

Another attack happened near a metro station in my neighborhood - about 500 meters from where I live - a few hours after this first attack. It killed a policeman and injured few others.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Incompetence upon layers of incompetence

The lawsuit highlights not just how reliant the government is on contractors to perform national security functions, but also how screening those contractors requires even more contractors. U.S. Investigations Service, now known as USIS, is the largest outside investigator for government security clearances. It is one of many companies that has found lucrative government work during the expansion of national security in the last decade.

From 2008 to 2012, about 40 percent of the company’s investigations were fraudulently submitted, the Justice Department said. NY Times
Can you believe this shit? Company that is responsible for performing background checks used to provide security clearance for contractors working for the NSAs and other US government agencies is a crook.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Euro Maidan is still fighting

Russia Today maintains a live blog on the situation day in day out.

Tik Tok of UN's Chief stumble on Syria Geneva II conference

The sequence, according to interviews with diplomats, went like this: He would announce he was inviting Iran to join an international peace conference on Syria. Iran would accept, seconding what Mr. Ban had announced. At no point would it be said by either party that there were conditions for Iran’s participation — a sticking point for months — though Mr. Ban would make it clear that Iran welcomed the mandate for the conference: to discuss the establishment of a transitional government.

Secretary of State John Kerry was skeptical, and he told Mr. Ban as much hours before Mr. Ban went public. Officials in the State Department said they emphasized all along that they expected Iran to commit publicly to the ground rules, known as the Geneva Communiqué, ideally before the invitation. A senior official at the United Nations, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of protocol surrounding diplomatic conversations, said there were 20 to 30 calls between Mr. Ban’s office and American officials in the 72 hours leading up to the announcement of the Iran invitation on Sunday night. Mr. Ban was convinced he could make it work, the official said. NY Times
His scheme to bring Iran to the table is noble. Yes it failed in the end but I am glad he tried. The Syrian Civil War is a regional issue and Iran deserves a seat on the table.

Monday, January 20, 2014

New Yorker interviewed Obama

As Obama ticked off a list of first-term achievements—the economic rescue, the forty-four straight months of job growth, a reduction in carbon emissions, a spike in clean-energy technology—he seemed efficient but contained, running at three-quarters speed, like an athlete playing a midseason road game of modest consequence; he was performing just hard enough to leave a decent impression, get paid, and avoid injury. Even in front of West Coast liberals, he is always careful to disavow liberalism—the word, anyway. “I’m not a particularly ideological person,” Obama told Jon Shirley and his guests. “There’s things, some values I feel passionately about.” He said that these included making sure that everybody is “being treated with dignity or respect regardless of what they look like or what their last name is or who they love,” providing a strong defense, and “leaving a planet that is as spectacular as the one we inherited from our parents and our grandparents.” He continued, “So there are values I’m passionate about, but I’m pretty pragmatic when it comes to how we get there.” New Yorker
This is a long long article - I haven't managed to read it all the way to the end yet.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

1984 is now available in Gutenberg project Australia

Get it here

Egypt got its new constitution

It is hard not to be skeptic of the 98% support number for the constitution in last week's referendum. It looks like the referendum process itself is relative clean.

Here's a review of what's in the new constitution
Article 11 of the new draft drops most of that ambiguous phrasing and requires the state to protect women from violence, ensure their empowerment and achieve equality between them and men in civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. It also grants women the right to be appointed in judicial institutions and public office and obligates the state to guarantee women are adequately represented in representative councils and bodies. The 2012 constitution did not include a similar clause.

Furthermore, Article 74 bans the formation of political parties based on religious, racial, sectarian or geographical basis. The article also bans establishing secretive parties and parties with a military or semi-military nature. It also prohibits establishing parties that are “hostile to democratic principles.”

The full translation of the constitution is provided by the Atlantic Council here.

Fun facts about Big Lebowski

The Dude's character is inspired by film promoter Jeff Dowd, who helped secure distribution for the Coen brothers' first movie. Like his fictional incarnation, Dowd was a part of anti-war group, the Seattle Seven, and has a relaxed attitude towards grooming and wardrobe.

This list is just priceless

Komar Dumor has died at his home at age of 41

As an avid viewer of BBC morning news, this news is quite shocking. He was my favorite presenter at BBC.

"Komla's many friends and colleagues across Africa and the world will be as devastated as we are by this shocking news." 
The BBC understands he had suffered a heart attack 

Jason Brown - Riverdance (Figure Skating)

He's going to Sochi.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Icelandic recovery

What happened in Iceland from 2008 to 2011 is regarded as one of the worst financial crises in history. It seems likely that never before had a country managed to amass such great sums of money per capita, only to lose it again in a short period of time. But Iceland, with a population of just 320,000, has also staged what appears to be the fastest recovery on record. Since 2011, the gross domestic product has been on the rise once again, most recently at 2 percent. What's more, salaries are rising, the national debt is sinking and the government has paid off part of the billions in loans it received in 2008 from the International Monetary Fund ahead of schedule. It's a sign of confidence. Spiegel

It is the only country in the world that put its politicians on trial for their responsibilities during the 2008 Great Financial Crisis. 

Egypt will take on Hamas

After crushing the Muslim Brotherhood at home, Egypt's military rulers plan to undermine the Palestinian militant group Hamas, which runs the neighboring Gaza Strip, senior Egyptian security officials told Reuters.

The aim, which the officials say could take years to pull off, includes working with Hamas's political rivals Fatah and supporting popular anti-Hamas activities in Gaza, four security and diplomatic officials said.

Since it seized power in Egypt last summer, Egypt's military has squeezed Gaza's economy by destroying most of the 1,200 tunnels used to smuggle food, cars and weapons to the coastal enclave, which is under an Israeli blockade.

Now Cairo is becoming even more ambitious in its drive to eradicate what it says are militant organizations that threaten its national security. Reuters
It's bad news for Hamas. The Egyptians have much more leeway in doing damage against the Palestinian militant organization simply by its virtue of not being a Jewish state. The Egyptian Army is in a protracted battle against militants in North Sinai and about to increase now that it has the rein of the country again.

The Egyptians are hosting a constitutional referendum today and tomorrow. We are expecting that it will pass - although the margin of the Yes vote and the attendance will send a signal whether General Sisi will run for President or not. He is definitely popular on the streets of Cairo but I have no idea how this pans out at the rest of the country.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Cities with the cheapest beer in the world


The ones in Saudi Arabia are 'non alcoholic beer', which really don't count.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

The story of Cambodia protest

Yup, there are big protests around the clock in the world right now. Here's a good coverage on the under reported textile worker protests's against Cambodian government
Even more recently, garment factory workers gathered many times to protest against their abominable work conditions. All they were asking for was 120 $ a month. What Hun Sen had to say to this was no, his government only offering a mere 90 $ a month to the people literally dying while making your clothes. Angry Asian Girls United

Monday, January 06, 2014

The Great Middle East disaster

Lebanese officials and religious figures mobilized Saturday to prevent a renewal of tensions in the northern city of Tripoli after unknown assailants torched a historic library owned by a Greek Orthodox priest.

Civil Defense teams struggled to put out the flames which engulfed the bookstore owned by Father Ibrahim Srouj in the old Serail neighborhood in the city, turning one of Lebanon's most renowned libraries into rubble.

Unknown assailants torched Al-Saeh library, destroying "two thirds of some 80,000 books and manuscripts housed there,” AFP reported. Daily Star
The Syrian tragedy is engulfing its neighbors. Iraq lost two cities to Islamic militants and Lebanon are experiencing frequent assassination and bombing. It makes you miss the good old days where 'only Israel is the bad guy' (which was never true in the first place).

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Why have no high level finance executives have been prosecuted?

Five years have passed since the onset of what is sometimes called the Great Recession. While the economy has slowly improved, there are still millions of Americans leading lives of quiet desperation: without jobs, without resources, without hope.

Who was to blame? Was it simply a result of negligence, of the kind of inordinate risk-taking commonly called a “bubble,” of an imprudent but innocent failure to maintain adequate reserves for a rainy day? Or was it the result, at least in part, of fraudulent practices, of dubious mortgages portrayed as sound risks and packaged into ever more esoteric financial instruments, the fundamental weaknesses of which were intentionally obscured?

If it was the former—if the recession was due, at worst, to a lack of caution—then the criminal law has no role to play in the aftermath. For in all but a few circumstances (not here relevant), the fierce and fiery weapon called criminal prosecution is directed at intentional misconduct, and nothing less. If the Great Recession was in no part the handiwork of intentionally fraudulent practices by high-level executives, then to prosecute such executives criminally would be “scapegoating” of the most shallow and despicable kind. Jed S. Rakoff
Jed S. Rakoff is a United States District Judge for the Southern District of New York.

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

The best way to celebrate a new year

Marijuana users lighting up in Colorado on Wednesday, the day on which recreational use of the drug becomes legal in that state, might want to contemplate one pot-related paradox as they do so. 
The drug that they will be smoking will have been legally cultivated and sold under state law. And, as far as Colorado is concerned, if they’re over 21 they will be able to purchase it lawfully. But by doing so, they will be breaking federal law – namely the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, which makes it illegal for anyone in the US to possess, manufacture or sell the drug. Guardian
This is a great news for both potheads and non-potheads alike. If you smoke, then can do you so legally now in Colorado. If you don't smoke, it means that the police you paid for will spend more time in other more worthy criminal causes.