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Quicklinks 2009.11.27


Measuring Global Happiness

Smiley Face With a Question Mark
How do you measure global happiness?

If you go by Marcellus, who tells Horatio “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark,” then you would have never guessed that Danes are the happiest people on Earth. That’s according to Professor Ruut Veenhoven at Erasmus University in Rotterdam.

He is not alone in trying to quantify “happiness.” The New Economics Foundation, in Britain, has relied on the professor’s “happy life years” variable among others to create the “Happy Planet Index.” High levels of consumption appears to be inversely related to the index, while island life makes the planet happier.

It is odd that Vanuatu, which is about to disappear, ranked No. 1 on the index.

Smiley Face With a Question Mark
How do you measure global happiness?

If you go by Marcellus, who tells Horatio “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark,” then you would have never guessed that Danes are the happiest people on Earth. That’s according to Professor Ruut Veenhoven at Erasmus University in Rotterdam.

He is not alone in trying to quantify “happiness.” The New Economics Foundation, in Britain, has relied on the professor’s “happy life years” variable among others to create the “Happy Planet Index.” High levels of consumption appears to be inversely related to the index, while island life makes the planet happier.

It is odd that Vanuatu, which is about to disappear, ranked No. 1 on the index.
The Foundation did a poor job in explaining the highly subjective variables — life satisfaction, happy life years and ecological footprint.

Generally, ‘self-appointed world leaders’ (a.k.a. G-8) ranked lower in the index due to high consumption levels, while Central America had the highest average score for a region. The index does not actually measure “happiness” as much as it claims to measure the ratio between consumption and available resources on the planet.

We should all strive for a sustainable planet, but it should not be based on an unbelievable index that makes little sense. Perhaps the Foundation could have devised a more believable indicator and called it a “sustainability index.”

For the scientific reasons behind HPI’s failure, I defer to Dr. Craig Depken, economy professor at the University of Texas at Arlington, who explains “that while it is possible to be happy with less, it is far easier to be happy with more.”

Calculate your personal Happy Planet Index. You will see why the index is unbelievable. After having taken the personal HPI survey, I would like to tell NEF:

  • I refuse to ride my bicycle 30 miles a day, to and from downtown, and risk being hit by a moving vehicle. This is not geographically small U.K.
  • I don’t eat Big Mac very often. But when I crave it, I will have one. I love vegetables. Did you know bananas are radioactive?
  • I will not walk or ride a bicycle or use otherwise non-polluting vehicle or swim across shark-infested seas to travel from one continent to another.

Why U.S. Counterterrorism Efforts Are Misguided

Tennessee Mule Day a Bin Laden Target
Tennessee believes Osama bin Laden will attack the Mule Day Parade. Indiana thinks its popcorn factory is a target.

To fight the “war on terrorism,” the U.S. Air Force has given away US$450,000 to a group of scientists to study blogs. Early conclusions are startling:

Blog entries have a different structure. They are typically short and are about something external to the blog posting itself, such as a news event. It’s not uncommon for a blogger to simply state, “I can’t believe this happened,” and then link to a news story.

I can’t believe this happened!.

There is more. The Homeland Security Department counts a petting zoo, a poker club, a popcorn factory and car dealerships as potential terrorist targets. See the complete list below.

A while back, the Homeland Security Department asked the 50 states and territories to submit critical assets that could be potential terrorist targets. The inspector general at D.H.S. called the following submissions “out of place.”

  • 4 Cs Fuel and Lube
  • A Restaurant
  • A Travel Stop
  • A state Community College
  • A state Right to Life Committee
  • A university Insect Zoo
  • American Legion
  • American Society of Young Musicians (Beverly Hills, California)
  • Amish Country Popcorn (Berne, Indiana)
  • Anti-Cruelty Society (Chicago, Illinois)
  • Apple and Pork Festival (Clinton, Illinois)
  • Association for the Jewish Blind
  • Assyrian American Association (Modesto, California)
  • Auto Shop
  • Bakery & Cookie Shop
  • Bass Pro Shop
  • Beach at End of a Street
  • Bean Fest
  • Bourbon Festival
  • Brewery
  • Car Dealerships
  • Casket Company
  • Center for Veterinary Medicine
  • DPW Landfill
  • Donut Shop
  • Elevator Company
  • Frontier Fun Park (Fairbury, Nebraska)
  • Groundhog Zoo
  • Heritage Groups
  • High Stakes Bingo
  • Historical Bok Sanctuary (Lake Wales, Florida)
  • Ice Cream Parlor
  • Inn
  • Jay’s Sporting Goods (Clare, Michigan)
  • Kangaroo Conservation Center (Dawsonville, Georgia)
  • Kennel Club and Poker Room
  • Mail Boxes Etc
  • Mall at Sears
  • Mule Day Parade (Columbia, Tennessee)
  • Muzzle Shoot Enterprise
  • Nestle Purina Pet food Plant
  • Night clubs
  • Nix’s Check Cashing
  • Old MacDonald’s petting zoo
  • Order of Elks National Memorial
  • Parcel Shop
  • Pepper and Herb Company
  • Pepsi Bottlers
  • Petting Zoo
  • Property Owners Associations
  • Psychiatry Behavioral Center
  • Rolls Royce Plant
  • Sears Auto Center
  • Several Wal-Marts
  • Sports Club
  • Sweetwater Flea Market (Sweetwater, Tennessee)
  • Tackle Shop
  • Theological Seminary
  • Trees of Mystery
  • UPS Store
  • Veterinary Clinic
  • Wine and Coffee Co.
  • YMCA Center
  • Yacht Repair Business

Indiana, which may be going for either a publicity stunt or a stupidity award, has submitted 8,591 “assets,” more than any other state. Why Al-Qa’ida or a similar terrorist group would strike a popcorn factory is unclear. Even stranger is the Mule Day Parade in Columbia, Tennessee. At least the parade has now made international news.

As for the “beach at the end of a street,” whichever state was responsible for this submission should know that it is a target as attractive as “The Restaurant at the End of the Universe.”


Kofi Annan: ‘A Bit Envious of FIFA’

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan wishes the whole world could unite around diseases, poverty and human rights like it did around the 2006 World Cup.

In a frank interview with Spiegel on wide-ranging subjects, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan says he is “a bit envious of FIFA” because the whole world united around the soccer ball and paid attention to the World Cup.

He wishes the whole world could unite and tackle diseases, poverty and humans rights and stop the genocide in Darfur. Iraq has been a huge lesson learned for the Americans, Mr. Annan notes. He predicts the U.S. Congress will be reluctant to approve a similar war so haphazardly in the future.

Mr. Annan says he is a football referee but without the yellow and red cards.
The secretary-general’s term expires at the end of this year when he will have served 44 years in the United Nations. He has been a tireless advocate for human rights and sustainable development, but his tenure has been marked by seismic changes in the world body.

The U.N. has become even more theatrical since Nikita Khrushchev’s shoe-banging incident. It has become a stage for the likes of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Hugo Chavez to spew propaganda and hatred. It has become a helpless toy for the rich which gets to play only if they allow it.

The world has changed, too. Germany will join the Security Council sooner or later, Mr. Annan tells Spiegel. But uniting 192 member states, who have a tough time agreeing on anything, is a challenge, he admits.

This week, he is trying to correct a mistake that led to the hasty withdrawal of Israeli forces and to the vacuum filled by the Hezbollah militia. Mr. Annan is arguing for a bigger, stronger U.N. force to guard the southern borders until the Lebanese military is strong enough to secure its territory from Hezbollah.

This new force, he hopes, would actually have the power to enforce a cease-fire and create stability. But who would give the U.N. such power to keep the peace?


Israel Caught With Its Pants Down

Israel Defense Forces Air Strike Against Hezbollah Targets in Lebanon
It’s time for Israel to eliminate Hezbollah since no one else, including the U.N. and the U.S., is willing to do it. (Photo:Courtesy Israel Defense Forces)

The Israeli military let its guard down, giving Hezbollah and Hamas the perfect opportunity to test the country’s resolve and relieve mounting pressures on Iran and Syria. Even more embarrassing was the intelligence failure that led to the bombing of I.D.F. corvette “Ahi Hanit.”

The United Nations and chief negotiators for the Middle East have failed the people in the region by forcing Israel’s evacuation from Southern Lebanon and Gaza without filling the void left by the withdrawal.

It is time for Israel to destroy Hezbollah and remove that leverage from Iran and for the U.N. to ensure the Lebanese army has full control over its territory. That might give Iran’s paranoid mullahs something to think about.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and his aides were reportedly close to a deal with Hamas to return kidnapped I.D.F. Corporal Gilad Shalit. According to Mr. Mubarak, Syria forced Hamas to scuttle that deal.

Syria has provided rear base support to many Palestinian groups during the Cold War and used them as a pressure switch against Israel. In the latest flare-up, Syria appears to have received Iran’s Fajr (Fajar) 3 missiles with a range of 45 kilometers, copied and modified them and shipped them recently to Hezbollah for use against Israel.

This revelation suggests that Iran and Syria have been planning a diversionary tactic for months while Israel has been asleep under the inexperienced, Moroccan-born Defense Minister Amir Peretz (Labour) and under Prime Minister Ehud Olmert (Kadima), a conservative firebrand who is also somewhat new to national politics, not to mention national defense.

Commentators in the Israeli media have been openly questioning how the I.D.F. could let Hezbollah and Hamas kidnap three of its reserve soldiers when they were well aware of the threat.

Even more troubling is the intelligence failure that led to the destruction of an Egyptian freighter and Israel’s Saar-5 corvette “Ahi Hanit.” The ship’s anti-missile system was reportedly switched off while operating within visible range of Lebanese shores. A fire caused by the missile led to the death of three sailors.

The radar-guided missile was identified as a version of Chinese-made C-802, which China used to sell to Iran. After the U.S. made it difficult to transfer the missile, Iran turned to North Korea for help.

Israel is unlikely to risk a war against Iran’s formidable military. But it should bring Hezbollah to its knees in order to send Iran a strong message that its Cold War-era war by proxy belongs in the trash bin.

But dozens of Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps [IRGC] soldiers reportedly fighting alongside Hezbollah, and even manning some of the missile batteries, could come under Israeli fire. If Hezbollah does transfer the two I.D.F. soldiers to Iran, as suggested by Israeli intelligence, then the latest conflict could overshadow the region.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been trying to turn Israel’s retaliatory strike as a war against Islam. So did Tehran Ayatollah Mohammad Emami-Kashani. But Saudi Arabia, in a statement issued through the official Saudi Press Agency, blamed Hezbollah for starting this conflict that could consume all Arab nations in the region, suggesting clearly that Riyadh does not support Tehran’s position of turning this into anything bigger.

So far, the U.N. has declined requests to consider deploying a monitoring force again. If the U.N., Lebanon and Syria will not take responsibility for Hezbollah, then someone else should eliminate this professional militia whose sole job is to attack Israel.

The only predictable aspect of this latest conflict is that both Tehran and Damascus are behaving as they have for decades. They should not, however, count on support from their neighbors. All they have done so far is to highlight their duplicitous policies that encourage missile proliferation and conflicts.


South African “Taxi War”

It’s not a case of road rage. It is a real war that claimed the lives of thousands of real, innocent people. It involved hit men, Molotov cocktails, assault rifles and corrupt fat cats vying for routes.

This violent war resulted from poor or lack of oversight of the taxi industry as well as corrupt government officials. Yet two reports review how the taxi industry has helped alleviate poverty for some black South Africans even as violence continued. That may all come to an end soon.
It’s not a case of road rage. It is a real war that claimed the lives of thousands of real, innocent people. It involved hit men, Molotov cocktails, assault rifles and corrupt fat cats vying for routes.

This violent war resulted from poor or lack of oversight of the taxi industry as well as corrupt government officials. Yet two reports review how the taxi industry has helped alleviate poverty for some black South Africans even as violence continued. That may all come to an end soon.
Taxing Alternatives: Poverty Alleviation and the South African Taxi/Minibus Industry” argues that driving regular and 16-seat minibus taxis has been a great source of income for many drivers. Yet the government’s poorly conceived Taxi Recapitalization Programme [TRP] will do little to stop the turf battles. In fact, author Karol Boudreaux argues, T.R.P. will increase fares, put small entrepreneurs out of business and prolong the taxi war.

The World Bank’s Urban Transport Thematic Group has surveyed the taxi industry’s impact on the national economy. And there is an economic theory behind the taxi markets!

The most detailed account South Africa’s taxi war comes from the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation. The 2001 study blames rapid deregulation, political destabilization, corruption, mafia-like taxi associations and a weak criminal justice system for the violence.

Analyst Colleen McCaul’s “No Easy Ride: The Rise and Future of the Black Taxi Industry” (126 pages, South African Institute of Race Relations) remains one of the few books that explores the violent taxi industry in depth.

The future of the South African taxi industry looks very murky. Transportation Ministry spokesman Collen Msibi claimed commitment and tons of money being thrown at public transportation might be able to handle the World Cup traffic.

But is it sufficient to overcome the post-apartheid culture of violence?

The South African Broadcasting Corporation [SABC] puts the “Crime/Justice” category at the top of its country news section.

Look at these recent headlines:


Dilapidated S. Africa Not Ready for World Cup

Logo of South Africa FIFA World Cup 2010
Can South Africa pull off the 2010 World Cup without a hitch? Even locals have doubts.

South Africa’s aging or nonexistent infrastructure, corruption and violence, not to mention “taxi wars” and “highway stoning,” make the country a questionable choice to host the 2010 World Cup.

One Web site, whose publisher has received death threats, is warning tourists off his country by highlighting violent crimes. And even some public officials are questioning how and whether investment in the tournament will benefit the poor.
Neil Watson of Crime Expo SA has taken upon himself to expose the country’s violent crimes even at the risk of his own welfare. Graphic details of rape, murder and other heinous crimes are displayed openly.

Mr. Watson says he launched the campaign to jolt the South African leadership so it might take serious steps to clamp down on crime. One key goal is “a decline in international tourists.”

Statistics by the South African Police Service [SAPS] reflect the need for major action. In the fiscal year ending in March 2005, there were 18,793 murders. That translates to 40.3 murders per 100,000 residents, making South Africa one of the murder capitals of the world.

The eighth United Nations survey of crimes covering 2001 and 2002 shows South Africa had a murder rate of 47.53 in 2002. El Salvador came in second with 31.54. The United States had a murder rate of 5.62. (Colombia did not submit its data.)

For the 2004-2005 period, the SAPS data also showed:

Crime Reported Cases
Murder: 18,793
Rape: 55,114
Attempted Murder: 24,516
Assault: 517,226
Robbery 217,614
Kidnapping and Abduction: 6,498
Carjacking and Truck Hijacking: 13,364
Burglary: 332,212
Arson: 8,184

With these kinds of numbers, Mr. Watson is right to launch an international awareness campaign and to highlight the weak and ineffective criminal justice system. Yet Young Adam “Addy” Barnes seemed disgusted by Mr. Watson’s shock campaign and launched a different one, titled “the unbroken barometer.”

Mr. Barnes is clearly proud to be a South African and acknowledges the crime problem, but he promotes positive dialogues over an anti-tourism campaign. He is not alone in opposing the Crime Expo SA site. Government officials and promoters of tourism and investment have also taken a dim view of the soon-to-be very gory Web site.

Corruption linked to preparations for 2010 has already made headlines. Pietermaritzburg in KwaZulu-Natal province has spent 200,000 Rand (US$28,000) to send four officials to watch Germany handle the World Cup. KwaZulu-Natal itself has spent 320,000 Rand (US$45,000) to send a dozen officials. In contrast, Cape Town spent a modest 80,000 Rand (US$11,000) to send a 90-member delegation on a fact-finding trip to Germany.

Behind that conservative spending is Cape Town’s new mayor, Helen Zille. She is enthusiastic about hosting the tournament in her city. Yet she remains openly cautious about ‘diverting funds away from housing and social projects.’

There is some good news about social projects. South Africa is well on its way to eliminate the “bucket toilet system” and bring basic fresh water to all residents. Another variable to consider is FIFA. The football federation’s stringent rules on money-making sponsorship deals could potentially rob local entrepreneurs of valuable opportunities and hand lucrative business to international conglomerates.


Getting around town and the country will be a major headache and often unsafe. Gautrain, an ambitious project to build high-speed rails for bullet train, will not be finished by 2010. Tourists will be left with unsafe and sometimes violent trains that are overcrowded.

South African highways are famous for stoning. Bricks and other objects strike unsuspecting drivers are high speeds. Federal and provincial officials appear unable, for some reason, to jointly tackle the deadly problem.

Many residential neighborhoods are unsafe as well. In Cape Town suburbs last weekend, gangs armed with AK-47 assault rifles hijacked at least four cars (Benz, BMW, Renault and Golf) from their driveways as the owners were leaving for work. The cars were later abandoned nearby.

Taxis? Ride them at your own risk. No, cab drivers are not out for you. They are out for each other. Fierce turf battles among rival taxi companies involved hit men and assault rifles. At least 2,000 people died in the taxi wars, and thousands more were injured. Most of the victims were innocent bystanders.

In the end, post-Apartheid South Africa is worth visiting. It’s almost like any other world class tourist destination except for the enormously high rates of crime, death, destruction and HIV infection. The beaches? They look beautiful in photos.


Failed States Index 2006 Shows Countries At Risk

Graphic for Failed States Index 2006
Failed States Index 2006 shows which countries are at risk of going belly-up.

Sudan topped the second annual Failed States Index [FSI], published by The Fund for Peace and the Foreign Policy journal. Zimbabwe, however, saw the steepest slide in the index.

We’ve established that we like development statistics that are easy to read and understand. F.S.I. 2006 is not as visually appealing, but its 12 indicators provide another standardized way at interpreting how states evolve or devolve.
The Index uses the following 12 indicators:

  1. Mounting Demographic Pressures
  2. Massive Movement of Refugees and IDPs
  3. Legacy of Vengeance Seeking Group Grievance
  4. Chronic and Sustained Human Flight
  5. Uneven Economic Development along Group Lines
  6. Sharp and/or Severe Economic Decline
  7. Criminalization or Delegitimization of the State
  8. Progressive Deterioration of Public Services
  9. Widespread Violation of Human Rights
  10. Security Apparatus as “State within a State”
  11. Rise of Factionalized Elites
  12. Intervention of Other States or External Actors
Wonder why some of these states are failing? Wonder no more. A photo essay by Jan Banning shows police, city and state officials working for little or no money around the world. The best example? A Liberian county governor had no money for an office, which locals built with their own money. They ran out of cash to build windows or a door.

Scores of 1 to 10 in each category are tallied to quantify the degree of failure experienced by a country. The 146 countries in the index are then grouped by score ranges, dividing them into “critical,” “in danger,” “borderline” and “sustainable” or “stable.”

Sudan (112.3 points) has been wrecked by a seemingly intractable conflict in the Darfur region. The Democratic Republic of Congo (110.1) ranked second. Côte d’Ivoire and Iraq came in third and fourth, respectively, and are also no surprises.

Zimbabwe, Pakistan, Nigeria and China skidded by 10 or more points, while stability increased in Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The United States scored 34.5 points and did not make the cut for the “stable” or “sustainable” group of countries. Neither did Britain, Germany or France, which all ranked in “borderline.”

The most stable countries? Finland, Sweden and Norway.


Libya’s Gadhafi Finds New Enemy

Photo of Col. Moammar Gadhafi kicking a football.

Colonel Moammar Gadhafi, who recently lost his job as the anti-U.S. terrorism supporter, has found a new enemy. In a scathing letter, he defines FIFA as the symbol of everything that is wrong with this world.

Times have changed since the colonel was the go-to man for many extremist groups, from disenchanted students to sophisticated terrorists. The U.S. has officially set up shop in Tripoli. Britain is offering a mutual defense pact. And Chinese-made Maples (automobiles) have arrived.
For a man whose life has been consumed by fighting the West, proliferating weapons and training and supporting terrorists, the worst possible headline would be ‘Peace Breaks Out.’ When peace did break out, he found himself without an enemy.

So what does the Revolutionary Leader have against the world football federation?

In his rant titled “FIFA: Modify It or Cancel It,” Col. Gadhafi calls the entity “an exploiting economic embezzling venture.” FIFA is a “project for corruption and spoiling, money laundering … [and] passport forging.”

FIFA “has increased the international racism tendency and the extreme right,” he writes. It poses a “material and moral danger” to the world and should be overhauled or “canceled.”

The colonel’s charges are not new. FIFA has facilitated Europe’s buying of South American and African players. It has also outright opposed a proposal to host the next World Cup in Libya and Tunisia. (That is probably the real reason he dove off the deep end.)

Hosting the World Cup in Libya would have been a great boost to its image — a celebration to mark the end of its isolation. But FIFA has its own problems to deal with. And so does Libya.

Luring foreign investment and facilitating tourism should be at the top of its list.

In fact, I’m still waiting for my visa and invitation to Libya. I would love to see it before excessive development ruins its ancient charm.


L.R.A.: Uhm, We’re Done. Let’s Talk Peace?

Photo of Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda, by Sam Farmar.
Joseph Kony, the kooky and brutal leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army [LRA], claims he wants peace and Ten Commandmants. (Photo: Sam Farmar via The Times)

When was the last time Lord’s Resistance Army leader Joseph Kony gave an interview or allowed himself to be videotaped for a news program or offered to talk about peace?


This cult leader, who says spirits talk to him, is accused of slaughtering and mutilating more than 10,000 people, abducting 25,000 to 30,000 children and forcing a million people to flee. His arch-enemy, Ugandan President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni has already rejected any offer of talks.
It took freelance reporter Sam Farmar 12 days to get to Mr. Kony’s hideout in the thick jungles of the Democratic Republic of Congo (former Belgian Congo). He was escorted there by Riek Machar, vice president of southern Sudan, and 40 of his security personnel.

In the interview to be broadcast tonight by Newsnight on BBC2, the rebel leader says:

If Museveni can agree to talk with me it is only a very good thing, which I know will bring peace to the people of Uganda.

Mr. Museveni, a former rebel leader himself, is also accused of countless human rights violations and rolling back democracy even though his transgressions are considered less serious than those of Idi Amin, the dictator he ousted. Still, Mr. Museveni had a clear hand in laying the groundwork for what would snowball into the Rwandan genocide.

The president with a checkered past has ruled out any peace negotiations with the L.R.A., but he has offered Mr. Kony to stop his rebellion by the end of July in exchange for his safety. That could be a tough sell to the cautious rebel leader when Mr. Museveni has persecuted his own friends and allies.

When asked by Mr. Farmar about village massacres and cutting off lips and limbs, Mr. Kony denied the charges and accused Mr. Museveni’s own forces of committing the atrocities and blaming him.

If Mr. Kony ends up at the International Criminal Court [ICC] to respond to indictments against him, there is a possibility that other Ugandans, like Mr. Museveni himself, may be indicted on crimes against humanity. But Mr. Museveni has friends, like President George W. Bush of the United States, which is not a signatory to the I.C.C. charter.

Mr. Kony said he was fighting for a “free” Uganda and for “Ten Commandments.” Of course, the spirits are still talking to him.


Children Suffer From English Fatigue Syndrome

Overzealous Korean parents are driving their children insane by forcing English down their throats, Chosun Ilbo reports. While this craze is not new, there is now a medical term associated with the nervous breakdown the kids suffer as a result.

English Fatigue Syndrome! Yes, really. And this starts at a very early age. And the parents are to blame.
The Korean education system and parents have two goals: 1) getting into a top university; and 2) showing off.

Even middle school students would start their day at 6:00 a.m., come home around 4:00 p.m., and then hit the library or private tutoring classes until late in the evening. Then come homework and studying until exhaustion overtakes concentration.

To get into either the Seoul National University, Korea University or Yonsei University (collectively known as SKY), Korean teenagers start studying in middle school to get into a reputable high school, which they hope will give them a better shot at the dreaded College Scholastic Ability Test [CSAT].

The importance of English, the world’s de facto official tongue, is stressed on these kids starting in elementary school, if not earlier. Most parents would do almost anything to give their children an edge in English. Some pay for expensive tutors and classes. Scolding their kids to be more like their friends who are better at English comes naturally.

The sometimes violent explosion as a response to the pressure to learn English is called “English Fatigue Syndrome,” Chosun Ilbo said. And a growing number children are boycotting English, screaming “I want to kill English!”

The English education business is a US$10 billion industry, according to Chosun. It would be hard to escape or avoid such a big phenomenon. What, isn’t your child taking extra English classes?

All this stress and pressure lead to frequent suicides. South Korea is already well known for its high suicide rates. One survey showed that about 63 percent of students have thought about suicides. Why? It’s because they are drilled to believe they are a failure unless they get into a top university to make the family proud. Granted, there are far fewer alternatives in Korea than in the U.S., for example, for those who do not make it to college.

The Korea Times talked about a government program to curb suicides in both adults and children, but it failed to mention poor grades and pressure to get into the top schools as common reasons. There are no immediate signs that suicide rates among teenagers are dropping.

As this 2004 Education Ministry chart shows, there are only about half as many seats available in regular universities as there are students taking the CSAT. The enormous emphasis placed on this one exam, has led to an annual anti-CSAT festival.

Then again, school pressure is not the only reason Korean students commit suicide.


Kim Jong-Il: Help! I’m Going Ballistic!

Photo of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il and U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in Pyongyang
How fast can a glimmer of hope disappear? (Photo: U.S. Department of State)

Iran has been receiving much attention, including a proposal for détente, from the Europeans and the U.S. Envious of that kind of play, “Dear Leader” declared he was going ballistic!

After decades of practice, North Korea is skilled at producing statements that are sure to ruffle feathers and grab attention. To an untrained ear, these belligerent words sound like air raid sirens. But he is not suicidal. And all he wants is some T.L.C., phone calls and peace and quiet in his backyard.

There are some things the U.S. can do to overcome this largely political hurdle.
It would not be surprising if Iran has taken a chapter or two out of North Korea’s playbook on effective propaganda and war-mongering in order to raise its bargaining position.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad appears to have adapted North Korea’s tactics to his own needs. Instead of the overplayed “Great Satan,” he took a swipe at Israel. When the U.S. largely ignored it, Iran pressed further.

The most bizarre part about the new tactics was literally the song and dance that accompanied the celebration of its Uranium enrichment program.

The photo below shows men in traditional clothing dancing against the backdrop of doves tugging on an Iranian flag with the universal nuclear symbol. The two men are holding metal canisters of enriched Uranium (maybe). Even by North Korean standards, this seems over the top.

Photo of Iranians dancing for enriched Uranium

What does Kim Jong-Il want?

North Korea’s announcement about the possibility of a long-range missile test is rooted in five key reasons.

  1. Kim Jong-Il would like some tender loving care from the Bush administration and have some of its phone calls returned.
  2. “Dear Leader” may be under intense pressure from the military to get on with testing and improving its Tae-Po-Dong II series long-range missiles. When was the last test? Exactly! Plus, not all factions in the military support him.
  3. Pyongyang knows how to manipulates the world press and the Bush administration into giving it more leverage at negotiating tables.
  4. Kim Jong-Il needs to appear strong to survive a possible coup against him. Rumored assassination attempts and public protest against him follow reports of increasing instability there.
  5. North Korea is desperate for food, money and stability, which they will never receive or achieve with their black-market economy.

What the U.S. Should Do

The Bush administration’s playbook on North Korea has been very inconsistent and dictated more by political considerations than by strategic needs. That approach follows precedents set by this group of policymakers.

  1. Stop playing into Pyongyang’s propaganda machine. North Korea may very well test a long-range missile, but it is not suicidal. By responding instantly to the North Korean threat, the U.S. ceded control of the play and credence to Pyongyang.
  2. Remember that much like President Bush, Kim Jong-Il is under intense political, social and military pressure. Mr. Kim is most likely the lesser of two, possibly three or more, evils.
  3. Waste little time, as the succession struggle intensifies in Pyongyang, and bear in mind the inconvenient timing (Israeli elections) of the progress made by Arafat, Barak and Clinton in 1998.
  4. North Korea’s greatest advantage is its insular nature. Exclusionary policies rarely work. (e.g. Cuba and the Oil for Food program) Be the first to break down the wall and catch them off guard.
  5. Prevent the North Korean economy from going further underground, as seen in smuggling and counterfeiting. Force them to make money off of transparent trade, which will also quiet hard-liners in the military and weaken the post-Kim Il-Sung, neo-conservative elite.
  6. Do not use this as an opportunity to test the missile defense system. As the Pentagon is painfully aware, the chance of a successful intercept is very low. If it fails, then it could undermine (or expose) the uncertain technology and impact funding.
  7. To maintain (or build) strategic advantage, do all this before the Chinese, Europeans or Russians are forced to step in. One advantage now is that Pyongyang still wants the U.S. and no one else to be its patron. Use it.
  8. Other issues? Get over it! I got over the Koreagate, the Iran-Contra Affairs and the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. The Cold War is over. Woolsey and Wolfowitz lost.

The Bush administration should also not be tempted to create a theoretically manageable skirmish to divert attention from problems plaguing it. U.S. troops in Okinawa cannot reach safety that fast.


Development Stats for World Cup

Graphics for Who Should I Cheer For?

Visual presentation of global development data has become an art form. To a lay person, mounds of data compiled by a graduate student have little meaning. Gapminder helps us “visualize human development,” turning complex data into easy-to-use tools.

Similarly, if you are struggling to pick a national football (soccer) team to cheer for, and have little idea about, say, Ghana or Côte d’Ivoire, then you should seek help from the “Who Should I Cheer For?” tool.

The U.K.-based World Development Movement is drawing attention to the conditions of World Cup-qualifying countries by ranking the 32 states from “the most supportable” to the least supportable in a virtual match-up.

The game uses life expectancy, poverty, military, aid and health spending, Carbon dioxide emission, income disparity, external debt, Transparency International’s Corruption Index, the number of multinational companies and Amnesty International’s human rights reports.

Gapminder, on the other hand, uses more complex data. Professor Hans Rosling and others, who started the nonprofit group last year, definitely made world development statistics much less boring.

A critical part of Gapminder’s visualization software is the moving graph. Child mortality rate, for example, can be compared with contraceptive use, per capita income, the availability of doctors or a dozen other data. The actual dots where these two data intersect can be colored by geographic regions or income groups. And the best part is that you can see how this graph changes over time.

Who hosts Gapminder’s online tools? Yes, Google.


Bloated FIFA ‘Occupies’ Germany

Namibia recently took orders from Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. Now Germany is taking orders from FIFA, the “occupying power” Germans and others are beginning to hate.

Cash-hungry FIFA and its Executive Committee (“Excomm”) have turned the organization into a business machine that will earn US$2.35 billion, a lot more than dozens of countries around the world make in a year.
Namibia recently took orders from Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. Now Germany is taking orders from FIFA, the “occupying power” Germans and others are beginning to hate.

Cash-hungry FIFA and its Executive Committee (“Excomm”) have turned the organization into a business machine that will earn US$2.35 billion, a lot more than dozens of countries around the world make in a year.
Every team is treated equally in the field, making World Cup tournaments a great equalizer for poorer countries that are ignored by the rest of the world. Images of distraught fans convey how much pride rides on these games. Yet FIFA has given a red card to sportsmanship and friendship and substituted cold hard cash.

Deutsche Welle reports that FIFA is pocketing millions from ticket sales instead of sharing it with the German Organization Committee which has spent, along with the government, some US$4.6 billion for the tournament.

FIFA ordered Germany to take down the corporate names from the AOL Arena in Hamburg and Allianz Arena in Munich and to cover up the Nike logo in Frankfurt. It tried and failed to copyright the phrases “World Cup 2006” and “Football World Cup 2006” — thanks to a wise judge and a lawsuit by the Ferrero Group, maker of the yummy duplo chocolate bar.

FIFA Excomm’s insatiable appetite for money has been criticized by German football officials, who demanded the World Cup be “cleaned.”

FIFA President Joseph “Sepp” Blatter is under investigation in Switzerland in connection with a bribery and corruption scandal. And German President Horst Köhler is reportedly reconsidering a plan to award Mr. Blatter the country’s highest civilian honor, the Bundesverdienstkreuz.

If FIFA were a country, its total revenue from this year’s tournament would put it somewhere between Guam and Aruba if ranked by GDP. But I would not choose to live in FIFA land.


Globalization and FIFA World Cup 2006®

Graphic of World Cup Logo and the Earth

From loss of productivity in Australia to imported turf, the international sporting event that comes around every four years has direct and indirect economic consequences worldwide.

Corruption and bribery scandals also show that FIFA officials may have manipulated where the money went and how it was spent to benefit certain companies in specific countries.

  • Most of the grass for the 12 World Cup stadiums comes from a secret farm in the Netherlands. A changing economy in the 1970s forced that farm to abandon cows and pigs for grass.
  • The official “Teamgeist” (Team Spirit) football is outsourced by German firm Adidas to Japanese polymer specialist Molten, which has a joint venture with a Thai firm to make the ball. The Thai women who make these thermal-bonded balls earn US$130 a month, also the retail price for one of the balls.
  • In Australia, the loss of productivity from watching a match that starts at 2:00 in the morning and recovering afterward was estimated at US$187 million.
  • The collective value of the Brazilian national team is about US$530 million with such popular players as Ronaldhino, has-been Ronaldo, up-and-coming Kaka, Adriano and Robinho. Ronaldhino, who plays for Barcelona, is one of 5,000 highly paid Brazilians who play for foreign teams.
  • A similar exodus of expensive players is painful to Africa. A Nigerian columnist documents how Europe hates to release African players during the Cup.
  • If Spain wins the cup, each player will receive US$718,000 in bonuses. If they lose in the final, they still get US$360,000. The Iran Football Association will give each player US$63,000 and a Peugeot 206 if they win. Prince Sultan Fahad bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia will give the players a little stipend land or new homes.
  • The Panini Group, an Italian collectibles giant and the victim of multiple takeovers, is printing 75 million collectible football stickers a day to meet consumer demands worldwide.
  • South African-based Gold Fields Ltd., was told to cut back its mining operations in Ghana to conserve enough electricity for Ghanaians to watch the football match without blackouts.
  • In Bangladesh, where the opposition laid siege to the electoral commission’s office, the parliament is considering shorter sessions to allow enough time for lawmakers to watch the matches.
  • The World Cup has forced the nascent mobile TV technology out of the labs and into the real world. Expect to watch the 2008 Olympics on your mobile phones.
  • The official World Cup Web site had 1.2 billion page views in the first week and 226 million page views on June 12 alone. That’s a lot of exposure and cash for California-based Yahoo!
  • Trading volume in the Mexican market was way down this morning, as the country faced Portugal and lost. Mexico is not alone. Brazilian markets close early for games. Latin American trade overall has slowed.
  • FIFA and its president are mired in bribery and corruption scandals that span decades. This year, hard-to-get tickets were rerouted to FIFA VP Jack Warner, who sold them through his family-owned Simpaul Travel Agency in Trinidad and Tobago.
  • Above all, the World Cup can have adverse health effects as seen in this Thai construction worker who died of a heart attack during the Sweden-England match.

‘Noah’s Ark’ for Seeds Launched

In case of extinction, a “doomsday vault” for three million seeds will be built on Svalbard, a very cold island about 966 kilometres (604 miles) south of the North Pole. The seed vault will be guarded by polar bears.

Five Nordic prime ministers attended the ground-breaking ceremony today, three decades after the idea was born. Far from wars and not a terrorist favorite, the underground vault is supposed to preserve our crop diversity for hundreds of years.
In case of extinction, a “doomsday vault” for three million seeds will be built on Svalbard, a very cold island about 966 kilometres (604 miles) south of the North Pole. The seed vault will be guarded by polar bears.

Five Nordic prime ministers attended the ground-breaking ceremony today, three decades after the idea was born. Far from wars and not a terrorist favorite, the underground vault is supposed to preserve our crop diversity for hundreds of years.
It took almost 30 years. Scientists broached the idea in the 1980s. Seven years of negotiations at the Food & Agriculture Organisation [FAO] produced the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture in 2001. Three years later, the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research [CGIAR] asked Norway to study the feasibility of a seed bank on Svalbard.

The CGIAR and FAO set up the Global Crop Diversity Trust to ensure the future availability of seeds and run the Svalbard International Seed Vault [SISV]. It will serve as the last resort for some 1,400 seed banks. Many of them, in war-prone regions, could go up in flames at any time.

An underground chamber will be carved out in Spitsbergen, deep inside the permafrost of Svalbard. Planners say its remote location, inhospitable weather, Norwegian authorities and the “ubiquitous presence of polar bears” (yes, polar bears!) will enhance the facility’s security.

The cave would naturally prevent the temperature from rising above -3.5 Celsius (27 Fahrenheit) even if the refrigeration system fails or climate change accelerates.

The most chilling aspect of this project is the international consensus on the need for this type of Noah’s Ark. The loss of crop diversity as a result of climate change, diseases and funding shortage threatens our food security as the planet’s population inches toward nine billion.

Even for such common crops as wheat, apple and potato, diminishing diversity would make it more difficult to engineer disease or climate resistant versions, the Trust said.


Hugo Chávez Helps Needy Americans

Photo: Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez at the U.N.
Hugo Chávez offers poor Americans free eye care, bus passes and discounted heating oil. (Photo: UNDPI)

Hugo Chávez, the irascible president of Venezuela, is sticking it to the Bush administration in a big way by offering free eye surgery, bus passes and heating oil discounts to needy Americans.

Mr. Chávez is exporting his “Bolivarian revolution” to Chicago and Milwaukee, as the White House grapples with how to tackle his increasing appetite for military hardware and his love for Fidel Castro.

It’s an awkward situation for Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett who appeared ready to sidestep the White House’s intense dislike for the leftist leader and accept the offer in some way, according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

Mr. Chávez plans to fly needy Chicago and Milwaukee residents to Carora, in Lara state, for free eye surgeries to be done by Cuban doctors. Patients from two dozen countries, mostly in South America, will also participate.

Citgo Petroleum Corp. has already given 16 million gallons of heating oil at a steep 40 percent discount to 181,204 low-income households in Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, New York City, Philadelphia, Rhode Island, and Vermont.

When city or state governments refused to deal with Citgo, a subsidiary of Venezuela’s state oil firm PDVSA (Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A.), the company worked with community groups. In Chicago, Citgo offered free bus passes to low-income residents, the Journal-Sentinel said.

For an administration that has trouble ‘winning the hearts and minds’ of Iraqis, Mr. Chávez’s approach is more annoying than anything else. During the abortive 2002 coup to topple the former paratrooper, the U.S. openly endorsed the coup plotters.

Then-U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Otto Reich, member of a dying generation of anti-Castro Cubans, even floated rumours that Cuban troops were trying to reverse the short-lived coup, The New York Times reported at the time.

Shopping List

Publicly the White House points its finger at Mr. Chávez’s shopping list that includes 100,000 AK-103 assault rifles, 24 brand-new Sukhoi-30 [SU-30] fighter jets and 15 helicopters (6 MI-17, 8 MI-35 and 1 MI-26) from Russia. Moscow is also negotiating a deal to build a Kalashnikov factory in Venezuela.

An earlier deal with Spain included 10 C-295 transport planes, 2 CN-235 patrol planes, four coast guard patrol boats and four frigates.

A cause for concern? Not really. The U.S. used to sell Venezuela arms, but it has now decided that the anti-Bush, pro-Castro president no longer deserves to buy parts for its aging fleet of Made-in-USA jets.

Colombia? Venezuela has been accused of supporting and sheltering different rebels groups fleeing Colombian President Álvaro Uribe’s crackdown. The strength of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia [FARC] and the smaller National Liberation Army [ELN] has been waning. And the days of 19th and 20th Century open warfare in South America are also over.


For Bolivia, Socialism Is a Coca-Leaf Cake

Photo of Fidel Castro (Courtesy Library of Congress)

What would you give Fidel Castro for his 80th birthday? “A cake made from coca leaves,” said Bolivian President Evo Morales who wants to be just like “Che” Guevara.

Mr. Castro, who used to speak at Wagnerian length with a stogie in hand, is an aging man with signs of a degenerative neurological disease. And he won’t make it to 140.
The days of a Socialist revolution in South America died with Ernesto “Che” Guevara. Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez’s own “Bolivarian revolution” manifests itself more as solidarity against the United States than as a movement for the people.

Mr. Morales is Bolivia’s first indigenous leader since the white men came from Spain 450 years ago. His electoral propaganda consisted of leading uneducated cocaleros to protest coca eradication and demand the nationalization of the energy industry and of a poster campaign mocking the inept U.S. ambassador Manuel Rocha. The U.S. envoy had threatened Bolivians to vote against Morales or lose U.S. aid, ensuring Mr. Morales’ victory.

As seen in the demise of Peru’s Alejandro Toledo, being an indigenous leader does not guarantee political success. Mr. Morales’ decision to nationalize the natural gas industry has done little so far to benefit the poor directly.

Mr. Morales copies his “revolutionary” rhetoric from the South American edition of the handbook for neo-Socialist leaders. “Che” Guevara is the “immortal leader.” He verbally accosts the “imperial United States. He vows to defend both Cuba and Venezuela, and their natural resources, from military attacks by “the empire (the U.S.).” His admiration for Mr. Castro is unending.

Cuba, too, has been shouting anti-U.S. diatribes, pointing to the so-called “War of All the People” doctrine that will be used against a U.S. attack. Rául Castro, the first vice president and defense minister, is leading the outdated Communist propaganda in the run-up to his brother’s August 13 birthday. (Rául himself is getting old.)

On that day, I expect a vow of solidarity against the ‘imperial forces,’ a pledge by Messrs. Morales and Chávez to export Commandant Castro’s revolution, a parade Á  la North Korea, a speech that makes me want to like Wagner and a Mr. Castro under the influence of Mr. Morales’ coca cake.

I’ll be drinking Cuba Libre!


Timor-Leste: Trouble in Paradise

View of East Timor Photo by East Timor Government
This paradise could go up in flames again without long-term international help. (Photo: Courtesy Timor-Leste Tourism Ministry)

East Timor is another lesson for the United Nations as well as Australia that stability and democracy do not develop overnight — even in this paradise.

Kofi Annan wants U.N. peacekeepers to get back in there at East Timor’s request. But Australia, like the United States, told the world body to stay out of its backyard and to concentrate on only humanitarian and development projects.
Some 600 West Timorese soldiers bolted from the military in March (and they were promptly “dismissed”), citing discrimination against West Timorese by Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri. Their rebellion, led by Lieutenant Commander Alfredo Reinado, triggered gang violence, riots and looting in the streets and uprooted about 100,000 East Timorese.

Australia had to ship in 1,300 troops. Malaysia, New Zealand and Portugal’s troops make up the rest of more than 2,000 troops patrolling East Timor. There is hope today that Lt. Comm. Reinado is going to disarm soon if ordered to do so by President Xanana Gusmão.

After three decades of conflict, East Timor is not going to wake up one morning and say ‘I love all my neighbors.’ Australia and the United States forced the U.N. to cut short its peacekeeping mission in 2002 and to left the island’s 800,000 inhabitants to the mercy of potential violence.

An Indonesian lawmaker is taking the “I told you so” attitude toward Australia’s intervention in East Timor. Indonesia is the one to talk. Days after the former Portuguese colony declared independence in 1975, Indonesia walked in with a brutal army and killed an estimated quarter-million people.

East Timor is ready for sovereignty, but it is not ready for complete self-rule. Australia and the U.N. must make a long-term commitment to foster a culture that supports democracy. Its police forces must be placed under U.N. mandate and various factions inside the military integrated by international advisors. Else, this paradise could go up in flames again.

East Timor is no longer the world’s newest country.


WHO: Stop Female Genital Mutilation


A new study calls for an end to this horrible practice that puts young girls women and their babies at risk. The World Health Organization-sponsored study on Female Genital Mutilation [FGM] deplores the “medicalization” (when done by trained physicians) of this ritual.

Amnesty International estimates that 135 million women and girls worldwide have been subjected one of three levels of genital mutilation. It is practiced in at least 28 countries in Africa; in Egypt, Oman, Yemen and the United Arab Emirates in the Middle East and North Africa; and by some Muslims in Indonesia, Malaysia and Sri Lanka. But it has also been reported in industrialized countries like Britain and the United States primarily among immigrants from countries where it is still common practice.

Sexual, sociological, hygienic, health and religious reasons are cited commonly. Still it harms women physically and emotionally and places them at increased risk of complications during childbirth.

Unicef estimates that more than two million girls are at risk each year of having their genitals cut or mutilated. (WHO calls it “FGM,” but Unicef calls it “FGM/C” to include cutting.) WHO defines three levels of genital mutilation:

  • Type I (FGM 1) – excision of the prepuce, with or without excision of part or all of the clitoris
  • Type II (FGM II) – excision of the clitoris with partial or total excision of the labia minora;
  • Type III (FGM III) – excision of part or all of the external genitalia and stitching/narrowing of the vaginal opening (infibulation).

The study appears in the June issue of The Lancet.


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