_______________________________________High ate us
Posting will be light for a bit due to travel plans.
An expat's commentary on current events in national security, foreign affairs, the media, culture, technology and assorted trivia.
_______________________________________High ate us
Posting will be light for a bit due to travel plans.
_______________________________________Pot says to Kettle...
From the AP, here is an interesting report which defies the conventional wisdom:
The proportion of overweight or fat men is higher in some European countries than it is in the US, experts said in a major analysis of Europeans’ expanding waistlines.
The International Obesity Task Force estimated that Finland, Germany, Greece, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Malta have all now exceeded the US’ 67% in overweight or obese males.
“The time when obesity was thought to be a problem on the other side of the Atlantic has gone by,” Mars Di Bartolomeo, Luxembourg’s Minister of Health, said yesterday.
In Greece, 38% of women are obese, compared with 34% in the US.
The report was released at the launch of the 25-nation EU’s plan for action on the problem in its member states.
And you can't go shooting the messenger; it works hand-in-glove with the EU.
The International Obesity Task Force (is) a global coalition of obesity scientists and research centres advising the EU...
Up to 8% of the current health care costs in the EU can be attributed to the effects of being overweight or obese, he said....
The IOTF estimates that among the EU’s 103 million youngsters, the number of overweight children rises by 400,000 each year. More than 30% of children aged between 7 and 11 are overweight in Italy, Portugal, Spain and Malta.
Kofi Annan's middle name is Atta.
_______________________________________Quote for the day
They preach that if you see a man flogging a woman to death you must not hit him.
_______________________________________Strange happenings at UNHCR
Agence France Presse reports on the UNHCR, with the questionable headline 'Credibility of UN rights body tested.' (It is questionable because you have to have some credibility in the first place, in order for credibility to be questioned.)
The United Nations' human rights chief, weathering heavy criticism of a body that itself contains many rights abusers, acknowledged the world has "fallen short" in protecting civil liberties.
Opening the annual session of the UN Human Rights Commission, Louise Arbour added that UN member countries were too selective in responding to rights abuses. Both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said the meeting of the 53-nation forum, which was scheduled to continue until April 22, was a "do or die" test of the credibility of the commission. They said half the members of the commission, which is meant to scrutinize respect for fundamental freedoms and condemn abuse such as torture and disappearances, were themselves human rights abusers.
Peruvian Foreign Minister Manuel Rodriguez-Cuadros said the commission should be scrapped and replaced by independent experts. At present, he said, member states were both judges and parties to disputes leading to "the selectiveness or the political use of human rights."
...Sudan, which was re-elected to the human rights commission this year, warned countries against criticism of its actions in the Darfur region of western Sudan, where many gross human rights violations and crimes against humanity have been reported. "Unmeasured, uneven and unbalanced pressure and signals have exacerbated the already volatile situation in Darfur," Sudanese Justice Minister Ali Yassine said, urging other countries to "give peace in the Sudan a positive environment in which to take root."
But Arbour begged to differ, saying the international community had failed in Darfur, where "mass violations of human rights" were being perpetrated. "Our response to that human rights crisis falls very short (...) of our responsibility to the most vulnerable," she added. In general, Arbour said, "Our approach to human rights diplomacy remains unsatisfactory. It is sporadic and selective. The commission must take the lead in developing more effective approaches. "So far, we have fallen short in the task of implementing human rights. We readily give the impression of viewing declarations as our final destination."
Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, said "Clearly one of the major problems of the commission has been the fact that many of its members act not to promote the purposes of the commission, but to undermine sincere efforts to promote human rights."
_______________________________________Hungry smurf update
The World Food Program has released a study of the effects of hunger in North Korea. Findings as reported in the Asia Times include:
Since the last survey in 2002, the proportion of young children chronically malnourished (stunted) is down from 42% to 37%. Acute malnutrition (wasting) eased from 9% to 7%. But those underweight rose from 21% to 23% - though for children under the age of two, those most at risk, this fell from 25% to 21%. One in five children had diarrhea, and one in eight showed symptoms of acute respiratory infection. But mothers have made no progress: a third were anemic and malnourished, the same figure as two years ago. Vitamin A deficiency is common.
Much depends on where people are living. Things are less bad in Pyongyang and in the southwestern Hwanghae farming region than in bleak northeasterly Hamgyong and Ryanggang provinces. Ryanggangites get to eat meat, fish or eggs just once every three weeks on average. Chagang in the far mid-north is bleaker still, but North Korea doesn't allow access to this area - probably because of military bases located there. Thus, no survey was conducted in Chagang, which means no food aid either...
Even at the national level, the few slight improvements offer scant comfort. The more than one-third (37%) of North Korean's under six who are stunted - and especially the one in eight (12%) who are severely stunted - will grow up stunted and stay that way. Even once Korea is reunified politically, they will stand out physically: dwarfed by their Southern peers.
Seoul, meanwhile, has different - nay, opposite - child health issues. With uncanny timing, the very same day as the WFP released its survey on the North, education officials in the Southern capital reported that one in 10 schoolchildren in Seoul is overweight. Obesity rates are growing fast, too.
...(T)his year marks a whole decade since (North Korea) first, reluctantly, asked the WFP and other agencies for help coping with flood and famine...
In January North Korea cut its Public Distribution System (PDS) rations to starvation level: 250 grams of cereal per person per day, the lowest in five years. Such cutbacks don't usually happen until March, when last year's crop typically runs out. This is all the more odd, since 2004's autumn harvest is thought to have been the best in years.
Luckily, the WFP currently has enough stocks - as it did not, in the recent past - to feed all of its target group: a staggering 6.5 million North Koreans, or nearly one-third of the entire population. The main categories within this group are 2.7 million children from birth to the age of 10 and 2.15 million people in food or work programs. Other beneficiaries include 900,000 elderly, 300,000 pregnant women and nursing mothers, and 350,000 in low-income households. The latter are a new category: victims of the post-2002 reforms that have seen inequalities widen, even as the state retreats ever further from providing any help to the millions of citizens whom its disastrous past and half-baked present policies have starved and stunted.
_______________________________________Things are changing in Turtle Bay
Der Spiegel reports glumly on Kofi Annan's prospects for finishing his term. (He must really be in bad shape if Der Spiegel finally twigged to the story.)
Under fire following a year of scandals, United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan is seeking to appease his worst enemies.
But his own employees fear he is kowtowing to the United States in a way that will undermine the global body. And even if his charm offensive works, his days could still be numbered.
The UN's Kofi Annan is currently conducting a charm offensive with the White House and Congress. You can see the weariness in Kofi Annan's eyes these days -- and even his boyish smile does little to hide the wear caused by what the United Nations Secretary General himself has called an "annus horriblis." But things could get even worse in what is expected to be Annan's most trying year yet at the helm of the international body.
Already, he's been plagued by UN sex scandals and corruption surrounding the "Oil for Food" program in Iraq -- a deal that allowed Saddam Hussein's regime, despite the embargo placed on Baghdad by the international community, to make billions of dollars. Revelations that UN employees, including the official charged with overseeing the program, and his affiliates were taking cuts from the profits has led to one of the institution's worst crises ever. The next chapter in the scandal is expected to come this month when a UN investigative commission will determine whether Annan's enterprising son Kojo was part of the scam. If the allegations against his son are proven, the episode could spell the end of Annan.
"Come Christmas, Kofi won't be in office," an American Senator said at a security conference held in Munich one month ago.
Officially, Nobel laureate Annan still has two years left in office, but he knows his gig could be up before then. A resolution is currently making its way through the United States Congress calling for him to get the ax. He has even fewer friends down the street at the White House. Since his criticism that the Iraq war was "illegal" during the presidential campaign, Annan has been accused of having sought to thwart George W. Bush's re-election.
Commenting on Bush's tapping of (reputed anti-UN conservative John) Bolton for the position (of America's ambassador to the UN), the left-leaning German daily Die Tageszeitung compared it to "asking Iran to take over chairmanship of the UN Commission for Women's Rights."
Annan, however, would like to complete his term.
After all, (Kofi Annan) wants to be remembered as the man who reformed the UN. At the end of the month he will present his report on the restructuring of the UN, which is expected to include a major overhaul of the Security Council. His advisors fear that if he buckles under pressure from the United States, it could be the death knell for the UN.
At the same time, Annan knows he can't challenge Bush while pushing for the world body's reform. So, these days, he's marching to the tune of rapprochement with even his most bitter opponents in Washington. In doing so, he appears to be following the advice of former President Bill Clinton's ambassador to the UN, Richard Holbrooke, who offered Annan some job-saving tips at a secret meeting in December. "The UN," he was quoted as saying, "cannot succeed if it is in open dispute and constant friction with its founding nation, its host nation and its largest contributor."
The placative gestures on Annan's part that have followed the meeting have been nothing short of astonishing. So much so, in fact, that some in New York are already comparing his charm offensive to the one Bush conducted to cement trans-Atlantic relations in recent weeks.
"It's crucial that relations with the US be restored," said Annan's new British cabinet chief, Mark Malloch Brown -- who is considered to be the man really pulling the strings inside the UN right now. Brown, a talented communicator who previously led the UN Development Program, immediately went to Washington after his appointment, where he promised members of Congress a rigorous and thorough investigation of the Iraq scandal.
In his office on the 38th floor of UN headquarters in New York, Brown now receives journalists almost every day -- and he's often critical of the institution for which he works. The corruption scandal, he says, is "full-blown," before adding: "We have to restore the trust of the American people in the moral integrity of the UN." The stakes are high, too: Bush has threatened to freeze payments from Washington, the UN's largest contributor, if the scandal is not fully resolved.
The Brit has been just as active inside the UN as outside. At the end of February, after an employee came forward and accused Ruud Lubbers of sexual harassment, Brown gave the then-UN High Commissioner for Refugees an ultimatum: He could either resign of his own accord or Annan would fire him. The former Dutch prime minister left on his own will.
Still, Annan's new tack has disquieted many inside the UN, where veteran diplomats complain that he is bowing before the US on his knees.
"Many people here are really irritated," says Peter Hansen, who will be leaving as head of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees at the end of the month. There are many signs that the US is cynically using the investigations currently underway at the UN as an opportunity to question its entire existence and that angers many.
Even today, only the misconduct of UN diplomats is being probed -- despite the fact that the US not only knew the Iraq embargo was being broken but also sanctioned it. According to classified US government documents, in the interest of "national security interests," Washington allowed billions of dollars in oil deliveries to go to its allies Jordan and Turkey. Officials in Amman and Ankara claimed they couldn't do without Saddam's cheap oil. Even Malloch Brown doesn't let any opportunity pass to remind people about the US's involvement in this major part of the scandal.
But he doesn't want let anything generate another serious row with the US. "I think a lot of the poison that was sprayed earlier will now vaporize," he says.
_______________________________________The exploding Arab Street
Amir Taheri has some pointed words in The Australian. An extended excerpt follows which admirably does not employ the word 'hypocrisy,' though each syllable whispers the accusation.
THROUGHOUT the debate that preceded the liberation of Iraq two years ago, supporters of Saddam Hussein claimed that any attempt at removing him from power by force would trigger an explosion in "the Arab street". As it turned out, the explosion they had predicted did take place, but only in Western streets, where anti-Americans of all denominations, their numbers inflated by the usual "useful idiots", marched to keep the Baathist butcher in power.More than two years later, however, the Arab street seems to be heading for an explosion. From North Africa to the Persian Gulf and passing by the Levant, people have been coming together in various "Arab streets" to make their feelings and opinions known...
In almost every case, we are witnessing a new kind of citizens' movement, an Arab version of people power in action. But the most important feature of these demonstrations is that they are concerned not with imagined external enemies – be they Israel or the US – but with the real deficiencies of contemporary Arab societies. In almost every case the key demand is for a greater say for the people in deciding the affairs of the nation...What is interesting is that there are, as yet, no signs that the "Western street" may, at some point, come out in support of the new "Arab street". Over the past two weeks several Western capitals, including London and Paris, have witnessed feverish activity by more than two dozen groups organising meetings and marches to mark the second anniversary of the liberation of Iraq. The aim is not to celebrate the event and express solidarity with the emerging Iraqi democracy, but to vilify George W. Bush and Tony Blair, thus lamenting the demise of Saddam Hussein.
I spent part of last week ringing up the organisers of the anti-war events with a couple of questions. The first: Would they allow anyone from the newly elected Iraqi parliament to address the gatherings? The second: Would the marches include expressions of support for the democracy movements in Arab and other Muslim countries, notably Iraq, Lebanon and Syria?
In both cases the answer was a categorical no, accompanied by a torrent of abuse about "all those who try to justify American aggression against Iraq".
But was it not possible to condemn "American aggression" and then express support for the democratic movement in Iraq and the rest of the Arab world? In most cases we were not even allowed to ask the question. In one or two cases we received mini-lectures on how democracy cannot be imposed by force. The answer to that, of course, is that in Iraq no one tried to impose democracy by force. In Iraq force was used to remove the enemies of democracy from power so as to allow its friends to come to the fore.
Why are so many Westerners, living in mature democracies, ready to march against the toppling of a despot in Iraq but unwilling to take to the streets in support of the democratic movement in the Middle East?
Is it because many of those who will be marching in support of Saddam Hussein this month are the remnants of totalitarian groups in the West plus a variety of misinformed idealists and others blinded by anti-Americanism? Or is it because they secretly believe that the Arabs do not deserve anything better than Saddam Hussein?
For his part, Herr Fischer is not a pacifist. He is aching to fight when he and several mates are up against a single unarmed policeman, but he does not show such courage in the matter of confronting dictators.
Regarding the motivations of President Chiraq, I am certain that if the pro-democracy marchers in Lebanon, Kuwait, Egypt, etc., would promise to buy a few billions of euros worth of aircraft, nuclear reactors, weaponry, overpriced wine, runny cheese, and ugly handbags, they would certainly find a friend, if only a fair weather one.
Neither of these is so surprising. It is the others. How can you rouse yourself to spend a day demonstrating, when the purpose of the demonstration is to keep people in slavery?
The question of how all the marchers face themselves in the mirror each day is the puzzle to me.
_______________________________________Our decadence will destroy you
Communist and fascist tyrannies often feed their enslaved populaces the trope that 'western' 'democracies' are too 'decadent' to (fight / show courage / sacrifice / fill-in-the-blank) and therefore someday (soon, comrades, soon) would destroy themselves via internal decay and collapse.
The construction of cellular relay stations last fall along the Chinese side of the border has allowed some North Koreans in border towns to use prepaid Chinese cellphones to call relatives and reporters in South Korea, defectors from North Korea say. And after DVD players swept northern China two years ago, entrepreneurs collected castoff videocassette recorders and peddled them in North Korea. Now tapes of South Korean soap operas are so popular that state television in Pyongyang, North Korea's capital, is campaigning against South Korean hairstyles, clothing and slang, visitors and defectors have said.
To counter this, North Korea has reportedly started border patrols using Japanese equipment that can track cellphone calls. Reporters tell stories of their contacts who only make calls from their private garden plots in the hills, burying the cellphone in the ground after each call.
While Chinese cellphones only work a few miles inside North Korea, the videocassette phenomenon has reportedly spread throughout the nation, reaching into every area where there is electricity.
"They are within the reach of the average family," said Dr. Lankov, who regularly interviews recent defectors. "They watch, almost exclusively, smuggled and copied South Korean movies and drama. Only a few weeks after airing here, they will go throughout North Korea."
More than showing middle-class family lifestyles, which can be staged in a studio, the soap operas also provide images of a modern Seoul - the forest of high-rise buildings, the huge traffic jams, the late-model cars.
With such images showing a stark contrast with primitive conditions in North Korea, Mr. Kim ordered the formation of a special prosecutor's office last November to arrest people who deal in South Korean goods, largely videotapes, or who use South Korean expressions or slang, analysts in South Korea say.
To crack down on home viewing of imported videotapes, the North Korean police developed the strategy of encircling a neighborhood in the evening, cutting off electricity, then inspecting players to find videotapes stuck inside, according to Young Howard, international coordinator of the Network for North Korean Democracy and Human Rights, a Seoul-based group. Recent defectors have also told Mr. Howard that police cars with loudspeakers have patrolled neighborhoods, warning residents to maintain their "socialist lifestyle" and to shun South Korean speech and clothing and hairstyles, he said.
I bet the cops like to confiscate the videocassettes. What policeman doesn't like to look at a good car chase scene?
... Last fall, (the US) Congress unanimously approved the North Korea Human Rights Act, which provides for increased Korean-language radio broadcasting to North Korea and for helping North Korean refugees in China.
The law has been a favorite target of harsh denunciations from North Korea. In January, the official radio network blamed the United States for societal decay, accusing Washington of increasing the broadcasting hours of Radio Free Asia toward North Korea and "massively infiltrating" into North Korea "portable transistor radios and impure publications and video materials."... (H)undreds of thousands of North Koreans have traveled to and from Korean-speaking areas of China, exposing them to a thriving market economy and more South Korean television broadcasts.
"They are gradually learning about South Korean prosperity," Dr. Lankov said. "This is a death sentence to the regime. North Korea's claim to legitimacy is based on its ability to deliver the worker's paradise now. What if everyone sees that it is not delivering?"
The South Korean government, being led by a president who is shamefully weak-kneed in dealing with the lunatic DPRK, won't make use of the information.
Here's hoping that the South Korean TV producers tweak to the phenomenon and start putting into their shows more scenes of restaurants and car chases and free elections and beach holidays and home computers and mobile phones and family feasts and international travel and Internet surfing and fashion models and even fat people.
As was said in another context, 'Democracy! Whiskey! Sexy!'
Kim Jong Il better take up jogging as a hobby. It won't be much longer and he will be running for his life.
_______________________________________Quote for the day
Liberty means responsibility. That is why most men dread it.
_______________________________________Please Supersize the Facts
Via Checkmate, a Canadian public interest group, comes an interesting aside reported in the Edmonton (Canada) Sun:
Morgan Spurlock of documentary Supersize Me fame ate nothing but McDonald's food for a month, with gruesome results. Local teacher Les Sayer did the same - and lost 17 pounds.
Spurlock parked his expanding butt on the couch, while Sayer worked his buns off on the treadmill, stair-climber and weight-bench five or six hours a week...
Though he's still waiting for the results of his final blood work, he says his blood pressure is down to 134/73 from 136/88. "I feel really good."...
He started the experiment to prove a point to some of his students about the objectivity of the Supersize Me documentary, but now says it's more a continuation of Spurlock's project.
The McLes Diet proves the importance of exercise in the same way Supersize Me drove home the consequences of poor nutrition combined with a lazy lifestyle, he says.
_______________________________________The alligator may not eat you last after all
Winston Churchill characterised appeasement as 'like feeding the alligator and hoping it will eat you last.'
The police have found indications of a cell of Pakistanis they suspect was planning an attack on a high-profile target in Barcelona. The police also found evidence of a cell of North Africans in Madrid that apparently wanted to attack Madrid's high court, the officials said.
Remember how Philippine President Gloria Arroyo withdrew that nation's troops from Iraq to effect the release of a Filipino hostage? Well she didn't retreat far enough. Iraqi 'insurgents' have seized another hostage and Manila's officialdom has expressed 'gratitude' for their delay in beheading him.
_______________________________________Reality intrudes in Turtle Bay
Kofi Annan's new chief of staff grasps the obvious:
"In a very real way, we seem to have lost touch with the great middle in America, a middle which very much believes in the aspirational ideas of the U.N. ... and who feel that we've drifted away from a commitment to human rights, a commitment to help the poor of the world," Mark Malloch Brown said yesterday.
The United Nations is under fire for several scandals including the oil-for-food program, charges of sexual abuse by U.N. peacekeeping forces and the resignation of a top official accused of sexual harassment, which Mr. Malloch Brown addressed in an exclusive interview with "Fox News Sunday."
The organization will propose changes in the coming weeks to begin repairing its reputation by revamping its "human rights machinery" to keep dictator nations off the U.N. Human Rights Commission.
Governments making up the current membership include Cuba, Sudan, Zimbabwe and Saudi Arabia. Libya is the outgoing chair of the committee. (!)
The plan would "try and restore the credibility of this and have people on that commission who really are people of stature and reputation and record and come from countries of the same thing, with real human rights standing in the world," Mr. Malloch Brown said.
Human rights groups say rights violators on the commission stick together as a bloc to prevent criticism of one another — a conclusion that has been endorsed by a panel of experts advising Mr. Annan on U.N. reform.
Any changes proposed by Mr. Annan would have to be approved by the U.N. General Assembly, comprising all 191 U.N. member nations. A package of U.N. reforms is expected to be debated at a U.N. world summit in New York in September.
Begun in 1946, the human rights commission examines nations' adherence to treaties and conventions on issues ranging from illegal killings and arbitrary detention to women's rights, child pornography and the right to food and health.
The U.N. official called reports of widespread sexual exploitation of children in the Congo by U.N. peacekeepers and officials, and sexual misconduct in Burundi, Haiti and Liberia "devastating."
"It's a terrible set of allegations — that peacekeepers sent to keep the peace in poor, weak countries with vulnerable people who have not been able to have their rights protected for years — that some of them behave in this way. I mean, it completely undercuts our mission, and we recognize that," he said.
_______________________________________Quote for the day
It is much easier to be critical than to be correct.
_______________________________________Quote for the day
Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away.
_______________________________________Crime and cover-up at Turtle Bay
We noted a few days ago that Volcker and Annan were covering up for the Deputy Secretary General.
The committee probing the Oil-for-Food scandal says it will correct omitting the name of a U.N. official involved in the international controversy who has a close relationship with the executive director of the panel.
Frechette, 58, came to the United Nations following a long career as a Canadian civil servant. The first deputy secretary-general in U.N. history, she has served since 1998 as Annan's chief administrator. She also chairs the steering committee on U.N. Reform and Management Policy.