Sunday, March 27, 2005

UN rights report whitewashes Turkey

THE first-ever report by the United Nations on the Human Rights situation in Cyprus is remarkable for the fact that it avoids any reference to the Turkish invasion, the continuing occupation of north Cyprus and the consequent ethnic cleansing of the Greek Cypriot population of the north.

Even more astoundingly, the report makes no reference at all to the fact that Turkey has been found guilty repeatedly by the Human Rights Court of the Council of Europe of violating the rights of the Greek Cypriot refugees by barring their return, the repossession of their properties, and, what is more, that it refuses to obey the Court's order to restore the rights of these refugees.

The report concludes that the ``persisting de facto partition of the island constitutes a major obstacle to the enjoyment of human rights by all Cypriots throughout the island,'' without any explanation, or of Turkey's responsibility for this situation.

The general shockingly superficial approach of the report is that it avoids detailed reference to specific cases or the plight of the enclaved. It is also indicative that the report dismisses the large scale destruction of the Christian and Greek cultural heritage in the occupied north through the sacrilegious destruction of hundreds of churches and cemeteries by saying only that ``there were a few reports of vandalism of unused religious sites.''

Read the report online byu clicking above

Bird flu could put Britain in quarantine, warns scientist

Jo Revill, health editor
Sunday March 27, 2005
The Observer

Offices and schools across Britain could be closed to protect workers if bird flu arrives, the Ministry of Defence's chief scientist has warned.

Professor Roy Anderson, a leading infectious diseases expert, said politicians will face difficult decisions about how far to close down Britain if it is struck by a highly contagious form of the disease.

'I have never seen the international community as agitated about anything as this,' he told The Observer . The disease has a mortality rate of around 76 per cent, and the average age of death is 17. 'Although it sounds alarmist, the balanced view is that we are overdue a major pandemic,' Anderson said.

The government has announced it is to stockpile an anti-viral drug that can help both to prevent and to treat the disease. However, there will not be sufficient doses to cover the population for another two years because of demand from other countries.

'We are a highly connected society,' said Anderson. 'The major risk areas are the centres of the population. If it arrived in London, it is most likely we would have a few days before it would be seated in most major centres of population'. The warning from such a senior figure is likely to increase demands for clarity over Britain's plans for such an emergency.

A special committee has been set up to talk to sectors such as schools and workplaces but there has been little open debate. Canada, by contrast, has invited the public to give their views, after having gone through the enormous logistical difficulties of the Sars epidemic of last year. Anderson, who holds a chair in infectious diseases epidemiology at Imperial College, London, is convinced that it is a question of when, rather than if, a flu pandemic arises. The fear is that the virus will then start to acquire human genes as it mutates.

A particular subtype of avian virus, H5N1, is causing alarm. The first presence in a human was confirmed in January 2004, and 48 people across south-east Asia have now contracted the disease. From these, doctors calculate the virus has a mortality rate of between 70 and 80 per cent.

There has not yet been a confirmed case of the disease spreading from human to human, although experts have suspicions over two family clusters. On Thursday a 17-year-old Vietnamese girl died, raising the region's death toll to 48. As there have been no bird flu outbreaks among poultry in the village, officials said they were unsure how the teenager contracted the disease.

Since December 14 people have died from bird flu in Vietnam, while Cambodia has reported two deaths, including one this week. A team of health experts is investigating a cluster of suspected cases in Quang Binh, Vietnam.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Running the gauntlet

s a Westerner working in Iraq, Annia Ciezadlo has to brave military checkpoints just to get around town. It's an ordeal that never gets any less confusing or terrifying.
A very thought provoking article by someone who knows the danger that is everyday Iraq

Friday, March 11, 2005

A First Draft of History?

Call the rewrite man!

Monday, March 7, 2005 12:01 a.m.

Remember Japan Inc.? If you were a semi-sentient consumer of news in the 1980s, it was hard to avoid the impression that Japan would soon overtake the U.S. in global economic clout, if its corporations didn't just purchase the country outright. They've got Rockefeller Center! They're gobbling up Hollywood! Chalmers Johnson, Clyde Prestowitz and other soi-disant experts pronounced sagely on the invincible Japanese model of industrial organization, while the media supplied a diet of stories about how companies such as Sony or Honda remained world-beaters, year-in and year-out.

Now consider the amazing media about-face in recent weeks on Iraq. Prior to Jan. 30, dateline Baghdad was dateline Götterdämmerung. Now it's dateline Democracy. Bombs are still exploding, but we aren't reading much anymore about how we're losing hearts and minds, or how Iraq is ethnically too fractious to have a meaningful democracy. Instead, the media connect the dots between elections in Baghdad and events in Beirut, Cairo and Ramallah, and talk about 1989.

It's right that they should do so. But we should also connect the dots between today's Iraq and 1980s Japan. The myth of Japan Inc. took hold because there was so little Western reporting to suggest that not all was well with the Japanese economy. So, when Japan's real-estate bubble burst and the economy flatlined for over a decade, the world was caught unawares. The myth of an Iraqi quagmire took hold for similar reasons--the media was so busy telling the story of everything that was going wrong in Iraq that it broadly missed what was going right.

The cliché is that journalism is the first draft of history. Yet a historian searching for clues about the origins of many of the great stories of recent decades--the collapse of the Soviet empire; the rise of Osama bin Laden; the declining American crime rate; the economic eclipse of Japan and Germany--would find most contemporary journalism useless. Perhaps a story here or there might, in retrospect, seem illuminating. But chances are it would have been nearly invisible at the time of publication: eight column inches, page A12.

The problem is not that journalists can't get their facts straight: They can and usually do. Nor is it that the facts are obscure: Often, the most essential facts are also the most obvious ones. The problem is that journalists have a difficult time distinguishing significant facts--facts with consequences--from insignificant ones. That, in turn, comes from not thinking very hard about just which stories are most worth telling.

Take Western coverage of Israelis and Palestinians over the past dozen years. During the years of the peace process, a succession of journalists trooped through the region, reporting a handful of stories: the expansion of Israeli settlements; the chemistry between Yasser Arafat and the Israeli prime minister, and their relationship with Bill Clinton; the exact percentage of land offered by Israel at various stages of negotiation; the conflict between moderates and "extremists on both sides."

These were "true" stories, in the sense that they were (for the most part) factually accurate and reflected the realities of the peace process. But the peace process was not the only relevant reality of the time. Arafat and his lieutenants continued to call for Israel's destruction in speeches to Arab audiences. Palestinian Authority maps of the region, posted in schools and public buildings, had nothing named "Israel" on them. Billions in foreign aid were pumped into the PA, but there was little to show for it in terms of a better economy. Arafat's political opponents were sacked from their jobs, arrested, tortured or simply shot by masked men in the street.

All this was public knowledge throughout the 1990s. But because the information sat so awkwardly with the central premises of the peace process--namely, that Arafat was committed to peace and that the Palestinian problem was foreign occupation, not domestic tyranny--it tended to be dismissed as so much trivia. So the PA is corrupt: What else is new? So Arafat makes incendiary speeches? Rhetoric for the masses. Few people could recognize then that Arafat wasn't the key to peace, but the principal obstacle to it. Today that's conventional wisdom.

A similar dynamic took place once the intifada began and the media meta-narrative switched from "peace process" to "cycle of violence." Here, supposedly, Israelis and Palestinians engaged in acts of tit-for-tat killing; whenever a Palestinian suicide bomber blew up in a Jerusalem café, one could be sure to learn that his brother had been killed by the Israeli army. Yet while the cycle-of-violence hypothesis was highly convenient for reporters reluctant to pin the blame on one side, it was also falsifiable--and false: When the Israelis invaded the West Bank and killed the top ranks of Hamas, the incidence of terrorism didn't rise. It peaked.

It is, of course, impossible to anticipate "events," in Harold MacMillan's sense of the word. But none of the examples listed here belong in that category. Norman Podhoretz predicted the peace process would lead to war. Charles Wolf saw the hollowness of Japan Inc. Daniel Patrick Moynihan predicted the collapse of the Soviet Union. And George W. Bush understood, and said, that a free Iraq would serve as a beacon of liberty for the oppressed Arab world.

As for the media, it shouldn't be too difficult to do better. Look for the countervailing data. Broaden your list of sources. Beware of exoticizing your subject: If you think that Israelis and Palestinians operate from no higher motive than revenge, you're on the wrong track. Above all, never forget the obvious: that the law of supply and demand operates in Japan, too; that the Soviet Union was a state governed by fear; that Iraqis aren't rooting for their killers; that, if given the chance, people will choose to be free.

Simple maxims, but how much embarrassment would the media be spared if only they followed them.

Mr. Stephens is a member of the Journal's editorial board.

Copyright © 2005 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Teenagers special: The original rebels


Though the teenage years are most commonly defined by raging hormones, the development of secondary sexual characteristics and attitude problems, what is unique in humans is this sudden and rapid increase in body size following a long period of very slow growth. No other primate has a skeletal growth spurt like this so late in life. Why do we?

Instant Expert: Teenagers

The teenager is a uniquely human phenomenon.

Adolescents are known to be moody, insecure, argumentative, angst-ridden, impulsive, impressionable, reckless and rebellious. Teenagers are also characterised by odd sleeping patterns, awkward growth spurts, bullying, acne and slobbish behaviour. So what could be the possible benefit of the teenage phase?

Most other animals - apes and human ancestors included - skip that stage altogether, developing rapidly from infancy to full adulthood. Humans, in contrast, have a very puzzling four-year gap between sexual maturity and prime reproductive age. Anthropologists disagree on when the teenage phase first evolved, but pinpointing that date could help define its purpose more..
Further links into the mysterious teen mind can be found here

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Local taxes and dubious foreign aid tell on tsunami relief

Tsunami relief work in Sri Lanka is suffering for a number of reasons.

Among them are the new taxes on relief material, the dubious ways of the international aid agencies, and the doubtful value of their work.

On one hand, the cash-strapped Sri Lankan NGOs are facing a serious problem with the government slapping customs duties and VAT on relief material sent by foreign donors and on the other hand, the cash-rich International NGOs (INGOs) and UN organisations — who ought to be doing good work — are mired in wasteful expenditure, administrative inefficiency and gross