Friday, 29 April 2011

Royal Wedding

I really don't get all this hype about the wedding. I would understand that people  would watch it, that makes some sense, as they're public figures and would probably become quite influential in the future, but it's been going on for the past 4 months. It seems nothing else is going on in the world except for this wedding.

This is mad, because some of the biggest changes in the century (short as it is for now) might be happening right now. The Middle Eastern Arab Spring is far from over. In Syria, people are being killed on a daily basis fighting for the same rights we take for granted every single day. In Libya, the rebels have managed to retake parts of a city that has been under siege for the past two months.
All I hear about, however, is this wedding. 

If you think all is but gloom and doom in the world and you think the Royal Wedding would be a distraction, why not read about Israel being the first country in the world to launch a nationwide electric grid for cars ?
Or as much as you might hate Lady Gaga, you can read about her donating $1 million to charity?

Instead you are overexcited about a wedding of people who are taking your money away if you pay taxes in Britain for an overindulged ceremony which will last several hours and not achieve anything more than spending millions of dollars for some hand-waving like the Queen.
End rant!

Thursday, 28 April 2011

The Conspiracy Thread I

I spy, I spy, with my little eye something beginning with C.

Conspiracies Around The World
It's not something unique or extraordinary. People believe in conspiracies all around the world. Some of the more famous ones include:
- Pyramids are made by aliens, and the evidence therefore has been buried by the world governments.
- Aliens landed in Roswell, the US buried that story too.
- The Elders of Zion are a group of Jew who control world politics and economics, who amongst other things made up the Holocaust to benefit all Jews
- The Bilderberg group are an elitist group of rich or powerful or highly intelligent people who control the world and economics and choose who fights which wars.
- The moon landing in 1969 was faked by the US to give the US people a boost in morale and make the Russian Sovyet Union take morale hit.
- Obama is a Muslim terrorist who was not born in the US and who is leading the US to ruin (or the Anti-Christ)

And there are many more, but I would just go with one of the more prominent ones in the past two years for this thread. This would be about Obama being a lawful POTUS (President of the United States).

Let's Start At The Beginning
There are those who claim Obama is not from the US. This is because amongst several other reasons he was raised in Indonesia for several years, because his middle name is of Arabic-sounding origin and because his father is Muslim. Except for the fact that none of the above makes it illegal for him to be President, many people believe this to be enough and if they do not they have tried digging deeper and making unfounded stories about him.
One of them is about Obama being Muslim himself and as such is getting associated with Muslim extremists and terrorists. This claim is not only unfounded but completely 'racist'. Lumping all Muslims into one big melting pot of terrorist is moronic to say the least. The second part of this assessment is the part of Obama himself being Muslim. This is also wrong, especially since he himself has been a regular churchgoer for the past two decades and a half.

Birthers is the new label on people who claim Obama was not born in the US. This issue was raised during his presidential campaign a few years ago and was put to rest in the mainstream media until recently when Trump decided to race headlong against Obama as a birther. He claimed, like others that since Obama had failed to produce his birth certificate he was not eligible to be POTUS and should not be allowed to run for a second a time. This was due to Obama not releasing his birth certificate. I do not know why Obama did not wish to release his birth certificate, but he finally did.
News Article About It...

This should put at ease most rational people who had started believing the nonsense about him not being born in the US.

Apart From That
The US Constitution does not even require a person to be born in the US to be eligible as a candidate for the US Presidency. According to the US Constitution you just need to be a "Natural-born US Citizen".
The word 'born' in there might be somewhat misleading as the only conditions for being a "Natural-born US Citizen" are the following : (Source : Constitutional Topic)

  • Anyone born inside the United States *
  • Any Indian or Eskimo born in the United States, provided being a citizen of the U.S. does not impair the person's status as a citizen of the tribe
  • Any one born outside the United States, both of whose parents are citizens of the U.S., as long as one parent has lived in the U.S.
  • Any one born outside the United States, if one parent is a citizen and lived in the U.S. for at least one year and the other parent is a U.S. national
  • Any one born in a U.S. possession, if one parent is a citizen and lived in the U.S. for at least one year
  • Any one found in the U.S. under the age of five, whose parentage cannot be determined, as long as proof of non-citizenship is not provided by age 21
  • Any one born outside the United States, if one parent is an alien and as long as the other parent is a citizen of the U.S. who lived in the U.S. for at least five years (with military and diplomatic service included in this time)
  • A final, historical condition: a person born before 5/24/1934 of an alien father and a U.S. citizen mother who has lived in the U.S.
* There is an exception in the law — the person must be "subject to the jurisdiction" of the United States. This would exempt the child of a diplomat, for example, from this provision.

So basically, even if Obama was not born in the US, but his mother was and had lived in the US for at least five years, then Barack would have been a "Natural-born US Citizen" and as such would have been allowed to become POTUS.

And yes, being a citizen/national or a natural-born citizen is not the same according to the US constitution and law.

In The End
I just hope this isn't what makes Obama lose his presidency. These conspiracy theories can be quite hurtful sometimes and stupid at other times.If Obama loses his presidency, it should be because he's not competent enough to lead the US people, not because of phony accusations about his birth or because of Islamophobia.

You might also notice that I am not one to believe in most conspiracies and one reason for that is that I do not understand why I should just believe one of them and not all of them. All of them give have some kind of complete fallacy to justify their 'truths' that it just does not make any sense.

According the the New York Times, many people are also doubtful about Trump's origins with more than the majority of people who were polled saying there was a probability that Trump is not a US citizen. I wonder if he would get more or less slack than Obama. Of course his, middle name isn't Hussein, so probably, no one would care about him.
Article About Trump

Link to The Conspiracy Thread II

Monday, 25 April 2011

Fighting for Freedom & Democracy, But Only Elsewhere!

The picture says it all. Are Western countries actually fighting for freedom and democracy when they wage wars in places like Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya?
Well, probably not....

Of course, we have to paint someone or something as bad, so we can keep going and beat them up to get what we want. The US attacked countless countries during the Cold War because they were claiming all of the domino's might fall down if just one does. The war in Korea is just one example of a fight for the good of the West and its values. A 60-year long war, isn't that great ?

In the past 10 years several wars have been fought by or with the aid of many different countries - as they were in the past 50 or a hundred years too. The last few big examples would be Afghanistan, Iraq, Georgia, Libya. 
Some people think that things have changed a lot since 1989 and the official end to the Cold War, when Russia and the US buried the hatchet (mostly due to the collapse of the old Russian union known as the USSR), but I don't think much has actually. Several parallels:
- When the US wants something, then Russia is against it and vice-versa. Example: When Kosovo was filing for independence - with a pro-Western government - then all of Western Europe (EU) and the US were supporting Kosovo's independence. Russia, was against it. Example 2: When Abkhazia, a Georgian province wanted to become independent - with a pro-Russian government - Russia supported Abkhazia, but the Western countries did not.
- When the NATO (Western) countries and the Arab League signed off on helping the Libyans, the Russians and the Chinese were against it and are now voicing concerns of French soldiers actually going to Libya.

Do Western Countries Actually Bring Democracy ?
Iraq has been in a state of war for approximately 8 years now and apart for the fake WMD the other idea was to finally bring down an oppressive dictator and make Iraq into a new democracy in the Middle Eastern (or Persian) region. One that might counteract all of the other dictatorships in the other countries in the region. Instead, what we got was several hundreds of thousands of deaths, a corrupt startling of a democracy like some of the early African democracies, and a country where almost nowhere is safe.
Afghanistan is in a similar state.
Apparently you can't just make a country into a democracy. It just doesn't work. The European democracies have had a few centuries to actually become what they are now. It didn't just happen overnight, but one thing is that they became democracies over time and by the will of the people, which makes a lot of sense, especially since democracy literally means : "The rule of the people" in Greek. Democracy does not mean : "The imposed rule of foreign countries". 

It is unfair and unwise to try and impose another view on people who are not ready for such thoughts yet. An example that might not appeal to all of you, but in several sci-fi shows, more advanced civilizations do not want to share their technology with more primitive societies and this is usually because that can too easily lead in someone using the technology for their own good and make life miserable for the others.
In real life most examples of more advanced civilizations meeting less advanced civilizations have resulted in dramatic consequences too:
- Europeans going to Africa resulted in millions killed or enslaved.
- Europeans going to the Americas resulted in millions killed from superior firepower (and disease).

There would certainly be other examples too, but those are the ones that pop into my head right now.

Should We Just Leave Them Alone Then ?
It begs the question then, doesn't it ? Are we supposed to let a madman and his family run over civilians with tanks in the case of Libya ? As these enlightened and free people that we are, it does not make sense for  us not to intervene ? But might it be better not to ? 
By intervening we have made Libya into a war which might kill tens of thousands of people or more in the end. By intervening in Iraq and Afghanistan we have already made a war which has killed several hundred thousands of people.
It seems like coming in with our superiority complex makes it worse at every turn. Living inside a democratic country is very nice, but being forced to be democratic defeats the purpose, doesn't it ?

Well, too many questions to answer right now, but worth thinking about...

Monday, 18 April 2011

Another Oil Bust ?!

Are we heading for another crash ? From June through to August 2008 oil reached a peak level of about $140 per barrel. We are currently at $127 per barrel. Guess what happened after the peak - you can cheat by looking at the graph - it crashed to $30 per barrel.

What basically happened was that all of a sudden everyone realized that oil was too expensive and more and more people reduced their usage, this meant that there was a shock in demand and since all of a sudden demand plunged, so did the prices.

An increase in oil prices affects everyone and by everyone, I actually mean everyone ! This includes people who don't drive cars. Why ? Because increased oil/petroleum prices mean an increase in food prices, an increase petroleum products (i.e. plastic bags/bottles, synthetic clothing, frozen food packaging) prices, an increase in transportation costs, ... People who drive just have another headache.

An example would be for a working person who has to drive to work every day and then takes trips on the weekends. If for example he used to pay an average of $80 a week on filling his car when prices were $60-80 a barrel he would now have to pay an average of $160 a week on filling his car. This means that per month the person has about $300 less to spend. That's massive for the average Joe who only earns $1500-2500 a month. This however is only part of it, since all of his food would have increased in price too.

Of course, what does Joe do ? He decides not to go on his weekend trips anymore and decides to carpool to work with his friends, so instead of spending $300 a week, his spending goes back to its original or less. This, and the same thing happening for every company or person in the world that decide they're paying too much leads to massive plunge in demand, which in turn makes oil prices crash again.

What will happen exactly I don't know, but I don't expect oil prices to go up much past $160 or maybe 170 per barrel, before they crash again. This of course is very speculative of me and I might be totally wrong, but I know I would not want to pay triple prices at the fuel tank every week and I'm pretty sure most people agree with me.

I'm not sure what the effects of another oil bust might be, but I guess we'll see.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Libya for Dummies ( Part III ) - Mini-update

Part I and II can be found here:
One of the comments has brought something to my attention about Muammar Gadhafi, the leader of Libya. Unlike most people in the world, Gadhafi literally has tonnes of gold. I'm talking about a real gold stash somewhere in Libya. The estimate is that he has a little more than 140 tonnes of gold treasure. What is also extraordinary is that the price of gold is nearing $1500 per ounce.
Just for sakes of simplifying calculations and therefore this post, I am going to say that an ounce is 50 grams instead of the 28 grams. This would also give an underestimate of what the gold would be worth on the market, but since Gadhafi would have to rely on black market dealers, I think, his gold would have a somewhat lower value.
So let's get on to estimate the value of his trove. So it's $3000 per 100 grams. 1 ton is 1000kg and 1kg is 1000 grams. This means that his gold is worth more than $4.2 billion. That's an amount that most people would not ever even see exchange hands in their entire lifetimes.

Oil? Bah! Who needs it?!
What this means is that Gadhafi can finance his mercenaries and army for a much longer period than I had ever thought. No matter what happens to the oil in the country, $4+ billion can buy many weapons, and it can pay for an army for a long time. Of course having the oil ports wouldn't hurt him, but even without them, he can afford to keep this war going for a very long time.

Ultimatums Are Bad
Lately, most Western countries have been calling for the immediate surrender of step-down of Gadhafi. I believe that in the situation we're in, not leaving any other options on the table will lead to nothing more than a long and bloody war. Gadhafi has now started to implement cluster munitions inside populated areas. Cluster munitions are munitions that explode and then release smaller munitions which then go in all directions.
I believe that negotiations is the step forward, even though he is a mad man, the worst thing you can do with a crazy person is drive them into a corner, because all that would happen is them flying into a rage and doing even crazier things.
The next step might be a very dangerous one as NATO tries to squeeze Gadhafi like a lemon. Acid might spill into their and the Libyans' eyes and it will hurt badly. Gadhafi might go on a rampage to discourage NATO's air-strikes. This might become very ugly.
Sadly, the Libyans are between Scylla and Chyrabdis or a rock and a hard place. The difference between Scylla & Chyrabdis and the rock & hard place is that Scylla & Chyrabdis are terrible monsters that would kill anyone who comes near them, while the rock just keeps you immobile.
The Libyan rebels are stuck between keeping their fight and slowly losing their resolve or stopping now and accept the loss of their fight. Both cases would result in Gadhafi finding ways to make everyone pay for his troubles, many, many deaths.
The rebels were highly motivated before, but when the tide turned and Gadhafi had brought its armored column against them they started losing morale quickly, a prolonged fight usually makes the militia lose heart before the regulars do.

Need to Negotiate
They need to ask for a cease-fire, someone neutral needs to make both parties go to the table and discuss a cease-fire. Even if it ends up like the cease-fire in the Korea's it would probably be better than them to keep on the fight for months or years. Several thousands of people have died already. How many more should have to die ?

Except for That
Gadhafi has been bombarding Misrata from within and from without, killing civilians as well as active rebels. NATO has promised more airstrikes and the rebels have apparently begun receiving weapon shipments and have been closing in on the next oil port.
Them getting weapons probably means that at least some companies are profiting from this. Isn't there an upside to everything ?

Oh well. Good night everyone. Have a think about this.
Part IV is now available.

Friday, 15 April 2011

Why Do People Keep Complaining About Facebook ?

Kvetch, kvetch, kvetch
Here's a little joke I got from wikipedia:
An old Jewish man riding on a train begins to moan: "Oy, am I thirsty; oy, am I thirsty", to the annoyance of the other passengers. Finally, another passenger gets a cup of water from the drinking fountain and gives it to the old man, who thanks him profusely and gulps it down. Feeling satisfied, the other passenger sits down again, only to hear "Oy, was I thirsty; oy, was I thirsty".
To Kvetch is to complain in Yiddish. It is said that Jews never cease to kvetch. As is told in this joke, which I had heard since I was small at the dinner table being told by all of my uncles at least once a year, the guy complained when he was thirsty and then complained because he wasn't thirsty anymore.

It seems to be contagious though as the whole of Facebook now kvetches about every single thing they can on Facebook. Probably passed on by the founders of Facebook to everyone who uses Facebook. This phenomenon is clearest and brightest when Facebook decides to change some of its features or the way things look on the social networking website. All of a sudden hundreds of groups and events appear with millions of people complaining about how they want things to work the way they used to.

Eternal Change
"I think every change that we've ever made, ever since I was a child — 100 years — every change has been good for the people." - Walter Breuning
Walter Breuning - World's oldest man dies at 114 years old.
Like Mr Breuning - who, unfortunately, recently passed away - said: Change is good. Facebook has been changing, evolving and adapting as it grows older just like humans and technology have been doing for millenia. 
Another things Mr Breuning said:
"My God, we used to have to write with pen and ink, you know, (for) everything. When the machines came, it just made life so much easier."
Imagine if this wasn't happening. We would still be living in caves, we would still be having to make fire by rubbing stones together. 
Facebook started as an exclusive club for Harvard students. Imagine if it had not changed since then. You would not be using it right now - unless you're a Harvard student of course. Change has been part of it from the very start. Yet, people keep on clamoring for the days of old.

2006 to 2011
Facebook has seen many changes since 2006. Facebook apps didn't exist at first and it took a long time for them to become anything more than a pass-time. The first applications were things such as: Interview yourself, hugs for free, Sketch Me...
Interview yourself was just an application that asked you questions you were supposed to answer and it then put it on your profile. Hugs for free let you sent little cartoony characters which hugged each other or smiled to people for birthdays or loved ones. Sketch  Me did this with your profile picture:
Other things that changed were the way groups work, the wall, your private information and things that didn't exist at all were the chat and the home feed. 
Now you have games like FarmVille and CityVille which have not only taken kids' lives over, but also the productivity of some of the major corporations in the world who have had to ban Facebook at work. Facebook has more than 500 million users now and has been estimated to have a worth of more than $50 billion. None of this would have been possible if Facebook didn't adapt to the times.

Facebook didn't start as the major powerhouse it is now. When it started there was MySpace which was massive for a Social Network at the time. MySpace was the epitome of what social networks were supposed to be. All the other social networks were secondary to MySpace which had a following in the tens of million at the time, which people thought would not be surpassed for a long time.
What Facebook offered in contrast to Myspace however was a simple-to-use & intuitive interface that connected people in a very simple way and allowed people to easily share many things. It did not have all the fancy customization options MySpace had, which allowed you to change background colors along with putting up your music and tons of pictures on your main page. Facebook separated everything fancy from the everyday wall and profile. 
Facebook was seen as clean, while MySpace became something for kids.
Some other competitors also popped out at the time but most of them have all been forgotten and lost in time.

A few exclusive competitors such as aSmallWorld still exist, but they do not compare in size or reach to Facebook at all. That's also what makes them 'special'.
However, some other countries like China and India do have their own social networks which are quite big. The only difference is Facebook's international appeal, which these do not have. Also China has banned Facebook, so that also adds another reason why there actually is a Chinese social network.

Complain and Forget
I had heard about forgive and forget a long time ago. A concept known to most of you probably. In it simple form it is basically to forgive someone for their wrongdoings and forget about them, which allows you to start anew. 
With Facebook I have learnt a new concept, the one of "Complain and Forget". This one is about Facebook users who complain about all the changes Facebook makes one year, create and join protest groups and then a month later forget all about it as they got used to the changes. Then, the next year or the next changes, whichever come first, they do the same thing again. The difference is that they do not only forget about the changes that have been made, but even forgot that the first changes were ever made and do not ask Facebook to restore things to how they were originally, but rather for Facebook to restore things to how they were after the first changes had been made. They want things to be the way they had previously campaigned against.
This concept is very strange to me, but that's how some people are apparently.

Is Facebook Evil?
Of course, before I finish this post I have to touch upon the fact that some people consider all big companies and organizations evil. I believe I need to disabuse people from this thought process. All companies are not Evil, all they want is profit. Facebook is the same and as it stands they need to keep making their changes to please more and more people and to attract an even bigger crowd. The bigger they are, the more money they can make. 

Why do people keep complaining ? I don't know, but hopefully for them, that is their only worry in the world. Then their lives must be amazing. If not, they should find something else more important to complain about, like crime in the neighborhoods or how people in their country are starving or how the middle class they probably belong to is slowly disappearing.

And in case you want to read a bit more on social networks, here's an interesting read: Reflections on Social Networks

Friday, 8 April 2011

Libya for Dummies ( Part II )

This is part 2 from my "Libya for Dummies" blog post. If you did not read that one, you might want to start from there as I have explained many things in my first post, which might help you understand this one.

I want to make sure that everyone knows this is still just my opinion and I might be wrong about some things. I would be glad to be corrected via comments.

What's Going to Happen ?
Earlier I had thought this would be over pretty soon with Gadhafi running out of money once he lost his major oil ports, which meant he would lose his mercenaries and thus probably lose everything.  Apparently, I was wrong. Gadhafi has been holding out very well, which means he must have other assets somewhere which have not been frozen yet, I believe.
This means this can become a very long and protracted war. I believe the best option would be for the East and West to separate, but that's probably not going to happen, since Gadhafi wants his oil back.
Of course there are several possibilities and I'm going to state a few I think are plausible enough.

  • The rebels get better training and weapons and manage to take over more cities and most of the country in the end. This would probably result in the loyalists becoming the new rebels, hiding underground and start undertaking terrorist attacks if Gadhafi manages to stay alive. With all the tribal mentality, this might end up in some ways similar to the ethnic strife in the other African countries like Congo, except with mind of getting back to power.
  • The rebels get better training and weapons and manage to take over more cities and most of the country in the end. They manage to capture/kill/exile Gadhafi and the rebuilding of the country recommences with a new government slowly taking shape in some form.
  • Gadhafi manages to make a very strong push on Misrata, takes it over and pushes hard onto the Eastern ports and keeps his fighters close enough so no one would risk attacking, just like the rebels did before. If he can then find a way to stop there and then whilst keeping control of the ports, that might still be a possibility for peace.
I don't think Gadhafi can retake his whole country.

There is, right now, a tragedy occurring in Misrata. Gadhafi has stationed armor and snipers in the city who have killed many. This is to try and stop rebels from keeping the city, but also to instill fear into any people who might consider joining the rebels. He is currently doing a good job at keeping the rebels at bay, but unfortunately, he is murdering many civilians in the process. The other problem he has is that most people in the city are probably not very happy with him right now and if he retreats his terror troops (due to a rebel attack or due to some other reason), Misrata will probably once again be controlled by the rebels, which means there is close to no point in doing what he is doing right now. He will have to keep a very strong presence there from here on out until he dies to make sure the people there do not turn against him.

The Issues

I said before I would talk about several issues and I wasn't expecting to write so much about Libya in general, but I would start now.

The US and other Western countries are just in this for the oil
This is a very interesting issue, which if this had happened more than 4 years ago might have made sense. However, as it stands, it does not. Italy, especially, but also other Western countries had major oil contracts with Libya prior to the conflict, these companies are losing million due to more than 1 million barrels of oil they could have had per day from Libya. 
Another point to make is that no Western government has had any regular troops on the ground to help the rebels. Which means no Western country would have direct access to the oil whether the rebels win or lose.

This is exactly like Iraq in 2003
Well, no it isn't. Why ? Several reasons would be:
The invasion of Iraq was a unilateral decision made by the US whereas in this conflict the US played a minor role compared to 2003. This resolution was approved not the UN, unlike what happened in 2003. This time the Arab League also approved the action, which they certainly did not do in 2003. Also, this is not an invasion, this was specifically requested by the rebels themselves.

We do not know who we are aiding i.e. Who are the rebels ?
This is actually very interesting and partially true. 
Let's start with seeing who they are. The rebels comprise of many different tribal people all over Libya, the fighters being between 18-40 years old and probably most male. Some parts of the rebels were ex-soldiers who have deserted Gadhafi and these elements have been very useful at training the rebels, but in so doing have also gained a lot of prestige withing the Libyan rebel camp, which might mean future leadership position and considering that Gadhafi was a military Colonel, that doesn't sound too good.
The other part of the rebel leadership is civilian and that is mostly what can be seen like in cities like Benghazi, where prominent members of the community started making transitional governments already. Most of the leaders seem to be well-educated people such as lawyers. 
When people say we do not know who we are aiding this is probably not so true however, since leaders from several countries have already met with the transitional government's leaders and some countries have even set up ambassadors to the rebel government.

What I believe is that the rebel group is very broad and cannot be easily detailed and until the conflict is resolved, we probably would not know much about it unless someone who is knowledgeable about Libyan politics starts analyzing the different factions.

NATO and the US have no choice but to start a full-on invasion if they want to succeed
This is certainly not true. The rebels have enough supporters and taking over their (possible) victory by sending an overwhelming force to 'save the day' would reduce their revolution into nothing more than something that will look like another evil imperialistic move by everyone else in the world, which in the end would only turn out badly for most people.

Why Libya ? Why not Yemen, Syria, Bahrein,... ?
Well, many reasons exist for that and not all of them are as resoundingly nice as the reason given to help the rebels: "We need to save the civilians"
One of them is that every country on this planet except for some African and maybe South American countries (with no real say in the rest of the world) hates Gadhafi's guts. Gadhafi has insulted most of the world's leaders including Saudi Arabia's quite recently. Libya's rebel force asked for help, where most others have not, probably because they hate the Westerner's and don't want them involved as they see Westerners as imperialistic. Libya is much closer to the European sphere of influence than Bahrein and Syria which are all enclosed by other Arab countries and where the Arab Peninsula's leaders seem to be trying make it by themselves with Saudi Arabia even sending troops to Bahrein.

NATO had prepared (at least some of) the strikes before it was even approved by the UN
This seems to be quite clear. After the UN had given its approval, NATO had managed to cripple Libya's air force too quickly for it to have been by accident. This might mean that even without full UN approval NATO might have gone forward with the plan to at least break down Libya's air force on its own. None of this is for certain however.

Conspiracy against Libya/Resolution passed too fast
People usually complain when things happen too slow in the UN or that the UN does not act and is just a resource hog that takes money and nothing useful happens. Now we hear people talk about this happening all too fast. The President of France, Sarkozy managed to get most of the European nations to agree to the resolution, managed to get China and Russia NOT to veto the resolution of the UN and most of all managed to make all of the Arab League agree to it.
This seems like too much to be a coincidence. The only problem is that the motives behind such a move are too obscure to be certain. It does seem unlikely for so many countries to have acted with such swiftness if there had not been anything going on behind the curtains. Even China and Russia must have gotten something for their abstention, especially since China had the most foreign workers in Libya when the conflict began.
The Arab League agreeing to such action is also very peculiar since most of them have the very same protests happening right now in their own countries.
My only idea about this would be that they received some kind of guarantee to deal with their own problems if they agreed to help the western countries fight against Libya, but I am just guessing right now.
It is very odd, indeed.

Libya's conflict is not a simple one and might be a long one too unfortunately. All people can hope for is for it to be as bloodless as possible, since there is no way to know what would happen after the conflict ends.
We do not even know all of the details why exactly everyone joined in to fight against Gadhafi. This conflict however, if it is a fight for democracy by the people, is a valid fight in my opinion has it happened in France more than 200 years now. It is these kinds of revolutions that change countries. The problem is that there is no way to know how good or bad the changes are until they happen.
Let's all hope and pray that it will all turn out for the better, whatever it is.

In a comment left in Part I, someone asked why a father, called Koussa, would name their child Moussa. My guess is that it rhymes with his own name and he likes Moses better than Mohammed.
Kidding aside, Moussa, Musa, Mussa is the Arabic name for Moses and is considered a prophet by the three major Abrahamic religions. It is a widely used name in Hebrew as Moshe or Moishe and in Arabic as Musa, Mussa or Moussa. Since Musa is an important prophet for Islam, I guess Koussa liked Moussa as a name for his son. By the way, I'm not even sure if Moussa's father is called Koussa.
Why am I talking about a guy named Moussa right now is actually quite interesting. This guy was a minister in Libya to Gadhafi and thus a very important and highly ranked person. The reason I'm saying 'was' and not 'is' is because he recently defected (not defecated) to the UK.
Many people question his reasons for defecting, while he himself said he could not bear the suffering he saw and the crimes committed by the Libyan forces.
A lot of people believe the only reasons were that he wanted his assets unfrozen, which have already happened, and that he didn't want to get hung out to dry when Gadhafi's government finally falls.
Even though most people are probably right in those allegations, this has serious repercussions. It means that Gadhafi is losing support, even of his inner sanctum. This could be a tremendous loss for him in the long run if all the competent people he could count on leave him one by one and he is left with nothing more than a complete puppet regime. Only time will tell.

I hope you enjoyed this article. 

Update: Libya for Dummies Part III has come out:
Libya for Dummies ( Part III )

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Libya for Dummies ( Part I )

Just want to start by saying this is all from my point of view and I may be completely wrong. Of course, you might like it if you have very little knowledge on the issue. I will also address some common issues people raise and why I believe them to be right or wrong.

I started writing this and it has started getting quite long so I will release this in parts. This is part 1 out of an unknown number of parts for now. If you have any corrections, please post in the comments. This is quite a simplified version of events though, so do take that into account.

Libya is a country in North Africa. It has a small population of 6 million people (minus the people who have fled in the past month or so). The people in Libya are relatively well-educated with the highest literacy rate in the region and with a big student population. Oil is one of the major resources in the country and is a big issue in this conflict too.
The population is split into many tribes who live in different regions. For example the leader of Libya, Gadhafi, comes from the Gadhadhfa (fixed, thanks to PJ) tribe. (The spelling of these tribes in English will probably be different everywhere) Each of these tribes usually have allegiances to the other tribes which sometimes are decades-old and some tribes on the other hand flip their allegiances to whoever is giving them the best options at that time. This is part of the difficulty in understanding the conflict in Libya right now and one of the most underestimated problem I see right now. More on this later too.

The leader of Libya came to power after a coup more than 40 years ago against the king. The reasons don't really matter for the purpose of this blog entry, but the whole subject is quite interesting and intricate.
Basically, Gadhafi is a military man and with the help of other military men he succeeded in deposing the old king and has thus declared himself ruler of Libya.
For years Gadhafi had been shun by most of the western world and he has also supported terrorists and even (allegedly) staged terrorist attacks.
This was until 2008 when both the western countries and Gadhafi sought closer relationships, the embargo against him was dropped and Gadhafi started cooperating with the west.
In all this time, Gadhafi has also been a central figure in African politics however and as one of the founding members of the African Union and as a visionary for a United States of Africa commands a lot of respect from some of the African countries (especially from other dictators).
Gadhafi has also used a great deal of the oil revenue in developing Libya's infrastructure and social system, whilst keeping his 'friends' loyal. He also invested a lot into other African countries and established trade relationships with most of them.

Why Now?
The protesters started protesting shortly after the protesters in the other Middle Eastern countries in what is now known as the Arab Spring. These protests started when a Tunisian immolated himself which triggered an outcry in Tunisia, which ended with the ouster of the dictator Ben Ali. This then quickly motivated others in countries with similar conditions to start protesting with Egypt carrying a big part of the media with it.
Libyans' protests started small and grew larger even though the government tried cracking down on them. After a certain point some protesters took arms against the government with the help of some general who apparently also managed to convince some of his troops to join his side. This meant that the protesters who started out as a mostly civilian and peaceful discourse became armed and dangerous.

So What Happened?
The newly-coined 'rebels' manage to take over most of Eastern Libya and a few cities and strongholds in Western and Southern Libya, while Gadhafi managed to keep a hold on the rest. Since Libya is still quite tribal, most cities loyal to Gadhafi are also loyal to the Gadhadhfa (fixed), while all the other tribes probably joined the opposition or have tried staying neutral.
At the same time, most foreigners have left the country except for armed mercenaries hired by Gadhafi to help reinforce his forces due to the desertion of others. These mercenaries are mainly from Mali and Niger.

So, the rebels managed to capture large swaths of land especially Benghazi and Misrata, the second and third-largest cities after Tripoli, the capital. These were very important and fighting still persists now in Misrata. The rebels had also managed to capture several oil ports, such as Brega and Ras Lanouf (forgive the spelling of all of these) which were very important strategically as they would not allow Gadhafi to keep funding his troops if he lost control of his major resource, oil.
However Gadhafi started employing his Air Force and soon enough managed to repel the rebels from most of Western Libya, except for Misrata and managed to send his troops further to the East.

This was when the UN jumped in at the request of the rebels and with the agreement of the Arab League and most NATO countries. The UN authorized any measures necessary for protection of civilian lives, which is a very broad mission statement.

Gadhafi's Air Force Crushed
Very quickly NATO managed to destroy all of Gadhafi's aerial capabilities. This meant that the rebels did not have to fear air strikes any longer and started advancing again, only to get hit by Gadhafi's armored division (tanks), this basically went on for a while with the rebels gaining ground and then the loyalists getting it back.

Now we are at a point where we could say there is a kind of stalemate. The rebels control the East (with most oil ports), the loyalists control the West and parts of the South (with some oil too), barring Misrata, the last rebel stronghold in the West. Whenever the rebels advance they  get pounded by the armor, whenever the loyalists advance they get pounded by the NATO + Qatar's aerial bombardments.

Part II can be found on the following link:
Libya for Dummies ( Part II )

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Goldstone Report Summary (with hindsight)

Goldstone's op-ed

Interesting read.

Points to make:
First of all; - Mr Goldstone does not retract nor regret his original report and stands by it, all he says is that some of the conclusions would have been different as explained below:
- Hamas is guilty of crimes against civilians
- Hamas has not done any proper investigations
- Goldstone had hoped that it would make Hamas more responsible and create its own investigations
- Israel is not targeting civilians as a matter of policy and any commander being found guilty of purposefully attacking civilians will be held accountable
- Goldstone also thinks that if Israel and/or Hamas had cooperated the report would have been more accurate, since it was based on facts known to him at the time (seems to always be the case, since you cannot know what you would know in the future o.O)
- Goldstone supports the application of international law in any armed conflicts (both symmetric and asymmetric warfare) and he believes that thanks to this report both the Palestinian Authority and Israel (not Hamas) have undertaken policy changes to curtail the suffering of innocent civilians.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Religious Hypocrisy ?

Disclaimer: If you are religious (and maybe even if you aren't) this might offend you, so stop reading now.
I said stop reading now!
Well, it's your fault if you read further.

I just want to start by saying that I would refer to the different names for God in the 'Western' religions by God, be it Allah, God, Jesus, Elokim,... This is to make it easier to write. As I have had very limited exposure to the Eastern religions like Hinduism and Sikhism I would probably not talk much about these, but I would refer to the polytheistic religions' Gods as Gods without differentiating between which Gods are which.

I know people are just people but I've seen this from different kinds all my life. Some people follow their priest, rabbi, imam,... Others read their holy books on their own and make up their own minds, while even others do neither and just do what they want.
I understand that not everyone is capable of doing everything a certain holy book prescribes to them. I even understand that people interpret things differently. I understand people do not understand their religion completely and yet others do not even understand their own beliefs - let alone their religion - altogether.

Everyone is different and unique, and basically everyone is the same.

Examples to Demonstrate
Let me tell you about some different kinds of people I know without mentioning their respective religions, names backgrounds and specific beliefs. I'm also referring to everyone as "he" or "him" to make it easier to write and keep this as anonymous as possible.

  1. I got to know someone recently, who according to his religion is supposed to go pray at certain times during certain days, which he does not do. He is also not allowed to eat several things, but yet he does not care about that either.
  2. Another person I know, has been raised in a specific religious environment and has been taught most of the 'important' aspects of his religion. He was taught what he could and could not do and while in school he actually did pray every day and went further into his beliefs and tried to learn as much as possible, but then now he has stopped doing parts of these things and only keeps up with others.
  3. This person has been raised in a very non-religious environment and has 'found' God through some help from others and now is a very religious person who prays every day and only eats and drinks according to his religion. He also listens to what his authority figure tells him to do when he asks for advice.
  4. Another one would be where devout followers start heeding the word of their authoritative figure more than the holy book they believe in. It becomes as if that person is more important than their divine figure/God(s).
  5. This last person has been taught everything there is to know about his respective religion and has been a devout follower for years. Lately something has happened that has made him doubt and so he has either partly or even completely departed his religious practices to find something new or to live his life without religion.
I know these examples seem very vague, but they are partly meant to be so. This is because of my respect for people's right for privacy and because it would allow more people to partly identify with these individualities.

Now all these people have their reasons - others would describe these reasons as excuses - for doing or not doing what they are doing.

For example the person from number 1 told me specifically why he does not pray at these certain times and why he does not care about eating this particular kind of food. He told me that every morning he wakes up and thinks of God and thanks him so why should he go off and pray as is specified by others when he does what he thinks is right and is with God all day, which sometimes is more than he can say for others who go to the 'compulsory' prayers and pretend to pray as hard as possible for others to see, but when at home they do everything that is regarded as bad by the religion.
Add to that that he has started to eating healthy now. He has started eating many more vegetables, fruit and less fatty foodstuffs. However, now he does eat food that is not allowed by his religion. He then asks me to answer a simple, yet hard to answer, question: "Why is it so bad for me to eat healthy food and not take heed to my religion's millennia old rules on food ?"

For number 4, you would have people explain it by saying that the person is a Holy or Chosen One, a prophet, a seer, the great grandson of prophet and so on... By justifying these people, they give them the power to influence people as they see fit.

Why Do I Care?
You might want to know why I care about this and if it isn't obvious I would explain. My entire life I have been raised in a religious environment and until very late in high school I had never really doubted what I was told. At some point in my life I started to realize people all seem to make up their own rules and traditions within their respective beliefs and religions. Going to university only emphasized this fact, since I met people from many different religions and with different backgrounds.
I met people who would say they believed in the same thing, but then acted completely differently and I would ask them about it and they would say that they are just doing what they think is right in name of what they believe. Others might have said it is the way they were raised whilst others even tried accepting all religions and believing in all they encountered (true to the Ancient Roman style of integrating whatever culture into theirs).
I also care because it seems that some people do this  without questioning their beliefs, which sometimes can start to hurt people. I am a believer in the equality of humans and it bothers me when someone says that the other person is not worth as much by just not being of the same religion/tribe/customs/beliefs...
This is obvious in all Abrahamic religions where one may not marry one who is not of the same religion.

It is strange that the Romans were more inclusive in their time than we are now - of course they did have a donkey as a minister at one point too, so maybe that doesn't say too much.

Does It Matter?
Does it actually ? Does it matter that everyone makes up their own religion ? I guess that in some ways it doesn't. It makes people happy to believe in whatever they want to believe. On the other hand, this creates a lot of tension amongst people. This can easily be seen in the bigger denominations of religions where until recently Ashkenazi Jews would not marry Sepharadic Jews, it can also be seen in the major sectarian violence in Iraq where literally - and I do mean literally - more than 100000 people have died. These things usually just start as a small disagreement but then get larger and larger. The African Anglican Church has had some of their higher members voicing their opinion for a split with the rest of the Anglican community on different beliefs towards homosexuality (same-sex marriage), women priesthood, and other issues.

This doesn't seem as obvious as one Christian saying that drinking is not a problem, while others denounce it or that one secular Muslim drinks moderately, while his more religious counterparts would be shunned for drinking. It might just seem like a minor disagreement and it might just be that, but it might not. It might go very far indeed.

And More
Long post I know, but there's more. Back to the title of this post ... Can this also be part of major hypocrisy on part of some people ?
Muslims drinking, Christians not going to Church, Jews celebrating Chrisnukkah and so on... All this while presenting yourself to other members of the community as respectable members who follow the rules and sometimes even give advice to people when broached on the topic. Isn't this hypocritical ?

A simple example would be the Jew who eats Kosher, goes to pray and teaches the Torah thinks it is alright to kill thousands of innocent people ? Is that what God wants ?
Another where a Christian who goes to church, only because it is what everyone does, picks up girls in church, but pretends to be pure in the eyes of Jesus ?
Another where a Muslim who eats Halal and goes to the mosque and does pray five times a day, but then comes home and starts drinking and beat up his wife who in public gets forced to wear the full body dress. Is that the will of Allah ?

How are any of these part of the religion for which they so strongly put their views forward ?
Or is the religion itself flawed ?

Holy Books in Context
Of course not everyone is being hypocritical... That is a very harsh view and my title is partly just a draw to attract people, like good news headlines.
"Religious Hypocrisy?" strikes more into the heart of people than "Are people being honest?".

Well, to continue my - now very long - rant. Not everyone is hypocritical. A lot of people who do not to do as everything is prescribed in their holy books say something like this: "The book is very old and some of the rules do not apply anymore. Times have changed and our religion needs to move along as well."

Yeah, why not ? This seems like a very valid argument at first, but then collapses if put under any scrutiny like the houses of the two first little piglets, which got blown away by the wolf.
In case you are too young to know this story or just have never been told it : Three Little Pigs

If your argument is that the rules you do not adhere to are too old for you to adhere to them, why do you adhere to the other rules, which come from the same time period ?
Why do you think you can decide upon which rules you can and cannot adhere to ? Why is it alright for example to eat unholy food, but not alright for same-sex marriage ? Why is it alright for you to not pray, but not alright for others to live their lives in peace ?

This subject baffles me as I have seen very smart people answering some of these questions by saying things like:
"Some things can be seen to not be fitting with the eye of God."
"It is not a natural thing to do this"

So what ? Is it natural to eat seedless grapes ? But I'm pretty sure you do ! And some things are not fitting of God ? Yeah, but didn't he tell you do this or that too ? Who appointed you God's lawmaker ?

It Doesn't Make Sense...
But what does ? I know I'm too much of a rational person to ever understand the divine. It does bother me by the fact that some people believe they do. It bothers me when they try to make others do what they believe God is telling them to do, when they ignore some of it themselves.
All in all, I'd say live and let live! Unfortunately, not everyone is like that and I have seen and read about these kinds of things all of my life. And that's part of being religious, it is to try and impose your beliefs on others, but I guess that makes me a hypocrite too. Am I not trying to impose my beliefs on you right now ? By making you read this ?

Isn't this world amazing ? It can be so beautiful and so sad at the same time. Isn't it wonderful that me trying to enlighten other people about things they have not thought about before can open my eyes in the same way ?

It seems as if I have written an essay for a politics assignment right now, even though I do not study politics and I have asked many questions, which I would probably not see answered. Oh well. I hope this at least was  a tad interesting.

To whoever stayed with me this far, congratulations.