First, they came for the small-chested people...
A ban on small-chested people riding motorbikes is just one of the novel criteria recently proposed by Vietnam's Ministry of Health. People whose chests measure less than 28 inches would be prohibited under this new recommendation, as well as people who are too short or too thin. This proposal is meant to improve driver safety in Vietnam, which has one of the world's highest road death tolls, presumably because waifish Vietnamese are at greater risk of sustaining serious injury when in a motorbike accident.
Despite being obviously insane, the Ministry of Health's proposal could affect the travel plans of a large number of Vietnamese. Motorbikes make up 90% of the traffic on Vietnam's roads. Many Vietnamese are naturally slight, and malnutrition often stunted the growth of those born during the Vietnam War. The affair has nevertheless been great fodder for Vietnamese bloggers. "From now on, padded bras will be bestsellers," predicted Bo Cu Hung, a Ho Chi Minh City-based blogger.
Lebanon plans to charge Israel with violating a food copyright by marketing provisions such as hummus and falafel as Israeli, Fadi Abboud, the president of the Lebanese Industrialists Association announced Monday. Abboud contends that these foods are historically Lebanese, and that Israel's appropriation of them has cost the Levantine country profits "estimated at tens of millions of dollars annually."
Lebanon's case will likely rely on "the feta precedent," said Abboud. Six years ago, Greece was able to win a monopoly on the production of feta cheese from the European Parliament by proving that the cheese and had been produced in Greece under that name for several millennia.
The origins of hummus remain shrouded in mystery, but attempts to claim the food as a "national dish" remain a reliable way to start nationalistic squabbles across the region. Bringing this case to the courts, however, is unlikely to win the Lebanese government points even with a domestic audience. Most likely, it will simply reinforce the belief that while Hezbollah readies its rockets against Israel, all the Lebanese state can muster is frivolous lawsuits.
Despite all the turmoil in Congress these days, a bill authorizing the U.S.-India nuclear deal has been quietly moving forward, and yesterday it passed the Senate 86-13. This is one of the last steps in the approval process -- it follows what I and many others thought were almost insurmountable obstacles to the deal in the Indian Parliament and the Nuclear Suppliers Group.
The summary of the bill, released yesterday, lists several notable provisions that I want to highlight briefly. It notes explicitly that approval of the deal is based on U.S. interpretations of the terms. This means that, contrary to a declaration by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the agreement would not mitigate any penalties incurred by future Indian nuclear tests. For instance, the United States views fuel supply assurances as a political, not a legal, commitment that would almost certainly be suspended in the event of further nuclear tests.
In addition, before any licenses can be approved by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission under this agreement, India's safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency must enter fully into force. At the same time, India's declaration of civilian nuclear facilities must be consistent with the one issued by New Delhi in 2006.
This and several other provisions seem to be designed to allow the United States opportunities to prevent or halt technology transfer if circumstances call for it. Such potential loopholes also highlight one particularly important fact: The deal's approval does not necessarily mean the United States will actually sell much civilian nuclear technology to India. It is now legal to do so in most cases, but political, bureaucratic, economic, or diplomatic barriers may nonetheless end up being too problematic to overcome. Indeed, the Bush administration secretly told Congress it would not sell "sensitive" nuclear technologies to India in a letter earlier this month. For those unhappy with this deal, the details of the bill leave America with plenty of wiggle room.
Just in case you were worried that Congress was neglecting other pressing issues during the ongoing financial meltdown, Colorado Congressman Tom Tancredo is working diligently to prevent the imposition of Sharia law in the U.S.
The "Jihad Prevention Act," which he introduced last week would make it a deportable offense for immigrants to advocate Sharia and require that all immigrants pledge not to do so when they are admitted to the country. I'll give Tancredo the benefit of the doubt and assume that he actually sees this as a threat, though it's a bit dodgy that the statistics he cites are from the U.K.
On the merits though, this is a phenomenally dumb idea. It not only singles out Muslim immigrants for suspicion, needlessly inconveniences the vast majority of U.S. immigrants who aren't Muslim, and violates the very constitution that it's meant to protect. It also, as Cato's Jim Harper points out, displays a disturbing lack of faith in the strength of American institutions to stand up to the ranting of a few extremists.
It's also inaccurately named since, as far as I can tell, non-Sharia-related Jihad activities would still be allowed.
There's a fascinating article in today's New York Times about India's controversial practice of using electronic brain scans for lie-detection in interrogation. Two Indian states have been using electroencephalograms (EEGs) to interrogate criminal suspects since 2006, but this summer was the first time a judge handed down a conviction based on the data. Here's how the procedure works:
This latest Indian attempt at getting past criminals’ defenses begins with an electroencephalogram, or EEG, in which electrodes are placed on the head to measure electrical waves. The suspect sits in silence, eyes shut. An investigator reads aloud details of the crime — as prosecutors see it — and the resulting brain images are processed using software built in Bangalore.
The software tries to detect whether, when the crime’s details are recited, the brain lights up in specific regions — the areas that, according to the technology’s inventors, show measurable changes when experiences are relived, their smells and sounds summoned back to consciousness. The inventors of the technology claim the system can distinguish between people’s memories of events they witnessed and between deeds they committed.
Based on this scan, a woman who claims to be innocent was convicted in June of poisoning her fiancé.
Neuroscientists have widely condemned this application of EEGs, which has not been sufficiently peer-reviewed to have gained wide acceptance. It's not too far-fetched, though, to see it as the future of criminal investigation. Officials from Singapore and Israel have expressed interest in the Indian program and similar procedures have been developed in the United States.
Before we condemn India for using such an unproven technology in murder trials, it's worth pointing out that U.S. law enforcement agencies still regularly administer polygraph tests even though the Supreme Court ruled them unreliable a decade ago. And of course, there's bullet lead analysis, which the FBI used for four decades before it was discredited.
Let's just be sure these new technologies really work this time around before we start putting them in front of juries.
When Danish cartoonists satirically depicted the Islamic prophet Mohammed in 2006, few found it funny. The New Yorker felt a less violent backlash when it depicted Barack Obama and his wife in terrorist garb. The latest cartooning casualty? Jacob Zuma, head of South Africa's African National Congress (ANC) and a likely sucessor to President Thabo Mbeki. The hit? A cartoon in the country's popular Sunday Times newspaper depicting the leader set to rape the justice system in the form of lady liberty.
The most offensive cartoons are those that hit just a bit too close to home, and this latest Zuma depiction certainly does. Jacob Zuma, who rode to power on his audacious Zulu nationalism, is a provocative character. On Thursday, a judge will rule on whether it is legal to charge Mr. Zuma with counts of corruption, money laundering, and fraud, first filed against him over two years ago. Zuma is more famously remembered for accusations that he raped a friend of his daughter, who happened to be HIV positive. Though he was acquitted, (he claims the encounter was consensual), AIDS activists can't easily forget that he told a court (and the public) that he merely took a shower to prevent infection.
The Mail and Guardian newspaper, home of the offending cartoonist, offered its own explanation of the weekend scandal that left the country questioning and debating if the paper pushed too far. Said one reader,
Zapiro has an insatiable hatred for Mr Zuma and will use any event to publicly humiliate him. It's no longer funny."
The paper claims that the cartoonist, Jonathan Zapiro, meant only to express his exasperation with Zuma's ability to get off the hook, as well as his contribution to a patriarchal society. This is not the first time that Zapiro's cartoons have criticized national politics, but most of the time, this has simply helped make him one of the most famous artists in the region (even boasting his own facebook application).
South Africa's ANC, the South African Communist Party, and the COSATU labour federation -- also depicted in the cartoon -- didn't take the satire so well, saying it borders on defamation.
Whoever is right, the battle will play out on the streets, where thousands are expected to show their support for Zuma outside of court on Thursday. With so many rooting for the leader's evasion of justice, it's a bit easier to understand how Zapiro could fathom depicting one of Zuma's ANC colleagues shouting out: "Go for it, Boss!"
Two weeks ago, an operation aimed at Taliban insurgents in the Afghan village of Azizabad looked like a public relations mess for the United States. The United Nations reported that the airstrikes killed no less than 90 civilians. Protests shot up in the local town, and Afghan President Hamid Karzai condemned the attack.
Ninety civilian casualties? Nope, say U.S. investigators today, who put the number instead at just five. All the others killed -- somewhere between 30 and 35 people -- were Taliban insurgents.
Could it just be the way we are counting? Besides, who really is a civilian?
In fact, there is an official definition, found in a 1977 addition to the Geneva Convention -- but it reads like a confused doctors' diagnosis of exclusion. If you're not carrying a gun for somebody or for some reason, chances are you're a civilian. The lines gets blurry when you start feeding the fighters, housing them, or just plain looking like them.
I suspect that the United States, perhaps more focused on controlling a rebounding Taliban insurgency, might define a combatant a bit more loosely than does the United Nations. Or perhaps the "civilian" witnesses that both camps interviewed simply had motives for either exaggerating or supressing the death count, depending on who was asking the questions.
Questions should keep being asked, though, as long as one-liners like this one keep popping up:
On Tuesday, NATO said it accidentally killed four children in Paktika province with artillery fire.
Not a good way to win hearts and minds.
Civil Georgia reports that President Mikheil Saakashvili is planning to introduce a "Patriot Act" to prevent Russian subversion of the Georgian government:
Saakashvili said that he planned to propose the parliament to develop “the patriotic act” and added that this new legislature – details of which he did not elaborate – would no way infringe the civil liberties.
“This will be carried out under the condition of maintaining democracy; freedom and liberties,” he added and repeated it for coupe of more times.
He said that the act was needed to prevent “external attempts to destabilize the country.
It's not clear yet exactly what this act will entail.
It's not clear yet exactly what this act will entail.
Here are some things you can no longer do in certain parts of Italy:
As part of a countrywide effort to fight crime, Italian mayors have been given more law-and-order powers, but some mayors appear to have gone way overboard. One man in Vicenza was fined for lying down at the park to read a book, though after the man vented on national radio, the mayor said he would remove the ban.
Sounds like some Italian mayors need to lighten up and have some summertime fun.
Here's a little-noticed story suggesting that, despite the Russo-Georgian war, the international system is alive and well.
Claimed by both Nigeria and Cameroon, the Bakassi peninsula has a local population that considers itself Nigerian, but is believed to hold rich oil and gas deposits. You might think such a situtation is a recipe for disaster.
Not so. Nigeria has just officially ceded Bakassi to Cameroon, honoring a 2002 ruling by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and bringing a peaceful close to a decades-long despute. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon hailed the transfer as "a model for negotiated settlements of border disputes," and Nigerian officials cited the importance of international law in reaching the settlement:
The gains made in adhering to the rule of law may outweigh the painful losses of ancestral homes," said the head of the Nigerian delegation, Attorney General Mike Aondoakaa.
The agreement isn't perfect. Some analysts expressed concern that armed groups opposed to the handover will sow violence to further delay the deal.
Still, in an age when nationalism and natural resources seem to trump all, it's an encouraging sign. Hopefully, Nigeria's move will further legitimize the international legal system, which has seen its rulings recently ignored by the United States and Sudan. Now Georgia, too, is seeking the ICJ's assistance to remedy its conflict with Russia. Unfortunately, I'd expect it to be easier for Russia to ignore the ICJ than it was for Nigeria.
I'll admit that the FBI has put together some very suggestive information about Bruce Ivins, the anthrax researcher who committed suicide last week. The key document is this one (pdf), an affadavit for a search warrant, in which Postal Inspector Thomas F. Dellafera informs us that Ivins was under suspicion for the following reasons:
(1) At the time of the attacks, he was the custodian of a large flask of highly purified anthrax spores that possess certain genetic mutations identical to the anthrax used in the attacks; (2) Ivins has been unable to give investigators an adequate explanation for his late night laboratory work hours around the time of both anthrax mailings; (3) Ivins has claimed that he was suffering serious mental health issues in the months preceding the attacks, and told a coworker that he had "incredible paranoid, delusional thoughts at times" and feared that he might not be able to control his behavior; (4) Ivins is believed to have submitted false samples of anthrax from his lab to the FBI for forensic analysis in order to mislead investigators; (5) at the time of the attacks, Ivins was under pressure at work to assist a private company that had lost its FDA approval to produce an anthrax vaccine the Army needed for U.S. troops, and which Ivins believed was essential for the anthrax program at USAMFUID; and (6) Ivins sent an email to [redacted] a few days before the anthrax attacks warning [redacted] that "Bin Laden terrorists for sure have anthrax and sarin gas" and have "just decreed death to all Jews and all Americans," language similar to the anthrax letters warning "WE HAVE THIS ANTHRAX . . . DEATH TO AMERICA . . . DEATH TO ISRAEL."
I'd like to hear some scientific experts weigh in on #1, which is the only non-circumstantial piece of evidence here. The Feds have more damning stuff, too, such as this bit about the anthrax letters noted by the New York Times:
[S]earches of Dr. Ivins's home in Frederick, Md., turned up "hundreds" of similar letters that had not yet been sent to media outlets and members of Congress.
But here's something Bloomberg caught about Ivins's late-night work habits:
The spike in his evening hours began in mid-August, almost a month before the Sept. 11 attacks, investigators said.
So, he was working on all this before 9/11? What's that all about?
Am I the only one who finds the FBI's steady drumbeat of leaks in the anthrax case a bit unseemly and, well, downright suspicious?
Since Fort Detrick scientist Bruce Ivins committed suicide last week, "law enforcement officials" and other anonymous sources have been feeding information to the press about his alleged responsibility for the anthrax mailings of 2001, which killed five postal workers and sent the country into a panic.
Here's what we've learned about Ivins, through anonymous leaks:
Sounds like a creepy dude, yes. But it's the kind of suggestive information you leak if you don't want people to notice that your hard evidence -- scientific proof that Ivins was the guy -- is lacking and won't stand up in court. The FBI insists that they've got the goods, and they'll make their findings public tomorrow. We shall see.
UPDATE: Glenn Greenwald has much, much more.
Yesterday, a shorn and shaven Radovan Karadzic faced his first day in court at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.
The Karadzic arrest has been hailed as a pivotal turning point in Serbia's path to EU cooperation and accession. But although Karadzic was captured in Serbia, his crimes were in creating the ethnically divided state that is Bosnia. And in Bosnia today, the story remains less than comforting.
In a compelling call for a revitalization of international efforts in the still-fractured country, Paddy Ashdown, former head of the Office of the High Representative in Bosnia, explains:
Bosnia's predominantly Serb entity, Republika Srpska, Karadzic's creation, has seen the vacuum where will and policy should be. Its premier, Milorad Dodik, is now aggressively reversing a decade of reforms. He has set up the parallel institutions and sent delegations to Montenegro to find out how they broke away….
Meanwhile, in European capitals the growing view goes like this. We invested 13 years of hard work and huge resource in Bosnia. Now it is stable and peaceful and we are rather tired. Kosovo has proved it is possible to divide a country. What matter if Bosnia becomes another Cyprus?…
This is folly of a very dangerous order. What happens to the Muslim populations who have moved back to Republika Srpska, even to Srebrenica, if they are handed back to an exclusively Serb-dominated regime? What happens to Bosnia's shining star, the multi-ethnic, markedly successful sub-entity of Brcko, hemmed in by Republika Srpska? Is it to be handed over, too? I do not believe Bosnia is likely to go back to conflict; most of its people are just too war-weary. But the one event that could change that calculation in favour of blood would be to return to the old Karadzic/Milosevic plan to divide Bosnia.
But minus those few returnees and that one "shining star," Bosnia is divided, functioning largely as two separate, ethnically split states. Yes, it's a sad fact -- one that U.N. peacekeepers allowed to materialize between 1992 and 1995, and one that any international efforts will be hard pressed to undo.
It's no wonder the celebration over Karadzic's arrest in Bosnia has been short-lived. For as Bosnian novelist Aleksandar Hemon concludes in an excellent NYT op-ed, "Justice is good, but a peaceful life would have been much better."
A 22-year-old St. Petersburg ad executive who was hoping to become the third woman in Russian history to successfully sue for sexual harassment (yes, you read that right) just had her case thrown out. Here was the judge's reasoning:
If we had no sexual harassment we would have no children."
Well I guess that's settled then.
Reversing Russia's population decline is a major priority for Russia's government, but this isn't exactly the most enlightened way to address the problem. Conditions for working women in the country are already in a sad state:
According to a recent survey, 100 percent of female professionals said they had been subjected to sexual harassment by their bosses, 32 percent said they had had intercourse with them at least once and another seven percent claimed to have been raped.
Telling male bosses that this is their patriotic duty is probably not going to help.
(Thanks to my friend Emily for the link.)
Turkey's top court announced today that the ruling AK Party of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is not, in fact, violating the fiercely secular constitution. Instead, Erdogan got off with a warning and the party's state funding was cut in half. Six of 11 justices ruled against the AKP, but luckily for Erdogan, seven votes were required to give him the boot. Close call.
Political analysts everywhere breathed a sigh of relief, as did investors in Turkey's stock market. Interestingly, investors began to bet on Erdogan surviving before the decision was announced. Bloomberg reports:
Markets extended gains after court officials started admitting journalists into the court building in Ankara pending an announcement by court chief Hasim Kilic later today.
Loose lips sink short-sellers? In this case, it doesn't seem like insider trading is to blame. Newspapers had apparently been speculating for days that the AKP would win its case. But it sure would be interesting to see when the upward trend began vs. when the first rumors started to leak out in the press.
UPDATE: The Century Foundation's Jonathan Kolieb writes in with a clarification:
10 judges found them guilty of being in some sense anti-secularist. But only 6 voted to ban them. That is an interesting split. This really does put the AKP on notice. Gives something to everyone, but everything to no one.
He also observes that, according to Today's Zaman, JPMorganChase told investors it was "80 percent sure" that the AKP would not be disbanded and that even if it were, it would stay in power. Interesting.
This should be easy fodder for the anti-globalization crowd. A lobbyist for oil giant Chevron, which is embroiled in a potentially costly lawsuit with Ecuador over the dumping of toxic oil waste in the Ecuadorian Amazon, is complaining of mistreatment at the hands of the big bad South American nation:
"The ultimate issue here is Ecuador has mistreated a U.S. company," said one Chevron lobbyist who asked not to be identified talking about the firm's arguments to U.S. officials. "We can't let little countries screw around with big companies like this—companies that have made big investments around the world."
Chevron is playing hardball, asking the Bush administration to revoke special trade preferences with Ecuador if the case isn't dismissed. But the plaintiffs have the backing of Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa, a Hugo Chávez ally, and two years ago secured the support of one Barack Obama, who wrote a letter arguing that the Ecuadorian peasants pressing the case should have "their day in court."
If the Bush administration doesn't act, and Obama wins in November, I wouldn't bet on Chevron in this rumble in the jungle.
The international community may have finally succeeded in creating a safe space where people from all the Balkans' ethnic groups can live together in harmony and respect each others' cultures. The trouble is, it's in a prison for ruthless war criminals awaiting trial at The Hague:
Released inmates say the ethnic rivalries that drove them to fratricide in the bloody wars that accompanied the break-up of Yugoslavia have faded within the walls of the prison.
Now the detainees, who in 2006 had an average age of around 52, enjoy their common language, cook Balkan food together in the corridor kitchens, watch television and play board games.
"We Muslims from Bosnia and Kosovo celebrated our religious holidays with the Serbs and Croats," former inmate, Bosnian Muslim general Naser Oric, has said.
Serb nationalist leader Vojislav Seselj and Bosnian Croat paramilitary leader Mladen Naletilic were the unit's biggest jokers, he added.
Radovan Karadzic will join the party when he is extradited early next week.
This week's arrest of the Bosnian-Serb war criminal Radovan Karadzic has made headlines almost as big as those announcing the arrest of Slobodan Milosevic back in 2001. The shocking photos of Karadzic disguised as a bearded Dr. Dabic have painted the whole story ridiculous; statements from Brussels highlighting the arrest as a milestone trumpet the news that Serbia has really chosen a European future; and re-reported accounts from Bosnian Muslim victims have added an element of remorse for the fact that justice had not been brought sooner. But a lesser story today, that of Dinko Sakic, illustrates the long-term significance of Karadzic's overdue arrest.
Sakic, the last living commander of Jasenovac, the Croatian World War II concentration camp, died this week. Long after fleeing to Argentina, where he lived a rather vocal life in support of Croatian nationalism, Sakic was eventually tried and found guilty of killing thousands of Serbs and Jews -- but not until 1999, decades after his crimes were committed and years after those very crimes were used by Croat and Serb leaders alike to stir up nationalist fervor and inter-ethnic fear during the last bloody days of Yugoslavia.
Fortunately the losses at Srebrenica and Sarajevo will not go the way of Jasenovac, whose significance and death toll still remain in question. Thanks to the work of the ICTY, the former Yugoslavia's crimes of the 1990s have been investigated and documented in great detail, leaving far less room for future finger-pointing and fear-mongering. And with the EU promising future membership to all the countries of the Western Balkans, they'll need all regional stability they can get.
For more reflections what Karadzic's capture means, check out FP's interview with Richard Holbrooke, the man who did as much as anyone to bring peace to Bosnia. He's thrilled:
I got the news on a train from New York to Washington. I’ve rarely been so excited about any news event in a positive sense. The world gets so much bad news, and to bring this man to justice, this terrible man, ranks right up there with capturing Saddam Hussein.
I know you've all been on the edge of your seats since we blogged this a couple months back, but a ruling has been reached in the great Greek lesbian lawsuit. To recap, residents of the island of Lesbos had sued a prominent Greek gay rights organization to prevent them from using the word "lesbian" to describe gay women. If victorious, they had plans to take their crusade worldwide.
The court just ruled that the Gay and Lesbian Union of Greece (and anyone else for that matter) is free to continue saying lesbian. Glad we cleared that up.
"We are not saying that the three war crimes indictees, Radovan Karadzic, Ratko Mladic and Goran Hadzic, are not in Serbia, but we cannot be 100 per cent sure that they are."
That's what Rasim Ljajic, the head of Serbia’s Council for Cooperation with The Hague Tribunal told reporters yesterday. Of course, Karadzic was captured that night right in Belgrade, where he has been practicing alternative medicine and even lecturing for years. The arrest seems to confirm what most observers had assumed all along, that Karadzic's arrest was being held up not by the difficulty of capturing him but by the lack of political will to do so. It's unclear whether handovers of Mladic and Hadzic will follow, but it's going to be a lot harder for Serbian authorities to plead ignorance now.
Some are describing today's developments as a triumph for the International Criminal Court, which is fair. But the bigger story is how effective a carrot the prospect of EU integration can be in the right circumstances. It was this carrot that largely swung the last Serbian elections (despite the outrage over Kosovo) in favor of the current pro-European government, making today's arrest possible.
The EU badly has badly needed a victory for a while now and this is a big one.
Update: Then again, perhaps it's all Barack Obama's doing.
Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi got Italy's lower house of Parliament to agree today on a controversial crime bill, which critics say would allow him to wiggle out of various corruption charges.
Here's what the oft-prosecuted Berlusconi had to say:
I'm the universal record-holder for the number of trials in the entire history of man -- and also of other creatures who live on other planets."
I'd fact-check this, but I'm not sure there's an intergalactic version of the Guiness Book of World Records. Guess we'll have to take his word for it.
Meet David Remes, a partner at the law firm Covington & Burling and pro bono attorney for 15 Yemenis held at Guantanamo. Since 2005, Remes, who is half Yemeni, has been a high-profile member of the legal team challenging captives' detention at Gitmo.
And now, click here -- if you dare -- to see Remes at a recent news conference where, for some inexplicable reason, he decided that dropping trou' was a good way to show the assembled press corps just what his clients have had to endure.
Just what comparison was he trying to draw? That his clients were made to stand around in their underwear? It's an utter mystery. But one enigma has been cleared up: He's not a boxers man.
If you're trying to understand why many Europeans remain skeptical of European Union expansion despite its demonstrated economic benefits, look no further than the union's marketing standards for produce, which are being debated this month:
Consider the Class I cucumber, which must be "practically straight (maximum height of the arc: 10 mm per 10 cm of the length of cucumber)." Translation: A six-inch cucumber cannot bend more than six-tenths of an inch. Following 16 pages of regulations on apples (Class I must be at least 60mm, or 2 1/3 inches, in diameter) come 19 pages of amendments outlining the approved colors for more than 250 kinds.
As for peaches, "to reach a satisfactory degree of ripeness . . . the refractometrix index of the flesh, measured at the middle point of the fruit pulp at the equatorial section must be greater than or equal to 8° Brix."
Wikipedia informs me that Brix is a measurement of the level of sugar in a liquid. What this has to do with the refractometix index--a measurement of light--is beyond this liberal arts major.
The European Commission's agriculture comissioner wants to scrap the majority of the standards, arguing that it's ridiculous for stores to be throwing away perfectly edible food during a global shortage. This makes a lot of sense, but I suspect the real reason is that arguments over cucumber thickness and banana straightness give EU opponents such perfect fodder for mockery.
Russia's State Duma is currently considering a package of laws aimed at protecting the morality of its children and preventing youth suicide and alcoholism. Some of the ideas kind of seem like overkill:
The whole world seems to have it in for emos, which probably actually makes them more emo. Personally, I find these kids a lot scarier.
Together with proposals to combat child alcoholism and pornography, the policy project outlines a raft of draconian measures such as a 10 p.m. curfew for all school-age children and a ban on tattoos and body-piercings.
Under the new measures, schools would be prohibited from celebrating Western holidays like Halloween and St. Valentine's Day, which are deemed inappropriate to "Russian culture." Toys in the shape of monsters or skeletons would be banned as "provoking aggression."
The proposal also sets its sights on teenage subcultures such as emo, a style of hardcore punk, and goth, which lawmakers accuse of "cultivating bisexuality." Both styles, the legislation implies, are social scourges on a par with the skinhead movement, and must be eliminated from the social landscape.
Monday's ruling by a French court that eBay must pay French luxury goods manufacturer LVMH $60.8 million and do more to prevent counterfeit sales (think: fake Louis Vuitton handbags) raises big questions about globalization and the future of e-commerce.
As International Herald Tribune blogger Daniel Altman puts it, who should police the Internet? There's a potential slippery slope here, Altman points out, if countries are left to their own devices and sue portals such as Amazon for books considered libelous or YouTube for videos considered indecent.
The French, at least, have a history of holding Internet providers accountable for content hosted on sites they own. There's precedent in the United States, too, from the 2001 decision ordering Napster to prevent illegal file sharing between users of its site.
To some, Monday's ruling reeks of protectionism. The ruling condemns eBay's unauthorized sales of certain perfumes, limiting the sale of these luxury items to approved channels such as perfume and department stores, not the open market.
What's the answer? Leaving regulation to national courts may lead to a hodgepodge of different rulings in different countries, making it difficult for multinational firms to navigate.
Altman asks if a "global authority" to help nations and multilationals sort out e-commerce is necessary. Perhaps, but it's hard to imagine what such an authority would look like or how it would operate. I think it's safe to say eBay is on its own for now.
WorldPublicOpinion.org just released a poll that reveals some surprising insight on what people around the world want from their government when it comes to one of the most touchy subjects of all: abortion.
The poll's 18,465 respondents hail from 18 countries, including China, Pakistan, Iran, Russia, and the United States. Although the results might not always shock you -- British and French respondents overwhelmingly say that their governments should "leave the matter to individuals" -- they do shed some new light on countries that don't get polled too often.
Forty-seven percent of Egyptians, for instance, want their governments to take a hands-off approach to abortion. So do 67 percent of China's respondents and 48 percent from Turkey and Azerbaijan. Just 28 percent of Iranians say that abortion should be a matter for individuals, but 38 percent want the procedure to be discouraged using "non-punitive measures" such as education and adoption services. Indonesians are far less forgiving: A full 60 percent say that those who have abortions should be criminally prosecuted.
What if you group respondents by religion? Some schools of Islamic law permit abortion in certain cases, such as pregnancies induced by rape, but Muslims in the survey show the strongest support for government measures to discourage abortion, both punitive and not. As for Christianity, the Roman Catholic Church still takes a firm line against abortion, yet Christians as a group are extremely liberal toward the practice: 65 percent favor individual choice in the matter. (Read on -->)
Charlotte Raleigh News & Observer has an unbelievable story about how Presidential Airways, a Blackwater affilate that is being sued by three widows of U.S. soldiers who died when one of its planes crashed in Afghanistan, is trying to fend off a lawsuit by claiming that sharia law applies:
The lawsuit 'is governed by the law of Afghanistan,' Presidential Airways argued in a Florida federal court. 'Afghan law is largely religion-based and evidences a strong concern for ensuring moral responsibility, and deterring violations of obligations within its borders.'
If the judge agrees, it would essentially end the lawsuit over a botched flight supporting the U.S. military. Shari’a law does not hold a company responsible for the actions of employees performed within the course of their work.
An investigation (pdf) of the crash by the National Transportation Safety Board found that eight minutes before plowing into the side of a canyon, the plane's co-pilot told his partner, "yeah you're an x-wing fighter star wars man." And later, "I swear to god they wouldn't pay me if they knew how much fun this was."
I somehow doubt that the sharia defense is going to fly. I asked Peter W. Singer, an expert on military contracting at the Brookings Institution, to weigh in on the case. He noted, "This truly flies in the face of their prior argument that they should be considered legally immune, as if they were a sovereign part of the US government operations (which was a specious argument to begin, but truly odd sounding now)."
After years of disclosures by government investigations, media accounts, and reports from human rights organizations, there is no longer any doubt as to whether the current administration has committed war crimes. The only question that remains to be answered is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account.
I can't speak to the legalities here, but I have a question for readers on the politics. Does throwing around charged phrases like "war crimes" help or hurt Taguba's cause?
South Africa's high court ruled yesterday that the country's 20,000 citizens of Chinese descent will now be considered legally "black." This means that they will now have access to the economic benefits of being a previously disadvantaged racial group, including affirmative action in employment and preferential status in bidding for contracts.
The Chinese community in South Africa dates back to the 19th century and like Indians and biracial people, the Chinese were classified as "colored" under apartheid-era racial laws. (Interestingly, the wealthier Japanese were considered white.) But since the end of white rule, their status has been unclear.
Patrick Chong, leader of the Chinese Association of South Africa explained:
As Chinese South Africans we were officially classified as 'Coloured' and suffered under the same discriminatory laws prior to 1994. The logical inference was thus that Chinese South Africans would automatically qualify for the same benefits as the 'Coloured' group, post-1994. This was not the case and Chinese South Africans suffered a second round of unfair discrimination.”
It's certainly a sign of how much South Africa has changed that minorities are going to court to be classified as black. If only the country would show this kind of generosity to more recent immigrants.
Berkeley law professor and former Bush administration official John Yoo weighs in on Boumediene v. Bush, last week's Supreme Court ruling granting Guantánamo detainees the right to challenge their detention:
In World War II, no civilian court reviewed the thousands of German prisoners housed in the U.S. Federal judges never heard cases from the Confederate prisoners of war held during the Civil War. In a trilogy of cases decided at the end of World War II, the Supreme Court agreed that the writ did not benefit enemy aliens held outside the U.S. In the months after the 9/11 attacks, we in the Justice Department relied on the Supreme Court's word when we evaluated Guantanamo Bay as a place to hold al Qaeda terrorists. [...] Incredibly, these five Justices have now defied the considered judgment of the president and Congress for a third time, all to grant captured al Qaeda terrorists the exact same rights as American citizens to a day in civilian court.
I'm no lawyer, but it seems to me that the key problem here is using the phrase "captured al Qaeda terrorists" to refer to accused al Qaeda terrorists. Shouldn't you have to prove that someone is, in fact, a terrorist? Yoo says no:
A judge's view on how much "proof" is needed to find that a "suspect" is a terrorist will become the standard applied on the battlefield. Soldiers will have to gather "evidence," which will have to be safeguarded until a court hearing, take statements from "witnesses," and probably provide some kind of Miranda-style warning upon capture. No doubt lawyers will swarm to provide representation for new prisoners. [...] So our fighting men and women now must add C.S.I. duties to that of capturing or killing the enemy. Nor will this be the end of it. Under Boumediene's claim of judicial supremacy, it is only a hop, skip and a jump from judges second-guessing whether someone is an enemy to second-guessing whether a soldier should have aimed and fired at him.
Judging from the scare quotes, Yoo seems to have little time for legal terms of art when it comes to terrorism. It's an odd stance for a law professor to take. But there's an easy way to solve his problem: Put arresting terrorists back in the hands of law-enforcement officials who are actually trained to handle the kinds of thorny questions Yoo outlines. Soldiers can focus on fighting wars.
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