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Archive for September 2007

Total’s Burmese Question

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The IHT’s Daniel Altman mentions in his “Managing Globalization” blog French’s giant oil company Total’s reluctance to abandon its Burmese operations.

Despite decades of dictatorship and the ongoing crisis, Total “insists that its presence improves the daily lives of tens of thousands of local people“.

Well, it’s hard to imagine Total as a bunch of virginal angels wondering about their potential wrongdoings. Obviously somebody there decided some time ago it would be a good idea to invest in a dictatorship.

It is even harder to imagine any State giving away its resources for free, so it is obvious that Total is in some sort of revenue-sharing agreement with the Burmese government: hence, Total is financing the continuation of the dictatorship.

Not only that: Burma is the most corrupted country in the world alongside Somalia (according to Transparency International’s 2007 index, reported by the Washington Post on September 27 ). Who would then seriously argue that Total or any other company for that matter has found a way to get oil or gas out of Burma without paying bribes?

That would be nothing short of miraculous. So we can reasonably say that in all probability, there are all the signs that Total is, once again, propping up the Burmese dictatorship (and no, it is not alone).

Therefore the continued presence by Total is directly linked to misery for a little short of 50 million people.

Do the rights of those outweigh Total’s improvements of the “the daily lives of tens of thousands of local people“?

Well, if they don’t, then we could justify any violation of human rights as long as a reasonable amount of people appears to be gaining economically. I wouldn’t be sure that is the way forward.

So what is Total to do? It depends on what the relationship with the Junta is at the moment.

If Total has to be supine because it fears losing the contracts, and it can’t afford to, that would mean the company is running a large risk with his investors’ money, as a critical part of his revenues depends on the vagaries of an unelected number of people rather unpopular the world over, and in their country.

It is high time Total should lower that risk then, for example by moving out of Burma at the first opportunity.

If Total can gain the upper hand instead (as the Burmese Generals need a stable revenue stream, i.e. the bribes), then it should push for the necessary reforms or get out of the country: because if it does not use the power it has, then it is an accomplice in all of the deaths, assaults, tortures and incarceration.

Perhaps Total, despite its size and coffers, cannot really bring change to a country. But it is mandatory for the company to give it at least a try, or else shut up about bringing “improvements” to anybody.

Written by omnologos

2007/Sep/29 at 22:03:59

Posted in Burma, Ethics

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The Many Fathers of “America”

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In the most incredible of coincidences, or perhaps as evidence of mankind’s incredible ability to find patterns everywhere and anywhere (or perhaps as indication of something else I shall not name here), there are at least six different explanations for the origin of the word “America” (with various degrees of credibility):

  • The classical explanation: from the first name of Amerigo Vespucci, the Italian explorer who first figured out that America is a separate continent, not the easternmost part of Asia. Amerigo by the way appears to derive from a Gothic word for “Master Workman”
  • Alternatively, America could be a modification of the Scandinavian Amteric “Land of Eric”, from the times when the Vikings were crossing the Atlantic
  • A related possibility is Ommerike, Norse for “Farthest outland”or derived from Gothic Amalric, “Kingdom of Heaven”
  • There was also a Richard Amerike or Ameryk or Ap Meryke “Son of Meryk”, a Welshman and the King’s official involved with John Cabot’s voyage
  • Remarkably, Amerrique is the name of an Amerindian tribe that lived in present-day Nicaragua, perhaps to be interpreted as “People of the Land of the wind”
  • And why not, there is a Saint Emeric (Latin: “Sanctus Americus“), the Son of the first king of Hungary

For those in search of more details, there is a very interesting essay called “The Naming of America” by Jonathan Cohen, with intriguing reflections on what it means to prefer one explanation over all the others.

FYI: my choice goes to Amerrique. with Vespucci’s name chosen for posterity in the early XVI century by people that could not figure out the actual etymology.

Still, it’s a giant set of coincidences indeed…

Written by omnologos

2007/Sep/26 at 21:54:13

Posted in America

Tagged with , ,

Burma, Myanmar, India and us

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Are we going to let India lead us by our noses once again?

In these hours not that dissimilar from that night on 3 June 1989, hours before the Tian-an-men massacre in Beijing, it may be difficult to think of how to realistically support the demonstrations in Burma, apart from sending more and more appeals for calm to a Military Junta probably second to none in matters of bloody-thirsty repressions and the political and economic strangling of a country.

Still, it is possible to perform three not-just-symbolic gestures:

(1) Categorically refuse the use of “Myanmar” in place of “Burma”.

Even if “quasi-etymologically correct”, “Myanmar” is the invention of the Military Junta, forced upon the country in 1989 with no democratic process at all. If the Burmese will want to change the official “foreign” name of their country to “Myanmar”, they will be able to do so after getting their country back from the usurpers.

More: a couple of years ago the Foreign Minister of Burma protested for the use of “Burma” by the US State Department: all more the reason not to use “Myanmar”.

(2) Let’s publish the names of the dictators.

For way too long the Military Junta of Burma has been treated as a shapeless entity, not as a group of ferocious dictators (humanity-free to the point of denying Aung San Suu Kyi the chance to meet her dying husband for one last time).

Here then some of the persons who should be answering charges in a court of law, instead of commanding Burma against the will of its people:

General Than Shwe – President
General Soe Win – Prime Minister
General Major Nyan Win – Foreign Minister

If we force as much publicity as possible on the names (and pictures) of those in charge of Burma, they won’t be able to hide themselves with the anonymity they have so far much cultivated.

(3) And finally, we should not let India lead us by the nose once again.

Not only many European Governments have underplayed the scandal of the Dhruv helicopters, built also using European supplies and then supplied to the Burmese Junta against every EU embargo rule. It’s worse than that: while outside the Burmese monks were demonstrating, Indian Oil Minister Murli Deora was busy signing a US$150-million agreement for natural gas research in Burma: a clear sign of support of the Junta on the part of a “democratic” Government.

This behaviour is part of New Dehli’s strategic myopia, with India so scared by rebellions in the Northeast to the point of propping up the Burmese Military Junta to get their help in preventing an escalation of those conflicts. And it is based on the apparent impunity when a State goes against rules established by other democratic countries.

If that way of thinking would be intolerable when done by communist China, all the more so for India.

Foreign and International Trade Ministers from all the EU countries (and elsewhere) have a clear duty tonight to apply all possible pressures: including a protest against the present Indian acquiescence, and possible future complicity with the Burmese Junta, before things turn to the worse.

(link to the AVAAZ petition “Stand with the Burmese Protesters”)

Written by omnologos

2007/Sep/25 at 22:16:57

Step Zero in Freeing Up Half of the Human Race

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“There can be no safe future without safe motherhood”
Women Deliver global conference (London, 18-20 October)

The very, very first step we need to do to provide at least the possibility of freedom for the whole of humanity, and not just men, is actually made up of two actions:

Step 0.1: diminish the chances of death during pregnancy
Step 0.2: increase the survival rate for children 0-5

In fact, as long as would-be mothers die at the enormous rates of 1 in 6 in places like Sierra Leone and Afghanistan, no wonder the relative value of each of those human beings is not considered that much.

Cynically one would ask why would anybody emotionally attach himself to a person that is quite as likely to die within a year (obviously, in reality things do not work out so simplistic, but still…).

Furthermore, if children die in large numbers (especially in their most vulnerable years, from birth to 5), the only way to nurture some possibility of leaving descendants in this world, is to conceive as many babies as possible.

Having women wait out their entire reproductive lives doing only house chores, with no time for business or political activities whilst going from one pregnancy to the next, becomes then a perfectly logical, if horrendous choice.

Given the fact that death-during-pregnancy and the need of a large number of children just to hope for one’s family not to die have both accompanied humanity for much of its existence, no wonder women have been set aside as virtual slaves for millennia.

And so there is simply no opportunity for “emancipation” if we don’t get mortality rates lower for mother and for young children.

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Luckily but tragically, the solution is not that difficult.

It’s all very feasible stuff and so it is a real tragedy that we have not achieved yet that for all: just as abject poverty and “under-development” are still very widespread.

In truth, there is a precise correlation between those concepts, and the health of women and children is one of the best indicators of how truly “rich” a country is.

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And so: let’s provide education to all the girls, and provide them with all the drugs and all the resources needed to mantain their health and the health of their children.

Otherwise, all efforts may as well go to nothing.

Written by omnologos

2007/Sep/24 at 22:41:55

Crowds, Echoes and Communication with Parallel Universes

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The existence of a Multiverse has many philosophical consequences (and it just makes so much more physical sense than having us living in a Goldilocks Universe). And as the Multiverse has been postulated from actual observations, we can almost say we can test its existence.

Of course it would be all much more interesting if we could talk to a parallel universe.

Or would it? Communication between Universes may actually be made rather difficult by a “crowding echo effect“.

Imagine I were to try send a message via a quantum interference pattern, for example.

Obviously, all my quasi-identical copies from “nearby” parallel universes quasi-identical to my own Universe, would be trying to send quasi-identical information via quasi-identical ways at quasi-identical times: so we could all be creating so much noise as to make the reception of any message next-to-impossible.

Even more paradoxically, we could actually be reading each other’s message: but since those messages would all be quasi-identical to each other, we could mistakenly convince ourselves that we were listening each one only to his own echo.

After all what meaningful information could anybody exchange with a quasi-identical copy?

It may take a very very long time to figure out the minute differences between the two and those may as well be undetectable or absolutely irrelevant.

Written by omnologos

2007/Sep/21 at 21:00:13

Support the UN Vote on the Moratorium on Capital Punishment

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(by the Nonviolent Radical Party, Transnational and Transparty, registered as an Ngo in General Consultative Status with the UN’s ECOSOC under the name of Transnational Radical Party)

S.O.S. MORATORIUM

URGENT NONVIOLENT INITIATIVE FOR A UN MORATORIUM ON CAPITAL PUNISHMENT!

The 62nd UN General Assembly opens on September 24.

According to a communiqué by the Italian Government dated September 11, the text of the Resolution for a Universal Moratorium on Capital Punishment will be presented to the UN the day after, September 25.

The Members of the Transnational Nonviolent Radical Party, of the “Hands Off Cain” association and of the Italian Radical Party have however not forgotten that in 14 years the approval of the Resolution has been compromised three times, by mistakes and delays caused by, if not outright ostracising behaviour from, several European Governments.

Above all, for more than a decade the European Council bureaucracy in Brussels has hindered the voting of the Universal Moratorium on Capital Punishment at the UN General Assembly, where the number of member nations still using the death penalty has been reduced to a mere fifth of the total.

In order for the Resolution pro-Moratorium (for emphasis: moratorium on the death penalty, not abolition) to be presented at the opening of the General Assembly on September 24, we must strengthen our nonviolent movement right now – and more than ever before.

A hunger strike is in progress from September 2, by many people including Italian politicians Marco Pannella, Lucio Bertè, Guido Biancardi, Sergio D’Elia, Marco Perduca, Michele Rana, Alessandro Rosasco, Antonio Stango, Claudia Sterzi, Valter Vecellio and Dominique Velati.

At the same time, an extraordinary number of people have become members to show their support.

Becoming a member is in fact a vital part of the nonviolent action supporting the Transnational Radical Party, “Hands Off Cain” and the Italian Radical Party in their effort to provide the UN General Assembly the chance to vote the Resolution for a Universal Moratorium on Capital Punishment.

HOW YOU CAN PARTICIPATE IN THE INITIATIVE (click on the link of your chosen option):

BECOME A MEMBER OF:

Written by omnologos

2007/Sep/20 at 20:22:33

History, a Murderous Farce

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Napoleon, the Emperor of the French, destroyed the Holy Roman Empire in 1806, thereby establishing the basis for the ascent of the German Empire that was going to humiliate France in 1871.

Prussia and Austria fought hard to establish their leadership over Germany. The result was a militarized Prussian class that killed Germany once in the First World War, and then again with its support for Hitler.

“Of course” Adolf, from Austria of all places, dedicated his life to the nationalist cause, with the result that Germany was annihilate and Prussia airbrushed from history at the end of World War II.

Those are not the only ironies of history. The end result of the Christian Crusades was the undermining of the Byzantine Empire, and the opening up of Eastern Europe to the Ottoman Muslims. Nobody has killed as many Communists as Stalin, or as many Chinese as Chairman Mao, and since Tamerlane perhaps nobody has killed as many Muslims as Osama bin Laden and his loose “organization”.

I am sure there are many more examples of unbelievably unintended consequences. Hadn’t it been for the continuous slaughter, History would be a topic to laugh very hard about.

Written by omnologos

2007/Sep/19 at 21:18:18

Posted in History, Humanity, War