Sunday, February 24, 2013

How Climate Change is Destroying the Earth Infographic

An infographic from Learn Stuff How Climate Change is Destroying the Earth


They would welcome feedback.

Israeli/Australian Prisoner X - Ben Zygier: Mystery Remains

Questions remain about the life and death of Israeli/Australian, Prisoner X - Ben Zygier, a Mossad spy. He apparently committed suicide whilst in secret solitary confinement in an Israeli prison in 2010.

Reporter Trevor Bormann of Australia' ABC TV'S Foreign Correspondent was interviewed on Radio National's Correspondents Report on 24 February about the great piece of investigative journalism that broke the story:

I think the big question remains, what on earth did Ben Zygier - Ben Alon, Ben Allen, Ben Burroughs - what did he do?

What was the nature of his work with the Mossad? How did he seemingly cross that organisation to end up in jail?

And what were the circumstances of his death?

The audio and transcript are available here: Prisoner X story continues to unfold

He took the words right out of my mouth:

For more please see my original web roundup for Global Voices: Secret Life and Death of Mossad Spy ‘Prisoner X’

Monday, February 18, 2013

Global A to Z: Navigating Elections 2013

If you get sick of local politicking 2013 style, consider taking up global poll-watching instead. There will be more than figurative blood on traditional news and current affairs platforms, but to get the definitive stories, please join us at Global Voices Online. There will be updates from time to time.

Here’s an incomplete A to Z:

A is the ABU movement in Malaysia. That’s Asalkan Bukan Umno (Anything But Umno). Umno is the largest political party in the ruling coalition, not a mob to be crossed apparently (see X below). Despite all the current posturing and chest-beating, their poll isn’t due until June.

Australia's election is set for 14 September if the hung parliament doesn't implode before then.

Armenia's President Serge Sarkisian was re-elected on 18 February with approx. 59%. Opposition claimed fraud.

B is for ballot, secret, rigged or otherwise. Expect plenty of protests from the disgruntled and the robbed. They often have a colour associated with their movement. People have already bagsed* these: orange (Ukraine), green (Iran), purple (U.K.), yellow and red (Thailand). [*laid claim to]

B is also for Bulgaria and its PM Boiko Borisov whose government resigned on 20 February. Not clear if July election will be brought forward.

C is linked to D. The first round of presidential voting in Cyprus on 17 February was inconclusive, with the run-off on the 24 February. A pro-bailout conservative is favoured to beat a leftie. Like Georgia below, part of the country is occupied by a foreign power, in this case by Turkey since 1974. Don’t expect re-unification soon. Our own favourite upper-class twit, Alexander Downer is the chief United Nations mediator. Citizens of the whole island, which is a member of the EU and Eurozone, are eligible to vote and voting is compulsory on penalty of a fine. Now that’s an empty threat for those on the north side of the Green Line.

In Latin America, Chile has its presidential election in November and Sebastián Piñera, the incumbent president, is ineligible. Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa was re-elected on 17 February, which may or may not be good news for Julian Assange’s asylum bid. Julian plans to run for the Australian senate as part of his bid to avoid extradition to Sweden.

Back in Europe, the Italian (24-25 February) and German (22 September) elections should be poles apart in more than just their entertainment value. Their impact on the health of the European Union and the euro will washout in the global economy.
Update: Italy has given markets an inconclusive result that is also intriguing in both senses of the word. Bookmakers should clean up on bets about who forms the next government and when it happens. That's what happens when the clowns don't have a script.

Lots of us would have difficulty finding G on a U.S.A. map, much less the one in the South Caucasus. Infamous for giving Joe Stalin to the world, Georgia has been a political and military battleground since the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991. President Mikheil Saakashvili is in the same boat as his opposite number in Iran, in a second and final presidential term. Some may remember the military occupation of South Ossetian and Abkhazia by Russia – the rolling tanks dominated international news for days in 2008. Georgia has been an ally of the United States and is a largest non-NATO contributor to the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. The new Cold War may hot up a bit this year on Russia’s southern border.

Anyway, the first I and J elections have come and gone. So far we’ve survived clouds of election fallout from Israel, Japan. The pundits got the Knesset wrong but it’s a hard call whether Middle East peace is a step closer or the path to Armageddon is just as entrenched. The Japanese turn to the right has produced an odd mixture of nationalism/militarism and Keynesian economics. Deteriorating relations with China seem inevitable. It’s hard to say if the absence of Sino-democracy is a plus or minus in this equation, as the pressure of populous politics is not as acute. At least Japan’s economic stimulus is a change from austerity-lead recessions.

Iceland has the most romantic appeal, given its history since the global financial crisis. 163,251 votes were cast in last year’s presidential election. It would be theoretically possible for a candidate to shake hands with a clear majority and kiss a fair percentage of the babies as well. Parliament is elected on 27 April.

K is for the Grand Ayatollah Khamenei, the real ruler of Iran. Their presidential election is scheduled for 14 June. The results in 2009 were widely condemned as fixed. It culminated in a violent crackdown on protesters. It’s not easy to become a candidate. Current president and much-vilified Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is no longer eligible because he has served two terms. You have to get the nod from senior Islamic clerics and other bigwigs* to be able to stand. Last time it seemed impossible for western media to stay objective, with BBC TV and others barracking at times. Looking forward to more evidence and less generalized speculation. [* legal pun intended]

LoL: Lebanon has parliamentary elections later in the year. Libya elects the president and parliament after a constitutional referendum. You’d have to be a half-glass-full-of-whisky person to think that there won’t be the kind of turmoil so beloved by the media. Lots of luck!

Mmm?! Come July the successful presidents of Mali and Madagascar may be wondering why they bothered.

P’s are problematic. Pakistan has parliamentary elections in May. The campaign is certain to add significantly to their almost daily political and religious bloodshed. Like the Philippines and Tunisia, it has a history of assassinated opposition leaders.

The Philippines elects all the members of the House of Representatives and half the Senate on 13 May. President Benigno Aquino’s six-year term finishes in 2016. His namesake father was assassinated in 1983. Without the closet full of shoes or film star antics, we can only expect coverage if there are ghoulish graphics. Perhaps Madame Imelda Marcos will do her part to turn politics into show business, as she’s a candidate for congress again.

Once part of South America’s junta hell, Paraguay’s poll is on 23 June. It has been a bumpy year over there with impeached president Fernando Lugo replaced by his vice president Federico Franco last June and the death of a candidate in a helicopter crash on 2 February 2013.

P is also for pontificate (see V below) and psephology.

Spring is the Arab kind. Egypt goes to the polls in April to elect their parliament, which was dissolved last year. Before that there should be early parliamentary elections in troubled Tunisia. Assassinating opposition leaders can be counter-productive, especially in a fragile, fledgling democracy.

S is for Silvio, plus sex of course. Angela adds some northern sobriety (see Europe above).

U for Uchaguzi (and Ushahidi). Kenyan elections will be held on 4 March. There are attempts to keep these elections democratic: free, fair, honest, open, non-violent. From Kenyan poet Njeri Wangari:
…an online election monitoring and mapping platform …launched the same day as the presidential debate. Uchaguzi, a joint initiative between Ushahidi, Hivos, Creco, Umati and SODNET, will rely on citizen observations to shine sunlight on the electoral process in near-realtime, which has been marred by violence and fraud in the past.
Activists in the Nairobi slums of Kibera and Mathare have been using social media and mobile phones to avoid the kind of massacres that occurred in 2008.

Mathare’s crowdsourced map.

V is for the Vatican (plus vendetta and vote-rigging). Iran is not the only election with candidate restrictions or religious factors. The Roman Catholics’ top job has a very limited franchise. It’s possible for the Holy See’s conclave to elect someone as Bishop of Rome from outside their Cardinal College, but apparently only clergy are eligible. Women’s suffrage has a long way to go in the papal stakes.

Xtraordinary: South Australian Senator Nick Xenophon’s enforced exit from Malaysia  is a reminder that Australia isn’t the only place having contentious national elections this year. If Nick’s worried about the parlous state of democracy there, he should focus on neighboring Singapore’s de facto one-party state. They have political match-fixing down to a fine art.

Yemen is supposed to have elections before February 2014 but don’t hold your breathe.

Finally Z. Zimbabwe has rhymed with Mugabe since 1980. The presidential election is expected in July following a referendum on a new constitution. At 88 years old, Robert Mugabe is older than Pope Benedict. It’s along shot, but he may finally step down. We may still see the kind of violence from his ZANU-PF party supporters that forced current Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai of the Movement for Democratic Change to withdraw from the 2008 run-off.

If any of your favourite 2013 polls are missing, please add them in comments.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Secret Life and Death of Australian-Israeli Mossad Spy ‘Prisoner X’

My latest post for Global Voices: Secret Life and Death of Australian-Israeli Mossad Spy ‘Prisoner X’

Revelations by Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s (ABC) progamme Foreign Correspondent on 12 February, 2013 have fired up Australian onliners. The mysterious Prisoner X who allegedly committed suicide in an Israeli gaol in 2010 was not only a dual citizen of Australia and Israel, but also a Mossad agent.


Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Australian Sport: Drugs, Match Fixing and Organised Crime

My weblog for Global Voices:

Australian Sport: Drugs, Match Fixing Linked to Organised Crime
If Australia has a national religion, it is sport in all its forms. The shared obsession is being sorely tested at present. Allegations of illegal drug taking and match-fixing, linked to organised crime, have brought an avalanche of moral outrage and a cascade of clichés online. Will saints become sinners?


Thursday, February 7, 2013

Climate Deniers Crank Out Conspiracy Theories

Climate denier blogosphere reaction to conspiracy study confirms conspiracy ideation

From Cindy Baxter, NZ climate action campaigner:

Perth - 6 February 2013 -- When Australian climate psychologist Stephan Lewandowsky published a study showing that those who denied scientific propositions such as the link between climate change and human activity or AIDS/HIV were more likely to subscribe to conspiracy theories like the faked moon landing, he knew he would get a reaction from climate denialists.

But the response from the climate “deniersphere” bloggers was so comprehensive and wide-ranging, promulgating so many different conspiratorial hypotheses, that he decided to formally study the reaction.

The resulting paper: “Recursive fury: Conspiracist ideation in the blogosphere in response to research on conspiracist ideation” published this week in the Journal “Frontiers”, provides insights into how conspiracy ideation plays out in the area of climate denial.

“The denier blogosphere’s fury at my paper was, in a way, a gift, in that they gave me another chance to study how conspiracy ideation works.  It was the perfect case study,” says Lewandowsky.

Working with three other authors (1), Lewandowsky tracked the online reaction in the months following publication of his original study from August to October 2012.  They looked at the Google hits on the study, which, at 443 hits, were 40 times more than any other research on conspiracy theories that year.

He concentrated on the most vocal and popular blogs, including well-known climate deniers, including Anthony Watts (Wattsupwiththat), who led the outcry, and Steve McIntyre (ClimateAudit), Marc Morano (ClimateDepot), Australian Joanne Nova (jonova) and other blogs such as “Bishop Hill” and “Junkscience”.

While the conspiracy hypotheses narrowly focused on the study itself at first, some grew in scope to include actors beyond the authors, such as university executives, a media organization, and even the Australian government.

“Complaints were made to [my] university alleging academic misconduct; several freedom-of-information requests were submitted to [my] university for emails and documents relating to the study; multiple re-analyses of the data were posted on blogs which purported to show that the effects reported did not exist; and a number of hypotheses were disseminated on the internet with arguably conspiracist content.”

Lewandowsky identified a number of types of conspiracy ideation exhibited, including: “presuming nefarious intent” “nihilistic skepticism” “framing themselves as persecuted victim” “assumption that there must be something wrong”  “there is no accident”  “self sealing theorizing” and “unreflexive counterfactual thinking.”

“The blogosphere's response appeared driven by the need to resist the “official" explanation of an event (criterion: there must be something wrong) and propose a sinister hidden alternative.”

Initial hypotheses centred around a theory that Lewandosky hadn’t contacted skeptic blogs to take part in his original survey, despite having said he had.  Lewandowsky disproved that theory by publishing the names of those who had been contacted – and the emails to prove it.  This didn’t shut down the outcry:  the bloggers merely shifted to other theories.

“Several of those new hypotheses were based on what we call unreflexive counterfactual thinking; that is, the hypothesis was built on a non-existent, counterfactual state of the world, even though knowledge about the true state of the world was demonstrably available at the time.”

“This unreflexive counterfactual thinking is indicative either of the absence of a collective memory for earlier events, or of the lack of a cognitive control mechanism that requires an hypothesis to be compatible with all the available evidence.”

In closing, the authors of the paper have some lessons for science communicators, in particular the fact that “a defining attribute of conspiracist ideation is its resistance to contrary evidence.”

“This attribute is particularly troubling for science communicators, because providing additional scientific information may only serve to reinforce the rejection of the evidence, rather than foster its acceptance.”

(1)  Authors: Stephan Lewandowsky, University of Western Australia,  John Cook, Global Change Institute, University of Queensland,  Klaus Oberauer, University of Zurich,  Michael Marriott, Climate Realities Research, Australia.
Stephan Lewandowsky blog post is here:The involvement of conspiracist ideation in science denial