Monday, April 27, 2009

What is Swine Influenza?

Those of you interested in knowing more about Swine flu can find more information here.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

In Lebanese politics, the more things change, the more they stay the same

Today, Lebanese politics are formally divided into two camps. One side represents the March 14 coalition of pro-Western and anti-Syrian politicians; the other the March 8 grouping of anti-American and broadly pro-Eastern politicians - neutrality is only an option if one is willing to renege political influence.

The disagreements between the feuding camps were echoed by March 14 coalition leader Samir Geagea proclaiming that the upcoming parliamentary elections would determine "which Lebanon we want." While a Hezballah politician attacked those seeking to convince the population that Syria and not Israel represented the biggest threat to Lebanon's future and sovereignty.

The U.S. for its part has thrown its lot behind the 'moderates' - a euphemism for the March 14 camp - against the 'extremists (meant to represent Hezballah and their supporters.) The Secretary of State pledged that "the United States will never make any deal with Syria that sells out Lebanon and the Lebanese people."

Egypt has admonished Hezballah for allegedly attempting to carry out terrorist activities in its territory.

Syria has banned Lebanese newspaper Al-Diyar for criticizing Michel Aoun (Damascus's ex-foe-turned-ally)

Iran for its part accused Israel - and indirectly the U.S. - of orchestrating a smear campaign against Hezbollah leaders designed to subvert the upcoming parliamentary elections in Lebanon.

All this begs the question; will Lebanon ever be anything more than an arena for regional and international geopolitical competition by more powerful states? At this point it certainly looks like the more things change, the more they stay the same.

(photo from

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Snacks for thought - April 25, 2009

  1. Is now the right time for peace between Israel and the Arabs? Kishore Mahbubani thinks so -
  2. So apparently enduring all that nagging by my parents was for nothing!! -
  3. A debate on the strategic role of the sole superpower army at the beginning of the 21st century -
  4. What does an emboldened IMF mean for international finance? -

Thursday, April 23, 2009

U.S. Consul at Yeditepe University

Two days ago, I attended a talk at Yeditepe University by U.S. Consul in Istanbul Ms. Sharon Weiner. Ms. Weiner spoke about the U.S.'s Middle East policy in general and U.S.-Turkish relations in brief. Although I thought her speech was a tad bland and basic, the general points are worth reiterating here.

Ms. Weiner started by explaining that a change in 'tone, approach and priorities' would differentiate President Obama's foreign policy from that of George W. Bush's.

She said a shift in tone was clear in Obama's messages to the world calling for dialogue and mutual exchanges between nations as opposed to demands and ultimatums. Changes in approach were noticeable by purview of: Obama's first foreign interview going to Iraq based (but American supported and funded) Al-Arabiya station; his outspoken support for U.S. telecom companies bidding in Cuba; and his recent public handshakes with the anti-Bush Nicaraguan and Venezuelan Presidents Daniel Ortega and Hugo Chavez at the Americas Summit. Ms. Weiner also explained that the U.S. foreign policy agenda was being revamped by incorporating new priorities, such as the environment and Somalian piracy, and re-ordering familiar ones, such as Iraq and Af-Pak.

She also reminded us of the massive expectations on the shoulders of President Obama and cautioned us to be patient in our demand for 'change' - basically saying 'yes we can but you'll have to wait a bit.'

Ms. Weiner finished by talking about the prospects for Turkish-U.S. relations in the first half of the 21st century. She invoked the shared interests of both countries with respect to Iraq, Iran, Israel, Terrorim and nuclear proliferation and explained that due to the Middle East's central role for U.S. and Turkish interests, Ankara and Washington can expect heightened strategic consultation and collaboration on the region's most pressing issues.

(photo from official website of the U.S. Consulate General in Istanbul )

Monday, April 20, 2009

Snacks for thought - April 20, 2009

'Snacks for thought' is a weekly round-up of thought-provoking articles, commentaries and opinions:
  1. Are Somalia's pirates the Robin Hoods of Africa? -
  2. Obamaphiles and 'the audacity of hope-no-more' -
  3. Connecting Taiwan's current political crisis to the global economy -
  4. Globalization's showdown with itself. Read this thoughtful piece by Joseph S. Nye's -
  5. Saudi Arabia repeals all laws discriminating to this popular virtual video game at least -

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Who is the real AKP?

I had an enthralling conversation with some Turkish friends last night. The theme of the conversation was a favourite among Istanbulites - domestic politics.

Standing on the high-rise terrace of a posh nightclub overlooking a glittering Bosphorus, we spoke late into the night. A drink here, a drink there and before we knew it we were determined to answer the burning questions afflicting modern Turkish politics. Hearing us, you might have mistaken us for bourgeois intellectuals debating the ills and perils of 19th century Europe.

Yet our historical focus was not on the past, but on the present and the future. Specifically, on the ruling Justice & Development Party (AKP) and its legitimacy (or lack thereof in the opinion of my friends.) We bounced ideas and arguments back and forth regarding the AKP's Islamic leanings, its ability to govern and the supposed 'American role' behind its rise to power nearly 8 years ago.

As interesting and rewarding as the conversation was for me - as any conversation of the sort should be - I was left with more questions than answers; chief among them, who is the real AKP and what kind of a Turkey does it ultimately strive for?

Is the AKP good for the country at the onset of the 21st century? Or, does it risk undermining what many see as Turkey's 'rise' in the era of modern globalization? Is its self-professed 'soft Islam' to be welcomed as a democratic and peaceful reflection of the country's organic identity and geographic position in the world (an identity that AKP supporters claim has been artificially suppressed by the guardians of Kemalist secularism for over 50 years)? Or, is the AKP seeking authoritarian control of the palace by pulling a Hitler and using legal electoral mechanisms to conduct a 'takeover from within' and implement its own idea of an Islamic state a la Khoumeini?

Personally, I choose to keep my own opinions off the record at this point.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Heavy flyers - no pun intended

United Airlines has started double-charging 'oversized' flyers in Chicago. They aren't the first. Dallas-based Southwest airlines adopted the practice in 2004. It seems that the heavier weight of American passengers is hurting airlines' bottom-line due to higher fuel consumption. A study conducted in 2000 by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention quantified these losses by concluding that heavier waistlines forced the industry to spend $275 million to burn 350 million more gallons of fuel. This caused an extra 3.8 million tons of carbon dioxide to be released into the air (look out for the environmentalists!)

I understand that being obese may force you to take up two seats in an airplane and I see the airlines point of view on the issue - heavier waistlines cost them money. I'm not so big on the environmental concerns because there are much more ethically simple means to reduce carbon emissions than to start targeting overweight people. However, I can't help but wonder about the economic ramifications of the double-charging policy if it was to become standard practice within the American aviation industry.

Let's think about it for a second. Assume this becomes an established business practice and a consensus is reached within the airline about what constitutes an 'oversized customer'.

Now take into consideration the following data:

Increase in Prevalence (%) of Overweight (BMI > 25),
Obesity (BMI > 30) and Severe Obesity (BMI > 40) Among U.S. Adults.

(BMI > 25)
(BMI > 30)
Severe Obesity
(BMI > 40)
1999 to 2000
1988 to 1994
1976 to 1980
No Data
Source: CDC, National Center for Health Statistics, National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Health, United States, 2002. Flegal et. al. JAMA. 2002;288:1723-7. NIH, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, Clinical Guidelines on the Identification, Evaluation and Treatment of Overweight and Obesity in Adults, 1998.


Percent of Obese (BMI > 30) in U.S. Adults Obesity map. For data, see PowerPoint or PDF linked above.

As you can see, the majority of American adults are considered overweight or obese. Now, let's only consider the 'Obese' category - 30.5% of American adults as of the year 2000.

So, charging over 30% of the American population an indirect 'obesity tax' could have some interesting economic ramifications. Either these flyers reduce their demand for flying by substituting airplanes for alternative transportation mechanisms such as trains, buses or cars when possible. Or they start to feel the squeeze on their wallets and make lifestyle changes, including less consumption of fast and junk food - which would hurt McDonalds and friends. Or, and that's always a possibility, overweight Americans decide to keep flying and continue satisfying their Big Mac cravings which would end up making everyone happy except the environmentalists.

Just some food for thought...(pun intended)

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Snacks for thought - April 12, 2009

'Snacks for thought' is a weekly round-up of thought-provoking articles, commentaries and opinions:

  1. American Conservative media ridicules Obama's "apology tour" -
  2. For all my lady friends who love shopping, you should probably not read this story -
  3. Not that it was ever close to being 'over', but is Iraq slipping again? -
  4. With only 7 companies listed right now, Syria's new securities exchange in Damascus is an interesting real-life lesson of how these things are put together from scratch. Anyone interested should follow its development -
  5. The rise of the 'East' from a Turkish Truck Driver's perspective -

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Happy Easter!

Blogging has been slow lately due to academic commitments. Things should pick up soon.

Happy Easter and enjoy your stuffed turkey, although I wont be having any this year :(

Yes...the sorrows of living on your own in a foreign land for the first time.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

The riddle of Pakistan is the key to Afghanistan

A major problem in formulating an opinion on the Pakistan conflict, which directly should inform one's opinion about the war in Afghanistan, is that quite frankly, not many people really understand who's who, who wants what, who's on who's side and so on...

An overview of the conflict and its major actors is a good start to try and make sense of the seemingly senseless and unconnected violence afflicting the country (if we can still call it that at this point.) Yet on the heels of yet another bloody attack on Pakistani Shi'a civilians, it is unlikely to help us understand what should be done about it.

Obama for one seems to think he has part of the answers. He has understood from the get-go that no substantial progress can be hoped for in Pakistan, let alone Afghanistan, without the reenergized support of the broader international community, and this includes major regional players that the Bush Administration managed to royally piss-off during its eight years of power - see Russia & Iran. Obama also wants to redirect resources from Iraq to Af-Pak and 'de-Americanize' the war by calling on NATO allies to contribute more troops (all part of Obama's multilateral approach to international problems.) NATO has partly responded by pledging an increase of 5000 troops. Washington and NATO are also exploring ways to pry the Taliban open by striking deals with more 'moderate wings' of the groups.

Yet all this politicking, strategizing and saber-rattling on the part of Obama does not clarify how victory is to be achieved without reforming the entire Pakistani state. Corruption, double-crossing, murderous political rivalries, a powerless central government, a lack of coordination among the many competing security and intelligence agencies and the sense of despair spreading among the Pakistani population are not adequately addressed in Obama's strategy.

What do we do about what is on the verge of becoming a failed state? Pakistan's internal strife is the underbelly of the problem and part-and-parcel of any long-term solution for Afghanistan.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The definitive theory of War

According to this article on ape behaviour it is mentioned that the “wars” witnessed between neighbouring bands of Chimpanzees seem to have been brought on by human encroachment on their habitat.

I would venture further by saying that it doesn't matter whether it's fish, pandas, hippopotamuses, or cute and cuddly koala bears: if you see a bunch of them fighting, assume there is a human being involved somewhere.

How about that for a meta-theory of War?