Blog Day 2006

Yes, it’s that time of year again, when we all get together and link to five new blogs from around the world.  I’m not quite sure why – probably to celebrate the diversity of the blogosphere or something – but I’m going to take part anyway.  So, here goes – in honour of Blog Day 2006, I’ve selected five blogs, all of which are new to me over the past month or so, and which I’ve enjoyed reading.

  1. The magnificently named qwghlm.co.uk.  Not picked for name alone though, oh no.  It’s got quality writing too.  And, perhaps most importantly, it’s home to the Daily Mail Headline Generator, which I’m told has been used to train countless generations of right wing journalists. Will the French lead Cliff Richard astray is indeed the question of the hour.
  2. Not a lot of people know that I wrote both my undergraduate and my postgraduate dissertations on Central Asian politics.  So I was, of course, thrilled to see the arrival onto the blog scene of The Roberts Report on Central Asia, written by Sean… um… Roberts, who seems to know his way around Central Asia pretty damn well.  He looks to be setting his stall out to become one of the definitive Central Asia blogs.  Well, he’s got a ways to go before he matches the mighty registan.net, but he’s made an impressive start. 
  3. Our Word is Our Weapon.  Everything you need to know about development (of the international variety), plus a whole lot more.  I only found this today, so not too much to say about it yet, except that I’ve probably learnt more about development than I did at university.  Top of the blog today is the rather alarming statistic that there are more than 47,000 HIV+ patients per HIV clinic in Sudan.  In India there are 5,000 patients to a clinic.  In the United States and the United Kingdom, there are less than 100 patients to a clinic.
  4. I couldn’t let this list go without a Russian blog.  I’m a bit of a Russophile myself, as you might have guessed, but I couldn’t resist being a bit contrary today.  La Russophobe is written by the indefatigable Kim Zigfeld who is certainly passionate about Russia.  I don’t agree with the tone of the blog one bit – as you might imagine, it’s relentlessly negative.  Russia has its problems to be sure – major problems.  But there is plenty of good in Russia too – it is truly a beautiful country, with people just as nice as you’ll find anywhere else in the world (no better, no worse).  And if ever a country needs to be given a break now and then, it’s Russia.     
  5. OK, one last blog to go.  Taking the spirit of finding new blogs, I’ve just popped over to Technorati, typed “random blog” into the search box, picked a random page of results (page six, as it happens), and picked a random blog from that page.  And, the winner is… Tiffany in Kimchiland.  According to her sidebar, Tiffany lives in Singapore.  More impressively, according to her latest post, she’s an expert on Korean Drama, and has posted her list of 50 things you can learn from a Korean Drama.  My favourite was number sixteen –
      If you have a nosebleed, you most definately have cancer. And you have no money to pay for the surgery that will save your life. And your liver is missing. We’re not sure where it went, but it’s making your cancer progress faster”

    Number one caught my eye as well –

      Hot, rich, younger men love fat, older vulgar women”. 

OK.  That’s all the blog day 2006 goodness for this year.  The instructions say that I have to go email all the people I’ve linked to, so I’m off to try and dig out their email addresses.

Japan in Central Asia

Registan.net is doing a great job of covering Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s visit to Central Asia.  Particularly interesting is this post about how Japan is trying to set itself up as an intermediary between Uzbekistan and the United States.

Koizumi’s taking on a tough job – it’ll be interesting to see how he gets on, although I certainly think it’s useful for the US and Uzbekistan to have some back channel communications.  And Japan gets a boost out of it too, raising its international profile that little bit more in its quest for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council.

How to get rid of a Prime Minister

Geoffrey Wheatcroft filled up a half-page in the Guardian this morning, bemoaning the fact that it’s incredibly difficult these days to get rid of a Prime Minister that nobody wants

Sadly, he neglected to consider that, if people really didn’t want Tony Blair as their Prime Minister, they’d get up out of their armchairs en masse one gloomy Thursday and vote the man out.  Alternatively, if Labour MPs deigned to raise themselves from their comfy green benches, they could effect much the same change.

Thus far, they haven’t, which seems to indicate that, although they may well not be too thrilled about the man, they still see Tony Blair as the best option available.

The article did contain one interesting statistic, though:

Between Lord Liverpool’s resignation in 1827 and Mrs Thatcher’s election in 1979, no prime minister apart from Asquith held uninterrupted office for more than six years. Now Thatcher with her 11-and-a-half years has been followed by Major with his six-and-a-half and Blair with his nine-and-a-quarter not out. 

Thatcher, Major and Blair are clearly the three greatest Prime Ministers of the past 180 years.  Either that, or they’ve been fortunate enough to face the most incompetent opposition parties for a couple of centuries.  

Forced to convert

In the wake of the news that a pair of Fox journalists were forced to convert to Islam at gunpoint there seems to have been a spate of articles about how Islam has a historical propensity towards forced conversions.  But, read most of the articles, and you’d imagine forced conversions were a particularly Islamic trait.

Take Andrew Bostom’s piece in today’s Front Page Mag, for example:

Forced conversions in Islamic history are not exceptional—they have been the norm, across three continents—Asia, Africa, and Europe—for over 13 centuries.

[…] Unsettling realities of the historical continuum of forced conversion to Islam must be discussed. The living Islamic fanaticism of the past cannot be allowed to poison the present (and future), unchallenged by Muslims themselves.

Not a word about the forced conversions to Christianity, which have also been going on for thousands of years.  

In ancient Europe it was all the rage, with everyone from the Romans onwards taking a shot at persecuting the poor old Pagans.  Vincent Ferrer in 15th century Spain kept the fashion going by converting the Jews to Christianity, on pain of death if need be.  And who would want to forget the Muslim slaves unfortunate enough to be transported thousands of miles across the Atlantic and forced by their owners in North America and the Caribbean not only to work themselves to the bone, but to adopt an entirely alien religion as well?

Forced conversions have always been the perogative of the strong over the weak, and particularly the perogative of military victors.  What is the point, after all, of fighting a long and bloody religious war?  To ask people politely if they wouldn’t mind sitting down with a nice cup of tea for a quick chat about whether their barbaric religion really is right for them?

Sometimes it would be nice to see a little bit – just a little bit – of balance and rationality prevail. 

It’s Blog Day on Thursday

From Global Voices Online comes the news that the Blogosphere has its very own day – International Blog Day. 

Clearly I’ve not been paying attention properly, because it’s not only International Blog Day, it’s the second annual International Blog Day.  Anyway, here’s what you have to do if you want to take part:

1. Find 5 new Blogs that you find interesting
2. Notify the 5 bloggers that you are recommending on them on BlogDay 2005
3. Write a short description of the Blogs and place a a link to the recommended Blogs
4. Post the BlogDay Post (on August 31st) and
5. Add the BlogDay tag using this link: http://technorati.com/tag/BlogDay2006 and a link to BlogDay web site at http://www.blogday.org

I’m looking for my five new blogs already.

A system of shifting nuclear alliances

Stanley Kurtz, writing in the National Interest, describes a frightening international system that may emerge in a nuclear Middle East:

With multiple nuclear powers, there will probably be a lot of shifting coalitions. True, the initial alliances are already evident. In a nuclear Middle East, we will be allied with Turkey, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia against Iran. But who knows whether Iran may try to strike a deal with one of the other Muslim states at some point, perhaps cozying up to Saudi Arabia if America puts too much pressure on the House of Saud. Just as America (very imperfectly) peeled Pakistan away from the informal rogue-state coalition after 9/11, shifting alliances between multiple nuclear camps will become a real possibility. American power will no longer command a fully nuclearized world. Instead, we’ll be the first among nuclear equals, jockeying for position against coalitions of powers who collectively may be able to stand us down.

I’m not sure I entirely agree with his prescription on how to prevent or react to such a future – he sees a hawkish future for the United States – but it’s certainly a problem that we need to be aware.  If we fail to prevent one country after another from going nuclear, we won’t necessarily be able to rely on the ‘luxury’ of knowing who fired the first shot. 

McDonalds rejects Mongolia

A Year in Mongolia reports on a recent scouting trip to Ulaan Baatar:

Apparently, McDonalds recently sent a survey team to Mongolia to scout out the country as a potential market. The rumor is, however, that they decided against opening up a franchise here. Part of the supposed reason is that they couldn’t compete with the pricing of items like khuusuur, which you can get for around ten cents apiece, and partially, Mongolia has such a low population density that UB would be their only possible market, and it just isn’t that big.

As he goes on to say, though, give it time.  I can’t imagine why, in a few years, there wouldn’t be a market in Mongolia’s capital for symbols of Western consumerism like McDonalds.   

Mount Weather – US government bunker

The Guardian publishes an ‘expose’ of the secret military facility under Mount Weather, where the US government will hunker down in the event of an attack on the US. Interesting stuff, but this is the image I can’t get out of my mind:

Then came September 11. News reports noted that “top leaders of Congress were taken to the safety of a secure government facility 75 miles west of Washington”; another reported “a traffic jam of limos carrying Washington and government license plates.”

No need for any kind of discretion, then. Something tells me that politicians aren’t going to be all that well equipped mentally to survive the end of the world.

Who needs friends when you’ve got nukes?

North Korea’s Kim Jong Il looks like he’s decided friends are just too much bother for a man in his position:

NORTH Korean leader Kim Jong Il has criticised close allies China and Russia as unreliable, a news report said yesterday.

Japan’s Kyodo News agency said that Kim’s remarks were conveyed at a meeting in Pyongyang by the North’s ambassadors to other countries last month, shortly after the UN Security Council adopted a resolution condemning the North’s recent test-firing of seven missiles.

So he’ll not be too worried if China decides to not bother sending any food or energy supplies this month, then…

Update: The Korea Liberator explains, in great depth, exactly how nutty Kim Jong Il actually is.

The etiquette of sex doll rafting

In Russia they hold sex-doll rafting races. No, really, they do.  Anyway, this year’s event, however, has not been without scandal – one of the competitors apparently getting a little over friendly with his raft:

Over 400 “sportsmen” took part in the Bubble Baba Challenge tournament. “It’s fun and difficult to swim 1200 meters in stormy river with an exotic apparatus, as inflatable ladies slip out of hands”, tournament organizer Dmitriy Bulaviniv said.

At a juries’ command participants jumped into the water. Strong wind and flow snatched out resilient dolls from strong men’s hands, and only Osipov,40, resolutely approached to the finish.

“I was shocked, I think it was an expression of his great desire to win,” Osipov’s friend said. The jury then noticed Osipov’s strange position and told him to moor. When he came out of the water, gazers saw signs of recent sexual activity on the swimmer’s doll.

At least they didn’t ask him to dock.

This post brought to you by the Mosnews Appreciation Society.