Saturday, February 19, 2011
What is the singularity?
The term singularity describes the moment when a civilization changes so much that its rules and technologies are incomprehensible to previous generations. Think of it as a point-of-no-return in history. Most thinkers believe the singularity will be jump-started by extremely rapid technological and scientific changes. These changes will be so fast, and so profound, that every aspect of our society will be transformed, from our bodies and families to our governments and economies.
A good way to understand the singularity is to imagine explaining the internet to somebody living in the year 1200. Your frames of reference would be so different that it would be almost impossible to convey how the internet works, let alone what it means to our society. You are on the other side of what seems like a singularity to our person from the Middle Ages. But from the perspective of a future singularity, we are the medieval ones. Advances in science and technology mean that singularities might happen over periods much shorter than 800 years. And nobody knows for sure what the hell they'll bring.
Talking about the singularity is a paradox, because it is an attempt to imagine something that is by definition unimaginable to people in the present day. But that hasn't stopped hundreds of science fiction writers and futurists from doing it.
Where does the term "singularity" come from?
Science fiction writer Vernor Vinge popularized the idea of the singularity in his 1993 essay "Technological Singularity." There he described the singularity this way:
It is a point where our old models must be discarded and a new reality rules. As we move closer to this point, it will loom vaster and vaster over human affairs till the notion becomes a commonplace. Yet when it finally happens it may still be a great surprise and a greater unknown.
Specifically, Vinge pinned the Singularity to the emergence of artificial intelligence. "We are on the edge of change comparable to the rise of human life on Earth," he wrote. "The precise cause of this change is the imminent creation by technology of entities with greater than human intelligence."
Author Ken MacLeod has a character describe the singularity as "the Rapture for nerds" in his novel The Cassini Division, and the turn of phrase stuck, becoming a popular way to describe the singularity. (Note: MacLeod didn't actually coin this phrase - he says he got the phrase from a satirical essay in an early-1990s issue of Extropy.) Catherynne Valente argued recently for an expansion of the term to include what she calls "personal singularities," moments where a person is altered so much that she becomes unrecognizable to her former self. This definition could include posthuman experiences.
What technologies are likely to cause the next singularity?
As mentioned earlier, artificial intelligence is the technology that most people believe will usher in the singularity. Authors like Vinge and singulatarian Ray Kurzweil think AI will usher in the singularity for a twofold reason. First, creating a new form of intelligent life will completely change our understanding of ourselves as humans. Second, AI will allow us to develop new technologies so much faster than we could before that our civilization will transform rapidly. A corollary to AI is the development of robots who can work alongside - and beyond - humans.
Another singularity technology is the self-replicating molecular machine, also called autonomous nanobots, "gray goo," and a host of other things. Basically the idea is that if we can build machines that manipulate matter at the atomic level, we can control our world in the most granular way imaginable. And if these machines can work on their own? Who knows what will happen. For a dark vision of this singularity, see Greg Bear's novel Blood Music or Bill Joy's essay "The Future Doesn't Need Us"; for a more optimistic vision, Rudy Rucker's Postsingular.
And finally, a lot of singulatarian thought is devoted to the idea that synthetic biology, genetic engineering, and other life sciences will eventually give us control of the human genome. Two world-altering events would come out of that. One, we could engineer new forms of life and change the course of human evolution in one generation. Two, it's likely that control over our genomes will allow us to tinker with the mechanisms that make us age, thus dramatically increasing our lifespans. Many futurists, from Kurzweil and Steward Brand, to scientists like Aubrey De Gray, have suggested that extreme human longevity (in the hundreds of years) is a crucial part of the singularity.
Have we had a singularity before?
The singularity is usually anticipated as a future transformation, but it can also be used to describe past transformations like the one in our example earlier with the person from 1200. The industrial revolution could be said to represent a singularity, as could the information age.
In 1992, Vinge predicted that "in 30 years" we would have artificial intelligence. We've still got 12 years to go - it could happen! In his groundbreaking 2000 essay for Wired, "The Future Doesn't Need Us," technologist Joy opined:
The enabling breakthrough to assemblers seems quite likely within the next 20 years. Molecular electronics - the new subfield of nanotechnology where individual molecules are circuit elements - should mature quickly and become enormously lucrative within this decade, causing a large incremental investment in all nanotechnologies.
And in the 2005 book The Singularity Is Near, Ray Kurzweil says the singularity will come "within several decades."
Longevity scientist De Gray says that our biotech is advanced enough that a child born in 2010 might live to be 150, or 500 years old. MIT AI researcher Rodney Brooks writes in his excellent book Flesh and Machines that it's "unlikely that we will be able to simply download our brains into a computer anytime soon." Though Brooks does add:
The lives of our grandchildren and great-grandchildren will be as unrecognizable to us as our use of information technology in all its forms would be incomprehensible to someone form the dawn of the twentieth century.
So when will the singularity really happen? It depends on your perspective. But it always seem like it's just a few decades off.
Friday, February 18, 2011
Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said Australia's assimilation of different cultures was "genius" because it encourages immigrants to integrate as citizens rather than behave simply as "guest workers".
"To me, multiculturalism is a bit like a marriage. It has its stresses and strains," Bowen told the conservative Sydney Institute think-tank late on Wednesday.
"We have to remind each other occasionally that we are better off with each other. It takes nurturing; it takes care. "It is in that spirit tonight that I quite proudly proclaim that Australian multiculturalism has worked.
"That not only has Australia benefited from the immigration of those who come from diverse backgrounds, but we have also benefited from the cultures they have brought and sustained in this, their new homeland."
Bowen's strident defence comes after British Prime Minister David Cameron called for a "muscular liberalism" to force the country's diverse population to coexist more closely as a society.
Chancellor Angela Merkel last year declared that German multiculturalism has "utterly failed", while French President Nicolas Sarkozy also called his country's policies a "failure".
The debate in Europe has heated up in recent years with the onset of homegrown Islamic extremism, but Bowen said some countries had deeper-rooted problems.
"Germany has regarded immigration as an economic necessity. A requirement for guest workers has driven an economic immigration policy," he said. "Never has a German government proposed a policy of respect for existing cultures where they do not clash with basic German values.'' He added: "France's resistance to a formal policy of multiculturalism has not encouraged greater integration of immigrant societies but, on the contrary, it has bred resentment, separatism and violence."
Australia has absorbed generational waves of immigrants, from Chinese during the 1800s Gold Rush to Vietnamese, Italians, Greeks, Eastern Europeans and finally large numbers of Indian students in the past few years. But immigration remains a political flashpoint with intense debate over the steady arrival of rickety boats carrying asylum-seekers from poor countries. Last Thursday, conservative opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison faced calls to resign after he reportedly urged the shadow cabinet to play on fears over Muslim migrants in its attacks on the government.
Australia has an uneasy relationship with its Islamic community. Sydney's Cronulla Beach saw riots in 2005 when mobs of whites attacked Lebanese Australians in a bid to "reclaim the beach".
Dozens of Muslim men have been jailed in Australia under strict anti-terrorism laws which also saw the wrongful imprisonment of an Indian-born doctor following failed attacks in London and Glasgow in 2007.
Bowen said it was "inevitable" that Muslim migration would be questioned "in the age of concern about terrorism inspired by extremist Islam" and condemned "values such as Sharia law or religious intolerance or violence". It is right for Australians to be concerned about extremism, whether Islamic or otherwise," he said.
But Australia was also engulfed in controversy in 2009, when a spate of attacks and robberies targeting Indian students drew street protests in Sydney and Melbourne and accusations of racism in Indian media.
But its patchwork society remains generally harmonious, despite occasional flare-ups. Last week, TV personality Eddie McGuire was condemned for calling diverse western Sydney the "land of the falafel".
Thursday, February 17, 2011
Muhsin Hendricks is visiting the Netherlands for a week in which he will give a workshop for Muslim gays, attend a congress for migrant organisations and speak with Christian organisations about the acceptance of homosexuality.
The South African understands that people are surprised by a Muslim imam who is openly gay and about to marry another man. Especially as homosexuality in Africa is still a taboo. The paper compares the scenario to “a poor-quality B film”. Mr Hendricks admits that the fact that his boyfriend belongs to another religion does make things difficult, not least because his boyfriend has not come out yet. That is why for now they will only have a “Muslim” wedding and not an official one.
Muhsin Hendricks studied the ultra-orthodox denomination Salafism. He explains the sins in Bible and Qur’an stories, like Sodom and Gomorrah, refer to the sexual abuse of men who rape other men and not to homosexuality as such. He says there are Qur’an verses which describe “men who are not attracted to women”. His message is simple he wants to persuade Muslim homosexuals that there is nothing wrong with them.
Muhsin Hendricks is also known for Jihad for Love
Wednesday, February 16, 2011
Wednesday's call for the mass rally came as clashes erupted between regime backers and "apparent" supporters of the opposition at a funeral attended by thousands in Tehran of a student killed in anti-government protests of Monday.
"The noble people of Tehran will take to Enghelab Square after Friday prayers with their solid and informed presence," the Islamic Propagation Coordination Council, which organises regime-backed programmes, said Wednesday.
It said those joining the rally will "scream out their hatred, wrath and disgust against the savage crimes and evil movements of sedition leaders, their Monafeghin (hypocrites) and their monarchist allies."
Opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi have been in the firing line since they called a rally on Monday in support of Arab uprisings but which quickly turned into anti-government demonstrations and ended in clashes that left two people dead and several wounded.
Both are under de facto house arrest and Karoubi's son, Hossein, said Wednesday, in a statement on his father's Sahamnews.org website, that "security forces are currently occupying my house... after breaking into the building...they are searching my and my family's personal belongings."
Iranian officials accuse arch-foes the United States, Britain and Israel of influencing the opposition chiefs, but supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Wednesday their efforts will fail.
"When people are in the arena, it (US) cannot do anything against the determined will (of the people)", he said, referring to the United States and indicating that Iran's Islamic regime had strong support of masses.
Iran's prosecutor general Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejeie warned that action would be taken against Mousavi and Karroubi, a day after lawmakers demanded they be executed.
"The heads of seditions are the people who should be punished for their criminal acts and God willing actions in this regard are being taken," Mohseni Ejeie said, according to Fars news agency.
"People have given them their punishment, but people also have a legitimate right to demand (punishment) from the judiciary which we hope we would be able to fulfill."
The authorities were infuriated when thousands of anti-government protesters took to streets of Tehran Monday, leading to clashes with riot-police.
Aside from the two deaths, officials reported several people injured, including nine members of the security forces.
The protests, the first anti-government demonstration since February 11 last year, took place despite Mousavi and Karroubi not being able to join them in the streets after their houses were blockaded by the security forces.
The two came out fighting on Wednesday, issuing statements slamming the authorities and praising demonstrators.
Karroubi said in a statement posted on his website, he was ready to "pay any price."
"I declare that I am not afraid of any kind of threat and as a soldier of this great nation for the past almost 50 years, I am ready to pay any price," he said.
"I am warning that before it is too late, take out the buds from your ears and listen to the voice of the people. Forcing violence and opposing peoples' wishes will last only for a certain time," the cleric said.
Mousavi praised on his own website Kaleme.com the protesters for Monday's rally which he said was "great achievement for the great people of a great nation and for the Green Movement."
Tension sparked by Monday's protests continued to ripple on Wednesday when reports said regime backers clashed with opposition supporters the Tehran funeral.
"Students and people participating in the funeral of martyr Sane'e Zhale in Tehran Fine Arts University are clashing with a few apparently from the sedition movement," the state television website said.
Zhale, a Sunni Kurd, became the centre of a dispute in his death with regime-backers insisting he was member of the volunteer Islamist Basij militia, while the opposition said he came from their ranks.
In the meantime, the Turkish President Gül was in Iran with a huge business delegation the last three days, busy securing some projects.
Tuesday, February 15, 2011
Hena Begum (pictured left) was accused of having an affair with a married cousin and was punished by a sharia court set up in her village of Chamta. A local Islamic cleric ordered the public lashing which took place last week. During the lashing, Hena collapsed and died in hospital.
An initial post-mortem found no injury marks on her body, but after human rights groups in Bangladesh had asked the case to be taken to the High Court, a second post-mortem was carried out. This found Hena had died of internal bleeding, which prompted a fresh police inquiry.
Although the case has led to an international outcry against this kind of violence against young women and girls under sharia law, Hena’s case is not an isolated one. Bangladesh is known as a moderate Islamic country where sharia rule is illegal, but in some parts of the country small hardline Islamic groups persist in using the strict laws.
Human rights groups say it’s mostly women and girls who suffer from the local sharia courts. It is rather common for women and girls to be publicly whipped for ‘crimes’ such as adultery, despite a Bangladesh High Court ruling last July which outlawed punishments issued under religious edict.
Some rape victims have even been lashed for being a ‘participant’ in their assault.
Human rights ambassador
The poor human rights record for women in Bangladesh was highlighted last year when Dutch human rights ambassador Arjan Hamburger visited the country as part of a UN fact-finding mission. In his report, Mr Hamburger noted that violence against women and girls is a major problem in Bangladesh and he urged the government to take the problem very seriously.
Mr Hamburger also said that a general change of attitude towards women in Bangladeshi society is vital to address this problem.
In Hena Begum’s case, several men who carried out the punishment have now been arrested, including the cousin with whom she had the alleged affair. The Islamic elder who presided over the sharia court is also in custody.
Human rights groups say the government is apprehensive of prosecuting fundamentalist Islamic elders, as they do not wish to fall out of favour with their electorate in rural areas where these elders are generally accepted.
Dil se ruksat hui koi khwahish,
Giriya ye besabab nahin aata.
Door baitha gubar-e-Meer us se,
Ishq bin ye adab nahin aata.
Meer taki Meer
I have let go of some desires,
My tears are not without reason.
I am keeping my distance,
Without love where would this discipline come from?
Monday, February 14, 2011
“Increasing loutishness, criminality and the social problems surrounding the Dutch multicultural society: more and more Dutch people have had enough of our damp and overfull country and are deciding to leave. And this year’s Emigration Fair at the weekend in Amsterdam was busier than ever as a result, the paper concludes. More than 11,000 visitors turned up to browse the world looking for a new home.
Some figures. Most Dutch emigrants head for neighbouring countries Germany, Belgium and the UK. The US is fourth on the list, followed by the Netherlands Antilles. France comes in just seventh, after Poland.
Fresh air, plenty of space, and a similar culture are the appeals of Sweden, at 16th on the list, says one emigrant at the fair. But she doesn’t have much good to say about her fellow Dutch emigrants in the country. “These people don't integrate into Swedish society. They live off their Dutch social security benefit, and after six years they don’t speak a word of Swedish,” aDutch woman in Sweden tells: “And supposedly they all left because they were fed up with Moroccan immigrants in the Netherlands.”
Sunday, February 13, 2011
Saturday, February 12, 2011
“I've come to the frightening conclusion that
I am the decisive element in the classroom.
It's my daily mood that makes the weather.
As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power
to make a child's life miserable or joyous.
I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration.
I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal.
In all situations, it is my response that decides
whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and
a child humanized or de-humanized."
~ Dr. Haim Ginott
This quote was sent to me in email by my teacher. Read about him here.
Friday, February 11, 2011
"We will soon see a new Middle East materialising without America and the 'Zionist' regime and there will be no room for world arrogance (the West) in it," Ahmadinejad told the cheering crowds, who gathered despite the cold and cloudy weather.
In a speech directed in good part at the Arab uprisings, Ahmadinejad said Egyptians needed to be careful of the United States.
"They (the United States) have adopted a friendly face and say 'we are friends of the people of North Africa and Arab countries', but be watchful and united. You will be victorious... but your path of resistance is a lengthy one," he said.
"The Iranian nation is your friend and it is your right to freely choose your path. The Iranian nation backs this right of yours."
Iran, which has no diplomatic ties with Egypt, has backed mass protests there, now in their 18th straight day, with supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei urging the people to establish an Islamic regime in the Arab world's most populous nation.
The expressions of support came despite the deadly crackdown launched by the Iranian authorities when hundreds of thousands took to the streets of Tehran and other cities to protest against official results giving Ahmadinejad a second term in a June 2009 presidential election.
Dozens of Iranians were killed, hundreds wounded and scores arrested by security forces during the protests which shook the pillars of the Islamic regime.
The Iranian authorities have also been jamming the BBC's Persian-language television channel, the broadcaster said on Friday, linking the move to its coverage of the protests in Egypt.
Ahmadinejad appealed to the messianic beliefs of Iran's majority Shiite faith, saying the world was witnessing a revolution overseen by Imam Mehdi -- its 12th imam who disappeared as a five-year-old in the 10th century and who the faithful believe will return before judgement day. (a cult sect!!!)
"The final move has begun. We are in the middle of a world revolution managed by this dear (12th Imam). A great awakening is unfolding. One can witness the hand of the Imam in managing it," said Ahmadinejad, wearing his trademark jacket.
He hit out at the United States, calling it an "accomplice to the oppression of the Zionist regime."
"If you want people to trust you, first of all do not interfere in affairs of the region, including in Tunisia and Egypt. Let them be by themselves," he said.
"Come and take away the Zionist regime which is the source of all crimes... take it away and liberate the region. Free the region and give it to the people and take this regime, which is the child of Satan (the United States), out."
Chants of "Egyptians, Tunisians, your uprisings are just and we are with you," and "Hosni Mubarak 'mubarak' (congratulations) on the uprising of your people!" rang through the streets as the crowds marked the anniversary of the 1979 revolution which toppled shah Mohammad Reza, a key US ally.
Diplomatic relations between Tehran and Washington were broken off soon after and remain so to this day.
During last year's anniversary rally, Iran's opposition attempted to stage anti-government demonstrations which were crushed by the authorities.
Since then opposition supporters have stayed off Tehran streets but their leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi have sought permission to hold a rally on Monday in support of the Arab uprisings.
Its time the world understand what a lunatic (but dangerous one) Ahmadinejad is with his apocylips view of the world. He for certain wants to help to make his 'prophecy' come true...
Thursday, February 10, 2011
Wednesday, February 9, 2011
Why is the tribunal important?
It is the first ever fully international terrorism tribunal. The reason the case is not being brought before the International Criminal Court in The Hague is because this court only deals with cases involving genocide and crimes against humanity, and not terrorism. The Hariri tribunal is jointly financed by the United Nations and the state of Lebanon.
Who is on trial?
The people or persons behind the assassination of Rafik Hariri will be tried. The perpetrators are almost certainly members of the extremist Lebanese Hezbollah movement. The formal charge is secret. As is the identity of those to be tried. A so-called 'pre-trial' judge will decide whether or not there is sufficient evidence to start the trial. Only then will the suspects be arrested and the charges made public. This information is being withheld because if it were made public it could hamper the investigation and arrest of the suspects. Proceedings in the Yugoslavia tribunal was made more difficult by this kind of information coming out before the trial.
Hezbollah has asked the new Lebanese government to withdraw its support for the tribunal.
Is the trial still in with a chance of success?
Hezbollah regards the tribunal to be a political trial, set up by the United States and Israel to put the organisation in a bad light. Last month, the organisation withdrew from government, forcing new elections. As a result, Rafik Hariri’s son, Saad al-Hariri, who was prime minister has been succeeded by Hezbollah-backed Najib Mikati. Hezbollah has asked the new prime minister to withdraw his support from the tribunal.
However, I do not think it is likely that this will happen.
The Lebanese government will not actually withdraw its support from the tribunal, because the government is cooperating with the UN Security Council. The tribunal was set up on the basis of an agreement between the Security Council and the Lebanese government in 2006. It already exists and will certainly continue. However, there are fears that naming possible Hezbollah members could lead to increased tension and fighting could break out in Lebanon.”
What is the objective of the tribunal?
As a result of its turbulent political history, Lebanon has a long list of political assassinations, for which in almost every case no-one has been prosecuted. The Hariri tribunal has to break this pattern. The prosecution of the people behind the assassination is meant to act as a deterrent.
Why is the term terrorism only being defined now?
The international tribunal is a unique project. It will partly be based on Lebanese law and partly on international law. This is why all kinds of terms have to be redefined..
Terms like conspiracy, terrorism and assassination have not been adequately defined in international law. So the terms have to be clearly defined first in consultation with the judges, the defence, and the prosecution. Only once this has been done, can the charges be formulated and made public.”
Tuesday, February 8, 2011
Monday, February 7, 2011
Sunday, February 6, 2011
In order to reverse female circumcision, the surgeon first has to see whether there is still healthy tissue under the scars.
The reconstruction of the clitoris involves drawing the internal part outward and covering it with mucous membrane from the inside of the vagina. The injuries to the labia are covered with skin from the buttocks.
Isaad underwent a far-reaching form of genital mutilation, sometimes called pharaonic circumcision or infibulation, in which the clitoris and the labia are removed. In Sudan having your daughter circumcised is almost compulsory, she explains. “If you don’t, the girl will be bullied at school and her parents will become social outcasts.”
The ritual is barely a matter for discussion in Sudan despite the risks involved and a legal ban on infibulations, in force since 1946.
The World Health Organisation estimates that 90 percent of Sudanese women have been circumcised. If a girl survives the mutilation, it affects her entire life, both psychologically and physically. The procedure leaves her with such a narrow opening that urinating and menstruating become difficult.
Isaad lost her first baby during childbirth because she did not receive the special help she needed.
She speaks candidly about her physical mutilation and its effects on her sex life. “I’m often reluctant to have sex,” she confides. “Sometimes I manage to reach a climax, but only because my husband helps me. We try hard to create the right mood.”
But she is not content with only having occasional orgasms. “I would like to feel complete, both physically and emotionally. I want to overcome my inferiority complex.” She is considering having an operation to reverse her circumcision.
Since 2010, an Amsterdam hospital has specialised in reconstructive surgery for circumcised women. The operations are a relatively new development in plastic surgery. The hospital team therefore works closely with Pharos, a Dutch knowledge centre specialising in refugee and migrant healthcare, and the Dutch gynaecology association (NVOG).
Dr Refaat Karim, the man behind the surgical team, has now carried out two of the operations, the first of their kind in the Netherlands. There is little medical literature on the subject and the long-term effects on the patient are unknown.
Quality of life is expected to improve, but this will probably vary according to the individual. And not every woman is a suitable candidate for surgery. In some cases it’s considered irresponsible to operate for medical or psychological reasons.
Deciding whether or not to have the operation is a tough call for Isaad. Despite the problems she encounters due to her mutilation, reconstruction is still very much taboo, even among well-educated women from Darfur. She cannot even contemplate getting any support from her family in Sudan. “They would never approve. I wouldn’t even tell them.”
One of the women operated on in Amsterdam is a friend of Isaad. She says she feels better and is now able to enjoy her sex life. But Isaad continues to have her doubts.
“I’m afraid to lose what it’s taken me so much trouble to achieve, especially in my sex life. A doctor in Belgium is already performing these operations, but they’re not always a success. It’s a 50-50 chance. What if the operation goes wrong, or if I end up not feeling anything anymore?”
I a curious what the PM of Turkey his opinion about this since he's a good friend with the Sudanese President (and war criminal)
Saturday, February 5, 2011
It seems a bit strange that a Dutch bank should be concerned about honey bees. Director of the Rabobank Dirk Duijzer explains that his company always takes a keen interest in issues concerning food production. The bank, which started off as a bank for farmers, is seriously worried about the shortage of bees and the consequences for the agricultural and food sectors. The bank has joined forces with scientists, businesses and the government in an attempt to change the tide. Dirk Duijzer:
“This means that we always investigate important matters which occur. This may be a shortage of water, or the increase of the world population from six to nine billion. We have also examined a new issue: the numbers of bee populations worldwide. This is connected with problems large almond growers we met in California were experiencing. For years, they had been facing low pollination results.”
Bee populations are in decline because they are affected by a varroa mite. This mite weakens a bee colony, which eventually dies. The insects that do survive have to work extra hard because people want to eat more and more luxury products, not only in the West, but also in developing economies.
As the demand for coffee, nuts and fruit grows, so does the size of the plantations. According to honey bee expert Tjeerd Blacquiere from the University of Wageningen, that’s the problem. The plantations are becoming so large that the bees can’t reach all the flowers in the area. Take large-scale coffee plantations.
“For the pollination of coffee there need to be different kind of pollinators. So it's not only whether there are enough of them to visit the flowers that matters. The result is better when one type of bee visits the crop first and then another type. This improves pollination. This can only happen if there are enough little corners of forest left around the plantation where the insects can hide and find enough additional flowers. They need this to live.”
Mr Blacquiere thinks in the future agriculture should be organised on a smaller scale. Things went completely wrong in Brazil:
“Lots of melons are grown in Brazil, watermelons too. Pollination used to take place all by itself, but plantations have become so large that it’s become a problem. Pollination along the edges of the fields is fine, but in the middle of the fields in particular, it just doesn’t take place. Pollinators do not usually fly very far. The creatures just don’t have a large range, so large-scale pollination is not possible.”
And there is another problem with large plantations. Relatively more plant protection products (PPPs) are used. Sometimes they are harmful to bees. Take the cultivation of green beans in Kenya, where beans are grown for the European market.
“Well, in the cultivation of beans, they have to look good, that's what we are used to, and that means plant protection products are used. Plant protection products are tested worldwide with European honey bees in mind. We do not even know whether the tests mean PPPs are safe for the bees in Kenya. They may be much more sensitive, but they could be less sensitive, we just don’t know."
According to Tjeerd Blacquiere, too little attention is being paid to the problem. He thinks much more research is needed to find the cause and possible solutions to secure food production in the future.
.Meanwhile the Rabobank wants to continue to play a role. Especially, now that food shortages are leading to riots, as we have seen recently in the Middle East
Friday, February 4, 2011
Thursday, February 3, 2011
"I think I knew since a very early age. It felt quite isolating. Like, I didn't see people or kids around me feel the same way."
In Pakistan, homosexuality is outlawed and in theory gays and lesbians can be jailed and fined. But in practice it's not the law they fear, Fatima told me at a cafe in the Pakistani city of Lahore. It's family and neighbours, whom she suspects murder many gays and lesbians in honour killings.
"From the time that I've known this about myself, every day that I've felt that I'd wish I was just like everybody else," Fatima says.
Her attraction to women became undeniable when she found herself in love with her best friend at high school.
After years of a secret romance, Fatima's girlfriend suddenly left her, saying there was no future for them in Pakistan. She married a man. Fatima says she can understand why her girlfriend made that decision.
"I mean, I think from the time that you're born you're socialized into believing that homosexuality is unnatural," she says. "It is a disease, and it is completely prohibited."
Shortly after, Fatima also married a man, in an attempt to conform to Pakistani values. But only a few months into her marriage she met another woman, Kiran, and the two fell in love.
Under the radar
After months of begging, Fatima's family finally agreed to let her get a divorce.
Fatima and Kiran now live together and they say that even though Pakistani society isn’t very open to gays and lesbians, as long as they stay under the radar, not many people will ever suspect that they are lesbians.
"Yeah, it's not within the realm of possibility," Fatima says. "People don't usually contemplate two women living together, that they are into each other. Good for us."
"Because in our society, women don't have sexual needs, desires, drives, whatever. And those that do, run brothels," Kiran says.
"Either you are a nice girl, or you are a fast girl. So if we are fast girls, it means that men come and visit us. If we are nice girls, it means that girls come and visit us, which works out."
From Sydney to Singapore to Pyongyang, the Lunar New Year was marked by a thundering barrage of firecrackers, by family feasts, musical performances -- and rabbits galore.
In Beijing and Shanghai, as in cities and towns across China, fireworks lit up the sky at midnight as millions of revellers celebrated the arrival of the new year. The salvo rumbled on through the early hours of Thursday.
Fireworks are set off to ring in the year and ward off evil spirits but each year hundreds are reported hurt or killed in accidents across the nation of 1.3 billion people, and firefighters in tinder-dry Beijing were on high alert.
"We let off firecrackers to chase away the 'nian', a bad animal in Chinese legend. That way, it will not come and disturb you.... It's tradition," said Wang Kuang, one of many visiting the huge temple fair in Beijing's Ditan Park.
A five-star hotel in the northeastern city of Shenyang was gutted by fire early Thursday, in what police said was a blaze triggered by the festive explosives, Xinhua news agency reported. No one was hurt.
Snow and chilly weather across much of China did not dampen the cheer of an estimated 700 million merry-makers who had travelled home for the holiday or were on the move -- an annual exodus that swamps the nation's transport grid.
The holiday, which runs through next week, is the only time that many of the country's estimated 230 million migrant workers are able to visit their parents, husbands, wives or children.
Families typically gather for several days of feasting and partying, while youths receive cash gifts of red envelopes, or "hong bao". People also visit temples, burning incense and praying for health and wealth.
Amid public concerns about soaring food and housing prices, Premier Wen Jiabao pledged in his New Year's message this week that the country's leaders would work to keep inflation in check and curb real estate speculation.
The Internet is driving a Chinese New Year rabbit-related spending frenzy, with thousands of online discounts offered for everything from alcohol to food and trips.
People are also rushing to buy bunnies as pets, but animal rights activists fear the cuddly creatures could suffer from neglect or be abandoned once the novelty has worn off.
The rabbit, occupying the fourth position in the Chinese zodiac, is closely linked to the moon and symbolises happiness and good fortune.
In Taiwan, those hoping to try their luck early in the new year are snapping up lottery tickets, with the jackpot, due to be unveiled on Friday, expected to reach Tw$1 billion (US$33 million) after eight consecutive rollovers.
US President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sent Lunar New Year greetings, with Clinton pledging that Washington would "forge constructive relationships" throughout the Asia-Pacific region.
In Sydney, organisers were planning a vibrant street parade for Sunday night expected to draw 100,000, and dragon boat races in the city's Darling Harbour.
In South Korea, more than 31 million people, or 62 percent of the population, were expected to be on the move this week. Highways were jammed and flights sold out.
Relatives separated by the world's last Cold War frontier will gather near the border with North Korea for annual events publicising the plight of divided families.
In the North, where the holiday was only restored in 1989, leader Kim Jong-Il attended a Lunar New Year concert symbolising "the indomitable heroic spirit" of the communist state's army and people, official media said Thursday.
Many -- including brokerages -- are banking on the sensitive rabbit to usher in a calm 12 months after the Year of the Tiger brought a spate of deadly natural disasters to China such as earthquakes and mudslides.
But the bunnies in a video cartoon that went viral on the Chinese Internet were anything but tranquil.
Their revolt against brutal tiger overlords -- a thinly veiled swipe at China's communist rulers -- was a huge hit before the video was yanked by online censors.
And in Malaysia, flash floods have ruined the holiday mood, with key roads closed to traffic and the train service to Johor state and neighbouring Singapore cancelled.
Wednesday, February 2, 2011
Tuesday, February 1, 2011
But Zaki Bani Rsheid, a leader of the Islamic Action Front (IAF), said Bakhit "is a not a man of reforms." (if the Islamists are pro-reform..just a joke) The Islamists have long charged that the 2007 election was rigged after only six of the IAF's 22 candidates were victorious that year, a tally sharply down on the 17 seats the group won in the previous polls in 2003.
Loyalists of the king again won a landslide in new elections last November after the IAF boycotted the poll in protest at constituency boundaries they said under-represented their urban strongholds.
"We need a man who is well respected by the people, a man who does not have a history of corruption and oppression. How can he (Bakhit) lead political reform?" Bani Rsheid asked.
For IAF chief Hamzah Mansur, "reforms have not started yet."
"With the choice of Bakhit, it's obvious that reforms have not started yet. We are against Bakhit because our experience with him is not encouraging," Mansur said.
"There is no reason to stop the protests now," he added, referring to his party's calls for a sit-in outside the prime minister's office.
The Islamist opposition said on Monday that it had started a dialogue with the state, saying that, unlike the situation in Egypt, it did not seek regime change.
Opposition demands included "the resignation of the government, the amendment of the electoral law and the formation of a national salvation government headed by an elected prime minister," acoording Bani Rsheid
The Islamists have also called for constitutional amendments to curb the king's power in naming heads of government, arguing that the premiership should go to the leader of the majority in parliament.
Despite recent government measures to pump around 500 million dollars into the economy in a bid to help improve living conditions, protests have been held in Amman and other cities over the past three weeks to demand political and economic reform.
Official unemployment stands at 14 percent in a country of six million people, 70 percent of them under the age of 30. Independent estimates put the jobless figure at 30 percent.
Tunisia's popular revolt, which ousted veteran strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, has inspired dissidents across the Arab world.
The King of Jordan only made some pre-caution actions to prevent that Islamists thugs can impose their idiotry upon other people.
Monday, January 31, 2011
Sunday, January 30, 2011
"God is great!" Ghannouchi cried out, raising his arms in triumph as he walked into the arrivals hall of Tunis airport, with thousands of cheering supporters crowding around him before driving off to visit his family.
The crowd intoned a religious song in honour of the Prophet Mohammed, as supporters held up olive branches, flowers and copies of the Koran.
"I am so happy to be bringing him back home. I never thought I would see my brother again alive in Tunisia," his sister, Jamila, told AFP.
There were also dozens of people protesting his arrival at the airport, holding up placards that warned against Islamic fundamentalism. But they are in the minority!
The 69-year-old said he was elated as he checked in for his historic flight at London's Gatwick airport, where he posed with a Tunisian flag and embraced relatives before boarding for a country that he has not seen since 1989.
"When I return home today I am returning to the Arab world as a whole," he told reporters, adding that Ennahda (Awakening) now planned to register as a political party and take part in the country's first democratic elections.
The interim government installed in the north African state after the fall of president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali on January 14 has granted unprecedented freedoms and allowed key exiles to return despite bans from the old regime.
Ghannouchi, a former radical preacher who says he now espouses moderate ideals similar to Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), was persecuted in Tunisia ever since founding his Islamist movement in 1981.
He still officially has a life sentence hanging over his head for plotting against the president, although the new government has drawn up an amnesty law for convicted activists like Ghannouchi that now has to go before parliament.
"There is still confusion regarding the political situation.... The interim government is changing its ministers every day, it's not stable yet and its powers are not clear yet," Ghannouchi told reporters before leaving on today.
In contrast to his preachings from the 1970s in which he condemned the rise of secular ideas in his homeland and the advances in women's rights, Ghannouchi also said that Sharia Islamic law now had "no place in Tunisia". But that's exactly what Khomeiny said on a question of a French journalist in 1979 just before heading to Tehran, what kind of republic Iran will be in one year: 'exactly the same kind of republic as France!
Therefore, people tell different things such as Najwa, a teacher who said she was imprisoned for wearing an Islamic veil, said: "Everything that's said about him are lies... He's a moderate Islamist."
Mohammed Mahfoud, 37, a trade unionist, said: "I have come to pay homage."
But the views on the streets of Tunis were far more critical of Ghannouchi.
"He has not said what he plans to do. He could cause trouble and destabilise the upcoming elections," said Amenallah Darwish, a 29-year-old lawyer.
Naima, who wore a veil, said: "Many people were imprisoned because of him, young people lost their future. No-one is happy about his return. He lived the good life in London while others paid a heavy price."
Some feminist groups are worried that Ghannouchi's return may signal a rise in political Islam that could endanger their hard-won rights.
Hundreds of women rallied in the centre of Tunis on the eve of Ghannouchi's arrival, saying they would defend their rigths against conservatives.
Asked about some of this concern on today, Ghannouchi was dismissive.
"This fear is only based on ignorance," he said, because Ben Ali's regime had "worked to distort all its opponents, described them as terrorists or being against modernity. All of these allegations have no basis in reality."
Ghannouchi fled Tunisia two years after Ben Ali came to power in a bloodless coup in 1987. In elections in 1989, which were heavily falsified, an Islamist-backed coalition still managed to win 17 percent of the vote.
Shortly after that, persecution of leading Islamists began and Ghannouchi went first to Algeria and then to Britain in 1991. Hundreds of Islamist activists who stayed behind were thrown into prison, often on flimsy charges.
İnteresting is to see what's happening today in Egypt. Last night some 34 key members of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood escaped from prison and today the Muslim Brotherhood there asked the independent Mohamed El Baradei to 'negotiate' with Mubarak on their behalf. Mohamed El Baradei is seen as close to Iran and can be the 'usefully idiot' for the Muslim Brotherhood to gain power and dictate Egypt. What will happen with the Suez canal and what will happen with Gaza. Will the later be armed by an Egypt ruled by the Muslim Brotherhood? And what will happen with Israel when all surrounding countries are ruled by religious fanatics? Isllamo-facists?
The Iranian uprising had many of the hallmarks of today's Egypt. The Shah of Iran was the corrupt despot. He had lined his pockets, was ruthless against political opposition, and was perceived by his subjects to be a puppet for the West.
When the young took to the streets 32 years ago they thought they were signing up for a new era where they would be able to determine their own future.
But those idealists were superseded by another group: the clerics. Just as the shah had kept the clerics in check, it is Hosni Mubarak today who keeps the Muslim Brotherhood – the radical side of the Muslim faith – under control. Within months the Iranian revolution unleashed the Islamic Republic.
Faith is never a bad thing and it has a simple appeal. Ordinary people who are tired of poverty and the opulent lifestyles of the old guard can be easily swayed by the wholesome values of religion.
It is a miserable fate in the Muslim world that the choice has to be between self-enriching despots and controlling clerics who covet power over every aspect of life
Saturday, January 29, 2011
Whereas women of Dutch descent are having more children, those of foreign origin are choosing to have smaller families, Amsterdam's Urban Planning Service found. At the same time, the number of immigrants 'from Morocco, Turkey, Surina and the Dutch Antilles, the countries where most of them used to come from, have been falling steeply.
Though the capital continues to draw newcomers, they now tend to come from the European Union and English-speaking countries. At the same time, Amsterdam is also attracting more and more immigrants from China, Brazil and India. Most of them are highly educated and no longer come from rural areas but from university cities.
The falling birth rate among immigrant women, especially Turkish and Moroccan ones, seems to be the result of their rising employment rates. Increasingly, they also attain higher education levels. Dutch families in Amsterdam, by contrast, now often have three children. The average birth rate in the Netherlands is 1.75 children per woman.
Large young families say they are happy in Amsterdam, which is becoming increasingly child friendly, allowing parents to take their children anywhere on their special carrier cycle. The new IJburg quarter, on the capital´s eastern outskirts, is also proving popular with families.
Demographer Julian Jansen of the Urban Planning Service says he is happy with the developments. “Amsterdam's mission to become a metropolis where highly-educated are eager to live and work has succeeded”, he told the newspaper de Volkskrant. His major concern is that not enough new houses are being built. As the capital´s population ages, and those who retire stay, there won't be enough houses to accommodate all the newcomers. That, in turn, could threaten its labour potential, as people who can't live in Amsterdam are less likely to work there.
Bahrami's execution is the latest in a slew of hangings carried out by the Islamic republic in January. Her execution takes the total number of people hanged in Iran so far this year to 66, according to media reports.
"A drug trafficker named Zahra Bahrami, daughter of Ali, was hanged early on Saturday morning after she was convicted of selling and possessing drugs," the Tehran prosecutor's office said.
Bahrami, a 46-year-old Iranian-born naturalised Dutch citizen, was reportedly arrested in December 2009 after joining a protest against the government while visiting relatives in the Islamic republic.
The prosecutor's office confirmed on Saturday that she had been arrested for "security crimes."
But elaborating on her alleged drug smuggling, the office said Bahrami had used her Dutch connections to smuggle narcotics into Iran. But that is of course BS:
"The convict, a member of an international drug gang, smuggled cocaine to Iran using her Dutch connections and had twice shipped and distributed cocaine inside the country," it said.
During a search of her house, authorities found 450 grams of cocaine and 420 grams of opium, the prosecutor's office said, adding that investigations revealed she had sold 150 grams of cocaine in Iran.
"The revolutionary court sentenced her to death for possessing 450 grams of cocaine and participating in the selling of 150 grams of cocaine," it said.
The Netherlands had been seeking details about Bahrami's case and had accused the Iranian authorities of refusing the Dutch embassy access to the prisoner because they did not recognise her dual nationality.
"I cannot confirm (her execution). Iranian media announced the news, we have not yet been approached by the Iranian authorities," Bengt van Loosdrecht, a Dutch foreign ministry spokesman, told AFP on Saturday.
On January 5, Dutch Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal expressed "extreme concern" about Bahrami, and said that he had "asked the Iranian authorities to provide immediate clarification" about her case.
"We insist on information, the possibility to provide her with consular assistance, and a fair course of justice," Mr Rosenthal said in a statement at the time.
Bahrami's execution brought the total number of people hanged so far this year in the Islamic republic to 66, according to an AFP tally based on media reports.
There has been a spike in hangings this year in Iran, especially of convicted drug smugglers.
The spate of executions has drawn criticism from Catherine Ashton, Europe's chief diplomat and the point person in talks between world powers and Iran over Tehran's controversial nuclear programme.
"The European Union is deeply concerned about the use of the death penalty in Iran. Executions are taking place at an alarming rate," she said on Thursday.
Ashton's statement came after Iranian state media on Thursday reported the hanging of 10 drug traffickers.
"In addition, abhorrent practices such as public executions and suspension hanging continue to be used, in contravention of Iran’s international obligations," added Ashton, restating the EU policy of global opposition to capital punishment.
Along with China, Saudi Arabia and the United States, Iran has one of the highest numbers of executions each year, with adultery, murder, drug trafficking and other major crimes all punishable by death.
Saudi Arabia and Iran use the vulgair Sharia to kill its children!