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Sunday Items

April 19, 2009

On a lighter note, the Berlin Wall (what’s left of it) will be repainted. More here.
A piece on Moldova’s failed “Twitter Revolution” in Foreign Policy.
US missile strikes in Pakistan? From the Telegraph.

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Iranian-American journalist sentenced to 8 years

April 18, 2009

From the NYT:

The sentencing of Ms. Saberi, 31, could complicate political maneuvering between Iranian and American leaders over Iran’s nuclear program, an issue that kept relations icy during much of the Bush administration. President Obama recently made overtures to Tehran about starting a dialogue over the nuclear program, and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran responded positively.

Ms. Saberi’s sentencing appears to set the case apart from other recent detentions of people with dual citizenship. Two Iranian-American scholars, Haleh Esfandiariand Kian Tajbakhsh, were arrested in 2007 on accusations that they tried to overthrow the government, but they were released on bail before their trials began. Ms. Esfandiari was allowed to return to the United States, and Mr. Tajbakhsh is allowed to leave Iran when he wants.

More here.

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Obama’s approach to Iran

April 15, 2009

The New York Times has a piece elaborating on the Obama Administration’s decision to allow Iran to continue with its nuclear program as the US enters negotiations. Granted, the story’s two days old at this point, but seeing as how it’s continuing policy, it’s one to be aware of:

The proposals, exchanged in confidential strategy sessions with European allies, would press Tehran to open up its nuclear program gradually to wide-ranging inspection. But the proposals would also allow Iran to continue enriching uranium for some period during the talks. That would be a sharp break from the approach taken by the Bush administration, which had demanded that Iran halt its enrichment activities, at least briefly to initiate negotiations.

The proposals under consideration would go somewhat beyond President Obama’s promise, during the presidential campaign, to open negotiations with Iran “without preconditions.” Officials involved in the discussion said they were being fashioned to draw Iran into nuclear talks that it had so far shunned.

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Sunday Items

April 12, 2009

Bird flu, less virulent, perhaps more contagious. From The Independent.
The intersection of politics and technology in Moldova via Foreign Policy Journal.
Death of an Iranian blogger from Haaretz.

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Russia’s drinking problem a population threat?

April 11, 2009

An interesting piece in World Affairs Journal:

How many Russians are actually drinkers, and how heavily do they actually drink? Officially, Russia classifies some 7 million out of roughly 120 million persons over 15 years of age, or roughly 6 percent of its adult population, as heavy drinkers. But the numbers are surely higher than this. According to data compiled by the World Health Organization, as of 2003 Russia was Europe’s heaviest per capita spirits consumer; its reported hard liquor consumption was over four times as high as Portugal’s, three times that of Germany or Spain, and over two and a half times higher than that of France.

Yet even these numbers may substantially understate hard spirit use in Russia, since the WHO figures follow only the retail sale of hard liquor. But samogon—home-brew, or “moonshine”—is, according to some Russian researchers, a huge component of the country’s overall intake. Professor Alexander Nemstov, perhaps Russia’s leading specialist in this area, argues that Russia’s adult population—women as well as men—puts down the equivalent of a bottle of vodka per week.

From the epidemiological standpoint, local-level studies have offered fairly chilling proof that alcohol is a direct factor in premature mortality. One forensic investigation of blood alcohol content by a medical examiner’s office in a city in the Urals, for example, indicated that over 40 percent of the younger male decedents evaluated had probably been alcohol-impaired or severely intoxicated at the time of death—including one quarter of the deaths from heart disease and over half of those from accidents or injuries. But medical and epidemiological studies have also demonstrated that, in addition to its many deaths from consumption of ordinary alcohol, Russia also suffers a grisly toll from alcohol poisoning, as the country’s drinkers, in their desperate quest for intoxication, down not only sometimes severely impure samogon, but also perfumes, alcohol-based medicines, cleaning solutions, and other deadly liquids. Death rates from such alcohol poisoning appear to be at least one hundred times higher in Russia than the United States—this despite the fact that the retail price in Russia today is lower for a liter of vodka than a liter of milk.

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Somali pirates hijack ship with American crew

April 8, 2009

A few grafs:

Somali pirates are trained fighters who frequently dress in military fatigues and use speedboats equipped with satellite phones and GPS equipment. They are typically armed with automatic weapons, anti-tank rocket launchers and various types of grenades. Far out to sea, their speedboats operate from larger mother ships.

Most hijackings end with million-dollar payouts. Piracy is considered the biggest moneymaker in Somalia, a country that has had no stable government for decades. Roger Middleton, a piracy expert at the London-based think-tank Chatham House, said pirates took up to $80 million in ransoms last year.

The whole piece.

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Besides just learning, reading’s good for you!

April 7, 2009

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So says The Telegraph. Psychologists’ research suggests that reading is perhaps the most effective way to reduce stress quickly.