Monthly Archives: February 2014

Triads suspected in brutal attack on Hong Kong journalist

Today’s brutal attack on Kevin Lau Chun-to, a prominent journalist in Hong Kong, raises the specter of Chinese criminal gangs — triads — being called in to suppress campaigners for democratic reforms. An excerpt of international affairs analyst Jonathan Manthorpe’s  new column:

Manthorpe B&WThere is renewed suspicion in Hong Kong that Beijing is using hit men from triad criminal gangs to attack outspoken advocates of freedom in its truculent territory, and to intimidate other campaigners for democratic reforms.

The latest example of the Communist Party’s apparent use of triad thugs against troublesome opponents came this morning when Kevin Lau Chun-to, the recently sacked editor-in-chief of Hong Kong’s Ming Pao newspaper, was brutally attacked after he left a restaurant in the city’s Sai Wan Ho district.

In a classic triad-style assault, Lau, 49, was slashed six times with a butcher’s meat cleaver on his back and legs. He is in critical condition in hospital, and even if he survives it is uncertain he will ever be able to walk properly again.

Lau was reassigned last month after Ming Pao took part in an investigation by an international journalists’ organization, which documented the off-shore assets of leading members of China’s Communist Party regime and their families, including President Xi Jinping, his predecessor Hu Jintao, and former premiers Wen Jiabao and Li Peng.

Log in to read the column, “Patriotic” triad thugs attack Beijing’s critics in Hong Kong*

*Jonathan Manthorpe’s columns are available to monthly subscribers or with a $1 day pass to Facts and Opinions.

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Dark North Korea

The dramatic photograph below, taken January 30 from the International Space Station, illustrates the stark difference between North and South Korea. NASA’s Earth Observatory site explains the dark zone on the image:

Flying over East Asia, astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS) took this night image of the Korean Peninsula. Unlike daylight images, city lights at night illustrate dramatically the relative economic importance of cities, as gauged by relative size. In this north-looking view, it is immediately obvious that greater Seoul is a major city and that the port of Gunsan is minor by comparison. There are 25.6 million people in the Seoul metropolitan area — more than half of South Korea’s citizens — while Gunsan’s population is 280,000.

North Korea is almost completely dark compared to neighboring South Korea and China. The darkened land appears as if it were a patch of water joining the Yellow Sea to the Sea of Japan. Its capital city, Pyongyang, appears like a small island, despite a population of 3.26 million (as of 2008). The light emission from Pyongyang is equivalent to the smaller towns in South Korea.

Coastlines are often very apparent in night imagery, as shown by South Korea’s eastern shoreline. But the coast of North Korea is difficult to detect. These differences are illustrated in per capita power consumption in the two countries, with South Korea at 10,162 kilowatt hours and North Korea at 739 kilowatt hours.

The United Nations released a scathing report on North Korea February 17. The Commission of Inquiry on human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea documents “a grim array of human rights abuses, driven by “policies established at the highest level of State.”

F&O’s international affairs columnist Jonathan Manthorpe concludes that because the report emphasizes China’s complicity “in the unparalleled atrocities by the North Korean regime of its people,” China may be expected to use its Security Council veto to block action on the report’s recommendations. (Read Manthorpe’s column here; F&O subscription required.)

NASA N Korea

The Koreas at Night, January 30,2014 from the International Space Station. Photo courtesy of NASA.

 

Posted in All, Current Affairs, Gyroscope Tagged , , , |

Monday

Launch a new week with a roundup of F&O‘s fresh work, and a visual snack for your break:

Take two minutes out for physics as art, via Vimeo: a time-lapse of snowflakes by Ivanov Vyacheslav is mesmerizing.

Posted in All, Gyroscope

F&O Weekend

This F&O weekend ranges widely: bringing wolves back from the dead to the role of 3D printers in killing industries;  greenwashing to Europe’s role in Ukraine’s mayhem; a eulogy for a Canadian swan to a macabre American hospital mystery.

No Going Back. Column, By Jim McNiven (Subscription)

When we read about the Great Recession of 2007-11, there seems to be an assumption on the part of commentators that as soon as the economy ‘turned around,’ we could get back to normal. That’s not how it is turning out — and that should not be surprising. There is no going back.

Wild Bees Catch Infections. Science dispatch, By Deborah Jones (Subscription)

Disappearing Honey Bees

© Greg Locke 2013

Agricultural crops from almonds to zucchini are necessarily pollinated by bees, both managed and wild — but colonies of all bees have been collapsing, for reasons that are likely complex and but dimly understood. That’s why it matters, and not least to human food security, that researchers have now found that two infections common in domestic bees can spread to wild bees. Global trade may be worsening infection rates, suggests the study published in the February 20 edition of the science journal Nature.

Roads paved with good intentions Column, By Chris Wood (Subscription)

Ronald Reagan, in a lucid moment, famously characterized his approach to nuclear negotiations with the Soviet Union as: “Trust — and verify.” Much the same, it turns out, might be said for the green boasts of business. If we’re honest about it, most of what threatens our natural security is the result of our own appetites. Boreal forests are turned into tar pits to push our comfort pods from driveway to the mall. Mountains are crushed to expose the copper and rarer metals that ignite the digital fire in our smartphones. Rivers are emptied to grow our out-of-season salad. But what if we could have our smart-phones and February salads and cars without any of that destruction?

Europe carries blame for the Ukrainian violence. Column, By Jonathan Manthorpe (Subscription)

European leaders should not congratulate themselves too heartily for mediating the compromise agreement that, with luck, will end the demonstrations and appalling violence on the streets of Ukraine’s capital Kiev and other major cities. It is, after all, sins of commission and omission by Brussels that have played a large part in stirring up the political chaos in Ukraine as its people try to decide if their future should be with the European Union (EU) or their old political overlord in the Soviet Union, Russia.

China’s role in North Korean atrocities complex. Column, by Jonathan Manthorpe. (Subscription)

By emphasizing China’s complicity in the unparalleled atrocities by the North Korean regime of its people, United Nations investigators have doubtless ensured Beijing will use its Security Council veto to block further action. Beijing has reacted angrily to the commission’s findings and recommendations, which are highly critical of China’s treatment of North Korean refugees who have fled across the border.

Winter Swan Essay in words and photos, By E. Kaye Fulton (Public access)

Swan

© E. Kaye Fulton

This has been a hard, hard winter for wildlife  – the worst, locals say, in 70 years. For a month or more, the mute swans of Wellington, Ontario, have been buffeted by howling winds and driving snow. Unable to forage the frozen shorelines and bottom of Lake Ontario for food, they fend off starvation by curling themselves into snowy white mounds, immobile and defenceless on the impenetrable surface. Two nights ago, in search of easy prey, coyotes crept across the ice to claim two sleeping swans huddled at the end of the line formed by their 26-member flock.

Wolves as Ecosystems Engineers. Column, By Deborah Jones (Subscription)

gray wolfRed Riding Hood and the Three Little Pigs have a lot to answer for: thanks partly to fairy tales, wolves have a ghastly and global reputation as big and bad, terrorists of young girls and small pigs, good for nothing but their pelts. But science offers redemption — and one fair wolf tale can be found in Yellowstone National Park in the western United States. Alas, it’s a tale without an end. Free Range column by Deborah Jones

Hidden in a Heart. Justice dispatch, By Marshall Allen, ProPublica (Public access)

Linda Carswell thought her quest to recover her husband’s heart had come to an end. Finally, after almost a decade, she would be able bury it with his other remains. She could have peace of mind. Instead, the saga has taken a macabre twist that she calls, “beyond belief.”

Findings: social media matters By staff (free blog)

The big picture matters. A heart-wrenching photo on Twitter spread wildly this week. It appeared to show a little boy separatedfrom his family as they fled Syria’s violence: “UN staff found 4 year-old Marwan crossing desert alone after being separated from family…”   But the photo showed only a tiny portion of a crowd, which included the boy’s family. And therein lies the sting.

Miscellany:

  • ProPublica, the not-for-profit American investigative journalism news organization, was awarded a 2014 MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions, which recognizes creativity and impact. The $1 million U.S. is very nice – ProPublica said it will add the money to its reserve, “laying the groundwork for an expansion of its investigative newsroom.” Equally important is the recognition from the globally-prestigious John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. ProPublica is one of just seven non-profits around the world to win the  one-time grant. The others are the Campaign Legal Center, the National Housing Trust, NatureServe, and the University of Chicago Crime Lab —  all in the United States, and the Citizen Lab in Canada and the Women’s Rights Advancement and Protection Alternative in Nigeria.
  • Mavis Gallant died this week. Her last name was graced with serendipity: she was a woman with the guts to quit a perfectly good journalism job, move to Paris on a wing and a prayer, and write fiction. And, boy, did she Write. “I have lived in writing, like a spoonful of water in a river,” she penned in Selected Stories, highlighted in an interview with The Guardian. The New Yorker offers a selection of stories  published by that magazine. F&O’s Frontlines blog about Gallant, here, includes a link to the excellent CBC radio documentary portrait of her, and selected readings including her own short stories in the New Yorker.
  • Recommended: Below the city of New York lies heaven … if you’re a geologist. The New York Times reports on the city’s latest wave of excavations, and the bonanza they provide for scientists.
  • Recommended: The Disintegration of Kiev, a photo gallery in Europe’s Der Spiegel
  • Recommended: This Old Man, Life in the nineties, a glorious treatise on aging and love by American baseball writer Roger Angell, in his natural habitat of the New Yorker.

Last but not least:

The woman flying in the Twitter photograph below is Husna Sari, a Turkish journalist. Poynter interviewed her about her encounter with security forces who used firehoses to quell demonstrators and the country’s journalists. Sari told Poynter: “Turkey is now a country of censors but in that demonstration people didn’t protest the internet censorship. It was a demonstration set up to stop the unfair imprisonment of scientists, soldiers and journalists.” In his last F&O column on Turkey (subscription required) analyst Jonathan Manthorpe wrote of Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s desperate efforts to stay in power and the contentious roles of the military and Islamists in Turkey.

 

Have a good weekend.

 

Posted in All, Current Affairs, Gyroscope Tagged , , , , , , , |

Chris Wood: roads paved with good intentions

Voluntary business sustainability standards are tricky things, as Chris Wood found when he examined report cards on their applications to agriculture and Walmart. Another tricky thing? The vigilance of shoppers. AKA us.

An excerpt of his new Natural Security column:

chris1Ronald Reagan, in a lucid moment, famously characterized his approach to nuclear negotiations with the Soviet Union as: “Trust — and verify.” Much the same, it turns out, might be said for the green boasts of business. If we’re honest about it, most of what threatens our natural security is the result of our own appetites. Boreal forests are turned into tar pits to push our comfort pods from driveway to the mall. Mountains are crushed to expose the copper and rarer metals that ignite the digital fire in our smartphones. Rivers are emptied to grow our out-of-season salad. But what if we could have our smart-phones and February salads and cars without any of that destruction?

Posted in All, Current Affairs Tagged , , |

European Union’s role in Ukraine mayhem: analysis

Europe is culpable for the violence in Ukraine, writes international affairs analyst Jonathan Manthorpe in his new column. Excerpt:

European leaders should not congratulate themselves too heartily for mediating the compromise agreement that, with luck, will end the demonstrations and appalling violence on the streets of Ukraine’s capital Kiev and other major cities.

It is, after all, sins of commission and omission by Brussels that have played a large part in stirring up the political chaos in Ukraine as its people try to decide if their future should be with the European Union (EU) or their old political overlord in the Soviet Union, Russia.

The EU’s first sin is that since Ukraine’s independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, it has been confronted with this stark, either-or choice.

Many of the 28 member states, and especially the administrative priesthood in Brussels, have no doubt that the virtues of EU membership are obvious. EU politicians and officials often display an irritating and sometimes destructive assumption that joining their club is the only rational action for neighbouring countries.

All too frequently in Brussels displays little understanding, and often naïve ignorance of the conflicting economic and political pressures felt by countries considering EU membership, particularly those that were part of the Soviet Union.

Log in to read the column, Europe carries blame for the Ukrainian violence.*

*Jonathan Manthorpe’s columns are available to monthly subscribers or with a $1 day pass to Facts and Opinions.

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Findings: Storm Petra, in video

Coastal France and Britain have been thrashed by gales, drenched by rain and flooded this month. French professional photographer Philip Plisson, who specializes in ocean photography, captured storm Petra as it hit the French coast:

Posted in Gyroscope

Research shows infections spread from domestic to wild bees

Modified by CombineZP

Photo Matthias A. Fürst, courtesy of the journal Nature

Agricultural crops from almonds to zucchini are necessarily pollinated by bees, both managed and wild — but colonies of all bees have been collapsing, for reasons that are likely complex and but dimly understood.

That’s why it matters, and not least to human food security, that researchers have now found that two infections common in domestic bees can spread to wild bees.

Global trade may be worsening infection rates, suggests the study published in the February 20 edition of the science journal Nature.

Log in to read F&O’s report, Wild Bees Catch Honeybee Infections, in Dispatches, Science, available with a $1 site day pass or subscription.

Journalism matters. Please support professional, independent and non-partisan reporting, commentary and photo-journalism.

 

Posted in Gyroscope

North Korea: China expected to veto action on UN report

Criticism of China was part of the report by the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, released Monday.

By citing China, the UN ensured that China will use its Security Council veto to block action on the report’s recommendations, predicts international affairs analyst Jonathan Manthorpe. An excerpt of his new column:

Manthorpe B&WBy emphasizing China’s complicity in the unparalleled atrocities by the North Korean regime of its people, United Nations investigators have doubtless ensured Beijing will use its Security Council veto to block further action.

Beijing has reacted angrily to the commission’s findings and recommendations, which are highly critical of China’s treatment of North Korean refugees who have fled across the border.

Chinese authorities regularly forcibly return these people, knowing they will be mistreated, tortured or killed. Beijing’s actions, says the commission, could be called “aiding and abetting crimes against humanity.”

Beijing’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying called the contents of the UN report “unreasonable criticism …

Please log in* first to read  UN report says China is complicit in North Korean atrocities.*

*F&O original premium works, including commentary, are available for a $1 site day pass, or by subscription. Journalism matters. Please support our professional, independent and non-partisan reporting, commentary and photo-journalism.

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Findings: Mavis Gallant, a documentary portrait

 Author Mavis Gallant, who died Tuesday ageed 91, moved to Europe from her native Canada intending to write. She succeeded, becoming one of the world’s acclaimed masters of the short story. She lived for nearly 50 years in the same apartment in Paris, where in 2012 Rome-based journalist Megan Williams spent almost a week interviewing her, recording material for the radio documentary portrait The Four Seasons of Mavis Gallant. It was broadcast by the Ideas radio program of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

Further reading:
The New Yorker, which published about 100 of Mavis Gallant’s stories, offers  a selection of her stories online.
CBC obituary: Mavis Gallant, short story maven, dies at 91: CBC obituary
New York Times obituary: Mavis Gallant, 91, Dies; Her Stories Told of Uprooted Lives and Loss
Globe and Mail obituary: Writer Mavis Gallant dies at age 91. Journalist Sandra Martin wrote  that Mavis Gallant “had a journalist’s nose, a cinematographer’s eye and a novelist’s imagination. She combined her technical skills and sensory perceptions in the shrewdly observed and multilayered short story, a form she made her own.”

 

Posted in All, Current Affairs, Gyroscope