Wednesday, March 26, 2014

War and Peacekeeping

On the same day that President Obama paid homage to Americans who died fighting in World War I on a visit to a cemetery in Belgium, I saw the monument honoring Canada's war dead that stands in front of City Hall in Toronto. The Toronto Cenotaph, modeled after a similar monument in London, was originally designed to honor only those who died in World War I. Thus, the Cenotaph bears the names of the places in Belgium and France where Canadian soldiers fought: Ypres, Somme, Passchendaele, Amiens, and others.

After World War II, however, the dates of that great conflict were engraved on the monument.  After all, Canadians fought and died in that war, too. The Cenotaph also bears the dates 1950-1953, testifying to the fact that Canadians died in the Korean War.

There are no other wars noted on the Cenotaph, but at the bottom--engraved on both sides of the base--is the word "Peacekeeping." It is a reminder that Canadians have served all over the world in peacekeeping missions and that some have died in the course of those missions--in the Golan Heights, in the Belgian Congo, in Cyprus, in Haiti, and elsewhere.

Dulce et decorum est pro pax mori.

Monday, March 24, 2014

China in Africa

It's more than just oil . . . but not much more.

Since the early 1990s when China's economic liberalization began to produce high annual GDP growth rates, Chinese foreign economic policy has tilted toward the Middle East and Africa in a bid to ensure adequate supplies of energy and other resources necessary to sustain that growth. China's courtship of Africa has been intentional and, by any economic measure (with economic being an important qualification), it has been successful.

Just a few examples are necessary to illustrate how extraordinary China's diplomatic effort to build ties with Africa has been. First, in October 2000, China hosted a ministerial meeting in Beijing to inaugurate a new organization called the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC). At this meeting, President Jiang Zemin announced a series of Chinese initiatives designed to aid Africa (and promote China's interests there). These initiatives included a doubling of China's development assistance to Africa, the construction--at China's expense--of a new headquarters building for the African Union, the cancellation of all African debts, the establishment of a $5 billion fund to promote African investments by Chinese firms, a doubling (to 4,000) of the number of scholarships for African students in Chinese universities, construction of 30 hospitals and 100 schools in Africa, the training of 15,000 Africans in the professions, and more. Since that initial meeting, FOCAC has held meetings at the ministerial level every three years, alternating between Beijing and an African capital. Second, between 2004 and 2006, China hosted at least 29 leaders from Africa; some who had been shunned for human rights-related reason in Washington were given red-carpet treatment in Beijing. Meanwhile, President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao between them made 15 state visits to Africa in the same period.

The results of these and other efforts can be quantified. The value of trade between China and Africa increased from $8 billion in 1997 to $106 billion in 2008. In 2009, China overtook the United States to become Africa’s largest trading partner; by 2012, trade between China and Africa reached a total value of $198.5 billion divided between approximately $85 billion in Chinese exports to Africa and just over $113 billion in African exports to China. According to China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, China today maintains embassies in 41 African states. (Three African states with no Chinese embassy--Burkina Faso, Sao Tome and Principe, and Swaziland--maintain diplomatic relations with Taiwan.)

To the extent that there is political and economic competition involved, China has a number of advantages over the United States and Europe in its dealings with Africa. First, as a victim itself of Western imperialism in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, China is able to engage with former colonial states with a measure of credibility and trust that is lacking for those states that once ruled colonial empires. This is no small matter on a continent that for centuries was divided up and exploited by a handful of European states. Second, China's history and ideology give it a worldview with respect to sovereignty and human rights that more closely matches that of many African governments than the worldview of the West. Paradoxically, in its relationship with Africa, the West suffers both from the illiberal policies of the past and the liberal policies of the present. Third, China offers what to many African leaders appears to be a very attractive model of state-centered development. Thus far, Beijing has managed to achieve impressive economic gains without conceding the need for more open political processes. This is appealing to the long-time rulers of Zimbabwe, Sudan, Equatorial Guinea, and other African states. Fourth, the Chinese political system makes possible forms of investment in Africa that are generally difficult, if not impossible, for the United States and Europe to match. Specifically, China is able to tie the contracts its state-owned enterprises make with African governments to government aid packages. It is as if a U.S.-based oil company were able to promise that, upon the completion of a deal, USAID would follow with a new set of grants. Fifth, China's economic dealings in Africa are unaffected by concerns over the quality of governance. What human rights and anti-corruption advocates in the West decry as “dirty aid” or tainted contracts appears to some African leaders merely to be business as it should be--without conditions external to the matters at hand.

Much of what China gets from Africa is oil. Eighty percent of the value of African exports to China comes from oil. China imports more oil from Angola, the second-largest oil exporter in sub-Saharan Africa, than any other state. It has a significant stake in exploration and production in many other African states, and has had, in some cases, for a decade or more. Two Chinese IOCs, the China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) and the China Petroleum and Chemical Corporation (SINOPEC), began operating in Sudan in 1995 with petroleum production beginning in 1999. Chinese companies began oil exploration in Libya in 2001, Nigeria in 2002, and Ethiopia in 2005. China began purchasing petroleum from Congo in 2000, from Equatorial Guinea in 2002, and from Gabon and Mauritania in 2004.

China's efforts to increase and diversify its sources of petroleum are essential to the maintenance of the economic growth that has so far kept the Communist Party in power by lifting millions of people out of poverty. China surpassed Germany and Japan to become the second-largest car market in the world in 2005. It is expected to have 130 million vehicles on the road by 2020, surpassing the U.S. By 2030, the number of cars and trucks in China is expected to reach 270 million. Quite apart from the urban road construction necessary to accommodate 270 million vehicles, China will require significant increases in its supply of petroleum to meet future demand.

In a world of scarcity, this might be a problem. It is not clear, however, that we are living in world of scarcity at this point. The BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2013 puts the world supply of petroleum (proved reserves) at 1.669 trillion barrels of oil--more oil than has been produced since the beginning of petroleum exploration and production. Of course, demand is accelerating, so a better indicator may be the reserves-to-production ratio. BP puts the reserves-to-production ratio (the ratio of petroleum reserves remaining at the end of the year divided by that year's rate of production) for the end of 2012 at 52.9 years. That's not a long time, but with a few new finds it may be long enough to see even China and India move away from oil consumption as the U.S. has begun to do.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Predicting Mass Atrocities

Can we predict where mass atrocities and other forms of political violence are likely to occur based on known variables such as infant mortality rates (which happen to be good indicators of state failure) or instances of hate speech on Twitter? We're getting there.

An article in today's New York Times by UN correspondent Somini Sengupta describes a number of ongoing projects that use content analysis from newspaper archives, state-level data (on, for example, defense budgets and infant mortality), social media postings, and more in an effort to predict various forms of violent conflict. Efforts to turn data into foreknowledge--or at least better risk assessment--have been funded by the U.S. intelligence community for years. The Political Instability Task Force, based in the Center for Global Policy at George Mason University, is the center of CIA-funded open-source analysis.

Choeung Ek, Cambodia

Thursday, March 20, 2014

TNO's Legal Problems

Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, Equatorial Guinea's second vice president (and oldest son of President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo), was notified this week that French authorities are putting him under formal investigation for money laundering. The move is roughly the equivalent of an indictment in an American court.

France has been investigating corruption involving the leadership of three African states--Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, and Cameroon--in a case known as les biens mal acquis--"the ill-gotten gains"--since December 2010. As part of the investigation, France has seized property belonging to the younger Obiang, including a fleet of expensive cars and an estate in central Paris.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Syria: Year Four Begins

The horrendous civil war in Syria is entering its fourth year with conditions steadily worsening. The New York Times presents this snapshot of conditions in Syria:
  • An estimated 150,000 people have been killed.
  • The number of refugees has climbed to 2.5 million.
  • Forty-two percent of Syrians have been forced out of their homes. (The majority are IDPs--internally displaced persons.)
  • About 700,000 homes have been damaged or destroyed.
  • Unemployment is at 50 percent.
The CBC provides another overview of the civil war in Syria here.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Borderline Insanity

Today's referendum in Crimea, conducted with Russian troops patrolling the streets, offers voters a choice between two options neither of which is acceptable to the government of Ukraine. In fact, pro-Ukraine voters appear to be boycotting the election, thus providing even greater assurance that the vote will show a strong preference for Crimea's reunification with Russia. The result, like the vote itself, will be rejected by the Ukrainian government and the governments of the United States and the European Union. This sets up the possibility that Russia will annex Crimea and the status of Crimea will fall into a form of legal limbo that persists for decades.

In 2008, Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia. Most UN member states (including the United States) recognized Kosovo's independence; Serbia, Russia, and China did not. Later in 2008, following the Russo-Georgian War, Russia recognized Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states; the United States (and most UN member states) did not. Of course, each of these cases differs from the Crimean case in that new states were created. The most likely outcome of events in Crimea is that Crimea will be annexed by Russia. This means that adverse impacts--sanctions, to be more specific--will be directed at Russia rather than Crimea itself. (Kosovo, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia remain outside the United Nations--and likely will remain outside the UN as long as the U.S. and Russia have vetoes in the Security Council. This stamp of illegitimacy will not apply to Crimea if it is annexed.)

Meanwhile, for those interested in thinking more about the mutability of borders, Wikipedia's list of post-World War I border changes is worth examining. There are many possible takeaways from the list--the role war plays in boundary changes, the potential for international judicial settlement to effect peaceful change in cases of border disputes, or the ongoing influence of the national self-determination norm as a maker of boundaries--but perhaps the most obvious and important point is simply that boundary changes are not terribly unusual in the modern international system.

Finally, NPR's Greg Myre asks, "What Are the Rules for Changing a Country's Borders?" Many of the commenters seem convinced that might makes right.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Crypto-War

Here's the question: Would you rather have perfect encryption capable of ensuring that you (and everyone else who uses the Internet) can keep your movements online hidden from the government or would you prefer that the government be able to hack into the Internet accounts of traffickers and terrorists (even if that means innocent people also lose their privacy online, at least some of the time)? Put another way, to what extent are you willing to trade privacy rights for some additional increment of security? Or is that even the right way to think about the encryption issue?

BBC News security correspondent Gordon Corera provides an informative history of data encryption in a story that asks who's winning the crypto-war?

Meanwhile, Google is playing its part in the crypto-war by routinely encrypting Google searches in China, thus complicating the Chinese government's efforts to monitor or censor certain sites. The Google search engine, however, has only a small share of China's market, which is dominated by Baidu.

Universal Jurisdiction: The French Connection

A high-level intelligence official in the Rwandan government during the genocide has been convicted and sentenced to 25 years in prison for complicity in genocide and crimes against humanity. That official, Pascal Simbikangwa, is the first person to be convicted in a French court for crimes related to the Rwandan genocide. The genocide began almost 20 years ago after a plane carrying Rwandan president Juvenal Habyarimana and Burundian president Cyprien Ntayamira was shot down on April 6, 1994. An estimated 800,000 people--most of them ethnic Tutsi--were killed in only 100 days.

Simbikangwa was arrested on charges of carrying fake identification documents on the Indian Ocean island of Mayotte, an overseas department of France where he was living, in 2008. While serving a two-year sentence on that charge, he was charged in connection with the Rwandan genocide. A judicial enquiry in the case lasted four years before the trial began in early February. 

There are 25 cases linked to the Rwandan genocide--along with others in Algeria, Congo-Brazzaville, Libya, and Syria--currently being investigated by a new unit in the office of the prosecutor in Paris that was created to deal with genocide-related cases.

For more (in French) on the Simbikangwa case, go here.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Beehive Radio

In today's New York Times, Thomas Fuller profiles a 72-year-old Cambodian--Mam Sonando--who is into Lil Wayne, Eminem, and Jay Z, but not Hun Sen, Cambodia's longtime leader. (Hun Sen has led Cambodia since 1985. His Cambodian People's Party won a majority of seats in parliament last summer in an election that most believe was fraudulent.)

Mam Sonando owns and operates Beehive Radio in Phnom Penh, a station that provides a platform for his pro-democracy, anti-corruption message. It is a message that has gotten him arrested three times.

Ou Virak, the president of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, says of Beehive Radio that "there's nothing else out there that is so critical of the government." This, no doubt, explains why the station has been repeatedly denied its requests to expand its operating range.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Getting Paid to Hack in China

Panasonic, the Japanese electronics company, has announced that it will begin providing bonus pay to its employees working in China to compensate for the risks posed by China's high levels of air pollution.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

On Drones and the Law

Recently the UN Human Rights Council's Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms While Countering Terrorism, Ben Emmerson, presented his third annual report. This report focuses on the use of drones in counter-terrorism operations with special emphasis on civilian casualties in drone strikes.

The report notes that while the number of drone attacks in Pakistan declined in 2013, drone strikes increased in Afghanistan and in Yemen. The decline in Pakistan came amid complaints from the Pakistani government that U.S. drone strikes were undermining its authority.

Paragraph 71 of the report lays out a series of questions regarding the legal status of drone strikes and suggests that there is "an urgent and imperative need to reach a consensus between States" on the answers to these questions. Included among the questions are these:
  • Is the international law principle of self-defence confined to situations in which an armed attack has already taken place, or does it entitle a State to carry out pre-emptive military operations against a non-State armed group on the territory of another State, without the territorial State's consent, where it judges that there is an imminent risk of attack to its own interests? . . .
  • Does international humanitarian law permit the targeting of persons directly participating in hostilities who are located in a non-belligerent state, and, if so, in what circumstances? . . .
  • In the context of non-international armed conflict, when (and under what circumstances) does international humanitarian law impose an obligation to capture rather than kill a legitimate military target where this is feasible?
While the Special Rapporteur is no doubt correct that the international community thus far has failed to reach a consensus view on these (and other) matters, the report notes (in Paragraph 31) that on February 25, 2014, the European Parliament adopted a resolution (by a vote of 534 to 49) that concludes that "drone strikes outside a declared war by a State on the territory of another State without the consent of the latter or of the UN Security Council constitute a violation of international law and of the territorial integrity and sovereignty of that country."

The complete text of the 21-page report is available here. For the Guardian's take on the story, go here.

MQ-9 Reaper over Afghanistan (USAF Photo / Lt. Col. Leslie Pratt)

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The C.I.A. Torture Cover-Up

The title of this post is the title of a New York Times editorial that says exactly what needs to be said at this point.

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, today publicly accused the CIA of what amounts to a criminal act in its efforts to impede the Committee's investigation of a program of torture ("enhanced interrogation" according to the euphemism used by the George W. Bush administration) involving terrorism suspects that was initiated in 2002. The text of Senator Feinstein's statement on the floor of the Senate is available here and a video of the speech can be seen below.

This is no small matter.

To Sweeten the Deal?

What do Dennis Rodman and 10,000 tons of sugar have in common? You can insert your own punch line, but a new report from the panel of experts appointed by the United Nations Security Council to monitor the sanctions regime imposed on North Korea suggests that both may have been involved in the shipment of prohibited goods.

Last summer, Panama intercepted a North Korean ship traveling from Cuba to North Korea with 10,000 tons of sugar in its hold. Beneath the sugar were containers holding two disassembled MiG-21 jet fighters and fifteen MiG-21 engines, all being shipped to the DPRK for repair. (North Korea is one of the few places in the world where Soviet-made weapons from the 1950s can be sent for repair.) The report, according to the New York Times, shows that "North Korea is using increasingly deceptive techniques to circumvent international sanctions."

Reuters reported recently that the panel of experts was investigating whether Rodman, whose travels to North Korea were lampooned last fall in this brilliant ad for Foot Locker, may have violated the ban on shipments of luxury goods (including spirits) into the DPRK.

Meanwhile, amid dancing in the streets, North Koreans have just voted unanimously to approve Kim Jong-un and his entire slate of parliamentary candidates.

Phrases Loaded with Dynamite

Territorial integrity. Self-determination. Sovereignty. Human rights. Non-intervention. Responsibility to protect.

Each of these is an important principle in international politics. Taken together, however, they cause problems.

From Versailles after World War I, U.S. Secretary of State Robert Lansing expressed in his diary the angst he felt regarding Woodrow Wilson's call for "the self-determination of peoples." He wrote:
The more I think about the President's declaration as to the right of "self-determination", the more convinced I am of the danger of putting such ideas into the minds of certain races. It is bound to be the basis of impossible demands on the Peace Congress, and create trouble in many lands. . . .
The phrase is simply loaded with dynamite. It will raise hopes which can never be realized. It will, I fear, cost thousands of lives. In the end, it is bound to be discredited, to be called the dream of an idealist who failed to realize the danger until too late to check those who attempt to put the principle into force. What a calamity that the phrase was ever uttered! What misery it will cause! Think of the feelings of the author when he counts the dead who died because he uttered a phrase! A man, who is a leader of public thought, should beware of intemperate or undigested declarations. He is responsible for the consequences.
Lansing, one of the founders of the American Society of International Law and the author of a book on state sovereignty, clearly leaned in his views in the direction of territorial integrity. Wilson leaned toward human rights and the breakup of multinational empires. In part because Wilson insisted on throwing open the gates of "the prison of nations" (to use the phrase that Soviet propagandists, referring to Russia under the stars, had coined), there is today a Ukraine--and a Crimea intent on holding a vote on secession from Ukraine.

On Saturday, Peter Baker wrote in the New York Times about the tensions between the right of self-determination and the territorial integrity of states as the two principles are exemplified in the Crimean crisis. As Baker points out, fifteen years ago when Kosovo sought to secede from Serbia, Russia and the United States took positions opposite where they stand today. 

Saturday, March 08, 2014

The Impact of War

This brief video, from Save the Children UK, is worth watching . . . twice.

Friday, March 07, 2014

To the Water's Edge

Where do the obligations of the United States as a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) apply? The Obama administration's deliberations on this question are the subject of an interesting piece by Charlie Savage in yesterday's New York Times.

Article 2(1) of the ICCPR states:
Each State Party to the present Covenant undertakes to respect and to ensure to all individuals within its territory and subject to its jurisdiction the rights recognized in the present Covenant, without distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth, or other status. (emphasis added)
As the article notes, it has been the policy of the United States since its ratification of the ICCPR to regard this clause as a limit on the extraterritorial reach of U.S. obligations under the Covenant. The George W. Bush administration extended the reasoning to the Torture Convention for obvious and unfortunate reasons. Savage notes that the Obama administration seems unlikely to change U.S. policy on this matter.

Katanga Convicted

One of the longest-running trials at the International Criminal Court (ICC) has ended with the conviction of Germain Katanga, a warlord involved in fighting in the Ituri district of Democratic Republic of Congo. Katanga was found guilty of one count of being an accessory to crimes against humanity and four counts of war crimes.

The charges against Katanga stemmed from an attack on the village of Bogoro on February 24, 2003. In that attack, villagers were shot or killed with machetes, in some cases while sleeping. Prosecutors alleged that the attack was intended to "wipe out" the village, which was considered strategically important due to its proximity to the Ugandan border in a gold-rich region.

Katanga made his first appearance before a pre-trial chamber of the ICC on October 22, 2007. His case was originally linked to that of another defendant, Mathieu Ngudjolo, but the cases were severed and Ngudjolo was acquitted late last year.

The first conviction obtained by the ICC, of Thomas Lubanga Dyilo in March 2012, also involved fighting in the DR Congo. Lubanga was sentenced to fourteen years in prison.

Katanga's conviction is only the second in the ICC's twelve-year history. 

Thursday, March 06, 2014

The Long Arm of the Law

How difficult is it to prosecute cases in U.S. courts that involve extraterritorial jurisdiction? In a word, "very." Gaining custody of the defendant may involve complex extradition procedures that bring both legal and diplomatic considerations into play. Prosecutors must work with police officials who follow rules for the collection and handling of evidence that are different from those here. Often, witnesses must be deposed using interpreters. If asked to testify, witnesses must be brought to the U.S., housed, and fed at government expense. This is not all. The prosecutors in such cases could generate much longer lists of the special problems inherent in cases that involve multiple jurisdictions.

Last week, a sentence of 210 years in prison was handed down in the case of Michael Joseph Pepe, a former Marine who was convicted back in 2008 in federal court on charges involving the sexual abuse of seven young girls in Cambodia. Pepe was arrested in Phnom Penh in June 2006 by Cambodian authorities and expelled the following February. He was brought to Los Angeles in the custody of U.S. law enforcement officials and arraigned. His trial, which included testimony from six of the seven girls, lasted three weeks and concluded on May 29, 2008. Here is a portion of the press release from the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Central District of California:
During the trial, government prosecutors presented testimony from six of the seven girls that Pepe sexually abused. The girls, who at the time of the abuse were between the ages of 9 and 12, testified that Pepe drugged, bound, beat and raped them. . . .
In addition to victim testimony, prosecutors presented corroborating evidence seized by the Cambodian National Police from Pepe’s Phnom Penh residence, including rope and cloth strips used to restrain the victims, Rohypnol and other sedatives, and homemade child pornography.
The prostitute who acted as Pepe’s broker testified on videotape about bringing him young victims. Pepe paid the broker and the victims' families for unlimited access to the victims.
The press release also notes that Pepe was the fifth person to be tried in the Central District of California under the PROTECT Act of 2003, a statute designed to strengthen protections in federal law against the sexual abuse of children. Section 105 of the law establishes a maximum sentence of thirty years in prison for anyone who travels abroad "for the purpose of engaging in any illicit sexual conduct with another person."

U.S. District Judge Dale S. Fischer imposed the maximum sentence in each of the seven cases and ordered that they be served consecutively rather than concurrently. She called Pepe's crimes "unspeakable" and "heinous" and indicated that she wished to send a message to other Americans who might consider traveling abroad for the purpose of engaging in illicit sex.

The long delay between the conclusion of Pepe's trial in 2008 and his final sentencing in 2014 was the result of a defense motion to throw out the verdict due to concerns about bias in some of the Vietnamese-language interpretations of witness testimony presented to the court. After the trial ended, an interpreter revealed that she was involved in a sexual relationship with a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent investigating the case. In the end, Judge Fischer ruled that the ICE investigator's misconduct did not invalidate the overwhelming evidence of Pepe's guilt.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Ukraine: Two Realist Assessments

"'Do something' is a platitude, not a strategy." So says Sean Kay in an essay titled "America's Strategic Dilemma in Ukraine" that appeared on The Duck of Minerva on Sunday.

Kay takes to task those who are urging some sort of muscular American response to Russia's invasion of the Crimea. It is not a liberal critique, however. On the contrary, Kay's analysis is focused on the realists' traditional concern with national interests and geopolitics. It's a reminder that sometimes the realists are the ones who provide the counsel of restraint where the use of force is concerned.

In another essay worth reading, Thomas Friedman reminds us--yet again--of the many health benefits (to U.S. foreign policy) of reducing our appetite for fossil fuels. The bottom line is this: oil and natural gas exports are what allow Putin (and many other autocrats around the world) to stay in power and occasionally launch invasions of neighboring countries.

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Ukraine's Cyberwar

It should come as no surprise that Russians and Ukrainians are skirmishing in cyberspace. (The term "cyberwar" is probably too strong for what seems to be happening at present, but there could easily be some exploits lurking that, if unleashed, would justify the term "cyberwar.") The Bits blog on the New York Times website reports that distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks against news organizations in Ukraine have escalated.

In addition to knocking various services offline, hackers today managed for a time to replace the word "Russian" with "Nazi" on the Russia Today website. The Sydney Morning Herald reports that cell phones of Ukrainian members of parliament have been blocked. Also, Ukraine's main government dark after Russian troops entered Crimea, but experts are unsure whether or not a cyberattack was responsible.

The Russian government has disavowed all responsibility for cyberattacks in Ukraine, just as it did in Estonia and Georgia. In those earlier episodes, officials blamed "patriotic hackers."

Fighting Words

A recent post on the "Wired Campus" blog of the Chronicle of Higher Education describes efforts by the editors of the Oxford English Dictionary to strengthen the dictionary's collection of words created by soldiers who fought in World War I. The OED is using crowdsourcing (a word coined in 2005) to find, for example, early references to the phrase "Zeppelins in a cloud" (as a substitute for bangers and mash or, to the unBritish, sausages with mashed potatoes).

As the article notes, wars tend to produce a lot of neologisms. Some originate in soldiers' mangling--or playful distortion--of foreign words and phrases they pick up while fighting in a different country or alongside troops speaking a different language. In World War I, British soldiers took the French phrase "jusqu' au bout" ("to the end") and turned it into "jusqu'auboutiste" ("someone who fights to the bitter end"). "Napoo," a synonym for "dead," seems to have come from the French phrase "il n'ya plus," which means "he is no more."

The OED Appeals web page is located here, for those who want to be part of the crowd helping the editors source these and other World War I words.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Cold War Lessons

In an insightful news analysis published in today's New York Times, Sam Tanenhaus suggests that the real lessons we should be drawing from the Cold War as we contemplate possible responses to Russia's violation of the Ukraine's sovereignty are lessons about restraint. "The truth is," Tanenhaus writes, "that the Cold War was less a carefully structured game between masters than a frightening high-wire act, with leaders on both sides aware that a single misstep could plunge them into the abyss."

Saturday, March 01, 2014

"Banana Man"?

NPR reports that an editorial in a Chinese state-run newspaper called outgoing U.S. ambassador to China Gary Locke a "yellow-skinned white-hearted banana man." Locke, who is Chinese-American, earned the affection of ordinary Chinese and the scorn of  China's government officials for his common touch.

The editorial also suggested that Beijing's heavy smog had arrived with Ambassador Locke and then left with him.

Locke, for his part, called on the Chinese government to respect human rights in his final news conference.