Sunday, November 8, 2009

Armistice Day, Veteran's Day

This was posted by me as a comment to another journal on another web site. The writer wrote about Veteran's Day, and made what I considered a few minor, yet specific errors in her otherwise well-written essay.

First error: "The holiday was established as Armistice Day in 1918 to honor soldiers who have served this country in the Air Force, Army, Marines and Navy."

Second error: "It’s not a day of remembrance, but of recognition."

I thought I'd put my comment here in my journal as well. First, to give paragraph breaks. ;) Secondly, so others who read my own journal may see where I stand on the issue.


Just a point of historical correction. The first Armistice Day was declared in 1919 by Woodrow Wilson to commemorate the end of the war. As the years went on, Congress decided to formalize the purpose of the Holiday, and passed an Act of Congress. As Wikipedia puts it: An Act (52 Stat. 351; 5 U. S. Code, Sec. 87a) approved May 13, 1938, made the 11th of November in each year a legal holiday; "a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be thereafter celebrated and known as 'Armistice Day'."

It was only after World War II and Korea that Armistice Day changed in meaning, from the dedication to world peace, to the commemoration of Veteran's service. In a way, I believe that this disenfranchised many people, such as the civilian contributors to wartime efforts, and those that strive for peaceful outcomes -- to ameliorate present conflicts and prevent future ones. If we returned to the original intent, then the vast majority of the world, civilians and soldiers alike, can feel invested in the cause of the day.

Lastly, I must correct this point of yours. For it is a day of remembrance. Indeed, around the nations of the British Commonwealth, it is still called "Remembrance Day," in commemoration of the Armistice and those that fought and died to achieve the peace that follows war. To remember, they wear the red poppy, symbolizing the fallen soldiers, strewn like flowers on the field.

Call me a traditionalist, but I believe that we should all remember that 20 million died in the First World War. 72 million in the Second World War. And, especially in the latter conflict, and to the present day, it is the civilians who suffer the vast majority of casualties. A mother huddled in a house, sheltering her children from the onslaught around her, knows the same -- if not greater -- threats and fears of battle as any soldier. All-too-often she and her children suffer the same fate the soldiers do. Armistice Day is now called Veteran's Day. Yet truly recall and reflect this year on the origins of the holiday, thank you.


This is not to disrespect the contributions and sacrifices of anyone in uniform. Indeed, anyone who knows my past will know the work I have done in analysis and commemoration of military history. Yet so long as we segregate the holiday to honor only those who wore a uniform (about 10% of the U.S. population), it bifurcates our populace, with the majority of the civilian population seeming only to mark the day as one of increased shopping discounts. How do we ensure that all people would reflect on the dangers of our world, and those who strove, and still work to keep us safe from them?

Ninety one years ago on this 11th of November was the original Armistice of the Great War. There was not a Second World War yet. Indeed, they had hoped that it would be the "war to end all wars." Sadly, there would be no "peace for our time." And through this very day, chaotic, violent wars are still being fought in dozens of conflict zones spanning both hemispheres. What can we do between now and the 100th Anniversary of the Armistice, the 11th of November 2018?

For me, and for some certain friends of mine, we are returning to an original intent. We are personally referring henceforth to the day as Armistice Day. Not out of spite to any veteran, but to remind all -- civilian and military -- that the origin of the national, indeed, global holiday was to ensure that we never again commit our nations to the horrific destructive methods and ends we, and our forefathers, sought in the past. That we seek a world where the amelioration and end to such horrors is a goal and an ethical standard we all must commit ourselves to.

So how about you? Would you support returning to the original intent of the holiday, and to call it Armistice Day? Should we specifically commemorate the uniformed veterans only, or should we consider the entirety of those involved -- civil government as well as military, those who serve in NGOs, the war correspondents, the peacemakers and the peacekeepers, the civilians and refugees. Can we use this day, once per year, to honor all those who suffer from war, and those who contribute to the cessation of hostilities. Can we commit ourselves, united again to the cause of world peace?

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

MSNBC: World Running Amok?

Iraq and Afghanistan. Pakistan. Iran. Honduras. Nigeria. Somalia. Uganda. Palestine. The list goes on-and-on.

On MSNBC, the question was raised as to whether the world is running amok these days. Is there greater violence? And is the new media feeding the unrest?

In a way, yes. Media is being used by people for propagandistic reasons: to sow ethnic tensions, breed distrust, and to foment conflict. However, that can be done even more effectively through traditional mass media: print and television and radio broadcast systems.

For centuries, atrocities and uprisings have been the source of civil changes. Paintings, printed cartoons and articles in newspapers, and popular songs inspired, and were inspired by, the American and French Revolutions.

Goya was commissioned to depict the atrocities of the Napoleonic Wars and their impact on Spain in the 19th Century.

A century later, in the same nation, Picasso painted his famous Guernica in the teeth of the Spanish Civil War, capturing the shattered spirit of his nation by depicting the bombing of a village by Fascist forces.

The 20th Century added the radio report and movie newsreel, which affected the popular support of World War II. And in the latter half of the century, television reports dramatically altered public perceptions of many conflicts, from Vietnam to the Balkans.

So today we have podcasts from battlezones, and Twitter and YouTube revolutions. Should we expect any less?

During the history of the world, powers-that-be and counter-regime movements all used the available technology to promulgate their visions and foment conflict and raise their points of view to their domestic audiences and to appeal to the masses overseas. To its credit, at times media has also been used to sooth tensions, promote unity and call for peace and resolution of violence.

Conflicts have gone on for millennia, so human violence is not new. The technology to conduct or put down civil instability and insurrection is more advanced today. The technology to report about such civil disorder and martial action is more advanced and permeated globally than ever before.

In absolute terms, I would argue that global violence is increasing greatly in potential terms, but has so far only been bubbling up modestly in actual incidence rates.

There has never before been 6.7 billion people in the world. Thus the total amount of potential and actual violence is greater these days simply because there are more people who can, and do, enter into conflict.

Yet we should also thank our lucky stars. While we have many regional wars around the world, we have so far, fortunately, avoided an all-out regional or full-scale world war between major powers, potentially involving weapons of mass destruction.

The question is: what are the desires of people today to use their communications technology? To resist unjust oppression, to promote truth, or to stir ancient enmities and fuel bitterness based on falsehoods? What are the aims and purposes? What is the trend globally towards raising the bars of tension and violence, or to find civil and just solutions to the world’s problems without resorting to the fist, the bullet, the bomb, or the IED.

One thing is certain. Between 1914-1918 there was the First World War. Between 1939-1945 we had World War II. Since then, though anti-colonial wars and the Cold War, and various regional conflicts have been bloody and brutal, we have avoided further nuclear war, and we have avoided a total war on a global basis between superpowers.

Today’s violence is troubling because it harkens back to the days of the Balkans Wars that proceeded World War I, or the expansionist wars and jostling for global dominance that proceeded World War II. Many regional wars can each become flashpoints for larger conflicts.

Each conflict, when taken in isolation, can be rationalized for why it exists. From the uprisings against the oil-backed regime in Nigeria, to the Muslim extremist conflicts of Taliban forces in Afghanistan and Pakistan, to the violent mobs of Uyghurs in China. Solutions to such chronic problems are more elusive, especially when the populations involved would rather remain in conflict rather than seek mutual benefit and peaceful coexistence.

Americans can sometimes be at odds with our own nature when it comes to consideration of other nation’s civil unrest and uprisings. It is natural rebellion against tyranny. Should we support such causes, much as we venerate the original American Revolution? Or is it the work of power brokers and even criminal elements disguising themselves under layers of propaganda capitalizing on popular unrest?

Media is required to see the acts of repression of brutal governments. Media is required to expose agents provocateur bent on causing violence regardless of whether it is justified or not, for their own private agenda’s benefit. Media both promotes the acts of terrorism by making them more visible, and it also makes possible states to repress civil disapproval through propaganda and social controls. Yet media is also required to put all such stories in context and perspective.

The world has not yet run amok. Not yet. It is vital for humanity to collectively discuss what needs to happen to prevent a global war over the course of this century as we suffered from in prior centuries. It is appropriate to confer, both as political regimes and as private citizens and public groups to devise strategies to prevent an unprecedented risk to the billions of people around the world presently and in the decades to come.

It is also folly to believe good wishes and thoughts alone can prevent calamity. For everyone who benefits from a peaceful, stable world economy, there are those for whom the concept of peace is anathema. The harmony and stability do not serve their ends.

We must also allow for the just expression of grievances and changes to social structure over time. There must be permissible “safety valves” of civil unrest to allow peoples to collectively choose their own desired states rather than live with domineering regimes that offer “peace and stability” in false measures through insidious means. For one person’s peaceful and pleasant society is often another person’s brutally repressive regime.

This past week has been the celebration of the U.S. Independence Day. A day that marked a declaration to the world of the principles of liberty and the ends to which people would go to oppose repressive tyranny. Yet increasingly, many people around the world worry that the U.S. has become the same sort of dominant, repressive power that we once fought to overthrow.

I marvel and worry this year. Not so much for the survival of the centuries-old American experiment in democracy, as for the vitality and long-term viability of the new hatchling popular movements for justice around the world. Will they lead to peaceful redress of civil grievances, or plunge the planet into countless fractious civil wars?

Will we, as a civilization, be trapped by our centuries of past means to solve our problems, or will we evolve? Unless we devise new means to settle differences, we will have a hundred Guernicas played out through Twitter and YouTube every year.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Reflections on the Honduras Presidential Removal

The following comes from a Facebook thread regarding the situation of Manuel Zelaya begun by Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia. His own opening comment was as follows:
Baffled by Honduras situation. The Supreme Court and the democratically elected Congress voted unanimously to remove President Zeleya [sic], who was in open defiance of a court decision about an illegal dismissal of the military command, and about to stage an illegal 'election'. And yet, this action is universally condemned internationally as a "coup"? There must be facts of which I am unaware? — Jimmy Wales (30 June 2009 6:17 pm)
He later accepted the “friendly amendment” of the correct spelling of “Zelaya.”

It reminded me of the quote by Benjamin Franklin wittily delivered in the musical 1776:
Why, Mr. Dickinson, I’m surprised at you! You should know that rebellion is always legal in the first person – such as ‘our’ rebellion. It is only in the third person – ‘their’ rebellion – that it is illegal.
— Benjamin Franklin
Another Facebook friend of his stated:
i think the point everybody is missing is that the UN et al cannot condone a government that has seized power in a coup -- by taking the president at gunpoint in his pyjamas. If the president was acting illegally -- as zelaya apparently was -- impeach him dont threaten to murder him and cart him off to costa rica. The Honuduran military has done far worse than Zelaya. Two wrongs don't make a right and other cliches.
Reflecting from a generally naïve point-of-view, I responded:
It was a coup, though a bloodless one. The proper legal method to get rid of him would have been impeachment, with arrest by a civil authority. The military of nations generally are limited constitutionally because the President is generally considered C-in-C. When you overthrow your boss, it is a rebellion. When the military overthrow a president, rather than a legislature, it violates standard civil government checks-and-balances. Thus, technically, a coup.
In response to my thoughts, another direct reply was made to the thread:
Peter, ... the boss of the civil authorities (e.g., the police) that would have to carry the arrest is also the president. By your reasoning it would still be a rebellion. If a subordinate gets a court order to arrest the boss, what should he/she do?
Which is a good point. So tonight I wanted to dig a little deeper. I happened upon a good friend who was perfect for the necessary detective work! Tonight, I replied as follows:
I am sitting tonight with a good friend who is a very educated socio-political academic from Venezuela. He is helping me go over the Honduran Constitution.

The biggest problem is that there is *no* clear provision in the lengthy document on how the various powers maintain checks and balances. There is no direct clause for how to conduct the removal of the Presidente, or most any other elected official. Impeachment is not mentioned, per se.

However, there are a few clauses to work with, primarily: " usurpación de los poderes constituidos se tipifican como delitos de Traición a la Patria." Usurpation of constitutional powers is treason.

Thus, if you disobey the Constitution, no one need obey you. This is the argument of the Supreme Court. They can theoretically declare anything unconstitutional, thus treasonable, and can immediately have their judgments put into effect. There is no override on their decisions, except by a popular referendum for a constitutional revision.

In review, the decision of the Honduran Supreme Court seems tacitly legal, though highly disputable.

According to one assessment (

"Honduran constitutions are generally held to have little bearing on Honduran political reality because they are considered aspirations or ideals rather than legal instruments of a working government."

For the Constitution itself:

I still maintain my view that this was a quasi-legal coup. While arguably a de jure power of the Supreme Court, it is could be just as arguable that the Supreme Court usurped and overstepped their Constitutional authority. They just had the backing of the military.

Thus, quite conforming to a coup as per Wikipedia: "A coup consists of the infiltration of a small, but critical, segment of the state apparatus, which is then used to displace the government from its control of the remainder.”
The truth of the matter is that the Honduran Constitution is a rather poorly-written set of rules to govern from. Anyone used to playing diplomatic strategy games could spend days arguing about the gaps and fuzzy parts. Eventually the consensus of the players would be that the game seriously needs a second edition of the rules, and, in the meanwhile, a full-blown set of errata and addendum.

While the definitions of “high crimes and misdemeanors” is elastic and arguable, the U.S. Constitution has a far more explicit, albeit very brief, method to determine what to do in case of such crises of confidence in a chief executive.

In Honduras, lacking such explicit methods for removal, the national Supreme Court basically has the tacit de jure power to do what they did. It may indeed rub many people the wrong way, given cultural and political biases towards what we are familiar with in our own systems.

I would be quite interested to hear other opinions on such a topic. Was this a de facto coup d’etat, or a de jure removal of an executive in broach of his constitutional duties?

Mea Culpa - A Hopefully Forgiveable Leave of Absence

Due to economic requirements during this recession, I was forced to work quite a bit on other duties for the past two months, often seven-days-a-week, and thus was unable to attend to the requirements of world-watching that is implicit in the Global Understanding Movement. Thus you have my mea culpa maxima.

However, I have not been exactly idle.

Stay tuned! More to come!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Swat Valley: The Pot Boils Over

Any pretensions for an uneasy truce in the Swat Valley between the Pakistani government and the Taliban came to an abrupt end today, as the Taliban began to seize government buildings, and fighting erupted in Mingora, the main city of the valley.

Taliban militants began to siege the police building and many government offices were taken over. 46 government paramilitaries were reported to still hold the city’s electrical grid station. At least 18 civilians were reported wounded in the crossfire. Over the past week, sporadic fighting and casualties were reported around many other districts of Malakand, a region in Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP). That fighting now seems to be intensifying considerably across the NWFP and Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).

Indeed, the government is encouraging citizens to flee for their safety, according to reports from Al Jazeera. CNN reports that a major offensive may begin as soon as Wednesday, 6 May 2009. As soon as the government warning was issued, residents of Mingora began to pile on buses to escape the expected fighting. The Pakistani government predicts that as many as 500,000 people may flee the region in coming days.

This number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) would exceed the numbers that fled in the wake of prior conflicts in the Swat Valley last year. In February 2009, it was reported that over 337,000 had fled ahead of the fighting. Though most of those returned to their homes after the cease fire between the Taliban and the government.

Forces Involved

UPDATE: Taliban forces cited in the AP as 7,000; Pakistani military forces at 15,000. (6 May 2009)
  • Taliban: The militants are believed to have forces of about 7,000 insurgents in the Swat Valley and environs. According to the Pakistani military, 400 Taliban had advanced into the Buner area and had put up stiff resistance. Many of those were killed in the past week’s counterinsurgency by government forces.
The Taliban claims that it now controls 90% of Swat. However, if it spread its 7,000 troops across the Swat district, which is 5,337 square km (an area about the size of the state of Delaware), that would equate to a bit more than 1 man per square kilometer. It is unlikely there are any Taliban in much of the province. Instead, based on various reports, the more likely situation is that the Taliban are grouped in central locations: blocking major roads, seizing strategic facilities and key strongpoints, and patrolling the capital and other urban areas.

The question for both sides will be the amount of resolve, numbers, and reserves they bring with them to the conflict. This is not the first time the Pakistani military has attempted to wrest back control of Swat Valley. In the past, the Taliban has been able to keep control of this central and key region.

This time seems different. The government and the Pakistani people seem to be recognizing the degree to which the government has lost control of its territory. And the people of Swat seem somewhat reticent to greet the Taliban as welcome liberators. Part of this may be due to the presence of foreign fighters: Uzbeks and Tajiks.

Prospects for Peace

Not good, to begin with. The Taliban seem unapologetic and ready for a fight. For its own part, the Pakistani military seems ready to flex its considerable muscles and is likewise ready for a fight, albeit somewhat reluctantly.

The Taliban has been, so far, the mouse that roared. Its few thousand irregular insurgents, armed with the ubiquitous small arms of AK-47 and RPGs, have in the past beaten off poorly-paid Pakistani provincial forces, police and paramilitaries. Now, the regular Pakistani military seems to be bringing out, quite literally, its big guns for the upcoming fight.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Pakistan's Swat Valley Simmers

In Pakistan’s northern Swat Valley this week, the Pakistani Army and the Taliban have both been pushing and prodding each other in a turf war. Likewise, the Pakistani Army went on the full offensive across Swat, Buner and Dir.

The Army announced that it had recently killed 80 militants, including local Taliban commanders; a total of 170 - 200 have been killed since the Army’s offensive was launched on 26 April. The Taliban retaliated by beheading two captured soldiers.

Furthermore, as proof of the violation of the peace deal brokered earlier in the year, the Pakistani Army announced it had captured three Taliban vehicles filled with explosives that were to be used in suicide attacks. Plus, a bank had been looted, the power grid had been attacked, and a bridge was partially blown up, all laid at the doorstep of the Taliban and its forces. Overnight curfews have been imposed, but the Taliban has taken to patrolling the streets with their own armed soldiers.

Eight Islamic Sharia-law judges, known as qazis, have been appointed, and a new Sharia appellate court, called the Darul Qaza, has been established. Yet the Taliban is rejecting these government measures.

The Pakistani government, for its part, seems to be preparing to use this week’s news as collective proof of the government’s good faith, and to regard the Taliban’s actions as a broach of the agreement, thereby possibly opening up a full resumption of military activities.

Indeed, according to Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP) Information Minister Sufi Muhammed, with the establishment of the new Sharia-based qazi courts, “Now anyone carrying arms would be treated as a rebel and would be prosecuted in the qazi court.” It is unlikely that the Taliban will comply with this government edict.

A major concern for the conflict is the prospect of civilian casualties and refugees. According to the Sunday Times, 2,000 hostages are being held as human shields in Pir Baba. The unrest has caused 90,000 refugees to flee the conflict zones in the NFWP; 30,000 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) were caused from the fighting in Lower Dir alone. However, the Pakistani government has been somewhat obscure on civilian casualties.

The Voice of America did not go into specifics of threats to the civilian populace, other than the passing reference to the execution of three civilians, instead focusing on the advance of Pakistani troops to the borders of Swat itself. If the Pakistani government declares the deal with the Taliban forfeit due to numerous violations, it is to be expected those troops will advance into the Swat Valley.

Influenza A (H1N1) Update 3 May 2009 - Some Statistics

There are some people wondering if the media and government attention to the current Influenza A H1N1 outbreak seems to be warranted, or whether there has been too much hype on the topic.

Seems Less Deadly Now

The good news is this strain has not become the “killer pandemic” that has worried epidemiologists for years. Yet it is still a cause for concern.

Even now, a pandemic warning seems prudently warranted. Emphasis on “seems.” Out of the 935 proven cases so far, there have been 23 deaths, for a mortality rate of 2.46%. Out of the suspected 4,585 cases, there have been 101 suspected deaths; a mortality rate of 2.2%.

The good news is that this mortality rate of 2.2% - 2.46% is as little as half that of earlier in the week, when it was calculated to be between 3.4% - 4.3%.

How Bad Can It Get?

Influenza outbreak typically affects 5% - 20% of the population, according to the CDC. If this particular strain of A H1N1 spread worldwide to a maximal uncontrolled extent, that would equate to 335 million to 1.34 billion cases. Given a 2.2% - 2.46% mortality rate, that would equate to global deaths of 8.2 million to 32 million. This is a worst-case scenario, predicated on the mortality rate remaining at >2%, and for 100% of the world to be exposed to infection.

By analogy, consider smaller populations. Take a subway car of 200 New Yorkers. If they all had the flu, pull two of them off the train in body bags. Take a flight of 200 people on an airliner. Pull two off in gurneys sent to the morgue. No one wants to be those two people. No public health official wants that risk.

Those analogies would be if all 200 persons aboard that train or aircraft actually caught the H1N1 virus, and if the present mortality rate remained unchanged. A more accurate analogy would be that, out of a busy subway station or airport, as many as one subway car or aircraft out of five, or as few as one out of twenty, would eventually contain virus-carriers.

If it was a sports stadium of 50,000 people, somewhere between 2,500 - 10,000 would get sick, and somewhere between 50 - 200 would die. Again, predicated on exposure of 100% of the attendees.

That is what would happen if we allowed the virus to remain uncontained, if we took no precautions to prevent the spread of the disease, and if the public remained unwary to seek medical assistance.

Take Care and Due Precaution

This is why minimizing exposure to the virus is so vital, and why those affected should not hesitate to seek help. The more the virus can be contained so it burns out before spreading, the better. The more people who go to the doctor when they feel as if something is just not right the better. Thus, while panic is unwarranted, precaution and care is quite important.

The U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) has a number of recommendations for preventing seasonal flu, and how to take care of yourself if and when you catch the flu.

Global Understanding wishes everyone the best and safest of spring seasons. Let’s hope this is an emerging crisis that becomes a non-issue with proper care and due diligence.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Influenza A (H1N1) - A Background in Pandemic

Many people around the world have heard now of the outbreak of the flu, informally nicknamed the “swine flu,” or “Mexican flu,” yet which is officially designated as a strain of Influenza A virus subtype H1N1. It is actually a unique mutation, with a combination of four strains of flu, comprised of human, avian and two separate swine flu virus elements.

As of this writing, the virus is confirmed to have spread across thirteen separate nations in North America (Canada, Costa Rica, Mexico and the U.S.), South America (Peru), Europe (Austria, Germany, Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland, U.K.), Asia (Israel), and the Pacific (New Zealand). Beyond that, there are suspected cases in 25 more nations spanning every continent barring Antarctica.

In response, the Mexican government has already decided to shutter a great deal of places of education and business, and has cancelled many events to minimize public contact. Individual schools in the United States have also closed due to localized outbreaks. Many other nations have taken extreme, seemingly irrational proactive measures, such as slaughtering pigs, or putting a ban on pork products, though there has been no evidence of a pig being infected by this strain of virus.

As of 30 April 2009, there have been at least 3,964 suspected cases around the world, with the vast majority (2,498) occurring in Mexico. Out of those suspected cases there have been 265 cases confirmed by laboratories a being the H1N1 strain. It has caused 168 suspected deaths and 9 confirmed deaths, with most of those deaths occurring in Mexico.

This puts the mortality of the virus, so far, between 3.4% - 4.2%.

Comparison With Other Influenza Outbreaks

Influenza outbreaks and related hospitalizations and deaths occur annually, and each flu season varies greatly. Even during mild years, influenza takes more lives on an annual basis than many other causes of death.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 5-15% of populations are generally affected. Every year worldwide, three to five million people are stricken with severe illness due to influenza, and 250,000 - 500,000 die. That equates roughly to a global mortality rate of 0.004% - 0.0075% of the total world population, and 0.02% - 0.15% for those infected with the virus.

It is sometimes not the influenza itself that kills, but the pneumonia that sets in as the body’s immune system responds. Therefore, the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) commonly combines annual mortality statistics as Pneumonia/Influenza, or “P&I,” and estimates an annual death rate in the U.S. of 36,000, and hospitalizations at over 200,000. The CDC estimates between 5% - 20% of the U.S. population is affected by flu every season. Annual U.S. deaths can therefore range between 30,000 to 50,000. Which equates to an annual mortality rate between 0.01% - 0.015% of the total population, or 0.05% - 0.33% of the infected population.

Thus note that most flu outbreaks infect a large population, but are generally mostly mildly debilitating. While deaths and hospitalizations occur, they are limited to a small percentage of the affected population; with usually far less than 1% mortality rate.

In comparison, consider the avian flu outbreak of 2003-2009. It was caused by a very different strain of A(H5N1), the total number of human cases was limited to 421, but the mortality rate was very high: 257 deaths, or 61%.

The outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) virus in 2002-2003 also serves as a comparative example. Out of 8,273 cases reported, there were 775 deaths. This equates to a mortality rate of 9.6%.

Right now, the current rate of mortality for the A(H1N1) virus is half that of SARS, and far less than a tenth of the lethality of the avian flu outbreak.

Influenza vs. Cholera

Another comparison to give pause is that of cholera in Zimbabwe and sub-Saharan Africa over the past year. According to the U.N. Office of the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, through 2 April 2009, in Zimbabwe alone there were 94,443 suspected cases of bacterial cholera and 4,127 deaths, for a fatality rate of 4.3%.

It has been confirmed to have spread to neighboring Botswana, Mozambique, South Africa, and Zambia. Other cases are reported across sub-Sarahan Africa: Angola, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Malawi, Namibia, Nigeria, Guinea-Bissau, and Togo.

It is too early to predict the rapidity of the spread and long-term mortality rate of the present A(H1N1) virus, yet to date its mortality rate is comparable to the African cholera epidemic. However, global reaction to the cholera outbreak remains muted in comparison to the front-page news of the A(H1N1) virus.

Present and Future Considerations

Unknowns still to be determined would be why the disease has proven fatal in Mexico (and one case of a Mexican child who came to the U.S. with the infection), while other cases around the world have not proven fatal. has an article analyzing the possible impact of an influenza pandemic on the U.S. economy. Note that the actual effects of the actual present A(H1N1) influenza outbreak will vary widely from these estimates and that Health and Human Services (HHS)’s figures vary widely from those of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

Related TED Talks

In 2006, Dr. Larry Brilliant talked about the eradication of small pox and polio, and how influenza pandemics occur. In his talk, he mentioned the Canadian organization GPHIN, and its role in identification of SARS. From that, with his $100,000 TED prize, he created InSTEDD, a global disease tracking organization based in Palo Alto, California.

Pulitzer-prize winner Laurie Garrett spoke at TED in 2007 about the 1918 flu pandemic, and what is different between then and now. Her words are quite illuminating towards how we can, and how we may not be able to, respond as communities and governments.

Both speakers focus on the avian flu, which is a different strain than the A(H1N1) “swine” flu. Yet the overall message and information remains relevant for knowing about how to face a global influenza outbreak.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Latest developments in Thailand

The Prime Minister has withdrawn the decree imposing emergency rule, agreed to an independent inquiry into the clashes and called for constitutional reforms to heal the deep political rift; Red shirts plan a protest in Bangkok tonight; Detained red shirt leaders have been freed on bail; Thaksin is in Liberia.

"The lifting of the decree will send a signal to the world that Thailand is back to normal," the Prime Minister said.

"We will demand Abhisit's resignation, a dissolution of the House and the scrapping of all arrest warrants against the red shirts," said Somyos Prueksakasemsuk, a leader of the pro-Thaksin United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD).

Meanwhile, police are hunting for others blamed for Thailand's worst street violence in 16 years, as well as gunmen who attempted to assassinate the leader of a royalist, pro-government group.

In the post below, you will note that forensics analysis has traced the M-16 bullets fired in the 17 April 2009 assassination attempt of Sondhi Limthongkul, to the Thai First Army’s Ninth Infantry division. Could we see the police pitted against the army? Let's not forget, Thaksin is a former policeman.

Although Thai officials revoked Thaksin's passport after the latest violence in Bangkok, he has obtained, no less than a diplomatic passport from Nicaragua. Thaksin is in Liberia on a search for investment opportunities in mining, agriculture and gas.

Where Thailand goes from here, is anyone's guess. It is hoped that cool heads prevail. Given the deep and bitter divide between the parties and the long-running history of political instability, that seems very unlikely.

All eyes will be on the streets of Bangkok tonight, to see if the Red shirts do protest and if they do, what is the reaction by the police and the army. Stay tuned.

If ever there was a need for understanding, now is the time and Thailand is the place.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Thai Army Bullets Used in Sondhi Limthongkul Assassination Attempt

Royal Thai Army Connection to Assassination

Forensics analysis conducted in the past week have traced the M-16 bullets fired in the 17 April 2009 assassination attempt of Sondhi Limthongkul, founder of the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) political party, according to reports from the Associated Press. The bullets were issued to the Thai First Army’s Ninth Infantry division.

How the army’s bullets came to be appropriated and used in the assassination attempt remains unknown. Likewise there have been no arrests. Yet it casts a cloud over the role of the military in Thai politics.

Meanwhile, Sondhi is reported to be doing better and is expected to be released from the hospital on Friday.

9th Division History

The Royal Thai Army’s 9th Division was originally known as the Royal Thai Army Volunteer Force, a Vietnam War-era unit that grew from a battalion (about 700-800 men) to a division size (11,266 men) between 1966 and 1968. The unit was incorporated into the Thai Royal Army as the 9th Division after its return from Vietnam in 1971. In 1981, it was assigned to the 1st Army’s area of operations, which is centered around Bangkok. It is responsible for internal security.

In 1997, the 9th Division was named in allegations of physical abuse of refugees fleeing the instability in Burma (now Myanmar). More recently, in 2002, the 9th Division was specifically mentioned in an Amnesty International report of the forcible deportation of 63 Myanmar refugees. Problems with diplaced persons and a flood of over half-a-million migrant workers have challenged Thailand for the better part of the last decade.

The Royal Thai Army has been a decisive factor in the coups and political turnovers of recent years. It was instrumental in the 2006 coup which deposed Thaksin Shinawatra. At that time, the military supported the PAD’s goal of deposing the Thaksin government.

Even considering the assassination attempt of a major political leader, threats of additional armed attacks, and the calls for the present government to step down, the two-week state of emergency Thailand has been under will be lifted, according to current Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.

For now, Thailand seems to have weathered a major political crisis. Yet the political intrigues are likely far from over.

Monday, April 20, 2009

View of Geneva - Racism

After the turmoil in Thailand, I was going to look at the unrest in India and Pakistan. However, plans of mice and men oft go astray.

The controversial U.N. anti-racism conference in Geneva, Switzerland caught mine and I am sure the attention of many other people. Controversial because Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was invited to deliver a keynote speech, in which he accused the West of making "an entire nation homeless under the pretext of Jewish suffering ... in order to establish a totally racist government in occupied Palestine."

As reported by CNN

"It is all the more regrettable that a number of Western governments and the United States have committed themselves to defend those racist perpetrators of genocide," Ahmadinejad said, echoing Tehran's official line on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Many delegates at the controversial U.N. anti-racism conference in Geneva, Switzerland, cheered his words as a minority of diplomats -- mostly from Europe -- collected their papers and briefcases and left the room. Cameras at the scene showed empty seats where delegates from Britain, Spain, France, Finland and Denmark had been sitting. Israel, the US, Australia, Canada, Germany, Poland and Italy boycotted the conference by not sending any representative.


U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued a statement criticizing Ahmadinejad for using the conference "to accuse, divide and even incite." Ban said he had spoken to the Iranian president and asked him not to focus on "divisiveness" in his address. "It is deeply regrettable that my plea to look to the future of unity was not heeded by the Iranian president," Ban said.

Perhaps Peter Gooderham, Britain's envoy to the U.N. in Geneva, said what is on the minds of many people, "The UK unreservedly condemns Iranian President Ahmadinejad's offensive and inflammatory comments. Such outrageous, anti-Semitic remarks should have no place in a U.N. anti-racism forum.

While rejecting the boycott, Navi Pillay, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, urged reporters "not allow this one intervention to mar the conference. "I prefer to move on," she said at a news conference after Ahmadinejad's speech. She also criticized the delegates who walked out during his speech, saying his "unsavory remarks" did not "provide justification for anyone to walk out of the conference." She said that she regrets and is "shocked" by the U S decision to boycott the conference.

As reported by Associated Press

The United States understands racism well, it has been and still is an integral part of that nation’s history. Many hope that the election of the nation’s first African-American President would go a long way to bring change and tolerance.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, in its annual hate group report, "The Year in Hate" found the number of hate groups grew by 54 percent since 2000. The study identified 926 hate groups -- defined as groups with beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people -- active in 2008. That's a 4 percent jump, adding 38 more than the year before.

Don Black, a 55-year-old former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard claims the number of registered members and readers on his white nationalist Web site surged to unprecedented levels in recent months. On the day after Obama's historic election, more than 2,000 people joined his Web site, a remarkable increase from the approximately 80 new members a day he was getting, Black said. His Web site, which was started in 1995, is one of the oldest and largest hate group sites. The site received so many hits that it crashed after election results were announced. The site boasts 110,000 registered members today, Black said. "People who had been a little more complacent and kind of upset became more motivated to do something," said Black, who also said he joined his first hate group at age 15.


Hate groups cited by the law center include white nationalists as well as neo-Confederates, neo-Nazis, skinheads, Klansman and black separatists. Skinheads and Klansman saw an increase in membership, while neo-Nazi groups saw a slight decline, according to the law center's report.

Most of the hate groups are located in the South, but the state with the highest number of documented hate groups is California with 84.

Obama serves as a "visual aid" that is helping respark a sense of purpose in current supporters and lure new members, said neo-Nazi David Duke, the former Klan leader who was elected to the Louisiana House of Representatives in the 1980s. Duke said he fears "the white European-American" heritage will soon be destroyed. He added that his Web site sees around 40,000 unique visitors a day, up from 15,000 a day before Obama won the election.

Racist anger toward Obama was evident even before he became president. Two weeks before Obama won, authorities said they foiled a skinhead plot to assassinate him. The two suspects, based in Tennessee, also apparently planned to shoot and decapitate dozens of African-Americans, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said.

White supremacist groups have gained traction, a reversal from the decline the groups experienced since 2000, according to the law center report. One of the smaller Ku Klux Klan groups, the United Northern and Southern Knights, more than doubled its chapters, widening its geographic reach from eight to 24 states, according to the report.

The image of a black man in the White House angers white racists, who fear nonwhites gaining too much power, said Jack Glaser, associate professor of public policy at the University of California-Berkeley.

But racist fears can also be more mundane and personal: Nonwhites in the White House could lead to nonwhites in their neighborhoods, which could lead to interracial dating, a great taboo among hate groups.

"Obama poses a large cultural threat to white racists," Glaser said. "This may explain some of the uptick in hate groups."

Immigrants are another target of hate groups, according to the report. In a deteriorating economy, illegal immigrants have been blamed by hate groups for allegedly taking subprime loans, according to the report.

Scapegoating occurs most often in times of economic distress, according to experts studying hate crimes. From the Holocaust in Europe to abuses against Irish Catholic immigrants in the 1830s in the United States, people are most likely to lash out against others when they feel vulnerable or need to displace their economic frustrations on others, psychologists say.

In the city of Detroit, Michigan, where the weak economy has taken a particularly devastating toll, Jeff Schoep serves as the commander for the National Socialist Movement, one of the largest neo-Nazi groups in the United States.

Schoep said he has seen membership grow by 40 percent in recent months, mostly because of the dire economic circumstances. It is the "most dramatic growth" he has seen since he joined the movement in the mid-1990s. The group does not reveal membership numbers to the media, he said.

"You have an American work force facing massive unemployment," Schoep said. "And you have presidents and politicians flinging open the borders telling them to take the few jobs left while our men are in soup kitchens."

Experts studying hate crimes say there is no reliable way to link the growing number of hate groups with an increase in hate crimes, since many of the attacks go unreported.

The FBI's uniform crime report found 7,163 hate crime incidents in 2005. However, a special report by the government that same year said the number could be 10 times higher because many of the crimes aren't reported.

The most recent FBI statistics in 2007 saw a slight uptick in hate crimes to 7,624.

Some hate groups such as the National Socialist Movement do not publicly condone violence or terrorist acts."Violence is absolutely counterproductive," said Duke, the former Louisiana legislator and neo-Nazi.

But experts say there is a link between joining a hate group and committing violent crimes. Recently in New Orleans, Louisiana, a grand jury indicted four people in the alleged shooting of a woman who tried to leave a Ku Klux Klan initiation, the Southern Poverty Law Center reported.

More commonly, members of hate groups engage in vandalism such as an incident in Los Angeles, California, this month where vandals slashed tires and sprayed the word "Nazi" on two cars and a house, according to the center. The attack occurred in a neighborhood with signs displaying support for Obama.

Dr. Alvin F. Poussaint, a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School who studied the issue of hate crimes, said people in hate groups can feel paranoid about a specific group of people. This panic leads them to feel threatened, and they may react with violence, he said. "Their thinking is very distorted," Poussaint said.

As posted by Arun alias Axee on

How times have changed! Black dog is not thrown out of the field!

South Africa: Circa 1893. Scene: Railway platform Pietermaritzburg railway station.

A train is halted unceremoniously, by the then white majority. A two legged Indian, “black dog” all suited and booted like an Englishman, was unceremoniously thrown out, onto the platform as he was travelling in the first class.

Travelling on business, from Durban to Johannesburg, as an educated, qualified lawyer, who was then, the first so-called “coloured” lawyer admitted to the Supreme Court, he was travelling with a valid ticket.

There he was lying, on the platform. A human being, with his pride hurt to the hilt. Prejudice towards his skin colour had showed him this day. He resolved here, that he would put an end to this evil. He did so, through sheer grit and determination, in times to come.

South Africa: April 18, 2009. Scene: Day one of the inaugural Match of IPL: Mumbai Indians versus Chennai Kings.

The match begun, Sachin Tendukar, an Indian cricketer who is recognized and respected by the world as an all time great player, is in full form and flow and in command of the situation.
Runs are flowing from his bat, despite his age.

Suddenly, the game gets held up; as a four legged “Black Dog” enters the field and holds up the play, for a good 10 minutes! A game that is being aired all over the globe, with millions of viewers glued to their TV sets, comes to a grinding halt!


The world sees a real four legged “Black Dog” holding up the proceedings. Efforts are underway quickly to get rid of the “Black Dog”! Committees designed by organizers for such exigencies, get into the act! The dog is neither lassoed nor is it thrown out! All efforts fail. Patience is not lost. TV Cameras continue to record and report.

Finally, the “four legged black dog” is respectfully removed from the scene by a white Lady, using the lure of a cookie. Not a hair of that genuine “Black Dog” was ruffled in the bargain. It was lovingly and caringly, removed, by a white human being, in a dignified manner. The commentator too ironically remarked, ‘removed through the VIP stands’ exit!’

Wow! What a change! All of us as humans, witnessed and enjoyed that change as it happened. In these past 100 plus years change has indeed, happened. Happened for the good: to the whole world. Apartheid has melted away completely.

The respect that the dog commanded, made my mind rush back to the events, in 1893 on the platform of Pietermaritzburg railway station. A comparative of life then, and life now!

Come to think of it, the commentator himself used the word “lassie” and never uttered the words “dog” or a “black dog.” The dog in question, indeed, had its day! A field day, on a billion dollar field. It never bought a ticket for this field day, and it was not thrown out!

We need understanding

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged the world to rally against the threat that intolerance could rise as a result of the economic crisis, saying “the time is now” to stamp out racism. On opening the conference in Geneva, Ban said that racism including anti-Semitism and Islamophobia need to be tackled. He went on to say, “There comes a time to reaffirm our faith in fundamental human rights and the dignity and worth of us all.”

The above shows that there is a crying need for Global Understanding. As Ban said, now is the time. Let us try to live together in harmony, is the motto of the Global Understanding Institute (GUI). The Global Understanding movement was formed in 2006 and launched on Valentine's Day of that year (14 February 2006).

It was formed by a group of like-minded individuals who wish to see a peaceful world, where children can be brought up in a safe and clean environment. Where children learn the difference between right and wrong; between hate and love; war and peace; moral and immoral behaviour; honesty and dishonest intentions; legal and illegal actions; ethical and unethical activities.

We seek to share understanding of the world around us through provision of global and local forums to exchange and express views for all interested and concerned citizens of the world. We owe it to each other to communicate in a polite, logical and rational manner that takes into consideration racial, religious and political sensitivities.

We seek to foster multicultural, pluralistic communities and to create peace between neighbors. This is based on the fundamental principles of human and humanitarian rights. Our goal is to aid any interested and concerned citizen of the world to understand others, to be understood themselves especially during times of crisis or conflict, and to bring peace and reconciliation where there are differences.

GUI is now on Twitter ( where you can catch up on the real-time updates. If you would like to play a role in promoting global understanding, please contact Peter Corless at 650-906-3134 (mobile); or by email at You can also find Peter on Facebook and on LinkedIn: