Google Offers a Bird’s-Eye View, And Some Governments Tremble – The New York Times

The democraticization of information:

When Google introduced Google Earth, free software that marries satellite and aerial images with mapping capabilities, the company emphasized its usefulness as a teaching and navigation tool, while advertising the pure entertainment value of high-resolution flyover images of the Eiffel Tower, Big Ben and the pyramids.

But since its debut last summer, Google Earth has received attention of an unexpected sort. Officials of several nations have expressed alarm over its detailed display of government buildings, military installations and other important sites within their borders.

India, whose laws sharply restrict satellite and aerial photography, has been particularly outspoken. ”It could severely compromise a country’s security,” V. S. Ramamurthy, secretary in India’s federal Department of Science and Technology, said of Google Earth. And India’s surveyor general, Maj. Gen. M. Gopal Rao, said, ”They ought to have asked us.”

Similar sentiments have surfaced in news reports from other countries. South Korean officials have said they fear that Google Earth lays bare details of military installations. Thai security officials said they intended to ask Google to block images of vulnerable government buildings. And Lt. Gen. Leonid Sazhin, an analyst for the Federal Security Service, the Russian security agency that succeeded the K.G.B., was quoted by Itar-Tass as saying: ”Terrorists don’t need to reconnoiter their target. Now an American company is working for them.”

But there is little they can do, it seems, but protest.

Link to article…

MTC Report – Socio-Economic Impact of Mobile Phones in the Arab World

Commercially produced report looking at the socio-economic impact of cellular technology in the Middle East and Maghreb.

Usage of mobile phones has dramatically increased in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region over the past five years with over 75 million subscribers now using the services offered by 38 mobile operators in 18 countries. With a 2005 penetration rate standing at nearly 25% – compared to 15% in 2003 – mobile phones have become a big driver for economic development and job creation, especially for a region where unemployment rates reach a staggering 15% on average. As an example, for every job created in the mobile sector in Egypt, up to eight other jobs are created in different sectors of the economy – a potential to contribute to one-quarter of all job creation efforts of the Egyptian government.

Link to article…

Deploying Low-Energy ICT – A technical overview

Demonstration of building a low-energy computer lab.

Dot-EDU recently set up a teacher training computer center in rural Uganda, and a brief article appeared in the December DOT-COMments, Low-energy Internet for Education – Where Electricity is a Challenge. Many people contacted the deployment team for more information on the specific technology that we used, and we thought it might be helpful to share some ways in which this effort could be repeated–a sort of technical overview.

For those who did not see the article, dot-EDU is attempting to solve a common problem for rural technology labs. The quality of electricity in these outlying areas can be poor (frequent power cuts, brownouts, surges), and standard equipment does not survive well. Even ordinary uninterruptible power supplies (UPSs) wear out quickly. Of course there is the further problem that the lab often remains unusable during the day when power cuts happen.

Link to article…

Down to the Wire – Thomas Bleha

An excellent article by Thomas Bleha on ICT in the United States. The state of our internet and telecommunications infrastructure is a complete and utter joke. We are supposed to be happy and greatful for our 3mb service (in reality 2.6mb at best)? And that’s just for download (in good areas and with good ISPs and telecommunications’ "spokes") with a marked decrease in upload (no wonder my outbox seems to hang).

Before Bleha’s article came out, I was talking to the local phone repairman who was working on the wires in my house about the sporadic internet outages I was experiencing. He said a few years ago he and the rest of the repair(wo)men were being trained on fiber optics that were just about to be laid but then the buyout happened and those plans were shelved. Nearly a decade after that buyout and fiber that was about to be laid still isn’t.

In the first three years of the Bush administration, the United States dropped from 4th to 13th place in global rankings of broadband Internet usage. Today, most U.S. homes can access only "basic" broadband, among the slowest, most expensive, and least reliable in the developed world, and the United States has fallen even further behind in mobile-phone-based Internet access. The lag is arguably the result of the Bush administration’s failure to make a priority of developing these networks. In fact, the United States is the only industrialized state without an explicit national policy for promoting broadband. Things changed when the Bush administration took over in 2001 and set new priorities for the country: tax cuts, missile defense, and, months later, the war on terrorism. In the administration’s first three years, President George W. Bush mentioned broadband just twice and only in passing. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) showed little interest in opening home telephone lines to outside competitors to drive down broadband prices and increase demand.

Link to article…

Which Broadband Nation? – Response to Bleha

A response to Bleha’s Down to the Wire by Philip J. Weiser, along with a rebuttal by Bleha. Abstract:

Like monetary policy and antitrust regulation, telecommunications policy is a major driver of economic growth rarely debated in public. During the last presidential campaign, for example, issues related to the United States’ technological leadership were either marginalized or ignored altogether. By highlighting the importance of this overlooked topic, Thomas Bleha ("Down to the Wire," May/June 2005) performs an important public service. Unfortunately, in criticizing Washington’s approach to the issue, he misidentifies the challenge and offers a problematic solution.The essence of Bleha’s argument is that under President George W. Bush, the United States dropped "the Internet leadership baton," allowing Japan to "pick it up" and guide broadband innovation.

Link to article…

PRC FM Visits Africa to Discuss Exploitation of Resources

"States have no friends, only interests"… Chinese checkbook diplomacy in action by Jeune Afrique-L’Intelligent, 2 February 2006:

Chinese Foreign Minister LI Zhaoxing’s African tour from 11 to 19 January has once again brought to light the striking evidence. It was a tour skillfully prepared by respecting the continent’s geographical balances, without eever forgetting the Celestial Empire’s interests (Cape Verde, Senegal, Mali, Liberia, Nigeria, and Libya).

"We are ready to work with African nations … to reinforce cooperation in various fields, namely that of energy exploration," said the head of the diplomacy. This has the merit of clarity.

Boosted by a two-digit growth rate for over a decade now, the Chinese economy is stricken by an unquenchable thirst for cotton, timber, cocoa, steel, aluminum phosphate, iron, manganese, and especially oil.

In Praia, Beijing tried to reinforce its ties with the axis of Portuguese-speaking countries led by Portugal, Brazil, and also Angola.

In return for $2 billion devoted to the financing of infrastructures in hydrocarbons, China has become the second purchaser of Angolan crude oil behind the United States.

The Chinese group SINOPEC has obtained a new exploration license, while trade relations between the two countries have more than doubled since 2003….

Senegalese cotton growers, given a rough time by US subsidies, may derive profits from the Chinese textiles. Meanwhile, low-cost shoes and household appliances and cheap toys are a big hit in the Senegalese capital.

"That competition is unfair," protested Mamadou Lamine Niang, the chairman of the Dakar Chamber of Commerce, Industry, and Agriculture.

In Mali, there is also cotton, but above all, a huge potential in terms of infrastructure. For the time being, Bamako has to content itself with a grant of $3.6 million.

Li Zhaoxing then went to Monrovia to attend the swearing-in ceremony of new President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. After 14 years of war, Liberia has to reconstruct itself, thus offering many opportunities, namely in construction and public works.

"In that sector, the Europeans can no longer resist," acknowledged Anthony Bouthelier, chairman of the French Council of Investors in Africa, "insomuch as we are not on an equal footing," alluding to the job seekers coming straight from china, hidden in shacks behind the sites.

In Nigeria and Libya, Beijing is simply disrupting the deal. As the top-ranked oil producer in Africa, in early January Nigeria made the most important private transaction on the continent (see issue No. 2349) with the company China National Offshore Oil Corp. (CNOOC), which invested $2.3 billion to obtain an oilfield in the Niger Delta….

The message was heard in Tripoli, which, for the time being, has dealt primarily with the Americans.

Africa now represents one fourth of Chinese oil supplies. All sectors included, the value of trade went up from $10 billion in 2000 to about $40 billion in 2005.

Beijing intends to raise that figure to $100 billion within five years.

Link to article…

Nigerian Authorities Accuse Kano of Using ‘Foreign’ Help to train ‘Jihadists’

The fun-loving Kano state in Nigeria continues to amaze. From AFP 9 February 2006:

Nigeria’s federal government accused a northern state on Thursday of collaborating with foreign powers to train 100 Muslim militants in intelligence gathering and the "practice of jihad".

Continue reading “Nigerian Authorities Accuse Kano of Using ‘Foreign’ Help to train ‘Jihadists’

Korea, Nigeria to Cooperate on Energy

More asians coming to the Nigerian table and offering money and cultural and education exchange (i.e. public diplomacy) to boot.

President Roh Moo-hyun and Nigerian President Olusegun ObasanjoThursday agreed to increase substantial economic cooperation between the two
countries, especially in the field of energy and resources.

The two leaders
also decided during their summit to closely cooperate in the
information-technology (IT) sector.

accompanying Roh on his visit to three African countries said South Korea will
provide Nigeria with $200,000 worth of equipment and supplies to help prevent
avian influenza.

Roh unveiled a package of aid programs in which South Korea
will triple its financial assistance to the continent over the next three

Meeting over lunch with business leaders from Nigeria and South Korea
at a hotel here, Roh said that Seoul will triple its Official Development
Assistance bound for Africa by to some $10 billion by 2008.

He added the
increased financial assistance would be used largely to support Africa’s human
resources development, and improve health.

In order to share its experience
of economic development, the government will host some 1,000 Africans in the
coming three years to share know-how acquired in the course of economic

"We will also try to devise innovative measures to secure
financial resources to help Africa," Roh told the businessmen, reminding them of
an airline tax proposed by French President Jacque Chirac to bankroll programs
to fight poverty and disease.

Chirac has recently urged the international
community to adopt an airline tax to raise financial resources to help Africa.
Speaking at a two-day meeting in Paris last month, he said France planned to
begin imposing the airline tax in July.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade
officials traveling with Roh, said the government plans to launch a forum
between South Korea and Africa later this year.

Link to article…

Chinese Energy Giant to Buy Stake in Nigerian Oil Field – The New York Times

Chinese expansion in Nigeria:

Cnooc, the giant state-owned Chinese energy company, said Monday that it would pay nearly $2.3 billion in cash to acquire a large stake in a Nigerian oil and gas field, one of the biggest overseas acquisitions by a Chinese company.

With the deal, Cnooc would acquire almost half of an oil field in the Niger Delta, one of the world’s largest oil and gas basins. The field is believed to hold more than one billion barrels of oil and is operated by the French oil company Total, which also has a large interest in the project. Cnooc has also committed itself to spending $2.25 billion over the next few years to help develop the field.

Link to article…

ITU Strategy and Policy Unit Newslog – Measuring Broadband’s Economic Impact

A study by the International Telecommunications Union on the impact of broadband connectivity on economies.

Does broadband matter to the economy? Numerous studies have focused on whether there is a digital divide, on regulatory impacts and investment incentives, and on the factors influencing where broadband is available. However, given how recently broadband has been adopted, little empirical research has investigated its economic impact. This paper presents estimates of the effect of broadband on a number of indicators of economic activity, including employment, wages, and industry mix, using a cross-sectional panel data set of communities (by zip code) across the United States.

Link to article…

NPR Interview with General Peter Pace

Briefly, General Peter Pace was interviewed on NPR (direct RealAudio link). The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (or "a platoon commander currently stationed at the Pentagon") says he meets with Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld 30min to 3 hours each day. Steve Inskeep should have asked whether the conversations with and listening by Rumsfeld was as significant in the past as Gen Pace says it is now.

Also briefly, additional comments not broadcast on the radio are available here from NPR in which Gen Pace talks about the stand up of Iraqi forces. His pragmatic analysis of the limits of Iraqi security is good and shows the expansion of DoD into the realm of inter-state relations previously managed by State. The "good governance" questions Gen Pace discusses at the end of this interview should be, at the least, synchronized and pushed by the State Department.

Off Topic: Visually Impaired Triathletes

An off topic post but one worth sharing. Until not too long ago, I was a triathlon / marathon / cycling / swimming coach and among those I helped succeed in their athletic endeavors was a triathlon team of athletes with visual impairments. The few that I coached each had different causes of blindness: one was born without sight, two with macular degeneration (loss of central vision often leading to complete blindness), another with the opposite of macular degeneration (the name escapes me but the loss of peripheral and night vision more frequently leading to complete blindness), and another, a former USN sailor lost his vision when his step-mother killed his father, shot him in the head trying to kill him and then killed herself. There were a few others I provided guidance for, but this was the core group.

The group did a variety of triathlons ranging from the sprint distance Malibu Triathlon (0.5 mi swim, 18mi bike, 4mi run), Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon (1.5mi swim, 18mi bike, 8mi run), and Wildflower Olympic Triathlon (1500m swim, 40k bike, 10k run). (I guided the fastest of the group through those races… we were averaging 6min/miles for the faster run portions… that kid is fast.) Their goal, documented in the upcoming documentary "Victory Over Darkness", was to complete an Ironman Triathlon (2.4mi swim, 112mi bike, 26.2mi run). They did this at Coer d’Alene (Ironman Idaho). This teaser should give you an idea of the upcoming movie.

I don’t know when it’ll be released. Up to date info should be available here.

If ever thought getting out for a run, swim, or bike was just too tough, consider doing it with severe or complete visual impairment…

“Army of Two”

Making a play on the US Army’s recruiting campaign of an "Army of One" (which is essentially based on the idea of acquiring skills for post-Army life versus an institution of commitment to the few and the proud… why are the Army recruiting numbers down again?), EA (ERTS) helps bring private security operatives into the mainstream. From an EA press release:

Army of Two™ will throw gamers into hot spots ripped from current day headlines where they will utilize unique TWO man strategies and tactics while seamlessly transitioning between playing with intelligent Partner AI (PAI) and a live player. When one man is not enough, it will take an army of two to fight through war, political turmoil and a conspiracy so vast it threatens the entire world.

Alain Tascan, VP and General Manager of EA Montreal has been serving as Executive Producer on the title. Tascan comments, "Army of Two is a first for EA in many ways. This is the first EA studio to be built entirely from the ground-up. This is EA’s first original title for the next-gen systems. Army of Two is the first game to put players inside tactical warfare involving Private Military Corporations."

Linking two players, live or AI, via audio & text commands to keep the world safe should be compelling. The rise of the private warrior sector, an extension of the military-industrial complex President Eisenhower famously warned against in his outgoing speech may just a get a boost here.

While the US Army has its own very popular video game, America’s Army, and GI Joe action figures, the private sector is catching up with commercial games and its own action figures.

Marine life, up close

This is a bit off topic, but as one who enjoys the outdoors, note again this blog’s name, I know it is possible to get too close to nature and for nature to get too close to you. Fast-packing through various bear areas, with and without my dogs, one needs to be aware. Trail running in our local mountains has brought my dog and I up close to our local cougar a couple of times (we apparently only have one mountain lion now, he killed his mate and possibly all four of his cubs… not good for future breeding), as well as close (and friendly/neutral) encounters with coyote (near the end of a solo 20 mile run, on a misty hill top, I came across a coyote I’m sure I’ve seen many times; he gave me the right of way on the single track, trotting off to the side without any sign of being threatened by me). Anyways, with that in mind, there this video about nature getting to close to us…

Nigeria: $10 Million to Fertilize African Farms

Briefly from the New York Times comes an appropriate use of oil money in Africa:

More than 40 African nations met in Nigeria and agreed to lift all cross-border taxes and tariffs on fertilizers needed to replenish the continent’s severely degraded soils. Nigeria’s president, Olusegun Obasanjo, committed $10 million to a fund to finance wider use of fertilizers. Three-quarters of Africa’s farmland is severely depleted of basic nutrients needed to grow crops.

Embassy’s are representative of the state. So what does the new American Embassy in Baghdad say?

A couple of months ago I wrote about the fortress we (the US) are building in Baghdad. Besides being prime real estate along the Tigris, it is a massive and imposing facility with walls designed to "2.5 times the standard" thickness and "no-go" areas for enhanced security, the Embassy is substantial. While the GAO reports on staffing limits by various federal agencies as a result of sharing the burden of construction in some 150 Embassies around the world, the Baghdad Embassy will likely not suffer the same.

Funding for this project has not been a problem. According to an April 2005 CRS report (and previous March report),

A week after submitting his FY2006 budget to Congress, the President sent Congress an FY2005 emergency supplemental funding request. Included in the supplemental is more than $1.3 billion for the embassy in Iraq: $690 million for logistical and security costs for the embassy in Baghdad and $658 million for construction of the new embassy compound there. Included in the latter are the costs of housing, a power plant, enhanced security, and expedited (24-month) construction.

While Baghdad, among other Iraqi cities, suffers from electricity shortages and water supply issues, the Embassy will not. The fact this is one of the few massive capital projects in the country that is on time and secured by Marines, not private security, has been noticed around the world, notably in Iraq itself. From the ArabNews, US Building Massive 104-Acre Embassy in Baghdad (28 April 2006):

Three years after a US-led invasion ousted Saddam Hussein’s regime, only one major US building project in Iraq is on schedule and within budget: the massive new American Embassy compound…

The high-tech compound will have 21 buildings reinforced to 2.5 times usual standards. Some walls as said to be 15 feet thick or more. Scheduled for completion by June 2007, the installation is touted as not only the largest, but the most secure diplomatic embassy in the world.

…being built inside the heavily fortified Green Zone by 900 non-Iraqi foreign workers who are housed nearby and under the supervision of a Kuwaiti contractor…

…Work for the embassy was quietly awarded last summer to a controversial Kuwait-based construction firm, First Kuwaiti General Trading & Contracting (FKTC).

FKTC has been accused of exploiting employees and coercing low-paid laborers to work in Iraq.

Several of the US contractors competing for the Baghdad embassy project said they were amazed at the US State Department’s decision to award the contract to FKTC.

They say that some competing contractors possessed far stronger experience in such work and that at least one award-winning company offered to perform the all but the most classified work for $60 million to $70 million less than FKTC.

Several other contractors believe that a high-level decision at the State Department was made to favor a Kuwait-based firm in appreciation for Kuwait’s support of the invasion and occupation of Iraq.

“It was political,” said one contractor.

My previous post on this noted some of the issues with the foreign workers and their conditions, notably the image of the US as an employer (why not employ locals? why house them in cramped conditions? why sweatshop-like conditions?) and as a provider. The political process and corrupt processes, which are now being investigated in Iraq, have clearly hurt our image and damaged our credibility.

While the American media talks about the problems with Custer Battles, KBR, and others who provided poor equipment, bad water, and shody services, the reality of the situation is the failure to create a livable environment. All the while, a project for the US goes humming along. A project that further insulates our outpost in comfort and away from the realities of the territory, nee country or state, in which it is placed.

How not to conduct Cultural Warfare

As an intentional or unintentional tool to reach out and communicate with people, online videos have tremendous power. Websites such as YouTube and GoogleVideo allow the rapid and uncontrolled proliferation of content, regardless of language or intent. From the recent slam on the Bush Administration by a rural 15-year-old girl in Alabama to a video by an active duty Marine seemingly, even if not intentionally, mocking the Haditha killings.

Unlike other military videos commented on here, such as the Norwegian video mocking the politics behind Kosovo mission or the Brits having fun in Iraq, this new video demonstrates a severe and damaging insensitivity to the mission (Download hadji-girl.wmv).

The Marine who made the video says it was a joke and a search for the video’s title, Hadji Girl, primarily turns up blogs with little to no understanding of the implications of such a message. The reality is perceptions matter and this video plays into a popular mental framework of America. The concept of Cultural Warfare, a somewhat new term, is completely wacked by a video like this.

Question: is it best to ignore this video or to quickly refute it to the public (not the American public)?

ICT-enabled politics

The New York Times editorial page will create a huge wave of viewing of a video created by a 15 year old criticizing the Bush Administration. ICT democratizes the power of information, enabling a teenager from rural Alabama to get into the New York Times, be heard around the world, and labeled a "New Campaign Media Guru".

The ability of housewives, kids, and geographically dispersed and isolated persons to mine for and assemble stories of misdeeds, corruption, or just bad decisions is enabled by information communication technology. As modern-day pamphleteering that our Founding Fathers were so fond of, we need to continue to explore this and push growth in information and communication technology in Africa and elsewhere. Information gets transformed into knowledge leading to pressures to increase quality of life across all segments of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Isn’t that a good thing?