June 23, 2007

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On the move

June 15, 2007

Dear reader,

Tinyplanet has packed its bags and its moving to a new domain. Come and visit at

The power of pork

June 12, 2007

Soaring pork prices are fueling Chinese inflation.

The cost is up 40% in the last year (while meat prices generally are up 26.5%), largely because of a blue-ear disease epidemic which has seen at least 18,000 pigs slaughtered. With pork a staple of the Chinese diet, and farmers no longer rearing the animals for fear of the illness, the shortages are having a knock-on effect.

Food prices in general are up about 8.3%, although consumer prices as a whole rose 3.4% in May. The government’s target is 3%, and so another interest rate hike is on the cards as the authorities try to cool an 11% annual economic growth rate.

And Reuters/Financial Times make an interesting observation:

Savers earn 3.06 percent on 12-month certificates of deposit, meaning that after a 20 percent tax is deducted, the value of their money is failing to keep pace with inflation.

This has encouraged millions of Chinese to cash in their deposits and punt on the stock market, which jangled government nerves by falling sharply last month after almost quadrupling in 2 years.

Communist in name only.

Inflation is a tricky bugger to quantify as different countries use different products in their calculations. For instance, Ireland is the only country that I know of in Europe which includes mortgage payments in its figures. This means the Irish inflation rate is above 5%, whereas if mortgage payments were stripped out it would be closer to 2.7% (the eurozone target is just under 2%).

Nonetheless, headline figures spook investors and jittery investors can instigate sell-offs that wipe billions off a stock market in just a few hours. It seems that, as with so much in life, confidence is everything.

Big Brother is watching…

June 11, 2007

The local government in Terengganu state, Malaysia, recently installed 16 CCTV cameras in a bid to improve security. However, they have a secondary use: spying on employees.

Surprisingly, state secretary Mokhtar Nong confirmed this to a local newspaper, saying the system would keep tabs on the 1,000 or so workers in the government’s administrative complex.

“We would know if they are adhering to office etiquette or playing truant, and we can also gauge if they are disciplined at work,” said Mokhtar, who will have access to the tapes.

There are plans to set up another 26 cameras in the near future.

What made me laugh about the story were the following passages, as scribed by Associated Press:

Officials and workers interviewed by the newspaper praised the measure.

State Communications Unit deputy director Ruslan Abdul Rahman was quoted as saying the decision was “a brilliant idea,” stressing that workers should “accept the move in a positive manner as this will actually encourage them to excel further.”

Abdul Mubin Ismail, who works in the youth and sports department, told The Star that the move was “not to pinpoint our errors but to mold us into becoming more responsible.” He added that the surveillance could also curb office politics and sexual harassment.

I wonder if these individuals are angling for promotion?

It’s all kicking off (follow-up)

June 9, 2007

Iraq has made a formal complaint over the Turkish bombardment of the Kurdish north.

The Turks have been shelling villages in Dohuk province and the city of Arbil, although the Turkish media reports the areas being targetted have largely been abandoned to Kurdish fighters.

In my last post on this topic, I noted how a cross-border incursion could have unpredictable and destabilising effects. It seems the Iraqi foreign ministry has come to the same conclusion. It has told the Turks that the artillery fire could “destabilise the region and could erode confidence between the two countries”.

The AP article linked to at the top of this post says the US has “opposed any unilateral action by Turkey for fear it would jeopardise the relative tranquility of northern Iraq”. However, I can not recall reading any such statement; at least not in recent times.

I am not an expert on this conflict, but I feel it has potentially widespread ramifications.

The Turks, in their eyes, have a legitimate security concern. The conflict with the Kurdish PKK has lead to tens of thousands of deaths over the last two decades. Turkey claims Iraqi Kurds are harbouring militants, who then slip over the frontier to launch attacks.

The Kurds also have legitimate grievances, such as cultural and political suppression. And we must always remain aware that the PKK is considered a terrorist group not just by Turkey, but by the US, NATO and EU. Their actions have caused the deaths and suffering of a great many civilians. They have been accused of grave human rights abuses.

Turkey fears an economically sound Kurdish region in Iraq — a territory that while not being independent outright would still possess great oil wealth — will lead to a major push among Turkish Kurds for union with their southern neighbours.

One might think that the Turks would welcome the departure of what it considers a restive ethnic group. However, the Kurds represent about 20% of the Turkish population and dwell in a broad swathe of territory in the nation’s southeast:

(from Wikipedia)

This is not a homogenous region. Many Turks live within what is generally referred to as Kurdistan (as do Arabs, Iranians, Armenians and many other groups). So the removal of this region from the political entity of Turkey would remove a great many Turks as well.

This would certainly be an economic blow. While there would be an accompanying reduction in spending on infrastructure, education, healthcare and the like, the sudden disappearance of 20 million people from the tax base would leave a major whole in government coffers.

But there are other factors, such as pride.

The Turkish government would not want to be seen as having abandoned many of its citizens to a new state (although there would always be the possibility of a population transfer, as was the case in India and Pakistan after their independence). Seldom are nations eager to give up national territory; historically human and state political ambition has always been more, more, more.

Security would be a further concern. Turkey would suddenly have a substantial, perhaps hostile nation on its southern and eastern borders. And Turkey does not formally recognise a Kurdish region within its state; this fluid situation would lead to further infighting over what would and would not be part of Kurdistan. It is possible that the Turks would view an independent Kurdish nation as a base for Kurdish rebels seeking to unify with Kurds still within Turkey.

There are solutions. A UN boundary commission is one, domestic referenda on a district-by-district basis is another. There are undoubtedly more which aren’t springing to mind right now.

It’s all kicking off

June 6, 2007

Turkish troops have entered Iraq in a move that can not be good for anyone.

No Turkish official is willing to put their name to the story confirming the operation, while the Foreign Minister has openly denied anything happened. But as Selcan Hacaoglu of the Associated Press notes, the nation’s authorities rarely acknowledge such activity.

Estimates of the number of troops ranges from thousands to several hundred — initial speculation put the figure at 50,000, which was the case in 1997 — but what runs consistent is that the military is pursuing Kurdish fighters.

It may only have been a couple of miles across the frontier, but it is troubling.

The military has for some time been pushing for a large-scale incursion to tackle the Kurdish separatists, the PKK, which Turkey considers terrorists. The Turkish army has been massing along the border in preparation; last week the country’s top general, Yasar Buyukanit, said his forces were awaiting government permission to cross into Iraq.

Turkey’s alliance with the US will grant it some degree of protection should it decide to step up its campaign against the PKK, which launches attacks from bases in Iraq. However, a full-scale incursion can only add to Iraq’s instability.

The introduction of this hostile actor in such a volatile stage will have unpredictable and uncontrollable results. The Kurds — who dwell in a stretch of territory that includes south-eastern Turkey and northern Iraq — will be squeezed into a corner. The Iraqi government will be in an intolerable position: if it allows a Turkish incursion its claim to govern its national territory will be null and void, while if it resists it faces provoking a conflict with its neighbour.

I am struck by the absence of international condemnation.

Imagine the outcry if the US was pushing for a military operation inside Canada, or China in Japan, or Britain in Ireland.

Big cats to bow out

June 3, 2007

The game may be up for wild tigers.

According to a report in the June issue of BioScience, the animals now occupy only 7% of their traditional territories, with the areas known to be occupied by the big cats down 41% in the past 10 years. The felines once roamed from the Caspian Sea to Indonesia.

The study, compiled by 16 co-authors including Dr Eric Dinerstein of the World Wildlife Fund, says: “While the tiger as a wile species will most likely not go extinct with the next half-century, its current trajectory is catastrophic. If this trend continues, the current range will shrink even further, and wile populations will disappear from many more places, or dwindle to the point of ecological extinction.”

There are about 5,000 tigers — all of which require a lot of territory — left in the wild, their numbers having been hit by the trade in body parts for medicine as well as humans moving into the animals’ habitat.

The report recommends the establishment of large conservation areas linked by wildlife corridors, as is the case in north-west India and southern Nepal.


Fast fact: in 2004, the tiger was voted the world’s favourite animal in a poll for the Animal Planet television channel. It beat the dog into second place.