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Bill Clinton’s other job

You know, the one he is actually paid for (well, sort of). After rescuing journalists imprisoned in North Korea, Clinton is back to...talking about turning sawdust into fuel.

Electric power is scarce in rural areas and the cutting of trees to make charcoal has led to deforestation in Haiti.

As an example of projects rife for further investment, Clinton described a recycling program that turns paper and sawdust waste into cooking fuel that sells for one-fifth the cost of charcoal.

Seriously, though. Clinton's role promoting international development and stability in Haiti might even be more difficult that freeing hostages taken by the equally impoverished -- but decidedly less hospitable -- regime in North Korea.

And while there may not be imprisoned journalists in Haiti, there is still some dangerous tension between Haitian protestors and UN peacekeepers, who have done much to calm and rebuild the country, but have  again found themselves in the midst of demonstrations turned violent. If Bill can mediate between a hostile regime and innocent Americans, then surely he can soothe animosities between everyday Haitians and the peacekeepers who, after all, are trying to improve their lives.

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Maasai on video

This is cool:

The Maasai people of Laikipia in Kenya have received digital recording equipment, marking a milestone in a United Nations-backed pilot-project aimed at helping indigenous communities document and preserve their cultural heritage, the UN intellectual property agency announced today.

The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) handed over a digital camera, sound recording equipment and a laptop computer to Chief Kisio and other elders of the Maasai community at a formal ceremony attended by some 200 its members in late July.

The ceremony was a landmark event in the agency’s Creative Heritage Project, which provides indigenous communities with opportunities to digitally preserve expressions of their culture and traditions, as well as training in how to protect their intellectual property from unwanted exploitation.

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(Re)insurers against climate change

If I were to pick a business that would have a strong interest in warding off the catastrophic effects of global warming, I'd probably think insurance companies. So it makes sense that the re-insurance industry -- from what I understand, basically the insurers of the insurers -- has voiced its stake in the matter. More surprising, though, might be its optimism.

Munich Re, the world’s largest reinsurer, is one of the big businesses that have a special interest in the result of the UN climate conference in Copenhagen in December. Right now, Munich Re is fairly optimistic about the result, says Chief Scientist Peter Hoeppe.

"If China, India and the US stand by their commitments, I’m really optimistic," Peter Hoeppe says to the Bloomberg news agency. "The two degree goal includes all the actions that need to be taken."

And if the big emitters don't stand by their commitments...well, let's just say that there's not likely an insurance plan for that scenario.C

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All-female mine clearers

When I read David Axe's blog post about an exclusively female de-mining team in South Sudan, my feminist inclinations were mixed. In the model of the celebrated all-female batch of peacekeepers in Liberia, surely this was a positive step for gender equality. But what if, I darkly wondered, these women were put to de-mining work because they were female? I was keyed onto this suspicion, or some variant of it, by the de-mining program director's statement that women were effective because with them, there were no "problems of fighting or drinking."

My worries were misplaced, it turns out, though. From the perspective of the female de-miners themselves:

"Some say it is dangerous for a woman, but they are jealous because we are doing the same job as the men," said Ms Besta, with a laugh.

"What is dangerous is leaving mines hidden in the ground."

That's certainly true, though why someone would be jealous of what seems like hard and dangerous work is beyond me.  This is the country, though, that has sentenced a woman to forty lashes for the crime of wearing pants trousers, so I suppose I should not be surprised by its illogical sexist attitudes.

(image from flickr user World Bank Photo Collection under a Creative Commons license)

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Bill Clinton chooses diplomacy over nuclear self-destruction

On Bill Clinton's successful diplomatic trip morally repugnant capitulation to North Korea, Spencer Ackerman's satirical take is all you really need to consult:

In an unforeseen turn of events, Bill Clinton strapped himself with nuclear weapons and detonated during a meeting with Kim Jong-il in Pyongyang. The former president's inability to free imprisoned American journalists Euna Lee and Laura Ling ended in carnage, the only diplomatic language the North Koreans understand. Clinton, recognizing that diplomacy was useless, bit his lip sorrowfully and expressed regret that so many had to die in the name of American prestige, according to a suicide note obtained by this blog.


Back in the United States, conservatives expressed relief that Clinton chose an honorable end to his life. "Diplomacy with the North would be the worst of all possible options," said Rep. Guy "Whitey" Corngood (R-Ark.), a longtime Clinton critic. "Bringing those two Americans back without incident would have represented an unacceptable humiliation for this country." Attempts to reach John Bolton, a former undersecretary of state and U.N. ambassador in the Bush administration, were unsuccessful, but associates said Bolton credited Clinton for posthumously vindicating his worldview and that the former diplomat was considering a courtesy call to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to express condolences.

What makes this morbid telling (Bill Clinton did not actually blow himself up, and did successfully negotiate the release of the American journalists) even funnier is that John Bolton could be reached, and, predictably enough, still thought that Clinton's visit did nothing but "reward[] bad behavior" and "legitimize the [North Korean] regime." That, and, well, accomplish the only goal that he had in going over there.

I'm consistently struck by how ironically similar the likes of John Bolton are to Kim Jong Il and North Korea's power-obsessed cadre of leaders. The only ones who think that an insignificant sop to the latter's silly sense of pride amounts to a serious concession by the United States are the North Korean leaders themselves and, well, Boltonites. Only these two groups of dolts take what Bolton calls "gesture politics" as a matter more serious than actual politics and policy -- which, once again, resulted in North Korea releasing two wrongly imprisoned journalists and the United States giving up nothing more than a day of face time with Bubba.

(image from flickr user Creative+ Timothy K Hamilton under a Creative Commons license)

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How much shame can child murderers really have?

Don't get me wrong, I am wholly supportive of this step, mostly because of the consensus required to enact it:

The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously Tuesday to name and shame countries and insurgents groups engaged in conflicts that lead to children being killed, maimed and raped.

The council resolution will expand a U.N. list that in March identified more than 60 governments and armed groups that recruit child soldiers.

But, first, it's already pretty clear which countries or groups are responsible for the deaths and rapes of children, isn't it? Second, naming and shaming alone obviously won't suffice. Anyone who can kill innocent children is likely lacking in the moral compunction department, so "shame" would seem to be out of their range of emotional responses to this crime.

That said, this is an impressive and positive step for the Security Council to take unanimously. The tougher part, of course, will be following the naming and shaming with concrete and effective action.