Putin’s stake in the Arctic (English version)

Recently, one might be able to detect in my posts a certain opposition to Putin. I must, however, note the brilliant coup of posting a flag below the Arctic (by the Mir 1 sub, pictured right) and the implicit proclamation of Russian sovereignty on the area. Taking all by surprise, including the Canadians and their PM Harper, this action shows the audacity of Putin. LCN of Quebec said that “this action, the second of its kind in a few months, aims to support the Russian claims on almost 1,2 million square kilometres of the Arctic which, according to certain estimates, would contain 10 billion tons in gas and oil reservoirs.” It remains funny nevertheless to think that in 2007, one could plant a flag to establish sovereignty, no?

It could be said that, followed by the attack camouflaged on Georgia (missile not exploded of August 7), Putin shows that he is a man with a mission of conquest on several fronts.

Watch it, I again want to say.

Psychiatry is politics… and dollars and cents

I had never been fully exposed to the downside of psychiatry until I visited this week the exposition “Pyschiatrie: la vérité sur ses abus” in Paris at the Hotel Castiglione, 40 rue deFaubourg St Honoré. Sponsored by Citizens’ Commission on Human Rights CCHR* (French ccdh.asso.fr or English cchr.com), this exposition is based on the exhibit at the Los Angeles “Psychiatry, An Industry of Death” Museum (6616 Sunset Blvd).

Featuring a series of 14 films, with alarming statistics about the US and the world, this exposition definitely makes you think twice. (A psych mind game if you want). The presentation style of the films is too Hollywoodian for my taste, drawing on the excesses of Nazi psychiatry and tracing a morbid history of psychiatry as a medical field; but the underlying message is compelling. Whether or not you subscribe to psychiatry as a well founded practice, the exposition deserves a viewing.

Some facts that the films point out:

  • 20 million children worldwide — of which more than 6 million (out of 52 million in school) children in the US, up from 4 million in 1997 — are taking psychiatric drugs

  • More than 100,000 patients die each year in psychiatric institutions.

  • Annually, up to 10,000 people die from the use of electroshock treatment —460 volts of electricity through the brain. Three-quarters of all electroshock victims are women.

  • Psychiatrists and psychologists have raped 250,000 women. Studies show that 10 to 25 percent of psychiatrists sexually assault their patients; of every 20 of these victims one is likely to be a minor.

Between bio-chemical imbalances, bi-polar, ADD, ADHD or depression, psychiatrists have a flotilla of “diseases” which they can attribute to children and adults, and for which they can prescribe medication. I was struck by this modern day statistic: between 1950-1990, there have been more deaths of “patients” in US Federal psychiatric hospitals than of US soldiers in all the wars since the War of Independence (including the Wars of Secession, WWI, WWII, Vietnam and Korea). Needless to say, such a statistic seems completely inflammatory. At the very least, there should be a little more precision on the nature of the deaths (end of life Alzheimer, for example?). I note also that it has been 17 years since that statistic has been updated. Have the rate of deaths declined so much since? Are the statistics no longer available?

Many of statistics are about modern day USA. Of course, the cases of Soviet ‘psychiatric’ treatment are also quite contemporary, as exposed by various dissidents, including Boris Kovhar, Sergei Potylitsyn and Mikhail Kukobaka. Given the recent internment of the journalist Larissa Arap, there is still plenty to be worried about in Russia regarding their psychiatric practices.

Behind the exposition, there are a lot of dollars and cents… including the proposed sale of their own related books and DVDs, etc. But, there is also clearly an industry of psychiatry. Numbers put forward in the films at various stages:

  • $19B of US tax dollars since 1948 have been invested in psychiatric research.
  • US consumption of anti-depression, anti-psychotic drugs have sky rocketed from $9.7B in ’94 to $35B in ’04, with a corresponding hike in insurance payouts and, therefore, premiums. For comparison, in France, 543 million euros were spent in 2001 on psychiatric medication.

With the economics of psychiatry thrown into the equation, the field of psychiatry is more than ever political. US [not just Nazi German, or modern day Russia, China] politics have had ties with psychiatry, including involvement with the creation of the Diagnostic Manual of Mental Troubles (DSM) which was first published in 1952 (see wiki listing). And with a quick trawling of the net, you will find that there are a number of activists out there against psychiatric abuse, (for example).

My overall opinion is that psychiatry continues to have its place as a field of practice. Grave psychiatric disorders exist and obviously need research and treatment. Perhaps, for everyday accompaniment in life, the role of the psychologist is more appropriate than psychiatrist. And, with my interest in literature, psychology is always near at heart. I have long admired the thought experiments that authors such as Turgenev initiated in the 19th century. Literature and psychology are a happier marriage than politics and psychiatry.

The exhibit in Paris closes August 12th.

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* The CCHR is an international psychiatric watchdog group co-founded in 1969 by the Church of Scientology and Dr. Thomas Szasz, Professor of Psychiatry Emeritus, to investigate and expose psychiatric violations of human rights.

Russia’s History Revision

There is surely a lot that can be said about American history books, so right off the cuff, I want to suggest that ‘our’ kitchen may not be clean. However, when you combine Putin’s call for greater patriotism and national pride, the recent psychiatric ‘hospitalization’ of the outspoken journalist Larissa Arap, along with the apparent and accelerating revision of modern day Russian history books, it does not make me breathe easily about Russia. The Figaro’s headlining article, 2 August 2007, entitled “Moscou réhabilite l’ère soviétique” is either an example of European media playing the role of scare monger (to help justify an increase French military budgets?) or is just plain scary. That there are positive things to say about Russia’s role, under Stalin, against the Germans in the WWII, there is no doubt. But, anything suggesting that Stalin himself be rehabilitated is an outrage. The inside article on page 2 refers to the banning of Professor Doloutski’s history books which refer to the liberal politician Iavlinski or worse yet the “shameful war with the Chechnya”. While I can understand the need to be proud, the need for freedom of press and intellectual criticism is vital — a lesson the US must heed as well. It would seem that the liberals and intellectuals in Russia are sending clear warning signals.

The Figaro article suggests that Putin is trying to increase his legitimacy by invoking a positive picture of the USSR Communist era. In light of the many changes happening in geo-politics, Putin’s actions speak of a move away from the West. To what extent the West continues to let Putin act freely will surely have a major influence on the outcome of the Middle Eastern imbroglio.

China: Do you see 2020?: Financial Ascent vs Demographic Descent

Last night, at the MSG (not-in-my-salad) Arena, there was a curious heavyweight boxing match between two Chinamen. One, in the gold shorts, was the China of Optimism (CO). In the other corner, wearing satin red shorts, was the China of Porcelain Doubt (aka PCDo). The bout was about to enter into its 10th round when I curled up and went to sleep. It is probably going to go on for a while further. In fact, the match may just as easily step outside the ring and resound throughout our global arena. In any event, here were some of the highlights of the match.

In the first rounds, CO was all over PCDo. Some ringing hits to the upper body as well as inside on the chin(a):

* In China, as evidence that access to the stock market is truly democratizing, there are on average 200,000 new brokerage accounts opened each day. In 2005, there were just 2 million opened all year.

* In May 2007, the Chinese government plopped down $3B for 10% of the Blackstone Group.

* US trade deficit with China hit $232B in 2006 up from $50B in 1997.

* China will overtake the US in number of Internet users in 2009: “There are now an estimated 137 million Internet users in China, and that number has been growing by 18 percent since 2004 until it picked up even more steam in 2006, going up to 23 percent. The United States has 165 million Internet users, according to Pew, with 25 million of those users being aged 12-17. At the current rate of growth in China, the number of Chinese web surfers will surpass the number of American users some time in 2009, and it will continue to rise sharply afterward. With more than half of Americans already online, China’s growth over the next 10 years will easily dwarf that of the United States.” — Jeremy Reimer . As my friend Mitch reminded me from Singapore yesterday, one of the interesting facets of the Chinese internet boom is the censorship of Beijing and the permeability of the Great Chinese Firewall (see BusinessWeek article).

But, PCDo was not to be outdone, storming back with some profound counterattacks for the remainder of the evening. Even though PCDo is slightly chubby around the midrift, his age and world-famed wisdom pulled its weight.

* There is much to say about the Chinese demographics, notably that the total population will spiral up to a peak of 1.5 billion people by 2030. More important is the composition of that 1.5B population. By 2040, the UN projects that the elderly (60+) share of the population will jump from 12.8% (or 174 million according to a document issued by the China National Committee on Aging in 2006 to 28 percent, a larger elder share than it projects for the United States. By 2040, assuming current demographic trends continue, the Chinese elderly will number nearly 400 million–more than the total current population of France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the United Kingdom combined.** When you compare the span of time and the rate of increase of elderly in China to the West — whose elderly share rose from 10% in the 1930s to an anticipated 25% a hundred years later — one has to assume that such a meteoric change will have rude consequences in the social climate and economic dynamics. Courtesy of FuturePundit.

* Currently, the Chinese Fertility Rate is 1.82 births per woman. In 2001, the average was estimated at 1.98 in rural areas and 1.22 in urban areas. (Hamayoun Kahn study). See right: the People’s Republic of China’s Fertility Rate 1949-1999 as estimated by the US Census Bureau graph.

* The UN projects that the size of China’s working age population, on whose shoulders will be the burden of creating wealth and taking care of the burgeoning elderly class, will peak in 2015. The rate of decline after that point will depend on future fertility rates. If the fertility rate remains constant (an optimistic viewpoint for some), the population of the working-age Chinese will drop a staggering 18% between 2005 and 2050. And, it could be considerably worse than that as well if the fertility rate declines. The risks would point to wage inflation due to a lack of workforce supply.

* Considering the socio-economic pressure, just 25 percent of China’s total workforce, urban and rural, have any pension provision at all.

* Bare Branches offers some statistics on the ratio of boys to girls. “In China, the official ratio is 117 boys born for every 100 girls, but the reality is probably 120 or more. In India, the official birth sex ratio is 111-114 boys per 100 girls, but spot checks show ratios of up to 156 boys per 100 girls in some locales [around New Delhi, for example]. For comparison, normal birth sex ratios are 105-107 boys born per 100 girls.” (Still debated in biologist circles, human beings apparently naturally create more boys than girls.) Courtesy of IHT article published in 2004. The disarming prospect of an overstretched economy, insufficient funding for retirement, fewer children (and fewer still women) to take care of the eldery — China’s main instrument of retirement — as well as the fact that the future wave of elderly will not have reached affluence (unlike today’s baby boomers), is bound to be a very heavy strain.

CO put in some good later rounds, however, reminding us that education is as gold as discipline.

* Higher education is on a fast track in China with 12 percent of senior high school graduates entering universities and colleges for further study in 2001, compared with 3.4 percent in 1990. There are now more than 4 million students at college or university in China, with an estimated half million Chinese students at higher education abroad.

* China provides universal health care. However, clearly, there are substantial cracks in the system, as witnessed by the Avian Flu issue, Hepatitis B (affecting est. 10% of the population), widespread smoking and escalating HIV/AIDS.

* Percentage of Chinese living in poverty has dropped from 73% in 1990 to 32% in 2003.

* China’s economy has averaged over 9% annual growth since 1978.

There it was, the end of the 9th round. Most people were still looking for CO to cruise to victory. The panel of famous international judges, including Hugo Capex, Harold Persons and Sly Dettor
, were wringing their hands and shaking their heads. The arena was a buzz with chat. I know it seems odd, but zzzzzzzhangzu, I started to snore. So, I let you commentate the next rounds as I zzzzzzzzzzinzhua away at night.

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I approached this particular post as if I were a universal (not exactly university) student starting out on a research paper. Aside from the content of this post — on which I freely invite comment — I am fascinated at how different is the process of research in today’s world compared to our traditional methods back when… Where appropriate, I have given a link rather than outright citation of credit. Not exactly scientific, but part of the web 2.0 of dealing with multiple sources. This post is not intended to be a definitive study, but a collection of some miscellaneous facts about China that lead me to be confused about the future, more than make me more entrenched. No doubt there is a silver lining or black cloud behind any number. And the above “match-up” limits itself to internal issues. Jokers in the future will include developments in Korea, Japan, as well as the role China takes on internationally once it has the measure of the world.
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** Richard Jackson and Neil Howe, The Graying of the Middle Kingdom, Report published by Center for Strategic & International Studies, April 2004, p.2.

The Rugby Haka : Sports as dislocated battle ground

As we ramp up for the Rugby World Cup 2007, my first observation is that, perhaps because France will basically be on break for the months of July and August, there does not seem to be much warm up ‘buzz’ here. Cafe banter — French equivalent of water cooler discussions — is not streaming with debate about who will win the RWC and/or how les Bleus will fare. Possibly the two walkovers in June against the New Zealand All Blacks (combined score of 103-21) put a kabosh on French spirit — regardless that the French team was essentially a load of second string players. (As an aside, I laughed when the French coach unloaded on an Australian referee, then wrote an apology letter in French. See article).

Meanwhile, the South African Springboks coach has asked for permission to introduce officially a Zulu-inspired Haka pre-game tribal war dance. Apparently, it’s been in the pipe for several years — although you wouldn’t know it (or believe that it has made a difference) given the dismal recent results of the Springboks against its traditional foe. If you have ever been in the presence of an All Black (all you need is one man) who performs a Maori Haka, you can only be left impressed. A swath of 15 fired up Kiwis on a pitch is another sight altogether. The people I have met who have personally faced that sight on the pitch have, to a man, all professed intimidation.

Between these various Hakas, you definitely get a whiff of the warlike overtone of a rugby match. Much has been said about sports providing a surrogate for man’s innate warrior instinct. What made me write this piece this morning was a comparison between Rugby (aka Rugby Football) and American Football. Aside from the bravado about “no pads” in rugby, I was considering the different attitudes to pre-game warmups. Like all national sports, the national anthem would be a feature — except there is little occasion for the US to field a national American Football team. That said, at the 2007 “American Football World Cup” at which the US, for the first time since its inception in 1999, fielded a team (and yes they won, but only 23-20 in the final against Japan), there was a US team. Anyway, after the national anthem, things diverge in Rugby and American Football (aka Gridiron Football in parts of the world).

In Rugby, at least when you play the All Blacks, the Haka is a must see. It is legendary. Of course, aside from RSA and Tonga, I don’t believe any other national team has such a ritual. But the fact that these three teams have a haka is enough for me. The haka truly sets the tone. In American Football, on the other hand, we have marching bands AND cheerleaders. The marching bands are the closest we will get to “warlike.” And, well the cheerleaders? They are the equivalent of the women at home, keeping the homefires burning and wishing on their men at war?

In the final analysis, sports as a dislocated field of war suits me fine as long as it reduces war (there have been many articles–I site one–written on how cricket has been a great antidote to war). However, that doesn’t exactly seem to be the case these days. At times, sports itself instills warlike behaviour (for example, the rivalry between Turkey’s Galatasaray and Fenerbahçe). And, although we have had a long stretch without a traditional world war, war is on the lips all the time (and more war seems more likely than less war; for example, Turkey and the Kurds).

It might be a little trite, but in the Islam v Western World (including of course Australia, NZ, etc.) conflict, maybe a little sports interest would be valuable. The Iraqi national football (soccer) team makes valiant strides in difficult times. However, I don’t imagine that sports banter is a common feature in Al-Qaeda huddles. Maybe they need some athletic recruits more than MDs for that to happen?

One thing is for sure, as in war, when you like sports, you must announce your colours. Otherwise, you get the less-than-courageous moniker of “neutral.” BTW, I am a Galatasary fan.

Winter Scandalympics 2014 Put In Sochi, Russia

What kind of backwater Put[r]in-ification allowed the Winter Olympics 2014 to be ‘offered’ to the backwoods–not to say backwards–town of Sochi? With a minuscule 7km of slopes, this is truly Putin’s backyard ski resort. A day of portent, the selection was announced on July 4th. Beating out the last two competitive bids of South Korea’s Pyeongchang and Austria’s Salzburg, you have to wonder what was the quid pro quo that would endorse the anti-democratic, amoral Putin regime. Was it the fact that he actually deigned to speak in French and English–by some reports, it was merely his presence in Guatemala (where the IOC met) that made the difference [of 4 votes]. Presumably he made some back pocket deals. No different from the 1980 Summer Olympics award to the then-USSR Moscow–boycotted by the US because of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan–this selection smacks of sportolitics: politics in the highest order. I totally applaud Russian winter sport prowess and they surely should, at some time, host the Winter Olympics, but timing is everything. I am left wondering what might have happened had Putin lost.* Was it to gain Russian support of the US invasion/occupation/imbroglio in Iraq or more broadly for some concession with regards to US Middle Eastern policy? If 1980 was followed by glasnost, 2014 may be followed by glasshouse: a retrospective and transparent view of the malevolent, iron-fisted Putin legacy. A golden day for the Black Sea, A black day for the Free.

*When Athens lost the 2000 Summer Olympics bid, the country went on strike. Had Putin lost, Russia might just have closed down all ‘free’ media and killed the remaining independent journalists. After this vote of approval, he may feel the liberty to do so unsanctioned.