WTF Friday, 6/21/2013

File this one under “studies we hope the abstinence education folks never find out about”: A trial of a text messaging program providing sexual health information to rural Ugandans had the unexpected result of increasing infidelity among the study population.

The study’s authors interpret these results to mean that “easing access to this information is not sufficient to induce safer behavior, and may directly or indirectly lead to riskier choices.” Bummer.

Fingers crossed they figure something out, though, because otherwise, Ugandans are stuck with this:

WTF Friday, 5/31/2013

I’ve been reading Carla Del Ponte’s memoir, “Madame Prosecutor: Confrontations with Humanity’s Worst Criminals and the Culture of Impunity,” and happened upon some surprising information about former war crimes ambassador David Scheffer. From “Appendix C – Dramatis Personae” on p. 403:

 Don’t remember anything like that coming up in Scheffer’s autobiography

WTF Friday, 2/8/2013

Apparently, some British people might have accidentally eaten some horse meat, thinking it was beef. This is apparently a Very Big Deal, because British people are civilized and do not eat horses, unlike the barbaric French.

And yet somehow, no one on the internet has posted the “All our horses are 100% horse-fed for that double-horse juiced-in goodness” clip from Futurama. Seriously, internet, WTF?

Apparently We Have to Start Worrying About Killer Robots Now

I’m pretty sure I just got an email from the future. It’s from Human Rights Watch, and it warns of a potential deadly scourge: killer robots.

According to a new HRW report, several of the world’s most advanced militaries are on their way to developing weapons that “would be able to choose and fire on targets without human intervention.” HRW is calling for a pre-emptive ban on fully autonomous weapons, presumably because they know that if we wait until killer robots actually exist, this type of advocacy will only make them mad.

I guess it’s time to redirect some of my zombie apocalypse preparations towards the coming killbot menace.

Brave New World

For everyone who’s ever wondered “what do I need Twitter for, anyway”, it turns out that the surprising answer is: “keeping track of sovereign state declarations of war.”

No, really. My post-Hurricane Sandy restoration of internet services kicked in just in time to catch the Israeli Defense Forces announcing a major operation against Hamas on Twitter. The IDF accompanied their live-tweeting of “Operation Pillar of Defense” with video posted to YouTube of the initial strike, which killed Hamas military wing commander Ahmed al-Jabari.

Over at Foreign Policy, Uri Friedman reports that the video was briefly blocked this morning, after YouTube users flagged its content as a violation of the site’s Community Guidelines, which prohibit “graphic or gratuitous violence.” Users of Twitter have also raised the possibility that some of the IDF’s tweets (like this one) might constitute “specific threats of violence” in violation of the site’s regulations. But the video is back up, and meanwhile, the IDF has kept up a steady stream of tweets and announced Spanish and French language Twitter and Facebook pages, as they battle it out with #GazaUnderAttack for the world’s sympathy.

Direct appeals by political actors to the online court of global public opinion are not unprecedented (see, e.g., Kenya Defense Forces vs. Al-Shabaab, Twitter Edition), but this may be something new. The IDF’s initial Twitter posts preceded by several hours the government press conference announcing the operation. That means that a sovereign state chose to communicate a major policy development via online, privately owned platforms (with content restrictions!), rather than through official channels.

That rustling you hear is the sound of thousands of “International Relations in the 21st Century” syllabi being updated…

Today in Headlines We Thought We Misread: Zimbabwe Sends Peacekeepers To Syria

I learned today (h/t Peter Dörrie) that Zimbabwe is deploying military personnel to the United Nations Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS).

Know what country’s soldiers you’re definitely not picturing when you hear the term “UN peacekeepers”? That’s right, Zimbabwe.

I would think this was just another item to be filed under “Confusing Choices Made by the International Community in Handling the Syria Crisis” (see, e.g., sending an accused war criminal to head the Arab League observer mission), but Zimbabwe currently has military personnel in the UN missions to Darfur (UNAMID), Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI), and Liberia (UNMIL), and police in South Sudan (UNMISS), Timor-Leste (UNMIT), and Liberia.

The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (a major opposition force in Zimbabwe politics) has called on the United Nations to stop using Zimbabwe’s armed forces in its peacekeeping missions on the grounds that their human rights record renders them unfit for service. The army has most recently been accused of abuses against miners in the Marange diamond fields, while the police are alleged to have beaten and tortured civil society activists who viewed a video of the Arab Spring protests in 2011.

So this should definitely help the Department of Peacekeeping Operations with that whole catastrophic image problem thing…


WTF Friday, 4/6/2012

This is kind of the perfect set-up. Nick Cage hasn’t done a prison movie since 1997, and I think we all know how well that went.

“An exhibition of guns as art now in Mexico is making its way from Mexico to the United States, where many of the weapons presumably originated.” I think the ATF just set those guns free because they loved them so much, hoping that they would come back one day, thus reciprocating the love.

I kind of feel like I’m gonna jinx this if I talk about it.


WTF Friday, 1/27/12

In which I may have gotten tricked into believing something ridiculous. Thanks a lot, Globe. (via FP Passport)

Kutch just ridin the wave. Unlike earlier this month, I guess this one’s a “fun flood.”

The tournament more notorious for poor goalkeeping, administrative nightmares and tragedy rather than high quality football.” This is just not true. You gotta pick your burdens more carefully.


WTF Friday, 1/18/2012

Charles Taylor’s story where he escapes from prison (with help from the US Government) by tying bed sheets together and climbing out of a window is all of a sudden gaining some credibility. Actually, this kind of thing is surprisingly common.

Oh, that’s rich. You know what’s also like colonialism? Colonialism.

I’m really looking forward to this.



In Which I Learn Something New: Immunities Edition

While reading the Sudan Tribune the other day (what, you don’t read it?) I came across the  statement, attributed to Sudan’s Justice Minister Mohamed Bushara Dousa, that “25% of people in Sudan have some form of immunity.”

This sounded beyond crazy, but Amanda and I did some asking around and discovered that, in fact, widespread immunity from criminal prosecution is a serious human rights issue in Sudan. While 25% of the population might be an overstatement, it appears that most government officials, including the entire security sector, enjoy functional immunity (also known as “act immunity”), which protects them from prosecution for crimes committed in the course of their official duties. This means that victims of torture by members of the police or armed forces have no legal recourse.

Obviously, this bums me out hard, but it also makes me wonder whether this is a common problem worldwide that I’ve somehow missed. So, internets, learn me a thing: Do these sorts of broad immunities exist in your countries / regions of expertise?