Sunday, September 28, 2008

China: Wen Jiabao: US had better stabilize its credit markets; Hamid Karzai: OBL never in Afghanistan


Today (Sept 28) on CNN’s GPS show, Fareed Zakaria interviewed China’s premier Wen Jiabao (of the State Council) for about 40 minutes. Jiabao expressed confidence in the real US economy, but suggested that it was essential for it to restore some stability to financial market (as with “The Bailout”). There was a veiled suggestion that some day China could call in the debt on the US Treasury bills that its holds (the financial nuclear weapon) if things (especially credit markets) did not stabilize.

Fareed asked how China reconciles the paradox of socialism and markets. Jiabao said that market determine what is produced and sold, but government regulation can determine fair distribution of wealth among people. Jianao said that Adam Smith was one of his favorite western authors, that “Wealth of Nations” and “Theory of Moral Sentiments” are among two of his favorite books, with the latter discussing morality as it should apply to the people interacting with an economic system.

He said that China was still a developing country and is not yet a world superpower, a rather modest statement. He said that justice is his most important moral virtue.

He said that Internet regulation is necessary for security for the majority of the people. He also said that criticism of the government is allowed online, in contradiction to what western reporters have experienced, especially in the period leading to the Olympics. We’ve read repeatedly of major American companies having to agree to Chinese content standards of filtering when doing business in China.

For the last twenty minutes Fareed interviewed Hamid Karzai, current President of Afghanistan. Karzai was dressed in his green cloak. Karzai said that Afghanistan should take over its own security more effectively (as should Pakistan and Iraq), and said that after 9/11 Osama bin Laden has probably never been in his country. He was not even convinced that bin Laden was hiding in the tribal areas of Pakistan. He had no secret opinion as to where he is.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Global warming is accelerating even more than we had thought


Carbon dioxide is accumulating in the earth’s atmosphere even more quickly than had been predicted, according to a story Friday Sept. 26 in The Washington Post by Juliet Eilperin, on page A2. It is titled “Carbon Is Building Up in Atmosphere Faster than Predicted,” link here.

The kinetic momentum in the atmosphere would raise the average temperature by 4.3 degrees F by 2100 even if humans could stop emitting all greenhouse gasses today, according to a report from the Scripps Institute of Oceanography. That report, titled “Warming World in Range of Dangerous Consequences,” published Sept. 15, 2008, link here.

The Post story also quotes Robert Moss from the World Wildlife Fund, as saying that we are locked into much more rapid warming than we had thought. The climate change page for that organization is here.

The general tone of these reports is to reiterate what Al Gore said in “An Inconvenient Truth”, that the rate of change (or calculus derivative) in carbon concentrations in recent times, in a historical perspective, is cause for grave concern.

Friday, September 26, 2008

London Times reports that we will soon run out of Internet IP addresses; Asian countries are ahead on this


Vint Cert, the supposed “father of the Internet” has recently told the London Times that the Internet is running out of new IP (internet protocol) addresses. The story is called “Father of the Internet: ‘web is running out of addresses’:, by Mike Harvey, Technology Correspondent, link here.

Mr. Cerf had founded the 4Pv2 system in 1977, with 4.2 billion potential addresses. With the rise of wireless and mobile phones, less than 1 billion addresses remain.

This could be a big problem overseas, making Internet access available to more people in developing countries, to comport with initiatives like “a laptop for every child”.

The new standard IPv6 would provide 3.4 x 10**14 addresses (OK, they teach scientific notation in Algebra I now).

Asian countries, including China, may be ahead of the US and the west and getting ISP’s to convert. The systems development work for the conversion is done but would require considerable work in phased implementations by ISPs. In the UK, the British government is starting to push the issue. We haven’t read about a similar effort in the US.

One downside risk is that people with IP connections based on the old scheme will not be able to reach Internet addresses, particularly overseas, with the new system.

Governments and security forces will need the connectivity quickly for intelligence work regarding hostile communications made overseas with the new systems.

Monday, September 22, 2008

TV interview of Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew


On Sept. 21 CNN anchor Fareed Zakaria sat down with former prime minister of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew.

He asked Mr. Yew about Singapore’s strict laws on behavior, that seem to limit freedom somewhat, and Mr. Yew suggested that it’s important to have a stable, civil society so people can achieve their potentials. You have to limit some things and prevent people from taking undue advantage of the system, he seemed to say. Some of the conversation was about chewing gum and things that don’t matter too much. Okay, litter matters.

He also said that he is a bit of a social Darwinist. If you don’t change with the times, you will be come extinct. He thinks that many people are not “changing” and presuming that they can live beyond their means, in terms of karma, it seems, for ever. Sustainability finally catches up with them.

He was critical of American neo-conservative attempts to export “democracy” to the Arab world. He thinks that tribal chieftans in the Middle East, and various sects within Islam can come to agreement on how to share oil wealth, but we cannot impose our personal cultural values on them, let alone our form of government.

He said that China is reasserting itself as a 5000-year-old culture that has given the world many things, including printing. He believes that the show at the Olympics was a statement to the world of what China is capable of doing.

On the other hand, Russia has a guarded future. It will lose population quickly, despite Putin’s attempts to increase birth rates.

Singapore has a low birthrate, despite supposedly pro-natalist statements in the past by Mr. Yew. Chinese and Asian family values have certainly contributed to a climate of self-discipline, but, perhaps as a leftover of the “one child per family” policy in China itself, Singapore has not enjoyed a lot of births.

Some people regard Singapore as a benevolent authoritarian state and a “procedural” rather than real democracy. It attracted notoriety in the 1990s with canings. Yet, because it is a small and confined society, it rather works. It reminds one of Yzorddorex (a city-state making up the “Second Dominion”) in Clive Barker’s fantasy “Imajica.” It seems like a product of a sci-fi writer’s imagination, but it is real!

Yew also talked about the second life he has gotten from angioplasty in his 60s.

The transcript is here.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Harvard professor teaches "neo-tribalism" in Dubai


I recall an early episode of Donald Trump’s “Apprentice” based on the concept of negotiation. Remember what contestant Troy McClain had to give up as his part of the negotiation?

Seriously, as a business skill, “negotiation” goes international. Harvard law school faculty member Daniel Shapiro has taken the concept to the Middle East, specifically Dubai. The New York Times Magazine, on p. 80, today, Sunday September 21, has a story about him by Negar Azimi, “The College Issue: The Teaching Cure,” with a handsome picture of the Dubai skyline close up from the beach (but without the Burj in the picture), at this link. The focus on Shapiro’s seminars to teach western negotiating skills, almost as The Donald would see them, in the Arab world.

Dubai, from pictures, has always struck me as a city on another planet. Maybe one could say that about some cities in China now (beside Beijing). Try looking at “Dubai: Another World” here.

Dubai is supposed to set the example for modern Arabia. Far from perfect in terms of human rights, it still is supposed to be a firewall – successful capitalism -- against the nihilism of radical Islam in other parts of the Arab world, as documented in the film “Obsession” that I reviewed yesterday on my movies blog.

Ali al-Yousuf, president of the Dubai School and adviser to Sheik Mohammed, is quoted as saying, “We want to show the world that we Arabs can be successful without giving up our values or religion”.

Shapiro leads an interesting experiment in neo-tribalism. In the Arab world, we think of tribalism as a bad thing, associated with the lawless areas in Pakistan and harboring Osama bin Laden. We associate it with patriarchal family values. He builds an exercise where members of a seminar form new tribes, based on new sets of shared values within the larger group. He says that most people already belong to multiple tribes. Interesting. Remember, Troy made his psychic "pawn sacrifice" for the benefit of his newfound "tribe."

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Pakistan's military now seems hostile to US forces


In a story by Stephen Graham, the AP reports that Pakistan’s military has threatened to fire at American assets if Americans cross the border into Pakistan to chase elements of Al Qaeda, who could conceivably include Osama bin Laden himself. US actions might well take the form of unmanned CIA drones. An unusual small US ground action (the sort that Sebastian Junger has written about in the past in Vanity Fair) early this month reportedly contributed to the war of words. The link for the story is here.

In recent times, Pakistan has won some praise from the US military for assistance, but there have been many recent media reports indicating that Pakistan’s military has been undermined by radical ideology and tribalism. The lack of dependability has become an even larger concern because of Pakistan’s cache of small nuclear weapons.

AOL replicated the AP story this afternoon on its news site. AOL included a package of 500 photos from Pakistan supplied by Reuters.

Is Pakistan an "ally" any longer? This is getting dangerous.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Saudi cleric issues fatwa against owners of Arabian satellite TV networks broadcasting irreligious content


A Saudi Arabian mullah essentially declared a “fatwa” on owners of satellite television channels that broadcast “immoral” conduct or behavior that violates religious requirements of strict Islam or Wahhabism. The shiek was Sheik Saleh al-Lihedan, supposedly Saudi Arabia’s top judiciary official. His declaration (characterizing some whole Arab TV networks as "immoral") does not have the force of law but may be seen as influential on actions that others may take, as it says what kinds of personal “retribution” are “OK” by radical religious thinking. The AP story is at this link and appeared this morning. The story did name an author.

Many of the television channels attracting the ire of the sheik are owned by princes connected to the royal family. Radical Islamic culture views movies and television as potentially subversive, and in tribal areas people often do not understand the distinction between “fiction” (as in most western movies) and reality. That was a reason why the release of the Dreamworks film “The Kite Runner” (based on the novel by Khaled Hosseini) was delayed worldwide in 2007 and not shown in some Islamic countries (although the DVD is widely available).

The ruling was seen as disapproval of Western lifestyles and values, and might support the theory that Western behaviors (as well as occupation of sacred lands by “infidels”) offend Saudi young men otherwise dispossessed and contribute to their actions. The statement certainly supports a collective, rather than individualize view, of responsibility for behavior.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Where in the World Is Osama bin Laden? Administration is said to be changing course in the hunt


I remember on the afternoon of my layoff (Dec. 13, 2001), I coworker said, “Bill, you should take your severance and take a few months off. Maybe you could work on collecting the $25 million for finding Osama bin Laden.” The FBI still has an official offer for information on its Ten Most Wanted site, here. Note the alternate spelling on the poster, "Usama bin Laden". The poster mentions the 1998 Embassy incidents in Africa specifically, but curiously does not specifically list 9/11. The poster seems to call for John Walsh and his program "America's Most Wanted."

Oh, sure. Like an “amateur” blogger is really going to attract the one tip that leads to his capture, despite all the listening and eavesdropping by the NSA and CIA for seven years. There are plenty of “eagle eyes.” Not to mention all the spying all over the world enabled by the Patriot Act and its upgrades.

Remember Morgan Spurlock’s recent film “Where in the World is Osama bin Laden?" (film website here; I reviewed this in April 2008 on my movies blog). He thinks we shot ourselves in the foot. We try too hard.

Or, if you believe the New York Times Magazine story Sunday (covered here that day), a lot of the problem is pragmatic: Pakistan, especially its military, seems to have little incentive to bring him to justice.

Today (Sept. 10), Craig Whitlock in the Washington Post carries this report on, with a front page story, “In the Hunt for Bin Laden, a New Approach,” link here. American forces are also not allowed to operate in many of the tribal areas near Peshawar. Much of the effort will consist of use of the unmanned Predator drone spy plane, which carries the risk of civilian casualties. Drones have been effective before, as in a particular instance in Yemen.

It seems that intelligence officials don’t spend a lot of effort on the possibility that Bin Laden could have left the area completely and escaped across the Indian ocean through Karachi, where there are many familial contacts.

Bin Laden’s single minded "moral" or "religious" tenacity over decades seems to stun the West. Peter Bergen tried to explain this in his 2001 book. According to Bergen, the issue is not so much bombastic Western lifestyles as specific complaints about the occupation of sacred lands by "infidels." That theory doesn't track with Bin Laden's behavior on his videos. The media put a bin Laden tape on the air quickly after President Bush started operations in Afghanistan in October 2001, and Bin Laden seemed to be trying to hold American civilians personally responsible (a tactic that I remember from radical Leftism of the early 1970s). On Dec. 13, 2001 (the day of my layoff), Bin Laden gloated over the way the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center had been destroyed on Sept. 11.

Even so, one wonders if the administration knows something now, and if the capture or death of Bin Laden will be the “October Surprise” of this year’s election.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Could "online reputation" lead to trouble for Americans overseas, as in Islamic countries or in China?; what about contractors?


Much of the Islamic world is unstable and subject to terrorist attacks that could endanger American tourists. And other parts of the world have laws and practices that could be troublesome to Americans. When you’re overseas, you’re subject to the laws and the legal practice (which may not have constitutional protections for human rights familiar to us) and embassies and consulates may not be able to help.

This is a good time to note the State Department’s website on Current Travel Warnings, here. Saudi Arabia is on the list, and the religious laws within the Kingdom can be especially tricky for American visitors, as explained there. I recall contractors who worked there in the 1970s telling me about the "religious police" coming onto compounds of foreign workers to look for alcohol. There are serious restrictions on the movement of married women and requirements for consent from their husbands that are explained on the link.

Countries not on the specific list with current travel warnings often receiving intermittent adviories. You can go to the International Travel Home here and use the map with countries to locate the rules for each country. The page has a link warning visitors that US law prohibits sexual activity overseas with those under 18 and certain other related activities.

Egypt is a good example. Although popular for professional tours because of the Pyramids and other archeological sites, there are some serious rules.

China is another example. It is easy to get into trouble with authorities, and persons involved in “business disputes” may be detained, and sometimes persons have been held hostage.

In early 2002 I considered visiting Egypt, to see the Pyramids and other attractions. I did not because of cost, but I now have another question. I wonder if a person’s “online reputation” in the United States could make the person a target in a foreign country. For some countries, the State Department recommends that visitors “keep a low profile.” But it would seem logical that authorities could look up a person on search engines (with local filters removed) to see if the person has written unfavorably about the culture or government (whether Islam or China) being visited. I wonder if this could be a problem for contractors sent overseas by their employers. It would seem logical that employers could need to check for this and this could become a whole new area of “online reputation defense”, as mentioned yesterday on Dr. Phil, where the “Reputation Defender” CEO Michael Fertik was present.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Taliban still seems to get a lot of support from Pakistan's military and authorities


Dexter Filkins has a very detailed article about the Taliban in tribal Pakistan (and Afghanistan) on p. 52 of today’s New York Times Magazine, titled “Right at the Edge”, link here. The article suggests that, especially in this time when Pakistan’s government is in turmoil with Musharraf’s departure, the Pakastani military and authorities are contacting “Islamists” and helping the Taliban hide out for several pragmatic reasons. One has to do with the longstanding “struggle” with India (which actually has the world’s second largest Muslim population). A second reason is the increasingly religious streak among military officers. Another reason, the author says, has to do with Pakistani army “competence.”

And there is simply too much temptation to play on tribal emotions, which feed on blood loyalty (by taking action against other family members of men) and recruit young men, even for suicide missions. (You can see those family tension in the movie “The Kite Runner”, along with the controversy over its release.) There is the issue of the “old order” of the maliks, apparently the Taliban have been seen as playing Robin Hood to give some collectivist dignity to the poor. The article talks about the area around the White Mountains, where somehow Osama bin Laden “escaped” in late 2001. I’ve never felt convinced that he is anywhere near there now.

The magazine cover has a curious detailed black-and-white photo (with the text “Talibanistan”) of two young tribal men, both with mustaches, one with a beard, with the mustache-only man appearing, from the visible pores, to have his forearm shaved, as if that were the result of some religious ritual. The photo also appears online. There are more black-and-white scapes inside, and seven sections in this very long article.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

William Graham warns about EMP dangers ("Oceans 11" didn't get it right)


William Graham has an important commentary on p A14 (“Voices”) of The Washington Times, Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2008, called “Invisible Nuclear Threat”, link here.

The specific concern of this piece is a hypothetical attack on the nation’s electronic infrastructure with an Electromagnetic Pulse, emitted by a nuclear weapon detonated at high altitude. Such a device could be launched from a ship off the Atlantic or Pacific coast without bringing any materials through Homeland Security at any of the many ports along the coasts. (Obviously, the same concerns apply to the coasts of Europe, Asia, and all technologically advanced countries.) Graham believes that Iran, rogue groups from Al Qaeda or associated with A. Q. Khan or possibly connected to the “scandal” reported recently in Switzerland, could conceivably launch such a device. The instability of Pakistan in view of Musharraf’s resignation could mean that a device their could go loose and be used this way, or that devices could be made overseas from loose nuclear materials from the former Soviet Union and then deployed this way. Both Joe Lieberman and Bill Richardson, among others, have mentioned subtle nuclear threats in speeches in the political conventions; as a whole, the Democrats have been as attentive in commenting on this peril as the Republicans.

Right after Labor Day in 2001, on September 4, 2001 (Tuesday) as I recall, Popular Science had a print article about this problem. I remember picking it up in a Walgreens store near work, and showing it to coworkers (computer programmers) who, to my surprise, had heard of the issue. And this was exactly one week before 9/11. The Popular Science article, which (as I recall) offered clever speculation about how conventional (non-nuclear) devices could be fabricated for this purpose, talked about Faraday cages and suggested that such an attack could occur on the ground. That idea was used as a plot point in the film “Oceans 11” (premier Dec. 7, 2001), with a fictitious ground blast that turns off all power in Las Vegas so that the thieves can pull off their “smash and grab job”. In fact, an EMP device could be effective over a significantly wide area only if detonated in the air at some altitude, but such an incident really does happen, all computer files and digital magnetic information (like floppy disks) would be fried, although optical disks (compact discs) would not. Power would fail quickly and most automobiles would not run (ironically green-friendly electric cars could be the most vulnerable in the future). All personal computers would be ruined. It is hard to imagine how the nation could recover its electronic infrastructure after such an event if it happened. Shortly after 9/11, some news media (especially ABC) presented speculative stories on these possibilities, but gradually the issue has been forgotten.

The Washington Times article implies a cultural vulnerability of the west: people are very “dependent” on (digital and electronic) media as a form of personal expression, with less satisfaction on personal relationships that in former generations society could have imposed on them. Patriarchal values, which structure personal relationships in an authoritarian pattern, are very central to some of radical Islam (our “enemies.”)

This commentary's "subject matter" does suggest a future History Channel “Mega-disasters” program. I don’t recall that this series has covered this possibility yet. It probably will. Here’s a good beginning for a fictitious screenplay (perhaps for HBO). The power goes out while someone is on a desktop computer (assume he doesn’t have a UPS). He tries the battery laptop. It doesn’t boot. He tries to start his car. It doesn’t start. Slowly, the neighbors congregate.

The Times says that William Graham, a physicist and engineer, was a science advisor to President Reagan and was former head of the Office and Science Technology Policy. He should not be confused with Graham T. Allison, a political scientist who has also often written about nuclear weapons (and who is discussed on this blog).

Picture: Amish country in Pennsylvania, not technology dependent

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

China goes after elderly parents of adult protesters (even over issues unrelated to Olympics)


In China, it appears that the government is not afraid to go after non-voluntary relatives (that means parents, not just one’s own children) of political protestors, even to support its “corporatism.” Hai Mingyu took his three-year-old son to a political protest against the taking of his family’s house without compensation. Apparently he did not have permission to protest, as all such requests for permits were denied (they always are). He talked to a woman whom he thought was a journalist, and it turned out she was an undercover cop.

Apparently the incident dates back to 1990, when China was morphing out of Communism gradually, and the government took some property in Huimin county, Shandong province. Supposedly later the government offered to “negotiate.”

But the police did not continue to pursue Hai (or his son); instead they harassed his 73-year-old mother, who has kidney disease, escorting her on a bus. She lives in a suburb of Beijing.

The story is by Maureen Fan of the Washington Post, Sept. 2, p A11, “Protester’s Mother Pays Price: Police Focus on 73-Year-Old After Son’s Actions During Games, link here. Perhaps this is an extension of Chinese “Confucian” family values?