Thursday, December 31, 2009

Radical Islam's "electronic caliphate" is an oxymoron

On the edition of the “old” Washington Times, Dec. 31, 2009, Arnaud de Borchgrave has a major commentary piece on p A15, “Unholy war in cyberspace: Real battleground is no longer Afghanistan”, link here.

The writer pulls our thinking away from George W.’s Iraq and even Obama’s escalation in Afghanistan, to focus on the legions of privileged but religiously or ideologically disenchanted young Muslim men all over Europe and especially rogue elements back in poor sections of Pakistan. He talks about the Taliban as a “shadow government” ready to go again, and Al Qaeda as having evaporated or sublimed into forming a “second life” caliphate over cyberspace. The battle between Sunnis and Shiites becomes a small detail for the caliphate to overcome, even if it has gone on for centuries. Remember, different sectors of radical Islam hate each other as much as they hate the West (we found that out in Iraq, as if we didn’t already know).

The ideology of radical Islam is itself curious. It seems to show how the extreme right and extreme left come together on the unseen side of the world, whether religion is involved or not. Stalin and Hitler were more alike than they were different (even if they became military enemies – again an irony), that the results of their behavior for humanity was similar.

But there is a curious paradox in the notion of an “electronic caliphate”. The Internet was born out of individualism and the idea that anyone can invent himself or herself as a celebrity. The “caliphate” itself becomes an oxymoron, where the Web is captured as a propaganda tool, serving an ideology that feeds on notions of need and “worthiness” (along with the view that the world is a zero-sum game), the two pillars that authoritarianism feeds upon.

Nevertheless, the use of the Web to seed terror plots becomes a serious issue that could undermine the freedom of speech for all of us. We heard this before, right after 9/11, with talk that ordinary home computers or amateur websites could inadvertently host “steganographic” instructions placed by hackers. And it does seem that some young men, perhaps almost schizoid in temperatment, with little satisfaction in family or social connection as we understand it run to the extremist ideology on the web.

Update: Jan. 1

CNN is describing Anwar al Alwaki as the "Osama bin Laden" of the Internet, with ties to both the Detroit and Fort Hood incidents through his Internet propaganda.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Climate change: population arguments can go both ways

Max Schulz has a “Manhattan Moment” op-ed in the Washington Examiner, p. 18, today, Wednesday, Dec. 30, “Population control: an ugly solution to climate change”, link here.

The article points with some cynicism to Time’s award to Peggy Liu, chairperson of the Joint U.S.-China Collaboration on Clean Energy, as a “Hero of the Environment 2008”, link here for praising China’s one-child policy for reducing future energy demands.

Of course, authoritarian governments can more easily “do anything they want” (like the “Grant” character in the movie “Bugcrush”). But the notion that population control is part of a climate change strategy (discussed by Al Gore, too) runs into a psychological paradox: generativity. When people have kids, they are presumably more likely to care about the world that succeeds them. That notion leads some social conservatives to believe that participation is family responsibility ought to be mandatory and is indeed a critical component of future sustainability. Of course, a lower population society could work if the aged stayed healthy and remained employed longer.

The religious right has always had to deal with some paradoxes on this. The Apostle Paul thought that the end of the world was soon, and said “it is better to marry than to burn” but hinted that childlessness was maybe a good thing. If the Rapture is coming (pre-Tribulation, especially), does it make sense to have kids? I suppose if “2012” really was going to happen, or if we were to discover that the Earth is being approached by a black hole or brown dwarf, sustainability would take on a wholly different meaning (as it does in Emerich’s movie). Indeed, one day mankind will have to move to another planet (at least Mars) as the Sun will fry Earth in a few billion years when the Sun becomes a red giant.

Wikipedia attribution link for NASA picture of Betelgeuse

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Web posts, while documenting world history at the grass roots level, give up valuable evidences and clues of "precrime" like in "Minority Report"

Autobiographical posts by suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab from the Christmas Day Detroit Incident show depression, and obsession with a certain way at looking at radical Islamic values. The Washington Post story is Phillip Rucker and Julie Tate, Dec. 29, link here.

Many of the suspect’s postings were in forums hosted by others, a practice more common ten years ago before blogs and social networking sites took off. Some were on the “Islamic Forum”, URL here. But some of his sentiments were also found on Facebook. Will authorities starting trolling the web for "precrime" like in the movie "Minority Report"?

Generally, personal history postings, common on blogs, do enrich a serious “social science” researcher’s understanding of what is going on in a society at a grass roots level, way beyond what “professional media” report. But sometimes they communicate a preoccupation with ideology or belief for its own sake, a dislike of familial or social attachments developed by others. The media is reporting that a significant number of young Muslim men are persuaded to develop radical belief systems, with many of these men in the West (especially Britain and Europe) and many persuaded in part by what they find on the Internet.

Circumstantial evidence and interrogation (not rendition) so far suggests that the suspect, after shunning his wealthy family, was “trained” in Yemen, as indicated also by a statement by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. While Homeland Security head Janet Napolitano maintains that there is no evidence yet that the plot is bigger, other evidence suggests extensive planning in Yemen (headline Post story today by Carrie Johnson).

The front page of the Tuesday Washington Post also has an article by Greg Jaffe on the way blogs can communicate the sense of sacrifice by some military families, in this case the Yllescas family, with their blog here. The Post link is here. Read the seven year old’s blunt question there. It would be hard for me personally to imagine putting myself in that position.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Mexican cartels vicious with hit-style reprisals in border towns (Juarez)

The drug cartel situation in Mexico, especially in the border towns (especially Juarez), as reported in the past especially by CNN’s Anderson Cooper, has become even more critical, according to a particularly shocking story on Wednesday December 23 in the Wall Street Journal by Jose de Cordoba and David Luhnow. The story refers to reprisals against family members (not just children) of police officers and members of the military in Mexico, link here.

A relevant film is “Bordertown” (ThinkFilm), reviewed in my movies blog March 2009.

William Booth and Stephen Fainaru have a similar story in the Sunday Dec. 27 Washington Post, “Mexico weights options as lawlessness continues to grip Ciudad Juarez”, link here, in a series called "Mexico at War".

Wikipedia attribution link for public domain picture of Rio Bravo, Juarez.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Serious incident at Detroit airport today; CNN has complete coverage

CNN has complete video coverage of an apparent attempt by a man from Nigeria to ignite a device on a flight landing in Detroit Christmas day. The man had traveled from Nigeria through Amsterdam. The CNN link for the story is here.

The suspect was Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, and apparently was not on any no-fly list, and apparently was not rescreened in Amsterdam.

I personally last passed through Schiphol in May 2001, returning to Minneapolis on Northwest. On that occasion, the Dalai Lama passed right by me as I was waiting to board.

The Los Angeles Times
reports that other passengers overpowered the suspect, story here. (See my TV blog Dec. 26).

CNN is also characterizing terrorism as the weapon of the weak: it seems to come from the notion that if one has a grudge or has been "wronged", one is entitled to anything, almost as in Shakespeare's Hamlet.

Wikipedia attribution link for Schiphol indoor picture.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Prince William does a dress rehearsal on homelessness

Prince William of Wales spent a night on the streets of London Dec. 22, when the temperature dropped below freezing, in order to demonstrate what it is like for the homeless. William has been associated with a group called Centerpoint, and at one point was almost run over by a streetsweeper.

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Phil Han has a similar story on CNN here. (I could not get the CNN video to embed).

The Prince did have a warm breakfast and shower waiting the next morning.

Attribution link for Wikipedia p.d. picture of London after 1940 Blitz.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Philippines volcano could undergo explosive eruption; maybe global cooling?

AP and ABC News have a story Monday morning warning that the Philippines volcano Mayon could have an explosive eruption soon. The story is here.

A major eruption could actually temporarily cool the Earth’s climate, as Mount Pinatubo did in 1991. Recently scientists like Nathan Myhrvold have suggested countering global warming by pumping sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere at high latitudes.

Wikipedia attribution link for USGS picture of Pinatubo.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

National Geographic explains how Singapore works: does authoritarianism "work"?

I’d recommend the January 2010 issue of National Geographic for its end story by Mark Jacobson, “The Sinagpore Solution: How did a sleepy little island transform into a high tech powerhouse in one generation? It was all in the plan ,” photographs (many) by David McLain, link here.

It didn’t become independent from Britain until 1963, and this little city-state, almost on the Equator, is sometimes compared to Switzerland, having a higher standard of living than much of Europe.

But the culture is somewhat authoritarian, well known for the strict rules about cleanliness in public places, caning, and censorship. Lee Kuan Yew has a somewhat Calvinist moral philosophy and believes that people need rules, even if they are secular and not as inflexible as in most fundamentalist religion of any kind.

There is in Singaporean culture a certain competitive attitude called kiasu, of “afraid to lose”, which can lead to existential moral dilemmas familiar to me, at least. Perhaps the culture has a slight bite of fascism.

Partly as a result of kiasu, Singapore has a low birthrate, despite pro-natalist initiatives by Yew's government.

Back in the 1980s, the Sinagpore Symphony Orchestra was quite helpful in bringing a lot of obscure romantic works to compact disc on the Marco Polo label.

Attribution link for Wikipedia map of Singapore.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Copenhagen reaches weak deal; Sea levels were 25 higher 125000 years ago

An AP story, reproduced on MSNBC, reports that global sea levels were about 25 feet higher than they are today about 125000 years ago, during the Eemian Stage. The last warm spell started about 10000 years ago, but man’s activity is definitely accelerating the melt-off of polar ice caps and mountain glaciers. The MSNBC link is here.
All of this is reported in the Dec. 16 issue of Nature, which has a Climate Feedback blog here.

The president returns home from Copenhagen, his landing complicated suddenly and ironically by an East Coast Noreaster, after signing a non-binding “mutual inspection” deal between the US, China, Brazil, India and South Africa.

Here is MSNBC’s video of the president’s speech in Copenhagen.

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Here is a PDF of the accord, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (link).

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Northern Virginia "5" (arrested in Pakistan) shows that younger American, as well as European, men can be drawn to radical ideology

The recent arrests in Pakistan of northern Virginia men Waqar Khan, Ramy Zamzam, Umar Chaudhry, Ahmad Minni, and Amman Yamer has led to numerous media reports suggesting that sometimes young American men, while generally more assimilated than comparable men in Europe, still are attracted to radical ideology, often from what they find on “foreign” websites. Bruce Bawer had examined this problem a few years ago with his book "While Europe Slept", a book by a gay conservative who had lived in Amdsterdam and journaled what was happening around the time of 9/11.

The role of the Internet in hosting “propaganda” has long been a concern ever since 9/11 (the steganography concern) , and this time Facebook figured into the bust of the five as the FBI tracked the case down with Pakistan.

Brian Ross of ABC News has a typical report here.

Colbert L. King has a perspective on the situation on p A15 of the Washington Post today, link here. There is a concern that young men, particularly those with some difficulties in social competition, will get drawn to absolutist ideology found online. She makes this amazing statement. “The men who pulled off the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks were motivated by something apart from greed, lust or a thirst for power. Their malice sprang from a belief that the world in which they lived could not be reconciled with the wider world around them.” Others have simply characterized this fanaticism as simply directed a “infidels” and a world that is either “us or them” in which there is only one version of “the Law” for everyone allowed to exist (sound like the 1930s?). But absolute virtue has always been a seductive trap for some, going back to the writings of Sayyid Qtub.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Britain considers revising defamation laws to stop "libel tourism"

Sarah Lyall has a front page story in the New York Times about English libel tourism, Friday Dec. 11, “Britain, Long a Libel Mecca, Reviews Laws,” link here.

Parliament is considering requiring the plaintiff to show that harm in England before bringing suit, under England’s “one hit” system that has attracted suits against books with very few sales in Britain and even web sites viewable in Britain. Judgments could be obtained against foreigners, who then could not enter the country. The US is considering refusing to recognize British libel judgments, as do many states.

In Britain, the defendant has the onerous of proving truth; the presumption is that the plaintiff’s complaint of falsity would hold. In the US, the plaintiff must prove beyond a 51% chance that the statements are false, malicious, and recklessly disregard the truth. In the US, it is possible to libel oneself, , which can lead to bizarre situations with implicit content.

Scotland has its own system.

British libel law was drawn up in the 19th Century along the lines of Victorian society.

The story mentions several famous plaintiffs, such as Saudi billionaire Khalid bin Mahfouz, Incelandic businessman Jon Olafson, and NMT Medical Company in Boston.

In the US, despite much stricter rules, “SLAPP” libel suits have been very troublesome in some areas, like those filed by real estate developers in eminent domain cases.

Attribution Wikipedia link for picture of Parliament

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Russian missle test creates UFO effect with spiral arms over Norway

An endless night (land of the midday moon) UFO over Norway stirred up speculation, as it showed spiral arms, as if coming from an astronomical black hole. It turns out to be a Russian missile test.

Back in 1995, Norway thought that a Russian missile launch could be the “real thing” and false alarms can be a real security problem.

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Attribution link for Wikipedia map of Russian regions.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

World depends on Chinese rare earths for green technology

Here’s an MSNBC video on the world’s dependence on China for rare earth metals, used in green technology, but polluting the Chinese countryside.

Are we trading one kind of dependence for another?

Rare earths confound every high school student on the Periodic Chart.

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Wikipedia attribution link for Periodic Table here.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Amanda Knox conviction: travelers, when abroad, be careful: the justice system of the country you visit applies

The conviction of Amanda Know in Perugia, Italy, for the murder of a British roommate, brings up the issue that Americans must bear in mind when they travel, even in western countries: they are bound by the laws and legal procedures of the countries they visit.

It does seem at first glance that Italian criminal justice may have fewer protections, in shielding jurors from global (including Internet) publicity and in presuming innocence, than does the American system. Nevertheless, Knox will spend 25 years in prison unless her conviction is overturned. And it seems as if the DNA and other physical evidence could be questioned more. If she returns to the US, she would have to serve the full sentence here.

There are other issues. People sued in Britain under “libel tourism” practices can never visit the UK.

Can gay people active on the Web safely visit many Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia (or worse, Iran), when their postings can be found by authorities? Could they be arrested and held forever? What about people who have criticized China online (written about Tibet) who then travel to China?

Any ideas? I don’t recall the State Department’s comments on this matter.

Attribution link for map of Italy on Wikipedia.

In Italy a criminal jury has 8 people, with 2 judges and 6 ordinary people. There is a presumption of innocence, but not the same concept of reasonable doubt. Even in a jury trial, the judge(s) have to write an opinion in Italy.

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Update: December 10. Stephanie Gosk reports about the conditions of Italian women's prison for Amanda Knox.

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Friday, December 4, 2009

Obama on Afghanistan: military will have to work with tribal culture, testing its own cohesion

There’s a lot of post-mortem on President Obama’s Tuesday night speech at West Point on Afghanistan, but Michael Gerson’s column on p A27 of the Friday Dec. 4 Washington Post, “Obama’s Case to Make”, link here, goes into a little more subtlety.

The military (mainly the Army, including allies like the Brits, Prince Harry included perhaps) has a task related to its own issues of “unit cohesion” (so often mentioned in conjunction with “don’t ask don’t tell”): it has to comingle and become socialized with the people and break up the primitive tribalistic culture than enables the nighttime “letter threats” that Gerson talks about. He also talks about a warlord culture developing in Afghanistan, like that well known from Somalia (ironically mentioned in the ABC series “FlashForward”).

Saturday, November 28, 2009

High speed train in Russia attacked, between Moscow and St. Petersburg

A high speed train from Moscow to St. Petersburg was derailed and lifted off the tracks by a bomb late Friday night, about 200 miles N of Moscow in western Russia. Islamic extremists and Russian super-nationalists are both suspect. Videos show that the train consisted of blue and gray cars. Some commentators have drawn comparison to the Beslan School Hostage Crisis of Sept. 1, 2004.

A train hijacking occurs in the 1977 thriller film “Cassandra Crossing”.

Russian security remains important in efforts to account for any loose or unsecured nuclear materials in the vast country, as often discussed by the Nuclear Threat Initiative.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Dubai debt default: a paradox and contagion; it may help force ING to break up

Major financial media sources report that Wall Street was unnerved today by reports that Dubai (including developers -- the state-owned company Dubai World (link - "The sun never sets on Dubai World"!)) are asking for a six-month extension on its $60 billion debt, due to the 50% drop in Dubai real property values this year. There is a fear that other “sovereign” emirates could default.

All of this happens in a culture that still will put debtors in prison, leaving Europeans and Americans to flee, leaving property and further depressing values.

Dubai may have built the largest manmade artificial island projects in history, all of which could be jeopardized by seal level rises.

Partly as a result (and also to meet the terms of previous Dutch bailout), Dutch financial services company ING Groep took a beating today, and is offering rights to its stock at discounted prices. And apparently ING will have to sell or spin off all of its insurance subsidiaries, like ING-USA, (and ING Direct) which individually are healthy. This may be a better thing for ING employees and retirees.

Wikipedia attribution link for Burj Dubai. It sounds like a fascinating destination anyway, a sci-fi modern Arabia.

Update: Dec 4

Check the op-ed by Sebastian Mallaby in the Washington Post today, p A27, "A bad omen in Dubai", link here. Despite the erosion of confidence in the stability of sovereign states, the stock market went up, he says.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Nuclear power becoming acceptable to green movement

A few days after a small leak at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania, the Washington Post, in a story by Anthony Faiola, reports overseas that “Nuclear Power Gains Support”, link here and that overseas even green groups support it. Nuclear power plants are being built in Britain again, after years of being banned after Chernobyl. There are 53 nuclear power plants under construction around the world, and the Waxman-Markey bill would get nuclear power generation going again in the U.S., which has long stopped building new plants. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (link) reports 22 applications for new plants in the U.S.

I recall a large anti-nuclear pressure group in New York in the late 1970s when I lived there, even before Three Mile Island (a woman I met through Understanding wanted to run a caravan across country to oppose nuclear power). I recall the headlines in March 1979 that a meltdown was possible (I was in Texas then, and visited the Glen Rose Commanche Plant in 1982). A lot has changed since then.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Journalist Maziar Bahari tells 60 Minutes about his imprisonment in Iran

On Sunday Nov. 22 CBS 60 Minutes aired an interview of journalist Maziar Bahari, who was held in an Iranian prison and questioned for 118 days before being released on $300000 bail and allowed to leave the country, after which he went to London. He was told that he could be hunted down and returned to Iran, as if there were a bounty resembling that at one time announced for Salman Rushdie.

He was well known as a professional journalist and documentary filmmaker in Iran for twelve years. After the protests, he was accused of working as a spy. Iranian’s claimed that Newsweek magazine was a front for US intelligence (like the CIA). He said that in Iran “you’re for us or you’re against us” and that reporters are not allowed to present shades of gray.

Watch CBS News Videos Online

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Climate change: Island nation Maldives is the canary in the coal mine

The Washington Post Outlook section for Sunday November 22 has an important lead story (link) by Bill McKibben “Outlook: Obama needs to feel the heat: The sharp contrast between Barack Obama and Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldives on global warming”, link here. The author is Scholar in Residence, Middlebury College and Co-Founder,

The article draws a parallel between President Obama and the new president Mohammed Nasheed, of the Maldives, an island nation in the Pacific that never reaches more than 10 feet above sea level, but that some residents regard as paradise.

Note the “International Day of Climate Action” on the 350 site.

The article is critical of what it sees as the president’s inertia on climate change, punting to Congress. So it says, imagine taking Congress on an underwater tour of the Florida keys.

Wikipedia attribution link for NASA space picture of Maldives.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Scientists, living in the Greenland glacier, report rapidly increasing carbon dioxide in glacial "dead air"

Scientists live in a lab 800 miles north of the Arctic Circle in Greenland, and wear coats and longjohns to work, in a lab 30 feet below the ice, as they drill down 1.6 miles into some of the oldest ice in the world, in the Eemian Ice Field. They find that the air deeper down has less carbon dioxide, and that the temperature that far north may have risen 20 degrees Fahrenheit in the past 20 years. This is indeed alarming. Here is the second of the MSNBC videos; the first aired Thursday Nov. 19 on NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams.

This is real science, not just “Smilla’s Sense of Snow”.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Why China does not call in our debt -- yet!

ABC “World News Tonight” presented an amusing cartoon tonight explaining why China doesn’t try to call in our debt and sell our dollars.

If it did so, the dollar would go down in value, and Chinese currency would increase in value. Chinese goods would no longer be cheaper in the United States, and jobs for Chinese would disappear, as some would come back to the US, which would have to make more of its own goods. (That might be a good thing.) The Chinese government cannot tolerate the political consequences of the job loss.

Nevertheless, the lack of spending in China on some domestic needs, such as heating schools, shows the social consequences of such export policy. China does spend money on huge infrastructure projects, like dams and power plants.

Monday, November 16, 2009

People in Mexico send money to relatives in US, reversing usual "data flow"

It is common for immigrants into the US and Western Europe to send money home to relatives, and this has caused some comment among cultural conservatives, such as in Poland in 2007 when one Polish official criticized gays on the grounds that heterosexual immigrants from Muslim countries “take care of their own” (in a Pittsburgh gay paper circulated at the Andy Warhol Museum).

But now, according to a story by Marc Lacey in The New York Times Monday November 16, the money flows from Mexico to unemployed relatives in the United States. The story title is “Money starts to trickle north as Mexicans help out relatives,” link here. And the relatives can be more distant relatives by blood, not just one’s own children. Loyalty to blood is more important in many other cultures than in Western culture. Here “trickle up trickles” to re-paraphrase Ross Perot (1992).

Perhaps this story is an indication that the ecomonic situation in Mexico is improving relative to the U.S., and that illegal immigration will become less attractive.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

New Yorker article examines security of Pakistan's suitcase nukes in time of instability

The New Yorker has an important article by Seymour M. Hersh, suggesting that reporters can read between the lines of what the Pentagon and Obama administration will say and conclude that American forces could take extraordinary measures to secure 80 or so small nuclear weapons in Pakistan. The article is titled “Defending the Arsenal: In an unstable Pakistan, can nuclear weapons be kept safe?” link here. The article is headed by a not-so-amusing Strangelove-like cartoon. The author of the article had interviewed various Pakistani officials to confirm his impression. The need to fine tune the arsenal for strategic gamesmanship vs. India complicates securing them from Al Qaeda, however.

If a weapon went missing, it could precipitate a crisis, as there might be no way for sure to know when someone tries to smuggle it into a western country or even tries to detonate it at a higher altitude for an EMP effect. It’s important for the US and allies to know the status if the cache at all times.

Last night, a former State Department employee told CNN's Wolf Blitzer that Afghanistan is primarily at civil war. The same may be true in Pakistan with the Taliban and Al Qaeda (however their purposes cross or do not), but maybe the stakes are much higher after all.

Update: Nov. 21

Wolf Blitzer interviewed Seymour Hersh (Pulitzer prize holder) on CNN Situation Room tonight, and Hersh emphasized that the main concern is a radical coup in Pakistan, with resulting grab on the mini-nukes. The State Department reacted to Seymour's article, denying that the US will interfere with the Pakistani government. Hersh says that the Taliban is not necessarily interested in destroying the US (unlinke Al Qaeda) and describes them as a "mercantile society."

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Obama's speech in Japan focuses attention on trade with Asia, especially China, especially balance of trade and cheap imports

John Pomfret has a front page story in The Washington Post about the significance of trade with China in the Saturday, Nov. 14 Washington Post. It’s “The Chinese Are Changing Us: Rising global power is reshaping the way Americans do business and live their lives”, link here.

The story focused on Wisconsin, and the quality and quantity of some agricultural exports to China, as well as the overwhelming dependence of American consumers on Chinese imports, often exploitative, based on very low wage work. Chinese imports show up everywhere, in clothes and in computers and electronics, even new home construction. Defective products have been a real problem, such as drywall that has made many new homes in Florida uninhabitable.

Here is a portion of President Obama’s speech in Japan. “Nations need not fear the success of another”, from MSNBC (31 minutes).

The president gave Japan credit for adding to stability around the world and to combating piracy off the coast of Africa.

The president also mentioned his "past life" in Indonesia.

He said that we are at the "brink of ending economic recession" but later mentioned that we were at an "inflection point" (a term from calculus) on the way toward sustainability.

On Monday (Nov. 16) the President said in China that a free speech by ordinary people makes a country stronger and that censorship is not in a country's best interest, but this message was censored! Twitter ands Facebook reportedly are not available in China.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Event held for children in Afghanistan

I received an email from the Niche Focus Group (link) regarding a relief effort for children in Afghanistan sponsored by Fumar Events and Fumar Cigars.

The email mentioned my LGBT blog, but it is more appropriate to create an entry here on the International blog and post the email as a comment. Their web site for East Coast Operations appears to to have this URL.

David Haddad of Fumar Events and Fumar Cigars discusses his recent recent 9/11 charitable event, “I am awed and humbled by the generosity of Americans. They donated over $18,000 worth of blankets and clothing for kids, as well as cigars for soldiers in the field. We’ll be shipping them overseas in November. ”

The rest of this event is discussed in a comment.

The overseas charity most familiar to me is Save the Children. Donors received communications from sponsored children.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Ebola-like virus found among troops in Afghanistan

The Washington Times, in an exclusive story written by Sara Carter, reports that an American soldier has died in southern Afghanistan from infection with an Ebola-like virus, Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever. It may have been transmitted by a tick (as an arbovirus) and probably is transmitted among people only by blood or body fluid contact. The link for the story is here. All of this reminds me of a couple of major books in the 1990s that dealt with Marburg and Ebola: Richard Preston: The Hot Zone (1994); Laurie Garrett: Coming Plague: Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance (1994). Preston maintains that we barely missed a pandemic from one strain that might bave been more contagious, Ebola Reston.

The relative transmissibility of infectious disease is always controversial and tends to be confusing to the public. In the 1980s the CDC and NIH had to work hard to convince the general public that HIV is not casually transmitted. But it has to turn an about face with H1N1 and H5N1. Ebola seems to be somewhere in the middle but it is even more dangerous.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Georgia (former Soviet republic) blogger targeted, leading to DOS attacks (August)

A blogger, identified by the names of Giorgi Cyxymu, an economics professor in the former Soviet republic of Georgia, was the target of a massive DOS attack on Twitter, Facebook and LiveJournal last summer, according to a New York Times story (Business Day)Aug. 8, 2009 by Jenna Wortham and Andrew E. Kramer, link here. It looks like I missed this story in August.

The story is important in that it shows that, at least overseas, controversial bloggers could become “targets” and be viewed as nuisances by the international (often American) companies that host them, challenging the companies to absorb some risk in order to provide free speech. Imagine how important this point would be in reporting the unrest after the “elections” in Iran.

Attribution link for Wikimedia modern map of Georgia.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

India faces Maoist insurgence; another perspective on the old Iron Curtain

The November 1, 2009 print edition of The New York Times has a surprising article about the resurgence of Communism by Jim Yardley, “Rebels widen deadly reach across India,” link here. There is a color picture of a government guard in Barsur, in the Indian state of Chattisgarh, watching for Maoist guerllias.

Maoism? Yes, the resurgence of the most moralist form of Communism, from Communist China of the 1960s, where Chairman Mao Tse-Tung forced intellectuals into the countryside to take their turn living as peasants. Call it a “pay your dues” system of morality if you like. Left-wing writers in the 1970s imagined Maoism as “absolutely perfect justice at the personal level”. But you wouldn’t want to actually live it; we can just afford to ponder it now from the distance of history. Or imagine that today’s economic dislocations in the “bourgeoisie” West have imposed a “free market cultural revolution.”

And back in the 1970s, before the collapse of the Soviet Union, people on the streets would still speak of “pinko Commies”, while radical groups like the Peoples Party of New Jersey (Benjamin Spock’s) would develop platforms limiting a maximum income to $50000 a year!

The story doesn’t mention the cultural revolution, as is more concerned about how India can contain threats to its industrial operations in the eastern part of the country where rebels are common. It seems that similar problems go on in oil rich areas like Nigeria (and what about Venezuela?) .

If you want another perspective on the fall of Communism, in Germany especially, look at Rachel Bartlett’s “Live Journal” with this essay “Human Nature ant the Coming Crisis I”, here.

Wikipedia attribution link for map of India.

Update: Nov. 2, 2009

Check the op-ed "Murderous Idealism", by Paul Hollander, link here. The core point of his piece goes like this: "They also shared an ostensible commitment to creating a morally superior human being -- the socialist or communist man. Political violence under communism had an idealistic origin and a cleansing, purifying objective. Those persecuted and killed were defined as politically and morally corrupt and a danger to a superior social system."

Friday, October 30, 2009

Filial responsibility law in Singapore; Shariah in Banda Aceh; Hajj cautions on H1N1

On p. 106 of the book “Super Freakanomics” by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, the authors mention that “some governments … require grown children to visit or support their aging moms and dads. In Singapore, this law is known as the Maintenance of Parents Act.” Singapore is one of the most “pro-family” capitalist states in the world.

I found a blog called “Spotlight on Elder Abuse” that discusses the Singapore law in a posting on Feb 29, 2008, here. The posting discusses the Tribunal for the Maintenance of Parents and indicates that fathers use the law more than mothers, but that pursuits are quite successful in Singapore. The blog posting (by Braema Mathi) says that Singapore is the only nation in the world with a law like this, but in the United States, about 28 states have “poor laws” or “filial responsibility laws”, as discussed on my “Bill Retires” blog, particularly in July 2007.

The text for the Singapore law is here.

Radical Islam is better known for extreme “family conservatism” (if you can include polygamy in some countries). Recently the New York Times, in an article Oct. 29 by Norimitsu Orishi, reported on the locally strict application of Shariah in Banda Aceh, the western tip province of Indonesia so hard hit in the 2004 tsunami. The story is “Extremism spreads across Indonesian penal code”, link here. Indonesian states have local options as to applying Shariah, and apparently in this province the possibility of stoning of adulterers is real.

Donal J. McNeil reports in the New York Times Oct. 30, “Saudis try to head off swine flu fears before hajj”, link here. Saudi Arabia is asking some people, including pregnant women, not to make the trip this year, where the event is held at the end of November.

(Look at "Bill Retires" blog Aug. 12, 2007 for filial responsibility in Canada and Australia; see Profile.)

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Two men in Chicago arrested in connection with Danish Cartoon Controversy

The media reports the arrest of two men in Chicago for plotting an attack on the offices of a newspaper in Denmark that published the cartoons of Muhammed in the Jylands-Posten Muhammad Cartoon Controversy. A typical story is that of Warren Richey in the Christian Science Monitor, link here.

The FBI has a press release from the US Attorneys office, Northern District of Illinois, here

It seems amazing to westerners that some people would make so much of what seems like a trivial “insult”. But radical Islam worships its own idea of perfection.

Update: Nov. 21:

See the Newsweek story by Michael Isikoff, "FBI Probes U.S. Link to Mumbai Attacks", link here.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Musicians seek to know if their work was used to torture prisoners at Gitmo

The National Campaign to Close Guantanamo has criticized the use of musicians’ songs to torture Muslim prisoners. The news story is by Audrey Hudson on o A5 in the Friday Oct. 23, 2009 Washington Times. The link for the news story is here.

The National Security Archive at the George Washington University files a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request to discover the way the music is chosen. Music used in the past includes AC/DC, the Barney theme song, Marilyn Manson to Neil Diamond, Tupac Shakur to Sesame Street, Limp Bizkit to Christina Aguilera. GWU has an account of the story here.

Bernie Becker has a similar blog story in the New York Times here.

In 1978, an Italian prisoner (of Baader-Meinholf, as I recall) was tortured by having loud classical music blasted into his ears, causing deafness.

There is a site with an open letter to “Close Gitmo New”, by that name.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Cuba denies "Generation Y" blogger right to travel

“Generation Y” is a blog for people in Cuba for people with names containing “Y”, with link here.

The Cuban government has refused Yoani S├ínchez permission to travel to New York to receive an international journalism award. The Amnesty International link for the story (“Blogger denied freedom to travel outside Cuba) is here. Cuba has also blocked access to the blog within the country, but reportedly there are many workarounds to the block, some of which have been covered here before (and by Electronic Frontier Foundation), in conjunction with similar blocks in Iran.

The story was also carried this morning Oct. 14 on CNN’s American Morning.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Are Pakistan's suitcase nukes secure from "militants"?

MSNBC has carried an AP story questioning whether Pakistan’s suitcase nukes are vulnerable, given a recent assault on Pakistani military headquarters by “militants”. The link is here.

The attacks come at a time when foreign policy makers debate whether the Taliban and Al Qeada are a single “enemy” or whether Taliban elements should be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. John McCain addressed this point last night.

It's well to bear in mind Sam Nunn's "Nuclear Threat Initiative" and the film "The Last Best Chance" about accounting for radioactive waste around the world.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Hillary Clinton talks about Twitter, cell phone technology in Iran, Afghanistan

Today, Saturday October 10, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told the CNN Christine Amanpour on her “Power & Persuasion” hour that the State Department had worked with Twitter during the Iran election crisis to keep the site up, when it needed maintenance, so that dissidents could continue communicating. She also said that the department had place cell phone towers in Afghanistan in order to provide opposition to Taliban communications from FM broadcasts from mobile vehicles.

The CNN link is the “Amanpour eclusive interview with Clinton, Gates” here.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Obama wins Nobel Peace Prize, apparently for expression or publication of an intellectual "concept"

President Obama spoke briefly this morning from the Rose Garden after learning that he had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. His remarks are posted in his own blog (posting title "Building a World that "Gives Life to the Promise of Our Founding Documents") entry here.

Russia Today has a video on the award. There were 204 names on the committee’s shortlist. The award does not have the intrigue of the Irving Wallace novel or movie of “The Prize”. Most observers see the award as prospective, based on a concept that the president has laid out in his speeches and writings (generally following the steps of Jimmy Carter), not on positive accomplishments (resume-style) in the first nine months in office.

President Obama will address the Human Right Campaign national dinner in Washington on Saturday October 120.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Wikileaks: British government suspicious of many journalists

Wikileaks has a complicated story suggesting that the British government regards journalists (and perhaps bloggers) as potential security threats, along with hackers, members of disaffecte groups, and the like. The link is here. The leak comes from the “UK MoD Manual of Security Volumes”, not exactly calling for a book review!

The document goes on to describe particular concerns with links to both China and Russia, in comparison to more often touted concerns about Muslim extremism in Britain.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Iran make have backed down on Uranium

According to major media sources, Iran has agreed to open its uranium enrichment facility near Qum to international inspection (the IAEA) and to export most of its uranium to the West and to Russia. Officials are concerned, however, that Iran could very well conceal stockpiles of enriched uranium.

Iran is thought to have enough enriched Uranium to make at least one conventional atomic weapon soon. Tehran says that its reactor is intended to make medical isotopes and these are well below weapons grade, and have not been shaped into rods.

The New York Times story by Scott Erlanger and John Lander is here.

However, Jimmy Carter has said that the United States should work carefully with Iran and not threaten it, link here.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Eight years after 9/11 with relative safety at home

CNN National Correspondent Jason Carroll has a 3 minute video exploring why we have not had a major homeland attack since 9/11/2001.

Ironically the video offers subtitles in Arabic.

The video discusses the setup of the Department of Homeland Security in 2002 and the early efforts of Tom Ridge, who often appeared on Nightline and even answered public questions. The assimilation of Muslims into American society (compared to what happens in Britain, France and even the Netherlands) was mentioned. In the US, most cells are very small and have little motivation, unless they have an unusually motivated leader with contacts, as with the recent Denver and New York arrests of Zazi and others. The video interviews the head of the NYPD.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Iran makes verbal nuclear "threat", then backs down; Obama, others condemn Iran at G20

"God willing, this plant will be put into operation soon, and will blind the eyes of the enemies," That quote from an Iranian official has stoked fears in the West that Iran really is developing nuclear weapons and might try to deploy them, in the Middle East against Israel, or even conceivably for an EMP blast (a grim possibility that the Washington Times repeatedly brings up).

However, Iranian officials also say that IAEA can inspect their new plant. The CNN story is here.

All of this goes on while the president visits the G-20 conference in Pittsburgh, with this story in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette about the President’s condemnation of the 2nd site in Iran.

CNN has this video of the president with leaders of Britain and France.

On CNN on Sunday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates told John King that the major concern is that Iran puts its nuclear facilities deeply underground, increasing suspicion. Gates also said that there is no military option that does more than buy time, a couple years or so.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Obama addresses global warming, middle East at UN; Washington Post analyzes health care in France

On Tuesday, President Obama gave an address on global warming at the United Nations, the text of which is here.

One of the most important points in the speech was this sentence:

“We must also energize our efforts to put other developing nations -- especially the poorest and most vulnerable -- on a path to sustained growth. These nations do not have the same resources to combat climate change as countries like the United States or China do, but they have the most immediate stake in a solution.”

But The Washington Times, in a story by Jon Ward and Christina Bellantoni, put on a different spin Wednesday with the story "Chinese plan upstages Obama at U.N.Rate this story: U.S. warns world leaders of 'irreversible catastrophe'", link here.

At the same time, the administration is maintaining that Israel and the Palestinians must start making more progress on a two-state solution without insisting on resolving the psychologically and morally divisive issue of the West Bank settlements.

All of this is going on the same day that the Homeland Security department issued warnings related to the recent arrests in Denver and New York, as discussed on the TV blog.

Today (Sept. 23), Edward Cody of the Washington Post Foreign Service wrote an article in which he explains that the health care system in France has larger private components than most people think. The piece is titled “For French, U.S. Health Debate Hard To Imagine: But National Insurance Faces New Challenges” link here. I recall a conversation at a train station in Toulouse, France in May 2001 where a family told me that the French health care system “worked for them.”

Attribution link for Wikimedia Commons picture of UN General Assembly hall.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Ethiopia should be watched for Al Qaeda, according to the "man on the street"

Last night, someone drew me into a very bizarre conversation about international politics, specifically the situation in Ethiopia, which the speaker said is a new focus for Al Qaeda. I hadn’t heard this from the media. The CIA fact book on the country is here. The country is 60% Christian (unlike its neighbors) and 33% Muslim, but the speaker said that the country, hit by famines, attracts Muslim men because of the possibility of taking on multiple wives. (To the extent that this happens in Islamist society, it leaves many young men without brides, a fact noted by conservative columnists in papers like The Washington Times after 9/11).

I asked if Ethiopia could hide Osama bin Laden or other terrorists who might secretly escape Pakistan through the port in Karachi, and he said, no, but the Sudan definitely could and probably does.

It’s interesting how much “intelligence” filters out onto the streets, for “ordinary people” to pick up. Sorry, I don’t have Jason Bourne’s looks or body.

Attribution link for CIA map (p.d.) of Ethiopia on Wikipedia.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Smaller, roving missile defense necessary to protect against Iran's existential threat

MSNBC offers an interview with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad by Anne Curry, six minutes, about the elections and the death of a protestor.

But on Sept. 17 the news media reported that President Obama will pull back from a Bush plan to station large missile batteries in Poland and the Czech Republic for roving smaller missiles, which Obama (and his administration) says will be cheaper and more numerous, and a better deterrent especially against Iran and perhaps North Korea. Reading between the lines, it seems as if the Obama administration want to keep the agility required to detect rogue elements that could conceivably launch small nuclear devices from sea, possibly with the aim of an EMP attack.

Monday, September 14, 2009

West Bank raises questions about national and personal ethics simultaneously

The New York Times has an interesting article on West Bank “hardliners” by Ethan Bronner and Isabel Kershner, “Unsettled: Resolve of West Bank Settlers May Have Limits”, link here. The article, with a picture of desolation around a “pretend settlement,” talks about the “moral code” of hardline Zionism, which sees the world in terms of historical destines of various peoples, and their struggles (but so does radical Islam see the world that way).

That’s in marked contrast to mainstream Judaism in the United States and Europe today, with the emphasis on individualism, personal liberty within certain variable precepts, academic success, and artistic expression, especially in classical music – an outlet that in the US usually fits into the Democratic Party.

Libertarians, without taking sides, often point out that land was taken from individual Palestinians by force, in order to serve abstract religious objectives. That would not be acceptable in the U.S. (but consider the "eminent domain" debate). The personal shame felt by Palestians is often described, as in a Time article a few years ago, a motivation for all the violence. Look at this article by Gary L. Rubin, "Exploring the Hidden Roots of the Israeli Palestinan Conflict: The Current State of Palestinian-Israeli Relations" (2006), here. Look at his discussion of the writings of Raphael Patai.

Wikpedia attribution link for p.d. map of Israel and West Bank, historical comparisons

Today, there was also wide discussion in the media of a new audio tape supposedly from Osama bin Laden, and a major NYPD bust in Queens about a possible terror plot, about which few details are yet available.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Journalist freed from Taliban by raid; other big problems from patriarchal values

Time Magazine already has a detailed story on the release of journalist Stephen Farrell (and a translator) by a British commando raid on a Taliban stronghold, in which at least five others died. The story is by Tim McGirk in Kabul, here.

The Washington Times on Tuesday ran a disturbing story about the mafia-like control that Mexican drug cartels with extortion have on smaller towns in much of rural Mexico, by AP writer Mark Stephenson, link here. Today it is reporting on a hijacking in Cancun

And Betsy Pisik has a story in the Washington Times today (Wednesday) about the status of women in the Congo, often blamed as insults to their families when they are victims, very much as is the case in some areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan. The link is here.

It strikes me as interesting how many of this violence overseas depends on a heavily patriarchal social format (often religion-driven) of the societies in which the events occur.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Group meets in upstate NY to warn America about EMP threat

An organization named EMPACT: Protecting America Against Permanent Continental Shutdown from Electromagnetic Pulse Attack is having a symposium in Niagara Falls, NY this week. The agenda is here.

Among the scheduled speakers is the "polarizing" former Georgia GOP Rep. Newt Gingrich of "Contract with America" fame during the Clinton years.

There exists, from mid 2008, a “Report of the Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Attack,” a long PDF document, here.

The report compares a hypothetical event to previous calamities like 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina; but some experts say this could be much worse.

The Washington Times today (Sept. 8, 2009) ran an op-ed by Frank J. Gaffney, Jr. “Death Star: A weapon that could create a new Dark Age”, URL link here.

This blog has presented other editorials on this topic from this conservative paper. Past op-eds have stressed the possible threats for rogue devices launched under the aegis of Iran or North Korea.

This article, while reporting that 90% of people in a large area could perish if electricity were lost for a year, points out that it’s possible that dire threats might occur naturally, as from solar flares or storms (there was a minor storm in October 2003, a larger one in 1989 that shut down power in Quebec for a day; a major episode of “Smallville” in 2003 presented the solar flare possibility on the same day that the October flare really happened! – hence the “death star” is our own Sun). The article also mentions the “Oceans 11” scenario of a small device, as speculated in a September 2001 issue of Popular Science (just before 9/11). There is a “mystery picture” which tracks back to a device proposed by an engineer at Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland, as the US Army was assessing various devices that potential enemies could try (I think the photo dates from before 9/11). The original Getty Image link is here.

Or check this "Barking Studios" blog link.

The image does, tangentially at least, bring up the idea that when one relocates into an area, one needs to make sure there is no unusual radio or magnetic activity that could affect one's own electronics. I've always wondered about living right next to major power lines.

Attribution link for Niagara Falls NY and American Falls, a favorite spot by honyemooners (even the Cramdens) in the 1950s, now a bit more sinister .

Sudanese female journalist jailed for wearing long pants in public

Sudanese journalist Lubna Hussein was jailed and fined after conviction for “public indecency” for wearing long pants in public in Khartoum. The AP story (photo by Anu Rauof) appears in the CFape Cpd online paper here.

The journalist says that the (Shariah) Islamic law in Sudan is vague and being interpreted to harass visible women who are not submissive to men. Apparently the jail and fine avoided a public caning.

Recently a woman was sentenced to caning in Malaysia, another Muslim country, for drinking in public, but the corporal punishment was canceled.

Attribution link for Wikimedia p.d. map of Sudan.