Friday, February 27, 2009

Obama says combat in Iraq should end by August 31, 2010

President Barack Obama announced today that our combat role in Iraq will end by August 31, 2010, in an address from Camp Lejuene, NC Friday morning.

CNN has a story on the speech available already, here.

Luis Martinez and Byron Wolf have a story on ABCNews here.

About 70000 troops will be withdrawn, but 35000-50000 troops will remain on the ground in support roles.

The war in Iraq has become the central foreign policy issue, overshadowing efforts to locate Osama bin Laden who may be tucked away near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, and for whom considerable evidence on location may be in development now.

Civilian employees, even police officers, will be hired to help train law enforcement in both countries.

Obama plans to make ending the war in Iraq a major part of his strategy for dealing with the federal budget deficit.

The video should appear on CSPAN and CNN shortly.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Arlington VA church youth put on "World Vision 30 Hour Famine" worship program

Today the Trinity Presbyterian Church in Arlington VA ran a worship service run by “The Kids”. The youth had just completed a “30 Hour Famine” to demonstrate personal sacrifice for world hunger. The service started with an eight-minute short film “World Vision 30 Hour Famine” (link here).

I’ve wondered why a fast is really necessary. If you do well enough in life (even given the current economy) you should be able to be generous without “sacrifices” like this. Yet, we see this thing done all the time. Catholics used to give up meat on Fridays. People are asked to give up one latte a day for charity. And so on.

There is an issue of “karma” to be sure. Students are not on their own yet, negotiating their worlds with money. Their currency is their academic and social reputations (which they have to be careful about, especially today, and especially online). We used to hear Rick Warren say, “It isn’t about you.” I suppose a sacrifice exercise makes a point about duty, about being a member of a community.

The students gave various testimonials, and one young woman talked about seeing Belize from the viewpoint of personal comfort. A Washington-Lee High School senior gave an interesting sermonette on "Perfection." The Scripture was Matthew 25:31-40 (feeding the hungry, ironically following the "Parable of the Talents"), and Luke 10:25-37 (inheriting the Kingdom). The "Rich Young Ruler" story could have been chosen, I think. The notion of "personal responsibility" is in New Testament thinking not as individualized as it often is in secular commercial society (particularly with today's debates about "moral hazard" and bailouts).

World hunger has many causes, not the least of which is political failure in many developing countries. Darfur is just one example. Neoconservatives constantly point out that bringing democracy will raise food supplies and counter disease, including HIV and malaria. The program gave alarming statistics, however, saying that in the developing world 1 in 12 children die of malnutrition by the age of 5. There was an implied interest stated in "other people's children."

Climate change will also affect food production, bringing drought in temperate areas and raising sea levels. But there could be an offset increase in food production in more polar latitudes, where climate change effects are the greatest.

Does a personal 30-hour fast make that much difference (as opposed to campaigns to raise money or change public policy)? Maybe it makes more difference to the fasters.

I recall that the Lama Foundation in New Mexico used to offer “Purification Through Fasting” weekends back in the 1980s. I did attend other events there in 1980 (the international feast and writers’ camp) and 1984 (the Spring Work Camp) but not a fast.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

"Internet Blackout NZ": to protest "guilt upon accusation laws"

Overseas there is an emerging problem with the way “three strikes” laws, or “guilty upon accusation laws” are being implemented, for Internet users accused of copyright infringement (particularly in P2P situations). In some countries, most recently New Zealand, ISP’s must terminate users upon “three accusations.” There seems to be a problem in that these laws have been created by careless copying or provisions from or various workarounds related to the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act. In some countries, copyright defenses are weaker than in the US.

Internet users are engaging in “blackouts”, for example, blacking out Facebook photos.

The details are on a New Zealand site called “Creative Freedom,” link here. The online demonstration is supposed to run Feb. 16 through Feb. 23, 2009.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Where in the world is Osama bin Laden? Science knows.

Where in the world is Osama bin Laden? Well, we don’t keep asking Morgan Spurlock. Now there is a lead story on USA Today, Feb. 17, by Dan Vergano, link here. The story maintains that “science” and online satellite earth mapping tools may have pinned down the location to Parachinar ("(Urdu:پاڑاچنار)" in Pakistan, 12 miles from the border to Afghanistan, in the Tora Bora region. It is south of Peshawar, and has a moderate climate with relatively mild winters with some freezing. It is the center of a “federally administered tribal area.”

It would be surprising if Osama bin Laden “escaped” from Tora Bora in December 2001 and was still hiding out only a relatively few miles away. It would be surprising that he hasn’t been found. But the recent behavior of Pakistani troops is certainly an issue.

There is still an outside possibility that he could have left the country (Pakistan) through the Indian Ocean.

President Obama reportedly ordered 17000 more troops into Afghanistan today.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Sweden hosts criminal copyright infringement trial against Pirate Bay

A major trial criminal regarding copyright infringement is taking place in Sweden against Pirate Bay, a company that maintains Bit Torrent servers to facilitate file sharing. A consortium of media and movie companies had brought action against the company, resulting in a raid in May 2006. The company does not maintain any copyrighted material itself but is accused of aiding infringement of others.

In the United States, the MGM v. Grokster case, in 2006, had established the idea that companies could be held responsible for “downstream” copyright infringement if their whole business model is based on expectations of infringement. However that action related to civil liability, not criminal.

There is a story by Tim Conneally on BetaNews “Pirate Bay copyright infringement trial begins, founders plead 'not guilty'”, link here. It links to a May 31, 2006 story about the raid by Nate Mook.

The Washington Times had a brief clip on the story this morning (Feb. 16).

Update: Feb. 17

Channel Web reports "The Pirate Bay Still Sailing As Major Charges Dropped", link here.

Update: April 17, 2009

Eric Pfanner reports a conviction in a Swedish court on this matter. The story title is "File-Sharing Site Violated Copyright, Court Says", link here.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

We may need a new model for civil defense

John Arquilla has a disturbing op-ed in the Sunday Feb. 15 New York Times titled “The Coming Swarm,” link here. He suggests that, in the United States, we need to be prepared for multiple guerilla attacks on soft targets, similar to what happened in “slumdog” Mumbai and Karachi. But actually, the same paradigm, on a larger scale, has already happened in London and Madrid.

The underlying idea is decentralizing some law enforcement response into small community posts in order to respond very quickly to events. That suggests something like the “civilian civil defense corps” proposals that floated around in op-eds shortly after 9/11.

Also, today, CBS 60 Minutes had a disturbing report about the ability of Pakistan to control its own forces in the tribal areas. The forces historically were trained to deal with a possible conflict with India, and not root out the Taliban. The story by Steve Kroft is "Zardari: We Underestimated Taliban Threat: Pakistan's President Tells 60 Minutes The Country Is In A Battle To Survive", link here. The segment showed the tribal area. That's pretty sobering when you consider that Pakistan has a cache of small nuclear weapons.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Dubai: recession and debtor's prison: and reporters or bloggers who speak about it there could be fined

Robert F. Worth has a front page story on the February 12, 2009 New York Times about the apparent free-fall collapse of the Dubai economy. The article is titled “Laid-Off Foreigners Flee as Once Booming Dubai Spirals Down,” link here. One real problem is that in Dubai (and apparently in many Muslim cultures) people can go to debtor’s prison, just like in Charles Dickens’s England. So many leave and abandon condos and expensive cars. It sounds as though some areas of the artificial archipelagos called “The Palms” could be left in blight unless there is a definite government commitment to finish them, and then eventually they could be vulnerable to rising sea levels.

Furthermore, the government is considering a law that makes it a crime, punishable by a large fine ($270000) to harm the reputation or economy. It would appear that this could apply to broadcast media or even websites and blogs, and films. I wonder what would happen if a major news outlet (like CNN’s Christiane Amanpour) did a truthful story on the situation. Could the reporter be banned from the country or jailed or imprisoned if he or she stepped foot in the country? I’ve raised that question before with bloggers from abroad who might have “insulted” Mohammed. I wonder.

From appearances, Abu Dhabi, with its planned green development (Feb. 2 here) may be doing better.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Italy prosecutes YouTube executives on privacy law for apparent lack of pre-screening of material

There is a rather confusing situation going on in Italy with a prosecution of a few Google executives for "violating" Italian privacy law.

In November 2008 some teens put up a fight video of a disabled kid being teased on YouTube. The service did remove the offending video.

There seems to some subtle difference between European and American privacy law. In Europe, content service providers are required to take down libelous or privacy-invading material if notified. In the United States, under section 230, providers are generally not reliable at all for content posted by others on services they host (the DMCA safe harbor is a kind of complicated “exception” regarding copyright). Nevertheless, providers are not supposed to be responsible “before the fact.”

Nevertheless, prosecutors in Milan say that YouTube is itself a content provider not just a “communications provider” or ISP, and that its executives are liable for content posted that breaks the law, even prospectively. It’s a bit confusing. But the Italian prosecutors apparently claim that the "prospective" interpretation is used in conventional television broadcast so it should apply on Internet postings or at least videos.

Here is a story on “Concurring Opinions” by George Washington University law professor Daniel J. Solove (author of books on “The Future of Reputation” and “Understanding Privacy” as reviewed on my books blog Nov. 5, 2008). The story quotes and links to an explanation from The Privacy Advisor run by the International Association of Privacy Professionals.

The legal questions are murky, but they could certainly affect web hosting and publication services in Europe. It would be very harmful to “free entry” to require service providers to prescreen content.

Peter Fleischer has a blog on privacy issues here and his YouTube clip about his appearance in Milan, “Le Regole Globali Della Privacy” where he discusses international privacy law and photography in public spaces, is here.

Even given US law Section 230 protections, on my own sites I reject comments placed by others if they obviously would be libelous or would invade the privacy of a specific other person, as privacy is ordinarily understood.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Netherlands may sentence filmmaker for "insulting" Islam (for short film "Fitna")

Unbelievable! Geert Wilders, producer of the short film “Fitna” about radical Islam, faces two years in prison in the Netherlands for insulting Muslims, if convicted and then sentenced according to Dutch law. Nat Hentoff has an op-ed on p. A19 of The Washington Times, called “The cost of criticizing jihadists: U.N. resolution is part of Islamic muzzle,” in his “Sweet Land of Liberty” column, link here.

Hentoff goes into a discussion of the influence of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, which he says was instrumental on Dec. 18, 2008 in getting a “defamation of religion” resolution passed in the United Nations, which may become international law. If it did, it’s not immediately clear what would happen in the United States with, say, websites that show "Fitna". But apparently the Netherlands already has a similar law which its increasingly strong Muslim population is able to use in its political system. Bruce Bawer was right: Europe is sleeping.

Hentoff also explains how the OIC was involved in inflaming the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy in Denmark. Remember also, that filmmaker Theo Van Gogh for a similarly spirited short film “Submission.”

There are other important accounts of the Wilders trial, such as Ryan Mauro’s “World Threats: Investigating your national security,” here which in turn links to a London Times story (Jan. 22, 2009) by David Childers, which reports that the film had been called “offensively anti-Islamic” by Ban Ki Moon, the UN Secretary-General.

There is also a “Defend Geert Wilders” blog on Wordpress, here and the extract from the Dutch Penal Code is worth presenting here:
The Dutch Penal Code; Article 137c ["Wetboek van Strafrecht (Sr); Artikel 137c | Sr, Boek 2, Titel 5"]
"1. He who publicly, verbally or in writing or image, deliberately expresses himself in an way insulting of a group of people because of their race, their religion or belief, or their hetero- or homosexual nature or their physical, mental, or intellectual disabilities, will be punished with a prison sentence of at the most one year or a fine of third category.
"2. If the offence is committed by a person who makes it his profession or habit, or by two or more people in association, a prison sentence of at the most two years or a fine of fourth category will be imposed."
The Dutch Penal Code; Article 137d ["Wetboek van Strafrecht (Sr); Artikel 137d | Sr, Boek 2, Titel 5"]
"1. He who publicly, verbally or in writing or in an image, incites hatred against or discrimination of people or violent behavior against person or property of people because of their race, their religion or belief, their gender or hetero- or homosexual nature or their physical, mental, or intellectual disabilities, will be punished with a prison sentence of at the most one year or a fine of third category.
"2. If the offense is committed by a person who makes it his profession or habit, or by two or more people in association, a prison sentence of at the most two years or a fine of fourth category will be imposed."

It’s easy to see how “good intentions” go wrong quickly, even in liberal Europe.

There is a review of “Fitna” on my movies blog March 28, 2008, and there is a link on that entry to another blog (not mine) that plays the film, and that secondary link was still working today.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

China's 2008 quake may be related to dam, raising questions about hyrdroelectric power in unstable areas

Some scientists are now saying that the enormous earthquake in Sichuan Province, China in May 2008, leading to 80000 deaths, could have been triggered by the 320 million tons of water in the Zipingpu Reservoir, which is said to be near a major fault.

There are obvious political implications for the story, not only for China but also for the development of hydroelectric power and large scale renewable energy products as a whole. Engineers will have to evaluate the possibility of triggering earthquakes. Of course, it is possible that eventually the earthquake would occur anyway.

The story by Sharaon LaFraniere appears on the front page of The New York Times, Feb. 6, 2009, “Scientists point to possible link between dam and China quake”, link here.

Friday, February 6, 2009

A. Q. Khan released from home detention in Pakistan, blasts critics in West

ABC News has a story about the release of nuclear materials procurers Abdul Qadeer Khan, from home detention in Pakistan. There is a fear that it would be encouraging to others who would traffic in nuclear materials or finished small nuclear weapons such as those possessed by Pakistan.

The story title is “Pakistan Nuke Proliferator Released, Says, 'I Damn Don't Care' What Critics Think; Notorious Scientist Rips West as He Is Released From Home Confinement”, with the link here. Pakistan Nuke Proliferator Released, Says, 'I Damn Don't Care' What Critics Think; Notorious Scientist Rips West as He Is Released From Home Confinement. The link is here.

Khan, in 2004, admitted selling nuclear technology to Iran, North Korea and Libya, the details of which have been discussed in books by international journalists like David Armstrong and Joseph Trento. (See my books blog, December 2007).

Thursday, February 5, 2009

For journalists in Russia: it is not safe

The Washington Times has a strong editorial on p A22, Thursday Feb. 5, “Russia’s gangster state,” link here. It is titled even more bluntly “Killing Russian journalists” on the web version, link here.

There is a specific account of how human rights attorney Stanislaw Markelov and young journalists Anastasia Baburova were gunned down in Moscow close to the Kremlin. Baburov is one of four journalists from the newspaper “Noyava Gazeta” ("New Newspaper”) in the past few years. There is a blog (by Beth Gibbs) at the University of Minnesota, entry Jan. 31, here. The blog tells you to see the picture on “” – McAfee gives a warning for a potential spyware or unwanted program download on Site Advisor so I won’t give the hyperlink).

The Times editorial goes on to report that reporters who try to cover the Second Chechen War are under more pressure from Russian authorities than the rebels. Putin’s Russia seems to be heading back toward an authoritarian state.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

An Internet article on the Hadith , and the paradox of "the meek" in Islam

I got an email from someone yesterday from the LGBT community (who particularly addresses religion and homosexuality) with an explanatory link to an article in “Mid East Facts” by Yashiko Sagamori, “Hadith 101, or Islam for the Infidel”. The Hadith, according to Wikipedia, are “oral traditions relating to the words and deeds of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. Hadith collections are regarded as important tools for determining the Sunnah, or Muslim way of life, by all traditional schools of jurisprudence.” They are supposed to be vehicles by which the scripture in the Koran is translated into the rules for living. They correspond to traditions interpreting the Torah or the Bible – except that we all know how much disagreement there is in interpreting certain texts. It would appear that there is less disagreement within the Hadith (or ahadeeth).

The Sagamori link goes through some of Mohammed’s attributed statements, and attempts to set up a chain of “reasoning” about some rather intimate matters. In the end, Saganiri comes up with a rather existential or paradoxical statement about the demand for “meekness” in Islam and the requirement that everyone submit to “the meek”.

The embedded University of Southern California compendium reference has a lot of interesting sub-links on the left, especially the “misconceptions about Islam” (for example, Misconception #2 is “In Islam, denial of human rights is OK because: slam is against pure democracy Islam tolerates slavery) as well as the link on Human Relations leading to the Moral System. There is a great deal of attention to social responsibilities, especially filial responsibility, and to “neighbors”; there is a certain insistence on collective mentality. The link for “Women in Society” has the discussion on Family and Modesty, but again the concerns are obviously “collective” (although they may not work out that way in a patriarchal society).

Monday, February 2, 2009

Masdar City would be world's first zero-carbon "high standard of living" community

Masdar, the Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company, is planning the world’s first carbon-free planned city, as detailed on its website here.

The “Plugged In” section of the Monday Washington Times, section B, offers a large photograph of the model, story “Green Oasis rises from desert sands” as a special to the paper by Stefan Nicola, here. The picture of the model can be enlarged on the Times website, and it looks a bit like a city on another planet in a sci-fi movie. If we build a habitable city on Mars, it would have to look something like this.

The most controlled part of the city appears to be a walled square, a concept often used in ancient cities, even Jerusalem.

The entire city is to be powered by renewable energy, and no gas-powered vehicles are allowed. Instead, driverless trams operated by computer will move people around. The geography of the model is interesting, and it rather resembles a sophisticated model railroad exhibit.

Wikipedia also has a model photograph and similar discussion, here.

Move over, Dubai!