Monday, June 29, 2009

Iraq celebrates "National Sovereignty Day" as deadline passes

In a wordless video, CNN shows Iraqis celebrating as the deadline for US pullout from most towns and cities passes.

June 30 will be called “National Sovereignty Day” for Iraq. It sounds like a kind of personal emancipation.

I recall being at the Bryant Lake Bowl in Minneapolis on March 19, 2003 for a film party as the beginnings of shock and awe came across the cable hookup on the stage. I remember watching Saddam Hussein’s statue fall live in April 2003 from my apartment in Minneapolis.

The main CNN news story today mentions a street festival, here.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

DPRK (North Korea) really can't reach Hawaii with a missle lob, can it? Watch what Hollywood does with this idea!

Can North Korea really strike Hawaii (on July 4, as the hype has it)? A site called “All our government does” says no, with the basic link for the short story here.

There’s another piece by John Feffer, June 23, “Pearl Harbor, Part II”, at Foreign Policy in Focus, link here. Even if they did reach, would our Reagan era Star Wars defense work? (Remember the movie "War Games"?)

On the other hand (or “But”), there are loose stories around that North Korea just might be able to lob a missile with a crude weapon 4500 miles or so and reach Hawaii or Sarah Palin’s Alaska. A bigger “threat” might come from a Tom Clancy scenario where terrorists take a crude weapon and scud and launch it from some kind of vessel (perhaps taken) in the high seas. It’s pretty easy to imagine the movie script (call it "EMP", below), somebody like Michael Bay directing it, and Shia LaBeouf playing a green Navy hero. But, gravely, a high altitude blast could have a devastating electromagnetic pulse (EMP) effect, an idea also attributed to Iran last year by neoconservatives (and covered on this blog). The “idea” has been around ever since Popular Science published a long forgotten article on EMP and Faraday cages a week before 9/11. Perhaps the biggest “threat” of all would come from aliens. (“I will accept nothing less,” a friend blogged. “Aliens changing our orbit so we fall into the Sun – and they just aren’t telling us”, except on the sci-fi channel.) We couldn’t do anything about them at all.

But it’s well to take DPRK (Democratic Republic of North Korea, or Democratic People’s Republic of Korea ) seriously. Believe it or not, the country is on the web, here. I recall the fun we made of communism and Marxism in Army barracks back in 1969: “from each according to ability, to each according to his needs.” Remember what people said about 9/11: it represented a massive failure of imagination. Policy makers need to see more movies.

Attribution link for NASA photo of Big Island.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

U.S., Russia duel on a cyberwar treaty: could affect US speakers

The United States and Russia are sparring over a cybersecurity treaty, and there could be implications for individual consumers and publishers in each country. The front page story appears Saturday June 27 in The New York Times, by John Markoff and Andrew E. Kramer, “Cyberwar: U.S. and Russia Differ on a Treaty for Cyberspace”.

The U.S. (along with major European countries) wants to have the ability to “defend” its infrastructure regardless of where an attack comes from, and important consideration motivated by concerns after 9/11, and well motivated by the asymmetry of cybercrime. Russia wants a more conventional treaty, such as that already negotiated for chemical weapons.

The U.S. is resisting agreements that allow governments to censor the Internet, obviously to prevent despotic governments (like Iran today) from finding cover under gross censorship, and particularly any agreement that could compel the U.S. to censor content created by its own citizens.

Media reports indicate, for example, that Iran has confiscated satellite equipment and computers of ordinary citizens in Iran as intimidation and cover, and that the government is even broadcasting videos warning citizens what it will do.

Friday, June 26, 2009

China tightens Internet access controls in "medical" areas

The New York Times, in an article by Keith Bradsher, reports that China is adding restrictions to Internet access by the public, particularly access to medical reports on sexual subjects. The government is claiming that the measure aims at pornography, but many feel it relates to suppressing political dissent. The story is titled “Beijing adds curbs to access to Internet: Pornography is cited, but dissent at risk,” on p A4, International, link here.

China differs from some other authoritarian countries in that its access is controlled by government, and more difficult to get around than in many Muslim countries, including Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Iran protests increase; CNN shows many tweets as they come over; Internet blockade ineffective; Major press must use amateur sources

CNN, particularly reporter Josh Levs, is reporting continuing unrest in Iran, and has been showing Tweets quickly, after blocking the name of the sender. This has been going on all day Saturday, June 20.

The Breaking News story from Iran is “At least 19 dead in Iran unrest, hospital sources say”, link here.

The best embeddable amateur video right now on CNN is from choppers over the crowds.

Keep checking, as the media sources will add new videos as they appear, as they will also appear on YouTube.

The government is making laughable attempts to shut down Internet components, in an effort that is so obviously gamed at staying in power.

The ayatollah claimed that all those who urged illegal acts on the Internet would be prosecuted as if they were directly guilty for those acts. Some speakers were saying they were willing to die as martyrs.

Earlier today, women in Iran told NBC that the 1979 revolution, after the fall of the Shah, was supposed to lead to a secular republic. Instead, it led to the hostage crisis which undermined the Carter presidency.

One of the opposition candidates was the first ever in Iran to campaign with his wife, and brought out many women to the polls. Women make up 65% of university students in Iran, according to Christiane Amanpour.

CNN has pointed out that the Iran "crisis" is actually promoting the value of social networking sites, twitter, and amateur blogs, because the journalistic establishment has not been allowed to film, and the authorities simply can't stop all the amateurs who, as the day progresses, have been capturing police activity of increasing savagery, with live killings and corpses.

Amanpour reports that it is frustrating for regular journalists to rely on "amateurs" because they can't do the fact checking the way it is usually expected, but need to report it anyway.

Iran has been revoking press visas. Police are going door to door and yanking people from their homes. CNN reports home invasions by police. The video is not there yet, but here is a similar amateur video of police brutality.

Mousavi's Facebook page is this.

Albawaba reports that Mousavi's Facebook page says that he is ready to die, link here.

Late Saturday CNN's Don Lemmon interviewed Iranian filmmaker Kourous Esmaeli who is in New York City.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Nat Geo points out gravity of global food problem

The June 2009 National Geographic has a couple of particularly noteworthy stories. “The Forgotten Faithful,” by Don Belt, documents the gradual decline of Arab Christians in the Middle East, long thought to be a possible bridge between the Jews and Muslims. Some on the West Bank find themselves cut off from their own lands by the settlements. The link is here and the magazine cover is based on the story.

The other big story is “The End of Plenty: The Global Food Crisis” by Joel T. Bourne, photographed by John Stanmeyer, link here. He writes that the world has been consuming more food than it produces for some time, eventually leading to political dislocations.

On pp 50-51 Bourne provides an “Al Gore”-like chart “How we did it before” and “This time: a greener revolution?” “Before” the techniques comprised irrigation, dwarf varieties, chemical pesticides, and synthetic fertilizers. The new methods will include targeted breeding, sustainable farming, and smarter irrigation.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Journalists abroad with smaller orgs at risk; Iran may find Internet protests unstoppable

The journalist Laura Ling and Euna Lee, sentenced to hard labor in the Democratic Republic of North Korea, were employed by Current TV, or Current News (here) known for producing short videos about modern culture (rather along the tone of these blog postings). Midlist type groups like these have much less pull to deal with potentially hostile foreign governments, so journalists working for them in totalitarian countries or radical Islamist countries may be at much more risk. I have wondered if amateur bloggers could be at risk when traveling in some countries if the host governments look them up with search engines and find “subversive” material (such as gay and lesbian).

The New York Times
story ("A World of Risk for a New Kind of Journalist") by Brian Stelter, June 14, is here.

Also, check the Times story by Brad Stone and Noam Cohen, “Social networks spread Iranian Defiance Online” here. The Iranian Internet shutdown seems to be ineffective (contrasting with censorship in China). So we shall see. The democratization of the world by Internet speech may take us around new corners, and perhaps not even Mahmoud Ahmadinejad can stop it.

Update: June 16

Check the Wall Street Journal story by Christopher Rhoads, Goeffrey A. Fowler and Chip Cummins, "Iran Cracks Down on Internet Use, Foreign Media", link here.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

North Korea engages in scare talk over possible nuke war in Korea; Iran bans Internet

The London Telegraph has a report by Malcolm Moore from Shanghai, China, “North Korea claims US could provoke nuclear war: North Korea has accused the United States of targeting it with nuclear missiles and warned that nuclear war could break out on the Korean peninsula.” The link is here.

It’s not clear if that speculation means that the nukes would come from North Korea or not. The CIA, in the past, has said that it is possible for North Korea to reach the Pacific Northwest with a rogue missile, possibly with an EMP blast.

Iran has banned Facebook and many other Internet services to stop protests of the recent election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. CNN link (about comparing the protests to a “football match”) is here.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

WHO declares H1N1 a pandemic, officially

Dr. Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization, today announced “On the basis of available evidence, and these expert assessments of the evidence, the scientific criteria for an influenza pandemic have been met” regarding the H1N1 virus. The complete statement is here.

This is the fourth influenza pandemic in 100 years. The previous pandemics occurred in 1918, 1957 and 1968. However, the categorization of this incident as a pandemic does not reflect the severity of the disease, which may well remain relatively mild, although it could mutate and become much more severe by fall. It is likely that a separate vaccine will be necessary.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Journalists sentenced to 12 years at hard labor in North Korea; Gore to negotiate with DRNK

ABC Good Morning America reported on Monday June 8, 2009, “U.S. Fighting North Korea Labor Camp Sentence for Laura Ling, Euna Lee: Laura Ling and Euna Lee Were Sentenced to 12 Years in North Korean Camp”. The story is by Katie Bosland, Sarah Netter, and Katie Hinman. The link is here.

Apparently Kim Jong-il and Kim Jong-un want to goad the United States into concessions. Hillary Clinton has Al Gore working on negotiating some sort of release in a delicate situation related to the recent nuclear tests. The journalists were working on a TV film for Al Gore when they stepped into North Korea from China.

CBS has a story by David Straub, “North Korea: Extreme But Not Crazy: The Regime's Behavior Is Erratic But The Answer Is Stronger And Smarter Diplomacy”, link here.

John M. Glionna of the Los Angeles Times writes "North Korean labor camps a ghastly prospect for U.S. journalists: If their sentence is carried out, Laura Ling and Euna Lee face possible torture and even death in North Korea's notorious gulag system, experts say", link here.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Comparing western and Islamist values on the right to control one's own intimate relations

Following President Obama’s spectacular speech in the Middle East, I haven’t heard any commentator note the differences in individual liberties among western and most Islamic societies, especially with respect to family values and individual control of his own body.

Some Islamic societies demand extreme submission of women, as has often been noted. The Taliban and other radical Islamist groups have been bringing women into more subjugation in both Afghanistan and many areas of Pakistan. Other societies, in Africa, practice genital mutilation in order to control women.

But more subtle is the observation that most Islamic societies demand extreme filial loyalty. In Europe, immigrant Muslim workers send money back to families in Pakistan and Bangladesh, even to parents and siblings, not just to one’s own children. Demographers have noted this when discussing the low birth rates among natives in many parts of Europe. In 2007, some Polish officials used that observation to bash gay rights (according to a newspaper available at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh).

Western society cherishes the idea of consent in adult intimacy, and in the right to refuse unwanted intimacy, even within the family. Other societies do not respect or even understand this idea.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Obama opens up with his speech in Cairo

President Obama gave a candid speech in Cairo with mixed but often hopeful reactiosn worldwide. He mentioned that many of his ancestors from Kenya were Muslim even though he is Christian, and he says he is determined to end prototyping and stereotyping.

But he has drawn criticism from Republicans for suggesting that Israel should stop settlements on the West Bank (stop the expropriation of land), much as Jimmy Carter has said. Some Republicans seem to be saying that Israel’s expropriations would be justified by its need to defend itself, but that kind of reasoning would not be acceptable within the United States.

One of the most important quotes from the speech is “"Just as America can never tolerate violence by extremists, we must never alter our principles. 9/11 was an enormous trauma to our country. The fear and anger that it provoked was understandable, but in some cases, it led us to act contrary to our traditions and our ideals."

Andrew Sullivan, in his Atlantic Daily Dish, writes that Obama’s willingness to ask the West to open itself up and effectively act Christian rather than “christianist” (or practice, as Rosicrucians call it, “Churchianity”) can open the way for a real meeting with the Islamist world. The link is here.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Wikileaks and its mischief with the accidentally released US nuke report (intended only for IAEA)

Wikileaks has apparently captured and re-published an accidentally posted a document that it is supposed to provide the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) (in Vienna) of the locations of its nuclear sites, dated May 2009. The basic link is here. and the title of the story is “Obama IAEA nuclear sites declaration for the United States, draft, 267 pages, 5 May 2009”. The leak was apparently accidentally posted by the United States Government Printing Office.

If I try to go to the domestic PDF I get a file that says “Wikileaks is overloaded by global interest.”

Computer science instructor Rob Domanski (City University of New York) offers a skeptical editorial on the way Wikileaks works today on his own “Nerfherder” blog, here. (Does he mean "Nerd Herd?) Because the rogue copies have been placed on sites in other countries (relatively friendly but neutral, like Sweden), it isn’t easy for the US government to get them shut down.

So am I being gratuitously mischievous in writing my own posting repeating the Wikilinks? In late 2002 I once got an email with an attachment that apparently showed the locations of all nuclear waste sites in Russia, possibly in response to an earlier essay I had written on an older site. I passed the email on to authorities. “Amateurs” do stumble upon intelligence that the big boys miss.

Picture: innocent enough, in Frederick County, MD, countryside

Monday, June 1, 2009

North Korean could become the biggest existential threat, could develop EMP capabilities (Politics Daily)

North Korea's "Nu-det" and EMP threat:

Politics Daily has a disturbing story that accentuates how dangerous North Korea is getting. The article is “Rogue State Nuke: The Ultimate IED” ("Improvised Explosive Device"), link here. The story was broadcast on AOL this morning.

The article discusses the idea that North Korea could itself detonate, or give away to terrorists or other unstable states (especially Iran) small nuclear devices that could do enormous damage. The article pays particular heed to the idea that a small device detonated a few miles into the atmosphere (as from a scud) could fry military electronics over a wide area in a region, such as the Persian Gulf or Pakistan (or any western country, including the US, for that matter). This is the electronmagnetic pulse (EMP) device discussed in earlier postings and actually discussed in Popular Science in 2001 a week before 9/11 (particularly based on previous op-eds in The Washington Times, by William R. Graham and others).

The article also takes the viewpoint that leaders of outlaw governments like North Korea and Iran have the incentive to “collaborate” and pull something like this off. Or they could pass the weapons on to decentralized terrorists, Al Qaeda or some other body.

During the Clinton years, North Korea was thought of as the main existential threat to world order, with radical Islam right behind. It has not quite turned out that way yet, but it may go in that direction soon.

Journalists imprisoned in North Korea

The Los Angeles Times has a June 1 story "U.S. journalists jailed in North Korea are expected to get prison terms", by John M. Glionna, link here. Media reports indicate that the current nuclear politics could cause the women to get longer prison terms.

The journalists are Laura Ling and Euna Lee, and they stand trial Thursday June 4 in Pyongyang, in the top Central Court, and according to make spokespeople they could get fifteen years at hard labor.