Monday, March 29, 2010

A dangerous day around the world, but the incidents seem unlinked

The most positive comes from Choe Sang-Hun of the New York Times, “North Koreans use cell phones to bare secrets”, link here. The story was reproduced on MSNBC. Various people from North Korea allowed to travel to China smuggle cell phones and are able to set up text messaging networks to get information out of North Korea and on the Internet – although can they get past Chinese censors; that’s a pretty interesting “political” question. See Aug. 13, 2009 on this blog for a discussion of Tor bridges, useful for dissidents.

And today there were two “terror” matters. One was the female suicide bombing incident on the Moscow subway, widely reported, leading to precautions in the US on transit systems, but this seems to be confined to “Russian” and former Soviet politics in the Caucusus region and seems unlikely to be exported. The latest MSNBC story is (web url) here.

The other is actually a domestic extreme right wing group in Michigan called the Hutaree, accused of a plot to “disrupt” a funeral as reported here. This brings back more the kind of mentality of Timothy McVeigh in the 1990s. The group is not the same as the "Michigan Militia" reported in the 1990s; the group was active in Ohio and Indiana as well.

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The other “big problem” these days is the violence, targeting and reprisals in Juarez, across the border from El Paso, reported in the media (also in several other Mexican cities). American college students are encouraged to be very careful about spring break in Mexico this year outside of the established tourist areas. Ii still want to get down to see the Maya ruins some day.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Internet companies are setting their own "foreign policies", as a containment strategy

Mark Landler has a great followup on Internet companies and their problems overseas on p 4 of the Sunday Opinion in the New York Times, “Google Searches for a Foreign Policy”, link here. Landler discusses both the China censorship and blocking problem (noting that “post Cold War” companies are more likely to believe they are exporting freedom) and the downstream liability problem, especially in Italy (with the recent convictions issue).

Washington itself is ambivalent: even as it wants to use the Internet to help export democracy and enable resistance, it is increasingly sensitive to the risks of asymmetric attacks on its infrastructure, which it believes would largely come from hostile elements abroad.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

US, Russia close on historic nuclear weapons control treaty

From Bill Boushka
The United States and Russia have reached agreement on most parts of a nuclear weapons arms reduction treaty of historic proportions, and would be signed in Prague, according to various sources, including AP and Reuters (the latter here). However President Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev would still need to meet, an event slowed by the US health care debate.

Arms reduction, seemingly a chestnut from the Cold War, is still important in reining in on the "loose nukes" or radiological materials that could wind up in the hands of Al Qaeda some day, a goal pushed by the Nuclear Threat Initiative.

The formal name is the U.S. Soviet (Russia) Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or START-1, as explained here by NTI (link).

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

US may fare better than much of world because it sustains population replacement

Today, March 16, AOL News greeted its subscribers with this “opinion” “What America will look like in 2050”, when I would turn 107. (Link.) It was surprisingly upbeat. It says America is still replacing its population, although immigrant and minority groups are having more children than much of the upper middle class.

Many European countries have stagnant populations because parenting is taxing and expensive (even with all the state parental benefits) and because there is a certain despair about the future. Population replacement is particularly stagnant in Eastern Europe, Japan, and surprisingly Singapore. And China is living with the consequences of its one-child policy.

The "hard Right wing" has called this problem "demographic winter", and warns that it could destabilize Europe (as Muslim populations have more children than native Europeans) and even the US, as the entire western world depends on immirant labor for jobs it doesn't want to do. Even gay conservative author Bruce Bawer warned about this in his book "While Europe Slept" (2007, Anchor).

Author Michael Chabon is quoted as saying “In having children, in engendering them, in loving them, in teaching them to love and care about the world," parents are "betting" that life can be better for them and their progeny.” Chabon is the author of “Manhood for Amateurs: The Pleasures and Regrets of a Husband, Father, and Son" (Harper, 2009).

Monday, March 15, 2010

Britain considers letting courts pull plug on sites with copyright infringement

The British Parliament is considering a bill to allow courts to order ISP’s to block access to sites offering pirated music or movies, according to a story in the New York Times Monday March 15 by Eric Pfanner, p. B4, link here, title "A Plan in Britain to Block Sites Offering Pirated Music".

Critics feel that the law could be abused to impose outright censorship, outside of areas of real copyright infringement. Britain still is libel laws that presume guilt on the part of the defendant, encouraging “libel tourism”. In the US, the DMCA “safe harbor” provision is said to be abused often by invalid claims of infringement, especially against music blogs. Other European countries like France consider “three strikes” laws resulting in loss of Internet service.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

China: "The Internet is a pragmatic tool .. to help the US government subvert state power"

Here’s a great quote floating around the web from the Chinese government today, “The Internet is a pragmatic tool that can be used like a gang or an accomplice to help the U.S. government state subvert power.” One source is here on blogger from China here (posting 3-13-2010, "fait accompli".

I couldn’t find this directly myself on the “Peoples Daily”, on the English version, where the quote supposedly appeared. But I did find a blunt warning in the People’s Daily about “the hand that feeds us” (web url) here. A quick look at the paper shows how it wants to manipulate people into conformity.

Remember how Ayn Rand called everything a “Peoples Republic”?

Update: March 15

Media stories report that Google is close to pulling out of China to avoid censorship. A Wall Street Journal (Geoffrey A. Fowler and Loretta Chao) story "Google Exit would open a door for Microsoft" (for Bing) is here (subscription).

Update: March 16

The Washington Times has a story on this, here, suggesting that China searches are of little revenue importance to the company.

Update March 24

Google has routed its searches thought Hong Kong, circumventing censorship of the search itself, but China can still censor the listed pages. Michael Liedtke provides an AP story on Yahoo! ("China thwarts Google's detour around censorship") here.

Here is Google's own chart on mainland China service availability (link).

Friday, March 12, 2010

"Jihad Jane" case counters stereotypes, raises questions about effects of Web

Eugene Robinson has an interesting OpEd in the Washington Post today, “’JihadJane’ shows why we need equal opportunity checks”, link here. He mentions an earlier “screed” (I know that word!) by Newt Gingrich justifying profiling (and he uses the active verb “to grouse” in connection with Newt -- English teachers, note!).

“Jane”, unlike Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, was apparently a loser who appointed herself to a cause that somehow, she thought, contributing to purifying the world. We used to hear rhetoric from people like her in the early 70s, from people who rejoiced at the absolute justice imposed by Chairman Mao with the Cultural Revolution (Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge weren’t quite known yet.) Curiously, she arrived to a mode of thinking that sometimes we have seen with “privileged” young men (as with 9/11).

A lot is written now about extremist websites in English that draw “unstable” people from western countries, including America. ABC News has a story by Eamon McNiff “'Net Posse Tracked 'Jihad Jane' for Three Years: Civilian Monitors Warn of Others Like 'Jane' on the 'Net Who Are More Dangerous”, link here. There is also a “You Tube Smackdown” (and "Quoth the Raven") movement that is discussed here on a fellow blog.

Of course, one wonders how this could play out in the "free entry" debate, particularly if the legal system around the world expects service providers to assume more prospective responsibility (the "Italian Job" problem, discussed here Feb. 24, 2010.

Update: March 13

Karen DeYoung has an important story on p A2 of The Washington Post, "U.S. citizen accused in Yemen killing had been under FBI watch", link, about Sharif Mobley, accused of a kidnapping in Yemen, had worked in maintenance in a nuclear power plant.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

ABC News: American evangelical pastor(s) may have stirred "anti-gay" unrest in Uganda, helping pust draconian bill in that country's parliament

On Wednesday March 10, ABC News (on World News Tonight and then on Nightline) reported again on a bill in the parliament in Uganda that may be the most draconian anti-gay law ever proposed, jailing parents or friends who do not report homosexuals as well as prohibiting homosexual literature and sometimes providing the death penatly for some gays.

The story claims that some American evengelical pastors, especially Scott Lively from Springfield MA (ironic), fueled the fire there.

The ABC News story is by Dan Harris, Kate Hinman, and Almin Karamehmedovic, “Anti-Homosexual Bill In Uganda Causes Global Uproar
The Proposed Bill Could Punish Homosexuals Who Marry With Life In Prison”, with link here.

ABC has also been reporting on child sacrifice in Uganda.

Lively (“Defend the Family”; link) has authored a book “Pink Swastikas: Homosexuality in the Nazi Party” , with Kevin Abrams, from Veritas, from as far back as 1995 and 2002. The ABC report mentioned the book. The reader reviews on Amazon present a mixed picture, to say the least, especially about the accurate use of factual sources. There is a book by Lothar Machtan, translated from German, from Basic Books, “The Hidden Hitler: The Double Life of a Dictator” where the author repeatedly refers to “Hitler’s homosexuality.” In 2004 Cinemax aired the indie film “The Hidden Hitler: Debating the Enigma of Hitler’s Sexuality” bu Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato with Gabriel Rotello (the latter also known for an anit-gay book on AIDS

A Ugandan pastor named Martin Ssempa (at one time invited by Rick Warren -- who himself spoke at Obama's inauguration -- to speak at Saddleback) equated homosexuality to “sexual terrorism” intent, he claims, on "destroying marriage-based society", perhaps by making it seem socially "meaningless" or optional. He demands collective, emotional response to his accusations (as does Lively) and expresses indignation that some people would simply ignore his rants. His statements seemed to feed on “victimization” mentality and strong together accusations (of an “us vs. them” sort) that did not make logical sense. Yet, like many authoritarian figures, we was able to stir up public fervor with frightening anti-gay demonstrations, maybe the most vitriolic in history. While this tactic was in fact used in Nazi Germany to gain power, it appeals to dictators in tribal societies around the third world. In Ssempa's "statements", there is a suggestion than male homosexuality tends to aim to make less secure men less comfortable with the idea that they should and will be able to have families themselves, as a result of psychological reaction formation. The rhetoric also reflects the human social tendency to want to see others have to follow the same "collective" goals and norms that one has been expected to follow.

The original story about the Uganda bill appeared Nov. 30, 2009 on my GLBT blog.

Wikipedia attribution link for ehnic languages map of Uganda here.

Update: March 12

Desmond Tutu has an important op-ed in the Washington Post today, "In Africa, a step backward on human rights", link here. "The writer is archbishop emeritus of Cape Town, South Africa. Besides the situation un Uganda, he discusses Senegal, Malawi, and Kenya. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984."

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Nigeria has sudden sectarian, tribal violence; any intelligence significance?

CNN has an “explainer” column on the recent extreme violence in Nigeria. The latest incident seemed to be aimed at Christians, from Muslim herdsmen, last Sunday. The link is here. I suppose Christiane Amanpour is likely to add this incident to her documentary work on genocide (last Saturday, reviewed March 6 on the TV blog).

The attacks may be related to long term tribal feuds over agricultural land. But intelligence services would have to wonder if there is any possible connection to attacks on western oil interests (documented in an email to me, discussed here Aug 15, 2008).

Human Rights Watch has a story from Dakar, “Nigeria: Investigate Massacre, Step Up Patrols: Hundreds Killed by Mobs in Villages in Central Nigeria”,

Monday, March 8, 2010

IPCC strengthens case that climate change is man made

USA Today is reporting that the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) has issued an interim report on March 1, reaffirming that human activity is the cause of climate change and that some of it is irreversible regardless of what is done now.

USA Today has a summary page (by Weather Guys Bob Swanson and Doyle Rice) of report highlights here. It refers to the “Plenary Approved Report” PDF, but when clicked we seem to migrate only to the main IPCC page, with the home page for the working group, here.

A key finding from the summary is “For the next two decades a warming of about 0.2°C per decade is projected for a range of emission scenarios. Even if the concentrations of all greenhouse gases and aerosols had been kept constant at year 2000 levels, a further warming of about 0.1°C per decade would be expected.” In the best case scenario, then global temperature would rise about 2.5 deg F over the next decade.

Nevertheless, the brutal storms on the East Coast this February were probably the result of the “Arctic Oscillation” forcing cold air south, and El Nino, leading to a southern track for low pressure systems.

The IPCC is preparing for a new formal report soon (as evident on the website), and is forceful in its position despite the naysayer claims recently about email scams in some climate change organizations overseas (plenty of those stories still show up in search engines, such as this one by Beth Daly (link), title "After errors, global warming gets a cold shoulder: Critics point to mistakes, e-mail theft to raise doubts on research; poll shows less public concern" at

The IPCC news story was flashed to users of Dell/MSN and AOL Sunday night. It follows on a sensational story last week on possible methane release.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Undersea methane release near Siberia may be underway, greatly accelerating global warming

Natalia Shakhova, a scientist at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, is publishing a study reporting that methane may be starting to vent from permafrost undersea near the East Siberian Arctic Shelf, west of Alaska. Methane is much more effective as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, and there is concern that it could set up a destructive feedback loop od global warming.

The New York Times story March 4 is by Cornelia Dean, title “Study says that undersea release of methane is underway”. The History Channel had a megadisaster report on this possibility back in 2007. (See my “Films on Major Challenges” blog, Oct. 9, 2007, “Methane Explosion”).

The Science report is by Martin Heimann, “How Stable Is the Methane Cycle?”, link here, March 2010. Methane is stored undersea "frozen" in hydrate form.

Wikipedia attribution link for map of methane concentration. Note the higher concentrations in the arctic.

A visit to a major US ordnance museum and facility: just connect the dots!

Yesterday, March 3 -- perhaps as a personal celebration of Senator Joe Lieberman’s introduction of a bill to repeal “don’t ask don’t tell” -- I visited the US Army Ordnance Museum at Aberdeen Proving Grounds near Aberdeen. MD, on the Chesapeake Bay, NE of Baltimore. You had to present not just a driver’s license but also car registration and have your picture taken to get on base, and it’s odd that a public museum is deep on base, when it could be located on a public area outside base property. Or perhaps it’s not so odd.

The museum is small (say, compared to the Marine Corps Museum close to Quantico, VA) but one of the most interesting military museums in the nation. On the ground floor there is a lot of the usual display of weaponry, including tanks and artillery, related to all the wars since WWI, with a particular emphasis on WWII. The ENIAC computer is displayed, as well as an explanation of how proximity radio detection of aircraft in sky battles during WWII worked.

There is an upper balcony that has some of the most interesting stuff. For example, there are displays of the tactical nuclear weapons that the Army had at its disposal as early as 1953 (during the Korean War), as well as items related to chemical weapons that the United States apparently never used. (That relates back to the battlefield horrors of World War I, with mustard and phosgene gas.)

One of the most provocative items, tucked away on the balcony, is a yellow robot used for disarming land mines in Iraq and Afghanistan (of “The Hurt Locker” variety), with various technologies including microwave generation, which could disable enemy electronics, at least at short range. The visitor may wish to look at my Sept. 8, 2009 entry on this blog to look up a Washington Times story about a microwave weapon that could be used for EMP damage even in civilian contexts, apparently developed at Aberdeen in 2001, perhaps just before 9/11. It’s all very odd, and frightening. Remember, of course, that Popular Science ran a now-forgotten article on this problem a week before 9/11 in 2001.

Of course, government has a lot of horrific weapons, many of which are never used. (Harry Truman provided the biggest exception.) The danger is that an enemy, perhaps non-state or supported by a rogue state (like Iran or North Korea) could get his hands on something (probably in US defense contractor hands – a world that our former vice president knew too well) and reverse engineer iti (for use against soft domestic targets).

There has never been a time, since the end of WWII or the Cuban Missile Crisis, when our getting things right has been so critical. For one thing, we need every non-Indo-European language translator we have.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

"National Interest" reports on changing the hearts of would-be martyrs; "Mother Jones" on "Oath Keepers"

The other day, as I browsed the racks of a Barnes and Noble near the Landmark Theater in downtown Washington DC, a couple of issues caught my eye, and at least psychologically they are rather related. Yes, I did buy hardcopies (no 5-cent bag, please).

One of them was the black, blue and tan cover of “The National Interest” (March/April 2010) with a long article (p. 10) by Matthew Alexander, whose title, “Martyrdom, Interrupted” is kinder and gentler than the magazine cover suggests (link here) The article covers an Indonesian military intelligence group called Detachment 88, headed by Colonel Tito Karnavian, which now has an effective to win over the minds of “jihadists” that it captures, partly by appealing to the religious meaning of the concept. The group even arranges conjugal visits or find wives for prisoners. This sounds like something, not exactly the printing of pie charts with Harvard Graphics, that Jake Gyllenhaal’s character in “Extreme Rendition” would like. It catches my eye, too, because in late 2002 I received a bizarre and detailed (perhaps steganographic) email about a bar (and connected “house of ill repute) in Indonesia for no reason. I passed it on to the Minneapolis FBI. A few days later, some perpetrators of the Bali incident earlier that year were arrested by Indonesian police. But I have no idea how the FBI handles tips from webmasters.

The April 2010 issue of "Mother Jones" contains a Special Report on Human Rights overseas, but you have to look at the TOC to see that. The cover reads “Age of Treason” with a special investigation “inside the movement that recruits cops and military personnel to resist their government”. The article, by Justine Sharrock, on p 28, covers the Oath Keepers, and says “Glenn Beck loves them; Tea Partiers court them…” The goonie crowd imagines an Obama administration ready to impose martial law and ban interstate travel (let alone international travel) on a whim. Back in the late 1970s, we used to imagine a Carter administration sending out energy police into homes (thirty years before the talk of tracking individual carbon footprints). The link is here.