Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Russian spies in our midst? Really?

It’s hard to know what to make of the Russian spy case, other than it panders to the paranoid fantasies of the early 1960s, the days around the Cuban Missile Crisis. A story on p A7 of The Washington Post today June 30 by Greg Miller and Philip P. Pan goes “Alleged spy ring seen as ‘throwback to the Cold War’; Experts say reported methods don’t speak well for KGB successor”, link here.

Indeed, other accounts of the “spies” suggest that they weren’t trying to pick up “classified information” or were even engaging in criminal activity like identity theft; they seemed to be looking for Starbucks scuttlebutt and debutante parties. Maybe they cared about what was in local community newspapers, maybe even what blogs like this were saying (well they can access those from Russia).

So it’s a mystery what they wanted to achieve, something like world mercantilistic domination like that of the Brits in the 17th Century? They hardly seemed to be trying to rule the world.

Nevertheless, the antics of the suspects are bizarre, sening info by wireless to wardriving trucks nearby, and using steganography, burying hidden content in harmless images, an activity that was increasingly feared after 9/11.
I had an office mate in New York City back in the 1970s with ancestors from the Ukraine, who pounced on Gerald Ford for his misstatement about "pinko" Communism in Eastern Europe then.

I do recall getting a bizarre email in November 2002 with an embedded map of Russia with many locations marked. I wondered if these were locations of nuclear fuel and sent it on to the Minneapolis FBI. Never heard a thing. The most critical problem with Russia today is to police up all the loose nuclear and biological waste in Russia and the former Soviet republics.

Still, the Russian spy caper sounds like something less than Alfred Hitchcocl's "Topaz" or "Torn Curtain".

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Bing: 15 Manmade wonders of the world, and two are in debt-ridden Dubai (try the Palms)

Bing has an article on 15 man-made wonders of the world (sort of like a “Seven Wonders of the World” which as a Cinerama movie in 1956), two of which are in Dubai. The last one is the 2700 foot, debt ridden Burj Khalifa, but the most bizarre one is the Palm Jumeirah, as fascinating artificial archipelago in the sea that looks like a board game. What happens if sea levels rise because of climate change? Is this all foolishness?

Here’s the direct link:

But MSN’s introductory page (which does not have a direct link) has an even more fascinating view of the Palm.

Wikipedia attribution link for NASA picture of Palm Jumeirah

Monday, June 28, 2010

Want to hunt for Osama bin Laden for the reward money?

I remember that when I got laid off at the end of 2001, a coworker said I should take my severance and go on a trip to hunt for Osama bin Laden and earn the $25 million reward. Maybe trap him on the web (sorry, he uses physical couriers).

So Gary Brooks Faulkner, actually a kidney dialysis patient, goes to Pakistan to do just that. Pakistan says he didn’t really break any laws, so he was just deported back. Lee Ferrah and Jim Vojtech have the ABC story here  with title “Gary Faulkner, Osama Bin Laden Hunter, Back in 'Good Ol' U.S. of A.';

Faulkner, on a Mission to Kill al Qaeda Leader, Was Detained in Pakistan for 10 Days”. Faulkner was even on ABC’s “The View” today.

Remember Morgan Spurlock's film "Where in the WORLD is Osama bin Laden?"  See movies blog April 19, 2008. Or remember Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11"?

Friday, June 25, 2010

WSJ poohs novel theory mixing war and "libel"

The opinion pages of the Wall Street Journal, p A21, on Thursday June 24, carried a column by David B. Rivkin. Jr. and Bruce D. Brown, “War is no place for libel law: A federal court slaps down a novel claim from a Sudanese business bombed by the U.S. in 1998”, with introductory link (web url) here. (Subscription is required to see the entire article.)

The case has to do with a pharmaceutical plant in the Sudan damaged in 1998 by Clinton administration retaliation ofr Al Qaeda attacks in Kenya and Tanzania.

When a direct damage liability claim was not supportable, the company sued the US for portraying them as a terrorist organization, an implication of their being targeted, and damaging their reputation.

The authors go on to discredit the legal theory, but it somewhat reminds one of “libel tourism.”

Monday, June 21, 2010

Faisal Shahzad uses guilty plea in federal court as a bully pulpit

The Associated Press is reporting, on MSNBC and other places, that Faisal Shahzad plead “guilty” to the Times Square plot on May 1 in front of U.S. District Judge Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum (who had sentenced Martha Stewart), and warned Americans that other attacks would follow if the US did not leave Muslim lands. He described in great detail how he became radicalized and traveled among the Taliban to gain training.  He also described his ordnance in great detail.  He offered “existential” arguments as to why American civilians and even civilians were targeted, mentioning the idea that CIA drones can kill civilians. The link to the story on MSNBC is here.

Wolf Blitzer's Situation Room on CNN has a recent video about Shahzad  and the guilty plea here.

Six of the ten counts carry a maximum life in prison sentence.

ABC has a more detailed story by Aaron Katersky, here. He wanted to plead guilty 100 times over.  There was no plea deal; this was his last stand.

Shazhad's "reward" for cooperating doesn't seem to be a reduction in sentence (he'll probably wind up at SuperMax in Colorado for life), but once chance to utter a verbal Manifesto in court. For a few moments he pretends he is "on high" and then a lifetime of solitary.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Eritrea will not let young men leave the country, run under "Marxist" principles

The little country Eritrea is a bit of a Marxist throwback, according to a story by Jeffrey Gettleman in the New York Times on Sunday June 20.

Young men are forbidden from living the country and kept in servitude to the government. Those caught trying to leave face torture.

Nevertheless, some escape to the Sudan, which does not have a particularly good reputation, as with Darfur and with its having housed Osama bin Laden.

The link for the story is here.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Democratic capitalism v. state capitalism: in China, the "hukou" system forces peasants to register if they move to cities

David Brooks as an op-ed in the New York Times today (June 15) named “The Larger Struggle” (link here) where he starts with the struggle between “market fundamentalism” and regulation in western democracy, and a parallel struggle between “democratic capitalism” and “state capitalism”, embraced by countries now as varied as Saudi Arabia and China (and Russia). China indeed has a “communist” social ideology mixed with a capitalist economic “system”, a supposed “free market cultural revolution” which is not really free market.

On p 26 of the May 8-14 issue of “The Economist”, the editors give us “Migration in China: Invisible and heavy shackles”. I didn’t know that Chinese people from the countryside still had to “register” to live in the cities, with a system called hukou. The link is here. The story starts in the inland city of Chongqing. Remember Ted Koppel’s “People’s Republic of Capitalism”?

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Less individualistic societies overseas demand a lot of sacrifice: lessons from Israel, then DRNK

The newspapers today carried a couple of stories about the “self-sacrifice” that is a way of life overseas, in two very diverse circumstances.

Robert McCartney, at the bottom of the Metro lead page in The Washington Post today (June 10), writes “Md. Student pays enormous price in Israel protest, has no regrets,” link here.

Emily Henochowicz went to Israel as an exchange student to study film animation, and decided to participate in protests against the eviction of Palestinian families in East Jerusalem. Caught in the crossfire of Israeli military action, she lost an eye.

Then, today, on the front page of the New York Times, Sharon La Franiere writes “Hidden misery: A glimpse into North Korea”, link here.

The article does seem to follow up on some ABC 20-20 and some CNN Amanpour reports from about three years ago, but the interesting topic is the currency devaluation, which has wiped out the “savings” of many North Koreans. The long article goes into Communist expropriation. “The haves gave to the have-nots.” And the haves were wiped out, taking their turns at hunger and shame. It sounds like Maoism.

When I was in the Army, we used to make fun of Marxism in the barracks at Fort Eustis. “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.” Hardly. At least we never had to go back to the bay.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Economist offers perspective on awful situation for gays in Africa

On May 27, 2010 The Economist published an important piece “Gay rights in developing countries: A well-locked closet: Gays are under attack in poor countries, and not just because of ‘local culture’:. The link is here.

The main culprit, according to the Economist, is fundamentalist Christian ministers from the United States, who are making much less headway in the states. The online version gives a country-by-countyr chart, “a hideous picture”, how homosexuals fare. The well known bill in Uganda and recent flap in Malawi, as well as Burundi, are discussed. Ironically, the only country in Africa making much progress in gay rights is South Africa. That’s quite a turn from Ted Koppel’s reports from the 1980s.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Iran increasing "morality patrols" on the female veil; "our Islamic system is like a ship!"

The Washington Post has a major article by Thomas Erdbrink on p A7 on Thursday June 3, “In Iran, the return of morality patrols: As anniversary of disputed election nears, hard-liners call veiling a ‘security issue’”. That would cut both ways. But the online title of the piece is “Iranian authorities step up arrests of women for ‘immodest’ dress”, link here.

The interesting metaphor in the article was a quote from a female Islamic seminary student “They are trampling on social boundaries… Violence is not good, but they should be punished… Our Islamic system is like a ship; we can’t allow some passengers to make holes in the hull”.

Indeed, while this facet of Islamic law is supposed to protect female purity and prevent men from looking at women as sex objects, it also connects to anti-gay values. It seems as if the Islamic system is a collective one where people find satisfaction in knowing that everyone else must conform to the same strict rules.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Chinese seem to read, comment on American blogs, despite filters; same for Islamic countries

I thought that China had blocked Blogger and most sites from the US thought to have a lot of political activism. But I constant get comments in Chinese by people who have logged on through the captchas (unless they’re breaking them with algorithms). In any case, there’s anecdotal evidence that my forbidden stuff gets read in China.

Even more of it shows up in stats (particularly from my flat sites with their separate Urchin) from Saudi Arabia and Iran.

My own personal experience is that “dissident” or “subversive” material (from the US and western countries) seems to get through despite all the bans and filters from authoritarian governments overseas.