Saturday, December 29, 2012

Worldwide demand for adoption of orphans is very high, could affect same-sex marriage and parenting policies

Friday night (Dec. 28), Dr. Jane Aronson, of the Worldwide Orphans Foundation (link), reported that there are 153 million orphan children throughout the world.  Aronson was discussing Russia’s recent ban on adoption of children from the United States (as political retaliation) or perhaps other countries. 

The statistic is important.  If there are that many children needing adoption, there is more moral pressure on western families to adopt.  The number implies that there are far more children needing adoption than there are traditional families in the United States or western countries to adopt them.  It could have a bearing on laws and policies regarding adoption by same-sex couples or even singles.  It could even press for a view of marriage (in the U.S. or other countries – gay marriage is now controversial in France) that says that marriage benefits should apply only to those having or raising children or at least taking care of members of other generations. 
Later Saturday, CNN mentioned that Russia has about 685.000 orphaned children, and that the adoption ba takes place Jan. 1, 2013.  Some adoptions that had started, with kids expecting homes, could be stopped..  There are reports of suicides in Russian orphanages.  On the other hand, one parent in Tennessee tried to return a disabled adopted child to Russia.

Similar controversy has existed with Romania, given horrible conditions reported in the 1990s.  

Friday, December 28, 2012

China strengthens "filial piety", allows parents to sue adult children who don't visit

China has passed a law strengthening its idea of filial piety.  Adult children of aging parents can be required to visit the parents frequently (how often is not specified) and can take adult children to court when the offspring don’t visit them. The problems seem to occur with parents living in the countryside and adult children who have migrated to the cities to fund work.  So the concept almost sounds retro-Maoist.
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Thursday, December 27, 2012

Effectiveness of gun control in British commonwealth countries called into question; absolute liability laws

Visitors should look at Joyce Lee Malcolm’s article on p. A13 of the Wall Street Journal Thursday December 27, 2012, “Two cautionary tales of gun control”, link here

Malcolm challenges the conventional liberal wisdom that stricter gun control laws in Britain and Australia have made them safer for average citizens (although they may well have prevented repeates of certain mass incidents).  In these countries, self-defense is not an adequate purpose to own a firearm, and the individual can be put in a legal position of surrendering his property and not defending himself.

She also points out that weapons position in Britain has been viewed as an “absolute liability offense”, which could invite framing people.  A man in 2009 was convicted and sentence to five years in prison after he found a weapon left on his property and turned it in, although he was later released.

Absolute liability, often without due process, can occur in various other areas even in America.  There are issues with civil asset forfeiture in drug cases.  There can be arbitrary designation of profiled individuals as “enemy combatants”.  Any for a few years, appearance of child pornography on a personal computer  (or even cell phone) was viewed with absolute criminal liability even if caused by a hacker or virus, although that practice seems to have changed in more recent years fortunately.  Again, these sorts of carelessly conceived judicial policies can invite framing of people.  Libertarians are right on these matters.  

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

UN Mission Council notes co-workers in troubled areas

The Trinity Presbyterian Church in Arlington VA followed up on the Dec. 23 presentation on the Palestinian issues with some prayer post cards from the United Nations General Assembly Mission Council.

The three mission co-worker parties mentioned are as follows:
Rev. Dr. Nuhad Tomeh, and the people of Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and the Persian Gulf, c/o Middle East Council of Churches, PO Box 5376, Beirut, Lebanon

Dr. Larry and Inge Sthreshley, and the peoples of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, 100 Withersppn Street, Louisville KY 40202-1396

Rev. Mark Adams and Mirian Maldonado Escobar, and the people of the US-Mexico border, Fontera de Cristo, PO Box 1112, Douglas, AZ 85608

Sunday, December 23, 2012

George Meek (from IFPB) presents Palestinian human rights abuse issues at Arlington VA church

Today, Sunday, December 23, 2012,the Trinity Presbyterian Church of Arlington VA hosted a presentation by George Meek, who has recently visited the occupied and settled areas of the West Bank for the Interfaith Peace Builders (link ) and the International Solidarity Movement (link ).

Meek documented what appear to be major human rights abuses against civilian Palestinian citizens by occupying Israeli interests.  This problem starts with the settlements on the West Bank, and is exacerbated by the Separation Barrier, which actually runs into the West Bank and splits off about 25000 people from parts of their families.  He mentioned the 106 checkpoints and showed a slide of the Jemaleh Checkpoint, built with IS Aids.

He showed the Mabale Adummim Settlement, which he said threatens the lives of Bedouins in the area.
He said that many Palestinian small businesses are closed without compensation.
He says that 27000 Palestinian homes have been destroyed since 1967.  If any family member in a Palestinian home is suspected of terrorism, the home is destroyed, punishing the entire family (like parents and siblings) for the “sins” of one. He said there are 5 million refugees and 1.5 million in camps.
He described the Israeli policy as “collective punishment” based on national origin.
Politically, he suggested that the $30 billion in U.S. military aid to Israel, especially in light of US deficit problems, be ended (link ).  He also suggested boycotts, such as against Soda Stream, which is manufactured by a plant at an Israeli settlement on “stolen Palestinian land. (The link is here.) Meek had protest cards that could be given to retail store managers and also cards to mail to the “US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation”  He also encouraged consumers to buy products from fair trade organizations, like olive oil from Canaan Fair Trade (link ).

He discussed the refusal of Israel to allow refugees to return and mentioned U.N. Resolution 194 in 1948, which was supposed to guarantee compensation to Palestinians and allow refugees to return.
The event (crowded in a small room)  was attended by church members, including young adults, and certain visitors. A retired judge, Hebert Grossman, asked about the need of Israel to protect itself from suicide bombers, and he mentioned a League of Nations mandate that had given ownership of all West Bank lands to Israel.  In any case, the UN Resolution would seem to demand compensation.

Another audience member asked if reducing US aid to Israel would embolden Iran and Syria to attack Israel or even launch terrorist attacks (like EMP) in the United States.

Visitors may want to look at my review of Jimmy Carter's book "Palestine: Peace, not Apartheid" on December 25, 2007 on the Book Reviews blog. 

Friday, December 21, 2012

Older parents are also part of the "demographic winter" issue

I’m putting this on the International blog first, a reference to an article in The New Republic by Judith Shulevitz, “The Grayest Generation: Older parenthood won’t just redefine the American family; it will upend society, too”, on p. 9 of the December 20, 2012 issue, link.  Yes, this is a good one to buy hard-copy and read on the Metro.

The crux of the article is that all over the developed world, people are having children much later, often to wait until both parents have finished education and are individually competitive in the job market.  The risks when women have children later in life are well known, but there are also issues with older fathers with “older sperm”.  There is a greater likelihood that children born of much older parents will have genetic and “epigenetic” issues, particularly various forms of autism, particularly in boys.  (I hope she doesn’t see homosexuality as an epigenetic handicap, but there is increasing evidence that sons after first one are more likely to be gay, and this may be found to relate to parent age.) 

The reason that this is “international” is that over time, programs in Europe that encourage having children do work, with a 25 percent increase in fertility in ten years for every ten percent increase in benefits. She criticizes Sweden’s program as less successful because it ties benefits to what a parent had been making before.

People have fewer children or have children later because, as she says, having kids represents an “opportunity cost”.  I would disagree with her to a point and say that the opportunity cost can be incurred by men as well.   And there is a problem of logic: you can’t provide benefits to people having children without asking the childless to help pay for them or even sacrifice for them (as in Elionor Burkett’s 2000 book, “The Baby Boon”, discussed on the Books blog March 28, 2006).  That also links up to questions about same-sex marriage and parenting, and the extent to which gay couples should be encourage to adopt.  The proposed ban in Russia on allowing American adoptions suddenly seems relevant potentially to gay couples.  

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Russia may ban adoption of its children by Americans

There is a curious measure that the Russian parliament has voted on, banning adoption of Russian children or orphans by Americans.

This is in retaliation for an American law (the Magnitsky Act) which would prohibit Russians guilty of human rights violations from owning assets in the United States.

The New York Times story, by David Herzenhorn, is here

Putin may not sign the bill.

The issue is significant because many American couples (conceivably some gay couples) want to adopt Russian children. 

Update: Dec. 28

Putin has signed the law.  Expect more coverage on this. 

Monday, December 17, 2012

Workers in Spain don't get paid but are afraid to quit

Suzanne Daley has a disturbing front page story in the New York Times Monday, December 17, 2012, “For Spaniards, Having a Job Mo Longer Guarantees a Paycheck”, link here

Bankrupt employers are failing to pay workers, who are afraid to leave, and the government has trouble processing “not paid” claims.  Part of the issue is that employers say they have not been paid by customers, so it is a chain-reaction, depression.

Earlier, Daley had written an article (in July) that Spaniards were relying on family more than on government benefits.

The article can make US readers wonder if this can happen to them, or if it could even happen with Social Security payments to some recipients in case of a debt ceiling default in early 2013. 

To hear a story like this from Spain is shocking to me.  I visited the Basque portion of the country in the spring of 2001.

Part of the fiscal problem comes from a low birth rate supporting an aging population.
Wikipedia attribution link for panorama of Bilbao from bus approach (nearest train is 50 miles to the east in San Sebastian.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

China still has labor "re-education" camps, especially for dissident bloggers

China still maintains Maoist (or in some people’s parlance, Salinist) labor camps were dissidents may ne sent without trial or charge, according to a New York Times story by Andrew Jacobs on Friday, December 14, 2012, link here.The forced labor system is called “laojiao” (a  good vocabulary word for a high school civics class) and recalls the Cultural Revolution where Maoism tried to force all intellectuals to become peasants.  There were far-Leftists in the US in the 60s who wanted to see that here.  
The NYT story focuses particularly on the case of Ren Jianyu, who was put into a camp for blogging (or "microblogging) about liberty, in a manner common in the US.  Authorities also used a T-shirt that said “Give me liberty or give me death” as part of their evidence.  Global Times, an Emglish language version a Chinese newspaper has a story  by Feng Shu here.  

Could western bloggers (like me) be detained if we traveled to China?  I’m told, no, but I wonder.
China is said to be urging stricter gun control in the US, but recently there was actually an attack in an elementary school in China using a knife (according to an FBI profiler who spoke to CNN after the Connecticut school tragedy Friday).  On the surface, such a story suggest that gun control is limited in its effectiveness.  Nevertheless, we hear the arguments of Piers Morgan on CNN!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

North Korean satellite may be tumbling and failing; CIA thinks NK might be able to launch nuke in a few years

The satellite that North Korea launched very recently is said to be “tumbling out of control”, according to an NBC News story late Wednesday evening, link here

Earlier stories had reported that officials were surprised that the launch occurred earlier than expected and actually seemed to put a Sputnik-sized satellite into orbit.

Intelligence officials say that they do not believe that North Korea is able to put a nuclear weapon or EMP device in a space satellite or ordinary missile now.  But it may be able to do so in a few years, and it may be able to fire an ICBM 6000 miles, able to reach California.  But previously, in 2002, George Tenet had sais that North Korea could reach Alaska or the Pacific Northwest with a nuclear missile. 

Iran is thought to be helping North Korea with missile development. 

On AC360 tonight, a 30-year old man who had escaped a North Korean prison camp to China and gotten asylum spoke.  He said that in North Korea, three generations of lineage are punished for the “counterrevolutionary” acts of parents. He said he survived by turning in his parents in the camp, and they were executed.  He was tortured and has burn scars on his legs, which were not shown.  

Monday, December 10, 2012

Uganda girl Phiona Mutesi wins acclaim as a chess prodigy, while country gets adverse attention for anti-gay policy

CNN today aired a brief story about Ugandan chess master Phiona Mutesi, who the UK Guardian says is leading a “chess revolution from the slums”, in a story by Xan Rice from Kampala, link here

Now 15, learning to read, with her family evicted from shacks numerous times, she still had amazing accomplishments by 2007, entering and winning local tournaments at age 11.  

The article however says that she would have a way to go to play according to the standards of the “developed world”.  The story gives a sample game (link) where she plays White against a Sicilian Defense and makes some typical errors common in club play (like 1700-1800 rated players)  in the US and loses to a typical Black counterattack.

Nevertheless, the story is remarkable coming from Uganda. Remember that this country, in East central Africa, faces jawboning from the US State Department not to make its anti-gay laws even more draconian. 
USCF has a video of her travel to Philadelphia

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Egypt may remain more Islamist in its democracy; Zakaria: Things are actually better in the Middle East

Egypt’s Mohamed Morsi has pulled back from his power decree and is pressing for a referendum. But it seems as though the outcome is likely to be a constitution that follows more conservative aspects of Sharia and Islamic law and will not give equal rights in many areas, as to women.

The latest detailed CNN story, by Reza Sayah is here.   

Time has an account here

Here is Fareed Zakaria’s take on how the Middle East has changed since the 1980s

Yes, it’s better, he says.  It’s more democratic, and the worst elements are contained. This all sound like evaluating a chess position, about to move to the endgame.  

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Assad brings back memories of Saddam Hussein

The latest outrage from Syria seems to place Assad on the same plane as Saddam Hussein when he used chemical weapons on his own people in the Kurdish area of Iraq.
Slate has a technical discussion of Sarin by Brian Palmer, as well as a note that the US tested a missle that could deliver it, the M687 GB, in the Vietnam days, but did not use it. The link for the article is here

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Obama warning to Assad (here on Reuters) sounded a bit non-specific and underwhelming in the exact words chosen.  

Update: Dec. 5

NBC News reported on Wednesday night that Syria had loaded chemical weapons into bombs; other sources had not yet confirmed; the story  by M. Alex Johnson and Jim Miklaszewski(with new video) is here.  

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Could North Korea's December 2012 "satellite" launch pose an EMP danger to the US?

North Korea is planning to launch a “Sptunik” style satellite into orbit, probably between Dec. 10 and Dec. 22, 2012, according to many news reports.  A conventional rocket launch in April had failed.  Intelligence sources fear that North Korea could be developing a missile that could reach the US Pacific Northwest (as in the movie “Red Dawn 2”), but George Tenet had told Congress that North Korea could do that back in 2002.

North Korea (now presided by the "son" dictator Kin Jong Un) seems to be trying to bemuse South Korea’s Dec. 19 election.

There would be a concern that a missile launched over Alaska, or the Canadian or US Pacific Northwest could launch a high altitude nuclear weapon in order to create an electromagnetic pulse (EMP), as hinted in the “Red Dawn” movie (my “CF” blog, Nov. 22, 2012).

Such a detonation could be conceivable from some kinds of orbiting satellites.  That aliens could launch such a blast from orbit has been suggested by  “B-movie” script writers.  The idea that the last day of the possible launch is Dec. 22 sounds like a bizarre coincidence, with the end of the current period on the Mayan Calendar (hence the movie “2012”, my “CF” blog Nov. 13, 2009).

It seems as though we need to keep a real “Roving Eye” on this.

CBS has a complete story (not embeddable) on YouTube, link here

The CBS report (Anna Werner) claims that the satellite is really a long-range missile in disguise.  And such a missile could set off an EMP blast, even as a test this month, even on Dec. 21. 

Wikipedia attribution link for Air Force graph on EMP physics.  

Update: Dec. 5

Latest maps show trajectory of missile will be directly south, possibly jeopardizing South Korea and even Japan (even conceivably SE Asia) but not the US. 

Saturday, December 1, 2012

UN gives Palestinian territory recognition as "second class" state

I’ve personally always thought that people in this region of the world should govern themselves, and that settlements amounted to expropriation of property. That's the libertarian position based on property rights.  It also sounds like Jimmy Carter's notion of Palestinian "apartheid" (book reviews, Dec. 25, 2007). 

The United Nations has voted to make the Palestinian territories as a “non-member observer state”, rather like “separate and unequal”, according to the BBC news story on Nov. 30 here

The United States, Canada, and many other major countries opposed the vote in the General Assembly.

Wikipedia attribution link for UN Headquarters.  

I took the tour in 1970. 

Thursday, November 29, 2012

WCIT-12 conference in Dubai seen to have a dark side

Eric Pfanner has a disturbing article about a conference in Dubai, “Control of the Internet” (or more formally, “World Conference on International Telecommunications, WCIT-12”, link).  The title of the article is “Integrity of Internet is crux of global conference,” here

Ashton Kutcher tweeted the link today, “Dark warnings about future of Internet access”.  “Aplusk” wrote “The net is the greatest vehicle for peace in the world, for the people and by the people.  The smarts’ summit terrifies me”.   (But remember the 1995 film, “The Net”?)

The article suggests that big telecommunications companies are disappointed that they cannot compete with companies like Google and Facebook in the content area, but might seek to have countries regulate content providers. Governments may try to regulate content further, as China does and Vietnam threatens, and might veer away from the idea that the Internet is like a public utility.

There is a YouTube video "UN Internet Control Coming Soon":

It has since been reported that Syria has cut off Internet access throughout the country to thwart rebels. 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Is Vietnam becoming a little China?

USA Today reports Nov. 27 in a story by Calum MacLeod, front page, that in Vietnam, the “capitalist” communist party now finds the Internet a “threat” much as does China.

The story notes that Vietnam underwent a Maoist style forced settlement of professionals and intellectuals to the countryside after the US was completely expelled in 1975 (“The Killing Fields”).

Is Vietnam, as unified, in about the same state that it would be in if the United States hadn’t sent a half million men to Vietnam and sustained 50000 deaths, with a divisive draft (and student deferments) in the 1960s?

I was “drafted” in 1968 bit escaped deployment because of “too much education”.

(Link not yet available). 

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Ethiopia equates aggressive blogger journalism with "terrorism": the Eskinder Nega story

Electronic Frontier Foundation has a story about blogger-journalist Eskinder Nega in Ethiopia. He has been sentenced to eighteen years in prison for his reporting, under a bizarre law in Ethiopia that views provocative, spontaneous journalism as a kind of “terrorism”, almost like the reasoning seen with the furor in the Middle East over the “Innocence of Muslims” video.

The Ethiopian constitution is supposed to guarantee free speech, but in 1992 the country issued a “Press Proclamation” which gives the government the ability to shut down publications that disseminate “false information”.

The link for the EFF story is here.  The title is "Journalism is not Terrorism: Calling on Ethiopia to Free Eskinder Nega." 

Nega is the recipient of the PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award. 

Wikipedia attribution link for CIA map of Ethiopia.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Cyberwarfare enters the Israeli-Gaza conflict; the rhetoric remains existential

The hacker group Anonymous is taking credit for a large number of cyberattacks against Israel, as a protest of settlement policies in lands historically belonging to Palestinians, in a story on CNN here.

Anderson Cooper was reporting from Gaza Monday night, as the region watches for a possible truce and then talks.

Air defenses on both sides are able to knock out about 80% of incoming rockets, but maybe could be corrupted by hackers.

On CNN, an Israeli spokesperson said, "You do not negotiate with terrorists.  Defending yourself is right."  But a commentator asked, how do you defend yourself against an enemy who will die to prove you wrong?

Update: Nov. 21

Israel and "Hamas, Inc." have agreed to a cease fire (NBC News), link.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Petraeus, in testimony, emphasizes Al Qaeda, downplays role of amateur film in Libya attack

Former CIA director and former Army commander David Petraeus testified Friday that the attack on the consulate at Benghazi , Libya was a pre-meditated attack with support from Al Qaeda.

Peter King (R-NY) had said that as late as three days after the Sept. 11, 2012 attack, Congress had been left with the impression that it had been spontaneous, as a result of the “offensive” amateur YouTube film, “Innocence of Muslims”.

The attack appears to have been a hybrid storm, started intentionally, but then able to feed on the sudden opportunity for protests against the film.  It appears that the film was deliberately circulated “virally” with Arabic subtitles in the middle East in the days before Sept. 11. So there is the opportunity for some to say that asymmetric speech in the west is capable of creating security problems overseas because of different worldviews about responsibility for the effects of speech.

Petraeis indicated that some intelligence about Al Qaeda was not at first shared publicly, so as not to tip off enemies and impede investigation. It may have been advantageous (although harmful to web speakers) to allow the public to believe that the video had caused the "riot" when it hadn't.  But wasn't the president told the right information immediately?

Susan Rice, when she gave a briefing a few days after the attack, limited her remarks to what was unclassified, which would have comprised speculation about the role of the video (the "movie rage").

It's clear that the State Department did not provide proper security for the consulate.  
The was no discussion of the Petraes scandal today, other than to note it had no effect on operations.

CNN has a comprehensive story link here.

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In this matter, the GOP seems more willing to protect amateur speech from downstream blame than the Democrats. 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Grandmothers keep order in China as Communist Party changes government; outages

A story by William Wan in the Washington Post, Monday November 12, 2012, describes the extensive security in Beijing as China prepares for a “change of leadership” in its “Peoples Republic of Capitalism”.

The capital city is almost under martial law, but the government is also using “nanas” or older grandmothers to help keep order with a gentle touch.  It’s a sign of the extensive socialization in Chinese society.
The story link is here.

Google has experienced a major outage in China, apparently started by the government, which seems to be promoting its own Baidu, which it can control. Datamation (indeed a classic d.p. publication going back to the days of Perot) has a story here. I tried Baidu; it opens a new window for every search result.  

I don’t know how an American blogger could travel to China and stay connected on his own. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Saudi royal government tries to educate women, who face "brick wall" in employment

Kevin Sullivan, reporting for the Washington Post from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, has a front page story Tuesday November 13, 2012, “Saudi women: educated but jobless: Young females with government-funded programs face ‘brick wall’ of restrictions”, and titled “Saudi Arabia struggles to employ its most educated women”, link here

The royal family and government have recently supported female education (in stark contrast to the attitude of the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan), but local religious rulers make visible professional employment of women difficult in the kingdom in most areas. Curiously, not following government would be seen as “libertarian” in western countries, but not here.

Saudi (and other Islamic) religious rules separating women in public and requiring their covering with burqas, veils or abayas and often prohibiting most outside employment.  These rules seem designed to protect the sexual investment of men in marriage in a conservative culture, seemingly by giving men a sense of “ownership” that would seem wrong in western culture.
 Contractors often fill lower paying jobs or those with special skills (including a lot of information technology).  Western companies can have difficulties placing female contractors in these positions.  In the 1980s in Dallas, I worked with a man who had contracted in Saudi Arabia and lived on an American compound. He reported that “religious police” still visited their compound looking for alcohol and women.
In 2011, when I worked for Census on special surveys, I had conducted an interview of a wife of a Middle Eastern man on an initial first personal visit.  That evening, I got an angry phone call from the husband for speaking to his wife when she wasn’t present.  I was quite disturbed by this at the time.  His attitude was even more absurd because I am gay. 
Yet, there is a YouTube video from Newsy reporting that Saudi Arabia plans to build a city where only women are allowed:

Friday, November 2, 2012

There is a strong movement in Scotland to hold a referendum on secession from Britain

Go back to your freshman European history texts.  There is a strong movement in Scotland to hold a referendum on secession from Britain late in 2014, termination a sovereign union in effect since 1707.  The Uinted Kingdom would no longer be the UK. 

Some of the motives are said to be economic: Scotland holds most of the oil resources. 

Another is that smaller European states (like the Netherlands, Belgium) have a lot more power in proportion to their size and population.

There is a general opinion, following a Supreme Court of Canada opinion on a similar question for Quebec, that it is difficult for a referendum alone to establish independence, but it could put strong practical pressure on London (Wikipedia, here. 

There is a summary of the issue on “The Week” (covering “The Beast” and “Altantic”) here

Wikipedia attribution link for Inverness picture. I visited the country in 1982, and took the train north from here.  It was November, and dark before 4 PM for "tea". 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Russia has strict Internet censorship law that can put service providers in peril

The Washington Post occasionally includes paid supplements from other countries, and Wednesday Oct. 24 it’s supplement “Russia Now” had a disturbing article “Bracing for Internet blacklist?” by Anna Arutunyan.

She describes a recently passed law and proposed amendments  in Russia that would give the government the power to describe a website as “illegal” and require a service provider (or shared hosting service) to remove the site within 24 hours or the entire service could be removed.  Such tactics have happened in the U.S. with sites determined by customs to be selling counterfeit goods.

According to the article, the presence of a video like “Innocence of Muslims”, if not removed, could cause an entire service like YouTube to be shut down in the Russian Federation.

In other ways, the new bill sounds a bit like the American law COPA, which was ruled unconstitutional in 2007.

There is an article about the passing of the bill in July 2012, by Alexander Kilyakov, here

The “Russia Now” insert also has am op-ed on p. H4, “The Third Angel”, titled “Free Speech in Peril”, by Konstantin von Eggert, which suggests that a court in one autonomous region (Chechnya) can ban a video for the entire Russian Federation. I’m not sure how this can make sense. 

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Italian scientists convicted of manslaughter for failing to warn about an earthquake

"You gotta be kidding" on this one.

In Italy, seven members of the National Commission for Prevention of Major Risks in Italy were convicted of manslaughter for failing to give residents in a seismically area enough notice for an earthquake that resulted in over 300 deaths.  Various other commission members have resigned over the intimidation.

Can anyone really predict earthquakes that reliably?

Imagine litigation after a supervolcano quake.

iGoogle picked out the NYTimes story here.

This sounds like one for Seth Meyers on SNL. Or maybe it sounds like the Amanda Knox case. 

Monday, October 22, 2012

A visit to the exhibit on the Cuban Missile Crisis at the National Archives

Today I visited the exhibit “To the Brink: JFK and the Cuban Missile Crisis” about the 1962 brush with armageddon (fifty years ago), at the National Archives in Washington DC.  The exhibit includes materials resulting from the opening of the Robert F. Kennedy papers, and also from “secret tapes” that Kennedy made with a 1960 Tandberg  open reel model familiar to hi-fi enthusiasts at that time.

The Archives Building (at 7th and Pennsylvania Ave.) does not allow any photography of any indoor exhibits (it used to allow it on some), supposedly to protect documents (like handwritten presidential memos) from flash damage.  However, many items are displayed outdoors, or at the nearby Metro station, or are available on various items, some free and some for purchase. 

I could not find the exhibit website on a normal computer, but an app to download comes up on the iPad, and this has more images that can be used.  The Archives foundation has an online store and hopefully many of these images will be added.

There was a similar exhibit this summer at Oak Ridge National Museum (that is, the American Museum of Science and Energy) in Tennessee, near Knoxville.

The exhibit replays some taped White House conversations, including one where Dean Rusk advises Kennedy that the Soviets felt “behind” in the nuclear arms race because of American missiles in Turkey, and wanted parity.  There are also other memos that show grave concern about the Soviet buildup in Berlin in the summer and fall of 1961, as I was entering college.

Intelligence had picked up Soviet shipments to Cuba as early as July 1962, and there was more activity in early September.  So the sudden discovery in fly-oevers of missiles s in October should not have been a surprise.

The exhibit also shows a home survival kit. 

I was a patient at NIH at the time (as I have detailed elsewhere) and would not have been fit to try to help rebuild a world partially ruined by nuclear war, which would have certainly ended my own life.  I was allowed to attend GWU in downtown Washington at night, and saw Kennedy’s first speech while eating dinner in the Student Union on G Street. 

The Atlantic has an essay, “What are you going to be when you grow up? Recalling the Cuban Missile Crisis”, link here.  Remember the film "The War Game" in 1967?  Remember LBJ's campaign ads in 1964?

President Johnson would escalate the war in Vietnam in early 1965, perhaps under false pretenses (from he Gulf of Tonkin), under "fog or war".  Still, LBJ, McNamara and Rush promulgated the "domino theory" to justify the war just a little more than 2 years after the Cuban Missile Crisis.  This was the world of the male-only draft, and then student deferments.  It was a world where non-conforming males were seen as a burden or possible security risk.  It was a world that engendered McCarthyism and homophobia. 

Today, the biggest threats are asymmetric: that a terrorist group could acquire nuclear weapons (in the future from Iran or North Korea) and detonate in a major city, or could detonate a “dirty bomb”, or even  a high-altitude explosion for an EMP blast. Ever since 9/11, we’ve had a feeling of watching our backs.  

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

DC television station tells some inside stories of Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, 50th Anniversary

On Oct. 15, Station WJLA (ABC Affiliate, Washington DC) aired a report on the opening of an exhibit at the National Archives about the Cuban Missile Crisis.

I will visit the exhibit as soon as practical.

This week marks the 50th Anniversary of the start of the Crisis.  I was an inpatient in the Clinical Center at NIH at the time (“psychiatric”), was allowed to go to George Washington University at night, and was the only patient who knew what was going on. 
Check the AP story by Peter Orsi, printed Tuesday in the Washington Times, "Cuban Missile Crisis Beliefs Endure after 50 Years", link here.

Check also the New York Times op-ed by Michael Dobbs (Oct. 17), "Eyeball-to-Eyeball: The Price of a 50-Year Myth,", link here

Europe comes down on Google's combinatorial privacy policy

The EU has come down on Google regarding its integrated privacy policy, implemented last March. A front page story by Craig Timberg in the Washington Post outlines the concerns.  That story is “Europe calls for Google to be more transparent about data collection,” link (website url) here

There is a document where the EU lists its recommendations,here

The general concern seems to be the integration of applications and the possibility of using the same “personal” information against various services, including Analytics.  Yet, it seems to me that some of the concerns in the guidelines are met by Google’s application-specific passwords, which I personal found a bit clumsy to use (in the U.S.) 

The concerns would naturally be the greatest in countries with authoritarian governments, not in stable western countries.  

However, mishaps with private data could lead to hacks, particularly with customers who have linked all their data "in the Cloud" (Internet Safety blog Aug. 17, 2012).

Update: Oct. 20

Craig Timberg has video at the Washington Post explaining Europe's actions, here

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Jimmy Wales tweets warning about ITU WCIT censorship issue

Harold Feld has an important piece (link tweeted today by Wikipedia’s Jimmy Wales) on the ITU WCIT (that is, the International Telecommunications Union and the World Conference on International Telecommunications), and global Internet freedom.  The link (on Public Knowledge) is here

Wales says “If you care about freedom of speech and the Internet, read this.”

A posting on the Internet Governance Project in June had argued that this was mostly about payments (link).

However a “leaked” document from the ITU suggests that member states would have considerable power to disrupt communications for political purposes (link).

Feld argues that this would hinder US efforts to provide workarounds for dissidents in countries with authoritarian governments (through the State Department). 

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Taliban targets 14-year-old girl for advocating education for girls, in remote area of Pakistan

NBC Nightly News reported on the targeting by the Taliban of a 14-year-old girl Malala Yousafzai, and of her being shot and seriously injured in her village in the Swat area of Pakistan, for trying to go to school and speaking publicly about education for girls  Two other girls were also injured. She had won international recognition for her efforts.

The link for the story is here.

President Asif Ali Zardari wants her sent abroad, to a modern western hospital, for surgery and treatment, according to the Urdu edition of Dawn, link.  

Monday, October 8, 2012

DC Metro must post controversial anti-Muslim ad at a few stations, by First Amendment

A federal judge has ordered the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA or “The Metro”) to post controversial anti-Muslim ads in a few stations late today.

The Metro did not want to accept them, as it feared inciting incidents, given the recent experience with the anti-Muslin film in the middle East.

A federal judge ruled that a public agency had to accept them under the First Amendment.

The Huffington Post has a story and a picture of the ad at this link 

If I happen to get to one of the stations soon, I’ll snap a picture.  I wonder if it’s inappropriate to post it for “journalistic reasons”.

The ad speaks of Israel as “civilized” and its enemies as not.  That does not sound like a reasonable position, and it rather reeks of the “apartheid” that former president Jimmy Carter criticized in his book. 

Update: Oct. 11

I got up to the U-street station on the DC Metro Green Line. The controversial sign is on the east end of the platform, downtown bound.
The other nearby ad posters are indeed much more "uplifting", for instance (right behind this one):

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

There is still a push for Catalonia, Basque areas to separate from Spain

Spain, with all its economic woes, still faces pressure for sovereign independence from some areas, the Basque in the north, and the Catalan region in the northeast, where Barcelona is located.

Jaume Chlolet and Richard Gonzales have an op-ed on p. A25 of the Oct. 3 New York Times, “Spanish Prisoners: A new call for Catalonia’s independence,”  link here.

The writers argue that the region provides a disproportionate share of Spain’s income compared to what it pays in taxes, especially now.  Furthermore, it argues that small “sovereign” states make sense in Europe since there are other good examples (The Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark). 

The term “Spanish Prisoner” now connotes a well-known Internet scam, and it was also the title of a quirky film about corporate espionage in 1998, by David Mamet (with Steve Martin).

I visited Bilbao and San Sebastian myself in April 2001; I stayed a few blocks from the ETA headquarters, but all was quiet.  I went to see the Guggenheim, but the atmosphere of the city is interesting.

A quick look at Wikipedia shows that the Catalan language may be a little closer to French than Spanish, and has dialects itself, and is the official language of the microstate Andorra, and has a significant number of speakers.  At least one major chess opening is named after the language. 

Wikipedia attribution link for map of Catalonia (or Catmorfo).

Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Huffington Post, in a story by Daniel Flynn and Leigh Thomas, reports that France will tax the super-rich at 75%

Well, in France at least, the fantasies of the old "People's Party" seem to be coming home to roost.

The Huffington Post, in a story by Daniel Flynn and Leigh Thomas, reports that France is imposing a 75% tax on the super-rich “in order to stay in the center of the Euro zone”.

I presume that this is an income tax, not an expropriation of accumulated wealth.  But I’m not sure.

Naturally, there is fear that the “pinko” tax will drive a lot of businessmen from France and backfire on the French economy.

Could a measure like this work for Spain, Italy and Portugal -- and Greece?  Is this the beginning of Eruope's "purification" -- or the end of it? 

The link is here.