Thursday, May 31, 2012

Law enforcement and justice practices in China still follow tribal patterns

Chen Guangcheng has a major essay May 30 in “The New York Times”, titled “How China Flouts its Laws”, detailing false charges and punishment against his family (including siblings and in-laws) for his supposed “property damage” in conjunction with local civil protests. The link is here

The writer discusses the lack of habeas corpus and the throwbacks to some of the collective abuses common during Maoist times. 
Other articles in the Times talk about the inability of the Chinese authorities to control local violence that has escalated since the time of Communist rule and ideology (the Cultural Revolution), as with another piece about Li Lan by Erick Eckholm.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

More conspiracy theories about 9/11 abound on city streets, still

Conspiracy theories abound, it seems. Walking around on city streets, one can find posters claiming NSA coverups of 9/11.

This one is about a whistleblower at the NSA claiming that the agency "arrange" 911.  (Where's the slash in the date?) 

There was the issue of the mystery warning email some people got (myself included) warning about something called 911 on Labor Day weekend of 2001.  I didn't open it, thinking it had been sent by a virus.  I remember being in a hotel room in Canada (Thunder Bay) when I saw the bizarre message in my AOL inbox. 

Were there warning signs that "ordinary people"could have picked up?

Monday, May 28, 2012

China's "low wage" exploitation; Pakistan's power crisis

James Fallows has an interesting opinion in the New York Times, “Can China escape the low-wage trap?” , in the Sunday (May 27) Review, link here

Why does China “let us get away with it”?  It certainly makes us wonder about the about of our debt they carry. Yet, they continue to allow their workers to live crowded dorms and be employed as “proles” at “pay your dues” wages after leaving their parents “in the countryside”.  Fallows points out that China’s “people’s capitalism” (as Ted Koppel had called it) is not yet creating many of its own brands.  When will China create its own Apple, or Pear?  Trouble is, you need a liberal society to do that.  (And you  probably need to understand trademark.)

And here’s an interesting piece by Richard Leiby in the Washington Post, Monday, p. A10, “Pakistan’s power crisis enrages ‘shattered’ populace; Some say daily blackouts may pose a greater threat to stability than militants do”, link.   The biggest problems are in the tribal areas, but seem to be caused by economics and not religious fundamentalism. They even affect Abbotobad.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Afghan girls poisoned for trying to go to school

CNN reports that about 120 girls were poisoned in Takhur province in Afghanistan for going to school or wanting an education.  The news story reports that the Taliban is retaliating for banning motorcycles or small vehicles used in insurgency.  But even a large number of boys were also victims.

Tribal or family culture of the Taliban demands that men have domination over economic and cultural matters as part of how men experience marital sexuality, in radical Islam.

It always bemused me that a man would find someone so dependent on him interesting. When I grew up, that sort of psychology never made sense.

The CNN link is here.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Piers Morgan: Obama wants Israel to hold off on Iran strike until after November election -- oh, really?

Piers Morgan attracted attention on CNN last night when he suggested to Isarel's Defense Minister Ehud Barak (note the mean proportionality of the name) that President Barak Obama would prefer that Israel take no action against Iran until after the November election, given fears about probable effects on oil supplies and the economy.

The interpretive story by Noel Sheppard on Newsbusters is here.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

New Al Qaeda threads from Yemen could complicate air travel and staying connected; 9th Circuit takes up problems with no-fly list

Brian Ross, of ABC News, has an alarming story on May 9, about new Al Qaeda “plans” being developed in Yemen (by Ibrahim al-Asiri) to hide hard-to-detect explosives for US-bound flights in places like pets or human bodies (surgically implanted), or in certain kinds of cameras, lenses, or external hard drives triggered by USB connection to ordinary laptops.

The main link to the ABC story (with several videos) is here

Al-Asiri, 30, is considered one of the most dangerous terrorists now, is said to “hate western values” after the death of his brother (at the hands of the US).

Scientific American has a more detailed report on the specifics of the recent threats, which would have included checked baggage and cargo planes (for ordinary shipping) as well as carry-ons by passengers. 

There’s discussion the way these devices work, with lead azide and PETN, in this link of an article by Larry Greenemeier called “Screening Test”.

Pete Williams has a report from NBC here

The major concern of a practical nature for travelers would be whether the TSA would ban further items that are accepted today.  For some people this would obviously be their pets, or perhaps people who have had certain surgeries that somehow create issues for scanners.  It could also affect hand-carry of electronics, which generally cannot be checked because of the likelihood of damage.  I discussed the details of current rules on my “IT Job Market” blog on May 9. 

It used to be the case that when you traveled with a laptop, you were expected to be able to turn it on at checkpoint.  So you ran a slight risk of missing a flight if your laptop failed.

It also used to be common for hotels to offer more services for travelers in the way of in-house business centers.  Today, most  hotels and motels expect travelers to have their own electronics.  Possibly, the infrastructure of the travel industry should depend less on expecting travelers to carry so much gear around, especially overseas.  Increasing security concerns could create real problems for some travelers, especially those entrepreneurs “on their own” without regular employers or staffs.

CNN has also been reporting issues with the TSA no-fly list, with about 20000 people on it now, and mentioned the only process for redress, DHS TRIP, as described here
CNN has been reporting problems with it, including a toddler (daughter of a Mid-Eastern New Jersey family) placed on it by mistake, and several veterans, now suing in the Ninth Circuit; one owned a dog business and said he was told he could only come off it if he would become an informant at his mosque (Fox has a story here.).  CNN's Jason Carroll reported, and said that people have, in practice, very inadequate ways of finding out why they are on it.  If flying is a necessity and not a privilege, there seems to be a lack of "due process".  

Friday, May 11, 2012

New drug could prevent new HIV infection worldwide; more progress in HIV vaccine reported

Various media sources, such as the BBC here, are reporting that a panel has recommended that the USDA approve a new drug, Truvalda, which purports to prevent initial HIV infection in uninfected partners (both gay and straight) of those already infected with HIV.

The most obvious beneficiaries in the West would be gay men, but the promise of the drug could be that it could stop the HIV epidemic among everyone in Africa.

The BBC story is here.  

The drug would be expensive now and there would be obvious questions in covering it with insurance (or in single-payer systems overseas).  The only antidote would be to have more than one manufacturer and have some competition, but that would run into patent issues.

Earlier, BBC had run a study about a successful vaccine trial among monkey against a similar retrovirus, SIV. 

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Noted sociologists disagree on whether war, tribalism are inevitable parts of human nature

There is a lively debate in the June 2012 issue of Discover about whether war – armed conflict between familial, tribal, religious and/or national groups, is inevitable as a part of human nature.

On p. 52 Discover offers an excerpt from Edward O. Wilson’s book (“The Social Conquest of Earth”), offering alarming statistics over how much of the world’s population perished in earlier times because of armed conflict. He makes interesting comparisons between chimpanzee and early human societies, which are supported by the recent Disney Nature film “Chimpanzee”. 

But on p. 57 John Horgan offers a counterargument, “War is Not Inevitable”.  He disputes Wilson’s (and Disney’s) portrayal of chimpanzee behavior as shown as really typical.  (The bonobos are not as combative.)  He also points to archeological evidence that points to armed conflict as having first occurred about 13000 years ago. 

Man can overcome tribalism and a tendency toward violence bullying and social combat through “culture” he argues. 

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Media depicts how CIA used undercover informant to break Al Qaeda plot

ABC World News Tonight with Diane Sawyer has a thorough story on how the CIA foiled an Al Qaeda plot to send someone (from Yemen) with an "improved" underwear device on an overeas commercial aircraft.  A CIA"double agent", perhaps the male equivalent of an Ashley Judd, joined a training camp in Yemen as a radical Islamist.  He managed to get the device transported to Saudi Arabia and turned over to authorities.

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The entire incident sounds like something from a Tom Clancy novel.

My own novel has a thirty-something male history teacher, ex-military intelligence, with an ordinary family, recruited back presumably to look at right wing bio-terror plots while keeping his teaching job and using more long term substitute teachers (sometimes working that way himself), under the guise of an old "Civilian Defense Reservist" program instituted in the 1980s.

Generally, the CIA would, for field operatives, would have to recruit people who can blend into specific populations and live "normally" with respect to those groups.  Ashley Judd's character in "Missing" is an exaggeration.

Here's what the CIA says about its CST, Clandestine Service program, and a "core collector" position, link.    There's also a "protective agent".  There's a need for linguists and language instructors (I actually know someone, to graduate from college this year if I've kept track, who would be the perfect fit, having been born in an Islamic country and grown up "everywhere" in the West.)   But the military looks for the same set of recruits, especially to attend service academies.

The US is looking at other dangerous plots, such as those that could take advantage of drought. These have been widely reported in detail in the major media. Other dangerous and over-the-top ideas include surgically implanted devices.  

Friday, May 4, 2012

Russia threatens to destroy missile sites in former Soviet-ruled countries

Is the Cold War completely over?  The Washington Times reports “Russia threatens to attack NATO defense missiles sites” in a story by Shaun Waterman, here. And, no, this is not from "The Onion". 

The sites are in former Soviet satellites or republics (including Poland).  The West says that they are intended to defend against Iran.

The comments for the article are interesting, some definitely “from the Right”. 

The plot of the recent ABC series “Missing”, while still unclear, may revolve ultimately around Russian missile sites and loose nuclear materials still not accounted for.  

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Tunisian free speech, after revolution, tested by case involving Iranian film "Persepolis"

Apparently, the “Arab Spring” in Tunisia has not led to much freedom of speech. The Washington Post is carrying a couple major stories about the case of TV entrepreneur Nabil Karoui, who was fined for showing the Iranian animated film “Persepolis” (Movies blog, Jan. 26, 2008). He also faced personal attacks and vandalism and home and office, which police say they could not or would not control.

The latest Washington Post story by Marc-Fisher is here

There is a very long and detailed story on the front page of the printed Washington Post May 3.   The film (based on Shiite, rather than Sunni, culture) has a passage where the heroine appears to argue with Allah.
In Islamic states emerging after revolution, there seems to be a prevailing belief that “free speech” does not include criticizing the religious beliefs of others. 

That’s interesting in that Edward O. Wilson’s recent book “The Social Conquest of Earth” views religion as a way of bonding people together even if some of the beliefs are “irrational”. 

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

President announces staged complete withdrawal from Afghanistan

President Obama, having traveled to Afghanistan (on the "anniversary") addressed the nation this evening and announced that reductions in US troops in Afghanistan will occur "at a steady pace" and that the country will be fully responsible for its own security by the end of 2014.   Afghan troops will "be in the lead" for operations by 2013.  The text of the remarks is here.

The president said that over 500000 troops have served in Afghanistan since 2001.  At the height of the Vietnam war, there were over 500000 US troops on the ground at one time.

The president spoke at 7:30 PM EDT this evening.

The New York Times wrote that the speech was weak on details in an editorial titled "Missed Chance", link here