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).