Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Washington Post editorial says "Imagine Me Naked" -- and it's not amusing (we're not prepared)

The Washington Post ran an editorial today about future government response to a radiation-associated disaster, which could be deliberate.  It’s in response to an EPA report on “Protection Action Guides” here.

 It’s true, as the Post contends, that the report can be criticized for ambiguity and glossy language.
What is so disturbing about the editorial is the way it starts, with the imperative verb “Imagine”. The article link is here

It takes only a good high school education in world history and social studies (about both Communism and Fascism)  to realize that there are people who could, in asymmetric fashion, feel motivated to disrupt to economy with enormous regional  property and infrastructure damage (specifically through radiation or electromagnetic pulse, which doesn’t require nuclear devices).  Rather than maiming physical injuries (as in Boston), the aim would be to spread the “shame” of homelessness and loss to everyone. Again, in my own “coming of age”, I encountered members of the radical Left who thought this way.  Conservatives like Newt Gingrich and Roscoe Bartlett have been warning about these possibilities (as has the Washington Times newspaper) . At least once, a commentator on CNN has attributed such a possibility to fictional agents from North Korea.
If someone has property in an exposed area, it’s possible to plan a backup site to retreat to --- carrying all of one’s digital gear (hopefully in the cloud or preferably on optical disks) with one, to a safer rental site, perhaps a corporate extended-stay apartment in a safer, inland city.  (Atlanta – “Braves Country” -- sounds good – most people don’t know that it is on a plateau about 1000 feet above sea level.)   Have it planned in advance.  If I had “inherited” a situation on the Jersey or North Carolina coast, or in western wildfire country, I would make such plans.  But some things cannot be anticipated in advance.  

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Woman in Montreal arrested for posting graffiti picture that embeds a "threat"

Can merely photographing and reproducing on the web graffiti art that is “threatening” in nature in turn be seen as conveying a threat or as harassment?

In Montreal, a woman Jennifer Pawluck, was arrested after posting on social media (Instagram) a graffiti image she had photographed showing a mock shooting of Montreal police spokesman Ian Lafreniere.  Police arrested the 20-year old woman at her home.  Police imply, that she made her own threats on social media.
It would seem logical that only the first artist made a “threat”.  Pawluck is simply reporting it as a journalist.  The case would seem to raise the question if a blogger’s reproduction of a “threat” for reporting purposes is treated differently legally than if the mainstream press reports it.

But what if the image were one of child pornography?

The link for the story is here.  
Another question that can come up is copyright, although this is rarely an issue with outdoor art (certainly not graffiti).

The case reminds one of other troubling questions.  Does it break the law for a blogger to link to (or embed) illegal content?  What about linking to content that is libelous (main blog, April 13, 2013, where Canadian law may be more “lenient” than US law). 
Blame Canada!

Friday, April 26, 2013

Terrorism disregards the concept of non-combatant; but so did the military draft at one time

I have an old unpublished manuscript (“The Proles”) that contains a detailed, and rather graphic, account of my time in Army Basic Training in 1968.  One of the “academic” topics covered in Basic (they were few) was the Geneva Convention.

I recall the issue in conjunction with another term, “noncombatant”, described in the Protocol of the Geneva Convention, as explained here in Wikipedia, link.  

The topic comes up in my mind because of the incredibly “personal” nature of the attack at the Boston Marathon.  It did not do much infrastructure damage or property damage (there is a question about how insurance companies respond if the government calls it “terrorism”). It did not kill a large number of people. 
But it did main a lot of people, and present not just physical but emotional issues not only for the people directly but for others having relationships with them. 
There are other kinds of attacks that could be imagined, and in that regard the availability of material on the Internet (“Inspire Magazine” and other places) become an issue for national and homeland security. In this case, it looks like the older Tsarmaev brother did have extensive paramilitary training overseas.  But the pattern does seem to shift.  Al Qaeda seems to be inspiring disconnected attacks from lone wolves or small groups, with little or no traceable support, with likely greater dependence on the Internet (without training) in the future.  Although the extremist ideology seems to have a basis in some abstract religious and geopolitical beliefs, it quickly becomes very personal.  The elder Tsarmaev, having failed in his own life in the US, came to regard ordinary Americans (which could have included other Muslims) as personal enemies.  He came to believe that everyone is a “combatant” and should take his turn sharing the suffering.  Therefore, he could go on a frightening and yet surprisingly amateurish violent crime spree.  (Why was his younger brother so easily brainwashed?  What a perversion of the idea of “leadership role” in the family.)
But we’ve seen variations of that sort of thinking .  In the 1960s, we had a male-only military draft,, which tended to make any fit (or even not so fit) male in a certain age range a potential “combatant” (without volunteering first, as today).  The experience was complicated by student deferments, which fueled class resentments and sheltered some at the risk of others with disadvantaged backgrounds. We still have mandatory Selective Service registration, and a sometimes vocal minority of politicians want to restore conscription (which would probably include women now).  It’s only because the Vietnam war was discredited politically that the moral issues associated with the draft (including a disdain for physical cowardice that earlier generations knew) have been largely forgotten.  The debate over “don’t ask don’t tell” at least recalled some of this, however. Among modern democracies, Israel (necessarily) has the concept that every citizen is a soldier and potentially a combatant.  
Furthermore. look at world history.  Despots on both the far left and far right, religious or not (Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Saddam Hussein, the Jongs of DRNK) believe that ordinary people can be viewed as the “enemy”, or at least as competition for resources in a zero-sum world.  So it should not be surprising that such beliefs would be found in extremist religion, especially radical Islam.
I ran into the “everybody is the enemy” thinking when I “looked in” on the radical Left in 1972, even.  I was seen as part of the “oppressor” because I worked as a “salaried professional” and “depended” on the working person.  If something happened to me, so they thought, I had it coming to me. 

My own history makes me take very seriously the idea that everyone has to “pay his dues” to reach the moral high ground, even though this doesn’t seem to be seen as a reasonable idea in the world of individualism.  Maybe this all comes from “The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology” (Movie reviews, April 20).  

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Local extremists use "Inspire" online magazine from AQAP; is more censorship likely?

The media is showing increasing concern about how an online magazine with Al Qaeda sources may have shown how the Tsarnaev borhters to assemble their IED’s.  The picture seems to be that the brothers did not have ongoing overseas conspirators but developed radical ideas online.  But that could be countered, of course, by accounts of the older brother’s trips to the homeland and Russia’s concern about him.
Nevertheless, the magazine, “Inspire”, apparently advocates a policy of individual extremism, claiming that individual “jihad” (or “open source jihad”): is a religious duty in radical Islam even when organized support is not possible.
The Wikipedia article on the magazine explains it well here.  The magazine is published by AQAP, “Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula”.  The wiki notes that possession of the magazine is illegal in the United Kingdom.
A site called Public Intelligence has a detailed analysis of the site (website url) here

The magazine seems to live in bits and pieces at various url's that change all the time. Some reports indicate that access is restricted (which counters censorship concerns, next paragraph)..  "Public Intelligence" has reproduced some of it, as did the New York Daily news (some covers with graphic content) earlier this year.

This sort of information suggests that some will call for more Internet censorship or restrictions on "free entry" for homeland security reasons, but this site is overseas.  (I discussed this on the main blog April 16).  Some commentators say that most people would not be able to make these devices work on their own without some training, however.

A quick check of YouTube shows some "instructional" videos on IEDs, although they may be inaccurate or amateurish.  Would these videos violate YouTube's TOS?
It seems particularly shocking that the brothers view maiming individual American civilians up close as a religious duty,  apparently to “payback” from American “attacks” in Iraq and Afghanistan or in any Islamic lands.  This view comports with common mid-eastern ideas that every civilian is a soldier, whether by choice or not.

CNN has been exploring how the younger brother was "brainwashed" by the older brother, as a "Manchurian Candidate" type of process that can trap people into joining destructive  cults. Dr. Phil will be explaining that the teen brain is not biologically mature even at 19 the way it is at 25.  
There is “crowdfunding” going on in Boston for medical and rehab costs resulting from the incident.  But this sounds like a case where Congress should consider covering all these costs, because individual civilians were attacked in response to American foreign policy; the were effectively involuntarily exposed to combat.  The Los Angeles Times has an article on what they face here. Will a Massachusetts congressman propose such a bill? 

Thursday, April 18, 2013

TOR and Bitcoin (and the "Silk Road", perhaps unfortunately)

While there has been a lot of chatter recently about the volatile behavior of bitcoin (and the trend downward, with some spikes, against the US dollar), it’s important to note that TOR, the “onion” P2P network popular among Internet dissidents in totalitarian countries, is very much tied to it, as explained on this Wiki here.  
There has been some discussion about it recently on Twitter.

There’s also a lot of discussion on the web of the “Silk Road (Anonymous) Marketplace”,  a Tor hdden service requiring bitcoins.  It’s not illegal in itself, but most of what is traded on it is in most jurisdictions.
Here’s an 85-minute session “How Governments Have Tried to Block TOR” posted by CCCen, lead by Roger Dingeldine.   

He claims over 400,000 users. .   

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Anti-Putin blogger will probably be tried soon in Russia for "corruption"

The Washington Post has aggressively covered the arrest and prosecution of “anti-Putin” blogger Alexei Navalny in Russia.  The official charges involve some sort of business corruption or embezzlement, nut journalists believe he has been targeted for prosecution because of his effectiveness as an “anti-corruption” blogger.  Ironically, what he is accused of (in a Post story April 17) would be a form of corruption.  
Kehty Layy has a detailed story on p A12 of the Wednesday April 17 Post.  A more updated version, noting the postponement of the trial, is here.
Russia has also attracted notoriety in recent months for a law that prohibits “promoting homosexuality”, partly because Russia has serious problems with low birthrates.  What would happen if a well-known gay blogger traveled to Russia, since his writings could be found on the web there?

Monday, April 15, 2013

One detail I noticed about the Boston tragedy today

I was in Washington DC, about to see a movie near GWU, when I learned about the explosions in Boston browsing on my smart phone.

One idea comes to mind.  I recall that on September 12, 2001, I had come back from work to my downtown Minneapolis apartment during the noon hour, and turned on CNN.  Police had cordoned an area in downtown Boston, around Copley Square.  They were particularly concerned with detaining someone in one of the hotels.  I believe that this was almost exactly the same location as today’s tragedy.  I never heard a peep about that arrest again in all the investigations that followed 9/11.

I don't want to get into this much, but there are some meanings that I can read into what has been reported about the nature of the attack and the types of injuries it aimed to cause.  Or perhaps the nature of the attack simply reflects the crudeness of the devices, as well as a blast low to the ground.  It is early to say.

There were additional police on the streets near Foggy Bottom as I went home, but I had no problems at all on the Metro, even got a seat on the Orange Line.
I was most recently in downtown Boston in May 2002, to meet an actor friend (who had grown up I Boston) at Legal Seafoods on Prudential Square, not far from this location.  I was also there in 1995. We spent two nights there Memorial Day weekend of 1961 on my Science Honor Society trip. 

I have a friend who went to undergraduate school with me at George Washington University in the 1960s and is now a dermatologist in Boston.  He is probably on the staff at Massachusetts General and may be treating patients from the incident right now.  I may try to catch up later.

Wikipedia attribution link for downtown Boston picture (2007).

Speaking of clues that go nowhere, I recall an oddity about the anthrax incidents.  In 2002 sometime, there were arrests in the Trenton, NJ area related to the attacks that were quickly forgotten.  We all know that eventually, a US Army employee at Ft. Dietrich, . Dr. Ivins, who would take his own life, became the main "suspect".  

Friday, April 12, 2013

DIA "leak" on North Korean missiles highlights uncertainty of our intelligence

The “leak” of an accidentally declassified section of a Defense Intelligence Agency report, maintaining that North Korea probably can put a nuclear warhead on ballistic missiles of some range, undermines the uncertainty regarding just what North Korea is actually capable of doing.
The Daily Beast has a typical story of the leak. It had been read by Doug Lamborn (R-CO) in a House Armed Services Committee Meeting.

Oh, yes, the “reliability” is low and the confidence that North Korea can attempt it is moderate.
You don’t hear as much about the DIA as the CIA; by definition, it’s closer to the Pentagon.  I’ve known personally only one analyst there.

One obvious problem is that North Korea obviously can reach the South, and Japan.  The very longest range missile could reach Canada and northwestern US.  One cannot say that it is impossible for North Korea to launch or lob a nuclear weapon that far, just that it seems highly unlikely right now.

We seem to be back more into a Cold War mentality – during  most of the 1990s, there was more concern of a widespread war with North Korea than there was over Al Qaeda.  To this concern one can add asymmetry – the idea that a madman ruler could try a dirty or EMP devcice somewhere, certainly over South Korea.  A long range missile could detonate  at high altitude hundreds of miles from the US West Coast and still do enormous EMP damage.  No one has discussed the specific technology involved with high altitude detonations. 

I do recall talk from my own days in the Army (1969) that it was possible for "Communism" to reach domestic shores with unusual weapons intended to lasso civilian populations in specific areas (as in the "Red Dawn" movies).  That sort of thinking -- that civilians are as morally guilty of "exploitation" as are governments -- has become more visible with Al Qaeda since 9/11.  

Later Friday, some analysts opined that North Korea is making bellicose threats not out of ideology, but merely as a form of extortion. "Give us (protection) money and we won't attack you."

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

H7N9: "Bird flu" is back in China

China has actually told its “citizens” to avoid eating poultry as the death toll and case count from H7N9 “bird flu” rises, to 7 as of this writing (deaths) and 24 cases.

Authorities believe it is likely that in time the virus will show some capability to be transmitted to other people from infected people, but probably limited. So far transmission seems to happen only from aves to humans.

The concern is that if that happens, we’re one trans-Pacific flight away from a pandemic in the IS or Europe.
The virus is more virulent in mammals than in birds.
Bloomberg has a typical news story here   Tuesday morning.

Southeast Asian areas are said to be more susceptible to avian influenza because people in rural areas live very close to farm animals and poultry, a "private" practice that can endanger global public health.

As of Tuesday morning, one fatality had been reported in Vietnam, also.  
Will discussions of “social distancing” return? 

Monday, April 8, 2013

Cultural exchange with Japan at Cherry Blossom Festival

I saw an interesting mural at the Tidal Basin today as part of the Cherry Blossom festival, a “Japan America Friendship Mural: sharing gifts of art with kids in Japan”.  I don’t know how the mechanics of the exchange works.  But the concept certainly sounds interesting, given world history, Japan’s aging population, and now our alliance with Japan that is too close to North Korea.

This sort of exchange probably isn’t possible with poorer, warlord-run countries in Africa.   

Thursday, April 4, 2013

North Korea gets "hacked", maybe; it gets near the end of its rhetoric

There is real controversy over whether Anonymous really “hacked” North Korea’s Intranet (Post story here   and the cartoonish picture of a fat Kim Jong Un with artificial chest hair (above a Mickey Mouse face) seems “optimistic”.
Otherwise, there are plenty of reports of North Korea’s moving a medium range missile to its East Coast, apparently capable of reaching as far as Guam.  A missile test would not exactly constitute a “moment of explosion”.   
Media reports again are disturbingly vague and uncertain about North Korea’s capabilities, but it seems that the leadership believes that if it is feared (like a god) it will be respected.   ABC News has a story that the real “power behind the throne” is Un’s aunt and uncle, link here
The problem seems to be that Un (and his backside) will run out of rhetoric and have to do “something”, even if it seems suicidal by our standards.  All media outlets recognize that an invasion into the South would cause tens of thousands of civilian deaths, even if it leads to annihilation of the North Korean regime. 
CNN, on AC360, is suggesting that the US show of force may be provocative, and have the effect of “cornering a rat”. 
CNN suggests that the North would start with artillery fire from the north side of the mountains on the DMZ, along with special operations forces loaded on submarines, even with sleeper agents.  The US would move carrier battlegroups into the region, and attack North Korean air defense and command and control, very quickly. 

North Korea has the fifth largest military in the world.  

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Other countries likely to develop depositor expropriation plans to deal with big financial crises

“Truth Out” has a rather disturbing article describing plans in New Zealand to partially confiscate ordinary bank deposits should a Cyrus-style crisis develop there.   Future banking crises, he writes, could make depositor expropriation or garnishment common practice.  

It’s an op-ed by Gaius Publis, from the “America Blog”. It suggests that the same plans will come to the UK and the US and that eventually FDIC depositor  insurance will belong to the past.  The link is here.
It also notes depositor losses of up to 60% in Cyprus.

Technically, once you deposit money in a bank, you don’t “own” it.  There is an IOU to cover it (sounds like Social Security, doesn’t it). But this sort of thinking encourages  armed “doomsday preppers” hoarding gold and silver coins.  In a crisis, some funds can be frozen and only gradually released.  
There is a related column “No austerity anywhere in the world has restored prosperity” by the same writer, link here.   It talks about the financial class and political leadership, and even the media that support them, as a “baronial class” that lives in luxury as parasites on the working man.  But it was the Reds who wanted to confiscate from the rich – and sometimes that means confiscation from the middle class, who can “look” rich.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Fareed Zakaria suggests that Obama declare an official end to "war" on terror

Fareed Zakaria suggested Sunday on his Global Public Square that President Obama should declare an official end to the “war on terror”, since, he says, Al Qaeda is effectively destroyed.

That would mean the end of suspension of certain civil liberties for suspected enemy combatants, especially prisoners at Guantanamo, who would either have to be tried or release.
Fareed’s link is here.  His original video from Easter Sunday appears there. 

Does this suggestion affect ordinary Americans?  Usually not, but it could mean an end to warrantless spying, for example, or an end to the possibility that the government could shut down portions of the Internet if they really were perceived as security threats – a possibility that I feared after 9/11, especially in conjunction with amateur “steganography”. 

Of course, the next real war could come with North Korea, a "red dawn".  

Monday, April 1, 2013

Knox prosecutor had gone after author over "Monster of Florence" case

When Anderson Cooper aired an update on the Amanda Know case this past weekend, he mentioned novelist Douglas Preston, who co-authored a book on a sequence on serial killings with satanic overtones in Italy, along with Mario Spezi. Preston had to leave the country immediately.  He was to be indicted for perjury at least. He cannot return to Europe. The Amazon link for "Monster of Florence" is (website url) here
Preston was called in by prosecutor Giuliano Mignini and interrogated, based on the similarity of his book to evidence that had been encountered.

Alice Gomstyn, John Meyersohn and Miguel Sancho wrote a story for ABC on the matter Sept. 30, 2011, here

It’s interesting that someone could be interrogated for the contents of a book that he wrote, when it seems predictive.  The same thing almost happened to me in 2005 regarding one of the short film screenplays I had posted online!