Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Putin goes after "involuntary" family member of political opponent


Russia’s Vladimir Putin has reached back past even Soviet era tactics to that of feudal Medieval kings, and imprisoned the younger brother Oleg of a political opponent, Alexei Nalvany, who was actually freed after an apparent trumped-up charge for stealing from a state-owned business. Qyartz has a story by Tim Fernholz here. News Every Day has a similar story by Steven Hogg here.  The idea of using a family member hostage – especially other than your own child, but that you are supposed to be responsible for despite the fact someone else “created” the person – is especially offensive.  

Yet people have tried to pull that thing on me before, even with my parents.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

A random conversation about South Africa's crime problem


Monday morning, in the line to board an Acela train to NYC, I met a young woman who said that she was a psychologist and talked about living in South Africa and the terrible crime problems there.
   
It isn’t as “bad” in Capetown as in other cities, especially “Joberg” (Johannesberg), but the typical crime is a person being carjacked at his home, especially in the suburbs, as he leaves. 
  
Government has not been able to make a meaningful dent on this kind of crime, which many people see as a kind of “class warfare” following the old apartheid.
  
  

The South African site News24 has a major story from Sept. 18 here. The film “Tell Me and I Will Forget” about the problem was reviewed on the Movies blog Feb. 4, 2014.  

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Islamic state able to recruit entire families from Britain, western Europe; Japanese demonstrate "schizoid personalities"


Christmas Day, the Washington Post greeted readers with a front page story about how, from London, “entire families answer Islamic state’s call: British man is among those proud to bring children to new society”, article by Kevin Sullivan and Karla Adam, link here.    Online, the piece reads, “hoping to create a new society, Islamic state recruits entire families”.  Many of the men who are recruited are "disaffected", get in trouble with the law, and don't seem to be helped by the social safety nets.  One had jumped bail.  
   
The idea that a relatively small group could control territory, albeit mostly in sparsely populated desert, and run basis services is novel and shocking.
    
People in Britain and France who go tend to be “wired” in a manner opposite to what has become a new psychological norm in much of the west, the individual who “defines himself” through activity or expression or work in some way before committing himself to long term intimacy with other people.  

I noted this WP article by Max Fisher about the schizoid personality of most of Japan, to wit, "Japan's sexual apathy is endangering the global economy", link here. Vladimir Putin has the same fears (low birth rate) about his Russia, which is what drives a lot of the anti-gay culture. 

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

German writer gives chilling look of life under ISIL; Washington Post writer argues for moderation on ransom issue


German author Juergen Todenhoefer was able to film in Raqqa and then Mosul, Iraq, and reports on CNN about ISIS (or ISIL), “They’re more dangerous than people realize”.  The movement has made a spectacle with a relatively small army.  At any moment, he could have been captured or killed.  There is actually some appearance of "normalcy" in these cities.  


The 3-minute clip shows a 13 year old fighter, and reports young professionals so dedicated to their religious ideology that they will sacrifice everything.  To westerners, forcing others to convert to a religion makes no moral sense. Frederik Pleitgen reports on the “interview” with the German filmmaker.

I'm only one degree of separation from Mosul personally.  When I worked for the Minnesota Orchestra in 2002-2003, a co-worker had a (Christian) relative in Mosul, who at the time lived relatively well. Christians have been driven from the city or executed, so I dread to think what might have happened.  

There is also an significant op-ed by Dana Milbank in the Washington Post, urging a moderate position on ransom, saying the US should not make it a crime for families or other friends of someone captured to pay ransom to a terrorist.  The link is here.  So far, all of these (geo-politically motivated) cases have occurred overseas. I have a further detailed statement of my own personal stance on any participation in such an activity on the “contract sequence” of a Wordpress blog, Aug. 12, 2014, here

Monday, December 22, 2014

China passes low punishing "virality" of social media posts


Jimmy Somi has an interesting article in the Dec. 15, 2014 Examiner, “Why Zuckerberg’s Visit to China Failed”, link here. Zuckerberg’s learning fluency in Chinese has been reported, not just because he wants to put Facebook in China someday, but of course because of his wife.  I guess any kid are going to be fluent in both (very different) languages from toddlerhood.
  
For a Twitter-likeness, China has Sina Weibo, and Baidu is the “equivalent” of Google.  In fact, I was approached about registering my own “doaskdotell” in China, despite being blocked there (even so, I see Urchin reporting traffic from there, as well as from all Islamic and even African  countries).  In China, all domains are one TLD down from a master controlled by the government.
  
But the main point of Somi’s story is that China punishes “virality” (which does not mean virility).  China has a law that a gossipy or government-critical post getting more than 500 reposts or 5000 visits can land someone in jail. 

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Horrific week overseas week before Christmas; DPRK seems to up the ante Sunday afternoon with more contradictory, bellicose statements; Zakaria on "bullying"


This past week, right before Christmas, has had more “bad” world news than any in recent memory, even if Wall Street fiddled.  There was the attack in Pakistan where children, used as pawns in a religious power struggle within radical Islam, were murdered at school for “revenge”.  Boko Haram massacred civilian “infidels” in Nigeria (UK Mail story ) so ISIL has no monopoly on this kind of behavior.  These specific events seem less significant to western homelands. 

There was the “loan wolf” psychopathic attack in Australia, which appeared to be ISIS-inspired, and the shooting in Brooklyn Saturday may have elements of radical foreign extremism as well as “racism”.  So far, nearly all of these attacks seem to come from individuals with severe personality or mental disorders, who are then disaffected by their own inability function.  The gunman Ismaaiyl Brinsley Bratton had written on Facebook “You ain’t been through what I been through, You not like me and I not like you.”  You can see the tone.
  
And all this brings us back to the Sony Hack.  The very latest story from CNN reinforces the contradictions in the bellicose statements from North Korea.  Yesterday, hackers had claimed there would be no more attacks if Sony destroyed the movie.  (I’ve seen this kind of extortion regarding media objects before.)  Then in "the interview" with Fareed Zakaria, Sony CEO Michael Lynton suggested it really would figure out a way to release the movie that distributors and retailers, perhaps with additional security precautions, could accept.  Then early Sunday afternoon EST, CNN reports this boastful statement from the DPRK that there would be much bigger cyberattacks on the US mainland, specifically the US government, link here. “Worse is coming”, link here.  As of 4:30 PM Sunday afternoon, ABC and Vox had yet to report this.  The DPRK rhetoric also contained old Cold War rhetoric about IS “imperialism” and capitalism.
  
Zakaria has an op-ed in the Washington Post, where he reinforces Obama’s statement that the DPRK’s extortion behavior can threaten all free speech, and must be repelled, here.   Zakari apologizes for a 2009 piece at Yale where he defended Yale’s not publishing the actual cartoon drawings relative to the Jyllands Posten Cartoon Controversy (here).  There was also an interesting comparison to how "The Dictator", satirizing Hitler, played out in 1940. 
  

This story is changing quickly.  But the rest of American business should shore up its security (including administrator encryption) quickly, and the power industry needs to keep its transformers off the actual public Internet.
  
There are suggestions that Congress should pass laws indemnifying public spaces property owners from terror attacks, especially if associated with state-sponsored (including DPRK and ISIL) or known extremist groups.  It’s interesting, but little known and hardly ever enforced, that Internet users actually “indemnify” producers now.  This whole idea of “indemnification” could explode as a policy debate in 2015 (like SOPA did in 2011).
  
The Pentagon is actually increasing missile defenses with a “balloon” system, suggesting that it may take the idea of an EMP strike (as in the novel “One Second After”), warned by Newt Gingrich, more seriously than it admits. 

Update: Dec. 22

David Carr has a Business Day article "How the Sony hacking became a horror movie", link here.  Carr notes that the New York Times has been threatened numerous times (with hack attempts) after controversial story, so Obama's comment Sunday to Candy Crowley on news coverage has already happened repeatedly.

Fox News and not the AP have reported the latest bluster from DPRK here

Friday, December 19, 2014

FBI releases statement on North Korea and Sony hack; more on "extortion" angle (especially online trailers)


The FBI has released a statement on the Sony cyberattack, widely covered in the media, and discussed recently on my Movie reviews, Internet Safety, and main blog.
  
The link is here
  
President Obama will speak about the issue at 1:30 PM EST today. 
  
Congress will hold hearings as soon as it convenes January 3. 
  
CNN reports on a new message to Sony, here.  Sony will probably remove its own trailers from YouTube and could conceivably issue DMCA takedowns on copies in the short term, but there remains a troubling question as to whether YouTube (Google), Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, etc.  will resist any pressure from North Korea on copies of material from the film, which must exist now in large quantity.  Hopefully, they have made their security much more resilient than was Sony’s (especially at the administrator level).  I don’t have any links (or embeds) to any trailers of the film myself, but I do have reviews of other films about North Korea on my movies and television blogs.  Could these lead to trouble?  Keeping them up is a matter of personal integrity.   
   
Some aspects of the issue have to do with international politics.  North Korea holds some hostages from Japan, and Sony is a Japanese company.  More relevant is that, however silly this seems to us, North Korea regards the mere existence of the film as the utterance of an assassination threat.  It is true, would Sony (or any studio) make a similar comedy about the leadership of Russia or China?   But it’s been done before.  


Update

I agree with what the President said,  I would add, "what happens if someone is offended not just by the content but by the identity or circumstances or stake of the speaker?" 

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

US, Cuba to swap prisoners, improve relations; prisoner in Cuba had tried to introduce Internet access


There is some “better” news this morning.  President Obama will announced at noon Wednesday that the United States and Cuba will swap prisoners.  Particularly, Alan Gross, who had been jailed for trying to provide Internet access (with cell phones and computers) to a particular Jewish community in Cuba, will be released.  The CNN story is here

Gross had told Wolf Blitzer that he was a hostage, not a prisoner. 
      
Apparently there will be some loosening of relations between the United States and Cuba, probably including easing travel restrictions (link ).  Hopefully Cuba will slowly modernize.

However, things have changed since the Cold War, and younger Cubans may look at a policy change differently than those born before Castro.

Some conservatives say that Obama is giving in to "extortion" in releasing spies in US prison. Others say that the spies did not have a fair trial in Miami. 
      
It is quite dangerous for some of us, me included, to travel to totalitarian countries like Cuba, or many others.  Imagine how that slows down humanitarian work. 
   
In 2005, Andy Garcia directed a film “The Lost City” (Magnolia), about family loyalty in Cuba at the time that Communists were taking over. In 1962, of course, we experienced the Cuban Missile Crisis. 
   
Wikipedia attribution link for map of Cuba .

CNN has the only UD correspondent (Patrick Oppman) in Cuba.


Monday, December 15, 2014

Quick notes on Australian attack, South Sudan, and Israel's PM race in 2015


On a day when authorities in Australia ended a rogue hostage (with at least two deaths) taking in a business in Sydney by a person who appears to have been disaffected, criminal, and probably mentally ill (that is, a pattern common with school shootings in the US), one reaction is the strict gun control in that country just didn’t work this time.  We can leave it aside for now, and come back later;  there are a couple of other items.  (Vox saved a copy of the website of Man Haron Monis, here).   Authorities are calling him “self-starters” but “inspired” rather than “lone wolf”. 
  
At Trinity Presbyterian in Arlington Sunday, there was missionary mention of South Sudan, where soldiers are apparently raiding private homes to enforce Islam. 
  

On Sunday, Fareed Zakaria interviewed Israel’s right-wing candidate Naftali Bennett, to the right of Netanyahu.  Bennett absolutely opposes a Palestinian state, saying that Muslims have 23 states, and that the Jewish people need to have one.  He points to Gaza as a reason not to allow statehood to the West Bank.  But he says that while Jews may have a preferred status in Israel, everyone has the same rights (sounds like a contradiction).  Of course, he did not address the issue that land was taken by Palestinians by force in the West Bank (for settlements), and that the Wall produces brutal separations among normal Palestinian residents.  

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Orphan problem in West Africa from Ebola grows rapidly


Here’s a rather startling story in the Sunday New York Times, “An Ebola Orphan’s Plea in Africa: Do you want me?”, story by Jeffrey Gettleman, link here
    
Indeed, in many villages in West Africa, merely having any contact with children at all is seen as causing a personal risk.
   

It isn’t hard to see where the debate on this can go.  Into territories already familiar from the asylum debate.  Save the Children is the choice on my own list, and it has its work really cut out now.  It also brings up the idea of “conscience money”..  

Friday, December 12, 2014

North Korea has kidnapped civilians from other Asian countries


The Washington Times reports that former North Korean president Kim Jong Il actually authorized the kidnapping of people from nearby countries to force them to work as spies, in a story by Bill Gertz, link here.  Apparently, kidnappings occurred from as far away as Japan, and might happen in China, or South Korea. 

The report comes at the same time that attention is focused on North Korea for an attack on Sony over the movie "The Interview".
     
One could wonder about ISIS pulling the same crimes, particularly perhaps in Turkey.  Is it even conceivable that a victim could be transported from western Europe, or perhaps the Balkans, accorss borders?  I wonder. 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Spain allows publishes to charge search engines for links


I thought that search engine companies did publishers a favor by displaying their content.  It’s always worked that way for me.  But in Spain there is a new law requiring search engine companies to pay for “content”, if anything at all is displayed on a search results page.  So Google has closed its news service in Spain, effective Dec. 16, Guardian story here
  
I wonder what’t next, a company’s wanting to charge a blog for quoting it’s story or linking to it?  That;s already been settled as OK for bloggers, at least in the US. 

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

In my own writing, I've never believed that the CIA practices "extreme rendition"; maybe I was wrong


There’s no reason to dwell on the details of the report on the CIA’s overzealous “extreme renditions” after 9/11, that even “W.” (George W. Bush) didn’t know about.  Eric Bradner’s account on CNN is here.  There is stuff about ice baths, enemas, and so on.  One prisoner lost an eye. Vox Media has redacted copies of portions of the report by Dylan Matthews, link here.This file has a link to an embedded Scribd PDF of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Report.
  
It seems like New Line’s film “Extreme Rendition” with Jake Gyllenhaal (before he was epilated for "Nightcrawler") and Jodie Foster is prescient.  Remember the line about “my first torture”.  Then there is “Zero Dark Thirty”, too.  Did extreme rendition help find Bin Laden?  Probably not. 
  

Some reports indicate that those involved in the "renditions" are wary of traveling in some western European countries, especially Spain, out of fear of being arrested for "war crimes."
 
My own novel manuscript (“Angel’s Brother”) presents an almost benign picture of the intelligence services, including the CIA.  There is an “epidemic” and what is needed is detective work, to find out if it comes from aliens, or from a country like Russia, or some non-state actor.  But it’s quiet.  Few chase scenes.  Lots of going back and forth, and ironic re-encounters among the characters.  

The second picture is not so far from where novelist Tom Clancy lived. 

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Estonia offers "e-residency" but you have to travel there once


There is a new concept called “digital residency” or specifically “e residency” which right now is offered only in the Republic of Estonia, and requires visiting the country in person.  It is going into Beta test and is explained here.


It does not replace a passport or travel documents, but some European travelers may find a visit to Estonia worthwhile.  Putin could have other ideas.
  
The main benefit of the service would be digital signatures; original documents would not need to be kept as proof of signatures.  Imagine how it could work with wills and trusts.  But it would have to be accepted in other countries (your home country) to become valuable. 
 
I've thought of visiting Finland in 2015.  Is this a reason to stop in Estonia, too?
   
Bitcoin has an article on the service here

Wikipedia attribution link for aerial of Estonia.  

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Media reports hackers of Sony made personal threats to employees and families -- but would people even read the emails?


A news story by James Rogers at Fox and the AP reports that the hackers of Sony Pictures (likely connected to North Korea with its hyper-communism and "dictatorial paranoia") have made threats by email too Sony employees and their families, link here.  There is some suggestion that this could be an inside job.  But the concept seems to be a “copycat” of recent statements from the FBI and DHS that current and possibly former military personnel should be wary of becoming targets of ISIS through social media. 
  
Gizmodo printed the text of one of the emails in its story, here. But it’s likely that any email like this coming to a home email account (like on gmail, Yahoo! Or AOL) would get flagged automatically as spam and never be read.  For all I know, I could have gotten emails like this and they could be in my spam folder, unopened.  Email like this could be sent designed to spread malware to home accounts, too.

In fact, on Labor Day weekend before 9/11 in 2001, some people got bizarre emails warning of something and most people thought it was generated as spam or by malware even then.
  
Saturday night (Dec. 6), host James Franco, a star in “The Interview” (who acts bisexual in public), opened the show by making fun of the Sony hack and of North Korean tactics and paranoia.  He simply makes it look irrational and silly. 
  
Variety reports the story here. So does Fortune, here.  At some level, this matter is definitely a “laugh not”.  This is indeed a clash of cultures.
   
Sony advised employees to turn mobile devices off (but were these corporate phones?)   Again, mail comes to my phone but would be dropped out as spam.  But texts would not be dropped.  Neither are actual robocalls (although they could be stopped, too).  

Just remember, North Korea could be as dangerous as Al Qaeda and ISIS.  Clinton thought so in the 1990s.  

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Feds may ban carryon luggage and even electronics from some flights; then what?


News reports suggest that the TSA may ban not only carryon backage but even electronics in plane cabins.  It unclear if this would apply only during Christmas season, or only to international flights. The reason is specific intelligence that Khorasan or a similar radical Islamist group may try to smuggle explosives into cabins that are difficult to detect.  A typical news story appeared in New York Magazine. Dec. 2, link.  The UK is also considering a similar ban, as may other European countries.  
The TSA says travelers should not pack electronics in checked baggage (link ).  Fodor does likewise, here   The biggest risk might be theft rather than damage, as well as lost luggage. 

I guess passenger pictures like mine above, of the airspace near Salt Lake City in May 2012, wouldn't be possible any more.  
  
It’s difficult to see how travelers could work around such a ban in a short time.  For long trips between big cities, it could be practical to ship electronics by UPS to stores close to the airports (which some people do now rather than letting airlines carry their luggage).    In long-distance moves, I’ve had little trouble with damage when computers were shipped. 
   
The travel industry could develop a business model to rent equipment at destinations.  This is possible overseas with cellphones, but would need to extend to many other items, like laptops, which could be equipped for the right electricity plugs and other hardware.  But securing the laptops would be a big deal.  A customer could be rented a “clean” factory-refresh and load his or her data from the cloud.  It could be offered by airlines or Priceline as part of a package, like car rentals.   But this is a long way from reality –  it would take a lot of programming code to set it up that doesn’t exist now.  And it would take “shark tank” business analysis from investors, who wouldn’t go for it unless it was going to be permanent security policy not to carry electronics at all.  Sorry, it won’t happen by Christmas 2014.  

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Obama sees ICANN renewal as a mixed bag


Brendan Crovitz writes in the Wall Street Journal that the White House should renew ICANN’s contract, to keep control of domains outside authoritarian governments, link here. See Monday’s paper, p. A15. 
   
However, one solution would be to allow private companies to control root zones and tld’s in a manner similar to the Commerce Department.  This might actually help keep authoritarian countries out of the domain name mess, but it might also hinder other efforts to advance network neutrality.  It’s a mixed bag.  But with a geeky president, this ought to get done.

Monday, December 1, 2014

FBI and DHS warn military members that social media use could make their families domestic targets of loan wolves, as "recruiting chatter" surges; is it more than active duty?


Sunday night, according to many media sources, the FBI and DHS warned that military members should scrub their social media accounts so as not to make themselves or particularly their families at home in the US targets of possible ISIS-related “loan wolf” attacks, perpetrated by disaffected people at home radicalized online by ISIS. Home addresses, of soldiers (possibly retired or veterans) and their families or relatives might be available on newer data broker websites like Instant Checkmate.
  
A typical and detailed account is on Fox, here .  ABC News has a story by Brian Ross and James Gordon Meek.  CNN's account, updated Monday evening, has become more alarming. 
  
These sorts of warnings have been issued since last summer, and have even mentioned journalists.  Some seem to be based on reckless tweets and social media statements that are so vitriolic that they need not be repeated.  Many tend not to be taken seriously because of their tone.  However, the FBI and DHS, possibly on the basis of NSA analysis of chatter and perhaps from CIA reports, seem to believe that ISIS militants have very recently stepped up efforts to find disaffected “loan wolves” in the US to conduct simple attacks.  A few of these may have happened already (in Oklahoma, in New York City, in Washington DC, and this weekend in St. Louis), as well as two visible attacks in Canada in October, and previous attacks in the UK.  Some of them (like in Queens, NYC) have been crude indeed and normally suggest mental illness.  Some of the tension could be related to attention to racial issues, as in the cause of the Ferguson Unrest. Some of it may be more like “class war” (what Noam Chomsky talks about) than about “unbelievers and apostates” as enemies. It’s clear that foreign agitators could try to leverage the racial issues.  It’s also apparent that some of the chatter could be related to US and coalition air strikes and talk of ground troops. 
  
There are some disturbing variations in how this story has been reported.  Some have suggested that former military members and veterans (and, previously, journalists and celebrities) should be concerned as well.  Some have suggested that entire social media accounts should be removed.
It would come as no surprise that active duty military members, when deployed overseas in conflict areas (most of all the Middle East or Islamic countries) would have to be very careful about what they post.  This has always been true.  It would seem logical that enemies could use threats at home (against families of specific servicemembers) to disrupt combat or support operations in or near ISIS-controlled territories. 
  
But to suggest that former military members (unless working overseas as contractors) should be so concerned would be to give in to bullying.  If some accounts are taken literally, someone who served because drafted during the Vietnam era (and saying so online) could become vulnerable.  If you key “ISIS violence” into Google, you get 40 million search results returned. 




Sunday, November 30, 2014

Local church discusses medical clinic in Honduras, center of child immigration crisiss


Today, at the Trinity Presbyterian Church in Arlington VA, a speaker presented a charity “Serving at the Crossroads” (link) with focus on a medical and dental clinic in La Entrada, Honduras. That is the country at the epicenter of the child immigration crisis.  The church has sent youth groups to Belize at the end of June the past few years.

The sermon ("Being Isaiah") referred to the return of captured Jewish people from Babylon (now near Baghdad) through what is now Syria.  The sermon offered slides, including one that appeared to be Gaza, and another a war-torn village in Africa (maybe Sierra Leone). 
 
The closing remarks today by Rev. Judith Fulp-Eickstaedt referred to the loss of “community and connection” and the replacement of “intellectual pursuit” with consumerism.  Libraries are empty while shopping malls are filled, even on a “Brown Friday”.  Our corporate culture regards people as “economic liabilities” or “commodities”.  

Friday, November 28, 2014

Hong Kong protesters face personal blackballing.


Here's a perspective from Foreign Policy on the Hong Kong protests, link. The writer notes that Britain didn't allow completely free elections when Hong Kong was a colony either.

But the most disturbing story is that "average people" seen in the protests are being blacklisted when they try to visit mainland China, especially for business or employment, or to see family.  This sounds not so much like NSA spying in the US, but an earlier time when the FBI kept track of Vietnam era protessters. 

Monday, November 24, 2014

Russia seems to be creeping over Finland; remember 1942?


The Washington Post reports that Vladimir Putin’s Russia has now become more aggressive with Finland, sending military planes into Finnish airspace and chasing Finnish vessels in international waters. The front page story Monday November 24, 2014 by Griff Witte is here

it’s not so clear that Russia is concerned about any ethnicity problem as in the Ukraine.  But it regards Finland as “neutral” and would regard Finland’s joining NATO as unacceptable, even as Finland belongs to the EU. But the three Baltic former republics joined NATO (and remember, that after the 1991 collapse of the former Soviet Union, there was supposed to exist a “Commonwealth of Independent States”).

There has long been some controversy over the origin of the Finnish people, as well as the “Uralic” language, as with this article. Most likely, the Finns (and their unusual language) descended over many millennia in part from peoples in remote areas of central Siberia, as did some peoples in Mongolia and northwestern China.  Could Putin think there cold be a “nationality” problem?

There was an important film about the Russo-Finnish war, “Ambush” (“Tie Rukejarvin”), shown at the University of Minnesota while I lived in Minneapolis.  There was another bizarre Russian film “The Return” in 2003, reviewed on my Movies blog Dec. 28, 2011.

In early April 2002, a passage on my old “doaskdotell” site dealing with terror threats from “suitcase nuclear weapons” was hacked, and some of the overlaying material seemed to name locations near the Russian-Finnish border.  This hack never recurred.  Later in 2002, a party sent me a map of locations of Russian nuclear waste.

My novel manuscript “Angel’s Brother” has a meeting between two important characters in Russia, near the Finnish border, in an early chapter.  At the meeting, an artefact is passed that will later be shown to be connected to a bizarre “biological” attack.  This plotline was developed in early 2003.  It seems as though Putin is making his moves before I can get this book done!

Friday, November 21, 2014

NSA chief says that US power grid is vulnerable to China cyber attack (also probably Russia and Iran)


Admiral Michael Rogers of the National Security Agency has recently warned that China (either the government or at least its favored statist corporations) and two other countries (probably Russia and Iran) and possibly non-state actors (connected to Al Qaeda, ISIS, or Khorasan) have the ability to do considerable damage to the United States power grid, as well as oil pipelines, flood control, and other systems. 

Of course, the most obvious question is, why is the power grid even reachable by the web?  It should not be possible topologically to navigate from my own laptop at home to a Dominion Power major substation, but it sounds like it is.  Maybe there are some Mobius strips, right out of Christopher Nolan movies.

These concerns were first voices in early 2002, after 9/11.



Fox new has a story on Rogers’s remarks, with discussion of how the US derailed Iran’s nuclear program with a hack.  So Iran and other countries could want revenge. 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

There's no way to settle wars over religion


It’s pretty obvious what can be read into the brazen arrack at a synagogue in Jerusalem early Tuesday, as CNN gives the detailed story here.   Later, Tuesday, both Alan Dershowitz and later Piers Morgan made the point that there is absolutely no way you can negotiate the end of a violent conflict based strictly on religious tenants.

Normally, countries can settle conventional disputes as to who controls what land (although the recent debacle with Crimea and Ukraine doesn’t really support that, either). 
  
But some people are born into a world where the only object of their existence is to support a tribe (by raising families that perpetuate it) that claims to be the only people who obey the will of God or Allah, or who were somehow chosen as special by God.  There is no way to argue that.  
  
I was indeed shocked right after 9/11 over the idea of “war over religion”.  I thought we had gotten over that.  I still remember that day, on a corporate retreat on the St. Croix river (which we didn’t cancel) wondering what had really happened.  

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Bird flu found in poultry only (no people, yet) in Britain and the Netherlands


Vox, in a story by Julia Belluz on Nov. 17, is reporting on cases of “bird flu” in animals only, in Europe, resulting in killings of poultry and import-export bans.  Variations of the disease (H5N8) have been found in Britain and in the Netherlands, at least. 
  
So far, no humans have been infected.  The viruses are very contagious among birds and some other mammals.  In SE Asia, they have sometimes been transmitted to humans and then it has been highly lethal.  It has never been easily transmitted from one human to another, but this may have happened in China or Indonesia in isolated cases.  The Vox story is here
  
  
This sounds like something where we ought to be working on a vaccine quickly.  Would this percolate as a pandemic among humans somewhere in the world, it would be much worse than Ebola because it might be transmissible from the air.  Imagine a travel ban from Europe!

ABC had aired a film “Fatal Contact: Bird Flu in America”, directed by David Pearce, in 2005, actually filmed around Richmond, VA.  


Monday, November 17, 2014

Slaying shows the risk taken be people who help others overseas


The slaying of Peter Kassig seems to have stretched the nihilism of ISIS to a new extreme, as detailed in a CNN story here.  Kassig had volunteered as an aid worker in Syria (something not too many of us would do) and had converted to Islam. Yet, ISIS indicated that he had to atone for having been part of the US military.  And ISIS propaganda rhetoric indicates that all Americans are personally on the hook as "apostates" and enemies of Muslims, an idea that stretches a kind of thinking known in the past with some kinds of communism, where the "privileged" were seen as enemies of "the people".  Some observers see changes in the video as a sign of possible weakness.
 
Somehow I'm reminded of a religious sermon that says service only means something "when it costs you something".  But this?

The UN has a new report on the strategy of ISIS in subjugating civilian populations, here.
   
There was an impulsive subway attack in New York City that might be related to loan wolf attacks by psychopaths, NYTimes story here.  

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Disturbing behavior in South Korea, Turkey


Well, a major democratic country will dismantle its own coast guard (or put it under a civilian law enforcement agency) after it failed to save passengers in a catastrophic sinking of a ferry in April.  The country is South Korea, even more pressured by its neighbor to the north, and the news story in Today Online is here. I don’t recall that the Italian Navy or coast guard came under this scrutiny after the Costa Concordia.
  

The attack on US sailors in Istanbul by a left wing youth group tends to emphasize that secular “communists” still tend to make their recriminations even more personal than does almost any other enemy (even radical Islam).   The CNN account of this incident, with rocks and “bagheads” is rather shocking, here  The far Left is capable of its own kind of indignation.  
  
Pictures:  Skyland, Shenandoah National Park, VA.   I believe my parents stayed in the cabin in the bottom picture on their honeymoon in May 1940.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Is North Korea playing with US partisan politics in releasing the two prisoners?


The United States should ban all civilian travel to North Korea, and probably a number of other countries. That is the tone of an op-ed on CNN Saturday by Christian Wilton, link here. (Note the implied reference to the 80s hit movie "Romancing the Stone".) This follows the release of Kenneth Bae and the "kid" Matthew Miller Friday.  The release does seem timed with the GOP win in the midterm US elections, as if North Korea makes itself look more ready to deal with a "new government" (??) as did Iran when Carter was replaced by Reagan

Other stories report group tours of civilians in North Korea, which are downright dangerous for participants -- especially those who don't bow to statues, or carry Bibles.  Miller's story about the torn visa I really don't get at all.  Some observers say that North Korea is feeling the pressure of the idea of possible trials some day for war crimes.  Sunday, The New York Times discusses the role of James R. Clapper, link

Friday, November 7, 2014

Trojan Horse supposedly planted in US power grid and other infrastructure sites by Russia in 2011


ABC News has been reporting on a “Trojan Horse” style malware planted, according to Homeland Security and other federal sources, on computers involved in running the electric power grid, oil pipelines, wind turbines, and similar infrastructure components.  The ABC News story broke Wednesday night and is here  with a video by Brian Ross.
  
The Trojan is called “Black Energy”.  But it resembles another Trojan called “Sandworm”.
  
Planting of the virus seems to be a “Cold War” tactic.  It seems to have occurred before Putin’s adventurism with the Ukraine (and other former Republics, possibly even Finland) and also before the passing of the anti-gay propaganda law in 2013. 
  
There’s no evidence that the Russian state or Russian “mafia” business interests have tried to activate the virus, or that it could work now.  There’s a good question (debated since about 2002, shortly aftrrt 9/11) as to why critical components, like of the power grid, would be topologically accessible to the public Internet at all.  But a totally separate grid could be infected with flash drives, for example. There is debate as to how much damage a cyberattack on the grid could do, compared to a physical EMP attack.
     
The story is particularly curious to me for a couple of reasons.  In 2002, a file (a copy of my chapter on my DADT II book, dealing with terrorism, over a passage dealing with suitcase nukes) was hacked, and some of the jibberish appeared to refer to places near the Russo-Finnish border.  This has not happened again.
  
In my novel “Angel’s Brother” (manuscript) I have a lead character going to work for the CIA after leaving the military, but doing a job that might belong within the DIA (Defense Department) instead.  Soon he is involved in gumshoeing evidence of alien (extraterrestrial) activity planted all over the place.  But the pretext for involving the CIA is the belief that the Russians were the point of first contact, and had stored artifacts of contact in western arctic areas, toward Finland.   There is a puzzle in the book in that an “epidemic” occurs in high altitude areas in the West, but in areas of the world where native people’s had always lived at these altitudes (the Altiplano in South America, or the Himalaya in Asia)

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Spain passes law against hyperlinking to copyright-infringing material; does this matter in the US?


Spain has passed a knee-jerk law which can make it a crime to link (knowingly) to content that infringes on copyright.  This law, which takes effect in early 2015, seems to be a reaction to attempts by advertisers to get around paying royalties to European publishers for thumbnails and other oblique reproductions with simple links (and embeds), and a so-called “Google tax”. 

In the US, links have been regarded as “bibliographic” since 2000, although I think that there are publishers who would try to sue over infringing video “embeds”. (A few sites still claim they can control who can link to them, not very successfully.)   I try to keep my own embeds restricted to sources that appear credible or are owned by the original publisher, but even so I sometimes see some of the embeds go blank (or “go bald”) when their providers were yanked by YouTube for copyright infringement. 
   
Electronic Frontier Foundation has a detailed story by Jeremy Malcom, “Spanish copyright amendments will shake down news sites and censor the web”, link here.  EFF is very critical here of older companies defending older business models predicating on gatekeeping what can be published.

It’s not immediately clear if this would matter to most speakers in the US, although it could matter to companies that do business specifically in Spain.  It reminds me of the “right to forget” litigation which also started in Spain (which I visited, the Bilbao and Basque areas) in 2001.  This story bears careful watching. 

European (and UK) law is somewhat less protective of individual speech than IS law in general. One wonders how this will play out with social media sites that host jihadist material than seems to incite violence from the mentally unstable, or to recruit (as with this AP video). .  

Wikipedia attribution link for second picture, aerial view of Bilabo, including Guggenheim musuem.  First picture is mine from Hawksbill Mountain Nov. 5.  

Monday, November 3, 2014

Ebola survivors in Africa report post-Ebola syndrome including progressive blindness


ABC News, in a GMA story by Liz Neporent, reports that many Ebola survivors in Africa have a serious “post-Ebola syndrome” which can lead to joint problems,  weakness, and even blindness.  The link for the story is here. It is not apparent if this will affect those who recover with advanced care in the US and western countries.  For example, Brantly and Writebol report feeling weak after recovery but seemed to have been signaling that they were gradually recovering strength.  As far as we know, both Texas nurses are doing well, and Anthony Fauci at NIH had said, "this virus knocks you out."  Both of the first two recovered doctors treated at Emory in Atlanta have been giving plasma donations at close intervals for other patients.  Laurie Garrett had reported total hair loss in her book “The Coming Plague”.  We can only hope that early and aggressive treatment, including antibodies and anti-virals, will prevent these problems. 



Sunday, November 2, 2014

New international report on climate change is especially dire, but some question if the conclusions are "fixed"


The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a new report today, discussed on CNN, warning of a near 9 degree raise in global temperature since pre-industrial levels.  CNN discussed the report here is a story by Steve Almasy, link. Here is the Longer Policy Report original from IPC, link.   .
  
John Coleman, founder of the Weather Channel, has distanced himself from the claims, saying that the climate change proponents hire researchers to reach pre-judged conclusions.  But Weather Channel content tends to ratify climate change, and is often alarmist with its headlines.
    
But back in 2007, even Doug Hill of WJLA-7 had said at a high school forum that the climate change debate was largely “political”.
  
Picture:  Green roofs may help a little.  This on the new Drake Apartment building in Washington, DC.  

Monday, October 27, 2014

ISIS takes Internet asymmetry to a new "low", crossing a "Rubicon"


I take offense when enemies make threats that seem to be directed at “ordinary civilians” in the homeland.  That’s true whether the threats come from ISIS tweets, or North Korean bluster.
   
Although we tend to talk about conflict in the political abstract as dealing with “them”, the danger to civilians is, of course, repeated throughout history.  The Russian revolution involved expropriation and confiscation on “bourgeois” lands with great delight in driving the idle rich into poverty, to bringing them low.  I can recall, when spying on the “People’s Party of New Jersey” in late 1972, that a middle class professional like me was seen personally as a potential “enemy”.  The North Vietnamese, and later the Khmer Rouge, made a great show of targeting civilians seen as counter-revolutionary (and some of that was used to justify the 60s era draft).  During the 1980s, the idea of a low-level Communist subversion by infiltration with radioactive weapons was known, if rarely discussed publicly (it’d an idea that occurs in one of my novel manuscripts dating to 1982).  [That idea, of the lone saboteur, had been known since before WWII and inspired more than one Hitchcock film.] Of course, the “Cultural Revolution” in Maoist China in the 1960s got very personal, requiring almost every intellectual to take his turn becoming a peasant.  It sounds like it was all about karma. There is something about “capitalism” and “individualism” that seems to “exploit” the unseen sacrifices of others – balanced by the fact that the innovation that comes with capitalism gradually raises average living standards for everyone, even if wealth inequality increases on paper. 
  
After 9/11, and on the day (Sunday October 7, 2001) that President Bush announced operations in Afghanistan, media outlets played video of Osama bin Laden addressing Americans, saying individually they would not feel safe at home, because their government had occupied holy Arab lands.
  
Yet, the train of rhetoric was somewhat contained, and the biggest fear was large attacks, on other airliners, or even with WMD’s.  Conservative columnists have repeatedly opined about the possibility of radical Islamic terror with nuclear weapons, dirty bombs, and even electromagnetic pulse, even inspiring several novels (like “One Second After”) and maybe one or two upcoming films. 
   
ISIS or ISIL seems to have taken a totally different tack, that takes asymmetry to a new level, while reducing existential threats to the homeland.  New York Magazine explains “the new normal” here in a piece by Benjamin Wallace-Wells.  In the New York Times, in an Oct. 24 piece, David D. Kirkpatrick describes rhetoric that crosses a “Rubicon” in advocating public savagery against police officers, journalists, their families, or employees of tech companies, or sometimes randomly just anyone, depending on which tweet one read or which plot was broken up (as with recent arrests in Britain and Australia).  The president says that there is “no ideology”, and it seems designed to appeal to psychopaths, almost inviting the zombie attacks of horror movies (which the hatchet attack in Queens, NY looked like).   It’s clear that the brainwashing can trip up those with certain kinds of personality disorders (including OCD, which needs more attention from law enforcement than it now gets), merely beyond those simply not doing well in a competitive, individualistic society (the so-called “disenfranchised” who can play the race card, too).  There is an ideology of sorts, but it goes beyond the expropriation or even “purification” preached by the commie left (although ISIS will play the “exploitation” card when it sees fit).  This one is predicated on the idea that the whole world is evil, so if must be cleansed of non-Muslims ("infidels" or "apostates").  Then future generations can enjoy an Islamic paradise, where sin is impossible.  The psychological tactics of some slick ISIS propaganda seem to shame Muslims at home for non-action when their “brethren” are attacked in Syria or Iraq, and it seems that Obama’s decision to “go in” with airstrikes certainly aggravates the rhetoric. In radical Islam, there is no independent sense of self apart from the future of the whole body of believers.  So young men must give themselves up. 


    
A lot has been made about a mystery FBI bulletin, warning of attacks amateur lone-wolf attacks against military personnel, their families, and likewise with cops and some media personalities.  Whether the danger is mostly “far” overseas depends on which tweet or video you saw.  Breitbart published the bulletin with a Scribd embed, link here.  It would seem that kidnappings in Turkey, bringing journalists or cops back into Syria sound possible, unless Turkey gets its own act together.  But these warning shave been circulating since the end of August.  Fox News has a reaction to all of this, by John R. Lott Jr. that is quite predictable, here (saying we're all "sitting ducks" unless we learn to defend ourselves personally, like grownups). 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Cato hosts book forum on "A Dangerous World?"; brief notes on Canada shooting, North Korean prisoner release


Today, I attended a Cato Book Forum at the Cato Institute in Washington DC for the new paper anthology “A Dangerous World? Threat Perception and U.S. National Security”, edited by Christopher A. Preble (Cato Foreign Policy Studies) and John Mueller (Ohio State), with multiple contributors.  The link for the event is here
  
The forum, at noon, was held in the larger auditorium on the main floor, the “red room”.  All previous forums there that I had attended had been held in the “blue room” in the basement.  This forum, like many at Cato, was free but required advance registration.
  
Just before the presentation started and we were asked to turn off our cell phones, the reports about the terror attack in Ottawa, Canada at and near Parliament appeared in the news, but only a few of us knew about it until lunch afterward.  That incident will be covered here later in a subsequent post.
     
The four panelists, besides moderator John Samples (a Cato Vice President) , included the two editors, as well  as Frank Hoffman (National Defense University) and James Fallows (National Correspondent for The Atlantic). 
  
I will read the book and give it a formal review on my Book Reviews Blog later.  But it’s well to note a few trends in the remarks.
  
Preble, for example, noted that most Americans are statistically safer than they have ever been.   The media draws attention to every possible threat (including now Ebola).  But the world of a century ago was a much more dangerous place than it is today.  Mueller noted that the United States has few if any credible threats to its gross national security.  The most dangerous event in history was the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.  But during the rest of the Cold War, there was no realistic chance that the United States and the Soviet Union would get into nuclear war.   He also doubted that involvement in World War II had been absolutely necessary from a national security perspective.  A Hitler-controlled Europe would be a humanitarian disaster, not a direct one to the US, he argued.  Mao killed seven times as many people in China as the Japanese did.  Similar facts have been cited about Stalin opposed to Hitler.  He viewed ISIS as a terrible threat in Iraq and Syria but not here.
  
However, Hoffman played “devil’s advocate” with the two book editors.  
  
There were several questions from the audience.  Many were centered on foreign policy, but one question stimulated a discussion, with unclear outcome, as to whether enough is done to screen cargo at ports for nuclear or other WMD materials  I asked a question about the “personalization” of threats as if they were addressed to individual Americans at home through the media, a practice which seemed to start with Osama bin Laden with his appearances after 9/11 in 2001 but which has been known from both the extreme Left and extreme Right before, and the discussion got into the matter of resilience, that private industry, especially utilities, needed to do much more to protect its infrastructure from solar space weather and severe storms (like Sandy) which would provide more protection from terrorists.

During the catered gourmet sandwich lunch upstairs (complimentary -- for Anthony Bourdain??), one person at my table noted that "leveraging" of terror threats (essentially the subject of my question) didn't start until the 1970s with highjackings related to Palestinian causes. He also noted that the vigrorous contact tracing by CDC for people who have maybe one chance in one million of exposure to Ebola (as in Ohio), disrupting businesses and lives, is due to the fact that Obama can't afford the political consequences of even one more missed case.   
  
One other quick item:  North Korea has released one of its three American prisoners, Jeffrey Fowle, who had been arrested in May for leaving a Bible in his hotel room, CNN story here. More on the other two prisoners will probably be forthcoming.