Monday, June 30, 2014

National September 11 Memorial and Museum in NYC

The National September 11 Memorial and Museum is indeed ambitious and moving, although I've seen most of the material elsewhere (especially the Newseum in Washington).  There is a large inner sanctum with many small items, especially from the Pentagon, where photography is not permitted. Flash is prohibited in most of the museum, which could present a practical problem for most picture taking, but the store sells a National Geographic book with pictures of absolutely everything.

The directions fail to mention that the R train does not stop at Rector St.on nights and weekends, no doubt the cause of many late arrivals, which puts the visitor in a holding line with further delays getting in.  Take the #1 train if possible.

The visit is one log descent, and is quite moving,  The film "The Rise of Al Qaeda" with Brian Williams is shown.

I'm told that elevator visits to the top of the Freedom Tower will be possible by summer of 2015. 

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

North Korea threatens war over American film "The Interview" to be released this fall

Columbia Pictures plans to release a spoofy comedy "The Interview" in which Seth Rogen and James Franco play journalists who, securing an interview with North Korean "president" Kim Jong-Un, and are hired by the CIA to assassinate him.  North Korea has threatened war against the United States (which it might not be able to carry out) unless the US bans the film, according to a story by Justin McCurry in the Guardian, here.  That would seem to apply even if the film were released only within the US.  (Some news accounts have North Korea just threatening war against Rogen and Franco and maybe the film's producers.)
It isn't hard to imagine the precedent being set.  Suppose a foreign government threatens war unless a particular book by a private citizen is withdrawn, or even a blog written by a citizen is taken down even with the US.  That reminds me of a decision reported last week where a Canadian provincial judge ordered Google to take down certain links worldwide.  But one can see a danger:  that a foreign agent could try to make a citizen of a foreign country a hostage to its policy even within the host country.

The film would be directed by Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen, the latter not my favorite. 

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

ABC News reports on novel new terror threats for planes being developed in Syria and ISIS territory

ABC News reports that terrorists, probably associated with ISIS, are working in remote areas of Syria and western Iraq as well as Yemen, on the next generation of micro-explosives with non-metallic, soft substances that could easily be smuggled onto planes with carryon luggage.

The news story, reported by Pierre Thomas, is coauthored with Jack Date and Mike Levine.

The largest concerns could come with flights first from mideastern countries to the west, including the US, by western Islamic extremists with western passports, including around 100 from the US.  Presumably they are on a no-fly watchlist, but that involves the NSA surveillance mechanisms that have become so controversial.      
It isn’t clear if they could bring them back and then try them in domestic flights, or try to smuggle them into high tech components like laptops.  The TSA has allowed travel with technology to become easier in recent years, with TSA-friendly laptop bags, and with says that screeners know what insides of tech and household items should look like. 

I actually considered screening work briefly in 2002 and 2003.  It would be painstaking and grueling. 

Update: June 25

Note that "ISIS" is also called "ISIL" (especially by John Kerry), for the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant", as discussed here   It's also called "Da'ish".

The Washington Times this morning discusses a Congressional Report to the effect that ISIL wants an Islamic state of its own from which to stage attacks on the US homeland, link here

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Thailand gags its academics and journalists to protect its King; imagine a court ruling against a search engine company!

A college professor from Thailand. Pavin Chachavalpongpun, writes about an order from the new government in Thailand, after a recent military coup, that a list of academics and journalists report to the authorities.  Instead, Pavin stayed in Japan where he teaches and cannot return.  His article  in the Washington Post, p. A15, Saturday is “Protecting Thailand’s king with a gag”, and online “Thailand junta tries to silence its critics to protect its king”.  Oh, it seems that the new Thai regime doesn't like to advance pawns in front of a castled King in a chess opening (following "Reinfeld").  
Thailand has been in the news a lot recently with the trafficking problem, and I’ve never thought of it as a desirable place – despite Anthony Bourdain’s report on the allure of the place.  A lot of it floods constantly.

Imagine, then, that a Thai court orders Google to remove all articles critical of its king worldwide (including the Port article and this blog post) from its search results, worldwide.  

Friday, June 20, 2014

Canadian provincial supreme court (British Columbia) orders worldwide removal of search engine results about an illegal competitor

A provincial supreme court in British Columbia, Canada has ordered Google to remove from its search results all links  The case is Equustek Solutions et al. v. Jack.  Electronic Frontier Foundation has a detailed story about the case today (June 20) by Maira Sutton, “Canadian court to the entire world: No links for you!”,  link here The case apparently involved an unscrupulous competitor who might have stolen trade secrets benefitting from search engine results that seemed to lead to possibly illegal products (the concept couple apply in copyright, trademark, patent, counterfeit, and trade secrets contexts, anything that could make a competitor’s product illegal). 
What was so disturbing here was that the judge ordered the removal of certain links worldwide.  In the past, countries have not been able to make orders against technology companies effective outside their own borders (or sometimes outside trade units like the European Union).   It would sound very unlikely to an average Internet reader that it a Canadian province could order this, or that an individual US state could do this, if a whole country could not.  This is obviously a developing story that will need more attention quickly.

The judge mentioned the European decision (on the case in Spain) about the “right to be forgotten” (May 13, 2014 posting).  

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Did Saddam have chemical weapons after all? Was W. right?

Many media sources report that Sunni or ISIS extremists occupy the site of one of the deposed Saddam Hussein's chemical weapons facilities, although it's unlikely that they can make much of what they find, as in this Wall Street Journal story today, link.   The story has also been reported this evening on AC360.

There was a lot of controversy of all the documentation of evidence against Saddam in 1992 (the notorious 747 and the speech by Colin Powell at the UN) but no real WMD's were found after Saddam was removed and found and executed.  The Left often used this as a reason not to be in the war.  Yet, occasionally there were stories of hidden caches being found, but the stories did not stick in the media.

I remember the night of Shock and Awe in March 2003.  I was at the Bryant Lake Bowl in Minneapolis and we had just finished a film showing, and the report came in on cable,

I remember the night that we started "Desert Storm" in January 1991, hearing about it as I entered a Bally's health spa in northern Virginia for a workout.  

Friday, June 13, 2014

ISIS takes Iraq and Syria into existential danger for even more ordinary people

I recall asking my father once, what living under Communism could be like.  He said that someone would monitor everything you say, even in the home.
It seems that totalitarian political cultures do take things that far.  History provides plenty of examples, like the way the Nazis monitored the homes of even their own Gentile citizens, let alone how they behaved as they invaded other lands. 
Now we’re seeing a “failed state” in the Middle East – well Syria was already spread, as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria militants (ISIS) actually take over major towns in northern Iraq, including the second largest city (Mosul), and as the government’s own Army flees, in apparent cowardice.

CNN’s latest page, with many links, including stories of civilians fleeing, by Greg Bothelho, here.  It’s remarkable that in some areas, ISIS seems to be restoring some sort of economic order and utilities, but apparently barging into homes at gunpoint, requiring civilians to pray five times a day, confiscating alcohol and tobacco, and requiring women to be covered and to stay inside.   I’ve never understood that there is any real difference between Shiite and Sunni Islam in how it is practiced in personal lives.  Could it happen here?  There are some people who want that.  It’s easier to live a disciplined life if you know that others have to.  Never remain complacent.  

Update: June 16

Wikipedia calls ISIS and "unrecognized state" with capital at Ar-Raqqah, Syria.  ISIS acronym also means "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" and the group has been active for quite some time.

CNN is asking whether Al-Baghdadi is the next "Osama bin Laden", and what the phrase "See you in New York", as uttered in 2009, really means.  

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Echoes of the Cold War: Is Russia an enemy still, or again?

The Washington Times reported on its front page, as did other military journals, that Russian bombers came within 50 miles of the California coast, and several others were tracked near Alaska this past weekend.  A typical story is at RT, here
The bombers were said to be capable of dropping nuclear weapons.
All of this happened after tensions over Putin’s behavior in the Ukraine and Crimea, and even his authoritarian behavior over gay rights. 
All of this is being reported on the same day that an accident in 1961, five days after president Kennedy was inaugurated, where an Air Force bomber fell apart in the air, nearly led to a nuclear explosion near Goldsboro, NC.  Other domestic near misses with nuclear weapons have occurred, such as in Damascus, AR in 1980.  

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Violence in Central America could complicate immigration debate and mainstream church missions

On CNN's news analysis program hosted by Don Lemon, an analyst explained that women with children who come to the United States illegally (somehow slipping across the border, or sent by various schemes) from countries not sharing a contiguous border with the US, cannot be sent back or deported easily.

The speaker said that there is terrible violence in some Central American countries, especially El Salvador.

This story caught my ear, because mainstream church groups that I have contact with have sent young people on missions (or in one case, engineering projects) in some countries, including Belize, Guatemala, and Nicaragua.  I'm a little perturbed to hear stories about "violence" in Central America, given some personal familiarity with people who work on mission programs there and even have high school and college students visit these countries.

Update: June 11

The problem was presented on AC360 tonight.  AZCentral has an analysis of the problem here.  Will there be a recruiting drive for adoptive parents some day?  This is a rapidly developing story.  See movie review for "Documented" on May 30, Movies blog.

Update: June 12

Reports say that over 33,000 children have streamed across open spaces along the border in the past month. How they could have come all the way from Central America is a mystery.  Border agents were never prepared to need parenting skills, except by their own lives. 

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

AWOL question surrounding Bergdahl seems serious to older men who dealt with the Vietnam era draft

CNN has released some video of the Taliban’s video of Bowe Bergdahl’s release (story by Holly Yan and Masoud Papaizai), link here  (no embed code available). 
It is right that the Army conduct a thorough investigation to see if the soldier had left his post, and gone AWOL or possibly deserted, five years ago.  Barbara Starr on CNN has noted that it is up to the Army chain of command to determine disciplinary action, including possible discharge or court martial.  The president is very unlikely to intervene. 
Did the president overstep his authority in releasing five potentially dangerous prisoners (enemy combatants)?  Senator McCain says so, and points out that when men and women sign up for military service, they know this kind of situation is possible.  McCain was himself a POW for a long time in the Hanoi Hilton.

If indeed Bergdahl was AWOL, we have a situation where, to rescue him, five potential enemies were released and who could do the US homeland great or fatal harm someday.  At least that's conceivable. 
But it’s striking to me, when I was coming of age, that military service was not a choice.  There was conscription of males, and a system of deferments, eventually replaced by a lottery (in 1969).  Those with better educations, like me, could game the system to reduce the risk, as I did.  I remember those 6 AM formations (in 1968) with the counts like "one on AWOL" with Tank Hill in Fort Jackson, SC in front of me. 

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Samaritan's Purse has broad range of challenging overseas volunteer programs, some in dangerous areas

While at Sunday school this morning, I saw a booklet on the activities of a group called Samaritan’s Purse (link).  

The group appears to be involved in relief efforts both overseas and within the US, particularly with disaster recovery as well as relief efforts associated with violence or famine overseas.

Some of the specific projects appear to exist in the Rwanda, Congo, Syria (or in nearby Jordan), and with refugees from the Sudan (or South Sudan) staying in a camp in Uganda.  Some of the efforts are in countries with serious political instability and violence, and (as often covered here) vitriolic anti-gay law and culture.  Flooding in Serbia is also mentioned on the website.

A lot of the work, however, appears to involve disaster relief, especially after large tornadoes, in the US south and Midwest. 

The group appears to be faith-based (sectarian, Christian).  I’m not sure how it compares to “larger” charities like Save the Children (which is on my regular contribution list).  It is also not clear how feasible it is for “average people” to volunteer in dangerous overseas areas.  Many churches and faith-based groups sponsor projects (like fresh water) overseas (recruiting recent engineering college graduates), as well as missions, but these projects have become increasingly difficult in recent years in violence-prone areas. 

Picture is Tupelo MS, last weekend, four weeks after tornado (my visit).