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.  


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.