Thursday, February 26, 2015

Radicalization of young men online seems out of control, a result of asymmetry: "How do you take down the Internet?"

A lot of material appeared on the Web and in the media today about radicalization.  An opinion by Muller on CNN reverted away from the “end of days” apocalyptic theory advanced by Peter Bergen, toward older Al Qaeda theories (from Osama bin Laden) about American occupation and mistreatment of prisoners, at Gitmo and so on.
But then today the FBI, after some sensational arrests in New York and Florida well covered in the media, said that we are “losing the social media war”.  ABC started it with this story, and NBC gave even more detail here.  The general idea was advanced that the NSA and CIA weren’t set up to stop asymmetric online recruitment of a young Muslim man in his parent’s basement in Minneapolis.  Intelligence Center Director James Clapper suggested, not entirely in gest, that we could be headed toward shutting off the Internet, link on RT here
Then AC360 tonight showed this video, 5 minutes, “Inside the ISIS Machine”, which right now speaks for itself.  Most of the appeals come from overseas and many are in Arabic or various other languages. 
Officials in France wanted Google, Facebook and Twitter to be more pro-active in preventing recruiting content from being posted;  right now they take it down when users complain.  But “ordinary users” in a general US or European audience are unlikely even to look for this content. 
Just browsing YouTube  I found one easily, that says “Join the Ranks” from the Islamic State, from “Syria Focus”.  If you click on it you get a “Content Warning” and have to sign on to Google to see it;  the message says it was put there by the uploader.  (If I had been signed on already, I would not have seen the interstitial warning.  I suppose anyone could look at it in order to report it to Googe-YouTube, but does it violate the terms of service?  It showed 50,700+ views, which suggests no one objects.  I don’t normally make it my business to look for content on the Internet to complain about.)  That may disappear, but others will appear.  I will not knowingly give the link URL because of the nature of the content. 
Again, on the "reporting issue" -- I've never reported any content to any service provider.  I don't do that.  I don't troll in order to get people knocked off line.  Do many people do this?  What I will do is call law enforcement if I learn of a threat from something online (like an email).  I have done this several times since 9/11 (but not since 2005).  But short of the "see something, say something" idea with actually contacting law enforcement, I don't normally take responsibility for what others may do when incited by media.  It's sort of the "mind your own business" mentality". 
While Google is now banning pornography from Blogger, in a sudden separate controversial measure that I have discussed elsewhere, I haven’t seen any open discussion of banning recruiting to terror causes.  It is hard to say what kind of automated screening (keywords) might be effective, in English and other languages and character sets. 
Yet the libertarian Cato Institute, which I support and attend, wrote a piece (and podcast) asserting that terrorism is not an existential threat in the US, link here.
And John Boehner make as “kiss my you-know-what” gesture concerning the DHS funding bill, while this is going on!

The news stories about "Jihadi John" from Britain certainly causes one to ponder how someone "privileged" goes wrong.  

(First picture is from Nevada, mine, 2012). 

Monday, February 23, 2015

CNN explores the ransom debate

CNN has conducted a debate today on the question of negotiating with terrorists.  The US government will not negotiated with ISIS to release kidnapped civilian journalists or humanitarian workers, but has sometimes done so with soldiers, releasing their own captured Taliban soldiers.
US law also prohibits families or individuals from paying ransom to free hostages overseas.  That would also prohibit crowdfunding campaigns (or social pressures) to rescue victims of internaitonal incidents this way online.  
Of course, the US will try commando or Seal raids, and has even tolerated or encouraged private raids, like one sponsored by EDS and Ross Perot to free employees from Iran in the late 1970s.
And some European countries will pay ransom, or allow citizens to. 
The US argues that doing so encourages further kidnappings.
The issue becomes more wicked as civilians are taken outside of what was previously viewed as a conflict zone, such as the taking and execution of Coptic Christian workers in a remote area in Egypt. Libya is also at risk.
Some have expressed concerns that kidnappings could occur in Turkey, with smuggling of victims across the porous border.  Beyond those areas, it’s hard to see whether this could happen.  But if it did, it would complicate the ransom question. I have said on a Wordpress blog that I do not participate in Internet rescue appeals and cannot expect that to be done ever for me.
The dichotomy between the deference to civilian v. military hostages reflects older debates over conscription and universal military service.  “Asymmetric warfare”, like it or not, makes anyone into a potential soldier.  Israel has experienced his reality for decades.  Sometimes, in the grand scheme of things, there are advantages to experiencing military service, and idea that drove my participation in the DADT debate.  

For the record, the latest story on the "Mall threat" seems to be here on ABC, link

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Obama speaks about ISIS; Peter Bergen explains why it behaves so irrationally

President Obama just completed a very temperate speech on the ISIS threat, describing it as not typical of Islam and another example of extremism that radicalizes vulnerable people.  CNN has the video and explanation to today’s speech here. "We are not at war with Islam. We are aware with people who have perverted Islam.”  He denied that there is a “clash of civilization”.  He indicated the terrorists exploit economic grievances, but some terrorists come from wealthy background.  He did say that corruption humiliates people increases the risk or extremism and instability.  He did seem to hint that gross inequality contributes to instability.
Peter Bergen, CNN terrorism analyst, explains why ISIS behaves in a way that seems “irrational”, making as many enemies as possible while trying to attract young recruits, link here.  He says (reinforcing the president) that they are a “death cult” driven by end-times beliefs, based on a narrow interpretation of some specific text in the Koran, regarding specific battles in specific places (in Syria). Ironically, the Muslim version of Jesus appears in the final battle.  The position of people in the afterlife would depend on the outcome of this battle, according to ideology.  Some books explaining Islam say that the Islamic afterlife occurs at the “end of time”, rather than continuously, as in Christianity  or other various belief systems like Rosicrucianism (and “continuously” makes more sense in terms of the physics of consciousness). Actually, some systems believe there are specified time intervals before reincarnation or some other outcome is known (for example, some systems say 144 years).  This all has the tone of the “pre-tribulaitonism” vs. “post-tribulationism” debate about the Rapture in evangelical Christianity, often debated, particularly in the South in the 1980s when I was living in Dallas. 

Graeme Wood echoes this view with a long essay in "The Atlantic", "What ISIS really wants", here. He appeared on AC360 on Feb, 18, 2015 and his own site is here
The ideology would mean that there is more to radicalism than just nihilism, or disenchantment with an unfair world in which others “get out of things”.  Still, that seems to be where it starts. 

Bergen, in a subsequent piece, has disagreed with Obama and others on the terrorist behavior as indicative of lack of opportunity.  That may be true of the Paris and Copenhagen shootings recently, but in general terror leadership and hijackers have been well educated men.  It is about religion.  Or maybe it is about demanding that others show the moral perfection once expected of oneself, so that you don't have to have any feelings for people who disappoint you.  

Monday, February 16, 2015

Analysts see cartoon issue as tactical for radical Islam; world slipping back under authoritarian "undertow"

The latest interpretation on the Copenhagen attacks is that it seems to be primarily “lone wolf” in character, someone with a criminal background incentivized by the Paris attacks.  An overriding question is, really, is this just about the cartoons and images of the Prophet?  When you consider attacks on Theo Van Gogh, and threats (Shiite, from Iran) against Salman Rushdie, it seems that it about controlling all speech critical of “Islam”, with combativeness, as a political strategy.  On the other hand, several analysts on CNN have pointed out the cartoon issue is attractive tactically because it galvanizes popular support among disenchanted European young Muslims, for its symbolic value.  Right now, that is.  But the target could change to something else in the future.  It’s comparable to the “outrage” of Sony’s “The Interview” film from North Korea.  It's like a decision a chess player makes, when to sacrifice a particular pawn late in a game opening.  
The New York Times has an op-ed by Rob Cohen, "Islam and the West at War" here where he talks about a metastasis within Islam of a "murderous hatred of western civilization".  

Fareed Zakaria Sunday pointed out that there is an “undertow” of sliding back in world statistics on populations living in “Free countries” and “partly free countries”.  He mentioned a “Future of Freedom”’ foundation (link ) study (which Zakaria is part of) showing the numbers, but I could not find the study online yet. He considers China, Russia, and most of the Muslim world as authoritarian and “not free”.  The exceptions in Africa and the Middle East would be Israel, Tunisia (the one country that did well with the “Facebook” Arab Spring), and perhaps Turkey, and recently South Africa (beset by horrible crime problems).   Libya and Egypt are sliding back into despair and radicalism; Yemen has imploded.    

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Twitter faces smackdown in authoritarian countries

Electronic Frontier Foundation has a summary article by Eva Galperin and Jillian York about censorship directed at Twitter, which has been more willing to honor takedown requests in countries in which it has offices, here. Russia, like China, continues to increase censorship, with its own “anti SOPA” law, and various other rules regarding protests or incitement, and requiring registration of sites with more than 3000 readers.
Authoritarian societies believe people should get their news from “authorized” sources.  They believe ordinary people should be just that, ordinary, and primarily concerned with procreation.  Disciplining every individual is their answer to inequality (except for the political or religious top, which makes up a claim of legitimacy).  Their sexual rules seem to aimed at keeping women available to men, and keeping men interested in being married.  

Update (Sat AM):

ABC reports attack on speech forum in Copenhagen, apparently on police.  Check major media for details.   Later CNN reported a second shooting downtown.  This is a rapidly developing story. 

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Pope Francis chides the intentionally childless

Pope Francis has said that for a couple to choose not to have children is a “selfish act”, at St. Peters Square. The Guardian has a story  here
Francis chided the current generation as “greedy” and “depressed” as wealthier communities avoid surrounding themselves with lots of children.
Of course, population is a political issue.  Poorer populations have more children, and can gain more influence in future generations, possibly threatening conflict.  Many people say that about the current Muslim population in Europe.
Having children also means taking the risk of having kids with extreme disability.  But in larger families, kids learn to take care of siblings and caregiving becomes less dependent on a decision to have children.  
Smaller families are also increasing the eldercare issue as people live longer with great disabilities, and also increasing the difficulty in paying for retirements.   Of course, retirement ages can be raised. 

Sunday, February 8, 2015

ISIL is conscripting fighters from families it captures in Mosul, Iraq, and honoring the "sole heir" rule

ISIS, while it controls Mosul, Iraq (and being challenged militarily, of course), is reported on NBC News, in a story by Alexander Smith, to be demanding that every family with more than one male child offer its young men as ISIS fighters.  That is, it is conscripting soldiers from the families it displaces and forces to convert to Islam.
It’s interesting that a family with only one son is spared.  The “right” of a family to survive through a male heir is seen as more important than individual rights.  But western countries had ideas like that in past world wars.
The NBC video in the article (link) gives a history of ISIL back to 2006, and explains the “Anbar Awakening”.
When I worked for the Minnesota Orchestra from 2002-2003, a coworker had friends or relatives in Mosul.


Saturday, February 7, 2015

Does Vladimir Putin have Asperger's Syndrome?

A study from the US Navy War College theorizes that Vladimir Putin has some degree of Asperger’s Syndrome, according to a USA Today story by Ray Locker on February 4, 2015, here.   However other psychologists, as reported in the Guardian by Alan Yuhas, suggest that “Putinology has gone too far”, as with this link, reporting comments by UNC professor Stephen Porges.  

People have told me that I have Asperger’s (that includes one documentary filmmaker), and at NIH in 1962 I was characterized as having “schizoid”, which is more a matter of manifestation.

Putin does seem to go way out of his way to rationalize his behavior.  He believes in the values of Russian nationalism and that he should except ordinary Russians to embrace these values.  That excuses his intrusions into Crimea and eastern Ukraine, for “ethnic Russians” (are they really different from ethnic Ukraine?) and might lead to problems in other areas, including the Baltic former republics, even Finland.  He uses the need to increase the birthrate to excuse the anti-gay propaganda law (remember the “please leave the children alone” line just before the Sochi Olympics?)

Friday, February 6, 2015

France would stop free speech in order to save it? The future of user-generated-content in Europe?

France, judging from comments from Prime Minister Manuel Walls and earlier in 2012 by Sarkozy, is serious about putting a lot of pressure on service providers to take responsibility for hate speech or terror threats or recruiting that gets put on their platforms.   Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Jillian York has an article, leading back to pervious pieces, “Unpacking France’s Chilling Proposal to Hold Companies Accountable for Speech”, link here. The tone of France’s remarks seems to be that big companies profit from amateur content that is reckless and useless otherwise, and ought to pay for it.
Very likely, were these proposals to come true, companies like Google and Wordpress could no longer operate blogging platforms in France or other countries that followed suit, because of downstream liability.  True “social networking”, because there is some whitelisting, might survive more readily. There’s sort of a “free rider” moral issue here that would itself make a separate discussion.  In the U,S., Section 230 largely protects service providers, although many parties (especially state governments) want to weaken it. 
One obvious irony is that France would destroy free speech in order to save it, if the comments are interpreted in light of the Charlie Hebdo shootings, and earlier the Jyllands-Posten Cartoon Controversy in Denmark, as well as the murder of Theo Van Gogh in the Netherlands and the threats against Salman Rushdie in Britain, and the hiding of Molly Norris in the US.  The book “The Tyranny of Silence”, by Flemming Rose (from Jyllands-Posten) is also relevant (reviewed on Books Feb. 3).
Some people want to throttle speech because they believe it incites others who are underprivileged and vulnerable to become violent, and want to make that the moral responsibility of the speaker.  Others want to throttle it “just for authority”.   

Thursday, February 5, 2015

China implements "one user, one account" rule, bans "double lives" and "anti-socialist" content

Now the Wall Street Journal, with an article by Josh Chin, talks in even more detail about how China is cracking down on Internet users. 
There is a “one user, one account” policy and a rule that everyone must use a legal name.  Furthermore, users have to follow ambiguous rules about distributing content that his harmful to communist or socialist society. (Reminds me of the "one child" policy.  No double lives!
The policy makes no bones about the fact that speakers are held responsible for what impressionable users are inclined to do. 
Furthermore, the government is tightening up on the use of western firmware. It’s hard to see how companies – especially media companies – can be enthusiastic about business in China. 

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Mining town in Swedish Arctic, which I have visited once, must move

Here’s a post in a lighter vein, setting aside the horror of the past days.  The town of Kiruna, Sweden, north of the Arctic circle, will have to move so that the iron mine can expand.  The Weather Channel has the story here

I spent a night in the town in August, 1972, and sunrise was about 2 AM.  I had taken a train from Trondheim to Bodo, a bus to Narvik, stayed a night there, and then a train to Kiruna the next day.  I stayed in a simple motel, but ate at a big hotel called the Reso Ferrum.  It’s the only time I have been north of the Arctic Circle were those two nights. 

Wikipedia attribution link for aurora picture from Kiruna. By Tamura, released into public domain, Creative Commons 1.0 license. 

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Serge Prokofiev Airport in Donetsk, Ukraine reduced to rubble by Russian invasion and fightin

I have to take a moment to note that the modern airport in Donetsk, Ukraine, in the Eastern part of the country, has been reduced to rubble, with many corpses found.  The airport is named after renowned Russian composer Serge Prokofiev, who was actually born in Donetsk Oblask, eastern Ukraine.
Mashable has multiple pictures here.  Just six months ago, it was a modern airport, which CNN says its journalists used all the time.  Wikipedia has an article on the airport with more pictures of devastation  
The story is unfolding today on CNN.  

Monday, February 2, 2015

Climate scientist says alarmism and cultural guilt in global warming development is not appropriate; economic development still the best option for poorer countries

Climate scientist Bjorn Lomborg, director of the Copenhagen Consensus Center, has an important piece I the Wall Street Journal Monday, February 2, 2015, p. A13, “The Alarming thing about climate alarmism”, link here. Lomborg argues that the rate of increase in sea levels and temperatures is actually declining (that’s the derivative of the function, so to speak), and that actual losses from weather events are decreasing, despite the sensational headlines.
It is true that poor people often live in coastal areas, but the main answer for them is better economic development (starting with political stability, most of all in religiously affected countries).  “Climate change is not worse than we thought.” Of course, the trick is to have economic development in poorer countries without their adding to emissions the way we did.  China (except when it uses hydroelectric power perhaos) is not encouraging.  
The typhoon that hit the Philippines late in 2013 might well have disrupted the production of my own book, since the facilities were there;  but they were about 50 miles inland and south of the zone of direct hit, and not that much affected.