Monday, June 29, 2015

Greece's financial crisis could affect the "rentier" class of Piketty

Imagine going to an ATM and not being allowed to use it, or only to withdraw $60.  It doesn’t matter how much you have saved or even worse inherited.
That seems to be what’s going on in Greece this week.
Vox has a quick explanation here
The Wall Street Journal reports that foreign bank accounts are not limited, but many ATM’s have run short, here. The Dow is down 200+ points at midday Monday, which is a mild reaction from Wall Street, as reported in the New York Times, here
Greece wants to have a referendum on the austerity measures, but it looks like it will have to drop the Euro. 

Update: July 2

I found a "Blogorrhrea" blog posting about the a "game-changer" on the Greece crisis, accusing European bankers of "predatory lending", link here

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Smithsonian Folklife focuses on Peru, a very dramatic place

In 1974, I had planned a trip to South America where I would take the train across the Andes from Lima, and then another train down past Lake Titicaca to Bolivia, which can be an unstable place.
I canceled it (without having deposited money) when I went to work for NBC.  I’ve never been there (I did a Labor Day weekend trip to Mexico City instead). 
Today, I visited the Smithsonian Folklife Festival for Peru, found the outdoor area mostly closed for threatening weather (lightning on the Mall is dangerous) but found the photography exhibit inside. 

There were two short films available, “The Living Road” (“El camino vivo”) and “A Quechua Blessing” (“Una bendicion Quechua”).  The “Road” refers to the network of Inca roads.  But there is earlier history, like Tiahuanaco on Lake Titicaca (12000 feet) that some people think was visitedaby aliens, who taught the people unusual stone construction. 
Tiahuanaco "Gate of the Sun" below -- a welcome mat for Van Daniken's aliens?.
Update: July 2

I visited the outdoor festival yesterday (Wordpress).

Many of the food pictures in the exhibits were taken by Joshua Eli Cogan and Ralph Rinzer of the Smithsonian.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Obama administration agrees not to interfere with private ransom payments to overseas enemies


President Obama has signed an executive order setting up a mechanism to deal with families of overseas hostages, and indicating that family members or private companies will not be prosecuted for making private ransom payments.  However, the federal government will maintain a policy of not paying ransom for American hostages, even aid workers or journalists, overseas.  The USA Today story by Kevin Jackson and Kevin Johnson is here
The most obvious concern would involve conflict zones like Syria and Iraq.  But in theory the problem could occur anywhere.  In 1978, EDS financed a rescue of two of its own employees from Iran. The problem takes on a different flavor if the target is a civilian that did not know he or she was even near a conflict area, for example in a terror attack well within a western country.  Some European governments will make payments to get people released.
A scenario can occur where there a public appeals to raise money to release individuals, and these might happen online through various websites.  I do not respond to these, nor could I expect this to ever be done for me.  Personally, I believe you cannot negotiate with terrorists or criminals.  We are all combatants sometimes whether we want to be or not.  Maybe that’s a taste of Israel.  I did grow up with the draft.


Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Wikileaks story does have one of the best photos of NSA grounds I have seen; is the Chinese hack on US government comparable?

I post this story, about how WikiLeaks reports that the NSA spied on several presidents of France, not so much over its direct importance, but because of the outstanding high resolution photo of the NSA campus, which I would not be able to get myself.
The article I by Lucas Matney in VTYM, link here
The article also mentions the spying on Angela Merkel.
It raises another question in retrograde, about whatever significance the Chinese hack on US government employees and job and security clearance applicants have.  How much PII has the NSA collected?

Monday, June 22, 2015

UK court strikes down law allowing private copying of CD's

Jeremy Malcom of Electronic Frontier Foundation has a story on how a high court in Britain struck down a law allow private copies of CD’s, link here
The idea that copy-ability adds to value does sound ludicrous. 
When I was younger, sometimes friends would make open reel copies of long play records.  We rationalized it by buying a reasonable number of records.
By this reasoning, it’s illegal to make a copy of a PDF on your hard-drive so you don’t have to be online and reload it. 
But, of course, the whole P2P lawsuit controversy over downloading songs sounds similar.  P2P was supposed to provide a “private” copy.


Sunday, June 14, 2015

Zakaria GPS talks about Europe's population demographics: vacation trips offered to encourage conception of more babies

Today. Fareed Zakaria, on his Global Public Square, reported that European countries, along with Japan and Singapore, are increasingly concerned about their low native birth rates.  Zakaria even introduced the topic was “wanted, more unprotected sex”.
Denmark offers couples vacations to France hoping they will conceive babies while in hotels. 
Russia considers childbirth patriotic, and the low birth rate certainly figures into the anti-gay propaganda law.
Countries fear serious population drops and increasing percentage of people over 65.
The United States maintains its population and keeps its average age lower with immigration, because immigrants tend to have more babies.
All of this relates to the “demographic winter” problem and the “tipping point” article from the Washington Times, discussed on the Issues blog June 7, 2015.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

CIA declassifies report on whether Bush administration could have prevented 9/11

CNN has brought back the memory of that morning, Sept. 11, 2001, with a video, followed by a report that the CIA has declassified a report regarding the shortcomings of intelligence before 9/11, link here.
The direct link to the report, heavily redacted with black blots, here
I still remember that morning, turning off my computer to walk to work on the Minneapolis Skyway just before the first plane hurt, and hearing about it from a coworker in cubicle at 8:25 AM CDT. 
We still had a company picnic on the St. Croix that day.  But my job would last 92 more days.  I think it would have lasted much longer if this had not happened.  Bush simply missed this.   
Max Fisher of Vox Media weighs in on the report, and the idea that rogue elements close to the Saudi government could have been involved, link here.  On Sunday, June 13, Fareed Zakaria noted how even today most Saudi men don't seem to work, and most private industry jobs in Saudi Arabia are held by foreigners, sometimes living in enclaves but subject to religious police. 

Friday, June 12, 2015

MERS outbreak in South Korea, could reach US

The MERS virus (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) has reached South Korea, with at least 122 cases and at least 10 deaths.  Unlike Ebola, the virus is quite contagious.  One reason that it spread in South Korea is that a few sick patients were turned away from emergency rooms, which did not have the protocols to isolate them properly.
CNN has a story warning that MERS is a planeride away from the US and Europe, here
MERS, which may have been hosted by camels, is similar to SARS, and can produce fulminant pneumonia.  But there are many coronaviruses already in man, and most produce colds or a mild bronchitis (a crackly, non-productive cough) that resolves in a few days with no treatment.  They seem to be particularly fulminant on those with weakened immune systems.
The experience last fall with Ebola, with people kept at home for 21 days without symptoms, does not bode well if MERS gets over here.  But SARS was controlled quickly in 2003.
Why are we lagging in vaccine (and anti-viral) development?
Picture: Trench foot, from USA Quartermaster Museum, Fort Lee, VA.


Thursday, June 11, 2015

Australian states, France try to pre-censor jihadists without judicial review

Electronic Frontier Foundation, in a piece by Sarah Myers West, documented overreach in many countries in trying to stop jihadism, in an article here

Two Australian states, Victoria and Queensland, considered Internet access bans and curfews for people suspected of jihadist ties.  And following the Charlie Hebdo killing, France censored several websites, without judicial review.
It’s apparent that this would probably add fuel to the fire that western governments are trying to suppress religious “truth”.  

Monday, June 8, 2015

Asymmetric warfare is relatively new to history

There is something terribly disturbing in some extremist rhetoric, which included the “boat manifesto” of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev  in Watertown – that ordinary civilians (even children) should be held morally responsible for what their governments do. The latest details on what was in his mind seem to be here on CNN, and the thought processes are pretty shocking, even for Dr. Phil to analyze. 
This idea is to be differentiated a bit from another idea, that those who gained what they have without actually earning it, deserve to have it expropriated.  That was an idea that I often heard articulated by the radical Left (like the “People’s Party) in the early 1970s, and was sometimes heard in conjunction with Vietnam era protests. But the ideas could be connected in some people’s minds.
I was quite shocked in October 2001 when the Bush administration, on a Sunday afternoon, allowed Osama bin Laden’s “address” to the American people over how they would “pay” personally for allowing their government to occupy Islamic lands, to be broadcast on major networks.  Or maybe that was journalistic duty.  All of this does underscore Peter Bergen’s assertions that 9/11 had been more about foreign policy than loose morals at home.  Today, it’s possible to make similar claims about ISIS. 
Except for 9/11 (and the watchfulness that followed) and Pearl Harbor, American civilians have been largely insulated from the possibility of personalized violence because of international politics.  That’s partly because of being protected by two oceans.  The last time American civilians were really hugely affected at home physically was the War Between the States.  That’s a major point of “Gone with the Wind”.   The largest risk of war to Americans usually has come from the military draft, which became morally controversial with the deferment and later lottery system during the Vietnam War.
Overseas, though, of course, we know the lessons of history, time and time again.  Today, of course, the Middle East – Iraq and Syria, as well as Israel and Palestine.  Before, Bosnia, many conflicts in the third world (like Rwanda), the Soviet occupation of Eastern Europe, and of course Nazi Germany, and the empire of Japan.  British civilians learned this lesson at home big time in 1940.
Asymmetry is changing that.  While the Internet has empowered individuals to act on their own productively with less bureaucracy and pre-approval by others, it has also left us open to enemies in new ways.  Asymmetric psychological warfare is new but real.
I still think that the big catastrophe – the “overdependence” on technology and lack of preparedness (to protect the power grid, for example) could be our undoing someday.  Especially in 2012-2013 I wrote a lot about this.  The “Lone Wolf” recruiting problem leaves us wondering, why aren’t teachers, police, parents, imams (as well as Jewish and Christian pastors) able to reach young people with “reality”.   That ought to be doable. 

Some forms of terrorism, though, are old.  "Biowarfare" with smallpox happened against Native Americans before the Revolutionary War.
Zach Beauchamp has a story explaining Islamic extremism, here. It mentions the writings of Jonathan Rauch.  

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Pastor reports prayers of Christians and Muslims together in Phoenix after Geller's contest

Today, at the First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC, a guest pastor, Dr. Michael Catlett, from the McLean Baptist Church, in a sermon “A Matter of Expectations” (maybe inspired by the title of Charles Dickens’s novel “Great Expectations”) spoke about the event in Phoenix AZ recently, the “cartoon drawing contest” sponsored by Pamela Geller , reported by CNN here
Although protests were vocal on both sides and a heavy law enforcement presence was necessary, there were instances of Christians and Muslims praying together, which Dr. Catlett reported in the sermon.  Some Christians did visit the Mosque to experience Muslim prayers.  We need to see this more often.

I do think that Geller is right, that the cartoon controversy can lead to existential challenges to free speech, where it can be regulated (in real life) by hecklers and bullies. But that, in another area, is why we need anti-SLAPP laws.  
CNN also explains the Muslim ban on images of the prophet Muhammad here.  It is called a “reverse idol-worship”, predicated on the absence of an image.  The ban is not explicit in the Koran, but often stated by Islamic scholars, as even extending to Jesus and Moses, and in fact mosques normally don’t contain human images at all.
The whole idea of the headdress or burqa in Muslim culture seems to reinforce modesty, and keep sexual thoughts and fantasies reserved only for marriage (even if plural) and procreation – very much like Vatican theology. 
Back in the early 1950s, in third grade, we had religious classes in public school sometimes at the end of the day.  That is no longer possible, of course.  But I recall once, in third grade, writing down “I have idols.”  I did.


Saturday, June 6, 2015

Chinese hack leads back to Cold War fears of blackmail in recruiting spies, but the "old chestnuts" are gone

The hack on the personnel records of over four million federal employees seems to originate with the government of China and seems motivated as a strategy for espionage (and not “entourage”).  CNN has a major analysis, several reporters, here and tech reporter Helen Nakishima reports here in the Washington Post. 
There is no evidence of the federal employees’ PII winding up among underground black market or Dark Web databases, and that further corroborates the idea that the motive is spying.
Speculation, of course, increases that some federal employees with high level clearances could be subject to blackmail.
It’s a good thing that sexual orientation (the "old chestnut" of Dick Cheney) is no longer a blackmail target for even civilian workers (with clearances, since 1995), or military members (since 2011).  However various kinds of hidden 
personal improprieties (like infidelity, or activity with minors) could possibly make someone a target.  So could illegal business deals, “bribery bridge” (a term from Sunday school) or white-collar crime. 
It would be ironic if my own PII from when I was a Census employee (2010-2011) could be included, but that’s unlikely.

Federal computer systems, outside DOD, the FBI and intelligence agencies (like the NSA and CIA) seem to be less secure than most large commercial systems (banks, and tech companies like Google and Facebook).  They may be less secure (and less current with security updates) than the systems of some sophisticated small businesses and home users. Aviation and transportation may be particularly vulnerable.

Update: June 12

PII for practically all federal employees and many contractors with security clearances was compromised. This might even include some who have left the government (I worked for Census part time as an interviewer in 2010 and 2011).  

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Chinese Internet practices leads to massive self-censorship

Bao Pu has an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal today about self-censorship of Chinese authors and writers, “Tiananmen and the Chinese Way of Censorship”, link here .  Books are reviewed by “professionals” who censor content that conflicts with official statist “Communist” ideology, in this “Peoples Republic of Capitalism” (Ted Koppel’s series a few years back).  Pu is a book publisher in Hong Kong, observing the mainland.
The practice is typical of a “top-down” authoritarian state, where it believes that stability demands disciplining the self-expression of ordinary people.  Putin’s Russia seems to be very like this.
What’s still unclear as how they really regulate their own social media, even though have been a number of high-profile cases of bloggers being jailed. Note the Weiwei films (label on my Movies blog) and “High Tech, Low Life” at Tribeca (April 26, 2012).
Late last year, I got some emails from a company in China inviting me to register my “doaskdotell” domain name in China.  Did they understand what I do?  Did they want to stimulate dissent?
What would happen now if I traveled to China?
The video “a song of praise of Chinese censorship” is sung by zombies.