Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Cuba has a real embassy again, and adds to Washington's own Epcot-like world showcase

I did a little trek today in Adams-Morgan in the Washington humidity, to find the Embassy of Cuba, on the 16th St, again a “real embassy”. 

It’s a little bit significant. I was a patient at NIH in 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis, allowed out of the “hospital” to go to GWU at night, and had seen Kennedy speak on little black and white TV’s around the campus.  I was probably the only “patient” who understood the significance of what was going on.

Some years back, Andy Garcia would film “The Lost City” about the last days of Havana under “capitalism”.

Cuba would become a somewhat Maoist society where everybody was the same because they all had to wait in long lines.

Around the area is a world showcase, suitable to add to Epcot.

There is an adjunct for Spain, and embassy of Poland to the north, and Lithuania, which says it elebrates 90 years of freedom, to the South.  What about its years as a Soviet republic?  Putin could test this freedom.

Down the street is an embassy for Angola. 

Friday, July 24, 2015

Israel continues to expropriate land from individual Palestinian families on the West Bank

The New York Times published, on Thursday July 23, 2015, a harrowing family story by Nasser Nawaja, “Israel, Don’t Level My Village”, link here. The Palestinian writer describes multiple evictions of his family since 1949 from various West Bank locations by what amounts to eminent domain by Israel without compensation. 

The problem, of arbitrary seizure and destruction of Palestinian property and isolation of people in various zones, seems to continue. 


Thursday, July 23, 2015

New York Times gives detailed, sobering report of the peril of Christianity in the Middle East

The New York Times Magazine has a long and sobering piece by Eliza Griswold July 22, “Is this the end of Christianity in the Middle East?”, link here

I’ve not one to join in public emotional solidarity over persecution about anything. The article gives a long history of the cycling of Christianity and Islam in the Middle East, as well as the concept of the dhimmi. The brutality of the recent invasions by ISIS and the harrowing trials of many Christian families, especially in northern Iraq, are given in detail here.  

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Russian bombers approach US West Coast July 4; ISIL as a state has historical precedence

There are media reports that Russian bombers, capable of carrying nuclear weapons, flew within 40 miles of the California coast and also a stretch of southern Alaska or the Aleutians on July 4, even sending a greeting when detected by the USAF.  Here is a typical story, link . Still, the even makes one wonder:  what if a terror group tried to launch an EMP weapon from within 200 miles of the US Coast.  Would NORAD or the US Coast Guard or regular military forces detect and intercept it in time?
Tim Arango has a sobering story in the New York Times Wednesday, front page, “ISIS transforming into a functioning state that uses terror as a tool”, link here.   There are plenty of precedents in history of authoritarian states that turned out to be stable, preceded by violent conquest for the benefit of one group, such as the Bolsheviks (who expropriated from Czarist era estates).  Nazi Germany or the Empire of Japan might have turned out that way (were it not for Alan Turing).  Yet, we often think that as recently as 2013, a sequence like the ISIS conquest of major parts of Iraq (especially Mosul) would have been unimaginable.  Strangely, many Sunni’s find life under ISIL more manageable than it was under previous government’s (including Saddam Hussein’s).  There are odd pretenses of order, such as rules that automobiles carry repair kits. 

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Washington Post details story on how tech companies have to deal with propaganda from groups like ISIS

The Washington Post has run a long and detailed front page story (by Scott Highman and Ellen Nakashima) Sunday July 9, 2015, “Confronting the Caliphate: Balancing security and free speech: Facebook. Twitter and YouTube look to mute Islamic State without stifling other voices globally”, link here.  Online the title is more graphic: “Why the Islamic State leaves tech companies torn between free speech and security”, with the introduction “Islamic State’s grisly messages force social media to revisit free speech”. 

Facebook aggressively monitors content for violence, according to the story, and Twitter is catching up.  ABC News reports that there are about 200,000 “ISIS tweets” a day, out of over 50 million “normal” tweets.  

The article discusses whether a technology like Microsoft’s PhotoDNA, used now to screen known images (identified by NCMEC) for child pornography (especially by Google on all its platforms) could expand to terror. The technology works mainly with still images, not video. 
But there is also a “meta” issue:  it is difficult to distinguish between images or content posted to incite, and stories and images that report recent historical fact.  The idea is known from other extremism in the past (even Nazism). 

The article talks about the Internet Archive and Way Back Machine, which would like to remove propaganda -- but, again, it's also history. 
It also poses a quirky problem in conjunction with “amateur” blogger journalism.  A blogger could feel compelled to cover an incident out of a need to make the reporting appear complete, but that very fact could tempt (any) enemies into more outrageous acts in order to be “reported”.

On the other hand, enemies complain about specific reporting (cartoon images of the Prophet).
Most mainstream news outlets do not show images or videos the most outrageous or violent ISIS or other radical acts (like the beheadings) explicitly, just as they don't usually publish religiously offensive cartoons.  I follow the same practices.
With the most recent incident in Tennessee, it would appear that the perpetrator was influenced heavily by travel overseas, personal contacts, and possibly drug and alcohol use and family issues, maybe mental illness.  This was not a matter of simply getting a tweet, going to a hidden website, and then “acting”. 
The article notes that many of the most violent articles are on the Dark Web and are not indexed now anyway.  Also, the communication to “jihadists” is often encrypted.  The “normal” use of platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Blogger, Wordpress and the like isn’t necessarily contributing to the problem as much as some media reports suggest.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Germany's own asylum crisis

Asylum is a double-edged issue, because taking people in does involve some risk to individual citizens in a host country.

But Vox has an interesting piece “Angela Merkel should be ashamed of her response to this sobbing Palestinian girl”, by Amanda Taub, link here.
Taub mentions Germany’s wealth and potential demographic winter crisis (low birth rate).  She also mentions the security problems for refugees even within the country from vigilantes. 


Thursday, July 16, 2015

Chatanooga perpetrator had apparently written religious blog posts, obscure in meaning

The information about the incident in Chatanooga, TN is developing, but there is a story that Mohammad Youssef Abdulazeez had written at least two blog posts on July 13 (Monday). 
The Daily Beast attempts to explain the posts but doesn’t link to them, as they may have been taken down by the ISP.  The explanation is here. It does seem to follow an authoritarian idea of what one should believe about this life and the afterlife.  The visitor will have to ponder what is said here for himself or herself.
In recent years, my own feeling has developed that modern quantum physics and cosmology gives a nuanced idea of the afterlife that could work in any major religion (as “moderately” interpreted) and that is possibly very liberating.  (I’m more optimistic about the afterlife than Stephen Hawking, or little Ronnie Reagan, for example.)  The Monroe Institute’s ideas are certainly interesting.  I’ve always viewed with doubt the idea that I am supposed to believe something simply because someone in religious or political authority preaches it. 
CNN’s developing story is here. The suspect seems to have been likable, and an engineering graduate, but now unemployed (later, it was reported he was working for a cable and wireless manufacturing company).  A friend has told CNN (and will presumably tell investigators) that he had traveled to the Middle East for some time.  That could suggest that radical beliefs could have come from direct contact and not just the Internet. 
CNN has been quoting the blog as saying "The world is a prison for the believer and a paradise for the non-believer".  Not very rational.
Interesting that Tsarnaevs were also into martial arts, boxing, wrestling.
Ramadan in 2015 runs from June 17, 2015 until sundown July 17, 2015 (tomorrow). 
Picture: From Lookout Mountain, Chatanooga, my own visit, June 2004.

Update: July 23

NBC has the latest news on the wrinkle of Abdulazeez's motives, which seem like a bowl of contradictions, link here

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Obama's Iran solution sounds like a setup for a balloon payment on national security

As I came home from my own pseudo-world tour in Orlando, I noticed Obama talking about Iran on every plasma screen in the airport.  (There were no seats and tables high enough to work with a laptop until I went into a restaurant and paid for something, but that’s another matter.)

The president says that this is about “verification”, not “trust”.  But this also sounds like a church financing itself in such a way it has a big balloon payment at the end. 

There is a risk that Iran could make much bigger threats to specific neighbors in 10-15 years, and could even become a threat to pull off something like an EMP strike.  Obama is gambling that Iran will somehow become better behaved.

It’s true, as journalist Anthony Bourdain reports, Iran is actually a little bit better as place in the streets than it was, and there is some doubletalk as to whether America is still the great Satan.
In the meantime, Vox reports about Greece, that the IMF wants the European countries behave more like US states and cover each others backs on debts (not sure that the analogy works), so it wants some left-wing debt forgiveness.  This is not a good time for the rentier class in Greece.

Update: July 16

Note well, Washington Post's editorial this morning, "A nuclear deal has been reached, but Iran must free Jason Rezaian", link here

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Around the World in six hours, at Epcot (Disney) in Orlando FL

Okay, the cheapest way to go around the world is to visit Walt Disney Epcot’s World Showcase.
The complete walk (close to one mile)  takes about six hours, with time for a meal and a half-hour play at the US Pavilion.  

Canada (many visits, largest in 1978, 1982, and 1983)

Britain  (visited in 1982, 2001)

France  (visited in 1999, 2001)



Trading Post (Probably Congo)


Germany  (visited in 1972. 1999)

also model railroad:


Norway   (visited for a week in 1972)

Mexico   (visited in 1974)
In addition, Universal Studios in Orlando has a London riverfront in front of Diagon Alley

as well as a view of modern London projected inside the Hogwarts Express (to Islands of Adventure).
I didn't see anyone smoking at either Disney or Universal.  Do both parks ban cigarettes, even outdoors?  Good thing if they do. 

Monday, July 6, 2015

Russia could try to start WWIII, with tactical nuclear weapons, maybe in the Baltics, maybe even Finland (article today)

Max Fisher has a most alarming long essay on Vox explaining how a nuclear war – WWIII – with Russia and more likely than we want to admit, maybe a 2% chance.  The link is here

Max explains several scenarios in which Russia could use tactical nuclear weapons against NATO troops, maybe in Ukraine, the Baltic states, conceivably even Finland.
I was a patient at NIH but able to go to school and heard about the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962 before the other patients, as I have related.
And the hack on an essay (now in my 2002 DADT II book) in April 2002 on an old legacy site overlaid a section talking about nuclear terror with jibberish that seemed to be about the Russo-Finnish region. Very odd, never repeated. 

Friday, July 3, 2015

Some progressives now question the American Revolution; a dire comment from NYPD

I notice Dylan Matthews column on Vox this morning, “Three Reasons the American Revolution Was a Mistake”, here . This happens as Matthews flies to London to celebrate non-independence.
He makes the arguments that parliamentary democracy is more stable (but it’s less clear that Europe is better off than us right now, given the economic unrest (Greece right now), deeper demographic problems, and bigger security issues with non-assimilated minorities.
But a bigger argument is that slavery would have ended earlier, and oppression of native Americans would have been less.  He says that the “freedom” sought by colonists was contained in the specific interests of an inappropriately privileged white male minority.

I can remember in high school (graduating in 1961) that the French teacher was controversial because she belonged to the CAR.

As a counterweight, here is a piece by Harvey J. Kaye, "Social Democracy is 100% American", link here
In the meantime, the rhetoric about security here in the US ramps up.  A representative from NYPD, talking on AC360, mentioned radiation detectors.  They have been around major cities since 9/11 (and maybe before), but the idea that he mentioned it was startling, because that’s not normally a “lone wolf” capability (although the point of it is certainly “revolutionary” in a left-wing expropriation sense).  (They have been mentioned before New Year's Eve celebrations.)  There’s been less talk from conservatives about EMP than maybe three years ago, and the insurance industry says that the power utilities are better prepared for solar storms and unconventional terror than they were five years ago. 
Still, the talk is unnerving.

Update: July 7

On Vox, Jeff Stein rebuts Matthew's piece here