Monday, February 28, 2011

Libya, the Human Rights Paragon: You Can't Make This Up

There's a serious disconnect between what Libya's boss says is happening, and what everybody else sees. There are a number of possible explanations.

Al-Qaddafi may think that if he keeps having his enforcers kill troublemakers, while he says that everything is just fine, he can go back to business-as-usual after the dust settles.

He's been running Libya since 1969, and may not quite believe what's happened in Tunisia and Egypt: and what's happening in Bahrain and other formerly-stable countries in his part of the world.

Quite a lot has changed in the last four decades, and I don't imagine that it's easy for a busy man to keep up with it all.

Or, maybe his mind has taken an indefinite leave of absence.

Libya: World-Class Human Rights Model Country?!

I think the United Nations was a spiffy idea, represented some very nice sentiments and good intentions: and makes for downright weird news now and again.

Like this:
"As the United Nations works feverishly to condemn Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi for cracking down on protesters, the body's Human Rights Council is poised to adopt a report chock-full of praise for Libya's human rights record.

"The review commends Libya for improving educational opportunities, for making human rights a 'priority' and for bettering its 'constitutional' framework. Several countries, including Iran, Venezuela, North Korea, and Saudi Arabia but also Canada, give Libya positive marks for the legal protections afforded to its citizens -- who are now revolting against the regime and facing bloody reprisal.

"The U.S. mission in Geneva said it would look into the status of the document in response to a question about whether any efforts are being made to cancel or postpone consideration of the report. But an agenda put out by the United Nations in January said the Human Rights Council, of which Libya has been a member since last year, will 'consider and adopt' the document at its session, which is under way and continues to the end of March...."
Here's an example of how Libya treats its citizens:
"Two Libyan Air Force fighter pilots defected on Monday and flew their jets to Malta where they told authorities they had been ordered to bomb protesters, Maltese government officials said...."
Maybe the United Nations Human Rights Council got their information from Libya's boss, Libya's Colonel Muammar Abu Minyar al-Qadhafi. Where he's living, Libyans love him, just simply love him:
"Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi appeared Monday either to not know that demonstrators in cities throughout Libya are calling for an end to his rule or not accept it, according to excerpts from the interview, which a U.S. official described as 'delusional.'

" 'No demonstration at all in the streets,' he told ABC News and the BBC in a joint interview carried out at a restaurant in Tripoli, excerpts of which were posted on the BBC's website.

"Told by the BBC's Jeremy Bowen that he had seen demonstrators in the streets that morning, Gadhafi asked, 'Are they supporting us?'

"Gadhafi, wearing sunglasses and clad in brown tribal clothing, refused to accept the reporter's assertion that they were not. 'No. No one against us. Against me for what?'

"He repeated his assertion that he is not president, but one of the people. 'They love me, all my people with me, they love me all. They will die to protect me, my people. No, no.'..."
Meanwhile, back on planet Earth:
"International pressure on Muammar Gaddafi to end a crackdown on his opponents escalated as his loyalists fought rebels holding the two cities closest to the capital and his warplanes bombed an ammunition depot in the east.

"The US moved naval and air forces closer to Libya and said all options were open, including patrols of the North African nation's skies to protect its citizens from their ruler.

"France said it would fly aid to the opposition-controlled eastern half of the country, the European Union imposed an arms embargo and other sanctions, following the lead of the US and the United Nations. The EU was also considering the creation of a no-fly zone over Libya and the US and Europe were freezing billions in Libya's foreign assets...."
(Press Association)
In my opinion, the good news in this mess is that it looks like quite a few countries - including France - and some international organizations realize that business-as-usual won't work any more, regarding Libya.

As for the United Nations - some folks in that organization seem to have been keeping up with current events.

The UN Human Rights Council? Like I said, maybe they got their information from Libya's boss. After all, his country is a member of the Human Rights Council, so he must be okay, right?

Can't argue with logic like that.

Related posts:In the news:

Friday, February 25, 2011

Zimbabwe, Where Watching the Wrong Videos is Treason

One thing about the shenanigans during American elections: It could be worse. Take Zimbabwe, for example.

Zimbabwe isn't, in my opinion, one of Africa's success stories. Not yet, anyway.

It's part of a landlocked area of Africa that's been called, in whole or in part, Nyasaland, Northern Rhodesia, Southern Rhodesia, the Federation of Rhodesia, just plain Rhodesia, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Malawi. ("Rhodesia," Wikipedia) Local bosses haven't been re-naming their holdings quite so often in recent decades: but my guess is that the map will be re-drawn a few more times in the next generation or so.

The part that's called Zimbabwe these days is in the news again.

A Zimbabwean college professor was tortured for showing students videos he found on the Internet. According to the boss of Zimbabwe, that's treason.

Zimbabwe is, on paper, a parliamentary democracy. The country's boss, Robert Mugabe, was prime minister from 1980 to 1987, he the apparently decided he'd like to be president, instead: and has been president ever since.

Mugabe's had elections, to show how democratic (small "d") his country is. How much the election results reflected what Mugabe's subjects actually wanted has been, in my opinion, debatable. ("Zimbabwe," CIA World Factbook, "Robert Mugabe," Wikipedia)
"Last Saturday, Munyaradzi Gwisai, a lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe’s law school, was showing a group of students and activists internet videos about the tumult sweeping across North Africa when state security agents burst into his office.

"The agents seized laptop computers, DVD discs, and a video projector before arresting 45 people, including Gwisai, who runs the Labor Law Center at the University of Zimbabwe. All 45 have been charged with treason - which can carry a sentence of life imprisonment or death - for, in essence, watching viral videos.

"Over the next 72 hours, Gwisai and five others were brutally tortured, he testified on Thursday at an initial hearing.

"There were 'assaults all over the detainees’ bodies, under their feet and buttocks through the use of broomsticks, metal rods, pieces of timber, open palms and some blunt objects,' The Zimbabwean newspaper reports, in an account of the court proceedings.

"In Zimbabwe, under dictator Robert Mugabe, watching internet videos can be a capital offense, it would seem. The videos included BBC World News and Al Jazeera clips, which Gwisai had downloaded from Kubatana, a web-based activist group in Zimbabwe.

"Nine out of ten people lack internet access in Zimbabwe, and cable TV is an extravagant luxury. DStv, the monopoly satellite provider, costs $70 per month – out of reach for most in a country where teachers make $150 per month...."
If Mugabe keeps Internet access in his country away from most of his subjects, and stops letting newspapers publish stories like the one involving Munyaradzi Gwisai, he may hang on to his position. Then again, he may not.

I think we're looking at more change in the status quo of countries like Zimbabwe. Tunisia and Egypt have already kicked out their bosses; folks in Bahrain and Libya aren't sitting down and keeping quiet any more; and those aren't the only places where 'the masses' are getting uppity.

Finally, I don't think Muslims have a monopoly on badly-run autocracies. Zimbabwe's a case in point. Robert Mugabe's outfit presents itself as a contemporary secular democracy, and the territory's people as a whole are hardly a homogeneous bunch.

Zimbabwe religious beliefs:
  • Syncretic (part Christian, part indigenous beliefs)
  • Christian
  • Indigenous beliefs
  • Muslim and other
    ("Zimbabwe," CIA World Factbook)

Related posts:
In the news:Background:

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Information Technology, People, and a Changing World

Seeing the same opinion I've been expressing in a major newspaper is a nice experience. A tad uncommon, but still nice.

This particular opinion involves technology. Specifically, information technology.

Basically, I don't think that technology makes people do things. That's part of why I don't have a problem with folks owning and using dangerous technology: like LP gas, printing presses, computers, and guns. (June 27, 2008)

Printing presses and computers are in that list because it's my opinion that they're part of two major changes that happened recently. Well, fairly recently.

Gutenberg, Twitter, and People being People

About five and a half centuries back now, Johannes Gutenberg worked the bugs out of movable type technology. Up to that time, books - any recorded visual data - were hand-made by specialized workers: and very expensive. (A Catholic Citizen in America (January 27, 2009))

Before Gutenberg's infotech hit Europe and the world, ideas took time to circulate. Quite a lot of time, generally. After, not so much. Arguably, the Reformation happened because somebody got hold of a 95-point discussion list, and mass-produced it. I don't think a printing press made Luther write his theses, but I'm pretty sure they wouldn't have been distributed so widely if that technology hadn't been available.

Today we've got the Internet, social network services: and a rapidly-evolving set of online communities.

Communities aren't anything new. It's what happens when more that one human being is in an area. We like communicating with each other: it's part of who we are and what we do.

What technologies like writing, printing presses, telephones, and the Internet have in common is that they make communicating with other people a little easier. Or, in the case of people who aren't in the same place at the same time: possible.

Hello Online Communities: Goodbye Status Quo

I've discussed old-school information gatekeepers before. They're the folks who, until very recently, were able to control what the rest of us saw and read.

It's just the way things worked: in America, for example, most information that we call 'news' got filtered through a few editors on the east coast. Most of the rest was reviewed by media executives, teachers, librarians, and the folks who run the publishing industry.

That was then, this is now. Understandably, quite a few of the old-school information gatekeepers are upset about 'the masses' being able to exchange ideas without their permission.

Here in America, I think we're making the transition to the Information Age fairly well: in large part thanks to many folks in this culture already being used to the idea that it's okay to discuss - and even criticize - their 'betters.'

Other parts of the world don't seem to be having an easy time of it.

Which is where today's news and views come in, including these excerpts:
"Part of Interior Ministry compound torched in Cairo"
Ivan Watson and Amir Ahmed, CNN (February 23, 2011)

"An Interior Ministry compound in Egypt was burning Wednesday as smoke billowed into the sky over Cairo.

"Witnesses said the fire was started by protesters upset about labor issues and the blaze could have been ignited by Molotov cocktails.

"Part of a building, and surrounding buildings such as the criminal records building, had been torched as well as several cars....

"...The incident comes as Egyptians continue to work to create the new leadership structure of the country after the revolution.

"State-run media reported Wednesday that there have been about 1,300 official complaints against former Egyptian ministers and government officials.

Interior Minister Mahmoud Wagdi said he ordered that all the complaints, many of them about government waste and corruption, be investigated, state-run EgyNews website reported.

"The investigation into the complaints comes after authorities in Egypt froze the assets of former President Hosni Mubarak and his family, state-run media has reported...."

"These are not just Facebook revolutions"
Jeffrey Ghannam , The Sydney Morning Herald (February 23, 2011)

"Social media enabled Mid-East protesters - it did not motivate them.

"For decades, armed soldiers have guarded the Egyptian Radio and Television Union building in downtown Cairo, apparently to protect the country's formidable broadcast assets from being commandeered in an attempted revolution.

"But Hosni Mubarak's departure from power earlier this month after three decades of rule showed that the power of social media sites and mobile phone technology proved a far bigger threat to the former Egyptian president.

"With protests spreading from Tunisia and Egypt to Bahrain, Yemen, Algeria and Libya, the catchy notion of a 'Twitter Revolution' or a 'Facebook Revolution' is being debated - and tweeted, of course...."

Related posts:
News and views:

Monday, February 21, 2011

Libya: Not a Good Day for the Colonel

This has not been a good day for Libya's Colonel Muammar Abu Minyar al-Qadhafi.

Some of his air force pilots were told to bomb protesters. Two of them got in their jets, took off, dropped under Libyan radar, and headed for Malta. Looks like at least one of them asked for asylum there.

However that works out: two of Libya's military jets are now on the ground in Malta, along with their pilots. Killing protesters doesn't seem to be working as a way to win the minds and hearts of Libyans.

At least Qadhafi's isn't the only old-school regime that's unraveling: on the 'misery loves company' principle.

Qadhafi? Qaddafi? Gaddafi?

The Libyan colonel's name comes out in English as Qadhafi, Qaddafi, Gaddafi, by the way: and probably other ways as well. I've discussed what happens when words get transferred between languages that don't share the same writing system. (January 25, 2009) Even when both use a phonetic system, like Arabic and Latin alphabets, it's tricky - and that's another topic.

'Looks Good on Paper'

Libya is one of those countries whose government looks good on paper. How it's actually run - I'll get back to that.

Here's an excerpt from a backgrounder on what probably seemed like a good idea at the time:


"The Italians supplanted the Ottoman Turks in the area around Tripoli in 1911 and did not relinquish their hold until 1943 when defeated in World War II. Libya then passed to UN administration and achieved independence in 1951. Following a 1969 military coup, Col. Muammar Abu Minyar al-QADHAFI began to espouse his own political system, the Third Universal Theory. The system is a combination of socialism and Islam derived in part from tribal practices and is supposed to be implemented by the Libyan people themselves in a unique form of "direct democracy." QADHAFI has always seen himself as a revolutionary and visionary leader....

"...conventional long form: Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya

"conventional short form: Libya

"local long form: Al Jamahiriyah al Arabiyah al Libiyah ash Shabiyah al Ishtirakiyah al Uthma

"local short form: none

"Government type: Jamahiriya (a state of the masses) in theory, governed by the populace through local councils; in practice, an authoritarian state..."
("Libya," CIA World Factbook (last updated January 25, 2011))
I think one of the problems with governments whose leaders say they want to let 'the masses' lead - is that 'the masses' often don't agree with the leaders.

Back to what's happening in Libya.

Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Libya: Career Crises for Autocrats

The Libyan colonel may take some solace in the knowledge that he's not alone. Tunisia and Egypt's people have swapped out their leadership, and quite a number of other countries in that part of the world may be doing the same in short order.

Short-Term Outlook: Uncertain

In the short run, I'm a bit concerned about who's going to grab power in these previously-'stable' countries. Iran's ayatollahs may have some new friends soon. Or enemies. These self-styled defenders of Islam can't seem to agree on just what 'Islam' is supposed to be - and that's yet another topic.

I'd be mildly surprised if old-school socialist/Marxist/communist 'people's republics' came out of the mess. I could be wrong about this: but I think that too many folks in too many places have found out just what a 'workers paradise' was really like.

I'm pretty sure that there will be a few dedicated folks who won't give up on the idea of a Marxist/socialist/whatever state that works: just as I'm pretty sure that a few dedicated folks here in America will keep on assuming that 'the commies' are to blame what they don't like.

The rest of us, I think, have moved on.

Problem is, some folks have moved in the direction of Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and like-minded outfits. And that isn't another topic.

For the next few years - maybe decades - I think there's a real chance that some bunch of self-assured fanatics will grab control of Libya, or another of the countries that's melting down today.

Long-Term Outlook: Even More Uncertain, As Usual

A few hundred years from now? I think there's a real chance that some of these countries will have found a way to pull their culture, tribal and national identities, and economies into the Information Age.

And by then, we'll all be dealing with some other set of troubles. No great surprise there: The one thing I'm fairly confident about is that change will continue to happen.

On the 'up' side, life probably won't get boring. Not any time soon.

Related posts:
In the news:

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Bahrain, Libya: My Take on the News

Excerpts from recent coverage of Bahrain and Libya's troubles, and my take.
"Bahrain: British Arms Export Licences Revoked"
Andy Jack, Sky News Online (February 19, 2011)

"More than 40 UK arms export licences for Bahrain have been revoked after a review following fears weapons from Britain may have been used to crackdown on protesters.

"The King of Bahrain ordered a start to 'dialogue' with all parties in the country, after armed troops opened fire on anti-government protesters in Manama.

"Dozens of people were hurt as armed officers fired at protesters around the Pearl roundabout.

"Foreign Office minister Alistair Burt said that 24 individual licences and 20 open licences for Bahrain had been revoked, following advice from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills...."
Like I've said, word gets around today. Fast.

And quite a few countries don't seem to like being part of what Bahrain's bosses have done. Partly, I hope, due to the ethics involved. More certainly, I think, due to a realization - at least among many Western governments - that killing potential customers is really bad for business.

For similar reasons, I think that killing one's subjects is bad for instilling a sense of loyalty. That may seem obvious, but folks like Bahrain's ruling family keep doing it.

"Libya, Yemen crack down; Bahrain pulls back tanks"
Maggie Michael and Brian Friedman, The Associated Press, via The Washington Post (February 19, 2011)

"Security forces in Libya and Yemen fired on pro-democracy demonstrators Saturday as the two hard-line regimes struck back against the wave of protests that has already toppled autocrats in Egypt and Tunisia. At least 15 died when police shot into crowds of mourners in Libya's second-largest city, a hospital official said.

"Even as Bahrain's king bowed to international pressure and withdrew tanks to allow demonstrators to retake a symbolic square in the capital, Libya's Moammar Gadhafi and Yemen's Ali Abdullah Saleh made clear they plan to stamp out opposition and not be dragged down by the reform movements that have grown in nations from Algeria to Djibouti to Jordan.

"Libyans returned to the street for a fifth straight day of protests against Gadhafi, the most serious uprising in his 42-year reign, despite estimates by human rights groups of 84 deaths in the North African country - with 35 on Friday alone.

"Saturday's deaths, which would push the overall toll to 99, occurred when snipers fired on thousands of mourners in Benghazi, a focal point of unrest, as they attended the funerals of other protesters, a hospital official said. He spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal...."
Killing folks who are mourning a victim of their government's enforcers. Like I said: I don't think that's a good way to inspire loyalty. Fear, yes. But it's my opinion that fear only works for so long as a substitute for a social contract. And that's another topic.
"Hague condemns Middle East violence"
The Press Association, via Google News (February 19, 2011)

"Britain has condemned the 'unacceptable and horrifying' use of violence by security forces in Libya, where live fire and snipers have been deployed to break up demonstrations against the 42-year rule of Moammar Gaddafi.

"The death toll during three days of protests in Libya is believed to be at least 84, in the most repressive official response yet to the wave of unrest sweeping across the Arab world.

"Meanwhile, in Bahrain, thousands of cheering and singing demonstrators re-occupied Pearl Square in the centre of the capital Manama as troops and riot police were ordered off the streets by the ruling Khalifa family in an apparent response to Western pressure...."
As I've said before, news travels fast these days.
"Bahrain Tensions Ease as Violence Escalates Through Region"
Business Report, SF Gate/The San Francisco Chronicle (February 18, 2011)

"Anti-government protesters in Bahrain celebrated a victory in their fight for democracy as authorities elsewhere across the region sought to crack down on calls for political change sparked by Egypt and Tunisia.

"Violence rippled across Yemen and Djibouti, both U.S. allies, as demonstrations against Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi entered a fourth day amid opposition warnings of an impending 'bloodbath' at the hands of security forces. Saudi Arabian shares retreated for a fifth day on concern political unrest in neighboring countries may hurt the Arab world's largest economy.

"In Bahrain, home to the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet, thousands of protesters poured into the Pearl Roundabout in the capital, Manama, after tanks, armored personnel carriers and riot police withdrew on the orders of Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa. Unions have called a general strike for tomorrow to protest the government's violent quelling of demonstrations...."
"Bahrain Tensions Ease....?!" I don't know if that's wishful thinking, an effort to make the Bahranian ruling family look good - or a reference to something that's not all that obvious in the news.
"Bahrain royal family orders army to turn on the people"
Adrian Blomfield, The Telegraph (February 18, 2011)

"Bahrain's ruling family has defied mounting international criticism by ordering the army to turn on its people for the first time since pro-reform demonstrations erupted five days ago.

"As protesters attempted to converge on Pearl Roundabout, a landmark in the capital Manama that has become the principal rallying point of the uprising, soldiers stationed in a nearby skyscraper opened fire.

"Since they took to the streets, Bahrain's protesters have come to expect violence and even death at the hands of the kingdom's security forces. At least five people were killed before yesterday's protests.

"But this was on a different scale of magnitude.

"As they drew near, they were met first with tear gas and then with bursts of live ammunition.

"Many fled the first salvoes, scrambling down empty streets as the shots rang out behind them.

"As they ran, terror and disbelief flashed across their faces. One man shouted: 'They are killing our people! They are killing our people.'

"Cowering behind a wall, a woman wept, her body shaking in fear.

"But many refused to run, initially at least, determined to defy the violence being visited upon them. Some held their hands in the air and shouted 'Peaceful! Peaceful!'.

"The shooting resumed. One man crumpled to the ground, blood pouring from his leg; nearby a second was also felled. A scream went up: 'live ammunition!...

"...But even as they fled in headlong panic, a helicopter sprayed gunfire at them and more fell. Paramedics from ambulances that had rushed to the scene darted forward to help the wounded, but they too were shot at. Several were detained and at least one ambulance was impounded.

"Doctors at the nearby Salmaniyah hospital said they had received 32 wounded people, nine of whom were in a critical condition. There were unconfirmed reports of two deaths at Pearl Roundabout, but witnesses said the bodies had been seized by the army.

"Those caught up in the violence were mourners, returning from funerals of three people killed before dawn the previous day when police opened fire on protesters, many of whom were asleep, in a successful bid to regain control of Pearl Roundabout....

"...Most of the protesters are members of Bahrain's long-marginalised Shia majority. "They say they are not demanding the abdication of Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, Bahrain's Sunni king, but they are calling for a constitutional monarchy that would treat the Shia fairly and make them equal subjects in his kingdom...."
Note: Bahrain has been a constitutional monarchy since 2002. ("Bahrain," CIA World Factbook (last updated February 11, 2011)) What the protesters want, apparently, is a change in the constitution. Or maybe a new constitution. Back to the article:
"...But they are demanding the resignation of his uncle Khalifa bin Sulman Al Khalifa, who has served as prime minister for 39 years.

"During his rule, the protesters say, the Shia have been turned into second class citizens, deprived of jobs in the army, police force and government while Sunnis from abroad have been given Bahraini citizenship to alter the kingdom's demographic balance.

"Government officials in Bahrain have warned that the Shia opposition is controlled by Iran, which seeks to use the kingdom to establish a foothold on the Arabian peninsula.

"Protesters insist that they have no love for Iran and are only seeking justice for themselves...." (The Telegraph)
In contrast to the SFGate piece, this was written by someone who almost certainly was not trying to soft-pedal the Bahranian rulers' decision to kill a few commoners and hope for the best.

Related post:

Bahrain and the Information Age

There's an old-fashioned way to deal with unruly subjects: kill them. A more contemporary wrinkle is to 're-educate' folks who don't approve of a country's leadership, or tuck the troublemakers in some cell where they'll be out of sight.

There was a time when communications between countries was a matter of diplomatic pouches, traveler's tales, and the occasional monograph by an aristocrat with a taste for travel.

In those days, killing commoners who made a fuss may have been an effective way of maintaining the status quo.

These days, not so much.

Between video cameras on cell phones and a rapidly-evolving set of online communities, what happens in some remote corner of the world - isn't all that remote. Think Iran's Neda Agha Soltan. (June 23, 2009)

Bahrain's Bosses and an Oppressed Majority

I haven't heard "oppressed minority" all that often lately, but another presidential election is coming up, and it may be run up the flagpole again. Which is another topic.

Sometimes minority groups in a country really are oppressed. That's not, in my view, a good idea. In the short term it's hard on the folks who aren't with the majority. In the long term, I think treating underlings unfairly is really bad for the folks in charge.

Then there are situations where you've got an oppressed majority. Again in my opinion, that's bad in the long run.

From the looks of it, the folks who conquered Bahrain a few centuries back are on a voyage of discovery, in which they'll discover that it isn't the 18th century any more.1 From the looks of things, it won't be an easy lesson.

Bahrain is a few islands off the coast of Saudi Arabia in the Persian Gulf. The biggest one is about 10 miles across by 30 long. ("Bahrain," CIA World Factbook (last updated February 11, 2011)) They've started running out of petroleum, but the king - or somebody with influence - has been smart, and got into petroleum refining and banking. Economically, the place isn't doing too badly.

Or, rather, it looks like the king and his family aren't doing too badly: along with folks who see things the king's way.

America's Involved: No Surprise There

The United States Navy's Fifth Fleet has a major support facility on Bahrain. In some circles, that's 'proof' that capitalist warmonger Yankee oppressors are grinding Bahrain's proletariat - - - and so on.

I see the American presence in Bahrain as no great surprise. Until Bahrain followed Tunisia and Egypt in this year's meltdown, the place was:
  1. In a strategically important part of the world
  2. Moderately stable
Some of Ameirca's more earnest intellectuals notwithstanding, this country isn't in the habit of knocking over governments and trying to set up clones of our government - or warmonger oppressors. America's government has blundered now and again - and I've discussed that before. (February 10, 2011)

Bahrain: "Kick the Bum Out," Not "Yankee Go Home"

Times, as I've said before, change. A few decades back, protests in another country often used 'Yankee go home' as a theme. In today's Bahrain, the protesters apparently think the king can stay - but want the king's uncle fired. The uncle's name is Khalifa bin Salman Al-Khalifa (or Khalifa bin Sulman Al Khalifa). He's been prime minister since 1971 (Factbook, CIA). That's 39 years in the same top job.

Which is a case-in-point for why I think term limits are a good idea - and that's almost another topic.

There may have been epochs when one century was pretty much like another - and someone could lock himself in an executive office for several decades without losing track of what was going on outside.

This isn't one of those epochs.

At all

Today's World: Blink, and You'll Miss Something

I'm not a technological determinist. I don't think that devices we use 'make' us do things. On the other hand, I do think that our technology makes a huge difference in what we can do - once we've made up our minds.

And it's more complicated than that. Things usually are. Yet another topic.
Bahranian Brouhaha: Not Just Tech
I'm about as sure as I can be, that the Bahrainian trouble isn't entirely due to communications and information technology that's popped up since since the king's uncle started being prime minister.

Folks don't, I think, face bullets because some brass hat can't make a phone call without help.

Still, I think Khalifa bin Salman Al-Khalifa and the rest of Bahrain's ruling family may not quite understand what's happened in the last four decades.

Folks who aren't in the upper crust aren't as isolated from each other as we were. The phrase "global village" may have political connotations: but I see it as also being a fairly good way of describing what's happening.

Provided that two people understand the same language, and have access to the Internet, it doesn't matter where each of them is: they can communicate.

Sharing Bad Jokes, Taking Down Autocrats

Most of the communication is trivial, at best: but that's human nature, I think. Most of us don't sit around thinking great thoughts and discussing the existential implication of banana peels.

Once in a while, some of us have something really important to say - or a vital picture to share. Since we're already sharing bad jokes, sports trivia, or what browser is best with our friends, we'll share the important bit of information.

Nothing unusual there. Folks have been doing the same sort of thing for thousands of years.

What's different today is that some of those little communities are spread over several continents. And some folks are involved in more than one community - so if something's really important, the news can travel fast. Very fast.

That's not an original observation - but I think it's an important part of life in the Information Age. I also think it's an important part of what happened in Tunisia, Egypt: and what's happening now in Bahrain and quite a number of other places.

This isn't a good time, in my opinion, for someone in an old-school regime to assume that killing a few commoners will solve a public relations problem. Word gets around faster now: and folks in 'the masses' can get their version of a story out. Maybe just as important: folks dealing with an unyielding, unreasonable regime can learn that they're not alone.

VCR to Twitter: Quite a Ride

I like technology, in general, and don't mind learning new ways of handling information. Which is a good thing for me, considering what I've learned to deal with since 1971. That was the year that the VCR videocassette was invented. Next came word processors and Pong (the first video game), followed by online bulletin boards, the World Wide Web, and Twitter.2
It's been quite a ride.

Somewhat-related posts:
News and views:
I've excerpted material from these sources and opined a bit in another post:
"Bahrain "...In 1783, the al-Khalifa family captured Bahrain from the Persians. In order to secure these holdings, it entered into a series of treaties with the UK during the 19th century that made Bahrain a British protectorate. The archipelago attained its independence in 1971. Bahrain's small size and central location among Persian Gulf countries require it to play a delicate balancing act in foreign affairs among its larger neighbors. Facing declining oil reserves, Bahrain has turned to petroleum processing and refining and has transformed itself into an international banking center. King HAMAD bin Isa al-Khalifa, after coming to power in 1999, pushed economic and political reforms to improve relations with the Shia community. Shia political societies participated in 2010 parliamentary and municipal elections. Al Wifaq, the largest Shia political society, won the largest number of seats in the elected chamber of the legislature. However, Shia discontent has resurfaced in recent years with street demonstrations and occasional low-level violence...." ("Bahrain," CIA World Factbook (last updated February 11, 2011))

2 A short list of new communications and information technology:
  • 1971
    • VCR / videocassette)
  • 1972
    • Word processor
    • Pong (first video game)
  • 1973
    • Community Memory
      • Precursor to online bulletin boards
    • Ethernet
  • 1979
    • Cell phones
  • 1981
    • MS-DOS
    • IBM-PC
  • 1984
    • CD-ROM
    • Apple Macintosh
  • 1985
    • Windows GUI
  • 1988
    • Digital cell phones
  • 1989
    • High-definition television
  • 1990
    • World Wide Web
      • Internet protocol (HTTP)
      • WWW language (HTML)
  • 1991
    • Digital answering machine
  • 1996
    • Web TV
  • 2000
    • Solid-state drive (SSD) / Flash drive
  • 2001
    • iPod
  • 2005
    • YouTube
  • 2004
    • Facebook
    • And a webfull of other online communities
    ("20th Century - the technology, science, and inventions," "Modern Inventions,"; "Timeline of Historic Inventions," "Facebook," "Bulletin boardsystem," Wikipedia)

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Anthrax, the FBI, and Absolute Certainty

The 2001 anthrax attack - or attacks, since quite a few anthrax-loaded items were sent through the mail - is in the news again. Looks like it isn't absolutely, positively, totally possible to pinpoint exactly how anthrax got loose in the mail system: killing a number of people, making more ill, and scaring a fair fraction of the American population.

If this was a show inspired by the X-Files, there'd be at least one sinister conspiracy: and quite likely space aliens. If I was doing the writing, I might be tempted to have those shape-shifting, space-alien lizard men be the heavies.

But we're not in a television drama. This is the real world: and folks who commit heinous acts aren't always obliging enough to leave a clear trail of evidence. Preferably with written notes on what they did. And a confession recorded on video.

The FBI and Absolute Certainty

I've gotten the impression that there are folks who assume that anything FBI agents say is true. I've also gotten the impression that there are others who assume that everything FBI agents say isn't true.

I'm definitely not among the dreadfully earnest bunch who fear the FBI and CIA more than Al Qaeda, the Taliban, or Iran's ayatollahs. I also don't think every branch of the American government is staffed entirely by paragons of virtue and rectitude. I don't even think that everyone on the federal payroll is competent.

What I do think is that folks investigating the anthrax attacks probably discovered where the lethal microcritters came from - originally, at any rate. I also think there's a pretty good chance that the fellow they finally fingered, Dr. Bruce Ivins, actually was responsible for putting anthrax in the mail.

Too bad he (just happened?) to die as the FBI was about to take him in. That sort of thing makes for a rousing good thriller - in fiction. In situations like this, Dr. Ivin's inconvenient - or convenient - death adds more uncertainty to a high-profile terrorist attack.

Like I said, complete notes and a video confession would have been nice.

Fingering the Wrong Man - on Silly Evidence

Remember Steven Hatfill? He's the man that federal investigators tried to pin the anthrax attack on. Maybe that's putting it unfairly. On the other hand, as I wrote back in 2008:
"...The methodical, fact-based, reasoned approach that the FBI has been using lately is a welcome relief from the comic opera antics that led to Steven Hatfill being fingered as suspect number one. In large part, apparently, because he was seen in Charley's Place with a few of a Sultan's bodyguards.

"That Keystone Cops act was an unpleasant reminder of how law enforcement and the news media jumped on Richard Jewel with both feet, after the Olympic Park bombing...."
(September 17, 2008)

Conspiracy Theories, Anyone?

Space-alien lizard men aren't needed for a rousing good conspiracy theory. I could say that a cabal of Rosicrucians and Shriners joined forces with the Girl Scouts in a plot to make everybody wear funny hats. Their original plan was to spread anthrax in cookies - until someone pointed out how easily that'd lead back to the conspirators.

So they used subliminal messages imprinted on latte served in the DC area, to make FBI agents suspect first one innocent dupe and then another - and you get the idea.

The way I put it sounds silly. But I didn't bother to use emotional terms and muddle up the claims I was making.

I really do not think that the Girl Scouts is involved in the anthrax attacks, by the way. Or the Shriners, or Rosecrutians, by the way.

I'm even reasonably certain that Dr Ivins really is solely responsible for the attacks.

Or, maybe he was involved, along with others - who decided to drop that sort of attack after federal investigators worked their way around to Ivins.

Or, and I really do not think this is the case, the Girl Scouts, Shriners and Rosecrutians control the FBI, the CIA, and Turner Network Television. Now that would make a story.

Attention-Grabbing Headline, A Fair Amount of Explanation

From today's news:
"Panel Finds No Conclusive Evidence to Identify Source of 2001 Anthrax Attacks"
Catherine Herridge, State & Local, Politics, (February 15, 2011)

"Despite the FBI's conclusion that an Army scientist sent anthrax letters sent to Congress and the media in the weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks, a new report casts doubt on the bureau's findings.

"After a lengthy review, the National Research Council said the source of the anthrax powder could not be definitively identified.

"While evidence supports the FBI's contention that it came from Ft. Detrick, a U.S. Army installation outside Frederick, Md., a report by the NRC released Tuesday found that based on the science alone, no conclusion could be reached.

"The report is a significant blow to the FBI's long-standing case against Army scientist Bruce Ivins, who died of a suspicious Tylenol overdose in 2008..."

"...Among the findings by the congressionally chartered committee released Tuesday:

"* The FBI correctly identified the dominant organism found in the letters as the Ames strain of B. anthracis....
"* Spores in the mailed letters and in RMR-1029, a flask found at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID), share a number of genetic similarities consistent with the FBI finding that the spores in the letters were derived from RMR-1029. However, the committee found that other possible explanations for the similarities -- such as independent, parallel evolution -- were not definitively explored during the investigation.
"* Flask RMR-1029, identified by the U.S. Department of Justice as the 'parent material' for the anthrax in the attack letters, was not the immediate source of spores used in the letters. As noted by the FBI, one or more derivative growth steps would have been required to produce the anthrax in the attack letters. Furthermore, the contents of the New York and Washington letters had different physical properties.
"* Although the FBI's scientific data provided leads as to the origin of anthrax spores in the letters, the committee found that the data did not rule out other possible sources. The committee recommended that realistic expectations and limitations regarding the use of forensic science need to be clearly communicated to the public...."
That article also lists some of the evidence the FBI sorted out, including:
  • 10,000 witness interviews
  • 80 searches
  • 26,000 e-mail reviews
  • Analyses of 4 million megabytes of computer memory
Bottom line? I think the least-unlikely explanation for how anthrax wound up in the U. S. mail is that Dr. Ivins put it there. I also think this is going to have folks coming up with imaginative alternatives for decades.

Related posts:
In the news:

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Thailand, Bomb, No Fatalities Reported

Yala is the name of a city and a province in Thailand. It's a tourist destination, and has been having trouble with terrorists lately:
"Police: Suspected car bomb blast injures 12 in Thailand"
Kocha Olarn, CNN (February 13, 2011)

"At least 12 people were injured when a bomb exploded in southern Thailand Sunday morning, police said.

"The explosion caused a fire that burned down about a dozen houses, Yala Police Col. Krisada Kaewchandee said.

"Investigators believe a car bomb caused the blast, he said....

"...Muslim separatists in southern Thailand have long battled government forces in a country that is overwhelmingly Buddhist.

"The conflict came to a head in 2004 after former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra took office. Several thousand people died in the resulting violence."
How much this particular bombing had to do with somebody wanting to set up their own little country, how much the perpetrators had strictly religious or ideological motives, and how much may have stemmed from some other cause - I've no idea. Probably some combination.

Together, in my view, with the sort of frustration some folks experience when the rest of the world doesn't act exactly the way they want it to.

The good news is that nobody got killed this time, as far as we've heard.

The bad news is that terrorists are still making it hard for the rest of us - including those Muslims who don't think that God tells them to kill people they don't like - to get on with the business of living.

Related posts:In the news:More:

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Egypt, Iran: It Can't Happen Here?

This isn't a 'political' blog. Not in the sense that I cheer on one person or party - and jeer everybody else.

On the other hand, politics is sometimes involved in the war on terror - and I've got fairly well-defined ideas about what makes sense and what doesn't.

'Stability' isn't Everything

It's my opinion that it doesn't make sense to prop up a dictator who likes to call himself a "president" - and holds elections at intervals to support his claim. Not in the long run.

It's been done - America's support of Latin American dictators was a notorious point of contention about a half-century back. (As I recall, some of them were 'presidentes;' some were - in my view - a trifle more honest about their preferred title.)

I think I understand some of the motivation in those cases. It's comforting, if nothing else, to deal with a "stable" government. There may even be positive aspects to having one leader for a long time - as an alternative to 'presidente of the month' situations. I also don't think that the Cold War was a capitalist plot: and that's another topic.

In the short run, supporting those 'banana republics' may have been expedient.

In the long run, I think the policy was a mistake. A reputation for supporting petty dictators - and calling it 'defending democracy' - did little to bolster support for America among adolescents and young adults who were already dubious about 'the American dream.'

That was then. This is now.

Mubarak's Egypt is a "stable" country. Or was, until a few weeks ago.

Hosni Mubarak, by the way, has been president of Egypt since he got the job on October 14, 1981. (Egypt, World Factbook, CIA (last updated February 1, 2011)) Maybe he's holding out for an even thirty-year reign. Presidency. Whatever.

The Best Form of Government - is One that Works

I've discussed my views of autocracy and other ways folks have developed to manage themselves in another blog. (Apathetic Lemming of the North (February 5, 2011) Briefly, I think that an autocracy - one person, or a small group, making all the decisions for a country - could work. In theory. In practice, autocrats don't seem to have a particularly good record for running their domains sensibly.

An advantage I see in the system America has is that, in theory at any rate, a proposed course of action gets discussed by so many folks that their individual quirks tend to cancel each other out - leaving something that has a modest chance of not doing too much damage.

There are more upbeat ways of expressing that idea.

Even Autocrats Should Listen to Complaints

President Mubarak and his buddies don't, apparently, like being criticized. Not many people do, I should think.

But most of us aren't able to make folks who disagree with us disappear or die. Mubarak's outfit seems have a 'zero tolerance' approach to criticism.

If they'd been doing a perfect job of running Egypt for the past three (almost) decades, most Egyptians might be willing to put up with the occasional missing relative.

'A chicken in every pot and Uncle Benny in prison' might not make it as a political slogan here in America: but I think folks are willing to put up with quite a bit as long as the system is modestly functional.

From the looks of things, Egypt isn't enjoying boom times just now. Maybe it's not Mubarak's doing: I don't know. This doesn't seem to be the best epoch, economically, in quite a few places.
If it seems that I concentrated rather heavily on the United States in those 'economic' posts - you're right. That's the country I live in: and it's one of the major players, globally. Moving on.

The point is that Egypt, along with other parts of the world, seems to be going through economic hard times. Folks tend, I think, to get a trifle edgy when money's tight. Add that to a regime that's been making friends and relatives die or disappear for decades - and "edgy" could easily turn into "angry." In my opinion.

If only for the sake of good public relations: I think Mubarak and company would have been well-advised to make it look like they were willing to listen to complaints.

Hello, Information Age: Goodbye 'Orderly' Countries

I remember the 'good old days,' when most Americans relied on a few news editors, media executives, and publishers to tell them about what happened outside their circle of friends and acquaintances. Because we didn't have many other options.

From one point of view, it was a nice, orderly situation: Americans watched whatever was on the three major networks, plus PBS; and read whatever news editors and publishers decided was fit to print.

Things aren't quite so 'orderly' these days.

I haven't heard "divisive" used all that much lately - but I think it's a pretty good way of describing information that hasn't been approved by 'the right sort.' I also think that "divisive" isn't necessarily "bad." I've discussed this sort of thing before:

Change Hurts

I think many of the old-school information gatekeepers sincerely thought they were supporting 'freedom of speech' by deciding what the rest of us saw, heard, and read. However valid that assumption is, the America of my youth didn't last.

We got, in fairly rapid succession, and not necessarily in this order:
  • International direct-dial calling
  • Transatlantic real-time television broadcasts
  • Fax machines
  • Twitter
    • And a plethora of other online communities
Americans still, I think, rely on a few news editors, media executives, and publishers to tell them about what happened outside their circle of friends and acquaintances.

But now our 'circle of friends and acquaintances' can easily include folks all over the world.

For me, and others who don't mind finding out what someone besides old-school journalists and established authorities think: the Information Age is a great time to be alive.

The folks who used to have more control over what 'the masses' were allowed to know? I suspect they aren't quite so thrilled.

Which is, I think, part of why we're seeing recurring efforts to 'protect' us from the big, bad Internet. I think many - maybe most - folks who want to keep us from reading 'bad' things online sincerely feel that they're doing the right thing.

I also think that trying to control what others are allowed to learn is not a good idea - with a few exceptions. As I said when I started writing today's posts: it's not simple.

More of today's posts:
Related posts:

American Terrorists and Getting a Grip

Home-grown terrorists, folks who were born in America and have decided to kill Americans for 'the cause' are 'obviously:'
  1. White supremacists
  2. Muslims
  3. All of the above
  4. The 'other guy'
  5. None of the above
The answer, I think, is 'D' (The 'other guy') - and both 'C' (All of the above) and 'E' (None of the above).

My point is that folks from any group can exercise free will and do - really stupid, destructive, evil things. In my opinion.

I also think that it's a mistake to assume that, because one member of a group commits a vile act: all members of the group commit vile acts. That's certainly, I think, less than appropriate when dealing with large, broadly-defined groups.

It was a mistake to assume that Americans with Japanese ancestors were threats to national security, during WWII. I think it's also a mistake to think that 'the other guy' is a threat today.

Trying to identify disagreement as disloyalty may be a very human thing to do. But I think it's a huge mistake: bad, in the short run, for whoever is demonized; bad in the long run for the views of the demonizer.

Here's what got me started on those ideas:
"Usama bin Laden dethroned as top terrorist threat to the United States?

"That's the assessment of Michael Leiter, head of the National Counterterrorism Center, who testified Wednesday before the House Homeland Security Committee at a hearing on Islamic extremism.

"The committee's new chairman, Republican Rep. Peter King of New York, cut right to the chase, asking which Al Qaeda leader poses the greatest threat to U.S. national security.

" 'Would you say that (Anwar) al-Awlaki is at least as severe a threat today as Bin Laden?' King asked.

" 'I actually consider Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula with Al-Awlaki as a leader within that organization probably the most significant risk to the U.S. homeland,' Leiter responded.

"Awlaki, a U.S.-born radical cleric, has been on the national security radar for nearly a year and is the first American on the CIA's kill or capture list. Now believed to be hiding in Yemen, Awlaki is part of the new breed of digital jihadists who use the Internet to inspire their followers to launch lone-wolf or small-cell attacks that are nearly impossible for law enforcement to prevent.

"Asked if Awlaki is one of the most successful as far as radicalizing through the Internet, Leiter did not hesitate: 'I think Al-Awlaki is probably -- certainly is the most well-known English-speaking ideologue who is speaking directly to folks here in the homeland.'

"The committee was told that there are three threat streams: Bin Laden and Al Qaeda senior leadership in Pakistan; affiliated groups in Yemen, Somalia and North Africa, as well as homegrown plots....

"...Also of note was Leiter's statement about the Fort Hood shooting. The alleged shooter Maj. Nidal Hasan exchanged at least 18 e-mails with Awlaki. Leiter said the shooting that left 13 dead and 32 others injured fit the definition of terrorism – a politically motivated act of violence....."
(FoxNews (February 9, 2011)
I've discussed the Fort Hood shootings, Nidal Hasan, and al-Awlaki before:
More of today's posts:

Saudi Arabia and Propping Up Mubarak

I've discussed Saudi Arabia before. Basically, I think the old guard in the desert kingdom is doing a pretty good job of trying to maintain a culture that was ancient when Abram moved out of Ur. Whether they should be trying to do so is another matter.

Anyway, here's something about Saudi Arabia and Egypt's president. Mubarak obviously has a few friends left.
"Saudi Arabia has threatened to prop up President Mubarak if the White House tries to force a swift change of regime in Egypt. In a testy personal telephone call on January 29, King Abdullah told President Obama not to humiliate Mr Mubarak and warned that he would step in to bankroll Egypt if the US withdrew its aid programme, worth $1.5 billion annually...."
(The Times (UK) (February 10, 2011))
Egypt's president Mubarak has been doing a fine job of humiliating himself, in my opinion: and doesn't need any help.

From the looks of it, back in 1981 Hosni Mubarak got the job as Egypt's president: liked it, and made sure that nobody else got elected. Can't say that I blame him, in a way. It's nice to have a steady paycheck, a degree of job security, and the perks that often come with an executive position.

I have nothing against autocracy as a form of government: in theory. In practice, autocrats seem unable to pay attention to what their subjects actually need. I've discussed that, recently, in another blog. (Apathetic Lemming of the North (February 5, 2011))

Don't get me wrong: as an American citizen, I like living in a constitution-based federal republic with strong democratic ('small d') traditions and a bicameral legislature. I just recognize that it's not the only sort of government that can adequately serve the people of a nation.

Still, we've got a pretty good system of checks and balances - and that's almost another topic.

More of today's posts:

Iran, Dissent, and Threats to National Security

Like I've said before, stuff involving people isn't simple. Not as a rule, anyway.

Take good guys and bad guys for example.

It's 'obvious' in some circles that the good guys are forward-looking visionaries dedicated to improving the lot of the masses - whether they want it or not. And the bad guys are, what else? The American empire and the military-industrial complex and the Marines. Yes: I'm over-simplifying. A little.

It's equally 'obvious' in other circles that the good guys are fine, upstanding 'real' Americans with good, honest American names like Smith and Jones and Robertson: who stand for motherhood, apple pie, and good 'Christian' values like women not holding jobs. For that lot, the 'bad guys' are those foreigners who look, talk, and dress funny and don't have 'real' American names - - - another oversimplification.

I've been over this before:
Here's some news from Iran. I don't think much of the Ayatollah's government: but I'll get back to that after the excerpt.
"Iranian authorities have blocked reformist websites and detained several opposition supporters and activists, opposition website Saham News reported Thursday.

"The arrests come days after Iran's two leading opposition figures called for a rally next Monday in support of the uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East.

"Iranian authorities on Wednesday warned against any attempt by the opposition movement to hold the rally, according to the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency.

" 'We definitely see them as enemies of the revolution and spies, and we will confront them with force,' Revolutionary Guard Cmdr. Hossein Hamedani told IRNA.

"Opposition leaders and former presidential candidates Mir Hossein Moussavi and Mehdhi Karrubi requested permission to hold the rally earlier this week, according to Saham News, Karrubi's website.

"It was unclear whether the government has denied the request...."
(CNN (February 10, 2011))
I don't think 'detaining' folks who don't agree with the government - and say so - is a good idea.

I don't think it's a good idea when it's done in Iran. Or anywhere else.

I don't think America's leaders are immune from the temptation to equate dissent with treason. America has even locked citizens up for not looking like 'real' Americans. Happily, this country also learns from mistakes. (October 2, 2010)

I'm personally interested in freedom of speech - and the rights of minorities - because I'm an American citizen - and a member of a religious minority. It's all too easy, I think, for folks who grew up in a country's dominant culture to assume that anyone who isn't like them - is the enemy:
Despite what some folks seem to think, as a practicing Catholic, I have to be a good citizen. It's one of the rules. Specifically:
"It is the duty of citizens to work with civil authority for building up society in a spirit of truth, justice, solidarity, and freedom."
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2255)
(Cited and discussed by me in A Catholic Citizen in America (September 24, 2008))
I am of the opinion, though, that there's a huge difference between working with the establishment, "for building up society in a spirit of truth, justice, solidarity, and freedom" - and blindly supporting everything some government executive says.

Which is, in my opinion, where Egypt's permanent president and Iran's Ayatollahs are going wrong.

And where, with just a little nudge, America could go wrong.

I'll get back to that.

next, something from the United Kingdom about Saudi Arabia, America, and giving orders. Sort of.

More of today's posts:
Related posts:

Shutting Down Egypt's Internet: A Responsible Act?!!

I've been posting about the meltdown in Egypt in another blog: Apathetic Lemming of the North. That's because this blog is about the war on terror, or whatever we're supposed to call it these days, and not so much about over-age-in-grade permanent presidents. The 'terrorism' angle wasn't as definite as the 'freedom of speech' aspect - and the Lemming is very concerned about freedom of speech. Also interior design, cosmology, and - today - making shiny spheres from dirt. ("Dorodango!" (February 10, 2011)) It's a sort of 'eclectic' blog. Like the inside of my head - and that's yet another topic.

I've also been letting news articles about what's happening in Egypt and elsewhere pile up, until today I've got enough for a post here. Mostly about freedom of speech. Several posts, actually.

I've said this before: I think freedom of speech is important.

Very important.

That's why I was - "impressed" might be the word - by an assertion in this article:
"The Egyptian government shut down most of its country's internet not by phoning ISPs one at a time, but by simply throwing a switch in a crucial data center in Cairo.

"That according to a February presentation to the Department of Homeland Security's Infosec Technology Transition Council, obtained by

"The presentation - made by Bill Woodcock, research director of the Packet Clearing House - argues that the Egyptian Communications Ministry acted quite responsibly in the procedure it used to cut ties from the net, after the shutdown was ordered by Egypt's much-feared intelligence service.

" 'Most of the outage was effected through a breaker flipped in the Ramses exchange, and the rest was phone calls and arm-twisting,' the presentation says. 'Ramses exchange' refers to a central building in Cairo where Egyptian ISPs meet to trade traffic and connect outside of the country, a facility known as an Internet Exchange Point...."

"...Most media, including, reported that government officials contacted individual ISPs and told them to shut down their networks, under threat of losing their communications licenses.

"But the document (embedded below) contradicts that narrative, providing new details on the outage - largely laying the blame on Egypt's internal security service, while describing the 'flip-the-switch' shutdown as a 'politically liberal' choice by the Egyptian communications ministry.

"That's because turning off the internet at the center exchange made it very easy to switch it back on, prevented surveillance, made it clear to everyone what had happened, and prevented spyware from being placed on the networks.

"Compare that to Tunisia, where Facebook login pages were manipulated - presumably by the government - to grab the passwords of Tunisian activists in order to delete their accounts and protest pages.

"The presentation suggests the weeklong shutdown had severe effects on Egypt's economy, in the short term from loss of commerce, and in the long term from a likely plummet in tourism, and an exodus of call centers from Egypt...."
(Threat Level, Wired (February 10, 2011))
In my considered opinion - I don't have enough information to have a considered opinion on just how "responsible" shutting Egypt's people off from the Internet was.

Or, rather, trying to shut them off. Google and Twitter came up with a workaround. (Apathetic Lemming of the North (January 31, 2011)

One thing that seems to be true about the Information Age is that it's not like the 'good old days.' Can't say that I'm sorry about that. That's because I lived during part of the 'good old days.' And have a pretty good memory. McCarthyism? Political correctness? I do not want to go back.

And that isn't another topic.

Finally, on the 'responsibility' displayed by Egypt's ISPs: under the circumstances, maybe letting the establishment cut Egypt's people off from the global community was the best they could do. Looks like it may be a bit rough on Egypt's tourist and tellecommunications industry: but so was having the same president since 1981. In my opinion.

More of today's posts:Related posts:

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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.