Friday, December 24, 2010

Bombs in Rome: Another Flavor of Terrorist

I'm no huge fan of meddlesome government officials. Particularly where personal freedoms are concerned. (See "FCC, the Internet, Regulations, Freedom of Speech, and a Ranting Lemming," Apathetic Lemming of the North (December 23, 2010))

And just now, as lawsuits seem to be sorting out what some judges think America's election results should have been - I'm not exactly on an emotional high, over this country's "constitution-based federal republic" with its "strong democratic tradition." ("United States," World Factbook, CIA (last updated December 9, 2010))

That said, I don't think anarchism is a particularly good idea. It seems to me that there's a reason why people, most of us anyway, have been tinkering with various forms of government for the last several thousand years - and not chucking the idea of having an organization with the authority to enforce rules. (see Princeton's WordNet: Government)

My opinion is that anarchy, like so many other notions, looks good on paper. In practice? I've suspected that Lord of the Flies is something of a best-case scenario. As I wrote in another blog:
"Funny, how when people are freed from the shackles of society - one of their top priorities is generally to find the shackles and get them in working order again."
("Haiti: Looting, Lawlessness, and People being Human"
Apathetic Lemming of the North (January 16, 2010))
Here's what got me started on opining this evening:
"Anarchists say they bombed Swiss, Chilean embassies"
USA Today (December 23, 2010)

"An Italian anarchist group has claimed responsibility for the attacks, the BBC reports.

"A note written on behalf of the Informal Anarchist Federation (FAI) was found on the clothing of a Chilean embassy worker. It read: 'We have decided to make our voice heard with words and with facts, we will destroy the system of dominance, long live the FAI, long-live Anarchy.'..."
Like I said, it looks good on paper, and makes good slogans: like 'down with dominance.'

Applied in the real world, well: I've opined on that already.

What's This Got to Do With the War on Terror?

Offhand, I'd say that hurting folks by sending bombs through the mail isn't very nice. In terms of practical effects, it looks a whole lot like what many folks might call "terrorism."

Those parcel bombs certainly won't help steady the nerves of folks working in the mail rooms of Rome.

Are these anarchists Muslims? It doesn't seem all that likely: and their note seems to indicate that they're mostly interested in anarchy, not Islam.

So, about the recent bombings in Rome? Do I think:
  • It's reasonable to call the perpetrators terrorists?
    • Yes
      • Although I might be able to come up with a nit-picking counterargument
  • That sending bombs around in parcels and hurting people is nice?
    • No
      • Not at all
  • Do I think such activity should be discouraged?
    • Yes
If that makes me a tool of the oppressors, or blind to the (potential) evils of having rules and the ability to enforce them: well, that comes with the territory.

Finally, I'm glad to read that nobody got killed in those attacks.

Somewhat-related posts:
In the news:

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Terror Bombing in Sweden: Troops, Cartoons, a Widow, and Questions

I haven't written much about Sweden.

In a blog like this one, that's a good thing.

It looks like folks in Sweden, and folks here in central Minnesota, celebrate the Christmas season in about the same way. No big surprise there, considering how many Scandinavians live in this part of the world. I'm half-Norwegian, myself - and that's another topic. Sort of.

That explains why folks were doing a particular sort of shopping in Stockholm last Saturday.

Holiday Shopping: Snow, Festive Decorations, and a Botched Bombing

"Eyewitnesses have told of the moment an apparent suicide bomber blew himself up just a stone's throw from Stockholm's busiest shopping street on Saturday.
" 'We were scared to death,' said one local resident.

"The man died on the intersection of the Drottninggatan thoroughfare and Bryggargatan, a side street.

"An eyewitness interviewed by the Dagens Nyheter newspaper (DN) said something appeared to have blown up against the man's abdomen.

" 'He had no injuries to his face or the rest of his body and the shops around him were not damaged,' he said.

"The eyewitness, a paramedic identified only as Pascal, said he removed a 'Palestinian scarf' from the man's face in an attempt to free up his airways. Next to the man's body was a two-metre piece of metal piping...."
(The Local)
Good news: Only one person died. Bad news: somebody died.

Well, as we say here in Minnesota, "it could be worse."

A Wannabe Murderer, a Widow, and Lots of Questions

The wannabe mass murderer has been identified. He's Taimour Abdulwahab al-Abdaly: a married man whose death left a widow and lots of questions.

Like whether someone else is likely to have a shot at killing holiday shoppers. That's not an unreasonable question, in my opinion. The impression I get from the news is that Swedish law enforcement and related officials are walking through a common-sense investigation. Which, as of Sunday, pointed to the bombing being a one-man act:
"Police said on Sunday they were treating bomb blasts in Stockholm as an act of terrorism by a lone attacker that followed an emailed threat referring to Sweden's troops in Afghanistan and to cartoons of Mohammad.

"Police stopped short of calling Saturday afternoon's blasts, which killed the suspected bomber and wounded two people, a suicide attack. A car blew up in a busy shopping area, followed minutes later by a second explosion nearby.

"Shortly before the blasts, Swedish news agency TT received a threatening letter referring to Sweden's presence in Afghanistan and caricatures of the Prophet Mohammad drawn by a Swedish cartoonist. The letter included digital sound files with a recording in broken Swedish and in Arabic....

"...TT said the letter promised attacks over Sweden's presence in Afghanistan, where it has 500 troops with the U.S.-led NATO force, and the cartoons drawn three years ago by Lars Vilks...."
Those cartoons keep surfacing, metaphorically speaking: sort of like a dead muskrat in a pond.

That was Sunday. As of yesterday, it's pretty obvious that those Swedes who look after the country's security are still walking through that investigation.
"Some 200 possibly violent Islamic extremists live in Sweden, according to an intelligence report released Wednesday after the country's first-ever suicide bombing narrowly missed Christmas shoppers.

" 'The group of active members ... consists of just under 200 individuals,' the Säpo intelligence agency said in its 126-page report, based on data from 2009 and scheduled to be published before the weekend's attack in central Stockholm...."
(The Swedish Wire)

Swedish Muslims, Numbers, and a Comparison

Two hundred is a biggish number. Compared to Sweden's 9,074,000 or so citizens (As of July this year) , though: not so much. ("Sweden," The World Factbook, CIA (last updated December 8, 2010))
I'd compare the 200-odd hotheads in that group to the number of Swedish Muslims, but that'd take more digging than I've got time for today. The resource I used for Sweden's population says that 87% of folks living in Sweden are Lutheran. The other 13% are "other." That "includes Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Baptist, Muslim, Jewish, and Buddhist." If all 13% of folks in Sweden who aren't Lutheran followed Islam, that'd be around 1,179,000 people. Still a lot more than 200.

A Wikipedia article says that Islam accounts for about 5% of the Swedish population: around 450,000 to 500,000 Muslims. It's one of the articles that cites references, and five percent of 9,074,000 is about 453,700, so they may be right.

Let's say it's the lower number: 450,000 Muslims. Two hundred or so are in this group. That's 200/450,000, or 1/2,250 of Swedish Muslims.

Abstractions are - abstract. One way I have, for making numbers 'real,' is to use something I'm familiar with as a comparison.

This'll be useful for me: for you, maybe not so much. I share a small town in central Minnesota with about 4,000 other people. If one out of 2,250 of us were part of a nutcase group that wanted to kill people they didn't agree with - there would be two or three people in the group, depending on whether you round up or down.

That'd be a real concern for me and my neighbors: but it would not indicate that the folks living here are dangerous.

"They're All Muslims" - Let's Not Go There

The point? The wannabe murderer almost certainly killed himself for "religious" reasons. Maybe 200 other people in Sweden have the same sort of ideas sloshing around in their heads.

There's little reason to assume that all Muslims in Sweden should be shot on sight, or at least locked up, because "they're all Muslims." (February 15, 2008, December 29, 2007) A case could be built, using that sort of logic, for pointing to what Joseph Burgess did and advocating that all Christians be locked up because they're murderers. He killed people - apparently for "religious" reasons - too. (A Catholic Citizen in America (July 24, 2009))

There are days when I feel that it wouldn't take much of a shove for America, or any other Western country, to start locking up Muslims, Christians, and other terrorists - for the good of the nation, of course. Sounds crazy? So did what a think tank came up with, not all that long ago. (April 4, 2009, April 1, 2009, A Catholic Citizen in America (March 23, 2009))

One of the reasons that I'm rather concerned about how Muslims are treated in countries where they're a religious minority - is that I'm a member of a religious minority myself. Think of it as enlightened self interest.

One More Tangent: Security Cameras, "Privacy," and Getting a Grip

I don't know how most Americans feel about security cameras at intersections and in stores: but apparently quite a few folks in this country's dominant culture don't like them. At all.

It has to do with notions of "privacy," it seems.

As nearly as I can tell, these folks say "privacy," where I'd say "anonymity."
Privacy, Bank Codes, and a Door on the Outhouse
I think "privacy" is a good idea, by the way. A dictionary says it means "the quality of being secluded from the presence or view of others." (Princeton's WordNet) A desire for privacy is part of why we put doors on the outhouse not all that long ago, don't generally have floor-to-ceiling windows in the shower today - and don't, for the most part, tell strangers how to access our bank account.

That sort of privacy make sense. Besides, it gets cold in the winter around here: so those outhouse doors served a practical function, too.

Now, about those cameras in the convenience store.

As I said, I live in a small town in central Minnesota. It's a little bigger than the places where 'if you forget what you did during the day, ask someone: they'll know.' But not by much. I love it here: but this is not a place where I can go out and not be noticed.

Or not go out and not be noticed. Not too long ago a neighbor asked if I'd been okay: that person hadn't seen me for a while.

Like I say, I love it here. But living in a town where a sizable fraction of the population know you by sight and many of those have at least a modest interest in your welfare - obviously isn't for everybody.

Some folks seem to prefer living among tens of thousands of other anonymous faces, where they could disappear and not be missed. Places like that, in my opinion, need security cameras to take up some of the slack when it comes to looking out for folks.

We've got those glass-eyed sentinels here in Sauk Centre, too: in some of the stores and at least one parking lot.

Here's what got me thinking about security cameras, "privacy," and the human condition:
"Police in Sweden are increasingly convinced the Stockholm bomber had an accomplice after fresh analysis of his suicide tape revealed the presence of a second person by his side.

"Experts who have scrutinised the recording say someone can be heard breathing in the background as Taimur Abdulwahab al-Abdaly vows to kill innocent civilians.

"Almost a week after Abdulwahab blew himself up in a shopping street in Stockholm, injuring two people, detectives have also failed to find any trace of explosives in properties linked to the bomber, suggesting someone else could have made the bombs at an unknown location.

"Police hope that if the bomber did meet an accomplice in the days before the bombing, the rendezvous might have been caught on CCTV. Hundreds of hours of recordings from CCTV cameras in Stockholm and his home town of Tranas have been seized and are now being scrutinised by investigators. ..."
(The Telegraph)
Which brings up the subject of conspiracies, real and imagined - and that's another topic.

Related posts:
In the news:

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Tolerance; Arson; and Corvallis, Oregon

I think tolerance is a good idea. As a half-Irish Roman Catholic living in a traditionally Protestant former English colony: I would. It's in my best interests to see to it that the rights, property, and lives of folks who aren't in the majority are safe.

There are also more theoretical grounds for promoting tolerance.

Note, please: In this context, I mean "tolerance" as:
  • "A disposition to allow freedom of choice and behavior"
  • "Willingness to recognize and respect the beliefs or practices of others"
    (Princeton's WordNet)

When "Tolerance" wasn't Tolerant

The last time I did time in American academia was in the eighties: so I'm all too aware that "tolerance" can mean a strident support of politically correct views - while shouting down anybody who disagrees. I didn't think that "tolerance" should mean agreeing with the professor then - and I still don't.

Moving on.

Arson isn't Nice

Last Sunday, somebody apparently tried to burn down a mosque in Oregon.

That could be used as "proof" that Americans are hate-filled arsonists. Never mind what happened in Tennessee:It looks like, in the Oregon case, the Islamic center/mosque (I've seen it described both ways) wasn't picked randomly:
"Authorities have identified a "person of interest" in the alleged arson of a mosque....

"...The mosque was burned November 28th. Police believe the fire is arson and an act of retaliation for the failed bomb plot during Portland's Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony...."

Tolerance, Arson, Muslims, and Lizard People

This Islamic center probably wasn't chosen randomly. Mohamed Osman Mohamud, the fellow who seems to have had a shot at killing folks at a tree-lighting ceremony (November 27, 2010), attended the Salman Alfarisi Islamic Center.

Mohamed Osam Mohamud is a Somali, a college student, an Oregonian, a Muslim, and a lot younger than I am. As I pointed out at the time, depending on a person's biases, that failed bombing could be 'proof' that you just can't trust:
  • College students
  • Those crazy kids
    • For me, anybody under about age 30 is a 'kid'
  • Oregonians
  • Somalis
  • Muslims
Or, taking my weird and wild eighties experiences as a guide, the bombing attempt might be 'proof' of how you just can't trust those male chauvinist pigs and their authoritarian oppression.

Then there are the space-alien, shape-shifting lizard people: and that's another topic.

Or maybe not so much. I think it's a mistake to start thinking about people as primarily members of a group - not as individuals.

Hating People: A Bad Idea

I also think that it is a huge mistake to hate people. Any people. That's not the same as thinking that whatever another person does is okay. I realize this is a rather counter-cultural notion: but I can't help that. I've discussed hate, anger, love, and other aspects of the human experience in another blog. (A Catholic Citizen in America (May 26, 2010))

Back to the matter of a fellow who wanted to kill people at a Christmas tree lighting, and someone else who had a shot at torching the Islamic center the first chap went to.

I'm not a Muslim. I'm part of another religious minority in America. I'd like to think that I'd want to protect the rights, property, and lives of folks who aren't WASPs and/or in the majority even if it weren't in my own best interests. And that is another topic.

Maybe - and this doesn't seem to have been demonstrated - the Salman Al-Farisi Islamic center is an Islamic equivalent of the Westoboro Baptist Church (Topeka). (November 26, 2007)

If someone at the Salman Al-Farisi Islamic center had a hand in the Christmas tree bombing that didn't happen - that's a matter for law enforcement and the courts.

Not a free-lance arsonist.

Remember: I don't hate the Christmas tree bomber, or the arsonist. I also think we'll all be a lot safer if they're confined and under observation somewhere.

Salman Al-Farisi Islamic Center: November 28, 2010

"In Corvallis, Oregon, sits the Salman Al-Farisi Islamic center, occasionally attended by Portland's 19-year-old suspect held on charges of attempting a car-bombing, during a recent tree-lighting ceremony. Mohamud was set up in a sting operation, executed by law enforcement investigators.

"Arsonists torch Islamic center because of one mmember.[!]
"According to Yahoo News the mosque where Mohamed Osman Mohamud sometimes attended was the target of a malicious arson. Both attendees and neighbors in the community denounce the act of hatred against an entire church, for the thoughtless actions of just one member...."
(Donald Pennington, Associated Content)

Criminal Investigation: December 3, 2010

Collecting and analyzing evidence, and interviewing people, may not be as emotionally satisfying as marching down main street with torches, pitchforks, and rope - but a by-the-numbers police investigation has been known to produce results, too.

More reliable ones, in my opinion.

From yesterday's news:
"Police in Oregon are investigating a man who lived near a mosque that was set ablaze days after a worshipper[!] there allegedly planned to blow up a car at a Christmas tree lighting ceremony.

"Authorities this week searched a home near the Salman Alfarisi Islamic Center in Corvallis, confiscated a variety of goods and took DNA swabs from 24-year-old Cody Crawford, who lived at the home with his mother, according to official documents.

"The house was searched Monday, a day after someone tried to burn the center 200 feet away, according to an affidavit. An officer asked Crawford why someone might burn the mosque. 'Because they don't like Muslims,' he's quoted as saying...."
(AP, via FOXNews)
"...U.S. Attorney Dwight Holton said late Friday that no arrest has been made in the case.

" 'The investigation is continuing,' Holton said. 'We're firmly committed to figuring out who did this and why, and bringing the perpetrator to justice.'

"The investigation includes whether the arson was linked to the arrest of Mohamed Osman Mohamud, 19, a former Oregon State University student, in an alleged terrorist plot in Portland...."
(The Oregonian, via
Courtesy of Washington County, Cody S. Crawford"...Cody Seth Crawford, 24, whose mother’s house at 2014 N.W. Polk Ave. is around the corner from the mosque, was questioned the afternoon of the fire by law enforcement officers canvassing the neighborhood. The information from an affidavit and four search warrants was released on Friday by Benton County District Attorney John Haroldson.

"Haroldson would not comment about why Crawford has been identified as a person of interest — his residence searched and items seized — but Crawford hadn’t been arrested as of Friday night.

"The documents indicated police homed in on Crawford after he identified a small blue flashlight found on a walkway at the Salman Alfarisi Islamic Center at 610 N.W. Kings Blvd. as one that looked like one he claimed was stolen Saturday night, hours before the 2 a.m. Sunday fire was set at the mosque...."
"...Crawford has a criminal past, including accusations of criminal mischief, assault, and spitting food at a deputy while in jail...."
That's a photo of Mr. Crawford. Let's remember that he hasn't been charged - and the investigation may go in another direction. Still, it's possible that he tried to torch that mosque. Islamic center. Whatever.

Which might lead one to say 'that's funny, he doesn't look like a terrorist.' Well, maybe he won't be charged with terrorism. The crime seems to fit in the old 'arson' category.

Either way, though: setting fire to a building that belongs to someone else isn't nice, and we shouldn't do it. Even if we feel like it.

As for Mr. Crawford's appearance - he looks sort of like the late Timothy McVeigh: he's got that same lack of melanin in his skin. Which, given some biases, 'proves' that all white people are arsonists/racists/whatever.

Oh, boy: that was an 'eighties' flashback.

Bottom line in this mess in Oregon?

I'm glad that nobody got hurt or killed - either at the Christmas tree lighting, or at the mosque/Islamic center.

I think it's a good thing that the person who's primarily responsible for the tree bombing has - 'allegedly' as we say - been identified and caught.

I'm also glad that quite a few folks in Corvallis don't, apparently, approve of arson.

And I'm glad that law enforcement seems to be going through a methodical, careful investigation of the arson.

Related posts:More related posts, about getting a grip:News and views:

Friday, December 3, 2010

Today's News: Now What?!

Today's news is more of the same: only more so, in the case of Korea.

This is a somewhat rambling post. A point I'm trying to make is that not all countries are the same. I've said this before. (June 9, 2009)

That may seem obvious, but I've gotten the impression that folks with quite a few sorts of views sometimes think that all countries are pretty much like America - except that America is at fault for their problems; or that all countries should be like America. I don't mind living in a world where everybody isn't exactly like me - and that's another topic.


"South Korea's defense minister vows airstrikes if North Korea attacks"
CNN (December 3, 2010)

"South Korea's new defense minister said his country would respond with airstrikes if North Korea attacks it again, South Korean state media reported Friday. It is some of the strongest rhetoric since the conflict broke out late last month.

" 'We will definitely air raid North Korea, Kim Kwan-jin said at his confirmation hearing when asked how the South would respond if struck again, according to the official Yonhap News Agency.

"Kim was appointed defense minister last week amid growing tensions on the Korean peninsula following an exchange of gunfire between the two sides.

"His comments reflect a potential shift in South Korea's policy toward provocations from the North. Previously, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak warned of severe consequences if the North launched another attack, but declined to name specifics...."
I can't say that I'm happy about this development.

I'd prefer that North and South Korea get along. Better yet, that the country have one government. One run by sane people, who had some sort of checks and balances to keep them from being too irresponsible.

While I'm wishing, I'd prefer that America's checks and balances worked. And that's yet another topic, sort of.

This isn't a perfect world, so North Korea is run by Dear Leader, who seems to be arranging for his son to take over. South Korea is run by a President, a National Assembly, and a Supreme Court.

North Korea has a billion-dollar economy which produces armaments, textiles, and agricultural products, among other things.

South Korea has a trillion-dollar economy, making electronics, cars, and ships - also music videos and various consumer products. (CIA World Factbook, "Korea, South" (last updated November 17, 2010)"Korea, North" (last updated November 9, 2010))

I think the radical differences between the two halves of Korea are due mostly to the style of leadership on each side - but that's my opinion. Dear Leader's take is that the half of the country he doesn't control is the "South Korean puppet group." (November 23, 2010)
'I Predict' - Something Will Happen
As for 'what next?' That's a good question: but I really don't know.

The most recent attacks could be another case of bad behavior, followed by demands for concessions. If Dear Leader was younger, I'd probably think he probably just wanted more lobster, or maybe a special seat at the United Nations.

What troubles me is Kim Jong Il's age, and what appear to be his efforts at setting up his son to be the next warlord. When Kim Jong Il dies: well, the death of a warlord has sometimes set off quite a scramble among the folks who want the position. This lot has nuclear weapons, and missiles that can reach quite a few countries bordering the Pacific.

One of the wannabes might get the idea that incinerating, say, Tokyo, Vladivostok, or Seoul, was a good way to show determination. Or someone in North Korea might start believing their own propaganda. Again, my opinion.

On the other hand, the government in Seoul might get a telephone call tomorrow, from Pyongyang - collect - saying: 'sorry about that: it was all a big misunderstanding, it's a mess here, and we'd like you to take over now.'

I really don't think that'll happen.


"Obama in Afghanistan, U.S. to release war review soon"
Caren Bohan, Reuters Edition: U.S. (December 3, 2010)

"President Barack Obama visited Afghanistan on Friday but bad weather kept him on a U.S. military base and forced him to cancel a planned face-to-face meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

"Obama was due to speak with Karzai by phone from Bagram Air Base outside the capital, U.S. officials said. They previously hoped to set up a secure videophone line but weather and technical difficulties prevented that.

"The trip, the second to Afghanistan of Obama's presidency, comes as the White House prepares to release a review of the war strategy the week of December 13.

"It will assess and potentially recommend changes to the strategy Obama rolled out a year ago when he ordered 30,000 additional U.S. troops to that war zone.

"Obama is under pressure to show progress in the increasingly unpopular nine-year-old war and the visit is a chance for a first-hand assessment...."
I've said it before: 'It's different, when you're in charge.'

Let's remember that Afghanistan was run by the Taliban, 1996-2001, and had a series of civil wars before that. The country is not in great shape. (CIA World Factbook, "Afghanistan" (last updated November 22, 2010))

Whatever the president of the United States says, week after next, it's going to be criticized. I'm no great fan of the current president, but I'm waiting until I see what the man has to say, before commenting on it.

And, if there's an unfavorable fluff-to-content ratio, I may not comment at all. Moving on.

Ivory Coast, Africa

"Ivory Coast poll overturned: Gbagbo declared winner"
BBC News Africa (December 3, 2010)

"Ivory Coast's Constitutional Council has overturned earlier poll results and declared President Laurent Gbagbo the winner of Sunday's run-off.

"On Thursday the electoral commission head said opposition candidate Alassane Ouattara had defeated Mr Gbagbo.

"But the Constitutional Council chairman said results in seven regions in the north, where Mr Ouattara draws most of his support, had been annulled.

"The poll was intended to reunify the nation after a civil war in 2002.

"Paul Yao N'Dre, chairman of the Constitutional Council which validates election results, said Mr Gbagbo had won a little more than 51% of the vote.

"The head of the electoral commission had said Mr Gbagbo won 46% of ballots cast....

"...On Thursday evening, the military closed the country's borders and international news sources were suspended...."
Okay. This sounds familiar.
  • 'Elected' leader stages election
  • 'Wrong' candidate wins
  • Ballots for 'wrong' candidate declared invalid
  • 'Elected' leader's enforcers
    • Close borders
    • Shut down news
No bragging about how that could never happen in this country. I live in Minnesota. 'Nuff said. This isn't a 'political' blog.

If "Ivory Coast" doesn't sound familiar, you may know the country as Cote d'Ivoire. (CIA World Factbook) Cote d'Ivoire is in better shape than Somalia: but most countries are.

About the recent election, Laurent Gbagbo's folks may be right - there might be legitimate reasons for throwing out ballots from areas that supported the other fellow. A point in Gbagbo's favor, given my biases, is that the 'official' count is around 51% - not the 99%, give-or-take, that some folks presumably got. Officially.

So, what does this election SNAFU have to do with the war on terror?

Directly, not all that much.

Indirectly, Cote d'Ivoire is a pretty good example of how countries aren't all alike.

For example, part of Cote d'Ivoire's economy involves what's politely termed "trafficking in persons." Illegal immigrants occasionally show up on the domestic staff of American political leaders - and folks breaking into this country are a hot-button issue. But forced servitude isn't - really - a significant part of America's economy. The opinions of a few college professors and terribly earnest folks notwithstanding.

The idea that people are commodities that can be bought and sold is not a good fit with the ideals of personal freedom that quite a few folks in America and Western civilization at least pay lip-service to.

I've made the point before: Islam is at least as diverse as Protestant Christianity. Muslims seem to have an extremely wide range of beliefs, based in part on local and regional cultures. Islam is not some monolithic block of Osama bin Laden clones.

However, the local/regional flavors of Islam often tolerate quaint customs. Like forced servitude. It's not called that - not in polite society, anyway. But the folks whose leaders are sitting on the heart of Islam import "...workers from South and Southeast Asia who are subjected to conditions that constitute involuntary servitude including being subjected to physical and sexual abuse, non-payment of wages, confinement, and withholding of passports as a restriction on their movement...." (CIA World Factbook, "Saudi Arabia" (last updated November 9, 2010))

'The war on terror' isn't a war on Islam. But outfits like the Taliban and Al Qaeda have attitudes and beliefs that aren't all that unlike those of the Saudi upper crust. Those beliefs aren't a good fit - at all - with the way Americans, and folks in Western countries generally, have gotten used to living.

Folks living in Cote d'Ivoire, by the way, are about 1/3 Muslim, 1/3 Christian, and 1/3 something else. And I'm not trying to say that Islam causes slavery. Cultures that Islam appears in these days? That's yet again another topic.

Related posts:

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Military Chaplains Endorsed by Who?!

It looks like someone is - finally - taking a long, hard look at how the American military checks out chaplains. Muslim chaplains, that is.

Don't have a stroke: I don't 'hate Islam;' this isn't a rant about those awful Muslims/foreigners/whatever; and I think it's a good idea to learn if any sort of chaplain thinks that, say, Hamas is a charitable organization.

'They Wouldn't Print It If It Wasn't True?'

I take what I read in the news "with a grain of salt." In some cases, several truckloads of salt. Like the howler I discussed today in another blog:I'm inclined to think that the hapless science reporter who wrote about the Martian moon, Titan, should be cut some slack. (Titan orbits Saturn, not Mars, by the way.) FOXNews probably hired some wunderkind who got passed through America's public school system. Which is part of the reason that my kids are home schooled from 7th grade up. And that's yet another topic. (A Catholic Citizen in America (May 20, 2010))

That was an "Air & Space" article - and I've gotten used to clueless, inept, ill-informed 'science' reporting in news media. I think it's a cultural thing. It's important, in America, to know that the Super Bowl is not a basketball game. That Titan circles Saturn, not Mars? Not so much.

Chaplains Endorsed by ISNA? What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

Anyway, here's something else that appeared in FOXNews today. It's not that I entirely trust the company: but this article has citations, and somebody was brave enough to have their name in the byline. Odds are that it's factually correct:
"...In a letter sent earlier this month to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, former Inspector General Joseph Schmitz outlined what he believes is the potential risk to national security posed by the military’s current chaplain vetting system.

"Among the concerns Schmitz outlined in his letter, which was obtained by, are:

"- Reports that Army Maj. Nidal Hasan, accused of 13 counts of murder in last year's Fort Hood massacre, acted as a Muslim lay leader and received training from one of the approved civilian religious groups involved with the Defense Department chaplain program.

"- The identification of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), one of two endorsing agencies used by the U.S. military in its approval process for Muslim chaplains,as an unindicted co-conspirator in the 2008 Holy Land Foundation terror fundraising trial.

"- The naming of the ISNA's former endorsing agent, Dr. Louay Safi, as an unindicted co-conspirator in the 2003 trial of Sami Al-Arian, who pleaded guilty to one count of fundraising for the terrorist organization Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Safi is also the subject of a whistleblower investigation.

" 'The November 2008 criminal conviction in Texas of the Holy Land Foundation (HLF) as a front for Hamas, naming of the DoD's Chaplain Endorsing Agents, the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), as an unindicted co-conspirator (among others), suggests that terrorist organizations can and do disguise themselves as charitable organizations,' Schmitz wrote to Feinstein.

" 'The November 2009 Fort Hood massacre by a commissioned Army officer who served as a lay Muslim leader at Fort Hood demonstrates that international terrorist organizations can also try to disguise their agents as chaplains and religious lay leaders,' he added.

"In a statement to, Feinstein, D-Calif., said:

" 'We recently received the letter and staff is reviewing it carefully and making inquiries into how all chaplains are vetted by the Defense Department. Certainly chaplains should be carefully interviewed and backgrounds checked, regardless of their religion.'..."
("EXCLUSIVE: Former Defense IG Raises Concerns About Military Chaplain Vetting," Jana Winter, FOXNews (December 1, 2010))
ISNA seems to be under the impression that Hamas is a charitable organization. I've written about ISNA before.

ISNA may or may not actually be involved in terrorism. However, trusting ISNA to endorse chaplains seems to make about as much sense as trusting the Westboro Baptist Church (Topeka). (November 26, 2007)

If this sounds harsh or intolerant: consider a hypothetical situation.

Would it make sense for the American military to accept Christian chaplains, based in part on the endorsements of a group which appears to support white supremacists, and portrays the KKK in the fifties and sixties as a misunderstood political action committee? I don't think so: and I don't think that folks in America's dominant culture would, either.

As for how big a problem the chaplain vetting process is? I don't know. We'll probably learn more, as time passes.

Related posts:In the news:

Woman in Wheelchair, Underwear, TSA: I am Not Making This Up

Don't get me wrong: I think that intelligent scrutiny of passengers and freight at air terminals is a good idea. Emphasis on intelligent.

Maybe it's just the way news services are handling it, but these 'isolated' incidents of TSA screeners going over the top seem to be coming closer together.

Today's weirdness:
"Woman in wheelchair and underwear misses flight at Will Rogers, blames TSA"
Michael Kimball, NewsOK (December 1, 2010)

"A woman who passed through security at Oklahoma City's Will Rogers World Airport in a wheelchair and her underwear missed her flight Tuesday, and she said TSA denied her boarding. A TSA spokeswoman wouldn't say if the woman was denied by TSA employees.

"A woman in a wheelchair wearing only her bra and panties in hopes of preventing an intrusive search by Transportation Security Administration employees missed her flight Tuesday at Will Rogers World Airport in Oklahoma City.

"She said TSA told her she couldn't board her flight after a lengthy search and questioning....

" 'If it happened anywhere else, it would have been sexual assault.'...

"...Oklahoma City-based TSA spokeswoman Kim Wagner said Banovac 'went through the screening process' and 'she did not catch her flight.'..."
She's 52, by the way, and says that she's usually hand-searched when she flies, because she uses a wheelchair.

In my opinion, the hand-search probably makes sense in this case. Security technology seems to be designed around people who don't have a lot of add-on equipment. Now that I've got artificial hips, I'd probably cause a ruckus at security checkpoints. Another reason why I probably won't fly again. I'll get back to that.

As for Manovac's report that she "felt violated" by the new-and-improved invasive searches at airports? I'm inclined to believe that she feels that way.

I might not: but I'm a man, and I've had people poking and prodding me since before I can remember. (The poking and prodding was partly because of a medical experiment that my parents didn't know about at the time - and that's another topic. (June 17, 2008))

As for "...'If it happened anywhere else, it would have been sexual assault.'..." - She's probably right about that. My opinion. The TSA should take a look at what happened to American law and culture since the sixties: with particular reference to changes in the 'boys will be boys' attitude toward sexual assault. My opinion, again.

Air Travel Options

I've discussed this before, in other posts: for folks in North America, air travel is an option, not always a necessity.

For example, my son-in-law travels a great deal. It's part of his job. He recently bought an RV: one of those houses-on-wheels. It's not a luxury. He can get all of his equipment in the thing, travel to any place that has a road nearby: and when he gets there, he's got his office and living accommodations on-site. We'd discussed his options before he made the purchase - and I think he made a good decision.

He also owns the company, so he didn't have as many hoops to jump through as someone in a corporate job. Yet another topic.

Not everybody travels enough to justify buying or renting an RV.

But if you're reading this: you're already at least halfway to being ready for webconferencing. I've suggested this before: it's nice to be there for the holidays, when it comes to getting together with family. But a pair of computers and webcams, plus a little software and an Internet connection, are a pretty good substitute.

My family did that recently, when another one of my in-laws was in the Middle East. Like I said, it's not quite like 'really' being there, but it's a pretty good substitute.
Clothing-Optional Air Travel?
I don't recommend this - there's about a half-foot of snow on the ground outside my window at the moment, so clothing isn't a luxury in Minnesota at the moment.

On the other hand, as TSA antics continue to be newsworthy, this idea is starting to almost make sense:
Image courtesy Fabio Feminò, via, used w/o permission"...The Mizarans live far above their world; never going to earth and always able to enjoy the spectacular views of their world and the great fleets of airships that are their sole means of transportation.

This idyllic form of habitation is so original, so picturesque that it is universally regarded as the stupidest idea ever hit upon. Yes, the view is very pretty, but the price is a major pain in the arse, as popping next door means a three-hour wait at airport security both ways. The average Mizaran has had his person searched so many times that they now travel stark naked and without baggage to save time and aggravation....
("Mizar," Tales of Future Past,
But, like I said, I don't recommend showing up at an air terminal wearing just your skin.

Related posts:In the news:

Sunday, November 28, 2010

WikiLeaks, Saudi Arabia, and Staying Alive

WikiLeaks is in the news again. More documents were dumped, more people's lives have been endangered, and it's anyone's guess what'll happen next.

Good News/Bad News

First, the good news: National leaders around the world aren't as daft as one might fear.

Now, the bad news: Thanks to WikiLeaks' document dump, diplomatic relations between countries whose leaders are moderately sane and competent will be more difficult. Like it or not, there's a reason why diplomats don't broadcast what one leader wants another leader to say.

Worse, maybe, WikiLeaks may have helped some of the not-so-nice regimes around the world identify troublesome folks. Who will now quite likely be killed or squirreled away somewhere.

Freedom of Speech

Sweden isn't Sudan.

Which reminds me of a tired old joke. Two men, a Russian and an American, were discussing the relative merits of the United States and the Soviet Union. (This is an old joke.) The American said, "I live in a free country: I can stand on the front steps of Capitol Building and say 'I think the American President is an idiot.' " The Russian replied, "Ha! Soviet Union is a free country too: I can stand on the front steps of the Kremlin and say 'I think the American President is an idiot.' "

Seriously? I've made this point before: Not all countries are alike. Some have governments that put up with a certain amount of criticism. Others have a habit of making malcontents disappear. Or be sent somewhere for 'reeducation.'

Free Speech Restrictions: It's Not Necessarily Who You Expect

It'd be nice if all countries let folks speak their minds: but "nice" and the real world don't always overlap.

The former Soviet Union and Burma / Myanmar / Myanma aren't the only places where freedom of speech is restricted. Even some of the 'nice' countries have - in my opinion - regrettable sanctions against free speech. ("Libel Law Reform in UK: This Hasn't been Done Yet?!," A Catholic Citizen in America (November 13, 2010))

Saudi Arabia, Iran, and a Snaky Metaphor

Good news/bad news again.

First, the good news: The Saudi king realizes that Iran is a threat:
"...'Cut off the head of the snake,' the Saudi ambassador to Washington, Adel al-Jubeir, quotes the king as saying, according to a report on Abdullah's meeting with General David Petraeus in April 2008....
Now, the bad news: Saudi Arabia has lots of folks who give financial support to outfits like Al Qaeda.

"Devastating:" Yeah, I Think That Covers It

Here's what one fellow had to say about the latest WikiLeaks action:
"...'This is pretty devastating,' Roger Cressey, a partner at Goodharbor Consulting and a former U.S. cyber security and counter-terrorism official, said in an e-mailed comment.

" 'It will constrain foreign leaders from being upfront and honest in their conversations with American diplomats and it will also make U.S. diplomats hesitant to put in diplomatic cables what they really think, for fear of it being leaked.'..."
Like I said, there's a reason why diplomats don't broadcast what their leaders want said to another leader.

"Loose Lips Sink Ships"

My guess is that The New York Times and other news media have an explanation for (re)publishing WikiLeaks material this time. Offhand, I can think of a few more-or-less reasonable justifications:
  • 'The people have a right to know!'
    • Yes: but now?
  • 'WikiLeaks dumped this stuff on the Internet - we're just making a print copy'
    • Fact is, The New York Times and all are doing little but chronicle what's already happened
  • 'If we don't publish, someone else will'
    • There's something to that
    • The New York Times is in the business of selling newspapers, after all
That's not an exhaustive list of possible explanations, of course.

One reason I'm writing this post - and providing an excerpt of a Reuters article - is that 'the cat's out of the bag.' Those secret documents aren't secret any more.

The damage has been done: what remains is to sift through the wreckage and see if there's anything to be learned.

If that "loose lips sink ships" quote sounds familiar: You know your WWII history. Or read my May 11, 2010 post.

'Enlightened Self Interest'

Whatever effect it has on relations between countries whose leaders want to cooperate - it's something of a relief to know that so many world leaders have a grip on reality.

It's one thing for someone to argue that a criminal who kills in the course of a bank robbery is no criminal - that the robber is a warrior in the people's struggle with plutocratic oppressors and their lackeys. Or whatever excuse is fashionable at the moment.

When one of these idealists is in the bank that's being robbed, and urges the robber to kill everyone - including the idealist? That person is, in my opinion, heroically dedicated to some philosophy. Or seriously disturbed. Possibly both.

The Saudi king's remarks about Iran show, I think, that the House of Saud has at least one fairly sensible member. I don't envy Saudi Arabia's leadership, by the way: they seem to be caught between religious crazies in their own country, Iran, and a not-entirely-sensible lot of neighbors.

Compared with being in that position: dealing with a Minnesota winter is a piece of cake.

Now, an excerpt from the news item that set me off this evening:
"Saudi King Abdullah has repeatedly urged the United States to attack Iran's nuclear program and China directed cyberattacks on the United States, according to a vast cache of U.S. diplomatic cables released on Sunday in an embarrassing leak that undermines U.S. diplomacy.

"The more than 250,000 documents, given to five media groups by the whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks, provide candid, tart views of foreign leaders and sensitive information on terrorism and nuclear proliferation filed by U.S. diplomats, according to The New York Times.

"Among the revelations in Britain's Guardian newspaper, which also received an advance look at the documents, King Abdullah is reported to have 'frequently exhorted the U.S. to attack Iran to put an end to its nuclear weapons program.'

" 'Cut off the head of the snake,"' the Saudi ambassador to Washington, Adel al-Jubeir, quotes the king as saying, according to a report on Abdullah's meeting with General David Petraeus in April 2008.

"The leaked documents, the majority of which are from the last three years, also disclose U.S. allegations that China's Politburo directed an intrusion into Google's computer systems, part of a broader coordinated campaign of computer sabotage carried out by Chinese government operatives, private security experts and Internet outlaws, the Times reported.

"The newspaper also said documents report that Saudi donors remain chief financiers of Sunni militant groups like al Qaeda, and that the tiny Persian Gulf state of Qatar, a generous host to the U.S. military for years, was the 'worst in the region' in counter-terrorism efforts, according to a State Department cable last December.

"The newspaper said many of the cables name diplomats' confidential sources, from foreign lawmakers and military officers to human rights activists and journalists, often with a warning: 'Please protect' or 'Strictly protect.'

"The White House condemned the release of the documents, saying their release could endanger the lives of people who live under 'oppressive regimes' and 'deeply impact' the foreign policy interests of the United States and its allies.

" 'To be clear -- such disclosures put at risk our diplomats, intelligence professionals, and people around the world who come to the United States for assistance in promoting democracy and open government,' White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said.

" 'By releasing stolen and classified documents, WikiLeaks has put at risk not only the cause of human rights but also the lives and work of these individuals,' he said.

"Security analysts tended to agree that the release of the documents was a severe blow to U.S. diplomacy, undermining the confidentiality that is vital for foreign leaders and activists to talk candidly to U.S. officials...."
Related posts:In the news:

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Oregon: The Christmas Tree Bombing That Didn't Happen

Someone tried - unsuccessfully - to kill a whole lot of folks at a Christmas tree lighting ceremony in Oregon. The person is a college student, young adult, resident of Oregon, born in Somalia, and a Muslim.

Depending on someone's biases, this could 'prove' that you just can't trust:
  • College students
  • Those crazy kids
    • For me, anybody under about age 30 is a 'kid'
  • Oregonians
  • Somalis
  • Muslims
Me? I think that anybody who wants to set off a bomb at a tree lighting ceremony isn't safe to have around. The same goes for folks who think it's a good idea to set off bombs in New York City's Times Square.

Motive Matters: Sort of

The motive for wanting to commit mass murder is interesting - and may be important at the trial.

In my opinion, though: it doesn't matter whether the wannabe bomber thinks God told him to kill people; is mad at the Federal Government; or believes that Discovery Channel isn't doing enough to cut the human race down to size. (You can't make this stuff up: A Catholic Citizen in America (September 1, 2010))

I do not think that blowing up people who came to watch a Christmas tree being lit is a good way to promote your religion. I think I can see how a practicing Muslim who lives in America might not want to attend a public event that's related - a bit - to a Christian holy day. But committing mass-murder? That's not the way we're supposed to act in this country.

Decades of secularist efforts to purge Christian symbols and ideas from America have made me quite aware of how disturbing an evergreen decked out in colored lights can be: to the hypersensitive anti-Christian, at least.

But - and this is an important distinction, in my opinion - I do not think that having your skivvies in a knot is a excuse for killing folks at a public gathering.

Muslims, Murder, and Minnesota

I'll admit to a bias. I think that people are individuals. I even think that people who are part of an identifiable group are individuals.

For example, not all Irishmen are shiftless drunkards who talk too much. I'm half Irish, myself, and - wait a minute. I had a drinking problem. Maybe that was a bad example.

Or, not.

Consider America's first Irish president. He did not, as far as I am aware, have a serious problem with drinking. And, whatever failings President Kennedy may have had: he does seem to have taken his job as chief executive seriously.

America's gotten over the 'Irish need not apply' attitude, as far as I can tell. These days, the sort of folks who didn't approve of the Irish and Chinese sometimes focus their hostility on America's newer citizens - like Somalis.
Muslims, Somalia, and America
Many Somali-Americans are Muslims. No big surprise there. Most Somalis are Muslims.

Many came here for the same reason that many of my forebears came to America: It's a whole lot easier to stay alive here, than back in the old country. And there's a whole lot more opportunities here for doing well, economically.

Then there are the occasional individuals who don't like the status quo: and think that committing mass murder will improve things.

Like the young Muslim who wanted to kill a lot of folks at an Oregon Christmas tree lighting ceremony.
Somalia and Minnesota
I'm particularly interested in this case of frustrated religious expression, because of the Somalia connection. I live in Minnesota, where a great many folks from Somalia are settling. They're not coming here for the climate: this is a state where they can find jobs. (December 4, 2008)

The old 'melting pot' metaphor for America doesn't seem to have been popular for years. Decades. I think what we've got is more of a 'crazy quilt,' anyway: Immigrants don't tend to entirely jettison their culture, not for a few generations anyway.

Which is fine by me. I'd start to worry if folks stopped trying to get into America.

About Muslims living in America? I've written about that before. A lot. These posts are a pretty good indication of where I stand, on living in a country where everybody isn't exactly like me:
Aren't I Afraid of Those Murderous Muslims?
I think someone from any group might go off the rails and try to commit mass murder. Remember Timothy McVeigh? (June 6, 2009)

Besides: in this case someone who is a Muslim, living in America, was worried about a young man. And told American authorities who to look out for.

No: I'm not all that worried about 'those Muslims.' Whack jobs from any group? Those folks, I'll worry about.

Here's some of the news that set me off today:
"A Somali-born teenager was arrested on Friday for attempting to detonate what he thought was a car bomb at a Christmas Tree lighting ceremony in Oregon, officials said.

"Mohamed Osman Mohamud, 19, was charged with attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction in connection with an alleged plot to bomb the annual event in downtown Portland, the Justice Department said late on Friday.

"The bomb was a fake and had been provided to Mohamud as part of a long-term sting by the FBI and other law enforcement agencies, federal officials said in a statement.

"Officials said Mohamud, a naturalized U.S. citizen and student at Oregon State University, had been in contact with an unnamed individual believed to be in northwest Pakistan and involved in terrorist activities...."
Reuters may think that the important part of this news story is that Federal investigators tricked Mr. Mohamud into thinking that he was getting help building is bomb. My take is that a really important point is mentioned, briefly, deep in the article:
"...The New York Times, quoting a federal law enforcement official on condition of anonymity, reported that the FBI received a tip from a Portland Muslim who was concerned about Mohamud's increasing radicalism. The Times said that tip prompted the FBI to monitor Mohamud's e-mail activity....

"...He told FBI agents that he had thought of waging violent jihad, or holy war, since the age of 15, federal officials said.

"Mohamud proceeded with the plot despite opportunities to back away, according to the complaint, which quotes him praising the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States and expressing a desire to see 'body parts and blood' in Portland.

"According to the affidavit, Mohamud said, 'I want whoever is attending that event to leave, to leave either dead or injured.'..."
That, I think, is an important detail: that "the FBI received a tip from a Portland Muslim who was concerned about Mohamud's increasing radicalism...."

Most folks here in Minnesota, who came from Somalia, don't get their names in the paper. They're doing what I've been doing: getting jobs; raising their families; being part of a community.

Not long ago, quite a few young Minnesotans were disappearing - some turned up later, in pieces, in Somalia. Someone had convinced them that their best career choice was to be a walking bomb.

Their folks 'back home' here in Minnesota - were not happy about the situation. At all. And that's another topic. Sort of.

Somewhat-related posts:In the news:

Friday, November 26, 2010

Stuxnet: Inhuman Secret Agent

Public Radio International calls Stuxnet a real threat. They could be right about that. calls it a virus.

Iran's government says that the nuclear weapons program they don't have - wasn't affected by Stuxnet. That's - unlikely.

Bombs? That's So 20th-Century

I've written about Iran's nuclear program before. While it's remotely possible that one of the world's leading producer of petroleum desperately needs nuclear power plants - which in turn require weapons-grade uranium - I think it's more likely that Iran's ayatollahs wanted nuclear bombs.

I think can see their point, in a way. Quite a few folks outside Iran don't act the way the ayatollahs want them to. Nuclear weapons might seem quite effective - either as an upgrade to their means for converting the unbeliever, or to incinerate folks who wouldn't cooperate.

That's not to say that I approve of the lot that's running Iran. "Understanding" isn't "approval."

I think it's very likely that's what Iran's nuclear program is intended to produce nuclear weapons. I also think that aging religious fanatics with nukes present a very serious threat to anyone within range of their missiles: which includes quite a lot of the Middle East, Russia, and a disturbing fraction of Europe.

If Iran Wanted Nukes, Wouldn't They Have Them By Now?

One of the problems with the notion that Iran wanted nuclear weapons was the way that predictions kept being wrong.

It was like Iran's nuclear program was slowing down.

In some circles, this would 'obviously' mean that the vast right-wing conspiracy, or some other mysterious force, had made up the whole 'Iranian nukes' idea. After all, if Iran wanted nukes, they'd have them by now - and since they don't have them, they didn't want them.

Looks like there was a 'conspiracy' involved. Sort of.

Also, apparently, a very, very sophisticated worm: a sort of Information Age secret agent.

Stuxnet: One Very Smart Worm

Stuxnet is, in a way, scary. I hope that whoever designed it has figured out a way of disabling the thing. I'll get back to that.

According to an article I read today, Stuxnet is a very, very sophisticated set of code: a worm that's designed to damage, but not destroy, particular machinery in Iran's nuclear program. Also not affect other systems it infects - and cover its tracks so effectively that Iranian counter-intelligence apparently assumed that people working on the project were damaging the equipment.

Some of those people were killed - others simply disappeared.

Moralizing While Cities Get Nuked?

I am not comfotable with the idea of (presumably) innocent people being killed by Iranian security, when the culprit is malicious code. Or, rather, whoever made Stuxnet.

On the other hand, I am not comfortable with the idea of people in Tel Aviv, Beirut, Stavropol, or some other city, getting vaporized because folks who could have stopped the Iranian nuclear program - didn't.

I know, by the way: A lot of the folks in the cities I mentioned are Muslims. I've gotten the impression that quite a few Muslims die because some other Muslim decided they're not doing Islam the 'right' way.

Stuxnet: No Skynet

Smart as Stuxnet is, I'm about as certain as I can be about anything that it won't wind up taking over the world, like The Terminator's Skynet.

On the other hand, like I said, I really hope that whoever designed Stuxnet has a way of disabling it - or that one of the many commercial anti-malware firms works out a method.

It looks like it was designed very carefully to perform one function - and only one function. On a particular computer system, in a particular place.

Still, anybody can make a mistake.

As to 'is it moral to use a worm like Stuxnet' to keep religious crazies from having nukes? If someone hadn't developed Stuxnet, the world's best and brightest might be discussion how if they'd just had a chance to talk with the ayatollahs, some city would still be on the map.

I'm inclined to think that "alive" is better than "dead," all other things being equal.

Here's a rather long set of excerpts from that article I mentioned:
"....--The worm also knew that the complex control system that ran the centrifuges was built by Siemans, the German manufacturer, and -- remarkably -- how that system worked as well and how to mask its activities from it.

"--Masking itself from the plant's security and other systems, the worm then ordered the centrifuges to rotate extremely fast, and then to slow down precipitously. This damaged the converter, the centrifuges and the bearings, and it corrupted the uranium in the tubes. It also left Iranian nuclear engineers wondering what was wrong, as computer checks showed no malfunctions in the operating system.

"Estimates are that this went on for more than a year, leaving the Iranian program in chaos. And as it did, the worm grew and adapted throughout the system. As new worms entered the system, they would meet and adapt and become increasingly sophisticated....

"...This went on until June of last year, when a Belarusan company working on the Iranian power plant in Beshehr discovered it in one of its machines. It quickly put out a notice on a Web network monitored by computer security experts around the world. Ordinarily these experts would immediately begin tracing the worm and dissecting it, looking for clues about its origin and other details.

"But that didn’t happen, because within minutes all the alert sites came under attack and were inoperative for 24 hours.

" 'I had to use e-mail to send notices but I couldn't reach everyone. Whoever made the worm had a full day to eliminate all traces of the worm that might lead us them,' Eric Byers, a computer security expert who has examined the Stuxnet. 'No hacker could have done that.'

"Experts, including inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency, say that, despite Iran's claims to the contrary, the worm was successful in its goal: causing confusion among Iran’s nuclear engineers and disabling their nuclear program.

"Because of the secrecy surrounding the Iranian program, no one can be certain of the full extent of the damage. But sources inside Iran and elsewhere say that the Iranian centrifuge program has been operating far below its capacity and that the uranium enrichment program had 'stagnated' during the time the worm penetrated the underground facility. Only 4,000 of the 9,000 centrifuges Iran was known to have were put into use. Some suspect that is because of the critical need to replace ones that were damaged.

"And the limited number of those in use dwindled to an estimated 3,700 as problems engulfed their operation. IAEA inspectors say the sabotage better explains the slowness of the program, which they had earlier attributed to poor equipment manufacturing and management problems. As Iranians struggled with the setbacks, they began searching for signs of sabotage. From inside Iran there have been unconfirmed reports that the head of the plant was fired shortly after the worm wended its way into the system and began creating technical problems, and that some scientists who were suspected of espionage disappeared or were executed. And counter intelligence agents began monitoring all communications between scientists at the site, creating a climate of fear and paranoia....

"...Speculation on the worm's origin initially focused on hackers or even companies trying to disrupt competitors. But as engineers tore apart the virus they learned not only the depth of the code, its complex targeting mechanism, (despite infecting more than 100,000 computers it has only done damage at Natanz,) the enormous amount of work that went into it—Microsoft estimated that it consumed 10,000 man days of labor-- and about what the worm knew, the clues narrowed the number of players that have the capabilities to create it to a handful.

" 'This is what nation-states build, if their only other option would be to go to war,' Joseph Wouk, an Israeli security expert wrote.

"Byers is more certain. 'It is a military weapon,' he said.

"And much of what the worm 'knew' could only have come from a consortium of Western intelligence agencies, experts who have examined the code now believe.

"Originally, all eyes turned toward Israel's intelligence agencies. Engineers examining the worm found 'clues' that hinted at Israel's involvement. In one case they found the word 'Myrtus' embedded in the code and argued that it was a reference to Esther, the biblical figure who saved the ancient Jewish state from the Persians. But computer experts say 'Myrtus' is more likely a common reference to 'My RTUS,' or remote terminal units.

"Langer argues that no single Western intelligence agency had the skills to pull this off alone. The most likely answer, he says, is that a consortium of intelligence agencies worked together to build the cyber bomb...."
Langer's picks are
  • The United States
    • Which has the technical skills needed
  • Germany
    • With access to Sieman's product design
  • Russia
    • Familar with
      • Iran's nuclear plant
      • Sieman's systems
He could be right about all that.

Then, there's this - I suppose you could call it a literary reference.
"There is one clue that was left in the code that may tell us all we need to know.

"Embedded in different section of the code is another common computer language reference, but this one is misspelled. Instead of saying 'DEADFOOT,' a term stolen from pilots meaning a failed engine, this one reads 'DEADFOO7.'

"Yes, OO7 has returned -- as a computer worm.

"Stuxnet. Shaken, not stirred."
Related posts:In the news:

Thursday, November 25, 2010

North Korea: Kim Jong Il and Son; Speculation

Dynasty? Succession?

What is this, some kind of historical novel? Or maybe another Star Wars story?

Nope: It's speculation about what's going on in North Korea.

The death toll for that shelling of a South Korean island is up to four now; Kim Jong Il is still alive, apparently; and odds are that Kim Jong-il ordered the hit himself. To make his son look good.

How that's supposed to work, I don't know. Maybe it's 'competence by association.' The younger Kim was (probably) with North Korea's leader, (most likely) touring the artillery base, shortly before North Korea whacked the South Koreans.

Dynasty, Succession, North Korea and Nukes

There was a time when territories were run somewhat along the lines of the Corleone family (Godfather and sequels). The system had its drawbacks, but it worked.

Quite a bit of how well it worked depended, I think, on who the "godfather" was. Except the monarch had some other title, back in the 'good old days.'

Then, colonists in North America got fed up with loopy tax regulations, among other things, and tipped the apple cart over.

"Democracy" was all the rage not long after that, and now the monarch of the (former) colonists is one of the few remaining on Earth.

Korea, Elections, The Godfather, and Names

North Korea isn't a monarchy. On paper.

Kim Jon Il is the chairman of the National Defense Commission, North Korea's "highest administrative authority." While I'm on the subject of names, "North Korea" is what folks here in North America call Kim Jon Il's domain.

The name folks over there use is "Choson-minjujuui-inmin-konghwaguk," or Choson, for short. I take it that's an effort to express 조선, as pronounced, in the version of the Latin alphabet that the English language uses. In South Korea, "Korea" is 한국, or "Hanguk:" Sort of.

Why don't they call it "Korea?" That's another topic. Bottom line is that folks who live in a particular area generally use the name that works in their language. My ancestral homelands, for example, are Norge and Eire, and I married someone whose ancestors came from Nederland and Deutschland. We both speak American English, so those aren't the words we generally use.

Back to Choson / North Korea

North Korea, The Godfather, and Elections

Kim Jong Il is an elected official. On paper. With nobody else to run against, it's no great surprise.

I've got a bit more respect for rulers in Kim Jong Il's position, when they don't pretend that they're where they are 'by the will of the people.'

Think of the (fictional) Corleone family in The Godfather. "Don" Vito Corleone comes off as a moderately decent autocrat, I gather. Consider what his image would be, if the Don had elections at intervals, with himself as the only candidate. And tried to present the Family as a democratic institution.

Anyway, Kim Jong Il insists that he's an elected official. Odds are that his son will make the same claim.

As for the guessing game on who ordered the shelling of that island, and why? That's yet another topic.

Feuding Warlords With Nukes

Back in the 'good old days,' a strong-willed warlord, or king, or whatever, could often keep warlord wannabes in check within his holdings.

If the warlord had good sense - and gave a rip about his domain - he'd select the biggest, strongest, toughest, smartest wannabe: while he still had a few years to go. The old warlord would make an effort to train the wannabe in the fine art of leadership. And make it clear that this particular wad of meat was his chosen successor. Then, when the old warlord died, there'd be a relatively short period of bloodshed while the new warlord demonstrated that he really wanted to carry out the old warlord's wishes.

It was a messy system, but it worked. European warlords worked out a system of hereditary succession that tended to reduce the amount of internal warfare.

But the kings didn't hold elections. They had other excuses for being where they were. 'Divine right' was a favorite for a while - and that's yet again another topic.

That was then.

I think what we've got in North Korea is a little like those colorful episodes where the old warlord is dying, and trying to get his successor in position to hack and slash his way to the throne.

Except this time, the warlord wannabes have nuclear weapons.

Think Macbeth - the Shakespeare story, not the real one. Except that Macbeth, Macduff, and Duncan all have a few nukes. And the incentive to use them.

Here's what set me off this morning:
Excerpt from:
"North Korean leader and son visited artillery site: reports"
Jeremy Laurence, editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Andrew Marshall, Reuters (November 25, 2010)

"North Korean leader Kim Jong-il and his son and successor Jong-un visited the artillery base from where shells were fired at a South Korean island just hours before the attack, South Korean media reported on Thursday.

"North Korea's attack on Yeonpyeong Island that killed two South Korean marines and two civilians on Tuesday was probably ordered by Kim Jong-il himself, the Joongang Daily quoted a well-informed government source as saying.

"Seoul government officials contacted by Reuters could not comment on the reports.

"The United States says it believes North Korea's actions were an isolated act tied to leadership changes in Pyongyang, and many experts say the North carried out the shelling to burnish the image of the inexperienced and little-known younger Kim.

"The ailing leader is desperate to give a lift to his youngest son, named as heir apparent to the family dynasty in September, but who has little clear support in the military...."
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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.