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...."
Related posst:

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

North Korea: Nukes, Missiles, and Underfed Soldiers

A regime like North Korea's has its strengths. Like being able to force large numbers of its subjects into military service. North Korea doesn't seem able to feed its soldiers all that well, or provide them with much of the sort of training that requires fuel or bullets: but boy, does Kim Jon Il's country have a lot of soldiers.

Which is a real concern for folks living in South Korea, among others.

Whether or not the under-fed, ill-equipped North Korean soldiers really believe the propaganda they're fed - it's likely that they believe that they'll be punished if the don't do what the nearest general tells them. Like fire on a South Korean naval ship, or set fire to civilian buildings.

Paranoia, No: Prudence, Yes

I've mentioned Frank Burns, the idiot patriot and quack doctor in the M*A*S*H television series. One of my favorite episodes included a vignette of Dr. Burns looking for land mines in his toothpaste.

That's crazy. It's also funny, and fiction.

This is the real world.

Sadly, no matter how many factually-challenged paranoiacs infested America of the 1950s, today's North Korea is a serious - and very real - problem for anyone within about 2,000 miles - give or take a few hundred.

North Korea's nuclear weapons probably aren't all that much. Last year, Russia confirmed that North Korea had tested a 20-kiloton nuclear bomb. ( (May 25, 2009)) That's a little more powerful than the bomb that devastated Hiroshima, but not by all that much. ( (November 14, 1996))

If North Korea decided to launch a nuclear warhead against, say, Tokyo, folks living on the other side of Mt. Odake might not be hurt a bit. Not directly, anyway. But it would still be a really bad day for Tokyo. And the rest of Japan - and the world.

That 'no man is an island' stuff isn't just poetry. We live in a very interconnected world, and what happens in one nation gets felt everywhere.

I have no reason to believe that someone in North Korea will think it's a good idea to obliterate part of a Japanese city. Or one in South Korea. I have little reason to think that someone won't, either.

It'd be nice if everybody would be nice: but the last several thousand years of recorded history don't suggest that 'being nice' is as common a practice as it should be.

North Korea, Scrambling for Power, and "Miscommunications"

As for North Korea: It looks like Kim Jong Il is - willingly or not - turning control of the country over to someone else. Given the sort of operation he's been running, there could be quite a scramble soon, as generals and other wannabe warlords make a grab for power.

Then there are rumors, mentioned in the following article, about "miscommunications or worse within the North's command-and-control structure."

It's the sort of thing that makes me glad to live over a thousand miles from the Pacific Ocean, deep in the heart of North America.
Excerpts from:
"North Korea's military aging but sizeable"
Tim Lister, CNN World (November 24, 2010)

"It's a bit like train-spotting but rather more serious. On October 10, Korea-watchers pored over live televised coverage of a massive military parade in Pyongyang, held to mark the 65th anniversary of North Korea's ruling party. Just like the Soviet parades of yore, it was a chance to see what military hardware the North might be showing off.

"The official news agency said the parade showed 'the will and might of Songun Korea to wipe out the enemy.' The hardware was accompanied by slogans such as 'Defeat the U.S. Military. U.S. soldiers are the Korean People's Army's enemy.' And besides the incredible synchronized goose-stepping, there were tanks and new missiles.

"Analysts paid special attention to the first public appearance of a road-mobile ballistic missile with a projected range of between 3,000 and 4,000 kilometers (roughly 1,900 to 2,400 miles), though reports of its existence had circulated for several years.....

"...North Korea's nuclear capability and ballistic missile technology are its trump card, to make up for its aging conventional forces and as a bargaining chip in negotiations. So that's what receives the bulk of funding and expertise. But despite economic stagnation, technological limitations and international sanctions, its conventional forces can't be discounted, if only because of their size.

"According to South Korean analysts, the North scraped together what little foreign exchange it had to buy $65 million of weapons from China, Russia and eastern Europe between 2002 and 2008. One example: It appears to have bought Chinese-made ZM-87 anti-personnel lasers, using one to 'illuminate' two U.S. Army Apache helicopters flying along the southern side of the Demilitarized Zone in 2003. None of the crew members was injured.

"China says it continues to be open to military collaboration with Pyongyang and last month welcomed a senior North Korean official to Beijing to 'enhance coordination of the two militaries.' China is thought to have supplied the North with multiple rocket launchers and spare parts for planes, among other equipment. Pyongyang has also turned to Iran and Egypt for military transfers.

"Much of the North's hardware is locally built using Chinese and Russian templates. It has begun deploying a new tank, called the P'okpoong (Storm), which is modeled on the Russian T-62 tank but hardly a match for modern U.S. battle tanks. It's not clear how many of these are in service, but Jane's Armed Forces Editor Alexander von Rosenbach says it is thought that only a few have been delivered -- and they lack devices like thermal imaging sights.

"Also on show at the October parade: a new surface-to-air missile similar to a Chinese model. Jane's concluded that it represented 'a major expansion in North Korea's air defense potential,' with a radar/guidance system that would be harder to jam. And although little is known about the size and scope of the North's artillery, the barrage fired this week at Yeonpyeong Island suggests that it can't be ignored.

"The North Korean regime has also devoted great resources to developing its navy, not with battleships but fast-attack vessels and an array of submarines. Jane's estimates that it has more than 400 surface vessels. And it is not hesitant to use its maritime forces, as demonstrated by the sinking of the 1,200-ton South Korean corvette Cheonan by a torpedo in March. But in a confrontation, the South Korean navy is likely to come off best, as happened in a firefight in 1999.

"The main weakness of the North's military is a chronic shortage of computers, modern command and control and electronic warfare assets -- in other words, much of what makes up the 21st-century battlefield. At the same time, South Korea has used its economic strength to modernize its armed forces: for example, building three $1 billion Aegis-class destroyers to counter ballistic missiles.

"The same applies in the air. North Korea's air force largely comprises aging Soviet MiG fighters (though it has some MiG 29s) .... In addition, the North's air force has suffered fuel shortages, and Jane's estimated that the North's fighter pilots may get as little as 25 flying hours per year. The North Koreans also have a large fleet of Russian-design biplanes that would be better suited to crop-spraying but could be used to drop special forces behind enemy lines in the event of conflict.

"To compensate for obsolescence, the North deploys boots on the ground in great numbers. Jane's estimates that its standing army numbers just over 1 million personnel, with reserves estimated at more than 7 million. But North Korean soldiers are poorly fed, according to analysts and reports from defectors, and rarely train due to scarcity of fuel and ammunition....

"...'With the ongoing leadership transition in North Korea, there have been rumors of discontent within the military, and the current actions may reflect miscommunications or worse within the North's command-and-control structure,' geopolitical risk analysis firm Stratfor says....

"...Short of a general assault, the North clearly has enough in its arsenal to cause damage and death to its adversary, as the torpedo attack in March and the barrage this week have shown. And it has thousands of artillery pieces close to the Demilitarized Zone, which is just 30 kilometers (18 miles) from Seoul. Recent events show that it is also quite ready to exploit the element of surprise...."
Related posts:

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Korea: 'South Korean Puppet Group' and the Real World

Here's one version of what happened recently in Korea:
"...The 'South Korean puppet group' engaged in 'reckless military provocation' by firing 'dozens of shells' inside its territorial waters 'despite the repeated warnings of the DPRK' or Democratic People's Republic of Korea, the North's military said in a statement.

" 'The revolutionary armed forces of the DPRK standing guard over the inviolable territorial waters of the country took such decisive military step as reacting to the military provocation of the puppet group with a prompt powerful physical strike,' the statement said...."
So much depends on one's point of view. And preferred reality. As in the - interesting - news coverage of an incident last year:What happened then involved someone cleaning a machine gun, and discharging three rounds. Accidentally - but you had to read past the article's lead to learn that. Which is another topic.

North Korea: Again; Still

I'm not going to indulge in the usual 'give peace a chance' stuff. I think it'd be nice if an armed conflict - make that an open armed conflict - on the Korean peninsula didn't happen.

I also think it would be nice if North Korea had someone else running the place.

Part of why I think that Kim Jong Il isn't good for either half of Korea is discussed in an excerpt from today's news that I'll put near the end of this post.

I'm not convinced that direct, massive, 'retaliation' on North Korea is a good idea. On the other hand, I think I can see why President Lee Myung-bak is getting fed up.

What isn't all that clear is just what North Korea's leadership hopes to accomplish.

It's possible that Kim Jon Il wants another set of concessions, in exchange for having his enforcers behave themselves for a while. Or maybe someone in North Korea thinks that, now that they've got nuclear weapons, North Korea is invincible.

Nuclear weapons? Yes. Equivalent to what remains in the inventories of other nations? Not at all likely. A problem for everyone within range of North Korea's missiles? Yes. My opinion.

I put links to other posts about the Korean situation after this excerpt from CNN:
"SK leader: Military should 'retaliate' against NK 'provocation' "
Andrew Salmon, Steven Jiang, Yoko Wakatsuki,Joe Sterling, CNN World (November 23, 2010)

"Hours after North Korea's deadly artillery attacks on Tuesday, South Korea's president said 'enormous retaliation' is needed to stop Pyongyang's incitement, but international diplomats urgently appealed for restraint.

" 'The provocation this time can be regarded as an invasion of South Korean territory,' President Lee Myung-bak said at the headquarters of the Joint Chiefs of Staff here, according to South Korea's Yonhap news agency.

"The incident -- in which two South Korean marines died -- is 'the first direct artillery attack on South Korean territory since the Korean War ended in an armistice, not a formal peace treaty' in the 1950s, South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported. The United States has about 28,500 troops deployed in South Korea and are warily watching the situation.

"Calling the act a 'very serious provocation,' Scott Snyder, director of the Center for U.S.-Korea Policy, the Asia Foundation, said the incident was 'unprecedented in recent years [at least since the 1970s if not longer] in terms of artillery beyond the DMZ into civilian areas.'

"Along with the slain marines, 15 South Korean soldiers and three civilians were wounded when the North fired about 100 rounds of artillery at Yeonpyeong Island in the Yellow Sea, South Korea authorities. The attack also set houses and forests on fire on the island.

"South Korea's military responded with more than 80 rounds of artillery and deployed fighter jets to counter the fire, defense officials said.

"Firing between the two sides lasted for about an hour in the Yellow Sea, a longstanding flash point between the two Koreas. In March, a South Korean warship, the Cheonan, was sunk in the area with the loss of 46 lives in a suspected North Korean torpedo attack.

"Lee called 'indiscriminate attacks on civilians are a grave matter.' He said that since 'North Korea maintains an offensive posture, South Korea's military forces -- the army, air force and navy -- 'should unite and retaliate against [the North's] provocation with multiple-fold firepower.'

" 'Reckless attacks on South Korean civilians are not tolerable, especially when South Korea is providing North Korea with humanitarian aid,' Lee said, according to Yonhap...."
Related posts:
A tip of the hat to dragonblogger, on Twitter, for the heads-up on the CNN story.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The TSA and John Tyner: $10,000 Fine? "That's the old fine"

Before getting into the latest chapter of John Tyner and the TSA's 'zap or be groped' options for air travelers: part of my take on airline security. I'm about as sure as I can be that -
  • Outfits like Al Qaeda and the Taliban haven't decided to stop trying to kill people they don't approve of.
  • Every last passenger, every pilot, and all cabin attendants in the entire United States of America are not equally likely to try smuggling a bomb or some weapon into an airliner.
The first point means that some level of air travel security is needed.

The second point may need some clarification, given assumptions I've run into from time to time. I don't think that everybody who gets onto an airliner is equally likely to be a terrorist. That is not the same as assuming that all Muslims look like they came from the Middle East. Or that all people who look like they came from the Middle East are terrorists. Or that Ron Paul supporters are terrorists. (You can't make this stuff up, folks. (March 23, 2009))

The TSA might do well to check out what Israel does to make commercial air travel in their country safer - unless there's some daft Federal regulation against doing that sort of thing.

John Tyler: He's a Suspicious One, All Right

Here's what brought me back to the TSA's probably-inadvertent encouraging of RV sales and webconferencing. Actually, traveling overland or using webcams is my suggestion. (Apathetic Lemming of the North (November 15, 2010))
"TSA to investigate body scan resister" (November 15, 2010)

"The Transportation Security Administration has opened an investigation targeting John Tyner, the Oceanside man who left Lindbergh Field under duress on Saturday morning after refusing to undertake a full body scan.

"Tyner recorded the half-hour long encounter on his cell phone and later posted it to his personal blog, along with an extensive account of the incident. The blog went viral, attracting hundreds of thousands of readers and thousands of comments.

"Michael J. Aguilar, chief of the TSA office in San Diego, called a news conference at the airport Monday afternoon to announce the probe. He said the investigation could lead to prosecution and civil penalties of up to $11,000.

"TSA agents had told Tyner on Saturday that he could be fined up to $10,000.

" 'That's the old fine,' Aguilar said. 'It has been increased.'..."
I'm pretty sure that the TSA will finally decide how much money they want from Mr. Tyner. I even think that there may be a reasonable excuse for their 'investigation' of the man who put their "pat down" efforts on the Internet.

Mr. Tyner might - possibly - be some kind of spy or something.

No, really: It's (remotely) possible that John Tyner deliberately got in trouble just to undermine America's confidence in the TSA. Or something.

On the other hand, investigating the man who 'made them look bad' reminds me - slightly - of Iran's various official responses to the on-camera shooting of Neda Soltan. (July 1, 2009)

And, much closer to home, what was done to Steven Hatfill and Richard Jewell.

Conspiracy? More Likely Clueless Bureaucrats and/or Uniformed Nitwits

There's hope that the TSA may learn something useful from the John Tyner's jewels caper. They seem to have drummed it into the heads of the folks working with passengers that nipple rings aren't particularly dangerous. (March 27, 2008)

As for the current mess? I've said this before, but it bears repeating: I have some sympathy with anybody in the TSA who's actually trying to keep American air traffic safe. This hypothetical individual is working against:
  • A cultural disinclination to be 'unfair'
    • 'Fair' defined as treating everybody exactly the same way
    • No matter how crazy that is in a given situation
  • Prejudiced louts who made 'fair' rules seem sensible, in decades gone by
  • Terrorists
    • Real terrorists
    • Not some fellow with a cell phone
There's a very real possibility that whoever was working for the TSA in San Diego that day wasn't like the chap with a thing about nipple rings back in 2008. Whoever dealt with John Tyner could be someone who had the unenviable job of carrying out instructions dreamed up by some desk jockey.

Character Assassination: What I Hope Doesn't Happen

My concern right now is that whoever is calling the shots in the TSA will decide that John Tyner made the TSA look bad: and must be destroyed. Unlikely? I hope so.

On the other hand, we may soon be seeing 'leaked' accounts of John Tyner: how he doesn't pay his bills; cheats on his taxes; abuses rabbits; and burned down an orphanage.

'It can't happen here?' It'd be nice if Federal agencies never made mistakes, but we live in a world where really, really stupid, nasty things are done sometimes. (August 6, 2008)

I hope that John Tyner emerges from this with his life and finances intact.

Related posts:In the news:

Sunday, November 14, 2010

John Tyner at San Diego: $10,000 Fine or Groin Grope

There's common-sense security, and there's what Americans have to deal with from time to time. Like deciding whether they'd rather be subjected to debatably-safe X-ray screening, or get groped. (Apathetic Lemming of the North (November 13, 2010)) My guess is that the TSA would rather have what their new thing called a "pat down." They probably also wish that the Masses wouldn't fuss so much.

After all - getting their groins checked is 'for their own good.' (Aww, come on: you know you'll like it?)

Maybe there is a reason for the, ah, "pat-down" checks. Maybe.

Groin Grope or $10,000 Fine? It Could be Worse

Or maybe this is another instance of the sort of lunacy that comes up from time to time, when TSA and other government agencies forget that their subjects have cell phones - and aren't afraid to use them.

Not that Americans have as much trouble with crazies in government as, say, Iran does. ("Journalism in the Information Age, Or Nothing Says 'No' Like a Brightly Burning Motorcycle" (June 24, 2009))

So, yes: It could be worse.

I have some sympathy with competent, well-intentioned folks in the TSA and other organizations, who presumably are trying to keep air travelers safe in America. They're in a difficult position, caught between
  • Insane rules that insist on treating everybody 'equally'
  • Racist jerks who made those insane rules seem sensible
  • Uniformed nitwits who seem to think that nipple rings are a threat
Nipple rings?! As I said about two years ago: "I am not making this up." (March 27, 2008)

Maybe this week's attempted groin grope was an application of 'equal opportunity?' I doubt it: My guess is that what happened in San Diego was just more clueless (mis)use of authority.

From today's news:
"TSA ejects Oceanside man from airport for refusing security check" (November 14, 2010)

"John Tyner won't be pheasant hunting in South Dakota with his father-in-law any time soon.

"Tyner was simultaneously thrown out of San Diego International Airport on Saturday morning for refusing to submit to a security check and threatened with a civil suit and $10,000 fine if he left.

"And he got the whole thing on his cell phone. Well, the audio at least.

"The 31-year-old Oceanside software programmer was supposed to leave from Lindbergh Field on Saturday morning and until a TSA agent directed him toward one of the recently installed full-body scanners, Tyner seemed to be on his way.

"Tyner balked.

"He'd been reading about the scanners and didn't like them for a number of reasons, ranging from health concerns to 'a huge invasion of privacy.' He'd even checked the TSA website which indicated that San Diego did not have the machines, he said in a phone interview Saturday night....

"...He also did something that may seem odd to some, manipulative to others but fortuitous to plenty of others for whom Tyner is becoming something of a folk hero: Tyner turned on his cell phone's video camera and placed it atop the luggage he sent through the x-ray machine....

"...During the next half-hour, his cell phone recorded Tyner refusing to submit to a full body scan, opting for the traditional metal scanner and a basic 'pat down' -- and then refusing to submit to a 'groin check' by a TSA security guard.

"He even told the guard, 'You touch my junk and I'm going to have you arrested.'...
Okay: maybe this air traveler was "asking for it." Maybe.

I remember the 'good old days,' when "she was asking for it" might work as a defense for rape. Which is one of the reasons I don't miss the 'good old days' all that much. And that's another topic.

Leaving the cell phone camera on might suggest that Mr. Tyner was trying to provoke an incident. On the other hand - demanding $10,000 or a free grope? That seems - just a trifle unreasonable, given the information I've seen.

And refusing a groin check is - in my opinion - not as silly as what some air travelers have done. ("T-Shirt Story 2: Civil Rights vs Common Sense" ((August 13, 2007))

Solution to Air Travel Hassels (1): Don't Fly

My son-in-law does quite a bit of traveling for his business: and bought an RV this week. We'd discussed the pros and cons before the purchase. He'll be spending a bit more time going from one place to another, but will be spending a great deal less money doing it.

Not everybody travels enough to justify buying an RV. On the other hand, in another blog I suggested that families might consider buying webcams and webconferencing for the holidays, as an alternative to being, ah, "searched" at the airports. (Apathetic Lemming of the North (November 13, 2010)

Solution to Air Travel Hassels (2): 'Clothing Optional'

I can't say that I'd recommend this. Remember: I live in central Minnesota, and there are very practical reasons for wearing clothing here during the winter. On the other hand, Mr. Tyner's response to the TSA's "pat down" reminded me of this discussion of a really old science fiction magazine cover:
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,
A few more outbreaks of bureaucratic nitwittery from the TSA, and Mr. Zondy's Mizaran scenario might start looking good to America's air travelers.

Here's an excerpt from what I wrote about this get-zapped-or-get-groped nonsense, in another blog:

There's Common-Sense Security: And There's Moonbat-Crazy Stuff Like This

"That said, I've opined about the TSA, security, and common sense in another blog. Before someone has a stroke, let the Lemming point out that, in the Lemming's opinion, the safety of the flying public is one thing - the sort of weirdness I've discussed is something else:"Like the fellow said, 'you can't make this stuff up, folks.'..."

"...As for the airlines and the TSA? Like I said: the Lemming doesn't envy folks in the TSA who are trying to do their jobs. As for airlines and everyone else who makes a living flying other folks from on place to another? I've been laid off, fired, let go, and lost jobs in a few other ways. I hope that the TSA and the air travel industry work out some way for folks to fly without risking their health - or getting groped."
(Apathetic Lemming of the North (November 13, 2010))
Related posts:

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Armistice Day/Veterans Day, 2010: a Couple of Words for the American Military, and Something Lincoln Said

I've written about Armistice Day - it's been called Veterans Day lately, here in America - before. This year, I've got two words for the folks in the United States armed forces, past and present:

Thank you.

Finally, some ideas from Abraham Lincoln that I've quoted before:
"Human nature will not change. In any future great national trial, compared to the men of this, we shall have as weak and as strong, as silly and as wise, as bad and as good."
Abraham Lincoln, Response to a serenade, November 10, 1864.
(See "Armistice Day" (Apathetic Lemming of the North (November 11, 2007))
Related posts:What happened to the 2009 Armistice/Veteran's Day post? I was a little distracted at the time:

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

'Printer' Bombs, Yemen Mail Service, and 'Good Old Days' That Weren't

It's the 21st century, and things aren't any simpler now, than they were in the 'good old days.' I'll get back to that.

From today's news:
"Yemen Mail Bomb Could Have Exploded Over Eastern U.S., British Authorities Say"
Associated Press, via FOXNews (November 10, 2010)

"A mail bomb intercepted last month at an English airport could have exploded over the East Coast of the United States, British police said Wednesday.

"Forensic evidence showed the device, originally sent from Yemen by way of Cologne, Germany, was timed to be detonated about six to seven hours after the cargo aircraft carrying it left the U.K. for the U.S. The package was removed by police in Britain during transit...."

"The UPS cargo plane intercepted in England left the country without the package at 11:20 p.m. ET on Oct. 28, two hours after landing, police said. The device was timed to be activated at 5:30 a.m. ET, said British police.

"Authorities on both sides of the Atlantic said they only narrowly thwarted the plot, in which terrorists in Yemen hid two powerful bombs inside printers and shipped them to addresses in Chicago aboard two cargo planes. The printer cartridges were filled with PETN, an industrial explosive that, when X-rayed, would resemble the cartridges' ink powder...."

"White House spokesman Nicholas Shapiro said: 'We greatly appreciate the highly professional nature of the U.K. investigation and the spirit of partnership with which U.K. authorities have pursued this matter.'

"He praised the efforts of intelligence and law enforcement professionals in the U.K., the UAE, Saudi Arabia and the United States, and said they will continue to work together "to address and counter the threat posed by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.' "
"Bomb Could Have Struck East Coast, British Say"
John F. Burns, Europe, The New York Times (November 10, 2010)

"A package bomb from Yemen removed from a cargo plane in Britain on Oct. 29 could have exploded over the American East Coast, Scotland Yard said in a statement on Wednesday that offered the clearest sense so far of the danger averted.

"The bomb was one of two dispatched from Yemen to fictitious recipients in Chicago, with powerful plastic explosives packed into toner cartridges inside computer printers . The second was intercepted in Dubai...."
"Plane was over Canada when police say mail bomb was timed to detonate"
The Canadian Press / The Associated Press (CP) (November 10, 2010)

"A mail bomb that was intercepted in England last month would have been in Canadian airspace when authorities say it was timed to detonate.

Data from Houston-based Flightaware show that UPS Flight 232 from the East Midlands to Philadelphia was about 257 kilometres northwest of Quebec City at 5:30 a.m....

"...Flight 232 makes daily flights but not always along the same route.

"Had the plane taken its alternate route, straight across the Atlantic, it likely would have been over the U.S. when it blew up...."
No matter where the thing went off, it would have killed people.

That would, in my opinion, have been a bad thing. Not good. Very bad.

Ah, For the Good Old Days?

I've been described as "an elderly gentleman." For good reason. I'm old enough to remember the 'good old days' of the fifties, when everything was rosy. In the Happy Days series, anyway.

I don't pine for 'the good old days,' because I remember the fifties.

Despite what folks with various biases might think, the fifties were not an idyllic time when children were perfect and wives knew their place and there was a car with tail fins in every carport. Economically, it was a pretty good decade for white men who had served in WWII: and that's another topic.

The fifties wasn't a time when the yellow peril and commie menace were beaten back by stalwart red-white-and-blue-blooded Americans who exposed pinkos in the State Department and cleansed Hollywood. In my opinion, we're still digging our way out of the mess left by the 'black lists.' Which is yet another topic.

The fifties also weren't a time when militaristic capitalistic warmonger oppressor classes tore food from the bleeding lips of oppressed classes, only to be exposed by the inexorable march of people's liberation. Which is the flip side of McCarthyism, sort of. And yet again another topic.

There were a whole lot of folks back in the 'good old days' of the fifties who didn't have quite the same experience as The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit. And that helped set up the sixties. I was around at the time - and despite the Timothy Leary/Jimi Hendrix insanity (we lost a lot of brilliant, talented people like Hendrix then), some of the changes were long overdue. In my opinion. And still another topic.

You Like Simple? Watch a Bond Movie, or Happy Days

We live in the real world: where everybody with an eastern European accent isn't an evil spy, cutthroat, or cold seductress (yes, the stereotype existed); where everybody living in the Middle East isn't a terrorist (some are - stereotypes exist for a reason); and all threats to America and other places where people are allowed - at times grudgingly - to speak their minds and make money don't come from the Middle East. Or, in my view, from foreigners.

One lesson from the latest near-miss is that terrorists really do exist.

Another is that there are leaders in the Middle East who seem to have, for whatever reason, decided that it's not a good idea to let terrorists operate with impunity.

I think Iran's Ayatollahs have helped make cooperation with the West seem less unpalatable. And that's emphatically another topic.

Somewhat-related posts:In the news:

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Los Angeles Contrail: Missile? Jet? Giant Atomic Ants?

That contrail that hit the news this morning wasn't from a missile launch - it was from a jet. An expert said so.

That makes sense - or is that what They want us to believe?! Or am I one of Them?! I don't mean a giant man-eating ant. You know: one of the Illuminati/Knights Templar/space aliens who 'really' rule the world. Does that 1954 man-eating atomic ants movie still run on television? That's another topic.

If you get the impression that I don't take experts, conspiracy theories, or movies about atomic tests spawning a Godzilla-size ant problem for Los Angeles very seriously - you're right.

Wait a minute! Them showed mega-ants in the drains of Los Angeles. Today's mysterious contrail was sited over the Pacific near Los Angeles - IT ALL FITS TOGETHER!!!!!!!!

Or, not.

I've collected a few photos and news excerpts. The photos have been altered. By me. I used my graphics software to resample them to a width of 400 pixels - so that they'd fit in this blog's format. Apart from that, they're the way they came from KCBS - via two different national news networks.

Los Angeles Contrail and Comparisons

(KCBS/KCAL, via CNN, used w/o permission)
"Video shot by a news helicopter operated by KCBS/KCAL shows a contrail ascending high into the atmosphere"

(KCBS, via FOXNews, used w/o permission)
"A mysterious vapor trail caught on camera has the military scrambling for answers -- but is it just a jet? On the left, a still image from KCBS video of the launch. On the right, a very similar event from Dec. 31, 2009 commonly believed to be an airplane."

The captions are from CNN and FOXNews. Excerpts from the articles:
"Pentagon can't explain apparent mystery plume off California coast"
Michael Martinez and Casey Wian, U.S., CNN (November 9, 2010)

"The Pentagon is unable to explain images of what witnesses took to be a high-altitude rocket launched off the coast of southern California at sunset Monday, officials said.

"But John Pike, a defense expert who is director of, said he believes he has solved the mystery.

" 'It's clearly an airplane contrail,' Pike said Tuesday afternoon. 'It's an optical illusion that looks like it's going up, whereas in reality it's going towards the camera. The tip of the contrail is moving far too slowly to be a rocket. When it's illuminated by the sunset, you can see hundreds of miles of it ... all the way to the horizon.

" 'Why the government is so badly organized that they can't get somebody out there to explain it and make this story go away ... I think that's the real story,' Pike added. 'I mean, it's insane that with all the money we are spending, all these technically competent people, that they can't get somebody out there to explain what is incredibly obvious.'..."
Please bear in mind that this is CNN, quoting an expert who's not exactly ecstatic over the fed's handling of this situation.

I think there's little doubt that different news services have different points of view. I do not think that one 'always lies about our Dear Leader' or that another 'is the only one telling The Truth.' Moving on.
"Mystery Solved? Missile Launch Could Be a Jet Contrail"
Air & Space, (November 9, 2010)

"A video that appears to show a missile launch off the coast of California is so far "unexplained" by anyone in the military, a Pentagon spokesman told reporters Tuesday -- but what seems mysterious could be nothing more than an airplane.

"Federal officials do not consider the event a threat. And they aren't the only ones.

"According to a post on, the visible exhaust from a jet engine, a trail of condensed water vapor called a contrail, resembles a missile trail when seen from some angles.

"The confusion between a missile launch and a jet plane launch is caused by several common misconceptions, the site notes, explaining that the angle of launch, the direction of flight, and even the shape of the Earth can lead to the illusion. And indeed, when you look at certain images of jet launches, they do look a fair bit like missiles.

"The site's author goes on to note other factors that could connect the unexplained launch to a jet engine. There's no no bright rocket flare, just a few flashes of sunlight, and a sunlit trail. Plus the unexplained craft is incredibly slow, the site notes, while rockets move incredibly fast.

"Meteorologist Kevin Martin of the Southern California Weather Authority is a believer in the airplane theory, too.

" 'We see this often when the flights come at the right time, however, some people are just out to witness it at the right time,' Martin told in Los Angeles. 'We had strong winds up there as well as really cold temperatures from a passing storm system. This also had an area of upper level moisture ... where airliners fly.'

"And a senior military official told Fox News late Tuesday that indications are that the contrail 'was more likely caused by an airplane than anything else because the other possibilities of rockets or missiles are turning up negative.' But officials still aren't 100 percent sure, so the military is taking steps to review its missile inventory and make sure they're all accounted for.

"A similar mystery event took place on Dec. 31, 2009, when a launch in the skies over Orange County mystified people. The Orange Country Register noted a few days later that the event was variously described as a rocket launch or jet contrails. argues that both events were simply planes -- seen from an unexpected angle, that is...."
I gave more space to the FOXNews article, because it seemed to me that they gave more interesting details. Much of the CNN article discussed which military people and agencies didn't known what. That's important - particularly for the commanders involved - but doesn't shed much light on the 'what's that contrail' question. In my opinion.

Remember, though: I could be a giant mutant ant in league with the Illuminati and Ron Paul supporters. I'm not: but I'd be hard-pressed to convince someone determined to believe otherwise.

What's the 'Real Story?'

I think Mr. Pike, as quoted in the CNN article, raised an important question:
"...'Why the government is so badly organized that they can't get somebody out there to explain it and make this story go away ... I think that's the real story,'...."
This post isn't, as I've written before, political. Not in the sense that I am committed to saying that one party is stupid and another is smart. I do bring up political matters from time to time, when they relate to the war on terror (which doesn't, officially, exist any more - apparently). (March 30, 2009)

For what it's worth, it's my opinion that the current administration hasn't done anywhere near as badly as I feared might be the case.

So: Do I think that America Is Doomed, or " 'The Army is Unraveling' - Just Like Vietnam!"? No. Not at all.

I do think that a reporter in an aircraft over Los Angeles saw something in the sky, west of the city. And got some pretty good video of the phenomenon. Also, that the American military probably hasn't identified precisely what it is. Also, that the various units of the military which don't know precisely what that news guy saw have said that they don't know.

I also think it's important to draw a distinction between facts and speculation. The facts that we have, so far, is that video was taken of a contrail in the sky west of Los Angeles. Also that the American military hasn't announced a definite, demonstrable explanation for what made the contrail.

Finally, we've got a Federal government which seems - and I stress seems to have done a less-than-ideal job of handling public relations in this matter. That's actually getting very close to being speculation. The 'Federal government screwed up' approach is, I think, more of a value judgment than a fact.

UFOs! Flying Saucers! Intergalactic Pregnancy Tests!

I remember when I could count on seeing a few 'I was abducted by aliens' stories in the grocery checkout each month. At one point, the space aliens seemed inordinately obsessed with giving Earthlings pregnancy tests.

And that's very much another topic. Probably for a blog covering abnormal psychology and/or news media. Or maybe both.

I think this morning's contrail is - in a way - a situation like UFO sightings. It's well to remember that a UFO is an Object that was Flying, and wasn't identified: Unidentified Flying Object. What "UFO" does not mean, outside some fairly specialized literary genres, is "Alien Space Ship From Beyond the Stars" or "Flying Saucer."

So far, it looks like whatever made that contrail is (literally) a UFO. Thank goodness nobody picked up on that, or we'd be knee-deep in space alien stories. Or maybe that sort of thing has gone out of fashion.

Or, maybe that's the angle that editors will take with the next wave of stories on this incident.

Particularly if tomorrow is a slow news day.

Not-completely-unrelated posts:In the news:

Missile Launched Near Los Angeles: Prelude to Attack, or the Next Bond Movie?

Update (9:01 p.m. Central, November 9, 2010)

There's a really good chance that this was the contrail of a jet - seen from a modestly unusual angle. I've discussed this in another post:
At this moment, I'm assuming that the "substantial missile" spotted by a KCBS news helicopter was launched by:
  • Filmmakers
  • Someone in a branch of the U.S. military who
    • Didn't fill out all the right paperwork
    • Pushed the wrong button
    • Is working on something very hush-hush
      • Just off the coast of Los Angeles?!!
  • Somebody else
It's the 'somebody else' option that has me - a little concerned. It would be a major coup for one of the outfits whose leaders have decided that America is the reason for their problems. In the "counting coup" sense of the word.

KCBS, via FOXNews: unexplained missile off California coast, November 8, 2010
(KCBS, via FOXNews, used w/o permission)
"Nov. 8: An unexplained missile is shot off the California coast."

I'm pretty sure it's not the work of:
  • Ron Paul supporters
  • The CIA
  • Space-alien shape-shifting lizard people
I was going to put 'the commies' in that list - but that's actually a remote possibility.

North Korea might be able to at least borrow a launch platform - maybe a submarine or an innocuous-looking surface vessel.

China has the capability for a launch of this sort. But their thing lately seems to be hack attacks on computer networks and toxic Snickers Peanut Funsize and baby formula. (March 20, 2010, February 19, 2010, May 25, 2009, October 4, 2008, September 29, 2008) I'll admit that the toxic candy and baby formula might not have been intended as an attack. China seems to be having trouble adjusting to the idea that folks not under their control really don't like melamine in their food. And won't keep quiet when it shows up. Which is another topic.

From the news:
" Pentagon calls mystery missile 'unexplained,' cannot rule out threat" (November 10, 2010) (International Dateline: It's 'tomorrow' there)

"THE Pentagon said a missile launch off the southern coast of California remained "unexplained" and that its mysterious origins meant that it was not possible to rule out any threat to the homeland.

"Earlier yesterday, NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command) and NORTHCOM (United States Northern Command) officials told Fox there was no threat.

"However, Pentagon Spokesman Colonel Dave Lapan would not confirm that because the military does not know what the missile was or where it came from.

"Col Lapan added that the incident did not appear to be a regularly scheduled test, as no warnings to mariners or airmen appeared to be issued ahead of its launch.

"The contrail was caught on camera by a KCBS news helicopter at around sunset Monday evening, approximately 50km out to sea and west of Los Angeles.

"The missile appeared to be launched from the water, and not from US soil, Col Lapan added.

"The military was trying to solve the mystery using the video from KCBS as there was no indication that NORAD and NORTHCOM were able to detect it independently...."
"Pentagon Has 'No Clue' Who Launched SoCal Missile"
News | Breaking, NBC San Diego (November 9, 2010)

"Someone launched a missile near Los Angeles Monday night and as of Tuesday morning, the Pentagon still doesn't know who.

"A local television station showed video of the launch spotted around 5 p.m. captured by a traffic helicopter around sunset. The location was reported to be west of Los Angeles, north of Catalina Island and approximately 35 miles out to sea, KFMB reported.

"It does appear a substantial missile was launched into the skies over Southern California Monday evening but no one in the military is owning up to it yet, according to NBC Pentagon correspondent Jim Miklaszewski...."

Time to Panic? Probably Not

I suppose I could emulate red-white-and-blue-blooded 'real' Americans, go into full panic mode and start ranting about how people I don't agree with are to blame for letting the commies wipe motherhood, apple pie and America from the face of the earth.

Or, if my point of view was closer to that of America's current dominant culture, I could rant about how this is what happens when people don't believe in global warming, won't recognize a person's right to marry his pillow, and aren't afraid of acid rain. Wait a minute. Acid rain's sort of démodé by now.

The pillow guy is in Korea, by the way. I'm not making that up. (A Catholic Citizen in America (August 7, 2010))

Back to that mystery missile:

My guess - and hope - is that the missile was fired off by a film company that didn't let folks know what they were going to do. Or hoped for the sort of publicity they'll get if this was a private launch. Another strong possibility, in my opinion, is that someone in the American military either didn't file the right paperwork to let the chain of command know what was happening - or pushed the wrong button.

In the latter case, my sympathy is with whoever goofed. Considering how much it'll cost to find out what happened - it isn't the sort of thing that can be called a 'little' mistake.

Or, maybe someone's finding out what happens when a missile is launched within a few dozen miles of one of America's biggest cities.

That's the possibility that's got my attention.

In the news:

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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.