Thursday, December 31, 2009

Tweets for Today (Dec 31st)

On profiling, maths, science, and a framework against terror (repeats from 2001/2) #

U.S. Arms Feed Yemen's Gun Culture #

Bande de Gaza : MSF dresse le bilan humanitaire ¤ Hmm, another target for NGO Monitor #

Unions Want Controls On Airport Perfume And Alcohol Sales Could be used to make 'The Bomb from Duty Free' ?? #

University: annual list of words to "ban"... Tweets, sexting, unfriend, shovel- ready, etc. #

Paper: Only 20% of preventive medical measures i.e. those that take place in doc office, actually cut costs #

Coming tomorrow: Bans on Trans Fats, Smoking, Texting (state laws kick in) #

Device turns thoughts into speech (Note: article gets head of itself, actually "three vowel sounds") #

RT @stratsoc History behind Peter Moore's release in Iraq (was held in Iran) ¶ Conf by Petraeus? Has to be true! #

RT @vali_nasr Iran Wages Quiet War on 'Star' Students #

RT @maplight SCOTUS To Decide Pivotal Campaign Fin Case ¶ Bah, take off limits, add sunlight #

The pic says it... #

Petraeus: "I'm pretty sure I've seen hard intelligence on it." Re British hostage actually held in Iran... #

"genuine efforts by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia to reform/modernize kingdom" ¶ Pah, overly generous assessment #

Military 'Swimming In Sensors and Drowning in Data' #

Case of man who got tarantula hairs stuck in eye has docs advising people to wear eye protection when handling #

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Worth repeating? II

Another consequence of the recent "underwear bomber" (i.e. Abdul Farouk Abdulmutallab) attempt is that discussion re 'profiling' is also back in vogue. Now the problem with this is that many if not most of those calling for 'profiling' misunderstand what it is... For example, those calling for "Muslims" and other such over-broad categories to be targeted are off-base and likely to cause more harm than good. Others, much fewer in number, also call for appropriate 'profiling' - the judicious application of logic, risk factors, and specific criteria designed to shrink as much as possible the universe of subjects to be identified for increased scrutiny... Also, the use of 'behavioral profiling'

Below are reprints of a number of much older entries - the first is on the topic of profiling; the second some basic math concepts for security; the third re a reliance on "science and technology" to ensure safety; and the fourth a framework against terrorism. Reading and integrating all four might be useful in achieving a holistic view of the issues.

I. OPED2: airport "profiling" (reprint from Dec 2001)

Following the terrorist attacks of 9/11 there have been many discussions regarding "profiling" at airports. These discussions have been chaotic, with proponents and opponents firmly entrenched in their positions and talking past each other. The inability to have a useful and substantive discussion has mainly been due to the lack of a common agreement of what constitutes "profiling". The following is a very brief attempt to focus in on profiling, and to provide an example of a system that might be used for profiling airline passengers for increased scrutiny......

Profiling is not simply picking out a certain racial or demographic group for increased scrutiny. Besides being unethical and possibly illegal, this is also inefficient and of limited utility. The use of overly broad categories (e.g. Middle-Eastern looking males, dark-skinned men with beards, etc..) will only result in the identification of many people for increased scrutiny. This results in an increase in the dissatisfaction of the target group without a commensurate increase in real security. Profiling is the judicious use of a select group of specific criteria designed to shrink as much as possible the universe of subjects to be identified for increased scrutiny. These criteria need to be focused on the target that is to be screened for. By this means resources may be deployed effectively with a much higher probability of identification of the target, resulting in a real increase in security.

For example, the following is a system that could be used for airport profiling. Each passenger would be assigned different weights for a number of criteria based on subject demographics, travel information, and environmental factors:.

a) Demographic data:

  • Country of origin. A weight between 1 and 10 by country of origin, e.g. Saudi Arabia 10, Switzerland 1
  • Age - 18-40 +4 / >60 -4
  • Gender - Male +5 / Female -1
b) Travel information:
  • One-way ticket +4
  • Ticket purchase: >6 months prior to trip -2 / 4-6 months prior to current trip +1 /
  • No luggage +2
c) Travel History:
  • A weight between 1 and 10 by country of visit for each overseas trip in the previous 3 years (e.g. France, Germany, U.K. +10, Iran +5, Hong Kong +2, Switzerland +1, etc.)
d) Residency/Citizenship Factors:
  • US citizen > 20 years -7
  • US citizen 10-20 years -3
  • US resident > 20 years -5
  • US resident 10-20 years -2
e) Environmental Risk factors = Alert Status
  • High alert +10, medium alert +5
Each passenger would be scored by the sum of their individual factor weights and the environmental factor. A score of 21 or greater would trigger increased security measures e.g. passenger interview, body search, hand check of carry-on luggage, etc. The environmental factor allows for the level of scrutiny to be proportional to the alert level - a higher level of scrutiny resulting when the country is on alert (FBI or CIA having received credible threats of possible terrorist actions)

For this system to work it would be necessary that:

  • The criteria and weightings not be public knowledge, to prevent terrorists 'gaming' the system.
  • The criteria be updated (both the individual criteria and the weightings) on a regular basis to ensure that the system evolves with changes in the threat profile.
  • While the system should be followed as much as possible, room needs to be left for human discretion e.g. security check of a person exhibiting excessive nervousness, etc.
II. OPED4: Some basic math concepts for security (reprinted from Dec 2001)

  • Base rate fallacy:
The base rate fallacy comes into play when one ignores, or is unaware of, the very low probability of an occurrence in comparison to another. For example, consider an inspection mechanism checking for terrorists that is able to make this determination with an accuracy of 99.99% (i.e. if someone is a terrorist there is a 99.99 percent chance that the mechanism indicates "terrorist," and if someone is not a terrorist, there is a 99.99 percent chance that the mechanism indicates "non-terrorist.") Assuming that one in twenty five million passengers is a terrorist, what is the chance that a person identified as a terrorist by the mechanism actually is a terrorist? Though it may seem counter-intuitive the answer is 0.04%. How?? Let us run the numbers:

Assuming that one in twenty five million flyers actually is a terrorist, the mechanism's false positive rate means that in addition to the one person who is a terrorist, (1-0.9999)*25,000,000 = 2,500 people will also be incorrectly identified as terrorists. Thus the probability that the person identified is a terrorist actually is one is 1/2500*100 = 0.04%

Thus, though the accuracy of the mechanism is high it is very likely that the rate of false alarms would eventually cause the people running the mechanism to distrust its results. Any such mechanism (e.g. biometric identification of iris) would also be expensive, and its deployment in every airport would be a burden in terms of dollars, manpower, etc.

  • Crossover error rate:
Inspection mechanisms such as profiling or biometrics are subject to two types of errors. The first is known as the False Rejection Rate (FRR) or Type 1 Error, in which a valid test subject is incorrectly rejected. The second is known as the False Acceptance Rate (FAR) or Type 2 Error, in which the test subject is incorrectly accepted. For example, for an iris scanner a Type 1 error would occur if the machine incorrectly rejected a subject that was in the database, while a Type 2 error would occur if it incorrectly OK'd a person not in the database. As the sensitivity of the inspection mechanism is increased the mechanism will become more selective and the incidence of incorrect rejections (FRR) will increase. Conversely, as the sensitivity is decreased the mechanism will become less selective and the incidence of incorrect acceptances (FAR) will increase. The graph below shows the relationship between these variables.

III. OPED14: Science to the rescue (reprinted from Feb 2002)

Following the events of 9/11 'security' in all its manifestations has become an urgent concern of many people, who look to science and technology for help. This OPED looks at a few instances of technology that have been advanced recently as potentially having a role in making the country safer.
  • As reported in the British journal Nature, researchers at the Mayo Clinic (Rochester, MN) have found that when people lie the blood flow around their eyes increases, and so have proposed that screeners using high-definition, heat-sensing cameras could determine if someone was telling the truth or a lie. Preliminary experiments have been conducted using this technology and the findings are that the accuracy of this system is slightly higher than that of polygraphs. In the experiment the camera identified 75% of the "guilty" subjects and 90% of the "innocent" subjects. The Mayo Clinic study authors' hypothesis is that this blushing is part of the "fright or flight response", which can signal willful deception. Skeptics point to the possibility that the physiological changes could be due to anxiety and not guilt. Others have noted that the number of subjects used in the experiment is too small to determine if this truly is meaningful. However, Honeywell has patented this system, and tests will be ongoing to see if this will work in real-life situations.
  • Note: even if this system is validated and achieves the rates of accuracy stated, its use in isolation would be less than useful due to the base rate fallacy (see OPED4 for an explanation). However, as a part of a structured screening process it could prove valuable. First, profiling - see OPED2 - would reduce the population needing further screening, and this would be further reduced by use of this system, so that interview, individual search, etc. would need to be performed on a manageable number of people.
  • Another technology showing promise is using an ion mobility spectrometer to detect minute traces of explosives. The Sandia National Laboratories has developed a portal for airport use that closely resembles the existing metal detectors. As the passengers pass through the portal air flows downwards from the top of the portal. Small air jets on the sides agitate the passengers' clothing to dislodge any contamination. The airflow is then pulled into a 'screen preconcentrator' in which the large volume of air is passed through a high-density metal screen. Heavy organic molecules (e.g. trace explosives) are trapped by the screen. The screen is then heated to 200 degrees Centigrade, which converts any collected explosive traces back into a gas that is then passed to the ion mobility sensor. The net effect is that trace explosives from a large volume of air are concentrated by a factor of 100-1000 before passing to the spectrometer for detection, thus increasing the chances of detection. Experiments done at the Alburquerque airport in 1997 were positive... A throughput rate of five passengers/minute was achieved, with a false detection rate of less than one percent (information on the types or quantities of explosives this system can detect were not disclosed for security reasons.) Further refinement of this portal has been underway for several years, and it may be commercially available in the near future.
  • A problem with airport screeners is that even well trained security personnel find it difficulty to maintain the requisite level of concentration while watching X-ray scanner screens for long periods. PerkinElmer Instruments (Boston, MA) has developed a software package known as TIP - Threat Image Projection to combat this and to ensure that screeners stay alert. The software can project images of guns, knives, or explosive devices on the images of the bags that are passing through the scanners. This is used to improve the screeners' abilities, as well as to periodically check on their alertness.
  • Another promising technology is Quadropole Resonance. It is known that when explosives are bombarded with certain radio frequencies the nitrogen compounds in the explosives vibrate, and that QR scanners can then detect these vibrations. This technology is being adapted to scan trucks, shipping containers, etc. The truck or container is bombarded with low-power radio waves of specific frequencies. If explosives are present their nitrogen compounds begin to vibrate, and very sensitive radio receivers that surround the truck pick this up. A computer system can then identify the explosive present by comparing the signals captured against a database of known compounds. Since the radio waves do not effect people and are not distorted by steel shipping containers, entire vehicles could be scanned at one time.
In conclusion, numerous technologies are being developed that can help in increasing security levels. Science and technology can provide tools that may contribute to increased security and the fight against terrorism, but there is no "magic bullet". What is necessary is the deployment and use of multiple technologies to provide a systematic, multi-layered defense.

IV. OPED23 A framework against terror (reprint from Apr 2002)

This OPED attempts to demonstrate a framework against terrorism. First some background:

  • The struggle against terrorism is not "a war". While the war metaphor might seem apt given the magnitude of the endeavor, it is counter-productive in the longer run. First, although military action is a significant and integral component, a comprehensive counter-terrorism strategy will also have intelligence , diplomatic, civil defense or homeland security, economic, financial , law enforcement, and human rights components in addition to the military component. Second, the war metaphor tends to imply an end point, when in reality the fight against terrorism has no conclusion and must be an integral part of society. Third, the war metaphor might make people feel that the struggle against terrorism is only the responsibility of the armed forces when in fact every citizen has a role to play. Lastly, the war metaphor twists the terms of the debate which can have unfortunate and unintended consequences - examples might be a lessening of concern about our civil liberties that result in inappropriate actions (e.g. certain parts of the USA PATRIOT Act), or a stifling of the debate that is a vital and integral part of our democratic system (e.g. when any discussion over the direction the country is taking is shouted down by people as inappropriate while we are "at war")
  • The complexity of the counter-terrorism strategy with all its different parts places a premium on coordinating the various efforts.Finally, in general the various components of the counter-terrorism strategy enumerated above must all posses the following characteristics:
    • Appropriate funding for long-term viability.
    • Multi-layered, redundant services to provide protection "in depth".
    • Utilization of people with the appropriate levels of expertise and core competencies.
    • Real-time detection and response.
    • Resilient security that is adaptive and can respond to a changing threat environment.
    • An emphasis on partnerships.
The bottom line is that the world is a dangerous place, that terrorism is here to stay, that mitigation efforts need to be continuous and ongoing, and that given the open nature of our society it is impossible to provide 100% protection. However, if a comprehensive systems approach is utilized terrorist incidents will be exceptions and the terrorist threat can be "managed"

Tweets for Today (Dec 30th)

God, "Bob" is really looking old (Robert DeNiro at Kennedy Center Honors) #

Norwegian teen so good at chess he hired Garry Kasparov as his coach #

Tiger Woods scandal cost shareholders up to $12 billion ¤Will have to look at to see how controlled for other variables #

Iran Revolutionary Guards Tighten Economic Hold ¤ Lots of relig prattle but comes down to control of the purse strings #

PCHR: Gaza Christians aged 16-35 denied Bethlehem permit #

US lawmaker: Cut aid to Israel over Gaza blockade ¤ Can say since not seeking re-election #

China Considering Naval Base in Gulf of Aden To fight piracy (cough, cough) #

RT @CindyKing: Top 5 Social Media Articles from 2009 from @smexaminer - See #

Opinion: Understanding the British-jihad link to attacks on America #

Doctors' Spat Exposes FDA Loophole That's quite a "loophole" #

Somali arrested in Nov with powder chemicals, syringe In Mogadishu, Somalia a month ago! #

Spanish wind power meets record 54 percent of (electric) demand #

Fox anchor: "Iran is seeking to beef up its supply of enriched uranium by importing it" ¤ Ore, LEU, HEU, bomb... apparently synonymous #

Prev tweet was teaser before ad break. Rpt said "yellowcake" so person watching all & knowing what it is would be OK, otherwise misinformed # - Flipping TV channels, ran into "Little Miss Perfect, North Carolina". Really creepy! # - Re prev tweet, showing the parents (mothers) - this one the "smallest" of the lot (by far) #

Wowser, buy a private luxury home aboard 'The World' by ResidenSea. Pic: #

Could there be a link between violent Islamic extremism and a specific course of study—engineering? #

Privacy: An Overview of Federal Statutes Governing Wiretapping and Electronic Eavesdropping (179-pg CRS PDF) #

. @dailydish Question is, can this be scaled up? Re: Should We Israelify Airports?: #

Why Did the Bush Administration Send Hardcore Terrorists Back to Al-Qaida? #

Easy Money: Got Change For A Million Silver Dollars? ¶ Deadly sin no 2, avaritia (greed) #

RT @jeanlucr Archivage de sa vie: Un chercheur conserve toutes ses communications sous forme numérique ¶ Pour quel but? #

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Worth repeating?

Following the recent "underwear bomber" (Abdul Farouk Abdulmutallab), discussion re airport and airline screening is again a topic du jour... As always, some folks always say, "Why can't we do this like El-Al? (or Israel)," etc. Perhaps time to trot out an "oldie but goldie," originally penned in January 2002, repeated in June 2008, seen below:

To the rescue? (reprint of OPED7 Israel - Lessons to learn?)

Annie Jacobsen,
writer about aviation security and homeland security, reports that “America is finally showing interest in adopting Israel's approach to airline safety which looks for bombers, not bombs — and won't confiscate your tiny bottles of shampoo,” see article below.

Israeli-Style Airport Security Coming to U.S.?

While, no doubt, there are lessons to be learned from Israel in this area, simply attempting to copy their methods is futile, as this blogger wrote up in 2002, see reprint below:

01/08/2002 OPED 7 Israel – Lessons to learn?

What lessons can be learned from Israel and El Al? Following 9/11 many articles have appeared in the press unfavorably comparing US airport screening and airline security with that of El Al, the Israeli airline. A similar message has been common from television pundits. It is true that that the security screening at US airports has been abysmally poor. It is also true that El Al's security is the 'best' in the business, and certain practices such as passenger profiling, the use of armed air marshals, the checking of every bag for explosives and subjecting them to decompression, the use of a professional security staff, etc. should be adopted here in the US. However, even if the will existed to adopt the same methods here in the US it is not at all obvious that it would be possible to successfully scale up El Al's security from the relatively small number of passengers that they need to screen to what would be necessary in the much larger US market. The following figures give an idea of the relative sizes of the two endeavors:

In 1999 El Al carried 1.14 million passengers worldwide, while (in 2000) US domestic airlines had some 650 million passenger emplanements. In the US in 1998 1,903 million people were screened at US airports (of whom 660 were arrested for firearms violations, and 86 for giving false information).

Thus the two tasks are magnitudes apart, something that is not addressed by any of these commentators. Additionally, given the 'hardening' of this target, terrorists wishing to strike Israel have simply shifted their terrorist actions to easier targets e.g. suicide bombers targeting discos, marketplaces, and other places where groups of people assemble.... Terrorists have penetrated Israel in spite of all the countermeasures in place. Israel's borders are 1,006 km long, the borders of the US are 12,248 km in length and in 2000 they were transited by:

489 million people (142 million by airline from overseas)
127 million passenger vehicles and 11.6 million maritime containers
11.5 million trucks and 202 million rail cars
829,000 planes and 211,000 vessels

During debate prior to the passage of the Airline Safety Act of 2001 there were differences between Democrats & Republicans, and between the House and the Senate regarding the 'federalization' of airport screening personnel. Disagreements were voiced about who could run this function most efficiently, government workers or the private sector. Unfortunately this debate was missing the point. Given the magnitude of the numbers above it is clear that while US airports and the US border need to be controlled to a greater degree than is the case at present, security can not be brought about by mere inspection but needs to be part of a larger system in depth.... Arguing back and forth about who can run this process the most efficiently is a sterile debate... unless airport and border security and screening are part of a much larger and systematic approach to security, the problems of 9/11 can happen again....

Note: Annie Jacobsen's claim to "fame" results from her claim to have witnessed a terrorist 'dry run' on Northwest flight NW 327 in 2004. Some consider her a nutjob. This blogger has no idea re what happened, but is not particularly impressed by this recent article...

Random charts

Tweets for Today (Dec 29th)

Israeli police arrest nuclear whistleblower Vanunu #

U.S. Intelligence Found Iran Nuke Document Was Forged #

And from an alternative universe: NGO Monitor: NGO Report on Gaza: Blaming the Israeli Victims (Again) #

Attack Puts Afghan Leader and NATO at Odds Based on past instances the odds may be with Karzai... #

The World From Berlin: New Airline Security Measures Are 'Blind Overreaction' #

Pressure rises to stop antibiotics in agriculture ¶ Overuse of antibiotics a huge issue #

RT @CatoInstitute Nuc Prolif Update: Incentives for Proliferation ¶ First reason is why US should force UK/FR to denuc #

A Hospital How-To Guide That Mother Would Love ¶ More (fully deserved) checklist love #

RT @Lara_APN With new tenders, Bibi Goes Nuclear on Jerusalem (again) - ¶ A surprise? Why? # Cleveland clinic expanding operations in Las Vegas.. #

RT @kotarski RT @michaeltomasky: Specter lets the truth slip out ¶ But he didn't have a problem until re-elec problems #

Bedside Exam Trumps Scan for Post-Brain Surgery Monitoring ¶ Radiology continues to take a beating... #

WHO chief: swine flu pandemic continues Also, over 11,500 H1N1 deaths ( "normal' flu deaths usually 250-500,000) #

From 2006, how easy it is to take down an airliner Mult other ex of stupidities at DD: #

RT @deremilitari A Peril in War Zones: Sexual Abuse by Fellow G.I.'s. ¶ Grotesque. 2008 rpt #

1/2 Future of Portrayals of Disability in Movies? Cameron's Avatar #

2/2 Dis-ableism: -noun. Idea that if a person gets a physical injury he/she should be happy, lest he/she offend & be accused of 'ableism' #


Recently a plane full of North Korean arms was seized in Bangkok, Thailand. Apparently they were on their way to Tehran, Iran, see 'Report: Weapons flight heading to Iran.' This plane, its route, provenance and ownership, and history are somewhat tangled; the article including references to North Korea, Iran, Thailand, the Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Georgia, New Zealand, Belgium, Malaysia, the Unied Arab Emirates, and Swaziland... Enough to make ones head spin!

Barcode update

Saw the above on YouTube: "The ScanLife barcode reader for BlackBerry can read all major 2D codes like QR, Datamatrix, and EZcode. Now phones with auto-focus cameras can also read UPC/EAN codes from all major products, books and DVDs. Scan a code to see comparison pricing information to get the lowest prices. Compatible with phones like the Tour, 9700, Storm, etc."

OK, so gave it a whirl on my BB 9700. Re-downloaded and re-installed ScanLife to make sure that I had the latest version, grabbed some books, tried... and tried... and tried... a half-dozen times with no success.

Hmm, so do I have the right version? The on-phone help does not list UPC/EAN as supported, and the ScanLife FAQ says "
Most camera phones cannot read a UPC code. Phones that can read UPC codes: Android. Others coming soon"

Sent an e-mail inquiry to the company, will see what they say... The bottom line: if it now really can scan UPC/EAN codes as well, then the application is worth keeping on the BB (which it is not if it only does the 2D codes, which are very few and far between "in the wild.")

Previous entries on this topic:

No luck - Dec 15th, 2009
QR codes to hit the U.S.? - Dec 13th, 2009
Misc. update (BB/2D barcodes) - Aug 22nd, 2009
BB & 2D barcodes - Apr 21st, 2009

Monday, December 28, 2009

Tweets for Today (Dec 28th)

Quick Look Analysis of 2010 Defense Dept Appropriations Conf Report: Porkers Engaging in Usual Tricks #

Chatham House: United States Presidency: First-Year Blues (PDF) #

Militant Iraqi Nationalists Struggle with Approach to al-Qaeda's Islamic State of Iraq #

Securing Vulnerable Nuclear Materials: Meeting the Global Challenge (12-pg PDF) #

Stanley Foundation Winter 2009 Courier: Radioactive Challenge (3-article, 12-pg PDF) #

RT @jranck: Is Your Kindle Spying On You? (Yes.) #

Which is why I have a Sony reader #

RT @RedCross Remembering the 230,000 people killed in the Indian Ocean Tsunami 5 years ago (yesterday) #

2010: China to overtake Japan as the world's second largest economy #

Dried Vulture Brains Rolled Into Cigarettes, Then Smoked for 'Good Luck' Superstition leading to extinction. #

RT @worldmeetsus: Al Mokhtasar, Saudi Arabia: 'Crusader-Americans' Do Nothing As Iranians Invade Iraq ¤ Ha ha #

10 Phrases That Became Part of the Healthcare Lexicon in 2009 #

Half of men fail to check if vasectomy is working, don't do follow-up visit to ensure effectiveness #

New form of malaria threatens Thai-Cambodia border... multi-drug resistant #

'Cadillac' tax isn't a tax -- it's a plan to finance real health reform ¶ Heh, good luck w/this argument # - Light dusting of snow, three days too late for a white Christmas #

.@DTSYVR Actually, specific loan to specific person is *not* how it works (tho great org & I'm a 119 loan member) #

111 attacks by Somali pirates last year, 210 so far this year, despite flotilla of 36 naval vessels in area (heard on radio) #

RT @crusademedia Man aided terror suspect Mutallab onto plane without passport ¤ US gave visa, so he had a passport #

Sunday, December 27, 2009

One year on...

Random chart

Turkmenistan-China natural gas pipeline Source: Russia labors as neighbors do deals

Tweets for Today (Dec 27th)

FBI press release: Nigerian National Charged with Attempting to Destroy Northwest Airlines Aircraft #

Police to put drunk drivers' names on Twitter (Montgomery county, Houston) #

"Not enough negative data to put Abdulmutallab on a "no-fly" list" It takes data & evidence? #

"20 mins in bathroom ... & covered himself with blanket after returning to seat..." ¤Ugh, can see what's coming #

One person's average urine output is enough for a farmer to fertilise a garden of 280 square metres #

You too can track Noelle and Darwinia (leatherback turtles) online #

Stowaway hides in toilet on Haj flight to India #

If these measures really are useful, why only apply to U.S.-bound flights? #

Good excuse for airlines to discontinue providing blankets (to save $) Re: bomber "covered himself w/blanket after returning to seat&qu ot; #

Israel's new occupation #

Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) ; Journalist deaths hit record in 2009 #

Le père Noël dans tous ses états #

Walid Beg: visite du Premier ministre libanais en Syrie est importante pour une reprise saine des relations #

RT @jeffreycarr "7 days" - how DHS/TSA l eadership ignore emerging threats and should be replaced ¶ Ha, nice try #

The Geoengineering Gambit (MIT Technology Review) #

(Audio) Scroogenomics: why you shouldn't buy presents for the holidays #

Local news: suspicious person "locked himself in the bathroom" Hmm, doesn't EVERYONE who goes to the bathroom lock themselves in? I do! # - Tree will be coming down this week... #

Earth-Friendly Elements, Mined Destructively (in China) #

Would Reform Bills Control Costs? A Response To Atul Gawande #

The Coming Clash over "Cadillac" Plans #

German Robot Pigs #

Top 10 Energy Related Stories of 2009 #

The pattern continues II

Beyond the previous blog entry, another "dodgy military reports and/or uncritical press reprinting" issue is the one that insists on portraying the enemy as stupid. Not overtly mind you, but by periodically labeling some tactics and or weapons as "sophisticated" and thus prima facie evidence of external, usually Iranian, meddling. The April 28th, 2008 blog entry, 'Backward Iraqis', and the July 12th, 2008 entry, 'Lobbing (more than bombs)', tackled examples of this (EFP shaped charges; 2007 Karbala attack; and IRAMs i.e improvised rocket assisted mortars Note: shaped charges and IRAMs are in no way 'new' e.g. both used by the IRA in the '90's).

Recently we had a flurry of articles similar to the Wall Street Journal article, Insurgents hack U.S. Drones: $26 Software Is Used to Breach Key Weapons in Iraq; Iranian Backing Suspected, which continued this tradition/meme... Iraqi insurgents suddenly showing evidence of "sophistication," intercepting unencrypted UAV video feeds... hmm, surely foreign intervention!

OK, so this has been reported on since at least 2002 (e.g. a CBS-TV report that showed feeds from UAVs in Bosnia being intercepted...), and know from even earlier in the '90's. Other sensational language exaggerates what has happened e.g. intercepting an unencrypted, over-the-air signal is hardly "hacking", etc. But, when done by insurgents (rubes) it must be "sophisticated" and they must have had help! Great reporting!

The pattern continues

'The Joys of Airstrikes and Anonymity' argues (providing multiple examples) that after every Predator or aerial attack some anonymous U.S. spokesman will make positive claims that are uncritically reprinted by the press. Subsequently many of these claims turn out to be exaggerated or even completely untrue, but that "... no matter how many times government claims about attacks turn out to be false, the American media repeats them ..."

The June 16th, 2008 blog entry, 'Reflex', and a March 22nd, 2002 entry, 'OPED 21 "Straight talk" on Hazar Qadam', had already noted the propensity of the military to reflexively deny ever making any errors... and that after any strike with unanticipated consequences "... the Pentagon’s first reflex after any error is to deny everything, then to deny everything, then to partially admit the possibility of an error (if the evidence becomes irrefutable) while obfuscating the issue, but never to forthrightly admit that an error has been made ..." This practice of obfuscating, dare we call it lying, looks to have changed from being reactive when things go wrong, to being proactive "... and by design, there is never any debate or discussion over the propriety or wisdom of these strikes..." The press by its continued acquiescence in this process aids and abets these efforts...

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Tweets for Today (Dec 26th) - A good romp... (as long as you don't expect fidelity to Conan Doyle) #

Lake Chad: Drying, Drying, Disappearing… #

"Faux gras"? Artificial, vegetarian foie gras? On a testé pour vous, le foie gras végétarien #

RT @climateprogress: Global warming is already speeding up insect breeding ¤ Of course bad, since we classify as pests #

Iran and the Problem of Tactical Myopia #

The U.S. intervention has never been and won't become a force for humanitarianism #

" Fairly sophisticated" my #

Beating The Low Signature Enemy #

The Predator War:What are the risks of the C.I.A.'s covert drone program? #

Sorry, Vegans: Brussels Sprout s Like to Live, Too ¶ Cool info on plant self-defense #

Economists Warn of a Climate Trade War #

Distrust Mires Effort to Develop International Nuclear Forensics Database #

Iran to fire satellites into space in February and March... #

Israeli propaganda campaign downplays the success of the truce #

Detroit Terror Plot Makes 28 Plots Foiled Since 9/11 ¶ Failed, yes. Flubbed, yes. But foiled? Too much credit #

More Questions Than Answers On Iran-Iraq Oil Field Dispute #

RT @antibullshit: Glenn Greenwald - The Joys of Airstrikes and Anonymity. #

Friday, December 25, 2009

Tweets for Today (Dec 25th)

To be a Muslim in India today #

Looking at TIME's Person of the Year, etc. saw a list of "Fond Farewells" 46 is Velupillai Prabhakaran. WTH? #

RT @CindyKing: What it Means to be 'American' #

RT @inteldaily: Pentagon now spending more for war than all 50 States combined spend to run the country: #

RT @factlets Since 1960, avg turkey gained 11 lbs, avg U.S. man 28 ¤ Turkeys have excuse: were bred thus. What's ours? #

Wondering how the economy turned around (such as it is) #

Venezuela's Chavez threatens to oust Toyota #

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RT @jeanlucr: Kim Kardashian paid USD 10,000 per tweet ¤ Ri-freaking-diculous! #

Still wondering

The U.S. economy apparently has avoided the bottomless pit, and yet... This blogger had already wondered back in the June 7th, 2009 blog entry 'So what happened to...' re what had happened to the 'toxic assets' that had been blamed for the downturn... and how the economy was supposed to recover when nothing much was really being done about this "cause" of the problem...

Since then the economy grew in the third quarter of 2009 (initially pegged as at a 3.5% annual rate, which subsequently has been dialed back to a still positive 2.2%), signaling the end of the recession. Growth is expected to continue, although multiple warnings that employment will be slow to rebound continue to be made...

In August President Obama renominated Ben Bernanke as Chairman of the Federal Reserve, and he was confirmed by the full Senate in December. Also in December TIME magazine picked Bernanke as the 2009 Person of the Year because, in their words, "... the main reason Ben Shalom Bernanke is TIME's Person of the Year for 2009 is that he is the most important player guiding the world's most important economy. His creative leadership helped ensure that 2009 was a period of weak recovery rather than catastrophic depression, and he still wields unrivaled power over our money, our jobs, our savings and our national future. The decisions he has made, and those he has yet to make, will shape the path of our prosperity, the direction of our politics and our relationship to the world..."

OK, so how was the economy turned around? Well, the administration shoveled cash into the system, via ARRA spending and tax cuts, "cash for clunkers," a first-time home buyers tax credit, and a variety of other mechanisms. The Federal Reserve also shoveled cash into the system (via a number of mechanisms - some overt and clear, others very obscure...), and in quantities that dwarfed anything that the administration had done. The Fed "... has responded to the evolving financial crisis both by expanding traditional Fed programs and implementing nontraditional programs. The aim of these actions is to improve credit markets through targeted infusions of liquidity and to thereby restore confidence and financial stability..." Just from 2007 to 2008 "... total assets on the Fed's balance sheet are now more than $2 trillion, more than twice the highest year-end total in its history. The doubling in the balance sheet from year-end 2007 dwarfs any other year-to-year increase (the next highest was a 60 percent increase from 1933 to 1934). As of Dec. 10, 2008, total Fed assets were approximately 15.8 percent of GDP, the highest total since the late 1940s. Fed loans as a percentage of GDP stands at 4.8 percent, near record highs, and three times what it was in the 1980s. ..." Mark to market rules were also rolled back... Beyond massive injections of liquidity this blogger hasn't found and/or read any other coherent explanation of how the economy has recovered... and so he is still wondering...

Oh well, Merry Christmas!

Previous blog entries related to this topic:

Random chart... - Nov 7th, 2009
Massive cuts? Or not? - Nov 2nd, 2009
So what happened to... - Jun 7th, 2009
Random chart - May 17th, 2009
Random chart - April 18th, 2009
Held to account? - April 16th, 2009
Automotive restructuring - April 4th, 2009
Theory vs. practice - March 30th, 2009
Random chart - March 18th, 2009
Random chart - March 12th, 2009
Random chart - March 9th, 2009
Random thoughts - Feb 15th, 2009
Rhetorical questions - Feb 11th, 2009
Better charts - Feb 10th, 2009
Random charts - Feb 9th, 2009
Random chart - Feb 8th, 2009
The high and mighty... - Feb 6th, 2009
Stimulus update II - Feb 3rd, 2009
Stimulus update - Jan 28th, 2009
Some recovery info - Jan 28th, 2009
Random chart - Jan 13th, 2009
Irony alert! - Jan 7th, 2009
Misc TARP updates - Dec 20th, 2008
Bailout/handout - Dec 13th, 2008
Recession decision - Dec 11th, 2008
Oh wow - Nov 24th, 2008
The answer? - Nov 18th, 2008
G20 - Nov 17th, 2008
Misc. financial crisis - Nov 15th, 2008
Financial Crisis misc. - Nov 11th, 2008
Goofs - Nov 7th, 2008
The money PIT - Oct 31st, 2008
Repeat question - Oct 30th, 2008
Up or down
- Oct 29th, 2008
Lest we forget... - October 27th
One possible reason... - Oct 27th
Great quotes... - Oct 27th
Thank you California and Florida - Oct 26th
The elephant (and donkey) in the room - Oct 25th
Great quotes... - Oct 25th
Say what? - Oct 22nd
Crisis unfolding - Oct 21st
Once, squared, cubed - Oct 8th
Mortgage mess - Oct 7th
Crash victims... charities - Oct 6th
Executive compensation (Section 111)Oct 4th
MOABOct 4th
Quotes… (updated) Oct 4th
Fingers crossedOct 4th
Great quotesOct 2nd
Wall Street vs. Main Street – IIOct 2nd
Wall Street vs. Main Street Oct 1st
Yet another plan (Soros) Oct 1st
Ouch – IIOct 1st
OuchSept 30th
All about CDSs Sept 30th
Genius!Sept 30th
Crisis expandingSept 29th
Great quotesSept 27th
Redefining “too big to fail”Sept 27th
Crashing the partySept 27th
Rough LandingSept 25th
Confused and nowhere to go (updated)Sept 24th
Street-wiseSept 24th
One can dreamSept 23rd
Government bailoutsSept 23rd
What it took – Sept 23rd
Truth RIP (updated 9/22)Sept 22nd
Vox clamantis in desertoSept 22nd
Finely calibrated reactionsSept 16th
Fannie and FreddieSept 10th
Fannie Mae and Freddie MacJul 24th
Mortgage meltdown (update) - Apr 1st
Mortgage meltdownMar 31st
Housing Stories III Jul 29th
Housing stories – IIMar 6th
Housing storiesApr 5th

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Misc Update

The September 26th, 2009 blog entry, 'UNSC Resolution 1887,' poured a little cold water on the overheated rhetoric re the "historic' nature of the unanimous passage of Resolution 1887 by the U.N. Security Council. The entry made several points, including that the unanimity was achieved by making the declaration sufficiently vague in key areas so that countries with differing agendas could vote for the same resolution without actually agreeing to the substance. Also that "... Although the nuclear powers agreed here to work towards "complete (nuclear) disarmament", who can doubt that this "long and arduous" journey will not be their major focus, and will most certainly be subordinated to the incomparably more important (ahem) issue of nonproliferation?..."

Issues Brief: UNSC Resolution 1887: Packaging Nonproliferation and Disarmament at the United Nations provides much more information on the "back story" - the evolution of the resolution from draft to final version, and country-by-country and issue-by-issue summaries. Its conclusion? That "... the orientation of the resolution clearly emphasizes nonproliferation goals over disarmament, in both the initial draft and the final version of the resolution. The substance of the resolution adds very little to the disarmament objectives already enunciated by the Obama administration..." and that "... Resolution 1887 demonstrates its ambivalence to the NPT review process as a vehicle for serious action. Nonetheless, the revisions made to the resolution between drafts that cater to the NNWS are indicative of the effort, albeit modest, to achieve a successful outcome at the 2010 NPT Review Conference, an endeavor with uncertain prospects for realization."

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