Wednesday, October 14, 2009

War of the Worlds: London, 1898; Kabul, 2009

An unremarkable paragraph in a piece in my hometown paper recently caught my eye. It was headlined "White House Believes Karzai Will Be Re-elected," but in mid-report Helene Cooper and Mark Landler of the New York Times turned to Afghan War commander General Stanley McChrystal's "redeployment option." Here's the humdrum paragraph in question: "The redeployment option calls for moving troops from sparsely populated and lawless areas of the countryside to urban areas, including Kandahar and Kabul. Many rural areas 'would be better left to Predators,' said an administration official, referring to drone aircraft."

In other words, the United States may now be represented in the Afghan countryside, as it already is in the tribal areas on the Pakistani side of the border, mainly by Predators and their even more powerful cousins, Reapers, unmanned aerial vehicles with names straight out of a sci-fi film about implacable aliens. If you happen to be an Afghan villager in some underpopulated part of that country where the U.S. has set up small bases -- two of which were almost overrun recently -- they will be gone and "America" will instead be soaring overhead. We're talking about planes without human beings in them tirelessly scanning the ground with their cameras for up to 22 hours at a stretch. Launched from Afghanistan but flown by pilots thousands of miles away in the American West, they are armed with two to four Hellfire missiles or the equivalent in 500-pound bombs.

To see Earth from the heavens, that's the classic viewpoint of the superior being or god with the ultimate power of life and death. Zeus, that Greek god of gods, used lightning bolts to strike down humans who offended him. We use missiles and bombs. Zeus had the knowledge of a god. We have "intelligence," often fallible (or score-settling). His weapon of choice destroyed one individual. Ours take out anyone in the vicinity.

He made his decisions from Mount Olympus; we make ours from places like Creech Air Force Base outside Las Vegas, and Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Arizona. Those about whom we make life-and-death decisions, as they scurry below or carry on as best they can, have -- like any beings faced with the gods -- no recourse or appeal. Seen on screens, they are, to us, distant, grainy figures, hardly larger than ants. This is what implacable means.

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Activist meeting against the "European security architecture"

European security politics of the last twenty years has increased the potency of social and state control in a prodigious manner. New technologies, legislations, techniques and doctrines were established in the middle of the judicial, police and military apparatuses. The forces of control are merging, while the fronts of struggle are multiplicated.

Conflicts did not miss of course. From popular neighbourhoods to video surveillance, “border management” and "e-borders“, databases, control of telecommunication, new DNA or biometric technologies, satellites and flying cameras, blocking of websites, repression of militants, migrants, “crowd control” at summit protests or alternative cultures as the free parties, the hold of state control stretched.

But resistance is too punctual, located and specific to succeed. Very rare are the initiatives which managed, from demonstrations to direct actions, from meetings to judicial procedures, from speech to riots, to find a long-lasting echo among the population and to really prevent the march towards the control society.

There are many struggles and many actors of those struggles, but there is very little space for meetings and only little convergence.

But there is a need to find a common understanding of the changes regarding the “European security architecture”. Surveillance and control are shifting towards preventive, proactive, preemptive repression. New legislations, guidelines and treaties should help the European Union becoming an own state with more power and institutions, such as the “Treaty of Lisbon” or the “Stockholm Programme”, that should develop guidelines for the next five years of western security politics. The EU wants to set up a new “strategy of security”.

Such is the paradox of the security subject: on the questions of security, new technologies, repression, control of migration and public liberties, the attack is transverse, but the resistance is both generalized and split up.

We are calling for the creation of a convergence for resistance through meetings and political campaigns. We want to try to bring together the struggles from different countries and spectrums.

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More than half of all Swedes will refuse the 'swine flu' vaccination

Since early summer, online Swedish news papers have been letting visitors to their sites take part in polls and answer weather they will take the "swine flu" vaccine or not. Having read most of these polls, I know that the vast majority of them have shown that about 45-50% of the voters will refuse the "swine flu" shot. This stands in stark contrast to the recent government ordered poll of the Swedish population which surprisingly showed that 70% of the people asked had decided to take the "swine flu" vaccine. It is not unusual to use such polls, tweak their results and present them to convince the people to make certain choices. It most likely is a common practice. That would explain the very different results from the poll made by the government and the polls made on sites the government do not have a chance to mess with.

Polls showing a strong unwillingness to take the "swine flu" vaccine are rather quickly removed from the main sites of the Swedish news paper web sites. No articles are writen with a follow up or comment on these results.

Readers comments to obvious propaganda articles in Swedish media have been systematically removed if they have raised valid arguments against the mass vaccination or if they contained links to web sites where better information is available. Placing a link to this web site have been rewarded with quick deletion of the comment. If a propaganda article had overwhelmingly negative response from readers, too many comments to deal with, then the article is rather quickly moved from the front page of the web site. It seems Swedish media have had a lot of work to do while trying to manage readers reactions to the propaganda and to still maintain the official guidelines from WHO and the Swedish government.

For anyone having experience of Swedish news papers, the propaganda machine in this case is clearly obvious, and so much so that even normal citizens in Sweden get an uncomfortable feeling from it and question the bias.

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Who's in Big Brother's database?

On a remote edge of Utah's dry and arid high desert, where temperatures often zoom past 100 degrees, hard-hatted construction workers with top-secret clearances are preparing to build what may become America's equivalent of Jorge Luis Borges's "Library of Babel," a place where the collection of information is both infinite and at the same time monstrous, where the entire world's knowledge is stored, but not a single word is understood. At a million square feet, the mammoth $2 billion structure will be one-third larger than the US Capitol and will use the same amount of energy as every house in Salt Lake City combined.

Unlike Borges's "labyrinth of letters," this library expects few visitors. It's being built by the ultra-secret National Security Agency—which is primarily responsible for "signals intelligence," the collection and analysis of various forms of communication—to house trillions of phone calls, e-mail messages, and data trails: Web searches, parking receipts, bookstore visits, and other digital "pocket litter." Lacking adequate space and power at its city-sized Fort Meade, Maryland, headquarters, the NSA is also completing work on another data archive, this one in San Antonio, Texas, which will be nearly the size of the Alamodome.

Just how much information will be stored in these windowless cybertemples? A clue comes from a recent report prepared by the MITRE Corporation, a Pentagon think tank. "As the sensors associated with the various surveillance missions improve," says the report, referring to a variety of technical collection methods, "the data volumes are increasing with a projection that sensor data volume could potentially increase to the level of Yottabytes (1024 Bytes) by 2015."[1] Roughly equal to about a septillion (1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000) pages of text, numbers beyond Yottabytes haven't yet been named. Once vacuumed up and stored in these near-infinite "libraries," the data are then analyzed by powerful infoweapons, supercomputers running complex algorithmic programs, to determine who among us may be—or may one day become—a terrorist. In the NSA's world of automated surveillance on steroids, every bit has a history and every keystroke tells a story.

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Fungus treated violin trumps Stradivarius

At the 27th “Osnabrücker Baumpflegetagen” (one of Germany's most important annual conferences on all aspects of forest husbandry), Empa researcher Francis Schwarze's “biotech violin” dared to go head to head in a blind test against a stradivarius – and won! A brilliant outcome for the Empa violin, which is made of wood treated with fungus, against the instrument made by the great master himself in 1711.

September 1st 2009 was a day of reckoning for Empa scientist Francis Schwarze and the Swiss violin maker Michael Rhonheimer. The violin they had created using wood treated with a specially selected fungus was to take part in a blind test against an instrument made in 1711 by the master violin maker of Cremona himself, Antonio Stradivarius. In the test, the British star violinist Matthew Trusler played five different instruments behind a curtain, so that the audience did not know which was being played. One of the violins Trusler played was his own strad, worth two million dollars. The other four were all made by Rhonheimer – two with fungally-treated wood, the other two with untreated wood. A jury of experts, together with the conference participants, judged the tone quality of the violins. Of the more than 180 attendees, an overwhelming number – 90 persons – felt the tone of the fungally treated violin “Opus 58″ to be the best. Trusler's stradivarius reached second place with 39 votes, but amazingly enough 113 members of the audience thought that “Opus 58″ was actually the strad! “Opus 58″ is made from wood which had been treated with fungus for the longest time, nine months.

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Wikileaks plans to make the Web a leakier place

Wikileaks.org, the online clearinghouse for leaked documents, is working on a plan to make the Web leakier by enabling newspapers, human rights organizations, criminal investigators and others to embed an "upload a disclosure to me via Wikileaks" form onto their Web sites.

The upload system will give potential whistleblowers around the world the ability to leak sensitive documents to an organization or journalist they trust over a secure connection, while giving the receiver legal protection they might not otherwise enjoy.

"We will take the burden of protecting the source and the legal risks associated with publishing the document," said Julien Assange, an advisory board member at Wikileaks, in an interview at the Hack In The Box security conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Once Wikileaks confirms the uploaded material is real, it will be handed over to the Web site that encouraged the submission for a period of time. This embargo period gives the journalist or rights group time to write a news story or report based on the material.

The embargo period is a key part of the plan, Assange said. When Wikileaks releases material without writing its own story or finding people who will, it gains little attention.

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Pakistanis continue to reject U.S. partnership

Even with the arrival of the Obama administration and the prospect of substantially increased aid, more Pakistanis — an overwhelming majority — continued to reject the United States as a partner to fight militancy in their country, a new poll finds.

The survey, conducted by the Washington-based International Republican Institute, underscored the difficulties the Obama administration faced in its efforts to tamp down Islamic militancy in this strategically vital nation.

The I.R.I. is a nonprofit pro-democracy group which is financed by the American government.

President Asif Ali Zardari, the widower of the slain former prime minister Benazir Bhutto and a relatively inexperienced politician, scored a 25 percent approval rating how he's handling his job, 6 points more than in March.

His chief opponent, Nawaz Sharif, the leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-N, garnered a 67 percent favorable rating, down from 75 percent in March.The findings come as Washington is poised to spend $1.5 billion in assistance for Pakistan in the coming year, a big jump in American funds intended to help strengthen the civilian government rather than the military.

The poll confirms the persistent strand of anti-American discourse in Pakistan in the last few years, and its release coincides with particularly strong attacks in the Pakistani media about the American Embassy's hiring private security firms to protect American diplomats.

~ more... ~

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