Monday, December 14, 2009

Money Talks: The Riyal Truth

Ingenious Iranian opposition members are apparently using paper money to disseminate anti-regime propaganda and challenge the authority of the state on its very own symbol of power, the national currency. According to the Iranian exile website, run from Mountain View in California, opposition activists
"have taken their expressions to another high circulation mass-medium, banknotes. The Central Bank of Iran has tried to take these banknotes out of circulation, but there are just too many of them, and gave up. For the activists’ people it’s a way of saying “We are here, and the green movement is going on”.
In times like these, the "green movement" idea of letting the money do the talking might be worth a try in other countries too. Certainly, this type of free speech is a most felicitous marriage of form and substance - the medium is the message.

Assuming that these sample images are genuine and represent a sense of what a significant part of the Iranian public think, it is particularly interesting to see that the regime is being challenged on the basis of its deals with other countries. Khamenei is accused of being a "servant of Putin" and the government is charged with having passed on the nation's oil revenues to Chavez. The government's relations with China (from where it imports garbage) and India (to where it exports gas) are also slammed.

But the slogans also hit pretty close to home on domestic policy issues. Particularly irksome must be this quote from Ali Shariati, the chief ideologue of the 1979 revolution (all quotes based on the info provided by - I don't claim to know any Farsi):

"Don’t believe what a government says if that government is the only entity that has the right of expression."
Ouch... it's got to hurt for any corrupt, violent, fundamentalist regime that draws its legitimacy from a revolutionary heritage when it is reminded by its own population of its long-lost ideals from 30 years ago. Meanwhile, in my own neighborhood, I will be looking out for Swiss franc banknotes with hand-scribbled demands for nationalization of UBS and Credit Suisse, and calling for the head of Marcel Ospel.

In other news from the Siamese twins of crime and politics (conjoined at the head), The Observer reports that over US$350 billion of drug money were injected into legal circulation (read: laundered) at the height of the financial crisis last year when no other liquid assets were available, keeping several unnamed banks afloat; and last night, somebody wiped that smirk off Silvio Berlusconi's face - throwing shoes is so 2008:

Not that I endorse that kind of behavior. Pronta guarigione, Silvio!

Friday, November 27, 2009


What can I say... this kind of thing wouldn't fly back in the old country... but I am currently in Switzerland, where people still juxtapose words like "Lebensraum" and "Heimat" quite innocuously - in the Migros supermarket.

Back in Germany, the store would be considered to have gotten off lightly if it was only subjected to a boycott and occasional firebombing. I guess I'm not in Kansas anymore. Incidentally, these plastic bars are known in German variously as
  • Transportbandwarentrennleiste
  • Kundenseperator
  • Warenabtrennhölzchen (according to Max Goldt)
  • NäKuBi (short for "nächster Kunde, bitte" - "next customer please")
  • Miendientje ("mine-thine-let", in East Frisia)

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Aoristed Development

ATLAS detector at CERN (2008)

Wait... huh?

France has arrested a researcher at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (Cern) for suspected links with al-Qaeda, officials have said.

"He was not a Cern employee and performed his research under a contract with an outside institute. His work did not bring him into contact with anything that could be used for terrorism".

So: will he, or will he not, have been being bringing about the end of the world as we will have been knowing it? I'm confused. Everything will have been being changed after 9/11! Or does that not apply where aorist is invalid?

Saturday, August 8, 2009

What can a terrorist not do?

While doing research on cybersecurity I came across an article in the Guardian that discussed a study revealing how "terrorists could soon use the internet to help set off a devastating nuclear attack". This study, commissioned by the International Commission on Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament (ICNND), basically warned that without greater efforts to secure global information infrastructure, these so-called terrorists could hack into computer systems and create havoc in the form of a mushroom cloud.

That's right, according to this study there is no longer the need to acquire the nuclear materials when you can simply find the right whiz-kid to hack, hack, and hack away.

Interesting - and yet this study does what so many have done before it... it presents yet another potential, catastrophic way that 'terrorists' could circumvent the system and carry out some asymmetric, dramatic, Hollywood-style attack that would significantly disrupt our world as we know it... well, that is until Arnold Schwarzenegger comes in to save the day. Meanwhile, most groups are relying on classic bombing campaigns (IEDs, roadside bombs, suicide bombing, grenades, etc.) and the more recent swarm-based tactics that we've seen in Mumbai and elsewhere. While the Western world continues to develop more fantastical ideas on what these individuals could do, at this point I'm wondering: what can terrorists not do? A quick internet search of "what could terrorists do" rendered all types of fantastic things; for instance, they could, of course, carry out a nuclear attack (this was the most popular), use insects to carry out biological attacks, employ killer robots, launch satellite attacks, poison our food or drinking water, breed new types of pox, and the list goes on.

Not bad.

Another thing that this article, or rather study, manages to do is follow a much deeper tradition of scenario-construction and 'what ifs' in the world of counter-terrorism that will likely never be held accountable. Like the killer robots or insects, the potential that 'terrorists' could hack into government computers and hit the nuke button continue to feed into a threat-spectrum that grows by the day. However, like most scenarios, they never come true. What they manage to do is construct and distort the capabilities of what a non-state actor is able or even willing to do to communicate a political message. I'm not saying that scenario building is necessarily bad or that we should not look at how dual-use technologies can be exploited, but that we should be tempered in our analysis and look deeper into what today's violent non-state actor is doing and how they're leveraging their environment to achieve their objectives.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Sworn Statements on Murky Blackwater Deeds

According to two affidavits deposited in a federal court in Virginia on 3 August, the then-CEO of the mercenary company formerly known as Blackwater and now rebranded as "Xe", Erik Prince, "murdered or had murdered" Blackwater employees who were cooperating with a government inquiry about the company's criminal conduct in Iraq. Both sworn statements, posted as part of an article in The Nation by Jeremy Scahill, were given by former employees of Blackwater named only as "John Doe One" and "John Doe Two" for their own protection. The second affidavit also says that Prince "views himself as a Christian crusader tasked with eliminating Muslims and the Islamic faith from the globe" and intentionally deployed mercenaries to Iraq who "shared his vision of Christian supremacy, knowing and wanting these men to take every available opportunity to murder Iraqis."

Among the other charges cited in the affidavits and in the article by Scahill - who has written a book on Blackwater's activities - are the following:

  • Erik Prince smuggled illegal weapons ("sawed off semi-automatic machine guns with silencers") and ammunition ("designed to explode after penetrating within the human body") into Iraq in bags of dog food.
  • Blackwater knew some of its staff intentionally used excessive force to injure and murder innocent bystanders, and did nothing about it. Both John Does cite numerous cases where innocent passersby were killed apparently "as a sport or game".
  • Some of its mercenaries used M249 Squad Automatic Weapon ("SAW") machine guns in violation of State Department rules, which only allowed them to use pistols or M4 automatic carbines.
  • Against the advice of other company executives, Prince insisted on deploying to Iraq men who were patently unfit to serve, due to their stated intention to rack up "body counts" of "ragheads", due to alcohol and steroid abuse, or because they ignored safety regulations in operating weapons.
  • Prince also ignored the advice of mental health experts who warned him against deploying mercenaries who were psychologically unfit to serve.
  • He "knowingly hired two persons who were previously involved in the Kosovo sex trafficking ring to serve at relatively high-levels [sic] within his companies."
  • Blackwater ran a "Man Camp" where employees were supplied with prostitutes, including child prostitutes. Prince, the "Christian crusader", also visited the camp.
  • Many top Blackwater executives in the company's North Carolina headquarters took part in an "ongoing wife-swapping and sex ring", which caused so much trouble among the top management that a special investigation was undertaken.
Needless to say, Prince is a generous financial backer of fundamentalist Christian groups, having donated millions of dollars to causes such as The Family Research Council, Focus on the Family, the Council for National Policy, and Watergate conspirator Chuck Colson's Prison Fellowship Ministries. Naturally, he is also a large donor to the American Enterprise Institute and the Republican Party. The company's excellent relations to the Bush administration are further illustrated by the fact that the former director of the CIA Counterterrorist Center and the State Department's counterterrorism coordinator, Cofer "Flies on their Eyeballs" Black, has been a vice chairman of Blackwater/Xe since 2005.

The company has won government contracts worth at least hundreds of millions of dollars since 2001.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Arrested for Watching the Watchers

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? The British police officer used to be regarded worldwide as the epitome of fairness and the protector of the public peace. That was rubbish even back in the old days of course. But, as they say (all together now): EVERYTHING CHANGED AFTER 9/11... Looking at this footage of women being arrested for monitoring the police at Kingsnorth climate camp, I am a lot less enthusiastic at the thought of travelling to the UK next month... welcome to the authoritarians' paradise created by New Labour. The two ladies in question were involved with Fit Watch, the organization that watches the British police's Forward Intelligence Teams (whose job is to harass demonstrators at protests in the UK). More information about the cops in this video and their identities (they are required to provide badge numbers if requested by members of the public) is available at The Guardian and at this Fit Watch blog entry. Oh... need I add that the women were of course cleared of all charges in court, having spent a total of four days in prison without bail or access to their lawyers - just for asking the cops for their badge numbers?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Did Nokia Siemens Network Give Iran Surveillance Technology?

The Wall Street Journal and WIRED magazine are reporting that Nokia Siemens Network, a subsidiary of the German and Finnish telecom companies, supplied technology for monitoring and censoring communications as part of a larger deal for a mobile phone network with the Iranian government late in 2008. According to the WSJ, the deal included provisions for "deep packet inspection", which involves not only the ability to block or restrict access to specific websites, but also the capability to inspect the content of individual communications. The company confirms the deal, but denies that the technology provided allows deep packet inspection, instead claiming that the contract included what it refers to in lovely newspeak as "provision of Lawful Intercept capability":
In most countries around the world, including all EU member states and the U.S., telecommunications networks are legally required to have the capability for Lawful Intercept and this is also the case in Iran.
Whether the requirement by EU and US bureaucrats to include spying/censorship backdoors for law enforcement in telecommunications software is itself legitimate and commensurate to democratic standards relating to the rule of law is of course highly questionable (for the record, I say no). Another matter is whether a European company should sell such equipment to a regime with a record like that of the Islamic Republic, which suppresses free speech (and may have manipulated the elections of last week) as a matter of course. Yet the two issues are closely related. Had the European and US governments decided to defend democratic/civil-rights principles even under pressure from "security experts", it would be much more difficult for companies like Nokia Siemens Networks to defend their decision to trade integrity for profit.

I found this an interesting question to consider in the context of the important role of mobile communications technology for documenting eand coordinating events during the current unrest in Iran.

N.b., not to unfairly single out Iran for violations of privacy, whether clandestine or "legal": It turns out that the NSA, which is able to read the e-mails of all US citizens without court orders using the Pinwale software, has also been accessing the personal communications of former US president Bill Clinton.

Feel free to communicate with Nokia Siemens Networks and their damage control man Ben Roome at this address or via e-mail at They will certainly be delighted to hear from you provided you state your opinion respectfully.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Fox News Obliquely Smears Obama as Jew-Hater accompanied its coverage of the speech by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu with one stock picture of Netanyahu at Bar-Ilan University, and one picture of US President Barack Obama wearing a keffiyah. The latter image was obviously photoshopped; what is interesting is the provenance of this not-very-subtle smear, with its blatant overtones of Obama being a "secret Muslim" and similar debunked nonsense: It is cropped from this picture of a poster seen in Israel, which proclaims "Barack Hussein Obama" (of course!) to be an "Anti-Semitic Jew-Hater":

Now, this is clearly not an error; somebody in the newsroom intentionally selected this picture of Obama to accompany the report on Netanyahu's comments, in which he stipulated that any future Palestinian state would have to be demilitarized and accompanied by security guarantees for Israel. (While it goes without saying that the second of these demands is perfectly reasonable, the first will be unacceptable to the Palestinians and at this point constitutes a de-facto rejection of real Palestinian statehood in the occupied territories.)

The picture was pointed out by a commenter on the extreme right-wing discussion board Free Republic, who called the choice of image "pretty stunning" and said quite rightly that it "seems to be an editorial decision". The next commenter asks "Is there a FReeper working for Fox? I nearly fell off my chair seeing that!", while others gleefully respond with " that a real picture? I like it!" and "Whoa! At first I thought you were pulling my leg but the picture really is on Fox’s site! I wonder how long it’ll be there?".

At the time of writing, the picture was still there, cf. the following screenshot:

By promoting the idea that Obama is a "Jew-Hater" and antisemite, is further stoking the fire of those nutjobs who already feel tempted to take the law into their own hands. Without going into the details of the delicate relationship between right-wing extremists and philosemites (among many militant conservatives in the US, philosemitism frequently appears to be constantly on the verge of tipping over into prejudice against Jews), suffice it to say that casting Obama as a new Hitler, while obviously completely crazy, will egg on those who believe any means are justified in stopping him. FoxNews knows no shame, of course, but they should be called out on this.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

File under: Misheard Lyrics

Charles Manson asks the question that's been bugging me for some time now:

Easy to see how he might have misunderstood some of the lyrics on the Beatles' White Album.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

A Hollow Man in the White House: The Lost Bush Decade

Just before New Year’s Eve, I began reading “The Final Days” by Woodward and Bernstein on the last weeks of the Nixon administration. Not because of any conscious awareness of the imminent end of the Bush era, but simply because it was the first book that jumped out at me from the bookcase in my brother’s spare bedroom in Malta where we were spending ten days escaping from the icy winds that tore across the continent in late December and early January.

The impression one gains from this account and other descriptions of Nixon is that, though he was a crook, he was also a complex person with deep-seated neuroses and obsessions that he was able to harness as vehicles to advance his political career. Even Hunter S. Thompson, probably the most outspoken critic that Nixon ever had, acknowledged in the summer of 1973 that the true loathsomeness of Watergate was to be found not in the person of the president, but in the broader implications for the nation as a whole:
The slow-rising central horror of “Watergate” is not that it might grind down to the reluctant impeachment of a vengeful thug of a president whose entire political career has been a monument to the same kind of cheap shots and treachery he finally got nailed for, but that we might somehow fail to learn something from it.
Only 27 years later, George W. Bush was elected the 43rd president of the United States. It is already clear that his sole lasting achievement and bequest to the Republican Party will be the rehabilitation of Richard Milhous Nixon. And while the legal and moral corruption of the Bush administration is immeasurably greater, making Tricky Dicky’s many crimes seem almost petty by comparison, Nixon himself now comes across as a larger-than-life figure – a tragic character in the full sense of the word, brought down by his own hubris and destroyed by the same traits of personality that made possible his ascent to power. Bush by comparison is a hollow man, a cardboard cutout, a two-bit tinhorn gambler who bet the ranch and lost. His legacy will be that of an idiot child who was somehow hoisted onto the throne and spent his days cycling, playing with his train set, and invading other countries in wars of aggression, ending in failure on an epic scale that was previously inconceivable.

I like children, but they can be stupid and cruel, as Bion of Borysthenes knew well:
It was the saying of Bion, that, though boys throw stones at frogs in sport, yet the frogs do not die in sport but in earnest.
Ultimately, Bush remains a mystery to us; maybe the only ones who can fathom him are those of us who have stared down the drooling, vacant-eyed monster inside of us that occasionally returns our gaze in the mirror at 3am. If so – and we would do well never to forget that Bush was re-elected in 2004, despite all the information that was publicly available at the time already – he represents not the most evil aspects of our political system and ultimately of our nature as political beings (that honor would have to be reserved for criminals of Nixon’s stature), but the most bland, careless, unthinking manifestation of human interaction. Could this be because Nixon came from a poor farming family of Quakers and had to claw his way to power and infamy, while Bush is a Fortunate Son of the establishment and was handed the keys to the White House by a coalition of the super-rich, the foreign-policy hawks, and the Christian Right?

Possibly the worst aspect of the Bush years has been not the political shit sandwich that he has tried to force-feed to all of mankind, but the way in which he has made cretinism and mediocrity fashionable, or at least acceptable in polite society. On the other hand, this development is already beginning to be reversed by the current economic devastation, which has disabused the world of the notion that the emperor’s new clothes are oh so pretty. Thus it is that in the run-up to Barack Obama’s inauguration, the residents of Washington, D.C. were throwing shoes at a blow-up doll of Bush/Pinocchio, even as the jailers guarding “shoe assassin” Muntadhar al-Zeidi in Baghdad threw a birthday party for him (after severely beating and torturing him, it should be added).
“So for him it does not matter for how long he would be imprisoned,” his brother said, “because the important thing is that he restored the honor of the Iraqi people.”
As for Bush, he can take solace in two deserved awards recently bestowed upon him: The Bishop John T. Walker Service Award, which he earned (in all fairness – though it is a shame he did not muster the same level of dedication when New Orleans was drowning) for his efforts to improve the lives of Africans, and a well-deserved label devised especially for Dubya by the esteemed Sean Bedlam:
“He is the Swiss army knife of being a fuckhead”