I recently wasted a bit of time reading some right-wing blogs. One thing I noted was the repeated references to news reports about young women from an Islamic background being beaten (and in some cases killed) by their fathers (and other male relatives) for not conforming to some weird cultural ideas that some people associate with Islam. These are spun as examples of Islam being bad and therefore opposing immigration policies that allow Muslims into countries identified as “Christendom” or “The West” (never mind the fact that the vast majority of the population in “Christendom” don’t even attend church twice a year and the fact that Australia is directly south of China, Russia, and North Korea).

It seems to me that when young people follow the cultural standards of the country where they live rather than the standards of the country that their parents came from then it’s evidence of “multiculturalism” working. When young Muslim women are beaten by their fathers whether it’s considered an example of Muslims being bad (and who therefore should be excluded) or an example of Muslims as victims who should be protected is a matter of interpretation. It’s not as if there is any shortage of domestic violence cases from any religious or cultural group.

It’s often claimed that fundamentalist Muslims hate our culture, strangely the same people seem to claim that our culture will be destroyed by radical Islam. These two ideas seem to conflict, if our culture (the pro-science, free-speech, few inhibitions on clothing standards, do what you want but don’t hurt others culture that most readers of my blog enjoy) can be destroyed by radical Islam then they wouldn’t hate it. I think that the reason why fundamentalist religious people (Christians and Muslims) dislike our culture is because it is so strong. Our culture offers a way of life that is simply better than that which fundamentalist religious groups offer. Any religious person can choose to take a liberal approach to their religion (emphasising the positive aspects of giving to charity, being nice to others, etc) and enjoy our culture. Our culture is based around wide-spread communication, mass media, mobile phones, the Internet, custom clothing design, etc. It can do to religions what the sea does to rocks.

It seems that the strongest efforts at attacking our culture come from Christian groups. For example the Exclusive Bretheren [1] runs a high school in my area, according to a local paper it distinguishes itself by having no students enter a university course! The Exclusive Bretheren (and some other radical Christian groups) have a deliberate policy of keeping children stupid with the idea that people who think may decide to change their religion.

Some time ago I had a taxi driver start an unsolicited discussion of religion by telling me how much he hated Muslims. I pointed out the fact that there are Muslims of all races and asked why he thought that I was not a Muslim. After that the rest of the journey was very quiet.

The mainstream media would have us believe that Muslims have some sort of monopoly on terrorism. Noam Chomsky’s paper “Terror and Just Response” [2] is one of many that he has written on this issue. I realise that many people don’t want to acknowledge the involvement of the US government (and it’s allies such as Australia) in international terrorism. But please read Noam’s position (which is compelling) or read his wikipedia page which lists his extensive accomplishments [3] (if it’s the background of an author that impresses you).

Keith Olbermann on Bush

At the above Youtube page there is a video from MSNBC where Keith Olbermann discusses Bush’s record. Before I watched that I thought that it was impossible for me to have a lower opinion of Bush, however Keith’s presentation achieved the seemingly impossible task of making me despise the cretin even more.

Not Visiting the US

I won’t be visiting the US in the forseeable future.

For some time I have been concerned about the malfunctioning legal process and other related issues that arose from the so-called “War On Terror“. But the most recent news is that the TSA may just copy all the contents of your laptop or even steal it [1].

Law enforcement agents can search property if they see evidence of a crime in progress or if they have a search warrant. They can seize property as evidence in a trial, but if the property in question is not illegal then it will be returned afterwards.

The TSA take property from travellers without any reason for doing so and do not return it. This is not law enforcement, it is banditry.

It’s bad enough catching a late train while carrying a laptop and risking a junkie trying to steal it. When bandits have police protection (as the TSA do) then it becomes an unacceptable risk.

The TSA have recently apologised for making people remove iPods and other devices from their luggage [2]. Strangely this has been interpreted by some people to mean that the TSA won’t be stealing data and hardware from travellers. I’m sure that if the TSA was going to stop searching laptop hard drives and confiscating laptops then they would have announced it.

From now on I will avoid entering US territory (even for connecting flights), except in the unlikely event that someone pays me an unreasonably large amount of money such that I am prepared to travel without electronic gear.

I know that some people in the US won’t like this (some people flip out when anything resembling a Boycott is mentioned). I am not Boycotting the US, merely avoiding bandits. If the fear of bandits hurts your business then you need to get a law enforcement system that can deal with the problem.

On a related note, check out the TSA Gangstaz [3] video, funny.

No more War On Terror in the UK reports that the UK government will no longer use the term War On Terror [1]. Sir Ken Macdonald (the UK’s chief prosecutor) said that “terrorists” are criminals and need to be responded to in that way. This of course is the only logical and sensible thing to do. Soldiers who are taken prisoner are released when the war ends, if members of al Quaeda are considered to be soldiers then they would have to be treated in the same manner.

The next logical step is to persue criminals who are members of al Quaeda in the same way that other criminals are persued. As far as I am aware there is no country where the majority of murderers are members of al Quaeda. Other suspected murderers have the right to a fair trial and people accused of al Quaeda membership deserve the same.

Another interesting statement is that “The term “Islamic terrorist” will also no longer be used. Officials believe it is unhelpful because it appears to directly link the religion to terrorist atrocities“. Finally they realise that there is a huge number of Muslims who want nothing to do with terrorism and that such people are the best potential source of leads when it comes to tracking down criminals associated with al Quaeda.

Thanks to Bruce Schneier for blogging about this [2]. Bruce’s blog post has some interesting comments, one is “you can’t make “War” on “Terrorism”. “Terrorism” is a tactic, not an enemy. To declare war on Terrorism is about as confused as declaring war on Blitzkrieg” by Carlo Graziani. Carlo also writes “It’s stupid to declare a “war” if you have no idea of when and how the war will end, and no clue about how to bring it to an end. If there is no real prospect for declaring “victory”, the “war” will go on for ever. This is tantamount to saying that insofar as we take the rhetoric of war seriously, we are agreeing to live under what is essentially martial law, in perpetuity. We are stipulating that the sort of emergency measures that a nation might consider taking in time of war — suspension of civil rights for certain suspect groups, suspension of laws limiting government surveillance powers, etc. — may be only a decree or a vote away, forever. There can be no more corrosive climate to liberty than war. If we really allow this idiotic rhetoric to be taken seriously, our polity is doomed.“.

A particularly insightful comment from umacf24 is “How did the early 20th century Anarchists stop? Well, one of the attacks precipitated an unprecedentedly bloody and catastrophic war in which both sides used WMD. Military setbacks caused revolutions in the Russian and German empires which led in turn to most of misery of the rest of that century. Not a happy parallel“.

Public Security Cameras

There is ongoing debate about the issue of security cameras, how many should there be, where should they be located, and who should be able to access the data.

I spent about a year living in London which probably has more security cameras and a greater ratio of cameras to people than any other city. I was never bothered by this. I believe that if implemented correctly security cameras increase public safety and will not have any serious problems.

A while ago I witnessed a violent assault (which could potentially have ended up as a manslaughter case – it was merely luck that ~200 people got off a train at the right time to scare the attackers off). AFAIK I was the only person who identified themself to the police and was prepared to stand as a witness, without security camera footage the case would not have gone anywhere (I only saw the attackers from behind as they ran off). Security camera footage allowed the police to identify the attackers, my testimony was not required and I was never informed as to how the case proceeded – but I know for a fact that the police investigation depended on security camera footage and that they did make progress in the case based on such footage.

There are current plans to increase the scope of security cameras in many cities under the guise of the “war on terror”. The problem is that once a terrorist is involved in an attack it’s too late for security cameras. Security cameras are really only good for catching criminals after an attack, in most cases they will be entirely ineffective against suicide bombers as the issue of catching them is moot. There have been cases where security cameras have enabled the authorities to identify people with terrorist ideas who were investigating military bases (but I wouldn’t call such lamers “terrorists” as all the available evidence suggests that they would be incapable of succeeding in an attack). However no-one is disputing the fact that military installations need to have good security.

Given that security cameras do provide significant benefits to public safety I don’t think it’s reasonable to oppose them as long as they are implemented in a sensible and responsible manner. Most of the current plans to install security cameras don’t seem to be sensible and have few controls on who can access the data. This makes them good targets for oppressive government actions, organised crime, and even terrorists. The countries that have serious terrorist problems always have problems of terrorists infiltrating government departments and bribing government officials. A centralised system that allows the police to watch anyone at any time would probably do more good for al Quaeda and the Mafia than it would for regular police action.

For the fastest possible response a security camera system needs to have humans able to monitor it’s output in real-time. Having a control-room where police officers can randomly switch between public cameras to see if a crime appears to be in progress is a good thing (and works well in the UK). Of course the actions of such police need to be monitored to make sure that they are actually doing their job (not checking out hotties on the camera – an ongoing problem with security cameras).

Finally there’s the issue of what level of surveillance can be expected in a public place. I think that most people agree that when you enter a government building it’s reasonable to expect that you will be on camera, and many private buildings have security cameras with a condition of entry being that you permit yourself to be watched and no-one seems to be boycotting shopping centres because of this. Significant public spaces such as main roads and public transport also seem like reasonable locations for security cameras.

One location that is widely disputed is that of streets in residential areas. Most people who are happy to be photographed when entering and leaving public buildings such as train stations and shopping centres are not happy to be photographed when entering and leaving their own home.

I think that a reasonable solution to these problems requires the following:

  1. Restrictions on the duration and scope of surveillance in residential areas (EG require police to get court orders for such surveillance that must be periodically renewed).
  2. Restricting the duration for which records may be kept by the police. Keeping any records for longer than the period in question (which would be a few weeks at most) would require a court order.
  3. Prohibiting private organisations from handling surveillance data from government property (including public roads, train stations, etc). There are problems with having a private company aggregate surveillance data from multiple private properties but I don’t think we can address this at the moment.

The Australian Government is a Terrorist Organisation

This article in The Age about Mohamed Haneef shows the terrorist threat that we face.

The chance that I will be injured by Al Quaeda in any way is quite remote. The chance of being attacked by ASIO is a lot greater.

The main benefit of being in a democracy is having a legal system where the defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty and where they have the right to legal representation. The war in Iraq has not brought the US or Australian system of government to Iraq, instead it is bringing Saddam Hussein’s system of government to Australia and the US.

Traditionally under the Australian and US legal systems innocent people are not punished, unlike under Saddam Hussein. Now ASIO has the authority to detain innocent civilians indefinitely if they believe that it helps them in some way – and there is no method of policing ASIO to ensure that even such excuses are met.

Traditionally under the Australian and US legal systems everyone who is accused of a crime is entitled to a trial, unlike under Saddam Hussein. Now ASIO and the CIA have been given the authority to punish anyone without a trial. ASIO can also extend the punishment to anyone who might receive evidence of such actions and publish it (I guess that the CIA can do the same).

Saddam lost the battle but his legacy is winning the war.

For the best definition of Terrorism see Noam Chomsky’s paper. The actions taken by the Australian government against the people of Iraq, foreign citizens in Australia, and almost certainly Australian citizens (it’s not credible to believe that ASIO has such powers and doesn’t use them occasionally on Australians) fits the definition of Terrorism.

Elections are coming soon, both in the US and in Australia. Whatever you do, don’t vote for Neo-Cons (Republicans in the US or Liberals in Australia).

PS Before anyone suggests that I should worry about ASIO kidnapping me in retaliation for this, I’m sure that they know of the Streisand Effect. I’ll try and avoid any unplanned down-time for my blog after this post goes out to avoid false-alarms… ;)

Update: I incorrectly wrote “guilty until proven innocent” above, that is the current Australian government policy not the way it should be.

Correspondent Inference Theory and the US

Bruce Schneier writes about Correspondent Inference Theory which deals with situations when the motives of an individual or group are inferred by the results of their actions. Both his article and the MIT article on which it is based only consider the results of terrorist actions against the US and allied countries.

I believe that this is a serious mistake by Bruce, the MIT people, and most people who write about terrorism. The most sensible writing about Terrorism is by Noam Chomsky. Noam considers the definition of Terrorism in both propaganda and literally. By the literal definition of terrorism the US government is responsible for more than it’s fair share of terrorist acts performed around the world.

There is no reason to believe that people in the Middle-East are any less intelligent than people in the US and Europe. It seems obvious that some of the people who’s countries are destroyed by violence sponsored by the US government will believe that the US is entirely inhabited by blood-thirsty monsters. The number of US citizens who realise what their government does and approve is very low as is the number of Muslims who know what Al Quaeda does and approve of it.

The US government claims that it wants democracy in the Middle-East, and Osama bin Laden claims to want the US military out of the Middle-East. If the US forces were withdrawn from Saudi Arabia then it would probably lead to a significant increase in democracy in the region (it couldn’t get any less democratic) – both sides could get what they claim to want.

The discussion of the MIT paper seems to be largely based on the fact that Correspondent Inference causes the US government (and other governments) to decrease the probability of doing anything that might meet the terrorist goals. But no-one has mentioned the possibility that the same may apply to the probability of non-state organisations doing anything that might meet the goals of the US government. The wars in Iraq and Iran have significantly decreased the capabilities of the US military, they can’t recruit enough new soldiers and the current soldiers have reduced effectiveness due to long tours of duty with short breaks. The US economy is stagnating partly due to the direct effects of financing the wars, partly due to the way the airline security theatre has hurt trade and tourism, and partly because everyone has been concentrating on other things instead of fixing the economy.

When two states have a war there is always the possibility of it being ended by a peace treaty or one side surrendering. With modern communications fighting can end in a matter of hours after a cease-fire has been arranged between states. But when non-state forces are involved things become much more difficult to manage. A state can make a deal with one non-state group only to discover that another non-state group (or a dissident faction within the original group) doesn’t like the treaty and continues fighting. With non-state terrorist acts connected to Al Quaeda in the US, the UK, Spain, and Indonesia (and more acts apparently planned in other countries) it’s obvious that we aren’t going to get a clean or quick solution to this problem.

It seems to me that the only way the US and allied countries can escape from Correspondent Inference is to withdraw from the Middle-East entirely. If the people of Iran or Palestine want to elect a government that you don’t like then let it go (that’s what democracy is about anyway). If a dictator seizes control of Iraq then either leave him in control or provide air-support to any province that wants to rebel and establish a democratic government. Either make a stand on the principle of support for freedom and democracy or do nothing on the principle of letting people in other countries sort out their own problems. An invasion for the wrong reasons might fool people on the other side of the world but is unlikely to fool many people who live in the target country.

Terrorism Foolishness

The Age has published a remarkably stupid article about terrorism titled “It’s hard to prevent the hard to imagine” which contains some amusing statements such as “a plan to use liquid explosives hidden in soft-drink bottles and destroy commercial jets crossing the Atlantic. The scale of this plot, combined with the innovative bomb design, threatened to kill thousands of people and cause massive disruption to global commerce“. This however has been debunked by many chemists, here is one of the many expert analysis of the claims.

Here’s another inane claim from The Age “So the perpetrators in the UK looked elsewhere and compiled a crude yet potentially deadly bomb from materials available in everyday life — a mix of gas cylinders, petrol and nails. Finding a way to govern access to such otherwise mundane items will be expensive, and perhaps ultimately, impossible.“. It’s surprising that The Age editorial team were unable to find someone who knows the basics of chemistry or who has ever had a need to start a fire to review the article. Everyone should know that an oxidising agent is necessary for combustion – and a huge quantity of an oxidising agent is needed for an explosion. Petrol vapour won’t ignite if it’s too concentrated (it can displace enough oxygen to prevent combustion). When a gas cylinder is damaged and set alight you get a fireball surrounding it which may be several meters wide (the one occasion that I witnessed a damaged gas cylinder on fire the fire-ball was about 4 meters wide). But no explosion. To propell nails or other solid objects you need the combustion to be rapid and only on one side of the object. Combustion on all sides (IE a 4 meter wide fire-ball) will not propell nails. Here’s what a British Army bomb-disposal operator has to say about it in The Register.

If you want to talk about dangerous items that are difficult to control how about cars? A terrorist who drove a 4WD along the footpath of Oxford St could potentially kill more people than the London bombings and would take almost no preparation.

The article inevitably concludes with claims about the efforts that al Qaeda operatives are supposedly making to recruit people for terrorist missions. Naturally it ignores the best recruiting method of al Qaeda – the huge civilian death toll in Iraq since the US led invasion. The best available medical research (by researchers from Johns Hopkins University and published in The Lancet – the most reputable and prestigious medical journal) estimates that there were 655,000 “excess deaths” as a result of the invasion in the period up to July 2006. Over the last year the best available reports suggest that the violence in Iraq has got worse (among other things the number of US air-strikes is twice what it was last year).

For more analysis of the fear-mongering being done by much of the media (including The Age) here’s another article from The Register.

It’s interesting to read The Age’s article Truth first casualty of the internet?. Maybe they should publish an article titled Intelligence first casualty of print media?.

The War Was About Oil!

They admit the truth at last: “We need to ensure, notwithstanding the significant natural resources that our country has been blessed with, that we are able to access the energy requirements in our region and throughout the world” said Brendan Nelson (Australian defence minister).

John Howard isn’t admitting it yet, he’s sticking to his lie from 2003 that Iraq had Weapons of Mass Destruction.

terrorist actions I want banned

The current trend in government seems to be to do whatever they want because to do otherwise invites (or fails to prevent) terrorism.

Here are some things that might be done by terrorists which governments should consider banning:

Graffiti – could be used by terrorists to mark locations for attacks or send messages to sleeper cells. It’s already illegal but that doesn’t seem to stop anyone. Send the graffiti “artists” to the same places that they send illegal immigrants.

Spitting in public – could be used for biological warfare (it’s effective at spreading disease).

Putting feet on seats of public transport. Shoes have been used for smuggling explosives on to commercial airline flights and could be used for bio-warfare.

Sticking gum underneath chairs. This is an obvious risk for bio-warfare.

Governments and corporations are banning photography, banning prayer in airports, and speaking in languages other than English. It’s about time that they banned something that is actually bad.