Thursday, 5 March 2015

Internet war

It could be that the last twenty years have been a golden age of the Internet, never to be repeated.

At the moment the domain naming system is worldwide and honoured by just about every country in the world (possibly not North Korea.) There are no serious disagreements about who gets what name and how the routing should work; of course you do get cyber-squatters but basically the system works. (Just for laughs - check out this link: www.loser.com and ask yourself: why?)

But now ICANN is de-registering Crimean domain names in order to comply with trade sanctions imposed by the USA and EU.  We could be seeing the start of a fragmentation of the 'net, with different countries imposing different rules on who owns what domain and how the routing works, ie, you enter www.xyz.com and you see a completely different website depending on which country you're in. Emails to person@xyz.com would go to a completely different person depending on where they originated.

The global nature of the Internet would be lost. The big powers, USA-EU vs Russia vs China, would each impose their own view of the world and escaping from your 'zone' would be difficult and maybe even illegal.

This could hardly be considered progress.

Friday, 27 February 2015

Jihadi John

Jihadi John, most notorious of the ISIS beheaders, has been identified as Mohammed Emwazi, a 27-year-old Kuwaiti immigrant to the UK who lived in West London, studied Computer Science at Westminster Univerity and was already well-known to MI5 and the UK police.

Mohammed at work 

Presumably he is a reasonably intelligent man and one has to wonder what has provoked his murderous occupation.

It is being claimed by CAGE UK, the group which represents former detainees at Guantanamo Bay, that Emwazi was systematically harassed and assaulted by MI5 in order to coerce him into working for them. His tale of woe is documented here.

The story bares some resemblance to that of the "emir" of ISIS himself, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi who seems to have been a mild mannered history teacher until he spent a couple of years in an American concentration camp, picked up during the second Gulf War.

Yet again we seem to have made rod for our own backs.

Relatives of the beheaded want him captured but it goes without saying that the absolute last thing the authorities want is Emwazi back in the UK and testifying in a Court of Law. No, they just want him dead, so likely that is what will happen.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Greece coming to an inflexion point

It's all coming to a head in Greece. They are borrowing to service their €316bn national debt and also borrowing to keep their retail banks funded as Greek citizens withdraw their savings; borrowing from the "troika" of IMF, ECB and EU. About one third of all savings has been withdrawn so far; the withdrawal rate is about €400m per day but is actually tapering off a bit.

The Greek government has €3.3bn left on its line of credit at the troika.

So the Greeks have about a week to ten days before they hit the buffers. Then the Greek government has two options: 1) agree to German demands and ramp up the austerity and the credit limit will be raised, or 2) keep their election pledge to end austerity and the credit card will be torn up.

They do have one tiny glimmer of good news: they have abolished their primary deficit so they do not need to do any new borrowing to fund their day-to-day expenditure. Of course, they still need to sell new bonds to replace old ones that are maturing, ie, roll over the current debt, and they do need to borrow to pay the interest on the existing debt.

It's beginning to look like they will take option two.

At which point they will default on their national debt; stop paying the interest or even redeeming bonds when they mature. This is the "big stick" they have to wave at the world. But it's not a massive stick - the world can sustain a loss of €316bn. The downside to defaulting on the debt for the Greeks is that their High Street banks will run out of cash almost immediately, and without money modern society closes down pretty much immediately.

The "right" move after taking option two would be to leave the euro. The problems here are: it doesn't look like they've made any preparations to leave, printed up a new currency etc, and in fact the Greek people want to stay in the euro; understandably, no one wants their good money taken away and replaced with bad money.

But leaving the euro would solve the absence of cash problem, and would allow devaluation which would kick start the economy. As this blog has mentioned before, the Greeks are very lucky in that their main foreign-exchange earning assets are inexhaustible; these being: sun, sand, sea and culture. Tourism is the bulk of their GDP (plus some  shipping and a few olives) and when Greek holidays become cheap people will flock to Greece (just like they are not flocking to Switzerland anymore.)

So if we're looking at a hurried, unplanned "Grexit" it's going to be messy. Without a new currency ready to roll they will have to impose withdrawal limits at the banks and capital controls to stop money leaving the country. For a time bills will go unpaid and salaries will not arrive.

Ironically, to prepare for this, it would be best to max out the credit card before pulling the plug. The more cash in the economy the better it will survive when the ATMs run dry. So the Greeks should take that last €3.3bn before saying so long suckers, we're leaving.

Then one must ask, once the credit card has been torn up what other sticks do the troika have? And the answer is basically, none. They could in theory threaten to kick Greece out of the EU itself, but realistically they are not going to do that. So the Greeks could be sitting pretty a few months down the line - effectively debt free, no possibility of acquiring new debt, its own currency so all liquidity problems solved, and a buoyant tourism-fueled economy taking in euros and giving change in "new" drachmas.

Monday, 9 February 2015

Pas devant

Samsung have issued a warning about talking in front of their smart TVs.

It seems their voice-activated, net-connected televisions do not behave quite as expected. You would expect that the TV would listen to its owner's voice, understand the commands and carry out the ordered actions, such as changing channel or downloading a movie.

But, no, actually the voice command is sent through the internet connection to an unnamed 3rd party voice-recognition supplier which converts the sounds to a computer language which is then passed back up the line to the TV set which then does the requested action. Which is long-winded but OK, until you realise the TV does not know what is a command and what is not and so passes everything it hears that might be a command to the 3rd party to see if translates to a command it should obey.

The net result is that the 3rd party is collecting a lot of private conversations and possibly some "useful" telephone banking type information.

Probably there is some sort of scandal waiting to happen here, although this blog is not sure what, maybe a back-channel to the NSA, effectively every home so equipped is bugged.

Of course if you have got a mobile phone you are already bugged. The intelligence services can switch them on remotely without any on-screen indication that they are transmitting (except perhaps the battery running down rather fast.)

Friday, 6 February 2015

Burning man

The West has been widely horrified at the burning to death in a cage of Jordanian air force pilot Muath Safi Yousef al-Kasasbeh who ejected from his rather decrepit ex-Belgian air force F-16 when it suffered a mechanical problem while he was bombing Islamic State (IS) positions near Raqqa in Syria.

Raqqa, a disputed city in the north of Syria, is now the effective capital of the Islamic State.

Of course IS claimed to have shot him down with a heat-seeking missile, but that is not generally accepted. Far more likely is a fault forcing him to ditch. The Jordanian army seems to have made a failed attempt to rescue him.



Pilot: Burning, full video here.

Two questions present themselves: why did IS burn him rather than behead him, and why is the world so upset about it?

The burning is most likely because that is what he had been doing to other people. He had been bombing the city and doubtless he burned many people to death - so they executed him in the same manner rather than the more usual beheading.

He was put in an orange jumpsuit because that is what the Americans do to their Islamic prisoners in Guantanamo Bay.

And the fury of the West stems entirely from class. Al-Kasabeh was a pilot, therefore an educated man with a job respected in the West. We could imagine being him. We do not really identify with the goat-herders that constitute most of the victims of IS. He was also more European looking than the usual victim, which gets him more airtime than the two Japanese recently killed. Essentially our fury stems from his being one of 'us'.

Which is nonsense of course. Every person values their own life and their death should be lamented to the same degree. But that is not the way of the Western media.

Friday, 23 January 2015

Leon Brittan, next Jimmy Savile?

Jimmy Savile famously died with his reputation intact and then was discovered to be a monster after his death. Now Leon Brttan is dead and politicians are lining up to praise his memory. William Hague and Ken Clarke have been particularly effusive.

But there are already two question marks over his reputation: that he raped a 19-year-old girl back in the 1960s, and that he 'mislaid' a dossier on paedophiles (the so-called Dickens Dossier) when he was Home Secretary.

Bubbling under we have suggestions that he used MI5 to cover up his own paedophile activity and police were silenced when a naked and abused boy was found outside his house. There are also suggestions that he was the 'senior Tory' who systematically abused boys as reported by the Newsnight programme and wrongly attributed to Lord McAlpine (also now deceased.)

So Brittan's reputation may not outlive him by very long.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Eric Pickles puts foot in mouth

Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Eric "Who ate all the pies?" Pickles, has been prompted by the Paris terrorism to write a letter to 1,000 of the most important muslims in the UK. In it he exhorts these muslim leaders to put an end to the radicalisation of young muslims; in fact he says they are uniquely able to do this.

Rt Hon Branston Pickles, MP

The Muslim Council of Britain sent him a rather sarky response. Their first beef was simply that he hadn't included them in the 1,000 most important muslims. The MCB considers itself the voice for muslims in Britain (they don't bother calling it Great Britain anymore) and being left off the list gnawed at their amour propre.

They go on to aver that they have nothing to prove when it comes to Britishness, assert that the country is "ours" and resent the implication that extremists are somehow created in mosques.

Pickles can do no right it seems.

The MCB btw is actually a Pakistani organisation which claims to represent all UK muslims but largely excludes the Arab contingent, which in turn resents them right back.

Bizarrely Pickles spends a lot of the letter worrying about hatred of muslims and letting these 1,000 top men know of the many ways they can report any "hate crimes" against muslims that may have been provoked by muslims killing police and cartoonists in France. He goes on to revile the EDL and Britain First and their thuggish ways. ("Thug" is a Hindi word and these blog is minded to report Jabba the Pickle for even using it - hate speech surely?!)

But this blog is far more concerned about how the BNP seems to have been left off the list of untouchables (oops!) Did he just forget them, or is he admitting that the BNP is not thuggish? Some clarification is required here. And how does he even know about Britain First? BF is a small, recent organisation which splintered off from the BNP a year or so ago (they flounced out when Nick the Griff got re-elected as Chairman.) Frankly BF should be flattered to be on the Hut's radar at all. And the EDL has been defunct since Tommy Robinson quit as leader; ministerial radar not so good after all.

Anyway, it all goes to show - there is really no pleasing some people.