Quotulatiousness

October 7, 2014

Israel’s “Battlefield Internet” at work

Filed under: Middle East, Military, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 14:49

Strategy Page talks about the Israeli deployment of the first reliable Battlefield Internet for ground, sea, and air combat:

The July-August 2014 war in Gaza created some very unpleasant surprises for Hamas, which thought it could risk another war with Israel and come out the winner (to the Arab world at least). Hamas knew that Israel had been working at discovering and countering Hamas tactics, but Hamas was confident they had enough new tricks to stay ahead of the Israelis. Hamas quickly discovered that the Israelis were a lot quicker and better coordinated than in the past. This time around the Israelis learned more from their earlier clashes with Hamas and Hezbollah.

This has happened before, to both the Israelis but mainly to the Arabs. It was only after that war ended that Hamas learned details of what they were up against. It turned out that Israel had managed to create an effective and reliable “Battlefield Internet”. This has been the goal of military communications experts for over a decade. The United States was long the leader, but in mid-2014 Israel was the first to demonstrate a Battlefield Internet that consistently worked under combat conditions. This breakthrough development was largely ignored by the media but military leaders worldwide are paying attention.

[...]

What the Israelis have done with the Battlefield Internet is link everyone involved (pilots, UAV operators, tank commanders and infantry unit commander, plus people at C4i Teleprocessing Branch that managed the flow of data) so all can all see was what each other was seeing of the Hamas commandos. These multiple views eliminated the uncertainty often present when only one view was available. It made all the Israelis involved more confident and that led to speedier interpretation of the situation and decisive action to deal with it. This capability also reduces the risk of friendly fire.

September 28, 2014

Passport revocations for Canadians fighting with ISIS

Filed under: Cancon, Middle East — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:00

It may be little more than a token measure, but the Canadian government is moving to revoke the passports of Canadians known to have gone overseas to join ISIS:

AS WESTERN democracies struggle with how to deal with homegrown terrorists fighting abroad, the Conservative government of Canada has begun revoking the passports of its foreign fighters as well as people still in Canada planning to join them. Chris Alexander, minister for citizenship and immigration, would not say exactly how many passports have been revoked, only that it has been done multiple times against some of the estimated 130 Canadians fighting with extremists, dozens of whom are in Iraq and Syria.

Taking passports away from suspected terrorists is controversial. It gives other countries the incentive to respond in kind, and it severs the route home for those who might be having second thoughts. Human-rights advocates in Canada say the secretive process used to determine whether a person is a threat to national security, one of the criteria for having your passport revoked, allows the government to make arbitrary decisions. These can be challenged in court but only within 30 days of the decision.

[...]

Ever since the attacks on the United States in 2001, Canada has been toughening its terrorism legislation. In 2004 a Liberal government brought in a law allowing it to revoke passports under certain circumstances. This is the power the government is now using. In 2013 the Conservative government made it a crime to leave or attempt to leave the country for the purpose of committing terrorist acts abroad. Earlier this year the government passed a law allowing it to revoke the citizenship — not just the passport — of dual citizens convicted in Canada or abroad of major crimes, including terrorism. Mr Alexander has not yet used this power but says he will do so, despite objections that this creates two-tiered citizenship.

September 7, 2014

ISIS and its local and regional enemies

Filed under: Middle East, Religion — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:27

Strategy Page looks at the various forces and factions opposed to the rise of the Caliphate of ISIS:

In the Middle East Islamic radicalism, and its murderous offshoot Islamic terrorism, comes in many different flavors. Most groups are mutually antagonistic and will often kill each other as eagerly as they go after kaffirs (non-Moslems.) Nearly all these radical movements now condemn ISIL (al Qaeda in Iraq and the Levant) and condemn ISIL for being too extreme. To the West these seems absurd, and many Moslems agree. But radical Islam is what Islam began as and to this day there are always Moslems who embrace the concept of extreme Islamic radicalism and Islamic terrorism as being the ultimate form of Islam. Thus while Saudi Arabia bans all other religions in its territories and regularly beheads people accused of sorcery and other religious offenses, the Saudis condemn ISIL. One reason for this is that ISIL considers the Saudi government weak and not Islamic enough and worthy of being replaced (after a righteous bloodbath of the current Saudi royal family) by someone more suitable (like ISIL). Al Qaeda also condemns ISIL, initially for not ignoring al Qaeda orders to tone down the barbaric treatment (mass murder and torture) of the enemy because al Qaeda realized that this eventually triggers a backlash from other Moslems. Iran condemns ISIL because all Shia (meaning all Iranians) are heretics and deserving of summary execution. Iran-backed Hezbollah is now using that ISIL threat to justify Hezbollah grabbing more power in Lebanon, where Shia are a third of the population but far more powerful politically because Iranian cash, weapons and training have made Hezbollah too strong for the elected Lebanese government to suppress or even oppose. In Syria, the minority (more Shia) Assad government, fighting a Sunni rebellion since 2011, now calls on their current Sunni enemies (Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arabs, plus the Sunni majority in Syria) to join with them in destroying ISIL.

Whatever else ISIL has done it has united many other Sunni faction and the Shia in the region into an uneasy anti-ISIL coalition. But even after ISIL is gone, Islamic radicalism will still be there. For most Moslems this radicalism is like the weather; every Moslem talks about but Moslems cannot seem to do anything to eliminate or even control it.

Islamic terrorism has long been trapped in a self-destructive cycle of its own making. It works like this. Islamic radicals obtain their popularity and power by proclaiming that they are defending Islam from non-believers and sinners (within Islam, often local Moslem dictators). In order to maintain this moral superiority, the Islamic radicals must be better Moslems, and insist that others do as they do. Since Islam is a religion that dictates how one lives, in considerable detail, as well as how one plays, this business of being a “good Moslem” can get tricky. And it is. There’s a race underway by Islamic radicals, and the clergy that provide theological support, to issue, and enforce, more and more rules on how a good Moslem should live.

August 18, 2014

QotD: Police militarization was a response to a problem that never happened

Filed under: Law, Liberty, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:14

Two decades ago violent crime really was out of control, and it seemed reasonable to a lot of people that police needed to respond in a much more forceful way. We can argue forever about whether militarizing our police forces was an appropriate response to higher crime rates, but at least it was an understandable motivation. Later, police militarization got a further boost from 9/11, and again, that was at least an understandable response.

But at the same time the trend toward militarization started in the early 90s, the crime wave of the 70s and 80s finally crested and then began to ebb. Likewise, Al Qaeda terrorism never evolved into a serious local problem. We’ve spent the past two decades militarizing our police forces to respond to problems that never materialized, and now we’re stuck with them. We don’t need commando teams and SWAT units in every town in America to deal with either terrorism or an epidemic of crime, so they get used for other things instead. And that’s how we end up with debacles like Ferguson.

Police militarization was a mistake. You can argue that perhaps we didn’t know that at the time. No one knew in 1990 that crime was about to begin a dramatic long-term decline, and no one knew in 2001 that domestic terrorism would never become a serious threat. But we know now. There’s no longer even a thin excuse for arming our police forces this way.

Kevin Drum, “We Created a Policing Monster By Mistake”, Mother Jones, 2014-08-16.

July 18, 2014

Russia’s foreign policy just went over the ledge

Filed under: Europe, Media, Military — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:24

Tom Nichols discusses what the destruction of Malaysian Airlines flight 17 means for Russia:

Here’s what the shootdown of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 means: Russia, with Vladimir Putin at the wheel, just drove off the edge of a cliff.

Now, by this I don’t mean that the United States and the European Union are going to charge in with a new round of sanctions, provide lethal aid to Ukraine, patrol the skies of Ukraine, or anything of that nature. The West didn’t react in time, or with enough resolve, to the initial invasion and partition of Ukraine last spring, and there’s no reason to think our reaction will be any more effective or resolute this time. It would be reassuring to think America and Europe will now fully engage on the problem of Russian aggression, but it’s unlikely.

As far as Russia’s future is concerned, however, it doesn’t matter. The moment Flight 17 exploded was the moment that Putin’s foreign policy officially went over the ledge, and with it his dreams of restored Russian greatness.

Until now, Moscow claimed it was protecting the interests of Russian-speakers in eastern Ukraine. That was nonsense right from the start, but it was nonsense the Americans and Europeans decided they could live with, as galling as it was. (Who, after all, protects the rights of Russians in Russia? Certainly not Putin.) The West looked away as Putin seized Crimea, as we conveniently convinced ourselves that this was some odd ethnic quarrel in which we had no say. Now that a civilian airliner has been blown out of the sky by a Russian missile, however, there can be no further denial that Russia is actively pursuing a major proxy war against its neighbor in the center of Europe, and with a brutality that would make the now-departed marshals of the old Soviet high command smile with approval. This is no longer a war on Ukraine, but a war on the entire post-Cold War international order.

The Israeli-Palestinian situation is difficult to solve, but not complex

Filed under: Media, Middle East, Military — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:14

David Harsanyi responds to a silly post at Vox by Max Fisher:

    This is the one thing that both Hamas and Israel seem to share: a willingness to adopt military tactics that will put Palestinian civilians at direct risk and that contribute, however unintentionally, to the deaths of Palestinian civilians. Partisans in the Israel-Palestine conflict want to make that an argument over which “side” has greater moral culpability in the continued killings of Palestinian civilians. And there is validity to asking whether Hamas should so ensconce itself among civilians in a way that will invite attacks, just as there is validity to asking why Israel seems to show so little restraint in dropping bombs over Gaza neighborhoods. But even that argument over moral superiority ultimately treats those dying Palestinian families as pawns in the conflict, tokens to be counted for or against, their humanity and suffering so easily disregarded.

A “partisan” writing about a conflict as if he we an honest broker is distracting, but read it again. You might note that one of the institutions he’s talking about is the governing authority of the Palestinian people in Gaza, which, applying even the most basic standards of decency, should task itself with safeguarding the lives of civilians. Instead, it makes martyrs out of children and relies on the compassion of Israelis to protect its weapons. This is a tragedy, of course, but Israel does have to bomb caches of rockets hidden by “militants” in Mosques, schools, and hospitals. Since Hamas’ terrorist complex is deeply embedded in Gaza’s civilian infrastructure there is really no other way. And that only tells us that one of the two organizations mentioned by Fisher has purposely decided to use Palestinian as pawns and put civilians in harm’s way.

It is also preposterous to claim that Israel is showing “little restraint in dropping bombs over Gaza neighborhoods.” Actually, Israel is far more concerned with the wellbeing of Palestinians civilians than Hamas. This week, 13 Hamas fighters used a tunnel into Israel and attempted to murder 150 civilians in Kibbutz Sufa, with Kalashnikovs and anti-tank weapons. On the same day, Israel issued early warnings before attacking Hamas targets – as it often has throughout this conflict in an effort to avoid needless civilian deaths Hamas is hoping for. It was Israel that agreed to a five-hour cease-fire so that UN aid could flow into Gaza last week. It is Israel that sends hundreds of thousands of tons of food to Gaza every year, millions of articles of clothing and medical aid. That’s more than restraint.

[...]

I often hear people claim that the Israel-Palestinian situation is complex. It isn’t. It’s difficult to solve, indeed, but it’s not complex. One side refuses to engage in any serious efforts to make peace with modernity and with Jews. So, for those like Andrew Sullivan and some of the folks at The American Conservative, who argue that Israel is the one drifting from Western ideals, I think Douglas Murray has the best retort:

    A gap may well be emerging. But not because Israel has drifted away from the West. Rather because today in much of the West, as we bask in the afterglow of our achievements — eager to enjoy our rights, but unwilling to defend them — it is the West that is, slowly but surely, drifting away from itself.

Update: Charles Krauthammer says this is a rare moment of moral clarity.

Israel accepts an Egyptian-proposed Gaza ceasefire; Hamas keeps firing. Hamas deliberately aims rockets at civilians; Israel painstakingly tries to avoid them, actually telephoning civilians in the area and dropping warning charges, so-called roof knocking.

“Here’s the difference between us,” explains the Israeli prime minister. “We’re using missile defense to protect our civilians and they’re using their civilians to protect their missiles.”

Rarely does international politics present a moment of such moral clarity. Yet we routinely hear this Israel–Gaza fighting described as a morally equivalent “cycle of violence.” This is absurd. What possible interest can Israel have in cross-border fighting? Everyone knows Hamas set off this mini-war. And everyone knows Hamas’s proudly self-declared raison d’être: the eradication of Israel and its Jews.

[...]

Why? The rockets can’t even inflict serious damage, being almost uniformly intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system. Even West Bank leader Mahmoud Abbas has asked: “What are you trying to achieve by sending rockets?”

It makes no sense. Unless you understand, as a Washington Post editorial explained, that the whole point is to draw Israeli counterfire.

This produces dead Palestinians for international television. Which is why Hamas perversely urges its own people not to seek safety when Israel drops leaflets warning of an imminent attack.

To deliberately wage war so that your own people can be telegenically killed is indeed moral and tactical insanity. But it rests on a very rational premise: Given the Orwellian state of the world’s treatment of Israel (see: the U.N.’s grotesque Human Rights Council), fueled by a mix of classic anti-Semitism, near-total historical ignorance, and reflexive sympathy for the ostensible Third World underdog, these eruptions featuring Palestinian casualties ultimately undermine support for Israel’s legitimacy and right to self-defense.

July 16, 2014

Consistency in US foreign policy

Filed under: Government, Middle East, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:53

Nick Gillespie on why the shift from Bush-era policies in the Middle East and elsewhere to Obama-era policies wasn’t so much a shift as a continuation:

Obama’s foreign policy certainly hasn’t lacked for the use of force. It has, however, lacked for successes, as became clear during an unintentionally hilarious yet telling State Department press conference in May. State’s Jen Psaki said that, in her view, “the president doesn’t give himself enough credit for what he’s done around the world.”

“Credit for what?” one reporter interrupted. “I’m sorry, credit for what?” The others in the room started laughing.

Around the same time, NBC’s Richard Engel, who is not known as a staunch critic for the administration, was asked to name a few countries with which relations have improved under Obama. His reply? “I think you would be hard pressed to find that…I think the reason is our allies have become confused.”

First under Bush and now under Obama, the one constant in American foreign policy is a lack of any conceivable constraint on whatever the president deems expedient at any moment in time. This is disastrous, especially when it comes to military and covert actions, because it precludes any serious public discussion and prioritization.

That’s not just bad for the U.S. It’s also bad for our allies, who have no framework by which to structure their own actions and expectations. The president is allowed to both declare red lines and then to ignore them when they are crossed, to dispatch troops or planes or supplies according to whim. In all of this, Obama in no way represents a break from Bush, but perfect continuity.

As The Daily Beast’s Eli Lake wrote for Reason back in 2010, the roots of this particularly strident new sense of imperial power can be traced back to the authorization of use of military force (AUMF) signed into law just a few days after the 9/11 attacks.

“Just as President Bush said the 9/14 resolution gave him the wartime powers to detain, interrogate, capture, and kill terrorists all over the world,” wrote Lake, “so too does President Obama.” Until recently — and because of pushback from characters such as Rand Paul, his fellow Republican Sen. Mike Lee, and Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden — Congress has been especially deferential to all aspects of executive power when it comes to foreign policy and war-making.

The results are plain to see in the still-smoldering battlefields across the globe and the rapidly deteriorating situations in places as different as Ukraine, Egypt, and even the U.S. border with Mexico. When the executive branch has carte blanche to act however it wants, it can’t act effectively.

July 14, 2014

Militant wings – “the evil twins of geopolitics”

Filed under: Middle East, Military, Politics — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:50

Jim Geraghty from today’s Morning Jolt email:

Ah, the “military wing.” Hamas’ Khaled Meshaal told Al-Jazeera last month, “Hamas is comprised of a political wing and a military wing.”

Really? Because from over here, it looks like a public-relations wing and a convenient-scapegoat wing. “Oh, it wasn’t us that fired those rockets! It was our militant wing!” Militant wings are the evil twins of geopolitics. If your organization has a military wing — as opposed to an actual, declared, uniforms-and-everything-military — you’re probably a troublemaker. You notice the good guys in life rarely have a militant wing. “I’m with a hardline faction of the Red Cross.” “I’m with Mother Theresa’s paramilitary branch.”

These groups really seem to think that the political wing can’t be blamed for what the militant wing does. Guys, you’re two halves of the same chicken. Colonel Sanders just sees one bird.

The Israeli Defense Forces Twitter feed declared this morning that: “Since July 8, 38 rockets fired from Gaza have fallen within Gaza. Hamas fires from civilian areas … and hits its own people.” They’ve also released video of three airstrikes called off because of risk to civilians.

Hamas uses its own people as human shields, in an effort to get international sympathy. How does Hamas continually sell this strategy to the Palestinians? Remember, they’ve won elections! How do you win at the ballot box with the slogan, “To protect ourselves, we’re going to use you and your children as human shields!”? You’re really awful, Fatah; you lost an election to an alternative that promises to get the voters killed!

They may have been terrorists, but they weren’t particularly religious

Filed under: Britain, Middle East, Religion — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:38

Janet Daley talks about two recently arrested “jihadis” in Britain:

In the midst of the deeply unfunny news coverage of the two young British jihadi volunteers who were arrested on terror charges when they arrived back from Syria, there was one moment of comic absurdity. It seems that before setting off on their mission, Mohammed Ahmed and Yusuf Sarwar found it necessary to place orders with Amazon for those invaluable scholarly treatises, Islam for Dummies, The Koran for Dummies and Arabic for Dummies. Hilarity aside, there is something important to be noted here.

First, these 22-year-olds were obviously not the products of some extreme mosque which had drilled them in Islamist fundamentalism. In fact, they were so untutored in the religion to which they were nominally affiliated that they had to equip themselves with a crash course in its basic principles. Nor had they come from families which were inclined to endorse their terrorist fantasies. Indeed, their own parents were so horrified when they learned of the men’s activities that they turned them in to the police. So we need to ask, as a matter of urgency, where it came from, this bizarre determination to be inducted into a campaign of seditious murder that (we can assume from their decision to plead guilty to the terror charges) they fully intended to bring home with them. What causes young men to risk their own lives, and those of who knows how many others, for a cause about which they know so little that they have to mug it up before they catch the plane?

[...]

There has come to be something of a consensus that this is a problem that only the moderate Muslim community can deal with through its own moral authority. But parents as courageous and civically responsible as these two would-be jihadis had are not going to be ten-a-penny. And it is unfair for the society at large to wash its hands and leave it all to the families and the neighbours, most of whom are as new to all this as we are. If too many young Britons are drawn to a hateful, barely understood dogma because it seems to bring some magical sense of belonging, then something is clearly wrong with their lives in this country. There is apparently nothing on offer here that can compete with the promise of exaltation that is available for the price of a plane ticket.

Contrary to all the educational shibboleths of our time, young men are motivated by aggression and power: their dreams are of glorious triumph over rivals. If they are denied these things — even in the ritualised forms that used to be provided by an education system that understood how dangerous male adolescence was — then they will seek them wherever they can be found. Gang violence, with its criminal initiation rites, or Muslim fanaticism can fill a void, offering not just a licence for brutality but for banding together into hostile tribes. There was a time — before characteristically male behaviour was devalued in favour of the female virtues of empathy and conciliation — when these proclivities were dealt with quite effectively by combative team sports and military cadet corps. Institutionalised aggression was supervised by adult authority until the young men grew up and became responsible for their own impulses.

H/T to Mark Collins for the link.

July 13, 2014

Security theatre still running at peak farcicality – no end in sight

Filed under: Britain, Bureaucracy, Government, Liberty — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:59

In the Daily Mail, Peter Hitchins sums up all the individual losses to personal liberty, actual security, and civil discourse bound up in the never-ending security theatre performances at airports and other travel centres:

We have become a nation of suspects. The last wisps of British liberty are being stripped away and, as usual, this is happening with the keen support of millions.

[...]

Then there are the comical new ordeals travellers must face if they are foolish enough to want to go anywhere by plane.

At least they would be comical if we were allowed to laugh at them, but even to joke about ‘security’ in the hearing of some grim-jawed official is to risk detention and a flight ban.

There’s an odd thing about this. We are constantly told that our vast, sour-faced and costly ‘security’ services, and various ‘British FBIs’ and ‘British KGBs’ are fully on top of the terror threat, and ceaselessly halting plots.

How is it then that they claim not to know if harmless aunties from Cleethorpes or Worthing are planning to manufacture an airborne bomb with the ingredients of a make-up bag?

Just in case such a person is a jihadi sleeper agent, she, and thousands of other innocents, must be treated as criminal suspects.

Like newly registered convicts, they must stand in humble queues, meek before arbitrary power.

They must remove clothing, allow strangers to peer at their nakedness in scanning machines, permit inspections of their private possessions and answer stupid questions with a straight face.

They must be compelled to accept this treatment without protest or complaint.

In fact, when we enter an airport these days, we enter a prototype totalitarian state, a glimpse of how it will eventually be everywhere if we do not find a way of resisting this horrible change.

HMCS Regina at sea

Filed under: Cancon, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:49

In Maclean’s, Nick Taylor-Vaisey has a video and photos from HMCS Regina‘s most recent tour of duty.

Peter Bregg boarded HMCS Regina on a fateful day for the ship’s crew. Bregg, a former Maclean’s chief photographer who spent 18 days observing Canadian anti-smuggling operations in the Indian Ocean, arrived in Dar es Salaam on April 21. He left the steamy Tanzanian port city the same day Leading Seaman Brandon South, a sonar operator, died in a nearby hospital, while off-duty, of causes not yet released to the public.

The next day, Daniel Charlebois, the ship’s commanding officer, informed the crew. Morale plummeted, says Bregg. “It was really depressing,” he recalls. “I stayed out of their way and put my camera away.” During a memorial service two days later, Bregg was in a Navy helicopter that paid tribute to the late seaman with a flypast. He called the sombre service “almost like a burial at sea.”

South’s death was a rare dark moment aboard Regina, says Bregg, where the 265 sailors normally kept “extremely high” spirits as they went about their business: maintenance, target practice, personal training, and the self-explanatory “Sundae Sundays.” When necessary, they transition easily between the formal chain of command and lighter moments at sea. While sailors chow down on ice cream or unload the ship, rank dissolves.

June 24, 2014

ISIS rejected Al Qaeda’s “rules”

Filed under: Middle East, Military, Politics, Religion — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:51

In Slate, Will Saletan explains how ISIS deliberately cast aside Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda’s “seven rules for effective terrorism”. Is this evidence that ISIS is too extreme and will destroy itself or is it wishful thinking?

The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria is scaring the hell out of everyone. It has infested Syria, overrun Iraq, alarmed Iran, and convinced U.S. politicians it’s the most dangerous terrorist organization ever. But frightening everyone isn’t a long-term growth strategy. ISIS is destroying itself.

Al-Qaida, the organization from which ISIS recently split, understands this truth. For years, Osama Bin Laden and his lieutenants tried to explain to their affiliates the folly of unchecked brutality. In letters and directives captured in the 2011 raid on his compound, Bin Laden stressed the importance of patience, discretion, and public opinion. His advice, boiled down to seven rules, forms a clear outline of ISIS’s mistakes.

1. Don’t fight civil wars. Bin Laden recognized that battling for territory against local governments was a lousy way to get to theocracy. [...]

2. Don’t kill civilians. That was Bin Laden’s principal regret. He called for guidelines that would instruct jihadists to avoid “unnecessary civilian casualties.” [...]

3. Don’t flaunt your bloodlust. One of the captured al-Qaida letters, believed to have been written by Bin Laden or his aide, Atiyah Abd al-Rahman, urges al-Qaida’s Yemeni affiliate to “stay away from words that will affect the people’s support to the mujahidin.” [...]

4. Don’t rule harshly. Bin Laden was a theocratic fundamentalist, but he cautioned his allies to avoid the “alienation from harshness” that was “taking over the public opinion.” [...]

5. Don’t claim territory unless you can feed the people. [...]

6. Don’t fight with your allies. Bin Laden tried to rein in the fratricidal belligerence of ISIS’s precursor organization, al-Qaida in Iraq. [...]

7. Don’t alarm your enemies prematurely. In 2010, Bin Laden advised his followers in Yemen not to escalate the war there, in part because “the emergence of a force in control of the Mujahidin in Yemen is a matter that provokes our enemies internationally and locally and puts them on a great state of alert.”

June 17, 2014

Game of Thrones lessons learned by ISIS

Filed under: History, Media, Middle East — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:56

I haven’t been watching Game of Thrones, but I’ve seen enough of it that James Delingpole‘s observations seem rather accurate:

Consider some of the Isis footage now doing the rounds on the internet. One video is filmed from the point of view of some young men in car, driving along a highway outside a town somewhere in northern Iraq, looking for cars to shoot up with their AK-47s. The innocent drivers clearly aren’t expecting this. By the time they’re aware what’s going on, it’s too late: soon, their bullet-riddled cars are veering off the roads, their dead or wounded drivers slumped at the wheel. Next, eager as puppies, out pop the jihadis to inspect the damage, gleefully filming their dying victims and then finishing them off. It’s like an episode of Grand Theft Auto Mosul, only acted out for real.

What kind of mindset do you need to carry out this kind of barbaric violence? Well I hesitate to say a “Medieval” one because then the Medievalists get all upset. But let’s agree shall we that it is a mindset almost completely alien to Western Judeo-Christian culture. Yes, there are exceptions to every rule: the obvious one being Germany in World War II. At the risk of crudely generalising though, I’d say that however much society breaks down in the West I can’t ever see any of us reaching the point where we start machine gunning road users just for the sheer hell of it, any more than I can ever imagine us beheading or crucifying prisoners. We got all that stuff out of our system, over the centuries, in a succession of savage conflicts like the Thirty Years War and the Wars of The Roses.

It’s from the Wars of the Roses, of course, that George RR Martin gets a lot of his gory detail, including the kill-or-be-killed mindset of his protagonists. They don’t think like us because they don’t enjoy the luxury of living in a society as advanced as ours. What to us might seem like basic human decency would strike the Game of Thrones protagonists as fatal weakness. Hence, for example, the House Bolton’s practice of flaying its prisoners: a) a dead enemy is never going to kill you and b) it so terrifies your foes that — as Isis have found in Iraq — they would rather flee for their lives than face you in battle.

This kind of insight is, I’m sure, one of the main reasons why Game of Thrones has grown to achieve its status as unmissable, landmark television. Yes, of course, the fine acting, great locations, pert breasts and CGI dragons are a big draw too. But what really makes it stick out is that, unlike almost any other fiction set in the past, it chooses not to imbue its characters with the liberal values of the present. This brutal honesty is at once exhilaratingly novel but also deeply unsettling, for it opens a window onto a world where people may look like us and apparently share the same hopes, dreams and fears as us, but where the progressive pieties to which we’ve become accustomed in the post-war years simply don’t apply. Not only do they not apply but they actually look foolish, counterproductive, suicidal.

June 4, 2014

Sarcasm-detecting software wanted

Filed under: Media, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:02

Charles Stross discusses some of the second-order effects should the US Secret Service actually get the sarcasm-detection software they’re reportedly looking for:

… But then the Internet happened, and it just so happened to coincide with a flowering of highly politicized and canalized news media channels such that at any given time, whoever is POTUS, around 10% of the US population are convinced that they’re a baby-eating lizard-alien in a fleshsuit who is plotting to bring about the downfall of civilization, rather than a middle-aged male politician in a business suit.

Well now, here’s the thing: automating sarcasm detection is easy. It’s so easy they teach it in first year computer science courses; it’s an obvious application of AI. (You just get your Turing-test-passing AI that understands all the shared assumptions and social conventions that human-human conversation rely on to identify those statements that explicitly contradict beliefs that the conversationalist implicitly holds. So if I say “it’s easy to earn a living as a novelist” and the AI knows that most novelists don’t believe this and that I am a member of the set of all novelists, the AI can infer that I am being sarcastic. Or I’m an outlier. Or I’m trying to impress a date. Or I’m secretly plotting to assassinate the POTUS.)

Of course, we in the real world know that shaved apes like us never saw a system we didn’t want to game. So in the event that sarcasm detectors ever get a false positive rate of less than 99% (or a false negative rate of less than 1%) I predict that everybody will start deploying sarcasm as a standard conversational gambit on the internet.

Wait … I thought everyone already did?

Trolling the secret service will become a competitive sport, the goal being to not receive a visit from the SS in response to your totally serious threat to kill the resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Al Qaida terrrrst training camps will hold tutorials on metonymy, aggressive irony, cynical detachment, and sarcasm as a camouflage tactic for suicide bombers. Post-modernist pranks will draw down the full might of law enforcement by mistake, while actual death threats go encoded as LOLCat macros. Any attempt to algorithmically detect sarcasm will fail because sarcasm is self-referential and the awareness that a sarcasm detector may be in use will change the intent behind the message.

As the very first commenter points out, a problem with this is that a substantial proportion of software developers (as indicated by their position on the Asperger/Autism spectrum) find it very difficult to detect sarcasm in real life…

May 26, 2014

Confusion over extent of Canadian involvement in Nigeria’s hunt for the kidnapped schoolgirls

Filed under: Africa, Cancon, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:12

In the Ottawa Citizen, David Pugliese outlines what we know (or at least, what we’ve been told) about the extent of Canadian participation in the search for the kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls:

Geoff York at the Globe and Mail had an interesting article a couple of days ago about what Canada may or may not be doing in Nigeria to help in the hunt for school girls kidnapped by Boko Haram.

The Canadian government has claimed that it has sent personnel, both in a liaison and advisory capacity. The government has said it has sent surveillance equipment but has offered no other details for security reasons. Government officials privately claim that Canadian special forces have been sent.

York interviewed a number of Nigerian military and government officials who question whether Canada is involved or say they don’t have any information about the involvement because they have yet to see any presence of Canadians.

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan expressed his gratitude to the countries helping search for more than 200 kidnapped schoolgirls. As York writes he specifically singled out four countries for special praise — France, Britain, the United States and Israel — but made no mention of Canada.

The two most likely explanations seem to be a) we’re doing nothing particularly useful but our politicians want to be seen to be doing something or b) we’ve got special forces troops in Nigeria, but for operational security reasons, don’t want it advertised even by the host country. Or possibly a little from column A and a little from column B: JTF2/CSOR or CSEC have a small number of operatives in Nigeria, but they’re not considered a major contribution by the Nigerian government (or, more charitably, Nigeria is keeping mum about it by Canadian request).

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