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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Great Cinema: Lesson 3 - How I Got Hooked


Learning to watch art movies is important. As a very young man I first read about Bresson, Bergman, Hitchcock and Fellini films in columns written in the New York Times, New Yorker magazine and the Philadelphia Inquirer. The writers would gush about a particular movie and then tell you where you could go see such a film. Even in the 1960s and 70s it was not easy to find theaters playing these types of films. There would be a paid ad next to the column describing the movie.

For the first year or so I read about these movies and stared at the small still photos sometimes printed beside them. I saw some on television by staying up late at night. The local community college screened old classic movies sometimes but that was a long walk. Then in 1972, a local movie theater in my little small town was leased by Amos Farruggio, the retired owner of a Philadelphia trucking company. Amos started showing what where then called nostalgia movies along with “second-run” hit movies. My future as movie-buff was assured.

Oddly, I pretty much stopped reading about movies before going to see them. I knew there were articles that dissected the movie’s meaning, along with books about movies and directors. But I found that even the short description of the movie in the paper or on the VCR sleeve was a spoiler so I would try not read them in advance. I wanted my art neat, straight-up and there in my head fresh for me to decide.

Using an 50-year old RCA projector (actually a RCA/Breakert/Simplex) Amos projected films on the screen of a theater built in the 1930s in Newtown, Pennsylvania. Newtown is an old colonial American town. The combination of old town, old theater and old movies somehow became successful. I saw Fellini movies, Bella Lugosi acting, and so many different types of movies available in no other locations.

I was still a young boy and not really permitted to see these movies but after talking with Amos and his wife, when I was caught sneaking in, we agreed I could watch some of them, often from just outside the projection booth up in the balcony. There were times when the place was nearly empty, but I always showed up. On school nights I showed up. I showed up to watch the same movie two or three times. I scraped up coins to buy the ticket. They gave me free leftover popcorn. I was advised not to mingle with the crowds during Intermissions. Yes, Amos gave the viewers an Intermission so they could smoke a cigarette outside the old wooden theater.

Sometimes the movie broke and Amos has to rethread it through the projector. Once in a rare moment a reel got mixed up. Amos quickly fixed the situation but this meant I got to see a scene again. I also came back to watch great movies two or three times. The tickets were quite inexpensive and I was flush with paper route money. I occasionally took young friends but they were bored and the girls sometimes got embarrassed. Classic movies are often more sexy than modern movies.

In addition to being a trucking company owner, Amos was also a projectionist and clearly a cinephile. We talked about the movies before and after the show and during intermissions. I could see the giant projector running and watched him swap the reels, this being nearly as much fun as the movie itself. The movies were sometimes violent or sexy or had foul language but I learned very little new from those scenes alone. I was an avid reader of books and magazines and my family was hardly puritanical.

This was my initiation on watching old movies, reading the subtitles, and enjoying every minute of the show. My head was spinning like the reels themselves during the long walk home. I would pen essays about the ideas these movies generated in my head. I still do, obviously.

In the years ahead I also watched many more classic movies at the nearby community college, in art museums, and eventually on VCR tapes and DVDs. I learned to try to watch several movies by the same director in sequence. I still do this today, watching three or four by  Fellini, then 4 by Hitchcock, then Woody Allen, then Bergman. This is the way you gain a deeper understanding of a particular director’s style.

Great Cinema: Lesson 2 - Get Started Now


Your first assignment as a budding connoisseur of the world’s greatest movies or “cinephile” is to watch Ingmar Bergman’s “The Virgin Spring”, Akira Kurosawa’s “Seven Samurai” and Frederico Fellini’s “La Strada.” You don’t have to watch them in that order or even in the original Swedish, Japanese and Italian, with subtitles. This assignment is not some indication that these are the three greatest films ever made. I provide these three films simply to allow these directors the opportunity to teach you how watching a movie can be a truly life-changing event. If you are unable to sit through through any one of these three movies, perhaps you might want to go back to television sit-coms or modern blockbuster movies.

I want to be very clear from the start. Really great movies are “moving” in every possible way. If  you let them, some movies will crawl under your skin and stay there, for the rest of your life. This is a good thing, for Bergman will teach you an entirely new way to experience what it means to be a human, Kurosawa will demonstrate how great actors act and Fellini will just make you cry like a young lover again and again.

Throughout the duration of this course, we are going to dig deep into even more complex movies than these three great films. You will gain a greater appreciation for many directors currently making movies. I will teach you very little or nothing, I am merely opening doors into classrooms where the most fantastic professors stand waiting to teach you at any time of any day.

If these movies happen to be playing at an Art Movie house in your city, by all means see them on the big screen. Otherwise rent the DVD or stream the movie from Netflix or another source. There are versions with the English language dubbed in, I don’t doubt those versions convey a similar message. I have not watched all of them in English, I rarely can stand to watch any foreign movie with the actor’s original voices dubbed over with some other voice. Watching a movie entirely with subtitles is a skill you must acquire to appreciate the best cinema productions.

There is no point in kidding anyone about this effort you are about to undertake. An appreciation of the best directors, movies, and actors will take time and effort. Many great movies are lengthy, few were originally made in English, most were made with black and white film. You will not like every movie you watch. There are chase scenes, love scenes, horror scenes and of course comedy, sometimes all in the same movie. There are scenes in each movie that will terribly confuse you at first. Each director stamps scenes with almost mysterious precision. You must watch two or three movies by the great directors to comprehend the depths of their perceptions.

There is a pot of gold brimming over at the end of this effort, I can assure you of that without a doubt. It is a reward steeped in human understanding, compassion and heartfelt emotion. You will walk down any street with a greater understanding of what it means to be alive, simply for having watched the movies I am about to introduce to you. Trust me, it is worth the great effort it will take. See you back here soon! 

Note: If you rent the DVD of Bergman’s “The Virgin Spring” be sure to listen to Ingmar Bergman’s October 31, 1975 speech at the American Film Institute in Los Angeles, California. This speech was part of the the Harold Lloyd Master Seminars. It is a treasure of knowledge about film-making.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Great Cinema: Lesson 1 - Cinema Can Be Art


Good evening. Some may tell you of their recent fascinating experience at a local cinema hall. She may describe to you the action and suspense encountered, the emotions felt or the fear conveyed, all through the big screen. I will be seriously discussing those ideas and far more but to a depth and breadth intended to educate and illuminate any serious cinephile.

For the past 44 years I have made it my personal goal to understand the great movie makers. For me this includes actors, directors, camera operators, sound, special effects and costume people though I will focus my lens primarily on directors and actors. This will not only be a discussion of Alfred Hitchcock, Frederico Fellini or Akira Kurosawa and those who worked alongside these people, no, no. While they are listed among the great directors there are many others that deserve not just mention but discussion at length.



Toshiro Mifune, Audrey Hepburn, and Jimmy Stewart will be praised at great length. The performances linked with great directors like Max von Sydow mostly in Bergman films, Takashi Shimura with Kurosawa, Jean Gabin with Renoir, and Ruth Chatterton with Michale Curtiz are well-worth exploring at length.

At times you will hear me elaborate on likes of G.W. Pabst, Mizoguchi, and Bergman. The wonderful French directors Jean Renoir and Robert Bresson, the striking German director F. W. Murnau, Austrian Fritz Lang and the more recent Russian director Zvyagintsev will certainly fall within the scope of this discussion. I will not avoid controversial figures or movies like the Reifenstahl's or Polanski's of this world. Please write me questions or invite me to your university lectures, I am eager to participate in real discussions, while I am still able to do so.

My motivations for screening all these movies were not just about snuggling up against the warm body beside me. For these same 44 years I have been a still photographer and writer. In order to improve my talents I decided from the beginning to conduct a parallel study of the arts . Exploring Degas, Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Cezanne and Monet originals in the world's great art museums alone would not suffice for me, though I do so. I have always mentally placed Fellini, Kurosawa, Welles, Satyajit Ray, Ozu, Lang and Bergman in the same great halls.


I go to great lengths to find works of art. I do not typically view a masterpiece just once. I cannot tell you how many times I have screened La Strada, The Hidden Fortress, Through A Glass Darkly and many, many others. I try as hard as I can to find and watch every movie made by Ozu, Hitchcock, and yes, Spielberg, Kubrick, Scorsese and Allen.

Many question how such a thorough study could possibly accomplished by one man alone. My life is composed of many live human experiences, of that have no doubt. I have lived and worked in New York City, Kolkatta, Port au Prince and Washington, D.C.. I have dear companions who also enjoy movies. I still work and sleep a total of 80 hours most weeks. I will be brutally honest with you about life itself throughout these cinematic discussions. I am able to closely study tens of thousands of hours of classic cinema because I do not watch modern television programming and because I was taught how to manipulate time itself. There will be more about that skill at a time appropriate.

In the days when I still could, I stopped the projector, rewound the movie and played back a scene. Ever since being able control the DVD, I review the credits to learn the names of the crews, I stop critical scenes and ponder the camera angle and I play the movie with different soundtracks, listening to the actors in Japanese, French, Russian, Bengali and English. I also listen to the critics and directors as they watch their own movies.



Much like the movies themselves, there will be an ending to this discussion, no doubt. But that will only come with my unfortunate demise, whenever it happens to occur. My associates have assured me that I have digested and extensively explored too many thousands of hours of classic cinema to take it all to my grave. I sincerely hope you enjoy the show.

Friday, July 19, 2013

From Beslan to Boston, What Next?


Annapolis Half Marathon 11005206

As a result of the Boston Marathon Bombing many intelligence analysts and reporters have been forced to re-examine the role Chechnya and neighboring Caucuses states may play in future terror attacks. Certainly within the Russian government there is no doubt that the Chechens, Inigushetians, Dagestanis and others remain a major threat to internal stability. Nations outside of Russia must now closely study the mindset of the Chechen diaspora to try to understand if the Tsarnaev brothers actions were a one-off event or the start of something even more serious. Serious attacks attributed to Chechen separatists, including the Beslan School Hostage Crisis and the 2002 Moscow Theater hostage crisis must be reconsidered alongside the Boston Bombings. Concrete steps to prevent these gross actions must be taken now.

One may also consider why Russia conducted various military expeditions in the Caucuses region in the first place. This essay will only briefly touch on that subject as the damage to the Chechen mind-set has already been inflicted. Military invasions so rarely seem to achieve stated goals. Modern society must look beyond bullets and bombs towards a more lasting solution.

In order to understand the reach and potential of various Caucuses militant groups we need look no further than the Beslan School Hostage Crisis. Nearly 400 innocent civilians were killed and another 800 wounded in Beslan, a city in the Russian region known as North Ossetia. The hostage-takers were mostly from Inigushetia but also included Chechens and even a few Algerians. Their motives are not entirely clear but there are clear ties to the motives of the Tsarnaev brothers. Muslim people as a whole have grown to feel they are under a grave threat and economically, at least, millions do face tough times.

There were many more participants in Beslan and the planning for the school attack was far more sophisticated but the roots go back to perceived wrongs against Muslim people living in an impoverished region of a mostly Western nation, in that case, Russia.  

Russia has so far refused to allow the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria to declare independence, fearing they would lose the entire Caspian region. The only government to recognize Ichkeria was the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, aka the Taliban-led government in 2000. Various Russian forces have been sent in to the Caucuses region and long and harsh periods of warfare have continued from 1994 to 2009. Yet for hundreds of years before that the Chechen people learned armed resistance and guerrilla warfare techniques and thus a militant society within a society was created.

No nation, even the United States, has ever been comfortable with losing territorial integrity. The split of Timor into East and West Timor was a very violent event. The United States Civil War, one of the worst “separatist” historical events, cost at least 600,000 lives. The split of Eritrea away from Ethiopia was no picnic. The list goes on and on to this day with Syria actively embroiled in Civil War right now.

Years after these Civil Wars take place the people that are most closely involved continue to share their deepest convictions with family and other associates. Dzhokhar’s brother very likely adopted the notion that a terrorist attack would somehow bring attention to perceived Muslim or Chechen persecution. He was able to convince his younger brother that this cause is an acceptable excuse for attacking soft Western targets like a foot race the United States. 

How many other young people could be driven to act in a similar manner?

We cannot quantify these numbers, there are simply too many variables. However we can come to understand that the possibility of another such attack is very real. We can take steps to prevent future attacks. Educating the Chechen diaspora of the pointlessness of brutal attacks on foreign civilians may be such a step. The Boston Marathon Bombings produced little sympathy for muslims anywhere. 

Education is just one long-term solution but one that must be initiated now. Closer surveillance of possible suspects in future Chechen-inspired attacks will be required. The complexity of that task alone nearly boggles the imagination. Chechens have come to live all over the world as a result of the unrest in that region. The majority of these people are peace-loving and productive souls engaged in nothing more than raising families and normal business activities. Yet a slight few are probably engaged in planning the next attack, most likely in Russia but that is no longer a certainty. The huge amount of publicity given to the Boston Marathon Bombings will pique the interests of even more potential attackers.

If the groups are well-organized and led by some charismatic leader like Shamil Basayev we could see another Beslan massacre. If lone wolves get drawn to the cause and inspired by a particular pundit we could see a series of Boston Marathon-style bombings or attacks on transport or infrastructure targets.

Spending a billion dollars on surveillance of all the possible suspects may not be the best use of our resources. Spying on people and arresting potential suspects runs the risk of more people taking offense and likely taking up arms. Certainly we should identify any bomb factories or religious leaders directly inciting young people to violence. But other important steps must be undertaken before the undertakers are overwhelmed with more work.

One of these steps must be to learn as much as we can about Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's conversion to radical Islamic beliefs. Articles such as the controversial Rolling Stone cover story, Jahar's World, among others, represent only a preliminary examination of the phenomena. It is too close to the actual event. The tears have not yet dried. The anger has not yet turned to calm determination aimed at getting to the real causes.

Some in the intelligence community will no doubt claim this type of understanding has already been achieved. More than a decade has passed since September 11, 2001 and nearly 20 years since the Oklahoma City Bombing of April 19, 1995. Hundreds of professors and analysts have poured over the known facts and ideologies behind all types of religious extremism. Important works on these matters such as M.J. Gohari's The Taliban Ascent to Power (2000, Oxford University Press) and Richard Antoun's Understanding Fundamentalism (2001, AltaMira Press) existed prior to 911 but still sit just below the radar screens of the decision-makers.

We may think we know what breeds a bomber or causes a violent uprising but we still don't know enough to stop them before they go off. The lines between domestic terrorism and global terrorism are now blurred but the acts themselves will continue, we cannot forget that for a moment. Complacency may not be the right word, after all the CIA, FBI, NSA, MI6 and Interpol together spend billions of dollars a year, but among the greater population complacency is the right word. Unlike the characters in Terry Gilliam's important film, Brazil (1985), we cannot afford to grow used to the notion that random bombings are just going to happen no matter what we do. The citizens of Pakistan, Iraq and Afghanistan probably already feel this way.

With regards to U.S. actions, it seems only logical that the State Department, Department of Agriculture or the Peace Corps are better suited towards implementing long-term solutions than the Department of Defense. Yet in reality the specific actions taken by private firms would be less suspect and more effective. We can hardly expect General Motors or Proctor & Gamble to open new plants in Grozny, Karachi, Baghdad or Kabul. But major firms all over the world can initiate business partnerships with existing businesses in these places. Universities can establish working relationships with educational institutions outside of the usual European, Asian or South American cities they now associate with. Non-governmental Organizations (NGOs) can start new projects sponsored by various donors, public and private. These are the types of projects that will bring about lasting economic change, hope for a brighter future and reduce the chances of violent unrest or bombings.

Taking the same amount of money we spend on surveillance or more and investing it in job-creating economic renewal projects including schools, offices, factories and cultural centers is definitely a better solution. We must finance projects that reduce unemployment and increase hope for a brighter future. We must get better at countering the arguments of radical imams, rabbis, priests, pundits and others before they incite the more easily convinced that mass murder can somehow solve a problem.  Free speech can work for and against the goal of a peaceful society.  Long-term studies can be conducted to prove this hypothesis but time is of essence. It would be better to start now by improving the quality of life and overall education available to the groups facing the most economic hardship. 

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Observations on Asiana Flight 214


SFO_09352c1shsaC


Briefly, I've made a life-long hobby of studying nearly every National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) report related to highway, rail, aircraft, and pipeline accidents. There are 5 pilots in my immediate family, two actively flying for major airlines and another very active commercial pilot. I passed the FAA private pilot's written exam and the control tower operator's exam, albeit many years ago. I recently worked as a training manager in airline cargo operations for two years. 

These are my initial 14 thoughts and observations:
  1. The plane was landing after a long flight from Seoul. It could not have been carrying very much fuel.
  2. The crew would also be very tired after such a long flight. They do switch crews and carry several pilots but the rest that pilots get in-flight cannot compare to a night's sleep in most hotel rooms. Pilot fatigue can quickly turn into pilot error.  
  3. An experienced, awake pilot at least would have aborted the landing and made a 2nd attempt. Then again, issues can arise at a point when it is too late to abort the landing. 
  4. There was no advance warning or concerns announced to passengers or air traffic controllers. That indicates that this whole thing turned sour very quickly. Landing short of the runway is an error any pilot can make but it would be more likely to happen with an inexperienced pilot. Glide slope indicators and warning klaxons must have been blaring in the cockpit.
  5. There are three people in the cockpit, it is unlikely that all three were so sleepy as to not notice any loud warnings.
  6. It is a very modern aircraft. Flammable materials in today's aircraft cabins have been significantly reduced.
  7. While it appears a botched landing, a failure of landing gear can cause a similar accident.
  8. The crash occurred in broad daylight in clear weather. This tends to rule out weather as a factor though some severe downdraft may have hit the plane at that final moment. The same incident at night or in foul weather would have presented a more confusing evacuation and subsequent fire fight. 
  9. All initial signs point to pilot error, though an unusual failure in some glide slope equipment and onboard computers certainly cannot be ruled out. 
  10. The Boeing 777 is typically controlled by a computer during most flight operations, including take-off and landing. Unlike the newer Airbus models, pilots can actually take full control at any time if needed. 
  11. The flight attendants do not sit back in the tail of this model. There are toilets back there. People would not have been in the toilets during landing.
  12. The passengers were mostly young Asian students. They would be nimble enough to dash off that plane quickly. The same plane full of mostly overweight, out-of-shape Westerners would have taken considerably more time to evacuate.
  13. The fuselage stayed mostly intact. Yes, the tail and possibly the gear was clipped off by the sea wall but the rest of the jet appeared intact. Every break in the fuselage puts passengers or crew at greater risk.
  14. The engines are mounted under the wings, they served to absorb the impact of this extremely heavy jet after the gear was sheared off. The B777's maximum landing weight is approximately 500,000 lbs!
Newark_08876c1
Note: A Boeing 777 is a huge wide-body aircraft capable of carrying over 400 passengers.

7 More Ideas
  1. There were certainly cargo containers in the belly, very likely a full load of cargo containers since the flight originated in Shanghai and then stopped in Seoul. Those two cities place a huge of amount of air freight on U.S.-bound wide body jets. Passenger baggage would take up any other available space.
  2. The wreckage photos being displayed on most major news sites show extensive fire damage to the aircraft. That fire damage occurred after the passengers and crew were evacuated.
  3. The break point for the tail section that fell off must have been at the last row of seats. If the fuselage broke any further forward there would have been more deaths.
  4. The 777 is designed to be evacuated in less than two minutes. Double wide slides allow two people to slide down at a time. There are enough exits and slides on one side of the plane to accomplish the task in the time allowed. 
  5. The crash occurred at SFO. Like most major U.S. airports, San Francisco International airport would likely be staffed with well-trained aircraft firefighters and the best fire equipment. 
  6. The tower would have notified the fire crews upon initial observation of the plane striking the seawall. There other people looking at live video feeds from high-resolution cameras pointed at flight operations from many angles. 
  7. Those airport firetrucks drive rather fast though they must go around other aircraft and avoid becoming part of the accident itself. I believe the glass front windows in the trucks are somewhat blast resistant. Response time is measured in seconds. This is not the situation at every airport in the world.
Postscript: My sympathies and condolences to the crew, passengers and families of those that lost dear ones on Asiana Flight 214. The above observations and hypotheses are simply that, educated guesses.



Saturday, July 06, 2013

Application for the Future

So there's this nurse in charge of the intensive care unit (ICU) at a large hospital. She is looking at a special application on the display of her Apple iPad. The background of the app is the actual floor plan of the ICU. All over the display are these blue, green, silver, orange and red dots. Each dot represents a person or even a piece of medical equipment. The green dots are doctors. The blue dots are nurses and nurse's aids. The silver dots are important equipment like respirators. The orange dots are other hospital staff and the red dots are patients. Our head nurse can touch any dot and instantly see a name and certain vital information.
In essence this ICU would be light years ahead of this hospital I visited in Bihar, India in 1991.
Ananda Nagar, Purulia District 100008

Such an application by itself is invaluable but this application can do so much more. The nurse can touch a red patient dot and see the patient's vital statistics including heart rate, blood sugar levels and  even temperature, among other important stats. In fact, if these numbers are not normal, a patient's red dot will start pulsing to draw attention to itself.

The head nurse can also drag a particular dot to a different location. When she drags a blue dot to red dot, the nurse's aid associated with that blue dot gets a very specific text message telling him to go attend to Patient Z in Room 123. She can even drag the respirator's silver dot to the blue dot and then drag the combination of the blue and silver dots to Patient Z's red dot. The nurse's aid will get a message telling her to take the respirator with her to Room 123.

Implementing this type of application is not as complex as one might imagine. Everyone in the ICU already has a smartphone. A small application is installed on the smartphone to allow the Head Nurse to understand who a particular person is and where there are in the ward. When staff arrives for work they start up the application and soon begin receiving instructions.

There are extra dots in rows along the edge of the application. If our nurse drags one of these dots to the ward, someone gets a phone call asking them if they can report to work early or perhaps return to the ICU from somewhere else in the large hospital.

Putting all the important hospital equipment and patients in the application grid is a more complex task, but not really that much more difficult. Smart devices get attached to key equipment and suddenly they too are visible to the head nurse.

The use of this application is not limited to the head nurse, of course. The hospital administrator uses the same app to monitor what is going on all over the six buildings in the hospital complex. People in charge of hospital planning can review past app activity to see what went right and wrong during a recent crisis. If visitors are given a special badge, hospital security personnel can even have a very exact picture of where everyone in the building is at any given moment. In the end, this colorful little application provides real-time operations status reports and control of the most important functions the hospital provides to patients and the community.

I would hope this application is already under development and perhaps even in-use in some major hospitals. I really have no idea, I just thought it up while sitting here in my home office. I'm already thinking about how this same app can be used by a large manufacturing plant to understand many of the same details in their facility.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

News from the Cyberwar Front Lines

Who has the answer?


Our telephones vex us. We approach computers with fear. This flurry of gadgets dropping all around us leave us uncertain at times. “Did that bill really get paid?” “Why no new emails?” “Did she get my text message?” “Has my network or workstation been hacked?” “Is this app malware or not?
Avocado and MacBook 077481
I work in the front lines of technology. So deep in the forward trenches I am forbidden to discuss my actual work, almost like a Special Forces team member, but in an Internet-based sense, fighting cyberwars rather than gun battles out on dusty plains.
It will surprise some to know that I do not work for any government agency tasked with protecting U.S. networks. I am one of the thousands of gears that keep the network itself grinding away.  Private firms deploy all manner of technicians in order to assist employees and customers with threats, real and imagined. These days the threats are more real than ever.
Millions of devices in North America alone are infected with malware or simply hacked, accessible to anonymous spies sitting thousands of miles away. The infected device may be that phone in your pocket or that old tower computer in Dad’s home office. Dangerous rogue applications could also be roaming the plains of any large corporate or government server farm. 

The problem might have started with an administrator's visit to a new web site hosting fascinating photos. Quite often it starts with some computer code in a cleverly-disguised email. The threat might also be a rogue Android OS application on an employee phone or a gullible person entering data in a phishing web site. The idea of an insider stealing secrets is somehow intriguing but the Edward Snowdens of this world are not a common breed. Employees that are not properly trained in basic cyber-security measures represent a far larger threat.


Who is Watching You?

If you work somewhere with access to sensitive information, your employer almost certainly monitors your activity even more than you realize. Some employers are so busy watching their own workers, they often miss the visitors. Visitors that got a senior employee’s login and password by installing a key logger on an insecure home computer.  The manager logged in to his work network from home to check her email or file a time sheet or submit an expense report. Now the hacker holds that manager’s level of access to the corporate network.

This unsuspecting employee and anonymous hacker partnership often takes place entirely in stealth mode. Your employee may have no idea that he has given an Eastern European or Asian crime syndicate access to files supposedly kept behind firewalls. It is not just crime rings that hack either, governments of nearly all nations employ hardware and software engineers and administrators. Some of that crowd is developing ways to look at and steal the files of other nations and key industries.
An adept hacker knows such access is fleeting, so they may leave behind special software that will transmit stolen data at a later date. A large list of customer names, credit card details and addresses is worth millions. Such items are traded on the black market regularly.

A single stolen drug or gadget design could be worth millions. By stealing the plans the thieves avoid the high research and development costs. It happens more often than you imagine. Look at the designs of products made in different countries, ranging from large aircraft down to microchips. Somebody usually borrowed something along the way. 
Other hackers simply want to steal your network access. They quietly hack into hundreds of connected PCs owned by people in wealthy nations and literally re-sell that Internet bandwidth in the 3rd World. Those collections of zombie computers are called “botnets” in case you haven’t heard. Zombie computers are not rare at all, it may the old Dell or HP in your home office. You let the anti-virus software expire and never updated the operating system. Maybe you visited a website your wife would never have approved of, it only takes a brief second for a script to execute.
Still other unscrupulous types flood the world with unwanted Spam, typically using the very botnets mentioned above. Hardly a month goes by where a friend somewhere does not suddenly announce “My Gmail has been hacked.” I do not call it hacking after I learn their password was 12345678 or “password.” Of course rules exist to prevent such security keys but humans are adept at creating very easy passwords that still meet the system's minimum rules.
My work is technically limited to a certain set of functions but try telling that to the people across the meeting room table, on the other end of the phone line, or  exchanging emails with you. They are in trouble, they encounter me and they are demanding an answer, sometimes in an unfriendly manner.


Next: Technical Threats to Grids

Monday, July 01, 2013

The Nature of Modern Protest Movements


PSU Protest 00689
One must marvel at the resurgence of protest movements all over the world. The Tunisians ousted their leader as did Egypt and Libya. In Egypt’s case the transition out of the 30-year Mubarak defacto-dictatorship was relatively peaceful, though a few did still die for the cause. Bahrain, getting by with the help of their friends, the Saudis, managed to brutally suppress the uprising on their island. The United States Navy breathed a sigh of relief, Bahrain is a port used by the U.S. fleet.

The protests in Russia and U.S. were not allowed to last long. Remember the Occupy movements?

The situation in Syria can definitely been seen as a mass protest, a very violent protest against the 42 year dominance of the al-Assad regime.

In May of this year even Sweden was rocked by a week of protests that roiled into riots across the country. The participants were apparently mostly immigrants, the new citizens of Scandinavia, and apparently not all that happy with their economic situation.

Turkey now joins the list of places in active protest for change, as if almost by obligation to all their neighbors.

China has a major protest going on, but government has such a stranglehold on communication there are not many details on the size and scope of the events.
Tibet Protest Poster related to 2008 Beijing Olympics
The sources of unrest in Brazil, though ocean's apart from the other protests, seem to flow from the same sources. A large part of mankind has not enjoyed the benefits of modern society, at least not for very long. They are not content watching the 1% build mansions of glory with little concern for the source of the sweat that did the actual construction. A few get very, very rich and most just get by.

It is an age-old story, think Communist Revolts, the French Revolution or Roman slave rebellions. These events started out as street protests, then faced a brutal government crackdown and the people came back roaring like a forest fire that destroys everything before it. Governments fell in short order or the protestors turned revolutionaries died in the hands of the army. Very little has changed with those outcomes though the means of communication allow the whole process to play out in days, not years.



New Approaches for a New Age

Some unique protest movements consist of only one person, at least at the beginning. The former NSA network administrator, Edward Snowden, announced his protest against U.S. government surveillance from China, of all places. Mr. Snowden did not garner much sympathy from the very citizens he seeks to protect. He did get some sympathy from other CIA and NSA whistleblowers. Julian Assange and team at Wikileaks love Mr. Snowden’s approach though the amount of support they can offer is questionable.

Perhaps too many average citizens were still rattled from the recent Boston Marathon bombings or the Newtown slaughter. At this point many people want the U.S. government to just do whatever it takes to stop the next gruesome attack. Protests of any sort seem unable to attract enough support, ie. keep people from watching their television shows, eating or rest.  America's last two organized protests, the Occupy Movement and the Tea Party seem stark compared to these vast crowds gathered in town squares all over Egypt, Brazil, Turkey.





Once Is Not Enough

Nobody can assume one regime overthrow will be enough. Mubarak has been gone only a few years and now his successor, Morsi stands under a similar threat. The young people of Egypt now know the ropes, they get out and march quite effectively when protest leaders text.

The focus among researchers becomes a search for the reasons. The how is just as important as the why to leaders all over the world. While each nation does offer unique circumstances for upheaval the common threads are all too obvious. 


They may not exactly know why they have decided to protest on any particular but there they are nonetheless. Turks seem to be reacting to Islamic rules creeping into a relative secular society established by Ataturk more than just the loss of a public park. The park was being replaced with yet another mosque.

Egyptian protests seems to be another reaction to the Muslim Brotherhood leaders weak attempts to impose sharia in one way or another. Morsi probably has squandered this brief opportunity.


The Brazilians did not want to spend one more dime on bus fares while new football stadiums were being built everywhere. 


The Syrians want a brutal leader overthrown.



How?


Social media sites, blogs, email and text messaging are tools young protest leaders easily master. Presidential candidate Howard Dean may have been the first to use these tools on a national scale. Self-publication through blogs and email distribution lists is an easy and cost-effective way to distribute a message, any message at all. The gun lobby has managed to convince millions of the canard that criminals will only be thwarted when everyone carries a firearm. Electronic media such as blogs and industry-supported web sites supplement mass postal mailings from the industry-backed NRA.

Mass movements can and often do have stealth sponsors among the billionaires and corporations. The Tea Party is one example, the Wahhabi sponsorship of the Taliban is yet another.

Leaders of protest movements and rebellions are getting trained in the importance and use of electronic media. A smartphone like the iPhone makes a photojournalist out of an amateur teen that just got caught up in events. Pressing that Send button lets a visual message be automatically posted to a popular web site. Other media outlets can arrange to show the most compelling videos taken moments ago at most protest sites.


How To End Protests

Giving in to the demands of those who protest is not the route most often taken.

Sitting governments can try to block protestor’s telephones from using cell sites or viewers from viewing certain banned web sites. Competition in the cell phone market and the ease of switching web sites typically negate these efforts. Stricken leaders typically haul out the riot police and tear gas when threatened. As soon as leaders do that photos of the government-sponsored violence become fodder for those working to get more protestors to join the movement. The largest protests become beasts feeding on themselves almost round the clock.

Unemployment certainly make a revolution more likely. People with nothing better to do than go out and protest, will do just that if the cause is something they support. Protest movements will typically rail against corrupt leaders and their extravagant spending. The right to vote for a leader is popular cause as well. 

There are hidden drivers mingling in all the protest movements. Religious leaders fire up everyone with provocative sermons on holy days. Easy to remember catch phrases make the ideas quite portable. Those who attend these sermons carry the messages out to many others. Government leaders find it hazardous to jail a popular imam, minister or rabbi. Non-sectarian protest leaders are easier to jail but harder to find.

Religion must not be discounted in nearly every great upheaval. Sunni and Shiite, Arab and Jew still show few signs of settling down together to live in peace. 12-foot high walls do not in fact provide the right conditions for good communities to prosper.

The Taliban cause can even been seen as a type of protest again Western values. Some people actually do believe that blowing up girl’s schools and murdering the teacher is cool. Luckily many do not agree with this particular movement, though the Wahhabis seem willing to continue supporting it.

There’s even a major stealth protest or two going on. A computer hacker group called Anonymous has announced intentions to attack various Internet sites, based on diaphanous set of guiding principles. Still this does fall under the category of a protest.

Gandhi and Dr. King may not have approved of all the methods in use by all the protest movements around the world. They would likely agree that people joining together to seek meaningful change is typically a good thing.