Interpol Arrests Anonymous Members

The Interpol Website, via "Liquid Mud" BlogThe inherently political nature of the activity, the short lead-up time to the arrests, and the (alleged) dynamics of the group are all interesting. From the NY Times:

The arrests followed an ongoing investigation begun in mid-February, which comprised searches of 40 locations in 15 cities and included the seizure of 250 pieces of information technology equipment and mobile phones, Interpol said.

Among the 25 people arrested were four suspected Anonymous hackers seized in connection with attacks on Spanish political party Web sites, the Spanish police announced. A national police statement said two servers used by the group in Bulgaria and the Czech Republic have been blocked. It said the four arrested included the suspected manager of Anonymous’s computer operations in Spain and Latin America, who was identified only by his initials and the aliases “Thunder” and “Pacotron.”

The four are suspected of defacing websites, carrying out denial-of-service attacks and publishing data online about police assigned to the royal palace and the premier’s office.

Anonymous has no real membership structure. Hackers, activists, and supporters can claim allegiance to its freewheeling principles so it is not clear what impact the arrests will have. Some Internet chatter appeared to point to the possibility of a revenge attack on Interpol’s Web site, but the police organization’s home page appeared to be operating normally late Tuesday.

Wednesday Nerd Fun: The Hollywood Operating System

Sandra Bullock in "The Net"

There are a whole host of movie occurrences that differ with reality, and scientists/programmers/nerds differ in their willingness to suspend disbelief. If you are on the lower end of that spectrum, or just get a laugh at how badly Hollywood misunderstands technology, you should enjoy today’s oldie-but-goodie midweek joke. Over at we find the development guidelines for the operating system that every movie computer seems to use. Here are my favorites:

1. Any PERMISSION DENIED has an OVERRIDE function.

2. Complex calculations and loading of huge amounts of data will be accomplished in under three seconds. In the movies, modems transmit data at two gigabytes per second.

3. When the power plant/missile site/whatever overheats, all the control panels will explode, as will the entire building.

6. No matter what kind of computer disk it is, it'll be readable by any system you put it into. All application software is usable by all computer platforms.

7. The more high-tech the equipment, the more buttons it has. However, everyone must have been highly trained, because the buttons aren't labeled.

17. All text must be at least 72 point.

33. Computers with touch screen interfaces are noisy.

Can you think of any others?

Call for Papers: The Internet and Campaign 2012

Last week the North Carolina Political Science Association (NCPSA) held its annual meeting in Durham. I had the sincere please of meeting many scholars there, including Jody Baumgartner. He sends this call for papers:

This special issue of SSCOR (NB: Social Science Computer Review) will be devoted to the continued evolution of the Internet’s role in political campaigns, focusing on the campaign of 2012. While the emphasis will be on the presidential campaign, articles that focus on sub-presidential politics will be welcomed, especially if it can be argued that what is seen in the sub-presidential campaign(s) in question reflect a larger trend. Although the natural focus of an issue devoted to a presidential election will be on politics, manuscripts from all social science disciplines will be welcomed. Articles should, however, emphasize how the 2012 elections inform some aspect of social science theory.

If interested, please send a 2-3 paragraph proposal, including full contact information and a brief bio (75-100 words) to <>.

Update on Saeed Malekpour, Imprisoned Programmer

I first mentioned the case of the Canadian-Iranian programmer sentenced to death here. There have been several developments since then, which I round up here.

CNN on the reliability of the Iranian judicial system:

Malekpour, who is a Toronto resident, was arrested in October 2008 while visiting relatives in Iran. He was convicted in a short trial and was sentenced to death in October 2011, according to Amnesty International.

Iran’s Supreme Court confirmed the sentence on January 17. Malekpour’s lawyers have been unable to ascertain the whereabouts of his court files since Tuesday and fear this could be an indicator that an executioner could carry out the sentence soon, Amnesty said. A court official suggested to the lawyers that the file had been sent to the Office for the Implementation of Sentences, according to Amnesty.

Toronto Star on the political climate in Iran:

Human rights monitors say executions in Iran have been accelerating at an alarming pace. Amnesty International’s official count for 2010 was 252, but the actual number is believed to be double that — more than 600 people in 2011, and 59 last month alone….

Since Malekpour’s arrest, the Revolutionary Guard has accelerated its assault on the Internet. A March 2 parliamentary election is nearing, and with it efforts to stamp out the kind of social networking that led to the Arab Spring.

National Post on Canada’s reaction:

Twenty-five senators called Tuesday for the immediate release of 25 political prisoners in Iran, including a computer programmer and Canadian resident who is now on death row….

Relations between Canada and Iran are at their lowest point in decades, as Canada and its allies step up sanctions in a so-far futile attempt to curb Tehran’s nuclear ambitions. On Jan. 31, Canada ratcheted up sanctions again, freezing assets of Iranian officials and entities.

It seems significant that Iran will hold a civilian programmer for 1,238 days (and counting) for political crimes, when back in 2007 it held British navy personnel for just 13 days. Whether the Canadian government will be able to send a credible signal that it values Saeed’s release remains to be seen.

Iran appears to be increasingly willing to upset the international community. Hopefully Iranian leaders do not take up the mindset that Saddam Hussein had in 1990-1 that war has already become inevitable. When one side believes that, it is usually right.

Three AQIM Leaders Killed

Algeria kills three leaders of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM, French: AQMI) and provides their names. The original French version is here. I ran it through Google Translate, and fixed obviously incorrect renderings here, with the original in parentheses:

The search operation conducted by security forces in the Boumerdes region has resulted in the elimination of three “emirs” of Al Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), which are among the eleven terrorists killed by the army between Monday and Tuesday on the mountains of Beni Khelifa, overlooking the town of Beni Amrane, southeast of Boumerdes, does one has learned this Wednesday from local sources.

The three identified are issued Doulache Abdelmalek, an explosives expert (artificier) of the terrorist group working (activant) in Beni Amrane, Tarek Hadjeress [of the] group [in] Djerah and Aït Messouadene Rafik, emir of the group of Thenia. A fourth terrorist, Ahmed Mazouh, working with the group in (activant au sein du groupe) Djerah, was also identified by the security services who continue the identification process of the other seven terrorists killed.

I obviously did not correct run-on sentences. Anyone with a better translation is welcome to comment.

Defeating ACTA

Source: geekosystem

From Wired:

ACTA, or the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, is an international treaty that was negotiated in secret over the span of four years. While the provisions are currently public, their genesis was hidden from democratic scrutiny, and most nations signed on to ACTA without any chance for their citizenry to review or comment on the process. Beyond its undemocratic origins, it’s often unclear how ACTA’s requirements would be implemented, or could be implemented without creating a technical architecture online that restricts speech. For instance, ACTA’s harsh DMCA-like provisions against anti-circumvention could effectively render some free software, which by its nature can’t support DRM, illegal in the Western world.

Many in Europe, and especially the former Soviet-controlled countries like Poland, are sensitive to anything that smacks of censorship. Activists in places like Poland and Germany saw the specter of authoritarian control in both the secretive imposition of ACTA and in the possible consequences of its technical provisions. The American architects of ACTA, not having had the recent experience of oppression, seem to have often been tone-deaf to the European fears.

I am currently reading Mark Helprin’s Digital Barbarism for a counterpoint to my views on intellectual property in the age of the internet. Expect a full-length post when I’m done.

How Nuclear Physicists Relax

Genuine nerd fun for your Wednesday:

Hans Bethe skiing, screenshot via Alex Wellerstein

Los Alamos National Lab (LANL) recently released footage of Manhattan Project scientists relaxing in their free time. The video clip includes skiing, horseback riding, and other social events. My favorite part is the mention of how ski slopes did not exist in the area back then, so the ordnance director used explosives to clear a path.

There’s more to say on why it is necessary to humanize weapons creators (see here), or how Americans would feel seeing German or Soviet scientists doing this same thing, but that’s not the purpose of Wednesday nerd fun. Just relax.

Traffic Cops and Normalcy

If there’s one group that regularly gets short shrift here on YSPR, it’s traffic cops. In America, they are taken for granted. But this video from BBC points out an under-appreciated role of traffic police: to serve as a sign of normalcy. For the first time in 20 years, there are uniformed civilian men legitimately directing traffic at intersections throughout Mogadishu.

The video states that there has been an entire generation of Somalis to grow up without learning the rules of the road. That’s not quite true, though–they learned rules of the road that were more like “stop if the other guy has a bigger gun” rather than anything to do with red octagons. I have little doubt that there have been informal checkpoints set up by militias in Mogadishu to control traffic. It’s just that they looked less like our vision of a traffic cop and more like this:

Informal checkpoints are common in developing countries. Vincenzo Bove has a paper, “Opium Market, Revenue Opportunities and Insurgency in Afghanistan’s Provinces,” (ungated pdf) that discusses how opium trafficking and violence in Afghanistan are interrelated since the Taliban is able to “tax” drug shipments. Benjamin Olken and Patrick Barron analyze police extortion of legitimate cargo in “The Simple Economics of Extortion: Evidence from Trucking in Aceh.” (ungated pdf) From their abstract:

“Using plausibly exogenous changes in the number of checkpoints, we show that market structure affects the level of illegal payments. We further show that corrupt officials use complex pricing schemes, including third-degree price discrimination and a menu of two-part tariffs.”

The politics of policing is a growing area of research that may merit a post of its own. For now, it will serve to note that much of the literature closely ties corruption to political violence. As much as I dislike traffic cops, I’d take them over a civil war any day.

Update: More recent version of the Afghanistan paper here

Graph Redo, or A Lesson Learned

Just found out that some commenters over at TMC had some thoughts on this graph. Readers who saw the graph here will know that I didn’t use it to make any political arguments, I simply left it as a display without much comment. The graph was made when I was first learning about ggplot, and was exploratory in the sense that I wanted to see how many dimensions I could get into a single plot. I’ve “fixed” the graph (below) based on Brad’s helpful suggestion:

plot1 <- plot1 +coord_equal(ratio=1)

I say “fixed” because this time I deliberately changed the color scheme in the hopes that people would take a minute to think about the graph rather than just react on the assumption that I was making a political point.

Here’s the new graph:

Personally, the lesson I’m taking away from all of this is to email other bloggers when I mention their material. Finding out you’ve been criticized months later isn’t super helpful (even when the criticism itself is).


Are ‘Feeling Thermometers’ Bogus?

Many surveys use “thermometer scores” to measure feelings of warmness/coldness (i.e. positive/negative) toward political candidates and other public figures. There is an often-overlooked problem, however: not everyone understands temperatures in the same way. From the aptly titled “Some Like It Hot” (Wilcox, Sigelman, and Cook, 1989):

“Respondents in the 1972 ANES used thermometer scales to indicate how the felt about themselves, 14 potential presidential candidates, and 29 groups in American society….

“The grand mean of the thermometer scores was 58, somehwat toward the warm end of the scale….

“We reasoned that some respondents might be affected by the nature of the thermometer metaphor: those respondents in chilly climates might think of 60 as relatively warm, while those in some balmy climes might view that temperature as fairly chilly.” (p. 247 – 8)

I would be interested to see (read: “am thinking about doing”) an update on this project. One possible confounder is that Southern states happen to be both warmer and more conservative. The more general point is that comparing survey results–even from a question that is nominally the same–across time and space requires an important assumption that the question is being understood in the same way by all respondents (or at least that the distribution of the misunderstandings behaves in such a way that average responses can be compared). Of course, like everything else in empirical political science, Gary King has already thought about this problem and has one possible solution on his website.