Odd news from Israel / Palestine

It is possible that world opinion is gradually accumulating sympathy for the Palestinians, and a diminishing of same for Netanyahu.

I will give hotlinks to four instances, with small quotes to pique your interest.

First, the European Union (EU) has issued guidelines on labelling products produced in occupied areas of Palestine. It will no longer be permissible to label them as being produced in Israel, for example. Here is the hotlink. Quotes follow, emphasis mine.

The European Union has issued new guidelines for the labelling of products from illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories, after years of deliberation and in the teeth of fierce Israeli opposition.

Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, made a personal appeal to a number of key European figures in the runup to the decision, in which he said the plan was discriminatory, indicative of double standards, and would embolden those who seek to “eliminate” Israel.

On Tuesday, a letter leaked to the Guardian showed that Netanyahu had written or spoken to a number of senior European figures, including European parliament president Martin Schulz, asking for their help to block the move.

However, a petition signed by more than 500 prominent Israeli figures, including former ambassadors, Israeli prize winners, and former MPs, welcomed the measures.

Second, Israel’s prime minister suffered a personal setback on a deal to produce, and sell, natural gas under the Mediterranean Sea. Apparently there’s a large quantity there, and the deal (with at least one American firm) was dependent on the Israeli government agreeing not to change any relevant laws before 2025.

Here is a pointer to what happened in the top court of Israel. I will give a few quotes, emphasis mine.

The gas trove, called Leviathan, has the potential to transform Israel into an exporter of the fuel, but it has been plagued by delays.

The court specifically objected to a part of the agreement between the government and the project’s developers, which are led by Noble Energy, that prohibits changes to regulations affecting the project for 10 years.

Plans to bring Leviathan’s gas to market have been slowed by a series of roadblocks, including a decision in 2014 by Israel’s antitrust commissioner that Noble and its partners would have too much power over the Israeli energy market. That ruling led Mr. Netanyahu to devise a deal under which Noble and its partners would divest part of their Israeli holdings, but now the court has objected to that arrangement.

Predictably, the Israeli government reacted with dismay to the court decision.

“The High Court of Justice decision severely threatens the development of the gas reserves of the State of Israel,” Mr. Netanyahu said in a statement. “Certainly, nobody has any reason to celebrate that the gas is liable to remain in the depths of the sea and that hundreds billions of shekels will not reach the citizens of Israel.”

Third, something odd happened in Brazil. The proposed ambassador from Israel was objected to because he had led a settler group. As always, emphasis mine.

Israel has reassigned its nominee for ambassador to Brazil, whose appointment Brasilia refused to accept, apparently because he is a former settler leader.

Dani Dayan will now become Israel’s consul general in New York, ending a seven-month diplomatic stand-off.

Israel had previously said it would not replace Mr Dayan as its nominee.

Mr Dayan’s appointment caused outrage among left-wing groups in Brazil, which lobbied President Dilma Rousseff to reject it.

The Argentina-born official was chairman of the Yesha Council, an umbrella group representing Jewish settlers in the occupied territories, from 2007 to 2013.

Brazil is Israel’s largest trading partner in South America, but relations have been tense since 2010, when Brazil said it recognised Palestinian statehood in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.

They soured further in 2014 when Brazil recalled its ambassador from Israel in protest at what it called the “disproportionate use of force” by Israel in its summer offensive in Gaza.

Sadly, this same individual is now an ambassador to the United States in New York – probably with more influence than in Brazil.

Fourth, apparently there soon could be a database online of businesses working in the occupied territories. Here are a few quotes, emphasis mine:

Thirty-two of the 47 members of the Geneva-based Human Rights Council voted on Thursday to adopt the motion calling for the establishment of the database.

None voted against the motion, while 15, mostly European nations, abstained.

The BBC’s Yolande Knell in Jerusalem says the database will provide a resource for any organisation wanting to divest from companies involved in Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands.

The Palestinians have been campaigning for tougher sanctions against settlements.

The Palestinian envoy to the UN said that the passage of this resolution and others by the Human Rights Council were a “message of hope” to his people.

“Israel continues to systematically violate the inalienable rights of the Palestinians while enjoying impunity from the international community,” Ibrahim Khreisheh added.

It is impossible not to find oneself ‘taking sides’ in the ongoing, unending, Israel/Palestine ‘situation.’ I think the Israelis hold most of the winning cards, being able to withhold tax revenues, expropriate houses, build walls, and occasionally bomb entire neighbourhoods. Sadly, the Palestinians will out-reproduce them, and are becoming more willing to do scary sacrifices.

May God, Allah, and Jehovah have mercy on us all.


Unreal, unrealistic commercials

I will make fun of two current commercials that seem to run in the evening on late CTV News and the preceding program.

Cash for Life Lottery.

“This week 32’s been amazing.” “Week 133.” “What will we do next week?”

The charming young couple are obviously at a resort. There is nowhere in the Americas that one can do an all-inclusive for two people for a thousand dollars a week.

OKA Cheese.

Nous … would like to declare …. some OKA …. fromage.

Customs agent (nonsense, there is no customs at the Quebec-Ontario border):

You can buy OKA in Ontario, you don’t have to declare it.

Even worse, if one were at customs, one certainly needs to declare imported goods, even if you can buy them in Ontario. (I once got an enormously cheap bottle of Kahlua in, I think, an airport in Mexico. This is purchasable in Ontario. I still had to declare it.)

Now for the dumb questions.

These commercials are cleverly constructed to make their product (lottery ticket, cheese) attractive: beautiful travelling companions in one case, and the OKA recipe history in the other.

Does this work? Does the presence of arrant nonsense not signal a wake-up call in the viewer?

McAfee, Apple iPad, unlocking – and a dumb question.

Here is a hotlink to a post on The Inquirer. I found this by Googling McAfee break iPhone. There are several similar pages on the web. I just saved you a tiny bit of time.

I will simplify, but not much. John McAfee claims to have broken an iPhone in 30 minutes. I will quote, from memory, this video. (I watched it twice, eh?)

You need a hardware engineer, who takes the phone apart and removes the memory.

You need a software engineer, who uses a dis-assembler to turn the code in that memory into readable programming language statements.

The software engineer then scans the code looking for the first attempt by the logic to access the keyboard. From there, where the password is stored and how it is scrambled can be read.

I do not believe this. Here’s why:

I worked in a large-ish Canadian bank, some of that time on the Architecture Team. We had a meeting we called The Dead Architects’ Society, in which we brought lunch and discussed cross-project initiatives and challenges. At that time, chip cards were being introduced and we wanted them to be the standard user ID, as soon as they became cheap enough. (This, obviously, eventually happened. In Canada, if not in the USA.)

Part of the discussion was led by the chip-card architect, who explained why it is rather hard to break into such a chip:

  • The memory is weirdly scatter-allocated, so ‘watching’ the chip won’t help you much.
  • The chip is designed to self-destruct if it is tampered with.

Net Net: you can’t tell what’s going on without getting into the chip card, and once you do, you don’t have its code to play with any more.

Do you seriously believe that Apple, a security-proud and security-bright company, built their iPhone so you can physically break into it and not have it erase key data?

That’s the dumb question. It is conceivable that Apple, in outsourcing everything except its patents, overlooked something that obvious.

I personally doubt this.

So, let’s wait and see if the FBI brag that McAfee broke the iPhone they wanted to get into.

A gift from Secrecy News, F.A.S., on Donald Trump and Science today

Here is a hotlink to an editorial in a recent issue of Nature. Somehow the Federation of American Scientists were able to make it visible to me, and to you, without signing in to Nature itself. (Since you probably can’t do that, this is a gift, via me, from Steven Aftergood.)

I will content myself with a few selected quotes. Emphasis mine.

The annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Washington DC last month was one of the best I’ve witnessed in more than 20 years of regular attendance. The policy sessions were packed and genuinely stimulating. I met tons of smart, influential people I hadn’t seen for ages, and we all enjoyed a good chinwag about how better to engage with the public — the meeting’s theme for 2016.

The only trouble was what was going on outside the hotel — in the United States and the world at large.

In fact, the AAAS meeting took place in a sort of semi-conscious never-never land. The science-policy crowd talked a great game even as the pillars of the republic crashed noisily down around their heads.

Supporters or representatives of Donald Trump, the likely Republican nominee for this November’s US presidential election, his extremely conservative rival Ted Cruz, or even Bernie Sanders, the Democrat insurgent, were simply not involved in these discussions. They never are. Senior scientists are instead inextricably linked to the centrist, free-market political establishment that has tended to rule, but which is now falling dangerously from public favour.

If the West is really in its decline-and-fall stage, its Caligula stage, its Donald Trump stage, then this isn’t just an issue for political and financial elites. It’s also a problem for the ‘experts’ who crawl around after these elites.

It is not just in the United States that this consensus — and perhaps democracy itself — is in danger. Poland has just elected a reactionary government that is clamping down on press freedom; France is toying with electing far-right politician Marine Le Pen to the presidency; and the rest of the world’s elected leaders are each threatened, to a greater or lesser extent, by economic and migration crises. Populist nationalism is on the march again — exemplified by the rise of Trump, whose mode of operation does not countenance the opinions, advice or goodwill of anybody else.

And those senior scientists who do engage with the government or public — as scientific advisers, for example — often take up highly political positions without acknowledging that they are doing so. For example, they support free-trade agreements that cede the right of democratic governments to control things such as cigarette advertising or pesticide use without hard, scientific evidence. This is a political position that is pursued with great dedication by global corporations — and that is haplessly bought into by many scientists without a thought for its consequences.

What’s my point, you ask?

We are in the last days of the Roman Empire. Scientists who warn about pesticides, global warming, just anything inconvenient to global corporations, will be shouted down. Reasonable policies have no place in our current debates.

Yes, in Canada we’ve shifted away from this environment significantly since our last Federal election. But we’re so close to the elephant to the south, when it twitches, we have an earthquake.

Americans: Vote. Show up and vote. Advocate if you can. Try to stem this dangerous tide.



Mark Twain is rolling over in his grave, eh? Is it the Media’s fault?

Tramp, tramp, tramp: that’s the dead! (from Huckleberry Finn) or

Trump, Trump, Trump, that’s the dread.

There’s been a lot of noise in all media formats about The Donald. Sadly, media seeks ‘the sound bite’ over real content. Aside from journalists in places like The Toronto Star, most ‘news’ is produced as cheaply as possible.

((For example, what fraction of CTV newscasts are from ‘location’ when that location is no longer relevant? Outside a hockey arena after the game has been lost?

For example, what fraction of CTV newscast videos are repeats, in the same hour?

How many pictures of the unfortunate young girl shot down in the Eaton Centre are there? Exactly one, stolen from a Facebook page. Cropped, maybe, but for sure the same image.

How many ‘news insights’ end with the ‘expert’ closing with My Name, This Station, This city? We don’t already know that? It’s just cheap air time.))

Because of this focus on sound bites over content, this fundamental cheapness in news broadcasting, I blame the media in large part for the absurdity of Donald Trump’s surge toward being the Republican candidate for the President of the United States of America. (I might sarcastically note that, this is not the United States of ALL America, just as their baseball tournament isn’t really a World Series. But we self-deprecating Canadians must allow our southern neighbours their moments of grandeur.)

Trump is, imho, outrageous. I leave it to you to search for, for example, the Mitt Romney speech on The Donald. The Toronto Star is full of articles scrutinizing Trump’s ‘success’, decision-making prowess, whatever. Yet the parade charges forward, one outrageous speech at a time.

One think tank has put Trump being president of the USA in the middle of its Armageddon list of potential world disasters. A bit better than nuclear war, say. Assuming he doesn’t start one.

This is all dumb. There’s absolutely nothing I can do to change this, and there’s very little any single reader can do either. We may smile when our Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, says he trusts in the American people to do the right thing. There’s nothing Trudeau can do about it either.

It’s like global warming: we’re screwed. We aren’t going to do anything substantive despite a serious, clear and present danger.

May God have mercy on us all. I fear for my descendants.

Now for the dumb question. Mark Twain may not be rolling over in his grave, but do you think Abraham Lincoln is?

Eight Dumb Questions

Most of these are Toronto, Canada specific. So I’ll deal with the more widespread question first.

Should Apple unlock the iPhone claimed to have been in the possession of a criminal? There are CRS (Congressional Research Service) reports on this, and if you aren’t on the mailing list for Secrecy News, from the Federation of American Scientists (FAS), I suggest you get on it today.

It turns out there is a very old law that might apply, and some case law examples. To summarize, Apple does not generally create back-door versions of its operating system, so trying to use case law is likely to fail here. Apple is not the only tech company capable of breaking the phone, and it would take a lot of time and effort to do so.

In addition, Apple can claim vast reputational damage if any phone earlier claimed unbreakable is, eventually, broken.

Apple is probably able to capture such damages in the future, if the phone is broken at government request, irrespective of who actually breaks it.

Finally, it is claimed that, because the kluge operating system would have to be specific to the single phone, it could not be reused by the bad guys; however ‘script kiddies’ regularly use byte editors to change things. Once out in the wild, this code could be used by nasty individuals and foreign actors. Someone could write a script to do this.

Now for the dumb questions relevant to Toronto, Ontario and what we refer to as ‘the GTA.’ (‘Greater Toronto Area’, perhaps better as, Grandiose Toronto Area, eh?)

Is the Scarborough subway at all justified? By ridership? By development potential? By understanding the large per-ride subsidy it will require?

Is the Union-to-Pearson Express (UPX) at all justified? With less than a third of the required ridership to break even? Will cutting the fare in half generate seven times as many riders?

Will Toronto sue Bombardier over the late (disastrously late) delivery of streetcars?

Will we  (Ontario) avoid subsidizing Bombardier to help them over their airplane fiasco?

Will the Ontario Teacher’s Pension Plan sue Volkswagen? It is claimed that, during the weeks it took VW between admitting the diesel emissions fiasco, and publicly telling investors, their stock lost something like 40% of its value. TPP is a major investor.

Will anything remotely fair be done about UBER in Toronto? We have a taxi system that is heavily regulated with two kinds of licenses. The situation smells of a bad compromise in the past; rather than allow more of the ‘real’ licenses, my city decided to allow ‘Ambassador’ licenses. These additional drivers have severe limitations: they must drive their own cars: no substitutes, no holiday staff, no triple-shifts. The ‘real’ taxi license holders generally do not drive their many vehicles, and the cars run solidly. (I think they shut off only for oil changes.) So, if you own a ‘real’ license, it is very valuable – maybe $300K CAD. If your spouse dies and you, his widow, hold this, you think it’s your pension plan. So you’re not interested in its value going down. Thus the Ambassador licenses, as a compromise.

Now UBER ‘runs’ (directs, I think they call it) what appear to be un-tested, un-police-checked, and likely un-insured taxi-like services. Our mayor, John Tory, thinks this is great progress. (He also thinks a Scarborough subway, and the UPX, are great progress.)

Many of you will be scrolling for the final Dumb Question. Here it is:

Are all the correct answers to all of the above, simply ‘NO?’ (Dumb enough, eh?)