Archive for the ‘Ethics’ Category

Spammers disguised as “Referrers”

Dear “Followers” and any other interested readers —

I had planned to interrupt my “sabbatical” next Sunday for a special “Mothers Day” piece. However, a recent problem with my blog stats page, and the steps a friend took to help me solve it, has engendered in me the impulse to share this solution with those who visit and read my posts.

The problem involves Search Engine Optimizations (SEOs). These are computer geeks around the world who seek to bring search engine entries up to earlier pages in a search engine. They can do this by pretending to be “referrers” on bloggers’ sites. When the blogger, curious about the strange referrer, clicks on the referrer to find out more about him/her, that click bounces back to the spammer’s site and counts as a “hit”, thus multiplying the spammer’s site’s activity record–thus edging it up closer to the search engine’s top page.

This problem occurred on my site a couple of years ago with a spammer called “Semalt”. I wrote a blog post condemning the SEO practice, and shortly thereafter the false referring by Semalt stopped.  Now, however, the wickedness has begun again; only, this time, the name “Semalt” is not used directly; rather, the new names are “key-words-monitoring” and “free-video-tool”. But from what I have learned through reading a few informative sites on Google, I sense that both are really just aliases for Semalt. The blocking methods I found either were too advanced for my blog program and/or were too technical for me to employ, so I called my friend Chris and asked for his help. As usual, he graciously complied.

Then, acting on the supposition that some of my “Followers” might be experiencing the same problem, I decided it might be helpful to forward Chris’ response to them. Here it is:

Hi Bob,

I’m sorry this upsets you so much, but unfortunately neither of these options are relevant for wordpress.com sites like yours.
You are getting your analytics directly through worpdress.com and not Google Analytics, so those instructions won’t help you.
And wordpress.com sites do not allow custom plugins like the one in the other link. Those only work if you have a custom installation of WordPress (often referred to aswordpress.org in contrast to wordpress.com), where you have to pay for web hosting and a domain name.
I found these instructions specifically for wordpress.com, telling you how to mark spammy referrers as such:
That’s the only recourse I’ve been able to discover for your situation.

Chris

 

As I stated above, I will return briefly next Sunday, Mothers Day in the USA.
For now, have a good week.
—BL
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Crosses on law enforcement vehicles

NOTE TO READERS: I know I have been presenting bare blog posts the last few months because of physical problems and depression over the national and international scenes. Well, I am back now — sort of — but in a different tenor.
     My repressed anger is beginning to force itself into expression. I am contemplating a fairly lengthy jeremiad about the world around me, but that will take a while to develop and compose.
     For the moment, I am involved in more immediate and very local issues. The other night I attended a city council meeting and, with the help of another local activist, convinced the council members that they should be more concerned about the needs and convenience of the citizenry. It was over a fairly small issue — the scheduling of council meetings — that likely would not interest global readers.
     This morning, however, our two local papers published a letter-to-the-editor I had written protesting the pasting of religious decals on the rear windows of county sheriff department vehicles. That letter, I figured, should be of interest to citizens all over my homeland, maybe even the world. And that is the reason I am publishing it here today. I have expanded it slightly.
     I hope you find it interesting, even provocative.
—BL 

     * * * * * *

I hear the Brewster County Sheriff’s office has received more than 1,000 comments on their web page applauding the sticking of religious-oriented decals on their vehicles, and only a few condemning the practice.

Many people in Brewster County, being Christians of one sort or another, are undoubtedly in favor of that advertising. Others, not wishing to alienate themselves from their fellow citizens, probably will shy away from criticizing it. Our natural inclination is to say only positive things, not negative ones. Many others, not being Christians or not even being religious, will probably shrug their shoulders, thinking, “What’s the use of quarreling over such a petty matter? Let the idiots run with it. We’ve got more important issues to tackle.”

Well, I think the 1st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits the favoring of any religion, is very important. I will be as fervid in my defense of the 1st Amendment as the NRA gun-runners are absolute in their espousal of the 2nd Amendment.

The vehicles driven by our state, county and city law enforcement agencies are purchased with money coming from taxes paid by ALL the citizens of those jurisdictions. And not all the citizens are Christians; many are not even religious.

What is the message intended by the decals with their white over tan crosses and thin blue lines intersecting the horizontal bars? Are we to interpret them to mean that if you are a Christian you will be treated preferentially by the officer driving that patrol car? When he or she pulls you over for driving too fast or recklessly and you inform him/her that you are a Christian, will he/she give you a warning ticket and wish you a merry Christmas?

I am not so rigid in my insistence on the separation of church and state that I find “Merry Christmas” greetings repugnant; the political correctness notion has its own extreme. Nor do I see anything wrong with Sunday school classes holding Easter sunrise services at public parks where beautiful natural settings are most available, for those services last only a couple of hours and then the folks will depart. Such gatherings are private and relatively isolated and presumably no proselytizing will go on there.

But setting up crèches on courthouse lawns or hanging a bunch of paintings of angels in the county clerk’s office (as they do in Ward County) is promoting a particular religion. And a few decades ago, the Monahans, Texas, school board granted the First Baptist Church there permission to use the school district’s multi-purpose building for a revival. Those practices are repugnant and can even be viewed as bullying.

Finis

The Day Congress Applauded Hypocrisy

By Bob Litton

In my April 7 post about “Extremism”, I mentioned that the late U.S. Senator Barry Goldwater, a Republican, was reportedly much saddened by the death of President John F. Kennedy, a Democrat.

Now, although I obtained a bachelor’s degree in history and earned my living during 20 years as a community journalist, I cannot claim to be an expert in history. I had witnessed Goldwater on TV wiping tears away from his eyes when he realized that the Republican Party had been embarrassed by President Richard Nixon during the Watergate drama; I accepted then that Goldwater indeed loved his country more than he loved his party, and I respected him for that quality. My research caused me to wonder if there were any interesting anecdotes about him and Kennedy working together. I did not discover any, but my research was admittedly quite cursory.

While engaged in that search, however, I found some remarkably telling and now timely paragraphs in Wikipedia’s article on Kennedy. I have included them below. Please note that I have deleted all the citation numbers; if you want to see supporting references, go to the Wikipedia article online:

Kennedy extended the first informal security guarantees to Israel in 1962 and, beginning in 1963, was the first US president to allow the sale to Israel of advanced US weaponry (the MIM-23 Hawk), as well as to provide diplomatic support for Israeli policies which were opposed by Arab neighbours; such as its water project on the Jordan River.

As result of this newly created security alliance, Kennedy also encountered tensions with the Israeli government regarding the production of nuclear materials in Dimona, which he believed could instigate a nuclear arms-race in the Middle East. After the existence of a nuclear plant was initially denied by the Israeli government, David Ben-Gurion stated in a speech to the Israeli Knesset on December 21, 1960, that the purpose of the nuclear plant at Beersheba was for “research in problems of arid zones and desert flora and fauna”.  When Ben-Gurion met with Kennedy in New York, he claimed that Dimona was being developed to provide nuclear power for desalinization and other peaceful purposes “for the time being”.

When Kennedy wrote that he was skeptical, and stated in a May 1963 letter to Ben-Gurion that American support to Israel could be in jeopardy if reliable information on the Israeli nuclear program was not forthcoming, Ben-Gurion repeated previous reassurances that Dimona was being developed for peaceful purposes. The Israeli government resisted American pressure to open its nuclear facilities to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections. In 1962, the US and Israeli governments had agreed to an annual inspection regime. A science attaché at the embassy in Tel Aviv concluded that parts of the Dimona facility had been shut down temporarily to mislead American scientists when they visited.

According to Seymour Hersh, the Israelis set up false control rooms to show the Americans. Israeli lobbyist Abe Feinberg stated, “It was part of my job to tip them off that Kennedy was insisting on [an inspection].”  Hersh contends the inspections were conducted in such a way that it “guaranteed that the whole procedure would be little more than a whitewash, as the president and his senior advisors had to understand: the American inspection team would have to schedule its visits well in advance, and with the full acquiescence of Israel.” Marc Trachtenberg argued: “Although well aware of what the Israelis were doing, Kennedy chose to take this as satisfactory evidence of Israeli compliance with America’s non-proliferation policy.” The American who led the inspection team stated that the essential goal of the inspections was to find “ways to not reach the point of taking action against Israel’s nuclear weapons program.”

Rodger Davies, the director of the State Department’s Office of Near Eastern Affairs, concluded in March 1965 that Israel was developing nuclear weapons. He reported that Israel’s target date for achieving nuclear capability was 1968–69. On May 1, 1968, Undersecretary of State Nicholas Katzenbach told President Johnson that Dimona was producing enough plutonium to produce two bombs a year. The State Department argued that if Israel wanted arms, it should accept international supervision of its nuclear program. Dimona was never placed under IAEA safeguards. Attempts to write Israeli adherence to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) into contracts for the supply of U.S. weapons continued throughout 1968.

Now, what did Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warn a joint session of the U.S. Congress last March 3? Read the pertinent paragraphs here:

Now, I know this is not gonna come a shock — as a shock to any of you, but Iran not only defies inspectors, it also plays a pretty good game of hide-and-cheat with them.
The U.N.’s nuclear watchdog agency, the IAEA, said again yesterday that Iran still refuses to come clean about its military nuclear program. Iran was also caught — caught twice, not once, twice — operating secret nuclear facilities in Natanz and Qom, facilities that inspectors didn’t even know existed.
Right now, Iran could be hiding nuclear facilities that we don’t know about, the U.S. and Israel. As the former head of inspections for the IAEA said in 2013, he said, “If there’s no undeclared installation today in Iran, it will be the first time in 20 years that it doesn’t have one.” Iran has proven time and again that it cannot be trusted. And that’s why the first major concession is a source of great concern. It leaves Iran with a vast nuclear infrastructure and relies on inspectors to prevent a breakout. That concession creates a real danger that Iran could get to the bomb by violating the deal.

Born in 1949, Benjamin Netanyahu was in his early teens when Israel developed its nuclear arsenal; therefore, a wildly imaginative bit of leeway might be granted him as being “ignorant” of those events. Also, I do not wish to paint all Israel with a broad brush dipped in Netanyahu. Moreover, I have read of many Israeli youths who, viewing their own country as aggressive occupiers of Palestinian territory, have refused to serve in the military forces; and Israeli law allows them to do so. I applaud them.

I want to mention one other sorry episode in our partnership with Israel: the June 8, 1967, attack by Israeli Mirage jets and torpedo boats on the USS Liberty, an intelligence-gathering ship in international waters off the coast of Israel and Egypt. Thirty-four U.S. servicemen were killed and 171 wounded that day. Wikipedia has published online a lengthy but prodigiously well-organized and fascinating article about the incident.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Liberty_incident

There was much controversy concerning the attack on USS Liberty in the months immediately following, and it is still ongoing today. The story is too involved for me to include here, so I suggest that you go to Wikipedia’s account (URL above), which I consider remarkably balanced; hardly anyone other than the men on the ship come out of it unstained by ignorance, guile, and/or cowardice; it is a story full of elements fit for a Tom Clancy novel.

Although I cannot provide you with much more information, I will summarize the basic issue here: The Israeli military claimed that they could not see any flag on the ship and concluded that it was an Egyptian war vessel, so they strafed and torpedoed it until ordered to stop; the ship’s crew members claimed that their flag was easily visible on that clear day. Here is part of the story:

During the Six-Day War between Israel and several Arab nations, the United States of America maintained a neutral country status. Several days before the war began, the USS Liberty was ordered to proceed to the eastern Mediterranean area to perform a signals intelligence collection mission in international waters near the north coast of Sinai, Egypt. After the war erupted, due to concerns about her safety as she approached her patrol area, several messages were sent to Liberty to increase her allowable closest point of approach (CPA) to Egypt’s and Israel’s coasts from 12.5 and 6.5 nmi (14.4 and 7.5 mi; 23.2 and 12.0 km), respectively, to 20 and 15 nmi (23 and 17 mi; 37 and 28 km), and then later to 100 nmi (120 mi; 190 km) for both countries. Unfortunately, due to ineffective message handling and routing, the CPA change messages were not received until after the attack.

According to Israeli sources, at the start of the war on 5 June, General Yitzhak Rabin (then IDF Chief of Staff)  informed Commander Ernest Carl Castle, the American Naval Attaché in Tel Aviv, that Israel would defend its coast with every means at its disposal, including sinking unidentified ships. Also, he asked the U.S. to keep its ships away from Israel’s shore or at least inform Israel of their exact position.

American sources said that no inquiry about ships in the area was made until after the Liberty attack ended. In a message sent from U.S. Secretary of State Dean Rusk to U.S. Ambassador Walworth Barbour, in Tel Aviv, Israel, Rusk asked for “urgent confirmation” of Israel’s statement. Barbour responded: “No request for info on U.S. ships operating off Sinai was made until after Liberty incident.” Further, Barbour stated: “Had Israelis made such an inquiry it would have been forwarded immediately to the chief of naval operations and other high naval commands and repeated to dept [Department of State].”

Israel eventually accepted blame for the attack but has continued to explain it as an accidental misidentification. Israel also paid millions in reparations.

Secretary of State Rusk, however, was not buying into the “accident” excuse; he wrote:

I was never satisfied with the Israeli explanation. Their sustained attack to disable and sink Liberty precluded an assault by accident or some trigger-happy local commander. Through diplomatic channels we refused to accept their explanations. I didn’t believe them then, and I don’t believe them to this day. The attack was outrageous.

President Lyndon Johnson, though, bought the Israeli version. God, but I hate to relay this paragraph because, being mostly a Democrat, it puts President Johnson in an even dimmer light than he already exists in history books and the public memory, but here is what one author wrote about Johnson’s attitude at the time:

George Lenczowski notes: “It was significant that, in contrast to his secretary of state, President Johnson fully accepted the Israeli version of the tragic incident.” He notes that Johnson himself only included one small paragraph about the Liberty in his autobiography in which he accepted the Israeli explanation of “error”, but also minimized the whole affair and distorted the actual number of dead and wounded, by lowering them from 34 to 10 and 171 to 100, respectively. Lenczowski further states: “It seems Johnson was more interested in avoiding a possible confrontation with the Soviet Union…than in restraining Israel.”

I apologize for all the lengthy quotes. My primary intent in presenting all this to you was to show you that no Israeli—Netanyahu above all—has the moral authority to accuse another nation of subterfuge and deceit.

Finis

 
 

 

A Message to So-called “Followers”

Over the two years since I began “The Vanity Mirror” some 130 folks have checked in as “Followers” to my blog site.

Most of them have been people attracted by their interest in a single subject on which I have dedicated an essay; when they discovered that the rest of my topics were not part of that vein, I believe, they stopped visiting. That’s okay. That’s understandable.

Others have been genuine bloggers, too, but their interests (e.g., fast cars, fashions) are so foreign to my own that I wonder what brought them to me. It could be that they thought “following” my blog would entice me to follow their blog. Some bloggers’ sites indicate that they have thousands of “followers”: how could they possibly read each others’ blog posts? That doesn’t work with me. I figure that if somebody wants to follow my blog, they are benefiting their self—and reasonably so, since that way they won’t have to check out my site every day to see if something new has been posted. But they are not benefiting me.

Others have shared a similar background and/or occupation: philosophy; poetry or literature in general; graphic arts and music; social and political concerns. They, I hope, have stuck with me.

There was a period in 2013 when several bloggers—mostly young folks—were pushing what I considered a get-rich-quick “pyramid scheme”; they disgusted me and I hope they have vanished entirely.

During the past couple of months, I have been “followed” by a few who are pushing a “cash-back” program or programs. I don’t know what these people are hoping to gain from “following” my site, except perhaps it is a quick, cheap way for them to advertise to me individually. All I can say to them is “Go get an honest job and stop wasting genuine bloggers’ time!!!”

Merry Christmas everybody!!!
Bob Litton

World Not Made In Our Image

© 1980, 2014 By Bob Litton

NOTE TO READERS: This essay was originally published in the Monahans News under my “Just Between You and Me” column for March 20, 1980. It relates to the events surrounding the assault on the American embassy in Iran. However, while looking over this and other old writings in my files, I was struck by the uncanny resemblance to our current involvements in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.

* * * * * *

The American temperament developed long before the Revolution.  In fact, some might well argue there could not have been an American Revolution without such a temperament.*

However, America did not really have an articulate voice until Walt Whitman.  And, for me, what was most peculiarly American in Whitman’s expression was his insistence on being a person of contradictions.  He did not blush at such an admission, but rather proclaimed it.

I think that quality of being an American makes it easier for me to accept contradictions within myself, especially in regard to my attitude toward my country.  Right now, for instance, I am both proud of the U.S.A. and embarrassed for us.

I am proud because, in spite of aggravation and incitement, we did not react with military force against the Iranians when they took over our embassy there.  Some claim, and probably correctly, that such assaults don’t happen to the Soviets because nationalistic terrorists realize the Soviets would not hesitate to sacrifice their own countrymen in order to save face.  To a degree, that is what they are doing now in Afghanistan.

To argue that we should do likewise—i.e., act like brutes to achieve at least a grumbling respect—is to say we ought to forgo our notions (or ideals?) of developing a civilized world.  If a person who cherishes his own honor succumbs to a temptation to act dishonorably because he realizes his opponent has no intention of acting honorably and therefore is likely to prevail, then he who compromises will have already lost part of the contest, because he will be allowing the opponent to dictate the terms by which it is to be fought.

I’m not claiming we have not acted as brutes before.  We have.  But, we are also growing as a nation, and I choose to look on certain sorry episodes in our history as teething stages in our maturation.  The very fact that we publish those episodes is an index of our maturation.

The embarrassing aspect of the Tehran captivity is that we are allowing the Iranian militants to siphon every ounce of publicity possible out of it.  In a manner similar to our mercurial economic news, newspapers grab up every new note of hope and disillusionment.  It seems that every time the Iranians see their great moment slipping from page one to the inside pages they pull some new publicity stunt to retrieve their position on page one.  AND WE LET THEM DO IT!

I suppose such manipulation is unavoidable in a nation with a free press; and, as much as it disgusts me, I would rather put up with the manipulation than lose the first amendment.  Still, I often feel like screaming at my countrymen, “Quit expecting other peoples to play by the rules.  Quit expecting them to keep their commitments.  Quit expecting honor from them.  But, never stop expecting those qualities from ourselves.”

— The Monahans News, March 20, 1980

* For more detail on “American character traits”, see http://www.icyte.com/system/snapshots/fs1/5/9/a/c/59accd6acfd8372a8372b65d71592281c22e12c2/index.html

Finis

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