Archive for the 'terrorism' Category


Death of google reader to usher in the new dark ages, experts say

Google reader cropSecurity and terrorism specialists in governments around the world have been bracing themselves for an unprecedented backlash of rage and fury in the wake of Internet search giant Google’s decision to phase out its popular – if unprofitable – feed reader service.  Used by tens of millions around the world as an archaic way of surfing the Internet without really trying, Google Reader will be pushed aside so the mega-firm can concentrate on more useful stuff like geeky heads-up display glasses.

“As of right now our security level is being raised to double-purple sparkly,” said Helmut Askew, US Undersecretary to the Overseer of Interior Externalities at the Pentagram.  A secret, never-before-used level of threat awareness to be invoked only in times of wartime and other unpleasant things, double-purple sparkly will first be felt by airline travellers.

“If you thought we were picky to the point of stupid about toothpaste, get ready,” lathered one official.

Security pros say this week’s Internet consumer outrage closely resembles the now-infamous 1985 Coca-Cola Co. Inc. decision to revise the formula for its popular soft drink soda refreshment beverage.  Coke’s replacement of its crappy, decades-old, overly sweet yet mystifyingly popular concoction with one slightly less crappy and less sweet outraged the addicted masses, who, urged on by the sugar cane lobby, managed to get Coca-cola to reverse its decision.

“Back then people didn’t go around shoving bombs in their shoe bottoms or strapping explosive devices around their midsections to wreak havoc on buses and planes,” explained L. Fin Gnome, security expert with Troll International.  “All we had to worry about was the prospect of global mutual incineration based on a computer malfunction or other misunderstanding. Those were the golden years, for sure.”

In addition to additional encore performances of airport security theatre, Pentagram officials say citizens wherever they are in the world must be aware that individual governments will be poised to clamp down on any demonstration, sit-down protest, hunger strike, random public gathering or topless protests taking place against Google’s decision.

“OK, we’ll allow boobage demos to happen only as long as  it takes to ensure we’ve got enough pics to show on the private news channels,” he said.

Philosophy professor Schmöckjr Pââp, Ph.D. of the University of Wallamoongdong, Australia, says the particular nature of the unprecedented international security clampdown reflects today’s new social media landscape.

“Today, it’s the individual terrorist venting wherever and whenever he can,” he said.  “Starbucks service too slow?  Tweet it.  Don’t like the weather?  Facebook status update.  Google Reader disappearing?  Blow up government and commercial buildings whilst your friends post the wreckage on Instagram. Even if you disapprove of their actions, once it’s on Facebook you have to hit Like to acknowledge your acknowledgement of the action.”

Statesmen and -women worldwide have reacted with shockage and appallation at the Pentagram’s elbow-jerk reaction to the Google Reader flappage.

“Bunga-Bunga, si, Doubla-purpla no!” said Silvia Berluscona, former helmsman of the Italian ship of state, now lying on its side after hitting rocks on the northwest coast and due to be towed sometime soon to a scrap metal yard.  “We who control all of Italy’s media will denounce this action if we can make money off it, or support it if we can’t.  And vice-versa.”

Russian President Voldemort Putin, fresh from another image-promotion tour where he showed off his somewhat perfectly buffed gluteus maximii to a fawning Russian media, said the Sotchi Winter Olympics of 2014 had already been planned as the most heavily securified Games on record, so the new threat level brought on by Google’s decision won’t have that much of a direct effect.

“We are already prepared for floods, washouts and mudslides,” said Putin to snickers and elbow-nudges from the Quebec wing of those journalists let out of jail long enough to be on hand at the press conference.  “Just look at Vancouver 2010!  We’ve got bigger trucks for bringing in more artificial snow if we have to.”

German reaction was straightforward and to the point.

“The Government of the Federal Government of Germany condemns in the strongest of terms the over-reaction of the American military, who should be taking world opinion into better consideration at this most critical of times,” said German Chancellor Angela Murkel.  “Nichtsdestotrotz and nevertheless we are prepared to send a small contingent of our troops to any regions affected, supplying them with pop-guns and Ravensburg puzzles – some in 3D –  because they’ll need to fill in their time somehow.”

Former US President Bill Clitnon said if he were still in the Oval Office, he’d be getting a… good grip on the situation and, uh…. ensuring there would be no stain on his legacy.

“Ah call on President Obama to do the raght thang and just put a stop to all this,” said Clitnon.

-the editors of Letters Home wish to inform readers that due to the above line involving the esteemed former US President the author of this piece has been relieved of his duties with immediate effect for breach of satire production rule 1: If using derivative material thou shalt at least refrain from recycling tired, old jokes about tired, old presidents.  Letters Home rejects having to resort to this course of action, and welcomes your visit in future.   Thank you.


Merkel lines on bin Laden

They say that bin Laden
Got shot through the noggin
Flown to the Arabian Sea.
Wrapped in a shroud as white as a cloud
And dumped overboard.  Now he’s just shark sushi.

In New York, in DC, when they heard the news
They flew to the places Al Qaeda had burned.
And crowed out so loud, so long, and so proud
Bin Laden is Dead!  But the news cycle churned

And in reaction, Frau Merkel, said she,
Was glad that bin Laden was as dead as can be.
Poor ol’ Frau Merkel, her words didn’t fit.
You just can’t say that.  It’s un-Christian, you twit.

But if she’d have said she’s sorry he’s dead
I suppose they’d be calling right now for her head.

So here’s some advice for dear Angie to take,
Reflecting on all that’s come in its wake,
Better to say in a roundabout way – just to keep the judges at bay
I’m pleased that he’s no longer able to harm

Or just keep your mouth shut.
Works like a charm.


Who wants to read yesterday’s news, anyway?

It was beautiful to watch, but today’s a new day, Obama says bin Laden’s dead, and I’ve got work to do.


We all get to play the terrorist on the security theatre stage

You never know when you’ll be called upon to play a minor role in life’s ongoing stage of security theatre.

I found that out yesterday morning after printing out a boarding card at my hotel the morning I left Nuremburg, where I’d been sent for a seminar.  I’d asked the front desk if I could use the lobby computer terminals, but they told me that before they could give me the access password, they’d need a copy of my ID.

OK, I thought – maybe they think I’m going to damage their computer, stuff the wide-screen monitor into my back pocket or cram the desktop tower into my carry-on – whatever.  I just needed to print out that boarding card, so I handed them my passport to copy.

After five minutes online I returned to the desk to say I was through, and could I please have the copy of my passport back.

“Oh, I’m sorry, we can’t do that,” said the cheery young woman behind the counter.  “Under German law, we’re required to hold on to it.”

“But I’m finished,” I said.  “Why do you have to hold onto it?”

With a big smile and a double head-bob, she cheerfully said, “Because just now, you could have been planning a terror attack.”

I was stunned.  Flabbergasted.  I’d say blown away, but the slaughterhouse floor scenes from the smoke-filled Moscow airport terminal suicide bombing are still too fresh in the mind.

“I beg your pardon?” I said. “My passport contains vital personal information.”

“Your document copy is safe with us,” crooned her male colleague.  “We have a locked safe.”

“That’s not the point,” I said, but decided not to press it further, leaving for the breakfast buffet shaking my head.

But while gathering my plateful midst the morning crowd I couldn’t just forget it.  I got to wondering if somehow my information might be stolen sometime over the next 10 years.  I wondered how long they’d hold onto it, whether it would one day be destroyed, and whether I’d receive any notification of that.

So I went back to the desk and asked them how long they intended to keep my passport copy.

“We have to keep it for 10 years,” she chirped.  “It’s the law.”

Stunned again.

“Do you mean to tell me that for five minutes of online time you are going to keep a copy of my most important personal document for 10 years?”

What seemed like farce to me they took as routine.  “It’s the law,” she repeated. “We have to do it.”

“Good,” I said, not wanting to debate the existence or strict interpretation of a law I’d never even heard of.  “In that case, I think you should inform your customers before they use the terminals that their personal information is going to be on the files of your office for 10 years.  If I’d known that, I’d never have bothered.  Never.”

I returned to my breakfast – chewing over the screenplay and script of yet another production of security theatre and how I could have played my role better –   and suddenly realised that I had no proof that I’d logged out.

Carrying out their absurd scenario to its bizarrest extreme, I wondered: what if someone were  sitting at that terminal logged in under my login and password – the one with a hard copy of my passport copy attached to it – and were in the process of sending coded messages to fellow cell members to blow up another airport?  I had no physical proof that my session was over, nor that I’d logged out.  What if nine and a half years from now someone stumbled upon the connection and I’m hauled before a judge and sent to prison for the rest of my life?  Hey, and what if there were some sanity in the way we live our lives, and is it any wonder people my age get nostalgic for times when we all weren’t assumed to be guilty before proven innocent?

Overcoming my desire to just forget the whole thing, that it was nothing but trivial bureaucratic bullshit and really doesn’t matter anyway, I went back to the front desk and said, “Look, I don’t want to belabour the point, but about the Internet thing, could you please print me out some proof of when I actually used the computer, and confirmation of the time I logged out?”

The woman with whom I’d mainly been dealing overheard my request got up from her desk in the tiny office off the main counter.  As she turned to face me I could see her face was bleeding red with rage.  “All right,” she said. “If that’s the way you feel about this, we’ll do it a different way.  You can have your passport copy back.  I’ll just take down its number.”

As she was searching for my passport copy she added, “Never before have I had to deal with anyone who objected so vehemently to this procedure.”

I resisted the urge to remind her that Germany is full of people who put up with crap simply because someone in authority is shovelling it.  But picking up on the word “vehemently” I pointed out to her and the other two desk employees  looking on that I had dealt with them throughout in a calm manner, never once raised my voice, spoke with them in even tones, and was merely asking for something that I felt was my right to possess: my personal information.  “Data protection and privacy is a two-way street,” I told them.


What I learned on a London long weekend

Update: contains comment by an idiot who can’t read

The Germans have a saying, short and clear: Reisen bildet. You learn things when you travel.

A few random things I learned on our three-day trip to London:

1. London cinemas can play the most shocking pre-show advertisements. We went to see Slumdog Millionaire at the Odeon near Leicester Square Saturday after a wonderful late-afternoon dinner at the Lido in nearby Chinatown. Watching the adverts, we almost brought it all back up. A tall, thin man with grey hair is standing in a white kitchen. Close-up to his hands punching out a pill from a blister pack, another as he takes a drink. Then a close-up on his face as what looks like a hairy worm starts to emerge from his mouth.  Just as the entire audience is gagging in disgust, the worm becomes a tail that he yanks on to reveal a slimy ball of feet and fur that lands with a resounding thud as he drops to the ground a large, grey and very much dead RAT.

The message: Rat poison. One of the ingredients you might find in fake prescription drugs bought on illegal websites.

You’ve been warned.

1a. Sometimes you wish you’d not arrived on time.

2. Slumdog Millionaire deserves every award it gets. Fast-paced, furious, fun, only one or two spots to challenge your suspension of disbelief in a story that will seize you by the shirt. Try to see it in a movie theatre that has gut-rumbling sound.

3. If you arrive at Luton airport, and don’t hold a UK or an EU passport, you will be treated like an asylum-seeker. After 45 minutes of watching first my wife and then about 700 other passengers breeze through customs as I shuffled forward in another line at a glacial pace right behind a clutch of people holding what look to be sheets of handwritten paper with fuzzy photos pasted on, I asked a fellow in uniform standing around if, as a holder of a Canadian passport with a permanent EU visa,  I might slip into the other queue so we wouldn’t miss our bus.  No.  Can’t help you.

Just as I was about to give up hope, they opened up another window, and we made our bus.

Any Americans, Canadians, non-EU passport-holders reading this?  Don’t go to London via Luton.

5. Then again, if you’re in Hamburg and want to avoid the drive to some desolate airstrip near Lübeck nearly an hour away to sit in a windy hangar festooned with clownish advertising before boarding Ryanair to Stansted, fly Easyjet to Luton direct from Hamburg, allow for lots of time upon arrival, and forgive yourself for thinking while entering that horribly out-dated Luton airport that you’ve arrived in some 1960s time-warp.

6. Riders of the London Underground don’t use cellphones.   Our friend Douglas says that’s because they could be used to set off bombs, so the transmitters were removed after the Madrid attacks.  If that’s the case, terrorism does have its upside, because the result is absolute bliss.  The constant mindless chitter-chatter yadda-yadda you overhear on the buses and trains in Germany has been the main reason my wife K now refuses to take public transport unless it’s absolutely necessary.  It was nice to enjoy relative tranquility and the voices of real people talking to neighbours for a change instead of self-important yahoos barking bullshit into their damn phones.

london-museum-natural-history-charles-darwin-statue7. K is a huge fan of Charles Darwin.  OK, I knew that already.  But in addition to being a great wife, the loving mother of my only child, an innovative cook and the decorator of a lovely apartment I’m always happy to come home to, K is a well-respected teacher of Biology, French and English celebrating 25 years of German public school service this year.   Biology is her main subject, the proper study of which would be impossible except in the context of evolution.  At the magnificent Charles Darwin exhibit on now at London’s Museum of Natural History she was like a student again discovering a love for her subject for the very first time.  No wonder, really.   In detailed, yet easy-to-follow presentations the life and work of the great man and his revolutionary theory are laid out for the visitor in an exhibit which should be first on the list of anyone with an interest in biology or natural history.  Especially this year in the 200th anniversary of his birth and 150th anniversary of the publication of his most famous work, On the Origin of Species.  We loved how they displayed his hand-written letters to colleagues, family and his future wife, his compass, impossibly tiny pistol and geologist’s hammer.

Part two in a couple of days, or next week.  These are very busy times.



I know we’re looking at a bear market, but this is ridiculous

Dear Editor,

Reading through the Financial Times lately can be as sickening as a frame-by-frame look through the video of the aftermath of a suicide truck bombing.

Truly a grisly scene.

Perhaps that’s what the copy editor meant when he came up with this headline on Page 7 of Monday’s edition over a sidebar item on the Marriott Hotel blast in Islamabad: Grizzly record on suicide attacks.

I love it when a well-respected international newspaper such as the Financial Times throws us a bone-headed headline.  It’s a reminder that those behind the pages are human like all of us.

Or is the Financial Times trying to tell us that this bear market we’re in is going to be bigger and more dangerous than any other we’ve seen, remarkable for the great length of its claws?

(Copy sent to Letters at  I bet I won’t be the only one…)


So where were you on September 11, 2001?

Sometime around three in the afternoon Central European Summer Time on September 11, 2001, I was trying to get the key into the front door with one hand while holding on to my four-and-a-half-year-old daughter with the other.

Suddenly our downstairs neighbour – a colleague of my wife and friend to us both – was standing beside me shaking, tears in her eyes.

She was babbling.

There’s something horrible going on, she said. In New York. Planes have smashed into the World Trade Center!

It was the first I’d heard of it, and I looked right into her eyes and said the first thing that came to me:

Weltkrieg. World War.

I pushed open the door and my mother, who was over from Canada visiting, was sitting on the couch pointing at the television.

You’re not going to believe this, she said.

Mom, turn it off, I said. Please, just turn it OFF.

I had visions of having to drag a frightened and screaming child onto planes for the next five years if what was playing out before us got burned into her psyche.


That’s where we’re still at, six years later.

And if you look at the piece of theatre played out in New York today, you have to ask yourself: do we have to do this every year? Can’t we just move on?

Six or 60 years from now, will we still see acted out this same old ritual? Will we still have to watch these ceremonies laid before us, hear these names recited, these stories retold over and over until a solid layer of myth keeps it alive long after that day’s last survivor is gone and buried?

Of course we will. Get used to it. September 11 the tragedy is now September 11 the myth, the 9-11 emotional patriotic emergency code, the story that will now be passed from one generation to the next: we survived, we came back, we went after them.

After whom? The Iraqis, of course. They were behind it, weren’t they? And even if they weren’t, their involvement would have to be invented.

Tell me if you hear anybody in favour of this eternal war on terror saying today that Iraq had nothing to do with the attacks. Because as long as the mistaken perception that it did lives on, these memorials will always have a purpose.

September 11 has taken on the same role for Americans which November 11 always used to be for Canadians.

We call it Remembrance Day. At the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, Canadians stand for a minute’s silence to honour the soldiers who died in the two world wars.

Because November 11 is a statutory holiday, we schoolchildren held the ceremony the day before.

There’d be plastic poppies on pins, poems and prayers and a few bent, grey-haired guys from the Royal Canadian Legion up in front, their jackets pressed clean and chests twinkling with medals. One of the Grade Sevens would have the honour of standing up and reading In Flanders Fields.

I always got the feeling the whole thing was somehow wrong, that we should work toward ending war instead of playing up the heroism, the pageantry, the myths. The Vietnam war was still going on with everyone asking: what was it good for, what was it proving, where was it leading?

Still asking the same questions.

© 2007 lettershometoyou

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