Chechnya's pro-Russian strongman leader Ramzan Kadyrov has just posted a statement about the Boston marathon bombing suspects on Instagram, his social media outlet of choice. Here's the Google-translated version:
The tragic events took place in Boston. The blast killed people. We have previously expressed their condolences to the people of the city and the people of America. Today, as reported by the media, while trying to arrest a Tsarnaea was killed. It would be logical if he was detained and investigated, found all the circumstances and the degree of his guilt. Apparently, the special services needed by all means to calm the result of society. Any attempt to make the connection between Chechnya and Tsarnaevys if they are guilty, [is] in vain. They grew up in the United States, their attitudes and beliefs were formed there. It is necessary to seek the roots of evil in America. From terrorism to fight the whole world. We know better than anyone else. We wish recovery to all the victims and share the feelings of sorrow Americans. # # Boston # bombing investigation
Meanwhile, Kavkaz Center, the propaganda and news site associated with the Islamist militant movement in the North Caucasus, has posted an item in Russian expressing skepticism about the guilt of Boston Marathon bombing suspects Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev.
Headlined, "Strange 'Terrorists,'" the article notes that the suspects are "as if to order" for the U.S. media to link the events in Boston to the violence in Chechnya, and reports that "experts" have suggested that the only evidence used by U.S. investigators was looking at photos of people wearing backpacks near the bombing.
Ramzan Kadyrov on Instagram
A good rule of thumb for news in the Internet age: If there's a "Ha, ha, silly foreigners" story circulating on the Internet, and if 90 percent of the people writing about it are citing the Telegraph, it's probably mostly fake, or at least highly misleading. (See Putin's Boyz II Men booty call or Sarkozy's fromage fatwa.)
I suspect this is the case with the story of an Iranian scientist claiming to have invented a time machine, which has been making the rounds today. (To be clear, I realize that no one actually thinks he did invent the time machine. I'm disputing whether or not the news story is real.)
The Telegraph story that kicked all this off reports:
Ali Razeghi, a Tehran scientist has registered "The Aryayek Time Traveling Machine" with the state-run Centre for Strategic Inventions.
The device can predict the future in a print out after taking readings from the touch of a user, he told the Fars state newsagency.
Razaeghi, 27, said the device worked by a set of complex algorithims to "predict five to eight years of the future life of any individual, with 98 percent accuracy".
As the managing director of Iran's Centre for Strategic Inventions, Razeghi is a serial inventor with 179 other inventions listed under his own name. "I have been working on this project for the last 10 years," he said.
"My invention easily fits into the size of a personal computer case and can predict details of the next 5-8 years of the life of its users. It will not take you into the future, it will bring the future to you."
Caitlin Dewey of the Washington Post reports that the original Fars item has now disappeared. There is also a Farsi interview with Razeghi on another site. (Here's a Google-translated version -- it's hard to tell but the tone of the interview seems somewhat incredulous and mocking.)
After that things only get murkier. The "Centre for Strategic Inventions" sounds official, and gives the impression that some sort of legitimate Iranian organization is endorsing this claim, but a Google search for references to it without "time machine" doesn't turn up anything. There is a "Center for Strategic Research," but that seems to be a foreign-policy think tank.
If you search for the original article's Farsi name for the center, which Google translates as "Inventors and innovators in strategic guidance center," you just get items about the time machine, including some expressing outrage that Western news outlets are picking up on this story.
So until I see evidence to the contrary, I'm going to assume that if this story is true at all, it's actually just about one obscure crank saying ridiculous things -- a phenomenon that is hardly unique to Iran.
Update: A second interview, translated here by Arash Karami of Al-Monitor makes clear that no one every actually claimed to have invented a time machine, just an "a kind of agent-based modeling program that would predict an outcome given a set a of circumstances or situations."
Even that claim seems a lot more dodgy the more we learn about Razeghi -- or is it Zareghi?:
Zareghi also wouldn’t answer questions about his education background. When asked he said that he had “10 years of research history.” When pressed two more times about his degree, Zareghi finally said, “Education has nothing to do with this issue.”
As far as his “state-run Center for Strategic Inventions” that most Western media reported as the center of all of his research and 179 inventions, it’s a private company run by Zareghi himself. He said that he has registered his “time machine” with his own company but has not yet taken it to official government agencies for registration or approval.
Scotland is currently gearing up for an independence referendum scheduled for Sept. 18, 2014. If it passes, independence advocates hope the country could become the world's newest nation as soon as 2016.
First Minister Alex Salmond, leader of the Scottish Nationalist Party, is in Washington this week both to celebrate Scotland Week and to share his vision of what an independent Scotland would look like with American audiences -- including on Capitol Hill.
Of course, the timing of his visit also coincided with the death of Margaret Thatcher, whose policies -- notably the flat-rate "poll tax" passed in 1988 -- were particularly unpopular in Scotland. Salmond was a member of the U.K. Parliament at the time, and in a speech at the Brookings Institution today he discussed the unintended galvanizing effect Thatcher had on the movement that led to the convening of the Scottish Parliament in 1999, as well as next year's referendum:
As an unintended consequence of some of her policies, she accelerated a move toward a Scottish Parliament. She managed to alienate a full spectrum of Scottish society.
A very interesting thing happened one weekend back in '88, when Prime Minister Thatcher went to the Scottish Cup final between Dundee United and Celtic -- or Celtic and Dundee United depending on your point of view -- but the point about it is that both sides' fans held up red cards as Prime Minister Thatcher presented the cup. Football fans are not always known for joining together, so it was a very effective demonstration.
The same weekend, the prime minister went to deliver a speech to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland on The Mound -- it became known as the Sermon on The Mound -- and she argued that Christianity should be about individual redemption and not at all about social progress or social campaigns. This came as something of a surprise to the elders of the Church of Scotland who were engaged in debating exactly such social campaigns and then presented the prime minister with the reports on poverty and housing which they just passed.
The following Tuesday, as a young impudent whippersnapper member of parliament in the House of Commons at Prime Minister's Questions, I asked the prime minister to remind the House of the captain of Celtic's name, to whom she had presented the cup, and the name of the moderator of the General Assembly. She didn't think that was a very good question.
The point is, that was a huge sway for Scottish society. I opposed Margaret Thatcher's economic policies, I thought they were mistaken. But I've always held the belief that the reason Margaret Thatcher had the political effect she did in Scotland was about the social direction of her policies. [It was] exemplified in the poll tax but also in a range of other statements such as, "There's no such thing as society. There are only individuals," which ran counter to a collective consciousness of Scotland. What is that collective consciousness if it's not a national consciousness?...
It was indeed an unintentional effect. I think it genuinely puzzled her. I suspect what she was running across was a different national consciousness. The poll tax wasn't just unpopular in Scotland, but it didn't have the same political effect because in Scotland it represented a wider social agenda that people found impossible to accept. Therefore, I quite freely say that she did accelerate the move toward a Scottish parliament because people no longer saw the parliament as a nice idea. They saw it as something essential to protect the social fabric of the country.
In his speech, Salmond discussed the role he foresees an independent Scotland playing in the international system. The SNP's position is that Scotland would continue to be an EU member upon independence -- the EU is a bit more ambivalent on this point -- but would likely continue to use the pound. Salmond also believes his country should join NATO, though he would like to see the U.K.'s Trident Nuclear System removed from its current location on the west coast of Scotland.
The nuclear issue has loomed large in the independence debate, with Prime Minister David Cameron -- who opposes independence -- visiting Scotland last week to tour a nuclear submarine, touting Trident's importance as a deterrent to North Korea and Iran.
Salmond dismissed the idea that nukes in Scotland have any impact on North Korea, and in a brief interview with me after the speech, lamented Cameron's refusal to debate him face to face:
The case of the Union should be presented in its full honest face. That is the prime minister of the United Kingdom whose policy framework determines what happens over many key areas of Scottlish life. He is the face of the bedroom tax. He is the face of social inequality. He is the face of the lack of success, of frustrating Scotland's economic potential. He is the face of the Union and therefore should be prepared to debate openly with me on television in the run-up to this referendum.
That's the debate the country wants to see. It's one thing to sail up the River Clyde in a nuclear submarine. It's another thing to walk into a television studio and debate with the leader of the independence movement why he doesn't think Scotland should be an independent country. I'll tell him the reasons why it should. Then people can decide which face they like better....
He has chosen to sail in, nuclear-clad, to tell us why should remain under London control. So he has abandoned his high ground of disinterest and decided to get in there swinging. Once you've done that you can't avoid a debate. He's going to get dragged kicking and screaming into a television studio where we can have this out.
I also asked Salmond why, when the open borders and common market of the European Union would seem to diminish the importance of nationalism, secessionist movements appear to be stronger than ever, in Catalonia and Belgium as well as in Scotland:
The problems that small countries used to face in the world used to be two things: your territory under threat from aggression and secondly, access to international marketplaces. Both of these tended to push people toward larger countries or larger trading blocs. Both of these in the Western world have gone.... The disadvantages of smallness have disappeared.
ERIC PIERMONT/AFP/Getty Images
Until last year, Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed was best known for his high-profile advocacy on behalf of small island nations in climate change talks, which included high-profile stunts like holding a cabinet meeting underwater and starring in an acclaimed documentary. But political reality got in the way in March of last year when he was, he claims, forced from power in a coup.
Nasheed first came to office in 2008, in the Maldives' first multiparty elections, ending 30 years of rule by authoritarian President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. But after taking the presidency he frequently butted heads with the ex-president's allies in government and, in early 2012, ordered the arrest of a judge who he accused of trying to quash a corruption investigation. The arrest provoked demonstrations, and shortly afterward, Nasheed resigned, later claiming that he had been forced out at gunpoint by Gayoom loyalists. (He wrote about the events for Foreign Policy.)
Nasheed was arrested last March -- after taking refuge for several days in the Indian embassy -- in connection with the judge's detention. He is currently awaiting trial and, if convicted, would be ineligible to contest presidential elections scheduled for next September. On Monday, Nasheed caught a break when the country's high court delayed his trial while it investigates the legitimacy of the lower court that was to hear his case.
With all this going on, FP spoke with Nasheed on Wednesday by phone from his office in Male:
Foreign Policy: Do you believe that you will be able to contest this year's presidential elections?
Mohamed Nasheed: I don't think it is certain yet at all. I don't see the authorities here being willing to accept that. They know they cannot win if we contest. I am unfinished business, because they have to finish me off for their coup to be successful. So there may not let me contest at all.
FP: So what will happen in Maldives if you can't run?
MN: There's been a lot of hope among the younger generation that this country can change, that we can change our government though peaceful political activity and through the ballot and not through brute force. A fair amount of people have invested a lot of their life on trying to bring these changes. When they see it vanishing into thin air, there's bound to be a backlash.
FP: In another recent interview you said, "Usually in a coup you kill the other man, but in this instance I remain an irritant to them." Does that imply that you fear for your safety?
MN: There are always so many rumors going on in Male. Recently we've heard the that the Artur brothers from Armenia, who have a history in Kenya, have been in the Maldives. [The Artur brothers are alleged drug smugglers and hitmen from Armenia who have been implicated in a number of crimes in Kenya. Prime Minister Raila Odinga has accused them of a plot to assassinate him.] The police have commented on it and there's a very big scheme. There are all sorts of reports coming out related to these too people. There are always reports of murder attempts. Always reports of threats.
FP: So why do you think it is that the government has allowed you to remain an "irritant," rather than detaining you or forcing you into exile?
MN: They just couldn't! They've tried so many times. They tried a number of times and somehow every time they try to arrest me and test the waters, there's been a very big public outcry and outrage. So they just haven't been able to do that.
FP: This affair started with a showdown between you and the Maldives judiciary, including the arrest of the chief judge before you left office. If you got back into power, do you think you'd be able to work with these judges?
MN: Well, you know the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Judiciary has come and made a very long assessment on the judiciary here. A number of other international agencies -- the Commonwealth and other friendly countries -- have all had a good look at the judiciary. I don't think that there is rampant corruption in the Judiciary. The problem is that Gayoom is unwilling to let go. So my feeling is that another election would finally make it very clear that Gayoom is history and then we would be able to have space and room for us to reform the Judiciary.
FP: A number of countries, including the United States and India, recognized your departure as a legitimate transfer of power. The U.S. State Department also endorsed the findings of a Maldivian government commission last August, which found that no coup had taken place. Why do you think these countries are supporting the government's position?
MN: Governments always have to see if they can maintain some status quo and stability. You can see why the Indian government, for instance, had to recognize the new regime. But I think they were very naïve in thinking that this was a peaceful transfer of power and constitutional. They have seen what has happened since then and now they are coming around and demanding a peaceful election and so forth. I think the international community must learn from what they have experienced in the Maldives.
FP: As you're no doubt aware, unrelated to your case, there's also a call for an international tourism boycott of the Maldives over the case of a teenage girl who was sentenced to 100 lashes for premarital sex after she was raped. Are you worried that...
MN: [Interrupting] But this is not unrelated! Yes I am worried, but this is the heart of the matter. The coup was mainly radical Islamists. It was their coup. There was a core group within the military and the police who were very radical in their religious views and came out shouting "Allahu Akbar." They smashed the museum. This was the first flush of the coup. Then the politicians took over. But these politicians are having to introduce a much stricter code of shariah because that was the understanding. The attorney general has submitted to the parliament amendments to the penal code that would allow amputation, beheading, and stoning. This is what the international community totally failed to understand and is still what they are unable to see.
FP: So should the world be concerned about the spread of religious extremism in the Maldives?
MN: Our society here is generally very moderate. That's why they elected me. That's why they want to elect me again. I just thing we've given too much attention to marginal groups like these radicals. [The Islamists] contested us in a parliamentary election and did not get a single seat. They contested us in local council elections and did not get a single seat. But after the coup they have three cabinet ministers.
FP: I wanted to just ask you briefly about climate change. What's your take on the current state of international negotiations after last year's meeting in Doha and what should be the approach of small island development states like yours going forward?
MN: I think we need to come out with a positive narrative, where we can have more renewable energy, where we can have more jobs out of it -- not to equate development and carbon emissions. I would like to see development linked to more production of renewable energy. We need more emphasis on the production of energy without carbon.
China Digital Times posts the photo above, from Hong Kong's Open Magazine, which purportedly shows a young Peng Liyuan -- military pop star and wife of current President Xi Jinping -- entertaining the troops in Tiananmen Square in June 1989. The photo was originally posted by Weibo user @HKfighter, whose account has since been deleted, who wrote:
@HKfighter: After the Tiananmen Massacre, Peng Liyuan sang to comfort the soldiers. Open Magazine published this photo. [Then] for the 82nd anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party [in 2003], she sang the theme song for a commemorative film, declaring “fight for power, rule the country,” the heartfelt thoughts of the Party elders.
Paul French profiles Peng today on Foreign Policy.
Dissident blogger and FP contributor Yoani Sánchez is currently touring the United States after recently receiving permission from the Cuban government to travel outside the country.
Along with activist and photographer Orlando Luis Pardo, she spoke today at the Cato Institute in Washington. When asked by a member of the audience to explain her opposition to the U.S. embargo on Cuba -- particularly in light of the fact that fellow leading dissidents including Óscar Elías Biscet, Berta Soler, and Guillermo Fariñas want it to remain in place -- she replied:
I want to begin by saying that all the people you have mentioned are brothers and sisters in the struggle and I have excellent relationships with them. Unlike the Cuban government that forces a monolithic vertical structure and only reflects one point of view, one of the excellent things about the dissident movement is that it reflects a wide variety of viewpoints. This diversity does not stop us from sharing the same goal, which is a transition to a democratic system in Cuba.
I come from a generation of Cubans that have grown up with an official discourse constantly running through my ears that has expertly used the embargo as it foremost excuse -- blamed for everything from the lack of food on our plates to the lack of liberty in the streets. I have seen since I was a child how the official media constantly presents the embargo as the big bad wolf from the fairy tales I read as a child.
I would love to see how the official propaganda apparatus would function without this big bad wolf. I doubt that it could.
Sánchez spoke about the increasingly vibrant online independent media scene in Cuba and discussed plans to start an online newspaper when she returns to her country. "You can't even imagine the speed with which information is circulating on the island of Cuba," she said. "There's a whole alternate web of circulation where things [are] taken off the Internet and put on a thumb drive and passed from citizen to citizen in a manual way."
She continued: "It took me a full 10 years to see images from the fall of the Berlin Wall. But my son was able to witness the images from Tahrir Square almost exactly as they were happening."
Sánchez wrote for FP about her struggles to travel outside Cuba last November. She has traveled to Brazil, Mexico, Spain, and the Czech Republic since she was granted a passport, and has been met at several of her stops by pro-Cuban protesters, who have disrupted her events. At today's event, she said she suspected that the Cuban government may have granted her permission to travel in order to set up the very public disruptions, or in hopes that she would remain abroad. "They made a bad bet," she said.
Jose Castañares/AFP/Getty Images
Rather than following the day's headlines, my goal here is to explore the theory, data, and scholarly debates behind world news. That could mean looking into social science research that expands our understanding of new developments. It could mean keeping an eye on the intellectual food fights playing out across university campuses and think tanks. It could mean delving into the books that are shaking up policy debates -- or are about to.
But my broader goal with the project is to expand the definition of what we consider "foreign policy." Many FP readers are likely familiar with the latest strains of thought in, say, development economics, military doctrine, or political science. But I'm interested in exploring how fields as diverse as anthropology, linguistics, psychology, medicine, religion, or cartography can help us have a more informed conversation on global politics.
For the first day, I wrote on how Twitter may have been used by military planners during the Libyan war, how geologists determine the all-important spot where a country's continental shelf ends, and consider what -- if anything -- Hugo Chavez's 'Bolivarianism' had to do with the actual Simon Bolivar.
I'll hope you'll visit regularly, comment, and engage me on Twitter at @joshuakeating. I will still be writing frequently on Passport for newsier items, but the day-to-day supervision of the blog will now in the more than capable hands of my colleague, Uri Friedman.
Running this blog for the last five (!) years has been an absolute blast. Thanks to all of you for reading.
Visitors to the filesharing megasite Pirate Bay today might be surprised to see a North Korean flag on the page's usual Pirate Ship logo. The image links to the following post on the site's blog:
The Pirate Bay has been hunted in many countries around the world. Not for illegal activities but being persecuted for beliefs of freedom of information. Today, a new chapter is written in the history of the movement, as well as the history of the internets.
A week ago we could reveal that The Pirate Bay was accessed via Norway and Catalonya. The move was to ensure that these countries and regions will get attention to the issues at hand. Today we can reveal that we have been invited by the leader of the republic of Korea,[sic] to fight our battles from their network.
This is truly an ironic situation. We have been fighting for a free world, and our opponents are mostly huge corporations from the United States of America, a place where freedom and freedom of speech is said to be held high. At the same time, companies from that country is chasing a competitor from other countries, bribing police and lawmakers, threatening political parties and physically hunting people from our crew. And to our help comes a government famous in our part of the world for locking people up for their thoughts and forbidding access to information.
We believe that being offered our virtual asylum in Korea is a first step of this country's changing view of access to information. It's a country opening up and one thing is sure, they do not care about threats like others do. In that way, TPB and Korea might have a special bond. We will do our best to influence the Korean leaders to also let their own population use our service, and to make sure that we can help improve the situation in any way we can. When someone is reaching out to make things better, it's also ones duty to grab their hand.
The story first appeared a few hours ago on the blog of Swedish Pirate Party founder and chief evangelist Rick Falkvinge. (The Pirate Party and Pirate Bay share political goals and have frequently cooperated but are separate organizations.) Falkvinge writes that the current traceroute for the site can be tracked back to this ISP located in the Potong-gang District of Pyongyang. "North Korea may have the one government on this planet which takes pride in asking Hollywood and United States interests to take a hike in the most public way imaginable," he added.
Pirate Bay lost its hosting from the Swedish Pirate Party last month, after the group faced legal pressure from an alliance of copyright holders. The hosting was moved to Pirate Parties in Norway and Catalonia, but the Norwegian party apparently dropped the site earlier today.
The typically reliable website TorrentFreak quotes at "PirateBay insider," saying “We’ve been in talks with them for about two weeks, since they opened access for foreigners to use 3g in the country... TPB has been invited just like Eric Schmidt and Dennis Rodman. We’ve declined for now.”
So is this for real, or an elaborate prank? TorrentFreak writes, "While it’s hard to believe everything The Pirate Bay says, the site does indeed route through North Korea at the moment."
I'm still not totally buying it, given that back in 2007, the site posted an April Fool's joke about moving its hosting to the North Korean embassy. "We would like to thank Kim Jong-Il for the opportunity and we would like all of our users to review their current feelings towards this great nation!" they wrote at the time.
In a post last year, the Pirate Bay's blog presented itself as a weapon against North Korean information suppression. "We receive more than 100 visits daily from North Korea and we sure know that they need it," they wrote. "If there's something that will bring peace to this world it is the understanding and appreciation of your fellow man."
Also, if they were really doing business with North Korea, they would probably know that its official name is the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. The "Republic of Korea" is the South.
So there's plenty of reason to be suspicious, though after last week, anything seems possible.
Update: The North Korea Tech blog throws some more cold water on the story:
The Pirate Bay needs a significant amount of bandwidth — something North Korea doesn’t have.[...]
When I track Internet traffic from my PC to The Pirate Bay’s website, it does appear to flow to North Korea’s Internet gateway point. What happens after that is unclear.
[The track] shows traffic running from Level 3, an Internet backbone operator in the U.S., onto the network of Intelsat. The international satellite operator is one of North Korea’s two providers of Internet connectivity. From Intelsat is runs onto the North Korean Internet, denoted by the Internet address “184.108.40.206? on line 21. But no more data is returned, so it’s difficult to plot the remainder of the path to The Pirate Bay website.
I e-mailed Falkvinge, who wrote back that the technical reports casting doubt on the story "look credible":
The Pirate Bay is tremendously skilled at two things: keeping their site online, and pranking the establishment. Given that, I lean toward it being a hilarious hoax.
Update 2: The Pirate Bay comes clean. It was a hoax:
We’ve also learned that many of you need to be more critical. Even towards us. You can’t seriously cheer the “fact” that we moved our servers to bloody North Korea. Applauds to you who told us to fuck off. Always stay critical. Towards everyone!
Passport, FP’s flagship blog, brings you news and hidden angles on the biggest stories of the day, as well as insights and under-the-radar gems from around the world.