Monday, December 31, 2007

spinning down

Just a few thoughts as the year spins down to a merciful end.

These are strange times. Kind of un-fun dark and anxious times. The nation that I grew up in seems to be a fading memory, and there seems to be little recourse on the part of our elected officials. We now live in a place where rule of law (for what it is worth) has been displaced at least in part by rule of man.

Where we see:

Former Guantanamo inmate set free. Australian David Hicks, “the first person convicted at an American war crimes trial since World War II was freed from prison on Saturday, after completing his U.S. imposed sentence.” Hicks spent five years in detention at Guantanamo Bay, followed by a nine month sentence in prison. “He was told to remain silent about any alleged abuse he suffered while in custody.”
There can be no practical reason to prohibit this information from being discussed except for political embarrassment. Not sure what a war crimes tribunal might think of the limitations on communication - they might frown on the "don't tell anybody about the torture until after the end of the political season or we will drag you back and torture you for the remainder of the nine year term." Nice.

And discussions about torture inevitably decay into arguments about the minutia of just how effective one form of torture might be over another in some hypothetical (ie unreal) story line. Rule of law. No discussion about due process so the base assumption here is that said person is just guilty, not found guilty by judicial process. If the decision about torture is predicated on effectiveness, then why don't we quite fucking around and apply it on the general US criminal population (more so than it already is). Torture and more importantly the threat of torture exist as a weapon of fear against an entire population. As a tool of information gathering it is denounced as useless so can we all just shut the fuck up about it and move on.

On the whole the Hicks situation reminds me of the redacted judicial opinion which, in whole reads:
"The danger to political dissent is acute where the Government attempts to act under so vague a concept as the power to protect 'domestic security.' Given the difficulty of defining the domestic security interest, the danger of abuse in acting to protect that interest becomes apparent."
particularly given the details of the case.

The whole rubric of 'security' has been so poisoned, that any mention of the word invokes the same feel good impressions that the Ministry of Love invoked in our demi hero Winston Smith. Security is about Fear Management rather than some archaic notion of personal or societal safety. It disgusts me.

As the new year approaches, there are quite a few interesting things that await us. Besides the agonizing Kabuki of the political process, we will see the steaming remnants of the executive branch mopped up and placed into the ash bin of history. We sit on a cusp - an inflection point really - where decisions made now will have generational consequences. Think about Miranda and the fallout from that, except for the judicial steam engine speeding in the other direction.

Not much else to say.

no one is united
all things are untied
perhaps we're boiling over inside
they've been telling lies
who's been telling lies?

there are no angels
there are devils in many ways
take it like a man

X, The World's A Mess It's In My Kiss

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Island of content

Mrs. set.element gave me the nicest gift ever. Went out with friends, had excellent dinner, watched my favorite band perform better than I have ever seen them. Ears still ringing.


See, I can post non-grumpy/paranoid/angry.


Friday, December 28, 2007

Left Hand, meet Right ...

Regarding the post last Saturday about the proposed joint DHS/NSA program, I wandered across a few other interesting notes.

In a letter to to the Bush administration, Rep Bernnie Thompson (Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee) politely asked "WTF mates?" Seems like repeated requests by he and his committee to get any sort of information have been repeatedly ignored.

More details can be read in an article here.
Thompson - whose panel oversees the Homeland Security Department, which would run the initiative - said he was unaware of the program's existence until it was revealed by The Sun in a Sept. 20 article.

A Homeland Security spokeswoman said Chertoff had received Thompson's letter, which was dated Monday, and would respond "in a timely fashion."

"We do agree that cybersecurity is a very important issue, and that is why since the beginning of this congressional session DHS has provided more than a half a dozen briefings to the House Homeland Security Committee on cyberthreats and related issues," said the spokeswoman, Laura Keehner.
So a program that has been in design phase for many months (if not years) which is expected to run for at least seven years and cost billions of dollars, which will require a revamping of the NSA charter and which involves access to highly sensitive personal information of everybody who is using The Internets transiting US geography - this is US citizens - is running silent and deep.

No indication of legal authority to even run the show. No indication that evidence gathered will even be usable when weighed against the remaining fourth amendment constitutional rights we still have. No notion of utility - how and what are they going to do?

That is what I want to know. Getting the data is surprisingly easy. Making intelligent decisions based on this collection of flows and application data can be quite difficult. Using the infrastructure to spy on people is trivial. Rather amusing in a cynical sort of way.

And we do trust them, yes?

The first part of the implementation seems to be a continuation of the Einstein program which is geared to globally monitor US government networking resources. This would be in conjunction with the OMB plan to reduce the number of POP sites hooking up government networks with the internet proper. No issues with this - we have seen budget and planning indications for this above the table. Government gets to monitor government networks. No expectation of privacy there(!).

What I am hearing though is this:
Policymakers have become increasingly alarmed at the vulnerability of trains, nuclear power plants, electrical grids and other key infrastructure systems, which rely on Internet-based controls that could be hijacked remotely to produce a catastrophic attack.

Recent attempted attacks on Pentagon and other government computer systems have heightened concerns about holes in government networks, as well.
Monitoring internet traffic will not actually address these issues. What exactly is the point of this program? Network monitoring sounds good and can be quite powerful in addressing some classes of attacks. I am not all that confident that it is the right tool to address issues related to real large scale threats to our resources. Nation-State level threats require smart responses rather than large responses. Sophisticated zero day attacks against high value targets are currently blindingly successful. Perhaps not tomorrow? Not sure.

PAB will awake soon, so I must go mop the floor.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

All the news, errr, just a bit of news.

Now that the majority of Squidmas events have passed and we are left with the less than fun task of cleaning up the place, it seems like a natural time to ignore the many tasks at hand and do a little writing.
The Ministry of Truth contained, it was said, three thousand rooms above ground level, and corresponding ramifications below. Scattered about London there were just three other buildings of similar appearance and size. So completely did they dwarf the surrounding architecture that from the roof of Victory Mansions you could see all four of them simultaneously. They were the homes of the four Ministries between which the entire apparatus of government was divided. The Ministry of Truth, which concerned itself with news, entertainment, education, and the fine arts. (...)
So I have been thinking a bit about the role of media in the perception of the world around us. This is not original or even all that interesting to most people. We all know and understand it, but this subject has been on my mind as of late so I will cast it out on the internets...

On Dec 18th, the NY Times (our Paper of Record) took the successful filibuster of the telco immunity bill and essentially ignored it - while I do not think that every little obsession that I have deserves to be on the front page, trumping this real and important information with 2/3 page coverage about small town high school football team. A great steaming pile of bucolic meat and potatoes americanism. The NYT did manage to make an showing on A29 for the filibuster.

The filibuster was one of the most significant political events to happen for quite some time and represented if not a departure from the current political kabuki, at least a tiny bit of fiber in the otherwise jello like political landscape.

My point to this is that with the new round of media consolidation the barriers to big business monoculture have been lowered again. The people who own the large media outlets are the same ones that are disinterested in a agressive and thoughtful social and political process. They want you to care about steroid use, or some stupid persons sex life, or whatever dumbfuckery is rolling by in todays sound byte.

I can (and have) gone on and on about this stuff, but need to tie this up and get on with the rest of my work.

Do I have a final destination for this? Naturally. It is a little more out there than the usual post material, but if you can't post unauthenticated irrationally paranoid rantings on your blog we live in even darker times than I think.
“The right of voting for representatives is the primary right by which all other rights are protected. To take away this right is to reduce a man to slavery.”
- Thomas Paine, Dissertation on the First Principles of Government
The introduction of closed source, privately owned software companies into vote counting and tallying has resulted in significant change in the electoral process. Don't go running away just yet - I have a point to make (!!!).

Ok. The presidential elections of 2000, 2004 and the mid term elections of 2006 were rigged. Period. The inconsistencies with voting summaries and exit polls in Florida for 2000, and the exit poll fiascos of 2004 combined with the Ohio election mix up point to real actional events that have been carefully analyzed and determined to be hugely anomalous in US voting history.

Nothing new I know. People do not give a shit that the school house rock democracy that they have had described to them for their entire lives has become a lie. It has never been a truth, but the magnitude of difference that I am seeing here is overwhelming. People do not give a shit because the ability to process this abstract change has calcified from an excess of fear, corporate porn and sound byte politics. Class politics has devourered the democratic process and intends to perpetuate the bilking of our Great American Democracy until it is useless to them any more. The bones will be left for the less bright theocrats to make little houses out of.

Done with my paranoia. There is hope, there is light, there is hope.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

A Good man of Business

Upon this day a very brief moment to stop picking up bows and little scraps of paper and fully embrace the meaning of our business. Many good friends over yesterday. Much food and talk and fun - truly a good squidmass.
"It is required of every man," the Ghost returned, "that the spirit within him should walk abroad among his fellow men, and travel far and wide; and if that spirit goes not forth in life, it is condemned to do so after death. It is doomed to wander through the world -- oh, woe is me! -- and witness what it cannot share, but might have shared on earth, and turned to happiness!"
"You are fettered," said Scrooge, trembling. "Tell me why?""I wear the chain I forged in life," replied the Ghost. "I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it. Is its pattern strange to you?"Scrooge trembled more and more."Or would you know," pursued the Ghost, "the weight and length of the strong coil you bear yourself? It was full as heavy and as long as this, seven Christmas Eves ago. You have laboured on it, since. It is a ponderous chain!"
"But you were always a good man of business, Jacob," faltered Scrooge, who now began to apply this to himself."Business!" cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. "Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!"

Saturday, December 22, 2007

He knows when you've been bad or good ...

Like I mentioned yesterday, there are just too many government agencies and non-governmental groups that want my magic ball of string.

There are a number of different topics that I have been hoping to have time to write about, this just came up and I thought that it would be nice to share. This is the season of sharing - like the head cold that I got from a nice person on BART for example...

So in the big struggle between the civilians (represented by DOJ), and the military (represented by NSA and in part DHS) to scoop up all of your personal data we have another move.

As have been discussed again and again, NSA + DHS have been gathering all the publicity for hoovering up everybody's packets and doing interesting graph analysis on them. Not to be out done, DOJ is now entering into contract to spend 1 billion dollars on a vast database of uniquely identifiable characteristics:
Digital images of faces, fingerprints and palm patterns are already flowing into FBI systems in a climate-controlled, secure basement here. Next month, the FBI intends to award a 10-year contract that would significantly expand the amount and kinds of biometric information it receives. And in the coming years, law enforcement authorities around the world will be able to rely on iris patterns, face-shape data, scars and perhaps even the unique ways people walk and talk, to solve crimes and identify criminals and terrorists. The FBI will also retain, upon request by employers, the fingerprints of employees who have undergone criminal background checks so the employers can be notified if employees have brushes with the law.
Two things - the money has already been allocated since they have a ten year contract to award. No surprise there. Nice to know that they are sharing in the budget pain with the rest of the government. The second and more, well evil, is the notion that the normal firewall between your average corporation and law enforcement seems to be gone here. Reminds me of the gilded age where the nice robber barons had such a good working relationship with law enforcement. Mind you, a brush with the law is not the judicial system finding a person guilty.

But it does get better...

Again, from the article:

The FBI is building its system according to standards shared by Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

At the West Virginia University Center for Identification Technology Research (CITeR), 45 minutes north of the FBI's biometric facility in Clarksburg, researchers are working on capturing images of people's irises at distances of up to 15 feet, and of faces from as far away as 200 yards. Soon, those researchers will do biometric research for the FBI.

Covert iris- and face-image capture is several years away, but it is of great interest to government agencies.

As a personal note, I wonder if that anachronistic notion that law enforcement should have a reason to go poking about my business will ever be meaningful again. On a less philosophical note is the problem of false positives. As an exercise for the reader, you can connect the dots back to other posts regarding similar activity. PAB is just getting up and there is much to do before Squidmass eve!!

Feel safer yet?

Friday, December 21, 2007

Sweeping out corners...

Prolog: In staring this blog, a major part of writing has been involved with exploring the various groups and agencies that are interested in protecting us from those dark shadowy evildoers that live in deep cyberspace. At this point it is really getting difficult to keep up with the sheer volume of participants who have lined up to play this game. Hell a shorter list might be those people disinterested in your packets.

Go figure.

Anyway, as discussed previously our friends in the executive branch requested some large block of funding ($282 million) for some sort of anti-terrorism humdrum to be spread across DOJ and DHS. I provided what I thought was a argument mostly based on innuendo and character assassination but it seemed like a good idea at the time. Some part of the dark budget side of that proposition seems to be surfacing.

From the Baltimore Sun (which has removed the original article which can still be located in a google search):
In a major shift, the National Security Agency is drawing up plans for a new domestic assignment: helping protect government and private communications networks from cyberattacks and infiltration by terrorists and hackers, according to current and former intelligence officials.
The plan calls for the NSA to work with the Department of Homeland Security and other federal agencies to monitor such networks to prevent unauthorized intrusion, according to those with knowledge of what is known internally as the "Cyber Initiative." Details of the project are highly classified.
Hmmm. Guess details of this project are beginning to emerge. This is the same set of folks that engage in illegal warentless wiretaps of American citizens. This is what they say about the whole thing:
Another former NSA official said that if the government wants to prevent cyberattacks, it makes sense to tap the agency's skills.

"I've got to be able to at least look at something to determine: Do I have a threat or don't I have a threat?" the former NSA official said. "It's important that you have the best thinkers with the deepest experience working these problems on behalf of the nation."
A little farther down we see:
Amit Yoran, the Homeland Security Department's first chief of cybersecurity, said in an interview that while the government has made progress, federal efforts have been "somewhat spotty" overall.

Among the main challenges, he said, is that the Homeland Security Department has been given responsibility for the problem but lacks the authority and expertise to compel other agencies and the private sector to follow its lead.

The new cybersecurity effort aims to build, in part, on an existing NSA program, code-named Turbulence, which has had a troubled start, the senior intelligence official said.
The language that is being used here is quite interesting. What does it mean that one agency will 'compel' other agencies and the private sector to do something. As an act, this is hardly without precedent (think about basic federal regulations). On the other hand we are not just talking about seat belts here...

I have several issues here: The least of which is that DHS/NSA have not proven themselves compitent in the domain of commercial computer security. This has been commented on before.

More importantly the NSA can not be trusted. Period. Ever. They have a long and glorious history of abusing their considerable power for pure political ends. Given the machinations that the EFF has had to go through up till now to show that they are already looking at most of this data anyway, it seems a little odd about the selection.

A final question in this day before the weekend before Squidmass, is simple. Who will monitor these folks? The DOJ? [hahahahahahahahahahahahahahhahahahah!!!] Even if I trusted them any more than DHS/NSA - which seems somewhat unlikely - they lack jurisdiction to do anything except to complain to congress, the courts or (you know this is coming!) the executive branch. Feh.

And what the heck is the 'Turbulance' program mentioned at the bottom of the article?
Turbulence is a loose collection of at least nine programs designed to give the NSA the ability to continuously patrol global communications networks. The Sun revealed the existence of Turbulence and outlined its management problems earlier this year.
This could all just be FUD and the program might be canned (or not even started). Just seems a little broken to me to even begin thinking about security in these terms.

* The dictionary options for this word include 'insecurity' which seems more than a little more applicable to me...

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

moral calculus

I have been reading with some interest the ongoing drama associated with the CIA destroying video tapes of them using "enhanced interrogation techniques" on (amongst others) Abu Zubaydah. While this topic is worthy of righteous indignation in and of itself, I will try to contain myself on this rich topic for another day.

Ok. One thing. What the hell sort of lawyer fetish does this administration have going on. Every dumbfuck stunt that they seem to try is met with "Well my lawyer said that it was ok." quickly followed by "Oops! Guess I made a mistake!" Cowards and Fuckwits.

But I have an agenda and intend to follow it...

In an good read from the Washington Monthly, we get the following:

And here is Barton Gellman's gloss of Ron Suskind's The One Percent Doctrine:

Interrogators did their best to find out, Suskind reports. They strapped Abu Zubaydah to a water-board, which reproduces the agony of drowning. They threatened him with certain death. They withheld medication. They bombarded him with deafening noise and harsh lights, depriving him of sleep. Under that duress, he began to speak of plots of every variety — against shopping malls, banks, supermarkets, water systems, nuclear plants, apartment buildings, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Statue of Liberty. With each new tale, "thousands of uniformed men and women raced in a panic to" And so, Suskind writes, "the United States would torture a mentally disturbed man and then leap, screaming, at every word he uttered."
As those of you who have the dubious pleasure of knowing me, it is no surprise that I have a strong opinion about these things.

If you are willing to sit there and tell me that it is ever ok to torture another human being, then you better be able to address the following:

In all the scenerios that I have had the misfortune of reading, there is some dreaded emergency where we scoop up some evildoer who has the everlovin secret sauce which will let us foil the plan. I have yet to hear one of these stories where an individual who has been provided with due process and has been found guilty in a court of law under the protection of the constitution is said evildoer. A suspect, forbidden access to rule of law, is tortured. I am sure you are still ok with this since there might be a "reasonable prospect that the torture of a terrorist will save innocent lives".

For the sake of everybody's sanity, I will skip the notion of terrorist identification. What it would be good to remember is that many of the people who find themselves in Cuba (and elsewhere) have absolutely nothing to do with terrorism. They were kidnapped and turned in for the money offered by the US Government.

Does any of this change if the suspect is a US citizen who has not been formally charged with anything?

So what do we do now if the torture does not work? What does the calculus of our moral system provide? We have recited that it is ok to torture a possibly innocent person to save innocent lives. So I give you your fictional '24' scenario. The suspect and their hidden bomb. You torture them and do not get the required result. What now? Their driver? What about their friends? Their spouse? Their child? What defines the line for right and wrong? What would you do?

In reading the comments to the article, I was struck by the moral calisthenics that people seemed to engage in to both support torturing there fellow humans and to pretend that this is still a country where there is some notion of rule of law. Nowhere did I see the issue of 'innocent until proven guilty' addressed. It is though that whole notion gets swept off the table. One comment really made an impression on me for it's wholesale lack of morality.
I doubt it, because unlike Nick, I think if there is a reasonable prospect that torture of a terrorist will save innocent lives, it should be used as a last resort. Actually, I hope we develop some modern form of "virtual" torture that does not signficantly harm the person, but secures necessary and accurate information.

Posted by: brian on December 8, 2007 at 1:44 PM | PERMALINK
Virtual torture. The play on words here is a little odd. The mechanism of choice that we have been all focusing on is waterboarding which is, as we have heard from countless experts, a way to simulate the whole drowning experience. Now virtual torture seems to provide a sort of ethical middle path for brian here. If we really don't beat the shit out of someone or deprive sleep or waterboard them, but instead only simulate an exact duplication of the experience it is somehow cleaner. Less wrong.

That is unless you have an issue with destroying the mind, body and soul of another human being.

Monday, December 10, 2007

A few thoughts on the free internet

The Party said that Oceania had never been in alliance with Eurasia. He, Winston Smith, knew that Oceania had been in alliance with Eurasia as short a time as four years ago. But where did that knowledge exist? Only in his own consciousness, which in any case must soon be annihilated. And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed -if all records told the same tale -- then the lie passed into history and became truth. 'Who controls the past,' ran the Party slogan, 'controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.' And yet the past, though of its nature alterable, never had been altered. Whatever was true now was true from everlasting to everlasting. It was quite simple. All that was needed was an unending series of victories over your own memory. 'Reality control', they called it: in Newspeak, 'doublethink'.
George Orwell, 1984

A few thoughts about the free internet:

There are so many changes happening to the way that out corporate masters are reworking the notion of an ISP, that keeping track of their actions is as difficult as keeping track of the criminal enterprise running the current administration. Yes, I have a great deal to say about those bastards, but that will have to wait as there are many people doing an excellent job tracking their evildoery.

Thankfully I know a little more about service providers than my political education based on School House Rock.

Let me get my main points across - your data is being monitored. It may not be by the NSA (though methinks that that is in all likelihood the case). It is by your ISP. Seeking to maximize profits as well as track possibly illegal web site access, your web browsing is being monitored and recorded. Those records are kept around for a long time. What you ask for is not always what you get. The data you request across your common carrier service provider will not always get to you if the profit margins are not high enough.

For those of you interested in citations:

Ex AT&T Tech Says NSA Monitors All Web Traffic

Google Hijacked -- Major ISP to Intercept and Modify Web Pages
ISPs Spying On and Modifying Web Traffic -- With Patent Application
German ISPs Must keep web content for 6 months
US Made Censorware used to oppress Burma
DHS wants master keys for DNS
Congress' copyright reform: seize computers, boost penalties, spend money
FBI Puts Antiwar Protesters on Criminal Database

The service that you the customer pay for is not the service that you get.

But who really cares?

You should care because the infrastructure exists to dynamically re-write the content that you see from any site. You should care because what you do is closely monitored by little brother. You should care because one of the only tools that exists for the dissemination and communication of viewpoints inconsistent with the corporate media message are carried over lines owned by those same corporations.

You really should care.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Bringing a toothpick to a knife fight

This is another example of Attacker 3.0
exploiting features devised by Developer
2.5 while Security 1.0 is still thinking
about how great it is no big worms have
hit since 2005.

Another dork post I am afraid. It has been quite a while since I have have written anything - between work, family and a research paper due, there has been no time to wax philosophical about the strange world around me.

Thankfully I can count the number of readers on one hand, so I doubt that anybody noticed.

Some time ago, I made some comments about the quality of hostile actor that I have had the pleasure of interacting with. The time has come to ponder the other side of the coin. Having just finished a graduate course in "Privacy and Security Enhancing Technologies" and dabbling in the actual day to day myself, there are some interesting things that I have noticed. The quote that on the top of the page (which is not my own) has caused more turbulence for my fellow co-workers than you might imagine.

We interact with computers, networking systems and the internet through windows of our own making. Since this is a strange combination of physical (little burps of electrons and photons crashing into semiconductors and doing Fermi-Dirac things) and mathematical (routing tables, state engines and statistical distributions) we have no way of really seeing what is happening around us on the many different levels that stuff is going on.

Ok. So what?

To process the huge amount of information that must be sifted through, we have whole sacks of tools and generalizations. With the most short term useful of these, one sees what you expect to and little else. There is, unfortunately, a whole universe of other things that slip by.

Ready for a little irony? The same environmental changes that are leaving many of the small classical hackers out in the cold are doing the same for the security community. There is a sea change taking place within the arena of computer security and quite a few people refuse to notice. Too busy watching internet worms to notice Cthulhu sneaking up behind them.

And the other graduate students? While I might have issues with "kids these days" not being able to do math without the aid of a graphing calculator it was a real pleasure to see some really cool out of the box work being done. Not practical stuff from an operational perspective, but at least it keeps me looking over my shoulder.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

You can't make this stuff up

As if in response to the last entry, the Washington Post provides a little article on Cellphone Tracking Powers on Request, Secret Warrants Granted Without Probable Cause. The content of the article is hauntingly familiar to the exact same behavior by DOJ relating to their new wiretap powers. To summarize:
Often, Gidari said, federal agents tell a carrier they need real-time tracking data in an emergency but fail to follow up with the required court approval. Justice Department officials said to the best of their knowledge, agents are obtaining court approval unless the carriers provide the data voluntarily.
This same "we need it now!" attitude where access to information requiring a warrant is made with the promise that such permission will be gained post-facto. Guess they just forget.

As an added bonus, the DOJ has a proposal in place that will provide automated access to high resolution gps tracing information. With the promise:
"Law enforcement has absolutely no interest in tracking the locations of law-abiding citizens. None whatsoever," Boyd said. "What we're doing is going through the courts to lawfully obtain data that will help us locate criminal targets, sometimes in cases where lives are literally hanging in the balance, such as a child abduction or serial murderer on the loose."
that they will not track the movement of law-abiding citizens. Just who would that be? Such a statement is pure bullshit and we all know it. Law abiding citizens are those people that law enforcement deems so. They are not people who make noise or question the government or assert their rights or anything of the sort. And if you are poor or black or Latino you are doubly fucked. Lay abiding citizens shut the fuck up and buy a new television already.

There is such a rich history of law enforcement violating this basic principle that it would take thousands of hours to even begin documenting it.

-Tin-Foil hats on!-
If you have a cell phone, they can track your movement to within 30 feet. With a little work it can be turned on and used as a portable remote listening device. Technology is a two edged mechanism - it is undeniably useful, but sometimes at a significant cost.
-Tin-Foil hats off!-

I will go hide under my bed now.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Same as it ever was

Things have been a little busy around the set.element household, so I have not been about to post much. To correct that, we present a little monologue on a topic I think a great deal about and which bores more people right to sleep.

Cybersecurity. Mmmmmm. More accurately, network monitoring.

Why should anybody care about such a thing? For the same reason why you should care about people opening your mail and listening in on your phone conversations. Privacy. Not that we have much in the way of that any more. Between embedded gps chips in newer cell phones, and the fast track devices that allow high speed transit across bridges, we as a society seem to be comfortable with the idea that your location is significantly less anonymous than it was even 5 years ago.

But enough of that. What I am talking about is the detailed active monitoring of internet activity in a non-directed way. This sort of dragnet activity is in direct opposition to the warrant driven CALIA actions that I have ranted about in the past. Fishing with dynamite if you will.

We start in the usual place - a request for money. On November 6 there was a request by White House officials for an additional $154 million to do two things - the first part ( $115 million) is to push forward the DHS 'Einstein' program which will be used to monitor government networks for worms and other traffic. I have opinions about this program that involve strong, salty language but for the time being all I will say is that DHS went around to other groups that had strong cybersecurity programs and asked how they did what they did. An excellent idea which should be held up as an example of doing something right, but what they seem to be looking for is so 2005, that it makes me a little squeamish.

The other far more interesting side of this is $39 million for additional DOJ monitoring activity. These are the same clowns who are targeting way more than just terrorists with their work. Remember that this is money that is earmarked for non-classified activity.
Justice, meanwhile, would receive $39 million to help the FBI investigate incursions into federal networks, increase intelligence analysis and provide technical tools for investigations and analysis.

"These are two things that are most successful and needed money," said Paller. "There will be a huge amount of money spent on cyber projects and I believe this is the budget for public facing part. The rest will be in the black budget."
Still awake?

So this is what is bothering me. Looking at the actual budget requests and modifications, we see that there is $282 million requested for cybersecurity counter-terrorism activity to be spread across the two agencies. Now, they have all the governmental networks (probably not all, but the public facing ones) covered under the Einstein blanket, so who is left? Lets play a quick game. The players are gov military, gov non-military, commercial and international. DHS and DOJ want to do more pervasive netwok monitoring under the vernacular of their anti-terrorism mission. Gov-military tells them to piss up a rope since they are the fucking military and will do whatever they want to. International has been officially covered by the NSA quite well thank you and they don't need any little newby agency messing up their fun and games looking for worms or whateverthefuck. Gov non-military is covered by Einstein. Shudder - I hate that name...

Ok so we will be looking for terrorists on the commercial networks.

Besides for blindingly evil politically skulduggery (which we can only assume), there are only two reasons why we might be doing this. The first is rather sad:
"They know monitoring works and they want more monitoring," said Alan Paller, director of research at the Sans Institute. "The money will be used to get out more monitoring more quickly and do more analysis of the data. That is useful and necessary because what they discovered is the federal perimeter is broken. One of few ways to find bad guys in [the] perimeter is a more intent analysis of traffic coming out of the computers."
it is the embodiment of an ignorant person hoping that more data will be better than less data. Is this good? As a marginally informed person on this topic you get a big maybe. Depends on who is looking at the data.

The other is a little more pragmatic:

US-China Economic and Security Review Commission's annual report to Congress says "Chinese espionage activities in the US are so extensive that they comprise the single greatest risk to the security of American technologies." The report recommends investigating whether China's own military technology is benefiting from US research conducted in China. The report also says that the Chinese military is developing the capability for launching cyber attacks that could have the "magnitude of a weapon of mass destruction."
Last thing. Where does the additional money come from? You will really like this:
To pay for the launch of the initiative, Bush proposed cutting back several homeland security and law enforcement programs, including funding for the Coast Guard, Hurricane Katrina rebuilding, border security, Homeland Security's inspector general's office and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Kevelighan said that shifting that money to cyber security and other counterterrorism programs would "utilize funding resources more effectively."

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Well the smart moneys on harlow and the moon is in the street
And the shadow boys are breaking all the laws
And you're east of east saint louis and the wind is making speeches
And the rain sounds like a round of applause
And napoleon is weeping in a carnival saloon
His invisible fiances in the mirror
And the band is going home, its raining hammers, its raining nails
And its true theres nothing left for him down here
As Congress debates new rules for government eavesdropping, a top intelligence official says it is time that people in the United States changed their definition of privacy.
And they all pretend they're orphans and their memory's like a train
You can see it getting smaller as it pulls away
And the things you cant remember tell the things you cant forget
That history puts a saint in every dream
Privacy no longer can mean anonymity, says Donald Kerr, the principal deputy director of national intelligence. Instead, it should mean that government and businesses properly safeguard people's private communications and financial information.
Well she said shed stick around until the bandages came off
But these mamas boys just don't know when to quit
And mathilda asks the sailors are those dreams or are those prayers?
So close your eyes, son, and this wont hurt a bit
Kerr's comments come as Congress is taking a second look at the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act...
Oh its time time time, and its time time time
And its time time time that you love
And its time time time

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Human Redaction

Don't have much time, but I thought that this rather interesting case might find interest in some people. I have been thinking and reading a little more about the 'Recursion' entry of a while back. The recursion topic was about Abdallah Higazy:
Abdallah Higazy is an Egyptian national who was detained by the FBI and who, in the course of interrogation, made a false confession. (Apparently the FBI's interrogation techniques "worked.") Among other things, Higazy claims that the FBI threatened to identify Higazy's family to Egyptian authorities. Fearing his family could be tortured, Higazy alleges this threat induced him to confess. After his release, Higazy sued and, in an opinion last month, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held that his suit could proceed.
This is the opinion - ie that of the Second Circuit - that is redacted in the blog entry. There is another, related case involving Majid Khan who is a CIA detainee. Ok, prisoner. What is happening there is that the CIA is attempting to prevent the release of information detailing his treatment by them. So the government kidnap and tortures you, then says that you do not have the right to tell anybody (except perhaps your attorney who is not allowed to tell anybody else) about what was done to you.


More about classification pathologies here.

I would like to compare this attitude to a historical example from the second world war. Sorry for the long quote - I will not indent to keep it from running on and on. From Orcinus:

Moreover, even the slightest hint of abuse of American prisoners during the war brought the house down upon anyone thinking of it. For instance, during the efforts to ascertain the loyalties of Japanese prisoners incarcerated during the war -- a subject explored in great detail in Eric Muller's superb new book, American Inquisition: The Hunt for Japanese American Loyalty in World War II, -- it happened that some of the interrogators at the Fort Missoula internment camp, where a couple thousand suspect Japanese nationals were being held, began applying abusive techniques, and nearly created an international incident in the process.

Carol Van Valkenburg, in her book An Alien Place: The Fort Missoula, Montana, Detention Camp, 1941-44 describes this in some detail:
While Alien Hearing Boards were investigating the loyalties of the hapless Japanese, Immigration Service immigrant inspectors were busy interrogating many Japanese at Fort Missoula who they suspected were in the United States illegally. Those interrogations created an incident with international repercussions considered so potentially severe the United States government kept information about it under wraps for more than forty years.

The incident began when Herman Schwandt, an inspector in charge of detention and deportation, came to Fort Missoula from Seattle in late March 1942, bringing with him some Japanese who were to be detained in the compound. While in an office building at the fort, he overheard these shouted remarks: "You lying yellow son-of-a-bitch, you have been lying long enough! If you don't tell the truth now I am going to knock your teeth down your throat!"

Schwandt reported what he had overheard and the Justice Department immediately launched an investigation. What caused apprehension in Washington, however, was a formal complaint filed with the State Department in June 1942 through the Spanish consulate in San Francisco. The International Red Cross had been told of claims of mistreatment when a representative visited Fort Missoula. It was reported to the Spanish ambassador, whose embassy acted on Italy's behalf since diplomatic relations between the United States and Italy were severed when war was declared. The United States government was particularly concerned that any mistreatment be stopped because it feared reprisals against Americans held in enemy countries if word of the mistreatment spread.
Not sure what more to say to that one. We need to take these assholes and put them in jail. Forever.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

What, you egg!

So I have been chased around by this thing for years now. It constantly reminded me of the relentless march of time, by shrinking at an alarming rate and growing a little fuzzy around the edges.

Upon reading Macbeth, I finally realized the danger of such 'shaggy hair' and vowed to do something about it:
First Murderer
He's a traitor.

Thou liest, thou shag-hair'd villain!

First Murderer
What, you egg!
(Stabbing him)
Young fry of treachery!

He has kill'd me, mother:
Run away, I pray you!

See what I mean. Nothing but trouble.

None the less it is a little odd. In mentioning my desires to people, the reaction is a little odd. Mostly quite negative - like I am not supposed to cut off my hair since that would mess up the box that everybody has put me in. Myself included I guess. None the less I think that it is a good thing, and feel quite a bit of relief now that it is gone.

For the record, here is the troublesome stub:

A little weird really. Like a toe in a jar of formaldehyde. I think I will name it Frank.

Thursday, November 1, 2007


This is in response to Mrs. set.element, who is not only cute but highly observant of the human condition as well.

Speaking of ill-informed, post-modernist style thinking we have the following. In a famous October 2004 article on the Bush administration, journalist Ron Suskind described his encounter with a 'senior adviser' to the president:
The aide said that guys like me were "in what we call the reality-based community," which he defined as people who "believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality." I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. "That's not the way that the world works anymore," he continued. "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality."
This was, naturally, taken from Chris Mooney's excellent book, "The Republican War on Science."

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Guilt By Assosciation

I was perusing a rather interesting link about a programming language that AT&T created that is particularly useful for doing data mining on collections of human interactions. Like people calling one another ...

It might be a little surprising, but I have no issue with AT&T doing this. They not only did not hide this information, but published a research paper on it, and released a publicly available version complete with a developers guide.

Of interest to privacy advocates is the following quote:
A 2004 paper published in ACM Transactions on Programming Languages and Systems shows how Hancock code can sift calling card records, long distance calls, IP addresses and internet traffic dumps, and even track the physical movements of mobile phone customers as their signal moves from cell site to cell site.
Again, what we are seeing is capability transparency and I am ok with that. Just remember that quote when you think that your movement is anonymous (and that was several years ago). Newer phones have gps capability built in anyway, which is far simpler to use ...

So what is pissing me off? This comment is:

So, what's the problem with a little data mining? Since the telco owns the call records, and you don't, they can mine all the data they want, and give it to whomever they want. If you don't want the telco to know you are calling hookers, or pushers, then don't call them.

It's not called the Public Switched Telephone Network for nothing!


Ok, so here goes. I am sick to death of these Ann Rand reading libertarian dreaming chronic masturbators*. We are a society of laws which describe what a corporation can and can not do with public information that they have been granted access to by the FCC. What does Public Switched Telephone Network mean anyway?? This is the same stupid thoughtless 'daddy knows best' attitude that started us down this long dark road of corporatist neo-fascism. Who the fuck came up with the stupid idea that corporations are somehow better at getting things done?

A corporation maximizes shareholder value. They do not particularly care about you rights, or your cat or your privacy except in that class action lawsuits might infringe on the bottom line. If you believe that google really acts in a 'do no evil' manner, you are far less cynical than I.

There is too much work to do for me to go on, which is probably for the better.

(*as an aside, this word spellchecks to 'bushmasters', 'masterstroke' and 'burgomasters'. Go figure.)

Tuesday, October 30, 2007


Now that highway's coming through
So you all gotta move
This bottom rung ain't no fun at all
No fires and rockhouses and grape-flavored rat poison
They are the new trinity
For this so-called community
See how we are
Gotta keep bars on all of our windows
See how we are
We only sing about it once in every twenty years
See how we are
Oh see how we are

X. See How We Are

Things have been a little busy as of late, so time has been limiting my ability to complain. Sad really. I am skipping any discussion on the sa
d topic of "Islamofascist Week" being celebrated on campuses as an expression of intellectual freedom, until I can think of something meaningful to add to the dialog. Till then I will dream of David Horowitz's head on a stick.

One of the more interesting things I have run across is a perfect expression of what is really being protected by the Justice Departments increasing use of nat
ional security rubric in hiding non-security related issues.

Just think about this the next time that you see a 'security redaction'.

Original document section (click on for readable image):

After the proposed redaction was removed:

So what exactly are we being protected from?
"The danger to political dissent is acute where the Government attempts to act under so vague a concept as the power to protect 'domestic security.' Given the difficulty of defining the domestic security interest, the danger of abuse in acting to protect that interest becomes apparent."
This is a quotation from a supreme court decision. A public decision in a public document. Feel better?

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Flogging redux

Some time ago (almost 2 months to the day), I put up a post that described my visceral anger at a democratic majority handing over changes to the FISA statutes. This made the little veins in head and neck throb and pulse rather alarmingly.

Not much better now.

Well anyway, several very smart and well informed individuals put together an informed version of much the same thing. From the abstract:
The civil-liberties concern is whether the new law puts Americans at risk of spurious -- and invasive -- surveillance by their own government. The security concern is whether the new law puts Americans at risk of illegitimate surveillance by others. We focus on security. How will the collection system determine that communications have one end outside the United States? How will the surveillance be secured? We examine the risks and put forth recommendations to address them.
The very short version looks like:
We see three serious security risks that have not been adequately addressed (or perhaps not even addressed at all): the danger that the system can be exploited by unauthorized users, the danger of criminal misuse by a trusted insider, and the danger of misuse by the U.S. government. Our recommendations are based on these concern.
It is currently posted as a draft, but is quite an enjoyable read. Much of what I wanted to originally express is written here, but without all the grandstanding and salty language.

Must go - there is homework to finish ...

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Reason and Science, those flowers of mankind

Scoff at all knowledge and despise
reason and science, those flowers of mankind.
Let the father of all lies
with dazzling necromancy make you blind,
then I will have you unconditionally.
Gothe, Faust

I have been reading and thinking about the relationship that both the Left and the Right have with science, Reason and the Enlightenment and have a few words to say. This post will lack even the caustic fun that torture and proto-fascism seems to bring out in me, so I apologize ahead of time. On the other hand, this is an important topic to me and reflects real problems that exist both in and out of academia.

The relationship that society as a whole, and The Academy in particular has with the general box of thinking known as Science has been changing over the past few decades. This is significant to me for many reasons. For myself, the impartial questioning and rationalism represented by Science exists as the single most powerful weapon against the ever present tide of authoritarianism (and the Irrational which it represents). Since the time of the Enlightenment, there has been a constant tension between the good old days of godhead kings, and the dorks who want to make this planet covered in smelly apes just another dirty ball of rocks circling just another mid-size sun.

This is the classic conflict that most people think of with Religion vs. Science. It is well understood and has been described in some gruesome detail by people both smarter and more articulate than myself. We move on.

Likewise, the maddening influence of politics in the current generation of scientists has been gone over in some detail - for example by Chris Mooney's "The Republican War on Science." The term 'war' here is not a misnomer and can accurately be used to describe the current relationship. The tension between the two sides here is absolutely natural given that fact based thinking is antithetical to most ideological systems. I shall reluctantly put down that knife as well.

So what remains?

There exists today a growing hostility from both the left and the right within academia toward foundational science. The orchestrated movement against science and rationality is described in a book that I have been reading - "The Flight from Science and Reason", edited by Paul R. Gross, Norman Levitt and Martin W. Lewis. There are two significant thrusts described in the book (which is a thick collection of articles and presentations).

The first is a direct criticism of the idea of a meaningful value for the scientific method and impartial observations and facts. They just simply don't exist. The second is pseudoscience. What I mean by this is the sad state of affairs where you get fuzzy ideas dressed up under the guise of real science. Hahahaha!! There, I said it.

The very idea that facts are contextually embedded within some sort of social construction seems to me to be a definitive case of philosophical negligence. It can be fun in that creative philosophy paper writing sort of way, but when it comes to deciding if the speeding car is going to clear the intersection before I go through, the burden of proof needs to be a little more reality based. I suspect that even the most die-hard anti positivist looks both ways before they cross the street.

In a nearly unrelated note, my personal favorite example of things going quite wrong for the social constructivest's is the Sokal Affair. Stealing directly from wikipedia:

The Sokal Affair was a hoax by physicist Alan Sokal perpetrated on the editorial staff and readership of the postmodern cultural studies journal Social Text (published by Duke University). In 1996, Sokal, a professor of physics at New York University, submitted a pseudoscientific paper for publication in Social Text, as an experiment to see if a journal in that field would, in Sokal's words: "publish an article liberally salted with nonsense if (a) it sounded good and (b) it flattered the editors' ideological preconceptions."[1]

The paper, titled "Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity"[2], was published in the Spring/Summer 1996 "Science Wars" issue of Social Text, which at that time had no peer review process, and so did not submit it for outside review. On the day of its publication, Sokal announced in another publication, Lingua Franca, that the article was a hoax, calling his paper "a pastiche of left-wing cant, fawning references, grandiose quotations, and outright nonsense", which was "structured around the silliest quotations I could find about mathematics and physics" made by humanities academics.

This is getting too long so I need to just get to my point...

There are real consequences for Science caused by this growing anti-rational movement. While the academic popularity of postmodernism seems to be waining, the seeds of dissent from an intellectual foundation which is reality based grow on and on.

An interesting example (abet somewhat dated), is the initial draft for the National Science Education Standards from 1991. In an appendix designed to clarify contemporary views on the philosophy of science, we find the following:
Two competing paradigms of science have been the focus of disageement among historians, philosophers and sociologists. The older, referred to as logical positivism, is characterized by arguments for the objectivity of scientific observation and the truth of scientific knowledge. A more contemporary approach, often called postmodernism, questions the objectivity of observation and the truth of scientific knowledge.
After the assertion that science is "the mental representation constructed by the individual", the section ends with the following:
The National Science Educational Standards are based on the postmodernist view of the nature of science.
The section was removed when the reviewing commitie freaked out with some members resigning in disgust, but the same social constructivist view seems to be prevelent in the document even after editing. Acording to Holton (as I have not read the document myself!)
Nowhere appeared a statement that scientists seek to find regularities in nature, or to discover and explain new phenomena or laws, or to reach sharable and testable insights about the lawfulness and order in the natural world. By these proposed standards, Marie Curie did not discover radium, she "constructed" it.
I could go on and on, but I will stop now. As I see it, this is just another step away from a social order based on rational discussion and order of law. I will continue this argument at some later post since this is already far longer than any sane person would read.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Tin Foil Hats (I)

With the revelation (to me anyway) that AT&T had a contract with the NSA pre 9/11, a few things have fallen into place.

First a little information about what has come to light based on alligations in a series of lawsuits against AT&T for allegedly turning phone records illegally over to the NSA. According to the allegations in the lawsuit:
The project was described in the ATT sales division documents as calling for the construction of a facility to store and retain data gathered by the NSA from its domestic and foreign intelligence operations but was to be in actuality a duplicate ATT Network Operations Center for the use and possession of the NSA that would give the NSA direct, unlimited, unrestricted and unfettered access to all call information and internet and digital traffic on ATT's long distance network. […]

The NSA program was initially conceived at least one year prior to 2001 but had been called off; it was reinstated within 11 days of the entry into office of defendant George W. Bush.

An ATT Solutions logbook reviewed by counsel confirms the Pioneer-Groundbreaker project start date of February 1, 2001.
Assuming that this is true, we have the following data points:
  • AT&T made arrangements to allow the NSA access to a major switching facility in San Francisco. This arrangement is from what I understand, illegal.
  • This agreement pre-dates 9-11.
  • Under several versions of the updates FISA telco companies are being given retroactive immunity from prosecution for illegally sharing data with the government. Probably other patriotic things as well. This is an acknowledgment that what the telcos have been doing is illegal.
  • AT&T recently announced an interest in developing technologies relating to piracy:
Earlier this month, about 20 technology executives from Viacom, its Paramount movie studio and other Hollywood companies met at AT&T headquarters to start devising a technology that would stem piracy but not violate privacy laws or Internet freedoms espoused by the FCC, the “Times” reported.
So here is my idea:

The NSA can no longer gather data using the 'historical' ways of doing buisness. There is too much public exposure and (more significantly) if the FISA blanket is not put in place the CEO's and their winged monkies will be torn to pieces by the angry shareholders. Under the guise of attacking internet piracy, a whole new monitoring infrastructure will be put into place. And we will have the vast powers of the FCC to protect our basic freedoms. Joy.

That's all.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Cephalopod Awareness Day

Almost missed it, happy cephalopod awareness day! Rock on invertebrates!


I am going to make this quick, as there is another longer post about the movement against science and rationalism in the editor. This is so excessively stupid, that I must rid my mind of it.

The head of Science at the London University's Institute of Education said the following:
"I am not convinced that something being 'non-scientific' is sufficient to disqualify it from being considered in a science lesson."
This is fucking flat out stupid and wrong. This is flat earth blathering nonsense. This is making my head hurt.

Oh but wait, there's more!
"The days have long gone when science teachers could ignore creationism when teaching about origins," he said.

Instead, they should tackle the issue head-on but in a way that does not alienate students, he argues in the book, Teaching About Scientific Origins: Taking Account of Creationism.

It will come as no surprise to anybody that the speaker (Professor Michael Reiss) happens also to be a priest.

Let me make this short and sweet. There are many groups to the left and to the right who want to use the rubric of Science without the responsibility that goes with it. This is not how Science works. If you want to sit at the grown up table, you right fucking have to play by the rules.

More later.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

War Pigs

Chapter 23: Where our semi-anonymous hero tries to prevent his semi-anonymous head from literally spinning off his body and bouncing off the ceiling as a response to excessive disgust and anger. Again.

The question at hand is simple. What needs to happen before you think that we have a real problem with the current administration. Really think about it. Most of the people I know who are reading this (all three of you!) share in the belief that there is something unseemly about the current state of affairs with the government. There seems to be no real debate about:
  • Suspension of Habeas Corpus for citizens on the decree of the executive branch
  • Human rights abuses - like killing and torture. Crimes against Humanity.
  • Illegal War(s)
  • Ignoring Congressional over site
  • Illegally monitoring US citizens communications
  • Fiscal impropriety
  • No responsibility for failed actions
This list is in no order, and represents small fraction of the Crimes against the Government and Citizenry of the Unites States and indeed the world.

So what? I have been down this road so many other times you are probably beginning to wonder if I am capable of breaking out of this rut. Probably not, but I do have a point. Let me start with:
“I find it unfathomable that the committee tasked with oversight of the C.I.A.’s detention and interrogation program would be provided more information by The New York Times than by the Department of Justice,” Mr. Rockefeller wrote.

The ranking Republican on the panel, Senator Christopher S. Bond of Missouri, said Thursday night in a statement that the committee had been briefed on the administration’s “legal justifications” for interrogation.

Mr. Bond said he understood that the administration did not want to turn over the opinions themselves because they had confidential legal advice.


My question to you is: who are these people? "Confidential legal advice" rather offends me. From what I understand, this represents the attorney client privilege (which this administration has been quite comfortable in ignoring for other people) which exists between an individual and their lawyer. In this case it would be between one (sub) branch of the government and their legal staff where communications probably indicate a desire to commit illegal acts. For the rest of us, that would probably be felony conspiracy - and not the tinfoil hat kind either.

What is really being said here? in summary:

One 2005 opinion gave the Justice Department’s most authoritative legal approval to the harshest agency techniques, including head slapping, exposure to cold and simulated drowning, even when used in combination.

The second opinion declared that under some circumstances, such techniques were not “cruel, inhuman or degrading,” a category of treatment that Congress banned in December 2005.

Administration officials said Thursday that there was no contradiction between the still-secret rulings and an opinion made public by the Justice Department in December 2004 that declared torture “abhorrent” and appeared to retreat from the administration’s earlier assertion of broad presidential authority to conduct harsh interrogations.

These are word games that they are playing. The Justice Department (sigh) declares torture abhorrent and then secretly says that you can waterboard people in freezers because it is not cruel.

It is the smug condecention of this which angers me so.

Everything these morons touch falls to dust, except the money taken out of our pockets. That I am afraid seems to be the only thing incapable of tarnish. I do not have an answer for the question posed.

I leave you with this.
Come you masters of war
You that build all the guns
You that build the death planes
You that build the big bombs
You that hide behind walls
You that hide behind desks
I just want you to know
I can see through your masks

You that never done nothin'
But build to destroy
You play with my world
Like it's your little toy
You put a gun in my hand
And you hide from my eyes
And you turn and run farther
When the fast bullets fly

Like Judas of old
You lie and deceive
A world war can be won
You want me to believe
But I see through your eyes
And I see through your brain
Like I see through the water
That runs down my drain

You fasten the triggers
For the others to fire
Then you set back and watch
When the death count gets higher
You hide in your mansion
As young people's blood
Flows out of their bodies
And is buried in the mud

You've thrown the worst fear
That can ever be hurled
Fear to bring children
Into the world
For threatening my baby
Unborn and unnamed
You ain't worth the blood
That runs in your veins

How much do I know
To talk out of turn
You might say that I'm young
You might say I'm unlearned
But there's one thing I know
Though I'm younger than you
Even Jesus would never
Forgive what you do

Let me ask you one question
Is your money that good
Will it buy you forgiveness
Do you think that it could
I think you will find
When your death takes its toll
All the money you made
Will never buy back your soul

And I hope that you die
And your death'll come soon
I will follow your casket
In the pale afternoon
And I'll watch while you're lowered
Down to your deathbed
And I'll stand o'er your grave
'Til I'm sure that you're dead

Masters of War
Bob Dylan

Saturday, September 29, 2007


I ran across an article on the narcissism inherent in the reporting and discussion of the Iraq invasion which got me thinking.

Ask a presidential candidate about the people and leaders of Iraq, and they might say something like the following:
Our troops did the job they were asked to do. They got rid of Saddam Hussein. They conducted the search for weapons of mass destruction. They gave the Iraqi people a chance for elections and to have a government. It is the Iraqis who have failed to take advantage of that opportunity.
This happens to be Hilary Clinton, but really it could be anybody. I have issues with political dynasties as a expression of this countries sickness, but that can wait for another day.

We need to sit back and look at the facts. As per a study done by researchers from Johns Hopkins published in the Lancet, by July of 2006 nearly 650,000 people have died in Iraq because of the US invasion of their country. Estimates by another polling agency suggest that the numbers may be closer to 1,000,000.

We will get back to these numbers.

Our country and government were not driven by any rational reason to invade this country. They did not constitute a threat to the United States in any way shape or form. There was no reason for the attack. The people of Iraq did not do anything wrong. Hell, they were living in a secular state which supported such absurdities as running water, electricity, public health and education. The country was run by a Very Bad Man, but this is not particularly unusual.

The best argument that we can come up with is that we invaded Iraq for the good of the population.

Back to the numbers.

Assuming that the total count is off by 50%, let us say that the number of needless deaths is around 500,000. Just to give you a tool for understanding how large a number this is, if you lined up that many people side by side (giving everybody 18 inches of space), a line 142 miles long would be created. The distance between San Francisco and Fresno is about 150 miles. Approximately 3000 people were murdered on 9/11. This sickening act seemed to reach out and touch almost everybody that I know and changed the fabric of our society in ways that we are only beginning to understand.

Now imagine the same thing happening every day for 5 years - that is 1825 days for those interested in counting. Now imagine that the social and physical infrastructure that holds our society together has been destroyed almost overnight. No jobs, rule of law, pubic health, sanitation, and not all that much in the way of electricity and running water.

Now give everybody machine guns.

Now import a bunch of wacky theocrats with the sole intention of causing social strife via killing for their own political ends. Mix them with the home grown wacky theocrats for a serious mess.

Do not forget a military presence which does not speak your language and has a bad habit of Blowing Stuff Up. They also the responsible party in the eyes of the populace which adds an element of hilarity as well.

And we sit complaining that the Iraqi people are not taking advantage of the excellent opportunity we have provided to express themselves as a Jeffersonian Democracy. That if they just had a little more gumption there problems would just Go Away. Fucking idiocy so such a degree that my head would explode if I tried to enumerate just how stupid this really is.

Here we go again. Rule of Law. War Crimes. We ignored every notion of Law and international agreement and without cause or justification destroyed a highly modern society killing upwards of a million people in the process. The designers of this tragedy should be set before a War Crimes tribunal and if found guilty spend the remainder of their sad lives rotting in jail.

Instead, Trillions of dollars will be moved from the coffers of Government to those well enough connected to park themselves in front of the trough. Rule of Law. War Crimes.

Crap. There is a growing movement to start this whole mess again with Iran so please contact your congress person and let them know that this is not such a good idea.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

System of the World (2)

One thing that I have been doing as of late is chatting with people who have a longer perspective on what is (or has been) normal in the scope of politics in the past 50 years. While I have memories of Nixon and enjoyed the economic clown car of Reganomics, there is still lacking an intuition about how things are now relative to how bad things have gotten in the past.

So when I asked my neighbor for a little perspective on the current situation, he suggested that I look over a book called "The Decline of American Power", by Immanuel Wallerstein.

The basic idea(s) seem to be that Capitalism as a world system developed in the 16th century is in a state of pathological decline. The most significant causes of this are based on the growing inability to derive profit from a venture caused by:
  • The slow increase of global wages. There are few remaining rural areas of accessible populations to exploit.
  • Taxes have moved upward (relative to the 19th century).
  • Capital's traditional practice of externalizing costs-by simply dumping its garbage into every stream and strip-mining every mountain-is encountering ecological limits. There are no more streams and rivers to pollute without serious consequence.
As the current 900 pound gorilla of the Capitalist universe, the US stands in the center of this mess. The rise of American International military and economic power began with the decline of the British Empire and peaked with the resolution of WW II and the Yalta Agreements between the former Soviet Union and the US. I am not doing justice to the arguments presented in the book, There is a reasonable review of the presented arguments here in case you are interested.

A long paragraph presents the argument quite well:
The Soviet Union actually propped up American power during its heyday, its 'hegemony' (1945-1970). It did this in several ways. First, its military power scared Western Europe into the US camp. Secondly, the standoff with the Soviets relieved the pressure on the US to offer aid to all the allies following World War II. Finally, the Soviets entered into a de facto agreement to police both its own empire and control its supporters worldwide, facilitating a stable world order. The one place where this system broke down was in East Asia, where first the Chinese and then the Vietnamese successfully resisted advice from Moscow to cool things down. The US wound up bogged down in a colonial war in Vietnam. Furthermore, expenditures on this war led to a loss of control of the world money supply. This coincided with both a worldwide revolt against the timidity of the established left (the 'world revolution of 1968' against dominant communists, nationalists, and social democrats) and the narrowing of the economic gap by Germany and Japan. Thus, for Wallerstein, the foundations of US hegemony were shattered by the early seventies, and the period since then has basically been one of slow decline.
According to Wallerstein, the role of the government since 1968 has been (in part) to convince the rest of the world that noting has changed and we are not in a state of decline. So what has changed? The current administration has modified the rules of the game. Not content to exercise the typical gluttony of executive power and profit (why be shy, yes?), they have drank the cool aid of "Unilateral Machismo". This is expressed by both the obvious disregard for world opinion in deciding unilateral military actions, and the obvious disregard for public opinion as treasure is moved out of the operating government into the pockets of their associates.

I am not such a strong believer in the book has an acceptable answer to the question about world change. There are quite a few sloppy arguments and things that I am not all that satisfied with. The thesis is an extremely powerful tool in poking at some if the questions I have.

Nice quote:
Imperial(ism) is a delegitimatizing term, even if hawks think it is clever to affirm it.