Saturday, July 05, 2003

In, Out, and Back Again

A few days ago, the Army Times published an editorial that was quite critical of the Bush administration. This was unusual; it is Standard Operating Procedure for the Times (and the military generally) to stay away from politics.

It's a myth, BTW, that the military is all hard-line Republican. The troops' political views pretty much mirror the communities that they come from. From what I've seen, the folks who talk the most about "military prejudice" never seem to actually know anybody in the military.

The editorial itself didn't say anything that anybody who pays attention to things didn't already know (Bush & co generally deliver the opposite of what they promise). What was interesting was that the editorial was pulled. Look for it, all you would get was a blank page. Fortunately, a number of sites mirrored it. Note to the Powers that Be: Once it hits the Web, it's out of your control. Trying to get it back just makes you look like jerks.

It's back now. I don't know what's more interesting: who ordered it pulled, or why it came back.

Duel of Wits

All right: where is the poison? The battle of wits has begun. It ends when you decide and we both drink, and find out who is right and who is dead.
But it's so simple. All I have to do is divine from what I know of you. Are you the sort of man who would put the poison into his own goblet, or his enemy's?
He studies the Man In Black now.
Now, a clever man would put the poison into his own goblet, because he would know that only a great fool would reach for what he was given. I'm not a great fool, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of you. But you must have known I was not a great fool; you would have counted on it, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of me.
(And now there's a trace of nervousness beginning)
You've made your decision then?
Not remotely. Because iocane comes from Australia, as everyone knows. And Australia is entirely peopled with criminals. And criminals are used to having people not trust them, as you are not trusted by me. So I can clearly not choose the wine in front of you.
Truly, you have a dizzying intellect.
Wait till I get going! Where was I?
-- The Princess Bride, by William Goldman

Well, Karl Rove, Georgie Bush's Svengali, has a favorite Democratic presidential candidate. He likes Howard Dean:

As a dozen people marched toward Dana Place wearing Dean for President T-shirts and carrying Dean for America signs, Rove told a companion, "Heh, heh, heh. Yeah, that's the one we want," according to Daniel J. Weiss, an environmental consultant, who was standing nearby. "How come no one is cheering for Dean?"
Then, Weiss said, Rove exhorted the marchers and the parade audience: "Come on, everybody! Go, Howard Dean!"

One of the side-scandals in Watergate was the revelation that the Committee to Relect the President (CRP) (Doesn't anybody say these out loud before they start using them?) had funneled a fair amount of money to George McGovern, who CRP considered the weakest of the Democratic candidates.

Is Rove saying this because he thinks it's true, or because he's really afraid of Dean? No way of telling. So what to do? If we spend our time trying to psychoanalyze Rove, we're not going to get anything done. Best to ignore it and go on.

Oh, and be sure to remember how the scene in the movie ends:

(a final glance back toward Vizzini)
To think -- all that time it was your cup that was poisoned.
They were both poisoned. I spent the last few years building up an immunity to iocane powder.

Friday, July 04, 2003

Happy Fourth!

Happy fourth! Looks like it's going to be a nice day; the sun is out (I got really tired of rain, there). Herewith some random thoughts, apropos of nothing in particular.

Pre-9/11, the only people who put up flags anytime but the Fourth or on Flag Day (remember that?) were the "ultra-patriot" right-wing types. Not nice people, in general. Now, it's everybody. When I was in elementary school, I was a Flag Monitor. I got to put the flag up in the morning and take it down after school. It was a big honor. Now, one of the things that a Flag Monitor had to do was learn Flag Etiquette. This includes such things as never letting the flag touch the ground, never letting it fly in the rain, never flying it at night unless it's illuminated, how to fold it, etc, etc, etc. With all the flags flying currently, seems that nobody really knows about that stuff any more. My next door neighbor, who is retired military, bought and installed a flagpole immediately after 9/11, put up a flag, and left it there until it fell apart. He's on flag #3 now, I think.

Now, patriotism is one of those things that seems to mean different things to different people. For far too many on the political Right, it means "shut up and sit down. It's unpatriotic to criticize." Now, I love this country, with all its natural beauty and wild and crazy people. This does not mean that any part of it is above criticism. I think of it as maintenance. Refusing to fix the fanbelt or radiator hose on your car isn't "respecting" the car; it's just stupid. We've got a fair number of those funny squeaky-thump noises coming from underneath things; ignoring them or claiming that it's the windshield wipers is asking for Real Trouble.

I think that the people who get all bent out of shape over things like "unpatriotic criticism" are really unsure of their own patriotism; they're trying to "prove themselves". To most of us, patriotism is such an integral part of our personalities that it simply doesn't need to be exercised, or taken out and waved around. One side effect of this is that, because I love my country, I consider it as natural and as useful as rain in springtime that other people love their countries, too. P. J. O'Rourke did an article (can't find the reference right off hand) about a trip up the Volga that he took with a bunch of old-line Socialists shortly before the fall of the Soviet Union (why???). On the same boat were a bunch of ex-Marines from New Mexico. The "all hail the Proletariat" Socialists snubbed the boat crew pretty thoroughly; the Marines and the Russians ended up getting drunk together and singing patriotic songs. For some reason, some people find this unusual.

When I was a kid, I spent summers with my grandparents in an itty-bitty town in Kansas. I would save up my money and buy a big pile of fireworks, and spend the whole day shooting them off. Some of the "night" fireworks were pretty, but the high point was always firecrackers. I never got any of the really big ones: M80s, Silver Salutes, or Two Inchers, which had the explosive force of a small piece of dynamite. While I have heard scare stories about the "inch and a half" firecrackers that I favored, they were always distant and never had any immediacy. (I've had them go off in my hand. No big deal.). Scare stories for the big ones were all too common. They really would take off a piece of your hand if they went off in it (happened to the kid brother of a friend. It wasn't a very big piece, but still.)

Now, I don't think that anybody allows firecrackers any more. Some of the rules are concerns about fire; I suspect more is simply that the people in power simply don't like loud noises. There's also the problem that firecrackers seem to create a particular kind of stupidity in some people. The kid I mentioned above found a two-incher in the oven in his kitchen; it blew up when he took it out. I had a close call with a Silver Salute one time. Looking back, somebody threw one out of a passing car and it landed at my feet. I didn't see it land, said "Oh, a Silver Salute that didn't go off", and reached down to pick it up, just as it went off. Military types -- what do they tell you about unexploded ordinance?

Ah, well. Time to head off to the picnic. Hotdogs, ice cream, and beer. Fireworks later. All nicely "safe and sane", shot off by professionals. Only thing to worry about are mosquitos.

Wednesday, July 02, 2003


What the heck! Give 'em a try. Let's see what wanders in.

I'm using HaloScan even though it's rude, crude, and nasty. In particular, I find the lack of a "preview" function to be seriously obnoxious. I tried Enetation first, but it flat-out doesn't work. It spews errors like something has crashed. Hey, the're free. Ya get what ya pay for. (Not really true. But you certainly don't get what you don't pay for.)


Always gotta have a Policy. (Why? It's "policy".)

  • This comment thing is totally experimental. If it doesn't work, it'll change or go away. In particular, if I can find a better comment program, I may change -- and there's no way to migrate comments from HaloScan to anything else. If you want to make sure that your deathless prose really is deathless, make your own copy. Cut 'n paste into your favorite text or HTML editor and save it locally.
  • You post something here, the contents are your responsibility. Not mine or anybody else's. Yours.
  • Please remember that this is a public forum. Don't say anything here that you don't want to be read by your significant other or boss. Or, for that matter, made the subject of a Special Report on Fox News. Want to tell me something on the QT? Send mail.
  • I'm pretty tolerant. I only plan to delete trolls, gratuitous attacks, blatant falsehoods, and illegal stuff. But I will delete them. Friendly hint: Don't push it.
  • Policy policy: I reserve the right to change this policy at any time, for any reason, without notice. Sorta makes the whole thing useless, doesn't it? However, you'll find that every other Web policy, including far more critical sites like banks and ISPs, has this clause in there somewhere.

Okay! Have at it!

Monday, June 30, 2003

No Such Agency, Redux

Many years ago, when I first started tangling with the wonderful world of the Spooks, the story was that Government information operators would not give out the phone number of the National Security Agency (NSA). "NSA", they would (supposedly) say, "is a special code for No Such Agency. It's a code used when somebody tries to reach an agency that doesn't exist." Also, people who worked at NSA were told to tell people who asked that they worked for the Army at Fort Meade. Fort Meade was, officially, a tank base. Lotta really high tech tanks, there. Even now, if somebody says "I work for the Government", they're probably NSA. People in other areas of government will tell you "I work for the Department of Agriculture" or "I work for the Navy". Even CIA people will say "I work for the State Department."

Now, the NSA is the US's prime codebreaking and electronic intelligence gathering organization. It's one of the largest employers in the state of Maryland. It's hard to hide. By and large, the've given up trying. It doesn't work and just makes them look silly.

The CIA also tried the secrecy business. When they opened their headquarters in Langley, Virginia, they didn't have a sign on the main road. The sign on the main road said "Virginia Department of Transportation Maintenance Yard." To get to the CIA, you had to drive around back of all the parked bulldozers and road graders.

Of course, this fooled nobody except legitimate visitors. Supposedly, a reporter for a local newspaper wanted to know what the impact of the new CIA building was going to be on local traffic. He called the CIA. "Sorry", they said. "Classified information". So he called the Soviet Embassy. They told him.

So what brings up this bit of ancient history? NSA and CIA have listings in the local phone books and signs on the main roads. Security that depends on keeping the presence of a major office building secret is no security at all.

Well, our newest security agency doesn't seem to have learned the lesson. Basically, the Hartford Advocate reporter, after getting FAXs from Homeland Security without a return FAX number (as required by law), tried to get in touch with HS's Press Secretary, whoever that might be. He failed. (Link via Scratchings)

What's going on here? It could be that we simply have yet another bunch of wannabe spooks pretending that they don't exist. I don't think so. Homeland Security is a completely new agency, and a rather large one at that. It takes a while (years) for something like this to settle in. They haven't got the bugs worked out of their systems.

Now, this is not comforting at all. After the biggest terrorist attack of all time, it was obvious that Something Had Gone Wrong, and that Something Must Be Done. Unfortunately, this Urge to Reorganize left us with the folks responsible for our security not knowing who their boss was, or even where the nearest coffee machine is.

How are we better off, now, with our shiny new agency? I'm not optimistic. Some of the obvious things that needed to be done were:

  • Better coordination between the CIA (legally forbidden to do anything within the US) and the FBI. Status: Done. This is one of the good features of the mostly odious PATRIOT act. Note, however, that neither FBI nor CIA has been subsumed into Homeland Security.
  • "First responders", ie, cops, firemen, and related people like harbor patrol. They need lots more resources and coordination. Status: Not done. Interestingly enough, the only one who still seems to be talking about this is Hillary Clinton.
  • Airline security. Status: Not done. They've just made things a lot less convienent, and we seem to be having weekly scandals about the screeners. Strengthening cockpit doors? I'll give them that. Armed pilots? Well ....
  • INS. We've known for a long time that our visa and immigration system was very badly broken. It needs reform on all levels, from Congressional action to an internal housecleaning. Status: Not done. They've changed the name and department. Now they can't find the coffee machine, either.
  • Medical preparedness. Status: Not done. If the recent outbreak of monkeypox had been a biological attack, we'd all be dead by now.

The only thing that's really visible from Homeland Security is all the cute color-coded warnings, which seem to have no relationship to anything at all. I really do hope there's more ....

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