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Ethiopian Troops in Somalia Join AMISOM

I was reading the news today and noticed “Kevin Knodell in War is Boring” says “Ethiopian Troops Have Returned to Somalia—That’s Not a Good Thing

This move was surprising—perhaps even shocking—as Ethiopia has a long and brutal history with Somalia in the form of border wars, invasions and accusations of torture, rape and executions.

There’s also a fear this has the potential to undo everything AMISOM has accomplished.

Well, I disagree with both; the move is not surprising and is not likely to undo everything. As a long-time student of the Horn of Africa, I am very intrigued by these conclusions. The headline seems overly confident and also pessimistic on the long-standing complicated border-conflict scenario that includes an ongoing rebellion and fractured state with external pressures.

Unfortunately I do not have time to rebut the entire article. Note in 2008 I mentioned how US foreign policy pushed an Ethiopian offensive into Somalia. Then I recommended in 2009, in a post called “Somalia Begs for Invasion,” that an AU-led stabilization force would be the best option to reduce regional conflict and guide foreign influences. AMISOM is the African Union Mission in Somalia. Almost six years later, I will take this opportunity to provide some analysis of how things are shaping up:

Recent Somali depictions of the conflict paint Ethiopia as brutal and meddling in their affairs. This is a sign of a strengthening sense of state and sovereignty by the Somalis; it also is to be expected. Somalia and Ethiopia both tend to trade harsh words at a high level. The fact is Somalia still is actually quite fractured and Ethiopia has many people sympathetic to Somali statehood.

On the one hand if you believe in realpolitik, then you might say this means Ethiopia will continue to destabilize Somalia for its own benefit, whatever that might be. In South Africa the destabilization of its neighbors was to prevent an uprising/invasion against Apartheid. What would Ethiopia’s reason be for weakening Somalia? This is not clear. Although I have written before why the U.S. wants to keep Somalia from forming sovereignty — to allow for “legal” elimination of high-value targets (e.g. terrorists). The more sovereignty Somalia establishes, the more difficult it becomes for the U.S. to ignore human and state rights against intervention.

On the other hand if you believe Ethiopia is worried about the impact to them from a destabilized neighboring state, then you might say it will drive an agenda (again perhaps influenced by U.S. policy) as I wrote about before here. Kenya has a very strong and active intervention policy we can observe.

Sending troops indicates Ethiopia could intend taking an active role in determining the fractured Somalia’s fate in the above two ways. However, the Horn of Africa is not so easily parsed into such neat boxes of one state intervening in another. The key to understanding this latest troop deployment is most likely related to Ethiopian domestic issues; an ongoing conflict over the Ogaden region within Ethiopia.

As I have written about before here, Ethiopia is cracking down on dissent and struggling to control the ONLF rebel group. In other words the move by Ethiopia to add troops to AMISOM may actually be a concern over a majority population in conflict with a minority in control; ethnic and political disputes. Operations/camps located across the border with Somalia would therefore drive Ethiopia to want greater access to defeat opposition. The Ogaden area has been in dispute for a very long time, particularly in 1948, 1964 and 1977, as well as 1996. Each of these events is rich and complex on their own; most relevant to the recent news is that fact Ethiopia invaded in 1996. They sent their military into areas of SW Somalia, on the border with the Ogaden, called Gedo, Bay and Bakool.

Where will the new Ethiopian troops joining AMISOM be stationed? Gedo, Bay and Bakool.

What I’m guessing, therefore, is that Ethiopia has managed to get international backing to put monitors in Somali territory to deal with Ogaden rebels attacking Ethiopia. Instead of invading, they have agreed to help “stabilize” the region while actually looking for anti-Ethiopian rebels. This also is about fighting with al Shabaab, of course, who also are anti-Ethiopian. And on that note it is important to realize that Ethiopia’s military is backing many of the Somali regions already fighting against al Shabaab. So this deployment is not altogether unusual in terms of support. It is unusual in that it may achieve the objectives of 1996 without declaration of war or unauthorized border crossing.

Ethiopian AMISOM troops do not seem entirely out of place. Calling it “not a good thing” is taking an odd position on a complex topic. The specific location of their assignment speaks to a complex and long-time brewing relationship between the two countries, and an Ethiopian internal dispute between Tigrayan leadership and Oromo rebels. This parallels action by Turkey to cross into northern Iraq, for example, to deal with Kurdish rebels. Note that Cheney specifically told Turkey that he wanted them to police northern Iraq. Thus, Ethiopian policing of a border area with rebel activity is not entirely unexpected. And because it’s part of an international effort instead of unilateral declaration of war…well, perhaps there’s some hope for AU control and even increased humanitarian oversight of the disputes. That is probably too optimistic, but AMISOM does claim to have oversight of the Ethiopian forces; better than if Ethiopia simply invaded again.

One final thought. Some want to depict the conflict as an Islamic Somali state against a Christian Ethiopia. The fact is Ethiopia has a largely Islamic population and the Ethiopian Army is led by an Islamic General who himself used to lead a Tigrayan rebel group (TPLF). Depicting all Somalis as opposed to an Ethiopian military presence or support is incorrect. Many Somalis have asked for Ethiopian intervention. Likewise, depicting this along religious lines also is incorrect.

Updated to add: Paul Williams suggested reading the “Providing for Peacekeeping” report by Solomon Ayele Dersso, from the Institute for Security Studies, Addis Ababa Office.
A “Rationale’s for Contributing” section is on page three:

  • Political
  • Economic
  • Security
  • Institutional
  • Normative

A “Barriers to Contributing” section is on page four:

  • Alternative institutional preferences for crisis management
  • Alternative political or strategic priorities
  • Resistance in the military
  • Lack of fit with legislative, procurement and operational timelines

Posted in History, Security.


On Kristallnacht: Tom Perkins Edition

This is not exactly a post I wanted to write. I watched a general reaction to Tom Perkins, however, and felt a serious gap emerging in the news. I started to wonder who would respond with a detailed take-down of his letter.

Tom Perkins is obviously wrong to compare himself to Jews persecuted under Nazi rule. He obviously is wrong to characterize Kristallnacht as an event where a poor majority persecuted a prosperous minority. How can he be so misinformed? Then again, I have not seen anyone offering us specific details or explaining why his wrongs are so obvious.

Typical Mistake of the 1%?

Some have bothered to compare him to the many other rich Americans who depict their critics as Nazis.

Tom Perkins’ letter to the editor is not, as the enraged commentary around it implies, some isolated or anomalous incident. Rather, it is a fairly standard example of a pervasive system of propaganda attempting to paint the world’s wealthiest oligarchs as victims.

Perkins is trying to convince us he is a victim of persecution. Odd.

Consider for a minute how Perkins is a man of great power and influence. Then read how he explained the hundreds of millions he spent on a luxury yacht for himself.

“I could give you some technical reasons why it really has got to be big to work right,” he said. “But I just wanted the biggest boat.” He added: “Do I have an ego? Yes. Is it big? Yes.” […] Mr. Perkins says it didn’t cost $300 million, but he declined to give a number, beyond saying “I’m embarrased about how much it cost. There’s the homeless and charity and a lot of things you can do with that money that would improve the world.”

I read this as, “I could improve the world with my mountains of money. I am not. Instead I do what I want, when I want and how I want.”

This is not the voice of a victim. Perhaps this cartoon explains it best:

Chairs Must be Elephants Because Both Have Legs

Kristallnacht victims were NOT victims because they were a numeric minority.

Population size is a horribly inaccurate and misleading way to describe the Nazi tragedy. Perkins, nonetheless, tries to pretend that because Jews were 1% of the population and because he is one the richest 1% of America, therefore he must be like a Jew in Nazi Germany.

Perkins’ misrepresentation of Kristallnacht is not only obviously stupid, it actually turns out to be completely backwards. Victims of the Nazis were those who had no power to defend themselves; those who lacked representation and had no options.

The Nazis, however, were 1% of the population with immense power…

Abraham Lincoln once said “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”

Perkins is in the driver seat with the amount of power he wields. He is the opposite of an un-emancipated and un-represented victim of a powerful and violent authority. He can go anywhere at any time.

Even if mobs wanted to harm him there are many ways he can have others stop those mobs on his behalf. He probably has a lot of insurance. You know who was prevented from collecting their insurance? Jews who had everything destroyed by Kristallnacht saw all of their insurance money stolen by the powerful Nazis who just destroyed everything.

Perhaps some basic review of events with clear analysis will convince him to stop comparing himself (in his powerful luxury position) to those violently attacked and actually denied the most basic human rights.

If Not Me, Then Who?

Not sure I am the person to take on this job. Some of my reason for not wanting to write this post is related to the risk of having to explain myself and my bias as well as perspectives. I realize personal details are the sort of thing people like to read about. It probably makes my story meaningful or more relevant than the average response.

Perkins revealed some personal details such as “some of my family are poor” and “some of my best friends are Jewish” to defend his ideas. I’ll try to avoid that annoyingly illogical kind of statement. Never mind his friends and family, his arguments are bogus. Same for me, I would rather the facts stand on their own, regardless of who I am or who I know.

Nonetheless, in terms of full disclosure and because I know people will ask anyway here are some key points.

My family fought against the Nazis, as I’ve written about before here (“ran telephone wire behind enemy lines”) and here (“shot down over France on this day in 1944 during mission #148″).

My family also suffered directly, extensively and horribly under Nazi rule (also mentioned briefly before) despite having lived in Germany for nearly 500 years and being decorated in WWI as soldiers and working many, many generations as rural agrarians (anti-Semitic propaganda accused Jews of being too lazy to fight or work the land).

I have spent more than 30 years, including the time I spent earning a postgraduate history degree from LSE, studying details of my own family story as well as trying to make sense of the wider tragedy.

Through the years I have had access to many first-person accounts and original documents. Relatives told me in great detail about their life before, during and after Nazi rule. If you want to hear the horrible and harrowing experiences of 1930s life-and-death OPSEC, let me know. I have many, many stories heard directly from the people who experienced Nazi terror.

I also hitch-hiked my way through Germany and listened carefully to stories of strangers. I have met face-to-face with survivors in America, Germany, Czech Republic, England, Israel, France, Bulgaria, Hungary and Poland. And when I say survivors I mean from all sides of the conflict.

A lot of what I studied also has happened more recently. Unlike Perkins’ speculation about a rise of present-day Nazism, I have spoken with actual neo-Nazis. I ended up trapped one frigid winter night in an old unheated train car with drunken Bulgarians, for example, as they jovially discussed the importance to the world economy of killing Jews — removing the Jew-tax, as they called it.

In the 1990s my house was trashed by neo-Nazi groups who drew swastikas, left scrawled notes with death threats and tried to light everything on fire (stupidly and unsuccessfully). And even very recently in San Francisco a neighbor told me she was adopted by a neo-Nazi family in Sacramento that had sent her to the city to make money to support their “operations” after several members ended up in jail.

Perhaps I’m prone to looking into shadows of risk more than others, or perhaps shadows cast over all of us naturally and I just choose to stick around and understand instead of heading for the light immediately. Curiosity is dangerous yet insightful. Either way, I have accumulated a significant amount of first-hand stories as well as my own experiences with Nazis in the past and the present.

So that’s me. Hopefully the points below stand on their own, but now you know more about who is making them.

Here We Go

As I said earlier, I had hoped a debunking of Tom Perkins’ idiotic letter should already have been done somewhere by someone. I have not seen it. Rather than just say “what an fool” or “how dare he” I want to see some historic accuracy showing how he invoked Kristallnacht incorrectly.

I will take his letter step-by-step, although not necessarily in order, to write my response.

Error 1: Kristallnacht was unthinkable, and progressives are like Nazis

This is a very dangerous drift in our American thinking. Kristallnacht was unthinkable in 1930; is its descendant “progressive” radicalism unthinkable now?

Who believes Kristallnacht unthinkable in 1930? That is completely false. Not only was this type of event thought of prior to 1930, it was publicly discussed and described for at least 40 years prior in government and even taught to children in a song/poem released in 1923.

Can we call today’s “progressive” radicalism a descendant of Nazi violence? Completely backwards. Progressives then, like today, were pushing for change and more representation. Conservative radicals are more likely a descendant of Kristallnacht; taking action to halt change and to force exclusion.

Consider that short periods of success by the Progressive party in Germany, along with Social Democrats, meant a Kristallnacht-like event was delayed. Progressive gains in government actually may have delayed Kristallnacht by 15 years (e.g. Hitler was jailed in 1923).

Of course the Nazis tried to appropriate terms like “progressive” for themselves to win support in their rise to power but today it is obvious their words were never to be taken at face value and require further research before believing.

And finally, why does Perkins call out 1930? It’s a strange and unexplained year. I am not sure how this year was chosen for his letter. Perhaps he thinks everything in Germany was rainbows and unicorns for Jews before 1930?

Germany’s Dangerous Drift

Here’s what I would offer you instead as a more accurate depiction of actual events. Take a look at this simple timeline of a “very dangerous drift” in Germany and see if you would agree that Kristallnacht was unthinkable in 1930 or that today’s Progressive radicals could in some way descend from it:

  • 1890, Antisemitische Volkspartei calls for “repeal of Jewish emancipation” and “placing Jews under alien legislation”; runs a successful campaign called “Liberate yourself from the Jewish middlemen!”
  • 1892, Conservative party tries to emulate the AV campaign success and demands “Christian authority” in government and schools: “We fight the multifarious and obtrusive Jewish influence that decomposes our people’s life”
  • 1894, Bund der Landwirte, led by a few big landowners, declares itself “opponent of Jewry, which has become altogether too mighty in our country and has acquired a decisive say in the press, in trade, and on the exchanges”
  • 1895, Bund der Landwirte advocates boycotting Jewish stores, banning relations between Germans and Jews and the expulsion of all Jews from Germany
  • 1895, Reichstag anti-Semitic speech calls upon Germany to “exterminate those beasts of prey”
  • 1900, “tens of thousands of anti-Semitic pamphlets are sent free to all officials of the state and members of the upper ten thousand” (elites who run the government)
  • 1911, Germany tries to maintain influence in Morocco. Negotiations fail with France sending stock market down 30% in one day and aligning France with UK against German expansionism
  • 1912, Progressive and Social Democrat parties win a majority of Reichstag seats, reducing Political anti-Semitism
  • 1914, WWI starts, Jews included in calls of nationalism and “brotherhood”
  • 1916, WWI loss imminent, anti-Semitic propaganda explodes. Jews blamed for war loss
  • 1918, WWI lost, Versailles treaty and proclamation of a German republic
  • 1918, Far-right Deutschnationale Volkspartei (DNVP), successor to Bund der Landwirte, founded with intent to destroy the republic
  • 1920, Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (Nazi Party) issues 25-point program defining “Volk” as German blood – no Jew can be a citizen of Germany
  • 1920, Protocols of the Elders of Zion, sells 120,000 copies translated into German
  • 1920, A commonplace political slogan is Deutschland erwache, Juda verrecke! (Wake up Germany, Exterminate Jews!)
  • 1921, 2/3 of votes in Berlin student elections go to anti-Semitic candidates (warning sign for general elections 4-8 years later)
  • 1923, French occupation of the Ruhr. Similar to 1911, economic crisis results with rampant inflation. Reich government gives anti-tax and “end of passive resistance” speech against France. 800,000 votes go to the Nazi Party
  • 1924, Economic and political stability return. Nazi Party loses followers. Hitler consolidates power to elite group – uses the lull in crisis to seize power over all anti-republic parties through “legal revolution”.
  • 1928, Hitler makes all large and loosely affiliated far-right groups report directly to him, controlled by a strict command structure and an armed and violent enforcement guard. Total Nazi party membership is only 1 million (1% of Germany)
  • 1929, Stock market crash, Nazis campaign for control of the crisis with propaganda and fear of Communist take-over. Rapid growth of anti-Semitic acts and propaganda
  • 1930, German political system heated by split between radical groups; intellectual communism versus ultra-nationalism. 6.5 million votes go to the Nazi Party, which promises an impossibly integrated and idyllic Volk (nationalist) community based on small-business rights and lowered taxes to vastly different and heterogeneous groups
  • 1932, End of the republic, the last free vote. Despite propaganda and threats still only 14 million votes (37%) go to Nazi Party
  • 1933, Dictatorial emergency power taken by Hitler. Nazi Party promises made to voters from 1928-1933 are are reneged
  • 1934, Hitler purges the Army to eliminate chance of armed resistance and legalizes violent control by an elite few over the many with a brief new law “…attacks are justifiable acts of self-defense by the state”
  • […]

  • 1938, Kristallnacht, 1,000 places of public worship completely destroyed (in Vienna alone more than 90 Synagogues were burned; later taken over for redevelopment by wealthy investors to be private apartments)

Hopefully it is clear why Perkins is not only wrong about the facts, he is backwards in his analysis of victimization.

The anti-Semitic mob violence of Kristallnacht in 1938 was not about a minority. The Jews could have been majority in number and still victimized. The risk of mob violence by Nazis went up over time but even more important was the fact that Jews lost all ability to defend or have rights to protect themselves.

Defense became non-existent as their identities were deleted (emancipation was revoked even for decorated war veterans and successful farmers) and replaced with one word: Jude. What they lacked was power to defend themselves; Perkins has no right to claim in 2014 as 1% of the wealthiest Americans he is being denied authority, denied identity, or denied the right to defend himself.

Violence against Jews easily was thinkable in 1898, yet Perkins is trying to claim no-one thought about repression of Jews in 1930?

What perhaps was not thinkable in 1930 was that a dictatorship and loss of representation, transfer of so much power to so very few, would happen so quickly.

Error 2: Nazis murdering Jews without accountability is a parallel to Americans criticizing the 1% wealthiest

I would call attention to the parallels of fascist Nazi Germany to its war on its “one percent,” namely its Jews, to the progressive war on the American one percent, namely the “rich.”

Here’s a shocking fact. Who also was a 1% in 1930? The Nazis. Achieving more than 6 million votes in the 1930 election was a political coup given how small they were prior. Despite being a 1% minority however, they actively influenced all state and local governments and were on a path to transfer 100% of national power to 1% of the population 3 years later (when Hitler took dictatorial power).

Given widespread Nazi mob violence against Jews was thinkable in 1930, was anyone leaving prior to 1938? Actually, yes! About 50% of the German Jewish population, hundreds of thousands, left the country from 1928 to 1938.

Despite a few years of progress and signs of tolerance in government (shift during short periods immediately following the foreign policy and economic crises of 1911 and 1923) the run up to 1930 was a terrible time for Jews.

I have a poster of the Hitler Jugend from January 1929 that says “Sturm! Sturm! Läutet die Glocken von Turm zu Turm“, which was a Nazi propaganda poem (from 1923) that advocated extreme violence against Jews (as well as anyone else who believed in a republic democracy or representative government).

In other words, a poem from 1923 was taught to German youth with a call for a Kristallnacht-like event. Note the specific words of this line:

Läutet, daß blutig die Seile sich röten,
Rings lauter Brennen und Martern und Töten

(Ringing, until ropes run red with blood,
Ring louder with burning, torture and murder)

Do not forget that teachers had been directed since 1892 by far-right parties in government to have a “Christian Authority” preside over school to ensure proper lessons, which by the 1920s meant anti-Semitic ones.

By the 1930s the schools shifted from some general far-right anti-republic lessons to a decidedly pro-Nazi agenda. Here is an actual sampling of books compiled by a 1934 German teacher’s association as a guide for the core of school libraries:

  • Grades 1-4: Hitler as No One Knows Him
  • Grades 5-7: The Hitler Book of the German Youth
  • Grades 5-7: Steel Cross on the Ruhr
  • Grades 5-7: Youth Gathered About Hitler

Grades 8 and above are even worse titles.

I would therefore like to return for a moment to the question of people thinking about a Kristallnacht in 1930:

When the market crashed and the economy tumbled in 1929 the Nazi party actually was well-financed, violent and extremely powerful as small splinter group leading an entire anti-republic movement. The 1% in power in 1930 had been on a path to seize control for many years before the 1929 market crash. 1930 was arguably the third major attempt to put violent anti-Semitic Germans in control of the country; following attempts that failed to capitalize on economic disasters in 1911 and 1923.

The third attempt was so successful that by 1933 Hitler’s SA and SS were regularly invading apartments, offices and stores of Jews, arresting Jewish professionals, physically torturing them and then forcing everyone to sign lies that they had been treated well.

How could Nazis get away with this surge in violence after 1929? Again, the issue was related to disproportionate power held in very few hands. It also was related to the ability to avoid responsibility and block interference with actions.

Hitler argued his small Nazi Party was just a dispatch system, a meta-organization that helped direct the larger numbers in violent mobs to their destination. I leave it to you to figure out who often uses this type of logic today.

Uber Alles

Since Nazis were a powerful minority oppressing many segments of the general public, including Jews, I really hope Perkins issues an apology. I hope he sees himself not as a numeric minority, but rather in terms of his amassed power, influence and his ease of avoiding accountability.

Who can build a boat of any size, for any reason, in any way, shape or form that he sees fit and for any cost? A German Jew in 1930, let alone 1938, would have no such opportunity. Perkins already has proven he has no obstacles, not even guilt.

Majority and Minority

The German republic was dissolved under Nazi rule using a premise of protection from Communists/Democrats/Foreigners/Jews. Yet the Nazi Party still held less than 40% of votes.

Technically we can say Hitler led a minority party to forcefully take over control of an entire country. Deception and force was needed precisely because he knew true representative majority was impossible. Hitler hated representation and wanted to do whatever he wanted without having to answer for it. He played upon false fear and false victimization to consolidate more power than normally the Nazis could have achieved — dictatorship is, by definition, a numeric minority holding majority power.

A 1933 boycott gives another interesting example of how Perkins is backwards in his view. It shows how far-right anti-Semitic campaigns of the 1920 were a reality of daily life in the early 1930s, yet still did not reflect a majority view:

Hitler claimed Germany was a victim of Jewish economic aggression and so in 1933 called for a boycott of all Jewish businesses. The plan failed to interest a German majority, as the American consul in Leipzig noted: “In fairness to the German people, it must be said that the boycott was unpopular with the working classes and with the educated sections of the middle classes”.

This surely had an impact on Nazi strategy; lack of voluntary control over remaining large segments of the population meant forced violent control by the 1% was necessary to get the majority to follow their orders.

So a minority group wielded a disproportionate amount of power to their actual size. Given Perkins’ position I feel that I have to emphasize this and make it abundantly clear. Simplifying Nazi politics down to a minority/majority headcount is ridiculous; historic examples completely backfire on Perkins when you look at facts.

The 1% today have far more in common with 1930 anti-republic far-right radicals claiming themselves victims than they do with the actual 1938 victims — people stripped of their citizenship and who saw their public and free places of worship burned to the ground.

Berlin Synagogue after Kristallnacht
Synagogue in Berlin after Kristallnacht

Error 3: Hate for the 1% is because of success and it is rising

From the Occupy movement to the demonization of the rich embedded in virtually every word of our local newspaper, the San Francisco Chronicle, I perceive a rising tide of hatred of the successful one percent.

Perkins is trying to use the old line “don’t hate me because I’m successful”.

Counter-point: I just read a story in the SF Chronicle the other day with very nice things to say about Benioff, CEO of Salesforce, and all the great things he’s doing for the city. Rich, yes, successful, yes. Demonized, no. He’s well-liked and the papers give him lots of positive statements. My guess is that success is not demonized when it is linked to community involvement and concern for others. This is a complex problem, of course, but Perkins claiming to be a victim and hated because he is successful…well, that’s not why people hate Perkins.

It looks to me more like being an unapologetic egomaniac has a lot more to do with why people are demonized in the news.

Error 4: Google buses are just about successful workers going to work at successful companies

There is outraged public reaction to the Google buses carrying technology workers from the city to the peninsula high-tech companies which employ them.

I wonder if Perkins has ever ridden public transportation in SF. My point to Perkins here is just that regulatory protections are weakened by Google’s private buses; it is like the long-standing debate regarding rights in a mall versus streets. Free speech, for example. Gone. Privacy protections. Gone.

Waiting at a public bus-stop and having a Google bus roll-up and deny access to the public is not exactly a happy moment. Perhaps Perkins can’t relate because he is never denied anything he wants or needs?

The bigger issue is why Google refused to invest in a system that everyone can use and instead built a competing one to pull riders away and reduce investment. Why reduce ridership on public transportation, reduce contributions, and instead build a tightly-controlled private system? Perhaps like GM pushing buses onto Los Angeles and killing trolleys, it’s about the money that can be made once power and control over transportation options is amassed by an elite few who can’t be voted out?

Take the train to Mountain-view sometime and look at the transportation options. There are private buses from Apple, Microsoft, Google…waiting to take riders to offices only a few miles from each other. It’s monumentally stupid that tech companies can’t figure out how to build a public system than they contribute into and that is managed with representative governance. Why is only Cisco able to see this and use public-private partnerships to build lasting infrastructure?

Google initiatives are like someone building the Cliff House. Cisco initiatives are like someone building Golden Gate Park. When you can’t get to Golden Gate Park because someone builds Cliff Houses on it that deny you access…that’s where the outrage comes from.

Error 5: Real-estate prices are just about successful workers buying what they want

We have outrage over the rising real-estate prices which these “techno geeks” can pay.

Whoa, there. Even techno geeks can’t pay now.

The outrage is not just about rising real-estate prices. It’s about urbanization, transparency and distant unaccountable investors setting local agendas; it’s about power. Actually it gets quite confusing. Look at the polls on these issues and we have the lowest turnout in years. Recent documentation shows “those who did vote tended towards self-interest; ‘no’ votes on Proposition C were significantly higher by percentage in neighborhoods near the project site and with desirable views”.

Perhaps what is happening is that wealthy investors are trying to manipulate the real-estate market for personal gains. Anyone ever look into, for example, how banks could buy foreclosed properties at $300k, put them “on the market” yet immediately de-list them and then put them on the market for real at $1.2m a few weeks later? My guess is manipulating inventory is happening, selling at a loss to themselves and then at a profit to the street. There have been a whole lot of fishy behaviors that indicate a few very powerful people will push through loopholes for unsavory and unapologetic results. This manipulation and opaqueness is what tends to generate outrage.

Here’s an interesting example: a Florida developer raises millions to build a huge condo building and also to soak up all housing inventory in areas around a SF project to reprice everything at a level that will give x% profit in 2 years for the entire investment. Thus all properties within walking distance to a new development project suddenly go off market and jump from $900k asking to $1.3m paid by agents of an all-cash buyer. Then, surprise, units in the development are listed at a “market determined” $1.3m.

Even techno geeks have no chance in a market where home prices increase 40% over 3 months. When investors inject $300k-400k over asking price, buying a house is an outrageous experience. Realtors I have spoken with say they do not meet anymore with people actually buying the properties because the buyers do not even come to look at the properties before they buy them. Representatives of wealthy elite Chinese, Brazilian, Russian and Saudi investors are looking for assets to acquire for a 2-year profit. Without outrage and push-back, they will push SF in whatever direction suits a singular objective of short-term returns on investment rather than what would make it worth living here longer.

Error 6: No one should be allowed to criticize Perkins’ ex-wife because she is very famous and the local homeless and mentally ill have been given a lot of her money

We have, for example, libelous and cruel attacks in the Chronicle on our number-one celebrity, the author Danielle Steel, alleging that she is a “snob” despite the millions she has spent on our city’s homeless and mentally ill over the past decades.

What does he mean “our” celebrity? In terms of himself and his family? Does anyone else agree Steel is “our” number-one? More popular than someone like Steve Jobs? Or Bruce Lee? Clint Eastwood? Or even Benioff or Ellison? Perkins must realize his ex-wife isn’t number-one to the general public because he actually prefaces her name with the author.

When a celebrity is number one, they come without preface: Bruce Lee.

And “snob” can’t really be a source of his outrage. Who in their right mind conflates bring called “snob” to 150 years of anti-Semitism in Germany, or to Nazis attacking, torturing and killing Jews? There must be something else. Terrible example on Perkins’ part.

Errors Upon Errors

Perkins follow-up explanation “I don’t regret the message” also is bad.

“Jews were only one percent of German population, yet Hitler was able to demonize the Jews.”

Yet? Is it hard to demonize something that is only 1%? That is logically and historically wrong. Hitler found it easy to demonize the Jews and it had nothing to do with their numbers. He also demonized Communists, Socialists, Gays, Catholics…he demonized basically anyone of any size population. And the more power he consolidated into his tiny elite fascist cabal, the more he could demonize with impunity.

Furthermore, look at towns like Krakow, Poland or Miskolc, Hungary where Jews were demonized, yet they were 30% of the population.

“It’s absurd to demonize the rich for doing what the rich do and getting richer by creating opportunities for others.”

Because that is ALL that the rich do with their money, create opportunities? The rich never get richer by reducing opportunities for others? This is really just sad. Perkins does not seem to realize that “doing what the rich do” part actually includes doing some very unsavory things to others. Creating opportunities for others is not what people are demonizing. Again, look at the Benioff example.

I also offer you for consideration that when the Nazis originally laid out their plans for concentration camps they described them as making Germans richer by creating opportunities for others. Too extreme an example? It is a fact. Perkins’ argument parallels Nazi propaganda. It is not enough for anyone, rich or poor, to give only platitudes about creating opportunities and expect to avoid criticism.

“I think the solution is less interference, lower taxes, let the rich do what the rich do.”

Do you know who else talked about a “solution” with less interference and lower taxes? I already have pointed out that the Nazis often lied and made false promises. They manipulated people. With that in mind, however, I have to point out their platform clearly stated in the 1930 Volkisher Beobachter (Nazi party newspaper) they hated taxes: “Those who speak of new taxes should first free the administration of those parasites…. The National Socialist movement will, through its victory, seek to guarantee the utmost protection for the individual German even in economic matters…any further tax increase represents a small-scale criminal act.”

Here is an example of what Perkins must really mean by doing what the rich do: show indignation even when convicted for manslaughter. “I was arrested and tried in a foreign court in a language you don’t understand, by judges indifferent – or worse – to justice, represented by an inappropriate lawyer with the negative outcome preordained.”

Perkins killed an innocent man and then portrayed himself as victim? Killing someone innocent shows HE was indifferent to justice. Sailing his yacht in foreign waters meant HE was the one speaking a language that could not be understood.

If he did not want to be tried for murder, perhaps he should not have killed someone innocent? And if he did not want to be tried in French court, perhaps he should not have killed someone in France?

Conclusion

Does Perkins realize how similar his arguments sound to the propaganda used on the path to a German dictatorship? Less interference is exactly the wrong advice if anyone wants to stop the accumulation of power by a dangerous elite that refuses responsibility for harmful actions and plays victim while in a position of power. Perkins asks for less interference. It is a fundamental question of trust.

Perkins need to think hard about why so many people let Hitler do whatever he wanted to do, and whether they should have done something else.

Posted in History, Poetry, Sailing, Security.


Easy Hacks on Telephone Entry Systems

A presentation I did for The Next HOPE (2010) has just been posted online:

Friday, July 16, 2010: 7:00 pm (Lovelace): Telephone entry systems are practically everywhere in the city. An investigation after a series of break-ins uncovered several shockingly simple bypass techniques currently used by criminals. This presentation explains how the common keypad box will grant full access to a building in under ten seconds using only basic tools. The presentation will also give details on a series of countermeasures that can significantly reduce the vulnerabilities.

Posted in Security.


Hadoop Geographic Adoption

The 451 Research group has an interesting presentation called “What is the Point of Hadoop”, which includes three slides on global adoption. I’ve mashed them into a simple animated GIF for illustration:

Watch the cities of NYC, LA and SF shrink as countries India and China grow. Why the difference in granularity? Does this imply anything about a shift in controls and authorization (e.g. local versus remote, full-time versus contractors)?

Posted in Security.


Internet of Things Under Attack!

Symantec has unwrapped their latest speculation engine and fired a huge salvo across all our bows with a blog post titled “Linux Worm Targeting Hidden Devices“. Note the crisp analysis:

We have also verified that the attacker already hosts some variants for other architectures including ARM, PPC, MIPS and MIPSEL…. The attacker is apparently trying to maximize the infection opportunity by expanding coverage to any devices running on Linux. However, we have not confirmed attacks against non-PC devices yet.

In other words, the only known attacks are on PCs. Other devices are just speculation. Given the Symantec report details, it seems quite clear the attacker is NOT TARGETING HIDDEN DEVICES.

Thank you for your attention.

Posted in Security.


How Google Will Destroy Stoplights

I attended a strange meetup the other night. It is one of the amazing benefits of being in San Francisco. You can go in person to meet people on the cutting edge of technology and hear their vision (pun not intended) of the future. In this case I met someone from ski.org who was game for discussing my theories about the future focus being differently-abled, from Google maps to automated cars.

Unfortunately I lack time to blog in full our discussion. In brief, here’s some of what I’ve been speaking on lately, building upon my earlier posts, and what will be in my new book on Big Data security:

Stoplights are a stop-gap (pun not intended) measure that resulted from the inferiority of high-speed automobiles to anticipate danger. We used to be able to keep flow when traveling under 15mph. Adding a speed differential made stop-lights necessary to protect pedestrians and horses from cars, let alone protect cars from other cars; and it was a concept poorly interpreted from sailing.

We should get rid of them. But how do we do that? Automation. Once cars can anticipate other cars at speed, we don’t need to stop and sit at red lights. We’re smarter than the lights, but we can’t see risk fast enough at high speed to get rid of them. Automation can “see” faster.

Similarly, we should stop looking at maps. Look at race cars for the face of innovation. Rally cars do not have visual displays of directions, they have audio navigation. That’s what we should look towards. All we need to do is improve the confirmation or validation of automated navigation devices. Get rid of unnecessary information (e.g. no street-view, no satellite view until the last mile) and allow two-way dialog. Let’s not get stuck on big screens for navigation any more than we were stuck on stop-lights for predicting risk.

Google is leading the world in these areas, especially with Kurzweil on board, so I’m hopeful we can move towards eliminating the wasteful and poorly-thought out stop-light model.

Posted in Energy, Security.


Windows NEIN: Behind the Scenes

I have had several people ask me whether I created the Windows NEIN image I tweeted the other day. The answer is yes and here is how, in three simple steps using GIMP:

  1. Download two popular images, NeinQuarterly and Windows 8
  2. Edit Windows image to remove the 8, make the window transparent, add NEIN, desaturate
  3. Edit the NeinQuarterly image to remove the NEIN, stretch to fit behind window

Done! Here is the final result:

Contact me for the XCF image if you want to mess with it.

Posted in Security.


NSA Silver Lining: Interesting Startups

People frequently ask me if I see any interesting startups in the security industry. Let me give you three examples but only because they fit an interesting trend.

Obviously there is a long history of warfare innovation leading to civilian products. What might we look for now? Today’s battles are fought with information tools. And the safety of information is most pressing to intelligence organizations so they seek and develop talent who innovate in data protection. Naturally this is leading us to a new generation of utility in securing information.

We are seeing those with deep experience and exposure to very difficult problems, within the intelligence community, get an entrepreneurial bug and launch startups. Whether you trust the founders or their product is not the point of this post.

Perhaps an historic example will clarify. Sometimes when I look at fancy kitchen knives from Japan I wonder if anyone ever protested innovations that made blades too sharp, too fair, or too strong. The utility of a tool in the kitchen surely benefited from innovations derived from battle. Making dinner with a better knife doesn’t mean you have to condone or even care about Samurai.

Here are three examples of companies that represent an emerging trend in creative thinking about tools we need to get better at protecting our data:

  • Ex-NSA staff start company to protect Big Data by extending Apache Accumulo (an NSA enhancement to a Google project that now has been released to the public): Sqrrl
  • Ex-NSA staff start company to make browsing the web safer by extending XWindows concept of centralized browser session pushed to remote displays: Light Point Security
  • Ex-Unit 8200 staff start company to make SaaS safer by proxying and tracking all user behavior: AdAllom

Back to the simple knife, there some interesting studies that try to explain how Japanese civilian innovations evolved out of conflict. Creative thinking relative to explicit and tacit knowledge:

Knowledge Training

Posted in History, Security.


AC34 Finals: Notes of Interest

I’ve noticed several things in the current America’s Cup finals that keep my interest. While others in San Francisco seem completely oblivious to the racing, and it’s hard to drag them out and watch, I’m still excited about watching these points:

  1. Overall performance (energy transfer) engineering: ETNZ has the best boat design engineers in the world. It’s clear. They’re getting 4-5 knots more speed upwind. That is a huge factor for match competition where getting on top of the other boat means controlling the finish — the deciding factor in several races so far. I’ve seen far more twist at the top of the ETNZ sail compared to Oracle. Basically, Oracle spent more than double yet ended up with a slower boat. A straight run speed delta also tends to have a serious psychological effect on the sailors, forcing other errors, because it’s hard to stay positive when side-by-side you fall behind.
  2. Reduced drag: Both teams position sailors further and further below deck level. One of the team engineers told me that one single sailor standing up causes enough drag at 25knts to impact performance by several seconds a kilometer. The boats are only a few seconds apart in the races so over a 1500m course a boat with less drag from sailors themselves will have a measurable advantage. ETNZ seems to have the more aerodynamic deck and cowlings. It also hurts when water hits you at 25knts (like cold nails) so working lower is probably welcome relief.
  3. Turns: As the boats jockey for dominance they carve incredibly fast turns. A 72ft boat that can pivot at speed within its own waterline is a phenomenal engineering achievement. The wind and water generate massive loads yet the captains clearly transfer the energy and shift quickly while keeping speed. ETNZ has an advantage in this area as they clearly make smoother turns and maintain more of their speed, which further capitalizes on straight-line speeds.
  4. Team fitness: These people have trained non-stop for three years, every day and often twice a day. They are at the peak of physical shape. Yet when I watch the videos with sound on I hear them wheezing and coughing as if they can barely catch their breath. Turning and tuning the boat completely maxes them out. And they can’t go anywhere. Unlike football, soccer, basketball, baseball, volleyball…there is no relief or substitution possible. The Round-the-World Ocean races once were described to me as playing rugby without any option of leaving. That is why professional sailing could perhaps be seen as one of the top physically demanding sports in the world.
  5. Tactics: I’m completely shocked at the errors a usually ultra-aggressive Spithill has made. I expected to see Oracle try and force errors, play dirty and get in Barker’s face at every chance. Instead Spithill has made repeated unforced errors and been charitably giving away races. Perhaps he is not in sync with his team, or the speed delta is getting into his head. When the match-racing heat is on high, Spithill starts melting and makes moves painful to watch. Meanwhile Barker, always the quiet gentleman, sails away confidently and cleanly.
  6. Team Nationality: Spithill almost made me spit up when I first saw him tell an audience Oracle is the “home team”. This man is an Aussie through-and-through. Nothing wrong with that, but he has stated in interviews that ever since 1983 (when he saw Australia win the cup) he has dedicated his life to Australia keeping the cup. In the post-race interview a few days ago he repeated his “home team” nonsense and said ETNZ is trying to “take the cup far away”. Barker, in a beautifully accurate retort said “if we win we’ll bring it closer to your home”. Indeed, Spithill might prefer a NZ win.

    Spithill thus comes across as awkward as if forced to ask for support now from the country he has loved to hate as a sailor. In addition, despite being in America, Oracle also has a reputation for disdain towards its home country and especially the cities lived-in by Ellison. A real-estate agent just told me the Oracle CEO bought a house in SF to watch the races and immediately demanded the neighbor, an elderly lady in retirement, cut down her trees so he could get a better view. She said no at first, since they were clearly on her property. Then Oracle lawyers promptly arrived and asked her if she really, really wanted them to wipe out all her retirement money in a messy legal fight and leave her for dead. With a home team like that who needs enemies?

    ETNZ, in stark comparison, has used a large percentage of funds direct (kick-started) from their government and held discussion about how the money spent will benefit taxpayers (jobs, business, trade, etc.).

  7. Boat Nationality: Both boats were built in New Zealand, which if advertised more might help recoup some of the national investment. More interesting than that, however, is the ETNZ boat was designed by the American team that won the cup back from NZ in 1988 with a catamaran. So the ETNZ boat is essentially a successor American boat to the 1988 campaign, while the Oracle boat is apparently not American at all. It may even be French, since they have boasted about finding their initial wing designer in France. Whatever the Oracle boat is or isn’t, to me ETNZ is really sailing the American boat design.
  8. Waterfront access for dinghies: Perhaps the most annoying fact of the entire event is that it is inaccessible to the common person. Super-yachts need more berthing space about as much as anyone needs a hole in the head. Those who aren’t billionaires, on the other hand, really REALLY need a place to launch a performance dinghy in San Francisco. Basically if you’re a kid in an Optimist you’re ok because clubs will support that but once you graduate to something fun where do you go? And if you’re a young professional ready to splash down some money and go for a hot ride…you basically can’t unless you go far away. The waterfront has no facilities and no support. None. That is perhaps the biggest oversight of this entire event. Even rockets are more accessible than high performance dinghy sailing to people who live in SF.

Those are some of the major notes. In summary, ahead I see a sea-change in the boat-building industry and very little change in the American sailing community. Globally we’ll get more efficient, faster and more fun boats of all sizes yet unfortunately this will not lead to any more American kids rushing to get into sailing.

I have a bunch more items I’m tracking but just wanted to share the biggest and most recent ones. Let me know if you have others to add or discuss.

Posted in Sailing, Security.


AC34: ETNZ Bows Down…and Survives

Several people have suggested I explain the ETNZ crash. Usually it comes up casually. I get all animated and start describing the details of the event and then people say “that’s interesting, others need to hear this”…and I think why didn’t the America’s Cup put someone on the commentary team who actually races catamarans?

Just one source of reporting would be OK if it was amazing and insightful. Tell a few war stories, life in the trenches stuff, pepper it with math and science, and I’d be glued to the tube during the Louis Vuitton races.

Instead search the entire Internet and you will find only one video, one set of boring empty perspectives. Here it is. Notice how lame the comments are during the action at Gate 3:

The announcers mention a puff, and basically having nothing to say other than what happened after the bows dive down. Men overboard, damage on the front. Duh:

This all has to do with the pitch. The bows went down. […] They stuffed the bows for some reason…that wave hit them.

Thank you captain obvious!

Unfortunately this is not far from the official statement language of ETNZ, as reported by Sailing World. At least they provide some detail such as shift in speed:

The team’s AC72 Aotearoa popped up onto its hydrofoils rounding the mark and then a gust of wind hit. The port (left) bow of Aotearoa buried up to the main crossbeam, reducing the boatspeed from 40 knots to 13 and flicking two crewmembers, Rob Waddell and Chris Ward, overboard. The two grinders were recovered unharmed by the team’s chase boat, but the rush of tons of water tore the port side fairing off the main crossbeam and left the crew shaken.

“In this sort of racing, the boats are incredibly powerful. You see how quickly the speed rockets up as you make the turn around the top,” said skipper Dean Barker. “We came in there with good pressure. Through the turn we were always going to pick up a decent increase in speed; I’m sure there are a few things we could’ve done better.

Dropping from 40 to 13 knots in seconds feels like what, exactly? Unless you’ve been on a boat that stuffs the bows into a wave it’s hard to imagine. That’s why an announcer should be someone who has lived the danger, experienced the excitement, and can relay the feelings to a general audience.

So allow me to try. Here is the scoop (pun not intended) on what happened and why, and what it feels like.

This kind of event is all too common in catamaran sailing. This is what failure usually looks like:

Fail1

But not this:

Notfail

Not yet, at least. Those crazy cats in the last photo (pun not intended) are burying their entire hull and managing to avoid pitch-pole (tripping).

So the biggest risk of crashing in catamaran racing is actually when you turn to go down wind at the windward mark. It’s really quite simple and expected, which means ETNZ was about to crash in the area most likely to cause a crash.

If you’ve raced catamarans you simply know that when you approach the windward mark in a big wind, you might be experiencing a bowel movement as you turn the boat away from the wind. When the catamaran does not oppose or release power that builds in the sail it dives the bows. A big puff hitting ETNZ as it bore away (turned after the mark) certainly fits that equation.

But this isn’t the first time a puff has hit a boat in this critical moment. Catamaran sailors know puffs happen at the windward mark all the time. So why didn’t the team just handle it? Actually, like the last photo above, they did.

First of all, the wave-piercing design of the AC72, which some say look like inverted hulls, is meant specifically to allow the boat to survive a dive. From that perspective, they came out of the dive instead of crashing because they knew it could happen. Amazing risk engineering.

The announcers should have been all over the fact that a 72ft boat with wave-piercing hulls can survive a deep dive at 40knts. That was an unbelievably beautiful and planned graceful exit, unlike the Oracle incident where the boat flipped up and eventually broke apart.

Here is a clever comparison of the Oracle and ETNZ boats from CatSailingNews

Comparison

The article is mostly pointing out that Oracle has been copying ETNZ to stay competitive. Notice something else, however. The bows of the two boats are both inverted and designed for wave-piercing yet still quite different. The Oracle boat appears to have far less ballast (float) than ETNZ.

Could Oracle have survived such a dive? My experience on the A-Class catamaran over four generations of design is that a clever buoyancy model in the bows makes a MASSIVE difference. Oracle, like the current platform I sail (an A3.5), looks anemic in the front end. It would likely have had a harder time even with the re-design after their crash.

Oracle

This is what an announcer could have mentioned. Bow design. They also could have mentioned the effect of the T-shaped rudders, and L-shaped foils. And they could have mentioned the aerodynamics of the carbon relative to fluid density (wind above versus water below). Saying a crash is related to “pitch” simply isn’t good enough.

Second, a turn in puffs and big wind is scary business because of pressure for rapid decision-making. When Barker turned the corner he made a critical error by taking the turn too tight at the wrong moment. Bad luck, perhaps you could say.

It is a lot like turning a car into a hairpin curve. You know in your mind the speed you need to stay in control as you reach the apex. But in sailing you don’t get to take your foot off the gas or hit the brakes. There are no brakes. And a puff is like someone pushing your gas pedal to the floor.

Instead of smoothly turning you suddenly find a huge boost of power pushing you in a direction other than where you anticipated. Fractions of a second are all you have to decide how you’re going to handle all the excess power that threatens to toss you over.

Barker could have headed up, accelerated in a straighter line to keep the bows from diving. This actually compounds the danger if it doesn’t work, which I won’t go into here. His team also could have dumped power from the sails by stalling them. Stalling or luffing can be very complicated to do in extreme conditions at high speed, especially as it can cause the boat to lose stability.

The bottom line is Barker had several options and he turned a surprise into a strategy by keeping the boat flat enough that he could blast out of the water with speed after a dive instead of careening sideways. Fantastic boat handling married to fantastic engineering. Sideways would have been a disaster. Here’s what happened to Artemis in an AC45 race last year. Watch at 1:10

So we’ve covered some of the engineering and some of the boat handling (and trim) involved. What about feelings? The sensation of a pitch-pole is absolutely terrifying. It happens so fast you can barely process what is going on. Here’s an ETNZ team member recollection on SailingWorld

“I’m on the forward pedestal and was holding on for dear life,” McAsey said. “I was the second guy under water, with Jeremy Lomas in front of me. I was holding on as hard as I could. It all was a blur, everything’s wet and white, you come up, there’s a bit of broken carbon around the place and we’re two guys short. From there on it was just a matter of trying to cover the two guys lost.

Exactly right. One second you’re dry, flying and focused the next second you are blasted in the face by icy frothing salt-water and have no idea what is going on. The key to his story is probably the pedestal. My guess is he held that thing with a death grip as soon as the first drop of water touched his skin.

Keep in mind these sailors are the peak of professional athlete fitness. They train twice a day in the gym and have the strongest grip strength you can imagine. But things happen so fast, things get so slippery and cold, and everything can get turned around in tons of water hitting you at 40knts.

One time on my boat in a race I buried the bows so hard, so fast into the back of a giant wave that I was fired like a missile straight off the boat. I was sailing smoothly one minute and then BAM I’m three feet under water and trying to figure out which way is up.

A catamaran going from fast to slow quickly means it stops and you keep moving. There are no seat belts because you have to be able to move around. And that can mean you bounce off hard and often sharp carbon parts and line, and end up totally disoriented without vision or hearing…and dealing with the shock of rapid temperature change.

It hurts A LOT. I don’t bruise, ever, but one time I hit a wave so hard the boat stopped and I slammed into the back of a razor-sharp windward foil. It gave me a giant green, blue and black bruise on my thigh for weeks. Hanging on to a pedestal is far better option than getting catapulted, washed away or sliced into pieces.

So much to talk about. This tiny little snippet of sailing in the Cup could instantly bring up a ton of background and detail. Yet the “official” and only announcers just repeated “oh my gosh” and statements of the obvious.

Where is our John Madden of sailing? Can’t the organization find a seasoned and colorful catamaran sailor to fill in the commentary? I can think of so many, I have to wonder how the current announcers were chosen.

Posted in Sailing, Security.