Category Archives: Poetry

The Chaos

by Dr. Gerard Nolst Trenité
(Netherlands, 1870-1946)

Dearest creature in creation,
Study English pronunciation.
I will teach you in my verse
Sounds like corpse, corps, horse, and worse.
I will keep you, Suzy, busy,
Make your head with heat grow dizzy.
Tear in eye, your dress will tear.
So shall I! Oh hear my prayer.
Pray, console your loving poet,
Make my coat look new, dear, sew it!

Just compare heart, beard, and heard,
Dies and diet, lord and word,
Sword and sward, retain and Britain.
(Mind the latter, how it’s written.)
Now I surely will not plague you
With such words as plaque and ague.
But be careful how you speak:
Say break and steak, but bleak and streak;
Cloven, oven, how and low,
Script, receipt, show, poem, and toe.

Hear me say, devoid of trickery,
Daughter, laughter, and Terpsichore,
Typhoid, measles, topsails, aisles,
Exiles, similes, and reviles;
Scholar, vicar, and cigar,
Solar, mica, war and far;
One, anemone, Balmoral,
Kitchen, lichen, laundry, laurel;
Gertrude, German, wind and mind,
Scene, Melpomene, mankind.

Billet does not rhyme with ballet,
Bouquet, wallet, mallet, chalet.
Blood and flood are not like food,
Nor is mould like should and would.
Viscous, viscount, load and broad,
Toward, to forward, to reward.
And your pronunciation’s OK
When you correctly say croquet,
Rounded, wounded, grieve and sieve,
Friend and fiend, alive and live.

Ivy, privy, famous; clamour
And enamour rhyme with hammer.
River, rival, tomb, bomb, comb,
Doll and roll and some and home.
Stranger does not rhyme with anger,
Neither does devour with clangour.
Souls but foul, haunt but aunt,
Font, front, wont, want, grand, and grant,
Shoes, goes, does. Now first say finger,
And then singer, ginger, linger,
Real, zeal, mauve, gauze, gouge and gauge,
Marriage, foliage, mirage, and age.

Query does not rhyme with very,
Nor does fury sound like bury.
Dost, lost, post and doth, cloth, loth.
Job, nob, bosom, transom, oath.
Though the differences seem little,
We say actual but victual.
Refer does not rhyme with deafer.
Foeffer does, and zephyr, heifer.
Mint, pint, senate and sedate;
Dull, bull, and George ate late.
Scenic, Arabic, Pacific,
Science, conscience, scientific.

Liberty, library, heave and heaven,
Rachel, ache, moustache, eleven.
We say hallowed, but allowed,
People, leopard, towed, but vowed.
Mark the differences, moreover,
Between mover, cover, clover;
Leeches, breeches, wise, precise,
Chalice, but police and lice;
Camel, constable, unstable,
Principle, disciple, label.

Petal, panel, and canal,
Wait, surprise, plait, promise, pal.
Worm and storm, chaise, chaos, chair,
Senator, spectator, mayor.
Tour, but our and succour, four.
Gas, alas, and Arkansas.
Sea, idea, Korea, area,
Psalm, Maria, but malaria.
Youth, south, southern, cleanse and clean.
Doctrine, turpentine, marine.

Compare alien with Italian,
Dandelion and battalion.
Sally with ally, yea, ye,
Eye, I, ay, aye, whey, and key.
Say aver, but ever, fever,
Neither, leisure, skein, deceiver.
Heron, granary, canary.
Crevice and device and aerie.

Face, but preface, not efface.
Phlegm, phlegmatic, ass, glass, bass.
Large, but target, gin, give, verging,
Ought, out, joust and scour, scourging.
Ear, but earn and wear and tear
Do not rhyme with here but ere.
Seven is right, but so is even,
Hyphen, roughen, nephew Stephen,
Monkey, donkey, Turk and jerk,
Ask, grasp, wasp, and cork and work.

Pronunciation — think of Psyche!
Is a paling stout and spikey?
Won’t it make you lose your wits,
Writing groats and saying grits?
It’s a dark abyss or tunnel:
Strewn with stones, stowed, solace, gunwale,
Islington and Isle of Wight,
Housewife, verdict and indict.

Finally, which rhymes with enough —
Though, through, plough, or dough, or cough?
Hiccough has the sound of cup.
My advice is to give up!!!

Originally transcribed by Pete Zakel .

“My Lost Youth” by Longfellow

A curious thing about writing a poem is how it can suggest to the reader a topic while subtly communicating a tangent. Recently I was being peppered by questions of attribution in security that reminded me of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem:


		My Lost Youth

OFTEN I think of the beautiful town	 
  That is seated by the sea;	 
Often in thought go up and down	 
The pleasant streets of that dear old town,	 
  And my youth comes back to me.			5
    And a verse of a Lapland song	 
    Is haunting my memory still:	 
    'A boy's will is the wind's will,	 
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.'	 
 
I can see the shadowy lines of its trees,		10
  And catch, in sudden gleams,	 
The sheen of the far-surrounding seas,	 
And islands that were the Hesperides	 
  Of all my boyish dreams.	 
    And the burden of that old song,			15
    It murmurs and whispers still:	 
    'A boy's will is the wind's will,	 
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.'	 
 
I remember the black wharves and the slips,	 
  And the sea-tides tossing free;			20
And Spanish sailors with bearded lips,	 
And the beauty and mystery of the ships,	 
  And the magic of the sea.	 
    And the voice of that wayward song	 
    Is singing and saying still:			25
    'A boy's will is the wind's will,	 
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.'	 
 
I remember the bulwarks by the shore,	 
  And the fort upon the hill;	 
The sunrise gun with its hollow roar,			30
The drum-beat repeated o'er and o'er,	 
  And the bugle wild and shrill.	 
    And the music of that old song	 
    Throbs in my memory still:	 
    'A boy's will is the wind's will,			35
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.'	 
 
I remember the sea-fight far away,	 
  How it thunder'd o'er the tide!	 
And the dead sea-captains, as they lay	 
In their graves o'erlooking the tranquil bay		40
  Where they in battle died.	 
    And the sound of that mournful song	 
    Goes through me with a thrill:	 
    'A boy's will is the wind's will,	 
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.'	45
 
I can see the breezy dome of groves,	 
  The shadows of Deering's woods;	 
And the friendships old and the early loves	 
Come back with a Sabbath sound, as of doves	 
  In quiet neighbourhoods.				50
    And the verse of that sweet old song,	 
    It flutters and murmurs still:	 
    'A boy's will is the wind's will,	 
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.'	 
 
I remember the gleams and glooms that dart		55
  Across the schoolboy's brain;	 
The song and the silence in the heart,	 
That in part are prophecies, and in part	 
  Are longings wild and vain.	 
    And the voice of that fitful song			60
    Sings on, and is never still:	 
    'A boy's will is the wind's will,	 
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.'	 
 
There are things of which I may not speak;	 
  There are dreams that cannot die;			65
There are thoughts that make the strong heart weak,	 
And bring a pallor into the cheek,	 
  And a mist before the eye.	 
    And the words of that fatal song	 
    Come over me like a chill:				70
    'A boy's will is the wind's will,	 
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.'	 
 
Strange to me now are the forms I meet	 
  When I visit the dear old town;	 
But the native air is pure and sweet,			75
And the trees that o'ershadow each well-known street,	 
  As they balance up and down,	 
    Are singing the beautiful song,	 
    Are sighing and whispering still:	 
    'A boy's will is the wind's will,			80
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.'	 
 
And Deering's woods are fresh and fair,	 
  And with joy that is almost pain	 
My heart goes back to wander there,	 
And among the dreams of the days that were		85
  I find my lost youth again.	 
    And the strange and beautiful song,	 
    The groves are repeating it still:	 
    'A boy's will is the wind's will,	 
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.'	90

This could happen anywhere, despite being about a specific place. Supposedly in 1855 he set out to describe an idyllic life in Portland, Oregon. And yet what city “beautiful town that is seated by the sea” does not have “pleasant streets” with “shadowy lines of its trees”? Is anyone surprised to hear of an old American shipping town with “black wharves and the slips” below “the fort upon the hill”?

Even more to the point, after a long vague description leaving the reader without any unique Portlandish details, the writer admits “there are things of which I may not speak”. Vague by design?

Ok, then, decoding the poem to suggests a series of fleeting (pun not intended) feelings that defy direct attribution to a particular city. Action words give away bundles of emotion from a young boy excited by a generalized theory of adventure. No real location is meant, which leaves instead the importance of stanza action lines (7th); they seem to unlock a message about generic youthful rotations: haunting, murmurs, singing, throbs, goes, flutters, sings, come, sighing, repeating. “Lost youth” indeed….

Could truck drivers lose their jobs to robots?

Next time you bang on a vending machine for a bottle that refuses to fall into your hands, ask yourself if restaurants soon will have only robots serving you meals.

Maybe it’s true there is no future for humans in service industries. Go ahead, list them all in your head. Maybe problems robots have with simple tasks like dropping a drink into your hands are the rare exceptions and the few successes will become the norm instead.

One can see why it’s tempting to warn humans not to plan on expertise in “simple” tasks like serving meals or tending a bar…take the smallest machine successes and extrapolate into great future theories of massive gains and no execution flaws or economics gone awry.

Just look at cleaning, sewing and cooking for examples of what will be, how entire fields have been completely automated with humans eliminated…oops, scratch that, I am receiving word from my urban neighbors they all seem to still have humans involved and providing some degree of advanced differentiation.

Maybe we should instead look at darling new startup Blue Apron, turning its back on automation, as it lures millions in investments to hire thousands of humans to generate food boxes. This is such a strange concept of progress and modernity to anyone familiar with TV dinners of the 1960s and the reasons they petered out.

Blue Apron’s meal kit service has had worker safety problems

Just me or is anyone else suddenly nostalgic for that idyllic future of food automation (everything containerized, nothing blended) as suggested in a 1968 movie called “2001”…we’re 16 years late now and I still get no straw for my fish container?

2001 prediction of food

I don’t even know what that box on the top right is supposed to represent. Maybe 2001 predicted chia seed health drinks.

Speaking of cleaning, sewing and cooking with robots…someone must ask at some point why much of automation has focused on archetypal roles for women in American culture. Could driverless tech be targeting the “soccer-mom” concept along similar lines; could it arguably “liberate” women from a service desired from patriarchal roles?

Hold that thought, because instead right now I hear more discussion about a threat from robots replacing men in the over-romanticized male-dominated group of long-haul truckers. (Protip: women are now fast joining this industry)

Whether measuring accidents, inspections or compliance issues, women drivers are outperforming males, according to Werner Enterprises Inc. Chief Operating Officer Derek Leathers. He expects women to make up about 10 percent of the freight hauler’s 9,000 drivers by year’s end. That’s almost twice the national average.

The question is whether American daily drivers, of which many are professionals in trucks, face machines making them completely redundant just like vending machines eliminating bartenders.

It is very, very tempting to peer inside any industry and make overarching forecasts of how jobs simply could be lost to robots. Driving a truck on the open roads, between straight lines, sounds so robotic already to those who don’t sit in the driver’s seat. Why has this not already been automated, is the question we should be answering rather than how soon will it happen.

Only at face value does driving present a bar so low (pun not intended) machines easily could take it over today. Otto of the 1980 movie “Airplane” fame comes to mind for everyone I’m sure, sitting ready to be, um, “inflated” and take over any truck anywhere to deliver delicious TV dinners.

Otto smokes a cig

Yet when scratching at barriers, maybe we find trucking is more complicated than this. Maybe there could be more to human processes, something really intelligent, than meets a non-industry specific robotic advocate’s eye?

Systems that have to learn, true robots of the future, need to understand a totality of environment they will operate within. And this begs the question of “knowledge” about all tasks being replaced, not simply the ones we know of from watching Hollywood interpretations of the job. A common mistake is to underestimate knowledge and predict its replacement with an incomplete checklist of tasks believed to point in the general direction of success.

Once the environmental underestimation mistake is made another mistake is to forecast cost improvements by acceleration of checklists towards a goal of immediate decision capabilities. We have seen this with bank ATMs, which actually cost a lot of money to build and maintain and never achieved replacement of teller decision-trees; even more security risks and fraud were introduced that required humans to develop checklists and perform menial tasks to maintain ATMs, which still haven’t achieved full capability. This arguably means new role creation is the outcome we should expect, mixed with modest or even slow decline of jobs (less than 10% over 10 years).

Automation struggles at eliminating humans completely because of the above two problems (need for common sense and foundations, need for immediate decision capabilities based on those foundations) and that’s before we even get to the need for memory and a need for feedback loops and strategic thinking. The latter two are essential for robots replacing human drivers. Translation to automation brings out nuances in knowledge that humans excel in as well as long-term thoughts both forwards and backwards.

Machines are supposed to move beyond limited data sets and be able to increase minimum viable objectives above human performance, yet this presupposes success at understanding context. Complex streets and dangerous traffic situations are a very high bar to achieve, so high they may never be reached without human principled oversight (e.g. ethics). Without deep knowledge of trucking in its most delicate moments the reality of driver replacement becomes augmentation at best. Unless the “driver” definition changes, goal posts are moved and expectations for machines are measured far below full human capability and environmental possibility, we remain a long way from replacement.

Take for example the amount of time it takes to figure out risk of killing someone in an urban street full of construction, school and loading zones. A human is not operating within a window 10 seconds from impact because they typically aim to identify risks far earlier, avoiding catastrophes born from leaving decisions to last-seconds.

I’m not simply talking about control of the vehicle, incidentally (no pun intended), I also mean decisions about insurance policies and whether to stay and wait for law enforcement to show up. Any driver with rich experience behind the wheel could tell you this and yet some automation advocates still haven’t figured that out, as they emphasize sub-second speed of their machines is all they need/want for making decisions, with no intention to obey human imposed laws (hit-and-run incidents increased more than 40% after Uber was introduced to London, causing 11 deaths and 5,000 injuries per year).

For those interested in history we’re revisiting many of the dilemmas posed the first time robotic idealism (automobiles) brought new threat models to our transit systems. Read a 10 Nov 1832 report on deaths caused by ride share services, for example.

The Inquest Jury found a verdict of man- slaughter against the driver,—a boy under fifteen years of age, and who appeared to have erred more from incapacity than evil design; and gave a deodand of 50/. against the horse and cabriolet, to mark their sense of the gross impropriety of the owner in having in- trusted the vehicle to so young and inexperienced a person.

1896 London Public CarriagesYoung and inexperienced is exactly what even the best “learning” machines are today. Sadly for most of 19th Century London authorities showed remarkably little interest in shared ride driving ability. Tests to protect the public from weak, incapacitated or illogical drivers of “public carriages” started only around 1896.

Finding balance between insider expertise based on experience and outsider novice learner views is the dialogue playing out behind the latest NHTSA automation scales meant to help regulate safety on our roads. People already are asking whether costs to develop systems that can go higher than “level three” (cede control under certain conditions and environments) autonomous vehicle are justified. That third level of automation is what typically is argued by outsiders to be the end of the road for truck drivers (as well as soccer moms).

The easy answer to the third level is no, it still appears to be years before we can SAFELY move above level three and remove humans in common environments (not least of all because hit-and-run murder economics heavily favoring driverless fleets). Cost reductions today through automation make far more sense at the lower ends of the scale where human driver augmentation brings sizable returns and far fewer chances of disaster or backlash. Real cost, human life error, escalates quickly when we push into a full range of even the basic skills necessary to be a safe driver in every environment or any street.

There also is a more complicated answer. By 2013 we saw Canadian trucks linking up in Alberta’s open road and using simple caravan techniques. Repeating methods known for thousands of years, driver fatigue and energy costs were significantly dropped though caravan theory. Like a camel watching the tail of one in front through a sandstorm…. In very limited private environments (e.g. competitions, ranches, mines, amusement parks) the cost of automation is less and the benefits realized early.

I say the answer is complicated because level three autonomous vehicle still must have a human at the controls to take over, and I mean always. The NHTSA has not yet provided any real guidance on what that means in reality. How quickly a human must take-over leaves a giant loophole in defining human presence. Could the driver be sleeping at the controls, watching a movie, or even reposing in the back-seat?

The Interstate system in America has some very long-haul segments with traffic flowing at similar speed with infrequent risk of sudden stop or obstruction. Tesla, in their typically dismissive-of-safety fashion despite (or maybe because of) their cars repeatedly failing and crashing, called major obstructions on highways a “UFO” frequency event.

Cruise control and lane-assist in pre-approved and externally monitored safe-zones in theory could allow drivers to sleep as they operate, significantly reducing travel times. This is a car automation model actually proposed in the 1950s by GM and RCA, predicted to replace drivers by 1974. What would the safe-zone look like? Perhaps one human taking over the responsibility by using technology to link others, like a service or delegation of decision authority, similar to air traffic control (ATC) for planes. Tesla is doing this privately, for those in the know.

Ideally if we care about freedom and privacy, let alone ethics, what we should be talking about for our future is a driver and a co-pilot taking seats in the front truck of a large truck caravan. Instead of six drivers for six trucks, for example, you could find two drivers “at the controls” for six trucks connected by automation technology. This is powerful augmentation for huge cost savings, without losing essential control of nuanced/expert decisions in myriad local environments.

This has three major benefits. First, it helps with the shortage of needed drivers, mentioned above being filled by women. Second it allows robot proponents to gather real-world data with safe open road operations. Third, it opens the possibility of job expansion and transitions for truckers to drone operations.

On the other end of the spectrum from boring unobstructed open roads, in terms of driverless risks, are the suburban and urban hubs (warehouses and loading docks) that manage complicated truck transactions. Real human brain power still is needed for picking up and delivering the final miles unless we re-architect the supply-chain. In a two-driver, six-truck scenario this means after arriving at a hub, trucks return to one driver one truck relationship, like airplanes reaching an airport. Those trucks lacking human drivers at the controls would sit idle in queue or…wait for it…be “remotely” controlled by the locally present human driver. The volume of trucks (read percentage “drones”) would increase significantly as number of drivers needed might actually decline only slightly.

Other situations still requiring human control tend to be bad weather or roads lacking clear lines and markings. Again this would simply mean humans at the controls of a lead vehicle in a caravan. Look at boats or planes again for comparison. Both have had autopilots far longer, at least for decades, and human oversight has yet to be cost-effectively eliminated.

Could autopilot be improved to avoid scenarios that lead to disaster, killing their human passengers? Absolutely. Will someone pay for autopilots to avoid any such scenarios? Hard to predict. For that question it seems planes are where we have the most data to review because we treat their failures (likely due to concentrated loss of life) with such care and concern.

There’s an old saw about Allied bombers of WWII being riddled with bullet holes yet still making it back to base. After much study the Air Force put together a presentation and told a crowded room that armor would be added to all the planes where concentrations of holes were found. A voice in back of the crowd was heard asking “but shouldn’t you put the armor where the holes aren’t? Where are the holes on planes that didn’t come back”.

It is time to focus our investments on collecting and understanding failures to improve driving algorithms of humans, by enhancing the role of drivers. The truck driver already sits on a massively complex array of automation (engines and networks) so adding more doesn’t equate to removing the human completely. Humans still are better at complex situations such as power loss or reversion to manual controls during failures. Automation can make both flat open straight lines into the sunset more enjoyable, as well as the blizzard and frozen surface, but only given no surprises.

Really we need to be talking about enhancing drivers, hauling more over longer distance with fewer interruptions. Beyond reduced fatigue and increased alertness with less strain, until systems move above level three automation the best-case use of automation is still augmentation.

Drivers could use machines for making ethical improvements to their complex logistics of delivery (less emissions, increased fuel efficiency, reduced strain on the environment). If we eliminate drivers in our haste to replace them, we could see fewer benefits and achieve only the lowest-forms of automation, the ones outsiders would be pleased with while those who know better roll their eyes with disappointment.

Or maybe Joe West & the Sinners put it best in their classic trucker tune “$2000 Navajo Rug

I’ve got my own chakra machine, darlin’,
made out of oil and steel.
And it gives me good karma,
when I’m there behind the wheel

“T V E S L E”: The Poetry of Encryption in 1080s AD

1550-boite-a-chiffrerWhile reading about the French use of encryption during the 16C I ran into a reference that said French Kings borrowed cryptography concepts from Arabs. A little more digging and I found an example by Hervé Lehning in “L’Univers des codes secrets: De l’antiquité à Internet”.

He writes that Muhammad ibn Abbad al-Mu’tamid (المعتمد بن عباد), King of Seville from 1069-1092, used birds in poetry for secret correspondence. For example:

La tourterelle du matin craint le vautour,
Qui pourtant préfère les nuées d’étourneaux,
Ou au moins les sarcelles et les loriots
Qui plus que tout craignent les éperviers.

Matching names of birds to their first letter we get “t v e s l e”, which Lehning contends is the message “tues-le”: kill him

My translation:

The morning dove fears the vulture,
yet who prefers swarms of starlings,
or at least teal and orioles,
who most of all fear the hawk.

Would love to find the original imagery as I imagine the King’s poetry to be highly calligraphic or even a form of pictorial encoding.

Our Digital Right to Die

With so many, so many, blog posts about Apple and FBI I have yet to see one get to the core issue.

Do we have a digital right to die? After we are dead, in other words, who controls the destiny of our data and what authority do we have over them?

Having been in the security industry for more than two decades I have worked extensively on this problem, not only because of digital forensics. Over the past five years we’ve developed some of the best technical solutions yet to help kill your data, forever, at massive scale.

The market has not seemed ready. Knowledge in this area has been for specialists.

Although I could bring up many cases and examples, most people do not run into them because discussion is usually around how to preserve things. The digital death is seen as edge or outlying situations (regulatory/legal compliance, dead soldier’s email, hiker’s cell phone, famous literary artist’s archives).

It feels like this is about to change, finally.

Everyone seems now to be talking about whether the FBI should be allowed to compel a manufacturer to disable a cell phone’s dead-man switch, for lack of a better term. A dead-man switch (or dead man’s, or kill switch) is able to operate automatically if the person who set it becomes incapacitated.

Dead-man switches can have sophisticated logic. Some are very simple. In the current news the cell phone uses a simple count. After several failed attempts to guess a PIN for a phone, the key needed to access data on that phone is erased.

Philosophically this situation presents a very difficult ethical question: Under what circumstances should law enforcement be able to disarm a dead-man switch to save data from deletion?

In this particular case we have a simple, known trigger in the dead-man switch. Bypassing it in principle is easy because you turn off the counter. Without a count the owner can try forever until they guess the PIN.

Complicating the case is that the vendor in question sells proprietary devices. They, by design, want to be the only shop with capability to modify their devices. They do not allow anyone to modify a device without their approval.

If there is any burden or effort here, arguably it is from such a business model to lock away knowledge needed to make the simple configuration change (stop the counter) to a complex device. Some see the change as a massive engineering effort, others say it is a trivial bit flip on existing code, yet no one is actually testing these theories because by design no one but the manufacturer is allowed to.

Further complicating the case is that the person using the device is dead, and technically the device is owned by someone else. Are we right to honor the intentions, unknown, of a dead person who set the dead-man switch over the living owner of the device who wants the switch disabled?

Let me put it this way. Your daughter dies suddenly. You forget the PIN to unlock the phone you gave her to communicate with you. You ask the vendor to please help disable the control that will kill your daughter’s data. Is it your data, because your device, or your daughter’s data?

If the vendor refuses to assist and you go to court, proving that you own the phone and the data is yours, do you have a case to compel the vendor to disable the control so that your data will not die?

What if the vendor says a change to the phone is a burden too great? What if they claim it would take an entirely new version of the iPhone operating system for them to make one trusted yet simple change to disable the dead-man counter? How would you respond to self-serving arguments that your need undermines their model?

It is not an easy problem to solve. This is not about two simple sides to chose from. Really it is about building better solutions for our digital right to die, which can be hard to do right, if you believe such a thing exists at all.


Updated to add reference to “kill switch” regulation:

Apple introduced Activation Lock in iOS 7. The feature “locks” iOS devices with the owner’s iCloud account credentials, and requires that they be authenticated with Apple before the device can be erased and set up again.

Activation Lock was the first commercially available “kill switch” for mobile operating systems, and similar features have since been implemented by Google and Samsung. California passed a law last August requiring that all smartphones sold in the state implement kill switches by July 2015, and an FCC panel in December recommended that the commission establish a similar nationwide framework, citing Activation Lock as model deterrent.

Where is the Revolution in Intelligence? Public, Private or Shared?

Watching Richard Bejtlich’s recent “Revolution in Intelligence” talk about his government training and the ease of attribution is very enjoyable, although at times for me it brought to mind CIA factbook errors in the early 1990s.

Slides that go along with the video are available on Google drive

Let me say, to get this post off the ground, I will be the first one to stand up and defend US government officials as competent and highly skilled professionals. Yet I also will call out an error when I see one. This post is essentially that. Bejtlich is great, yet he often makes some silly errors.

Often I see people characterize a government as made up of inefficient troglodytes falling behind. That’s annoying. Meanwhile often I also see people lionize nation-state capabilities as superior to any other organization. Also annoying. The truth is somewhere in between. Sometimes the government does great work, sometimes it blows compared to private sector.

Take the CIA factbook I mentioned above as an example. It has been unclassified since the 1970s and by the early 1990s it was published on the web. Given wider distribution its “facts” came under closer scrutiny from academics. So non-gov people who long had studied places or lived in them (arguably the world’s true leading experts) read this fact book and wanted to help improve it — outsiders looking in and offering assistance. Perhaps some of you remember the “official” intelligence peddled by the US government at that time?

Bejtlich in his talk gives a nod towards academia being a thorough environment and even offers several criteria for why academic work is superior to some other governments (not realizing he should include his own). Perhaps this is because he is now working on a PhD. I mean it is odd to me he fails to realize this academic community was just as prolific and useful in the 1990s, gathering intelligence and publishing it, giving talks and sending documents to those who were interested. His presentation makes it sound like before search engines appeared it required nation-state sized military departments walking uphill both ways in a blizzard to gather data.

Aside from having this giant blind spot to what he calls the “outsider” community, I also fear I am listening to someone with no field experience gathering intelligence. Sure image analysis is a skill. Sure we can sit in a room and pore over every detail to build up a report on some faraway land. On one of my private sector security teams I had a former US Air Force technician who developed film from surveillance planes. He hated interacting with people, loved being in the darkroom. But what does Bejtlich think of actually walking into an environment as an equal, being on the ground, living among people, as a measure of “insider” intelligence skill?

Almost three decades ago I stepped off a plane into a crowd of unfamiliar faces in a small country in Asia. Over the next five weeks I embedded myself into mountain villages, lived with families on the great plains, wandered with groups through jungles and gathered as much information as I could on the decline of monarchial rule in the face of democratic pressure.

One sunny day on the side of a shoulder-mountain stands out in my memory. As I hiked down a dusty trail a teenage boy dressed all in black walked towards me. He carried a small book under his arm. He didn’t speak English. We communicated in broken phrases and hand gestures. He said he was a member of a new party.

Mao was his leader, he said. The poor villages felt they weren’t treated well, decided to do something about it. I asked about Lenin. The boy had never heard the name. Stalin? Again the boy didn’t know. Mao was the inspiration for his life and he was pleased about this future for his village.

This was before the 1990s. And by most “official” accounts there were no studies or theories about Maoists in this region until at least ten years later. I mention this here not because individual people with a little fieldwork can make a discovery. It should be obvious military schools don’t have a monopoly on intel. The question is what happened to that data. Where did information go and who asked about it? Did others have easy access to data gathered?

Yes, someone from private sector should talk about “The Revolution in Private Sector Intelligence”. Perhaps we can find someone with experience working on intelligence in the private sector for many, many years, to tell us what has changed for them. Maybe there will be stories of pre-ChoicePoint private sector missions to fly in on a moment’s notice into random places to gather intelligence on employees who were stealing money and IP. And maybe non-military experience will unravel why Russian operations in private sector had to be handled uniquely from other countries?

Going by Bejtlich’s talk it would seem that such information gathering simply didn’t exist if the US government wasn’t the one doing it. What I hear from his perspective is you go to a military school that teaches you how to do intelligence. And then you graduate and then you work in a military office. Then you leave that office to teach outsiders because they can learn too.

He sounds genuinely incredulous to discover that someone in the private sector is trainspotting. If you are familiar with the term you know many people enjoy as a hobby building highly detailed and very accurate logs of transportation. Bejtlich apparently is unaware, despite this being a well-known thing for a very long time.

A new record of trainspotting has been discovered from 1861, 80 years earlier than the hobby was first thought to have begun. The National Railway Museum found a reference to a 14 year old girl writing down the numbers of engines heading in and out of Paddington Station.

It reminds me a bit of how things must have moved away from military intelligence for the London School of Oriental and African Studies (now just called SOAS). The British cleverly setup in London a unique training school during the first World War, as explained in the 1917 publication “Nature”:

…war has opened our eyes to the necessity of making an effort to compete vigorously with the activities — political, commercial, and even scientific and linguistic — of the Germans in Asia and Africa. We have discovered that their industry was rarely disinterested, and that political propaganda was too often at the root of “peaceful penetration” in the field of missionary, scientific, and linguistic effort.

In other words, a counter-intelligence school was born. Here the empire could maintain its military grip around the world by developing the skills to better gather intelligence and understand enemy culture (German then, but ultimately native).

By the 1970s SOAS, a function of the rapidly changing British global position, seemed to take on wider purpose. It reached out and looked at new definitions of who might benefit from the study and art of intelligence gathering. By 1992 regulars like you or me could attend and sit within the shell of the former hulk of a global analysis engine. Academics there focused on intelligence gathering related to revolution and independence (e.g. how to maintain profits in trade without being a colonial power).

I was asked by one professor to consider staying on for a PhD to help peel apart Ghana’s 1956 transition away from colonial rule, for only academic purpose of course. Tempted as I was, LSE instead set the next chapters of my study, which itself seems to have become known sometime during the second World War as a public/private shared intelligence analyst training school (Bletchley Park staff tried to convince me Zygalski, inventor of equipment to break the Enigma, lectured at LSE although I could find no records to support that claim).

Fast forward five years to 1997 and the Corner House is a good example of academics in London who formalized public intelligence reports (starting in 1993?) into a commercial portfolio. In their case an “enemy” was more along the lines of companies or even countries harming the environment. This example might seem a bit tangential until you ask someone for expert insights, including field experience, to better understand the infamous pipeline caught in a cyberwar.

Anyway, without me dragging on and on about the richness of an “outside” world, Bejtlich does a fine job describing some of the issues he had adjusting. He just seems to have been blind to communities outside his own and is pleased to now be discovering them. His “inside” perspective on intelligence is really just his view of inside/outside, rather than any absolute one. Despite pointing out how highly he regards academics who source material widely he then unfortunately doesn’t follow his own advice. His talk would have been so much better with a wee bit more depth of field and some history.

Let me drag into this an interesting example that may help make my point, that private analysts not only can be as good or better than government they may even be just as secretive and political.

Eastman Kodak investigated, and found something mighty peculiar: the corn husks from Indiana they were using as packing materials were contaminated with the radioactive isotope iodine-131 (I-131). Eastman Kodak at the time had some of the best researchers in the country on its team (the company even had its own nuclear reactor in the 1970s), and they discovered something that was not public knowledge: those farms in Indiana had been exposed to fallout from the 1945 Trinity Test in New Mexico — the world’s first atmospheric nuclear bomb explosions which ushered in the atomic age. Kodak kept this exposure silent.

The American film industry giant by 1946 realized, from clever digging into the corn husk material used for packaging, that the US government was poisoning its citizens. The company filed a formal complaint and kept quiet. Our government responded by warning Kodak of military research to help them understand how to hide from the public any signs of dangerous nuclear fallout.

Good work by the private sector helping the government more secretly screw the American public without detection, if you see what I mean.

My point is we do not need to say the government gives us the best capability for world-class intelligence skills. Putting pride aside there may be a wider world of training. So we also should not say private-sector makes someone the best in world at uncovering the many and ongoing flaws in government intelligence. Top skills can be achieved in different schools of thought, which serve different purposes. Kodak clearly worried about assets differently than the US government, while they still kind of ended up worrying about the same thing (colluding, if you will). Hard to say who evolved faster.

By the way, speaking of relativity, also I find it amusing Bejtlich’s talk is laced with his political preferences as landmines: Hillary Clinton is setup as so obviously guilty of dumb errors you’d be a fool not to convict her. President Obama is portrayed as maliciously sweeping present and clear danger of terrorism under the carpet, putting us all in grave danger.

And last but not least we’re led to believe if we get a scary black bag indicator we should suspect someone who had something to do with Krav Maga (historians might say an Austro-Hungarian or at least Slovakian man, but I’m sure we are supposed to think Israeli). Is that kind of like saying someone who had something to do with Karate (Bruce Lee!) when hinting at America?

And one last thought. Bejtlich also mentions gathering intelligence on soldiers in the Civil War as if it would be like waiting for letters in the mail. In fact there were many more routes of “real time” information. Soldiers were skilled at sneaking behind lines (pun not intended) tapping copper wires and listening, then riding back with updates. Poetry was a common method of passing time before a battle by creating clever turns of phrase about current events, perhaps a bit like twitter functions today. “Deserters” were a frequent source of updates as well, carrying news across lines.

I get what Bejtlich is trying to say about speed of information today being faster and have to technically agree with that one aspect of a revolution; of course he’s right about raw speed of a photo being posted to the Internet and seen by an analyst. Yet we shouldn’t under-sell what constituted “real-time” 150 years ago, especially if we think about those first trainspotters…

BBC’s false history of long distance communication

One might think history would be trivially easy, given how these days every fact is on the Internet at the tips of our fingers. However, being a historian still takes effort, perhaps even talent. Why?

The answer is simple: “the value of education is not the learning of many facts but the ability of the mind to think”. I’ll let you try and search to figure out the person who said that.

A historian is trained to apply expertise in thinking, run facts through a system of sound logic for others to validate, rather than just leave facts on their own. It is a bit like a chef cooking a delicious meal rather than offering you a bowl of raw ingredients. Analysis to get the right combinations of ingredients cooked together can be hard. And on top of finding the results desirable, we also need ways to know the preparations were clean an can be trusted.

Take for example a BBC magazine article written about long distance communication, that cooks up a soup called “How Napoleon’s semaphore telegraph changed the world”.

This article unfortunately offers factual conclusions that are poorly prepared and end up tasting all wrong. Let’s start with three basic assertions the BBC has asked readers to swallow:

  1. The last stations were built in 1849, but by then it was clear that the days of line-of-sight telegraphy were done.
  2. The military needs had disappeared, and latterly the operators’ main task was transmitting national lottery numbers.
  3. The shortcomings of visual communication were obvious. It only functioned in daytime and in good weather.

First point: Line-of-sight telegraphy is still used to this day. Anyone sailing the Thames, or any modern waterway for that matter, would happily tell you they rely on a system of lights and flags. I wrote it into our book on cloud security. The BBC itself has a story about semaphore adoption during nuclear disarmament campaigns. As long as we have visual sensors, these signal days will never be done. Dare I mention the line-of-sight communication scene in a futuristic sci-fi film The Martian?

Second point: Military needs are not the only need. This should be obvious from the first point, as well as from common sense. If this were true you would not be reading a blog, ever. More to the stupidity of this reasoning, the French system resorted to a lottery because it went bankrupt. The inventor had pinned all his hope for a very expensive system on military financing and that didn’t come through. So the lottery was a last-ditch attempt to find support after the military walked.

semaphore-lottery

A sad footnote to this is the French military didn’t see the Germans coming in latter wars. So I could dive into why military needs didn’t disappear, but that would be more complicated than proving there were other needs and the system just wasn’t funded properly to survive.

Third point: Anyone heard of a lighthouse? What does it do best? Functions at night and in bad weather, am I right? Fires on a hill (e.g. pyres) also work quite well at night. Or a flashlight, such as the one on your cell-phone.

Try out the Jolla phone app “Morse sender” if you want to communicate over distance at night and bad weather using Morse code. Real shortcomings of visual communication come during thick smoke (e.g. old gunpowder battles or near coal power), which leads to audio signals such as the talking drum, fog horns, bagpipes and songs or cries.

Ok, so all those three above points are false and easily disproved, tossed into the bin. Now for the harder part, the overall general conclusion in two sentences from BBC magazine:

Smoke, fire, light, flags – since time immemorial man had sought to speak over space.

What France did in the first half of the 19th Century was create the first ever system of distance communication.

Shame that the writer acknowledges fire and flags here because those are the facts we used above to disprove their own analysis (work at night, still in use). Now can we disprove “first ever system of distance communication”?

I say this is hard because I’m giving the writer benefit of the doubt. Putting myself in their shoes they obviously see a big difference between the “immemorial” methods used around the world and a brief French experiment with an expensive, unfunded militaristic system.

As hard as I try, honestly I don’t see why we should call the French system first. Consider this passage from archaeologist Charles Jones’ 1873 “Antiquities of the Southern Indians

southern-indian-smoke-signals

Note this is a low-cost and night-time resilient system that leaves no trace. Pretty damning evidence of being earlier and arguably better. We have fewer first-hand proofs from earlier yet it would be easy to argue there were complex fire signals as far back as 150 BCE.

The Greek historian Polybius explained in The Histories that fire signals were used to convey complex messages over distance via cipher. A flame would be raised and lowered, turned on or off, to signal column and row of a letter.

6 The most recent method, devised by Cleoxenus and Democleitus and perfected by myself, is quite definite and capable of dispatching with accuracy every kind of urgent messages, but in practice it requires care and exact attention. 7 It is as follows: We take the alphabet and divide it into five parts, each consisting of five letters. There is one letter less in the last division, but this makes no practical difference. 8 Each of the two parties who are about signal to each other must now get ready five p215tablets and write one division of the alphabet on each tablet, and then come to an agreement that the man who is going to signal is in the first place to raise two torches and wait until the other replies by doing the same. 10 This is for the purpose of conveying to each other that they are both at attention. 11 These torches having been lowered the dispatcher of the message will now raise the first set of torches on the left side indicating which tablet is to be consulted, i.e. one torch if it is the first, two if it is the second, and so on. 12 Next he will raise the second set on the right on the same principle to indicate what letter of the tablet the receiver should write down.

It even works at night and in bad weather!

Speaking of which there may even have been a system earlier, such as 247 BCE. Given the engineering marvel of the lighthouse Pharos of Alexandria, someone may know better of its use for long-distance communication by line-of-sight.

Has the point been made that the first ever system of distance communication was not the French during their revolution?

I think the real conclusion here, in consideration of BBC magazine’s attempt to persuade us, is someone was digging for reasons to be proud of French militarism. Had they bothered to think more deeply or seek more global sources of data they might have avoided releasing such a disappointing article.

When native Americans demonstrated excellent long distance communication systems, European settlers mocked them. Yet the French build one and suddenly we’re supposed to remember it and say…oh la la? No thanks, too hard to swallow. That’s poor analysis of facts.

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 his great power and influence has made him a victim of persecution. Odd.

Consider for a minute how Perkins 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.” Does this sound like a victim to you? 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 and follower loss to exert power over all the other anti-republic parties through “legal revolution”.
  • 1928, Hitler formally makes all large and loosely affiliated far-right groups report directly to him, controlled by strict command structure with 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 by stoking fear of a Communist take-over. Rapid growth of anti-Semitic acts and propaganda
  • 1930, German political system heated by radical groups trying to split votes; intellectual communism versus ultra-nationalism. 6.5 million vote for Nazi Party, which had promised 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 heavy propaganda and violent threats still only 14 million vote (37%) for 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.

Rosasolis

by Penguin Café Orchestra

In 1972 I was in the south of France. I had eaten some bad fish and was in consequence rather ill. As I lay in bed I had a strange recurring vision, there, before me, was a concrete building like a hotel or council block. I could see into the rooms, each of which was continually scanned by an electronic eye. In the rooms were people, everyone of them preoccupied. In one room a person was looking into a mirror and in another a couple were making love but lovelessly, in a third a composer was listening to music through earphones. Around him there were banks of electronic equipment. But all was silence. Like everyone in his place he had been neutralized, made gray and anonymous. The scene was for me one of ordered desolation. It was as if I were looking into a place which had no heart. Next day when I felt better, I went to the beach. As I sat there a poem came to me. It began ‘I am the proprietor of the Penguin Cafe. I will tell you things at random.’