Category Archives: History

Google’s latest double-standard

InformationWeek published an interesting review of Google’s desktop search tool:

By using Search Across Computers, employees are transmitting confidential company documents outside existing security systems. The means of transmission and storage (for the limited time documents are on its servers) aren’t understood, because Google hasn’t explained them. Additionally, the Google Desktop software provides no mechanism for indicating when data is uploaded to a server, when it’s accessed by your second computer and when it’s deleted from Google’s servers. We just don’t know.

If Google is going to play in the software market, it needs to take responsibility for communicating what its software does and does not do, in conjunction with the software release. It needs to be more respectful of the burden on security/IT professionals and enable features that help them protect their data. We all know that Google will do no evil, but they need to help make sure that they don’t enable it either.

Ouch. One would think they might be headed more in the direction of greater privacy, not less, given a brewing backlash from consumers and the gov’t. In fact, I’ve been working diligently with some folks to scan and uncover Google code on enterprise systems in order to cleanly remove it from afar. It surprises me how many admins are starting to categorize the Googley software in the same context as Kazaa, Gator, and other infamous and rather misleading “helper” applications. As the value of privacy goes up will the value of Google, which seems to rely on others’ openness, go down?

The Cult of the Dead Cow “Goolag” t-shirt campaign is quite harsh:

Rumsfeld, 9/11 and Saddam Hussein

Thad Anderson, a law school grad student who runs, has posted some interesting documents that show the Bush administration immediately started looking for ways to link Saddam Hussein to the attack on September 11th, 2001:

On July 23, 2005, I submitted an electronic Freedom of Information Act request to the Department of Defense seeking DoD staffer Stephen Cambone’s notes from meetings with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on the afternoon of September 11, 2001. Cambone’s notes were cited heavily in the 9/11 Commission Report’s reconstruction of the day’s events. On February 10, 2006, I received a response from the DoD which includes partially-redacted copies of Cambone’s notes. The documents can be viewed as a photo set on Flickr.

The released notes document Donald Rumsfeld’s 2:40 PM instructions to General Myers to find the “[b]est info fast . . . judge whether good enough [to] hit S.H. [Saddam Hussein] at same time – not only UBL [Usama Bin Laden]” (as discussed on p. 334-335 of the 9/11 Commission Report and in Bob Woodward’s Plan of Attack).

Sometimes, in an investigation, it is handy to start off with a hypothesis and look for supporting evidence. On the other hand, in most situations it is usually best to keep an open mind and let the facts speak for themselves, in order to avoid hasty or false conclusions or wrongful associations. It is always hard in a crisis to move quickly and yet practice caution. According to these notes Rumsfeld not only started with a hypothesis, but he seems to actually have ordered his staff to work under a foregone conclusion and find facts to support it/him.

Finally, these documents unveil a previously undisclosed part of the 2:40 PM discussion. Several lines below the “judge whether good enough [to] hit S.H. at same time” line, Cambone’s notes from the conversation read: “Hard to get a good case.”

The Guardian has picked up the story here, with the obvious conclusion:

…these notes confirm that Baghdad was in the Pentagon’s sights almost as soon as the hijackers struck.

Wildwood Flower (I’ll Twine Mid the Ringlets)

by Maud Irving, 1860


I'll twine 'mid the ringlets
  Of my raven black hair,
The lilies so pale
  And the roses so fair,
 The myrtle so bright
  With an emerald hue,
And the pale aronatus
  With eyes of bright blue. 

I'll sing and I'll dance,
  My laugh shall be gay;
I'll cease this wild weeping --
  Drive sorrow away,
 Tho' my heart is now breaking,
  He never shall know
That _his_ name made me tremble
  And my pale cheeks to glow. 

I'll think of him never --
  I'll be wildly gay,
I'll charm ev'ry heart,
  And the crowd I will sway,
 I'll live yet to see him,
  Regret the dark hour
When he won, then neglected,
  The frail wildwood flower. 

He told me he loved me,
  And promis'd to love,
Trough ill and misfortune,
  All others above,
 Another has won him;
  Ah, misery to tell;
He left me in silence --
  no word of farewell. 

He taught me to love him,
  He call'd me his flower
That blossom'd for him
  All the brighter each hour;
 But I woke from my dreaming,
  My idol was clay;
My visions of love
  Have _all_ faded away. 

Note the differences between the song lyrics and the original poem?

After watching the movie “Walk the Line” about the Johnny and June Cash affair, I started to get curious about some of the history and poetry behind their music. It turns out that NPR did little story on Wildwood Flower as part of their “100 most important American songs in the 20th century”. Unfortunately the audio for the program doesn’t seem to work anymore, and based on the text introduction it seems they acknowledge that not much is known about the origins of the poem.

With a little bit more searching I found a reference to another poem by Maud Irving called “Mildred” in the Volume LXI, July-December 1860 edition of Godey’s Lady’s Book. Louis Godey’s publication (edited by Sarah Josepha Hale) was an American institution before the Civil War. Filled with poetry (from authors such as Edgar Allen Poe) it had a circulation of 150,000 and over a million readers. Unfortunately the war undermined Godey’s market, in spite of his attempts to remain neutral and keep up with the latest poetry/verse at the time. I wonder if anyone has captured any more information about Irving and his writing? According to Vicki Betts, a Librarian, “the Robert R. Muntz Library at the University of Texas at Tyler holds microfilm for Godey’s Lady’s Book for 1840-1892”. Might be a fun field-trip, or maybe someone will help convert the actual texts to a searchable database…

Poetry Translation Centre

Once upon a time I studied African history, policy and economics as an undergraduate at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS).

Although I was only there for a short time, it left a very positive and lasting impression on me. One of the things that really stood out about the School was its origins in the British Empire’s need for better understanding of the languages and cultures that were the furthest from its own. It felt like a bold statement of how success can be achieved through understanding and acceptance as much, if not more, than from shock and awe strategies.

The School has to have had one of the most diverse groups of people I have ever had the pleasure to work with. I’ll never forget how the discussions in the classroom would often continue afterwards downstairs in the dark and smoky school pub (with the Professor!) for hours and hours over tax-free pints of lager and stout. And who can forget the library stacks, absolutely filled with anything you could possibly want to know, all just next door to the ominous building that played a prominent role in the movie “1984”. Although I seriously considered attending SOAS to do my graduate work, I ultimately chose the London School of Economics, just down the road…

Well, I was just notified of an amazing program started by SOAS in 2004 called the Poetry Translation Centre. There is something really remarkable about the Arts Council England and how dedicated they seem to be to finding ways to enrich the English-speaking world with art.

I recently wrote about the tragic loss of tradition due to war in the Horn of Africa, where an oral tradition existed at whose centre was verse or poetry. However, finding this program on the SOAS site has restored my faith that people who care about poetry might also genuinely see the importance of capturing and passing along literature and traditions around the world.

This poem by Ismaciil Mire, a Somalian soldier who fought against the British in the early 20th Century, is particularly interesting and perhaps timely:

They Pounced at Dawn

Honestly, my wife, not one of my forefathers
Nor I have ever once traded with money.
Our ancestors always had camels,
And I got my share from the camel raids.
Only once I ventured where my father never went.
I loaded the camels; it took four nights to reach the village.
The minute I got to the gate of Burco with my goods,
The brokers pounced as if they knew I was coming.
As dawn broke, the sheepsellers set upon us.
Godless men gathered against us.
I was struck dumb when they prodded the sheep.
‘It’s worth this much’, ‘No it isn’t’, they haggled bluntly.
Their squabbling distressed me.
I trusted the man with the squint but he cheated me.
They tried to placate me with less than four shillings,
While I watched the hands that swindled me.
As for the sheep you’re all asking about, they are now with
Who deserve to be strung up on thorns by their heels.
All I was left with was rags and a stick.
Some men know more about money than me. Ask them!

The poems come in original text, literal translation, and final translation.