Boxer on Earthquakes

Senator Barbara Boxer has posted an online guide to earthquake preparedness. I like the fact that she is trying to help people prepare for disaster, but I find it curious that she does not point people to the FEMA pages, or use the same content with localized additions. FEMA has about 45 states classified as earthquake prone; is there anything special about California that they need their own “how to prepare” site? I noted that the navigation bar on the left side of Boxer’s page has “California” links, but nothing that points to the rather helpful FEMA information. I wonder how many other states have decided to create this information (stockpile water and food, keep a radio and flashlight ready, etc.) instead of sharing.

I thought Garrison Keillor did a particularly poetic job when he put the 1906 quake in perspective:

A San Francisco journalist named James Hopper said, “The earthquake started … with a direct violence that left one breathless. … There was something personal about the attack; it seemed to have a certain vicious intent. My building quivered with a vertical and rotary motion and there was a sound as of a snarl. … My head on the pillow, I watched my stretched and stiffened body … springing up and down and from side to side like a pancake in the tossing griddle of an experienced French chef.”

That must be a reflection of the period. It seems to me that pancakes are the last thing anyone today would expect from an experienced French chef. Anyway, Keillor continues:

A policeman said, “[The streets] began to dance and rear and roll in waves like a rough sea in a squall, [then] sank in places and vomited up car tracks and the tunnels that carried the cable. These lifted themselves out of the pavement, and bent and snapped.”

Evidence of literate policemen? I am a firm believer that poetry was the norm in 18th and early 19th century America and it was not uncommon for every sector of society to try and find a perfect turn of phrase; a favorite passtime. Keillor moves from the policeman’s prose to a different voice:

The world-famous tenor Enrico Caruso had performed at San Francisco’s Grand Opera House the night before, and he woke up in his bed as the Palace Hotel was falling down around him. He stumbled out into the street, and because he was terrified that that shock might have ruined his voice, he began singing.

There was a loud sound of an explosion as the city gas plant blew up. Wooden structures caught fire from overturned stoves and immediately began to burn. The fire department went out to fight the fires, only to find that the city had lost all of its running water. Firemen attempted to stop the spread of fire by dynamiting whole city blocks, but despite their efforts the fire raged for three days and most of the city burned to the ground.

More than 500 city blocks and more than 28,000 buildings were in ruins. Some 250,000 people were left homeless. Nearly 3,000 people died. Americans mourned the loss of San Francisco, one of the country’s greatest cities. The journalist Will Irwin wrote in the New York Sun, “The old San Francisco is dead. The gayest, lightest-hearted, most pleasure-loving city of this continent, and in many ways the most interesting and romantic, is a horde of huddled refugees living among ruins. … San Francisco is the city that was.”

So, get that food and water ready.

Can pirates lead a pricing revolution?

Who else? The number of multi-media “pirates” seem to be growing in number so fast that within the next five years a vast majority of media consumers will have joined their “revolution”. Is this really what it means to be a pirate? Yes, although I doubt the title matters, actually, other than to describe the phenomenon of the public resisting price-fixing and over-charging by giant media companies.

The big problem was that everyone, except the media companies themselves, seemed to know that manufacturing and distributing music and video was far below the graft-full $15 to $50 that the moguls want to charge. But for some reason the guys making all the money weren’t about to let the market function rationally (similar to petroleum companies?) since they knew that they had crafted “exclusive distribution rights” to the source material — a giant stick called digital rights and copyright law that they could beat consumers over the head with. Imagine a king saying to the peasants “what do you mean I don’t deserve to own all this land by virtue of birth?” Well, the essential problem is that the labels, even with their giant lobby groups and lawyers, are essentially working against human nature. Remember when American politicians used to say that the USSR could never survive because it was an artificial construct that could never overcome human nature? Yeah, well, when everyone in the world thinks your model is ready to be torn apart, I guess the king had better start thinking about letting the castle walls down before the crowds become unruly — find a way to form their own system of self-rule.

From that perspective I give you news that Warner Brothers has decided to sell DVDs for $1.50:

Warner Home Video has begun trial sales in China of a movie DVD priced at just Rmb12 ($1.50), a move likely to anger consumers in developed markets such as Europe and the US, who typically pay $20-$30 for a recently released film on DVD.[…] “This is a first step to see if the consumer can accept this product at this price,” Ms Hu said, adding that it was too early to judge the results of the experiment.

The article blames “loose enforcement of intellectual property laws” in China, but that’s just another way of saying that the life of pirates has become more popular than a life of the indentured servant. My guess is that the surveys say 10 out of 10 people do not want to have to pay an excessive use-tax without representation for everything they do and enjoy, whether that money goes to a king or a company.

Suicide before death

Did Clausewitz really say that? An author quoted him this morning in reference to blowback from US intervention and the fact that directed foreign regime change is often said to have disasterous consequences. It’s an interesting comment with regard to international security and conflict, but it brings Masada and the Roman empire to mind more than Clausewitz.

Anyway, here’s a thrilling essay by Colonel Harry G. Summers, Jr., USA (Ret) titled Clausewitz: Eastern and
Western Approaches to War

the American Vietnam-era military did not “know itself.” Within its ranks a vacuum existed on Western approaches to war. The American military has never been noted for its attention to the theories and philosophies of war. If there ever was an American philosopher of war, it was Antoine Henri, Baron de Jomini, who was particularly influential in the Civil War. His concentration on fixed rules and geometric and algebraic formulas became so pervasive that in 1869 then Commanding General of the Army William Tecumseh Sherman warned the graduating class at the United States Military Academy against the “insidious and most dangerous mistake” that one could “sit in ease and comfort in his office chair and … with figures and algebraic symbols, master the great game of war.”

Seems to be working in Iraq though, no? Summers goes on to conclude, with regard to the Vietnam War, “It was not so much that American commanders read the wrong book on the art and science of war as it was that, in too many cases, they had read no such book at all.”

Of contract negotiation, cryptography, and camels…

Saudi Aramco has a fascinating review of the history and significance of poetry in the Horn of Africa:

Somalia did not possess a written language until 1973, when the Latin alphabet was put to Somali phonetics; until then, people who wanted songs and words in their heads had to either memorize someone else’s or compose their own. […] The verses are learned by ear, for a Somali proverb says that “he who looks at paper never becomes a memorizer,” and the skills of listening and repeating are gradually applied to the creation of poetry. Part of the training thereafter is informal.

“I can remember the evening bonfires around which the children would gather,” says Dr. Ahmed Artan Hanghee, dean of the Institute of Arts under the Somali Academy of Science and Arts. “The storytellers would come and start recounting the past history of the clan. Then the poets would take over and entertain. The rules of poetry have never been written; they are just absorbed and understood.”

Real poetry is so common that it can fly completely below the radar of our daily lives. It is subtle yet significant and we sometimes only notice its role and complex structure after it is gone. I’ll spare you my ramblings on poetry as a form of language ecology for now, though. The article continues:

But that doesn’t make them easy. Classical poetry, considered the domain of the nomads and the purest form of the language, is lengthy in presentation and strict in style. There are stringent rules of meter and of alliteration, compounded by metrical counts that vary with the length of syllables. Thus the length of its vowel determines whether a syllable counts as either one or two moras, or units. Classical poetry must have 20 to 22 moras per line, as well as a pause after the 12th unit and two words per line that share the same initial letter. In Somali, the first two lines of the poem on page 33 are:

Inta Khayli dhuugyaha cas iyo, dheeh wiyil ah qaatay.

E dhallaanka Aadnigu u baxo, sidatan lay dhawray.

A second style of poetry, called anigarar, has 17 to 18 moras per line, and four other genres employ successively decreasing numbers of units, down to five per line. Woman poets compete in a separate genre of their own called buranbur, with similarly precise rules.

The words are metaphorical, rarely direct, Hanghee says. Most poetry contains the symbol of the camel, which can embody the notions of beauty, woman, provider of life, food, fragile temperament or freedom, or the ideal of nationhood.

“Somali poets talk in the abstract,” says Hanghee. “You’ll find one describing the beauty of a camel, but what he really means is Somali liberty and independence. Or the subject of the poem might be a horse, but he’s really describing the woman he loves. The waves of the Indian Ocean become the waves of decolonization and the freeing of Africa.”

This might seem like a stretch, but I don’t see a lot of dissimilarity to negotiating terms of engagement with giant companies.

We all hunch around the conference bridge using words that are rarely direct. We banter about or offer competing visions of security that can only be described metaphorically. And perhaps like working with nomadic herdsmen in the Horn of Africa, it is a perpetual challenge to bring security experts to agree on single sheet of paper that they feel does not restrict their future desire(s) while still honors their pride and heritage. You’ll find one describing the beauty of a control, but what s/he really means is consumer liberty and independence…

Door skating (unexpected friends)

The Mercury News reported on a case in the Silicon Valley that was solved due to a memory-chip sale gone bad. Apparently a man was commuting all the way from Vegas, stealing hardware from large tech companies, and then selling the goods online:

An irate woman traced two faulty $75 memory chips she had been sold on eBay to a seller and complained to the chip makers. Police with the Rapid Enforcement Allied Computer Team traced the name. Using a search warrant to go through the logs of an airline passenger clearinghouse service, they found Young had been flying in and out of the Bay Area for three years around the times of the thefts. They also saw he was scheduled to fly into the San Francisco airport two days later. He was arrested on the jet bridge.

I guess even the common thief needs quality control…

We all think it’s polite to hold doors open for people, and some insist that a failure to follow this tradition is a sign of rudeness. However, on the other hand, our politeness becomes our weakness as attackers find it a convenient way to “skate” their way into secure facilities without hassle.

As Emily Dickinson once said:

    “Remember me” implored the Thief!
    Oh Hospitality!
    My Guest “Today in Paradise”
    I give thee guaranty.

    That Courtesy will fair remain
    When the Delight is Dust
    With which we cite this mightiest case
    Of compensated Trust.

    Of all we are allowed to hope
    But Affidavit stands
    That this was due where most we fear
    Be unexpected Friends.

Expect the unexpected?

Update: I soon found myself pondering in/out access points in the Silicon Valley. Where have the designated “in” and “out” doors gone? That would at least cut down on the folks skulking around or trying to find a common exit to exploit, since they would be obviously acting spuriously unless entering through an “entrance”. Virtually every door I have seen lately, even in some “high-security” datacenters, has been bidirectional. Odd.

Stanislav Evgrafovich Petrov Day

I agree with Cosmic Variance that there should be an international Stanislav Evgrafovich Petrov Day to celebrate human reasoning. Those with the most compassion and experience (call it intelligence, if you must) seem the least likely to jump to false conclusions, and therefore are worthy of recognition for the hugely beneficial role they play in modern society. The Wikipedia explains:

Stanislav Evgrafovich Petrov (Russian: СтаниÑ?лав Евграфович Петров) (born c. 1939) is a retired Russian Army colonel who, on September 26, 1983, averted a potential nuclear war by refusing to believe that the United States had launched missiles against the USSR, despite the indications given by his computerized early warning systems. The Soviet computer reports were later shown to have been in error, and Petrov is credited with preventing World War III and the devastation of much of the Earth by nuclear weapons. Because of military secrecy and international policy, Petrov’s actions were kept secret until 1998.

It only stands to reason that if President Bush were really interested in the study of history, a compassionate person, or a seasoned leader, he probably never would have invaded Iraq based on flimsy and falsified evidence.

Employee terminated for refusing to give SSN

This was bound to happen…

Cassano, who worked for North Shore Veterinary Surgery, said she “was placed in dire jeopardy of having her identity stolen� and refused to provide her SSN. She was then terminated.

The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed a lower court decision that favored the employer writing, “There is no doubt that laws requiring employers to collect SSNs of employees have a rational basis.�

Cassano v. Carb, No. 04-6712 (2d Cir. 1/24/06)

Today’s fortune

I was poking around in some entertainment information and a horoscope somehow caught my attention. Reminds me of the old fortune program…

Quickie: You may not realize it yet, but things are really starting to come together for you.

Overview: You’re not picking a fight — really. It’s just that shoddy work always gets your goat. ‘Never settle’ is your motto, and it should be. When you expect the very best, you usually manage to get it. Keep it up!

Rumsfeld on the run

Things are definitely going south in the Pentagon according to most reports:

In a remarkably frank New York Times column published on March 19, retired army Maj Gen Paul Eaton, who had been in charge of training the Iraqi military during the first year of the occupation, argued that Rumsfeld “has shown himself incompetent strategically, operationally and tactically” and “has put the Pentagon at the mercy of his cold warrior’s view of the world and his unrealistic confidence in technology to replace manpower”.

“In the five years Mr Rumsfeld has presided over the Pentagon,” Eaton wrote, “I have seen a climate of groupthink become dominant and a growing reluctance by experienced military men and civilians to challenge the notions of the senior leadership.”

Bush probably doesn’t know what to do any more because the people who tell him what to think and do are the ones now being identified as less-than-competant (or worse). He could have avoided this hassle by removing Rumsfeld earlier when his lack of talent was made obvious by Powell. But for some reason there is a weird sense of supreme loyalty to those around him even when they are forcing good leaders to “retire early” and are directly causing a loss of American lives (yes, I include citizens serving in Iraq among those killed by terrorists). Incidentally, I don’t understand how the White House can trump up the fact that there have been no attacks on American soil since 9/11. First of all, there’s hardly a need for a complicated attack on American soil when there are so many easy targets in Iraq and Afghanistan. Second of all, domestic security actually has not been all that great either when you consider the devastation caused by Katrina. So the real picture has Americans dying due to unnatural causes both at home and abroad, and yet the White House tries to say that they’re doing a good job at security. Sad.

I don’t think I can put it any better than Paul Sperry who warned us with the following words of wisdom back in 2004:

You can no longer honestly say the war was to protect America. The weapons of mass destruction fraud has been exposed. Even Colin Powell admits peddling lies. And we now know the secret National Intelligence Estimate Bush used to justify invasion concluded that Saddam had no role in al-Qaeda’s operations or its attacks on Americans.

Try as you may, you can no longer argue Saddam is behind the insurgency, given that more than a third of our GIs killed have been killed since his capture.

Nor can you claim to support the war to support the troops when many don’t want to be there, and others are torturing, massacring and looting innocent Iraqi civilians. And you can’t rationalize the prison brutality as a necessary tactic against terrorists when Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba testified he couldn’t find a single terrorist in custody during his prison investigation.

Face it, there’s nothing heroic or worthy left about this war in Iraq. It’s just a pile of lies. Unless you support lies, the only thing you’re supporting by supporting the war now is Bush. That’s obviously good enough for Limbaugh and Hannity, but is it good enough for you?


Other Republicans on the Hill, most notably Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, are outraged by the ongoing fraud called Operation Iraqi Freedom, and they don’t think the solution is adding more troops. They care more about protecting young lives and the nation’s founding principles than Bush’s political fortunes.

And listen to former Reagan official Paul Craig Roberts, who recently said: “Bush lied us into war and continues to lie to keep us there.”

Not conservative enough for you? Then consider the advice a former foreign policy aide to conservative giant Sen. Jesse Helms gave me last month. “I would believe nothing you are told by anyone in the Bush administration,” he warned. “We are in a world of official lies as a method of government.”

Rumsfeld’s lies are starting to catch up to him and he’s on the defensive, but the real question is will Bush do anything about it or just leave the place a mess for whomever will inherit their combined failures. Some cynics have said that failure was all part of the plan, and that bankrupting the country is the best thing for the neocons who want to get fire-sale pricing and dismantle public policy that interferes with their development plans. But I think that’s giving the neocons way too much credit. It’s more just a case of sheer pride and incompetance by some out-of-date thinkers — like colonials trying to live out their last visions in a wholly non-colonial world. Rumsfeld probably just can’t adjust to reality. In other terms, he’s the boss and everyone who works for him will have to think the way he does, no matter what they see, hear or are capable of doing. Business management 101 tells you that’s a sure-fire recipe for disaster. Such a shame that this neo-conpoop hasn’t already been exposed for the fraud he truly is and summarily forced out of office by the men and women who know how to save lives while achieving victory…but then again, the inaction on Rummie is just another reflection on a horribly misguided Commander in Chief.

Neither history nor security

Once in a while I run into a “study” being done by someone under odd pretense that begs the question “who approved this for funding?” Here is a perfect example:

Simon, who teaches at Philadelphia’s Temple University, thinks that by spending time at Starbucks — observing the teenage couples and solitary laptop-users, the hurried office workers and busy baristas — he can learn what it means to live and consume in the age of globalization.

“What are we drinking, and what does it say about who we are?” Simon asked during a recent research trip to London.

His research has taken him to 300 Starbucks in six countries for a caffeine-fueled opus titled “Consuming Starbucks” that’s due for publication in 2008.

Observing teenage behavior in public places? This appears to me to have nothing to do with the study of history (more like sociology, psychology, or anthropology, if not culinary arts). He then goes on to postulate about the “comfort” patrons feel when they isolate themselves in familiar and unchallenging surroundings…

Simon believes Starbucks succeeds by “selling comfort” in an anonymous, often dislocating world. He says he has lost track of the number of times people have told him that when they traveled to a strange country, “the first thing I did when I got off the plane was go to Starbucks.”

Brilliant. He’s lost track? This man has discovered that the franchise concept works by selling comfort to people afraid of the unfamiliar and thus unwilling to take any chances. What a breakthrough in history. The only thing more preposterous would be if his book was funded by the company he is studying, since it so eloquently has the same namesake. And 2008? I’ve never heard of a “current event” study taking so long to reach publication. This is why historians should stay out of fashion design too, incidentally. Where’s the blog? By the time he writes this thing his observation of “teenage” behavior is very likely to be irrelevant.

IMHO, here’s a more notable topic worth reviewing, relative to the past versus the explosion of bland coffee-houses in London — it’s called the history and decline of the community and their gathering places (e.g. the local pub) in England. In the early 90s you could not find a decent cup of coffee in downtown London to save your life, but there were a hundred opinions for every ten pints of domestically produced beer usually in some relation to current events. Brand loyalty meant something deep and mysterious, somehow tied together with hundreds of years of publican tradition. Today, you can’t take a step without running into someone sloshing a smelly black imported brew in styrofoam containers as they race along the street, and I somehow doubt that these global-franchise loyalists could give a crap about history or even local issues. Good or bad? Who knows, but I’m certainly not going to ask for money as a historian to sit in Starbucks around the world for two years to “prove” that strangers like comfort.

the poetry of information security