Historians rate the US presidents

I’ve been writing too many comments again on Schneier’s blog lately, so I thought I’d post a few interesting things here instead. This article from the History News Network caught my attention with some interesting insights into the risks from various Presidents and how they stack up from a historian’s point-of-view:

The George W. Bush presidency is the worst since:
In terms of economic damage, Reagan.
In terms of imperialism, T Roosevelt.
In terms of dishonesty in government, Nixon.
In terms of affable incompetence, Harding.
In terms of corruption, Grant.
In terms of general lassitude and cluelessness, Coolidge.
In terms of personal dishonesty, Clinton.
In terms of religious arrogance, Wilson.

And then there are the oft-cited Bush quotes that give another perspective on how some might use his own words to conclude he may be worse than so many of his predecessors:

“You don’t get everything you want. A dictatorship would be a lot easier.”
— From Paul Begala’s “Is Our Children Learning?”, Governing Magazine July, 1998

“If this were a dictatorship, it would be a heck of a lot easier, just so long as I’m the dictator.”
— CNN.com, December 18, 2000

“A dictatorship would be a heck of a lot easier, there’s no question about it.”
— Business Week, July 30, 2001

Going Sober

The f-secure bloggers have posted an odd story today about the Sober Y worm. Apparently someone in Germany read the worm’s message and decided to take it so seriously that he turned himself and his computer in to the authorities, and they found child porn. The Police have a writeup about it here (German) and a (very rough) tranlation is here:

Paderborn harmful computer worm helpfully – Sexualtaeter placed itself to the police (MT) still in November even the Federal Criminal Investigation Office (Federal Bureau of Criminal Investigations) before the danger of the computer worm “Sober Y” had warned. Now the criminal worm of the Paderborner helped police with the clearing-up of several sexual crimes.

Judge upholds intelligence in schools, strikes down school board liars

The BBC reports that a Judge in Pennsylvania has questioned the integrity of ID proponents and struck down their attempt to inject creationism into science curriculums at school:

Judge Jones said he had determined that ID was not science and “cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents”.

Citizens had been “poorly served” by members of the school board who voted for the ID policy, he said.

“It is ironic that several of these individuals, who so staunchly and proudly touted their religious convictions in public, would time and again lie to cover their tracks and disguise the real purpose behind the ID policy,” he said.

“We find that the secular purposes claimed by the board amount to a pretext for the board’s real purpose, which was to promote religion in the public school classroom.”

Religious extremists misrepresenting their true objectives? Impossible. My favorite comment from the BBC peanut gallery is from someone who claims to be from the US:

U.S. school students are falling behind their peers in developed countries in science and mathematics. Therefore, U.S. schools need to intelligently redesign their science curriculums not teach intelligent design as science.

Well said!

The Silent Majority circa 2005?

The “national security versus the public’s right to know” debate is nothing new to the US, but Bush appears to have lost serious amounts of credibility as key members of the House and Senate openly compare his faith-based requests for secrecy to Johnson’s worst decisions during the Vietnam War. For example Rep Murtha was just on the morning news yesterday and he was asked whether he believes the Bush administration’s assessment of the road ahead. Murtha retorted “Why should I trust him?” He went on to say that he remembers President Johnson’s announcement that he would not let the US pull out of Vietnam as things were about to get better. Murtha said the result was that more than 38,000 soldiers lost their lives before the US could admit that Johnson’s strategy was flawed from the start.

That brought to mind Nixon’s “Silent Majority” speech, which had a very different take on the situation (the beginning of the end rather than the end of the beginning). What Nixon lacked in domestic smarts he more than made up for in international relations, and yet he rarely gets mentioned outside of Watergate, which probably means either that the US still has a very long way to go in Iraq or maybe just that the “N” word is considered off-limits:

The other two factors on which we will base our withdrawal decisions are the level of enemy activity and the progress of the training programs of the South Vietnamese forces. And I am glad to be able to report tonight progress on both of these fronts has been greater than we anticipated when we started the program in June for withdrawal. As a result, our timetable for withdrawal is more optimistic now than when we made our first estimates in June. Now, this clearly demonstrates why it is not wise to be frozen in on a fixed timetable.

We must retain the flexibility to base each withdrawal decision on the situation as it is at that time rather than on estimates that are no longer valid.

Along with this optimistic estimate, I must-in all candor-leave one note of caution.

If the level of enemy activity significantly increases we might have to adjust our timetable accordingly.

Pinter on US foreign policy

Harold Pinter gave a spirited Nobel Lecture on December 12th:

Everyone knows what happened in the Soviet Union and throughout Eastern Europe during the post-war period: the systematic brutality, the widespread atrocities, the ruthless suppression of independent thought. All this has been fully documented and verified.

But my contention here is that the US crimes in the same period have only been superficially recorded, let alone documented, let alone acknowledged, let alone recognised as crimes at all. I believe this must be addressed and that the truth has considerable bearing on where the world stands now. Although constrained, to a certain extent, by the existence of the Soviet Union, the United States’ actions throughout the world made it clear that it had concluded it had carte blanche to do what it liked.

Direct invasion of a sovereign state has never in fact been America’s favoured method. In the main, it has preferred what it has described as ‘low intensity conflict’. Low intensity conflict means that thousands of people die but slower than if you dropped a bomb on them in one fell swoop. It means that you infect the heart of the country, that you establish a malignant growth and watch the gangrene bloom. When the populace has been subdued ­ or beaten to death ­ the same thing ­ and your own friends,
the military and the great corporations, sit comfortably in power, you go before the camera and say that democracy has prevailed. This was a commonplace in US foreign policy in the years to which I refer.

And that’s just the warmup before he gets to a review of modern events:

The invasion of Iraq was a bandit act, an act of blatant state terrorism, demonstrating absolute contempt for the concept of international law. The invasion was an arbitrary military action inspired by a series of lies upon lies and gross manipulation of the media and therefore of the public; an act intended to consolidate American military and economic control of the Middle East masquerading – as a last resort – all other justifications having failed to justify themselves – as liberation. A formidable assertion of military force responsible for the death and mutilation of thousands and thousands of innocent people.

So from there he makes a helpful suggestion:

I know that President Bush has many extremely competent speech writers but I would like to volunteer for the job myself. I propose the following short address which he can make on television to the nation. I see him grave, hair carefully combed, serious, winning, sincere, often beguiling, sometimes employing a wry smile, curiously attractive, a man’s man.

‘God is good. God is great. God is good. My God is good. Bin Laden’s God is bad. His is a bad God. Saddam’s God was bad, except he didn’t have one. He was a barbarian. We are not barbarians. We don’t chop people’s heads off. We believe in freedom. So does God. I am not a barbarian. I am the democratically elected leader of a freedom-loving democracy. We are a compassionate society. We give compassionate electrocution and compassionate lethal injection. We are a great nation. I am not a dictator. He is. I am not a barbarian. He is. And he is. They all are. I possess moral authority. You see this fist? This is my moral authority. And don’t you forget it.’

He also presents a poem by Pablo Neruda as a window into the ravages of war.

The Petroleum Gap

The latest EPRI* Journal (PDF) has an interesting article about the future of hybrid vehicles and the benefits of new plug-in technology, which has led to the ungainly name of PHEV (Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles). New York, Kansas City and LA are apparently testing a Dodge Sprinter PHEV and seeing some pretty amazing results.

At current U.S. energy prices — that is with the cost of gasoline at $3 per gallon and the national average cost of electricity at 8.5c per kilowatthour — a PHEV runs on an equivalent of 75c per gallon. And given that half the cars on U.S. roads are driven 25 miles a day or less, a plug-in with even a 20-mile-range battery could reduce petroleum fuel consumption by about 60%.

A PHEV passenger car is said to be able to recharge in three to four hours on a regular 120V (well, regular for the US) outlet, and ideally would be charged at the end of the day when “40% of the generating capacity in the United States sits idle or operates at reduced load overnight.”

I hate to ask but will the diesel version of the Sprinter (based on the Mercedes engine) have a PHEV option? The electric-city/biodiesel-highway vehicle seems like the perfect high-performance low-cost solution to help drive the US economy and military away from the impending petroleum disaster.

* Electric Power Research Institute

Here is one of the graphs from the report, which actually mentions increasing security risks due to petroleum-based energy:

EPRI chart of the US Petroleum Gap

The Hertfordshire oil depot investigation

The BBC report about this massive catastrophe starts off rather ominously:

The man in charge of investigating the massive fires at a Hertfordshire oil depot on Sunday says the flames may have destroyed all clues to the cause.

Further along it adds a bit more hope:

A police investigation into the incident has begun, including investigations by anti-terrorist police.
But Chief Con Whiteley said there was “nothing to suggest anything other than an accident”.

In a classic risk matrix the volatility and demand for petroleum is going to continue to add significant security costs. The value of the fuel has skyrocketed, the threats are clearly higher, and therefore the vulnerabilities must be addressed. In this case the vulnerability involved “20 petrol tanks…each said to hold three million gallons of fuel”. Even if you use the American fuel average price of US$2.50/gal that means US$150 million in fuel assets exposed, let alone the equipment value or the cost to the economy when the fuel supply is disrupted and the sky filled with toxic thick smoke.

Compare that to the almost inert properties of stored bio-diesel. Unlike many other forms of stored energy, the pollutive and combustive values of bio-diesel are incredibly low, which makes it a far safer fuel. My sense is that the military is already exploring this for obvious reasons (an ex-SF recently explained to me that the Humvees running bio-diesel are nowhere near as explosive since their fuel tanks can not be “weaponized” by IEDs). From a civilian market standpoint I have to wonder whether the petroleum companies will be able to find a way to reassure their respective governments that they are capable of resolving the inherent national security deficiencies of their industry. Will their record profits be spent on reducing the asset value (lowering the price), reducing the vulnerabilities (lower volatility, build giant fortresses around tanks), or can they help reduce the threats (ban smoking, help stabilize democracies, fund education)? How many people will face serious health risks from the burning petroleum?

We’re reaching a moment similar to when the mid-range systems started to steal cycles away from the highly profitable but totally unflexible mainframe, later to be replaced themselves with personal/distributed computing. Fuel production is ripe for the same sort of reorganization, with more widely distributed cells of production at lesser individual capacity providing a system more aligned with popular values….

The M1 is closed down

Edited to add:

    The BBC also reports that “The Buncefield depot is said to supply a third of the fuel for Heathrow. Some aircraft are only being allowed 40% of the fuel they would normally take on board and airport company BAA said restrictions could last some weeks.”

The Poetry Archive

Some say poetry must be read aloud by the author to be properly represented, but the real question of the future for The Poetry Archive might be whether people will pay $0.99 per download. In the meantime they say:

You can enjoy listening here, free of charge, to the voices of contemporary English-language poets and of poets from the past. The Archive is growing all the time. Please come back regularly to enjoy our latest recordings.

It looks like poetryCasts now have a home

Stingray Firewall

This looks interesting. It claims to be a firewall for the masses. A single-button black box with nothing more than input/output to worry about (and pressing the button at the right time, I suppose). I have not seen any reliable test/verification data yet…


Stingray Features:

  • Hides IP address from intruders
  • Intelligent packet filtration
  • Full VPN pass-through
  • No computer resource usage
  • No configuration
  • No maintenance
  • No patches and upgrades required
  • Works on any computer or OS

EU ‘Patriot Act’ Passes

This was just posted on Yahoo! News. Apparently the UK was able to push an “anti-terror” agenda through the EU:

European Union lawmakers approved measures to allow police greater access to telephone and Internet data to help fight terrorism and serious crime in the 25-state bloc.

The measures would oblige businesses to keep details about callers, such as whom they spoke to, where and when, for between six months and two years. EU states with longer retention periods in place would be allowed to keep them.

The laws would apply to land telephone lines and mobile phones, text messages and Internet protocols. No record of the conversation or message itself would be kept.

EU countries would have the option of keeping information about unanswered calls, details of which proved decisive in the probe into the Madrid train bombings last year.

The conclusion raises a number of interesting questions:

Despite initial disagreement over the scope of the measures, the costs and who should pay them — companies or member states — and the duration of data retention, the deputies passed the measures by a clear majority.

Before the assembly convened in Strasbourg, the leaders of the main political groups had agreed to accept a series of late amendments compiled by EU justice ministers at the beginning of the month.

The author of the report on which the measures were based, liberal deputy Alexander Nuno Alvaro, was angered by the move and denounced what he said was “pressure” on the lawmakers.

He also demanded that his name be withdrawn from the final text.

What was the original text and what were the amendments? Why the rush?

the poetry of information security