Category Archives: History

Cheney admits error in judgement

I know, it’s a loaded title, but at some point you just have to admit that Cheney is the kind of guy who doesn’t understand that if he keeps saying “it was the other guy’s fault” that eventually the proverbial finger comes around and is pointing right at him.

I’ve written about this on Schneier’s blog numerous times, and I hope everyone remembers that Cheney was the primary reason that the Bush Administration ignored the intelligence warnings about al Qaeda before 9/11. There was no shortage of information, as Cheney would like to suggest. Quite the opposite, Bush said during his campaign that he would deal with those responsible for the USS Cole bombing if he were elected…and yet when the information clearly pointed to al Qaeda in February 2001, who decided that the CIA had better things to do than worry about terrorists? And when Clarke recommended a roll-back strategy and a very targeted attack on al Qaeda training camps in February 2001, who wasn’t willing to take decisive action?

Reuters brings us some sad news:

Vice President Dick Cheney on Wednesday strongly defended a secret domestic eavesdropping operation and said that had it been in place before the September 11 attacks the Pentagon might have been spared

Does he really expect us to believe that if the President could have used domestic wire-taps that they would have been better prepared for 9/11? Please.

Not only did they have the information necessary, but the 9/11 report itself said that the mistake was clearly NOT from a lack of intelligence, it was from a lack of coordination and leadership. Remember how Bush and Cheney ignored the Hart-Rudman recommendations, how Lynne Cheney resigned from the Hart-Rudman commission, how the FBI admitted that they had sufficient information but were procedurally constrained and under-trained? History will show that Cheney was no better than Mugabe, wrapping himself in the flag and claiming that he is protecting us from ourselves. Bush and Cheney fail to realize that it is their antiquated cold-war approach to a new era of geopolitical challenges that is damaging their country. The sooner he steps down from office, the sooner America can regain its strength.

Duan Wu and the Lament for Ying

Happy Duan Wu Festival day! Also known as the Dragon Boat Festival this Chinese holiday commemorates the death of Qu Yuan (340-278 BC), a poet from the kingdom of Chu (楚) during the Warring States Period.

May Dragon Boat Festival Print, Taipei National Palace Museum

It is celebrated each year on the fifth day of the fifth month (in the Chinese lunar calendar).

Perhaps the most interesting moral of the Duan Wu story is that the lack of accountability and integrity in leadership can lead a great state into total disaster.

Some might say the moral of the story has to do with loyalty, but that just begs the question of loyalty to what or who?

Once upon a time there was a minister named Qu Yuan from Chu who was known and respected for his family nobility and his great political loyalty to the kingdom through truth. Some might even say he was something of a whistleblower. He was very determined to maintain Chu’s sovereignty and he advocated for an alliance with other kingdoms to ward off the threat from the powerful state of Qin. The king, however, banished the truth-talking Qu Yuan at the behest of other corrupt and jealous ministers (you might say they called themselves the “patriots” to use today’s political parlance).

Qu Yuan then returned to his home town where he travelled the countryside and collected stories. This effort became a source of some of the most well regarded poetry in Chinese literature, known as Chu Chi, as Qu Yuan expressed love and devotion to his state and concern for its future. Perhaps the best known poem is “Lament for Ying” when Qu Yuan expresses his sadness over the capture of Chu’s capital city, Ying, by General Bai Qi from the state of Qin.

Soon after he wrote his lament, Qu Yuan went to the river Miluo to kill himself in protest of the corruption in government that led to the decline and fall of the state of Chu. People gathered to try and save the poet, but to no avail.

To this day there are celebrations and recognition in China to remember a man who put the “public concern” above his own welfare and who stood for integrity and against the corrupt leaders who sacrificed the future of their country for a false sense of pride and/or to line their own pockets.

Sound familiar?

As a famous US President once said (repeating the phrase of a French dressmaker), there is nothing new to this world, just history we have not yet read (Il n’y a de nouveau que ce qui est oublié).

山鬼 屈原 The Mountain Spirit
若 有 人 兮 山 之 阿 There seems to be someone deep in the mountain,
被 薜 荔 兮 带 女 萝 Clad in creeping vine and girded with ivy,
既 含 睇 兮 又 宜 笑 With a charming look and a becoming smile.
子 慕 予 兮 善 窈 宨 “Do you admire me for my lovely form?”
乘 赤 豹 兮 从 文 狸 She rides a red leopard – striped lynxes follwing behind
辛 夷 车 兮 结 桂 旗 Her chariot of magnolia arrayed with banners of cassia,
被 石 兰 兮 带 杜 衡 Her cloak made of orchids and her girdle of azalea,
折 芳 馨 兮 遗 所 思 Calling sweet flowers for those dear in her heart.
余 处 幽 篁 兮 终 不 见 天 “I live in a bamboo grove, the sky unseen;
路 险 难 兮 独 后 来 The road hither is steep and dangerous; I arrive alone and late.
表 独 立 兮 山 之 上 Alone I stand on the mountain top
云 容 容 兮 而 在 下 While the clouds gather beneath me.
杳 冥 冥 兮 羌 昼 晦 “All gloomy and dark is the day;
东 风 飘 兮 神 灵 雨 The east wind drifts and god sends down rain.
留 灵 修 兮 憺 忘 归 Waiting for the divine one, I forget to go home.
岁 即 晏 兮 孰 华 予 The year is late. Who will now bedeck me?”
采 三 秀 兮 于 山 間 “I pluck the larkspur on the mountain side,
石 磊 磊 兮 葛 蔓 蔓 The rocks are craggy; and the vines tangled.
怨 公 子 兮 怅 忘 归 Complaining of the young lord, sadly I forget to go home.
君 思 我 兮 不 得 闲 You, my lord, are thinking of me; but you have no time,”
山 中 人 兮 芳 杜 若 The woman in the mountain, fragrant with sweet herb,
饮 石 泉 兮 阴 松 柏 Drinks from the rocky spring, shaded by pines and firs.
君 思 我 兮 然 疑 作 “You, my lord, are thinking of me, but then you hesitate.”
雷 填 填 兮 雨 冥 冥 The thunder rumbles and the rain darkens;
猨 啾 啾 兮 又 夜 鸣 The gibbons mourn, howling all the night;
风 飒 飒 兮 木 萧 萧­ The wind whistles and the trees are bare.
思 公 子 兮 徒 离 忧 “I am thing of the young lord; I sorrow in vain.”

PDF With Simplified Chinese and references

Time for pyramids?

Imagine walking along one day along a barren hill in Peru and stumbling upon 10-metre high pyramid. What would you think?

A) A perfect setting for an Indiana Jones themepark. Time to call someone in Hollywood.
B) What a fine reference for aerial surveillance and counterinsurgency efforts. Whisper a secret prayer/signal softly into the crack between the stones and wait for reinforcements.
C) Wow, those ancient Peruvians sure had big clocks. Stand back in awe, hands raised.
D) What a waste of stone. Walls or a house would have been a better choice, since nobody seems to have survived because of the pyramid.

If you chose C, you would have made a fine priest 4,000 years ago, according to the Sunday Times:

The oldest astronomical observatory in the Americas, it told farmers exactly when to sow their crops. Its discovery has provided startling clues to the way in which early man learnt to cultivate his fields.

“I was staring up at a statue on a ridge above the temple and realised it all aligned with the stars — it was an amazing moment,� the bearded scientist said last week.

“This alignment meant that at dawn at every winter solstice 4,200 years ago, key stars would appear in line with the temple and alert priests that river flooding was due and it was time to start planting crops. It was laid out as a wake-up call to the community.�

Bearded? Anyone else wonder what that has to do with anything?

I like the concept of priests as people who advance scientific knowledge and push the use of technology for “better” living. I also like the story about how police managed to recover a stolen Bronze Age relic, which eventually enabled a modern astronomer to decipher its meaning:

Since police tracked down the thieves in Switzerland in 2002, archaeologists and astronomers have been trying to puzzle out the disc’s function. Ralph Hansen, an astronomer in Hamburg, found that the disc was an attempt to co-ordinate the solar and lunar calendars. It was almost certainly a highly accurate timekeeper that told Bronze Age Man when to plant seeds and when to make trades, giving him an almost modern sense of time.

Wikipedia has an interesting review of how the relic was recovered and whether it is genuine.

Shiver me timbers

Remember that old joke about the octogenarian pirate? You know, the one who goes around saying “Aye-matey” (I’m eighty). Sorry, it’s not every day I get to put a pirate joke in a log entry. Speaking of log entries I was reading the ship log over at the 826 Valencia Store, and noticed a fascinating take on the risk of being a buccaneer versus the modern workman:

Compensation schedule

Arrgh, being a pirate was obviously risky, but not too risky a business.

It paid to be a southpaw, it would seem. And loss of one eye is listed, but what about two? I can see “capable one-eyed buccaneers” (pun intended) as a plausible explanation for the lower rate for pirate compensation, but what was the payout for being blinded?

And what would be the modern equivalent of the “favorite or lucky leader”?

Physics of terrorism patterns

Some clever scientists have reviewed current events to try and find a universal pattern to terrorism and published a paper with their results:

We report a remarkable universality in the patterns of violence arising in three high-profile ongoing wars, and in global terrorism. Our results suggest that these quite different conflict arenas currently feature a common type of enemy, i.e. the various insurgent forces are beginning to operate in a similar way regardless of their underlying ideologies, motivations and the terrain in which they operate. We provide a microscopic theory to explain our main observations. This theory treats the insurgent force as a generic, self-organizing system which is dynamically evolving through the continual coalescence and fragmentation of its constituent groups.

It looks like they were trying to prove the old adage that ideologies, motives and terrain do not impact methods used by insurgent forces. I think that would be useful as an elimination of factors that are often mistakenly assumed to influence method, rather than proof of universality. In other words, does the universality of a hammer as a tool for hammering surprise anyone? Does it matter if the people who use hammers for hammering spend their money on different causes?

More flyingpenguins

Whew. I just mowed through hundreds of spam comments.

I used to enjoy reading these crazy things as a sort of stream-of-conscious Kerouac-like review of our modern tendencies for consumption.

Call me crazy, but maybe someone should make this into performance art — read a spam filter to music and do an artistic interpretation of the messages:

stricken golf servicemen entrusting pads
oat sycophantic mortgages apprehensions
Teletext Jackie Seabrook contrition whacked pills
intoxicating geyser sandpaper Germania Amoco coriander treatise mortgages
home equity loan

Yeah, say it out loud man! Cool, daddy-o. Home equity loan…oh, home equity loan.

I admit it, I can sometimes really get into this stuff. I suppose I should dismiss everything but the sensible comments, yet there’s something oddly poetic and security-related in thinking about the hundreds of spam entries I get every day.

For example, remember the origins of public-key cryptography?

We know that secret communication still uses blind-drops and even steganography (someone posts a jpg on a free public site like flickr and then anyone else can download and decrypt), so there’s clearly intent out there. And we know that some serious time and money is spent listening to the noise from space. Wonder what would happen if we ran spam through some of the same analytics and filters. Would there be a hidden message? The meaning of life? Does it all add up to a magic number?

Maybe I’m just having too much fun thinking about it, when I could be out getting some sun like this little fellow:

Evil Penguineval

Ok, enough spam. I’m going to think about putting in some new controls.

Who invented public-key cryptography

I went to presentation yesterday where a speaker told the audience the tale of how the three guys from MIT invented public-key cryptography. You know, the RSA trio. I mentioned that they were not the sole inventors (hey, Diffie sits on the crypto panel at RSA for a reason) but was soundly shut-down.

After the presentation I did a little research to double-check and while I thought Diffie-Hellman and Merkle were important, I didn’t realize that another group actually pre-dated even their publication. It turns out that there is a paper from 1987 called The Story of Non-Secret Encryption written by James Ellis. This paper not only describes ground-breaking work done prior to Diffie-Hellman and Merkle, but it gives credit to Bell Labs in 1944 for helping instigate the modern public key cryptography concepts.

Source is available here:

A paper written by Clifford Cocks (November 20, 1973) called “A Note on Non-Secret Encryption” is also relevant.

Here’s a nice review of the actual history, as told by the Living Internet:

Ellis began thinking about the shared secret key problem in the late 1960’s when he discovered an old Bell Labs paper from October, 1944 titled “Final Report on Project C43”, describing a clever method of secure telephone conversation between two parties without any prearrangement. If John calls Mary, then Mary can add a random amount of noise to the phone line to drown out John’s message in case any eavesdroppers are listening. However, at the same time Mary can also record the telephone call, then later play it back and subtract the noise she had added, thereby leaving John’s original message for only her to hear. While there were practical disadvantages to this method, it suggested the intriguing logical possibility: there might be methods of establishing secure communications without first exchanging a shared secret key.

Ellis thought about this seemingly paradoxical idea for awhile, and while lying in bed one night developed an existence proof that the concept was possible with mathematical encryption, which he recorded in a secret CESG report titled The Possibility of Non-Secret Encryption in January, 1970. This showed logically that there could be an encryption method that could work without prior prearrangement, and the quest in GCHQ then turned to find a practical example.

The first workable mathematical formula for non-secret encryption was discovered by Clifford Cocks, which he recorded in 1973 in a secret CESG report titled A Note on Non-Secret Encryption. This work describes a special case of the RSA algorithm, differing in that the encryption and decryption algorithms are not equivalent, and without mention of the application to digital signatures. A few months later in 1974, Malcolm Williamson discovered a mathematical expression based on the commutativity of exponentiation that he recorded in a secret report titled Non-Secret Encryption Using A Finite Field, and which describes a key exchange method similar to that discovered by Diffie, Hellman, and Merkle. It is not known to what uses, if any, the GCHQ work was applied.

It just goes to show, don’t always believe what you hear in presentations…

Sao Paulo riots run by cell phone

Interesting first-person account on the BBC site:

The first step the authorities need to take is to block the prisoners from using mobile phones to direct the violence on the streets.

That prompted me to do a little research, which led to a report from Prison Review in 2002 that suggests cell-phones were used by inmates to coordinate attacks back then as well:

Officials in California’s facilities regularly report problems with their inmate population using cell phones to conduct “gang business” from behind bars. January’s prison riots in Brazil – which began simultaneously across five facilities in and around Sao Paulo and left several hundred dead and wounded – were coordinated using cell phones. The inmate’s strategy of synchronised riots – only possible with real-time communications – was deliberately designed to cripple the state’s single incident response team.

And while these reports seem to indicate prison cells (pun intended) run amok, Amnesty International provides the following background to police treatment of prisoners and riots in Sao Paulo:

In June Colonel Ubiratan Guimarães, a former high-ranking military police officer, was convicted on charges in connection with the massacre of 111 detainees in the Carandiru detention centre following a riot in 1992. In a historic decision, the jury found him to be responsible for São Paulo’s military police ”shock troops” and that the troops entered the prison with the prior intention of committing as much harm as possible. He was sentenced to 632 years’ imprisonment, but was released pending hearing of his appeal. A further 105 military policemen were awaiting trial for their part in the massacre at the end of 2001. The São Paulo authorities later announced their intention to close Carandiru prison by early 2002.

Further reading on the subject revealed that

A Sao Paulo state appeals overturned his conviction on Wednesday [February 15, 2006] after Mr Guimaraes’ lawyers argued that he was acting on his superiors’ orders.

Could the riots be related to the court decision on Guimaraes? Many articles, such as this one, suggest that prisoners became highly organized in response to attacks by police in 1992. And yet no one seems to be making the connection between the prisoner organization and the recent court procedings about those attacks. The BBC quote “officials” who suggest that prisoners are reacting to “the decision of the state government’s move to isolate its leaders in different prisons.” Something tells me these isolation plans aren’t worthy of a riot on their own, especially when prisoners clearly are able to maintain cell-phone communication and relationships with outside elements. Maybe I’m missing something, but a recent ruling on the police leader charged with the massacre of prisoners seems very related…

Want to learn more about the fight for Internet freedom?

Read all about it here:

Save the Net Now

and here:

Net Losses by James Surowiecki

Check out what the music group R.E.M. has to say:

Net Neutrality levels the internet playing field, insuring that small blogs and independent sites open just as easily as the sites of large media corporations. It allows every voice to be heard by thousands, even millions of people. This freedom is currently under threat because the nation’s largest phone and cable companies have pressured Congress to give them more control over which Web sites work for users based on which corporation pays them the most! If Congress caves, consumer choice will be limited, the free flow of information will be choked off, and the free and open Internet will become a private toll road managed by these large companies.

My memory could be playing tricks on me, but if I’m not mistaken this is an old battle that comes from the early days of the Internet. Seems to me that sometime in the early 1980s MCI was promoting the X.25 protocol along with a “Mail service”. IBM and AT&T also endorsed X.25 and had all sorts of negative things to say about the lack of structure and reliability of TCP/IP. Can’t find a reference today, but the articles are still somewhat vivid in my mind. Vint Cerf however, who just happened to help develop the TCP/IP protocol, was head of the Digital Information Services at MCI and decided to connect MCI’s Mail service to it, thus establishing the direct foundation for today’s Internet. MCI was actively working with the National Science Foundation by the late 1980s to help public organizations run TCP/IP communications over a “high speed” (for the day) network. Meanwhile AT&T and IBM were stewing in their juices, apparently mad as hell that the public was not required to purchase their expensive network hardware and proprietary services in order to communicate over the network. IBM was determined to develop other protocols but finally was forced to admit TCP/IP as the default by the mid 1990s. Now, behold AT&T and the other carriers saying they should be allowed to buy out the public interest and own the network. No surprise, really, but if they are successful then will we really have returned to 1984?

This reminds me of when General Motors, Mack Truck, oil and tire companies (known as National City Lines and led by E. Roy Fitzgerald) managed to buy out all the public transportation providers in Los Angeles in the 1940s. Soon no public transportation was left — the wealthy shareholders had bought a lock on the market. One the competition was gone, and federal anti-trust charges were avoided, Los Angeles residents were increasingly forced to rely on cars, trucks, oil and tires. Some say this group of companies made their money back in the first ten years after they purchased and disassembled the public system.

Letter to Laura Bush

(From the poet Sharon Olds regarding an invitation to the 2005 National Book Critics Circle Award in Washington, DC. This was released to the public and also ended hp here: Poets Against the War)

Laura Bush
First Lady
The White House

Dear Mrs. Bush,

I am writing to let you know why I am not able to accept your kind invitation to give a presentation at the National Book Festival on September 24, or to attend your dinner at the Library of Congress or the breakfast at the White House.

In one way, it’s a very appealing invitation. The idea of speaking at a festival attended by 85,000 people is inspiring! The possibility of finding new readers is exciting for a poet in personal terms, and in terms of the desire that poetry serve its constituents–all of us who need the pleasure, and the inner and outer news, it delivers.

And the concept of a community of readers and writers has long been dear to my heart. As a professor of creative writing in the graduate school of a major university, I have had the chance to be a part of some magnificent outreach writing workshops in which our students have become teachers. Over the years, they have taught in a variety of settings: a women’s prison, several New York City public high schools, an oncology ward for children. Our initial program, at a 900-bed state hospital for the severely physically challenged, has been running now for twenty years, creating along the way lasting friendships between young MFA candidates and their students–long-term residents at the hospital who, in their humor, courage and wisdom, become our teachers.
When you have witnessed someone nonspeaking and almost nonmoving spell out, with a toe, on a big plastic alphabet chart, letter by letter, his new poem, you have experienced, close up, the passion and essentialness of writing. When you have held up a small cardboard alphabet card for a writer who is completely nonspeaking and nonmoving (except for the eyes), and pointed first to the A, then the B, then C, then D, until you get to the first letter of the first word of the first line of the poem she has been composing in her head all week, and she lifts her eyes when that letter is touched to say yes, you feel with a fresh immediacy the human drive for creation, self-expression, accuracy, honesty and wit–and the importance of writing, which celebrates the value of each person’s unique story and song.

So the prospect of a festival of books seemed wonderful to me. I thought of the opportunity to talk about how to start up an outreach program. I thought of the chance to sell some books, sign some books and meet some of the citizens of Washington, DC. I thought that I could try to find a way, even as your guest, with respect, to speak about my deep feeling that we should not have invaded Iraq, and to declare my belief that the wish to invade another culture and another country–with the resultant loss of life and limb for our brave soldiers, and for the noncombatants in their home terrain–did not come out of our democracy but was instead a decision made “at the top” and forced on the people by distorted language, and by untruths. I hoped to express the fear that we have begun to live in the shadows of tyranny and religious chauvinism–the opposites of the liberty, tolerance and diversity our nation aspires to.

I tried to see my way clear to attend the festival in order to bear witness–as an American who loves her country and its principles and its writing–against this undeclared and devastating war.

But I could not face the idea of breaking bread with you. I knew that if I sat down to eat with you, it would feel to me as if I were condoning what I see to be the wild, highhanded actions of the Bush Administration.

What kept coming to the fore of my mind was that I would be taking food from the hand of the First Lady who represents the Administration that unleashed this war and that wills its continuation, even to the extent of permitting “extraordinary rendition”: flying people to other countries where they will be tortured for us.

So many Americans who had felt pride in our country now feel anguish and shame, for the current regime of blood, wounds and fire. I thought of the clean linens at your table, the shining knives and the flames of the candles, and I could not stomach it.



Her earlier anti-war writings were far less focused, but nonetheless an interesting look at how/why she is more likely to put herself at risk today, in order to ensure a better future for her children, than dine at the table with an authority she does not recognize as legitimate:

May 1968

When the Dean said we could not cross campus
until the students gave up the buildings,
we lay down, in the street,
we said the cops will enter this gate
over us. Lying back on the cobbles,
I saw the buildings of New York City
from dirt level, they soared up
and stopped, chopped off–above them, the sky,
the night air over the island.
The mounted police moved, near us,
while we sang, and then I began to count,
12, 13, 14, 15,
I counted again, 15, 16, one
month since the day on that deserted beach,
17, 18, my mouth fell open,
my hair on the street,
if my period did not come tonight
I was pregnant. I could see the sole of a cop’s
shoe, the gelding’s belly, its genitals–
if they took me to Women’s Detention and did
the exam on me, the speculum,
the fingers–I gazed into the horse’s tail
like a comet-train. All week, I had
thought about getting arrested, half-longed
to give myself away. On the tar–
one brain in my head, another,
in the making, near the base of my tail–
I looked at the steel arc of the horse’s
shoe, the curve of its belly, the cop’s
nightstick, the buildings streaming up
away from the earth. I knew I should get up
and leave, but I lay there looking at the space
above us, until it turned deep blue and then
ashy, colorless, Give me this one
night, I thought, and I’ll give this child
the rest of my life, the horse’s heads,
this time, drooping, dipping, until
they slept in a circle around my body and my daughter