Category Archives: History

Google succumbs

I think the Google Co-op concept is a novel idea. It allows individuals to rank information on the web “by creating ‘subscribed links’ for your services and labeling webpages around the topics you know best”. Wait, did I just read that correctly? Has something failed at Google? What happened to their pigeon algorithm revolution? Wasn’t the original concept of their search technology based upon figuring out a clever way to interpret page ranking through links? (Incidentally, I didn’t see a way to label webpages as safe/trusted, which would be the most interesting feature from a security perspective and also useful in the traditional sense of PGP.)

I must be missing something, because the announcement seems to suggest to me that so many attackers have been able to riddle the Google page-ranking system with holes, that the search giant has maxed-out their pigeon power and is essentially trying to ask everyone to help by sticking their own thumb into the cracks…

Don’t get me wrong, I agree that the power of the internet is in the people who have localized and specialized knowledge. But this is so completely counter to the origins of this “our algorithm is smarter than you are” company, one has to wonder if Google will next start trying to actually work within (or to help build) social fabric/structure rather than just pop out intellectually challenging tools. A better plow is great, since people can make better use of available land, but what’s your role when the plows turn into swords? Do you keep making swords and fan the discord among people fighting for resources or do you look for a way to establish localized rights and try to preserve the real value of plows?

More insight available courtesy of the Reg:

The problem is, Google has created a commons that is designed to be exploited beyond its capacity. Each user of a commons has an incentive to defect from the common good, to seek individual advantage. But in the Google commons, SEOs have an incentive to DESTROY the common good, to try to prevent anyone else from having any individual advantage. How the hell do you create a sustainable business model when everyone is intent on fucking up yours?

Many people have waxed lyrical about how Google was “God’s Brain” and contained some sort of magical Gestalt of all of mankind’s knowledge. But now it’s like an autistic brain that can’t say anything except advertising jingles.

— Charles Eicher

The Reg also had another take on the problem here:

creating junk web pages is so cheap and easy to do, Google is engaged in an arms race with search engine optimizers. Each innovation designed to bring clarity to the web, such as tagging, is rapidly exploited by spammers or site owners wishing to harvest some classified advertising revenue.

Recently, we featured a software tool that can create 100 Blogger weblogs in 24 minutes, called Blog Mass Installer. A subterranean industry of sites providing “private label articles,” or PLAs exists to flesh out “content” for these freshly minted sites. And as a result, legitimate sites are often caught in the cross fire.

Minimum wage and trojan-horses

I keep reading about the minimum wage debate in California, but I thought the OC Weekly staff clarified things nicely:

Fortunately, someone is looking out for California’s minimum wage workers: Thomas Hiltachk has filed a ballot initiative with the Attorney General that, if approved by voters, would raise the state’s minimum wage by a dollar an hour. Unfortunately, Hiltachk is a Republican who works as legal counsel to Governor Schwarzenegger, so therefore one must assume that such largesse comes with a nasty surprise attached. It does. In exchange for giving the worst paid workers an extra buck an hour, the charmingly named “Fair Pay Workplace Flexibility Act of 2006″ would abolish the 8 hour workday for all the state’s workers. Nice, huh? Especially considering that this week marks the 118th anniversary of the establishment of the 8 hour workday in California. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Republican party: Building a Bridge to 1887.

So, if you consider the law to be code, and Mr. Hiltachk to be a programmer…oh, what a virus he could deliver. Is “trojan-horse law” an official phrase yet?

Cheney indicts self

Can you say, double-standard or questionable ethics?

But 9/11 changed everything in the sense that it forced us to think anew about our enemies, about who our enemies were, about the kind of threat we faced as a nation, about what kind of strategy we needed to pursue to be able to safeguard our nation from those attacks. The President made a very basic, fundamental decision that very first night after the attacks. And that was that henceforth, we would hold accountable those — not only the terrorists, but also those who supported terror. If a state or a government provided safe harbor or sanctuary, or financing, or training or weapons to a terrorist organization, they would be deemed just as guilty of the terrorist act as the terrorists themselves.

Mr. Cheney, the threats you refer to were not new to you, but your change in thinking about the enemies of the US should have happened prior to 9/11. Why? Because that’s what the bipartisan commission said in early 2001, echoed by Clarke as well as the outgoing staff from the prior Administration. Remember when you and Bush ignored those? Ooops, so much for leadership. I guess you guys like to dismiss anyone who disagrees with you. Remind us again why your wife resigned from the Hart-Rudman commission? She refused to think anew about the “kind of threat” and didn’t like being disagreed with? Sad that it took such a huge disaster to open your eyes and allow you to agree with what honest and good people had been telling you; even more sad that your choice of words in the public forum do more harm to your nation than good. We expect this kind of incompetence from Rumsfeld, but you too now?

Just for reference, here is another voice of leadership to compare yourself with:

The president of the United States hears a hundred voices telling him that he is the greatest man in the world. He must listen carefully indeed to hear the one voice that tells him he is not.
Harry S Truman

Now, if you want to talk about accountability…

Touareg Poems

The enigmatic Touareg people have been struggling for survival for over forty years. Drought and state repression menace their future. And from that VW names a giant SUV after them. Why?

The Germans have interesting names for their cars. The Bora is a cold, north to northeast wind that blows down from the mountains of Hungary and across the Adriatic Sea. The Passat is a tradewind and also may be an old name for a trader’s sailboat. And of course the warm desert winds that blow from Africa across the Mediterranean are known as the Scirocco. Apparently VW claims the Golf is some sort of transliteration of gulf stream currents, but that seems like a stretch to me.

Was the name “Touareg” intended to draw attention to their survival or elevate world consciousness about these people? Doubtful. That’s about as likely as Porsche trying to help Cayenne drivers learn to add a little spice to their palate. Was it the Germans making light of yet another French colonial debacle of international proportions? Nah. Marketing is probably just marketing and someone thought the Touareg (for those who have heard of them) represent strength and survival in harsh conditions; exactly the sort of thing that a soccer mom driving around suburban American can really appreciate. Hmmm, when will a car company name one of their vehicles “the soccer mom”?

Incidentally, someone recently said to me that they think cars shouldn’t be named after people at all. I agree! The “New Yorker” was a horrible name for a car and certainly did no justice to inhabitants of that fine city. In its original incarnation it was a 19 foot 5000 pound monster with a 440 cubic inch engine that burned gasoline like it would never disappear. Does that say “New Yorker” to you?

Touareg in Indigo

Alas, a web search for Touareg brings up 10,000 pointers to an automobile. Well, who knows what the impact of that will be, but I just thought I might be able to do my part and bring a little attention back to international history as well as poetry by talking about the real people here.

In brief: the Touareg (who call themselves Kel Tamsheq) live in the southern Sahara, dispersed across the borders of several countries including Algeria, Mali, Libya, and Niger. Despite this separation they share a common language apparently related to Berber. They are perhaps most known historically for establishing the north African city Timbuktu in the 10th century near the Niger river and fostering trade including scholarship, literature and books.

They were essentially tribes of caravans around the Sahara with agricultural work performed by non-Touareg serfs. Fast forward several hundred years to their fierce resistance to French colonization in the 1890s — colonial guns against swords of the nomads. The French feared them as raiders, which led to massacres of the nomadic minority. They were thus forced to sign treaties that led to oppression by the state. Their attempt to gain autonomy during the Mali independence movement in the 1960s failed and so they struggled as dislocated minorities through severe African drought in the 1970s and 1980 that devastated their livelihood. With little or no control of government, and rampant corruption, foreign aid rarely was distributed where it was needed most.

Their suffering resulted in a cultural revival and rebellion. By the start of the 1990s the Touareg attempted again to gain more autonomy in Niger and Mali through armed resistance. This led many into years of rebel training camps, imprisonment and even exile to Mauritania, Algeria and Burkina Faso. The mid-1990s, finally saw cease-fire agreements and they are apparently doing better under President Konare.

Touareg in IndigoI think. Anyway, the Touareg are said to be famous for their literature, wit and poems, especially women’s love songs, but I have had a hard time finding any examples that aren’t buried away in impenetrable ethnographic tomes. Instead I have been listening to an all-woman call-and-response group called Tartit (apparently their name means “united” or “union”). Some of the more interesting things about the Touareg traditions include the fact that despite the prevalence of Islamic influence only men wear veils. Women are also allowed to divorce and choose their own husbands. And perhaps most shocking is that men aren’t allowed to play the tinde (drum). Yes, I’m being sarcastic, although I have to admit that women drummers are rare in Western culture and almost unheard of in military/marching bands. Touareg men instead play an imzad (guitar) or tehardent (violin). Thus they appear to be a people known for wit, pride and fearlessness and the women clearly play a dominant/respected role. All this tells me that their lyrics and poetry may have some interesting insights and matrilineal perspectives that we would be wise to preserve before it is too late. My favorite song so far is Holiyane Holiyana, that is said to tell the story of a man who seduced women by advising them to beware of him. I might have botched the translation, though.

If only I could find someone who could point me to the language of the Touareg poems…perhaps next year I’ll have to attend the Festival in the Desert and sit among the indigo robes in the sand.

And if anyone’s looking for a real mind-bender, check out the MIT puzzle pages called Timbuktu. I especially like the History Lesson puzzle, which reminded me of the news about the code buried in the da Vinci ruling not to mention Scott Crosby’s infamous method of hiding DeCSS code in a news report about the DeCSS trial itself.

King Without A Crown

by Matisyahu

You’re all that I have and you’re all that I need
Each and every day I pray to get to know you please
I want to be close to you, yes I’m so hungry
You’re like water for my soul when it gets thirsty
Without you there’s no me
You’re the air that I breathe
Sometimes the world is dark and I just can’t see
With these, demons surround all around to bring me down to negativity
But I believe, yes I believe, I said I believe
I’ll stand on my own two feet
Won’t be brought down on one knee
I fight with all of my might and get these demons to flee
Hashem’s rays fire blaze burn bright and I believe
Hashem’s rays fire blaze burn bright and I believe
Out of darkness comes light, twilight unto the heights
Crown Heights burnin’ up all through till twilight
Said thank you to my God, now I finally got it right
And I’ll fight with all of my heart, and all a’ my soul, and all a’ my might

What’s this feeling? My love will rip a hole in the ceiling
I give myself to you from the essence of my being
Sing to my God all these songs of love and healing
Want Moshiach now so it’s time we start revealing

Strip away the layers and reveal your soul
Got to give yourself up and then you become whole
You’re a slave to yourself and you don’t even know
You want to live the fast life but your brain moves slow
If you’re trying to stay high then you’re bound to stay low
You want God but you can’t deflate your ego
You’re already there then there’s nowhere to go
You’re cup’s already full then its bound to overflow
You’re drowning in the water’s and you can’t stay afloat
Ask Hashem for mercy and he’ll throw you a rope
You’re looking for help from God you say he couldn’t be found
Searching up to the sky and looking beneath the ground
Like a King without his Crown
Yes, you keep fallin’ down
You really want to live but can’t get rid of your frown
Tried to reach unto the heights and wound bound down on the ground
Given up your pride and the you heard a sound
Out of night comes day and out of day comes light
Nullified to the One like sunlight in a ray,
Makin’ room for his love and a fire gone blaze

What’s this feeling? My love will rip a hole in the ceiling
Give myself to you from the essence of my being
Sing to my God all these songs of love and healing
Want Moshiach now so it’s time we start revealing

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…

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.