Category Archives: History

Bolton launches WMDs at UN

Words of Mass Destruction.

President Bush’s appointment of John Bolton to the UN has indeed created a disasterous relationship with the organization, as many predicted. Bush ignored the Senate in order to confirm Bolton perhaps because someone (Cheney and Rumsfeld) believed that the only way to right (what they saw as) the wrongs of Colin Powell would be to appoint a fire-breathing loyalist to the post.

Poetic phrasing aside, the fact today is that Bolton has pissed off the UN to the point where they are talking about ending ties with the US.

Did you realize that the US was voted off the Human Rights Commission early in Colin Powell’s term? It wasn’t widely discussed, but in fact it was a major blow to a country that wants to ensure it does not get judged “unfairly” by an international representative body. According to the BBC, “the US – which had been a member of the commission since its foundation in 1947 – lost its place May 2001 after criticism of its rejection of some key global treaties”. On the other hand, many on the radical right have wanted to reform (terminate) the US relationship with the UN so perhaps this was a calculated move…the radicals certainly will not see any resistance from fellow-radical Kristen Silverberg, the Assistant Secretary of International Organizations and Bolton’s supervisor.

Kristin who? Yes, my thoughts exactly. I find it to be yet another sign of a spoils system in effect that the person Bolton takes his orders from was

one of the wide-eyed conservatives who trekked to Austin in 2000 to get the George W. Bush for President train rolling. The former clerk to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas was in the White House policy shop in the pre-9/11 days helping to dream up a health care plan, big tax cuts and “compassionate conservative” policies.

In 2003, she shipped out to Baghdad to advise L. Paul Bremer on the creation of an elected Iraqi government. Then it was back to the White House to help develop Bush’s second-term agenda. She went to work for Andrew H. Card Jr. and Karl Rove, the president’s two most powerful aides, on domestic, economic and foreign affairs.

Surprised? She’s loyal, bright, and not qualified. It is so scary that a legal clerk to Thomas and someone affiliated with Bremer’s totally self-defeating and counter-productive Iraq plans would end up somehow with responsibility over critical US foreign relations, but I digress. Maybe I’ll do an expose another day…

Bush’s administration set Bolton to the task of getting the US back in control of the Human Rights Commission, and in true bull-in-a-chinashop Texan style, that has been a mission of nothing less than ultimatums and bad relations:

“In addition to management reform, the question of reform of the fundamentally broken UN machinery on human rights remains a very high priority for us,” [Bolton] testified.

The United States has argued that the current UN Human Rights Commission is beyond repair, and needs to be replaced by a new Human Rights Council that is open, “legitimate” and effective and will not have in its membership gross violators of human rights.

“Our objective is to try to finish work on the Human Rights Council before the end of [2005],” he said.

Bolton’s fire-brand methods have created so much backlash that the only thing he seems to have achieved is more international resistance and resentment to the US. His real objective, thus, appears to be as disruptive to the UN as possible and to destroy what’s left of US credibility. Cheney and Rumsfeld at work again. In this matter, Powell and Rice seem to have been the odd ones out, probably because they know what it takes to make national security real. Rice was wise to say no when she was asked to hire Bolton for deputy secretary of state, but she probably did not realize where else he might land. After all, as USA Today once reported, “Powell is said to have accepted Bolton on the theory that he could control him and that Bolton would serve as insurance against right-wingers elsewhere in the administration. Instead, Bolton has reinforced their views.”

Again, for perspective, this is exactly what everyone expected from Bolton, a man who keeps a mock grenade in his office, labeled “To John Bolton — World’s Greatest Reaganite“. Perhaps an editorial called “Disaster, Not Diplomacy” put it best in the Washinton Post:

The literal facts did not in the least give Bolton pause. Weapons of mass destruction would be found, he insisted. Where? When? How come they had not yet been discovered? The questions were insistent, but they were coming, please remember, from Italians, whose government was one of the few in the world to actively support the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

Bolton bristled. I have never seen such a performance by an American diplomat. He was dismissive. He was angry. He clearly thought the questioners had no right, no standing, no justification and no earthly reason to question the United States of America. The Bush administration had said that Iraq was lousy with WMD and Iraq therefore was lousy with WMD. Just you wait.

This kind of ferocious certainty is commendable in pit bulls and other fighting animals, but it is something of a problem in a diplomat. We now have been told, though, that Bolton’s Italian aria was not unique and that the anger I sensed in the man has been felt by others. (I went over to speak to him afterward, but he was such a mass of scowling anger that I beat a retreat.)


The rap against Bolton’s nomination as U.N. ambassador is that he has maximum contempt for that organization. He once went so far as to flatly declare that “there is no United Nations,” just an international community that occasionally “can be led by the only real power left in the world — and that’s the United States.”

The Wikipedia, for what it’s worth, also points out that Powell and Bolton are about as far apart in international security policy as you can find:

In 2002, Bolton is said to have flown to Europe to demand the resignation of Jose Bustani, head of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), and to have orchestrated his removal at a special session of the organization. The United Nations’ highest administrative tribunal later condemned the action as an “unacceptable violation” of principles protecting international civil servants. Bustani had been unanimously re-elected for a four-year term—with strong U.S. support—in May 2000, and in 2001 was praised for his leadership by Colin Powell.

And in case you’re wondering why Bolton was sent to topple Bustani, some suggest it was simply because the Brazilian diplomat spoke out against the US receiving special treatment at the UN:

Bustani says he has little faith in the future of multilateralism, especially since Washington has rejected both the Kyoto Protocol on global climate change and the Biological Weapons Convention, and has “unsigned” the pact creating an International Criminal Court.

“It’s obvious that the present [US] administration is not prepared to accept rules that bind America and limit its freedom of action, for the sake of world stability,” Bustani says. “Washington’s refusal to join in such efforts only undermines commitments by other countries to foster common values.”

An infamous letter to the UK press painted an even starker picture:

By encouraging Saddam Hussein to sign the chemical weapons convention, Jose Bustani appears to have become an obstacle to the American intention to engage in military action in Iraq. If the US succeeds, it will be a victory for unilateralism and a blow to international law.

Obstacle to war and critical of the US position against international treaties, Bustani must have had a target on his back the size of Baltimore in the eyes of Bolton…so, finally, we have to wonder about a diplomat who provides this kind of violent disagreement with anyone who stands in his way:

Bolton, referring to the US promise that the [OPCW] directorship would pass to another Latin American, complains that “Latin Americans are so characterized by sheer incompetence that they won’t be able to make up their minds.� He tells the staff that “if any of this gets out of this room, I’ll kill the person responsible.�

Sorry for the long post. Perhaps I just should have said Bolton is to diplomacy what the Bush administration is to security.

Little Bird

by Jerry Jeff Walker

A little bird come sit upon my window sill
Sat there through the fog and rain
As I watched that bird upon my window sill
Song with thoughts of you goin’ by again

And the picture of my face
Reflected on the pane
Now is it tears I see
Or is it rain?

I remember how we talked before we said goodbye
Too young to know this world outside our door
Now the miles of time have built a wall my love
And though I try I just can’t tear it down

For I said that love takes many shapes, it has no form
Has no boundaries, has no grips to hold
The time will take the foolish hand and twist a tinge of pain
Make the heart look old with eyes grown cold

And the picture of my face
Reflected on the pane
Now is it tears I see
Or is it rain?

I have no regrets about the past, there’s nothing I can change
Life’s a road you walk just one-way down
But looking back I do recall that frame of time
When the world was love and time was just a thought

Many things go many ways, your course of life is such
We all must pick that road of life to walk
And each gives off old memories like hand-notes in a log
Where the world is time and that love is just a thought

And the picture of my face
Reflected on the pane
Now is it tears I see
Or is it rain?

As my thoughts go tumbling back, I wonder how you look
I wonder if you’ve seen that little bird
I wonder if he’s sat upon your window sill
I wonder if you’ll ever hear these words

And the picture of my face
Reflected on the pane
Now is it tears I see
Or is it rain?

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…