Archive for December, 2010

Unchecked secret power

| December 31, 2010 | 1 Reply
Unchecked secret power

The December 27, 2010 issue of The Nation comments on a noteworthy piece of reporting by The Washington Post:

In July the Washington Post published ‘Top-Secret America,’ a series of articles based on a two-year investigation by Dana Priest and William Arkin. The report meticulously documented the growth of a vast secret government in the wake of September 11, encompassing at least 1,271 government organizations, 1,931 private companies and an estimated 854,000 individuals with top-secret security clearance. Secret America, Priest and Arkin wrote, has become ‘so large, so unwieldy and so secretive’ that it is not only unaccountable, it is practically unknowable–even to the officials charged with administering it. The series elicited much praise from fellow journalists, but from the government there was– nothing. The Posts report generated not one congressional hearing, subpoena or reform. As far as we know, Secret America continues its work unchecked and unchastised. . . The Post didn’t tell secrets so much as outline the contours of the shadow world from which they originate; WikiLeaks rips off the veil. It’s the exposure of the secrets that has the world’s power elite so rattled.

Here’s a link to the Washington Post’s articles and introductory video–the secret network of government agencies is so extensive that the authors of Secret American describe it as America’s “fourth branch of government, which emerged subsequent to 9/11.” Amy Goodman of Democracy Now recently discussed Secret America with Julian Assange. Here’s what Assange had to say:

Dana Priest’s article on the CIA black sites had all the names of the countries removed from it after a request by the White House to the editors of the Post. Similarly, it is standard Washington Post practice, whenever Dana Priest is to reveal a new story showing significant allegations of abuse, say, by the CIA, to call up the press office the night before to give them the heads-up, as a courtesy move. That doesn’t seem like independent journalism to us. It seems to us that a journalist’s relationship should be with the public, on the one hand, and with their sources, on the other hand, who are providing them with information to give to the public. It seems that the Post is engaging in a sort of an unclear cooperation with the very organizations that it’s meant to be policing. So we’re a little bit hesitant about dealing with them.

But the recent Dana Priest article covering the extensive expanse of money going into the top-secret industry in the United States is encouraging. So perhaps, if that’s a sign of the movement by the Washington Post to a more combative form of journalism, then we would be happy to work with them.

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Five minutes in Afghanistan

| December 31, 2010 | 4 Replies
Five minutes in Afghanistan

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch recently touted a “One Million Dollar Grant” that St. Louis will soon receive for developing trails for bicycling and walking. I’ve long been a bicycle commuter and this new trail is truly a great idea. One million dollars is a lot of money. Too bad there’s not money for more of these infrastructure improvements, including bridge repairs and many things that are far more pressing than bicycle trails. Or at least this is what the politicians tell us.

In actuality, we’re pouring more than $2 billions dollars down the drain every week in Afghanistan. We have nothing to show for ten years of “progress” in Afghanistan. Our strategy mostly seems to consist of shooting at poor people who resent our presence in their county. And we’re committed to supporting a known corrupt leader. And we’re committed to overseeing a vast illegal drug trade. Our current “peace president” is likely keeping the troops over there for political reasons, not because there is any hope of accomplishing anything for Americans or the people of Afghanistan. Our imperialist adventure in Afghanistan is horrifically expensive, and its foundation is the “sunk costs fallacy.

How expensive is our “war” in Afghanistan in terms of the new St. Louis bicycle trail program? In Afghanistan, we burn through one million dollars every five minutes. It is a needless war that is making us poor.

[Here's the math: $2B per week equals almost 12 million per hour. Which equals $1 million every five minutes].

Think about it. One million dollars every five minutes to accomplish nothing but to provide make-work for the military-industrial complex. Could your community use one million dollars for anything these days? Perhaps to hire new teachers? Or to fix a collapsing bridge? Or to retrain workers?

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A Cyclical Universe?

| December 30, 2010 | 7 Replies
A Cyclical Universe?

I like the proverbial “outside the box” thinking, and you don’t get much more outside the box than this interpretation of patterns found in the cosmic background radiation.

The beauty of science is that it is a well-constructed box we’re trying to get outside of, and it is logical plausible thinking that gets us there. The math behind theories like this involves tensors and the like that my courses in partial differential equations touched on so many years ago, and that I was forced to play with on a graduate level in fluid dynamics somewhat later, but still also so many years ago. I neither remember any of it, nor knew it well at the time. Amazing stuff, this theoretical physics.

Science does have all the answers. We just don’t have all the science.

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Maddening Blather on Hold with AT&T

| December 30, 2010 | 2 Replies
Maddening Blather on Hold with AT&T

We lost our Roku internet connection this evening. Also the laptop connection, and the main computer. Basically, my internet was down.

So I went through all the usual things to find the problem. Computer was talking to the router that was in turn talking to the modem. So far so good. I managed to tell the router to tell the modem to change my IP address. Everything was working.

But I could not reach any web sites, email, or ftp servers. I finally figured out that the DNS must be down. Domain Name Service is the internet utility that converts name addresses (like DangerousIntersection.org) to numerical route addresses (like 206.225.8.91) so your packets (requests, pages, images, etc) can find their way through the web.

So I called AT&T and answered a series of questions, like “Can you get online?” (No) and “Did you try rebooting and turning the modem off and back on?” (Yes). Finally, I landed in the service hold queue.

What to my wondering ear did appear in the cannot-get-online and did-reboot queue? An annoying loop of messages telling me all the wonderful support I can get online! This, plus the repeated suggestion that I try rebooting.

ga-ah!GAA-AH!ga-ah!

I sat on hold for 35 minutes before I decided to vent on this forum. Well, at least to write about it. I have to wait till either they fix the problem, or I get through and can ask for a numerical address for the address server to bypass the broken automatic one.

After 73 minutes (1:13) of this, I reached an actual person. I started with asking if she knew how long the DNS would be down, largely to jump past all the AnyKey suggestions. No, but similar problems typically are resolved in 4 hours. Then I asked if she had a bypass DNS address that I could use until theirs was working. No she didn’t have this information. I suggested that she pass upstream my frustration with the “just go online” message piped in to people who were calling because they cannot get online. She had no mechanism for this. Oh, well. I stayed polite. Tech support folks are in a miserable position when they have no way to fix anything, and the problem is real.

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Indiana crackdown on snow sculptures of penises

| December 30, 2010 | 9 Replies
Indiana crackdown on snow sculptures of penises

A mere sculpture of a mere body part is obscene, according to authorities in Indiana. Listen to these victims, who appear to be scarred for life. I feel scarred for life merely by hearing about this display of a human body part.

I can understand those who think it is in bad taste. Terror Management Theory offers me an explanation for the extent of the outrage. And see here: “We are gods with anuses: another look at ‘terror management theory.’”

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Experiencing a dust storm

| December 30, 2010 | 1 Reply
Experiencing a dust storm

A photographer from National Geographic shows what it’s like to be in a world-class dust storm in Mali.

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Who cares what the experts have to say?

| December 28, 2010 | 1 Reply
Who cares what the experts have to say?

What do you do when you cannot any longer find a scientist to support your government’s self-destructive policies? You declare that you don’t want any further scientific input. That’s what the UK has done regarding the idiotic “war on drugs.” No scientists are stepping up to lend support that the “war on drugs” is a good idea. Therefore, who needs scientists?

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Reading quietly en masse

| December 28, 2010 | 6 Replies
Reading quietly en masse

In one of the episodes of the original Twilight Zone television series, an introverted fellow is desperate to be left alone so that he can read books.  He loved reading, but he was driven to desperation because other people constantly interrupted his reading. In that TV episode, the introverted fellow got his wish, more or less.   Today I was reminded that hundreds of people can read quietly together. I witnessed this every day event at the main branch of the New York City Public Library. More specifically, I witnessed this phenomenon at the Deborah, Jonathan F. P., Samuel Priest, and Adam R. Rose Main Reading Room.

Here’s how the room is described at the library’s website:

[The reading room] is a majestic public space, measuring 78 feet by 297 feet—roughly the length of two city blocks—and weaving together Old World architectural elegance with modern technology. The award-wining restoration of this room was completed in 1998, thanks to a fifteen million-dollar gift from Library trustee Sandra Priest Rose and Frederick Phineas Rose, who renamed the room in honor of their children.

Here, patrons can read or study at long oak tables lit by elegant bronze lamps, beneath fifty-two foot tall ceilings decorated by dramatic murals of vibrant skies and billowing clouds. Since the General Research Division’s opening day on May 23, 1911, vast numbers of people have entered the main reading room. . . . In one of his memoirs, New York Jew, Kazin described his youthful impression of the reading room: “There was something about the. . .light falling through the great tall windows, the sun burning smooth the tops of the golden tables as if they had been freshly painted—that made me restless with the need to grab up every book, press into every single mind right there on the open shelves.”

A few years ago, a friend urged me to visit this reading room, but it always seemed that when I happened to be in New York and when I happened to be walking by the main branch, it was after closing time. This week I found myself in New York for an extended stay thanks to a massive snow storm. Thus, there were no excuses. I was stunned by this spectacularly beautiful room filled with traditional table lamps and a most unusual collection of people.  They were unusual because they were so absolutely quiet.

[More . . . ]

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Another notable whistleblower

| December 28, 2010 | Reply
Another notable whistleblower

In the December 27, 2010 edition of The Nation (available online only to subscribers), we learn of Martin Woods, who was an expert at spotting dirty money flowing through banking systems. In 2005 he took a job with Wachovia Bank. He was in for a rude awakening when, in 2006, during the Lebanon war, his superiors reprimanded him for trying to freeze in account used by Hezbollah.

That same year, he identified suspicious transactions relating to Mexican currency exchanges–deposits of travelers checks “with sequential numbers for large amounts of money–more than any innocent person would need–with inadequate or no identity information on them, and what seemed to a trained eye to be dubious signatures.” Instead of being commended, his superiors at Wachovia Bank told him to “stop asking questions and to cease blocking suspicious transactions.”

As the article points out, it turns out that his suspicions were entirely correct based upon the seizure of 5.7 tons of cocaine by the Mexican military. This year, the Justice Department charged Wachovia with the largest violation of the Bank Secrecy Act in US history, fining the bank $160 million. Shortly thereafter, Wells Fargo purchased Wachovia during the 2008 crash for $12.7 billion, thanks to a $25 billion handout of US taxpayer money.

What happened to Martin Woods? The bank charged him with professional misconduct in 2008. He received “a stinging reprimand [claiming] that his actions could expose the bank to potential regulatory jeopardy and even large fines.” In December, 2008, Woods sued Wachovia for harassment and detrimental treatment, and the bank settled in 2009 for an amount which was undisclosed.

For these reasons, I’m adding Martin Woods to my private Whistle-Blower Hall of Fame, along with Bradley Manning and Bradley Birkenfeld.

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