Wednesday, August 29, 2007

GEORGE W. BUSH'S FINAL STROKE: Simulating war with Iran

Today, DD returns to the topic of war with Iran.

When the Washington Post editorial page thunders that "we" ought to fight back against the alleged depradations of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard -- "a radical state within Iran's Islamic state ... waging war against the United States and trying to kill as many American soldiers as possible” -- one senses Washington in the process of working the polity with propaganda and cant prior to another preemptive strike on a weaker country.

The Post wrote it was "puzzling" European diplomats and others disapproved of attacking Iran. It should have added that many, many American citizens don't want war with Iran but it is common thought the administration of George W. Bush is inclined to start one, a conflict which will not be seriously opposed by a supine Congress and welcomed by the current foreign policy establishment.

So this blog returns to gaming national death rides -- like war with Iran.

Having thought about the exercise for a bit and realizing it would be possible to take such an exercise out of context, we turned to Point of Attack 2, a simulation of the mechanics of weapons and military standard-operation-procedures designed for the United States Air Force and now sold as an obscure computer wargame.

I've written of Point of Attack 2 recently here. It was reviewed in the context of it having been programmed to game every aspect of the weaponry (even theoretical) in modern combat. One of its Outer Limits simulations, straight from the box, is the use of incapacitating rayguns to battle al Qaeda terrorists. This has generated a number of curious and sometimes unreadable technical reports including one Air Force Ph.D. thesis opaquely entitled "Theory of Effectiveness Measurement."

Point of Attack 2 is not a game for commoners. To duplicate the series of scenarios DD has planned to illustrate various aspects of Bush administration policy in action, readers will have to buy it on-line. And then they will have to come to grips with a complicated software simulation of war, one that is not fun in the normal sense of any computer game purchased at BestBuy.

Point of Attack 2 is not a game, like those once described in the most fatuous quote ever written on wargame simulations, useful for training and inspiring "dedicated young men and women, their weapons merged into an information network that enables them to cut out with surgical precision the cancer that threatens us all -- heat-packing humanitarians who leave the innocent unscathed, and full of renewed hope. In their wake, democracy ... and an Arab world restored to full flower ... defended on all fronts by the best of the digital generation."

Point of Attack 2 was seemingly designed to abstractly show the brutal mechanics of weapons systems. It has no flashy graphics and little sound. It turns out spread sheets and tables of detailed statistics which show the outcome of battle, kill by kill. It is utterly ruthless in execution.

DD does not think it likely general readers will be interested in running down such matters. Translated: There's little incentive to make mischief with results from the game.

The first scenario in this intermittent exercise is entitled "George W. Bush's Final Stroke."

It is a company-sized action against a unit of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, set up somewhere in the failed state of Iraq, where it is alleged by the Pentagon in daily news to be training Shiite militias and guerilla fighters to gun down Americans. (Or one can think of it as an action near the Iraqi-Iranian frontier.)

As a setpiece attack, it takes place in terrain which favors the defense, in this case a training camp set up between an abandoned airfield and a small town.

The US force is a Stryker company with on-call artillery and air support, tasked with destroying a Revolutionary Guard and insurgent base of operations.

Those who have Point of Attack 2 and choose to game the Final Stroke scenario from the archive on this page will need the "Coastal Airfield" optional map the game's developers make available at HPS.

In any case, those familiar with Point of Attack 2 know the game is best played when allowed to primarily run itself. With the objective established, AI routines will take the player most of the way toward a conclusion.

Play-tested several times, the US force always achieves a decisive victory but not without cost. The enemy has been set to defend fanatically and is well-equipped with weapons for defeating light and medium armor. As a result, even when the adversary has been crushed as an effective fighting force, remnants continue to fire from cover until the end of the game. In terms of national reputation, it's a disaster waiting to happen, showing that despite the application of overwhelming firepower the enemy fights until the last man.

A spreadsheet of one standard game's results are included in the scenario archive.

The browser may notice that the body count indicates the US Army destoyed slightly over 100 percent of the opposing force. This is standard for the game which enforces a rigid and very realistic fog-of-war. In this, it's quite possible for the player, as the commander relying on situation reports, to believe that more of the enemy has been killed than actually has. The runover is either imaginary or in the civilian population.

In this snapshot from a sample run of the game, the US is set to "minor attack" which cuts down on civilian casualties at the expense of the fighting man. Points awarded for "Weapons systems destroyed" do not equate to death counts in the game. Derivation of casualties requires a review of the battle log and comparison with game spreadsheets on personnel kills.

In this game run, all constraints are removed from the attacking force, resulting in more civilian death. The margin of victory is still the same order of magnitude, rising from 4:1 to 6:1.

George W. Bush's Final Stroke for Point of Attack 2. Archive in ZIP format. Point of Attack 2 users can unload the scenario into their "Saved Games" subdirectory of their POA2 installation.
BOOK REVIEW -- LEGACY OF ASHES: Incapable of hiring the right people and almost always wrong, the CIA's reputation, as its history, is ruins

"I predict ... CIA will be freshly stuffed with Cheney cronies & Mossad boys," writes an anonymous Brit at The Register. He was commenting on DD's review of "Legacy of Ashes," Tim Weiner's sweeping history of the Central Intelligence Agency.

"They will build a fake case against Iran. USA will invade Iran. It will be yet another disaster."

Whether or not this prophesy is fulfilled, its tenor does illustrate an unpleasant fact: No one on the entire planet, unless they're bereft of common sense, believes what the CIA has to say.

Having sold its integrity out many times for political reasons, most notably and recently for the disaster that is the war in Iraq, the agency's reputation is decisively crushed.

"Legacy of Ashes" shows readers how and why this happened as it takes readers on a journey from the inception of the agency right up to the present.

Read the entirety here.

Your friendly correspondent once had a dalliance with the Central Intelligence Agency. I wrote about it in 1992 while working for a city newspaper. You can read it here.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

CHRONICLES OF THE ANNOYING (Continued): More goofs and the fetish for insanely priced guitars

In uncanny timing with last week's LA Times piece on quarter-million-dollar vintage Les Pauls and hoarders of them, Ethan Smith (no relation) at the Wall Street Journal gives that hallowed newspaper its "me too" article, "The Easy Way to Hard Rock: Distressed Guitars."

For the lay reader, distressed guitars are like distressed fashion jeans, beaten up at the factory to make them look old, goosing up the asking price for a variety of saps who share two things: common sense in inverse proportion to what's in the bank account or credit line and not much desire to play an instrument in stark contrast with the yen to brag about it.

"For most people who buy relics, the idea is simply to own a cool-looking guitar," reports the Journal. DD notes that "cool-looking" more often applies to new instruments.

Distressed guitars are whacked with belt buckles and bolts, their finish cracked by sudden cooling with refrigerant. Most startling is the soaking of tuning keys and other pieces of metal hardware in nitric acid.

"They're too new to say whether they retain value," says Hawley Waldman, a New York guitar builder, to the newspaper.

DD can inform that soaking a guitar's metal hardware in nitric acid is a truly common-sense defying idea, ensuring that the guitar will have a long-term problem of corrosion beyond the simple and usual oxidation of metal. How much is a relic guitar worth when the tuning keys don't work two years from the point of sale and have to be replaced? Since it probably isn't an instrument to play, does it even matter?

"There is great debate within the guitar-collecting community about the faux-vintage instruments' worth over the long term," adds the Journal.

Next up, a "professional martial-arts fighter and amateur blues musician" -- Shai Mizrahi, who has a collection of twenty-six "vintage guitars." In buying a relic Stratocaster for $4,000, Mizrahi "struggled with [the] concept" of shelling out for a factory beaten-up guitar.

This guitar, it is said, is played more frequently than "his 1962 Stratocaster that cost $60,000."

Mizrahi claims, somewhat nonsensically, that a factory beaten guitar looks better than a guitar weatherbeaten by use and Father Time. Is there a metric beauty scale upon which such instruments can be graded?

However, it would seem to be potentially hazardous to argue such a point vigorously with a man who could kick your jaw off.

Fender's relics make up "more than 12 percent of its $5 million annual sales," adds the Journal. A guitar store merchant says the people buying them "[are] never going to put in the wear and tear to make it look like a real one."

As has been said, in most cases, highly priced artificially-scarred guitars are to be seen and heard of but not heard. Onlookers hearing how awful you really sound would spoil the alleged snob appeal of such instruments.

There are a noticeable number of old celebrity guitarists who play custom shop made battle-scarred instruments designed to look exactly like their most well-known and photographed vintage guitars.

"Fender is producing copies of Police guitarist Andy Summers's 1961 Telecaster -- which he bought used in 1972 for $200 -- which are authentic right down to the broken bridge and quirky custom electronics. The 250 replicas are being offered at $15,000 each; dealers have already sold most of them, sight unseen, according to Fender and dealers," continues the newspaper. (See DD's earlier story about Eddie van Halen's relic.)

This, too, is about money, name recognition and endorsement. The market is prepared by interesting a celebrity in the priming of it, in this case, Andy Summers.

"Selling duplicates to potentially any hobbyist with a five-figure budget, then, spawned 'a peculiar feeling,'" Summers told Smith.

Of course, Summers does not actually pay for his relic. Or if he does, it is offset by the "reasonably substantial fee" he is paid to be seen endorsing it. "It's like found money," says the wealthy rocker, educating us all that should you also someday become rich and famous, others will throw substantial amounts of cash at our feet from time to time -- "found money" -- for advertising beneficence and other small favors.

No one answers the most obvious question -- to guitarists, anyway -- about the nature of artificially aged guitars. It's the elephant standing ignored in the center of the room.

How do you duplicate the gallons of sweat and salt poured into the wood over the course of, hmmmm, a decade?

It is not an insubstantial question. Peter Frampton gave up taking his famous black three-pickup Les Paul onstage when the finish wouldn't come up on it anymore because of nightly sweat soakings.

As per usual, save the hate mail. It won't get published.

(Thanks to SA for the head's up.)

Guitar Center Platinum Customer catalog blurb for John Lennon relic guitar. Only $5,000 and comes with a certificate of authenticity made from "cloth like John used to wear." Blow your nose with it or wipe the sweat from your aging pate. Not nearly as dear as Andy Summers' factory-beaten Fender, perhaps because Gibson can't get Mr. Lennon to go on tour with it.

The So-called Easy Way to Hard Rock.

Slave labor guitar versus Eddie van Halen relic.

Chronicles of the annoying. Part I.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

CHRONICLES OF THE ANNOYING: Greedy nuisances profiled, page 1

Part of the Los Angeles Times' new contemporary coverage of America is its glorification of conspicuous consumption. Weekly, features writers find the most annoying examples of Grotesquus Americanus. Then it proceeds to portray whatever herd of manipulators it has found as something swell. The point of it is to make you feel stupid or envious while marveling at the business acumen and immense good fortune of others.

Today's example were men who hoard late-Fifties/early Sixties Gibson Les Paul Standard guitars painted in sunburst finishes.

An example of the ridiculous prices the instrument fetches is here at Gruhn Guitars, run by reseller/guitar collector/speculator, George Gruhn. If you read guitar magazines regularly you know Gruhn owns 98 or maybe even 110 percent of all the guitars worth having in the world. No one is allowed to say anything about the worth of electric guitars without first checking if it's all right to do so with Gruhn.

This is a good gig. In Allentown, Pennsyltucky, at the Morning Call newspaper, antiques collector Harry Rinker had the practice nailed down. Rinker wrote a syndicated column on antiques and kept a warehouse full of the crap he wrote about.

If you got it into your head that the old glass and ceramic insulators used on power poles by railroad tracks were worth money, of course they weren't.

You fool.

They were junk that fell to the ground and were disposed of.

When Rinker wrote about how great such old glass and ceramic insulators were, it went nationwide and there was a run of scavenging on old abandoned power poles.

If you could not sell the two cases of flat and spoiled Moxie soda in your basement, the palletful of cases of flat and spoiled Moxie soda in Rinker's warehouse was worth millions. As soon as he said so.

At one point my neighbor, a man who read Harry Rinker assiduously, became convinced that the two hundred really old fungo bats he had in his garage had to be worth something. Now these were old fungo bats that were in very good condition.

He knew that if he could get Harry Rinker to write about vintage fungo bats, they'd instantly be worth money. And I worked at the newspaper that ran Rinker's column.

"Could you put in a word?" he asked plaintively.

See how this works?

In case you didn't click through the link, the guitar on display at George Gruhn's costs a good deal more than your house.

For you to accept the idea of used guitars which sell for a quarter-of-a-million dollars, you have to buy into all the conceits trotted out about them for the last thirty years. As conceits handed down for decades and pounded into the bedrock of electric guitar lore, they've created a warped reality.

In other words, "We said nonsense, but it was important nonsense."

"It's the Holy Grail of guitars," says someone named Dan YaBlonka to the newspaper. ""They sound like they are being played by the finger of God."

Now at one point, many remember Eric Clapton was actually called God but felt it untrue and something of an albatross. DD knows this is a non sequitur. But what does the finger of God sound like?

"Even spare parts [of the guitar] are revered like gemstones," intones the newspaper, at which point readers might be fighting the desire to see the reporter hit hard over the head with something heavy, just out of spite.

The photo for the feature is one of a portly man, "collector Joe Ganzler," surrounded by his stash of quarter-or-half-million dollar Gibson guitars, presumably shot in a fortress at an undisclosed location.

"The 1950s proved to be the golden era of electric guitars," continues the newspaper, not entirely truthfully. "Golden era" is usually known to mean as "if you have a guitar you can prove was made then, not a counterfeit, it's worth more -- usually a lot more, than what you originally paid for it."

Semi-famous guitarist Ed King, who started out in the Strawberry Alarm Clock, and more famously wound up in Lynyrd Skynyrd before being kicked out over a personality clash, opines the quarter million dollar guitar "[has] a sound that can't be duplicated."

If you have one, and King does -- in a vault -- it must be true. The sound of a mile high pile of cash must be unique.

While anyone applying the leaden yardstick of sound equals value instinctively knows this to be true, the rest of us can insist that the sound of such a guitar is a matter of taste and that many other instruments must, by sheer luck of the draw plus variety, sound as good or better.

Jimmy Page, known to play a vintage Les Paul, became known as a guitarist/studio magician who could make one guitar sound like an utterly different model. The first Led Zeppelin album was made with a Telecaster, a fuzztone, a tiny guitar amplifier called a Supro, and judicious knob twiddling in the studio, producing a sound that many directly associated with his Les Pauls and Marshall stacks onstage.

For the LA Times, the guitar hoarder/collector straps on his Les Paul at the end of the story. "He closed the bedroom door so he wouldn't disturb the neighbors, plugged [the guitar] into a Marshall amp and launched into Bad Company's "Good Livin' Gone Bad" [from Straight Shooter]."

The riff was played by Mick Ralphs. Now that he's very old, Ralphs is more frequently seen with a Fender Stratocaster. Oof.

Hold your hate mail. It'll never get published.

$25,000 Eddie van Halen guitar. Cheap, also loved by the annoying.

Sunday, August 19, 2007


In the coverage of Mattel's recall of millions of slave labor-made dangerous toys from China, the business media assiduously has avoided using the "slave labor" descriptive. It's OK to report on how the Chinese man in charge of toy production committed suicide or how American vendors are working industriously to catch lapses in product safety.


Writing about the immorality of the system, the complete lack of ethics in choosing to sell toys made by slave labor, that's out. So while it's OK for someone in the foreign company to commit suicide, it's frobidden to suggest that someone at Mattel ought to be invited to a public mock hanging for being an enabler of slave labor in the search for biggest market share.

"Now a massive toy recall by Mattel Inc. reveals an ugly side to that cost-cutting drive," writes Rachel Beck for the business section of the Chicago Tribune. "The sacrifice of safety just to provide cheap toys is something everyone will have to pay for."

"The slogan 'Made in China' has long stood for affordability," she continues heartlessly. "Thanks to the dramatically lower labor costs that China offered -- estimated by some to be a fifth of what they are globally -- toymakers could knock down their expenses by shifting production abroad."

Notice substitution of "dramatically lower labor costs" -- an evasion for the much stronger and more descriptive but inflammatory "slave labor."

Then comes the stodgy rationalization for the unethical decisions of toymakers to outsource everything to China for the sake of cheaper dolls.

Nowhere in these types of articles are there suggestions that American resellers are as culpable as the Chinese. The focus is on the lack of quality, or the establishment of better oversight, which treat symptoms of a disease, not the root illness.

The disease is slave labor manufacturing and by definition it must often produce bad product because making things badly is one sure and reliable road to making them inexpensively.

Two days ago, the Guardian -- an English newspaper -- published a piece that wasn't the usual he said/she said model of American journalism.

"Isaac Larian, the man behind the multi-billion-dollar Bratz dolls, has ... talked of starting up some production in the United States," it read.

"This is all marginal. The world toy industry basically is large American companies, mostly public with a constant eye on Wall Street, which design and market the toys, and the 8,000 Chinese factories which manufacture for them.

"To visit the Pearl River Delta, north of Hong Kong, is to enter the toymaking centre of the world. Choking smog stings eyes and throats. Behind guarded gates, factory compounds stretch mile after dusty, depressing mile... The workers, mostly young women, shuffle from building to building ... [they appeared] exhausted from working most of their waking hours. They have travelled in by bus from rural areas up to three days journey away - part of the biggest movement of people in human history. Shifts can last 15 hours a day or more, seven days a week - unlawful, but not uncommon in the peak toymaking season. Inside the fetid dormitories, their only living space, and often packed illegally with as many as 22 to a room ..."

"Many executives seem oblivious to the glaring incompatibility of what they demand from their suppliers - the lowest prices and production in large volume at very short notice and, at the same time, working conditions and practices that will not offend the west. It is these pressures that make the Chinese workers' and suppliers' lives stressful and even intolerable ..."

Last week, DD wrote about the phenomenon of slave labor guitars, cheap instruments for dilettantes. These goods can't hurt someone like lead-painted toys or anti-freeze-doped medicine and toothpaste, but they also can't possibly be made by a workforce earning an acceptable living wage under fair conditions.

I also mentioned my teenage search for rock 'n' roll wasn't hurt by the lack of access to a slave labor China-made guitar that, in real dollar terms, cost less than the entry level instruments made here or in Japan in 1972.

Somehow, entry level guitars were made and sold with some satisfaction but without resorting to slave labor and relying upon the misery of others for your pleasure.

Moving on from toys, DD returns to an example from the musical instrument industry.

One thing which electric guitarists cannot do without are effects boxes.

Icons Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix made music of a tone and timbre that couldn't be duplicated without these electronic devices. They used the fuzztone, a device developed for them, a simple electronic circuit made for hard rock.

DD's first fuzztone was manufactured by Fender Musical Instruments. It was called the Fender Fuzz-Wah and combined the effect of fuzz -- a naturally hairy sound -- with the equally popular wah-wah pedal. It cost one hundred dollars and while it was not dear, neither was it cheap.

Fender Fuzz-wah, made in California, 100 dollars. Slave labor not required for rock 'n' roll in 1972.

The Fender Fuzz-Wah's design was not particularly clever. In fact, the wah portion of it stank. However, the fuzztone worked fine for at least a decade. It also contained a volume control that was a gimbal/bearing tied to the black rubber-coated foot pad. Left with your ankle was off. Right was louder. The left didn't get much attention.

During the Nineties, digital effects replaced the analog circuits in these old devices. What was done with old transistors was done more cheaply and reliably by chips. The companies which made guitar effects moved their manufacturing to east Asia.

However, a funny thing happened in the marketplace.

Guitar players are a finicky bunch, always in search of the perfect tone. They listen to records of their favorite artists and always wonder, "How do I get that sound?"

One answer was to get the same equipment used by your favorites. This triggered an immediate inflation in prices of old and not-that-hot but made-in-America or made-in-Britain vintage gear. Snob wars erupted. Musicians of note insisted in print that new gear, mass produced and with different and cheaper parts for business and market-pricing imperatives, just didn't sound as good as the old hardware.

Whether this was actually true for most players was unimportant. What was important was the group perception that old gear was better. And it was a perception that stuck.

While this did not, by any means, put the mass-producers of effects boxes for electric guitar out of business, it did open the way for American tinkerers to begin duplicating the old analog circuit designs in the comfort of their apartments and garages.

This spawned what is now commonly known as the industry for boutique guitar effects. Boutique, while not a bad snob-marketing term, isn't a good descriptor.

Think of the industry as a bunch of people who just went back to making guitar effects by hand, one by one, just the way they were made around the time of their invention.

This automatically made such devices more expensive than mass-produced-in-China pieces. But not that more expensive that an average player couldn't quickly save up to buy what he or she wanted. In dollar terms, they go for about what my old Fender Fuzz-wah would go for today, if it was still made in California.

Which brings DD full circle to about 2002.

I needed a replacement for the fuzzy part of my old Fender Fuzz-Wah, which had vanished years ago as guitar equipment stored in boxes and secreted away in closets sometimes does.

Black Fuzz Custom. Not DD's model, which has a blue paintjob and a different switch. Note Sharpie-marker lettering. It's custom-made in America, not slave labor!

After reading product reviews, I settled on something called the Nick Greer Black Fuzz Custom. Wow!

Whether it actually sounds exactly like my old Fender Fuzz-Wah is hard to say. I can't compare the two. However, my memory says it does.

The number of people now making boutique effects boxes -- or homemade guitar pedals -- rapidly grew. Now it's a truly astonishing field. Since the barrier of entry into the business is low, it's easy to start. Much more difficult, though, is hanging around.

Makers are reliant on word-of-mouth advertising on Internet chat boards, occasional reviews in trade magazines, sales on eBay, or local music stores becoming interested enough to stock items on consignment.

Holowon Static Egg. Pic artistically souped-up by DD. Think the sound of the riff from "Satisfaction" by the Rolling Stones.

One example of a good fuzzbox from the homemade industry, one that didn't take off, was a thing called the Holowon Static Egg.

To understand the value of the Holowon Static Egg, one has to know the sound of early rock 'n' roll was trashy. To a kid, trash was a great noise. "Hello, I Love You" by the Doors sounded like trash. "Mr. Limousine Driver" on the RED Grand Funk album was trash. So was "Why Don'tcha Do Me Right?" by the Mothers of Invention.

The Holowon Static Egg is a fuzz-tone that does trash. Turned up all the way, it lets out shrieks and makes a loud "Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz." Somewhere, the sound of a trashy fuzztone is always in style, ensuring that while the maker of the Holowon Static Egg had a hard time of it, someone will always be wanting something like it.

The magic of such a fuzztone lies in the design of a circuit which becomes an extension of your hand upon the electric guitar's volume knob. With the guitar volume on full, the fuzztone delivers its most extreme tones. Turning down the volume in such a circuit, while not making the guitar much quieter, removes the extremity of the tone while retaining great heft. This relationship allowed and allows guitarists to span a myriad of heavy sounds -- from very clear to extremely distorted -- all with the quick and mostly unnoticeable flick of the wrist.

The tonal nuance put into the hands of electric guitarists by this early and simple technology is difficult to describe to people who haven't actually used it. Nevertheless, it is one of the foundations of hard rock.

If you have ever wondered how a hard rock guitarist produced an amazing, exciting and dynamic sound at one of your favorite concerts, this is part of the big secret.

Anyway, perhaps DD's Holowon Static Egg will be worth twice what he paid for it in fifteen years. Or maybe not.

These tales from the music instrument industry reveal that it's not necessary for every partipant in the American experience to give in to Chinese slave labor.

Blackbox Oxygen guitar effects pedal. Note nifty paint job! Even if not used, it sure looks good!

Old DD novelty tune employing the sound of the Holowon Static Egg.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

WHEELS FALL OFF BIODEFENSE LAB: Spud proclaims George Mason place of important science where researchers no longer welcome at the National Institutes of Health have a home

Readers of DD blog know US biodefense provides great ground cover for a variety of interesting characters looking for taxpayer dough to fund their research.

In the posting, Alibek dissected like frog, this blog took a back-through-time look at Ken Alibek, a scientist often portrayed in the mainstream news media as one of the nation's leading biodefense warriors, and his strange patent applications, fruitless biodefense firms, OTC health pills and "outside-the-box" thinking at George Mason University's biodefense lab.

However, Alibek is no longer at George Mason. The two parted ways last year in an acrimonious dust-up over academic responsibilities and the direction of graduate teaching in biodefense. Whining internal letters and protests from a George Mason graduate student and Ken Alibek purporting to show the injustice of it were spammed around to a number of websites, including this one, last month. (Since they were self-serving, your friendly neighborhood GlobalSecurity.Org Senior Fellow declined to publish them.)

George Mason's biodefense program is not large. Ken Alibek was its "star," if that's the right word to use, and was its publicity magnet. A recent snapshot of GMU's Life Sciences website shows his spirit still haunting the place on-line. (See pic at foot of article.)

However, in mid-July, George Mason emitted a press release about great new work said to be going on at the biodefense center.

It smacked of desperation.

"Researchers at George Mason University's National Center for Biodefense and Infectious Diseases and its Center for Applied Proteomics and Molecular Medicine are merging their expertise in host-pathogen biology, proteomics and nanotechnology to discover tissue and bloodborne [protein] markers that could be used for the early detection of exposure to infectious diseases," it read.

"Funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, these efforts may help save the lives of civilians and military forces exposed to biological weapons or other emerging infectious diseases, such as influenza and SARS ... "

"A major goal of the program, which initially focuses on anthrax and tularemia, is to discover protein biomarkers that could be used to identify the onset of an infectious disease before a patient exhibits symptoms," explained Charles Bailey, the head of George Mason's biodefense lab.

At the heart of this research are scientists Lance Liotta and Emanuel Petricoin who were said to be developing "cutting edge proteomic technologies and nanotechnology-based devices" in conjunction with high resolution mass spectroscopy to identify biochemical indicators of infection in advance of symptoms.

This research, it was said, "impacts Mason's long-range plans to be a major player in biodefense and infectious diseases research," according to Charles Bailey.

And it illustrated "the powerhouse research that is going on now at Mason," added Petricoin.

Those who follow biodefense issues now know that when Charles Bailey of George Mason claims something to be important, the bullshit detector is ringing loudly.

In 2003, Ken Alibek and another scientist claimed their work had suggested that smallpox vaccination could be adopted to provide protection against the AIDS virus. The claims were immediately dismissed on the basis of lack of evidence and although something on the research had been sent to the Journal of the American Medical Association, it had been rejected for publication.

"This is evidence of the caliber of bioscience research out-of-the-box thinking that is going on at George Mason” said Charles Bailey in a GMU press at the time.

To put George Mason's recent biodefense claims in a proper light it is necessary to delve into the history of Lance Liotta and Emanuel Petricoin, two scientists at the heart of a 2004 Congressional inquiry into conflicts of interest and ethics concerns at the National Institutes of Health.

This was a complicated business involving their former research in potential diagnostic markers for ovarian cancer, a much higher-stakes realm and one of very great interest to the American public, much more so than that of biodefense. It is a story about falling down, from going to big science that many care about in a well-respected universally known institution, to small science in a much, much lesser venue.

In a news story from the Los Angeles Times by David Willman in December of 2004, the nut of it was described in a photo caption for one of the scientists: "Petricoin collaborated with one company in his government role at the same time he was serving as a paid consultant to a competing firm."

The Times had been running a series of articles on conflicts of interest at the National Institutes of Health. These eventually led to a Congressional investigation and rule changes concerning outside consulting at the agency.

"In February 2002, the search for a cure for ovarian cancer appeared to take a significant step forward," wrote David Willman.

"Using an advanced computer program and a single drop of blood from patients, researchers from the National Institutes of Health and a private firm, Correlogic Systems Inc., reported that they had accurately diagnosed 50 out of 50 women with ovarian cancer.

"The results created a sensation ... But nearly three years later, the diagnostic breakthrough is not close to reaching patients.

"The project stalled while the government's two lead researchers -- Dr. Lance A. Liotta of the National Cancer Institute and Emanuel F. 'Chip' Petricoin III of the Food and Drug Administration -- signed on as paid consultants with a rival of Correlogic named Biospect Inc.

"Both companies were seeking ways to diagnose diseases, including ovarian cancer, by developing systems that could recognize patterns of proteins in the blood."

Hype came from a 2002 report by Petricoin and published in the respected medical journal, Lancet, under the title: "Use of proteomic patterns in serum to identify ovarian cancer." Proteomic patterns is just a fancy term for markers consisting of proteins and breakdown products or fragments of them.

"[Liotta and Petricoin] and their team used mass spectrometry and pattern-recognition software to probe serum samples for ovarian cancer biomarkers," reported The Scientist in September of 2005. "Their findings suggested that [protein] patterns – series of peaks in mass spectra representing unidentified peptides or low molecular-weight protein fragments – could be used to diagnose early ovarian cancer with surprising accuracy ... This was the hope in late 2003 when biotech startup Correlogic licensed Quest Diagnostics and LabCorp to market OvaCheck, a blood test for ovarian cancer based on the initially promising findings. But doubts about the validity of Petricoin's results and the robustness of serum proteomics as a tool for biomarker discovery quickly emerged ..."

Subsequently, OvaCheck -- an exploratory system which attempted to diagnose ovarian cancer -- died.

Hype and enthusiasm surrounded this science until around mid-2004 when Congress began investigating NIH researchers, including Liotta and Petricoin, for conflicts of interest in consulting agreements. A negative critical mass resulted from inability to reproduce the science and the investigation embroiling the scientists.

According to the National Cancer Institute's Cancer Bulletin, in meeting, "[Congressional legislators] voiced concern about consulting agreements with Biospect, Inc., that were held until recently by Drs. Liotta and Petricoin."

"Drs. Liotta and Petricoin, through the Food and Drug Administration/National Cancer Institute Clinical Proteomics Program, were the principal investigators on a cooperative research and development agreement with Correlogic Systems, Inc [which was developing OvaCheck.]"

"This agreement focused on the research and early development of proteomics patterns recognition as a potential approach for early detection of cancer," continued the Cancer Bulletin. "Both Drs. Liotta and Petricoin's agreements were approved by their respective ethics officers. Biospect was portrayed in the hearing as a direct competitor of Correlogic Systems."

Liotta and Petricoin did not reply to questions from the Los Angeles Times for the article on the matter. Their lawyer said to the newspaper in December 2004 that "both men had performed their government duties diligently and properly."

The Congressional investigation into Liotta, Petricoin and others, however, moved National Institutes of Health director Elias Zerhouni to make "additional revisions to ethics rules related to consulting agreements between agency employees and pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies to help avoid potential conflicts of interest," according to an American Health Line report from June 2004.

Drastic changes were needed, said Zerhouni.

For the LA Times, "Zerhouni declined to defend [Lance Liotta's] dealings with Biospect. Referring to the circumstances surrounding the collaboration with Correlogic, he told the [Congressional hearing in June 2004] that he had reached a 'tipping point' in dealing with NIH conflicts of interest."

"Cancer researcher Lance Liotta said he retired [from NIH/NCI] in May 2005 with pension and benefits, accepting 'a great opportunity' in research at George Mason University," reported the Associated Press in September of last year. ("NIH: Scientists escape ethics punishment," Rita Beamish, September 12, 2006.)

Demoted from looking for early diagnosis of ovarian cancer at the illustrious NIH by history, Liotta and Petricoin wound up exiled to the colorful but thoroughly brokedown biodefense research effort at George Mason University.

From ovarian cancer to something very few care about outside the bioterror lobby, rabbit fever, a disease agent once clandestinely cultured and spilled in an accident at an offensive biowar factory in the Soviet Union run by Ken Alibek.

GMU-generated list of publications by Emanuel Petricoin. Science on diagnosing ovarian cancer mysteriously gone missing.

Los Angeles Times on Liotta and Petricoin.

GMU press release.

Ghost of Ken Alibek seen lurking at GMU in this recent web snapshot.

Friday, August 10, 2007

LET THE RED CROSS BRING THEM COOKIES: We'll give them anal suppositories loaded with sedative

By way of Glenn Greenwald's column at Salon today, your friendly neighborhood GlobalSecurity.Org Senior Fellow is drawn to quotes from a New York Times story on Maher Arar, "a Canadian citizen abducted by the Bush administration and sent to Syria to be tortured."

"Canadian intelligence officials anticipated that the United States would ship Maher Arar, a Syrian-born Canadian who was detained in New York in 2002 on suspicion of terrorism, to a third country to be tortured, declassified information released on Thursday shows," reported the Times.

"Mr. Arar was sent by American intelligence officials in October 2002 to Syria, where he was tortured and jailed for a almost a year. Last September, an extensive Canadian inquiry concluded that the terrorism accusations against him were groundless.

"The newly released sections indicate that neither the Syrian government nor the Federal Bureau of Investigation were convinced that Mr. Arar was a significant security threat. They also suggest that the investigation of Mr. Arar was prompted by the coerced confession of Ahmad Abou el-Maati, a Kuwaiti-born Canadian who was also imprisoned and tortured in Syria."

Some of this was also addressed in an ugly Congressional debate on the impact of extraordinary rendition and torture on America's image overseas in April.

The transcript of the session, put on the web by Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists, was must reading.

I discussed it at length, and its central character, ex-CIA man Michael Scheuer, at the Register here.

For that session, Scheuer went on a merciless rant. Europeans were anti-Catholic and anti-American, effete and sanctimonious, their countries havens for terrorists. The press was aiding and abetting terrorists. Democrats wanted terrorists to have cookies from their mamas. Scheuer didn't think torture was a good idea but he didn't care if detainees were tortured, either, because they were the enemy.

Scheuer was as churlish and offensive as one can be without resorting to blows, the black and fuming face of the United States in the war on terror, a visage that has destroyed our reputation overseas. [DD suggests you read the comments from Reg readers, Europeans.]

"Throw [terrorists] in a stockade, let the Red Cross bring them cookies, let them write their Mama," snarled Scheuer, mocking a questioning Democrat, Bill Delahunt of Massachusetts.

This prompted Delahunt to fire back, "And just so that Dr. Scheuer ... thinks I am a kind of weak kneed fuzzy wuzzy, let mummy make cookies for me, in my previous career I was a district attorney and put a lot of people in jail."

The country has been brought to ethical and moral ruin in this so-called war when decent people opposed to torture are simply mocked as wanting to let terrorists have "cookies from mama" by those whose actions have put a black stain upon the nation.

"[Maher Arar] sued the Bush administration in federal court for his abduction and torture, but his case was dismissed because the administration argued that its adjudication would jeopardize the disclosure of 'state secrets'; thereafter, the Canadian government paid Ahar damages for his ordeal and apologized to him for having been wrongfully abducted and tortured, something the U.S. government has steadfastly refused to do," wrote Greenwald today.

In April, Arar was made an object of scorn by Scheuer. In the transcript, a Democrat notes, astonishingly, that "[Arar] was tortured without due process." It is an obvious fumble, almost Freudian in lieu of the country's current predicament over its new reputation as a systematic torturer under orders from the Bush administration.

Is there a "due process of torture"?

There is.

Greenwald has written about it this week in reference to a horrifying story in the New Yorker by Jane Mayer. (Another piece on the same subject appeared in this month's issue of Vanity Fair.)

"The C.I.A.'s interrogation program is remarkable for its mechanistic aura," writes Mayer for the magazine. " 'It's one of the most sophisticated, refined programs of torture ever,' an outside expert familiar with the protocol said. 'At every stage, there was a rigid attention to detail. Procedure was adhered to almost to the letter. There was top-down quality control, and such a set routine that you get to the point where you know what each detainee is going to say, because you've heard it before. It was almost automated. People were utterly dehumanized. People fell apart. It was the intentional and systematic infliction of great suffering masquerading as a legal process...

"A former member of a C.I.A. transport team has described the 'takeout' of prisoners as a carefully choreographed twenty-minute routine, during which a suspect was hog-tied, stripped naked, photographed, hooded, sedated with anal suppositories, placed in diapers, and transported by plane to a secret location. A person involved in the Council of Europe inquiry, referring to cavity searches and the frequent use of suppositories during the takeout of detainees, likened the treatment to 'sodomy.'"

Ed Markey, another Democrat questioning Scheuer in the April Congressional session on extraordinary rendition, remarked of Maher Arar: "And now Dr. Scheuer, as you know, the Canadian government has apologized to [him] and has actually paid his family about $10 million ... Do you think the Canadian government has made the right decision in apologizing to Maher Arar and his family, for giving him 10 million for engaging in extraordinary rendition, for sending him to Syria and having him tortured without due process?"

Scheuer: "I would say, sir, that it is entirely the Canadian government's decision."

Markey: "Do you think the United States government should apologize to Maher Arar?"

Scheuer: "No, I don't."

Continuing after another Markey question, Scheuer added: "And I will tell you, if I had the same sheet of information about Maher Arar today, I would go after him again..."

The conversation descends further into acrimony, with Markey trying to get Scheuer to admit that a serious mistake was made with Arar and Scheuer contradicting him.

In a final fit of pique, Scheuer insists when Syria finally released Maher Arar, "it was to stick their finger into the eye of the United States."

Thursday, August 09, 2007

SLAVE LABOR GUITAR VERSUS EDDIE VAN HALEN RELIC: Both stomach-turning but for different reasons

While Americans focus on stuff from China that can hurt you -- antifreeze-spiked toothpaste, poisoned pet food, toys with lead paint, neurotoxin-contaminated puffer fish repackaged as freezer-case fish -- there are many consumer goods to consider, equally cheap, which can't kill and maim so easily.

In the business drive to squeeze every last bit of profit out of a market over the past decade or so, American guitar manufacturers outsourced their manufacturing to slave labor countries. (It's not the entire business model for sales of electric guitars but it is enough of it to put a signifcant stain upon the industry.)

Most notable among these is China, followed by Indonesia.

Today you can walk into BestBuy or a K-Mart and buy a $125.00 guitar in a cardboard box.

Cheap guitars existed when DD was a kid, too. However, in real dollar terms they weren't nearly as cheap as today's rock bottom prices.

Many, many people who play guitar today picked up their first chords on inexpensive pieces of relative crap.

One of DD's first guitars was a Kent, a rebranded-for-the-American-market copy of a Gibson Les Paul. It was made by Guyatone, a Japanese company.

In Japan, Guyatone and much more prominently, Teisco, made many inexpensive guitars for American teenagers. Because they were relatively cheap and often quite odd-looking they received a somewhat undeserved rap as worthless instruments. People no longer feel this way and a variety of scrabblers and electronic bazaarmen can always be found selling them on eBay for more than they were originally worth.

The reputation of these instruments was not entirely deserved. Circa 1972, my Kent cost around $150 USD, still much more than the pieces of Chinese kit in BestBuy in 2007. While the Kent was not a good guitar, neither was it perfectly awful. And with a used Fender Vibrolux amplifier for $110, I was in the business of rock 'n' roll.

Hardware on the Kent was plated with cheap gold paint. Over the course of a year it rubbed off. And one of its pickups died, something which has never happened with any of the brandname instruments I've owned.

However, it was an easy instrument to play, didn't hurt your hands and stayed in tune for at least forty-five minutes when you were in front of an audience.

Guitars stopped coming cheap from Japan by the mid-to-late 70's, I'm guessing as a result of labor costs becoming equal to or more than those in the United States. When this happened, Japanese guitar manufacturers -- notably Yamaha and Tokai, actually began making knock-offs of American-made Gibson guitars which were superior to the originals. I have a Yamaha SBG -- a Les Paul-mimic cut like a Gibson SG -- which falls into this category.

These were instruments very different from my Guyatone Kent.

They were made of fine wood, had craftsman finishes and the most robust hardware and electronics.

Slave labor guitars sold in BestBuy or other similar stores are an entirely different kettle of fish.

They're made for the idiot or dilettante who comes into the establishment as a browser and gets taken with the idea of walking out with an instrument in a cardboard box under his arm.

You can't make a slave labor axe without being ethically and morally bankrupt. You'll never convince DD it's possible for anyone to earn a reasonable living (except for the retailer) making one hundred dollar guitars from plywood to be shipped around the world and sold at a profit. (A Scottish newspaper noted last week that Chinese factory laborers, on a six-day, 11 hour-a-day work week will earn "1,000 yuan a month." That's 132.03, American.)

If you buy something like this, and many do, you're contributing to human misery and the destruction of the environment wherever the plant is located in China.

DD was curious about the quality of BestBuy slave labor guitars, which are made under the Gibson-Baldwin brand name, and tried to play one which had foolishly been left out of its box as a display item.

The guitar was difficult to play. Its frets were not sanded and it wouldn't be easily tuned. This meant it would hurt the hands of a beginner, a real discouragement when all you can make is a clumsy and painful noise.

On the musical instrument site, Harmony Central, one frequently reads the comments of beginners and dabblers who've bought slave labor guitars.

Of a Gibson-Baldwin Les Paul knock-off, one person reports:
There is no set up. In fact I believe those Chinamen are over there laughing at us stupid Americans every time one of these leaves the assembly line. And I believe they purposly raise the action as high as they can get it and leave the ends of the frets sharp to cut OUR rockin' American fingers ... "

Another introductory player (one who has fruitlessly diddled with the instrument for a couple decades) "recommends" a different slave labor Les Paul copy, this one under the Alba brandname:
I have played guitar on and off for a little over twenty years and have never spent an awful lot of money. The set-up from the factory was quite poor ... Although the hardware is so obviously cheap, the build quality is amazing for the price (I paid 46 pounds for it on Ebay). I never have and never will play live so cannot comment on the guitar's suitability for live performance. I would imagine that the sound would cut it but could foresee the instrument going out of tune periodically.

While one might want to applaud the feat of getting a slave labor guitar into the hands of every American who wants one, if only to further the love of music, it's not a radical thought to accept the alternative idea that no one needs such a service. And it's not a noticeable improvement over the 1972 way of doing things.

Mid-priced guitars that aren't made by slave labor are also plentiful.

Gibson knock-offs, made as Epiphones -- an old American name in guitar manufacturing, come from Korea. Because proper Gibsons have almost entirely priced themselves out of the hands of many working musicians, guitar trade mags now review replicas made under license from the originals side-by-side with their much more expensive custom American-made models.

Which brings us to the extreme high-end of the American custom market, where often mediocre instruments attain intelligence-insulting pricing, indicating the total extinction of common sense and the middle class.

American relic guitar luthiers could give Eddie van Halen a precise replica of his 1977 axe, complete with cigarette burn marks, ugly sticky tape, lousy but freakishly unique paint job and power drill holes. However, surgeons could not give Eddie back his youth -- only new dentures, a haircut, two surgical steel hip joints and a radical physiognomy-erasing facelift.

In the Summer edition of DD's Guitar Center catalog it is said, "Ed has partnered with Fender to bring you the Edward van Halen Frankenstein replica guitar -- a faithful reproduction of one of the world's most recognizable instruments. The red, black and white body ... has been put through an aging process to replicate the original, down to every last scratch, ding and cigarette burn."

List price: $25,000.

New guitars allegedly "worth" $25,000 dollars are never played where other people hear them. And DD never wants to meet someone who would pay such money. Neither does he wish to meet scary Eddie van Halen, who probably wouldn't have even paid one thousand dollars in the late-Seventies for any electric guitar.

Instead of saving to send your layabout parasite of a kid to college, get a Gibson Jimmy Page Doubleneck relic reissue, cheap at $8,000. Or splurge for a Paul Reed Smith Doubleneck Dragon, $32,000. You know you deserve it.

"The image of Jimmy Page and his Gibson doubleneck is synonymous with the epic power of rock 'n' roll," reads the ad copy for the pic above.

"Now that power can be yours!"

If this article tickled your fancy, you'll surely enjoy Slave Labor Blues Harp.

Monday, August 06, 2007

AMBASSADOR MERC: Mitt Romney's security advisor, Blackwater exec, maker of unfulfilled boasts

Investment advice from Blackwater mercenary and Romney confidant: Iraq war refugees create business opportunity.

Cofer Black, vice chairman of army-for-hire contractor, Blackwater USA, is Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's national security advisor. It raises the remote possibility that a mercenary, a believer in outsourced war, could wind up as a cabinet member in charge of national security affairs.

While Black has generally been fawned over in the mainstream media for his role as counterror group leader at the CIA, and later as something called an Ambassador-at-Large in the same for the State Department, his record of accomplishment in the public domain is thin.

If Black was an ambassador-at-large, a suitable description is perhaps -- ambassador-at-large for counter-terror operations, botchings and ill-treatment. This was before Black left civil service to fight the war on terror through the unpopular but ubiquitous company of security profiteers, Blackwater.

In his speaker's bureau profile, Black is described as "a defender of human rights, democracy and a prominent hero in the war ... "

One doesn't usually think of "defender of human rights" as inhabiting the same space as a pusher of privatization in the so-called global struggle against terrorism.

However, if George W. Bush can still consider himself a defender of the free world and spreader of democracy in the privacy of his own home, then Black's vainglorious view of himself seems small change.

Last week, on CNBC's Kudlow & Company, host Larry Kudlow bowed and scraped before Black who was on hand to recommend investment in Jordan.

Identified as "Ambassador Black" throughout, one could have come away with the impression Black was the American ambassador to Jordan, instead of a Bush administration war-on-terror man turned mercenary.

Black was bullish on Jordan while pimping his company, Total Intelligence Solutions, another proxy of Blackwater USA, made to provide a mini-CIA to the private sector and government partners.

"[Jordan] is in a region where their are numerous commodities that are being produced and doing well," opined Black. And when Black said "commodities" he apparently meant refugees from the humanitarian disaster that is the Iraq war.

"I mean, look at the -- we get something like 6 -- 700,000 Iraqis that have moved from Iraq into Jordan that require cement, furniture, housing and the like," continued "Ambassador Black."

"So it is a -- it is an island of growth and potential, certainly in that immediate area. So it looks good."

You see, refugees from a horrible war are an investment opportunity.

Even the obsequious Kudlow seemed slightly taken aback, not 110 percent willing to quickly kiss that ring.

Kudlow: "If the Iraq story doesn't turn out well, if we withdraw prematurely from Iraq, how does that impact Jordan? How does that impact the region?"

"Ambassador Black:" Well, it impacts, obviously, a lot and significantly, but I will tell you ... there is the prime directive: Life goes on, people and societies adjust. And there is, certainly in terms of investors, significant room for growth..."

"There are opportunities for investment. It is not all bad. Sometimes Americans need to watch a little less TV, certainly this program, of course. But there is -- there is opportunity in everything. That's why you need situation awareness, and that's one of the things that our company does, it provides the kinds of intelligence and insight to provide situational awareness so you can make the best investments."

If you don't start laughing now at the prospect of Cofer Black advising a presidential candidate, informing Mitt Romney's thinking on national affairs and how to improve America's standing in the world, you'll have to cry.

Kudlow ended the interview with an attempt to let Black make over his record on getting Osama bin Laden, not informing viewers he was now one of the heads of a firm fundamentally associated with war profiteering.

Kudlow: "Why is it that it just seems so impossible, in a sense so many of us have given up about ever nailing Osama bin Laden? What is your quick take on it?"

"Ambassador Black:" "Well, yeah, quick take is not ever. First of all, when we had the opportunity, we declined. As an Americans [sic], very often we like to make things as hard as possible. And with that comes the vagaries of probability of success and the losses you wish to incur. We're Americans. We have a lot of good partners, we're aggressiveness, stick with it. He will be caught..."

In Ron Suskind's "The One Percent Doctrine: Deep Inside America's Pursuit of Its Enemies Since 9/11," Black is a colorful player, peppered through the narrative as an inspiration to blood-and-thunder action. Published in the spring of 2006, time has not been kind to Suskind's book or the Black brags included in it.

Al Qaeda would "have flies walking across their eyeballs," said Black, near its beginning.

Black, it was said, furnished "motivational meetings" to George W. Bush, speaking of "finding [al Qaeda men] and putting 'their heads on sticks' -- that soon caught on around the government, mustering aggression."

"The mission is straightforward," said Black. "We locate the enemy wherever they are across the planet. We find them and we kill them."

The next snippet from Suskind puts Black, fiddling with papers at a desk, providing words to know him, words more prescient than motivational speeches to George W. Bush and puffed-up, empty talk about getting Osama bin Laden.

Update: A couple months ago, in review of Ted Koppel's pitiless special, Our Children's Children's War, Black was called upon to opine on the state of the military in the war on terror.

"Our military is quite stretched," he said. Of course, speaking from the viewpoint of a a Blackwater USA employee, it came off as annoyingly self-serving. While Blackwater and its subsidiary firms may be wildly successful business, the name is now inextricably linked worldwide with the Iraq disaster, conflicts of interest and the profiteering off it.

However, the quote was in line with a philosophy, an aim, that had been published concerning him in an April 2006 issue of Army Times.

"[Cofer Black] astonished special operations forces representatives gathered here from around the world with a proposal to use his company as an army for hire for the world's secondary battles," reported that publication.

" 'It's an intriguing, good idea from a practical standpoint because we're low-cost and fast...The issue is, who's going to let us play on their team?'"

To read Black's words in the Army Times was to experience some hilarity at the faux nobility of the claims.

"Blackwater spends a lot of time thinking, 'How can we contribute to the common good?'" Black said.

"I just got tired of watching people not really do anything. It's heartbreaking." This, in reference to a wish to send a privatized brigade to the Sudan.

At the time, DD wrote, so it was [or is] that Cofer Black would seem to be just the person to go to find recommendations on the business value of a hundred years war.

Black also runs another company, the Black Group, which is also part of the Blackwater USA business empire created by security services financier Erik Prince.

As one of its corporate protection services, Black's Black Group puffs bioterror-sniffing dogs.

"Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear (CBRN) threats present greater danger than ever before," it reads. "A simple powder sent in a package or envelope can have devastating effects. The financial loss from shutting down a corporation just for a day, even before the environmental and human toll is considered, can reach the millions of dollars. Now, canines specially trained to detect chemical and biological agents, paired with canine radiological technology, provide a key capability in shielding global corporations and their assets."

" ... canines have been trained to detect scents indicative of specific chemical and biological agents, including nerve and blister agents, Botulinum Toxin, Anthrax, and Ricin."

Your friendly neighborhood GlobalSecurity.Org Senior Fellow knows of no instances in which ricin-sniffing dogs have been employed in any actual case involving castor beans. And I can see with some surety that there is as close to zero a probability as possible that they will ever be used in sniffing for botox in a biological attack against a corporation. Practically speaking, there is no use for them, since any substance presumed to be remnants of a biological or chemical weapon has to be assayed by a laboratory.

Since animals are susceptible to anthrax, it would also seem counterintuitive (as well as aggravating to organizations like PETA) to put dogs in a position to sniff anthrax spores.

Louis Pasteur invented an anthrax vaccine for livestock and while one exists for veterinary use its application is intended for use in an environment where anthrax is endemic, not as a concentrated spore powder.

"If there is any career pursuit that we, as Americans, have come to despise, it is that of the military mercenary," wrote Lionel Van Deerlin in the San Diego Tribune in April of this year. Van Deerline represented a San Diego County district in Congress for 18 years.

"Often glamorized as 'soldiers of fortune,' mercenary forces will enlist in a cause not out of patriotism but after asking, 'What's in it for me?'"

Van Deerlin was writing in an opinion piece to oppose the development of a Blackwater USA training facility in "rural Portero," a part of San Diego county.

"Involvement in quasi-military missions has emboldened [Blackwater] to take the next step. Blackwater's original services were limited to training policemen or providing security guards for non-government clients. Now it announces itself ready to help keep or restore peace anywhere in the world.

"That was the message its vice chairman, Cofer Black, delivered in February to a Special Operations Forces Exhibition in Amman, Jordan. 'We are not simply a private security company,' Black asserted. 'We are a professional military, law enforcement, security, peacekeeping and stability operations firm which provides turnkey solutions.'

"Turnkey solutions? In today's world, this widely reported boast can mean only that Blackwater now sees itself as the ultimate mercenary, hoping to take its brand of militarism wherever the money leads."

On Koppel's Our Children's Children's War.

Friday, August 03, 2007

POOR MAN'S HUMAN TORCH CROAKS: The flaming fool, worldwide

He who would strike terror in others found himself in fear.

Kafeel Ahmed, the addled and pathetic would-be holy warrior with a Ph.D. in ink jet printer cartridge design died.

Feel free to furnish a descriptive epitaph.

DD gets the ball rolling with a few paraphrased from the sayings of Stan Lee on the cable TV show, Who Wants to Be a Superhero?

"I'm sorry for tricking you but remember, this was a test of courage, not your ability to burn."

"The superhero who must leave the lair now is Jihadi Man. I'm afraid you're out of skin, Inshallah."

"You know there was something bugging me about that make-over, and now I realized that you make a lousy superhero, but you make a great bad example."

"Do you think a flaming supervillain who the police are trying to stomp and put out at the same time sends a bad message to the kids?"

"It's starting to stink in here. Would it kill you to spray some gas under your arms?"

Why torture yourself when life will do it for you? -- Laura Walker

GEORGE BRIGMAN'S BLOWIN' SMOKE: Classic uncompensated American recluse-genius

The undeniable cool of electric guitar, 30 years on.

Every now and then DD gets to write about something I unreservedly think is good in pop music.

In this case, read liner notes for George Brigman's original "Blowin' Smoke" 45, once lost and now found original vinyl pressings released in autographed sleeves made especially for the occasion. Brigman is a rock guitar music man whose unique style and muscular artistry touch everything I've found inspirational within the genre.

Practically speaking, you can't wax enthusiastically on something which specificially tickles your fancy within the pages of general readership newspapers or even trade music publications.

Although you'll find some entertainment writers who deny it, they're liars and fudgers. Music journalism fits only two categories: (1) "Who do we suck up to this week on the schedule of major label CD releases?" and; (2) "Who do we suck up to this week on the schedule of independent CD releases for some self-absorbed and to-be-babied niche audience?"

George Brigman, like most people, doesn't fit either. I see this as a virtue.

Record release party today.

George Brigman website.

George Brigman's 'Rags in Skull' CD -- from the archive, April 2007.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

MERCILESS ALGORITHMS OF MEGADEATH: Global Nuclear Domination beer-and-pretzels computer game

Down in the superbunker at midnight: Effete Euros assault CONUS, Northeast plastered, West Coast unscathed. France and the UK get worst of retaliatory strike.

In keeping with today's early theme of computer wargaming, your friendly neighborhood GlobalSecurity.Org Senior Fellow moves on to DEFCON, a British entertainment imported to BestBuy consumer electronics stores a couple months ago.

DEFCON is not at all like Point of Attack 2. It is not meant as a serious simulation of war. It's meant purely for fun, fun being had with the idea of waging global thermonuclear war from the vantage point of a computerized war room.

Easy to learn, one rapidly gets down to brass-plutonium tacks choosing a side -- the computer will assign and play an opponent -- and building the nuclear arsenal. Your global nuclear assault force consists of warning radars, ballistic missile submarines, nuclear-capable aircraft carriers, airfields and ballistic missile/anti-ballistic missile sites.

The clock ticks down, the computer emitting an ominous hoot as DEFCON levels change and nuclear weapons release is granted.

The player is left to decide how to wage nuclear war.

Should you nibble away at the enemy's resources, hoping a nuclear detonation here or their won't trigger a full release of the arsenal? It's a strategy akin to putting a frog in pan of water and turning up the heat slowly. By the time the frog realizes he'd better do something, he's already been cooked. Depending on conditions, it can actually work.

More often, however, it doesn't, resulting in a grinding exchange of nuclear salvos.

The nuclear arsenal exists as a triad of bombers, land-based ballistic missiles and submarines.

Will you try for a phased launch of ICBMs precisely lagged by SLBMs so they all arrive at the same time in a saturation attack on the adversary's anti-ballistic missile system and early-warning radars? Or will you launch a quick surprise attack with SLBMs off the adversary's coast, hoping to knock out his defenses so subsequent salvos can be turned on the cities to slaughter civilians for points?

Oops, the adversary has detected and sunk one of your subrons off his coast! You've lost an important asset. Should you press on or wait and see if the computer chooses a poor retaliatory strategy?

Once the missiles and bombs really begin to fly, it gets confusing. The computer enemy can calculate, coordinate and fire faster than you, so a human player is compelled to always keep the machine intelligence back on its heels, whatever the cost.

Plastered cities and death counts flash across the screen. Irradiated areas glow brighter and brighter.

Doesn't Africa have enough problems?

One of DEFCON's most game-enhancing features are sound effects.

While there is a subliminal of backrop of ominous and woeful muzak, down in the bunker one hears little but the occasional klaxon of a launch alert or a low rumble as a distant nuclear barrage arrives. Nuclear office noises permeate the atmosphere -- the clack of heels walking across the silent war room, tubercular coughs from someone in a cublicle far away, and most effective -- the intermittent weeping of one of your adjutants.

While the computer will slaughter you the first time you take control, it is not a particularly unbeatable opponent as one gains experience.

The solitaire version is accompanied with the ability to engage in networked play against a myriad of opponents on the net. The game will hook up to DEFCON servers and put you in contact with its the on-line gaming community.

However, DD does not play well with children and has never enjoyed on-line games which degenerate into figuring out how to exploit foibles in the software so that you can cheat more effectively than your adversaries.

However, DEFCON is also amenable to private and insular networked gaming, across offices or between "friends." If you purchase DEFCON, perhaps you should drop DD a line and we'll destroy the world some afternoon.

I win! Fifty million dead of theirs to twenty-six million of mine, tops. Don't think you won't get your hair mussed, though.

Ultimatum! The original board game of nuclear confrontation.
MERCILESS ALGORITHMS OF DEATH: Government technical report on Air Force war simulation analyzes fighting al Qaeda with rayguns

In press coverage of how virtual wargames will revolutionize actual war, the lion's share of publicity has generally gone to private sector boffins bankrolled by the US Army. Most often, they appear as wizards from the University of Southern California's Institute for Creative Technologies. Journalists love the place and can't resist its toys, which in ICT's case, have been peddled as amalgams of Hollywood's most creative and the cutting edge of the military

Unsurprisingly, DD has always been of the mind that they're full of it.

The US military, one reckons, has lots of simulations, some that must be unsuitable for point-and-twitch teenage fun, entertaining only in a Strangelovian way.

One which hasn't received much notice is Point of Attack 2. It is a brutally painful statistical treatment of weaponry in which the mechanics of death are derived through an almost infinite number of calculations - it seems tailor made for Pentagon wonks.

A 2003 report blandly entitled "Analysis of Advanced Technology Weapons in Homeland Defense," written by Dr. Scott Hamilton, recently obtained from the National Technical Information Service, discusses an unusual aspect of it.

The games allows you to simulate fighting al Qaeda incursions in which the player, the computer or both employ experimental high-energy weapons -- rayguns.

You can read the rest of the article and the NTIS technical paper at el Reg here.

Alert readers may remember DD covered Point of Attack 2 in April. This was prior to recovery of the utterly fascinationg technical report for the Air Force on gaming somewhat extraordinary terrorist situations. That post is here complete with screen shots.

ERROR: Blog link to el Reg article, now fixed.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

PERFIDY OF POWELL STILL UNANSWERED: Man fingered as part of London poison cell in UN Security Council speech gives interview

Member of alleged poison cell loved Hollywood and imagined the west to be a fine place. Then he anonymously wound up in Colin Powell's trumped up reasons-for-war presentation.

"The wide-eyed young man who arrived in London a decade ago to enjoy all that the west had to offer ended up standing trial at the Old Bailey, accused of being a member of a fanatical al-Qaida-related gang intent on spreading poison through the streets of London," wrote Duncan Campbell for the Guardian last Friday. "If convicted in the so-called 'ricin case,' he faced the prospect of spending the rest of his life behind bars."

Moloud Sihali was part of the alleged London ricin gang, pictured above as a conncection between al Zarqawi in Iraq, al Qaeda and poison plots aimed at the west. And it was used as part of the rationale for war in Iraq.

Like everything else in the odious presentation, it turned out to be trash.

In late 2002 Sihali was arrested and taken to Paddington Green police station, according to the Guardian. He was interrogated. "They turn on the air-conditioning late at night so you freeze ... You are totally crushed," he said.

"After nine days, he was charged with possession of items that could be used in preparation for acts of terrorism," continued the newspaper. " 'Those items can mean anything - a false passport would do,' [said] Sihali."

Sihali was then apparently fingered by Mohammed Meguerba, a man who had been swept up in another investigation, bailed and fled to Algeria where he was again imprisoned.

"There he told the police - probably after torture - of someone who really was really was planning mayhem in Britain, albeit in a very amateurish fashion: another Algerian, called Kamel Bourgass," writes Campbell.

"Sihali was now alleged to be part of a conspiracy that had led to the murder of a British police officer and had became known in the media as the 'ricin plot.'"

"I felt sick when I read about the ricin plot in the papers. I would go to the toilet and vomit," Sihali told the Guardian. Sihali did not even meet Kamel Bourgass until they were both in the dock during the ricin trial.

The trial went on for over half a year. The jury took a month to render a verdict and furnished it in April of 2005. Everyone except Kamel Bourgass was found not guilty. A subsequent trial with more defendants was cancelled because of the collapse of the idea of a London ricin ring.

Kamel Bourgass was found guilty of conspiracy to commit a public nuisance with poisons. In a previous trial, he had been convicted of the murder of a British policeman, Stephen Oakes. The murder, a stabbing, occured while Bourgass was being apprehended.

DD as GlobalSecurity.Org Senior Fellow consulted to the defense during the trial. Evidence was examined, discussed privately and requested source material published in America was passed on. The purpose of it was to plumb the provenance and meaning of poison recipes seized from Bourgass and their relationship, or lack of one to poison recipes taken from al Qaida hideouts in Afghanistan.

The US newsmedia declined to cover the results of the trial of the so-called London ricin ring. The verdict came at a time when much of the newsmedia was still toeing the line on the Bush administration's reasons for war with Iraq.

Most of the US news agencies which tried to play catch-up had to go through your friendly neighborhood GlobalSecurity.Org Senior Fellow. A write-up published on GlobalSecurity.Org had scooped them. Walter Pincus at the Washington Post, for example, had no information on it except that which he could read at GlobalSecurity.Org, a fact he complained about on the telephone.

At Newsweek, Mark Hosenball also got his details from the GlobalSecurity posting. Newsweek's subsequent article was a disgrace, attempting to spin the verdict as evidence that if accused terrorists were allowed to go to trial in England, a jury would bring in the wrong verdict. Hosenball shoved my name in at the bottom of his article in an attempt to bury where the news actually came from. No one wanted to hear or print the real story about a big terror plot that had turned out to be tiny or that innocent men had been found not guilty during a lengthy and fair process.

"A much-touted ricin-plot terrorism case in the United Kingdom ended in a muddled verdict today, raising new questions among U.S. officials about the ability of British authorities to secure convictions against major terrorist suspects," Hosenball wrote.

The jury had left off guilty men, Newsweek implied. It was a setback in the war on terror.

"The mixed outcome dismayed U.S. counterterror specialists who were convinced that Bourgass and his four codefendants were in fact acting as part of a broader international terror plot," continued the Newsweek journalist.

Hosenball then roped in a source, Evan Kohlmann, who had nothing to do with the ricin trial.

"This is very disturbing," Kohlmann, billed as a U.S. government consultant on international terror cases, told the reporter. "These are dangerous people ... "

Kohlmann has subsequently become a professional prosecution witness for terror trials in the United States and the United Kingdom. Defense lawyers have called him a "wind-up toy" for the U.S. government.

As for the appearance of the "UK poison cell" in the UN Security Council presentation, Colin Powell has never seen fit to explain it.

Read the Sihali interview at the Guardian.

Ricin trial suspect cleared, earlier this year, at el Reg.

UK Terror Trial Finds No Terror at GlobalSecurity.Org