Wednesday, January 30, 2008

BLOWING CRAIG VENTER: Americans love braggarts, it's written in the genome

Daddy, please don't read me any more fairy tales about Mr. Venter and how his bacteria and biofuels will save the world!

Readers were aware last week when, once again, it was announced that Craig Venter, synthetic biologist, was poised to save the world.

Venter Institute synthetic biologists had stitched together the chromosome of the smallest bacterium in the world, Mycoplasma genitalium.

The scientific report had been published in the peer-reviewed magazine Science and from there the mainstream press did its usual slipshod job, spending time wishfully predicting the future.

This is because Americans are always jonesing for upper-class braggarts who promise simple one paragraph solutions to intractable problems. And with Venter as the top self-promoter in a field of bigtime self-promoters, synthetic biology is custom-made for the addiction.

Last November, writing at the Reg, DD came to the conclusion that there are only two types of stories on synthetic biology: Rewritten press releases distributed by newspapers, made only for the purpose of announcing the synthetic biologist and how world-changing his research effort/company will be; and stories explaining how synthetic biologists will revitalise the world, but bad synbiologists -- terrorists -- will be making diseases, bioterrors and bio-errors, killing millions.

These stories serve to create a bubble of mania surrounding synthetic biology. Secondarily, they indicate to some of us what happens when an allegedly serious profession, specialty journalists with virtually no college education in hard science other than courses on "the history of science" and "how to write about science for laymen," are unleashed on the public.

You can think of this bubble of mania as the lubricant for a still-unfolding Ponzi scheme in which more and more money is thrown into a fuming pot by investors enticed by enthusiastically uncritical news and gandiose proclamations. When synthetic biology and biofuels and the tagalong cure for global warming inevitably turn out not to be the practical alchemies they're now peddled as, the originals in the game will have made fortunes.

Everyone else, however, will be left holding bags of worthlessness and cruelly diminished expectations. What was thought of as sure gold will have vexingly transformed into lead.

So last week's news on synthetic biology achievement was par for the course. While the research was done by a colleague of Venter's, the professional news practice of declaring premature victory over the nation's problems and mastery over life itself quickly steered it back until it was simply all about Venter and miracles.

"The [bacterial] genome in Venter's lab in Rockville, Md., could revolutionize genetics, introducing a new world order in which the alchemy of life is broken down into the ultimate engineering project," gushed one woman for TIME.

"Man-made genomes could lead to new species that churn out drugs to treat disease, finely tuned vaccines that target just the right lethal bug, even cells that convert sunlight into a biofuel."

In our fairy tale near future-world of Venter and synthetic biology, global warming and disease are things of the past. And miraculous renewable energy will set the world free from oil, courtesy of algae. (Keep quiet about the bit that Mycoplasma genitalium, instead of being a custom-made producer of plentiful biofuel, is just a nuisance found inside your cock.)

"A team of North American scientists has discovered a way of replicating the DNA code of a bacterium that could eventually allow the creation of bacteria to manufacture biofuels," reported Reuters. "Dr. Craig Venter believes that specially-made micro-organisms can be created to produce hydrogen, while another strain could absorb excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere."

While Venter has not yet invented biofuel and saved all Americans, no reality mattered.

Even General Motors was dragged into the piece.

"The possibility of using microbes to create biofuel follows General Motors' announcement last week of a tie-up with bio-energy company Coskata, which has developed a method of allowing microbes to create bioethanol (a petrol substitute) not only from cellulosic plant fibre but also household waste, old car tires and
more ..."

If you feel you're losing your mind because you haven't yet seen GM's cars that run on fuel from old tires, you're not alone. DD is right there with you. Everyday I fruitlessly scrutinize the eight-lane highway outside the house for signs of them.

In any case, since General Motors has recently only been known for gigantic fuel inefficient SUVs and pick-up trucks as well as losing profits and status to foreign auto-makers, one might come to the conclusion that if the company is investing in something, it's not very far down the road to miraculousness and innovation at all. In fact, it might be in just the opposite direction, speeding toward elaborate failure.

But back to the descriptions of the glorious future to be furnished by Craig Venter.

"[One synthetic biologist] said he is optimistic that technology will soon lead to microbes that can produce new biofuels and much more," declared the Hartford Courant newspaper. "[He] also foresees the use of synthetic DNA in the manufacture of new vaccines. Synthetic DNA may prove critical for creating new vaccines quickly in the event of a pandemic flu or SARs-like outbreak ... By creating genomes at will, engineers could potentially free themselves from the constraints of existing life ..."

"The work is not merely a demonstration of laboratory finesse, Venter insisted, but a step toward development of technologies that could grow fuel in bacterial vats and speed cures for diseases," reported the San Francisco Chronicle, quickly worming its way into Venter's trousers.

"We are sparking an industrial revolution," said Venter to the newspaper, which dubbed him "a flamboyant and often controversial figure in biotechnology who is not unaccustomed to big ideas ... The one human being on the planet whose entire genome has been converted into code is Craig Venter!"

Most of these pieces were exceptionally sloppy pieces of work, repeating the same cliches and essentially composed from only two sources -- either Craig Venter or a mouthpiece of Venter's, plus the guy who always is called to furnish the quote that synthetic biology will inevitably result in man-made plagues, Jim Thomas.

"Jim Thomas, a Montreal researcher for ETC, a Canadian environmental and social justice advocacy group, said the 'synthetic biology' work pursued by Venter's group is potentially dangerous and ought to be subject to government oversight," continued the Chronicle. "Because of the push toward rapid commercialization, an environmental release of a synthetic organism is inevitable," Thomas told the newspaper. "This is an ecological disaster waiting to happen."

The Washington Post's science reporter wrapped it up in one succinct splurge.

"Venter said the goal is to design novel microbes whose handcrafted genomes endow them with the ability to produce useful chemicals, including renewable synthetic fuels that could substitute for oil," reported Rick Weiss. "Critics, however, countered that without better oversight of the fledgling field, synthetic biology is more likely to lead to the creation of potent biological weapons and runaway microbes that could wreak environmental havoc."

Weiss had written a story containing exactly the same cliches about a month earlier.

"The ultimate goal is the design of mass-produced, plain genetic platforms - like the chassis of a car - for making microbes that could clean up toxic waste and produce new biofuels, pest-resistant crops, wear-resistant fabrics and medicines, experts say," wrote one of the Post's regional competitor's, The Baltimore Sun. It wasn apparently an instance of really great minds thinking exactly alike. "But critics say that Venter is moving too fast - and that his results could put new bioweapons in terrorists' hands and unleash uncontrollable agents that cause epidemics, transform landscapes and threaten food supplies."

In England, a columnist for the Guardian emitted the standard cant with a novel twist. Venter's research might make the blood-thirsty zombies in recent movies a reality rather than just a tasteless entertainment.

"Venter says his hope is that he will be able to create designer bugs that can be used to produce hydrogen and biofuels," wrote the Guardian's man in a piece called Playing God.

"Synthetic bugs could also be created to do nothing but absorb greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. If all goes to plan, Venter's breakthrough could be the silver bullet in our battle against climate change ... But while this kind of science is utterly breathtaking, it does also set off obvious alarm bells, especially for anyone who has recently watched 28 Days Later or I Am Legend. Are we really sure we know what we are doing by releasing an artificial lifeform from the confines of the Petri dish into the wider world?"

Perhaps one ought not to worry. When the zombies come, you will be able to hide in your new house, made by synthetic biologists.

"In a 2006 videotaped presentation, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology said it might someday be possible to synthetically alter an acorn's DNA so that it sprouts an oak tree shaped like a house," reported The Baltimore Sun, in its piece lauding the miraculous Mr. Venter.

Earlier from the archives of "Blowing Craig Venter."

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

KING COAL FOR ENERGY SECURITY: Another national disgrace disguised as progress

By now we all know the United States has no energy policy for the future. Rather, it does and it's a humiliating one: Global warming is a conspiracy by other countries trying to squelch the American dream and the right to buy elephantine SUVs. As one journalist covering autos for the Los Angeles Times put it in late December: "[Americans] feel they should be able to drive whatever they can afford, disregarding the fact that the sky a part of the public commons."

Since the Bush administration has been so poor on energy, one standard line of thought might be that the Democrats, by default, must have better ideas. This doesn't seem so. For example, they are as willing to pander to corn growers in the Midwest for the sake of ethanol production as Republicans. And they often appear fairly Republican in their support of old King Coal, or as we'll get to in a minute, Herr Kohle.

In the US, the black diamond has been renamed "clean coal". This is to disguise it as something rather new and innovative, as opposed to what it really is - a variation on the energy policy of the Third Reich in World War II. Then clean coal was known as Fischer-Tropsch synthesis, chemistry to derive liquid fuels for the war machine from it.

Regular readers know DD blog has been on the case of so-called "clean coal" for a bit. In December, we wrote extensively of it here and here.

DD was raised in the heart of the coal country. The coal industry destroyed the environment of Schuylkill County in Pennsylvania. By my time, its benefits had been years in the past. The grandparents had a coal bunker in their basement. A worm drive connected it to the furnace and whenever we came to visit we would have the exciting task of taking a tub of ashes out to dump on an unvisited part of the property.

Only coal's ruins in subsistence mining and waste slag management remained in Schuylkill County. As a kid, one Saturday was spent on the entertainment of driving to Panther Valley in "the county over," as it was said in the local vernacular, to gawk at a part of a small town where houses had fallen into the ground a couple years after the coal industry had undermined them.

It was an image never to be forgotten.

A group of homes, now matchwood, in a hole with no one to clean up the mess because there wasn't sufficient money to ensure the job could be done without putting the rest of the town into an even bigger physical and financial pit.

Another novel attraction was an eternally burning waste slag pile on fire above Tower City.

For a few years in my childhood, Pine Grove, PA -- my hometown -- was served by a coal-fired power plant which belched so much pollution and cinder one had to sweep the sidewalk and porch of its ash. Eventually, it was closed and its waste smokestacks dynamited. That was a big day.

The father of one of DD's childhood pals also showed me anthrasilicosis. He suffered from it after a career of working in a coal mine. Stuck in front of the television, he couldn't walk much and breathed only with the help of an oxygen mask.

Another "benefit" of coal came in winter. Many carried a tub of ashes in the trunks of their cars. If one became stuck on a patch of ice or mired in a snow drift, cinders could be thrown under the tires to boost traction.

In Pasadena I haven't seen the winter beauty of cinders covering everything in well over a decade.

It's somewhat astonishing to now see advertising for "clean coal" running daily on the CNN cable news channel. The lobbying effort is pressing hard and the disguising of coal as something which is good for the future of this country is big business. If you read much of the mainstream press on the subject you can now sometimes come away with the benighted idea that global warming is virtually cured. Somehow, the burning of coal -- a chemical process which produces a great deal of carbon dioxide -- has been willed away in the US.

Coal no longer pollutes! We've made it so just by insisting many times that it doesn't in press releases and news stories!

Carbon dioxide? What's that? Just a minor nuisance, people. It's going to bought by someone and taken away or shoved into the ground. Or it'll be used to make baking soda. Who among us does not like baking soda?

It's amazing that we, as technologically driven Americans with answers for everything, didn't think of such things sooner. Then we could have been spared all this unpleasantness about global warming and Al Gore could have been kept from a Nobel Prize.

Read DD's latest installment on "clean coal" at el Reg here.


If you've read the piece at el Reg, you know that "clean coal" development fits a pattern.

Costs for Fischer-Tropsch plants in the US are at first low balled.

Then estimates escalate when the fact that there is no cheap and easy way to mitigate their environmental impact can no longer be chased off with blandishments about great technological advances. When this happens, sometimes even the Department of Energy under the glabrous administration of George W. Bush backs off its support.

"The big clean coal development coup Illinois thought it had locked up only last month appeared to be evaporating Tuesday, with members of Illinois' congressional delegation saying the Bush administration was pulling the plug on the $1.8 billion FutureGen power plant of the future that had been awarded to Downstate Mattoon," reported the Chicago Tribune here.

"After a meeting with Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said the Bush administration, which initially proposed FutureGen, 'misled' Illinois lawmakers about the project ... Also in the meeting with Bodman was U.S. Rep. Timothy Johnson, an Illinois Republican whose district includes Mattoon. Johnson said Bodman told the group that he planned to disband the FutureGen alliance of coal and energy companies and go 'in another direction.'"

The Illinois coal country, like that in Pennsylvania and a number of other states, is economically dead. For it, "clean coal" meant jobs and money. When these are the stakes, politicians on both sides of the fence will sell out the environment for an energy policy which is only fit for a country in a permanent state of war.

"There are things where we need to come together and work with the president, said Durbin, in a statement," according to the Kankakee Illinois Daily Journal. Delivered right after the President's State-of-the-Union address, it came before Durbin knew the Department of Energy was going to back out of Futuregen's "clean coal" facility in Illinois.

"[Bush] listed among his priorities the need to fund new technologies that can produce power from coal with significantly lower carbon emissions," said Rep. Tim Johnson (R) to the newspaper right after the address. "It is my hope that he follows through with his promise by supporting the FutureGen project, the clean-coal demonstration project designated for Mattoon (Ill.), with the enthusiasm and sense of urgency that he demonstrated in his speech," he told the newspaper.

As of now, that's not happening. While only in the US can plans for dirty and backwards sources of energy be called clean and environmentally sound by political leaders and important businessmen, the success of them is still not absolutely guaranteed.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

ECCENTRICITY RATING: Proven by mathematics!

Centricity = nil. Comparisons to others in cohort not cost effective.

Every for almost the past decade Glenn McDonald has crunched the statistics generated by the Village Voice's Pazz & Jop Music Critic's poll. One of the by-products of his work are eccentricity/centricity ratings. These are a direct measure of shared tastes, or lack of them, among various critics in the poll.

No surprise, I've always been among the eccentric, armor-plated against groupthink. I've virtually no regard for the opinions of colleagues and vice versa. This year, my eccentricity ranked me 773 out of 782 in the poll, hovering just above the most elliptical. A minor critical community appreciation of Brad Paisley did the trick.

Glenn McDonald's statistical breakdown of critical taste.
MORE ASSORTED LIES: Courtesy of the Public Integrity database

"As my colleagues around this table and as the citizens they represent in Europe know, Zarqawi's terrorism is not confined to the Middle East," said Colin Powell to the UN Security Council, the above slide on-screen. "Zarqawi and his network have plotted terrorist actions against countries, including France, Britain, Spain, Italy, Germany and Russia."

Readers now know there never was a 'UK poison cell' linked to Zarqawi in Iraq. For reasons known only to itself, the Bush administration took news of ricin found in a flat in a Wood Green apartment above a pharmacy in London, later shown by UK scientists to be a false positive, and inflated it into a spidery terror plot linking all the way back to Zarqawi and Saddam Hussein's Iraq. (What was found: A handful of castor beans in a jewelry tin, dubbed fairly inconsequential in a London terror trial, belonging to a man named Kamel Bourgass. Bourgass was convicted of murder of a policeman during his arrest in an earlier trial and the lesser charge of conspiracy to cause a nuisance with poisons in a second trial in which other defendants, alleged to be part of the 'UK poison cell', were cleared.)

The original slide is still on a Whitehouse server, here. And more slides on the same topic, used for deadening emphasis here, here, and here.

Utterly disgraceful. Actually, well beyond disgrace. Disgrace just isn't up to it.

Using the Center for Public Integrity's search function, it was simple to pull up a few more lies and staged frauds in which familiars in the Bush administration peddled the so-called UK poison cell in exhortations, among hundreds of others, used to start the Iraq war.

January 10, 2003

Vice President Dick Cheney, Remarks to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington, D.C.

The gravity of the threat we face was underscored in recent days when British police arrested seven suspected terrorists in London and discovered a small quantity of ricin, one of the world's deadliest poisons, for which no cure exists. Make no mistake, America is at war. And the front lines are our centers of work, of transportation, of commerce, and entertainment ... We will also continue our efforts to stop the grave danger presented by Al Qaeda or other terrorists joining with outlaw regimes that have developed weapons of mass destruction to attack their common enemies—the United States and our allies. That is why confronting the threat posed by Iraq is not a distraction from the war on terror. It is absolutely crucial to winning the war on terror. As the president has said, "Iraq could decide on any given day to provide biological or chemical weapons to a terrorist group, or individual terrorists"—which is why the war on terror will not be won until Iraq is completely and verifiably deprived of weapons of mass destruction."

Paul Wolfowitz, in a television interview with WJW, February 6, 2003

Question: I want to talk about that for just a minute. How close is the tie that people need to see between Al Qaeda and Iraq? And what specifically is Saddam Hussein and Iraq doing to support Al Qaeda?

Wolfowitz: I think it's important to understand that when we talk about terrorist networks, we probably see the tip of the iceberg. I suspect we know 10 percent of what there is to know. And if you just sort of think retrospectively how relatively little we knew before September 11th of what those terrorists were doing, and even if we had known that some of them were taking flight lessons, it wouldn't have told us what they had in mind.

So we're talking about people who hide their plans very carefully, and the connection to a government like that would be hidden even more carefully. And yet, in spite of that, we see, for example, close connections between Iraqi intelligence, and even the Iraqi leadership, and this network that is actively working to do attacks with ricin and other deadly toxins. Some of them have been arrested in London. Some have been arrested in Spain and elsewhere in Europe. We're working on finding as many of them as we can. The problem is, some of them are hiding, probably effectively.

February 19, 2003

Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, Interview on BBC

BBC: What some people in the demonstrations I would guess are concerned about is if it does come to a conflict as you say, is the issue that the risk of the conflict. I think it's been reported recently that Secretary [Donald] Rumsfeld has in his drawer a list of risks which include the possibility that Saddam Hussein could actually use his suspected weapons of mass destruction, that the war itself would be protracted and enormously destabilizing. What's your response to that?

Wolfowitz: First of all the risk is there, but the risk grows the longer we wait. If that means let's just keep waiting until he has more and more weapons and more and more connections to terrorists. The [Abu Musab al-] Zarqawi network which was involved in the operation in London has multiplied by many other networks and tentacles. It seems to me it's a formula for just having a bigger conflagration later.

Search the Public Integrity database.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

TOP TEN FOR 2007: My bad taste pays

The Sirens from Detroit: Number 1 on a very limited edition hit parade.

The Village Voice's Pazz & Jop 2007 critic's poll is now published and my ballot is here.

It has virtually nothing in common, as has been the case for the last seven years, with what the great mean of professional music critics choose to ballyhoo. This should come as no surprise. Does the style of this blog seem to have anything in common with what passes for mainstream music journalism?

Of course not. How silly. (In fact, it's proven by math. See the eccentricity index.)

The Sirens captured the top slot followed by Foghat, the famous arena boogie band from the Seventies. Yes, two of the original members -- including Lonesome Dave Peverett, the man who sang "I Just Want to Make Love to You" and "Slow Ride" -- are dead. But the ringers and the leftovers in the band carried the torch onward in 2007 more than adequately.

Leading Foghat is Charlie Huhn, an old Ted Nugent sideman. And speaking of Ted Nugent, the Charlton Heston of rock 'n' roll also made DD's Top 10 with Love Grenade, in at number seven with a pack of beef jerky.

Classic rock has been hiding in modern country for the past five to ten years. As a result, Brad Paisley, Sugarland, Big & Rich and Jack Ingram all made my list. In the past they would have been considered fit for the regular section of the record racks. Now you find classic rock split between the prime slots and the country subcategory, the best of 'em usually being found slumming in country where they still outdraw and outsell all the collegiate alternative pocket-protector rock stumblers and this year's intellectual liberal arts critics' urban melting pot choices sopping up ink in the weekend sections of big newspapers.

Covered on this blog and reviewed in paying rags elsewhere this year were The Sirens here, George Brigman here, and The Other Side from Minersville, Pennsyltucky, here.

Sample pocket-protector nerd music and Pepto-Bismol for your urban sophisticate's mind and soul ballot choices, not scientifically chosen: See here, here, and here.
THE BIG FRAUD: Investigative journalism project collates Bush administration lies

It's no longer news that the administration of George W. Bush mounted a systematic misiformation/disinformation campaign to sell the country on a need to attack Iraq. And it's not news that the star journalists of the US mainstream media served as uncritical fuglemen in this biggest and deadliest of political frauds.

"President Bush, for example, made 232 false statements about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and another 28 false statements about Iraq's links to Al Qaeda," wrote reporters for the Center for Public Integrity today. "Secretary of State [Colin Powell] had the second-highest total in the two-year period, with 244 false statements about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and 10 about Iraq's links to Al Qaeda. [Don Rumsfeld] and [Ari Fleischer] each made 109 false statements, followed by [Paul Wolfowitz] (with 85), [Condi Rice] (with 56), [Dick Cheney] (with 48), and [Scott McClellan] (with 14)."

In 2005, DD reported on the results of a terror trial in London on an alleged ricin gang which had figured in Colin Powell's infamous Security Council speech at the UN.

One of four slides which showed Colin Powell and the US government connecting a "UK poison cell" to al Qaida and Al-Zarqawi in Iraq as proof of that country's collusion in terror plots aimed at the west. No such link existed and a jury trial found the "UK poison cell" to be nonexistent except for one loner named Kamel Bourgass. No ricin was ever found in England.

Powell never explained where the fabrications about the "UK poison cell" came from and it was left to your friendly neighborhood GlobalSecurity.Org Senior Fellow to report on the trial and explode this particular Bush administration claim in April of 2005. At the time, the US mainstream media was still hesitant to question the claims of the Bush presidency. As a result, the trial and its ramifications were not well-covered or well understood in this country. The result of the trial, along with other news such as the revelation of the Downing Street memo, contributed greatly to the British public's disillusionment with its nation's role as the primary ally of George W. Bush's war in Iraq.

In September of 2006, a report from the Senate Select Intel Committee on Iraq shed some light on this series of Powell slides.

The "detained al Qaida operative" in the above slide was Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi. It is now well-accepted the al-Libi was tortured into a number of admissions, statements made to placate his captors. This blog reported on the subject and presented pertinent snapshots from the Senate report in September of 2006 here.

"What we're giving you are facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence ...I will cite some examples, and these are from human sources," Powell told the United Nations in February of 2003.

"As it turned out, however, two of the main human sources to which Powell referred had provided false information," reported The Center for Public Integrity today.

"One was an Iraqi con artist, code-named 'Curveball,' whom American intelligence officials were dubious about and in fact had never even spoken to. The other was an Al Qaeda detainee, Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi, who had reportedly been sent to Eqypt by the CIA and tortured and who later recanted the information he had provided. Libi told the CIA in January 2004 that he had 'decided he would fabricate any information interrogators wanted in order to gain better treatment and avoid being handed over to [a foreign government].'"

This particular fraud, only one among many, depended upon two regular tools of the lawless Bush adminstration -- lying and torture. And it is the cynical, systematic and belligerent use of them which has so stained our country's once good reputation.

The Center for Public Integrity's "Iraq: The War Card" report.

Coverage of the so-called 'UK poison cell.'

Google search on 'Colin Powell' and 'ricin.'
E-MAIL OF THE WEEK: Anonymous 'scientist' objects to debunk of kitchen-made bioterror

Secret institute man alarmed by DD's ridicule of this Mujahideen Poisons Handbook recipe for producing botox in your kitchen.

Dear sir/ madam ...

i [sic] am writing to bring to your attention the article by ... [from] August 8 2005. I admit that this is a little late in coming but I only came across this article on your site by chance through my own in depth research.

The article provides information where a chemist "George Smith" [sic] claims that instructions given in the "Muhajideen poisons handbook" are useless regarding the manufacture of Botulinum ( so-called Betaluminum).

I have PhD [sic] in microbiology. I cannot disclose [my] institute for obvious reasons ... It is imperative to me that we do not shy away from the main issue. The instructions given are in no way concise or professional. However they are in a very liberal sense correct and can be used by individuals at home to create a "poison" that if untreated could easily kill an adult in less than 32 hours. (test results from oral application). (application through a wound would be 300% more affective [sic])

I urge you in the name of safety to consider a full retraction. I will be posting a similar letter to all related articles i [sic] find.

Related: Documents discussed here get you jailed.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

BIG BANG MAG: Ordnance magazine ca. The Peace Movement

Who doubted it? Ad from July-August '69 issue of Ordnance magazine.

The snapshot of the ICBM ad in a 1969 issue of Ordnance: Systems for National Defense magazine encapsulates the thrust of a publication whose motto could have been "Peace through strength, strength and still more strength."

It was the height of the anti-Vietnam war movement and the magazine's editors and publisher were feeling the strain. Throughout the magazine are articles and editorial asides sniping at peaceniks and those who wished to reduce the size of the "military industrial complex."

"Suddenly into weapons selection arena come new and strange committees," writes contributor Robert L. Johnson of the Air Force.

"They have one and only one set of objectives -- to discredit the established authority, to downgrade anything military, to alarm the people, and above all to divide and create the maximum social dissent -- all this with a studious air, an innocent manner and an immediate attack on any who challenge their motives.

"By using a liberally oriented press and news media to the maximum advantage they are assured of widespread national coverage -- and by repetition of a 'big lie' technique -- they establish credibility...

"Many labor under the illusion that defense appropriations are taking from social programs. Nothing could be further from the truth. Social ... appropriations are already far inflated over any previous level..."

"The war in Vietnam will go into the record books as a stark example ... of one 'conducted by civilians completely and totally ignorant of tactics and strategy and completely lacking in the willingness to win," writes Leo A. Codd, an army officer, for an article entitled "Today and the Task Ahead."

"I have attempted to show that fear of a massive military partnership with industry is without a basis in fact," wrote Vice Admiral J. B. Cowell for "Industry and Defense: A timely vindication of the US military industrial relationship."

"Such a thing does not now, nor did it ever, exist. Under our form of government, under the leadership of wise men imbued with an abiding love of country, it will not come to pass."

"The campus community has a large contingent of vociferous 'antiwar' crusaders who challenge all proposals for the national defense ... " continued another editor angrily. "Their objection [to an anti-ballistic missile system which was never developed] is to be expected. It is all of a piece with draft card burning, desecration of the National Colors and destruction of campus facilities -- including libraries ... In addition, there are many church organizations which have taken their stand with the opponents..."

The magazine's positions read quaintly at a time in the future distant from its editors, one in which there is no serious mainstream opposition to anything the military and government does. Possessing the largest military in world history, one which exceeds in spending what all other countries in the world COMBINED do for their militaries, the fears of the directors and contributors of Ordnance look very antique.

In 2008 there is no effective debate on the appropriateness of the size of defense and security force structure fielded by the United States. And Americans have no stake or say in the wars their leadership chooses to wage. In no longer having to serve, as they did when the 1969 issue of Ordnance was published, they abandoned resposibility, mostly to have the unimpeded freedom to buy on credit whatever lavish things they wish to buy whenever they wish to buy them.

As for the big presidential candidates -- not a blessed one of them has a recommendation that departs from the risible meme that the US military must be strengthened. Spending the most in the world for a military is not enough. There must always be more invested to redress any weakening and ensure the capability to peremptorily or pre-emptorily attack others in the so-called defense of freedom and the American way of life.

We can look back now and view Ordnance in 1969 as inhabiting an odd period in American history. The military men within its pages felt threatened by oversight and the realization that the Vietnam war was lost. They worried about a future in which military spending, their livelihoods, and the national defense might be diminished.

The threat of the Soviet Union was omnipresent, they wrote. The peace movement was not going to impress the Russian bear. America had to be prepared to push on, to even fight a war in Europe with tactical nuclear weapons, wrote one contributor in an article entitled "NATO's Defense Posture."

"Protection of free Europe with conventional weapons is an unrealistic concept, and practical plans for the deployment of improved tactical nuclear armament must be put into operation at the earliest moment," it was said.

One of the ways the nuclear war in Europe would be fought was with Atomic Annie, a massive artillery piece meant to lob the shells of Armageddon at advancing Soviet hordes.

Photo from Ordance magazine of one Atomic Annie in silhouette after Shot Grable, part of Operation Upshot-Knothole in 1953.

"Unless the strategist specifically wishes mass exterminations (which is conceivable), the rationale for [radioactive] fallout is highly questionable," reasoned the Ordnance contributor. "Even if fallout were desired, it might prove unuseful -- just as a gun which explodes when it is fired can then only be used as a club."

"Fallout is the element from which most nuclear fears are derived. It can and should be eliminated promptly."

In the face of Soviet might, the US had one thing on its side, reported Ordnance. Then, as always said now, technological savvy would save the day.

"The Commie talks big but frankly we think he's short of know-how," part of a famous movie general's outburst in Dr. Strangelove, made the belief into famous Cold War entertainment. "I mean you just can't take a bunch of ignorant peasants and expect them to understand a machine like our boys . . ."

The same belief still rules supreme only now the enemy/ignorant peasants are in the Middle East.

In the July '69 issue of Ordnance, US tech savvy was hailed in the development of the submarine-launched ballistic missile, a "technical surprise" which had kept America ahead of the Soviets.

Thanks and a tip o' the hat to Rick Noll of Bona Fide Records whose wanderings of antique swap meets in Pennsylvania contributed this slice of history.

Monday, January 14, 2008

PREPARING FOR YOUR DREAM JOB: Bootlicking and compliance made complicated

Tell me your biggest fault as a worker!

Nothing can be finer than to read advice columns on getting your dream job. They're filled with complicated procedures and taxing networking tasks, filled to the brim with exhortations to always strive harder.

Trouble is, everyone knows that at least fifty percent of the jobs one can hold in the US are worthless. And many are downright evil.

For the rest of your life you will be confronted by the reality, if you haven't been beaten down by it already, that most Americans have been so conditioned by their rotten educational system they can think of nothing but corporate labor when meeting others. This has had the result that the first thing out of people's mouths in polite conversation -- rather than an innocuous and pleasant "How 'bout those Green Bay Packers?" or "Top of the morning to you!" -- is the belligerent and prying, "So, what do you do?"

On Sunday, the Los Angeles Times business section ran an article on how to prepare yourself for life as a bootlick. It was gruesome.

We've dressed it up some.

Making dream job a reality is no easy task

Want to know the secret of landing your dream job? Making yourself over as a hardened job-hunting machine.

Victoria Secret has figured this out. She's still in college at UCLA, but an up-and-coming striver, hustling to land a position in the entertainment industry. She has interned with Sony, worked pro bono one year for Walt Disney Outreach and spends nights thinking up slogans and jingles for the Bruin Ad Team, UCLA's student run advertising team.

Secret is a skilled networker. She e-mails everyone she knows or has ever known who is still in the labor force, letting them know her talents and job interests. And she hands out business cards during her part-time job as a campus sales rep for a PC company.

Secret reviews her resume every month. You should too. "It's a constant work in progress, like your life."

Secret's leave-no-stone-unturned effort will pay off, experts say. She'll eventually land a job. When that happens, answering "So, what do you do?" will become a fulfilling and affirming experience.

Getting hired is all about doggedness, focus and learning to leverage contacts. No one gets anything worthwhile in the 2008 United States of America without being able to call in favors. If you haven't got faint acquaintances who can assist in getting your foot in the door somewhere, this country is a grim place.

You've got to throw yourself out there, reaching for any hands or legs there are to be grasped. If you can't do that, you'll face rejection again and again.

Here are several things you should do:

Post your resume on-line

You should buy high-quality paper and fresh ink for your printer. In these desperate days, some employers want to have the feel of a good piece of bond in their hands even as they're tossing it into the trash in favor of the name of someone passed to them by a co-worker or superior. In the meantime, accept that there are virtues to going digital -- those being that it's easy, fast and puts you in a nice position of being immediately accessible, along with the 250 million other people who posted their resumes on-line., for example, lists hundreds of thousands of jobs in virtually every category and works with 90 percent of the Fortune 1000 companies. To sift them, you'd have to be a machine. And while you are not as capable as such a machine, you must strive to be as machine-like as possible in your on-line search for a job. If you cannot be a ruthless job-hunting machine, you will fail and entropy -- the dissolving of everything into nothing -- will invade your life.

Other on-line sites target specific fields like focusing on accounting and financialization services, on the obvious, and, for employment at subsistence wages in the world of nonprofits.

Since there are so many resumes on-line you have about as good a chance at landing something decent as winning a raffle. Have you ever won anything worthwhile in a raffle? That gift certificate to Macy's doesn't count.

Apply directly to a company, on-line and off

Many companies post opening on their websites, but responding blind could land your application in a black hole, says Gary Kaplan, founder of Gary Kaplan & Associates, a Pasadena search firm. Do it the old-fashioned way: "Get the name of someone and write to that person."

Everyone knows corporate office-workers and administrators look forward to getting unsolicited mail from desperate people they don't know. You can check the company's dumpster for your cover letter and resume a couple of days after you mailed it, if you're job searching locally. This will allow you to informally keep tabs on the progress of your search. The technique is called "dumpster diving."

Tap the hidden job-market -- plead with your friends

Tell relatives, friends, friends of friends, trusted colleagues -- everyone you meet during the day's travels. Consider hiring a spambot to broadcast your need for a job. You're on a job hunt and only by being a ruthless machine will you succeed. For all the sweep of the Internet, only a machine-like focus will do. You must scour the Internet and shakedown your friends, even at the risk of alienating them. If you don't know about a position, you can't apply for it. And if you can't find that job, your friends and everyone else will not want to know you, anyway. When you reach that critical point, your job search will collapse into a black hole. And after six months in the black hole of failed job search, you will be hardcore unemployable.

So you see why you must always be a ruthless job-searching machine. Do not flinch or shirk in this duty.

Being a ruthless job-searching machine worked for Diana. She started with a computer search to build a list of companies where she might want to work and wrote directly to people at each specifying the type of job she hoped to find. You can imagine how that went. The employers didn't have any openings, but her job-hunting machine routine made such an impression that one eventually found a place for her. The 20-something Los Angeles woman doesn't want to use her full name because that job wasn't really a great job. In fact, she's out of that job and hunting for a new one and if someone sees her name on-line in one of the firms she's targetting, it won't be good for the image.

Polish your resume -- burnish your credentials, everyone else does

Putting your best self into pixels is a craft "that has to be mastered," says Richard Bolles, author of the job-hunter's bible, "Your Arbeit Will Set Your Free." Job-hunting first-timers and veterans can find plenty of resume tips in the book, as well as on major job search sites. You should be spending at least two hours each day reading up, but in case you can't get there today, here are some rules of thumb:

1. Be specific. Instead of saying "worked in a retail setting at the strip mall," try "trained and supervised ten employees, one of whom went on to be a doctor, and handled payroll and purchasing in a firm with annual sales of $20 million." No one can check or know how much places in strip malls pass in cash or if your co-workers were actually high school drop-outs and community college students.

2. One size does not fit all. Employers expect your resume to clearly show why you fit their specific opening, even if they don't know what they want in an employee. This presents you with a dilemma. To be successful, you must be a ruthless resume-reworking machine, re-editing your vitals for finicky people whose nature you can only make wild guesses about. As crushing as it sounds, for every job application that you make, you must make a custom rewrite of your resume.

3. Typos or grammatical errors will route your resume into the trash. On the other hand, consider a rigorously spell-checked and elegantly composed resume in the hands of a prospective employer. Think of the e-mails you've received from your older college-educated acquaintances now in the corporate workplace. Recall the communications you occasionally get from said-to-be-important people in corporate America at your blog. Now do you really think having a resume that's grammatical and well written is going to help that much? Come now, it could just as well have the opposite effect, pissing off a reader who gets it into their head you're probably one of those who thinks they're smarter than everyone else. So go ahead, make some mistakes. It's all headed for the trash anyway.

Prepare for the interview -- and brush your teeth

Spend time on the company's website, even if it's unusable. Check out their annual report and commit to memory the pack of lies that passes for their page of recent press releases. Be prepared to explain why you want the job and when asked what your biggest fault is as a worker, be able to convincingly explain how youve made it into your strongest asset, even though it's not true. Try to convey the impression that you would give up any prospects for a social life outside work hours and that you might possibly even break the law, if that's what is necessary to get that job done.

Be sure you come to the interview in a good-looking car or SUV. Make sure it's clean and shiny. Everyone in America judges the worth of others, whether they admit it or not, by the size and condition of their vehicles. Employers are no different.

Shake hands. Extend your arm, grasp the hand of the person you are greeting firmly but not crushingly. Don't go limp. And don't, don't, don't have a sweaty palm. Dry your hand thoroughly with some tissue paper before the interview.

Make eye contact. This one can be a little tricky if, like DD and about ten percent of the population, you are a bit cross-eyed. You may have to slightly align your head in such a manner so that your crossing eye looks lined-up straight with your healthy eye. If you practice in front of the mirror before the interview, it should come naturally.

Thursday, January 10, 2008


"A former roommate's claim that a Navy sailor charged with disclosing the location of Navy ships to terrorism supporters also plotted to attack military personnel cannot be introduced at his trial, a federal judge ruled Friday," reported Newsday recently.

"Hassan Abu-Jihaad, 31, of Phoenix, pleaded not guilty in April to charges he provided material support to terrorists with intent to kill U.S. citizens and disclosed classified information relating to national defense.

"U.S. District Court Judge Mark Kravitz said he would not allow Shareef's statements to a government informant to be admitted as evidence because they were uncorroborated ... 'I just don't see anything here outside of Mr. Shareef's own statements,' Kravitz said. 'I just don't see any independent evidence.'"

DD, writing at the Reg at the beginning of the year, made available the US government's transcript of surveillance tapes covering Hassan Abu-jihaad and conversations between Derrick Shareef, now regarded as a rambling fool, and FBI informant William Chrisman.

Shareef pled guilty on a charge that he wished to be involved in a plan to throw hand grenades at a shopping maill, a case that which be viewed considering Shareef's obvious lack of mental acuity, as one of entrapment. Shareef never had access to weapons.

Perusal of the surveillance excerpts -- archived here -- indicate the FBI has tape of Abu-jihaad repeatedly calling Derrick Shareef a liar and an idiot who exaggerated the former's activities to give the impression he was a big deal to the FBI's informant, William Chrisman.

In court documents filed in December, Abu-jihaad's defense argued:

"It is safe to assume that the government has probably used every investigative tool available to it in an effort to build a case against the defendant. The end result of the investigation... is the same set of email communications which the defendant sent to Azzam Publications in 2001 and which the government has known about since early 2004, and the uncorroborated hearsay ramblings of Derrick Shareef uttered in 2006 regarding some half-baked notion to attack military installations. There is absolutely no evidence of Mr. Abu-Jihaad's involvement with any 'foreign power' beyond the email communications sent to Azzam Publications in 2001, there is no credible evidence of Mr. Abu-Jihaad's involvement in any ongoing conspiracy in 2006 and Mr. Abu-Jihaad himself has been in custody since March 2007."

The charges against Abu-jihaad stem from e-mails he made to Azzam Publications in England in 2001 while he was serving on the USN Burke-class destroyer, Benfold. That part of the story and the evidence against Abu-jihaad are discussed at the Reg here. It includes e-mails from Abu-jihaad briefly discussing the transit of his battle group through the Strait of Hormuz, which could be evaluated as sensitive information, and general details -- unclassified -- about his ship group.

The US government has been hot for the ex-Navy signalman since finding his e-mails and purchase orders for Chechen jihadi videos from Azzam in 2004, at which time the defendant was no longer in the military, having served and been honorably discharged.

Since then the government has massaged the Abu-jihaad case in the mainstream press, leaking documents and seemingly giving the greenlight to anonymous sources connected with his prosecution to talk to the press.

Abu-jihaad defense files motion to disclose government FISA orders in terror case.

FBI informant in Abu-jihaad case.

US nurses Abu-jihaad prosecution in mainstream press.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

DE-MEANING CYBERSPACE: To lower the ocean using a legal thimble

Just another day in paradise, ca. 2005

"Prosecutors may charge a woman who posed as a boy and sent cruel messages to a teen with defrauding MySpace," reported the Los Angeles Times today. MySpace is located in Beverly Hills, which explains the transfer of interest to a federal operation in Los Angeles. (See here.)

The idea, as it is put forward in the news story, is that it might be possible to prosecute someone for putting up a deceitful page on MySpace, the well know social networking sight for dumb kids, vexing teenagers, gone-public crossdressers, miscellaneous pedophiles and every music group that has ever existed.

Haw! Haw! Except it's not a joke but the sound of grasping at straws.

Plagued by the reality that it's not against the law to be a raging asshole in pursuit of the weak on the Internet, "A federal grand jury has been issuing subpoenas in the case of a Missouri teenager [Megan Meier] who hanged herself after being rejected by the person she thought was a 16-year old boy she met on MySpace..."

The "cyber bully" was "really a neighbor who was the mother of one of the girl's former friends."

Lori Drew, the name of the now infamous nasty person in question, has not been charged because "Prosecutors in Missouri said they were unable to find a statute under which to pursue a criminal case."

If they were able to do so it would mean the Internet would have to be dismantled, since hoaxing and acting from extreme malice are part of the very oxygen to be breathed while delving it.

The Drew/Megan Meier story breaks everyone's faith in humanity simply because there is no solution. Lori Drew deserves for something very bad to happen to her but it is not within the bounds of the law to make that happen. And Megan Meier's parents were far too stupid to have anyone in their family be allowed unattended anywhere near the Internet.

Anyone can attract their special private harpy, or crew of harpies, just for having the temerity to erect a virtual presence. Your personal custom-crafted harpies can follow you around, tearing at your virtual liver under the cover of anonymity. And it can go on for years. Harpies never forget. It's part of their charm and the best that can be done is to shrug and make them a part of yourself.

"Cyber-bullying has become an increasingly creepy reality, with the anonymity of video games, message boards and other on-line forums offering an outlet for cruel taunts," wrote reporters Scott Glover and P.J. Hufstutter. Somewhat stupidly, DD adds.

"Still, it could be difficult to draw the line between constitutionally protected free speech and conduct that is illegal," continued the newspaper.

"Teenagers and furious neighbors have protested [in Dardenne Prairie, MO] ... Virtual vigilantes have posted the Drew's home address ... and photos on websites such as"

An excerpt from one of DD's many friends in cyberspace, posted after the publication of a recent story at el Reg:

from [sic] George or his Dick. Surely they have a moment to respond to comments here? It would be lovely if the Reg insisted that after publishing this rubbish the author would be held accountable to respond on the forum. Some could argue that a someone with no testicles to respond to arguments could be likened to female genitalia. Speak up and defend your story unless you are a coward.

Monday, January 07, 2008

NOT IF, BUT WHEN: Nuclear terror script always popular

If you've read this blog infrequently over the last year or so, you've seen that our leaders and great experts love scaring their lessers. It is not a matter of if, but only when a bioterror attack will occur. A chemical assault? Not if, but when.

"I don't believe it is a question of if [a nuclear attack on America] will happen," said Debra A. Wilber, a defender against nuclear terror, told the Los Angeles Times for its Sunday edition. "It is a question of when," she added unremarkably.

The Times story, by Ralph Vartabedian, was remarkable in its lack of hard detail. The absence of real news -- as opposed to allusion to classified activity and stuff from movie scripts -- was filled with various claims, some perfectly senseless, courtesy of our nuclear terror defenders.

"About every three days, unknown to most Americans, an elite team of federal scientists hits the streets in the fight against nuclear terrorism," reported Vartabedian.

One envisions the laughable, straight from a TV show, which is -- as it turns out -- just what the journalist for the story delivers. Their shoe leather pounding the city streets, a small army of gritty Jack and Jackie Bauers do battle against the invisible, with only their wits and fancy tools to guide them.

"[Our defenders against nuclear terror] are supposed to rush up to a ticking nuclear explosive (or a 'dirty' bomb, which would disperse radioactive material) and defuse it before it's too late -- a situation often depicted by Hollywood that seems less fictional every year," continues the piece.

Less fictional? According to who?

Journalists and experts involved in these types of stories always play a game. The game is to pretend that Americans haven't already been beaten to death by the memes of catastrophic terrors that are not-a-matter-of-if-but-when.

This being the case, there is a counterwish among some that the deliverers of them just be served a steaming hot cup of STFU.

For instance, how impressed are we to be by nuclear terror defenders who "[near] the Las Vegas Strip ... investigated a homeless person who had somehow picked up a piece of radioactive material ... and a hot dog vendor [in Manhattan] fresh from a medical test."

Obsessed with defending against every imaginable threat, they defend nothing but are effective in the rousting and scrutinizing of a beggar in Las Vegas. This is seemingly meant to show some manner of success in bomb detection, success being a relative term in the United States -- a word which can have alternative meanings, like annoyance and failure.

If you watch the movie "The Sum of All Fears" -- it seems to run about once a week on cable movie channels -- you are familiar with the part where the hero charges into the radiation forensics tent after a football stadium in Baltimore is blown up in an atomic attack. A few instruments are consulted, the pages of a looseleaf binder flipped, data cross-referenced, and voila! The material in the bomb came from a US nuclear weapons lab! The information is rushed to the President just in time to stop an all out nuclear war with Russia.

"Even if a bomb detonates, fallout can be analyzed to identify the terrorists and their state sponsors," reports the story, somewhat laughably. "The idea is to force other nations to take better care of their own nuclear fuels or else find themselves in the cross-hairs of the US nuclear arsenal."

Much of this rests on a set of stupid beliefs.

One is that the American government could use its alleged experts to sell a story on where the bomb came from, one that others around the world would believe, not just journalists for big newspapers. DD believes we can all agree that's pretty much off the table as a workable tactic thanks to the Bush administration, the Iraq war, and the US government's way of conducting itself in relationship to the rest of the world.

It might be more correctly seen as only useful in selling a majority of Americans on the need to immediately attack some other nation our leadership wishes to obliterate.

Second, a logical person can hold to the idea that if attacked, the United States doesn't hesitate to retaliate against the wrong people, anyway. Fairness, some adherence to conduct dictated by scientific findings and being right never enters into it. In addition, this country knows when it's attacking the wrong people and does it anyway under the rationale that such an attack sends a strong message to other enemies.

Jay C. Davis, a retired weapons scientist named as one of our defenders against nuclear terror "said it was hoped that nuclear forensics could determine the size of a detonation within one hour, the sophistication of the bomb design within six hours, how the fuel was enriched within 72 hours; and the peculiar details of national design -- does this look like a Russian, a Chinese or a Pakistani device, or something we have never seen before -- within a week."

Davis and others are "trying to assess how authoritative the US could be in attributing a nuclear device to a particular source and making its case..."

The man should be nominated for a Nobel this year, don't you think?

The original the the LA Times.

"Nuclear terror" in the recent news. The usual perps from the nuclear-terror-is-inevitable industry.

Nuclear terror -- not losing one's job and health insurance or going broke -- is the top fear of Americans. Alleged by some poll conducted by annoying ninnies you've never heard of.

Friday, January 04, 2008

RADIOHEAD FANS & CHEERLEADERS: Ungrateful snobs, petty thieves, etc

"...And that brings us finally to Radiohead because it also has to do with stealing music and the imperious transformation of things which have value into valueless air. In October, Radiohead was applauded by almost 100 percent of the college of pop music journalist snobs for showing us all the way to the future by giving away their most recent album on-line and allowing fans to volunteer what they'd like to pay for it, if anything." -- see here.

Readers can review all the grand claims about Radiohead changing the future and those who delivered them.

"It appears the only losers in this model are old-school retailers," wrote someone rushing onto the field to tear down the goal posts five minutes into the first quarter, at the Los Angeles Times , in late 2007.

"Ask people to 'name your own price' for downloading a new rock album, and the majority will say 'zero,'" reported the Arizona Star in a glum little piece from November. The cruel army of digital music shoplifters had stormed onto the field and knocked those engaged in premature jubilation on their cans. Sixty percent of Radiohead's fans had declined to pay anything for the record of the year.

Now, Radiohead has been shown how many of those who downloaded their In Rainbows for nothing in October were ready to put the physical copy into the top sellers in the first week of January. Almost none of 'em, relatively speaking.

"A retail executive with access to first-day sales figures for In Rainbows says the album sold 40,000 copies New Year's Day," reported the Times today. "If it indeed goes on to sell 100,000 ... that's a significant drop from the band's last album, 2003's Hail to the Thief, which moved 300,000 copies in its first week."

Hail to the Thief!

"The elephant in the room is you already made the album widely available before it hit stores," adds an alleged expert on record sales from Billboard magazine for the Times.

Let's compare the physical sale of In Rainbows,-- an album much hyped as record of the year by pop music journalists from the mainstream. Forty thousand to Josh Grobhan's Noel -- a bleedin' Xmas album -- at 3.7 million.

Many people who bought the Grobhan album were those who don't traditionally steal all music not nailed down simply because pirates have put it on-line. Middle-aged people, y'know -- all those who don't count, and shoppers at Wal-Mart in the hinterlands. Those benighted saps who still buy music, see it as a not unreasonable thing to do, and who don't have wireless broadband or attachment to the teat of a corporate Internet pipe from the music journalism desk at a big newspaper or entertainment magazine.

Stupid Dick Destiny, he actually bought eight of the ten albums he rated in his 'best of' critic's ballot this year.

Here's a recommendation: If most music journalists tossed all the freebies and were compelled to buy the stuff they were going to listen to, it would have a salutatory effect.

This would be how it would work.

They wouldn't have to buy CDs out of pocket. Their publication would. It would divert some overhead to a fund drawn upon to pick and choose what its reporters and reviewers were going to buy and listen to.

Free-lancers, of course, would be largely screwed. But they've been screwed for along time and have learned either to make do or be stenographers for the entertainment industry.

This would break music journalism out of the quid-pro-quo with the record industry it's now locked into in the furnishing of weekly publicity for the yearly schedule of releases -- physical or virtual.

Who would miss such an arrangement? Who would actually cry if most of the daily newspapers and trade weeklies didn't review the new Wineshmutz album the week before its Tuesday release? Not the people who are set to buy it. They don't read newspaper music sections. The idea of BestBuy shoppers reading such consumer reporting prior to their trip to the mall is laughable.

All music magazines and newspapers with entertainment sections get a glut of material flying through the door every week. There's no way to seriously listen to the entirety. The numbers are too great, the volume astonishing. It's been an obvious trend for the last seven years, in collision with mercilessly diminished print space and the fact that pop music sections don't even wish to cover all of it. In such a situation, it is not unreasonable to promote the idea of diverting the promotional stream into the dumpster directly from the mailroom in order to achieve a hard reset of journalistic function in replacement of knee-jerk advertising and telegraphing.

By severing music journalism from the traditional promotional stream, the pipeline of daily and weekly stories tied to the publication schedules of the major and independent labels would be interrupted. Once done, there woudl be considerably less motivation to deliver news that grasps for trends and makes stupid claims or predictions based on an artist's or label's promotion -- which is the standard model of entertainment journalism now practiced.

They could then do more interesting things, like cover the twentysomething thief of the week, people gloating over the demise of the record industry, or the classic rock albums or singles most stolen by high-schoolers.

Never happen, though. Too disruptive.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

UNDER BLACK LEAVES: Incoherent nickname for Usama bin Laden alleged to show terror plot

"FBI's 'idiot dude' fails to boost US Navy terror emails" in today's edition of The Register continues DD's coverage of the criminal case being mounted against Hassan Abu-jihaad.

It is one of considerable effort, aimed at convicting a former Navy signalmen who still seems to be only guilty of loose, aggravating talk and extremely poor judgment in trivial matters.

Hassan Abu-jihaad was originally banged up for sending Babar Ahmad and Azzam Publications in England information on when his surface action group was transiting the Strait of Hormuz in 2001. Another alleged crime was buying a few Chechen jihadi videos and tipping the web company five dollars in overpayment.

These actions eventually resulted in Abu-jihaad's arrest and indictment in 2006 on charges of materially aiding terrorists and disclosing information said to be of use to terrorists. However, it has now become plain that the US government has been nursing its case against Abu-jihaad. It had started running surveillance on him in 2004, employing wiretapping and an informant. The government accumulated as much talk as possible, coming up with a thirty-three page list of excerpts which the prosecution has submitted for consideration as further evidence in advance of the defendant's trial.

Prior to the surveillance transcript's filing in the on-line US criminal court case index, the government leaked the document to newspaper reporters. The Los Angeles Times appeared to be one leak recipient, reporting that an FBI affidavit had Abu-jihaad praising Osama bin Laden and that a government official, who asked to remain anonymous, had promised more evidence against him was in hand.

The evidence in the actual transcript remains dodgy, although there is quite a bit of it. If the US government cannot get someone on quality, it is willing to flood one with volume, hoping the quantity will make up the difference. For instance, readers learn Hassan Abu-jihaad called Osama bin Laden "Under Black Leaves."

The picture that subsequently emerges, one the government is obviously keenly interested in painting, is that of Abu-jihaad as a man with contempt for his country, someone who reads seditious materials and tales of someone called "Juba," a sniper alleged to have learned his trade from a book sold by Amazon. Such things, while perhaps interesting to law enforcement, are not yet entirely illegal.

Read the entire analysis here. Links to the government's surveillance findings are included and readers are invited to have a look-see for themselves.