Thursday, February 26, 2009

PUNISH THE SCOFFLAW



As if to emphasize the broken and irrational nature of US life in 2009, note this month's exhibit, DD's $720.00 ticket for having an unbuckled seatbelt in Pasadena.

Punish the bad scofflaw!

Here's the story: Around Thanksgiving, your host was stopped at a stop sign. A police cruiser was turning into the street and the officer looked into my car as he went by. And my seat belt was not buckled. He turned the cruiser around, flagged me and wrote out a citation.

Now, there was no amount for the fine on the citation. And in the past, when I once received a speeding ticket, a citation was sent in the mail around a month later with an envelope and bill.

This time, no citation arrived until the yellow piece of paper with the $720.00 fine.

Surely that can't be right, said a couple of my friends. Just go down to the court house and someone will fix it.

Yeah, right. They haven't read the works of Franz Kafka, specifically, "Der Prozess," which is what life in the US resembles more often than not these days.

In "Der Prozess," or "The Trial," the protagonist, Josef K, is arrested and informed he has committed an unspecified crime against the state. The rest of it is a dreary slog through a bleak court system in which K futilely tries to find out what he has done. K eventually realizes his punishment is inevitable and the government executes him.

Well, anyway, you already know how this ends.

Your host goes to the Pasadena court house and gets in a long line of people lined up in a windowless hall, assembled to pay fines. One realizes it is a daily revenue stream and after about an hour, one comes to a window to have a talk through a plate of plexiglas. There is a gasp at the sum but nothing can be done.

The local government does not have to send out a bill informing the guilty of the amount of the fine and an envelope to pay it. That is merely a courtesy, one that is not always extended. If one does not get the bill, it is your duty to report to court by the date on the back of the original citation.

For an unbuckled seat belt infraction? Yes.

What is the original fine for an unbuckled seatbelt in Pasadena? A bit over ninety dollars, DD is informed.

Does no one think it is unreasonable to slap an extra six hundred dollars to this fine?

Silence. Then a brief pause, and DD is informed of a deal, which is also on the back of the original $720 ticket. If you pay right now (or seven days from the notice), California will take off three hundred dollars. If you don't, the Department of Motor Vehicles will revoke your license and it will go to collections.

Or, you can request a court date to see if a judge will knock down your fine. But the three hundred dollars off is a one time only deal.

And is there a guarantee that one won't have to pay even more if one requests a court date?

Silence.

There is nothing reasonable about fining someone $720.00 -- or even the reduced one-time-only deal of $420.00 -- for an unbuckled seatbelt infraction. In fact, it's the very definition of unreasonable and irrational. It's the consequence of someone deciding to arbitrarily punish a stranger very harshly for a trivial "crime."

However, when reading the daily newspaper, one reads of these types of exceptional and ridiculously mean punishments happening with surprising regularity. They are part of "Der Prozess."



Related:

"Der Prozess" in the Bay area: More extortion of funding through ticketing.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

DEPRESSION PROOF IN HANDCUFF USA



When Barack Obama spoke of creating jobs for a vision of a resurgent future America last night, he was trying to inspire hope in the face of the mass firings of at least a quarter of a million in January.

The President probably didn't mean lots of jobs in which you've been trained to handcuff a daily parade of others -- usually non-criminals, preferably smaller and weaker than us.

But, nevertheless, that's where the Depression-proofing is in the American job market. It's not a coincidence Yahoo was running an employment ad right next to the AP story on how many of us are going through mass dismissal.

Every week on ABC's Detention Cell Homeland Security USA, it's as clear as the nose on your face. In terms of seeing terrorists apprehended, this show is an unmitigated pail of fail. But if you want to see the bleak need for personnel to fill jobs in which an ocean of humanity is herded, questioned, searched, handcuffed, fined, detained, imprisoned or deported, it's a raging success. The sheer numbers of people being inspected, combined with the officious and merciless way our security protectors prosecute books of regulations and rules, ensures there will always be more work.

Last night's episode was mostly about fines, denying someone who was supposed to go on Larry King entry into the US (a coup for ABC!), and close-searching an old person on crutches.

First, the fines. The most spectacular was a soccer mom coming back over the Mexican border in her van, two children, and an illegal alien. Whack! Banged up for illegal smuggling. The homeland security worker explains this happens when some Americans who run short on cash come in contact with border-crossers flush with pay.

"I needed the money," the woman cries. Sorry, we have a fix for that in Handcuff-country. You get fined for $5,000. There's your personal bailout.

Didn't she get a break for immediately coming clean, whimpered the woman. After all, she had no criminal record. The break is you're not going to jail this time, it was said. She could have been transporting a terrorist. Oh, snap!

Also on was the twentysomething man who'd forgotten his mother had packed him a lunch. It was in his bag. The lunch had an orange in it. No smuggling an orange through the border. And when you go through customs, you sign a paper saying you've declared all your fruit and food. So, if you've forgotten something, and the homeland security person asks you if you've any undeclared food and you say, "No," that's fraud. Three hundred dollars, bud. Pay it on the spot, or it gets more expensive or they put you in jail, or something equally bad. Whack! Another scofflaw deterred in Handcuff-land. He'll never forget about a lunch in his bag again. It's as bad as drugs.

Also caught on camera, the Dutch man in from Amsterdam, who failed to disclose he'd been convicted of drug possession in Holland twenty years ago. He was supposed to be on Larry King for something, but homeland security hung him out to dry at the airport while they went through some giant criminal database to see if he was actually telling the truth, that he'd served his time and been clean for two decades. Yes, he was telling the truth. No, he was refused entry because he did fraud when he filled out the paperwork. Go back to Holland and get an entry visa, he was told. "I just want to go home," the man said. But they wouldn't let him go until all the fingers had been printed and the paperwork processed. The show's producers added the man applied for a visa to come back to the US once home in Amsterdam. His visa application was denied, an artful touch.

There was also the search of the old white man on crutches and his prosthetic leg. Might have a bomb in that, you never know.

Then there was the Mexican-looking young man who spoke like a Mexican walking across the border crossing in San Ysidro without identification. He said he was an American and that's what he was. But because he looked Mexican -- and absolutely no Americans look or sound like Mexicans in southern California (that's sarcasm) -- he was detained until it could be confirmed who he was. Don't ever visit family again without your papers! We'll detain you even longer.

There you have it. A future of rock solid depression-proof employment. You need no expensive college education. You just need a disposition which enjoys, or is at least mostly indifferent to, locking up, handcuffing, searching and fining a lot of people who usually aren't criminals. Whatever quality of mercy your character might possess should be very strained.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

TALIBAN MORE EFFECTIVE THAN PREDATOR DRONES: Proven by science




The key line in the above photocopy: "More than 200 hundred girls schools in Swat were burned down or bombed in the last year."

On Sunday, DD invited readers to follow the senseless game of Boom! It's the robotic contest of death from above, one which accomplishes nothing visible except to enlarge the profits of General Atomics, a company bankrolled entirely by the US taxpayer. Its CEO's motto, a priceless nugget, one to include in any inspirational business management book on how to make friends and influence people: "The bottom line is using science and technology to improve the human condition . . ."

The human condition has been improved so much through science and technology in Pakistan.

Boom! Pakistan lets nuclear proliferator AQ Khan go free. Boom! No Predators were directed to AQ Khan's house, an easy target. Boom! Two hundred girl schools are burned down in Pakistan because Predators have done such a great job against the Taliban.

Now, let me be clear. DD considers Pakistan to be nothing but an overstuffed bag of dicks. There aren't many choices when it comes to that country. When it comes to dealing with it, you can only make a very bad decision or an even worse one, if you're the American president.

Pakistan's not fixable. It's the pits, one of the worst places on the planet. Worldwide polls show everyone believes this to be true. People who live there must be either stuck with no options or the stuff inside the dick bag.

However, unless you're mental, there's no avoiding the obvious: Using robots to randomly blow them up just doesn't work as well as the Taliban. Two hundred burned down girl schools is an unassailable and impeaching number. Geopolitical game over! Uncle Sam, even if he's flying around overhead, has been run off the court. Improving the world through science and technology, one explosion at a time, has let us down.

So it's time to practice like a good doctor. Do no more harm.

General Atomics received $924 million in federal contracts last year. That's almost three times what the Bush administration and Congress gave to the FDA mid-year 2008 to improve food safety. (It's about half of the entire FDA budget.) And then we got poisoned peanut butter.

The United States is fundamentally broken on many levels. This is one example. We live in a country that, if it were an equation, wouldn't balance. If you tried to pass it off on the blackboard, your professor would give you an F.

A nation that spends more money on a company that make things to incinerate handfuls of people on the other side of the globe (even if some of them are bad) than it spent to improve food safety is a country that has failed. Period.

Whether the administration of Barack Obama can fix it is an open question.

PS: Remember, tonight's the night for another episode of Holding Cell Homeland Security USA!
NAZI BOFFIN CROAKS AFTER GOOD RUN


Nazi 'not-Nazi Party' boffins laugh last and best.


But he was one of our Nazi boffins.

Your life's legacy can be a gentile upper class fiend's if you're a convenient one. "Konrad Dannenberg, 96, a German rocket scientist who was part of Wernher von Braun's team that helped put the first American astronauts on the moon, died Feb. 16 of natural causes at a Huntsville, Alabama, rehab center," reported the LA Times today.

Or, "Konrad Dannenberg, 96, a German rocket scientist who was part of Wernher von Braun's team that used Jewish concentration camp labor to build missiles for randomly blowing up civilians in London died Feb. 16 of natural causes at a Huntsville, Alabama, rehab center ..."

"During WW II, Dannenberg, who was not a member of the Nazi Party -- like many WW II-era not-members of the Nazi Party Germans who didn't really give a fig about Jews and undesirables being put down for the glory of the Reich as long as the missiles got built, left the battlefield to work on the V2 rocket... Dannenberg was also said to have contributed the line, 'Is it safe?' in the movie 'The Marathon Man,'" reported the Times. (Well, no, the newspaper didn't write about three quarters of that.)

He helped us beat the Commies in the space race. That's what it said.

Monday, February 23, 2009

FORTY YEARS OFF JUTLAND

The battle of Jutland on May 31, 1916, the largest battleship clash in history, has always drawn the attention of wargamers. If you're of the right age as well as bit of an eccentric in these matters, you may know Jutland was one of the original giant wargames. The sprawl and expanse of the battle, the number of ships, the tension and confusion of night engagements at close range as Jellicoe's destroyer screen collided with the rear of the German Navy's battleship line as it tried to escape being cornered at dawn -- surely elements to stir the blood of any fan of the history of naval combat.

Marketed by Avalon Hill of Baltimore, MD, in 1967, it was designed to be played on the floor. And it was Jim Dunnigan's first published game, one immediately followed with 1914, another early whack at the monster genre, one that invited the player to re-enact the Schlieffen Plan and subsequent deadlock on the western front. These sound intriguing -- but without a lot of processing and record-keeping (1914, for example, seemed to take a full day to set up), these games were only infrequently playable.

For the kids who bought Jutland, the main obstacle was the size of its North Sea battlefield. There's still no room in your house in 2009 with a floor large enough to play Jutland to actual scale. The battleship counters were about two inches long. (Now stay with me here -- DD is going to convert rapidly between inches and meters). And and if one equated that with battlecruiser Lion's length, a little over 200 meters, one arrives at a scale in which about five and a half meters of floor space -- the equivalent to 20,000 meters of separation -- are required for any theoretical recreation of the initial approaches to contact of David Beatty's Splendid Cats and Franz von Hipper's Scouting Group I.


Battlecruiser counters -- the Splendid
Cats -- from Avalon Hill's Jutland.


Jutland attempted to take this into consideration, shrinking its scale to accommodate US living rooms. "Each ship counter represents 2500 yards while it should, in reality, equal 750 yards (approximately 200 yards for the ship and the remainder for minimum interval between ships)," reads the manual. "This distorted scale, while it allows for play in a reasonably small area, such as the living room, presents ... problems when large numbers of ships are involved. Players can solve this by increasing the scale of play when unlimited playing surface is available ... Make a new range finder 5 feet long ..."

So with a mule's determination it was possible to re-enact the battle or, more often, segments of it. One recalls employing upside down golf tees as shell splashes for just that little bit extra in make believe.

However, by nature, unless Jutland was bought by a military school as a teaching aid, it probably never lent itself to frequent play anywhere. Finding like-minded partners willing to take it on was also a practical impediment. And this explains why used copies in relatively pristine condition occasionally come up for sale on eBay.

Naturally, the home computer is an ideal platform for Jutland. Still the game would not be suitably ported to it for another four decades even though game programming capable of the load was available in the early days of DOS. (DD will get to this in a moment.)

In the intervening period, a few strategy game companies would periodically reinvent Jutland, always on a scale which overcame the need for room.

Chief among these was Dreadnought, published by SPI in 1975. Dreadnought shrank its battleships to standard wargame counter size and made the ocean into a series of movable free-form hex maps. And it overcompensated for the diminished art and visual joy with an expanded set of ship chits encompassing the British, Japanese, US, German, French, Italian and Russian navies from 1906 to 1945. It could be played on the kitchen table but the serious wow factor which came with Avalon Hill's Jutland was absent. Practically speaking, it was a vanilla exercise in moving standard wargame counters and dice rolling. (For those obsessively immersed in the subject, other takes on vintage battleship engagements included SPI's publishing of "The Battle of Tsushima" in the Fall 1989 issue of Strategy & Tactics, a 100-ship counter "Jutland" furnished in the January 1991 issue of Command and the much more recent and better known Great War at Sea series by Avalanche.)

Fifteen years after Dreadnought, though, Raw Entertainment marketed a game with the artificial intelligence and record-keeping needed for battleship naval warfare. It was called Action Stations, and as abandonware you can have it for free these days. It was WW II only, however, a shame -- really -- because the computer opponent was merciless, the ship and ballistics modeling excellent. Graphics and interface, however, were plain DOS ANSI-style, immediately limiting its appeal. A couple years later SSI's Great Naval Battles V, now also abandonware, addressed Jutland and WW I. The latter is difficult to recommend. If one is feeling a bit generous, it could be described as having barely adequate graphics, primarily ships composed of wiggling blocks. The further away from it you were, or the smaller the screenshot, the better it looked. So if you could plan on playing the game four or five feet from the PC monitor...

Jutland's first modern treatment, one that actually took advantage of the PC's virtual space and capacity for data crunching was HPS's Jutland in 2005. The company used the game engine for Russo-Japanese naval battles, and one for engagements in the Pacific in WW II. These games have no eye candy. But Jutland, because the complexities of the entire battle when the Grand and High Seas fleet come together, can easily get away from the player, giving one plenty of challenge beyond pretty pictures. For what it delivers, the HPS design of the game is elegant and so its recreation of the battle seems convincing. Scheer's ships and shooting are qualitatively better than Jellicoe's; the British battlecruisers blow up with alarming alacrity. And it obviated the potential boredom of endlessly battling the AI by being also playable through a network connection.

Finally, this brings us to Storm Eagle Studio's Jutland, published just before the holidays as a download unlocked by registration after payment. It has Digital Rights Management implemented in such a way that it needs to call home every seven days. One either hates these types of these things and screams about the taking of tyrannical liberties with one's personal computing space or is indifferent to it. In terms of mechanics, it doesn't interfere with play.

The more interesting aspects of Storm Eagle's Jutland, though, are some decisions made with regards to making history come out about right. This was called design for effect back in the days of
Avalon Hill's Jutland and it mostly ensures players can't make the game play as a lunatic's version of history.

This has resulted in some finer interpretations of history in the game, stuff that wasn't possible with Avalon Hill's old analog model of the battle, particularly when it comes to gunnery and ship quality.

For instance, the gunnery of Beatty's battlecruiser squadron is infamously bad. DD is guessing it has taken the results from the battle of Dogger Bank. At Dogger Bank, Beatty seemingly fired on Hipper's fleeing squadron for about an hour without much effect other than the destruction of the Blucher and a magazine hit on the Seydlitz which almost sent her to the bottom but which did not alter her speed.

The other feature, almost immediately obvious, is that all the Grand Fleet's capital ships, not just Beatty's battlecruisers, can explode catastrophically. The developer explains this as a decision arrived at after reading John Campbell's "Jutland: An Analysis of the Fighting."

"Brit ships blew up due to the extremely volatile nature of their cordite, which basically would explode (as in very rapid combustion releasing vast quantities of high-pressure gas in an extremely short time) even when not contained within the breech of a gun," writes the developer.

"In effect, the pile of cordite in the magazine was analogous to the filling of a shell, and the hull of the ship was analogous to the shell's body, becoming fragments when the filling exploded ... This was in sharp contrast to the German propellant, which burned slower and did not release such huge amounts of high-pressure gas in such a short time. Thus, while German propellant would burn spectacularly, it was incapable of creating the over-pressures necessary to rip a ship to pieces."

Whether you go along with this reasoning or not is immaterial. If the player is admiral of the Grand Fleet, this means even the stoutest battleships, like Iron Duke, can suddenly go missing. In real life, the High Seas Fleet turned away from Jellicoe's main body as quickly as possible so we don't know if this was actually so.

It comes as a bit of a shock to find that Evan-Thomas's Fifth Battle Squadron of heavies isn't especially survivable and even more churlish that HMS Warspite, a fighting battleship that inspired one of the classic books of naval literature could likely go to the bottom while stuck in front of the oncoming High Seas Fleet. In the real world, it survived and went on to give the German and Italian navies quite a hard time in World War II.

"Had the Brit [battleships] ever come under effective fire, some of them certainly would have blown up, too," concludes the developer.

In the full Jutland engagements included with the game, if one doesn't pause the action, the exchanges easily run over the armchair commander. The developer says most players have to use pause in the major engagements, but since it plays out on a real time scale, it's cheating a little to do that. You have to rely on your computerized staff a bit and they aren't always up to perfection. In any case, call it the confusion resulting from close action between many units, a reasonable demonstration that the game's a reliable recreation and that the average player's not up to the battle management skills of Jellicoe or Scheer.

But you might be a Robert Arbuthnot, the commander of the Grand Fleet's armored cruiser squadron, a man regarded berserk, because he threw away his life and those of his men in a crazy final command to rush suicidally into the teeth of the High Seas Fleet, endangering the unfolding and planned disposition of his admiral's ships.

If you play Storm Eagle's Jutland, that happens a lot.


Hipper's flagship, Lutzow, listing to
starboard in Storm Eagle's Jutland.




Related:

How badly could you mess up Jutland?

DD's philosophical take on decades of monster wargames.

Monster wargame Monday. Is your host afflicted by obsession?

Sunday, February 22, 2009

THE TURNER HEEVAHAVAS



"I think extensions of McCain-Feingold, extensions of -- if there are some political speeches that is OK and other speeches isn't, and it's the government that gets to decide which is which. So, if we start seeing as we've seen stimulus czars, regulatory czars, if we start seeing speech czars, we're down the road to a real dictatorship."

It's hard to surprise DD when it comes paranoid fearmongering in the US. However, Fox News has taken a run at it courtesy of Glenn Beck.

Beck's Friday show was devoted to the outside-the-box thinking of a bunch of nuts white guys now on the fringes of society (Gerald Celente, Tim Strong, Stephen Moore, Michael Scheuer, Ben Sherwood and someone named Thor. Really.)

For lack of a better term, call them Turner Heevahavas. The first part of the name is taken straight from the pre-eminent piece of hate conspiracy lit written in the US, "The Turner Diaries." In case you're unfamiliar with it, it's a feverish book on the catastrophic collapse of the United States, allegedly brought about by Jews, socialists, liberals, blacks and college professors. Christian white identity freedom fighters band together to fight the government, hang everyone on their enemies list, and destroy all tyranny with atomic bombs.

Put a nicer face on it and the tone, conspiracy thought and attitude of the Turner Diaries is now found in elements of the minority GOP right. More generally, one can find it daily on blogs of the ilk of the Southeast Pennsy Biblical Neo-Nazi. (Yes, my description is a joke. But not, as it increasingly turns out, a riotously funny one.)

However, "Faith and Survival -- Surviving the Unthinkable" was the title of Beck's show. Upon viewing the transcript, what any type of faith had to do with it is hard to fathom.

Having read this, already you're thinking, "Buy gold!" This is because US money is assumed to be about to fail by the catastrophists, a very Turner-esque line of thinking. It's now backed up by incessant television and newspaper ads to purchase as much of the precious metal as you can, or sell all the old jewelry you have, now. Before everything you have turns worthless and the poor are marching on your communities to take away your stuff, white people.

So, imagine it's five years from now.

"All the U.S. banks have been nationalized," posited Beck. "Unemployment is about between 12 percent and 20 percent. Dow is trading at 2,800. The real estate market has collapsed. Government and unions control most of the business, and America's credit rating has been downgraded."

You see where this going. Minorities will come for your stuff, white people.

"New York City looks like Mexico City," predicts some buffoon from an organization called the Trends Research Institute. "If you have money or they think you're going to have money, you're going to be a target for a kidnapping. We're going to see major cities look like Calcutta. There is going to be the homeless, panhandlers, hookers."

"Well, we allowed government to run away with itself," says someone from the Wall Street Journal. "We became consumed by debt, runaway government spending, credit rating that's just been crushed by the overwhelming amount of debt and taxation. And, you know, when you asked me about this doomsday scenario, you don't have to think about these wild thoughts. We've seen this happened to other countries. We've seen this happened to Mexico, Bolivia, Argentina, Zimbabwe, Russia, all consumed by government, all do-gooders ... "

Forgot to add the Weimar Republic.

Soon, there's someone you've never heard of from a think tank no one calls upon called the Ayn Rand Institute, imagining the suspension of free speech. Because the US will become a dictatorship and forbid people from speaking truth, like on Fox News.

Beck asks, "What -- tell me what life is like for the average person ... do we have the neighborhoods we're living in? Are we still living in our homes?"

No, of course not. The poor and bad have come to roam the land and seize your stuff. So the rich live in fortresses and the desperate are out in force.

And so, the "Bubba effect," comes into play. This reads like another much gentler and modern term for the manly salt-o-the-earth type survivalist militia-style heroes in "The Turner Diaries," although DD has his doubts whether Beck or any of his panelists have actually read the book.

"[The Bubba's will] be very conscious of who enters their own community and it's almost going to be a commune-based society, but they won't project that based on the fact that they want to project normalcy ..." says Tim Strong, a retired Army man.

The Bubba's will defend their communities and "[you] are not going to look like a bubba."

After awhile, the transcript escalates to a discussion of taxation and how white people -- Bubba's -- revolt.

"They know the Constitution," says Beck. "They know the writings of the founders, and they feel that the government, or they will in this scenario, and I think we're on this road - the government has betrayed the Constitution. And so they will see themselves as people who are standing up for the Constitution."

Long story short. Civil war. Bubba's against the tyrannical socialist government. Mostly like in "The Turner Diaries."

"If you believe this country was founded on divine providence like our founders did, you believe that freedom was important enough that God got personally involved," goes Beck near the end. "That's why this country was set up in a very specific way. Our rights and our liberties - they come to us from God, and then we lend them for protection to the government ... But if you believe in those ideals, it would make sense, at least to me, that God would give us some sort of an early warning system."

"But what I do know is what we did here tonight isn't crazy and you're not crazy to ponder [these possibilities]."

Well, yes, Glenn Beck and his panelists were bug nuts. And it's hard to imagine such a show as his running anywhere except on Fox, a network one can depend on not only to stand up for free speech but to fight against the dimming of the light as well as the minorities, parasites, homos, socialists, liberals and president who want nothing but to overturn the American way of life.


Glenn Greenwald on same.
BOOM! THE EXCITING GAME

Using this link, you can keep up with "Boom!" -- the exciting national security game. Google News tab can be used to return weekly, daily or even hourly results of the US military's flying robot campaign of death from above in Pakistan and Afghanistan, whatever your jones. Boom! is a search and destroy game, finding people usually poorer and smaller than we are. Some of them are surely bad guys. A lot of them surely aren't, too. But you can't tell 'em apart in news stories, only that they've become scattered pieces in the great game of Boom!

Boom! Pakistan lets AQ Khan go free. Boom! The Taliban get permission to burn girl schools in the northern territories. Boom! Italy buys two Predator/Reaper drones from General Atomics. Boom! Do the Italians know something we don't? Boom! Where do they want to kill people? Did someone in northern Veneto make bad grappa? Or are they for a raid on Ethiopia to celebrate some memorial for Il Duce? Or is it just because the Italians want to play Boom! in Afghanistan, too?

Boom! has been very good to them

"In 2008, [General Atomics] received nearly $924 million in federal contracts, according to USASpending.gov, a government-sponsored database," reported Sign On San Diego.

Linden Blue, one of General Atomics' CEOs, once told a news agency: "The bottom line is using science and technology to improve the human condition, and there is a lot of opportunity there. . ."

That's so true.

Boom! Improving the human condition through science and technology, one explosion at a time.



In case you've been thinking the use of Predator drones to track poor people walking to the United States across the Sonoran Desert lacks balance, be advised they will now be used over Canada to track ... hmmm, well DD can't know everything. They'll watch for somebody, scofflaws, maybe litterbug campers.

"Famed for prowling the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq, a remote-control Predator aircraft took flight over the wheat fields of South Dakota yesterday, the first in a network of surveillance drones that could soon patrol the American border with Canada from Maine to Washington state," reported the Globe and Mail.

"While security-conscious politicians applauded the start of Predator flight operations along the largely unmonitored northern [Canadian] border, some border experts regard it as a mere public-relations exercise ... By 2010, however, U.S. border officials hope to see the $10.5-million unmanned aircraft monitoring both sides of the British Columbia border during the Winter Olympics."
NO SOLUTION IS THE SOLUTION

There are always many defenders of predator state action. And, relatively speaking, it hasn't taken them long to address Peanut Corp. of America, the FDA and what ought to be done about poisoned food. The solution is no solution. Leave it be.

With the case of the Wall Street Journal editorial page, being predatory is natural. It's opinion on the salmonella scandal is simple to grasp. It's only a little food-poisoning and let the markets take care of it.

Even more simply, it's OK for businesses to kill and sicken customers. Those acceptable losses will condemn a company to oblivion. No regulation necessary.

Except that's not really what has happened in the last two years. If you read yesterday's post, you know that during the last two years, predator state action by inaction ensured that the market never really got around to finishing off bad companies which killed and sickened people and pets.

A predator states doesn't allow change. It gets in the way of business. So this is exactly the policy the WSJ recommends.

"For any business thinking of cheating on quality to save a few bucks, here are some famous last words: Peanut Corporation of America," opines the Journal.

"Within weeks of linking the salmonella outbreak to contamination at its facilities, PCA's plants have shut down, its customers have fled, and the company has filed for bankruptcy protection. Civil lawsuits have been filed across the country."

This rather oversimplifies a complicated story. Apparently, PCA had been burying positive salmonella lab reports in its manufacturing for two years. And many of its "customers" didn't realize they were because they didn't actually know where the peanut ingredients in their products ultimately came from. And this is why the FDA is still going about the business of finding out what things still need to be removed from store shelves. Indeed, some of the companies with products included in the recall have gone out of business faster than Peanut Corp. because their sources of revenue were condemned.

"So much for cheating on product quality and getting away with it," claims the journal. "Yet such behavior is also the exception in the food industry, as the relatively rare examples of disease show," it continues equably, implying the fob that's now used whenever one of these scandals crops up: US food is the safest in the world!

Keep thinking that.

"But it's nuts to think any kind of reasonable inspection regime can make the food supply safer than it already is," jokes the journal. Ha-ha. It's nuts.

"Taxpayers can't afford to hire enough inspectors to guarantee the safety of the entire food chain. Meanwhile, such a regime will raise costs for law-abiding companies and consumers."

Translation: It's bad -- nuts -- for business to have food inspected more closely and for teeth to be put into regulations. But taxpayers can always afford to pay for more border guards, security men to put illegal immigrants in holding cells, and material and widgets for the war on terror.

"The best food-safety enforcement tool is the one now being wielded against PCA and [Stewart Parnell] in the form of corporate self-destruction ... Their fate ... will do more to enforce food safety standards than any army of inspectors."

OK! The lessons from the predator state recommender are twofold: If you're going to cut corners and abuse customers in search of profit, make sure you're poisoned stuff doesn't quite kill anyone. And the freedom of the predator state to carry on as usual is worth the theoretical sacrifice of businesses that occasionally kill people nationwide. (See here.)

The next no solution bit posed as a solution comes from Diana Furchtgott-Roth, an economist who was once a someone at the Dept. of Labor during the Bush administration but who now flits from one far-right think tank (the Manhattan Institute, the American Enterprise Institute, the Hudson Institute) to another. She has written numerous opinions for Reuters and the New York Sun, and they touch all the proper predator state bases.

Labor expert who's anti-labor. Check. Keep propping up the anti-union government toadies to us in Colombia. Check. Hey, there's no recession! Check. We must do away with the income tax. Check. Prays to the image of Grover Norquist. Check. Opposed to national health care reform. Check. (See here.)

Furchtgott-Roth's recommendations, like those of the WSJ, are simple.

"What can be done?" she asks.

Well, first, toss a relatively minor sum of money at FDA. $500 million. Compared to the money being tossed around in the stimulus and bailout packages to fix other failed institutions, it's virtually insignifcant.

The other is to turn the potential for poisoned food into a business opportunity, sort of like the war on terror has been for the government and private sector.

Although Furchtgott-Roth doesn't mention it, it's similar to the way a substantial part of the US Department of Homeland Security does its job. It is a conduit for the transfer of funds to businesses and operations which are claimed to furnish something, whether these somethings have any value or not, for the war on terror.

"Another alternative is to authorize private companies to inspect food, along the lines of Underwriters Laboratories for electrical appliances or kosher certification for food," she writes.

And we see how very well this might theoretically work with the example of Peanut Corp. of America. Positive lab tests for salmonella contamination discarded.

"Rather than inspecting food producers, the FDA would check that the independent organizations were doing a good job," wrote Furchtgott-Roth. Seriously. Here.




For an example of Unusual Babbling Poopery in column writing on national security business, see Las Vegas white lady goes to local terror fusion center show and is delighted.

Excerpts, nope, not manufactured:

"Of course, you must have faith in the competence of the people using [anti-terrorism] gadgets, and when Las Vegas police Detective Douglas Huffmaster showed off the equipment and enthusiastically explained what it could do, it was as comforting as macaroni and cheese."

"My favorite was the $60,000 gizmo that looked like a black boom box."

"And [the yellow gizmo] was not just for acts of terrorism. A woman with Alzheimer's had a suspicious container and wasn't sure what was in it. Turns out it was nitric acid, not something she should be holding onto."

"This center isn't just about boys and their toys."

"The center is about computers, people and gizmos. Not a water board in sight."

"I like '24' because it makes me feel safer ..."

"But the fusion center, the people and the gizmos, reassured me that when there's a shooting at Virginia Tech or bombings in Mumbai, India, there are talented and equipped people in Las Vegas looking for that Las Vegas link, if there is one."

"Next time I'm covering a big political event, I'll be looking around for the gizmos and people ..."

Saturday, February 21, 2009

PREDATOR STATE SECURITY 'FIXES'

The country which pursues security through predator state actions and initiatives gets very little done. A big noise is made when the public is endangered, opinions are written, congressional inquiries are convened, outrage expressed, and then it's on to the next crisis to be not dealt with.

And, so far, it has again been this way with Peanut Corp. of America and the salmonella outbreak.

"The Georgia peanut scandal is yet another warning that food inspection in this country is too fragmented and too lax," opined the LA Times newspaper. Now, you've made the required sound, roll over, time to go back to sleep for another six months.

And just in time comes another story, by the Associated Press, furnishing balance, claiming -- hey, wait just a minute, that Peanut Corp. of America guy is pretty swell.

"When the full story of Stewart Parnell and his company’s role in a nationwide salmonella outbreak is told, his friends said the story also will show him as a good businessman, a Bedford County dad and grandfather, and a caring man who never would hurt anyone," went the lead in the man's hometown newspaper, the Lynchburg News Advance.

An ex-employee told the wire news service Parnell was a great guy. "In fact, he sometimes charged less for products than he probably could have," it continued.

In the meantime, the news stream is littered with items about other companies making recalls or going under because their entire line of foods has been condemned as a result of buying from Peanut Corp. of America. Even tweeting critters have been whacked, Scott's Miracle-Gro, the manufacturer of lawn and garden products, announcing it was recalling a few of its varieties of wild bird food because they might have been made with salmonella-contaminated materials.

But how did this play out in 2007 when ChemNutra, an American company, and Menu Foods, a Canadian firm, supplied poisoned pet food in the North American market?

Pets died from kidney failure after they consumed melamine-tainted food. The melamine had been advertised as a protein powder on the AliBaba trading website by a Chinese company, whereupon it was put into pet food formulations, imported and resold through the ChemNutra/Menu Foods distribution collaboration. ChemNutra's CEOs were hauled before Congress, claims were made about insufficiency in regulation and inspection, and then almost nothing satisfying happened.

A few months later in 2008, a criminal indictment was made against ChemNutra and the Chinese company. However, the Chinese firm was long gone. As for ChemNutra, it still exists, and there's no mention of any of this -- or much of anything else -- on its website.

The US government attorney who filed the criminal indictment against ChemNutra, John F. Woods, resigned to take a position at a law firm on Wall Street.

"During Wood's tenure, the U.S. Attorney's Office of [Western Missouri] has brought some of the most important and complex cases in the history of the district," wrote the State News Service just a couple of days ago. "The office has been particularly active in areas of national concern, such as terrorism and national security, corporate crime, mortgage fraud, and consumer protection ... Under Wood's leadership, the office indicted two Chinese companies and their top executives for allegedly exporting tainted pet food ingredients to the United States, which resulted in the death and serious illness of countless pets. The office also indicted a Nevada-based corporation that purchased the tainted pet food components in China and imported them into the United States to sell to companies in the food industry. ( U.S. v. Xuzhou Anying Biologic Technology Development Co., et. al. and U.S. v. Chemnutra, et. al.)"

And a class action settlement resulting in a $24-million judgment was launched against ChemNutra, Menu Foods and a couple of other companies. Those who had a pet die or go to the vet while on poisoned pet food are entitled to a bit over $900/per animal in compensation. However, if you've missed this in the US news -- it hasn't been covered in any great detail after the initial scandal, and had a pet die, it's too late for you to get anything. Deadline for filing a complaint was January 27th.

"So far in the U.S., there are 22,518 claimants," reported the Ottawa Citizen in early January. "Less litigious Canadians are responsible for just 694 claims. Law firms that negotiated the deal will receive 25 per cent of the fund to cover their fees."

However, there is a snag. "[There] was an appeal of the settlement in the United States," continued the newspaper. "While we remain hopeful it will be dismissed, this will likely delay the processing of claims," said one attorney involved in the action.

About half a year later, Baxter International, a pharmaceutical company, found that its heparin drug was causing a variety of illnesses and even deaths. It had been cut with a substance designed to be a counterfeit in China. The FDA recalled the company's drug and it took a substantial charge -- $11 million against its profits -- in the first quarter of 2008. However, it remained in business and at the mid-year point reported sales up by about 13 percent although it appears to no longer be in the heparin business.

However, lawyers were looking toward filing suit against the company for negligent manufacturing practices.

"The fundamental problem is one of trust in the system," one lawyer told Michigan Lawyers Weekly in July of last year. "The regulatory system seems to be failing," the man added.

The lawyer told the publication " 'the pendulum is about to swing the other way' " in favor of more stringent FDA oversight in drug approval and manufacturing."

Well, no, that didn't happen.

Peanut Corp. of America is on the same track traveled during these two previous cases. It has filed for bankruptcy protection as lawyers gather to try and sue it out of existence.

On the other hand, while the US government has launched a criminal investigation, no charges have been handed down. Recall, that in the case of ChemNutra indictment, the case is still unresolved two years after the initial poisonings.

In the country where predator state security is the way of things, only external enemies get whacked.

Boom, killed another bunch of civilians with a Predator strike! Pakistan gives the Taliban permission to enforce Sharia law and burn down girl schools.

Spend! We need more bioterror defense! "In 2005, the UTSA South Texas Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases received a five-year $6.4 million grant to study tularemia" and advance the fight against bioterror reported a Texas business journal.

Anti-terrorism funding needed? We have 77 small business offers in the past thirty days alone, just for you, at fbo.gov.

Get the makers of poisoned food and drugs off the street, bulldoze their companies? Nah, too hard.
.

Friday, February 20, 2009

DOCUMENTARY ON HEEVAHAVA




Alexandra Pelosi's Right America: Feeling Wronged is now available for select view on HBO. Consider it a professional version of the home video, "Sidewalk to Nowhere," taken outside the Stabler Arena south of Bethlehem on the day of a McCain/Palin political rally back in October. (DD blog referenced the material here and here.)

In other words, it was a trip back to Pennsyltucky. Or, if you're not from southeastern Pennsy, some place -- anywhere but Austin -- in Texas, or Zanesville, Ohio, or ... well, you can place it.

Before the election, the US media couldn't get enough of the white heevahava. It led to an impression the election was going to be much closer than it actually was. So it comes as something of surprise to DD to read reviews aggravated over Pelosi's doc, coming from the same sources.

"[Pelosi] never - not once - gets beyond the Red State cliche," opines someone at Newsday. "I suppose all of us supposedly smug liberal East Coast media types are meant to find this parade of right-wing malcontents confirmation of our own biases. But it's not. It's just a parade. A numbing one at that."

At the Post, a political writer whined, "Dumb always has a market -- so long as something or somebody fries," continuing that Pelosi had merely concentrated on putting self-impeaching yahoos before the camera. However, one of the features of the documentary is the rock-like belief among said yahoos that they're a threatened species which are the backbone, steel and morality of the country.

But it was OK to treat yahoos as serious people, in a "numbing" quantity of news stories just a few months ago.

At the time, I wrote:
DD doesn't put much stock in outbursts furnished for color in current news coverage of the race. While it looks ugly, stupid and desperate -- ugly, stupid and desperate people are a dime a dozen in the US. Many of them vote. And perhaps many of them, as your host has reckoned before, while liking a good symbolic hate party, will be found face down and mumbling in some bar on election day rather than in the voting booth.

It's way too easy for reporters to record the spew of cranks and send it worldwide.


So by media standards, Pelosi's 45-minute helping of heevahava is brief, tame fare. And a couple months after the election, it strengthened my opinion that although the idiots and fools are an aggressive bunch and plentiful, a good number of them were probably facedown in a bar mumbling imprecations on election day. Certainly the white NASCAR power drunks in "Right America" were. And if you're a TV critic at Newsday, maybe it does seem too merciless or gratuitous to show some guy who mutters that he's thought a bad person in America because he's a white man who enjoys titty bars and beer, and then starts crying.

Me? I thought it was dry and funny. But I was tortured for years for living among 'em, so I don't mind seeing wings pulled off these flies. Since it's only a doc on HBO, it's not like they're being humiliated in primetime.

And at three-quarters of an hour, Pelosi's doc isn't too long. She wraps it up just as it goes over the top, with warnings about Barack Obama being the anti-Christ and young Dem voters called Hitler Jugend. One reasonable-looking man seems not to believe he's uttered the tripe the camera's just recorded and which the documentarian has rather gracefully called him on.

But "Right America" is still a humiliation. And there's value in that process, one in which viewers are reminded the GOP is stubbornly the exclusive club for the bunch.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

SPREAD THE FEAR SPEAKERS BUREAU

Security recommendations in the predator state are never complete without a weekly dose of what's about to make us die. The big daily newspaper opinion pages allow it wide circulation and there has never been a time since 9/11 when we've been free of it. If there is anyone who holds differing opinions, who might throw buckets of cold water on our wizards of terror prognostication, you can't find them.

On Sunday, the New York Times delivered John Arquilla, a "teacher of a special operations program at the Naval Postgraduate School [in Monterey]." Years ago, Arquilla used to be known for flogging information warfare as the wave of the future. Computer-armed enemies were going to be the new thing and smart cyberattackers were going to replace old-fashioned soldiers. There was to be a gloriously deadly future in which everything was transformed. Transform was the key word, and it's one beloved by people who apparently have careers teaching the military what it ought to be doing. Indeed, the New York Times op-ed page informs "[Arquilla] is the author of "Worst Enemy: The Reluctant Transformation of the American Military."

In science, there used to be an old use for transform. The Philosopher's Stone, an old apocryphal alchemist's tool, was alleged to be able to transform lead into gold. DD would argue that for the past decade, if you've ever seen or heard anyone use the word transformation, what's about to happen is that various things, maybe common sense and critical thinking, are about to be turned from gold into lead, symbolically speaking.

So you know where this is going. John Arquilla has never been right about anything. (See footnote.)

Naturally, such experts never see it that way. They just wiggle around their definitions and predictions until they fit whatever's current. In this way, they always have jobs while everyone else gets to be laid off.

In any case, in "The Coming Swarm" it is written: "Nightmare possibilities include synchronized [terrorist swarm] assaults on several shopping malls, high-rise office buildings or other places that have lots of people and relatively few exits. Another option would be to set loose half a dozen two-man sniper teams ... "

"For the defense of American cities against terrorist swarms, they key would be to use local police officers as the first line of defense ..."

Indeed, has the man never been to Los Angeles? Suffice to say, for years the LAPD has been shown on TV as a force which comes down fast and hard on armed (and even unarmed) trouble. However, one supposes if you're just teaching people who don't know any better, this may not be included in the discussion. As for terrorist swarms, DD wagers the average American will never be on the blunt force end of one.

And now the terror swarm has come to Afghanistan, Arquilla informs. "As President Obama looks to send more troops to that war, let's make sure the Pentagon does things the right way." By writing op-eds.

"Yes, the swarm will be heading our way, too." And we will probably die if no one takes my advice. He forgot to add that.

Across the continent, in the Sunday edition of the LA Times, readers had "Al Qaeda's Next Target," by GWBush speechwriter Marc A. Thiessen.

"We're bombarded with bad news -- the credit markets could freeze, millions more could lose their jobs," Thiessen writes. "But the danger we aren't hearing about could outweigh them all: the increased risk of a catastrophic terror attack."

One might add that it's also important to distinguish between stuff that's really happening, as opposed to potential things that might happen, made up hot but not so fresh by the professionals from the national spread-the-fear-we're-doing-this-because-we-want-to-save-lives speakers bureau.

And then there are several paragraphs of stuff everyone's heard hundreds of times. Osama bin Laden's opinion is that America is built on a foundation of a straw and he is always determined to attack us.

"All this means that this is no time for President Obama to begin dismantling the institutions President Bush put in place to keep us safe ... Obama needs to recognize that somewhere in the world, the terrorists are watching the economic turmoil in our country -- and planning an attack..."

Thiessen doesn't have to write, "Don't forget we must keep torture on the menu." That's understood.



Footnote:

Arquilla's prognostication used to revolve around making up catastrophic theoretical scenarios concerning cyberterrorism. He pursued this vigorously and you can read an example of serious rubbish, posited as a fictional cyberwar, here. Yeah, that sure all came true.

In May of 2000, he also wrote a piece called "Preparing for Cyberterrorism -- Badly" for the New Republic. Sold as a faculty member at the Naval Postgraduate School and a consultant to the Bland Corporation Rand, Arquilla maintained the US was wide open to "cybotage" by terrorists. He wrote about another fictional scenario, one in which the Secret Sword of Allah, an Islamic cyberattack force assaulted the homeland, beginning "with rolling power outages ... Next, an automated pipeline control near Valdez, Alaska, was manipulated to lower the temperature of the flowing oil, causing congealment, a burst pipe, and an environmental disaster ... the group hit our air-traffic-control system. Result: one midair collision over Los Angeles International Airport and several near misses."

Nine years ago, it was full steam ahead on cyberwar until -- in the same article -- Arquilla ran smack into the Gulf War virus hoax.

Even earlier, in 1991, a tech industry trade magazine had run an April Fool's story on a computer virus said to have been developed by the National Security Agency to down Iraqi air defenses. Quite naturally, a lot of people missed the April Fool's angle and in its spread by word of mouth, the story became real to people who really should have known better. And for a long time, the Gulf War virus hoax routinely showed up in books, magazines and op-ed pieces, used as a prop by various "experts" to show what cyberwar could do.

And here's a rundown of the legend and some who fell for it.

For the New Republic in 2000, Arquilla wrote: "Cyberwarfare can be used by one military against another. In the Gulf war, for example, the United States implanted viruses and made other computer intrusions into Iraqi air defenses."

Oof! This was almost a decade after the original appearance of the April Fool's joke.

"Cyberwar means disrupting the flow of information--principally through computer viruses that eat data or freeze up systems and logic bombs that force machines to try to do something they can't (like resolve the value of pi, a trick Mr. Spock once used to disable a computer on 'Star Trek')," wrote Arquilla.

Cyberwar then. Terror swarm now.

It's just a racket.

"So what, then, would an effective cyberdefense look like?" wondered the writer turned seer of the future, nine years ago.

"So how are swarms to be countered?" asked the opinion piece on Sunday.

Change a few words and descriptions to encompass the new-but-coming threat, cut and paste/cut and paste, and you're done!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

WEAK AND SMALL PEOPLE IN HOLDING CELLS USA

Tuesday's episode of Homeland Security USA on ABC was another successful show of stern American force. It's message: If you you aren't white, or can't speak English, are weak and small, or are from the Middle East -- we have holding cells and handcuffs ready for you. Or at least a kick in the pants and an admonishment to go away and never come back.

There was the obligatory segment of military hardware being used to track down poor people walking to America over the southern desert. Our military hardware -- the choppers, the night vision goggles, the infrared invisible pointing lasers, the ground-scanning radars -- really work good on them. Too bad they haven't worked so hot on that Osama bin Laden.

And then there were two Iraqis, who'd been living in Canada, coming in over the northern border in separate cars because ... the last time they'd tried to get in they'd been held for hours. These two men, who apparently had family members or friends already living in the USA, were detained. Because they were from Iraq and could be terrorists. You know they just don't like us in Iraq too much.

But it wasn't possible for the guards to prove the Iraqis were terrorists, only that some giant database said they had family members associated with terrorism. Everyone in Iraq probably knows a terrorist.

So the Iraqis were thought associates of terror. And sent back to Canada. Here, Canada! Take these associate terrorists, please! And one was forbidden to ever come to the United States again. Go away, associate of terror!

There was a crying woman who didn't speak English (and her child) handcuffed to a stanchion. Her baby wasn't cuffed. They probably wouldn't fit and it might look bad on TV.

There was one white kid, a student from MIT, determined to prove he could get through airport security in Pittsburgh without an ID. He wasn't put in a holding cell for hours or handcuffed. His pockets, however, were searched and gendarmes found his wallet with a driver's license in it. Actually, the kid appeared to have given his wallet to the officers. They sure make 'em bright at MIT. You know nobody's going to give him a tenure track job at Terror U. after he graduates.

No episode of Handcuff USA is complete without showing lots of hapless Mexicans, preferably small and weak-looking. The weakest and small Mexicans this week were two young friends on a shopping tour bus caught at the border. They were taken off the bus and put in a holding cell, along with a lot of other weak and small people who didn't speak English. They had bought a forged visiting shopper's day trip card (there apparently is such a thing). The weak and small guys, both named "Eric," were held for hours while whatever legitimate documentation they may have had was revoked. They were pretty good-natured about it. They got on TV!

Of course, there was a segment with an SUV full of marijuana being sniffed by a dog and then ripped open. Look at all the primo dope!

And then there was the mail room scanning machine guy, from Homeland Security, ripping open packages from Afghanistan because our soldiers like to send home cheap replicas of antique flintlock rifles. You know, the kind they used back around the time of the Revolutionary War. I think they were called blunderbusses.

You see, the Dept. of Homeland Security guy explained, terrorists might try to smuggle guns into the country from other places in the world. Because you know how hard it is to get guns in the United States of America.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

DEFENDING THE REICH



Your host enjoys computer wargames made by HPS Simulations. Even those which are the most massive and complicated, or which play imperfectly. And I don't really care if they come with or without lots of graphic detail and eye candy. I grew up on old Avalon Hill and SPI board wargames and they only infrequently (never, in SPI's case) furnished much visual pizazz.

Which brings us to this Sunday's offering, Defending the Reich, a simulation of Air Marshal Arthur Harris's nightbombing campaign against the Third Reich from the fall of 1943 to late spring of '44.

Since I can never find anyone who shares my enthusiasm for wargames of this nature (and HPS knows its patrons fall into this lonely category), DTR comes with a more than adequate AI opponent. So the buyer can play either the RAF or the German.

As the German, you're presented with managing the defense of the Reich over a critical period of months with the game split into weekly turns. Each turn, one receives resources called command points and employs them to spur research and development, augment production of upgraded nightfighters or bombers, as well as rest and refit wartorn fighter squadrons. Once the command points are doled out for each turn, the game shifts to a combat pulse in which the computer opponent launches bomber strikes against German cities. As the strikes unfold, the destinations and size are not initially clear from the radar and spotting network. This injects elements of confusion and chance into the game since the AI will use spoofing flights of Mosquito fighter-bombers to mask the arrival and destination of the main raid of heavy bombers.

The trick is to not expend one's squadrons on spoofing raids while at the same time mustering the defense so that the heavy bomber attack can be sufficiently worn down on the way to and from the target city. There is no stopping cities from being hit. But the idea is to wear down RAF efficiency and morale by imposing unacceptable casualty rates.

The AI opponent keeps you guessing with feints and varying attack strategies, flip-flopping between high value raids which go deep into Germany (which take time and can be attacked in detail) and strikes on cities near the border of the Reich. The latter arrive and depart too swiftly to be attacked by significant numbers of interceptors.

Research and development is key because it mimics the development of ground and air-based radar-and-emissions locating, a recreation of the historical fielding of measures and counter-measures by the warring nations. The game handles it as a bit of an abstraction but it is well described, works and seems sensible. If one doesn't spend treasure on R&D, preferring to use command points to simply repair damaged airfields and keep the interceptor force as strong in numbers as possible, one loses a technical edge and the global ability to achieve solid interceptions decreases.

If this sounds complicated, it's offset by the fact that the game is easy to get into and provides adjustable levels of difficulty from very easy to very hard. Sound files and short videos provide ambience as the combat pulse occurs. German language radio traffic is heard as nightfighter squadrons press home their attacks or cannot close with the enemy. Throughout, there is the sound of airplane motors, flak, raid sirens and cannon fire. The game is not a resource hog and plays without glitch.


Screenshot of combat phase in Defending the Reich. Cities which were the target of raids are in light orange, Chemnitz -- near the border of Czechoslovakia, and Mannheim in the Ruhr valley. Running combat reports scroll in a window at top center although they often go by too fast to absorb. This contributes to the fog of war feel in the game.

The result of the bombing campaign is graphed by the game. In this way, one's progress is measured against metrics involving loss rates, acres bombed, percentage of enemy force destroyed per raid, and sortie rates.



The graph shows the development of a decisive German victory achieved while playing at the level of very easy. Burnt orange is the loss rate for the RAF; the spikes toward the top of the chart show catastrophic numbers of shootdowns at the mid-point, followed by a regular decrease in British sorties (blue line) and acres destroyed per raid (little bomb markers). In this game, the loss rate averaged 16 percent per raid for the RAF by game end, although it started at much less. This was three times the historical average of about five, which was still considered a murderous casualty rate in the RAF during the war years, accounting for approximately 50,000 dead flying men.

Technically, if British bombing efficiency had trended the other way (which it was up until the midpoint of this particular game), the occasional firestorm can occur, burning out a German city. However, I've yet to see that happen. The game treats firestorms as a morale boost for the British, but an even greater inspiration for the Germans, who were hardened by them and inspired to strike back with ever more vigor.

Friday, February 13, 2009

DAMNED BY FAINT PRAISE


Yesterday's terrorist, still at large. Mr. President,
we've good intel this man is responsible for killing Americans
and want to launch a Predator drone strike ... (pause, sound
of shuffling papers) ... Oops, sorry, wrong briefing. Never
mind.


The next item is worth note because it's a natural consequence of a media that always needs to manufacture some sham of "balance" even if it takes a wild swing-and-miss at reality. There will be news stories and opinion pieces showing Stewart Parnell of Peanut Corp. as a good fellow, a pillar of the local community, perhaps a Rotarian or member of the Lion's Club. After all, he was a job provider. And he played a good game of football in high school. Could we find out if he had pets, maybe a beloved dog rescued from the pound?

From a local-to-Lynchburg, VA, news agency, seemingly derived from a local branch of the Associated Press, the following, which is brief enough to make one laugh:
"Friends and clients close to Peanut Corp. of America's chief executive say he's not a monster, just a person who has made mistakes.

"Stewart Parnell is telling those same friends and clients not to call, not to visit, not to do anything that might link them to the firestorm he's facing over the national national salmonella outbreak.

"Former neighbor and longtime friend Mark Borel says Parnell has always been a pillar of the Lynchburg community, upstanding and generous. Neighbor Nancy Weaver says Parnell is 'an amazing person.' Weaver says he's just being maligned and misunderstood.

"Michael Smith is purchasing manager for Stapleton-Spence Packing Co. in Gridley, California. Smith has bought peanuts from Parnell for years and describes him as 'one of the nicest guys in the world.' "

How many just misunderstood nice guys can you think of who know that salmonellosis is a serious disease and it's in their production run and who still make sure it gets out to the rest of the country? Not a trick question. Seriously.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

MOST FAMOUS TERRORIST: This week


Stewart Parnell, Peanut Corp., before Congress. Where
is his turban and beard? Where's his video found on the
Internets by our government, like all the rest of
those frightening guys from other countries shaking
their fingers and ranting in Arabic at the netcam?
Where are the experts from CSIS or Brookings saying
what a dangerous fellow he is? Where are our tough
lawmakers squeezing the truth from him? Talk, you!
His hometown newspaper said he was a good football
player in high school, though. Oh, where did it all
go so wrong?


"Level of food inspection should make everyone gag," stated an opinion piece from the Detroit Free Press today.

"First, spinach; then, jalapenos; next, tomatoes -- and on and on goes the list of tainted food products. Will it take an attack on apple pie before lawmakers accept and respond to the obvious need for more food inspectors?"

Good question. Hard to say from this man's national security standpoint. In the past, it's never made a difference. And that has to do, as discussed this week and many times before, with predator state action. In the predator state, nothing can be allowed to work for the public good because it gets in the way of commerce and business interests. The way of things has been for resources which could be spent on sensible stuff like boosting the manpower and budget of the FDA, to flow to other agencies for the meeting of external threats. And these external threats have often been manufactured expressly for the purpose of justifying and facilitating the flow of money from public coffers.

In the past week, DD has run down a sampling of the years of meretricious claims, emitted in waves by government officials, businessmen and think tank experts, babble that terrorists would attack the food supply. And funding flowed like water to fight agroterrorism. Like the FBI, which has had all its financial investigators turned over the war on terror when now an ocean of potential fraud cases await investigation in the US financial crisis, even the FDA has had some its resources diverted to fight the menace of Islamic terror.

But it has turned out more enemies have been in our midst.

"With additional resources, the [FDA] might have acted on the signs of trouble that now seem to have been so obvious, including 12 tests by a private company that showed the plant testing positive for salmonella," continued the Freep. "The errors in this case are gross enough to force a congressional review of the FDA, starting with an examination of current and backlogged investigations and a hard look at how the agency deploys inspectors, and gains that could be made with more inspectors in place ... Protecting peanuts should be a small piece of the Obama administration's plan to guard the nation's food supply."

It may seem convenient to beat up on the FDA. But, in truth, the agency has been strangled. As pointed out yesterday, agencies which actually serve the immediate public good have been allowed to atrophy for years. But agencies -- like the Dept. of Homeland Security -- which, incidentally, also awards contracts to those who would allegedly defend us from Islamic bio and agroterrorism, have ballooned.

"Oregon biopharmaceutical firm Siga Technologies hopes next year to receive federal approval to distribute a new smallpox antiviral treatment," reported a business pr sheet for the national security industry today.

"The company began work on the drug prior to 2001 and received an infusion of federal funding in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks. It has now received $100 million worth of contracts from Washington."

That funding is about half of the amount in supplemental extra money the Bush administration and Congress threw at the FDA midway through last year when another tainted food and drugs scandal was in the news. One can see, just by this example, that the system is totally out of whack. The executive and congressional branches have shown no serious interest in fixing stuff. On the other hand, it has always been fine to toss fairly significant money at trivial businesses engaged in research (which is almost of virtually zero value to average Americans) into drugs (which probably won't pan out) for a disease which has been eliminated in nature.

Smallpox only exists in the Russian and American labs but it has been an article of faith in the security structure that terrorists will someday get it. But this is the same national security complex which has been wrong about almost everything during the last decade. In any case, at least as long as DD has been on the scene.

"Smallpox has been eliminated from nature, but samples are retained for research purposes in Russia and the United States," continues the pr. "The disease -- which kills roughly 30 percent of those infected -- is considered a Category A bioterrorism threat, alongside easily transmitted killers such as anthrax and plague.

"A is for the really bad guys," the company's CEO said for the press release.

Potential smallpox, no! Terrorists might get it and we would all die!

Poisoned food and drugs every six months? OK!

It's fairly obvious that the United States is broken almost everywhere. This country just doesn't work. It still may look a bit shiny on the outside but inside it's sprung. Busticated! If America in 2009 was a complicated equation, it would be one that doesn't balance.

So it's going to be quite a task to fix it, one in which the outcome is far from certain.



If you have found DD blog's series on predator state security interesting and worthy, please recommend it to others. I intend to continue it, trying to do my small bit to explain how it is we've so thoroughly made the wheels come off and what might done to fix it.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

US BUSINESSMAN AS TERRORIST: Looking the other way in the predator state

Updated

In the predator state, the bad company led by bad men will literally poison the public. And they won't stop until people are killed. In the predator state system, still that's not even enough to get them dragged from the street.

A year ago Baxter International and another US company it did business with killed people by selling tainted heparin. Heparin is a necessary drug in US medicine and it used to be made here. But in the rush for profits, like many other US businesses, both companies subcontracted their formerly in-house work to China, where there were people willing and malicious enough to deliver a cheaper counterfeit substance, a derivative of chondroitin sulfate, used to mimic heparin. The counterfeit material sickened hundreds and killed a number of people outright. There were news stories and vows of reform. And then nothing happened; it was back to business as usual in the predator state. It was no time to get in the way of commerce!

Today readers have the spectacle of the house hearings in which Peanut Corporation of America's CEO, Stewart Parnell, is seen as willfully urging his employees to get his salmonella-laced peanuts out the door.

"[Parnell] gave instructions to nonetheless 'turn them loose' ... " reports the Atlanta Journal & Constitution. At the time, Parnell was engaged in finding a laboratory that wouldn't return a positive salmonella test, kind of like fishing through a high school bundle of failed exams, looking for the lone good one, the coincidental exception, that could be waved around to show what a diligent student you were.

However, despite making hundreds ill and killing a handful, Parnell's still on the street and the bulldozers haven't been called. Literally, months go by -- sometimes years -- and the US government just will not remove such people.

In the predator state, this is the way things work, or -- don't work.

In the predator state, it is important to look the other way, to pretend to be concerned, but to actually remain indifferent to such things as long as humanly possible. Because to take action would be to interfere with the business of predators, the making of profit at everyone else's expense.

In the predator state, it is critical that attention be diverted from real liabilities to the external menace, potential threats which can even be trumped up in the absence of proof that such things exist in a practical sense. In the case of tainted food and drugs, it has been the radical Islamists under Osama bin Laden who have been passed around as those who would easily poison and contaminate American food and drugs.

Terrorists might put botulism in milk, killing hundreds of thousands. (Read the takedown that had to be mounted to make that one go away, here.)

Terrorists might put anthrax in beef, rice or orange juice. (It was an American, an insider, working from a biodefense lab, who put anthrax in the mail, killing five. But only recently has research on dangerous agents been suspended at the lab where the insider, Bruce Ivins, worked so that the military-run disease house can be internally put in order.)

Osama bin Laden might even poison meals at school!

"Currently, authorities are looking at how a popular lunchroom staple, chicken nuggets, may be susceptible to tampering," wrote the USA Today a few years ago. "Federal officials have distributed a food safety checklist to school lunch providers, who must show evidence of a food safety plan..." (There's additional not so delicious irony in this one since a lot of Peanut Corp. of America's products wound up in foodstuffs sent to schools.)

There have even been countless seminars and security exhibitions on the dangers of terrorists who would attack our food, too. One called the Protect Our Food Expo even furnished PowerPoint slides for DD to put on the web.

"Agroterrorism -- #1 threat is bad news," claimed one such slide.

"Why agricultural targets?" explained another. "It's not about killing cows! [It's] an economic assault on our national security and infrastructure!"

"It's the economy stupid!" screamed yet another. The message was clear. Osama bin Laden, or maybe even some new guy akin to Saddam Hussein, was going to poison food, drugs and animals to kill Americans and damage the economy.

Paradoxically, here's the FDA announcing another public seminar, "Food Protection Workshop," this week. "The goal of this public workshop is to present information that will enable food facilities (such as farms, manufacturers, processors, distributors, retailers, and restaurants) to better comply with the regulations authorized by the Bioterrorism Act, and with food protection guidance, especially in light of growing concerns about food safety and defense," it informs. The agency emphasizes "FDA expects that participation in this public workshop will provide regulated industry with greater understanding of the regulatory and guidance perspectives on food protection and increase voluntary compliance and food defense awareness."

Haw! Haw! Hope for the regulated industry to voluntarily comply.

In the predator state, we're just passive observers to be stepped on, manipulated or ignored. Breathe in the vapors of fear. They will deaden you to what's going on in the repellent food processing company down the street in Blakey, GA, where the employees are so desperate for their jobs they're made complicit bootlickers even as the rotten stuff is moved out the door.

"James Griffin, a cook at [Peanut Corp in Blakey], recounted this simple rule: 'I never ate the peanut butter, and I wouldn't allow my kids to eat it,'" reported the Los Angeles Times last week.

Peanut Corporation's CEO was actually part of an advisory to panel to the US government on peanut quality standards, a position which he's finally been stripped of. This, of course, does nothing to help those who pursued real quality standards and good business practices in the peanut industry. They all get to enjoy the vile exhaust of the predator, because while he has killed people, had a couple of his plants closed and caused products to be taken from shelves and shunned, so has the business of his competitors been put in the trash. This is because it's just not possible, or even practical, for average Americans to keep track of lists of precisely what things with peanuts in them are rotten and which are safe. Better to not eat any of it.

The ugly truth is that if Parnell Stewart or any other of Peanut Corporation's lieutenants had been found to be toadies of Osama bin Laden, they'd have been pulled from their homes in orange suits and flexcuffs with bags over their heads, never to be seen again, weeks ago. But because they're American businessmen, just trying to make a profit, it has been virtually impossible to actually be rid of them in a satisfying manner. Various factories around the country continue to spew tainted peanuts up until the last minute when growing attention compels them to close.

Is there enough outrage to change this? From the historical book, the outcome isn't certain.

Recent history has shown that the most immediate and pressing threats to security and well-being in this country have been those of our making. Greed, an underlying avarice, has been a bigger motivation than terrorism although the end result has been terrorizing.

In the predator state, this is how it is. The agencies tasked with serving the public good have minute budgets, two or three billion, for the FDA. The agencies which serve as a conduit for the transfer of public funding and administrators to the private sector to protect us from the external threat with gadgets and services, like the Department of Homeland Security, are budget whales -- over fifty billion -- in comparison. It is, after all, so critically important to have more and more bioterrorism sensor networks installed around Washington, DC.

Why the difference in resource allocation in the predator state? It's simple, really.

An agency which has as a primary function the granting of funds to industry -- like the Dept. of Homeland Security -- gets a lot more dough than one which is seen as only supposed to be an overseer of American businesses through the watchdogging of food and drugs. Again and again Americans have witnessed the atrophy of the latter. While those which exist to lavish favors to American business, whether or not the grants and funds given out even secure things of value, get inflated to menacing proportion.

While Congress can allocate more resources to FDA and strengthen regulations for food inspection, nothing will change in the predator state until such problems are publicly recognized and addressed. There will always be more Peanut Corporations of America if, for example, an expansion in budget and resources comes with the usual bushel basket of appointees from industry and rules written from the inside of the businesses being watched by the watchdog. There will be no changes if no serious and quick punishments are enabled for those who defy regulation. There will be no change if the bad men aren't shown into the dungeon because, after all, American businesses are the best in the world and no one wants to impede them too much in this time of economic hurt.



The Terrorist takes the fifth

In the predator state, the bad businessman, the one who sickened hundreds, killed a handful and knowingly sent salmonella into the market as long as he could get away with it, can't be thrown in a hole and damned. He can only be excused from a congressional hearing.

But if your skin is dark and you're suspected of being an Islamic terrorist, you can be kidnapped, have a tranquilizing suppository put up your ass, be locked away forever without trial and tortured. Because you could kill us all!

That's how our predator state conducts daily business.

"Summoned by congressional subpoena, the owner of Peanut Corp. of America repeatedly invoked his right not to incriminate himself at the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing on the salmonella outbreak that has sickened some 600 people, may be linked to nine deaths — the latest reported in Ohio on Wednesday — and resulted in one of the largest product recalls of more than 1,900 items," reported AP a little while ago, rather predictably.

[Stewart Parnell] sat stiffly, his hands folded in his lap at the witness table, as Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., held up a clear jar of his company's products wrapped in crime-scene tape and asked if he would eat them."

"Shortly after Parnell's appearance, a lab tester told the panel that the company discovered salmonella at its Blakely, Ga., plant as far back as 2006," the wire service continued. "Food and Drug Administration officials told lawmakers more federal inspections could have helped prevent the outbreak ..."

"We appear to have a total systemic breakdown," said Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., in discovering the obvious, that when there's predator state action, nothing is allowed to work for the public good.

There is even more great health news, today, though!

"Human Genome Sciences has begun delivering 20,000 doses of its anthrax treatment to the U.S. Strategic National Stockpile under a deal worth at least $150 million," reports some US business promotional rag.

"We believe ABthrax [vaccine] offers a significant step forward in the treatment of inhalation anthrax and could play an important role in strengthening America's arsenal against bioterrorism," said H. Thomas Watkins, president and CEO of HGS.

"HGS expects to receive $165 million, with $150 million in the first half of 2009, with the balance to come upon Food and Drug Administration licensing of ABthrax."

Bruce Ivins killed five people with mailed anthrax. Peanut Corp. of America has killed four more people than that, so far, and made many many more ill.

And the business terrorist, the one who was on the committee to advise the government on quality stantards for peanuts? Well, he's dismissed from Congressional hearings because he won't talk.

And what do we do to bad people who won't talk? Rhetorical, obviously.




While unrelated, the next item is just one more flabbergasting example of immoral atrocious business in the predator state.

The story: Outsource jail to American businesses, then sentence teenagers guilty of trivial crimes to these jails. Putting kids in the klink for cash money -- in Pennsyltucky.

While a lynch mob might be seen as an appropriate response, one which also burns down the involved jailing businesses, in law and order Pennsy, a prison sentence for the involved jurists will have to do.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

WHAT IF KLAATU & GORT ATTACKED OUR COUNTRY FOR REAL?

"[The] national security community ... tends to maximize risk assessments," wrote Charles Duelfer, somewhat obviously in the New York Times in late December of last year. It was part of a parcel of opinions on what dangers the United States ought to fear in the new year. "Aerospace companies sell more weapons if the threat is judged to be increasing," Duelfer continued. "National security analysts don't get jobs if they say there is no danger."

Sadly, he's right. There's just no profit in not making stuff up.

Duelfer, in case readers have forgotten, was the final head of the Iraq Survey group. He got the job after the first guy came home, told the Bush administration what it didn't want to hear (in the Oliver Stone movie, W, this moment was called a "shit sandwich"), and resigned. Duelfer knows a lot about the practice of playing up danger and coming up empty.

The rest of the opinion piece was about fixing attention on the new menaces. Here in the US, the national security community always operates from the premise that it's always all about us -- as in America -- and the rest of the world is just something permanently nasty beyond the borders.

In Duelfer's case, the danger was an externalization of the financial meltdown. What if forces beyond our current ken, in foreign countries and terrorist groups, were moved to meddle in the economy?

"Presently, who would warn the White House if foreign entities made a concerted attack on our financial system?" asked Duelfer.

The answer would seem to be fairly obvious if you don't work directly within the national security community: No one can do as much harm to the economy as our own and when people tried to issue warnings in the primary example at hand, they were chased off as enemies of free markets and the securing of profit. So any talk of terrorists wielding financial weapons of mass destruction is putting the cart well before the horse.

But this doesn't matter in the US. Despite the baldly obvious that the most serious menaces to well-being have been internal (financial rapine, predator state practice, anthrax, poisoned drugs, poisoned food), it's still all about looking to make stuff up in our think tanks and officer training schools.

"The global financial meltdown is going to give our enemies new ideas to create economic havoc ... We don't have much time to plan our response," Duelfer's NYT piece concludes.

One of the challenges of the new administration will be filtering out such paranoid noise. It should entertain the idea that much less prognostication of this nature might be more than enough. However, since the production of it is the expert business of the Beltway national security apparatus, it's going to be a hard job, maybe impossible.

Which brings us right to this article's perfect teaching example for shaping and programming the noise filter, furnished by the Strategic Studies Institute of the US Army War College. (We're going to leave the author's name out of this discussion. If you're curious about the name of just another guy hacking out a line on his CV, follow the link.)

Entitled "Known Unknowns: Unconventional 'Strategic Shocks' In Defense Strategy Development," this future menace paper calls for increased analysis directed toward unexpected threats, operating under the amusing assumption that there might be a shortage of such thinking.

It takes its title from the utterances of from former Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld, who most sane people think of as a leader who regularly delivered annoying circular arguments and ceremonial mockings during press conferences. However, "Known Unknowns" takes this disgraced man seriously, so much so it uses one of his famous monologues as the linchpin of the discussion.

"As we know, there are known knowns," Rumsfeld once said. "There are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns. That is to say, we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns. The ones we don't know we don't know."

These types of things were eventually collected in a book of humor by Hart Seely entitled "Pieces of Intelligence:The Existential Poetry of Donald H. Rumsfeld." Since Rumsfeld's off-the-cuff sayings were refashioned as comedy, it's incongruous seeing a bit from the lot used as the opening footnote in an allegedly scholarly paper produced by the US Army.

The Pentagon, it is said, is always worried about the next "strategic shock" and 9/11is the paper's touchstone as the contemporary "strategic shock" to the US military.

As we know, it spawned the cliche that everything was changed.

What change occurred, in retrospect, was straightforward. Blinded by tragedy and rage, the US overreacted to a thunderbolt once-in-a-lifetime event which took it by surprise. Then it invaded and virtually destroyed a country that was not responsible for the attack, created gulags, and began torturing prisoners. This caused the trashing of its reputation worldwide. The US military was only the blunt force instrument used to do this and so the dealing with the consequences, which were and are political and sociological, were beyond its control.

Even the most mentally enfeebled now seem to understand this.

But since the paper is not designed as a political discussion, it doesn't get into it. Its purpose, as stated in the preamble, is to "check against excessive convention," underwriting "DoD relevance and resilience."

"Doing so is a prudent hedge against an uncertain and dangerous future," it is claimed.

The problem, which is stated repeatedly, is that we lack sufficient imagination. And the evaluation of possible shocks, one type of which is called the "Black Swan" (more on this in a footnote), is "uncovered, informally covered or inadequately covered ground..." What is created is "an analytical no man's land separating conventional events from highly incredible or speculative ones." Regular readers may see an opportunity for some hilarity amidst all the gnomic Zen wisdom.

A graphic is provided (not reproduced here), one showing the "no man's land" divide between "conventional contingency events" and the "highly speculative extreme that pushes the far boundaries of defense rationality." This far area is called "the extreme 'disruptive challenge' where the US military might find itself powerless against the technical advances of a capable state opponent with little or no strategic warning."

It's hard to imagine this last one since the US spends more on its military than the rest of the world's militaries combined, but DD will gamely try to frame it for readers who fail to see its merciless logic.



Let's call it the "The Day the Earth Stood Still" moment, although the Army doesn't (not to my knowledge, anyway) and it isn't specifically in the treatise entitled "Known Unknowns."

It goes like this: An alien, named Klaatu, comes to earth and lands in Central Park, accompanied by his weapon of mass destruction, Gort. The US military reacts poorly to the strategic shock, attempts to torture information out of Klaatu, who escapes and activates his technological advantage. Gort turns into a swarm of nano-machines which destroy the US military and begin to eat the United States. Klaatu changes his mind and creates a global electromagnetic pulse which halt the nano-machines but ends electronic civilization.

There's your theoretical instance of the US military "[finding] itself powerless against the technical advances of a capable state opponent with little or no strategic warning."

With implacable and irrefutable reason, "Known Unknowns" also informs that the next big defense threat "is likely to appear by purpose and design or accident..."

Echoing the poetry of Donald Rumsfeld, a universal expert named Thomas Crombie Schelling makes an appearance. More zen ensues: "There is a tendency in our planning to confuse the unfamiliar with the improbable. The contingency we have not considered seriously looks strange; what looks strange is thought improbable; what is improbable need not be considered seriously."

Future situations could also arise, the paper says, in which action by the US military to rectify a matter of national security could be viewed outside our borders as "illegitimate." In the homeland, a catastrophic natural disaster might occur. Or the rest of the world might just decide to thwart American interests by passively getting in the way and not doing the shit we tell it to.

You know no one's thought of stuff like that before!



1. The Black Swan -- you stupido -- is the invention of someone named Nassim Nicholas Taleb, possibly one of the smartest public intellectuals in the world. That is, other than the guy I mentioned last week who'd been quoted in every major newspaper and magazine as well as being consulted for the Don Cheadle movie, "Traitor," now on PayPerView.

Monday, February 09, 2009

PROVINCIAL OFFICIALS: Theirs or ours?

Today's piece of found humor comes from the LA Times A-section story, "Washington's Man in Tehran" by Borzou Daragahi. He may or may not have a wry and subversive sense of things. Or maybe he's just a perfectly unselfconscious tape-recording machine.

The Times piece was a profile of someone you've never heard of, Philippe Welti, a Swiss diplomat who does double duty as America's representative in Iran.

At the heart of the piece was a description of Welti's impressions of Iran and its people. And it speaks for itself, so DD has only added a few italic'd asides.

"But Welti's initial euphoria gave way to a more negative view of the nation as he gained a more thorough understanding of Iran's political and social system ... he came to believe the Islamic Republic was 'not at the level of its aspirations or its claims '... He saw mendacious officials manipulate public opinion and was disappointed by the cynicism of some top officials who rationalized away concerns about human rights and freedom of expression by labeling them 'Western concepts.'"

But wait, pot -- kettle -- black, it gets better.

"Welti was struck by the provincialism of the officials, many of them recent arrivals to the capital from rural backwaters ... 'I got the impression that there are officials who do not know the world well,'" the stateman told the Times reporter.

"He found himself frustrated with both the stubbornness of [the] conservative camp and the weakness of its reformists ... After a couple of years in [fill in the blank] and watching the transition from [fill in the blank] to [fill in the blank], he concluded that it would be tough to change America's Iran's foreign policies."

Friday, February 06, 2009

FEIGNING INTEREST IN FIXING THINGS: The way we 'work'

Readers surely have noticed DD's usage of "predator state security" in describing the system which has us in its tight grasp. I've taken it from James K. Galbraith's "The Predator State." It's a book that perfectly crystallized what's wrong with stuff.

Why does everything suck? Why is life in the US a regular exercise in avoiding scams, cheats and career or life-changing disasters beyond your control? Why does it seem like an endless commercial for buying a variety of insurances that don't insure, education which guarantees nothing, or blandishments to put all your gold and jewelry in an envelope to be sent to a complete stranger in return for promises of cash money?

Well, Galbraith's "The Predator State" has some answers. Briefly, it's because things have been fixed to be that way.

"But if the government is predatory," Galbraith writes, "then it too will fail in every substantial way. Government will not cope with global warming, or Hurricane Katrina ... or avian influenza or the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Nothing will work and nothing will be done about the fact that nothing works."

And so it is always antagonizing to read of the latest round of congressional hearings and subsequent news stories about the failure of the government to prevent or forestall the massive distribution of salmonella in peanut products.

It is merely the latest in a series of similar debacles which stretch back nearly two years when pets were poisoned nationwide by another massive distribution of made-deadly food. And after the furor over that subsided, another half a year or so went by until a respected American company, Baxter, sickened and killed kidney dialysis and surgery patients nationwide with poisoned heparin which had escaped the firm's control in its development of a better bottom line. (Nineteen people died because of bad heparin almost a year ago. That's eleven more deaths than in the current salmonella case and fourteen more than the anthrax mailer killed. Hearings were held. Nothing was done by the predator state. See here.)

Which brings us to the sickeningly familiar salmonella in peanuts event.

"The Agriculture Department on Thursday banned the company implicated in the nationwide contamination of peanut products from doing business with the federal government," reported the New York Times late last night. "At least eight people have died and hundreds have been sickened after eating tainted products."

Then the Times report reveals the predator state in action, the director of the banned company being part of a regulatory group to make sure peanuts are safe.

"The order, which affects the Peanut Corporation of America and a subsidiary, will remain in force for one year," read the Times report. "Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack also stripped the company’s chief executive of his seat on a board that advises the government on peanut quality standards."

By way of comparison, the Chinese government recently sentenced to death two people involved in the contamination of milk products with the adulterant known as melamine, an event which caused kidney stones in children in that country.

In another comparison, there have been three more deaths -- and many, many more cases of illness in the salmonella contamination -- that what occurred during the time of the anthrax mailings. And it is quite possible if Bruce Ivins had been brought to trial, the government would have sought the death penalty.

"David Shipman, an acting administrator at the Agriculture Department, said, 'The actions of Peanut Corp. of America indicate that the company lacks business integrity and business honesty, which seriously and directly hinders its ability to do business with the federal government.'”

And it killed people. Which is why it was banned for an entire year. That seems like a long enough time for causing some deaths, right?

In the predator state, congress gathers to vow reform, as it did half a year ago when there was another food scandal, and a few months before that -- when toys were found to be painted with lead. And reforms are promised and condemnations made. And then nothing happens except a few months later, quietly, waivers are made so that lead doesn't have to be removed from stuff right away because it would hinder business interests.

So perish forbid the government destroy the Peanut Corp. for the good of the public.

Instead, it becomes necessary to blame the FDA, an agency which was hung out to dry over the last eight years or so, presumably because it's more important to protect Americans from terrorism than -- uh, domestic companies poisoning them in pursuit of the bottom line. Even though it's internal threats which have been hosing us.

Point of comparison: budget request for US Department of Homeland Security -- $50.5 billion. Budget request for FDA FY 2008 -- $2.1 billion.

These figures are to make anyone with a shred of common sense laugh out loud. They make the FDA out to be something regarded as little but an annoying appendix to the US government, something that gets in the way of commerce. And those engaged in commerce can police themselves.

So when our congressmen and the president make a noise about failure at the FDA, they're not fixing stuff. They're just going about business as usual. And this is particularly disappointing from President Obama, a man elected because the citizenry wishes him to do away with predator state business practice, even though it may not immediately recognize the term.

"This week, Mr. Obama said his administration would thoroughly review the operations of the F.D.A. and complained that the agency had been slow responding to food safety problems," continued the New York Times.

So merely banning a company for a year isn't close to a remedy. When dealing with the consequences of predator state action, stronger medicine is called for. Like, for example, the immediate liquidation of the firm, criminal prosecutions and the permanent banishment of its leaders from doing business in the United States in perpetuity. In other words, a business death penalty.

And today, at the Los Angeles Times, it's Top of the Ticket blog carried the same script: The FDA is inept.

"Congress, tired of the FDA's bureaucratic ineptitude, is weighing in," the LAT blog reads.

"This week, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) fired the first salvo. Flanked by the Vermont mother of a 7-year-old boy who survived the recent salmonella outbreak and the Minnesota son of a 72-year-old woman who did not, DeLauro introduced the Food Safety Modernization Act, which threatens to shake up the cozy world of food regulation."

Keep in mind that only yesterday DD cited the budget increase congress threw at the FDA six months ago -- $275 million -- when another contamination was in the news.

Compare this ridiculous and miserly figure with the almost one trillion dollar expenditure in the stimulus package, monies also slated for improving the well-being of the country's infrastructure as well as its economy.

Compare it to this, another rib-tickler, from the Department of Homeland Security's budget page: "An increase of $442.4 million is requested in the President’s Budget to hire, train and equip 2,200 new Border Patrol Agents. The additional agents represent the fiscal 2009increment of the president’s goal of adding 6,000 new Border Patrol Agents by the end of the first quarter of fiscal year 2009."

Ho! Ho! Ho! Hilarious! The FDA must be inept! When it is revealed the head of Peanut Company of America was on a regulatory board that advises the government on peanut quality standards, never mind. Chastise and ridicule the FDA and its penny-ante budget, instead. Vow improvement! Swear before God that another Protect the Food and Drugs agency must be formed, one perhaps to be filled with appointees picked from the companies it's supposed to oversee.

Galbraith's "The Predator State" explains that the charges of ineptitude are typical of the system. "Failure [on this scale] is not due to incompetence," he writes. "Rather, it is intended. There is a willful indifference to the problems of competence."

In this case, the agency is not to blame. Instead, Congress has been indifferent to the problem. It has had way more than a year to do something. Instead, the record clearly shows it has emitted a great noise without actually doing anything to significantly increase the resources of the agency or food security. The Bush administration was indifferent, too. When pressured in mid-2008 to add some money to an already minor FDA budget, it offered a foolishly trivial sum, much less than what the Department of Homeland Security gets to just hire and train new border patrolmen alone. What the Obama administration chooses to do and what Congress will now approve remains to be seen.

What does it take to fix a thing when nothing works, when predator state action blocks every effort of reform, presenting the accomplishment of nothing but the continuation of the status quo as change?

"Dealing with this issue, in other words, is a race against time," warns Galbraith.



Predator state security -- from the archives.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

PREDATOR STATE SECURITY: Someone with a basic degree in biology could cause a threat to public health

"The problem is, as experts have testified before this subcommittee before, someone with a basic degree in biology could cause a threat to public health," claimed James R. Langevin, the chairman of the House Subcommittee on Emerging Threats, Cybersecurity and Science & Technology midway through last year. (See the full testimony at FAS's Secrecy Project here.)

Make no mistake, Mr. Langevin and his congressional colleagues are not your friends. They are not servants of the people. If someone in this pack were actually interested in the good of their citizens, they would have stood up and demanded Langevin be beaten bloody with a stick for making such an intelligence-insulting statement.

Yet such claims are the language of commerce in the predator state security system.

One simply cannot have funding diverted from public coffers into useless or self-serving projects unless one works a script designed to evoke fear, to get people to abandon common sense and critical thinking for the belief that one person with a bachelor's degree in biology could seriously threaten the health of the entire country.

Keep in mind this committee hearing was held just around the time Americans were getting a good dose of contaminated drugs (some life-threatening) and foods passing through the FDA because the Bush administration had strangled its funding prior to public outcry.

"If you paid attention to even a few of the congressional hearings this year in which Democrats begged, cajoled and bullied a reluctant FDA to accept more money for overseas inspections, you could be forgiven for wondering what galaxy you were in during a press call by the administration last night to unveil a new, improved FDA budget proposal," reported the Wall Street Journal about half a year ago.

"During the hastily announced call, HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt and FDA Commissioner Andrew von Eschenbach thanked the president, the administration, and each other for pushing for an additional $275 million for the agency, which has been under constant attack in Congress this year because of the disaster with contaminated heparin from China," continued the newspaper "For the first time, they said in plain, direct language that the agency needs more money than the president requested this year ... Recall that during testy House and Senate hearings, FDA officials, including von Eschenbach, resisted saying they needed a dime more than President Bush has proposed in his FY 2009 budget ... Why all the pussyfooting? The Bush administration’s Office of Management and Budget instituted a rule–see Section 22 of the snoozily named Circular A-11– forbidding government employees from criticizing or disagreeing with the president’s budget, and saying so to Congress. That’s why the FDA balked, and then daintily nosed towards asking for, but not actually asking for, more money this year."

Fast forward to today: "Lawmakers are looking into the national salmonella outbreak and vowing to press for stronger food safety laws and more money for inspections (through FDA)," reported AP, another half year having gone by.

Eight people have died from salmonella infections brought on by tainted peanuts. That's three more deaths than the anthrax mailings caused.

Our predator state takes us all for fools. Anthrax mailings brought about an immediate explosion in government funding to the private sector for defense against bioterrorism. Deaths by poisoning from bad heparin, lousy food or contaminated peanuts brings on hand-wringing, but admonishment that relief for real problems can't come too fast because, well, that costs money and the US is in a big downturn.

"But it remains unclear whether Congress can deliver major improvements in food safety this year, given the press of critical issues such as the shaky economy and a ballooning federal deficit," reports AP, so wisely.

"Congress is a slow-moving beast," adds another sage.

To reiterate: Massively distributed food poisoning is bad. But, still, let's not be hasty in building up the federal agency charged with nipping it in the bud because that would cost more money in 2009. We must act responsibly.

Which brings us back to the probing testimony from "IMPLEMENTING THE BIOSURVEILLANCE REQUIREMENTS OF THE 9/11 ACT."

If you've taken the time to read through it you've noticed it's not about anything productive. It's about how a large amount of effort and money has been poured into sensors and intelligence-sharing groups around Washington, DC, all for the sake of detecting terrorism by disease. And while a great deal of it is secret, it is known that the sensors don't work.

Readers care about public health. Good health is a part of personal security. People are keenly interested in whether or not they will receive adequate health care if they are thrown out of work. They don't care about disease plume sensor networks and bioterror intelligence-interpreting centers around DC. Instead, they wonder whether they will receive adequate or reasonable care even if they have a health plan. They would like the quality of mercy to not be so strained after experiencing it as regularly being so.

Take your host.

For the last five years, DD has had a chronic auto-immune disease in his hands, one which causes the skin around the knuckles of both to regularly crack open and bleed. It's not life-threatening but it is painful and it's obvious. As a result, my left hand often looks like a scabby claw.

A steroid drug controls it but DD's health plan won't pay for the drug. His illness is not catastrophic enough and the drug is considered cheap.

But it's not really cheap.

And after initial consultation with a doctor, it has become pointless to ask for additional help because the doctor is only interested in repeated visits, visits in which the same disease is seen and diagnosis rendered. And the health plan will not pay for that, either.

So, like many people in USA 2009, one makes the decision to endure it because there is simply no other practical option. One gets used to a certain amount of pain and disfigurement.

Imagine how distasteful it is, then, to read the testimony of congressmen pretending to defend the country from bioterror attacks which they claim could kill thousands!

"The Nation continues to face the risk of a major biological event that could cause catastrophic loss of human life, severe economic damages, and significant harm to our Nation's critical infrastructures and key resources," claims Robert Hooks, a deput assistant for weapons of mass destruction and biodefense at the Dept. of Homeland Security.

Man-made diseases which could kill thousands AND destroy bridges, railroads and hospitals!

In the face of the daunting task to make sure everyone has adequate and reasonable health case in this country, that's a pretty damn antagonizing thing to say!

The purpose of the hearing was not to improve public health but to make sure attention and funding continues to be paid to Project Biowatch and the National Biosurveillance Integration Center. And to grant an opportunity for a sales pitch.

To that end, a man whose company is directly tied to the health of the National Biosurveillance Integration Center was brought before the congressional committee to lead a cheer for his firm.

"My name is Dr. James Wilson, Chief Scientist and Chief Technical Officer of Veratect Corporation, a privately funded company with offices in Seattle, Chicago and Alexandria, Virginia," the man told the committee. "Empowering a world at risk," goes its motto. "Veratect looks to solve world health crisis," claims one venture capital p.r. blog.

And then Wilson went into a long exposition, one which can only described as extravagant bragging, informing his audience that Veratect had helped solve health problems all over the world -- from Ebola in Africa to the great tsunami -- and that it was about to help bring in a revolution in medical affairs.

"We stand at the threshold of a new era in public health, where we can detect and perhaps anticipate public health crises and disasters through Veratect's groundbreaking methodology and global partnerships," proclaimed Wilson.

"I have three closing comments that speak to where we go from here," Wilson told the congressional committee.

These all involved recommending the wider use of his firm through the Department of Homeland Security.

"Veratect provides a superset of capabilities, resources and global relationships with private and non-profit organizations that can be of the greatest value to [National Biosurveillance Integration Center] in meeting its mission," added the salesman.

"I would like to thank the visionaries in the Federal Government and Congress who supported the research and development that led us to this point ..." Wilson concluded.

And DD would like to thank the US health care system for helping to make sure his fingers always hurt and look like raw meat. It's not like it'll kill me.



Related:

Lethal heparin -- betrayed by American company, Baxter, which loses control of its supply chain for sake of extended profits.

Kidney stones, courtesy of Chinese-made melamine.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

HOLDING CELL USA: Dog crap ABC show fails in ratings

Whetting anticipation that it is building a case for cancellation, Homeland Security USA's lack of success among viewers contributed to ABC's poor ratings showing on Tuesday nights.

"ABC was a distant fourth with a 3.5/5, with The CW's 1.4/2 trailing," reported a ratings blog here.

Measuring the 18-49 viewer demographic, "American Idol" on Fox drew an audience of 26 million. A rerun of NCIS was second. "Officious Search USA" was fourth, behind NBC's "Biggest Loser," another odious reality TV show.

It's difficult for Detention USA to delve new and fresh depths of wretchedness each week. After all, how many cars or boxes or loops of intestine can be searched as part of the war on drugs before the routine gets stale? When does video of people handcuffed to office chairs or stanchions become cliche?

However, on Tuesday night it's creators gamely tried, trotting out a segment in which a white man in a wheelchair was harassed over a buzzing noise being emitted by a piece of luggage he hadn't yet picked up at baggage return. The camera crew shows the man in wheelchair awkwardly trying to open a suitcase in order to show our legion of protectors an accidentally switched-on vibrator.

Haw! Haw! What a laff riot! Look at that old cripple! Those terrorists'll never get anything past these guys!

Then it was off to another segment in which an American trucker was put in holding cell because illegal aliens were found riding on top of his big rig. While the truck driver did not know they were there, and the border police could not (sadly for show architects) arrest him, one warned the man that the incident would be attached to his name and put in a database, where it could come back to haunt him forever.

And you don't want to know about the ill-treated and subsequently destroyed small birds discovered stashed away in some Chinamen's bags. Everyone had to don hazmat suits and breathing filters for those.

DD repeats the call for the show's creator to be tied to a post and whipped for weaving destitute brown-skinned people who can't speak English (or an old white person in a wheel chair), detained in ugly airports or at border inspection points, into a blighted tapestry professing to show uniformed guards and process workers keeping us safe and free.

Homeland Security USA -- from the archives.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

A METAPHOR FOR PREDATOR STATE SECURITY: You can make ricin in the bathtub

On Sunday, the NY Times mag published a story with a succinct description of the US as a predator state in a story entitled "The Big Fix," humor at its title apparently unintentional.

The explanation of interest in attributed to dead economist Mancur Olson.

"In Olson's telling," the magazine writes, "successful countries give rise to interest groups that accumulate more and more influence over time. Eventually, the groups become powerful enough to win government favors, in the form of new laws or friendly regulators. These favors allow the groups to benefit at the expense of everyone else..."

While inexact, it can now be broadly applied to much of what is the daily business of the American national security industry, even down at the lowest or most trivial level.

Take, for instance, the development of a vaccine for ricin. Prior to 9/11, the scientist who developed it probably would not have been able to gin up much interest.

This is because NO ONE EVER DIES from ricin poisoning in the United States. It just doesn't happen. In the grand scheme of things, you're more likely to be stung to death by honey bees.

This changed post 9/11 because of the impression that all manner of poisons and exotic weapons of death were easy for terrorists to deploy.

Over five years ago, your host thoroughly examined the idea that one could make a WMD at home from ricin and pronounced it a joke. (See here, here, and here.)

For the sake of the war on terror, however, everyone was hectored into believing terrorists could easily make ricin at home. This myth-making has been so successful it has generated a steady stream of astonishingly stupid white American men to put in jail. And it has inspired a regular number of hoaxes in which mean-spirited people anonymously inform the public they are about to unleash a ricin murder spree.

Indeed, only recently Major General (ret) Donna Barbisch, an alleged expert on WMDs, claimed "You can make ricin in your bathtub."

This is patently not so but in today's predator state ecology, it's still OK -- even great -- to pose as an authority and tell people rubbish so they remain poorly informed about what it is you're really up to: Doing the daily duty of making up menaces so one appears a useful member of society and the career is not threatened.

It is good policy and good business to do this all the time.

So, in this way, we've been saddled with a ricin vaccine. In a manner of speaking, even if one admires the science of it, it's a form of upscale welfare for those who don't need it, one that generates no real jobs or benefit for standard Americans.

There is no and never will be a natural market for a ricin vaccine. The only people in the United States who occasionally actually may need a ricin vaccine are people who work with pure ricin and astonishingly stupid white men who can be always counted upon to fiddle with castor bean powder.

Ricin can theoretically be used to poison a person. And pure ricin can poison lab animals quite effectively. But since it is, more accurately, a potential tool of assassination or a thing for possibly poisoning someone in your family, a vaccine makes no sense at all. It's impossible to predict who such people may be ahead of time in order to protect them and a mass hazard just doesn't exist.

Last week, I devoted a post to explaining to writers of potential murder mysteries how a ricin maniac might actually get something that works, rather than ground up castor seeds only good enough to get them to jail. A ricin maniac would try to get it from a lab where they're testing ricin vaccines or just try to order it, posing as a scientist, from some place like here or here. (The latter made botox for criminals so perhaps they could be inveigled into making up some fresh pure ricin, too.)

But there are those writers who may want to think of their maniac as someone more technically adept. In this, they're a bit stuck because, repeat after DD, "You can't make ricin in the bathtub."

One way to deal with ricin is to look at it as part of the castor plant's protein content. Because there is not quite enough of it in castor beans (and it's just not quite toxic enough -- hard to believe, but true, relatively speaking), the castor plant has been fairly easy on humankind. For instance, it makes an attractive decorative plant.

So to get started, your maniac will want to mash the castor seeds and get rid of the castor oil. Pressing isn't a bad way to do it.

Assuming dry castor powder, you can get at the proteins in castor seeds in the same way you would get at the proteins in something more benign and common, like wheat germ.

In any case, the leftover mash can be suspended in a water buffer, in the cold, and swirled for some time. That would dissolve most of the undenatured protein in the castor mash, of which ricin would only be one part.

One would then remove the solid remains, of which there will be quite a bit, through high speed centrifugation or filtration.

Using centrifugation, the refuse will collect as a paste or pellets at the bottom of the spun containers. The liquor, which contains soluble protein from any plant seeds, like castor, is kept. So after centrifuging, one is left with a water buffer with your dissolved material, which potentially includes ricin.

Another common chemical compound, pure ammonium sulfate, can be used to precipitate proteins from solution. One adds the proper amount and sees the formation of a flocculent material in the buffer. Then it's back to the refrigerated centrifuge, for some spinning time in the cold.

What would be left would be a gross precipitate of the plant's proteins in a pellet or layer on the bottom of the centrifuged containers. The liquid is poured off and what remains is a mix of proteins, potentially including ricin, and some ammonium sulfate.

And that's about as far as one gets without DD going all scientific on you. It's not a purification, per se, but it is a start, and as an application of basic scientific techniques, it's a relatively significant improvement over just grinding castor seeds and throwing acetone on the powder. It's not orders of magnitude improvement in purification but it is a crude accumulation of plant proteins.

There are some fine details not included in such a general discussion.

Being scientific, for instance, requires one to pay attention to matters of denaturation and spoilage. What's nicely packaged for life in the field in a castor seed gets all undone when it's in a laboratory scheme. And there is the problem of determining the toxicity of the material so that one is, to paraphrase from "Blazing Saddles," not just jerking off. And there's some other stuff, too.

Is that making ricin in the bathtub? Uh-uh.

And could Islamo-Magyver do it? Maybe. The more important question is, "Would it make a useful weapon?" The answer to the first question is, yes, a group in Iraq tried it post-invasion and this was outlined in one of the final annexes of the report of the Iraq Survey Group.

The answer to the second was that, rather obviously, it didn't give them anything militarily interesting.