Thursday, December 31, 2009

AS THE YEAR ENDS

It wouldn't be the US this decade if the newspaper wasn't filled with the same kinds of spirit-sapping stories and evidence of fail right up until the bitter end.

In today's Los Angeles Times, the frontpage is taken up by one of the favorite US government/mainstream media memes from the war on terror: The pointing out of some al Qaeda boogeyman, sitting in the middle of a web of intrigue like Fu Manchu in the old Sax Rohmer paperbacks from my childhood.

In this case, its Anwar al-Alaki -- the Yemen-based cleric who's now supposed to be responsible for everything, including the airline bombing plot.

"Awlaki, 38, emerged as a subject of intense interest and concern to the US government after the Sept. 11 attacks, when authorities discovered he had been a spiritual leader of the hijackers while preaching at mosques in San Diego and the DC suburbs," reports the newspaper.

Always one step ahead of the US government, Awlaki moved to London, then Yemen.

"Since his release [from a stay in prison], he has used Yemen as a safe haven from which to build his Internet site into a popular global forum to spread jihadist rhetoric and encourage attacks on Western interests," the newspaper continues.

Consider, for a moment, this is the same newspaper which rushed into print a story yesterday about the fearsome al Qaeda bomb-in-the-rectum plot, the one that turned out to be not true. And which even your host stupidly believed was accurate for a couple hours.

The well-developed operating American script is one in which an arch boogeyman is pulling all the strings, connected worldwide to an army of jihadists moving to attack the US.

With Osama bin Laden, it turned out to be true. The irony of fail here is that the US government saw fit not to do what it had to do to get the man when it could. And now that it regularly names boogeymen -- all demonstrably not Osama bin Laden -- it doesn't matter even when they are eliminated by assassination or bombing in a Muslim country.

But perhaps there are even bits of truth buried in the story.

But past experience shows us that as time passes, Awlaki will just be, and has been, another convenient justification for assassinations and special operations in the Muslim world. And his death will doubtless be reported several times, as it has
at least once already
.

And he will pop up alive again and again until finally rubbed out, at which point there will be the usual stories indicating great victory. But the bombs will still be going off in Afghanistan and Pakistan and in the coming months or years some other Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab will creep onto an airplane with a bomb secreted in a fake eyeball or in some parcel or purse no one thought to look at until it was set on fire in a bathroom.

After this happens, there will be the usual recriminations, political posturings and investigations that show the information on the new Abmdulmutallab was in US databases all the time and that some new cleric boogeyman had been pulling strings from overseas.

So for paragraph after paragraph the LA Times reporter and his mostly anonymous sources spin the tail of Fu Manchu Awlaki, at one point calling in the war on terror's professional witness, Evan Kohlmann.

For the Times, the professional witness part is conveniently omitted even though it can no longer be ignored by any reasonable journalist, with Kohlmann rebranded as a "[US government] counter-terrorism consultant."

As the US (and often the UK's) professional witness, it has always been Kohlmann's job to link a current suspected terrorist -- in the dock or at large -- to worldwide jihad and calls to cause violence to Americans. If one needs an expert to connect all the Fu Manchu-like dots, Kohlmann is the man.

For example, back in 2005, when an English jury let the so-called London ricin gang go except for loner Kamel Bourgass, there was Kohlmann in Newsweek, informing the supposedly astute reporters Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball -- reporters who hadn't bothered to follow the trial -- that it had all gone wrong.

"This is very disturbing,” Kohlmann, billed as "a U.S. government consultant on international terror cases," told the reporters. " 'These are dangerous people who are followers of Abu Hamza,' the radical imam of London’s notorious Finsbury Mosque, which was a favored gathering place for Al Qaeda-linked extremists," continued Newsweek, working the guilt-by-association angle.

In reality, the debacle of the London ricin trial, the demonstration that there was not an al Qaeda poison ring, and the acquittals associated with it contributed greatly to growing public British skepticism concerning utterances about the war on terror from the US government. And the results of the trial, among other things, damaged Tony Blair's government in the public eye and harmed relationships with the US, particularly in regard to the war in Iraq -- which it had been used to support.

The LA Times reported today that Kohlmann had informed Awlaki had been issuing fatwas "endorsing attacks by al Qaeda in Yemen and playing a central role in its recruitment efforts, logistics, strategy and communications ... more recently, he said, Awlaki had been instrumental in negotiating alliances between the al Qaeda affiliate and powerful Yemeni tribes that protect it from crackdown."

Of course, it could all be true. Maybe Awlaki is an al Qaeda Fu Manchu, responsible for everything.

Or maybe it's just more of what everyone has grown dreadfully used to as the year draws to a close in a decade where the US's leadership and alleged achievements have been deemed failures. Another mostly baloney story.




War on terror is good for business but not you

The end of the year is also incomplete without the usual story in which it is shown how American technology will come to the rescue soon and that, this -- in turn, means dollars and good jobs.

"Firms in position to ride security wave,"
crowed the headline
on B1.

"Well before the botched Christmas Day bombing attempt ... a Torrance security company was moving to the front lines in the campaign to deploy advanced technology to thwart terrorist attacks," wrote Times reporter Hugo Martin.

One thing which has been a constant during the years since 9/11 is the constant bragging concerning technology said to be coming, or already arrived, from the private sector. And to DD's knowledge there is has never been any serious effort in the mainstream media to examine the years and years of promises and predictions and how -- dumbly -- it always seems to never quite be enough because of the ineradicable presence of human error.

Also a constant: The inability of US leaders to admit what they know to be true -- there is no technology to be had which can ever eradicate the threat. Stuff malfunctions, people make mistakes, the determined attacker develops work arounds.

"Some security experts believe the scanning devices could have detected the explosives that a Nigerian national allegedly strapped to his body ..." continued Martin.

"Rapiscan, a subsidiary of OSI Systems ... is one of several southern California companies born after the dramatic down-sizing of the areas aerospace industry over the last two decades. Those small companies mainly develop advanced systems that law enforcement and airline security agencies say are needed to ferret out weapons, explosives and other devices that may be used by terrorists."

"Rapiscan stands a good chance of winning more TSA contracts ..."

"For a company like Rapiscan, winning a contract would mean big revenues, said Michael Kim, an analyst for Imperial Capital in Los Angeles. Full body scanners for every gate in the country would generate up to $300 million in revenue."

Further on: "Terrorist attacks and the potential for more violence have catapulted the stock prices of technology security firms."

"OSI's stock has nearly doubled ... Though sales were off nearly 10 percent compared with a year earlier, said [OSI's founder and chairman]..."

Significant growth was expected, added the newspaper.

"Technology developed by Jet Propulsion Laboratory to detect abnormal levels of spores in spacecraft is being used by Universal Detection Technology of Beverly Hills to develop a device that can detect bioterrorism threats such as traces of anthrax and ricin," added the newspaper helpfully.

Ricin is not a spore and the newspaper did not explain how this would work. And the only anthrax spores came from the heart of the US biodefense research industry. This was not explained, either.




So on New Year's Eve, the evidence of renewal -- well, you just can't find it. It's just more of the same old grinding crap -- the al Qaeda boogeyman and terrorism being good for a segment of the American economy which, for the most part, adds very little, if any, value to the public good.

Unless one is deluded or a wishful thinker the outlook for improvement seems bleak.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

THE JOKER DID BETTER

Updated


Pros: Goes off on phone call. Cons: Maybe not good enough,
difficulty in finding sane or mentally stable mules. Discuss.


From today's Los Angeles Times:

"In an elaborate ruse, a bomber posing as a repentent extremist tried to assassinate Prince Muhammad bin Nayef, Saudi Arabia's security chief.

"Al Qaeda operative prepared an explosive device that was inserted into the rectum of the Saudi militant, who flew from Yemen to Jidda, Saudi Arabia to meet with the prince.

"He got through airport and palace security before the explosive was triggered by a call from Yemen, killing him but only wounding the prince.

"The explosive was PETN ..."


However, this very good in the story-telling sense story comes with the strong caveat, added after the post was put up this morning: It may not be ENTIRELY true.

Details discussed further in.

In any case, the Joker had his bomb sewn into a mentally ill man.

For this, and other instances of it in the news, Al Qaeda men allegedly combined the idea of a body cavity bomb with the Papillon 'plan.'

That dispenses with the potential for agonizing infection drawing attention to the bomber. In The Dark Knight the bomb mule, doubled over in pain, was ignored anyway and thrown in a cell until it was too late. A believable security lapse -- one the Joker counted on, The Dark Knight taking place -- as it does -- in the metropolitan United States.

Who's laughing now?

In September of this year, the New York Post thought it immensely funny that an assassin blew himself up with what it called the "butt bomb."

"There's a new al Qaeda terror technique that has American security experts pooping in their pants -- call it the 'butt bomb,'" it reported here.

"A suicide bomber recently put himself next to a member of the Saudi royal family, having outwitted bomb-detection machines in the palace, to set off an explosion using a charge that had been hidden in his rectum.

"The ass-assin, Abdullah Asieri, stashed a pound of explosives and a detonator inside his body in the attack on Prince Mohammed Bin Nayef, head of counterterrorism for the kingdom, the Arab TV network Al Arabiya reported."

"The technique has astonished security experts, who warn that the United States isn't equipped to prevent the gross new form of terrorism -- and worry such bombers could make it aboard aircraft and blow themselves up mid-flight ..."

As with much western news on terrorism, the story is always partly bogus, utterly so or wracked by officially delivered mythology, repeated at places like the Los Angeles Times, for example, because it seems so similar to the Christmas Day underwear bomb and it is sensational news.

In the end, (sorry, couldn't resist) keep in mind that the US media and government authorities never manage to sort it all out. So whether it's actually true or not becomes immaterial in the generation of subsequent directives and what important people believe to be true about terrorism.

However, Peter Bergen -- also a famous source who is no longer terribly reliable -- reported this in September:

"The would-be assassin of Saudi Arabia's Prince Mohammed bin Nayef hid his bomb in his underwear, apparently believing that cultural taboos would prevent a search in that part of his body, according to a Saudi government official close to the investigation.

"The prince was slightly injured when the bomb exploded in the August attack. Several news reports this week have said the assailant hid the bomb inside his rectum, but according to the Saudi official, the government assessment discounted those reports, based on various factors.

"Among them: When the bomb went off there was a flash of light, suggesting that the bomb was not hidden inside the assassin's body. Also, doctors consulted by the government judged that the toxicity of the plastic explosives would make them hard to hold for many hours inside the rectum, and the environment in this area of the body would make detonation 'difficult,' according to the Saudi official close to the investigation.

"The Saudis said they think the bomb weighed 100 grams and was made with a plastic explosive, to avoid detection by metal detectors through which the would-be assassin had to pass before he was allowed to meet with the prince.

"The official said the explosive was PETN ... The Saudis are exploring the possibility that the prince's assailant exploded the device using a detonator that used a chemical fuse, which would not be detected by a metal detector."

Bergen filed another story on December 27th, one apparently missed by the Times in its haste to run today's piece mentioned above. And the one mentioned here this morning because I, too, often stupidly believe things I read in a big daily newspaper.

Even though I know I shouldn't.

See the Bergen piece here.

As the Joker said: Why so serious? Let's put a smile on your face!




Official Dick Destiny No Prizes to the readers who can name the sci-fi TV show in which people were converted into fragmentation bombs this year and the movie in which Gary Sinise played an alien android who was a damn well-disguised small nuclear bomb.
THE DAILY DRIVEL (FROM THE NATION WITH NO COPING SKILLS)

Today's top laugh, reserved for an article in the on-line publication for those who like high-button intellectual discussion as mental air-freshener, Slate.

Behold, "Why do so many terrorists have engineering degrees Mommy?"

Here.

Never mind that quite a few don't, or that the latest -- Abdul Farouk Abdulmutallab -- isn't really an example of anything, other than a threadbare human resource who just so happens to have an alleged engineering education.

Anyway, as known to anyone who has ever attended college, some places will hand out degrees to even the most feeble among us just as long as they show up and pay cash.

Just look at all the not-engineers in cases DD has written about: the Zazi-dude here, Kamel Bourgass here, the guy who thought he was buying a truck bomb from the FBI here, the guy who wrote the Mujahideen Poisons Handbook here, Dhiren Barot here, and Hassan abu-Jihaad here -- for just a few examples.

In other words, depending on what newspaper database or collection of writings one consults, and how on defines terrorists, one can conclude many things about the nature of them, many things not absolutely guaranteed to be true.

It ain't science even though, in this case, it is pretending to be so.

Like "Why does all the terrorists go to engineering schools, Mommy?"

And then the journalist proceeds to answer his own question with a bunch of eloquent rationalizations, make-ups and other stuff designed to draw eyeballs and pass-arounds.

Success!

"In online postings, Abdulmutallab expressed concern over the conflict between his secular lifestyle and more extreme religious views," writes the Salon journalist.

"How should one put the balance right?" [Abdullmutallab] wrote.

"Terrorist organizations seem to have recognized this proclivity—in Abdulmutallab, obviously, but also among engineers in general."

Keep in mind, the Slate piece is not a dry humor column.

"Another possible explanation would be that engineers possess technical skills and architectural know-how that makes them attractive recruits for terrorist organizations," adds the Slate journo, Benjamin Popper, rather comically at some other point.

"In any case, their technical expertise may not be that useful, since most of the methods employed in terrorist attacks are rudimentary," he waffles.

DD would have never seen this 'cept for his buds at -- well, I can't print it but you can click it.

Those are some pretty girls!




Moving right along, another example of human frailty always present in the war on terror -- on both sides.

Another failed underwear bomber, this one before our current fun, but no recognition and notification -- until well after the fact. And because it was perhaps not aimed directly at us.

"A man tried to board a commercial airliner in Mogadishu last month carrying powdered chemicals, liquid and a syringe that could have caused an explosion in a case bearing chilling similarities to the terrorist plot to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner, officials told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

A Nairobi-based diplomat said the incident in Somalia is similar to the attempted attack on the Detroit-bound airliner on Christmas Day in that the Somali man had a syringe, a bag of powdered chemicals and liquid — tools similar to those used in the Detroit attack. The diplomat spoke on condition he not be identified because he isn't authorized to release the information.

"Barigye Bahoku, the spokesman for the African Union military force in Mogadishu, said the chemicals from the Somali suspect could have caused an explosion that would have caused air decompression inside the plane. However, Bahoku said he doesn't believe an explosion would have brought the plane down.

"The November incident garnered little attention before the Dec. 25 attack aboard a flight on final approach to Detroit. U.S. officials have now learned of the Somali case and are hastening to investigate any possible links between it and the Detroit attack, though no officials would speak on the record about the probe."


See here.

As said previously, the nation that always overreacts -- the one which behaves like a bully with a glass jaw nobly acting in protection of a schoolyard full of simpering children only guarantees more Abdullmutallabs.

"The head of a presidential delegation investigating the deaths of 10 people in eastern Afghanistan concluded Wednesday that civilians — including schoolchildren — were killed in an attack involving foreign troops, disputing NATO reports that the dead were insurgents," reported AP here.

"Asadullah Wafa, a senior adviser to President Hamid Karzai, told The Associated Press by telephone that eight schoolchildren between the ages of 12 and 14 were among the dead discovered in a village house in the Narang district of Kunar province ... A NATO official has said initial reports from troops involved in the fighting on Sunday indicated that those killed were insurgents — all young males.

"Several hundred Afghans protested the deaths Wednesday in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad and in the capital of Kabul. In Jalalabad, they burned President Barack Obama's effigy and an American flag, chanting 'death' to Obama and Karzai.

"In Kabul, protesters chanted, 'Unity, unity, death to the enemy of Islam!' and a protester with a bullhorn called on Obama to 'take your soldiers out of Afghanistan.'"

"The Obama administration needs to take a clear, tough line with Yemen: Take care of the terrorism problem within your borders so you are no longer a threat to the United States and our allies in the region, or allow the international community to come in and clean it up for you," from former national security adviser to George W. Bush, Fran Townsend, by way of Armchair Generalist here.

Yes, in a country where a teacher earns $200/month, we definitely need the Obama adminstration to armtwist that place into bombing its troublemakers even more.




Finally, from Sunday:

[Where was] the machine that looks through your clothes at your ugly buck-naked self that was always on the news a year ago?

It's taken two days to show up as the allegedly technological salvation for all things in underwear bombs.

It will now obscure your private parts! No, it's still an invasion of privacy and some European nations won't use it! But they must because it will detect underpants bombers.

"So which would you pick? For the record, my wife and I decided scanning was the less invasive option," argues someone at a publication called Reason.

But would they agree to a human-assisted anal cavity search or having a gas spectrometry prong inserted to sniff for explosives?

"Wide use of airport body scanners depends on Obama," informs Reuters.

See today's collection here.

Potentially on the horizon:

Book bombs since it is only a matter of time until someone in the government remembers where they used to hide squirt guns and contraband in high school, and bans all books from flights.

Colostomy and urostomy bags, too, offer some potential, even with millimeter wave scanning in place.

There is also the 'plan' filled with something or other. (See Papillon.)

And then there is always the surgically implanted Joker bomb.


Added bonus: Not dependent on expertise of screw-up terror recruit. Potential flaw: Minimizing or coming up with adequate explanation for metal signature of cellphone detonator.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

CHARRED UNDERWEAR BOMB



Having discussed this through the weekend and Monday, your host remains convinced that al Qaeda FAIL in underwear bombing is still due to a combination of factors, the most important being the jerry-bilt nature of the idea -- prone to fizzle, the inexperience and/or stupidity of the bomb-maker(s), coupled with the lack of capability or ignorance in the person trying to detonate it.

"The reason for no explosion, the acid which was meant to detonate the PETN, melted its syringe container," commented one news story today here.

"But it didn't make enough contact with the chemical for an explosion."

The picture indicates a char, something that looks like what happens when perhaps some concentrated sulphuric acid comes in contact with cloth and sugar, or a very small fire from a combination of the acid, a bit of sugar and a chlorate. (Noted by Irvine Engineer in yesterday's comments section.)



The above YouTube video illustrates the reaction.

It is not particularly impressive, obviously gives some warning time, and if you've scotched your materials by sitting on them for hours, or held your acid in a container through which it eats, you would make it even less effective. And it is not evidence of a wellspring of sophisticated creativity and capability.

The trick is to get the explosive to detonate, not char, fizzle or remain or be rendered inert by circumstances.



Which is what the US government is showing, a bit disingenuously, with this widely distributed photo sequence of a somewhat smaller quantity of PETN blowing apart a jet.

It is, unfortunately, delivered as a stock strap-down chicken test, the result of a professionally made charge worked-up by government experts, leaving out all the bugs and variables prone to creep in when one has an inferior plan for detonation, sits and sweats on one's materials for hourse, combines them stupidly, and/or stores them improperly. In other words, when a student conducts a chemical experiment for the first time without really knowing what he's doing.

That's actually a little bit of good news.

The bad news is that it might occasionally work. And that as long as the US overreacts, as it has done in this instance, it is assured that there will invariably be more Abdul Farouk Abdulmutallabs.

There is no amount of security procedure tightening or technology which can prevent a small number of them from getting onto airplanes around the world and in the US with jerry-bilt bombs sewn into their underwear or stuffed into various orifices. And with the human error present in the US, no amount of attention to names in databases will make a difference.

There will always be FAIL, not all the time, maybe not at the worst possible time, but some time. The big joke is that no one can admit the truth publicly and not be immediately chastized or sacked.

So some day, one of these guys will inevitably get lucky and a 'bomb' will actually go off.

The answer is not to be typically reflexive, to continue to do things as usual, to huff and puff on television for public consumption, to immediately instruct special forces to conduct reprisals in Yemen and step up assassinations in Afghanistan and Pakistan, to considering widening the war, to stick more of the fist into the Muslim world.

A good example of the best fools today are Congressmen Pete Hoekstra and Jim DeMint, of South Carolina.

“In the past six weeks, you’ve had the Fort Hood attack, the D.C. Five and now the attempted attack on the plane in Detroit ... and they all underscored the clear philosophical difference between the administration and us,” said Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.), the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee.

“I think Secretary Napolitano and the rest of the Obama administration view their role as law enforcement, first responders dealing with the aftermath of an attack,” Hoekstra said to some news organization. “And we believe in a forward-looking approach to stopping these attacks before they happen.”

DeMint added -- according to the news agency, channeling something seen on Fox: “Soft talk about engagement, closing Gitmo, these things are not going to appease the terrorists ... They’re going to keep coming after us, and we can’t have politics as usual in Washington, and I’m afraid that’s what we’ve got right now with airport security."

If there has been any appeasement observable by way of action in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, etc in the last year, you'd have been hard-pressed to see it.

Just the opposite.

One might conclude that any al Qaeda or jihadist plan, even a failed one, becomes a success when this country's political leadership exhibits the characteristics of an easily set-off bully possessed of a glass jaw.




Related:

Pete Hoekstra and his map of the United State of al Qaeda (some satire included), back in 2006.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

BRIEF COMMENTS ON LATEST JERRY-BILT AIRLINE INCENDIARY

Details are slim. Speculation reigns, even in update.

DD suspects it will literally boil down to the inability of al Qaeda or people inspired by them to get enough materials onto a flight.

With chemist's hat on, it's difficult to think up of any mixture of terrorist-available chemicals that would cause an explosion large enough to bring down an airplane, given limitations imposed after break-up of the London airline bomb plot.

While powders may also be attractive part of the mix because of their capacity for explosive ignition, one needs something to set them off, a sufficient amount and a device which scatters and starts the rapid oxidation of the charge efficiently enough so that it doesn't fizzle.

The broken up Brit airline bomber plan from years ago relied on a mix of powdered sport drink -- a citric acid/sugar mix material. DD can think of a number of powders, a few compounds and elements that will burn or explode but not how one could easily smuggle them onto airlines in sufficient amount -- absent screw-up at check in (which can always happen) -- now. Smoke -- sometimes choking, if the right compound or element is used -- and fire are possible.

That the individual involved merely succeeded in burning himself severely perhaps exposes the limit of what was doable -- a limited capability to either set oneself on fire or attempt to set oneself on fire, in order to cause panic and confusion.

Whether screening failure contributed may be offset by the limiting conditions imposed on bomb-maker beliefs on what actually can be put through screening. If one views the plot as some kind of ways and mean 'test,' which is certainly not certain but implied by some news stories, its still an unscientific and random proposition with relatively poor and weak choices in instruments.

The good news comes with the bad news: al Qaeda-imitating or directed terrorists resort to ever more desperate attempts even as most such attempts fail or are broken up before execution. This accelerated in 2009 in the US, most obviously as a simple and direct response to continued bombings, assassinations, and occupations carried out by the US in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen and other Muslim countries. It is a strategy of some small success because of the good potential for prompting overreactions from the US government, the consequences of which usually include more civlian deaths in the Muslim world.




Updated

Condom and/or underwear bomb FAIL. Not ingenious, but desparate

"Bomb materials had apparently been sewn into his underwear ..."

Here.

"According to a preliminary analysis by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the device contained PETN, also known as pentaerythritol, a highly explosive substance."

And here.

A high-ranking law enforcement official told CBS News that the suspect apparently used a syringe to inject a chemical into the powder, which was located near his groin. It is a technique not seen in previous attempted attacks and it's possible that this incident was a test of whether the materials could pass screening and how effective they might be at causing damage, the source said.

Here, too.

From a Nigerian newspaper, the Guardian:

"The would-be bomber reportedly started his journey from Nigeria . It doesn't matter that he was not detected at the Amsterdam Airport and that nobody suspected him while he was airborne in the Western airspace: more questions are likely to be raised about all flights emanating from Nigeria. For, at the heart of the Abdul Mutallab incident is both home and international security. We need not quibble over the Nigerian side of it: security at Nigerian airports is lax. Oftentimes the screening machines do not work. Airport security would go through your luggage with their dirty hands. Many of them don't even bother to wear gloves. I saw one guy inspecting one passenger's (I guess dirty) underwear, and then he was to go through my own bag, I quickly moved to another security personnel. Instead of using metal detectors, on many occasions, the officials frisk you with bare hands, pressing your pockets, with some of the mischievous ones trying to touch what they should not. An allegedly privileged child like Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab may not even need to go through security screening. Big men and their wives and children are often piloted through security; they could go straight to the tarmac to board the aircraft, depending on the scope of their influence. With the power of cash, anything can be taken onto an aircraft in Nigeria.

"The story is also not good for Islam. The would-be bomber being a Muslim further strengthens a growing suspicion and stereotype, and an established profile of the terrorist in the mind of the West: the terrorist as Al-Qaeda, the terrorist as
Muslim."


A country that loses its head or overreacts when something like a 'condom bomb' is deployed, successfully or not, is a country which has lost whatever war it is fighting.

On the flip side of the coin, when you're down to 'condom bombs' or related materials, you're just about out of resources and/or resourcefulness.

Contrary to what you'll probably read in opinion pieces in the coming days -- on the brilliant enterprise and adaptability of terror efforts.

Updated Monday

Too complicated for the jihadist, too prone to failure

If accurate, this news describes something that seems more complex than the carrier was capable of handling reliably. And that there was a decent likelihood of fizzle.

Many years ago, DD taught grads and undergrads in a variety of chemistry classes. When asked to slap some reaction demonstration together in the lab, even one reliably tested -- a standard to which this bomb-maker perhaps did not adhere -- they often were incapable of doing things correctly without over-the-shoulder guidance. And some not even then.

This is not a knock on such students but, rather, a comment on basic human capabilities when operating from inexperience.

"[Law enforcement men] say he tucked below his waist a small bag holding his potentially deadly concoction of liquid and powder explosive material.

"Law enforcement officials believed the suspect tried to ignite a two-part concoction of the high explosive PETN and possibly a glycol-based liquid explosive, setting off popping, smoke and some fire but no deadly detonation.

"An apparent malfunction in a device designed to detonate the PETN may have been all that saved the 278 passengers and the crew aboard Northwest Flight 253. No undercover air marshal was on board and passengers and crew subdued the suspect when he tried to set off the explosion. He succeeded only in starting a fire on himself.

"Security experts said airport 'puffer' machines that blow air on a passenger to collect and analyze residues would probably have detected the powder, as would bomb-sniffing dogs or a hands-on search using a swab. Most passengers in airports only go through magnetometers, which detect metal rather than explosives.

"Abdulmutallab was treated for burns and was released Sunday to a prison 50 miles outside of Detroit."

Note appearance in stock story from AP of the pooting machine, pictured below, the one that blows little farts of air into your cracks so that a quick mass spec can be done on the bomb hidden in your cleft.


The pooting machine.

Or, where was the zNose? Also much hyped around 2006.

Or the machine that looks through your clothes at your ugly buck-naked self that was always on the news a year ago?

The point that seems obvious, to me anyway, is that you can have the biggest industry in the world devoted to inventing all manner of rubbish and there's no way to eliminate human error and frailty from daily practice.

Of course, you do get a system which is designed to yell ever more loudly that technology and more stringent practices are the answers whenever the most ridiculous examples of humanity inevitably crawl through screens successfully, usually by lucky accident, less commonly through talent.

Of potential interest, from where I originally posted the image of the 'pooting machine' -- which was distributed by McClatchy and most have run in hundreds of newspapers back in 2006.

Excerpts:

“The raw materials to make this compound are available anywhere, in hardware stores, agricultural stores, pharmacies, supermarkets,” he said. “And they're really cheap. I have calculated that to bring down an airplane it will cost you, at retail prices, $35.”




"This is going to take funding,” said Sean Moore, vice president for sales and marketing at Irvine, Calif.-based HiEnergy Technologies, Inc.," wrote the St. Petersburg Times in its story, "Technology rushing to catch up with liquid bomb threat."

"Moore’s company has developed a scanner that bombards packages with neutrons to determine the molecular structure of the contents within. It reportedly can locate explosives in both solid and liquid form, but so far hasn’t been sold to any airports . . . 'We already have the capabilities. It’s just a matter of getting aligned with the right partners,' Moore said."





"A process called Nuclear Quadrupole Resonance scans people or objects with low-frequency radio waves to identify the molecular structure of a substance. The waves produce an echo that gives a signal for each chemical element . . . A suspicious target also can be bombarded with subatomic particles called neutrons. When a neutron strikes an atom, it gives off a distinctive gamma ray that identifies the atom," wrote McClatchy reporter. Just the thing for the barely high-school-educated airport workers cum nuclear resonance chemists to operate!




If you can make a bomb [and stuff it up your crotch and give the giant but weak-in-leadership nation a fainting spell], the defense, sophisticated in its elegance and simplicity, is furnished by Dick Destiny. Everyone has to take off their clothes and don a [smock] made of thin paper (or perhaps a bath robe), distributed before boarding, and which can be disposed of upon exiting the plane.




From here.

Keywords: Amsterdam, al Qaeda, Abdul Farouk Abdulmutallab, Detroit, Nigeria, Yemen

Thursday, December 24, 2009

AN AMUSING COMPARISON

THe script the Cult of Cybersecurity is now most in love with is simple: If we don't do something, like pay for more of our Booz Allen/Lockheed Martin/Raytheon etc cyberdefenders, cybergangs or China or Russia or someone will attack Wall Street, the US financial industry, and the economy will be maimed. And you'll lose all your money and treasure.

It's not said quite so bluntly but that's the favorite story.

Take this last news segment on the PBS Newshour a couple evenings ago.

Host: "And, in Washington today, President Obama named a new national cyber security coordinator. Howard Schmidt will oversee the government's efforts to secure its own computers and work with companies in the private sector.

"We look at all this now with James Lewis, director and senior fellow of the Technology and Public Policy Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies here in Washington.

"Welcome, James.

"Let's start with the attack -- the report of the attack on Citigroup. Not a lot of details we ... know here, but how common are attacks on financial institutions?"

James Lewis: "They're more frequent than you might think. Ten to 12 a year is one number I have heard, about in this range, you know, 10 million, maybe more, maybe a little less. So, this is not that unusual."

Host: "In this case, they're talking about, they're pointing to this Russian cyber gang. Now, what or who is that?"

James Lewis: "You know, the Russians have some tremendously skillful hackers, cryptographers, mathematicians, not a lot of work there for a while in Russia. And, so, a lot of them went into hacking. And the main reason you find them in the former Soviet Union is because it's a sanctuary. They're not going to be arrested. So, it's a beautiful crime, lots of money, no risk ... Every once in a while, one of them gets caught. The main rule you have to know if you're a hacker in Russia is don't take vacations in the West."

Ten million stolen off Citi. Serious business -- an attack on Wall Street initially reported by the WSJ.

There's some opportunity for pillory here.

So DD will just say that the line -- "The main rule you have to know if you're hacker in Russia is don't take vacations in the west" might be changed to read, "What, you hacked Citi and only got 10 million? Chickenfeed. They'll be laughin' about it over cocktails this weekend and how it'll be written off on the taxpayer."

Or how, if you put the news in front of a townhall meeting in a place like Pennsylvania, someone might stand up and say: "They deserved it!"

Now switch to Matt Taibbi, writing in Rolling Stone a week or so ago on the Citi bailout arranged by the Obama administration:

So on November 23rd, 2008, a deal is announced in which the government will bail out Rubin's messes at Citigroup with a massive buffet of taxpayer-funded cash and guarantees. It is a terrible deal for the government, almost universally panned by all serious economists, an outrage to anyone who pays taxes. Under the deal, the bank gets $20 billion in cash, on top of the $25 billion it had already received just weeks before as part of the Troubled Asset Relief Program. But that's just the appetizer. The government also agrees to charge taxpayers for up to $277 billion in losses on troubled Citi assets, many of them those toxic CDOs that Rubin had pushed Citi to invest in. No Citi executives are replaced, and few restrictions are placed on their compensation. It's the sweetheart deal of the century, putting generations of working-stiff taxpayers on the hook to pay off Bob Rubin's fuck-up-rich tenure at Citi.

There's no other way to say it: Barack Obama, a once-in-a-generation political talent whose graceful conquest of America's racial dragons en route to the White House inspired the entire world, has for some reason allowed his presidency to be hijacked by sniveling, low-rent shitheads.


See here.

We must save Wall Street from cyberattack or it'll savage the economy, warns the Cult of Cyberattack in the news, on 60 Minutes, everywhere.

Hee-hee.

Those Russian hacker gangs stole 10 million from Citi! As compared to the 300 some billion we've given Citi for directly screwing up the economy.

And that's the problem with the Cult of Cyberattack.

No proportion, no self-consciousness, only emphasis on how pressing it is that financial systems, the infrastructure, everything be protected from potentially massive attacks from cyberspace. Or something vague but terrible will happen to the economy, the lights and you.

Selected quotes from the Center for Strategic and International Studies report, "Securing Cyberspace for the 44th Presidency:"

"The immediate risk lies with the economy."

"As a result [of no coherent plan to secure cyberspace] there has been immense damage to the national interest."

"Depriving Americans of electricity, communications and financial services may not be enough to provide the margin of victory in a conflict, but it could damage our ability to respond and our will to resist."

"The simplest approach [to expanding the skilled cybersecurity workforce] would be to expand the scholarship for services National Science Foundation scholarship program that provides tuition and stipends ..."

See yesterday's post here on how the private sector poaches these workers as soon as it can so they can be leased back to government service for even higher rates. This is a plan with a solid future.

"Cybersecurity is among the most serious economic and national security challenges we face in the 21st century. Our investigations and interviews for this report made it clear ... this struggle does more real damage to the economic health ... of the United States than any other threat."

"It will be easy to be distracted ... both by the larger crisis the nation faces [that which cannot be named] and by the discussion of cybersecurity itself."

See here for the full report.




The Cult of Cybersecurity -- from the archives.

PBS Newshour hosts the Cult.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

CYBERSECURITY SCHWICK

Earlier today, J from Armchair Generalist pointed out a story on IT hiring at the Washington Post here.

It's worth reading because it explicitly shows what happens when the government loses control of oversight of cybersecurity functions to the corporate sector.

"The federal government is struggling to fill a growing demand for skilled computer-security workers, from technicians to policymakers, at a time when network attacks are rising in frequency and sophistication," write the Post's reporters.

"Demand is so intense that it has sparked a bidding war among agencies and contractors for a small pool of special talent: skilled technicians with security clearances. Their scarcity is driving up salaries, depriving agencies of skills, and in some cases affecting project quality, industry officials said.

"The crunch hits as the Pentagon is attempting to staff a new Cyber Command to fuse offensive and defensive computer-security missions and the Department of Homeland Security plans to expand its own 'cyber' force by up to 1,000 people in the next three years."

A few weeks ago DD talked about the phenomenon in which the corporate security industry had embarked on a push which involved filling the news media with stories on cyberthreats, most obviously using 60 Minutes and the public face of Booz Allen Hamilton's computer security business to notify the country that the financial sector was at risk.


One of the most famous salesmen-in-chiefs. Committed to hiring computer security specialists from the clutches of the government then leasing them back at premium rates.

The basic message is: Buy and lease our staffers, services, tactical and strategic advice. So the money supply isn't stolen and you're made poor and jobless, the economy destroyed.

In November, Northrop-Grumman, Raytheon and Lockheed-Martin all issued press releases related to the excellence of their cybersecurity business arms. And the need for employing them to protect the nation's infrastructure.

Those companies and others have moved aggressively to expand their leased services and employees into the US government. And what has happened, and what will continue to happen, is what it discussed in the Post article.

It is good business for these companies to snatch up as many candidates for computer security work within the government as possible. They can be offered a much better rate of pay than the government would offer indigenously and it's all written off on the taxpayer's back, anyway.

It's a predatory business model and it is just that simple.

"Even President Obama struggled to fill one critical position: Seven months after Obama pledged to name a national cyber-adviser, the White House announced Tuesday that Howard Schmidt, a former Bush administration official and Microsoft chief security officer, will lead the nation's efforts to better protect its critical computer networks," continued the Post.

And here's where DD departs from the gravity and import of the Post piece.

"The lack of trained defenders for these networks is leading to serious gaps in protection and significant losses of intelligence, national security experts said," added the Post.

Eh.

From the perspective of what matters to average Americans in terms of national security, that's rubbish. In the computer security arena there has never been an ability to measure how much intelligence/national treasure is lost or even how to properly and critically evaluate such things. There is no metric for it. It's all anecdotal and apocryphal myth-making.

However, one thing has been a constant over the past decade. When consulting national security experts with regards to cyberintrusions, the story is ALWAYS the same: Huge amounts of intelligence are always being 'lost.'

To see one older example on how repetitive this received wisdom is, see here and scroll down until you see the entries on 'Moonlight Maze.'

"One evening in May 2006, a U.S. embassy employee in East Asia clicked on an innocent-looking e-mail attachment that opened the door to the most significant cyberattack the State Department has yet faced, allowing attackers operating through computers in China to send malicious computer code into the department's networks in the region," the Post's journalists continue.

"State's cyber-emergency response team immediately went into action, working round-the-clock for two weeks to isolate the harmful code and craft a temporary patch that officials said prevented a massive data theft.

The department's response to the attack highlights how skills matter, experts said."

Yes, they do. But the assessment could just as easily be handled another way, as just another incident in which part of a spybot landed on a government computer.

For example, DD removed a copy of one of the Zeus/Zbot pieces of malware after it floated through his anti-virus software on Saturday. This took about ten minutes, not only to squash but also to upload to the vendor so that it might be detected at some point in the future. Yesterday, the software was finally updated to flag my test files.

The purpose of Zeus/Zbot is fundamentally the same as what was alleged to have happened to State computers. It steals banking credentials, credit cards, logons and installs hooks which allow the attacker to manipulate the infected PC remotely.

A rather homespun, if somewhat patience-trying, description of what Zbot can and has done is here on YouTube.

Typically, though, big or splashy news of government intrusions -- the best scare stories -- are now furnished almost entirely by vendors because vendors control the business of computer security in the US government.

" .... [Department]t technicians in 2006 were able to contain the attack quickly, said Alan Paller of the SANS Institute, who has analyzed the case for the Center for Strategic and International Studies," reported the Post, using a vendor of computer security services and seller of skills.

"Unlike State, most government agencies and private companies lack the skills and resources to muster a robust containment effort."

The underlying text is that Booz Allen Hamilton, SANS Institute, Raytheon, the McAfee's of the country, do have these capabilities.

"Two months after [an] intrusion, the Commerce Department detected a similar attack -- but only after a deputy undersecretary was unable to log on to his computer," continued the Post. "Contractor technicians were never able to identify the initial date of penetration into the computers of the Bureau of Industry and Security, which controls sensitive exports of technology that has both commercial and military uses.

"It took eight days once the attack was discovered for technicians to install a filter to prevent leaks, and then they installed the wrong kind of filter, said Paller [the vendor], sharing previously undisclosed findings about the incident ..."

When Howard Schmidt was appointed on Monday to be the Obama administration's new 'cybersecurity czar' he brought a lot of old history in such matters, none of it particularly impressive or wonderful. Most of it politely overlooked.

As noted by everyone in the mainstream media, including the Post, Schmidt used to be a face for Microsoft. Then he was joined at the hip to Richard Clarke in the Bush administration. Prior to 9/11 and his tell-all book on the war on terror, Richard Clarke was the face beside the gold-plated bullshit phrase "electronic Pearl Harbor" in Webster's dictionary.

This team, which included a few others, more or less 'produced' the National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace in 2002.

Basically, it was business-written rubbish. And during its initial draft unveiling, the name of Schmidt's old employer, Microsoft, was kept conspicuously out of the government conversation when that company was very aggressively being blamed for its entrenched computer security flaws. Windows, you see, was the problem which led to the quaint idea of a so-called National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace.

So the National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace accomplished nothing. It was filled with platitudes and weak suggestions about what ought to or should be done. The strategy, when it was being formulated, was seen as being potentially damaging to American big business and so it was made to be not so.

"The Information Technology Association of America (ITAA) praised the National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace released by the President's Critical Infrastructure Protection Board today," read one lobbyist's pr sheet back in 2002. The lobbyist, of course, liked it, as he contributed to its nothingness.

"ITAA President Harris N. Miller, representing the information technology industry at today's release ceremony in Palo Alto, Calif., said, 'We commend the Board for releasing the National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace and the work done to make sure that its recommendations are [politely ignored -- editor's addition] ..."

Miller -- as a key lobbyist -- was everpresent in the debate over what the National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace should be. And therefore he is granted some measure of credit for it being worthless.

Miller ran for political office in a primary campaign against Jim Webb in 2006 and lost, obviously.

His Wikipedia biography is pleasantly unflattering.

At this juncture, DD sees no reason why the Obama administration appointed Schmidt other than that no one else wanted the job, no one cared and he was in the Bush administration -- which might appease Republicans very slightly. It certainly is not because of the great achievement of the National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace, although it might be going out on a limb to totally rule out that that which was intelligence insulting and anile was repainted as fabulous.

It could be added that it might also be an indication the Obama administration really doesn't expect to do anything on the issue except infrequently emit some eyewash. Their appointee is a guy gamely used to very little, trusty enough not to bug business interests, very capable of putting on the good face at corporate security conventions and staying out of the way of the real political and policy battles the administration wishes to pursue in other areas, like energy/global warming, healthcare reform, re-regulating the financial sector, etc.

In such a vacuum it is fairly easy for corporate security vendors wishing to expand their leasing business to the US government to continue as usual. This means premium pricing for leased employees -- skills, advice which always benefits the business first, an always growing contracting presence, and the production and takeover of intelligence assessments for the benefit of the bottom line. It is the triumph of the market over, well, everything.

The buzzword -- you can tell -- is "skills." "Skills are much more important than hardware," the vendor whose business is selling "skills" told the Post.

The Post article concludes with another few examples of how the cybersecurity predator business model works. Don't worry, it's very American.

"[Some guy] earned a computer science masters degree in 2004 from Purdue University on an National Science Foundation scholarship," explained the newspaper. "In return, he spent two years at the National Security Agency, identifying novel security flaws in computer systems and software. Then Booz Allen Hamilton, a major intelligence contractor, hired him at a 45 percent pay raise.

"Today, [this guy] works for a small employee-owned firm that has federal government and private-sector contracts, and his pay is higher still. 'You can still do a lot of cool national-security-related work as a contractor,' said [the guy], chief security architect for [some security vendor] near the National Security Agency.

"The pay difference is so dramatic now ... you can't ignore it."

Cool.




Related: An Amusing Comparison. Russian hackers steal from banksters, it's reported.

Cult of Cybersecurity -- from the archives.
THE WAYBACK MACHINE GOES NIGHTCLUBBING

The Allentown Morning Call newspaper has apparently been moving a lot of its old analog copy to the web.

So today I repost two old pieces from a column I developed there called "Nightclubbing."

The idea was to go out to the dives and small venues of the Valley and tell it like one saw it in short entertaining vignettes, written for a readership that didn't necessarily give a hoot about popular music. The aim was to elicit a smile, a laugh or a flinch and a grimace over the weekend, to furnish people with a reason to anticipate its next installments.

While this doesn't seem like any kind of radical idea in 2009, at the Morning Call in the late Eighties -- it was. You must keep in mind it was a very conservative newspaper with timid editors who viewed their function as lickspittles for the local status quo inviolate. This had guaranteed the standard of news was such that the most terrible and trivial of local acts, as well as national stars, always got blowjobs.

Even slightly sarcastic tongue-in-cheek writing or reporting which tweaked the locals flew in the face of all that. Naturally, it generated a lot of phone calls and letters, even a petition to have me banned. Unsuccessful, I might add.

I did "Nightclubbing" as a free-lancer and once I'd moved on it was continued by a stable of others. I never actually thought even parts of it would get to the Internet.

Technically, since I never signed any contract giving them rights to the stuff in perpetuity, they probably owe me some money for reusing it. The same would go for every other free-lancer they employed in the Eighties and whose material they have now migrated to the web for the sake of framing with digital entertainment advertising.




Hard Rock, Hard Knocks At Vfw Christmas Party

December 16, 1989

It was a mostly hard-rock Christmas celebration at V.F.W. Post 13, 1349 Hamilton St., Allentown, last Saturday night. About 100 holiday revelers turned out to make merry and enjoy the sometimes bitter musical fruit presented by four local bands which had volunteered their services for the evening.

Steve Kennedy And The Rock And Roll Originals (never mind that the band played mostly covers) got the evening rolling with teary yet heartfelt versions of The Box Tops' "The Letter," Roger Miller's "King Of The Road" and Neil Young's "Down By The River."

In a twist of unfortunate billing, a heavy metal act known as Bloody Corpse played next. (Perhaps a transitional band along the lines of America or The Eagles would have been a better choice.) The Corpses played fierce and mean covers by Judas Priest and Humble Pie. The audience responded enthusiastically, even when the act blew its tough demeanor by telling everyone that their guitarist's name was "Scooter."

Up next was another metal band whose identity was never established. The band didn't introduce itself, and party organizers still had no idea what the group's name was this week. This outfit, led by a lead guitarist who looked like Prince might if he had 20,000 volts run through him, opened with a series of Led Zeppelin covers.

The women in the crowd heckled the group relentlessly. After a time, the young ax-slinger lost his cool and hurled his guitar at his tormentors, bringing the set to an abrupt end. A short but sharp scuffle then ensued between the band and members of the audience who disagreed with this breach of club etiquette.

Dance band Anxious ended the night on an up note although many in the audience had fled during the melee.




Saraya Changes Speeds, Bad English Wimps Out

December 09, 1989

She walked, she talked, she crawled on her belly like a reptile!

Sandi Saraya, singer for the Polydor hard-rock band that bears her last name, was quite a sight Thursday night at Easton's State Theatre, where Saraya opened for Bad English.

She changed jackets three times. She wound herself up like a flapper from the Roaring '20s. She bared her nice-looking midriff. And still she managed to lead her band through a fair 45-minute set of rock. What a gal! The Charo of rock 'n' roll!

Saraya's show wasn't all hard-rock peaches and cream, however. The quartet from the N.Y./N.J. metro area eschewed the wisest strategy for opening acts: hit 'em hard, hit 'em fast and get off the stage. Instead, Saraya opted for verbatim renditions of plodding midtempo tunes found on the band's self-titled debut LP.

Saraya didn't kick into high gear until near the end with the double-time gallop of "Runnin' Out Of Time" and a fun but almost unrecognizable cover of Peter Frampton's "(I'll Give You) Money." The band closed with its satisfying FM signature tune, "Love Has Taken Its Toll." The 600-strong audience responded, but without the enthusiasm needed to merit an encore.

As soon as headliner Bad English hit the stage, every small child and junior-high school-age girl in the theater let out a high-pitched keening noise. Parents and security men flinched.

Bad English, which played at Allentown's Airport Music Hall a few weeks ago, delivered just what this audience craved: wimpy and meaningless lite- metal fluff. It was just what you'd expect from this unholy fusion of former members of The Babys and Journey.




L.V. Singer Landed Between Rock And Hard Place In LA.

February 02, 1990

Michael Horvath learned the hard way that the City of Angels is a hard place.

The 21-year-old Allentown resident, who currently is the lead singer for hard-rock band The Mob, went there in September 1988 to break into the music business. Seven months later, the hard-rock maw which spawned superstars Motley Crue and Guns N' Roses chewed him up and spat him out out on the asphalt of Sunset Strip, flat broke and bereft of possessions.

Horvath had left Allentown after the break-up of Chillz, a heavy metal band that he and long-time friend Frank Sarkozy had started while they were students at Freedom High in Bethlehem. Like many aspiring young musicians, Horvath was convinced he needed to go directly to the glittering heart of the recording industry -- Los Angeles -- to succeed.

But Horvath's hopes came a cropper thanks to an entertainment scam -- pay to play -- that is unique to Los Angeles. The swindle has generated increasing cries of foul in the national press. Horvath explained how it works.

"There are three main clubs in Los Angeles: The Whiskey, Gazzari's and The Country Club, which is the top of the heap. If your act wants to play The Country Club, you send your demo tape to the promoter. If he decides to give your band a slot, that's when the hard part starts.

"You have to give the club owners money up front for the opportunity to perform on their stages. It can be anywhere from $500 to $2,500 depending on the night and your location on the bill. Then they set a ticket price and give the band members tickets to sell. The band keeps the money from the ticket sales."

Another catch is, the competition is so fierce that it's difficult for band members to sell enough tickets to recoup their initial cash outlay. So most acts lose money -- lots of it.

Horvath said that Hollywood club owners have the musicians between a rock and a hard place. To be seen by representatives of major record labels and gain a theoretical shot at the brass ring, bands must play on these stages. If a band can't afford the asking price -- out of sight is out of mind. Plus, there are always new bodies to fill the places left by the fallen and those who won't pay.

"Band members wind up out on Sunset Strip right before their shows, selling tickets for whatever they can get! I couldn't get anywhere," said Horvath.

"Finally, I had my apartment broken into. Everything was stolen -- I was left with nothing."




Drumming Up A New Name -- Again Modest Success Reaches Out And Touches Ex-lehigh Valley Musician

August 25, 1990

Jimmy Degrasso, drummer for northern California-based hard-rock band Y&T, has changed his name ... again.

As a Lehigh Valley denizen and former Liberty High School grad, he was Delgrosso.

Then as an Ozzy Osbourne sideman/Y&T member, Delgrasso.

Now, on the new Y&T album, "Ten," it's Degrasso.

"Yeah, I had to change my name in the phone directory," said the drummer, alluding to the price of even modest success in the music business.

But Degrasso doesn't mind such minor inconveniences. In fact, in a recent interview, he's predicted even greater success for Y&T. Degrasso touted Y&T's new album as one which would build on a fan base that is mainly the result of years of journeyman touring throughout the States. "We have been able to play sold-out arenas as well as smaller clubs, which is nice," he said.

"In the smaller places it's great to be close to the fans, but there's nothing like hearing the bass drum through a big P.A. in the arenas!"

The former Bethlehem resident also reflected on the ups and downs of the hard-rock business which has taken him from performing in dive bars with Valley-based cover acts like Magnum to working West Coast studio dates to doing a short stint backing notorious pigeon-eater Ozzy Osbourne to subbing with the obscure pop-metal of Ireland's Mama's Boys to playing the garden-variety hard rock of Y&T.

* On Magnum: "They're still around?! Heh-heh. One of my former students called me the other day and said, `Guess who I'm drumming for now?'"

* On Ozzy: "Ozzy was a great guy to work with. The nicest guy, but when he drinks ... Everyone knows about those problems."

* On the vagaries of stardom: "The funny thing about the business is that, sooner or later, you always wind up opening for someone who opened for you. And everyone treats everyone lousy."

* On Y&T: "It's a good situation. The organization is real good about letting everyone do work outside the band between albums and tours."

Y&T was formed in the Bay area in the mid-'70s as Yesterday & Today by singer/lead guitarist Dave Meniketti. The name was shortened to Y&T after two albums of likeable, if oafish, hard rock. (Sample lyric from the first album song, "Alcohol": "After a while, I had a few drinks/ My head got fuzzy, I couldn't think!/ Alcohol, alcohol -- tomorrow morning I'll be climbin' the wall.")

Over the course of more than a decade, the band hopped labels, from London to A&M to Geffen, with Degrasso joining in 1987. Degrasso said that Y&T was relieved to be free of A&M and with a label committed to breaking the band.

Regardless, critics have not been ladling the milk of human kindness onto "Ten" and, as of now, the LP is not in the Billboard charts.




Other selected Nightclubbings:

Locals stick it to Prong

The Hegins Pigeon Shoot

Commander Cody

Gwar, Jason Bonham, Murphy's Law and Mucky Pup.

Part of the Morning Call's Wayback Machine.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

BIG WORDS ON NERDS

Today the New York Times tech section dragged out the stale old dry cheese I've come to know well through the last two decades: The US needs to encourage more computing nerds! For these are the workers of the future!

No s---, Sherlock.

Cue the lede anecdote with a picture of the Times-appointed national nerd symbol at his 1972 school science fair.

"Growing up in the ’70s, John Halamka was a bookish child with a penchant for science and electronics," reports the Times. "He wore black horn-rimmed glasses and buttoned his shirts up to the collar."

But where's the f------ slide rule!?

“We’re not showing and teaching kids the magic of computing,” Janice C. Cuny of the National Science Foundation told the newspaper.

"One goal, Ms. Cuny and others say, is to explain the steady march and broad reach of computing across the sciences, industries, culture and society."

F--- me! It's so obvious, how have we let that slip by?

"[Advances] in field after field that are made possible by computing, like gene-sequencing that unlocks the mysteries of life and simulations that model climate change."

Holy deoxyribonucleic acid, Batman!

Does the Times source of such brilliance prize material ever get out? Or have Times editors and reporters so mangled what was told to them, it has reduced the tellers to obvious and dull government workers paid to say nice and uncontroversial things whenever someone comes calling.

"A solid grounding in computing, experts say, promises rewards well beyond computer science," continued the newspaper, as enthusiastically boilerplate as possible. "Most new jobs in the modern economy will be heavily influenced by technology, said Robert Reich, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and former labor secretary in the Clinton administration."

Genius, pure genius! It probably took all of a second to think of that and another ten to type it all in to the word processor!

The workers of the future, the article informs, will have to be hybrids, combining computer expertise, great knowledge of the field they are working in, and love of art, music and other entertainments.

Damn, DD never saw that coming back in 1978. I'd be a lot further along now if I didn't know shit about computing, biochemistry and music and entertainment.

We are all such stiff stodges compared to the shining examples pointing the way to the potentially glorious future, there are just so few of them. We should hang our heads in shame.




Speaking of stodges, the Obama adminstration appointed Howard Schmidt, an old ticket-puncher from the previous administration, to be the country's cybersecurity czar. Yet another case of the new boss being exactly the same as the old boss.

See here for what I originally thought.

A longish excerpt:

Alleged "zero-day viruses and affinity worms" will sunder business records, as reported in Network World Fusion and credited to a Howard Schmidt speech at an Information Systems Audit and Control Association (ISACA) conference. Brokerage house trading records will be scrambled, corporate networks rendered molten, CEOs humiliated.

This is not the worst. Traffic lights, pacemakers, appliances -- all subject to outages and interruptions because in the future they're controlled via Internet, declares Schmidt. The power grid could fail catastrophically by 2005! Cats and dogs fornicate in the street as the sky turns black as sackcloth.

Whether the bearers of such news are carillonneurs or cullions in these matters depends upon how experienced an observer you are of the computer security junket fest.

If it's the first time for you at one of these cons, where your employer coughs up anywhere from $500 - $1900 for the price of admission, Schmidt's virus alarums might seem quite remarkable, even prescient. The remora-like journalists who get in gratis will assuage any lingering doubts you have as to the value of his lecture by emphasizing the most fantastic elements of it in the trades. If your boss reads the published result, it's all good. You were educated at the feet of the guru.

But I must rain on the parade. Nothing more than mutton passed off as lamb, folks. The sizzle is the main ingredient of a message that is repeated so often it can only be taken seriously as publicly-funded performance art.

In simplest terms, Schmidt is a computer security celebrity junketeer, a highly specialized occupation somewhat obscured by an official biography bulging with professional-strength acronyms. Much of his time is spent as a featured speaker jetting around corporate America. Search engines return Schmidt lectures everywhere in 2002: Atlantic City/HTCIA 2002 con, Cybercrime 2002, IT Business Forum, RIMS.ORG, New York State's "Cyberstrategies," the Chicago National Cybercrime Conference, South Sound (Washington), the National State Association of Chief Information Officer's midyear confab, High-End Computing in an Insecure World, WSATA 2002 (the Western States Association of Tax Administrators), Trust & Security in Cyberspace at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Defending Against Information Warfare, the Secure e-Business Executive Summit, Winning the War on Cyberterrorism at Washington University of St. Louis, Microsoft's Government Leaders 2002...

Ouch, I feel an airline coach-class thrombosis coming on just browsing the list!

[Schmidt's] talent for junket was developed while at Microsoft. As Redmond's computer security czar, the tour of meetings was similar. Politically, the message differed slightly in service to Microsoft directives. Viruses weren't as cataclysmic. Generally, this was a good position to cling to while the likes of Melissa, Loveletter and Code Red were ripping through your company's software. By example: "I'm not going to come up here and tell you the sky is falling," Schmidt said at a Tulsa University infosec conference as Microsoft Chief Security Officer.


Schmidt, as vice chairman of the President's Critical Infrastructure Protection Board in 2002, was once seemingly joined at the hip to Richard Clarke, the former administration's 'cyber czar,' among other things.

Clarke, with Schmidt in tow, rustled up what was originally called the National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace.

It was ignored by everyone, including the Bush administration, for which it was written.

In 2002, DD had this to say about it at SecurityFocus here.

For sixty-five pages, a fat lot of nothing ... the "strategy" is to "empower" users and industry by "raising awareness," "sharing information," "fostering partnerships," "stimulating improvements in technology," "increasing the number of skilled personnel," "investigating and prosecuting cybercrime," "protecting computers," and "promoting increased security." Isn't that just special? Do you know anyone who didn't think "protecting computers" or "investigating cybercrime" weren't good things five years ago?

In other places, the cyberstrategy cleverly recommends updating anti-virus software regularly and applying patches as needed. It's fair to say that these have now reached maximum saturation as platitudes; repeating infinitely accomplishes nothing.

Other recommendations seem aimed at rendering the reader unconscious through use of acronyms and boilerplate. "The federal government, by 3Q FY03, using the e-Government model ..." and "OMB, in conjunction with the CIO counsel, will determine...whether to employ a lead agency concept..." are two standard examples.

Empty but sort-of tough-sounding declarations are present. North America will be a "Safe Cyber Zone." There is non-sequitur futurism -- "nanotechnology" could "reshape cyberspace and security." And even old, simple good ideas are waffled -- "State and local government should consider expanding training programs," "ISPs should consider adopting a code of good conduct," "states should consider creating Cyber Corps [scholarship programs]."

It is mystifying as to why it should all be so lame.

Looking for clues, one spies in the report the seemingly inescapable recommendation to use the staysafeonline.info website as a source of security learning. It is a place I've criticized previously for "education" that amounts to recommending the purchase of anti-virus software as a duty in the war on terror. On staysafeonline, even a simple Flash on-line lesson comes with an insectile licensing agreement in which the reader must promise to not hold its corporate author liable for anything should the presentation turn out to be rubbish.


Staysafeonline.info is now Staysafeonline.org, a private corporate security industry trade group, and it is here.

It's still a placemat for recommendations to buy anti-virus software and other industry products.

Monday, December 21, 2009

ENERGY DOUBLETALK

In the atrocious headline sweepstakes, AP on Yahoo wins today's award with "Gas could be the cavalry in global warming fight."

The article's author, alleged 'AP Energy Writer Mark Williams', ignores all the simple chemistry and energy science of fossil fuels to feed the hype machine being run by Exxon's purchase of XTO Energy for the alleged retrieval of vast natural gas supplies in shale deposits in the United States.

I'll pull some of the really meretricious quotes run by Williams and his sources but the original piece is here.

"An unlikely source of energy has emerged to meet international demands that the United States do more to fight global warming: It's cleaner than coal, cheaper than oil and a 90-year supply is under our feet."

This was Williams' lede and right off it's guilty of lying by leaving out the important stuff, information now at everyone's fingertips.

Yes, natural gas is cleaner than coal.

But when one speaks in terms of carbon dioxide emission, the simple chemistry of it is not a game-changer if one accepts the fact that global-warming is a catastrophic event caused by human civilization.

What is (or will be needed) will be orders of magnitude in change, not just nibbling at the margins, which is what current articles on natural gas mining in the US provide.

Some straightforward and irrefutable equations on chemical energy balance in fossil fuels are here. But readers don't really even need to look at them. Scroll down to the chart and read the values on its right side. You will notice the difference in carbon footprint by weight. Natural gas's is superior to coal but the difference is not by an order of magnitude.

Far from it.

Therefore, natural gas is not a long term or even particularly short term answer to global warming. It is, however, potentially great for the bottom line of fossil fuel-using producers of energy in the United States.

The Union of Concerned Scientists states it here in "How Natural Gas Works."

This article, unlike AP's news piece, is not full of great-sounding crap, the gold standard of fossil fuel energy reporting.

"Compared to coal, gas produces 43 percent fewer carbon emissions for each unit of energy produced, and 30 percent less than oil," it reads. "While a vast improvement over coal and oil, it is not a sustainable solution to global warming, air pollution and resource depletion."

"XTO, the company that Exxon is buying, was one of the pioneers in developing new drilling technologies that allow a single well to descend 9,000 feet and then bore horizontally through shale formations up to 1 1/2 miles away," reports AP. "Water, sand and chemical additives are pumped through these pipes to unlock trillions of cubic feet of natural gas that until recently had been judged unobtainable."

And there's the tricky part. Pumping 'water, sand and chemical additives' thousands of feet down into the ground in order to get something back up is not energy or pollution neutral. It costs more energy, in the burning of fossile fuels, to implement.

The AP writer doesn't really get into this.

"The wells still capture only about a quarter of the gas locked in the shale formations," continues Williams. "Future improvements could double that recovery rate."

The devil in the details is written off into always rosy "future improvements". This is very similar to the talk which surrounded 'clean coal' last year and how all the bad carbon dioxide from it would just be pumped back into the ground and sequestered.

Magic! Global warming solved! Energy independence guaranteed!

The icing on this not very tasty mess is furnished by Daniel Yergin. It is such a bad assessment one wonders whether Yergin actually said it -- or was quoted out of context by the news service.

"The question now is how does this change the energy discussion in the U.S. and by how much?" Yergin, a Pulitzer Prize winner and chairman of an energy consultancy, told the AP reporter. "This is domestic energy ... it's low carbon, it's low cost and it's abundant. When you add it up, it's revolutionary."

No real scientist not on the salary of a fossil fuel energy producer or consultancy would say such a thing. Especially after adding up the numbers.

Sadly, even the disinformation being peddled is not revolutionary.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

HANDCUFF USA THWARTED BY ECONOMY

Good news, lads! Good news. Less people are going to jail because the economic collapse axed tax revenues and we can't afford to lock 'em all up forever now.

"The United States soon may see its prison population drop for the first time in almost four decades, a milestone in a nation that locks up more people than any other," reported Associated Press.

A milestone for Xmas!

"About 739,000 prisoners were admitted to state and federal facilities last year, about 3,500 more than were released, according to news figures from the Bureau of Justice. The 0.8 percent growth in the prison population is the smallest annual increase this decade and significantly less than the 6.5 percent annual growth of the 1990s ... [The] economic crisis has forced states to reconsider who they put behind bars and how long they keep them there ..."

California is currently under a a federal order to release 40,000 inmates because its prisons are so overcrowded they have been deemed unconstitutionally cruel and unusual, the article also said. But not quite that way.




Handcuff USA -- from the archives.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

ON RARE DISEASE AND POLICY

Many moons ago your host attended grad school in Pennsylvania, dutifully working his way toward a Ph.D. My work was on a microbe few people had heard of at the time: Vibrio vulnificus.

Today, over twenty five years later, all the oystermen and oyster eaters on the Gulf Coast know about it.

The lab I worked in specialized in studying the protein products of marine vibrios. And I chose to work on what was thought to be a novel example of them, looking for a protein -- an enzyme -- which dissolved collagen.

Why?

Because collagen is present in all the connective tissue in your body.

And Vibrio vulnificus caused a truly catastrophic illness in a small number of people, a systemic infection that punched holes in the body, from the inside out.

To do so, to cause ulcerating holes and sores to form through the flesh, it had to produce something that ate away at human tissue.

Pictures of the real life result of this fit for disturbing your lunch are here.

I reasoned, correctly as it turned out, that Vibrio vulnificus had to produce an extracellular collegenase -- an enzyme which dissolved collagen. When it was applied to experimental assay plates filled with a flesh-like gel of pure collagen held at body temperature, it created empty pools of peptides -- protein fragments -- and water. This was one way to quickly check for its presence and relative activity.

The paper I wrote defining the discovery is here should you like to see the hard science of it.

Since it was a human pathogen and it did produce a fatal illness, initially a good bit of thought was given to whether or not to bring it into the lab.

However, the literature that existed on it at the time seemed to indicate that the organism primarily erupted in individuals with pre-exsting severe underlying illnesses, primary diseases which depressed immunity. After mulling it over I thought the risk posed by the organism to be small and acceptable.

But with living things like bacteria, there is always the possibility that when you are exposed to it in a variety of ways, interesting stuff can happen. Growing large quantities of Vibrio vulnificus so that collegenase could be harvested and characterized ensured conditions like this would arise. This is always a risk in the hands-on study of those organisms which cause human disease. I am sure that no matter how careful we were in the lab, at one time or another I was exposed to greater than natural concentrations of Vibrio vulnificus.

Here I am, right as rain! Too bad, eh?

In October of this year oyster fishermen in the United States were given a rude shock when the FDA moved to ban their oyster catch through the summer months.

Vibrio vulnificus, our lab originally found, was surely present in a great many things -- including oysters -- in inshore Gulf Stream waters, pretty much all the time. But its concentrations were probably greatest during the summer months when the water was warmer and more conducive to fast growth. And this coincided with when vacationers and locals like to eat lots of raw oysters, although one could occasionally contract the infection through cuts or open wounds, too.

In fact, if you've vacationed regularly at resorts on the Gulf Stream in the summer you've probably come into contact with Vibrio vulnificus .

"The 'safetycrats' at the Food and Drug Administration were ready to crack down on Vibrio vulnificus, a bacteria that infects oysters, by imposing costly new rules on the oyster industry," opined the Mobile Register in mid-November.

"Millions of people consume raw Gulf oysters without suffering any ill effects. But people with diseases that weaken the immune system are vulnerable to the bacteria. About 15 people a year die [from V. vulnificus infections] after eating raw oysters."

The FDA used a magnifying glass on Vibrio vulnificus, said the newspaper.

In the Nineties, restaurants and supermarkets were pressed to display signs about the hazard of eating raw oysters. Although V. vulnificus was not mentioned on these signs in southern California, the organism was the reason for them.

But no one pays attention to such signs in America.

"This prompted the FDA to haul out a regulatory 'sledgehammer' ... and prepare to take a swing at the oyster industry," continued the Mobile newspaper in mid-November. "The FDA wanted to ban sales of raw oysters from April to October, unless the oysters were sterilized with special equipment."

The FDA, due to a rather obvious and logical response -- a vigorous protest at the state level -- backed off on this plan.

"FDA officials [said] that education hasn't worked," reported The (Baton Rouge) Advocate, the same month.

"In 2001, the Interstate Shellfish Contamination Conference, formed in 1982 to promote shellfish sanitation, embarked on a campaign to teach consumers about the dangers, said Mike Taylor, an FDA senior adviser ..."

Interestingly, when DD published on Vibrio vulnificus, it was the same year as the formation of the Interstate Shellfish Contamination Conference. I can't emphasize enough that there was no particularly noticeable interest in the science of the microorganism back then. The disease it caused was equally deadly and horrible, its incidence about the same. The government had no interest in it. The FDA did not appear to care. No one did, really.

"The conference - which is made up of academic, industry and state and federal officials - agreed that if the campaign didn't work, that the new policy would be the next step, Taylor said," continued The Advocate, in explaining how the FDA came to its initial -- now rescinded -- plan to ban.

"The policy would affect about 25 percent of the harvest, Taylor said."

"There has not been a significant reduction of people getting sick and dying," Taylor told the newspaper. "There are lives at stake here. It's not a stomach ache from salmonella. It's a deadly disease."

Indeed it is not a stomach ache. But having worked with more Vibrio vulnificus daily than most people will come in contact with in their entire lifetime, I can tell you the FDA man did misrepresent the nature of the risk.

"Taylor pointed to California, which requires the treatment of Gulf oysters. Over a 10-year period beginning in 1991, the state had 40 deaths," reported the Baton Rouge newspaper. "The number has been reduced to zero, Taylor said."

That came to about four deaths a year. Stamped out through sterilization.

"Throughout the South, and particularly in Louisiana, where two-thirds of the nation's oysters are harvested, irate legislators, oyster farmers and connoisseurs told the government to back off: If people want to risk their lives for a plate of cold oysters, fresh lemon juice and just a dash of hot sauce, then that's their business," the Los Angeles Times opinion page reasoned, trying to be informative, on November 15. "Processing [oysters], they said, ruins the taste."

"More to the point, the FDA's mandate, they said, would jeopardize 3,500 jobs and destroy the livelihood of generations-old family businesses by requiring them to invest in cost-prohibitive technology. Within days, the FDA canceled the ban on untreated oysters. For now."

However, the Times went on to insinuate that California knew how to do things better, an argument that didn't hold a shake flask's worth of Vibrio vulnificus.

"The FDA ... plans to study the economics of processing to help the [shellfish] industry adapt," it continued. "Although treated oysters may alienate some purists, other diners may be reassured and give raw oysters a shot. Also, markets currently closed to warm-weather Gulf Coast oysters because of the dangers may open.

"As for public health, the best case study may be California. In 2003, after 40 deaths over a 10-year period, the state required warm weather Gulf Coast oysters to be processed. Since then, there have been no Vibrio deaths, and some oyster businesses have adapted to the new rules. But one thing is clear: For all the talk of cooperation, the FDA's ultimate goal is to help the industry 'transition.' Because the one argument the Gulf Coast oyster industry has not successfully made is that the deaths of those 15 people a year don't matter."

Actually, the degree of risk is what should be argued. There is no way to predict who will contract a very rare but potentially fatal infection from eating oysters containing V. vulnificus, only that it will happen -- somewhere -- as long as raw oyster eating is something people greatly enjoy. And that in fifty percent of these cases the end will be gruesome.

Eat raw oysters. You might put your guts out, kid, maybe. But from my experience, probably not.
SIT HOME AND ROT OR LICK BOOTS?


Good news, lads! Good news. I just signed us all up for retraining and attitude readjustment courses at the Norman Vincent Peale Institute.

The news arm of my web host buys financial and economic pieces from a parasite industry, one which exists to leverage the desperation of others into profit. (Often they come from something called Forbes.com.)

How do they do this?

By selling an inexhaustible supply of puerile advice columns -- a few per week -- as well as books and seminars on how to find a job. All the more remarkable: There's still profit in it, like Fox News selling gold.

Joblessness and job-hunting are your new jobs. So get to them. Because if you don't you'll never move up into a job that actually pays a minimum wage. The competition is tough!

Why, just on Monday the LA Times ran a frontpage story about a young political science major who applied for 600 jobs and didn't get even one! So if a young guy like that can't get a job, what hope do you have? You should have applied for at least 1200 openings because the readership of this blog skews a lot older than 'college student', I can tell ya.

And not everyone can work in the newest resort of Handcuff USA -- Thomson, Illinois.

"[That] project is expected to bring 3,000 new jobs to an area with an 11.1% unemployment rate," writes USA Today.

You might not live in Illinois or even be able to move there to stand in-line with the 20,000 other people now queuing up. What then?

The parasite industry for finding jobs for the jobless has plenty of advice for you failures each weak week. Hire a job coach even if you don't have money. Max the credit cards.

Get plastic surgery because surveys show personnel departments and managers don't like ugly, fat and old people.

"If you want to get [a job], you might want to throw on a pair of [fuck me] heels and suck in that [American fat man's] belly," one such column advised this week. "Your looks can help --or [utterly trash] -- your chances of getting [work], regardless of qualifications, especially in a sour economy ... "

"Being [large and fat] leads to negative stereotypes -- thinking that person is sloppy, lazy or slow [as well as dumb even if the interviewing manager doesn't look like he knows how to push away from the McDonalds menu], for example ...

Join a jobless anonymous group so you can hand out your phone number and e-mail address to others like you.

Join United Way so you can kiss a corporate boss's ring while you're helping implement his favorite charity.

And if you get that interview follow this advice for the expunging of mistakes commonly made. So you don't blow it.

Over-Explaining Why You Lost Your Last Job

No one wants to hear it. It's accepted wisdom it was because you needed purging after the economy was crashed by Wall Street. You can leave the interview now. We're through.

Conveying That You're Not Over It

During interviews, some people act wounded, angry or sad.

While these are normal expressions in such times you'll be assumed to be unstable and in bad mental health. Security has been called to escort you from the building. We're through now.

Lacking Humor, Warmth, or Personality

You need to take three courses, offered by our jobs retraining on-line institute: How to Make Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People -- designed by Stephen R. Covey, and Stay Alive All Your Life, based on the seminal work of Norman Vincent Peale.

Not Showing Enough Interest or Enthusiasm

See above.

Inadequate Research About a Potential Employer

It's essential to be up on the latest news so be sure to Google the name of the supermarket, shoe store or other big box service or retail place you're interviewing for. You should know the ticker value of Ralphs, for instance, and be prepared to cleverly drop that information while being interviewed for the job as a midnight re-stocker.

Or you could conversationally bring up that you'd just seen Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler and that you were dismayed and shocked by the scene in which he grumbled about wearing a hair net and then snapped out behind the deli counter, ruining an otherwise good movie.

Many applicants don't bother to do this and it shows. They don't get jobs.

Concentrating Too Much on What You Want

This is a hard one.

You need to concentrate on what the interviewer wants. But you can't read minds and it's going to be hard to get inside the thoughts and decision processes of the annoying cabbage subjecting you to the third degree. Listening carefully is crucial in steering the conversation toward how you would fit in at Ralphs, BestBuy or the new Internet website for cool and hip people. And being able to tell what you have to offer them is of tantamount importance. For example, you could say you've been working on accumulating 1 million followers on Twitter and that you'd bring that enthusiasm to the new Internet website for cool and hip people.

Trying to Be All Things to All People

Devote most of your effort to talking about what you know you do well. But it better have something to do with the job you're applying for at Ralphs, Wal-Mart or the new Internet website for cool and hip people. For example, if you liked devilling small animals when you were young, don't apply for work at a big box pet store. Or maybe you should because I've seen some dodgy people in them on occasion.

Winging the Interview

I often hear from the annoying cabbage who conduct interviews that candidates aren't ready to answer difficult questions. These human vegetables commonly make up stupid tests, allegedly to evaluate how you 'think on your feet,' like asking what you would do if you were at a Lakers game and a player crashed into your section. They then assume you're just a stupid cunt when you express confusion or say something too brief, normal and reflexive like, "I'd try to get out of the way."

So rehearse for senseless questions by coming up with irrational answers delivered in such a way that they sound strong, well thought out and decisive. Prepare and practice a 90-second verbal reply so that you're ready. Watching the evening news and memorizing the verbal style of pundits, politicians and the President could be helpful.

Failing to Set Yourself Apart From The Other 500 600 Candidates

You have to set yourself apart from the 500 1,323 other people who've applied for the job. I don't know what to tell you. It's almost blind luck here and you're fresh out. This interview is over.

And Never Fail to Ask For the Job

"You have a much better chance of getting the job if you ask for it," say job counselors. This is tricky. You have to create a spurt of pleasure in the interviewer, that orgasmic one people get when their boots are licked for alms. But you can't be perceived as doing it overtly.




Next week: The Ten Most Common Mistakes People Make When Begging for Aid

Sunday, December 13, 2009

THE HOLY SISTER OF THE GAGA DADA

Tuscaloosa Ann Powers, the gilded official rock and pop music critic of the Los Angeles Times, filed from Boston, a city larger than the little LA of the South in Alabama, on Lady Gaga.

"I'm here to defend Lady Gaga against all comers," Tuscaloosa Ann once wrote. Today she made good on the threat, putting the big picture together for those of us just a little too dim to see it.

Drawing out the thread of her verbosity well beyond the shape of the argument, Tuscaloosa Ann's prose on Gaga took up a lot of space in the Sunday paper. Probably more than front page news on alleged averted terror plots and whatever was running anywhere inside on healthcare reform.

Obviously, DD cannot reprint all of it here, only sample bits of the rich fabric.

"Yet there [Gaga} was, in a blond Hollywood bob and black tuxedo-bra much like the costumes Madonna wore 20 years ago ..." wrote the Tuscaloosa one on the first page, right next to the giant picture of Lady Gaga in her blond Hollywood bob and black tuxedo-bra much like the costumes Madonna wore 20 years ago.

"This [success] is all happening not because Lady Gaga is cute or takes off her clothes but because (to use one of her favorite words) she is a monster -- a monster talent, that is, with a serious brain."

" 'If you ask somebody where you see sexism in your life, all they think of is the old stuff,' said Nona Willis Aronowitz, co-author of the new book Girldrive: Criss-crossing America Redefining Feminism, by phone."

"But then [Gaga's] public appearances began to not simply provoke but disturb. She made a video for 'Paparazzi' that had her in gilded crutches and a leg brace. She turned that vision even bloodier [Ace Bandages] on the MTV Video Music Awards ... She's worn costumes that recast childhood icons like Kermit the Frog and Hello Kitty into ingenue's pelts. The Kermit dress was designed by Jean Charles de Castelbajac, who'd previously adorned Madonna in teddy bears ..."

"Celebrity life and media culture are probably the most overbearing pop-cultural conditions that we as young people have to deal with ..." Lady Gaga says to Powers at some point in the interview.

"Indeed," Mr. Spock once said.
THE SUNDAY CYBERFUNNY


Hey, there's a bit of scrambled egg on your shirt perfesser.

Today's unintentionally hilarious and out-of-it quote from a 'cyberwar' comment.

Published somewhere by someone once alleged to be a big brain in cyberspace.

"We commonly associate warfare with armies that use so-called 'kinetic weapons' against each other and against the opposing country. That need not be the only form warfare can take ... In the science fiction realm, Poul Anderson wrote a story 'State of Assassination' (also known as 'A Man to My Wounding') about war being replaced by a state of assassination. Instead of brute force attacks with atomic weapons, countries have switched to killing each others' leaders. But one side has gone a step further, and started targeting others."

Dude, read the daily news before class tomorrow.

Steve Bellovin, writing a small bit on cyberwar here. Zhou Enlai quoted, too. That's deep.

Friday, December 11, 2009

NEW BOSS JUST LIKE OLD BOSS ON BIOTERRORISM

This post has been updated

At midweek Undersecretary of Defense Ellen Tauscher announced the National Strategy to Counter Biological Threats for the Obama administration, delivering it before diplomats in Geneva. The short version is the strategy is a fob, essentially the same as the Bush administration's except with different public faces delivering it.

It is another disappointing example of the Obama administration making itself functionally no different than what was in place before it came to power.

At Armchair Generalist, Jason Sigger summed it up on Thursday.

"I've been told by fellow insurgents and progressive sympathizers that the failure of the National Strategy to Counter Biological Threats should not be blamed on the State or Defense staffers who actually do give a damn about this issue," he wrote. "The NSC does, in fact, have hold-overs from the previous administration who bulldozed this report through the system with little to no interagency input, with a very short suspense. Under Secretary of State Tauscher was not really interested in the details of the issue or in developing any nuances other than what was on the script. She is, at heart, a nuclear weapons advocate, not an arms control advocate.

"The arms control and nonproliferation communities see this as just a check against the Graham-Talent WMD Commission's list of recommendations - nothing to be taken seriously."

But what had the Graham-Talent commission been doing to inspire such a counter reaction?

From the public record, during the months prior to the issue of the Tauscher strategy, the Graham-Talent commission had been assiduously seeding opinion pieces into newspapers and criticizing the Obama administration for being slow to step up efforts to counter bioterrorism.

For example, USA Today allowed Graham-Talent to play the fear card and bonk the Obama administration over the head in October.

"The Obama administration is working hard to curb nuclear threats but failing to address the more urgent and immediate threat of biological terrorism, a bipartisan commission created by Congress is reporting today ..." wrote the newspaper.

From an informed standpoint -- not one often seen in newspapers -- observers in the field know that Graham-Talent is no real bipartisan organization.

It is a 'commission' taken over and vampirized by the extreme end of the smallish biodefense lobby.

More accurately, its public faces -- Bob Graham and Jim Talent -- are little more than fuglemen for the Center for Biosecurity of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and a small consortium of biodefense firms called the Alliance for Biosecurity. And the 'commission's' top two staffers are indistinguishable from the Center for Biosecurity.

The special interest group known as the Graham-Talent commission, though, does have a script it efficiently delivers.

It's an apocalyptic one, a dire and extreme claim delivered free of correspondingly extreme or convincing evidence in support of it. It lives on the idea that if enough people can be rounded up to repeat it in press, it will be taken as fact by others who should perhaps know better.

USA Today delivered it in October:

"[Anthrax spores] released by a crop-duster could 'kill more Americans than died in World War II' and the economic impact could exceed $1.8 trillion in cleanup and other costs."

An anthrax attack, in other words, would make World War II and the economic collapse seem like walks on a sunny day.

On Friday of last week, a former Republican staffer used it in an editorial pumping Graham-Talent at the Baltimore Sun.

"A recent study from the intelligence community projected that a one-to-two kilogram release of anthrax spores from a crop duster plane could kill more Americans than died in World War II (over 400,000)," wrote Douglas MacKinnon. "As a follow-up to that sobering news, they reported: 'Clean-up and other economic costs could exceed $1.8 trillion.'"

And Bob Graham astro-turfed it onto the Miami Herald's opinion pages on Sunday.

"Is the biothreat overblown?" Graham asked. (The correct answer is "Yes." And he has been one of the parties overblowing it.)

"No," continued Graham's opinion piece. "Just two or three pounds of anthrax scattered over a major city could kill more Americans than the number who died in World War II, according to the National Counter Terrorism Center. Cleanup and other economic costs could exceed $1.8 trillion."

And on December 1, Deroy Murdock -- a fellow at the right wing Hoover Institution, used it in an editorial for the far right website, Human Events. It was also distributed to newspapers by the Scripps Howard news service.

"In an October 21 progress report, [Graham-Talent] cautioned that 'a one-to two-kilogram release of anthrax spores from a crop duster plane could kill more Americans than died in World War II,' specifically, 380,000," Murdock wrote.

"Clean up and other economic costs could exceed $1.8 trillion.

" 'Dark Winter,' a June 2001 high-level simulation exercise, assumed that a covert smallpox attack would infect 3.3 million Americans, one-third fatally."

The Dark Winter exercise has been shown as one of the shining examples of hyping the threat of bioterrorism. See here for a summation at the Carnegie Endowment.

And Murdock's piece was issued from the redoubt of an affair conducted by the far right Heritage Foundation on November 16.

Opinion writer Clifford D. May repeated the Graham-Talent anthrax script for the National Review and other newspapers on November 30.

May was also writing from the Heritage Foundation meeting to discuss WMD scenarios, one in which Graham-Talent's claims were furnished. That original piece is here.

"A scenario perhaps even more frightening: terrorists using biological weapons, setting off epidemics of smallpox, Ebola virus or other hemorrhagic fevers; a crop duster spreading 10 pounds of anthrax causing more deaths than in World War II," wrote May.

"[An attack] dispersing just a kilogram or two of anthrax from a crop duster 'could kill more Americans than died in World War II' and cost nearly $2 trillion to clean up," opined the Arizona Republic even earlier, on November 22.

The Obama administration needed to pay attention to such a threat, it continued.

May's piece, according to Lex-Nex, was published in a number of newspapers: the Corpus-Christi Caller Times, the San Angelo Caller Times, the Ventura County Star, and the Times Record News of Wichita Falls, Texas.

"Bioweapons could catch U.S. cities off guard," was the title of another opinion piece emitted from the Heritage Foundation national apocalypse seminar at Colorado Springs. Published by the Ft. Worth Star Telegram, it is here.

Pumping the script of Graham-Talent, writer J. R. Labbe also brought Clifford D. May into the mix.

"The point of terrorism is not just to claim victims but to terrorize everyone around them," said May via Labbe.

Graham-Talent's anthrax claim was commonplace, cropping up in newspaper databases perhaps as many as 100 times during the last ninety days, multiplying through the news practice of duplicating content for multiple source feeds. It was delivered in sales pitches for smallpox and anthrax vaccines, criticisms of the Obama administration's failure to act -- or both.

Readers see where this is going.

The biodefense industry lobbying organization known as the Graham-Talent commission, one which is not averse to pitching the most apocalyptic of scenarios to gain traction in the news, took forward a rigidly scripted talking point for the advancement of its agenda.

And it was successful in shotgunning it into the mainstream news media.

However, the same lobby has no observable specific interest in things like compliance with the Biological Weapons Convention. Its interests are more basic -- to secure more funding for biodefense, most helpfully for new vaccine and biodefense nostrums development at the school and companies for which it goes forth.

However, generally speaking, the US public has essentially ignored Graham-Talent's blandishments, being more concerned, if one can take polling reliably, in healthcare reform and the war in Afghanistan. In other words, there is certainly no demand in the street for a continuation of the kind of leadership and advice on defense against bioterrorism of the kind supplied during the Bush administration.

So Graham-Talent also tried to rephrase its arguments slightly by making a baldly opportunistic video showing a kind of sham concern for H1N1 flu vaccine shortages in the United States in early November.

But back to the Obama adminstration's National Strategy.

It is certainly a sorry thing that its current policy has been influenced by the recommendations of a special interest lobby which has never mustered any real grass roots support.

Amy Smithson, Ph.D., issued one of the most incisive views of it:

"Tauscher tabled a modest, constructive set of proposals, but given the $49 billion in U.S. biodefense spending since 2001, the international community will want more in terms of transparency from Washington than just posting the US confidence-building declarations-already available to all member governments-on the web and inviting one person to Ft. Detrick. New money earmarked for building international disease surveillance and reporting capacities would have more emphatically conveyed U.S. support for thorough implementation of the International Health Regulations. If the Obama administration hopes to claim the leadership mantle in the biological nonproliferation arena, they will have to bring something much bolder to the table. The sooner they do, the better."

Marie Isabelle Chevrier, Ph.D., a member of the Scientists Working Group on Biological and Chemical Weapons at the Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation, issued this statement:

"Ellen Tauscher’s speech to the Meeting of the States Parties of the Biological Weapons Convention was much anticipated by delegations. Yet there was little excitement or enthusiasm by the delegation following her speech. Delegations and NGO observers welcomed the change in tone from earlier US interventions during the Bush administration, contrasting it, in particular, with the strident address by John Bolton to the 5th Review Conference in 2001. Nevertheless the lack of specificity of proposals in Tauscher’s address was notable. People wondered about the meaning of language in the statement such as 'compliance diplomacy' and 'robust bilateral compliance discussion.' Optimists greeted the statement with hope that the statement will be followed by real engagement absent the arrogance of the past while pessimists found little if anything in the statement that would lead to real policy changes from the Bush administration ..."

Paradoxically, a news report on a draft edition of "World at Risk," the Graham-Talent group's 2008 report on weapons of mass destruction and bioterrorism did apparently contain some attention to the Biological Weapons Convention and compliance.

A Washington Post article on the pre-release draft of the Graham-Talent report read: "Efforts to strengthen the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention were dealt a symbolic blow in 2001 when the Bush administration withdrew its support for a new accord that had been under negotiation for six years."

That news piece, by Joby Warrick in November of 2008, is here.

While there originally had been something, contributed by staffers, on BWC compliance and verification, the final release changed things.

This turn-around was explained by someone familiar with inside details. Essentially, Senator Bob Graham read the original draft and said we'll have none of that, removing all of it.

The New York Times reported on the Obama administration's strategy at midweek:

"The United States, [officials] said, will pledge to strengthen the Biological Weapons Convention, a 1975 treaty barring the development, production and stockpiling of biological and toxin weapons. But Ms. Tauscher will declare that the Obama administration does not support efforts to create a mechanism for monitoring compliance with the treaty because, a senior administration official said, supplies of biological weapons are 'too difficult to verify.' In 2001, the Bush administration abruptly withdrew from lengthy negotiations to create a verification regimen. It cited, in part, the regulatory burdens that verification would place on the American pharmaceutical industry and on the military’s bio-defense research activities."

"Violations of the BWC are extraordinarly difficult to verify," reads the Graham-Talent final report from 2008. "These concerns remain valid today ..." it continued.

Sensitive US information might be jeopardized if the US consented to BWC inspection, claimed the Graham-Talent report. And therefore, the Bush administration's decision to withdraw support for it was seemingly justified, it reasoned.

However, the US would hold annual politcal and expert talks focused on the prevention of bioterrorism, it said in 2008.




News item:

"Shares of vaccine makers PharmAthene Inc. (PIP) and Emergent BioSolutions Inc. (EBS) tumbled a day after the Department of Health and Human Services changed its approach in requesting anthrax vaccines," reported the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday.

"HHS canceled a request for proposals on recombinant protective antigen anthrax vaccines because it didn't believe vaccine developers submitting proposals could have product ready for licensure by the Food and Drug Administration within eight years. Anthrax is a bacterial disease that humans can get through skin contact, inhalation or ingestion. Inhaled anthrax can be fatal and is more difficult to treat."

Notably, PharmAthene and Emergent are part of the Alliance for Biosecurity special industry interest group/lobby.

The Alliance is the UPMC Center for Biosecurity and a collection of companies which, for the most part, have been remarkably unsuccessful at bringing anything to market, although they are touted as using all the newest molecular genetic and biochemical technologies for vaccine and drug manufacturing.

One member -- DOR Biopharma -- has been laboring on a ricin vaccine since around the beginning of the war in Afghanistan. It recently changed its name to Soligenix, perhaps to make it easier to attract potential investors.

Siga Technologies, Inc., another Alliance for Biosecurity firm, recently announced it had received a rather small amount of money -- $1.6 million from the National Institutes of Health -- to look into something it calls Human Bioarmor, a kind of silver bullet for bioterror agents. These funds were announced as having been part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

Another firm, Nanoviricides, Inc., has nothing in the market but three nanomolecular 'Cides -- FluCide, HIVCide and RabiCide -- in development, with none beyond animal safety testing.

And the Alliance's intriguing named Unither Virology, is said by business publications on the web to have an annual operating budget of $100,000 and a staff of one.


All on the same page.

The cached copy of the UPMC Center for Biosecurity with a special topics link to the Alliance for Biosecurity is here.

The Center appears to have scrubbed itself of its Alliance for Biosecurity page, perhaps due to attention from this article published in the Washington Times in September.

"President Obama's nominee at the Department of Homeland Security overseeing bioterrorism defense [Tara O'Toole of the Center for Biosecurity at UPMC] has served as a key adviser for a lobbying group funded by the pharmaceutical industry that has asked the government to spend more money for anthrax vaccines and biodefense research," it reads.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

LUCIFER'S FAVORITE BANK IN PASADENA

Once called IndyMac, now OneWest. DD sees it on his walk to lunch everyday, taking up about two city blocks at #888 Lake (that's 222 -- on the dot -- more than 666 ... pretty suspicious) across from the Ralphs supermarket.

Only this week, the big IndyMac sign came off, replaced with a big OneWest display, coincidentally in time for this bit of news:

Legislation that would have allowed depositors at failed IndyMac Bank to get back money they lost when the thrift collapsed was shot down Thursday in Congress.

The House of Representatives Rules Committee voted 8 to 4, with one abstention, to deny the amendment, which would have been part of a massive financial reform bill, officials said.

Originally offered by Jane Harman, D-El Segundo, the amendment sought to increase bank deposit insurance to $250,000, retroactive to July 11, 2008. That was when federal regulators seized the Pasadena-based bank.

In the failure, 10,000 IndyMac customers reportedly lost about $270 million in deposits that went beyond the FDIC's insurance limit of $100,000 per customer. They've since received 50 cents on the dollar for what they lost.


Here at the Pasadena Star-News.

Satan's Bank of Pasadena was also in the news in August, for allegedly taking advantage of its customers while on the teat of government bailout.

"Bank's new owners are required to adjust mortgages to get government aid," reported CNN on-line.

"Five months after securing a sweet deal to buy SatanMac Bank, the new owners say they are fulfilling their obligation to modify troubled home loans.

"Some frustrated borrowers and housing counselors, however, say it's anything but easy to deal with the institution, now known as LuciferWest Bank. They say the bank needs to do more for its troubled customers because of the perks it is receiving from the government ... While many banks are getting a helping hand from Washington, OneWest is enjoying a special deal.

Once one of the nation's largest lenders of Alt-A mortgages made to borrowers who did not need to verify their income or assets, IndyMac was taken over by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. in July 2008 ... When [a] group of private investors bought the Pasadena, Calif.-based bank earlier this year, the FDIC promised to cover a majority of the losses in the institution's home loan portfolio. In return, the investors agreed to continue the loan modification efforts."

The CNN piece then talks to people who've either been put off or stalled on loan modification.

"The primary causes of IndyMac’s failure were largely associated with its business strategy of originating and securitizing Alt-A loans on a large scale," reads Wiki. "This strategy resulted in rapid growth and a high concentration of risky assets ... Following the rebirth of IndyMac as OneWest Bank the organization has taken a much more aggressive and some argue illegal approach to foreclosing on properties. On November 25, 2009 a judge in Long Island, New York penalized OneWest for their 'harsh, repugnant, shocking and repulsive' actions in trying to work out a distressed mortgage by cancelling the debt in favor of the borrower."

The bank complex has a large Christmas tree on display in the lobby. But I've heard managers watch crush videos when they should be singing Christmas carols.
PLAN COLOMBIA



"Mr. Obama could offer some truly fresh thinking about job creation -- a new push, for example, in favor of free-trade agreements with South Korea and Colombia, or a lower minimum wage for unemployed youth. Those ideas might well have impressed the policy wonks in his audience at Brookings." -- WaPo

The sheer magnanimity of big thinkers always astounds. The quality of mercy is never strained.


I have a Gibson/Epiphone guitar made in Korea. They used to be made here a long time ago. And a couple more Korean Hedwigs couldn't hurt, right?
EXPLAIN THIS ONE TO YOUR KIDS


Good news, lads! Good news! Now will sun shine on the dunghill!

Monday, December 07, 2009

ROBOTS TO THE RESCUE

Health care can be improved and advanced in the country -- not by making sure everyone has access to it -- but through robots!

That's the finding in a recent essay by the funnywomen and funnymen at the Heritage Foundation, the right-wing GOP think tank also leading the battle against electromagnetic pulse doom.

Heritage gathers various splendid ideas -- that healthcare reform must be defeated, that the welfare class is getting too much in entitlements and undeserved stuff, that the rich are being taxed too much, that the pesty and pernicious gays are assaulting the precious institution of marriage, that global warming, while no longer a cruel hoax, if dealt with will result in diminished US business, poorness for the wealthy and a much weakened military, that poor people who aren't white are unjustly sopping up national treasure that could be spent on missile defense, a project which spreads freedom around the world, that the auto-industry bailout and cash-for-clunkers took money away from freedom-ensuring missile defense, etc -- and employs its stable of bought-and-paid-for experts to craft pieces which exhort readers on the excellence of such beliefs.

However, today's piece of note, brightly entitled "Robotics and the Next Step for National Security," perhaps as a happy side-effect, devotes space to solving the healthcare crisis and just about any other thing that might beset Americans -- like missile attacks and tsunamis.

"After an earthquake, missile attack, or tsunami, robot-assisted rescue may be America's most effective course of action," it reads here.

"Snakebot can quickly locate [earthquake] trapped victims, sending images of them to rescuers in real time without unnecessarily putting responders at risk."

Hmmm, guess the authors forgot about the big part where emergency workers have to go into the rubble to get the trapped out after 'Snakebot' -- or cheaper search dogs -- have found the unfortunate, anyway. But it's unfair to condemn an entire thing for just one slip-up in thought.

Indeed, the best ideas are reserved for revolutions in health care.

"Beyond making surgery safer and more accurate, robots are increasing the number of people with access to top medical care," reports Heritage.

"If, for instance, the world's best clubbed-foot specialist lived in Dallas, the number of people in the Dallas-area born with clubbed feet every year could not keep that doctor busy full-time because the birth defect is quite rare (1 in 1,000 live births). With remote surgery, a doctor could theoretically serve as the clubbed-foot specialist for the entire South, becoming a 'super-specialist' for clubbed-foot surgery."

Good news, lads! Good news! Now success in health care careers is guaranteed for club foot curing surgeons.

"Moreover, in the event of a bio-terrorist attack or an epidemic, immune robotic medical personnel may be the best solution to contain and cure infected individuals," adds Heritage.

"The country's safety depends on [robotic development]."




Krugman on Heritage. Also see Pentagon Should Battle Pirates with Lasers here.

Friday, December 04, 2009

THE GOOFBALL-IN-CHIEF VISITS SCHNECK TECH


Schneck student asks about legalizing vice but staffers neglect to inform Prez the growth industry in the Lehigh Valley is vice -- the casino on Bethlehem's south side.

Our Goofball-In-Chief travelled to DD's old Pennsyltucky home, the Lehigh Valley, today.

It was big news, lads, big news at a community college formerly known as Schneck Tech, remade as a high button destination for the day.

"The first question from the crowd drew gasps and laughs, with a second-year student asking if legalizing drugs and marijuana might help stimulate the economy," reported the Allentown Morning Call newspaper, among others.

"I appreciate the boldness of your question ... That will not be my job strategy," said the President.

Haw-haw, ha ha ha, so funny. A real laugh riot.

Sadly, none of the Prez's brilliant staffers seem to have informed him the only recent growth industry in the Lehigh Valley is one based on vice. Not drugs -- but gambling.

About mid-Summer, DD posted an entry on the Bethlehem Sands here. And it was built upon the slag of an old industry which used to pay twenty bucks an hour, an industry which established a middle and upper middle class in the Lehigh Valley. Sadly, the economic disaster has even hindered more rapid expansion in gambling, drying up some prospects for more construction and reducing the clientele, apparently.

One quote from July:

" 'I've been laid off seven times since 2001," said David Faust, 31, who hopes he has found steady work now as a slot machine technician. 'This area really needed jobs.' "

Why the President came to Pennsyltucky utterly mystifies DD. He appears to have nothing for its citizens, in terms of reversing downward trajectories, other than a jolly smile and the willingness to be a gamer, answering unanswerable questions with a laugh. However, he has now cast the strong impression he always has lots for Wall Street and those interested in continuing war.

Pennsylvania, which went for Obama in the election, naturally may turn on him the next time around. So it's never too late, one supposes, to create the pretense that one is coming to dispense alms for the poor.

"His 50-minute appearance comes at a critical time for the administration," reported the Call. "Obama has to convince the public that he is focused on stimulating the national economy and getting Americans back to work."

Good luck with that, bud. I've been watching and I think you're fresh out of anything for the middle class and know it.

"[Obama] will endorse sending the biggest chunk of fresh money to cash-strapped state and local governments to stem their layoffs and on expanding a program that gives people cash incentives to fix up their homes with energy-saving materials, a senior administration official said."

A cash incentive to fix up the home with energy-saving materials -- particularly for renters -- sounds like the most awesome public works job creation program, ever.

"Obama will also endorse new tax breaks for small businesses that hire workers, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the package, and Obama's speech, are still being crafted," it was also said.

Here's a thought experiment.

See President Obama inspect a piece of string on a table.

"This string," the President says, "symbolizes small business employment trends in America. I will push on the end of the string, the one closest to me, with a tax incentive. That will move the end of the string near you, symbolizing jobs, closer."

President pushes on string with index finger. End of string moves a little, bunching up. Other end of string remains stubbornly motionless.

Great idea, mang!

"Earlier Friday, Obama strolled through Allentown Metal Works manufacturing facility on South 10th Street in the city's old industrial section this morning, the first stop on a national tour focused on reviving jobs in America," reported the Call newspaper.

What this really means is that Obama toured what used to be a big employer long ago, Mack Trucks. And then it went downhill and was bought by the French and went downhill even more until everyone was fired and it was s---. DD even played in a rock band with one former employee of Mack, who was fired or severed. Back then they called it taking a buyout. And then you went broke a year or two later.

"The facility, once a Mack Trucks factory, dates back more than 100 years and now employs about 65 workers, down from as many as 100."

Before the US government and American big business acted to destroy unions and enshrine economic policy to dismantle the manufacturing base so it could all be done in Asia -- Mack used to employ quite a few more than 100. But it would be really depressing to go into it.

Back when Mack Trucks was still around in the Valley, DD went to see an AC/DC concert at Schneck Tech.

Happy times, lads. Happy times. Bon Scott was still alive and the Dictators were the opening act. In front of me, a girl passed out and slumped down in a puddle of her own sick.

Funny how those memories really last. I'll probably still recall it when I no longer can even say my last name.




DD on Pennsyltucky -- from the archives.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

I CAN'T BECUZ I SPENT IT ALL ON WALL STREET AND AFGHANISTAN


Good news, lads! Good news! The President knows about high unemployment and how screwed our pooch is. And we've diverted all resources to Wall Street and Afghanistan so that there'll be no more writing of 'blank checks.' He is not an irresponsible man like the last guy.

Big strong talk, something in no short supply: "I want to be clear: While I believe the government has a critical role in creating the conditions for economic growth, ultimately true economic recovery is only going to come from the private sector."

How can I give more money to you, the President asked, 'you' being such like Google or Walt Disney or American Airlines -- f'r instance.

Here.
TODAY'S DOSE OF TUSCALOOSA ANN

Tuscaloosa Ann Powers, the LA Times' Official Rock Critic, covering Los Angeles from the little Los Angeles of the South, that city which is home to the Alabama Crimson Tide:

"The big news -- for tweens and dads who've decided the Jonas Brothers do rock, after all -- was the debut of Nick Jonas' new band, the Administration which came midway through the [Grammy nomination] program and might be better left buried in our memories."

Hot s---, Mama! Tuscaloosa Ann, upper crust scribe for the in-bankruptcy Los Angeles Times, a company skedded to purge more employees before Christmas because of hard times, phoning it in fresh and screamin' from Club Nokia. Which, of course, they don't have in the little LA of the South, Tuscaloosa.

"The buzz is that several staffers who lose their jobs will be invited back as contract workers, at lower pay and without benefits, to begin once the calendar year turns over on Dec. 31," reported LA Observed.

This coincides with the recent Times firings of employees in Calendar, then kind of secretly hiring newer workers a couple weeks later for less. Or of raiding its recently purged and desperate journalists for free-lance contributions -- the doing of stories they once did as staffers. In other words, the stripping of employee livelihoods and then leveraging their newly poor positions in life to enrich and extend the bottom line.

However, Tuscaloosa Ann -- being part of the Times upper gilded class of swells -- will probably be safe from the petty outrages and indignities thrust upon the lessers at the place. After all, no dunghill curs will challenge the Helicons.

"I'm here to defend Lady Gaga against all comers," writes Powers. Of course it's out of context, foo'!




On Tuscaloosa Ann -- from the archives.
FLASHBACK: TV FOR THOSE WHO ENJOY MASSACRES

From 2007 at el Reg

In 1991, Bad: Or the Dumbing of America was published. Written by Paul Fussell, a man with experience of war, it pessimistically ran through all that was execrable in the United States with the realisation things were only going to get worse.

Under bad magazines, scorn was reserved for the successful Soldier of Fortune, a magazine aimed at "the mentally ill... for people who fantasise about plunging a trench knife into a foreigner of colour, generally smaller than themselves".

(Don't be too smug. Fussell described The Monthly Royal Review "for people who get an erection when they think of the Queen Mother - or rather her privileges, furniture and jewels...")

Soldier of Fortune still exists along with a host of US supermarket offerings like Shotgun News and an inexhaustible fountain of Guns & Ammo spin-offs. But the new king of weaponry media produced for and by psychotics is the Military Channel's Futureweapons.

If you have the right cable package in the US, it's on about half a dozen times a week.

Futureweapons' mission: Free publicity for world arms developers and the televising of great enthusiasms over the technologies of massacre, as mostly developed by American business in cooperation with the military.

Hosted by ex-Navy SEAL Richard Machowicz, every episode is unintentionally tasteless and crazy, dedicated to the genital stiffening qualities of cluster bombs, super-sized armour-piercing sniper rifles, computerised bounding mine dispensers, machine guns, massive ordnance air blasts and the mercenary army, Blackwater USA. Somewhat curiously, it's produced by Waddell Media of Northern Ireland, also creator of quizzical shows on the correction of disobedient dogs.

Futureweapons shows the beamish face of alleged US supremacy in all things concerned with firepower.

While the mainstream news media has focused on Blackwater USA pumping fire into civilians in Iraq, Futureweapons was devoting most of a recent episode to the magnificence of the company's firing range in North Carolina, its design of Grizzly armored cars, and the amount of lead that special grenade-spouting shotguns and machine guns being developed on its property could put on a target.

For that part of the audience now filling the old SoF segment of those yearning to see someone bayoneted, progress has fulfilled this by showing the host machine-gunning a parked civilian automobile with a dummy behind the wheel while Blackwater employees look approvingly on.

If that is not sufficiently trigger happy, there's kit to be had from Britain, the AS50, made by Accuracy International, pumping heavy slugs through cinder blocks and into head-sized melons. The subtext: If you're hiding behind a wall in Iraq, we can still pop your head like a troublesome zit.

In every other episode, a cameo is reserved for the wizard of limpet mines, Bangalore torpedoes, detonation cord, plastique and shaped charges, Sidney Alford of Alford Technologies.

Euro arms developers have got wind of the opportunity presented by Futureweapons and have wasted no time in getting their PR efforts onto it, presumably to get their wares in front of American buyers. Notable is Bofors of Sweden. Sweden appears to have little need of a chemical and radiologically sealed fully automated artillery piece called the Archer, but there is always the Pentagon or Nigeria, the latter perhaps providing an opportunity to call down a barrage on women who presume to protest at oil terminals.

There is much backslapping between the host and an arms manufacturer over the development of novel explosives for armour-piercing rocket launchers, the better to attack buildings held by insurgents and terrorists. They are said to be superior because the new munitions contain two charges, one to make a small hole in the side of the building, the second to incinerate everything inside. Claimed to be superior in avoiding collateral damage because, hmmm, well, one forgets why upon watching some building being transformed into sticks and plaster in fond slow motion and glorious replay.

As an educational tool for measuring delusion within the Department of Defense and political establishment, Futureweapons delivers. Since it is devoted to the demonstration of potential massive escalations in force as an answer to everything, it mirrors the philosophy of the US military, capable of turning a foreign country into a cauldron of misery while losing and turning the entire citizenry and rest of the world against it with merciless exhibitions of sophisticated mechanised cruelties.

Interestingly, Futureweapons recently rolled out the first appearance on entertainment TV of the Air Force's Active Denial System (ADS), the heat ray-shooting directed energy weapon said to be in great need for non-lethal application in Iraq. Travelling to Moody AFB in Georgia, host Machowicz was put through the usual strapped-down chicken test in which he consented to be shot while standing still.

Since Machowicz was determined, in his words, to be no "pussy", the ADS was much less than impressive, causing him only to grunt and step out of the way. The usual crowd of volunteer soldiers, acting as a crowd instructed only to go sideways or backwards and forbidden to actually attack the machine, as one presumes would happen in real life, was zapped.

Vendors and supervisors were on hand to advise that the ADS was perfectly humanitarian and friendly to life, absolutely not capable of burning your eye because the blink reflex saves one.

The pushers of the ADS are now perfectly aware of its horrendous public relations footprint, one that seriously impedes its progress into the armoury. This has resulted in a small public relations push aimed at giving it a makeover as something life-saving, an impression which would now seem to be out of reach of the US military for perpetuity.

An AP story widely circulated last month tried to drum up support for the ADS in Iraq by airing a few requests for it from generals in Iraq, unanswered because of the entrenched belief the weapon would be viewed as a machine of torture.

A soldier at the US Space Command was said to have insisted, rather laughably, that: "I am convinced that the tragedy at Fallujah would not have occurred if an Active Denial System had been there."

If accurate, this would seem to have entailed putting it into the hands of trusty Blackwater USA, the firm's employees being the ones who were infamously ambushed and lynched.

Associated Press attempted to push the ADS by implying Raytheon, its assembler, was contemplating offering a civilian version to the market and foreign buyers if something wasn't done. The Futureweapons segment on the ADS, in departing from its usual script of crushing retaliatory firepower for the elimination of all presumed bad guys, took time out to help, not particularly persuasively.

Futureweapons segment on the mother of all cluster bombs.

Highlights at YouTube.
CULT OF CYBERWAR (continued)

Today's dose comes as an opinion piece from The Hill.

It fits with the cult of cyberwar practice in which advertising and wishes to enlarge a company's bottom line are disguised as national strategic advice. In this case, it's delivered by McAfee, the giant computer security company which only a week or so ago issued a report, authored by Richard Clarke's "electronic Pearl Harbor" factory -- Good Harbor, warning cyberwar was about to arrive.

"No line between cybercrime and cyberwar" is the title of the piece by Dave Dewalt.

Why is that central?

Because war is solely thought to be the responsibility of the government -- although, as we've all learned to our everlasting regret -- in real American war, this really isn't the case, either.

However, if you make trouble from the Internet a national existential threat, one that is indistinguishable from cybercrime, then you raise even bigger potential for transfer of taxpayer treasure to the corporates who comprise the cult of cyberwar.

So, from an industry standpoint, one offers sage advice and recommendations which always boil down to conflicts of interest but which have become accounting firm-approved best practices for governance in the last ten years.

"[The] July 4 denial-of-service attacks that pounded U.S. federal agencies, the New York Stock Exchange, Nasdaq and many major private-sector networks," is given as one example of the threat posed. You'll remember this only as the alleged big North Korean cyberattack, the one everyone missed because they were eating hot dogs and playing outside, save for the media which noted, for example, that the Departoment of Transportation's website had been made to run slow. (See here and here for additional context. Hacker attack slows down holiday web surfing, reads one news piece, featuring even me.)

But the meat of the opinion piece for The Hill are its recommendations.

DD will translate them so as to illuminate what they really mean.

"Develop security standards and best practices collaboratively. Define U.S. government cyber security standards with input from the private sector and government agencies that have experience with cyber security."

Naturally, this sounds really good to the layman. However, it's old old news, recommended at least three or four times a year, maybe even more, for the last fifteen.

What it really means now, is this: "Make someone from my company the head of a committee or agency or commission with power to enforce policy standards set by my company, standards which will ensure a quick and permanent expansion of the business."

Another recommendation is: "Define public/private partnership. Create an entity that has the ability to transcend corporate competition. This will allow trust to be brokered and will build relationships so that the best counsel is provided to the national leadership before, during and after cyber attacks happen."

Broker trust, transcend corporate competition, sounds great to the layman. Just as it does every four or five times it's been said in various places over the last fifteen years.

Here's what it means. Seriously.

"Create an agency or commission and appoint me and cronies from my business as its leaders. This will enable us to transcend competition and ensure that national policy is made which will expand even further our bottom line. We will provide the best counsel on how to do this before, during and after cyber-attacks which, quite naturally, we are the best at seeing and defending against. We will provide timely intelligence assessments on world cyberthreats to the nation, menaces we are best positioned to defeat."

"Dewalt is the president and CEO of McAfee Inc., a security technology company," reads the fine print at The Hill.

Why we even need government in this country is totally beyond me.




The last installment from Cult of Cyberwar. Also here.

Quote of month: "I am worried about some terrorist group [with] the capability to destroy the U.S. money supply ... The impact of such an attack would be an order of magnitude greater than the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks." -- Cult of Cyberwar VP, Booz Allen Hamilton.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

FROM TOUGH GUY TO KOOK

Jesse Ventura has a new TV show. The Body has discovered 'conspiracy theories' while spending time in Mexico, according to one source. And his new show joins -- oh, I dunno, about eleventy hundred other reality and conspiracy theory-type shows to have been featured on cable in the last ten years.

Here's a clip. Ventura goes to HAARP in Alaska, an installation which has been drawing nuts and providing material for books on military weather and mind control for about as long as I've had an e-mail address.

That's a long time.



But paranoid kooks and crap are a recipe for money, established niche entertainment abetted and fertilized well by the fact that you really can't trust the US government.

Once upon a time, DD enjoyed Ventura -- as a pro-wrestling heel -- every Saturday.

On cable. Years and years before it adopted the fake high-button investigative reality TV shtick so we all might find out the truth on ghosts, flying saucers, supervolcano cataclysms, cometary impacts and the end of the world. Or how the most complicated cluster bombs, robot-guided weapons, phasers, Mentos and soda, smart land mines and worm holes work.

But that's all s--- compared to vintage TV.

Yes, I still fondly recall Ventura's arm-wrestling match with Ivan Putski, someone he liked to goad by twisting the last name into "Pa-doo-ski." You, quite naturally, will want to skip forward to about 6:30 in the segment. This is the point where Ventura starts cheating, leading to Putski's inevitable downfall. I'll not spoil it for you.

Boy, you always knew where things were going with Ventura back then.



And here is the trailer for Predator, in which Ventura provides incontrovertible proof that he was the best actor with a minigun, ever. Bill Duke is second best.

They were in the same movie, too!

(Ventura also in the Top 10 for actors with chewing tobacco, for the line on how it made one into a "sexual tyrannosaurus," also from Predator. First place, naturally, goes to Clint Eastwood in The Outlaw Josey Wales.)