Friday, December 28, 2007

Fever Dreams...

...make interesting viewing. It's like a psychedelic montage of whatever's floating around in the sludge at the bottom of the mind.

In this case, it was a pastiche of Farscape: The Peacekeeper Wars and the 2007 Doctor Who Christmas Special, which is set on a spacegoing Titanic.

Quite interesting, really. The only problem is that people who aren't sci-fi fans won't get it if I try to explain it to them.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas

I toyed with the idea of making some sort of Christmas blog, exploring the meaning of the holiday and how much the meaning has, for me, changed over time. Then I decided that anyone who reads this blog should be doing something more interesting with their holiday than reading my crap, and that I should be doing something more interesting than writing said crap. So instead, I'll just write this little splatter of brain-sputum and be off. Merry Christmas. :)

I've had this set of unwritten rules floating around in my head for a long time. Sometimes I forget they're unwritten and refer to Rule 2, which confuses people who can't read minds. To spare the confusion, I wrote them down:


  1. Always speak politely to people who are carrying guns, unless you beat them in a quick-draw contest
  1. Thou shalt not boink thy coworkers, nor through inaction or dereliction of duty allow oneself to be boinked by said coworkers. Please note that this rule does NOT apply retroactively.
  1. Thou shalt pack every tool thou art able, else the one tool you do not have with you will be the one you need.
  1. Remember that idiots will cheer for anything, so long as someone else is cheering too.
  1. Get a full physical once per year. That way if you discover you have something incurable, you will have time to arrange your affairs, get some closure, and die of something you actually LIKE before your liver gives out.
  1. Always make sure you have twice as much money as you will likely need, plenty of ammunition, and a good lawyer on speed-dial.
  1. When visiting any of those scenic Latin American countries with their beautiful mountains, amazing ecologies, and warm, friendly, colorful people, the first words out of your mouth when getting off the CIA-chartered airplane in Tegucigalpa should NOT be "Hola, soy un turista del gringo. Deseo derrocar su gobierno. Por favor demuéstreme donde están las putas."
  1. Remember that the first principle of modern democracy is that all men are created equal, and equally entitled to a voice in representation. This means that while the informed and honest citizenry can vote, so can the uninformed, the insane, religious fundamentalists, and most criminals, as well as those few lobbyists and Republicans who have not been listed above. In other words, retards can vote, and you're no better than they.
  1. There is not problem that cannot be solved, or at least ameliorated, by a properly phrased and addressed dose of bullshit.
  1. Treat all of your clients equally; the guy with a $500 job deserves the same respect as the guy with a $50,000 job. The fact that one guy has more money does not correlate to him being a better or more worthy person.
  1. Reality TV is the biggest scam the 21st century has seen so far. If you want reality, look out the window, and then throw your television out through the window.
  1. Cthulhu snores. This explains a great deal.
  1. "Because I can" and "because I should" are two entirely different things.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Veterans' Day

The 11th of November is Veteran's Day. It seems to mean a little more to people this year than it used to—ten years ago it was just one of those holidays commemorated by a few old men and their families down at the American Legion or the VFW or the ITAM, who remembered crawling through mud and the sound of flying steel and the faces friends no longer there, while the rest of the country celebrated it with a 10% off sale at Target or Spag's. Now that we have more wars going on and a fresh generation of people going off to the fighting and returning home from it, Veteran's Day has taken on a new polish. I wish it didn't require a lot of American blood to put a new gleam on the old holiday, but it seems that's what it takes.

Veteran's Day was, until the late 1940s, known as Armistice Day—it commemorates the day on which, at 11 AM, a cease-fire (or armistice) went into effect on the Western Front, ending the fighting in France and Belgium, as well as on the high seas. The time—"the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month"—was deliberately chosen by the negotiators, with the hopes of burning a memorable and symbolic moment into the world's consciousness. The fighting formally ended in November 1918, and American troops began sailing home in January 1919.

American Expeditionary Force had begun arriving in France in June 1917, and first saw combat in July 1918 at the Battle of Le Hamel. The year-long interval between arrival and combat was taken up by training—the US troops had been shipped to France without having had any but the most basic training, and although the French and British wanted to commit the AEF to battle immediately to patch up holes in their own regiments, General Pershing insisted to President Wilson as well as to the Allied High Command that the AEF should not be sent into battle untrained—it was a genuine moment of cognitive dissonance for me when I realized that the option of sending untrained men into battle even existed in the first place. For that matter, by 1917 the Allied powers had come to believe that all you really needed for trench warfare was warm bodies by the shipload, and a lot of artillery.

According to the figures provided by the American Legion and the VFW, 4,734,991 Americans served in the military during the war. 53,402 were killed in battle, 204,002 wounded in battle, and 63,114 died of other causes during what was, essentially, five months of fighting. To put this in context, the British Empire alone lost nearly half a million men killed and wounded during the Battle of the Somme in 1916.

The thing to remember is, this was not the end of the war, even though the AEF essentially packed up and sailed home as soon as it could. That is, however, where most Americans think the war ended— the Yanks sailed across the Atlantic, whupped ass and ended the war, and then turned around and sailed home. That's how Americans like their wars—short, noble, victorious, and then there's a parade and everyone goes back to normal, trying to pull the blankets back over their heads.

The armistice was a truce, not a peace treaty, and the peace conference wrangling went on until June of 1919. The fighting could have resumed—the only thing keeping that from happening was that most of the parties were too exhausted to continue, and in view of the mutinies in the French and German armies (the German army had virtually disintegrated), it is unlikely that all but the harshest measures could have forced them back into battle once more.

The First World War has long intrigued me, not least because it is so overshadowed by the conflict that began in 1939. I know a fair number of Second World War veterans, but I've never met any First World War veterans, however—most of them were dying by the time I was born, just as the Second World War vets are in old age now, and according to the American Legion there's only about twenty WWI veterans left—they'd all have to be over a hundred years old now. The WWI generation has never received the sort of well-deserved attention that the WWII one has seen during the last ten years. That saddens me. As someone with a love of history that borders on the obsessive, it perturbs me whenever stories die, unrecorded, with the people who could have told them.

The sheer momentousness of the war also awes me—this was the biggest watershed moment in world history in centuries. If you want a dividing line of history, a professor of mine once showed me, the First World War made a better start to the 20th century than the year 1900—the world in 1914 had far more in common with the world of 1814 than it did with the world in 1919. The First World War brought the end of empires that had endured since the Middle Ages, but which now dissolved practically overnight. The aftershocks of the war went on well into the 1920s—the Russian Civil War, heavy fighting in the former Ottoman Empire (including the Armenian Genocide), revolution in Ireland, a virtual civil war between left-wing and right-wing factions in Germany, the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian empire. The British Empire was nearly bankrupted by the war, and France and Germany took decades to recover from the enormous casualties. This war did a great deal to shape the world in which we live now—it destroyed most of the world's major monarchies, opened the door to Bolshevism and fascism, destroyed moderate socialism, and so discredited liberal democracies that many countries just gave up on that form of government outright.

So when those brave Yanks came home from the trenches and had their tickertape parades down 5th Avenue, what kind of country did they come home to? Well, there was a sizeable element in American society that thought the social cohesion and control mechanisms produced during the war were very good things, and they were very interested in keeping the 'war emergency powers' in effect during peacetime in order to keep order in a turbulent world full of Bolsheviks, labor unionists, and uppity Negroes.

Rationing was still in effect. Many soldiers had trouble finding jobs, because war industries that had profited so much from the federal government's largesse during the war now decided layoffs were in order. The government was still exercising stringent controls over free speech, the press, and the mails—'subversive' magazines or newspapers were simply warehoused by the Post Office and never delivered, and their authors and editors investigated by the federal government. The "Spanish flu" epidemic of 1918-1919—the deadliest pandemic of modern times—acquired its name because although the disease was first documented in Fort Riley, Kansas, most news of it was suppressed to avoid hurting the war effort. Spain was not involved in the war, and did not restrict reporting of the disease—it was thus nicknamed "the Spanish flu" because most of the news coverage of it came from Spain.

Armies of volunteer spies, vigilantes, and Bolshevik-hunters like the American Protective League, which had a membership of over 250,000 people in 600 cities and was officially endorsed by the Justice Department, operated with no legal restraint, spying on and physically attacking anyone suspected of being 'subversive,' including union men, Socialists, Communists, Catholics, anarchists, German immigrants, outspoken blacks or other minorities, etc. Segregation was still in full effect. In many states, black combat veterans were intimidated into not wearing their uniforms or medals—if they did so, they were frequently beaten or lynched by white mobs.

For that matter, thousands of American troops were still scattered farther afield after the Armistice, on combat duty at Murmansk and other locations in the Soviet Union; they would remain there until March of 1920, with no clear purpose, little help or support, horrible living conditions in an Arctic climate, and virtually forgotten by the American public, most of whom didn't even know they were there because the North Russia campaign generally didn't make the newspapers.

As bad as things were there, they were worse elsewhere—even in Great Britain, things very nearly came unglued. The Labour government that had fought the war was in dire straits over how badly the war had been fought, and HM Government spent an enormous amount of time and energy in one of the great whitewash jobs of modern history, attempting to bury the truth of the Imperial General HQ's appalling incompetence. The British Army's official history of the war was compiled mostly from General Haig's records, prepared by one of Haig's close friends, and suitably tweaked by various other persons in the establishment so as to bury the ordure of failure as deeply as possible. This was, after all, the only war of which I am aware, in which officers were penalized for not trying hard enough to win if they managed to keep most of their men alive.

Imagine a war in which generals would deliberately do the same thing over and over again, even though it never worked. The only thing that really changed was that each time they tried piling up more and more men for the attack, as if hitting an anvil with a hammer one size larger will make a difference. The Triple Alliance (Germany, Austria Hungary, and the Ottoman Empire) very nearly won the war in 1917—the Germans had been fighting on the defensive until the summer of 1917, letting the British and French beat their heads bloody against heavy fortifications, and when they finally went on the offensive on the West, the French and British armies were very nearly destroyed.

Throughout the war, the French and British governments demonstrated an appallingly thorough indifference to the massive casualties suffered by their colonial and Commonwealth troops. In the parlance of the Imperial General Staff, soldiers were simply "human material," to use the term employed in wartime records —men were simply another kind of bullet to expend. Gen. Sir Douglas Haig—whose singularly inappropriate nickname was "Lucky"-- frequently used Indian, African, Irish, Canadian, and ANZAC troops as shock troops on the Western Front in an attempt to avoid British losses. In one instance, of 3,000 men of the 1st South African Brigade sent into battle at Delville Wood in 1916, only 768 survived alive and unwounded. The Lahore and Meerut divisions from the Indian Army, deployed on the Western Front at Ypres in 1914, lost half their strength in a month's fighting. Haig later responded to the deaths of 23,000 Australians in six weeks on Pozieres Ridge at the Somme by saying "Luckily, their losses have been fairly small."

One British commander, Sir Charles Townhsend, was trapped with his men in the village of Kut, near Baghdad, after attacking an entrenched Ottoman army that outnumbered his own force three to one. The British were forced to surrender in April of 1916; Townshend himself spent the rest of the war in as a gentleman guest of the Ottoman government, living in a spare palace and attended by a nobleman's household of servants, while his eleven thousand men were massacred or starved to death in the desert. Any news of the battle of Kut was, of course, strictly suppressed in the news media. Townshend was elected to Parliament in 1920, but resigned after his actions during and after the siege of Kut became public knowledge; he died in 1924, disgraced and nearly penniless.

Haig proved almost equally callous towards British casualties—rather than admit his methods were catastrophic, he preferred to coordinate government and media in a general cover-up of the scale of casualties at the Somme (as well as on the Western Front in general) and, in an interview with the London Times, passed off the fruitless death or maiming of 100,000 men in three days of fighting as "substantial progress." Most of the troops Haig ordered to their deaths at the Somme were relatively new volunteers from the 'New Army' raised by Secretary of War Horatio Kitchener in 1915, the 'Old Contemptibles" of the original British Expeditionary Force having been virtually annihilated at the First Battle of Ypres (10/31-11/22 1914), only months after the outbreak of war. Kitchener himself, one of the British Empire's leading 19th-century military figures after his victories at Omdurman and in the Boer War, was killed when the ship he was aboard was sunk by a German submarine.

For me, the most mesmerizing thing about the First World War is the sheer wastefulness and horror of it all. Never have so many people been killed to achieve so little; the entire Western Front was effectively a vast machine into which hundreds of thousands of young men were shoveled, year after year, to be ground up and spat out, in a stalemate where lines of battle barely changed from one year to the next—men basically climbed out of one trench and died trying to get into the other guy's trench, a hundred or so yards away. Get ten thousand men killed to capture an acre of mud—what's the point? There was no great ideological crusade in the war, no struggle against fascism or another religion, just two groups of generals, aristocrats, and ministers who blundered into an accidental war and then became obsessed with winning the war for its' own sake-- war as the means became war as an end in itself. That could have been me lying dead in Passchendaele, and if I was there it probably means you'd be there too, reader, along with most of the other people our age, lying right next to me as the flies try to decide who to eat first. If the generation that fought the Second World War deserves its nickname of the 'greatest generation,' then that which fought the First World War deserves to be dubbed the butchered generation.

The Australians and New Zealanders remember this better than we Americans do—ask them about ANZAC day and playing two-up in memory of all the men killed at Gallipoli. Those two Dominions, out of a combined population of about 5.1 million, contributed approximately 432,000 fighting men, of whom 280,000 would be killed or wounded—something like 5% (one person in twenty) of the combined populations of Australia and New Zealand were casualties in the First World War.

Most people these days probably help themselves to sleep at night by believing that this sort of thing could never happen again. Then again, people probably believed much the same thing in the spring of 1914, before a group of backwoods terrorists blew up a relatively minor political functionary in Sarajevo. We may be more cynical about life and the world that people were a century ago, at least in some matters, but we as a society have certainly not lost our capacity for self-delusion, especially about whether we're leading or being led.

General Melchett: "That's the spirit, George. If nothing else works, then a total pig-headed unwillingness to look facts in the face will see us through!"

I happened to be watching Blackadder Goes Forth recently, and while it's not my favorite series out of the Blackadder catalog, it's absolutely the most poignant, and it's so appropriate to this topic that I can't help but include a bit on it so as to sum things up. It takes place in the trenches on the Western Front, and in the background of all the heckling of higher authority, cunning plots to get out of messy spots, and razor-edged wit, there's a pervasive shadow of doom and hopelessness that the cast and directors deliberately constructed, and the humor has more teeth to it because the stakes for the characters are higher.

None of them can escape—not George the gung-ho Edwardian public school twit whose dad was at school with half the Imperial General Staff, not Baldrick the…well, I guess 'proletarian' fits well enough… not even the ever-twisting Edmund Blackadder himself. They're all inescapably doomed, even as General Melchett sits in his command chateau thirty miles away from the fighting, playing with toy soldiers. You're not supposed to like Blackadder in any of his incarnations—he's sneaky, underhanded, rude, and arrogant, but the moment when he reaches the end of his tether, gives up, and effectively says "ok, that's it, let's go get killed now" is one of the heaviest moments I've seen in any kind of TV or movie. Here's the conclusion of the last episode, titled "Goodbyeee," courtesy of Youtube.

Edmund Blackadder: "Well, you've come to the right place, Bob. A war hasn't been fought *this* badly since Olaf the Hairy, High Chief of all the Vikings, accidently ordered 80,000 battle helmets with the horns on the inside."

Now listening to: The Clash, 'Something About England'

I missed the fourteen-eighteen war
But not the sorrow afterwards
With my father dead, my mother ran off
My brothers took the pay of hoods
The twenties turned the north was dead
The hunger strike came marching south
At the garden party not a word was said
The ladies lifted cake to their mouths

The next war began, my ship sailed
With battle orders writ in red
In five long years of bullets and shells
We left ten million dead
The few returned to old Piccadily
We limped around Leicester Square
The world was busy rebuilding itself
The architects could not care

But how could we know when I was young
All the changes that were to come?
All the photos in the wallets on the battlefield
And now the terror of the scientific sun
There was masters an' servants an' servants an' dogs
They taught you how to touch your cap
But through strikes an' famine an' war an' peace
England never closed this gap

Friday, September 28, 2007

Worst. Smell. Ever.

The boss and I did a day's worth of test pits with a backhoe at a former turkey farm today. In the course of that, we identified an area of about an acre that appears to be a gigantic turkey burial ground. Dig a couple feet down and you run into a solid layer of half-decomposed turkeys that have been at the 'runny' stage for umpteen years because there's not enough oxygen to make 'em rot-- it's basically black sludge with bones in it.

Anaerobic decomposition FT very major L.

The stink literally made my eyes water. I have been in landfills, sewers, paper mills, bar bathrooms on Sunday morning, and this was hands-down the absolute worst stench I have ever beheld, bar none.

We dug as far as we could go with the backhoe, and there was still turkey sludge at 12' below grade. Area of about an acre, 12' deep....that's a lot of turkey sludge. reported average of 25,000 turkeys per year, supposed average of 1% pre-slaughter mortality per year, say that each turkey carcass is a cubic foot when you throw it into the hole....2,500 cubic feet (lowballing an estimate) per year. That's about 100 cubic yards, or about six triaxial dump truck loads, or a pile the size of a 2-car garage, before the stuff goes runny and packs down. Now figure that the farm's been doing this since the late 1940s.....

And to think my family's bought turkeys there since time out of mind (well, since the 1960s, at any rate). Let's not discuss the 8-12" thick layer of dried turkey excrement on the floors of the coops. Apparently FDA and USDA regs say that you only have to clean out coops once every three years, so that lovely bird you're eating on Thanksgiving Day spent most of its' brief life (six months from hatching to hatchet) living, eating, and sleeping in its' own shit and that of the other 20,000 turkeys crammed into the same barn. Pretty pissed off at the place's owners, since they flat-out lied to me on a number of counts.

I grabbed a few of the dry turkey bones to sell as relics. Bit of gold paint, some glued-on fake jewelry, easy money there.

What am I bid for a metatarsal of St. Dismas? How about a bone from the pinky finger of the Apostle Hermione? Big toe of the Virgin Mary's cleaning lady? (cures genital warts in no time, and helps prevent ingrown hairs)

Judas Iscariot's hangnail?


Come on, I need some money to pay for the Thanksgiving ham....

Friday, June 22, 2007

How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Strange

Y'all might know that I'm no big fan of government secrecy and the intelligence community, especially during the Cold War. I like sunshine; I thoroughly dislike crypto-fascism on the part of the government or any parts of the government, especially the creepier OGAs—'Other Government Agencies' whose names and existence are classified. Here's some of the reasons why.... article first, rant second.

CIA to Air Decades of Its Dirty Laundry

Assassination Attempts Among Abuses Detailed

By Karen DeYoung and Walter Pincus

Washington Post Staff Writers

Friday, June 22, 2007; A01

The CIA will declassify hundreds of pages of long-secret records detailing some of the intelligence agency's worst illegal abuses -- the so-called "family jewels" documenting a quarter-century of overseas assassination attempts, domestic spying, kidnapping and infiltration of leftist groups from the 1950s to the 1970s, CIA Director Michael V. Hayden said yesterday.

The documents, to be publicly released next week, also include accounts of break-ins and theft, the agency's opening of private mail to and from China and the Soviet Union, wiretaps and surveillance of journalists, and a series of "unwitting" tests on U.S. civilians, including the use of drugs.

"Most of it is unflattering, but it is CIA's history," Hayden said in a speech to a conference of foreign policy historians. The documents have been sought for decades by historians, journalists and conspiracy theorists and have been the subject of many fruitless Freedom of Information Act requests.

In anticipation of the CIA's release, the National Security Archive at George Washington University yesterday published a separate set of documents from January 1975 detailing internal government discussions of the abuses. Those documents portray a rising sense of panic within the administration of President Gerald R. Ford that what then-CIA Director William E. Colby called "skeletons" in the CIA's closet had begun to be revealed in news accounts.

A New York Times article by reporter Seymour Hersh about the CIA's infiltration of antiwar groups, published in December 1974, was "just the tip of the iceberg," then-Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger warned Ford, according to a Jan. 3 memorandum of their conversation.

Kissinger warned that if other operations were divulged, "blood will flow," saying, "For example, Robert Kennedy personally managed the operation on the assassination of [Cuban President Fidel] Castro." Kennedy was the attorney general from 1961 to 1964.

Worried that the disclosures could lead to criminal prosecutions, Kissinger added that "when the FBI has a hunting license into the CIA, this could end up worse for the country than Watergate," the scandal that led to the fall of the Nixon administration the previous year.

In a meeting at which Colby detailed the worst abuses -- after telling the president "we have a 25-year old institution which has done some things it shouldn't have" -- Ford said he would appoint a presidential commission to look into the matter. "We don't want to destroy but to preserve the CIA. But we want to make sure that illegal operations and those outside the [CIA] charter don't happen," Ford said.

Most of the major incidents and operations in the reports to be released next week were revealed in varying detail during congressional investigations that led to widespread intelligence reforms and increased oversight. But the treasure-trove of CIA documents, generated as the Vietnam War wound down and agency involvement in Nixon's "dirty tricks" political campaign began to be revealed, is expected to provide far more comprehensive accounts, written by the agency itself.

The reports, known collectively by historians and CIA officials as the "family jewels," were initially produced in response to a 1973 request by then-CIA Director James R. Schlesinger. Alarmed by press accounts of CIA involvement in Watergate under his predecessor, Schlesinger asked the agency's employees to inform him of all operations that were "outside" the agency's legal charter.

This process was unprecedented at the agency, where only a few officials had previously been privy to the scope of its illegal activities. Schlesinger collected the reports, some of which dated to the 1950s, in a folder that was inherited by his successor, Colby, in September of that year.

But it was not until Hersh's article that Colby took the file to the White House. The National Security Archive release included a six-page summary of a conversation on Jan. 3, 1975, in which Colby briefed the Justice Department for the first time on the extent of the "skeletons."

Operations listed in the report began in 1953, when the CIA's counterintelligence staff started a 20-year program to screen and in some cases open mail between the United States and the Soviet Union passing through a New York airport. A similar program in San Francisco intercepted mail to and from China from 1969 to 1972. Under its charter, the CIA is prohibited from domestic operations.

Colby told Ford that the program had collected four letters to actress and antiwar activist Jane Fonda and said the entire effort was "illegal, and we stopped it in 1973."

Among several new details, the summary document reveals a 1969 program about CIA efforts against "the international activities of radicals and black militants." Undercover CIA agents were placed inside U.S. peace groups and sent abroad as credentialed members to identify any foreign contacts. This came at a time when the Soviet Union was suspected of financing and influencing U.S. domestic organizations.

The program included "information on the domestic activities" of the organizations and led to the accumulation of 10,000 American names, which Colby told Silberman were retained "as a result of the tendency of bureaucrats to retain paper whether they needed it or acted on it or not," according to the summary memo.

CIA surveillance of Michael Getler, then The Washington Post's national security reporter, was conducted between October 1971 and April 1972 under direct authorization by then-Director Richard Helms, the memo said. Getler had written a story published on Oct. 18, 1971, sparked by what Colby called "an obvious intelligence leak," headlined "Soviet Subs Are Reported Cuba-Bound."

Getler, who is now the ombudsman for the Public Broadcasting Service, said yesterday that he learned of the surveillance in 1975, when The Post published an article based on a secret report by congressional investigators. The story said that the CIA used physical surveillance against "five Americans" and listed Getler, the late columnist Jack Anderson and Victor Marchetti, a former CIA employee who had just written a book critical of the agency.

"I never knew about it at the time, although it was a full 24 hours a day with teams of people following me, looking for my sources," Getler said. He said he went to see Colby afterward, with Washington lawyer Joseph Califano. Getler recalled, "Colby said it happened under Helms and apologized and said it wouldn't happen again."

Personal surveillance was conducted on Anderson and three of his staff members, including Brit Hume, now with Fox News, for two months in 1972 after Anderson wrote of the administration's "tilt toward Pakistan." The 1972 surveillance of Marchetti was carried out "to determine contacts with CIA employees," the summary said.

CIA monitoring and infiltration of antiwar dissident groups took place between 1967 and 1971 at a time when the public was turning against the Vietnam War. Agency officials "covertly monitored" groups in the Washington area "who were considered to pose a threat to CIA installations." Some of the information "might have been distributed to the FBI," the summary said. [Lurker's Note-- c.f. the FBI's COINTELPRO program] Other "skeletons" listed in the summary included:

  • The confinement by the CIA of a Russian defector, suspected by the CIA as a possible "fake," in Maryland and Virginia safe houses for two years, beginning in 1964. Colby speculated that this might be "a violation of the kidnapping laws."
  • The "very productive" 1963 wiretapping of two columnists -- Robert Allen and Paul Scott -- whose conversations included talks with 12 senators and six congressmen.
  • Break-ins by the CIA's office of security at the homes of one current and one former CIA official suspected of retaining classified documents.
  • CIA-funded testing of American citizens, "including reactions to certain drugs."

The CIA documents scheduled for release next week, Hayden said yesterday, "provide a glimpse of a very different time and a very different agency."

Barred by secrecy restrictions from correcting "misinformation," he said, the CIA is at the mercy of the press. "Unfortunately, there seems to be an instinct among some in the media today to take a few pieces of information, which may or may not be accurate, and run with them to the darkest corner of the room," Hayden said.

Hayden's speech and some questions that followed evoked more recent criticism of the intelligence community, which has been accused of illegal wiretapping, infiltration of antiwar groups, and kidnapping and torturing of terrorism suspects.

"It's surely part of [Hayden's] program now to draw a bright line with the past," said National Security Archive Director Thomas S. Blanton. "But it's uncanny how the government keeps dipping into the black bag." Newly revealed details of ancient CIA operations, Blanton said, "are pretty resonant today."

Now don't get me wrong-- I'm not going to take after Hoover's Secretary of State Henry Stimson and demand we shut down intel because 'gentlemen do not read each others' mail,' like Stimson did when he shut down the Black Chamber in the 20s. We can't do that-- it'd be nice to be able to do it because nobody's threatening us, but the world just doesn't work that way.

The idea that some operations run by the CIA were so secret and compartmentalized that the President, the Congress, and the Director of the CIA didn't know about them is a pretty scary thought indeed. None of this stuff was known except to a select few in the intelligence community until Seymour Hersh published an article about it in the New York Times, as mentioned above. Hersh's article may well have been the first time the President himself heard of what the CIA was doing on the public dime. This doesn't even really address the bigger, less-secret operations like the overthrow of Mossadegh, the School of the Americas, support for Latin American dictators like Pinochet, etc, and the initially secret incursions into Laos and Cambodia during the Vietnam War. Hooray for national security and reasons of state, might makes right and laws do not bind us. It's no wonder most of the world doesn't like us very much. Blowback happens.

The crushing irony is…. All the time we were tying ourselves in knots and pissing on the Constitution and Bill of Rights with all this black-bag stuff, the KGB was running rings around us without breaking a sweat.

After word of some of the CIA's shenanigans got out in the 70s and created an enormous scandal, thanks to Hersh and others, a Congressional panel known as the Church Committee was established (the name comes from the panel's chair, Sen. Frank Church). There was also another investigation run in parallel by the House, the Pike Committee, but the Church Committee is better-known. President Ford's advisors, including Donald Rumsfeld and Henry Kissinger, immediately tried to stonewall the Committee's investigation by claiming executive privilege and state secrecy. The result was a real watershed in public knowledge about what was going on, and what had been going on in secret for the previous thirty years, and some new constraints on what the intelligence community could do, based on the Committees' conclusion that the CIA and OGAs had been allowed entirely too much latitude and freedom from accountability; Senator Church himself complained that the country's spies had been acting like 'rogue elephants.' If you're interested in reading the Commission's reports in the original, they're linked at the bottom of this page. They're also here.

The gist of it is this:

The legislative branch has been remiss in exercising its control over the intelligence agencies. For twenty-five years Congress has appropriated funds for intelligence activities. The closeted and fragmentary accounting which the intelligence community has given to a designated small group of legislators was accepted by the Congress as adequate and in the best interest of national security. There were occasions when the executive intentionally withheld information relating to intelligence programs from the Congress, but there were also occasions when the principal role of the Congress was to call for more intelligence activity, including activity which infringed the rights of citizens. In general, as with the executive, it is clear that Congress did not carry out effective oversight.

(Church Committee Report, Book I, Chapter I, Section E.)

Anyone remember Ollie North and the Reagan-era Continuity of Government plans, or REX84? COG plans in and of themselves are normal—every administration has them. The basic one is, if the president dies, the VP takes, over, etc. That's in the constitution, but as time went on, and especially during the Cold War, when the primary objective was for the government to remain operational after the Soviets nuked us, they tended to get very elaborate. COG plans are one thing, but COG plans that propose the dissolution of Congress, the imposition of martial law over the whole country, and creation of a shadow government composed of a handpicked group of men from the Executive Office of the President, an alphabet soup of OGAs, and the military, which would then run the country indefinitely? Small wonder Bush is trying to bury the Reagan-era records indefinitely.

Continuity of Government (starring Rumsfeld and Cheney)

July 5, 1987 Miami Herald article by Alfonse Chardy, reproduced here (scroll down—see especially the bits about how they stole classified info from the Carter campaign when Dear Old Ronnie was running for election for a bit of black comedy. This was the first publication regarding the COG plan)

The existence of REX84 (Readiness Exercise, 1984) first came up during the Iran-Contra hearings—the basic idea was that in the event of a crisis (for which the defining criteria are vague), the federal government, acting through the military and FEMA, would impose martial law and arrest anyone on a long list of suspected dissidents, and throw them in newly-built, FEMA-run prison camps without due process. (n.b. – the nuclei of FEMA were established as parts of the Housing and Urban Development and Defense Department, initially charged with maintaining civil defense systems, and was only given the natural disaster responsibility in 1978; it kept a very low profile until the Reagan years, and didn't receive much publicity until their botched response to Hurricane Andrew).

This is not tin-foil-hat stuff. This was your tax dollars at work.

Between the pre-Church Commission stuff, Watergate, and Iran Contra, I'm very glad that we have laws like FISA; I just wish Congress and the Supreme Court would force the White House to obey the laws these days..

I'm not in the least bit surprised that we're having pretty much the same situation today, with a runamok intelligence community running secret prisons in other countries, private armies of on-the-books-but-off-the-record mercenaries like Blackwater, indefinite imprisonment of suspected enemy agents, and abducting people in ALLIED foreign countries. Hell, look at the bunch of CIA goons now on trial in Italy. "The US has said the Americans accused of the kidnapping would not be sent to Italy even if the government made an extradition request." I must admire the chutzpah; this is a perfect to treat one of the few countries to actually like us, George. Small wonder the current administration wants to circumvent FISA and junk the security clearances of most of Congress—they want to be able to work in the dark again, in a return to the bad old days.

Remember that bit I quoted from the Church report, that mentioned the executive intentionally withholding information from the Congress and violating the rights of citizens? Does that sound familiar? It should, or have you not been watching the news?

We're even sliding back into the dark ages with the CIA and OGAs running around inside the US—look at all the allegations that government agencies have been infiltrating, spying on, harassing, and sabotaging antiwar groups (on top of the usual Republican dirty tricks like hiring robo-call companies to jam Democratic organizations' phone lines during elections). It really makes me wonder if the old claim by some black leaders (c.f the San Jose Mercury News article reproduced here) that the CIA had intentionally created the crack epidemic to weaken the black population wasn't actually valid after all.

I mean, we know (and have the documents and an official apology for) government testing of radioactive or toxic materials on civilians without their knowledge or consent back in the 50s and 60s, plus nightmares like the Tuskegee syphilis experiments. Word of these experiments started to leak out in the early 1980s, as individuals or groups began talking publicly about experiments to which they were subjected. Most of this was basically weapons testing, or attempts to study the effects of radiation on people; the Department of Defense, Atomic Energy Commission, and CIA were easily the worst offenders when it came to experimenting on humans. Do the names Castle Bravo, Project Green Run, MK-Ultra, Project Chariot, Project 48A, or Operation Buster/Jangle ring any bells? Just check out this list…. Green Run involved opening the vents at the Hanford plant in Washington and burping out large quantities of radioactive iodine in order to track fallout patterns and the range at which radioactivity could be detected. The wind blew the stuff right over a city. ="">Buster/Jangle? Yeah, American troops sitting around watching a bomb go off six miles away so the Pentagon and Atomic Energy Commission can use them as lab rats. Men flying aircraft through mushroom clouds. Great ideas. We know bullets kill people; do we need to shoot 3,000 conscripts in the head to see if 5.56mm rifle ammunition is lethal? No. Then why do we need to have a couple of battalions standing around when a nuke goes pop? Giving hundreds of men cancer—which we knew radiation caused, among other side effects—just to see whether an atomic bomb works well enough seems very stupid to me. Same with spraying biological weapons around in the NYC subway or on the coast of California just to see what would happen, or dosing people with LSD. At least 23,000 citizens were subjected to 1,400 similar experiments, including soldiers, prison inmates, retarded or orphaned children, or anyone who happened to check into a hospital while the experiment was running, most without their knowledge or consent. Children at the Fernald School in Massachusetts were fed radioactive material in their oatmeal, in a study partly sponsored by Quaker Oats and MIT. The number of people affected by downrange nuclear fallout or other side effects will probably never be known, but in one incident after the Simon A-bomb test in the '50s, a fallout hotspot was discovered in Troy NY, thanks to prevailing winds.

Things like this infuriate me. These are human beings here; they are not lab rats, and should not be treated as disposable things to be used in tests. Allow me some hyperbole. My fellow Americans, you are cannon fodder in the war for defense of capitalism; truth, justice, and the American way need not apply. The generals are the guys in the white coats, thousand-dollar suits, or gold-braided jackets, who do the thinking for us peons; we're not here to reason why, we're just here to do and die.

Oh, and incidentally, military personnel who were experimented on were banned from suing the government, on the grounds that their injuries were 'incidental to service.' (Feres v. United States, 1950, United States v. Stanley, 1987) even though the circumstances in the latter case involved a soldier who, as part of a government experiment, was given LSD without being informed or asked for consent. Apparently soldiers can be expected to double as lab rats. Thank you very much, Mr. Justice Brennan.

Peter Libassi, Chairman of the Interagency Task Force on the Health Effects of Ionizing Radiation, summed it up in 1979 by noting "[There was] a general atmosphere and attitude that the American people could not be trusted with the uncertainties, and therefore the information was withheld from them. I think there was concern that the American people, given the facts, would not make the right risk-benefit judgments." Even after the experiments tapered off in the late '60s and early '70s, six consecutive administrations fought tooth and nail to keep things as thoroughly under wraps as they could.

Oh, and we're still getting taken to war under false pretenses—Gulf of Tonkin incident, Iraqi WMDs and ties to 9/11….what's the difference? We've still got a nasty old clique of people in the federal government who have decided that they know what's best for the country, and that the rest of us aren't worth listening to. The kicker is…. It's the same bunch of people, then as now, some in government and some floating around the fringes: Cheney. Rumsfeld. Baker. Perle. Wolfowitz. Feith. Kissinger. Gates. Clinton was an interruption, and an unpleasant surprise—no wonder the Republican establishment hated him so much.

You know, when I was a little kid reading comic books, the plot devices that always used to bug me was stuff about top-secret government super soldier experiments (Captain America, Weapon X, etc.; behold my childhood memories as they slowly rust away), alien technology, or experiments with bombs and stuff (i.e. gamma bombs and the resulting Incredible Hulk), and I still get a kick out of reading about huge underground bunkers or secret facilities like the Notch in South Hadley. I can only imagine what Groom Lake or the Nevada Test Site are like. It always perplexed and concerned me out that a republic like this would go to such lengths to hide what it's doing from the public for whom the government ostensibly works... as I got older and started devouring history, even the extremely sanitized stuff, it started putting things in perspective, and I realized that a lot of this comic book stuff was, in hindsight, a pretty scathing commentary on actual government behavior. Some of the stuff I had ignored as conspiracy theories or fiction was real, and while there might not be a Weapon X or some Men In Black or even the Impossible Missions Force running around, we did have those über-secret little OGAs which always seemed to have the cool James Bond toys and who were so classified that they could do whatever they wanted. Small wonder the Roswell crash and the Philadelphia Experiment seem so plausible to many people, and no wonder at all how the X-files became so popular. We've become so used to the government hiding stuff from us that we've come to expect it.

The world wars created the modern framework of an intelligence structure, as run by professionals and with a heavy capital investment in monitoring communications and technology, emphasis on cryptography, as well as a severe case of institutional paranoia, especially given the post-1945 stakes of nuclear war. Prior to 1914, intelligence was a smaller-scale, less institutionalized field that tended to attract a lot of amateurs and dilettantes, who ran operations out of the back rooms of embassies in their spare time, or through espionage rings composed of individuals in the right places, and the concept of secrecy hadn't yet developed into its current form as an all-consuming virtue, something which at times seems to exist strictly for its own sake. There was no Bletchley Park until World War Two. The experiences of the war changed things a great deal. In the Cold War era, to be blunt, the federal government, and particularly the intelligence and military communities, simply didn't trust the American public, either because they worried that the public wouldn't accept the means necessary to reach the ends, or because they feared for a loss of any advantages over the Soviet bloc. IBM also made an unbelievable amount of money out of developing and running cryptographic equipment; during the Second World War entire divisions of IBM were co-opted directly into the military for the duration of the war, and became the major technical infrastructure for the intelligence community. Alan Turing, the mathematics genius and computer innovator, spent most of his wartime years working for Bletchley Park.

Janus' doorway stayed open for a long time after 1939; Korea followed on the coattails of World War Two and involvement in Vietnam came hard on the heels of Korea, creating the looming prospect of one war after another, and over everything loomed the prospect of a third world war. The priorities of government, the intelligence community, and the military-industrial complex changed—you might say it became as much an effort to save us from ourselves as to save us from the Russians. Everything revolved around the Cold War, to the point where the hippies, Black Panthers, Cesar Chavez, social reformers, civil rights movements, antiwar movements during Vietnam, were all monitored and vetted to see if they were potential avenues for Communist infiltration into American life and our precious bodily fluids, or simply because the government wanted to evaluate whether or not they were termites in the timbers, potential liabilities to a country that might need to fight a very large war in the near future. This was particularly the case when opposition to military institutions like the draft or nuclear weapons became part of the opposition's agendas.

Personally, I always thought the whole point of the Cold War was to defend our way of life from the threat of a militarized dictatorship—at least, that's how it was taught in schools. Snort… yeah, whatever, spare me the fire-breathing better-dead-than-red patriotism. So what's the point of it all if, in order to win the war, we have to be willing to throw away the way of life we're defending and resort to setting up another authoritarian regime just to hold off the first one? I know it sounds a bit Howard Zinn—two elites bashing away at each other, with the rest of humanity as cannon fodder and grunt labor, but wouldn't we be just trading one bunch of rich and well-connected nabobs for another-- rich industrialists/bankers vs. the Communist Party clique? Who can tell me the difference? Why not just save a lot of effort, skip the war, and surrender to Brezhnev or Andropov, if the end result either way is authoritarianism? I guess this is the sort of logic one's mind willingly follows if you're the sort of man who can start out small with the idea of burning a village in order to save the village, and then just apply the same metaphor for ends justifying means to your own country on a national, institutionalized scale. I don't mind fighting to defend my country if it's a republic I believe in, but I have some real objections to laying down my life for the benefit of General Electric, Chrysler, and DuPont.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Lurker's First Law of Bullshit

Right now, we have a bunch of different sets of 'natural laws' and constants for physics and so on. A few examples:

Newton's Laws of Motion, which have absolute fuckall to do with Newton being an alchemist, a Freemason, head of the Priory of Sion, and a sexually pent-up old coot who was never quite right in the head to begin with, and who spent most of his career in a sinecure at the Royal Mint. You want an example? All right, how about 'A Tom that is at rest tends to remain at rest until acted upon by an outside force, e.g. an alarm clock or the need to piss, and a Tom that is in motion tends to remain in motion until it falls flat on its' face from being pooped.'

The ever-so-depressing Second Law of Thermodynamics; i.e. it takes less energy to be a lazy slob than to build something and energy doesn't grow on trees these days, so the universe is in an irreversible downward cycle of increasing entropy and general craptitude, brought on by its own damn laziness, so it should all be fine, just FINE, because the universe is only bringing it on itself by making poor life choices.

Planck's Constant (6.626068 × 10-34 m2 kg / s-- it's what told the little Dutch boy where to put his finger, but did so very precisely)

Laws of Conservation of Mass and Energy (neither matter nor energy can be created or destroyed, but they can be changed from one state to another; i.e. there's a finite amount of stuff in the universe, and X=Y for all processes in a closed system where X = the total mass of garbage in and Y = the total mass of garbage out).

The Sullivan Theory of Maximum Pwnage: Pwnage = all situations where X >Y, in which XN -> YP, when values of N are (nuke)(FTW) and values of P are proportional to (OMFG) (FTL)= (spladdoxed).

All of these do, however, have one thing in common. They're all bloody damn boring even when I satirize them.

So I created a new universal law just because I can, and because President Bush has demonstrated that you might as well just preach to the people who already agree with you and ignore the people who don't, because people who don't agree with you aren't going to pay you any attention anyways, so you might as well go ahead and start a third damn war even before you finish losing the first two.

I call it Lurker's First Law of Bullshit, the reasons for which are, well, #1 I'm the Lurker, and it's my damn law, (get your own, dirty hippies, and get off my lawn before the patchouli stains the….well it's too late for THAT…), and #2 it's a law regarding the quantum properties of bullshit.

Back in the 1800s there used to be a conceptual substance, sort of a theoretical holdover from Aristotle and the ancients (q.v. Plato's 'Timaeus'), known as the 'luminiferous aether,' or light-bringing substance; it was sort of a fifth element, no respect meant to the lovely Mila Jovovich, and its' existence was generally taken much for granted until the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The basics of it was that it was whatever element there was that filled the space in the universe that wasn't filled by earth, air, water, etc., and it's what transmitted light between origin and destination. Most of HP Lovecraft's Elder Gods (Cthulhu and all) had wings, incidentally, because in Lovecraft's mind they got to Earth by flying through the aether. Essentially, it took a while for most scientists to really get their heads around the idea that what's outside the atmosphere is vacuum (or at least, chunky vacuum)—it seemed impossible that vacuums of that type could exist in nature.

I propose that there is indeed a 'fifth element' in the universe, a substance which fills all the voids between everything else like the luminiferous aether supposedly did. That substance is…. Cue the drumroll…


Of course, most of the bullshit in the universe isn't pure bullshit—that can only exist in laboratory circumstances and under very tightly-controlled conditions, such as the White House press room or wherever a Republican is speaking. Granted, under such circumstances you can produce almost infinite quantities of pure bullshit, certainly more bullshit than would ever be useful or justifiable. Most of the bullshit in the use is poor stuff by comparison, containing variable amounts of other elements such as truth, justice, the American Way, apple pies, and for some reason, alarm clocks.

The thing about bullshit that requires a major rethinking of physics, though, is that it defies the laws of conservation of mass and energy—if you have a vacuum and introduce a quantity of bullshit into it (any grade of bullshit will do), the bullshit will expand to fill the vacuum, but do so without decreasing in density, opacity, or other obfuscatorial qualities. You wind up with a total amount of bullshit which is absolutely greater than that with which you started. It's worth noting that if you use impure isotopes of bullshit, for example ones containing a grain of truth, the amount of truth doesn't increase in proportion to the amount the bullshit increases, so you actually wind up with more purified bullshit, since it still contains the same amount of truth you had in the beginning. What's more, the speed of the increase in bullshit is proportional to the size of the vacuum—bullshit expands faster in a big vacuum than in a smaller one, because there is more space to fill, and the same amount of time in which to do it.

When you come right down to it, this multiplication-of-bullshit phenomena is actually readily observable in many everyday circumstances, such as dorm rooms where students are hastily writing term papers based solely on what they think is the one fact they can recall from the lecture, having never done the reading, without taking into account the possibility that the professor may have been joking, sarcastic, or quoting from a completely unrelated book, or that the one crucial fact might, in fact, have come from a completely different class, Jeopardy, or Sportcenter. Still, it is an absolute wonder of creation that one sentence composed mostly of truth, with a few crumbs of bullshit attached in odd corners like semicolons and words like "whereof," can spontaneously expand to fill a vacuum the size of an entire term paper in just a few desperate hours. If the size of the paper increases but the time remains the same, even if you account for showing up at class late and handing in a paper still warm from the printer, the bullshit expands faster. By the end, naturally, the composition of the mixture has been altered so that it now consists almost entirely of bullshit, with only minute traces of the truth.

Various branches of the US government make use of this process in handling particularly dangerous isotopes of the truth, such as government waste, sex scandals, exposures of lies, and so on; if buried in enough bullshit, they can become less dangerous because the aggregate amount of stuff you have to hunt through to find the truth is now so large. Even using mass spectroscopy, the signal-to-noise ratios created by the bullshit defy easy examination. The long-term consequences of this wholesale and deliberate bullshit production have not, however, become clear at this time, but they are probably extremely unpleasant.

Consider, then, the modern world. I know, it's painful, but do it anyways. Pain builds character, pleasure just builds hairy palms and bad eyesight (though the last is, I admit, mostly due to a related proximate cause, namely staring at pr0n-laden computer screens in dark rooms).

More to the point, consider this article, which was brought to my attention by a certain Mr. Halberd, and the following excerpt from it:

In a scene that was once a part of every American child's history lessons, a group gathered in the chamber of the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., in May of 1844 and listened as a message was tapped out to Baltimore. The message was "What hath God wrought!" and note, please, that it doesn't end with a question mark but with an exclamation point.

It must have seemed miraculous, this nearly instantaneous sending of messages over great distances through little strands of metal. It was certainly the talk of the nation and of the world. It is said that one presidential candidate in the 1852 election claimed credit for having invented it, though this is disputed. Inevitably, there were skeptics. In 1854 one professional gadfly by the name of Henry David Thoreau expressed his doubts thus:

We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to
Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to

The key word being, of course, "important." As the taciturn Thoreau could not have imagined, there was much to talk about anyway. The historical record is silent on the matter of when the first truly stupid message was sent by wire, though no one will doubt that it was early on, or that innumerable similar ones soon followed.

In terms of the First Law of Bullshit, what Morse and his coworkers did was create a vacuum—a real or metaphysical (or even outright metaphorical) space in the universe, which nobody happened to be using or keeping a close eye on at the time. Bullshit, in the form of innumerable completely pointless telegraphs from one place to another, immediately began to expand into the vacuum, and by the year 2000 Texas became the world's leading exporter of bullshit. Maine, however, continued to focus on her traditional industries of potato-growing, logging, fishing, and supplying settings for cinderblock-sized Stephen King novels.

By way of proving that bullshit expands faster to fill bigger spaces in the same time, consider the internet and the modern news media. Prior to the late 1990s, there was relatively little spam or advertising on the internet, because the internet was still a very limited space—computers were slower, most services were dialup modems, there was less stuff available on the internet, and fewer people used the net. Once the internet exploded in the late 1990s, however, the 'space' started increasing to stay ahead of demand, and this in turn gave the bullshit time to expand, creating stuff like spam, popup windows, spyware, adware,, iTunes, and the like. The sheer number of neologisms shows you how much of this stuff has become commonplace. Spamming became a multimillion-dollar industry structured around exploiting a resource that hadn't even existed ten years earlier.

For the news media, the launch of a series of cable news networks such as CNN, MSNBC, Fox Noise, and so on greatly expanded the amount of time devoted to discussing…well, news. The thing was, the world still had the same amount of actual news in it, so the bullshit expanded quite rapidly, producing Bill O'Reilly, the O.J. Simpson trial, runaway brides, Anna Nicole Smith,, etc, who spend much of their time rehashing things that have been beaten to death (Bill Clinton's BJ), harping about completely unimportant crap (Anna Nicole Smith) and just making stuff up (Barak Obama's supposed training in a fundamentalist madrassa in Indonesia, which turned out to be made out of whole cloth after it was reported as fact by Fox Noise).

In the same way, when there were four channels on TV, you could generally find something to watch. Nowadays, the state of affairs can be summed up by a morose Bruce Springsteen lyric—'57 channels and nothing's on.' Did you ever feel the need to call one of your friends right in the middle of lunch or a smoke break to talk about nothing important before you got a cell phone? Would you have ever even considered talking on the phone or sending text messages about what a cute butt the guy in front of you at the McBurgerWendy's had while you driving around on the highway, and whether this was a worthwhile use of time? How about interrupting a conversation with an actual living, breathing human being because your cell phone rings?

What it comes down to is this. You might have a busier life, but you still have the same amount of time. Sort the worthwhile from the dross—put the cell phone down. Throw your television out the window. Get off the friggin' internet if you're just farting around looking at nothing in particular. Yes, the irony is quite plainly visible to me;). Talk to people in person. Eliminate as much bullshit from your life as you can, and it will allow you to focus on the other stuff, like life and being human. That's the stuff that's actually important.

Now listening to: Old Blind Dogs, Johnny O'Braidislee