Archive for June, 2013

DillyOats

June 27, 2013

The usual — impulse buy of interesting-looking cheese, last chunk of it sitting there, getting hard. What to do?

This time it’s Safeway’s famous Primo Taglio Hvarti, with Dill. With a multi-Euro pedigree like that, how could one refuse?

Setup: 1/3 cup of stone ground rolled oats, two dinner teaspoons of potato flakes, one cup of broth, a splash of pinot grigio, a quarter cup of dill cheese, diced; salt.  Cook for 10 minutes or so, depending on the exact style of oats.  Add the potato when you take it off the stove, then add the cheese.

Results: Pretty good. If we ever buy that cheese again, I’m all for it.

Rating: *****

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Green Thumb Up My Nose

June 24, 2013

Garden Report for 130624

The weather this solstice-crossing week reminded me of April in Portland. Cool*, wet, breezy, finally warming on the weekend. Looks like next week will be similar.**

The lettuce is growing so fast I had to start giving some away. The hops, lacking a strong sun-signal to track, languished at the six foot level. The corn seedlings are big enough to transplant, but there’s no place to put them. Everything is packed, or grown big enough to shade them. I’ll try a container. At least they’ll be close enough to cross-pollinate.

We harvested the peas from the potted plants that MJ bought. Oregon Sugar Snaps, so we blanched them and had them in salad. Got two meals out of them, which means they weren’t really worth the expense. Good, though. In fact, that was our first meal where all the greens were from our garden. Too bad the lettuce matures two months before the tomatoes.

*When I say ‘cool’ I mean record setting cold. No frost, but we sat at 45F all day Thursday, so that our high matched the all time lowest high for that date.

**When I say ‘similar’ I mean cool to start, with warming on the weekend. In our case, the warming is forecast to be in the top 10% for highs on the last four days of the week.

Tonight is Liþa-eve

June 21, 2013

Say what? Liþa, pronounced Litha, (the þ being the now-abandoned letter thorn) is the old Anglo-Saxon word for midsummer. Bede reports out a double month here: ǣrra līþa and æfterra līþa, which I would translate as before and after liþa.

The word itself is, according to Wiktionary: Apparently related to liþe (“mild”)’ probably cognate with Serbo-Croatian ljeto, Czech léto, Polish lato, Russian лето (léto, “summer, year”), and is descended from (West) Proto-Germanic *linþiz. Cognate with Old Saxon līthi, Old High German lindi (German lind), meaning gentle, mild, pleasant.

Back in Old Jutland, whence came most of the language, June and July were the mild months, with highs in the 60’s and lows in the 50’s. Before that, May was the tail end of a blustery, bud-shaking Spring, and after that came the heat of August (“72 again today, no relief in sight“). Midsummer was celebrated by most of the paganfolk of Europe, usually with bonfires, just like Walpurgisnacht, and every other pre-Christian holiday.

The Angles and Saxons and Jutes (Oh, my) would have started their celebrations the night before, because twelve hours of pre-soak is an excellent way to prep for a day-long party that ends with you setting fire to things.

NOTE: Got the date wrong. LAST night was Liþa-eve, because we hit the solstice at 1AM this morning.

Slippery Slopes, Mission Creep, and NSA — Part 3

June 20, 2013

If the whole Intelligence surveillance system comes crashing down around Obama’s floppy ears, the basic cause will be the excessive secrecy surrounding every aspect of the counter-terrorism operation since 9/11. The creators of the system have been so afraid of giving the other side the least possibility of finding a chink in our armor that they’ve defeated its very purpose. There’s been two direct results.

First, is that the average citizen can find themselves caught in a Kafkaesque nightmare wherein they are charged with crimes that aren’t crimes, based on evidence they cannot see. Take TSA and its watch lists. It would appear that anybody in the government can cause you to be placed on the watch list, but nobody can take you off. The reason? Our obsessive fear that if we tell people how they get on and how to get off, the terrorists will exploit that information and sneak into the country and blow up the Boston Marathon or something. That’s not as bad as being on the no-fly list — that list of 20,000 people, including 500 or so Americans for whom we don’t have enough information to arrest but who are so dangerous we can’t let anyone with that name on an airplane. Or, if you’re lucky, you don’t get on any lists at all and you just have to stand in line for hours with your shoes in one hand, while the other one holds up your pants.

What does this have to do with the topic at hand? The fact that inept connecting of dots in a database can result in grievous harm to an individual’s life and reputation, with little hope of redress. Not a US example, but do you think what happened to David Mery in London can’t happen here? Or a 62-year old Catholic nun’s problems with TSA (yes, it was years ago — does anyone believe that anything has changed? Note the “I’d have to arrest you” line).

Second, the secrecy helps create a regulatory vacuum. The secret court judges, hand selected by the same Chief Justice who was responsible for the theft of the 2004 Presidential election, make their decisions in secret, based on secret interpretations of the laws. There’s no oversight of the court. Congress isn’t capable of doing it, because, you know, secret, and besides, no politician wants to be seen as being soft on terrorism. Even those few, few people in Congress who did have misgivings about the effects of the laws and their administration, were only able to allude to their concerns in the most general way possible. And when they are presented with direct evidence of lying to Congress by the DNI, they are strangely silent.

I mis-spoke in an earlier segment, when I said the FISA court had rejected 11 applications last year. It was 11 applications in its entire existence. This, at a time when the FBI Inspector General was charging that the same FBI agents, in sending out thousands of NSL’s with gag orders, had violated the law or internal procedures over a thousand times. In the face of that kind of evidence, we are supposed to believe that the data collected by VerizonVac is protected by internal procedures and that same FISA court? To say nothing of the fact that when it comes time to write the actual SQL query that pulls the data, there doesn’t seem to be any kind of court oversight at all. The next time you look up “FISA Court” on Wikipedia, you’ll get a redirect to “rubber stamp“.

Fortunately for the current regime, the Baby Boomer generation is still around. We were birthed at the start of the Cold War, and grew up with a real existential threat just beyond the North Pole. We learned to trust authority and the government because we could see the threat paraded through Red Square every May Day. We lived through the Berlin Airlift and the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Yom Kippur DEFCON 3 and understood why we needed to live with intrusive laws that were not nearly so draconian as today’s. So we are conditioned to trust the government, and even if we were inclined not to, we’re old and frail and succumb easily to fear. But we’re dying out. The grandparents of today’s generation were Viet Nam era hippies, and their parents knew the Soviet Union as an ailing, flailing empire, bleeding to death in Afghanistan — much like the US today. Today’s generation, like, just for e.g., Edward Snowden, were born into a Soviet-free world. They’ve never known what it means to be thirty minutes away from Armageddon, and they don’t care. They value freedom, they hate hypocrisy, and they recognize (those that have taken time to think about it), that a thousand or ten-thousand semi-literate plotters in some far off hell hole pose no existentialist threat to the USA.

At some point they’re going to wake up, put down their shoes, pull up their pants, and start to fight back, and the recent revelations might just be what does it.

Coconoats

June 20, 2013

Another week, another strange oatmeal additive. I was up to Huckleberry’s again this week. It’s an expensive place to shop, but the key to getting out of there with your inheritance intact is to only use a shopping basket, never a shopping cart. When the basket is full, you’ve reached your fiduciary limit. This week I bought a bottle of soy-free vanilla-flavored cultured coconut milk…. beverage. It contains probiotics. It contains prebiotics. It tastes like postbiotics. Almost, but not quite, totally unlike coconut milk. I’m drinking it a small glass at a time when I take my meds. I think it would go well with dwarf-bread.

I also tried it in oatmeal, as who wouldn’t? About a quarter cup to a cup of plain water. I knew it would have some flavor issues, in much the same way that Germany and the Soviet Union had some issues over the location of border posts 72 years ago. To offset that, I added a half measuring spoon of hot chocolate powder.

Setup: 1/3 cup of stone ground rolled oats, two dinner teaspoons of potato flakes, one cup of water, little bit of salt. A quarter cup of coconut-like beverage. A half tablespoon of chocolate.  Cook for 10 minutes or so, depending on the exact style of oats.  Add the potato when you take it off the stove.

Results: Tastes like chocolate-flavored postbiotics. The reason I never order hot chocolate in a restaurant is that it always tastes like ten unexpected guests arrived, and they had to thin it out. That watery taste prevailed here. On the good side, he said, frantically trying to find something positive, it didn’t taste overly of oatmeal. Not inedible, but an experiment we don’t have to run again.

Rating: *****

Slippery Slopes, Mission Creep, and NSA, Part 2

June 17, 2013

Mission creep, known in the software world as creeping featurism, reflects the tendency of any successful organization to add more tasks to its list, so as to become more important to the bureaucracy.

Sometimes agencies are smart enough to avoid it. For years, every time there was some sort of spectacular crime, the politicians first reaction was to make it a federal offense, and turn it over to the FBI. The FBI worked very hard to avoid these additional duties, partly because they never came with the resources needed to do them.

Of course, some organizations aren’t as smart as the FBI. DHS, for example, or its mini-me, TSA. They keep expanding the areas in which they are not contributing to American security or safety. DHS does this because it’s in its DNA. Think of it as the administrative equivalent of Katamari Damacy. TSA, of course, because fuck you.

Mission creep is bad enough, but there’s a more insidious flaw, probably best described as “we’ve got ’em, let’s launch ’em“. If you have a capability, and that capability is applicable in some way to the current situation, then there’s an almost overwhelming urge to use it. I’m of the opinion that “treating citizen organization X as if they were terrorists” comes from that. If you have a multimillion dollar “fusion center”, with people sitting around trying to figure out how to keep both thumbs warm, and Occupy X sets up camp in a nearby public park, of course you want to exercise your system by tracking them. Of course you want to show in your reports that you are on to every possible “threat”. Even as I typed this, a new story surfaced, about police using driver’s license photos as a permanent lineup.

As an aside, this is likely the cause of the upsurge in SWAT team deployments in support of the recovery of overdue library books (and I exaggerate only slightly). You have a highly trained, highly paid team of hair-trigger Rambo-wannabes just daring any terrorist to start something on their patch. But of course, there aren’t any terrorists. The overwhelming majority of plots broken up by the FBI have been arguably government entrapment of inept nebbishes. So, even if there’s no terrorists, there’s always drug busts of state-legal marijuana clinics. Or RIAA-targeted CD resale stores. Or various kinds of white-collar crime that can be labeled ‘cyber’, which is almost as bad as WMD and so deserve the SWAT treatment.

To get back on topic, in the last decade or so we’ve spent billions of dollars and millions of man-hours defending against a threat that is barely detectable, so that we can (as Snowden recently said) potentially reveal a potential terrorist with the potential to kill fewer Americans than our own police. When you have this kind of organization, and something occurs that can be made to be construed as falling within its purview — dissent, whistleblowing, unauthorized leaks — of course the powers that be will attempt to use it to their advantage and the detriment of Democracy. That’s what has people worried. In the back of everyone’s mind is the whispered voice “they came for my metadata, and I said nothing…”.

Quite naturally, everyone in power denies this possibility. It would not be allowed because, in the immortal words of a former President, “That, would be wrong“.

Green Thumb Up My Nose

June 17, 2013

Garden Report for 130617

The weather this week started out around 80, and ended around 80, but in between was in the upper 60s. Next week, more of the same.

The garden keeps on keeping on. Getting to the end of last year’s chard. This years lettuce is just starting to produce. The S-100 has three pea-sized tomatoes. I seem to remember this from last year — it will throw out some scouts, but the main body won’t arrive for another month. The potted peas on the deck are about ready to harvest.

The squash I planted in the new containers is not doing well. One of the three has died, and the other two haven’t moved from the two-leaf stage. On Sunday, I replaced the dead squash with a couple of yellow tomatoes that I bought from the remainder bin at Jarms. The hops are doing well, climbing up their ropes, and the assorted wildflowers at their base are growing, but not yet flowering.

We have the wrought-iron equivalent of a window box bolted to the deck railing. It came with a shaped coconut fibre planter, long since gone. I got the idea of lining it with a black plastic bag, and filling that with dirt. Now, I just have to decide what to put in it — full sun and no depth.

I’ve got another 16 corn seedlings that will be ready to transplant in another week, plus half a dozen kale. The book says you only need one, which is fine, if you can get that one to live.

Slippery Slopes, Mission Creep, and NSA, Part 1

June 15, 2013

On the one hand, I agree with Robert Graham about NSA. I worked with NSA people off and on for twenty years. They aren’t evil. While they’re not all “Ph.D.’s with military experience”, they are some of the smartest people you will find in any organization, now that Bell Labs is closed. Read the stories about Bletchley Park, and then think of NSA as Bletchley on an industrial scale. Among other things I can attest to is that they are scrupulous about obeying the law. The problem is with the law itself.

The arguments in favor of that law (when I say that law, I mean all the surveillance laws, from Patriot Act to CISPA) are that what is allowed isn’t that much different from what was allowed back in the wiretap days, see Simon, and that their vacuum cleaner approach is totally unbiased (reading all Americans metadata is better than discriminatorially targeting some, see also Simon). The truth is, the overwhelming majority of that data will never, ever be looked at. Some small percentage of it will be looked at in near-real-time, and could provoke a court order to allow deeper delving. A somewhat larger chunk will be called up for analysis after the fact (say, once a terrorist act has occurred and we’re chasing down the culprits) and could lead to further court orders.

Knowing what I do of kinds of people who work in Intelligence, I’m comfortable with that.

However.

The people at NSA are, of course, part of DoD, which means part of the Executive Branch, which means subject to ultimate civilian control. This is usually seen as a Good Thing. Unless, of course, you have the Attorney General (and the President’s brother) calling you every other day, asking if you have offed Castro yet. Unless, of course, you have the Vice President coming to your cubicle in Langley, demanding that you prove that Saddam Hussein has no WMD. Unless you are the FBI under Hoover.

Did you know that FBI requests for an improved “tie everything together” computer system were regularly turned down by Congress, back in the day? They did it because they didn’t want to give the FBI, and its handlers, any more power over Americans, no matter what the Soviet (remember them?) spy threat, and no matter how big the mafia (remember them? Small scale gunsels when compared to Wall Street and B of A) organized crime threat.

The problem is, to quote that left-wing tyrant Abraham Lincoln, “the first job of a politician is to get elected”. That means defeating your political opponents, and if you are in the bottom part of the political ethics spectrum, that means defeating your opponents by whatever means possible. No American is immune from this threat. The only requirement is that they oppose the current incumbents, and it doesn’t matter if they are political opponents or dissidents.

As we found with lead in the environment, and with CFCs in the atmosphere, the only way to control it is to ban it completely.

This is turning into a multi-parter. Next time, I’ll talk about the implications.

Benedictine

June 14, 2013

Benedict Arnold, patriot, traitor, and shady businessman*, died on June 14th, 1801, six months too early to make the obituary section of the New York Evening Post. What better way to commemorate that day than by having Eggs Benedict for breakfast? Herewith, some recipes:

Traditional, recipe is at the bottom

Alton Brown, recipe is at the top

Japanese, recipe is a long way from home

Of course, there’s no need to remain bound to tradition. What about Apples Benedict, as mentioned in Jasper Fforde’s Well of Lost Plots? After all, Arnold was from Connecticut, a big apple centre at the time. Now, I don’t have a recipe. Well, yes, I do. It’s official and all, but it’s nothing like I’d envisage Apples Benedict as. You see, they chop up the apples and make applesauce. How would you like your Eggs Benedict made with scrambled eggs? That’s just a high-end Egg McMuffin. So my Apples Benedict calls for slicing them, like they were, you know, Canadian bacon. The key I think is the sauce. There is, I guess, always Hollandaise, just to be sure, or even its uncooked cousin from Mayon, but will either of those go with apples, and if not, what might substitute? Well, cheese might, for a ham n cheese experience. Or maybe maple syrup, which would make it more like breakfast pancakes.

Experiment 1: I sliced and cored a Fuji apple, heated a couple rounds of pre-cooked Canadian bacon, and toasted an English muffin. Put the CB in a frying pan to heat (don’t plan to get any cooking fat off them ’cause Canadians are lean). When the muffin was toast, I put on some butter and the CB, then put two apple slices in the same pan. Cooked them on medium to medium-low for about ten minutes, turning occasionally. About halfway through I added a glug of apple juice, to help get some steam up. Assembled them: muffin:CB:apple, then added a pinch of shredded cheese as the sauce, and popped them back in the toaster oven on a tray.
Result 1: Pretty good, but not what I was looking for. All the elements mixed, but the cheese solidified immediately. The apples needed slightly more cooking, but I was already at the end of my patience. Mayhaps thirty seconds in the microwave, to get them in the mood. My goal was a slice that was cooked through, but not falling apart.

Experiment 2: Let’s go cheap and quick all the way. Zot everything except the muffins in the microwave for three minutes. Use Cheese Whiz.
Result 2: I’ve had worse. The Cheese Whiz brought back childhood memories. It still wasn’t saucy enough. The microwave thing worked well, so I can go back to simplicity again.

Experiment 3: Well, what about Hollandaise sauce? Great idea, except we don’t got any. But from a cheminary standpoint, Mayonnaise is almost a Hollandaise. Hollandaise is a cooked egg yolk/butter emulsion. Mayonnaise is an uncooked emulsion made from egg yolk and oil  (since you can’t use hot butter). Hollandaise also has cayenne. OK, let’s put some cayenne in Mayonnaise and heat it in the micro.
Result 3: Not bad at all. Too much cayenne, which overwhelmed all the other flavors, but it stayed nice and saucy, and places where the cayenne thinned out it tasted pretty good.

Experiment 4: Tried real Hollandaise this time, straight from the can (if I gotta cook, I ain’t doing it).
Result 4: Not bad. Not great. More lemony than the Mayonnaise version. Thinner, with just a hint of cayenne. I think I liked the Mayo better.

Experiment 5: So, why not concentrate on making the Mayonnaise taste more like Hollandaise? I took the same amount of Mayo (almost half a cup, remember, there’s two muffin halves), a tablespoon of lemon juice, and a short, sharp, shake of cayenne. Since we’re not cooking this, I can taste as I go. Taste said, just a bit more cayenne, but not a lot. Heat everything in the microwave. Serve.
Result 5: Very good. low cholesterol. I think this is my go-to version.

Experiment 6: Let’s finish up with a sweet. How about authentic New England maple syrup, right from Bennie’s home state? OK, how about whatever syrup is available in the fridge? The choice is between Safeway Maple-like Syrup Substance and Jim Beam Pancake Syrup Byproduct. Since every English muffin comes with two halves, Let’s try both.
Result 6: Very good, but not Benedictine. Too thin. Still, this is the kind of breakfast that General Arnold might have eaten in the field, before going out to sell West Point.

After long thought, I have deduced some General Benedictine Concepts:

  1. Must be on English muffins. Croissants just won’t do
  2. Must involve a salty pork product
  3. Must use a namesake that is, or can be, shaped into circular…shapes…, in order to fit on the muffins — eggs, apples, pineapples.
  4. Must use a sauce. Should it be a Hollandaise sauce? Probably. I mean, you wouldn’t change the sauce if you went from eggs Florentine to spinach Florentine, would you?
  5. On the other hand, must use a sauce that doesn’t clash with the namesake, but keep it as close to the Hollandaise as you can.

*well, two out of three isn’t bad

L’affaire Snowden

June 13, 2013

There’s so much going on and so many new aspects of this case being revealed daily that I think I’ll just start a link-list of interesting and insightful articles, with minimal comments. I will update this post as I find interesting stuff. Newer articles will go on top.   give up unless I find something particularly compelling. Particularly since Mike Masnick over at TechDirt is doing such a fine job of covering all the breaking news. Why don’t you go hang out there for a while?

Snowden speaks
http://boingboing.net/2013/06/17/edward-snowden-answers-your-qu.html

also
http://www.infoworld.com/t/cringely/snowden-has-answers-nsa-still-holds-the-questions-220881?page=0,0

and a comment
https://pressfreedomfoundation.org/blog/2013/06/leaks-are-vital-democracy-and-nsa-revelations-are-quintessential-example-why

——————————————————————————————————————–

I’ll let George Takei lead off
http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2013/06/george-takei-nsa-internment-camp.html

David Simon says that from a legal standpoint this isn’t much different from what went on in the pre-Internet age:
http://davidsimon.com/we-are-shocked-shocked/
and does a point/counterpoint on questions that came up in the comments
http://davidsimon.com/counter-arguments-gathered-and-answered/

Backer of the Patriot Act, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, says it was written to prevent NSA data-mining
http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20130612/18210323435/author-patriot-act-says-administrations-claims-about-nsa-are-bunch-bunk.shtml
…doesn’t think Snowden is a traitor

Background — secrets are only secrets until policy makers need them public
http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/boingboing/iBag/~3/5RFuMjlsTqk/story01.htm
…this is my experience in DC. Biggest leakers are program managers and Congressional staffers

This is why sites like WikiLeaks are necessary
http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20130606/23564623354/yes-nsa-surveillance-story-shows-why-wikileaks-similar-sites-are-necessary.shtml

FISA court says DoJ is interpreting the law incorrectly
http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20130612/14434423428/fisa-court-says-dojs-claims-that-it-cant-reveal-secret-interpretation-law-is-wrong.shtml
…and they waited until now to tell us because why?
http://www.theatlanticwire.com/politics/2013/06/eff-fisc-ruling/66185/
…oh, because we didn’t ask….right.

NSA’s greatest nightmare
http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20130612/17563923434/feds-may-have-to-reveal-fisa-phone-records-murder-case.shtml
…they’ll get dragged into domestic court issues
…and get sued themselves
http://www.theatlanticwire.com/politics/2013/06/aclu-lawsuit-nsa-analysis/66139/

ON LYING TO CONGRESS

About geolocation
http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20130608/12384123379/yet-another-leak-shows-nsa-lied-about-not-being-able-to-geolocate-data-it-scoops-up.shtml

About collecting data on Americans
http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20130610/09473723393/clapper-my-answer-to-wydens-beating-your-wife-question-data-surveillance-was-least-untruthful-answer.shtml
…and a commentary on Clapper
http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20130610/16295123396/why-james-clapper-should-be-impeached-lying-to-congress.shtml

The NSA data-mining program either has or hasn’t helped
http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20130613/10352023450/senators-wyden-udall-say-theyve-seen-no-evidence-that-nsa-surveillance-stopped-dozens-terrorist-attacks.shtml
…Congressmen say it hasn’t. NSA says it has, but its examples are …flawed.

de-mything the myths about NSA
http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20130610/17343523398/now-that-whistle-has-been-blown-lets-take-look-some-myths-about-nsa.shtml

Has the US become the type of nation from which you have to seek asylum?
http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/06/09/has-the-us-become-the-kind-of-nation-from-which-you-have-to-seek-asylum/?tid=pm_business_pop

WHY DOES THIS MATTER?
One of the advantages of having 6000 items in one’s RSS feed is that I have enough recent history at my fingertips to be worth something. Here’s a few links from last April’s discussion of FISA and CISPA legislation:

A timeline
http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/boingboing/iBag/~3/MlhAfLOipTU/story01.htm

Worries about privacy
http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20130410/15550522671/cispa-amendment-proves-everyones-fears-were-justified-while-failing-to-assuage-them.shtml

and confusion over NSA
http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20130410/11570822664/cispas-sponsor-cant-even-keep-his-story-straight-about-nsa-having-access-to-your-data.shtml

You can’t trust the Feds
http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20130417/10212122743/government-has-already-fooled-us-more-than-once-privacy-history-belies-how-cispa-will-be-used.shtml

Here’s the WH positon
http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20121227/23120421503/leaked-white-houses-bogus-talking-points-why-senate-should-trample-4th-amendment.shtml

and what one person believes
http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20121213/23443021384/fisa-amendments-act-is-clearly-unconstitutional-congress-doesnt-care.shtml

Why Clapper’s In a Twist

June 11, 2013

DNI James Clapper said on national television this weekend that having the Verizon letter leaked was a “gut wrenching” affair, and that whoever did it had caused grave national damage. That got me to thinking.

What the Verizon revelation did was confirm that NSA had an ongoing program of vacuuming up external data on US domestic phone calls, i.e. it exposed a sensitive Intelligence source, thereby creating the possibility that the source would dry up. Or did it?

A source dries up when the target has control of it and finds out it’s being tapped. If I leak that the US has dug a tunnel under the Berlin wall to a GDR telephone cable and is intercepting Russian and East German phone calls, pretty soon the Stasi is out with a jack-hammer and that source is closed. The Communists are dismayed and surprised, because they didn’t think that could happen.

If the European Parliament publishes an official report that the US is intercepting and analyzing the content of all phone calls between the US and Europe, and that the program is known as Echelon, everybody figures that’s what NSA has been capable of for a long time, and so what’cha gonna do? The source doesn’t dry up, because (a) the users have no real control over such a large, complex system, and (b) they were operating under that assumption already. Maybe they could, with great effort, fix parts of (a), and maybe they occasionally forget about (b), but the fact is, the Echelon report didn’t change much of anything, except maybe EU laws about data protection.

Note the similarities between Echelon and VerizonVac. The user of the source doesn’t have control over the system — and they have no effective alternative. There are some countermeasures they could attempt, but if they were at all competent they already assumed this was happening, and were taking what precautions they could. Given what everybody has believed about NSA for years, they’d be fools if they didn’t.

Leap back to the state of Clapper’s bowels. The professional end of the terrorist spectrum should already be taking precautions. The unprofessional end has the memory and mental processing power of a bird, and won’t be a problem anyway. So, why would the source dry up?

Maybe the VerizonVac source will dry up because their constituents will become enraged at this intrusion on their privacy and demand that Congress do their job and pass laws against this sort of thing.

Maybe the primary reason for the Top Secret classification was to hide the programs’ existence from the American people.

Green Thumb Up My Nose

June 10, 2013

Garden Report for 130610

The weather this week was sunny, with a fresh breeze* from the southwest, and highs around 80. The coming week should see more of the same, except cooler until the weekend.

The garden continues. Squirrels got in and dug up half my corn. My storebought squash is doing well. My homegrown squash in pots is still puny (they may not be draining well, or at all), my homegrown squash in the KHG is larger, but distorted, and one of them has grown white fur on one leaf. Brassicae are taking off, and dwarfing the peas. The potted peas that MJ got are doing well, but turning yellow at their base. Since it’s about eight plants in one small pot I’m not surprised. It’s a race between harvest (soon), and collapse. I planted three dow gauk bean seedlings this year. Two died (one in the KHG, the other in a pot) after not getting watered for about two days. I’ll try again.

Those hops what survived being transplanted six weeks ago are doing well, and the big one is all the way up to the top of the concrete.

HopsTall09Jun_1

Heres two pix, taken not quite 48hrs apart.

9AM on the 8th. Not quite to the cableway 8AM on the 10th. Two inches in two days
Two inches of growth in two days. The two leaves under the rope are where the growth tip was on the first photo

*Fresh enough to knock a 3ft long half filled planter off the deck and down next the sliding door, where the dogs went mad defending us from this intruder.

How is it possible?

June 9, 2013
This is what happens when organizations shirk their duties

This is what happens when organizations shirk their duties

Everyone has been beating up on NSA and the White House after the Verizon/Prism revelations, and the Intelligence Community have been presenting carefully weasel-worded defenses. Here’s some examples:

New York Times, Washington Post, Wired, BBC, McClatchy, BoingBoing

People are right to be shocked. People are right to be angry. People are taking it out on the wrong people.

First, as far as I can tell, every single action of NSA and the companies they dealt with, as described, was totally legal, as defined by the laws passed by Congress, interpreted by the Executive Branch, and approved by the Judiciary. BTW, so were the actions of the Stasi, back in the day. Just sayin’.

First, some history. The thousand-page Patriot Act was passed by a panicked Congress in the weeks immediately after 9/11. The act was the cobbled-together wish-list of every federal agency that could justify a seat at the table. Congress passed it without reading it. The other acts, including the review of the Patriot Act, were passed later, in an atmosphere of fear — fear that the other side (of the aisle) would brand them soft on terrorism. Most of this, but not all of it, not by a long shot, was done on the GOP watch, under Bush. Obama inherited a collection of powers, and since when has a President ever voluntarily given up any powers?

Next, and this is the reprehensible part, came the secret interpretations of what the various acts allowed the government to do. Think of them as Presidential signing statements, only secret. The WH claims that these powers are all being exercised responsibly and with strong oversight. Of course, we have to take their word for this. Just like we had to take their word that the FBI wasn’t misusing their National Security Letters, until the FBI Inspector General admitted that no, they’d actually been violating the spirit of the law and the letter of the Constitution. But that’s all stopped now. Trust us.

The judiciary, meanwhile, remained just as pusillanimous as Congress. The special court set up to oversee the requests would look at two thousand in a year, and turn down eleven — roughly one-half of one percent. Some of those requests were amazingly sweeping, like the leaked Verizon document — “give me everything you’ve got for the next three months, at which time you’ll get a new request, and by the way you can’t say anything about this because it will tip-off our target”. The target, apparently, being everyone. In addition, the courts caved whenever the WH would play the “national security” card, which was every time they got thwarted. So, effectively, there was no oversight and no protection for American citizens.

There were a couple of Senators who tried to warn us, but if the WH stonewalls discussion, and nobody violates their oath and leaks the information, then there’s nothing that can be done.

Meanwhile, the defenders of the status quo, AKA President Obama, said

“I think it’s important for everybody to understand . . . that there are some tradeoffs involved. You can’t have 100 percent security and also then have 100 percent privacy and zero inconvenience. You know, we’re going to have to make some choices as a society.”

That’s a false dichotomy… trichotomy. We’ve never had 100% security in anything, anywhere, ever. You want to do something to improve the chances than an American will live a full life with their privacy intact? Do something about the 40,000 fatal, preventable, medical errors each year. Everything we do is a tradeoff between convenience and security. Every time you cross the street you are taking your life in your hands. Every time you walk across your living room. You are far more likely to be killed by a doctor or an automobile — or your sofa — than you are by a terrorist.

The people who wrote the Constitution recognized that. They recognized that you can’t trade freedom for security, for soon you will end up with neither. They crafted a system of checks and balances, designed to make sure that no branch of the government — particularly not the Executive Branch — could arrogate to itself enough power to turn America into a dictatorship like they’d left back in the Old Country. The catch was, each branch of the government had to do their damn job. If that had happened. If Congress had read what they voted on. If the GOP wasn’t such a proto-fascist organization. If more than a handful of federal judges had a backbone. IF the government worked the way the founders had intended, we wouldn’t be in this situation today.

Here’s one commenter that says some of what I wanted to say, but says it better. And here’s another, with a timeline that shows how long this has been going on.

The bottom line? We knew this could happen, and we willfully ignored the possibiltiy. The people who did it are in the Executive Branch. The people who enabled it are in the Legislative and Judicial Branches. The people who let it happen are us.

Oatmeal Teriyaki

June 6, 2013

The Japanese, I am told, rarely buy teriyaki sauce because it’s so easy to make — essentially, it’s sweetened soy sauce. I’ve made it, using Japanese recipes, and it’s much simpler tasting than American teriyaki. The literal translation of the name is  てり (te.ri, shining) やき (ya.ki, cooked), probably because of the glazed appearance of food that’s been marinated in it.  This morning I decided to see how well it does in oatmeal. I used beef broth as the liquid, to blend with the sauce, to which I added a measuring tablespoon of sauce. As with soy sauce, you want to be careful not to overdo it.

Setup: 1/3 cup of stone ground rolled oats, two dinner teaspoons of potato flakes, one cup of beef broth, one tablespoon of teriyaki sauce.  Cook for 10 minutes or so, depending on the exact style of oats.  Add the potato when you take it off the stove. Wait until you taste it before you add extra salt, because the teriyaki sauce contains quite a bit.

Results: Not bad. Kirai Janai, as the Japanese would say — I don’t dislike it. The teriyaki sauce adds an almost burned edge to the beef broth. I might just try chicken next time.

Rating: *****

Straight Title Robot Anime — the Anime

June 4, 2013

Strange. Crudely done. Weird. Did I mention Strange?

Also, surprisingly, sad. I liked it.

It’s some millenia after the death of humanity, and the now pointless, robot wars continue. Three fembots decide they want to end the war, and the way to do that is to rediscover laughter. They try and try and try, running through all the tropes of humor, from prat-falls to punchlines, without success. At least, they don’t see the humor in their failures at humor (even if we humans do) — they just sit there with the traditional processing, processing pinwheels over their heads. Every now and then the commentator puts in a comment.

Bad acting, bad animation, sad ending

Bad acting, bad animation, sad ending

Having spent the first part of each show funnily failing to be funny, they then go to the simulation room, where they simulate the impact on the war of various techniques of humor. What happens here is that the opening sequence — giant robots fighting other giant robots — gets replayed with the new element added. The robots find themselves sliding in oil, or looking smugly at the camera, or crossdressing, grabbing their opposite number and kissing them. None of it seems to work.

The last part of each episode sees the girls in re-creations of different human facilities, trying to figure them out. This is done ad-lib, as prop humor. The seiyūs are given their props and must come up with an explanation of what they were originally for. In the music store sequence in Episode 7, for example, one of them puts up two large taiko drums, and stands between them holding a ukulele by its neck, saying “still in, still in”.

Drum wrestling

Drum wrestling

Her explanation being that there used to be a sport where two naked humans ran into each other, and the referee, holding his fan, would decide if they were still in the ring.

Still in, still in

Still in, still in

That’s the whole show, all thirteen minutes of it, each week for eleven weeks. Then, in the final week, things change. The show goes along in its usual silly fashion for a few minutes, with the girlbots trying and failing, and commentator making his sardonic comments. Suddenly, one of them looks straight at the camera and says “who are you and why do you keep saying those things?” It turns out that the commentator is actually another robot, who was left a laughter program by his master, the last human on earth. He explains that laughter is the freedom to make an error, and the time to enjoy it.

The trouble is, if a robot is free to make errors, to ignore their programming, they no longer have a purpose and they shut down. If the laughter program is broadcast, the war will end, with the death of all the robots. The maid robot, Fuji, the most human looking of the three, is given the decision and decides that the flawed children of incomplete humanity should step down to make way for the next generation, whatever that is. They transmit the program, enjoy a few minutes of laughter, and die. Fuji is last. Her final words are Arigatou. Sayonara.

The rest is silence

The rest is silence

THE END

A most irritating anime. I seem to be the only person on the planet who has watched it all the way through, because I can find no reviews after the first episode, and the Wikipedia entry is a stub. Still and all, I liked it. And what does that say about me?

Green Thumb Up My Nose

June 3, 2013

Garden Report for 130603

The weather this week was cool and rainy. Good for the lawn, OK for the garden. We are forecast to be in the 80’s by midweek, so I guess Summer is upon us.

The garden continues apace. Bought some bok choy for the cabbage patch. Planted my asparagus rizhomes. Planted lots of corn, some of which the squirrels have dug up. Lettuce is starting to come in, and last year’s chard is still producing. Deb Tolman says it will bolt this year, so I need to plant a new batch. Hops are growing. Today or tomorrow I’ll have to get up on the roof and put in some hooks and wires for them to grow on. The KHG is doing a good job of keeping itself weed-free, but my main job these days is to keep down the weeds in the rest of the yard.