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Belmont Club

Missing Man

November 8th, 2014 - 8:15 pm

German Chancellor Angela Merkel described the Fall of the Berlin Wall a quarter of a century ago as “a miracle”.

(Reuters) – German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Saturday an irrepressible yearning for freedom brought the Berlin Wall tumbling down 25 years ago and called it a “miracle” that the Cold War barrier was breached without a shot being fired.

Speaking on the eve of Sunday’s celebrations to mark the 25th anniversary of the Berlin Wall’s collapse, Merkel said Germany would always be grateful for the courage of East Germans who took to the streets to protest the Communist dictatorship.

The BBC dwells on the festivities marking the event, saying “concerts and exhibitions are being staged in the city … white balloons marking a stretch of the wall will be released to symbolise its disappearance,” like a magic trick happened that night a quarter century ago. Frauke Lüpke-Narberhaus, a reporter for Spiegel Online, who was born in 1983, sets down her memories of the event; she remembers two young East German soccer players who stayed at her family home before reunification and their surprise at eating Nutella.

But none of these articles  mentions “Ronald Reagan” nor for that matter  Margaret Thatcher or Pope John Paul.

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Seeking Mount Doom

November 7th, 2014 - 3:18 pm

The BBC says that a huge series of law enforcement raids have shut down Silk Road 2.0 and 400 other sites belonging to the “Dark Net”, which is an unlisted part of the global network.  The raid claimed to have interrupted the trade in weapons, drugs and human traffic conducted through these channels.

The sites operated on the Tor network – a part of the internet unreachable via traditional search engines. …

It was the operation last year to take down the drugs marketplace Silk Road which was the first major success in the battle against criminal use of the dark net.

Now this much bigger operation involving global cooperation amongst law enforcement agencies sees that battle taken to a new level, with Silk Road 2.0 amongst 400 sites closed. …

The BBC understands that the raid represented both a technological breakthrough – with police using new techniques to track down the physical location of dark net servers – as well as seeing an unprecedented level of international co-operation among law enforcement agencies.

The basic defense of Tor is what is called ‘onion routing’.  Conceptually it is like a clandestine network of cells. Traffic travels between the cells through a series of hops which are cut-outs. However, the successes scored by this latest raid are not as revolutionary as the BBC makes it seem. Tor had a number of known weaknesses, including susceptibility provided by traffic analysis techniques. The security it provided was not provided in principle, but only relative with respect to the correlation of the attack and defense.

The term “onion routing” refers to application layers of encryption, nested like the layers of an onion, used to anonymize communication. Tor encrypts the original data, including the destination IP address, multiple times and sends it through a virtual circuit comprising successive, randomly selected Tor relays. Each relay decrypts a layer of encryption to reveal only the next relay in the circuit in order to pass the remaining encrypted data on to it. The final relay decrypts the innermost layer of encryption and sends the original data to its destination without revealing, or even knowing, the source IP address. Because the routing of the communication is partly concealed at every hop in the Tor circuit, this method eliminates any single point at which the communication can be de-anonymized through network surveillance that relies upon knowing its source and destination.

The BBC notes that like IP itself, Tor was originally developed by US defense agencies, before others discovered its utility and used it for their own purposes.  ”Tor’s users include the military, law enforcement officers and journalists – who use it as a way of communicating with whistle-blowers – as well as members of the public who wish to keep their browser activity secret.”

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Perro del Hortelano

November 6th, 2014 - 2:24 pm

One of the more interesting Spanish expressions is the cryptic phrase “ser como el perro del hortelano, que ni come ni deja comer” which literally means ‘to be like the gardener’s dog, who neither eats vegetables nor lets anyone else eat them.’  The English equivalent is “dog in the manger“.

‘A churlish envious Cur was gotten into a manger, and there lay growling and snarling to keep the Provender. The Dog eat none himself, and yet rather ventur’d the starving his own Carcase than he would suffer any Thing to be the better for’t.

The sense of it is conveyed by the example of a boyfriend who doesn’t love a girl any more, but keeps her around so she can’t go out with anyone else. If you listened to president Obama’s surly post-election speech it should be clear by now he’s realized that his sole remaining card is to be the metaphorical dog in the manger.

The media is full of stories about how the main challenge facing newly elected Republicans is to craft a defense policy, implement a working health insurance system and to get trade going. They have to drive, as it were from the back seat, because the dog in the manger is sitting up front, knowing he is important and will be humored for as long as he keeps the whole trip hostage.

Nikkei.com describes the Japanese point of view.  ”The world cannot risk a standstill or retreat from the global powerhouse. The fight against the Islamic State terrorist group, or the containment of Ebola, would become even bigger challenges without strong leadership by the U.S. The lack of a ‘global policeman’ could also trigger another Ukraine-like crisis”

Therefore the GOP must be adult enough for two.  Nikkei continues, “there is a possibility that Republicans, who have until now been driven by the desire to block Obama’s every move, could be awakened by a sense of leadership and turn pragmatic with an eye toward the 2016 presidential election. Thomas Mann, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, points out Obama may now have an easier time garnering support for the TPP, and for intervention in Iraq and Syria.”

This has led to a lot of Wishing Upon a Star.  Bill Gertz writes, “U.S. strategic nuclear forces, both weapons and personnel, are experiencing serious problems that must be addressed urgently. That is a central conclusion of a new study called the “Nuclear Enterprise Review” that the Pentagon is expected to release next week, according to defense officials familiar with the study.” The hope is that “someone” will fix all the stuff Obama broke.

And yet it’s hard to imagine Mitch McConnell being that someone; to envision him grabbing president Obama by both arms and doing a Humphrey Bogart. “You said I was to do the thinking for both of us. Well, I’ve done a lot of it since then, and it all adds up to one thing: you’re getting on that plane with Victor where you belong.”

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Parthian Shot

November 5th, 2014 - 1:20 pm

Despite the fact that the Democrats are reported to have lost the 2014 mid-term elections, the papers are almost give the impression it was the Republicans who lost.  ”How the Tea Party lost the 2014 midterms,” says Jon Terbush in the Week.  ”The Tea Party has completely…ruined the Republican Party,” according to author Jon Huntsman.

But even if the Republicans have dared to win this time they will be punished for their insolence soon. Alex Seitz-Wald at MSNBC says that for the true believers “2016 starts now”. David Schanzer and Jay Sullivan argued in the New York Times shortly before the polls began that it would be better to cancel the mid-terms, which are an anachronism. “The main impact of the midterm election in the modern era has been to weaken the president, the only government official (other than the powerless vice president) elected by the entire nation.”

Brian Beutler at the New Republic says the 2014 takeaway for for Obama is ‘no more Mr. Nice Guy’.

Citing administration officials, Politico reports that “Obama’s political and policy teams are planning a big counterattack if the Republicans win the Senate—introducing a slate of legislative proposals and executive actions on immigration, infrastructure and early childhood education that are popular with the Democratic base and that he will dare the GOP to oppose.”

But now that those pesky, useless elections have happened, then fire the Parthian Shot. That’s pretty much what Katrina vanden Heuvel is urging the president to do. “The Democrats Lost Big Tonight. Why Obama Should Double Down”.  Here’s what she says:

The president should go big right now, undertaking a quick series of high-profile executive actions on issues that the Republican House has not acted upon, and will never pass. President Obama should be very visible, with photo ops and speeches and social media and grassroots backup and appearances on Between Two Ferns, moving hard and fast from one executive action to the next….

Start with serious immigration reform…

Cancel the Keystone XL Pipeline …

Meet with China and India on climate issues …

Host a national teach-in …

Go up to the edge of normalizing relations with Cuba …

Nominate a diverse set of progressives to fill every judicial vacancy at every level

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The Next Ten Years

November 4th, 2014 - 1:44 pm

Within the next ten years the world will be a very different place.  The biggest driver of change will be the relative dispersal of power driven by the spread of information. NSA director Admiral Michael Roger’s message to Silicon Valley was simple: you are moving faster than we can catch up.

The days when the Defense Department drove technical innovation, he said, “are way behind us.”

He also pushed on Monday for better information-sharing between the intelligence community and private technology companies. Legislation that would set up a formal information-sharing system has stalled in Congress, facing objections from the private sector.

“It is unrealistic to expect the private sector to withstand the actions of nation-states,” Admiral Rogers said. “I think it is also unrealistic to expect the government to deal with this all by itself. How do we create the partnerships that allow us to work together as a team.”

A very similar message was articulated by the head of Britain’s GCHQ. “US tech giants such as Twitter, Facebook and Whatsapp have become the “command and control networks of choice” for Isis, the new head of Britain’s GCHQ intelligence agency has warned.”

“GCHQ and its sister agencies, MI5 and the Secret Intelligence Service, cannot tackle these challenges at scale without greater support from the private sector, including the largest US technology companies which dominate the web,” he wrote on his first day in the post. …

“However much they may dislike it, they have become the command-and-control networks of choice for terrorists and criminals, who find their services as transformational as the rest of us,” he said.

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The Dreaded GoPro Tanks

November 3rd, 2014 - 12:02 pm

When the history of the Syrian civil war is written, future historians and documentary producers will doubtless be indebted to the fearsome Syrian GoPro equipped tank. For those who don’t know, the GoPro isn’t a missile but the hit consumer action camera that some enterprising person has mounted on Russian-built tanks and infantry fighting vehicles.  It allows the viewer to “ride” along on the outside of the tank with actual combatants. and record the POV, almost like a shooter game, of real, live, historical action.

This video, for example, makes it possible to follow the actions of a platoon of tanks in Jobar, Syria, possibly in early 2014.  Jobar is a town on the outskirts of Damascus, and a battlefield of the civil war.  It was also the site of a reported chemical warfare attack by Assad forces.

It’s a wreck and the video shows what must be Syrian government forces and rebels of some description fighting for control of mile after mile of shattered buildings. Despite the captions and voice over the video would be hard to follow without a narrator.  So they provided one with captions in English. But the timeline below makes the narrative of the action even clearer. This link to a Google map will help viewers orient themselves, at least towards the major landmark, the highway.

00:04 Assembling a column
04:55 Crossing enemy territory
10:00 Dropping troops on the enemy’s rear
12:40 Protecting the reinforcements’ route
15:00 Destroying enemy firing points
20:40 Taking out a ATGM
23:10 Rebels counter attack
28:49 Narrowing the encirclement
29:56 Hitting gathered Rebels
39:13 Observers find more Targets

The result is some kind of documentary. It’s a fascinating look at the Syrian, and probably the Russian advised way of war.  There are peculiarities about it. As can be deduced from the video, the tanks are used in the same manner as close air support.

They operate out of a base (00:04 Assembling a column), like some sort of cheap terrestrial Apaches, and proceed to various missions like escorting teams of infantry in IFVs (04:55 Crossing enemy territory) or covering their “beachheads” in various built-up sites. (10:00 Dropping troops on the enemy’s rear).

Instead of Hellfire rockets, they have the 125 mm main gun, which is always moving to cover arcs of fire, like a rifleman on the advance.  The drivers seem to know their business, never hesitating to trundle down alleys, scoot past possible ambushes and roar over fields.

You may, like myself, have been somewhat astonished to see so little infantry in play.  That’s because the infantry is not there to seize and hold terrain. Rather they are used as spotters for the tanks.  The big 125s are the killers. The viewer may note how the the tanks flit from spot to spot and fire directly on specific targets.  They are not shooting at random, but rather under the specific instruction of spotters.  Often they re-engage until the spotter tells them they’re bingo.

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Reformatting the World

November 2nd, 2014 - 4:09 pm

One of the criticisms of archaeology is that it tries to study mysteries to which there is no likely solution.  It is a discipline attractive for its mystery and the questions that it poses but rarely for the answers that it gives, for those are few and far between. When T.E. Lawrence stumbled over extensive structures in the Arabian desert he could come to no conclusion about their purpose or indeed their origin. They were obviously artifacts of some great enterprise, whose vast extent was discovered by RAF pilots in the 1920s who could see shapes not visible from the ground.

But what they meant who could say? Professor David Kennedy of the University of Western Australia, who has spent years identifying and studying the Middle Eastern circles on Google Earth can only say “that for now the meaning of the wheels remains a mystery. ‘The question is what was the purpose?’” The answer is we don’t know. The same can be said for the Nazca lines of Peru, the Stone Circles of Britain, and similar structures.

The branch of science most nearly related to archaeology is probably cryptography, which is also interested in extracting the plaintext from apparently indecipherable symbols.  Here’s a thing, what does it mean? However, archaeological symbols pose the additional difficulty of being superencrypted.  The ancient plaintext itself is further obscured by the vast cultural differences between the ancients and ourselves.  Even if the ancients could tell it to us straight, we wouldn’t get it.

The importance of context is illustrated by one memorable scene in the movie Bubba Ho-tep where Elvis Presley and John F. Kennedy attempt to decipher hieroglyphs that a malignant Egyptian mummy who has been attacking a retirement home has inscribed on a toilet wall. It’s a clue, but to what? Fortunately JFK has access to a dictionary of Egyptian hieroglyphs, yet it does him no good. JFK says:

Saw that on the wall, took it back to my room, looked it up in my books, and I wrote it all down.

Now, this top line translates roughly into, “Pharaoh gobbles donkey goobers.”

And the bottom line, “Cleopatra does the nasty.”

The problem of course is that “Pharaoh gobbles donkey goobers” may have signified something very profound in the Mummy’s cultural context. But that plaintext means nothing to us now, four thousand years later, because we cannot penetrate the superencryption provided by the context

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The Perils of Trust

November 1st, 2014 - 3:18 pm

Mother Jones has an interesting article on the fall of a Canadian radio star to charges of cruelty to women.  In trying explain why it took so long for this behavior to come to light, Tasneem Raja explains that nobody would have suspected such a politically correct man of such incorrectness:

It just doesn’t make sense that this beloved, artsy, liberal, talented public radio star with the Flock of Seagulls haircut and the cool jeans allegedly has a weird thing going on involving a teddy bear and punching women in the face till their ears ring and forcing his cock into their mouths until they nearly vomit.

And in a reference to events south of the border Raja adds, “just like it doesn’t make sense that the beloved fatherly comedian who reminds you of sweaters and pudding pops has been accused over and over of drugging women and sexually assaulting them. Or that the beloved all-American champion football coach is a serial child molester. And so on, and so on.”

But actually it makes perfect sense. There’s a connection, believe it or not, between abuse of trust and yesterday’s post on the rise of private money in response to to the debasement of the public tender.  Back in the Great Depression, when people lost trust in their institutions, they began to work with each other and issue local scrip.

It’s all about trust. The point of scrip and self-help in general is not to have too much of it.

This reflects itself in the way we network with people. The most important tool of libertarians is the P2P or peer-to-peer network. This is how Napster used to work and that is how Bitcoin works. “Peer-to-peer (P2P) computing or networking is a distributed application architecture that partitions tasks or work loads between peers. Peers are equally privileged, equipotent participants in the application.”

Nobody has a privileged position.  Nobody has all the trust.

By contrast, the “liberal” or leftist world and the entertainment industry work on the opposite principle. With socialism there’s the Vanguard and the Masses. With Hollywood there’s the Star and there’s the Audience.  The whole purpose of these systems is to build hierarchies of power. One side has the monopoly of money, force and trust.  The other side has the need to trust.

This basic asymmetry means that, under socialism government is not ‘another word for things we choose to do together’. It is another word for something that tells you what to do.

All hierarchs can use the royal “we”. Now modern leaders try to hide this fact, but sometimes the pose slips. For example, president Obama recently said: “and sometimes someone, usually mom, leaves the workplace to stay at home with the kids, which then leaves her earning a lower wage for the rest of her life as a result. That’s not a choice we want Americans to make.” The ‘we’ in the last sentence is the royal ‘we’.

You can’t retort: “who are you anyway?” Because the implicit reply is: “I’m the president”.

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Lemon Tree

October 31st, 2014 - 3:42 pm

Even though the Republican party is on track to take both the Senate and increase its hold the House, not many believe government will subsequently improve. Expectations for both parties are low. “Faith in the president, and in government, is slip-sliding away,” writes the Chicago Tribune.  Gallup, reviewing responses over nearly 2 decades, concludes that it’s been declining for some time.

None of this is news.  Bureaucrats aren’t even bothering to pretend they’re faithful public servants. They’re more interested in shopping. NBC says that bureaucrats have been giving themselves taxpayer-funded credit cards to buy what they please. One investigation alone showed that $20 billion had been spent in this way.

Thousands of federal workers are issued taxpayer-funded credit cards, and as long as they buy items that cost less than $3,000 — or “micropurchases” — they can simply swipe and buy and it’s possible no one outside of some agency bookkeepers will ever know what they bought.

Lois Lerner is the face of the new mandarin. She has “so what” written all over her.   What really matters is the drapery allowance and the perks. The Washington Post relates that president Obama lied (or misspoke) on camera to CSPAN about plans to renovate the Oval Office.  He was all humble on camera even though plans were afoot for an expensive make-over. When caught out, Obama simply tried to suppress it.

As Attkisson tells the story, C-SPAN eminence Brian Lamb interviewed President Obama on Aug. 12, 2010, for a documentary on the White House. In the session, Lamb asks Obama about the Oval Office: “What have you changed in this room?”

The president responds, “We have not yet redecorated this room . . . Given that we are in the midst of some very difficult economic times, we decided to hold off last year in terms of making some changes.”

Two weeks later, reports Attkisson in the book, a White House official contacts C-SPAN to say, “the Washington Post will be breaking the story of the President’s reported multi-million dollar renovation of the Oval Office,” reads “Stonewalled.” According to the author, the White House official, then-TV liaison Dag Vega, wanted to “make sure” that C-SPAN didn’t run its Obama interview snippet after the story in The Post surfaced. …

On Aug. 31, 2010, The Post drops its story on the Oval Office makeover, much of which took place while the Obama family had been on vacation (between the time of the Lamb interview and the story in The Post).

C-SPAN blows off the White House fussiness and publishes its interview. That very night, Josh Earnest, then the White House deputy press secretary, sends a tough e-mail to C-SPAN accusing the outlet of “being egregiously unethical and of violating terms of the interview. Though there’s no evidence of the existence of any prior agreement, he continues to insist the White House would not and did not agree to an interview with the president without specifying the terms under which it would air,” writes Attkisson, adding that the White House official threatened to “withhold future access.”

You don’t have to know. You don’t wanna know.

Between rigged voting machines and implicitly exhorting illegal aliens to vote, to redacting the news in real time, it seems that government doesn’t care about appearances any more. It’s all Happy Days are Here Again. Some may fatalistically reply: so what? In their minds government misbehavior is like the weather: everybody talks about it but no one can change it.

But that has never been true. Historically people have circumvented failing government by establishing parallel systems. Take money. To the present generation, money is something only Obama can print. During the Great Depression local communities printed their own money because they didn’t trust or couldn’t get the regular kind. Even though it could be spent only within an affinity group, this quasi-money or scrip had the virtue of being more honest than the banknote. Nor was the practice limited to America, as illustrated by the contemporaneous Worgl experiment, where an Austrian town did the same thing.

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The Man I Used To Be

October 30th, 2014 - 2:56 pm

They’ve downsized the news.  A glance shows what used to be called the big news has dropped below the fold. It is easy to see why.  As Daniel Henninger wrote in the Wall Street Journal, big news is bad for the president. So up with the little news. The major ticket item are all poison.

Want to know how to really scare a Democratic candidate for Congress on Halloween? Forget the Sarah Palin mask. Don’t say “Boo!” Just slip up behind them and whisper, “national security.” They’ll jump from here into next week’s election. In New Hampshire, North Carolina, Arkansas, Iowa and Colorado, Republican challengers are spooking Democratic Senate campaigns by yelling, “Islamic State” and “Ebola.”

Since people can’t quite be persuaded to stop talking about Ebola, the next best thing is to tabloidize it so that the conversation focuses on a nurse in Maine who wants to ride her bicycle in despite the quarantine state officials want her to observe.

Ditto for the international news. Seventy people were decapitated by ISIS. Six hundred prisoners were machine-gunned in a ditch. Mali is in a new uproar. But in keeping with the tabloid theme, the hot headline is? As Iowahawk Tweets:

Vegas line on the anonymous WH foreign policy genius who called Bibi “chickenshit”.

Kerry 3:2
Biden 3:1
Ben Rhodes 4:1

David Berstein takes up his pen in the Washington Post to explain what the “chickenshit” scandal is all about. Never mind that someone has apparently tried to blow the Iranian heavy water supplies or that the administration is now considered to be in “detente” with Teheran.  If you’re not talking about chickenshit, you’re not with it. Basically the story is that someone in the administration double-dog dared Israel to commit political suicide but Netanyahu didn’t bite.  Hence he’s a coward. Consequently someone (see Las Vegas odds above about ‘who’)  said  ”nyah, nyah, yer chickenhit.”

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