Ramblings & ephemera

The technical details of executions by hanging

From Daniel Engber’s “How Do Hangings Work?” (Slate: 7 November 2006): The last major innovation in hanging occurred toward the end of the 19th century, when executioners first developed a systematic way to calculate the drop. Once these “drop tables” were published, a hangman knew that he’d need 7 feet for a slight, 120-pound criminal, […]

A summary of Galbraith’s The Affluent Society

From a summary of John Kenneth Galbraith’s The Affluent Society (Abridge Me: 1 June 2010): The Concept of the Conventional Wisdom The paradigms on which society’s perception of reality are based are highly conservative. People invest heavily in these ideas, and so are heavily resistant to changing them. They are only finally overturned by new […]

David Foster Wallace on the impossibility of being informed & the seduction of dogma

From David Foster Wallace’s “Introduction” (The Best American Essays 2007): Here is an overt premise. There is just no way that 2004’s reelection could have taken place—not to mention extraordinary renditions, legalized torture, FISA-flouting, or the passage of the Military Commissions Act—if we had been paying attention and handling information in a competent grown-up way. […]

Could Green Dam lead to the largest botnet in history?

From Rob Cottingham’s “From blocking to botnet: Censorship isn’t the only problem with China’s new Internet blocking software” (Social Signal: 10 June 2009): Any blocking software needs to update itself from time to time: at the very least to freshen its database of forbidden content, and more than likely to fix bugs, add features and […]

Al Qaeda’s use of social networking sites

From Brian Prince’s “How Terrorism Touches the ‘Cloud’ at RSA” (eWeek: 23 April 2009): When it comes to the war on terrorism, not all battles, intelligence gathering and recruitment happen in the street. Some of it occurs in the more elusive world of the Internet, where supporters of terrorist networks build social networking sites to recruit […]

David Foster Wallace on leadership

From David Foster Wallace’s “The Weasel, Twelve Monkeys And The Shrub: Seven Days In The Life Of The Late, Great John McCain” (Rolling Stone: 13 April 2000): The weird thing is that the word “leader” itself is cliché and boring, but when you come across somebody who actually is a real leader, that person isn’t […]

Socioeconomic analysis of MySpace & Facebook

From danah boyd’s “Viewing American class divisions through Facebook and MySpace” (danah boyd: 24 June 2007): When MySpace launched in 2003, it was primarily used by 20/30-somethings (just like Friendster before it). The bands began populating the site by early 2004 and throughout 2004, the average age slowly declined. It wasn’t until late 2004 that […]

US government makes unsafe RFID-laden passports even less safe through business practices

From Bill Gertz’s “Outsourced passports netting govt. profits, risking national security” (The Washington Times: 26 March 2008): The United States has outsourced the manufacturing of its electronic passports to overseas companies — including one in Thailand that was victimized by Chinese espionage — raising concerns that cost savings are being put ahead of national security, […]

A one-way ticket to crazyville

Image by rsgranne via Flickr Image by rsgranne via Flickr Image by rsgranne via Flickr From Dave Alan’s “Interview with Alex Christopher” (Leading Edge Research Group: 1 June 1996): Legend: DA [Dave Alan, Host] AC: [Alex Christopher] C: [Caller] … (Note: according to former British Intelligence agent Dr. John Coleman, the London-based Wicca Mason lodges […]

Denver International Airport, home to alien reptilians enslaving children in deep dungeons

From Jared Jacang Maher’s “DIA Conspiracies Take Off” (Denver Westword News: 30 August 2007): Chris from Indianapolis has heard that the tunnels below DIA [Denver International Airport] were constructed as a kind of Noah’s Ark so that five million people could escape the coming earth change; shaken and earnest, he asks how someone might go […]

The NSA and threats to privacy

From James Bamford’s “Big Brother Is Listening” (The Atlantic: April 2006): This legislation, the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, established the FISA court—made up of eleven judges handpicked by the chief justice of the United States—as a secret part of the federal judiciary. The court’s job is to decide whether to grant warrants requested by […]

The Chinese Internet threat

From Shane Harris’ “China’s Cyber-Militia” (National Journal: 31 May 2008): Computer hackers in China, including those working on behalf of the Chinese government and military, have penetrated deeply into the information systems of U.S. companies and government agencies, stolen proprietary information from American executives in advance of their business meetings in China, and, in a […]

Modern piracy on the high seas

From Charles Glass’ “The New Piracy: Charles Glass on the High Seas” (London Review of Books: 18 December 2003): Ninety-five per cent of the world’s cargo travels by sea. Without the merchant marine, the free market would collapse and take Wall Street’s dream of a global economy with it. Yet no one, apart from ship owners, […]

The military’s 8 P’s

From James B. Stewart’s “The Real Heroes Are Dead” (The New Yorker [11 February 2002]: 58): … he was simply following the “Eight P’s,” a mnemonic that had been drummed into them in the military: “Proper prior planning and preparation prevents piss-poor performance.”

A coup in Equatorial Guinea for fun

From Laura Miller’s “Rent-a-coup” (Salon: 17 August 2006): In March 2004, a group of men with a hired army of about 70 mercenary soldiers set out to topple the government of the tiny West African nation of Equatorial Guinea and install a new one. Ostensibly led by a political opposition leader but actually controlled by […]

Why the US toppled Chile’s government

From Robert Sherrill’s “100 (Plus) Years of Regime Change” (The Texas Observer: 14 July 2006): Kissinger, then secretary of state, was certain he detected the odor of communism in the election of Salvador Allende Gossens to the presidency of Chile. … Chile was one of the most stable countries in South America, with a high […]

Why the US toppled Guatamala’s democratic government

From Robert Sherrill’s “100 (Plus) Years of Regime Change” (The Texas Observer: 14 July 2006): At roughly the same time Secretary of State Dulles was destroying democracy in Iran, he was also busy destroying democracy in Central America, and once again it was on behalf of a renegade industry: United Fruit Co. … “Few private […]

Why the US toppled Iran’s government

From Robert Sherrill’s “100 (Plus) Years of Regime Change” (The Texas Observer: 14 July 2006): In 1953 the brutal, venal shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, was pushed into exile by Mohammad Mossadegh, the democratically elected prime minister. … Iranians loved Mossadegh. He made clear that his two ambitions were to set up a lasting […]

The neutron bomb as the most moral weapon possible

From Charles Platt’s “The Profits of Fear” (August 2005): Sam Cohen might have remained relatively unknown, troubled by ethical lapses in government and the military but unable to do anything about them, if he had not visited Seoul in 1951, during the Korean war. In the aftermath of bombing sorties he witnessed scenes of intolerable […]

America, the failed state

From Noam Chomsky’s “Why It’s Over For America” (The Independent: 30 May 2006): … the fear, which cannot casually be put aside, that, as Gar Alperowitz puts it in America Beyond Capitalism, “the American ‘system’ as a whole is in real trouble – that it is heading in a direction that spells the end of […]