Better than salt money

Work like you were living in the early days of a better nation


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Because it can’t be all the serious, all the time

Because we have friends who like to corrupt us, My Beloved Partner (whom I shall, unless she objects to the appearance, shall hereinafter referred to as, MBP) and I have been, on occasion, induced to taking up various online entertainments. We have been seduced, at various times to games about Frogs, etc. Recently we were shanghaid into Puzzle Pirates. It’s an MMPOG, with some role-playing. It has a pleasnstly  low key sort of feel, and lots to do.

What could be wrong with that?  Not much, really.  It’s free to play; though paying for some things can make game play a bit nicer. you can do more if you buy Doubloons, or subscribe, but one can earn Piece of Eight (the local currency), and use them to buy doubloons… so if one really likes the game one can play all aspects of it completely for free.  It doesn’t hurt the in game economy (complex) nor does it actually keep money from the coffers of the folks running it, as the Doubloons one buys in the exchange were paid for with cash. Someone decided they wanted the PoE more then the Dubs (and the going rate for PoE seems to be about 1/1000 of a US Dollar, as the most expensive Dubs are about .25USD, and the Poe/Dub rate seems to be hovering about 2,400-2,600/1).

Being the independent sort of over-achievers we can be, we’ve gotten the skills needed to (barely) run our own ship, and so bought one; and then created our own crew.

Being an Aubry/Maturin fan I named it, “Lucky Jack’s Surprise”.

Which brings me to the reason for this bit of shared silliness (quite apart from promoting the game, if you are interested in playing hit that link, since there is a recruiting bonus.

If you are already playing… I’m presently being boring and going by Pecunium; sailing on the Emerald Sea, and living on Sayer’s Rock.  It seems to be a name that people shorten in random ways; so I’ll probably be changing it to something more piratey, which will keep me from being irritated at being called, “Pec”, or worse, “Pecu”.

The next order of business is naming the ship.  At present it’s,”The Talkative Pollack”.  That’s not quite the thing.  The rules for ships’ names are Adjective/Fish.  The only vessel we have right now is a cutter.  If you can think of some clever names, I’d love to see them, not least because when I think of  one, I don’t have the means to write it down.  It would also be nice to have a name which was a bit more distinctive.

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Remembrance Day

I’m a “vet”.  I did 16 years in the Army.  I did it until it stopped being fun.  Because I am also a disable vet, I can say I’m retired; because at this point I’m not allowed to go back (it’s arcane, but suffice it to say that were I not disable, I’d be allowed to re-enlist, and finish my career, since I can’t; and I’m being compensated for the pension I can’t earn, am retired, but I digress).

My grandfather was in WW1.  I’ve always been ambivalent about the idea of, “veterans’ day”.  First , we already have one, Memorial Day started out as a way to remember those who served in the Civil War, in the same was Armistice Day was designed to recall WW1.  Given how WW1 changed the way we look at war (see, “The Soldier’s Tale, bearing witness to modern war“) I think keeping it, as a touchstone of the cost war brings to the world is important.  That so much of Europe also keeps this day, for that, adds to my ambivalence.  It feels we are appropriating a larger idea to our own, somewhat jingoistic ends.

But New York City has a parade.  I like parades.  I like soldiers (and Marines, and Seamen and Airmen). I belong to the Iraq/Afghanistan Veterans of America.  They were going to march.  So I went.   I woke up, checked the weather; double checked it by stepping outside in my pajamas.  It was warm enough, and so I donned my US Army Kilt, and a beret, and went to join my fellows.

I don’t know quite what I was expecting.  I’m not sure that what I got wasn’t sort of just that.  I’ve been in a lot of parades.  Most of them of a moderately theatric sort.  In 20 years of working a few renaissance faires in Calif. I’ve been in, at a conservative estimate, about 450 parades.  They were semi-raucous.  Crowds close it, music, drums, shouting, a sense of intimate distance.  I’ve also been to the Rose Parade, much the same.  I’ve also been in military parades, with the bands, and the reviewing stand and the “pass in review”, “Eyes… RIGHT!,” etc.

This was not like any of that.  The Forming Up was familiar.  The waiting, for one’s time to step-off was just as it ever is, and has been since the memory of man runneth not to the contrary.  We left the FlatIron Building, to go and wait; where we had a good thirty minutes, more to “hurry up and wait”, just as one would expect.  I went into the coffee bar to get another latte, and croissant. Ed Vick, one the founders of the IAVA, a Navy Vet from VietNam, came in, and we chatted some.  He also picked up the round for all the vets who were in line.  Some were still in the service; some were having beer, or wine (it was a coffee bar :>), and could see that a couple were drinking to cope.  Nine years ago I probably would have done the same.

Then we formed up, and waited some more, and then they waved us out, onto 5th Avenue, and it all changed.  The street is wide.  There were, all in all, tens of thousands of people on the route, but that’s not a very dense crowd, when one remembers the parade went from 27th to 59th streets.  It felt distant.  There was no press of noise, no sense of exultant humanity.  We were a small bubble, in a quiet sea.  We walked, and we waited, about every two blocks, to let traffic pass through.  We stepped out to shake hands; I made a point of doing it when I saw some one with a Korean War hat, because they are so often forgotten; what with the massive awareness of Vietnam.

I didn’t feel let down, but neither did I feel uplifted; which is usually what the most banal of parades does for me; no matter how tired I am, nor how routine it may be (450 is a lot of parades).  But two hours is also a lot of time to think, esp. when one is marching along; even at route step.  The IAVA is a time-limited group.  Sooner or later (sooner, one hopes) there will be no more people eligible to join.  Then we, as Eric Bogle sang,we’ll see, “Year after, the numbers get fewer, someday no one will march there at all“.

The parade, however, isn’t likely to stop.  My thoughts on the day will probably stay much as they are, and I’m not the only one to be ambivalent about the sentiments of “Veterans’ Day”, not by a long shot. When people thank me, I’m not always that comfortable with it.  No offense, I didn’t enlist for anyone else but myself.  I did it for my reasons.  I stayed in for my reasons and, much as I may be wiling to share the broad strokes, if you weren’t there I am not capable of making it plain.  Being in the service (no matter which, nor for what country) changes one.  Go to war changes everyone who does it.  None of us come back the same. As a vet, part of my lack of sentimentality comes from the feeling the day, and those who take part, are props in a cynical narrative.  I was snuck back into the country in the dead of night when I was medevacced to Walter Reed.  The coffins of the dead were done the same.  When election season comes around we are mentioned as if serving somehow makes us ideologues, and saying, “the other side” doesn’t “respect our sacrifice, is meaningful.

I’m an individual, not a member of some lumpen mass of thoughtless automata.  If you respect me, trust me to look at deeds, not words.

Because the Parades, the ebullience, is put out, front and center.  While those who aren’t able to march in the parades, the homeless, the struggling, those more disabled then I, who live too far from LA, or Seattle, or DC, or New York, or some other city with a parade are left to look at the news to get any sense of national remembrance.  If they can manage that.

Bitter?  A little.  It’s not so much that we have to look after each other, because the gov’t doesn’t, even though we got told how important our sacrifices are (and make no mistake, even in “peacetime service” there’s a shitload of sacrifice).  It’s that we get waved about like a bloody shirt, and then the budget needs balancing and we get hung out to dry.  Used,  three times, and fucked over in all of them (once when we serve, once when we are used as props to show how “patriotic” those pols are, and once to make it possible to afford other things).

And I’m going to march in the parade again.  Because it’s not all about me.  Some of my fellows need to see that we are here.  To be reminded that the things we did, war or peace, mattered.  The Pols need to be reminded that we are here, and by God we will resist being forgotten. And the people who line the route… they need it most of all.  They want to show us, for whatever reason, that they remember.  We need to remember them too, as we need to remind them of just how much we owe each other; and a little bit of joy, that sense of being part of a larger community, of paying them the courtesy to acknowledge he sacrifice they are making to stand outside on a blustery morning, when they could be home in bed, or eating brunch at the restaurant down the street with the great eggs benedict, or playing games with their grandkids; but which they put off, to say, in a way that isn’t making me feel awkward, and uncomfortable; to be able to accept that I didn’t do it all for me, and while that  doesn’t make me a hero, it’s something I should admit, and come to terms with.


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Petraeus’ Betrayal

There is a lot going on, and a lot of misunderstanding.  It happens that a lot of the misunderstandings stem from the words, “CIA”, and the understandings people have about the agency, and “intel” work in general.  It happens to be a field I’m moderately familiar with.  I spent a career in the Army as an interrogator, and an interrogation/counterintelligence instructor.  I did some related intel work; having nothing to do with either field.  I was lent out to some “three-letter angencies” and I’ve known some actual “spooks”.

A huge amount of the flap has nothing to do with the CIA, and everything to do with how the press fell in love with “The Man, Petraeus“.

I don’t think he should have resigned.  I think he should have been fired.  I even think he probably should face criminal charges, and end up in prison.

He had an affair.  I don’t care.  In the grand scheme of things having a CIA director who’s having an affair is pretty trivial.  He’s not the first, he won’t be the last, and it’s not really leverage.  He’s not out where people of the sort to 1: compromise him, and 2: make it stick, are hanging out.

When a lower level operative, even a section chief is fooling around (married or not) that’s one thing, esp. if they are in a semi-clandestine role (say one of the “attachés at an embassy), they are vulnerable to turning, either directly, or indirectly.  It is, however, not easy.  To turn someone directly requires an agent of an FIS (Foreign Intelligence Service) to get access to the target.  If they are known to be fond of flings it’s one thing, but if they aren’t, it’s not.  Making a move on someone who is in a high-profile position, in the hopes of managing to get them to engage in an infidelity is risky.  There is more to be gained, if one can get that sort of frequent access, in the things they don’t think they are revealing.

It’s amazing, to most people, just how much we reveal about things we think we aren’t.  When I was in Monterey, studying Russian, I wore the “Unit Crest” of the Defense Language Institute on my jeans jacket.  I had someone try to give me grief about “opsec” (Operational Security).  I laughed at him.  I had a “high and tight” haircut.  I walked like a soldier.  I was taking cabs up and down the hill.   I reeked of being stationed at DLI.  I’d been in cabs with people.  I’d been in bars with them.  I heard all sorts of stuff they thought they weren’t sharing with the world.  I knew which Seal Teams were focusing on which parts of the world.  So did anyone who was paying attention at The Rose and Crown. That pin was my way of reminding myself of OpSec.  I could see it everytime I stepped out; telling me to keep my mouth shut.

So no his tradecraft, or lack thereof, are not the issue. It seems he, and Broadwell, used an email “dead-drop”, to avoid actually sending messages to each other.  It’s a handy trick, and (so long as that’s all it’s used for) it’s about as secure a means of clandestine communications as one can have.  Were it not for metadata in the system they used, it might never have been known who the other half of the equation (i.e. Petraeus) was.  They never used identifiable names in the messages.

But she sent harassing messages to a third party, and like re-using a “one time pad” that’s a fatal compromise of the system.

Who cares?  Petraeus isn’t a spook.  He’s a manager.    Does anyone think George Bush (pere) was a spy?  No.  How about Leon Panetta?  No.  The simple fact is I don’t care how well the guy at the top knows the nuts and bolts of the ways to run a source, or tap a phone, or do a “black bag job”.  Moreover, those are only a small part of the CIA’s brief, and over-focusing on them has hurt us.  You want to know what the really important guys at the CIA are like, look at Nate Silver. The real work, the day to day stuff: the stuff Bush (fils) ignored, came from guys like Nate Silver, not guys like James Bond. What a care about is how well the director maintains a good working relationship with the president; how well the best guesses the various parts of the CIA are presented to the president.  That’s what the job is about.

So the affair isn’t relevant, to me, from a security standpoint.  There was, of course, no way he could survive in his position after it was plain it was going to come out.  The nature of Washington meant the Republicans; in need of scandals to try and keep the democratic president in the Oval Office from being able to govern, were going to be using this as some sort of  bloody shirt, and the press; feeling betrayed at the Golden Boy they built up turning out to be just as human as anyone else were going to treat as hounds do a fox at the end of a hunt.

So why do I say he ought to be facing charges?

I was entrusted with this opportunity to sit in on high level meetings with General Petraeus. Sitting in on SCIF [sensitive compartmented information facility] meetings in the morning, listen to classified chatter of terrorist talk and so forth. And I had that background anyhow, so I knew a lot of that information for my writing, but I knew there was a clear line that I couldn’t cross when I was writing it out,” Broadwell said in the July 2012 discussion at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado.

What The Fuck?  She was, “sitting in” on meetings in a SCIF?  No.  She has† a TS (Top Secret) clearance?  Ok.  She’s had an SCI background investigation?  Ok.  Doesn’t Mean Shit.  She didn’t have the requisite, “Need to Know”.  If you don’t have a need to know, you don’t go in a SCIF. Even in a SCIF, you don’t go to areas you aren’t, “read-on” to participate in.  You don’t.

Petraeus, apparently before the affair, was giving her access?  Why?  That’s the lapse in judgement I am concerned about. She’s not supposed to talk about it.  Not just the things she heard, but that she was there at all.  What was she doing?  All she could learn, relevant to the book she was writing was see how well he ran a meeting.  No need to go into a classified environment to do that.  Lots of reasons not to.

A long time ago, when I was just getting started in the greyish world of intel I was giving a briefing.  It was “Unclass”, and the door was open.  I was talking to a lot of intel guys and forgot I was speaking to people outside my discipline.  It being the Army I used an acronym.  Four of the people in the room got really stiff.  Really Stiff.  They sat up in their chairs, like dogs on point, eyes as wide as saucers.  The ranking officer glanced at my classification marking sign, shot his eyes to the door; leaned out to see if anyone was in the hall, looked back at the sign and asked me to repeat what I’d said.

When I did one of the others doing this odd thing asked me what the acronym stood for, and I told them, and they all relaxed and started to breathe again.  I, under my breath, swore; because I suddenly knew I had classified info that I wasn’t supposed to have.  I had it because they had such a strong reaction.  If the door had been shut I might have missed it; but the Major was terrified someone with zero-clearance might have heard it, and he over-reacted (absent context, even if I had made a mistake and used a classified term, no one who didn’t know what I was talking about was going to know what I was talking about).  Had it been just him, I still might not have caught on.  But having all of them wig out like that gave the game away.

I had info I couldn’t share with anyone.  Here’s the kicker, if it weren’t that the acronym is no longer classified in that application, I wouldn’t even being telling the story.  That’s what having a clearance means.  You promise to reveal nothing which is classified to anyone who doesn’t have need to know.  You also don’t want anyone to know you know classified info.  If it weren’t that the minimum requirement for job in the Army are in public records about my military service I suspect I’d not be telling it now.  That’s how serious that sort of thing is.  I know people who lost their clearance because they signed off that a room was secure when there was an unlocked safe with class-info in it.

And Petraeus let someone without need to know in the SCIF?  No. That’s a crime.  It’s more than one crime.  The UCMJ has articles about it too.  Technically, since he committed the offense while in the service he could be recalled back to duty to face a court-martial.

I’m not against that idea.  That’s the sort of questionable judgement which ought to have prevented him from being nominated.  It’s something which, of course, no one was looking for.  If you had asked me if this was likely, I’d have said, “no way”.  But generals do stupid things. They do stupider things when they’ve been “COM” commanders, because the duties in running something like CentCom, are akin to running a small country.  They require being a Consul, a Tribune, and an Ambassador; all at once, and with minimal supervision.

He should have known better.  I don’t care where he was sticking his dick, what I care about is the way he was dicking around.

† I hope she no longer has her clearance after that little outburst.  It also implies that either the affair was still ongoing, or Petraeus was using that account for other things, and didn’t have the wit to change the password; since the official story is they broke it off some months ago.  That’s what I mean about things people don’t realise they are revealing.


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It’s not over

We won.  By we I don’t mean “Democrats”.   I mean liberals, and progressives.  The Republican party has been saying, not quite to itself, that this was the last election they could hope to win without the Hispanic vote.  They were wrong.

I think they knew they were wrong.  One of the things which cost them the election was how that fear, of losing the levers of power they’ve been holding for so long, manifested itself.  The huge efforts they mad to make it harder for non-white, and poorer, people to vote were strong indicators they feel vulnerable to that demographic shift already (1,2,3,4,5,6).

For some reason they went full-court press to try and get the White, reactionary vote.  It was stupid. It was stupid because that group  is getting smaller; because they are dying. and the War on Women they said they weren’t waging… they lost.  Women turned out in larger numbers, and skewed way to the left of the men in their demographics.

The youth vote turned out; they aren’t slacking and things like Facebook, and Tumblr and Twitter make it easier to be in touch and (as I discovered once I got a smart phone) are motivating.  The combined act of seeing other encourage yo and of being able to encourage others is a positive reinforcement.  That’s powerful shit.  It’s enfranchising.  When the mis-calibrated machine in was discovered, and tweeted and made national news in an hour… that made it seem people really had some power.  It reduces the the sense of being an insignificant speck, and replaces it with the sense that one is part of a greater whole. Nixon once said, “Until one has been part of something greater than oneself, one has not lived.”  In times like these social media make it easier to join something greater than self.

But it’s not over.  We won a battle, the war goes on.  The Conservative movement in this country isn’t calling it quits.  They have never admitted anything in defeat, even as they demand concessions when victorious.  Gaslighting is a thing they do with appalling regularity.  When they win it’s “Elections have consequences”.  When they lose one is, “we have to put our constituents first.”  For some reason, inexplicable, the Dems seem to think this is perfectly reasonable, and they don’t stand up to Republican bullying.

Grover Norquist is pulling this shit already.  According to him the 3 million votes Obama racked up. above and beyond the 50+1 he needed to win the popular vote is proof that the election meant the Republicans need to be appeased.  That’s bullshit.  It’s dangerous bullshit.  If we let the Dems listen to this crap we’ll get more the Republican Obstructionism that we’ve been subjected to for the past four years.

We can’t let it happen.

The exit polling says the world the Republicans believe is the Way Things Ought To Be, is headed the way of the Dodo.  The question is merely how much we will let them screw us over; how much institutional damage will we allow them to commit on their way off the stage.

Women, the under 45 vote, hispanics, urban voters all went for Obama.  That’s only going to get worse for Republicans as time goes on, and the older people die.  As White Men become more of a minority that will increase.

They hate that.  They are fighting, tooth and nail to prevent it.  Bill O’Reilly, in his, “throwdown” with John Stewart was asked if we ought to do away with the Electoral College.  He said no; because that would let the majority choose who the president is.  When he was asked what happened last night he said, “It’s not a traditional America anymore…  20 years ago President Obama would have been roundly defeated by an establishment candidate… the  White Establishment is now the minority.”  His analysis was that a lot of voter, ” want stuff.”  I’d say he has it reversed, a lot of voters are tired of being told only the White Establishment is allowed to have “stuff”.  Stuff like equal pay for equal work. Stuff like presumption of innocence. Stuff like the right to serve in the military, or to marry.

The thing is, this election had a lot of harbingers to show that the sentiment of the nation is shifting.  Four ballot measures about same-sex marriage were on the ballot.  In all four of those the people said same-sex marriage was fine with them.  That reversed the previous trend of 30-0 against.  Two states legalised recreational use of marijuana.  Three women were not only elected to the Senate, but one of them is openly not-straigt.  One of them is a Progressive whom the Right waged a campaign to keep out an appointed office.  All of them also defeated incumbents.

When Norquist tells his supporters that the lack of major shift in the House is evidence of the “Central Right” sensibility of the US, he is ignoring that.  He’s also failing to consider the dichotomy between what he, and his fellows, who are in control of the Republican Party, are presenting as, “center right”.  Nixon, and Eisenhower, were they running today couldn’t get so much as nominated, they are too Liberal for the Democrats to consider them.  Nixon is too liberal for the “Liberals”.  Even if we accept the US is “center right” that’s one hell of an indictment of the present landscape.

So what does it mean?  Not a damned thing if we don’t keep the Dems feet to the fire.  The things we care about, be it closing Guantanamo, ending drone strikes, reversing the loss of civil liberties, dismantling DHS and TSA, solving the issues of immigration, actually instituting single-payer health care, fixing income inequality, making equal rights for women more real, working to make equal rights for everyone fact; not myth.

We have the ability, but we have to exercise it.

Don’t just celebrate, organise.

1: Who created the Myth of Voter Fraud

2: McCain Strategist Admits Voter Fraud is a Fraud

3: Romney Campaign trains poll-watcher to lie in Iowa

4: Romney Campaign trains poll-watcher to lie in Wisc.

5: The GOP war on voting

6: Pennsylvania’s law, “Stinks” say long-time GOP Pol


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Poltical strategy backfires?

I’m a political junkie. I’ve been following it since I was writing op-eds in high school, and Reagan was running up the debt.

So the past month has been interesting to me. The national polls have shown a tight race. The state polls have shown a close race, but one which wasn’t favorable to Romney. The Right has been trying to spin this as the result of the polls being “skewed”.  They’ve been pushing the idea that Romney is going to win by a landslide.  Combined with the narrow national polling I think that was a mistake.

Why?

Because they’ve been making such a big deal about it that Dems, who might have been feeling either less than fired up, who might have been staying home, “because Obama will win, and I don’t need to show up,” have been convinced that maybe they do need to show up.

I’ve been looking at the early voting lines, and that Florida has gotten razor thin, and there are lines Virginia is estimating to be at least four hours long at the polls and I think that this isn’t what they expected. Ohio has lines.  All over the net, in the places I go, I see liberals telling each other to go and vote.  I see people who are actually fired up.  People, who three weeks ago were dispirited.  Maybe it happened because of Sandy, and they saw how soulless Romney is, and how uncaring an administration he runs will be.

But if the turnout is higher than predicted, I can’t help but think the steady drumbeat that Romney has it in the bag didn’t help turn out the vote.