Friday, December 31, 2010

A Whole Bunch of Jokes at Once

 

Born and raised in the St. Paul area, Mitch Hedberg decided to start his own comedy career in South Florida. Not so much for the comedy scene, but for the sun. His landlord would drive him up and down the coast from club to club in his pick-up truck where Mitch would lie down in the back to avoid any of the negative conversations his landlord would try to have with him.

My fake plants died because I did not pretend to water them.

The depressing thing about tennis is that no matter how good I get, I'll never be as good as a wall.

Mitch developed his style in Florida and decided to try it out on different audiences. He moved to Seattle and toured throughout the Pacific Northwest honing his act in front of the new audiences. While in Los Angeles, Mitch booked his first television appearance on MTV’s “Comikaze” by walking into the MTV offices and personally pitching himself to the talent coordinator.

Rice is great if you're really hungry and want to eat two thousand of something.

I wear a necklace, cause I wanna know when I'm upside down.

It took him more than a few years to come up with a good deal of material, and he also needed to conquer his stage fright, which was so intense it left a mark on him all through his career.

Wearing a turtleneck is like being strangled by a really weak guy, all day. Wearing a backpack and a turtleneck is like a weak midget trying to bring you down.

Hedberg appeared on The Late Show with David Letter-man 10 times, and became one of the most successful American comedians.

When someone hands you a flyer, it's like they're saying "here you throw this away."

Mitch Hedberg was known to be a recreational drug user. In May 2003 he was arrested in Austin, Texas for possession of heroin. In 2004, Hedberg's drug use seemed to spiral out of control. At a performance in Phoenix, Arizona on September 23, Hedberg appeared on stage intoxicated, nearly col- lapsed and asked the audience for drugs, which he then orally ingested in front of the crowd.

I would imagine that if you could understand Morse code, a tap dancer would drive you crazy.

At several other performances he openly asked the audience for "any drugs" they might have, including Xanax and other prescription drugs.

If I had nine of my fingers missing I wouldn't type any slower.

Early in the morning on March 30, 2005, Hedberg was found dead in a New Jersey hotel room, reportedly from heart failure. He was 37 years old.

I like to hold the microphone cord like this, I pinch it together, then I let it go, then you hear a whole bunch of jokes at once.


http://www.short-biographies.com/biographies/MitchHedberg.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mitch_Hedberg

http://www.wma.com/mitch_hedberg/bio/MITCH_HEDBERG.pdf



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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Case of the Missing Mouse

In November, at a burglary scene near Seneca, S.C., deputies found Noah Smith, 31, naked and apparently drugged, perhaps on hallucinogenic mushrooms, and with a string-like object protruding from his buttocks. Smith was X-rayed, revealing (according to the deputies' report, which made its way to the Internet) that the object in his rectum was a "mouse."

However, several days later, the sheriff's office clarified that the object was a "computer mouse." Smith told emergency room personnel that he had no memory of the incident.

[WCSC-TV (Charleston, S.C.), 11-8-10]

http://www.newsoftheweird.com/archive/nw101219.html

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Aretha Franklin- Say a Little Prayer

The Internet was all abuzz in the last few days with the announcement that Aretha Franklin- who has lately been having some health problems- had died. In fact, Aretha is apparently quite alive and the news was a hoax.

The Detroit singer, who has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, is "home, alive and recovering," said the source, who requested anonymity because of sensitivity about Franklin's health.

http://www.freep.com/article/20101227/ENT07/101227046/Source-Aretha-Franklin-is-alive-Web-rumors-wrong#ixzz19Pg827vG

So, here's to your fast improvement and good health, Aretha.

Still it gives us a good excuse to hear the Franklin treatment of this Burt Bacharach song. This song was made famous by Dione Warwick but this version is a nice spicy kick to it that, when you hear it, breathes some life back into a song that has been Muzak-ed to death.

Project Runway It Ain't

dressed-up-for-walmart

All of the photos above come from the hilarious site: http://www.peopleofwalmart.com  And these are NOT the most outrageous. Not by a long shot.

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Monday, December 27, 2010

Solar Power- in the Fast Lane

Imagine a highway that doubles as a power plant.

That's the vision of architect Måns Tham of Sweden whose innovative design would combine freeways with solar technology. He notes that the wasted space above highways could be put to use.

Due to the low areal energy generation of solar cells, allocation of land use is a central issue for any solar proposal.

The Los Angeles Solar Program focus on roofs on private and public buildings within the city and a gigantic solar plant in the Mohave desert. With Los Angeles County having 800 km of freeways – public land with existing points of access for maintenance – why not use some of them for the location of a large scale solar installation?

Tham says that the Santa Monica Freeway alone could produce 150 gigawatt hours per year, enough to power Venice, and that the electricity "will be sucked up by households and businesses locally in the grid with minimal transmission costs.

Under main road overpasses electric cars can be filled at the “Power Place” charging stations! The locally produced electricity will be sucked up by households and businesses locally in the grid with minimal transmission costs.

But what about the exhaust? Tham has a plan for this as well.

The CO2 rich air on the road is brought through pipes into linear covered algae ponds along the freeway. This will bring green jobs, such as farming, harvesting and processing biofuels, to the neighborhoods that today are the most disadvantaged by their proximity to the freeway

.

I'm sure you can find some minor points that might need to tweaked, like sound problems and panel-sunlight orientation, but given the costs of other power-generating plants (both in terms of the economy and the environment) this seems quite reasonable. Solar panels are not exactly cheap, of course, but it is estimated that the project could pay for itself in about eight years.

Sounds like a great idea. However, I somehow doubt we will ever see it built in the United States. We can't even get a high speed train up and running.  

http://www.manstham.com/

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Death of a Director

SaadeLebanese director Yehya Saade's career was tragically cut short last week by his accident death during filming of a music video here in Izmir. According to early reports, Saade was electrocuted after grabbing hold of a live cable, apparently to keep himself from falling. Saade was directing a music video for the debut solo album of Lebanese singer Maya Diab.

According to the Ceyhan Turkish news agency, the director who traveled to Turkey to film and had originally decided to shoot the clip at Haydarpaşa train station in Istanbul, but, after the recent fire at the Istanbul site, he was forced to shoot the scenes in the Alsancak train station.

Often controversial, Saade's bold artistic vision pushed social, political and sexual boundaries. His agency, Over Beriut, worked with many famous Arab stars, such as Myriam Fares, Amal Hijazi, Carol Sakr, Haifa Wehbe.

Condolences go out to his many fans and friends around the world.

 

Hüsnü Şenlendirici ve Trio Chios - Gel Gel Kayıkçı

"The Two Sides of the Aegean Sea" is a musical collaboration between artists from Greece and Turkey. Featuring Hüsnü Şenlendirici, one of Turkey's finest clarinetists and the Trio Chios, from the small island of Chios in Greece, the CD represents probably one of the best examples of how music-rather than politics- can bring cultures together. Not only that, the fact that, in the hands of accomplished artists of this caliber, each musical style is allowed to mingle and enhance the other, while at the same time, not losing any of its identity.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Train Station Photo

TrainYesterday was a pretty nice day, considering it is so near to Christmas and the rest of Europe is buried under snow. A friend and I decided to make use of Izmir's new inter-city train again. It's difficult not to feel warm and cozy and modern-like when you step in. Turkey is certainly advancing toward equality with Europe, I stood there thinking.

As we stood at the station, the sun was beginning to set and with the amber light peeking under the clouds, I took out my camera because I wanted to remember the moment. The picture was wonderful. The reflected light on the platform. The wide curve of the tracks. The use of perspective was really beyond words.

It was a very nice photo.  But, I cannot show it to you.

Right after I took the photo, a man- I can only assume he worked at the station- sauntered up to me and told me it was forbidden to take photos. "Oh, really? Is that right.. well, I.." I muttered. There were no signs anywhere so I was surprised and I apologized putting my camera away. Then he stood there, looking at me expectantly. When I didn't get the message, he ordered me to delete the photo. He refused to leave until I had shown him the camera- sans photo.

When things like this happen, I'm usually too stunned to say much. But the more I thought about it, the angrier I became. It's not that I have any problem following rules. I was aware that taking photos around any military site, for example was an absolute no-no. (I made that mistake once. I suddenly found myself in the middle of a Benny Hill skit. Blame the sunset again.) But this seemed quite different, This was an open public place.

Don't misunderstand. I can play a sheep when I see, at least, some logic behind the rule. Or when the rule is uniformly enforced. Or even when an inane rule is brought to my attention in a sympathetic way. That's enough for me. But when a stranger saddles up to me and starts giving orders, I do not take it well. I seethe. I fume. It turns me into a rebel. A little.

The station attendant marched off, presumably rather pleased with himself.  His world was put right again. As I stood there, thinking about it, I looked around the station at all the apartment buildings and thought, "From any of the balconies from any of these apartment buildings, one could easily take a photograph." Again, from the bridge, one could take a dandy photo of the train as it passed. Or, even more preposterous, it was even easier to take photos inside the train with your phone. Obviously the rule was totally unenforceable.

I turned to my friend and asked him why he didn't mention to the man that there were no signs. His response was typically Turk. "Look, you can argue with people like that if you want, but in the end, do you really want to make problems for yourself?"

Did I? Well, no, but on the other hand, a rule should make sense. And it should be publicly displayed. Instead, we find a station attendant strutting about the platform, feverishly trying to earn his salary.

Incidentally, the British have an excellent word for this type of behavior. It's called "jobsworth." The Oxford English Dictionary describes it as British colloquial, and defines it as "A person in authority (esp. a minor official) who insists on adhering to rules and regulations or bureaucratic procedures even at the expense of common sense."

In my years in Turkey, I have witnessed a lot of average people doing some pretty stupid and dangerous things. Things you see and wonder for a second or two if you were hallucinating. Women pushing their baby carriages on the exit ramp from the highway. Cleaning ladies dangling from the windows of a high-rises, in order to clean the outside windows. Deliriously laughing fathers with their precious babies in their laps as they drive. Entire families flying down the road on motorbikes, helmetless Mom and Dad forming a two-child sandwich.

You name it, I've seen it. I do the third-rate comic double-takes and think, Where is their common sense? After awhile, you just wonder if everybody has lost their wits. Most of the time nothing dreadful happens, although as a witness, it can give you nightmares. Other times, God is too busy doing other things and disaster occurs. Children die. Young girls are run over waiting at bus stops. Animals suffer and die. And nine times out of ten, these are events that could have been avoided.

But on the other side of this equation, too often in this country you find rules without meaning or purpose or explanation. Rules designed solely for the sake of asserting authority. Bus drivers- normally loving fathers, considerate husbands and dear friends, threaten and bully their passengers. Apartment building managers who feel endowed with limitless authority to dictate to anybody that enters exactly who does what, when and how often.  

But the two things are likely to be two faces of the same coin. When rules lack logic or clear reason, then people take it upon themselves which laws they choose to obey and which they choose to ignore. They shrug and smile in that charming Turkish way, and proceed to do as they like. Maybe they'll get caught but probably they won't.

I don't mean to single out Turks. As I have told all the new arrivals: Turkey is really not any different than anywhere else. The only difference is everything is a little bit more obvious.

Like the apparent prohibition on photograph-taking, it was once forbidden to talk on the cell phones on the public bus. I guess it still is too.  Inevitably on every trip I take, there will be somebody chatting merrily away while everybody else flings peevish looks in that direction. There was one time when this happened and somebody finally tapped a young woman on the shoulder and pointed up at the sign. The woman nodded and told the person on the other end, "I can't speak on the phone. So YOU go ahead and talk. I'll listen." (Yes, it really happened.)

So I suppose the moral of the story is this: Generally speaking. the more governments treat their citizens like children, the more the citizens tend to behave exactly like five year olds.

Later as we walked through the train station in Alsancak, we saw a young lady taking photographs of the historic station. We were blinded by the flash for a second. (This is what Lady Gaga feels like.)  I looked over at my friend and he read my mind. We suddenly turned back toward her. When she saw us approaching, she tried to hide the camera for a moment. We told her that we had just been warned about taking photographs and she laughed and said in a mild conspiratorial way, "Oh, I know!"

As we left, she continued snapping away.

 

Aquarium

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Amazing Grace- Judy Collins


I don't suppose people consider this to be a Christmas song but more of an all purpose religious song. This version is without a choir which, in my opinion, sounds fantastic. Judy Collins must be absolutely sick and tired of singing this song.
The history of the song is interesting and, if you don't know, here is a link http://www.anointedlinks.com/amazing_grace.html  Nothing like a storm at sea to put the power of God into a salty sea captain. Enjoy.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Hello in There – John Prine

John Prine is one of America's underrated musicians though, for people in the industry, is well-known and much-appreciated. I first discovered him with the album, "Bruised Orange" a long time ago. (It was vinyl, if that dates it for you.) In 2009, Bob Dylan told the Huffington Post that Prine was one of his favourite writers. Many of his songs have a wry sense of humor found in the Midwest. Hope you like this song.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

More Thoughts on WikiLeaks

In the last weeks, WikiLeaks and its co-founder, Julian Assange, have been the center of controversy with the publication, both online and in selected newspapers, of classified diplomatic dispatches. The US State Department expressed outrage, The Justice Department threatened arrests, politicians and pundits from new organizations were up in arms (that's putting it lightly). Few of them have bothered to ask how this situation could have happened. The officials have claimed that leaks were a breach in national security and "endangered the lives of service personnel" although they were rather hard pressed to cite any specific examples.

Assange for his part claim claims immunity from prosecution on the basis of the right to a free press to hold governments accountable. As I suggested in an earlier post on this subject, the reasons abound. And blaming the messenger is, without question, missing the point.

 

Outrage and Opportunities

Knowing that it was inevitable that from time to time foolish, corrupt, or shortsighted individuals would win positions of responsibility in the government, the Founders came up with a system that would limit anyone’s ability to become a tyrant or to otherwise wreck the country. And over the next century and a half, the system worked as the Founders had designed it to work.”

The Federalist Papers, James Madison

If George Bush saw the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 as a call for action against "evil-doers," Dick Cheney, his vice president, took a slightly different view. He saw the crisis as an opportunity to expand the powers of the president beyond- well beyond- what the founders has ever intended. In the name of expediency, the usual process had to be dismissed The president's approval rating before 9-11 was around 55% but in the days after it rose to an unheard-of 90% and nobody could know how long this kind of consensus for immediate action would last. Cheney did not appear to hesitate.

According the Washington Post, within hours of the 9/11 attacks, Vice President Dick Cheney began working to secure additional powers for the White House. In fact, the vice-president had already had plans in place to begin acquiring these powers for the executive branch before the attacks, but had not begun to execute them.

Less than two weeks after the attacks, a memo to the White House counsel, Alberto Gonzales, was issued from John Woo and Robert Delahunty, attorneys for the Justice Department. The crux of the memo was the claim that President Bush had sweeping powers in wartime which, in effect, overruled many parts of the US Constitution. It stated that Bush could order military operations inside the United States.

Additionally, the memo supported the notion that Bush could suspend First Amendment freedoms. “First Amendment speech and press rights may also be subordinated to the overriding need to wage war successfully.” It adds that “the current campaign against terrorism may require even broader exercises of federal power domestically.”

The Bush-Cheney presidency's penchant for secrecy took a strange and rather ominous turn when on November 1, 2001, Bush signed Executive Order 13233 which limited public access to papers of all presidents since 1980. A 1978 law provided for the release of presidential papers 12 years after the president leaves office, so Ronald Reagan’s papers would have been released next year. Reagan issued an order in 1989 that called for disclosure of most of his official papers 12 years after he left office but under the new executive order the papers can be kept secret even if the president in question wants them released. President Bush’s father was vice president during the Reagan administration.

Former Nixon White House counsel John Dean wrote,"Bush and Cheney assumed office planning to take total and absolute control of executive branch information. The truth will be what they say it is. They will decide what the public should know and when, if ever.” The Late Historian Hugh Davis Graham, who will, before his death observed, “George W. Bush has a fetish for secrecy. And unless this executive order is overturned, it will be a victory for secrecy in government—a victory so total that it would make [former president Richard] Nixon jealous in his grave.” (This order was revoked on January 21, 2009 by President Obama.)

Had this been the only example of the Bush-Cheney fetish for extreme secrecy, it would simply be a case of bureaucratic mentality in action or perhaps a need for security in the face of a crisis.. And yet, this policy was certainly in place in the administration long before the terrorists attacked the Twin Towers.

Prior to that event, Cheney and General Accounting Office had been locked in a legal battle over its request the secret energy task force, chaired by Dick Cheney. The battle went on through the summer of 2001, with lawyers for the administration claiming that GAO had no authority. Later a White House document would be leaked to the Washington Post showing that officials from Exxon Mobil Corp., Conoco (before its merger with Phillips), Shell Oil Co. and BP America Inc. met in the White House complex with the Cheney aides. Earlier executives, having been called to testify at a congressional hearing, would even deny that meeting took place at all.

What took place in the meeting we still do not know. We can only speculate and imagine and by this very unusual and defensive behavior by the administration, one might easily assume the worst.

That, in fact, is the problem with a government keeping secrets. When the public, either directly or through its elected representatives, is denied access to the day to day running of its own government, it creates an atmosphere of suspicion and distrust, whether warranted or unwarranted. A vacuum of information is filled with conspiracy theories or a vague sense of distrust.

For Dick Cheney, however,  it was not merely a matter of secrecy in times of crisis. This was business as usual.

Stealth is among Cheney's most effective tools. Man-size Mosler safes, used elsewhere in government for classified secrets, store the workaday business of the office of the vice president. Even talking points for reporters are sometimes stamped "Treated As: Top Secret/SCI." Experts in and out of government said Cheney's office appears to have invented that designation, which alludes to "sensitive compartmented information," the most closely guarded category of government secrets. By adding the words "treated as," they said, Cheney seeks to protect unclassified work as though its disclosure would cause "exceptionally grave damage to national security.

Across the board, the vice president's office goes to unusual lengths to avoid transparency. Cheney declines to disclose the names or even the size of his staff, generally releases no public calendar and ordered the Secret Service to destroy his visitor logs. His general counsel has asserted that "the vice presidency is a unique office that is neither a part of the executive branch nor a part of the legislative branch," and is therefore exempt from rules governing either. Cheney is refusing to observe an executive order on the handling of national security secrets, and he proposed to abolish a federal office that insisted on auditing his compliance."

http://blog.washingtonpost.com/cheney/chapters/chapter_1/

How much security, in the face of particularly ruthless brand of terrorism, is sufficient for a superpower that values its freedoms and its liberty? After all, who has defined how superpowers should behave, with regards to keeping secrets, especially after the collapse of the Soviet state? Yet, in a speech before newspaper editors in 1963, John F Kennedy lays out the problem succinctly when he said:

"Even today, there is little value in insuring the survival of our nation if our traditions do not survive with it. And there is very grave danger that an announced need for increased security will be seized upon by those anxious to expand its meaning to the very limits of official censorship and concealment."

Ironically, while on one hand the Bush-Cheney presidency claimed the need to liberate the oppressed masses in Iraq and in Afghanistan from abuse of tyrants and regimes, they would be applying the same methods to silence dissent in their own country.

In a complex and rapidly changing world, no president can know all that he needs to know or manage personally the vast array of responsibilities that have accrued to his office. As a consequence since WWII, Congress and the executive branch have collaborated in creating a large permanent and ever-expanding national security apparatus.

Although nominally serving the public, the institutions making up this apparatus go to great lengths to evade public scrutiny, performing their duties shielded behind layers of secrecy. Ostensibly this cult of secrecy exits to deny information to America's enemies. Its actual purpose is to control the information provided to the American people, releasing only what a particular agency or administration is eager to make known, while withholding (or providing in sanitized form) information that might embarrass or call into question its policies.

The Limits of Power, by Andrew J. Bacevich

 

Criticism and Recommendations

"Secrecy in the Bush Administration," a 81-page report produced by the Committee for Government Reform and requested by Rep. Henry Waxman of California, is a carefully composed and detailed exploration of the policies and methods that were used to effectively block any and all independent oversight of decisions by Bush officials. For anybody that still believed in a government of, for and by the people, it makes depressing reading. I will share the conclusions only.

This review of the nation's open government laws reveals that the Bush Administration has systematically sought to limit disclosure of government records while expanding its authority to operate in secret.

Through legislative changes, implementing regulations, and administrating practices, the Administration has undermined the laws that make the federal government more transparent ro its citizens, including the Freedom of Information Act, the Presidential Records Act, and the Federal Advisory Committee Act. At the same time, has expanded the reach of the laws authorizing the Administration to classify documents and to act without public or congressional oversight. Individually, some of the changes implemented by the Bush Administration may have limited impact. Taken together, however, the Administration's actions represent an unparalleled assault on the principle of open and accountable government. http://www.fas.org/sgp/library/waxman.pdf

The Bush-Cheney Administration's policy on classification of information was self-serving, designed to keep journalists from learning about the decisions and historians from learning about the past.

"In many of these cases, administration officials have used a "state-secrets defense," in which the government claims the information would endanger national security, even though the documents reveal little or nothing to that end,"writes Tara McKelvey, a senior editor at the Prospect, is a research fellow at NYU School of Law's Center on Law and Security in her article. She adds, "Often the best way to end speculation about governmental affairs is to release the documents so the real story can be told. Obama has supported this approach to governing, and his transition team has come up with recommendations for improving the current system of declassification."

http://www.prospect.org/cs/articles?article=you_can_handle_the_truth

This isn't to say that Obama as president did nothing. On the contrary, in December of 2009 President Obama issued Executive Order 13526, which sought to declassify and to re-organize the classification process. The order attempts to rectify the chaotic system that had developed under Bush-Cheney. http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Executive_Order_13526

The rules laid out in the order are quite detailed with regards to what can be considered classified material and what cannot, who had access and a description of the levels of sensitivity. So, the key question in case against Bradley Manning, the probably source of the Wikileak material, is whether the executive order was actually put into effect and what caused its failure. There seems to have some major flaw in implementation. Or had the material been stolen prior to the order? How had the declassifying of older documents been progressing since the order? This is where the government should be closely looking, not searching for ways to punish Assange or to close Wikileaks.

Despite his advocacy for transparency in government, it is disheartening that the Obama administration's reaction to the WikiLeaks Crisis has been weak, confused and a betrayal of the much of what he has professed.

McKelvey suggests a possible broader solution, "..Experts are hoping that Obama will establish a National Declassification Center, a proposal that Obama endorsed during his campaign. The center would streamline the process of declassification, setting up a clearinghouse for decisions on releasing documents rather than leaving that to officials at individual agencies, where efficiency regarding declassification procedures can vary."

 

The Double Paradox

If there is a paradox about the US government's obsessive need to hide information which seems, for the most part, relatively innocuous, then the paradoxes work both ways. Few could argue- or should argue- that in a so-called liberal democracy, citizens should have access to certain kinds of information, especially regarding policies the government is using in their names.

However, isn't it also fair to ask, given the small percentage we have seen, what makes these particular documents a matter of pressing concern? Or to put it in another way, is this an actual wiki-LEAK of valuable information that enlightens citizens or is this merely a wiki-DUMP of thousands of day-to-day diplomatic correspondence, general news from specific locations, and official-sounding rumor? Is this actually journalism or simply exposure for its own sake?

According to a Congressional Research Service report, this could be a crucial factor as to whether the Justice Department can build a case for prosecution. In "Criminal Prohibitions on the Publication of Classified Defense Information" Legislative attorney, Jennifer K. Else analyses the various laws and statues, , including the Espionage Act; the extraterritorial application of such statutes; and the First Amendment implications related to such prosecutions against domestic or foreign media organizations and associated individuals. She concludes:

Whether the publication of national security information can be punished likely turns on the value of the information to the public weighed against the likelihood of identifiable harm to the national security, arguably a more difficult case for prosecutors to make.

The Supreme Court has had to deal with challenges to the limits to the First amendment in the past. Back in 1971, in the case Pentagon Papers trial, in which then-president Nixon attempted to prevent the publication of damaging leaked information, Justice Potter Stewart said this:

“In the absence of the governmental checks and balances present in other areas of our national life, the only effective restraint upon executive policy and power in the areas of national defense and international affairs may lie in an enlightened citizenry – in an informed and critical public opinion which alone can here protect the values of democratic government.”

Justice Stewart considered the executive branch to be..

"an awesome responsibility, requiring judgment and wisdom of a high order. I should suppose that moral, political, and practical considerations would dictate that a very first principle of that wisdom would be an insistence upon avoiding secrecy for its own sake.

For when everything is classified, then nothing is classified, and the system becomes one to be disregarded by the cynical or the careless, and to be manipulated by those intent on self protection or self-promotion. I should suppose, in short, that the hallmark of a truly effective internal security system would be the maximum possible disclosure, recognizing that secrecy can best be preserved only when credibility is truly maintained.”

The question that must now be asked is who gets to decides which is truly news and which actually essential for national security? A government that apparently more preoccupied with making things secret then with maintaining restrictions, or a public, that is often ignorant of the general developments in the world, easily panicked and distrustful of the means and motives of its own government.

According to our constitution, it would appear that the answer is the public's right to know supersedes the government's need for secrecy. I think John Kennedy said it best:

And that is why our press was protected by the First Amendment-- the only business in America specifically protected by the Constitution- -not primarily to amuse and entertain, not to emphasize the trivial and the sentimental, not to simply "give the public what it wants"--but to inform, to arouse, to reflect, to state our dangers and our opportunities, to indicate our crises and our choices, to lead, mold, educate and sometimes even anger public opinion.

Kennedy also asked newspaper editors to use their own judgment when dealing with sensitive information.

But I am asking the members of the newspaper profession and the industry in this country to reexamine their own responsibilities, to consider the degree and the nature of the present danger, and to heed the duty of self-restraint which that danger imposes upon us all. Every newspaper now asks itself, with respect to every story: "Is it news?" All I suggest is that you add the question: "Is it in the interest of the national security?"

That speech now seems rather quaint, doesn't it? It was obviously a different world. Did Kennedy hide things from public? Unquestionably. But then it has always been incumbent on the press to investigate and not wholly on the government to divulge. But that age, I fear, has passed forever.

Had the mainstream media been doing its job- even on a basic level- then the Assange's release of information would probably have seemed quite trivial. (At present, the mainstream media is treating Assange as a persona non grata. Time magazine ran a online vote for their "Person of the Year." Despite the fact that Assange received an overwhelming number of votes, Mark Zuckberg, founder of FaceBook, was given the award. The editors defended their decision with the strange and rather silly excuse that "Assange sees the world as filled with real and imagined enemies; Zuckerberg sees the world as filled with potential friends.")

The failure of national news organizations to investigate the issues in detail and to demand the access denied them by an overzealous administration's desire for absolute control has been a major contributing factor to the problem we see now. Add to this the corrosive effect of media corporations with political agendas and one sees a total failure to fulfill the duty of the free press that the founding fathers had once envisioned.

 

Words and Actions

But for the moment, the theatre of politics is in high swing with one blustering windbag in Washington attempting to outdo the other in moral outrage and patriotic zeal. Senator Joe Lieberman, Independent Senator from Connecticut, called the leaks "an outrageous, reckless, and despicable action" And yet this is the same man who co-authored “The VOICE Act which was designed to help the Iranian people stay one step ahead of their regime, in getting access to information and safely exercising freedom of speech, assembly, and expression online.” I doubt very much whether he has made any connection between his words now and his actions before.

Hillary Clinton, Secretary of State, is in a similarly embarrassing situation in the light of her cheerful inspiring speech on Internet freedom and its power to keep governments accountable.

"Some countries have erected electronic barriers that prevent their people from accessing portions of the world’s networks. They’ve expunged words, names, and phrases from search engine results. They have violated the privacy of citizens who engage in non-violent political speech. These actions contravene the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, which tells us that all people have the right “to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” With the spread of these restrictive practices, a new information curtain is descending across much of the world. And beyond this partition, viral videos and blog posts are becoming the samizdat of our day."

And finally there is the president himself, in his Nov. 16, 2009 speech at a Shanghai town hall meeting who in a question and answer session with the future leaders of China was heard to say,

I'm a big supporter of non-censorship. This is part of the tradition of the United States that I discussed before, and I recognize that different countries have different traditions. I can tell you that in the United States, the fact that we have free Internet -- or unrestricted Internet access is a source of strength, and I think should be encouraged. ..I actually think that that makes our democracy stronger and it makes me a better leader because it forces me to hear opinions that I don't want to hear. It forces me to examine what I'm doing on a day-to-day basis to see, am I really doing the very best that I could be doing for the people of the United States.

Fine words and I happen to support the President's ideas on this subject fully. It's too bad that when push came to shove, he didn't support them himself. I am sure he could argue his case about national security and classified material. However, at his next speech to young people about the glories of American openness, he shouldn't be too surprised to hear muffled laughter or grumpy snorts.

 

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

WikiLeaks

can't keep a SecretIn the last couple of weeks, Wikileaks has been making quite a ruckus, by publishing on its Internet website and to five prestigious newspapers classified diplomatic cables, communications between the State Department and 274 overseas embassies and missions.

Washington's reaction at the breach of security has been  extraordinary. Politicians were calling for the extradition and trial of Assange, the co-founder of Wikilleaks, on espionage charges. Pundits on FoxNews, never known for its calm rational delivery, were calling for a "hit" or a treason trial for Julian Assange. (Assange is, by the way, an Australian citizen and the idea of treason in outside of his own country  is laughable.) By the end of the week, even attention-seeking Sarah Palin and professed Christian and former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee jumped on the lynching party bandwagon.

Just when you thought it couldn't get much worse, the situation escalated out of control with a massive cyber-attack on Wikileaks. Attorney General Eric Holder was reported to have contacted companies and warned about conducting business with organizations engaged in "criminal activity" despite the fact, neither Wikileaks nor Assange had been charged- much less, found guilty.

Businesses like MasterCard, Amazon and Paypal canceled their contracts with the organization. This, in turn, provoked a group of hackers, known as Anon, to launch a wave of cyber-attacks, causing the shutdown of the companies' websites.  To top it off, an international warrant had been issued for Assange on some questionable sexual assault charges in Sweden.

It was a humiliating spectacle all around, especially from an administration that had once promised to offer a new approach and a new openness. Assange now sits in a British jail, denied bail and facing potential extradition to Sweden for questioning on those charges with the possibility of a further extradition to stand trial on espionage charges in the United States. Prior to his arrest, Assange slyly hijacked a quote by a young Rupert Murdoch from 1958, ”In the race between secrecy and truth, it seems inevitable that truth will always win.”

With few notable exceptions, most of the released cables from Wikileaks (as far as the ones I have read)  have been of a fairly predictable sort, dispatches of supposedly inside information for those "on the ground" from all over the world. Meeting with an African leader, details about the drug trade in Afghanistan, or brief sketches of some of world leaders. Over all, however, one searches in vain for anything in the way of "dirt" or anything seriously stunning.

When politicians and government officials- in response to the leaks- speak of damage to national security and a risk to our vital interests, I really wonder what I am somehow missing. Undoubtedly there must be examples, but I still haven't found much in the way of shattering news. Are they embarrassing? Yes, a little perhaps, but I feel sure that most nations, were their private dispatches revealed to the world, would feel a tad humiliated. However after a random perusal of the cables, I have to admit to feeling disappointed, even to the point of wondering what all the fuss has been about.

While I have come to believe that if one looks at the leaked cables with indifferent eye, there are few surprises. Admittedly, I was surprised- and then annoyed at being surprised- about the excessive coziness of corporations and their ability to influence American foreign policy in, say, Nigeria or Russia. I was horrified at the Collateral Murder video, and hope to see an investigation of the matter by the Pentagon. But all in all, so far, the biggest surprise is probably the lack of any jolts and shocks. I had imagined far worse.

Yes, it's true that the Prime Minister Erdogan of Turkey may have had his ego bruised slightly from some of the unflattering descriptions he read of himself in the dispatches. Of course, what with politics as they are in Turkey, one would presume he has heard much worse being said about him. And the opposition party came off hardly much better. It is also important to keep in mind that just because a State Department official relates some bit of tiddle-taddle or some roving gossip, that shouldn't make it any more accurate than, say, two fairly well-informed neighbors chatting at a coffee house. After all, when one is eavesdropping- which we are in effect doing when we read these cables- we really shouldn't be surprised if we hear something that offends our sensibilities. That could have been the reason they were considered private correspondence in the first place.

There are reasons why nations, as well as people, are not as wholly open and direct with one another and there is especially a value to, at least, some degree of secrecy when conducting complicated and difficult diplomacy.

And yet, it occurs to me that prosecution of the leakers will soon hit a snag in logic. The key source of these leaks of nearly the 250, 000 cables appears, if reports are true, to have been a Private First Class Bradley Manning. Not a debonair Russian agent or a deeply embedded mole inside the State Department.

According to a Guardian in the UK, it has been estimated that "more than 3 million US government personnel and soldiers, many extremely junior, are cleared to have potential access to this material, even though the cables contain the identities of foreign informants, often sensitive contacts in dictatorial regimes. "

Another Guardian article states "A diplomatic dispatch marked Sipdis [meaning that the information is appropriate for release to the U.S. government inter-agency community. ] is automatically downloaded on to its embassy's classified website. From there it can be accessed not only by anyone in the state department, but also by anyone in the US military who has a computer connected to Siprnet [the official government computer network]. Millions of US soldiers and officials have "secret" security clearance."

Millions? And to think, Benjamin Franklin once said, Three may keep a secret, if two of them are dead.

But what about millions of people? With that kind of access, how secret can a secret be?

Thus, it begs the question, how can documents of such importance, documents that, in light of the leaks, are now considered to be of critical value to national security, have been kept under such unsecured conditions. Either the information in the documents was vital and was to be kept compartmentalized, or the documents were not of great importance and open to many. Until the cables were leaked they were deemed as classified or secret yet were treated in a manner that was anything but secure. This fact points to some real problem with argument of state secrecy.

This implicated soldier was not some specially trained hacker who found some incredibly complicated means of accessing the information. “I would come in with music on a CD-RW labeled with something like ‘Lady Gaga’ … erase the music … then write a compressed split file. No one suspected a thing.." he explained.

Given all the hysteria, this hardly sounds like top secret or even restricted information at all. So perhaps, instead of asking how a low level soldier was able so easily able to access confidential information perhaps the more important question is how did so much of this information receive this designation in the first place.

Perhaps to answer this question more completely, we have to look beyond the series of events of the last few weeks. I started out by asking how the policy for classifying official documents might have changed in light of the terrorist attacks of September 2001. What I learned was rather surprising and I'd like to share this with you in my next post.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Little Train that Could

GEDC0212

After a wait of nearly five years for the completion of the Izmir-Karsiyaka Metro line, the train is now running. I took it all the way from one end to the other, all the way to the airport. I have to say, from one who tends to be overly critical sometimes, I was secretly gushing with excitement.  At present, the line is still not completely finished, stopping in Cigli and according to the gossip I overhead, it is supposed to be finished within the next couple of months.

It'll be nice to have an alternative to the buses in summer- when you are lucky to find a seat and air conditioning on the same bus.Of course, I am glad the ferry boats will continue running all night. 

  
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Friday, December 3, 2010

Thomas Jefferson on Agnosticism

Thomas Jefferson Agnostic

 

"Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blind-folded fear."

Thomas Jefferson

 

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Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Sunset over the Bay of Izmir

Izmir Turkey Sunset photo

Took this photo while dashing through the seaside park trying to catch the ferry. Hope you like it.

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