Goose the Blog 2.0

"Oh, ha! Sarcasm: The last refuge of sons of bitches!"


Memorial Day

by John at 5/29/2006 07:51:00 PM

Wendy reminded me to make a Memorial Day post, but I hadn't forgotten to do it. It was more of a personal choice. First of all, I don't want to set some kind of precedent where I'm expected to say something appropriate on any particular holiday or risk having my patriotism, or worse, humanity, questioned. Second, I've been thinking and worrying about war and the people who fight them for the last three or four years, pretty much everyday, and I think that's enough for me to do. But that's just me being grumpy, I guess.

Anyway, here's what I've been thinking today: Instead of just celebrating our past warriors, we should spend the day thinking about how we are going to reduce the number of warriors (and wars) in the future, and promise ourselves that we will never allow blood to be spilled unnecessarily again. We should recognize that war is the failure of humanity. That would be a real service to all veterans.



by John at 5/23/2006 10:04:00 AM

From the latest edition of Edge comes an essay on The Science of Happiness:
You may think that it would be good to feel happy at all times, but we have a word for animals that never feel distress, anxiety, fear, and pain: That word is dinner.

Negative emotions have important roles to play in our lives because when people think about how terribly wrong things might go and find themselves feeling angry or afraid, they take actions to make sure that things go terribly right instead. Just as we manipulate our children and our employees by threatening them with dire consequences, so too do we manipulate ourselves by imagining dire consequences. People can be so anxious that their anxiety is debilitating, but that's the extreme case. Anxiety and fear are what keep us from touching hot stoves, committing adultery, and sending our children to play on the freeway. If someone offered you a pill that would make you permanently happy, you would be well advised to run fast and run far. Emotion is a compass that tells us what to do, and a compass that is perpetually stuck on north is worthless.

It's pretty light on neuroscience, but interesting nonetheless. I thought the best part was the discussion of humans' inability to make good predictions about what will make them happy in the future.



by John at 5/22/2006 10:41:00 AM

Happy birthday Wendy!

Update: In (very) late breaking news, last Wednesday was Amy's birthday, so:

Happy belated birthday Amy!


legal method of monitoring phones was killed

by John at 5/18/2006 06:50:00 AM

From the Baltimore Sun (via Talking Points Memo):

NSA killed system that sifted phone data legally
Sources say project was shelved in part because of bureaucratic infighting

WASHINGTON // The National Security Agency developed a pilot program in the late 1990s that would have enabled it to gather and analyze massive amounts of communications data without running afoul of privacy laws. But after the Sept. 11 attacks, it shelved the project -- not because it failed to work -- but because of bureaucratic infighting and a sudden White House expansion of the agency's surveillance powers, according to several intelligence officials.

The agency opted instead to adopt only one component of the program, which produced a far less capable and rigorous program. It remains the backbone of the NSA's warrantless surveillance efforts, tracking domestic and overseas communications from a vast databank of information, and monitoring selected calls.


In what intelligence experts describe as rigorous testing of ThinThread in 1998, the project succeeded at each task with high marks. For example, its ability to sort through massive amounts of data to find threat-related communications far surpassed the existing system, sources said. It also was able to rapidly separate and encrypt U.S.-related communications to ensure privacy.

But the NSA, then headed by Air Force Gen. Michael V. Hayden, opted against both of those tools, as well as the feature that monitored potential abuse of the records. Only the data analysis facet of the program survived and became the basis for the warrantless surveillance program.

The decision, which one official attributed to "turf protection and empire building," has undermined the agency's ability to zero in on potential threats, sources say. In the wake of revelations about the agency's wide gathering of U.S. phone records, they add, ThinThread could have provided a simple solution to privacy concerns.

There's more interesting stuff if you read the whole thing.


keep a secret

by John at 5/17/2006 12:52:00 PM

So, AT&T,(?) BellSouth, and Verizon have made public statements saying that they did not give customer records to the NSA. Are they lying?

We may never know, but on May 5, 2006, the President said they could lie about matters relating to national security if Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte authorized it.


worried yet?

by John at 5/16/2006 11:47:00 AM

In case you can't tell, this spying stuff has got my hackles up like nothing else this year.1 There is something personal about knowing that the Bush administration, with the complicity of Congressional Republicans2, just doesn't care about the most basic provisions of the Constitution. The Libertarian in me (we aren't so different, Libertarians and liberals - except that Libertarians want to keep all the goodies for themselves) is screaming "Do something already!" but neither us of knows what can be done.

If for some reason you aren't worried yet, here's some stuff you might want to read:

The NSA is on the line -- all of them (

GOP Senators block judicial review of NSA program (Glenn Greenwald)

and to lighten things up (and briefly revisit Kafka!)

Pretzel Logic

Anyway, I'm sure someone out there will tell people like me that we shouldn't worry our pretty, little heads about all this stuff, and that we can trust Papa Bush this time, even though the last time we trusted him he gave us a black eye, emptied our savings account, pawned the silverware, and ran off with a floozy for a four month coke-and-Nyquil fueled bender. And, oh yeah, he also got tens of thousands of people killed in Iraq.


1. Yes, of course, Iraq is a growing bloody disaster, but America has already mixed all the paint colors together over there and there is no way anyone can unmix them. Iraqis are just going to have to learn to like brown. Our bad.

2. Why does my "moderate Republican" senator Arlen Specter keep rolling over? Stand up for something you profess to believe in, man!


data mining, etc.

by John at 5/13/2006 07:17:00 AM

Billmon is worth reading today.

This also seems to be the intuitive position of many Americans when it comes to the new cyber-surveillance state. By giving up their privacy and - potentially - their civil liberties in exchange for a degree of protection (real or imaginary) from terrorism, they've sacrificed items that apparently are of only marginal value to them for something more important - their belief that the organization is looking out for them.

We can argue all we want that the deal is a sham, that any sense of security is an illusion, and that having gobbled up their privacy and some of their liberty, Leviathan will only come looking for more, because that's all it knows how to do. But an awfully large number of our fellow citizens have already decided, or have been conditioned to believe, that it's better to be subjects and let others make the hard decisions for them. After all, the organization must have its reasons.

Of course, this potentially sets the scene for the next loop in the downward spiral towards a full-fledged police state. If and when the next terrorist attack comes, the natural response of the national security bureaucracy (and its legal camp followers) will be to insist the tragedy never would have happened if it had been given access to all the data it wanted, all the money it needed, and all the investigative powers it demanded. It'll be the fighting-with-one-hand-tied-behind-our-back argument, re-imported from Iraq. And who's going to say no when another major American landmark is a smoldering ruin?

Leviathan, in other words, is almost free of any restraint, save the arbitrary limits - such as they may be - set by the Cheney administration or, perhaps more importantly, by custom and habit. The creature doesn't know all the things it can do, but only because it hasn't tried to do them yet. But it's starting to figure this out, and it's going to take more than an election and a few corruption probes to make it back down. Having entrusted their security and their liberties to the beast, Leviathan's subjects will be lucky not to wind up like Jonah, lodged in its belly.

Read it all, if you like.

Update: This too.


yes, you *can* eat that...

by John at 5/12/2006 07:19:00 AM

...but you probably shouldn't.



by John at 5/11/2006 11:23:00 AM

Remember how Street Magician David Blaine spent a week underwater in a glass bowl and then tried to hold his breath long enough to break the world's record? (He failed to break the record, but still held his breath for something more than seven minutes, which is a pretty long time to go without breathing. Right, Bill? Back me up here.)

Anyway, check out his totally grody prune hands!

"This phone call may be monitored for quality control purposes."

by John at 5/11/2006 09:07:00 AM

The NSA is collecting data from Verizon, AT&T, and BellSouth on billions of domestic phone calls made by tens of millions of American customers. Nice.

Q: Does the NSA's domestic program mean that my calling records have been secretly collected?

A: In all likelihood, yes. The NSA collected the records of billions of domestic calls. Those include calls from home phones and wireless phones.

Q: Does that mean people listened to my conversations?

A: Eavesdropping is not part of this program.

Q: What was the NSA doing?

A: The NSA collected "call-detail" records. That's telephone industry lingo for the numbers being dialed. Phone customers' names, addresses and other personal information are not being collected as part of this program. The agency, however, has the means to assemble that sort of information, if it so chooses.

Q: When did this start?

A: After the Sept. 11 attacks.

Q: Can I find out if my call records were collected?

A: No. The NSA's work is secret, and the agency won't publicly discuss its operations.

Q: Why did they do this?

A: The agency won't say officially. But sources say it was a way to identify, and monitor, people suspected of terrorist activities.

Q: But I'm not calling terrorists. Why do they need my calls?

A: By cross-checking a vast database of phone calling records, NSA experts can try to pick out patterns that help identify people involved in terrorism.

Q: How is this different from the other NSA programs?

A: NSA programs have historically focused on international communications. In December, The New York Times disclosed that President Bush had authorized the NSA to eavesdrop — without warrants — on international phone calls to and from the USA. The call-collecting program is focused on domestic calls, those that originate and terminate within U.S. borders.

Q: Is this legal?

A: That will be a matter of debate. In the past, law enforcement officials had to obtain a court warrant before getting calling records. Telecommunications law assesses hefty fines on phone companies that violate customer privacy by divulging such records without warrants. But in discussing the eavesdropping program last December, Bush said he has the authority to order the NSA to get information without court warrants.

Q: Who has access to my records?

A: Unclear. The NSA routinely provides its analysis and other cryptological work to the Pentagon and other government agencies.

The NSA is basically "datamining" the call records to try to find patterns of behavior, and this is certainly part of the Total Information Awareness program that was made illegal a few years ago and which, for all practical purposes and in defiance of Congress, was never actually shutdown. The dataminers would probably need to have examples of "people involved in terrorism" in order to identify other previously unknown cases. False positives (identifying as terrorists or terrorist enablers (or whatever) those people who are innocent) are, of course, the main logistical risk, which complicates the job of authorities and causes problems for otherwise innocent citizens. With tens of millions of suspects, even a very low percentage of false positives produces a vast number of investigations. And from the standpoint of liberal democracy, this is yet another instance of the growth of the police state, curtailing Constitutional guarantees of privacy and separation of powers, and a step in the implementation of a panopticon society.

And in a related note, also in today's news is the fact that the Justice Department investigation into the NSA's warrantless eavesdropping program (the one where the NSA, under the personal authorization of President Bush, listened in on domestically originated international phone calls without a warrant from the FISA court) has been closed because the NSA would not grant security clearance to the DOJ investgators. Reverse Kafkaesque!*

I don't mean to be alarmist, but our privacy, and therefore our freedom, is being taken away from us. And our stable and mostly just system of government is being dismantled by power hungry buttholes.

Update: There's a slashdot discussion of this, if you have the patience for that sort of thing. Set the threshold to 3 or higher to filter out a lot of the junk.


* I now get to use that term without pretension because I recently finished reading The Trial by Franz Kafka. Look for it in an upcoming episode of 30SBR.


suburban wasteland

by John at 5/08/2006 11:24:00 AM

I read an article yesterday in the Toronto Star that said that modern (e.g. post 60s? The article wasn't entirely clear) suburban housing developments may never, ever* grow large trees. How sad is that? Those artist conceptions given to prospective buyers with beautiful, tall trees enhancing the value and aesthetics of your plywood McMansion (not to mention screening off the obnoxious neighbors whose bedroom window is a mere thirty feet from yours) are bullshit. The article gives the details of why trees just won't grow, but it suffices to say here that it is the factory style construction of tract housing, necessary to maximize profits, that takes most of the blame. I once heard, on television, Bob Vila describe the new housing developments in the exurbs as future ghettos. He did this in the context of encouraging renovation of city properties and neighborhoods, but I bet even he didn't know about the part with no trees.

I've had the opportunity to count tree rings on two large trees on my property in the last four years. One tree was more than 50 years old, and the other was more than 40. Both exceed the age of the house by at least a little bit. They were both second growth trees (tulip poplars, each easily more than 100 feet tall), which fits with the history of the small development (9 houses) which, like so many other things, was built on former farm land.

So to sum up: Modern suburbs - unrealistic, unsustainable, and unattractive. Forever*.


* For sloppy definitions of never, ever, and forever - a hundred years and more, long after the houses themselves have been torn down.


well... how did I get here?

by John at 5/07/2006 09:13:00 PM

Same as it ever was! (introducing Kiki)