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May 26, 2004

When things happen.

I've been thinking lately of one of my unspoken beliefs. Unspoken until now that is. Put simply, if something happens once, it could happen again. If something happens twice, it will most likely happen again.

Seems simple enough, but taken to another level, it implies all sorts of things. For example, when I talk about something happening twice, I am not just talking about something happening to me. If you see something happen to a lot of people, you have to believe it could happen to you. For example, if you see a number of people get fooled by something that seems obvious to you, you too could get fooled by something that should be obvious.

One of the areas I've previously applied this principle is in business ventures. I am sure this comes from my jaded past, but I believe it nonetheless. There are people who come up with an idea that seems so great and obvious they are sure they will be successful. Clearly, not everyone is successful. While I am smart, I don't think I am the smartest person alive. I have seen the above scenario happen to smart people. Given the above facts I have to believe it could happen to me.

This same principle applies to all sorts of beliefs. We can all be fooled. We can all be tricked. We can all be convinced. We can al believe something wholeheartedly because we want to believe it that much.

So how do we deal with this principle. I'm still working on that. The best I've come up with is to go under the assumption that everything you believe is up for debate. That doesn't mean you need to drop all your beliefs and become a Nihilist. It just means you have to accept that you are wrong in some areas and are not aware where those areas are. That, in all likelihood, you believe certain things under a number of false pretenses, not the least of which is your own stubbornness... my own stubbornness.

Posted by wonko at 03:30 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

May 20, 2004

Islam Adam

My good friend Obigabu decided to have fun with my new beard. Don't make fun of these or I'll get jihad on your ass!
Picture 1
Picture 2
Picture 3

Posted by wonko at 02:27 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

May 18, 2004

The Fog of War

The Fog of War is a documentary featuring and starting Robert S. McNamara who served as US Sec of Defense during the Vietnam war. This is an amazing movie on a number of levels. First, the music and footage are breathtaking. The movie goes back and forth between old war and press footage to a single lengthy interview which must have been conducted recently. Clearly, McNamara has changed over the years. It appears that, through the lens of time, he has softened up a bit and regrets much of what was done. However, even after 3 decades, he seems loyal to his secrets and positions. He would not answer a number of questions that would put his previous decisions and the decisions of the administrations he served under, into question.

To me, the most interesting part was the, never stated nor implied, comparison between Vietnam and our current war in Iraq. On one hand. it is very different. Namely a LOT of people were dying in Vietnam on a regular basis, whereas Iraq has seen relatively few casualties. However, the one thing they seem to have in common is our lack of understanding of our enemy. McNamara admits that they thought at the time that Vietnam was an extension of the Cold War. Vietnam saw it as a civil war. Other nations had tried to conquer them before and they saw America as just another one of those nations. Just as today, in Vietnam we believed the South Vietnamese would see us as liberators or defenders at the least, but they too saw us as conquerers. McNamara's lesson is, empathize with the enemy. You have to know the enemy. The Vietnamese would fight to the last man. We would never win.

There's irony in why our administration did not believe the Vietnamese would fight the way they did. I think, deep down, the hawks know that the people fighting FOR them need to be convinced as to WHY they are fighting. That is because the people fighting FOR them really do not often have a reason to fight. Why would the average Joe want to go to Vietnam and fight? What are they fighting for? WWII was different. We had been attacked. In the Vietnam conflict, America was in no danger. Vietnam had no ability to attack us. So, the hawks have it in their best interest to create reasons their people can stand behind. They work hard on words and propaganda to convince you to fight. On some level, the hawks have to see the transparency of what they are doing. They know they hold their own people by a thread. They, more than anyone, see that governments have their own agendas, separate from the will of the people, that they must convince or delude the people into following. Perhaps they believed it was this was in Vietnam (Iraq). That once the government/propaganda machine fell, they could control a people who never had a reason o fight in the first place. The trouble was, they DID have a reason to fight. There was no descent among the Vietnamese. No protests against the war. They were being invaded by colonialists. They would all rather die than submit.

Iraq is a different situation, but perhaps by less than we want to believe. The people in Iraq are motivated by more than money and other American notions of success. From the outside, they see the transparency of the 'democracy' we bring them. We promote democracy even as we put our own players into place and censor their media. The question keeps getting asked. Tim Russert put it best on Meet the Press. 80% of Iraqis want America out. If you were running for office in Iraq, you'd need to run against America to win. But the question is, if an elected Iraqi government wanted us out, would we leave. But I digress, back to the movie.

The other astounding thing I took away from the movie is how evil America can be. Before we dropped the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, we had begun firebombing major cities. We killed over 100,000 civilians in one night. Our reasoning was that a civilian today, will fight against us tomorrow. It was also the easiest way to fight a way while minimizing our own causalities. Fly planes really high that drop highly inaccurate bombs. To compensate for their inaccuracy, we'd just drop a ton of them. In a dramatic scene they flash pictures of cities we bombed giving our own governments statistics for how much of the town we destroyed. City after city was depicted with numbers ranging from 50% to 95%. In many instances, these cities were the size of LA, New York, etc...

America has a short memory. Perhaps because we have a short history. Other nations have much longer memories and much deeper traditions. The violence and ruthlessness we exhibited during WWII was forgotten by Americans long before the rest of the world did. We have to remember that. There are Japanese and Vietnamese still alive that remember us killing millions and millions of innocent people. In a rare candid moment, McNamara recalls knowing, even back than, that if they lost the way in Japan or Vietnam, their actions would be seen as criminal. But if they had won, they would be heros. He questions why there is a difference in moral standard for the winners or losers.

I saw Troy a couple nights ago. It was a good movie, very enjoyable. As Greece masses their entire army to attack Troy, the grecian leaders knew they would not be turning back without destroying Troy. Why? Because you don't put that large an army together and sail them all across the sea to negotiate. War has not changed much in principal in the last 10,000 years. In many ways I believe our nation must engage in military conflict, if for no other reason, than we have such a large military. It would be an awful waste of time, people and money, if all they did was peaceful endeavors. This may seem cynical, but wars have been fought for less. This is the way of war. We have the largest military in the world in terms of capability. There are those that justify continual conflicts to justify keeping and even enlarging our military with the rational that there WILL be another large conflict and we will need to be ready. If we let our military dwindle with lack of need, we will make ourselves vulnerable. This is obviously twisted logic.

When will things change? When will people stop seeing others as The Enemy just because they are different. I think it was the hope of the world at one point, that America would be a different kind of country. That we would behave more civilized and promote peace and fairness by example. Unfortunately, we have lost any credibility in that regard. It has become obvious to the world America's motives are not pure. When will it end?

Posted by wonko at 11:49 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

May 10, 2004

The eVoting Story

How E-Voting Threatens Democracy is a great article in Wired News that tells much of the story of the current evoting insanity. I can think of few other current issues surrounded by as much chicanery, disinformation and duplicity as this issue. From our government never releasing promised funds to states wanting to install evoting systems as part of the HAVA act, to races that have been completely called into question by lack of verifiable voter data. This article tells the story of Bev Harris, who accidentally found the code to Diebold System's voting system and how she brought the undeniable truth to the surface. That current evoting systems are so insecure, it would take little knowledge or effort for either side to rig an election. Just the notion of election rigging seems insane and draconian. But this country has a long history of election rigging and election confusion. While the 2000 election brought voter confusion to the forefront, there have been mishaps before and after that make the 2000 snafu look benign.

For example, "In the 2002 general election in Scurry County, Texas, for example, poll workers grew suspicious when two Republican commissioners won landslide victories on ES&S optical-scan machines. When officials recounted the ballots twice by hand, the wins went to their Democratic opponents instead."

In another example, "In Comal County, Texas, three Republican candidates won their elections by exactly 18,181 votes each. Two other Republicans in a nearby state using the same kind of machines also won by exactly 18,181 votes. Five identical vote counts from machines that are "virtually tamper-proof"?"

These are just two of the multitude of examples where votes were called into question or just thrown out.

After Bev found the source, she realized it had to be reviewed by professionals, as she was not a programmer. A team from Johns Hopkins University poured over the code and released this report. I've personally scanned through the report and it is appalling how insecure a supposedly 'secure' system can be. The system encrypts votes before they are written to disk. However, the key they used to encrypt those votes is hard coded into the software (F2654hD4). The same key is used on ALL Diebold voting machines in the country. Beyond the fact that DES is not as robust as other forms of encryption, this alone is cause for alarm. Worse still, when the data is sent via the internet to Diebold for tabulation, it isn't encrypted at all. It would be easy to hijack the votes en-route.

I don't want to go into too much detail on how bad these systems are and/or how many instances of election problems there has been. These things bother me, but they are not the most troubling. The most troubling aspect has been the reaction to this information. Specifically, the reaction of the media, and the reaction of the government.

The mainstream media has failed to cover any of this in any journalistic sense at all. There have been mentions here and there, but no 'big story'. I do not claim to know why this is. All I can do is speculate on all possible reasons from benign to nefarious. For instance, voting isn't interesting. If it bleeds it leads! It may just be that they don't see a market for reporting on voter fraud. It may also be that they worry about wrecking havoc in this country by suddenly reporting that all our votes are in question. Worse, that specific elections, already held, were in question. They may worry about making voters feel disenfranchised, perhaps making them think twice about voting in the first place. Indeed, I think this latter reason may explain why local governments involved in such voting snafus have been so reticent to publicly admit problems they've had. This explanation puts a tremendous amount of faith in the good will of those in the media and/or government.

Another explanation is that the media is getting pressure not to report this too widely. Perhaps even for the reason above. It should now be known by all free thinking, skeptical intellectuals that our media can be influenced. There are two ways our media becomes influenced. The most benign way deals with how THEY get their news. If the people on their shows and the people reporting to them give them false information, they still report it. Remember the stories of Jack Kelley, Stephen Glass or Jayson Blair. All admitted fabricating dozens if not hundreds of stories for USA Today, The New Republic, and The New York times respectively.

Than there are the expert witnesses. These are the pundits you see on talk news shows which exclaim much of the information that gets repeated and turned into news. These pundits are just like their court expert witness counterparts in that they are paid to give a particular stance. It is not a coincidence that you will hear, supposedly unconnected pundits, from both sides, use the same language, ie talking points, when defending or describing something. Frequently these pundits come from large organizations that specialize in punditry. In the case of facts given by these pundits, or stories that were later admitted to being fabrication, the question is why these papers aren't checking their sources before reporting the news. In many cases, one news organization gets their news from another. If one is wrong, they will all fall in line with the same false information. We saw this again and again during the Iraq war.

Those are some reasons why the media might not be covering this, but why would elected officials defend these evoting companies, even after being shown the truth about the insecurity of these systems? In Maryland, after going through the John's Hopkins report, they decided to commission their own study to dispel concerns with the systems. The report from their own group, some of which were ex-NSA, confirmed the problems in the Hopkins report.

"We could have done anything we wanted to," said William Arbaugh, a University of Maryland assistant professor of computer science and one of the hackers. "We could change the ballots (before the election) or change the votes during the election."

Even after this definitive evidence, Maryland officials defended the systems and the companies behind them. This same scenario played out in California where uncertified patches were repeatedly applied just before elections. Only within the last couple weeks have lawmakers been pressured to ban the machines (1, 2). As an aside, the previously linked article lists many instances of these machines failing, such as this gem, "In Muscogee County, Ga., in 2003, touch-screen machines registered "yes" when voters voted "no." When notified of the irregularity, polling workers advised voters to cast the opposite of their intended vote, the NAACP reported."

So why is the government not in an uproar about this? There are a lot of people crying foul, saying there are partisan shenanigans at work. While there is a sizable amount of evidence to support this claim, such as the Diebold CEO writing "I am committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president next year,” one fact in particular lessens this claim. The voting systems are so insecure, either side could take advantage of it. So why the defense? Again, we can only speculate.

Initially, honest officials, were probably dazzled by the systems and the claims of how much easier they would make elections. They produce results faster and more accurately. Those officials purchasing the systems were not technical, and likely had little reason to doubt the validity of Diebold's claims. It could be that after spending tens of millions of dollars only to learn they may have made a mistake, officials decided it was too much of a PR nightmare to admit the money was wasted. It could also be for the reason I mention above, that officials feared voters would become too cynical to vote at all, knowing how bad things really were. It is also not unthinkable that officials have a financial steak in keeping with the vendor they chose in the form of campaign contributions and kickbacks. Again, I do not claim to know the answer. The most I can do is try and believe in the most benign of reasons, sticking to my antiquated belief in the goodness of man.

Perhaps the MOST disturbing fact in this whole debacle, (I find myself using the term 'most disturbing' a lot lately), is that the American people, in leu of the media telling them it is so, by and large do not know the scope of the issue. Most American's do not realize how seriously bad this situation has become. Yet, any single google news search for 'voting' produces scores of articles in large, reputable newspapers and magazines, that if read would give any American goose-bumps. Though these articles appear in all major papers, they are still not headline news. They are buried on page 6, where most people will not find them unless they are looking.

This entry was written hastily using only google and my fingers. I did not read all the articles I cite. I have not spent a tremendous amount of time researching this issue. Yet, there is so much information out there, my only problem was what to include, and what to leave out. I do not believe everyone must be constantly investigating the news they read and our government. However, I do believe we should be skeptical about the news we read and what our officials tell us. I also believe, if you plan to vote in the next election, it is your duty to become more versed on what is going on. Otherwise, your vote may not count.

Posted by wonko at 12:37 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

May 09, 2004

The Fear of Dana

On Thursday night, a few people and I decided to climb Mt. Dana the next day. That night, I could only get a hold of Duece (Aaron), who was set on going. We planned to drive separately up near Tioga Pass where we'd leave one car near the Hydro Power Station in Lee Vining Canyon (where we go Ice Climbing in the winter), and shuttle the other up to just below Tioga Pass where we'd begin our hike. When I woke up on Friday, it seemed a little windy, but I felt good and committed. At the rest stop parking lot at just under 10,000' we met a loan Tele Skier who had also planned to climb Dana. He turned out to be on the Mammoth Mountain Ski Patrol. He had hoped to find others there as well, who could help shuttle him back to his car from the Powerhouse. It is possible to ski Dana and end up where you started, but you lose out on 3-4k of vertical descent. Our plan was to hike over 3000' to the peak of Dana (13,000'+), ski one of the couloirs to a valley below. From the valley we'd climb up to and across the Dana Plateau where we'd ski the Powerhouse Chutes to our lower shuttle car.

Duece and I had brought our splitboards (snowboard that splits into skis for skinning uphill), but hadn't had a whole lot of experience skinning. As we started out, Duece and I immediately ran into our shortcomings. Any time we had to traverse across the fall line, we'd slip, unable to keep an edge. Plus, both of us slipped backwards when things got steep, while our Telemark friend did fine. The wind picked up as we began our ascent. Further up it got steeper and at one point I began to slide backwards. I desperately tried to use my un-gloved fingers as claws as I drove them into the wind buffed snow. Sliding for about 40 feet, I stopped in a precarious position. It took me a while to right myself. I sat there debating what to do. Truth be told, I was a little scared. The wind began to get untenable and I had begun to fall behind. I was short of breath, unable to regain it. The thought of the long ascent, with the fear of sliding, was not appealing. Finally, I decided to unstrap my skis, strap them to my pack, and kick steps up. It bothered me that I was falling behind, but it was all I could do not to turn around and give up. It took me a while longer, with frequent stops to breath, to get to where Duece and the telemarker were at. They were cowering from the wind behind some rocks. It was at this reunion that we discussed the definite possibility that the snow conditions would be bad. You see, the wind isn't just difficult to hike in, it sours the snow, flash freezing it and making it hard, even and difficult to ski on. Even though this was a possibility, no one even offered the idea of turning around, though I know we were all thinking it. Upward we went and the wind just kept howling. I felt more short of breath than i should have been. My muscles began to ache, without rejuvenated when I took frequent breaks. I began to think more and more about turning around, but kept going, step by step.

For much of the hike from this point on a cliff bordered us on the left, making descent on our boards, impossible. Finally, we reached the first skiable chute. The snow didn't look good, but by this point we had committed too much to turn around. This chute didn't look great, so we just kept going. Some ~500' below the summit, we came upon what they decided was the Solstice Couloir. Much of the entrance to this couloir was guarded by an enormous cornice, requiring a 20-30' drop. This was out of the question as the couloir itself was quite steep and we were unsure of the condition of the snow. There were rocks down there. We found one tiny way in requiring a short traverse on a snow ledge 4" wide to a final 4' drop completely perpendicular to the slope. The skier went first. It looked hairy, but he made it. Than Duece went on his toe edge, as he is regular footed. It looked scary, but he too made it. I would have to go in on my heal edge, since I'm goofy footed. As I sat at the edge, I stopped for a while in fear, trying to get the guts to drop. All I could think about was getting out of the horrific wind. Finally, I just went, traversing the couple feet til I was falling. I met the snow quickly on my heel edge which slipped out from under me. The soft corn snow facilitated my sliding quickly down on my butt, trying to dig my heal edge in enough to stop. The heavy corn snow was sloughing off behind me pushing me forward. Every time I thought I was stopping, the slough behind me we increase and push me on. Than, the snow turned hard and I accelerated. Finally, somehow, after barely missing a few large protruding rocks, I was able to stop securely. Other than my hand getting scraped as my glove was nearly ripped from my hands, I was unharmed. It took me a while to regain composure as I was breathing heavily, still stunned. I had slid ~700' feet. I road the rest of the way down tentatively, feeling suddenly unsure of myself. The fear that comes naturally before a trip like this had escalated leaving my head off beat.

At the bottom, we ate snacks quickly in the howling wind. We strapped our boards to our packs and began to hike through a beautiful valley with peaks all around. But the wind quickly made us forget the beauty of where we were. Our snowboards acted like sails. 80mpg gusts would literally take us off our feet. We were force to crouch down time to time and wait for the assault to lessen. At this point, I hoped this final onslaught would be enough to convince everyone to descend, rather than climbing to the plateau. Again, we all might have been thinking about it, but it never came up. We ascended the plateau up a boulder field, trying to maintain balance between rocks as the wind pushed us around. Once at the plateau we switched directions and the wind was at our backs. While this helped, by this point I was losing it. Each step became painful as my muscles cramped. Finally, we reached the powerhouse chutes where we knew the wind would be far less, and it was just a short under 15 minute ride to our cars. I carefully walked to the edge and noted the steepness. It was easily 60 degrees at the start only lessening below 40 degrees some 150 feet below. The entrance to this chute looked only slightly less intimidating than the last one given the hard conditions we expected below. I was getting worried. "I gotta get out of this wind!" Duece exclaimed just before he dropped in. The skier had been closer and saw him just after. I asked how it looked? "Not pretty," he responded. Duece had also slid a little, though not nearly as far. I saw him lower down and the snow looked hard. I told the skier I wasn't sure I was going to do this as my head was still quite messed from slide before. He understood and dropped in. His descend didn't look fun or easy. I decided to definitely turn back. I radioed Duece below to tell him I'd meet them at the upper parking lot, where my truck still was. He agreed. Making that decision was one of the hardest decisions I've ever had to make, especially as it was made under duress. It wasn't just that I had to put my ego aside and say it beat me, it was also the thought of having to walk back against the wind. I headed out and immediately the wind picked up. I wasn't sure how far I'd have to cary this sail before I could get to a point sufficiently covered with snow to ride the rest of the way down. As it turns out, it was pretty far. I was forced to crouch on my knees frequently, and I began to posthole to my knees as the snow warmed under the sun. It sounded like a jet engine was passing. I couldn't even hear myself speak. This was not going well. My doubts congealed and I began to concentrate on each step. Finally, I reached a point where I could unstrap my board and ride it down the way we had come up. The rest of the way was not difficult, though physically weakened, I had to stop frequently to rest my calves. The snow ended up turning to good corn. I was still unsteady and unsure of myself, but I knew the way down from here wasn't crazy. Finally I reached the lake just below the parking lot where we had started. I had only to climb a little rise to the road. This final climb became so difficult as I chastised myself for doing this poorly. I was postholing bad now and had to rest every couple steps. Finally, I crested the rise and saw Duece and the cars. We all cheered. Well, they cheered, I was too out of breath.

We sat around and talked for a while, but the wind being still bad, we headed back down the road to The Mobile. We ate their famous bbq chicken, pesto pizza and talked. I apologized for chickening out, but they wouldn't have it. They completely understood and knew that the hike back had probably been harder than the chute itself. Finally, we got in our separate cars and went home.

My head has not been great lately. I am sure this contributed greatly to my performance. I do not regret my decisions and still believe it the right one, but just the fact that I did so poorly on the hike made me feel weak. I was sore all over (still am). My stomach muscles, my quads, my hips, and biceps and triceps, and my scrapes all hurt. As all of these types of experiences, I wouldn't take it back. What I need to do is untwist my head.

See Pictures.

Posted by wonko at 01:25 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 01, 2004

The Road well traveled.

I'm off to Redding until tomorrow night. I leave you with this piece of prose I just found. I wrote it late last year as I was driving down the less used Hwy 6 on my way to the Nevada desert. Hwy 6 used to be a main throughway, full of life. Its use declined significantly once the interstate system was created and 395 was built. Its legacy and history echoes through today in the form of countless abandoned towns, watering holes, and houses. It is a glimpse of America from a far more innocent time.
Some roads are imbued with the dreams of those that once traveled her. Full of high ideas and ambitions that whatever destination was sought held salvation itself. The dilapidated diners and way stations giving a dim glimpse into the visions of the weary travelers bounding toward their destiny. It was a much younger more naive America that sought salvation through geographic migration. "Go West young man! Bright lights, big city. Back to the country." On the road... going somewhere. Past her prime, one place isn't much different from another. The myth dispelled. Was it true, even then? Was there salvation over THERE, or, as today, was it always the journey itself, with blind ambitions of better times ahead. Did it work out? How many times has the wanderer been betrayed by reality in the form of necessity?

Posted by wonko at 09:36 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack