Sunday, May 31, 2009

Raytheon needs Cyber Ninjas

The age of hackers with security clearances has officially arrived:

NYT: CYBERWAR: Contractors Vie for Plum Work, Hacking for the United States

At a Raytheon facility here south of the Kennedy Space Center, a hub of innovation in an earlier era, rock music blares and empty cans of Mountain Dew pile up as engineers create tools to protect the Pentagon’s computers and crack into the networks of countries that could become adversaries. Prizes like cappuccino machines and stacks of cash spur them on, and a gong heralds each major breakthrough.

And at Dallas-based Raytheon Cybersecurity Solutions, they're hiring:

Information Security Solutions is Hiring Cyber Professionals

Raytheon Information Security Solutions, which helps protect the nation’s critical infrastructures and networks, has more than 150 positions open for engineers, information security professionals and business development managers.

We call these employees our cyber professionals, those who exercise their dexterity and hand-eye coordination through tackling complex cyber security problems, and build their biceps lifting Red Bull and Mountain Dew cans hundreds of times a day to fight the digital cyber war.

The jobs are in a variety of locations, including:

Linthicum/Fort Meade, Md.
Melbourne, Fla.
Northern Virginia (various locations)
Garland, Texas

Relocation assistance may be available.

Positions include:

Information Operations/Information Assurance– cyber professionals
Software engineers/developers – JAVA/J2EE/, JAVA/XML, C++
FPGA expertise
Software security engineers
Test engineers
Software testers
Systems administrators - Linux, Solaris, Unix, Red Hat, VMware (Certifications are preferred)
Systems engineers - CNO, CNA, CNE, NOC, Requirements management
Network and security engineers - CISSP
Cyber and information security
Program management
Capture management
Business development
Vulnerability assessment engineers
Intrusion detection engineers
Information systems security engineers
Certification and accreditation engineers
Project managers - information systems
Oracle/Sybase database administrators
Web developers (HTML, Java)
Help desk
Data modeling engineers
Technical writers
Reverse engineers
Kernel developers
Secure network engineers
System integrators engineers
Configuration management - ClearCase/ClearQuest
Deployment engineers
Media sanitation specialists
Site security specialist - IT focused
Former military personnel

A variety of security clearance levels are required for these positions, up to a TS/SCI clearance with a fullscope polygraph.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

America's Most Wanted: Supermax Edition

While Tweeting (@ NB_Chris) the other day about the curious semiotics of the ongoing debate about whether the Guantanamo detainees should be relocated to the "Alcatraz of the Rockies" (properly know as the United States Penitentiary Administrative Maximum Facility (ADX) Florence, affectionately SUPERMAX), I decided to look and see if I could find any information about who is currently imprisoned there. And discovered a completely mind-blowing roster at the dedicated Wikipedia page. So as you read the debate unfolding in the daily news, consider whether the addition of KSM and co to this mix wouldn't make for the ultimate prison flick. Can you imagine this crew collaborating on a breakout? Casting the big screen version? Batman: Arkham ADX?

Omar Abdel-Rahman, "The Blind Sheik"

Ted Kaczynski, "The Unambomber"

Black Panther H. Rap Brown ("violence is as American as cherry pie)

Enron CFO Andy Fastow

John Walker Lindh, "the American Taliban"

Timithy McVeigh co-conspirator in the Oklahoma City bombing, Terry Nichols

FBI traitor Robert Hanssen

Zacarias Moussaoui, "the twentieth hijacker"

Mexican drug lord Francisco Javier Arellano Felix, aka "El Tigrillo"

Serial killer Michael Swango, the doctor who killed his patients

Shoe bomber Richard Reid

Japanese Red Army bomber Yu Kikumura*

John Gotti lieutenant Salvatore "Sammy the Bull" Gravano

Escape artist Richard Lee McNair

Abortion bomber and wilderness survivor Eric Rudolph

Lucchese crime family underboss Anthony "Gaspipe" Casso

Queens druglord Kenneth "Supreme" McGriff

White supremacist Matt Hale

World Trade Center bomber and Operation Bojinka plotter Ramzi Yousef

Down the street from SUPERMAX is the Colorado Prison Museum, which sells "inmate arts and crafts" in the gift shop. What I wouldn't pay to see what these guys come up with in wood shop.

*(recently released)

Tuesday, May 26, 2009


Glad for a Memorial Day respite in our way-too-busy schedules, I had a nice dinner with a friend. When I arrived at her house I greeted her in the name of the holiday, and for the rest of the evening our conversation wound in and out of remembering the dead—including the duck on the dinner table.

Memorial Day began to honor the dead of the Civil War, the fallen soldiers on both sides. It evolved in some parts of the country into Remembrance Day when people put flowers on the graves of all of their loved ones. Once when I visited my father's second wife in Idaho over the Memorial Day weekend, she helped me put flowers on my father's and paternal grandparents' graves. Sales of potted mums were booming that weekend in that part of the country. Every cemetery was adorned with flowers.

In my friend's kitchen this weekend, as she prepared the meal, we thought about our country's servicemen and service women, especially the casualties of the wars in our own lifetimes, Vietnam and Iraq. It struck us a lot of dying to remember. During the leisurely, lovely meal—she is an excellent cook and gracious hostess—my friend's deceased husband was also on our minds. He died several years ago after a valiant struggle with disease. His body became the battleground. Not all of our heroic dead are felled by armed combat in distant lands.

And then there was the duck. It was a pastured duck: locally raised with real time in the out of doors. My friend won't eat factory-raised poultry, not after the time when she and her husband happened to drive by a chicken-transport truck crammed with birds on a hot West Texas highway. She saw one white leghorn in such a pose of abject suffering that it made her cry. She's not an excessively sentimental woman, but that was one of those coincidental moments that can brand a person's conscience for life. No more factory-raised fast-food chicken meals for her.

Our dinner duck had had a good life. According to the rancher who raised it, during the recent heavy rains in our area, the ducks rejoiced. They couldn't be brought into the duck house the night of the rain because they were all swimming in the middle of the rain-swollen pond. Roasted and served with a simple sauce of current jelly spiked with Meyer lemon juice and thyme, it was a delicious duck. It gave us sustenance to for the work we have to do. Innumerable chickens, and cows, and pigs would never have existed if it wasn't for human need and want. But they should not live lives of abject suffering as grist for the mill of Food, Inc. For one thing, Big Food is all about big profits, not good nutrition for people, much less the well-being of the Earth. And for another thing, even a hopeless white leghorn is a fellow sentient creature.

Does a chicken matter as much as a military veteran? No, of course not. And yet, yes. It's an abominable continuum, I think, from a bird being grist in the mill of Big Food to a human becoming fodder for the cannons of War, Inc. Deaths such as that are something that we should remember with great honor, and remember over and over, until it never happens any more, and then remember forever so it never happens again.

Sunday, May 24, 2009


On the weekend Terminator: Salvation opens, check out this article in New Scientist on "Nine Games Computers are Ruining For Humanity." We're basically looking at the usual suspects--chess, checkers, tic-tac-toe, and more recently poker. My thought on this has always been: Wake me up when the machines start kicking ass at Diplomacy. 

For those who didn't waste their early years under the thumb of The Avalon Hill Game Company, Diplomacy, first published in 1959, is a social experiment in the guise of a World War I era wargame. Each player is one of the Great Powers, from Britain in the West to Turkey in the east.  Each turn represents a season of the year in which the player may move his armies and navies a limited distance on the board. Warfare is a simple matter: the country with the most armies or navies in support of its move wins. The genius of the game is that the Powers' strengths are calibrated to the point that it is impossible to win or even survive without alliances. As the rules politely state, "Diplomacy is a game of promises kept, and promises broken."

The game builds in a period between each turn for players to negotiate: 30 minutes before the first turn and 15 minutes between subsequent turns. This makes Diplomacy interminable face to face, but with adjustments it has proven perfect for playing by mail (and nowadays by e-mail). Anyway, after the negotiation period, players submit their orders in a specific language developed for the game. If an order is not expressed correctly, it does not occur. A simple example would be that if Turkey wanted to move an army to Constantinople to Bulgaria, the order would have to read A Con-Bul. If the army moving from Constantinople was moving to support an attack of another army, it would add an S and then list the army it was moving to support (A Con-Bul S A Rum-Bul). Orders are open and read and carried out if possible. Needless to say, this required specificity means that one of the most effective ways to stab someone in the back and retain some plausible deniability has always been to screw up the order on purpose. Head to Boardgame Geek for examples of Diplomacy perfidity. (My favorite is probably the father who taught his son how the world really works by solemnly sealing an alliance, showing him his written orders, and then through slight of hand, replacing the order with a blank piece of paper). 

Programming the computer in the Dip "language" would be easy enough. Additionally, there has to be an optimal play for each Power in each turn, and no doubt that could also be determined. I would think that the problem might be, as I said above, that you are almost never in a position to make the optimal move on your own. Establishing what should be done is the easy part; convincing another player or a group of players to assist is the difficulty. So assuming you played by e-mail, the computer would have to be programmed to propose alliances, analyze proposed alliances from other players, decide when to abandon a partnership, determine when a partner is about to deliver a well timed stab in the back (how do you express "untrustworthy son of a bitch" in binary?) and how to respond to that action. 

It could also create an interesting Turing situation--should the human players even be made aware that one or more of the countries in the game would be played by software? They probably shouldn't. Honestly, one of the things you have to deal with in Diplomacy is the meta-game--the emotional effect, i.e. simmering rage, your action will have on your opponent. If you know what you do will have no such effect on one of the players, and also no impact on her later dealings with you, you would probably feel freer to backstab her versus another player. (To be fair, if you know that one of your opponents will never renege on an agreement once made, that is temporarily a point in favor of that player, but to win the game, eventually you will have to abandon an agreement, or at least be able to entertain the possibility.) 

So bumbling through this, the key here isn't so much the number crunching because that part of the game is simplified enough (there are not that many pieces in the game and the situation on the game board is open) that it can be easily grasped by the human mind; the machine doesn't have its usual advantage in that area. What a computer would need to compete in Diplomacy is the ability to read human beings' intentions (which is no doubt coming) and the ability to mimic human behavior by convincingly lying its ass off, which one hopes is a little further down the road. 

Saturday, May 23, 2009


Yes, 7-Eleven is now selling apocalypse-themed Slurpees. The above Schwarzeneggerian command is bannered across the location near my home, and is the first 7-Eleven sign that has gotten my attention in some time.

This blood-orange Slurpee® drink flavor awakens the machine in you with a sweet, citrus taste. Fill your Terminator Salvation collectible Slurpee cup with the Apocalyptic Ice Slurpee drink. It is sure to keep you cool as the weather begins to heat up.

Apparently this Terminator-themed product placement effort goes further than death Slurpees and demonic cyborg collector straws. 7-Eleven paid good money to be featured as one of the landmarks of the post-apocalyptic future:

7-Eleven stores will make the most of their virtual destruction following a nuclear attack in the upcoming Terminator Salvation. The Dallas-based convenience retailer announced what it called its "biggest participation ever in a major motion picture," beginning today (Friday). That participation includes a wrecked store standing in the background as two "mega-machines" battle humans in a major fight scene, toys and video games, an online sweepstakes, and lots of Terminator Slurpee items, including an orange-lychee Slurpee drink called Apocalyptic Ice, produced especially for the 7-Eleven-Warner Bros. tie-in by the Coca-Cola company. The movie is set to open on May 21.

When I go to the mall, I always make a point of imagining it as a post-apocalyptic ruin. And I have purchased inedible cheese dogs and strange foreign foods in some of the world's most dangerous 7-Elevens in my day*, usually in cracked-out hoods. What would be seriously cool—if 7-Eleven created a product placement flagship store, a location in a scary-ass neighborhood that was a perfect simulation of a freshly discovered post-apocalyptic 7-Eleven, partially stocked, including an inventory of dusty vintage magazines from the future, and the last cold beer on the planet. I would totally siphon my gas there.

(*Speaking of which, a tour guide of the world's most dangerous convenience stores would kind of rock.)

Friday, May 22, 2009

Quantum entangled prayer?

As a rule, I'm quite skeptical of supernatural and paranormal phenomena. I don't dismiss that in many instances there is some strange effect at work--personal experience is a great convincer--but I'm steadfast in my belief that the strange and mystical can be explained by natural forces, with no "super" prefix required. That doesn't mean such forces must be presently known or understood. Cosmology and quantum mechanics show that the more we learn, the more we understand how stunningly little we actually understand about how the universe works.

So you can understand how my interest would be piqued yesterday when I heard an NPR report--part of an ongoing "The Science of Spirituality" series--on Can Positive Thoughts Help Heal Another Person? One study in particular was striking, because it seemed to imply that couples separated by some distance maintain some sort of undefined "connection" with each other:
As the session begins, Dean Radin, a senior scientist here, watches as a computer shows changes in J.D.'s blood pressure and perspiration. When J.D. sees the image of his wife, the steady lines suddenly jump and become ragged. The question is: Will Teena's nervous system follow suit?

"Notice how here … see, there's a change in the blood volume," says Radin, pointing to a screen charting Teena's measurements. "A sudden change like that is sometimes associated with an orienting response. If you suddenly hear somebody whispering in your ear, and there's nobody around, you have this sense of what? What was that? That's more or less what we're seeing in the physiology."

An hour later, Radin displays Teena's graph, which shows a flat line during the times her husband was not staring at her image, but when her husband began to stare at her, she stopped relaxing and became "aroused" within about two seconds.

After running 36 couples through this test, the researchers found that when one person focused his thoughts on his partner, the partner's blood flow and perspiration dramatically changed within two seconds. The odds of this happening by chance were 1 in 11,000. Three dozen double blind, randomized studies by such institutions as the University of Washington and the University of Edinburgh have reported similar results.

Obviously, Alfred Bester would be tickled by these kinds of studies. Telepathy is, after all, a long-cherished science fiction trope, albeit one that's tolerated despite a lack of substantial scientific credibility. But how then (assuming the results are indeed valid) could science explain such seemingly paranormal double-blind test results? By invoking the decidedly SFnal phrase quantum entanglement.
Here's how it works. Once two particles have interacted, if you separate them, even by miles, they behave as if they're still connected. So far, this has only been demonstrated on the subatomic level.

But Radin wonders: Could people in close relationships — couples, siblings, parent and child — also be "entangled"? Not just emotionally, and psychologically — but also physically?

"If it is true that entanglement actually persists, by means of which we don't understand," he says, "if they are physically entangled, you should be able to separate them, poke one, and see the other one flinch."

This idea — that we may be connected at some molecular level — echoes the words of mystics down the ages. And it appeals to some scientists.

This is, simply put, amazing stuff. Even though skeptics rightly point out that quantum entanglement as we know it doesn't function in this manner, quantum entanglement is so poorly understood ("Magic to us," as Sir Arthur C. Clark might have said) that there may be undiscovered tangential loopholes that will allow for effects such as this. And even if quantum entanglement proves a dead end, it at least serves as a valid starting point for future research, until either new avenues of investigation are found or the initial studies are discredited. Whichever come first.

This conflation of the supernatural with quantum physics brings to mind an African missionary who celebrated mass as a visiting priest at my church some years back. Oddly enough, the priest bore more than a passing resemblance to SF author Samuel R. Delany, complete with a thick white beard. He wore one of those black knit cuffy skull caps, and had an enthusiastic personality, literally bubbling over with energy.

When he began his homily, he caught my attention right away by discussing the creation of the universe during the Big Bang "13 billion years ago," and how the evolution of the universe is evidence of God's majesty. Rather than viewing science as an enemy of theology, he embraced it and used it as an ally (which isn't always the case in Texas, as evidenced by recent shenanigans perpetrated by the Texas State Board of Education). Then he did something I never expected to hear in church. He invoked Max Planck:
"All matter originates and exists only by virtue of a force which brings the particles of an atom to vibration and holds this minute solar system of the atom together....We must assume behind this force the existence of a conscious and intelligent mind. The mind is the matrix of all matter." --Max Planck

He finished his homily with a wonderful metaphore. If God is present in the subatomic, quantum physics level of matter (and the point of his arguement is that He is) then we are suffused and awash in God's presence as a fish is awash in water.

The universe is a wondrous thing, be you a theist, atheist or agnostic. Science is the single best tool we have for learning about and understanding this universe (or any other). How anyone, of any particular belief could hold otherwise is, frankly, beyond me.

Besides, it's great fodder for SFnal story ideas. What's the over/under on the first appearance of "Quantum entanglement telepathy" fiction?

Thursday, May 21, 2009



“Flavius!” Acaona screamed.

The foothead reared back suddenly. As it did so, a dark fissure snaked its way across the mottled skin. A great crescent slice of jaw fell away, streaming purple blood. Neatly bisected lip-to-lip, the foothead thrashed wildly, jagged teeth gnashing against others no longer there.

Flavius stood in the same spot, drenched in purple blood. The point of Memory had buried itself a good foot into the ground from the momentum of Flavius’ stroke. Flavius twisted his wrist to free the sword, holding it defiantly overhead.

“I am Flavius MacDuff, of Clan MacDuff,” he bellowed, his words echoing off the palace walls, “descended of Bellona's bridegroom, the great Thane of Fife who slaughtered the Norse and Cawdor, and toppled the tyrant MacBeth! I am the bane of both the Whistard Holdchau and the Phatrical of Koor! Death has claimed me a thousand times over, and I jam my thumb into his rheumy eyes and rise to live another day! Yer chase ends here, beastie. I am yer doom!”

Screaming to wake the dead, he charged the moirontea. The great beast stomped at him with a snarling foothead, but Flavius neatly pivoted and with an upswing nearly severed it from the leg. He stabbed upward, Memory slicing though the knobby hide as if it were paper. Violet blood rained down. The moironteau howled in agony, lurching and stumbling to escape its tormenter. A quick slice here laid open a hip joint, and the foothead slumped to the ground, crippled. Another foothead bit into the air, desperately hoisting the beast’s enormous bulk away from danger. But Flavius leapt up onto the crippled foothead, and from there struck the other with Memory, splitting the jaw. It’s extra-dimensional hold faltered. Flavius leapt away as the moironteau crashed to the ground.

Moaning pitiously, the moironteau pawed at the ground, unable to support itself. Flavius quickly and methodically worked his way around the beast, dispatching the remaining four footheads with cold precision. Upon reaching the last one, Flavius held up his right thumb, then, without a moment’s hesitation, jammed it roughly into one of the many cold, black eyes ringing the foothead’s maw.

He climbed atop the moironteau’s body, setting to work with Memory. The beast’s twitches and moans ceased as Flavius located the vital organs. Satisfied, he leapt down from the butchered carcass, wiping his bloody brow.

“God damn, that felt good!” he said, then noticed Acaona, Papantzin and Captain Pacal--still carrying the Empress--gaping at him. “What? These bastards never faced me in a fair fight. Killed me a hundred times or more. I ken I’m entitled to a bit of enjoyment.”

“You... you...” managed Acaona. “How did you do that?”

“Well,” Flavius shrugged, suddenly self-conscious, “Memory here’s a wee bit sharper than most other swords. That helps. And then there’s my memories stored in the bonnie blade. Turns out to be more than just my thoughts. My body’s remembering things...” He grimaced slightly, rubbing his shoulder. “But I ken I’ll be hurting come morning.”

Across the garden, a wall buckled. Smoke rose from the rooftops beyond.

“Ah. That’d be more of the beastie’s friends. I ken we’d best be moving along.”

“Where can we go?” Acaona asked.

“Same place as before, yon opera hall,” Flavius answered. “At least now we dinnae have to worry about the doors being locked.”

They skirted the dead moironteau and made for the gaping hole in the opera hall. The palace shuddered continuously now, punctuated every so often by abrupt lurches. All around, flames flickered among the towers and rooftops and the air stank of bitter smoke. A flight of wejii hummed past overhead, rushing to intercept a moironteau.

“These creatures, they’re everywhere,” muttered Pacal, listening to the fractured communications through his earpiece. “There’s not enough of the Eternal Militia in the palace to turn them back.”

“Which is why I want to find Parric and abandon this cosm,” growled Flavius as he clambered over the rubble into the ruined opera hall. “Lass, tell the captain this is where we part ways.”

Pacal’s face tightened as Acaona relayed the message.

“Absolutely not,” Pacal said. “I cannot hope to defend Her Imperial Majesty against these creatures from otherwhere. My squad is dead, injured, scattered. I’m following him.”

In the distance, bursts of green flame roiled around a rampaging moironteau. The creature ignored the attacking wejii, instead loping across the gardens toward the ruined opera hall.

Flavius glared at Pacal and shook his head. “Hell of a time to start making sense.” The floor of the opera hall had collapsed, offering a treacherous path of broken seats and beams down to the level below, where a gaping hold led to levels still lower. Flavius shoved Acaona roughly down into the wreckage, then Pacal and the Empress, and finally Papantzin. “Quickly, people! Quickly! I ken ya’d all love to see me cut another of them beasties to ribbons, but-- oh, hell. The bastard’s got friends.”

Two more moironteau had joined the fray, one plucking a wejii out of the air and smashing it to bits against the ground. The other wejii fell back out of easy reach of the newcomers, dividing their marginally effective cuayab fire among the three moironteau.

“Damn it, this innae imperial receiving line, people! Move!” Flavius bodily heaved Papantzin to the lower level, and gave Pacal a kick to the bottom as well. Hazarding a glance over his shoulder, he saw the lead moironteau was less than 20 yards away. Flavius leapt down himself.

Acaona knelt at the edge of the jagged opening in the lower floor, trying to find a handhold to lower herself down.

“No! There’s nae time for that,” shouted Flavius, running the opposite direction and dragging Pacal along. “Down this hall--quickly!”

The ceiling above shuddered and groaned as a tremendous weight landed on top of it.

“Keep moving,” Flavius ordered, his claymore held ready in one hand. The hall was a narrow one. If it came down to a fight, his use of Memory would be restricted. “Get as far down the hall as ya--”

The ceiling ahead of them collapsed, sending a cloud of splinters and dust into the hall. Acaona cried out. A fat, green-mottled foothead blocked the way.

“Back!” shouted Flavius. “Back the other way!” No sooner had the words left his mouth then a foothead lunged into the open end of the hall, black eyes gleaming in the flickering light as row upon row of knife-like teeth gnashed and snapped their way toward the trapped party.


Thursday, May 14, 2009

How many hours for the interrogation badge?

At today's NYT, the Homeland Security Boy Scouts, taking American capacity for earnest unintentional self-parody. I imagine Cheney in exile will have a coterie of attractive teen body guards.

For Explorer Scouts, Good Deeds Have Whole New Meaning

By Jennifer Steinhauer
May 13, 2009

IMPERIAL, Calif. — Ten minutes into arrant mayhem in this town near the Mexican border, and the gunman, a disgruntled Iraq war veteran, has already taken out two people, one slumped in his desk, the other covered in blood on the floor.

The responding officers — eight teenage boys and girls, the youngest 14 — face tripwire, a thin cloud of poisonous gas and loud shots — BAM! BAM! — fired from behind a flimsy wall. They move quickly, pellet guns drawn and masks affixed.

“United States Border Patrol! Put your hands up!” screams one in a voice cracking with adolescent determination as the suspect is subdued.

It is all quite a step up from the square knot.

The Explorers program, a coeducational affiliate of the Boy Scouts of America that began 60 years ago, is training thousands of young people in skills used to confront terrorism, illegal immigration and escalating border violence — an intense ratcheting up of one of the group’s longtime missions to prepare youths for more traditional jobs as police officers and firefighters.

“This is about being a true-blooded American guy and girl,” said A. J. Lowenthal, a sheriff’s deputy here in Imperial County, whose life clock, he says, is set around the Explorers events he helps run. “It fits right in with the honor and bravery of the Boy Scouts.”

The training, which leaders say is not intended to be applied outside the simulated Explorer setting, can involve chasing down illegal border crossers as well as more dangerous situations that include facing down terrorists and taking out “active shooters,” like those who bring gunfire and death to college campuses. In a simulation here of a raid on a marijuana field, several Explorers were instructed on how to quiet an obstreperous lookout.

“Put him on his face and put a knee in his back,” a Border Patrol agent explained. “I guarantee that he’ll shut up.”

One participant, Felix Arce, 16, said he liked “the discipline of the program,” which was something he said his life was lacking. “I want to be a lawyer, and this teaches you about how crimes are committed,” he said.

Cathy Noriego, also 16, said she was attracted by the guns. The group uses compressed-air guns — known as airsoft guns, which fire tiny plastic pellets — in the training exercises, and sometimes they shoot real guns on a closed range.

“I like shooting them,” Cathy said. “I like the sound they make. It gets me excited.”

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

After Paradise Island: NEGL

View Larger Map
[Pic: Google Maps, British Indian Ocean Territory. Zoom in on the atoll at the lower right, Diego Garcia, for a glimpse of the front lines of the wars of the 21st century, complete with B-52s and destroyers in action, tank farms, radar arrays, and even some tennis courts and swimming pools — like your favorite military strategy game or fighter jet simulator, only real!]

Speaking of island diasporas, the May 28 issue of The New York Review of Books has an amazing article about the story of the Chagos Islanders, "A Black and Disgraceful Site" by Jonathan Freedland, reviewing David Vine's Island of Shame: The Secret History of the US Military Base on Diego Garcia.

The Chagos Archipelago is an array of atolls located in the very center of the Indian Ocean, 300 miles south of the Maldives, 1000 miles southwest of India, and half way between Tanzania and Java. The Wikipedia entry reads like Tolkien on the beach:

The ancient Sanskrit phrase, Lakshadweepa referred to the Islands of Laccadives, Aminidives, Maldives, Suvadives and the Chagos Archipelago as well. They were ruled from India originally[citation needed], although never settled.

Maldivian mariners knew the Chagos Islands well. In Maldivian lore they are known as Fōlhavahi or Hollhavai (the latter name in the Southern Maldives Adduan dialect of Dhivehi). According to Southern Maldivian oral tradition, traders and fishermen were occasionally lost at sea and got stranded in one of the islands of the Chagos. Eventually they were rescued and brought back home. However, these islands were judged to be too far away from the Maldives to be settled permanently by Maldivians. Thus for many centuries the Chagos were ignored by their northern neighbors.

The first European explorer to spot the Chagos was Vasco da Gama in the early 16th century. Portuguese seafarers named the group and some of the Atolls, but they never made these islands part of their seaborne empire. They judged this lonely and isolated group to be economically and politically uninteresting.

The French were the first to lay a claim on the Chagos after they settled Réunion and Ile de France (later renamed Mauritius).

On 27 April 1786 the Chagos Isands and Diego Garcia were claimed for Britain. However, the territory was ceded to the United Kingdom by treaty only after Napoleon's defeat, in 1814. On 31 August 1903 the Chagos Archipelago was administratively separated from the Seychelles and attached to Mauritius.

The islands were retained as part of the British Indian Ocean Territory when Mauritius gained independence. Since 1976, the archipelago has been coterminous with the British Indian Ocean Territory, but it is also claimed by Mauritius and Seychelles.[3]

The archipelago's first inhabitants arrived in the 18th century. These were the lepers of Ile de France (Mauritius) who were brought there in the second half of the 1700s. Soon after, a plan was drawn up by the French to settle the Chagos and make them profitable. Workers for a massive French project to establish coconut plantations and produce oil were sent from Ile de France (Mauritius) and settled in some of the largest islands. Consequently, in some maps of the time the Chagos are known as the "Oil Islands". Most of these workers were of African origin, but it is likely that there were also a few South Indians among them. The supervisors of the plantations were probably Frenchmen and the workers were probably little more than slaves, but very little has been recorded about conditions on the islands during that time.

By the mid-20th century the oil plantations had largely failed, but the original workers and their families had settled some of the largest islands and survived there. The islanders were known as the Ilois (one French Creole word for "islanders") and they numbered almost 2,000. They were of mixed African and South Asian descent and lived very simple, spartan lives in their isolated archipelago. Few remains of their culture have been left, except for the ruins of a few dwellings and a stone church that can still be seen in Diego Garcia.

Before the Vietnam Era, the island is recalled as some sort of proto-communist Utopia. Freedland on Vine:

[The Chagossians] remember a paradise island. That their ancestors were either enslaved Africans or indentured south Indians—the victims of an earlier empire and its desire to control the Indian Ocean—did not prevent them from developing a deep attachment to the islands they called home. Even discounting for the rose-colored vision of exile, they recall a place of lush plenty, easy kinship, and relative freedom. They were the employees of a conglomerate that ran the islands as an extended coconut plantation, but they were also the subjects of British imperial power, via the colonial administration of Mauritius, who, though they elsewhere exercised a tight grip, ruled Chagos with a looser rein. That was thanks in part to the islands' remoteness from anywhere else: "neighboring" Mauritius is 1,200 miles away.

Throughout the book, Vine quotes Rita Bancoult, who was born in 1928 and whose son, Olivier Bancoult, leads the Chagos Refugees Group. "You had your house—you didn't have rent to pay," she tells Vine, recalling how, when the sea was at low tide, her dog would catch fish in his mouth and bring them back to her. The men would harvest the coconuts; the women would shell them, usually completing their task by midday. Then they would either tend their gardens, growing squash, chili peppers, and eggplant, or "hunt for other seafood, including...lobster, octopus, sea cucumber, and turtles." Saturday night was sega night, when the villagers would gather around a bonfire:

Under the moon and stars, drummers on the goat hide–covered ravanne would start tapping out a slow, rhythmic beat. Others would begin singing, dancing, and joining in....

As Rita recalls, "Life there paid little money, a very little...but it was the sweet life."

The islands' rulers shared that view. "Funny little places!" wrote Sir Hilary Blood, former colonial governor of Mauritius, "But how lovely!" The landscape turned him lyrical: "Coconut palms against the bluest of skies, their foliage blown by the wind into a perfect circle.... Its beauty is infinite."

They are all gone now, recalling in some weird way all the abandoned islands of fantasy literature, a trope that has some cryptic potency. But their demise is of a peculiarly Virilian sort: the entire population was evicted between 1967 and 1971 by the Anglo-American war machine to make room for a military base on Diego Garcia, which seems to have achieved its highest and best use as a black site in the GWOT. While the Chagossians hear tales of their lost paradise from the elders in their new homes in the dreary post-Shepperton around Gatwick Airport, and the slums of Mauritius. Freedland paints the picture:

In the very lowest reaches of organized English soccer, in the bottom division of the amateur Crawley and District Football League, there is a team whose name sets it apart from its rivals. They are identified with their home villages in Sussex in southeast England: Ifield, Maidenbower, Worth. But this team has a name replete with an altogether different history. It is Chagos Island.

The soccer club is one of the few visible signs of a community of former subjects of the British Empire who now live in what they rarely thought of as "the mother country"—clustered, to be precise, in the unlovely exurbs around Gatwick airport. They, or their forebears, lived once in the Chagos archipelago, a string of more than sixty white-sanded, palm-fringed coral islands that are tiny dots on a map of the Indian Ocean, halfway between Africa and Indonesia. Many of these Chagossians trace their roots back to the archipelago's largest and best-known island: Diego Garcia.

To explain how they come to be living in Crawley, many of them working menial janitorial jobs in and around the airport, is to tell one of the more shocking tales of modern-day imperialism. It is a story of an old empire passing the torch to the new, Britain handing over one of its furthest-flung territories to the United States and expelling the native inhabitants to make way for the construction of a military base that has since become central to US control of the Indian Ocean and domination of the Persian Gulf. It is the tale of how a remote island idyll was simply emptied of its people, allowing for the creation of a place so secret that no journalist has been allowed to visit,[1] a key staging post in George W. Bush's war on terror, both the launch pad for the B-1s, B-2 "stealth" bombers, and B-52s that pounded Afghanistan and Iraq and a crucial node in the CIA's rendition system, a "black site" through which at least two high-value suspected terrorists were spirited, far from the prying eyes of international law.

...Trouble came to this paradise in the late 1950s, when Stu Barber, a bright American naval analyst, dreamed up what would become known as the Strategic Island Concept. Barber understood that in the era of decolonization, retaining US bases on other nations' soil would work in places where the host governments were pliant: Britain, Germany, Japan. But in geopolitical hotspots, local populations were bound to chafe against an armed US presence. They had already done so in Trinidad and Tobago, which celebrated independence by getting rid of US bases. Yet the US could not simply retreat from tricky parts of the world. To do so would invite the Communist enemy, whether Chinese or Soviet, to fill the vacuum. Barber hit on a solution that would allow the US to continue projecting its power across the globe without the complicating presence of other people: islands, especially those with next to no inhabitants.

Barber and his colleagues had only to look at a map to see that Diego Garcia was perfect. Its location was "within striking distance of potential conflict zones," enabling the US to reach both Asia and the Persian Gulf. In focusing on the Indian Ocean, Barber showed more foresight than even he probably realized. In an article in the March–April 2009 issue of Foreign Affairs, the military analyst Robert D. Kaplan wrote that "the Indian Ocean is where global struggles will play out in the twenty-first century." Citing both the surge in piracy off the coast of Somalia and last year's terror attacks in Mumbai, as well as the strategic value of the ocean to the rising powers India and China, Kaplan argued that "the world's third-largest body of water" has now replaced both the Atlantic and Pacific as "center stage" in international relations.[2]

Not only was Diego Garcia in a vital place, the V-shaped atoll formed a natural harbor and there was room for a large airstrip, too—all under the control of America's most loyal ally. Best of all, the population was such that it could be written off, in CIA-speak, as NEGL: "negligible." Barber urged the Navy to snap the place up before it, and other conveniently placed islands, were lost to decolonization forever.

Now go read the whole story at NYRB" "A Black and Disgraceful Site" by Jonathan Freedland, reviewing David Vine's Island of Shame: The Secret History of the US Military Base on Diego Garcia

Monday, May 11, 2009

Meanwhile, at the "Information Warfare Live Fire Range"

Great NYT piece this morning on cyberwar training at West Point. Yes, there really is a "57th Information Aggressor Squadron," and the US Army is a Linux shop.

In the desert outside Las Vegas, in a series of inconspicuous trailers, some of the most highly motivated hackers in the United States spend their days and nights probing the military’s vast computer networks for weaknesses to exploit.

These hackers — many of whom got their start as teenagers devoted to computer screens in their basements — have access to the latest in attack software. Some of it was developed by cryptologists at the N.S.A., the nation’s largest intelligence agency, where most of the government’s talent for breaking and making computer codes resides.

The hackers have an official name — the 57th Information Aggressor Squadron — and a real home, Nellis Air Force Base.

What do you suppose that logo looks like?

(See Trevor Paglen's amazing book of secret military patches, I COULD TELL YOU BUT THEN YOU WOULD HAVE TO BE DESTROYED BY ME.)

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Relocating the Maldives

Today's NYT Sunday Magazine has an amazing piece about the efforts of the new president of the Maldives to find a place for his country to relocate in light of global warming and the imminent submergence of their archipelago:

The Maldives is an archipelago of 1,190 islands in the Indian Ocean, with an average elevation of four feet. Even a slight rise in global sea levels, which many scientists predict will occur by the end of this century, could submerge most of the Maldives. Last November, when Nasheed proposed moving all 300,000 Maldivians to safer territory, he named India, Sri Lanka and Australia as possible destinations and described a plan that would use tourism revenues from the present to establish a sovereign wealth fund with which he could buy a new country — or at least part of one — in the future. “We can do nothing to stop climate change on our own, and so we have to buy land elsewhere,” Nasheed said in November.

Downright Sterlingian. The idea of an entire island nation relocating is a fascinating 21st century possibility about which to speculate. What are some plausible scenarios?

- The Sri Lankan government moves them as resettlers into Tamil territory cleared out in the recent conflicts, trading Sunni for well-armed secessionist Hindi.

- Some Fosters-drunk Australian mayor sells off a freshly annexed part of his dusty town, funding a new city hall-cum-casino.

- An area of bankrupt coastal Iceland is repurposed for these Indian Oceaners, reforestered with aluminum palm trees like the one in JG Ballard's living room.

- Narco-torn regions of the Texas-Mexico border are ceded by both governments, to create a new kinder gentler post-Juarez fully of happy buffer people, who transform the Rio Grande slums of Juarez and Nuevo Laredo into umbrella-drink vacation destinations.

- An abandoned amusement park in a run-down American city, maybe even a section of Disneyland Anaheim, is transformed into Maldive-land.

- The first human colony on the Moon is a city of a quarter-million Maldivians, who build giant greenhouse seas stocked with transplanted game fro the Indian Ocean.

- The Maldivians, unable to secure new territory, purchase a fleet of 30 gigantic Carnival-style cruise ships, each with a capacity of 10,000 passengers, roaming the world as the ultimate 21st century neo-nomads. They fund their fuel and food costs with a series of reality sequels to The Love Boat, with run-down celebrities selling their love and attention to the visiting civilian contestants — actual cruise passengers — the viewing audience, and the occasional U.N. observer.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Spamming the Zeitgeist

After having written some speculative Nigerian spam from the future last weekend, I was intrigued by the below message that just landed in my inbox. Is it possible spam bots are intelligent enough to tailor their narratives to the recipient? Because I have a soft spot for military caper narratives in touch with our dark Zeitgeist. More likely, the spammers are just getting better at fresh topical hooks, like last fall's spate of Cindy McCain video! spam.

Hello friend,

My name is Scott W___, I am an American soldier, I am serving in the military with the 1st Armored Division in Iraq , as you know we are being attacked by insurgents everyday and car bombs.We managed to move part of funds belonging to Saddam Hussein's family in 2003.

The total amount is US$12 Million dollars in cash, mostly 100 dollar bills,this money has been kept somewhere outside Baghdad for some time but with the proposed troop in increase by president Barrack Obama, to end the suicide bombing and make peace with Iraq militant and terrorist ,we are afraid that the money may be discovered hence we want to move this money to you for safekeeping pending the completion of our assignment here.


We are ready to compensate you with good percentage of the funds, No strings attached, Iraq is a war zone, we plan on using diplomatic means to ship the money out as military cargo to your home, under diplomatic immunity cover.

I am contacting you in confidence, all arrangement for the successful delivery has been put in place, all we need from you is to receive the cargo from the diplomat, If you are interested I will send you the full details, my job is to find a good partner that we can trust and that will assist us. Can I trust you? When you receive this letter, kindly send me an e-mail signifying your interest.

Regards ,

Sgt. Scott W___.

Friday, May 8, 2009

More science fictional archetyping

Okay, so maybe I was wrong about the Kwisatz Haderach meme. At Salon: Obama is Spock.


Begging the question, what about this guy?:

Though I have to say, Friedman was on to something here:

Plus, do you think Pres. O could jam on a stringed instrument while the pod people groove?

Tuesday, May 5, 2009


John Cage's mighty 1952 composition 4'33'' is now available for download on iTunes. We can suppose as a digital download, this must be the purest version ever recorded. A decent pair of headphones would seem to violate the whole point of the piece. The first recording of 4'33'' I ever heard was on vinyl, with its attendant pops and crackles. If it were on cassette, you'd at least have a lovely tape hiss. On this version, the only evidence that the performance is taking place--if it is taking place--is the progress bar sliding away on the computer. With the headphones, none of the supposed music/noise of everyday life comes through. It certainly seems like a dadaist act to buy the thing, but Apple has spoiled it a bit by letting you have 4'33'' for only $1.99 rather than the usual $9.99. With that said, if you are so inclined and don't feel you need the entire performance, you are permitted to purchase one of the three movements for $.99. 

Monday, May 4, 2009

Shell shock

Ever have one of those moments where things suddenly start moving in slow motion? You can see a myriad of possible outcomes, but you know, you instinctively know with every fiber of your being that Worst Case Scenario is staring you right in the face.

My external harddrive got knocked over this weekend. It was standing vertically, got bumped and tipped over to its side. Not even a drop. A tiny, insignificant vertical-to-horizontal rearrangement in the grand scheme of things. Except that it immediately stopped working.

This is our backup disk. It has everything on it. Everything. Which normally wouldn't be such a bad thing, being the backup disk. Except that a couple of months ago the harddrive on my desktop crashed and had to be reformatted--the second time this had happened in a six month period--so I'd never actually bothered to copy the content from the backup drive back to the PC. Didn't actually seem worth it, since it was the PC that crashed while the external drive functioned perfectly. Yes, I'm painfully aware of the folly involved in this faulty decision making.

But when I said it contained everything, I mean everything: The Wife's photo studio portfolio. All of my photography. My writings. Yes, all my writings, going back 20 years, give or take. Much of the older works exist as hard copies in various poorly-maintained files, but more recent work--short fiction, in-progress novel chapters, extended verbatim interview transcripts--those only exist as files on said drive. My slate, she is wiped clean.

With a growing knot of foreboding anchored in my gut, I took the pitiful harddrive in to a computer shop near the university that's done good work for me before. They listened to my tale of woe, said it didn't sound too bad and that they'd have me up and running again by the end of the day. An hour later they called with bad news. Despite no apparent damage, their recovery systems couldn't even detect the drive, much less save any data or fix it. Then, apologetically, they began speaking of clean rooms. For the uninitiated, the difference in the cost of a clean room computer repair facility with your standard local shop is essentially the cost of buying a new computer system. Or, as Luke Skywalker put it, "We could almost buy our own ship for that!"

So, any of you tech-savvy folks out there in internet lands have any suggestions? I'm afraid I'll be entering a fugue for the next few days and not entirely capable of rational thought.

Madison Avenue Monday

At Ballardian, a wonderful essay by Canadian adman (and brilliant early 70s rock journo before that) Rick McGrath on the role of advertising copy in Ballard's experimental fiction.

And via AdAge, a brilliant site by an unemployed advertising copywriter, marketing himself. Lawson Clarke, Male Copywriter.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Team Deathstar Holiday Chalets

Molly Brown's a cool British writer friend of mine (well, we've never met, but you know how the internetz are). Out of the blue, I got an email from her directing me to YouTube to see a short film she'd written. Which immediately impressed me, since not only have I never had so much as a short film produced, I've never so much as written a script of that particular nature. I'll let Molly give the intro in her own words:
What happened was, I got roped into being on a team competing in the Sci-Fi London 48 hour challenge. (In case you don't know how a 48 hour challenge works, they assign each team a title, a line of dialogue, and a prop. You then have 48 hours to get a completed film incorporating all of your assigned criteria back to them.)

Our assigned title was: "THIS IS..." Required line of Dialogue: "The floor dropped away from me before I started to follow it." Required prop: a map of Europe with three red circles drawn on it.

And it was *my* job to write the script.

I have to admit, they had me at "Zombies." Change the setting to Austin and they'd have had an Oscar contender.

If you need more, Molly also send along a link to their "Zombie Jam." Pure bliss. Oh, and she's the woman wearing rubber gloves.