finem respice


[Lethally] Exposing Confidential Sources for Fun and Profit

Wednesday, July 28, 2010 - 18:44 (+0100) by ep

[julian assange|the venerable jorge]

A close friend, whose opinion I was otherwise inclined to trust in all matters with the propensity to be illuminated by wisdom or its many pretenders, once maintained that a curriculum of all one needed to know or to learn could be found within the works of Umberto Eco. True, substantial amounts of alcohol preceded this declaration. True, it was after two in the morning. True, I was too alarmed to ask him exactly what important life lessons were contained in Foucault's Pendulum (after some reflection, however, I suspect the answer might have been quite entertaining). These caveats having been duly read into the record, it bears mentioning that declarations of this sort either inspire or fade into the distant miasma of cerebral bit rot.

In some instances, these dusty, incongruent, and seemingly random catalysts trigger the sudden flash that lights up the prefrontal cortex and pulls to the fore recollections of early morning fiction philosophy. But, as it happens, the universe of Umberto Eco is not quite as eclectic or exotic a contemporary genre as might be believed. One would expect an author, and a scholar, with a 20,000 volume library in his home (down from 30,000 in his last abode) to have a particular appreciation not just for books and libraries, but for knowledge and the vagaries thereof. His 1980 work Il nome della rosa, delves deeply into all four, in addition to notions of truth, censorship, forbidden knowledge, and the rationales that drive not just the search for truth, but, perhaps far more keenly, its anti-particle: suppression. And, as it happens, on this topic, Eco has quite a lot to contribute (mandating a long, but entirely worthy, bit of quotation):

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Joint Media Special Operations

Saturday, July 24, 2010 - 09:37 (+0100) by ep

defenestration for fun and profit

Okaloosa County is almost as far west as you can go in Florida without crossing the Alabama state line. It is one of the most conservative counties in the country (tacking up nearly an 80% popular vote count for George W. Bush in 2004 and finding itself ranked 77th of 100 "most conservative-friendly counties" by the Daily Caller this year) and, not surprisingly, also home to Hurlburt Field (KHRT), which houses the Air Force Special Operations Command headquarters, the 505th Command and Control Wing of Air Combat Command and the 1st Special Operations Wing, among other units.

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The Immortality of Satire

Friday, July 16, 2010 - 23:58 (+0100) by ep

cossacks with an oddly anglo accent

The cosmos has an annoying habit of reminding us, just when we feel it simply cannot get any more extreme, that we really haven't seen it all yet. Not even close. In 1878 Johann Philipp Gustav von Jolly,1 a mathematician and physicist of some renown not least for inventing the "Jolly balance," then teaching at the University of Munich, advised one of his students to avoid the study of physics as:

...in this field, almost everything is already discovered, and all that remains is to fill a few unimportant holes.

His student, Max Planck, ignored him and founded quantum theory instead. (Planck was, however, a force of nature and was still summiting alpine peaks at age 85).

  1. 1. No, seriously. Even I'm not creative enough to make this up.
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The Abandoned Prefectures: A Tragedy In One Act

Thursday, July 15, 2010 - 20:49 (+0100) by ep

the evil eye to you, and you and you

Oh, but how sharper than a serpent's tooth it is to have a thankless child (Emperor). Who, truly, can endure a wanton blindness to sacrifice and service so keen that it cuts to the very bone through even the toughest hides, leathered over many decades of exposure to the withering radiation of the Fourth Estate, the hard and ceaseless rains of the campaign trail and the cruel sting of the crop of franchise. Consider the plight of 253 Prefects of some local renown:

In recent weeks, a widespread belief has taken hold among Democratic House members that they have dutifully gone along with the White House on politically risky issues -- including the stimulus plan, the health-care overhaul and climate change -- without seeing much, if anything, in return. Many of them are angry that Obama has actively campaigned for Democratic Senate candidates but has done fewer events for House members.

The boiling point came Tuesday night during a closed-door meeting of House Democrats in the Capitol. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) excoriated White House press secretary Robert Gibbs's public comments over the weekend that the House majority was in doubt and that it would take "strong campaigns by Democrats" to avert dramatic losses.

"What the hell do they think we've been doing the last 12 months? We're the ones who have been taking the tough votes...."1

  1. 1. Paul Kane, "House Democrats Hit Boiling Point Over Perceived Lack of White House Support," The Washington Post (July 15, 2010).
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The Privatization and Atomization of Espionage (Sources)

Friday, July 2, 2010 - 04:45 (+0100) by ep

emulating arthur zimmermann?

"Wikileaks is completely neutral because it is simply a conduit for the original document and does not pretend to be the author of the propaganda of a vested interest. But it further increases transparency in that those who make comments and contribute analysis make this readily available with the document but clearly distinguished from it. Wikileaks will publish original documents that were never crafted to be media statements. The newsworthiness of that will be in the eye of the beholder rather than in eye of the public figure and the journalist."1

When we left our Wikiheroes last episode, they were facing multiplying accusations of left-leaning political bias, probably germinating with their decision to begin to release material with summaries or analysis attached, and, like some price-fixing, authoritarian sovereign, to manufacture scarcity by selectively withholding the release of documents. For a time Wikileaks attempted to defend itself from charges like these by, for example, touting Climate Gate, ACORN and Tony Rezko disclosures:

Right wingers should know we originated Climate Gate, ACORN censorship and docs on Tony Rezko/Blagoyevich corruption.2

But such disclosures have become rare and even their terminology ("Right Wingers") betrays an "us versus them" slant that Wikileaks seems pained to suppress. (What about libertarians who want to know why ClimateGate saw literally no activity on the Wikileaks Twitter stream while the Collateral Murder video dominated it for weeks- and, in fact, still does?)

Videos like "Collateral Murder," the Iraqi "farmers" analysis and the "Peace Flotilla" video resemble a quantum system in that the observer is part of the system and the nature of the observation influences the results. Depending on the preconceptions of the viewer, the Collateral Murder video is either evidence of heinous war crimes that should carry the death penalty carried out by outraged citizens of some (unspecified) sovereign, or an example of the tragic reality that "war zones are dangerous" for those civilians that tread therein. Indeed, one otherwise progressive publisher archly titled its review of the Collateral Murder video and the Wikileaks coverage thereof: "Wikileaks Releases Video, Proves War Can Be Fatal." (The piece was later removed).

  1. 1. From an archived version of the original Wikileaks mission statement.
  2. 2. Wikileaks Twitter feed (April 8, 2010 5:46 PM).
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The Privatization and Atomization of Espionage

Friday, July 2, 2010 - 00:43 (+0100) by ep

not quite as destroyed as we were led to suppose

"From 2nd from London # 5754. We intend to begin on the first of February unrestricted submarine warfare. We shall endeavor in spite of this to keep the United States of America neutral. In the event of this not succeeding, we make Mexico a proposal of alliance on the following basis: make war together, make peace together, generous financial support and an understanding on our part that Mexico is to reconquer the lost territory in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. The settlement in detail is left to you. You will inform the President of the above most secretly as soon as the outbreak of war with the United States of America is certain and add the suggestion that he should, on his own initiative, invite Japan to immediate adherence and at the same time mediate between Japan and ourselves. Please call the President's attention to the fact that the ruthless employment of our submarines now offers the prospect of compelling England in a few months to make peace.

Signed, Zimmermann."

Of course, the actual message- read:

130 13042 13401 8501 115 3528…

...was authored in German, and was originally sent to Count Johan von Bernstorff, then in the unenviable post of Germany's ambassador to the United States. The "Zimmermann Telegram," so named for its author, Arthur Zimmermann, Foreign Secretary of the German Empire, was forwarded via absurdly circumlocutious route on to Heinrich von Eckardt, Germany's ambassador to Mexico. There, it was intended to persuade Mexico to open a southern front on America's border, and thereby frustrate efforts to fight Germany on the continent, and elsewhere.

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The Mating Calls of Modern Authoritarian Sovereigns

Monday, June 21, 2010 - 11:30 (+0100) by ep

the team

It will be no surprise to regular finem respice readers that athletic diversions play only the most tangential role in these pages (or their predecessors). Short of a somewhat pathological affinity for the Chicago Cubs- who can, after all, fail to indulge in a smarmy sort of appreciation for the unusual brand of mediocrity that permits a team to play 49.80% ball since 1908 (7835-7899), make so many postseason appearances in the same period and still somehow fail to win a World Series championship in over 102 years,1 a streak so long that it not only exceeds that of any other professional sports team in the United States, but also predates the very existence of the National Basketball Association, the National Hockey League and the National Football League- great (or infamous) athletic endeavors play little part in the behind the scenes ruminations that shape the prose here. Despite this, it is simply impossible to permit North Korea's World Cup appearance to pass without comment.

As one of the last, desperate, hacking coughs ripped out among a long series of dying gasps emanating from the hospital ward where the world keeps its terminal command and control economy test subjects, North Korea is shaped by strange and (to those citizens, and not a few subjects of the world without a "Dear Leader") utterly foreign motivations. The dynamics of and the stakes for North Korea in international sporting competitions like this are dramatically different than for the rest of the planet. The public spectacle and ritual (not to mention the crowds) that accompany large-scale, international sporting events tap directly into the psyche of authoritarian regimes. The global, nationalistic sporting competition is the modern authoritarian mating call.

  1. 1. A 33.70% lifetime post-season record takes a particular kind of talent.
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Remembering the Rote Blandness of Chaos

Sunday, May 30, 2010 - 05:01 (+0100) by ep

were there really two of them?

It is difficult to find a devotee of the cinema who would not, on being asked to identify the most memorable performance by Dennis Lee Hopper, fail to quickly name Easy Rider or Blue Velvet. Reportedly, Hopper convinced Lynch to cast him in the latter, more sinister piece by calling him and declaring "You have to give me the role of Frank Booth because I am Frank Booth...." And though I will readily admit that Frank Booth still has the ability to haunt the darker (and even significantly taint some of the lighter) of my dreams in the solitary and quiet nights that inevitably follow a viewing of Blue Velvet (not least because it is so easy to imagine Hopper is merely playing himself in depicting Frank Booth) I am not sure Lynch's suburban nightmare would mark my answer. But then, if Lynch can be said to understand the cinematic navigation of the dark side, Hopper is (or "was," and, oh, how painful it is to make that correction) clearly the wise old man of the Sea of Darkness. Said Lynch of Hopper's effort in Blue Velvet:

Dennis had to have been through experiences on the dark side to have owned that character.1

  1. 1. Bary Egan, "Keeping Your Hair On," The Irish Independent. (November 4, 2007).
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Order! I Said Order!

Monday, February 8, 2010 - 22:47 (+0100) by ep

i'll give you order alright....

Of late (that is, since Obama's performance in the face of questioning at the House republican Retreat last week- which is not a new practice, as it happens, only a newly televised one) it seems to have become somehow fashionable to suggest that what the United States is really lacking is some version of "Questions to the Prime Minister," (or more colloquially and hereinafter "Prime Minister's Question time" or "PMQ") a constitutional convention that has afflicted the United Kingdom in some formal format or another since 1961. (Certainly, it would be gratuitous of finem respice to suggest that the spread of television may have contributed to the adoption of regular schedule for PMQ in the United Kingdom).

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The Clandestine Risk Free Lunch Subsidy

Monday, February 8, 2010 - 12:37 (+0100) by ep

c'mon, it was only hulled once or twice!

Most likely it was the combination of location and the propensity for sailors (and shipowners) to gossip that made Edward Lloyd's London coffeehouse a natural choice as a forum for insurance brokerage. Strong and regular information flows were, of course, a critical function to evaluating and then pricing risk, and therefore properly funding risk pools used to diversify the hazards of seafaring ventures. As far as that went, ready access to loss and casualty data, and the slow accumulation of a book of same, is "what it was all about." Kill risk pricing information, and insurance is (eventually) doomed. It simply ceases to be insurance.

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