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These Scams Are Really Getting Out Of Hand
Wednesday, July 30, 2003
This arrived in my friend's email the other day:
It's a scam, of course - some 14-year-old is trying to steal credit card numbers, and maybe score access to a few Ebay accounts as well.
Unfortunately, a lot of people will fall for this. Hell, I almost fell for a more primitive version of this scam myself, and I'm supposed to know better.
How should you protect yourself? Here's the short answer:
Never follow a link from an email that asks you to log in to any account!
How's it work? Here's the long answer:
Attacks like this are a form of URL misdirection. Normally, when you fire up your browser and type something like
However, when you get an html-formatted email, it can be from anybody. Since an html email looks exactly like a web page, most people will transfer their implicit trust of their browsers to their email. This is a big mistake.
The problem is made somewhat worse by the fact that html makes it is so easy to copy the distinctive formatting and graphics from a given site. We tend to trust familiar labels and brand names, and these emails are perfect replicas of the real thing.
A second common feature of these scams is the use of an obfuscated URL.
When I received this message from my friend, I opened it in Outlook Express and viewed it via
Looks legit, right? It ain't. See that big red "@" sitting there in the middle? That basically means please ignore everything to the left of me!
The real address you'd be visiting looks like this:
(Click here for full details on how URLs can be obscured. I've oversimplified it a bit to keep the explanation short).
One final note - a real danger exists even with trivial accounts, like those free ones you use to read stuff like the NY Times.
Why? Most people reuse passwords. If I know the password on your free NYT account, there's a decent chance that same password will get me in to your Ebay or Amazon account, too. One famous scam (which was horrifyingly successful) involved offering free porn accounts to people who's email addresses were harvested from a popular newsgroup. Many of these folks used the same password for their free porn account as they did for their network ID and hilarity quickly ensued.
The easy way to avoid this one is to use two passwords; a simple one for stuff you don't care about (I prefer "zzzzzz") and a real one for accounts that have money in them.
Update: Now This Is Just Horrifying
Tuesday, July 29, 2003
After I finished my rant about spam and the likely ways in which it will evolve, I took a few minutes to think about what I would do if I were a spammer. What would make my spam unstoppable? What's the holy grail of spamhood?
The answer? Data describing the interconnections of my victims.
If I knew who you received legitimate email from - and, better yet, if I also knew what that email tended to look like - I could use that information to become the unstoppable spam-machine from hell.
Suppose you had a friend named Jim Smith who occasionally sent you links to stuff with a subject line like, "Hey, Dave, you'll like this" and a terse comment in the body of the message, such as "My sister sent this to me". Everybody has friends like this. Well, if I know who your friends are and what subject lines they like to use, I can easily write software to send you email that was addressed from your friend Jim, that was written in Jim's distinctive style and that pointed you to a web site selling penis enlargement pills. And I could send it fifteen times a day.
Oh, I can do it all right, all I need is the data. But where would an enterprising spammer find that?
Ever hear of Friendster?
Friendster is an online community that connects people through networks of friends ... Create your own personal and private community, where you can interact with people who are connected to you through networks of mutual friends. It's easy and fun!
Friendster is one of a number of newly emerging, very popular services that create and support personalized, on-line communities. In short, these are services designed around the collection and maintenance of the data describing the interconnections between millions of real people.
Sadly, such privacy policies might offer even less protection than that. Friendster might find itself sitting on a few million dollars worth of data and then just go out of business, to have their assets bought out by someone who has a very different view personal privacy. In that case, you'd never even get the email.
If was a big spammer with a few million in the bank, I'd be all over this.
Spam Filters And The Perfect Storm
Tuesday, July 29, 2003
I'm going to jump right in and make one of my typically hotheaded and wild-eyed assertions:
Right now, the biggest danger we face in the Spam Wars is the growing popularity of anti-spam filters.
Think I'm kidding? Read on.
Back in the 1960s and '70s, America had a healthy appetite for illegal drugs of all kinds. Lots of people made pretty good money smuggling and selling drugs, and these people occasionally even hunted one another to protect their market share. In today's dollars, a very large and successful drug outfit of that era might have earned a couple of million dollars a year, perhaps a thousandth of what the big operators are earning now. Heroin was where the real money was, but the market was always pretty small; a few hundred junkies in a typical city, a few thousand perhaps in a place like New York.
People perceived this as a serious problem.
We cranked up the pressure, hard, during the eighties coke epidemic and we never let up. Drug interdiction became a serious business, and huge efforts were made to infiltrate drug distribution rings around the country. Thousands were arrested, and billions in assets were seized.
And, by any measure, America's drug problem became far worse. How could this happen?
I believe that there are three independent factors which were to blame. Independently, each of these factors might have been manageable, but together they conspired to build a "perfect storm" which quickly overwhelmed our best efforts. These factors were:
1) An open-ended problem space.
An "open-ended problem space" means that the thing that you are fighting cannot be totally defeated. No one ever claimed that they could stop every packet of drugs at the border, or prevent every sale. The hope was that we could make it so expensive and so dangerous to operate in that market that the bad guys would simply abandon their efforts and move to other, more promising endeavors.
"Unslacked demand" speaks for itself, and the "well-capitalized opponents" were the larger, richer drug cartels. Tiny by today's standards, they still had far more resources available to them than were available to the vast majority of their competition.
The storm begins when it starts to become really expensive and dangerous to smuggle drugs. Most of the small players sensibly drop out, and prices rise as supply falls below demand; the incentive for the remaining players to run the gauntlet becomes irresistible. Some fail, but others find initial success, and with their success comes both knowledge and cash. Lots and lots of cash.
As the expense and risk of market entry rises higher, only the rich and ruthless can compete. Demand is unabated, so potential profits become enormous as the market is shared by only a handful of suppliers. Suddenly, it makes perfectly good sense to spend 10 million dollars on an elaborate boat, or millions in bribes and overseas purchases to acquire real, honest-to-god military radios and radar, and the expertise to make use of them. As the stakes increased, the players further consolidated and grew ever wealthier, eventually seizing effective control of entire South American nations. Violence, at a level never before seen here in the states, became the new normal.
To put it another way, it was almost as if our own law enforcement people were working for the cartels. We tirelessly harassed their competition and made certain that every dollar of the ever-thriving drug trade went straight to a few top players. All they had to do was to stay ahead of us, which was not hard considering that they could outspend us at will, and were utterly unconstrained by the rules of morality or law.
We had the best of intentions, but in retrospect we never really had a chance. We created a monster, and now we have to live with it.
Suppose you want to build a spam filter. The first thing to understand about spam is that there is no perfect way to distinguish it from legitimate communication. You can guess, and in some circumstances guess quite well, but the bad guys are free to react to your efforts and produce a new strain of their product which will defeat your best efforts. You respond by making a better filter, they buy your filter, learn to evade it and the cycle continues without end.
No problem, right? This is how viruses are contained, and so long as you keep your filter updated you'll be fine, right?
Sure... but then the rest of the storm begins to build. Unlike viruses, there is a huge demand for spam, and there is serious money to be made from pushing it.
Until recently any idiot could be a spammer, and they were all pretty much the same. Few made for than a couple of hundred dollars a day and their level of sophistication was generally primitive at best. Nonetheless, spam grew to consume a frightening portion of total internet bandwidth, and, predicably, we began to take steps to manage the problem.
First, we began blocking the open servers that allowed random users to spew millions of messages into the network. Messages that arrived with suspect subject lines and source addresses were tagged or deleted. Similar messages that arrived at every email address on the server within a given period, or messages that attempted delivery to large number of nonexistent address were also tagged. The guesses were pretty good, and got better over time.
The spammer's world became interesting. For a few, it became much, much better.
The "chickenboners", as low-level spammers were called (because they made barely enough each day to buy a bucket of KFC) have largely dropped out of the race. The demand is still there, and the money is still to be made, but there are fewer and fewer people competing for it. Those who remain are becoming richer, more savvy, and investing huge amounts of cash into their own server farms and their own research into beating the filters on every level.
Spam once addressed from places like email@example.com now arrives from accounts with names like Eugene Simonds or Susan. Subject lines which once trumpeted Get A Giant Penis NOW!! are more likely to contain phrases such as re: check this out or fw: humor. Web bugs and bots help filter valid addresses from chaff, and sales of valid address lists have become a big business of their own. Legitimate businesses are more tempted than ever to sell their lists because the spammers are willing to pay more for them.
Last month I had a personal encounter with yet another example of the modern spammer's art when my account started to receive a few hundred "Delivery Failed" messages every day. The messages that failed were an astonishing variety of spam, sent to small, randomly selected, alphabetical blocks of addresses, each on a different server.
The bad guys had used my address, and the addresses of thousands of other innocent people as the source addresses for their messages. They spew a few dozen under each name and fool the filters yet again.
Notice how each enhancement of the spammers art - web bugs, the ever-more lucrative market in personal information, the theft of addresses for camouflage - screws each of us a little more. We can look forward to being screwed a lot more often, and in a wider variety of ever-more creative ways in the future. After all, spam is not limited to email. Web page comments, chat, IM, even referrer logs provide raw bandwidth for spam. As the web grows and new capabilities emerge, the bad guys' domain grows with it.
This is why I believe our spam filters are killing us. They are the final, essential element for turning a tropical storm into a class-5 hurricane.
What can we do about it? Well, we are pretty much shit out of luck, is what.
You can lobby for legislation to curb demand, and watch it fail from inadequate enforcement, loopholes, and overseas jurisdictional issues.
You can change your email address now and again, but the whole point of any resource address is stability. Every change cuts you off from prior reference, be it an occasional pen-pal, a newsgroup post or a comment on a web page. The more often you change, the less valuable your address is.
You can buy a really good spam filter and enjoy a brief respite, but you'll be paying to help poison your own well. The very last thing we want to do is make spamming really hard. That's a sure-fire way to create the cadre of rich, tough players that will overwhelm us in the end.
You can consider rebuilding the internet, but that always seems to require putting somebody in charge who reads each message and who knows who each of us is. I'd rather have the spam.
We could ban spam filters and make it so easy to enter the market that the chicken-boners once again rule the spammer's world. It would strangle today's heavy hitters, but it would also open the floodgates to low-level, easy-to-detect spam that we are no longer allowed to detect.
Of course, banning spam filters would be impossible anyway, and probably unconstitutional to boot. I'm not really suggesting that we ban them, though I am pointing out that they are the primary force driving this issue now, and that they are making the problem far worse than it already is.
I am confident we will look back at these years and see a directly relationship emerge: as spam filters become ubiquitous, spamming will become more profitable, more invasive, and eventually, impossible for even the best filters to stop. You heard it here first.
Now Here's Something You Don't See Every Day
Sunday, July 27, 2003
Penn State University professor Paul Krueger has a secret. In the mid sixties, at the age of eighteen, he shot three innocent strangers to death for no apparent reason. The following year he pleaded guilty to three counts of murder and was sentenced to three, concurrent life terms.
The dead men were shot forty times. The DA prosecuting the case called it "the most heinous crime in the history of the Gulf Coast."
Florida officials paroled Kruegar after just twelve years. He was released, in large part, because of his remarkable behavior in prison.
After his parole he seems to have lead an exemplary life, earning impressive academic credentials and eventually landing a tenure-track position. Until recently, his employer had no idea of his past.
Things like this rarely happen in real life.
Mr. Krueger's case reads like the sort of hypothetical examples people come up with when speculating on what justice really means, and how the parole system or even the death penalty would fit into our approach. Some will see Mr. Krueger's story as one of hope; others would be horrified. No matter what your beliefs, it can't hurt to take a moment to challenge them against this remarkable example. I know I have.
Is he really reformed? Is it even our place to ask?
Well, let me tell you what I think.
Before I continue any further, I should make an important point very clear: Mr. Krueger has the law on his side, and he has every right to pursue whatever life he chooses for himself. No matter what my opinion of him, or of the people responsible for containing him, he is now a free man and he is entitled to his freedom.
Having said that, I sure wish we'd killed him when we had the chance.
I could offer a lot of reasons to explain my unforgiving view. I could point out the hypocrisy of assuming that a smart man who can earn a degree should somehow be more rehabilitated than a stupid man who simply chose to live his remaining life in prison as peacefully as he could. I could point out that a sentence of just three years for each brutal killing is hardly what the jury, the judge, or the victim's families had in mind. I could imagine how I would feel if I lost my father to a random murder when I was a child, and then met his killer on the street before I graduated from high school.
But instead I'll leave you with this:
I'm sure the university is working hard to make sure than Mr. Krueger is accepted by his colleagues and students. They are probably providing a remarkable presentation of the power of forgiveness and rehabilitation, and perhaps even associate their views with the values they hope to instill as part of a traditional liberal education. They will probably tell you that it is wrong to remember only what he had done, while forgetting all that he had accomplished.
I'm sure that it is a very moving presentation.
But, I have to wonder... how long would this guy keep his job if he had killed three black men? What if he had killed three women, or, better yet, merely raped them and left them for dead? How long would the university tolerate his presence on their faculty? How loudly would they proclaim that we should overlook the past and focus on the present?
I don't give a fuck how smart this guy is, or how hard he worked, or how clean he's kept his nose since he walked out of prison. I don't care that he may never commit another crime again, and it matters nothing to me that he might actually feel bad about what he did. That's simply not enough.
I'm Really Happy Today
Tuesday, July 22, 2003
Sure, I'm happy that two of the most odious human beings to ever walk the earth - E-bay and Ix-ney, or whatever the fuck they called themselves - have been wiped clean off the planet surface. But that's not the only reason.
I'm happy that the enemy in Iraq has just lost most of their top leadership, and now has to wonder about every cell phone and scrap of paper we might find among their bodies. I'm happy that Saddam feels the walls closing in, and that he knows his legacy is lost. I'm happy that our guys are as good as I'd hoped, and I'm happy that some smart and brave Iraqi has 30 million dollars waiting for him. But that's not the only thing.
The main reason I'm happy is because these two idiots were out in the open, after reportedly spending days as unwelcome guests in a suburban home. This makes me happy because it shows me that they did not have thousands of eager supporters who would allow these people to hid among them.
It makes me happy because I am now finally convinced that we are not really fighting a guerrilla war.
The enemy is still there, of course, and they are using guerrilla tactics - hiding among the people and trying to wear us down with dispersed, hit-and-run attacks. They are still dangerous, and they will remain a serious problem, but they do not have the support of a substantial portion of people, and this makes all the difference.
A true guerrilla can - to paraphrase Mao - swim among the people like fish in the ocean. A true guerrilla has the support of a substantial fraction of the locals, and can count on these people for logistical and intelligence support. Real guerrillas are hard to beat, and can ultimately become the tip of the spear for a true people's army.
These assclowns are not true guerrillas.
The evidence has been there all along. They blow up oil pipelines and attack fellow Iraqis who are restoring power and water. They try to incite the American soldiers to fire into crowds. They act against the interests of the people, in hopes of making the American mission fail. This is exactly what you would expect from a force that relies on intimidating the locals rather than counting on their honest support.
Still, I wasn't sure. Perhaps they had a real power center somewhere, where they had lots and lots of people who really supported them.
Well, if they had such a place they sure didn't act like it. I believe Saddam's sons took idiot-level risks simply because they had to. They died because no one would protect them. They are gone now, because they were essentially alone.
The rest of the Iraqi resistance is going to dry up. With every day that passes we have more and more of the locals on our side. We are draining Mao's ocean, but in this case it was never much more than a swamp anyway.
Pardon Me While I Geek Out For A Moment
Tuesday, July 22, 2003
Bruce Eckel's recent post, The Ideal Programmer, dangled a bit of bait before my nose that I simply had to snap at. I apologize in advance to those of you who are fortunate enough not to have much interest in this particular topic.
Mr. Eckel is a very smart guy, so of course I agree with him most of the time. As it was, the two of us were was doing just fine as he highlighted the first of his two main points, which is this:
I agree completely. To put in another way, good code is written for an audience of humans, not machines. This is not surprising when you consider that code is intended to capture a hideously complex idea and to render it in an understandable way. If you code fails in this regard, it will powerfully resist your efforts to debug it or extend it, and will therefore fail to satisfy even the machine in the end.
However, I rose to Mr. Eckel's second point the way that a fish rises to an expertly-baited hook:
No, it's not. Programming is about hitting requirements.
Mr. Eckel is correct in his assertion that failure to address flexibility issues is a very big deal, and the these issues will exist in projects of almost any size. However, flexibility is nothing special. It is simply one of a number of requirements - perhaps one that is more often overlooked or misunderstood - but it is still just an ordinary requirement nonetheless.
I believe that the dark force that haunts software development is not the threat of flexibility failure, but that of requirements failure. Furthermore, I am convinced that requirements failures are management failures. Requirements failures reflect failures to plan and failures to prioritize, and are, fundamentally, a failure to understand what it is you are actually trying to do.
Anybody can wander around in the dark by themselves. If you want to get somewhere on time and on budget, you need a leader, and that leader has to know where he is going, and he has to assure that every expensive step you take actually brings you closer to your goal.
I got the feeling that Mr. Eckel senses this as well, as he promises a follow-on to his Ideal Programmer post, titled The Ideal Manager. I look forward to it.
Update: I made a mistake here.
Mr. Eckel responded via email and pointed out that I misunderstood his intentions - he expects to further explore the issues introduced in the Ideal Programmer, rather than dive into the Ideal Manager.
Either way, it'll be good.
The BBC Screws The Pooch
Sunday, July 20, 2003
The BBC now admits that David Kelly, the weapons expert who killed himself earlier this week, was the sole source for their disputed story. Kelly, who volunteered to testify to investigators, denied that he told the the BBC anything of the sort, and assumed that somebody else must have been the BBC's source.
I can't imagine how this could come out any worse for the BBC. Absent some ridiculous and absurdly convoluted chain of events, it's becoming quite clear that the BBC simply lied, and then got caught red-handed. Their ace reporter invented some facts and then tried to blame it on somebody else after he couldn't hide it any longer.
I hope this is somehow illegal under British law, and I hope these people are eventually held accountable for their actions. They are not responsible for Kelly's death, of course, but they are sure as shit responsible for making up a serious accusation out of whole cloth, and for publishing it through their tax-payer funded news service.
Five will get you ten that the bag of shit who made the story up - Andrew Gilligan is his name - will go to his grave insisting that it was Kelly's fault all along. Of course, all his tapes from their meeting will have somehow been mysteriously lost...
Update: The Financial Times says it's looking bad for the BBC.
Gilligan, of course, still insists that was all the dead guy's fault:
Got any tapes to prove that, you fat fuck? I didn't think so...
The Buzzmachine offers the final word on this whole sad affair.
A Note Abount Posting Frequency
Monday, July 14, 2003
I don't post every day, simply because of the time and effort required to find good shit to write about. To help address this problem, I've taken on some interns to help me in the daily process of uncovering fresh material for my readers.
Sadly, the intern positions are unpaid, and my staff is sometimes unresponsive to the needs of my readers. Often, they seem unresponsive to just about any stimulus at all.
Efforts by my management team to instill discipline have been mixed.
We appreciate your patience in this matter.
The Real Moral Of The Story
Wednesday, July 9, 2003
Sometimes, you can look at a real event (or at least, your perception of a real event) and you can clearly see a nice object lesson waiting there for you, lurking just below the story line. Often, if you look hard enough, you'll see seven or eight of them crawling around in there, like a freshly-born litter of insightful thoughts just waiting to be adopted by some passing stranger.
One danger, of course, is that it's easy to take the wrong lesson from a story, or to take the right lesson the wrong way. ("Never try", says Homer to his children, "and you'll never be disappointed"). Another danger is that you'll take a good lesson the right way, but become so attached to it that you'll never pick up anything else. Consider the folks who still see a quagmire at every turn; we haven't had a real quagmire in thirty years, but that last one was a good one and they learned their lesson well. Unfortunately, they have not learned anything since.
The story of our recent adventure in Somalia offers lots of lessons to inform our current approach to Liberia. I'd like to suggest that there is really only one big lesson there, and that all the other, smaller lessons that people seem to take from that story are just special cases of this single, irreducible bit of wisdom. Hang on to your seats and I'll lay it all out for you...
In the last days of the first Bush administration, there was a serious famine in Somalia. Every year, it seemed, had brought a serious famine to Somalia, but in those innocent times many Americans still believed that the primary problem had something to do with an acute absence of food. Somalia, of course, was an utterly lawless and vicious place, wracked by decades of horrific civil war. Muslim fanatics exerted considerable influence over events but the scope of the fighting was so large as to overwhelm anybody's ability to really define it.
The fighters were an odd mix of inability and expertise. In some ways laughably disorganized, poorly trained and under-equipped, they seemed almost too pathetic to really fear. In other ways they were shockingly disciplined and effective, but it was easy to overlook their skills because they were playing a different game than the one we were used to, and they often played it very, very well.
To survive as a military leader in rural Africa, you must make the best of what you have at hand. You have plenty of starvation and disease at hand, so you quickly learn to use your control of food and medicine as a weapon against your enemies. You have ignorant but utterly ruthless men at your command, and you quickly adapt your tactics to take advantage of their natural skills; since you have little ability to see to the welfare of these men, you get used to expending them like bullets, and you become good at forcing others to replace them as necessary. Cruelty becomes a basic means of motivation.
Many, many years pass. The guys who survive and eventually claw their way to the top are not to be trifled with.
So the Americans arrive with boatloads of food. The plan, as it was, involved delivering the food to the hungry people, and expecting that things would sort of get better, and then we'd leave, and maybe the UN would stay behind and administer the food thing for awhile longer. From a year 2003 perspective this was a shocking ignorant approach, but at the time it had almost everybody's full support.
Just as the operation got underway Bush stepped down and Bill Clinton took his place.
As we handed out food, we noticed a few problems. The first problem was that the UN was worse than useless. Their personnel from second-tier nations were both corrupt and surprisingly inept, and their third-tier people were not only inept but surprisingly corrupt. The Somali people, at first so grateful, seemed to grow menacing. The daily conflicts between our soldiers and the locals, first thought to be spontaneous and unorganized, quickly evolved into carefully scripted probing attacks. Wailing women and older people would fill the open space, beating on the gates and the fences and forcing our men into a defensive position. Children and young men would breech the gates, steal what they could, and push the limits until the soldiers were forced to respond. The response was always quite mild, especially by African standards. Grim men with rifles and radios patrolled the outer edges of the crowd and quietly directed its actions. Our rifles and tanks were not effective in these circumstances and everybody came to know it.
We saw this as a mercy mission, and were surprised - really surprised - that people would be so desperate to stop us from handing out food. Sure, we expected some resistance, but nothing like this, nothing that would involve almost everyone in the neighborhood.
The locals saw it differently. In their world, the delivery of food was the delivery of power. Their own organizations, their own mini-states, were being attacked as surely as if we had arrived in jet fighters with guns blazing. These grim men who had survived so many years fighting in the dirt adapted splendidly and put us at an almost immediate disadvantage. They would fully exploit the cruelty that was their strength.
Our strengths? Not our nearly-useless tanks and guns, but our food and our good intentions. The food only works if we can deliver it and control it, and the good intentions only work if they are shared. The food distribution quickly became a strategic target and the good intentions never made it to the beach. The Somali people were at war with us the minute we arrived, and we didn't even realize it.
We made the oft-repeated mistake of confusing war with crime. The problem in Somalia, in our estimation, was that a few "outlaw" warlords were screwing things up for all the good people there who wanted our help. Catch these criminals, bring them to justice, and the country would be stable enough for our food distribution to continue unhindered. The same shocking ignorance that initially brought us into the fray would now convince us to send a special operations force on a kidnapping mission.
Much has been written about our failure to support these guys with armor and I agree that was certainly a tactical mistake, but our strategic errors would have eaten us alive anyway. As anyone who watched Blackhawk Down knows, the operation ran into a little trouble. Five thousand Somalis are thought to have been killed in that battle, an excellent trade on their part for the eighteen Americans killed, because along with those eighteen Americans they also won a decisive victory against an overwhelmingly superior force. The Americans withdrew within days, and the Somalis won the war.
If we had brought our armor along we might have lost half as many men and killed three times as many locals, but we would have lost the war anyway. We withdrew because we did not have the stomach for that kind of killing, and we did not have the stomach for the brutal price we would need to pay to win a military victory in a place like that. All we wanted to do was deliver some goddamn food and get out. We just wanted to feed people and hear them thank us. We were idiots, and we literally had no idea what we were getting ourselves into.
Here are some of the wrong lessons that might be drawn from this:
1) Never use your military in the Third World unless you want a quagmire or a genocide, or both.
2) Maybe we should have gone to the Congo instead. Or Ethiopia. They had a really bad harvest this year, and the UN warns of a looming humanitarian crisis...
3) <voice="Homer Simpson"> Never try to do anything nice for anybody. <\voice>
Here are some of the more insightful, if still superficial, lessons that might be drawn from this:
1) Our military is a hammer, not a port-a-government. Either use it for breaking things, or put it away.
2) Once you commit to a fight, don't quit. Be sure to bring lots of tanks.
3) Stay away - far away - from Africa.
Here are the lessons that I believe are worth remembering:
1) If we have to shoot people, it's not a humanitarian mission, it's a military mission.
2) Military missions should only be launched to defend national strategic interests. Strategic interests are worth killing and dying for, so be ready for lots of killing and dying when you go.
3) Military missions can be shockingly expensive things, and you never really know the price in advance. Of course, if we are talking about honest-to-god national strategic interests, the price may not really matter.
These three lessons are good ones, but I believe that they are all different facets of a single lesson. That single lesson describes the price of an American soldier's life.
On the day before the Somalia disaster, we told our troops to go in and get the bad guy. We told them that they should risk their lives, because getting that bad guy was important, and it was worth risking their lives for.
These men died, and suddenly, getting the bad guy was not really all that important. We'll just leave instead. Sorry about that.
What was unspoken here was this: sure, it's worth risking your lives, but if your lives are lost, this mission is not worth risking the lives of those who will follow. At first glance, this make sense. After all, an objective might really be worth a few lives, but not a few thousand. That's just the way it is, right?
The problem is that the enemy knows this, too. To them it means that all you have to do is kill a handful of these Americans, by any means necessary and at any cost, and you will have your victory. This is why thousands of Somali militia appeared out of the darkness, climbing over the bodies of their dead until our weapons ran empty. They did this because they understood the mistake we had made.
So here's the real lesson. Ready?
Once you commit an American soldier, you have committed every American soldier. So don't fucking do it unless you really mean it.
Think I'm kidding? Try an experiment.
Gather a few hundred good friends together, build a fortified and booby-trapped apartment complex in the middle of an American city, then lean out the window and shoot a police officer. There will be exactly one outcome.
Will you match the police with such force that they will abandon the mission after their first few dead and leave you to govern the block by yourselves? Or will the situation escalate until it is resolved by any means necessary and at any cost, even if it involves eventually blowing the surrounding city to bits? Ask Jefferson Davis. The only way to win a fight like that is to defeat the entire United States Army. Stealing even one city block is an attack on a strategic national interest, and the correct response is to defend that interest at almost any cost.
Consider, for a moment, what this country would look like if this were not the case. This rule is not some half-ass thing I just came up with in my own head, it is a basic principle of power that has applied since the dawn of time.
So does this mean we should have stayed in Somalia, and fought to the bitter end? Of course not. We should not have gone in but we did anyway, so we broke our rule before the first shot was fired. After we've broken the rule a disaster was assured, and our only options were to accept a small disaster or a large one. Leaving was the right thing to do.
Another right thing to do, of course, is to not make that same mistake again.
So is intervention in Liberia a mistake?
That depends on whether it is a strategic interest or not. Liberia might actually be important for the next phase of the war, which could involve a move into northern Africa. Or maybe not. I simply don't know.
I do believe that our current President gets it. He may be hopeless about the economy but he sure as shit understands this war. If he sends our overcommitted troops to that region I'm willing to bet he sees a critical need to do it, and I'll support him. I'll also expect, and demand, that we not hesitate to apply whatever level of force is necessary to make this "critical need" come out right. Absent this critical need, the right thing to do is to walk away, and I'd support that decision, too. Or president has been right about every step of the war so far, so I'll trust him on this step, too.
Update: Well, I guess we have our answer:
President Bush suggested Wednesday that any U.S. military help in ending brutal civil unrest in Liberia might consist mostly of advisers and trainers to avoid stretching American forces too thinly around the globe.
I'm happy, of course. If you notice that the news is filled with wailing and whining over this decision for the next few weeks, be sure to read the post below.
Somebody interview those armless kids! And get Howard Dean on line one...
Just Sayin', Is All
Tuesday, July 8, 2003
Maybe I'm just a cynical bastard, but listening to the news last week - when it looked like Bush had no interest in sending troops to Liberia - all we heard about was the historic "debt" that we owed these people, and how important it was to stop a looming humanitarian disaster.
Now that Bush has offered tentative hints that troops might be forthcoming, suddenly the pundits are striking a cautious note, reminding us solemnly of Somalia and suggesting how the neighbors might see our soldiers as agents of an unwelcome imperialism.
I suppose if we decide not to send soldiers after all, we'll find they have stock footage of armless children lying in garbage pits already queued up on the monitors.
To my knowledge, the only person on the left who's tried to get out in front of this one is Dean, who is now probably horrified to now find himself in agreement with the President. I suppose we can count on him to complain that our actions were too hasty, too late, not forceful enough, or way too heavy handed, depending upon how the situation actually plays out on the ground. If it goes perfectly? Well, then the whole problem was intentionally overblown to provide a distraction to get our minds off the missing WMD.
I suppose we should be grateful there's no oil there.
Are Most American Women Pro-Life?
Wednesday, July 2, 2003
I am fiercely pro-choice, but I have long recognized that there are an awful lot of pro-life people out there. Opposition to abortion is not the minority view that many people seem to think it is.
It's not a predominately male view, either. That old joke - If men got pregnant, there'd be drive-through abortion clinics on every corner - is flatly disingenuous. Most pro-lifers are women. Feminists get really uncomfortable looks on their faces when you point this out to them, because they really want to believe that these women are just mindless drones being controlled by their husbands, but they can't say it without contradicting everything they ever said about their sisters being, you know, actual grown-ups, with their own thoughts and opinions and everything.
Anyway, here's a credible poll that suggests that American women have become - by the thinnest of margins - a Pro Life constituency:
So is this really credible? I think so:
The center's president, Faye Wattleton, headed the Planned Parenthood Federation of America for 14 years. "While we do have a certain point of view on women's issues, we don't believe we should suppress information," Mrs. Wattleton said in an interview yesterday with The Washington Times. "You don't want to create false or artificial data [...] even if we hold our noses at it, we want to be sure we show women's true perspective."
They also supply a full write-up of their methods, and of the questions asked and data collected. In short, this poll is showing every sign of being worthy of real consideration.
The usual caveats apply, of course, but this result does not seem to be slanted to fit the views of the poll takers. That means a lot, and I give these folks real credit for publishing their results.
I found this table especially interesting:
Second to last?! Even I was surprised to see that.
If you do choose to believe this, it opens the door to all sorts of possibilities. Other than the pleasant diversion provided by watching your favorite, dour feminists squirm and try to rationalize the data away, the consequences for the Democratic party - and for liberalism as a whole - are potentially huge. Abortion is one of those core issues that really motivates how people vote, and it's been one of the main issues that the Democrats have counted on over the last several decades.
Will men stray from their pro-choice positions as they settle down with pro-life women? Will these women reach critical mass and go public, causing a pro-life shift in everything from daytime television to women's magazines? At what point does it become illiberal to oppose women on this issue?
I'll bet dollars to donuts the regular media doesn't touch this one with a ten foot pole. I'll also bet that if the change does come, that sort of helpful censorship by the press will be responsible for most people being taken completely by surprise.
(Thanks to FR for the link)
Update: I'm embarrassed to say, I've overlooked something really important - a whopping 64% of women favor additional restrictions on abortion!
Following this tip, I rechecked the full version of the report and found this:
Only one-third (34%) of women say abortion should be generally available to those who want it. Forty-five percent hold the opposite view and want access to abortion limited: 31 percent want it limited only to cases of rape, incest and to save the woman's life and 14 percent say abortion should never be permitted. Nineteen percent of women prefer a middle ground, saying abortion should be available, but under new limitations. These might include limitations, for example, on the timing of abortions, or on the steps that must be taken before a woman can have an abortion.
This really is news. Pity you'll never see it on CNN.
Just Keeping The Record Straight
A lot of people are pretty pissed off that President Bush has spoken in opposition to gay marriage. I'm certainly pissed off, and Democrats, of course, seem particularly outraged.
Well, just hold on a minute there, Donkey-boy.
Remember the Defense Of Marriage Act? That's the federal law that defines marriage as a relationship between one man and one woman, and a spouse as a husband or wife of the opposite sex. It also allows states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages performed in another state.
Bill Clinton signed it into law 1996. The Democrats in the House and Senate thought it was a terrific idea: it passed 342 to 67 in the House, and 85 to 14 in the Senate. That's a landslide, kids.
Clinton didn't mince words, either:
Is Bush wrong on this? You bet, and some of his rivals even promise to help repeal it. But why should we think a repeal would ever make it past the legislature, even if the Democrats were in charge? Most of these same Democrats who supported the law in are still in office!
I support gay marrage, and right now, I'm blaming YOU GUYS. You went out of your way to screw us on this one, even after millions of gays voted for you.
Remember: If you let your fellow Democrats off the hook after they enthusiastically fucked you the last time around, you can bet you'll be getting more of the same. It's easy to screw people when you can count on them to put all of the blame on someone else.
So Days I Feel Really Old And Behind The Times
Please, somebody out there, tell me that you, too, are surprised to learn this...
They are now selling disposable, 2-megapixel digital cameras for eleven bucks each.
My real camera does not even have two megapixels!
Sniff... OK, I'm better now. Seriously, this'd be an excellent item to keep in the car. With no film, it'd probably be much more stable than the 'old style' disposable film cameras that sell for the same price...
French Forest Fires A Terrorist Act?
Arsonists using "petrol bombs" have started severe forest fires in France. French police are actually searching people travel into vulnerable areas.
Is this the work of a crank, a domestic terrorist group, or perhaps even our Islamic friends? Might not be as far-fetched as you think.
A senior al-Qaida detainee told federal investigators he had developed a plan to set midsummer forest fires in Colorado, Montana, Utah and Wyoming, according to the document, obtained by The Arizona Republic.
"The detainee believed that significant damage to the U.S. economy would result and once it was realized that the fires were terrorist acts, U.S. citizens would put pressure on the U.S. government to change its policies," the memo said.
I'll be paying close attention to unusual fire reports from now on.
Another Cool RSS Application
RSS is cool. I'm not sure what it'll really end up getting used for, but people seem to be slowly catching on.
Here's the latest: How would you like an RSS feed of Amazon's top-ten selling DVDs? OK, sure... but how about the top ten results from an arbitrary, personalized search? You can stay updated on the latest releases that are of interest to you.
Suppose you have a list of authors you really like, and a few obscure topics that you're always interested in. You can now keep a live, running list of all that Amazon has available for you, and this list is automatically updated every time you look at it. Neat, huh?
So where do you get these things? Just use the handy Amazon RSS Feed Generator.
Shocking Stupidity Or Clever Disinformation?
Here's a nice headline to wake up to:
[...] The decision to drop coverage on flights that many experts consider to be at the highest risk of attack apparently stems from a policy decision to rework schedules so that air marshals don't have to incur the expense of staying overnight in hotels.
Personally, I'll vote "shocking stupidity".
I'll Never Look At Mel Gibson The Same Way Again
It's amazing how fast you can lose respect for somebody like that.
Pregnant, Or Just Fat?
Place your bets now - I guess we'll all know in a couple of weeks.
My call? Fat.
PSA: Be Fucking Careful With Photoshop!
I don't use photoshop, so I'm unable to confirm this or to further explain it, but it certainly looks credible to me...
Don't Get Too Excited About BuyMusic.com
Check out the Terms Of Sale:
The Digital Downloads are sublicensed for play only upon Approved Electronic Devices [... which] include the following: (i) personal computers registered with this Site, and (ii) Portable Devices that receive and store digital music files, and play them back in analog form, but which are incapable of transferring Digital Downloads to other Electronic Devices. [...]
Why should we buy it, if they still own it?
Note To Self: Never Pick A Fight With Ward Connerly
Wow. Ward Connerly kneedrops Rep. John Dingell and ruptures his spleen. It's like watching a one-sided championship wrestling match.
Breaking News - Saddam's Sons "Very Likely Killed"
Please, please, please be true...
Behold The Power Of Cash
Mini-Me to tie the knot:
Quote Of The Day
Hard to argue with that.
This Is Getting A Little Weird
A few days ago, the redoubtable BBC (that's "redoubtable" as in, "Better doubt them again, just to be safe") got its ass handed to it by the Britain's foreign affairs select committee. In brief, the BBC claimed that Tony Blair had misrepresented intelligence information about Iraq, so as to better make his case for war. The British take this sort of thing seriously and the government investigated, only to find that The BBC could not back up their claims.
That ordinarily would be the end of it, but now it seems that Dr. David Kelly, a man who may have been one of the BBC's sources, has just turned up dead.
You'll be hearing a lot about this. Personally, my instincts tell me this is nothing other than a sad coincidence.
I've yet to see any evidence that Dr. Kelly was anything other than a good and honest man, and I am sorry for his loss. His death (which has not yet been officially confirmed) may have been caused by accident, illness, suicide, or murder. Presumably we will have answers to those questions soon. In the meantime, that rumbling you hear is the sound of ten thousand anti-war activists rushing to their keyboards to insinuate the worst.
And why not? They've been wrong about everything else...
Update: That didn't take long.
This guy didn't even bother to look up Kelly's name before pronouncing his death an "obvious" homicide. What an ass.
Big Wheel Keeps On Turning
One of my favorite bloggers, Mean Mister Mustard, has decided to pack it in.
This monkey will miss him.
The tanned, rested and ready Vodka Pundit has taken his slot at the top of the page. Welcome back!
Heads Up! Severe PC Security Problem
This one is a doozy - it affects multiple applications on practically every version of Windows, and it leaves your machine wide-open to attack.
The good news is, it's easy to fix: just run Windows Update. Now.
Full details are available here.
Affect? Effect? I had to look it up, and I'm still confused.
I'm An Idiot
The posting below this one is crap - I made a bad assumption, and what I said was just flat wrong.
A quick-witted reader informed me that the Klez virus appears to send from an address randomly selected from the host computer's address book. Nobody is trying to make me look stupid.
I can do it all by myself.
Update: Hey, wait a minute...
That means one of you guys is infected! Ewwwww!
This Is Too Funny
I received an email today that actually had me concerned for a moment. Is seems to be an auto-reply from the mail server at The National Review warning me that a Klez virus was detected in an email that I sent to them.
Klez? No way! That virus is like 30 years old now, norton would surely have picked it up, and besides... I didn't send any email to the National Review... Ohhhhh, I get it!
The way I figure it is this - some little wanker out there doesn't like my site, and sent email, pretending to be me, to prominent places on the internet in the hopes of embarrassing me. The fun part is that dumbass here is infected and has no idea that his email is getting bounced because I'm the one getting the replies!
Whoever this person is, we have pretty much uncovered have all we need to know about him: just look for the guy who has the digital equivalent of a chancre sore on his mouth and is too stupid to manage an antivirus program.
When in doubt, just ask me to sign my messages with the official Feces Flinging Monkey PGP Key! Accept no substitutes...
It's not just a good idea - it's my new policy.
If he could put it in a bottle, he'd make millions.
Interesting Performance Review: US Military Gear In Iraq
The Barrett 50 cal Sniper Rifle may have been the most useful piece of equipment for the urban fight [...] used to engage both vehicular and personnel targets out to 1400 meters. Soldiers not only appreciated the range and accuracy but also the target effect [...] due to the psychological impact on other combatants that viewed the destruction of the target.
"My spotter positively identified a target at 1400 meters carrying an RPG on a water tower. I engaged the target. The top half of the torso fell forward out of the tower and the lower portion remained in the tower."
Yeah, that would get my attention, too. There you are, almost a mile from an enemy you can't even see, and then one of your guys just breaks in half... and then you hear the sound of the shot... I'd fucking wet myself.
We have a battle ax? I want one! Anybody have to link to what they look like?
Unanimously positive comments about the Gerber multi-tool (leatherman) provided with the rapid fielding initiative. The multi-tool may be the new bayonet. Very few soldiers carried a bayonet unless required...
Hell, I could have told you that.
I was impressed with how willing our solders were to quickly modify gear they didn't like.
Vehicle crewmen took it upon themselves to modify their issued Spall Vest to increase the protection. One crewman in 3-7 CAV took the protective pads from three different spall vests and put them into one.
I was similarly impressed by how many soldiers purchased gear over the counter that performed better than what they were issued. It seems very common, almost the rule rather than the exception. On the one hand, it's cool that we have the power of capitalism and innovation working for us, leaving the quartermasters playing catch-up. On the other hand, it's sad that these guys have to spend their own money on equipment.
Maybe we ought to just give them a stipend and turn them loose?
Update: Did you know that 1400 meters = 0.8699197 of a mile?
Me neither. That's why they invented www.onlineconversion.com.
Outstanding Link Of The Day
Wow. Lt. Smash knocks this one right out of the park. It's perfect.
What are you waiting for? Go read it!
Don't Know How I Overlooked This One
I'll add my own two cents - one of the little life lessons I've learned is the futility of loving something that requires more protection than you are able to give. Women who can't, or won't, take care of themselves are a goddamn pain in the ass.
Trust me on this one.
For the record, my own True Love has no patience with guns at all, but was born into this world with an inherent ferocity that quite frankly scares me sometimes. I worry about a lot of things in this life but I don't have to worry about her, and that's worth more than I can say.
Some Good News On A Rainy Night
I have often complained that we had lost, through sheer judicial neglect, almost a third of our original Bill Of Rights. The Tenth, I would say, is on life support, the Second has been in a coma for 60 years and the Ninth was dead and buried somewhere in an windswept, unmarked grave.
Perhaps I was too hasty; the Ninth may have some life in it after all.
I especially liked this quote:
In the end, Lawrence is a very simple ruling. Justice Kennedy examined the conduct at issue to see if it was properly an aspect of liberty (as opposed to license), and then asked the government to justify its restriction, which it failed adequately to do.
[...] For Lawrence v. Texas to be constitutionally revolutionary, however, the Court's defense of liberty must not be limited to sexual conduct. The more liberties it protects, the less ideological it will be and the more widespread political support it will enjoy. Recognizing a robust "presumption of liberty" might also enable the court to transcend the trench warfare over judicial appointments. Both Left and Right would then find their favored rights protected under the same doctrine.
"Presumption of liberty". Maybe I'm just an ignorant slob, but I thought that's what the constitution was all about.
Another Myth Busted
Economic freedom is highly correlated with per-capita income, economic growth, and life expectancy. Increased economic freedom does not lead to greater income inequality. The lowest 10% of income earners in nations in the bottom quintile of economic freedom receive 2.27% of total income in their nations; in nations in the fourth quintile, the bottom 10% receive 2.66% of total income; in the third quintile, 2.25%; in the second quintile, 2.83%; and in the top quintile, 2.68%.
Imagine that - economic freedom is good for everybody. That old song about how economic freedom screws the poor to the benifit of the rich is just nonsense.
I found this graph to be especially interesting:
If we were to assume that correlation implies at least some cause, there is an awful lot to be gained by making that big jump from the third quintile into the second - something that nations like Eqypt, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Mexico, and India ought to seriously consider. (Amusingly, if France drops just one-tenth of a point further, it will fall into that dreaded third quintile itself)!
If you are interested in this stuff and you want to see lots of other compelling charts and diagrams, have a look at the original study.
One More Goddamn Thing To Worry About
You've all heard about the missing 727, and you've probably heard that the plane has "turned up" and everything is OK. It's not.
The plane is a flying bomb; it's still missing, and LGF has the latest.
Breaking News: Prison Escape In Elmira, NY
Two murderers have escaped a maximum security prison in Elmira, and are still at large.
This is Timothy Morgan:
He recently shaved his head.
This is Timothy Vail:
I'd guess both of them would have pasty white skin - prison pallor - that might help them stand out in a summertime crowd.
If you even THINK you've seen these assclowns, call 911 and let the cops decide if your story is worth checking out.
Not Looking So Tough Now, Are They?
And let's not forget: these people we are fighting are not geniuses. They are as fucked up and incompetent as the culture that spawned them, and they are as unable to compete and to adapt. They have no idea just how bad it is going to get for them.
Link Of The Day
The always-interesting Clay Shirky offers a new post: A Group Is Its Own Worst Enemy. He talks about social software, web technology, and the realities of organizing groups that work, those which don't just devolve into flamefests.
I realize this sort of talk drives most people crazy. It usually drives me crazy, too, because so many of the people doing the talking are idiots. Shirky is the real deal. He knows what he's doing, and he knows how to explain it well.
So there's this question "What is required to make a large, long-lived online group successful?" and I think I can now answer with some confidence: "It depends." I'm hoping to flesh that answer out a little bit in the next ten years.
Here's my second-favorite quote, which gets to the heart of the issue:
Yes! Decide what the value is, and defend it. That ought to be inscribed up on Mt. Rushmore somewhere.
PSA: How They Do It
Hell, you got a few minutes - why not learn how to use a Japanese toilet?
The good news is that this page loads much faster now. The bad news is that I dropped CSS support for Netscape 4x.
If you are using Net4, here's what to do: Open up the calender program that came with your computer, and look at the date. See that part there that says 2003? We are well into the 21st century at this point - get a real browser, for fucks' sake!
Just In Case You're Interested
An interesting discussion is growing in my comments section about gays and hate-crime laws (the first two comments were published here, as an update to the original post). Dive in, if you like that sort of thing.
Note: I have a kill-on-sight policy for trolls, and I maintain a similar policy on my comment boards. Play nice.
Cool-Ass Technology Update
OK, I know what you're thinking - how cool can a printer be?
Well, I'll tell you - as cool as all get-out, is what.
This one is an inkjet made from a can a spray paint and some pulleys and cables. It writes on walls:
This one, if it really works, is fucking astonishing. You hold it in your hand, and wave your hand around over something, and it sprays the ink right onto the target surface. They call it a PrintBrush:
They get that bad boy loaded up with some nice flavored inks, and they got something there.