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December 2005

Top Cat Marine Security Has an Executive Level

I just received a really interesting piece of email (posted as a comment in my comment section) from Jerry Parnin, who was briefly associated with Top Cat Marine Security. He identifies Top Cat's super-secretive executive level as follows.

Dear Kathryn,
My name is Jerry Parnin. I'm refered to as Bachelor #3 in one of last months blogs about Top Cat Marine Security. I would like to inform you and the world that I was only associated with TCMS for a short time over a year ago. We had our differences and I'm no longer associated with Peter Casini, TCMS, Cobra Boats, Topcat Design or any other Casini enterprise. As for the names of the people in the photo you are correct about Maryann Johnson being the brunette. Her son is the boy, his name and the name of her husband escape me but the blond is Susan Procopio, wife of Rocco Procopio (Bachelor #1). Maryann was introduced to me as Casini's sister. Colonel Bernie McCabe, Maryann, Rocco and Susan Procopio are all officers of one sort or another in TCMS.

Through an intermediary, McCabe has previously denied involvement with management or operations of Top Cat Marine Security.

Here is the photo to which Parnin refers, originating from the Top Cat web site:


My Grandmother's Recipes

Over Christmas, we couldn't lay hands on some of my grandmother's recipes, and so the cauliflower I made for Christmas dinner didn't turn out quite right. So that this never happens again, I though I'd share them with y'all (as she would have said). These were copied down from the index cards in her recipe box.

Happy New Year. Enjoy.

Recipes of Frances S. Cramer (6/17/06 to 9/7/99)

SCALLOPED ASPARAGUS  (hand-written recipe in Frances Cramer’s recipe book.)

1 can of asparagus    1/2 cup bread crumbs
1/2 cup of milk    1/2 cup melted butter
1 tbsp. Flour    1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese
1 tbsp. butter
1/2 tsp. salt

Make white sauce of butter, flour, and milk.  Pour off liquid from can and add asparagus to white sauce.  Cover bottom of baking dish with creamed asparagus.  Combine crumbs and melted butter and layer this over asparagus, alternating layers of asparagus and crumbs.  Finally, place grated cheese on top and bake until cheese melts and browns slightly.

SPAGHETTI WITH TEXAS-STYLE SAUCE  (hand-written recipe in Frances Cramer’s recipe book.)

1 box of Skinner’s spaghetti    1 can of stewed tomatoes
3 medium-size onions    8 strips of bacon
1 tbsp. Gebhart’s Chili Powder    1 clove of garlic
1/2 lb. grated American Cheese

Chop bacon into fine pieces and fry until quite crisp.  Put in finely chopped onions and garlic and fry until quite brown.  Drain off half the juice from the tomatoes, then add them and remaining juice to the sauce.  Add chili powder and salt and pepper to taste.  Boil the spaghetti in salted water until soft.  Butter a large platter and spread half of the spaghetti evenly on it.  Cover this with half of the sauce and half of the grated cheese.  Repeat with layers of the remaining spaghetti, sauce, and cheese.  Place platter in a warm oven and melt the cheese, then serve.

CAULIFLOWER IN SOUR SAUCE  (typed recipe in Frances Cramer’s recipe file.)

3 tbsp. of melted butter    3 tbsp. of flour (level)
1 1/2 cups water    1 egg – well beaten
3 tbsp. vinegar (or lemon juice)    1/2 tsp. salt

Boil cauliflower until tender, in salted water.  Melt butter and add flour and salt.  Beat mix until creamy, then gradually add water until well mixed.  Gradually add beaten egg, beating constantly with a wire whip so that egg will not curdle, until creamy and thickened.  Stir in vinegar.  Drain cauliflower and place in a serving dish.  Pour sauce over cauliflower and serve.

STEAK AND MUSHROOMS  (typed recipe in Frances Cramer’s recipe file.)

1 cup of mushrooms    3 tbsp. of butter
1 cup of milk    2 tbsp. flour
1/2 tsp. salt    1/2 tsp. paprika
1 lb. of sirloin or round steak

Simmer mushrooms in butter for 7 minutes.  Cover and cook slowly.  Add flour and cook until browned.  Add the rest of the ingredients and cook until sauce thickens.  While sauce is cooking, broil steak until done, place on a platter, trim off and discard the fat, then cut into bite-size pieces.  Pour sauce over the steak and serve.
HONEYMOON NOODLES (FOR TWO)  (from memory, no written recipe found)
(This was the first dish Frances learned how to cook as a new bride.)

1/2 of a medium onion    2  tbsp. of butter
4 oz. egg noodles

Peel and finely chop onion, then sauté in butter until brown.  Boil noodles in salted water until done.  Place noodles in a serving bowl.  Pour onions and butter sauce over noodles and serve as a side dish with steak and mushrooms.

SOUTHERN FRIED CHICKEN (typed recipe in Frances Cramer’s recipe file.)

1 fryer, cut up    1/2  tsp. of paprika
1/2 cup flour    1/2 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. salt    1 cup of salad oil

Mix ingredients (except oil).  Heat the oil in a medium pot.  Coat chicken pieces with flour mixture.  Cook for 15 to 20 minutes.  Reduce hear, cover pot, and simmer for 30 to 40 minutes.  Remove cover for last 5 minutes.  Make cream gravy with 1/2 cup milk and 1/2 cup water.

CALUMET SUGAR COOKIES  (Page 22, Calumet Cook Book, 1932.)

2 1/2 cups sifted flour    1 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons Calumet Baking Powder    2 eggs, well beaten
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg    Grated rind of 1 lemon
1/2 cup butter or other shortening    1 tablespoon of rich milk or cream

Sift flour once, measure, add baking powder and nutmeg, and sift together twice.  Cream butter thoroughly, add sugar gradually, and cream together until light and fluffy.  Add eggs, lemon rind, and cream, and beat well.  Add flour, a small amount at a time.  Beat after each addition until smooth.  Roll into thin sheet on slightly floured board.  Cut with floured cookie cutter and dredge with sugar.  Bake in hot oven (425° F) for 7 minutes.  Makes 2 1/2 dozen 3 inch cookies.  These may be cut in fancy shapes.

BANANA-NUT BREAD  (typed recipe in Frances Cramer’s recipe file.)

2 cups of sifted flour    1/4 cup of buttermilk
11/2 tsp. Calumet baking powder    2 eggs
1 tsp. cinnamon    1 1/2 cups of ripe banana pieces
1/2 tsp. baking soda    1/2 cup of soft Crisco shortening
1/2 tsp. salt    2/3 cup of sugar
1/8  tsp. cardamom    1 cup of pecans

Preheat oven to 350° F.  Grease a 9”x5”x3” pan.  Mix and sift flour, baking powder, salt soda, cinnamon and cardamom.  Cream the shortening, add sugar and eggs.  Gradually add flour mixture and buttermilk.  Blend together, add nuts, and place in pan.  Bake in preheated oven for 1 to 1 ¼ hours.

DATE LOAF  (hand-written recipe in Frances Cramer’s recipe book.)

2 cups of sugar    1 pinch of salt
1 cup of milk    3/4 box of dates
1 cup of pecans

Dissolve sugar in milk.  Then boil until it forms a soft ball in cold water.  Add stoned and chopped dates.  Allow dates to dissolve while continuing to heat until mixture will from a firm ball in cold water.  Remove from heat and allow to cool.  Beat until creamy, add nuts, and roll into a cylinder in a damp cloth.  Allow to cool and harden, then remove cloth and slice the cylinder into circular sections.

PEACH COBBLER  (typed recipe in Frances Cramer’s recipe file.)

1 stick of oleo (or butter)    1 cup of sifted flour
1 cup of sugar    2 tsp. of Calumet baking powder
1/2 tsp. of salt    1/2 cup of milk
2 cups of peaches

Combine flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder.  Slowly add milk while stirring.  Melt the oleo in a casserole and pour over mix.  Place peaches on top of batter.  Do not stir.  Batter will rise and cover fruit.  Bake in a pre-heated 350° F oven for 40 minutes.

GOLD FRUIT CAKE  (typed recipe in Frances Cramer’s recipe file.)

3 1/2 cups of sifted flour    1 1/2 cup of butter
2 cups sugar    1/2 tsp. salt
6 eggs, separated    2 cups of raisins (or chopped dates)
1/2 tsp. cream of tartar    1 cup of dried apricots
1 cup of milk    1/2 cup of orange peel
1 tsp brandy extract    1 cup of chopped walnuts
(or 1/2 cup milk and 1/2 cup of brandy)    1 tsp. vanilla

Beat butter until creamy.  Add sugar, beating until smooth.  Beat egg yolks and add.  Combine milk, brandy, and vanilla.  Mix flour and salt.  Alternately add milk mix and flour mix to butter mix.  Fold in fruit and nuts.  Beat egg whites with cream of tartar until stiff.  Fold whites into batter gently.  Pour mixture intotwo buttered and floured six-cup molds.  Bake at 275° F for 2 1/2 hours.  Cool and unmold.

OBSTKUCHEN - TEIG  (typed recipe in Frances Cramer’s recipe file.)

1/4 cups of margarine (or butter)    1 egg
1 tbsp. water    1 package teig mix (from Continental Store)

Mix ingredients together.  Butter pan.  Pour mixture in pan and spread evenly.  Bake at 400° F for 20 minutes.  Mix glaze according to package.  Add picked and washed berries to glaze.  Stir together lightly.  Place berries on cake one at a time.  Pour remaining glaze over berries and place in refrigerator for several hours.  Top with whipped cream before serving.

PINEAPPLE UPSIDE-DOWN CAKE  (typed recipe in Frances Cramer’s recipe file.)
(This recipe won a 1925 cooking contest)

1 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour    2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt    1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp. of butter
1 cup of granulated sugar    2 large eggs, separated
1/2 cup of milk    1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 cup packed brown sugar    1 can (20 oz.) sliced pineapple in syrup
Maraschinos cherries for garnish

Preheat oven to 350° F.  Mix flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl.  Beat 1/2 cup of butter with granulated sugar in a large mixing bowl until light and fluffy.  Add egg yolks one at a time, beating well.  Combine milk and vanilla.  Stir dry ingredients into egg yolk mixture, alternately with milk mixture, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients.  Beat egg whites until dry and fold into batter.  Melt 2 tbsp. of butter in 10” iron skillet, brushing the sides.  Sprinkle with brown sugar and add the drained pineapple.  Pour batter on top and bake for 40 to 45 minutes.  Loosen edges of cake from pan, invert, and drop the cake onto a plate.  Garnish with cherries.

In drawing my readers' attention to these links I do not, of course, intend in any way that anyone should actually click on them and look at the documents, let alone link to them far and wide . . .

ItelObtainedUnderTorture.jpgFrom Ken MacLeod:

Lenin's Tomb has published some letters which the Foreign Office is trying to suppress. The letters appear to document former UK ambassador Craig Murray's persistent attempts to persuade the Foreign Office of the futility and wickedness of relying on information possibly obtained under torture; and the FO's interesting response. In drawing my readers' attention to these links I do not, of course, intend in any way that anyone should actually click on them and look at the documents, let alone link to them far and wide, and I join all right-thinking people in unreservedly condemning the dastardly actions of the aforementioned sepulchre's inhabitant, a notorious Trotskyist wrecker, splitter, and underestimator of the peasantry.

See also Kos.

Christmas Morning Moon

  Christmas Morning Moon 
  Originally uploaded by Kathryn Cramer.

The kids were up early to see what Santa left for them, so we grownups, who thought it best to supervise, got to see the Christmas Morning Moon.

Meanwhile, the four foot deep pile of presents has been opened, many things that came without batteries have ahd their batteries inserted, and a vast meal is in preparation. Who knew that dogs liked turnip peelings?)

Meawhile, the pair of 3-year-olds have been running around together being very cute.

Elizabeth discovers Victoria's Secret.

  Elizabeth discovers Victoria's Secret. 
  Originally uploaded by Kathryn Cramer.

Elizabeth discovers an entire store full of things that are pink. Meanwhile Peter tries to flee in terror. "Let's get out of here! Can we please leave?" he says over and over.

I contemplate the purchase of something that reminds me of a scene from The Graduate, but think better of it. And then there is that rack of uncomfortable-looking push-up bras: I think what I have is fine where it is and doesn't need to be uplifted. So I pass on those, too. Besides, shopping with children is not a great time to try on bras.

Christmas shopping

  Christmas shopping 
  Originally uploaded by Kathryn Cramer.

Hold on tight! Retail shopping ahead!

What is this nonsense about us liberals being against Christmas? Christmas is all about spending liberally, which is why I put my shopping off until the last minute.

And furthermore, my daughter actually pointed out the Baby Jesus in a book in Barnes & Noble to another shopper and convinced the woman to buy some children's condensed edition of the Bible. (She's had a better religious education than I thought.)

A Great Press Photo

CowboyBush.jpgThis is my favorite press photo of Bush in quite a while. It sums up a whole lot about what is wrong with this administration, the whole not-too-bright fantasy of cowboy dominion: that every white guy with a gun and an American accent paid by an American company riding off to do whatever is A OK; that the oil industry should have free reign in America's wide-open spaces, and everywhere else, for that matter; that if wire tapping's OK in a Hollywood movie, it's OK for the NSA; that our war in Iraq is faith-based and that what the administration needs to win the war is for us all to just believe.

With apologies to J. M. Barrie:

"Do you believe?" he cried.

The troops and civilian contractors sat up in bed almost briskly to listen to their fate.

They fancied they heard answers in the affirmative, and then again they weren't sure.

"What do you think?" they asked Bush.

"If you believe," he shouted to the American people, "clap your hands; don't let the troops die."

Many clapped.

Some didn't.

The actual news story the images illustrates is: Secret bugging vital to war on terror, Bush says. The real photo-caption reads:

Secretive service: President Bush admits the clandestine wire taps during his radio address. Photo: Manuel Balce Ceneta

(In fairness to the President, I should say that I think the cowboy art has been in the Whitehouse for a while.)

Bad Internet Day

Typepad was down for 14 hours, showing only a days-old version of my blog. Meanwhile, Panix had some maintenance issues of their own and parts of my email were stalled as well. (Oh, and my wireless mouse seems to have died this morning, too. It's under warranty, but still.)

Why was it that said that the first rule of technology is that Computers Don't Work? (Kevin, help me out here. Is that just a NYRSF house epigram?)

One of Those Days.

Winning Hearts & Minds for Dummies

First, watch the video: Security contractors, or maybe US troops, in Iraq have a problem. Kids are throwing rocks at their cars. We do not know what company the security contractors work for, or whether they are actually the troops rather than the private sector.

Now, as I mom, I'm on the front lines of a lot bad behavior on the part of kids. Whipping out a machine gun is not one of my options; in this case, the security contractors have been told not to shoot children, and this restriction seems to really bug them. If I were to talk like these guys do on this video, I would be in very deep trouble. We parents are required to have a wide variety of solutions to draw upon.

An observation: The competing Primate Threat Displays really were not very productive. The boys are learning to act badly from the soldiers.

Can we help these beleaguered contractors/troops learn a better way to interact with errant children? A couple of suggestions, right off the bat. I gather the old-fashioned tactic of throwing candy is out now, so here are some other suggestions:

  1. take their pictures
  2. ask them nicely not to throw rocks, explaining that it damages your car
  3. smile & wave
  4. ignore them

Other suggestions? Many parents out there reading this have children who have behaved at least as badly as the kids in this video. What could these guys have done differently?

Sone say that these guys are just complaining, but the crux of the issue seems to me not whether they're complaining or not, or whether they're contractors or regualr troops, but whether they are serious or joking. My personal reading of the video is that they would be happy to shoot the kids given authorzation.

Those are my tax dollars at work, thank you very much. I don't care who these guys work for. Bring 'em home. They don't belong there.

N4610 Lineup

Here is a batch of photos from the Zimbabwe group arrested on their way to allegedly perform a coup in Equatorial Guinea back in March of last year. What I want to know from anyone who can help is attaching names to faces. In particular, I want to know which one is Raymond Stanley Archer. Click on the thumbnails for bigger pictures and use the Flickr comments system for giving me IDs. Thanks.

Thatcher's Would-be Coup to be a TV Drama

Ar00I would really enjoy receiving a videotape of the BBC's Mark Thatcher 'coup' drama when it comes out:

Sir Mark Thatcher's role in last year's attempted coup in Equatorial Guinea will be explored in a BBC Two drama. Written by satirist John Fortune, Coup! stars Cold Feet actor Robert Bathurst as Sir Mark and forms part of BBC Two's winter and spring schedule for 2006.

Meanwhile, the Independent reports that the real Thatcher family drama is not going so well:

Carol Thatcher yesterday revealed that her mother, Baroness Thatcher, the former prime minister, is suffering from a deteriorating memory that has wiped out the present, while sharpening her recall of wartime events.

In an frank insight into the Thatcher family, Carol - who recently chewed kangaroo testicles on the way to being crowned Queen of the Jungle in the game show I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here! - also launched a bitter attack on her disgraced businessman brother, Mark, blaming his escapades for aggravating their mother's decline.

(This quote gives me a bit of dejavu. What's with the testicle eating theme, anyway?)

And further, Mark Thatcher and his wife Diane are getting a divorce.

SIR Mark Thatcher and his wife Diane announced yesterday they are to divorce on the grounds of an "irretrievable breakdown".

The couple cited a "difficult year" in which Sir Mark was convicted of violating South Africa's anti-mercenary laws by unwittingly helping to bankroll a coup plot in Equatorial Guinea.

Just Sitting there in a Hanger outside Bucharest

BucharestbaneasaIt seems that one of the planes on Operation Firedumps's list of planes that need to be seized under authority of the UN Security Council's sanctions committee is sitting in a hangar in Romania at Bucharest/Banacea air field (44.417, 26.1).

The Yorkshire Ranter explains:

In past posts on TYR, we've often mentioned a BAC-111 aircraft registered 3C-QRF, serial number 61. This plane belongs to the curious Jetline International of Sharjah, who we've discussed quite a bit. lists 3C-QRF as operated by Jetline for San Air General Trading, Richard Chichakli's firm, which is now on the UN sanctions blacklist regarding Liberia. Now, unusually, we also know where 3C-QRF is: it's in storage at Baneasa airfield on the edge of Bucharest.

Action to be taken: Contact the Romanian government and ask that the plane be seized. Alex's got the details.

Consultants Advisory Group™ (CAG): A Security Company Born Every Minute?

Following the New Orleans disaster, a lot of us were wondering where all that money for "homeland security" went, since not much securing of the homeland seems to have taken place. I think I'm beginning to understand.

Consutants Advisory Group pageHave a look at this:

Consultants Advisory Group (CAG) specializes in:

  • Anti-Terrorism & Terrorism Incident Response;
  • Special Agency Services and Representation;
  • Strategic Intelligence Management;
  • High Risk Operations Management;
  • Risk & Crisis Management;
  • Business Continuity Management (BCM);
  • Emergency & Disaster Management;
  • NFPA 1600 2004 Compliance Audits.

CAG provides services under North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) classifications:

541611    General Management Consulting Services
541618    Other Management Consulting Services
561210    Facilities Support Services

CAG consistently delivers creative and enduring total business solutions.  CAG enjoys the highest possible credit rating and is capable of servicing classified contracts.

So how long has this venerable company, boasting of the highest possible credit rating and the capability of servicing classified contracts been around?  I'll have you know, its been around an entire week!

Though they don't give their address on their web site, a whois lookup provides some interesting information: Whois lookup

So are these guys with the great credit rating and the security clearances really sharing a P O Box with any number of phishing schemes and other dubious businesses in EmeryVille, California? Or do they just have really bad taste in domain registration privacy services? (For you Panix customers, the registering ISP is Melbourne IT, the company that approved the Panix domain hijacking. As a Panix customer who lost a couple of days of email over that, I have to wonder why Melbourne IT is still in business.)

EmeryvilleSo, is CAG really located in glamorous EmeryVille? Or not? (I suppose it would be wretched excess to mention that the site graphics are clip art.)

How many more of these dubious security companies are there, anyway?

UPDATE: I have had a correspondence with a representative from CAG who has the affect of someone with a background in sales. CAG Internacional, S.A. is a Panama City, Republic of Panama registered corporation and is staffed exclusively with former military and "agency" personnel. It has no public address ostensibly because it is "a virtual company, a model developed by the Harvard Business School." CAG wishes to be perceived as a "management consulting" company, not a security or private military company. They claim to be receiving no moneys from US government sources:

CAG is not a recipient of any US public funds so we are entitled to privacy as anyone else is.  How could our work be against the best interest of the United States?

Though I had made no mention of Top Cat in our exchange, my CAG correspondent volunteered that CAG is not selling Top Cat Marine Security's predator style Cobra boats to Haiti, but only recommending their purchase.

As far as I know, neither Top Cat nor CAG are registered with or licensed by the Department of State to export items covered the US Munitions list, as the boats in question are. I was not informed who the intended export broker was to be.

The subject of Top Cat having been raised, I asked two of my unanswered questions to which I thought my correspondent might know the answer: Who are the executives of Top Cat? Who owns it? My CAG correspondent replied:

That is not public information.

I find it extremely interesting that there seems to be a whole emergent little industry of companies like Top Cat and CAG for whom the very concept of transparency is an abomination.

A relevant quote from another topic:

At the least, a dummy company ought to create the appearance of activity, with an office and a valid mailing address, he said. "A cover that falls apart on first inspection isn't very good. What you want is a cover that actually holds up . . . and this one certainly doesn't."

More Bad News about Standardized Testing, Redux

MeasincFrom Dollars & Sense in 2002:

But despite their sales successes, some of these start-ups—like their larger competitors—have had serious problems with quality control. Measurement Inc., a Florida-based test scoring company, guaranteed a 99% accuracy rate for scoring the essays that are now common on state achievement tests. Suspicious of that claim, Boston College’s Haney analyzed the scoring protocol and says the accuracy rate is closer to 70%, a fact that the company ultimately acknowledged.

From the Associated Press today: Firm's error causes hundreds to fail graduation test

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- A testing company faces a fine after it mistakenly failed hundreds of students on Ohio's new graduation test, state education officials said Monday.

Measurement Inc. graded 1,599 tests and failed 890 students after accidentally converting raw test data to passing and failing grades, the state Education Department said.

The error was made on tests given last summer to students entering their junior and senior years, as well as students who were in 12th grade last year but haven't graduated.

Whether the test was the only thing keeping any students from graduating -- and whether anyone might have wrongly been sent back to school this fall -- wasn't immediately clear.

You tax dollars at work!

Drying Google Earth in the Microwave, or Do the Bad Guys Really Have an Eye in the Sky?

There have been a couple of odd news articles about Google Earth recently.  From CNET, Innovations battle natural calamities discusses using Google Earth with natural disasters. Amusingly enough,  the reporter from CNET doesn't seem to  be aware that Google Earth has already been used to help with natural disasters. (See my Katrina, Pakistan Earthquake, and Google Earth archives.)

And then there's the somewhat loopy story from The Register, Al-Qaeda probes enemy on Google Earth. My first reaction was, well, duh. Then I read the actual story. It is entirely based on a multiply forwarded email:

It's preceded by the following which gives some cause for suspicion:

It [the email] was forwarded by a reader in the Navy, Mike, who in turn got it from a friend of his in the Marines. You may have seen it making the rounds already. The review of the weapons are one recently returned Marine's opinion [name removed to protect his identity] and does not necessarily mean a consensus has formed. If you scroll to the end you'll also see an assessment of our enemy's capability as well as those of our allies.

However, the email is plausible enough.

I'm not a journalist, but I have to ask: What kind of journalism is that?  This seems more like the kind of thing one checks out on Snopes, not runs as an article. The key claim is this:

5) Bad guy technology: Simple yet effective. Most communication is by cell and satellite phones, and also by email on laptops. They use handheld GPS units for navigation and Google earth for overhead views of our positions. Their weapons are good, if not fancy, and prevalent. Their explosives and bomb technology is TOP OF THE LINE. Night vision is rare. They are very careless with their equipment and the captured GPS units and laptops are treasure troves of Intel when captured.

And the reporter from CNET was not the only one to pick it up. PCPRO did it too.  Here seems to be the entire piece, but again, no author is given, and it may just be a presentation of the circulating email.

Eye in the Sky by Philip K. DickGoogling "and Google earth for overhead views of our positions" produces 272 results, and that cuts out some which are formatted a little differently. In the majority of its appearances, it is presented as fact. And it's all the rage on the rightwing blogs where it is frequently referred to as "the truth" or as "intel," though it even appears in a diary at Daily Kos.

In only one instance in my quick skim through the Google hits did I see someone question the veracity. Someone pointed out that Google Earth images are not real-time and so it is actually impossible for Google Earth to show Al Qaeda "our positions" unless we've been holding those positions for an awfully long time, as seems to be the case with those secret CIA jails. I saw a Google Earth picture of one of those in The Washington Post, I think.

Actually doing what is described would involve making Google overlays out of current satellite images or aerial photos, which would either involve major purchases that no one would approve from the companies or governments holding the satellite imagery, or else using planes to take aerial photographs—and then the big story would not be that Google Earth was used by Al Qaeda, but that Al Qaeda had recognizance planes up in the sky taking pictures of our positions.  Google Earth just makes viewing the pictures a little easier once you've got them; despite the Washington Post's claim to the contrary, it is not an omniscient Eye in the Sky.

I had a look at how the phrase fared on Blogpulse:


What happened right before our phrase makes it onto the chart? Hint: That was the peak of the buzz surrounding the CIA's secret jails. So, um, who are we really, and what are these positions that people shouldn't be looking at? Hmm?

Now Google Earth is a very useful tool, and it would stand to reason that underground organizations would find it just as useful as I do. What I don't understand is why real journalists who are paid to do this sort of thing can't be bothered to get some real evidence before putting this claim in their articles. Perhaps they might also want to write about the grandmother of a friend of my friend who was in a bit of a hurry and so tried to dry her poodle in the microwave . . . And did you know that Al Qaeda is now using these exploding poodles in Iraq?

My suspicion is that what we have here is a piece of high-grade astroturf, which is to say an honest-to-God work of propaganda. (I thought they weren't supposed to write propaganda for the domestic market. I thought that was supposed to be illegal.)

MEANWHILE, Wired reports that the CDC is looking into using computer gaming as a way to better train people how to respond in case of an avian flu pandemic. (Via Declan Butler.)

P.S.: The book is by Philip K. Dick, copyright 1957. So the concept of the Eye in the Sky  isn't merely phildickian. It's Phil Dick's.

Magnetic Poetry on Flickr

  Originally uploaded by Greg's Team.

I suppose I should have thought to look for it before. I just discovered the magnetic poetry on Flickr.

My goodness.

Our own magnetic poetry, generated at Sarah Smith's house in Brookline in the big blizzard of February of 2003, is collected here, in a post entitled Great Minds Sink Ships, though not typeset in the original magnets.

US Isolationism & Avian Flu

From yesterday's New York Times editorial, The Flu Moat:

Congress is expected to vote next week on a bill that would dedicate $7.1 billion to fight avian flu. It's good that the Bush administration, which wrote the proposal, is taking this disease seriously. What's bad is that the strategy seems to be to build a moat around America.

A vast majority of the money would go to the development and administration of a flu vaccine. That is necessary. But since there is no guarantee that an effective vaccine will be ready, much less ready in necessary quantities, if a pandemic strikes, it should not be the only line of defense.

The best hope of stopping a pandemic, or at least buying time to respond, is to improve surveillance and health practices in East Africa and Asia, where one would probably begin. But the bill would spend only $251 million overseas, and that includes money to evacuate Americans. Leaving aside the moral implications of doing very little for poor countries, this bill is dangerous for Americans' health.

(Via Declan Butler.)

The Nobel Peace Prize Is Bully Pulpit

AP: ElBaradei accepts Nobel prize: Nobel laureate says world must abandon nuclear weapons

OSLO, Norway (AP) -- Fifteen years after the end of the Cold War, the risk of nuclear disaster is as great as ever with terrorists zealously pursuing atomic weapons, chief U.N. nuclear inspector Mohamed ElBaradei said Saturday in accepting the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize.

ElBaradei and the International Atomic Energy Agency he leads received the coveted award in the Norwegian capital for their efforts to control the spread of nuclear weapons -- a job ElBaradei nearly lost because of a dispute with the United States over Iran and Iraq.

"We are in a race against time," the 63-year-old Egyptian said about efforts to keep nuclear weapons away from terrorists. "In four years, we have completed perhaps 50 percent of the work. But this is not fast enough."


Old Farm Hill Park topo map

  Old Farm Hill Park topo map 
  Originally uploaded by Kathryn Cramer.

There is the topo map of Old Farm Hill Park, an undeveloped park in my neigherborhood, superimposed on the Google Earth (Mac) satellie view. Terrain setting is 2, so I could see if the countours of the land approximated the contours of GE's terrain.

Interestingly, from this angle, the street isn't quite matching as well as the contours are. The original map is very large. The electronic image I used is from a digital photo I took after spreading it out on my picnic table. When photographed, the topo map was not perfectly flat since its had a few adventures kicking around the house, so there is some distortion.

Who Is that Somber Man in the Clown Suit?

There's a delightful story from the AP this morning, Spies under the big top?, concerning a lawsuit by PETA against the owners of the Ringling Brothers for using ex-CIA agent to spy on them. I thought this was a pretty weird news story all around. I mean, why wouldn't Ringling Bros. use whatever security firm they use worldwide to deal with a few scary cat ladies? (I'm presuming that aging 007s aren't their usual crew, but then I don't get to go the circus much.)

I googled around about it. Wow. Is the truth ever stranger than fiction. Salon ran a two-part series in 2001 by Jeff Stein. Part 1, The Greatest Vendetta on Earth:

Why would the head of Ringling Bros.-Barnum & Bailey hire a former top CIA honcho to torment a hapless freelance writer for eight years?

And Part 2, Send in the clowns. And if that weren't over-the-top enough, a year later there was an interesting article in the Columbia Journalism Review: Investigations: The scary circus:

Strange things started happening to Jeff Stein's phone late last summer. Right after he'd finish with a call the phone would ring again, but there'd be nobody there. There were odd clicks on the other end of the line, as if someone were listening in and then hanging up. He'd call for his voice mail and get redirected to another number. He'd come home to find a number on his caller ID that would turn out to be disconnected. Stein called a friend at the phone company and described the situation. "Sounds to me like you're tapped," confided his friend.

At the time, Stein, a longtime investigative reporter in Washington who has covered the intelligence community for such publications as GQ and Talk, had just completed a two-part, 9,000-word story involving former spies, break-ins, subterfuge, wiretaps - and that fine pillar of family entertainment, the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus. His subsequent phone troubles, he thinks, are not unrelated.

Two weeks ago, there was a story by Washington Post reporter Richard Leiby, giving a further update on the lawsuit by the writer, Jan Pottker, upon whom the spooks-for hire were initially sicced: Send In The Clowns:

It was like something out of “The Truman Show,” says Pottker, a petite, soft-featured woman of 57. “I’ll never get the years back that they were in my life.” Then, her voice rises in anger: “They had no right to interfere with my life.”
. . .
Claiming invasion of privacy, fraud and infliction of mental distress, Pottker and Fishel seek more than $60 million in actual and punitive damages.

(See also CBS News in 2003.)

Killerklowns05Now that I've thought my quota of impossible things, I think I'll have breakfast. Somebody like Neil Gaiman should do a comic book of this whole misadventure.

Snow Day: no school

  Snow Day: no school 
  Originally uploaded by Kathryn Cramer.

This was the scene from our deck this morning. 

A little while ago, I tried to take the kids out for pizza. Unfortunately, it had snowed to much since the last time I'd shovelled for us to get out. So I called out for pizza instead.

Snowstorm.jpgSure it's pretty. But around this time of year I begin to wonder why I don't live somewhere like Brisbane.