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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.

Beta of Google Earth for Mac Out

Via Declan Butler, The Macintosh Beta version of Google Earth is out. It works, but seems to lack the built in browser of the Windows verision though a reviewer says, "The interface is identical to the Windows version." A little while after I started using it, my mouse began to lag and I needed to restart the computer. But that may have been coincidence;  I had a lot of other applications open.

See also Ogle Earth.

UPDATE: The built-in browser is there. The default preferences are just set a little differnt on t he Mac Beta.

Robert Sheckley has died

Both Cory Doctorow at BoingBoing and Teresa Nielsen Hayden at Making Light are reporting that the great science fiction humorist Robert Sheckley has died. He was one of my husband David Hartwell's authors, and I'd tagged along for several pleasant dinners with him. It's really too bad. He was 77, but had recently still been doing pretty good work. His stories appeared in several of our recent Year's Best anotholgies. I'm very sorry to hear of his passing.

Operation Firedump

Operation Firedump, launched today, is a blog-based effort to monitor enforcement of UN sanctions against Viktor Bout's various aviation companies. Its initial manifesto, as penned by the Yorkshire Ranter, is as follows:

Earlier this week, the US Department of the Treasury's order to freeze the assets of a variety of Viktor Bout companies was extended to the entire world by the UN Security Council's sanctions committee. All assets belonging to the persons and organisations named in this list are now subject to confiscation anywhere in the world.

The list is, certainly, a little out of date. Several of the operating companies listed have ceased activity, and there is no mention of Phoenix Aviation, Jet Line International, or Aerocom among others. (The delay between the US Treasury's action and this action is apparently due to the time it took the Office of Foreign Assets Control to pass on documents to the UN, that and Russian objections to the inclusion of Viktor's brother, Sergei, founder of Air Bas and CET Aviation.) However, a non-trivial number of aircraft continue to fly in the name of firms named by the UN.

This leaves two lines of action: one, to identify the newer firms, and two, to make the UN blacklist a reality. It's time to find these aircraft and demand their seizure. All bloggers are invited to mirror this and help land them on the fire dump, which is where most of these planes will end up given their age and general condition.

The list is currently as follows, correct as of today:

  1. UN-76497, Ilyushin 76-D. Serial number 43402039. This is probably the aircraft referred to in the UN list with MoldTransavia, and is now with GST Aero, repeatedly referred to in UNSC Expert Panel reports. It was also involved in the events detailed here. The most recent photo is here.


  1. EL-AHO, Ilyushin 18D. Serial number 183006205.
  2. EL-ASC, Antonov 12BP. Serial number 3340909.
  3. EL-ASJ, Antonov 12BP. Serial number 402112 (doubtful)
  4. EL-AHT, Antonov 26A.  Serial number 6004 (doubtful)
  5. EL-ALC, Antonov 26A.  Serial number 87307104.
  6. EL-ALT, Antonov 26A.  Serial number 17311805.

No recent photos available.


  1. UN-42428, Yakovlev 42D. Serial number 45204223046. Recent photo here. (Leased to Sudan Airways, believed operating to Iraq)
  2. UN-75002, Ilyushin 18D. Serial number 185008603. Recent photo here.
  3. UN-75003, Ilyushin 18D. Serial number 184006903. Recent photo here.
  4. UN-75004, Ilyushin 18D. Serial number 186009202. Not very recent photo here.
  5. UN-75005, Ilyushin 18D. Serial number 187010204. Recent photo here. UN-26582, Antonov 26B.  Serial number 47313504. No photo since 2002. (Leased to Ariana Afghan Airlines)


  1. 3C-KKO, Antonov 12BP. Serial number 1901706 (No photos available)


  1. C5-GNM, Ilyushin 62M. Serial number 3036142. Recent photo here.


  1. 3C-QRF, BAC-111. Serial number 61. Not very recent photo here. (Operated for SAGT, owned Jetline International)


  1. UN-B7201, Boeing 727. Serial number  22045. Recent photo here.
  2. UN-B2707, Boeing 727F. Serial number 21861. No photos yet.
  3. UN-B****, Boeing 727. Serial number  22046. Recent photo here.

Notes: Most of the Santa Cruz aircraft are probably beyond finding, but even negative information is worth having. Air Bas has largely been closed down at least as aircraf t registration is concerned - 3C-KKO is the last known active aircraft in their name. 727 no. 22046 was last seen undergoing considerable engineering work and may not look much like its photo.

What you can do:

  • Mirror this post. 
  • If and when a plane is located, tell the world.
  • Demand its confiscation - try the civil aviation authority of the country in question. Post what you said, and the contact for the person you said it to.  Encourage others to do so.

Spread the love.

Pentagon News of the Weird

From the San Jose Mercury News: Sources: Rumsfeld will resign in '06; rumors swirl about Lieberman

WASHINGTON - White House officials are telling associates they expect Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld to quit early next year, once a new government is formed in Iraq, sources said Wednesday.

Rumsfeld's deputy, Gordon England, is the inside contender to replace him, but there's also speculation that Sen. Joe Lieberman - a Democrat who ran against Bush-Cheney in the 2000 election - might become top official at the Pentagon.

That's not as farfetched as it might first appear.

On the one hand, it's way past time Rumsfeld stepped down. But Lieberman? Lieberman? How icky! I mean, that's just gross.

See also The Village Voice.

Is the Underwriting Industry Lobbying for a New War on Pirates?

I received via email from Carlos Ortiz an interesting December 8th article on marine security, "Counting the costs of seaborne security" by  Alex Pinto, director of CTC Marine and Risk Consultancy, Singapore. The article was distributed via Lloyds List. It has one really fascinating bit:

As one final observation, it is worth pointing out that the move by underwriters to make piracy a war rather than marine peril may have some unintended consequences. When a vessel is missing, there will probably be uncertainty as to which policy and which underwriter is liable. If this causes any delay, it will make recovery that much more difficult. It might also complicate matters when a vessel goes missing in relatively calm waters.

Do tell. Is the underwriting industry pushing for a War on Pirates? Really? What is the proposed Theater for this war? Somalia, maybe?

And if there is a War on Pirates, who is going to show up to fight it? Who are the guys in the White Hats supposed to be? Surely not the US Marine Corps? That would be stupid and seems highly unlikely because it is the habit of the US military to hunt the insurgents back to their bases and that would involve the US military going into Somalia. And in the background of the Top Cat investigation, the possiblity of a planned Black Hawk Down reenactment has been pretty thoroughly debunked. So it's not the Marines.

Then who? It wouldn't be . . . no, it couldn't be . . .  not Top Cat?

If that weren't so dangerous an improbability, it would be really funny.

But then again, Maryann Johnson, Top Cat VP, claims that Peter Casini is not the President of his company and no longer owns the company and that the company is owned by "investors" and that there are "over 50" of them.  But the underwriting industry and the shipping industry wouldn't be credulous enough to have bought Top Cat, would they? Underwriters are supposed to be able to do math and assess risks.

Perhaps someone has been told Top Cat's really a CIA front company? It ain't so.

So, tell us. Are we going to have a real war? Or a faux one?

(Um, did some underwriters association answer their Nigerian spam?)

UPDATE 12/13: Where did the idea for conceiving of the current pirate situation as a war come from? It seems to originate with a report written by Aegis Defense Services:

On August 1, 2005, the foreign ministers of the three littoral states of Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore met to discuss maritime safety and security in the Malacca Straits. They concluded their talks with a stronger commitment to addressing comprehensively the issue of maritime security, including the threats of piracy, armed robbery and terrorism. The meeting marked the recognition by the littoral states that much remains to be done in terms of improving the safety and security of the Malacca Straits.

The situation became all the more urgent following the recent decision by Lloyd's Market Association's Joint War Committee to declare the Malacca Straits an area that is in jeopardy of "war, strikes, terrorism and related perils." The decision to add the Straits of Malacca to the Committee's list of high-risk areas was taken following recommendations by the private defense consultants, Aegis Defence Services, who are said to have carried out risk assessments on the area. Others on the list are countries such as Iraq, Somalia and Lebanon. Although the Committee has a purely advisory role, the result of this declaration could be dramatically higher insurance costs for the many thousands of ships that transit the Straits on an annual basis.

The Aegis report stated that due to the fact that there had been an intensification of the weaponry and techniques used by the pirates in the Straits, they are now largely indistinguishable from terrorists. In addition, it stated that the Straits are a target for terrorism. The report cited a statement by al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in which he spoke about hitting enemy countries through their economies. It also highlighted Jemaah Islamiyah's (J.I.) past interest in the traffic passing through the Straits.

Ship owners seem to have had some objections to the higher premiums they had to pay resulting from the labelling of some areas as "war risk areas." In any case, the world seems smaller every day.  (See also the statement by the The Joint War Committee (JWC), representing the London marine insurance community; and Eaglespeak's commentary last August.)

A few screen shots from that ellusive Aegis employee blog

For those following the scandal surrounding the trophy video and the Aegis employee blog, most of which got taken down, here are a few bloggy screen shots. Click on the thumbnails for viewing. Enjoy!

Aegis's Mr. Spicer has had a few problems with quality control in the past. This passage is from an article by UK journalist Michael Bilton, published a number of years ago in the Sunday Times Magazine concerning Spicer and the Sandline Affair:

The Brigadier was beginning to have serious doubts about the Sandline's military plans. Moreover Singirok's Special Forces Unit were sending him disturbing information from the training camp run by the South Africans. The local troops were treated like raw recruits, being taught the basics likehow to apply camouflage.  The foreigners were firing the heavy weapons, keeping them to themselves,  and it quickly became obvious they would be lead the strike force operation against the rebels.

For two days they refused to undergo training in the camp at Wewak when Bougainville islanders, loyal to the Papuan government, were hired by the South Africans as guides. Singirok's men regarded this as a clear breach of security. But their sense of outrage was fuelled, according to one who gave evidence to the Commission of enquiry, when a senior South African mercenary informed him:  "Don't worry, when we have finished we will eliminate them". The idea that the civilian guides were going to be killed after they had served their purpose appalled him. Singirok was told of their concerns. 

(I don't think the article appears in full text on the web, except possibly in the Time's archives, which you may have to pay to access. It was kicking around on my hard drive from the days of the N4610 scandal that brought down Mark Thatcher.)

And then there's Spicer's Peter McBride problem.

Bipolar Man gets Himself Shot Dead by a Federal Air Marshall

From the New York Times: Air Marshal Shoots Passenger at Miami Airport:

According to a witness, The A.P. said, the man appeared to have been accompanied by a woman who ran after him as he bolted from the plane, shouting that the man was mentally ill.

The passenger, Mary Gardner, said in an interview on WTVJ in Miami that the man had run down the aisle from the back of the plane. "He was frantic, his arms flailing in the air," she said.

Ms. Gardner said he had been trailed by a woman shouting: "My husband! My husband!"

Ms. Gardner, according to an A.P. account of the television interview, said she had heard the woman say her husband was bipolar and had not taken his medication.

UPDATE: It gets worse. From the Orlando Sentinel, Witnesses heard no talk of bomb

Rigoberto Alpizar may have just been scared.

As more details emerged about Wednesday's anxious moments aboard American Airlines Flight 924, it became increasingly apparent that the Maitland man killed by federal air marshals may have been fleeing in panic as he suffered the symptoms of bipolar disorder.

To grieving relatives, two air marshals acted rashly and an innocent man died -- one whom at least seven passengers said they never heard say anything about a bomb.

(Via Working Families Party Man.)

Go Vote for Making Light & Michael Berube

Making Light seems to be a finalist for some award called "The Best of the Top 250 Blogs." Go vote for them. Michael Berube is nominated in the next category down. Vote for him, too.

This award seems to have unusual voting rules as explained by one of the nominees in another category:

Wetwired is nominated for the Best Blog Design on the 2005 Weblog Awards. Please go out and vote for us! Remember you can vote once EVERY 24 hours. This post will remain at the top of wetwired until the polls are closed on December 15th.

So I guess I should encourage you to vote early and OFTEN.

I had a look through the Best Web Design nominees thinking I might learn something. I have to say the experience was pretty disappointing. Mostly they were designs that didn't suck, about half with some major screen-realestate-eating graphics. What I was looking for was interesting solutions to problems. I mostly didn't find them. The two nominees that gave me something to admire were Coming Anarchy, which has a fun but looney neo-Victorian design. Brown Daily Squeal was the only one where the design seem to involve an information-presentation problem solved. I decided to pass on the category.

I don't love my design, but it is carefully engineered to solve a number of problems in the presentation of information.

Top Cat Marine Security Ordered to Cease & Desist

I am told on good authority that the US Department of States Bureau of Arms Control has issued a Cease and Desist order to Top Cat Marine Security on their pirate-fighting contract with Somalia. I have called the Somalia Desk Officer (i. e. Officer for the East African Desk) at the Department of State to ask for confirmation.

I'll let you know when I hear back with confirmation. UPDATE: I'm told I might have to wait a bit for that. FURTHER UPDATE: The Uncooperative Blogger reports he has confirmed the Cease and Desist order.

(See previous posts: Top Cat Has Security Personnel After All . . . or Do They? and Topcat Marine Security: A Very Crowded Office Space, a Shell Corporation, or Just a Scam?)


(So is the New York Post now going to run the headline Pirate Busters Busted?)

EPILOGUE: I suppose it's time I got 'round to sharing Maryann Johnson's letter to me, responding to my intial post. At the time I received it, I was not aware that she is alleged to work for Fox News. Now I read it in a different light. I quote it in its entirely:

Dear Kathryn,

My goodness, what a nasty, angry piece you did on us.  I can only wonder your motivation.  This is a very positive move for the international community and your desire to defame and smear topcat must be motivated by some desire for your own personal gain... I just can't imagine what.

This contract benefits the international community at large.  It is worldwide and will help a country like Somalia regain control of its people and assets.

The articles you quote were written by a reporter who's sole source of information is a convicted felon and disgruntled employee.  Those other businesses you mention, well quite frankly, I don't know who they are or what you were driving at. I understand the media, and I guess you just need a story and if you can't get the facts, well, just make it up.

Maryann Johnson

The places I worked, we did things a little differently. [UPDATE 12/7: I have written to Fox News's attorney to ask for confirmation of her employment there.]

12/13: Anyone know what to make of this? Is it an attempt to use Google AdSense for damage control? Or is it an automated blog aggregator surviving on Google AdSense revenue? I don't know what it is. But it is interesting that the lead lumps together both of Casini's Top Cat companies, implying that some human agency went int the creation of this page.

MEANWHILE: Quiet diplomacy.

The Most Fun You're Likely to Have on the Internet Today, That Is if You Happen to Follow Publishing Scams

From Jim MacDonald over at Making Light:

Today’s happy news is that long-time scammer Martha Ivery (aka Kelly O’Donnell) of Press-Tige Publishing, pleaded guilty to seventeen counts of huggery, muggery, and buggery (aka popery, mopery, and dopery).

Seriously, she pleaded guilty to fifteen counts of mail fraud, one count of credit card fraud, and one count of bankruptcy fraud.

Enjoy the whole thing!

Congo Earthquake, plus GoogleEarth Overlay

I just noticed that CNN is reporting that there was a powerful earthquake in eastern Congo:  East Africa quake buries children. Heres a quake map from the USGS site. I've made a Google Earth Overlay out of the USGS shake map.


And here's a screen shot of the overlay: [UPDATE: Anne Wright redid my overlay for me to make it work properly, and the URL is fixed. Thanks, Anne!-K]


And here's a link to the population density data set from the Central African Regional Program for the Environment:

Top Cat Has Security Personnel After All . . . or Do They?

Peter Casini of Top Cat Marine Security which signed a deal last week with the transitional government of Somalia to help them out with their pirate problem, has continually claimed he has competent security people to back him up, but had thus far refrained from naming them publicly. Mr. Casini's a little inarticulate, so I'll help him out.  All the quoted text is from a Top Cat brochure from last August. So who are these mystery men with the great reputations that got him the Somalia contract?

Here they are (html; pdf):

  • Bachelor Number 1:

    Rocco Procopio is a 20-year veteran of the U.S. Army's Special Forces and has more than 16 years concentrated counterterrorism experience with the Army's Special Forces Operational Detachment Delta. He assisted with writing government standards for conducting Criticality, Threat and Security Vulnerability Assessments with the Defense Threat Reduction Agency. He is recognized as an expert in the field of Critical Infrastructure Protection and has personally conducted more than 100 SVAs on and off shore during his tenure with the government. Procopio directs the international security efforts for a major U.S. oil company and is a member of the Overseas Security Advisory Council. He holds a master's degree in international relations.

  • Bachelor Number 2:

    Col. Bernard J. McCabe (Ret.) has 30 years experience in the U.S. Army. He served in the 82nd Airborne Division as an artilleryman, commanded the Howitzer Battery in the 2nd Squadron, 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment. He served 19 years in the Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta assuming command in June 1994. He relinquished command of 1st SFOD-D in June 1996 and ended his career at the Army Special Warfare Center in 1996. Since his retirement, McCabe has been a security consultant to three major U.S. petroleum corporations and has been retained as a security consultant by several aviation and maritime companies in the United States. He is currently manager of Global Security for the Marathon Oil Corporation. McCabe holds a master's degree from Harvard University at the Naval War College and has taught military history at Francis Marion University in Florence, S.C.

  • Bachelor Number 3: [See 12/31/05 post.]

    Master Chief Thomas J. Parnin has more than 20 years experience with the U.S. Navy. He completed Hull Maintenance Technician "A" school and then reported to Basic Underwater Demolition/Seal Class 114 graduating in 1981. He completed three six-month deployments to the Western Pacific with Underwater Demolition Team 11 and Seal Team Five. Parnin returned to the tactical mobility team where his primary duties included the operation and navigation of high performance open ocean assault boats, combat rubber raiding craft, riverine assault boats, tactical ground mobility vehicles and the conduct of the full spectrum of unconventional warfare operations. Since 2000, he has been serving as Tactical Mobility Advanced Training Department Head specializing in the selection and implementation of the latest technological developments in maritime and land based navigation systems including radar, GPS, electronic chart plotting and visual augmentation systems.

Bernie McCabe, Bachelor Number 2, is the head of Global Security for Marathon Oil and was formerly the US representative for Sandline. I've written a fair amount about Sandline over time, but I've also had correspondence with their attorney Richard Slowe who takes exception to my use of verbs, and I don't have time to take the trouble to watch my language, so here is it's Wikipedia entry:

Sandline International was a private security ('military') company based in London, established in the early 1990s. It was involved in conflicts in Papua New Guinea in 1997 (having a contract with the government under Julius Chan), in 1998 in Sierra Leone (having a contract with illegally ousted President Kabbah) causing the Sandline affair and in Liberia in 2003 (in a rebel attempt to evict the then-president Charles Taylor near the end of the civil war).

Sandline was managed by former British Army Lt Col Tim Spicer. Sandline billed itself as a "Private Military Company" (PMC) and offered military training, "operational support" (equipment and arms procurement and limited direct military activity), intelligence gathering, and public relations services to governments and corporations. While the mass media often referred to Sandline as a mercenary company, the company's founders disputed that characterization.

Tim Spicer recounted his experiences with Sandline in the book An Unorthodox Soldier.

As of April 16, 2004 Sandline International has officially ceased operations.

McCabe has also worked or works for Lifeguard, another security company that is heir to the Executive Outcomes reputation. I don't know whether to phrase that relationship in the past or the present tense. I'm really curious about when McCabe took the job as head of Global Security for Marathon Oil. Why didn't I notice him when looking into the N4610 farce? I certainly would have written about him then if I had.

And regarding Marathon Oil, there is this bit from last night's post on Mountain Runner, Marathon, PETRONAS, and PexCo Oil and Somalia:

Reporting from Oil and Gas Investor indicates Marathon Oil, of Texas, and possibly other firms have taken over the Conoco claims, or at least is moving in on them, and bumping yet another company to boot.

Oh, by the way, can anyone fill in the photo captions for these pictures of what I gather is the celebrator dinner following the signing of the contract for Top Cat's Somalia deal?


Who is the guy on the far right in the tie who looks like Robert Redford? Who are the women standing? Anyone know? HERE is a better view of the group shot. [UPDATE: I'm told that the Redford-look-alike is Maryann Johnson's husband who works for Fox News; I'm told that the brunette is Top Cat VP Maryann Johnson who also works for Fox. I'd really like a name for the husband, since Fox is so high on Top Cat and outraged about Somali piracy, and cut-and-run Democrats, for that matter.]

Now, I don't want to demonize Sandline. It is a particular kind of company in a particular kind of industry and its people behave in specific ways. And so I think I should tell you a little more about my Sandline adventure.

Michael Grunberg of Sandline tried to get me to change something I'd written about the company, and I didn't cooperate, and so he had Sandline's attorney's get in touch with me. And they threatened to sue and so I negotiated. We arrived at a mutually acceptable wording, and everyone went away happy.

I thought Grunberg was an extremely vain pedant until I found out later why he cared what some woman in Pleasantville said about him on her blog. A guy named Pasquale John DiPofi, who had been trying to claim money owed Executive Outcomes, was trying to blackmail Grunberg into backing down on Sandline collecting on millions of dollars. DiPofi was at the time a Vice President at the private military firm Northbridge. Judging from the newspaper accounts, DiPofi's tactics were straight out of The Godfather.

I thought, how interesting, the mafia is trying to muscle out f*ing Sandline! Amazing. So what did Grunberg do about DiPofi? Did he have him bumped off? Kneecapped? No. Grunberg called the cops and had DiPofi arrested. Just what I would have done.

Returning to the subject of Top Cat, in the comment section of my previous Top Cat Post, someone calling himself "Subject Matter Expert" wrote the following:

I have a feeling your report could stir up quite a commotion in the private military sector; therefore, unless you've worked for such private firms and as to not endanger yourself (or your family), do not make such accusations or reports on such a private sector company.

Now, this guy wrote in from his desk at work from a small company in the Homeland Security Industry. He might as well have left me a business card. I'm not sure what his area of expertise is, but it certainly isn't Internet Security. Several very heavy dudes from real private military firms wrote in to reassure me that people in their industry don't behave like that. And in fact I know that. And so I infer that someone from DiPofi's industry has penetrated the Homeland Security market.

Then there's that person who wrote to me under the alias "patricia kennedy" whose letter I quoted in my previous Top Cat post. I didn't quote the whole thing. "She" expressed concern for my family and also suggested that I might wish to consider moving out of Pleasantville. Also number of people formerly associated with Casini have written to me to support my efforts, and there is a continuing theme to these letters: that they can't come forward  to tell their stories in public because they are concerned for their personal safety and the wellbeing of their families.

So why is it that when I write about Blackwater going into New Orleans, I get some outraged and insulting letters as well as intelligent correspondence from people in Blackwater's employ. And when I write about a washed up boat company masquerading as a private military firm, I get this? Just what does Mr. Casini bring to the table that the highly qualified gentlemen listed above don't have for themselves?

Perhaps Top Cat is having a little trouble adjusting to the corporate culture of its new industry.
Or perhaps it doesn't have an industry.

The brochure is real enough. But it is awfully hard to understand why a man like McCabe would have anything to do with a man like Casini.

UPDATE: I'm becoming increasingly convinced that Top Cat is a fraud from top to bottom. I have emailed a copy of the seminar brochure to Richard Slowe. I have also emailed media relations at Marathon Oil.

UPDATE, December 6th: I heard back from Richard Slowe this morning. It appears that the "Bernie McCabe" associated with Casini and Top Cat may not be who he claims. I'm also told that this "McCabe" is very insistent that he not be photographed.

Previously, I had suggested that Jim Kouri, who called Top Cat "one of the world's foremost private security agencies offering clients law enforcement, counterterrorism and marine combat specialists" was either a shill or an idiot. Now I understand that there is a third possibility: that Koui paid good money for Top Cat's security seminars; that he is a satisfied customer, i. e. a mark. Jim, boy, you've been had.

(Nor does he have guys from the original Black Hawk Down ready to go into Somalia and restore order to its seas. I checked.)

A QUESTION FOR CARNIVAL: Does you cruise lines have any contracts with Top Cat Marine Security?

UPDATE 12/6: See my new post Top Cat Marine Security Ordered to Cease & Desist.

UPDATE 12/9: I have made further inquiries into the matter of McCabe's connection with Top Cat. Despite rumours which seemed to emanate from Top Cat's camp that McCabe was in some way centrally involved with some portions of Top Cat's operations, it seems that McCabe has had no involvement with the management or actual operation of Top Cat Marine Security.

I'm told that information about Top Cat's actual management team would be available via the Freedom of Information Act by obtaining the paperwork they would be required to file with the US Government before signing an agreement with the transitional governemnt of Somalia. But I am also under the impression, perhaps mistaken, that no paperwork was filed. Filing for copies of non-existant paperwork would not be especially illuminating.

Someone who isn't me and has some actual financial stake in all this might want to blow $129 on this report from "Manta - Your Business Intelligence Authority."

UPDATE 12/21/05: Jarry Parnin explains he was only briefly involved with Top Cat, but identifies their management team, including naming McCabe.

Somalia & Our Two Party System: "Cut Run" vs. "Finish What We Started"? Or, Bush's Third War

Over the past couple of weeks, the meme of the "Cut & Run" Democrats vs. the "Finish What We Started" Republicans has been a big Republican talking point.

And here's a nice graph from Blogpulse showing how blogs ingested the message:


One of the key examples used in this rhetoric is the US pullout of Somalia in 1993. And there's some very weird stuff going on involving Somalia just now.

Here's Rush Linbaugh a couple of days ago:

Remember the history of bin Laden. Bin Laden only went to places that were stateless. He went to Somalia, a bunch of warlords, he could control them. Somalia. Afghanistan. All stateless. Taliban took over in Afghanistan. Al-Qaeda was running Somalia. Still may be.

Is the "Finish What We Started" wing of the Republican party considering going back into Somalia to take on Al Qaeda and the pirates? Mogadishu is the locus of the psychogeography of their rhetoric, after all. What a venue it would be for demonstrating that our president is Man Enough to finish what the Democrats couldn't.

SO, are we headed for Bush's third war?

The Emergence of Science Blogging

Declan ButlerDeclan Butler has written a fine article in Nature about blogs by scientists: Science in the web age: Joint efforts

When Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web in 1989, he saw it as a collaborative workspace for his fellow scientists at CERN, the European particle-physics lab near Geneva, and beyond. His creation went on to surpass his prediction that "the usefulness of the scheme would in turn encourage its increased use". But in the rush to develop the web as a flexible way to find information, the original concept of users interacting in real time was largely forgotten. Fifteen years later, the web seems to be returning to its roots.  . . .

Outside academia, blogs are taking off in a big way. A study published in October by the Guidewire Group, a research firm in new media, says that 90% of marketing communication companies have either launched, or intend to launch, internal blogs. There are now some 20 million blogs, permeating almost every sector of society. But science is a glaring exception, and today there are still only a few dozen scientific bloggers.

Scientists who blog see their activities as a useful adjunct to formal journals, not a replacement. "The standard scientific paper is irreplaceable as a fixed, archivable document that defines a checkpoint in a body of work, but it's static, it's very limited," says Paul Myers, a biologist at the University of Minnesota, who blogs at Pharyngula.

"Put a description of your paper on a weblog, though, and something very different happens," says Myers. "People who are very far afield from your usual circle start thinking about the subject. They bring up interesting perspectives." By sharing ideas online, you get feedback and new research ideas, he says.

A senior US epidemiologist who blogs once or twice a day under the pseudonym 'Revere' on his public-health blog Effect Measure, has attracted a diverse readership. "About 1,500 people visit each day," he says. "If someone told me that I could show up at a lecture hall every day and deliver a short opinion, and that 1,500 people would show up to hear me, I'd be pretty satisfied — 1,500 is twice the subscription of many specialty journals."

But for most scientists and academics, blogs and wikis remain unattractive distractions from their real work. Many consider them an online version of coffee-room chatter, background noise that goes against the very ethos of heavily filtered scholarly information.

This post has been appreciated on a number of science blogs: Pharangula, Scitech Library Question, Nodalpoint, Aetiology, and Effect Measure.

On the subject of science blogging, here's what I want for Christmas: I want Wolfram Research to arrive at an arrangement with SixApart to have some version of WebMathematica run inside blogging software. I've told both companies. I have no idea if anything will come of this Christmas wish. But I think the possibility of having the math out there in a hands-on kind of way would give a big boost to scientific blogging.

As "merciless" explains in the comment section of Effect Measure,

One reason the scientific, mathematical, and engineering community has yet to embrace the internet is because it is still very difficult to type and disseminate math and scientific notation. Most people just have a querty keyboard and one or two scientific typesetting programs, which may nor may not translate well onto another person's computer.

The best solution right now is to convert everything into a pdf file, which is fine for reading, but cannot be manipulated (so it's like reading a book anyway).

New technologies are being created right now that will allow for real-time, editable mathematical and scientific dialogue. Once that gets out (that is, once publishers or somebody decides it's worthwhile to buy it and distribute it), then the internet can be a new and powerful force for worldwide scientific communication.

Come on Stephen WolframMena; come on Stephen: You can make this happen.

UPDATE: Last night I happened across an ISP,, that specializes in hosting webMathematica sites. I am trying to work out the details of how their services can be integrated with my Typepad account.