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February 2006

Perhaps those advocating that the US act crazy to get things done aren't as sane as they'd like us to believe.

Two worthy blog posts mirrored in their entirety:

From Belle Waring at Crooked Timber:

One Lee Harris, quoted by Glenn Reynolds, on Iran and its nuclear capability:

There is an important law about power that is too often overlooked by rational and peace-loving people. Any form of power, from the most primitive to the most mind-boggling, is always amplified enormously when it falls into the hands of those whose behavior is wild, erratic, and unpredictable. A gun being waved back and forth by a maniac is far more disturbing to us than the gun in the holster of the policeman, though both weapons are equally capable of shooting us dead. And what is true of guns is far more true in the case of nukes.

Reynolds: “A corollary is that the United States probably needs to be scarier and less predictable itself.”

Umm, not to dispute the basic point, which is sound enough in its way, but how much scarier and less predictable is the U.S supposed to get?

From Alex Harrowell at The Yorkshire Ranter:  The fools, the stupid crazy fools..

Oh Lord. Apparently Glenn "Instawhatsit" Reynolds has been advocating some fool's paean to the Madman Theory, that wonderful old idea that you can and should get your way in international politics by deliberately projecting the impression of irrationality. The Crooks have (of course) already made the point that the current US government would have to work hard to be any more dangerous and unpredictable - perhaps they should do something sensible in order to get the point over? But that's just low-grade snark, really.

18 months ago I wrote an MSc thesis for Steve Haines's IR course on exactly this subject, and specifically the 1973 superpower crisis arising from the Yom Kippur/Ramadan war. (You can read it here.) A couple of relevant contemporary points. First of all, the principles. As someone on the CT thread points out, deliberately appearing irrational and dangerous requires that the other party is rational enough to be scared of your bizarre behaviour. If they're faking it too, following the same strategy you are, this is wildly dangerous. But if they are genuinely mad, it's even worse. It's more complicated than that, though.

If you are trying to induce them to accept some sort of negotiating proposal - which is after all the point - you have to leave yourself an out. You have to be barking enough to scare them, but not so barking that your barkingness obscures the prospect of a reasonable solution. In fact, you have to pretend to be mad enough that they will give in rather than risk your madness whilst simultaneously demonstrating that you aren't mad at all. Which is itself arguably insane. Mr. President, we only needed to be mad enough so that they see we are not mad but will go mad if they don't come to their senses! The risk being, of course, that if you overdo the madness they may decide there is no point talking to you and that it's high time to whack you over the occiput with something long and leaden before you go ape. Of course, you see that one coming and go madder earlier.

There's also a negative side. The practicals. Just as you have to ensure that your display of creative psychopathy is recognisable as a display, you have to ensure that any signals you use to demonstrate it are recognisably signals. It's rather like the distinction between the latent and manifest content of the dream. Yes, it looks like a B-52, but really it's..a symbol! Something which looks very different when you see the bugger on the radars. Even words can do this. You ask that cartoonist. Oh, we were only upholding the principle of freedom of sp..

Applying anything like this to Iran would be incredibly stupid. First up, the whole argument for attacking Iran is based on the assumption that there can be no stable deterrent relationship between Iran and Israel, because the Iranians aren't logical, Captain. Well, if they are really, genuinely mad, pretending to be mad in order to scare them is not very sane. Second, if we then say that, well, they sound mad but they are smarter than they let on, we run up against the problem of assuring what might be termed credible implausibility - after all, it's no good if they decide we really are mad after all, being surrounded by hostile or semi-hostile states as they are, and initiate their own madman defence. And there's no point anyway, as if they are sane enough to recognise our madness they are sane enough to be scared by 200+ Israeli nukes.

Finally, once you are sure you've secured that credible implausibility, the other side are free to recognise that you aren't really mad and ignore your ravings (as Brezhnev and at other moments Golda Meir did in 1973).

It's just not worth it, although it was a fun thesis and contained the only MiG-25R in the year.

To demonstrate the basic reasonableness of his position, Reynolds links to a guy who suggests that we nuke the moon. (Should these guys be allowed sharp objects? Perhaps not.)

Dubya's Heck of a Job: NYT reports White House knew of a levy break the night of the storm

From the New York Times, February 10, 2006

WASHINGTON, Feb. 9 — In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Bush administration officials said they had been caught by surprise when they were told on Tuesday, Aug. 30, that a levee had broken, allowing floodwaters to engulf New Orleans.

Investigators have found evidence that federal officials at the White House and elsewhere learned of the levee break in New Orleans earlier than was first suggested. But Congressional investigators have now learned that an eyewitness account of the flooding from a federal emergency official reached the Homeland Security Department's headquarters starting at 9:27 p.m. the day before, and the White House itself at midnight.

The full NYT story is HERE.

Dimbulb Psyops Trolls

In the comment section of my most recent Top Cat Marine Security post, I've had two strange trolling incidents today, both involving condescending sexist comments.

The first instance ( was someone positing with a fake name and a fake email address with the name of a company known to have aviation contracts with the CIA. The company in question does not have a domain name nor do they have an employee of that name. I suspect I was meant to look into this and fall into fits of paranoia at the possible CIA connection. Nice try.

The second ( was someone posting as "John Young" of, a site that hosts documents that governments want to suppress. It didn't seem like something the real John Young would write. I picked up the phone and called him. Sure enough. He didn't write that. that is fraud, you know.

NOTE TO TROLL: The real John Young takes real exception to his name being used this way.

Add to the troll list.

Haitians Voting by Candlelight

I think this photo has such amazing atmosphere. It makes voting seem like a sacred act, which I suppose in some sense it is. The caption reads:

Haitians vote late into the night by candle light at a polling station on February 7, 2006 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Many voting stations were overwhelmed by the amount of people showing up to vote and stations had to be kept open all night to make sure everyone could vote. For the most part, the first election since Aristide went off with little violence. (Michael Orin Kleinfeld)

Here is the rest of the photoset. [UPDATE: I'm not sure what happened. That whole photoset vanished. here's the photostream it came from; maybe the photographer found a buyer.] FURTHER UPDATE: Now the photo is back up. HERE is a link to a big version, and HERE is a link to the photoset.

Polling for War: What Fools these Pollsters Be

I've been marveling at the idiocy of the LA Times and Bloomberg for commissioning a poll asking the American people if it is OK to go to war against Iran. Was that push-polling for war, or what? The Iran situation hadn't even been referred to the UN Security Council yet, and they were out there asking permission for a new war. What kind of nonsense is that?

Somalian TFG Cabinet minister Hassan Abshir insists Top Cat Marine Security, with which his government signed a two-year $55 million deal, is not only real, but also that TC is ready for combat

This is part of an ongoing series on the private military company Top Cat Marine Security, which is intertwined with a series on Consultants Advisory Group; both companies lack a valid street address and & refuse to disclose the identities of their management or owners.

From The Daily Nation in Kenya: Doubts over US firm in deal with Somalia

Story by KEVIN J. KELLEY in New York and STEPHEN MBURU in Nairobi
Publication Date: 2/5/2006
Mystery surrounds the operations of a US-based company, two months after it struck a controversial multi-million dollar contract with the Somali Transitional Federal Government to end piracy off the Horn of Africa's coastline.

But a TFG Cabinet minister Hassan Abshir insists Top Cat Marine Security, with which his government signed a two-year $55 million deal, is not only real, but also ready to combat persistent insecurity along the country's 2,000-kilometre-long coastline.

Mr Abshir, the Fisheries minister, sealed the deal in Naiorbi, with Top Cat's head of research and development Peter Casini.

Among those who witnessed the pact was Somalia's Prime Minister Mohamed Ali Gedi.

Telephone disconnected

But investigations by the Sunday Nation found that Top Cat's office in Manhattan is actually nothing more than a call-answering operation. There's no indication of Top Cat officials working there. The company's telephone number at its former headquarters in South Carolina has been disconnected.

A State Department official suggested that the TFG's contract with Top Cat for anti-piracy operations may well result in violation of the United Nations' arms embargo against Somalia.

While declining to comment specifically on the case of Top Cat, another State Department official said the US does not license exports of military items to countries that are under a US arms embargo. The ships that Top Cat says it will use in pirate interdiction actions would probably qualify as military items. The ships would also presumably be equipped with guns and other weapons.

A US-based company such as Top Cat would be subject to export licensing requirements regardless of where its military hardware would be imported from, the official added.

If a US company is found to be in violation of the licensing rules, it would be subjected to penalties under the US Arms Control Export Act. The official said the penalties would be financial and "of other sorts".

The Sunday Nation left four messages with Top Cat's answering centre in New York for Maryann Johnson, the company's vice president for public relations, but despite assurances that she, or another Top Cat official, would get back to us regarding the status of the Somalia contract, we never received a response.

And in Nairobi, Mr Abshir declined to discuss the deal with the Sunday Nation.

We wanted him to shed light on a number of issues including the existence of Top Cat, its capacity to carry out the contracted operations, when the work would begin, the procedure Somali government used to select the company, whether some consultants had been engaged, who would fund the deal and if it would be possible to implement the project as Somalia is under the UN and US arms embargo.

He only said: "They (Top Cat) are ready to come. When they come, I will call and give you all the details."

Understanding Pakistan Earthquake Damage: Two More Photos from Jishnu Das

Here are two more pictures from Jishnu Das with long, informative captions. (Bigger view with legible captions is HERE.)

He says:

I wanted to put this picture up to show the dramatic differences between a "mohalla" (settlement) and a "mauza" (village). The entire photo shows a SINGLE village---Basantkot (as an aside, the village is named after a Sikh woman who used to live here before partition and means "the home of spring"). This is the largest village in the area. The way the road goes, it leads directly to the big pink house in the main settlement, and a consistent complaint is that more relief goes into this settlement compared to the other. We tried to see whether people in one settlement knew the others, and they do not. So for instance, starting from the right corner, people in Lavanseri could name the people in Jabarseri (the abandoned settlement in another photo), but no one else could. These village structures are leading to 2 problems--first, we are embroiled in a nightmare trying to sort out geo-locations of villages, since we have different readings at different points from different sources, and we have no way of knowing from the data that settlement "Jabarseri" is part of mauza "Basantkot". Second, and perhaps more critically, relief agencies in the area where we were would visit the main settlement. We consistently find that this is not enough, both for information and equitable targeting of relief.

He says:

One of the tasks in the near future is further compensation for housing damage, which may require further verification of structural collapse. A hard job at best, this picture suggests that the task may be harder given the way people have used material from damaged houses during the winter. The picture shows a small area that contained FOUR structures prior to the earthquake (I had gone in December, when these were clearly marked). The debris from these had been cleared up and stacked, and a lot of the wood had already been used for fuel and warmth. The circle on the left shows the debris from 2 structures, the one in the middle from a 3rd, and incredibly, the 3 pieces of wood in the right circle a fourth (the pile was much larger in December). The two intact structures were constructed AFTER the earthquake to take families through the winter. At this point, figuring out how many structures there were is completely dependent on accurate answers from the people living there.

Suspicious Incident in Chappaqua

This notice was just sent me by the Chappaqua school district:

We were just alerted to an incident in Chappaqua. An 11- year old boy was approached on Hamilton Road by a white, male, approximately 40-45 years of age with some grey, cut short (not crew cut) hair, no facial hair, wearing blue, button-down, collared shirt. The suspect drove a Red Ford Explorer who offered the boy a ride. The male subject then stated that he had candy. The boy declined his offers and walked away.

New Castle Police Department is aware of similar incidents occurring throughout Westchester County and this subject / vehicle description appears similar to a recent incident in Harrison, New York. Please contact New Castle Police Detective Division if you have any information. (238-4422)

Haitian elections "off to a stumbling start";
One would-be voter dead of asphixiation; another dead of a heart attack; Polls to extend hours

From Reuters this morning: Haiti election off to stumbling start

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (Reuters) - Haiti's presidential election got off to a rocky start on Tuesday after repeated delays as thousands of people trekked to polling stations in the capital only to find them still closed.

At a large voting center outside the sprawling Cite Soleil slum, at least 5,000 people milled about but there were no ballots or other voting materials to be seen an hour after the polls were scheduled to open at 6 a.m. (1100 GMT).

At least seven other polling centers across the capital were closed, but a U.N. official said some had opened.

Cite Soleil residents walked by the thousands to voting centers outside the teeming seaside shantytown, many determined to return ex-President Rene Preval, a protege of the exiled Jean-Bertrand Aristide, to the National Palace.

A couple of days ago, I set up a CommunityWalk map for the Haiti elections was a way of organizing information in case things get weird. You, dear reader, can annotate this map and add your own information, including adding pictures, links to websites, audio or video, etc. Also, the CommunityWalk map is exportable as a Google Earth KML file which will retain these annotations. It's there should anyone want to use it.

Also, keep an eye on the Flickr photofeed for the tag "Haiti." (See also my post Earthquake in Tokyo, plus How to Document Human Rights Violations Using Flickr.)

UPDATE from AFP via Yahoo: Crowds storm voting centers in Haiti; one dead

A 65-year-old man died of asphyxiation on Tuesday as crowds rushed the gate of a voting center in the Petionville suburb of Port-au-Prince, Radio Caraibes reported.

At another voting center in the capital, a woman suffered burns as she fell over the hot exhaust of a police motorcycle as mobs stormed into the building which police desperately tried to keep closed until electoral officials completed preparations.

Anger mounted among the massive crowds that showed up early to vote but still faced closed gates two hours after the balloting officially started.

Similar situations were reported in other parts of the country.

Tension was particularly high around the notoriously violent Cite Soleil slum, where voters voiced their anger chanting "open up, open up."

Many voters around the country had to walk for hours to reach the voting centers.

UN troops in full combat gear were positioned in key areas of Haiti to prevent any violence during the elections held to replace Jean Bertrand Aristide who resigned the presidency and fled the country on February 29, 2004.

UPDATE from the Mail & Guardian in South Africa. One would-be voter dead of a heart attack: Crowds storm polling stations in Haiti, two dead

Voting got off to a rough start in volatile Haiti as angry mobs stormed voting centres that failed to open on time, with one person dying of a heart attack and another of asphyxia.

Several more people were injured or fainted as they were trampled or shoved by crowds that rushed voting centres.

Many voters rose well before dawn, walked for several hours only to wait in long lines to cast their ballot in the first election since former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide fled the violence-wracked country two years ago.

There were no reports of violence overnight.

UPDATE from Associated Press:

Haiti extends hours of presidential vote
Associated Press
Port-au-Prince — Polling stations opened late – or not at all – and scuffles broke out Tuesday as Haitians cast ballots in the first presidential election since a bloody revolt two years ago pushed this bloodied, impoverished nation toward total collapse.

Although polls were scheduled to open at 6 a.m. EST, some did not open until hours later. Because of the organizational problems, voting hours originally set to end at 4 p.m. EST were extended by at least two hours, Rosemond Pradel, the secretary-general of Haiti's nine-member Electoral Council, told the Associated Press.

Jishnu's Photos from Pakistan's Neelum Valley

Jishnu Das of RISE-PAK is just back from another trip to Pakistan for earthquake relief. I published his report of his previous trip not long ago. He's set up a Flickr account and uploaded pictures. Jishnu's day job is as an economist for the World Bank, so there's some fairly sophisticated information conveyed by the photos and their captions. Here's a brief selection:

Caption: In the union council where we were, all the schools, public and private were destroyed. While only one public school was semi-functional, all the private schools were back up and running within a fortnight, often in desperate conditions. We visited 4, all of which looked the same--a single tent, no books, no desks--but trying hard.

And here's another shot from the same school:

Caption: The bags were given by a relief agency (unfortunately with nothing in them...)

This picture was taken in Basantkot:

Caption: Sitting at one of the settlements. A lot of men in the area used to migrate to towns/cities during the winter months. The man on the bottom right for instance, has spent some time in the Middle East and used to work in Karachi. All of these people have come back--they feel that they cannot leave their families during the winter in tents to fend for themselves. One repercussion is that earnings in the area have dropped remarkably: in our surveys, we find that earnings are roughly a third of what they were the year before.

Caption: In food rations, all the villages in our area received either 75Kilos (165lbs) or 50Kilos of flour from the WFP and some additional rations from the army. They received the flour around December 8th or so and have not received any additional rations after. As a calculation: if flour is the only staple, 50 kilos for a family of 7 (average) finishes in around 12 days. Some complained about the quality of the flour, but this was not a consistent complaint...

A Deer with an Arrow in its Side: Stop Hunting in Old Farm Hill Park

Driving home from my really ugly visit to the Apple Store, on Old Farm Road South, near our house, I saw three deer cross the road ahead. One of them had a large yellow arrow dangling from its side. When I got home, I called the Mt. Pleasant police and reported (a) an injured deer, and (b) that someone was probably hunting in Old Farm Hill Park, a block from our house. Here are a few pictures I took there a week or so ago.

My son Peter trying to climb up to a hunting platform in the park:

Peter tried to climb up to the hunting platform.

. . . and a shotgun shell I found on the ground.

Shotgun shell on the ground below a hunting platform in Old Farm Hill Park, Mt. Pleasant, NY.

Understand that because of their propensity to devour anything I plant in the yard I am not a big fan of deer, which I am known to refer to as "rats on stilts."   But this is not the wilderness. This is suburbia with one-acre zoning. Hunting in my neighborhood could kill someone.

MEANWHILE, best kid's lines of the day:

ELIZABETH (3): Let's pretend that daddy's a lady, so he can be one of us!

PETER (8): We accidentally set the corner of the desk on fire, but it was OK.

PLUS, great line overheard in the halls of pre-school:  One mother says to the other: When my child does that, I always blame it on my husband.

AND FINALLY, the question I should not have asked: Are you accustomed to having a mother who puts up with such nonsense? (Guess what Peter's answer was.)

Apple Redefines Genius

According to Apple, "genius" is a necessary precondition for someone being able to take an equipment repair order. (So sayeth my local Apple store: I've got a call in to Apple's PR department to ask for confirmation.)

This afternoon, I naïvely set off for the Apple Store with two pieces of broken equipment: a dead wireless mouse which I'd had sitting around for a couple of months and a PowerBook that just recently stopped talking to its keyboard. I learned upon my arrival, to my dismay, that I needed an appointment with the Genius Bar to make a drop-off of two broken pieces of equipment. A friendly fellow immediately signed me up for an appointment, almost two hours away, but suggested I just take a seat and I would be helped a whole lot sooner than that.  Needless to say, a mom who arrives with a three-year-old in tow cannot wait two hours.

When, after 35-minutes, a man was willing to take my repair order, he began immediately to complain about the condition of the wireless mouse I'd brought in. Yes, it was kind of gucky. I use my machine very heavily. He claimed he could tell that somehow liquid must have gotten into the mouse. I have two kids—one of whom had been very good in their store for going on 40 minutes at this point. I would not swear that the mouse had never seen liquid. But some of what he was talking about looked to me like the results of summer humidity if it was anything other than very heavy use. The strong implication was that I was lying about the purchase date of the mouse. The ship date of the computer it came with was 5/11/05. I just use it a lot. (And using it a lot, unfortuantely also meant that I changed the batteries a lot, up until it broke.) I never owned a wireless mouse prior to the arrival of that computer.

After not very long, there ensued the following dialog:

ME (in a loud voice): It does NOT take a genius to take a repair order.
GENIUS™: According to Apple, it does take a genius to take a repair order.
ME (still in a loud voice): That's got to be the dumbest thing I've ever heard.

(I did tell GENIUS™ that "this was one for the blog" since this was a completely new one on me!) The GENIUS™ did not take well to this conversational gambit.

The GENIUS™ went to get a manager GENIUS™ and together they tried to bully me into the idea that the mouse should not be covered by warranty with the manager GENIUS™ occasionally making reference to the possibility of calling security if I didn't accept their judgment that the mouse covered by the Apple Care Agreement was not covered by the Apple Care Agreement. (The fact that I came with a blonde toddler must have made me look like an easy mark. Or maybe they didn't believe that a mommy who looked like me could have the computer usage patterns that I do.) I suppose I should point out I am not accustomed to being threatened by customer service people. I don't think that's ever happened to me before.

SO, OK, I'm a really irritated customer who feels she was ripped off on her Apple Care agreement because the local store refused to make good out of pettiness. Can I say anything positive about these people?

Well, yes, actually. Once I managed to get the assembled GENIUSes™ off the subject of what a dirty rotten lousy wireless mouse I'd brought them that couldn't possibly be honored under the warranty I'd paid EXTRA MONEY FOR, let alone under the boilerplate warranty that came with the computer—a subject that they clearly wanted to discuss at great length until long past when my son's school bus was set to arrive—the initial GENIUS™ fixed the keyboard problem with the PowerBook in about 30 seconds: a loose cable inside.

These WERE competent technicians, and competent technicians with some actual people skills. But what the Apple Genius Bar is at the Westchester Mall in White Plains, New York, is a woefully understaffed repair department in which everybody's dirty laundry gets aired in front of all the other customers also waiting their turn. In the hour I spent there, there was no one who came for arcane information available only from highly skilled technicians. There were only tense, angry customers who had waited way far too long for the most basic level of service. There was also the occasional person who wandered in with a piece of equipment, stood around looking tense for ten minutes or so, and then left again when he or she truly understood the full horror of the situation. And I was not the only mom to get borderline hysterical about missing kids at the school bus because of an unexpected wait. A pair of blonde women left shortly after I arrived muttering about needing to do 80 mph up 684 and trying to triage whose kid might not get met at the bus stop. (Not meeting your kid at the bus stop is a very grave mommy offense with dire consequences for mommy's social standing.)

SO. What is to be done? Both the guy I first yelled at, and his boss, who threatened to call security, are people I'd probably even like if I encountered socially. But at the White Plains Apple Store, the Genius Bar concept just ain't happenin'. What should happen is that if the Genius Bar is supposed to be the repair department servicing all those who own Apple equipment, then they need to double the staff. (I don't own an iPod, but my impression from being there for an hour is that iPods break a lot. There was a parade of dead iPods.)

Did Apple make a wise financial decision by making me hang out and nickle-and-diming me on replacing a $40 mouse that goes with a $3,500 computer? Well, no. I'm not going to try to bring the company to its knees by swearing never to buy another Apple. I'm one of their more loyal customers.

But, um, guys: After I did the quick repair drop off, my plan was to blow a couple of hundred bucks in your store buying a badly-needed external hard drive. But between keeping track of my three-year-old, and sitting at the Genius Bar to make sure I was seen as soon as possible, I didn't have time. Sorry.

And oh my God am I glad I managed to revive my G5 myself without recourse to the Apple store—it was out of commission for a week following the blackout. I can't tell you how upset I would have been if I'd hauled my G5 all across the rather large Westchester Mall and up to the 3rd floor where their store was to encounter these terms of service. (And I had such a positive image of the Genius Bar before today!)

"You watch my back and I'll say cheese"

  You watch my back and I'll say cheese 
  Originally uploaded by Tampen.

MINUSTAH in Port-au-Prince, Haiti,  as seem on Flickr this morning. The photographer's caption reads:

Self-portrait with Brazilian peacekeeper, taken with my little Canon point-and-shoot. Though shoot is probably the wrong word....

The photographer is Tony Allen-Mills, a journalist for the Sunday Times of London.

He's also got a shot of the view from the terrace of the Hotel Montana:

Peter & Elizabeth dancing at the Kittle House

My stepson, Geoff Hartwell, played the Kittle House in Mt. Kisco last night. The kids danced. At the particluar moment this was taken, they were outside in front of the restaurant. (It was unseasonably warm, which is why Peter doesn't have a coat on.)

A Response to MINUSTAH's February Report on Haiti to the UN Security Council: Get CAG Out of Haiti

This is part of an ongoing series on Consultants Advisory Group.

ScrMINUSTAH's just-published report to the UN Security Council begins:

Expected Council Action
The Council is expected to renew the mandate of the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), which expires on 15 February. After a very bad month for both MINUSTAH and Haiti in January the Council will also be looking to bolster the electoral process, reinvigorate MINUSTAH and encourage a reduction in violence.

Recent Developments
Haiti's presidential elections were postponed for the fourth time in late December on the grounds that technical difficulties were unresolved and that insecurity was hampering the electoral process. The Council, increasingly concerned at the performance of the Transitional Government, adopted a presidential statement on 6 January, urging the quick announcement of another election date no later than 7 February. Haiti's Provisional Electoral Council subsequently declared 7 February as the date of the first round of elections, with a run-off on 19 March if necessary. The official transfer of power to a newly elected leader is scheduled for 29 March.

In January:

  • The security situation deteriorated dramatically, with many kidnappings and assassinations as well as the death of two UN peacekeepers.
  • Sectors of the local business community mounted a campaign to discredit MINUSTAH. The campaign was condemned by the UN Secretary-General.
  • MINUSTAH's Force Commander, General Urano Bacellar of Brazil, committed suicide.

WimhurstSince MINUSTAH's David Wimhurst has accused me of participating in the alleged campaign to discredit MINUSTAH, I'll throw in my two cents.

MINUSTAH has involved itself in some capacity with Consultants Advisory Group, a company

If MINUSTAH wishes to pretend that rumors of CAG's activities are part of a campaign by others to discredit MINUSTAH, here are two important action items:

  1. Stop providing CAG with Internet access via IP#, which (though they use it more sparingly than in the past) they continue to make use of. And . . .
  2. Get CAG out of Haiti.

I have no idea of whether the business community there is trying to bring down any unfair criticism on MINUSTAH's head. But just days ago, MINUSTAH's David Wimhurst refused to answer my questions about CAG, choosing instead to threaten me with UN legal action.

No good purpose can be served by a United Nations organization associating itself with an outfit with the furtive habits of CAG. If MINUSTAH continues to associate with and cover for CAG, they are discrediting themselves.

Further to the Subject of PowerPoint

Now that I completely dumped on PowerPoint yesterday, I did want to remind people of our friend Peter Watts' brilliant piece of very dark humor, "Vampire Domestication."

I'm not sure we could say that "Vampire Domestication" redeems PowerPoint. It would probably be more accurate to say that it exploits what's wrong with the program to artistic effect.


MEANWHILE, from Reuthers (non-fiction):

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Feb 2 (Reuters) - U.N. peacekeepers are ready to secure Haiti's oft-delayed election with a rapid-strike force to put down any violence at polling stations, their commander said on Thursday.

Wonder what the PowerPoint plan might look like.

Earthquake in Tokyo, plus How to Document Human Rights Violations Using Flickr

I just noticed via my Flickr photo-feed for the tag earthquake that there has been an earthquake in Tokyo (5.1 magnitude). I looked at my earthquake Flickr badge and saw all these photos of the Tokyo subways, And sure enough, there was an earthquake today.

This reminds me of something I've been meaning to mention for a while: how easy it would be to document human rights violations using systems like Flickr. And to some extent this is already being done. I wrote this up a while back in private correspondence, meaning to revise. But I think I'll just put this out there now. The world needs to know that there are much better ways to document human rights violations than sending documents via email to Westchester housewives like, say, me. Here's a rough outline of what I was thinking:

I am working from how I tracked info on the situation in Pakistan following the earthquake, but  this would work just as well for human rights violations. There's some really gruesome stuff in Flickr documenting the arrival of medical teams in remote places weeks after the earthquake that had had no relief whatsoever. I had never seen three week old untreated wounds before. And the people in the pictures look so grateful to finally be getting help.

To document human rights violations, all they have to do is take digital photos and upload them to Flickr; tag them with relevant tags, like say HAITI and MASSACRE and such; geotag them: i.e. give lat and lon coords, or street address, or other really specific info. The photos come in date stamped in the first place with the data from the camera, but sometimes the camera is set wrong, so they want to be sure. And my additional advice to any one doing that wold be to add little or no political rhetoric, because what is important is for the objective observer over the Internet to ascertain that something happened and what it was.

In Flickr, one can make what are called Flickr badges. I have a couple on my site. You can make Flickr badges with feeds for specific tags. I've got one for "earthquake", and one for "Google Earth" and also that's how the photos at the top of my page work.

So you get the photos uploaded to Flickr. Then you can set up blogs all over the place with Flickr tags that will broadcast those pix. You can, at your leisure, add info to those blogs to go with the pix. Also, you don't have to have just one Flickr account. You can set up a new one each time you want to upload if your really want to. And there are other photo uploading services. That's just the one I know best and used to get hard info out of Pakistan after the earthquake and out of NOLA before that.

One of my new years resolutions is that certain things are going to be different and better in the 21st century. This is a start, and it's only February 1st.

A Response to MINUSTAH's David Wimhurst

This is part of an ongoing series on Consultants Advisory Group.

After having been provided with the email address of David Wimhurst of MINUSTAH in Haiti yesterday morning, I sent Wimhurst a polite note asking him if I might submit to his office questions concerning Consultants Advisory Group. The response I received from him -- not befitting an employee of a "Communications and Public Information Office" -- was intended to intimidate me. I was duly intimidated. But now I've had a good night's sleep and I'm over it.

The main purpose of this post is to discuss the two slides Wimhurst submitted to me as the "originals" by way of claiming the PowerPoint presentation in my possession has been doctored. I will address that presently. [Note that Wimhust submitted only two slides, not an entire presentation that might be compared to the one in my possession.]

Part 1: Addressing WImhurst’s Questions

First, however, I will attempt to address the questions Wimhurst claims I must answer. In the course of his unprofessionally rude and threatening letter, which I will show him the mercy of not publishing for the moment, what he seems to demand is any evidence in my possession that the PowerPoint presentation downloadable from my web site was altered by anyone for the purpose of undermining the UN operations in Haiti. Let me say unequivocally, for the record, that there is no evidence whatsoever in my possession that anyone doctored the PowerPoint presentation for the purpose of undermining the UN operations in Haiti. None. Zip. Zero. Sorry to disappoint.

HOWEVER, there is an abundance of evidence in my possession, much of it unpublished, that the Consultants Advisory Group is an amateurish operation which changes its story whenever convenient; an outfit that makes the Keystone Cops look like pros.

As nearly as I can tell, CAG's Valerie Sendecki initiated communications with me last month for the purpose of finding out how I learned of CAG and their connection to Top Cat Marine Security. Despite Sendecki's claims to have had lunch with Jordan Sage and later to have had her arrested and deported, my current thinking is that access to Sage's email account was gained by keystroke logging on UN-owned computers and that Sendecki and co. never knew her identity. What they had access to was her correspondence and her address book. My suspicion is that someone found Mariely Puello's name and phone number in Jordan Sage's email account and used the name to create a gmail account under her name.

The Mariely Puello, whose phone number appears in the email I received, is not the author of the letter I was sent. How do I know this? She doesn't have the English skills. When I called her number and got her on the phone, we were unable to have a conversation. She and I have no common language. A third party has contacted me on her behalf and explained her situation, but it is frustrating because I am unable to converse or correspond with her. From what I understand, while she was visited by some police, she has nothing to do with the sending of the PowerPoint presentation. I'm told that she is a very good girl and that she is terrified. Further, Sendecki could not have had her detained in Haiti as Sendecki claimed, because Puello was not in Haiti at the time. There is no reason to expect that Puello even knows the identity of "Jordan Sage," even if she has corresponded with that person. Other than Valerie Sendecki's claim to have lunched with Sage, no one has yet come forward to say they know her. The name was not contained in the email address under which "Sage" wrote and is, I suspect, an alias.

CAG may well, as they claimed, have had a few people in Haiti arrested. But if their intel was based on keystroke logging, CAG has no way of knowing if they arrested the right ones.

So. Why do I think access to Jordan Sage's account was obtained by keystroke logging? Because otherwise CAG's whole clown circus of incompetent psyops operatives would not be after information that should already be in their possession. It is my belief that CAG's operatives have not been candid with their employer about the full extent of their attempts to do damage control on my discovery of their existence. Inasmuch as I have any evidence that a document might have been altered, this evidence suggests that it was an inside job conducted in the interests of CAG.

Interestingly absent from Wimhurst’s letter is any hint that he is aware that I provided the “Puello” letter plus the PowerPoint presentation to two other people immediately upon receipt. It is my strong impression that CAG has communicated to Wimhurst neither the identities of these two people nor the contents of CAG’s communications with them. Wimhurst would be much more uncomfortable involving the UN legal office in this affair if he had received full disclosure from CAG.

MEANWHILE, I hear through the grapevine that CAG's Jay Fullerton claims Sendecki has resigned. If Wimhurst were receiving full disclosure, Fullerton would also need to resign.

Part 2: Thinking with Bullets

TufteA few years ago, Edward Tufte published a book entitled The Cognitive Style of Power Point which I have been meaning to read some time. While I am a heavy user of both Microsoft Word and Microsoft Excel, until I got an enormous hard drive I used to routinely throw PowerPoint off my hard drive because I think it is a mostly useless and actively pernicious program.

Here’s a little snip of how summarizes Tufte’s objections to PowerPoint and the reactions to them:

Another reason for PowerPoint's sudden spike in notoriety is that the program finally caught the attention of Edward R. Tufte, a professor of information design at Yale University. Often referred to as the world's leading guru of information design, Tufte's books – The Visual Display of Information, Envisioning Information, and Visual Explanations – redefined the art of presenting information in visual form (charts, tables, graphs, etc.). No one knows more about effective data design, and no one in the field is more respected.

So when, in March 2003, Tufte published a 23-page denunciation of PowerPoint entitled "The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint," many people who had never before taken PowerPoint seriously began paying attention. It was Tufte who brought NASA's now infamous PowerPoint slide to the public's attention. It was Tufte's work that emboldened The New York Times to suggest that information manipulation via electronic slides may have helped Secretary of State Colin Powell make his case to the United Nations for declaring war on Iraq. And it is Tufte, in his 23-page screed, who uses such words as stupid, smarmy, incoherent, witless, medieval and dementia to describe the trivializing effect of PowerPoint slides on pure, defenseless data. Tufte doesn't stop short of calling PowerPoint evil – he does call it evil, most visibly in an excerpt published in Wired last year succinctly titled "PowerPoint is evil." Indeed, the photo on the pamphlet's cover is of a 1956 Russian military parade in which a statue of Stalin is depicted saying, "Next slide, please."

If there is something right with PowerPoint, it is the program's ability to combine either images and text, or a sequence of bulleted items, in order to make an argument.

The UN-restricted PowerPoint presentation I was provided with initially seems to make several layers of argument, a couple of which I am unhappy with. Though the authoring info on the document listed the author as “pkf” and the company as “UN,” the implicit narrative voice is that of CAG; one of the document’s arguments is how useful CAG is making itself. Though perhaps composed on UN computers, my sense is that the docment's author works for CAG.

Now, let us turn to the two slides provided by Wimhurst which he claims are the “originals.”

Slide 1: What might the point of this slide be?  


It seems to be lacking a point, but I’ll have a go at it: For those of you Peace Keepers fresh off the plane, Waaf Jeremie and Cite Soleil are on the coast, not in the mountains, and the coastline between them is completely surrounded by WATER!

Click. Next slide, please!

Slide 2: This page is a little sparse, too. Um, and why bullet something that’s all alone on the page?


I’ll have a go at the voiceover: And men, remember, when creating PowerPoint presentations for military use, it’s very important to leave plenty of room to allow space for others to add their thoughts, so be sure to push the text as high up as you can. Also, the resulting expanse of blue will subliminally remind your audience that the Haitian coastline is completely surrounded by WATER!


Look. Um. Wimhust. This is embarrassing. Are these really the originals from an actual PowerPoint presentation? The best face I can put on this is that these are the materials from which a final presentation might have been made, not the final presentation itself. It is also possible that these really are slides from a real presentation. But if that is the case, the presentation’s author is incompetent to use the program and perhaps should explore some other mode of communication.

This does not prove that the presentation I was emailed was in fact presented or that its contents mean what they appear to. But the incompleteness of Wimhurst's "originals" does call into question the plausibility of the only actual information I have received from MINUSTAH.

In Wimhurst's one communication to me his prose style suggests his background is in yelling at people in uniform, not in answering questions. Who hired this Wimhurst guy, anyway?  What I find most peculiar about Wimhurst's letter to me is that he seems to take the attitude that CAGs Clown Crew had already said what he had to say to me by proxy and that he had nothing further to add. Were Sendecki-Fullerton-Reuther really speaking for Wimhurst?

(Thanks for the support, Alex!)

UPDATE 2/2/06: Rereading our exchange, I note that in my email to Wimhurst I specifically expressed concern that CAG " may be under contract to the Brazilian Peacekeeping Forces and may have been using their office computers." It occurred to me this morning that Wimhurst's reply that he had "no intention of answering any of [my] questions" was in fact Wimhurst declining comment on

  1. Whether CAG is under contract to Brazilian Peacekeeping Forces, and
  2. Whether CAG is using the office computers of the Brazilian Peackeepers.

All right then. He has no comment. I'll probably revisit that subject in a subsequent post.