Circuses Feed

Stone & Roses

Westport, NYI've been having a terrific summer so far, mostly without regular consultation of the Internet. Every once in a while I poke my head in to Computerland and say "God, what a mess," and I go back outside to plant pretty flowers in the mountains or sip coffee while watching the sun rise over the lake.

I knew far in advance that this summer was going to be among the worst of times to be on-line because we are in the midst of a presidential election. Last time around, blogs proved that they could be key players in the outcome of the election, and so this time it was pretty clear that in addition to the usual Internet nasties, there would be people out there stirring up trouble in the blogosphere who were being paid to cause trouble, to take down bloggers perceived to be supporting of one candidate or another, people paid to say what they were saying, and meetings around conference tables in which promoting particular political agendas in the blogosphere would be discussed. And there would be all kinds of unnecessary grief as a result. As I put it to some of my friends back in February in a conversation at Boskone, this would be an election in which people's lives would get destroyed because of their blogs. I made a conscious decision to opt out.

Things are playing out a little differently than I expected, inasmuch as I've followed the goings on, but the on-line world is full of unnecessary awfulness this summer. It seems like every time I'm on-line for more than just to check my email, I end up spending time trying to parse some blogwar or other to see if this is something I need to be involved with. The answer is inevitably "NO", and soon I will learn not to try to parse them at all. But I am still having a hard time coming to grips with what a brain-sucking parasite one's computer can be.

For the past two years, I have been fairly reticent about what has been going on in my life because I have been cyberstalked by a woman who is obsessed with me. She watches me so closely that in May she ridiculed my new author photo within two hours of my posting it.  She picks Internet fights and then theorizes on-line that I must somehow be involved with the resulting blog wars she involves herself in. She has about ten blogs and tries to make herself look like a crowd. A week or so ago, on a single day, she wrote about five posts mentioning me in various paranoid nutty contexts. She also began developing conspiracies theories about people I am photographed with. One author whom my husband publishes and who is a friend of mine, but whom I haven't seen much of since he moved to the West Coast a decade or so ago, was a major figure in her fantasy life and conspiracy theories four a couple of months earlier this year. She also took out after one of my kids, but backed off after I contacted her ISP and law enforcement. Unsurprisingly, she is front and center in one of this summer's many political blogwars and apparently blames me.

Having given myself some breathing space, I realize that inasmuch as I have any desire to be on-line, I would like to be able to talk about what fun I've been having. Last fall, we bought a house overlooking Lake Champlain in the Adirondacks. I have been spending a lot of time up there.

Peter scales the new stone wall.The house came with two failing retaining walls, which we have just replaced with amazing dry-laid stone walls made of beautiful boulders studded with garnet. The yard was completely restructured as part of this process, and so I have been planting a yard from scratch which is a fascinating process. I've been learning about soil PH and soil structure. I've been mail-ordering beneficial fungi from and moss for the shadiest of our walls from Moss Acres. We planted special grass seed. I've most recently put in some raised beds and planted rose bushes. I've been getting up with the sun and working on the yard for an hour or two before anyone else gets up. I feel so wholesome and healthy.

roses & stone

The town where our house is is a very friendly place, and if I want conversation , all I need to do is walk out the door. People will stop and talk. It is tremendously socially nurturing. I wish the blogosphere could go back to being more like my small-town front porch. But I think I'll have to wait until after the election for that. In the meantime, peace be with you.

So. Do we think people will stop asking where the women bloggers are?

Following the right-wing group assault on Amanda Marcotte and Melissa McEwan for having the audacity to take jobs on a Democratic presidential campaign and Michelle Malkin's video proving that Malkin is descended from a screech owl, do we think, maybe, people will stop asking where all the women political bloggers are?


Nah. I doubt it.

By the way, screech owls are descended from dinosaurs you know.

PS: Can someone explain to me why William Donohue of the Catholic League for Religious & Civil Liberties is getting paid over $300,000 a year to use a 501C3 corporation to harass Amanda Marcotte and Melissa Ewan?

(His employment history does not seem to justify this level of compensation.)


UPDATE: See also Melissa's tale in the Guardian. And do read the comments for the Republican Rape Machine you have and orifice so we can fill it; you were begging for it girl mob psychology.

See also Jesus General. (Just why does loyalty to Catholicism make men think about what they could do to women bloggers with their penises? I missed that part of the Bible. If her blog offend thee, send her lewd sexual suggestions via email.)

Well, this really rips the lid off the seamy underbelly of the story of the wild & crazy Armenian brothers in Kenya . . .

Artur Margaryan and Artur Sargsayan, colorful Armenian characters who are apparently brothers, about whom I blogged extensively a while back were arrested and then deported from Kenya, according to news reports. And in the process, some very interesting items in their possession came to light. These guys first came to my attention in the context of the Kenya media raids in which they seemed to be central figures, and are notable for their what's-yer-problem, we-already-bought-this-country attitude when strutting around Kenya.

First, the story of the arrest: Kenya: Artur Brothers Arrested After Airport Gun Drama

Margaryan and Sagarsyan forced their way out of the airport with over 12 bags they yanked from the baggage's conveyor belt before they could be opened up for inspection.

Investigations by the Saturday Standard revealed that the passes for the brothers were issued on February 10 while the other three for their "aides" were issued on Thursday morning hours before they turned up at the airport to receive their "brother" and "sister" from Dubai.

The man and woman arrived with the bags with unidentified cargo and it was on their arrival that the airport drama began. Sagarsyan and Margaryan were allowed into the airport without screening, a privilege the KAA security booklet last revised in 2004 says is reserved for President and Cabinet members. The only other category of people exempted from this stringent rule is foreign envoys, and special groups who must be escorted to the plane's elevator by armed police.

When the police later opened one of the bags following a commando raid at their plush Runda home, they found several fake local, foreign, diplomatic and Government vehicle registration plates.

They also found black balaclavas, the kind of which the hooded policemen who raided the Standard and KTN offices donned. The bag was also stuffed with pistol holsters and camouflage military jackets.

In the compound were 11 cars, some bearing GK plates. The vehicles included a BMW, three Toyota Harriers and other luxurious saloon cars.

An official Criminal Investigation Department (CID) letter granting Margaryan the powers of a police officer was also found in the house.

The police team also seized three computers and videotapes, which insiders revealed were similar to those taken away by the police during the March 2 media raid on Standard Group offices.

. . . and the deportation: Kenya: Artur Brothers Deported After Gun Drama At Airport

The two controversial Armenian Artur brothers were dramatically kicked out of Kenya yesterday.

The brothers Margaryan and Sargsyan left on a Kenya Airways flight at 7.30pm for Dubai.

The sudden move, came without even the customary court hearing, following their arrest during a midnight operation triggered by an attack on a Customs officer at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.

When their home in the upmarket Runda estate was raided, police found a cache of guns and ammunition, plus balaclava helmets and a number of T-shirts branded QRU (Quick Response Unit).

The brothers Margaryan and Sargsyan and two of their accomplices were declared persona non grata and prohibited from returning to Kenya.

The four were deported as police announced in an official statement: "The Government has declared their continued presence in the country undesirable and ordered their immediate deportation."

The two men thrown out with the brothers were named as Mr Arman Damidri and Mr Alexander Tashchi.

Announcing the decision, police spokesman Gideon Kibunjah stated: "Their deportation follows a serious breach of airport security at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport involving both Artur Margaryan and Artur Sargsyan and their colleagues,"

It went on: "At a time of enhanced aviation security all across the world, incidents that compromise security at international airports can neither be tolerated nor taken for granted."

I still would like to know what that pair were really up to. The whole thing had a kind of start-up with venture capital feel to me, and I continue to wonder who was paying for their attempts to buy the place with beads.

Wonder what will become of their menagerie of attack dogs and attack crocodiles.

Update on the Wild & Crazy Armenian Brothers in Kenya: Send in the Crocodiles!

From the Kenya Times, this entertaining passage:

After a long silence, Artur Margaryan, now says he has brought to his residence more dogs and crocodiles to beef up his security. This is in addition to the ten dogs he had imported earlier. Westlands legislator Fred Gumo and his Makadara counterpart Reuben Ndolo should probably be warned not to take their threats to storm his residence, lest they be devoured by the crocodiles.

There's something reminiscent of The Old Lady Who Swallowed the Fly here. I've been wondering where this story is going. Perhaps it will end with the the Arturs being eaten by their, er, security forces.

(Who is cleaning up after all the animals, anyway? They have how many killer dogs? Wonder how it smells in there.)

I remain really interested in finding out who these guys are and where they came from.

On a more somber note, while these clowns hole up with large but untraceable amounts of cash, famine spreads across East Africa. And meanwhile Kenya is also having an outbreak of measles because of lack of vaccinations.

See also my previous posts:

Below the cut is an abundance of related links along with what I thought was the best line from each.

Continue reading "Update on the Wild & Crazy Armenian Brothers in Kenya: Send in the Crocodiles!" »

Charles Taylor Caught! Then, Nigeria deports Charles Taylor to Liberia!

From Reuters:

MAIDUGURI, Nigeria (Reuters) - Nigeria captured fugitive former Liberian President Charles Taylor on the border with Cameroon on Wednesday and deported him to Liberia, easing its embarrassment at his escape earlier in the week.

The dramatic arrest and deportation came hours before President Olusegun Obasanjo was due to meet U.S. President George W. Bush, who has been pushing for Taylor to face war crimes charges in a special U.N.-backed court for years.

"President Obasanjo has ordered the immediate repatriation of Charles Taylor to Liberia ... to help the government of Liberia which had requested custody of the former president," Nigerian Information Minister Frank Nweke said in a statement.

Journalists saw Taylor, dressed in a white safari suit and surrounded by about 20 soldiers, walk onto the tarmac at Maiduguri airport, in Nigeria's far northeast, and board a Nigerian presidential jet.

On the subject of Taylor's arrest, Global Witness has issued this eloquent statement:


The ending of impunity for heads of state responsible for conflict, and crimes against humanity could be a step closer today with the dramatic arrest of Charles Taylor as he sought to flee Nigeria to Cameroon.

The speed with which Charles Taylor has been captured by vigilant Nigerian customs officials is to be congratulated. Not withstanding any further security breaches or accidents, Charles Taylor will finally have his day in court – be it in Freetown or The Hague – to face trial for the 17 counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes that he has been indicted for by the United Nations appointed Special Court for Sierra Leone.   

As a result of his arrest the chance for regional security and the prospects for peace have increased. The trial of Taylor will bring to an end many years of violent conflict that have blighted the region and caused untold suffering to millions of people. 

Taylor used revenues derived from diamonds and timber to fuel two bloody conflicts in which hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians died. Justice must be done, the ending of impunity for sitting and ex heads of state that have been responsible for some of the worst human rights abuses in the last twenty years must be tackled by the international community.

“The international community and Nigeria must now ensure that Taylor is speedily and successfully handed over to the Special Court for Sierra Leone and stands trial for the crimes against humanity with which he has been indicted,” said Alex Yearsley of Global Witness.

See also The Yorkshire Ranter post Who Are You Going to Massacre Next?, mirrored here:

Charles Taylor has been re-nailed, after a day or so of freedom on the lam from the UN Special Court for Sierra Leone. I was amused by this description of his arrest on the Nigerian-Cameroonian border:

The former Liberian leader had arrived at the frontier in a Range Rover jeep with diplomatic corps number plates, a trader working at the Gamboru-Ngala border post told AFP news agency.

"He was wearing a white flowing robe," said Babagana Alhaji Kata.

"He passed through immigration but when he reached customs they were suspicious and they insisted on searching the jeep, where they found a large amount of US dollars.

"After a further search they discovered he was Charles Taylor."

Flowing white robes, a Range Rover and a pile of cash, eh? His innate style didn't desert him. Like 50 Cent, but with more violence. Wasn't his last album called The Massacre, too?

Taylor's "spiritual adviser" - now there's a busy man - had been saying that he was seeking political asylum in Syria, Ethiopia, Venezuela, Equatorial Guinea or Gabon. These states will now be spared the embarrassment of having to answer. The spiritual adviser, by the way, is an American evangelical Protestant of Indian extraction, one  Dr. Kilari Anand Paul - the very notion of caring for Charles Taylor's immortal soul, though, reminds me of the John Donne poem about "who shall give me grace to begin" seeking God's grace.

"Dr" Paul (the doctorate isn't real), it seems, specialises in bizarre, rocambolesque interventions in war zones and offering the consolations of religion to murderous bastards. There is an interesting article here including the skinny on his "Dr", and he has a website here. He also has a Boeing 747, which could have come in handy, and a bad reference from the Southern Baptist Missions Board, who doubt his financial probity...

And here's Doug Farah on the subject of Taylor's arrest:

What has complicated the issue for Obasanjo, if one wants to give him the benefit of the doubt, which I am not sure he deserves, is that Taylor’s financial power allowed him to ally himself with many of the most powerful and corrupt in Nigeria, including senior members of the government and perhaps even members of Obasanjo’s own family.

Taylor’s arrest may open the way for Obasanjo to begin cleaning house and take down some of the structures Taylor is participating in, including the widespread “bunkering” or theft of oil before it enters the official state system. But the ongoing, warm U.S. relationship with Obasanjo should be contingent on Obasanjo’s willingness to tackle the entire corrupt structure that has choked the life from one of Africa’s potentially most vibrant economies.

It is a good day for West Africa and those seeking to end the impunity that has ravaged the region for generations. It is a good day particularly for the thousands of victims of Taylor’s wars in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast and Guinea. The amputee victims, the rape victims and the child soldiers may now have at least a small measure of closure when the architect of their misery finally faces justice.

And here is Laura Rosen's post:

Liberia's Charles Taylor arrested. A friend knowledgeable about US policy to West Africa writes, "[Nigerian president] Obasanjo can’t afford to play any more games, and Taylor will be sent to the tribunal, it looks like via Liberia.  Reuters reports that Obasanjo has ordered his immediate repatriation.  (UNMIL has a chapter VII mandate to make the arrest and transfer, and nobody wants him in Liberia, so this will go very quickly once he’s there.)   Obasanjo overplayed his hand, and got burned by the overwhelming response from Washington yesterday.  Never have I seen a better example of the White House, State Department, House and Senate, Democrats and Republicans, working together to send such a strong, clear signal.  US leadership yesterday may have saved West Africa from years of additional mayhem and suffering." More on what Taylor's arrest could mean for the region here.

Insitutionalizing the Kenya Media Raid: A proposed bill to turn the current self-regulated Media Council of Kenya into a statutory media council, "essentially becoming a censorship body."

Over the past few days, I've spent a lot of time combing through the media overage of the aftermath of the Kenya media raids, which were an appalling spectacle of a corrupt government attempting to choke off the Kenyan public's access to information about the functioning of their own government. The crux of the issue is whether it is proper for the press to question the actions of the government: this is one of the most basic issues involving freedom of the press and the need for transparancy. The current Kenyan government does not wish to be criticized.

What emerges from the aftermath of the media raids is that one piece of what has gone very wrong with the current government there is the arrival of two very strange Armenian investors, Artur Margaryan and Artur Sargysan, who strut around Nairobi with an I already bought this country; what's your problem? attitude, when asked questions about their business and their involvement by the media. The details are floridly jaw-dropping; really over the top. And the media raids seem to have come about not because the Kenyan media is irresponsible, but rather because the sitting government has so much to hide.

So now the Kenyan Parliament has reopened. And on that opening day, Kenya's President Kibaki remarked:

Although the freedom of the Press cannot be over-emphasised, it is clear that it must be exercised within the bounds of responsibility.

SO. What are those bounds to be? Hmm? Well. There is this "Media Bill" which will turn the Media Council of Kenya into a censorship body. From Embassy: Canada's Foreign Policy Newsweekly:

So far, a total of six Kenyan journalists have been arrested and charged in court of publishing rumours likely to cause alarm. They are two from the Standard group and four from a weekly newspaper, The Citizen.

The media fraternity is gripped with fears that it's facing a chilling period. The government has published a Media Bill due to be tabled in parliament for enactment. According to the Bill, press accreditation of those considered rebel journalists is to be withdrawn. The current self-regulated Media Council of Kenya would be transformed into a statutory media council, essentially becoming a censorship body. The Bill will also allow for the creation of a media content commission that, with a fine tooth comb, will check on content in both electronic and print media to ensure the media toe the government line. Toeing the line will also be expected of public publications published by the civil society and the faith community.

Faced with this uncertain future, the Media Council of Kenya has called for a media stakeholders meeting to be held Friday, March 24 to launch a campaign against the Bill. . . .

The Chairman of Media Council of Kenya Board of Trustees Dr. Absalom Mutere described the raid on the Standard group as "exhibition of raw power," adding "my take is we ain't seen nothing yet."

Scary stuff. In the past few weeks of combing through this stuff, I've become rather fond of the Kenyan media. If the media raids were to become institutionalized through this legislation, it would be a loss to all of us. So let's do something about it.

How about the rest of us try to find out what is going on there. Who are these Armenian "investors"? I think we can find out. What is their real business, and how is the money flowing through the Kenyan political establishment? I think we should help out by taking a worldwide interest in this.  I think we would all be better for it.

(I would be very interested in hearing from anyone with expertise on Armenian organized crime.)

Kenya: More on the Mysterious Armenian Brothers

   Artur Margaryan 
  Photo by by mwasb (Boniface Mwangi).

The Kenyan investigative journalists have been doing an amazing job of investigating the mysterious Armenian brothers who have become embroiled in the growing corruption scandal in Nairobi in the aftermath of the Kenyan media raids of a few weeks ago. (Among other things, the brother are alledged to be the white guys on cell phones in the TV station security cam footage of the raid.)

Kenya's journalists are writing articles faster than I can blog them, so I've added a Typelist on the subject to my left-hand sidebar, giving links to articles of interest so I can just toss in new ones as I go along. I have my theories of what is going on here, but the pool of available information is growing so fast that I'll hold off on theorizing.

Here are a few favorite items from the links in the sidebar. First of all, they have IDed Artur Margaryan's intriguing bodyguard:

Ms Shefana Igbal, is a daughter of a renown Mombasa businessman said to be close to businessmen in the underworld and particularly drug barons, our sources confided to us. The armed woman is known for her daring driving skills and apart from chauffeuring Artur Margaryan around the city, she also doubles as a bodyguard.

This next item is of Jamesian narrative complexity. Parse the point of view on this one: Kenya: Michuki Questioned As 'Armenian' Plot Thickens
Michuki further claimed that the Group intended to publish a series of stories linking key government officials to the Al-Qaeda terrorist group, sources close to the Committee said. "It was a government action. The Standard Group has a propaganda unit which wanted to run stories that key government officials have Al-Qaeda links," a source close to the committee said of Michuki.

So, the Standard -- raided by police apparently under orders from Michuki -- reports that someone said that Michuki claimed that the Standard was going to run stories linking various government officials to Al Qaeda. Kenyan politics has a very subtle aesthetic. I feel like this is what I went to grad school in literature for! As Alex Harrowell remarks, ". . . yes, the government tactically leaked the information that the opposition were accusing them of terrorism in order to bash them for playing the terrorism card . . . or something."

Artur Margaryan, on the other hand, is not a subtle fellow. Gotta love this quote:

Margargran, interjected: "Your country's budget is not enough for the country. It is not enough to hire us."

. . . and this one:

Foreigner Artur Margaryan yesterday told Internal Security Minister John Michuki to stop commenting on their issue until investigations are complete. . . . He also cautioned Michuki against commenting on issues "he knows nothing about".

Margaryan can't possibly mean that bit about AQ, can he? He keeps going on about being a Christian.

Meanwhile the Standard manages to be at least a little forgiving and takes Michuki's side against Margaryan:

What sticks in the craw is that Michuki is just the latest in Artur Margaryan's line of fire. Wearing his arrogance and disdain proudly and loudly this man seems bent on belittling every prominent Kenyan he comes across.

A number of editorialists called for the Armenian brothers to be expelled from Kenya, but interestingly Health Minister Charity Ngilu made a somewhat tortured argument as to why they should not be deported:

HEALTH Minister Charity Ngilu yesterday asked the government not to deport the two Armenians at the centre of the mercenaries row before Kenyans knew their true identity and motive. Ngilu who is the Kitui Central MP said the duo should remain in the country so that Kenyans can get to the bottom of the truth.

Why would a health minister come to the aid of guys who seem a bit too cozy with the world of drug trafficking?

And then there's this business article which makes a sad but remarkable claim:

Two brothers from the Trans-Caucasian republic of Armenia are believed to be the only significant foreign investors Narc has so far managed to attract.

One of the most interesting things about these investors is that they have no need of bank accounts:

THE saga surrounding two Armenians, variously referred to as mercenaries and investors on the other hand took a new twist yesterday, when it become apparent that the duo have no known accounts in any Kenyan bank. Sources close to the Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) have confirmed that Mr Artur Margaryan and his brother Arur Sargayan, neither operate a bank account indivindually, nor in any of the companies associated with them. Neither the Brotherhood International Company, nor any other company associated with them has a bank account in any of the 42 banks registered in Kenya, or in any of the existing forex bureaux in Kenya. . . . This means that the Sh 150,000 the duo are claiming to be spending daily cannot be accounted for, alluding to a possibility of massive money laundering in the country.

And don't miss this batch of photos by the talented young Kenyan photographer, Boniface Mwangi.

And there's this piece, suggesting that the members of the current administration have been unlucky and have been having problems with their life expectancy. Subtext is all. And that subtext does beg the question of the identity of that "snake" of John Michuki's now infamous remark, "When you rattle a snake, you should be prepared to be bitten by it."

This does all have a kind of startup/venture capital feeling about it. Perhaps the MacGuffin in this strange tale is the eighty million dolars worth of cocaine -- "1.1 metric ton shipment, confiscated in December 2004" -- that's been sitting around in a warehouse for a while, that the Kenyan government has just agreed to destroy. If you were a criminal, woudn't you want it? That may be the simplest explaination for what's driving this circus.

Wonder how much of it is left.

(See also The Yorkshire Ranter. and the tHiNkEr’S rOoM.)

Guam: "If Rick Blas doesn't know that something's going on at his agency, something's wrong."

More on Guam and the spying equipment found in the customs area of the airport there:

KUAM: Former TSA chief calls for federal investigation of Rick Blas

Local customs and quarantine director Rick Blas called on the assistance of his federal counterpart to assist in the investigation of about surveillance equipment found hidden in various security sensitive areas at the Guam International Airport Authority, as numerous wireless cameras and listening devices were found during a sweep of the Customs screening and airport offices yesterday.

While officials still have no concrete answers on who installed the devices or where they are transmitting to, there's a new twist in the investigation as the former Transportation Security Administration director has called for a federal inquiry into Blas.

While Blas is trying to determine the identity of Big Brother - identifying precisely who installed surveillance cameras and listening devices throughout the customs screening area - former TSA federal security director Adolph Sgambelluri is requesting a federal investigation into the cameras and Blas. Sgambelluri declined to do an interview today but tells KUAM, "If Rick Blas doesn't know that something's going on at his agency, something's wrong."

The former TSA official says several years ago he became aware of an investigation alleging Customs officers were interrogating passengers coming off flights from the Philippines. Sgambelluri claims the interrogations were done without probable cause. He maintains the feds and TSS had nothing to do with the installation of surveillance equipment at the airport.

KUAM News asked whom he believes installed the cameras - Sgambelluri maintains it was Blas himself.  . . .

In the meantime, unnamed sources from the Airport tell KUAM News that after September 11, 2001, the Federal Aviation Administration mandated the agency install more security cameras around the facility. At the FAA's instruction, the Airport installed numerous cameras within its facilities, but sources could not say where those cameras were installed.

Wouldn't it be fun if those cameras turned out to have something to do with Jack Abramoff's big checks he was throwing around in Guam? What a made-for-TV movie that would make!

See Pacific News Daily last week: Lawyer explains lobbyist checks

A California attorney, whose office received more than $400,000 in payments from the Superior Court of Guam for now disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, said he was told that most of the payments needed to be in $9,000 checks to comply with local court procurement rules.

UPDATE 3/6: KUAM News this morning reports that a "federal aviation security grant allowed for the enhancement of security measures" at the airports, but they still haven't established that whatever was up with the security cameras etc in customs was legit.

Kenya: The Standard Is Back Online

The East African Standard, a paper attacked during yesterday's media shutdown in Kenya, is back online and back in business. They have an impressive video of the masked men who attacked CCTV in Kenya taken by security camera, which is available for viewing. I'm going to try to arrange to mirror it so we don't suck up all their bandwith; it is well worth watching.


CAG's got a blog!

I just discovered this morning that the strange, secretive private intelligence company Consultants Advisory Group (CAG) has a blog. I'm trying to figure out how to stuff it and mount it properly to be hung on my wall.

I have a letter in to UN Legal inquiring about the relationship between MINUSTAH and CAG. The CAG site (including blog) is sitting on a Yahoo server in Sunnyvale, CA, near as I can tell.

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!)

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.

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.

The Consultants Advisory Group™ (CAG) Web Site in History

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

December 6, 2005: The domain name is registered.

Consutants Advisory Group page, December 13th, 2005, 9:33 PMDecember 13, 2005: The CAG web site touts the corporate security clearances and credit rating, but gives no address or phone number. I ridicule them for their lack of transparency.

CAG web page, January 20th, 2006, 10:10AMJanuary 20, 2006: The CAG web site has dropped claims of security clearances and credit ratings and has added an address in Tampa and an address in Panama plus a "message center" phone number. Under scrutiny, both street addresses seem to be some form of message center. On January 18th, I had published a post which began, "I seem to have uncovered a strange little black ops organization that's spying in Haiti and elsewhere. "

January 26, 2006: Following inquiries as to the corporation's relationship to former Panama Attorney General Rogelio Cruz Rios, the CAG web site goes "Under Construction." (For those with press credentials who would like to hear their side of things, their now-missing message center phone number, which is I think is a number in Tampa, is (813)315-6493.)

CAG web page 1/26/06, 4:09 PM

UPDATE, 1/27/06: Here is a screen shot from the Panama Public Registry of the listing for CAG, S.A.:

CAG,S.A. Panama registration, screen 1

Even if Rogelio Cruz Rios were the registrar of their corporation, it may mean nothing. I find it really curious that CAG would rather pull info off their web site than answer questions about their association with him. If CAG has a different registered corporate name in Panama than CAG, S.A. then presumably they could say so. And even if this is he right name, the nature of the relationship could mean little. So why go "UNDER CONSTRUCTION"?

[2/2/06: Note that the trademark sign disappears with this version of the page and does not reappear; I checked the US Patent and Trademark database and found no trademark listing for "Consultants Advisory Group," though it seems possible that they hold a trademark on the name in some other country.]

January 29, 2006: Here we go again. The only problem is, that corporate name does not seem to be present in the Panama Public Registry. Hmmm. (Why can't they back down? If the name isn't in th regsitry, it isn't in the registry.)

CAG's new page, January 29, 2006, 5:35 PM

February 1, 2006: Back to PÁGINA BAJO CONSTRUCCIÓN. This time without details.


Why are these guys so wedded to the corporate name? Have they been using it as a tax shelter on their US tax returns or something? I can't think of any other explanation.

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.