Walk tall or don’t walk at all ( Bruce S)

Trust, mistrust and information

I have borrowed the entire story of Lequeux, Lord Northcliff and Colonel Edmonds from Philip Knightley who describes it in his book: ‘The Second oldest profession, the Spy as Bureaucrat, Patriot, Fantasist and Whore’. (Pan Books, London and Sidney, 1986)

Only one agent of the twenty-one spies the British arrested on 4 August 1914 when Germany declared war on America, was ever brought to trial.

By 1906 author William Lequeux, who believed that Germany had at least five thousand spies in England, had succeeded in talking Field Marshal Lord Roberts into co-writing a fictionalised account of the German invasion to be serialized in the ‘Daily Mail’. Lord Northcliff, the owner of the newspaper was not pleased with the tour they planned as it took the Germans through areas where the ‘Daily Mail’ was hardly read.

Northcliff personally rerouted the invading army. The publication was a huge success. Even when published as a book ‘The Invasion of 1910’ sold more than one million copies.

When Colonel James Edmonds, head of military counter intelligence, speaking before a sub-committee of the Committee of Imperial Defence on Tuesday, 30 March 1909, tried to persuade its members to allocate him more than the 200 pounds and two assistants that had been assigned to him, he was speaking to a very sympathetic audience that desperately wanted him to provide them with the proof that would justify their suspicions that England was riddled with German spies. But Colonel Edmonds had nothing more than hearsay and newspaper-clippings to offer. To his rescue came William Tufnell Lequeux.

In 1909 Lequeux published ‘Spies of the Kaiser: Plotting the Downfall of England’ which was “based on serious fact within my own personal knowledge”.

Thousands of readers considered it – “as they had every right to do in view of Lequeux’s ambiguous presentation of the book as fact in fictional form” [Knightley, p. 10] as being totally true. A wave of spy fever swept over the country.

Readers sent letters to Lequeux in which they reported incidents that mirror the cases he presents in his book. This in turn reinforced his own views – so many people observing the same suspicious behaviour as him!

And these letters he presented as new evidence to Colonel Edmonds who in turn prepared them as a catalogue of ‘Cases of Alleged German Espionage’ and presented them to the second meeting of the sub- committee of the Committee of Imperial Defense on April 20 1909.

The most interesting thing about this catalog of ‘Cases of Alleged German Espionage’ is that Lequeux’s cases – the cases he presented in his novel – are, as Knightley writes, easily identifiable.

The sub-committee of the Committee of Imperial Defence was taken aback by the massive penetration of England by German spies and voted to fund the Secret Service, the first modern espionage service ever.

What’s fact, what’s fiction? What is real? What is not real? Real to whom? Does it matter?

So what can be more real than facts?

To answer that we have to (re)turn to Mrs. Oliphant , 19th century influential novelist and critic:

“Facts are of all things in the world the most false to nature, the most opposed to experience, the most contradictory of all the grand laws of existence. (…) for us truth and fact are two different things; and to say that some incident which is false to nature is taken from the life is an altogether unsatisfactory and inadmissible excuse.” [7]

So even if an incident is taken from (the) life, it could be false to nature. An individual and particular existence can be incompatible with ‘the grand laws of existence’.

An individual and particular existence can be incompatible with ‘the grand laws of existence’.

Any individual and particular existence can be incompatible with ‘the grand laws of existence’.

Any.

Best think about that.

But Gerry Patrick Hemming, who signs ‘Semper Fi / De Oppresso Liber’, has some good news. Genuine SEALS, LRRPS, Rangers, SOG “have established websites where citizens might inquire as to the veracity of the “war stories” told in the bars and bistros in the ‘Hoods. And apparently, “the SEAL vets have great connections and can check out a “braggart” within 20 minutes while you are on line or on the telephone!!” [8]

The Seals have friends with connections to decide between data/not data, between fact and fiction. We ordinary folk have to make do with programs who produce patterns:

“We’re trying to find patterns, to see that one set of conditions tends to result in something else. We don’t know why, and we don’t need to, because the answer is in the data.”

This a programmer talking, a programmer and a sailor: “Katori is writing a program that crunches the measurements and creates a “wind profile number — an implied wind,” a wind an implied boat can sail on, as sailing, “so long an intuitive art, has become a contest of technology.” Sensors and strain gauges are “tracking 200 different parameters every second and sending the information across Craig McCraw’s OneWorld’s LAN to its chase boats and offices. Then the info gets dumped into a Microsoft SQL database, where it’s sifted to pinpoint the effects of sail and hardware experiments. Unravelling all the input is, in the words of OneWorld engineer Richard Karn, “nearly impossible.” And that’s not all: every day for the past two years, five OneWorld weather boats have headed out into the Gulf to harvest data.” [9]

What is the greatest liability on board of such a boat? The greatest liability is us, our human capacity for interpretation. Deciding between data/not data while sailing a ship with on a digital dashboard of natural flows, a sea-dashboard.

Indeed, “the biggest point of failure in todays defense systems – is the human being”; human capabilities are fair game for augmentation, says researcher Joseph Bielitzki of DARPAs Defense Sciences Office, and “sleep- and the consequences of a lack of it – constitute an obvious starting point for this work.” One of his methods include even “prompting the brain to produce additional connections between brain cells.” [10]

In On Dreams, Aristotle draws the conclusion that the dream is a sort of presentation, and, more particularly, one which occurs in sleep: “The dream proper is a presentation based on the movement of sense impressions, when such presentation occurs during sleep, taking sleep in the strict sense of the term.”

This is the realm where you can dream that you stepped into a bullet when it was only a beam. And you wake and thought you stepped into a beam, but, well, it is a bullet. It is “the most promising audio advance in years, and it’s coming this fall”, Suzanne Kantra Kirschner, writes, “Hypersonic speakers. The key is frequency: The ultrasonic speakers create sound at more than 20,000 cycles per second, a rate high enough to keep in a focused beam and beyond the range of human hearing. As the waves disperse, properties of the air cause them to break into three additional frequencies, one of which you can hear. This sonic frequency gets trapped within the other three, so it stays within the ultrasonic cone to create directional audio.” [11]

Step into the beam, you step into a bullet.

Step into a bullet, you step into an equation.

Researchers at MIT Media Lab’s Center for Bits and Atoms have used a physical object instead of a mathematical function to generate cryptographic keys:

“The team created tokens containing hundreds of glass beads, each a few hundred micrometres in diameter, set in a block of epoxy one centimetre square and 2.5 mm thick. These are ‘read’ by shining a laser beam of a particular wavelength through the token. The beam generates a speckle interference pattern, which is projected onto a two-dimensional grid and then converted into a key 2400 bits long. Changing the position of one of the randomly set beads even by less than a micrometre, changes about half the bits in the key.” [12]

Step into anything, you step into everything:

In ‘Smart’ Silicon Dust Could Help Screen for Chemical Weapons Sarah Graham reports the development of dust-size silicon particles that could be used to detect chemical and biological agents from a distance using a laser light source.

“The idea is that you can have something that’s as small as a piece of dust with some intelligence built into it so that it could be inconspicuously stuck to paint on a wall or to the side of a truck or dispersed into a cloud of gas to detect toxic chemicals or biological materials,” co-author Michael J. Sailor explains. So far, the researchers have succeeded in identifying chemicals from nearly 20 meters away. Their goal, Sailor says, is to increase that distance to at least one kilometre.” [13]

What is the greatest liability in such environments? Human capacity for interpretation, deciding between data/not data while simply walking about.

An apprentice story.

“With the flick of the wrong switch, an unsupervised power-plant apprentice melted down a half-million-dollar transformer, blacking out the city for 40 minutes.

Apparently, Coady [the apprentice] failed to follow procedures.

Two circuit breakers – called the east and west buses – must be flipped in a particular order to avoid damaging equipment: the west bus first, then the east bus. The procedure was written for an important reason – because the west bus turns on the cooling system for the transformer.

The switches are in separate rooms. Coady said he closed the east switch before Stephenson [the supervisor] closed the west one. They couldn’t see each other when the [switches were closed and the] damage was done.

The result was disastrous. “It was literally an explosion inside the transformer,” Lake Worth Utilities Director Miller said. “The internal parts of the transformer reached such high temperatures that even the insulation inside the transformer was burned.”

Stephenson said Coady had no clue what had happened. “He was completely unaware,” Stephenson wrote in a memo to Baker. “With his lack of knowledge of the plant electrical controls, it was not even possible to explain to him what he did. He would not have understood. His training did not include these advanced concepts.”

Comment from Scott Wlaschin: “Giant circuit breakers have to be flipped in a certain order blindly in different rooms? This was an accident waiting to happen. It is scary that systems like this can exist. Note that the poor trainee was blamed, of course, for not understanding the ‘advanced concepts’.” [14]

The biggest point of failure in today’s information systems, is indeed the human being. Not because he or she is beyond understanding, but because we are lacking procedures of translation that will negociate between everyday notions of the world and highly advanced concepts that generate other worlds; where sound becomes physical, smell becomes visible, and the sea can be read indeed:

“It’s a statistical process,” says Katori, the team’s lead programmer, as we take the boats in tow and head back to shore at the end of the day. “You have to build a lot of very subjective data before it begins to mean anything, and that’s especially true in light wind. But over time you do build real numbers.”

Over time you move from implied to real numbers.

Real numbers to any apprentice.

Flipping giant circuit breakers blindly in different rooms. At random. Thinking there ate only two that matter. And have an order. A real one.

“What allowed him to produce a series of scientific syntheses so far ahead of their time, and so at odds with the rest of his culture, that for almost a century the scientific community proved incapable of following the road map he left?” , a question about Charles Darwin goes. It may be that “ Although many Victorians welcomed the discrediting of a static Genesis creation, they still demanded a universe in which their values, ideologies and identities were ratified by some cosmic sanction. For Marxists and capitalists, anarchists and imperialists, Christians and freethinkers alike, humans were to be the summit, the goal around which the world is organized and toward which life and history progress.” [15]

We are witnessing our own irrelevance becoming more and more unquestionable, even to ourselves. We are moving into a world in which what surrounds us is behaving more and more like a director, less like the personage we’d prefer to have it act out. It is time to centre the process of becoming itself as the default position. Even though it is “generally assumed that huge floods play a disproportionate role in modifying river courses and eroding bedrock”, Hartshorn shows in a field study on the LiWu River in Taiwan, “that it is the everyday flows that are mainly responsible for deepening of the bedrock channel in this region of active mountain building. The huge floods act primarily to widen the channel and induce hillslope collapse.” [16]

Always faithful everyday flows.

Always faithful everyday flows.

Every week employees receive up to 30 chain letters, jokes, video clips or similar junk email messages from people they know, blocking up their corporate networks and slowing them to a halt, according to a survey. The survey of 1,000 adults in the US with internet access, conducted for SurfControl by Market Facts, showed that junk email from friends causes just as many network headaches as commercial spam.

According to the survey, workers deal with more than 1,500 pieces of junk email each year from friends, family and colleagues. But spam, the much-reviled commercial email sent by strangers, is not set to reach the proportion of ‘friendly’ junk email until 2006. [17]

To discern between friend and foe.

Seals know how to do that. A wind an implied boat can sail on knows how to do that. Does a sub?

“In a speech to The Citadel in September 1999, then-candidate George W. Bush said, “The best way to keep the peace is to redefine war on our own terms.” In a sentence, the president defined the purpose and objective of the department’s effort to transform itself.

There is a modus operandi associated with the submarine service. Even as you operate at a very high tempo, you continue to develop new technologies, new ways of doing business, and then use them with tremendous skill. That is very much the spirit of transformation.

As we transform intelligence, submarine warfare is on the cutting edge. We are looking to create intelligence capabilities that emphasize persistence and greater resistance to denial and deception. These have been the hallmarks of submarine operations and involvement in intelligence for 50 years.

Submarine operations also will play a role in homeland defense, tracking, intercepting, and, if ordered to do so by the commander in chief, interdicting vessels that transport or employ weapons of mass destruction.

Much, then, is expected of you in the coming years. When we recall the words of candidate Bush on the aim of transformation – – of conducting warfare on our terms and maximizing our advantages – – undersea warfare should be brought to everyone’s mind.

To that end, the Department of Defense committed last year to undertake a study on the future of undersea warfare. Its premise is that the United States must maintain its undersea preeminence.” [18]

If you want to keep your undersea pre-eminence you have to know where your subs are.

Do subs know where they are?

Toys do.

“Toys that know where they are, that can recognize people and respond to them; toys that build up a mental state of the things around them; toys that talk to each other and interact with the television set or the computer. You can envision all kinds of scenarios.” says Randy Pausch, co-director of Carnegie Mellon University’s Entertainment Technology Center.

“Don’t be surprised if five years down the road your daughter is holding conversations with Barbie about what to wear to school. Or an animatronic Disney dinosaur is sitting on the couch explaining to his 7-year-old owner what life was like 300 million years ago. Or Buzz Lightyear is watching Toy Story IV with your 6 year old and talking over how a particular scene was put together.

The Media Lab’s Lego Mindstorms toy line already allows children to construct robots, program them, and experiment with how they interact. ‘But instead of building a robot that moves,‘‘ says Resnick, ‘‘imagine building a musical instrument that looks like a trombone and as you slide it in and out, it actually plays different sounds.’

Or, he wonders, what if children could create something that doesn’t look like any previous musical instrument and is controlled by jumping or shining a flashlight on it. ‘Again, it‘s up to a kid‘s imagination,’ he says.” [19]

Indeed it is:

“Two hundred years of American technology has unwittingly created a massive cement playground of unlimited potential. But it was the minds of 11 years olds that could see that potential.” [20]

Can you go skating when it rains?
Can you go skating when it rains real hard?
Would you like to know beforehand? Like the weather for Thursday on Tuesday?
You can listen to the radio.
You can listen to the radio, and get this!

“U.S. Senators Ernest Hollings (D-SC) and John Edwards (D-NC) are pushing legislation to extend the current Emergency Alerting System to include – get this! – automatically turning on TVs and other devices to alert citizens of emergencies. The bill would require the Commerce Department to develop new technologies to issue warnings based on the National Weather Service system, which is decoded by EAS equipment at broadcast and cable stations. “There are a lot of folks in this country who have no idea what they are supposed to do if an attack occurs,” said Edwards.” [21]

Ok.

What do you do when an attack occurs?

First you make sure you are you:

In 2001 86,000 identity thefts were reported. The number doubled in 2002. An official of the Michigan State Police points out that many former violent criminals are now using the Internet for identity theft:

“They are switching over to white-collar crime because it’s more lucrative and they know they will get less time. Identity theft is not necessarily a sophisticated crime.” [22]

Then, if you are you, you best call home:

Brian Sweeney, 38, of Barnstable, a passenger on Flight 175 that crashed into the World Trade Centers South Tower, left a message for his wife, Julie, on their answering machine shortly before 9 a.m.

“Hey Jules, it’s Brian, I’m on a plane and it’s hijacked and it doesn’t look good. I just wanted to let you know that I love you and hope to see you again. If I don’t, please have fun in life and live your life the best you can. Know that I love you and no matter what, I’ll see you again.” – The Boston Herald, Sept. 13.

Jane Pauley (NBC anchor): What words from that phone call (with Jeremy Glick on United 93) give you the most comfort now?

Lyzbeth Glick:

“We said, ‘I love you’ a thousand times, over and over and over again, and it just brought so much peace to us…He said “I love Emmy”, who’s our daughter, and to take care of her. And then he said…”Whatever decisions you make in your life, I need you to be happy, and I will respect any decisions that you make.” I think that gives me the most comfort.” – NBC News, Sept 14. [23]

Captain P. Mortimer noted in his diary on December 26, 1914:

“The enemy came out of their trenches yesterday (being Christmas Day) simultaneously with our fellows – who met the Germans on neutral ground between the two trenches and exchanged the compliments of the season – presents, smokes and drinks – some of our fellows going into the German lines and some of the Germans strolling into ours – the whole affair was particularly friendly and not a shot was fired in our Brigade throughout the day. The enemy apparently initiated the move by shouting across to our fellows and then popping their heads out of their trenches and finally getting out of them altogether.” [24]

Is it true?

Yes.

Yes, it is true that years ago there was a certain monastery in Austria where the monks kept trout in a big pond. Each time a monk came to feed the trout, he rang a bell and trout then swam towards the monk. People thought that the fishes heard the bell, until at last a biologist found out that the trout came towards the monk in just the same way when he didn’t ring the bell at all. The fishes really swam towards the monk because they saw him coming. [25]

“and then popping their heads out of their trenches and finally getting out of them altogether.”

Just raise your head oh so slightly. Any move is sudden death. Or the left side of your face blown away, or the right. All this knowing. And still a guy raises his head.
Raise your head.

“One way of showing the sporting spirit was to kick a football toward the enemy lines while attacking. This feat was first performed by the 1st Battalion of the 18th London Regiment at Loos in 1915 It soon achieved the status of a conventional act of bravado and was ultimately exported far beyond the Western Front. Arthur (“Bosky”) Burton, who took part in an attack on the Turkish lines near Beersheba in November, 1917, proudly reported home: “One of the men had a football. How it came there goodness knows. Anyway we kicked off and rushed the first [Turkish] guns, dribbling the ball with us.” But the most famous football episode was Captain W. P. Nevill’s achievement at the Somme attack. Captain Nevill, a company commander in the 8th East Surreys, bought four footballs, one for each platoon, during his last London leave before the attack. He offered a prize to the platoon which, at the jump-off, first kicked its football up to the German front line. Although J. R. Ackerley remembered Nevill as “the battalion buffoon,” he may have been shrewder than he looked: his little sporting contest did have the effect of persuading his men that the attack was going to be, as the staff had been insisting, a walkover. A survivor observing from a short distance away recalls zero hour:

As the gun-fire died away I saw an infantry man climb onto the parapet into No Man’s Land, beckoning others to follow [Doubtless Captain Nevill or one of his platoon commanders.] As he did So he kicked off a football. A good kick. ‘The ball rose and travelled well towards the German line. That seemed to be the signal to advance.

Captain Nevill was killed instantly. Two of the footballs are preserved today in English museums.” [26]

Raise your head when you’re 38 and Brian Sweeney, breathing life and hope and courage. Raise your head when you’re on United 93 and Jeremy Glick and in giving comfort give life.

And who knows? Perhaps wars are behind us for good in the 21th century:

“But this country’s addiction to convenience and comfort may prove the saving grace. I saw a telling photo the other day of an American soldier hit by shrapnel being carried through the coalition encampment’s game room. How many C-130s worth of foosball tables have been airlifted to Iraq, I wondered? The game rooms already are a form of admission, of the simple fact that our reservists are so accustomed to the video game lifestyle that such gear is considered a necessity in a war zone. In the end it may be that our warring will be reduced considerably by our sheer intolerance for discomfort, disruption, and inconvenience, more than for any other reason.” [27]

Published in: on April 21, 2008 at 8:19 am  Leave a Comment  

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