Monthly Archives: May 2012

Alternate hypothesis – Chris Christie editio

Lunghu provides an interesting interpretation of a recent headline about the New Jersey Governor.

Although the piece is ostensibly about the many out-of-state speaking engagements that His Hugeness has scheduled during the past year, the headline actually conveys another message –in coded language that only some of the Star-Ledger’s readers understand.  That message, for those of you who didn’t already know, proclaims that Chris Cristie is a freemason operating in the service of the order.

I once asked a mason if they got to wear funny hats and once he said ‘no’ I completely lost interest in the whole organization.  So, all I know about the masons comes from Monty Python:

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Italy hates America!

We now hear that Italy has decided to express its contempt for America by taking an incredibly hostile stance.  For several decades American ex-pats that had been peacefully living in Italy have been targeted for death or forced sterilization by Italian authorities.

These Italians aren’t even hiding their psychopathy…their sick, genocidal behavior is being conducted in the open.  The effort is being conducted out of an Italian ‘university’.  The leader?

…Andrea Balduzzi, a professor of natural sciences at the University of Genoa. At dawn, the professor and his student troops go after the invaders, armed with traps and cages.

This is what happens when we elect a socialist president who spends all his time apologizing for America and memorizing the Communist Manifesto and the Koran.

Who’s laughing now? Zombies to the left of me…zombies to the right.

As regular TwShiloh readers I’m sure you’ve been sensitized enough to the growing zombie threat to have seen this but as a completest I feel compelled to include it here.  Perhaps future generations of researchers will be able to piece together a narrative of the apocalypse.

So, let’s begin with the story.

A witness says a naked man chewing on the face of another naked man on a downtown highway ramp kept eating and growled at a police officer who fatally shot him to make him stop.

The official story is that this was a psychotic attack caused by a bad drug trip.

Yeah, right.

The police were called and an officer ordered the attacker to stop.  He refused so the officer shot the attacker who continued to eat the face of the victim.  So, the police officer shot him again, killing him (My money is on that being a head shot.)

I will note, for the record, that Florida is home to two facilities officially cleared for biosafety level 3 work.  That’s ‘officially’ cleared.  Who knows what the secret military labs hidden underground are working with.

And don’t think this is an isolated event.  Sweden has been having zombie outbreaks for years now.

In another *ahem* ‘unrelated’ event, Alexis Madrigal writes about a potential zombie infection in Chicago.  The University of Illinois has an automated alert system for events on campus and issued the following tweet:

Hazardous materials released at Institute for Genomic Biology. Escape area if safe to do so. Otherwise seek shelter.

It took authorities almost an hour to come up with some weak-ass ‘explanation’ for the tweet.  It was all a mistake…no need to panic…blah, blah, blah.

Get your go-bags ready people.


Mrs. TwShiloh enjoys medical oddities so she was very pleased when I showed her this picture from i09 of a skull of a child where you could see the two rows of teeth quite clearly.  Pretty freaky stuff.

Not nearly as freaky, however, as this…from the Discover magazine blog comes this overview of a grave uncovered from the 16th or 17th century. It’s not a stake through the heart but obviously, somebody wanted to make sure this person wasn’t just really dead but was going to stay that way.

Researchers are hypothesizing that while burying a plague victim, gravediggers noticed that this unfortunate didn’t seem decomposed enough and so they wanted to make sure (s)he stayed in the ground and didn’t spread the plague.  Ergo…the brick in the mouth.


Say what?

A few months ago I wrote about (but can’t find in the archives…special TwShiloh bonus points if you can!  In any case, here’s the sourceof that post.) some work done by researchers that looked at phone data in order to see if there were geographic patterns in who talked to who.  They were trying to look beyond political and geographic boundaries and see if there ad hoc communities that exist outside or beyond those borders.  It was pretty cool in that you could see what a United States structured around people’s communication patterns circa the early 21st century might look like.

Well, those researchers are back again, pouring through data and trying to uncover cultural and communication boundaries within the country.  It’d be interesting to do this sort of work in other countries that are threatened with dissolution or civil war and see how splits correlate with initial community boundaries.

But, let’s not deny the opportunity for some whimsy:

One of the clearest regional differences in the U.S. can found by tracking the words people use to refer to soft drinks, which is in fact the map you saw at the top of this story. Pop or soda, or even Coke, these small linguistic differences are not as small as we might think. While “soda” commands the Northeast and West Coast (green) and “pop” is in between (black), “Coke” reigns in the south (turquoise). These small distinctions can often act as touchstones for larger cultural differences.

By combining maps using several datasets they begin to see distinct regions.

For example, New England is incontrovertibly a single region, connected by interaction, mobility, and culture. Similarly, certain states such as Texas and Kansas are their own distinctive regions.

On the other hand, New Jersey and California have a distinct bisection that divides them, though not always in the same way or place.

So…when the apocalypse happens and the US breaks apart into distinct countries, you’ll know where you’ll want to be.  I recommend the light green.

It’d be interesting to compare these findings with the old ‘Nine Nations of North America‘ theory.

Kvick Tänkare

Romania has unveiled a statue to commemorate the founding of the Romanian nation.  It’s a statue of the Emporer Trajan holding a wolf.  Or, as one passerby describes it:

“I have never seen anything so grotesque, a wolf with a pitbull’s head, a lizard’s tail and a tumour on its neck, carried by a guy who is visibly embarrassed by his nudity,”…

h/t Rogue Classicalism

What could possibly be better than blimps?  How about blimps armed with missiles?

Upstart Virginia aerospace firm Mav6 is offering to install guided missiles on the massive, robotic spy blimp it’s building for the Air Force…Mav6 and its CEO, a respected retired Air Force general, are also promoting the giant airship for homeland security missions over U.S. soil.

Just remove all that commie propaganda and replace it with the stars and bars and we'll be ready to spread some serious democracy!

And speaking of blimps (ok, dirigibles…whatever) here’s an account of one of the Hindenburg’s survivors.

Eric Valli has a maddeningly fascinating photo essay about Americans who are living off the grid.  Fascinating in that the photos are amazing and leave you salivating for the long form article that explains it all.  Maddening in that there is no long form article that explains it all.  There’s nothing but the pictures.

I’m not much of a techno/dance guy but there are some days where this would be most excellent.

…in Sweden we have a whole other vibe going. Here, more and more workers are foregoing both leisurely lunches and “al-desko” dining in favor of daytime raves.

Lunch Beat events can be arranged by any individual, group or company anywhere in the world as long as the organizers respect the founders’ Manifesto, a list of 10 rules specifying, for instance, that Lunch Beat discos must be nonprofit events, take place at lunch time, have 60-minute long DJ sets, and include a takeaway meal.

Do it.  After all, you’ve got all day to be a corporate drone…live a little.  Or, if you’re an autocratic robber-baron, what better way to distract your corporate drones than by allowing them to think they have some control over their lives and can be ‘edgy’ during the day?

And to get you in the mood (kinda)

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The zombie apocalypse happened — and we won.

But though society has recovered, the threat of infection is always there — and Los Angeles coroner Tommy Rossman is the man they call when things go wrong.

A nice 17 minute film that would be great to expand to a full length feature/mini-series. Lots of interesting story potential that the zombie genre hasn’t tapped yet.

In which I announce that I think I have a crush….

I don’t think I’ve read my entire employee manual but last night I sat down and read the employee manual of another company.

The Valve employee manual was shared on Boingboing recently and I’m not sure how to react.  Can a company really be run this way?  No hierarchy? No set roles? A desire to not be in a constant reactive mode?  Employees treated like adults?

No! It can’t be true!

Really, take a look at this.  It’s worth your time.  Not just content but also tone.

And here’s where I think intelligence shops should be looking for inspiration.  Not towards the military or law enforcement…or even the bureaucratic intelligence agencies in D.C.  For the most part they neither encourage or reward the sort of thinking and work that is required to do intelligence analysis in many cases.  Companies like this, that work with information and knowledge have to have a different model from Henry Ford’s Widget-o-Rama(tm).

And that’s because intelligence analysis falls into two broad categories.  The first is fine for incremental changes in the environment.  In all fairness, this accounts for most of the intelligence work that’s done and you can do an adequate job within existing structures.

The second, however, we don’t have that good of a record with.  That is for larger shifts in the environment…foreseeable but radically different.  The fall of the Soviet Union, 9/11, the effects of the introduction of crack cocaine on violent crime.  For these sorts of things, there’s just no incentive to look at this sort of thing.  Even if there was, the organizations which could do them can’t.  There are too many layers of approval…too many people who are too risk averse…too much centralization of decision making authority.

Even if agencies don’t convert themselves into Valve-like utopias, there are ideas worth considering for any intelligence shop.  For example:

…hiring lower-powered people is a natural response to having so much work to get done. In these conditions, hiring someone who is at least capable seems (in the short term) to be smarter than not hiring anyone at all. But that’s actually a huge mistake.

It’s interesting to see what Valve says its system doesn’t do well (and by the way…You aren’t likely to see many shops put their shortfalls right in their employee handbook like Valve did.  Many just don’t have that level of self-awareness.)  The things are very similar to what you’d hear in more traditional workplaces:  poor mentoring (what’s a mentor?), disseminating information internally, making predictions more than a few months out.  Just the act of identifying those shortfalls and putting them front and center is valuable as its another way the organization can tell everyone what it considers important and wants to improve.  Ideally, it should inspire people to try to improve those shortcomings.

And yet…

So…off I go to cry myself to sleep.

Not the sort of thing you read every day….

Mrs. TwShiloh usually doesn’t like it when I reference Swedish news from the online site The Local.  She claims it’s highly skewed and presents an unflattering picture of Sweden that focuses on the tawdry and scatological interests of the (probably) British editors.  I disagree and point out that perhaps that view is more correct than a Swede living abroad would like to admit.

Regardless of where you may stand on that very important issue, I think we can agree that even at their most ‘egregious’ they can’t touch the work of Emirates 24/7.  And how often do you get to see headlines like this?

‘Donkey rape’ sparks tribal massacre in Yemen

Newspapers in Yemen said the owner of the ass got mad after he saw the donkey attacking his animal, prompting him to chase the donkey and hit it.

The attack infuriated the donkey owner, who called his armed tribe men and asked them to take revenge.

“The problem snowballed into an armed fight between Makabis tribe, which owns the donkey, and Bani Abbas which owns the ass…15 people were either killed or injured in the battle,” the Saudi Arabic language daily Aleqtisadiah said, quoting newspapers in Yemen.

But the madcap mayhem doesn’t end there!  As a bonus story (totally unrelated and not even getting a nod in the headline) we get a story about a monkey going berserk in a Saudi Arabian mosque.

A packed Saudi mosque plunged into pandemonium after a money [sic]  found its way inside and attacked worshippers [sic]…

No word on whether the monkey was an agent of Mossad, a Shiite extremist or a member of SEAL Team 6 engaged in a counter terrorism operation.

The power of fear in the public safety field

Interesting notes from a talk by Dinah Boyd at a recent SXSW titled ‘The Power of Fear in Networked Publics’. It raises some (unintentional?) questions about how we conceive of threats particularly in law enforcement and homeland security and how the integration of social media (something I’ve recommended) might actually makes things worse rather than better.

So, to begin with, let’s establish the existence of the culture of fear. Boyd talks about it as it relates to the general public with the influence of the media (‘Is your apple sauce killing you? Tune in to your local news!’), politicians (‘This is the most critical election in all of history! Make the wrong decision and civilization crumbles.’), and advertisers (‘Our product kills 99.9% of all germs…Regular tap water only kills 99.8%…Don’t kill your family!’).

The same thing happens in the crime/homeland security field. Some of this is intentional (justifying a budget, getting access to new resources, keeping a position, etc.) and some of it is not. When you’re steeped in the nuts and bolts of crime or dedicating your life to preventing the next terrorist attack it’s easy for events to take up all of your perspective. This is especially problematic when you have nothing to compare it to. If you live in the Midwest of the United States, a small rise (as viewed by someone who regularly sees the Appalachian Mountains) can be called a hill. Describing the Appalachians as mountains might meet with a snort by those who’ve seen the Rockies or the Hindu Kush.

So, today Iran is often described in the same apocalyptic terms as the USSR was. Al-Qaeda (circa 2012) is not the same organization it was in 2000 yet all too often it’s talked about like it is. I think that’s because al-Qaeda (since 9/11) was always seen as the ’11’ on terrorist amplifier. Likewise, when it comes to state threats, after the USSR we needed to find a new ’11’. We’ve been trying on a variety (Iraq, North Korea, Iraq again, China) but none are totally satisfactory.* Since that notion is virtually hardwired in us (because of political expediency, intellectual laziness and bureaucratic self-preservation) whenever there’s a downward trend in terms of threat (either in intent or capabilities) that becomes the new ’11’. The same vocabulary, concern, and calls to action are applied.

This is not a call to ignore threats but rather to spend some time thinking about how we should prioritize them and put them into perspective. Now, this certainly won’t be easy. This ratcheting up of threats (or, at least the inability to ratchet them down when appropriate) is reinforced by the same process occurring in the public sphere. It may be that most child abductions are done by family members or people familiar with the victim. Still, the dark stranger sells more papers and both reassures (it can’t be anyone we know) and frightens (could it be that guy? How about that guy?!) parents and moves many to action (demanding public officials do something). Rather than see if the facts conform to popular opinion and explaining the difference when they don’t (and risking hysterics about how ‘experts’ can’t be trusted and therefore losing the next election) it’s easier to appear to do something: form a task force…pass new draconian laws…whatever. Meanwhile, the real problem continues.

For gun crime, terrorism, or other threats, just rinse and repeat.

Boyd then moves to talk about how social media encourages users to tap into fear in order to compete for the attention of others in an environment that is highly competitive for people’s attention.

Attention is indeed the currency of contemporary society. Hysteria is one element of this, whether it plays out as fear-mongering or simply drama.

This tendency is one thing that social media won’t be able to fix in the intelligence community. There will still be a desire (perhaps an increased one) to hype threats (consciously or not). I’ve often bemoaned the fact that too many intelligence shops focus on the quantity of their production rather than quality. I’ve also suggested that some ways to move beyond this is to look at metrics of readership (subscriptions, comments, etc.) but that poses the very real risk of falling into this trap. If people believe their jobs (or the fortunes of their agency) depend on page-views, subscriptions or comments then you risk pandering to an audience. Some agencies (I fear too many) will go into full Chicken Little mode, making every threat seem worthy of DEFCON 1 status.

After all, how many people want to read or hear about a moderate threat (or no threat)? Perhaps only if someone else has hyped it. I just don’t think we’re wired to be interested in that sort of thing. But…intelligence analysis is all about overcoming our mind’s shortcut behavior and cognitive biases. And it’s not impossible to do. The sciences can provide us with a template of how a community can engage in (generally) non-fear/hype based information dissemination with success.

Of course, as I’ve remarked on before, there’s a significant anti-intellectual streak that runs through the law enforcement/homeland security community that isn’t present in the scientific community. Too often this lowest common denominator is used as a crutch to prevent all progress. If the most lethargic troglodyte won’t take to an initiative enthusiastically, well, then we’ll just have to continue doing things the way we always have.**

So, how to solve the fear inflation problem, especially if everyone decides to take my suggestion and start incorporating social media into intelligence production? (Yeah, big shot. How are you going to fix this?) Well, I’m not really sure. Readership metrics are only a step in the right direction from strict quantity measures but clearly don’t get us all the way there. Even measuring citations isn’t good enough (just look at HuffPo). Formal peer review is too cumbersome and time consuming. Informal peer review (where you have people commenting on other people’s work, perhaps like a Small Wars Journal) might work but, I fear, could quickly devolve into ‘You write something favorable about my stuff and I’ll do the same for you’ or become too cliquish. Plus there’s a culture of not critisizing other agency’s work publicly (privately is a whole different ball of wax).

As much as I’d like to give you a solution, I’m afraid I’m just not sure I have one. Yet…

*China may be in 10 or 20 years but we need something to freak out about now! Dammit.

**A recent suggestion to conduct a ‘webinar’ was described as only for those who are ‘technologically sophisticated’. Apparently, clicking on a hyperlink and enter a name is the sort of lofty task reserved for those who split atoms in their spare time.