Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Hearing On Town Of Oriental Motion To Dismiss: Cox v. Oriental

I just received notice from the Town's attorneys putting a hearing on the calendar for their motion to dismiss.

The hearing will be July 8 at 2:00 PM or as soon thereafter as possible. It will be held in the Pamlico County Court House. More detail later.

Monday, June 24, 2013

The Sequester - Destructive And Dumb

Have I mentioned before how destructive and stupid the sequester is?

We are seeing the total failure of government. People are being hurt. The economy is being hurt.

I say again: We don't have a deficit problem - we have a jobs problem! The federal government should spend more money, not less, until employment returns.

Do you want to know just exactly what and who is being harmed by the sequester? Check out Jared Bernstein's blog here.

On Weather

Mark Twain once observed that everybody talks about the weather, but no one ever does anything about it.

About three o'clock this morning, the rain began to fall. It came in waves.

When I got up at 6:00, I checked the weather forecast on Town Dock, as I usually do. I found the probability of precipitation to be 7%. It is now twenty minutes after 8:00, and the rain is still pouring down. It is thundering as well.

Something seems to be amiss.

When I was ten years old, people explained any unusual or unwanted weather as being "because of those atomic bomb tests."

Today we know better.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

New Web Site About Suit Against Town Of Oriental

Readers may have noticed I haven't said much lately about the suit I filed against the Town of Oriental.

Mostly, I want the complaint to be processed in the courts. That's the only institution that can undo the Town's actions.

In the meantime, there has been a lot of information and misinformation about what I am doing and why I am doing it.

Here is a web site, ncpublictrust.org, that explains what is at stake. Take a look. If you have any questions, you can comment on this blog or send an e-mail to info@ncpublictrust.org. 

The site will be updated as new information becomes available.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Oriental Town Budget

Last Monday, the Town Board held a public hearing on the budget for 2013-2014. Not many members of the public attended the 5:30 meeting, and there were few public comments. It took only a few minutes for the Town Board to approve the budget ordinance for the coming year.

Earlier this Spring, as reported in Town Dock, the Board considered a proposal to raise taxes to cover expenses resulting from my suit against the Town. Town Dock explained: "There will not be an increase in property taxes, even though, this spring, Commissioners had bounced that idea around for a week or two. Town Manager Bob Maxbauer claimed a tax hike was necessary to pay the town’s attorneys to fight lawsuits over the South Avenue and Avenue A rights of way. (Resident Dave Cox has sued the Town, saying towns can’t exchange or sell rights of way, as Oriental did in the Chris Fulcher land swap.

"Maxbauer wanted the Board to raise taxes 3 cents for every $100 valuation which would have brought in $63,000 – even though the Town’s attorney has estimated the cost of the lawsuit and appeal could run between $20,000 and $50,000. Commissioner Sherrill Styron said at one budget meeting that he wanted at least a penny tax to “make David Cox look bad” but in the end, the Board declined, in this election year, to raise the property tax at all."

I assume that Sherrill Styron's remark about raising taxes to make me look bad was offered in jest.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

SCOTUS Gets It Right

Last week's decision by the Supreme Court disallowing patents for naturally occurring genes represents the final triumph of common sense.

So how come the patent office has been granting such patents for 30 years?

One thing the case shows is that foolish government actions can be overurned in our court system, but only if someone complains.

Long live complainants (otherwise known as plaintiffs).

Monday, June 17, 2013

Tell Me Again About Our Great Recovery

Those who think the economy is taking off should take a look at the following graph from the Federal Reserve:


I think this graph tells us a lot more about the economy than "unemployment" figures. The problem with unemployment figures is the way they are calculated. If you keep looking for work and run out of unemployment benefits, by definition you no longer count as part of the work force. Therefore you are not unemployed.

The employment to population ratio shows how many are employed, an easier and more stable figure. Not much improvement lately.

It didn't have to be this way. We needed to focus on putting people back to work. We have a jobs problem, not a deficit problem.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Have We Been Derped?

Actually, I'm still a bit unsure as to whether Derp is just a noun, or whether it can be a verb as well.

What is a derp? Economist Noah Smith in his blog Noahpinion gives a complete and somewhat humorous explanation here.

It turns out it is connected with epistemology and also with Bayesian analysis. And posteriors.

It explains why some people aren't interested in evidence.

Paul Krugman has a discussion of derpiness here. Even conservative economists use the term.

As for epistemology, epistemic closure (meaning closed minds) can have real world consequences. Here, for example.

This problem has been around for a long time in human affairs. Ecclesiastes had something to say about it:

"...wisdom is better than folly, just as light is better than darkness. The wise have eyes in their heads, while the fool walks in the darkness...." Ecclesiastes 2:13-14.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

When Did You First Hear That Public Schools Were Failing?

I started school in the first grade (we had no kindergarten) in Greenwood, Mississippi in September, 1943. We had one first grade teacher and no teaching assistants for over thirty students. Our reader was Dick and Jane.

I never heard anyone complain that public schools were failing.

In third and fourth grade, I attended school in a two-room, four grade country school house in rural Tulsa County, OK. The room was spartan. No library. No hall. We entered class through a door leading directly outside. There was no bathroom. Only an outdoor privy. I rode a bus over an hour to get there.

No one complained that public schools were failing.

I attended fifth and started sixth grade in temporary classrooms in Midwest City, OK. There was one teacher for over thirty students.

No one complained that the schools were failing.

I completed sixth through eighth grades in a rural school East of Oklahoma City. There were two grades in each classroom. I had the same teacher for all four grades. Many of my classmates had never set foot out of Oklahoma County. Many had never visited the state capital, ten miles away. Many students quit when they reached sixteen.

No one complained the schools were failing.

I was taken by bus ten miles into Oklahoma City for ninth and tenth grades. On the school grounds, older boys bullied younger ones and stole lunch money. Ninth grade students showed up for class some mornings drunk. Some stole cars and went joy riding. Most smoked. Many were sexually active from about the seventh grade on. Teachers were mediocre.

No one ever said the schools were failing.

We moved to Anchorage, Alaska. I walked two miles to school every day through snow drifts, often in below zero weather before sunrise.

No one ever said the schools were failing.

I graduated from the University of Mississippi and eventually received graduate degrees from Tufts and Harvard. I had no trouble competing.

Apparently I wasn't irreparably damaged by all those public schools.

Oh, by the way, what did those schools have in common? They were segregated (except for Anchorage - we had one African American in the high school).

When did I first start hearing that public schools were failing? Not until after school integration.

Could there be a connection?

Here's a good article from Huffington Post by an author who sends his children to public schools. He explains why.

My children also went to public schools. They aren't noticeably deprived or intellectually deficient.

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

Who watches the watchers?

Juvenal: Satires, Book VI

Sequester: A Destructive Solution To A Non-Problem

Two years ago, the newspapers and TV pundits were warning about a vast "debt crisis."

There never was a debt crisis. There were substantial deficits resulting from the economic collapse from our real estate bubble. Economic collapse and resulting loss of jobs triggered increased expenditures on the social safety net and reduced revenue.

This was not a problem - it is a feature of our economy. It is called "counter-cyclical" expenditure, and is designed to moderate the business cycle and prevent the economy from going into a tailspin. This time, the economic collapse was so severe, it took additional measures to avoid a collapse.

It could have been worse. Much worse.

By now, it could be much better, had we acted on a scale required by the situation. But especially after the 2010 election, the House of Representatives, under Republican leadership, did everything they could to sabotage recovery.

In early 2011, the newly sworn-in Republican House threatened to shut down the government if they didn't get their way.

The result was the sequester bill.

Just as recovery was beginning to happen (though more vigorous recovery efforts would have speeded things up), the sequester is now kicking in. As a nation, we are pressing on the brake while trying to accelerate up the on-ramp of recovery.

Bad idea.

Here's what I had to say about it two years ago.

The underlying problem isn't getting better.

Friday, June 14, 2013

More On Communications Intelligence

I realize my previous post on communications intelligence might have been a bit much for some readers. My excuse is that I was personally fascinated with the case of Stanley Johnston revealing through the Chicago Tribune that the US knew in advance where and when the Japanese would attack Midway. How Johnston may have learned of this remains a bit speculative.

What I find equally interesting is that Johnston, who was embarked as a journalist aboard USS Lexington (CV-2) during the battle of the Coral Sea, seems not to have been aware of the role played by communications intelligence in that battle. How did the US fleet know to be where they were at the time they were in order to engage the Japanese?

Johnston's book, Queen Of The Flattops, about the last days and eventual loss of Lexington remains a masterpiece of war coverage.

Two movies about the war in the Pacific provide some information about the role of communications intelligence: "Tora! Tora! Tora!" and "Midway." My favorite is Tora! Tora! Tora!

A recent series on public television, "Bletchley Circle," touches on the special skills of the (mostly women) who worked on breaking German codes during WWII.

Two works by Alexander Solzhenitsyn are of interest. In August, 1914, Solzhenitsyn describes the utter disaster of the Russian army at the Battle of Tannenberg, largely due to administrative incompetence in delivering radio code books to the field in time for the attack. As a result, Russian forces could only communicate with each other in the clear. The Germans knew every Russian move in advance. Whether the code books would have been effective had they been distributed is another question.

During the Winter War of 1939 between Finland and the Soviet Union, it is said that Finnish forces intercepted encrypted Soviet radio communications, transmitted the intercepts to Swedish experts at Uppsala University. The intercepts were decrypted and the information sent back to Finland. This intelligence enabled Finnish ski troops to operate with devastating effectiveness against Soviet units.

The other related book by Solzhenitsyn is First Circle. That book describes the work of Soviet convicts in developing technical means of voice recognition to identify a dissident from a recording.

These efforts were all forerunners of today's cyberwar.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Communications Intelligence: Press Disclosures In 1942 - Chicago Tribune

The Snowden affair calls to mind an earlier history of U.S. Intelligence efforts targeting communications. In the 1920's and 30's, the United States targeted foreign diplomatic and military communications. The early origins of the effort remain murky. The entire field of cryptography and cryptanalysis burgeoned after the introduction of radio communications. Intercepted radio message traffic provided intelligence analysts vast quantities of material to exploit. During World War I, the main target was Germany.

After WWI, for a time the effort continued using combined resources of the Army, Navy, State Department and Justice, under leadership of Herbert Yardley, who had headed the Army's communications intelligence effort during the Great War. This effort, known officially as the Cipher Bureau and unofficially as the American Black Chamber, continued until it was closed during the Hoover Administration in an apparent economy measure. Or, alternatively, it was closed as a result of Secretary of State Stimson's discomfort with the program. "Gentlemen don't read each other's mail," he declared.

Japan had been a major target of US communications intelligence which played a key role in US diplomatic success during the Washington Naval Conference of 1922. The Navy began its own effort at communications intelligence in 1926 (probably building on earlier efforts). Here is an account of the Navy's efforts leading up to WWII.

Something to bear in mind is that US Government efforts to intercept, decode, translate and distribute foreign message traffic was in clear violation of the Telecommunications Act of 1934. These efforts, which played a key role in US operational success in both oceans during WWII, continued to violate US law until an exception was made by statute in 1978.

In the intervening decades, there were several instances of inadvertent or unauthorized disclosure of US communications intelligence. Here is an account of what happened in 1942 concerning one such unauthorized disclosure concerning Midway:

The Battle of Midway continued long after the combatants retired. Because of the confusion that surrounded the nascent and relatively unfamiliar U.S. Navy policies governing secrecy and need to know in 1942, the Battle of Midway was refought in the newspapers and courthouses of three major U.S. cities - New York, Chicago, and Washington - for several weeks after the battle actually ended. At issue was how the Navy knew of Japanese plans, how that knowledge came into the possession of a newspaper reporter, and how the government should handle a serious security violation. In the end no one was ever formally punished for revealing to the public the role communications intelligence played in the Japanese defeat. Whether the Japanese ever discovered that U.S. cryptologists had successfully penetrated their most secret operational code, or even suspected the magnitude of the warning provided by COMINT, remains a matter of conjecture to this day. At the time, however, officials within OP-20-G were certain that subsequent almost draconian corrections in Japanese communications procedures and cryptography were traceable directly to the following events.
On 17 May 1942, the survivors of the Lexington were en route to San Diego and San Francisco aboard the USS Barnett and the USS Elliot. (One account said that Admiral Fitch and Captain Sherman were aboard the transport Chester.) Anticipating their arrival in the United States, CINCPAC sent the following message to Admiral Fletcher, CTF 17, with information copies to COMINCH and the Commandants of the 11th and 12th Naval Districts:
It is imperative that all survivors Coral Sea action being returned Mainland be instructed that they are to refrain from any mention of the action upon their arrival west coast port. Com11 is requested berth transports where debarkation can be conducted without contact with newsmen. All personnel will probably require reoutfitting. There will be no publicity regarding this matter until Navy Department release. Barnett and Elliot will stop at San Diego to discharge excess personnel en route San Francisco. 
Despite these precautions by CINCPAC, events aboard the Barnett resulted in even more damaging revelations than those CINCPAC had hoped to prevent. In ancillary actions, CINCPAC learned that medical reports filed in Navy Bureau of Medicine channels revealed the status of American carriers after the battle. In a hasty message on 3 June 1942, CINCPAC notified COMINCH and requested immediate action to suppress the errant reports. At 2050 on 8 June 1942, COMINCH sent the following message to CINCPAC:
Contents of your 311221 May were published almost verbatim in several newspapers yesterday. Article originated with correspondent Stanley Johnson [sic] embarked on [USS] Barnett until June 2d. While your despatch was addressed Task Force Commanders it was sent in channel available to nearly all ships which emphasizes need of care in using channels para. Cominch investigating on Barnett and at San Diego. 
CINCPAC's message of 311221 May contained his final appreciation of the Japanese order of battle prior to Midway.
True to his word, COMINCH immediately convened several formal inquiry panels, which began gathering depositions from witnesses. The panels inquired into the circumstances aboard the Barnett, which, in addition to most of the crew, carried the executive officer of the Lexington, Commander Morton T. Seligman, and a newspaper correspondent, Mr. Stanley Johnston, back to the United States, and in Chicago in the headquarters Colonel R.R. McCormick's newspaper, the Chicago Tribune, where the story had originated. According to Admiral King's biographer, Thomas B. Buell in Master of Seapower, Admiral King "was in a white fury at his headquarters while his staff frantically tried to discover the source of the leak."
By 11 June all of the principals had been interviewed. Those aboard the Barnett were interviewed more than once. Out of this work emerged a very unpleasant picture of official neglect and confusion concerning the safeguarding of communications intelligence both on the Barnett and in the newspapers. Because of the perception that newsmen accompanying U.S. forces were sworn to secrecy, indictments of the principal employees of the Chicago Tribune were sought on 9 June, even before the inquiries were completed. They were returned on 7 July by a Chicago grand jury. At this point serious snags appeared at every turn, and the matter lay in the hands of the grand jury and a special prosecutor for several weeks while the navy added depositions to a record that increasingly showed that Johnston, a British subject, had, with the help or negligence of others, betrayed the trust placed in him.
While many in the navy focused on finding a suitable punishment for Johnston, COMINCH issued another memorandum on 20 June 1942 similar to those he had originated in March and April. It was sent to CINCLANT, CINCPAC, and CDR- SWPACFORCE bearing the subject "Control of Dissemination and Use of Radio Intelligence." Within the navy this would prove to be the only remedial action to come out of the Johnston case.
On 24 June the New York newspaper PM published a story without attribution announcing that the Justice Department did not plan to prosecute anyone, either in the newspapers or in the U.S. Navy, as a result of their role in the revelations. Ironically, three days later the navy discovered that Johnston's own government had earlier declared him "unreliable" as a correspondent. It was the same government, however, that subsequently forged the ultimate solution by addressing the correlation between the Johnston revelations and safeguarding communications intelligence.
On 14 July, the special prosecutor, Mr. William D. Mitchell, transmitted his comprehensive "Report on the Chicago Tribune Case" to Attorney General Francis Biddle and Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox. His conclusion, after he had reviewed the law, the evidence, and the circumstances surrounding the "leak," ended by suggesting that "the game may not be worth the candle" and that the national effort would be better served if the case were dropped.
In the mind of the special prosecutor, none of his major reasons for dropping the case concerned the safeguarding of communications intelligence. Three salient points concerning the merits of the government's case were cited instead. All were related to the personal behavior of the principals: "1) Johnston said (on 8 June) that he got the information from a paper he found on his desk; 2) Two officers testified seeing Seligman working at a table in his quarters and that before him was a 'writing on Navy paper' giving a list of Jap vessels divided into a 'striking force, support force, etc.'; 3) If, as appears likely, some officer left a copy of that dispatch lying around, it may fairly be said there was as much carelessness on the ship as the Tribune was guilty of, and the Jury may think so." 
No further action was taken until 15 August 1942, when the British Admiralty delegation in Washington sent a letter to Admiral King expressing concern that the Hearst revelations posed a danger to special intelligence methods, that a trial would further compromise this source, and that "preservation of this invaluable weapon outweighs almost any other consideration." King's reply reassured the British that the U.S. Navy would not do anything to increase the harm already inflicted by the original news story.  Five days later, the Chicago Daily Tribune carried the front page story, "U.S. Jury Clears Tribune." This story signaled the end of the grand jury investigation, though no reasons were ever given to the press by Mr. Mitchell, the special prosecutor.
What were the facts in the strange case of Stanley Johnston? As noted above, CINCPAC 311221Z May 42, was the message that passed CINCPAC's final appreciation of the Japanese order of battle for the Battle of Midway to the commanders of Task Forces 16 and 17, Admirals Spruance and Fletcher, respectively. The message was passed in communications channels available to other ships. Contrary to normal practices, which expected communicators to ignore traffic not addressed to their ship or commander, it was probably decoded by communications officers from the Lexington en route home from the loss of their ship at Coral Sea, who were acting as watch standers aboard the transport USS Barnett (AP11). Their reason for doing so may have been the presence of the Lexington's executive officer, Commander Morton Seligman. The message was given to Commander Seligman, who, apparently under the impression that he was authorized to do so, showed the message to Johnston, who had been aboard the Lexington during the battle and was being evacuated with the crew. Johnston and Seligman may have shared the same quarters aboard the Barnett
On 7 June 1942, five days after Johnston's arrival in San Diego and one day after CINCPAC's "POA Communique #3" appeared announcing "a momentous U.S. victory," Johnston's story of U.S. foreknowledge of Japanese forces and their plans appeared in the Chicago Tribune and other newspapers in Washington and New York. The headlines that introduced the story on page 4A in the Washington Times Herald for 7 June 1942 revealed without a doubt that the author had been privy to secret material concerning Japanese intentions and strategy: "U.S. KNEW ALL ABOUT JAP FLEET. GUESSED THERE WOULD BE A FEINT AT ONE BASE, REAL ATTACK AT ANOTHER."
Though he could not know the extent of the duplicity involved, Walter Winchell, in his column in the New York Daily Mirror, characterized the Tribune as having "tossed security out the window." Understandably, Johnston's repeated denials that he had ever seen CINCPAC's message were received with cynical disbelief in Washington. Even his media superiors readily admitted they could not otherwise account for the similarities. 
On 8 June, following an inconclusive meeting between high naval and newspaper officials, Johnston and his editor in Washington, Arthur Henning, met privately with Vice Admiral Russell Willson, Admiral King's chief of staff. It was during this meeting, as noted by the special prosecutor, that Johnston may have contradicted himself (Admiral Willson was to say that Johnston "confessed") and admitted seeing a list of Japanese vessels.  With the concurrence of the secretary of the navy and the president, Admiral King barred Seligman from promotion forever. Seligman retired in 1944.
OP-20-G's assessment of the damage done by the Johnston revelations took a long time to develop primarily because the Japanese themselves were slow to change their procedures. Nevertheless, OP-20-G maintained it was no mere coincidence that within a few weeks of the Johnston expose drastic changes were made in virtually all Japanese codes and ciphers including the Japanese Fleet General-Purpose System, which changed on 15 August, only two months into the current cipher. Consistent with these changes, navy monitors also noted the omission of message serial numbers beginning on 15 August and a major change in the Japanese callsign system on 1 October 1942. 
All of the Japanese refinements were justifiably described by OP-20-G analysts as serious threats to their capability to produce current intelligence.  Thus, it is difficult to say at this point that a single event occurred that prompted Admiral King to decide what course of action he would take. It may have been OP-20-G's concern that a jury trial would have even more painful consequences than those already experienced, or Admiral Willson's reading of the meeting he had had with Johnston, or the trauma of preparing highly classified testimony to be given before a Chicago grand jury. Clearly, Admiral King had decided not to implement the 7 July grand jury indictment when he responded to the British letter in August; and the evidence suggests, albeit weakly, that as early as 20 June he had begun to regret even seeking the indictment.
Throughout the Johnston affair, OP-20-G consistently sought a plausible cover story to minimize the damage already done. They appealed to King for future safeguards to prevent the loss of a vital advantage to the navy. King's reiteration of his restrictions on distribution on 20 June, while perhaps not all that OP-20-G wanted, strongly suggested that these appeals were heard.
Questions concerning the appropriate applications of communications intelligence to wartime emergencies of all types continued to arise. One problem addressed in December 1942 affected how newspapermen and radio broadcasters treated information they knew originated from enemy communications. A new paragraph was prepared for insertion in the "Code of Wartime Practices for the American Press" by the secretaries of war and navy and sent to the director of censorship for implementation:
To the end that the enemy may not have information concerning any success the U.S. may attain in deciphering his encoded or enciphered communications, no mention should be made of available or captured enemy codes or enemy ciphers, or about the intelligence gained from intercepting and studying enemy radio messages.
A prestigious trade journal gave immediate approval to the addition while at the same time registering the idea that after the war censorship should not continue. After citing a post-Pearl Harbor report that "monstrously exaggerated" U.S. losses as an example of irresponsible behavior, the editorial concluded with some ideas that are still relevant:
As between an ethical professional requirement that a journalist hold nothing back and a patriotic duty not to shoot one's own soldiers in the back, we have found no difficulty in making a choice. Freedom of the press does not carry with it a general license to reveal our secret strengths and weaknesses to the enemy. 
It was not until 1985 that anyone from the Pacific COMINT centers received any formal recognition for his contribution to either the Coral Sea or Midway victories. In 1985, in response to a massive outpouring of affection from his friends, Joseph Rochefort received the Distinguished Service Medal posthumously from the secretary of the navy. For the rest, their epitaph was most fittingly expressed by a perfect stranger many years later:
History, with its flickering lamp, stumbles along the trail of the past, trying to reconstruct its scenes, to revive its echoes, and kindle with pale gleams the passion of former days. What is the worth of all this? The only guide to man is his conscience. The only shield to his memory is the rectitude and sincerity of his actions. It is very imprudent to walk through life without this shield, because we are so often mocked by the failure of our hopes and the upsetting of our calculations, but with this shield, however the fates may play, we march always in the ranks of honour. 

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Less Or Fewer? Not Just A Linguistic Pet Peeve - A Logic Trap

Yesterday's Scientific American addressed in a blog one of my linguistic pet peeves: the increasingly common failure of speakers to distinguish between meaning and usage of "less" and "fewer."

It seems mighty simple to me. If you count it, the reduction in number is referred to as "fewer." If you measure it, the word is "less."

Scientific American explains the distinction as deriving from the mathematical concepts of "continuous," which applies to things you measure, or "discrete," applying to things you count. Here is the article.

Return With Us Now To The Thrilling Days Of Yesteryear

Many commentators have observed that North Carolina is rapidly undoing a century of relatively progressive legislation. In Yesterday's Washington Post, Katrina vanden Heuvel explains how that came about.

The answer: money.

NSA, Metadata And History

Recent disclosures that NSA has been collecting data, perhaps massive amounts of so-called meta data, on telephone, internet and social network communications calls to mind some history.

From the very beginning of the Republic - and even before, intelligence played a major role in our revolution. Consider the mobilization of patriots in New England to resist and outwit the Redcoats intending to seize the arms and military provisions of the local militia. There was not only the midnight ride of Paul Revere (and others) that fateful 18th of April in '75. There was all the preparatory work.

The Concord militia removed their heavy cannon from the armory and buried the big guns in hidden locations. They relocated gunpowder and other supplies. They hid as much of the other provisions and weapons as they could. How did they know what the British intended? Intelligence. Collected by bartenders, artisans and ordinary citizens who interacted with soldiers and officers in their every day dealings. Their observations came together in time to warn militia of the British move on Lexington and Concord.

Make no mistake, the British were collecting intelligence as well. But they faced the same dilemma that occupiers throughout history have faced - whom to trust and how to evaluate the information gathered. In today's parlance - how to tell the "good guys" from the "bad guys." Even worse, how to suppress the insurrectionists without arousing animosity among those on the fence? They never solved the problem.

And what of Paul Revere?

Suppose the British had been able to uncover the role of key individuals, illuminate their relationships and round up the leaders? Could they have done this without overhearing actual conversations or intercepting letters?

Suppose all they had was a list of members of various New England organizations. What could they have learned?

As it turns out, they might have been able to arrest and interrogate the whole conspiracy. One of the keys was Paul Revere.

Last week, Kieran Healey, a Duke University Sociologist, posted a very interesting examination of how the British might have been able to use what is now called "metadata" to catch Paul Revere.  Metadata is apparently what NSA is collecting from Google, Verizon and other sources. Here is his post.

Here is a more detailed article on Paul Revere's ride by political scientist Shin-Kap Han. The metadata in both articles is drawn from David Hackett Fisher's book, Paul Revere's Ride. Another of David Hackett Fisher's books, Washington's Crossing, gives a good feel for the effectiveness of Washington's intelligence networks during the campaign in New Jersey and the increasing frustration of British intelligence.

All of this preceded the U.S. Constitution.

Even the central trade offs between liberty and security - a dilemma of the present age, was apparent before the Constitution:

They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.

Benjamin Franklin, 1775

Sunday, June 9, 2013

How To Have Economic Prosperity: Advice From Venture Capitalist

Nick Hanauer, wealthy venture capitalist, has been advising the country for the past few years how to become more prosperous: put more money in the hands of consumers. He recently repeated his advice at a Senate hearing. Here is his testimony. It is worth reading the entire presentation.

In some respects, Hanauer's explanation isn't much different from Henry Ford's insight when he paid his factory workers higher than the going wage. If his workers couldn't afford to buy his product, Ford realized, then his own enterprise wouldn't prosper. The super wealthy keep forgetting that insight.

Hanauer gets it right

"When someone like me calls himself a job creator, it sounds like we are describing how the economy works. What we are actually doing is making a claim on status, power and privileges.The extraordinary differential between the 15-20% tax rate on capital gains, dividends, and carried interest for capitalists, and the 39% top marginal rate on work for ordinary Americans is just one of those privileges.
We’ve had it backward for the last 30 years. Rich businesspeople like me don’t create jobs. Rather, jobs are a consequence of an ecosystemic feedback loop animated by middle- class consumers, and when they thrive, businesses grow and hire, and owners profit in a virtuous cycle of increasing returns that benefits everyone."

Saturday, June 8, 2013

On Knowledge

People who think they know everything are a great annoyance to those of us who do.
— Isaac Asimov

Thursday, June 6, 2013


Just a reminder that sixty-nine years ago today, Allied troops stormed ashore on the landing beaches of Normandy, establishing a beachhead in France. Less than a year later, Germany surrendered. The United States was at war with Germany about three and a half years from declaration of war to surrender.

Al Gore And The Internet

In the 1980's I was in the computer industry, owning a small information technology company with a very small Defense contract. We communicated with other contractors and research centers using e-mail, long before the internet. We communicated over a network developed for Defense, known as Arpanet.

I became aware that a technically savvy member of Congress, one of the so-called "Atari Democrats," was pressing to open up this network for public, even commercial use. This was opposed by most Arpanet users in the research business. But the Atari Democrat in question kept pressing. That person was Al Gore. He eventually got his way.

I just came across an article here that gives a more complete story of Al Gore's role.

No, Al Gore didn't discover Global Warming, either. Scientists did that. Al Gore just let the rest of us know about it and described what needs to be done.

That's what leaders do.

Man With A Beard And Glasses

Have you heard the one about the stranger who came to the Town of Oriental looking for advice? He was looking for a particular sage experienced in boating. He came to the Bean to inquire of the regulars. "Joe?" The regular asked, just to pin the questioner down. "No problem. He's the old guy with glasses and a beard."

The stranger soon found out the description matches half the male population of Oriental.

Now suppose you are looking for an economist. Here's the account of that search.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Will D. Campbell (Alias Rev. Will B. Dunn) 1925-2013

Today's News and Observer announces the death Monday of the Reverend Will D. Campbell. The article provides a lot of background concerning Will Campbell's ground breaking work in Civil Rights that preceded the formal Civil Rights movement.

When I knew him, Will was Director of Religious Life at the University of Mississippi from about 1954 until the University encouraged him to leave in 1956. University authorities claimed that he wasn't fired, he just left to follow other paths. Right.

 The word avuncular was invented to describe Will Campbell. His head was egg-shaped, topped by a prematurely bald, avuncular dome. He smoked a  curved-stem avuncular pipe. In a discussion group, he stimulated discussions with avuncular questions.

Though he had been a preacher since he was ordained at the age of 17, he was never the flamboyant kind. It was only a year or two after he was ordained that Will answered his country's call and went off to World War II. It was his return from that war that transformed him and led him to what was to become his life's work. When the troop train reached the Mason-Dixon line, the soldiers, who had mingled freely in the railroad cars until then, were rearranged into segregated cars. "That's not right," Will recognized immediately.

Will used the GI Bill to go to college, eventually completing his BD at Yale. As Director of Religious Life at the University of Mississippi, he encouraged students to rethink the social arrangements referred to at the time as "the Southern Way of Life."

He was a dangerous man. Controversy dogged his heels.

In 1956, there was the Kershaw incident involving the Reverend Al Kershaw, a television quiz program, jazz music and the NAACP. That's a story for a later post.

There was another incident involving a student delegate from Ole Miss to the national Y convention.

The most famous incident involved a ping pong game in the Y building on campus.

I will share all of these stories at some point.

After leaving Ole Miss, Will worked for the National Council of Churches Department of Racial and Cultural relations. He appeared in Little Rock during integration of Central High, working behind the scenes to convince ministers to do the right thing. His success was limited.

He became an itinerant preacher and writer. He called himself a "bootleg preacher."

Will believed that, at least in the South, no people had more interests in common than the downtrodden African Americans and poor white rednecks.

In 1957, Will made a furtive visit back to Oxford, Mississippi. Will wasn't furtive about it, but the campus authorities placed furtive measures in place to make sure he didn't make his way back to the campus. A few of us met with Will at a local eatery. By then, we knew of his association with the Southern Christian Leadership Council. Someone asked him about Martin Luther King. "The man's a saint," Will replied.

My favorite book by Will Campbell is Providence, an account of what in Holmes County we always called Providence Plantation. He calls it Providence Farm, a not quite successful interracial collective farm eventually run out of (as in expelled from) Holmes County by the good, hard-working white folks around Tchula.

Will wasn't nationally famous. Might not have thought he did much good. But he did what he could among the people he knew best, with the tools at his command.

I think it's hard to ask for more than that.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Oriental Town Board Meeting June 4, 2013

Interesting meeting at Town Hall tonight. Much talk about the water board. If there is such a thing.

I have written about what it needs to do. Just search for "water board." Check it out.

Monday, June 3, 2013

WSJ Logic On Bicycles

Yesterday, I expressed puzzlement at the Wall Street Journal's rant about New York City's new program to make it easier for visitors to rent bicycles. "The logic escapes me," I wrote. It seems such a good idea to have more bicycles and fewer automobiles. I have long thought that driving a car to get where you want to go provides only the illusion of freedom, not the real thing.

Travel in Europe, where you can get to where you want to go using high quality, readily available and frequent public transportation, frees commuters and tourists alike from a lot of aggravation. Not to mention expense. It also frees young people not old enough to drive as well as their parents from needing or providing family taxi service. This seems a good thing. Before I was old enough to drive, I was able to get around perfectly well on my bicycle. In those days, the mid to late 40's, my family had only one car.

Paul Krugman has cleared up my confusion. The Wall Street Journal, he explains, isn't defending the rights of those who want to drive themselves from place to place, but to prevent annoyance to those who are routinely driven from place to place. It's a class thing. It's about wealth, power and deference.

Bicyclists don't respect their betters.

Now I understand.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Ben Bernanke's Suggestions

Ben Bernanke, Chairman of the Federal Reserve System and former Princeton professor, spoke at this year's Princeton commencement ceremony. He offered ten suggestions, or perhaps ten observations.

One of his observations was about the practical use of the study of economics. First wryly explaining that economic analysis is superb at explaining to policymakers why the choices they made in the past were wrong, it was not so useful at predicting the future.  "Careful economic analysis," he explained, though,  "does have one important benefit, which is that it can help kill ideas that are completely logically inconsistent or wildly at variance with the data. This insight covers at least 90 percent of proposed economic policies."

Economics blogger Bill McBride commented on Bernanke's comment that it "is at odds with the sequestration budget cuts, "debt ceiling" nonsense, expansionary austerity, and more. I wish data and careful analysis could actually kill bad ideas, but I'm not sure what Paul Ryan would do with his life."

Wall Street Journal: New York City Is Totalitarian

According to the Wall Street Journal, New York City has become totalitarian because it is making rental bicycles readily available to visitors.

There may be logic to the WSJ attack, but it escapes me. Here is an article explaining the WSJ complaint and providing a link to the relevant video.

Military Benefits

Yesterday's Washington Post headline, "plan to shut military supermarkets shows difficulty of cutting defence spending" brought to mind a poem by Rudyard Kipling. To be sure, in this day and age Americans serving in the military and those who have served are treated better than the "Tommy" of Kipling's poem. But I sense a certain dismissal of the concerns of servicemen that probably comes from many sources. But there are some national undertakings that should not be parsimoniously funded.

Here is Kipling's picture of the contempt with which some civilians treat soldiers:


I went into a public-'ouse to get a pint o' beer,
The publican 'e up an' sez, "We serve no red-coats here."
The girls be'ind the bar they laughed an' giggled fit to die,
I outs into the street again an' to myself sez I:
O it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, go away";
But it's "Thank you, Mister Atkins", when the band begins to play,
The band begins to play, my boys, the band begins to play,
O it's "Thank you, Mister Atkins", when the band begins to play.

I went into a theatre as sober as could be,
They gave a drunk civilian room, but 'adn't none for me;
They sent me to the gallery or round the music-'alls,
But when it comes to fightin', Lord! they'll shove me in the stalls!
For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, wait outside";
But it's "Special train for Atkins" when the trooper's on the tide,
The troopship's on the tide, my boys, the troopship's on the tide,
O it's "Special train for Atkins" when the trooper's on the tide.

Yes, makin' mock o' uniforms that guard you while you sleep
Is cheaper than them uniforms, an' they're starvation cheap;
An' hustlin' drunken soldiers when they're goin' large a bit
Is five times better business than paradin' in full kit.
Then it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, 'ow's yer soul?"
But it's "Thin red line of 'eroes" when the drums begin to roll,
The drums begin to roll, my boys, the drums begin to roll,
O it's "Thin red line of 'eroes" when the drums begin to roll.

We aren't no thin red 'eroes, nor we aren't no blackguards too,
But single men in barricks, most remarkable like you;
An' if sometimes our conduck isn't all your fancy paints,
Why, single men in barricks don't grow into plaster saints;
While it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, fall be'ind",
But it's "Please to walk in front, sir", when there's trouble in the wind,
There's trouble in the wind, my boys, there's trouble in the wind,
O it's "Please to walk in front, sir", when there's trouble in the wind.

You talk o' better food for us, an' schools, an' fires, an' all:
We'll wait for extry rations if you treat us rational.
Don't mess about the cook-room slops, but prove it to our face
The Widow's Uniform is not the soldier-man's disgrace.
For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Chuck him out, the brute!"
But it's "Saviour of 'is country" when the guns begin to shoot;
An' it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' anything you please;
An' Tommy ain't a bloomin' fool -- you bet that Tommy sees!

Vacation Comparison

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has put together a graph showing how advanced economies compare on paid vacation days.

Here's the graph:


On this Sunday morning, having listened to what Calvin Trillin calls the "Sabbath gasbags," I am reminded of Jesus' words when he was admonished for healing someone on the Sabbath: "The Sabbath is made for man, not man for the Sabbath."

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Bob Fletcher, American Hero

We've probably all seen Spencer Tracy in "Bad Day at Black Rock." If not, we should have.

The internment of Americans of Japanese descent is one of the more disgraceful events of World War II. Many loyal Americans lost their property during their internment.

But Bob Fletcher, an American who knew injustice when he saw it, saved the farms of three hard working Japanese families. His obituary in the Sacramento Bee tells the story. He kept the families from suffering the fate of the Japanese in the Spencer Tracy movie.

Bob Fletcher was just one man. He couldn't right all the injustice of all the interned families. But he did what he could where he was with the tools at hand.

No more can be asked of anyone.

Remembering Weegee

The New York Times reported yesterday that on Thursday the Chicago Sun-Times fired all of its photographic staff. Twenty-eight employees. Their crime: not only did they commit photo journalism, they insisted on being paid.

Apparently the scheme is to get their writers to take snapshots for the paper with cheap digital cameras and also get photos from the public.

With the demise of Life and Look magazines and the use of national inserts in newspapers rather than locally produced rotogravure, the public's awareness of photo journalism has itself been in decline.

Photo journalism is a craft. It shows the world to the public and the public to the world. It is not an unskilled profession.

One of the most skilled practitioners, Henri Cartier-Bresson, described the task as that of capturing "the decisive moment." This obviously applies to sports photography, but less obviously to other events as well.

As I pondered the event, I was reminded of Weegee. That was his pen name (or stage name, I don't know), but he was a well known free lance photographer in New York City. His photos, published on this web site, give a feel for what a working photographer could do. He showed us to each other in all our human guises.

He worked, by the way, mostly at night, with a 4x5 press camera and disposable flash bulbs for lighting. Developed and printed the photos himself in a darkroom as the sun rose. Primitive equipment. But it did the job.

There were many other skilled photographers in the genre. Dorothea Lange, Margaret Bourke-White, Alfred Eisenstadt, the list goes on. Browse the works of Weegee and enjoy.