Marlowe day!

May 30, 1593 is either the day that Christopher Marlowe was killed by Ingram Frizer after arguing over who’d pick up the tab or the day he faked his death and was spirited off to the continent. I’m not a big one for conspiracy theories; they seem to me to have a lot in common with ‘not a sparrow falls’ religions – the desire for some kind of purpose underlying the random horrible (and wonderful) things that happen. That being said, you have to admit that the Marlovian’s theory is quite the rippin’ tale. Whether you like the theory or not, the connection to Francis Walsingham looks quite likely and from there it’s just one more hop to the preeminent cryptographer of the day, Thomas Phelippes. Rakehells, spies and code breakers – sounds like a reason to celebrate the day to me!

Take a deep breath and pause

I read somewhere that in the reactor control area of nuclear submarines there is a long brass grab-rail. In case of emergency, submariners are required to grab the rail with both hands and count to ten before they do anything else. The story may or may not be true (I can’t find where I read it), but it does make a good point. When faced with a problem, our first instinct is often to do something, dammit! Taking a second to calm down a bit and then to actually look at the problem is time well spent. To remind myself, I posted a label on an equipment rack near where most panic situations are likely to occur.


When in danger
Or in doubt,
Run in circles,
Scream and shout.

(I respond well to sarcasm)


My little breeding colony of Dendrobates ventrimaculatus “Iquitos Red” is getting a bit bolder – yesterday I saw 3 of the 4 frogs out in the open. Unheard of! Today I managed to grab the camera and snap a shot of one before he disappeared into the undergrowth. Apologies for the quality – speed was of the essence – it really is a point and shoot picture.


Just to allay any concerns if you clicked though and read “Conservation status: Extensive captive breeding in the US and Europe has greatly decreased the demand for smuggled specimens, with the possible exception of the red and orange Iquitos morphs…” – these guys are first US-born generation from a captive breeding operation in Peru and carry registration numbers so that froggers can keep accurate records.

Lessons Learned

It seems to me that a characteristic of a healthy decision making process is that it rewards good predictions and planning and penalizes bad work. In today’s media/policy landscape the entities producing the work can be government institutions, NGOs/thinktanks and/or individuals (either acting alone or working for an institution), but talking heads and the punditocracy – individuals – dominate the national discussion of big issues (though the blogosphere is becoming a bit of a countervailing force to conventional wisdom®). One of the things that’s amazed me, as the disaster in Iraq has played out, is how the folks who were consistently wrong have continued to command attention, while the people whose judgment time has revealed as more accurate are marginalized or ignored. Some recent events that really brought this home:

Via The Washington Note, Jeff Stein’s Congressional Quarterly article on Pat Lang’s encounter with Doug Feith.

In early 2001, his [Lang’s] name was put forward as somebody who would be good at running the Pentagon’s office of special operations and low-intensity warfare, i.e., counterinsurgency. Lang had also been a Green Beret, with three tours in South Vietnam.

One of the people he had to impress was Feith, the Defense Department’s number three official and a leading player in the clique of neoconservatives who had taken over the government’s national security apparatus.

Lang went to see him, he recalled during a May 7 panel discussion at the University of the District of Columbia.

“He was sitting there munching a sandwich while he was talking to me,” Lang recalled, “ which I thought was remarkable in itself, but he also had these briefing papers — they always had briefing papers, you know — about me.

“He’s looking at this stuff, and he says, ‘I’ve heard of you. I heard of you.’

“He says, ‘Is it really true that you really know the Arabs this well, and that you speak Arabic this well? Is that really true? Is that really true?’

“And I said, ‘Yeah, that’s really true.’

‘That’s too bad,” Feith said.

Feith, who Gen. T. Franks famously referred to as “the dumbest fucking guy on the planet” , is now teaching a course on the Bush administration’s anti-terrorism policy at Georgetown. Seems like a course that matches well with his intelligence…

Wolfowitz’s latest follies at the World Bank are well known – who could have predicted that he might have trouble there, given his recent brilliant track record (that was sarcasm)?

In his testimony, Mr. Wolfowitz ticked off several reasons why he believed a much smaller coalition peacekeeping force than General Shinseki envisioned would be sufficient to police and rebuild postwar Iraq. He said there was no history of ethnic strife in Iraq, as there was in Bosnia or Kosovo. He said Iraqi civilians would welcome an American-led liberation force that “stayed as long as necessary but left as soon as possible,” but would oppose a long-term occupation force. And he said that nations that oppose war with Iraq would likely sign up to help rebuild it. “I would expect that even countries like France will have a strong interest in assisting Iraq in reconstruction,” Mr. Wolfowitz said. He added that many Iraqi expatriates would likely return home to help. *

The massive underestimation of the size of the occupation and nationbuilding tasks in Iraq – who could have guessed estimates were so far off? Dr. Conrad Crane at the US Army War College in February of 2003 for one. Via This Amercan Life’s excellent Lessons Learned show (here and here) – Crane and others produced Recontructing Iraq: Insights, Challenges and Missions for Military Forces in a Post Conflict Scenario (pdf link). Listen to ‘Act 1: Cassandra’ of the TAL Lessons Learned show – I’m still shaking my head.

If the war is rapid with few civilian casualties, the occupation will probably be characterized by an initial honeymoon period during which the United States will reap the benefits of ridding the population of a brutal dictator. Nevertheless, most Iraqis and most other Arabs will probably assume that the United States intervened in Iraq for its own reasons and not to liberate the population. Long-term gratitude is unlikely and suspicion of U.S. motives will increase as the occupation continues. A force initially viewed as liberators can rapidly be relegated to the status of invaders should an unwelcome occupation continue for a prolonged time. Occupation problems may be especially acute if the United States must implement the bulk of the occupation itself rather than turn these duties over to a postwar international force. Regionally, the occupation will be viewed with great skepticism, which may only be overcome by the population’s rapid progress toward a secure and prosperous way of life.

What are my take-aways (lessons learned, if you will)?

  • Wishful thinking is appropriate if you’ve just bought a lottery ticket. It’s not the thing do do if you are planning for retirement. It is a horrible thing to do when other’s lives are at stake. Transparency – ‘show your work’ – is crucial when big issues are up for debate; standing around maintaining that things will go your way is not sufficient.
  • We need to get this right. I disagree with the “War on Terror” formulation (war on a tactic?), however there are specific state and non-state actors who wish the developed world ill. Figuring out how to neutralize these entities is not optional.

To hand-wave away the botched decision-making process in the run up to the Iraq war is not acceptable – a CF of this magnitude has a lot to teach. Our adversaries are learning from it – will we?

Our enemies are going to make us fight these kind of wars until we get them right. – David Kilcullen, quoted by Conrad Crane (TAL at approx minute 29)

Saturday AM cleanup

Loose ends…

I’m having some fun with twitter – a microblogging tool (or a social networking tool, or a moblogging tool, or…). There’s it’s ‘as intended’ use, which is pretty darn cool; you can issue 140 character (maximum) status updates from a cell phone, IM client or the web. I love food updates and stray thoughts- good stuff. There are also people thinking about what else they can do with twitter – I’m following Zombie Attack – dispatches from the front line of the zombie wars.

Random synapse fires sympathetically – word of the day: zimboe.

Priority for the day: get this book.

Lastly, and yet again, hurray for Kathy and Red Eye R&B. (Hurray also for three day weekends and sunny Saturdays.)


Update – A run to the bookstore yielded a copy of The Deep. Wow. Hooray for Beebe and Piccard for getting us started.

On the zombie front – Zombie Mob 2007 attacks the Apple Store in SF.

i can has brayn?

Blinded by science

I walked into the classroom across the hall from my office this morning to water my plants and saw some objects that were begging to be photographed. The middle school science teacher/friend/coworker whose room this is lets me keep some of my orchids, bromeliads and carnivorous plants in a sunny window; I like going in to check out the latest projects in process – kids working on rockets or IDing dragonfly nymphs – you get the idea…





“I’m passionate about exceeding customer expectations every day as I greet people entering this lovely Wally-Mart”.

“Um, no.”

Passion is not enthusiasm. It is not love. It is not enjoyment, and it is not flow. Passion is an unstoppable overflowing of emotion that destroys in its satisfaction, that torpedoes lives and marriages and nations, that shoots husbands or coworkers or strangers in rage. It is the hot lava of the soul, and it burns what it pours over. It is not the positive team-building thing your sup­ervisor would have you believe. Passion causes wars and brutal killings and divorces, and has astronauts wearing Depends and the headmistresses of girls’ schools going to jail, and gets husbands run over in parking lots. To say that a bunch of software engineers or graphic designers are passionate about their work is to try to interject sex and confusion and addiction and desire into a kind of work that is essentially asexual, organized, left brain, and sober.

RTWT. via Bruce

Everything’s culming up…

…bamboo. Phyllostachys aureosulcata to be precise – a picture of the the new growth – I’m trying to get a grove established in the side yard. Once it’s really going it’ll shade the house from afternoon sun, block headlights as they come around a corner up the road a bit, and act as a windbreak in the winter. Very useful – even before I start harvesting shoots and messing around with the wood.

Backyard birding

I just did a loop of the yard to make sure I’d brought in all my gardening junk and got a real treat. The area is alive with birds: robins, downy woodpeckers, cardinals, an oriole, and it looks like I have three nesting pairs in residence. The flycatchers are back – they’re using a two year old nest (refurbished, I’m sure) that is perched on top of a shutter, right under the eaves. I have to admit that I don’t know what kind of flycatcher they are although they’ve raised many clutches either on the shutter or in a nest a foot away from the back door. I guess it’s time for a little close observation with one of my bird books in my lap. The other two pair are easy to identify. The ruby-throated hummingbirds are nesting in the big lilac tangle again this year. Last year I got to watch a bit of the male’s mating display; this year (about 20 minutes ago) I got to watch the female perform her evening clean-up. Feaking (I hope it’s OK to use that word on an H-bird), some scratching, wing preening – she was sitting in the evening sun and the her iridescence was jaw dropping. Finally a black fly flew up my nose and I twitched – it was all over. There is a tufted titmouse nest in a hole in an old, dead apple tree. I was thinking about cutting what is left of the tree down last winter – I’m glad I didn’t.

Interesting name choice

I saw this on the way home this afternoon and grabbed my camera. If you can’t see the name on the roof sign, click the picture for a larger version. I guess Ebola, Genocide et Frères Driving School was too long for the sign, and Apocalyptic Death was a little over the top.

And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. Rev. 6:8


I hope that the owner of this concern is a huge Clint Eastwood fan who doesn’t pay much attention to dialog (or anything else) – it’s pretty tough to watch Pale Rider and not get the point – there’s a scene where Megan reads the verse quoted above. The alternatives are all pretty crazy – I’m left hoping it’s (rotting) tongue in (corpse-like) cheek. In any event, I think I’d want to speak to the driving instructor before I let him take my child out for a lesson.

Nadirian Currency


In October of 1872 the Utopian Antarctic colony of Nadiria printed it’s first paper money. For the next twenty seven years, until the community’s strange disappearance in 1899, a variety of beautiful currency was produced. For the complete story, click over to Dream Dollars.

h/t Table of Malcontents – a great stop for all your Cthulhu/steampunk needs (for the next month and a half – word is that Wired is going to pull the plug on them in June). Refresh the page a couple times – there’s a title banner that features a school (shoal? rabble?) of fez-wearing krill.