Archive for December, 2005

December 30, 2005

Just BecauseThey’re Out to Get You Doesn’t Mean They’re Serious

BDF says:

Hi Ted

Your recent article on TIA left me wondering if you thought the clicks on your phone were the result of wiretapping which could generate information used to harrass you or if you knew that the clicks were the intelligence agencies playing headgames with you. Because bad detective stories say that clicks are the result of wiretapping, and most people seem to believe this, I decided to let you know the facts (which you probably already know anyway).

A click is the result of somebody in your household picking up an extension while you are making a call. A click will also occur if that person puts down the extension before you have finished the call. Both occur because phones (even dect phones and answering machines) derive the power needed to send and receive speech from the phone line itself.

If the other extension is kept open then your conversation will sound “echoey” or “boomy” or “hollow.” This is because phones are rather primitive technology. They contain circuitry (a transformer) which prevents your own speech into the transmitter deafening you at the receiver. It works, as long as your phone is the only one in the household on line. As soon as somebody picks up an extension, the noise-cancelling circuitry (the transformers) interact to give the hollow sound.

If somebody is listening at another extension and you finish your call before they replace the handset, when they do replace the handset the bell on your phone, and on any other extensions, will tinkle. In some countries (such as the UK), phones and extension wiring incorporate “anti-tinkle” circuitry to prevent this happening; US phones have no such circuitry.

You will also get clicks if a lineman is checking your line. What they use for simple testing is essentially a ruggedized phone with alligator clips instead of a jack so they can clip it to the line. It has the same effect when attached and detached as somebody in your household picking up an extension.

Even back in the days where wiretaps were conducted using a tape recorder in the exchange or clipped to the line between the exchange and your house you would not hear any clicking. They were powered from the mains or a battery and used an amplifier. The amplifier has a far higher input impedance than a phone so draws no appreciable current from the line and
therefore does not cause any clicks. Even with a very low input impedance, the amplifier would only cause a click when it was initially attached and later when it was eventually removed.

These days, with digital exchanges, and FBI-mandated monitoring facilities, there is absolutely no chance of a click. It’s a digital copy taken from the exchange and shunted to wherever. There is no audible indication whatsoever that this is happening.

Another possibility is that you’re the victim of somebody trying to get free calls using your line. In the UK this is known as “green boxing” since the favourite place to cross-wire lines is in the green- painted British Telecom street cabinets. But if you’re in an apartment building, then the box in the basement would be another possibility. Check your phone bill!

If you’re hearing cyclic clicks then there are two possibilities. One is a genuine exchange fault which means that the clocks on the ISDN link between that exchange and the next one are out of synch. This can manifest itself as a regular click, and the interval between clicks allows you to estimate the difference in clock timing. The second possibility is that the intelligence agencies are playing headgames with you. They want you to believe that your phone is being tapped so that you curtail your activities and get paranoid.

So your cyclic clicks are either somebody stealing the use of your phone line, a genuine exchange fault, or the intelligence agencies playing headgames with you. Given the guy in your basement, the first and last are the most likely of those options. Take your pick.

I wouldn’t be surprised if those nimrods were trying to gaslight me. I guess they haven’t read much about me if that’s the case. They certainly aren’t having the time of their life listening to my boring phone calls, believe me.

Phone bill checks out normally.

December 30, 2005

TIA Pets

DZ claims:

Although supposedly killed by Congress more than 18 months ago, the Defense Advance Project Research Agency’s Terrorist Information Awareness (TIA) system, formerly called the “Total Information Awareness” program, is alive and well and collecting data in real time on Americans at a computer center located at 3801 Fairfax Drive in Arlington, Virginia.

The system, set up by retired admiral John Poindexter, once convicted of lying to Congress in the Iran-Contra scandal, compiles financial, travel and other data on the day-to-day activities of Americans and then runs that data through a computer model to look for patterns that the agency deems “terrorist-related behavior.”

Poindexter admits the program was quietly moved into the Pentagon’s “black bag” program where it does escapes Congressional oversight.

December 30, 2005

Attention: I am not a Democratic strategist

While I obviously have a point of of view, five years of being appalled by the folly and criminal behavior of the Bush regime have apparently obscured the fact that I was disgusted by the Democratic Party before Bush came along. Hell, they’ve only slid further into wussy oblivion since he did. So it’s important to understand, while you read my cartoons, that my job is to point out stupidity and oddity wherever I encounter it, including on what passes for the American left. Glenn writes:

On one level, I found today’s cartoon very amusing, as I can almost see the political parties actually rushing to get more injured military vets to run for office. Then, I thought that your deeper point was that it was either wrong or a mistake for the Democratic Party to run former military personnel for office. If I interpret your body of work correctly, you seem to be a ‘purist,’ in that you would rather lose an election ‘on message’ than win by either compromising on your ideal positions or by changing messengers to gain votes. I believe that, if the republic has any chance left, at least one House of Congress must change hands in the next election. To that end, I submit that anything that works is good.

In a sense, that brings me to a larger question I have had. How do you propose to win elections in this country when you write off such large numbers of voters? I take it for granted that about 35% of the people nationwide will vote for any Republican, and about an equal number will vote for any Democrat. That leaves about 30% who are swing voters. In your work, though, you have written off the entire southeast USA, and the military as well. I don’t see how that is a winning strategy.

I know you can’t respond to this email personally, but in a future column, I would be fascinated to see what you would do if you were, say, head of the DNC or in a similar position. How would you have candidates campaign, what would you have for a platform, and so forth.

What you’ve written is essentially a summary of the thinking of the “centrist” Democratic Leadership Council founded by Clinton, which has led the party to defeat after defeat–even when, as under Clinton, they won. They compromised so much that they ended up with nothing. As for this cartoon, I was merely pointing out how cheesy it was to pick candidates based on their heart-tugging wounded war vet potential. (Of course, there’s nothing new here. Ask Bob Dole. But still.)

Anyone who wonders what I would do if I were in charge of the Democratic Party has only to read my book “Wake Up, You’re Liberal!” It even includes a sample party platform.

December 30, 2005

Is There Anything?

Don writes:

Generalissimo El Busho has publicly confessed to violating FISA, and says he will continue to do so. Is there *anything* he could do which would get him impeached? Anything at all? I’m assuming he could walk over to the Senate and beat Robert Byrd to death with a 9-iron and call it part of the War on Terra. PS – Hi Mr Gonzales! I’ll be headed up to the lake today, but you already knew that, didn’t you?

Yes he did. He had a great time just watching. As for whether there’s anything Bush could do to get his disgusting illegitimate ass impeached, well, I suspect we’ll find out sometime early in the new year. Even some Republicans are remembering their high school civics these days, thanks to the NSA.

December 30, 2005

ELF = Public Enemy No. 1

FOR Bill writes:

Another sign of our government targeting liberal groups is the fact that the FBI lists E.L.F [Earth Liberation Front] as the number one domestic terrorist group despite the fact that their biggest crimes have been large destruction
of property(Not that I support their methods.) Wouldn’t these groups of abortion clinic bombers or right wing militia groups that brought us the Oklahoma City bombing be more of a threat?

Actually, the Republican Party is the number one domestic terror organization. Besides, ELF isn’t a group–it’s an idea. Adherents inspired by the notion that defending the planet from rapacious developers and other enemies of the environment like SUV dealers take it upon themselves to take whatever actions they deem appropriate in their areas. Chasing ELF is chasing wind. Ecoterrorism will only disappear when their cause does–and frankly, we should all be wishing for the environment to get better. I don’t lose any sleep over charred SUVs.

December 29, 2005

Spoke Too Soon

So there are still a few right-wingers flopping about. Here’s an old school death threat, sent in at 2:29 am by one

i was surfing, came across u, surprised you’re still breathing. one day my friend…swimming with the fishies.

December 29, 2005

Randy writes:

First of all, I should say how much I’ve enjoyed, not only your articles that appear in “My Yahoo” about every week, but your book on your travail through Afghanistan. I’ve been wanting to write at least that much for some time.
What caused me to write this time, however, was todays piece on the NSA. Do you really think that someone was tapping your line from the box? Do you really hear those ‘clicks’? I have in the past, so now I’m all spooked.
I should say that for the first time in my life I actually think of and am concerned about the state of affairs in this what USED to be called UNITED States. It actually affects my day, and I don’t remember any period before (although I’m only 35) that has made me feel that ‘pit’… similar to a breakup you know is coming, but you never know when.
A fellow Bush basher
PS- How much hate mail do you actually receive? Those neo-cons are angry SOBs

Wanna be really spooked? Google “Echelon” and “National Security Agency.” The NSA has been intercepting every single phone call, email, wire transfer and fax transmission in most of the industrialized world for years–and that’s according to a former NSA director. They absolutely are reading and listening to you. It isn’t even debatable. THe question is why we put up with it. After all, we’re paying for it.

The hate mail has slowed to a trickle. Seems a lot of the hardcore right-wing Bushies are hiding in their beds now that everything’s falling apart for them. Some may even have changed their minds, but who cares? The bastards will be just as stupid and mean the next time one of their regimes comes into power.

December 29, 2005

Ted Rall Radio Show Back 1/8/06

Well, that’s pretty much it. With a little luck we’ll have Podcasting and livestreaming for Macs up and running by then.

December 29, 2005

NSA Puts Cookies on Computers

Thanks to several Friends of Rall for pointing me to the news that I undoubtedly now have National Security Agency cookies on my computer. It’s not that big a deal in the greater scheme of things–see my column this week for what constitutes a big deal–but still worth noting. What assholes.

December 26, 2005

Pentagon’s Fictional Afghan Pay Phones

An anonymous soldier writes:

When General Hayden said that someone in Afghanistan used a pay phone, he did not lie. He merely did not explain what was used.

You’re right about there being no fixed line infrastructure. However, Afghanistan did have Thuraya coverage in 2001. You can buy a Thuraya calling card just like you can for any other phone, and just like a normal pay phone, you can set a static location and charge fees. Yet there are two big differences. One and foremost is the cost. It’s an expensive service. The second difference is rather than going through a PSTN, it is sent via sat. link. Or it could have been a HPCP. To a journalist who knows nothing of telecommunications, mentioning Thuraya or HPCP would require an explanation, and why explain when you can merely say “Pay phone” because that is what it was?

And, from my quick search, Afghanistan had no fiber. So every bit of communication would be radio wave based.

Thuraya phones receive spotty coverage in Afghanistan; they’re particularly good for travel around the Persian Gulf and Middle East. When they do function in Afghanistan, they are satellite phones. And while it is theoretically possible to purchase calling cards for a Thuraya phone and switch the cards around, it is extremely unlikely that anyone in Afghanistan would do so for one simple reason–there’s no place there to purchase them.

More to the point, Americans–the audience to which the General was presumably addressing himself–think of “pay phones” as a fixed phone that takes coins or calling card. That’s what the New York Times assumed, but that’s not what was in Afghanistan in 2001–or, for that matter, now. Thuraya phones are mobile, portable satellite phones.

Inventing your own vocabulary isn’t acceptable. It is a lie. And that’s giving the guy the benefit of the doubt.