Of shortwave, the BBC, earthquakes, crushed children, and international satellite monitoring

I like listening to the BBC. Of course there’s the Internet, and NPR often broadcasts BBC’s World Service at night (and increasingly slipping in some BBC coverage during the day time, in the middle of All Things Considered. Truly… strange…) A decade ago, though, I saved up a couple of paychecks and bought a nice shortwave radio from RadioShack.

Shortwave is good, consider it your friend. Even in the age of the Internet there is a WORLD of news, cultural radio, you name it, out there still bouncing around on shortwave circuits. The advantages can include – IF one knows what one is doing – using them to listen to digital “utility” transmissions, many of which still are, to this day, are military long haul communications circuits.

Several years ago I remember listening to fighter pilots during the Kosova/Serbian conflict.  In the clear. Can you imagine a young man’s excitement hearing news as it happened, by the pilots making the news, thousands of miles away?

But it sobered me – realizing that human lives were being affected. Whether your sympathies were with the Kosovar Albanians or the Serbs, realizing that human lives were being snuffed out, pretty young women coming home from work immolated in moments, kindly old men bouncing their baby grandchild on the knee smiling, blown to bits in a wink of an eye.

I always think about these things. It is hypocritical for me, and a sign of weakness, not to consider what is happening in other people’s lives. This makes them human to me, not abstractions, but flesh and blood people with stories much like mine.

On shortwave you can also – sometimes – find circuits used by merchant mariners and freighter ships. Over the last decade satellites took over most sea communications, but there are some interesting voice and “utility” transmissions to be found here and there. There is a magazine devoted to this art and hobby, Monitoring Times.

You can also, if lucky, locate diplomatic circuits, however they are usually encrypted. By this I mean some foreign embassies and consulates maintain long-haul shortwave communications circuits that are encoded with ciphers. Some nations still use outmoded ciphers, which can now be broken by intelligent young boys with access to enough computer CPUs to build a cluster or, for those with a larger budget, actual FPGA chips.

No, I do not know how to do this, but if you are interested you may ask your friendly neighborhood University math majors for a crash course in crypto analysis and hang out at some Ham Radio fests or 2600 hacker meetings and awkwardly chat people up until you find someone willing to chat a bit more. Or they may avoid you in total paranoia. But nothing ventured, nothing gained eh?

Back to the BBC. And things that melt my heart.

I like listening to the BBC’s World Service, and their near pornographic artsy historical dramas (increasingly catering to the lesbian crowd at times) are always interesting. And of course, the typically dry British comedy programs are nice. But I really like the radio World Service.

BBC World Service carries news and cultural material providing timely understanding of current events. All assisting, of course, overall cultural domination, and hegemony, of Anglo-Saxon civilization, worldwide. Since it is common knowledge that lingering British imperial dominion exerts itself, in subtle nuanced ways, through such cultural carriers, I will not push the point further. Professor C. Quigley’s “Anglo-American Establishment” gives good background material. It is common knowledge that the BBC historically has been an outlet of official British government propaganda, so we need not linger on this point..

..because I happen to like the BBC.. AND I DO LIKE THE BBC. I am grateful that Labour governments fund it with their constituents taxpayer dollars.

For one, I’m a bit fond of that estuary East-end London accent, and two, BBC propaganda is more subtle than the CRAP that passes for news over here in the US. I like it when biases and propaganda are expressed subtlety enough not to annoy me, but apparent enough that I can still sense and taste them, and consciously decide how to mentally filter them. American news, even the CNN, displays biases such blatant and coarse way it offends my tastes. I can enjoy the BBC’s news and cultural programming. I cannot enjoy Fox News. Also in providing news coverage the BBC does not condescend to degree that American news outlets do. The BBC carries useful and thought provoking analysis.

A couple of years ago I was listening to the BBC cover the anniversary of a rather large earthquake over in Pakistan. While listening to the reporter covering the tragedy my heart sobered quite a bit, and I found cause to reflect deeply.

The point of the news special concerned the massive destruction of schools in the area most badly hit. Even a year later thousands of schools were being held in tents or in the open air because the demolished schools were not able to be rebuilt.

One anecdote from a poor village Mullah; an old man with a wispy white beard choking up in tears talking about how he pulled his 12 year old daughter from the rubble. She survived, but was deathly ill. Another young man described seeing his little brother’s body lying in rubble, his head smashed in.

Imagine being a young man combing the wreckage and coming across your own brother, his head smashed in, almost unrecognizable. Imagine being an older father straining to pull aside rocks and concrete, and finding your living daughter’s battered body, so frail, and helpless.

I am not trying to provoke guilt. Forget guilt, forget cheap hallmark emotions. Think about yourself and your situation.

Life is incredibly fragile, we skate through life feeling nothing but security, comfortable in the civilization we’ve built up around ourselves. But that bubble of security can be popped in a moment’s notice. A wildfire, a hurricane, an act of war or terrorism, a bomb, a plane flying into your work building, a plague or epidemic, and yes, and earthquake.

Imagine these things over your Starbucks coffee.  We feel so freaking isolated, sometimes, from life’s realities that it takes hearing about little girls pulled from rubble by their graying aging fathers and little boys with their heads smashed in to remind us of how fragile life is.

If you figure, they lived in Pakistan, a third world country, this cannot happen here, you are being a fool.

Horrible events regularly puncture our calm lives in America, the fact that our country is the size of a third of a continent does isolate us from distant events, but there are landslides, wild fires, tornados, peoples lives like yours and mine, people who look like you and I, who speak our language, people of your race, or my race, of your culture, or my culture, of your religion – or lack thereof, in Gap blue jeans, excited over their hot date later tonight with the cutie whose eyes they met at the Safeway last week, excited over their midterm grades, frustrated with their new job, pissed off at their boss, waiting to go hang out with their friends for something to drink and a game of pool – people like you and I here in the USA find themselves suddenly facing a fate more severe than anything we imagined.

Life runs smoothly for us, when it stops running smoothly often we do not know what happened, what we are doing, where we are going. We live, we die, in confusion and fear and anxiety aching for one last chance, aching for one last possible chance, to tell someone we love them, that we care, that we are sorry. Sorry for something.

Think about this.

NEXT, returning to the first point – short wave radio can be your friend. So too can large aging C-Band satellite dishes, for those who know what they are doing and which satellite transponders to point them at, and what gear to connect them to. Beyond listening in on satellite phone conversations, you might, just might, catch an ordinary international landline phone conversations when the long haul trunks carrying them are switched over Satellite circuits.

Which is sometimes the case for cheap Quickie-Mart phone card conversations. Much of this stuff is carried over VOIP nowadays but it is still possible to catch a listen  to hapless Central American drug mules chatting with their bosses back home. Wholesome fun for the family.

How does one do this? Google a few terms and hit a local department of engineering library, and take a few ham radio courses.

A bit of good information still floats in the public sector, on monitoring everything from shortwave up to microwave satellites, much possible with a simple modified TVRO dish. The principles can be used, also, for aggressive ISM band monitoring of, say, Wi-Fi 802.11 wireless networks..

Such interception is illegal under US Federal law, so you are sternly advised not to do it. In fact, frankly put, do not do think about doing any of this, for it is illegal and if you are caught you will be prosecuted. Some people however may simply find the technical knowledge of how to do such things to be, well, stimulating. Knowledge is stimulating.

On the side, all radio receivers I am aware of produce an intermediate frequency that escapes the unit’s chassis. This frequency can be picked up some distance away, and mathematically computed to determine what initial frequency you were monitoring.

So if you are camped out in your buddy’s white delivery van with a modified TVRO dish mounted on a tripod on the side wired to an receiver that can do single side band, stepped to a Shortwave radio, busy monitoring something you really shouldn’t, and the friendly FCC van comes by, with their antennas, and pick up your receiver’s emissions and determine you are listening to something you shouldn’t well, it truly sucks to be you.

Back to the BBC, in the old days when it was illegal to own a TV in England and use it without paying certain taxes they would catch people watching TV by driving around trying to pick up intermediate frequencies, in a van with directional antennas. Ah the joys of overzealous beurecrats. Your tax dollars go to pay for entertaining propaganda and they tax you again for the right to watch it. That’s a thing of the past of course, but it is an interesting historical tidbit all the same.

This can be evaded through Tempest style hardening done for you, of course, by your local neighborhood competent electrical engineer and/or hacker.


I now despise..

..the sort of polite civility between former “friends” that masks a desire for an utter indifference towards you.

It’s mixed with awkwardness and discomfort.

Is it better to be utterly rude, than distantly and awkwardly polite and friendly towards those whose company you no longer desire?

There is the matter of “getting the hint” but could brute and blunt honesty be preferable?

Politeness saves face for the polite one, whilst the receiver of the politeness may not understand the oh-so subtle message.

Is it better to crush someone’s feelings with a “I don’t really care for your company anymore. Sorry.” than seven veils of polite distant friendliness that means the same thing?

I do not have the answer to this, I only know that distant politeness between former acquaintances and “friends” is exceedingly annoying and inspires in me a sort of disdain towards the polite one.

This is different than the awkwardness between people who still like and have some regard for each other but have just been separated by circumstances to the point that no deep communication is possible when they meet again. So there is small talk, and niceties, and the aching feeling of wanting to say more of substance but awkwardly not being able to. So we fall into polite chit chat before parting.

This is different.

But when one party has a real and honest aversion to the other, just deliver the merciful coup de grace and let the axe fall. Bluntly. You may be labeled a bitch, but your ego will recover. Both parties will be better off for it in the end, and you would have gained a great deal more inner personal power.

My gripe of the day.


The joy of service, a friendly word from Orwell, Solzhenitsyn, Douglas, and Hitler

Let us, you and I, read these quotes and just think about them.

Turn them over in our minds, taste them, not taking them for granted, but really, really, considering what the authors were trying to communicate to you, and I, what their backgrounds were, and what their concerns were.

We see how clear things become to us when we look at a word’s definition and not the feelings we are used to feeling when we hear them. Our feelings, what a word means to us because of our history, our upbringing, our parents, crisis, fears, tragedies, hopes, personal victories, and schooling, are subjective and unique.

But the word existed long before we were born, will exist long after we are dust, and has specific meanings that can tell us a lot, a lot.

But only if we are open to them, and only if we listen, instead of pushing ourselves on it.

Just listen to words, what they whisper to you, what they shout to you. Don’t be pushy and rude, let the words speak for themselves and you may be delighted what they say.

“Real power is achieved when the ruling class controls the material essentials of life, granting and withholding them from the masses as if they were privileges” — George Orwell

“It is almost a joke now in the Western world, in the 20th century, to use words like ‘good and ‘evil’. They have become almost old fashioned concepts, but they are very real and genuine concepts. These are concepts from a sphere which is higher than us. And instead of getting involved in base, petty, short-sighted political calculations and games. We have to recognize that the concentration of world Evil and the tremendous force of hatred is there and it’s flowing from there throughout the world. And we have to stand up against it and not hasten to give to it, give to it, give to it, every-thing that it wants to swallow.”
— Alexander Solzhenitsyn

“Find out just what the people will submit to, and you have found out the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them; and these will continue until they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.” — Frederick Douglas

“The great masses of people will more easily fall victims to a big lie than to a small one. Especially if it is repeated over and over.” –Adolph Hitler

Oh, and another word from Huxley:

“A really efficient totalitarian state would be one in which the all-powerful executive of political bosses and their army of managers control a population of slaves who do not have to be coerced, because they love their servitude. To make them love it is the task assigned, in present-day totalitarian states, to ministries of propaganda, newspaper editors and schoolteachers. The greatest triumphs of propaganda have been accomplished, not by doing something, but by refraining from doing. Great is truth, but still greater, from a practical point of view, is silence about truth.— Aldus Huxley

What is Servitude? The word was first coined 1471. Meaning the condition of being enslaved. Slavery or bondage of any kind. Also compulsory service of any kind. From Middle French servitude, from Late Latin servitudo “slavery,” from Latin servus “a slave.” Synonyms include serfdom, and thralldom (yes, a serf is a slave. Those who argue otherwise have not understood the matter.)

What is Service? A word first coined 1100. From Old French servise, from Latin servitium “slavery, servitude,” from Latin servus “a slave” ‘Meaning “act of serving” is attested from 1230.”

When we think hard about phrases like “a world of service”, a “service sector”, “national service”, a “service economy” we notice certain things.

What is national service?. It is service to the nation, service to the nation-state, service to the state. What is the State? A word first coined in 1538. “the political organization of a country, supreme civil power, government..”

Ah my friend, see what the words whisper and shout, when we simply sit down, and let them speak, and are present, and open to them?


the desert of ideas

“..He who fights with monsters should take care that he himself does not become a monster….
And when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss will gaze back into you..” – Friedrich Nietzsche

Try not to stop at the literal significance of these words, but try to read between the lines, I’m aiming at something more subtle.

When well meaning people worship an ideology instead of the truth they can become, but by bit, as bad or worse than their opponents.

The truth is what is real, I am not talking about the postmodern glib “we all have our own truth” and “we all make our own reality” reaction. There is some truth to both these statements but not on the levels that most people sloppily put out there. Deep down inside everyone has some idea of what is real and true underneath their layers of self justification and self excuses.

Every ideology has some truth to it, usually mixed with several untruths or partial truths.
If you worship an ideology, bow down to it and serve it, then if we are not careful then we can, in fact, and often do, in fact, outdo the moderate among our enemies in sheer evil.

This is the case among the left and right alike.

There is no evil like that committed by sincere well meaning women and men in furtherance of a goal they see as good, so good the rest of humanity becomes tools to manipulate and use in obtaining some greater goal.

You come to rationalize the worse of evils committed in the name of your gender, your sex, your race, your people, your religion, your ideology.

You, step by step, become a monster of wickedness and you never even realize it until years later you realize what you have committed – and what good are tears of contrition once you have murdered people you convinced yourself were inhuman. Because the only way to justify rank evil is to convince yourself that those you are committing evil acts against are not human, or somehow almost sub-human, bestial, and not deserving basic human decency.

The first steps to this fall are to take an ideology, abstract sterile ideas, as your god. Your god is what you serve, what is your ultimate referent.

You become that which you worship. Worship a monkey and you become monkey like, worship a donkey, and you become donkey like, worship an idea, and that idea circumscribes the boundaries of your being, you rise to the heights of that idea. Worship a man and you strive to life to the heights and qualities of that particular man, worship a woman and you do the same. Your god, your illah, is the ideal which sets a height towards which you consciously or unconsciously seek to emulate. However you do not surpass it.

This is why it is of utmost importance which idols you choose to bow down to. Idolize Ayn Rand, and you may approach her genius, but you will remain in her mold. Idolize Gloria Steinem and ditto. Idolize Marx and Proudhon, and, well, ditto. You may approach them, but you will not surpass them. In both cases these were limited, and petty human beings, their real genius notwithstanding.

Embrace that which is beyond form and limitation.

Ideologies are contingent and limited, conservative, liberal, libertarian, leftist, rightist, capitalist, socialist, each of these is a plucked over corpse of ideas, their gleaming white bones reflecting the sunlight ever so pretty. Linger there too long and you may find your bones littering the desert of human ideas.

Every author of an ideology was a person who went beyond a previous mold. Every follower of an ideology is one who conformed his or her self to a mold.

“..Don’t tell me ’bout how the world isn’t fair
How you’ll live your life how you choose
I don’t want to hear another excuse
How it ain’t your fault when you lose

And you’re the prisoner
Your mind’s diseased, my mind is cured
You say you’re political
I say, “Screw that, you’re just a fool.” – Suicidal Tendencies, “The Prisoner”

Thought for the day

Climate Change,
Global catastrophes from the Greenhouse Effect,
Peak Oil,
Riots and War due to Overpopulation,

Are nothing more, than post-christian eschatology.

In a humanistic post-christian secular society no one believes in Judgment day or Hell anymore.

But you can get a pleasurable moralist kick by wringing your hands over, let’s say, global warming, and the prospect of too many of the wrong kind of breeders eating up the world’s resources.
(and how selfish of them, for shame. Consuming all of those precious resources that we, the civilized, need.)

Today there is no Bible, but there are NPR and Fox news. The opposing Manichean revelations of good and evil.

Think about it a bit.

Pleasant regards,
Kamal S.
“Hankering after the Eschaton since 1974!”