Reason fails again in US government

No sooner do I write about the misinformed campaign against Chinese PCs being carried out by certain members of the US Congress then the State Department announces that none of the 16,000 machines being purchased from Lenovo will be connected to any high security networks or used to process any classified data.

As the NYT article says:

Long story short, an influential member of Congress played the China card, and the State Department folded.

It was a drama that reached a conclusion late last week, when the State Department, responding to fears that its security might be breached by a secretly placed device or hidden software, agreed to keep personal computers made by Lenovo of China off its networks that handle classified government messages and documents.

The damage to Lenovo is more to its reputation than to its pocketbook. The State Department will use the 16,000 desktop computers it purchased from Lenovo, just not on the computer networks that carry sensitive government intelligence.

I previously mentioned the absurdity of even trying to find computer constructed outside of China, as well as the somewhat unlikely prospect that Chinese trojans could be hidden in the systems without being located. Well, naturally Lenovo agrees with me about that, but there’s more. Jeffrey Carlisle, vice president of government relations for Lenovo, describes

the worry that the Chinese government might secretly slip spying hardware or software on Lenovo computers shipped to the State Department as “a fantasy.” The desktop machines, he said, will be made in Monterrey, Mexico, and Raleigh, N.C., at plants purchased from I.B.M.

“It’s the same places, using the same processes as I.B.M. had,” Mr. Carlisle said. “Nothing’s changed.”

So despite everything, by going to a company partially owned by the Chinese government (and not incidentally, also partly owned by IBM, and by other American and non-governmental foreign investors) they are actually getting one of the few sources of computers NOT made in China! Do they now think that the former IBM executives and engineers that run the Mexican and Raleigh plants are now agents of the Chinese government just because of who owns some of the stock? This notion of Communist Party control over Lenovo just seems so overblown. According to Wikipedia the actual breakdown is “as of May 1, 2005 35.2% of Lenovo was owned by public shareholders, 45.9% by Legend Holdings Limited, and 18.9% by IBM.”

Furthermore, the headquarters of the company is located in New York State and is planning to relocate to Raleigh, where the Thinkpad group is based. Yes, the Chinese government owns a large chunk of Lenovo through Legend Holdings Limited. While the corporate entity known as Lenovo may have originated in China with government backing, it has transmuted into a very 21st century transnational company, in which the Chinese government is merely a stockholder. Certainly with the force of authoritarian Chinese law behind them the CCP could do much to control operations within China, but I find very little credible reason to believe that a minority stockholder would be able to exert the level of influence necessary to illegally alter the designs of systems in a way that would be economically suicidal if uncovered at a factory in Raleigh N.C. formerly owned by IBM and managed from the Purchase, NY headquarters.

I have a Mac Classic in my attic that you could use

It has been just about two months since I last discussed the Congressional revolt against Chinese manufactured computers and for a while I thought that perhaps the story was dead, but leave it to a Congress member to not merely flog, but actually hitch his wagon to a dead horse. is running an AP story saying that the State Department has declared that the 16,000 computers they purchased from Lenovo will not be used for classified work. This followed a complaint by Virgina Representative Frank Wolf, who while he may have been elected to represent the good people of Virgina, seems unlikely to qualify for a job setting up internet connections at people’s homes.

The government, Griffin wrote, is committed to making sure the purchase from Lenovo, the world’s No. 3 PC maker, will not “compromise our information and communication channels.”

Wolf, R-Va., chairman of the House subcommittee that finances State Department operations, said he raised alarms after he discovered that officials planned to use at least 900 of the computers in classified work and at U.S. embassies and consulates abroad. That, he said, possibly could give China access to sensitive U.S. information.

While there may in fact be a miniscule theoretical possiblity of a security breach resulting from some sort of clever trojan hidden deep in the firmware of a China manufactured computer (such as if State were stupid enough to use the Lenovo security chip), there is something unaccounted for by Mr. Wolf that would prevent them from buying computers entirely manufactured inside the United States. Namely, there aren’t any.

As a chart in this piece at illustrates, over the past several years every single PC manufacturer, whether Chinese, Taiwanese, Japanese or even American, has come to do at least some of their manufacturing and basically all of their final assembly in China.

Unfortunately for Representative Wolf, banning the purchase of computers manufactured in China essentially means banning the purchase of computers. At least, unless he wants the government to trove attics and garage sales to collect 1980s models like my old Mac Classic.

But as for the real issue of whether or not manufacturing in China is a security risk. I would have to say, not particularly. While the computers may be “made” in China, they aren’t designed there. Just because a piece of electronics has “Made in China” stamped on its outer shell does not mean that the entire contents was made in China, only that the case was. But while the system may have been assembled and some of the components manufactured there, virtually none of the highest tech components responsible for the actual processing of the computer are made there.

Does it seem likely that it is possible to add a trojan to imported AMD chips made in Germany, or modify the design of an Nvidia chipset, designed in California and manufactured in Shenzhen, China by a Taiwanese company, so that it stealthily transmits keystrokes over the internet to Chinese servers?

Regardless of where the hardware is from, while the systems are preconfigured by the maker, we can assume the State’s IT department will wipe the hard drive and reinstall their own carefully tweaked (hopefully) secure disk image, and then replace the BIOS and firmware with vetted software written by the American or Taiwanese companies that actually designed the components.

Put a Statue of Dave Chappelle in the Capitol!

This just in! DC’s non-voting representative in Congress is sponsoring a bill to put two statues of famous DC natives in the Capitol building’s rotunda among statues from the “real” states.

You can vote for your choices here. The site provides a bunch of boring “historical” figures, but I personally recommend you write in master comedian and DC native Dave Chappelle. Why? Cuz he’s rich, biotch!

Story here. Thanks to NPR.

What are you waiting for? Get out of here and vote already!
Note that if you write a candidate in you cannot check the other choices.

UPDATE: Great article on Slate (“Dave Chappelle’s Problem – He Can’t Escape White People”) from a couple weeks ago on Dave Chappelle’s Block Party movie. The article describes the movie as Chappelle’s attempt to create a black audience for himself, which is basically an unnattainable goal. I’m not doing the article justice, so go read it for yourself!

Secrets from Inside the White House! from the Something Awful forums


AMAZING stuff from a thread at the Something Awful forums. A White House staffer has apparently snapped and decided to spill the beans, albeit in a carefully guarded way. It starts like this:

This is all good information, personally verified or witnessed by none other than me, but I will not answer any questions about it or go into any detail other than what I’ve already typed out. I may reply with more information or anecdotes if I see fit, but I’ve pretty much already scraped the barrel of my experiences.

These are some facts I have witnessed and learned through my employment. Take it at face value, believe it or don’t believe it, because I’m not providing corroborating pictures, details, or evidence beyond my own testimony.

Homeland security buys in bulk and at great premium millions of dollars of useless personal appliances from China, such as rice cookers, nose hair trimmers, massage wands, and heating pads, boxes them up, and buries them in railroad shipping containers in the Arizona desert for no reason whatsoever other than to spend its budget and prevent sub-agencies from getting the funds. I suspect that the money goes to a middleman in order to secretly siphon funds into foreign organizations which we can’t support over the table, but this is just me trying to find a justification for this massive and intentional government waste.

Donald Rumsfeld needs to wear iced underwear because of some medical condition, and he has his secret service detail hold his spares. He was recently getting uncontrollable long-term erections and had to change up his medical treatments. The underwear and the erections is why he uses a standing desk, not because he is some super-man. He also wears nylon stockings, not because he’s gay, but to control some vascular problem with his legs which causes him intense pain.

President Bush uses anti-depressant medication, a lot of it, at a stupendous dosage, and he is hiding it from the American public. This is the real reason he stopped drinking. Because of the dosage, he is also impotent.

Tom Ridge carries 20 credit cards with him at all times, each one with a very low limit. I have never heard of him using one, ever, but he has them. He also wears his socks inside-out, and will flip the fuck out and walk strangely if he is forced to wear them properly, because it drives him crazy. All of his socks must be laundered right side in and then turned inside out before they are returned to him. He gave specific instructions about handling his food, and not allowing his vegetables to touch any other food item on the plate. His utensils must be steamed over boiling water. He will not eat soup which hasn’t been boiled within the past 20 minutes or which he has not prepared himself. If any of these rules are violated, he flies into a rage, turns beet red, and will not eat a single thing. He has his personal attendants confirm over and over that the food is as he likes it. He also shaves his forearms and hands because he can’t stand the idea of body hair on his arms. He demands that his bedsheets are bleach white and changed fresh every night and he sleeps in a separate bed in a big, tight, body-length nylon sleeve, with a fan blowing over him at full power. He is terrified of animals which have fur or hair longer than one inch, and will not go near curly hair of any kind, even on people. At one time he ran from his office and demanded that someone look under everything for a rodent which did not and could not exist, then he had the entire place wiped down with disinfectant and vacuumed twice. While this was done he couldn’t even bear to look at the door, or come within 20 feet of his office. He was in hysterics.

President Bush, when dining at the white-house, does not eat any item of food which has not been first sniffed by a trained dog before being prepared. Think about that.

Word among the staff is that Cheney was drunk when he shot that lawyer, and secluded himself for a day to sober up and avoid felony firearms charges. I don’t have any direct information on this because the guys with him at the time are not talking. This is totally unconfirmed, but I think it is plausible.

Dick Cheney has chronic gum problems and his breath smells like shit as a result. He is also a CLOSE TALKER. He keeps a small bottle of diluted hydrogen peroxide which he rinses with every hour on the hour, and he swallows it instead of spitting. He also picks his nose vigorously (violently) and hums loudly and tunelessly to himself while taking shits.

There is a sealed room in the whitehouse which once held a half-ton block of cheese for about 30 years.

The White house is planting its own men among the press agents at press conferences.

The white house lawn is mowed every other day by the same man humming the same tune.

Despite all of this craziness, there is nothing strange whatsoever about Condoleeza Rice. She is completely balanced and normal, if slightly robotic in her personal demeanor. She smells very nice at all times. She does, however, constantly check her investments online from her office when she thinks that nobody is looking, and she has slept at her desk on multiple occasions.

There is an administrative law judge who sits in an office in a building near the white-house, earns around 200k per year and has a secretary, and he does nothing except sit, read, and listen to classical music all day. His secretary likewise does nothing. He gets meals taken to him from the White-house kitchen, and is so lonely that he latches on to whoever gets sent and talks to them for hours about the korean war. His family is all dead and his secretary hates him. In a drawer in his desk he has an old revolver, which he got in there somehow despite that he shouldn’t have been able to bring it in. I think he will shoot himself one day.

The “undisclosed location” is usually a local police officer training ground or state trooper college. Shh.

I can’t tell you if much of it is true or not, but it certainly rings true. Plus, it’s funny as hell!

What convinced me he knew what he was talking about was when he mentioned that a lot of our “foreign policy” is us using our economic power to twist foreign govts into enacting policies that benefit US companies. If you know anything about the USTR, that should hit home.

More Kabuki PLUS – Blast and Slam: My two favorite news cliches

I hereby present my dear readers with yet another example of the growing usage of “kabuki” as a political metaphor for either boring deliberations or carefully calculated horse-and-pony shows (if I may use one cliche to explain another). This was linked to on the front page of

The Full Kabuki: Everybody’s happy, nothing changes.
By Mickey Kaus
Updated Thursday, April 6, 2006, at 6:36 AM ET

The Full Kabuki: On immigration, the stage is set for a classic Washington stalemate in which all the actors–at least the Republican actors–get to position themselves as advocating their desired brand of bold action, and nothing gets done. … As Charles Peters has written, in Washington, “Make Believe = Survival.”

I don’t really remember kabuki having many happy endings. Someone needs to decide on a real definition for “political kabuki” or perhaps just officially ban the term from public discourse. It’s lame!

What’s never lame, however, is the use of the words “blast” and “slam” over and over again in headlines to describe any kind of criticism. I mean, it does get a little stale, but I still get a kick out of shouting SLAM!!! whenever I read that a think tank isn’t into Bush’s tax plan. And remember what Slate’s Jack Shafer said: “If journalists weren’t allowed to recycle headlines every 10 years they’d run out of them.”

Here are some fun examples from recent news:

  • Ugly apartments SLAMMED into the stone age!
  • An artist's impression of Jurys Inn at Kings Dock

    Experts slam Kings Dock hotel design

    Apr 5 2006

    By Nick Coligan, Liverpool Echo

    TWO hotels earmarked for Liverpool’s Kings Dock have come under fire from architecture experts.

    The three-star-plus Jurys Inn and smaller Staybridge boutique hotel are dubbed “disappointing” and “not convincing”.

  • Moby BLASTS xenophobia with his techno-laser-glasses!
  • Continue reading More Kabuki PLUS – Blast and Slam: My two favorite news cliches

    Ann Coulter on Koizumi and Bush

    Political commentator and psycho dragon bitch from hell Ann Coulter has this to say:

    One year before elections in Japan, the [New York] Times was predicting defeat for Koizumi, a loyal friend to President Bush and an implacable supporter of the war in Iraq.

    Reporting on the unpopularity of the Iraq War in Japan, the Times said “polls indicate that the population is against an extension” of Japanese troops serving in Iraq and that the opposition vowed to withdraw troops. Indeed, “some members of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s own party have been calling for the troops’ withdrawal.”

    And then in September 2005, Koizumi’s party won a landslide. The Times described this as mainly a victory for the prime minister’s idea to privatize the post office, explaining that Koizumi had won “by making postal privatization — an arcane issue little understood by most voters — a litmus test for reform,” thus confirming the age-old political truism, “Most elections hinge on arcane, obscure issues voters don’t know or care about.”

    As congressional Republicans decide whether to take the Times’ advice and back away from the war this election year, they might reflect on a fourth world leader who won re-election while supporting the Iraq war. Just about four months before Bush was re-elected in 2004, the Times put this on its front page: “President Bush’s job approval rating has fallen to the lowest level of his presidency, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll. The poll found Americans stiffening their opposition to the Iraq war, worried that the invasion could invite domestic terrorist attacks.”

    Maybe it was his support for the post office.

    As much as I hate to agree with her, I don’t think the war drives most Japanese voters. In fact, I don’t think it drives most American voters (although it certainly means more to them). And the NYT… just doesn’t get it, basically.

    Of course, you would probably hear the same basic opinion from Jon Stewart. He would just be funnier about it.

    OMG, more kabuki!

    When I saw the editorial titled Kabuki Congress, I knew what the next blog post would be.

    The question is whether the Bush administration broke the law by allowing the National Security Agency to spy on Americans and others in the United States without obtaining the required warrant. The White House wants Americans to believe that the spying is restricted only to conversations between agents of Al Qaeda and people in the United States. But even if that were true, which it evidently is not, the administration has not offered the slightest evidence that it could not have efficiently monitored those Qaeda-related phone calls and e-mail messages while following the existing rules.

    In other words, there is not a shred of proof that the illegal program produced information that could not have been obtained legally, had the administration wanted to bother to stay within the law.

    …Putting on face paint and pretending that illusion is reality is fine for Kabuki theater. Congress should have higher standards.

    I mean, it’s the usual NYT line, but you gotta love the kabuki.

    Ms. Smith Goes To Washington

    While I’m on a US news binge, this has to be one of the most parody-worthy legal stories of the last year. Here’s the bland version:

    Former Playmate of the Year Anna Nicole Smith got her U.S. Supreme Court hearing on Tuesday, when her lawyer argued she should collect millions of dollars she claims her late Texas oil tycoon husband had promised her.

    At one point during the hour-long arguments, the 38-year old blond widow, dressed in black and sitting in the spectator section, became emotional and started crying, a witness and her lawyer said…

    The issue before the justices in the long-running legal battle is to review when federal courts can hear claims that are also involved in state probate hearings. The justices seemed receptive to arguments by Smith’s lawyer that federal courts have jurisdiction to consider her claims.

    In Wonkette’s spicier alternate reality version (warning: link not recommended for young viewers or people with high blood pressure), she goes forward pro se:

    On the conservative side, Justice Clarence Thomas — known for his inattentiveness during oral argument — was clearly riveted by Smith’s remarks. Sitting on the edge of his chair, he appeared to be engaged in vigorous note-taking underneath his robe.

    But Smith reached out to the Court’s liberals as well. When she argued that she worked hard for every last cent of her late husband’s fortune, asking the justices, “Do you have any idea how hard it is to blow a guy in a wheelchair?”, Justice David Souter nodded sympathetically.

    God bless America.