Epistles

feinsteinDear Steven:

I received your communication indicating your concerns about the two National Security Agency programs that have been in the news recently.   I appreciate that you took the time to write on this important issue and welcome the opportunity to respond.

First, I understand your concerns and want to point out that by law, the government cannot listen to an American’s telephone calls or read their emails without a court warrant issued upon a showing of probable cause.  As is described in the attachment to this letter provided by the Executive Branch, the programs that were recently disclosed have to do with information about phone calls – the kind of information that you might find on a telephone bill – in one case, and the internet communications (such as email) of non-Americans outside the United States in the other case.  Both programs are subject to checks and balances, and oversight by the Executive Branch, the Congress, and the Judiciary.

As Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, I can tell you that I believe the oversight we have conducted is strong and effective and I am doing my level best to get more information declassified.  Please know that it is equally frustrating to me, as it is to you, that I cannot provide more detail on the value these programs provide and the strict limitations placed on how this information is used.  I take serious my responsibility to make sure intelligence programs are effective, but I work equally hard to ensure that intelligence activities strictly comply with the Constitution and our laws and protect Americans’ privacy rights.

These surveillance programs have proven to be very effective in identifying terrorists, their activities, and those associated with terrorist plots, and in allowing the Intelligence Community and the Federal Bureau of Investigation to prevent numerous terrorist attacks.  More information on this should be forthcoming.

  • On June 18, 2003, the Director of the National Security Agency (NSA) testified to the House Intelligence Committee that there have been “over 50 potential terrorist events” that these programs helped prevent.
  • While the specific uses of these surveillance programs remain largely classified, I have reviewed the classified testimony and reports from the Executive Branch that describe in detail how this surveillance has stopped attacks.
  • Two examples where these surveillance programs were used to prevent terrorist attacks were: (1) the attempted bombing of the New York City subway system in September 2009 by Najibullah Zazi and his co-conspirators; and (2) the attempted attack on a Danish newspaper that published cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed in October 2009 by U.S. citizen David Headley and his associates.
  • Regarding the planned bombing of the New York City subway system, the NSA has determined that in early September of 2009, while monitoring the activities of Al Qaeda terrorists in Pakistan, NSA noted contact from an individual in the U.S. that the FBI subsequently identified as Colorado-based Najibullah Zazi.  The U.S. Intelligence Community, including the FBI and NSA, worked in concert to determine his relationship with Al Qaeda, as well as identify any foreign or domestic terrorist links.  The FBI tracked Zazi as he traveled to New York to meet with co-conspirators, where they were planning to conduct a terrorist attack using hydrogen peroxide bombs placed in backpacks. Zazi and his co-conspirators were subsequently arrested. Zazi eventually pleaded guilty to conspiring to bomb the NYC subway system.
  • Regarding terrorist David Headley, he was also involved in the planning and reconnaissance of the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India that killed 166 people, including six Americans.  According to NSA, in October 2009, Headley, a Chicago businessman and dual U.S. and Pakistani citizen, was arrested by the FBI as he tried to depart from Chicago O’Hare airport on a trip to Europe.  Headley was charged with material support to terrorism based on his involvement in the planning and reconnaissance of the hotel attack in Mumbai 2008.  At the time of his arrest, Headley and his colleagues were plotting to attack the Danish newspaper that published the unflattering cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, at the behest of Al Qaeda.

Not only has Congress been briefed on these programs, but laws passed and enacted since 9/11 specifically authorize them.  The surveillance programs are authorized by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which itself was enacted by Congress in 1978 to establish the legal structure to carry out these programs, but also to prevent government abuses, such as surveillance of Americans without approval from the federal courts. The Act authorizes the government to gather communications and other information for foreign intelligence purposes.  It also establishes privacy protections, oversight mechanisms (including court review), and other restrictions to protect privacy rights of Americans.

The laws that have established and reauthorized these programs since 9/11 have passed by mostly overwhelming margins.  For example, the phone call business record program was reauthorized most recently on May 26, 2011 by a vote of 72-23 in the Senate and 250-153 in the House.  The internet communications program was reauthorized most recently on December 30, 2012 by a vote of 73-22 in the Senate and 301-118 in the House.

Attached to this letter is a brief summary of the two intelligence surveillance programs that were recently disclosed in media articles.  While I very much regret the disclosure of classified information in a way that will damage our ability to identify and stop terrorist activity, I believe it is important to ensure that the public record now available on these programs is accurate and provided with the proper context.

Again, thank you for contacting me with your concerns and comments.  I appreciate knowing your views and hope you continue to inform me of issues that matter to you.  If you have any additional questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact my office in Washington, D.C. at (202) 224-3841.

 Sincerely yours,

Dianne Feinstein
United States Senator

——————————————————————————————————–

From: Steven R. Boyett
Sent: Wednesday, July 31, 2013 12:27 PM
To:senator@feinstein.senate.gov
Subject: U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein responding to your message

Ms. Feinstein:

I feel that you are acting against the very principles you have been elected to uphold. Restricting liberty to establish security is a devil’s bargain, sanctioned by corporations motivated by shareholder profit, enabled by sustained government contracts, and perpetuated by massive financial influence over elected officials.

Your justifications enumerated below are simply that: justifications. Your claim that warrantless surveillance will not be conducted because it is illegal has not only been demonstrated to be patently false on a wholesale level inconceivable even a decade ago, it is an alarmingly naive position for the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee to take. Edward Snowden’s revelations have made it painfully clear that there is a vast difference between what the law permits and what security operatives routinely do. For you to abet this function is wholly shameful.

I have voted for you in the past. I will not do so again.

–steven boyett

Metabooking

The current crop of enhanced e-books falls sadly short of the medium’s spectacular capabilities. Mostly they provide extras: Interviews, author readings, the audiobook, maybe a game. Like bonus material on a DVD, but without deleted scenes, boooo! Some of it is useful: Timelines,  maps, etc. But there’s very little that enhances a reader’s enjoyment and understanding of the text itself. More importantly, there’s no model, modular approach to bringing such enhancements to the text.

Certainly some books have taken creative advantage of the medium. Richard Dawkins’ The Magic of Reality springs to mind. But most efforts have been primitive, gimmicky, or misdirected. One “cutting-edge” approach is indistinguishable from the “choose-your-own-adventure” books of the 70s & 80s, apart from the reader not having to turn actual pages to get to the chosen part. Readers made it plain then that they want the writer to choose the adventure. If I can choose it myself, then the events that lead up to the end are, by definition, arbitrary. I certainly don’t feel I’ve paid to be in the hands of a good storyteller.

Other approaches are faring similarly. Most readers don’t care how many other readers have highlighted a particular passage. Most don’t want to interrupt their literary immersion to chat about a scene they’re in the middle of. Most are quickly bored with watching a graphic move.

The resounding verdict is that what readers like to do is read, and distracting and superfluous add-ons are mostly unwelcome. (I except the value of such enhancements in children’s books.) Book enhancements need to be inimical. They need to bring something to the text beyond the appearance of a desperate need to keep a reader’s attention. This won’t surprise enthusiastic readers, and it’s a shame that it is surprising publishers.

I would like the option to release (and read) novels as wikis. I’m interested in the opportunity to create what are essentially linked, flexible, self-updating, multimedia versions of annotated books. I’d like a layered approach of well-integrated functions that can show me the real-world settings of fictional events; explain technical or historical references; provide definitions; discuss allusions in, or influences on, the text; give biographical information that provides insight into an author’s choices and themes; play a referenced song. I would like a platform that can provide this for any book I read (so long as there are readers willing to contribute material). And I’d like it even better if this platform was open source.

These abilities would let a book live and breathe beyond its pages, without interfering with the immersive, methodical, linear, and private process that is reading.

The first time through I might not use any of these options. But on re-reading, the chance to have more than my prior exposure informing the novel is very exciting to me. There are many authors whose density, allusion, humor, historical immersion, complexity, and even obscurity would be made more accessible through the application of such layers, without affecting a comma’s worth of their prose, or my enjoyment of it. I think of how much more juice might be squeezed out of Homer, Dante, Faulkner, Joyce, Hemingway, Samuel R. Delany, Cormac McCarthy, Umberto Eco, David Foster Wallace. Doubtless you have your own list.

I have every confidence that this is where e-books will head. Until then, third-party approaches seem to be a good stopgap. I’m talking about websites that act as “read-alongs,” book-specific wikis with user-provided explanations, definitions, associations, maps, media, etc. I am surprised that I have found so few.

Book Drum is a good one, I think. They have a nice selection of user-provided book “profiles,” from Milan Kundera to Homer to (ahem) V.C. Andrews. To create or edit a profile you have to sign up, but the book profiles themselves are accessible to anyone. The quality of the entries is uneven, but that’s the nature of the beast. I found the profile of Cormac McCarthy’s The Crossing to be startlingly well-researched and illuminating, and I was quite grateful for the work that contributor Gordon Knox put into it. I’ve read that novel five or six times, yet here was a trove of insight and information for me.

I like to think that someone will get form & function right enough that one such site will become the go-to location for — oh, let’s call it metabooking. Heck, if such a site were successful enough — the Facebook of metabooking — maybe it could be ported as a free addon to your ebook purchase. Maybe your Kindle would give you the option of implementing it.

Richard Matheson – 1926-2013

mathesonI Am Legend
The Shrinking Man
Hell House
Bid Time Return
What Dreams May Come
Duel
“Born of Man and Woman”
The Twilight Zone (9 episodes)

He will be sorely missed.

Learning to Fly

b17_propI spent most of a recent Friday crawling around the Nine Oh Nine, a B-17 Flying Fortress, with Ken Mitchroney, my writing partner on Fata Morgana. Besides being a ton o’ fun, it was invaluable for the novel, and educational in some unexpected ways.

I’ve often mentioned that I’m a fiend for research, I think because I usually write about impossible things. The advantage is that it lends credence to what’s essentially an unbelievable idea. The disadvantage is that gritty realism also shines a harsher light on the impossible elements, forcing you to work harder to make them believable and dovetail them into your depictions of the familiar.

b17_ken01Ironically, often the more specific you are, the more you open yourself up to argument. It’s not difficult to believe the line, “He rode the horse across the desert.” But if I write in detail about riding a horse across a desert, and get one of those specifics wrong, the whole thing falls apart.  (I wonder if that’s why fantasy fiction has traditionally been so flowery and general: it’s trying to lull you into acceptance, to make you focus on the ornate icing because in truth there’s not much cake. Hmm.) I think the advantages outweigh the disadvantages, because when it works, you don’t just accept that someone rode a horse across the desert, you rode it yourself.

b17_02gaugeIn my case, I have be careful not to over- compensate. It’s easy to belabor the concrete details as courtroom evidence that these impossible events did in fact take place. It’s something I look for when I revise.

By now I’ve read a ton of books and watched a ton of video related to B-17s. the Eight Air Force, and the European Theater in 1943. Yet no amount of research is a substitute for experience. To crawl around inside that bomber, smell the grease and 108 octane, feel first-hand how crammed together those young men were, is to come away with a handful of One True Things that we wouldn’t have found without being there. Things that give the authenticity we’re looking for.

Still — I’ve promised Ken there won’t be a pilot’s manual in the novel. I think I’ve learned the difference between making a reader believe someone can fly a bomber, and teaching the reader to fly the damn thing himself.

Fata Morgana is about halfway done, and we’re hugely happy with it. Even better, our agent is hugely happy with it.
B17-909

Atomic Armada

There goes the neighborhood.

My friend Adrian Smith is a wreck diver and videographer who has started a Kickstarter campaign to fund an expedition to Bikini Atoll in the Pacific in order to document the warships sunk by a U.S. atomic blast in 1946. These WW2-era ships are the only ones ever to be exposed to close-range atomic blast (click the pic for a mind-blowing sense of how close).

To give you an idea of what these ships were exposed to, take a look at the water column of the mushroom cloud in this picture (or, even better, in this one). See the dark blotch on its lower right? That’s an aircraft carrier, lifted by the blast and standing on end.

Let me say that again. That’s an aircraft carrier. Lifted by the blast. And standing on end.

Among the sunken wrecks are the carrier Saratoga, the battleship Yamamoto (the flagship from which the Pearl Harbor attack was launched), the German battleship Prinz Eugen (which assisted the Bismark in sinking the USS Hood), and the U.S. submarine Apogon.

No comprehensive documentary exists of these historic vessels, and in recent years their erosion has accelerated. I think it’s very cool that Adrian is trying to get this documentary made. Here’s the Atomic Armada website. Fingers crossed for the expedition!

Name your poison

The right tool for the right job

The right tools for the right job

My favorite drink these days is a variation on a pre-Prohibition-era drink called a Whiskey Cocktail. It’s based on Jennifer Colliau’s recipe from Small Hand Foods.

The cocktail’s supposed to be made with bourbon (Buffalo Trace is recommended), but I use Bulleit small-batch rye. The Buffalo Trace has a lot of body, the Bulleit has a lot of character. It’s a preference thang.

Here’s the recipe, if you’re curious. Ingredients are listed in their pictured order, left to right.

  • 1/4 oz simple syrup (1:1 sugar-to-water ratio)
  • 1 dash Angostura bitters
  • 1 dash orange bitters
  • 2 oz. Bulleit rye (green label) or Buffalo Trace bourbon
  • 1 lemon peel
  1. Add simple syrup and bitters to an old-fashioned glass.
  2. Add lemon peel and muddle moderately to release the oils.
  3. Add rye (or bourbon).
  4. Add large ice cubes (I use either the Tovolo King cube mold or the amazingly cool Tovolo sphere ice balls).
  5. Stir for 15-20 seconds.
Big ice cubes means less watering-down

Big ice cubes = less watering-down

It’s a tasty, sipping drink. They do sneak up on you, though.

 

Red, Inc.

Fata Morgana revisions

Fata Morgana revisions

How do we know that Steve’s working on a novel?

Because his red pens are running out of ink.

I knew when I said, “Hey, Ken, let’s write a book together!” that I should have had the foresight to say, “Hey, Ken, let’s write and edit a book together!”

The sad, perverted truth, though, is that I like this part.

(And yah, it’s clickable if you’re morbidly curious about my editorial self-evisceration. Good luck reading my handwriting, though — I could write prescriptions, I tell ya.)

Rolling Sevens

My music podcasts, Podrunner and Groovelectric, turn seven in a week. No way I would have believed I’d keep doing them this long, much less that they would have remained so popular.

groovelectric_150Groovelectric remains my favorite simply because, being a straight-up music mix series, it represents what I do, and love, and attempt, as an electronic music DJ. Since it debuted in February 2006, it’s usually been in iTunes’ Top 100 music podcasts.

bluerobot_300Podrunner has been hugely popular. The workout-music series has been a top iTunes podcast for seven years in a row, and a pacemaker literally and figuratively. There was nothing like it out there when it debuted, and I am enormously proud of its popularity and positive influence.

univoxI had to change the theme music for Podrunner, so I took the opportunity to dig out my old MIDI keyboard and brush up on my music production software before getting to work on new theme music. I’m pretty sure it’s the first thing I’ve composed in a decade.

Even with guitar-rig sampler kits, I couldn’t get a lead guitar sound I wanted for the opening notes. So I dug out my Univox imitation Les Paul guitar and played it myself. It’s the first time I’ve recorded guitar in at least 20 years. I had an absolute blast doing it.

The new Podrunner theme is below if you want to give it a listen or download it.

[UPDATE] I tweaked the track a bit, making it shorter & chunkier, and I EQ’d & mastered it to make it sound better overall. That’s now the file below.

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Download

Novel Collaboration

ken_steve01

Ken & Steve are shown the gate

I’ve set aside Avalon Burning for a while to work on a novel with my friend Ken Mitchroney.

I’ve known Ken for nearly 30 years (ulp!), and we’ve worked on a ton of projects together — from comic books, to screenplays, to Toy Story 2 and much more — but this is the first time we’ve set out on a novel together.

I don’t want to give too many details, though I will say that I now know more about the care and feeding of B-17 bombers than I ever imagined I would.

The novel’s called Fata Morgana, and so far it is going pretty quickly. I am having an absolute blast.