James Dean’s gravesite

I headed north of Fairmount to Park Cemetery to see where James Dean was laid to rest.

I was told to take the second entrance into the cemetery, not the first. But as I discovered, there were many more turnoffs than what was on the map. I should have taken a much later turnoff. As it was, I parked and wandered around the cemetery, trying to get my bearings and figuring out where I was in relation to the map in hand.

Finally I spotted signs directing me to the gravesite at the top of the hill. (Hill is relative.) At what I could only presume was the top of the hill, I looked around and pleasantly found myself staring at his tombstone directly by the side of the gravel road.

It is rather small and nondescript, but he clearly has lots of visitors. Real and plastic flowers adorned the gravesite. Fresh cigarettes were scattered around as if offerings to the late star. Coins were placed on the top and edges of the tombstone, and I found myself adding to the collection.

Other Deans surround his gravesite. To the south of him are his uncle and aunt (Ortense and Marcus Winslow) who raised him. To the north of him are his father and what I presume was his step-mother. (His mother was buried in Marion, Indiana. She died when he was 9 years old, after which he moved from California back to Indiana to live with his aunt and uncle.)

I stood there listening to the birds, but was quickly joined by a guy riding up on a motorcycle. (He wasn’t interested in acknowledging the presence of a fellow pilgrim.) I thought of Nicky Bazooka and Dean’s own love of motorcycles. As I drove away from the cemetery, I noticed that others had joined the lone motorcyclist.

I drove up the rode to see the Winslow Farm where Dean was raised by his aunt and uncle.

The guy at the James Dean Gallery who gave me my handy map of James Dean sites mentioned that I could park by the barn and take photos of the house. The house and farm are currently owned by a cousin of Dean’s (Marcus…remember that letter that Dean wrote to his younger cousin about which subjects he drew?). The guy at the gallery casually mentioned that they don’t mind people stopping on the property but they do not want visitors ringing doorbells and bothering them. (I read somewhere of Bob Dylan showing up one early morning in the 1960s to ring their doorbell uninvited. Apparently, the famous play by different rules. I didn’t read anything about the resident’s reaction to this unexpected visitor.)

I decided that driving on to the farm property felt a bit weird so I didn’t stop. (BTW, the house and barn looked very well maintained…clean and crisp in white paint.)

On my way out of town I passed scores of motorcyclists headed towards Fairmount. I thought of the motorcyclists at his gravesite when I left, and then I wondered, were the fifty or so motorcyclists on their way to visit James Dean’s gravesite or was that just a coincidence?


Movie review: Zero Days (2016)

Zero Days is a sobering look at the recent past and our possible future. The documentary is a deep dive into a computer malware attack in 2010—its discovery, its history, and its implications.

The film starts with interviews from security experts associated with Symantec. They explain what they saw and how they teased out information from the malware code itself. This code was unusually bug-free, 20x the size of normal malware code, and very dense. This all suggests a nation-state was behind the malware attack—not cybercriminals, not activists.

The makers of the malware, which is dubbed Stuxnet based on words in the code, left some clues behind. Random numbers in the code turned out to be identification numbers for PLCs (programmable logic controllers), which control critical infrastructure. Certifications in the code came from two companies in close proximity to each other in Taipei, Taiwan.

Although the malware infected computers and systems worldwide, the code was designed to probe for a specific target. Everything not its target it ignored. It ran through certain checks, and if they were not confirmed, then an attack was not initiated. What was its target? Cybersecurity specialists were able to trace the attacks backwards to Iran. Through a series of deductions, they determined that the target was a nuclear facility in Iran.

The documentary interviews a number of officials and experts. Some questions are answered. But some aren’t. No one will confess to being behind Stuxnet or knowing really anything about it. Stuxnet is an open secret. We know it happened, but it is top secret so no one will talk about.

Zero Days gets around that a bit with people who will talk, like the cybersecurity experts who discuss the malware code they analyzed. David Sanger, the National Security Correspondent at the New York Times, describes the history and politics of Iran and the transfer of nuclear technology from Pakistan to Iran. An insider who was part of the organization that created the code at the NSA spills the beans—she is disguised physically and vocally. (In the end, it turns out that she was an actor reading a script of composite information. This information was gleaned from several experts at the CIA and NSA who came forward to set the story straight—the story that everyone was getting wrong.)

Olympic Games, the more official name of the program commonly referred to as Stuxnet, was a collaborative creation between the US, the UK, and Israel. The program was designed to get into systems, spy on them, and infect them—all without ever being detected. The US got involved in this, it seems, in order to reign in Israel’s desire at more destructive tactics against Iran. In the end, the US was not successful in curtailing Israel. Israel changed the code to make the malware more aggressive, which led to the Iranians noticing the malware.

Originally, the program infected an Iranian nuclear facility, waited as it studied the systems, and then began to modify the speed that centrifuges were running, which ultimately caused them to explode. All the while though the malware ran normal data on the computers that the engineers were monitoring, so it seemed as though nothing was wrong even though centrifuges were blowing up. Iran suspected problems with the centrifuges or the engineers, not malware—until the Israelis changed the code to shut down the computers. Then the Iranian discovered the malware.

To get to this point, remember, the malware supposedly harmlessly infected computers as it spread across the world. The malware was only designed to run on computers that met certain criteria, i.e., the Iranian computers in their nuclear facility.

But no one knew this. When Homeland Security discovered that computers across the US were infected, they were trying to figure out how to prevent critical infrastructure from being taken out. No one in the US government told Homeland Security that there was nothing to worry about. Instead, Homeland Security spoke to Congress and spent money and time trying to deal with a red herring. The agencies and people in the US in the know could not admit to involvement in the program. The left hand didn’t know what the right hand was doing.

But that wasn’t the only unintended side effect. Stuxnet attacked in 2010. In 2012, Iran conducted a cyberattack on Saudi oil facilities, erasing all of their programs and disrupting those facilities. In 2013, Iran caused a surge attack on several large American banks, creating a disruption in the banking system. Basically, Iran was telling the US, we can hit you the same way you hit us.

The US had unleashed a Pandora box. Cyberwar was now a game that was acceptable, with no rules, and anyone can play. And what did we achieve with Stuxnet? There was a one-year dip in the number of operating centrifuges in Iran and then a surge in 2012 as the Iranians expanded their nuclear program. So our goal of affecting their nuclear program really failed.

The disguised composite of NSA/CIA agents spoke of a larger program, Nitro Zeus, which is meant to infect all critical infrastructure in Iran—basically as a type of all-out war. The chilling thing is that taking out critical infrastructure wouldn’t just take out military targets. Critical infrastructure is everything needed for a society to function, including power and water. In theory, war is against combatants, not civilians. With Nitro Zeus, there is no distinction. Civilians will likely be the ones that suffer the most.

Ironically, the documentary mentions the 2015 Iran deal concerning its nuclear capabilities—a deal that the US recently walked away from. The dissolution of this deal will likely cause unintended consequences like the use of Stuxnet/Olympic Games did. The US seemingly partnered with Israel on Stuxnet to try to reign in Israeli actions (at least this is the implication that I picked up in the film), but clearly that didn’t work. Since then, Israel demanded the destruction of the Iran nuclear deal. When will we think through the unintended consequences of our actions?

Book review: Dear Madam President: An Open Letter to the Women Who Will Run the World

Dear Madam President is both a reflection on Palmieri’s role in Hillary Clinton’s campaign and a call to arms for women in leadership. The book is specifically for the woman who will be the first woman president, but her words really speak to women in any leadership role. Heck, they speak to any woman.

The book is an easy read, divided into nine chapter or exhortations. Through them Palmieri describes situations that happened during the Clinton campaign or during a visit with Elizabeth Edwards and then illuminates the lessons to be learned from them. She talks directly to the future woman president of the United States—Madam President. (She originally notes that Madam seems to define a woman by her attachment to a man but ends up using the title because frankly there is no neutral title for a woman that doesn’t denote her relationship with a man. Sigh.)

She acknowledges the failures that Hillary’s advisors (which includes herself) made in the campaign and their wrong assumptions. They advised her to run like a man, to run as a presidential candidate, not the potential first woman president. This was a mistake. Hillary should have embraced being the first woman president and forged her own model of leadership.

Palmieri recognizes that currently the only model for a person in power to follow is male. And that this needs to change.

As she explained this point and raised the fact that women have imitated male models in the workforce, I thought back to the 1980s, when middle class white women entered the workforce in large numbers. The clothing (remember the huge shoulder pads and mannish look to business attire?), the attitude, the mannerism all screamed women trying to be men.

Women had to prove that they belonged by proving that they were tough enough. They were just like the men, whose ranks they were fighting to enter. They had to embrace the male work style.

In hindsight this was a huge disservice to women, men, and the work world. We are still paying the price and trying to escape this male model.

Palmieri calls for a new way, a new model of leadership. What would it be like to lead like a woman?

She also recognizes in hindsight the refusal or inability of Hillary’s advisors to acknowledge the deep misogyny in the US. People disliked Hillary. They were OK with voting for a woman, they insisted, but not that woman. They didn’t trust her.

But suddenly they were OK with Hillary when she conceded the race. Palmieri surmised (rightly, I think) that people were not comfortable with Hillary—with a woman—being in a position of power. But as soon as she conceded, suddenly she stepped back into a traditional role played by women. Then she was OK.

The problem was clearly that the anti-Hillary folks didn’t trust Hillary because she was an “intelligent, capable, ambitious woman in a position of power.” (page 50) As such, she “represented an existential threat to the proper order of things.” (pages 54-55)

Palmieri mentions that Hillary’s advisors also didn’t understand the level of frustration in the population at large and how it was playing out in the populous movements in the campaigns. But the Clintons did. Palmieri mentions a book that the Clintons read and discussed, The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements—a book from the 1950s. It sounds eerily relevant to today (and a must read).

Palmieri’s lessons and advice to the future Madam President (and women in general) are good. Some lines jumped off of the page and felt like Palmieri was speaking directly to me. She described my own experiences, insecurities, and problems being a woman in a world that doesn’t value women.

Which things that she writes might speak directly to you?

Photo: Rocky shore (Weston Beach #1)


Channeling the Modern style of Brett Weston….

Black and white image of rocky shore at Weston Beach in Point Lobos

Weston Beach at Point Lobos, March 24, 2010

In a strange twist of fate, one of my favorite spots in one of my favorite places was named after the father of a man that I recently learned about an IMA exhibit. The Brett Weston exhibit mentioned his father Edward, a photography legend in his own right. Both Brett and Edward frequented and photographed Point Lobos. After his death in 1958, Edward’s ashes were scattered at Pebbly Beach in Point Lobos. The beach was later renamed…Weston Beach.