The Null Command


One of the pieces of code that makes satellites work is a ‘watchdog timer’. If it isn’t told to stay alive, it reboots the satellite after a certain amount of time. Reboots in space are just about as effective as those on earth… that is to say they fix pretty much everything. You can also consider it as if there is a command module that you have no control over that issues a die command every so often and you have to cancel that command every time.

Suppose you’re the head of the FBI and some terrorists blow something up or something. Or maybe you’re some head of military intelligence in Iraq. You want info so you tell all your underlings, “Leave no stone unturned.”

The sticky thing is, you sort of know what is going to happen when you say that. You’re a smart person, you know people are going to get abused. The uncontrollable module issues the null command “Round up anyone suspicious, deny them process, interrogate them and stick flashlights up their asses.” You can’t not send the null command, but you can send out commands to cancel it. I think that is the obligation of the command structure. The ongoing, world-wide, prison-abuse train wreck is a perfect example of such a command cancelled poorly and late.

You might think that the “No flashlights up asses” rule wouldn’t need to be voiced, but you’d be wrong. (See, Nina Bernstein, “Top Officials Told to Testify in Muslims’ Suit,” The New York Times, September 29, 2005.)

While I’m not suggesting that Rumsfeld is culpable in the “stick that up his ass, Sergeant” sense, more astute people would have seen it coming. Some might suggest that he did and was complacent. I don’t think so. I just don’t think he thought about it much.

If I were president I would get on TV and be like, “We’re going to do everything we can to find the bad guys. Everything except stick flashlights up people’s assholes. That is not okay. Does everyone understand the difference between ‘Okay’ and ‘Not okay’?”

Jeff Gannon: Is [bleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep] okay?Pres. Culumi: No that is not okay, either.JG: What about…PC: How about I make a list and put it on It’ll be done by tomorrow morning.

Serena Culumi has a keen interest in the law.