The number to dial for nuclear war, once upon a time

If you’re easily frightened, you may want to skip this one. Hopefully you’re not, because it’s a very cautionary tale about security and selecting passwords, passcodes, passphrases, etc which are truly secure.

A recent post on PoliticsUSA (which links to an original story at least one quite frightening fact about the US Minuteman nuclear missile program. I will try to summarize the backstory as best I can for those that don’t want to read the original article.

In 1962 President John F. Kennedy signed an order that all nuclear weapon that the US possessed was fitted with an electronic lock called a Permissive Action Link (PAL). The concern was twofold: that other countries could seize US missiles on foreign soil and launch them at targets of their choosing, including the US itself; and US commanders who were mentally unstable yet somehow not deserving of a Section 8 discharge.

Robert McNamara, then Secretary of Defense, supervised the installation of the PALs for the missiles on US soil. However, the Strategic Air Command didn’t care much for McNamara, and behind his back as soon as he left, they reset the codes on the PALs to a code of their choosing.

No, it wasn’t “CPE 1704 TKS”, if for no other reason only numbers could be dialed in.

The code that Strategic Air Command picked was the simple, and wonderfully secure, “00000000”.

Yes, if you had the physical access and could dial eight zeros into the PAL, you could have started World War III. It’s a wonder nobody did, looking back.

Worse, the soldiers themselves had the code, and it was in the checklists in a very thinly disguised form. From the latter article, quoting Dr. Bruce G. Blair who was once a Minuteman launch officer:

Our launch checklist in fact instructed us, the firing crew, to double-check the locking panel in our underground launch bunker to ensure that no digits other than zero had been inadvertently dialed into the panel.

I know Thanksgiving was last week, but I think we can all be thankful this absolutely blockheaded lack of security didn’t come back to bite us in the end.

Just what is the connection between McDonald’s and Ronald McDonald House?

A recent Alternet article expresses a great deal of criticism against McDonald’s for its lack of funding of its charity Ronald McDonald House (RMH). The key facts from this article (and the report linked from it, titled “Clowning Around with Charity”) that I found most shocking:

  • McDonald’s only provides 20% of the funding for RMH globally.
  • McDonald’s spends almost 25 times as much on advertising as they do on charitable donations. (That’s a little over 4 cents in donations for every $1 on ads.)
  • One of RMH’s projects, the “Tooth Truck” in the Ozarks, is 50% funded by Medicaid, with the other 50% funded by community donations, and it would appear zero coming from McDonald’s themselves.
  • McDonald’s raked in $27 billion last year, yet contributes only 0.08% of revenue to charity versus an industry average of 0.12%. (While the difference may seem small as a percentage, when multiplied by $27 billion you get $21.6 million and $32.4 million, or a difference of $10.8 million.)
  • McDonald’s claims the “donation box” contributions to RMH, which came from the customers’ own pockets, as its own.

The last two of these I find particularly troubling. For one, McDonald’s themselves barely has any business touching the money dropped into the change boxes to count it, let alone claim it as though it came from the company. It also doesn’t sit well with me that the RMH brand name sits on a project which McDonald’s themselves didn’t fund at all (and by extension, McDonald’s gets free brand PR benefit). How many other “Tooth Trucks” are out there?

To the Houston community and myself, the late timing of this article couldn’t have been more unfortunate. It came less than two weeks after Twestival Houston had come and gone, and most of two months after it would have done the most good. Twestival Houston, in the end, selected our local RMH chapter as the beneficiary. I was on the committee for Twestival Houston, and at least had some say in which six charities would be on the ballot to be voted on by the community to be our ultimate beneficiary. (I nominated Texas Children’s Hospital, which did not make the cut, and I am fine with that.)

I like what RMH does. I have no regrets about helping a fundraiser for RMH which benefits their mission. Given a chance to do it all over again, I would. But none of the goodwill I have towards RMH transfers to McDonald’s. None of it. In fact I consider McDonald’s getting free brand PR from RMH to be a liability on RMH, not an asset.

I don’t like that McDonald’s is being as stingy as they think they can get away with, contributing an abysmal 20% of the funding while enjoying 100% of the brand PR. I already no longer eat at McDonald’s restaurants for unrelated reasons, and have given them only a nominal amount of business in the past year. I think it crosses all sorts of common sense ethical boundaries for McDonald’s to do what they are doing with RMH and I would like to think

McDonald’s has at least two good choices that resolve this ethical problem:

  1. Change the name of RMH to something that no longer confuses the public into thinking McDonald’s funds all or most of it. Quit licensing the McDonald’s brand to RMH. Continue funding the charity at a comparable level to the status quo, while inviting other companies (like perhaps Coca-Cola) to pick up the slack.
  2. Fund RMH like a company that makes $27 billion in revenue should fund a charity from which it derives such a large brand PR benefit. In line with this, McDonald’s should also make sure its employees are paid a living wage at corporate stores, and that its franchisees also do the same. An apology for falling way short of how a company that makes $27 billion in revenue should have been doing business in the past few years would be appreciated as well, but I’m not holding my breath.

McDonald’s should be giving to its charitable causes, not taking from them to pad its profits. I’d like to think no other company of similar size and stature would dare try to get away with this. Please realize there are other choices besides McDonald’s when it comes to fast food.