The King’s Schilling (and NSA / crypto stuff)

Bit of British nautical history for y’all.

Way back when, the British navy found itself chronically short handed, so they would go around dockyard taverns looking for able-bodied seamen to “volunteer.”

The looking was done by “press gangs,” formally known as the Impress Service. The official idea was that the “Impress Service” would offer people an advance to join, and strongly encourage them to take it.

In practice, this meant that if the head goon saw you accept a one-schilling coin, you had volunteered for a lifetime of what Churchill would later term “rum, sodomy, and the lash.”

Remarkably, despite the level of trickery they got up to, the press gangs always stuck fast to the money rule. The recruit-to-be had to take the coin before they could “shangai” him off to the boat.

(There was an official antidote to this. If you found yourself unwillingly or regrettingly in possession of the “King’s Schilling,” you could buy yourself out with a one-pound fee.)

The general unpleasantry of sea life, and the tens of thousands of men that were needed to man the rigging, meant that the press gangs found all sorts of creative ways to get victims to take the coin.

In some cases, it was as simple as slipping the coin ínto the victims’ coat pockets… a sort of reverse pickpocketing.

One of the most common was even more dastardly. They bought the man a beer…

The beer mugs of the day were not made of glass, but of pewter metal. (This helped particularly in rough dockside pubs, whose tankards were regularly used as weapons.)

Thus a coin dropped into the pint would not be found by the drinker until the beer was finished… at which point the “king’s schilling” was officially considered “taken” by the recipient. Welcome aboard lad!

The practice of encouraging people to “take the king’s schilling” by buying a beer was so widespread that barmen started ordering tankards with glass bottoms. Their able-bodied merchant seamen clients could therefore spot the coin before they touched the free booze, and politely return it to the sailor who’d offered it.

Alexander admits he lied, NSA surveillance isn’t as good at stopping terrorism as he claimed.

Unfortunately, not even being the head of the NSA can protect you from the consequences… when you tell an uncomfortable truth to the US congress. Alexander has stepped down. ZeroHedge has the best commentary.

Schneier points out that NSAKEY & DUAL_EC_DBRG are *WAY TOO BLEEDING OBVIOUS* to be real backdoors… I suppose the “rule of 3″* from bugging may also apply to software.

* one that’s easy to find, one that’s hard to find, one they won’t find

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