Thursday, February 4, 2016

Missiles, virus and oil

Don't mean to sound like a broken recording but 2016 is still tracking to be one a very interesting year.

While most Americans attentions are being diverted to either the Super Bowl or the NCAA brackets (sorry candidates, even the party faithful will be rooting for their team), Japan has upped matters in the Pacific.  North Korea's announced plans to launch a "space vehicle" between Feb 8th and Feb 29th has put the Japanese Self Defense Forces on high alert.  If anything from the North Korean launch even kind of looks like it might fall towards Japan, the Self Defense Forces will blast it out of the sky using either the latest Patriot batteries or the surface ships.

North Korea has lobbed missiles over Japan before but something this time has really gotten the Japanese concerned.  If Tokyo is concerned, why isn't Washington?  But the real question will come should Japan actually shoot the North Korean missile down, what will North Korea do?

Meanwhile in a different hemisphere, Rio de Janeiro and the International Olympic Committee are about to lose their collective shit over the Zika virus outbreak.  A mosquito-borne virus, the illness is usually mild with symptoms lasting from a few days to a few weeks.  No big deal except then the Pan American Health Organization release a report back in May of last year that linked the Zika outbreak to Guillain-BarrĂ© syndrome.  Rut-roh, according to the Mayo Clinic; "Guillain-Barre syndrome is
a rare disorder in which your body's immune system attacks your nerves. Weakness and tingling in your extremities are usually the first symptoms.

These sensations can quickly spread, eventually paralyzing your whole body. In its most severe form Guillain-Barre syndrome is a medical emergency. Most people with the condition must be hospitalized to receive treatment.

The Pan American Health Organization also is concerned that the Zika virus may be causing birth defects in pregnant women including microcephaly.  If all of this were not enough, the Zika virus can be transmitted through that most favorite of human activities, sex.

Mosquitos of course have no problems hitching a ride outside of the South American continent and infected mosquitos are already in Central America, Mexico and even Texas.

So what's the difference between this and the ebola outbreak?  Well there weren't going to be millions of people traveling to West Africa for the 2016 Olympics.  Brazil has already having a bad PR time concerning the aggressive police tactics used to crack down on the favelas (slums).  If Brazil fails to handle the Zika outbreak, it could wreck the Brazilian economy (which some might be hoping with the ascendancy of BRICS).

Where is Mr. Obama amidst these issues?  Giving a speech at an American mosque for he believes the greatest danger is the fear Americans have of Muslims ("Islamaphobia as he prefers to call it).  In the President's eyes, this will tear our country apart.  While I do applaud the President for trying to stem the tide of paranoia and bigotry,  I have to wonder why he felt so compelled when there has been no public outcry for Mr. Obama to speak out.  Personally,  I'm still waiting for Mr. Obama to do something about the growing rift between police and the African-American community.

Then there is tonight's Democrat debate in which Bernie Sanders, he of that Brooklynese accent you could cut with a knife, plans to pummel Hillary over her ties to Wall St.  What is unlikely to come out though is how many of those Wall St moguls made their money basing their projections on the cost of oil being around $50/barrel instead of the current $37/barrel?  Our economy has been built around this energy model and prices aren't going to climb back up anytime soon, especially now that sanctions have been lifted from Iran.

February holds promise for many more interesting things.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

A Quick Observation about Petraeus

Just a quick observation this morning, apparently Gen (ret) Petraeus won't face any further punishments from the Pentagon according to The Washington Post.  As you may remember, Petraeus plead guilt to mishandling classified materials back in 2012.  The matter was even more tawdry as it involved the information being shared with Petraeus mistress.  There had been a call for the general to lose his fourth star which now won't happen.

It would seem though more might be at work here.  Petraeus was the darling of the war on terror and was highly respected by the troops and public.  But his disagreements with Obama and the White House seemed to foreshadow his demise.  As I've previously shared, the Pentagon has no problem allowing Vice Adm. Branch to remain on the job as Chief of Naval Intelligence even though his clearances have been revoked but they wanted to take Petraeus completely down.

Except now would be a terribly inconvenient time for the White House to slay a former four-star general for mishandling classified information.  For as even the casual observer may be aware, there is a certain former Secretary of State who kept a private email server (unsecured) with at least 24 emails that are so highly classified they can't be released to the public.  This same former Senator from New York sent at least one email to a staffer telling him to strip the header (classification) off and send it in the clear (through un-secure email).

Going after Petraeus while not launching criminal charges against Clinton appears to be too much hypocrisy even for the firm of Lynch and Obama.  Can't keep protecting one while destroying the other, at least not during the primaries.

It still remains to be seen if Clinton will be charged or not.  There is a division between the FBI and the DOJ as to whether to charge Clinton or not.  For those that may not realize this, the FBI does not fall under the DOJ, something old J. Edgar Hoover planned for many moons ago.  Conceivably the FBI still could charge Clinton even though Lynch is unlikely to do so.

We are just getting into the second month of 2016 and its looking more and more to be one helluva of an interesting year.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Things are not what they seem

Despite the advent of the internet and smart devices, we are still as enamored as ever with titles.  Compound this deference to assumed legitimacy and expertise with a decided lack of willingness to do even the most basic fact-checking (despite living in the "information age") and we get the following;

Exhibit A:  Vice Admiral Ted "Twig" Branch has been barred from reading, seeing or hearing classified information since November 2013!  As bad as that sounds, it is actually a lot worse since Vice Adm. Branch happens to be the US Navy's intelligence chief!  The admiral is the focus of a Dept of Justice investigation which was supposed to be quickly over.  The US Navy thought it prudent to suspend the admiral's access to classified information pending the outcome of the investigation.  However, no charges have been brought but neither has Vice Adm. Branch been cleared.  Rather than go through the appointment process to find a new chief of intelligence, the US Navy has left Vice Adm. in place.

You would think the chief of intelligence for any organization would have access to any and all of the information collected and analyzed by his staff but you would be wrong.  I cannot imagine how one is supposed to be the "spymaster" over some 55,000 Navy personnel (including the US Navy cybersecurity) yet is not allowed to see, hear or read any classified information.

Who is directing their efforts?  How are the efforts of the US Navy intelligence to be coordinated with the other service intelligence efforts if their chief can't even sit in the same meetings?  What in the value of any intelligence assessments now from the US Navy when they leave a flag officer in place who is utterly powerless to do his basic task of oversight?

Exhibit B:  Fox News has been making headlines more for its feud between Megyn Kelly and Donald Trump than about its actually news department.  But what really should be catching more attention is the matter concerning one Wayne Simmons.  Mr. Simmons was up until last March a Fox News "expert" on intelligence and foreign affairs.  HIs background was both impressive and mysterious, he was often simply referred to as a "former CIA operative".  He was supposed to have been a deep-cover operative, recruited by the CIA while still working for the US Navy.  Mr. Simmons had become a member of a panel of military experts for Fox that regularly commented on world events.  Turns out Mr. Simmons was a fraud.  He never was a "CIA operative", in fact he never worked for the CIA at all.  Now Mr. Simmons is facing federal charges and if convicted will spend some time in prison.

How did a news organization such as Fox fail to do some simple fact-checking?  With all of those reporters they didn't have anyone who could make a phone call to the CIA just to see if the guy was legit?  So what the hell else hasn't Fox and the other news networks failed to fact-check?

Exhibits A and B should cause us to be ever-vigilant whenever we hear things like "credible sources are reporting a threat" or "experts warn of the dangers of".  Who exactly are these sources and experts? In the case of Simmons, he was taught as an expert yet even a simple check by the human resources department should have sent up a red flag.  Vice Adm. Branch is an expert and holds the position yet an investigation has removed his access to the very information has is supposed to be in charge of.  These are not isolated cases, just ones that have made the headlines in the last  few days.

It is important to keep these stories in mind whenever we hear about "credible threats" or "imminent attack".  We have no idea who is making these calls nor what information they used to draw this conclusion.  I've written before about the dependency of intelligence agencies of today to rely extensively on information collected by sensors and algorithms. Analysts then are making assessments and conclusions based on the assumption that the data they are using is correct.  The end-user (inlacing the general public) assumes that those analysts are all Jack Ryan, when in fact they may be more Stan Smith.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Manipulation of media messages and thoughts on Iran

Sharyl Atkisson giving a lecture on "Astroturf and manipulation of media messages" at a TEDx event.  As a former journalist for CBS, it is especially illuminating to hear her descriptions of how special interest groups, professional social media manipulators, and plan old propaganda shape our opinions in the 21st Century.  I've touched on how Google and other search engines "optimize" what we see based on our preferences but Ms. Atkisson shows how results are manipulated before we even seen them.

Keep her presentation in mind as you read about the incident with the US Navy sailors and Iran.  The whole story is ripe with buzzwords and key phrases to slant information towards your particular view points.  If we go back in time just a little, Mr. Obama and Mr. Kerry were busy slapping themselves on the back for negotiation a deal that would cause Iran to give-up their nuclear weapons program (well at least for the next 18 months or so).

But there was always an assumption in this deal that Iran's nuclear program was an imminent threat to the US.  North Korea already has nuclear weapons and is run by a despot whose lineage has detested the United States.  Yet neither Mr. Obama or Mr. Kerry (and previously Hillary) were engaged in trying to disarm North Korea, however Iran doesn't have any nuclear weapons but is somehow more of a threat?

Let's assume for the moment that Iran was indeed the threat that Mr. Obama and Mr. Kerry would have us believe and that indeed the negotiated deal has made us safer.  One conclusion may be that Mr. Obama wanted to make Iran seem more dangerous so that a successfully negotiated nuclear arms deal would be his legacy.  Then on the same day as Mr. Obama's final state of the union speech the US Navy sailors were captured by Iran.

If everything were as copacetic, why then risk sending US Navy vessels anywhere near Iranian forces? We will never know the true reasons these sailors were sent in for it could have been to test Iranian resolve or to monitor Iranian compliance with the arms deal.

In either event, the incident is already being spun as "proof" that things are much better between the United States and Iran.  Odd, I don't recall US sailors being sent in near British or French forces.  And regarding the myth of a nuclear Iran, how is having Iran armed with nuclear weapons any less destabilizing than having the only non-Muslim nation in the region (Israel) most likely having nuclear weapons?

We are probably now in the most difficult time in history to be able to discern the truth since information is being manipulated not only by the usual suspects such as the government but now special interest/social media as well.  

All of this reminds me of a minor bit of clarity that came to me a few weeks ago.  There was this major bad guy named Hitler that United States and the Allies fought during WWII.  What made him so awful was he exterminated 6 million Jews.  It was so reprehensible that there is even a Holocaust museum here in the United States.  Ask any school kid and they probably know how to Google this.

However, you really don't want to think about this too hard for if you do you might be faced with a big question.  If Hitler was truly the anti-Christ that many believe for exterminating 6 million, then what does that make Josef Stalin for exterminating 20 million (estimated because Stalin also purged all records of the existence of those he had executed) of his own people during the Purge?  Oh and those purges happened between 1936-38, way before Hitler and the US were at war (and we knew anything about the Holocaust) yet we still sided with Stalin?  Keep that in mind as more details come out about Iran.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

A Public Service Announcement to Ladies

This post will be completely off-topic from my normal ramblings about national security, the military and politics.  Yet as you will see, there is a reason why.

Ladies, this is a public service announcement.  Please, please, please don't jump on the bandwagon about the so-called "gender tax" where ladies products (in this case razors) cost more than men's.  The short answer is yes you are paying more but what you are paying for is a MYTH!

For you see, I don't care if you are male or female shaving still is just dragging a sharpened piece of steel across the skin to remove hair.  Don't care about racial, ethnic, national or gender issues this remains true across the human species; razors are used to remove unwanted hair.

Companies such as Gillette and Bic make a fortune from the need for humans to remove body hair by shaving and convincing you that removing hair from a female body is somehow radically different from removing hair from a male body.  Thus was created the myth that in order to remove female hair requires dainty razors with curved handles and special tape to prevent "nicks and cuts".

This is all marketing bullshit that guys have fallen for as well.  The following is just a quick history synopsis on razors and shaving to give you some insight into how the myth was perpetrated.

Originally, when one wanted to remove unwanted body hair your turned to the straight razor.  These were glorious pieces 17th Century technology (yes, men have been putting sharp implements to their own throats for at least that long), used to slough off unwanted facial hair.  But in 1680, when the first listing for straight razors are found, women's fashion did not require women to bare legs or arms.  Therefore women did not have to worry about attempting to maneuver a straight razor around their legs, underarms or other parts.

A straight razor to this day still gives the best, most affordable shave.  The blade can be sharpened before each use thereby ensuring a smooth, clean shave.  A quality straight razor, when properly maintained, can be passed on for several generations.  However, straight razors are very difficult to use and can inflict serious wounds when not held correctly.

Around 1880, the double-edged safety razor was invented.  The safety razor takes the blade and bends it at the correct angle to shave along with a bar, the "safety", to keep the blade a safe distance away from the skin.  The invention of the safety razor reduced the skill need to shave safely.

The invention of the safety razor meant companies like Gillette could make money not only selling the safety razor but also the replacement blades.  Unlike straight razors, safety razors needed new blades on a regular basis creating a whole new industry based on hair removal.

The timing of the safety razor could not have been better for round the turn of the 20th Century, women's fashion started to require showing of the legs and arms.  This meant "unsightly!" hair had to be removed and the safety razor was one of the only ways to go about that initially.

All of this gave Gillette and other companies the grand idea to market razors to women.  More "feminine" designs and marketing campaigns to coincide hair removal with the latest fashions served to produce a terrific market growth.

Then around the 1970s Bic stirred up trouble by introducing a disposable plastic razor, the Bic Shaver!  Now men and women could buy a shaving instrument that your simply threw out once it got dull.  Awesome, now even a bigger market could be created and people fell for "cheaper" disposable shavers that actually cost more than the safety razor blades.

Gillette came back with inventing "twin-edged" disposable razors for "an even closer shave"!  Before you know it more blades were added along with strips of lubricant to prevent razor burn and avoid nicks.  Women's razors followed lock-step, all the while costing more because of the marketing used to convince you that removing hair from a woman's body is so fundamentally different that removing it from a man's.

Actually two myths have been perpetrated on women who shave.  One is that you need a different razor from what men use and second, that you need special strips and curves to prevent nicks and cuts.

Now here is the secret that women and most men don't know, all of those extras you are paying for the get a "smooth, nick free shave" is just marketing.  Period.  Nothing more.  The reason you aren't getting a "smooth, clean nick-free shave" is because you are using a cheap razor!  No, I'm not talking about the actually price but the construction of your razor.

Rather that demanding some elected official take action, or worse waiting until some lame-brained celebrity champions the cause, here is how you beat the "gender tax".  Learn how to shave.

What?  But, you may already been saying, I've been shaving for years!  Right but ladies, as well as most modern men, don't know how to shave.  And it's because Gillette and other companies have been marketing cheaply-made disposable razors to you.  Those cheaply made razors lack the weight to generate enough force on the blade to remove hair, hence people the bad habit of pushing harder on the handle to shave.

You don't need to wait for Washington and Mr. Obama to act.  All you have to do is throw out those cheap-ass razors marketed for women and buy a real safety razor.  Here are two sites where you can find them;

West Coast Shaving

Classic Shaving

Ignore all of the male-centric headlines and look at the safety razors.  Notice anything?  They are all made out of METAL and have a weight and heft to them that may make them seem "manly" but that's the secret to getting that hair off of your skin without nicks, cuts or burn.  What women and men don't know about shaving is that it's the RAZOR and not your hand that does the work.

A good safety razor can be dragged across the skin just using your thumb and forefinger and it will produce smoother shave than anything you get with those shavers for ladies.  No additional pressure necessary and that will greatly reduce your getting nicks and cuts.

The other culprit for nicks and cuts is pitting.  The more blades you have touching your skin, the greater the chance that one of those blades has uneven wear or pitting.  Women especially (I know, I had two daughters plus my wife living with me) like to leave their razors in the shower after they're done.  Whenever one of those hits the floor, it potentially dulls the blades.  The moisture in a shower also tends to corrode the blades leaving microscopic pits.  Those two things combine to give you those cuts on your legs.

For some bizarre reason, people treat items of value with greater respect than disposable items.  No one will leave a high-end safety razor out to rust or get dropped but they will with a disposable.  How much sense does that make to put a dull, rust piece of steel against your skin?

Safety razors are far more economical.  The safety razor can last indefinitely and the blades only cost around ten cents!  That means the minute you feel the blade get dull, toss it and put in a fresh blade.  It is cheaper than buying a whole new pack of "razors" and it's better for the environment as well!

Okay, hopefully you now have your safety razor.  Buy a sample pack of blades to try.  No one but you can tell which blade works best for you.  Oh and while you are at it, ditch the can of shaving cream.  It isn't helping you that much with your shave.  Instead, buy some quality shave cream or shaving soap from those same companies.  You will find it provides a much nicer glide for your new razor.

So please, ladies don't let this turn into another talking point for the politicos and celebrities.  Take matters into your own hands, ditch the marketing crap and buy yourselves a quality safety razor.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Thoughts on Surviving a Mob Attack

It seems like the headlines are becoming filled with even more accounts of riots, insurrections, mobs and of course terrorist attacks.  While I do believe there has been an increase in violent attacks of all manner, it is important to keep in mind that even in the 21st Century the media still has to sell "copy" (or "hits" to the website).  The best way to do that is of course to show violent incidents.

Still, it seems like it's time for us to review our own strategies in advance for dealing with violence, especially if we are in a crowd.  Most self-defense classes focus in on a single attacker, rarely multiple attackers, never mobs.  Mobs are how Reginald Denny was attacked which began the 1992 Los Angeles Riots.  Mobs attacked and raped reporter Lara Logan in 2011.  Mobs are a particular danger since the mass numbers nullify most martial arts and shooting techniques.  They also can form quite rapidly out of thin air.

In 1993, my unit was in eastern Turkey for an exercise.  A group of about 25 of us from the different units participating in the exercise had gone into town for dinner.  The group I was with, about five of us, were walking back to get a taxi.  Ahead were four women from another unit also walking to get a taxi.  Once we got to the taxi stand, the women became surrounded by locals (where no one had been just a few moments ago).

After first, the group of men were a few and seemed like they were just flirting with the nice American women.  Then the group multiplied to 20-30 in the blink of an eye.  You could sense the women were getting scared the group of men surrounding them were becoming more emboldened.

My group plus bother group of men from the base were standing next to the women but this didn't dissuade the Turkish men, in fact it seemed to make them even more belligerent.  An interpreter standing next me suddenly turns to me and says, "We've got to get the women out of here".

A taxi pulls up right then and I shove the women into the taxi.  At first, the now mob didn't realize that the women had left.  Once they did, they started to argue with the rest of us (there were now easily 50 Turks to about 15 US troops).  I got my group into the first taxi we could and got out of there!

As far as I know, there was no violence but that was just timing.  The whole thing probably took less than 10 minutes to go from calm to near riot.

I hadn't thought about that incident for many years but the way things are going today, we all need to learn from the attacks in mobs.  Here are some points to remember;

1.  Avoid crowds whenever possible, especially crowds that are ingesting alcohol or drugs.  This includes nightclubs, concerts and major sporting events.  These venues elicit strong emotions at the best of times which can quickly spill over into violence at the worst of times.  All of those events are also loud making it especially hard to pick subtle changes in the crowd's behavior.  Political events are another opportunity for violence to erupt.  Stay home and watch it on TV.

2.  Have an exit strategy.  Know where the exits are in advance, however keep in mind that sometimes that might be part of the trap.  In the 2012 shooting in Aurora, the shooter used the aisles to his advantage pinning the audience in and preventing them from exiting.  You may have to climb out, break through a window or find a place to hide.  Remember, your plan has to continually update as you move around.

3.  Whenever possible, don't go out alone.  This goes for men as well as women.  A partner is another set of eyes that can help spot trouble or call for help if the situation deteriorates.  The details are still unknown but I'm guessing ABC producer Anne Sweeney was alone when she was murdered in Belize.

4.  Pay attention to your surroundings.  I know, this seems obvious but we get wrapped up in our own thoughts and block out the environment.  People fail to notice when someone is getting agitated or is showing signs that they may be suffering from mental health issues.  A confrontation between two people, even if it's not with you, can escalate into a riot in seconds.  If you decide to go to a club or concert, pay particular attention to the mood.  An altercation between security and some drunken patrons is all it may take to ignite a riot.

5.  Mobs are anonymous.  There is safety in anonymity which causes people in a mob to act differently than if there were alone.  Just think about how people act attending a sporting event.  Screaming and shouting is perfectly but it is also now part of the mob.  If the mob suddenly becomes violent, people who were not violent previously will often just go along.

6.  Don't stand around and watch!  If things start to get ugly, GET OUT!  Don't wait to see what happens next.  Two drunks throwing wild punches at one another may seem hilarious but that's only because they have pulled out any guns yet.  Also be aware that the fight may be a distraction from the real attack.  While you are laughing at the drunks fighting, someone else has pulled out a gun.

7.  Remember your goal is to get away.  Too often people who have received self-defense training of one kind or another think its time to stand toe-to-toe with their attacker.  Wrong!  Use what you know to get away.  Don't care if you know have mastered dim mak, a mob can and will run over the top of you.  Don't care if you carry a Glock 17 with 5 spare mags, you can still only shoot one attacker at a time!  A bum-rush can put any shooter on the ground.  Use your training to create space between you and the nearest attacker to GET THE FUCK AWAY.

8.  Mobs are fluid and predatory.  Just because no one is around, doesn't mean a mob can't form.  Look at the "flash-mob" phenomena from a few years ago.  A pre-coordinated meeting can have dozens of people in an area quickly where previously there were none.  It seems the attacks in Germany are following this pattern.  Muslim immigrants are randomly moving around and only attack when the find a solitary victim.  Keep that in mind the next time you go out or your morning walk or jog.  It also means that just because the mob is focused on someone else, it won't suddenly turn on you.

9.  But if necessary, bring overwhelming violence.  You goal is to get away, however if you have to become violent don't hold back!  You increase your chances of getting away and may actually diffuse a situation from becoming a mob event.  Just don't wait around to receive your championship belt!

10.  Keep moving!  If you all else fails and you do find yourself enveloped by a mob, keep moving!  Stopping is a fast way to get captured, that's what happened to Reginald Denny.  Once you are captured, you are now at the whim of the mob.  Don't let yourself get pinned against a wall or on the ground.  Stay on your feet and keep moving!

11.  Put the cellphone down already!  The next time you go to the store, look at how many people are texting or otherwise looking at their phones.  If you eyes are on your phone, that means they aren't on the environment.  Look up!  You might be surprised at what is about to happen.

12. Remain calm!  This is the most basic yet hardest part.  If you have never been in a mob situation, there is an adrenalin, panic-inducing energy running through everyone.  It is easy to become overwhelmed by it and you will panic.  If that happens, remember to say to yourself "I know what to do" because hopefully you've read this or other articles on mob-violence and have learned what to do.  Just like when we were in elementary school and we learned during fire drills to "Stand up, walk out single file, quietly".  The teachers were teaching us not just where to go but how to survive a fire by remaining calm.  Surviving a mob incident means above all else, we need to remain calm!

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Are we really stronger?

So while the President was talking about how much stronger the US is now since he has been in office, this was happening;

"Iran says seizure of U.S. boats a lesson to 'troublemakers' in Congress"

And this;

"IRAN WARNS US OF WAR – Missiles Are Locked on US Aircraft Carrier USS Truman"

And for good measure;

"The Trouble With The US Bomber Overflight Against North Korea"

No matter how you chose to view Mr. Obama's administration, to the rest of the world he appears to be reluctant to take definitive action.  The headlines show that those same threats Mr. Obama feels have been contained are now testing the waters.  North Korea and Iran know this is an election year and are watching the chaos of the Republican nomination process with bemusement.  

Mr. Obama also claims that Daesh is much weaker than we think.  Perhaps, but he seems to have conveniently forgotten about these guys;

And despite sending 300 US troops to Cameroon, we still have not heard about the fate of the school girls kidnapped by Boko Haram.

The US appears more divisive to them than Mr. Obama's claims allege us to be.  Expect more aggressive actions as they continue to test US resolve.

UPDATE:  Iran releases U.S. Navy sailors held for 16 hours