Thursday, December 30, 2010

City Budget Agreement Avoids Layoffs

Perhaps the earthquake helped them come up with robbing from the pension fund to avoid lay offs?

"The agreement fills a $54 million budget hole without anyone losing his or her job. It borrows millions of dollars from the workers compensation fund and emergency reserve accounts. It also relies on a sharp reduction in police overtime, as well as a tax amnesty program that may or may not produce the desired one-time revenue amount."

Story Here

Earthquake tremors felt in Cincinnati

A magnitude 4.2 earthquake in central Indiana was felt in Cincinnati. Phone calls flooded several sheriff's offices in Indiana. Yet Cincinnati city council continues to find ways not to pass a budget and will most likely still cut firefighters and police officers. Imagine what it would be like when a stronger quake hits Cincinnati.

Link Here

Wednesday, December 29, 2010


Hysteria, according to the Merriam-Webster on-line dictionary, means "behavior exhibiting overwhelming or unmanageable fear or emotional excess". Ashley Smithwick, 17, of Sanford, was suspended from Southern Lee High School in October after school personnel found a small paring knife in her lunchbox. She was an athlete and academic standout. Her only crime is while school officials were snooping for drugs, they found the pairing knife. She wasn't even brining it to school, her father had grabbed the wrong lunch box and it was his that had the knife. Can we all please just relax? Why ruin a young lady's academic and professional potential but something so ridiculous? In a previous blog, I wrote about Governor Rendell's concern that we are becoming a nation of "wusses". I would add that we are becoming a bunch of hysterical "wusses" incapable of making rational judgments.

Link Here

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Vikings-Eagles postponement irks Pennsylvania governor

While this is a sports related story and I blog about homeland security and international affairs, Governor Rendell made two important observations. First, the United States has become so consensus focused that decisions are always made by someone further up the chain the it is like a bunch of wusses are running things. The governor and mayor were in the best positions to make the decision yet the NFL commissioner called off the game (I suspect more for reasons of loss of revenue than concerns for safety). The other point the governor attempted to make about China's determination to dominate falls on deaf ears because he resorted so stereotypes. China is not sitting idly by while the US comes to terms with its mid-life crisis. China would surely have dug out the stadium, albeit with soldiers or citizens forced to work. The point being is not the politics but the mindset. The Chinese have set themselves on a long-term strategy to become the next superpower. They are approaching both economically (please note how much of Africa is now owned by the Chinese) as well as strategically (China has taken over manufacturing from other developed nations). China owns the debt for the European and American economies. Yes, it was just a football game but Rendell was right on. China is marching unflinchingly towards world domination and while the US argues about cancelling a football game.

Link Here

Monday, December 27, 2010

Chapel Hill Campus Takes On Grade Inflation

Chapel Hill is taking a near impossible task, what does an "A" really mean? The article only begins to scratch at the surface of the problem. Does an "A" in English 101 equate to an "A" in organic chemistry or differential equations? Letter or numerical grades face an inherent limitation; trying to capture the sum of a student's work during a semester or quarter. Professors uses a variety of techniques to evaluate the student's learning but not all tests or essays are the same. Each will be different depending on the particular style and tastes of the professor. Student's performance may be enhance by previous coursework in the topic. An "A" in one school in say calculus may require much more work in one college than another. Some professors simply refuse to believe any student is capable of mastering their course. All of these factors mean coming up with some kind of grading standard is futile. We need to focus more on demonstrated ability, not just their final GPA. Look at sports. Athletes are subjected to the greatest amount of quantification of any class of human being. We know everything from their physical statistics, to their performance in various skills (such as running, jumping or how much they can lift), what their performance in the same sport was throughout high school, college and the pros. Their record is much more than simply a listing of wins and losses, it creates a picture of the whole athlete and gives a fairly accurate prediction of performance. College graduates are more than simply their GPA.

Link Here

US missiles hit Pakistan borderlands

The article caught my interest because I find it difficult to believe 21st Century missiles hit anything other than what they are aimed at. If US missiles are striking targets in Pakistan, it is because they are being aimed at Pakistani targets. There has been evidence for some time of Al Qaeda operating from Pakistan yet much like Baghdad Bob, everyone is in denial of the obvious. Pakistan is one of the least transparent allies the United States has ever worked with. The motivation to allow US and Coalition forces to operate from Pakistan has very little to do with the war on terrorism and much more to do with first keeping Musharraf and now Zadari in office. The Pakistani government condemns the US strikes while at the same time enjoying the intelligence it gains from these attacks. Pakistan blusters but has never seriously threatened to ask US forces to leave. The presence of US forces helps the government to ward of the Talaban as well as reduce any threats from India. The situation in Afghanistan is going nowhere fast and the number of causalities has risen dramatically in the last few months. Afghanistan is very much like Vietnam with an enemy that is not a military force an operates from a network of underground facilities (caves really). Neither President Bush nor President Obama have identified an exit strategy for Afghanistan. As the US begins striking more targets in Pakistan, the war has to potential to spill into a more regional conflict. With Iran and North Korea further distracting US foreign policy, I see that next few years becoming increasingly violent.

Link Here

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Food Sovereignty

The US Attorney General's Office and DHS both issued assessments that our food supply could be the next target for terrorism. Tommy Thompson first sounded this alarm while he was the Secretary of Health and Human Services. Given the reliance of the United States on mega-farms, migrant workers and hub & spoke distribution centers it becomes difficult to properly secure our food. Vermont apparently is not sitting back on this issue and has written a Resolution of Food Sovereignty;

WHEREAS All people are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, and among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; and

WHEREAS Food is human sustenance and is the fundamental prerequisite to life; and

WHEREAS The basis of human sustenance rests on the ability of all people to save seed, grow, process, consume and exchange food and farm products; and

WHEREAS We the People of Vermont, have an obligation to protect these rights as is the Common and Natural Law; and in recognition of the State’s proud agricultural heritage; and the necessity of agricultural, ecological and economic diversity and sustainability to a free and healthy Society;

THEREFORE, Be it resolved, that We The People, stand on our rights under the 10th Amendment to the US Constitution and reject such Federal decrees, statutes, regulations or corporate practices that threaten our basic human right to save seed, grow, process, consume and exchange food and farm products within the State of Vermont; and,

Be it further resolved, that We The People, shall resist any and all infringements upon these rights, from whatever sources that are contrary to the rights of the People of the State of Vermont.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Scare for President Obama

Shortly after I wrote the piece about the pilot video showing airport security lapses, I just read this one about a driver who apparently was able to get through a US Secret Service checkpoint. It appears that the driver was not a threat to the President but look at the pictures. The US Secret Service agent has her weapon drawn and yet the driver goes through the checkpoint anyway. The picture of her running is even more concerning. She failed to stop that vehicle. I don't know if the rules of engagement prevented her from firing or if there was some other reason she appears to not have fired. The bottom line, had this driver been intent on doing something it looks like he would have been more successful than he should have been.

This is exactly what happened in Beirut in 1983. Suicide bombers hijacked a truck and upon approaching the checkpoint gate, accelerated through the fence. The sentries did not have magazines in their rifles per the rules of engagement. The truck was able to reach the barracks area and detonated 12,00o lbs of explosives. In the attack on the American barracks, the death toll was 241 American servicemen: 220 Marines, 18 Navy Sailors, and three Army Soldiers. Have we really learned anything in the nearly 30 years since this incident?

Link Here

Sacramento-area pilot punished

It didn't take long for the Wikileaks problem first started with Department of Defense documents from Afghanistan. Then State Department diplomatic cables were leaked revealing to the public a rather sophomoric approach to diplomacy. The whole premise for Wikileaks is the ability for whistleblowers to get their case out in the open. While Wikileaks wasn't involved in this case, a pilot has found it necessary to share his videos showing weaknesses in airport security. The TSA is disciplining the pilot/whistleblower but it is too little, too late. I assure the TSA this pilot isn't the first to have noticed lapses and weaknesses in our airports. We have seen in the last year everything from a slide escapades of Steven Slater to an Iranian who was able to get through security with a firearm (in the latter case, he was legitimately carrying on only his honest exposed the flaws in screening). As tensions rise between the US and both North Korea and Iran, we will see even more cases of whistleblowing occurring. What sometimes is overlooked in these cases is who is really responsible for the leak. There is always some low level person that gets names but how was that person able to secure the information to be leaked without exposure? You can't help but wonder if supervisors turned a blind eye or perhaps even encouraged the perpetrator in some indirect way. The Mayan calendar supposedly ends in 2012 and whether you believe in such things or not others do making the potential very high for things to become very interesting in 2011.

Link Here

Friday, December 17, 2010

Airport Security: Loaded Gun Slips Past TSA Screeners - ABC News

Surprise, low paid/overworked scanners miss guns and bombs! Instead of buying more technology, based on a lobbyist's recommendation, should DHS change how it does passenger screening?

Article here

Thursday, December 16, 2010

'Are you terrorist?'

The other day in my homeland security class the students got into a rather heated debate about searches, pat-downs, full body scanners, metal detectors, profiling, etc. The general consensus was that none of these procedures guaranteed our safety and were more about showing the government as doing something rather than nothing. The Daily Mail article is a rather lengthy piece that gets to the hear of the problem. In the United States, we are still focused on finding the weapon instead of finding the terrorist. The Israelis use a rather elegant series of selectors (polyglot females who ask questions while looking for signs that the individual may be upset or uncomfortable)/ If the selector's concerns are raised, the individual is the sent for a baggage screening. If the person fails to comply or seems to become more agitated, they are then isolated and interrogated by law enforcement officials. The means by which the Israelis accomplish all of this is man-power intensive (not to mention the cost of training the selectors and interrogators) and probably not feasible for the US to implement on a wide scale. However, the basic principle of focusing on finding the terrorist and not the means of attacks should become our focus.

Link Here

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Reflections on Gun Free Zones

Between stories of TSA pat-downs and the recent salacious details of Julian Assange’s sex life, the media has all but forgotten the little story of 15-year old Samuel Hengel. He was the Marinette High School sophomore who took his teacher and 24 students hostage last month. Unlike other situations, this ended with only the shooter taking his own life.

The story highlights the benefits of drills to train students and staff what to do in the event of a shooter situation. What the story also highlights is 11 years after the Columbine massacre and three years after the Virginia Tech shootings, students are still able to bring firearms on to campus.

I recently completed the Ohio CCW (carry a concealed weapon) course. The course is 12 hours, ten hours of law and two hours of range time. The part on law teaches students all of the places where you can’t legally carry a firearm (especially concealed) including all government buildings, establishments that serve alcohol (class D liquor permit), police stations, and schools.

On first blush, these seem like reasonable restrictions but upon further review the restrictions on schools equates all (elementary, secondary and college) as the same. As I’ve written before, elementary and secondary schools can effectively lock the front door significantly reducing the potential for unauthorized visitors.

Students are in class or study hall at the same time. A student walking around the hallway during class time is far more noticeable as a result than on a college campus. Elementary and most secondary schools consist of a single building unlike colleges and universities that have multiple buildings scattered over the campus. Thus college campuses are unable to run people through a single checkpoint for weapons (and as the Marinette High School shows, this is no guarantee).

College campuses are open and have a constant wave of current students, prospective students, alums, faculty, staff and visitors. Colleges fall into the category of schools in the minds of legislators even though post-secondary educational institutions share little in common with elementary and high schools.

Talk with a college student or a campus police officer and you will learn there are many people walking around with weapons. These include students and others who are on campus to conduct drug deals or other criminal activities. The signs declaring a “Gun Free” zone have no impact on individuals with criminal intent.

No, this isn’t a pro-gun rant as much as questioning the wisdom of banning CCW holders from carrying on campus. The CCW ban effects everyone, including people who simply are walking or jogging through campus from protecting themselves. Women living on campus or nearby are unable to carry to protect themselves yet the threat is well armed.

Staff and faculty get to face an armed threat without being to go armed. Phones are in the classrooms so that faculty can contact campus police in the event of an emergency or violent situation. The phones are not always near the podium. Even if the phone is on the podium, it may take several minutes for the police to arrive. By then, a situation can have gone from bad to deadly.

The “Gun Free Zone” sign is hypocritical at best as there are still guns on campus and deceptive at worst as it leads people to believe there are safe from gun violence. All it does is prevent law-abiding people who have been trained and passed the necessary background checks from carrying. The criminals and potential shooters are still armed and dangerous. And yes, the criminals will be prosecuted but too often that won’t be until after some law abiding citizens has stared down the business end of a firearm.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The elegance of simplicity Ignite Cincinnati 4

The videos from Ignite Cincinnati #4 are finally up! Please follow the link. If there is an Ignite going on in your local area, it is certainly something you will want to check out!

We will keep the money

Governor-elect John Kasich didn't wait to make news. Shortly after being elected, he said the light rail proposal in Ohio was dead. Kasich does not believe the light rail system is the future of Ohio and it is too costly to reactive freight rail lines. Kasich's plan was to still hold on to the $400 million dollars but to use it for other projects. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood now says since Ohio is not going to build a light rail system, the money can't be used for other projects and will send the money to California and other states that will use the money for light rail. I'm really trying to understand how Kasich can say on one hand that he is going to help the Ohio economy and yet eliminate a major transportation project that would have created thousands of jobs.

Link here

Monday, December 6, 2010


I agree that our best defense is having a mobilized, aware public. However, the trite "See something, say something" begs the question "What is something and who should I say it to?" DHS and TSA has done a horrible job of informing the public as to what they should be looking for. Moreover, if someone sees something suspect to whom should they report it? FBI? Sheriff's office? Local police? If they information that is reported does not fit their paradigms, will these agencies forward the information to the fusion center? I just see this as being akin to Nancy Reagan's "Just say NO!" campaign. The situation is more complex than some slogan dreamed up by a federal agency (or the high priced PR firm that won the government contract to come up with this crap). Of course the other problem is do you really want your neighbor reporting you to the FBI because you have a copy of the Quran in your home and don't watch Fox News?

Link Here

Friday, December 3, 2010

Israeli Emergency Management

The 1967 Arab-Israeli War (or Six Day War) was an unexpected and decisive victory for the Israeli military. Ever since, the Israeli military has enjoyed the reputation of being the toughest, best trained and best equipped military in the region. The Israeli government has heavily funded the military as a way of discouraging neighboring nations from attacking the lone Jewish state. Viewed from a political or military perspective, this plan seems to have achieved the goal of preventing major military actions against Israel (although this same approach could be argued as to why there are some many terrorist bombings).

The forest fire on Mount Carmel highlights when your attention becomes so focused on one thing, preventing military attack, other equally destructive events get neglected. The article points out that Israel only has 1 firefighter per 10,000 instead of the recommended 1 per 1,000. International firefighter associations feel such a low ratio means Israel is extremely unprepared to deal with a major fire (which the Mount Carmel fire is proving). Because of the political and theological differences Israel has with its neighboring nations, there is no Emergency Management Compact or even mutual aid compact with Syria, Jordan or Egypt (which are all nations Israel has had conflicts with over the years).

However, even if Israel had a different relationship with is neighbors it still would be faced with a problem of an overwhelming disaster that requires an emergency management system that it simply doesn't have. Emergency management is not sexy and doesn't nothing to protect you from a military attack. But as the earthquake in Haiti has proven, a system needs to be in place to prepare citizens how to respond during an emergency. The same system is critical to the recovery after a major disaster. Perhaps the Mount Carmel fire will do something none of the enemies of Israel could ever do.

Link here

Monday, November 29, 2010

BBC News - Wikileaks US diplomatic cables: key issues

Assuming Wikileaks has posted some of the most scandalous cables, these show more a lack of decorum on the part of the diplomatic corps than revelations of state secrets. Most of this information has been suspected for some time, the cables only prove the lack of true support for US foreign policy efforts.

Link here

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Portugal Denies Report on Bailout

Portugal may not need a bailout but the impact of the Irish bailout could adversely impact their economy.

Link Here

EU agrees on $89 billion bailout loan for Ireland

First Greece now Ireland, somehow the thought the EU will pull itself out of the debt crisis is much like expecting the Bengals to win the Super Bowl next year (possible but very unlikely). The rescue of first Greece and now Ireland means all of the other members of the EU will be financially strained and could tip the next country into a crisis. Meanwhile, old biases and feuds between countries are getting rekindled by the very organization that was created to eliminate such barriers. The situation is more grim than the media let's on. Britain is now seriously considering downsizing its military and creating a joint military, with France. The two nations have historically been rivals or even outright enemies and for the British to give word to such a notion means the economy truly is in dire straits. In the meantime, should the US end up in some type of conflict with South Korea the failing EU economy means the US may be forced to go at this alone. China, despite tepid protests in the media, and keep North Korea afloat should situations escalate. Japan may be interested in any conflicts but will remain on the sidelines both because of its own internal problems as well as the specter of Russian laying claims to the Kurile Islands.

Link Here

Friday, November 26, 2010

North Korea at it again

By launching a few artillery barrages, North Korea may have set something in motion far more damaging than a potential war. The weakness of Lee Myung-bak's administration has been put on front stage. The defense minister either resigned or was fired depending on the version you read. South Korea was caught completely flat-footed and now is completely embarrassed on the world stage. Not bad for a few artillery rounds being lobed down range. There is so much pressure from the South Koreans for their government to do something that this may escalate into something akin to the Falklands War.

Link Here

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

U.S. sends carrier to Yellow Sea for exercises

Let's be frank here, unlike our Persian friends the Koreans really do mean business. Both the North and the South have spent nearly 60 years getting ready to finish what they started back in 1950. South Korea has economic prosperity plus around 29,000 US military personnel on their side. The North Koreans have a massive conventional military force, plus nuclear weapons and China on theirs. North Korea likes to shoot missiles at Japan in retaliation for past atrocities but also to antagonize them into a possibly coflict. The Japanese in turn would like to prove they have not completely lost their samurai spirit. If hostilities erupt, count on a least one missile heading for Japan. This could lead to a potential showdown between China, the US and Japan. No wonder the President has send a carrier battle group to the region. But much as the character Newt said in the movie Aliens, "It won't make a difference".

Link Here

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

NKorea fires artillery onto South Korean island

Since the Civil War, the US military builds up during times of war in part because the military is usually reduced immediately following the war. The US military today consists of fewer units than the number that participated during the opening of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003. Sec Def wants to reduce it further.

President Obama ran on a campaign of promising to bring the troops home. Instead of bringing all of the troops home, the President ceased combat operations in Iraq and increased the number of troops to Afghanistan. Almost immediately hostilities began to flare up in Iraq. Worse, Gen Patreaus replaced Gen McChrystal (for making unflattering remarks about the Vice President), the new commander of forces in Afghanistan quickly pronounced it would take 20 years to bring the situation to conclusion. Another NATO general said it would take 30 years to bring the situation to conclusion. This on top of nearly 10 years of military operations.

One can't help but notice US military operations are not bringing matters to a conclusion while at same time Sec Def Gates is reducing the number of new weapon systems coming on board and there is talk of additional base closures. Additional base closures means corresponding reductions in personnel. No wonder North Korea feels it can start taking shots (literally) at South Korea with impunity. No wonder Russian Prime Minister Medvedev felt he could visit the highly contested Kurile Islands with impunity. To make matters worse, our own homeland security measures have set Americans against these policies which may result adversely effect the airline industry.

The superpower reputation of the US is being questioned and the results are what we are seeing in the news. I fear this may just be the beginning.

Link Here

Monday, November 22, 2010

You Don't Need to See His Identification

A first hand account forwarded to me from another blogger. I spoke with several people at the college today, many felt that the screenings were necessary for security. One is a retired flight attendant who travels as a space available and believes the pat-downs make the flights safer. I pointed out that none of the terrorists caught since 9/11 were detected by TSA. They still feel better based on the psychology of knowing no one is carrying anything they shouldn't. Of course, we are only looking for crap that others have before. There is always something new we haven't thought of before.

Link Here

Smartest Man In the World

I'd like to welcome my good friend Alex to the blogsphere. He has started a blog and I believe if his first entry is any indication, many of you will enjoy his observations as well

Smartest Man In the World

Gonzalo Lira: A Full Body Scan of American Corruption

Gonzalo Lira goes in depth to refute the presumed safety of backscatter technology used in full body scanners. GL also points out the same criticisms I have of Michael Cherthoff, namely that his company's biggest client is the manufacturer of the full body scanners. The article also gives cause to articulate the need for more comprehensive security. All of the TSA efforts are focused on people transiting through the passenger terminal. As the Steven Slater case shows, there are huge gaps on the tarmac and other non-passenger areas. I've always maintained the best way to breech security in any facility is to wear a hardhat, tool belt and carry a clipboard. People will look right through you. The same can be said for dressing like a baggage handler or other flight line technician. Some may point out these personnel are subject to screening and I would argue that it would be very easy to bribe a flight line worker. Their wages aren't that high and the work is not all that glamorous and borders on mundane. Wednesday is the opt-out day, it may be the closest the US will come to experiencing something like the transportation strikes in France.

Link here

Sunday, November 21, 2010

'Invasive' pat-downs continue

The story continues to plague the Internet and TV news. Stories continue to surface of truly abhorrent, vile and disgusting behavior of TSA screeners humiliating passengers. One breast cancer survivor had to remove her prothesis to prove they were not dangerous explosives. Another female passenger wearing a skirt while being searched the TSA screeners hand shot up between the passenger's leg that "it lifted me off of my heels". She sobbed throughout her flight. There is now video of screeners. A bladder cancer survivor was so violently and shamefully searched the he ended up covered in urine.

The TSA has overwhelmingly failed in its mission and the arrogance of John Pistole causes him to dismiss the complaints for after all he knows best what it takes to protect passengers. The "Shoe Bomber" Richard Reid and the "Underwear Bomber" Abdul Muttalab were not apprehended or stopped by the TSA but by the passengers. The screenings are mute, anyone going to try to mix chemicals or take over the flight will be overwhelmed by a swarm of pissed off passengers.

TSA was no where to found when Jet Blue flight attendant Steven Slater pulled the emergency escape chute and slid into infamy. He made it all the way back to his apartment and was arrested by local law enforcement, not the TSA.

The TSA needs to be disbanded. It was an idea executed during the emotional times immediately after 9/11. It was a bad concept poorly executed. The TSA has been spectacular in reacting to attacks that have already been tried. Their focus has been exclusively on passengers while other critical areas like the tarmac or air cargo facilities go unattended.

The President should pass an executive order mandating every active law enforcement officer (federal, state or local) as well as any active soldier, Marine, airmen or sailor that normally carries a sidearm be required to carry on board any US flight. I guarantee having a SEAL, Ranger, Delta Force operator or Green Beret armed on board of flight will guarantee a level of safety TSA can never promise. Oh, and no child will ever have to be molested or watch as their mother has her breasts fondled or crotch grabbed by these perverts.


Saturday, November 20, 2010

James Cagney

For those that may not know, James Cagney was a dancer, boxer and a black belt in judo. This was back in the 40s when most Americans had never heard of martial arts. Here is the earliest martial arts fight in cinema. I think it is also one of the most realistic.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Elegance of Simplicity

Note: I gave the following speech at Ignite Cincinnati 4

What does the typical college student really want to know about your class? They want to know how to pass your class. “Read your textbook, come to class, study your notes,” is the mantra of 99 percent of college professors yet the average college student stares in disbelief. Why?

Because to the students, It can’t be that simple?!

So that got me thinking, why can’t passing the course be that simple? The typical college students world is a mess of distractions ranging from social obligations to their desks. Their life is not that simple.

To add to this suspension of disbelief is the any college process ranging from applying for financial aid to scheduling an appointment to see your academic advisor, it jus isn’t that simple.

No wonder students cannot believe Leonardo DaVinci who said, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” But how do we get students to recognize simplicity and thus sophistication?

Today’s college student is convinced multi-tasking is the ultimate form of sophistication, even if studies show how this is nothing more than excusing attention deficit.

Studies show that the human memory works optimally working with around 4 to 5 things. More than that and our brains become overloaded. The brain protects itself by making us bored.

Being bored we miss another component of simplicity as Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “We ascribe beauty to that which is simple; which has no superfluous parts; which exactly answers its end.”

What was it like before multi-tasking took away simplicity? A typical engineer in the early part of the 20th Century tackled his projects with the simple tools of a slide rule and stubby pencil.

The tools may have been simple but the results were quite sophisticated. These simple tools are all that it took to design the SR-71 which could fly 3 times the speed of sound at an altitude of 100,000 feet!

Or using the same simple tools Frank Lloyd Wright was able to design the Waterfall House. A sophisticated concept perfectly balanced with nature.

But how do we get the bored, overly distracted college student to embrace simplicity? Certainly their environment doesn’t encourage simplicity.

Marcus Aurelius said, “Make thyself all simplicity.” So could we suggest to college students to get them to become more simple?

University of Wisconsin psychologist Virginia Berninger tested students in grades 2, 4, and 6, and found that they not only wrote faster by hand than by keyboard — but also generated more ideas when composing essays in longhand. In other research, Berninger shows that the sequential finger movements required to write by hand activate brain regions involved with thought, language, and short-term memory.

Twain kept 40-50 pocket notebooks over four decades of his life. He often began one before embarking on a trip. He filled the notebooks with observations of people he met, thoughts on religion and politics, drawings and sketches of what he saw on his travels, potential plots for books, and even ideas for inventions (he filed 3 patents during his lifetime).

By re-emphasizing handwriting and using notebooks, we help students to remove all of the clutter from information overload. We need to help them embrace simplicity which will allow them to focus more of their attention and creative talents to the matter at hand.

The result will be a greater good for mankind. Instead of focused on themselves, embracing simplicity will help them focus more on the world around them.

By doing so, we may help students achieve Henry David Thoreau’s words “As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler; solitude will not be solitude, poverty will not be poverty, nor weakness weakness.”

Monday, November 15, 2010

On this day, we gave up our rights

The fear of terrorism has overruled our own jurisprudence. Our laws are supposed to be based around the concept of innocent until proven guilty but DHS has flipped the script. Passengers are now considered guilty until proven innocent.


Saturday, November 13, 2010

Endless reaction to yesterday's threat

TSA, DHS and Secretary Napolitano are rehashing the same scenarios as justification for the pat-downs and full body scanners. A divergent group consisting of pilots, flight attendants, travel associations, civil rights groups and Muslim groups are all raising their voices against the security measures.

Police and corrections officers use pat-downs when dealing with suspected violent offenders who are likely to be concealing a weapon or contraband. Somehow TSA justified using pat-downs for people whose only offense is choosing not to go through a full body scanner. In the former scenario, the suspected has already demonstrated suspicious and violent behavior. In the latter, modesty or health concerns are the likely reason and certainly shouldn't be equated to criminal behavior.

The psychology of the behavior is also in question. There is no way for a pat-down not to be an intrusive, humiliating experience. No matter how much training TSA alleges has in conducting these type of searches, having to perform repeatedly over an 8 hour shift with upset passengers can only lead to abuses. The passenger doesn't want to be there and the TSA screener is getting frustrated. The TSA screener is going to put the passenger in their place and some will resort to rough handling. More incidents are likely to happen as we approach the holidays.

Now several groups are asking passengers to opt for the pat-downs are simply not fly at all. Airlines are already operating at the barest minimums for profit. These security measures may cause some to finally go out of business. All so we can be safer. In the meantime, the next "toner cartridge" is being planned out and TSA will be completely caught off guard.


Thursday, November 11, 2010

Thank you for your service!

World War I – known at the time as “The Great War” - officially ended when the Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919, in the Palace of Versailles outside the town of Versailles, France. However, fighting ceased seven months earlier when an armistice, or temporary cessation of hostilities, between the Allied nations and Germany went into effect on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. For that reason, November 11, 1918, is generally regarded as the end of “the war to end all wars.”

In November 1919, President Wilson proclaimed November 11 as the first commemoration of Armistice Day with the following words: "To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations…"

The War to end all wars unfortunately set the stage for World War II. Once again, brave US soldiers, sailors and marines would be called upon to defeat the enemy. These young men would return and become know as the “Greatest Generation”. They would help lead the United States to the greatest economic prosperity ever seen. They were all veterans.

The Korean War is sometimes called the forgotten in part because it was referred to as a police action at the time. It required no less of an effort for US military to leave their families and loved ones to go and fight in a country most had never heard of. They would come back home and continue to lead the United States to economic prosperity. They were all veterans.

The Vietnam War caused a divide amongst Americans unlike anything seen since the civil war. Young men went off to fight in a far away land but this time they came home not to welcomes but to insults. Those that did not serve looked down on veterans for not being able to get a deferment. Veterans returned without any of the assistance programs available today. Yet there were still proud for they were veterans.

Then an interesting thing happened, Kuwait was invaded by Iraq and the United States military once again, along with other coalition nations, rose up to help liberate another country from occupation. Americans this time began to see military men, and now women, not as some robotic killer but as their own sons and daughters who fought bravely. These veterans were welcomed back to yellow ribbons and invited to stand proud and tall at the Super Bowl.

It wouldn’t be until a decade later though that Americans finally started to rally around their veterans. The attacks of 9/11 caused Americans to embrace the military as both protectors and heroes. Whole communities would come together now to cheer units on as they got ready to deploy and welcome them back upon their return. Soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen received the respect for what they had done and in turn helped America to start recognizing and appreciating the veterans from previous conflicts.

Not since the end of World War II have veterans been so respected by their fellow Americans. Now more than ever,

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Pentagon can't explain apparent mystery plume off California coast

So while people are being subjected to full body scanners or humiliating searches, the Department of Defense gets caught asleep at the wheel. Worse, now that a news helicopter shot a video proving their inattentiveness they can't even come up with an explanation to get this story to go away? Go watch "1941" and you will come up with the conclusion that instead of the Japanese launching a surprise attack we either have the North Koreans, Chinese or may be even the Russians doing some really embarrassingly sneaky things.


El Al apologizes for strip-searching U.S. professor

The TSA has been making headlines for "groping genitalia" of passengers refusing the full body scanners. Having no desire to be exposed to unnecessary radiation apparently means to the TSA that you like being groped and handled by total strangers. The stress of airline travel being already high, the TSA continues to find new ways to increase our collective desire to find other means of travel.

Much of what TSA is trying to do is based on the storied success of El Al whose layered security became the benchmark for other security services. Now El Al has gotten into the act. Professor Heather Bradshaw, who teaches neuroscience at Indiana University, was invited by Hebrew Union University to give a lecture in Israel. Upon her arrival Luton airport, El Al security personnel treated her as a terrorist suspect. She was subjected to a strip search and forced to remove her bra.

What in the hell is going on with people? Have we become so obsessed with the terrorist "boogeyman" that we are being forced to give up our dignity in the name of security? From the news reports, Professor Bradshaw was not belligerent or threatening in any way and produced her credentials showing the reason for her visit. She still was subjected to a humiliating search despite all of the supporting evidence showing she was not a terrorist.

When the TSA details of groping came out, many critics through insults about most of screeners being nothing more than perverts. Americans are adept are hurling insults at one another which may or may not be founded in reality. After reading about the El Al incident, I can't help but wonder what type of person is being attracted to security work these days. Hopefully these security agencies will spend as much time doing psychological profiles on their perspective employees as they do on passengers.


Monday, November 8, 2010

Sig Sauer

I attended a Carry a Concealed Weapon (CCW) course this weekend taught by Matt Burns. CCW is a mandatory 12 hour course for those wishing to carry a concealed weapon. Ten hours are lecture on gun laws and two hours are range time. Matt, who is a certified range officer, uses the two hours to teach tactical shooting moving the students through various stations designed to teach the students what it is like to shoot their weapon in a typical self-defense situation. I am not a gun blogger and do not aspire to be one. There are a boat load of gun writers and wannabes to cause me to keep pursuing my chosen niche. However, I do believe part of preparedness is weapons knowledge and training, I wanted to share my observations.

There were ten students, including myself, shooting on the range. Each student carried a different make and caliber. Most were shooting some type of 9mm, one student shot a revolver, and I shot my Sig Sauer P220 in 45ACP. This was the first training I've ever attended where every student was firing a different weapon. All of my previous training had been in the military where everyone was firing the same weapon at the same time.

My unscientific observations after two hours and about 100 rounds a piece; go with a Sig Sauer. Well yes of course I would say that because that's what I was shooting. But my recommendation comes from observation. There was one Beretta, one Glock, one Taurus, two Hi Points, one S&W revolver, two Sig Sauers, two others I was unable to identify. One Hi Point repeatedly jammed (based on the shooter and not the weapon), the rest operated well but there were stoppages in all but the revolver and the Sig Sauers.

I would not have felt compelled to write about this except each Sig Sauer was in a different caliber (9mm, .40 S&W, and .45ACP). Each Sig Sauer and wielded by different shooters of varying experience (the instructor used a P226 in 9mm, one student used a P226 in .40 S&W and mine was a P220 in .45ACP). Each of us are different heights (instructor 5'7", myself at 6'3" and the other student at 6'7"). The Sigs all fired without any stoppages and given the various models being used in different calibers this is a rather extraordinary thing.

Matt had us fired from a variety of positions while moving. The Sigs had no problems with this while some of the other pistols would experience a stoppage of the gun was canted. I was firing Blazer ammunition which uses and aluminum case. Not the most reliable ammunition but cheap and my Sig functioned flawlessly. Matt was using Americn Eagle ammunition. Another inexpensive brand and his Sig shot twice as many rounds without a hitch.

Gun geeks and gun bloggers reading this will of course have their counter-arguments and that's fine. I'm not here to say anything definitive, I am merely sharing my observation of various weapons being fired by various shooters on the same course of fire. The Sig was the most prevalent and none of the three Sigs let their operators down. You have to remember, each gun was firing different calibers, weight bullets and brand of ammunition and there wasn't a failure amongst any of the SIgs. If you are using something else and are satisfied, great! Don't change! However, if you are looking for a self-defensive handgun or if you are not satisfied with your choice you do need to check out the Sig Sauer. You won't be disappointed.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Obama to use teleprompter for Hindi speech - Hindustan Times

The great Greek orators used the techniques detail in "The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci" to to memorize huge amounts of information and recall it effortlessly. Lincoln, Churchill, John F. Kennedy, and Martin Luther King were all great orators who were able to deliver moving speeches without the aid of technology. Now we have a President who is so inept at speaking that he takes pathetic shortcuts such as a Telepromper. The President is the greatest symbol of the United States and as such needs to convey a greatness about this country that reading from a prepared scripts does not convey. It is hard enough to convince our students of the need to memorize information when they can always Google it or look it up on Wikipedia. The ability to compare and contrast information is rapidly become a lost art. The human mind is still superior to any computer at comprehending information an creating something that hasn't existed before. Watching an American President resort to such a blatantly lazy approach to projecting his thoughts and ideals is disheartening. It further magnifies the ridiculous excesses of his trip to India.


Saturday, November 6, 2010

Tunnel for Obama near Mani Bhavan - Mumbai - DNA

The President who has already confused to poor communication skills during the election campaign now has the Pentagon explaining his trip. While the Pentagon says the 34 warships are NOT there to defend the President, they will be building a tunnel for him so he can visit a museum. The taxpayers surely must feel better now knowing the real story.


Friday, November 5, 2010

EPA policy chief steps down - Robin Bravender

The midterm exodus continues unabated. You can spin this however you like but the bottom line is President Obama is going into the second half of his term with a new team. He will take this untried team into a battled with a Republican controlled House weakened Senate. The possibility of a second term is still a possibility for the President, especially since the Republicans have yet to determine their 2012 candidate. But the ability for the Presdinet to accomplish anything meaningful in his second half has just become that much harder.

From a foreign policy standpoint, the results of the midterm election make President Obama appear weak and the 34 warships in the Indian Ocean for his visit does nothing to dissuade the notion. Iran and Russia will probably become more aggressive in their rhetoric. Venzuela and North Korea will play Greek chorus to the former. Australia and the United Kingdom, two of the strongest US allies in combating terrorism, will continue to do backstrokes away from a weakened US president. May we live in interesting times....


Iranians stage mass protest against 'Great Satan' US

First we had Medved visiting the Kurile Islands trying to stir-up nationalistic fervor about a long forgotten part of history. Now Iran wants to restart the old "US Satan" slogan from 30 years ago. In my class on terrorism, I teach the students how many groups create an appearance of legitimacy by evoking symbols from the past. Medved's visit links him back to the halcyon days of the Russian empire (minus all of that czarist crap) and now Iran wants to go back to the days when they held the US hostage for 444 days. Both of these cases demonstrate how despots refocus the attention of the masses on matters outside their borders. Juan Peron did the same thing with the Falklands, whipping up national frenzy in an attempt to divert attention from his disastrous (and vicious) domestic policies. He of course under-estimated Prime Minister Thatcher's resolve and who proceeded to thrash him. (Note: Thatcher was helped indirectly by Ronald Reagan who sold Argentina bomb fuses that would not set if dropped from low altitude).

The US has ceased combat operations in Iraq, while still keeping 60,000 troops in country. Other than getting rid of Saddam Hussein, the outcome of all of the deaths, money and resources spent is unclear. General Patreaus, as the latest commander of forces in Afghanistan, recently predicted it would take another 10-20 years to finish the job in Afghanistan. These two latest conflicts are part of an unimpressive track record for the US abroad. Vietnam, the Tehran embassy hostage situation, the Beirut bombings in 1983, Grenada, Somalia 1993, Haiti 1995, and Kosovo all demonstrate the inability of US military action to bring a decisive conclusion to the situation. Yes, I know there were many factors contributing to each of these events but the rest of the world is able to draw its own conclusion. The United States will eventually tire and call its troops home whether the mission is completed or not.


Thursday, November 4, 2010

34 warships sent from US for Obama visit

Two things pop into mind reading this story. First, the huge cost of moving these ships plus the Secret Service detail (including vehicles) could probably help pay off part of the national debt. If India is so dangerous that we need to put all of this in place, why go? Our relations with Pakistan have suffered as a result of the Taliban's resurgence and US military actions causing civilians deaths. However, warming up to India does nothing to improve things in Southeast Asia. The whole trip is going to be a very expensive publicity stunt with little to no benefit to our foreign policies.

Update: Cost per day for this is $200 million.


Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Medved visit stirs up old wounds

An oldie but a goodie. Back in 1904, the Russian Empire picks a fight with Japan over the territories of Manchuria and Korea. Russia, and later the Soviet Union, lacks a warm water port and the quest for one exists from the time of Peter the Great through most of the 20th Century. Nineteenth Century Japan was considered nothing more than a feudal relic and Russia was widely expected to pummel the Japanese navy. However, the Russian navy was roundly defeated and set the stage for the Russian Revolution and the end of Czarist Russia. The 1905 Treaty of Portsmouth gave the southern Kurile Islands to the Japanese. (The earlier 1875 Treaty of St Petersburg gave the Russians the Sakhalin Islands). The Soviet Union occupies the Kurile Islands during World War II and expels the Japanese inhabitants. To make matters worse, the 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty between the Allied Powers and Japan stipulated that Japan give up all claims to the Kurile Islands. In a compromise move, the Soviet Union claims over the islands is not recognized by the treaty. Modern day Russia claims the treat in fact recognizes their claim over the islands, the Japanese of course dispute this. Medved's visit can be seen as Russia reasserting itself in area and may indicate a return to more aggressive policy towards former Soviet territory.


Monday, November 1, 2010

Cuts to Public Safety

The city of Cincinnati has a $60 million dollar deficit and the most likely targets for layoffs are the police and fire departments. The two departments represent two-thirds of the city's $334 million dollar budget. The FOP and firefighter's union are obviously prepared to fight any cuts. The proposals has brought only the best in some of the local residents who perceive city employees to be overpaid.

The city police and fire departments have suffered from bad press over the last decade ranging from the city riots in 2001 to a rash of firefighters involved in drug trafficking. The Cincinnati Enquirer makes sure to mention that a person is either a firefighter or police officer whenever they are accused of crime, even if the offense had nothing to do with their employment status. Relations between the departments and citizens has never been warm but lately have really begun to cool.

The city has for their part been extremely adept at promoting high dollar projects (such as the streetcar) or providing perks (such as private cars) to elected official. To be fair, the streetcar is being funded by federal dollars but it doesn't help residents feel any better about how city officials are doing their jobs.

The police and fire departments have locked in a large number of their personnel in the Deferred Retirement Program (DROP). To be eligible for DROP, individuals must be at least 48 with 25 years of service as a police officer or firefighter. When an officer joins DROP, he or she officially "retires" for pension purposes but retains the same job. While that caps their future pension, as long as they remain in DROP -- for at least three years and up to eight -- the monthly pension they otherwise would draw accumulates in an account, along with interest and a portion of their 10 percent of salary contributions.

There are around 200 police and 150 who will hit their maximum DROP time in 2012. The city manager is probably trying to target this group for cuts. The real news though is that neither the fire nor city fire departments have run academies in the last few year. There are no plans to have academies next year. This means no new personnel to fill the entry level ranks as current personnel fill the gaps created when those in DROP retire.

Ohio in general, and Cincinnati in particular, have large metropolitan areas in small counties. You would think this means what the city wants goes but instead it leads to grid lock between the city and county governments. The city of Cincinnati compounds matters by only recently adopting a system where the mayor is directly elected. Previously the city mayor was the city council member who had received the most votes. Everything was done based on consensus, no consensus and the city stalled. The county commissioners can and do ignore the city with great impunity.

What this all means is that the city is left to deal with its budget morass without interruption. I've written before about the trend in other states to move away from many smaller fire and police departments into regional public safety departments. Hamilton county has 40 separate fire and police departments. In theory, these could be combined into regional public safety departments to save money and improve response times. Local politics would prevent this from being a simple process but with the economy unlikely to improve, other options are even less appealing. Reducing the number of firehouses means longer response times. Increasing run times by even a few minutes can mean the difference between saving a house or not. Decreasing the number of police officers means increasing the response time to a call for help. Fewer police and firefighters means more stress for those left as they have to do more work.


Sunday, October 31, 2010

Cargo threat

The news is abuzz about the ink cartridges bombs placed in cargo shipments in London and Dubai bound for synagogs in Chicago. The story illustrates a huge gaps that TSA and other security agencies continue to perpetuate. The TSA in particular focuses all of its manpower and technology on screening passengers while virtually ignoring cargo shipments. When airlines installed lockable cabin doors on their cockpits, the cargo industry was largely exempt. Part of the reason for this imbalance is the sheer volume of cargo. Ask any US Customs inspector working the ports on the East coast. They are lucky if they can stop 10 percent of the total volume of shipping containers for additional searches. The TSA is not equipped nor staffed to start checking cargo airports. But this latest threat does show that we are not as safe as we think, even with passengers removing their shoes.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

European Airlines Say US Security Goes Overboard

The British introduced layered security to their airports a decade or more before we ever heard of Al Qaeda, the Taliban, or Osama Bin Laden. The Provisional Irish Republican Army's (PIRA) fondness for remotely detonated bombs forced British security to adopt new methods of what we now call homeland security. Therefore, I find their comments about our airport security procedures to be especially well founded. It has always seemed superfluous to me to remove shoes and pull laptops out of the luggage. We already are passing through scanners, metal detectors, and ion scanners (used for detecting chemical traces on surfaces). These additional steps really don't add anything to the process except additional time and opportunity for bottle necks whenever someone forgets to remove an item.

The article goes on to point out the biggest grievance I have with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), namely a complete lack of reviewing policies and procedures. Once a new policy or process is implemented, the TSA does not go back and review the efficacy of the new practice. Take removing your shoes as an example. This was done in reaction to Richard Reid's attempt in 2002 to detonate explosives hidden in his shoes. Only the United States requires shoe removal and other than Reid's failed attempt, I cannot find any other instance of an attempt to smuggle explosives in shoes. Of course while we were busy removing our shoes, Abdul Muttalab hid liquid explosives in his underwear. The two cases should have the TSA focused on detecting the chemical signatures and not the means by which they chemicals are being smuggled. While I hate to think of this what if someone figures out how to either swallow a condom filled with one chemical while hiding the other chemical in another body cavity? Sounds far fetched and gross until you realize this is how drug smugglers have been doing it for years.

The basic problem is unlike Europe, which has small countries with only a handful of international airports, we have dozens of international airports with scores of smaller airports. Getting our procedures consistently applied throughout is almost impossible. The TSA needs to seriously re-evaluate what threats they can stop and how best to detect those threats without inconveniencing passengers further. While TSA is busy insuring shoes are removed, how many other transportation nodes are being left vulnerable?


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

NPR receives bomb threat; timing suggests link to Juan Williams firing

The story that just won't die. Juan Williams has been making his opinions known on Fox News and the O'Reily factor for years. The fact he only now got in trouble makes me wonder if the whole thing was more about his $2 million deal with Fox News and not his comments. NPR reacted badly in that this whole fiasco occured during the autumn fund drives for their member stations. I also think NPR grossly miscalculated that amount of negativity that Mr. Williams' firing would generate. NPR was innudated with angry emails and phone calls demanding that they lose federal funding (which is around 2 percent). The GOP were quick to jump on the bandwagon with the elections only a week away. Mr. Williams kept the fans flamed by condemning NPRs actions and calling them censorship. This all made for a good last week but things had already started to quiet down by Friday. Now we have a bomb threat and we get to hear this rehashed all over again. The question that probably is getting obscured though is; what other stories has NPR aired that might have caused someone to want to bomb NPR?


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Why the US has turned against Obama

Michael Barone's piece is a very informative look at the last century or so of American politics through British eyes. The picture that accompanies the article holds though another clue to what may happen in November. Michele Obama has adopted the mantle of fashionista on a mission to take her friends on every junket possible. The media has the false perception that Americans are universally enraptured with fashion. If you walk the streets of Manhattan or Beverly Hills, then such a conclusion may seem valid. But walk down the streets of Cincinnati, St Louis, Pittsburgh, or San Antonio and a different emphasis becomes apparent. Jobs are far more important in these cities than latest fad of some designer. Ohio in particular has lost over 400,000 jobs and I don't see any fashion designer bringing those back to the Buckeye state. The disconnect between people's concern about their welfare and Michele Obama's jet setting lifestyle has caused people to become very dissatisfied with the President. As the press fawns over Mrs. Obama's latest gown, the majority of Americans are dealing with foreclosures and layoffs. While the first lady has nothing to do with policies, she has become the symbol of a government out of touch with the public. Mrs. Obama is her focus on all things Pravda reminds me of that other out of touch lady, Marie Antoinette. Certainly there are many other reasons voters will change the face of both the House and Senate this November but the first lady presents the best symbol.


Monday, October 25, 2010


I find the whole Wikileaks debacle pretty despicable. There are untold amounts of operational military information being put on the web without regard to how many US military, as well as Afghani and Pakistani, personnel are being endangered. That being said, I think Wikileaks is helping to keep the light off of a much more interesting question; how is that much information getting into the hands of Wikileaks in the first place?

In conflicts up to and including Desert Storm, deployed military personnel could only communicate by regular mail and 5 minute phone calls home. Most of this was limited as the time to write a letter or call home was controlled by other factors (such as combat, maintenance, or traveling to the next battle). The war in Afghanistan and Iraq were the first major conflicts of the 21st Century where cell phones, digital cameras and email were de rigueur. Deployed personnel for the first time in history could instantaneously send digital images to anyone with an email address. It was difficult to control the photos, videos and emails coming out of theater. Soldiers (including airmen, Marines, and sailors) started to create blogs about their experiences. The military had little choice but to encourage this free advertisement to keep recruiting numbers up. Facebook took off in 2008 and the US military found shutting down access resulted in outcries from the personnel as well as their families.

Basically social media and 21st Century technology has outstripped the Department of Defense's ability to regulate the information leaving their facilities. Some may ask, couldn't they just shut down access? It has been tried but this also shuts down the ability for military personnel to communicate with their family. In today's society, young people expect to be in touch with friends and family 24/7. Placing them in an restrictive environment not only goes against their expectations, it also is fruitless. Soldiers, Marines, airmen and sailors are taught to be resourceful if nothing else. If there is a server to be connected with, they will figure out how to get there.

The article I linked here at first sounds like just desserts. In his pursuit of all things US military, Mr. Assange has lost his way and his people are quitting. The more interesting story though is how did thousands of documents get sent t Wikileaks without the Department of Defense doing something about? There are some highly paid general officers in charge of cyber that need to be asked how this happened under their watch. We don't need to see Airmen Snuffy being paraded in front of a court martial unless he is standing trial with the senior officers responsible for letting this mess get this out of control.


Saturday, October 23, 2010

Dept Homeland Security Sec Janet Napolitano doesn't volunteer

The DHS public affairs chief should be fired. Setting up this event without thought to how stupid it looks that the Secretary would not volunteer reinforces fears of full body scanners. Of course, it doesn't help when the secretary then goes on to say the following;

"Those who read the images are not actually physically at the gate, so they cannot associate an image with an individual person at all," she said.

"And the machines are set so that no image is retained."

The first statement means there are images that people would be uncomfortable with strangers seeing. The second statement means the machines are capable of retaining the images and some idiot will reset the machines. All of this so we can pretend we are safer from the boogey man.


Friday, October 22, 2010

"Cheese-eating surrender monkeys"

The quote of course is from The Simpsons and refers to the Battle of France. Many unflattering versions of history have the Battle of France as pretty much a surrender to Germany. I can't help but think about that quote as I read about the nationwide strike that is paralyzing the City of Light and the rest of France.

When Americans think of France, they tend to think of an artsy nation full of liberal thinking egalitarians. History tends to show a different side. The huge economic disparity between the monarchy and peasants led to the French revolution, which in-turn gave the world Emperor Napoleon. After ridding themselves of monarchs and despots, the bourgeois settled in to try their hand at running things. The bourgeois begat the Vichy. The bourgeois subjugated much of sub-Saharan Africa. The French did such a wonderful job of persecuting the Muslims of Angola that it is rather surprising that 9/11 happened on American versus French soil. The United States is struggling with how they feel about Muslims (something Juan Williams chose to dive into head first) but we have nothing on the French.

The French worker sees themselves aligned with the peasant class of the revolution but with a sense of privilege. A brief example, an eight hour work day in France includes lunch time. In the US, lunch is not considered part of the 8 hour work day so most Americans work 9 or more hours. Most Americans get a 30 minute lunch break, many get 60 minutes. In France, lunch is much more of a relaxed concept with no set amount time. French workers work less hours than Americans yet they get paid more. The French pension system is much more robust than what the average American can expect. Maintaining such a system though is bankrupting the country. Never mind all of that, the French worker is so entitled that if they feel these privileges threatened, a strike is inevitable. I wonder if Mr. Sarkozy will surrender?

France in turmoil as nationwide strike over pension reform stretches on

Thursday, October 21, 2010

More on full body scanners

The real point is how we've allowed the basic tenet of our legal system, innocent until proven guilt, to be obfuscated by the requirement for increased security. New technologies are employed with only a modicum of support (i.e. full body scanners will prevent liquid explosives from being smuggled on board)/ How many attempts have been made? (answer; only one so far, Abdulmutallab) The public was assured full body scanners were NOT invasive in what was actually viewed by the technicians. It was shortly after the fielding that it was learned knuckle-heads at LaGuardia were able to see female passengers most intimate parts. Furthermore, the system could archive the images. Yes there are terrorists out there who would like to attack Americans but their numbers are few and they are not hiding behind every corner. We must not forsake our civil and legal rights in response to some terrorist "boogeyman".

Pilot Refuses Full-Body Scan, Says TSA Doesn’t Make Travel Safer « CBS New York – News, Sports, Weather, Traffic and the Best of NY

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Big Brother, UK style

Apparently plans are being revived to require a cell phone providers to archive all data records on customers for the past year. The point of this? To allow law enforcement to review anyone (and potentially everyone) that is engaged in suspicious behavior. The British government seems hellbent on pushing security over the rights of their citizens.

Every email and website to be stored - Telegraph

The importance of writing by hand

I started to carrying a Moleskine notebook to jot down thoughts for my writing. I use only cursive writing in my notebook and have noticed my thoughts tend to be better developed and elegant. I read an article a few months ago that showed the notebooks of Mark Twain. He constantly was taking notes representing a turn of phrase or observation that would later inspire some part of his writing. Using a notebook helps keep me on track mentally to get through the myriad of crap required of a program chair. I notice the students in my classroom that take notes do better in class than those that just sit and stare. It is discouraging to watch students to ignore the need to take notes. I also teach a college survival skills course and these first time students have no idea how to take notes. The students don't seem to know what to do with their hands unless it is a keyboard of some kind. One young lady emphatically assured me she can take all of her notes on her phone. Sorry, no dice as we don't know if students are texting or taking notes on their handheld device. The students remain unable to comprehend the importance of using a pen and paper to improve their classroom experience. The article below shows this is not just a Western phenomena, Chinese children are beginning to forget how to form characters (idioms) that represent more than just a single sound.

How writing by hand makes kids smarter - The Week

Monday, October 18, 2010

DHS and DoD joining cyber efforts

Secretary Gates and Secretary Napolitano released a joint statement last week announcing their respective agencies would be combining efforts to better coordinate on cyber warfare. It makes sense given the USAF new Cyber Command and creation of whole new cyber career field. DHS is extremely lacking in the manpower to have any impact on preventing cyber terrorism. What isn't clear is what the Department of Defense gets from working with DHS. The military is focused on enemy forces overseas and in the case of Afghanistan, destroying those forces. DHS looks at protecting the homeland mainly from a law enforcement perspective. I imagine DHS is hoping to have access to all of those DoD and NSA resources to keep eyes on threats overseas. The reverse relationship does pose some concerns for civil rights. Could the Department of Defense gain access to law enforcement information on US citizens? Title 10 of the US Code specifically prohibits the use of military forces on US soil except for specific exceptions including martial law. Intelligence oversight specifically prohibits the use of DoD resources to target US citizens for the purposes of gathering information. By combing the efforts of the two agencies, intelligence oversight could be avoided without specifically violating the law.

DHS: Joint Statement

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Pentagon braced for the release of 400,000 Iraq files on Wikileaks

I wonder how much was leaked by contractors and not the military? There is a lot of stupid shit going on in Iraq and Afghanistan but leaking information to a civilian website is not the way to handle it.

A task force of 120 people has been assembled to assess the potential implications and damage of the disclosure of the documents, which promises to eclipse the recent release of more than 70,000 classified US military files on the Afghanistan war.

Pentagon braced for the release of 400,000 Iraq files on Wikileaks - Telegraph

Saturday, October 16, 2010

BBC News - Merkel says German multicultural society has failed

History is full of examples where multi-culturalism has failed yet the United States continues to pretend it will work. The results have been everything from MS-13 to the rise of ridiculous DHS policies to protect us from "terrorists".

BBC News - Merkel says German multicultural society has failed

Orwell hadn't seen anything yet!

Yasir Afifi, a 20-year-old computer salesman and community college student, took his car in for an oil change earlier this month and his mechanic spotted an odd wire hanging from the undercarriage.
The wire was attached to a strange magnetic device that puzzled Afifi and the mechanic. They freed it from the car and posted images of it online, asking for help in identifying it.
Two days later, FBI agents arrived at Afifi's Santa Clara apartment and demanded the return of their property — a global positioning system tracking device now at the center of a raging legal debate over privacy rights.

Oil change reignites debate over GPS trackers - Yahoo! News

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Espionage at Iranian nuclear facilities

“Iran revealed for the first time Saturday that some personnel at the country's nuclear facilities were lured by promises of money to pass secrets to the West, but that increased security and worker privileges have put a stop to the spying.”

If the reverse were true, the US government would be escalating towards war with Iran. As Iran doesn’t have the massive military complex of the US, they are much more likely to resort to terrorism. Terrorists could either overtly attack the US using conventional means (bombs, hijacked aircraft, small rifle companies) or something like the Stux worm. In either case, the public acknowledgement of espionage in their nuclear facilities means relations between Iran and the West remain tenuous.

Iran acknowledges espionage at nuclear facilities -

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

True cost of cheap food

The United Fruit Company led the way in exploiting Central America. At one time, 90% of the population of Guatemala owned only 10% of the land. The UFC owned the rest of the country. The UFC grew bananas for exports and the local residents weren't allowed to grow crops for their own consumption. Most people in the US have never heard of the UFC. Even those who listen to NPR and buy free trade coffe may not understand the true cost of being able to buy strawberries year round. Exploiting agrarian based economies for our own consumerism will lead to further terrorist groups being formed.

True cost of cheap pineapples in UK supermarkets | Environment | The Guardian

Monday, October 4, 2010

Be very afraid

Hardly a month goes by without someone in authority reminding us to expect another attack imminently. I have lost count of statements from MI5, the police and other experts that an attack is a matter of "not if, but when". The attacks never occur, or are brilliantly thwarted, like the one reportedly prevented this week, apparently by dropping bombs from drones on Pakistani villages. What is noticeable is that the tempo of such threats increases immediately before Christmas and when the security lobby is involved in a fight over money, as now.

Be very afraid – we are being fleeced by purveyors of fear | Simon Jenkins | Comment is free | The Guardian

Sunday, October 3, 2010


According to Webster's dictionary, a mercenary is one who merely serves for wages, especially a soldier hired into foreign service. Mercenaries have been around ever since monarchs contracted out their warfighting. The Hessians hired by the British during the American revolution are perhaps the an example familiar to high school history students. Another example is the French Foreign Legion. Legionnaires are all from foreign nations which gave the French government the option of denying culpability should the legion commit actions deemed illegal, immoral or simply unsavory.

Mercenaries allow governments to immediately summon armed soldiers when needed and forgo the cost of maintaining a large standing military. Sending one's military into an area implies all types of liability issues that can be avoided through the use of mercenaries or what is now commonly referred to as private military institutions (PMI). These "contractors" can be hired by anyone with enough money and can be used to avoid obvious ties with their employer. You can't hide the fact that the 10th Mountain Division or 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit represent the United States. Their presence and actions represent the larger intentions of the United States government. On the other, those the mercenaries represent are far less clear cut. Often it is difficult to determine even which contractor is responsible as the mercenaries direct report may be a sub-contractor from another PMI.

PMIs entice former military personnel with lucrative contracts. In 2004, I met some going into Afghanistan. For 2 years in-country, they would make $200,000 which is quite a supplement to their E-8 retirements. Their are no health benefits for these contractors, no retirement plan and no survivor benefits. If you survive, you get a nice paycheck. Get hurt or killed and you get nothing (to be sure, there is some working compensation benefits for those who get injured but this is a far cry from what military personnel are used to under the DoD system).

It is disconcerting but not really surprising that there are now more private security firms even with the exploits of Blackwater making the news. Even Blackwater is still around, albeit under a new name. The article points out the Secretary Clinton had promised Blackwater (now renamed as "Xe") would be barred from all federal contracts. While I'm no fan of Secretary Clinton, I can't see her being able to keep her promise given the inordinate amount of money that has changed hands between Erik Prince (founder of Blackwater) and the federal government. He just knows too much about where the bodies are buried to be barred from getting additional contracts.

What is perhaps the most concerning of all though is the use of Blackwater and other PMIs during domestic disaster response. Blackwater sent a huge contingent of armed personnel and equipment to Louisiana during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The lucrative disaster relief market is just too good for these contractors to pass up. If you think about it for a moment, it makes some sense. Most of the workers sent to disaster sites are aid workers with little to no military training. The aftermath of a large scale disaster usually means lawlessness, theft, and general chaos. Using soldiers to maintain the peace is fraught with peril. Soldiers shooting or abusing US citizens makes front page news and could lead to bigger problems. Contractors on the other hand can be summarily fired and should the need arise, prosecuted and sent to jail....end of story.

Mercenaries are nothing new and will with us as long as we have some form of government. We just need to be vigilant of their presence and actions.

Exclusive: Blackwater Wins Piece of $10 Billion Mercenary Deal | Danger Room |

Friday, October 1, 2010

Cyber superweapon

The Stuxnet worm, originally set to attack Iran, is now attacking China. In what sounds like something out of a J.J. Abrams production, the malware is designed to attack industrial systems by overriding system safeguards that could lead to catastrophic failures. Boilers could explode, reactors could meltdown, toxic waste could be released into the air or water systems. Stuxnet is able to exploit our desire to manage multiple plants remotely using computer systems and the Internet. Remote access requires connection to the Internet which exposes the systems to malware. This new superweapon malware makes WMDs almost passe. A terrorist group now can turn a country's industrial plants into multiple WMDs. No need to telegraph an attack by stockpiling biological or chemical agents for an attacks. A terrorist group now doesn't risk being discovered based on the telltale signs of stockpiled radioactive material. The military may now be a relic as well since a malware program could do more damage in a few minutes compared to days or weeks for a conventional military attack. A future scenario could be a single terrorist group holding an entire nation hostage by threatening to shutdown all of their factories and power plants.

Stuxnet 'cyber superweapon' moves to China

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Fort Hood reports record number of suicides

These are the reports we are hearing about regarding those soldiers still on active duty. What would be really revealing is how many reservists and former soldiers have committed suicide. I believe this is an issue that has been underreported. Asking military members to deploy multiple times first to Iraq and now Afghanistan is going to create unimaginable neurosis and or psychosis. Wake-up people, these are your loved ones that are having to deal with demons far more real than anything Stephen King has invented.

Fort Hood reports record number of suicides - Military News | News From Afghanistan, Iraq And Around The World - Military Times

TSA: Secure Flight Program

Historically, the best terrorists are the ones without prior records. Even when the terrorists have had prior records, the US government has been spectacular in their inability to recognize the threat. In continuing with throwing more good money after bad, Secretary Napolitano announces:

Secure Flight is a behind the scenes program that enhances the security of domestic and international commercial air travel through the use of improved watch list matching. By collecting additional passenger data, it will improve the travel experience for all airline passengers, including those who have been misidentified in the past.

TSA: Secure Flight Program

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

10,000 TSA employees get secret clearances

John Pistole, the new head of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), views his agency a counterrorism agency. "Counterterrorism" implies actions both taken to prevent and in response to terrorist actions. In some cases, counterrorism means killing the terrorist before they can act. What is really interesting is how checking people's toiletries is sufficient justification for granting 10,000 security clearances. It costs around $50,000 per background check and each individual needs an updated check every 5 years. All so they can throw out your tootpaste or shampoo.

10,000 TSA employees get secret clearances - Yahoo! News

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Media and Politics

Christine O'Donnell has gone from underdog with no chance of winning, to GOP anathema, to witch and now embezzler. I have no idea of Ms. O'Donnell's platform other than Tea Part conservative. The media has made her into a national frenzy and given the Democrats a new Sarah Palin to bash and the Republicans more evidence they won't have the walk in the park imagined in November. To me, this story truly illustrates why our leadership is so ineffective. You can't have ever done anything for it will be "spun" by the media and political opponets into much to do about nothing. In Ohio, the best our incumbet governor has been able to fire at his Republican opponent is "can we trust him?". That's it, stupid sound bytes pass for political discourse?

O'Donnell embezzlement accusation called 'frivolous' - Washington Times

Monday, September 20, 2010

State's homeland security chief goes in hiding

Ah the plot thickens. When I first read this story and posted link, I thought Mr. Powers had merely proposed one of those ideas that sounds good in your head but does not survive its first exposure the rest of the universe. Now we find out that he went a little bit further signing a no-bid contract. I don't know what the laws are in Pennsylvania but I suspect government agencies are required to have a competitive bid process for all of their large contracts (which usually means anything over $5,000). He did this in response to 5 or 10 incidents against the petroleum industry in Pennsylvania. Would it not have been more appropriate to work with local FBI offices and state law enforcement? The ominous sounding Institute of Terrorism Research and Response has offices in Pennsylvania and Israel? According to their website, ITRR is an American and Israeli nonprofit corporation created to help organizations succeed and prosper; assisting organizations that refuse to surrender their domestic or international operations to terrorism. Mr. Powers is a retired Army colonel who was in Special Forces. He more than most should have been leery of working with an organization with international ties that is proposing to look into the records of US citizens.

State's homeland security chief goes in hiding

Sunday, September 19, 2010


The U.S. Air Force is rediscovering any 19th Century mountain man already knew, only carry what you need and make those things you carry versatile. For the rest of us, the study should serve as a reminder to have our emergency kits be as light as possible without sacrificing utility. Space age materials are good but sometimes keeping it old school is best. A GPS is great as long as you have power but empires conquered the world using only a compass. A $500 survival knife may be less versatile than a $30 hatchet.

The Escapist : News : U.S. Air Force Wants Soldiers to Be Like Batman

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Protesters put on terror list

What is the price for security? It is a slippery slope between protesters and terrorists. It is becoming easier to classify disagreements or protests as security threats. It is also discouraging to see how easily this happened and none of the homeland security personnel questioned this action. The road to hell is paved with good intentions and people just doing their jobs.

Lawsuit planned after protesters put on terror list - Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Japanese cigarette anti-smoking tax

Being half Asian, I have an appreciation for role of cigarettes in Asian countries. Smoking isn't just de rigueur throughout the Pacific rim, it is almost in our DNA. I'm still not certain why I didn't develop the habit. I share that bit of introspection to show how ridiculous the Japanese have become. They now are trying to same failed experiment the Canadians tried in the 90s to curb smoking. Raise the taxes!

The problem is erroneously thought the price of cigarettes encourages smoking. As I pointed out earlier, it is a cultural thing and has nothing to do with price. Most of your friends and relatives smoke, so the likelihood you will also smoke is high. What the Japanese are doing is simply giving the Yakuza another market share in black market cigarettes. As I've posted before, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) found 100% of the cigarette packages found in a hockey stadium were black market.

Smoking can only be stopped through people learning to give up the habit. Raising taxes is only going to create a black market and put more money into the hands of the Yakuza.

Japanese panic buy cigarettes ahead of anti-smoking tax rise - Telegraph