“May have been the losing side. Still not convinced it was the wrong one.”

"This report is maybe 12-years-old. Parliament buried it, and it stayed buried till River dug it up. This is what they feared she knew. And they were right to fear because there's a whole universe of folk who are gonna know it, too. They're gonna see it. Somebody has to speak for these people. You all got on this boat for different reasons, but you all come to the same place. So now I'm asking more of you than I have before. Maybe all. Sure as I know anything I know this, they will try again. Maybe on another world, maybe on this very ground swept clean. A year from now, 10, they'll swing back to the belief that they can make people . . . better. And I do not hold to that. So no more running. I aim to misbehave." ~ Captain Malcom Reynolds

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Veteran's Day 2015

Today I say thank you.

- To the ones who went before me, setting the standard we still strive to uphold, and giving me a country where I may be free.

- To the ones who served beside me. Some of you taught and led me, some of you got dirty and tired along with me, and I had the privilege and honor to lead some of you. I wouldn't give up those years no matter what the cost.

- To those serving today, at home and far away, continuing a tradition of sacrifice, courage and honor over two centuries in the making.

Every veteran matters. No matter what your job, time of service, gender, role or anything else, each of you gave something of yourselves so that others could be safe.

Be proud my brothers and sisters. You have earned it.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Unexpected results

I caught a murderer once.

It wasn't part of any long-term investigation.

I wasn't responding to a call, or chasing someone down, or anything like that.

I stopped a car for a simple traffic violation one night, and the passenger wasn't wearing a seatbelt. Getting his information for the ticket he gave me a fake name, which led me to investigate further. Ended up he had just committed a gang-related killing a couple of days prior and was wanted for it. So, off to jail we went.

I'm relating this story not as anything exceptional on my part; rather, this is an example of what happens every day around the nation. Serious criminals are arrested as a result of routine traffic stops and taken off the streets.

This is relevant, because we seem to be going through another cycle in the press and in public opinion regarding police behavior during traffic stops. That we need to "let people go," or "not push things further" when we run into people on these encounters; because "it's only a traffic violation."

But, the point is, if we don't investigate things further, many times we would miss out on such criminals. Which means the community would be less safe, and that we wouldn't be doing the jobs you entrust us with. Because until you finish looking at things, even if sometimes it's just trusting your gut to investigate further, you never know. Walking up to the car that night I had no idea that one of the occupants was a killer.

"Routine" traffic stops get killers off the streets. They interdict drugs which ruin our communities. They recover stolen property, find wanted people, and do all the other things that society expects of police. Because, in America, almost everyone is in a car at some point, and so it's our most frequent location to encounter criminals.

Now, it is also our most frequent encounter with normal, law-abiding citizens - and this is vital too. I'm not in any way justifying police excesses on traffic stops, or saying they should be without rules and norms. And, for 99% of the officers encountering the public during these events, it is a polite (even if unwelcome) event which is quickly resolved.

But don't miss the possible importance of these stops. Don't ask society to take away this tool which ultimately makes everyone safer.

Oh - one more example. Timothy McVeigh - the worst American terrorist in history. Stopped after the Oklahoma City bombing for a license plate violation by an alert officer.

Food for thought.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Ten Years Ago Today - We Remember

On June 28, 2005 one of the worst days in the history of Naval Special Warfare occurred, with the loss of eleven SEALs and eight Army aviators during Operation Redwing in Afghanistan. This is the event which was later memorialized in the book Lone Survivor by Marcus Luttrell, and the follow-on movie.

LT Michael P. Murphy29Part of 4-Man SEAL team, killed in an ambushPatchogue, New York
SO2 Matthew Axelson29Cupertino, California[42]
SO2 Danny Dietz25Littleton, Colorado[42]
SOC Jacques J. Fontan36Killed aboard the helicopter when it was shot downNew Orleans, Louisiana
SOCS Daniel R. Healy36Exeter, New Hampshire
LCDR Erik S. Kristensen33San Diego, California
SO1 Jeffery A. Lucas33Corbett, Oregon
LT Michael M. McGreevy, Jr.30Portville, New York
SO2 James E. Suh28Deerfield Beach, Florida
SO1 Jeffrey S. Taylor30Midway, West Virginia
SO2 Shane E. Patton22Boulder City, Nevada

SSG Shamus O. Goare29Killed aboard the helicopter when it was shot downDanville, Ohio
CWO3 Corey J. Goodnature35Clarks Grove, Minnesota.
SGT Kip A. Jacoby21Pompano Beach, Florida
SFC Marcus V. Muralles33Shelbyville, Indiana
MSG James W. Ponder III36Franklin, Tennessee
MAJ Stephen C. Reich34Washington Depot, Connecticut.
SFC Michael L. Russell31Stafford, Virginia
CWO4 Chris J. Scherkenbach

One of these men, Jeff Lucas, was a friend and former classmate of mine. The others all left behind their own friends, families and loved ones. All of them are a reminder of the sacrifices made by our warriors over the years to defend us at home, and to bring liberty to those abroad.

This wall is in the living space occupied by these men before their deaths - since this day other NSW members deploying to the area have added their own words.

Rest in peace warriors. Ten years on and you are not forgotten.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Best Web Browsers?

I've been running Chrome for a couple of years now - I like the cross-platform commonality of things. But, it's become a bit of a resource hog I've noticed, and several of the changes in system function (such as bookmarks) are a bit frustrating.

So what is everyone else using for browsers these days?

Monday, May 25, 2015

Remember the meaning of the day

Please - don't thank a veteran today.

That's not what it's for.

Today is the day we remember and honor those men and women who have given their lives in service to this country, to the ideals of freedom and equality, to the concept of something greater than themselves. Whether in war or peace, volunteer or draftee, they stepped forward and sacrificed everything so that we may live in the nation we do.

Instead, thank the families who lost sons and daughters, husbands and wives, parents and grandparents, brothers and sisters. Take a moment to remember the loss they will forever face because of these brave men and women.

Understand why some of us may be a little bit quieter than normal today, why we don't view it as an opportunity to go shop for discounts or celebrate with a cookout. Why instead we take moments to reflect on those we left behind.

Most importantly, take a moment to honor and remember those men and women who from 1776 until today, here at home and in lands far away, of every race, creed and religion, have died believing and serving the simple words "... all men are created equal."

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Whither Iraq?

Before I get to my post, I will preface with a few comments to keep in mind:

-- #1 I spent 22 months of my life in, around, over and under Iraq. I have personal friends who died in Ramadi during the past decade (not to mention other spots in the Babylonian lands). I've taken fire, tasted blood, and everything else you want to imagine in the desert sands alongside 4000+ years of conflict in the region. So if you want to question my "investment" in this topic you can pack sand for a week.

-- #2 I'm not here to criticize the current administration's actions, prior administrations going back 4 decades which got us in this mess, or any of the other stuff. Plenty of other people have killed that horse already. While this president got us to this point, it was a cumulative process involving a failure to understand cultures and plan for the future.

-- #3 Unlike the talking heads on the television, I have a better than passing knowledge of Middle Eastern, Arab, and Persian cultures, Islam, modern warfare and insurgency, and the related issues. And, the biggest failure of government, the media, and the general population is a failure to understand how these elements are shaping events as a whole in the region - how they perfectly explain "why" the Iraqi people didn't rush headlong into democracy given the opportunity, or how so many quickly pulled out old grudges and axes to grind as soon as the adult supervision left the room.

   So, where do we go?

   Because we are at a crossroads (or better yet, an interchange) as a nation on this one.

   This weekend the provincial capital of Ramadi fell under ISIS control, vast numbers of Iraqi government soldiers and officials fleeing the city, and things generally going to hell in the proverbial handbasket. This, of course, follows the debacles at Mosul last year, the gains in Syria and Iraq by the group, the lack of a coordinated, comprehensive, or even cogent plan by the United States and other nations to deal with the issue, and a general display of circling toilet water if there ever was one.

   Depending on which media source you visit the spin is varied, but on all of them the U.S. administration admits this is a significant setback in terms of military operations in the region.

   And to be honest it caused me some difficulty - to see the area we had fought so hard for, turning an insurgency around and proving that it could be done. Leaving a city in relative peace, able to function, determining their own destiny. These are the things that made the losses worth it. To go from a place where people were afraid to go outside to one where children could play in the streets again. To see not just our country, but the world as a whole abandon them because it's not politically expedient to do more than drop a few bombs and do a news clip.

   Originally that had me ready to rant about our national resolve, our will to win, and our failure to back up our promises to the nations and peoples we help around the world.

   But then I had to think. And I'm rather torn.

   Yes, those things are important. There are other factors at play though.

   Keep in mind that this isn't our first rodeo in the Mesopotamian area - and that before us the Brits, the Ottomans and others throughout history had a go of things as well. And, the Iraqi culture remains at heart a loose collection of tribal groups, combined with the millennium old Shia/Sunni conflicts. Also remember we have spent over a decade training, equipping and supposedly preparing the Iraqi military to conduct their own operations and maintain their own nation. All of these factors combine to influence how things are shaping out now, as well as the directions likely in the near future.

   But I see us with three basic options.

   #1 - we step in with an overwhelming military presence, pound ISIS into submission, and establish some form of collaborative protectorate with the Iraqi populace until the region has achieved at least some form of stability where we can withdraw. For an example look at how quickly we were able to leave Europe to it's own defense after World War Two, the self-sufficiency of the South Koreans against aggression in their peninsula, and the continued presence of NATO troops to maintain stability in the Balkans after their "year long" deployment in the 1990s. Not only that, there is doubtless a vast group of potential future jihadis who would leap upon any large scale or long term US presence as an excuse to ramp things up even more in battling the Crusaders.

   #2 - things continue as they are. We don't commit militarily to an unpopular conflict, we keep the troops at home, and we use air power, drones and other remote means in an attempt to keep ISIS from overwhelming the Iraqi forces. Let our advisors and a coalition attempt to limit the conflict as much as possible, and concentrate on more important domestic and international issues.

   or, #3 - write it off. We've been involved in one form or another in Iraq for over two decades, with no appreciable change in stability, no return on our investment of thousands of lives, and if anything a situation potentially worse for the region than it was in 1985. As a whole the Iraqi people seem little interested in moving beyond tribal and sectarian violence as a means to resolve issues and settle old grudges, the security apparatus remains mired in corruption and incompetence, and there is little realistic hope of self-determination fixing things. Be done with it, in terms of money, resources, and most importantly the lives of our men and women. Let them fight it out - if it crosses the borders smack them down, but until then to hell with the whole mess. Sit back, handle our own affairs, and wait until some form of cogent Iraqi government of whatever flavor is ready to interact with the rest of the world.

   As much as it pains me to say it, I vote for number three. We've given it more than a good faith effort. I don't in any way think our interventions to stop Saddam's WMD programs and defiance of UN sanctions was a mistake, and we certainly did everything we could to help the Iraqi people have an opportunity to move forward. But, just like you can't force an addict to quit, you can't make a nation or a region stable and secure simply through external will. Until the desire of the population overwhelms the will of those with the guns and the money, Iraq isn't going to change. And, unless we are deciding as a nation that it's time to get into the empire-building game, it's time to cut our losses. Not because we can't win - if any nation can, we have the capability. It's that we have moved past the point where it is worth the investment to do so.

   I hate saying it, in ways I couldn't even explain. But I can't see a better option.

Monday, May 18, 2015

A link for a good cause

   While we have made great strides with the awareness and treatment of veterans suffering from PTSD in the past decade (although there is still a ways to go), unfortunately we lag in other areas. In particular, the help available for families is woefully limited - especially when it comes to the children of our men and women who have served. It's hard enough for a veteran to learn to accept the changes in who they are because of war, to figure out who they are now and how to deal with life. How do you explain to a child why their parent doesn't handle the stress they way they always should? How little things can set them off at the wrong time? The issues with crowds, or traffic, or loud noises, or the thousand other things which are hard enough to explain to an adult? Most importantly, how do you help the child understand that these things are not their fault, that the problems dad or mom have are caused by something in the past, and that families can learn to get through them together?

   Army veteran Seth Kastle faced these challenges in his own life with his daughters, following tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. As a result of his experiences he wrote and published a book called "Why is Dad So Mad?" I was privileged enough to be able to take my own children to hear him speak the past weekend (at an event sponsored by the Wounded Warrior Project), and to hear him read his book for the kids present. Impressively, he also took the time to answer not just the questions some of the adults had, but he took the time to answer every child's question, to interact with all of them, and to remind them that they mattered. He also made sure to provide each family with a copy of the book at no charge. To say I was touched by the generosity of Mr. Kastle and the Wounded Warrior Project was an understatement.

   The book is well written, age appropriate, and does a great job for any pre-teens of helping to explain just a little what is going on. Additionally he has a version for moms coming out this year for female veterans in need.

   So - please consider supporting Mr. Kastle if you know anyone who may benefit from this. Let's do what we can to help the families just like we try to our veterans.

   *NOTE* - I am receiving no compensation or benefit from these links. While Mr. Kastle and the Wounded Warrior Project provided a copy of his book for my children, they had no knowledge or connection with this blog post in any way. I am doing this purely as a means of spreading awareness about a cause I support. Thank you.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

More callout fun

I'm not sure if I found it more curious that tonight's callout involved a live grenade that a homeowner dug out of her suburban garden...

Or that her husband felt it was appropriate to put it in their garbage can (naturally, full of other trash as well) before calling us...

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Long but worth reading

Former police officer David Klinger moved on to the mental health profession following law enforcement and a shooting incident he was involved in. He recently completed a study examining the effects and attitudes of officers who are involved in deadly force incidents. The results were different than he expected, and I personally think both his summary and the whole study are worth examining. Particularly given some of the recent press and public perceptions regarding deadly force and police behaviors things like this are important for citizens to understand and for us to discuss as a society.

I'll withhold my commentary for now so as not to drive your perceptions, but I hope you find the articles informative.

"What I Learned After I Killed a Criminal"

"Police Responses to Officer Involved Shootings"

Friday, May 8, 2015

It's a good thing we aren't accountable for our ancestors...

While waiting for the school bus this morning I got into a conversation with my daughter which ended up in a discussion about how people in the modern world are much more mobile than even just a hundred years ago - travel, migrations etc.; and thus the diversity of people and backgrounds in her class. To include citing examples of life in differing areas "back then." When she then piped up "And one of our ancestors traveled on the ocean stealing things!"

This stems from the fact that on the maternal side there is a famous pirate in the family bloodline, something the kids do get amused about at times.

It was then explained to her that well yes, that's true... but she also had ancestors who lived in the hills of Scotland stealing sheep.

And others in the high Rockies who were plundering the Navajo for horses and brides.

Which then led to me going "Umm and while stealing is wrong, apparently there's a lot of it in our background kiddo..."

Monday, April 27, 2015


Now, I'm not a lawyer, but if I was a business in Baltimore that was facing disruption, or worse had been burned, looted or otherwise damaged by the current riots, I would be preparing my lawsuit against the mayor right about now:

On Saturday, as protests continued to turn ugly, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake confirmed that the protesters were being given “space” to “destroy.”
“I worked with the police and instructed them to do everything that they could to make sure that the protesters were able to exercise their right to free speech,” the mayor said. "It’s a very delicate balancing act because while we tried to make sure that they were protected from the cars and the other things that were going on, we also gave those who wished to destroy space to do that as well.”

Because right about there you've lined yourself up for all the negligence and culpability you need in a civil suit...

Saturday, April 18, 2015

The Kids These Days

Ever since the first hoplite looked at the second and said "You know, it was harder when I joined," (if not earlier) there has been a military tradition of "These days they're soft, don't have to go through what we did," and the like.

Well, this past week I spent teaching a class that was about 80% military bomb techs and 20% civilian side. The youngest military guy was 19 and the oldest was in his thirties - and all of them have been "doing the job" long after I passed any torch I even remotely held on to.

And, I got to watch them closely, share bits of knowledge, evaluate their skills and all of that other stuff.

Ladies and gentlemen - your men and women in uniform are exceptional, and I say that without reservation. Yet again I saw a collection of young professionals who knew their job, who took it seriously, who had great questions, who were motivated to get the job done, and who did nothing but impress me. You can be proud beyond measure of the people who have volunteered to defend your country, and I am honored to have even the slightest role in hopefully helping to make them better. If this represents the caliber of the modern military, particularly with all the budget issues and such, then I am amazed at what they have done.

Thank them and respect them if you get the chance. They've earned it.

Friday, April 17, 2015

How my life has changed

So I'm wrapping up a work trip tonight. Teaching for a .gov agency the past week, out of town with the hotel room, per diem and all that stuff. It's been a productive trip not only in terms of accomplishing the work stuff, but hanging out with guys with a similar experience set, sharing jokes with folks "in the club" and networking for future opportunities. And now it's the last night before heading home.

Which means at one time in the past I'd be spending tonight in a local establishment, socializing and sampling the libations, until I reached a point of "I need to crash now if I'm going to be functional to drive home tomorrow." Hanging out til the single digits with comrades in arms and sharing laughter and tales.

Instead, it's 10:30 in my hotel room, and I'm wondering how soon I feel like crashing. I have my own beer, music, and nothing else. Because I'm at my saturation point for humanity this week, and I can use the time to chill.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

This is why I advocate body cameras for officers

I hate to come in and second guess people, to Monday-morning quarterback the guy on the street as it were.

But this is a bad shoot. There is no other way to describe it.

I wasn't there. I won't presume to guess what was in either man's mind which led him to make the choices which led to that fateful moment. I don't know if it was a matter of race, of power, of poor decision making, or what.

It was absolutely, unequivocally wrong. There is absolutely no way I can look at this as an officer, as a firearms instructor, or as a human, and remotely justify this shooting.

The only remotely decent thing I can see is that the local jurisdiction immediately moved to charge the officer, and that he has been terminated.

Please don't turn this into a referendum on national actions. Please don't paint us all with the man's brush. I don't know why he did what he did, but I cannot in any way excuse his actions, and I am glad he is being held accountable.

And thankfully we are in a society which openly exposes this act, as opposed to hiding it, or worse, condoning it.

A well done approach for warriors in the world

Monday, April 6, 2015

Things I try to keep in mind raising my own children

People like this are the ones who came before us. And it gives me far more hope that my daughter may grow to such strengths in her own ways...

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Saturday, February 28, 2015

I'm afraid it's over

Look winter. You gave it a good run, really. But now you’re just being clingly, sticking around and things are getting… awkward…
It’s not your fault, I’m just ready to move on. 
Thanks for trying - but I’m afraid I’m going to have to end this and find someone warmer, less snowy, and with longer days. 
Hopefully you can understand. 
*me totally done with this season*

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Please Read and Consider

Twenty Two.

I want you to remember that number, we're going to come back to it.

Over the past couple of years you all have graciously put up with some of my discussions regarding the issues facing our military veterans. Things like post traumatic stress. Traumatic brain injuries. Social acceptance and re-integration. A plethora of things which our society, our Veteran's Administration and our own warrior culture make difficult, if not life-altering for those who have served their nation overseas. Particularly given the stigma such labels bring - whether the issues of society, medical and legal judgements regarding one's stability and safety in the community at large; or the (often more demanding) internal group pressures to "suck it up," "put it behind you," and all the other things which makes it hard for men and women to accept these problems, much less seek help for them.

And, with overseas conflicts continuing to involve our troops for a second decade, as well as an unstable international environment, there is no end in sight - which only means more people who have chosen to serve will have to face these issues in one way or another.

Twenty Two.

Multiply it by thirty = sixty six.

By 365 = 8030.

You see "Twenty Two" is important to me, and to a growing number of other people.

Twenty Two is the number of veterans, each and every day, who commit suicide in this nation.

That's the number of men and women who, for whatever reason, decide that the pain is too much, that there are no other options, and that the easiest way out is to end their own life. Leaving their loved ones, their friends, their comrades in arms to deal with the aftermath. Making a final choice to kill themselves rather than to struggle on.

I want to give you a number for comparison. 6133. That's the TOTAL US casualties from 2001-2014 in Afghanistan and Iraq combined for military troops.

We lose more men and women every year to suicide than we have in over a decade of combat. Think about that.

Twenty Two people a day.

Which brings us to my request today.

As I said, a growing number of veteran's organizations, families, and other groups are trying to combat this. Attempting to fill the gaps which the VA can't reach, and to cross the bridge through peer support in hopes that a shared bond can help some of these people find hope instead of losing it all.

One of these is #Mission22. The group came of out certain special operations units but is rapidly growing beyond that. Their mission is particularly to address the stigmas involving PTSD, TBI and veteran suicides, and to help our brothers and sisters.

As part of this they are holding a raffle as a fundraiser. The goal is to raise $20,000 by May and they are already halfway there. 

Winning prizes include a custom, hand-built 1911 pistol as well as a host of other items.

Tickets are $5 each.

Here's what I'm asking - go to the site.

Sign up for at least one ticket. But I'm asking something more.

Between ticket(s) and donations, give the group at least $22 dollars. However you choose to split it. To remember why we are doing this, the Twenty Two lives that ended today.

I need a custom .45 like I need a third arm, but I'm doing it. $22 is less than it costs to take my family through the drive-thru for lunch, and it's a much worthier cause.

In fact, I promise this - should, by some chance, I win - I'll auction the package off and donate every cent back to #Mission22. Sworn and promised here publicly.

If you can all afford it I beg you to donate as you can. Forward this as well, spread the message to those who can also help.

Let's push them over the top in ways they never imagined. Let's drive this mission forward and help these men and women find some peace.

Those Twenty Two deserve it.

Peter Grant is an Evil Man

Oh sure, he's a nice guy... generous, intelligent, author, ordained, all that stuff. We like reading his stuff, talking with him, and heck even take advice at times.

But don't be fooled.

The man is EVIL. I know this from experience.

Our evidence?

Well, a month or so back, good old Peter took himself a road trip with his wife to visit some fellow bloggers. During which he casually mentioned picking up a jar of moonshine cherries during the trip and his enjoyment thereof.

How does this make him bad?

Well, last week I was on a work trip through the same part of the country with one of my Federal counterparts. As we passed a sign advertising a local moonshine distributor (legal sort TYVM), we both expressed an interest in trying some out, as apparently we'd both never been exposed. And, remembering Peter's words, I figured "What's the worst that could happen?"

After talking with the very knowledgeable and helpful lady who owned the store we made our purchases - I picked up a jar of the aforementioned cherries, and a bottle of a smokey moonshine I was told would be a good starting point for someone who enjoyed single malt scotches, sipping tequila and the like. Whereupon we drove home, recovered from the trip, and I have now had a chance to sample each.

The cherries? I probably wouldn't enjoy them straight, but one or two on top of a warm brownie, or with some ice cream? Yum!

The smokey moonshine? It will clear your sinuses and is a great sipping drink (IN MODERATION!!!) on the record cold nights we've had lately. Definitely something I'm glad I tried but oh boy it has some kick.

I blame you Peter, and I'm calling you out publicly on it. Now I have to remember where I bought this stuff and make a return trip. You lured me with your words, and I hold you responsible sir!

Monday, February 2, 2015

Bless His Heart

We recently got a new supervisor over our section. Just due to the nature of things, we don't have any supervisors in the agency with bomb experience, so it's nothing new - but he is smart enough to know what he doesn't know. I have a good relationship with him from work in other areas, so the past month has seen frequent questions in emails or stops at the office as to how my unit would handle certain situations, what some of our procedures and equipment are, and the like. All part of helping share my knowledge with the department and part of the job.

Now, one of the expectations of my job position is that you answer the phone. I get a lot of freedom to come and go, or use time off when needed, or to do all sorts of other stuff - but. you. answer. the. phone. when. the. boss. calls. Particularly as bomb calls and tactical events tend to be rather tense and time-critical it's certainly a fair expectation. So the family and I are well-versed in the fact that my phone may ring at odd moments, and I will shift gears to answer it and prepare for whatever may come next.

Tonight was one of those times. We were in the post-dinner bath and bed cycle for the munchkins when he called & I answered. It started out with a "so if you had a situation involving such-and-such, and you ran into this type of device, what would you do?" - letting me figure out pretty quickly that it wasn't a "get dressed and run out the door" moment as I started to get a few more details so as to answer him properly. From the way the conversation was going I wasn't sure if this was a possible training scenario he was discussing, or something that had happened elsewhere he wanted more info on. But we worked through what he wanted to know in a few minutes as I walked him through the decision tree I'd use.

Then, he just got me to shaking my head... because he closed it up by saying "Thanks, I was just watching this show on TV, and they didn't do any of that and I wondered why."

Bless his heart, really, because I do appreciate that he wants to learn my side of things - so that when I am asking for stuff, or telling him what I am doing on a call, at least he has a grasp of why. But, you may reasonably presume that any "bomb squad actions" you see on television or in the movies are relatively distanced from reality, at least to the point that you don't need to call me at eight at night for an explanation...

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Something to Ponder

Still fighting the crud here, but made it into work today and then court. Which gave me an observation I want to bring up for group discussion.

Today was one of the traffic dockets for this particular courtroom - three days a week, two sessions in the morning, three courtrooms. Just to give you some background. For statistics sake I'd say probably averages out to about 100-150 individual defendants per docket total, so call it 500 traffic cases per week for the jurisdiction just for a round number. Relatively typical for an area of this size.

I only had some minor stuff I was there for, so I got a lot of time to watch other officers testify as well as various defendants. Which gets us started on this post as a whole.

Today (I counted) in this one courtroom I saw ten people appear before the judge with a charge of driving on a suspended license or without a license for the fifth time or greater - meaning they had been convicted of doing the same thing in the past ten years at least four times prior.  In this state Driving on a Suspended License or With No Operator's License (2nd offense or greater) is a misdemeanor offense in this state, punishable by a fine of up to $1200 and up to a year in jail; the average fine being about $250-$500 and 5-30 days in jail depending on the offense number (with 5 days being a mandatory minimum). I've never seen a person get more than 3 months for Driving Suspended in my career but that's just me. Also, given the way such things work, you can expect a defendant to serve about half the actual time with good behavior and all that. Again, playing with our statistics I would call this a more or less average day for our community, so we can figure a good 50+ people a week showing up just for continuing to drive without a license.

So here's our dilemma.

On the one hand, we have a group of people who have shown a consistent willingness to flaunt the law. Despite numerous prior encounters for each individual, punishments including incarceration periods and significant fines, and very clear instructions from the courts that they are not permitted to drive, they continue to do so. They are ignoring the dictates of the judicial system, legislature, and society in general in terms of obeying the established rules of behavior. Instead, these people have more or less said "the rules don't apply to me and I'll do what I want despite the potential consequences."

On the other hand. here we have a (in general) victimless crime - none of the people I saw today was there because of an accident or someone else hurt by their driving. In fact, really the only people being hurt by these continued offenses (beyond the court system dealing with it) are the individuals themselves - many are now burdened by hundreds if not thousands in overdue fines and penalties, and have no realistic chance of paying these down or otherwise obtaining valid licenses. And, we live in a country in which the vast majority of places have no real effective public transportation system, thus making driving a necessity in order to work and survive.

What's the solution?

I mean, any one of us would argue that someone convicted of multiple homicides or assaults, someone who had faced numerous DUI convictions or the like, or any other recidivist repeat offender should face strict punishments and harsh penalties for such disregard. That one of the faults with our current society is the lack of consequences for actions, and that we need to be harsher on crime as a whole in order to fix things.

But for this? Is putting someone further into a hole they already can't get out of going to fix anything? Do we really need to be putting people in prolonged jail sentences for simply driving?

So I'd like a discussion - because I don't have an answer. More of the same obviously isn't the answer. And perhaps this can extrapolate into other areas that need fixing.

Oversight and Balance

Schneier has an excellent article here regarding oversight and accountability in intelligence, politics, law enforcement and the like.

As many have pointed out - when considering surveillance programs, laws, anti-terrorism measures or whatever, always consider the potential abuses if your worst foes had that power & then ask yourself if that's still an ability you want your government to have...

I laughed

Monday, January 19, 2015

In lieu of my own work

Fighting the death crud this weekend, which has led to some great sleep but not much else in terms of productivity or lucid thoughts.

So I want to provide some brief analysis regarding recent Islamic State actions in the Middle East:

Saudi general killed by ISIS.

ISIS Has Killed an Iranian General in Iraq.

John Robb has some initial analysis regarding the Saudi implications of the attack, most of which I agree with. The end goal of ISIS in terms of their Caliphate will certainly include the acquisition and control of sites such as Mecca should it become possible - not only for the legitimacy it grants their rule, but in terms of satisfying their own internal religious justifications. As to the current strength of the Saudi military and internal regime it is a tough call - they are certainly no paper tiger, however the regime has a significant internal weakness in both military and political standing, as has been demonstrated by numerous attacks over the years. However I am not sure this extends to the point of large-scale desertions in case of an invasion or other external threat. Also, I find the linkage to the Paris attacks one much more of coincidence than strategy.

Similarly, the Iranian implications are far from surprising. ISIS is Sunni-based, and has extensively persecuted Shia Muslims throughout their conquests. Meanwhile, Iran has a long history of promoting Shia interests and growth - so the two groups coming into conflict is rather inevitable. In this situation there are important elements on either side. To ISIS's strength the Shia are generally a minority in the regions they control, and there is a long history of Sunni persecution. Additionally it provides a local output to direct members anger and urges towards, and thus more immediate results than a nebulous Western target. On the other hand Iran has forty years of growing influence in the Lebanese and western Syrian Shia communities, which potentially puts ISIS pinned between two fronts in terms of open conflict.

The most important shared element of these two events is that it shows ISIS has grown beyond a simple insurgency confined to one region of Iraq and Syria. Rather, they have developed an intelligence collection and analysis ability (as demonstrated by the successful assassination missions), the ability to operate beyond the areas under their control, and long term planning. Many violent conflicts stall or fail when they become mired in localized goals and actions, in the desire to strike at any foe anywhere as opposed to strategic endeavors which support a more significant overall plan.

Similarly, this shows that at some level ISIS has a core leadership and functioning planning group - these acts are not typical of organizations led through a single cult of personality figure, but rather reflect the ability to direct resources and plan for the future. This is similarly reflected in the skill of the media marketing and information dissemination of the group.

All in all this reflects the growing strength of ISIS in the region, and that the group will continue to pose a threat unless significant military action is brought to bear upon them - an event which is both politically and logistically unlikely in the near future.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

It's a small world...

As part of work this week I got to spend some time at a TV series set in a contingency mode, just standing by while they worked with special effects. Nothing exciting came out of it, and I certainly don't have any famous encounters or anything to share from it - but that's not the point.

Instead, I told you that story to tell you this one...

One of the set crew ended up being a former Army SOF guy. We picked each other out of the crowd pretty quickly, started figuring out who we might know from each other's services, and before too long were sharing stories about similar experiences in similar places over the years. It was rather amusing and a nice break from some of the daily routine around here lately.

I just found it funny, as it made my wife laugh yet again at the ability I seem to have for this to occur. For being a relatively anti-social person, I seem to have an ability to run into these situations more than not. She's reached the point when I discuss being on a work trip or at some event and running into someone that I know or who has a common background all she says is "Well of course you did."

Now if I only could get some of these folks to live closer so I had people to talk with...

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Yet again the blood-dimmed tide is loosed...

It is hard to find words at a time like this. To properly discuss what has happened without things being colored by my own experiences, thoughts and beliefs on this event and others. Because so much of what I could say does nothing to honor the victims as they deserve.

What is sadder is that within months this will fade into nothingness - another of those events which happened "back then." That someone stumbling upon this post five years from now is likely to have to search to remember what particularized this attack from any of the others over the years. And when does it end?

I remember several discussions I've had with my wife and others over the past decade regarding radical Islam and our current war against terror. I recall expressing concerns over team mates who would wear "Crusader" patches or make other comments about a religious basis to the conflict; my fears that such activities only served to inflame rhetoric and provide opportunities for propaganda making this a religious war. Not saying that we were wrong in fighting those who attacked our nation and threatened the peace - but turning it into a crusade is the last thing the world needs.

Over the past few months things have made me wonder though. Not as to my root thoughts - I still feel that we (as the Western nations more or less) certainly do not need to turn this into a religious crusade. Rather, it is the grudging conclusion that for radical Islam not only is this a religious war, with no possibilities of compromise or peace - and unfortunately, that barring a radical change in the "mainstream" Muslim world, there is little opposition to these goals.

And unfortunately it seems the majority of the West has accepted appeasement. That "peace in our time" is more important than accepting facts. That political correctness and an unprecedented wish to avoid offending one particular group trumps the rights, beliefs and very existence of the rest.

I'm not writing this as a religious message, or as an anti-Islamic rant - it is anything but. While it sounds trite, I have friends who are Muslim, I have spent prolonged periods in Islamic communities, and I hold nothing but respect for the centuries of history, culture, art, learning and everything else which have developed in the Islamic world. But these accomplishments are being overwhelmed by the fundamentalists, the Wahabbists, and the radical traditionalists who have chosen to spread the faith by blood and fear, and who hold no concept of co-existence.

There are voices against the hate. Irshad Manji.  Egypt's President al-Sisi. But I wonder if they are enough to turn the tide, to change a culture which thrives on hate and teach it peace?

I wish I had the answer. I wish I had some article of faith, or some belief in humanity, which would tell me the way to solve this. But I don't. Too many years of fighting this very foe have colored my views. Too many days of reading about yet another atrocity which is somehow our fault for not understanding, for not respecting, or is simply ignored by the masses.

So for now, I wonder. I wait. And I hope that the world as a whole, instead of marking this off as just another act of terror, maybe sees it as an opportunity to stand firm as one for the rights of all.

I spend a lot of time here honoring or commenting on my fellow warriors - on looking at those who go into battle against evil and face those risks.

But today people died who were warriors in a different way. They didn't carry guns. They didn't face combat. They didn't live some Spartan existence or gird themselves for battle to secure the freedoms of the world.

They fought against tyranny with the pen and with words and ideas. They argued their ideals from offices and coffee shops and late night discussions.

And today, they died for it - just as much as if they were in a war zone.

And they deserve to be honored for it.

Rest in peace. You died for your ideals and your willingness to stand up to fear and evil and darkness. May we always remember the price of these rights you fought for.