“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

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.