Saturday, June 27, 2015

OPM Gives Edward Snowden a Pass...

As much as I hate the villainous traitor to our country, Edward Snowden, as described in my blog June 2013 blog, “American Hero, Idiot, or Traitor”, I hate the data breach at the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) even more.  It’s easy to hate a person, such as Snowden, but difficult to hate an institution.  Can you really just say we hate the head of OPM, Katherine Archuleta, fire her and call it good? Was it the head of OPM that violated the sacred trust with the entire corps of Government employees?  Yes, she should go.  She should resign.  But, that is a far cry from making it good. There is something else to blame and something so more insidious that the aftermath of this issue will resonate for the next 40 or 50 years.  Then entire government work force will have to essentially age out before the data obtained in the SF 86 of every government employee ages out of it’s usefulness to the foreign government that now unlawfully owns this information.  I can imagine the celebration that is now going on in said Country. Goodness can you imagine the hacker who brought that package home?  They are true National Heroes in their Country...Back here in the US,  perhaps, we would call that particular Dark Visitor, public enemy number one.  If we can track who did it, maybe we can pursue them directly, and individually, as we do all cyber criminals, but within their Country, they are heroes.  No doubt if I met that particular hacker or hackers I would have to shake their hand, as if just being defeated in a game of chess, and say, well done! At least they had to work for it.  The scumbag Edward Snowden, on the other hand, gave it away.

But I get ahead of my rant today…to fully understand the ramifications of this information you have to start at the beginning...for me that would be 1987, when I entered the USAF, when I was first finger printed, and when I first penned the details of my life onto a Government form, thus entering the collective of US Federal employees and surrendering any autonomy of life, perhaps confessing a life on the Lamb, if I would to later choose a life of crime, would be difficult.  I was in the system.  Big brother now had my facts...these days they also have plenty of mugshots and of course scans of my retina.  DNA is soon to follow.  Little did I know, back in 1987, I would also be surrendering these details to another Country.  I’ve lived a relatively tame life, so I’m not really saying my SF-86 is full of lurid details of a secretive life worthy of any blackmail, unless the addresses of places I’ve lived and the people I’ve known are sufficiently worthy of a Hollywood Blockbuster, but, there are things, like my mother’s maiden name, dates of birth, etc, that could be used by an industrious hacker, such as those of “We Are Anonymous” fame, to hack most of my web accounts.  This data, used in social engineering, is also how websites secure our logins with “Challenge Questions”.  The city of your first elementary school for example.  I can change all that though, as well as to begin using technology, such as 2-Step Verification, on all my email and other accounts.  Most financial institutions have already instituted some version of 2-Step verification already, so don’t get too wrapped around the axle.  But definitely change your passwords and your challenge questions if you are in doubt.  But this blog is not about enhancing your security moving forward...it’s about trust.  The trust we must have to put our data in the hands of a third party.  As we do every time we swipe a credit card at Target, every time we punch in the pin for our cash card at 7/11, and as it turns out, every time we give the Federal government our Personally Identifiable Information, or PII.  For years, as Federal employees we are trained on the correct handling of PII.  A social security number (SSN) being the most readily identifiable piece of PII.  Seems like only yesterday I had my SSN printed on the tops of my checks, for convenience, because when you wrote a check at the store, if it wasn’t already on the top of the check, you would hand them your drivers licence and they would hard scribe it on top of the check anyway.  The vast numbers of people writing their SSN’s on the top of their checks is what gave us safety.  We hid in the mass of numbers out there in the public.  Yes the bad guy, could pull a check from a drawer, and try to write a couple of bad checks with your info, but the probability of that happening to you personally, was one in many millions.

For several years now, it’s been clear to me, that Google, was perhaps a better place to hide.  Hide plain sight.  Hide among the trillions of bits of information surging through cyber space.  The USAF, of which I’m most familiar, instituted a different technique.  Consolidate all the information and secure it behind layers of security. Just like OPM, except without the layers of security. The key word here is consolidate.  Whenever you consolidate, you create a more valuable target.  If you want to hide, disperse.  It’s the opposite of trying to defend everywhere.  The immortal words of Frederick the Great, “He who defends everywhere defends nothing”,  is turned on it’s head.  An attacker is only interested in what’s behind the defense...if you defend nothing, nothing, perhaps is of interest. But as we learned in Pearl Harbor, if you pack everything in, it’s easy to wipe out.  Nobody is calling this data breach at OPM the cyber Pearl Harbor we’ve been long awaiting, but isn’t it?  Didn’t they just wipe out the usefulness of preserving the privacy of 18 million government employees.  We never believed, that a cyber Pearl Harbor, amounted to large dramatic explosions.  But we did think that a cyber Pearl Harbor would wipe out Wall Street for instance, in which “markets will crash crash, financial empires will crumble crumble”, stealing the best lines from the movie Hudson Hawk...that hasn’t happened exactly in one dramatic event, but hasn’t as Pearl Harbor of sorts just occurred?

To me it’s time for a change….but first we must return to Edward Snowden.  Snowden, as are all government employee who have security clearances, give up their privacy so they are trusted with national secrets.  We give up our privacy and are granted trust and a paycheck to have access to the Nation's secrets.  The Nation, thus is presented with our personal secrets which they should also protect.  And they do try...right?  We sit through PII training on an annual basis. But after OPM,  should we be protecting PII any longer?  It doesn’t make much sense for me to protect my PII much anymore...just like I was unafraid to put my SSN on the top of my check, maybe I should now put it on a billboard, as the folks at LifeLock would have me do.  Well, we've all been on the hook to protect PII, and we pussy foot around, not emailing SSN or making lists, with various people at different levels of comfort, and having to endure the annual refresher training...meanwhile, the entire organization responsible betrays the fundamental trust with us...they pull us through the keyhole while the basic rules don't apply to them...are there folks out there, government employees who have gotten in trouble, gotten fired perhaps, been made scapegoats for compromising PII? And all the while it's been a sham?  Government employees have been held to a higher standard with regard to protecting PII than our counterparts in the citizenry...they also take an oath upon employment...and feel...beyond doubt (or as I have) that if we are trusted to protect the government's secrets, the government is compelled to protect our secrets...so beyond the breach of contract for which we could rightly end our employment, moving forward,  anyone who compromises anything, including security at this point, has a case that there is no longer a contract, the contract has been breached, and thus we are no longer bound to keep our Nation’s secrets, secret...since they don’t protect ours.  And with felons like Edward Snowden out there...how long before he makes a similar argument.  No doubt Edward Snowden's SF-86 was in the stack that was breached...does he now have a legal case against the US?  As class action lawsuit, to which we are now all party, at least 18 million of us, including Edward Snowden.  Perhaps the remaining 300 million have a suite as well, because, isn’t the entirety of  the US now less secure if the security of every employee of the United States Government has been compromised.   What Edward Snowden did to us pales in comparison to the breach of contract with our Government and certainly, in my mind, gives him some breathing room.

As much as I think Edward Snowden is a traitor to our country, I no longer think we can  hunt him down, prosecute him, and if found guilty, execute him for his war crimes.  OPM may have just  handed him his pardon...his ticket to a long life...and he will be smugly rejoicing from his hovel deep inside Russia. Nevertheless, if  I were in the room with him, I would still beat the smug off his face with an American made baseball bat, carved out of northern White Ash, and leave him lying half dead and bleeding on his cheap linoleum tiled floor.  Then I would throw his SF-86, stapled in the corner, dog eared, and with his updated contact information, his address in Russia,  and signed in pen, on top of him, and tell him he's excused...

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Salinger, Caulfield, and Depression in Teenagers

Long before JD Salinger stormed the beaches of Normandy during WWII, engaged in the interrogation of prisoners, and subsequently checked himself into a mental health clinic in Nuremberg, one thing is clear, he had been kicked out of boarding school many years prior to the PTSD he is believed to have been afflicted with during his wartime experiences.  I would say it is certain that he had PTSD after the war. Most of us would too if we had been in the landing crafts at Normandy.   But most of us, perhaps, were not kicked out of boarding school.   It’s clear that Holden Caulfield was kicked out of school, several times.  I get it, if JD Salinger had PTSD, then Holden Caulfield must have PTSD...he’s attributing his symptoms to Holden, after the fact.  All true, except Salinger truly was kicked out of boarding school long before the war.  I believe Salinger was not attributing his post WWII symptoms to Holden, he was, in fact, attributing his prewar symptoms, the symptoms of depression and possibly bipolar disorder, which would, quicken the effects of anxiety and PTSD upon him when exposed to the trauma of war.

I just picked up the NY Times best selling biography on Salinger.  It’s a long book and it will take me awhile to get through it...if I decide I want to finish it...I probably will not.  As with everything Salinger, it’s an unauthorized biography.  It’s  based on the public record of interviews with the man, and interviews with friends of the man.  How reliable can it be?  The book is close to 600 pages long and there isn’t  a single mention of the word “depression” in the whole of JD Salinger’s life.  In fact, depression is a hard word to find in any detailed decomposition of either Salinger or writings about his works. 

After I read “The Catcher in the Rye” for the very first time, in the summer of 2013, I wrote the a book review and posted in on Amazon. I just finished reading the book cover to cover for a second time and I stand by my original assessment.  Holden Caulfield isn't crazy...he’s depressed.  Do you know how I know?  He says he’s depressed, sad, blue, or feels alone no less than 70 times in the scant 200 pages that comprise the novel.  Are we, as a society, over the last 60 years in complete denial about the existence of clinical depression?  This is a bitter pill that is difficult for me to swallow.  So I keep searching.    

Last year I uncovered a book within the Social Issues in Literature series.  This book called, “Depression in JD Salinger's, The Catcher in the Rye” was a beacon of hope for me that, whereas society didn't notice Holden’s condition, the mental health professionals in our society have.  Wrong again.  Of the many essays contained within this compilation of professional writings, the contributors seemed more preoccupied with things such as;  he (Holden) is searching for love, he is searching for a father, he is depressed by his own failings, he suffers from unresolved sexual conflict, he is unable to cope with an adult world, he is dealing with angst of adolescence, and his problems are because he is a communist.  No wonder JD Salinger dropped out of society.  Society was not ready to handle what he brilliantly captured within the psyche of his beloved character. Holden is a kid who, quite like Salinger himself, must be clinically depressed.  65 million readers  have missed this over the past 60 years. Now, in 2015, this is an unforgivable oversight.  We are talking about teenage depression and the subsequent risk of teenage suicide.

OK, back the the 600 page tome on Salinger's life.  There’s a chapter in his biography where Salinger visits a publisher and then went storming out of the office because, in his words, “They think Holden is crazy”.  Well, mental illness means many things to many people, but I can tell you for sure, depression, is not viewed by the depressed as crazy. They know they are viewed as crazy at times, but they don’t think they are.   For them depression is real, it is all encompassing, it is terrifying, but it is not crazy.  To call them crazy is to deepen their depression.  Holden Caulfield was not crazy.  He was depressed.  His depression scared him and contributed to his high level of anxiety and his further descent into despair.  And the entire situation leads to his suicidal ideations during the story, including his desire to disappear, and more importantly, to catch children as they unwittingly flirt with death alongside a cliff as they play in the rye grass.  Just in case there is continued doubt in what I am saying, the words reflecting anxiety appear no less than 40 times in Catcher. Further, terms like die and disappear, terms that should not be mistaken for suicidal references these days, appear over 20 times.

Society has missed the forest for the trees. And, as I mentioned in my book review, we have missed an opportunity to fully understand adolescent depression in order to have more meaningful conversations with our kids.  Not only is it our job to catch the symptoms of depression and the potential for suicide, so clearly delivered by Salinger, we must also acknowledge that there is even a darker side to individuals suffering from these mental illnesses.

The three most high profile acts of violence with a direct link to “The Catcher in the Rye” were, Mark David Chapman, who killed John Lennon.  John Hinckley, who shot President Reagan, and Robert Bardo, who shot and killed the actress, Samantha Smith.  It’s documented that they all struggled with depression.  Hmmm... that’s no surprise.  But do we honestly believe they fell under the charismatic spell of Holden Caulfied’s rebellious side?  Or is in more believable that they saw in Holden, their own tortured mind’s as they themselves struggled with same demons of depression?

The stigma of mental illness and depression continue to make this conversation difficult.  WIth regard to teenagers, without a doubt, students who suffer more with these illnesses are more likely to slip through the cracks.  Some may just disappear from the campus, some may tragically disappear from life. Some could reappear more violently.

Near the end of “The Catcher in the Rye” Salinger gives us a quote by Wilhelm Stekel a Freudian Psychoanalyst. The quote, which is given to Holden by one of his teachers, Mr. Antolini says “The mark of the immature man is that he wants to die nobly for a cause, while the mark of the mature man is that he wants to live humbly for one…” Most of society believes that the first part of that quote is the one that applies to Holden. In reality, in the context of where Holden and Salinger both cross paths in their psychology, Salinger is the one who want’s to live humbly for a cause, through Holden. Salinger is compelling all of us to become catchers in the rye and to save kids, like him, from the scourge of depression as he personally experienced it. In 1951, society wasn't ready for his message. I hope, in 2015, we finally can open our eyes to what he is saying.







Monday, July 14, 2014

Slim Jimmy

I got to work this morning and promptly proceeded to lock my keys in the car. What kills me is that I couldn’t find my car keys yesterday so I grabbed my spare set  knowing the other ones would turn up. Well this morning they did turn up. As I was locking the house on the way to work I threw my keys into my computer bag and immediately noticed the other set of keys was inside. I immediately thought, “Oh crap, Rule Number 1, never keep your primary and spare keys in the same place”. Well, lazy me, I reasoned no way today’s the day I do something stupid.

Well, guess what? Sure as Sunday I locked my computer bag in my car. It’s so hard to lock your keys in the car these days. Cars are a lot smarter than they used to be. You really have to work at it. And work at it I did. OK...what do you do when you’ve locked both sets of keys, your wallet, and your cell phone all in your car? I stood around for 30 minutes waiting for the security police to drive by and help me out. No such luck...they must be busy on a Monday morning. Well, as it turns out, I thought I locked my badges in the car as well, but I had them in my pocket. OK, at least I can go into work and sit at my computer and try to figure this all out. 

So in I go. I called the security police immediately. I asked them if they carry “Slim Jims” in their vehicles. Nope, came their reply, too much liability for us. I think he was lying. I’m pretty sure “Slim Jims” are standard issue, in case a cop finds a child or a dog locked in a hot car. But maybe not. Anyhow, the officer on the other end of the phone gave me the number for Al’s Towing. They would be able to open my car, but it would cost me $80 bucks. Well...at least I knew what the minimum damage would be. I wonder if those guys research how much it would cost to replace a driver’s side window? Aside from the time and the mess that the broken glass would make, at least the window on my car goes for about $84 bucks. That’s way too close to be a coincidence. I wasn’t ready to drop the coin yet. I figured, surely, someone at the office, one of the car enthusiasts I knew, must carry a “Slim Jim” in their tool kit. I called around. No such luck. One guy was like, yeah, I’ve been meaning to get one but I just haven’t. Then I did a search on Slim Jims, just to see what one actually costs. So starts my lesson for the day. 

If you haven’t seen the movie “Gone in 60 Seconds” starring Nicholas Cage and Angelina Jolie, I have to point out that a Slim Jim is not the beef jerky that comes as a snack meat stick wrapped in plastic...well, yes, those are Slim Jim’s too, but those are not the ones favored by car thieves. The ones car thieves used are long slender pieces of metal that they use to slide into a car door to pop the lock...that’s not called Jimmying a lock, but I’m not sure why. Jimmying a lock requires the use of a crow bar. I’m not sure why everything surrounding B&E or grand theft auto is referred to with my name...but that’s another story altogether. Any way, I’m not sure it’s even legal to own a Slim Jim in Virginia. Doesn’t matter, I couldn’t find one on short notice. So I started to search the web. (I just looked it up and it turns out that possession of a Slim Jim in Virginia could be used as evidence of criminal intent) A couple of the websites I visited were blocked by the office. Was that because the Slim Jim appeared on a “shady website”? I don’t know, but at least a number of tools came up for sale. A basic model sells for about $19.99. But then you can buy an entire kit, at least six different shapes and sizes for around $100 bucks. No thank you, I just need one working Slim Jim. Then I got a hit on a website that intrigued me. It was a do it yourself video on how to fabricate a Slim Jim. Really, are they that easy to make?  I pulled up the page and looked at some of the pictures describing what they were talking about. 

A Slim Jim is really just a long thin piece of spring steel with a notch cut at one end and a handle at the other. If I could find a long thin piece of steel or plastic at the office, I thought, I might be in business. But how would I cut the notch? I figure if I found the steel first, I could figure out how to cut the notch. The DIY website said it was possible to open a car, between the door and the window, with a coat hanger, but generally speaking it was too hard to control. The spring steel is the right way to do it. So I dismissed the coat hanger idea and went in search of office spring steel. Anybody know where to find spring steel in the office? Well, here is the secret, and I bet you have a Slim Jim sitting in your desk right beside you. Everyone of the green Pendaflex hanging folders in your desk drawer have two pieces of spring steel in the top of them. They are what makes the hanging folder able to hang. I immediately ripped one out of the standard 8 ½ by 11 hanging folder and judged the 12 inch length to be too short. But what about a legal sized hanging folder? It took another 60 seconds before I located a stash of the longer folders. 14 inches still looked short, but with my small car, maybe it was sufficient. When I had the longer piece separated from the folder I stared at the notch that has already been cut into the spring steel. It’s already there. No need to do more. Maybe some tape around the opposite end to use as a handle. I was in business. 

First I called the security police and told them I’d be out trying to break into my car. They didn’t seem too concerned. Then I grabbed a friend (not Angelina) and immediately went out to my car to give it a try. I wanted a witness there in case the cops decided I was trying to break into a car. Of course that’s exactly what I was trying to do. But the witness, could at least back up my story. So I inserted the slender device between the glass and the rubber seal on the door side and slide it into the interior of the door. I could move it easily and felt around for what might be the linkages for the door lock. I couldn’t feel anything. I immediately I determined that even 14 inches was too short in this case. 

But also knowing there is just about an unlimited supply of hanging folders back in the office I went back to see if I could lengthen my common office supply Slim Jim by connecting two of them together. This turned out to be very easy. I overlaid them about three inches and taped them together with masking tape. I didn’t even seek out the high durability and multi-purpose duct tape. Then I wrapped masking tape around the handle until it made a nice size ball that was easy to hold on to. I grabbed my friend who was doing a few web searches on my car door to find a schematic and we headed back to the parking lot. He said the schematic shows the rod we are looking for is pretty much right below the door lock so he located the point on the car door we were looking for and I placed the longer Slim Jim between the glass and the door and pushed in down. Oh, yeah, based on the schematic I bent the spring steel a little toward the inside of the car and kept the hook towards the back of the car. I poked around for about five seconds and my friend said right there, he could see the door lock jiggling. So I moved the Slim Jim back to that area and moved it back and forth until he saw the lock jiggle again. When he said it was jiggling I pulled up on the Slim Jim. I pulled up with very little force… The lock popped right open...as light as a feather. And I was in. 

The whole break-in took less than a minute. I’m fairly certain that with a little knowledge and a good Slim Jim, entering the car is the easy part. So let’s say 10 seconds. To be gone in 60 seconds, you would also have to hot wire it. Maybe that’s for another time. But for now, here is a picture of my homemade Slim Jim...which is no longer in my possession....if you just happen to be in Virginia law enforcement and are reading this blog.  But just remember, who doesn't have about 100 Pendaflex folders and a roll of masking tape at their desk?







Saturday, June 28, 2014

I Believe

The World Cup means many things to many people, and by many, I do mean many, billions in fact.  But for each culture, the World Cup means something different, as different as the languages we speak or the style of soccer that we play.  Here in the United States, quite certainly the largest Country with the largest apathy per capita when it comes to soccer, we have our own meaning.  Team USA is through to the knockout stage, a spectacular achievement on it’s own, but far from overwhelming from a whole country perspective.  We didn’t get there by winning, we got there by not losing.  It’s not the American way to achieve something based on not losing.  However, all that changes in exactly three days.  Take for example the fact that in order to win the World Cup, the winning team will need to win the next four games.  Not tie...win.  Arguably the four toughest games of their lives...coming off the back of three games that were also some of the toughest of their lives.  In order for the US to lose to Germany, 0-1, the US had to leave it all on the field. Do they have anything left in the tank, to win one more game?  Just one more, of the toughest game in their life, to advance, to the next toughest game of their life.  It’s simply no surprise that in order to win the World Cup the teams that prevail have to have deep reserves, it’s not enough just to Believe...or is it?  Which brings me to the point of my blog today...do you believe?

Many USA Fan’s have posted that they “Believe”.  I don’t want to be one of the un-American jackasses who don’t believe.  Not believing in our team would be, well, un-American.  So I believe.  But what is it exactly that I believe.  I don't believe in the Easter Bunny.  But I do believe in Santa Claus.  I don’t believe Landon Donovan should have been left at home, but I do believe that Jurgen Klinsmann is a gift of world class to our country in the coaching department.  I don’t believe that we have a recognizable style of US Soccer, except perhaps for throwing games away in the final seconds, but I do believe Tim Howard is one of the best in the business.  I don’t believe our Country gives a rats ass, about soccer, but I do believe if we start to win those who go to Church on Easter, will come out of the woods and start cheering the team on, even if they don’t understand the off-sides call, or how a 0-0 draw can sometimes be the most exciting game ever played.  So I believe in something...but it’s not a spiritual belief in the Cinderella story, rags to riches, particularly because it’s hard to say anything we do in US Soccer, started by scrubbing kitchen floors for our evil step mother... but I digress.

Santa Claus showed up at this World Cup...in the form of Portugal.  We were given the dumb luck to find ourselves in the group stage with Germany, Ghana, and Portugal.  We were favored to go out at the bottom of the group.  However instead we were this close (image of a thumb and a forefinger holding a red hair between them) from winning the group, or at least qualifying first for the knockout round.  Now what? Klinsmann says, “Now we get to work”.  He believes in something.  But I’m not sure it’s belief in going all the way...as he’s already gone on the record with regard to our chances of going all the way.   Let me restate, to go all the way means we have to win the next four games.  We’ve won one of the last three games...and each game we hung on by the skin of our teeth...to whatever we achieved, win, tie, loss.  Yet there still is this, “I believe” button that must be pressed even though the odds are overwhelmingly stacked against us.  Why then must we believe? To understand let’s take a little flight of fancy...for those of us in the soccer minority in our Country.

On July 14th, 2014, the front page headlines in every US Newspaper in the United States reads, “USA Wins World Cup in Brazil”.  Just writing that sends a shiver down my spine and I have goose pimples rippling across my body. I must emphasize that that headline doesn't read that way for the majority of the world’s population in their entire lifetime.  There are only a few countries in the world that could ever conceivable hope for such a headline...those who have seen it before, Brazil, Germany, Argentina, Italy, and...those who have been close...very close...so close they could taste it...Brazil, Germany, Argentina, Italy, and we can now add, France, maybe England but not really, and the bridesmaid of them all, the Netherlands. If the Netherlands win this year do you think they will declare a National Holiday?  However, the real question is what do we, as the USA, bring to the World Cup and should we believe we have a realistic place in the Parthenon (Pantheon) of Soccer Gods/Greatness.

The answer is simply, yes.  We have the resources to be the most dominant force in world soccer that any country has ever developed (athletes, money, coaching, management) There are simply too few of us who don’t believe.  And that is the attitude that must be overcome.  To say we don’t have a soccer culture in this country is to discount the millions of kids who do play soccer, and the mom’s and dad’s who take them to soccer practice every weekend.  It is also to discount the fact that US Women’s soccer has ascended to the Parthenon/Pantheon of Soccer Greatness...but that hasn't produced enough momentum  to carry men’s soccer or the entire US mentally on soccer forward.  It has helped.  Indeed we have discounted for decades that we have been the country where great soccer players come to die.  Through the 70’s with players like Pele, Cruyff, Best, and Beckenbauer and now the MLS with the stars like  Matthaus, Beckham, and Henry leading to the the several hundred internationals who now play in our league.  And MLS is growing...it’s growing strong...with patience we will get very good pro league.

When we arrive...we will be there to stay. On any given Sunday, we can stay with the best in the business.  The World Cup, however, is not any given Sunday.  In Europe, their league play is tied to the World Cup.  Their professional seasons end at a peak just before they go through a mock World Cup in the European Championship every other four years, with the real World Cup coming up in between.  Soccer in other Countries have two other great differences, the way their professional leagues compete, with relegation.  And of course their development systems, where if you play soccer, it’s year round, not seasonal.  I’m not saying we have to change these systems in the US, we don’t.  We just have to be more willing to support our younger players going overseas...and gaining the international experience among the best.  And we have to accept that MLS is simply a lesser league.  Nothing wrong with that...just like the  Eredivisie in the Netherlands has to accept that although they have the greatest school and soccer system in the world, they are not the EPL, La Liga, Serie A, or the Bundesliga...and never will be.

So let’s get ready for Belgium.  There is no doubt the next eight World Cup games will be some of the best soccer ever.  And let’s make no bones about it.  I believe.  But what I believe isn’t that we could prevail in Brazil...what I believe...is that US Soccer should be, in my lifetime, a team that could take a bite of the apple...and stay to play...very few countries could do so. This is not our year...this year the Netherlands can glimpse it...but Germany, Brazil, and Argentina, will be there to beat the sense back into them.  It’s going to take a world power to compete with these world powers...to me, it’s up to the US to break into this tiny fraternity.  I simply don’t see any other country capable.  But I do see, “THE US WINS THE WORLD CUP” in my lifetime.  Since I turn fifty this year that gives me about ten more tournaments to see it through. That's what I believe.

Monday, June 2, 2014

A USAF in 2064?

Award winning Futuristic Design by Georgia Tech Student
Recently two intellectuals who study military affairs put forth a suggestion that the USAF has served 70 years as a separate military department with very little gain for our country other than to fuel a bitter inter-service rivalry that has left us financially strapped and worse off than had the leadership of our nation’s air forces been left in the hands of the Department of the Army.  They argue that the time has come to “Ground the Air Force” in the case of Robert Farley who published an article in Foreign Affairs and has recently published a book entitled “Grounded, the Case for the Abolition of the Air Force”.  And in the case of Robert Carroll, who writes for the Boston Globe, an Op Ed piece entitled “Abolish the Air Force”.   Many have come to the defense of the Air Force, including the article “Why the Nation Needs an Independent Air Force” written by a multi-service collaboration of colonels led by Col Scott Campbell from the United States Marine Corps.  Many have also spoken up in comments and commentary to agree with the Carroll and Farley point of view.  For those who disagree that our country has been better served by a separate Department of the Air Force I ask you to consider not whether  our country will be better off next year but rather whether our country will be better off with an independent Air Force in 2064.

Carroll and Farley do not seem to be living in this future but rather seem to be living 70 years in the past. They are bringing up the same debates that were outlined by air power visionaries such as Billy Mitchell and Hap Arnold who were already living far into the future during their own time.  In some respect they were further advanced in their thinking 70 years ago than Carroll and Farley are today.   Ultimately, back in 1947, the vision of a separate service carried the day and with it the single largest change to our War Department.   Why the bitterness from that victory still… seven decades later…is by far a greater impediment to the efficiency of our Department of Defense then arguments over the budget.   It’s time for the losers of this debate to move on.  It’s unfathomable to think that we are currently worse off with the USAF we have today rather than had the air forces remained with the Army.  I contend that same trend will continue well into the future.  So outlining the reasons our country will be better postured by having a separate Air Force in 2064 serves a higher purpose then arguing with a couple of sour grapes.

First, air power isn’t going anywhere.  Carroll and Farley both argue that we need the air, so much so that every service has its own “air force”.  The same argument that gives us an air force within every service, and the coast guard, as well as the intelligence community essentially means that everyone already recognizes the critical role air power plays in almost every conceivable mission. Will we ever go to war without command of the air? Will we ever engage in any endeavor without support from above?

Second, the USAF as a military department does not fight our wars.   The people and equipment from the Air Force do.  The USAF as a separate service exists to organize, train, and equip our forces (the people and equipment) to fight in the air.  These forces are provided to a joint force combatant commander when it’s time to fight a war.  Any argument with regard to which service wins that war with what capability is moot.  To believe we don’t fight jointly is to simply have no understanding of joint doctrine and the way military force is employed.  The real debate then is which of the military services has a larger share of the defense budget to organize, train, and purchase the systems of war.  This debate does not occur on the battlefield.  It is wholly contained inside the walls of the Pentagon.    The early arguments about the successes of strategic bombing, for instance, are immaterial.  The issue is whether or not we need an organizational construct to see about the procurement and fielding of strategic bombing forces.  That’s a national strategy and national policy issue that is far above the USAF.   In the same vein we will maintain the readiness of a strategic nuclear deterrent until such a time when the country decides nuclear war is a thing of the past.   If Carroll and Farley had their heads screwed on straight they would argue a case for eliminating the nation’s interest in strategic bombing not the elimination of the Air Force.   Win that debate first…and then we can talk about the Air Force as an independent service vested with the requirement to develop a strategic bombing capability.  The same goes for every other mission the USAF performs that goes unmentioned in their articles.  Many of these additional missions are covered in the Campbell article, but many more missions go unnoticed to include mobility forces, space forces, C2ISR forces, air superiority forces, air defense forces, special operations forces, and of course the recent arrival of cyber forces.  Do we need these forces ready and available for our combatant commanders?  Of course we do, as well as many others.

How then should we organize to ensure the proper emphasis is placed on the fielding of these capabilities, training the men and women to operate these systems, and how do we establish the proper doctrine, CONOPS, and tactics for their use?  Is it reasonable to place an expert on ground warfare in charge of the development of the next generation air to air missile, for instance?  Is it reasonable to require an expert of surface or subsurface warfare to have the responsibly for building the C-17.  Both make as much sense as putting an American Football coach in charge of an English Premier League Soccer team (And American Football Coach in London).   They speak completely different languages.

 The argument therefore is simple.  Is there enough that is unique about the air to warrant an organizational construct to place emphasis on the acquisition and operation of these systems to the peril of not placing special emphasis on this critical domain?  Is fighting in the air different from fighting on the ground and different from fighting on or below the sea?  Of course it is.  The domain is as unique as is the earth, sea, and sky.

In recent years USAF made a mistake by trying to claim unbalanced superiority in the burgeoning cyber domain over the other services as well as the whole of industry.  Maybe the Air Force had an earlier role in the development of cyber systems a few years ago…but no longer and certainly not into the future.  Industry and the technical advances we see every day in information technology are far more advanced then we could ever hope to develop inside the DoD let alone the Air Force.  There are just too many people working in this industry.  The DoD is just one of millions of customers for this explosion in technology…yes we have to harness it…but we will not be creating it.  

In a similar fashion the USAF might make a claim that they own the space domain.  This claim is in fact a far more substantial one.  So much so that rising space advocates such as Elon Musk have set the Air Force in their cross-hairs because of the strong hold the Air Force wields over the space community at large.  This is no accident.  The Air Force owns the foundation upon which United States Space Force might one day launch, no pun intended.  The USAF has been the primary driving force in space since the very beginnings of space exploration.  The role the USAF has played in space has far and away been the capability for which the USAF has received the least credit.  Manned space exploration, being unclassified, has received far greater publicity and praise.   It was more public and had a greater sex appeal than developing a communications satellite for instance. The Air Force, however, has spent untold billions on the development of all space capabilities and the world is a much better place due to these investments.  Communications, weather, and remote earth sensing to name some of early victories in space the USAF had the most direct hand in creating.   Today, one needs look no further than the Global Positioning System (GPS).  When alien life forms are visiting the earth and observe our GPS constellation, they will not think of GPS as serving the precision delivery of munitions, but rather the service the USAF provides for all of mankind.   There is simply no other capability, in any other service, in any other country’s service, and in any other corporation that has provided so much too so many users for so little.  GPS is crowning jewel for the USAF in space.  Stepping away from space however, the USAF is replete with capability they fielded to dominate the air domain during times of war that have  also grown into ubiquitous technology from which all of humanity has benefited.  Those contributions are even less proclaimed.  Those key technologies will continue to be corner stone’s of research and development efforts spear headed by the USAF well into the future and must continue.  Undoing the Department of the Air Force’s lead in these areas would be as intelligent as changing the formula for Coca-Cola.

As I run through this list of technologies one should ask what would a United States Air Force look like in fifty years and will the Air Force continue to lead in these technology areas?

Stealth Technology:  With the possible exception of a few car enthusiasts who purchase absorbing aprons for the front of their sports car to evade police radar, there is no commercial market for radar absorbing material (RAM).  The USAF has led in the world in the development of radar evading structures and materials such as RAM for decades.  The gap between our knowledge and the knowledge of others regarding stealth technology is still huge and it will take billions of dollars of investment from other countries in order to match our technological advantage in this area.  In fifty years aircraft will have to evade not only radar but also optical and infra-red sensors as well.  Aircraft disrupt the atmosphere as they fly.  Sensors that can detect small changes and other disturbances in the atmosphere will no doubt exist.  To remain as undetectable as possible new materials and other technologies will have to be developed.   The USAF has cared about this technology more than any other service.

Jet Propulsion Technology:  There is a huge market for jet engine technology.  The commercial sector will continue to invest in high efficiency jet engines to transport travelers faster and with less fuel costs.  In addition, new jet engines will have to conform to new environmental protocols at the same time.  The Air Force will benefit from the industrial footprint in place from this commercial interest in jet engine technology; however, the high performance engines required to propel current and future military aircraft will always be someone different from their commercial counterparts.  Military jets will always have to fly higher, faster, and farther with less susceptibility to detection.  Scram jets for high altitude hyper-sonic flight and engines capable of sustained supersonic flight in the lower atmosphere do not tend to have a place in the commercial market. The USAF has cared about this technology more than any other service.

Rocket Propulsion Technology:  Rocket engines are necessary for both tactical and strategic missiles as well as boosting satellites and other payload into orbit as well as to bases on the moon and beyond.  Lockheed Martin gave up on the Delta Clipper, a single stage to orbit, vehicle over a decade ago.  Reason stated by the former program manager Mr. Peter Teets, “We were still three technological miracles away from achieving the vision of a reusable single stage to orbit vehicle”.  Costs will also have to come down.  Elon Musk and the team at SPACE-X have an early shot at bolstering the competition necessary to overcome some of these technical hurdles.  The USAF has cared about this technology more than any other service.

Sensor Technology:  Radar, Infra-red, Electro-optical, LIDAR, and other sensors that can detect the environment are but a few of the investments in sensing technology that the USAF has given to the world.  There will be no less demand for sensors fifty years from now.  New phenomonlogies will be invented and harness for use by the Air Force to raise a commander’s situational awareness.    Increasing speeds and altitudes have always demanded an increase in sensor performance to balance out the change. The USAF has cared about this technology more than any other service.

Electronic Warfare Technology:  Not long after the first air defense radar was put into use someone figured out that the same energy a radar system uses to detect and aircraft can be used to jam the same radar.  And the race for counter and counter-counter technology was off and running.  As the RF spectrum has gone digital so to have the techniques to counter this capability fuzzying up the difference between what is traditional warfare in the electro-magnetic spectrum and what is a cyber capability.  Whereas industry will have a advantage over the military regarding capabilities on, over, and through computers and computer networks, understanding the digital counter and counter-counter punch for military unique systems will remain within the Department of Defense and Intelligence Communities. The USAF has cared about this technology more than any other service.  The Navy takes second place.

Materials Science Technology:  The Air Force has never had a monopoly on materials science but they have developed many and have been the first using new materials in wide spread applications.  First aluminum, then titanium, and later advanced composites.  But those are just applications for building and constructing aircraft. The creation of new materials extends into every system the Air Force has produced and includes materials for high and low temperature applications, sensors, coatings, explosives, fuels, and fabrics.  In the future the Air Force many not invent products utilizing nano technology, for instance, but they will be first to adopt these new materials into innovative applications.  All services care about materials science however the materials necessary for success in land and sea combat, a lot of armor and steel, does not lend itself to Gillespie’s High Flight.  One does not slip the surly bonds of Earth and dance the skies on laughter-silvered wing with armor and steel.  It requires high strength and light weight materials.  The USAF has cared about this technology more than any other service.

Autonomous Vehicle Technology:  The USAF has never been given sufficient credit for the development of autonomous flight technology.  Instead they are soundly criticized by those that simply cannot give the USAF credit for their technological achievements in this area, not the least of which was Robert Gates.  The USAF has been criticized for dragging its feet in this area when it was the USAF that developed this technology.  The USAF has been flying autonomous vehicles for decades.  Every satellite on orbit is an autonomous vehicle; the USAF does not have a manned space flight program.  Satellites achieve their orbital placement either autonomously or by remote control.  Ever heard of cruise missiles?  The USAF has been launching cruise missiles since the 1950’s.  Many of our ISR aircraft, although manned, have extremely precise autopilots.  All of this technology ushered in the age of the “drones” or the Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA).  Except the word drone actually refers to something akin to a “Target Drone” that USAF has also used for decades creating retired F-4 Phantom jets, into autonomous target vehicles that could be shot down over the Gulf of Mexico.  Every rocket, every missile (both tactical and strategic) is an autonomous vehicle.  It seems the USAF not only uses unmanned technology, the USAF invented the technology yet is still criticized for wanting to keep a man in the cockpit. The USAF has cared about this technology more than any other service. 

Fifty years from now technology will have continued to advance into areas we have yet to imagine.  Will there be a need for this technology to be acquired by a unique set of airmen who understand flying and fighting in the air and in space?  The expertise to recognize when new technology must be created or how it can be applied has long been the domain of the USAF.  In the future the need for long endurance, survivable, fast, and all weather capable aircraft that can deliver a military effect will persist.   Most systems, if not all, will be remotely piloted.  Just because the pilots will now sit on the ground doesn’t mean the air ceases to be a unique domain without unique requirements for those whose systems operate in and through it.  This is no different from the airman who flies a satellite (who has always remained on the ground), the missile crews of our ICBM force who sit below ground, and of course the airman who currently fly  our expanding fleet of RPA’s.  The Air Force in 2064 is one I would like to see just as proudly I am sure Mitchell and Arnold would be to see our current Air Force…the envy of every Air Force in the world and apparently our very own sister services…or at least the envy of Farley and Carroll.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Rudolph's Dad was a Total Shit

I was born in 1964, two weeks before Christmas. That was the year the classic motion animated version of Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer showed up, in color, on network television.   There’s been a lot of debate this holiday season with regard to tolerance, respect, the right to free speech, and what the Bible really teaches us about who get’s to judge others.  Not the least of this debate has been the humble “Who am I to judge” comments made by Pope Francis juxtaposed with the arrogant self-righteous comments made by Phil Robertson the Patriarch on Duck Dynasty.   My family decided to watch Rudolph last night...get back to basics... instead of our other holiday favorites, The Grinch, Christmas Vacation, Elf, or a Christmas Story. It took a bit of teamwork to search the Verizon catalog, then to bring up our Google TV box to search NetFlix, before simply searching on YouTube and finding a link to the full version of the Christmas classic.  Not at our fingertips yet, but since my family only had a B&W TV in 1964, watching the classic on YouTube, on demand, on a 55” plasma flat screen, is still pretty amazing.  BTW, you can find the version here on YouTube if you want to watch the whole thing on your computer and save the 10 minute or so delay it took us to search for it in the various cloud locations.


Bottom-line up front.  Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer had a shit dad who had an even douchier boss. Donner was Rudolph’s proud dad. But just after Rudolph was born and his wife points out that Rudolph has a shiny nose, Donner declares, “Shiny, I’d even say it glows”.  Then Rudolph's mom say’s, I guess we'll simply  have to overlook it. Donner immediately replies,  “How can you overlook that?  His beak blinks like a blinking beacon.”  

Santa then enters their home with a deep “Ho-Ho-Ho” and meets Rudolph for the first time.  He sees his shiny nose and declares in a manner fit for a Will Ferrell character, “Great bouncing icebergs” and Donner, extremely nervous and a bit embarrassed at the moment says, “I’m sure it will stop as soon as he grows up...” Then Santa says, “Well let’s hope so if he want’s to make the sleigh-team someday.”

He does this just before singing the classic, “I’m the King of Ding-A-Ling”.  Yes Santa, you are the grand King of the Dingalings for your rush to  judgement on Rudolph and his difference.  And it only goes downhill from there.  Comet, who represents responsible adults everywhere, cannot stomach the red nose, and even though Rudolph demonstrates a superior ability to fly early on, because of his difference from the others, Comet bans Rudolph from all further the Reindeer Games and set’s a “stellar example” for his class by getting all of his student’s to agree and to continue mocking Rudolph.  Of course the King of the Dingalings, the great White Santa, steps forward and declares,  and I quote. “Donner, you should be ashamed of yourself, what a pity, he had a nice takeoff too”.  I’m going to stick to Rudolph for the purposes of this blog. But remember, there is a lot more going on in this holiday classic.  You’ve got the Abominable Snowman running around, the elf who want’s to be a dentist, and of course the whole island of misfit toy thing.  A lot of very subtle statements about difference, and judgement, and getting along.

As we all know, in the end, Rudolph, with his nose so bright, saves Christmas.  When asked by Santa, “Won't you guide my sleigh tonight?”, Rudolph, despite being ostracized and his lifetime of heckling steps up, and tells Santa, “It will be an honor”.  Not to be outdone, by his own embarrassment of a son, Donner tries to take credit for Rudolph’s nose when he realizes that Rudolph will be the hero.  He says,  “I knew that nose would be useful someday, I knew it all along”.  Rudolf should have instead, told them all to “get bent”. Looking back, that would have been a much better ending to this holiday classic.  These days Rudolph probably would have picked up a AR-15 and gone on a holiday shooting spree had he been bullied as ruthlessly as he was in this story. Rudolph did not.  Instead Rudolph proudly stepped up and displayed a character worthy of his inheritance, a place in history.

If I seem bitter this holiday season, I am not.  I am forever thankful for the blessings in my life which I owe to my one source, whose birthday we are in the midst of celebrating.  I am also so blessed by my wife and daughter who constantly bring down my ego and remind me that it is truly the meek who will inherit the earth. But what exactly does it mean...to be meek.  Meek certainly means humble, and I’ve certainly been humbled this year... But meek doesn’t entirely mean humble. In the ancient Greek, there is a word for humble, and that’s not the word that was translated into meek.  Also, the modern definitions of meek are too passive, to weak, to easy to be understood as a pushover to truly believe that the meek shall be the ones to inherit the earth.  During the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus was clearly referring to something else, something other than, well, modern meekness.  Another possibility is gentle. Meek individuals will almost certainly be of a gentle nature.  As abominable as the Snowman was his gentle side ultimately emerged.  But digging even further, some Biblical scholars who abhor admitting that Jesus could allow for the weak, gentle, or humble to inherit the earth push a definition of meek that is all but, not meek.  A bridled horse fit’s this classic definition.   A horse is strong, but the strength of that horse has been broken, tamed, and channeled into service.  I’ll buy it that the meek have strength...but I don’t buy that Jesus meant that the meek are His broken servants.    Rather, the meek have strength in their character. They must be strong in the face of ridicule.  Followers may have the strength to pull, but do they also have the strength to lead particularly in the face of ridicule?

Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth”.  The meek must be humble, gentle, strong, and able to lead.  Jesus, of course, is the King-of-Kings and in my mind, the King-of-Meek.  Could he be anything but? Pope Francis has revealed to us this year, that he too, understands who it is that will inherit the earth and embodies the very essence of the meek. Phil Robertson and his followers are not meek.  They may be strong, but only as followers.  They are not humble, they are not gentle, and they cannot lead. That leaves us with Rudolph...and his true nature.  Humble, gentle, strong, and able to lead.  Up until the storm, eight reindeer were enough to pull Santa’s sleigh.  Strength was sufficient.  But what about in a storm, in the fog, in the dark of night?  Strength is not enough. Eight reindeer are not enough. Rudolph, who was humiliated, who was ridiculed, who was ostracized by his people, turned the other cheek for the greater good of Christmas.  “It will be an honor, Santa”, is what he said.  Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.  How they shouted out with glee. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.  You’ll go down in history”.  Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer inherited the world and his place in history.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Radical Fundamentalism and the Evolution of the Rattlesnake

Fundamentalism might have a role in a democracy but can it ever emerge as a majority without destroying the basic elements of the same democracy within which it thrives? The answer, of course, is no.  The very essence of a democracy is diversity. The very essence of fundamentalism is the annihilation of any diversion from its fundamentalist path.

Fundamentalism carries with it the necessity of truth.  It’s a return to the first principles of those truths.  It is assumed by fundamentalists that the truth always lies within these first principles.   The Qu'ran, the Bible, the U.S. Constitution.  All can be used as foundational constructs...but many other foundational constructs can and do exist, many within the very same constructs from which they sprung. The stronger the  foundational construct the stronger the institutions that rise up around them.  The strength of the institution, then, reinforces the truth contained within its foundation.  Mess with the foundation and you mess with the entire institution.  That’s the bottom-line of fundamentalism and it’s underlying truths are so true as to be, well, true.  Those who are extreme fundamentalist are so fervent in their belief that they are correct, based on this self evidence, emerge as self-righteous fanatics for their cause.  Unfortunately, that is what we call a self licking ice cream cone.  The evidence that you are correct in your cause is evidenced by the fact that you exist to fight for your cause.

The radical fundamentalism of the self-righteous has no role in a democracy because by definition these radicals don’t see themselves as having a role in a democratic process.  Once you have found the truth, there can be no negotiation.  After all, you can’t compromise on the truth. Without compromise you have no democracy.

Returning to foundational principles with it’s presupposed definition of singular truth is alien to reason.  Belief in a single truth from among the infinite number of truths that surround us hems in diversity.  Evolution occurs.  It’s not a scientific theory to be debated any more then warm is warm and cold is cold.  It’s a fact of life. Everything evolves.  Plants, animals, systems, cycles, and processes.  Nothing is immune from either change or the passage of time. So too is the evolution of democracy as a system of government.  

In 1833 the number of insect species on earth was estimated to be 400,000. That prediction was made by the entomologist John Obadiah and he is quoted as having said, “If we say, 400,000, we shall, perhaps, not be very wide of the truth.”  Today we have cataloged over a million species of insects and as for the potential number of all species on the planet that number could simply grow higher than 8 million with 15,000 new species being cataloged each year.  Of course that number could also be seen as, not “very wide of the truth” as well but we have to keep in mind, even today, there is still plenty of disagreement in how it was derived.  This type of biodiversity is the cornerstone of our great blue planet.  We also have a huge diversity in the way the 7 billion people on earth choose to live and govern or be governed.  This is something to be embraced, not feared.

Evolution works...it works extremely well.  The very fact that we are screwing around with genetics is already happening within the broader context of global change. We have evolved as humans  to the point where we can screw around directly with our own genes.   There are two possible outcomes.  Those who screw around with genetics will doom us to extinction.  Or, conversely, our doom is imminent and those who screw around with our genetics might just be the ones who can actually defer some of us from extinction.  The trick of evolution is the changes occur simultaneously and it’s hard to know in advance which change is useful.  The change that wins doesn’t necessarily know it has won.  The change that has lost doesn’t really know it’s lost because it’s not around to argue it’s point.

When I first started driving, over 30 years ago, all squirrels in Northern Virginia ran out in front of your car. When they felt the threat of a 3,000 lbs metallic animal bearing down on them, they instinctively reversed direction and ran straight back to their tree.  Sadly this reversal to run back to safety took them straight under the back tires of the car. Squish.  Unfortunately, it will be hard to do research, other than anecdotal, on the gene that causes squirrels to reverse directions and die because we haven’t been collecting statistics on the subject.  What is clear, is that when squirrels in Northern Virginia now dart out into the road most of them run as straight as an arrow and never reverse direction.  It appears that cars have eliminated that “turn-back” gene from the squirrel gene pool.  Only squirrels with a weak impulse to reverse direction have survived to reproduce.  Or, squirrels with a strong impulse to run straight were the only ones who have survived.  Or it could be a combination of both. Any way you look at it, that’s how evolution works, and there are less dead squirrels on the roads..

A more recent example where the science is being collected, but is still considered an urban myth in some circles, is that of the plight of the Prairie Rattlesnake.  The Prairie Rattlesnake is losing it’s ability to rattle.  Basically the theory is that in the presence of man, only the rattlesnakes that are predisposed to either stay silent, or genetically have an atrophied rattle muscle, are the ones that are surviving to reproduce.  The ones that are noisy to warn of their presence had this evolved survival trait to avoid being tread-on or perhaps eaten. This trait was once an asset but has now become a liability.  In the presence of man, it’s hard to not have our own self-survival instinct kick-in and meet the sound of a rattle with sound of shovel hitting the ground or, better yet, a shotgun blast.  Heck, you don’t even have to hear a rattle to kill a snake.  Snakes have that whole Garden of Eden thing working against them.  Time and time again one can find a suburban homeowner  flushing the harmless black snake from their den, where they have ironically protected the homeowners property from mice and other vermin for years, only to find the deep mahogany stain of their blood on the black asphalt street.  The homeowner stands proud, garden hoe in hand, self-righteously believing that he has made the world, or at least his cul-de-sac piece of the world, a safer place to live.  Judge, jury, and executioner, all in one.  I, on the other hand, feel a weakening in the Force. 

The snake’s life, however needlessly taken, doesn’t compare to the life of Trayvon Marshall, also needlessly taken by the self-righteous, self-appointed, self-protector of property in Sanford Florida.  Strangely, the law-of-the-land, in that neck of the woods defends such behavior, known as stand-your-ground.  Stand-your-ground works on the prairie and in the old west, where there are no laws.  There are only those who are hunting and those who are hunted. It’s not quite to that point in Florida yet, but there is no doubt that’s one of our 50 States happens to moving in that direction...the direction of the wild west.  After centuries of maturing democratic thought, which gave us civil society and the cloister of the upscale modern suburban neighborhood to begin with, do we still need vigilantes keeping the peace?  Another weakening of the Force.

Recently, the Boy Scout’s of America troop leader’s Dave Hall and Glenn Taylor, believed they had come across a cache of “WMD” while hiking through Goblin Valley State Park in Utah.  The men discovered a stone, which, by most estimates, had been standing for 200 Million years. They believed that particular stone was getting ready to fall upon the next young troop or family  heading down that particular path. After 200 Million years they happened upon that moment in history where the threat was real and present.  The rattlesnake was about to strike.  They toppled the stone, on video, to proclaim their sovereignty, the protector of scouts, of lives, and of the world.  They made their 200 million year decision in about 15 minutes talking among themselves.  They made the world safer place by toppling that stone.  It’s probably wrong for me to wish that stone would  have rolled the other way.  Yet another weakening of the Force.

Self-righteous behavior leads to disaster.  Why? Because by reasoning to first principles, by becoming a fundamentalist, you can always justify your behavior. Safety first, after all.  Rather, what we should be doing, is thinking.  Democracy exists for those who can think, those who can reason.  It sprung from the imaginations of those who wished to only reason.  These were men who wanted to break free from the tyranny of oppression at the hands of a few fundamentalists who believed in their own sovereignty as Lords over other men, those proclaimed as Monarchs.  The government that emerged has been the greatest in history...thus far.  The louder we proclaim with our own self-righteousness about our system of government being the best, the more other systems of government take note...particularly those within their those culture who are themselves leaning toward the self-righteous...can we all be right?

What’s so strange about this behavior, on our end, is that the Bible, one of the most fundamental of all documents, the one that guided the development of western culture and the evolution of our democratic system, doesn’t teach self-righteousness.  It teaches exactly the opposite.  It teaches humility, awe, wonder and selfless behavior.  Why then are there so many self-righteous fundamentalists on the loose?  There are certainly a lot of freedom loving folks living in democracies these days.  But freedoms and democracy don’t teach self-righteousness behavior either.  Democracy teaches equality first and then compromise.  If we are all equal, that’s everything, our rights and our beliefs, all equal.  To exist together, we then must compromise, and then respect the bounds of the compromises once they have been created. We can’t all be right, in fact, most of us must be wrong from time to time.

Our system of government is set up to evolve.  To evolve in whatever direction the majority and norms of society might take it...good or bad, but mostly good.   Our entire system of government is based on the equality of men, not the self-righteousness of man.  Ironically, the democratic system of government is the one system that allows bastions of self-righteous fundamentalist to exist.  In any other government, if they were not the ruling class, they would be eliminated.  

However, these enclaves of extreme behavior, are in fact necessary in a democracy.  They create the diversity necessary within a democratic society to evolve.  This diversity as a country  makes us stronger.  It gives us a vast gene pool of genetic material from which to grow and change.  That progress shouldn’t be viewed as good or bad.  It should be viewed simply as the evolution necessary to survive.  Because that’s exactly what it has been doing since our Founding Fathers set it up.  Those men of reason who gave us our constitution.

The U.S. Constitution is a living and evolving construct.  We can’t base our system of government firmly on it’s foundation, rather we need to base our lives on the flexibility of how it can change.  That’s the way we will evolve and survive.  That’s the way our system of government was set up...so it can change.  So we can change it.  It’s not the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, or even 4th amendments to our constitution that are it’s bedrock.  It’is all of the other  amendments as well.  Including the 13th, and perhaps even more important,  the 18th and 21st that serve as a stark reminder that we can always screw things up...and then, after a few years without a beer, go back and fix it. Democracy must be free to evolve and we can change it.  That’s what’s important about our system of government.  I for one prefer an evolving democracy...one that can change and one with which I can sit down to discuss these weighty matter with my friends...one within which I can also have a beer...and I thank God for the 21st amendment almost everyday...