So, you want to spend some time with friends and family this holiday season ... and you have to fly there. Good luck. If you thought the check-out lines at the Walmart were long, where you bought those crappy little gifts, I hope you shipped them to your destination. Big Brother's Charlie McCarthy, CNN, advises you to "know the rules, be flexible." Obey. Conform. Stop bleating. Please stay focussed and only concern yourself with following these rules, so that you won't stop and question the complete stupidity and uselessness of you waiting in line to remove your shoes, take off your belt, test your phone, or dump that liquid.
The U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is such a frackin' sham. Created under the Department of Homeland Security, it is nothing more than a government black hole for your tax dollars, accomplishing nothing, and even worse -- it's just a feel-good propaganda tool of the government. U.S. media is only too happy to fill up their mindless hours of news segments with official crap from the bureaucracy.
What got me on this rant?
I watched C-Span's BookTV tonight. For those of your who aren't junkies, BookTV broadcasts authors' presentations on their book tours, usually at libraries, universities, civil organizations, and bookstores. It's rather interesting, if you like non-fiction books.
One broadcast segment tonight was for the book that came out in October of this year, entitled "Unsafe At Any Altitude," by authors Joseph and Susan Trento. If you are interested in post-911 topics, government cover-ups, or just fly often -- buy this book. Simply checking the happy face website of the TSA with a Christmas wreath around its seal should tell you a lot about this do-nothing federal bureaucracy.
And the sham goes on.
When 9-11 happened, the FBI and Justice Department covered up their own inadequacies and failings from public scrutiny by spotlighting. Spotlighting is a psyops method where you shift blame by simply moving the spotlight and public scrutiny to another entity. When someone accuses you, you simply point out the failings of another. And, if the weight and power of the U.S. federal government decides to spotlight one of its own powerbroker insiders, the media can get mindless in its bloodlust sucking up the chum.
Apparently, the FBI decided to blame-shift Argenbright security, a private corporation contracted by the airlines. While that part of the story is more complicated to explain than I have time and space here to use, let me just put it this way -- it was easier for the FBI to blame the failings of security screeners working for Argenbright than it was to explain why the FBI didn't know that the CIA had lost or allowed known terrorists off their leashes.
Before 9-11, private companies like Argenbright contracted with the airline industry to provide airport security and passenger screening. It cost the airline industry about $700 million a year. Now, under the federal bureaucracy of the TSA, this same workforce and service costs about $6 billion each year.
Independent performance testing has shown that TSA security is only catching about 50% of the security violations that their previous non-government screeners used to catch. These tests weren't done using nail clippers. These tests were using bombs, and knives, and guns as test items.
The so-called No-Fly List maintained by the TSA is compiled from the input of some 16 other government agencies and contains over 55,000 names. The utter uselessness of this final measure to insure your safety is simply breath-taking.
I feel totally confident about one thing concerning the TSA. As a federal bureaucracy, the TSA will still be spending billions of dollars every year long after George Bush is dead and buried, just like the multi-billion dollarDEA does for the memory of president Richard M. Nixon.
The cover-up of 9-11 related information is clear. The FBI seized videotapes all over the country that Tuesday. Why were federal agencies so easily able to ID the hijackers so quickly? They had known about them for some time. Several of them were from the Saudi Intelligence service who were actually double agents for al-Qaeda. That's why the Bush/Cheney White House protected the Saudis from all inquiries about 9-11, and still does to this very day.
In one final insult to truth and reality, president Bush awarded the Secretary of the TSA, Norman Mineta, with the Presidential Medal of Freedom on Friday. "Good job, Normie."
Recently, I've picked up another online addiction. It's called Wikimapia. It's an interesting combination of the raw processing and image power of google mapping, but also allows the social interaction of users of the wiki to identify public and private places of interest on the map. Although the site is fairly new, over 2 million places have been identified. New places are outlined in yellow and marked as "upcoming" for which other users must vote Yes or No to be included in the Wiki. Read their FAQ, for more information. I don't recommend this site for dial-up modem users, as it is very graphic intensive to use. So, acknowledging my addiction, I've set up a new image gallery at Thunderstorms called Secret Places.
Zooming out, my asterisk looks like something you might see in Peru, made by an ancient civilization, like the Nazca lines. Why did ancient civilations create huge geoglyphs, presumably only visible in its entirity from the air? Some people think it had to do with an interaction between these technologically primitive cultures and some visitation by aliens from another world. However, the ancients invented many things, like the Baghdad battery, a technology lost to wars and time. Personally, I think the ancients were very intimately interested in time, and astrology. I think some of the large structures and geoglyphs were created to understand cycles of time that naturally had a longer repetitive cycle than their relatively short life span.
Zooming out again, you can see this Secret Place has much more to see and my asterisk is barely visible in the top of the light-colored circle on the right, now. If you've become impatient and clicked to enlarge these images, you already know what this is. The dark green color in the image are the tree tops of pine and live oak trees in the Ocala National Forest in Florida. The light color is sand. Located deep within the extremely large forest, this image shows you the only live bombing range in the eastern United States. Despite being a popular tourist and camping destination, the Ocala is also host to the Pinecastle Bombing Range under the control of the U.S. Navy for the use of target practice by their jet fighter pilots.
This bombing range has actually been located here since the 1950s, so some may argue with my labelling of it as a "Secret Place." My defense is only that "not very well known place where most people don't know what happens there" was too long to fit as a title to this entry or my new image gallery. Deal with it. [PDF]
If you follow some of the links I have already provided above, you might be surprised to learn that the authorized range ordinance for Pinecastle's "live impact range" (middle image) goes up to Navy fighter pilots being allowed to drop live MK82 500 lb bombs into the middle of this forest.
While I can see the need for fighter pilots to practice their craft, why not take this concept for war fighting into the next 50 years? Apparently, the Pentagon believes that most of the conflicts of the future will be asymmetric, against trans-national groups, where combined civil law enforcement, intelligence and covert ops by SOCOM operators will be needed in more urban areas all over the world. Stop bombing Yogi Bear.
Now, it's time for JfZ to rant about the big picture again.
While the Bush/Cheney White House calls this vision of the future the "Global War on Terrorism." Donald Rumsfeld frequently called it the "Struggle Against Violent Extremism." Other people in government simply call it the "long war." The U.S. Department of State and organizations like USAID think of the long war in terms of "winning hearts and minds" through economic and institutional changes only after the next generation isn't scarred by the present violence, but the military has to be more pragmatic toward the missions it is tasked to accomplish because Pentagon leaders have lived through the fickleness and short-sightedness of political leadership.
Oddly enough, only the federal government bureaucracies that span numerous political administrations have any historical perspective and are the keepers of the long-term policy goals, exemplified by the 40-year-long Cold War. Most of the trouble in the world occurred from the fickle pet project nature of individual administrations in the White House.
If the forgotten Korean War was the warm and fuzzy beginning of the Cold War, I believe that the Bush 41 Gulf War marked the beginning of the next long war. And while quagmire may be a popular word this year, the sad historical comparison I hold is that Viet Nam marked a defeat in that previous long war -- and now Iraq certainly has the potential to be an historical equivalent to Viet Nam. When nations solve their problems with bullets and bombs, why would anyone expect a different outcome?
Unfortunately, we may not have to wait 40 years for another global tragedy. Are we living in the exponential slope of that hockey stick of history, where the full plans for an atomic bomb can be transferred on a music CD? Yes, we are.
Guys, buy your better half some frivolous fun. Click on any image above for more details. Remember: a gift from Home Depot doesn't exactly say, "Let's go to bed early tonight." I think I've explained this enough.
You only have until Friday, the 15th, to vote for your favorite blogs (more than once) in the 2006 Weblog Awards. If you're you like me, you just might want to vote simply because there are certain blogs listed as finalists that you hate, like this one, or this one. I cast my ABTMFer votes in several categories.
"Democrusader" was not included
Every year, the Miriam-Webster english dictionary posts their top ten most often looked up words. Sadly, despite my mediocre Technorati blog ranking, "Democrusader" has not been catching on as a word beyond my limited sphere of influence, as much as I had hoped. I'll keep working on making up new words. Of course, my sphere of influence is actually only defined as my cat.
For your spelling purposes only, here are the top ten words of 2006:
The only thing that gets my underwear in bunch about these top ten words is that they must have stolen them from me, didn't include Democrusader, and we all get to use them as technorati tags until 2009* until Bush leaves. Stephen Colbert is now on notice at Thunderstorms!
* Articles of impeachment were filed in the House of Representatives by Georgia representative Cynthia Mckinney last Friday against President Bush, VP Cheney, and Secretary of State Rice.
Iraqi Kurdistan is an expansive look into the daily lives of the Kurdish people of northern Iraq. These images provide an alternative perspective on a changing culture, one different from the destruction and discord that dominates so much media coverage of the region.
Here are policemen seated on the floor, eating lunch and laughing, old men taking care of their fields and young girls celebrating at a suburban birthday party.
There is also hardship and tribulation, to be sure; the Iraqi Kurds endured generations of brutality under Saddam Hussein. His genocidal campaigns cost close to 200,000 lives. But as Iraqi Kurdistan documents, the region is mostly peaceful today. The people enjoy more autonomy and women's rights continue to grow stronger.
Documented by photojournalist Ed Kashi during a seven-week stay in 2005, the photographs of Iraqi Kurdistan are presented in flipbook-style animation; gradual changes between still images simulate motion. The thousands of images that comprise this project are as striking as they are bountiful. Watch it now.
With the release of the much publicized Iraq Study Group's report (read PDF), it's quite plain that the Bush administration is slowly being dragged out of its state of being In Denial concerning Iraq and literally being pushed into doing its job. However, I've watched several press conferences with Dubya answering reporter's questions and I can only say that I'm not encouraged by his adlibbed or impromptu answers. The very tone of the Democrusader's voice — even while staying "on message" and dutifully parroting the new talking points he has committed to memory — is petulantly defensive. I can't count the number of times that I've heard the president whine, "Look, I understand that ..."
The ISG does recognize the relative peace and security in the four provinces that make up Kurdistan in northern Iraq. The simplistic characterization of the populations living in Iraq generally follows the post-Gulf War no-fly zone delineations: Kurds in the north, Sunnis in the middle, and Shia in the south.
Turkey and other neighbors
In order to understand how Kurdistan has not erupted into the chaos of sectarian violence that has engulfed other provinces in Iraq, one has to consider Kurdistan's history and its geographical situation between Iraq and Turkey.
I remember at the start of the current Iraq War, the U.S. government had some diplomatic trouble getting co-operation with its Cold War ally, Turkey. Turkey felt that if Iraq was liberated from the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein, the Kurds would immediately want independence and sovreignty. This would be a problem for Turkey since southern Turkey is chockful-o-Kurds. Those Turkish Kurds would want to join up with Iraqi Kurds and geographically carve out an ethnically autonomous Kurdistan, redrawing the national boundaries of Turkey.
While the ISG report has publicized the idea of working with Iraq's neighbors, Iran and Syria, to hopefully stem their deleterious influences and find some mutual regional security understanding, certain political forces within Turkey are not very helpful to peace and security in northern Iraq, and that is quietly being addressed. It's also not very helpful that some Saudi charities are raising money to give to Sunni insurgent groups or that officials in Jordan allow those insurgent leaders and middlemen to be pampered and disconnected from the chaos in Iraq.
Lydia Khalil from the Jamestown Foundation published a very informative and succinct article yesterday entitled, "The Kurdish Security Network in Northern Iraq," which explains how the Kurds have avoided much of the sectarian chaos in the rest of the country. What I found particularly informative about her analysis is that Kurdistan's relative success had several factors that are being talked about among our political leadership in Washington, now.
The way forward
The major point of "The Levin Plan" about which I blogged stresses that political solutions in the current Iraqi government have to be used to find some chance of anyone's definition of success or victory in Iraq. The ISG report echoes this point. I believe that the way forward, whether one looks at the Levin Plan or the ISG report findings, should simply look at the example set in Kurdistan for peace, security, and prosperity. The Kurds had to unite politically, control their own Peshmurga militia, and get on with life. It worked.
Once the al-Malaki government can make the hard political decisions and reign in the Shia militias, there may be hope for the rest of Iraq. It's not going to be easy. Some of the recent comments by the Shia SCIRI leader, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, during his recent visit to Washington, hinted at the decades-long hatred because of Sunni oppression. He flatly denied that any Shia militia were involved in death squads and said that those news accounts were lies and propaganda coming from SCIRI's political enemies. Even so, al-Hakim is another critical player that could shepherd along a political solution in the al-Malaki government.
If Nouri al-Malaki can create some unity among the Shia power brokers in his government and then reach out to the minority Sunni leaders, he may be able to bring Iraq back from the brink and put the country on a positive track. I think if al-Malaki could use the example that the Kurdistan model represents, there is hope.
"We are installing new equipment at the data center today and will need to shut down parts of the web site. Shutdowns should be less then 10 minutes at a time."
Tiring from holding the old Blogdrive in his left hand while pointing to the new enhanced Blogdrive, he did not elaborate beyond that statement.
It was mentioned some weeks ago in the message forums that Blogdrive was experiencing some power reliability issues from their data center. This had the effect of shutting down servers or causing them to turn off and then back on. When that happened, Blogdrive users experienced problems while the servers had to resync the data across the servers.
All in all, things are looking very good for the future here on Blogdrive. While the Blogdrive Team is not likely to issue any official statements on service reliability that are forward-looking and positive on Update, I certainly can. My positive outlook about the future of Blogdrive is not simply cheerleading, but based on several factors:
When the problems started, the BD Team took immediate action.
They spent countless sleepless nights troubleshooting
Finding no obvious problems in their software and hardware, they re-located all their servers to a more reliable data center.
BD made significant capital investments in their business, buying new equipment
This tells me that the co-founders of Blogdrive and their team of professionals are committed to the future of Blogdrive. This also tells me that they fully understand that service reliability is their number one priority.
In other power, performance and upgrade news
NASA is launching another space shuttle mission (STS-116) this next Thursday evening at around 9:30pm EST. The STS-116 mission is being described as one of the most technically difficult missions in the International Space Station (ISS) construction missions so far.
While the last mission installed a new set of solar panels, the primary task for this current mission is to basically unplug the ISS from its prototype configuration and start rewiring the ISS for its final, or permanent power system configuration. The shuttle will also be carrying key ISS construction components: another main truss segment (P5) and some large funky thing called the SpaceHab single logistics module which is a fancy name for a closet in space.
These brave, dedicated, and educated astronauts should not only be held up as heroes and people of stature in their own countries of birth, but also for the entire world. Kids: do your homework, study hard, and take our human race out to the stars.