31 January 2008

Common Sense...

Is it time for Ron Paul and Mike Huckabee to drop out of the race? Huckabee has been handed a resounding defeat in Florida and Ron Paul was a no show. Both finished behind Thompson who had dropped out prior to the vote (although 1/3rd of the votes were cast via absentee ballots). John Edwards, who is the worst example of political expediency and hypocrisy, has finally - mercifully - exited the field. He failed to realize his time had expired just after the close of the 2004 elections.

There is a real battle shaping up across both parties. Victor David Hanson at Real Clear Politics labels the Democrats as unable to win and the Republicans not wanting to win. Interesting analysis. I am leaning towards McCain at the moment, wishing only that Romney was more defined. He is the best equipped to navigate the upcoming economic challenges of the next four years. I would vote for Obama over Hillary and could honestly find some good to say about each of the candidates. I don't think the far right or far left will have much impact on the course of each party's platforms. There seems to be an emergence of rationalism from the electorate in the past year which has muted the zealotry of the right and left.

Once again, the "grassroots" movement which propelled folks like Paul to the fore have shown themselves to be incapable of delivering votes. This reinforces the notion that people are willing to donate treasure (donations) over time (votes). There is something intangible about a donation - I think it is connected to the notion we have about money. For many of us, growing up in an era of unrivalled prosperity, we view money less seriously than the boomer generation.

Let's get on with the show.

25 January 2008

The new war...

The CHurch of Scientology is under attack. A group of individual(s) have posted a direct challenge to the fabricated religion developed by ex-Navy officer L. Ron Hubbard. CNET, the tech news source, has a more detailed story.

Is this the day when we mark the genesis of a true cyber war? A war between non-nation players in which information is the only weapon? The stakes are high. Scientology is a multi-million dollar organization which is, in my opinion, a dangerous and predatory cult. It uses clear psychological manipulation to subvert an individual's will and consume their financial and physical assets. The veneer of legitimacy and belonging is held up by the likes of John Travolta, Tom Cruise and other celebreties.

For a good insight into the vulnerability of the human psyche, read Corruption of Reality by John Schumaker. For a tongue in cheek insight into Scientology, go see the Completely Unauthorized Children's Scientology Christmas Pageant.

Personally, I doubt the veracity of the threat. The video is very Sci-Fi and likely a retaliatory shot against the churh's recent litigation against the posting of a "secret" recruitment video. However, if it is real, there could be a very interesting struggle about to take place.

Nonetheless, there seems to be an appetite for this sort of action. Individuals feel empowered by the internet and threatened when a group (like Scientology) tries to restict free speech.

It may be the first day of the new war.

23 January 2008

The loss...

Heath Ledger is dead. The tragic story unfolded in New York yesterday. A young man, with a two year old daughter is gone. Never mind that he was a bold, talented actor. I liked him in Knight’s Tale and Brokeback. His upcoming performance this summer as the Joker promises to make us all forget Jack – not that any of the movie goers are likely to have seen the original Batman.

There will be a reckoning of the impetus for this loss. Will it be ascribed to a possible addiction to chemicals? A blistering descent into madness brought on by his seeming fascination for dark and brooding roles? Or will there be some element of primal despair surrounding the end of his relationship to the mother of his daughter?

It is a known fact that men are substantially more likely to take their own lives. There are a number of reasons for this fact, relating to everything from cultural issues (Japan) to a reduced ability to self monitor possible psychological problems, depression. Mr. Ledger’s case may be further understood if we think of his added role as a father. Divorced or separated, fathers in similar situations run a risk ten times that of men on average.

What can be learned from this tragedy is that depression, substance abuse and other stressful circumstances can have a profound and devastating effect on the male psyche. It is my personal opinion that this has compounded in recent years, with the demasculinazation of our culture.

If you know someone in similar straits, make sure to reach out to them. Take time to listen to their concerns and point them towards professional help. The stigma associated with seeking out competent (and I mean professionally trained and licensed) help has long since past.

22 January 2008

Crews Brave Enemy Fire to Save Soldiers...

Not too much to comment on today - however, a little reminder of personal courage and sacrifice is worth contemplating.   
 Crews Brave Enemy Fire to Save Soldiers
Tue, 22 Jan 2008 10:28:00 -0600

American Forces Press Service

Crews Brave Enemy Fire to Save Soldiers

By Sgt. 1st Class Thomas Mills, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service

CAMP STRIKER, Iraq, Jan. 22, 2008 - Medical evacuation crews from Task Force Marne faced down enemy gunfire to deliver five injured soldiers in Iraq to safety Jan. 18.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
A Black Hawk helicopter sits in a field as seen through the windshield of a second Black Hawk on a Jan. 18, 2008, mission to rescue soldiers injured in an attack. Photo by Chief Warrant Officer 2 Victoria Wade, USA

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The crews from the 3rd Infantry Division's Company C, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Aviation Regiment, Combat Aviation Brigade, were called in when a patrol of Stryker vehicles from the 25th Infantry Division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team was attacked.

The Black Hawk helicopters flew to the site, only to find that the easiest place to land -- the road the Stryker vehicles were on -- had not been cleared of possible improvised explosive devices. The medevac crews were unable to contact the ground forces or an Apache team from 12th Combat Aviation Brigade in the area.

After circling the area scouting for a place to land, the crews landed in a field adjacent to the road, Army Capt. Samuel Fricks, operations officer for Company C, said. Fricks, from Morrow, Ga., was a pilot in the second of the two medevac aircraft.

"After landing, my medic, Staff Sgt. (Robert) Congdon, departed the aircraft and linked up with ... Staff Sgt. (Aughe) McQuown," Fricks said.

The two Army medics went to the site of the attack and soon returned to the helicopters with three injured soldiers.

As they returned to the Stryker for the remaining two injured soldiers, Congdon said, they began taking fire.

"I just grabbed the patient and grabbed McQuown and we went into the Stryker," said Congdon, a native of Las Vegas.

Bullets struck the Stryker and around them as they went for the cover of the armored vehicle. Congdon reset the Stryker's radio to the medevac frequency, then took off his flight helmet and put on a Stryker crewmember's helmet so he could talk to the aircrew.

When the call came over the radio that his medics were taking fire, Fricks said, he was not sure what to think. He did not know where the fire was coming from, but he figured that since the helicopters were down below the level of the road in the field, he was not in too much danger.

"The only thing we knew was that Staff Sergeant Congdon was taking fire," Fricks said.

As they waited for the two medics to come back with the remaining patients, a third medic, Sgt. Donald Dedmon, from Foreman, Ark., in training as a flight medic, ran back and forth between the two aircraft to treat the injured soldiers already on board.

Dedmon was midway through his training to be certified to operate as a lone medic on a medevac mission when he found himself suddenly responsible for patients on two different aircraft.

"I was keying on the patients," Dedmon said. "Afterward, it kind of came into perspective."

Fricks had been linked up via radio to the circling Apaches, and he relayed Congdon's directions to bring in 30 mm machine cannon fire to suppress the enemy shooter.

Back at the Stryker, Congdon and McQuown were attempting to get back to the aircraft with their patients.

"We lowered the ramp (of the Stryker) to get out and be able to get to the aircraft, and (the sniper) started shooting," Congdon said.

McQuown, a native of Florida, picked up one patient while Congdon and an infantry soldier helped the other patient, and they broke for it.

"They ran out of litters, and the guy was shooting at us," Congdon said. "The longer we wait on the ground, the worse it is on the patient, so at some point we had to just leave and get the patients to the hospital."

The medics loaded the remaining two patients on the medvac birds. After a quick count of heads to make sure no one was left behind, they departed while the Apaches continued to lay down suppressing fire.

"The five patients we hauled all survived," Fricks said.

He said watching the two medics struggling to bring their patients to safety was almost like something you'd see in a Hollywood production. "I just thought it was awesome," he said.

Company C is part of Multinational Division Center and is based out of Baghdad International Airport, with aircraft at several locations in and around the Iraqi capital.

(Army Sgt. 1st Class Thomas Mills serves in public affairs with the 3rd Infantry Division's 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade.)

Related Sites:
Task Force Marne/Multinational Division Center
Multinational Corps Iraq
Multinational Force Iraq


16 January 2008


As with many issues, consumers all over the world are turning to the internet for information. This includes everything from movie reviews, political opinion, car part specifications, genealogical research and health information. There is a problem, however, and I call it the wikidization of information.

Wikipedia is an outstanding collaborative work of volunteers to catalog and define almost everything in the world. The problem is that it is not peer reviewed, it is subject to a loose editorial control at best and can be flat out wrong. This is not to say that it does not serve a useful purpose. It is a great starting point to frame a debate or determine the level of controversy around a topic. It is unacceptable as a research reference in scholarly work.

People rarely know how to reach out for source documentation on a topic. They often stop at the first piece of information which confirms their preconceived notions. Rarely do they consider the possible biases of information sources and too frequently distrust official sites, believing them to be dishonest or unscrupulous.

For example, many people seek out a low calorie diet. Concerned by the claims raised in the 1970s about saccharin, they seek out “natural” sugar substitutes. This can be unrefined sugars, molasses and products such as stevia. What few US citizens realize is that stevia is not a food.

Stevia is not approved as a food ingredient in the United States. However, it is sold as a “dietary supplement.” According to the provisions of the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA), which was passed in 1994, dietary supplements do not need FDA approval before they are marketed, in the way that new food additives or drugs do. Dietary supplements that contain stevia cannot legally be promoted as sugar substitutes in the U.S., and stevia cannot be used as an ingredient in foods. The sale of the supplements is legal, however. (ACSH Document 20060417_sugar_web)

This has led to uninformed decisions about food and how we eat. In my opinion, a balanced, sensible diet – coupled with exercise – is the key to a healthy, happy life. Individuals need to make informed decisions and resist being swayed by questionable or inflammatory information. The American Council on Science and Health encourages individuals to seek information from reliable sources. From the abovementioned publication;

Distinguishing between reliable and unreliable information sources on the World Wide Web can be challenging. Simply entering a topic into an Internet search engine is not the best way to obtain science-based advice. A better approach is to visit trustworthy health-related Web sites, such as the National Library of Medicine site, the U.S. government’s health clearinghouse site, the sites of government agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration or the U.S. Department of Agriculture, or the sites of trusted professional organizations or voluntary groups such as the American Dietetic Association, the American Heart Association, or the American Cancer Society , and then search within the collections of documents at these sites for information on a specific topic. In instances where something sounds too good — or too horrible — to be true, it’s also a good idea to see whether the topic in question is discussed on the Urban Legends Reference Pages and/or Quackwatch. Both sites are reliable, and they are frequently updated with new information about various health myths and misinformation.

Caveat emptor.

15 January 2008

Military Matters...

The recent dust up in the Straits of Hormuz between Iranian speedboats and US forces was extremely dangerous. The Iranians paint a more benign picture from the view of Iranian Events. Nonetheless, the danger was heightened by the interjection (possibly) of the notorious Filipino Monkey. This individual chooses to interject his thoughts into unsecured VHF (bridge to bridge) communication in this region of the world.

I was standing watch in the FCC (fleet command center) for the Fifth Fleet in Bahrain in the summer of 2004. During this period we were conducting a lot of MIO (maritime interdiction operations). We were looking for smugglers of all types. During the oil embargo days, the Iraqis got very good at smuggling large quantities of oil out and arms into their nation. At this time, the USSS KENNEDY was the carrier battle group in the gulf and we were intercepting a bulk freighter heading out through the SOH. During a routine BtB (bridge to bridge) query of the freighter the conversation turned dangerous.

US VESSEL – “outbound freighter, this is coalition warship XX. State your destination and cargo”

FREIGHTER – “we are carrying weapons of mass destruction…”

US VESSEL – “*what the* - outbound freighter, say again your last.”

Needless to say the center went from a sleepy afternoon watch to full pucker mode. Aircraft were diverted from patrol routes and an HVBSS (heliborne vessel boarding search and seizure) team was scrambled from one of the interdicting ships. Listening to the radio transmission again, I am more convinced that this radio prankster may be at the root cause of the near fatal encounter.

The problem is clear, when there are confusing bits of information coming into the commander of a force (land, sea or air) their inclination is to act in a self preservation manner. During the cold war we installed a hotline between the US and Soviet command center to help defuse any potential “false” triggers.

With little or not such mechanism between forces such as the three warships and fast attack squadron – it was the careful training of the US forces which kept the Iranians alive.

09 January 2008

Round up...

Way late – yes I am way late. No blogging for three weeks, only random trolling on some very nice sites.

UPDATE - Horrible spelling error corrected!!!
I wanted to point out a few interesting spots on my holiday travels, Lana Walker-Helmuth has a very nice site here. I spent some time discussing the various benefits of fluoridation and talking about Ron Paul – who appears to be destined for the dustbin of history. Laura seems to be an engaging person who has a genuinely bright outlook on life.

I found her site from this fabulous one, a sassy spot run by Connie Schmidt. Here she skewers the easily misled and the criminally dishonest.

I also trolled around the Respectful Insolence site (Orac’s joint) and Dr. Martin Rundkvist's place. He poses an interesting question about the definition of skepticism. I take a purists view and contend that skepticism is simply doubt of a proposed idea. On the site we talk about the role of words and the tendency of folks to label people. The term denialism is used to besmirch folks who argue against conventional wisdom. This is typically applied to folks who claim the Holocaust did not occur or that evolution is unproven. It is also applied to people who argue about global warming (GW) and anthropogenic global warming (AGW).

SPECIAL DISCLAIMER – I have several concerns about the causality of global warming. At one point I was an out and out skeptic of global warming, but I have warmed up to the possibility. I am simply not convinced that the human factor is as significant. Thus, I am a denialist according to Mark Hoofnagle’s definition.


Hillary recovered, slightly, in New Hampshire and McCain knocked Romney for a loop in his own backyard. I am pleased that Edwards, Huckabee and Paul continue to drop behind. None of the aforementioned individuals should be considered viable candidates. This is notwithstanding the very questionable history of Paul’s alarming newsletters or Huckabee’s sermons. We live in a world where what you have said and written before starts to define you. I think that’s a fair measure to use when judging an individual. We can not all be Saul, subject to some monumental conversion and then given a pass on all our former behavior.


The Navy nearly lit up a squadron of Iranian Revolutionary Guard patrol boats . Most likely they were simply tricked out outboards, and not the truly lethal Boghammers which lurk in the NAG (North Arabian Gulf).

Side note: If you want to irritate an Iranian, call the Persian Gulf the Arabian Gulf.

The three warships in question were just about to open fire on the boats in question when they sped away. Having stood watch where FP (force protection) measures were in full force, the threat posed by high speed boats is all too real. Additionally, the risk to our vessels from mines (as described in the report) is likely the greatest in the PG. I do not want US Navy vessels to needlessly incinerate potentially hostile craft – but the reality of self-defense makes this circumstance likely – if not inevitable.