Whose Opinions?

They are my opinions and they are usually undocumented and unsupported just like the Fascho-Christian Crowd's opinions.

The only difference is I label my opinions as opinions. They lable theirs as revelations from God - and not revelations from just any old god either - those revelations are revelations from "their" god.

How nice.

I'll try to refresh this part of the site pretty often. It's not a blog though; I blog elsewhere.


Current Selections

  • Thoughts on Health Care
  • The Ethics of Road Kill
  • Potpourri
  • How Many More?
  • The Price of Fame's Lack
  • Stasis
  • Re-Run
  • The War Surtax
  • COIN War
  • Four Letter Word
  • Proposal For Intelligence
  • Intelligence System Design
  • No No Fly List
  • End Game
  • The Hive
  • The Pipeline is Dry

I have spent more than a year in France over the last 10 years. Inevitably, even though I am really healthy, I have had a few encounters with their health care system.

The first was in 2002. I got a bad cold which turned into a sinus infection as they always do, and rather than put up with weeks of misery I always make an appointment with the doctor and get a prescription for amoxicillin which gets rid of the infection. I called a friend and got a reference to a doctor and called and made an appointment - he could see me that afternoon. He was an expatriate Brit who had been there long enough that he spoke English with a French accent. As we went through the examination his English began to lose its French accent, I assumed due to the influence of hearing his mother tongue spoken with a non French, albeit American West Coast accent. He seemed to be enjoying talking to another native English speaker, so I engaged him in conversation. Note that he had the time to choose to let me engage him in conversation. I asked him why he had decided to practice in France rather than England. He had a lot to say on that subject, but the net of it was that he didn't like practicing medicine in a socialized system so he moved to France which had a system that was both vastly superior and not socialized. He said that the government involvement that did exist in France created an excellent system that guaranteed superior healthcare for everybody at an acceptable cost and that made the environment for the practice of medicine much more enjoyable than that of England. I asked him why, as long as he was pulling up roots, and since he spoke English he didn't move to the US. He said that as far as he was concerned the only worse place to practice medicine than the UK was the US. He said that we had the highest cost, worst outcome, private insurance company dominated system in the world. He marveled that Americans would put up with it. He only knew that he didn't want to play in that sort of game.

That office call, that I was able to make and execute the same day cost me 35 Euros. That was max cost possible because I didn't have coverage in France. Later I learned something else. I didn't need to see a doctor at all. I had made the appointment because in the US if you need a prescription you have to see a doctor. So you make an appointment wait a few days, see the doctor, beg for the prescription (after all, what do you know about the state of your heath?) and be charged a couple of hundred dollars for your office visit which will be adjudicated by the insurance company, if you have insurance for several months, after which your doctor's practice will get some portion of what was billed. All of that just to get a prescription. In France the pharmacist is the first line of medical services delivery. When I need a trivial prescription such as amoxicillin I go to my local pharmacy talk to the pharmacist and get a prescription. There is no service charge and the pills cost about 4 Euros.

The second encounter I had was an aberration, but worth noting. I had a severe case of stomach flu and after several day of staying in bed I put my raincoat over my pajamas and went down my four flight of stairs and out to the street to the pharmacy next door. I bought some Tylenol and went back into the apartment and was climbing back up the stairs when I woke up with my head down the stairs about two flights up hearing someone saying in French accented English "'Allow, is anyone there?" I answered, got up and then woke up again, head down in roughly the same place as I had awakened the first time. This time there was a man, even older than me, standing over me and helping me up. He and his wife lived one flight down from me and he had heard me fall the first time. I had no memory of anything except starting up the stairs. He was a retired doctor, but he worked every day as a volunteer physician. He took me into his apartment, examined me, told me I was dehydrated and suffering from a bad flu and gave me some medicine and escorted me to my apartment. That was about 1100 in the morning. He said he'd be back at about 4 to check in on me and did I need anything from the store. I could see that I was going to run out of toilet paper. When he came back at 4 he had a huge package of toilet paper. None of this cost me anything unless you count the bottle of cognac I took to him and his wife a few days later when we got together for a glass of wine and some conversation.

The third encounter was two years ago when I got another, milder case of the stomach malady that had felled me on the staircase a couple of years before. This time I just decided to get a doctor to make a house call - they do that in France. So I called and a couple hours later a doctor showed up, examined me and gave me a prescription for whatever it was that I had. I had to go out to the pharmacy, but I was only up one flight this time so I didn't pass out when I returned. That doctor house call cost me 70 Euros, again, the maximum possible due to the fact that I have no health care coverge in France. Once a person becomes some sort of officially resident non French citizen he or she is covered, but I was still a visitor.

So now to what I heard this morning. Actually, I keep hearing it in various forms; it just finally put me over the edge this morning. Some Republican was decrying the possibility of a "public option" because it would be socialized medicine, just like France (remember what my Brit Doctor friend said?). He also said we couldn't afford it (I guess since the current wonderful Insurance Industry controlled option is the most expensive in the world he assumed that any change would cost even more. It might have been useful for him to have been aware that France's system is not only not socialized medicine, it costs way less than ours and provides generally the best or nearly best "outcomes" in the world - the US is somewhere in the thirties in world rankings for outcomes). And even someone who doesn't pay into the French system - me in the examples above - can benefit from superior service (same day appointments, house calls within a few hours of request) and low cost - 105 Euros for my entire medical needs from the system, not counting prescriptions.

But then he really delivered the coup de grace. If we have a public option, he said, it will kill off our great American Market Driven and Provided approach to the requirement. He said that 120 million of us would sign up for the public option. So how stupid are we? If the public option is so bad, why would 120 million of us all sign up for it? What kind of forked tongued rhetoric are the Republicans dishing out? But the lobbies can apparently keep dinosaurs going for years, to the detriment of all of us, including the dinosaurs. 

In Screen Saver there are a number of stories that have bird hunting with Blitz and Brown – two wonderful German Shorthaired Pointers - as their background milieu. These stories inevitably talk about various aspects of hunting, shooting, preparing, cooking and eating various upland game birds: pheasant, chukkar, Hungarian partridge and quail.

What I didn't realize I was omitting during all the writing and editing of the book was that I completely neglected to mention a key adjunct to the hunting of birds. Being out in the wheat fields and sugar beet fields of Oregon and Idaho inevitably brought Jack and me into contact with a physical phenomenon and an associated dilemma. Pheasants like to fly into the path of oncoming cars. Sometimes they make it through unscathed. Sometimes they don't. When they don't, they often manage to limp and flop to the edge of the road where they die not much worse than for the wear and tear of a ruptured heart or massive concussion resulting from contact with the car. This caused the phenomenon: lots of possibly edible game scattered hither and yon along the roadways and byways of many beautiful autumn afternoons. Which led to the dilemma: is it ethical to re-harvest any or all of that previously harvested game?

Jack and I decided that, if we had seen the game being harvested the answer was a definite yes. If the incident of the bird's demise had not been personally witnessed by us, and, if upon stopping and examining a victim, rigor mortis had not yet set in, the answer was a slightly less enthusiastic yes, but yes nonetheless. If the victim was stiff as a tray of ice cubes the answer became hunger dependent.

Recipe to follow.

When I was in high school and college I did a little bit of formal debating. Debating is a little bit like fencing, albeit with words, rules, protocols and logic instead of foils and physical moves. One of the rules – the need for proof to support statements meant to carry the day and win the argument – resulted in a named error when the rule was violated. That debating error was called begging the question. I guess it is a sign of something lost that one now hears the term begging the question all of the time on the never ending torrent of words emanating from various of our well known opinion leaders: "that begs the question…" or "those circumstances are begging the question… ". Wandering syntax and grammar are vital signs of a living and growing language. No matter how painful "me and my friend went…" or "between you and I…" or "there is many things to consider" and their vast tribe of syntactical and grammatical kindred may be, to my ear, at least, they are the sign of a living and evolving language and as such they are the future of the language until they in their turn get mangled into something else.
And a cousin of evolving grammar is the inventive use of a word or phrase to mean something else.

Sometimes the new meaning causes the forgetting the old meaning. Sometimes not. In those cases where forgetting has occurred there is probably little or no damage done. In the case of the debating error once know by the name "begging the question" it appears that forgetfulness has indeed occurred. And its occurrence appears to be causing a great deal of damage. How else would it be possible for the religious right wing and the Republicans to keep carrying the debating day by saying things like "the argument against gay marriage is that if allowed it will destroy the sacred institution of marriage"?

In a similar vein I recently heard a right wing Republican decrying illegal aliens for:

  1. Not paying taxes, and
  2. Having a social security account.

So which is it? It probably isn't both. It's probably more likely B.

What are they really saying when large crowds of angry white people yell at our president "keep your hands off our kids"?

It seems to me that the existence of large irate crowds of ill informed people who like to gather and shout about gay rights, immigration and health care reform point to the fact that an alarmingly large and possibly increasing segment of our fellow citizens are mean, selfish and stupid.

I did learn something of worth the other day on NPR. Warren Olney presented one of his multiple viewpoint sessions on the subject of the Catholic Church's – the Roman one – recent statement of the viewpoint that revelation and science - evolution even – can certainly co-exist fraternally. The two are merely two different dimensions of the boundless truth of the universe and the universal god, or some such sort of thought process. So Warren had a Catholic theologian, a Protestant theologian, a secular scientist and a member of the religious right on the show. The two theologians pretty much agreed with one another. The right wing guy started with the fact that creation is six thousand years old – he had high praise for Bishop Ussher – and pretty much went downhill from there.

But back to what I learned: Warren asked him if the world is only six thousand years old why does carbon dating point to a much older world. The guy said carbon dating actually proved the six thousand year age; it was just a matter of getting the process properly calibrated.
That's a concept that could have widespread and revolutionary application.

Today I became sixty seven years old.  I have been sixty seven for at least six months now, because I round up on age, but today it is irrevocable.  To celebrate I had one of my favorite breakfasts after 23 miles on the trainer in the garage; the weather was so typically Seattle that riding a bike outside at my age could have been life-threatening; the breakfast was Eggs Benedict and a Bloody Mary (two bloodies, actually).  For the recipes go to HTTP://www.noelmckeehan.com/foodx.html

Anyway, after wolfing down the eggs, bacon and Hollandaise, I was washing the dishes that are not appropriate for the dishwasher.  As usually happens when I am washing dishes I began to build up a head of emotional steam resisting the need for or even the existence of the process in which I was, up to my forearms-in-water involved.
“How many more of these (dish washing incidents) do I have in me?” I heard somebody say.  When I had recognized the voice as my own, it caused a degree of introspection.  It caused introspection because I have been hearing my voice saying that really often recently.

There were the DTRs from Comcast.  Earlier in the year when I was trying to install a replacement, higher speed, router for my home network I had had to call Comcast to re-discover the exact order of events that needed to occur between me and my cable modem to allow the new router to access the internet.  I knew what I had to do; I just couldn’t remember what the order of events needed to be.  In the process of that fairly painless encounter the nice lady at Comcast had asked me how many TVs I had installed.  I couldn’t remember, but I offered what seemed to me a plausible number.  She said that in the near future Comcast was going to vastly improve their service by doing something that would eliminate my access to any channels above channel 30, and that if I wanted to continue to have access to any channels above channel 30 I would need to install some devices that Comcast would be glad to provide.

The devices – two of them – arrived and sat on the dining room table for several months.  I looked at the directions a couple of times and heard the voice saying, “how many ….”
And then one day, having reached the masochistic need to see what the answer to that question might be, I opened the boxes, installed the devices, called Comcast and did whatever it was that I needed to do to activate them – that process is long lost in the mists of the recent past – and on the two sets that are their host, I have access to channels above channel 30.  Since I seldom go beyond the Lehrer News Hour on channel 9, I am unsure why I did that, but it is done.

Recently the voice has sounded forth related to an all-in-one HP printer, a USB turntable, a Vista 64 bit ThinkPad a new web site (I had one in the 90’s for which I had to teach myself HTML before anybody had a web site, but it stirred up so much disinterest and personal expense that I abandoned it after several years) and two blogs.  In every case I had fairly quick and successful resolve of the process.  In the case of 64 bit Vista, I had trouble with the network because Microsoft apparently decided that they wanted to return to making network access easy rather than impossible as they had made it in 32 bit Vista.  As I struggled with the newly provided straight forward simplicity I managed to re-name my “Desktop” “Everyone”, but I ultimately lurched into having my new machine on the network.

Maybe the answer to the question, “how many more of these do I have in me?” is answered in chapter 25 of Screen Saver.

On toward dawn late in December in 2007 I was in Paris and had been reading because I had awakened and couldn't get back to sleep. Every couple years during my times in Paris I read A moveable Feast. On this particular morning, as I was about to complete the book something that Hemingway said set off a chain reaction of thoughts and ideas that I had to write down. Since I had taken my computer with me to Paris, I jumped out of bed, turned on the ThinkPad and hammered out a few paragraphs. Then I got another glass of calvados, another book and went back to bed.

I read what it was that I had written after breakfast later that morning and was pleased to discover that, unlike virtually all of the apparently inspired things that I have ever been known to write on toward dawn, what I had written this time hadn't dissolved in the interim into mindless drivel.

That notwithstanding, I didn't draw any deep conclusions about the existence of the small document; it just felt good to have written something in an apparently inspired moment and have it stand up to the light of day.

Then something happened that gave it more immediate importance. Patty, my sister, sent me an email that sounded as if she had read what I had written. Her thoughts were eerily parallel to mine.

So I responded and attached the Word document that I had produced and asked her opinion. Being, I suppose, a loyal sister, she replied that it was good and had left her wanting more. Specifically, she wanted to know where my opening few paragraphs might ultimately lead.

So did I.

A year later, again in Paris, the thing had become 19 chapters of a memoir. By the following May it had been finished at 25 chapters. Since then I have put it through five revisions and have self published on lulu.com.

But there is more.

Suddenly possessing something that I had always believed I could produce, but having never gotten beyond drivel, I needed to engage the publishing establishment. During the majority of my life in which the existence of a book to be offered for publication had remained a pipedream, the publishing step had seemed a no-brainer. Over the last several months I have learned in depth the untruth of that belief.

That untruth can be distilled into one word: "platform".

Here is what I have been told about "platform.

"Platform" is what famous people have. If they can manage to put something on paper, or get someone else to put it there for them some publisher will publish it. "Platform" is also what experts in various fields have. "Platform" is what captains of industry or scions of the educational establishment have. "Platform" is what one who has had the bad – or good – fortune to be the pilot of a plane that has just flown through a flock of geese has.

"Platform" is what numerous agents and various publishing industry hangers-on tell me that I lack. And that lack makes what I have written by definition of no possible interest to the publishing community. "If you had written about vampires, perhaps; but a tale spanning the last sixty years, and you with no platform? Not possible."

"But", they say, "one can try to remedy that problem. To build platform get as many followers on Twitter as possible. Have hoards of friends on FaceBook. Be a blogger. Have a Web site. Write and submit learned articles to learned publications."

Does anybody really pay any attention to Twitter? Do the hoard of the self-absorbed who post their ongoing inanities on FaceBook ever read what anyone else except their proprietary inner circle of fellow cretins post on the site? Is a person with absolutely no platform going to have any better luck getting published in learned publications?

But I have a book and I am going to get the attention of the publishing community or go down in flames trying.

So I am on Twitter and FaceBook and I have brought up my Web site – noelmckeehan.com. And I am employing what amounts to guerrilla tactics by self-publishing. I have purchased a distribution package that includes distribution, not only on Lulu.com, but also on Amazon, BarnesandNoble and Ingram

It should be obvious to anyone who pays any attention to anything that the legislature of the United States has evolved since 1994 into a form of government that has no purpose other than a game in which the out-of-power party keeps anything from happening so that they can blame the in-power party at the next election for getting nothing done.  Neither party can or will support the best interests of the country because to do so might allow something positive to happen on the watch of the in-power party, thus making them look good and allowing for the possibility of them being re-confirmed in power at the next election.  This situation closely resembles the state of affairs that developed in World War I after the initial thrusts and parries had stabilized into an impasse which lasted until the United States added fresh blood on the side of the French and British and tipped the balance in their favor.  It would not appear that such a third party exists in United States national politics, so it would appear that the game of keeping the in-powers from accomplishing anything that will help the country is going to continue.  Ultimately, it would seem probable that the game will be broken, but it will probably be broken by the breaking of the country.

The only exceptions to the don’t-do-anything form of government that have appeared are things that either should not have happened at all, or should have happened differently: under the threat of a McCarthy-like reign of terror from former president Bush and the republicans the democrats all buckled and voted for the Iraq invasion.  Driven by a form of mass hysteria caused by the fear of a looming depression Nancy Pelosi was able to force through a trillion dollar list of all the half baked ideas that had been on her spending list for a long time.  Rather than trying to act as a productive and protective opposition and forcing deliberation that would create a plan to spend what was probably somewhere near the right amount of money in a manner that made any sense, the republicans just went along.

And the icing on the nightmare cake of misgovernment is the influence of lobbies.  What little does happen is the result of that nasty expedient for re-election, the expedient that both the ins and the outs need equally: money from the lobbies.

I’ve seen this movie before.  I didn’t like it the first time I saw it and I don’t like it any better this time.  The basic plot of the movie involves the iterative increase of hoards of American military personnel who get sent to some country that nobody in America except those who are in the process of being iteratively sent in ever increasing increments can find on the map; a sub plot is that nobody except those who are being sent have any clear idea about why they are being sent.  For example, a while back my brother in law, who spent a year in Iraq, told me over a friendly martini that he had spent that year in Iraq defending the American Constitution.  I lacked that sort of clarity about what our purposes had been in Iraq, although I had had some memory of there being vast numbers of nuclear and biological weapons stored there for use against the United States.  I suppose if they had been used against us it would have been a bad thing for the American Constitution, so perhaps my brother in law was correct.  I can’t remember whether we actually got any of those weapons, but since we are still physically intact I guess we did.

The first time I saw the movie I was among the iteratively increasing hoards.  We were all being iteratively and increasingly sent to Vietnam.  When we got there (we called it “in-country”) we all learned where Vietnam was.  That was because we all wanted to know how to get back from it, so we needed to know where it actually was on the map.  If we had stayed uniteratively increased I suspect we never would have known where it was.  And that probably would have been good.  Anyway, when we got there some of us got sent “up-country” and some of us stayed in Saigon. 

If one was sent “up-country” (some were actually sent “down-country”; there were places like the Rung Sat Special Strike Zone – I never knew how to spell it - that were distinctly south of Saigon) one got to get shot at quite a lot.  All that shooting was one of the key contributors to the interatively increasing requirement for hoards of additional military personnel.  One of the advantages of all that iteratively increasing need was that it provided employment opportunities for vast numbers of young men who might have been otherwise unemployed, and that was good.

If one stayed in Saigon one spent most of one’s time saluting the vast hoards of senior officers who all had flocked to the “war effort” to further their careers.  “It may not be much, but it’s the only war we’ve got” was a commonly heard witticism.  When not saluting one probably spent most of the rest of one’s time dodging large Cadillacs with starred flags affixed to them as they hurtled around the city.  Occasionally one had to dodge a large limousine Mercedes that hurtled around with Nguyen Van Tiu in it.  Nguyen was the president of Vietnam and he needed to hurtle around the streets a lot.  He couldn’t let the American generals out hurtle him.

That movie all worked out really well.  I just didn’t like it.  But that’s probably because I have always been pretty hard to please.  After eight or ten years of thrashing around militarily and diplomatically the United States declared victory and the iterative hoards went home.  Not long after the hoards left the guys who had been shooting at all of us formed their own government.  I had always thought that we could have achieved the same result by just cutting out the iterative increases and the thrashing about and the shooting and just let those guys set up their government.  They seemed to be somewhat of an improvement over the government provided by the guy in the Mercedes Limo but I was never sure.  Apparently whether it was better or not was moot; we just left after spending a lot of money and sending home a lot of coffins.

But all of this is based on memories, and memories are at best phantoms.

This was written on Monday before the Tuesday.

Everybody has been assuming since Sunday that tonight – Tuesday 1 December - the president is going to announce a significant increase in troops to be sent to Afghanistan.  See my November post “Re-Run” for how I feel about that assumption which is apparently about to become fact.  But life moves on.

Moving on, therefore, I am curious about something.

I heard just a few moments ago on NPR’s “Morning Edition” that the number of troops to be sent is thought to be going to be about thirty thousand.  It is also thought that the cost was will be about thirty billion a year.  Apparently all those Goldman Sachs’ bonuses have cut into the Federal budget so much that even thirty billion seems like a lot of money. Various among our elected representatives even have been heard in public utterances occurring during breaks from their meetings with their various lobbyist sponsors that they are not at all sure that we can pay for thirty thousand additional troops in Afghanistan.

So they are suggesting that we probably will need to impose a one percent income tax surtax to pay for the endeavor.  The last time we had one of those was to help pay for the iteratively incremental inflow of troops into Vietnam.  And that worked out well.
One of the advantages, those lawmakers are pointing out, to such a surtax is that it would make all of us feel more of a sense of ownership of the action in Afghanistan.  We need to pay for the war we are getting they assert. 

In a previous post, “Potpourri”, I discuss the current persistent use of the debating error “begging the question” in most current discussion of various important issues.  The assertion, above, that we need to pay for what we are getting is yet another example of this phenomenon.  It is elliptical – the proof being offered that is in itself unproved – is not stated (“you all want to fight a war in Afghanistan”) but it is there nonetheless. 

So where do we have any evidence that we all want to fight a war in Afghanistan?  Where does it say that we all want to go through the motions again of thrashing around for some currently un-determined number of years and then declare victory, get out and watch whoever it was that we thought we were fighting take over after we leave?

One percent of my annual income tax bill is not a life threatening amount of money, but I have no interest paying it for fighting a war in Afghanistan.  So can I send my surtax to Goldman Sachs?

COIN – counter insurgency – is not an acronym that has just been recently invented by some sprightly young Washington pundit.  We used that same acronym back in the last century.  We used that acronym mostly in relationship to the Vietnam Debacle.  It was not named the Vietnam Debacle at the time we were using the acronym though.  The name Vietnam Debacle came into being after we had declared victory after eight or ten years of thrashing around diplomatically and militarily and had gotten out.  I was never sure what year that exit had occurred because by the time it had occurred I had spent my pre-requisite year in the war effort and had, after another subsequent year spent in a sub basement of some building at Offutt AFB in Omaha gotten out of the Air Force.  Once out of the Air Force I had stopped paying any attention to what was going on with the war effort.  It was my version of post non-combat stress disorder.  But apparently it (getting out) had occurred because not long after the time it must have occurred the guys that we had been fighting while we were thrashing around had come into South Vietnam and had set up a government.  My disorder never allowed me to know, or care, when that had occurred but it must have occurred because I am told that there is a country called Vietnam.  I guess we like to trade with them.  I guess we need their rice.  I never knew.

But back to COIN.  What I learned when I was in training at Lowery Air Force Base in Denver being trained to be an Intelligence Officer was that there were very few – really only one – examples of successful COIN operations on the part of Western Powers.  The one example that our teachers – one of whom was an RAF Flight Lieutenant (there was an “F” in there somewhere, but I know not where) – could reference was Malaysia.  The British had conducted a successful COIN operation in Malaysia.  And it had only taken thirty years.  In fact the key take away from the example of Malaysia was that if a country signs up for a COIN operation, that country had better be ready for a long slog, of thirty years or more.

But all of that is just background information.

I heard today that the republicans are all saying that we can’t afford a trillion dollar health care reform bill.  I keep hearing, but it is probably all lies, that that trillion dollars is paid for in a variety of cost offsetting ways.  Anyway, the republicans are, on the other hand, pretty enthusiastic about war in any form and the one in Afghanistan in particular.  That may be because both the Afghan Debacle (is it too soon for that name?) and the Iraq Debacle have been conducted off budget.  Apparently that allows the trillion or so that those two debacles have cost to date to flow straight through to the aggregate national debt without stopping off as a part of any annual deficit.  Adding to the deficit would have been pretty annoying to the American people, so our leaders of all stripes and colors just let it flow through to the debt.  Since that debt is something about which we rarely speak – probably due to its enormity – the whole war financing method is pretty good politics.

The republican’s enthusiasm for the Afghan Debacle, should, I would hope, but I may be assuming where I should be verifying – those guys are pretty slippery – include the fact that they accept the hundred billion a year price tag.  Again, even if they accept it they are really off the hook because, unlike health care which needs to be accounted and paid for, the twin Debacles are just paid for out of some magic purse full of foo foo dust.

So what I am about to say is already, even before I say it, trumped.  But I have to say it anyway.

If I take thirty years and multiply it by a hundred billion - not counting the post war costs of veterans’ medical benefits (we learned from the Walter Reed Debacle – there is a mounting number of Debacles here – that we really don’t intend to offer much in the way of veteran’s benefits anyway), inflation and related nuisances - I get three trillion dollars. And that is three trillion that, although it is off budget it does go to the aggregate national debt.  Last time I looked that aggregate national debt was about eleven trillion.  Good thing that interest rates are so low. 

I guess three trillion not budgeted and not paid for compared to one trillion which is to be budgeted and paid for is a much better deal.

Of course the crowd to whom that appears to be a good deal mostly believes that the earth is six thousand years old.

I wrote this in an email responding to an email I received from a long lost acquaintance - her family is alluded to in Screen Saver - and when I re-read it I thought "this is a better Blog than it is an email". The first paragraph is a response to her question: "So tell me….what do you do when you go to France and what made you start going there in the first place?"

What made me go there in the first place and what I do there when I am there are some of the story lines in Screen Saver. Briefly, I went there because some friends were going and Mysti decided to go and I decided to test a life-long pillar of personal knowledge: France and the French suck.  How wrong.  When I'm there I rent apartments in Paris and just blend in with occasional stops for wine, espress or onion soup.  

 Mysti and I have taken a couple of self directed bike tours, one in Languedoc and one in Entre deux mers.  Those put us out on the back roads of rural France where we stayed in tour provided gits and ate local food and drank local wines with local people. 

We also took five weeks in Brittany.  On that one we picked up our rental car in Rennes and just took off.  We didn't have any reservations.  We just took a map and found towns that looked interesting and stayed in them when we could get ocean view rooms.  We were always able to get ocean front rooms because it was in September and October, so the Season was over.  We usually stayed in a town for four or five days and made side trips every day into the adjacent country side to see what we could see.  In that manner we found Pont Croix which is a little town several miles inland from the Atlantic which lost its significance eight or nine hundred years ago when the port silted up.  But it was a fascinating little place. 

The high point of that trip, I always thought, occurred on an evening in early October.  We had gotten a room in a lodging place in the vestiges of Merlin's forest and had, naturally, retired to the bar.  After several wines and a convivial and animated discussion with a number of our fellow drinkers, one of the men turned to me and said, "so what the fuck is the deal with this Bush?"  That was in 2005. 

 I bought the guy a drink. 

The proprietor herded a bunch of us out of the place at about 1:30 am, all singing, as best we could, Milord.   I'd rather be in France than any where I know of.  But at least now I know that the word "know" is a four letter word and, therefore extremely dangerous.  A lot of damage has been done under that banner.

A number of the story lines in Screen Saver revolve around the fact that I was an Intelligence Officer in the Air Force for four years, including a year in Vietnam and several months in Japan related to the Pueblo Crisis. So I feel as if I have some platform from which to make the following observations.

For all the money we have spent on TSA, and for all the inconvenience, all the shoes removed, all the grandmothers and cripples who have been frisked, all the totally legitimate items that have been expropriated: jeweler’s screw drivers, finger nail clippers, and vieuve clicquot, we have apparently apprehended two would-be suicide bombers. And both of them were apprehended in the act. They got through security, got on the plane, and after the plane was airborne they attempted to detonate. Fortunately they both were duds.

"But that can’t be right", I thought I heard someone say. Surely there have been many, many, many apprehended in the act of trying to get through security.

If so, why haven’t we heard about them?

"Because those many successful apprehensions have all been kept strictly secret", I thought I heard someone say.

"Oh. Then why haven’t we kept the two actually almost successful attempts strictly secret?" I thought to say.

"Because all the passengers on those planes knew about it and it would have been impossible to keep them all quiet", I heard that voice again pipe up.

So, in all the vast number of successful apprehensions that have been nonetheless kept absolutely secret there were no people around. Those successful apprehensions all occurred when there were no other passengers in the check in line? Or, alternately, given that indeed the likelihood of no potential witnesses being in line is zero, in all that vast number of TSA successes, the would-be bomber didn’t talk, didn’t resist, didn’t even twitch? Didn’t even shout "Allah akbar"? That sounds like the plot of a Dean Koontz book.

But ultimately whether there have been two very public failures accompanied by vast numbers of successes or just two failures, the fact is that we are bringing our air transport system to its knees (and what happens when the bombers decide to go after trains and buses?) that we are spending vast quantities of money and are still not solving the problem – we just remove an additional item of clothes every time a new terrorist thrust succeeds – and look amazingly inept to the world of Islamic terror.

But I guess clearer heads at TSA are prevailing. It is obvious that the response to a guy hiding a bomb in his crotch is to ban carry-on baggage. That logic has a massive precedent: we thought that the 9/11 attackers came from Afghanistan so we invaded Iraq.

But assuming that somewhere there are people in our intelligence apparatus that are not cretins, how about we put an intelligence system in place that would go well on the way to solving the problem?

"Well you have to understand how hard it is to connect the dots", I thought I heard someone say. "It’s just too hard. And we have to avoid profiling. And the agencies have trouble communicating. And, anyway, it all pays the same. Whether we succeed or fail we get our paychecks, get our health care, get our government retirement. We’re working as hard as we can, but it’s just real hard."


This flow chart shows how we could get ahead of the game and handle situations such as the crotch bomber. In that scenario we apparently had the information that should have caused someone to ask him some questions and check him out - maybe even do a good deep pat down. The system that I am proposing is unitary. All the data is in one data base. It is a kluge but it's one and its in one place, logically. Physically it's spread all over hell's half acre. The idea is to get everything, anything, even almost nothing in the kluge. World wide intelligence officers would have the job of analyzing the kluge, each in his or her own manner. Each in his or her own manner would sort/sift and decide what items, situations or people were off center from a terror avoidance point of view. If for any reason someone or something catches their attention they put it into a world wide Problem Data Base.

At that point - the assumption is that some sort of order would be superimposed upon that data base - it would be huge but not any more a kluge. Rather than spending billions more on body scanners and making the lines get bigger and slower with the need to remove more clothes and do more ridiculous things while trying to get on an airline it would be the responsibility of all affected worldwide entities, like airlines and embassies, but by no means limited to them, to enter the identication information of every person asking for service from those entities into that problem data base. Obviously that data base will need to have been installed in such a manner that it can be easily integrated into each entities' line of business systems. If the entry comes up a "hit" - the person is in the Problem Data Base - they would be taken off line for special and appropriate attention. And that would be long before the person got anywhere near a check in line.

This approach addresses the problem that we currently have two data bases that don't talk to each other, and only one of them is used to take the "special and appropriate" actions mentioned, above; and the one that is actually used is very small compared to the other one. So a huge data base of identified "likelies" sits in an untouched nether world unused until one of its inhabitants tries to blow up a plane or some accidental encounter between our various duelling intelligence apararati "connects some dots". And every time somebody beats the system we hear how hard those dots are to connect.

I am proposing that we ignore the dots and drive all the information that professional intelligence officers glean and gather straight to the people who need it to do their business and provide the first realistic line of defence against terrorists. I am proposing that we get rid of holding tank data limbos and all the middle men and all their god damned dots.
I couldn’t have been more disappointed.

Today, 7 January 2010, the president spoke to the American people. This President, unlike his predecessor, has an intellect and usually applies that intellect to the things that he says – snippets or speeches.

His predecessor lacked that sort of intellect, so there was nothing to apply to the things that he said – snippets or speeches. He was pretty good at speaking, it was just that what he said was what someone had told him to say. His pronouncements were always the words of a ventriloquist’s dummy, although he stood alone rather than sitting on the lap of the ventriloquist.

Today, at least from the viewpoint of the message delivered, the ventriloquist seems to have come back. Because the message was identical to what would have been expected from Bush; as such it was just plain wrong.

The President said that the system failed.

The system didn’t fail. The system doesn’t work. In fact that which the President says has failed isn’t even a system. There really isn’t any system. What there is is an organization. It is an organization that is set up like a corporation. It is not organized like a corporation such as one finds among the successful businesses of the 2000’s, it is a corporation such as one found at the turn of the nineteenth century. It has many levels of command control and information passes slowly through the semi-porous membranes that separate the various layers.

And worse yet, it isn’t just one multi-layered corporate-like structure. It is multiple such entities. They all sell the same product: useable intelligence information. But their manufacturing process is slow. And there really aren’t any standards as to what the finished product might need to look like. As a result, they aren’t really manufacturers at all; they are job shops producing infinite numbers of one-of-a-kinds that they think up to fill their time. And they never are really sure what these individual one-of-a-kinds ought to look like, or how they might be used, or who might want to buy them. In any event, even if they did know, many of the components that they would need to make something if they ever figured out what it was that they ought to be making are in the hands of their competitors, the other manufacturers.

In spite of these challenges, the manufacturers employ really talented, imaginative employees who are really skilled at their craft. They produce a lot of very useable product in spite of all the problems.

But the product doesn’t get distributed on a very broad basis.

That is because the distributor is small and has limited product expertise. It is called the no fly list and it only deals in absolutely known problems. Those problems – the product of the manufacturers – are few in number because no matter how skilled the employees of the manufacturers might be – they don’t know all the possible combinations of use that could be made of their product, so they only ship the product that their limited, albeit highly skilled, knowledge tells them has a market.

But the market is huge. And the customers in that market, in aggregate, know vastly more about all the combinational possibilities of use of the manufacturer’s product, a product that when viewed in this manner is really a monstrous tool kit of components that could be used with great success by that vast market of customers, if only those customers could get that tool kit. But they can’t. The distributor is too small and limited.

So the answer isn’t to try to make the existing multiple competing manufacturers more efficient and more accountable and bigger. The answer is to totally re-organize those manufacturers into a single level – get rid of the layers; look like a modern corporation - processing entity, taking the raw material and turning it as rapidly as possible into useable components, putting them in a gigantic tool kit and sending the kit on a constantly updated basis to all the customers who can use the components each in their own way, having completely eliminated the distributor.

There would be no no fly list. There would just be useable information real time, on line available at all times to those who need it to make the decisions that should have been made in relation to the crotch bomber.

This is a systems problem, not an organizational problem.
I got an email today that set me off. It was forwarded to me by a friend. It pointed out that the ten poorest cities in the US - Detroit, Cleveland, etc. - hadn’t had a republican mayor in many years. From that information they deduced the fact that the Democrats drive poverty.

I sent back a fiery response to my friend who hadn’t written the thing, he had only forwarded it to me; but I couldn’t get at the original sender, so I let loose on my friend. He replied with his typical equanimity and I fired back the following.

I admire your dispassionately detached viewpoint, and I am capable of taking that point of view as well.

But then love of country and fear for its continued existence boil up and I start screaming.

People like the one who put this diatribe together are not capable of balanced rational thought. Both of those are required for successful self government. If one starts with the assumption that people who are only capable of this quality of thought are in the majority (not a large leap of assumption- just watch Fox) add to that majoritiy's profile stupidity, meanness and selfishness and racism, and then top it off with their introspectively overwhelming prejudice of all viewpoints but theirs and you have fertile ground for a demagogue.

Then add the fact that WE may elect people, but the LOBBIES tell them what to do, then add the imminent decision from the Supreme Court that will allow CORPORATIONS to spend all they want in support of political candidates - which means that WE won't even get to choose the people who take orders from the LOBBIES; it will be, instead, the candidate of the ENERGY INDUSTRY versus the candidate of the MEDICAL/DRUG COMPLEX, or some other match up of puppets from leviathan alliances of corporations. You have END GAME.

So I have trouble being dispassionate.
Ten or twelve years ago I liked to pontificate to anyone who would stop long enough to listen to more than three words - and there were more of people who had that longer form of attention span at that time than there are now, but not many - that it seemed to me that the way the internet was evolving was going to cause the human race to adopt an organizational form similar to a hive of bees. I had no vision at the time of Facebook, My space and Twitter, but I did see the direction that email and AOL instant messaging seemed to be pointing.

I certainly didn't think that in ten years that observation would not only turn out to have been fairly accurate, but nearly a fait accompli.

With that capability - the ability to "know" what we are all thinking, doing, considering doing and likely to do - we don't need to travel as much, or perhaps at all. We can just commune with one another in real time; we can order things from on line retail - even from Starbucks - ad hoc, as the needs for those things arise and we can all sit at our keyboards and "communicate" instead of "travel".

The human race will begin to make maneuvers that, to those not plugged into the network, will look like the amazing close-ordered flying that one sees in large flocks of birds

The Economist recently had an article about a new generation of printers that "print" solid objects. It is possible to go straight from CATIA logic to the print button and end up with a finished item. Jay Leno owns one from StrataSys. He uses it to produce parts for some of the completely old and out of production members of his automobile collection. The parts for many of those cars are just not available, so Jay has had them redesigned using 3D computer design technology then he "prints" the parts.

Apply that logic to being at your keyboard, communing with the hive and ordering on line as the need arises. This printer trend seems to point to the possibility of having the item that you have ordered appearing at the solid state printer installed on your computer.

Probably not Starbucks
The Economist constantly points out that the US has the best University system in the world and that there really isn't a country in second or third place. In an annual survey by the Chinese (they are trying to figure out what they need to do to get to best of breed status, and they are moving forward with vigor) on the top 20 list they are all American Universities (I can't remember whether Harvard was first or not) except for Oxford and Cambridge which were both in the top ten. No French, nor German, nor Japanese were on the list. The U of Washington was number 20, interestingly enough.

Anyway, we - the United States of America - are imminently in position of pissing that advantage away. If the kids entering the system can't read, write, think or talk coherently, and don't know math and have no idea about where anything is in the world or what has happened in the world over the last three or four thousand years, (unless Bishop Ussher's statements which are believed by many of them are taken as valid history) the system won't last very long. And it takes years to fix that problem. An empty pipeline is probably going to be a major contributor to our undoing.