Going dark – part 2

It seems the topic for this series of posts just keeps expanding – I guess I added too much yeast ;-).  What started as a single post had to be broken up into what I thought would need to be four to let me get the first one out, and now I’ve been stewing on this second one for a few weeks and there is at least one other part I have decided to break out into a later post to let this one actually be done.  The topic for that one will become clear below.

This second in the “going dark” series focuses on what I’m doing / thinking about doing to mute or mask the signals I give off to marketers and others that might be interested in what I am doing online in my “full featured” computing environments, namely the various desktop and laptops I use.

To rehash an important point from the previous post: my aim here is NOT to become invisible nor do I think that I do anything that would be of particular interest to anyone.  It is a matter of principle.  I feel that I need to exercise my right to privacy, even if I know I wont be completely successful in doing so.  Its through the exercise of our rights that we actually claim them.  By taking some of the steps in this post I am making it clear that I expect to have a certain level of privacy, and the courts have made clear than expectations are a big part of what is ruled as private vs. public.

I look at the precautions here for privacy the same way that I look at arming myself for personal protection: do I expect to be able to defeat all attacks because I have regularly keep and bear arms?  Of course not.  But I do expect that because I exercise that right, that it puts me down in the column of people that actually care that they have that right.  I have an expectation of being able to defend myself because I make preparations to do so.  Through what’s listed here, I am declaring that I have en expectation of privacy, with full knowledge that if someone really wants to know what I am up to they can find out without too much trouble.

With that out of the way, lets start the meat of this post from the point that actually create the possibility of privacy issues: the network itself.  This breaks down to two aspects: from the home to the rest of the net and the subnet within the home.

First, from the home to the series of tubes, I am likely stuck with cable for internet access, but I’m not sure that matters since every large scale provider logs all traffic and as Snowden showed us they have no problem sharing with the NSA.  The two viable routes around provider logging that I have been able to find are VPN (costs $) or Tor.  I still need to dig into this a bit deeper, but from what I can tell, the VPN based approach creates a dependency on your VPN provider to not keep logs or give access to anyone that might want logs.  There are some VPN providers with long and solid track records, but it still seems to be a single point of failure.  On the other hand, Tor (in addition to being free) is a distributed anonymizing network so there is no one single point of failure.  However there are rumors that there are exit nodes on the Tor network (the nodes that get to see what you are requesting and have some info on who you are – at least your IP address) have been compromised or have even been setup by different governmental agencies around the world.  This one is a toss up still.  I will probably start with Tor since its free and I can setup a spare raspberry pi I have sitting around to act as a basic anonymizing machine for all traffic that connects through it and look more seriously at VPN if I cant get that to do what I want or if in testing it proves to be less private than I expect.  If you are interested in this approach but don’t want to build your own Onion Pi to do it, the market will provide.

Within the home, I am currently using a combination of wired and wireless connections.  There are a few “dumb” switches for the wired connections, but everything comes together in an Apple Airport Express before connecting to the cable modem.  Even before this recent privacy awakening, I’ve been getting more things on the wired network, mainly for performance reasons.  Wireless has been getting faster, but its not really or at least not consistently 1 Gbps.  The jury is still out on the Airport, but if it stays in the scheme it will be relegated to second tier status, with the brains of the network being filled by a dedicated machine running IPfire.  As long as I can keep that machine from being compromised, it should give me excellent control.  As I get more comfortable with it, I will setup all four zones – adding orange (DMZ for servers) and blue (wireless) after I get the red (internet) and green (wired intranet) working together.  I just need to find a cheap desktop in the pile somewhere to get that up and running.  I will probably get another raspi and build one of these to test network security – just for the fun of it ;-)

With a few steps to secure the network, next I need to secure what I connect to the network.  There will (hopefully) be a later post about mobile and other devices, so as I said before this post is focused on full featured computing = desktop or laptops.

I regularly use two PCs every day from my home office: my personal Mac Book Pro from mid 2009 and a newly issued Surface Pro 3 for work.  I am certain without even checking that my work machine is laden with all sorts of monitoring software and that every site visited and email sent goes down in my “permanent record”.  I am OK with all of that since that machine and everything on it is their property – they have every right (and I am sure I agreed to such monitoring in some employment agreement somewhere) to watch what goes on there.

So that leaves the personal MBP to worry about, and I’m going to look at it from two aspects: the hardware and the software.  From a hardware perspective there are a few “privacy points” I could gain by switching to a different platform, but I would likely have to build a PC from parts to skip including things like a camera, wifi or built in microphones or speakers.  Not sure its worth it, but am keeping it out there as an option.  The more obvious, but more difficult, switch I need to make to increase privacy is on the software side.  While its true that OSX is “related to” Linux, that doesn’t necessarily make it secure.  In fact, the folks in Cupertino seem to use that to build in privacy compromises (another example here).  The downside to any move away from OSX is the applications and overall user experience.  Try as I might I just haven’t been able to find an overall experience that approaches OSX on another software platform, Linux or Windows.

So whats the plan for base hardware and OS?  I think I will take a page out of the NSAs book and run two machines, or at least two separate environments.  In the Peace Revolution Podcast that kicked this whole thing off, there is an interview where someone from the NSA first realizes something is terribly wrong when he sees some of the documents Snowden leaked on his public / non-classified PC – he should normally only see those on his work / classified PC.  It was a side comment, but it got me to thinking that might not be a bad approach: leave my Mac for desktop focused applications (iMovie, iPhoto, Adobe, etc) with perhaps even an intermittent network connection (only when needed) and run a separate environment in a dual boot setup or maybe even on separate hardware for network tasks – email, browsing, blogging, etc.  There are security and privacy specific Linux builds out there, but I will probably start with something a bit simpler.

By using TAILS for my regular network related tasks, I also relieve another major privacy hole from my current compute stack: Chrome.  I made the switch to Chrome about 18 months ago.  I was lured by the speed and stayed for the cross platform syncing and plugins.  The fact that Google gets to see everything I do on the internet all the time was a minor inconvenience at first, but one that is more important in light of my current goal of creating an expectation of privacy.

Which (at 1500 words and counting) brings me to the part of this post that I mentioned at the start will have to be its own post for another day: what sites I use in that non-Chrome browser.  It does no good to erect privacy fence between me and my ISP, potential hackers and government agencies, if I then go out immediately login in to my Google account.  I am trying a one month hiatus from Facebook, motivated by my newfound interest in privacy as well as a test to see what I loose by not being there – and more importantly, what I gain (this post will still send a ping there – its automatic – I wasn’t on the site and my hiatus is still in effect).  Its also an easy test since its just one site and a few apps – none of which are “mission critical”.  Google’s application set is another story: search, email, docs, authenticator, apps, google+ and probably 10 more I can’t think of right now.  No attempt to establish an expectation of privacy on the internet is complete without a complete divorce from Google.  And thats going to take some thinking…and another post.

New target for the local IPDA match: Tueller-style mover

As some of you may know, I helped to get a local IDPA match going at the range just a few miles from my house a couple of years ago.  About a year ago, I became match director and since then I try to bring in a new “special” target” once every 3-4 months.  I started by building a swinger, then we bought some pepper poppers, and a few matches ago I introduced an up-down target that I built from watching a video (had to make a few guesses on measurements, but it worked).  I’ve always wanted to have a “tueller” style mover, but all the plans I found online either seemed a little rickety (overhead cable style) or way bigger projects that I had time to take on, with most of the work wrapped up in building the track.

One day though, my neighbor came home with a stack of cable run shelving that was taken out of a factory he had been working at.  The biggest / hardest part of a mover was now staring me the in the face.  When he offered, I quickly grabbed two 10′ sections (gratis of course….its good to have good neighbors).  But then it sat in my barn for the last year.

For whatever reason I decided this past weekend to start the build.  I started by connecting the two pieces of shelving by drilling some holes in the shelving and matching it up with a couple of pieces of angle iron with matching holes.  Four half inch bolts and nuts, and presto, I had a perfectly straight but still modular (have to be able to move it) twenty foot rail section.

Next up, I built the cart.  I thought for a long time about what to use for wheels.  I thought about trying to find something like a railroad wheel with a single flange, but decided that would require cutting and welding at a level of accuracy that I have not yet been able to obtain.  So double flanged wheels it was.  I knew I wanted metal wheels, so I headed to Tractor Supply to see what I could find that would fit the bill.  Originally I thought some of the overhead door wheels might work, but then I saw the inch and a half pulleys and knew I had my wheels.  I measured everything up, cut my steels and welded a simple 19 x 19 inch base together out of angle.  I drilled four holes at the four corners and attached the pulleys using the same half inch bolts and nuts that I used to connect the track.

I welded a cross piece to the quad angle frame and drilled a half inch hole in the center.  This will let me rotate the target to different angles as well as easily swap out different target holders in the future.  For now I made as simple single target holder, but in the future I plan to make a double, a hostage style holder and maybe even a swinger (the shooters at my match should love me for that one).

The last question was how to provide the mover with motion.  My original idea was to use gravity by tilting the track at an angle, having a release and letting the cart roll down hill when the release was pulled.  I did some quick searching and got a few more ideas from trolling motors to using a block and tackle.  I decided on the later since (a) it would let me leave the track flat (reducing stress on the track and simulating the reality of a moving target more accurately) and (b) because I hadn’t played with block and tackle since engineering school ;-).  I wasn’t sure how much force I would need or if a two fold purchase would pull enough rope, so I mocked the whole thing up using a step ladder turned to the side with a scrap 4×4 beam set across different height steps.  Much to my surprise, with 50 lbs and a two fold purchase, I learned I only needed about three and a half feet of drop to get the mover all the way across the track at a good speed.  (I can always easily add weight if I want to make it move faster or take away weight for a more leisurely pace).

I had to fab the block from a double pulley and some other bits I picked up from tractor supply.  The tackle is another double pulley with a binder.  The weight is two twenty-five lb plate weights with a screw eye through them supported by a fat washer and double nuts.  The rope is some bargain bin “climber” rope from tractor supply – something I am trying to swap out.  The release is simply three screw eyes, two on the track with one on the mover that slides in between them (and is also the connection to the rope) threaded by a pin.  The pin gets pulled (probably by a pepper popper or stomp box) and everything gets set into motion.

Its not the best mover out there, but I am pretty happy with how it turned out and for the possibilities to make it better and more flexible.  Take a look at the video above and the pics below and let me know if you have any ideas about how I could make it better!

Why I no longer participate in the campaign for a longer leash

I accidentally started a Facebeef earlier today by sharing something that I thought made a few good points about some of the reasons to not vote tomorrow (or really ever).  I know this isn’t a popular view, especially the day before an election and since I have friends and colleagues that are running for various local offices, but it is one I believe strongly in so I thought I would try to explain some of the reasons why in a post, on a platform that will let me explain myself a little more fully and respond to any comments in an equally complete form.

I was first a conscientious objector of the election / voting process last year, but I wasn’t as clear on my reasoning so I didn’t document it here.  This year, as I’ve continued my exploration of core principles and how to best live them by example, I understand a lot more about why I am refusing to vote.  I document those reasons here not to convince you that you should do anything differently, but simply to explain myself.

In no particular order:

  • I refuse to vote because I refuse to use force, even by proxy, to make someone live the way I think they should live.  Voting is about the majority forcing its will on the minority and in the case of state based voting, those that are elected have the ability to use force to make people comply with what they decide is law. If the ability to use violence to enforce the “law” were taken away, I might reconsider.  Of course, who then would follow the law?
  • I refuse to vote because I refuse to give my consent to the system.  Each voter implicitly gives the system and everything it produces their consent, regardless of who wins and what they do once in office.  This is where the whole “if you don’t vote you have no right to complain” fallacy comes from.  The fact is that the only peaceful mechanism I have to remove my consent from the system as a whole is to not participate (which I have to give credit to the guys that designed the whole thing is a pretty good system design to make sure that things never change)
  • I refuse to vote because the whole concept is illogical.  How can we together decide to bestow rights and privileges on other people that each one of us doesn’t hold ourselves?  I think most people would agree that they can’t tell their neighbor to do directly (much less be able to make them do it by force).  Why do they think that if they get together with their neighbor they can give someone across town the power to do that same thing?
  • I refuse to vote because its ineffective.  In my view, this is the weakest / most statist, but also the most pragmatic / utilitarian argument.  In all honesty I don’t know a single person who has ever said that they made their life better by voting.  I know you can’t always get what you want, but I know very few who seem to ever get anything that they want.  The infamous definition of insanity comes to mind (which is met with choruses of “but….we have to try!”).
  • I refuse to vote because I don’t want to abdicate my responsibility.  The attitude (which is encouraged, BTW) seems to be that if you cast your vote, whatever happens after that is out of your control, i.e. it is someone else’s decision.  You get one “big decision” to make once a year (blue pants or tan pants) and the rest of the year “your leaders” get to decide all the important things for you.  I choose to make my own decisions and live with the consequences.  It’s too much to ask we all live that way, but what if you, the person that is reading this, not only had that as part of your personal narrative, but actually started to live with that in mind?  Be the change you want to see.
  • I refuse to vote because I don’t get a real choice.  Corporate and other special interests decide what choices we get to make long before names are even on a ballot in November.  When “none of the above” is a valid choice on a ballot and if it wins no one occupies the office I may reconsider my position.
  • I refuse to vote because voting steals time (time to decide who to vote for, time to vote, time to follow election results, time to follow what those that I elected actually do) away from me that I could be doing more productive things from learning a new skill to spending time with those that matter most to me.
  • Lastly, I refuse to vote because what matters to me most is liberty.  To borrow an idea from my favorite comedian (and social commentator), voting for liberty like fucking for virginity.

As I read back through the list, it feels like I am missing a reason or two that has occurred to me in the last year, but its not coming to me, so I will leave it as is.  Again, I know this isn’t a popular view and if you’ve made it this far you probably either have all sorts of things you want to sit me down and explain to me or never want to talk to me again.  I understand both reactions.  All I ask is if you are in the former group that you come with reason and evidence – I don’t have time for appeals to emotion and won’t tolerate ad hominems.  And if you are in the later group I wish you well and welcome you back if you ever change your mind and want to talk it out.

Going dark – part 1

Since I started working from home, I have a little less time to listen to podcasts. DOn’t get me wrong, I am way happier saving a 90 minute (both ways) commute every day – but I do listen less than I used to. The one change to that is when I have to drive to Detroit for work meetings.  It’s a little over 4 hours each way and at least one way each time I go, is outside of working hours, so instead of being on calls, I get 4+ hours of podcast time in.  That was fortunate, since the Peace Revolution recently published one of their epic 10+ hour podcasts, this one on the topic of the surveillance state.  I’ve only listened to the first 6 hours of it or so and am slowly working through the rest on my much shorter commutes to get my daughter to school each day.  So far I have learned that the Binney, Drake and Snowden stories are more connected than I thought – they are actually all the same story.  What’s more I learned that the NSA had an option to get the job done after 9-11 that would have protected people’s privacy (relative to what they did anyway) but chose to remove those protections.  Its a double whammy when you not only do the wrong thing, but the right(er) thing was already done for you.

The net effect of the parts I have listened to so far have me once again thinking about privacy and security This isn’t the first time I’ve spent some brain cycles thinking about these issues this year.  There was Heartbleed, the seemingly continual drip of the Snowden docs, a data break every other month or more at a major retailer and most recently a hullabaloo over the terms and conditions of the Facebook Messenger terms and conditions.  However, the interviews with Binney and then Drake have me thinking about things a bit more seriously.  I’m pondering if I should and if I can “go dark“.

I started writing this post in outline form with just some bullets of the major points I wanted to cover.  The outline was 700 words.  I’ve been posting longer form items here lately, but even I don’t believe that anyone will sit around and read 5K words from me, especially on this topic, so I’ve broken things up into at least 4 parts (there may be more as I write the other 3):

  • why I am motivated to do spend time thinking about whether I should and whether I can go dark (part 1 = this post)
  • An evaluation of what I can do from a desktop / laptop computing perspective to mute or mask my signals
  • An evaluation of what I can do from a mobile (phone /tablet) perspective to mute or mask my signals
  • An evaluation of what I can do for other things that give off signals

You’ll note that I make explicit mention of signals a few times. It’s hard for me to de-tangle security from privacy, but in general I think about it this way: digital security is all about protecting yourself from people that clearly want to do you or your property harm.  Digital privacy is about protecting yourself from people that say they want to help you and may or may not be telling the truth.  While I am concerned about my security relative to the first group, its my privacy relative to the second that has me writing this and the subsequent posts.  That second group, which consists of governments and marketers, live on the digital signals we send out to either run a “tyranny for the good of its victims” or something worse.

Everyone online sends out digital signals every second they are online.  Some are obvious and we are aware of (this blog post for example), some are less so (your entire inbox if you use Gmail for example) and some are downright obscure (Facebook reportedly keeps track of how you self censor edit your posts as you compose them, before you post them).  Governments and marketers consume these signals, tie them back to your “profile”, store them forever, run any sort of analysis they can and draw any conclusions they want.

I’ve heard the argument that you do the same in the “real” world – you have body language and facial expressions that give away far more away about what you’re thinking than the words that are coming out of your mouth and that’s true enough.  The difference is in the scale.  What we do in the real world is available to those in the immediate vicinity at the time we are doing it.  It’s not recorded and made available to anyone as an accumulation over your whole life.  What if when you met someone the first thing they asked you was why you smirked when your 6th grade math teacher asked you a question?  What’s more, most people have a basic concept (if not necessarily a control) of their non verbal communications in person.  Most of the same people have no idea about the signals that they are sending and what’s being done with them.

So, on to some of the arguments that have occurred to me in support of the idea that I should go dark:

  • The first up is the axiom that a right not exercised is lost.  I’m not exactly a fan of the constitution(the DoI is more my speed), but the bill of rights is at least a good starter list to reference. I regularly exercise my 1st and 2nd amendment rights, but I have been pretty lax exercising my 4th amendment rights.  If someone wanted to search my house I am pretty sure I would ask for a warrant, but the Snowden documents have shown that the rules are different in the digital domain. I can’t be reactive if I want to exercise my 4th amendment rights for my digital signals – I have to take proactive steps.
  • Then there is the reverse of argument that is trotted out by those that want us to be OK with living in a panopticon: “you don’t have anything to worry about if you aren’t doing anything wrong”.  Well how about this, since I am not doing anything wrong I don’t need to be watched.  What’s more, I’m would actually helping the folks trying to find the terrorists become more efficient by removing myself from the pool that they had to analyze.
  • Then there is the logical analysis of that same statement (you don’t have to worry, if you aren’t doing anything wrong).  I am neophyte logician, but it seems to me that is a classic example of an enthymeme (a logical statement where one premise, usually the most important one, is unstated).  In this case the unstated premise not stated: the government defines whats wrong and can redefine it at any point in the future.
  • Lastly their is the issue of avoiding manipulation.  While the first three are mainly focused on the potential for the government to violate my privacy, this last one is focused squarely on marketers.  While I don’t consider my self even a neophyte psychologist, I have read enough history lately to understand the impact of Pavlov and Skinner on the way modern marketing works.  As marketers driven by those ideas get to know us better than we know ourselves based on our digital profiles, what chance will we have to say no?

A few other thoughts before I wrap up this first installment:

  • I’ve focused on one of the questions I said I would in this post: should I go dark.  I’ve skipped the issue of can I,until now.  For one reason, the answer to that question will be found as I write out the next few posts, specifically what do I know to do, what are the limits and what am I willing to trade off.  But even more importantly, I really don’t care if I can be successful. Anyone that reads this blog knows that I am more often than not armed.  I do that, not expecting to be able to win any fight that I might find myself in – I pray that I never am in a fight in the first place, but rather because its a way I remind myself every day that I am responsible for me and those around me.  To me trying to dark is the same: its the effort and the recognition of what it means that matters.
  • The irony of this whole conversation when put into the context of one of the major parts of my JOB is not lost on me.  I spend 8-10 hours every day that I am working coming up with digital marketing strategies for the things the company I work for sells.  You may be thinking that if everyone thought about this issue the same way I am and did any of the things I am thinking about doing, it would make that part of my job, much harder and maybe even impossible.  But I think you are assuming that I am going to go Amish, rather than go dark.  This isn’t about cutting off all connections, rather its about being much more deliberate about my signal footprint and only creating signal when (a) I know the extent of how it will be captured and used and (b) what I get back is worth it.
  • Last, what really bothers me most of all is that I have no idea how I will ever help my kids understand any of this.  My signal footprint goes back to the mid 90s when I was in my mid 20s.  In theory their’s could have existed for almost a decade and they are both in their early teens.  I’m not kicking them off technology, but I worry that they don’t value or appreciate what they are giving up in exchange for all the “magic” and they have no idea how it all is and will be used against them.

Stay tuned for part 2 – an evaluation of what I can do to go dark in my desktop / laptop computing. (PS – I find it a strange coincidence that my MacBook crashed hard right in the middle of writing this ;-)

Another run at 3 gun

I went back for another beating this weekend at the BGSL 3 Gun match, and didn’t come away quite as scarred as last time, when I finished dead last.  This time I was 2nd in my squad, 5th in my division out of 15 and 32nd overall out of 56.  Still not where I want to be, but way better than last.

The big improvement this time was the shotgun, specifically the loading.  I somehow lost track of the caddy I had been using, so resorted to loading out of a dump pouch on my strong side.  I had planned to switch from weak hand reloads to strong hand anyway, so I am not sure if the improvement was due to the change in hands or that for some reason I am just better out of a bag than a caddy.  Whatever it was, I didn’t find myself ever thinking, “Geez, this is taking forever” when I was reloading my shotgun.  My shotgun marksmanship was also better this time around.  I faced the Texas star in the very first stage again and was able to knock off all 5 plates in 7 or 8 shots (unfortunately its the one stage I forgot to video so you’ll have to take my word for it).  I had one double feed in the speed stage which cost me some time, but I am pretty happy with how quickly I cleared it and moved on.  Other than that, the shotgun went from being a boat anchor to something I felt competitive with.  Pretty good for just a few dry fire and reloading practice sessions.  I may still end up getting a load-2 (not sure my hands are big enough to do a load 4) rig, but if I do I am definitely getting it setup for strong hand reloads.

For rifle, I think I improved slightly, but not much.  This was my second match with my Tavor, but the first since I installed the Shooting Sight trigger.  Last match I had one slam fire and this time I had two (you can see both in the video below).  Not sure if its the trigger or the ammo – I am using wolf primers, which are supposed to be pretty hard.  There weren’t any headshot only stages this time (which is what screwed me up last time, specifically miscalculating the mechanical offset) and I did remember the reload on the classification corse of fire, which was a good thing.

Pistol, which I should be good at since its what I practice the most was mostly good, except for stage 1 (3rd stage in the video sequence below).  I COULD NOT HIT THOSE DAMN 4 INCH PLATES to save my life.  I will have to do a little more live fire practice, I think I still may have a case of pushing shots with recoil.

Another help this time around was my cart.  I finally spent a little time in the shop to fully convert the jogging stroller into a 3 gun cart, with a dedicated rack for the guns and a platform for my bag and cooler.  I used mostly scrap wood and stuff lying around the shop to prototype and field test it.  I have a few tweaks to make, but generally I was happy with the design. It let me keep all my gear better organized and have a good place to keep all my stuff moving from stage to stage as well as to prep at the stage.

Only one more chance to shoot 3 gun this year if I can get a spot in the match.  I will probably use this coming weekend’s IDPA match to help improve my pistol a bit for the next 3 gun match.  It’s nice to be match director sometimes! ;-)

Quick stage breakdown notes (leave a comment if you see anything else I didn’t notice):

  • On stage 6 (first in video sequence)
    • I scanned past a steel shotgun target and had to go back for it.
    • I also brought the shotgun back up for some reason after hitting the last target – not sure if I thought I needed to take another shot or what.  Then I bobbled getting the safety on.  At that point, I should have just dumped the last round into the berm so I could drop the shotgun into the barrel without worrying about the safety.
    • I bobbled the rifle reload a bit – I was trying to hit the bolt hold open button on the Tavor, not remembering that it was already closed since it was a tactical reload.
  • On stage 5 (second in video sequence)
    • I should have known I was going to be in trouble with pistol after this stage and slowed down on the next one some more.  Not too bad, but those first pistol shots are hits I should have made.  (I did end up winning this stage in my squad…by .317 seconds ;-).
  • On stage 1 (third in video sequence)
    • This stage cost me a better finish. I should have known it was not going to be my best when right out of the gate I had a failure to fire.  The rest of the rifle component was OK (I think I did have one target with only one on paper – the other hitting a little low in the hard cover…mechanical offset bites me again).  At the end, not only did I eat up all kinds of time missing the 4″ steels at the end, I ran through all of my pistol ammo and didn’t have enough left to even engage the very last target, taking a 15 second penalty right there.  What really burns is that this was a memorization stage and I remembered to engage (and actually got hits on) all the “hidden” targets.
  • On stage 2 (fourth in video sequence)
    • Not too much to say about this one.  I had the double feed after my second shot, which I think I cleared pretty well that then caused me to have to add one more to take my last shot.  I guess I could have been a little bit faster on that last reload and just thrown the shell into the ejection port instead of loading the tube and cranking it into the chamber.
  • On stage 3 (last in video sequence)
    • Nothing much here either.  This is my second slam fire, causing a feed issue that I had to clear out at the second rifle position.  I ran through the stage plan exactly how I had it mapped out in my head,with the exception of an ever so brief pause at an opening I knew I didn’t have to stop at, so that’s always a bonus.

Here’s to hoping that the third time really is the charm.

Next weekend is homecoming at my college alma mater and also my graduating class’ 20th reunion. Unfortunately I won’t be able to make it (life is full choices).  I will miss hanging out at the frat house, riding the firetruck and pretending I’m 20 something again (even though I was teen something most of my time there).

A few days ago though I was reminded of a different frat house memory. Early in 1991, I was just getting used to the college thing.  Due to the incredibly long rush and pledging period, I was initiated sometime in November or December, so had just started regularly at the house. The night of January 17th was much like any other (homework, pizza, beer – only for those of age of course!) with the TV running in the background of the common room.  The response to the news breaking in and informing us that Desert Shield had transmogrified into Desert Storm was met with what you would expect from a group of 17-21 year old males: Hell Yeah!  The pictures of cruise missiles launching from the decks of  ships only served to rile us up more.  I was just starting college and had just joined a fraternity and I didn’t think too much about the start of the war.

A few weeks of continued air strikes followed a short ground offensive and the US UN were victorious.  Some said we should have gone all the way to Baghdad, but nonetheless the general feeling was we had accomplished what we set out to do.  The Kuwaiti babies were safely back in their incubators, the Kurds were protected by our air force and sanctions were in place to make sure Saddam couldn’t be bad any more.   It was a short war, but the outcome seemed decisive, so I didn’t think to deeply about its end.

Flash forward to March of 2003.  My wife and I had been married for almost 8 years and we were celebrating the 2nd and 4th birthdays of our son and daughter respectively. With the headlines full of stories about yellow cake and a newly formed axis of evil that was both harboring terrorists and committing human rights violations against its own people, we went back to war in Iraq.  The start of the war looked very much like the last one, with US allied troops “finishing the job” and reaching Baghdad in a handful of weeks.  With the trauma from 9/11 still fresh on my mind (I was in the air that morning) and a young family to raise, I didn’t pay too much attention to the start of a second war in Iraq.

A couple of months later, our commander in chief declared the end of combat operations and it looked like Iraq War 2 would end much like Iraq war 1.  Looks would prove to be deceiving.  Over the next 9 years bases got built, former dictators were tried and hanged and an insurgency was formed and fought against.  When the second war in Iraq ended in December of 2011, I was paying more attention.  The justifications had become shaky, the outcomes were not nearly so decisive and the costs seemed too high.

While it appeared that the drums of war might go silent, they had already started to beat again in Africa a full year before the official end of the second Iraq war.  The Arab Spring lead to some new bosses (some not much different than the old) in Tunisia, Yemen, Libya and Egypt (twice).  US forces didn’t get as involved in any of those conflicts as they had in Iraq, with some air strikes in Libya and propaganda support for the rest.

The Arab Spring “contagion” continued to spread and found its way north to Syria.  A combination of events and interests, that I will admit to not fully comprehending, eventually lead to the US Government looking for ways to support the rebels. A red line was drawn and the search for an excuse to go back to war commenced.  An excuse presented itself in the form of a chemical weapons attack a little over a year ago, in August of 2013.  Although the source (and therefore motive?) of that attack would later come in to question, the dogs of war thought they had their bone, but the American people said no, myself included.

While a large minority of Americans celebrated a victory for peace, the hawks went back to work.  They almost got something going in the Ukraine, but couldn’t quite make it happen.  It was a good try, but honestly if there is anything good about the start of Iraq war 3, its that it makes the hawks a little less likely to start something that will get us all nuked.  Then again, maybe Ukraine was just a diversion while enough space and time developed to allow ISIL ISIS IS The Islamic Extremist group formerly known as al Qaeda in Iraq to metastasize in Syria and then bleed (back) over into Iraq.

With a different villain established, the first PR campaign to get us back into a war focused on the plight of the Yazidis, an ethnic group in Northern Iraq that IS was chasing around and killing  (side note: do a google image search for yazidi…how is it that they are so fair complected living in the desert?  Must have great sun screen!).  Another militia that we have labeled as being terrorist actually saved some of them before we could get whipped into a frenzy.  Then there was the news that ISIS might be trying to attack us at home through an alliance with Mexican drug cartels, an interesting historical parallel to one of the story lines used to get us into WWI.  Then there were the beheadings.

Between all of these and I’m sure a few other lines of “reasoning”, we started Iraq war 3 this past Tuesday, this time throwing Syria in for good measure (and despite what the American people thought they had said no to a year ago).  This time I am really paying attention.  What stands out to me the most is the rather apparent inconsistency between what the hawks say they want, what they then do to try to get it and what the results they are likely to get.  Let’s look at these in turn:

  • What they say: we want to degrade and destroy isis.
  • What we do: bomb them back to the stone age (or to the gates of hell).
  • What that will actually get them: there are four ways I can think of to answer this: from a consequential standpoint, from expert opinion, from a purely practical standpoint, and from what previous experience (aka history) tells us.
    • Consequential: To stop ISIS from trying to kill us, the hawks are going to kill them first.  A few days into the bombing, ISIS will not form up in camps out in the desert (that are easy to blow up with cruise missiles) but will fade away and blend into the cities (this is no doubt already in progress if not already done). The hawks will then start bombing the cities and in the process they will create 5 new ISIS fighters for every one they kill.  This happens every time a bomb goes astray or is mis-targeted and kills a civilian.  Every fighting age male relative of that civilian has just that much more incentive to join up with ISIS.  Unfortunately this is already happening too.
    • Expert Opinion: I think this quote (hat tip to the Scott Horton Show for the quote) from a September 2014 report on the Institute for the Study of War, a think tank that has never seen a war it didn’t like, sums up the fact that we don’t know how we are going to get what we want:”The situation is so bad and the momentum is so much in the wrong direction that it is impossible to articulate a clear path to the desired end state.” (Side note: this stunning conclusion didn’t prevent them from making a “recommendation to deploy U.S. forces and significant enablers into Iraq and Syria” in the very same report…as I said, they’ve never seen a war they didn’t like.)
    • Practical: There is strong evidence that the core of ISIS is the same group that was leading the insurgency in Iraq, al Qaeda in Iraq.  We put 33,000 extra troops into Iraq to deal with this group in 2008.  We didn’t defeat them then with that size of force (they are still around after all), but we think we that we are going to send in a 5,000 man force that will get a year of training that can no only defeat ISIS, but then pivot and also defeat Assad?
    • Then there is what history tells us: Is Iraq better off now than it was before the first two wars?  What about Libya?  Afghanistan? Somalia?

The inconsistency is apparent.  The actions they are taking won’t can’t get them what they want.  There are things they could do to get what they want.  They could stay out completely.  ISIS is surrounded by groups that hate them.  Assad would have them cleaned out in a month if we’d let him.  The Iranians would probably pitch in, not to mention the Turks.  They could go to the other end of the spectrum too, and go biblical (new or old testament – take your pick) killing every fighting age male that has any potential to ever be interested in ISIS (note: my claim is simply that this would be effective in reaching their stated aims, not moral).  So they are choosing to take a course of action that consequences, experts, practicality and history all tell them will not get them what they say they want.

There are only two conclusions I cam make from this: either those leading us back into another war are unable to see this inconsistency, making them too incompetent to lead, or they see it plainly and are simply lying to us about what they want, making them perhaps too evil to lead.  It’s time to look at what’s being done in your name.  It’s no longer OK to stand by and let those who say they know better to kill people in your name (in the process creating more people that want to kill you).  Doing nothing is the same as telling them its OK.

Its easy to get lost with the who, what, when, where, why and how when the venues and villains keep changing, but the 3rd Iraq war in less than a quarter century is a tremendous opportunity.  It strips away some of the complications of learning new geographies, new histories, and new ethnic/religious/tribal lines that come along with new wars in new countries.  The third time really could be the charm.  The charm that makes enough people see the inconsistencies and decide to do something about it.

A proof of why war chickens come home to roost.

A few weeks ago my daughter asked me to help her come up with topics for a persuasive speech she had to write and deliver in her sophomore English class.  After she dismissed all the good ones (“Why the war on drugs is a scam”…she thought that would get her kicked out…”Why all Catholics would be happier if they were Episcopalians”…it’s a Catholic school – guess what we are? ;-)) she settled on a case against police militarization.

We worked on the outline yesterday and in a stunning case of syncronicity, this is what I listened to on my way home from dropping her off at school this morning.  In this interview, Scott Horton talks to Abigail Hall about the article she contributed to appearing in the most recent issue of The Independent, titled “Perfecting Tyranny: Foreign Intervention as Experimentation in State Control“.  It might as well be called “A model based definition of why war chickens come home to roost”.

The article lays out the case and the mechanism of what the authors call “the boomerang effect” by which the tools of social control developed in coercive foreign interventions (see the article for what they mean by this if its not clear) make their way back to the originating country of the tool and the intervention (aka war chickens roosting).  Why the idea may be an old one (aren’t all allegories involving chickens some form of ancient wisdom?), the structure backing the argument is what’s news here.  The authors layout four “channels” by which the war chickens find their way home tools of social control developed in foreign wars make their way home (in my own words):

  1. During war time, government power tends to become more centralized.
  2. The people involved in foreign wars learn some things about making people do what they want…usually without the restrictions that would be in place in the home country.
  3. Some of those people end up in charge of things and they make changes in procedures that align with what they learned.
  4. We build a bunch of stuff to go to war and we have to use it somewhere when the war ends pauses.

The conclude with a few examples of how this model has played out in the creation of the surveillance state and a militarized police force, both of which supply ample evidence to validate the model.  Here’s to hoping that “enhanced interrogation techniques” don’t make it on that list of examples.

At 26 pages its not something you can skim through, but I got through it over lunch so you can read it in the time it would take you to watch the local and national news – and you’ll be way smarter for it.

Every target matters – this weekend’s IDPA match GoPro video

We had about 20 show up for this weekend’s IDPA match. I think I’m finally (18 months in) starting to get into a groove for planning, setup and administration to the point that I can actually enjoy the match and shoot well without being all stressed out about being the RSO.  Time and a few additional SO volunteers has certainly helped.  I’ve also been using my SIRT trainer a lot more and I think that may be changing some muscle memory for the better as well.

The GoPro video from all but the first stage (only forgot to film one this time – see I am less stressed out!) is below.  Let’s see how closely you al can watch: do you see the stage and even the target where I dropped 12.5 seconds on score alone?

Other than the one match blowing target, the rest of the stages went really well, with the exception of a procedural (you can hear me call it on myself…) on the last stage – I didn’t scan wide enough when coming to the window to actually pickup the target I was supposed to be engaging and picked one  up out of order.  In the end (with the added 12.5 second penalty…one on target) I finished 4th out of 18.

Ah well, back to the practice range.  Doing the classifier in October trying to inch myself closer to Expert.

 

Learning from the past on 9/11

Three years ago, on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks I shared my 9/11 story.  I wasn’t in New York or DC on that day, nor did I know anyone that was killed, but 9/11 is very personal for me nonetheless.  However, on this anniversary my mind is not focused on the events of that day, but rather what has been done since that day that is in some way related to the attacks.

We’re admonished to “Never Forget”.  Like most bumper sticker slogans, I think there is some wisdom there, but you have to get beyond the initial emotional (conditioned) response and think more deeply about what is worth remembering and also examine what we are doing based on what we remember.

I try to never forget that 13 years ago today, 2,977 people woke up with no idea they would never see the sun set ever again.  Based on that remembrance, I try to make sure to get as much as I can out of each day without pushing too hard – what’s the point of living if you can’t enjoy it?  This sort of remembrance builds up.

But I see and hear far too many that try to never forget the fear of terrorism they felt that day and anger at the religion shared by the 19 terrorists and those that supported them. Based on this fear and anger we’ve done some things and had some things done in our name that have diminished us, individually, as Americans, as “the West” and as human beings.

Going to war in Afghanistan and Iraq (twice three times as of last night) and committing acts of war (i.e. droning people to death) in many other countries in the Middle East is at the top of this list.  Thirteen years into it, we have to ask ourselves has the human cost of these wars been worth it – have we achieved what we set out to do?  There is no clear sign that these wars have given us any less to fear from terrorism – in fact they may have created even more of a terrorist threat by our actions.

The anger and fear that drove these wars have resulted in all sorts of other, secondary negative actions:

  • we’ve increased our debt to levels nearly beyond our ability to pay
  • we’ve collectivized (or stereotyped) and entire class of people based on their religion.  (side note: what’s odd to me about this is that the people that are most apt to call our current administration “collectivists” have no problem doing them same thing to Muslims…or Mexicans.  We have to recognize and avoid collectivism in all its forms).
  • we’ve created the surplus of military equipment that is fueling the police arms race we saw demonstrated in Ferguson (coming to a city near you)
  • we’ve allowed government agencies to violate our basic human rights as they construct a surveillance and security state that watches our every move.
  • we’ve condoned torture, which not only dehumanizes those that do it, but also creates a precedent for those that order it to be done – that they are “above the law”
  • we’ve allowed new supply channels to be opened for heroin, which in turn feeds additional terrorism (additional funds) and police militarization (additional justification).

I do believe its true that those that forget the past are doomed to repeat it, so I am not arguing for throwing the history and events on 9/11 down the memory hole.  Rather, I think its time we pack up the fear and anger of that day, because I also believe its equally true that those that don’t take the time to learn from the past are also equally doomed to repeat it.

iWatch needs to cut the apron strings before it’s really going to be useful

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I watched the tech crunch live blog of the Apple presser today on the side on my screen while I was working. My short take: I will finally pull the trigger (and sign away another two years of my life to ATT) and upgrade my aging and broken iPhone 4 to one of the two new iPhone 6 models. Not sure I can pocket the plus, but I’ll take a look once both are in stores and see which one fits.

One more thing. I can’t see an iWatch gracing my wrist any time soon. I’ve been mildly interested in the smart watch idea and was really hoping that Apple would innovate here. I don’t see it. I think it’s going to be kind of like the iPod was before it grew a WAN radio – a neat toy that interests some. You have to start somewhere, but I think when the iWatch doesn’t need an iPhone around to connect to the net then it will get interesting. Until then, I need to buy some pants with bigger pockets.