Archive for April, 2009

Air Show season is here

As the weather warms – it is time to get out of the house and take in the sights. For aviation photographers – that means it is Air Show season.

A couple of hints if you have never gone to a show before;

  • Check to see how big a backpack you are allowed to bring in (small bags – good, large bags – usually prohibited)
  • Check to see if you can bring folding chairs – if YES – then DO IT. You are going out onto an airport. So there aren’t benches to sit on. If you want to sit on something – you have to bring it with you.
  • Water. If you don’t bring your own – bring $$$ to pay the vendors for it.

Below is a link to a slideshow of my pictures from the Luke Air Force Base (Glendale, AZ) “Thunder in the Desert” airshow held last month.

To see if there is an airshow close to you – take a look at this web page from the Smithsonian Air & Space Magazine.


Stress Pandemic


Of course we are all now familiar with the latest media-consumption craze: the global swine flu pandemic. 


Concerning this, I cannot help but notice that, since this has started capturing the media’s attention, I myself have been feeling sick.


Every day, and every night, we are bombarded with media frenzy over this news.  We’re told to wait.  We’re told to worry.  The media pumps this up into a huge disaster, using words like “pandemic” and “no resistance” and “deaths”.


Don’t get me wrong:  sickness and death are tragic.  But as the fine print in every media report points out:  The regular flu kills tens of thousands each year.  And this current version of swine flu is turning out to be less fatal, per infected person, than the regular flu is.




I realize the media has a job to do, but I can’t help wondering if the media itself isn’t contributing to this problem.  By constantly parading this story in front of everyone, they’re making everyone worry.  Raising everyone’s stress levels. And, as a result, lowering everyone’s resistance.  The “dirty laundry” is probably more virulent than the flu itself.


Other things are more important: Dealing with the outbreak itself, fixing the economy, fixing credit, putting ethics back into credit card companies, and fixing taxes.


But, maybe, someday, someone ought to take thought to “fixing” mainstream media.


“Kick ’em when they’re up!  Kick ’em when they’re down!” certainly does seem to fit!  And I’m certainly being kicked, and I’m certainly being brought down by it. 


Enough, please. I’m going to die someday, and there’s nothing I can do about this flu outbreak that I wasn’t already doing anyway.  Please, big media, let me get back to my life – regardless of how much of it I have left!


Soldier Suicides

A very disturbing trend is emerging pertaining to the mental health and well-being of our military personnel. It is the rate of military and soldier suicides. 

In 2008, there were 138 confirmed suicides – an average of 11 per month. In the first two months of 2009, there were 42 – more than double the average rate.  Although the data space for this trend is fortunately small, the thinking seems to be that one of the chief driving factors in these suicides is shortened leaves coupled with multiple redeployments to Iraq.  This factor has been present in the bulk of the recent suicides investigated thus far.

This is a clear danger, on numerous levels. First, and most obviously, it shows that we are stretching our military too thinly.  We forget the all-too-important truth that our military personnel are in fact people, and subject to the same limitations as anyone, especially in the area of traumatic stress. We cannot expect these people to function properly if they are pushed beyond reasonable limits.  Of course, war could be agreed to itself be beyond reasonable limits, but there is a significant different between serving a tour in Iraq followed by a tour at home, and serving a tour in Iraq, having intertour leave cut short, and being immediately redeployed to Iraq. Repeatedly. If Congress finds it necessary to continue our presence there, it should find the funding to hire additional personnel to cover the force requirements in a healthy, safe, sane way – one which does not jeopardize the safety of our personnel.  Congress’ failure to do so is itself a significant threat.

Second, it highlights the problems we still face in Iraq. The situation there is obviously dangerous, and unhealthy. It is also significant, since we have forces deployed there in a state of war. This only increases the burden placed on soldiers already stretched to the limits.  It is imperative that we protect the situation in Iraq, yes. But is is more imperative that we protect our own people, especially our military.

Third, and perhaps the most frightening, such a situation is not one that is conducive to military participation numbers.  Requiring such extreme duty of our personnel is bound to increase attrition rates dramatically. Not only will re-up/re-enlistment rates drop, but new recruitment rates are bound to drop as well. 20 years ago, the Army ran 3-minute television sports with graphics and music entitled "Be all that you can be." In contrast, today’s "Army Strong" spots are short, subdued, and quiet. Indeed, there is very little to be said.

The increase in suicide rates is troubling and disturbing on its own.  But there is much more to it.  The rate increase is an indicator of a systemic problem in the maintenance of a military force. Failure to treat and maintain our force properly could ultimately result in its self-destruction.  These things must be prevented at all costs, and must be addressed at the highest levels with top priority. 

If we fail, we fall.


JSF data breach – what will the impact be?

Earlier this week – it came to light that design specifications (computer files) for the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF)/F-35 Lightning II stored on a Pentagon contractor computer system – had been accessed and downloaded by hackers.

One story says that the contractor’s computers were compromised as early as 2007 – and the hackers continued to access these systems.

The thing about this story – is that it isn’t new. The original allegations that the program’s computers had been compromised was first run almost a year ago in May 2008. The contractor disputed the initial IG’s report with enough vigor that the IG withdrew the report last October.

It seems that Lockheed-Martin and BAE are downplaying the incident by saying that no “classified” data was compromised But if the attackers encrypted the data streams that were being removed – how can anyone be sure what exactly was or was not accessed.

Read the rest of this entry »


Now, Big Brother IS Watching


The news of the day was at once innocuous, and stunning:  The BBC reported that Internet Service Providers in the European Union were now under government mandate to log their users’ email messages and internet telephone calls.  Although the mandate does not require ISPs to store the contents of the email, or a recording of the call, it certainly doesn’t forbid it either… and whether such additional records exist ot not, the law on its face it does allow for the monitoring of communications between individuals, and the establishment of "connections" and/or relationships therefrom.

The ways in which this data could be used are many, and the ways in which it could be misused are there as well.  And there are inconsistencies in the announcement that beg for clarification.  For example, the UK Home Office said that "effective safeguards are in place and … the data can only be accessed when it is necessary and proportionate to do so", which implies that the data would only be used to solve crimes as an investigative tool.

But in almost the same breath, they justify this law by saying that "Communications data … plays a vital part in … prevention of terrorist attacks, as well as contributing to public safety more generally."  Prevention?  Contributing to safety generally?  This is a broad mandate that tells the true story: The EU government intends to engage in data-based profiling.  Who you call, or who calls you – even accidentally – now determines who you are.  You might become flagged as a terrorist without ever knowing it, until it’s too late.

For those who might roll their eyes at such a prediction, one need only look back at the lessons of history. The advances of technology are increasing rapidly – even exponentially.  The assumptions about the fabric of our world, which we have grown up with, which we have indoctrinated ourselves with, are turning out to be, if not false, certainly flimsy, and falling away rapidly. Consider the concept of identity theft.  Try explaining identity theft to a "you" of 20 years ago.  Even 10 years ago, this was relatively unheard-of.  Now, an entire industry exists to "serve" the "victims" of identity theft.  And now, a new portion of your identity – your political and ideological affiliations – are up for grabs… or at least interpretation.

What the EU government is doing with communications data is clearly akin to what the US government did in the 1970s with credit reporting.  Called the "Fair Credit Reporting Act", this set of laws codified how credit data could be gathered and used. When words like "Fair" and "Consumer Protection" are used, we automatically assume safety and "goodness" – it becomes a blind spot – the existence of which is proven by the sheer vastness of the identity theft and credit management industry.

Now, what will we have? Clearly there will be a log showing everyone I email, and everyone who emails me.  There will be a log showing everyone I call, even over the Internet, and everyone who calls me.  And since it’s all data, and is person-to-person data (as opposed to person-to-company data reported to credit bureaus), there will be the automatic existence of person-to-person-to-person data.  For example, if terrorist Jim calls the local pub to order a pizza, and I order a pizza from that pub, I will be linked to terrorist Jim. 

And how will I even know this has happened?  Will there be a "terrorist bureau" that I can order my "terrorist report" from?  Will I get a free report each year, from each of the top three "terror reporting agencies?"  What about my "terror score"?  Anything above a 340 and you can be imprisoned for 7 days without cause, you know.

This codification of data gathering, and its stated purposes, are, in this author’s opinion, one of the biggest threats to freedom we have ever seen.  The BBC report quotes a citizen as saying this only got passed by "stretching the law". 

It’s easy to see why.