Saturday, January 30, 2010

About that Global Warming...

That's ten inches worth. That I just finished shoveling out of my driveway. Bite me, Al Gore.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Oh, good grief

Now JFK got shut down because someone went through the wrong door.

A busy terminal at John F. Kennedy International Airport was evacuated after a man opened a restricted door and set off an alarm, authorities said, making it the second known security breach at a New York-area airport this month.
Authorities earlier said the security breach was caused by a passenger who was exiting Kennedy's Terminal 8 and opened a door that was supposed to be used only by airport workers.
There's a simple way to keep people from going through doors that they're not supposed to go through. It's called a lock. There are even ways to make it easy for the people who are supposed to use the door to open it.

If the TSA was actually about security, these basic measures would have been in place years ago. Instead they use signs. Like a terrorist is going to care about the sign that says "Don't go in here, or else."

Authorities were initially unsure Saturday whether the person had been coming or going from the JFK terminal, and they evacuated the secure areas of the building while they investigated. The Transportation Security Administration said its agents and Port Authority police were involved in the investigation. [emphasis mine]
How much damage could a real terrorist have done during that confusion when the authorities didn't know what was going on.

It's not about security, it's about visibility.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Rights versus Convenience

NPR ran a story this morning about a case being argued before the U.S. Supreme Court today. This case revisits a SCOTUS decision last year.

Until last year, prosecutors in all but 10 states could introduce a notarized affidavit from crime lab experts, attesting to their findings with respect to critical evidence. This document was sufficient to state that, for example, the white powder found on a defendant was indeed cocaine, or that a defendant's DNA matched that found on a rape or murder victim. Forensic analysts only appeared if subpoenaed by the defense.

But in June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled by a 5-to-4 vote that the clause of the Constitution that requires the accused to be confronted by the witnesses against him puts the burden on the state to produce not just paper certificates, but live forensic witnesses, who can be cross-examined. Without these live forensic witnesses, the court decided, forensic evidence cannot be introduced.

The opinion ended up putting actual practice somewhere in the middle - prosecutors must send a notice to the defense that they intend to to introduce an affidavit. The defense can then object to the affidavit being introduced without the witness appearing. If the defendant does not enter an objection, the affidavit is considered sufficient without the witness. This shifts the burden back onto the defendant, but greatly simplifies it by not requiring them to actually go through the more complex process of issuing a subpoena.

Here's the part that concerns me:

Nevertheless, four justices were outraged by the decision, predicting that it would result in a windfall for the defense, huge expense for the states and the release of guilty defendants.

Why do they want to restrict the Rights of the accused based on the expense to the states? Shouldn't a person's Right to face the witnesses against them trump any consideration of convenience and cost-savings of the government? The same government that's prosecuting them?

Only one thing has changed since June. One member of that five-justice majority — David Souter — has retired, and been replaced by Sotomayor. Prosecutors hope that having been a criminal prosecutor herself in New York, Sotomayor will be sympathetic to their cause.

This is why SCOTUS appointments are so important. One Justice can cause a complete reversal of a previous decision. One Justice can tilt the balance of power from the people to the government. One Justice can make the difference in whether you can effectively exercise your rights or not.

Let's not forget that Heller was a 5-4 decision, too.

Some 24 states are asking the court to reverse itself as well, citing backlogs, costs and other problems they say the decision has created.
Again, backlogs, costs, or "other problems" do not matter in the face of a Constitutionally Enumerated Right intended to protect the people from an overzealous or abusive government. Frankly, the decision didn't go far enough - the entire burden should be on the prosecution, and the defendant should not have to do anything for the witness against him to appear at trial.

Friday, January 08, 2010

The Elephant in the Room

NPR had a couple of stories this morning on airport security and the underwear bomber. While both had some interesting information, I found myself getting angrier the longer I listened. Why? Because they kept ignoring the real breakdown in the whole system. They were going on and on about how the intelligence agencies are "inundated" and suffering from information overload. They went on about the full body scanners that wouldn't have caught this guy even if they had been used. I got mad, because they kept ignoring the real question:

How did a lone traveler, who paid cash and had no luggage for an international flight, get on a plane without additional screening?

See, either of those factors alone are generally considered suspicious, and should warrant additional scrutiny. Both together should be a red flag to screeners that this person should be thoroughly investigated before being allowed on the plane. Add in his religion and national origin, and you should have a Big Giant Red Flag signaling that this person should not get on a plane without a strip search and maybe a body cavity search, too.

This was not a failure of the Watch Lists, or the CIA/NSA/FBI or any other intelligence agency. This was not about the failure to use the full body scanners that were at the airport where he boarded. Yes there were failures at all those levels, but they were all irrelevant in this case. This was a failure on the part of the TSA to recognize basic signs of a suicide bomber. This was a failure to use basic security procedures that would have caught this twit in the absence of all the information that the CIA/NSA/FBI/TLA had. Basic procedures that would have stopped him without relying on all the high-tech gizmos that may or may not work.

It just shows that, as many others have pointed out recently, this administration is fundamentally unserious about real security.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

A Four Rules Reminder

... or, Why the Best Safety is in your Head.

I had a simple little reminder today of why we always, always, follow The Four Rules. Fortunately, there was no ND.

After work, I was changing to go run some errands at the house (since I still haven't been able to get moved in), and went to switch pistols. See, when I'm at work, I wear a suit. But I take the jacket off for most of the day, so I carry my Kel-Tec P3AT in a Crossbreed MicroClip tuckable holster, with my shirt tucked in over it. Virtually unnoticeable, but readily accessible. When I'm not at work, I carry my Taurus PT-145 in a Crossbreed SuperTuck Deluxe. But, I store it in an Uncle Mike's IWB holster. The Uncle Mike's is smaller, and fits in the drawer by my bed, which the Crossbreed doesn't. The Uncle Mike's is easier to put on or take off quickly. If I go on a rescue call in the middle of the night, I can just slip it on, where the Crossbreed takes a little more effort.

Well, I was changing pistols, and I noticed something. When I pulled the Taurus out of the Uncle Mike's holster to slip it in the Crossbreed, I realized the safety was off. Now, out of habit - which I cultivated intentionally - I look at the safety every time the gun is taken out of a holster. I can only assume that it got frobbed somehow in the process of putting it in the Uncle Mike's the night before, or I just missed that it was off.

Now, had I been relying on the safety to keep the gun from firing, there might have been a serious tragedy. But, I know that mechanical safeties can fail, or be manipulated unintentionally, so I also always, always, follow The Four Rules:

Rule 1: The gun is ALWAYS loaded! - In this case, I knew it was loaded anyway.

Rule 2: Never point the gun at anything you do not want to destroy or kill. - It was pointed at the wall, which, while not something I really want to destroy or damage, is repairable. Beyond that wall of the apartment is the brick outside wall and solid earth up to about shoulder level - definitely a safe backstop.

Rule 3: Keep your finger away from the trigger until you are ready to fire. - As always when I'm handling a gun, but not ready or planning to fire it, my trigger finger was indexed along the frame below the slide, and the other fingers were around the grip, giving me a secure hold on the weapon.

Rule 4: Be sure of your target, what is near your target, and what is BEHIND your target. - Since I wasn't planning on firing, this one is not applicable - but see my explanation above on Rule 2. I knew what I was using as a backstop if it did fire, and I knew what was behind it.

It always pays to stop and review The Four Rules occasionally. This time, I got a surprising but harmless reminder of why they exist. Next time, it could be an ND, but if I follow the Rules, it won't be a tragedy.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Sherlock Holmes, as he was meant to be!

(Warning - contains minor spoilers)

I saw Sherlock Holmes tonight, and I can only agree with LawDog - Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law bring us Holmes and Watson as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle meant them to be. LawDog puts it better than I can:
Is this movie an accurate depiction of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's most famous literary invention? That depends.

If you are a fan of the Sherlock Holmes of the books, then yes. If you are a fan of the Hollywood version of the detective -- then no.

This is going to come as a shock to some folks, but Basil Rathbone was a lousy Sherlock Holmes.

Sir Arthur penned a Sherlock Holmes who was a young man -- probably in his late twenties, but no older than mid-30's -- who was a genius, yes, but also manic-depressive.

In "A Study In Scarlet", Sir Arthur -- through Dr. Watson -- described how Holmes would be seized by melancholia and would lie upon his sofa, in the dark, for days without speaking or moving; in other stories, Holmes would be "seized by an intensity" and go for days without eating or sleeping, until he fainted.

He is -- as written by Doyle -- an eccentric, who kept his unanswered mail nailed to the mantel with a pen-knife; his tobacco stored in the toe of a shoe; and his cigars in a coal-bin.

He is an addict, who self-medicates his depression with a 7% solution of IV cocaine, with occasional forays into morphia use.
Robert Downey, Jr. does a bang-up job of portraying the Holmes of the books - mania, depression, and all. A man who can fight as well as reason, and is tenacious once the game is afoot.

Jude Law gives us an intelligent, competent, Watson - able to keep up with Holmes' mania, his eccentricities, his reasoning, his secretive planning, who can hold his own in a fight, and who has become familiar enough with Holmes' methods to make his own deductions.

They do take some liberties with the "official" continuity. The movie takes place shortly before Watson's marriage, but there are references to "A Scandal in Bohemia," which took place after his marriage. Watson learns of Moriarty, even though he had not heard of him at the start of "The Final Problem," which also took place after his marriage. There may be other discontinuities, but I'll admit that it's been so long since I read the books that I didn't really notice any.

Despite that, it was a good movie, true to the characters and the spirit of the books. It's made me want to read all the stories again (thank goodness for Project Gutenberg, which has all the Holmes stories - and more - available for free online).

I heartily recommend this movie, for all Sherlock Holmes fans. Go, and enjoy!

Sunday, January 03, 2010


Jenn over at A Conservative Shemale points out the the super-duper high-tech body scanners everyone is shouting about in the aftermath of the underwear bomber apparently would not have actually done any good, even if they had been used.
I guess it’s time to state the obvious- There is no one perfect system. We need a defense in depth strategy that is going to have to include some form of profiling.

I'm really starting to like her. She seems to have a good head on her shoulders.

The high-tech stuff does have it's place, but as she said, there is no one perfect system. Consider the body scanners. One weakness - if I understand the system right - is that it doesn't penetrate skin. Now imagine a really fat terrorist, and what he could hide in his folds. (I apologize profusely for that disturbing mental image.) We absolutely need a defense in depth strategy, and it is going to have to include some form of profiling.

The problem is that people hear "profiling" and think "ZOMG, we're going to strip search anyone who looks middle-eastern! Religious persecution!" and immediately shut their brains down and fight it, regardless of what profiles are actually used. So, of course, no politician who cares about getting re-elected (which is pretty much all of them) would ever dream of allowing profiling to happen on their watch.

But profiling does not automatically mean using race or religion based profiles. The underwear bomber would have been caught with a simple profile that had no references to race, religion, or even gender - he paid cash for his ticket (already a red flag), and he had no luggage for an international flight. Either one of those facts should have triggered additional scrutiny and a more intensive search before boarding, both together should have had him pulled aside for a detailed interview and background check.

But, you know, religion and race shouldn't be ignored when creating those profiles, either. If John Smith goes to Pakistan and comes back as Muhammad Abdullah, it should raise suspicions. Abdul Khadar from Terroristan should be asked more than just "did you leave your luggage unattended," and should go through a little more scrutiny than just walking through a metal detector with his shoes off before boarding the plane. Along the same lines, Joe and Jane Jones from Frostbite Falls, Minnesota, traveling with their two year old daughter and three month old infant, are very likely not terrorists, and probably don't need to be strip searched.

As long as you don't let yourself be blinded by the profiles, or allow them to be abused, they can be extremely effective. Just ask the Israelis.