The Mad Dog in the Neighborhood

Just to the south of the Khosr River, olive trees surround the simple homes of Nineveh and spread their sweet scent to every household when the wind blows off the Tigress. On those hot mornings, all the children in the community come outside to catch some of the breeze on their faces. In the evening, if they are lucky, one of the fathers in the neighborhood will bring home flavored ice shavings from one of the many street vendors in town to help ease the relentless oppressive heat of the day. The families in this sleepy neighborhood live a simple life, one that has been repeated for as many generations as any among them could remember.

Rahim lives in a house that was bigger than most in the area, but with six brothers and one sister, the house still felt cramped. Privacy for Rahim can only be obtained when he takes a trip to the secret hideaway he found on the now nearly dry Khosr River bank. Rahim makes the 3 kilometer trek to his special hidden sanctuary several times a week. His favorite spot is where the river folds back on itself and creates a naturally shady environment where he can race up and down the steep embankments, practice his laser sharp rock throwing ability, or just sit for a while and contemplate the many complexities found in a twelve year old boy’s life.

Most families in Rahim’s neighborhood are Sunni Muslim like him, but other families find their universal peace as Yazidi, Yarsan and Mandean. Even a few Assyrian Christians call this Nineveh neighborhood home. Rahim found the religious trappings and customs of his friends to be curious, but all the children from every background still scrambled to be first in line every time the shaved ice appeared on the scene. The apportioning of the delicious evening treat is only decided by which face appears at the head of the line. Existing in this hardscrabble part of the world meant a certain measure of acceptance and tolerance is required by all.

This year, just as the heat of summer started its relentless yearly push into Nineveh, stories about packs of wild dogs from the South of Mosul began to fill the adults evening dialog.  To the children, these stories of the vicious hounds with no soul, sounded much like the mythical stories of the great wars and warriors they had heard told so many times before. But the concern on their parent’s faces when they told these new stories of desert marauders, made these stories feel different. Fear, real guttural fear, cannot be hidden and every one of the children of the neighborhood started to feel a chill in their bones, even on the hottest of days.

One night after evening prayers, Rahim asked his elderly father to explain why everyone was so afraid of the invading pack of dogs from the South. Rahim’s father was very wise and was always honest with his sons. He sat Rahim down in front of him and told him to listen well. Rahim sat with rapt attention waiting for the answer. Rahim’s father took a long time to gather his thoughts then began to speak in a strange riddle.

“Two men go to the river to go fishing, one man says to the other,”

“We should fish in the morning to catch our evening meal.”

“But the other man responds,”

“It is better to fish in the evening, to supply our house for the next day.”

“Rahim, which of these two men is right?”

Rahim was quite puzzled by this problem as there did not appear to be a correct answer, nor a wrong one. After a few minutes of bewilderment, Rahim’s father asked:

“Would your belly be more filled if you ate the fish caught at night or by the one that was caught in the morning?”

This time the answer came easy for Rahim.

“My belly would be just as full for either, so both men must be right.”

Rahim’s father smiled and patted him on the head, in the same manner that fathers have reached out to their children from the dawn of time whenever their children begin to absorb one of the unseen mysteries of life. Then he explained further.

“Men can learn from other men, just as we do from the Imam, and the elders, and even as you do from me. Reasoning men can learn from each other that there is not just one unique path in life. For example, if you discovered that the route you take to go to the river was blocked one day, would you not find an alternate route? And if you did, would you not get to the same final destination?”

Rahim’s father let the message sink in then added:

“But if a man is trying to reason with a wild dog, the dog can learn nothing from the man, for all the dog knows is how to kill and eat. There is no alternate path for the dog to choose from. That is why this pack of dogs approaching us from the South is so dangerous, they cannot reason with other men to find an alternate path.”

The lesson for Rahim was barely absorbed when the rabid dogs with the black beards first arrived in his neighborhood. Shaved ice is no longer delivered to quell the evening heat.

What If News Commentary – What Does It All Mean?

December 2011 – A Lockheed Martin RQ-170 Sentinel (our top spy drone) does a soft landing – in Iran. The Ministry of Intelligence and National Security (Iran’s Spy Agency) claim they hacked into the communications link and simply ordered the drone to land. The RQ-170’s billion dollar electronic secrets are laid bare to the Iranians. The US has still not offered an explanation.

March 2014 – Malaysia Air FLT 370 disappears from the sky after mysteriously ceasing communications and turning away from its flight path. The possibility of the 777’s fly by wire control systems being commandeered remotely are still discussed in hush tones among the security community, although denied publicly.

May 2014 – Chinese computer hackers, with full government backing, are caught red-handed stealing thousands of military and commercial secrets from the US. Even upon exposure of hard evidence, they deny the accusations, and continue their nefarious efforts to this day.

June 2014 – Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri, the top bomb designer of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, creates new types of explosive devices that are designed to hide inside electronic devices. The electronics are designed to sneak pass airline security checkpoints. Passengers are now required to turn every electronic device to prove the device does not play only one channel, the al-Qaeda kaboom channel.

July 2014 – An as yet unnamed group of foreign hackers was caught trying to penetrate into the NASDAQ stock market computer system. After a brief announcement to the press, the details, and the story is quickly scuttled.

July 2014 – A cadre of drunken Russian wannabe soldiers is handed the keys to a sophisticated SA-11 missile system by a drunk-with-power glamor boy who wants to be a Czar. The first attempt by this Hogan’s Hero’s group to take the missile launcher out for a spin shoots down Malaysia air Flt MH 17.

Each of these acts taken individually, demonstrates that terrorist acts around the world are constantly accelerating. However when we take the collective view of these, and the many other instances of terror now at our doorstep, it clearly demonstrates that the very face of terrorism has dramatically changed. The good old days where a terrorist could be identified as a simple minded Jihadi zealot firing his gun in the air in some far off land is over.

It’s time to ask – Who are the world’s new terrorists?

The new breed of terrorist are biochemists, engineers, and computer experts? The new terrorists are not geographically or socioeconomically bound. This new Jihadist mentality transcends country boarders, economics, and personal intelligence limitations. World class scholars harbor the same zealous idealism as the young man with the RPG on his shoulder. Geographic boarders, once used to label our enemies, have disappeared right before our eyes. ISIS identifies with a caliphate, a land with boarders only they choose.

The old breed of terrorist was limited by a lack of money, the availability of advanced weapons, and access to the intelligence (both personal and collective) that could match that of the West. The new terrorists has this and more. Today’s desperate governmental leaders have broken the time honored prohibition on sharing the world’s deadliest weapons with despots. Poster boy and teen heart throb Putin, desperate to create his legacy as the latest Russian Czar, is willing to give advanced weapons to a rag tag team of drunken knuckleheads. Bashar al-assad has used chemical weapons on his own people several times. Would he sell those weapons to Hezbollah in a last ditch effort to save his skin? Would ISIS use biological weapons on Shiite populations if a Saudi biochemist offered them?  If the Chinese economy started to dramatically loose value, would they offer a terror cell the keys to a computer virus that could dramatically harm America’s fortune 500 companies?

If the old face of terrorism represented a threat to America, this new face of intelligent Jihadi represents an Elevated Threat. Are we prepared for this new type of terrorism? Ask yourself – the last time the terrorism threat dramatically changed in Sept. 2001 from local insurgencies to a new type of global conspiracy – were we ready? What’s coming our way soon will make that tragic day seem inconsequential.

The old type of terrorist attacked airliners by sneaking bombs on board, the new breed of terrorists are plotting to shut down the entire air traffic control system. The old terrorist sought to infect the local train station with anthrax, the new regime is genetically altering e. coli strains to increase the infectious rate and lethality with the goal of effecting entire cities. The old terrorist sent out statements taking claim for attacks after the fact on their web sites, the new intelligent terrorists will use social media to inflate their reach and spread fear to the masses before an attack. The old terrorists strapped a bomb vest to his chest and blew up a London bus, the newly skilled terrorist sits behind a keyboard in Pakistan and shuts down the world’s financial systems.

Are we prepared for this Elevated Threat to our very way of life?

Our security apparatus and military continue to fight past wars, not prepare for the new ones coming. We still refuse to use our imagination to gird ourselves with protective measures – until after the attack takes place. And we certainly don’t have the stomach to preemptively strike these new terrorists to eliminate the threat before the attack. Doing so may offend the leaders of Pakistan or Iran or North Korea. And we clearly do not have the internal political will to face this new Elevated Threat head-on. No, our bold leaders will wait for the attack, fight each other to get in front of the cameras, and then blame the other side for the lax preparations. Next our elected talking heads will ask the UN to issue a resolution to condemn the attack and to ask the perpetrators to stop.

Putin may be a Czar after all.

What about you? Are you prepared?

Alqueda                 or                science

Syria is Breeding Western Terrorists

Dateline July 9, 2014


  The headlines are ringing from the bell towers of our American news sources about a coming wave of terrorists training in Syria, soon to return to the west. Once back home they will rain down terror on us utilizing their newly acquired skills. Apparently we are not capable of stopping this carnage since – gee whiz- they have western passports.

The dialog goes something like this. A young idealistic budding Jihadist (I’ll call him Mo), from any-town USA just can’t seem to get his plans for local mayhem off the drawing boards, no matter how hard he scours the internet.  So this bomb maker in training grabs his passport and jumps on the next plane to Syria.

After a downing a few rum and cokes while watching soft core porn on his laptop (one last indulgence), the plane touches down at Aleppo International Airport where a representative from Mo’s new email buddies at ISIS is waiting for him with a cardboard sign. The sign reads “MO – Taxi to Jihad central.” The ride to the training base is long enough for Mo to read through the ideologue pamphlets in the back seat pockets of the taxi which explain why blowing up a train station full of people fulfills GOD’s plan for humans.

  Once at the training camp Mo is greeted warmly by an older father figure (I’ll call him Bad-Daddy), who assures Mo that he has made the right decision to join the fight against GOD’s enemies. Bad-Daddy continues to explain how if Mo really wants a ticket straight to GOD’s right hand, he should martyr himself with an explosive vest. When Mo asks Bad-Daddy why he hasn’t chosen such a path for himself, Bad-Daddy scowls and admonishes Mo not to question GOD’s ways.

Mo is passed off to the terrorist’s boot camp drill sergeants where over the next few weeks he is taught to keep his headscarf looking Oh-so GQ, and how to prop up his Ak-47 against the wall  just so when making his recruitment videos. Since Mo’s fight for Jihad will be short and consists only of strapping on a vest and pushing a button, his military training is somewhat truncated. No calisthenics. Mo’s ideology training is more involved.

Mo needs to learn the correct Jihadist order of the universe. Step 1. Never forget to yell Allāhu Akbar (God is Great), with great reverence when stabbing heathen Shiite babies in the face. Forgetting to credit GOD when killing babies is a sin. Never miss an opportunity to stop children from attending school by any means necessary, especially girls. Oh my, girls attending school would just ruin everything. Yes Mo, girls are better off raped, beaten and even killed than attending school.

The only memorizing Mo needs to do at camp is to learn the pecking order in human religions. Sunni – only ones to have it right, everyone else – less than human.

  With his training deeply ingrained, Mo is ready to follow his new Jihadist brothers and spread the good word at home. With his new multi-pocketed vest packed in his carry-on, Mo is dropped off at the airport. When the gate officer asks about the vest, Mo cheerily shows off his new “fly fishing vest” to the attendant and with his US passport firmly in hand, he is free to fly the friendly skies.

Gee – whatever can we do to stop this new revolving door? If you listen to the papers it will be impossible to stop the flood of the young men like Mo now sitting in Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, or London from following this path to instant martyrdom.  Wait a minute – I just had a thought. What if we were to cancel the passports of every person that wasn’t military or had a provable valid reason for going to Syria or Iraq? What if we made trips to the ISIS hot spots a one way excursion so we don’t have to worry about them coming back radicalized?

Oh silly me, I forgot. That would impinge on Mo’s civil rights. Someone call the ACLU?

Remember That Crazy Kid in School?

From:                       ;
To:                          ;
Subject: That Crazy Kid in School?
Sent: Sat, Jun 21, 2014 8:06:50 PM

Hi Dad

Sorry, I had to send this by email. Once we arrived in Iraq all normal communications were not allowed. I have to make this brief as our next movement is coming soon. Obviously I can’t say much but I wanted to share something I realized on our first day here.

I saw on the news that they are now calling us “Advisers”. That’s become a running joke around the teams now. Variations on, “I advise you to move or I’ll blow your F-ing head off” has become the standard mantra between the men. Did they label you as an “Adviser” in Vietnam when your men fought in the jungle for eleven months? It’s kind of funny actually. On my first tour here we were called “Liberators”, the next time in we were “Warriors”, the third time we became “The Problem”, and now we are “Advisers”. If they weren’t paying me to eliminate targets, targets that change each time I am here, it would almost be comical.

I was so proud the first time I came here, as I really believed I was helping the local people. Now I see that the vast majority of the locals just want to be left alone to raise a family and find a way to get by. But none of the players with the power in this place care anything about that, even us. Everyone is playing the game for prestige, ego, control of oil, or religious fanaticism. The people simply are not in the equation at all. Yesterday I ran into a local I met last time here, and I could see the weariness in his eyes. He told me that one Uncle had been killed in one of Saddam’s camps, one brother was killed in the Iran war, one of his sons was bombed in Tikrit by a misplaced US drone strike, and now his only other son who lives in Mosul has not been heard from since ISIS moved in. I had no words that could ease the pain I saw in that old man.

I did figure out how to describe the latest crazy militia stirring everything up. You know that kid in school that everyone stays away from? The one that all the kids know is nuts and that all the teachers continually try to help? No one can say for sure what’s wrong with him, but everyone knows instinctively how it’s going to turn out in the end. Well this new militia is made up of those kids who are grown up. You can just see it in their eyes.

I heard on the news the politicians saying “We must find a political solution to the problem”. Well dad, I wish those politicians could see into the eyes of these militia members like I have. There just isn’t a political cure for crazy. Back in school, the only teacher who ever got the message across to those special kids was our shop teacher, old man Reynolds with his big paddle. I hate to say it, but the only cure over here is going to be a super-sized paddle.

Sorry to cut this short, but was just told I have to grab my paddle and go do some “Advising” now.

Love you.

Jeffrey Is Not Normal

Aug 31, 2059

Mt Baker Kids Camp


“Come on campers, were almost there. Just a couple more turns and we will be at the river. What’s that Cynthia, Jeffrey is not in line again? OK, everyone stop and point your flash lights straight ahead and wait right here until I find …., never mind I see him.”

“JEFFREY!!!, over here, keep coming toward my voice. There you go. So why did you wander off this time? I thought we agreed you were going to stay in line with all the other kids? Oh I see, a Northern Leopard Frog, well sure you just had to take a look. Well you know what, we are almost to the campsite. Do you think we can all stay together for just a little while longer? Cool.”

“Sorry Jameel, my old ears don’t work so well anymore, can you speak up? Ah, now I heard you. Well Jameel, as soon as we get to the fire pit I will show you why we are going to the one farthest from the cabins so late at night. There it is now, just around the corner. Ok everyone, gather around. Come on now let’s get in a circle.  That’s it. Now let’s all hold hands and turn off our flashlights. Oh don’t worry Cynthia, just hold the hand of the girl next to you and you will be safe. That’s it. Ok, turn all the lights off. There we are, see everyone is safe with each other. Is everyone ok? Good, good.”

“Now I want everyone to look up. Come on, everyone look up and look all around. What do you see? That’s right Elisabeth, the stars are everywhere. Have you ever seen so many stars? I didn’t think so. Does anybody know why not? Come on now, someone take a guess. That’s right Jeffrey, the lights from the city hide the stars because they are brighter. Very good. Now everyone, just sit still and listen. ….  What do you hear?”

“Brian says he hears the river, that’s good. Anyone else? Angela says she hears crickets, ok. Jeffrey hears an owl, what’s that, oh sorry, a Northern Spotted Owl. Very good, anything else. No Donny, you don’t hear a vampire. Do you want to know what I hear? I hear all the things that I can’t hear sitting in the cabins, and I see all the things I can’t see in the camp. Isn’t that cool?”

“So what do you say we get a fire going and roast us up some marshmallows?

“Good job boys that fire is really roaring. Did everyone remember to bring the marshmallow sticks we handed out? Well you know what Jeffry, I just happen to have brought along a spare, just for you. All right everyone, let’s get those gooey goobers in the fire and tell each other some stories about ourselves. What do you say Pam, tell us all a little about yourself. Come on don’t be shy. Let’s start with how old you are. Eight, that’s a great age. What do you like best about going to camp? The other kids, that’s very nice.  … Jeffrey your marshmallow is on fire again, and your stick, and your left shoe. Ok everyone stop laughing.”

“What’s up boy, you seem to be distracted, what’s on your mind? Oh, you built a new derailleur for your bike and it’s not working the way it should, wow that’s impressive. You are still riding an old fashioned bike where you have to peddle to get around on. Very cool. Sorry, what’s that Michael? Oh, you want to know how old I am. Hmm, well how about I answer you with clue and a riddle? First the clue, I am the oldest counselor ever allowed at the camp. And now the riddle, if you add up each of the numbers in my age, they will be equal to the count of digits in my age.”

“Anyone have a guess? Anyone besides Jeffrey have a guess? No, Donny, not 80. If I was 80, the sum of the numbers would be 8, so the number of digits would be 8 and I would be like 10 million years old. Do I look 10 million? Watch it! Any other guesses? No Donny, not 81. Any other guesses, no Donny not 82. Ok, Jeffrey, how old am I. Yep, I turned 102 just a few days ago. Ok everyone, put your eyes back in your heads. I don’t look a day over 99 and you know it.”

“Hey girls, what are you giggling about? Criminy, Jeffrey, now your right shoe is on fire. Back up son. I’ll tell you what, why don’t you sit by me for a while before you immolate yourself. Now what’s everyone laughing about? Come on, spill the beans, what’s so funny? Jeffrey? What’s so funny about Jeffry? What do you mean Jeffrey’s not normal? Do you all think it’s important to be normal? Really. Hmm, I’ll tell you what, everyone scooch on in close and I’ll tell you all a story about my son. It just so happens that his name is also Jeffrey.”

“A long, long time ago, when my Jeffrey was just about your age, we would go goofy golfing. Do you all know what goofy golfing is? Yea, ok. So everyone imagine the sight. We pick up our putters and go to the first hole. We stand there at the place called the tee where you would hit your balls (stop snickering Donny), and right there smack in the middle of the course was a small French house? How silly is that? Well now to get your ball into the hole, you have to hit it all the way around the houses driveway, down some wiggly bit, and then all the way around the backside of the house to get to the hole. Well, my Jeffrey looks at this odd situation and decides that the shortest path to the hole would be best. Of course that meant hitting the ball high in the air and bouncing it off of the roof of that little house. Jeffrey determined that if it was done just right, the ball would go straight into the hole. Well, it took him four trips back to the girl at the counter for another ball before he got it just right, but eventually the ball bounced off of the roof, up in the air, and dropped straight into the hole.”

“So here’s the question. If the goal of golf is to get the ball into the hole in the shortest amount of shots, but the “normal” way takes more shots, which path to the hole was best? What do you think? Anyone? I see you are all starting to think now.”

“Well how about this. Elisabeth, you seem to be good friends with Cynthia. Would you still be her best friend if she colored her hair red? I thought so. How about if she cut her hair all off and was bald, would you still be her best friend? That’s right, looks don’t really matter to real friends do they.”

“In fact, let me tell you what my boy did to his hair when he was young. For a while, the “normal” kids all decided they wanted to look like old Chinese men. So they each took a cereal bowl out of the cupboard and went to the barber. They put the bowl up on their heads and told the barber to shave off everything not covered up by the bowl. Man that was quite a sight. If it was dark and you could not see their eyes, you couldn’t tell if the boys were coming towards you or going away. My Jefferey’s head looked like a little ripe cantaloupe with a tiny mop on top. And they all called that normal.”

“Another time, Jeffrey decided that no barber could cut his hair the way he liked, so he went out and bought his own electric clippers and just cut it himself. By the time he was done, all his hair was gone. His head looked like a dented cue ball wearing glasses. He certainly did not look normal anymore. But take a guess how much less I loved him because of it? Exactly right Jameel. His looks didn’t matter to me at all. Both when he tried to be like the other kids and look normal, and when he tried to be unique, I loved him just the same. And you know what else, all his friends were still his friends either way. So what do you think, is it really important to look like everyone else and be normal? Oh I see a lot of heads nodding and brains working now. That’s good.”

“Let me tell you another story about ….  Oops, hang on my phone is ringing. Hello, this is Counselor Billy. Yes, we are still down by the river. Oh, well ok, we will start heading back soon. Yes I know I always say that, but we will start packing up soon. Really.”

“Well where was I, oh yea, Jeffrey and sports. Which sports do all the normal kids play these days in school? Oh, soccer is still popular, baseball and softball too. I see. Do any of you play a sport that only few others play? No-one. Hmmm. What do you think about the kids that play tennis? Come on Donny, tell the truth, what do you think about kids who play tennis?  You say you think they are stuck up, geeks, and loners. Would you try to be friends with them? I see a lot of shaking heads.”

“Well you know what, when my Jeffrey was a boy he decided he would be a wrestler. Have you ever seen a wrestling match? Ok a couple of you have. Well Jeffrey joined the wrestling team at school and they gave him this tight little suit to wear that made him look like a naked dolphin. But despite never wrestling before, and looking like a sea mammal, he would go to practice every day after school and he worked really hard to get stronger and learn the wresting techniques. And you know what, after a while, he got pretty good. And you know what else, I was super proud of him. Who knows why? That’s right Michael, because he tried his best and stuck with it. Do you guys think I would have been more proud of him if he had picked a “normal” sport? You got it Denise, it’s not what you do, it is how you do it. Yes Donny, even tennis.”

“He guys, someone better poke that fire, the flames are starting to get low. How’s everyone’s marshmallow’s doing? No more huh, Ok let’s put the rest in the bag and save them for later. Oops, hang on, there goes my phone again. Hi there, Counselor Billy. Oh yea we are packing up now, no worries, we will be there soon. Oh I know we can’t have kids out past 10 PM that would upset the balance of the universe. No of course I am not being sarcastic, we will be back soon.”

“On the way out here some of you asked why we were going to the farthest fire pit from the camp, remember. Well let me ask you all a question. What’s more satisfying, climbing a small hill or a big one? Jameel says a big one, do you agree? Yes I think so too. The bigger the challenge the bigger the reward. You know, back in the day, there were none of the electro-gyro-fusion bicycles you all have now. In fact, in the old days, if the bikes stopped moving they just fell over. And the only way they would move was to peddle them with your feet. So to get somewhere on a bike was hard work. Well my Jeffrey decided one day to go for a bike ride. But not just any ride. No he wanted a real adventure. So one day he took off peddling that bike and he didn’t come home until he had gone three thousand miles. Well no Donny, that’s not the same distance as it is to the moon, but it is really far. Who can guess why Jeffrey went so far. Good answer Denise, because the farther you go the bigger the reward. It was the very challenge of the ride and of NOT being normal that made it very special.”

“Well guys we will have to go soon. But first tell me one more thing about Jeffrey that makes you think he is not normal? Come on speak up. How about you Donny. You always have something to say. I see, you think Jeffrey is a smarty pants. And being a smarty pants is not cool. Hmm, some things never change.”

“Let me ask you guys something, what’s your favorite game? The new Apple 3D laser hologram system. Yea that is a pretty cool game. I played that with my great grand-kids the other day. Man they smoked me with that game. Do you know who makes that game? No Angela, I don’t mean Apple, I mean who the person is that designed the game. Well it was designed by a lady named April, and guess what? She is only 24 years old. Do you guys think she is a smarty pants? Yea I’ll bet she is too. You have to be very smart to create things. Do you think she was teased when she was your age, and maybe she didn’t have many friends because she was smart? What would have happened if she just wanted to be normal so much that she didn’t try hard to get even smarter? What if she had not followed her heart? That’s right, you would not have that cool game to play with. That would have been a bummer. Who knows, maybe Jeffrey here will invent the next new cool game that your kids will play with someday. How cool would that be?”

“That reminds me of another story about my Jeffrey. When he was young, he had friends that were smart, and he had friends that were not so smart. And just like now, many of the kids back in those days thought being smart was not cool. And there was a lot of peer pressure on him to be like the “normal” kids. Reading is for geeks, and learning stuff is a waste of time, come on dude just have fun. Have any of you heard that? Yea I thought so. Well my Jeffrey heard all that too, but you know what? He listened to his own heart and he realized that what’s normal was what was normal for him. And so he decided to live up to his own standards and not those of others. That’s called growing up.”

“Let me ask you, when your friends pass a test in school, are you happy for them? Oh yea – why? Come on, think about it. If being smart is so bad, why are you happy when your friend passes a test? That’s right Jameel, did everyone hear that? Jameel says it’s because you’re happy when your friend is successful. Very good answer Jameel.”

“The people that care about you are happy when you do well. When my Jeffrey was a boy, he continued to read and learn and he became very smart. Way smarter than this old man, that’s for sure. Then one day he went off to college where he took very hard classes and got even smarter still. And you know what? The day I took him off to college I bawled like a baby all the way back home. That’s right I did. I was so proud of him because he had worked so hard to become smart, and because he had grown up into such a good man I just couldn’t help myself. And you know what else, I’ll just bet every one of your parents cried after they dropped you off here at camp. Sure it’s because they will miss you, but it’s also because they know that bringing you here will make you smarter and that you will experience new things. You see, even more than your friends, your parents want you to become smart and learn new things and grow up to be fine men and women. Being smart IS COOL.  Trust me on that.”

“Oh Elisabeth, speak up dear. Ok, well Elisabeth wants to know what happened to my Jeffrey after he grew up. Well who wants to hear what unbelievable thing happened to him right after his 30th birthday?  I see everyone’s hand is up. Ok then – this is the best story off all. Everyone gather in even tighter, the fires almost out and this story will send a chill down your spine.”

“Well, the day started out just like any other day …. Oh Oh, there goes my phone again. Hello, this is Counselor Billy. Oh, hi Darleen, how are … what’s that, I promised to be back an hour ago, well I never …, Ok, Ok. Yes, I get the point, all the other kids blah, blah, blah. I mean you bet we will be back ASAP. No really, were on our way. Yes Mein Captain, were on the trail now.”

“Well kids, unfortunately we have to go back now. I know, I know, I was just getting started too, but the lady that runs the camp says the rules say that all the kids have to be back in the cabins by 10. Apparently it’s just not normal for kids to be out at the river past ten. But you know what, we’ll all come back tomorrow and I’ll finish the story. Donny, dump the rest of the water on the fire. Has everyone got their flashlights turned on? Let’s take a vote, who should we have lead us back down the trail? All right, it sounds like it’s unanimous, Jeffrey lead the way.”

Can America Stop Fighting Wars of Attrition?

In simple terms, the only way to stop wars of attrition is to change the paradigm by which the U.S. fights wars from one of minimal impact, to fighting wars to win. If our plans for a particular engagement were predicated completely and solely on performing whatever steps were necessary to win the conflict, and were not based on what was politically expedient, wars of attrition would cease. Why?

Fighting to win would stop attrition wars for two reasons. If politicians understood that any conflict they engaged us in meant that the armed services would use all of their tools at their disposal to reach the singular objective of complete acquiescence by the enemy and that doing so would inescapably create significantly higher civilian losses, they would be far more reluctant to engage us in a war in the first place. Secondly, once other countries leaders understood that antagonizing the US to the point of war meant a guarantee of their own regimes demise, they would be far less likely to push us to that point. Many antagonistic leaders push the envelope simple because they know we won’t fight to win. In a morbid twist of fate, they use America’s sense of humanity against us so they can unleash their own brand of inhumanity against their own people.

In the old days, fighting a war most often meant desiring to take over land or resources from another kingdom, or to stop them from taking yours. Today, for the US anyway, fighting a war simply means protecting political interest in one place or another, and surreptitiously spurring on the economy of large corporate entities, the very engine that keeps those same politicians in power. EX: The State Department paid nearly $4 billion for projects to aid in Afghan reconstruction from 2002 to 2013. $2.5 billion or 69% of all that money went to a single company, DynCorp. Do you think DynCorp is on the speed dial of many U.S. Senators and Representatives now serving? How many of those Senators or representatives will be “consultants” to DynCorp after their time in office is over? Would you like to wager that any of that investment made in Afghanistan will remain ten years from now, five years from now?

This lack of desire to win wars is not something new. My father-in-law was a big shot at the Pentagon during the Vietnamese war. A war that was winnable by the military in three days anytime we chose. A war that was instead played out for many years and at great cost to both sides. Everyone lost except the DynCorp’s of the world. And the result from all the lives lost or changed forever? Vietnam ultimately ended up back in the hands of the original inhabitants anyway.

Yes this same sad story has unfortunately been played out many times just in our lifetime, and there is no final chapter to the book on wars of attrition yet in sight. Unless a major paradigm shift takes place in US politics that affords the military the ability to win its wars, the same pattern of attrition based losing will continue unabated. Time to buy DynCorp stock.

Has Stolen Drone Technology Downed Malaysian FLT 370?

In northeastern Iran in December of 2011, one of America’s most advanced spy drones landed unexpectedly and was quickly acquired by the Iranian military. The Lockheed Martin RQ-170 Sentinel was summarily paraded on the world’s news as a victory for the Iranian intelligence services. They claimed that they had broken into the Sentinel’s satellite communication up-link and simply told the super-secret spy plane to land softly in the desert where it could be recovered. The US has never acknowledged anything other than the Sentinel landed in hostile territory.

It is however safe to assume that whatever the reason for the spy planes loss from our control, the full weight of Iranian cryptologists and computer specialists would have been brought to bear on the gold mine of information that dropped into their lap. The cache of secrets the Iranians may have revealed by a study of the planes advanced technology in communications, encryption, flight planning, satellite navigation, photography, and even the fly by wire airframe control of the Sentinel is hard to imagine. The downing of the Sentinel in Iran seemed like an innocuous and unfortunate loss at the time, but with the disappearance of Malaysian FLT 370 the mind starts to ask – What If?

What if, the claim by the Iranians that they had jammed our satellite communications to our spy plane and replaced them with their own communications link is true? And what if they simply had instructed the billion dollar Sentinel to land in the desert where they could drop by and pick it up? And what if over the last three years, their investigations into the Sentinels systems has revealed to them fruitful information about remotely piloted planes, the GPS systems that they rely on, and the communication systems that keep them in the original operators control? Is it then beyond rational thought to ponder the possibility that they could have used that technological leap to remotely snatch a computer controlled civilian plane, say a Boeing 777, as the first demonstration run of that capability?

Is the idea as farfetched as it sounds? Actually yes. But is it within the realm of possibility, unfortunately that answer is yes as well.

Who out of all the nations on earth would have both the intellectual capability to demonstrate such a technological achievement, and possess the temerity to operationally use such a capability? Who indeed, out of that small number of countries, also has in its possession of one of the most technologically sophisticated spy planes the world has ever seen to help develop that very capability. A plane that has so many secrets on-board that its very existence is still muttered in hushed tones. What would such a country do if indeed it did have this new capability in its grasp?

Let’s take this “What If” question one step further and examine the terrorist possibilities such a capability would provide a country possessing this capability. Until now, there have been no credible claims of responsibility for Malaysia Air FLT 370’s disappearance and no concrete answer given to its disappearance. Therefore the mind is still open to wander the various possibilities. If Malaysian Air FLT 370 was indeed abducted from its flight plan by electronic means, the terror implications of repeated use of this capability are enormous. Such a country could blackmail its way out of any situation. It could threaten the entire world’s transportation. It would reserve its place at the big-boy table currently occupied by the nuclear fraternity.

But what if the technological capability to snatch planes out of the air is not yet fully realized, are there still unthinkable terror scenarios still open? Ask yourself, what would be the result if Iran simply claimed it was behind the disappearance and declared that the Sentinel abduction was proof it can accomplish such a feat? What if they decided to use a full on publicity propaganda attack? In such a case the worlds press would transmit the story round the world in seconds. The world’s population would be instantly put on notice that the next flight they take could be their last. The effects on the economy, the security implications, the political ramifications, and the massive eroding of public trust in our most basic systems would be incalculable.

Terrorism would indeed have reached a new plateau, without firing a shot. Have we now arrived at an Elevated Threat?

A Warrior’s Son

  The release papers were waiting on Jim’s desk when he returned at 15:30 hours from what would be his last patrol in Kandahar. Every soldier knows that one day that same letter will show up on their desk, but not a single one will talk about it. Jim heard often about how anticipating that day would keep your focus away from the job at hand. Everyone in that dusty hell-hole had heard the stories of the soldiers that were within days of receiving that letter but never went home. Jim was very determined to not be one of them.

  Jim had first arrived at this camp almost exactly thirteen months ago as a young, wide-eyed soldier eager to step out from behind his dad’s shadow. While growing up he had heard all the stories about his dad’s days in Vietnam and how he had fought an invisible enemy from the bowels of a hot sweaty jungle with little more than his bare hands and his wits to keep him alive.  A father’s tales depicting his own young manhood begin to lose their effect on their sons by the early teen years and his own father’s tales of heroism had grown quite stale by the time Jim had his first high school dance.

  It only took 3 days in this god-forsaken place for Jim to lose his given name. While practicing with his sniper rifle, the stock slipped from his shoulder and the scope used his right eye socket to stop the recoil. From day 3 onward Jim was known to everyone in his camp as “Shiner”.

  Oddly enough the heat and dust did not bother Shiner like it did many of his fellow soldiers. It was annoying to be sure, but somehow waking up for the morning patrol seemed easier for him when the heat of the day could be felt in the air at 06:00. But everyone at this place has his or her own aversions and for Shiner it was the smell. At home his mom cooked meals that you could taste from your room. In the early mornings before hockey practice, the smell of buttermilk pancakes with cinnamon and syrup would make its way down the hall and under Jim’s bedroom door like an invisible ninja. No matter how tired Jim was, that ninja would grab him by the chest and drag him to the breakfast table.

  Here in Kandahar, when Shiner went out to patrol the streets and alleys around the city, the stench of the life and death around him were so foreign to his consciousness that they would never leave him alone. No matter how much he washed his uniform, the minute he put on his equipment the smell of this place permeated his pores and became a constant reminder of how far away from home he was.

  Shiner read and re-read the papers that said he was going home. His eyes wandered from the paper, he took in the empty room around him, and an unexpected tidal wave of sadness washed over him. He walked to the door and saw the hive outside was alive with activity. He knew that the prescribed movements he was witnessing all around the yard were no longer going to be his daily routine. The 06:00 walks that were 98% boring and 2% adrenaline filled fights for your life would soon be replaced with endless, useless exercise at the base. The late night discussions with his buddies about the meaning of life, of girlfriends long ago lost, and of battles won and lost, would all soon be nothing more than stories for his own future son. But most of all, he knew it was the brothers that he would be leaving behind who never had the opportunity to get that same letter he now held tight in his hands that was causing the tightening in his gut.

  When his plane was 78 miles down range from home he could start to see the outlines of familiar landmarks. The hills where he and his dad used to go camping stood out from the tapestry below, but they looked so much smaller than he remembered. The rolling hills in the distance were where his dad would take him to ride the motorcycle that mysteriously showed up on his 13th birthday. This was the same motorcycle his mom threatened to drop on his dad’s head if he ever got hurt while riding it. Before those thoughts were extinguished, the city where he grew up was coming in view when he arched his neck just right. The view from the air of the city seemed exactly as it had thirteen months ago, but the emotions that the view from the window were imparting on him now could not have been more different.

  As the plane taxied to its final destination at hanger 12-A, Shiner noticed for the first time the anticipation that was brewing in his fellow soldiers regarding the family reunions now just minutes away. Many of the soldiers had wives or husbands that were waiting in the greeting area dressed in their finest clothes. Many of the waiting spouses had young ones in tow. Some of the babies were so young they would now be seeing their returning parent for the first time. A million different stories accompanied by hugs and kisses were waiting at the hangar. Soon a crescendo of emotions and tears would be released.   

  Maybe it was the sleep deprivation, the outlandishness of the occasion, or just the fact that no girlfriend, wife or child was outside that door waiting for him that had Shiner so calm and unemotional about it. He knew everything would unfold for him the way it was supposed to be.

  Shiner instinctively knew his dad would be in the back of the room acting stoic like it was no big deal. His dad had always demonstrated how a man is supposed to act. So when his dad put him in a bear hug and then started crying in front of everyone, well it was just embarrassing. The ride home wasn’t nearly long enough to shake the image of his old man making a fool of himself in front of all those people. When mom saw the car pull in the driveway, she cried out her son’s name and ran out to his waiting arms. When mom embraced him, the battle-hardened young man finally broke down and shed a few tears of his own. For just one brief moment Shiner was Jim again. It felt good.  

  After mom’s sumptuous feast was consumed, Jim’s dad prodded him to head out to the back porch where many evenings of his youth had been wasted. Now, here he was on his first night home from war, and all his dad wanted to do was to relive those days. Nothing interesting had ever happened on that porch for them to talk about then, so there was very little hope for a different result on this day. Not only was he trying to re-live the days of his youth, the old man also wanted him to re-hash every detail of his last thirteen months in Kandahar. Shiner wanted at least one night to try and forget it.

  His safe return from an ugly war should have been one of the best nights of Shiner’s life, yet the chill in the air was no longer contained to only the autumn evening’s breeze.

  Thankfully, before long one of his Army buddies arrived at the house to save him from a night of endless melancholy. After the two young bucks said their goodbyes to Shiner’s family and headed for the car, Jim felt a lump in his throat when he looked back at the house and saw his mother through the window busying herself by washing the aluminum off the bottom of the cooking pans. When he glanced to the side of the house he saw his old man slowly heading for the back porch, his limp seemed to be much worse than he remembered.

A Soldier’s Father

The homecoming letter directed the families to be on base, in Hangar 12-A’s waiting area by 11:00 AM. It explained that the plane would disembark the returning troops at 11:15, and that the homecoming ceremony would be completed and the soldiers would be released to the families by 11:25.

All the precise military planning in the world however, did not help Clyde sleep the night before. Nor could it keep him from arriving at the base nearly three hours early. The anticipation of seeing his son for the first time in thirteen months was just too much for Clyde to be constrained by procedure and protocol. Mom decided she could not handle it at all, and stayed away to prepare a special homecoming meal that would fill the house with all those smells she knew her boy so enjoyed.

The guard at the gate was reluctant to let Clyde enter the grounds so early, despite the circumstances. Even as Clyde tried to explain to the guard that someone had to be the first to arrive, the guard held firm to his orders to not allow families to enter prior to 10:00 AM. Thankfully, after two calls to the family liaison specialist, the deadlock was broken and Clyde was permitted to enter the huge, mostly empty hangar that would soon be the sight of such great joy to fifty families.

Every inch of this now rarely used hangar brought back a flood of memories from Clyde’s own days when he proudly wore the fatigues. The sounds of the planes taxing by, the smell of the machine oil that seemed to come from every direction, and even the cadence of the soldiers’ boots on the ground as they walked by returned Clyde to the days when he was young, tough, and proud. But now, as he studied the back of his withered hands and felt the side of his left knee that never did heal quite right, he realized all of the strength and confidence he once had, was transferred to his son. A son whose plane was now only 78 miles down range.

As the families began to fill the hanger, and the workers completed the final touches, Clyde noticed a trend of those gathered inside. As expected, the awaiting wives and children packed in as close to the receiving platform as possible, but all the fathers seemed to have been pulled by some unseen force to the far corners of the room. While the children wiggled and squealed and the mothers struggled to contain themselves, the fathers would only occasionally glance at each other and nod. Despite every father’s heart beating out of the chests in anticipation, there seemed to be some unspoken manly understanding that required from them a stoic stance. Tears, certainly would be held in check. When one waiting grandfather did let loose the waterworks, all of the other fathers quickly turned away. Clyde distracted himself by studying the not so interesting iron lattice work on the hangar’s massive doors.

Sure enough, the plane was spot on time, the home-coming ceremony was mercifully brief, and the joyous reunions were chock-full of emotion. Clyde held his position at the rear of the room so the spouses and kids could get in the first hugs. His son seamed to anticipate the situation and his eyes slowly canvased the corners of the room where he finally found Clyde standing on a bench waving. Manhood be damned, as Clyde’s arms finally wrapped firmly around his son’s chest, the crocodile tears of relief were let loose. His son took the young buck military approach and just patted the old man on the back appreciatively.

The reunion act was replayed at home with mom, but this time with no witnesses to the event, and this being mom after all, even Clyde’s son dared shed a tear or two.

After mom’s sumptuous feast was consumed, Clyde and his son wandered out to the back porch where many a year had been spent watching the dogs play in the leaves and where most of their father-son talks had taken place. Clyde tried to retell some of the stories of those days, but it was clear his son was not nostalgic tonight. Clyde then tried to inquire about what had transpired over those last thirteen months. The Skype and emails between them never did say much. But his son intimated that only his “buddies” could really understand those months away. He claimed no offense, but since they had lived through it with him, and because the old man’s military days were just too different than his, he simply could not understand.

On one of the best nights of Clyde’s life, the safe return of his only son, the chill in the air was no longer contained to only the autumn evening’s breeze.

All too soon, one of his son’s new buddies arrived at the house to whisk him away for a celebratory night out. After a wave from the driveway as they pulled away, Clyde grabbed a jacket and returned to the back porch and stared out into the distance. Tears started flowing fast and furious. Half of Clyde’s tears were from the relief that his boy was home safe. The other half were flowing because he knew his boy had been forever lost, and thirteen months later he had been replaced by a new man.


The X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System has taken flight from the U.S.S. George H.W. Bush. These successful test launches guarantee that the future of combat aircraft will never be the same.

The question is, what will the future hold? Will these UCAS’ provide the next step in US air superiority, tipping the balance even farther in our favor and thus saving lives? Will the operational launch of UCAS’ create an imbalance of power that will instead make it easier to order offensive strike planes into the skies? Or, will the very design of autonomous planes usher in the fantasy world of Sci-Fi movies where Skynet-like organizations begin to rule the skies?

From the viewpoint of:

The Air-Frame Designer – Without the sentient organic blob in the plane, the design of UCAS’ air frame is considerably easier. Everything from size, to weight, to materials can be designed for maximum effect rather than for life support. Evasion capability, electronic absorption, material selection, even noise and vibration requirements can be re-evaluated to maximize stealth and offensive effect. Life is good for the Air-Frame designer.

The Operations Manager – X number of planes will be required to create operational success given a Y loss of planes. The math becomes much simpler when loss of pilot life is no longer a consideration in operational success. Operation’s managers will be salivating at the possibilities.

The Software Designer – Games, simulators, drones, and manned aircraft all have advanced auto-pilot-like software. Operational control of the UCAS’ will be the simple part, creating the logic engine to handle every operational possibility during flight will be the hard part. No amount of code can prepare for the challenge. No code is foolproof. Bugs happen, unexpected flight situations happen, and air control failures happen. Will the UCAS’ mistake a wedding party firing guns into the air for a Taliban attack? Will anti-aircraft fire from a mosque trigger a missile launch response into a crowded neighborhood? The software designer will have his/her hands full.

The Politicians – Like MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction), the policy that held us back from a global conflagration in the 60’s, manned aircraft held politicians back from quickly entering war zones. When the loss of pilot’s lives entered into the equation, the ability to sell the value of the target to the public was drastically reduced. With fleets of UCAS’ in the operational theater, the decision to launch an offensive attack comes much easier. The very paradigm and psychological introspection by which we engage in war could change. Throughout history, when launching war became easier, war mentality followed. Are we different? Can we create superior weapon systems and never use them? Or will having a clear superiority reduce the need to use them?

The Sci-Fi Dreamers – In the movies, the planes develop a sense of self preservation and turn on their creators. Philosophical angst runs amok by the citizens. In the real world, the software geeks already rule the skies. When a cruise missile launches no one hides under the covers thinking it will develop a conscious on the way to its target. The UCAS’ is not much more than a two-way cruise missile (in the sense of operational control). Fear should not be generated from software becoming sentient, but it should come from malicious developers. Could a rogue developer with an inner hatred of his country build in seemingly innocuous code that could alter flight or operational integrity? Could a misplaced sense of patriotism by a commander or politician order a strike where war had not been declared?

 Are we prepared for a future where UCAS’ rule the skies – are you?