Monday, September 25, 2006

And We Were Making So Much Progress

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) announced today it was easing restrictions on carry-on liquids and gels starting tomorrow, Tuesday. Now passengers can bring 3 oz containers of liquid, toothpaste, eye drops, etc, through the security check point. They must be in one 1 quart clear plastic bag. And beverages purchased past security will be allowed on the plane.

For shame, TSA, for shame. We were making such progress towards achieving a false sense of total security. What happened? We were going in the right direction. That is, towards banning on carry-on and checked baggage, stripping everyone down, and giving them a orange Guantamano Bay style jumpsuit. Then we would have been truly, but not really, safe from almost every thing that could go wrong.

How are you going to be able to check 3 oz of liquid to see if it truly is safe? I don't think TSA has much more equipment than it did on August 10. So why the change? Could terrorists not go through individually with 3 oz containers, then combine them past security?

We are clearly moving back in the wrong direction. If we are to be safe, we must sacrifice every freedom and convenience that we could possibly imagine having some way to be perverted for a terrorist attack. Its the only logical response to terrorism.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Getting The Most Out Of Our Children

So on the news they talked about some Clinton Initiative with Laura Bush also involved to put merry-go-round pumps in Africa to provide fresh water. Now as great as this is, it occurred to me it could be abused. "Hey kids, you want to go play on the merry-go-round some more.' "Not really, we're kind of tired of it. And we had to walk like 10 miles to school, so we'd kind of like to learn. Yeah, I want to become a doctor." "Are you a doctor right now?" "No." "Can you cure diseases caused by unclean drinking water?" "What? Of course not." "Well, get pumping, I mean, playing."

We need some of these merry-go-rounds outfitted with electric generators here in the US. Put our kids to work doing something productive for a change, instead of just wasting our tax money going to school to be baby sat. Our kids are a potential valuable energy source, a surplus of calories growing every day, waiting to be harvested. We can generate some electricity to increase supply and cut costs at schools, and to get them in shape. We should extend recess to generate more electricity. And it doesn't have to be limited to merry-go-rounds, we could put generators on exercise bikes, large hamster wheels (unless someone can figure out how to put one on a tread mill), in place of weights, maybe even rock climbing walls for when they repel down. We should cancel all school sports that can't generate electricity, and require every student to participate in those that do. It doesn't mean the end of competitive sports, they can compete for who can generate the most kilowatt-hours. It will be fun. And while were at it, get rid of school buses.

Another idea for exploiting children for their own benefit: You know those websites that you can go and pay to have papers written. Well, lets pay for education in third-world countries by having them write those essays. It's a win-win situation. A win for the children writing the essays, a win for the essay companies, and a win for the children who won't be left behind. First of all, these third-world children will get a great education since they have to be able to pass off as regular American English-speaking students. Actually, I take that back. They probably won't need that great of an education to pass themselves off as regular American students. They'll get access to computers, only because that's needed to type the essays and do research for them. Think about it, the business gets to undercut the competition's prices, increase it's profit margin, and be a good corporate global citizen. And it won't be plagiarism any longer, but rather outsourcing to compete in a competitive globalized world. Besides, our children's future jobs are already going to be outsourced anyways, so we might as well outsource their schoolwork to, its not like any education will ever be used. Make them like outsourcing when they're young, so that when they're old they won't mind their job being outsourced. (Now for the record, I only support this since these jobs already exist, and if overseas children who need an education don't do it, other people who are already educated will do it for more money.)

Who ever said child labor had to be a bad thing. If the children are, in addition to being productive in some way, being benefited themselves, then its okay. Sweat shops to make shoes are bad, sweat shops to write essays for lazy cheating students, good. Children playing and getting exercise while generating electricity, nothing wrong with that. Why waste our tax money which could be going towards a bigger rebate on education when children abroad and at home are perfectly capable of funding in part or whole their education.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

New Survey Reveals 9 out of 10 Americans Believe in God, But What Kind of God?

So it was in the news yesterday that 9 out of 10 Americans believe in God. Don't start celebrating yet. I looked at the survey, American Piety in the 21st Century, done by Baylor University, here's some of the findings. I hope you're not too bored by the numbers.

Only 10.8% of Americans are not affiliated with a congregation, denomination, or other religious group. And fewer than 5% of the US population claim a faith outside opf the Judeo-Christian mainstream. (33.6% are Evangelical Protestant, 22.1% are Mainline Protestant, 21.2% are Catholic, 5% are Black Protestant, 2.5 % are Jewish, 4.9% are other, and 10.8% are unaffiliated.) In the age group of 18-30, 18.6% are unaffiliated.

Then from those who are unaffiliated, 62.9% believe in God or some higher form. Now here is something surprising, of the unaffiliated, 11.0% believe Jesus is the Son of God. And 9.6% Jewish believe that Jesus is the Son of God as well. Now, I don't understand why someone would believe in God and believe Jesus is the Son of God and yet not be Christian. If you know the truth, why would you not follow Christ? Would God send His Son to simply deliver a message he could have picked a prophet to do, that you could have found out by watching Oprah, or was he accomplishing something more? You're really just putting yourself in a dangerous position to know the truth but not act on it. I think I might have more respect for the 37.1% who don't believe in God than those who believe in God but don't glorify God or give praise to God. God created us, so we forever owe praise to him.

Here is some disturbing information about the state of Christianity in America. Only 72.2% of Mainline Protestant believe Jesus is Son of God, the lowest of all the Christian religious traditions listed. So 1 in 4 so-called Mainline Protestants are badly missing the fundamental, essential, part of Christianity, that Christ is the Son of God. That is disturbing, but sadly not surprising. Apparently Churches need to do a better job making sure that those who go there know the Gospel and not just move on to how to be a better person on Sunday morning. And of all Christian religious traditions, only in the Black Protestant do more than half read scripture weekly. 33.1% of Catholics never read scripture, followed by 21.9% Mainline Protestant.

The survey also identified 4 basic categories of Americans views about God. There is Authoritarian where God is involved in our daily lives and world affairs, helps with decision making, responsible for global events, and is also quite angry and capable of dealing out punishment. Then there is Benevolent, God is very active in our daily lives, but are less likely to think God is angry and acts in wrathful ways, and instead is a force of positive influence in the world. Then there's Critical, God does not interact in the world, but God observes the world and views the current state unfavorable, and divine justice will be in another life. Finally, Distant, God is not active in the world nor especially either, he just set the laws of nature in motion. The breakdown is 31.4% Authoritarian, 23.0% Benevolent, 16.0% Critical, 24.4% Distant, and 5.2% atheist. Interestingly, in the 18-30 year old group, 40.2% view God as Authoritarian. It's also broken down by religious tradition. 29.2% Catholics, 10.8% Evangelical Protestant, 29.3% Mainline Protestant, and 41.7% Jewish have a that God is distant, thus Deism. Now the Bible, New and Old Testament, show God as very active. How can someone be Christian or Jewish and have a passive view of God. God sent his son and God brought the Israelites out of Egypt. I'm guessing most of these people fall in with those who don't read scripture weekly.

There's a lot more in the report. I suppose its good the 9 out of 10 Americans believe in God. But what some believe about God is not so good. And superficial belief is not enough. We're not called to just hold an intellectual idea. We're called to a personal relationship with a God who is not distant, but deeply involved in the world, enough to send his only begotten Son for our sake.

Monday, September 11, 2006

9/11 Five Years Later: Are We Any Safer?

I'm sure we all remember 9/11/2001, a day that will live in infamy. Much has changed, but are we any safer now? For a while we were united as a country, I remember watching our Congress, Republican and Democrat on the steps of the Captitol, singing America the Beautiful. But now, we are more divided as ever. A massive new Homeland Security bureaucracy has been added. Three different wars are being fought by the US, Afghanistan, Iraq, and the War on Terror. The PATRIOTIC ACT was passed, giving the government more power to fight terrorism. But how much safer are we domestically?

It is true that we haven't had any more attacks on US soil. Overseas there was the Madrid train bombing, and the London bombings last year, but nothing hear. And of course a major terror plot to bring down nine or ten planes using liquid explosives was stopped. Other plots may have been foiled that we don't know about, because they thankfully got stopped. So the government must have done some things right. Our intelligence, besides Iraq, despite all the criticism, seems to be working well.

Airplane security is the first thing that comes to mind. Perhaps the biggest change I'd put forth is the change in the mind of the passengers. If another hijacking was attempted, I do not believe the passengers would allow it to be successful. They would either stop them from hijacking the plane or would bring it down like those heroes on United 93. Now it's a lot harder to get sharp objects to use to hijack a plane on board. But, hijackings are no longer what we need to worry about. The terrorists know another hijacking wouldn't be tolerated. Instead, we have to worry about bombings on plane. Here, we have not come far enough. We still have no regular screening for explosives in carry-on and luggage throughout the US. At some airports explosives screening is being tried out. But, once you, your carry-on, and checked baggage get screened going past security or when you check in, you can travel to most any airport in the country without being seriously screened again. So, our airport security is as weak as the weakest airport's security is. Some small town air field that no one would ever expect to be attacked, lacking sufficient security, could be used as an enrty point into our closed aviation system. Once on a flight, they and their luggage could easily tranfer from a small commuter plane to a large plane flying to or from a city like New York. Now, liquids have been banned recently, but there are other ways explosives could probably make it on planes, We have not come far enough in protecting air travel from explosives.

Then there is every other form of transportation that has largely been neglected. Passenger trains are still quite vulnerable. I believe we are largely fighting our last battle, aviation security, and not adequately preparing for future attacks of a different kind. And then port security is also pathetic. It wouldn't be too hard for terrorists to sneak weapons into the US by hiding them in cargo on ships. We need to spend more money on port security, and more money on passenger trains. Mass transit is notoriously hard to secure, and its probably going to stay that way. With a large volume of people traveling relatively short trips, it's not possible to thoroughly search everyone. Trains can't be hijacked and run into buildings, but they can be bombed. So we don't need to spend a lot of effort trying to find all the sharp objects, but we do need to put forth the effort to find explosives.

What about immigration? I believe most of the 9/11 hijackers entered the US legally using visas. But, most of their visas were expired when they carried out their attack. If we had had in place a way to determine if someone is still suppose to be in the US, we could have perhaps stopped the September 11th attacks in the first place by catching them at the airport before they boarded. Now although we have the no-fly list, that is definitely not perfect. Lots of people with the same name as a terrorist are stopped and detained, even children. What we need is a database of everyone who is legally here in the US,US citizens, residents, and visitors. When someone's visa expires, if they say try to fly that easily would be spotted. This database would have biometric information (e.g. retina scans and fingerprints). This would prevent fake IDs from being used to enter the US, to fly, etc. This wouldn't guaranteed more terrorist attacks wouldn't occur, but it would make it a lot harder. This would also prevent screw ups on the no-fly list.

Now if should be pointed out that there's no way to prevent all terrorist attacks. We have a limited amount of resources, and so we can only protect some potential targets. (Everything is a potential target.) So, what we must do is protect the targets that if attacked would cause the most catastrophic disasters. Airplanes need to be protected because they can be crashed into buildings, but also because a full jumbo jet could be brought down with a small explosion, killing several hundred people. Trains and buses need to be protected because there are many people packed into a small space. Ports need to be protected to prevent weapons from being sneaked into the US. Targets like chemical factories and nuclear power plants obviously need to be protected. But there are tons of other places that can't be protected. Cars, schools, malls, homes, businesses, etc. If we could turn parts of the US into a Green Zone, virtually safe from attacks, the rest of the US could turn into Baghdad. Even if we stop the big high death-toll attacks (which is what we must try to do) from happening, many small attacks, bus bombings, car bombings, IEDs, etc, could occur that would cause just as much chaos if not more and bring our country's economy crashing down. At least right now people only get anxious when flying, and not when driving to work or going to a sports event. But that could easily change. We will never, we can never, be completely safe.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Worst Case Scenarios: Preparing For Future Disasters

We've looked back at Hurricane Katrina, but now it is time to look forward to possible future disasters. What did we learn from Hurricane Katrina that can be applied for other disasters in other locations. What is likely to strike next?

We were lucky with the hurricane, we knew it was coming a week in advance. Of course, the government still had a horrible response. I predict the worse natural disaster that could hit the US is an earthquake. (Besides a large asteroid striking in or near the US.) An earthquake would be bad because there's no warning, it just happens. There's no time to evacuate, to go to the store and stock up on supplies, no time for anything. There's no time for the feds to call up the national guard, or preposition supplies. Now you're probably thinking of the San Andreas fault in California. And that's certainly a possibility, but we also must consider the New Madrid fault in Arkansas, Tennessee, Missouri, and my own state of Kentucky. It should be pointed out that the largest earthquakes on record in the United States were from the New Madrid fault, and not the San Andreas fault. Three occurred in 1811 and 1812. The only reason not many people died is because it was 1811 & 1812 and so the area wasn't heavily populated. The same quakes today would cause immense damage. And indeed, there is much talk about us being due the big one.

I think the first lesson learned is you cannot expect help from the Federal government in the first few days to reach you in the disaster zone. Now with Katrina, the government new it was coming and probably should have responded better faster. But with say an earthquake, no warning will be available and so you definitely can't expect a fast response. Who knows what condition the roads will be in to allow aid to reach people. No, communities and individuals will be on there own for at least several days, if not longer.

So, perhaps each person in a vulnerable area or even the whole US should have a survival kit assembled with several days worth of nonperishable food (probably MRES - Meals Ready to Eat), water, a first aid kit, a radio for information, water filter, tarps, and other supplies. I doubt too many people are going to do this, (I myself have not and probably won't anytime soon) so the government would need to encourage this somehow, maybe by making it tax deductible. Then you have the problem that if all these buildings have collapsed, how will people reach the kits when they're buried under debris. People could build sheds to store all their emergency supplies. (Build a earthquake resistant house, call it an emergency shelter, and you'll be exempt from property taxes.)

Chances are that's not going to happen, so each community should store emergency supplies, not in one central location, but at various locations within walking distance of all residents. Each neighborhood could be responsible for their own supplies. And as the shelf life approaches, if MREs do indeed have shelf lives, the food could be given out to the homeless so it doesn't ruin and go to waste and be replaced with new food.

Each community should have disaster centers from which to manage disasters. For starters, the buildings should be especially built to survive the disasters, whether hurricane, earthquake, etc. They should have back up generators and maybe solar panels, satellite phones and satellite internet for communication in case the land lines go down, two way radios, food, water, gasoline, vehicles, etc. Communications was a problem after Katrina.

What about after the initial disaster and when aid must be distributed? After Katrina, the government was criticized both for being too slow in getting out money while being criticized for people getting away with fraud. First of all, if you want speed fraud will happen, that's the price you pay. What we need is a database of everyone including biometric information (fingerprints and retina scans), where they live, and other information. This would be a national database and backed up in several locations in case a disaster strikes any one server's location. Then, when a disaster hits an area, the government will be able to quickly verify if someone really does live in the affected area, and if they are who they say they are. and get the money to people who are suppose to have it quickly. It would also be able to make sure people don't double dip into the funds. The government might not be able to stop people from buying $100 bottles of wine, etc., but they could control who gets the money in the first place.

After Katrina, many people had trouble getting new ID since they lost their birth certificates along with it. With a database, new IDs could be quickly issued. This is important since an ID is needed to access one's bank account, etc. Who knows, maybe the government could provide each American with an allotted amount of electronic storage in this database to backup important information in case all their belongings are destroyed.

A final step step we should take is disaster mitigation to reduce the impact of disasters in the first place. This could include not building in areas prone to flooding (like under sea level), building earthquake resistant homes, clearing brush away near buildings in wooded areas, and not building on the sea coast or building hurricane proof houses. Obviously disaster mitigation costs some money, but its cheaper to mitigate a disaster than to recover from a disaster. They can actually make buildings that are designed to resist earthquakes better, and homes that survive hurricanes. Building codes should require new buildings to follow guidelines that would mitigate disaster. We also don't want to repeat the mistake of requiring casinos to be floating, resulting in casinos ending up miles inland. If you are going to have casinos, they might as well be on land, because its not going to affect how many people gamble anyways.

More disasters are likely to happen. Sooner or later an earthquake is going to strike without warning, and we need to prepare now for that worst case scenario in addition to everything else. We cannot expect the federal government to be there to help for several days, and each community and each individual needs to be prepared to survive on there own in the mean time. We should have centers to manage disasters in each community that will survive the disaster. We need a national database so that we can get new IDs to be people, and get aid to the people that need it without wasteful fraud. And finally, but still importantly, we should take steps to mitigate disasters before they happen.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

New Orleans Repackaged: Let the wartimes roll

New Orleans is still far from recovery and has much more work to be done if it is to be rebuilt. And what's more, it is still just as vulnerable, just as much under sea level, as before Hurricane Katrina. So why go to the trouble to rebuild it, if all this will only happen again some time down the road. But, what would we do with New Orleans if we don't rebuild?

Well, what we have is a great resource and opportunity. Most of the city quite frankly looks like a war zone. (I've been there, trust me.) And so, why not leave it that way? War is shifting ever towards urban combat, and we need to train our troops to fight in urban zones. So, why not turn New Orleans into a massive urban combat training center; one that would make the one at Fort Know look like a McDonald's playground?

Seriously. This would save us the trouble of rebuilding the whole city, and would save us the money, time, and resources of having to demolish the whole place and put all that debris who knows where. Furthermore, the money already spent on rebuilding would not have been wasted. It will be necessary to have some of the infrastructure working properly as to create a realistic situation in which to train. We need electricity, water, sewage, and gas running so that the troops would learn how to deal with them, and enough of the city has that now.

You could not find a better spot to train our soldiers. New Orleans has got it all. It's a major city with all types of buildings and structures including skyscrapers, the Superdome, a convention center, homes, bridges, and everything else you could think of. It's a port, so our navy can practice blockages, bombardments, and amphibious landings, etc. (Puerto Rico, we'll no longer have to use you for target practice.) It's got a major airport for the air force to use, and for infantry to practice securing. It's literally got everything. The only work we might have to do is to clean up the petrochemicals left to prevent environmental damage. And really, if we're going to fight wars for oil, we could just leave all that there for more realistic training. When the military isn't conducting exercises, it could be used to train for counter-terrorism, crowd control, dealing with natural disasters, and to train police. And it can be used to try out new weapons. What more could you ask for?

And what about when the levies break again. No harm done, and we won't even need to bother to fix them again. After we get as much use out of the city dry, when the city refloods again, we'll have a great place to prepare to fight wars in a post-global warming age, when all our coastal cities are flooded. (After all, there's no reason to expect that we will build levies to protect our major coastal cities, when we won't even build decent levies around one city that's under sea level right now. I'm sure Al Gore would support me here.)

Once we get get this off the ground, we'll be the envy of the rest of the world. Pretty soon every nation will be wanting a disaster to happen to them so they can train their soldiers too. Lebanon, Indonesia, Iraq, don't rebuild and you could be the next world power. And if they don't rebuild, we'll have no choice but not to rebuild, for we don't want to fall behind. So, if you support our troops, you will support turning New Orleans into a massive urban combat training center that will adequately prepare them. And if you don't support this, then I guess you're just cutting and running, leaving our future troops in future wars for future oil out to dry.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Gridlock Over America

The tragic Comair flight in Lexington this week revealed weaknesses in our air traffic control system here in the US. Our nations skies and airports are overwhelmed, under-staffed, and using outdated computers that you wouldn't use to check your own e-mail. In addition to just causing inconvenient delays, the present system can lead to fatal accidents as was unfortunately seen. Clearly something needs to be done before things get worse.

It has been found out that there was only one air traffic controller on duty Sunday, when NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) regulations state there are to be two controllers on duty at all times. After he cleared the plane for take off he turned to administrative duties, and did not see the airplane on the wrong runway which was too short to build up the necessary speed. It was further found out that the controller had only two hours of sleep before starting his shift. Now, he had nine hours in between his current shift and his previous shift. NTSB regulations state that controllers must have eight hours off in between shifts. Now eight hours does not seem like enough time. Theoretically, to get a full nights rest you need about eight hours, which would not leave time for commuting, eating, or doing anything else, which is unreasonable. So, if we expect controllers to get enough sleep perhaps we should increase the amount of time between shifts. It was not shown though that the lack of sleep caused the accident. Nor was shown that having another person on duty would have caught this.

What we really need to do is update our aviation navigation and tracking equipment. We now have cars that do have built in GPS systems. Surely we could put GPS units and computers in planes. Then they could communicate with the air tower's computers and make sure that it is on the right runway that it was cleared to use. We need radars and computers that can better track the thousands of flights in the air and on the ground at any one time and warn of impending accidents.

Another step that we need to take to reduce congestion in the skies and at airports is to build high speed rails and trains. This would be a better use of funds than expanding and building new airports. It would reduce the amount of traffic or at least slow the growth of the traffic down. There is no reason why high speed rail couldn't replace short to medium haul flights. When you factor in check in time, security, delays, baggage claim, etc., the amount of time to take a train could be the same or even less. Furthermore, although you still need security for trains, you don't have to worry about a train being hijacked and crashed into a building. Depending on the technology used, trains we have less delays due to bad weather, rain, snow, fog, etc. It would also be cheaper to take a train than to fly, as they are more energy efficient, and so I think the American consumer would be willing to travel by rail. And other flights would benefit from less planes in the sky, which would lead to better safety and less delays.

Before things get worse, we need to look at how we handle personnel, update our technology that tracks planes, and reduce air traffic through high speed rail. This will make us safer and happier when traveling, either by flying or by rail.