Thursday, October 29, 2009

Gun Control - dark humor, but enlightening

The sign reads:

My neighbor next door wants to BAN all GUNS!
Their house is NOT armed.
Out of respect for their opinions I promise not to use my guns to protect them.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

SWAT breaching -- The Wall Banger

Low-Light Shooting Techniques, part 2

The Graham Combat low-light flashlight shooting technique is the best technique for shooting with a flashlight, bar none. I've owned a Combat Loop for a while now. I love it. Again, it beats any other technique or specially designed flashlight out there: Harries, Chapman, FBI, Ayoob, etc.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Religious Freedom Follow-Up

I posted a quote from Elder Dallin H. Oaks' talk given on Religious Freedom recently, which has gotten a lot of attention as of late. I recommend any and every reader of this blog to read or listen to the talk in its entirety.

The likes of Keith Olbermann and his ilk have declared Elder Oaks among the worst people in the world because of it. Yet, I agree with every point and aspect of Elder Oaks' talk.

Keeping Things Civil - Orson Scott Card

This writing by Orson Scott Card, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is one of the most brilliant, inspired and -- dare I say, prophetic? -- pieces I've read in a very long time. It follows:

Afterword to novel Empire

The originating premise of this novel did not come from me. Donald Mustard and his partners in Chair Enterainment had the idea for an entertainment franchise called Empire about a near-future American civil war. When I joined the project to create a work of fiction based on that premise, my first order of business was to come up with a plausible way that such an event might come about.

It was, sadly enough, all too easy.

Because we haven't had a civil war in the past fourteen decades, people think we can't have one now. Where is the geographic clarity of the Mason-Dixon line? When you look at the red-state blue-state division in the past few elections, you get a false impression. The real division is urban, academic, and high-tech counties versus suburban, rural, and conservative Christian counties. How could such widely scattered "blue" centers and such centerless "red" populations ever act in concert?

Geography aside, however, we have never been so evenly divided with such hateful rhetoric since the years leading up to the Civil War of the 1860s. Because the national media elite are so uniformly progressive, we keep hearing (in the elite media) about the rhetorical excesses of the "extreme right." To hear the same media, there is no "extreme left," just the occasional progressive who says things he or she shouldn't.

But any rational observer has to see that the Left and Right in America are screaming the most vile accusations at each other all the time. We are fully polarized -- if you accept one idea that sounds like it belongs to either the blue or the red, you are assumed -- nay, required -- to espouse the entire rest of the package, even though there is no reason why supporting the war against terrorism should imply you're in favor of banning all abortions and against restricting the availability of firearms; no reason why being in favor of keeping government-imposed limits on the free market should imply you also are in favor of giving legal status to homosexual couples and against building nuclear reactors. These issues are not remotely related, and yet if you hold any of one group's views, you are hated by the other group as if you believed them all; and if you hold most of one group's views, but not all, you are treated as if you were a traitor for deviating even slightly from the party line.

It goes deeper than this, however. A good working definition of fanaticism is that you are so convinced of your views and policies that you are sure anyone who opposes them must either be stupid and deceived or have some ulterior motive. We are today a nation where almost everyone in the public eye displays fanaticism with every utterance.

It is part of human nature to regard as sane those people who share the worldview of the majority of society. Somehow, though, we have managed to divide ourselves into two different, mutually exclusive sanities. The people in each society reinforce each other in madness, believing unsubstantiated ideas that are often contradicted not only by each other but also by whatever objective evidence exists on the subject. Instead of having an ever-adapting civilization-wide consensus reality, we have became a nation of insane people able to see the madness only in the other side.

Does this lead, inevitably, to civil war? Of course not -- though it's hardly conducive to stable government or the long-term continuation of democracy. What inevitably arises from such division is the attempt by one group, utterly convinced of its rectitude, to use all coercive forces available to stamp out the opposing views.

Such an effort is, of course, a confession of madness. Suppression of other people's beliefs by force only comes about when you are deeply afraid that your own beliefs are wrong and you are desperate to keep anyone from challenging them. Oh, you may come up with rhetoric about how you are suppressing them for their own good or for the good of others, but people who are confident of their beliefs are content merely to offer and teach, not compel.

The impulse toward coercion takes whatever forms are available. In academia, it consists of the denial of degrees, jobs, or tenure to people with nonconformist opinions. Ironically, the people who are most relentless in eliminating competing ideas congratulate themselves on their tolerance and diversity. In most situations, it is less formal, consisting of shunning -- but the shunning usually has teeth in it. Did Mel Gibson, when in his cups, say something that reflects his upbringing in an antisemitic household? Then he is to be shunned -- which in Hollywood will mean he can never be considered for an Oscar and will have a much harder time getting prestige, as opposed to money, roles.

It has happened to me, repeatedly, from both the Left and the Right. It is never enough to disagree with me -- I must be banned from speaking at a particular convention or campus; my writings should be boycotted; anything that will punish me for my noncompliance and, if possible, impoverish me and my family.

So virulent are these responses -- again, from both the Left and the Right -- that I believe it is only a short step to the attempt to use the power of the state to enforce one's views. On the right we have attempts to use the government to punish flag burners and to enforce state-sponsored praying. On the left, we have a ban on free speech and peaceable public assembly in front of abortion clinics and the attempt to use the power of the state to force the acceptance of homosexual relationships as equal to marriages. Each side feels absolutely justified in compelling others to accept their views.

It is puritanism, not in its separatist form, desiring to live by themselves by their own rules, but in its Cromwellian form, using the power of the state to enforce the dicta of one group throughout the wider society, by force rather than persuasion.

This despite the historical fact that the civilization that has created more prosperity and freedom for more people than ever before is one based on tolerance and pluralism, and that attempts to force one religion (theistic or atheistic) on the rest of a nation or the world inevitably lead to misery, poverty, and, usually, conflict.

Yet we seem only able to see the negative effects of coercion caused by the other team. Progressives see the danger of allowing fanatical religions (which, by some definitions, means "all of them") to have control of government -- they need only point to Iran, Saudi Arabia, the Taliban, or, in a more general and milder sense, the entire Muslim world, which is oppressed precisely to the degree that Islam is enforced as the state religion.

Conservatives, on the other hand, see the danger of allowing fanatical atheistic religions to have control of government, pointing to Nazi Germany and all Communist nations as obvious examples of political utopianism run amok.

Yet neither side can see any connection between their own fanaticism and the historical examples that might apply to them. People insisting on a Christian America simply cannot comprehend that others view them as the Taliban-in-waiting; those who insist on progressive exclusivism in America are outraged at any comparison between them and Communist totalitarianism. Even as they shun or fire or deny tenure to those who disagree with them, everybody thinks it's the other guy who would be the oppressor, while our side would simply "set things to rights."

Rarely do people set out to start a civil war. Invariably, when such wars break out both sides consider themselves to be the aggrieved ones. Right now in America, even though the Left has control of all the institutions of cultural power and prestige -- universities, movies, literary publishing, mainstream journalism-- as well as the federal courts, they feel themselves oppressed and threatened by traditional religion and conservatism. And even though the Right controls both houses of Congress and the presidency, as well as having ample outlets for their views in nontraditional media and an ever-increasing dominance over American religious and economic life, they feel themselves oppressed and threatened by the cultural dominance of the Left.

And they are threatened, just as they are also threatening, because nobody is willing to accept the simple idea that someone can disagree with their group and still be a decent human being worthy of respect.

Can it lead to war?

Very simply, yes. The moment one group feels itself so aggrieved that it uses either its own weapons or the weapons of the state to "prevent" the other side from bringing about its supposed "evil" designs, then that other side will have no choice but to take up arms against them. Both sides will believe the other to be the instigator.

The vast majority of people will be horrified -- but they will also be mobilized whether they like it or not.

It's the lesson of Yugoslavia and Rwanda. If you were a Tutsi just before the Rwandan holocaust who did not hate Hutus, who married a Hutu, who hired Hutus or taught school to Hutu students, it would not have stopped Hutus from taking machetes to you and your family. You would have had only two choices: to die or to take up arms against Hutus, whether you had previously hated them or not.

But it went further. Knowing they were doing a great evil, the Hutus who conducted the programs also killed any Hutus who were "disloyal" enough to try to oppose taking up arms.

Likewise in Yugoslavia. For political gain, Serbian leaders in the post-Tito government maintained a drumbeat of Serbian manifest-destiny propaganda, which openly demonized Croatian and Muslim people as a threat to good Serbs. When Serbs in Bosnia took up arms to "protect themselves" from being ruled by a Muslim majority -- and were sponsored and backed by the Serbian government -- what choice did a Bosnian Muslim have but to take up arms in self-defense? Thus both sides claimed to be acting in self-defense, and in short order, they were.

And as both Rwanda and Bosnia proved, clear geographical divisions are not required in order to have brutal, bloody civil wars. All that is required is that both sides come to believe that if they do not take up arms, the other side will destroy them.

In America today, we are complacent in our belief that it can't happen here. We forget that America is not an ethnic nation, where ancient ties of blood can bind people together despite differences. We are created by ideology; ideas are our only connection. And because today we have discarded the free marketplace of ideas and have polarized ourselves into two equally insane ideologies, so that each side can, with perfect accuracy, brand the other side as madmen, we are ripe for that next step, to take preventive action to keep the other side from seizing power and oppressing our side.

The examples are -- or should be -- obvious. That we are generally oblivious to the excesses of our own side merely demonstrates how close we already are to a paroxysm of self-destruction.

We are waiting for Fort Sumter.

I hope it doesn't come.

Meanwhile, however, there is this novel, in which I try to show characters who struggle to keep from falling into the insanity -- yet who also try to prevent other people's insanity from destroying America. This book is fiction. It is entertainment. I do not believe a new American civil war is inevitable; and if it did happen, I do not believe it would necessarily take the form I show in this book, politically or militarily. Since the war depicted in these pages has not happened, I am certainly not declaring either side in our polarized public life guilty of causing it. I only say that for the purposes of this story, we have this set of causes; in the real world, if we should ever be so stupid as to allow a civil war to happen again, we would obviously have a different set of specific causes.

We live in a time when people like me, who do not wish to choose either camp's ridiculous, inconsistent, unrelated ideology, are being forced to choose -- and to take one whole absurd package or the other.

We live in a time when moderates are treated worse than extremists, being punished as if they were more fanatical than the actual fanatics.

We live in a time when lies are preferred to the truth and truths are called lies, when opponents are assumed to have the worst conceivable motives and treated accordingly, and when we reach immediately for coercion without even bothering to find out what those who disagree with us are actually saying.

In short, we are creating for ourselves a new dark age -- the darkness of blinders we voluntarily wear, and which, if we do not take them off and see each other as human beings with legitimate, virtuous concerns, will lead us to tragedies whose cost we will bear for generations.

Or, maybe, we can just calm down and stop thinking that our own ideas are so precious that we must never give an inch to accommodate the heartfelt beliefs of others.

How can we accomplish that? It begins by scorning the voices of extremism from the camp we are aligned with. Democrats and Republicans must renounce the screamers and haters from their own side instead of continuing to embrace them and denouncing only the screamers from the opposing camp. We must moderate ourselves instead of insisting on moderating the other guy while keeping our own fanaticism alive.

In the long run, the great mass of people who simply want to get on with their lives can shape a peaceful future. But it requires that they actively pursue moderation and reject extremism on every side, and not just on one. Because it is precisely those ordinary people, who don't even care all that much about the issues, who will end up suffering the most from any conflict that might arise.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Religious Freedom

Elder Dallin H. Oaks, a former Judge and leader in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, recently addressed students at Brigham Young University-Idaho. While reading his remarks I pulled just one paragraph that I've been pondering a lot lately. It follows:

The greatest infringements of religious freedom occur when the exercise of religion collides with other powerful forces in society. Among the most threatening collisions in the United States today are (1) the rising strength of those who seek to silence religious voices in public debates, and (2) perceived conflicts between religious freedom and the popular appeal of newly alleged civil rights.

--Source: "Religious Freedom,"Transcript of Elder Dallin H. Oaks speech given at BYU-Idaho on 13 October 2009., retrieved October 18, 2009

Thursday, October 8, 2009

PSD Contractors in Iraq beaten by Iraqi Army/Police

I received the below report recently. It's disturbing. If you knew PSD (and have done it, like I did though in Israel/Palestine) and have worked and lived in Iraq (and knew the culture, like I have with the US Army Reserve), this really makes a lot of sense. The bottom line: this is a quagmire!

I heard it's WPPS security contractors from DynCorp. Since that's who I worked with previously, I know a lot of those guys. I hope they're all okay. No matter the company--DynCorp, Blackwater (Xe), Triple Canopy, SOC, Osen-Hunter, Armor Group, etc., there are troubles when dealing with high risk situations and guys with guns (some of whom do not behave well, e.g. the local Armor Group fiasco in Kabul). The idea for my second book revolves around this issue. I plan to call it, Leaders Wanted: from the War Room to the Boardroom. From there, I plan to do a lot of leadership consulting and training.

I won't go into detail here; you make your own conclusions. Here's the report I received:

The Entry Control Points (ECP) into the International Zone (IZ) have been
increasingly difficult to deal with. It is nothing that is intolerable.
However, in an increasing basis Protective Security Detail (PSD) teams have
been instructed to exit vehicles for search, download weapons and such. That
is okay, because after all, Iraq, like it or not, is its own country and
sets the ground rules.

Well, a few days ago the antics were ratcheted up again. As a team was
entering ECP4 (old CP12) the last vehicle of the motorcade was stopped,
which is not unc ommon. This time though, the vehicles crew was harassed to
give over smoke grenades. Lately IA's/IP's have been asking PSD teams for
everything from water, to ammunition, to money. In following the guidance
from the Department of State (DOS), Regional Security Officer (RSO), the
vehicle commander of the vehicle attempted to find out the name of the Iraqi
in charge of the ECP.

He did this, but by all reports went about it in the wrong manner, which in
no way reflects on the rest of the team who are true professionals. However,
he raised his voice towards the Captain and was generally less than polite.
He was told by the Captain to get back in the truck and move on. After
another warning to leave, he returned to the truck and being the idiot he
is, tried to sneak a photo of the Captain. This not so bright idea wasn't
well received. The IA Captain saw the camera, and, with the windows down
because the crew was answering questions, reached in and grabbed the camera.

This is where the wheels fell off and the incident began to spiral out of
control for the PSD members who quickly put up their windows and lock the
doors. This in turn causes the Iraqi soldiers present to start beating on
the doors of the now buttoned up Suburban. As the Suburban moves forward the
T72 Tank that sits at the halfway point in the ECP turns it DSHK Heavy
Machine-gun towards the Sub, and pulls out in front of it blocking its exit.
As a result, the Suburban and its crew stop.

Apparently, while this was going on the IA Captain put out a net call to his
counterparts that an American assaulted him. The story he related was that
the PSD member in the rear seat, the medic, took a photo of him and when he,
the Captain took the camera away, the medic punched him, which didn't
happen. Because of this report, more Iraqis show up and began beating on the
Suburban with their rifles.

At around this time, the Tactical Commander (TC) from the lead vehicle
showed up and approached the Captain in an attempt to de-escalate the
situation. The Captain promptly drew his pistol, pointed it at the TC and
fired 2 rounds over the TCs head. The TC, without missing a beat says,
"Habibi" and reaches his hand out to shake the officers, who unable to shake
hands due to having a pistol in it, holsters his sidearm and shakes hands.
The TC then talks down the situation; the tank rolls back into its normal
position and people begin to chill out.

Well just as everything starts to look okay for the PSD members an Iraqi
Colonel shows up. Accompanying the Colonel are 5 - 6 vehicles full of Iraqi
Army personnel with DSHK's. In addition, Iraqis were swarming down the
street in large numbers loading AKs and strapping on body armor as they

The Colonel, believing the Americans had assaulted one of his men was more
than excited. Not listening to anything anyone else had to say, he demanded
the PSD open the vehicle and surrender, which the team, seeing the
seriousness of the situation refused to do. The Colonel, realizing he was
getting nowhere with the team in the Suburban ordered the tank crew to run
over the Suburban. The tank then started up its engines again and promptly
rumbles out into the road for a second time.

Luckily for the PSD members the tank driver wasn't very good at his job, so
it took him some time to try and line up for the drive over Suburban smash
ing. As he was lining up, the PSD crew, understandably fearing for their
lives, decided to try and drive out again. However, as the driver put the
vehicle into gear, the automatic door locks on the front doors popped, the
doors unlocked, and the Iraqis had them open in a flash.

The Iraqis still mistakenly believing the medic had assaulted one of their
own focused on him in the rear seat. However the rear doors were still
locked and they were unable to get to him. The Colonels solution was to
stick his pistol to the head of the Suburban's driver. Seeing this, the
medic decided he didn't want his team member shot on his behalf, so he
opened the vehicle and exited, at which time the swarm of Iraqis began
beating him with fists, feet and rifles. The same pretty much happened with
the rest of the crew; they were all jerked form the vehicle and promptly
flex cuffed and beaten.

While this was going on, due to the firepower and sheer numbers of Iraqi
Army present (about 80 at this time), our QRF team who was on scene was
unable to do anything more than video the incident as best they could and
try to keep an accounting of the team members being beat down. Had they
tried to intercede more than they did, the situation could have easily
escalated into a full-blown shoot out, in which all PSD members and many
Iraqis would have most likely been killed. One member of the QRF did
cautiously approach and he was quickly cuffed and beaten.

Somewhere as the beatings were happening, the military showed up on the
scene in the form of the useless IZ police. Rather than calling for
reinforcements, or senior leadership word from those on the ground was that
the IZ police said something to the effect of "You're contractors, you're on
your own" and left. An Army convoy pulled out of FOB Prosperity located next
to the incident and drove by leaving the contractors to the Iraqi mob. Two
army Majors, or Lt, Colonels, did try to get involved and were promptly
pushed around by the Iraqis.
The Blue Force Tracker, our emergency beacon, was activated early in the
incident sending out a distress call. From reports, other contracting
companies in the area were ready to help. However, help of an armed sort was
not needed at this time. What was needed was diplomacy and someone who could
bring diplomatic sense to bear. Unfortunately, the US Department of State
RSO decided, because we are only a Department of State contractors and not a
DOS Chief of Mission contract that we were on our own. So he didn't lift a
finger. As a matter of fact, DOS took the radios we had, which enabled us to
speak with the RSO TOC in the case of an emergency, and the RSO has severed
all ties with our program, even during times of distress.

Eventually, after physically beating the PSD members, the Iraqis loaded them
into their vehicles, putting one in the truck/boot of the vehicle. They then
drove away to an Iraqi base in the IZ with an Iraqi sitting on the hood
waving his arms up and down, screaming a victory cry as they traveled
through the IZ.

At the Iraqi base, the team members were split up and beat some more. Some
of the PSD members were beaten with weight bars from the Iraqi gym. The
Medic was beaten so bad that he was covered in blood and began projectile
vomiting from the head injuries he was receiving. One person beating him was
an Iraqi General who repeatedly punched him with his Madhi ring encrusted

Eventually, the powers to be arrived and met with the very General who had
been beating the Medic. They worked things out and secured their release.
The freed men were transported to the Army Combat Surgical Hospital (CSH) at
Victory Base for evaluation. All were released and doing well considering
the possibilities. The medic suffered from a concussion and possibly other
injuries, which may have to be treated in the US.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Star-Spangled Banner...Better With Every Passing Year

A buddy of mine who served in the war posted this link not long ago. Thanks JP!

Friday, October 2, 2009

An Airplane Will Explode

It's just a matter of time before an airplane gets blown out of the sky by a suicide bomber. As an air marshal, that's what I suspected the most.

The below link shows how that would be easily possible. Drug smugglers--"mules"--have hidden contraband in body cavities for decades. Now, the suicide bomber has something to mimic. One al Qaeda member sneaked past air port security overseas with ease prior to detonation.

Mark my words: An airplane will get blown out of the sky.