Not one cent

I’m as worried about an economic meltdown as the next person, but I don’t trust this administration to do things right.  I don’t think Congress should give the treasury anything just yet.  Instead, let the Treasury department submit a lits of deals it wants to make, and a line item for each company.  This can go through Congress and get signed by the President as law.  No more blank checks.

Is this too much oversight for ya?  Sorry, but if we are going to start spending taxpayer dollars on this, we the tax payers need to be informed.  I trust congress to do this a hell of a lot better than I trust  Our Executive Branch.  Not more Patriot Acts.  No more Blank Checks.  No more “Trust us.”

This country is a Republic, let’s keep it that way.  I’m from Brookline Mass.  My People in Congress are John Kerry, Ted Kennedy, and Barney Frank.  I feel OK in letting them oversee where my tax dollars are going to be spent.  The Treasury department is headed by an appointed official.  The executive branch doesn’t have power over the purse strings, the legislative branch does.  Let’s keep it that way.

I really didn’t want this to become a political blog.

[Edit]

OK, the oversight has made it into the bill.  I feel better.  Barney Farnk and John Kerry are both behind it, so that is a plus.

National Security

For years, our distance from other countries provided us with security.  We were an Island Nation.  Once our manifest destiny was completed, there was no significant threat left in our hemisphere, and we were too far from the nations of the old world for them to threaten us.  Even the attack on Pearl Harbor was far away:  Hawaii was not a state, just an island protectorate in the middle of the Pacific.  Since WWII, we have grown more and more used to the concept of global threat.  We were in a staring contest with Russia, half a world away.  The threat of ballistic missiles carrying nuclear warheads made the end of the world seem plausible, but it was abstract.  Mutually Assured Destruction was the word of the day:  If they try to take us out, they will take themselves out, and they are not going to do that.  We fought proxy wars and ran tank maneuvers at NTC and in Germany.

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Ranger School (1993-4)

When discussing the Mobile Infantry Training in Starship Troopers, Robert Heinlein states that many people thought the training was made to difficult. He states that is wrong: it was intentionally made as hard as possible. This is the philosophy behind US Army Ranger School.

Ranger School will not make you a super soldier. You won’t learn technical skills that will directly translate to perform ultra-high importance missions and so on. The Patrols are carefully crafted situational training exercises that allow the Ranger Instructors to grade students on a small number of tasks. Simple familiarization training is given on knife fighting and hand to hand combat, rock climbing, and other tasks that have some tangential bearing on the realities of being a soldier. Ranger School does not teach you how to take care of soldiers. What Ranger school is designed to teach is how to continue to function once you have pushed your body past its natural limits.

Ranger School was designed around the warfare style of Southeast Asia and the Pacific. But every war is different, and technology keeps updating how we fight. As Cadets we were constantly reminded that the plan has to change according to the mission, the enemy, the time available, and the terrain. You can’t train for everything. But what you can do is train for things that will be there in all military situations: stress and sleep deprivation. Food deprivation is less likely, but has happened too many times in the past to be ignored.

I went to Ranger school in December of 1993. I had successfully passed the first phase at Fort Benning. I went through Desert Phase twice. After the second time around, I was kicked out. What happened? This was a school for which I had volunteered, which I new was essential to the career I had chosen as an Infantry Officer. I picked Infantry when there were many other choices available, and I had a high enough class standing to get my choice of branches. Although I didn’t have the highest military grade at West Point, I did OK. I was in good enough physical shape that I had not problems with the first week: a screening out process that is designed to make you suffer, and weed out the week. I passed all of the basic skills tests. I had spent the previous four months in the Infantry Officer Basic Course at Fort Benning, so I knew the basics of the Infantry craft. For a long time I thought I had been beaten physically. By the end, I was falling asleep on my feet, felt like I had done long term damage to my knees and was general beat up. What I have come to realize with many years of reflection was that the problem was mental, not physical.

Ranger School is graded on patrols. The patrols are pass/fail events. In the first phase, the patrols are planned as if they were Platoon Patrols, but executed at the squad level. This is to give more people a chance to participate in the planning process, and to get evaluated as the patrol leader. While many of the junior enlisted soldiers would get patrols as team leaders, as a new Lieutenant, I got a squad leader position to plan for a reconnaissance patrol.

I got a “No-go” on my patrol at Fort Benning. I had to plan a reconnaissance, and I did not give a detailed enough plan for actions on the objective. At Fort Benning, you did not need to have more than 50% to go on to the desert phase. Each time through the Desert, I got three patrols: one planning as a platoon leader, one squad leader in the patrol base patrol, and one other. Each time I passed one out of three. A 25% pass rate was not enough to go on to the next phase. Failing two many patrols twice through a single phase was sufficient grounds to drop me from the course.  Something happened after that first time through the desert. I got convinced that I was not going to make it through. I went into Ranger School scared of Ranger School. Dogged persistence got me through West Point, but Ranger School required (at least for me) something more: preparation.  I really feel that if I had drilled the Ranger School style OPORD I would have passed the planning patrols, and I got mostly planning patrols.

When I was a freshman at the Academy, I was discussing English class with my class mate Anne Marie Johnson and my parents. Anne Marie admonished me to “give them what they want.” Meaning to try and do things the way the instructors had designated. I’ve always had a problem with this. I really want to try and do things my own way, to think a difficult problem through. I am a bit a of a contrarian, a fact that lead to me going to West Point in the first place. What was true in Plebe English was even more true in Rangers School. Patrol planning at Ranger School is some of the most detailed planning I had even gone through. We were expected to brief every aspect of a patrol, including things like crossing linear danger areas and battle drills. Most of the guys out of IOBC had done these to death, so we thought it silly. Why put things in to your operations order that should be part of the Standard Operating Procedures (SOP)? The level of planning required for Actions on the Objective was even more detailed. You were expected to take roughly an hour to brief actions on the objective. The more detailed the plan, the better. This directly contradicts what we had been taught throughout West Point and IOBC. We had been told time and again to “provide guidance and trust your junior leaders” as well as “no plan survives contact with the enemy.”

One patrol sticks out most clearly.  In the desert, we had to perform a raid of a refueling site.  There was a hill that would be perfect for a support-by-fire (SBF) position.  Too perfect.  Instead of putting the SBF position there and coming up over the hill the way we were taught, I had us coming through the front door.  IT made sense to me:  if the position was that obvious, the enemy will know that too and will expect us to use it.  The front door would not require us climbing up and over the berm.   But it was a training mission, and designed to walk us through the paces, and I couldn’t accept that.  Yes, the concertina at the gate was light, but that was a resource constraint on the Ranger School, not what you would expect in the  “Real World.”

Another patrol, I was squad leader for patrol base operations.  We had no sleep the night before, and I put my squad into a rest plan out of the priorities of work.  I knew that without sleep, we would not be able to function that night and the patrol would be a disaster.  But it was up to me to rearrange the priorities of work.  The guy that had the patrol that evening had a much easier time thanks to me, but I go a no-go.

I think I understand now. The planning process was canned, yes, but it was also a process to be learned while under stress, to be recreated under stress. You may end up with a brand new unit, composed of people from numerous backgrounds. You may take over your platoon in the field, with no time to learn their SOP. They may not have an SOP for a particular situation. At least you have provided a starting point, and you have done it while you are in a relatively secure location, while no-one is shooting at you. You have thought through the situation and provided the best course of action you could. It gives you context to understand later situations, when the bullets are launched and the wire is breached. It is not a substitute for the ability to improvise, it is an aid to it. Even if it is canned. Part of the process, I am sure, was designed to take so long as to make sure you had to use your time wisely. Much of Ranger school was designed to make sure you stayed up all night.  I’ve often said that the primary skill necessary for success as an Army officer is the ability to function with little or no sleep.  The funny thing is that at WP, we had mandatory lights out at midnight, and they couldn’t come on until 5:20.  I always have believed in “well rested=well tested.” Now I  realize that this is for ideal circumstances. Ranger School was for the worst of circumstances.

When I joined the wrestling team in ninth grade, something amazing happened. I found a sport that I loved, that I had the potential to master. I worked with my strengths and minimized my weaknesses. I had never considered myself an athlete before. From that point on I considered myself a wrestler. A similar transition happened when I went to West Point. Most people that knew me thought it was a strange match. “How can YOU go to West Point?” But somehow I made it through. By the time graduation rolled around, my identity as a Cadet, as a member of the Army, and as a future officer fit me well. I had hit some rocky points, but many of my classmates dealt with worse.  This transition did not happen when I became an Infantry Officer. I think under other circumstances it could have. I don’t blame the Army, but I also don’t blame the 22 year old me for not seeing things that the 37 year old me can see with the benefit of hindsight. Not making it through Ranger School sealed the deal in some ways, as it proved to my young ego that I had made a wrong choice in going Infantry. I see now that was not necessarily the case.  I had some growing up to do.   I needed to commit to the Infantry to a level that I was not then mentally prepared to do.

Leaving Haiti

Cover of the Koran

Cover of the Koran

I realize that last post left out the details of the QRF mission to the old Police Station, so I will start with that. As I stated, I had no idea why we went there. There was no riot, not problem, no emergency that justified commiting the QRF, unlike the numerous times we went to the POwer station. But, we went, we cordoned off the area, we searched it (it was abandoned) and then we cleaned it up. Yep. Soldiers from our Army went through, shoveled out the accumulated debris of decades and pulled out all of the contraband: there was none to speak of. One soldier went into MOPP Level Haiti: Rain Suite and Protective Mask. He was lowered into what must have been a sewer or something. We found lots of trivially interesting items like spent round casings and so on, but nothing that justified the search and cleanup efforts. Once we had the place ready for move in, we emplaced some more concertina wire and shuttled back to the main base in trucks. I queried the Battalion Commander about this and he stated that we had basically De-voodooed the big bad police building.

One measure of success for the United States was the ability to turn the mess over to the United Nations. After a couple months on Island we got word that this would happen relatively soon. The tented area on the far side of the Airfield had been populated by Guatemalan and Caribbean-Command soldiers. It was vacated, and soon a Battalion from Pakistan under the UN flag came to Cap Hatien. These were battle hardened soldiers from the Kashmir Region. As I mentioned, we were not carrying SAWs, never mind heavy machine guns. That was why it was strange to see them uncrate heavy machine guns and recoilless rifles.

My first opportunity to get to know our new neighbors came when a power surge fried the power supply on one of the computers in the Pakistani Battalion headquarters. Someone at Battalion asked me to go over and take a look at it, I guess since I was a Computer Science major at School. I was fairly sure there was nothing I could do. I’m not sure why the Battalion Signal Officer didn’t go over instead. Sure enough, the magic smoke had escaped the power supply and the machine was dead. There was a computer store in Cap Hatien, a fact that surprised me greatly. They were able to buy a new power supply off the economy and get the machine back up and running.

The better aspect of this trip was that I got a chance to talk to the Pakistani officers, see their quarters, and get a feel for them as a replacement unit. To this day I am grateful for the opportunity to put a set of faces, feelings, images and smell alongside the word Pakistan, even though I have never been to the country. Probably the most vivid mental picture I have is of the tents. The Pakistani soldiers slept on mats on the ground, really nothing more than insulation. Compared with our cots and the poly-pads we take with us to the field, it was spartan. I got the impression that this sleeping arrangement was the norm, not just in the field.

The officers from the Pakistani Battalion hosted the officers from our Battalion to dinner in their base camp.  After two months of Brown and Root, any thing would have tasted good, but I suspect that the meal we were fed would have competed with any India/Pakistan/Afghani food served in the States.  I’d never really understood the term feast before.  This was a Feast.  I remember most clearly the spiced lamb, but all of the food was superb.

I am nominally Jewish.  While in the Army, I was more observant than in the rest of my life, and have never really kept the fact secret.  The men from Kashmir were the first moslems I had encountered in my life, and I must say they made a stellar impression on me.  Beyond their fierce demeanor was a hosptiality and understanding I was not expecting.  When the matter of religion came up, I expressed my ignorance of Isalm and interest in learning more about it.  Capt Safraz Ali responded with a gift that means more to me than just about any other I have received in my life:  his personal copy of the Koran, pictured at the top of this post.  Here is his inscription:

Koran Inscription

Koran Inscription

People that might find it offensive to write in a holy book should remember that a true Koran is only in Arabic.  This version has translation into English, which makes it less than a pure Koran.  Thus it is acceptable under Islam to write in it.

The American forces were under very strict weapons control.  Before entering the base camp, we cleared our weapons, and then dry fired them into a barrel filled with sand.  It was understood that an accidental discharge of your weapon, even into the clearing barrel, and would get you into serious trouble.  The commander of the Pakistani battalion had an accidental discharge within the first week, a point that made some of the American officers snicker.  Personally, I suspect that they were just much more comfortable carrying weapons around, and didn’t take our over caution seriously.   Most of them had been in combat.  Very few of our soldiers had.

My last tour of tower duty had me checking on a tower inside the base camp, across from a mud-hut village that was fast encroaching on our space.  A woman on the outside was chatting up the tower guard.  When she saw me, she said, “Lieutenant, when you go back to America, take me with you.  Pakistani soldier mean.”  I guess we had done a decent job winning their hearts and their minds.

Not long after, we flew back to the states.  I remember pluggin MARC cards into the readers to create a manifest, a brief view of the airfield in Port au Prince, and that the flight crew on Tower Air were some of the same people I had seen on previous charter trips.  After a long flight home,  we disembarked at the Air Force Base alongside Pearl Harbor and took buses back to Schofield Barracks.   At Schofiled we had the Kiss-Ex: Ex being short for exercise, basically the reunion of the soldiers with their families.

Why I am excited about Obama

A friend of mine stated recently that, while she wouldn’t be pulling the lever for the McCain/Palin ticket, it was mainly due to Palin.  She wasn’t excited about Obama, and asked if I could say something to change that.  I’ve been ruminating about it all day, not because I didn’t have anything to say, but because I have so much, and I want to say it well.

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My Ideal Technology Setup for work

“Since I’m dreaming, I’d like a pony” –Susie, in Calvin and Hobbes.

“I’m not just the President of the Hair Club for Men, I’m also a client.” –President of the Hair Club for Men

Not only do I write software, I use it. A whole bunch. I am a Linux guy, and when ever I end up in a situation where I have to work around a proprietary solution that just doesn’t make sense for what I am trying to do, it ads a point or two to my Diastolic. So here is my dream setup:

First of all, I’d like a company that doesn’t use Exchange. I want to be able to talk to my mail server, and my calendar server using standards based protocols. I want email based notifications of meeting. GMail does nice job of sending them via SMS. I don’t want to have to run Outlook to book a conference room. Is there such a solution out there? Probably. I haven’t looked, but I am sure I could find many. Let’s start with Exim for mail, and then find a decent Calendaring program that talks email and iCal. Squirrelmail is a clunky webmail client, so I hope we could find something better, but it still beats Exchanges webmail. Basically, I want to run the Mozilla tools on my desktop.  An I want to sync mail to my Palm based Cell phone without installin Goodlink.

Ubuntu Linux as the default developer install.  I have never been so happy with my desktop as I am now.  Debian package management rules, and Ubuntu desktop support is the best I’ve worked with in Linux.  Of course, I would probably be just as happy with Fedora, but haven’t used it in a while.  Most of my Red Hat work has been with Red Hat Enterprise and that is a fine, stable server architecture, but doesn’t suite my needs for a developer work station…too stable.

I want an internet proxy that allows me to talk to ports other than 80 and 443. Yes I realize this is a configuration issue. I want to be able to SSH in and out, and check in and out from public CVS, Subversion, and Git repositories. I want to be able to hit a website on port 8080.

For Revision Control, I would like to use Either Subversion or Git. Probably Git mixed with Quilt. Note that this is not just for software, but also document preparation. For document preparation: Open Office across the board. It does what I need for Presentations, Spreadsheets, and Word Processing.

A single unified indexing system for all of the companies information system.

All emails sent to public mailing lists should be indexed.

Blog sites for individual developers. Word Press seems to work nicely, but Drupal was good, too.  The more publically available the information in a development environemnt, the bettwer it supports community type development.

Decent IDE support for Refactoring. Refactoring support it baseline, regardless of language. I was incredibly productive using Eclipse for Java, but have not been able to get it to work well for our C++ projects. XRefactory looks promising, but I haven’t tried it yet. Slick Edit wasn’t able to handle our source setup, either. But whatever we chose, the team needs to support it.

A commitment to open source software.  There are few things more motivating to a developer than knowing that the effort they put into learning a code base will not get flushed when they leave the company…and you might even use this as a way to hire new talent, too.

Skeptic

In the book Glory Road, Robert Heinlein has his protagonist cut lose his adopted son who doesn’t understand that “the world doesn’t owe him a living.”  Dan Miessler recently published a joke whose punchline was basically that individual responsibility was the hallmark of the republican party.

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