Wednesday, June 18, 2014



I recently made an international trip.

My luggage and I were thoroughly checked before boarding my flight from the States.

When I arrived at my European transfer point I had to run from international arrival terminal to international departure terminal.

Do not pass GO.

Do not leave a controlled area,

When I get to the international departure area I once again must undergo the inspection process.

Mind, it's NOT the same process I went through in the States. Nor is it the same as in another European county I recently passed through.

It's - at best - a guessing game. Take the computer out of the bag or not.

Remove shoes or not..

Remove belt or not.

Put the book in the tray.

Pictorial signs in advance of the check point?


So you get to the check point and wait -or cause others to wait -while you comply with the local requirements. As an American I speak English although the Brits might disagree.

I don't have a command of any other language, certainly not any European language (nor Oriental, either, if truth be told).

I feel sorry for someone who speaks neither the local language and lacks "survival level" English.

When I was taking a physical for a non-U.S. army the guy in front of me - a newcomer to the country - didn't know the words the examiner told the guy ("Take a deep breath and hold it" for a chest x-ray). The examiner became frustrated and reacted, sadly, accordingly. I mimed the action for the guy, the examiner got the picture, and the line moved on . . . after only a few minutes' delay. Multiply that by the number of passengers on a 7x7, and the delay can be substantial - especially when you have a connecting flight ready to board.

A few - a very few - airports have (or had) special areas where international travelers are segregated.

They get off their inbound flight and follow the arrows and pictographs to an international holding area. Their arriving flight and their departing flight regardless of carrier have jet ways connected to the international area.

I have seen - in Amsterdam - Israel's El Al next to Emirates, Lebanese, and Saudi aircraft. The Dutch won't tolerate bad behavior so passengers wait politely.

It seems to me a lot more efficient and cost effective to follow the Dutch approach to airport design.

Passengers exit their flight and are immediately routed either to (a) the international holding area or (b) into the general terminal area (to collect luggage, meet transportation, etc.).

It ALSO would be nice if - as is done all too infrequently - airlines would announce flights in the local language (e.g., Spanish), an international language (hopefully English), and in the airline's home language (e.g., Polish). I heard Russian in Barcelona and Chinese in Detroit, but these two airports may be the exceptions to the rule. You won't hear Italian or Polish at Lod, Israel's primary international airport. (In Miami Spanish is the local language; English also can be heard.)

Thanks to terrorists, international travel - especially air travel - has become a pain in the privacy and a challenge for the infrequent traveler to strange airports. Interesting, albeit challenging.

Friday, June 13, 2014


Dear President Obama,
Go on vacation (again)


Obama wants to "do something" about the Islamists attacks in Iraq.

Republican House Speaker John Boehner is haranguing Obama for not doing enough.

Democrat House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi says Obama is doing enough.

I say, Mr. President, do what you do best: Go on vacation where you can do less harm to America.

Iraq is NOT America's problem and most assuredly NOT a place to "insert" U.S. troops.

I realize that Obama did NOT get the U.S. involved in Iraq or Afghanistan. U.S. soldiers died there - and continue to die there - in actions initiated by Republican presidents.

I also realize that Obama is making noises to get most U.S. troops out of Afghanistan and he has kept U.S. troops out of Syria. As much as I dislike the man, credit where it is due.

But if Obama even suggests U.S. boots on the ground in Iraq it will prove he failed to learn from the past.

Boehner should be retired for pressing Obama to "do more" in Iraq. Will he never learn that all warfare in Muslim countries is religious warfare? Doesn't he get it? Is he blind to reality?

Obama does enough dumb things without Boehner's help.

For once - and probably for only time - I am in at least partial agreement with Pelosi on one issue: Iraq.

If we are attacked by a "non-state entity" (e.g., Al Qaeda and similar NOTE 1 organizations), the U.S. should reserve the right to seek out the terrorists no matter where they hide, with or without host nation approval or cooperation. Where possible, use drones and other weapons that keep American troops out of harms way. If there is "collateral damage" because the country hosting the terrorists won't turn them over, so be it. The terrorists declared war on the U.S. and "collateral damage" is the unfortunate price of war.

Politically I am a social liberal and fiscal conservative. My social concerns, however, are for U.S. citizens and others legally in the country. I have no sympathy for "undocumented residents" - a/k/a illegal aliens - no matter from where them came. I am against "fast tracking" illegals, putting them ahead of people who believe in the "rule of law."

I also believe in the Monroe Doctrine which stated, basically, that the U.S. would not get involved in foreign escapades outside our region - North, Central, and South America.

I have little problem with offering off-shore guidance, but I'm old enough to have seen how in-country advisory groups grew into army-size combat and support units in Korea and Vietnam - the last of the (semi-)conventional wars we should have avoided.

My personal bottom line is that the U.S. has NO business in any religious war - no matter where the war is fought.

If you don't believe Iraq's war is a religious war, read what Iranian president Hassan Rouhani, referring to fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) that are pushing toward Baghdad, allegedly said on Iranian tv the other day: “This is an extremist, terrorist group that is acting savagely,” Rouhani said live on state television, adding that Tehran will not “tolerate this violence and terror.”


Note 1: For a list of terrorist groups, most of which are Islamic, go to

Tuesday, June 10, 2014


It's a secret


I just wrote a very simple Request For Quote (RFQ) to buy and install a new pump controller for an underground irrigation system.

I intend to snail mail the RFQ to vendors in my local area.

Using Internet search engines I found perhaps a half dozen potential candidates.

When I looked at the Web sites, only two - right, 2 - included physical addresses.

Granted, several vendors provided Web forms to complete and submit, and all provided phone numbers; those that lacked inquiry forms included email options.

But I want a physical address.

For today's exercise, I would have reluctantly "settled" for a post office box - someplace to mail a piece of paper.

I want responses to the RFQ to arrive between two specific dates. Not before; not after.

It's my experience that people fail to really read and understand fill-in forms and emails. Besides, I want actual pieces of paper responses, not email and not telephone calls. Paper.

I want to know that the vendor is in my area; I don't want someone to travel 50 miles to do a job with very little Return On Investment (ROI). Locally, regular gasoline is averaging just under $3.60/gallon. If a vendor has to travel any significant distance, the price to me must, if the vendor is any type business person, be high enough to cover the travel expenses (time, fuel, wear and tear on the vehicle).

I also would like to see the vendor's facility.

If you take your car to be repaired, you normally have a higher level of confidence if the repair shop is clean and the mechanic's tools are organized. Or maybe that's just me.

I can understand why a private individual such as myself might be hesitant to release a home address - I don't need uninvited visitors or spam in my mailbox - but I find it strange that a commercial operation hides its physical address, unless, of course, the organization has been targeted by people who have something against the organization.

Give me an address. A phone number is nice; likewise email and Web forms, but I still want to know where to find the HQ when I need it.

Monday, June 2, 2014


Is it bird flu,
Is it MERS,
Does it make a difference?


The Threat du Jour is MERS - Middle East Respiratory Syndrome.

In ancient history - circa 2007 - the threat was avian influenza, a/k/a bird flu.

(Much before that - circa 1918 - it was the misnamed "Spanish Flu.")

I wasn't around in 1918 (no, I'm not THAT old), but I was around for the bird flu scare and, as did too many - most? - risk management practitioners, I started looking for ways to counter the threat.

Wash hands while singing "Happy Birthday."

Wear masks.

Avoid crowds.

Etcetera, et al, and all the similar inclusiveness words.

It's probably not necessary to my point - and I'll get to it shortly - but some words about MERS from people who know.

According to the U.S. CDC(&P), Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) is viral respiratory illness first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012. It is caused by a coronavirus called MERS-CoV. Most people who have been confirmed to have MERS-CoV infection developed severe acute respiratory illness. They had fever, cough, and shortness of breath. About 30% of people confirmed to have MERS-CoV infection have died.

A coronavirus is, again according to the CDC&P, Coronaviruses are common viruses that most people get some time in their life. Human coronaviruses usually cause mild to moderate upper-respiratory tract illnesses.

The CDC&P has much more online; go forth and read.

But what about risk management practitioners? How should we prepare ourselves and our clients to face the threat?

First, what is the threat? Actually what are the threats. Let me count the ways.

  1. Absenteeism
    • Of personnel
    • Of vendors
    • Of clients

  2. Inability to perform critical functions due to equipment failure
    • Hardware failures
    • Infrastructure (Internet) failure
    • Power failures
    • That cannot be repaired/replaced due to lack of healthy personnel.

As with the avian influenza, MERS has a a fairly high fatality rate; 30% according to the CDC&P. However it seems to be less contagious than the bird flu.

Those practitioners who, often lacking Very Senior Management support, maintained the information gathered together for the bird flu are way ahead of the game as MERS threatens.

Practitioners who planned for the bird flu's impact are almost home free.

In manufacturing facilities, the practitioners know to recommend to management to slightly increase the on-hand supply of raw materials. They also know that, when possible, to stage completed product are geographically distant locations - not across the street or even across town, but 100 or more miles away.

Office personnel need the option to work someplace other than the office. Equally, they must be trained to the point that they are confident in working off site - knowing how to access the systems from a remote locations.

One company insisted that its personnel with off-site access actually access the company's systems remotely at least once every several months.

It should, but it won't, go without saying that the IT infrastructure needs to be evaluated in light of any new load or security changes/upgrades.

The practitioner needs to monitor the CDC&P and WHO to track the spread of MERS - and other mobile maladies - and to keep both management and staff aware. It is important to avoid panic on the part of anyone in the organization.

All personnel need to know the symptoms and all personnel need to know how management will react if someone contracts MERS - or any other contagious disease.

If personnel need to be furloughed, what will the organization provide?

HR questions must be considered, including:

  • Will furloughed personnel lose vacation time
  • Will furloughed personnel receive full or reduced pay
  • How will pay be made if direct deposit is not used by some employees
  • How will personnel be notified of furloughs, call-backs

The four questions, above, are just the tip of the iceberg. BUT, these are questions that should have been addressed when the bird flu was a threat.

As King Solomon is alleged to have uttered: אין שום חדש תחת השמש - There is nothing new under the sun.

I wonder what the medical threat du jour was in Solomon's time. There surely was one - or more.

Sunday, June 1, 2014


Then find evidence
The FBI, SEC way


The leedcq paragraph of a Reuter's report heded Mickelson plays on amid news of U.S. probe into possible insider trading< reads May 31 (Reuters) - If golf star Phil Mickelson is concerned by a federal probe into possible insider trading involving him, billionaire investor Carl Icahn and Las Vegas gambler William Walters, he did not show it on Saturday.

Gannett's USA Today headlines its story Report: FBI, SEC probe Icahn, Mickelson and Walters claims that Federal investigators have launched what the Wall Street Journal is calling "a major insider-trading probe involving finance, gambling and sports" that involves the trading of activist investor Carl Icahn, pro golfer Phil Mickelson and Las Vegas bettor William "Billy" Walters.

What's wrong with this picture?

Go back to the USA Today's leed paragraph: "a major insider-trading probe ."

Suspicions, but no evidence to present to a court - or even an easily manipulated-by-the-prosecution grand jury.

The FBI and SEC apparently are after a conviction in the media, and the media is willingly playing the role of judge and jury.

That is not supposed to be the "American way."

At one time I was an honest reporter. I'm still honest, but no longer a reporter.

I covered the courts for several newspapers.

For the most part, the newspapers for which I labored were reluctant to become tools of the government - at any level.

Still, the government - at all levels - uses the press to present its suspicions to the public, to potential jurors, as if their suspicions are solid evidence.

If an enemy did this it would be labeled what it is: propaganda. (Because it is "our" government, it is "public relations" or "media relations." The intent is the same no matter that the activity is called.)

Maybe there is some truth to the government's claims. Carl Icahn is hardly popular with a lot of people; he's called a corporate raider in a Wikipedia entry in part for buying companies and then selling them off piecemeal (e.g., TWA). To be fair, Icahn claims he does not deserve the title.

The USA Today article is based largely on a report in the Wall Street Journal that is heavily quoted by Today writers Beth Belton and Kevin McCoy.

According to the Today piece, Citing anonymous sources, the Journal story said the government probe started three years ago after Icahn accumulated a 9.1% stake in Clorox in February 2011. "Well-timed trading around the time of his bid caught the attention of investigators, who began digging into the suspicious trading in Clorox stock, the people familiar with the probe said," according to the Journal article.

Ah yes, the ubiquitous, infamous "anonymous sources" and "people familiar with . . . ".

"Anonymous sources" are the best kind when you want to pillory someone without getting any blame for false accusations pointed back to you. Not even "a government spokesperson" is blamed for this claim, just "anonymous sources."

The U.S. has a pretty good - not perfect, but "pretty good" - justice system when it is allowed to work as intended.

Trying a person in the media, with the media acting as judge and jury, is not how the U.S. justice system was intended to work.

Don't blame the media. It's just a tool of the government.

I'm glad I'm no longer a reporter; if I was, I'd be ashamed to admit it.


Wishful thinking


In a National Journal article heded Q&A: Expert Wants Nuclear Plants Taken 'Off the Table' in Cyber-Warfare One U.S. cybersecurity expert is arguing that world nations should jointly pledge they will spare civil nuclear facilities from computer attacks for humanitarian reason.

The "expert" has GOT to be kidding - or else living on Fantasy Island or, perhaps, with Alice in Wonderland.

The threat to cybersecurity is, for the most part, not from sovereign nations (China, Iran, and North Korea being the blatant exceptions) but from rogue groups such as Hezbollah, Hamas, the Taliban, and similar groups - "organizations" may be too formal a word for those affiliated with the groups.

Just as physical attacks on nations' civilians and infrastructures are carried out today by these non-state terrorists, these groups are developing even more sophisticated means to invade critical computers.

Nothing that is networked is safe from cyber terrorists - calling them "hackers" is simply too casual a term for the people generating the attacks that can cause death and destruction as surely as bullets and bombs.

It is curious that the expert apparently is concerned only with "civil nuclear facilities."

I'll concede these are critical and crucial, but certainly not the most critical from a terrorist's perspective.

Far more attractive to cyber terrorists are communications and transportation - primarily airlines and trains. If inconveniencing travelers lack the headlines to make a point, mid-air collisions and train derailments will certainly get peoples' attention.

N-plants in the U.S. are, for the most part, redundancy built on redundancy. While cyber terrorists might succeed in shutting down a power plant, the terrorist is less likely to cause a plant to release radiation. I can't guarantee the safety of N-plants in places like the former Soviet Union and Europe.

While civil nuclear facilities obviously are cyber terrorist targets, I would suggests that they are neither the only targets nor the primary targets.

I think the "expert" is wearing blinders to the reality of terrorism.