Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Help the Recovery in Haiti

Haiti, the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, was hit by an devistating earthquake. Concrete and masonry homes and buildings cracked, crumbled and pancaked. Untold numbers died or were injured. Confusion, chaos, all in a land, that even on a peaceful day without a natural disaster, has the appearance of chaos and confusion.

Here in the land of some of the poorest of the poor, is more hardship, more homelessness, more hunger. Perhaps, with this disaster, the eyes of the world will be more open to the chronic poverty in this small Caribbean nation. Maybe other nations and non-governmental groups will look for ways to work with the people of Haiti to increase employment opportunities.

An Engineer's Comment
What is saddest, for me, is that many of these homes and other buildings did not have to collapse. There are designs, using the same materials, that would result in stronger structures that are more resistant to collapse in an earthquake.

Unfortunately, with such a poor population, people do not have the money to buy better concrete and the proper reinforcing bars. In such a poor nation, the ability of government to ensure that buildings are built properly, as we do in the US, just is very limited. And, where government has some influence, often corruption gets in the way.

I only hope that in the reconstruction effort, the rebuilt structures will be designed to better withstand future earthquakes.

An Appeal
I urge all my readers to do what they can to help. If you believe in prayer, keep the people of Haiti in your prayers. If you have a little to share, help out one of the non-profit orginizations that will be helping out, such as the Red Cross, Oxfam America, or your favorite agency. And pass the word. It would be great if people of all the world joined in helping the poorest of our brothers and sisters in their time of need. Thank you!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Sarah Palin Joins Fox News

The suspense is over! Looks like Gov. Palin won't be running for President in 2012. Well, not unless she gets out of a mulit-year deal as a new political commentator for Fox News.

Sarah Palin was perhaps the most interesting person to emerge during the 2008 presidential campaign. Hand-picked by John McCain for his vice presidential running mate, the small-town mayor elected governor of Alaska mixed a can-do frontier spirit with a down-home oratory style. Unfortunately, it was soon evident that she lacked an understanding of national and international politics.

In their press release on their web site, Bill Shine, executive vice president of programming for Fox News is quoted: "Governor Palin has captivated everyone on both sides of the political spectrum and we are excited to add her dynamic voice to the FOX News lineup."
It seemed strange why she resigned from governor before her term was up. Most governors will hang on and put in their time during the final "lame duck" months of their term. Was she planning a run for President in 2012? What was she up to?
Now we know!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

What to Do About Air Travel?

The close call in the thwarted bombing attempt of Northwest Airlines Flight 253 over Detroit woke us from our slumber of complacency about the safety of air travel in this age of terrorist attacks on civilians.

Once again, the terrorists have succeeded in creating fear and apprehension with the American public.

And once again, a terrorist had a plan that was one step ahead of the imagination of the bureaucrats of Homeland Security, who often impress me as lacking in a solid understanding of the laws of physics. Their methods have always mixed "planning for the last attack attempt" with putting adherence to politically-correct procedures ahead of proven effective methods.

What Went Wrong?
  1. The perpetrator was known as a potential threat, but was not on the “no fly” list.
  2. Instead of hiding the materials in his shoe or carry-on, it was hidden in his clothes.

As with 9/11 and the "shoe bomber," the terrorist was one step about security procedures. And the lack of communication among agencies is as still a problem today as it was on 9/11.

What To Do?
First, look at what works.

  • Once in the air, only one method has thwarted the attempts of terrorists: the intervention of passengers and/or crew. The score is 3-3 and in all 3 "thwarts" passengers and/or crew stepped up.
  • Israli security experts agree: screening technology alone doesn't work; interviewing and even profiling must complement screening techniques.

Second, what could be implemented? Here's a couple of easy ones.

  • The success of in-flight intervention is a call for marshals on at least selected flights if not all of them.
  • Any person of concern, even if not on the "no fly" list, should only be allowed on flights with marshals.

The issues of screening and profiling comes up against issues of personal liberty. The whole approach of screening everyone inherently reeks of "guilty unto proven innocent" which runs counter to the basis of constitutional rights and the basic principles of libertarianism.

Still, the terrorists have many Americans afraid enough to say "screen me" and I'll feel safe. The sad thing is not only is the evident of the erosion of our constitutional rights, but in reality even full body scans won't make us safe.

It doesn't take much imagination to see that the terrorists will come up with some way to fool even full body scans. In the prisons they have strip searches, but it does not reveal contraband hid in body cavities. It takes not much imagination that on a suicide mission, the body could be the bomb.

So, what to do?

Here are my thoughts on a broad spectrum approach:

  1. Business travel needs to migrate more to private aircrafts. Likewise, vacation travel should migrate more to charter flights. It's much harder for a terrorist to "blend in" on these types of flights, often where everyone knows who belongs and who doesn't.
  2. Internationally, make less enemies. The Bush Administration raised the ire of most of the world's governments and citizens. A more reasonable approach will reduce the number of people who hate the US. It won't completely solve the problem, but let's not help add to the ranks of the terrorists by our arrogant foreign policy.
  3. For the fewer commercial flights (after implementing #1 above), integrate a program that mixes screening technology, with knowledge-based interviewing of passengers, some random-based interviewing, all based on an improved sharing of information.
  4. Within Homeland Security, there needs to be more technically savvy staff (engineers and scientists) who can try to be a step ahead of the terrorists.