Monday, September 29, 2014

Answering The Cry For Help

Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy. – Proverbs 31:9 (ESV)

On a dark, rainy night, he sat in his office and stared at the copy of the warrant that had been left with him.  His office and home were now devoid of all electronics, laptops, PCs, phones and all forms of media storage.  For the first time in a long time, he suddenly felt cut off from the world and he felt uncertain about tomorrow.

According to the officers delivering the warrant, a number of complaints had been filed against him and he should expect to be served very soon.

He had wondered for years how long he could sustain his personal hobby and he now had his answer.  He didn’t understand the big deal.  None of the women who had gone with him were forced against their will in any way and they had all willingly and knowingly submitted to photos being taken in compromising situations or risqué clothing.  For those he had tied up and beaten, he was sure that they had enjoyed it, otherwise why would they have returned for more?

Of course, it didn’t hurt that he had threatened to reveal their photos on the web or share them with their family or employers if they dared to tell others or failed to return to feed his appetite.  He also leveraged such threats to view child porn using their mobile phones.  After all, it didn’t hurt that if they ever blew the whistle on him, their phones were the ones on record as having viewed child pornography.  He was smart enough to never use his own phone.

Taking photos of underage girls was a little risky and so he didn’t engage much with them because the risk wasn’t worth the reward even though the reward was great and almost irresistible.

Having one of his buddies appear in the photos with the married women was particularly titillating and useful since the mere threat of sharing photos with a doting husband were usually more than enough to bend even the strongest will to his needs.

And he always sent photos of his victims to his newer victims as proof that he had many victims.  He felt that this somehow amplified his power and besides, it might put some creative ideas into the minds of his other victims for future photo sessions.

And now it was coming to an end.

Some a&*hole by the name of Jim had sent him a note outlining what was about to happen and now it was happening just as Jim had said it would.  Jim had signed it because, as he indicated, he wanted the person in question to know where justice had come from.

Meanwhile, someone had been circulating rumors of what he had done amongst family, friends and colleagues over the last couple of weeks but he had been able to deflect them as being rumors started by a jealous competitor or jilted lover.

Criminal charges, however, were another matter and he would not be able to hide the truth much longer.

Then there was the matter of being followed.  He could have sworn that in the past couple of weeks, he saw unusual cars parked outside work and his home.  One night going to the local hotel to meet one of his victims, he got spooked when he saw one of the surveillance cars parked outside the hotel and he fled.

He would need to wait until he got home to warn his network that something was amiss.  He wouldn’t be able to send them any more photos nor would he want to accept anymore.

Sighing and with a slightly shaking hand, he folded some papers into his backpack, locked his office door and headed down the street towards his car.

Suddenly, headlights illuminated his path from behind and he paused and looked behind him.  He recognized the car as being one of the ones that had been conducting surveillance on him and he quickened his pace.

As he neared his car, a dark figure suddenly stepped out in front of him and addressed him by name.

His heart began beating fast as he realized that no avenue of escape existed for him.

“Justice comes in many forms.  Please step into the vehicle”, the dark figure said quietly.


Chuck’s cellphone rang and he picked it up quickly.  After a perfunctory hello, he sat in silence, nodding occasionally and when the caller had finished speaking, he spoke a curt “good work” before hanging up.

Taking his personal phone out, he texted a message to several people waiting for an update.

While his job in the Department of Homeland Security was often dreary or boring, it often came with its own special side projects that provided a sense of satisfaction.

The world was always better when there was one less scumbag in it.

The traditional justice system was too slow anyway.

And besides, with this scumbag in the bag, DHS monitoring of the emails and cellphones of the scumbag's network would soon reveal if others who were participating in the capture and sharing of such photos would run for the border.  He hoped they would.  Accidents happen, after all. 

He paused for a moment and wondered how their families would receive the news about their spouse's activities over the years.  He didn't care.  “They deserve what they get”, he thought.  They had left a trail of broken families in their wake and some even had blood on their hands with the suicides they had produced.

"Another day in the Corps", he said quietly as he prepared to go home for the night.


Jim read the text on his phone and turned to the lady sitting next to him.  “You can relax”, he smiled, “It’s been fixed.”

“What happened to him?”, she asked, wiping the tears from her eyes.

“That’s not important”, Jim replied, “What matters is that it is fixed.”


The Bottom Line

The above story is based on a true story and has been greatly abridged for the sake of brevity.  Some names have been changed to protect the privacy of specific individuals.

There are three messages here:

  1. For those who are in trouble, no matter how embarrassing the reason, a single call for help can make all the difference in your Life.  Make the call.
  2. For those who insist on creating pain for others, your luck eventually runs out.  Justice comes in many forms.
  3. For the rest of us, we must always be ready to take action when we sense someone is in trouble.  It doesn’t take a big action on our part to create a tremendous result.

Do you know someone who is in trouble or do you sense they are in trouble?

Are you in trouble?

Take action.

If you guess wrong, you may be slightly embarrassed and might even get a laugh out of it.

If you guess right, you may save a Life.

Someone out there is waiting for your help.

Maybe you are waiting for someone to guess that you need help.

What are you waiting for?

In service and servanthood,

Harry

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Chicago O’Hare International Airport and the Weakest Link

A chain is no stronger than its weakest link, and life is after all a chain. - William James

The weakest link in a chain is the strongest because it can break it. - Stanislaw Jerzy Lec

The #1206 “fiction” series continues ….


He sat alone in the back seat of the limousine, staring out into the darkness as the miles passed by.  The call he had taken earlier in the day had indicated that the meeting being requested would be brief and that a car would be provided to take him to the meeting location.  While he ordinarily didn’t accept such meeting requests, he found himself hours later enroute to meet an unnamed client with an unknown agenda at an unknown location.

The sound of tires crunching on gravel snapped him out of his reverie and he realized that they had turned off the highway and were approaching another vehicle that was stopped in the road.  The limousine stopped, the driver stepped out and opened the back door.  “Please proceed to the other vehicle”, the driver said curtly and the passenger slid across the seat and out through the open door.  The driver of the other vehicle stood stoically beside the open rear door of the other vehicle and the now bewildered guest hesitantly ducked his head and sat down.

The door closed with a quiet click and moments later, the vehicle was proceeding down the road.  A silhouette sitting in front of him leaned forward, offered his hand and in a deep voice said “Thank you for meeting me on short notice”.

The guest shook his hand, mumbled a “you’re welcome” and then both men sat in silence as the vehicle turned back onto the highway.

After a few minutes, the silhouette broke the silence.  “A man acting alone in an act of sabotage sets a fire at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport and single-handedly cancels 1,550 flights at O’Hare and another 470 at Midway Airport, not to mention the chaos he created that rippled throughout the country.  One guy in one city created so much chaos.  What do you make of that?”, he asked quietly.

The guest shrugged his shoulders before replying.  “The preliminary news reports indicate that he attempted to commit suicide afterward, so it would appear that he has a few issues”, he replied.

“Possibly”, replied the silhouette.  “What if I told you that he wasn’t acting alone and that instead of an act of insanity, it may have been a rehearsal for a larger event?”.

The guest frowned in the darkness and suddenly sensing that this conversation was about to take a more serious tone, leaned forward, pursed his lips for a moment and then asked “What do you mean?”

“Do you remember a package that you received some time ago, showing how an aircraft cockpit could still be compromised despite assurances to the public that it could not be and how aircraft could still be compromised with explosive devices despite billions of dollars being spent to secure them?”

“How do you know about that package?”, the guest demanded.  He paused for a moment before the truth dawned on him.  “That was from you?”, he asked.

The silhouette nodded before answering.  “Yes it was”, he replied.  “I was merely trying to demonstrate how many levels of security and billions of dollars in technology and process can be undermined by the weakest link- in this case, the weakest links being compassion and greed respectively.  Many agencies are more focused on creating a sense of comfort and safety so that people will continue to fly and are less focused on preventing acts that can’t be prevented.  It’s a gigantic public relations exercise in some ways.”

The guest sat in silence and after a moment, the silhouette continued.

“What if I told you that there was a possibility that this act of alleged insanity may have been a dry run for something much larger?”, he asked.

“How much larger?”, replied the guest.

“What would you think if I suggested every major airport in the country simultaneously?”, asked the silhouette.

“Oh that’s preposterous”, exploded the guest. “Our security vetting processes are far too strong to allow such things to happen.”

“Are you sure?”, replied the silhouette.

The guest paused, uncertain of how to reply.

“Ah yes”, noted the silhouette, “Now I have your attention. You are remembering incidents in the past where people with known mental behaviorial issues or criminal backgrounds managed to circumvent federal government outsourced vetting processes and were appointed to posts of importance or sensitivity.”

“You are saying that that’s what happened here?”, asked the guest.

“Not necessarily”, replied the silhouette, “But imagine if hundreds of people were in place across the country to perform the same type of action simultaneously.  Imagine what that would do to the nation.”

“My God”, thought the guest as he pondered over the chaos that would ensue, putting thousands of lives at risk immediately not to mention the long-term impact on the nation.

“Would this be the work of ISIS or some other terror group?”, he asked the silhouette.

“No”, replied the silhouette, “It is far too large for them to pull off.  There is however, one group who has the ability, the resources and the reason to design and execute such a plan.”

“And what would the reason be for doing such a thing?”, asked the guest.

“To understand the why, you need to understand the who”, replied the silhouette.

“And how would I discover the who?”, asked the guest.

The silhouette smiled in the darkness and leaned forward.  “Perhaps”, he said quietly, “you need to take a walk in the north woods.”

“The north woods?”, asked the guest.  “What does that mean?  Where is that?”

The silhouette was silent as he opened his window and looked upwards.  The guest looked out his window and realized that they were parked at the base of an airport control tower.

“It’s a nice night for flying”, the silhouette said quietly, ignoring the guest’s question.

“Who are you? Why are you telling me these things?”, asked the guest.

The silhouette continued to stare out into the night as he answered.  “I am someone who cares about preventing problems.  You are the one who will deliver a warning to the right people in order to prevent a problem.”

The two men became silent as a wide body aircraft thundered overhead, vanishing into the night sky.

To be continued.


© 2014 – Harry Tucker – All Rights Reserved

Background:

This is a fictional musing, inspired by the fire that was purposely lit at Chicago O’Hare International on September 26, 2014.

The reference to “the north woods” is a tongue-in-cheek reference to Operation Northwoods, a plan by the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the early 1960s for US military personnel to launch acts of terror against US citizens and then to use the result as the justification to launch an attack against Cuba.

References to poor security vetting processes have been widely documented in the media over the years.  A quick Google search will reveal articles of interest in this area.

The scenario described here is hypothetical.

The threat and vulnerabilities are real and more easily taken advantage of than many people would admit.

Both make for an interesting “fictional” musing, providing fodder and entertainment for conspiracy folks who allow paranoia to misdirect their lives.

Series Origin:

This series, a departure from my usual musings,  is inspired as a result of conversations with former senior advisors to multiple Presidents of the United States, senior officers in the US Military and other interesting folks as well as my own professional background as a Wall St. / Fortune 25 strategy and large-scale technology architect.

While this musing is just “fiction” and a departure from my musings on technology, strategy, politics and society, as a strategy guy, I do everything for a reason and with a measurable outcome in mind. :-)

This “fictional” musing is a continuation of the #1206 series noted here.


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Crippling Effect of Second Chances

There's nothing as exciting as a comeback - seeing someone with dreams, watching them fail, and then getting a second chance. - Rachel Griffiths

People do make mistakes and I think they should be punished. But they should be forgiven and given the opportunity for a second chance. We are human beings. - David Millar

As I watch the debate swirl over Urban Outfitter’s decision to sell Kent State shirts covered in simulated blood spatter, I wonder how many people and organizations deliberately rely on “the second chance” as part of an intentional fall-back strategy when an effort to push our boundaries fails or if our first effort at anything is in fact always a “disposable rough draft”.

For those too young to remember, the Kent State shooting on May 4, 1970, involved the shooting of students at Kent State University by the Ohio National Guard.  Amongst the students who were protesting the Cambodian Campaign of the Vietnam War and some innocent bystanders, 4 students were killed and 9 were injured.

Why someone would market a shirt light-heartedly promoting this escapes me but it also causes me to wonder something.

We seem to live in a world where many people of influence and who are considered to be reasonably intelligent seem to say or do the darndest things while relying on the fact that they will always have a second chance to undo what they did regardless of the damage they may have created.

Consider Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid who, while addressing the Asian Chamber of Commerce in Las Vegas last month, made a racial joke targeting Asians.

How about the Comp Sci professor at Memorial University in Newfoundland and Labrador who gave the students an assignment where they were to create an application that could determine whether a rape victim would commit suicide?

Then there was the HBO special a couple of years ago where the producers of the show thought it would be cool to show a young girl drinking out of a phallic-shaped water bottle.  Try selling those to underage kids from your home and see how many you sell before the police show up.

HBO.

In these and other situations, it appears that the general rule of thumb is to be over the top or insensitive now and apologize later if the furor gets significant enough.

By that time, however, the objective has often been achieved, whether it be attention, notoriety, publicity or whatever the desired effect is.  Meanwhile, our boundaries of what we consider acceptable have stretched a little further and possibly to our detriment.

When the subsequent, obligatory apology shows up where people throw up their hands and say “I don’t know what I was thinking” or “I didn’t think it was that bad”, I always think of this:

If it wasn’t in your head in the first place, then you wouldn’t have to worry about it coming out as it did and then subsequently having to apologize for it.

Well … that is unless the act is intentional and the apology is part of the “game”.

Even in my own line of work, I observe people and organizations being sloppy, lazy or unprofessional around the implementation of strategy, application architecture, application security, business continuity and the like and then throwing up their hands in despair when the predictable, inevitable disaster occurs.  Events such as the compromise of credit and debit cards throughout the retail industry in the last year is an excellent example of this – preventable acts that weren’t prevented.

The difficulty with relying on second chances is that they are unpredictable at best in their offering and timing and if we come to rely on them, we discover that what we consider to be our second chance is actually our third, fourth, etc.

And sometimes, the hope that a second chance will save us fades as we discover that the problem that we allowed to manifest can’t actually be undone with a second chance because of the nature of the damage incurred or in the time available to fix the issue.

The Bottom Line

We should always be grateful for the opportunity of a second chance to improve an initial result when our best effort wasn’t enough.

We must also be open to providing others with a second chance when warranted.

However, while we should be grateful for the opportunity to receive (and give) a second chance, I wonder if we should work at living as if we will never need or receive one.

Otherwise, the day may come when your project, your company, a relationship or perhaps something on a state, national or international level may suffer as a result, producing a disastrous result that cannot be easily recovered from.

I think we can and must do better to avoid the belief that the safety net of a second chance is always available on-demand whenever we need it.

Because maybe a life depends on it.

Maybe it’s yours.

What do you think?

In service and servanthood,

Harry

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The NSA–Why They May Be Delivering What You Demanded

Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves. - Abraham Lincoln

They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety. - Benjamin Franklin

This blog is not a typical blog post but is in fact a paper that I wrote that some asked to see as an example of the material I write outside of public scrutiny.

It is deep, dry and academic.  If you don’t like such things, please come back later. Smile


In the months that followed since Edward Snowden released classified documentation where he revealed the breadth and depth of surveillance activities carried out by the National Security Agency (NSA), there has been much debate about whether the NSA has overstepped its bounds morally, ethically and legally. There is great uncertainty about how far the surveillance actually goes, how far it will go in the future and what the impact will be on the personal freedoms of citizens now and in the future. Some have even suggested that such surveillance is the final piece of evidence implying that the theme of lack of individual citizen rights as expressed in novels such as George Orwell’s 1984[i] are about to be realized.

Whether or not citizens of the United States or other nations are in favor of such surveillance, I posit that neo-institutional theory demonstrates that such surveillance is not only inevitable, but in fact that people inadvertently demand such surveillance or demand it through implication, only to be unhappy when they see what the results of those inadvertent or implied demands are. I also posit that the concept of institutional isomorphism (how an organization forms, develops, spreads, and becomes legitimate) can be clearly applied to the NSA, demonstrating how it may slowly evolve from an institution that people fear, distrust or dislike into an organization that people will willingly submit to in order to protect themselves and their family. I will not be discussing whether such an evolution of the NSA is right or not as such a topic is based largely on perspective.

As context for my discussion, I will be leveraging my 30-year career as a strategy advisor to Wall St., Fortune 25, military and government groups.

In Scott’s Institutional Theory[ii] and Managing Institutional Environments[iii], Scott suggests that institutions exert influence in one or more of three different ways:

1. Regulatory influence - constraining behavior through rules and inducements of behavior.

2. Normative influence – guiding behavior through a logic of appropriateness and a sense of duty or an awareness of what one is "supposed" to do.

3. Cognitive influence – guiding behavior as a result of preconceived notions or conceptions.

When the events of 9/11 had taken place and the initial grieving and outrage had passed, citizens of the US demanded that their government protect them from the possibility of similar events in the future. In order to comply with such demands, the US Government recognized that the sweeping powers necessary to accomplish such a task would require:

1. Regulatory influence, passing the laws to enable what the government perceived to be “the right actions” moving forward.

2. Normative influence, explaining through a massive campaign of information or misinformation (depending on the information and perspective) that what the government and the citizens were doing together was “the right way” for the safety of American citizens and their families

3. Cognitive influence, explaining that action not taken today will produce greater risk for the safety of the nation moving forward, making it imperative to take action “right now”.

In essence, the demand of the American people and the response by the US Government, including the NSA, could be summarized as “we need to take the right actions, the right way, right now”. Unfortunately, there was a disconnect between the implied demand and the response to that demand.

One of the greatest challenges that the NSA and other groups recognized early was that while they were satisfying a “demand” from the people, it was possible that the people might quickly discover that the solution was much more heavy-handed than they had anticipated.

It was therefore deemed imperative that the Government find a way to rationalize their efforts in a manner that appeared to be in alignment with the needs of the people and with that, the Government began a process of using rationalized myths to justify their actions.

Rowan and Meyer in Institutional Organizations: Formal Structure As Myth and Ceremony[iv] described rationalized myths as:

1. Ideas that are rationalized because they are impersonal prescriptions identified with the appropriate means to pursue goals.

2. Ideas that are myths because we accept them on faith, trusting in institutions that we assume represent our best interests.

Therefore, in order to initiate a response to the demands of the people that served the needs of the government, the US Government began a campaign of demonstrating that not only had the US been attacked but it also faced greater danger as a result of:

1. The alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction by nations such as Iraq[v].

2. The intention of groups like Al Qaeda (and the nations that provided them with safe harbor) to commit further acts of violence. It was noted that such groups, or people sympathetic to their cause, might also be active on US soil[vi].

While the second item was conceptually accurate in some areas, the first one was not all but the citizens of the US believed their own government. Once both items were generally accepted, it was a rational, logical conclusion to all parties (including citizens) that an invasion of other nations was required and to the US Government, it was a legitimization to begin a larger campaign of domestic and international surveillance.

As Rowan and Meyer suggest in Institutional Organizations: Formal Structure As Myth and Ceremony[iv], such rationalized myths originated from:

1. The need to deal with ambiguity and uncertainty – to answer the question of “how do we guarantee the security of the nation moving forward, with different solutions perceived as required by the US people and the US government”.

2. Utility – the solutions provided, including new wars and additional surveillance, satisfied everyone’s needs within the “security of the nation” scenario.

3. Diffusion through networks of association – collaborations with other nations were created, thus asserting the “truths” of the actions being taken as different governments agreed on the definitions of the threat and the required response.

Once the US Government initiated their solution, including new wars and additional surveillance, the challenge then became one of sustainability, the notion that events that are consistently expensive financially, politically and in the cost of human lives, would be difficult to sustain over time as citizens began to question the legitimacy of past and future actions.

In order to sustain the mix of truths and rationalized myths that the US Government were promoting, they relied on Scott’s logics of confidence:

1. Avoidance – limiting access to information as requested by citizens by deeming it “classified for reasons of national security” and so information that might weaken the Government’s position or actions was restricted from the American people and information supporting various actions flowed freely and unquestioned.

2. Discretion – information shared for the purposes of carrying out the intentions of the Government were shared only with organizations or nations who were considered to be totally bought into the strategic intentions of the US Government.

3. Integrity – since information disseminated to the people came from sources identified as trustworthy, either through reputation, accreditation or implication, many people assumed that such information must always be true and unquestioned.

So Where Does The NSA Fit Into This Puzzle?

The NSA and other organizations, both predecessors and peer organizations, got their start in the Second World War with the introduction of surveillance of enemy governments and military groups for the sake of obtaining strategic military intelligence. After the war concluded, the mechanisms that had been created continued to be useful, especially in regards to the Cold War adversaries of NATO and the Soviet bloc.

Domestically, surveillance programs such as Echelon were created for the purposes of monitoring domestic criminal activity including but not limited to money laundering and other organized crime activities[vii]. However, after 9/11 occurred, Echelon and other programs quickly expanded their efforts to include counter-terrorism and eventually morphed into today’s modern surveillance programs.

How did such an evolution take place and how did the NSA become the number one brand known for surveillance?

The evolution of the NSA took place in a process that Scott, Rowan et all describe in their process of isomorphism:

1. Competitive isomorphism – the NSA was just one of many organizations competing for government resources (money and people) but without a cause to justify greater actions, they were one of many groups, lost within the complexity of the many departments that exist within the government. The results of 9/11 suddenly gave them “an edge” over their peer government departments in the struggle for resources and recognition.

2. Institutional isomorphism – the NSA recognized that in order to achieve their intentions, they needed support within Capitol Hill and so they began a campaign of creating internal champions such as former Vice President Dick Cheney, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and other powerful people. This allowed them to promote their agenda, garnering support within the population-at-large and American lawmakers for legislative support.

To accomplish this, the NSA took action in three key ways:

1. Coercive actions – the NSA presented themselves to the people and the Government as the focal point of American security. As domestic and international pressure increased suggesting that the American people were threatened, the NSA was able to position itself as a stalwart protector of the nation. They also used legislation to quiet naysayers who questioned their intentions and actions.

2. Mimetic actions – whenever the NSA was questioned, whether it be by the people or by a legislator, it was able to position itself as being similar to other successful groups, referencing their existence as proof of successfully deterring terrorist efforts[viii].

3. Normative actions – by citing recognized experts in the areas of civil defence as well as domestic and international security, the NSA was able to set itself up as the “obvious logical choice” coordinator for national security, justifying their intentions and actions in their own minds.

So Why Is the NSA Despised Now?

In the research of Scott, Rowan, Meyer and others, they suggest that there are five ways to manage both the isomorphic institution and the relationship between such an institution and other organizations (in this case, the American public).

1. Acquiescing – conforming to the needs or intentions of others.

2. Compromising – balancing intentions or negotiating them with other groups.

3. Avoiding – hiding from the inspection of others or creating barriers that prevent such inspection.

4. Defying – blatantly defying the intentions and requests of others who attempt to explore their intentions.

5. Manipulating – changing the “rules of the games” by finding support in other powerful people (corporately, politically or diplomatically), promoting messages of validation (in this case, the threat against the people) and through the use of legislation to enforce the items of “avoiding” and “defying”.

In successful partnerships, whether it is within an organization, between organizations or between an organization and the people it serves, success is usually defined as acquiescing (in the short term, not being sustainable in the long term since someone eventually tires of sacrificing ad infinitum) or finding a true win – win by negotiating a balance via the process of compromising.

The American people, in the days immediately following 9/11, assumed incorrectly that their demands of security would be answered by the government in a manner that suggested either acquiescing or compromising. This assumption was perhaps based on the notion that that is how most people tend to live their lives and it forms a fundamental belief in how their relationships, personal, professional or otherwise are lived.

However, in the days and years that followed, the solution for the problem they demanded a solution for was provided by a group of organizations that chose to follow the models of avoidance, defiance and manipulation.

When people deal with other individuals who live by such models, we tend to avoid such people since the ability to create trust is an innate part of the human experience. This need to trust extends beyond person-to-person relationships but extend to defining the relationships between individuals and organizations as well. Much has been written on the importance of trust, including articles such as Grove’s Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Method For Trust-Based Relationships[ix].

When seeds of distrust are planted, an opportunity for tension between participants in a relationship is created. Such distrust can only be nullified through the free exchange of information that, for reasons explained previously, is not permitted when it comes to national security.

The relationship difficulty originated entirely on an assumption – the notion that when someone demands a solution (national security in this case) without identifying the “rules” of the solution, that the solution provided will automatically fit the definition of the person demanding it. In the case of national security, the Government also made an assumption, that they defined the rules by which the solution was provided.

The relationship difficulty is also complicated by the notion that we rely on one of the five relationship maintainers in any relationship (acquiescing, compromising, avoiding, defying or manipulating). Given that the organization that makes the rules (the Government) realized that the first two would not serve their needs, the American people are forced to submit to one or more of the final three, making distrust on both sides inevitable.

The foundation for much of today’s difficulties when it comes to surveillance are contained within these complexities and assumptions that have allowed specific groups to pick and choose their actions at will and for the most part out of sight of the people they claim to serve.

The question of whether conspiracy theory people are right (that groups like the NSA have overstepped their bounds) or that the NSA will ultimately prove to be justified in their actions (creating a verifiable legitimacy within the people) is something that is difficult to answer with our limited access to information.

Moreover, with the continued limited accessibility to information, the answer will probably only be provided by historians who look back upon our past. As to whether such a historical retrospective will be accurate, one should consider the famous words attributed to Winston Churchill when he said, “History is written by the victors.” and this quote from the Yale Book of Quotations[x] where it was noted, “History is written by the survivors. (Social Forbes, 1931)”.


[i] Wikipedia, Nineteen Eighty-Four, Retrieved from URL http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nineteen_Eighty-Four on November 27, 2013

[ii] Scott, Richard., Institutional Theory (pp. 119-120) of Organizations: Rational, Natural and Open Systems, 5th Edition, Prentice-Hall, 2003, Print

[iii] Scott, Richard., Managing Institutional Environment (pp. 213-220) of Organizations: Rational, Natural and Open Systems, 5th Edition, Prentice-Hall, 2003, Print

[iv] J. W. Meyer & B. Rowan, Institutional organizations: formal structure as myth and ceremony, American Journal of Sociology, 83, 1977, 340-63, Print

[v] Wikipedia, Iraq and Weapons of Mass Destruction, Retrieved from URL http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iraq_and_weapons_of_mass_destruction on November 23, 2013

[vi] Huffington Post, Janet Napolitano: Domestic Terrorism is Top Concern, Retrieved from URL http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/02/21/janet-napolitano-domestic-terrorism_n_470915.html on November 22, 2013

[vii] Webb, D.C., Echelon and the NSA, Leeds Metropolitan University, UK, 2008, Print

[viii] CNN, NSA Chief: Snooping is crucial to fighting terrorist, Retrieved from URL http://www.cnn.com/2013/07/31/tech/web/nsa-alexander-black-hat/ on November 30, 2013

[ix] Grove, Heidi, Maslow’s Hierarchy Of Needs Method for Trust-Based Relationship Building, Regis University CPS Blog, Retrieved from URL http://cps.regis.edu/blog/maslows-hierarchy-of-needs-method-for-trust-based-relationship-building/ on November 28, 2013 [Editor note: Link has been removed since original paper was published]

[x] Shapiro, Fred R., The Yale Book of Quotations, Yale University Press, 2006, Print

9/11 And Lessons Not Learned

History teaches us that history teaches us nothing. – Hegel

That men do not learn very much from the lessons of history is the most important of all the lessons of history. - Aldous Huxley

As 9/11 approaches and we remember the 13th anniversary of the heinous acts that were carried out on that fateful day, I have decided that my annual musing honoring this day ends with this post.

Like many who lived and worked in the area on 9/11, I take time on September 11 to sit in quiet contemplation and remember the 15 friends I lost on that day, especially Narender Nath, Eric Bennett and Stephen Fiorelli who all died in the WTC and my neighbor’s brother, Edward Felt, who was killed on Flight 93.

When we take time to remember and honor those who were lost, whether it be on 9/11 or all those in service to our nation in the form of the military, police, firefighters, EMS and other first responders, we do so to not only remember who they were and what they represented but also with the hope that their loss was not in vain.

However, as we once again bomb a new enemy in Iraq 13 years later, as we test the limits of Russia (and they test ours) in the Ukraine and as we face unprecedented exposure and threat to our safety and national security via cyber attack (amongst other concerns), I can’t help but think that their losses were indeed in vain.

13 years later, we have not learned a damned thing.

Why should we have?  We are creatures of habit and often are unable to change our behaviour until our backs are against the wall.  To expect us to make changes to our culture and behavior merely because of one event, even one as shocking as 9/11, is to ignore a basic understanding of what motivates a human being to action and to ignore thousands of years of history.

Unfortunately, the next time our backs are against the wall, what we face may be too large to stare down or to overcome with human perseverance, ingenuity or whatever else politicians like to offer as empty praise when we overcome a tragedy born of their abuse of power, incompetence, laziness, denial, greed, fear or lack of transparency / accountability.

And while there is MUCH beauty in the world and GREAT stories of overcoming, it is offset by the potential for great threat to our well-being on national and international levels.

It’s important to celebrate what is right in the world and to highlight those who make the world a better place.

But people in my line of work have to keep an eye on the stupid, the ignorant, the criminal and the misinformed who would rather our world not reach its ultimate positive potential.

After all, it only takes one stupid act by a small group of people (elected or not) to wipe out all of the combined great deeds, works of inspiration and the great potential that humanity represents.

The Bottom Line

Just as with 9/11, the threats to our safety are real despite the incredible beauty in our world. Our ability to be informed citizens so as to be able to respond to such threats or protect ourselves from them is insufficient for our needs for a variety of reasons - some valid, some not.  To pretend that the world is only filled with beauty and that peace and love overcome everything (with no other action required) are the beliefs of the misinformed.

And so when I think of the friends I lost and I look at what we are doing 13 years later, I don’t think our actions are honoring them.

In fact, I think our actions are disgracing them, suggesting that their loss was indeed in vain – a tragic, unnecessary loss of Life that is doomed to be repeated for an as-yet unsuspecting, unknowing group of victims.

And when it happens, we will act surprised, shocked and outraged yet again and then we will return to our normal programming.

I think there is a more honorable way to acknowledge the loss of those during 9/11 and it isn’t with pithy writings, emotional memorials, tear-laden get-togethers, shouts reminiscent of “Remember the Alamo” and the like while we continue to sow the seeds that created events like 9/11 in the first place.

It’s with action that truly produces a safer world for our children and not action that guarantees to recreate that which we have already suffered.

It’s with public accountability regarding those in power, elected or not.

It’s with standing up for what we believe is right while we still have something to stand up for and not waiting for someone else to fix it for us.

Otherwise we end up merely proving the old adage:

History is written by the survivors. – Yale Book of Quotations

Hopefully you are one of them.

What do you think?

How badly do you want a better world for your children?

Good – what are you waiting for?

In service and servanthood and in memory of those who were lost on 9/11 or in service to their nation.

Harry


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Friday, September 5, 2014

Newfoundland / Alberta Ballot Boxes – Bring Your ID and Your KY

Divide and rule, the politician cries; unite and lead, is watchword of the wise. - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Ideas are more powerful than guns. We would not let our enemies have guns, why should we let them have ideas. - Joseph Stalin

Education is a weapon whose effects depend on who holds it in his hands and at whom it is aimed. - Joseph Stalin

As I watch the leadership campaigns wind down for the PC Parties of Newfoundland and Labrador and Alberta, I have to wonder if politicians have finally lost their grasp on any basic understanding of what leadership is all about (or if they have given up pretending that they had any grasp in the first place).

In my home province of Newfoundland and Labrador, former Premier Danny Williams, in a move reminiscent of former Soviet Union leader Joseph Stalin, systematically destroyed any leaders who might have had aspirations to compete against him for power.  When Stalin needed leaders for military campaigns during World War II, he discovered that he had wiped out an entire generation of leadership necessary to lead his troops to victory. 

By the same token, then Premier Williams gutted the PC Party of potential successors and then when he suddenly resigned, the PC Party of Newfoundland and Labrador was plunged into a death spiral, first with the failed Premiership of Kathy Dunderdale and the debacle that followed when Premier-designate Frank Coleman suddenly stepped down.  Meanwhile, the leadership candidates currently competing for the title of “Last PC Premier For A Long Time” do little to evoke any form of confidence in much of the electorate.

Great leaders groom their successors, which didn’t happen in this case.  The legacy of a great leader is in large part based on how well prepared and enabled their successors are.

In addition, the PC Party was not strategic or astute enough to see the problems that this strategy created and thus allowed the seeds of their death spiral to be planted.

Meanwhile, sitting ministers in the Newfoundland Government continue to resign as they recognize the gravy train (aka public service) is drying up for them.

Which brings me to the four types of politicians that are prevalent in today’s political spheres in Newfoundland and Labrador.

There are politicians who truly see their vocation to serve the people and do the best they can in this capacity.  These are extremely rare in occurrence and need to be treasured when discovered.

There are the well-intentioned and the unqualified who step into politics with the intention to change the world but who are quickly brought into line by the bureaucrats, the real albeit non-elected power within government.

There are opportunists who jump into politics when the thoughts of certain election victories, nice pensions and the like are plentiful and easily obtained.

And then there are those who bail when the going gets tough for a political win  - when said win needs to be fought in the trenches while the people that the opportunists claim to serve are crying out for solutions for the difficult challenges facing the province.

I wonder what word best describes the latter group.

Perhaps you have a suggestion.

Meanwhile in Alberta ….

In another amazing lesson in leadership, the leadership candidates are spending their time undercutting each other (some more than others) and frankly, by the time they are done tearing each other apart, I wonder if any of the leaders will be left untainted enough to lead or if the divided PC Party caucus can be rallied around the leader that survives the leadership selection process.

We are used to dirty political campaigns when different candidates tear each other apart but when the tearing apart is taking place within the same party, one cannot help but wonder if so much damage is being done that victory is being handed to another party in the next general election.

Organizations can support healthy, vigorous debate to choose a new leader but when those candidates within a single party are focused on discrediting others within the same party, they forget that they may be destroying the future of not only their opponent but themselves and the Party at large as well.

The Bottom Line

Not voting is not an option.  I am a firm believer that in a democracy, the right to vote must always be exercised lest we lose that right.  That being said, too many politicians appear to be intent on proving that not voting is better than voting for the lesser of many evils.

The way things are going right now, the PC Party may not offering much to choose from in either Newfoundland and Labrador or Alberta in the next general election.  When the PC Party of Newfoundland and Labrador focused on destroying its leadership depth, they planted the seeds for their demise and are about to harvest the fruits of their labor.  The Liberals will sweep to victory and the NDP will continue to wallow in whatever they wallow in.

Meanwhile in Alberta, it appears that the leadership candidates of the PC Party are still sowing the seeds of their own destruction.  The crop they produce depends on how strategic, intelligent and opportunistic the other parties can be in the next general election.

I don’t know what’s worse – killing leadership candidates in advance or having the leadership candidates kill each other.

In either situation, if the PC Party expects voters to vote for them anyway, I wonder if they are expecting the voters to bring their own KY as well.

If nothing else, it will make voter penetration that much easier to accomplish.

That being said, no amount of KY is going to help if the voters resist the advances of the PC Party too much and the result will be much less pleasurable than desired by the PC Party or the electorate.

After all, there still needs to be some love in the end otherwise the people who need the love the most, the electorate, will be hurt the most instead.

I think we need better examples of leadership in a world hungry (desperate?) for strong, enabled, intelligent, selfless leaders.

What do you think?

In service and servanthood,

Harry

PS While I slagged the PC Party of the two provinces, I wonder if the other parties offer candidates or platforms worthy of replacing them or maybe all politicians are merely PR mouthpieces in front of the real people in power – the unelected bureaucrats whom we will never see.

Should we lower our expectations as low as possible to avoid disappointment?

I’m not certain - what do you think?

What I do know is that we need strategic, tactical, intelligent, unselfish leadership to solve many difficult problems right now on a provincial / state, federal and international level and that such leaders are becoming ever-increasingly difficult to find.

Here’s a small example of why this matters.  According to data released on September 5th, 2014 by Stats Canada, the number of unemployed in Newfoundland and Labrador is up over 26% from the same point in 2013.  In addition, there are over 58,000 people collecting E.I. and income support in the Province, producing an actual unemployment rate of over 22% when one considers a labor force of approximately 259,000 people.  Those are pretty ugly numbers to me.

Factor in additional things such as the fact that Brent Crude oil prices are still tracking below what the Province needs in order to meet its budget requirements (as I explained in Newfoundland–Should We Just Shoot It And Put It Out Of Its Misery?) and the following questions come to mind:

  • “Does strong, intelligent, strategic leadership exist anymore within the political sphere?”
  • “Should we demand better of our political / government leaders (and if so, why don’t we)?”
  • “Are today’s government challenges just too complex for anyone to solve?”.

Don’t ask me for my answers.

What are yours?