Nerve Agent Is New Terrorism Threat

Last week Kim Jong Nam, the son of the late North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, was assassinated according to Malaysian police. Kim Jong Nam died shortly after two women put a substance on his face while he was checking in for a flight. Police have not said how the women were able to apply the nerve agent to Kim’s face and also avoid becoming ill themselves. The seeming contradiction of a poison that could kill him quickly but not sicken the attackers has stumped experts. A statement from the inspector general of police said that a preliminary analysis from the Chemistry Department of Malaysia identified the agent as “VX Nerve Agent.”

 

When I heard the news events regarding Kim Jong Nam I couldn’t help but think, “this is like a 007 film in real life.” The scary world of missile test launches just took a back seat causing the world to become a whole lot more terrifying. Just think for one moment that every bomb terror plot or dirty nuclear device that our nation heavily investigates and monitors now has to deal with a potential military grade nerve agent that can kill unmonitored within seconds. What makes this story interesting is that it was quickly administered with the potential to expose others in a public area such as an airport. Look for a moment at the diplomatic chaos it has stirred. Is Homeland Security prepared for this new threat both domestic and internationally? Maybe on paper, but perhaps not as prepared as we may think.

 

My question is, “was this a test of a new terrorism threat to airport security?” If so, how will airports or security experts deal with detecting nerve agents as a threat from public places? But another question is where did this nerve agent come from? It has been since the 1960’s since nerve agents were widely identified. Ask any soldier from the Cold War Era, and they will mention stories about Nerve Agent Treatment Autoinjector training scenarios. The threat was real until Congress banned nerve agents in 1972. 32,000 tons of nerve and mustard agents had already been dumped into the ocean waters off the United States. Currently, Russia stockpile of nerve agents is still available but lacks the money and resource to destroy it. Perhaps this is the footprint from where an international investigation should begin? But that is likely to occur due to the current relations between the United States and Russia.

 

I would suggest that Congress and the United Nations begin an accountability audit of nerve agent nation facilities immediately. This is not the time to point fingers at how the nerve agent was acquired or used. It is a time to place steps and practices, so this horrible event doesn’t escalate into a catastrophic incident. If I were the Director of the CIA, I would be concerned how a nation such as Malaysia has a military grade nerve agent on its land. What if this nerve agent was in a small container on a plane bound for the United States? Do we have the technology to intercept it? These are the questions that you and I should be concerned about.

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America Killed the Passport

I remember traveling to Israel once. Getting there felt as if I were a would-be terrorist. The amount of security to get on a plane to visit the tiny nation can be nerve racking but at the same time a feeling of security and safety. Once in Israel, the rules were pretty simple and clear. Avoid walking as a large group, be prepared to have any bag or backpack searched, and dress appropriately. At that time Isreali customs agents would stamp your passport. That practice stopped so Americans would not be turned away in Saudi Arabia or other nations that won’t accepts Israeli passport stamps.

 

This reminds me a bit of the recent American ban of Muslim-majority countries. I am not very pleased with our current level of diplomacy. But it does raise a question on how the very nations that discriminate against Israeli stamps in my American passport on how they feel being handed a similar feeling or gesture. I would like to take a step further by saying when I visit China that I must pay over $140 for a visa that typically costs $30 for all other nations. Other countries levy some hefty visa fees in retaliation for visa-waiver programs or other fiscal issues.

 

The passport as we once knew it has become somewhat worthless because of various visa requirements or financial hoops. But equally the American Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) has become just as cumbersome and problematic. The latest rules now require where a person was born rather than where they are a citizen. Permanent Residency in the United States once thought as a promising program is being destroyed by politics and fear tactics. I am afraid that many programs extending to Americans overseas may be in jeopardy because of knee jerk reactions by our current administration. Additionally, I also fear that many nations may begin to refuse extradition treaties to circumvent extremities in our immigration laws.

 

The bottom line is that extreme conditions by any government more than likely will ensure the same treatment from the opposition or another government. Visa fees for Americans will more than likely skyrocket because other nations want to send a strong message to the United States even if it risks reductions in tourism. It somewhat feels as if Americans are no longer welcome around the world. We didn’t do it any favors by the latest events with immigration and visa restrictions.

Kids Don’t Give A Damn

Some will argue that the youth is our future. I certainly would love to buy into that hope. Let’s face it. Youth don’t really care about the future. All they seem to care about is what is in the now or convenient for them. It is the same pattern generation after generation in America. Our addiction to pop culture, materialism, and the latest fad seems to be the center of the youth agenda rather than caring for future generations. You can attempt to sway me with a soothing rhetoric of graduation speeches that we all have heard repeated. Yes, we want to believe that the youth is our future but the bottom line is they don’t give a damn.

 

Case and point are the recent elections. Voters nationwide from ages 18 and 25 barely made a blip on the electoral radar. In fact, it was older Americans that dominated the polls. I am surprised that a young generation filled with Facebook, Twitter and smartphone technology apps misses an opportunity to pick a leader for its future. That same leadership choice is a decision by youth that could shape the future of student loans, affordable housing, special job creation, and so forth. Again, youth missed the opportunity without giving as much as a middle finger to any side of the political isle. Instead, those same tambourine shaking young people are blaming Republicans for nearly a landslide victory. It’s sad. The youth of America had an enormous opportunity to shift the election and didn’t do a thing. Perhaps this is a good lesson learned to not take things for granted.

 

Youth don’t give a damn either about student loans. In fact, most students have barely a clue about how the interest rates or longevity works. Some student thinks they can claim bankruptcy after a period of time. At this point, I would say not only do students not give a damn but don’t want to educate themselves about credit. Instead, most youth completely avoid credit altogether. Sure, this could be interpreted as “credit can ruin your lives” or other rhetoric. But it’s safe to say that credit on a small level prepares a person for that large purchase such as a home or a family vehicle.

 

Naturally, my tone with regards to youth is a bit disgusted and disappointed. It seems more interested in technology but becomes fickle with that technology around election time. Youth will go to college and seek a major that has nothing to do with what they desire to work in. Youth taunt about the need to control gun violence yet is the largest group of firearms violators. Youth seek to decriminalize our drug use laws but are the biggest group of citizens addicted to a critical or life-threatening substance. If this is the best our future can produce then at what age will it change? As adults are we no longer concerned about youth? Is the age of innocence and promise completely lost? I certainly hope not. For now, ages 30 and 40 seem to be more in line with our future.

Do Not Call Registry Ineffective

Have you ever received a telephone call from an unknown number? Of course, this is typical, and in most cases, we don’t answer the call. But what if you receive a telephone call from perhaps a legitimate number and person only to discover that the caller ID information is inaccurate. This type of inaccuracy of information is provided by what is termed as “spoofing.” When I think of the recent fake news reporting, I also think of letters in the mail pretending to be legitimate businesses and telephone spoofing. It is so out of control that this is perhaps one key reason that texting has outpaced the traditional phone call.

Spoofing has been going on for over a decade, and it seems far from the problem going away. What makes spoofing a problem is that such technology makes the national Do Not Call Registry ineffective. If you receive a telephone call from a spoofing number but turns out to be a telemarketer from a call center in India then reporting that information only pings the number used; not the number actually being called from.

Who is to blame? The primary responsibility is software distributors that sell programs with the intention to defraud legitimacy. However, software publishers will always use the “for entertainment use only” caption to remove it from liabilities. This is nonsense, and federal or national law enforcement agencies should be ashamed to allow this to continue. The next blame assessment is the telephony providers themselves. These are the same companies that charge a fee to consumers for caller ID services, blocking services, and anonymous rejection plans. Even if you pay for the premium telephone feature, you are not getting what you paid for because spoofing overrides all those features. Phone providers seem only interested in profitability versus public safety or credibility. Businesses are just as much to blame because they lay claim that telephone information won’t be used for telemarketing purposes. Yeah, right.

Lastly, Congress is to blame. They are the very body of government that introduced the Do Not Call Registry but placed a caveat in the law that won’t allow political calls to be blocked. Therefore just before and after an election, the telemarketing calls flow because political groups do not discard the telephone listings correctly. Just think about the Democratic National Convention hacked records. How many phone numbers do you say were released back into the calling pattern to hinder further the effectiveness of the Do Not Call Registry? I am willing to bet a significant amount.

Data security and telephony information is in my opinion at a critical stage. Our smartphones and telephone services are an important infrastructure and a source of our daily requirements. Phone providers must do more to help not only businesses but consumers of the credibility of the services we buy. Federal agencies must do more to combat fraudulent spoofing and impersonation. Congress should do its part by removing its clause from existing law to help protect its constituents.

Porn Should Never Be Viewed in Public

The BBC News recently wrote an article, “Is it OK to watch porn in public?” To me, it is a no-brainer. Absolutely Not! Porn, in general, should be something in the privacy of your own home and never in the workplace. I remember taking a domestic flight, and the passenger next to me decided he wanted to watch a “bit of porn” on his smartphone but at least had the decency to use his headphones. At first, I didn’t know if he was trolling for a response, mentally disturbed, or just plain desperate? However, there should be a standing rule that porn on any device should not be visible or audible to anyone else in a public setting.

 

A few years ago I remembered a case in North Carolina where a motorist was stopped for “displaying pornographic materials” in his own SUV. What occurred was the driver had entertainment screens in his SUV that could clearly be seen by passing motorists. I guess some people want to bend or test the rule of law to see what applies to them? I am unsure if the case was thrown out, but it draws the question about appropriate behavior. It is bad enough listening to loud stereo car systems that rattle every wall stud and picture frame. But now we may face a brief moment of stopped traffic to glance in the vehicle in front of us displaying porn? Yes, it is somewhat a private space but on public roads.

 

I keep hearing about porn addiction and the need to regulate Internet porn. I think we need to start with the regulation of clearly labeled rated X or homemade videos visible in public spaces. There are plenty of laws regarding public decency but rarely enforced. Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites have attempted to push the envelope by allowing porn to filter and become somewhat the norm in today’s society. Sexting, another issue, has morphed from a private space to being shared all over public spaces and schools. Have we come to the level in our life that open space is a rarity?

 

A problem with displaying pornography in public places was difficult to catch and difficult to prosecute. The American justice system seems more concerned about embarrassment and humiliation rather than education or providing a dissolvable punishment. Additionally, citizens won’t get involved because it puts them squarely in the middle rather than sensible law effectively working as the law is written. Public porn will become a debate as art versus vulgarity by differing critics. But I’d like to point out that any rated XXX film should never be publically displayed because you feel the need to exercise your first amendment right. It should always be a personal space in the privacy of your home and never accessible to children. After all, membership to the “Mile High” club is behind closed doors.

The Day the Music Died

I was listening recently to Eva Cassidy’s recording of Songbird and thought it would be wonderful to see her in concert. Suddenly it hit me that Eva died in 1996. It was then I thought that my music icons seemed to be fading away. Sure, 1996 was a while back, but it only seems like yesterday when we lost Karen Carpenter or just recently Prince. You see my taste in music is purely universal and appreciative. I may not be able to attend concerts of those that have departed, but they do leave an incredible collection of music that I can sing along with.

Today, while I am attempting to be appreciative, I don’t find the music to be as appealing as it once was. Many recordings must use or purposely use auto tune and other computer generated fusions that take away from the simplicity of just singing along. It’s not as fun as it once was with songs. In fact, the sing-along songs of today seem more repetitive and about the beat rather than the story or message. I am a fan of Adele, but I feel the need to have a few stiff drinks and pop a Xanax if I am to sing along. Of course, Adele is gifted and has once of the best vocals since the departing of Amy Winehouse. But at least I could sing along with Amy with some angst and purpose while with Adele I’m ready to break open a box of tissues and share among friends.

I can’t help but think about the song American Pie by Don McLean. There is a verse about “the day the music died.” Of course, that reference has differing meanings for different people. But perhaps our music dies at some point because of an event or tragic loss of our favorite musical artist. There was a time in our lives that we would watch the Grammy awards with excitement either to see our favorite artist win or just for the mere awe of performance value. As time passed we still watch but the enthusiasm has died down, or we turn off entirely thinking, “this isn’t music, its garbage!” Funny, how we start to sound more like our parents.

The Grammy’s are just around the corner, but I’m not so sure I will be watching. I think I’m at the point in my life where the Grammy’s have killed my music or the ability to diversify myself with good music. As a young boy, I used to watch every category just to have a brief moment and education about other genres. The Grammy’s have killed that segment for large corporate sponsorships and pyrotechnic-filled arena jammed concert experiences. Sure, it’s entertaining, but I want to hear music and make a decision about the artistry. Instead, I will watch a movie or something else. I still miss Eva Cassidy and her music. Maybe I should let Pandora pick out several artists similar to her style. Maybe I can generate a bit of life and reflect on the old as if it’s new again.

Smartphone Etiquette 

This morning I had a dentist appointment. Typically the waiting room area is silent and calming. Not today. A man decided he not only wanted to watch a Facebook video but thought the entire waiting room should hear it too. The room appeared visually upset at the full volume broadcast. A woman politely asked the man to please lower the volume. What happened next was a shock when he abruptly replied with “fuck you!”   Clearly, diplomacy wasn’t going to work, and civility may be on its deathbed.

I remember a time where there was common sense mobile etiquette in addition to civility in public settings. I am unsure where our manners have gone but have we become a society with a sole purpose of contempt of humanity? It is bad enough sitting at home watching television or attempting to sleep when all of a sudden it feels as if I’m experiencing a minor earthquake. What is actually occurring is some motorist with an in-car speaker system passing by so loudly that the windows and picture frames rattle. Needless to say, it is unnerving and a bit rude on the part of those with powerful vehicle stereo systems. It’s useless to yell to turn down the volume because they could never hear you anyway.  Again, common courtesy is discharged because of abuses within freedoms of speech and expression.

I try very hard to show empathy by putting myself in the shoes of others. It is true that sometimes we need some space to let off some steam or get away from drama or whatever is bothering us. But do we need to make so much noise pretending that our personal space is unlimited? Our society enjoys honesty yet is the very culture that won’t say anything to avoid confrontation. Thus why we rarely speak our minds in public and build a reserve of accumulated prejudices from poor experiences of others. Perhaps this is a reason we have a bad race and religious relations in the United States. I am starting to notice the trend of once calm filters become untangled shifting to informal and dramatic decorum in the worst possible way. The bottom line is that I see an increasing amount of hostility and lack of courtesy between one another. This issue highly extends to those that use smartphones in public. It is fair to say that we should be mindful that not everyone wants to hear the latest YouTube funny video in a quiet public setting. Additionally, we are not interested in having to listen to your personal telephone call with colorful graphic details. Finally, I don’t want to ever hear a phone call in the bathroom. It’s creepy enough hearing the person in the next stall straining a possible Taco Bell moment. A fully-fledged conversation is not helping.

How do I know cell phone etiquette is on life support? Go to a movie theater today and try to watch a film from start to finish without hearing a cell phone beep or ring. There is a huge production infomercial to warn people about talking and to silence devices, yet the problem seems to be ignored and growing exponentially. Even if people complain about an unsilenced phone, typically you will hear an occasional “fuck you” in reply from the culprit. It is one thing to accidentally forget to silence a phone but completely another to be belligerent in the matter. At least have the common courtesy to respect your neighbor and adhere to good smartphone etiquette.