The Federal Island Of Insanity

SOS

So a colleague at work was supposed to get something done. 


Well it didn’t happen, and someone else got left holding the bag–not really very fair.  


Too make matters worse, the guy sort of unapologetically and clouded pops in my door and says to me, “What are we doing here?”


Taken aback and not sure what this guy is talking about, I say “Excuse me?”


He looks up into space for a moment, and turns back toward me and repeats emphatically, “I mean, like what are we e-v-e-n doing here?”


Getting more than a little frustrated at this point, I ask quizzically and with some sarcasm, “You mean on planet Earth?”


Again, turning and looking oddly away and then back my way, he says, “In this building!”


I must’ve been looking at him at this point like is he on drugs, and I say, “We’ll there are important laws that we’re fulfilling here (implicitly referring to FOIA, Records Act, Privacy Act, E.O. 13526, etc.).”


Unbelievably, he continues, now shaking his head, “Well that’s what I mean…why we need that?”


Having too much work to play out whatever this toxic game was any longer, I’m like, “[if you don’t believe in transparency and safeguarding/security of information,] Maybe you should write your Congressman,” [smile!] and with that went back to the million and one serious work things I still had waiting for attention.


In retrospect, I can’t help but think that incredibly, there are people coming to work here in D. C. that either don’t know why they are there in the first place (but should know!) or don’t believe in the mission or meaning of what they are doing.  


In the private sector, I certainly don’t think this conversation would’ve even gone on as long as it did…the consequences there seeming more pronounced, abrupt, and in a definite way connected with reality. 


With more than 16 years into the Federal sector, I still can’t believe a lot of what goes on–both good and hopeful, and bad and more than a little disappointing. 😉


(Source Photo: Danielle Blumenthal)

Fearless = Reckless

Fearless

I took this photo in the Metro in Washington, D.C. 


It says, “Be Fearless.”


Why?


No, it doesn’t pay to be wholly fearful–and paralyzed by anxiety or indecision. 


But it is stupid to be fearless–because being fearless is being reckless. 


It’s good to think about possibilities and consequences–not everything that can go right will and more often then not, as Murphy’s Law teaches, whatever can go wrong often does.


Better to think about what can happen–both good and bad–how to manage the risks and how to maximize the rewards.


Have fear of heaven and of bad things–and try to make them better, where you can. 


Fearless is for those who want to be stupid, act reckless, and end up mortally wounded or prematurely dead. 


Fearsome is for those who want to confront their fears head on, manage them wisely, and make the most of the opportunities in a risk-reward managed way. 😉


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Does Every Problem Have A Solution?

Hands

So someone said something interesting to me yesterday.


They were going off about this and that problem in the world. 


Then seemingly exasperated by the current and desperate state of affairs, they go “You know what? Not every problem has a solution.”


And that really took me aback.


As a student and then a professional, I have always prided myself on looking for a solution to every problem. 


Sometimes we get it right and sometimes we don’t, but I was always taught to try!


Now someone says to me this earth-shattering news that maybe there is not a good solution out there for every catastrophic problem.


So this got me thinking…


Maybe some problems are just too big or too complex for our mortal minds to even understand or our supercomputers to really solve. 


Or perhaps sometimes things have gone too far or are too far gone, and we can’t always easily just turn back the clock.


Are there some things that we can’t really make right what we did so wrong for so long, despite the best intentions now. 


And in life are some things just a catch-22 or a zero-sum game–where every way forward is another dead end or it has consequences which are too painful or otherwise unacceptable. 


This sort of reminds me of the sick brutal Nazi in the Holocaust who took a women with two beautiful young children to the side and said, “Choose!”


“Choose what?” she innocently replies.


And the sadistic Nazi pulling out his gun says, “Choose which of your children will live and which will die, you have 30 seconds or I kill them both!”


Indeed, some problems have no good solution as hard as that is for me to hear or accept.  


All we can do is our best, and even when we can’t satisfactorily solve those completely vexing problems to us (because some things are not in the realm of the possible for mere mortals), we have to continue to go forward in life because there really is no going back. 😉


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Money, It’s Something

Poverty

Just an observation today about there being so much poverty in the Nation’s capital and around the country.

Homeless, hungry, and sick people on the streets in one of the richest countries in the world.

Yet, we have trillions going overseas to fight wars with seemingly little to no tangible benefits.

And so much ostensible waste with pork barrel politics, inefficiencies, and failed projects.

A relative joked with me the other day saying, “It doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor as long as you have money!”

Here we borrow money ($17.6 trillion ) and print money and the Federal Reserve buys debt ($4.1 trillion ) to keep interest rates low and the economy churning.

People from real estate mogul, Donald Trump to Economist, Robert Wiedemer, who predicted the last recession, are warning of dire economic consequences because of these short-sighted policies.

So do we have real money to continue to burn or is it smoke and mirrors and as Wiedemer says, “the medicine will become the poison”–what do you think?

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Restraint or Recklessness?

Restraint or Recklessness?

Like many of you, as I watch the events unfold with the Russian military invasion of Ukraine, I am amazed at the “restraint” being shown by the West.

But I can’t help asking myself why a military invasion by the Great Bear into a sovereign nation that is leaning toward democracy is being met with restraint.

Sitting in Starbucks, I overheard one young women saying to an older gentlemen that she did not understand the reaction of the President in saying there would be “consequences” and that no one took that seriously as there was no specificity, almost as if their where no real consequences to even threaten Russia with.

So why all the word-mincing, dancing around the subject, and restraint by the West in light of this very dangerous escalation in eastern Europe:

1) Surprise – Was the West completely taken by surprise by Russia’s military intervention? Didn’t something similar happen with Georgia in 2008–less than 6 years ago? Did we not foresee the possibility of Russia lashing out against Ukraine to protect its interests when Ukraine turned back toward European integration and away from the embrace of Russia that it had made only weeks earlier? After Pearl Harbor, 9/11, and with all our “Big Data,” intelligence, and military planning–how did we miss this (again!)?

2) Duped – Were we duped by the misinformation from Russia saying that the 150,000 troops they called on a “training exercise” was planned months ago and it just happened to coincide with the toppling of Ukraine’s President? Also, were we fooled when the “mysterious” soldiers showed up without national markings and Russia said they weren’t their military–uh, where did they come from–did they float down from the heavens?

3) Apathetic – Are we just apathetic to Ukraine’s plight? Are they just a poor country of little strategic value to us? Are we so war weary from Iraq and Afghanistan that we just want to place our heads in the sand like ostriches even when democracy and freedom is threatened in a European nation of some 45 million people?

4) Fear – Are we afraid of the military might of the nuclear-armed Russian Federation? Is America, the European Union, NATO, the United Nations all not willing to stand up and hold Russia accountable even if that means a military confrontation? Not that anyone wants World War III, but if we don’t stand up and defend against wanton aggression, how can any country or anyone be safe going forward?

5) Optionless – Are we just out of options? Russia got the upper hand on this one and they are logistically right there on the border and in the country of Ukraine now and what can we do? Despite the U.S. assertion that it can project military power anywhere around the world and a defense budget bigger than the 10 next largest combined–how can we be out of options? Are we out of options because we tacitly understand that one wrong miscalculation and we could end up with WMD on our homeland doorstep?

6) Butter Over Guns – Have we retrenched from world affairs, downsized our military, and emphasized domestic issues over international ones? Have we forgotten the risk that comes from a world without a superpower that helps to maintain stability and peace? Are we just under so much financial duress with a growing mountain of national debt, a economic recovery still struggling, and the lowest employment participation in over 30 years that we can’t even entertain spending more treasure to fight again?

7) Leadership – Who is managing the crisis? We’ve seen our President speak, various other government officials from the U.S. and European Union, the Secretary General of the U.N., the Secretary General of NATO, and more? Who is in charge–setting the tone–deciding the strategy? Who has point so that we and Russia know who to listen to and what is just background noise?

What is so scary about this whole thing is how quickly things can escalate and seriously get out of control in this world, and this despite all the alliances, planning, and spending–at the end of the day, it looks like we are floundering and are in chaos, while Russia is advancing on multiples fronts in Ukraine and elsewhere with supporting dangerous regimes in Syria, Iran, North Korea and more.

Whether we should or shouldn’t get involved militarily, what is shocking is: 1) the very notion that there wouldn’t be any good military options, and 2) that the consequences are not being spelled out with speed and clarity.

In the streets, at the cafe, on the television, I am seeing and hearing people in shock at what is happening and what we are and are not doing about it.

Even if we get Russia to stop advancing (yes, based on what happened with Georgia, I doubt they will actually pull back out), the question is what happens the next time there is a conflict based on how we’ve managed this one?

I do want to mention one other thing, which is while I feel empathy for the plight of the Ukrainians seeking freedom from Russia now, I also must remember the events of Babi Yar where, between 1941-1944, 900,000 Jews were murdered in the Soviet Union by Nazi genocide and their Ukrainian collaborators. This is history, but no so long ago.

All opinions my own.

(Source Photo: here with attribution to Utenriksdept)

Black and White and Gray All Over

Black and White and Gray All Over

My trip to South Florida this week was full of juxtapositions and lessons for me as a person:

1) Attention and Inattention—There were 2 father-son pairs in this gorgeous infinity pool at the resort. One father and son (age maybe 3) were together—jumping, splashing, swimming, holding each other—it was really beautiful. The other father and son (maybe 4) in contrast had the kid standing alone in the pool trying clumsily to pull a pair of goggles over his face, while his inattentive father stood off to the side glued on his smartphone. The first kid was smiling ear-to-ear under the attentive and adoring eyes of his father, the second kid was clearly rejected and dejected.

2) Beach and Poverty—I visited the beach in Hollywood; we were told it had a great little boardwalk. When we got there at first, it seemed awesome with the sun and palm trees, music, eateries, skaters, and bicyclists, and more. But as we started walking and exploring, it quickly became apparent that this was the poor side of town. There were no high-rises here, no fancy cars, no eloquent shops, and sort of a menacing feeling overall. The contrast of the beautiful beach and boardwalk with the surrounding poverty left me feeling sort of confused about wanting to be there, but also wanting to leave.

3) Ocean and Starbucks—whenever, I come down to South Florida, I invariably end up thinking about finding a place down here. This time, I saw some options that were attractive for very different reasons. One place was an older building, nice and enticing with a direct ocean view. The view from the apartment was so amazing; it literally made my wife cry. But then we saw another condominium—this one brand new, about 15 minute walk from the ocean, but right over all the shopping, Starbucks, and conveniences. The first place had a million dollar view, but the second place was practical and we could see ourselves really living there.

4) Driving and Jolly–We took a trolley ride and the driver was obviously hard-working, but low paid. Yet he turned up the tunes and took us around town not just driving, but literally singing and sort of dancing to them too–waving his arms and smiling the whole time. It was great to see someone so spirited and happy in whatever they were doing in life.

As I get older, and hopefully wiser, I see more clearly that situations in life are not simple or “black and white,” but there are lots of complexities, choices, and grays.

Do you choose self or family, live where you like or where you can earn a good living, go for the view or for the convenience, bemoan what you don’t have or celebrate what you do? Lots of decisions in life—each choice has consequences, so choose carefully.

No one has it all—even if it looks like they do. 😉

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Learning IT Security By Consequences

This is a brilliant little video on IT Security.

What I like about it is that it doesn’t just tell you what not to do to stay safe, but rather it shows you the consequences of not doing the right things.

Whether you are letting someone into your office, allowing them borrow your badge, leaving your computer unsecured, posting your passwords, and more–this short animated video shows you how these vulnerabilities will be exploited.

It is also effective how they show “Larry” doing these security no-no’s with signs everywhere saying don’t do this.

Finally, the video does a nice job summing up key points at the end to reinforce what you learned.

I think that while this is simpler than many longer and more detailed security videos that I have seen, in a way it is more successful in delivering the message in a practical, down-to-earth approach that anyone can quickly learn core basic practices from.

Moreover, this video could be expanded to teach additional useful IT security tips, such as password strengthening, social engineering, and much more.

I believe that even Larry, the unsuspecting office guy, can learn his lesson here. 😉

(Note: This is not an endorsement of any product or service.)