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Archive for November, 2010

Privatizing the TSA?

Congressman John Mica (R-FL) is proposing we (the United States) should privatize the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) because he claims private industry does a statistically better job of inspecting than the predominantly government run TSA and because private industry can do it (inspecting and providing security) cheaper.
Let’s start off with a few general observations: first, pre-9/11, safety and inspections were done by private industry and PAID for by private industry (and ultimately by the flying public).  Second, safety and inspections were vastly uneven in quality.  You got uneven security treatment between small, medium, large and ultra-large airports.  You got uneven treatment within the same airport – depending on the cost of labor in the area and the hour of day and the number of passengers being processed.  Many times the inspectors you got were recent immigrants who spoke limited English and who were not US citizens.  This is what happens when you pay market rates for minimally skilled and minimally trained employees.  I’m not saying the inspectors with language issues or non-citizens were necessarily “bad” employees or terrorist sympathizers.  All I am saying is the airports and airlines were not paying top dollar to get the finest staff money can buy.  I am also not saying the TSA is currently hiring the best employees money can buy.
One result of the old system was, unfortunately, 9/11.
When 9/11 happened, what did the the airline industry say?  We can’t be responsible for having a standard of performance across the board at all airports because it’s too expensive.  If that is something “the country” wants, the government will have to take over the hiring, training, and (most importantly) paying for this “suddenly” competent (US citizens and English speaking) staff.  Besides, they claimed, we’re already almost bankrupt from all of our competition (since deregulation) and sudden loss of confidence by the public in our ability to get them somewhere safely.
Now, of course, nine years later, the situation is vastly different!  The airlines are making money hand over fist (oh, wait, they aren’t).  The American public is more interested in protecting their bodies from being irradiated and / or patted than they are in getting to their destination alive (oh, wait, that’s not true either).  The TSA workforce can now be unionized, because we don’t have an openly anti-union President (oh, wait, that is true).  Government employees make more money than private sector employees, and do less to earn it (tell that to the active duty service men and women who make anywhere from one-quarter to one-tenth of what the contracted “security” forces make).  Private sector employees do a better job than public sector employees (why hasn’t Mr. Mica offered what is meant by “statistically better job”.  Is it 1% better?  5%?  30%?  And what kinds of inspection are they statistically better at?  Personal searches?  Baggage? Carry on?  Freight?)  Private sector employees work for less so they’re more efficient (well, that kind of assumes they do the same type and level of job, AND have the same training and skills set).  Somebody, please, remind me why was TSA created in the first place?  Oh, yeah, because the private sector couldn’t be expected to do the same job at any price as the government.
I’ll believe John Mica really wants to increase security at lower cost and reduce government when he calls for the airline and transportation industries to pay for their own security and stop expecting the American taxpayer to foot the bill.  (The way it used to be!)
So, if this really isn’t about safety or wages, what is Congressman Mica really upset about?  UNIONS!!  The evil unions which are choking the American free enterprise system – that’s what!!
Approximately 7.2% of the private sector are union workers.  That’s fewer than 1 in 10.   That’s about 7.4 million workers in the private sector.  Yes, clearly one can see how the overwhelming strength of a unionized American workforce is crushing the life out of the free enterprise system!!
Now the TSA has about 65,000 employees.  Obviously, some of those will be non-union — supervisors, managers and executives, but let’s assume the TSA is 100% union.  Letting TSA stay in the public workforce will swell the unionized public work force up from about 7.9 million to about 7.965 million!!  (Okay, let’s round that up to an even 8 million.)  That’s almost 38% of ALL public sector employees in a union!!  Surely, everyone can see the obvious danger to the Republic of having the unionized public sector workforce jump from 37.4% of all government employees up to a staggering 38% of all government employees!!   (“Please stop calling me Shirley!” – Leslie Nielsen, RIP — Sorry, I couldn’t resist…KMAB)
So, if it’s not about transportation safety or wages, and it’s really NOT about unions — then what is this really all about.  Well, I’m sorry to say, but it’s about basic emotional fear.  FEAR!!  The private sector employee has been driven like cattle to the cliff.  “Stay in line, keep your head down, work harder, be satisfied with whatever your current wages are (because at least you’ve got a job)…”   And now it’s the turn of the public sector employee to feel the threat.  FEAR!!!  You could be unemployed like 10% of the rest of your fellow citizens.  FEAR!!!  You could be underemployed and / or underpaid like a far larger percentage of American workers!  FEAR!!  You could get furloughed or have your pay reduced – like a substantial number of state and local government employees already have been.  FEAR!!
Get used to it America!!  The Republicans have taken back the House of Representatives in the last election.  Just wait until the lame-duck session is over and the Republican majority actually get control of the purse strings.  Oh, I’m sorry.  Did you think the President controlled the government budget and was responsible for how it’s allocated?  You’d better go back and read the Constitution!  You remember, that funny little piece of parchment the Tea Baggers and Republics want us to stick to ABSOLUTELY.
The funny thing is – I’m not a Republican, but I honestly do believe in limited government.  I do not, however, believe the TSA should be privatized.  I believe it should be all but eliminated.  The proper role of the TSA is to regulate the transportation security industry to make sure it provides safe transportation of people and goods around the country.  The TSA should not be checking people or bags.  They should be setting the quality standards for the security industry which does these things and the industry should be paid for by the people and companies which use transportation – be it air, train, bus or ship.  The American taxpayer should not be paying for the security of private industry!  The consumers of the services should be.  Based on the number of auditors to actual workers in any business, I would bet the TSA could be one-fiftieth of its current size if this was its role.
How’s that for limited government?
Actually, this is ALL about socialized (taxpayer) payment for transportation security so private industry doesn’t have to pay for it.  It’s also ALL about keeping American workers (public and private) out of unions.  And, it’s mostly ALL about FEAR.
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Last Thursday was Thanksgiving.  We collected Mom and drove down to have dinner with my sister’s family.  I got to talking about the different jobs I’ve had with my nephew (Patrice, who’s attending Harvard Law) and it got me thinking back about options, choices, paths not taken and fading memories.  Later, I heard an old favorite song of mine by Garth Brooks titled: “Every Now And Then“.
If Robert Frost is correct and the paths we choose to take make all the difference in the world (see “A Road Not Taken“), then I imagine lost loves make up a big part of the difference.  I’ve added the link to the lyrics to my poems page.  As usual, read the lyrics and then go find the song – the words, the imagery, the music – are haunting.
On a lighter note, as usual, after eating, we sat around and played team Jeopardy.  Neither team did very well.  Art’s team (Bec and Sarah) won, but mostly because they had a whole category they killed on – nicknames for musicians.  We fared about even on most of the other categories.  Playing Jeopardy always reminds me how uneven my own education is.  I know very little about the Arts – literature, art/paintings, music, etc.  I always tell myself I’ll spend more time on broadening my education, but I’m afraid I’m very much a creature of habit – in reading as much as in everything else.  Well, some time ago, I bought “An Incomplete Education“.   It’s a book dedicated to teaching / reminding / exposing its readers to a broad range of liberal education.  The topics include US history, world history, Art, Literature, Economics, Psychology, Science, Religion, and Philosophy – pretty much all the stuff I should have learned about from Grammar school through University (but never did).  The book is only 700 odd pages, so it obviously can’t get too deep into any single topic, but I’m hoping it will whet my appetite to go back to school to gain more depth.
Today I read the first 70 pages – mostly about US history – poets, literature, political parties and historic scandals, and, finally, important Supreme Court decisions.  To tell the truth,  other than the political parties and Supreme Court cases, it was a dreadful bore.  Even the few paragraphs on Frost were not particularly interesting.  I’m surprised because I like his poems, but didn’t find Frost himself interesting.
I guess when I’m done with the book I’ll have to re-evaluate the plan.  Reading the Percy Jackson (Greek mythology) series was vastly more interesting.  At least that series prompted me to Wiki some of the characters and stories to learn more about the real Greek myths.   The funny thing is, it’s not really the writing style of the authors, which is, in turn, straight-forward, sarcastic, ironic, humorous, pithy, and seems well organized.  I’m just not finding the ideas from the people they are covering to be particularly of interest.  Quite discouraging actually!  Still, I’ll plod through, gleaning what I can…
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How can you tell if you should be voting Democrat or Republican:
Vote Republican if you hire exterminators to kill bugs in your house.
Vote Democrat if you step on the bugs.
Vote Democrat if you buy books which have been banned somewhere.
Vote Republican if you form censorship committees and read the books as a group.
Vote Democrat if you eat the fish and game you catch or hunt.
Vote Republican if you hang them on a wall.
Vote Republican if you keep your bedroom shades drawn (although there is little reason you need to).
Vote Democrat if you ought to but don’t.
  —  From “An Incomplete Education“, by Judy Jones and William Wilson
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Yesterday, I completed the fourth of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series: “The Battle of the Labyrinth“, (2008©), and today I completed the fifth and final book in the series: “The Last Olympian“, (2009©), both written by Rick Riordan.   The series is centered around a coming of age story for the title character.  It is also a retelling of Greek Mythology and a classic story of the conflict between good and evil; temptation, human weakness, and redemption.
Despite the fact the series are obviously targeted for a younger audience (I’d say 8 to 15 year olds), I found the series to be a terrific and thoroughly enjoyable series.  The story builds with each adventure and the ultimate resolution is both emotionally touching and dramatically satisfying.  By this I mean over the series you’ve built up an emotional connection with the main characters and the heroism and sacrifice are quite touching.  At least, they touched me.  The drama is also played out well.  There are a number of twists and turns which were not predictable (to me) and therefore – unlike many mythic tales – the ending was satisfying.  I would say it is wrapped up almost too well.
My son, James, who recommended the series to me, says there are no new books in the series, but some of the characters appear as minor characters in off-shoot series.  Anyway, I highly recommend the series!
I believe I will now go on to read more serious treatments of Greek mythology, in specific, and mythology, in general.  I found the characters names and character types to be common themes in modern culture – which has surprised me.  I am particularly amused by the heavy use of mythology in the “Matrix” trilogy and I will want to re-watch the series to see if the mythology was predictive of the movie / series action or if the movie makers were simply adopting names from Greek mythology.  I’ve always simply viewed the movies as science-fiction, not as a re-working of classic Greek mythology.
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In the state of nature there is no property, no justice or injustice, only war.  And such a war as is of every man against every man.  Force and fraud in war are the two cardinal virtues.  Men are forced to co-operate by reasons of pure selfishness.  Law and morality are no more than organized violence.  The dominant urge of man is self-preservation, manifested primarily as fear, continual fear and danger of violent death; and the life of man solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.
  —  Thomas Hobbes
From: “The Leviathan
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Philosophy is written in that great book, the universe, which stands continually open to our gaze.  But the book cannot be understood unless one first learns the language and can decipher the letters of which it is composed.  It is written in the language of mathematics, and its characters are triangles, circles, and other geometric figures without which it is humanly impossible to understand a single word of it; without these, one strays as in a darkened maze.
  —  Galileo Galilei
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Loosely translates from the Latin, “Of all humans, there is no greater intellect”.
This is the inscription at the base of the statue of Isaac Newton at Trinity College, Cambridge, England.
Today I read “Introducing Newton“, written by William Rankin, (1993©).  The book is basically a dummies guide to Newton.  That doesn’t make it – or him – any less interesting.  It merely describes the level of the book’s content.
Let’s see: invents calculus (check), invents optics (check), redefines the study of physics (check), innovates astronomical dating (check), explains – tides, elliptical orbits and the earth tilting (check, check and check).  And in his spare time investigates God, the divinity of Christ and predicts the end of the world based on the study of religious texts.  Yup, sounds like a full life to me.  Oh, I forgot to mention he was mostly self-taught in math and science.
I guess the closest thing I can find on this side of the pond is our Thomas Jefferson and I’m pretty sure Tom suffers by the comparison.  Anyway, the book is very brief and offers a very readable story explaining the history of science and physics.  I recommend it as a primer to further reading on Newton.  I will look for more myself…  I only wish I had the math skills to more fully appreciate Newton’s work in the original.
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Today I took my daughter Sarah to see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part 1).  It was Sarah’s second viewing.  She went to the midnight showing on Thursday night / Friday morning in full HP garb.
Obviously, we both enjoyed it.  I would definitely not take children under 10 years old as it is dark and (potentially) frightening for someone that young.  I don’t think it’s particularly frightening for teens or adults.
As a HP reader and movie go-er, I would say the movie is a definite must-see.  I’d give a B+ to A-.  I will have to re-read the book to make sure, but I felt it was fairly close to the book.  I am not the fanatic Sarah is.  She felt there were scene’s which were different than she imagined them in the book.  As someone who’s seen several adaptations (not just HP), that’s fairly common and I can accept them as long as they don’t grossly change the story-line.  I did not feel this happened, in this movie anyway, so I’m okay with minor changes.
I was very pleasantly surprised by the actors.  It really feels like I’ve watched them grow up – in the characters and as actors playing the characters.  I think the big three have shown marked improvement in this episode.  Kudos.
As for criticisms, and they are minor, there are two chase scenes – one flying and one in the woods – which are meant to convey speed and action.  They are shot choppy and close, so you don’t really see much and I found the choppiness distracting instead of engaging.
The movie was supposed to be long.  I didn’t find it so.  I felt it ended at a good point (a high note in the action), but there was definitely no resolution and I’m disappointed I’ll now have to wait another six or seven months to see the conclusion.
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[The problem with succession planning systems in companies is:] …most existing systems fall short, in both evaluation and development, because they lack a framework for characterizing developmental assignments.  Without such a framework, it is problematic to make comparisons between high-potential individuals placed in dissimilar situations.  Succession planners also lack a way of describing — and thus managing — the sequence of positions through which high-potential leaders progress.
  —  Michael Watkins
From his book: “The First 90 Days
[In other words, jobs are different and people are different, so there is NO reliable way to “groom” high-potential individuals in any company, let alone in any field of endeavor.  Even the same job is different in a few years.  Even the same person is different with a little more age (and/or experience).  “Grooming” is actually advance rewarding of someone who might be able to do the job when it needs doing and when they are placed in the position of responsibility.  It is not a systematic way of preparing a number of potential candidates to see which rise to the occasion and become the great captains of industry.  Why it (succession planning, leadership development programs) is done is usually political, not based on rational selection or merit.  Unfortunately, it seems meritocracy is as big an illusion as security.
Not even the King can be sure his heir will be worthy of the throne (but at least the Queen can certify the Prince has passed the first test – legitimacy!)  —  KMAB]
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Today I finished Book Three of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series: “The Titan’s Curse“, by Rick Riordan (2007©).  Percy finds out that sometimes growing up can feel like you’ve got the weight of the world on your shoulders.
I’m continuing to read through the series at a pretty good pace now.  This is the third one in a little over a week.  They are quite good.  A fast read.  Entertaining.  Definitely a “youth” series, but still enjoyable for those of us who are young at heart.  I still highly recommend the series to anyone trying to get their young to early-teen-sons to read.
I am going to look forward to seeing the movie based on the first book now…
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Today, I finished Book Two of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series: “The Sea of Monsters“, written by Rick Riordan, (2006©).  This is the second of five (so far) in the Greek mythology books my son has been reading and he’s asked me to read.
The series is intended for youth, I’d estimate 7 to 15 year olds.  Having said this, I’m finding them very pleasurable reading.  They are very fast reads.  You can gain a great amount of knowledge about mythology, story telling, western civilization, and vocabulary by reading “children’s” books.
This second book is about saving a friend, meeting a relative and Cyclopes.  Unfortunately, saying much more would be telling and spoil the fun of reading the book – so I won’t.  I will say if you have a son (or daughter) who you would like to spend time with – reading a fast paced, child-focused, action-adventure, hero-good guy story to – this series (and this book) are excellent choices.  Tantalizing…
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On Monday, 15 November 2010, I finished reading “The First 90 Days“, (2003©) by Michael Watkins.  The book is intended to offer ideas on how a person entering a management job can increase their chances to be successful in their new position by suggesting guidelines/strategies for the first ninety days in the job.  The premise is that if you start well, you’ll have a much easier time in the medium term (after the first 90 days) and the success will carry you through to your next job – when you’ll presumably have to re-read the book to refresh yourself on its tips.
My initial reaction to the book was extremely positive.  It does NOT offer a lot of new ideas, but it does present a lot of ideas in an organized manner.  The tone is a bit stuffy and formal (academic) and the short chapter intro “case studies” are simplistic (if not trite).  The book is really also geared to larger companies and more senior middle-management positions, although it tries to imply it is useful at all levels in all types of businesses.  I guess, maybe it is useful but I don’t think anybody above second level supervisor would get much out of it – except maybe as an instruction tool for helping junior supervisors to think about being mid-level managers.
For me, the meat of the book is in the introduction.  The first interesting idea is the concept of a breakeven point: basically, a new person has about three-and-a-half-months to begin adding value or they will be seen as “unsuccessful”.  It takes an additional three months before you reach the breakeven point.  Presumably, the longer it takes you to reach the “add value” point, the longer it will take you to reach the “break even” point.  The author never really explains this or even if it true from his experience.  This 90 day period is interesting to me because, in my own personal experience, IT projects which cannot be projected as completed within 90 days of starting are generally failures – or at least, weak and limping-along “successes”.  I have always attributed this to a failure of attention span by project members.  It seems as if there may be a deeper, psychological factor.  The 90 day and 6 month dates come from the author’s experience and from polls of senior executives.
A second interesting statement is the “average” rising star stays in their position about two-and-one-half-years.  “Regular” managers tend to be in a given position 4 to 5 years.  This means you have 90 days to begin adding value, about 24 months to add value, and then 90 days to find and transfer to your new job.  Of course this assumes you can “find” the new job in the window for stardom.  It strikes me as strange that most industries have an annual business cycle, but they seem to be able to recognize a great manager in less than one half of an annual cycle.  Presumably, stars are able to master their current job in less than two cycles.  I would find this extremely improbable.  This should lead to the question of what is it that actually makes / gets rising stars promoted so much faster than average managers.  The author acknowledges there are stars, but doesn’t make any effort to explain their exceptionalism.
Unfortunately, the author doesn’t go into the things I found the most interesting in the introduction.  The book does go into the what to do and what to think about a lot, though – and this is its strength.  If you are looking for this type of guidance, and most new supervisors and managers ARE, this book will be very useful.  If you are looking for a how-to-do something, again, I think it falls down a bit.  In fairness to the author, the book would have to be several times thicker if it tried to do how-to as well as what-to, because then he would also need to add why-to.  And the volume becomes an encyclopedia…
All in all, I still highly recommend this book.  It offers a lot and what’s offered is reasonably well organized.
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One weekend each year, the Knights of Columbus give away Tootsie-Rolls at local stores and collect funds for local charities.  This was the weekend for my chapter and today was the day I agreed to give two hours of my day to this worthy cause.  Hilary (my wife) agreed to keep me company.

Together, we stood outside our local Safeway store (on Willow Pass Road in Concord, CA) and gave away candy.  There is no obligation to give to receive the candy.  We are NOT selling the Tootsie-Rolls, and we make no mention of any obligation to give.  If a passer-by chooses to give, we thank them.  If they don’t, we still wish them a good day and offer a smile.

The variety of folks who come by (some give and some don’t) and the generosity of those who are able to give (and do) continues to surprise me.   God bless you all…  Those who gave us funds AND those who only gave us smiles.

Below are a couple of snapshots of Hil giving away the Tootsie-Rolls…

There are thousands of worthy causes in your local community.  Find one that matters to you.  If you have the funds, donate.  If all you have is time, share it.  Find a problem (big or small) and be a part of the solution…

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Today, Hil and I drove down to Merced, CA to watch our youngest daughter (Sarah) participate in her final Concord High School Marching Band competition.  They still have two more performances in December, but those will not be “judged” competitions. 
 

Sarah plays the flute in the Marching Band and Cymbals in the Percussion Line. 
 

This is Sarah’s fourth and final year in Band and the following photos are just a few from this trip and from the Santa Cruz Band Review (back in Oct. 2010).  Also included are a couple of photos showing the Band Moms helping to get the students ready for the competition.  The dedication of some of the Band Moms to their kids and to the Band / Music program is really something to watch (and experience.)
 

Enjoy…  (And please support Music and the Arts in your schools!!!)
 

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We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty.  We must remember always that accusation is not proof and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law.  We will not walk in fear, one of another.  We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men.
  —  Edward R. Murrow
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