30 September 2010

Terrorists, Anarchists and Quakers, Oh My !

The recent revelations that the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania paid a company known as the Institute of Terrorism Research and Response for weekly terror briefings has been alternately comical and worrying. On one side, our esteemed Governor Ed Rendell was full of righteous indignation when he learned that over $ 100,000 in taxpayer money was paid for reports that targeted Pennsylvania citizens- everyone ranging from anarchists to tea party members in an operation that was so wide ranging that nobody can really accuse them of playing favorites. As I’ve said before, I really admire the Gov and his ability to spin absolutely any situation to his advantage- brushing aside the fact that it was his administration that hired the company in the first place, he promised that their contract would be immediately broken (leaving out the fact that it was a one year contract due to expire in October anyway.)

This is a perfect example of one of my earlier posts which highlighted the outsourcing of intelligence by the government to private companies. Why spy on your own citizens when you can pay your fellow citizens to do it for you ? Some information on the company suggests that employees posed in chat rooms to gain information on assorted miscreants in Pennsylvania and passed this information on to law enforcement. It's all so very East Germany circa 1975.

If you have some time on a rainy Saturday afternoon, you can read all of the reports in their glory here. I have to say that I read quite a few of them, and even as a former Army intelligence analyst I’m really not sure exactly what the hell is going on. One of my favorites cites a threat by Al Qaeda to use hot air balloons in IED attacks overseas while noting how balloons are poorly secured around the U.S.- the large lake between the source and the target might be a slight obstacle one would think. Other reports mention such totally bad ass, militant organizations like the Quakers. Another one of my favorites involves potential reaction to the Arizona immigration debate spilling into the Pirates-Diamondbacks game at PNC. This completely breaks the rule of intelligence regarding knowledge of your area- nobody goes to Pirate games anymore.

I don’t know if this company is actually employing a whole cadre of analysts (their website and reports even hint at intercepted communications, translation and "closed" intelligence sources) or a couple of guys hitting Google all day long and selling their product to gullible idiots like the ones running our state. I’m amused by the response by those who take positions contrary to the popular ones in our state and feel like they are being targeted- hey, welcome to my life. They seemed shocked and genuinely hurt that our state government would employ a company to spy on them, pay them and then run the other way when the whole operation was exposed. It was all fun and games until Leviathan actually hit back, wasn't it ?

The only genuine hurt I felt was after I read all the reports and realized I never appeared in them.

Not even once.


29 September 2010

First Game- Consol Energy Arena

My first game experience at Consol Energy Arena last evening was an enjoyable one. I met up with my brother at Cafe Fifth Avenue which is about a 9 iron shot away from the new arena and had a couple of beers and some wings. Cafe Fifth, like our other favorite pre-game haunt Souper Bowl, won the jackpot when the new arena was built literally accross the street from them. If you're travelling from out of town, I highly recommend both places but be sure to get there early if you want a seat. I've never seen any problems with fans from other cities except for one Caps fan that hurled all over the Souper Bowl bathroom before a Sunday afternoon game a couple of years back.

Heading up 5th Ave. towards the arena-

Up the escalators. Amazing how much more open these are. The old ones at Mellon Arena felt like you were going up to the 2nd floor in your grandma's house.

Malkin scores the opener, view from our seats in 116. Crosby sat out but it was a good chance to see some of the younger guys. My favorite, Goligoski, was out there and looked very sharp carrying the puck through the neutral zone. Kane played for the Hawks, as did Brian Campbell (another favorite) and big John Scott- they show Scott at 6'8" on the roster, he looked like 7'8" on skates.

One strange new twist to the Pens is the introduction of a group of youngsters that have the job of entertainment and ice crew. I don't know if Mario is trying to scrimp on costs because of the new arena, and is trying to consolidate expenses, but both of these roles used to be clearly defined- one group consisted of young hotties who pranced around the arena, the other was made up of grizzled guys who trundled out onto the ice during breaks to clean up around the crease. Unlike the old ice crews that wore shoes with ice cleats, these kids were wearing skates and skated out onto the ice with shovels and buckets. The big difference was that the old ice crew did their job quickly and efficiently. The new ice crew was an outright cluster fuck.

Here is my pic of the "ice crew" coming off-

I'm going to make a prediction here- this venture, no doubt dreamed up by somebody on the Penguin's marketing staff, is going to get the hook in about 2 more games. First, one of the blond girls (who apparently has a twin that was out there with her- eliciting comments from my brother that will go unpublished) nearly ran into Hawks goalie Alec Richards with her shovel. Richards gamely skated out of her way without smacking her with his stick but had to be wondering what perverted sequel to "Slap Shot" he had skated into. Second, and more ominously, I saw some pretty scolding looks from the linesmen and ref which roughly translated as "get your ass off the ice you are holding things up." Since it was a pre-season game, I can sort of see this sliding by- come regular season, I wouldn't be surprised if its being discussed in Toronto.

27 September 2010

I'm in a Maine State of Mind

Rush hour commuting is always painful, especially on Mondays, and particularly awful on rainy Monday mornings. I boarded the train this morning with a dozen of my fellow wage slaves for the slog into Pittsburgh, downtrodden commuters pushing ear buds in, burying their faces in their papers and steeling themselves for another day at work. I was particularly depressed because although I was commuting to work in Pittsburgh, I was deeply in a Maine State of mind.

You see, less than 48 hours earlier I had been sitting on the edge of the pond where our family home is located, enjoying sunsets such as the one I snapped to the left. Days were spent working on the house, and getting it ready for winter, but you really can't call it work when the loons were singing, ducks were quacking and a large golden eagle meandered down the lake looking for something to eat. Throw in a lovesick bull moose calling forlornly for a girlfriend, and it was a relaxing week to say the least. No cell phone reception, no phone in fact, no television or internet- just a quietly burning fire, the gentle lapping of the waves on the shore and the haunting cries of the resident loons. I gamely took a bag of books to read, and ended up reading none of them because I was in bed asleep around 8 pm every night. Up early for breakfast and then endless, but enjoyable, hours of scraping old paint, adding new and getting the plumbing system drained and ready for the brutal Maine winter to come.

I felt sorry for my fellow passengers this morning. At least I have such a place to reset my soul once in awhile. The deep quiet of the north woods makes you realize just how completely we complicate our lives with 24 x 7 cable news, I Phones and all of the other accoutrement's of life today. It is a good thing to unplug and enjoy the simple joys of a sunny day, the incredible colors of autumn (which is a good month ahead in Maine,) a quiet paddle in a canoe and the entertainment provided by the local wildlife. I browsed through the pictures on my phone repeatedly with a smile on my face, completely oblivious that we were nearing my stop. I quietly packed up my gear and headed out into the madness of the city streets.