Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Day After

click for a larger image
The Day After © 2008 John Clifford

In yet another sign of global warming (or is Al Gore visiting Seattle?), we here in the Pacific Northwest have been hit by more cold weather. A freakishly cold (for Seattle) wave has hit us, resulting in below-freezing temperatures and snow. We had about a foot of snow late Wednesday evening into Thursday, and according to the weatherman we'll get another foot or so dumped on us later today and tomorrow. Oh, joy.

I awoke early this morning, intending to go out to the Golf Course at Newcastle to try and get a winter version of a previous image, but it wasn't happening. There was a low layer of scud across the city and the Olympic Mountains were barely visible in the distance. I decided to try and get a good image of Bellevue, the largest suburb of Seattle and a major city in its own right. Not as easy as it seems, though, because although you can get glimpses of Bellevue's skyline from many different areas, it's difficult to find an unobstructed view. I even went by the local Lexus dealership, on a brand-new building just east of I-405, the north-south 'bypass' freeway that splits Bellevue down the middle, and managed to get access to their rooftop... but I couldn't get the image I wanted there. On the way home I happened across a spot behind some industrial buildings, and on an impulse decided to grab the camera and tripod. As you can see, it worked pretty well. Unfortunately, what you can't see is the full-sized image... it's almost 77 MP and a full-size print @ 240 dpi will be around 20" x 60" with great detail. Almost like being there....

The sub-freezing weather is supposed to stick around for most of next week, giving us a White Christmas. Thankfully, unlike the usual result of winter storms here in western Washington, we haven't lost power... yet. The approaching storm is forecast to have high winds, though, so we're not home-free. Time to get the axe sharpened!

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Mt St Helens, Post-Apocalypse

Click to see a larger viewApocalypse Now - 4-image panorama taken with a Fuji F30, stitched using Hugin/Pano Tools, post-processed in Adobe PS Elements

I took this picture in the fall of 2006, at an overlook on 504 just over a mile due west of Coldwater Lake. Here's where I took the photo (see the map centered on the overlook).

My first visit to Mt St Helens was in the late spring of 1992. I had purchased a '91 Corvette convertible earlier in the year and had driven around Mt Rainier, enjoying the day, when I came to the sign off of Hwy 12 that said "Mt St Helens" and decided to go take a look. I followed the road south through the trees as it rose above the valley floor, and then as I crossed a ridge the trees disappeared. To be more exact, I left the green forest and came to an area where there were trees... blown down like the hand of God had swept them away from the volcano. Of course, there was no sign of life, the ground was grey and desolate. I followed the road up to the Windy Ridge viewpoint, where the pavement ended, and got out to look at the open crater that gaped at me from less than four miles away. To say the sight was awful is to use 'awful' in its original sense... one is filled with a sense of absolute awe at the devastation. Looking left and right, there are tens upon tens of thousands of dead trees, stripped of their limbs by the blast, the fallen trunks pointing outward from the crater. Spirit Lake, below, has a raft of logs covering a large portion of the surface.

I went to Windy Ridge once more, back around 2003, and happened to get there near sunset on a summer day. It was just myself and my sister, visiting from London, and she was as awestruck as I was. Even though it had been more than a decade since my last visit, not much had changed, in terms of nature restoring itself.

The picture above was taken after an abortive trip to Castle Lake (you can see the lake to the left of the volcano). To get there, you have to drive 20 miles off of the nearest paved road, and that puts you on a ridge about 2,000 feet above the lake. Going straight down is very steep with knee-high scrub. I tried to go there on a Saturday afternoon, got down to the end of the pavement just before sunset, and ended up getting lost and turned around in the middle of the night so I slept in my truck. I woke up at dawn Sunday to hear the sound of bugling elk. With daylight the chance to actually see where I was, I was able to deal with locked gates and finally made it to the ridge above the lake around noon... too late to hike down and fish.

I haven't had the chance to go back, but plan to go back in 2009. It will be a 3-day trip, and I'll bring a friend and my tri-band HT (ham radio). Cell phones don't work out there, and it's big country... a broken leg without a way to call for help would most likely mean death.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Lessons Learned: Terrorists At The Train Station

Azam Amir Kasab, the only one of the ten terrorists to be taken alive, in the main Mumbai railway station (Sebastian D'souza/AP - fair use)

In an armed encounter, the opportunity to end things early and go home often occurs... but all too often isn't acted upon.

Take a look at the 1:30 video above, or right-click here for a separate window, taken by CCTV cameras at the Mumbai train station at the beginning of the terrorist attacks. Note the two Indian Police (IP)officers to the lower right of the screen, one with a Lee-Enfield battle rifle. The terrorists first appear around 11 seconds into the video, and the police duck into a hallway to the right. The police appear again around 18 seconds and the terrorists shoot at them, the shots going high (note the dust from bullet impacts in the window above the entranceway frame). Note how one policeman actually tries to shoot the terrorist but evidently misses! He ducks back into cover, where they stay while the terrorists shoot some more and then move off out of view of the camera. The rest of the video shows them moving on to a restaurant section and opening fire on unarmed people who flee in terror through the kitchen. Several dozen innocents were killed by the terrorists until they were taken out (one killed, one wounded and captured) by responding IP and Army personnel, after a considerable delay.

The IP shown in this video had a perfect opportunity to end this incident within the first 30 seconds... yet they failed to act. Why? The IP have complained about being outgunned, but as the video shows, firepower wasn't the issue, and neither was bravery (although common sense might have been lacking in that the IP in the video evidently were in a state of disbelief until they were shot at). Instead, as the video shows, the IP we see had absolutely no clue as to what to do.

I'm not faulting the individual IP here; panic and general cluelessness is the untrained person's natural reaction to a deadly force situation. The stress is tremendous, adrenaline is pumping and the fight or flight reflex is fully engaged... and flight is the rational choice as opposed to a futile effort of resistance that only results in one's death.

Why did this happen? I assume that because India has very low rates of gun-related crime, and because Mumbai is over a thousand miles from the Punjab, the threat of terrorism was seen as very low. Additionally, India has inherited its philosophy of law enforcement from its British colonizers, where the gun is seen as a symbol of the authority of the state to use force instead of as a tool to enforce compliance. Therefore, there is no perceived benefit to train the IP beyond a minimal competency to ensure there are no accidents. The IP plan was more along the lines of, "This is India where Hindus are non-violent. We don't need a plan." So, what you have is a police force that has all of the drawbacks of being armed, and none of the benefits. The result is shown on the video.

What the video also shows is the lack of training among the terrorists, and how aggressiveness and motivation count for a lot. Again, this is the same sort of recklessness we saw in Iraq, where several Fedayeen (literally, 'self-sacrificers') would cram into a Fiat and charge a US armored column... and get shredded. Brave, but suicidal, because prepared and planned aggressiveness beats reckless aggressiveness. Of course, if your opponent hasn't prepared or planned....

What if this had happened in America? In New York? We all know that the police would come running, guns out, and quickly (maybe a little messily) end this. The Transit Authority police would have handled the two shooters at the subway station, and the Emergency Services Unit (NYPD's SWAT team), joined by their federal counterparts (since terrorism is a federal crime), would have gone in and cleaned out the terrorists. Would innocents have died? Yes... because the attackers seize the initiative. But not as many.

What if this happened in your hometown?

Bad guys always have the initiative. The lesson learned here is, Have A Plan. In the video above, if the IP with the rifle had shown the initiative to merely aimed and fired it at a terrorist 50 feet away he would have killed the terrorist, and doubled his own odds of getting the next one. What if two IPs had worked together, from opposite sides of the station, communicating by radio, and caught the remaining terrorist between them? One of them would have gotten a shot, and the second terrorist would be down. End of story.

Here in America, many states have recognized our right to keep and bear arms by providing for hassle-free concealed carry. How many people reading this have a concealed-carry license? Of those, how many actually carry? Of those, how many practice with their carry weapon and have a minimal level of competency? Of those, how many have taken armed self-defense training? Of those, how many have actually thought about what they would do when confronted with a deadly force situation such as terrorists opening up in the local mall or subway station?

Have. A. Plan.

See earlier articles in this series under the 'Lessons Learned' topic...