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By Tom Demerly and Jan Mack for tomdemerly.com

An elderly man and woman driving eastbound on Hines Drive under Telegraph Road in Dearborn Heights were rescued from serious injury or worse after a crash and vehicle fire on Wednesday, June 14, at approximately 5:15 PM by passing cyclists Nate Nalder, 41, of Dearborn, Michigan and friend Dave Taylor.

Nalder, an experienced road cyclist who frequently trains along Hines Drive, told us, “Dave Taylor and I were riding down Hines, going west. Just after we passed under Telegraph we saw a white, late model Ford Fusion driving across the lawn on the other side of the walking path. It was moving fast across the grass, maybe 45-50 MPH. It came back toward Hines, we heard a loud ‘boom’ and the car rolled three times.”

An unidentified male was driving the vehicle with a female in the passenger seat. The occupants of the vehicle were described as “elderly”. According to witnesses at the scene of the accident, a medical incident may have affected the driver. The cause of the accident has not been officially determined.

When cyclist Nate Nalder saw the accident happen he turned back toward the place where the vehicle came to rest. “I hurried and checked the traffic real quick and rode back to the car and dropped my bike and ran there to the driver’s side and pounded on the window.”

Nalder was attempting rescue from the driver’s side door, but heard a voice from the passenger side shout, “Help me, I’m trapped, get me out of here.”

The airbags in the vehicle had deployed and the interior filling with smoke. The vehicle began burning shortly after it came to rest.

“I said, ‘We got to get them out of here!’ said Nalder, directing rescue efforts of bystanders.  “I did not know the extent of his injuries so I asked him to undo his own seatbelt to kind of assess his condition. Myself and two others guys helped him out and walked him over and set him down.”

As the fire spread, and without regard for his personal safety, Nalder returned to the burning vehicle to recover the female passenger and move her to a safe distance. Another cyclist had arrived on the scene to assist Nate Nalder and Dave Taylor in the rescue. A passing motorist had stopped on the scene and phoned 911 for assistance.

It is possible that, because of the age of the vehicle occupants and the possible medical condition of the driver, the swift selfless actions of Nate Nalder and Dave Taylor at the scene prevented more serious injury from the fire or fatalities as a result of the crash and fire.

According to the account Nalder heard from the passenger of the vehicle, who was transported from the scene by emergency personnel, the driver lost the ability to control the vehicle, possibly due to a medical incident. The passenger was able to grab the steering wheel but could not control the pedals because the driver’s legs were in the way. The passenger steered the vehicle off the road away from other cars but could not control the speed of the vehicle. It struck a pole and rolled several times.

Cyclist Nate Nalder, 41, of Dearborn, Michigan and friend Dave Taylor rescued motorists from a burning vehicle on Hines Drive on Wednesday.

When we asked cyclist Nate Nalder what made him decide to respond by pulling the victims from the burning car and how he had learned to respond to an accident situation he told us:

“When I was younger in high school I was riding in the back seat of a Jeep and came over a hill and accidentally hit a friend who was walking across the street. I just jumped out and helped. It was the automatic thing to do I guess. I grew up being a Boy Scout, doing a lot of lifeguarding classes and learning CPR. Just learning how to take care of a person when they are hurt. Something just said, ‘Get over there and do what you can to help because no one else was’ I was the first person to that car I guess.”

The quick, selfless actions of Nate Nalder and Dave Taylor at the accident scene almost certainly prevented further injury to the two vehicle occupants once the car began burning.

By Tom Demerly for tomdemerly.com


 It was like the beginning of a favorite new song. It began quietly, and you could barely hear it. The soft cooing of a distant sound, a trilling that seemed reassuring and comforting. The world was safe. Everything was all right. It was home and warm and nature surrounded our little neighborhood. I listened to it in bed, shushing my girlfriend with our heads on the pillows, “Listen!” I whispered. There was silence in the dark. Then the gentle spring breeze carried the rising song. “It’s an owl! Can you hear it?” She did. “That’s a good sign. They trap mice and are good for the environment and the neighborhood. He probably lives at the end of the block down by the park.”

We drifted off to sleep to his quiet, lilting song. It made for an easy transition to dreams of rolling, wooded hills filled with friendly owls building nests, cooing their gentle songs while sitting on tree branches as wise, powerful sentinels maintaining the delicate balance of nature.

The Eastern Screech Owl (Megascops asio) is a relatively common small owl species found throughout the Midwest and into Canada. It eats mice, rodents, and has adapted well to a suburban environment.

Owls are oddly social and friendly birds to humans. One very early morning a few years ago in Mission Viejo, California I saw an owl swoop down, glance off the windshield of an SUV driving in the early morning darkness, then drop into the street. I walked over to him, he appeared stunned in the middle of the street but otherwise, hopefully, OK. I spoke to him for a moment, asked him if he was OK. His feathery owl head pivoted to my voice. He looked confused, stunned. I scooped him up carefully in my arms, his soft feathers delicate to the feel.

I don’t know how to take care of an owl. I figured I would bring him home, get him a drink and make a little nest for him and take it from there. He was large, the size of a small cat, and very beautiful. He was also exceptionally well mannered, riding in my arms comfortably as if he knew I was trying to help.

In only a block of walking he had composed himself from the brush with calamity. He spread his wide wings carefully even as I held him, then gently lifted off with a downward flap and flew out of my arms. He did one circle over my head, as if to demonstrate he was fine and say thank you for the help, then he flew east up toward the mountains on the outskirts of town. Helping the owl felt like religion. It was like being visited, and blessed, from another world. A kinder, fairer world.

When I heard the owl outside our window here in Dearborn, Michigan I was elated. This is a great omen, a sign that our neighborhood is blessed and safe and well looked after. That things are in balance and that nature and mankind have arrived at a reasonable détente.

But then reality smashed home.

The quiet song disappeared. The owl was found in the street, his eyes barely open, standing on the ground. Confused, sick, in deep trouble.

A Good Samaritan named Jamie found the owl in the street a few days later around 10 PM. She said he was half dead. She picked him up, called the University of Michigan Emergency Veterinary Hospital. She was on the phone with them, getting instructions for how to save the owl as she held him in her arms. He opened his eyes once and she spoke to him as she held him. Then he closed his eyes.

They never opened again.

The owl in our neighborhood died because someone put out rat poison to try to control mice. But the problem with poison is it doesn’t know to only kill mice. It kills everything. The mouse eats the poison, the owl eats the mouse. The owl dies too. And we are left in a world without the owl’s song. It’s a world different than intended. A world that is ruled by our poison, literal and moral.

Using poison to control animals is wrong and immoral. We learned that in the 1950’s and ’60’s with DDT poisoning, and countless times since. It’s also ineffective and short-sighted. The owl was in charge of controlling rodent populations and did an effective job. He maintained a manageable balance of nature. When that is disrupted the results are always different than we imagine, and never better. But our human, insatiable need to control things drive these short-sighted and selfish decisions like using poison to kill a mouse.

You can buy things and you can build things. A fancy house, a yard that looks like a golf course. It proves you are rich and fancy. But you are driving a wedge into the world that pries things apart and ruins what was here before us and will hopefully return when we are gone. We are not better or smarter or stronger or more important. We’re temporary participants in a complex process. When we upset the process we spread suffering, not only to animals around us but to our own lives, often without even know it.

When I think of the most important events in my life, the most extraordinary, the most valuable and lasting they are not the day I bought a car or a house. I actually don’t remember much about those things. But I remember the owl in the street in California. I remember the song of the owl down the block. These things had value. They reminded me that I am part of something bigger and that, if I care for it, it will care for me.

But when the owl down the street went silent I suddenly felt very alone.

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By Tom Demerly for tomdemerly.com

This past Presidential election was one of the most divisive and closely contested in the past three decades. We’re still arguing about the outcome. It was set against a backdrop of new participant media. Everybody with social media has a voice of equal visual size, if not reach.

Because of this our closely contested and highly divisive election played out over the stage of social media. And now it feels like we’ve entered an era of rising hysteria.

Why?

From the printing press, the Manhattan Project, the Internet, stem cell research, and social media, we develop technology before we develop the ethics and conventions to employ it with moderation and reason. We just turn it loose, and hope for the best. We’re experiencing that now with social media and in politics.

We’ve entered an era of more polarized and less moderate opinion shared at louder volume than I’ve known in my 55-year lifetime, and maybe in the history of mankind. Author/philosopher Alan Watts once recounted a tour of the MIT campus where the vast and numerous science and engineering facilities were showcased with pride and grandeur, but when someone asked where the philosophy department was, the response was, “Oh, I think it is somewhere over by the library.”

Some of that may be good. But a lot of it isn’t. At least not yet.

There is an axiom that if you redistribute the collective monetary wealth of the planet equally between all people it will, over time, wind up right back with the people who originally had it, and away from those who didn’t.

But what if you equally distributed access to publishing media? To having a public voice? The same outcome might happen in contributory/social media, and for the same reasons. People may not use it responsibly and with reason. So, just as those who would not be good at managing monetary resources would fall victim to those who are, those who do not use communicational resources responsibly will stop getting listened to and lose their voice to those with more judicious use of media. But before they do lose their voice they raise the volume and frequency in one last, desperate attention grab.

We are at the leading edge of that redistribution of voice right now. Everyone has a voice now, and most people love using it, but aren’t quite sure what to say except that they should say something. And, in a new global room full of rising voices we continue to shout louder and louder to be heard above the rising din. And few people take the time to listen. I’m constantly reminded of that great axiom, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

The formerly mainstream news media is included in the rising number and volume of voices and opinions. In order to compete with Twitter feeds, Facebook posts, Snapchat, and Instagram attention grabbing, the formerly mainstream media has had to change to also grab attention. Much of that change isn’t for the better. That has influenced our own behavior, but mostly it has influenced theirs. For mainstream media now, it looks and reads like, the rules are, there are no rules.

So the shouting gets louder and louder, more and more frequent. And as the frequency increases the depth of insight seems to become shallower, more superficial. Sound bytes, YouTubes, hotlinks and infographics are batted back and forth in some new form of cyber argument that mimics a fast and loose version of the Greek forums, where debate raged between scholars in a public forum.

We’ve seen two examples of this in the ongoing, divisive political narrative. Some time ago an expired rock star, Ted Nugent, ignited rancor with radical right commentary that included inciting violence as a political tool. That’s wrong, no matter the political agenda. Every despot has proved that. More recently, an equally less relevant celebrity, Kathy Griffin, depicted the President’s decapitated head in a sensational lampoon that also suggested inciting violent response as a political tool, at least as commentary. That is also wrong.

Both are wrong. Both went too far. Both are a sensational attention grab for a waning career. And both sides argue some justification for each one’s bizarre and extreme political commentary. Both also illustrate our use- or misuse- of new access to media and our rising consumption of it.

One positive outcome has been the impetus to do more investigation into the media we see. That has been fascinating. It’s also helps shape opinions, hopefully to the more informed. And I’ll suggest a more informed opinion is likely to be more structurally sound.

Before the last presidential election I took an online survey that queries you on a long list of issues and, depending on your responses, prescribes who you should vote for. I got Bernie Sanders. I liked that, so I dug a little deeper into the ramifications of having Bernie Sanders as our President.

Voting for President is a little like going shopping without knowing any of the prices. The system tells you, “Pick out something nice, whatever you want.” But there are no prices and you may not even know how much you have to spend. You don’t get the bill until after you made it to the register. If you can’t afford what’s in your political shopping cart you either throw it on a charge card that has been maxed out since Nixon was President or you say, “The person in line behind me is paying.” Then they do that for the next person, and so on…

Increasingly, being in the middle seems to feel oddly isolated as the rising din to “pick a side” on social media gets louder and louder. It seems like the social media doctrine is to pick a side lock, stock and barrel- a political “Happy Meal” that includes a somewhat superficial acceptance of all or nothing from one side or the other. We only get a second to read, to decide, to respond. We may have learned something a long time ago in school, and we do remember part of that, so we quickly compare what we see to what we know and then we hit “post”. God forbid we should actually question, criticize, and inquire. And when we disagree, we need to be ready for the attempts to be shouted down.

I’m satisfied looking at the political and social landscape ala Carte though, and I’d like to know what it is I’m reading and where it came from- to the extent I can.

The outcome of this last election was about as wild a swing from one extreme to the other as you can get. The only way we could be farther from who we had as a former President would be to have elected an albino Margaret Thatcher with male reproductive organs. So things are pretty crazy right now.

The choice we have now is to make use of social media as a shield to paint our existing beliefs on and protect our entrenched views from the swords of new thinking, or as a mirror to reflect our own beliefs in the concern that we may have a big political booger hanging out of our nose.

I’m checking my own nose now. I suggest you do the same.

 

 

 

 

 

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By Tom Demerly.

NOTE: This story is fiction based on news accounts. It does not contain factual depictions of any events from official sources.

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10:17 Local (15:17 UTC), Monday, 7 October 2013, Administrative Offices, Triple Five Group, Mall of the Americas, Bloomington, Minnesota, United States.

Bob Davis felt a chill race up his spine and down his arms. He saw his hands tremble on the desk in front of him. His ironic sense of humor kicked in when he thought, “Well, Bob, that’s why they call it terror-ism.” He looked at the two men sitting across from him, their mouths moving, but he didn’t hear the words for a second. He forced himself to tune back in to their meeting despite a feeling that this couldn’t be real. It was like walking onto the pages of a Clancy novel.

“…Possibly V-IED’s in the parking lots, ah, that means vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices, a car or truck bomb, like Timothy McVeigh used on the Federal Building, if you recall… There could be some form of crude, locally produced chemical weapon; chlorine gas, something like that. Those have big shock value with the media. There definitely will be explosives and assault weapons used. They can source that equipment locally and may already have from gun shows around the Midwest. We have agents from the Bureau and the ATF at those shows. Even the NRA people have been helping us, but we can’t catch everything.”

Davis manages operations for the Mall of the Americas in Bloomington, Minnesota. Over the past eight years he has seen women give birth there, the most elaborate shoplifting schemes every devised (and busted), a ring of prostitutes operating in the mall and a coyote that somehow made its way inside the giant shopping center on a busy Saturday night. This was the first time he sat across his desk from two FBI agents getting briefed on plans for a possible Al Qaeda style suicide attack on his mall during Black Friday, the busiest shopping day of the year in the busiest mall in the United States.

Davis was being briefed by the FBI about possible terrorist attacks at the Mall of the Americas two days after a pair of U.S. special operations raids, one in Libya, and one in Somalia. Sixteen days earlier Al Shabaab militants attacked the Westlake Mall, a U.S. style shopping center in Nairobi, Kenya. The FBI men told Davis it was a miracle only 67 people were killed in the Africa mall attack. Based on the damage to the mall, they felt the toll would have been higher. “Westlake was a test run for Al Shabaab. It was training for them, a field exercise. They won’t make the same mistakes twice.”

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The two FBI agents pulled up a file on their tablet computer. “Our estimates of casualties here at Mall of the America in a Black Friday attack are between 400 and 800 killed.” Davis felt the grip of what an attack would mean. The country, the economy, Minnesota, his community, his tenants, his family, his job. He remembered the economic impact from the 9/11 attacks. He was 40 years old then, working for the Taubman Centers back in Michigan. They managed a large number of shopping malls around the U.S. The 9/11 terror attacks had gutted the company’s occupancy in the next five years when the economy tanked. And that hadn’t been a direct attack on a U.S. shopping center. What the FBI agents were describing to Davis now could sink the shopping mall industry in the United States.

“The real damage, though,” Continued the larger agent with the iPad, “will be the broader economic impact on U.S. business. Retail for the holiday season would be destroyed. Even the e-commerce guys, like Amazon.com, would take a hit since people would not only be afraid to shop at a mall, they would be afraid to shop, period, because of concern over another economic crash. This is the new 9/11. It really would be Black Friday”

Bill Davis had one question for the two FBI men, “So, what do we do to make sure this doesn’t happen?”

“Well,” The smaller of the two FBI men said, “We think we may have reduced the capabilities of the attackers to execute their previous plans, but we still need your cooperation here at Mall of the Americas, Mr. Davis.”

“I’m all ears guys.”

02:45 Local (23:45, 2 October UTC), Thursday, 3 October 2013, Camp Lemmonier, Djibouti-Ambouli International Airport, Headquarters, Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA).

Nine men were arrested in Africa following the Kenyan mall attack. It took a few days for… the authorities… to extract information from those nine men. Taken one at a time none of them provided anything that seemed of much use. But each minor detail they provided, from how they paid for their meals to how they learned to use their weapons, began to congeal into a pattern. When that pattern was fit against the sides of other patterns, now electronically in a basement in Langley, Virginia, there was a horrific conclusion: The U.S. was next.

Once that conclusion was reached the Director of National Intelligence was briefed. He briefed the President, a man deeply embroiled with a domestic political battle when Congress refused to approve economic changes forcing a shutdown of some government offices. The President and his staff were busy with, among other things, trying to manage the first ever White House online flaming campaign via e-mail and social media. Their target was Congress and their intent was to depict them as uncompromising and unreasonable. To his credit as Commander in Chief, when the briefing materials on the Nairobi attacks reached his desk, the President did not delay. He set the wheels in motion via Admiral William H. McRaven at MacDill AFB. McRaven is the ninth man to command the United States Special Operations Command at MacDill, a unified command that coordinates the training, equipment, doctrine and employment of all U.S. special operations units.

McRaven’s units include some of the most sophisticated military intelligence gathering and analysis capabilities in the world. These operate organically to the special operations community, from the field around the world back to MacDill, largely for the purposes of mission planning. The strategic intelligence may flow upward from McRaven’s units, or downward from Langley, but flow it did, in both directions. When the intelligence McRaven’s units had collected was collated with the information garnered from the West Lake Mall attack in Kenya the picture was crystal clear.

A big part of that picture pointed back to a beach house in the Somali coastal city of Barawa.

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Force Recon Marines from the Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force 12 (SPMAGTF-12) at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, had been training local indigenous forces in the region. They also collected intelligence from them during training. Both special operations and CIA operatives joined the activities related to Somalia at Camp Lemonnier to help with data collection and facilitate better, more context-based interpretation of intel. SPMAGTF Recon Marines had even conducted beach reconnaissance of some areas of the Barawa, Somalia coastline. That hydrographic survey data, combined with signals intelligence, some limited HUMINT (human intelligence from operatives on the ground in the target area), satellite and drone images merged with data from the West Lake Mall detainee interviews.

Back at Camp Lemonnier, at MacDill AFB in Florida, on a ship off the coast of East Africa and in Langley, Virginia, planners held a web conference to review the final plans for a direct action mission to interdict the capability of Al Shabaab to carry out their planned U.S. mall attack.

It was Thursday night. The raid on Barawa was a “go”.

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03:50 Local (12:50 UTC), Saturday, 5 October 2013, 473 meters off the coast of Baraawe, Somalia.

High tide hit the rocky beach off Baraawe, Somalia at 04:38 hours under a dim, waxing crescent moon. Just before high tide the incoming tidal current urged the twelve combat swimmers of the Naval Special Warfare Combat Interdiction Group (formerly “SEAL Team 6 or “DEVGRU”) toward the rocky outcrops that lay just off the Somali coast. Swimming along the surface was easy; the black African waters were warm. High clouds filtered what little moonlight there was.

The assault team had left their F470 CRRC boats almost 2 miles off shore to prevent visual detection of the assault boats from land. The boats used sound suppressed motors that were extremely quiet. After dropping off the combat swimmers the rigid inflatable boats immediately turned back out to sea for recovery on a U.S. Navy ship that was even now steaming back toward the coast after the insertion.

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The first element of the combat swimmer/assault team would hit the beach, remove their swim fins and floatation vests then cross inland on foot less than a kilometer south of their target, a large beachfront villa on the southern edge of Baraawe. They would turn immediately north toward the objective. This first six-man element of the team moved inland approximately 400 meters toward the concealment of low scrub. The other six-man element lay prone in the gently lapping waves of shallow water just off the beach until the flanking assault element was in place. A series of clicks on their updated, secure AN/PRC-126 radios would signal the first assault team was in place. Then the two teams would move toward the target, a two-story villa where the objective, a high value personnel target named Ahmed Abdi Godane, was supposed to be located.

The two elements of the assault team were in place. The wind was gentle coming just barely off the ocean, it was 71 degrees Fahrenheit. The sun would not rise for another hour and forty minutes. Each member of the second assault element heard the clicks in their headset when the first element got into position. They responded with a single click of the mic button. Then each team member checked right, then left, clearing his field of fire and began a low, quick advance across the beach, trending right or north to the target.

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The building was surrounded by low walls on three sides and a high wall at the back. It made sense to go over the lower sections of the walls, enter the courtyard section, assault any threats that were providing security and then conduct the entry. Once the entry began, speed and violence of action was their primary tactic. They had to overwhelm what security may be in place quickly, assault the target building and secure the objective, detain Ahmed Abdi Godane or neutralize him, then exfil the target area. The primary extract route was by helo extraction near a defensible LZ south of the target area. The secondary extract was back out to sea.

Overhead surveillance by an RQ-170 Sentinel drone would provide a live video feed to the command center back at MacDill and help give the Naval Special Warfare operators on the beach a high degree of situational awareness via radio. What the Sentinel video showed now was troubling. There were more personnel between the insertion point and the objective than normal. Within the walled compound itself, no less than eight hot targets could be seen, some of them milling around from target to target as if they were spreading information. Outside, there were more than ten hot spots between the insertion point at the beach and the objective. The insertion would almost certainly involve contact earlier than they planned.

A common feature of operations in this region is that its difficult to tell who is a combatant and who is not from overhead surveillance. The hot spot on the drone feed may be a fisherman rigging his boat to go out at first light, or an insurgent walking a security perimeter armed with an automatic weapon and grenades. Until the assault team got eyes on they would not know from the drone feed. They didn’t have to wait to see to find out.

The insurgents initiated contact with one man firing a single round at one of the SEALs as he moved to a concealed position across the beach to establish the flanking position. The single round alerted every other sentry. The SEAL’s weapons were suppressed. When another assault team member put two rounds into the insurgent it didn’t make enough noise to be heard back at the compound a couple hundred meters away. Nonetheless everyone in the compound was alerted by the single shot, then the silence. Now they were coming outside the wall.

The assault team worked an “L” shaped hasty ambush on the objective, both teams directing controlled fire toward targets they could see. When the volume of returning fire began to increase the SEAL assault team leader radioed for a pair of Viper gunships from an assault ship orbiting off the coast to swing inland for fire support.

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The Viper gunships, an upgraded version of the AH-1 Cobra helicopter, overflew the target from the ocean. They banked hard and attacked facing back out to sea to avoid collateral damage from their guns. When the rounds from the AH-1Z Viper ‘s 20 mm cannon hit the compound the result was like cracking open a hornet’s nest. The pilot and gunner could see personnel and vehicles scatter through their Thales Top Owl helmet imagery system. White streaks showed the path of gunfire reaching into the dark to find the assaulters.

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Special operations is a fragile craft with a courageous heritage. But the reality is lightly armed men are flung against sometimes heavily fortified targets in inferior numbers. Their primary advantage is speed and violence of action. If their objective is compromised before it can be overwhelmed their chances of success evaporate by the split second. The SEAL assault force commander on the beach knew this well, having operated on both sides of this double-edged sword for a decade. He knew he had men inland a few hundred meters who risked being cut off from the sea extraction route and that securing a landing zone for extraction was, at best, an iffy proposition now.

The assault was compromised before it began. He signaled for mission abort and emergency extraction.

This contingency was well drilled. The beach fire team put 40 mm grenade fire on the target while the inland team broke contact, peeling back toward the sand and the sea. Each man covered the next in a modified version of the classic peel maneuver to break contact. The Vipers overflew the target at high speed and low altitude, this time flying inland and banking left or south, the opposite direction as before, then paralleling the beach on a gun run to cover the SEALs.

Only twenty-five minutes after the first assault element crossed the beach the team was back in the water as their assault boats raced back inland to recover them. After a twenty-minute swim to the east and south the recovery boats spotted the infrared strobes of the assault teams and the recovery was completed. The Vipers left their orbit along the beach just before the SEALs were picked up off shore and the assault force collapsed back out to sea as the sun lit the horizon an angry orange. It would be hours or even days until U.S. assets would know if the target had been compromised in the raid.

The raid on Baraawe to capture Ahmed Abdi Godane did not go as planned. It also was not a failure. While the primary objective was not achieved it may have killed or wounded Godane. If not, it sent a clear message to Godane and his men: The U.S. will cross the beach to get you before you can get us. Regardless of the results on the beach that night in Baraawe that message was sent and received loud and clear.

10:58 Local (15:58 UTC), Monday, 7 October 2013, Administrative Offices, Triple Five Group, Mall of the Americas, Bloomington, Minnesota, United States.

“We’ll have teams of agents operating undercover all the way from the parking lots to the inside of the mall itself.” The FBI agent told Bob Davis. “We need to put some of our people under cover as store employees and mall workers over the weekend too. Prior to the weekend we’ll be installing some additional surveillance equipment outside and inside the mall. We’re pretty sure we know what we’re looking for and this surveillance should prevent any operatives from gaining access to the mall.”

Davis thought he should be reassured. The thought of installing security checkpoints at the entrance and exit to the mall was unthinkable. It would ruin business and attract the wrong kind of media. This softer approach seemed much less… obtrusive. He hoped it was enough. He noticed his hand shake again.

By Tom Demerly.

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I collect promotional e-mails. I love the medium. I’m fascinated by it. I love the good ones and am entertained by the bad ones. Every once in a while, but rarely, I’m inspired by one. Here are 4 promotional e-mails, 3 are very good, 1 is a disaster that will drive away customers and take the fast lane to the “spam” box.

Here is the idea: We’re looking at these the way they view on my iPhone. Most people see promotional e-mails on their phone now. Soon, nearly everyone will view them on a portable device with a screen oriented more vertically, as with a phone or phablet, as opposed to a computer screen, which is wider than it is tall. That’s important to realize when you write your e-mail copy and design your e-mail, as we will see.

Next, think about the real-word ergonomics of how people interact with their e-mail on a mobile device. Where are they? How long is their attention span at the moment they will see it? What are they doing when they see it and how does it initially view? This goes a long way toward driving that golden BB metric, the “open rate”. If you have a high open rate, you’ve cleared the first hurtle.

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Here is a great one, and I love this e-mail and the headline it came with. “20% OFF”. No bullshit. No poetry. No extra words. This is brilliant. It will convert to orders on their website.

This is how: I subscribed to the list somehow so I am already interested in the product category. That step is done. Now all I will act on is a deal on something I’m interested in. And, since people only see this e-mail for… a maximum of 2 seconds (that’s right, only 2 seconds- and that is the max) it says what it has to say, big, bold, short and to the point and gets out.

My behavior that follows is to quickly click through to the site. If there is anything there I want and 20% is enough of a discount, and, as a consumer I have the discretionary income to create “open to buy”, chances are I will dump something in the shopping cart. The e-mail worked. Short. Fast. To the point. Bam. Winning.

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Here is an anomaly, and these are rare and brilliant. Patagonia and Orvis both do a good job with this very difficult type of e-mail promotion that may not convert to sales within a few seconds of opening it, but it sets a mood and establishes my set of beliefs surrounding the brand and their products.

Retailers usually don’t use these- and they usually don’t work for retailers. Brands usually use these to help establish what their brand is all about. What they mean, what they stand for. Again- this usually doesn’t convert immediately, but it will plant an effective brain seed to bring a customer back later. And, the other brilliant thing about this medium, a kind of visual “haiku”, is that it doesn’t mention prices. It only establishes image or cache’.

This e-mail will make me look back at Orvis again. If there is a good follow-on promotion, I may order. They got my attention, they did it with mood and imagery, and they kept price off the table for now. Winning.

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Here is a train wreck. And it is real. This is from a big-box triathlon retailer. It is hopeless. Remember, 2 seconds… You’re driving your car, you’re sitting in an airport watching your flight get updated, you’re waiting in line at Starbucks, you’re at a drive-thru line and you’re quickly checking your e-mail. This shows up. Delete. Junk Mail.

This is words. Words, words, words, words. This is the guy who just talks too much. It plathers on about… something (I didn’t read it, it has taken less time to write this blog and I’m a busy man) and it has no point. It. Is. Just. Too. Long. Period.

Remember, this is how the e-mail showed up on my phone screen. This is one of the worst sales/promotional e-mails I’ve ever seen. This company has fallen into a trap of sending these and I collect them for just this purpose; to show people what NOT to do. I keep them because soon they will be bankrupt, again.

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OK, get your mind out of the gutter. I know it’s tough, but try to focus on something other than the boobs. Just try.

Consider that you are selling a product category to a strong buying demographic: Young, affluent, high percentage of discretionary income, very fast moving, using lots of mobile gadgets and very connected. You need visuals. Rich visuals. Also, the product you are selling is visual-based. Sports cars, fashion apparel, anything with appearance as its key appeal. Like boobs. So you serve the visual of the product first and foremost. Copy??? Is there even copy on this page? I can’t remember. All I saw was pastel colors and appealing round things. I remember this from when I was born. I was screaming and hungry, and this fixed everything. Still does.

They could be boobs, they could be wheels, they could be food. It is a visual play for a visual product. And it sells. The brilliance of this approach by Frederick’s is they realize that men are a large percentage of their customers, buying apparel for their wives or girlfriends and, in the case of their better customers, both (at least temporarily).

This won’t sell to everyone. Some people will take offense. It is sexist. It is. But that customer isn’t a Frederick’s customer anyway and wouldn’t have received this e-mail. This e-mail shows the goods (literally and figuratively) and it will convert. Another thing about Frederick’s e-mail marketing is frequency. They keep boobs in your in-box daily. You never forget them.

That’s the quick and dirty on promotional e-mails, because promotional e-mails are a quick and dirty business. Especially when done right.

 

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At this hour the mystery of Malaysia Airlines flight 370’s disappearance is one of the most baffling chapters in aviation history. With every hour that passes the mystery becomes more remarkable.  There was no distress signal, automated or manual, no radar track to a known accident site, no anomalistic flight data transmitted, no covert hijacking signal, no wreckage, no diversion to a remote airfield under duress, no witnesses of an actual crash in one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.

That the aircraft likely vanished over one of the busiest commercial shipping areas in the world, the Straits of Malacca, with 50,000 to 90,000 ships a year passing through it’s narrow, 500-mile passage is even more remarkable.

When you perform a statistical analysis of aircraft accidents over the previous 30 years that involve more than 100 passengers you see how truly bizarre this mystery is.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration maintains a detailed database of aviation accidents broken into 18 accident causation categories. They include “Crew Resource Management”, “Fuel Ignition”, “Fuel Exhaustion”, “Incorrect Piloting Techniques” and others.  All of them leave some trace to conduct a forensic investigation.

That MH370 left no trace, electronic or otherwise, is its most remarkable anomaly. Given the volume and sophistication of systems to avoid just such a disappearance one explanation is some willful intervention to counter each of these surveillance and tracking systems took place. Someone intentionally lost the aircraft.

One unnamed source has already proffered an opinion on this disappearance: MH370 was hijacked in a 9/11 style terrorist attack. The target may have been the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, a hauntingly similar target to New York’s Twin Towers. The attack failed when some intervention, perhaps by crew, passengers or other force led to the flight’s termination in a similar way to United Airlines flight 93 that crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania when passengers attempted to intervene in the hijacking and retake the aircraft before reaching its intended target.

It is possible the flight disappeared when it descended to low altitude for the willful purpose of evading radar as it turned back toward Kuala Lumpur on its attack run. This admittedly outlandish theory is partially supported by Fisherman Azid Ibrahim, 66 of Kota Baru, Indonesia. Ibrahim told the New Strait Times that an airplane appeared to fly low below thick cloud deck. He followed the aircraft for about five minutes before it disappeared without crashing. Another witness reported a similar sighting about 30 km (18.6 miles) away from Kota Baru.  Businessman Alif Fathi Abdul Hadi, 29, reported to the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) that he saw “bright white lights”, descending fast into the sea at about 1:45am that same day. A third report from an oil rig also reported seeing a large aircraft flying at low altitude over the region, then a burning object.

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In December 2011 the Co- pilot on MH370, Fariq Abdul Hamid, broke regulations when he allowed female passengers Jonti Roos and Jaan Maree into the cockpit, while flying, for a flight from Phuket, Thailand to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The 53-year old captain of MH370, Zaharie Ahmad Shah, had a room in his house dedicated to a computer flight simulator where he could practice flying a Boeing 777. And familiarize others with how to do it.

In an interesting literary parallel, Ian Fleming’s 1961 novel and 1965 film “Thunderball” depicts a fictional RAF pilot named François Derval who is extorted by sexual coercion into stealing an aircraft for a terrorist plot.

This is speculation. But it has origins extrapolated from known statistical data of airline accidents along with an analysis of the region, its vulnerabilities, its known terrorist activity and additional factors. It also is partially reinforced by the emerging navigation tracks of MH370 that show it returning toward Kuala Lumpur where it originated and where the Petronas Towers are.

It is also as implausible a theory as the 9/11 terror attacks were on 9/10. Before the 9/11 attacks and former President Bush’s election the Clinton administration had intelligence that suggested a coordinated attack using airliners in the Pacific region was a plausible threat. One analysis suggested the attacks might originate from Indonesia. The theories were not regarded as actionable. By 9/12 this paradigm had shifted.

When will know the facts about MH370’s disappearance? That is another mystery. Until then all we have is questions and speculation as passing time creates more depth to one of the most bizarre mysteries in aviation history.

By Tom Demerly.

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In much the same way as Franklin Roosevelt is remembered for the Social Security Act of 1935, President Barack Obama will be remembered for the Affordable Care Act.

And it may be a larger success than any of us imagine.

The Affordable Care Act could be a masterfully engineered piece of legislation that has already set in motion the only means possible to topple big medicine and make U.S. health care affordable. But not how you think.

We’ve all seen the charts and YouTubes comparing the cost of medical procedures in the U.S. to other countries. They make a case for health care being significantly more expensive in the U.S. than in other countries that already have a state subsidized or administered medical system.  It’s possible the authors of the ACA did a masterful “Potomac two-step” in selling the ACA to the powerful medical, pharmaceutical and hospital lobby. Washington sold them a Trojan horse.

ACA critics have pointed to a host of administrative problems that are likely short lived. Those problems aren’t “structural”.

A structural problem built into ACA is that the weight of medical costs in the U.S. is spread over the broader economic “ice” of the American population. That ice is still too thin to support big medicine’s current financial weight. One of two things can happen: The ice can break or some weight can be removed.

Since ACA is law, and law can presumably be enforced, the “ice” that is ACA will be held up by Washington. The weight that comes off the ACA ice will be U.S. “Big Medicine” getting whittled down to functional size. No more massive, glossy prescription drug marketing campaigns. No more mini-malls and valet parking at hospitals. No more health care providers filing endless reams of electronic files, paying staff to interpret billing and insurance logistics and creating their own internal television networks to promote themselves. Malpractice litigation will be reformed. Medicine will become more medical, less commercial and litigious.

The ACA will dry up hospital "malls" and commercial dining areas and other accessories to hospital operation.

The ACA will dry up hospital “malls” and commercial dining area and other accessories to hospital operation.

There will be blood. Hospital staff, already strained in many places, will be trimmed. Logistics will be streamlined, even doctors will earn less. Health care suppliers will suffer mightily; with many going bankrupt like auto component suppliers did in the U.S. automotive bailout. And just like the automotive bailout many of the financial negotiations that were abrasive and costly between unions and car companies will now be quickly dispensed in bankruptcy court. And for once, it will be the medical companies that will take the hit. The ACA may protect the citizen-patient.

“Health care quality will contract while health care access will expand.”

If this is the direction of ACA, intended or not, the process will be an abrasive one. We the people in the first decade of ACA will experience constant changes in health care logistics and a general decline in the quality of health care. In short, our health care infrastructure will contract to a scale similar to those of countries with functioning social medicine. In many ways that will appear as a downgrade. But in the spirit of ACA it will spread access to health care across a broader population. Instead of high-income people getting great health care and middle and lower class people getting none or reduced levels with exposure to financial ruin, everyone will get a roughly equivalent level of healthcare services and products. Health care quality will contract while health care access will expand. The optimal balance will be when the two conflicting agendas meet in the middle.

It’s possible President Obama’s ACA will be remembered as the savior of the American patient, not the American medical industry. Getting there will require a long and painful period of financial and legislative surgery that includes some painful amputations with no anaesthetic.