Sunday, May 8, 2011

Poem: The Mavericks

The Mavericks
With apologies to Edgar Allen Poe

Once upon a midnight weary, the Mavs did beat the Lakers clearly
Over many a foul and furious shots within the Center's core.
While I shouted, nearly rasping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one loudly gasping, tapping on the wooden floor.
"Tis the Lakers," I uttered, "gasping up and down the floor -
Only them, and nothing more."

Ah, clearly I can say, twas in the joyous month of May
That each three pointer the Mavs did make, left no mark upon the wooden floor.
Eagerly I await tomorrow; - tickets I had sought to borrow
To relieve the past of sorrow - sorrow for the losses that came before
For the rare and jubilant reason to avenge the losses that came before
Forgotten now for evermore.

And the sad but certain unravelling of each yellow and purple jersey
Thrilled me – filled me with fantastic feelings never felt before
So that now, to the beating of my heart, I stood repeating
“Tis some visitors, getting swept upon our Center floor –
Some Laker visitors, getting clearly swept upon our home floor.
This it is, and nothing more.”

Presently my team grew stronger, hesitating then no longer,
“Sir,” said I, “or Madam, truly your indulgence I implore;
But the fact is I was clapping, as so weakly you came rapping,
And so faintly you came tapping, tapping upon our wooden floor,
That scarce was sure I heard you” – here we opened wide the score.
Lakers there, and then no more.

Deep into that score peering, long I stood there clapping, cheering,
Seeing, dreaming dreams no fan had ever dared to dream before.
But the shouting was unbroken, and the Lakers were but tokens,
And the only word there spoken was a shouted, “Gone in four!”
This I shouted, and the walls echoed back “Gone in four!”
Merely this, and nothing more.

[there may be more to come]

-- Geoff Strickler
-- May 4-8, 2011

Song: Flying with the TSA

Flying with the TSA
[to the tune of “Charlie on the MTA”]

[Spoken: This part isn’t on some of the recordings]

These are the times that try men's souls. In the course of our nation's history, the people of this nation have rallied bravely whenever the rights of men have been threatened. Today, a new crisis has arisen. The Transportation Security Agency, better known as the TSA, is executing illegal assaults on the population in the form of unconstitutional searches. Citizens, hear me out! This could happen to you!

Well, let me tell you of the story of a man named Charlie,
On a tragic and fateful day.
He put his phone in his pocket, kissed his wife and family,
Went to fly in the USA

(Well, did he ever return? No, he never returned.)
(And his fate is still unlearned.)
(He may remain forever at the TSA checkpoint.)
(He's the man who never returned.)

Charlie showed them his ticket at the TSA checkpoint,
Just hoping to catch his Plane.
When he got there the agent told him, "One more pat down."
Charlie could't get onto that plane.

(But, did he ever return? No, he never returned.)
(And his fate is still unlearned.)
(He may remain forever in the airport terminal.)
(He's the man who never returned.)

Now, all night long Charlie stands spread eagle,
Wonderin’, "Where will they touch me next?
I can’t let this happen to my sister in Dallas,
It’s all based on a false pretext”

(But, did he ever return? No, he never returned.)
(And his fate is still unlearned.)
(He may remain forever in the airport terminal.)
(He's the man who never returned.)

Charlie's wife goes down to the TSA checkpoint,
Every day at quarter past two.
And she keeps filming those pat downs as Charlie stands helpless,
As the TSA searches continue.

(Well, did he ever return? No, he never returned.)
(And his fate is still unlearned.)
(He may remain forever at the TSA checkpoint.)
(He's the man who never returned.)

Now citizens of the nation, don't you think it's a scandal,
How people are assaulted every day?
Fight for sane and sensible airport security!
Let’s get rid of the TSA!

(Or else we'll never return. No, we'll never return.)
(And our fate will be unlearn'd.)
(We may remain forever at the TSA checkpoint.)
(We'll be the ones who never returned.)
(We'll be the ones who never returned.)
(We'll be the ones who never returned.)

-- Geoff Strickler
-- May 8, 2011

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Poem: Divisionist History

Divisionist History

We fight for many reasons,
We fight for what we believe.
We’re right, they’re wrong,
And they’re trying to deceive.

We start a fight, or defend ourselves,
In battles won or lost.
War rages on forever,
And no one knows the cost.

We teach “divide and conquer”,
Study tactics and strategy.
And each day we keep on killing,
Because they’re not like me.

We keep building better weapons,
To kill Them more efficiently.
Why should we even care a bit,
They are the enemy.

Millions die and billions suffer.
The atrocities abound.
A dozen here, thousands there,
We’re indifferent to the sound.

To some “it” never happened.
Others argue that “it” did.
Some say “it” might have happened,
But not the way “They” said.

Each side tells their story,
Convinced that what they say is true.
But the victors always get to say,
And write history anew.

We’ll never truly know the reasons,
Only what the victors say,
Cause They’re the ones who write the books.
It doesn’t matter anyway.

One day I hope we’ll stop the madness,
It’s causing quite a fright.
But that doesn’t really seem to matter,
When we go to bed at night.

We’re no specific country,
Nation, state, or faith.
Nor race, nor creed, nor color,
We are the human race.

We can’t ever know the reasons.
We can’t begin to count the cost.
We can’t even know the truth.
We can only mourn the loss.

But any way you view it,
I hope we all can see.
Our righteousness perpetuates
Our divisionist history.

-- Geoff Strickler
-- March 31, 2007

Why the EPA Limits for Drinking Water Are Irrelevant to Radiation From Japan

Originally published as a note on my Facebook page Apr 25, 2011

The most recent results for iodine-131 levels in milk in Arizona have been widely misrepresented in media coverage as 1600x the EPA limit for drinking water. In fact, it's 16x (1600%), however, even that is meaningless. In fact, the EPA doesn't have a level for milk, and comparing it to the drinking water level is flawed as a level for milk and drinking water would not the same due to the differences in daily consumption. So any comparison to EPA levels is complete nonsense. The EPA levels serve a different purpose than the FDA levels, see info on EPA levels below. BTW, AZ publishes the readings from testing water and milk at

The FDA sets limits for food and drink (including milk and drinking water), and the highest level reported is ~ 1/1000 of the FDA DIL (Derived Intervention Level). Now the FDA DIL is probably too lax for drinking water because of the amount of water consumed daily. For food and milk, the FDA limits are better, but are arguably still too lax (at least for extended exposure). However, they're far more appropriate to a transient exposure, and they're specific to ingested food and drink, so they're far more applicable than the EPA levels in this situation.

More info on EPA limits:
EPA limits are based on consuming the MCL every day for 70 years, which is to say they are for a maximum "every day" level, not a maximum "safe" level. The EPA levels don't differentiate between getting the MCL every day for a lifetime and getting a somewhat larger dose for a few days. As a maintenance level, it make some sense, but they don't address transient levels. They are flawed in other ways as well, for instance, they allow 5x higher dose from alpha emitters which are far more damaging when inhaled/ingested than they do for beta and gamma emitters. They allow 5x as much exposure to a type of radiation that is ~ 20x more damaging, how does that make sense?

The EPA limits are occupational exposure limits (Quoted from 40 CFR 141.66(d)(2)):
"Maximum Permissible Body Burdens and Maximum Permissible Concentrations of Radionuclides in Air and in Water for Occupational Exposure," NBS (National Bureau of Standards) Handbook 69 as amended August 1963, U.S. Department of Commerce.

Another article on why the FDA and EPA limits are so different.

A group of scientists working to update what is classified safe exposure levels, based upon the scientific evidence.
Time for the scientific, environmental and economic truth about nuclear power

Notes About Radiation Exposure

Originally published as a note on my Facebook page Mar 29, 2010

Is any level of radiation exposure "safe"? Is all radiation exposure "harmful". Below I apply a bit of logic and sanity to examining the effects of radiation exposure:

There is no difference between "naturally occurring" and "man-made" radiation exposure at the same level. However, there is a difference between external (radiation source outside your body) and internal (radiation source inside your body) radiation. Internal or external radiation can come from natural or man-made sources. Again, there is no difference between the two, when the dosage and internal/external are the same. In general, inhaled radioactive particles are most dangerous, since they're more likely to get into the blood stream where they can affect any part of the body. Ingested radioactivity is usually not absorbed as effectively and it's less likely to reach as much of the body. Both should be taken seriously. See the "Treatment" section below if you suspect you have received significant exposure,

Radiation comes in basically four varieties:

Alpha - can be very damaging if it reaches living tissue, however, it's easily stopped. A piece of paper or your skin will block almost all alpha particles. It's only a significant health risk if inhaled or ingested in notable quantities.

Beta - can be moderately damaging, but is also relatively easy to stop. It will penetrate slightly below the skin, so external beta sources are similar to a sunburn (for high levels) and the most likely health effects are similar to sun exposure, including possible skin cancer if the exposure is high enough for a long term.

Gamma - X-rays and "cosmic rays" are types of gamma radiation (technically, x-rays and gamma rays are different, but the difference is not important here). Because it's very common and more difficult to block, this is the type of radiation that we hear most about. There is little difference between internal and external exposure to gamma radiation because your skin and clothing provide almost no protection from it. It's a mixed blessing, as most will pass through the body without any effect, but some percentage will interact with atoms in your body. The percentage that interacts with your body can do significant damage in high enough doses.

Neutron - rarely encountered in notable levels outside of a nuclear reactor (or nuclear weapon), but it does exist in low levels in nature. This can cause atoms to split, or absorb a neutron, which may then give off a minute amount of one of the above 3 types of radiation. Most will pass through your body without interaction. Most of the atoms in your body are not prone to splitting, so low doses will have minimal impact on living tissues.

With any of those 4 types, low dose has no measurable effect on your body because most damage will either cause cell to die and be replaced, or your body is able to repair the damage quickly. However, a sufficiently high dose of any type, or an "unlucky hit" from a lower level, can cause more damage than the body can repair, or a type of damage that the body can't repair, thus causing short term or long term damage.

Given the above, it is incorrect to say that all radiation is harmful, as the vast majority of it will either have no effect at all or will do less damage than the body can repair. It's equally incorrect to say that any level is harmless, as an "unlucky hit" from a very small dose can cause a long term problem, it's just statistically extremely improbable.

Below the maximum "safe" levels, you have much better odds of winning a huge lottery jackpot than of having measurable long term effects. Between the maximum "safe" levels, and approximately 500 mSv in less than 48 hours, your chances of both short term and long term effects increase significantly with increasing dosage. Above 500mSv in 48 hrs, your chances of short term and/or long term effects become probable (e.g. at those doses, you're likely to have effects).

Because your body is constantly repairing and replacing cells, the same total dosage received as a lower dosage over a longer time (e.g. 5 mSv/day for 100 days rather than 500 mSv in one day) is dramatically less likely to cause any measurable short term or long term effects.

Clearly, minimizing your exposure minimizes your risk. But also realize there are levels below which the risk is not even measurable. Worrying about exposure below (or even slightly above) the maximum "safe" levels is about as useful as worrying about getting hit by an asteroid or whether the sun will rise in the morning. Likewise, for worrying about brief exposure to higher levels such as receiving a CT scan or PET scan.

A simple analogy:
To put radiation exposure in terms just about everyone can understand, it's a lot like alcohol.

Too much in a short time will make you ill, or possibly kill you. That same amount spread out over days, weeks, or months won't even make you ill. However, too high a level long term can cause problems (e.g. cirrhosis, pancreatitis, cancer, infertility, etc.). Low doses for a long time are not known to cause problems (and at least with alcohol, appear to be beneficial).

In either case, if the dose is below what your body can process and repair any minor damage caused, there are few or no long term effects. If you exceed that level by too much, or for too long, the risks increase with both dosage and duration.

The first thing to know about getting treatment for any suspected radiation exposure is to seek medical treatment and decontamination immediately. If you have reason to believe you've been exposed to more than the maximum "safe" level, do not hesitate, seek immediate testing, decontamination, and treatment. This is particularly important if you may have inhaled or ingested a radioactive substance. Most common radioisotope inhalation or ingestion can be treated, but urgent treatment is critical to effective treatment.

For the two most common isotopes that released in nuclear power plant accidents, treatments are commonly available. For iodine-131 (aka 131I or I-131), treatment is usually done by taking potassium iodide (KI) tablets. This saturates the thyroid with non-radioactive iodine, minimizing the amount of I-131 that will be absorbed. For cesium-137 (aka 137Cs or Cs-137), treatment is usually done with medical grade "prussian blue". Prussian blue binds to many heavy metals, including Cs-137, and carries it out of the body. In both cases, the key is to get treatment BEFORE any significant amount has been absorbed by the body.

Most other radioisotopes can be treated, if treatment begins quickly enough.

Activated charcoal filters are effective at reducing the amount of iodine in air/water, so if your water supply has elevated levels of I-131, a good charcoal filter will help. Air purifiers that use activated charcoal will help remove I-131 from the air.

Charcoal filters will also remove some heavy metals, so they may reduce the level of Cs-137, but unless they've been specifically designed to remove Cs, they are not as effective at removing Cs as they are at removing iodine.

Useful links:
Fukushima FAQ from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

This one is easy to comprehend, but some the the technical details are wrong so don't rely on the details. The overview and debunking of false claims are solid. True facts about Ocean Radiation and the Fukushima Disaster

Natural sources of radiation (background radiation and foods):

Another viewpoint (his facts are valid, his proposals may be a little excessive)

MIT Nuclear Science Engineering, useful info on terminology and technical info.

Information on acute radiation syndrome (radiation poisoning):

NYTimes article on effects of low level radiation exposure.

IAEA international reference standards for radioisotope intake limits.

FDA's 6 age ranges and DC (Dose Coefficient) if various isotopes.

LLNL Evaluation of Radiation Doses Due to Consumption of Contaminated Food Items and Calculation of Food Class-Specific Derived Intervention Levels

ICRP Publications (most are not free)

Updated: 2011-03-29 @ 20:30 MDT - added notes about inhalation, ingestion, treatment, and prevention.
Updated: 2011-04-01 @ 09:30 MDT - added link on radiation poisoning.
Updated: 2011-04-01 @ 11:00 MDT - added simple analogy.

Major Security Oversight

Originally published as a note on my Facebook page Nov 18, 2010

Ladies and Gentlemen, flight crew and flight attendants, we have overlooked something major. The White House, US Capitol, and the Pentagon are all known terrorist targets. Planes were merely the method used to attack those targets. If terrorists can no longer use planes to attack these targets, they will use more direct attacks. Therefore, we need to petition our government to immediately install backscatter scanners and implement enhanced pat-down procedures at each of these locations.

No one should be allowed to enter these facilities without going through the scanner or pat-down. Not our elected officials, not the military, not the employees, not even the President, first lady, or their young daughters. These are high value targets, and we can't be too safe. In fact, given that the backscatter machines do not show anything inside the body, they should install both backscatter and millimeter wave scanners and everyone must pass through both to be sure they're not carrying any contraband.

Furthermore, if the terrorists can disrupt our security forces, that would give them more access, therefore the DHS and TSA offices become high value targets too, and they must also have these scanners and pat-down procedures immediately.

I believe we should extend this to all state government capital buildings as well, or at least for the most populous states, NY, CA, FL, TX, OH, IL, PA, MI, GA, NC, NJ, & VA. We should include MD because of it's proximity to DC. And we should include AK, HI, and RI since they're physically disconnected from the continental US.

Please, I urge you to immediately contact your state and federal representatives demanding that they correct this oversight that puts the entire government of the country at risk of terrorist attack, and by extension, puts everyone in the country at risk. I am horrified that we've left these high profile targets unprotected for this long.

Satirically yours,
Geoff Strickler

P.S. I was going to title this "Porno scanners and en-hands-ed feel-ups everywhere", but I didn't want to give away the satire too soon.

Song: Don't Fly

Originally published as a note on my Facebook page Nov 16, 2010

Don’t Fly
(to the tune of “Don’t Cry” by Asia)
Original Songwriters: John Wetton & Geoff Downes

New lyrics by Geoff Strickler

Hard times you had before you, I knew when they first saw you
You girl, you’re gonna be selected, inspected
So leave your stuff behind you, they’ve looked so long to find you
I know this search will last forever, ever and more, oh, oh, oh

Don't fly, now they’re gonna hound you
Don't fly, they’ll take a look around you
Don't fly, their groping will astound you
They do what they want so little darlin' please don't fly

I knew you’d be selected, knew you would be rejected
Don't think it’s like it’s been before
They'll watch you when you're scanning, they’ll grope you when you're standing.
Don't argue if you want to ever get on board, oh, oh, oh

Don't fly, now they’re gonna hound you
Don't fly, they’ll take a look around you
Don't fly, their groping will astound you
They do what they want so little darlin' please don't fly

(repeat previous verse 2 more times)

Don't fly, don't fly, don't fly
Don't fly, don't fly, don't fly
Don't fly, they’ve looked so long to find you
Don't fly, they’ll take a look around you

Edit 2011-04-29: minor updates.
Edit 2014-04-28: minor updates.

How to Have Effective Airport Security.

Originally published as a note on my Facebook page Nov 17, 2010.

1. Use explosive sniffing dogs and/or electronic explosive sniffers (not scanners). Note that these are effective at a distance and do not require any invasion of someone's privacy.

2. Use metal detectors to detect guns, knives, etc just as they've been doing for 30 years.

3. Increase the security of cargo and baggage (including carry-on), use improved scanners, sniffers, etc. There are no major privacy or health concerns involved here, and a bomb in the baggage/cargo area is absolutely the least desirable location. There is always a weakest point in any security system. Criminals will usually attack the weakest point. You want the weakest point in airline security to be with the passengers. If the threat is in the passenger compartment, the passengers, crew, and air marshals have a chance to stop it, as they have done repeatedly since 9/11. If it's in the cargo/baggage compartment, you're dead.

4. Allow behavioral profiling. Said in a less politically charged way, allow the screeners to perform additional screening of someone whom they believe looks or acts "suspicious" (e.g. they have probable cause to investigate and if needed perform additional searches). There will need to be limits, so that it's not abused. After the first 2 screening steps, this should rarely occur, but it's important that it be allowable.

5. Recognize and acknowledge that no amount of security is going to stop all committed terrorists. There is a point of diminishing returns where the "unreasonableness" of the security exceeds any theoretical increase in safety. Therefore, there is such a thing as "good enough" security, and the final security is ALWAYS going fall to the air marshals, passengers, and crew of the aircraft. Everyone except the TSA has realized this fact since United 93. Invading someone's privacy adds no more security.

Let's roll.

Update 2010-11-19
Minor edits to the above.

While the above is my own model, it's come to my attention that this is a slightly simplified version of what Israel uses at Ben Gurion airport, an airport known for effective and efficient security that is not invasive. For more info on the Israeli airport security, see:

Bruce Schneier's blog on TSA issues.

Update 2010-11-26
A similar proposal on

Questions for Those Who Think the New Airport Scanners Are Justified.

Originally published as a note on my Facebook page Nov 19, 2010

Here are my questions for anyone who believes the new scanners and pat down procedures are justified because they make flying safer:

Q: Would you rather be blown up by a bomb around a terrorist's waist, or a bomb up his a$$?

I know it's a little crude, but it's intended to be shocking. The new scanners won't detect bombs or other items inside the body, won't detect powders, and according to a GAO report, probably would not have detected the "underwear" bomb.

Q: Aren't there better scanners that can detect those?

A: Yes, they're called "trace detectors" or "sniffers", and they don't require x-raying you or taking naked images of you for them to work. They also don't require anyone touching you. We've been using them in a limited capacity for years, so why should we use expensive and invasive new scanners that won't work as well?

Here's an Interesting interview with a former TSA/FAA inspector:

Interviewer: "Are people in airports that don't have the new AIT scanners less safe?"
Consultant: "No."

She also stated that the TSA plans to make the full-body scanners the primary screening method, replacing the metal detectors. So, while right now, few people will go through the scanner, eventually, they intend to make everyone go through.


Bottom line, the new "porno scanners" and "en-hands-ed feel-up" procedures are security theater, they give the illusion of better security, but they do not improve safety at all. At the same time, they're grossly invasive and therefore, violate your 4th Amendment rights agains "unreasonable" searches of your person.

No amount of security can keep all dangerous items off an aircraft. A dedicated attacker will find a way, even if everyone were submitted to strip searches, body cavity searches, x-rays, explosive sniffers, and any other form of "security" you can dream up.

You can not prevent all attacks on board, much less all the external attacks (LAWS rocket, SAM, etc.) or simply attacking the terminal before going though security.

When you finally realize that it's impossible to have complete "safety and security", then the only conclusion left is that at some point there is "enough safety and security", and each increase comes at a loss of privacy and liberty.

Air travel is safer than any other form of travel. The risk of dying in a terrorist attack is lower than the risk of dying from mechanical failure, human error, or weather. The risk is already so low that it can not be significantly improved by any means.

Life has risks. Travel has risks. Eating has risks. To believe you can eliminate risk is delusional, all you can do is reduce it.

The airline safety we've had since 9/11 has been sufficient, there have been no successful terrorist attacks on US planes since, and these new scanners and feel-up procedures do not make getting dangerous items onto a plane less likely, just marginally less convenient. Terrorists don't care how convenient it is, they'll still get dangerous items aboard. The new scanners a waste of time and money, and a gross invasion of privacy.

Want to make flying safer? Then, let's focus on things that will actually make flying safer, like scanning 100% of cargo, performing extensive background checks on airport employees, using explosive sniffers (dogs or electronic detectors), and behavioral profiling. None of those require giving up any 4th Amendment rights or invading our privacy, and any of them would actually make it more difficult (but still not impossible) for someone to get dangerous items on a plane.

For information on how to actually improve airport security without unreasonable searches, see:
How to Have Effective Airport Security

For information on the privacy and health concerns of the new scanners and pat down procedures, see:

For information on how to protest the use of the scanners and pat downs see:

Other viewpoints on the new TSA procedures:

Are the New TSA AIT Scanners and Enhanced Pat-downs Effective?

Originally published as a note on my Facebook page Dec 1, 2010.

No, they're not. There are many reputable sources of information that say they don't make flying any safer. A GAO report prior to the purchase of the AIT scanners said the new scanners "probably would not" detect the "underwear bomber" from Den 2009. The TSA's response to that is "we believe the would". No evidence, just a belief. The scanners manufacture indicates they're not effective at detecting low density materials, including powered, liquid, and plastic explosives.

Here's a Q&A with TSA head John Pistole, in which he either admits the procedures are of limited value, or avoids answering questions about their effectiveness. Of course, he spins it in the most favorable way he can, but a little "reading between the lines", aka, noticing not only what he says, but what he doesn't say/answer will reveal a lot.

In that interview, he also says "We're not in the threat-elimination business. We can't do that, but we can try to mitigate some of them." That's a detail that most people miss, and overlook. Said another way, the TSA knows they can't stop all the attacks, in fact, if you read carefully, "we can try to mitigate some of them" indicates that at best, these procedures might make it a little more difficult for an attacker. Is it really worth giving up your privacy and being subjected to very revealing (and possibly dangerous) scanners or invasive pat downs because "we can try to mitigate some of them"?

Update: 2011-12-21
Smoke Screening Best article yet on the insanity and uselessness of the TSA approach to security. Security expert Bruce Schneier explains and demonstrates in a US airport just how ineffective the TSA practices are.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Poem: A Time to Reflect

A Time To Reflect

A time for hope, yet a time of sadness
The death of an enemy, the killing of a man
Good news for the world, a tragedy of his own creation
It’s good he’s gone, yet thousands more replace him

The world rejoices, his followers plot revenge
No one is neutral, and the anger begins.
We did what we must, but will it be enough
To end the differences, for which we’ve suffered much.

So celebrate his absence, and do not mourn his death
But be saddened that it came to this, he’s taken his last breath
We’re the ones who killed him, it’s what we had to do.
No matter how you view it, the price will come from you.

-- Geoff Strickler
-- May 2, 2011

If you liked this poem, you may also like:
Divisionist History