Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

June 26, 2009

Homeland security: seeking the holy grail of shared reality

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on June 26, 2009

renwick_waugh_-the-knight-of-the-holy-grail_1912… The Knight of the Holy Grail, Frederick J. Waugh, Renwick Gallery

As I walked out of a breakfast meeting yesterday morning, a bright young thing scurried up beside me and asked, “What was that really all about?”

We had been introduced just before the meeting convened. It was not clear to me if he was an intern or just-hired GS-zero-something. (He has now confirmed he is a full-time federal contract employee. This is his first job out of a Masters program.)

“Whaddya mean?”

“What’s the back-story? Who’s really trying to do what?” he said.

It had been a typical Washington D.C. event.  A private sector group had hosted a meeting that mixed a few civilian and uniformed feds, with a few civilian and uniformed non-feds, with some academics, and a couple of hard-to-define gad-flies. 

I belong to the last category.  A gad-fly’s principal value is biting a horse on its rump in order to prompt a gallop, preferably in a specific direction. But sometimes any movement is better than nothing.

“Aaa… what do you think?”  I worried that my sub-text alert system was malfunctioning.  I had not perceived much of any agenda, hidden or otherwise. The apple strudel, crisp on the outside with a warm fruity interior, had struck me as the most substantive aspect of the meeting. 

My younger colleague proceeded to spin an impressive web of connections and potential conspiracies.   Drawing on evidence from Politico, graduate studies in a security field, this blog, and — most impressive to me — some serious familiarity with Ludwig Wittgenstein, he framed the breakfast coffee-klatch as having the potential to change the world as we know it.

I am a child of the Quantum Era, I know everything is connected. I believe in emergence. This may be the only thing in which I deeply believe.

Maybe it is a gad-fly’s  aversion to webs that kept me some distance from the young man’s description of the reality we had each just experienced.

A similar attraction and dissonance skipped along my synapses this morning as I read for a third time the collection of  “voices from the homeland” that Chris Bellavita posted yesterday. (Please scroll down, those comments  are separated from these by only one wretched post.)

Do these people inhabit the same planet? 

Imagine for a moment breakfast with essayist number 2 (if we do have enemies, we should try to figure out why they are mad at us) and essayist number 3 (we should hold suspected terrorists longer than other people even though it may go against the constitutional right of that person) and essayist number 15 (most people don’t realize the consequences of being under full Sharia law).

There’s a discussion that should distract me from the strudel.  Maybe we should wait for dinner where  something stronger than coffee can be offered.

Unfortunately these diverse realities seldom sit together over a meal. Instead they collide in the more rarefied confines of dueling essays, snarky blogging, television commentary, or Congressional hearings… where, most often, value is generated by finding or causing a new fracture rather than cultivating enhanced commonality.

Yesterday, fortunately, my 10:30 appointment had canceled.  I was able to listen, ask, and comment in private.  It was already hot and humid, so we slipped into the Renwick Gallery where we whispered about our individual perceptions of threat, vulnerability, motivation, and purpose.  The painting above dominates the Grand Salon.

We did not always agree.  My young friend is predisposed to see intention where I tend to perceive randomness.  But it was a worthwhile 40 minutes.  At least a young man, just beginning his career, felt as if someone was listening.  An older man nearing the close of his career was flattered to be asked his opinion.

Reality is hard to know with any certainty.  The best we can do is to listen to one another — really attend to one another — and then respond with  whatever experience, judgment, and insight we might have.  Earnest is not bad.  The issues are serious.  But humility, especially with a bit of humor, is probably even more worthwhile.

As elusive as the grail.

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Comment by Jim Garrow

June 26, 2009 @ 8:18 am


I really enjoyed this post. As someone who’s starting out in public health preparedness at the local level, I can say that I’ve absolutely benefited from some “graybeard” taking a few minutes out of their day to catch me up, let me know the backstory, or just let me say my misguided thoughts out loud and see how misguided they really are. This type of knowledge transfer–without suspicion or judgement–is what will keep our fields growing intelligently.

It may have seemed like 40 minutes to you, but I’m sure that to him it was infinitely valuable. I know that feeling and look forward to being able to return the favor to some young person one day.


Comment by Mark Chubb

June 26, 2009 @ 8:37 am

Amen, Phil. Good on you for seeing the encounter from both perspectives. We surely need more discussions of this informal and congenial variety. A few dinners accompanied by the stronger form of drink to which you allude might not go amiss either. Do I see reservations at Virtual Citronelle in our futures?

Comment by William R. Cumming

June 27, 2009 @ 5:53 pm

Is reality just what most of US think? Or can it be established by reason, research, the scientific method or some other approach. Perhaps even faith is a component. It is clear that more and more the basics of information availability while appearing to offer more and more information in reality (IMO) offers less and less to promote understanding and knowledge. I for example don’t view Mexico as a Homeland Security Threat while many other do! I don’t view Islam as a threat but many others do! I don’t rate RDD’s as much of a threat but many others do so! I don’t view the emergence of new technology as a threat, but many others do so. What I do view as a threat is driven in part by ignorance, incompetence, ego and hubris, and those who argue that reason and science are destroying our future. Churchill used the phrase “The lights are going out all over Europe” and while my quote may be inaccurate he was talking the rise of the “ISMs” and idelogies that hoped to destroy free peoples and democracy. Clearly building is a lot tougher task than destroying. Yet the modern world does seem at the moment to have aided and abetted the destroyers and not done much for the builders. Secrecy is a direct threat to our democracy
(our republic)with almost 2/3rds of all government reports and discussion barred from the interested public. Each politician should be forced at the go-in whether he believes power flows down from the king/leader/President or up from the people. At least in IRAN the fiction of a popular regime is now ended.

Comment by christopher tingus

June 28, 2009 @ 8:16 am

Satan cast out in the world has great wrath for the moment and only for the moment, however the inevitable resulting suffering from what the esteemed William Cumming refers to secrecy as a direct threat to democracy and “government reports and discussions barred from the interested public” will stir the will to survive among mankind as the clash bteween angels and demons is becoming very evident….

The Iranian leadership has transgressed the principles of dignity and respect for its own wonderful Persian brothers and sisters, a people with generations of proud contribution to humanity.

The world sees stick beating and the outright murdering of “Nada” at point blank range while a US administration, obviously wet behind the ears and far out of touch with reality continuing to extend its hand in closed door session and communications to the bloodied hand of a corrupt leadership which has caused 150+ other deaths and countless suffering of Iranian youth seeking justice and the right to speak out to enhance individual expression in aspiration to human rights….

Last year we saw a former and rather unpopular US President meet in closed door session with Syrian leadership, another group of thugs….

Apparently I concur with William Cumming when he states, “Yet the modern world does seem at the moment to have aided and abetted the destroyers and not done much for the builders.”

Reality suggests that while as a citizenry we are becoming disgustedly enlightened to the self-agenda,
personal aims, and dastardly acts of those we “entrust” by precious vote to serve the public, guns and ammunition sales skyrocket as the forefathers’ premonition and constitutional provision becomes the present popular mandate on Main Street USA depicting a very worrisome majority….

God Bless America!

Be vigilant as our nation must prevail….

Christopher Tingus
64 Whidah Drive
Harwich, MA 02645 USA

Comment by coetsee

December 26, 2009 @ 7:10 am

1. There’s a movement to radically change California government, by getting rid of career politicians and chopping their salaries in half. A group known as Citizens for California Reform wants to make the California legislature a part time time job, just like it was until 1966.


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