Wednesday, December 30, 2015

End of Year Message to Friends of The Cold War Museum

Dear Friend of The Cold War Museum:

Preserving the history of the Cold War to enable future generations to better understand this pivotal era in world history is both a personal and professional passion for me. As the year 2015 comes to a close, I’d like to bring you up to date on what we’re currently doing, and ask for your support as we continue the work of transforming The Cold War Museum into a center of excellence for display and preservation of Cold War artifacts and study of the Cold War.

The Museum is important to many people, people like a former U-2 pilot who was planning to make a presentation this past fall, and was disappointed when events beyond our control caused us to have to cancel. His commitment to The Museum, though, was unwavering; he agreed to come back another time. Now, that’s dedication.

We’re currently located at Vint Hill Farm Station next to the Vint Hill Craft Winery. Our goal for the coming year is to raise enough money to enable a move into a larger and more appropriate structure in Vint Hill. An interim project is finding a location to store those artifacts not on display. Much of our effort in the coming months will be devoted to that end. In that, we, as always, rely upon your support.

None of this will be possible without the continued support of people like you; people who want to see this important period of our history properly displayed. It is your membership, donations and passion that makes this possible. If you’re considering making a year-end donation, or a special holiday gift, we are a nonprofit501(c)(3) organization, and your gifts are normally fully tax deductible.

I encourage those who are not members to join.  If you’re already a member, thank you, and please please watch for our renewal mailing in January. In addition, please consider giving a gift of membership to someone important in your life.

For more information on membership, donations or about The Museum, visit our website, or contact our Executive Director Jason Hall at

We look forward to serving you in 2016 and beyond, and wish you and yours the happiest of holidays.

Charles A. Ray
Ambassador (retired)
Chairman of the Board
The Cold War Museum
P.O. Box 861526
Vint Hill, VA 20187

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Is Our Educational System Contributing to Our Lack of Economic Competitiveness?

I was recently talking to my daughter about her frustration with the nursery school in which she’d enrolled her oldest daughter, now four. Samantha is not only a precocious four-year-old, but mentally she’s as advanced as a second grader. She can write her full name, read most first grade books by herself, and do most of the sums first graders do. Like me, though, she doesn’t like crowds, and when she’s around large groups of children around her age who start to engage in rowdy play, she tends to stand on the fringe and watch them ruefully. Truth be told, she’s probably more comfortable with adults than most kids. Which is not to say that she does not associate with children her age; she does; just in small groups, and on her own terms.
The problem my daughter was facing was, despite Samantha’s obvious academic excellence and maturity the nursery school teacher decided she was ‘socializing’ effectively like the other kids. At first, this same teacher said Samantha lacked physical coordination, but I put paid to that with photos of her climbing a 12-foot climbing rock unaided, and walking a cargo ladder like a pro. She has all the physical coordination she needs; she’s just not into the wild behavior that apparently this teacher’s education guide tells her is appropriate for children that age.
After that conversation I got to thinking about the American education system, and how it has changed since I was in grade school back in the 1950s—and, not necessarily for the better. Studies have shown that despite increasing numbers of students graduating from high school, fewer are prepared to succeed in college or successfully enter the work force. In December, the Department of Education reported that U.S.  high school graduation rates hit a record high in 2013-2014, reaching 82%, the highest ever recorded. Despite this, a recent study of graduating 12th graders found that fewer than 40% were ready for college level work. Business leaders across the country fear that not enough students are prepared for higher-skilled jobs—something I noted to my dismay during my last ten years in the Foreign Service when I encountered college-educated individuals who were smart enough to pass the highly competitive Foreign Service Exam, but were unable to write effective reports or conduct briefings. Among the skills lacking are collaboration and communication, things that our schools, teaching to standardized tests, do not teach. All this adds up to a lack of American competitiveness in the world of academia and work.
Considering this, I’ve taken it a step further, and come up with a theory that will totally bum my granddaughter’s nursery school teacher out; our school system from nursery school to 12th grade is preparing our kids to fail at college and at work. I’m not faulting this poor teacher. She’s probably following the guidelines provided to her by the system, and doing what she was taught to do in school (and, I’m assuming here that she has at least a Bachelor’s degree in education). But, in following this standardized procedure, what she’s doing is creating a group of four and five-year-old drones who follow instructions, follow the crowd, and do little thinking for themselves. Those who try to think for themselves are ostracized as ‘unsocialized,’ and efforts are made to force them to conform. This follows them all the way through the system until they come out the other end with a high school diploma that has, unfortunately, prepared them to be an assembly line worker in a factory of the type that hardly exists in this country anymore.
News flash to all you educators out there: American industry is no longer the smokestack, assembly line variety. We’re a knowledge management, financial management society, and the lack of preparation provided by our education system means that many of our companies have to hire foreign talent to fill critical positions. My youngest son works for an IT firm in Herndon, Virginia, and he tells me that the majority of his fellow engineers are from India, China, and Russia American industry, according to Daniel Pink, author of Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, American companies are change-resistant and conservative, and wedded to using extrinsic motivations to get workers to produce more, rather than using intrinsic motivation as a primary way, based on what behavioral scientists have learned since the mid-20th century. Educational institutions, despite being where this research was conducted, are as conservative and resistant to change as industry. We’re still using standards to educate (train) our kids that was only barely appropriate to prepare them to work on an assembly line where they did the same task for their entire career, but are entirely inadequate for an economy where innovation and self-motivation are the keys to success.

If the American education system is to contribute to productivity in the 21st century, it’s time to change. And, that change has to start at the bottom.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Top TV Shows of 2015 | Listly List

Top TV Shows of 2015 | Listly List

A Simple Way to Avoid Email Scams

P.T. Barnum said, 'there's one born every minute.' That famous old circus entrepreneur was referring to those gullible among us who seem to fall for every get-rich-quick scheme or miracle cure that comes along.

What Barnum might also have said--or certainly implied by his original statement is, that for every sucker, there is also born someone who will try to take advantage.

One of the places where you'll find a scam a minute is your email inbox.  You've seen them; the email from a Nigerian prince or weeping widow telling  you that if you'll only provide your bank account information, you'll be a rich man when they transfer some ridiculous amount of money into said account. Another really silly scam is the one where someone hijacks someone else's email account and then sends a frantic email to all their contacts saying the hijackee is stranded in some country and needs money to get out. You'd think no one would fall for such obviously hokey stuff, but many do.  Don't you be one of them.

Some other email scams are not so obviously phoney--on the surface at least. Sometimes, scam artists phishing for personal information, will use familiar names, or subject lines that seem to make sense, in an effort to get you to open their emails and hopefully click on the links included--which then gives them the opportunity to stick a virus into your computer and hijack your information. When you see an email from a familiar name, or the subject line is one that you might normally receive, it's tempting to treat it as routine business. My advice is, if you're not 100% certain, don't open it. Use the preview pane utility available with most email services. If you do open it, don't EVER, and I mean NEVER, click on any link in it--and, that goes for links from people you know. They could very well be sending a malicious piece of malware without even knowing they're doing so.

But, here's the real insidious thing about familiar looking emails: they're not always from the people whose name appears in your email list. Black hat hackers have the ability to put whatever they want in that part of the email that appears on open lists, masking the metadata (all that junk with strange symbols that tells you where and who the email really came from). How do you guard against this? Here's something I routinely do. When I get an email from someone familiar, but from whom I've not heard in a long time, before I open the email, I hover the cursor over the FROM name in the email list, and PRESTO! I see the email address. If the address in the popup is unfamiliar, I immediately delete the email.

Here's an example of what I mean. In my inbox today was an email from James Entwhistle with the subject line: Office of the Us Ambassador.  The name was familiar, but take a closer look at the subject line. U.S or US is not normally written Us by educated people--certainly not people in my particular crowd (long-time U.S. Government employees). So, right away, I'm a bit suspicious. The next thing I do is hover the cursor over James Entwhistle, and what I see in the popup box is Now, that might be a valid email address, and if it is, I apologize to Mr. Entwhistle, but it certainly looks bogus to me. So, that email goes in the trash, and I'll never know what it contained. But, it it was bogus, that hacker didn't get into my computer that time.  I might be a bit paranoid, but I do the hovering cursor thing with a lot of my emails, even when they're from people I know well and communicate with often.  I've been hacked before, so I've become extra cautious.

Anyway, I just wanted to share that little bit of information, and I hope it was useful. If you're aware of any new Internet scams, or ways to protect yourself, please share them in the comments.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

What the U.S. Congress Doesn't Seem to Understand About U.S. Visa Law
American diplomats
serve in dangerous places
around the world--they don't
need to be attacked at home

In the wake of the tragic shootings in San Bernardino, CA, the U.S. Congress has called for renewed scrutiny of U.S. visa procedures. While this might seem sensible on the surface, there is another dimension to this issue that I address in an article on, from the perspective of having been a U.S. consular officer for many years of my 30+ year Foreign Service career.

Go to, read it, and tell me what you think in the comments below. Feel free to share this with your friends and contacts. The more people know about how things really work, the less likely they're to be confused by the political rhetoric that is just that--empty rhetoric.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Black Communities and the Police: the Source of Our Discontent

The increasing number of incidents in which police kill civilians, especially young black men, whether justified or not, has raised in my mind the precarious state of relations that exists between the police forces and black communities in our country.
While it’s tempting to blame these incidents on institutional racism and individual bigotry—which, by the way, do play a significant role—even a brief study of policing in the United States yields a far more disturbing answer.
As with many other governmental institutions, law enforcement in the new United States was based upon the English model, thus the presence of sheriffs as chief local law in many places. Initially in the colonies, maintenance of order was the responsibility of Justices of the Peace, but as towns grew, so did the need to maintain law and order. Until 1833 this was done by watches, or groups of community volunteers, who responded to or warned of danger. As more people crowded into towns that grew into great cities, anti-social behavior and criminal activity also grew. In 1833, Philadelphia, PA organized the first 24-hour per day, independent police force. New York City followed in 1844 with two forces, one with day duty, and a night watch. By 1880, most of America’s major cities had an independent police force.
These early forces were led by men appointed by the politicians in power, and answered to them—and to the moneyed mercantile interests behind the politicians. Their mandate was to maintain public order and respond to disorder; of course, what this meant depended upon who defined ‘disorder.’ What they were not organized to do was protect the people of the communities. Instead, there job was to stem labor unrest and maintain order in the immigrant, working class, and free black communities so that the mercantile interests would be able to make profit without hindrance. This was, you must remember, a time of great labor unrest brought on by exploitation by bosses and terrible working conditions in mines and factories. In the south, the direction of the police was even more ominous. In the antebellum south, slave patrols were organized to 1) catch runaway slaves, 2) suppress potential slave revolts, and 3) intimidate the slave work force to keep it docile and working. After the Civil War, police forces in the south were used to keep free blacks ‘in their place,’ and enforce Jim Crow laws.
Since 1855, the Supreme Court, for instance, has ruled that the police have no duty to protect individuals, that they only have a duty to enforce the law in general. In some jurisdictions, police are also entitled to protect private (read commercial) rights.
As you might imagine, the early police forces were hotbeds of corruption, and were noted for their harsh and often violent treatment of members of the community—not just the black community either. White immigrant workers were often the target of harsh police crackdowns. The police forces were housed in barracks on the outskirts of cities, for instance, to keep them from mingling with and becoming sympathetic to the populations, which they were there to control, not protect.
In response to police brutality there have been many moves to reform America’s police institutions. What has often been the result of these reform moves, though, is further separation of the police from communities—especially minority communities.
Distrust and fear of the police has only deepened since the 1950s when militarization of the police began. The introduction of uniforms, military ranks, chains of command, and deadlier weapons, only serves to further alienate police forces from the communities they claim to ‘serve.’ Since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, with the Department of Defense providing combat arms and equipment to local cops, it has gotten even worse. No one can forget the image of cops in Ferguson, MO, riding armored vehicles and armed and armored like combat troops in Afghanistan, facing off against unarmed demonstrators.
Regarding the police and minority communities, looking at the demographics of America’s local police organizations gives further cause for worry. The following statistics are a couple of years old, but the situation hasn’t changed significantly, so they tell a chilling story:

            Approximate number of police officers in the US – more than 800,000 (in 2008) for nearly 400 officers per 100,000 population.
            Average salary - $60K/Yr (New Jersey - $89K, Mississippi - $33K)

            Police officers killed per year (2008) – Between 70 and 80
            People killed by police per year (2008) – 600

            Public confidence in police – 54% (less than the military, but more than Congress)

            Key demographics of our police officers?
            Race:  White – 80%  Black – 16%   Hispanic – 13%   Asian – 2%
Education: High School – 20%  Some College – 44%  College grads – 36%

When all this is taken into account, the conclusion is that it would be a miracle if relations between police organizations and the black community were amicable. The fact is, if you analyze the history of policing in the United States, it is a wonder that the police are welcome in any working class community.

The question before us, then, is what can be done about it? I’ll be the first to confess that I do not know. Efforts at community policing are a step in the right direction. But, they must be reinforced with evidence that the police truly are sworn to serve and protect and not subjugate and punish—not there to ensure that the workers are kept in their place so that the mercantile interests (the 1%) can have a stable, orderly work force and tax-supported protection of their interests, enabling them to get ever richer. The militarization of our streets must end. And then, the process of healing can begin.

I am not naïve. I know there are lots of violent criminals out there. I know that there are far too many guns on the streets, in closets, gun cabinets, and under beds. I know that the job of a police officer is dangerous, and often thankless and under-compensated. I know that there are decent, dedicated police officers out there who put their lives on the line daily on behalf of the rest of us. What we need to do, though, is root out the rotten apples, so the good cops can do their jobs.

I don’t know how long this would take. I do know it won’t be overnight. It’s been in the making for over 200 years—since the first police force was organized—so, it might take that long, or longer, to fix the problem. So what? It needs to happen, and it’s not a problem that can be solved by one side. It will take both—the police and the community—working together.

What say we get started today?