Steel City Cowboy

Friday, October 28, 2005

The Big Playground

I wrote this over a year ago for my personal blog, but it's still the piece I'm most proud of. I believe it still applies, and if anyone's hanging around after the Drudgemalkinlanche, I guarantee you, it's worth reading. Also, notice to folks who said I was a commie, etc., I implore you by the feathers of sweet Odin's raven to read this.

The Big Playground (link points to original post on the Hess Report)

I don't know when it started, but many years ago I began to think of international relations in terms of a school playground. It's fenced in. You have groups that hang out together. There's a gang or two. Some kids are tougher, richer or smarter than others. Some always whine, no matter what's going on. There are fights.

But the hypothetical playground has a few differences from ones in the real world. In this playground, most of the people are male, in late adolescence. Some of them carry knives. A few have guns. A very few have (but have never used, except on one occasion) some hand grenades in their backpacks.

Oh. One more important detail. The teachers are all around the front of the school, having a smoke. The kids are completely on their own.

I've yet to see a world event that cannot be understood through this model.

Who are we? Obviously, we're America. America is the rich, good-looking, super-smart, well-muscled kid with a Colt 1911 on his hip and a backpack full of hand grenades. He also has a ton of snickers bars in there, too, and he feels it's his duty to hand them out to the kids whose families don't have enough money to feed them breakfast before they head to school. He also helps them with their homework, if they need it. He has a couple of good friends - that leathery kid who's always inviting him over for the weekend cookout and saying stuff about "shrimps on the barbie", the Jewish kid that pretty much everyone else hates, and that other kid with the accent who used to push America around, until he became a Royal pain in the ass and America popped him in the nose several times since which he has turned over a new leaf.

When you reduce it to this personal a level, some things become obvious. Lots of kids on that playground hate us. Why? Try to remember what it was like, if you have any playground experience. Almost everyone hated the rich, good-looking, super-smart, well-muscled kid, just because he existed. It was a fact of life. Most of the kids just keep that hatred on the back burner, though. They're never going to do anything about it - America might give them a pop in the nose, too, after all. But if someone flicks him in the ass with a rock and he yelps? Oh, that'd be rich.

So what's the point of bringing up my internal model now? I've been reading many criticisms lately of the "War on Terror" (in reality a war on Islamic facism) and the strategy that has been involved thus far. And it's driving me nuts. Journalists and retired generals keep criticizing the current administration for not going after the real enemies: Saudi wahabi Islam, Syria and Iran. And if they keep blowing their horns like this, it could ruin the whole thing. Here's why:

There's this gang on the playground, eight or nine of them depending on who you count. Call them Iran, Saudi, Iraq, Syria, Jordan,Paki, Afghan, maybe Egypt. These guys have what everyone else on the playground wants: chewing gum. In fact, everyone else on the playground is pretty badly addicted to chewing gum. Sure, they can get it from a couple of the other kids too, but the gang that hangs by the middle east section of the fence has a great supply of it. And they milk it. It's made them enough money that you can see big gold chains peeking out from behind their silk shirts. They don't have quite enough for a chrome-plated Colt 1911, but a couple of them have zip guns, one a snub-nose .38 special, a few have been trying to make pipe bombs, and they all have a back pocket full of fire crackers.

Some things of interest about this gang: You've seen their kid brothers and sisters outside of school. They don't dress nearly as nicely as their bigger brothers you go to school with. In fact, they look downright impoverished. And you're also aware that big bro beats the crap out of them when he's not on the playground with everyone watching. You also know that this gang has decided that they just don't like everyone else on the playground. The gang all goes to the same church, and they simply can't stand the fact that all the rest of the kids go to different churches, or maybe even no church at all. They've decided that everyone's going to go to their church, or they'll start lighting firecrackers under the other kids' feet. If the others STILL won't go, maybe someone will have to be shot. They're that serious.

Well, a couple of weeks ago, the gang got tired of waiting. They figured that it was time to bring things to a head and fight it out with everyone else. And the best way to do that would be to sucker-punch that preening, Godless, grinning America. They were under the impression that the good looks and wealth meant that he was soft inside - really more a bully and a wuss than anything else - and that he'd sit down and cry in the corner if someone hit him really, really hard. So they sent Afghan, because he was always the craziest and hated America more than any of the others. Afghan snuck up behind America, whipped out hair spray and a lighter, and lit up the back of America's hair. It hurt.

When America turned around, drew it's gun and shot Afghan between the eyes, the rest of the gang almost shit their pants. What had they gotten themselves into?

So you're on the playground. You're tough, but you're confronted with six gangs members who know you just offed their buddy. What do you do? Announce to the playground "I shall now fight with all of the Middle East Fence gang! Prepare yourselves for an onslaught!"? That would be stupid. Or, you could pull out your pistol and start shooting, but that doesn't work for you. You weren't raised like that.

Instead, you go over to them, put your arm around one, let's say Paki, and start explaining why he's your new best friend. You keep him so tight against you that he can't pull out his zip gun. Then you explain to the gang that you really don't have a gripe with them. You don't care what they do to their kid brothers and sisters after school, what they charge for their gum, etc. Your only gripe was with Afghan, who lit your head on fire.

You know that Iran and Saudi are the real instigators here. But if you attack them outright, the others will rally, and it'll be six on one. You'll probably have to pull out the grenades, and no one wants that to happen. They leave big holes in the pavement and make everyone's ears bleed, whether they're part of the fight or not. So once again, what do you do? You decide to pick off the toadies first, with good excuses. You say to the whole playground:

"That Iraq kid is nuts. He's got firecrackers right here on the playground, and we all remember how he blew up his six year old brother with a pipe bomb last semester. He's too dangerous to keep his stuff. I say we make him give up his pistol and bomb-making junk."

The rest of the playground kind of mumbles that they agree, but they really don't want to see anyone else get shot, like that poor Afghan kid. Yeah, he was a wacko, but come on, dude! He only lit your hair on fire (which was really quite funny, by the way). And then Germany, France and Russia go off to smoke in the corner and think about third grade, when they were still cool.

So America makes it really clear to the rest of the Middle East Fence gang that he's only out to disarm Iraq and send him home so one of his nicer siblings can represent the family on the playground. But Iraq won't go along with it. And, as this is really part of something bigger and quite necessary, America doesn't have much of a choice. But he refuses to draw his gun, which would have made this so much easier. He has to prove to the rest of the gang, to keep them from rallying, that this is really just about disarming Iraq and sending him home, not about taking them out one by one. So America rolls up his sleeves and gets into a fist fight, which he wins. He's got a cut under his eye that he wouldn't otherwise have, but he's eliminated Iraq from the gang, replaced him with his little brother who mostly likes America, and the other gang members still don't realize that each and every one of them is on America's list. Of course, it turns out that Iraq's firecrackers were mostly duds, and his .38 wasn't loaded. But then again, everyone on the playground, even the other guys in the gang, figured it was loaded, so what are you going to do?

And just before the scrap, America had called home on his cell phone. While everyone was watching the fight, America's little brothers and sisters, rich, good-looking, well-armed geniuses themselves, were getting in touch with the kids back in Iran and Syria's homes. Letting them know what was going on. Giving them hope that they wouldn't have to take the beatings for much longer when big bro came home for the day.

That's where the playground stands right now. Syria's obviously scared, but with only a couple of guys left in the gang, there's not a whole lot he can do. His best bud Iraq just got hauled to the nurse with a broken arm. He's thinking that maybe he'd rather stay on the playground and start playing nice than have that happen to him too. Jordan's in the same boat, and he's always been a follower anyway, so he'll just go along to get along. Both of them are hoping that France, Spain, Germany and all those other kids will stop America from making them next, but really, all those guys are capable of is shooting nasty looks across the asphalt.

So now we get to the really bad kids. Iran has figured out how to build hand grenades in its basement, and he'll use them too. Especially on that damned Jewish kid. But Iran's siblings may be ready to push him down the stairs some evening. And Iraq and Afghan always had his back, at least against people outside of the gang. Now they're gone.

Saudi's always had the brains and the money, but things are kind of going crazy back at home for him. One of his brothers is a complete nut job, and he's been starting to hit back when Saudi smacks him around lately.

If I'm America, I'll be sending Krispy Kremes to Saudi, Iran, Syria and Jordan's brothers and sisters while the big guys are at school. Maybe martial arts workout videos, too. When I'm on the playground with the big brothers, though, I'll be their best friends in the world. And I'll be watching for an excuse to put one of them in a hammerlock and toss him over the fence. But it'll have to be a good excuse - one that doesn't look like an excuse - like the fact that Iran grabbed hold of Brit's kid brother and shook him around a bit yesterday. Or the fact that he keeps boasting about his homemade hand grenade lab and making veiled threats about using them.

Maybe the time is right to kick him in the side of the knee and let his brothers and sisters have a shot at the playground. Maybe that time hasn't quite arrived. But seeing as America has thus far been able to pick apart the gang without causing them to defend themselves as a group, I'd say that he knows what the hell he's doing. And the hot-bloods shouting "Hit 'em! Shoot 'em!" from the other side of the playground are only increasing the chances that the gang will get really scared and try to come together for one last stand. Then America would have to pull out the hand grenades, and I very much do not want that to happen. It seems to me that America knows exactly what it is doing. Anyone who supports the larger goal of taking out the Middle East Fence gang should at least try not to make that job harder.


Addendum: Things I learned while writing this post.

While searching the Internet for appropriate links to these samples, I was amazed and appalled at the number of wacked out links you have to go through to get to the good stuff. I was looking for mostly hard news links about subjects like the US and Pakistan creating close ties following 9/11, Iranian perfidy regarding their nuclear ambitions, and the current state of Syrian and Jordanian domestic politics. I am no neophyte to scouring the Internet, yet I was presented with page after page of results for each of these queries that mentioned the subject tangentially, then segued into a diatribe against the President. The BBC, Democratic Underground, and other leftist sites were clearly dominant. Many times I had to proceed through several pages of results, just to hit an actual news report about the subject, as opposed to a quick mention followed by a Bush hatchet job.

What does this mean? Well, as I'm using Google, it means that more people who have high page ranks linked to the hatchet-job pages than the hard news pages. Makes sense, I guess. Page rank isn't exactly a popularity contest, but it's close. So this means that a whole lot more people want to say bad things about America than don't. Fair enough. As previously stated, they can go have themselves a smoke and remember when they used to be cool. I'm sure Dick Cheney has something to say to them too.

The other things I learned, while looking for images for both the Hiroshima link and the Twin Towers link, were that A: seriously contemplating mass killing makes me feel ill. I'm already aware of the effect - when I've read eyewitness accounts of Saddam gassing a Kurdish village, or the log books from the Inquisition torture chambers, or the Japanese army tearing through the South Pacific on its last legs, or the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Of course, there's 9/11 too. It's easy for me to see my family in those positions. Pick any one of those events and there was someone's kid or wife who died instantly, or in horrible lonely pain, who had just as much promise and love for them as my own for my family. But at the moment of their deaths, they were turned into meat or cinders, and every single precious instant of love in their lives was erased from this world. If I think about it for too long, I begin to feel kind of sick. I suspect that thinking about it too much can actually damage your soul, or at least your psychology. So that's an answer to the couple people I've talked to recently who claim that my support for the current war against Islamic facists means that I'm into killing people. Put simply: I'm not. But I'm even more against having other people kill me, my family, and my friends. So I'm willing to put up with thinking about us killing others, and the damage that might do to me, so that my kids won't ever have to make such decisions.

And B: I'm still angry about 9/11. After seeing page after page of images of the Towers on fire, smoking, falling, gone, I was ready to see the final image I linked: "Nuke Them All." As much as I just stated that I'm not into the killing, I see that image, and a part of me nods its head. "Nuke them all," it says. It's quiet, but it's there. I was never angry enough that I would have hit a button that just erased the entire Muslim population from the planet, which event some people I know have vocally wished for. Of course, there are millions of people in the world who would gladly press the reverse button, obliterating you and me. But was I angry enough to push a button that would erase all Islamic facists from the face of the Earth? No. If I were to do something like that, if we were to do something like that, it wouldn't be out of anger. It would be out of a sense of duty to the future world.

But we can't do something like that. We have to take the long way around, and listen to people who try to tell us to go faster or slower, or not to go at all. We have to live with the fact that lots of folks will hate our guts and say horrible things about us no matter what we do. And finally, we're stuck with what we have: some candy bars, a top-of-the-line Colt 1911, a couple of friends, and a bag full of hand grenades that we pray we'll never have to use.

A less abstract view: If this is a little fantastical for you, then check out this great summary in much more literal terms.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

USA Today Uses the Sharpen Filter!

Update: Michelle Malkin says I'm defending USA Today. From charges of bias in this particular case: yes. From charge of being technological poopy-heads: no. This is a known issue with low res imagery and sharpen, and they should take that into account when creating their graphics pipeline. End Update.

Hmmm. A teapot-tempest is brewing regarding USA Today possibly maliciously manipulating a picture of SecState (and personal Presidential favorite) Condoleeza Rice to make her look eeeeevil.

This would fall under the partisan bickering category, about which I said I wouldn't be writing, except that this is partially an IT issue, too. Well, at the least it's a graphics issue, which is wedded to IT in my mind, and in which I hold a bit of expertise.

First, the images in question:

The "undoctored" image.

How it appeared according to USA Today.

Ooooo. She looks pretty evil in the USA Today picture, doesn't she? They must have done it on purpose! How could something like this be an accident!?

From a technical standpoint, it can be.

One of my standard tricks for improving the punch of an image -- if the whole thing is too low quality or low resolution to really withstand any kind of serious manipulation -- is to make a mask around the eyes and nose, then sharpen them. I've done it on countless pictures of models where they needed an appearance of more contrast, but the original images would have looked worse had I fooled around with them overall. Knowing that people tend to focus on the triangle in the face from eyes to chin, I sharpen that crucial area, and it makes the whole picture look significantly better.

So what, you say? Well, look what happens to Ms. Rice when I selectively sharper her triangle:

Whoa. It's not exactly what USA Today came up with, but it's very close. If I had time to play with the Unsharp Mask filter (another digital imagery pipeline standard), I could probably find a setting that would mimic the offending image almost exactly. This kind of outcome is not unusual when using the Sharpen filter on relatively low resolution images, which is why I recognized immediately. For those of you in the audience with Photoshop backgrounds, here's what I did:

1. Took two seconds to paint quick-mask over face triangle.
2. Ran standard Sharpen filter.

That's it. USA Today may use something other than Photoshop in their pipeline, which would account for the slight variation, and even if they aren't, there are several ways to sharpen that would each produce a slightly different result. To say that the photo was "manipulated" is technically true, but by that criteria, you can say that every single photo you see that was digitally taken has likewise been "manipulated." Most photographic content undergoes at least one level of digital sharpening somewhere along the way.

I have a lot easier time believing that some low-level photo stooge said "This picture looks like crap. I'll just do the sharpen thing to it and put it in the pipeline," than that someone farted around with a photo to make it look that ridiculously bad and hoping no one would notice, while at the same time hoping that it would subliminally infect us with a "Condi is Satan" meme.

What you're seeing in USA Today's image is not malice, but just a bad sharpening artifact. In fact, it's entirely possible that human eyes did not even review that image before it appeared on the web.

To be fair to the critics, a few questions remain. Did it appear in print? If so, what did it look like? But if this is a web-only picture (and a lack of higher res imagery leads me to believe it is), then this is really a non-issue. Someone did a standard photo-prep procedure, probably hit Command S-W (save and close) without even thinking about it, and out it went.

Next scandal, please. What I'd really like to see is someone Photoshopping selected bits o' porn onto that shot of Cindy Sheehan getting carried off by the cops. You know the one I mean. Oh yeah.

Update: While this may have been malicious, think about it for a second. That sort of thing would have to be done subtly. If you paint big horns (or big scary eyes) on someone whose visage everyone is already fairly familiar with, you'll get caught, and look stupid. The picture looks so unnatural that if someone did do it at the behest of their scheming leftist masters, they should be fired forthwith for blantantly overplaying their hand and exposing the conspiracy.

In my experience, faulty systems, and personal inattention and laziness will easily account for almost 90% of the badness we experience on a day-to-day basis. There's some true malice out there in the MSM, but this ain't it.

Second Update: The theory has been advanced that this was possibly some sort of prankster (or bored person) on staff who did something they thought was funny, and that it made it into "print." I've seen crap like this happen: someone does a photo (or text) edit as a joke, but the intended target doesn't see it, or someone goes out sick, and it makes it into print and then everyone's screwed. Definitely credible. Also, I've been able to make the bottoms of the irises go to points by using Photoshop CS2's Smart Sharpen filter. So, my final (forked theory) is that either someone was being mean/silly and it made it past the editors (shock!) or that someone was doing repetitive edits, got a bad result and moved onto the next image without noticing. Then it got past the editors (shock!).

Final Update: USA Today responds. Here's what they said:

Editor's note: The photo of Condoleezza Rice that originally accompanied this story was altered in a manner that did not meet USA TODAY's editorial standards. The photo has been replaced by a properly adjusted copy. Photos published online are routinely cropped for size and adjusted for brightness and sharpness to optimize their appearance. In this case, after sharpening the photo for clarity, the editor brightened a portion of Rice's face, giving her eyes an unnatural appearance. This resulted in a distortion of the original not in keeping with our editorial standards.

From this we definitively learn that they don't this via an automated process (pipeline), which was a possibility I had mentioned. This seems like a pretty straight up cop to me. However, I have to wonder how long this would have gone unnoticed (forever!) if no one who cared (conservatives) made mention of it. So, while this wasn't editorial malice on the part of USA Today, the question remains: was it a photo-editor who sucks, someone with an axe to grind, or someone who thought they were doing something funny and then crapped when they saw it on the web? Just like the age-old question of "How licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie pop?" The world may never know.

Edited to update image links for archive pages.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

IT in Iraq

According to Sachi at Big Lizards (who in turns cites this MSNBC article):
The US military captured Abu Dijana, a top propaganda agent for Al-Qaeda in Iraq. Abu Dijana was the Webmaster of a "members-only" website called Al-Qaeda in Iraq. He was responsible for blogging the day-to-day operations of al-Qaeda, such as bombing American convoys, Iraqi police, or citizens exiting from a mosque.

The headline for the MSNBC article reads "U.S. nabs al-Qaida Web site producer". Doesn't sound like too big of a catch, eh? Maybe not. The write up on Big Lizards mainly talks about the propaganda content and the popularity of the website that was taken down. I'd like to point out a few of the IT aspects of this case.

The original article mentions that in addition to the website U.S. forces shut down, there are "unsecured" websites (what we think of as open forums) that are currently under scrutiny for intelligence data. In my opinion, that's going to be mostly fruitless. With secure alternatives available, only the most naive and stupid jihadis are going pass actionable intelligence via open forums. So anyone we're going to catch or any intelligence we'll gather from these forums and websites is going to be of negligible value.

Also, registration for these forums can be done virtually anonymously. All you need is a screen name and an email address, which can be untraceable. The user database of any of these forums, even if fully compromised, would not yield anything interesting.

The main case in the article, though, is a different story. The website was being used as a communications medium between people who were actually carrying out jihadi assaults. That means that the users were bad, dangerous people. We also know that their real identities were known, at least to some of the people administering the site, because they would have had to know real information about them in order to validate their membership in the group. From the article: "For reasons of security, each new member of the site must be approved by a committee of existing members." If the guy they captured is any kind of decent IT manager, he would have the database of user information encrypted well enough that the NSA would have a tough time breaking it. Actually, if he had a good head for security protocols, he would have had real information fully encrypted, and at a separate, unrelated, secure location, used only to verify identities from time to time if the need arose.

But not everyone has a good head for security. If he didn't, then he may have had all of the user data that had been used to authenticate jihadi forum membership right there with him. Maybe even on the same computer. People get lazy. Sometimes we get lucky. If that's the case, this is a major coup.

Absolutely zero information is given about how they found him or when. This is one of those captures where not releasing the news of it could have enormous benefits. You can listen in to the terrorists as they make their plans. But then, you run into the WWII problem of trying to disrupt the enemy's plans without tipping them off to the fact that you have fully compromised their communication lines, sending them looking for alternatives and leaving you with a dead phone line. As we shut the site down just prior to the Constitutional Referendum, it would seem that either we couldn't maintain silence that we had captured the guy, or that we felt acting on intelligence we had already gathered from the site, even if it disclosed the site's compromise, was more important than not doing so. You make the call.

As to how we tracked him down, often (but not always), we see the phrase "local residents/tipsters phoned the terrorists' location to U.S. forces." We don't see that here. Did we zero in on him via digital means? If so, that's a good reason not to disclose even the notion that you did it that way. It's certainly possible. You identify the hosting company (or Internet provider if it's a private, local server) of the website, lean on them to let you log the administrative traffic. You trace the traffic down the pipe to it's source, identify the local service provider, who in this case is probably a nasty person too, since they have to know what they're hosting. Then, you just grab their customer address list and start matching up IPs.

Of course, it couldn't have been that simple. In fact, it probably wasn't. If I were setting this up, I would have had the site available for administration via secure login from any internet connection. I'd have an ever-changing list of people with high speed Internet connections who were willing to do uploads at a moment's notice. I'd do all propaganda/media editing on a non-networked laptop. When I had something to post, I'd dump it on an iPod (if it was big) or a USB memory stick if it was small, then give it to a courier with one of the addresses from the list. Set up a one-time login for that file and bingo. Change locations. Repeat. Recipient gets to keep the portable device as "payment."

I don't know how you catch me under that scenario, other than getting phenomenally lucky. But, as we're not given any real information, we have no idea as to the terrorists' security precautions or lack thereof.

So kudos again to our wonderful forces in Iraq. Maybe this was just a nice moral victory - a way to make them shut their yaps for a while. Or maybe we now have the goods on a whole lot of bad people.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Welcome to Steel City Cowboy

I've been blogging for over two years on my personal/family site: The Hess Report. Occasionally, I've written about political issues there, mostly relating to firearms, the war against Islamic fascists or taxes. It was never what the site was intended for, but from time to time, it would find its way out of my head and onto the keyboard.

Recently I've been commenting more frequently and in more depth on other people's political blogs. Wanting to write more, but feeling a bit constrained by the comment systems and not wanting to clutter the family blog with my political analysis, I have branched off a new site: Steel City Cowboy.

What won't you see here? Analysis of partisan political infighting - considering that I think almost all of our Senators and Congressmen are barely functional as normal human beings and are the products of years of systemic corruption, their squabbles are little more than amusing, and are certainly not worth the time and press that they think they ought to have. So you won't have that - or pictures of kittens. Unless the kittens have guns and are shooting terrorists. Then it's kittens 24/7.

What will you see? Writing about the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, the reduction/restructure/removal of taxes to more economically efficient levels, and Pennsylvania's silly alcohol laws. Analysis of Information Technology and cryptography issues when they show their beeping faces in the WAIF (War Against Islamic Fascists). Comments on strategy, tactics and outcomes in the WAIF.

So what kind of arrogant mofo calls himself the Steel City Cowboy and claims that he intuitively knows what's right? Well, me. I live in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania - the Steel City, so I have that part covered without invoking hubris. Do I rope cattle for a living, or swagger around bow-legged with six shooters and a ten gallon hat? Not so much. While I do own a pair of nice boots and a Barmah Canvas Crusher to wear when I work outside, I don't like horses and only shoot a Russian semi-auto shotgun and Bulgarian military pistol, which I think our friends on the range would have frowned upon.

I'm married, have two kids, a dog, a minivan and a mortgage. Without a doubt, that's cowboy material right there. I went to Penn, where I learned to despise empty intellectualism on a visceral level, much like someone who spends four years in the ghettos of LA will learn to despise street gangs in a very personal way. People pay me to fix their computers, to configure their email, web systems and LANs, to prevent intrusions, to show them how right-clicking in Windows almost always brings up a menu of useful options, and to apply my expert knowledge of Photoshop/Illustrator/QuarkXPress. People don't pay me to blog, write code or provide online support for an open source 3D graphics package, but I do it anyway.

The day I decided to start this blog, I read a post on BigLizards that augmented a post by Ed Morrissey about different kinds of Republicans. Much like the first time I read the Myers-Briggs write up on INTJ's, an A-ha! light went on in my head. The cowboy. That's you, it whispered. It's how I've always made my decisions. My gut tells me what the proper action is, and I do it. When questioned, the logic presents itself, fully formed, and I can let it fly out of my mouth to the satisfaction (or disdain) of the intellectuals. Believe me, I had a lot of practice with that in my four years at Penn. I may shoot from the hip, but it turns out that's okay when you're a damned good shot.

Now if I'm so great, why aren't I running the world? No interest. Well, only marginal interest. My family is the most important thing in the world to me. I think that the best gift you can give your kids when they're at their most impressionable (0 - 7 years) is your presence. That's why my wife and I decided to have her take a hiatus from her teaching career (she's a phenomenal, award-winning choir director and professional singer) to stay home, and for me to find a job that both pays the bills and finds me at home an inordinate amount of the time. It was the right thing to do. We took it seriously. And it's paid off. I studied the life of the politician and the fast-track business man and came to one conclusion: almost without exception they have either destroyed their families, or come close to doing so. Of course, they always regret it. They always do. It seems that it's nearly a requirement of the job, and I won't do it. End of case.

However, if the chance does present itself for world domination, I'll just do with it what I do with everything else: show up and be a natural.