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Thursday, July 31, 2008

Jerkoff of the Week - Downey Savings and Loan (updated)

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Update:

- Unless you are a UCF regular, stop emailing me about this post. Period. Your hate mail will be shitcanned unread, you're wasting your time. Go here, read this.

- No information regarding the kerfluffle in the comments section will be provided to anybody outside of the UCF. If you don't know what the UCF is, you're not part of it.

- I don't want to talk to the media.

- I don't want to talk to DSL Management.

- If you have an honest question, or you are friends or family of HM3 Retmier, feel free to email me.

- Otherwise leave me the hell alone, you're getting on my nerves.

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Meet 19 year-old HM3 Marc Retmier, a Navy Hospital Corpsman from Hemet, California. He wanted to be a doctor, and saw duty to his country as a stepping stone toward that goal.

Marc's father, Steve Retmier said of his son, "His passion was always to be where the action was. He could have stayed at Bethesda Naval Hospital and been a corpsman. My son believed in what he was doing and he kept volunteering. He didn't have to be there."

Not only did HM3 Retmier join the Navy during this time of unpopular war, he volunteered for duty in the war zone. And not just any duty - he was a combat medic, arguably one of the most dangerous jobs in the ground forces. See, while the rest of the team is fighting, it is the medic's job to provide aid to the wounded. Countless numbers of combat medics have been killed or wounded in the performance of their duty. Countless numbers have shielded the fallen with their own bodies, dragged their comrades to safety, and given their lives in the line of duty. From the trenches of WWI, to the beaches of WWII, at Chosin in Korea, in the fetid jungles of Vietnam, and in the deserts of the Middle East, the combat medic has been one of the single toughest and most respected jobs in the military. It takes exceptional dedication, courage, and selflessness to be a combat medic, and this choice says more clearly than any words what kind of man Marc Retmier was.

On June 18th, a Wednesday, Retmier became the 500th Californian to die in this conflict, killed on patrol in Paktia Province, in northern Afghanistan, when a Taliban rocket slammed into his Humvee. He died, like so many of his brothers in arms, doing his duty in a dangerous and hostile land.

His parents, of course, are devastated.

A day after the news arrived that their son had been killed, two checks arrived in the mail. What we in the military call a death gratuity, $50,000, which is disbursed immediately to the next of kin upon a military member's death. The gratuity is intended to fund the fallen's funeral and provide for the family until the insurance is processed - which can take a considerable amount of time.

On June 19th, Retmier's family took the checks, the US Government issued checks, to their bank, the Hemet Branch of Downey Savings and Loan. There they attempted to cash those checks, those US Government issued checks, in order to pay for their son's funeral which was scheduled for June 26th - the following week for those of you not good at math.

Again, these are US Government issued checks, drawn on the US Federal Reserve Bank, and guaranteed by the US Federal Government.

The bank refused to cash the checks.

Or rather, they deposited the checks, placed a ten day hold on the funds, and told the Retmiers to come back after July 1st.

The family explained the situation.

The bank refused to cash the checks.

The teller explained that her manager had instructed her to hold the checks per bank policy. Period.

The family explained the situation to the manager. They provided proof that their son had died in combat and that the checks were valid and genuine. They explained that the funeral was in seven days.

The bank refused to cash the checks.

Understand, this is not some pawn shop, or one of those payday loan places - this is a bank, with the full ability to verify electronically and immediately the availability of the funds promised by the checks.

Policy, however, is far more important to Downey Savings and Loan than the death of a mere Sailor or the bereavement of his family. The bank issued a statement claiming that it sympathizes with the family, BUT it was forced to abide by its check hold policy and that policy conforms to federal banking regulations and "industry practices." Just so we're clear on this, withholding federally guaranteed funds from a grieving family of a fallen serviceman is apparently an industry practice. And this is how Downey Savings and Loan of Hemet, California honors the ultimate sacrifice of a US Navy Corpsman killed in the line of duty.

The Retmier family found the money to bury their beloved son from other sources. They have also filed a complaint with the Office of Thrift Supervision.

I find this industry practice despicable and dishonorable. I find it, in fact, criminal. Every bank manger and employee involved in this disgusting travesty should be forced to spend time riding patrol in the meat grinder, maybe then they'd find a little flexibility in their industry practice.

Congratulations, Downey Savings and Loan, you are truly jerkoffs of epic proportions, I hope you all choke on your policy and procedures. The only time I wouldn't piss on your front door is if your dammed building was on fire.

------------------------------

Rest in peace, HM3, and know that your comrades in arms honor your memory.





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UPDATE:

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As you'll note, the comments thread appears to be infested with a particularly nasty and stupid troll. Comment moderation is now turned on and will remain so until further notice, apologies to Stonekettle Station regulars for the inconvenience.

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ATTENTION ANONYMOUS TROLL: Since it's obvious that you are unfamiliar with both blogging and internet terminology, let me clue you in on something you obviously don't know: I can see your IP Address. In other words, I know where you are located and which server you're logging into my site from. Surprise! And how are things there in Laguna Niguel, California?

-----------------------------

ATTENTION DOWNEY SAVINGS AND LOAN: Take a look in the comments section. See the nasty troll? Yeah, that's one of your employees. The comments originate from: dsl52242.downeysavings.com. Now, since tellers and such low level bank employees normally do not have internet access, or the amount of free time necessary to log into my site over 150 times in a four hour period I have to assume that the troll is a member of management. Let me ask you something, Downey, what do you think will happen when I forward my logs and these comments to your board of directors?

Update: Downey S&L, I'd like you to take particular note of where your employee, on company time and on company computers using company network access, described a decorated combat veteran as "Loser," "Big Baby," and "Moron." I'd also like you to note where that same employee referred to the family of a fallen service member, the same family who you treated poorly according your lousy press, as "Whiners" and "Bullies." Also, please note that said employee is not familiar with
U.S. Government Federal Banking Regulations. Personally, I think you've probably had enough bad press when it comes to how you've treated veterans and their families, but I leave it up to you.

You can email me at the contact information over there on the right hand side of this site and apologize - I'll give you until midnight Friday, my time - or else I'll forward my logs, and your comments to a couple of friends in the news business.

How you like them apples?

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Alaskan Panoramas

I've been enjoying doing the various panoramas displayed in previous posts.

And I like the look that they give to my site banner. Since I'm out nearly every weekend taking pictures, you'll probably see a lot more of them.

I wanted a place to store the previous banner images, so that visitors could view them in high resolution even after they've been taken down. So I've created a public Picasa Album and uploaded this month's panoramas there.

So far there are only three images loaded, but you can expect many more in the future.

Thunderbird Falls, Alaska


Main Street, Talkeetna, Alaska


Reed Valley and the Archangel Mine, Hatcher Pass, Alaska


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I've spent the morning on the phone and in IM, so I'm a bit behind on things. I don't have time for any long blog posting this morning, so how about a photograph related video? (Um, watch the words and listen to the lyrics - there's some funny to be had there).

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Weekend Adventure and more photoshoppery

As I've mentioned, repeatedly, it's been raining here.

A lot.

And it's been cold.

In fact we've got some fresh snow on the mountains.

This does not make me happy, but then again nobody asked me for my opinion.

Anyway, we try to get out on the weekends and do a little hiking. This last weekend rained both days, Saturday it poured cats and dogs, so any kind of outdoor adventure was right out. My wife took one look at it, and decided to go in to work instead - yeah, it was that bad. Beastly and I spent the day in the shop. Sunday was a bit better, drizzling rain, but that appeared to be the best we were going to get - so we decided to take advantage of it. We needed something close to the house, and something short, and preferably a location that we hadn't been to in a long while.

Tbird Fall - bookmark 1


Becky and I thought about for a bit (the kid doesn't get a vote, and neither does Beastly). We thought about the nature trail in Eagle River, the one that leads up into the Chugiach, but there have been a number of bear attacks there lately and I really wasn't interested in that much adventure. Then we hit upon Thunderbird Falls. Little short hike, about a mile and a half, twenty minutes from home - and we hadn't been there in, oh, about ten years. Perfect. Woohoo!

We loaded up the kid, Beastly, the dog, and for good measure I grabbed the day pack and my .44cal Colt (because while Thunderbird Creek is not a salmon spawning stream, there is the occasional stray Humpy or King - and where there's salmon, especially rotting salmon, there are bears).

It was as neat a place as we remembered, and the hike was an easy one up to the viewing deck - which is good because the cold and damp has been making my bones hurt.






It was sprinkling a little, but we had worn our rain jackets, so we decided to hoof down the lower trail to the river itself.




Tbird Falls - roots 1



There were some cool trees at the bottom of the trail near the river, erosion had exposed their root system.








Tbird Falls - roots 2




I thought the exposed roots looked strange and alien.







There were a few stray salmon in the river. They looked like a couple of reds, near as I could tell. Salmon normally return to the same stream they were born in, but a few occasionally make a bad turn and find themselves up the wrong creek. (What the? This isn't Pizmo Beach! Maybe I should have turned left at Ahlbecorkee! -[and if you don't get that, I don't want to know you] Consequences, schmonsequences, as long as I'm rich). This is nature's way of propagating the species, the strays sometimes find new spawning grounds - which is funny if you think about it, being as it's the stupid fish that become the progenitors of new salmon runs. Mostly though, the strays end up in places like Thunderbird Creek, dead ending up against the falls in fast water with no place to do the wild thing. They can't spawn and eventually they turn bright red and rotten and then die. In that order.

Salmon in the water

This a fairly good sized female, maybe 15 pounds or so. She's dead, she just doesn't know it yet. No bears around, none that we saw anyway. Which was just fine by me.

I got as close to the base of the falls as I could and took a series of sweeping photos down the river. Panoramas, it's my new thing.

Thunderbird Falls - Panorama

Clicking on the image will take you to a full-sized, hi-resolution image in my Picasa album.

Monday, July 28, 2008

An open letter to the candidates

Dear Senators Obama and McCain,

First a little background, I'm a retired US Naval Officer who fought in Iraq. I was part of Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom, and Operation Southern Watch. I spent over two decades on active duty, a bit more than you, Senator McCain. I served as both Enlisted and as an Officer. So, you'll both understand if I consider myself something of an expert on military service and veterans in general.

We veterans swore an oath: I (state your name) do hereby solemnly swear to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, and to bear true faith and allegiance to the same, to obey the orders of the President and the Officers appointed over me, in accordance with Naval Regulation and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. (and as an officer: and that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservations or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office upon which I am about to enter) So help me God."

This was a voluntary oath. As such, I and my comrades in arms swore to give our lives if necessary in the service of our country. We did not demand understanding, pity, empathy, and any other dammed thing from the citizens of the United States. Respect would be nice, but it's not necessary. We also clearly understood that our agreement with the underlying purposes of the conflicts our country engaged in was not required. We swore to obey the lawful orders of the President, whether or not we agreed with the reasons behind those orders. It is the people and the Congress' job to determine what latitude the President has when engaging in war and conflict, not ours. We go where sent, perform the missions assigned, and stay as long as ordered.

We, for the most part, do not resent this. We may not be enthusiastic about going into war, because we know better than most what the reality of war is, but we go. Because we swore to do so, because it is our duty, because it is our job, because our word is good.

Note: I cannot speak for the National Guard, their oath and their mission traditionally has been something else - and frankly if I was National Guard I would resent getting called up and sent into the meat grinder. However, I suspect that many Guardsmen feel the same as we full time veterans.

As such, you both need to understand something, and that is this:

We are not political tokens.

If you are going to be the President of the United States - and barring some unforeseen catastrophe, one of you certainly will be the next President - you need to place the needs of the country ahead of political expediency. So, with all due respect, stop attempting to curry favor and stir up political support for your individual plans by using us as a rallying point. I personally resent it, and so do many of my comrades.

If you, Senator Obama, think we should pull out of Iraq and concentrate on Afghanistan - a sentiment I personally share - fine. But do it because, as the President, you think it's the best course of action for the country, not because you want the support of the troops that would finally get to come home.

If you, Senator McCain, think we should stay the course in Iraq even if it takes the next hundred years, fine. Providing you think that is the best course of action for America, not because you can score a few points with the troops by claiming to honor their sacrifice.

Frankly, as a veteran, I have had it up to here with politicians of any stripe attempting to use us for political leverage. You both could have done a hell of lot more to support the troops, and you both could also have done a hell of a lot less. You both appear to be honorable men, each in your own way, but using those of us whom you would endeavor to lead as Commander in Chief as a token to further your agenda is dishonorable, and it should be beneath the both of you.

Knock it off.

Seriously.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Photoshop Saturday...

...posted on Sunday.

It didn't rain, much, last weekend. Well, OK, it rained like hell on Saturday, but Sunday was dry, more or less. Mostly less, but you get the idea. So, anyway, we decided to get the hell out of the house and drive up to Talkeetna - which is an artsy-fartsy tourist town about an hour north of here.

There's not much there, one street, some art shops, a lot of tourist geegaws, a couple of little places to eat, and the train stop. Still it's a neat place to go, and Beastly and I wanted to talk to the shop owners and see if they'd be interested in buying some of our woodwork (they were).

I stopped in the center of town and took a series of pictures. This last week, in my limited spare time, I've been playing with those pictures in Corel's Paint Shop Pro X2, which I like a whole hell of a lot better than Adobe's Photoshop.

I wanted to create a panoramic shot of main street.

I started out with four pictures, taken with my Sony Professional DSC770. These pictures sweep down Main Street from south to north.

Takeetna 010 Takeetna 011 Takeetna 012 Takeetna 013

As you can see, it was a pretty bleak and gray day.

I created a 40"x 15" rastered background, and then using X2's layering function I positioned each picture on the background. Which the transparency of each picture set to 80%, it was easy to match the overlap points in order to create the initial panorama. I had to tweak the aspect ratio of the leftmost picture to get the edges of Nagley's Store to line up correctly.

Main Street panorama 1

Then I ran each individual layer through a black/white/gray bandpass filter in order to match each picture's color to a mean average and to lighten the overall picture a bit.

Main Street panorama 2 - grey matched

Once I was satisfied with the gray values, I flattened the layers, merging them into a single rastered image. Then it was a matter of using various tools to remove the obvious lines between each frame. Next I worked at the pixel level to remove duplicate artifacts and ghosts. Nothing irks me more than to look at a panoramic picture in a magazine like National Geographic and find blurred, ghostly duplicate images where the original photos have been stitched together. Now with that said, I did leave a couple of duplicate images, the girl in the plaid shorts and her friend in the green top, dead center in the image, appear twice. I could have removed one pair from the overall image, but I like the duplication in this case, so I left it.

Main Street panorama 4 - smoothed and merged

Finally, I removed a couple of objects that tended to pull the eye away from the picture's overall flow. That dammed light pole dead center in the middle of the picture, for example. Then I cropped the image to final size and ran it through the Clarify filter. The clarify filter gives the overall image a much more dramatic tone, especially the stormy sky. Yes, the color is a tad yellowish and obviously pushed the overall picture in more artificial direction - and that's what I wanted here. This is not a true picture, obviously, it's a combination of photography and computer artwork and the final result I think is dammed cool.

Talkeetna Main Street Panorama

Clicking on the image will take you to a full-sized, hi-res image in my Picasa album

Friday, July 25, 2008

From the WTF? File

Six year old Brady McGlohron's mother put him on a school bus, and expected him to go off to school.

However, the bus driver decided somewhere along the line that the second grader was on the wrong bus. Understand, the bus was going to Brady's school, however, for some reason, as yet undetermined, the driver decided that the kid was not on his properly assigned bus.

So the driver turned the bus around - and put Brady off on the side of the road.

Alone.

I want to be clear here. Brady was at the right stop. The bus stopped at the right stop. The bus was going to Brady's school. But for some reason the driver didn't think Brady should have been on the bus.  So the driver dropped him back off at the bus stop by himself.

Alone, as in all by himself.

Brady, scared, crying, and most certainly not understanding why an adult whom he trusted would put him into such a situation, had the presence of mind to knock on a neighbor's door. The neighbor called Brady's mom.

Now the driver, 61 year old Charlie Taylor who had been driving a school bus for sixteen years, was substituting on Brady's route that morning. He wasn't familiar with the kids or, apparently the route. This I can understand.  When he stopped to pick up Brady, Taylor asked Ms McGlohron if the kid was going to North Pines Elementary, to which she replied in the affirmative. However, once the bus was moving the kid said that he thought he was supposed to be on a different bus (remembering here, that the bus is a substitute, right?). So, at this point Charlie turns the bus around, drops the kid off back at his stop, alone, and continues on his merry way - rather than, oh say, you know, tell the confused kid "Hey, it's OK. Your regular bus is out of order today and we're going to your school. I checked with you mom, and we're good to go here."

Seriously now, what in the fuck was this idiot thinking? He's on a substitute route. He's checked with the mother and confirmed that the kid is supposed to be going to the school he's aimed at. He been doing this for sixteen years. And yet somehow in all that time he's never encountered a confused six year old? And somehow he determines that it's proper procedure to just drop a six year old off on a corner by himself?

Charlie resigned.

Good.

But, seriously, if this was my kid, Charlie would be in for a good old fashioned ass-whooping.

Off to Anchorage

I'm off to deliver this week's production run to a client in Anchorage.

Wee.

On the other hand, there is actual sun outside to today. Sun. No rain. So far. So you know it's going to be a good day.

Back later.

Ranting to follow.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Busy Today

 

Medium sized production job this week - but I broke a bandsaw blade last night and don't another one on hand. I mean I do, a bunch of them actually, but none are precisely the same as the one I need. And nobody in town carries them, so I have to order one from an online supplier. In the mean time, I have to substitute one that is not exactly what I need, and it's slowing me down.

Plus, it's raining. Again.

And it's cold out. Again.

In fact, it's been cold and raining pretty much all summer. Weird, last year we hardly got any rain at all. That's Alaska for you though. Anyway the long and short of it is that my hands don't work so good in this type of weather, and I keep dropping things. I also have to be extra careful not to cut part of my digits off on one of my machines, and that's slowing me down too.

So, you'll excuse me if I'm not prolific with the posting for a couple of days.

 

But, I hate to leave you without at least a modicum of amusement, so here, buy yourself a hoofed ruminant:

image

Yeah, this picture pretty much sums up my day so far.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Konlobos - with a "K"

I haven't paid much attention to blogging stats lately.

Last night I took a look at my stat compiler and was surprised by a few things.

First, readership is growing far beyond the UCF commenters. I'm averaging around 200 hundred unique visitors a day, and some days it's much higher than that. As usual the highest visit days are Monday and Tuesday, and the lowest is normally Friday and Saturday. The highest drawing post ever on Stonekettle Station was this one, where I reviewed the Delorme PN-20 GPS unit. That review got linked to a number of backpacking, geocaching, and GPS interest sites and pulled in over 1200 visitors the day after it was posted - and it continues to draw in one or two visitors on a daily basis. The second highest drawing post was this one, about Chief Warrant Officer Edwin Hill and his actions during the attack on Pearl Harbor. This was also my favorite post of anything I've yet written and also continues to draw in at least two visitors a day. A number of links continue to pull in visitors from various military forums regarding my posts on waterboarding, torture, and the stinking Patriotic Act.

So, that's cool.

What's less cool are some of the searches Stonekettle Station gets included in.

For a long time the phrase "Laura San Giacomo nude or naked" was the most common search to hit on my site. This amused me. I think quite highly of Ms. San Giacomo as I've mentioned here and there, I think she's a fine actor and quite attractive. However I do not now, or have ever owned nude photos of her and wouldn't post them if I did. It amuses me that people come here looking for such things.

The search phrase "Alaskan Birch Bowl" or its many derivations is also a common hit for my site, which of course would figure. And I'm good with that too, in fact I'm more than good with it.

But a review of my search stats for the last two month shows something that creeps me out more than a little bit.

It also pisses me off.

A while back I posted a snarky bit about my travails with the tech support department of one of the companies I do business with. In the comments section, in response to another commenter, I quoted the movie, The Rundown, as in "Konlobos, with a 'K.'"

Konlobos, for those of you who are not Dwayne Johnson fans and somehow missed a truly funny movie, are supposedly South American fruits that induce short term, total paralysis in anybody who consumes them. Konlobos are also supposed to be quite tasty.

"Konlobos" is the number one search item in my stat counter by a large margin, and has been for the last two months. I'm looking at fifteen hits for it this morning. Here's a couple of the search phrases:

"how long does somebody stay drugged with konlobos"
"do girls remember anything if are givin konlobos fruits"
"can you taste konlobos juice in a drink?"
"mix alcohol with konolobes"
"konlobos and diet coke dilute the effects"
"ruffies, konlobos where can i get them?"

Getting the idea here? There are more search phrases than just the ones I've listed, some are pretty dammed explicit and extremely disturbing ("does konlobos paralyze a girl no matter what i do to her?") and it's fairly obvious why these scum sucking bottom feeders are running the searches they are. These searches are coming from many places, so it's not just one sick, twisted little date rapist hiding in his mom's basement. Though there is one persistent son of a bitch in the LA area who keeps searching for "where to buy konlobos" on a weekly basis.

I titled this post Konlobos with a 'K' specifically so that anybody searching for this item finds this post. The following is addressed to these people in particular:

-----------------------

Attention Sick Pathetic Fucks
:
A couple of things,

1) You are sad, sick, pathetic little fucks. No don't look away, I'm talking to you, you cowardly shitbags. What's the matter? No self esteem? Girls were mean to you and now you're going to get even? Or is it just too much effort to be a decent human being? You must be a hell of a man if you have to drug a woman (or is it another man?) into sex. Or do you drug them so that they don't laugh when you take your clothes off?

2) Men who drug women or other men for sex are called rapists. That's you, or at least what you're contemplating. Date Rape. It's not a funny party trick. Rape. It's a hideous, heinous, revolting violation, a crime of the worst kind. And when they catch you, and they will, you'll spend the rest of your life finding out exactly what it's like to get raped, in prison, daily. And you'll deserve it, every demeaning, emasculating second of it. Over and over.

3) You are not just contemplating rape, you are contemplating (hopefully, just contemplating at this point) becoming a sexual predator. That's what it is when you research your crime beforehand, when you assemble the drugs in advance, when you go into a situation intending to drug and rape someone. A sexual predator, that's what you're thinking about becoming. Carry through on your sick little fantasy and you're liable to become familiar with some other drugs, specifically sodium thiopental, Pancuronium, and potassium chloride which are the ingredients of the lethal injection cocktail used to execute condemned assholes just like you. I'm not big on the death penalty, but I will tell you right up front that given the opportunity, I'd be perfectly happy to push the button myself, you stupid sick bastard.

4) Konlobos is a fictional fruit. A movie prop, nothing more. It doesn't exist and never has. The fruit shown in the movie is a Hand Pear, dressed up in Hollywood makeup. But, please, don't believe me - keep looking for it.

5) You better hope you never cross my path. Really, you better hope that above all things.

--------------------------


It's going to be a while before I take a look at my stats again, I've got enough things that piss me off without that.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Busy

Folks I'm a bit busy this morning, and probably won't get around to posting anything until later, if then.

Just thought you'd like to know.


In the mean time, check out these images of Okmok Volcano. I live in a geologically active state, oh boy do I, and Okmok is erupting in a major way today. We haven't had any detectable ash fall here yet and are unlikely to. But then again, should the winds shift we could get some, which is, of course, seriously ungood for people and air breathing machines. Okmok is disrupting flights along the Great Circle Route to Asia, for which Anchorage is a major jumping off point - so if you're going to China via Anchorage in the near future, be prepared for a bit longer trip as the planes route around the ash clouds.

Makes me glad that I'm no longer stationed out on Shemya and don't have to fly over the Aleutians any more.

Back in a bit.

Email Note

My Stonekettle Station email address has changed.

Over there on the right hand side of this page, in the "about me" box, you'll note a new email address - stonekettlestation@gmail.com. Email pertaining to posts on Stonekettle Station should be addressed to this email site.

For the UCFer's, my old email address and IM handles are still the correct ones, no need to change anything.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

New Rule

Wright's Law of the Random Shuffle: All playlists contain one obnoxious, irritating song that you thought you enjoyed when you put it on there but since have determined you dislike, intensely - however, you are too lazy to remove it. If you put your player on random shuffle, the player will ignore the other two hundred and fifty songs on the list and repeatedly come back to the one tune you can't stand. Over and over and over.

The songs you really want to hear will never come up. Ever.

Australia Day

As most of you know, I typically wear an Australian Navy hat.

The hat means a great deal to me.

It was given to me by the Australian Task Force Commander while I was in the northern Arabian Gulf.  The hat is from HMAS ANZAC, an Royal Australian Naval Frigate.  There's a story behind how I acquired that hat, but not one I'm willing to discuss at the moment. 

Anyway, I've worn that hat pretty much every day since - for a couple of reasons.  Like I said, it means quite a bit to me. It's unique, you cannot buy them, they're only given out to Australian special operations teams and I'm one of the very few American to be given one.  Plus, the dammed thing is the single most comfortable hat I've ever worn.  And I pretty much have to wear a hat, I've got very short hair and my head gets cold here in Alaska, elsewhere I tend to get sunburned.

However, it's getting pretty worn. My wife washes it upon occasion, when she can sneak it away without my noticing, but still it has faded pretty badly and to be honest it looks fairly ratty. 

I know this.

And I don't care.

However, my wife gave me an ultimatum the other day.  I'm to retire the hat to a peg in the shop or she'll refuse to be seen with me.

Hmmmm, decisions, decisions.

So, I bought a new hat last weekend from "The Hat Lady" in downtown Anchorage.  It's a Barmah Australian slouch hat made from genuine kangaroo leather.  image

I like it. After a week it's starting to get broken in, it's comfortable and, unlike the ANZAC hat, it's waterproof.  Because it's made from leather, it won't get packed with sawdust in the shop, and fading only makes it look better.

The ANZAC hat has been retired to a peg in the shop as directed.

So in honor of my new Australian hat, have a listen to the unofficial Australian National Anthem.  Yeah, it's a little Colin Hay and Men at Work:

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Jerkoff of the week, yet another failure of leadership

Seriously, folks, I have not the words.

I do not.

Way to go Generals. Really stellar way to set an example. What fine warriors you are indeed.

No really, I'm sure the guys down there in the mud who don't have the funds to perform their fucking mission are looking up right now and thinking "Hey, at least those pink assed four-stars are up there riding in comfort. You know, in this war on terror, what really matters is not that I've been deployed into the hot zone three dammed times without body armor or proper equipment, no what matters is that the General's jammies are color coordinated with his Air Force blue flying barcalounger. By God, that makes me proud to be an American. That is just plain world fucking class there, fellas."

I've seen a lot of ridiculous, self serving bullshit from senior officers during my twenty years in the military, but this is right up there on the top of the dung heap. This pisses me off so dammed bad that if I ever happen to cross one of these 4-star assholes I will slap the ever living shit out of him, you can dammed well bet on it.

World class there, General McMahon? Yeah, you're a world class jerkoff, is what you are.

-----------------------------

You know, it occurs to me that I'm missing an opportunity here:

1. Take one of these "Comfort Capsules." Load it on a rough field capable C-130. Insert General.
2. Nod attentively as the 4-star world-class asshole explains where he needs to go (Bermuda, Golf Tournament for example).
3. Salute smartly. Close up Comfort Capsule, sealing General Fuckstick inside in air conditioned comfort.
4. Rotate.
5. Once airborne, point the aircraft towards northwest.
6. Seven hours later land at remote Oliktok Point, Alaska (Abandoned DEW Line radar station on the edge of the Beaufort Sea, about a thousand miles from anything).
7. Offload capsule.
8. Tape note to door of capsule, "Have a nice day, [signed] Your VIP crew." Also thoughtfully tape a raw steak to the door, polar bears love raw steak. They also love stupid Generals.
9. Rotate.
10. Circle landing site with cameras at the ready until General opens capsule door.
11. Wave.
12. RTB (return to base).
13. Mission Complete.

Privilege

''If someone committed a crime, they will no longer be in my administration," said President George W. Bush on July 18th, 2005, during a press conference in Chicago.

Bush was answering a question regarding the 'outing' of covert CIA agent Valerie Plame.

''If there is a leak out of my administration, I want to know who it is. And if that person has violated the law, the person will be taken care of," promised the President to the people of the United States.

I was going to call bullshit on that promise, but then I read it again, carefully,

...if that person has violated the law, the person will be taken care of...

and I realized that that George W. Bush is a very clever little man.

See, on Tuesday last the President yet again claimed executive privilege at the request of the US Attorney General who wishes, very much apparently, to avoid turning over documents in response to a Congressional subpoena. That subpoena demands information from the White House regarding the Vice President's role in the Valerie Plame affair.

Ah, yes. If you beat me over the head enough, sooner or later I will hear what you are actually saying.

And I do, I get it, I understand.

That person will be taken care of - as in "I will abuse my position to shield that person from prosecution."

Executive privilege is an interesting concept for a democracy. In our government, executive privilege is a reserve or discretionary power - a power reserved for the head of state, to be used without the express approval of the other branches of government under extraordinary circumstance. Supposedly executive privilege can be used by the President and members of the Executive Branch to resist search warrants, subpoenas, and other such inquires by the Judicial and Legislative Branches. While the concept of executive privilege is not explicitly spelled out in the Constitution, it is an integral part of the concept of separation of powers and has been repeatedly upheld by SCOTUS since the very first administration.

The first president, George Washington himself, refused to turn over material regarding the Jay Treaty with Great Britain to the House of Representatives because, according to the Constitution, the House had no role in the ratification of treaties with foreign powers. That was the Senate's job, and eventually Washington provided the documents to them, but not the House - thus resolving the matter and avoiding a confrontation with Congress.

President Thomas Jefferson invoked executive privilege when Aaron Burr requested copies of Jefferson's private correspondence during Burr's trial for treason. However, Chief Justice John Marshall, who despite being an advocate for strong federal powers, disagreed. Marshall ruled that the Sixth Amendment (the right to speedy and public trial, the right to representation, and the right to obtain evidence in the defendant's favor) did not provide an exemption for the office of the president. Marshall also ruled Jefferson's claim that disclosure of his letters would jeopardize public safety and the security of the United States was a matter for the court to decide, not the president. Jefferson complied with the order and turned over the letters. However, Jefferson stated that he did not feel the court had the authority to make such a ruling and that his compliance with Marshall's order was voluntary, not compulsory - and Marshall let Jefferson's response stand. As much as I admire Thomas Jefferson, Marshall's failure to address the President's face saving maneuver was a mistake - one that has serious repercussions today.

Jefferson's response, his claim of voluntary compliance, established a precedent that is still in force.

And that's the problem.

See, executive privilege is a concept that grew out of simple necessity. As noted above, it is not specifically spelled out in the Constitution - and more importantly, neither are the criteria for invoking the privilege or its limitations and legal boundaries. Supposedly, executive privilege is necessary to protect communications within the Executive Branch because a certain degree of confidentiality is necessary for officials to be able to speak and advise the President freely without the other branches of government sticking their noses into the conversation or second guessing the President. It is unlikely that the President's advisors would feel free to speak their opinions frankly or explore a full range of options, if they believe that their comments will become a matter of public record and subject to the scrutiny of history. Hey, everybody makes a stupid suggestion every once in a while. I've heard some pretty dumb-assed, harebrained, batshit crazy stuff during brainstorming sessions, things we could all laugh about later, but things that many times led us to real solutions or allowed us to explore in detail why a crazy idea was, well, crazy. If a presidential advisor suggests during a planning session that we should, you know, nuke the Iranians until they glow and then shoot the survivors in the dark, well that option should be fully explored - if only to detail why specifically it's a bad idea. But seriously, would you speak up if you knew that history would condemn you for your suggestion - even if you were only suggesting it so that it could be taken off the table?

However, it's important to understand that not all presidential communications are supposed to be protected, executive privilege, right from the very first time it was invoked, is supposed to be implemented only in matters of national security. During WWII, executive privilege was invoked a number of times by both Roosevelt and Truman in order to protect the lives and interests of Americans, and in large part those cases of executive privilege have been justified by history.

Executive privilege was also invoked a number of times during the Red Scare of the 1950's in order to protect members of the Executive Branch from the machinations of Senator McCarthy and the insanity of the House Un-American Activities Committee who saw communists everywhere, including the White House. And again, those cases of executive privilege have been justified in large part by history.

So, it can be demonstrated that executive privilege is necessary for the effective functioning of the Executive Branch and that it is a necessary barrier in the concept of the separation of powers. Executive privilege, if properly used, can and has been used to protect the security of the United States and the interests of her people.

However, as implied above, executive privilege is not supposed to be absolute or arbitrary.

In the case of United States vs Nixon, SCOTUS considered the limits of executive privilege. Nixon, as you'll recall, was subpoenaed by the Watergate special prosecutor, with the authority of Congress, to turn over Oval Office tapes and written records relevant to the criminal case against members of his administration. Nixon refused and claimed executive privilege. In 1974, the case ended up before the Supreme Court who stated: "[there is a] valid need for protection of communications between high Government officials and those who advise and assist them in the performance of their manifold duties...Human experience teaches that those who expect public dissemination of their remarks may well temper candor with a concern for appearances and for their own interests to the detriment of the decision making process." However, the court ruled that the privilege is not without bounds, and while the president does indeed have a need for certain degrees of confidentiality in the performance of his duties, that confidentiality must yield to the interests of the government as a whole and to the defendants in a criminal prosecution. The court ordered Nixon to turn over the records. Two weeks later Nixon complied with the order and turned over the information - less the infamous missing 19 minutes of audio tape - and resigned four days later when it became obvious that he was attempting to use executive privilege to cover up criminal activity.

Despite the court's ruling in the Nixon case, the exact criteria for invoking executive privilege and the exact scope and boundaries of its use have never been fully specified. As such, executive privilege is subject to broad interpretation by each president. And the precedent of Jefferson's voluntary compliance still holds sway.

For example, President Clinton negotiated the terms of his testimony before the grand jury regarding the Monica Lewinsky, affair rather than directly complying with the Independent Counsel's subpoena - not for nothing is William Clinton's middle name Jefferson.

And the Clinton case established a precedent too.

See, according to the founders of this country, executive privilege was only supposed to be invoked in matters of national security and the safety of her people. It was never intended to protect the Executive Branch from criminal activity.

Therein lies the problem. Intention. Human nature being what it is, not what we'd like it to be, means that the old platitude of power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely is true and always will be.

We used to have a saying the military: Rank has its privileges. And it was true, rank does indeed have its privileges - but rank also has its responsibilities. The best leaders were the ones who always, every second of their lives, placed their responsibilities first, and took advantage of their privileges sparingly. But, always and inevitably, there were those who wallowed in the privileges of their rank, and gave mere lip service to the responsibilities. Those people were, and are, despised utterly. But their existence in the chain of command is predictable - given human nature. The best you can do is to establish rules and regulations governing the responsibilities of each rank and hold each member strictly accountable for the execution of those duties.

And so it is with the concept of executive privilege. Without strict Constitutional controls governing the criteria for invocation, the scope and legal boundaries of its use, and a judicial validation that its use is in the interests of the citizenry to whom the executive is responsible - executive privilege will be abused. It will, it is inevitable. And this is increasingly the case, from Nixon, to Clinton, to George W. Bush, use of executive privilege has increased with alarming frequency to protect not the interests of the country, but rather the interests of the Executive. And each abuse of this reserved power establishes a precedent for further and increasing abuse, and this, my friends, is just one more little thread in the noose of tyranny.

The executive is not a king. The executive's authority is not absolute, and neither is his need for confidentiality. The executive is responsible to the people of the United States and to their duly elected and appointed representatives. He is responsible to the Constitution.

And therein lies the solution.

Article Two of the Constitution clearly defines the powers of the Executive Branch. We have three options here: 1) do nothing and allow scoundrels to abuse the office as they see fit. Personally, I find this option unacceptable, but I suspect that ultimately this is the course we will pursue - after all it makes for good entertainment, witness the popularity of the Clinton/Lewinsky circus. 2) We can pass an Constitutional amendment to Article Two, spelling out the limits of executive power and privilege. I think this is unlikely. I think it is unlikely that the people have enough motivation or interest to take back their government. I think it is unlikely that Congress has the will or the consensus or balls to put aside partisan politics to act in the interest of liberty, justice, and the American way. In lieu of a Constitutional amendment, Congress could draft an act clearly delineating the criteria for invoking executive privilege and the scope and limits of such a privilege. Again, I think this is unlikely. Increasingly, Congress has demonstrated a lack of will to assert their authority, their Constitutional authority, to rein in the Executive Branch. At nearly every turn over the last eight years they've given in to partisan politics, infighting, special interests and the President instead of standing their ground and I have little hope that they will change course now. Any such act would most likely stall in Congress, well before it reached the veto pen of the President. 3) and finally, the Judicial Branch can toss aside two hundred and thirty years of faulty precedent, look to the Constitution, and once and for all define executive privilege in detail. Clearly and without equivocation. In this case legislation from the bench may be the only viable option.

On Wednesday, Senator Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in a letter to the Attorney General, "The purpose of executive privilege is to encourage candid advice to the president, not to cover up what the vice president and White House staff say to investigating authorities when that information is requested in the course of congressional oversight."

Leahy is right. But it will take far stronger action than a simple letter to restore the Executive Branch to its proper Constitutional function. It is long past time to correct Chief Justice John Marshall's mistake and it is long past time to demand that our President live up to the responsibilities of the office and not just take advantage of the privileges in order to take care of business.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

A few things from the woodshop

We've been a little busy in the shop this week.

Beastly has been turning bowls, mostly small stuff on the Jet Mini Lathe, but yesterday I made him do something a bit bigger:

Beastly Turning

This was a large piece of wet birch heartwood when he started. Unbalanced and heavy, it damn near shook the lathe apart until he got it rough turned to round. He manage to break a tool rest and maybe his nose in the process - that's what turners consider a bad day, not because he might have broken his nose, but because he broke a tool. It's okay though, we had a replacement on hand and had the lathe fixed in minutes. The nose? Well, that has zero impact on shop operations so it's not my problem (Kidding, I'm kidding. Beastly breaking his nose is a regular occurrence, he doesn't get worked up over it). The end result is looking pretty spectacular this morning, however, as you can see in the above picture.

Me? Well, I turned a large bowl too. Then hosed up the finish work, which I have to remove today and redo. Sigh. Like broken noses, it happens.

I also completed a couple of displays for the Air Force - which I'm very happy with:

Bear Stand

The bear is ceramic, I sculpted the base from Sitka Spruce and mounted the statue, coins, and the plaque. This is the third one I've done for the Air Force, and I've got an order for at least two more. These are turning out to be very popular going away gifts for departing Colonels.

Soldier Base

The soldier statue was a major effort. First, that statue is massive. It's about 18" tall and over a foot in diameter through the long axis. It's cast from bronze and weighs about seven pounds. Oof! I sculpted the base from a large piece of spruce, which I cut from the largest dried stock log I had on hand. Then I cut it to oval on the bandsaw. I cut a recess into the top so that the original wooden base would slide into it, merging the two pieces together. I would have liked to completely remove the original base, but there was just no way to do it without damaging the statue, so I incorporated it into the new base. Beastly helped me hold the base steady on the multi-function drillpress while I cut recesses for the coins - seriously, you want aggravation? Try cutting those coin slots - all varying size by the way - into an oval surface, all at uniform depth, equally spaced, and describing a cord of the oval equally around the front of the piece. Oh yeah, that was fun - fortunately both Beastly and I, being Navy vets, knew the proper sequence of cursing necessary for the job. I finished the base in a mahogany stain and poly-acrylic, then glued the statue and coins in place. The little brass plaque came with a self adhesive backing, so I just had to get it centered and level. The completed project weighs about twelve pounds, woohoo!

I also spent most of yesterday playing around with the Leigh dovetail jig, building a couple of wooden boxes with dovetail joint corners.

And now, I've got to get back out to the shop. Back in a bit.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Uh? What is that algorithm again?

Want to see something funny?

Type "Who is a failure?" into Google - and check out the top result.

Go on, do it.

--------

Okay, this googlebomb is apparently well known, but hey, it still amuses me.

Hatcher's Pass - Reed Creek Trail

After two weeks of rain, this last weekend was reasonable decent.

I was getting shop fever, and wanted to get the hell out and do some hiking in the wilds of Alaska. Fortunately for us, the wilds of Alaska are pretty much right outside the front door. So, we loaded up Beastly, the rain jackets, the daypacks, and the dog and headed up to Hatcher's Pass to try our hiking boots on the mud of the Reed Creek trail. Which leads, naturally enough, up into Reed Valley and to the old Archangel Gold Mine. Follow it far enough, and it will take you up over the mountains and a high glacier and eventually to the wreck of an old WWII bomber that crashed during the war. Twelve Airmen died in that crash. The Army long since removed the bodies, but there was no way to get the massive carcass of that old B-29 out of the mountains, and so it's still up there - a destination for hikers and geocachers and war buffs.

We got a late start and the weather wasn't great, so we didn't figure on making the crash site. We planned to reach the upper end of the valley above the old mine - a distance of about five miles in, and the same route back out. Ten miles would really be pushing it, but what the hell, we weren't in a hurry and it's daylight pretty much 24-hours a day this time of year.

The limiting factor would, of course, be Beastly and me. Both of us are in pretty good shape considering twenty years of military service a piece and various old, poorly healed injuries. Beastly's got problems with a repeatedly broken ankle, and I've got problems with my whole left side. So we figured to make it as far as we could and turn back before we crippled ourselves. I wasn't sure we'd even make the mine site, a lot depended on trail conditions - which could be pretty ugly after two weeks of rain - but hell, we figured we'd give it a shot.

Then we got a break, when we reached the Archangel road parking area, the road gate was open. Normally, the Bureau of Land Management (the whole area is BLM land) keeps the road closed. You park out on the main road and walk in. But every once in a while they open the old mine road and let you drive in about two miles to the actual trail heads for Archangel Valley and Reed Creek. Woohoo! That knocked about four miles off the trip, and we figured we could do the remaining six easy enough.

Archangel Reed Lake Trail Map

The road was pretty rough, but we made to the trail head without problems, bouncing along in the truck. We parked at the old fire bridge (Bridge 1 marker on the map above) and geared up. There were quite a few folks at the trailhead, including a troop of boy scouts from somewhere in Pennsylvania, loaded down with ice climbing gear and intent on exploring the glacier and reaching the crash site.

The Reed Creek Trail looked good from the parking area, surprisingly dry and in decent shape, considering that three weeks ago this whole area was covered in snow and mud. We slathered ourselves in bug dope and headed down the trail into the valley.

Reed Creek 1

Beastly, who is an avid photographer, kept stopping to take pictures of the flowers.

Reed Creek 2

After exactly two miles, according to the GPS, we emerged from the heavy foliage along the creek and could see the old mine buildings ahead.

Reed Creek 3

That's the mine, that little silver rectangle to the right and middle of the above picture.

It took about twenty minutes to reach the mine site, which is pretty overgrown. You've got to be extremely careful poking around off the trail. There's cables and pipes and rusty equipment scattered about, and it would be easy to fall into an open pit or old foundation if you're not paying attention.

Reed Creek 4

The valley is pretty damned remote, and while it's a beautiful and pleasant place this time of year, try to imagine living here in a mining camp in deep winter when the snow is fifteen feet deep and the winds are howling down off the glacier and the temperature rarely climbs above -40F. Now try to imagine doing that in the first decades of the last century (these mines operated up until the beginning of WWII or so) when all your supplies were packed in through the mountains on mule trains or primitive 4-wheel drive trucks. There are no trees up in these alpine valleys, heat came from coal fired stoves and the coal had to be packed in. Same for food and supplies. Some of the miners lived up here for years. No phones and only intermittent radio communications. No medical help. Hearty souls, those old miners.

Behind the mine the valley ends in a wall four thousand feet high. Above that is the glacier and the wreck site.

Reed Creek 5

We figured we'd climb to the waterfall, which is about twelve hundred feet up a very steep trail. You can just the waterfall as a silver spot in the upper left, just above Beastly's head, in the below picture.

Reed Creek 6

Above five hundred feet up, Beastly decided he'd gone far enough. His ankle was giving him grief and he didn't want to aggravate it any further. I heartily agreed as I had no desire to carry his big ass all the way back to the truck.

So we left him.

Actually Beastly mooched back down the trail to the mine, happily taking pictures, and we headed up the mountain. Now before anybody takes me to task for leaving a member of the hiking party alone on the trail, don't worry, we could both see each other from our respective positions. Beastly knows not to wander off the trail into the bush and to stay in the mining camp. Plus, there was a whole troop of Boy Scouts around if he needed help crossing the road or needed a beer or something.

We made it to waterfall in about twenty minutes.

Reed Creek 7

It doesn't look like much in the picture, but it's pretty dammed impressive in person. That water is falling from three thousand feet up, and it's moving. It's also cold as hell and temperatures in the area were a good ten degrees below the surrounding ambient because of it.

The view of the valley was spectacular.

Reed Valley Panorama 1

The above panorama was stitched together from three shots taken with my Pentax S4 digital. What a great little camera. I put the camera in panorama mode and snapped three shots using the pan alignment function. I stitched them together using Corel's Paint Shop X2 layering function and I think it came out rather well.

We headed back down the mountain, picked Beastly up from the mining camp, and followed the trail back the truck. Round trip just under six miles according to my GPS.

All in all, a pretty good day.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Finally, a useful superpower that I wish I had

Labor Negotiations

We've been renegotiating the labor contract here at Stonekettle Station.

 

Recently labor approached management with complains regarding current pay and benefits. Labor presented a proposal for a new contract. We in management were somewhat surprised as we feel the current pay and benefits situation is more than fair.  However labor, as it were, apparently feels somewhat differently.

Labor sent in a negotiator who made the following Power Point pitch:

Slide 1, indicates the desired state of affairs with regards to management:

Slide 1

Slide 2 indicates an undesirable management condition:

Slide 2

Slides 3 shows the desired condition of the labor force:

Slide 3

Slides 4 and 5 displays the proposed pay and benefits package:

Slide 4

Slide 5

Slide 6 (Which I personally feel is out of sequence and concludes the presentation on kind of an exaggerated sour note) indicates the current pay situation as perceived by labor.

Slide 6

Note: Management is not particularly flattered by its graphic representation in the presentation. Management feels that its arms are not nearly that long.

We in management are considering the proposal, and while we have no problems with labor taking on more responsibility around the place we feel that an additional $3USD on top of the current pay and benefits package is just a tad exorbitant - after all, we do allow labor to sleep in the house and we do feed him upon occasion.

 

We'll think about it and submit a counter offer and maybe sweeten the benefits package just bit - say one or two less beatings a week. Maybe.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Fear

On September 11th, 2001 the United States of America was attacked.

Not exactly news to anybody, I know, but bear with me for a moment.

911 has been compared, repeatedly and with great passion by many pundits and politicians, to the December 7th, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor by the forces of Imperial Japan.

This comparison is wrong.

Here's the thing, the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor was part of a much, much larger strategic plan. The attack was intended to avert war, or more specifically a war of attrition in the Pacific. Experienced Japanese military planners knew they could not win a war that pitted their limited assets against the nearly endless might of the industrial West. The Empire of the Rising Sun was starved for resources and they could not fight a sustained conflict over the vast distances of the Pacific. Those military planners, raised in the Bushito tradition - modern day Samurai Warriors - were cold and calculating men educated in the ways of war and politics and power. They reasoned that, if properly executed, a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor would disable America's military might long enough for Japan to secure a solid hold on the endless resources of Oceania. The Imperial Navy attacked the US Pacific Fleet in a calculated attempt to destroy or disable America's ability to influence political and economic events in the Pacific and to a lesser extent, Asia, for a specific and limited amount of time. With the American 3rd Fleet disabled or destroyed, Japan's conquest of Pacific resources would be a fait accompli by time the United States mustered the assets to do anything significant about it - especially since America was engaged in an ocean war in the North Atlantic and would soon be fully engaged on the ground in Europe. That opening bid, the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, was backed by the entire might of the Japanese military and, as I said above, was only one piece of a much, much larger plan. Fortunately for America, and unfortunately for the Samurai, the Gods of War are fickle and as luck or fate or conspiracy theorists would have it, the single most important assets, the targets that the Japanese absolutely had to destroy - i.e. the American aircraft carriers - were not present in the fleet basin that day. And that single set of circumstances directly precipitated the very war of attrition the Japanese feared. That war was long and hard, bloody and heartbreakingly difficult -and for the first two years the outcome was in serious doubt. Despite the tactical failure of Pearl Harbor, the Japanese could still very well have achieved their overall strategic goals. They did take and hold, at least briefly, American territory and the struggle to force the Japanese from their Aleutian footholds in Alaska was one of the most difficult, costly, and bloody campaigns of the entire war. The forces of Imperial Japan were true warriors, cold and ruthless by our standards, but professional soldiers, sailors, and airmen nonetheless. They held to an ancient code of honor and sacrifice in the service of an ideal, the ideal of Empire, and they very nearly won. Their strength, combined with that of the Axis powers of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, could very well have taken much of the world, including the United States. It is important to understand that Imperial Japan was a very, very real threat, both to individual Americans and more importantly to America itself.

And that, right there, is the difference between the attack on Pearl Harbor and the terrorist attacks of 911.

See, the terrorists are amateurs. They are not warriors. They are not soldiers, or sailors, or airmen. They are not Marines. They are not professionals. There are no armies, or navies, or air forces to back them up. They can hide in the dark corners of the world, but they cannot walk openly or proudly in the street. They are rats, vermin, feral dogs, cockroaches, and nothing more. They can snipe around our ankles. They can threaten our individual citizens - a handful at a time. They can take down an airplane, or a building, or a subway. They can instill fear in politicians and children and the ignorant and the cowards. But they cannot, cannot, destroy America.

The terrorists are a one dimensional threat. 911 was not part of a larger, strategic plan - it was the whole plan. Period. Osama bin Laden said it himself, more than once - the goal is to instill fear and terror. Nothing more. Even in his wildest 40-virgin-and-lamb-kabob-in-Paradise wet dream, bin Laden doesn't believe for one minute that he or his organization can actually bring down the free nations of the world.

The terrorists are nothing but pissants, hiding in caves and holes and the cracks of the world. Filthy, cowardly little bullies who are terrified, absolutely terrified, of us. Terrified of freedom, terrified of free people, terrified of everything and everybody and each other. They boast and brag and swagger, like bullies always do, hoping against hope that nobody notices just how utterly insignificant they truly are. Nowhere is this more apparent than when they are finally run to ground. They'll send their lickspittles and mindless dupes out to fight, but they themselves? They are almost always found hiding in a hole, cowering in the dark, pissing their robes and praying to God for deliverance. From Hitler to Saddam, it's always the same. They are, at their core, cowards - just like all bullies. The only power a terrorist has is terror, behind that facade is nothing. Terrorists have power for one reason and one reason only - because they are given it by those they oppress.

I've known some truly tough men in my life. Real, no shit, tough men. Men who can, and often have, killed others with their bare hands. Professionals. Steel eyed snake eating motherfuckers, every last one. Here's the funny thing, never once did I see those men act the bully. They were rough and tough and they knew it. They didn't have to prove anything to anybody. Those kind of men are not always easy to spot, they are the ones who don't brag, don't swagger, don't threaten, and don't start shit in a bar just to prove their manhood or to defend the honor of the corps. You start something with those men, and they don't talk shit, they don't banter back and forth, they don't get insulted, they don't have to work themselves up - they just confidently kill your ass and go back to what they were doing. And that's the difference between truly tough men and punk assed bullies, between terrorists and professionals, between free people and sheep.

There are two ways to deal with a bully - any school kid knows this. You can either stand the hell up for yourself or you can knuckle under. And if you knuckle under, then the bully owns your ass. But the decision is always yours to make, the power is always, always, in your hands. The bully has no power over you - unless you chose to give him that power. When you give into fear and terror and cowardice, you give up your freedom.

In 1941, our leaders, Franklin Delano Roosevelt in particular, knew this. FDR stood before Congress on December 8th, 1941 and gave a speech, the words of which have echoed down through the last six decades of history - We have nothing to fear, but fear itself! And he was right. Those words and the actions they inspired galvanized our nation and the free people of the world over. Our enemies, those Samurai, the Nazis, and the Fascists, they could attack us, they could kill our people, they could bomb our cities, sink our ships, shoot down our airplanes, they could throw their armies against us - but they could not make us fear them. A feeble, sick, crippled man in a wheel chair looked them square in the face and spit in their eye and rallied America behind him and our grandparents went out and ground those who had attacked us into the dust.

The terrorists today have power. The power of the bully and the bogeyman. A handful of cowardly men, these ignorant, hateful, unorganized, raggedy-assed sheep herders have power over us, over our minds, over our lives, over our nation for one reason and one reason only - because we, and our fearful leaders, have given it to them. When we allow this, or this, or this, or this, or any of the hundred things we've done to debase ourselves and dishonor our nation since 911 we give the terrorists the very power they so desperately crave. When we allow our leaders to entertain the mere idea of this, we have handed our freedom, and our destiny, directly over to those that are far, far worse than an insignificant little turd like bin Laden.

On September 11th, 2001, four US civilian airliners were hijacked by a handful of men with nothing more than box-cutters. Three of those planes reached their targets and killed thousands, hundreds of thousands if you include all that has followed to date. But onboard one of those planes, Americans stood up to the hijackers. They fought back. They forced their way into the cockpit and took back the plane. Yes, they died, those Americans - but they took the terrorists straight to hell with them. In the end, there in that field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, it was the hijackers who died screaming in fear. Not as martyrs. Not as freedom fighters. Not as heroes. No, they died powerless, screaming in fear and terror. Nothing, not their hatred, not their belief, not their God could save them there in the end when common Americans rose up and refused to give up their freedom.

The terrorists, these fatherless sons of whores, can rage and posture and dance, but they can't make us afraid.

Only we can do that.

It is time, long past time, for us as Americans and for all other freedom loving peoples of the world to stand up and take back that which is rightfully ours. It is time for our leaders to stand up and say no more, we will not give in to fear, we will not give in to terror, we will not knuckle under. These men are nothing, they are no threat to us as a people. They cannot take our nation away from us. It is time to grind Osama bin Laden and his band of cowards into the dust of history and think no more of him.

And it is long past time for Americans to take back America from the cowards who sit in Washington today.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood - an inadvertent meme

Yesterday or the day before, I forget, Nathan posted about the view from his front window, I thought I'd show the view in front of my house - you know, just so you can compare and contrast New York City, New York and Palmer, Alaska. Also for comparison, I'm just going to steal most of Nathan's text, then change a few words here and there in order to create this blog post. This process is called a meme, not blatant plagiarism - if I was a musician, I'd call it 'sampling.'

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Nathan said: "The City of NY showed up this morning and took my street away. Actually, what's going on is called 'milling and paving'. They'll scrape off the top layer of the street today and come back tomorrow to lay down a fresh, shiny new top layer."

Well, here in Alaska, some road workers from the town of Palmer showed up this morning and took my street away. Actually what's going here is called 'milling about.' They'll scrape and paw at the weeds along the edge of the road today, and probably tomorrow, and lay down a fresh, shiny new layer of nuggetized road topping.

Here's a look at a couple of municipal repaving machines:



And here's a shot of the road after they've laid down a new road surface:


They only put up signs that they'd be doing this around noon yesterday. Thankfully, I noticed the signs when I got home and parked in the shop, as I usually do. No worries about towing here, I'm armed and it should be obvious that the 'road workers' can't drive anyway. Here's some of the signs:



What else can you tell from these photos? First, you'll see that I'm being a complete smartass, and second, you can see I'm the only one on my block dumb enough to be out on the street with a camera.

Like Nathan, it occurs to me that my usual pictures don't have much in common with Scalzi's periodic sunset shots. Oh well.

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Now, if you're the kind of people I think you are you'll take this and run with it. I expect to see links to your very own "It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood' posts. Feel free to steal whatever you need from Polyboggimous. Go on, Nathan won't mind.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Alaskan Themed Things From the Woodshop

I took the last couple of days off from posting because my shoulder is giving me merry hell and it hurts too much to sit for a long time in typing position.

So, instead of writing I spent the last couple of days in the shop, putting the finishing touches on a couple of projects. Something I could do without aggravating the shoulder.

I thought you might like to take a look at what I've been up to.

The first item was done on commission. It's a salmon fillet knife, intended as a gift for an avid fisherman and outdoorsman.  The customer provided me with the knife blank, and asked if I could build a customized handle from Alaskan birch heartwood around it - the stand I did for free, just because I felt like it.

Salmon Fillet Knife 2 Salmon Fillet Knife 4

The blade is 12" high-carbon steel, with a half tang (e.g. the portion of the blade that extends into the handle is only about half the length of the handle itself).  The handle was sculpted from Alaskan birch heartwood with an African Congolese Rosewood (Wenge) blade guard accent piece (that black piece of wood that fronts the handle). I cut an aluminum frame to mount the blade, and then glued the wooden pieces to it using an extremely durable and long lasting two-part epoxy. Once the glue was dry and cured, about a day or so, I then sculpted the handle as a single piece including shaping the aluminum core.  This method essentially makes the blade and handle a single solid piece, which is a bit different from the usual method of attachment using brass or aluminum rivet posts (those little silver circles you see on most knife handles). I did this for a reason, while this knife is a beautiful piece and will probably end up as a display on an office shelf somewhere, it is fully functional as specified - which means that it could potentially end up covered in fish guts and dunked repeatedly in the river.  Using the epoxy method, and then sealing the entire handle in a plastic, jellied spar varnish ensured that the handle could take such abuse without damage or failure.  The handle is customized to a right handed grip, with knurled finger guides to ensure a good grip even if it is slippery with fish slime - which is dammed important as that blade is seriously sharp.

I made the stand from Alaskan Sitka spruce with sculpted salmon carved from birch burl.  I did that just because I felt that a display piece should have something suitable to display it on.  The idea of the stand is that it should evoke images of an Alaskan river filled with plump red salmon. I think it came out rather well.

The customer will have the recipient's name laser engraved on the blade.  He came by my shop last night to take a look - um, let's just say he is considering keeping the knife for himself.

 

And this next piece is an Alaskan heartwood bowl.

Bowl 70 1

This piece is not for sale. I did this one for myself.  There's a contest coming up in a couple of months and every year the same folks win it. I've never entered before, but this year I intend to give them a run for their money.  This bowl was turned from Alaskan birch heartwood, then sculpted and filigreed to resemble foaming white water.  The rim is irregular, with a flared edge along the far side which I intended to look like a breaking wave. The salmon are carved from birch burl (the ones on the knife stand above were actually leftover from this project).  It's finished in a variety of oils and an high gloss spar varnish to enhance the wet water look.

Yeah, I'm pretty happy with it.  The usual contest winners have gotten lazy and they are in for a surprise this year, oh yes, they are.

 

Shoulder is feeling a bit better over all, but the pain is actually worse than yesterday.  This is usual for me, no worries, it'll be fine in a couple of days or so.  Age, and a lifetime of doing things to the joint that were not intended in the design - it catches up to you after a while.  Anyway, that's about all the typing I can stand for a while.