Sunday, November 30, 2008
Saturday, November 29, 2008
Congratulations, MTD Yard Machines. Give them a big hand everybody! Come on down, MTD, you've earned yourself the patented Stonekettle Station hobnail boot kick in the nuts.
It takes a special kind of incompetence to design a webpage that is so singly useless, frustrating, and utterly without merit as BuyMTDonline, it really, really does.
Seriously, in this day and age of global competition through the online marketplace, how any company that is fronted by a poorly designed, and basically worthless website, manages to survive simply astounds me.
I broke the pull starter recoil assembly on my MTD snow thrower. I gave it a yank, and the recoil spring snapped, and the cord hit bottom and broke. I took the assembly off the engine and discovered that the spring housing is machine-pressed and basically cannot be repaired without a lot more effort and jury rigging than I'm willing to commit to the project. Note that this particular mechanical failure is not in any way unusual for a small gasoline engine. Yank on the cord enough times, and eventually the damned thing is going to fail. It's a common replacement item, anybody who repairs lawn mowers and snow blowers and other such small-engine powered devices will tell you that.
Now, I use the snow thrower mostly to clear a path down to the kennel and to clear around the shop. I use the big Polaris ATV to plow the drive, and when the plow berm gets too deep along the edge of the drive I use the snow thrower to fling it fifty feet back into the yard. I can live without the the snow blower for a couple of days, and I didn't feel like running into town. So, I got the model number from the information plate on the back of the machine and came inside to order the part off the Internet. A couple of days, a week maybe, and UPS should deliver it - two bolts later and I'm back in business. Right? I mean it's the 21st Century, isn't it? We don't have the those personal jet belts or flying cars, but ordering stuff off of the Internet and having it delivered right to your doorstep in Alaska is almost as good. I do it so often that I barely even think about it. Seriously, it's a sixty mile trip into Anchorage, 120 miles round trip for those of you not good with the math, and at today's gas prices and the time lost it's just a whole lot cheaper and more convenient for me to order a lot of the things I need online.
Which brings us back to the point of this rant, piss poor commercial websites, and specifically ones like BuyMTDonline. There's the usual jittery flash player adds for the latest products, wedged in among the glaring red frame that makes you feel like you're getting a sunburn or been dropped onto Mars. But on the left hand side there's a link labeled "Shop For Parts." Click on "Find Your Part" and you get a page giving you three options, well, two really, the third one is supposed to help you with the first two.
Option 1: Illustrated Parts Look Up Tool. Enter the Part Number or Model. Simple enough, so I clicked on that. Enter the model number. The "Part Look Up Tool" finds the correct machine. So far so good. The "Tool" gives me a menu tree with "Illustrated Parts List" and "Attributes." Parts, that's what I need. I click to expand that and get a list of major assemblies one of which is "Engine and Pulley Assembly." Click. I get an exploded diagram of the engine - minus the pull starter recoil assembly. Hmmm. Check the other diagrams. Nothing. Check the "Attributes" option, nothing, it doesn't do anything useful at all. Well hell.
Now, I'm getting irritated. It's a common part, how come it's not on the diagram? Fine, let's try Option 2. Except, that you can't get there from here. You've got to go back to the main selection menu and start over. Urk! Idiots.
So, Option 2: Owner's Manual (No, I no longer have the original manual for the machine, it got lost long ago in one of the countless moves I've made since buying the machine in 1993). The owner's manual contains a detailed exploded parts diagram as I recall. Great, I'll download that, get the part number and try option 1 again. Option 2 gives me two data entry fields, model number and serial number. Serial number? Why for should I have to enter a serial number? I put in the model number and hit enter. No joy, serial number is required. God DAMN it. Why? What conceivable reason could there be that I should have to enter the serial number of my specific machine? Do they print a custom manual for each and every machine? Back to the shop, up end the machine, look at the information plate. No serial number. There's a model number and a manufacture's number - but no serial number. I looked all over the machine, nothing. Back to the house, try manufacturer's number in the serial number field. MTD does not want. At this point I've reached the screaming and swearing stage of aggravation.
Try option 3, Locate your Model and Serial number. There's a helpful diagram of a standard MTD information plate on the back of all MTD machines - except it doesn't look like mine at all. Back to the shop just to be sure. Nope, not the same. But just for good measure my information plate does say that it is an authentic, youbetcha, genuine MTD machine. And now I'm adding throwing of random items and kicking things to the screaming and swearing.
So, here we are. I can enter the model number under option 1, which finds the machine but doesn't link to the manual and doesn't list the part I need. Supposedly I can use Option 1 to search for that part, if only I knew the part number. Which I could probably get from the manual, except Option 2 will not find the machine's manual, despite the fact that I know the machine exists in their database, and doesn't allow for searches without a specific serial number - which it will not recognize for my machine. There are a dozen links for various things on the parts ordering page, and no matter how you click on them they all eventually bring you around to the same point - like the circular logic of stupid.
There's a helpful 1-800-screw-you number, which you supposedly can call and get an actual MTD technician, except it being a 4-day weekend nobody is answering.
Now, I've found a dozen websites fronting small Mom & Pop operations scattered across this country and Canada that carry the part I need. I've also found the part on eBay, again from a dozen different providers. All of these sites provide easy access to the information I need, allow for 24/7 ordering, and about half (none of the eBay sites, of course) provide free or reduced shipping - to anywhere in the world.
And there you have it, mom and pop cottage shops are global entities. A guy selling products out of his basement on eBay is an international operation. All have professionally designed and easy to use websites. So how come a major outfit like MTD Yard Machines doesn't? And MTD is by no means the exception when it comes to crappy webpages and useless online store fronts.
American businesses continue to show a profound lack of understanding when it comes to customer service in the modern information age.
And it's costing them.
It's costing them in lost business, reduced efficiency, and aggravated customers.
Turns out I had to run into town after all (that's another post, involving giant artificial Christmas trees), so I swung by the WoodMizer Mill, where they also have an equipment repair shop. They had the exact part I needed, slightly used, but hey, at least they had it.
So, the snow blower is fixed and ready for the next big blizzard, which, if the forecast and the black clouds hanging over the Valley are any indication, will be soon.
And MTD? MTD can kiss my ass.
Friday, November 28, 2008
I'm thankful that this deluded moron will be unemployed in two months.
"I'd like to be a president [known] as somebody who liberated 50 million people and helped achieve peace," Bush told his sister, Dorothy Bush Koch, in a conversation recorded for the oral-history organization StoryCorps for the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. Translation: "history" is like "science," i.e. whatever you say it is. Black is white, white is black, 2008 is 1984.
"I surrounded myself with good people," Bush said. "I carefully considered the advice of smart, capable people and made tough decisions." Translation: Dick, Karl, and Don told me what to do. They seem really smarterer and intellectualated to me, but not in an elitist sort of way.
"I think the No Child Left Behind Act is one of the significant achievements of my administration because we said loud and clear to educators, parents and children that we expect the best for every child, that we believe every child can learn, and that in return for Federal money we expect there to be an accountability system in place to determine whether every child is learning to read, write, and add and subtract," he said. Translation: Just like my own education, see how well that worked out?
Asked how he would like to be remembered, Bush said he wants to be known as a president "that focused on individuals rather than process; that rallied people to serve their neighbor; that led an effort to help relieve HIV/AIDS and malaria on places like the continent of Africa; that helped elderly people get prescription drugs and Medicare as a part of the basic package; that came to Washington, D.C., with a set of political statements and worked as hard as I possibly could to do what I told the American people I would do." Translation: You've got to be fucking kidding me. Next he's going claim credit for the booming economy, record Wall Street gains, and free energy to every American.
Gah, the rest of the interview is even more bizarre. And I find the quote from Laura Bush just as enlightening - talk about being an enabler.
I swear to God, if it was anybody else who was this disconnected from reality they'd have been pumped full of Thorazine and locked in a padded cell long ago.
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Despite the fact that I have a very large driveway, it usually doesn't take me long to clean it out with the ATVs, however today will be a pain.
The roof of the shop had about a foot of snow on it yesterday. This is generally a good thing, as the snow helps further insulate the already well insulated building and reduces my heating requirements. However, the roof of the shop is steel, and colored dark brown, and absorbs heat. Again, this is normally a good thing. Except yesterday, when in the afternoon it warmed up enough to cause the entire 3500square foot expanse to unload, WHOOMPF! all at once.
So, this morning I have a three foot deep mound of snow, fifty feet long, down each side of the shop. Since the snow was wet, and fell from thirty feet up and was moving when it hit the ground, and then froze solid last night, it is now a rock-solid, compacted ice berm.
And I have to move it.
That's going to take a shovel, the ice spud, and both the small maneuverable ATV, followed by the big powerful ATV, and maybe the big snow thrower.
While I'm not particularly thrilled about this, I am looking forward to the exercise - though it means I'll no doubt be in pain later.
Now, I do realize that me telling you that I'm going to go move snow constitutes the bloggy content equivalent of soybean filler. I do have a big post on the auto-industry bailout about half done, however, occasional commenter Rick, the jerk, called me and interrupted my thought process. And now, I'm about out of time, I've only got a couple hours of relative warmth and daylight, so I need to go take care of the snow. Now.
So, it's soybean filler for now. You can blame Rick.
But you know, I consider putting you all on a diet today my civic duty anyway, since tomorrow you're all going to stuff yourselves like the gluttons you are. I know I sure will.
Enjoy your day.
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Is it just me?
Or does it seem that there are a whole lot more stupid people than there used to be?
I'm not talking about people who have some type of structural or developmental defect in their neural network. No. I'm talking about those who have the mental tools, but refuse to actually use them for anything other than a hammer.
I'm talking about that half of the human race who willingly fall below the average mean, intelligence wise - and not only delight in it, but are deliberately doing everything they can to push the average even lower.
I'm talking about people who label intellect as 'elitist' and use the word as a curse. I'm talking about people who willing and deliberately wallow in ignorance and stupidity.
Yeah, those idiots.
Seems like there are a whole lot more of them than there used to be. So many so that they're forming into groups now and advertising their stupidity on TV.
Stupid. I've talked about this before. I've gone so far as to identify recognizable rules governing stupidity:
- Stupid is logarithmic
- Stupid is a self attractor
- Stupid evolves
- Stupid abhors a vacuum
- Stupid doesn't discriminate
- Stupid loves technology
- Stupid is insidious
- Stupid is tenacious
- Stupid is fun
- Stupid is profitable
Refer to Wright's Stupid List for my rigorously scientific analysis of human stupidity and a detailed explanation of the above rules.
Today, I've identified a new stupid rule:
11. Stupid is proud to be stupid
Take this bunch of idiots, for example. They've gone so far as to elect themselves a queen.
Yeah, what were the ingredients again for moose chili?
The stupid, it burns.
Monday, November 24, 2008
No, seriously, you don't.
It is very, very likely that I'm going to snap and start shooting things this morning - afternoon now actually and that pisses me off even more.
I went to get a cup of coffee this morning and run a few errands. Big mistake. Every damned moron in the valley is out today and to top it off the temperature warmed up last night, it's about 40F at the moment. Good, right? Wrong. 40F is above freezing, which means the roads are glare ice. I finished my errands, got my coffee and was on the way home and turned onto my street very carefully.
Not carefully enough, unfortunately. Despite new tires and manual 4-wheel drive and low speed, the truck slid and caught the edge of the snow. Which swung the rear end around - into the ditch. Because the conditions were so slick, I couldn't do a damned thing about it and slid backward over the edge, towards a fifteen foot drop into the trees. Fortunately, the truck stopped just short of the drop off (about 6 inches short actually) and missed the trees. I set the transmission for low-range and locked the transaxles, but I couldn't get enough traction to get it out. I didn't dare try too hard for fear of sliding the rest of the way down the hill. I could probably have rigged a tow cable and winch, which I keep in the cargo box in back, and pulled it out with an hour's worth of work. Screw that, I'm insured, I called the tow truck instead - and stood there hoping the damned thing wouldn't decide to suddenly slide down the hill while I waited for the wrecker to show up.
He came along 30 minutes later and had me out pretty quick. No damage to the truck, which, you know, makes me reasonably happy considering. I took a few pictures, figuring you all would be interested and maybe a little amused.
Unfortunately, I took the damned pictures with my cell phone. Where they remain. Because Motorola has the absolute worse fucking piece of crap interface software in the history of shitty-assed piece of crap programming. Their stupid phone software doesn't work, has never worked, is unlikely to work anytime in the future. Motorola does not understand basic communications device standards and wouldn't know how to implement a USB interface if it crawled up and bit them on their corporate ass. Which is pretty fucking sad when you consider that Motorola is supposed to specialize in communications systems. After twenty minutes of screwing around with this piece of crap I give up - it's either that out take the phone out to the shop and smash it into a million pieces with the biggest sledge hammer I have, wrap it in C4, and mail the resulting surprise to Motorola's CEO as a Christmas gift - which means I'd have to go to the post office and frankly I'm already having a bad day and the USPS would be the final straw. Really, I'm not sure anybody would surivive it.
I'm about due for a new phone - and I can tell you that it will not, ever, be another Motorala. In fact, I'm pretty damned sure that unless somebody holds a gun to my head, and maybe not even then, that I will not ever own anything made by Motorola again. I don't spend money on shit, and Motorola has decided that instead of building the quality they were once known for, they'd rather build shit. Therefor I will take my business elsewhere. Piss off, Motorola, you've lost yourself a customer. And if the bitching I'm hearing from everybody else who owns your shitty products is any indicator, well, we'll see you in bankruptcy court, assholes.
Anyway, if you were expecting something witty, amusing, deep, or even vaguely interesting - well, you're going to need to look elsewhere today.
Me, I'll be out in the shop, probably screaming and smashing things until I feel better.
Friday, November 21, 2008
No fear. At all. She's hungry, apparently. Well, that and she's used to me I guess. And she reminded me that I need to fill the squirrel feeders. Those black currants are nasty, bland and tasteless and frozen into little BB pellets.
How she avoids becoming eagle food, I don't know - especially since I've seen three Bald Eagles this morning, two adults and a juvenile in speckled plumage. She's quick though and maybe that's it. She lives in the spruce tree down my back hill and can make it a hundred yards to the currant tree or the feeder without once setting foot on the ground. Amazing agility, wish I had it.
So, there you go, Squirrel Bloggin Friday.
Yeah, yeah, I know Fridays are supposed to be about catbloggin' - but technically that's more like a guideline than what you'd call actual law.
I'm listening to Tracy Chapman this morning as I try to achieve the correct mental Zen for the current chapter of Iyes of the Dead - which is kicking my ass.
I may have mentioned somewhere that I'm a huge Chapman fan - I love this woman's voice and lyrics and could listen to her music endlessly. The following, Telling Stories, is probably my favorite - but that's like choosing from a box of high quality of chocolates, it really doesn't matter what you pick because they'll all terrific (well, except for those stinking coconut ones. I hate coconut). Watch the video carefully, more than once, it's incredibly subtle.
Oh, and there's a cat in the video, so technically I am meeting the catbloggin' requirement. Just sayin' is all.
Then there's Talking Bout a Revolution, and this being one of my favorite mixes:
And finally, You're the One For Me, from the Austin City Limits concert - and the backup band is just freakin' terrific.
Now, if you'll excuse me I need to push at least 2000 words through the blender this morning - hopefully 500 of them will actually stick.
Thursday, November 20, 2008
...Alaska, and by extension the United States, is doomed.
Ted Stevens conceded his bid for a seventh term, and Alaskans will now have a democrat for a Senator.
Oh, God. We're screwed. It's the talk of the town, literally. People at the Palmer Starbucks this morning looked like somebody, probably gay atheist illegal aliens, turned their favorite puppy into puppy enchiladas. We'll lose our share of the congressional pork roast! They'll take away our guns! Family values are in the crapper. Gay marriage! Free abortions! Atheists! Dogs and cats living together, it'll be anarchy. Only Ted Stevens could save us! We're doooooooomed!
Look, there's no denying that Uncle Teddy has done a hell of a lot for Alaska in four decades as her Senator. And Alaskans have gotten used to Ted Stevens, used to the money he pulled into our state, used the power he wielded as the Senate's longest serving member, used to making excuses for his crotchety and cantankerous nature, and used to ignoring some of the more unsavory things he managed to ram through the Senate. The truth of the matter is that for a long time we were better off with him, than without him.
There's little doubt in my mind that Ted Stevens would have won a seventh term if he hadn't been convicted of lying and corruption - and he very nearly did win anyway. But, see, that's the whole point here. Both corruption and Ted Stevens are fixtures of Alaskan politics, and Alaskans are having a hard time coming to grips with the fact that Ted won't be there any more. The corruption, well, that's unlikely to go anywhere, anytime soon. The faces change, but some things remain exactly the same in Alaska.
They say you can get used to hanging, if you hang long enough. And that's how it is with us and Ted. We're used to him. So much so that it blinds us to some very obvious truths.
Stevens is a crook. That's not just me spouting hyperbole, it's the literal truth. He was convicted. He may win on appeal, I think that's unlikely but I wouldn't put any money on it. However, until and unless he wins that appeal - he's a convicted criminal. Oh hell no, say my neighbors - Ted was railroaded. The judge had a liberal agenda. The witnesses were tampered with. The evidence was tainted. The jury was biased. The sun was in my eyes! A dog ate my homework! I was kidnapped by aliens!
There's a word for this type of rationalization, it's called denial.
Ask yourself a simple question: Who do you hire when you need work done on your house? Did you answer, "An oil industry support company that has a vested interest in how I vote on issues in the state?" No? Me neither. If I need renovations done around Stonekettle Station that I can't do myself, I hire a contractor who specializes in such things, not Exxon.
Now, ask yourself another question: Who are you going to listen to, the company who is upgrading your house as a favor? Or some bearded scruffy guy in a bush cabin halfway across the state who didn't have the foresight to send you a decent gift? Exactly.
One last question, If everything Ted Stevens did was aboveboard, why didn't he declare the gifts and the money on his congressional disclosure forms? Uh huh.
Everything else in the Ted Stevens case depends from those three questions. And Ted's answers to those questions can be boiled down to "Step off, I'm Ted Stevens." It wasn't the judge, or the jury, or the venue, or anything else. It was Ted Stevens himself and those entities he chose to represent. Ted did this to himself.
Now, I'm not so idealistically stupid as to think that what's good for the oil industry in Alaska isn't often good for Alaskans. The truth of the matter is that Alaska is by and large about oil at the moment. And if Exxon-Mobile, Conoco-Phillips, British Petroleum, and their various supporting businesses and hanger-ons flourish, well, so very often do we. And like it or not, that's how America works - our representatives listen to powerful industry lobbyists and the common citizen goes along for the ride. Jobs, money, and pork follow.
But, what's good for industry in Alaska, isn't always good for Alaskans - just ask those Alaskans who used to fish for a living in Prince William sound prior to Exxon's little spill, or the natives who used to fish and hunt for their very existence downstream from some of the big mines and oil fields, or those Alaskans in the Bush who's villages are going bankrupt trying to keep the heat and electricity on while Big Oil rakes in record profits, or those of us Alaskans paying three times the national average for gasoline, natural gas, and heating oil. And it's this group of Alaskans that ended Stevens' tenure on Capital Hill. Turns out that there are more folks in Alaska who didn't see themselves benefiting from Uncle Ted's cozy relationship with the Oil Industry than did. Not a lot, but enough.
And let that be a lesson to politicians. It may be those lobbyists and your friends with money who give you gifts, and power, and whisper flattery in your ear - but ultimately it is the people who decide whether or not you stay in power. Disregard them at your peril.
And let that be a lesson to the citizens. Your vote counts. It does. Stevens lost this race by a very narrow margin. Your vote counts. And it's the single most powerful tool any citizen has. Your vote counts. It's the one thing that a politician can't ignore.
Alaskans, take a deep breath. Alaska will be just fine without Ted Stevens. He's done good things for us, but Ted Stevens isn't the only Alaskan who can successfully represent this state - and represent you. Senator Elect Begich is a lifetime member of the NRA, a strong supporter of gun rights, wants to open restricted reservations to gas and oil exploration, and believes less government the better. Frankly, he sounds a hell of a lot more like a Republican than a Democrat.
And one last thing for those conservatives down there in the lower 48 whining about Ted Steven's loss and what it means to the balance of power in Washington. Tough. Republicans have no one to blame for their loss of majority except themselves. No one. Nobody stole this election - they voted. That's democracy. You win some, you lose some - and if you want to win you'd better start thinking about why you lost.
Good bye, Ted. Thanks for your service and for what you did for Alaska.
Welcome aboard, Mark.
Now, get to work and remember who you work for.
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
- Words that aren't spelled like they sound. I hate the English language, what a freakin' hodgepodge. Eye before Ee, except after Cee - the rules, they're just plain arbitrary. Strunk and White were drunkards. Every rule of English grammar (See? See? Why is it "grammar" instead of "grammer?" Drunkards, I say) is stolen from a real language. English is the duck-billed platypus of written communications.
- Installation programs that open a dialog box with an indicator bar to gauge the progress of the installation - and when they get to 'zero seconds remaining' they just sit there. Forever. And ever. And for freakin' ever. Goddamn it, there's obviously a few stinking seconds remaining, isn't there? It's like the program is just taunting me. A computer is basically just a fancy clock, would it be so damned hard to show an accurate progress bar? Well, would it?
- The bell on my toaster oven. Hell, the bell, beeper, buzzer, binger, dinger, donger, or ringer on any damned machine. I hate being preemptively summoned by the the toaster. Hate. It. The toaster oven has a loud shrill electronic bell that bleats like a panicked republican at a gay pride parade. Seven times when the toast is done. Seven times. Seven. Jesus Pea Picking Christ on a left-handed chrome-plated gas-powered pogo stick, if I let the damned toast get cold before I remember to get it - then that's how I like it today. Piss off, toaster oven, it's just toast not the end of the world. And the buzzer on the damned clothes dryer, holy battle stations Batman! Nuclear alert warnings for a Soviet first strike weren't that loud, shrill, or persistent. Buzz! Buzz! Hurry! Hurry! Your raggedy work pants are getting wrinkled. Help! Alert! Sooner or later I'm going to take a hammer to the Maytag man. I don't like taking orders from a machine and I really don't like machines that talk. Don't even get me started on those demon-spawned self checkout lines with the smarmy computer voice that sounds like bad Majel Barrat from the evil alternate Star Trek universe in Mirror, Mirror.
- Splash screens. Modal splash screens. You know, the ones that pop up while the big bloated program loads and sit square in the middle of your screen blocking everything else so you can't check email or do anything useful until the goddamned program is finished loading? Yeah, those. I hate those damn things. Kiss my chapped ass, Adobe.
- Those damned paper subscription postcards stuffed into magazines.
- Cat hair. I've got two big house cats (yes, and one wee Shop Kat). The two house cats shed like you would not believe. Seriously, I get enough hair on a daily basis to knit an entire other cat. Sometimes I find giant wads of cat hair, like some freakish dust bunny hopped up on Hair Club For Men, big enough to clog the Dyson industrial vacuum cleaner. What the hell is the purpose of this? If you're into evolution, what possible survival characteristic is continuous and sustained marathon shedding selected for? If you're all about the creation thing, what possible reason for this furry blizzard could there be other than God hates me?
- Spam. No not the canned pork-like product. I like that, especially fried. The other kind of spam. Spam pisses me off. Spammers piss me off. People who click on spam piss me off.
- DVDs. I hate everything about DVDs. Stupid, slow, ugly, crippled over-priced technology. I hate that dumb FBI warning that I can't jump over. I hate the idiotic packaging on new DVDs, sealed, shrink wrapped, security enabled, double banded, locked, blocked, chocked, and wrapped in a rabid pitbull's colon. For crying into your tomato soup, those spent plutonium casks the DOE is transporting through your neighborhood to Yucca Mountain aren't sealed half so well. Good God, it's a three dollar copy of Doc Hollywood that I got out of the bargain bin at Wal-Mart, I'm not going to steal the fucking thing - even if it does have Julie Warner naked in it. But more than anything, I hate DVD menus. I hate them with the heat of a thousand flaming suns being ripped apart in nuclear agony by ravening black holes spawned in the hearts of dying galaxies. I hate them. Every damned menu is an opportunity for repressed neverbeenlaid technogeeks who dream of becoming real movie directors to express their creativity. Just get to the controls already! And then, when the controls finally do appear after ten minutes of clipped scenes and clever sound bites and swirling effects, there is no standardization to the controls at all. You can't hardly tell which damned button is selected by the little curly cursor thingy and then when you finally do get it onto the Play Movie button, well do you push "Play" or "Enter" or "the magic button that does nothing anywhere else so we made it start the movie button because we know how much you enjoy DVD menu control cryptography and getting to know your remote?" Seriously, pick a fucking standard, Menu Geeks.
- Lowerider jeans. Ten pounds of ass in a five pound bag. Nobody looks good in those. Nobody. Really. Seriously ladies, from behind you look like you've got a load in your britches. A woman's ass should be heart shaped, not shaped like a stack of bricks on a pallet. I'm going to be honest with you all, lowriders make you look like a Shar Pei stuffed into a one of those doggy Halloween costumes. But that's not what irritates me, no. What irks me about lowriders jeans is the constant hitching. Goddamn, ladies, this entire generation looks like it's been infected with mad cow disease. Women must spend 80% of their day hitching those stupid pants up and pulling their little belly shirts down and bitching about the cold. You're cold because your clothes don't cover your ass, that's the whole damned problem.
- and lastly, Dick Cheney and Alberto Gonzales indicted by a south Texas Grand Jury for the mistreatment of foreign prisoners and it doesn't even make the major news feeds above the fold. It chaps my ass that it's taken this long. It chaps my ass that their boss isn't included in the indictment. And it chaps my ass that the America people don't care enough about it to even notice.
Yes, I'm feeling crabby today. Can you tell?
So, what chaps your ass?
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
Oh sure, it's pretty and all, but there's no drama. Just another beautiful sunset over Ohio corn fields. Flat, boring old Ohio. Yawn.
This is what sunset looks like here:
My thermometer is falling past -10F at the moment, and the last of the moisture has precipitated out of the atmosphere and condensed as hoar frost on the tree limbs. The world is still and deathly quiet, the last of the orange sunlight glitters on the snow of the Chugach range and when it finally goes, well, it may not come back. Somewhere, far down the valley the wolves are howling and I think I heard the shrill trumpet of a woolly mammoth...
That's a sunset.
Ohio, phsssft. Big deal.
Now, if you'll excuse me I need to go bring in some firewood before we all freeze to death.
As regulars know, I'm not big on religion.
Being a former Navy officer, I tend to avoid religious discussions if at all possible. Basic wardroom etiquette dictates no discussion of the job, politics, and religion at the dinner table. Now obviously I've completely disregarded the first two topics here at Stonekettle Station, but I try to avoid discussing religion as much as possible for a couple of reasons. One, I have little interest in attracting the pro-religion folks or the anti-religion folks and the ensuing pitched crap-flinging in the comments section that most posts of that nature generate. And two, because I know that a number of readers are deeply religious and I have no desire whatsoever to give unnecessary offense. As long as religious people respect my lack of faith, I'll respect their beliefs and I try to avoid deliberate attacks on anybody's belief system.
I don't have anything in particular against religious people, providing that they don't try to impose their beliefs on me or mine and providing that those belief systems respect others and do no particular harm to society at large. Particular harm being defined according to the following ideal: I believe in freedom of religion, but I also believe strongly in freedom from religion. I also believe that when your religion impacts me or mine - and by extension my nation's security and well being - you've made your beliefs my business. Example, I consider Alzheimer's Disease horrifying. Others have a mortal fear of heights, snakes, or death. Not me. But I fear disintegration of my mind, I do. If stem cell research will lead to a cure or prevention, then I want all I can get. If fetuses are to die, naturally or otherwise, and the parents are willing to donate their bodies to science, then I don't see where your religion has a right to say a damned thing about it and I don't see this as any different from donating your dead child's heart or liver to save another. If a cure is found, and your religion doesn't hold with it - then don't take it, don't donate your child's life to it, but don't tell me I have to spend the last years of my life as a mindless drooling zombie for your God. If he doesn't want me to fight, he shouldn't have created Alzheimer's in the first damned place.
I think it can be demonstrated that religion has done a hell of a lot of good in the world. I think it can be demonstrated that religion has done a hell of a lot of evil in the world as well. Whether religion has produced more good or more evil depends very much on your perspective - and your religion.
I think that religion and faith fill a basic deep-seated need for many people. I think that religion gives the devout strength in a frightening world, makes them part of something larger than themselves, and gives them comfort in the cold and lonely night. Many people do not look upon the unknown with awe or wonder or a burning desire to go find out what's over the next hill. For many people, the universe is a vast and terrifying place. These people need structure, guidance, answers- and religion provides that. Understand, I'm not saying that there's anything wrong, or weak minded, or defective about this, only that some people (a majority maybe) seem to be wired this way - whether by design or by selection of survival characteristics through evolution.
For others, such as myself, the universe is a puzzle. A place of mysteries to be solved, strange folk yet to be met, things to be learned, questions to be asked and asked yet again, and a place without boundary or limit. The universe is not only stranger than we imagine, it is stranger than we can imagine - and we like it that way.
But, we all want answers, and for some, religion provides those answers. For others religion simply does not.
For many people the world is like the lost generation ship Vanguard in Robert Heinlein's Orphans of the Sky. Set in motion long ago by powerful and unknowable forces, sharply defined, with given rules and dangers, there's a fixed beginning and a fixed end as foretold. But for others, well, we're the ones looking in amazement at the stars outside the windows of the Captain's Veranda and realizing that the universe is far vaster than we were led to believe. Others look out those same windows and see only points of light.
Where I think religion too often jumps the shark is when instead of providing answers and a source of comfort, it becomes a straightjacket. Despite protestations to the divine contrary, religion is ultimately a human endeavor - and like all things human it is prone to corruption and abuse. And far too often religions become little more than a source of control and power for a select few human beings over many, and this is true of tiny cults such as the Westboro Baptist Church all the way up to ancient religions with millions of adherents such as Islam or the Catholic Church. Large organizations are inherently conservative, this is nearly inevitable given time and human nature, and religion is often the most conservative of human social constructs. Religion is often about providing definitive answers regarding fundamental questions such as where do we come from, what is our purpose, where are we going. As such, religion is often about maintaining the status quo. Anything that questions those answers is very, very often seen as a threat to the religion's power and status and control, and while the average adherent may not perceive it that way, those in the pulpit most certainly do.
Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely. Power often blinds those in power, deliberately so in many cases. And power is too often an end in and of itself, instead of a means to an end. Those in power tend to want to stay in power, and when power is vested in something as fundamental as how people perceive the world, the tendency to see anything that challenges that perception as a threat is all to common.
A priest at St. Mary's Catholic Church in downtown Greenville [South Carolina] has told parishioners that those who voted for Barack Obama placed themselves under divine judgment because of his stance on abortion and should not receive Holy Communion until they've done penance.
The priest, Rev Jay Scott Newman speaking to the The Greenville News last week, said that according to Catholic Church doctrine he cannot refuse Holy Communion to anyone based on their political choices. However, in a letter posted on St. Mary's website, Newman wrote that "voting for a pro-abortion politician when a plausible pro-life alternative exists constitutes material cooperation with intrinsic evil." While I support the Reverend Newman's, and by extension the Catholic Church's, right to freedom of speech, belief and expression, I have a major issue with essentially telling Catholics that they have political free will, but if they vote democrat their souls will be damned to hell for all eternity - unless they do penance and thereby give up their inalienable American right to privacy by confessing their choice of candidate to the priest. I don't believe in the soul, but a heck of a lot of people do - and the threat is a very, very real one to them. I also have a major problem with the Catholic Church calling the President Elect of the United States "intrinsically evil." And it is the Church, not just one bullheaded priest - because the Vatican has yet to refute Newman's declaration. This is unacceptable. It is unacceptable because it comes right down to a foreign religious power telling people how to vote in an American election - and if they don't vote the way the Church wants, there will be severe consequences for them personally, forever. This is no different than a traffic cop telling a driver he can refuse to take the breath-O-lizer. The driver could, technically, but there will be very, very unpleasant consequences as a result. The implied threat is this, if you know what's good for you, you'll do as I say. Or else. Free will is an illusion in both cases.
Additionally, I find it a particular hypocrisy that Newman does not acknowledge conservative support for torture, rendition, extraordinary means, war and etcetera - or liberal support for feeding the hungry, clothing the destitute, healing the sick and etcetera - which is an intrinsic element of the Christian faith and which the Catholic Church itself acknowledged in its own Faithful Citizenship document last year. Newman appears to be a single issue priest - and this more than anything indicates that his goal is power and the status quo - and the maintaining and preservation of the same. This is a dangerous precedent, and one very much at odds with concept of separation of church and state.
The Rt Rev Patrick O'Donoghue, the Bishop of Lancaster [UK], has claimed that graduates are spreading scepticism and sowing dissent. Instead of following the Church's teaching they are "hedonistic", "selfish" and "egocentric", he said.
Well, I won't argue the hedonistic, selfish, or egocentric part of that statement, but I would point out that these traits are not in any way confined to only the educated. In fact, if Church history is any indicator, the traits of hedonism, selfishness, and egocentricity are very much part of those educated strictly within the Catholic belief system. I don't want this post to run off into a bash-fest of the Church and pedophile priests and the abuses of the clergy, but those things go a long, long way towards kicking the foundation right out from under the Bishop's statement. Mainstream education or religious (of any kind) education seem to have very little to do with selfishness, hedonism, or ego.
Overall, the gist of Reverend O'Donoghue's message is "the development of mass education on a scale unprecedented in human history - resulting in economic growth, scientific and technological advances, and the cultural and social enrichment of billions of people's lives. However, every human endeavor has a dark side, due to original sin and concupiscence [strong sexual desire]. In the case of education, we can see its distortion through the widespread dissemination of radical skepticism, positivism, utilitarianism and relativism. Taken together, these intellectual trends have resulted in a fragmented society that marginalizes God, with many people mistakenly thinking they can live happy and productive lives without him."
In other words: secular education is evil.
But the simple truth of the matter is that many people do live happy and productive lives without God or the trapping of religion - and this bothers the good bishop to no end.
And education does lead to tough, tough questions regarding the fundamental articles of faith: where do we come from? Why are we here? Where are we going? Questions the Church is increasingly ill prepared to answer. Science and education are increasingly at odds with the traditional religious answers in ways that simply cannot be denied for a large number of faithful. Increasingly, many that have a deep seated need to know are finding that the church simply can't provide satisfying answers in this age of knowledge. And so they are leaving.
The church has two options, adapt or die.
In other words, it must evolve.
And so must all religions. People and societies change. Specialization leads to stagnation. Stagnation leads to death and extinction. Far from rejecting education, the church should embrace it and push the limits of knowledge.
People will find a way to fulfil their fundamental needs and find answers to fundamental questions - and if the church can't, or won't, provide those things, then it really serves no purpose.
Monday, November 17, 2008
Grant Griffin, a 46-year-old white Georgia native, seems to feel that the United States is going to hell in a hand basket, "I believe our nation is ruined and has been for several decades and the election of Obama is merely the culmination of the change. If you had real change it would involve all the members of [Obama's] church being deported," he said.
Yeah, that would be some real chance all right.
Cross burning. Vandalism. School children, some as young as 6 and 7 chanting "Assassinate Obama." Physical attacks. Death threats.
- These two mouth breathing racist morons in Staten Island:
who randomly assaulted Ali Kamara and beat him with a pipe and a baton - while yelling 'Obama!' These two goons wanted to be Marines - and obviously have no idea what being a United States Marine is all about, I guarantee you that these two hoods would never have made it past Week 1 of boot camp. Read the comments under the Daily*News article, if you can stomach them.
- The Secret Service is investigating a sign posted on a tree in Vay, Idaho, with Obama's name and the offer of a "free public hanging."
- In North Carolina, civil rights officials complained of threatening racist graffiti targeting Obama found in a tunnel near the North Carolina State University campus, including swastikas. Because apparently in North Carolina the symbol of Nazism is preferable to a black president. Because apparently the Nazi Swastika is more American than, oh say, an American citizen elected overwhelmingly via the democratic process.
- In a Maine convenience store, an Associated Press reporter saw a sign inviting customers to join a betting pool on when President Obama might fall victim to an assassin. The sign solicited $1 entries into "The Osama Obama Shotgun Pool," saying the money would go to the person picking the date closest to when Obama was attacked. "Let's hope we have a winner," said the sign. Having lived in Maine myself for a number of years, I have to say that it doesn't surprise me at all that the store felt comfortable putting up a sign like this and not worrying much about what customers might think - because nearly every customer would be just fine with it.
- White supremacist web sites are pulling in the new recruits. A major site, stormfront.org, was temporarily off-line Nov. 5 because of the overwhelming amount of activity it received after Election Day. Dalderian Germanicus, a stormfront poster from Las Vegas, said, "I want the SOB laid out in a box to see how 'messiahs' come to rest. God has abandoned us, this country is doomed." Germanicus doesn't speculate on why God has abandoned racist pinheads like himself though, or if maybe what he's doing is not something his God approves of.
The list is endless. Racist rhetoric, hate crimes, and incidents like those described above are up a hundredfold since November 6th. I guess I'm not surprised. I'm disappointed, but not surprised.
Prior to the election, I was under no illusion that racism was dead in America - but the raw, illogical, ignorant and unabashed bigotry evident in the thousands of incidents like those described above simply astounds me.
These ignorant fearful hateful idiots need to understand something, Barack Obama wasn't just elected by African American voters, he was elected to office by an overwhelming number of White voters. Barack Obama will be president because a significant majority of Americans want him in the White House. That's democracy, or our version of it anyway. That's America. Our America.
And it's time the racists got used to it.
Saturday, November 15, 2008
Seriously, you've already made the rest of your fellow Alaskans look like rednecked, inbred, backward-assed, xenophobic neocon morons (yes, some of that is redundant, I know). You're embarrassing us. Please, stop making it worse.
"I still am concerned about that association with Bill Ayers," Palin said. "And if anybody still wants to talk about it, I will, because this is an unrepentant domestic terrorist who had campaigned to blow up, to destroy our Pentagon and our U.S. Capitol."
Here's the thing, Sarah, nobody wants to talk about it - because it's not an issue. Not now. Not ever. It's been addressed, in detail. President Elect Obama has explained his relationship with Ayers, in detail. That relationship has been corroborated, again in detail. Apparently you, Sarah Palin, are the only one not aware of it.
And you're not fooling anybody with this garbage. I'm willing to bet decent money that you'd never even heard of William Ayers before the campaign. Ever. I'd be willing to bet that you don't have a damned clue as to the dates, details, members, events, political issues, and legal actions surrounding the radical violence of the Weather Underground and Ayers' relationship to it or why Ayers is a free man today.
I"m no fan of William Ayers, and frankly I think it's a damned shame he didn't blow himself up with the rest of his friends (look it up, because you know you have no idea what I'm talking about here). But if you truely believe that William Ayers is a terrorist, I'd be less concerned about his tenuous relationship with the President Elect, and a hell of a lot more concerned with his direct and detailed impact on the students at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and on education system reform.
I'd also advise you, Governor, that going down the relationship road is a damned slippery slope. Especially for Republicans. Especially for Republicans in Alaska.
Seriously here, Sarah, you lost. Overwelmingly.
Try to be a little classier about it, will you please?
Thursday, November 13, 2008
When you are the dominant power in the world, you can dictate terms to everybody else.
When your currency is the dominant measure of value and forms the basis for the world economy, you can dictate terms - and then the threat of economic isolation is a very real threat indeed.
When your military is the dominant force worldwide and you have a strong alliance with like minded nations and the resolute backing of their forces, you can dictate terms - and then the threat of military force is a very real threat indeed.
When you have control of every asset needed to power your national economy and infrastructure and you are not dependent on outside supply of critical resources - i.e. energy, raw materials, food stocks, technology, knowledge, manufacturing, and etc. - you can dictate terms to the rest of the world without concern and there is little your adversaries can do to threaten you.
And for brief time in the mid part of last century the United States of America enjoyed exactly that position in the world - and our current foreign policy was born during that time and continues to reflect its origin. In reality, this concept is long out of date - and frankly doesn't work and has not in a very long, long time. I want to avoid the rhetoric of third world dictators, but the truth of the matter is that much of the world sees our foreign policy as arrogant and imperialistic - and from their perspective, well, they're right.
Yes, this is a criticism of the United States. So what? All people, and therefor all nations, have flaws. Those that are admired and respected, both people and nations, are the ones who can identify the flaws, admit their mistakes, and take action to fix them. Those that are not admired or respected, those that are hated and despised, both people and nations, are the ones who arrogantly proclaim themselves perfect and set about to impose that perceived perfection on everybody else. And in an increasingly large part of the world, America and Americans are hated and despised. We can either continue on the road we're on, or we can do something about it. Recovered alcoholics have a saying, "The first step is to admit you have a problem." Those that refuse to face this simple fact, never stop drinking - and in many cases it destroys them.
The first step is to admit we have a problem with foreign policy. There's nothing unpatriotic about this criticism. The world changes and so do we. The American dollar is no longer dominant in the world, and is a much less potent threat diplomatically. The American military, while still the most powerful weapon on the planet, is engaged up to its neck and stretched thin. America is no longer the arsenal of democracy, far too many of our resources come at the end of long and vulnerable supply lines. America may be the only remaining superpower, but it is not the only power on the planet and new economic forces are in ascension.
And it is long past time to recognize this simple fact: we cannot dictate terms, not effectively anyway. The world has changed, and we must change with it - and so must our foreign policy.
Take Cuba, for example. Cuba is the epitome of failed US foreign policy. There was a time, a century ago, when Americans were heroes on the Island of Cuba. There was time, a century ago, when some Cubans even spoke of joining the Union. There was a time, a century ago, when the American Flag flew over the USS Maine Memorial in Malecon, Havana Harbor and Cubans looked upon it with gratitude and profound thanks for their freedom from Spain. There was time, little more than half a century ago, when America and Cuba were allies, and American military men looked forward to liberty and R&R in that island paradise, and Americans from Miami, New York, and Washington vacationed there - some even owned homes and businesses there.
It wasn't all idyllic paradise though, there was corruption and crushing poverty and the mafia and the Coup. No, not that coup, the other one, the one that brought a corrupt and greedy dictator to power, Ruben Fulgencio Batista Zaldívar. Bastista suspended the Constitution, and set about making himself and his cronies rich at the expense of everybody else in the country - it's an old story and one we've seen many, many times. Rather than set matters right, the US embraced Bastista, and helped him rape his country - which in turn paved the way for Fidel Castro and his revolucion. Strangely, despite the fact the Castro visited the US after his assumption of power and sought to continue close ties with America, he was rebuffed by the Eisenhower administration - and so he turned to the USSR.
You know what happened and what the results were and are to this day - and if you don't, you can easily find out. Economic and political isolation, embargo, and threats of military force. We don't talk to them and they don't talk to us. Screw 'em. And so it has stood for the last fifty years.
There's just one little problem with this foreign policy - it doesn't work. It has never worked, and is even less likely to work in the future as other powers such as China, India, South America, and the European Economic Union increasingly move away from the desires and dictates of the United States.
Despite everything the US threw at Cuba, political isolation, economic embargo, and half-assed attempts at military force and CIA black operations, Castro remained in power. He found other sources of support, he turned American foreign policy into a rallying point for his population, and despite his pariah status - or maybe because of it - he became a source of inspiration to others who felt they were getting the short end of US foreign relations. And he left office on his own terms due to the infirmity of age, and not because of our machinations and foreign policy.
The logic behind our continued position regarding Cuba simply doesn't hold water - despite the continued vehement outcries of the Cuban expats living in Miami to the contrary. We don't deal with dictators? Nonsense. Look around. If Cuba had oil we'd deal with Fidel and make no bones about it just as we do with Saudi Arabia and Kuwait and Venezuela. We don't deal with communists? Nonsense. If Cuba manufactured consumer goods for dirt cheap prices we'd deal with Fidel and make no bones about it, just as we do with China. We don't deal with rigidly oppressive societies? Nonsense, if Cubans provided dirt cheap off-shore labor and spoke reasonable English we be getting our tech support from them, just as we do from India. We don't deal with corrupt governments? Nonsense. If Cubans had dirt cheap manufacturing we'd be getting our car parts from them, just as we do from Mexico. We don't deal with our former enemies? Nonsense. That particular list is endless, staring with England and ending with Russia and Vietnam. Despite the fact that our foreign policy has availed us nothing in sixty years with regards to Cuba, and in point of fact can be definitively shown to have decreased our security rather significantly in many cases, we continue to hold the course.
Then there's the rest of it. When, the gloved fist of economic and political isolation doesn't work, we remove the glove to expose the mailed fist underneath - i.e. military action. Isaac Asimov once wrote, violence is the last refuge of the incompetent (from the character Salvor Hardin, Foundation), and while I don't entirely agree with this sentiment (sometimes violent military action is entirely the correct option, for a number of reasons) I do think that the use of military force often provides politicians with a far too easy alternative to aggressive diplomacy and compromise. From Korea to Vietnam, to Beirut and Somali, to the Bay of Pigs, to Iraq and Afghanistan, the examples of why military action as foreign policy is a mistake are plentiful.
And then there's the current administration with it's policy of preemptive military action. If there's anything more counter productive than our current foreign policy, it's the addition of the so-called Bush Doctrine to it. Invasion of Iraq may have removed an annoying petty pissant of a dictator, but the overall damage to America's reputation, economy, alliances, military, and position in the world are a pretty poor return on that investment.
Insanity has been defined as repeating the same action and expecting different results despite all evidence to the contrary. Over and over and over. And this concept, more than anything else, defines our current foreign policy. It's insane.
One of the reason's I voted for Barrack Obama is his stance on opening negotiations with Iran.
The current situation with Iran is untenable, and it will come to a head sooner or later if left unchecked. As someone who is extremely experienced in military operations, as someone is extremely experienced in the Middle East, and as someone who is knowledgeable of Iran, its government, its people, its terrain, and its military strength - I say with confidence, military action should be the very, very, very last thing we think about - unless we are willing to either give up all military operations everywhere else in the world, or make a concerted national effort on the order of the sacrifice needed to win WWII. Economic isolation of Iran isn't working - and has not, ever. We simply do not have the backing of the rest of the world. Maybe we could have achieved a united economic global front against Iran in the days following 9/11, but not now and I shouldn't have to explain why. And without that united front, economic isolation, embargo, and sanctions are an empty threat. The only entity suffering from it is us. Political isolation? Give me a break. If you think political pariah status bothers the rulers of Iran, you don't know enough about the subject to even be in the conversation.
What's that leave us?
A complete and immediate overhaul of our foreign policy would do more to pull us out of the current recession, stabilize the market, and remove the underlying causes of anti-American terrorism then any military or economic action. But that overhaul needs to be based on common sense and a recognition of reality.
I want President Obama to make good on his promise. I want him to invite the leaders of our enemies to a meeting, here, there, on neutral ground I don't care. I want him to sit down and at least try to reach common ground. Something we can all live with, and prosper under. And if it doesn't work out? So what of it? How would we be worse off than we are right now?
Israelis and Palestinians have been at each others' throats for sixty years, and yet they still keep trying, and they get a little closer all the time - they're not there yet, and probably won't be for a long, long time, but they keep talking, keep trying, and they're reaching a point now where the reasonable people are at least equal in number to the unreasonable ones. Sooner or later they'll find common ground and a lasting peace. We need to do the same.
The world changes, and we must change with it. Twenty years ago, I would never have believed that Americans would fly to the International Space Station onboard Russian made ships, or that cosmonauts would fly into orbit on American shuttles. Twenty years ago I would never have believed that Berlin would be united again in my lifetime. Ten years ago I wouldn't have believed that Israelis would even consider a Palestinian homeland. A year ago I wouldn't have believed that Americans could elect an African American president.
I've come to believe in a number of things I never thought possible.
And I believe it's time for a change.
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
We had a major snow fall last night - which I have to deal with right now.
I'm also behind on work, both writing and in the shop. I have deadlines I have to meet and am basically out of time at the moment. I also owe a couple of UCFers some stuff that I'm very delinquent on and I need to set up the photo table, get pictures made and mailed.
So, I just don't have time at the moment for a post. The internet is a big place however, and I'm sure you'll find something to entertain yourselves.
Enjoy your day.
Booze is in the fridge, chocolate is on the counter. Wipe your feet and beware the cats. Thanks. More later.
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
Today a lot of politicians are going to make speeches purporting to honor veterans. Wreaths will be lain. Trumpets blown. Flags flown. Words about patriotism, duty, honor, sacrifice, country, courage, glory, and service will be spoken. Then the politicians will speak about what really matters to veterans - the bailout bill, or the latest pork barrel project, or how the other party is a bunch of unpatriotic bastards.
Today a lot of talk show hosts on radio and TV are going to wax self-righteous and angrily demand that their listeners honor veterans. They'll take people to task for not wearing an American Flag pin, or for not having a yellow ribbon on their cars, or for not serving in uniform - all the while hoping nobody calls them on their own service, of which, most have exactly none.
Today a lot of folks who think of themselves as Patriots with a capital "P" are going drink a lot of beer and bloviate at great length about how the country is going to hell in a liberal handbasket and how we should be honoring veterans, Goddamnitalltohell! All the while hoping nobody calls them on their own service, of which, most have exactly none.
And today a lot of folks who don't think much about patriotism are going to go to parades and wave little flags and quietly give thanks for those who bought their freedom at such a high price. Some will stand ramrod straight even though some can barely stand at all, and place their hands over their hearts as the American flag passes, and in their eyes you can see memories of Saipan and Iwo Jima, Normandy, the Rhine, the black Ardennes forest, The Chosin Reservoir, Khe Sanh, Tet, Al Basrah, Anbar, and Bagram. They won't talk about honoring veterans, they are veterans.
Today those with sons and daughters and husbands and wives in the service will raise a flag in their front yard, just as they do every day - and pray that those same loved ones get home alive and whole, just as they do every day.
Today those with sons and daughters and husbands and wives and mothers and fathers who have fallen in the service will visit graveyards, they'll bring fresh flowers, and flesh flags, and fresh tears.
Today, some will protest. Protest the war, the military, the government. They'll use this day to burn the flag, to counter march and to demonstrate and it may be that these people are paying the highest of honors to veterans - even though that is the least of their intentions. Because, you see of course, that it was veterans who bought them to right to protest.
And today, some just will not give a shit about veterans one way or the other. They'll get a day off from work. They'll picnic, or party, or go boating, or hiking, or to the track. They'll paint the house, or do chores around the yard, they haul trash to the dump if it's open or take the dog for a walk. Or maybe they won't, maybe today will be just like any other day. Kids still go to school, here in Alaska. Teachers still teach. Stores, restaurants, and the mills are still open. And it may be that these people also honor veterans, by simply going on with their lives, by living their lives without having to be concerned, without having to worry about their security, without having to thank anybody.
Me? I'll raise a beer to my comrades in arms. I don't want thanks, or parades, or prayers, or to listen to speeches from bloated politicians who have never served. I don't want to watch wreath laying and solemn ceremonies. I don't want to hear Taps played.
What I want this Veteran's Day, is for Americans to remember what veterans fight for in this country. We swear our oath to the Constitution, and for the rights and freedoms of all Americans. All Americans, every damned one: conservative, liberal, and centrist; gay and straight and transgendered; Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, atheist, agnostic, and other; Black, White, Brown, Yellow, Red, and everything in between. If you truly wish to honor veterans, then honor what we fight for, honor what we lay down our lives for, honor what the uniform we wear represents, honor the Constitution we swear our oath to:
The inalienable right to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness for all people in equal measure - not just the ones who go to your church, or belong to your political party, or share your skin color and sexual orientation. All people. Take a moment today, and think about it and ask yourself if what you do in life truly honors veterans.
Enjoy your day. Remember us. Remember why we do what we do.
Monday, November 10, 2008
President-elect Barack Obama will set foot inside the Oval Office for the first time Monday as he meets with President Bush to talk about the problems his incoming administration will face.
Through various unsavory means, Stonekettle Station managed to obtain the official unedited Oval Office transcripts of this historic meeting:
GWB: Who's there?
Secret Service Agent: It's me, Mr President. Obama is arriving.
GWB: Obama who?
Secret Service Agent: (sigh)President Elect Barrack Obama, sir.
GWB: Oh, heh heh, I thought you said my mama was here.
Secret Service Agent: That joke just gets funnier every time, Mr President.
GWB: Well, I'm a funny guy, everybody says so.
Secret Service Agent: You're a card, Sir. Do you want to meet him on the lawn?
GWB: Crap! This can't be happening! Are you sure it's actually him and not a, you know, terrorist? We can't be too careful. All those people look the same to me.
Secret Service Agent: Those people? You do realize that I'm actually African America, right? And that I'm armed?
GWB: I...uh...meant democrats. All democrats look the same to me.
Secret Service Agent: Of course, Sir. And it's definitely him.
GWB: How can you tell?
Secret Service Agent: From the cheering.
GWB: Ooooooh, is that what that noise is? I've never heard that before.
Secret Service Agent: You will, Sir, you will.
GWB: Really? When?
Secret Service Agent: January 20th, Sir. I guarantee it.
GWB: Well, I appreciate your loyalty, Bob.
Secret Service Agent: It's Leonard, Sir.
GWB: Can we wait here for him, Bob?
Secret Service Agent: Yes, we can ... Sir.
GWB: Better yet, go offer him a cup of coffee or something, give me a couple of minutes.
Secret Service Agent: uh...that's not really my job.
GWB: Oh for crying out loud. Fine. Then don't just stand there, get in here and give me a hand!
Secret Service Agent: Sir?
GWB: This place is a freakin' mess, help me straighten up. Quick!
Secret Service Agent: That's not really my job either, Sir.
GWB: Hey! I'm the President!
Secret Service Agent: (sotto voice) Not for much longer, bitch.
GWB: What was that?
Secret Service Agent: Nothing. (touches his ear piece) President Elect Obama is in the hall, Sir, should I let him in?
GWB: Wait! I've got some very important intelligence reports I need to secure first. Here, eat these!
Secret Service Agent: Aren't those pictures of Sarah Palin's backside?
GWB: Hey, Laura liked Palin's pantsuits! That's all. I didn't even look at them, I swear. And those are Republican duds, we can't let them fall into Democrat hands! Quick eat the pictures!
Secret Service Agent: I'm allergic to Kodak, Sir, you'll have to do it.
GWB: What about taking a bullet for me? Huh? What about that? It might be time for a couple of changes around here!
Secret Service Agent: I can believe in change, Sir.
::Sound of door opening::
Secret Service Agent: May I present President Elect Barrack Obama!
GWB: (swallowing) Mr. President Elect! Whatsssup, my brother! Gimme a fist jab up high!
Obama: Yeah, I meant, where's Dick?
GWB: Oh, I thought you were calling me a dick. Heh, heh.
Obama: Never crossed my mind, George.
GWB: Vice President Cheney is at an undisclosed location.
Obama: Hmmm, I was hoping to get a pass-down from the guy in charge.
GWB: That's me!
Obama: Riiight. Sorry.
GWB: Hey! How about a cup of coffee? Bob, get us some coffee would you?
Secret Service Agent: It's Leonard, Sir.
GWB: He's new.
Secret Service Agent: I've been here for eight years, Sir!
GWB: Such kidders, those security guys! The coffee, Bob, chop chop. Oh! Hey, do you drink coffee? I mean is it forbidden by your culture?
Obama: My ... culture?
GWB: Hey! It's OK, I'm very open minded! Admiral Akbar and all of that!
Obama: Admiral Akbar? You mean Allah Akbar?
GWB: Oh sorry, no insult to your Admiral intended.
Obama: Are you sure, Dick's not around? Really?
GWB: Oh, you can never be sure what he's up to. Don't worry, (whispering) he hears everything.
Obama: Maybe we could look at some paperwork? Starting with the Executive Orders?
GWB: You're not thinking about canceling any of those are you?
Obama: Maybe just a few.
GWB: Whoa! Slow down there, Hussein. A lot of intellectualating went into those! Don't forget, I had a mandate from the people! Let's not forget history here!
Obama: Well, I'm sure history won't forget you.
GWB: Exactly, that's what I'm sayin' is all. Hey! Come over here! Check out the desk. Cool, huh? Bet you never had a desk like this one before! This one was made by Jesus, no offense. He was a carpenter! What did your guy do? I forget.
Obama: Look, I'd like to discuss the situation in Iraq.
GWB: What's your hurry? Iraq's not going anywhere. Check out the desk. I hope you have better luck with the secret compartment than I did. That's my one regret.
Obama: Secret compartment?
GWB: Yeah, like in that movie, National Treasure! I looked, man, for like a week. Nothing, except for a box of stale cigars under one drawer, two Soviet era bugs and one Israeli, and a pair of panties with "MM" embroidered on the ass. I tried calling Nick Cage, but that liberal bastard wouldn't return my messages!
Obama: Yeah, about the economy?
GWB: You're just not getting this, are you? If we can find the secret compartment - we'll find the Templar treasure!
Obama: Um, I think you're mixing up sequels - it was the City of Gold.
GWB: Hell, that's even better!
Obama: I'm really not following you here.
GWB: That's OK, I had a hard time at first too. This President thing is hard, and I don't mean hard like Clinton. If you know what I'm sayin! Heh, heh.
Obama: I don't, really.
GWB: Look, City of Gold, we find that and the economy problem is solved man!
Obama: That's your plan?
GWB: Hell yeah!
Obama: Maybe I'll just come back in January.
GWB: Don't be trying to take credit for my plan!
Obama: Don't worry.
Secret Service Agent: See, you in four weeks, Mr President.
Obama: You too, Leonard.
:::Door opens and closes:::
GWB: Geez, that guy is dense. You ever see anything like that in this office, Bob?
Secret Service Agent: Not in two hundred and thirty years.
GWB: You said you've only been here eight years, Bob, try to keep your story straight, will you? Here, help me carry this out to the car.
Secret Service Agent: What is it?
GWB: It's a bag with all the "B" and "O" keys from all the White House computer keyboards.
Friday, November 7, 2008
Besides, Friday stats suck anyway, since most of you are busy making up the work that you should have been doing all week instead of surfing the internet (not that I'm complaining, I appreciate that you prefer to read my site instead of actually doing the things you're paid for, I do, really. Thank you).
But, I do have a question for those of you surfing into Stonekettle Station from Google.
And in particular, those of you who keep running the search phrase "Michelle Obama Posture."
Seriously, Michelle Obama's posture?
I don't get it. What exactly are you looking for?
1/25/09 Update: This continues to be one of the most common search strings landing on Stonekettle Station. I get twenty to thirty hits for this each day. Michelle Obama Posture. I gotta tell you people, I still don't get it.
I especially don't get that a major of searchers appear to be women. Seriously? The First Lady is highly educated, articulate, involved, outspoken, and apparently a class act and a fine role model for young women everywhere - and the only thing you're concerned about is her posture?
Men aren't the only judgmental chauvinists on the planet I see.
Thursday, November 6, 2008
So, yesterday I had to run a couple errands.
And I stopped by the grocery store to pick up some hamburger buns.
Now, this particular store normally has a guy standing by the door to check that the customers aren't departing without, you know, actually paying for the stuff they're leaving with. Technically I guess you could call him "The Greeter."
I go into this store a lot, and I'm familiar with the usual greeters.
Since I normally go in around the same time, I've noticed that for the last several months the greeter has been the same guy.
Like anybody in his position, most customers seem to regard him as a piece of the store equipment and usually just ignore him. I don't know him, but he sees me several times a week. The job is a thankless one, and personally I think it's rude to just walk past without at least acknowledging his presence. He nods, I nod and flash my receipt, he tells me to have a nice day, and I usually say something like "you too" - and that's about the limit of our relationship.
Did I mention that he's black? No? Well, that's probably because I don't usually notice such things other than in passing and for me skin color isn't even in the top five defining criteria I use for identifying people. For me the list goes something like: sex, age, height, build, dress, posture, demeanor - and then maybe skin tone depending on any number of other factors that might catch my eye first, such as whether or not I think he/she might be armed, specially trained, or engaged in unusual activity - and well, ample and exposed cleavage (Hey, sue me, I'm a guy). I also tend to notice if an individual is well kept, has unusual or out of place features, is displaying strange or out of place behavior, and like that. Part of this is my natural inclination, I'm just not xenophobic, I like diversity, I like people who are different than myself. Part of it is experience, I've spent most of my life in strange places and among alien cultures, places where skin tones vary widely such as Spain, Asia, South America, Africa, or the Middle East - and are rarely worth comment. In the Navy we were all Navy Blue and my shipmates' skin colors spanned the spectrum and frankly I mostly just didn't notice. And part of it is training, I was an intelligence officer and a force protection officer and I was trained to look for specific indicators that might tell me if an individual was up to no good, and those things rarely had anything to do with skin color. One of the indicators I noticed about this particular man is that he often wears a USMC button on his hat. A lot of people do, but he carries himself like a Marine, and his eyes move like a man who's seen combat. That makes him a shipmate, and those things I tend to notice first.
Yesterday, however, it was the greeter's skin color I noticed first.
Well, because as I stood in the checkout line with my bag of buns waiting for the woman in front of me to count out exact change, penny by penny, for the pack of smokes she was buying, I noticed a large number of older white people stopping to talk to the greeter. One white haired woman timidly shook his hand, which I think startled him greatly. A number looked, well, if not frightened, at least a bit nervous. The greeter looked, well, bemused and perhaps just a little amused.
As I said, I tend to notice unusual activity.
Alaska is the reddest of the Red States, and the Valley where I live is the reddest shade of crimson in the entire state. All three of our electoral votes went to Palin and her running mate, Whatshisname. Though the results aren't fully tabulated yet, it would appear that my fellow Alaskans would rather have a convicted felon in the Senate than even think about voting for a non-conservative. Ditto for our Representative, who's under investigation in the same scandal. The population here is overwhelmingly Caucasian, and African Americans are few and far between - many are military families just passing through. I've never seen any overt racism directed towards blacks - usually the racism around here is reserved for Native Alaskan Peoples - but this place is a hotbed of neocon conservatism and I suspect that it's there, if firmly below the surface.
I was only about ten feet from the front door, and even with my lousy hearing I could make out the conversations, white people were nervously congratulating the black greeter - for Barrack Obama's presidential win. The greeter caught my interest - I grinned, he rolled his eyes and we both shared a covert chuckle - and I stopped being irritated at how long the goofy bitch in front of me was taking and secretly hoped she'd take longer so I could watch the scene at the front door for a while.
It was hysterical. Young people didn't seem to notice. But the older folks, the ones in their sixties and seventies, the obvious conservatives, some sporting McCain/Palin buttons were scared. They were scared of the black guy at the front door, the guy that day before yesterday they had regarded as little more than animated store equipment. But now, well, now Americans will soon have a black president - and that was scaring the ever living bejebbers out of those old white people. You could see it in their faces, which said clearly, if reluctantly, "I just want to say to you, Black Person, I, for one, welcome our new African American Overlords."
It was everything I could do not to laugh right out loud.
It was obvious that many of these people expect African Americas to take over the country. And when that happens they fully expect to be treated just exactly as badly as they've treated people of color for their whole lives. They were acting, in point of fact, like Afrikaners when Nelson Mandela became President of South Africa - please Mr. Black Man, don't take our daughters and our farms!
The irony was just plain hysterical.
The unconscious racism of assumption was even more hysterical:
On the way out, I grinned at him and said quietly, "congratulations."
"Screw that," he said, grinning back. "I can't stand the guy. I voted for McCain."
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
Wait, hear me out.
John McCain should have won last night.
Internationally, America is a country at war on two fronts or more. We've been at this war longer than we were in WWII. America is a country in the throes of a deepening recession - or economic downturn, or Wall Street meltdown, or economic retrograde motion, choose your own non-panic inducing euphemism here. America is a country that has burnt a lot of bridges in the last eight years; we've alienated many of our old friends, and snuggled up against some new allies who aren't the most reliable. America is a country facing the loss of its long standing position in the world and our dollar doesn't buy nearly what it used to - which is going to have some serious consequences when you consider that our gas comes from the Middle East, our cars from Japan and Germany, our minerals from Africa, our tech support from India, our clothes from Mexico, our consumer electronics and seafood and lumber from China, our porn from Russia, our beef from Argentina, and our fresh produce from Latin America.
Domestically, Americans face a crisis at every turn, public education, mortgages, health care, agriculture, failing infrastructure, energy, industry and manufacturing, social security and vanished retirement funds, job security, in the inner cities, in the suburbs, environmentally.
There are damned few American voters who aren't aware of these things. And there are damned few Americans who, at least in their hearts even if they can't admit it out loud, don't know that the last eight years are the result of dishonorably weak, willfully ignorant, proudly illiterate, blusteringly jingoistic, and just plain cowardly piss-poor leadership from the White House.
Many Americans are afraid. David Klecha over on Midnight Highways said, "I’m tired of fear and despair" and I think he speaks directly to the general sentiment of most Americans. We're tired of fear. We're tired of being afraid of terrorism. We're tired of war. We're tired of being hated. We're tired of fearing our government. We're tired of being ashamed of our idiot leaders who tell us to be afraid. And we despair that this is the best we can expect and things will only get worse unless we do something. We need a leader of vision and verve and determination who we can follow with trust and admiration and confidence.
And so we entered this presidential election with two choices: 1) a relatively unknown, inexperienced Democrat, and 2) a well known Republican war hero, experienced and savvy in the military, foreign relations, domestic issues, and economics. Obama is young, handsome and popular, intelligent, and well educated - but a neophyte in many of the problem areas facing America, and with unproven and unknown leadership skills in a national crisis. McCain is older, extremely experienced, intelligent, and a powerful leader with proven skills and fortitude in crisis both large and small - and on the face of things a far better choice to solve the problems before us in a decisive and immediate manner.
McCain should have won.
And yet, he didn't. And, in point of fact, McCain lost his bid for the White House by a very large margin, one that cannot be significantly contested in any way shape or form. I don't want to get into the argument of mandates or landslides, but the truth of the matter is that a black man, the son of a foreigner, one generation removed from Islam, with the strange alien name of Barack Hussein Obama beat the ever living snot out of a military war hero and the very epitome of the traditional American presidential genotype.
McCain should have won.
So, how come he didn't?
There are many dynamics here, and ones that the pundits and grad students and political analysts and historians will debate for decades - but in my not so humble opinion, it comes down to one simple thing:
John McCain forgot who he was.
See, John McCain is the son of Admirals, he was a graduate of the US Naval Academy and for 22 years he was a US Navy Officer. We in the navy hold most dear as our core values three things: Honor, Courage, and Commitment. And the simple truth of the matter is that Captain John McCain USN(ret) forgot that. He gave in to desperation, he gave in to the whispers and advice of small cowardly men who never knew the strength and power of such ideals, he gave in to those who told him that he needed only the support of his party and not the support of all Americans, and more than anything he gave in to the urge to pander to the far right radical fear-mongers. He gave in to dishonor and fear and a commitment to the politics of hate.
John McCain had the audacity to look surprised when his chickens came home to roost - the same as any parent who uses the term "nigger" in their private home conversation, and then acts shocked and surprised when their own children use the same term in public at the most inopportune moment, "Oh! Sorry. I don't know where he picked that up!" Oops, how embarrassing - but we all know exactly where that child picked up that word, don't we? I'm speaking of course of the defining moment of the McCain campaign: Gayle Quinnel's now infamous statement, "I've read about Obama ... and he's an Arab!" during a McCain rally on national television. McCain didn't look surprised, only embarrassed and irritated, and replied "No ma'am. He's a decent family man, a citizen, that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues." The expression on his face and the tone of his voice said clearly, "Oh my! I don't know where she picked that up!" Oops, how embarrassing.
Yes, how embarrassing indeed. For all of us.
Especially when I'm quite sure that John McCain knew exactly where old fearful conservative Gayle Quinnel picked up that thought - directly from the McCain campaign itself, from McCain himself, from Sarah Palin, and from every Neocon who was out there stumping for them. The McCain campaign's statements are a matter of public record, Obama is a terrorist, Obama consorts with terrorists, Obama is a racist, Obama consorts with black supremacists, Obama is an Arab, Obama is a Muslim, Obama is a radical Islamist, Obama isn't an American, Obama wasn't even born in the United States, Obama doesn't have a birth certificate, Obama is the anti-Christ (no, seriously), Obama's wife hates America and hates white people, Obama is a Marxist, Obama is a Socialist, on and on ad nauseam. Conservatives can deny this all they like, but they know that I'm right and they damned well know what was said. Many of them still believe those statements, many of them are still repeating this nonsense and will until they die, despite all evidence to the contrary. McCain's campaign made Obama the enemy, not simply the political opposition. McCain's campaign wasn't in a race, they were at war, and just like in any war they set about vilifying the enemy just as we've always done, except this time it wasn't the krauts, or the nips, or the gooks, or the slopes, or the camel jockeys - it was Obama.
Certainly John McCain himself didn't say all of those things in public, but his running mate did, and members of his campaign did, and his party did, and his supporters did. And John McCain let it stand, taking exception to the rhetoric and the fear and the hate only when confronted directly with it on national television - and then only in a half-hearted ambiguous manner, one that showed he knew exactly where that frightened old lady picked up that thought, one that showed quite clearly that he was depending on a lot of frightened Americans just like Gayle Quinnel in order to win the White House.
Any Navy Captain worth his salt understands this one thing above all others: you are personably responsible for everything that happens under your command. Everything. And the conduct of your crew is a direct reflection on you. Period. And it makes me wonder exactly what kind of officer John McCain actually was. I'm not so crass as to stand here and judge the service of a man I've never served under, but I have to wonder, where were those who did? Where were his fellow EPW's? Where were the Chiefs and Officers who served under his command when he returned from Hanoi? Because many of them them are remarkably silent.
John McCain could have won, and won easily, if he had been true to his training, if he had held true to the principles of Naval Leadership. He called himself a Maverick, but the simple truth of the matter is that he acted more like a stable nag - that old gelding at the YMCA summer camp who has trodden the same worn trail so many times that it will not deviate from the path no matter how hard its 8-year old rider yanks on the reins. Round and round and back to the barn for a pan of grain. Every day, more of the same, year after year, until the glue truck comes to take it away. And in this case that old worn trail is the politics of hate and fear and xenophobia.
John McCain should have won and he could have if he had held true to his oath as a Naval Officer, if he had spoken out forcefully against the failed Bush doctrine of torture, secret prisons, rendition, extra-constitutional surveillance of Americans, preemptive war, the degradation of the Constitutional Bill of Rights, the Nuclear Option. If he was a true maverick, then he would have defied the radical elements of his party and directly supported the right to choose, the strict separation of church and state, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, life, liberty, and happiness for all Americans - even the gay ones. He should have lived up to the basic ethic of any Navy captain and taken responsibility for the actions of his crew, he should have stated clearly and forcefully and as many times it took: "Barrack Obama is my opponent not my enemy, and I will not see him vilified on my watch and I will NOT allow anyone in my campaign to do so. If you must hate this man then you should join the American Nazi Party, I do not want your vote. I will win this election on my strengths, not on Obama's weaknesses, and if you don't believe in me enough to believe that I am that man, then don't vote for me." John McCain should have done what any Navy Captain does with his crew, give them hope, make them believe, inspire them, remind them of their duty, make them proud, and always lead them by example.
John McCain should have won - if he was the man he claimed to be.
John McCain should have won - if he had acted like the Naval Officer he once was and held true to Honor, Courage, and Commitment.
John McCain should have won - if he was a true maverick.
But see, John McCain is not a maverick, and - if we have to use the horse analogy -he is merely the second coming of the same old neocon cavalry. His message is the same message we've been hearing since September 12, 2001, and it's a message that the American people are tired of.
It the final analysis, it was Barack Obama's message that resonated with the American people. In the end, overwhelmingly last night, Americans said experience is nothing if not tempered with wisdom. John McCain had many things going for his candidacy, age, experience, heroism - but he offered us nothing that we didn't already have.
Obama offered us hope.
Today, well, today is an amazing day. Today the American flag is being waved by singing Muslims in the streets of Kenya. Today the America flag is flying above joyous crowds in Europe, Asia, Africa, South America and even in the Middle East.
Today, for the first time in a long, long while the majority of Americans feel hope, and the world is hopeful with us.
Today, a very clear message rings forcefully over our nation, We are tired of fear and despair and we have chosen a new path.
Today, we have sent a message to the White House, the House of Representatives, and to the Senate and that message is this: You work for us.
Today, we have sent a message to the NeoCons: You don't own this country, you do not speak for us, you are not the majority.
Today, we have defined exactly what history will write of George W. Bush and his presidency of hate, fear, and despair.
Today, we have elected not a maverick, but a true leader.
Today, is a good day.
*I updated this because I received an email from Jon in California who said that he wasn't sure if I was upset at McCain's loss or not. Rereading it, I realized that I'd left out a connecting paragraph due to an interrupting phone call (no, it wasn't Uncle Ted). So, I put that paragraph back in.
But just so I'm completely clear, no I'm not in the least upset that McCain lost. In fact, I'm overjoyed.